Since I was a kid I was taught to have both feet on the ground. They never told me about my brutality, the way I stepped on it just to keep my mind. I was surprised when it treated me with contempt, it turned my world upside down, sweet revenge, they never told me we all live by rules and it is an eye for an eye.
Since I was a kid no one told me that adulthood goes with blood, that it's the partner that drags you into brutal dance while all you can feel are your broken legs. They always told me to watch out and not to fall. But now when my responsibilities are demolished, and tears became my permanent tattoo there is no one to call.
Since I was a kid I lived in castles of dreams. I wanted to be the heroine, taste like glory blooming on laurel wreaths. But no one ever told me that you can destroy things with lies. And that your mouth is too tired for saving worlds, for saving us.
—Keaton St. James
Early Spring, 1986
Highgate Cemetery in North London, England
Nike had been six-years-old when she saw her first dead body.
It had been her grandmother (and third cousin once removed if anyone cared to know), Walburga Black. The late Mistress of Grimmauld Place hadn't been very old—the woman had only been sixty—but had aged unnaturally. Walburga had been an enthusiastic supporter of pure-blood supremacy. Her prejudice against those she considered inferior, especially "mud-bloods" and "blood traitors", survived her death through means of her granddaughter, and in the form of a vitriolic portrait hanging all by its lonesome in Grimmauld Place with only the house elf to keep it company.
Everyone came to the funeral.
Even Nike's Great-Grandfather Arcturus Black, who never left his manor for anything, showed up. Ever since the death of his wife, Arcturus had refused to leave his home and that had been fifty-six years ago. And throughout that half a century many more family members had died—like his son Orion and grandson Regulus—but Arcturus never came to pay his respects. So it was quite odd that he would make an appearance at his daughter-in-law's funeral.
The Black family and those who were considered through the default of marriage took their seats in the front. As one of the youngest attendants, Nike was placed between her cousin Narcissa and her husband Lucius. Nike tried not to squirm in the uncomfortable chair, but she found herself readjusting how she was sitting a few times before she could sit properly. And to top it all off, the chairs had been doused in Walburga's favorite color of red. A blood stained red.
The atmosphere not only looked gloomy, but it felt gloomy, too, even for a child as young as Nike. Everywhere she looked there were no smiles. It reminded her exactly how she had been raised by her grandmother...depressing.
But there was nothing to really complain about. It was a sunny day with the birds chirping and flowers blooming as the last bit of winter's frost started to melt away. Her grandmother would have used the day to go to the local markets to prepare for Ostara.
Besides, all her book club members, old classmates and family members, who could make it, came to the funeral, and were making the air a little too stuffy. Nike's grandmother had been popular in that way. For reasons she would never understand.
The official ceremony hadn't started yet. People were chatting amongst themselves, talking about anything other than the woman who they were about to bury. Nike cancelled out the noise from all around her and took notice to something right in front of her—the casket sitting only a few feet away.
It was an open casket.
Apparently Walburga had wanted to grace the world with her presence one last time before she would be gone forever. Nike had no desire to see her grandmother ever again, considering that she had never seen a dead body before.
But as Narcissa began to guide Nike towards the casket, the young girl had no choice but to look at what was inside of it.
Walburga had died crumpled over in a sitting position. She was fair skinned with dark black hair so the livor mortis was shocking. The right side on her face, the side that she had fallen on, was a blotchy red-maroon. Her hair was pinned back in the style she always had it in; falling in perfect waves as the curls lost their age old bounce and vitality. Nike had always loved her grandmother's dark hair with specks of salt and pepper. She was always running her fingers through Walburga's hair whenever the older woman would tell her a story. They had already done her autopsy, but one could easily tell what Walburga had died from. The woman had aged unnaturally.
Nike touched her grandmother's hand, half expecting the woman to open her eyes as she would've done from being disturbed from her sleep. Those dark eyes remained shut, though. Her body was colder than ice.
Walburga didn't look like she was sleeping. She didn't look like herself at all. It was like Nike was looking at someone who could have been related to her, but certainly not like her.
And true to the ceremony, her grandmother was wrapped in the finest cloth that galleons could buy.
It took Nike was second to realize that she was standing in the Circle. An area cleared of all furniture with candles placed at the north, south, east and west walls. There were two more candles placed at either side of the altar, where the body was laid out.
The Priestess, who was dressed in green and accompanied by the Priest cladded in black, led everyone through the motions as she swept the Circle counter-clockwise. The Circle represented a protected and sacred place. Everyone who gathered in it were seen as equals, not a single person was set apart or above others.
After the ritual sweeping, the Priestess returned a broom to the altar, where she exchanged it for a sword. "This is a place which is not a place, in a time which is not a time, halfway between the worlds of the gods, and of mortals." She swiped the sword at the Circle counter-clockwise.
A ritual poem was read for each direction, starting with the west and ending with the south. The Priest and Priestess exchanged a ritual quote amongst each other as they declared the presence of the gods in the Circle, and recognized the importance of both man and woman.
The Priestess then turned to Walburga's body with the intent to recognize that while bodies were fickle, souls were everlasting, and recited a number of prayers to the deceased.
"You are dead. None should ever die alone. I am here to help you with your death. There is only love, the greatest Mystery. I reach behind my fear. I open my heart and my eyes in the light of this love. Our lives are formed of many others and we form other lives in turn. And when we are here with you after you die we honor your life. There is only love. The love of the Goddess gives birth to the universe. The love of our parents gives birth to us. The love of our friends and family sustains our life. Kindness, love, and pleasure—we are formed from these and we form each other. When we die we leave them behind us.
"You have left your family. You have left sex, and even gender. You cannot be a woman or a man and enter the other world. You have left behind your body. None who have bodies can pass into the other world. The Goddess is taking you back now, the Great Mother. Her womb is the Earth that will receive your body, your body is a seed now, a seed of other lives. In a sacred space we have gathered to honor you and to give you some things to take on the journey with you."
The Priest addressed the Circle. "Please, come up now if you can and speak to your dead. Tell her whatever you need to. Help in the journey into death." He then addressed the departed again. "I will remember you at Samhain and bless you then."
Narcissa left Nike in the care of Lucius as she stepped forward to the main altar and said her last goodbyes to her aunt.
During her life, Walburga had been fond of zapping faces off of the Black Family tapestry. It was an ancient family relic created sometime in the 13th century. From the immensely old and faded tapestry, Nike had learned of her family's ancestry.
The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black was one of the largest, oldest, and wealthiest pure-blooded wizarding families in all of Britain, and part of the Sacred Twenty-Eight. That was something to take pride in, or so Walburga had constantly inquired to her granddaughter. The family's motto, Toujours Pur (which means "Always Pure" in French), was taken very seriously by many members.
Nike had been lucky enough to be born of pure decent. Through the blood of her deceased mother, Nike could trace her maternal ancestry to the wizard Alpin, father of Cináed mac Ailpín. That meant she was part of the Sìol Ailpein, which was Gaelic for "Seed of Alpin"; and that meant she was also apart of one of the seven Scottish wizarding clans who could trace their lineage back to the King of the Picts, of whom her ancestors and muggles, too, hailed as the first King of Scots who was actually a wizard.
Walburga had no qualms of reminding Nike that she was the "flesh of the abomination", created by two blood traitors. But the woman had taken in her illegitimate granddaughter for two reasons: So the Black legacy could live on for another generation, and simply out of spite towards her eldest son. She had hoped that someone told him. The thought alone of his facial expression was something that had amused Walburga for the passed six years.
And like the eyes in the back of her head that allowed her to see all, Walburga knew that she had been dying. Nike had spent the last two months leading up to her grandmother's death either at Gringotts while Walburga prepared her will, or holed up in Grimmauld Place when the elderly woman had been too ill to move. They never stepped foot in St Mungo's Hospital, though. There was no use for a healer. Walburga had declared that she had been ready to die for some time now; seeing no purpose to live without her husband, and most importantly, her favorite son—both of whom she had lost in the same year.
Nike didn't take her grandmother's words to heart. She knew better than to do that because, in all honesty, Walburga hadn't loved Nike, and the feeling was mutual. There was a certain level of respect she had for her grandmother, but Nike certainly lacked the possession to feel an inkling of empathy towards her grandmother. And she was so thankful that she was considered too young to speak at the funeral.
And as others stepped forward to pay their respects, Nike started to quietly chant—"We all come from the Goddess and to Her we shall return like a drop of rain falling to the ocean. We all come from the Horned One and through Him we are reborn corn and grain, corn and grain all that falls shall rise again."—with everyone else who decided to stay back.
Narcissa stayed at the altar the longest, her lips moving rapidly. She glanced back at Nike and then back at the altar that housed the dead body. Narcissa said one last goodbye to her aunt before she returned to Nike's side and held onto the young girl's hand a little too tightly. But the wide, grey eyed girl didn't say anything. It wasn't the time or the place to be bratty, but she doubted that Narcissa would've actually let go. Her older cousin had her glued to her side since last week when the Ministry workers had dropped her off at Malfoy Manor.
"Journey on now, sister. We will follow when we can." The Priestess continued on once everyone had moved from the alter. "May you be born again at the same time and in the same place as those you knew and loved in this life. May you know them again and love them again."
The Priestess then moved behind the altar. "As we all come from the Goddess to experience life; in death so shall we return to Her to experience peace." She lit the altar candles, including the white pillar candle. While holding aloft the special white pillar candle, she said, "Walburga, By the element of Earth, you were grounded in the physical world. By the element of Air, you were open to knowledge and communication. By the element of Fire, you were inspired with passion. By the element of Water, you could dream your dreams. So now, by Earth, by Air, by Fire, by Water….shall you pass to the next stage of your existence."
The white candle was returned to the altar and the world's shortest eulogy began. There weren't many words to describe Walburga, and those that could weren't so appropriate for a funeral. Nike hardly paid attention to what was being said about her grandmother, though. She just wanted it all to be over with. She knew what death was and that everything would one day finally die, too, but she didn't understand the concept of it. Narcissa had told her that it was the way of life; a never ending cycle that balanced the world. Because if nothing ever died then there would be one hell of a population problem, but Nike still didn't fully understand why. To the young child, those who were family seemed immortal through her eyes. She had thought that her grandmother would always be there, and the same went for Narcissa, but Nike was shocked to find out that she was terribly wrong. And she now knew that like Walburga, Narcissa would one day be in the same position.
It suddenly crossed Nike's mind that she would be there, too, one day. A powerful shiver ran up her spine at the gruesome thought.
The ushers came around and gave them all food and drink. Each person took a drink and poured some into the grave; ate something and placed half of it in the grave. "East: We welcome the spirits of the ancestors and the honored dead not yet reborn. South: We welcome our heroes and inspiration. West: We welcome the Ancestors to incarnate in our children and grandchildren and in our families. North: We welcome our deaths and our lives."
Nike watched on as the body was gently lowered into the grave. The Priestess and Priest blessed the food and drink. "It is not we that bless this food and drink but it which blesses us. In its nature it nourishes our bodies and in sharing food and drink we create community."
The Priestess took her place back at the altar and raised the white pillar candle before the assembled group. "Walburga, merry we meet, and merry we part, until we merry meet again."
And then, before Nike could even understand what was happening next, Walburga's wrapped body was lit aflame with a fierce inferno that wouldn't stop until it consumed every inch of flesh and bone.
She found herself being led out of the Circle as one pillar candle was left to burn with the body.
Nike's eyes were transfixed on the fire. Smouldering, the fire licked the bottom of the wooden casket like a hungry kitten with a bowl full of milk. Crackling playfully, almost genteelly at first, the fire flickered, flared, leapt, spat, and showered the surrounding area with sparks like a fountain. Plumes of black-grey smoke wound itself around the casket like a hungry serpent, devouring everything in its path, choking clouds of noxious smoke, blazing, out of control. Ashes floated to the ground like great dirty flakes of snow, showering onto everything, sprinkling onto the ground.
Even though they were far away from the danger, Nike could still feel the heat licking at her skin and she could feel the smoke slowly choking her. She hadn't realized how long she had been staring at her grandmother's burning body until fabrics of green and black blocked her view.
Craning her neck to see who it was, Nike found herself staring into the Priestess's stark green eyes. Her hair, which was pulled back from her round face, was an odd shade of orange.
"Merry meet, little one." Her voice was still husky, but not as loud. In fact, she had a deep voice for a woman.
Narcissa squeezed Nike's hand. "Merry meet, Priestess." It was never wise to anger a Priest or Priestess. They were the only ones who could properly guide someone into the afterlife and if they refused to be the voice that helped carry spirits to their final resting place then you would spend the rest of eternity as ghost; never to be able to find peace.
The woman didn't bend down to Nike's height even though the young girl had to strain her neck to keep eye contact with her, but she did hand Nike a familiar white pillar candle. "Your grandmother would like for you to have it."
It was customary at the end of the ceremony for someone to inherit the candle, and that right usually went to the deceased's closest relative, spouse, or partner.
"Thank you," Nike said softly as she stared at the candle. She hadn't expected her grandmother to bestow that honor to her.
"She wanted you to remember you're place." Though the Priestess didn't smile, her eyes shined like expensive jewels. "Merry meet, little one."
"Merry meet," Nike said as the woman began to walk away. She turned her grey eyes to her cousin. "Are we going home now, Cissy?"
"We have to hear the reading of the will," Narcissa reminded her. "And then we will be going home."
"How come Draco and Pixie didn't come?"
"Because they didn't know Aunt Walburga like you did."
And it was the truth. Even though Nike was close with her cousins, they knew nothing of their Great Aunt Walburga. It had been Narcissa's choice to keep it that way. Walburga hadn't been the kindest soul, and Narcissa refused to have her son and niece subjected to the old woman's harshness. Sadly, there had been nothing she could do for Nike.
"Oh," the young girl said. She turned her face upwards and squinted at the sun. "Do we have to hear the will?"
This time it was Lucius who answered her. "Yes, this is a very important part."
"Because you'll find out if your grandmother left you anything."
Nike pouted. "I just want to go home."
Narcissa saw Lucius's hand twitch to tap the back of her head, and she threw her husband a glare over her little cousin's head. It was a habit that he had picked up from reprimanding Draco for a simple eye roll or back talk, but it wouldn't have been acceptable for him to do so to Nike. The last thing Narcissa wanted was for her husband to be on the receiving end of her family's irate.
"Just a few more minutes," Narcissa promised.
Nike didn't say anything else as she allowed her cousin to pull her towards the group that started to gather around the goblin holding a single sheet of parchment paper. It was almost eerie at how similar everyone looked. Dark hair, curls, and grey eyes were everywhere. There were only a few people who stood out from the masses—like Narcissa—due to their different hair coloring and texture, but the facial features were uncanny. The Black gene was truly dominate, and everyone possessed some type of similarity to prove that they were apart of the family.
"Mistress Black's last words are very quite simple," the goblin said. His long fingernails caressed the edges of the paper. "It goes as followed—I, Walburga Irma Black, residing at 12 Grimmauld Place, any town, any state, declare this to be my Will, and I revoke any and all wills and codicils I previously made. I direct my executors to pay any enforceable debts and funeral expenses, and the expenses of administering my estate. I give all my tangible personal property and all policies and proceeds of insurance covering such property to granddaughter and future heiress, Nike Regulus Black. If she does not survive me, I give that property to those of my nieces, Narcissa Malfoy née Black and Bellatrix Lestrange née Black, or to my sister-in-law/second cousin, Lucretia Prewett née Black, who survive me, in equal shares to be divided among them by my executors in their absolute discretion after consultation with my nieces and sister-in-law. My executors may pay out of my estate the expenses of delivering…."
Walburga's last words actually weren't quite that simple, and Nike had grown tired of hearing her own name being repeated a hundred times—or, at least, that's how many times she thought she had heard her name.
In the end, Nike had inherited it all. Walburga had given her her residence, and mortgages or encumbrances thereon, and all policies and proceeds of insurance covering such property, too. It would then go to Great Aunt Lucretia if anything were to happen to her. The rest of the estates were given to Nike. Walburga issued that her executors were to pay all estate, inheritance and succession taxes payable by reason of her death.
"If under this will any property shall be payable outright to a person who is a minor, my executors may, without court approval, pay all or part of such property to a parent or guardian of that minor, to a custodian under the Magical Uniform Transfers to Minors act, or may defer payment of such property until the minor reaches the age of majority, as defined by his or her state of residence. No bond shall be required for such payments."
Walburga had appointed Nike as Executor of the will, and since she was unable to act, Walburga had appointed Great Aunt Lucretia and Narcissa as successor co-executors.
"If my granddaughter and I shall die under such circumstances that the order of our deaths cannot be readily ascertained, my granddaughter shall be deemed to have predeceased me. No person, other than my granddaughter, shall be deemed to have survived me if such person dies within 30 days after my death. This article modifies all provisions of this will accordingly. If I leave minor children surviving me, I appoint as guardian of the person and property of my minor children my father-in-law/first-cousin-once-removed Arcturus Black III. He shall have custody of my minor children, and shall serve without bond. If he does not qualify or for any reason ceases to serve as guardian, I appoint as successor guardian my sister-in-law/second cousin Lucretia Prewett née Black."
Nike's eyes widened and shot towards the skeletal-like man who stood only a few feet away. Great Grandfather Arcturus was a mummy. His skin looked like it could've been leather; yellow-brown, hard and smooth. Almost shiny, which was odd considering he didn't get nearly as much sunlight as one should. And skin was all there was to him, just a leathery frame stretched over bones. He didn't have any hair. His eye sockets were hard, dark holes with dry tissues. His nose appeared to have collapsed.
She looked up at Narcissa, and whispered, "Why am I going to live with him?" It didn't make any sense. Even though her great grandfather had outlived his own father and mother, brother, sister, son, second grandson and now his daughter-in-law, there was no guarantee that he would be around to care for Nike. The man was getting closer to ninety every year and he certainly was showing it.
"Because," Narcissa said with a loud, obviously displeased exhale. "It was what your grandmother wanted."
Several Months Later, Fall, 1986
The Outskirts of Greater Manchester, England
Nike stared up at the twinkling, brilliant lights above her. She loved staring at the stars, and made a game of finding the constellations that many of her family members were named after. For the last two hours she had been keeping herself occupied by playing her game and looking at the half moon. In her world, no one made it a habit to wish upon the stars, but Nike was obsessed with them because the lights above had always been a comfort to her, even in her most darkest of times. As Nike looked on that night, a single hopeful thought came to mind. It was almost a wish.
Nike had to admit that she wasn't off to a good start. The night air was quiet; not a single person was in sight. She was tired and nervous and very hungry.
She turned to look at Narcissa.
"Where is he?"
"I don't know," Narcissa said in her most authoritatively gentle voice. "Be patient."
"Maybe we should floo in."
"Absolutely not," Lucius said haughtily. "Remember what we discussed."
"He's probably forgotten I'm coming," Nike said. "I told you he was going senile."
"Do not say things like that. It is not polite," Narcissa said, still gentle, but through her teeth.
Narcissa was always gentle if she could manage it. Being a mother to a young boy, and a guardian to a little girl tested her patience, but she somehow always managed to be poised and docile.
For only being six (almost seven) years old, Nike possessed sterling silver-grey, hawk like eyes, and was never gentle. With a mass of ink black curls that clustered over her head and cascaded down her back unruly, people usually said that she looked serene, like a babydoll. But she almost never felt that way. Usually she was either madly anxious or unsettlingly stoic for a child her age.
Right now it was an odd mixture of both. She was worried about how she and her new guardian were going to coexist. But, on the other hand, she didn't care if they were fit to take her in or not. Maybe their tardiness would allow her to go back home with Narcissa.
"Why don't we just go home and tell the Ministry that he never showed?"
The couple looked back at the young girl. There wasn't many things Narcissa and Lucius actually agreed upon, but Nike wasn't one of those things. She could see that they were taking what she said into consideration.
"No," Lucius said finally. "We will continue to wait."
Narcissa brushed some of Nike's wild locks out of her face. "You'll be just fine. What are you so nervous about?"
Nike cleared her thoughts and stared at Narcissa artlessly.
They looked at each other for a moment, but Narcissa gave up and turned away with a sigh.
"We may have to walk," Lucius said to his wife.
"I guess there are worse things than walking," Narcissa mused. She pushed the stray wisp of light blonde hair out of her face and looked around at their surroundings. The nearest non-muggle neighbor was now a good four miles away, and Great Grandfather Arcturus's manor was well hidden behind the Disillusionment Charm and Invisibility Spell. "I wish the Knight Bus came out this far."
"Well, it won't. And it's at least another ten miles to the manor," said Nike, grey eyes glinting with a kind of grim enjoyment.
"What if we were to apparate?" Lucius asked, ignoring the child.
Narcissa tilted her head, considering. "We should be able to get close enough. We would have to leave the bags, though. Great Uncle Arcturus does suffer from paranoia. He'll only trust the head elf to do a thorough checking."
Alarm sounded through Nike. "No, no. I've got all my….all my clothes in there. And my books! Cissy, why don't we just go home?" Tiny fingers formed a fist around the luggage handle, ready to bolt down the road before she felt a strong hand root her back in place. The adults weren't amused; Lucius scowling down at her, Narcissa sighing impatiently now, pinching the bridge of her nose.
Nike didn't understand why they just wouldn't listen to her. The one lane dirt road was dark and deserted. Home was not. It wasn't exactly eerily quiet—a dozen tiny night sounds all harmonized together to grate on her never ending nerves. It actually would have been pleasant, except Nike's anxiousness seemed to grow with each passing second, and she was starting to feel her stomach eat itself. She knew better than to mention it to Narcissa, but it made her feel sick and weak.
Just when she was beginning to squirm under Lucius's still too strong hand to try to run again, she heard a new sound.
It was a loud crack, coming from in front them. It was so loud that Nike swore her eardrums were ringing. It was the tale tell sign of apparition, though. Two, maybe three feet tall creatures hobbled towards them.
Nike looked at them curiously.
They seemed old, yet still strong enough to carry a tea tray. The one was pale grey with rat like black eyes. The other one was brown. It's soft blue eyes were as wide as saucers and bulging out of its head.
"Lord and Lady Malfoy," both elves mumbled with a bow. They turned to Narcissa and did the same.
Then they focused on Nike. They flinched as they glanced at her. "Young Mistress Black." The pale grey one spoke up. "Snicket and Lemony is sorry for your lost. We is very sorry."
Nike simply grimaced. House elves didn't completely understand how it felt to lose someone who wasn't important to you.
"Snicket and Lemony is here to take you to Master Black."
Lemony was shaking. "Master Black not forget you. Oh, no, Master is preparing for you."
Nike looked at Narcissa and Lucius. The latter said nothing, looking at the elves with a sneer. Narcissa's dark eyes were hard.
"Well, on with it," she snapped, commanding. "Two hours is long enough."
Lemony shrunk back at Narcissa's harsh tone. Snicket just grumbled and shoved his boney body between Narcissa and Lucius. They disappeared with a loud crack, and Lemony, who took Nike's hand, quickly followed.
Twisted and pulled; stretched and squashed, Nike tightened her hold on boney fingers, daring not to let go. She had heard the story of The Boy Who Let Go. An old story that told the death of a young Greek wizard, Aesop. The tale talked about the young boy and how he repeatedly let go of his parent's hands when they would apparate. He would play naughty tricks, pretending to be hurt afterwards. When he truly splinched himself nobody, not even the boy's parents, believed him. Thinking it was another false alarm, Aesop lost multiple limbs. In the tales Nike's grandmother use to read to her, the boy also ended up dying.
Nike didn't know if the story was true or not, but it taught an important lesson to the young: Apparition was dangerous, deadly, and not to be used for fun.
Suddenly, with a heaving stomach, Nike touched solid ground. Was apparition always so unpleasant? She wondered. Narcissa came to her aid as she tried to gain her balance back. After a moment, Nike looked around. The first thing she noticed was the smell; musty, like a house that had been long abandoned. Only, it wasn't. But it was still dim and uninviting. The furniture was dusty and old, looking as if it would crumble if anyone touched it. Mould was growing on the floor and walls, and cobwebs laced the shut in windows and the lively portraits of self-righteous ancestors who once lived in the manor, all staring at Nike. The floor creaked and two more elves stood before them.
"I is Thing," the pure white one said. "Head elf."
"Fick," the overly hunched one grunted.
"Where is your Master?" Narcissa asked. "We've been waiting."
"Who are you to the future head of our house?" An elf hadn't asked the question. A portrait did. The elves averted their eyes, and Nike blinked at the face that bore a strong resemblance to her other Great Grandfather, Pollux Black, who was currently suffering with Dragon Poxs at St Mungo.
"I am her fourth cousin," Narcissa said respectively.
"Why, back in my lifetime, my fifth cousins and I could have passed for siblings." With a green hat painted on top of his head, the portrait asserted them with steel eyes. "You look nothing alike."
"Everyone says that." And Nike meant everyone. Even those who knew they were related. She glanced at the plaque beneath the portrait. "It is a honor to meet you, Lord Licorus Black."
Nike's five times great grandfather, and earliest known member of House Black, lifted a brow. "Ah, least you have manners. The last future head was a disgrace; or so Arcturus said. An utter disgrace to my grandson's namesake. Hopefully you won't be a disappointment like him."
"I'm nothing like my father," Nike said absently. But it was her eyes that sparked with a light of madness before they dimmed back out to her hallow nothingness of grey.
Walburga had made sure that nothing about the young girl (except Nike's physical appearance, which couldn't be helped) would bare even the slightest resemblance to her traitorous son. It started three years ago, when Nike was three, and she refused to learn how to play the piano. Refusal and disobedience was something Walburga had never tolerated. Hex after hex was thrown her way, all stinging like a pack of hornets were piercing her skin. A month before Walburga had died, Nike had been sitting at her desk, writing with a quill in her hand—which wasn't anything bad, but when Narcissa had seen how messy her handwriting was, she fussed and brought the attention of Walburga down on the young girl. Walburga had been embarrassed and enraged, recalling how her son once had terrible handwriting, too. But unlike Nike, who had been subjected to multiple hexes and curses afterwards, her son hadn't wanted to learn how to properly write like a true heir should. Walburga had made it her life's work to ensure that not a trace of Sirius Orion Black III could be found in his own flesh and blood daughter.
"Of course you're not," Narcissa said approvingly through her teeth. To Licorus she said, "We were waiting for Great Uncle Arcturus to collect Nike at our agreed meeting spot, but he never showed up."
"Nike, you say?" Licorus said, painted eyes still on her. "After the Greek goddess?"
Nike nodded her head. She stared around at the other portraits who were doing the same. They were just as curious about her.
She just felt slightly….uneasy. She sensed something. Even though Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather Licorus seemed cordial enough and not as intimidating as she thought he'd be, there was just something about the house she couldn't put her finger on. But she was too tired—too lightheaded from not eating for so many hours—to be concerned about it now.
They seemed to stand there, under Licorus's painted gaze, when another portrait spoke up.
"Have you eaten anything, child?"
Nike blinked and murmured a negative.
"That will not do," the portrait of Magenta Black (née Tripe) said. She commanded Lemony to fetch Nike some food before she continued on her rant. "A young child such as yourself needs to be on a strict schedule and diet. Poor nutrition is what killed my father, you know? He loved his sweets and never ate a healthy full course meal. So this certainly will not do."
Her tone was matter of fact, and Nike could only imagine what a hurricane the woman had been when she was alive.
"Genta, dear," Licorus cut in half way through her lecture, "you're ranting again."
"Well, darling, if people actually knew how to take care of a child then I wouldn't have to."
"As you heard, it was an accident," Licorus said politely with a strained small smile. "They were waiting for Arcturus."
Magenta made a brief snorting sound. "That does not matter. I am sure that Lord Malfoy has his own elves. Isn't that correct, Lord Malfoy?" Lucius only managed a nod of his head before Magenta started again. "Ah, ha! Then they could have had it pack them some food for the road. 'Tis good to always be prepared. Morgana, I swear every passing generation gets lazier and dumber. Why, such a thing would never have happened to me. I would have skinned my children alive!"
Nike blinked again. She had heard that line before.
Narcissa, still respectively making conversation, said, "Well, we weren't supposed to be waiting for two hours in the first place."
"Always be prepared," Magenta repeated, and Nike found herself liking her Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother even more. Maybe it was because the portrait reminded her of Narcissa. And because her first concern had been Nike's wellbeing. Only Narcissa had ever been the one to worry about that.
"Nobody prepares to wait for two hours," Licorus clarified, turning about a way in his portrait so he could see his wife. Magenta moved, too, and narrowed her eyes.
"That's right," she said sweetly, mockingly. "Because your mother never prepared for anything a day in her life, that means the rest of our family shouldn't have to either."
Nike saw that Lucius was gripping Narcissa's hand while he watched his wife's ancestors have a little spat. She felt the tight grip Narcissa had on her wrist slacken, too.
Nike was now looking amused, yet puzzled, but Narcissa looked around the main living area thoughtfully. Nike knew what she was looking for—a spark of life. A splash of color. There wasn't any.
"My mother was a woman ahead of her time," Licorus argued. "And she was only late for things that held no great importance; our wedding being one of those things."
Magenta inhaled so loudly, so sharply, and so suddenly, Nike was surprised that the painted woman hadn't fallen out of her painted seat. "Now, you have gone too far, and I am glad that the woman's portrait was never done."
"You see, this is why I didn't want to marry you," Licorus said. "There were plenty of other eligible girls our age, and I could have had any of them to be my wife. They all at least respected my mother."
"Well, too bad none of them came from such a prestigious bloodline like myself," Magenta put in.
"Merlin—help me," Narcissa muttered quietly under her breath, dismayed. Nike knew that all Narcissa wanted now was for Arcturus to show his face so that she could go home. Apparently one of their house elves was too independent with its thoughts, and the Malfoys didn't like to leave Draco and Pixie alone with it for too long. "All three of us are very tired and hungry, you see. I'm sorry for seeming so rude, but if you or one of the elves were able to fetch Arcturus we'd greatly appreciate it."
"The elf hasn't even come back with my food," Nike said. "So I doubt that they're any good use—unless that one is just incompetent." She refused to cross her arms and pout like she wasn't a pureblood heiress. The thought surely crossed her mind though.
"Oh, Merlin," Narcissa said flatly. "Nike, now is not the time for that."
I'd rather eat and listen to the portraits bicker than die from hunger—was what Nike wanted to say, but she figured it would be best to keep her mouth shut for now.
"Now, look here," Magenta said in a tone that made it obvious she would not let Narcissa take charge. She narrowed her painted eyes at the two adults. "You will not talk to future Head of your house that way. And you," she snapped at the elf Fick, "go get that poor excuse for a house elf and make sure that it has food. Thing, fetch Arcturus now. The child is tired and hungry."
Narcissa's face was a creamy-pale against her blonde hair. Nike could tell that she was taken aback, embarrassed, and bristling with anger. Nike's hair was pitch black and she was frowning.
Fick and Lemony returned with a loud pop.
"Well?" Magenta said sternly to the shaking elf. "Do you have the food?"
"Well?" Nike said the same way when the elf didn't respond fast enough. Lemony hobbled closer to the young girl, and with a snap of it's fingers, a plate of food appeared in its hands. Nike's stomach rumbled and she plucked a grape into her mouth.
"Would you all cease your ruckus? My head is splitting in two!" An ominous voice from upstairs yelled at them.
Immediately Nike was pulled into Narcissa's side. Heavy footsteps, followed by the pounding of a cane, echoed around the gloomy place. Looking up in surprise, there stood Great-Grandfather Arcturus. Nike stared at the man and realized that in the comfort of his own home, he looked like a mummy. His eyes were hollows of madness, sunken in until there looked to be nothing but dry tissue. Now, as she looked at him, Nike saw that he was hunched over; his grip on the cane wavering back and forth. Step after step, careful footing after careful footing, Arcturus made his way down the rickety, old spiral staircase that was probably once glamorous back in its prime.
He was then right in front of her, glaring down.
Nike was feeling anxious and scared. She wasn't use to many people looking down on her, she was a Black after all, and everyone knew how unstable they could be so it was better to treat them with the respect they thought they deserved rather than be on the end of their madness. But Nike didn't like the feelings that her Great-Grandfather was making her feel. She knew that for a child so young, her instincts were as good as any Auror who'd train to decipher the good from the bad. It was part of her anxiety that made her evaluate anything that caused her to feel that way. She had learned such a skill from living with Walburga.
The only problem was that she didn't know Arcturus, so that not only made him a stranger, but completely unpredictable, too.
She was tangentially aware of the activity now behind her. Lucius had wrapped his arm around Narcissa's middle to restrain her from pulling Nike back. Behind Arcturus, the portraits watched silently.
Nike found her voice. "Hello, Great-Grandfather Arcturus."
The old man continued to stare.
"Thank you for taking me in. It is a great honor."
He stuck his nose up.
"Great Uncle, are you alright?" Narcissa questioned when the silence stretched on. "You did not show up to the agreed meeting spot. We were worried."
Narcissa continued to prattle on about their concerns for him, even though Nike knew that it was a lie. And by the look on Great-Grandfather's face, he knew it, too.
It was only a minute or so before Arcturus said, "That's enough."
Narcissa's mouth closed with a 'click'.
"That's enough from all of you. You've done what was told of you—now get out."
Still scared, Nike unconsciously reached a hand back for Narcissa. She wanted to cry for her cousin to take her back as an uncomfortable sensation of magic started to almost choke them. But Narcissa could do nothing while the ancient home answered to Arcturus, and started to force her and Lucius out.
"The Ministry will be by to check on her within a months time—its protocol now to ensure that the children are being well taken care of no matter who's custody they are in," Narcissa said. "They will also come in unannounced."
"Then they shall be met with the Cruciatus," Arcturus said unemotionally. "The Ministry wouldn't dare step foot in here without my permission."
"The Ministry has changed," Lucius said, vaguely like a know-it-all. "If you curse one of them, then they will send the Aurors."
Arcturus was frowning, now glaring at the adults. "No matter," he said. "It's not like the girl's living situation is an emergency; she's no longer the Ministry's concern. But know that you can tell them that I will be raising her however I see fit."
"She is the future Lord of our Great House," Licorus said, speaking up. "Everything pertaining to her comfortableness is an emergency."
To stall Licorus, Arcturus said, "Yes, thank you for reminding me, Lord Licorus."
"You are welcomed," Magenta said haughtily with a faint sneer. "Considering that you left the poor darling to starve out in the chilly night."
Arcturus closed his eyes briefly. The long exhale through his nose made it fairly obvious that he didn't appreciate the portraits giving him their input. By the look of annoyance on his old face, Arcturus seemed like he was a minute away from covering them up.
Five minutes later Nike was forced to say goodbye. She held onto Narcissa tightly, not wanting to let go. She missed it, though, the mist that had started to cloud Narcissa's eyes. But it was a good thing that she had. If Narcissa had started to cry, then there would've been nothing Nike could have done to hold back the tears that were burning her eyes.
It was terrible to feel like that, standing in a stranger's home, having them frown in disapproval already. Terrible to suddenly become hypersensitive to all the sounds and smells around her. Fear festered up inside of Nike. She had never felt so trapped.
"I won't stand for any foolishness, you understand?" Arcturus barked suddenly, looking down at his great-granddaughter like she was a fly he wanted to swat at. "There are rules. And you'll follow those rules without question."
"Yes, Great-Grandfather," Nike said softly, automatically.
"I won't let you disappoint this family like that blood traitor."
Father, Nike thought, feeling cold and winded. She glanced down at her feet, the floor becoming more interesting out of the blue. She realized that she would always be compared to him, no matter how many times she had already proved herself at such a young age.
"Will I be shown around tonight?" Nike asked him. She wanted to get as far away from the subject of her father as she could.
Arcturus, who finally had taken his unsettling eyes off of her, said immediately, and sharply, "No."
"Oh, well, where am I to—"
"If you would cease your insufferable gabbing," Arcturus sneered, "then I'll have Thing show you to your room."
Nike felt slightly better when her Great-Grandfather pivoted his cane, barked an order to the elf, and hobbled back up the staircase, most likely back to his room. After Thing had checked her suitcase, he turned his attention onto her. "Follow me," he said.
Thing, who'd been a few steps ahead, glanced over his shoulder to ensure that she was still following. Then he turned back around and began to led the way again.
Blank, spotless, grey-white walls made the room seem even more cold than it actually was. Two lit candles flickered their shadows upon the walls, dancing to an unheard rhythm, and were the only source of light. The lone window was wide and long with the moonlight barely gleaming through the thick white curtains, which pooled at the ledge that was big enough for Nike to use as a seat. The old four poster bed and the nicks in the dusty vanity that was situated in the corner were decorations from the past. The bed was huge compared to Nike's small frame, almost as if the silk wrappings of the throws would swallow her whole. Not seeing a spider web in sight, which she was thankful for, Nike wondered how many years the room had remained vacant. It looked like it hadn't been touched long before she had even been a thought.
"Is everything to mistress's liking?" The elf asked. It's ear twitched when Nike gave a small, unladylike snort. What was there to like? The room was blank and bare in the moonlight. Just like the rest of the house it lacked color, personality….warmth. But who was she to complain? It wasn't like Walburga had been the most colorful, expressive person either. She was use to grey walls and coldness.
The story of my life, Nike thought, stepping fully into the room. Her sadness flooded throughout her body full force. "It'll do," she said solemnly.
Minie Talie: Thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed this chapter.
girlwhoslept: Possibly, maybe. You'll just have to read this chapter. BTW, I love your username.
—All characters and events belong to J. K. Rowling and to the publisher(s) Bloomsbury Publishing (UK), Scholastic (US), and Pottermore (e-books; all languages). Events from the movie(s) belong to the production and distribution companies.
—Highgate Cemetery opened in 1839 and it was part of the plan of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries outside of London. Highgate became a very fashionable place for burials. During the Victorian times, Gothic tombs were made with wealth and pageantry. Rumours about cults and witches meeting in the cemetery and holding ceremonies in the ruins of the cemetery started. It was also once suggested that a vampire was on the prowl in the cemetery.
—Ostara (Spring Equinox/Vernal Equinox) takes its name after the Germanic goddess of spring and dawn, Eostre/Ostara, who was traditionally honoured in the month of Eostremonath (the old Anglo-Saxon name for April) with festivals to celebrate fertility, renewal and rebirth. It was from Eostre that the Christian celebration of Easter evolved.
—Alpín mac Echdach was a supposed king of Dál Riata, an ancient kingdom that included parts of Ireland and Scotland.
—Kenneth MacAlpin (Medieval Gaelic: Cináed mac Ailpin/Modern Gaelic: Coinneach mac Ailpein; 810 – 13 February 858), known in most modern regnal lists as Kenneth I, was a king of the Picts who, according to national myth, was the first king of Scots. He was thus later known by the posthumous nickname of An Ferbasach, "The Conqueror". He became the apex and eponym of a dynasty—sometimes called Clann Chináeda—that ruled Scotland from the ninth- to the early eleventh-century.
—Siol Alpin (from Gaelic, Sìol Ailpein: Seed of Alpin) is a family of seven Scottish clans able to trace their descent from Alpin, father of Cináed mac Ailpín, King of the Picts, of whom the Scots tradition considered the first King of Scots. The seven clans that make up Siol Alpin are: Clan Grant, Clan Gregor, Clan MacAulay, Clan Macfie, Clan Mackinnon, Clan Macnab, and Clan MacQuarrie. (Can you guess which clan Nike's from?)
—The Boy Who Let Go was inspired by The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
—Licorus Black (1808—1872) was a pure-blood wizard, as well as the earliest known member of the pure-blood House of Black. He married a pure-blood witch, Magenta Tripe, and is the earliest known ancestor of the Black family, being depicted on the Black family tree tapestry that hangs in the ancestral home of 12 Grimmauld Place. It is possible that he was the brother of Hesper, Alexia Walkin, Phoebe and Eduardus Limette Black.
—Magenta Black (née Tripe) (fl. 19th century) was a pure-blood witch married to the pure-blood wizard, Licorus Black, who was the earliest known member of the House of Black. Her name appears on the Black family tree tapestry that hangs in the ancestral home of 12 Grimmauld Place. It is possible that she was Misapinoa, Cygnus I and Arcturus I's mother.
—The two characters stated above appear only on the version of the Black family tree shown in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. They were not included on the version of the tree which J. K. Rowling gave to a charity auction in 2006. However, according to director David Yates, Rowling provided the filmmakers with a copy of the Black family tree going back eight generations. The filmmakers presumably received a more complete version of the tree than the one auctioned off, which only goes back six generations.
—This chapter was not overlooked by a beta.
—If there is ever any error within my story pertaining to the Pagan religions and ceremonies then please let me know.