November 1923 — Uninvited
Ever after, Cassiopeia remembered nineteen-twenty-three as a bad year, for that was the year that she discovered that something was deeply wrong with her brother Marius…or with the way that people reacted to Marius. She wasn’t entirely sure which.
It started because her older brother Pollux was getting married on the first of January, 1924, which everyone except for Pollux was very excited about. “It’s not bad enough that I have to get married at twelve,” he muttered to Cassiopeia in the ancient and enormous garden in back of the Grimmauld Place townhouse. “Then I have to take an Ageing Potion so that I can consummate the marriage.”
“I don’t see why you can’t wait a few years for that,” Cassiopeia retorted. “I don’t even understand why you have to get married at your age in the first place. It’s silly.”
Gloom settled over Cassiopeia like a cloak. Their father—Cygnus Black, third of Phineas Nigellus Black’s four sons, andnot the owner or the Head of the House of Black, no matter how much he coveted both positions—never bothered to explain anything, least of all to his children. Cassiopeia and Dorea were supposed to obey him without question; Pollux, as his heir, was allowed to ask questions, but only if those questions were to gain information. Any question expressing the faintest whiff of a doubt, let alone challenging his father’s long-cherished opinions, was forbidden.
And every opinion that Cygnus held was long-cherished. Cassiopeia was of the opinion that her father had decided how he felt about everything by the time that he was fifteen, had encased all of those opinions in ice, and had then bound the ice with spell after spell to ensure that it would never melt.
“Did he say why?” she asked without much hope.
Pollux shrugged. “Something to do with money and debts and stealing a march on Cousin Arcturus. He’s getting married this coming year, too—to Melania Macmillan.”
“That’s not going to be pleasant. Poor girl.” According to various Healers, Cousin Arcturus could expect to have the lifespan of a mayfly—though, Black-like, he’d vowed to reach eighty, at least. “Anyway, Polly, why does that mean that you and Irma Crabbe are stuck with each other?”
“I think Father wants to be the grandfather to the next male heir of the House of Black.”
“Yes, but after all, she’s seventeen! She doesn’t need to marry a child!”
“Sometimes you forget yourself,” Pollux snapped, drawing himself up to his full height to glare up at his head-and-a-half-taller sister. “A male of the Black line, whatever his age, is far more of a man than any other wizard could ever hope to be.”
Cassiopeia rolled her eyes. “Who were you quoting just now—Grandfather Phineas’s portrait or Father?”
“Both,” Pollux admitted, slumping down onto a garden wall. “It’s the only answer I’ve had from either of them about my marriage—and I have asked, honestly. They’ve said that so often that I think the words are engraved on my brain. “
“Is she nice?” Cassiopeia couldn’t imagine having to be married to someone awful.
Which sounded remarkably like She’s all wrong for me.
“Look, Cass, do me one favor, will you? I don’t mind if you talk about the marriage to me or to Dory, but don’t tell Marius.” Pollux scowled at the ground. “Father doesn’t want him to be there. I think that he’s afraid that if Irma or her relatives see him before the marriage is official that they’ll either call the whole thing off or they’ll hire a wizard to magically sever our magic, and you know what kind of damage that can do—“
“And why would the Crabbes call anything off because of Marius?” Cassiopeia demanded, hands on her hips as she scowled at her older brother. “What kind of threat could he be? He’s FIVE!”
“You know why!” exclaimed Pollux, balling up his fists belligerently. “He’s…different. And I know you and Mother don’t want to admit that, but he is.”
“He’s not! He’s just a late bloomer!”
Pollux shifted to his being-patient-with-the-underlings tone. “Cass, he’s…defective. He’s never done anything magic, not even by accident. How old was I when I first did magic? And you? And Dorea?”
Cassiopeia resisted the impulse to hex her brother’s knees off. She quite liked Pollux most of the time, but Pollux cloaked in patronising smugness was unbearable. “I don’t remember how old I was,” she said sullenly. “I was just a baby. And I wasn’t there when you first started, for obvious reasons.”
“You do remember when Dorea started, though. She made her stuffed phoenix fly around the room. Well…bobble. But you know what I mean. And she was what, then, two?”
“Something like that.” Cassiopeia gazed up at the grey November sky. “And all right, you and I were about three. But that doesn’t prove anything. He could still start doing magic later. Some children do.”
“Yes, and they’re mostly halfbloods or worse.” Pollux ran his fingers through his thick black hair. “You know what he is, Cass. He’s a Squib.”
“That’s a bad word! Y-you can’t say that—not about one of the family! I’m telling!”
“Go ahead,” said Pollux softly. “It won’t change anything. I know how repulsive it is to be related to something so…so grotesquely maimed. But we are.”
Cassiopeia’s mind whirled in confusion.
Of course, she knew the basic principle. Squibs were the terror of every pureblood family, the children who should have been witches and wizards but somehow had become imitation Muggles instead. They were useful, of course, much as a wand, a broom or a house elf was useful. But they weren’t people. They couldn’t be. They were missing the very thing that would have made them people. And as useful as they were, no one would want to marry a Squib. Well, no one human, anyway. Muggles didn’t know that Squibs existed, which was some excuse; they didn’t know that Squibs were quite different from them…or that the child of a Muggle and a Squib might be something that neither was. But Squibs, even if they weren’t people, had been raised by people. They shouldn’t want to marry a creature, a thing that wasn’t human, never had been human and never would be human. The thought made her stomach queasy.
And, unfortunately, it wasn’t like in the fairy tales, where the witch-princess Walpurga Zauberwilt stole Hans-my-Hedgehog’s coat of prickles, slipped a permanent Transformation Potion in his wine, and then burnt the coat in the fire, changing him back into his wizard-prince self. Nothing fixed a Squib. And wizards had been trying to mend what was wrong with Squibs…well, ever since the first Squib was born.
But—and this was the problem—this was Marius. It was all very well to say these things about Squibs when you didn’t know any. It was something else again to say that your five-year-old brother, who loved building huge towers of blocks, fielding Quaffles when Cassiopeia, little Dorea, and their cousins, Callidora, Cedrella and Charis played two-against-three Quidditch, and snuggling with his kittens, was an inhuman, soulless thing who deserved nothing but loathing and death.
“But he’s our brother,” she said to Pollux. It sounded weak, even to her.
“No. He’s our disgrace.” Pollux looked at her with Variant #927 on the patronising smugness look—smugness sprinkled with mild exaggeration. “Father explained. The three of us won’t have a future if the other pureblood families learn about Marius. They’ll be afraid to marry us, or do business with us, or even go to school with us. Lots of people think Squibness is contagious, you know.”
Cassiopeia felt as if she might start breathing fire if she attempted to speak. So she said nothing.
“So. You will keep quiet about the wedding, won’t you? It really wouldn’t do to get his hopes up when he can’t come. And then—well, after the wedding night, we’ll go back to school; I’m sure I can find some way of telling Irma about Marius in the next six months. It’s just…it would upset everything right now. And the family deserves better than that.”
She couldn’t stand it any longer. Raising her left hand as if she were holding a wand, Cassiopeia drew a swift, slashing gesture in the air. “Blatera!”
Pollux stared at her as his tongue began spewing nonsense syllables. Cassiopeia, feeling about ten feet tall, glared back at him.
“What’re you trying to say, Polly?” she shouted. “That you deserve better than this? Well, SO DOES HE!”
And with that, she raced into the house and slammed the door.
On 25 February 1925, shortly after what should have been teatime, Pollux’s daughter Walburga was born.
She was a singularly unlovely baby with wizened, monkey-like features. Cassiopeia bit her tongue and lied to Pollux and Irma about how adorable the dear little creature was.
Irma smiled and accepted the flattering words—which, for all Cassiopeia knew, she believed. Pollux, however, was not quite so sanguine. He haughtily nodded his thanks as if she were a house elf who had trodden on his toe but had just managed an adequate apology.
Cassiopeia sighed. It was never going to be the way that it had been before that day in November. Pollux, who was now such a stuffily perfect pureblood that he seemed to be thirteen going on three hundred, had never forgiven her for standing up for Marius. He’d never told their parents…but the fact that he could was always there.
And Marius, at six-going-on-seven, wasn’t one scrap more magical now than he had been a year or so ago. He had started demanding to know when he’d be able to fly a broom, use a wand, brew potions, and so on. Their parents kept saying “Soon” and “Not long now”—but Cassiopeia could only hope that Marius couldn’t read the stress and fury in their father’s face, or the frantic desperation in their mother’s.
Dorea, at four, didn’t seem to have noticed that Marius was different. They played together, studied together (Cassiopeia envied them that, for Clemency Northcraft looked as if she enjoyed teaching far more than Erasmus Greaves, who taught her and, when he was home from Hogwarts, Pollux), and spent most of their waking hours together. Between Dorea, Miss Clemency and herself, Marius had managed to avoid any collisions with Irma or her relatives so far. Cassiopeia could only hope that both situations would continue indefinitely.
She was dreadfully afraid that they wouldn’t. She had no idea what she’d say then.
I’m only eleven! I shouldn’t even have to worry about that!
But she knew that she would. Father was one of those who despised Squibs. So far he’d managed to convince himself that Marius was only being stubborn about not doing magic (“You’ve seen his marks! The boy is bright enough; he’s just lazy!”), but if he ever changed his mind and admitted that Marius couldn’t do magic, Marius would get an earful of hatred. Pollux would echo anything that Father said; echoing mean, hollow words was all he seemed to do these days. Mother would start crying and get a sick headache. And Dorea would probably have a tantrum.
So then it would be down to her. And what could she say to a six-year-old whose father and brother felt he’d been born wrong and would be better off dead? What could she possibly say to make that better?
Abruptly, she became aware of a susurrant sound. Frowning, she concentrated. Oh. It was Irma—speaking, as usual, in a breathy whisper.
“—calling her Walburga,” Irma was saying. “I know it’s terribly old-fashioned to name children after characters in myths and fairy tales, but I don’t care. It’s such a lovely name, and of such a strong and powerful witch. I always quite admired her—though I didn’t think much of her husband. Imagine being commanded to marry a hedgehog! Oh, well, she made him into a proper wizard in the end, and a pretty one, too, so I suppose that’s all that matters. I do hope that our Walburga”—and she snuggled the baby, who murfled in protest—“will be just as powerful, if not more so.”
“I hope she’s nice,” said Cassiopeia. “Being powerful’s good, but—I’d like her to be kind. And a good friend…”
And she stopped, because Irma and Pollux were staring at her with horror in their eyes.
“You actually want My Daughter”—and Cassiopeia could hear the capital letters that Pollux was using—“to be Hufflepuff-ish? Kind? Loyal? Nice?”
“I wasn’t aware that ‘Puffs were the only ones who possessed those qualities,” Cassiopeia said, doing her best to mimic Pollux’s haughty tone. “It’s not such a terrible thing, surely, to be a nice person and a Slytherin.”
Pollux and Irma were exchanging baffled looks when the bedroom door opened and Dorea walked in, leading Marius by the hand.
“I brought Marius to see the new baby,” she announced loudly. “I thought he should meet his niece.”
Cassiopeia had a sudden vision of card houses collapsing. “Dory…this really isn’t a good time.”
“Yes, it is,” said Dorea, stamping her foot. “We’ve all met her except for Marius, and he lives in the same house as everyone else, and it’s only fair.”
“I can leave,” said Marius shyly. “I mean, if Pollux or Irma want me to. But I don’t have a cold or anything. I wouldn’t make the baby sick.”
“Yes,” said Pollux through his teeth. “Go. Now.”
“Pollux.” Irma sounded as if she were chiding a much younger brother. “If he is your brother, you should have introduced me ages ago. Of course he can hold the baby.” And before Pollux could protest, she’d picked up her wand from the night table, waved it, and said, “Expelliarmus dolce.”
Walburga didn’t so much fly from her mother’s arms as float from them. Marius plucked her from the air with ease.
For a moment, Cassiopeia thought that it might be all right—that Irma would accept Marius as family and that Pollux would bow to his bride’s wishes. But then she heard Irma saying the fatal words:
“Since it’s your first time holding the baby, would you mind casting a blessing on her? The traditional one?”
Cassiopeia fought the urge to bury her face in her hands.
Pureblood families used a great many spells for protection—generally against each other. Some people were well-guarded by magic: the Head of the House, his heir, and the heir of that heir. But the heir’s brothers and sisters didn’t get half the protection that he (or, occasionally, she) received, and their children got practically none. Babies, sadly, were peculiarly vulnerable to hexes, curses, ensorcelments and Legimancy—and in a large family whose members were constantly jockeying for position and power, this could be very, very dangerous.
And so the tradition of First Blessings had evolved. Every pureblood witch and wizard, on holding an infant relative for the first time, recited a spell of protection for the child. Each family used a different spell; the Blacks had three variations on theirs. The ancient version was in Anglo-Saxon; the traditional version, in Latin; and the simple version—which was much abridged—was for the very smallest children. Cassiopeia had recited the Latin version earlier. Irma asking Marius to do the same was a compliment, an honor to the family and the line.
Marius’s face fell. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I don’t know the traditional blessing. And I can’t do magic. Not yet, anyway.” And he held Walburga out to Irma.
Paling, Irma snatched Walburga from Marius and clutched her tight, ignoring the infant’s frightened wailing. Then she wheeled on Pollux.
“You! You didn’t tell me that you had a brother who’s a-a Squib? I don’t ever want to see him again, do you hear me? And if he’s contaminated my baby by touching her—“ She broke off, glaring at Cassiopeia, Dorea and Marius. “This is all some sick joke on your part, isn’t it? Well, you’re never going to hold her again! You’re never even going to see her again! She’s going to be a real pureblood…not like…not like any of you…”
Cassiopeia, sensing that Irma had nothing more of importance to say but plenty of time to say it in, decided that there was no reason to listen to any more of this. Quietly, she herded a sad and confused Marius and a furious Dorea out of the room and then led them back to the nursery.
Marius was silent until Cassiopeia put him to bed. “Please tell Pollux and the lady I’m sorry,” he said, hanging his head. “I’ve tried to do magic. I’m just not any good at it. I wish I were.”
“It’s not your fault, Marius.” Cassiopeia swallowed . “Truly, it isn’t. But a lot of idiots don’t understand that.”
And slowly, gently, she began to tell her brother what he was.
Ten years later, Cassiopeia found a note in Marius’s handwriting slipped under her bedroom door: I believe that Father will disown me tonight. If you can bear it, I’d like you to be there.
Things had not been good between Marius and the rest of the family since…well, since Walburga’s birth. Walburga had turned out to be next door to a Squib herself, something that her mother blamed on Marius’s malice rather than heredity. Alphard, born a few years later, had been frail and sickly as an infant, which meant that caring for him had fallen to house elves and to Cassiopeia, at least when she was home from Hogwarts; her mother wouldn’t touch anything ill or unhealthy, as it made her feel soiled. Cygnus, now six, was the only one whose body and magic had been healthy since the beginning, and he’d been spoiled till salt wouldn’t save him. But Irma still regarded Marius as the spawn of a Dementor and an Inferius, while Pollux’s dislike for all things that were not flawlessly pureblood had now calcified into hatred.
Dorea, who was now fifteen, alternated between spending nine months of the year eight hundred miles away at Hogwarts and the other three trying to live at Twelve Grimmauld Place and still have something of a social life. Neither situation exactly lent itself to having much of a friendship with one’s outcast brother.
And then there was her—trying to maintain something of a friendship with Marius without drawing Father’s rage down on them both and making it worse. Not the bravest way of managing, she knew. But direct challenges didn’t seem to work very well in this house.
Bad as things were, however, she hadn’t thought in terms of Marius being disowned. And she couldn’t imagine why he’d want her there. Was this some sort of trick? I wouldn’t put it past Walburga.
There was a knock at her door. Marius, of course. He was the only one in the house who couldn’t Aholomora his way in.
“Come in,” she called.
Marius—now a tall, lanky seventeen-year-old with a Byronic mop of black curls—strode in, closing and latching the door behind him. “I thought you might have some questions about the note.”
No point in pretending that she didn’t. “Why do you think Father’s going to disown you?”
“Because today’s my seventeenth birthday. I’m of age now—and I’m no more magical now than when I was born. You know Father won’t stand for that.”
Cassiopeia nodded glumly. Father had always been of the “root, hog, or die” school, and had long since felt that Marius was being obstinate. He would feel that flinging his son out into the cold, magic-less world of Muggles was no more than just…and might be the making of him as a wizard.
“I don’t know why you want me to be there, though,” she said. “I shan’t be able to do anything.”
Marius shuffled his feet. “I’ve read about the ritual; it’s supposed to shape something of the target’s future from the wills of the people present. I really would like someone to be there who—who doesn’t hate me and who wishes me well. I suppose I am trying to get round the intent of the ritual, but I don’t care. Please?”
Her heart too full to speak, Cassiopeia nodded and pulled her brother into a wordless hug.
The ritual was held in the parlour that night after dinner. In lieu of pudding, Cassiopeia thought, fighting not to burst into hysterical laughter.
Most of the family was in attendance: Uncle Sirius, who had been the Head of the House of Black these past ten years, and Aunt Hester; Father and Mother; Aunt Belvina and Uncle Herbert; Uncle Arcturus and Aunt Lysandra; Cousin Arcturus and his wife Melania; his sister Lycoris and his brother Regulus; Pollux and Irma; Cousin Callidora and her new husband, Harfang Longbottom. Dorea and Cousin Charis were absent, of course, since they were off at Hogwarts. And Merlin alone knew where Cousin Cedrella was.
Father—looking far older than his forty-six years—walked over to the tapestry and, after receiving a regal nod from Uncle Sirius, drew his wand.
“Marius Archimedes Black. Seventeen years have passed since your birth, yet you have scorned our heritage and become nothing. Are you willing to abandon this course and atone for your failure?”
“Willing,” said Marius dryly, “but not able.”
There was some shocked murmuring at this. Squibs were not supposed to admit to being Squibs; it was uncouth.
Oh, Merlin’s beard! Cassiopeia snarled mentally. Get on with this!
Father gestured, and suddenly there were three goblets floating before him—one copper, one silver and one gold. He dipped his wand in the copper goblet; it came out coated with something that resembled fat which had been cooked, then had cooled to the consistency of jelly. It looked, to Cassiopeia’s eyes, positively disgusting.
“This is the flesh of the family of Black, Marius. It is not yours. Te repudit!”
Marius fell to the floor, white-faced and looking as if he was in too much pain to scream.
The flesh rejects you, Cassiopeia thought, her mind blank and appalled. How can I sit here and watch this? How can they?
Father conjured a handkerchief, wiped off the wand and banished the handkerchief without a moment’s thought. Then he dipped the wand into the silver goblet. It came out coated with white powder and pebbles.
“This is the bone of the family of Black, Marius. It is not yours. Te spernit!”
It scorns you, Cassiopeia thought, as Marius seemed to be trying to hold himself together. Oh, no. It was one thing to be burned off the tapestry—that had happened to Father’s we-do-not-speak-of-him brother, Phineas—but this spell was designed to pull Marius apart.
I’m sorry, Marius. I should have realized what was happening earlier. Listen to me. You are my flesh and bone. You are. Te accipio. Te accipio…
Father once more conjured a handkerchief, wiped away the traces of bone powder and banished the handkerchief, then dipped the wand into the gold goblet. It came out wet and dark red, and Cassiopeia wondered uneasily just whose blood, flesh and bone had gone into this ritual.
“This is the blood of the family of Black, Marius—“
—and it runs in your veins as it does in mine. Don’t listen to Father! Blood doesn’t stop flowing because you can’t do something! You live, do you hear me? Don’t you dare die before you find out where you belong! Don’t. You. DARE!
Father, ignoring the inert form lying on the carpet, turned to Uncle Sirius and bowed. Uncle Sirius stood up, drew his wand, and touched it to the place on the tapestry that bore Marius’s name. Instantly, that section burned away…as if it never had been.
Then Uncle Sirius spoke.
“May this despised and rejected creature who posed as one of us find the life that he deserves.”
Yes. Happiness. Friends. People who focus on what he can do, rather than what he can’t.
“May he suffer anguish and pain every day of his existence.”
And may he experience joy and relief each day as well.
“May his name be blotted out and forgotten by the Blacks for all eternity.”
And remembered by everyone who feels he matters. And let there be an abundance of people who care about him. And a family that loves him, to take the place of the one that…well, he never really had.
At last Uncle Sirius stopped speaking. Snapping his fingers, he summoned a house elf and pointed to Marius’s body. “Beaky, take out this trash.”
“Yes, master,” squeaked the elf, grabbing hold of Marius and dragging him out of the room.
Unbelievably, though, that wasn’t the end of it. No. Father and Uncle Sirius held a party afterwards with cakes and brandywine and self-congratulations without end. Cassiopeia endured as little of it as she dared and then trudged off to find where Beaky had disposed of the “trash.”
As it turned out, he was lying next to some dustbins about three houses down from Twelve Grimmauld Place—and looking considerably better now.
“I knew I could count on you to interfere,” he said cheerfully. “Mind you, I didn’t know you’d end up interfering with both Father and Uncle Sirius, but I’m glad you did. I didn’t know about the flesh-bone-blood part, just the finale.”
“What are you going to do now?” Cassiopeia demanded. “I mean, you don’t have anywhere to go or any money—”
“Yes, I do,” Marius replied. “I’ve been preparing for this for a while—stealing Father’s Polyjuice Potion and then taking a handful of Galleons out of Gringotts. I must have nearly a thousand by now. Not that it’s Muggle currency, but it’s still gold. I’ll have something to live on—and to buy new clothes with.”
“And then what?”
A shrug. “Earn some money? Learn a trade? Get acquainted with a Muggle or two? Get used to not having to conceal my very existence?” He grinned. “The curse was foul, but I’m rather looking forward to this bit.”
“…I’ll miss you.”
Marius sighed. “You should leave. You’d be much happier away from Twelve Grimmauld Place.”
“I would. But you’re talking about leaving the wizarding world as well.”
“And what about the wizarding world is worth staying for?”
Cassiopeia thought. “Alphard. And Cedrella. If I can stay, there’s a chance that Alphard will grow up to be a decent human being. Pollux and Irma have already ruined the other two. And Cedrella—her parents are pushing her to marry one of the Blishwicks, and I’m pretty sure that she wants someone else that they don’t approve of, and—stop laughing!”
Marius responded by laughing harder. “And Father thinks you’re the perfect pureblood! If he only knew!”
“Some of us have to evade detection. “ She stood up. “I do wish that there was a way that we could keep in touch.”
“There is. I’ve got a box at a Muggle post office near here. For letters.” A smile. “Told you I’d been preparing for a while. So you can write to me at that post office box and I’ll get your letters. And you can get a box as well, and I can write to you. And Father need never know.”
He sighed. “And I’d best get going now, before someone discovers you’re gone.”
He hugged her tightly and then walked away without a backward glance. But he did call back over his shoulder.
“Mind what I said! I shall want to write to you and tell you everything!”
If it had not been for those post office boxes, Cassiopeia would never have heard of her brother’s myriad jobs, night school or, very likely, the Muggle War. She certainly would not have learned that he’d signed up to fight in that war—or that he’d been wounded on Sword Beach.
That was enough for Cassiopeia. Bugger the war, bugger travel restrictions and bugger Grindelwald most of all—her brother was in trouble, and she was going to find him!
It took time…and multiple trips. Black was not the most uncommon of names. But at last she found him in a hospital in Caen, chatting happily with a black-haired, grey-eyed nurse who might have been a daughter of a Black and a Malfoy.
The nurse stepped back with just a flicker of disapproval on her face as Cassiopeia approached. Is it my imagination, or does she look annoyed that I’m here?
“I’m Cassiopeia Black, “ she said in a lofty tone. “I’ve been seeking my brother Marius.”
Was that relief in the nurse’s eyes? Cassiopeia thought that she might have imagined it, but she didn’t think so.
“Cass! Oh, it’s good to see you! Oh, no, Sister, don’t go—Cass, this is Sister Evelyn Foxworth. She’s…er…she’s a remarkably good nurse.”
“How on earth did you manage to wangle a trip to a war zone?” Sister Evelyn demanded.
“Flew,” Cassiopeia said with perfect truth. It had cost her two brooms and one highly illegal flying carpet.
The girl’s expression said that if Cassiopeia expected her to believe that, she was utterly daft.
Cassiopeia surveyed the girl. Pretty. Intelligent. Stubborn. Not willing to sacrifice a second of time with her Marius—and it was very obvious that she thought of him that way—to a perfect stranger.
And not a scrap of anything magical about her.
Cassiopeia felt as if she’d been torn in two. On the one hand, Sister Evelyn seemed like quite a nice girl…and honestly, Marius might have done much worse. “Foxworth” wasn’t the name of a magical family, but after all, Marius was living in the Muggle world now.
On the other hand—not a scrap of magic. And probably no comprehension of the magical world. It just wasn’t fair that he’d have to settle.
“She doesn’t like me,” said Sister Evelyn in a clear, resonant voice. She turned to Cassiopeia. “Do you? You don’t think I’m good enough for him.”
“I didn’t say that,” Cassiopeia protested.
“You didn’t have to.” Sister Evelyn crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, let me tell you about me. I’m the fifth of seven children. I’m from Dorset. My father’s a stonemason and my uncle’s a piano tuner. I’m a good dancer, a tolerable cook and a brilliant nurse. And in the past month or so—”
“Broken leg,” Marius added. “It was infuriatingly slow to heal.”
“—I’ve grown rather fond of Marius.” Sister Evelyn gazed at her defiantly. “Now, I’m not here to get between Marius and his family, but you don’t get to treat me as if I were something the cat dragged in. You don’t have to like me, but by God, you will respect me. Do you understand?”
Cassiopeia couldn’t help it. She sat down on Marius’s cot and laughed until she could no longer breathe.
“I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her eyes. “I just had a vision of you saying that to our father and our Uncle Sirius. I think that they’d expire from apoplexy.”
She still didn’t know how she felt about this young Muggle; there were more than enough Blacks with peppery tempers, her father and Walburga among them. But…something in Sister Evelyn’s eyes said that she liked Marius as well as loved him. And judging by the way Marius was looking at her, it was mutual.
“I’m sorry,” she said, standing up and removing the glove from her right hand. “I didn’t know Marius had a girl. Please, let’s start again. I’m very pleased to meet you. My name is Cassiopeia. But please,” and she extended her bare hand to grip the Muggle’s, “call me Cass.”