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I'm Just A Sucker For A Cold-Hearted Lover (Don't Make Me Suffer)

Chapter Text

Under the silver moon hanging bright in the sky was a little cottage. The dwelling was a soft cream with blue shutters, and the small porch was surrounded with flowers that were slowly wilting with the change of seasons. Inside were a couple and their fourteen month old little girl. While the baby slept upstairs in her nursery, downstairs the young couple sat by the hearth.

This had been their home for the better part of the year and they were relatively isolated as they lived on the outskirts of a small muggle village. The young mother, only twenty-one, rested on the floor in her night robes, auburn hair tumbling down over her shoulders. Her back rested against the shins of her husband as he relaxed on the love-seat and played aimlessly with her hair, curling small locks around his fingers.

“James,” She spoke, pausing for a moment, hesitating, “Did we make the right choice?”

James paused in his idle playing, a shadow of a grin crossing his tanned features.

“What do you mean, lily?” he asked, “what choice are we referring to? The fact that I told you we should have gotten take out? Or the choice to put Holly in her favorite grow suit before she had dinner, knowing the sprog would ruin it?”

Lily twisted around to throw James an exasperated glance before resting her arms across his knees and her chin upon her arms.

“No, love. I mean did we make the right choice to keep Holly with us instead of hiding her away separately like Frank and Alice did with their boy?” she asked, worrying the inside of her lip with her teeth as her brows drew down in thought.

James ran a hand through his messy black hair and released a heavy sigh.

“I don’t know, Lils. I do know though that I wouldn’t have been able to part with her no matter what Dumbledore said. He’s sure that Frank, Alice, and their son are the ones in true danger from that prophecy. There’s always the chance that the information didn’t make its’ way beyond our families and Dumbledore himself.”

His hands framed Lily’s face while his thumb brushed at the wrinkles in her brows. He knew even as he spoke the words that they weren’t true. You-know-who most likely knew by now the full contents of that divination; he could only hope that the gods-be-damned prophecy never came to pass and that Voldemort ignored the words as the ramblings of an old, drunk, batty teacher.

“I don’t know James…. I just….Something just feels wrong. I don’t know what it is but…” Lily paused, her eyes closed and the corners of her mouth tugging downwards, “It might just be paranoia or being stranded in this house.”

Lily shifted her weight then, rising up onto her bare feet and pulling away from her husband.

“Love? Where are you going?” James asked, concern etched into the lines on his face that shouldn’t have been there at the tender age of twenty-one.

Lily shook her head and sent James a weak smile, “It’s nothing dear. I’m going to go check on Holly in her cot. I think I need to see her with my own eyes to calm this feeling.”

James nodded and caught her hand, placing a kiss on her knuckles, “Okay, I’ll come up in a little bit. I love you.”

Lily’s smile turned from weary to fond, “I love you too, darling.” Lily squeezed James’ hand before softly padding away upstairs to check on Holly in her nursery.

James felt the pressure of their situation weigh down on his shoulders, pressing the air out of his lungs in a heavily expelled breath. His head fell into his hands. He felt so exhausted lately, as if he had grabbed a live wire and this was the energy draining after-effect. Leaning back he rested his head on the back of the chair while staring at the ceiling, hoping and praying that this feeling of being hunted would end soon and that his family could finally rest.

 


 

 

Outside, the leaves on the lawn stirred as if being blown by a soft breeze.

A cloaked shadow stepped forth from the darkness into the dim light that the moon had cast over the otherwise dark Samhain night. The man under the cloak, if he could be called that, looked up the cottage as he reflected on the night; he had managed to eliminate the threat that the Auror couple had posed, but he had missed their son. It seemed they had sent him somewhere else under lock and key. He would rectify that small setback after finishing with the business he had within this house.

This family had been easier to find, not under the suffocating wards the Longbottoms had hid behind. A long, pale, spidery hand raised a Yew wand almost equally pale as the wizard wielding it to the sky.

A soft sibilant sound whispered through the quiet night, “morsmordre.”

The figure below took a moment to observe the green form coalesce above; the open maw of the skull hung in the air with a serpent dangerously coiled around it like a lover. He felt a small twinge of regret; not for the actions he had to take this night, no, but for the, unfortunately, necessary loss of magical blood tonight’s events would cause.

Lowering his scarlet eyes, the Dark Lord swept silently forward and with a minor twitch of his fingers quietly opened the front door to enter. Before him sat the dark young Wizard who would have made a fine addition to the Wizarding community if he had lived past this night.

James’ head lifted at the sound of feet softly stepping closer; he assumed that Lily had come back down to rouse him to come upstairs to bed. The sight that met his eyes instead was a nightmare beyond words. Before he could call out to his sweet Lily so that she could escape with his beloved Holly, a bright flash of green bloomed in the room.

The young man slumped in his chair as if only asleep as the Dark Lord continued on to the stairs, mindful to stay quiet so that the girl and her mother would not slip through his fingers.

Stepping into the nursery, the Dark Lord spared no glances to the surrounding knickknacks that marked a loved child’s room. Instead his scarlet eyes focused on the back of a young woman who was straightening up again after having tucked in a half asleep child.

“I will grant you this one chance to step aside and accept my mercy. Your life needs not be forfeited here.” His cold, high voice rang softly through the room, barely louder than a whisper but sounding like a sonorous charm for all that it mattered to Lily.

Lily whipped around, her beautiful features twisted and marred by the unadulterated rage and fear warring on her face as she registered who stood in her house, in her baby's room. Her back pressed against the cot to block Voldemort’s view of her only child, her blessing. Her wand had been left downstairs by James and the fire- and there she felt a swift, passing stab of agony, for she knew the fate that her beloved had met- but she could not, would not, be deterred or moved. Not her daughter. Anything but that.

“No.” she said, her voice steady and clear, at odds with the terror churning her insides.

“Step aside, Lily Potter. You do not have to die. Your death would be an unnecessary waste of magic. You can still live on past your husband and daughter. I can see it in your eyes, you would grow strong again and find your way.”

Something simmered just under the surface of their words, tickling at their skin. Neither paid notice to the sensation, too set on the path they had chosen.

“No.” she spoke again before taking a fortifying breath, “take me instead. My life for hers. She’s just a child. My child. Take me instead of Holly.”

The Dark Lord observed the young mother in front of him for a moment, her will burning as bright as a roaring fire; no, she would not be swayed or tempted to his side in the end even if if he had managed to get her to step aside now. He had the vague wandering thought that he had kept his word to Severus. He had offered her his mercy and she had refused in turn.

“So be it. You have made it so that I have no choice but to dispose of you.”

In a flash his wand was lifted and aimed at Lily. A wash of green blurred the room and there was a release of pressure, of something settling like a blanket over the only two living occupants as the witch’s lifeless corpse hit the floor. The Dark Lord stepped over the still warm body and to the edge of the cot, staring down to where the now awake child gazed up at him while clinging to the wooden slats surrounding her.

The Dark Lord laid a hand on Holly’s head, piercing red eyes meeting a vibrant green as he brushed her wispy bangs away from her face .

“I wish your death was not necessary, but I cannot take that risk.”

He lifted his wand one final time to aim between Holly’s eyes, crooning the words almost lovingly, “Avada Kedavra.”

.

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Blinding pain was all he knew as his soul was forcibly ripped from his body. He felt only a split second of horror and realization that the heavy simmering feeling in the room before had created some sort of transaction. A life for a life. That’s what Lily Potter purchased for her daughter. As this thought passed the Dark Lord by, the pain flared brighter and then there was nothing more.

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The little babe lay as still as death in her crib.

A loud voice echoed frantically through the house, growing louder and louder with each passing second.

“James?! Lily?! Holly?!”

A tall broad shouldered man with mid-length black hair in disarray from his frenetic scramble to get to the cottage stumbled into the house, hoping against all odds that the sign that hung above the house was just a nightmare and that he would wake soon.

He stumbled across the body of his first friend-best friend-brother sprawled in the chair in front of a still crackling fire; an animalistic moan of despair rattled in his chest as his fingers found a pulse-less neck.

Pulling away, the man bolted for the stairs. Lily. Holly. He ricocheted off the door jam with little care for finesse at this moment and felt his knees give way as he took in the scene that lay before him. He shakily stood and moved to Lily’s body. Dropping to his knees again, he reached out a trembling hand to feel nothing beneath his fingers besides still warm lifeless skin. He had been so close.

A sob ripped free in the deathly silent room, muted by the hand he had shoved against his mouth. The man struggled to his feet as he used the cot as a prop for his weight. He almost feared to look down and find what he knew to be reality; his eyes connected with Holly’s deathly still, small -so small- body. His hands reached out to gather Holly, his dear Holly, his sprog, to his chest and wept. Just the other day he had been with James and Lily in the background watching her eat dirt, laughing while watching James tried to stop her and entice her with the new toys from her birthday only a few weeks ago.

Slowly he sunk down, sitting with his back to the crib as he cradled the precious little girl that never had a chance once Voldemort had stepped through the door.

.

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Between his messy tears and heavy breathing he heard a soft noise. Opening his eyes and untucking his head from where he had subconsciously curled around Holly, he felt a flutter under his fingers. Jerking backwards the man stared down at slowly opening green eyes; 'Holly’s eyes' his mind whispered.

Shock, fear, and gratitude hit him in equal measure so suddenly he felt nearly dizzy with it.

“It’s okay Holly, it’s okay. I’m here, you’re going to be fine.” Sirius Black choked out as he curled around his goddaughter again, who was groggily waking up, holding her as close as possible.

The words were for himself as much as her. The family that had taken him in, made him theirs and had become his in turn, reduced to one little girl.

“Yeah, it’s gonna be okay sproglette. You and me. I’ve got you, always.”

Chapter Text

            Light spilled in through the half open bay windows across the hardwood oak floors. A soft fall breeze drifted through the spacious sea foam green room, disturbing the drawn open curtains and fluttering tendrils of Holly’s hair where she sat at her dresser. Hey head was tilted to one side as she brushed her sleep mussed, mid-back length black hair into a respectable mass of curls instead of what could easily pass as a thicket of Devil’s Snare.

            Placing down her brush gently, she swept her hair up into a passible bun on the top of her head, not quite caring about the small strands of curls that poked out for the moment at the base of her neck and around her face. While she didn’t care if her father saw her with her hair down, she definitely didn’t want a visitor to rudely intrude on their morning and witness what only her father, and future husband and children, would be allowed to see. Sliding her sleeping gown off, Holly breezed into her closet to pick out a simple blue dress and matching house robe to wander around in.

            A sudden crack echoed in her room just as Holly stepped out from her wardrobe dressed for breakfast.

            “Lady Potter-Black, Master be askings for you’s presence at the tables for breakfast.” A small female house elf with adorably floppy ears and a pristine black pillow stood in Holly’s room, rubbing her hands together while darting a glance around Holly’s room. It wasn’t messy by any means, but surely to the house elf it deserved to be nothing less than pristine.

            “Oh! I lost track of the time Teeky, thank you.” Holly beamed at the house elf and gave her a swift pat on the head before hurrying from the room to meet her father for breakfast, playing deaf to Teeky’s protests of how she ‘didn’t need to be thanked!’ and that ‘Lady Potter-Black was bein’ too kind to old Teeky!’, no matter that they had been having this back-and-forth since the day Holly could string a proper sentence together. Sirius had told her Teeky was used to much rougher circumstances from her old masters when Holly had been little and curious about the small house elf that jumped at everything; nowadays Holly thought Teeky liked the chance to playfully back-talk to her Lady as a sign of trust and care.

            Holly hastened down the hall to the grand staircase, passing by portraits of the Black line intermingled with moving photos of her life; here was one that showed her at age six zooming around at knee height on her child's broom that Sirius had recently bought for her birthday while Sirius himself tossed a ball in all different directions for her to catch, there was her at age nine, standing on Sirius’ feet in the study while he held her hands and twirled her around the room in a mock waltz, and finally a photo of her mom and dad before she had come to live with her godfather-cum-father standing arm-in-arm while beaming out at her and waving hello. She and Sirius had plenty of talks with each other over the years about her mom and dad, how they had loved her beyond anything in this world, and about that wretched night 17 years ago. Sirius had gone to therapy for a long while after that night, dealing with the guilt of surviving his family and friends. It was therapeutic for him, and had help him also deal with his past anger at his family and their extremist muggleborn hatred, the isolation he felt in his own home, and coming to terms with running away and finding a new family, only to have it ripped from him again. Holly felt a frisson of fear trickle down her spine as she thought of what her father could have become under the weight of all those issues.

            Holly took the chance to slide down the banister while there was no one to scold her for it and headed across the foyer into the small dining room that she and Sirius used when there weren’t guests. At the end of the oval mahogany table sat her father who had the Daily Prophet opened to what Holly knew from experience to be the Politics Section. With a fond smile, Holly rounded the table to kiss Sirius on the top of his head before taking her seat to his left. 

            “Morning, sorry I made you wait. I had lost track of the time while getting ready.” Holly said, laying her napkin over her lap while the morning’s breakfast appeared along with a cup of earl grey for her and coffee for Sirius.

            Sirius refolded his paper and place it to the side; they had very firm rules of no distractions or interruptions barring life or death situations at the table. Meal time was Family time. “It’s fine, lamb. You know I wouldn’t have minded waiting, I had the paper to occupy myself with until you came.” His warm grey eyes crinkled at the corners as he reached out and squeezed the back of her hand.

            Holly flipped her hand palm up to briefly squeeze back before she turned to float the sugar over to her along with the milk to fix her cuppa’. “Any business today? Or are you free?” she inquired, taking a sip before making a face and blowing on the still boiling liquid.

            Sirius sent her a fondly amused look as he tucked into his eggs, “Just a meeting with a few of the Lords in the Wizengamot. Primarily my charming cousin-in-law and the men he probably pays to pretend they're friendly with him.” Sirius’ face looked aggrieved at the thought of spending time with Lucius Malfoy.

            “Why did you need me for anything? I can claim you needing my presence if you want.” He continued with a crocodile-toothed grin.

            Holly gave a decidedly unlady-like snort as she began to spread jam on her toast, “no, I should be fine, so you don’t need to skive off on my account. I just wanted to visit Twilfit & Tattings to browse for a dress for the Coming Out. I can send a letter to Lady Malfoy after breakfast asking for her company and oh-so-needed advice; you know how she loves to make her tastes and opinions known,” Her nose scrunched at the thought before continuing with a mockingly haughty tone, “besides, it would be seen as awfully rude to dismiss the other Lords that have remained otherwise friendly with the illustrious House of Black.”

            Sirius and Holly traded looks of entertainment. If you had told a young adolescent Sirius black that he would be raising a daughter according to pureblood society customs he would have laughed in your face before stringing you up with a well-aimed levicorpus.

            “Fine, fine. Make me be a responsible adult,” Sirius lamented with a hand tossed over his eyes like a swooning maiden before continuing, “Make sure to take my coin pouch. We have more money than we know what to do with so you might as well buy whatever you want.” Sirius said before shoving the last of his eggs into his mouth in an overly large bite.

            “Grandmother Walburga would go absolutely mental if she saw you eating like that,” Holly said while wiping her mouth with her napkin, “I should go owl Lady Malfoy, she should be done with her breakfast and would welcome the invite; something about me needing a mother figure in my life or some such rot.”

            She pushed away from the table and gave Sirius a hug and a kiss to his head before retreating upstairs to write her letter.


 

            “I'm beyond pleased you asked me to come with you, Holly. I’m sure my cousin is an adequate guardian, but he wouldn’t understand the nuances that come with planning a witch’s Coming Out.” Lady Malfoy spoke from beyond the curtain to Holly’s dressing room. “It would be a shame to have you looking less than your best while in front of all the Lords, Ladies, and heirs of the Sacred 28.”

            Holly could imagine the haughty look on her face while she sat sipping her tea. Lady Malfoy was a fourty-three year old society wife that didn’t look a day past thirty-five. Her long platinum blonde hair was always pulled back in a respectable braid or chignon, which left her sharp features the main focus of her intimidating profile. Her finery was always subtle, but in a way that practically screeched ‘old money’ the way the portrait of Grandmother Walburga used to screech about ‘filth’ and ‘mudbloods’. Her cloak was lined with puffskein fur and clasped at her neck with a miniature dragon of carved onyx and her robe was a forbidding black that buttoned up to her neck, which, in some circles made her look sophisticated and dangerous, but to Holly she just looked like a particularly well dressed Thestral.

            She only just refrained from rolling her eyes because she was at least ninety-eight percent sure that Lady Malfoy would be able to see it, curtains be damned. Lady Malfoy, admittedly, did have a flair for fashion, but her company always left something to be desired. “Yes, Lady Malfoy,” Holly agreed with her before she stepped from behind the curtain to show off the most recent pick: a deep burgundy piece that scooped low on her collarbones to show sun-kissed skin, courtesy of the Potter family line. Its sleeves were snug to her skin and ended at the wrist while the bodice held tight to her like a second ribcage before flaring at the hips in a ball gown style.

            “mmmmmm, no dear, I think not. Also, how many times must I insist you call me cousin Narcissa? We are family after all.” Her face remained placidly kind, but her tone was tighter than usual and her fingers ever so slightly gripped her tea cup tighter. Holly’s refusal, or forgetfulness as Narcissa thought (because there was no way a child of Sirius could ever be raised with a sly or subtle bone in their body), was a grating point for Lady Malfoy. It was an insult of course, but Holly wasn’t going to tell her that. Holly would continue on with the vapid, wide-eyed demeanor as long as she could get away with it. It was easier to pull strings and prod things the way she wanted when everyone overlooked her; it was a lesson Lady Malfoy should have been familiar with as well.

            “Yes Lady-ah… I mean Cousin Narcissa,” Holly continued with a bashful smile, “Which dress would you prefer me to try on next?” her eyes glanced downwards as if properly chastised.

            “I think possibly the midnight blue number, dear,” Lady Malfoy continued with a gleam in her eye, “The one with the Occamy Shell pieces. You’ll positively shine.” She leaned back in her chair and lounged like a panther who had managed to trap a particularly annoying and evasive prey.

            Holly did as she bade, slipping into the dress in the confines of her dressing room while the shop’s magic helped lace up the back and clasp the buttons at the back of her neck. The fabric was made of acromantula silk and had small pieces of Occamy Shell worked in so that in the right light, she looked like a clear night sky glittering with stars.  The bodice was overlayed with a lace pattern, the neck cutting into a V that just met the tops of her breasts and the edges scalloped so the line wasn’t so sharp nor scandalous. The arms were pure lacework that worked its way down to her wrists with a piece that looped over her middle fingers to stop them from riding up. The waist was cinched and slightly flared at the hips to enhance her shape, but she would never be an hourglass figure; she was much too like her birth father in that respect. The piece finished with a soft midnight over cloak for the outer weather or travel and black witch’s boots that peaked underneath the hem of her robes that gave her a little more height so that she wasn’t intensely short anymore, just slightly.

            Stepping from her room, she gave a small twirl, a pleased smile curling at the edges of her mouth. She glanced at Lady Malfoy before looking at herself in the mirror, and when she said “I love it,” she actually meant it.

            Narcissa’s eyes were half lidded and her face housed a feline-esque smile. “Yes, I think so.” She placed her cup of tea down before standing to come up behind Holly in the mirror to inspect her work, “yes, I believe we’ve found your dress. Nothing less than the best for the House of Black.” Narcissa stepped away before snapping her fingers sharply.

            The shopkeep appeared as though she had never left, “Yes, Lady Malfoy? How may I be of service?”

            “We’ll be taking this dress. Please alter it to fit her better in the shoulders, and take the hem up another inch so that it isn’t dragging. Send the bill to the Malfoy accounts at Gringotts and the dress to the Black Manor when the alterations are finished.” Narcissa didn’t spare a glance for the woman through the exchange and the shopkeep curtsied before vanishing to complete her request.

            Holly put up a weak protest, knowing that it would easily be overridden. She knew she hadn’t needed Sirius’ coin purse; Lady Malfoy would have most definitely paid no matter what so that she could make mention of her ‘assistance’ to the poor Holly Potter-Black with her Coming Out gown for weeks if she played her cards right.

            “None of that, I refuse to let you pay. It is the least I can do in your Mother’s memory.” Lady Malfoy waved a hand imperiously to disregard Holly’s protest. “I’ve sent out the invites we discussed with some minor tasteful changes to better reflect you and I’ve managed to wrangle my cousin into allowing the Malfoy family house elves work with his for the event at Black Manor so that everything goes well.” Her hands landed on Holly’s shoulders, squeezing almost too tightly while her nails bit in slightly. “Now, let’s get you returned to the manor so that you don’t miss supper. I know how Cousin Sirius can be about family time.”

            Holly barely had time to turn her sudden laugh into a cough; Lady Malfoy wished she knew how Sirius was about family time. But then again, this woman was only family in the loosest sense of the term. Taking Lady Malfoy’s arm, she allowed herself to be lead from the store before being Side-Alonged home, where Teeky most likely had a bath drawn with her favorite lavender oils so that Holly could unwind before dinner from playing nice with Lady Malfoy for an excruciatingly too long time.

Chapter Text

Holly drifted downstairs, her bare feet padding along the cold hardwood floor. She assumed that Sirius was most likely in the dining room waiting on her for dinner, so she lengthened her stride. "Da!" she called out before reaching the room just to make sure and heared a hum of greeting from inside. She entered to find Sirius seated at the table already and studying a sheaf of parchement, "How was your meeting? As torturous as you were anticipating?" she asked teasingly as she took her seat.

Sirius snorted, pulling a face as he banished the papers to what was presumably his study before turning his full attention to Holly. "I'm sure my day was just as pleasant as yours was with my dearest cousin Narcissa." he joked, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

Holly let out a huff of breath at the thought of her day trip with Lady Malfoy. She adopted an appropriately mocking haughty face before speaking, "Well, my dress has been funded by the Malfoy coffers; it's only right for cousin Narcissa to step in, as my own mother is dead, you see." She sent him a doe eyed somber look, only able to hold it for a marginally small amount of time before grimacing in distaste. "What did the other Lords wish to discuss this time? How to grind the bones of the misbehaving plebians to make their bread?"

Sirius snorted into his glass of wine, "You'd think, but no, there's talk of a proposal to abolish the current Wardship Act and to intermingle more heavily with the Muggle world. They wish to adopt more Muggle customs to help welcome Muggleborns into our world. As if that would go over well, even with the more moderate members of the Wizengamot." Sirius rolled his eyes before taking another sip of his wine.

Holly blinked, and then blinked again. The Wardship Act, while not perfect was at least proven effective these past sixteen years. Fostering Mubbleborn children with half and pureblood familes gave these children a chance to learn what was instinctive and generational knowledge and heratige to those raised in the Wizarding World that they wouldn't have access to otherwise. It had also been recorded to show a closure in the gap of academic acheivement between Muggleborns and those born fully into the Wizarding World with at least one wizarding parent. Sirius had told her that the act had cushioned the culture shock that had been rampant before she was born when Muggleborn students had first stepped into the Magical world at the sudden age of eleven with no proper guidance.

Parents of these children generally found reprieve in their lack of knowledge of how to raise a Witch or Wizard. An alarming amount of parents had given up their children past the age of eleven and allowed their children to live fully in the Wizarding World, citing the belief that their children would be better off with those that would be able to help and understand them, but Holly found the thought unbearable; maybe it was a small blessing to those who were at a loss of what to do with a kid they had no way of understanding. There was some dissent about that, but what was the Wizarding World expected to do? Force children to live with a family that at best misunderstood and feared their child and at worst either abused or killed said child? Holly shuddered at the thought of having to live a life with someone other than Sirius who didn't care for her or her welfare. Purebloods also had welcomed the move to share their knowledge and culture, and also benefitted from the widening of their genetic pool once the children had been blood adopted instead of relying on inbreeding which caused all sorts of deformities, mental illness, and barrenness. 'Magic was Power,' the current Minister for Magic liked to say, 'not only blood'. At this time, there was no other proposal that held such a positive impact in the lives of Muggleborns in their society; she had to wonder at what those putting up this new proposal were thinking.

"Who's leading the push for this proposal? Isn't it playing too fast and loose with the Statute of Secrecy, anyways? Do they have any data to support their theories that this would be better off than the current act?" Holly questioned, cutting into her newly appeared dinner; she would have to give a token of appreciation to the House Elves, they had outdone themselves tonight, even though they'd probably fuss and try to refuse the new decorated pillowcases she would make them.

"Unfortunately," Sirius replied, swallowing down a bite first before continuing, "They're thinking it's being pushed by those who used to run with the old Order crowd from the last war, headed by Albus Dumbledore," he said this with a particularly intense look of dislike on his face; he hadn't forgiven the man for the lack of protection on the Potters that had lead to the loss of Lily, James, and almost Holly.

"The Longbottom, Weasley, MacMillan, Prewitt, and Shacklebolt families hold considerably strong seats in the Wizengamot," Sirius continued, "so the proposal is gaining some slight ground with the public in tandem with their use of support from the Boy-Who-Lived."

Holly winced, "I assume that the Lords you met with today took well to this idea."

"Mmmmm, I'm assuming you have heard of the word understatement, yes?" Sirius questioned with a playful look in his eyes and a curl to his lips before heaving a sigh, "No, they all took to it with the grace of a House Elf being given clothing. It's very likely to get messy and will definitely cause some serious tension at the upcoming Season balls while the bill is being debated. It's like being wedged between two extremes: No Muggle traditions in our society at all, or practically throwing out our culture in exchange for a Muggle one. I'm honestly not sure which option is more damaging."

Holly's brows furrowed slightly, "You'd think they'd work from the already existing structure instead of trying to destroy the existing Act all together. Seems like a recipe for disaster, to me. Just ripping away the act is like shoving a Diricawl off a cliff and expecting it to fly; the whole situation is going to be chaotic and dangerous for the witches and wizards shoved off that cliff."

"Yes, you're right, lamb, but I also acknowledge the driving force of not wanting to separate families. I'd have committed worse than murder if they had tried to take you from me." The way Sirius always casually dropped statements like this made Holly lose her breath a little; partially in fear of what Sirius would do, and partially out of love for the fact that she had someone to love her the way her birth parents would have if they had lived past that Samhain night seventeen years ago.

"I'll abstain from supporting this new proposal until it can be proven to be better than the already existing one. At this time, the Wardship Act is functioning well, if not in total perfection. It's something solid that we can work with though, instead of idealistic abstract thoughts that this new proposal seems comprised of." he continued, a shake to his head as they finished their meal.

Holly gave Sirius a hug and a kiss before retreating to bed with a troubled mind that would not let go of the conversation; she had a passing thought before falling to sleep that haunted her dreams and turned them into a very real nightmare. She knew that she would no longer be able to have these conversations out in the open after a short while, for her husband most certainly would not want to hear his wife talk about "Wizard" matters. She would be relegated to the role of Society Witch and mother instead of being allowed to help shape and change their society for the better. She would bear his children to carry on the family name and keep the house in order, but no more than that. A broodmare and a trophy; what a repulsive and disparaging future that stared back at her from the abyss of her dreams.


 

Holly sat at her dresser in a bathrobe, brushing out her hair to style it hours before the party. The past week had been so hectic in preparation for tonight and the fact that it was already here had Holly's hand clenching around the brush handle. A knock on the door had Holly opening eyes that she hadn't even known that she had closed.

"Safe for me to come in?" Sirius asked as he stuck his head in the door with a hand obnoxiously covering his eyes, causing Holly to huff out a small laugh at the theatrics of her father.

She turned in her seat halfway to regard Sirius before responding. "Safe? I'm not sure, might be some traps laid out for you but otherwise you should be fine if you haven't lost your touch to old age," she teased.

Sirius removed his hand from his eyes as he stepped in but promptly placed it on his heart in mock hurt, "Who taught you to tease your father? I'm not even old yet! I'm barely middle aged!" he complained as he closed the door behind him with a soft 'snick'. He leaned back against the solid oak to take Holly in before padding over to her with soft eyes. He held out his hand in silent request in the direction of Holly's brush so that she could hand it over to him before she turned around. Sirius began brushing her hair, starting from the ends and working his way up in a way that spoke of years of practice and experience in dealing with her tangled mane. 

"Yknow, when you were little," He started softly, "you refused to go to bed unless I helped brush and braid your hair and then read you a nighttime story." he paused, gazing at her through the mirror as if seeing the carbon copy of her childhood self laid over the young woman she was now. "Now look at you, all grown up and about to have your first official ball." He pretended to wipe a tear from his eye, but Holly knew it for the cover it was.

Her gaze caught his in the mirror, the corners of her eyes as soft as the turn of her mouth, "I remember. I also remember being able to persuade you into reading me a second story if I could pout and plead just right. I miss that...being just your daughter instead of the Heiress Potter-Black." her eyes dropped to her hands in her lap that were twisting together.

Sirius began braiding her hair into a crown, using magic to help pin in the stubborn pieces that refused to stay within by themselves, "you know you'll always be my sproglett, no matter your title or where you live. I miss those times too though. Didn't have to share you with the world; you used to be small enough to curl up in my lap in front of the fire while Teeky brought you your favorite spiced hot cocoa. Little too big for that now." He finished with the simple but elegant style and laid his hands on her shoulders to squeeze in a comforting grip before placing a kiss to the top of her now sleek hair.

"Never too big for a hug though," Holly said as she reached up with her own hands to place them on the ones already on her shoulders. "Do you think tonight will go well? I know I have to watch my words, you taught me well, but you'll be watching over me yes?"

"Always, Holly," Sirius replied, pulling her up and turning her into his chest for a hug before laying his chin atop her head, tucking her in as best as he could, "I won't ever leave you to the vultures on your own. Just smile and be polite like we practiced, let it be both your shield and weapon. Distract them with your beauty and make it seem as though you're the perfect Society Witch from the House of Black while you work the crowd and collect information and people alike, Hollyberry." Sirius gave her a sharp toothed grin, "Just because your husband won't allow you into overt politics, doesn't mean you can't find a way in through the loopholes dunder headed Wizards have left. I know you know you have a lot of leeway when we talk, more so than the average Witch, but unfortunately the rest of Society will not look as kindly on an outspoken Witch. Have them look one way and see you as tame while you work in the opposite direction for what you want." The corner of his mouth pulled up in what someone who was completely blinded by a conjunctivitis curse might mistake as a smile.

"I know, I know. Sharp, Quick, Subtle. Hit 'em where they don't expect it, and make it seem like someone else the whole time so that I come out looking like the perfect little Pureblood Witch." she said grimly, hugging her father to her all the tighter, knowing that after tonight the world would be completely changed for her. She would face more scrutiny that ever from tonight on, and the thought of shaming Sirius in front of other Lords who took the 'seen, not heard' portion of Witches' Society seriously had the back of her throat burning with bile.

"You'll have your wand and the daggers I bought you, correct?" Sirius pressed firmly as he held her at an arms length now to inspect her one last time, his gaze boring into hers.

"Yes, da. I'll have them on me. No one will able to be able to see or feel them unless they're touching somewhere they most definitely shouldn't, in which case, they will be most promptly reminded of proper decorum." Holly returned with a vicious grin; Sirius always assumed the worst and had raised her to expect the unexpected. Tonight would be uncharted territory so there was always more of a reason for caution. 

"I'll leave you to finish getting ready. Guest will be arriving within two hours, so do what you need to prepare yourself. Remember, I'm with you, always prongslett, you and I always." Sirius said before kissing her forehead and excusing himself to oversee the House Elves and finish getting everything set up so Holly could get ready for the most important night of her life in High Wizarding Society: Her Coming Out.

 

Chapter Text

To say that Holly was exhausted was the understatement of the century. She had made her grand entrance in the gown that Narcissa had fawned over to the other Ladies and then had been introduced to no less than twelve Lords and Ladies all in the span of the party's first ten minutes through Sirius. Her face felt strained from the smile she had pasted on for the night, and her tongue stung from biting back all the things she was not allowed to say.


"Holly, dearest. You look positively ravishing tonight." A tall willowy young man had appeared at Holly's elbow. He was fair, and his hair was so light it could have easily been mistaken for white when the light caught it. His oily grey eyes crawled down and then up her body as he took her in, making Holly's skin itch something fierce. "I see mother has finally gotten you to wear something befitting your station."

"Cousin Draco," Holly replied, with a very firm emphasis on the word cousin. She had a small smile that could be called pleasant from afar playing at her mouth, "How glad I am that you were able to attend tonight. I shudder to think what I would have done without your....lovely presence." One could melt butter in Holly's mouth from her tone alone.

Draco's smile became slightly strained as his eyes hardened to granite, "Holly dear, I do insist you drop the use of cousin when we speak; our relation is thankfully not that near on the family tree." His eyes glanced to the ballroom floor where couples spun and practically glided before returning to Holly's face hungrily.

"Oh no, cousin mine, I insist. Your mother was so kind as to remind me to refer to her in a similar manner, so I am just following her lead. Besides," she continued, her smile becoming shark-toothed, "It would be improper of you to refer to me as dear so fondly if we weren't related." Her grip on the fan behind her back tightened to keep herself from overtly grinding her teeth where people would see; Draco always knew how to bring out the worst in her.

"Ah, yes, well, hopefully after tonight now that you've come of age we might endeavour to become closer than just cousins in our relations." Draco had the hint of a leer on his face, just enough to be extremely disgusting to Holly but only skirting the line of impropriety to anyone else.

"I can't tell you how much that would delight me," Holly simpered, "But to be perfectly honest, I would rather dig my own eyes out with a dessert spoon than let you near me or the Potter-Black Lordships I know you're after." The last was said in a low tone so that only Draco would be able to hear while she cast her face down to hide the smug look tugging at her face. She glanced up just enough to witness his cheeks errupt into a ruddy crimson.

"I'd watch my tongue if I were you. Your father can't protect you forever," Draco spat, a sharp sneer on his face as he forgot his surroundings in his anger.

Before Holly could even begin to react and lose her temper in a room that she definitely should not, a voice slid past her ears from behind her, causing all of the blood in Draco's face to drain as if someone had hit him with Colovaria to change his skin to a pasty white.

"I hope you aren't giving Heiress Potter-Black too much trouble, Heir Malfoy." The voice reminded her of the rich and smooth single malt whiskey that Sirius only broke out on special occasions.

"N-no, Lord Gaunt. Just a bit of banter between family." Draco choked out, a small caress of fear running along his spine as he took in the look in his Lord's eyes over Holly's shoulder. "Let me introduce you, dear cousin," Draco continued as he tugged Holly around and to his side by her elbow, "Lord Gaunt, this is my cousin Heiress Holly Potter-Black. Holly, this is m-I mean the Lord of the Most Ancient and Most Noble house of Gaunt, direct descendants of Salazar Slytherin."

Holly looked up at Lord Gaunt with a mix of amazement and horror; she never dreamed she'd see this man in real life, let alone meet him. He was notoriously hard to find in public unless at charity galas and the Wizengamot; the rumors about him painted him both as a saint or a sociopath, depending on who you asked. Holly promptly dropped into a curtsy that even Narcissa would have been impressed with and waited for his acknowledgement to rise.

Lord Gaunt extended a pale, slim, well manicured hand to the Heiress before him, using the silence to inspect her as he helped her rise. He kept his silence until she looked up at him through her lashes before speaking.

"A pleasure, Heiress Potter-Black," He murmured, his voice soft enough that Holly had to lean in closer to hear. He raised her hand to his lips, kissing the air just above her gloved knuckles as he sketched half a bow.

Holly wasn't sure if her body had locked up from attraction or fear as she looked into Lord Gaunts brown eyes, which were such a dark color one could mistake them for black. Her eyes flitted like a hummingbird's over his face as she took in his clear aristocratic cheekbones, milky skin, strong jaw line and full lips before abruptly lowering her gaze deferentially; her staring had been rude and Sirius had definitely taught her better than that. "The pleasure is all mine, Lord Gaunt," she spoke gently, "I am humbled that you were able to attend such a minor event as this."

Lord Gaunt straightened and inspected the well-mannered young woman that stood before him, wondering where the bristling youth who smouldered with barely concealed anger not even moments before as she spoke to her distasteful Malfoy cousin had gone. "It is not every day that a Witch comes of age, let alone one of such standing and, if you might permit me to say, beauty." His smiled softly in a way that almost touched his eyes.

Holly gave a small bow of her head while her cheeks became rosy, "You flatter me all too well, sir. Other Witches might become jealous if they overheard." She kept her tone polite, if bland as she attempted to pull her hand from his grasp.

Lord Gaunt's grip tightened infinitesimally before relinquishing his hold on her, "I find myself relieved that Lord Black raised such an agreeable daughter; he has spoken highly of you in our meetings when the chance permits. You're a credit to both of your family names." Something moved in the shadows of his eyes, like a cougar stalking through the night, before they returned to the charming, placid state they held before.

"Would it be too forward of me to request a dance of you, Heiress?" he questioned as he stepped slightly closer.

Holly could taste her heart in her mouth as she stared up at the handsome, yet incredibly dangerous man her father had spoken of before with caution; to refuse would be viewed as an insult, but to say yes was like walking into the cave of a dragon and hoping to Merlin that you didn't end up like a roasted chicken. She patted her dress down, pretending to smooth the non-existent wrinkles as she checked to make sure her daggers and wand were still on her person before giving a firm nod, "You may ask for one. I have this dance free, as it so happens, if you would like to take the opportunity." She held her gloved hand out to Lord Gaunt and waited for him to lead her into the throng of dancing couples, looking as if she were heading into battle and not a Waltz.

Lord Gaunt's eyes flared briefly in satisfaction before leading Holly to the ballroom floor, leaving behind the Malfoy Heir who was stuck in place like a mooncalf staring down the oncoming Knight Bus and certain death.


 


Sirius kept an eye on Holly periodically through the night as he mingled on the outskirts of the crowd, accepting the compliments for both the party and the raising of Holly alike. He made sure to give her space to establish herself but was never too far away if she searched for him in need. He snorted as he noticed the Malfoy Heir slither his way up to Holly and barely withheld an eyeroll; the boy had no polish when approaching another of a different sex. No doubt taking after the lovely Malfoy family peacocks.

"Something you find amusing, Lord Black?" came an all too familiar voice from Sirius' left.

"A multitude of things, dear Cissy," sirius replied, ignoring the hiss of irritation the woman beside him let out, "Just the fact that your Heir seems to be resembling a Jarvey these days."

Narcissa Malfoy barely contained her outrage to a simple twitch of her hands, but alas, breeding held true, Sirius thought bitterly. He always tried to estimate how long it would take for Narcissa to, as the Muggles would say, 'blow a gasket'.

"Holly is looking particularly beautiful tonight. You know, she really should have more of a feminine influence in her life, Lord Black. Perhaps if she were to spend more time with my dearest Draco and, by extension, myself, she may receive a better training as a Lady of polite Society. Holly is....passable for now, but I see too much of your masculine influence in her. It will get her into trouble one day, no doubt about it." Narcissa took a sip of her elfmade wine as her eyes skimmed the crowd with a cold detatchment. Sirius thought it made her look as though she was searching out a person who had said they loved Muggles in her vicinity.

"How utterly benevolent of you, Narcissa. But shouldn't you be concerned with your own ward instead of trying to help your son sink his claws into my daughter?" he asked with an innocent smile, "I'm surprised she's at this ball without an escort, especially when her Coming Out hasn't happened yet. Wouldn't want her reputation ruined, do we? What was her name again? Liza? Such a nice name, shame you haven't taught her better. One would think you would try to keep control of your own home before butting your unwanted nose into another's." Sirius replied mockingly.

Narcissa drew herself up indignantly, resembling a Kneazle that had it's fur brushed in the wrong direction and was mightily upset about it. "Why I never. I'll excuse myself, Lord Black. It seems I'm wanted among more....refined company." she shot back with a sneer, unable to stop herself from giving out a last petty remark. "Have fun trying to remove the 'claws', as you so inelegantly called them, of the Lord Gaunt from your precious Heiress. You have heard the rumors about him I suppose? Oh well, I must go look after my own, if you insist." she returned his mocking tone from earlier with a smug smile before slipping away.

Sirius honestly did not see her go though, and could not find it in himself to care. His eyes seared through the crowd, looking for his daughter and finally finding her on the ballroom floor dancing all too close, a paternal part of him snarled, for his liking. He remained where he was, but he never let Holly out of the corner of his sight for the rest of the night. He wouldn't dismiss the rumors circulating about Lord Thomas Gaunt outright; he could recognize a predator gazing at prey when he saw it, and he refused to let his daughter be taken in blind by a man twice her age.

 


 

 

Holly felt as though she would be seared through with all the looks she could feel on her person. This was more than just watching the newly debuted Heiress at her own ball; this was sheer jealousy coming in from all angles as they took in this small nobody dancing with one of, if not the, most powerful men in Wizarding Britain and possibly Wizarding Europe. An Orphan who was raised with nothing who turned into a prince charming, discovered his heritage and moved on to help those who had found themselves in situations like himself; Lord Gaunt cut an imposing and impressive figure among any crowd. He knew that he was beautiful, knew that he was powerful, and never hesitated to use it. For now, Holly thought, he was using it to help Muggleborns and children left in the Muggle world to rediscover their identities. He had spearheaded the Wardship Act of 1982, which had gained a lot of popularity after the death of the slowly rising Dark Lord Voldemort who, only years before, had been hellbent on erasing any Muggle taint from their world.

"You look as though you're in deep thought, Heiress. One might get insulted that their dance partner is ignoring them in favor of their own inner thoughts." Lord Gaunt spoke gently, a small smile playing at his lips as he teased her.

"I apologize, my Lord. I did not mean any insult and ask for forgiveness if any has beset you." Holly replied demurely, dipping her head down in a small bow as her father had trained her. "I was only reflecting on you and your rise in the Wizarding World. It is admirable what you have done to help those who would have misfortunate lives befall them because of their birth." Holly continued, before feeling a heat overtake her cheeks as she looked askance, "I apologize again. I have a hard time knowing my place, I shouldn't speak about things that do not concern me, my Lord."

Tom felt something well up within him; satisfaction, possibly? He knew there was more than the meek girl displayed for the world. He was originally planning to not attend tonight, but he had wanted the good will of the Black Lord when it came time for sessions to resume and for his movement against Dumbledore's...plan. He had planned to stay to the outskirts, but he had seen Lord Black's Heiress snub the Malfoy Heir with that sly smile that only he could see when she had turned her face from the Malfoy Heir and it had intrigued him. He had watched how the boy had turned indignantly red and felt the urge to meet the girl who could so easily rile another into forgetting their surroundings and their standing. He had almost felt disappointed when he received the brunt of her polite aloofness but felt the spark of interest rise in him again when she had rebuffed his advance and pulled her hand from him.

"No forgiveness is needed, Heiress. You have not insulted me in the slightest. Only lesser beings would think your inattention a snub, but I can see that you are at least a woman of thought. I must admit it is a hard quality to find among Witches these days. I'm glad your Lord father has seen it fit to teach you how to converse appropriately. You speak of the Wardship Act, what it is it that you think of it? Do you support it, or do you see it as stifling as Chief Warlock Dumbledore does?" he asked, probing to find where her mind might lay. If only he could catch her eyes for a moment. The girl was too smart by half though.

"I will relay the compliment, my Lord. I cannot say either way whether the Act should be supported or not, it is not my place. I only admire those who are willing to help." Holly attempted to skirt the issue, knowing the answer was weak, but how could she outright refuse to speak to the man? At least those around her would not find fault with her speech and in turn blame her father for raising a child too willful.

Tom felt a flash of irritation that he shoved down ruthlessly before turning Holly into an unexpected spin, hoping to catch her off guard and have her open up to him. "Come now, Dear. One might think that you're insulting me and implying that I'm less than intelligent with the way you keep avoiding the issue. I can see that you have opinions and I would not fault you for sharing them. On the contrary, I find it all the more insulting that a beautiful mind is hidden from the world." Tom pressed hard with his words, skirting the line of improper in hopes of catching her. He snarled internally at how irritatingly difficult it was to gain information from a mere young witch who had only just come of age, for Salazars' sake. His grip on her hand tensed fractionally before he relaxed and soothed her knuckle with his thumb absently.

Holly jerked slighty, but still she kept her gaze lowered, wary of any possible Legilimency. It wasn't a banned art, but it was particularly rude and there were those who could commit the act without the legilimensed even noticing. She knew she was playing with dragon fire now, unconsciously shifting back a step to gain some space that she had unknowingly lost to his pull. "I'm afraid I am not at an educated enough place to say, Lord Gaunt. Now, I must take my leave. To dance twice might imply something that both of us do not want."

As Holly attempted to pull away, she felt the hand on her waist squeeze threateningly as the hand holding hers practically ground her bones together. Shocked at the barbaric display, Holly's eye's leapt to Lord Gaunt's without her permission, and she felt a brush of a familiar mind against her own, almost like a lullaby that she had known when she was young, and was only just hearing it again for the first time. Tom's grasp loosened slightly in shock as he swept the outermost layer of Holly's mind before feeling a cloak of darkness comsume him, almost as if he had encountered a Lethifold behind Holly's eyes.

Holly used his shock to quickly step out of his grasp, curtsey, and retreat to where her father was and where there would be relative safety. All the while, Lord Gaunt stood in the middle of the dance floor, not caring one whit as he stared after Holly as if he were the Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum locking eyes on the snitch at the World Cup.

Holly inserted herself at her father's side with a slight shiver of fear from the gaze that rested on her back and Sirius responded by pulling her close under the guise of introducing her to those around them. She wasn't sure who Lord Gaunt really was, but she hoped to never cross his path again if she could help it.

Chapter Text

A loud crack rended the silent and calm night air. A man with long, black, billowing robes appeared on a meticulously kept front yard. He stalked up the front gravel walk and swept around the marble fountain to reach the front door of the grey stone manor with wide sprawling windows. The manor itself was situated on a small hill on the edge of a town called Little Hangleton.

The man made his way inside the manor, barely pausing to let the doors open before striding inside and heading to the parlor. He could walk these halls blind with all the time he had spent here. He entered the parlor and swept past all the others seated at the long table, aiming for the dark haired man seated at the head.

"My Lord," he spoke softly as he kneeled next to the man's chair, his head bowed and his long curtain of lank black hair surrounding his face, "I bring news."

"Severus," the man's soft voice was the only audible sound in the room, somewhere between a sigh and a hiss. His pale hand rested gently on the top of Severus' bowed head while his fingers ran through Severus' locks; a viper slithered on the floor to round his body before climbing the chair to rest over it's Masters' shoulders, "What news have you brought for us?"

Severus neither twitched nor lifted his head as he replied, reading the implied threat that such a gentle touch could hold, "My Lord, the Longbottom boy has managed with his Grandmother to sway a few of the families that remain neutral to meet and discuss the proposal with Dumbledore. How do you wish me to proceed?"

The hand in Severus' hair slightly tightened before relaxing and smoothing the patch that had been mussed while a pale, blonde haired man across the table rapidly lost color in his face. His Lord ignored the blonde for now, "You have pleased me. Nothing else shall be required of you at this moment, the information you have provided has come at a good time, we will have time to counter this....error."

The fingers running through Severus' hair took one last pass before being removed completely, "Take your place at the table. No, not there," his Lord stopped Severus' movement to his seat three places down on his Lord's left, "No, instead......instead you shall switch with Lucius. You have no objections, I assume?" His Lord's crimson gaze locked onto the blonde man that was two places down on his Lord's right side while an idle finger tapped at his lips.

"No. No M'Lord." Lucius mumbled as Severus' gaze also locked onto him. Severus rounded the table, passing Lucius along the way before taking the second seat to his Lord's right; he held no pity for the man and his sloppy work. Lucius never made it to Severus' prior seat.

"Kneel." the soft cold voice rang through the room, halting Lucius' stride right where Severus had knelt only moments before. Lucius dropped to his knees with his head bowed; he knew this had been coming the moment Severus had opened his damned mouth.

"Lucius, Dear Lucius," the dark haired Lord began, not deigning to even touch Lucius, "You have been working so hard lately, what with all of those meetings you have been attending with those in the Wizengamot and the Ministry, have you not?" The man paused only for a moment, not requiring a reply before continuing, "Tell me, then, why do we seem to have lost the favor of the neutral families you were supposed to have been courting for their votes? Are you no longer invested in our cause? Has some other more pressing issue come to your attention?"

"No, my Lord." Lucius said, not bothering to offer any excuses. The Dark Lord neither expected or accepted excuses; only a fool would think he wanted one.

"I see. So then why am I keeping you around if you cannot perform the simplest of tasks that I have set before you? Were you not told to use any means to persuade these families to our side before the supposed 'boy-who-lived' did? What value are you to me if you cannot even do what I have asked?" the Dark Lord's face remained placid, but his eyes blazed like the fires of hell. Lucius' hands gripped the robes gathered in his lap until his knuckles turned a painful white; he didn't need to see his Lord's gaze to feel it's burn.

"You have displeased me. You know what this means, yes?" the Dark Lord questioned, only waiting for the small nod before continuing, "I wish this was not a necessity, Lucius."

"Crucio," the Dark Lord's tone was silky and seductive as it hissed out the curse. Lucius had no time to draw a fortifying breath before his punishment struck. No one at the table blinked at the act of violence or moved to help the writhing man on the floor. His Lord watched with amused eyes as Lucius was reduced to ear splitting screams and a spasming mess. The Dark Lord let Lucius suffer for a minute or two before letting up, not wanting to damage the Head of the Malfoy House too much; if the man was a wreck, he'd have even less use.

"You have learned your lesson, I believe?" The Dark Lord waited a moment for Lucius' head nod, "Good, get up and take your seat. I am merciful so I shall give you one more chance. Do not disappoint me. Use whatever means necessary to bring the neutral families back into the fold. I refuse to lose them to Dumbledore's faux emotional drivel and use of that boy to push his agenda."

Lucius scrambled to his knees and kissed the Dark Lord's robe hem, his body still giving off minute spasms. "Y-yes, my Lord. Thank you, my Lord. I will not fail you again." Lucius gave one more kiss to the Dark Lord's robe hem before dragging himself up and seating himself in Severus' old seat; he met the aformentioned man's eyes across the table, feeling a bitter dislike for Severus and the news he had delivered.

A dark haired Witch with all the markings of beauty twisted by madness giggled across the table before speaking in a voice one might use with a baby or a krup, "Awwwwww, did wittle Lucius make an oopsie?" she sneered at Lucius before speaking again, "You should be more grateful that our Lord has shown you such mercy."

She turned to face the Dark Lord, her gaze smoldering and locked onto the Dark Lord's visage, "I would like to offer myself and my....services for anything that my Lord might wish," she breathed out, not blinking.

The Dark Lord's head tilted to the side slightly while a faintly amused look crossed his features, "While your enthusiasm is appreciated, Bellatrix, I am not in need of your...'services'." a man to Bellatrix's right twitched slightly but kept his head bowed. 

The Dark Lord continued with a cruel smile, "Lucius, you have ties with the head of the Black Family, no? I wish for you to court him as well. Secure his support. I know tension still exist between him and Dumbledore, see if you cannot expand on that and press our advantage."

Lucius bowed shortly, "Yes, my Lord. It shouldn't be too much to gain his support. He showed clear ambivalence towards the new Proposal when we spoke last at his daughter's ball."

An emotion passed too quickly in the Dark Lord's eyes to be read before he spoke, "See to it then. Also, I have heard that your Heir has his eyes set on the Black Heiress. If he would like to keep said eyes, I would suggest he leave the Heiress be. I have been reliably informed that she holds no fondness for him and could potentially sour any future partnership you plan to form with her father."

The Dark Lord waited for a noise of assent before speaking again, "You are all dismissed. Draw no attention to yourselves. We are too close to the return of the Wizengamot's session to have our efforts wasted because other families find your manners distasteful. I will not have Dumbledore gaining an advantage that could easily be avoided."

Those at the table rose and bowed to their lord before leaving the room quietly, Severus being the last to leave with a glance back at the Dark Lord. The man was idly stroking the viper's long body that had twisted itself around his shoulders while clearly in deep thought; Severus almost pitied the person who occupied the Dark Lord's thoughts.

 


 

 

Holly walked down the wide marble hall, an owl perched on her shoulder and mail in her hands. Hedwig, her sweet snowy owl, preened her dark curls that were falling out of the clip at the back of her head. Hedwig had been with her as long as she could remember, having been bought for her by Sirius as a gift during her first trip to Diagon Alley to teach her something about responsibility; Holly knew it was mostly because Sirius couldn't resist her doe eyed look for long though.  

She shuffled through the envelopes that were addressed to her; now that she was out in Society, she had invites to other events that she would be expected to attend with either her father or Lady Malfoy escorting her. She entered their breakfast nook that overlooked the garden in the back yard through floor to ceiling glass windows.

"Da, the Ministry sent you a missive. Looks like another event to rub elbows at in attempts to open your vault door. They sent me one as well. Didn't think they'd care all that much for the Heiress just yet," She moved across the room to extend the message to Sirius before taking her seat while Hedwig shifted to the backing of her chair to perch over Holly's shoulder.

Sirius snorted, "Darling, if I have to sit through one more meeting with other Lords asking about your eligibility for a partnership with their thirty plus year old grubby family member, I'm going to start sending out howlers. You underestimate how lovely you were during your party, and you carry a hefty weight with your last names. You know I'm leaving your marriage decisions to you, I refuse to put you through what my grandparents forced my mother and father into, but please don't drag out my suffering for too long, if you could be so kind."

Holly's nose scrunched in disgust as she placed her mail to the side, tucking in to her brunch, "Thank you, I'm more than satisfied with my current relationship status, though. I may accidentally slip one of these days and jab Draco with the nearest sharp object if he doesn't learn to keep his paws to himself," she said as she gave a particularly rough cut to her grapefruit.

"You seemed to handle yourself well with him at the party," Sirius began before pausing for a moment to long, "The gentleman you danced with that had swept you away from the Malfoy boy, he was polite, yes?" He eyed Holly, almost as if searching for any hidden damage.

Holly halted slightly before continuing eating, only pausing to speak, "Yes, he was polite. A little forward, but I do know who he was, so I know a small amount of leniency would be afforded to him even if anyone heard it."

Sirius frowned, feeling his blood boil in a way it hadn't since he had last faced Dumbledore, "What did Lord Gaunt want? How was he forward? Do I need to go speak to him? I don't care if his house is literally the most bloody ancient and noble of them all, he's not above ettiquite."

"No, no. Not in the sense you're thinking. Not the way Draco would have been. He just seemed a little too keen to see where my mind lay. He was probing for something. You'd think I'd be glad to meet a Wizard who didn't see me as just a mannequin, but there was something in his gaze...something in the way he asked his questions. He was a little too focused on me." Holly's brows drew down as a frown overtook her face, remembering Lord Gaunt's grip on her. It had seemed like he saw more of Holly than most.

Sirius looked slightly troubled, but less outraged than moments before. Interest, while odd, was not necessarily a bad thing. Lord Gaunt had, not to his knowledge, taken a wife nor had any children to speak of. Most in the Wizengamot regarded Lord Gaunt as an oddity in the way he kept a polite distance from others, but that was nothing to be crucified for.

"Did it make you feel uncomfortable? Do you need me to cut off any contact he might have with us through these events? We're sure to run into him at an event or two." he asked, his hand reaching out to lay gently on Holly's own.

Holly shook her head in response; she couldn't allow her own discomfort at being looked at ruin any connections that Sirius might make. To make an enemy of the Gaunt line was to court death. "No, I can handle it. I'm sure it was just a passing fancy, what with all the attention being on me that night. I will meld with society and Lord Gaunt should have no reason to focus so intently on me again."

Sirius gave Holly's hand a squeeze before retreating, "Well, if you'd like to respond to both invites, I believe we're going to both attend. It's a large event so you shouldn't be under as much scrutiny. Large crowds tend to thankfully bring along slight anonymity."

Holly nodded, chewing over both her food and Sirius' words. She hoped Sirius was right and that the crowd would be enough, but to be frank, she knew in her gut that something would occur. She hoped it wouldn't explode in her face.

Chapter Text

The Ministry gala was in full swing by the time Holly stepped through the Grand Ballroom's entrance at her father's side. She handed off her cloak to a house elf and followed her father through the crowd to the bar. Tonight was a night for the current Minister, Charles Fawley, to meet with his constituents, smile for the Prophet, and attempt to secure his bid for Minister for the upcoming election next year. He was friendly with quite a few of the old families, particularly the Gaunt and Malfoy's, but was generally liked by all; Sirius always refrained from speaking ill of the man, even if he couldn't quite control his face while reading the paper.

Holly moved smoothly through the crowd with her father, taking care not to step on any robes or bump into anyone, and made sure to avoid the ballroom floor for now. Sirius handed her a glass of elfwine and took one for himself before they started to mingle. Holly kept her face bland with a small smile even though her shoulders attempted to climb to her ears; she could feel eyes tracking her every move; it was more than just the usual society ladies dissecting her looks. She was making polite small talk with one of the Ladies of the men that Sirius was talking to, discussing her newfound work at the Wizarding orphanage that was located on Ridge Row that branched off of Diagon Alley when she saw the woman's eyes latch onto a figure over her shoulder before she heard the person speak.

"Heiress Potter-Black, a new dance is about to begin, would you allow me the honor of being your partner?"

She heard a strong and sure masculine voice that was both familiar and foreign to her; she turned to face a young man that she had only seen in passing since they had graduated Hogwarts.

"Lord Longbottom," she replied, dipping into a curtsey, "I would be most delighted." Holly tossed a glance at Sirius who returned her look with a nod before she followed Neville to the dance floor.

Neville had grown in the past few years; gone was the awkward chunky boy with too big ears and buck teeth, and in his place stood a young, tall man with broad shoulders and a crooked yet straight-toothed grin.

"Might I address you as Holly?" Neville asked as he took lead position and began to dance with Holly, "If it's not too forward that is - you'd be free to call me Neville, of course. We were school mates after all. I find it awkward to stand on ceremony with those I regard as friends."

Holly's face lost some color, but her cheeks went ruddy, "I'm sorry, Lord Longbottom, as much as it pleases me that you count me as a friend, I must decline the use of our given names. To do so would be impolitic. I would not want it to reflect poorly on you or myself and my father."

Holly gave a small dip of her head in apology, barely holding the flare of her nose in irritation.

"Ah, well, can't blame a bloke for trying. Say, tell me, have you kept in touch with anyone from school? Some of us still meet from time to time, down at the leaky cauldron. You remember Ginny and Ron, Hermione, and Ernie, yeah? We all used to be in that defense club, the DA, together. You should join us, it's pretty relaxed compared to the Society parties. We don't have chaperones and it's not tight laced the way it is here."

Neville said this as if it would be the easiest thing in the world. Ginny Weasley didn't necessarily need a chaperone because her brother was there, but also because the Weasley family, sans Percy and Mr. Weasley, didn't involve themselves with High Wizarding Society. In years past they might have been referred to as Blood Traitors for shirking their own culture and embracing the Muggle one, but nowadays most families just tended to ignore the Weasley family as a whole.

"I must apologize again, but for me to go without a guardian would be unseemly. I'm glad that you all have kept in touch though, like minds and all," Holly replied, a diplomatic smile firmly in place.

"You've no idea! We are all working together to promote the new legislation that the Ol' Headmaster is bringing before the Wizengamot; you remember Headmaster Dumbledore yeah? Well, anyways, after hearing it, I couldn't help but agree, y'know? Kids and parents should be kept together, no matter if they're Muggleborn or not, y'know? And what's so wrong with celebrating Muggle holidays? It's a good way to include them and they're a sight better than some of the Old Rites."


Neville's voice remained a constant volume, if fluctuating in excitement, but he took no notice of the looks they were being given by the surrounding dancing couples, nor of Holly's growing discomfort and distress.

Holly glanced around and took the moment where most had glanced away to pretend to stumble. She reached down to her ankle with a grimace on her face and let out a sharp breath. Neville responded quickly and just as she had hoped.

"Holly! Oh Merlin, let's get you seated so we can look at that ankle." He guided her from the floor and to a nearby table so that she could take a seat. Holly felt her jaw clench minutely at his use of her first name but she let it pass for the moment.

Holly took the seat and massaged at the joint under the hem of her robe as Neville fretted, "It's okay Lord Longbottom, I'll be fine. This might just be a sign from Mother Magic to relax for the moment." She gave Neville a weak watery smile.

Neville shook his head while he scrounged around in his robes, a muleish look on his face as he pulled his wand,"I can heal it in a tick, then you  won't have to sit the night out. It's the least I can do!"

Holly went pale as she looked at Neville's wand in horror; she barely knew him and he was trying to use his magic on her? Appalled didn't even begin to cover how she felt. She vaguely remembered Neville not being particularly well versed in healing spells at school.

"Lord Longbottom," a cold, stern voice cut through Holly's shocked outrage and caused her skin to break out into goose flesh; she knew that voice.

"While your intentions are assuredly noble, I would advise you to refrain from using your wand on a witch that is not your family nor your betrothed. While that may be acceptable at your....meetings," he intoned with a small sneer, "it is beyond the norm here. It would not go amiss for you to retrieve her guardian so that he may see to her injury."

Lord Gaunt's body towered over Holly's seated form from behind while his body gave off an unbearable heat. She couldn't see his face, but going from Neville's she knew that he must have looked forbidding.

Neville blinked before his face went hard and cold, but Holly spoke before he could open his mouth, "Neville, please, would you get my father for me? Lord Gaunt is an acquaintance and will be fine as my chaperone for the moment."

Neville gave Lord Gaunt a rudely assessing look before he glanced at Holly with softer eyes, "I'll get your Da for you. Be right back."

"Lord Black," Lord Gaunt corrected Neville sharply and made Holly blanch, "He is most assuredly not 'Da' to you. Show some respect for your elders." his eyes glinted threateningly, daring Neville to talk back.

Holly could hear the sneer in his voice and the fight lurking underneath, so she let out a sharp gasp and clutched her ankle spasmodically, thankfully drawing Neville's attention to her. She glanced at him from under her lashes with her doe green eyes, "please Neville? My father?"

Neville gave Lord Gaunt one last burning glance before returning his attention to Holly to nod. He spun on his heel, almost as if apparating, and strode through the crowd, tactlessly bumping into others to find her father. Hopefully that would keep him occupied. She was pretty sure her father had gone to the balcony to smoke with some other gentlemen and while it would be hard to spot him, he would no doubt have a decent view of her.

"A chair, my Lady, to prop your foot on. Best to keep it elevated before Lord Black arrives."

Holly gave a sharp twitch, having somehow forgot the foreboding presence behind her. He rounded her seat and put another chair before her as a place to put her foot.

"Oh! Well, thank you. I should be fine though, it was a minor twist of the ankle, it's honestly feeling better already," Holly attempted, trying to work her way out of his care without straight up lying to the man's face; it just wasn't the done thing.

"Nonsense," he replied, a slightly sadistic look in his eyes and a smile tugging up the corner of his infuriating mouth, "Unless your injury was a ruse? Very daring, I must say, to lie to a Lord in such a crowded area. Unladylike some might say."

The smile was nearing a smirk now and Holly could feel the indignation rise in her soul. Her ears were aflame and she couldn't help the scrunch of her nose, nor the furrow of her brow.

"Well, Lord Gaunt, the only one who is saying that is you, and to be frank, who would believe you when you're not the one injured?"

Lord Gaunt's eyebrows lifted towards his hairline as he seated himself in front of Holly; she clearly wasn't going to use the chair, so someone might as well.

"Now, now. No one is accusing you of anything, but one must wonder why a well bred heiress would be faking an injury to escape a man who is not only a Lord, but also the touted 'Boy-Who-Lived'. Hypothetically, of course." His tone was mocking, but not necessarily cruel.

"It's not that!" Holly retorted before realizing how loud she had become when she saw others looking at her.

"It's not that," she repeated more quietly, "I wasn't trying to escape, it's just that he doesn't understand the dangers that the Chief Warlock's legislation could pose! He practically spits on centuries of British Wizarding tradition, and refuses to follow etiquette even in a place that is so clearly conforming to those standards. It's one thing for him to speak in that manner with family or friends in private, but to do so in a public setting, at a Ministry Gala no less, is barmy!"

Holly let out a harsh breath as she finished her impromptu speech, before freezing and glancing up as she remembered who her audience was, "That's all hypothetical, of course. I have injured my ankle, of course, so I would have no reason to 'escape' as you so....delicately put it."

Lord Gaunt let out a soft huff of laughter, disbelief and amusement warring in his eyes. He flashed Holly a small grin filled with teeth that paused Holly's breath, "Of course, my Lady," he gave her a shallow, mocking bow, "I would not hold your reasoning against you. Well, the hypothetical you."

His gaze trailed over Holly's face, interest writ all over his features, "Please, let me know if it is unseemly, but I would like to ask that you refer to me by my given name, Tom, or if that is not possible, Lord Tom or My Lord would suffice. I find that I would not mind the address coming from you."

Holly's face went up in flames and she ducked her head, bringing up her hand to brush her hair into her face slightly to hide the color. She could feel Lord Ga--....Tom's gaze like a physical touch taking her in. "I could be persuaded, My Lord. But only if you were so inclined to return the favor. Holly, Heiress Holly, or Lady Holly are all acceptable forms of address."

Her face was still tucked down, so she missed the brief flash of possesiveness cross Tom's face as his smile grew into a shark-toothed grin, "I suppose I could be so inclined, Lady Holly. Now, your ankle seems to have made a miraculous recovery. Almost magic, one could say. So I must ask, would you honor me with a dance?"

He extended a fine, deceptively delicate hand to Holly in an open request. Holly regarded it for a small amount of time; should she? She knew that there was something dangerous lurking within the charming veneer, but she was sure it couldn't be so bad if he was able to still walk the streets and attend Ministry Galas. She felt a frisson of warmth rebound from his bare palm to hers as she placed her hand in his and watched Tom's pupils dilate as he took in their joined hands, his fair skin mixing with her sandy tone. His fingers enclosed on her hand a fraction too tight before releasing to a normal strength as he helped her to her feet.

Holly shuddered out of her lungs at the look of hunger in Tom's eyes that she met head on. She would not be cowed by his strength; she didn't know what it was that had interested him so when their hands met, but she was interested to say the least.

"Lead on, my Lord," she said, giving a small curtsey before rising to stare Tom full in the face unashamedly.

Tom gave a quick, lascivious smile that was 'blink and you miss it' quick before he lead her to the ballroom floor.

'Honestly,' Holly thought to herself, 'nothing could go too wrong in a room full of fully armed Witches and Wizards.'

She herself was armed, and if Tom thought she was an easy mark, well, he'd learn different quick enough.

Chapter Text

"My dear boy, it has been too long since we last spoke."

Sirius was at least ninety eight percent sure that the crystal goblet in his grasp would have shattered if it wasn't charmed against such actions.

"I don't remember inviting you to talk to me, Chief Warlock. I think I distinctly remember telling you to bugger off and to turn the other way when you saw me the last time we spoke."

Sirius heard the infuriating jingle of the bell that tied together Albus Dumbledore's infernal beard together as the old man was most likely stroking the blasted thing in what he thought gave him a 'wise old man' appearance, as James had liked to call it.

"My dear boy, I know you are not still holding onto that grudge that you claimed so long ago," Dumbledore threw him a disappointed glance, his tone heavy with faux sadness, "I regret what had happened to the Potters, but the past cannot be undone. I would change it if only I could."

Sirius felt a snarl fighting to take over his face; the downside to having a canine animagus he supposed.

"I'm sure that you regret it, if only because it was a calculative mistake on your part, nevermind the fact that it cost Holly and I our family. You look at the bigger picture way too often, Dumbledore. Voldemort thankfully died that night at Godric's Hollow. That does not, however, give you reason to speak to me. In fact, it seems as though Holly might need my assistance, so I must bid you goodnight."

Sirius made a move to step away, but Dumbledore's deceptively strong grip caught him by the elbow, pulling him in closer. His face was no longer the Genial Old Grandfather, but instead the man who went wand to wand with the Dark Lord Grindlewald.

"No. Holly is fine for the moment. I asked Neville to watch over her while I came to speak to you."

Sirius jerked slightly and rounded on Dumbledore, ready to draw on him, but Dumbledore spoke before he could, his voice low and unintelligible to anyone around them save Sirius himself.

"This is dangerous, what I'm about to tell you. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did not die that night. We're not exactly sure how, but he still is very much alive. The Order has been tracking down some of the Muggle families that had given up their children, trying to find statistics for the new proposal, and something horrible keeps cropping up. The families either carry no knowledge of the child they gave away, or they're no where to be found. We're not sure if it is because they have left Britain, or because of something more sinister."

Sirius could feel his shoulders tightening as Dumbledore spoke, and by the end he felt as if his soul had been sucked out through his mouth.

"What?"

"The Muggle authorities in charge of the missing persons cases are showing signs of memory tampering. We're meeting still in the same place, send an owl if you wish to join us. I cannot force you, but I do hope you will come. We could use your help. You're in a unique position, Lord Black."

Sirius looked up at Dumbledore, his heart and mind at war; should he trust the man who had essentially lead to the death of the people he called brother and sister? Or was this just the paranoia of an old Wizard who had seen too much in his life and now jumped at every turn, the way old Mad Eye Moody had?

"I need time to think on this. I--...I don't know if I can trust everything you've told me. I need time."

Albus nodded, finally letting go of Sirius' elbow before glancing into the crowd, drawing Sirius' eyes to none other than Neville Longbottom, who approached at a pace that was both leisurely, yet somehow still urgent.

"Sir. Lord Black." Neville greeted them both before turning his attention to Dumbledore fully.

"I'm sorry sir. I could only keep close to her so long. I brought up the topic of the Leaky Cauldron to her, but she seemed reticent to the idea. I thought upsetting her enough to get her off the dance floor and to a place where we could speak with less ears surrounding us would help, but before I could do anything, he was there."

Neville seemed supremely annoyed when he mentioned this 'he', enough so that Sirius couldn't keep his questions to himself.

"'He' who? Are you speaking about Holly?"

Neville glanced from Sirius to Dumbledore, waiting for permission before speaking to Sirius.

"Yes, Lord Black. I was trying to speak to Holly when Lord Gaunt arrived."

Neville spoke Lord Gaunt's name as if someone had shoved polyjuice made from Goyle sr. or Crabbe sr. down his throat. Dumbledore looked mildly concerned, a frown growing on his face.

"You're sure he was there for her?"

"Yes. Any time I tried to make a connection or attempt to speak in a way that might bring us closer, he interrupted and practically took my head off for it."

Dumbledore shook his head, his gaze moving out to the floor and finding the dancing couple there, Holly looking as if she was somewhere between enjoying herself and extreme wariness, as if she knew she was in the arms of someone dangerous.

"Why are you so concerned about Lord Gaunt? What does he have to do with all of this?"

Sirius could feel his confusion rising as his eyes sought out Holly; he knew Lord Gaunt could be dangerous, his lineage certainly pointed towards that, but he shouldn't have any reason to target Holly specifically.

"We think that Voldemort is using the Old families as a base, so to speak, Sir."

Sirius glanced sharply at Neville and then at Dumbledore.

"Explain."

Sirius' tone brokered no arguments.

"We can't go into much more here, my boy, but if you come to the old meeting place, we can. I'd suggest collecting Holly, before they get too close. We're not sure who to trust in the old families, besides you," Dumbledore said gently, giving Sirius a small nod of his head, "Owl me if interested, and I can send you the date and location. Have a good night, Sirius."

Sirius nodded before finding Holly again in the crowd, striding towards her; They needed to go, now.

 



"So, Lady Holly, you seem to have firm feelings about the Wardship act."

Holly's attention snapped back to Tom, having drifted for a moment before his voice brought her back.

"Please don't insult my intelligence by pretending you don't. I would think at this point that you'd feel comfortable enough to share with me asking you to."

Holly let out a small huff of breath as she smiled wryly; she supposed she was too readable tonight, if he could see the lie coming from that far off.

"No, I don't suppose you'd buy it a second time, my Lord," Holly felt his posture straighten a slight bit more, "I think it stems from how my life could have gone without my father."

Tom's dark eyes searched her face, "Do tell. Most witches refuse to speak about these things, but I believe that's a whole section of the population's intelligence that we're suffering without."

Holly cocked her head in surprise; most wizards didn't care to hear the ideas of a Society Witch. She thought about how she might phrase what she was going to say, before speaking carefully.

"Most know, so I'm going to assume you do as well, but my family had been a minor target of a Dark Lord some odd years back. The main target was Lord Longbottom, but I guess I fit the profile that a prophecy had laid out well enough. My parents didn't take enough precautions when they went into hiding, and ended up paying with their lives. If my father hadn't shown up, I'm sure there's a very real possibility I would have gone to live with my mum's muggle sister and her family. They're not too fond of anything outside of the norm, so I can only imagine how I would have been treated, if they had kept me at all in the first place."

Tom's eyes didn't necessarily soften, but they did lose some of the sharpness that the usually carried, "I'm sorry for your loss. It must have been hard. I'm glad you were able to grow up with Lord Black; I find the thought of your spirit being destroyed while living with those.....muggles," a passing sneer graced his face before he continued, "an utter shame."

"Thank you. It doesn't hurt the way it did when I was growing up, but I do miss the thought of what my family could have been if they had survived. My father likes to remind me that they went down defying a Dark Lord for me, and that nothing could have changed the outcome. They would have always given their lives for me."

Holly shook her head before shooting a bright smile up at Tom, "That is the past though; I think the thought of what could have happened if I had been placed with my aunt, or in an orphanage, is what forms my stance about the Act. That and the statistics. It's been proven effective for both parties and the growth of young witches and wizards. Even now, I find it better that there is a wizarding orphanage set up, instead of those children being subjected to a muggle one. You know the place, yes? I try to volunteer there as much as possible; I'd like to think that when I'm married one day, I might be able to take on a few wards to help the strain the orphanage faces."

Tom's eye's darkened slightly, as he pulled Holly slightly closer, "That's quite noble of you, my Lady. Not many take the time to physically help; instead they push money at the problem and expect it to be fixed that way, but don't realize that it takes hands to implement changes just as much as galleons. Maybe I shall see you there one day."

Holly smiled softly up at Tom, "I think I'd like that."

Tom looked over her shoulder before letting out a breath and stepping away from Holly. He kissed the back of her hand and gave her a bow.

"It looks as though our dance is coming to a close. I shall see you again, Holly."

He sent her a rakish grin before slipping away into the crowd.

Holly watched Tom go, a small tint to her cheeks and a small smile ghosting across her face. Talking to Tom had been, dare she say it, nice. He didn't treat her as a child, or a doll, the way most men would.

She startled when she felt a hand land on her shoulder. Her father pressed a kiss to the top of her head before speaking.

"Love, it's time to go. We've stayed long enough."

Holly nodded, sliding her hand into the crook of Sirius' elbow. They made their way to the cloak return and let Sirius drape hers on her shoulders.

"Hollyberry. I need you to do something for me. I need you to stay away from Lord Gaunt. I normally wouldn't step in, but something is off. Please, until I can figure if he's safe for us to be around," His voice was soft so as not to travel, and his grey eyes were like granite.

Holly swallowed, and then nodded, "Yes, da'. I can do that."

She wouldn't fight her father on this. He was rarely this serious about things, nor this soft spoken. She gave her father's arm a squeeze as they left for the apparition point, not noticing a dark shadow breaking off from the mass of blackness in the corner.

Chapter Text

Maroon tinted eyes inspected the fire crackling in the hearth as Tom's slim, elegant fingers twisted the golden ring situated on the middle finger of his left hand. His mind replayed the moment his hand and the Heiress' had met, for once with no fabric between them; he remembered the rush of sensation that for once had dulled his senses of the world around him, if only momentarily, and the odd taste of magic on his tongue that seemed so familiar yet so foreign. The mere thought of it had been plaguing his already sleepless nights, practically driving him to distraction, if he were given to that sort of thing. He shifted in his seat, his legs crossing, one knee over the other as he sneered slightly; no, he could not afford whatever this -- this distraction was. As pretty as the Heiress was, that was all she was. If he needed to fulfill his baser urges, he had plenty to choose from, no need to scrape and bow to a mere girl all for a second's rush.

A quick knock on the study's door broke Tom's reverie.

He gave a small twitch of his fingers and opened the door to allow both his snake, Nagini, and Severus entrance. Another flick and the door shut soundlessly before he curled a finger to beckon Severus closer.

"Severus, what news have you brought me? I assume it is of importance for you to come at this hour."

He barely glanced as Severus knelt next to his high backed chair and resumed fiddling with his ring.

"My Lord, I beg pardon for the intrusion, but I have come from the Order meeting."

Severus paused, and if Tom were anyone else it would have gone unnoticed. His murky gaze fixed upon Severus' bowed head.

"What."

It was more command than question, and Tom had the distinct feeling that what came from Severus' mouth next was bound to irritate him.

"It seems Black has made contact with Dumbledore, My Lord. The old man tried to be tantalizingly secretive about it, but after what I had overheard at the party, and the distinct owl which had proceeded Dumbledore's announcement, I have a firm reason to believe that he may be at the next meeting."

Ah. Yes. There was the irritation. In the distance of his mind, he made note to visit Malfoy Manor later, once he had time. Tom's sneer was sharp and his eyes reflected the fire before him. He laced his fingers together in his lap and returned his gaze to the fire as Nagini crawled her way up the back of his chair and curled her head and part of her upper body around his shoulders.

"You will keep an eye on him. If his ideas become a little too ordered, shall we say, then I shall need to know."

"Of course, My Lord," Severus' glance darted up to his Lord and then back down before he continued on hesitantly, "and of the girl?"

"No one will touch her. If her father proves to be a dead end, then she may become of use to us."

If he was a more whimsical man, he'd think fate was out to shove him towards her, but that was a childish notion. She would be easy to bend should her father find himself indisposed, and if he tethered her to him using her feelings, then all the more easy it would be for his plans.

Severus gave a bow, recognizing that his Lord's attention had shifted, and that he was no longer needed. Tom remained seated as thoughts flashed through his brown eyes, the fire blending into their reflection to create an almost hellish red. A cuppa appeared next to his chair, and as he picked up the to cradle the heat close, he tapped out a sort of hypnotic metronome with the fine china and his ring to help sooth and order his thoughts. He could create this .... relationship and mold it to his will, and get the added benefit of figuring out why the girl's touch had left him feeling wrong-footed.

 


 


The sound of children's screams filled the air on a bright Monday afternoon.

"No! No! You CAN'T!" shrieked a little girl, barely seven years old, as fingers caught her by the rib cage and hoisted her from the ground.

"Silence! You're mine now, my little treasure!"

Holly growled this out, holding the child sky high while pretending to be the Dragon in this day's game of Wizards and Witches vs. various magical creatures. Holly had perfected her Dragon's voice especially for these days; what was the point of doing something if you didn't do it properly?

"No, Miss Holly! Nooooo!" The little girl named Amelia squealed, kicking her little legs fruitlessly in the air as she giggled.

"Let her go, beast! You can't have her! She's our friend!" cried a small boy named Barney, who was gangly, freckly, and almost nine years old, as he liked to remind everyone at every chance he got. He and the other kids had branches that they wielded like wands, which they pointed at Holly as they surrounded her.

"I know you! Dragon Tamer! You and your kin are feared among my kind!" Holly pretended to hiss as she stepped back, taking Amelia with her who was wrapped around her like a Lethifold. Amelia was giggling too hard to be of any use to her friends, and she had buried her face in Holly's neck to muffle the sound.

"It is too late, though! I shall take this girl back to my hoard where she shall be the centerpiece, my greatest treasure! There is nothing you can do to stop me!" Holly gave a rumbling, evil laugh that she definitely hadn't practiced, no sir.

"We'll show you! Incarcerous!" the young boy and his cohorts cried out.

Holly set down Amelia gently as she sunk to her knees in the grass before flopping over as if the spell had bound her. She gave a little growl and a puff of air before speaking.

"Now that you have caught me, what is it that you wish, Dragon Tamer? What must I do to have you set me free?"

The kids circled up to whisper shout the way children did while Amelia sat next to her and leaned back into her torso. It seemed that they had come to a consensus as Barney stepped forward as their spokesperson.

"Great Dragon! We request that you make us those triple chocolate chip cauldron cookies that you brought us last week!"

Holly bit her lip to keep in a laugh as all the other little heads behind Barney nodded vigorously, their faces a mixture of hope and seriousness. She pretended to mull over the request before giving a sharp nod, "Very well, Wizards and Witches, you have a deal."

You would have thought that the Irish boy she knew of in Hogwarts, Something-Pinnigan or whatever, had blown up his cauldron in potions class again from the explosion of noise that followed her agreement. The kids all piled on to her and she laughed as she tickled a few here and there, before a voice rang across the yard and broke up the fun.

"Children! Time for lunch! Leave Miss Holly and come wash up!"

Matron Pickett's voice was warm, yet firm as she summoned the children. She had been matron here since as long as Holly could remember; her name was practically synonymous with this orphanage at this point.

The squirming mass vanished from atop of Holly, sans Amelia, who remained at her side dutifully, waiting for Holly to rise and take her hand.

Holly hefted herself up and patted down her skirts of the light blue cotton robe she wore, before she and Amelia made their way inside. Holly could feel the soft smile taking up her face as she looked down at the little girl at her side; if she was older, she would take Amelia as her ward in a heart beat. Amelia had unruly black tresses, similar to hers, but her skin was milky and her eyes were a bright amber. She had been taken in by the orphanage at a young age; her parents had given Amelia up as she started to display accidental magic, or so Matron Pickett had informed her. Fear, she suspected, had been a rather large factor in her parent's decision, and the ministry had gladly taken in the child and brought her to the Wizarding Orphanage in the relative countryside not too far from the Black Manor.

As Holly and Amelia entered the kitchen through the back door, the sight before her caused her to pause; against the counter leaned a very familiar figure with his crisp, white button down's sleeves rolled to his elbows, his over-robe hanging on a hook near the back door as he helped Matron Pickett set the table for the children who were upstairs getting cleaned up. His hair was falling in loose waves across his forehead instead of being so strictly styled the way Holly was used to.

"T-Tom!" Holly stuttered before slapping a hand over her mouth, completely mortified at her slip up; in front of the Matron no less. Merlin's saggy left one, she had no decorum. She hadn't thought that he would ever appear here, and the shock had loosened her tongue.

Tom glanced up from under his lashes, a dangerous, lopsided grin on his face as he took in Holly, who self-consciously flattened her hair with one hand, knowing she looked a mess from all her play with the kids.

"Holly," he teased, "What an odd chance, you and I meeting here. One might say it was fate, my Lady."

He sketched a quick bow, obviously laughing at Holly's discomfort from the look in his eyes.

"Ah yes, Lady Potter-Black! Lord Gaunt was here helping me get lunch ready while you distracted the rabble," Matron Pickett spoke up, eye the pair of them speculatively, "Quite the gentleman."

Holly felt a small tug on the skirt of her robes, and she started slightly as she remembered Amelia at her side. The young girl had hid herself behind Holly's skirts, and now she peered around them at both the matron and at Lord Gaunt; she seemed weary of Lord Gaunt in particular.

"Amelia, my sweet," Holly spoke softly, crouching down to look at Amelia face to face, "Can you go wash up for me, Love? I'll be down here when you're finished eating lunch."

Amelia glanced at the other two adults before she nodded and darted in to give Holly a tight hug around the neck that Holly returned with the same fierceness, before she scampered upstairs, calling out to the other kids.

Holy stood and watched her go with a small smile before turning back to Tom.

"Lord Gaunt," she started, dipping into a small curtsey, "I apologize for my forwardness, I did not mean any offense by using only your given name."

"Such a shame, really. I was hoping you had taken my request to heart from the last time we spoke and had decided to become more familiar with me."

He had a sly grin on his face as Matron Pickett eyed the two of them harder, no doubt picking over their interaction until now and how 'close' they might really be. Holly felt her eyes narrow as she looked Tom over, her mouth pursing in mild annoyance.

"I would not go so far as to say we were .... familiar. Merely acquaintances. I apologize if my manner of speech implied more that that."

"Ah, my dear, that would be true, had we not danced together multiple times, no?"

His eyes said he was enjoying her irritation far too much.

Before Holly could say anything cutting, Matron Pickett broke in, apparently having come to her own conclusions -- not that Tom had helped the situation any. Arse.

"Well! Lady Potter-Black, you and Lord Gaunt can retire to the patio out back. I'll have Pippy bring out afternoon tea for you both. A nice Earl Grey should do the trick, I imagine."

She shooed the pair of them out the back door, and Holly walked stiffly to the patio table, halting as Tom pulled out her chair and gestured to it with a mock bow, "My Lady."

She sat down while throwing Tom a dirty glance and let him guide her chair in before he seated himself across from her. She eyed him as if his head were filled with the nargles that Luna loved to discuss when they got together every so often for tea.

He crossed his legs and looked particularly pleased with himself. Nothing was overt, but she could tell by the slight tilt to the corner of his mouth and the minute crinkle in the corners of his eyes that you'd have to be close to see.

The tea arrived in a quick fashion and Holly set about fixing herself a cup before taking a hasty sip in a bid to keep her mouth busy, nearly scalding the roof of her mouth in the process. She heard a small snort and she looked up to glare at Tom, who sat placidly with a cup of tea in hand and a straight face. They sat in relative silence, until Holly could no longer take it. Bastard had probably wanted her to break first anyway.

"So, might I ask what brought you here? Rumour has it that you're more involved with funding instead of hands on volunteer work when it comes to children," she said, knowing the question was slightly rude but not caring.

Tom observed her a moment more, his ring tapping against his cup in a soft, hypnotic clink clink clink. It was an oddly soothing sound.

"Truthfully?" he asked, his eyes locked with hers, "to see you. I was intrigued by our talk at the gala, and I wanted to see if we could continue. Don't give me that look," he said with a small huff of laughter at her incredulous look, "Most do not speak to me as an equal due to my status, and if they agree with me, they do not share their reasoning. It is awfully boring, and I find myself frustrated at the lack of intelligence that generally surrounds the people who cling to me."

Holly couldn't help the sarcastic roll of her eyes, "Oh yes, it must be so hard for you to get your way at every turn," she simpered before pinning him with her eyes, "The truth if you please, though. I'm young, not stupid. You spin a pretty tale, but it isn't the truth. Or at least not the whole truth."

His jaw twitched slightly as he eyed her in return, "Pardon me then. It was my fault to think you naive. It is not the most pleasant thing to speak about with polite company, but as you have insisted, you're grown enough."

He paused, a small frown line marring his brow on what was usually a smooth face.

"I hold orphanages in a certain regard. Particularly how they are run. I did not have the best upbringing, having been in a Muggle orphanage, but that is neither here nor there," he waved a hand in the air as if brushing away less than pleasing thoughts, "I keep a closer eye on the orphanage and visit every so often to make sure that we, as a society are not letting down the children that have already faced too many hardships."

"Their Muggle relatives," he said the word as if it were a slur, "have let them down too much already by abandoning them in the first place. It's only right to make sure they at least are cared for before they're taken in by a proper Wizarding family."

Holly felt something in her chest soften as she took in the man in front of her. She hadn't known that he had grown up in an orphanage, but then again, not many knew much about the Lord of the Gaunt line. He kept himself closed off to almost everyone. She knew she shouldn't have felt pleased to know this small tidbit, what with Sirius' warning ringing in the back of her mind, but it felt like a small rush of power to know something about him that most others probably didn't.

 


 

Tom watched the girl in front of him, cataloguing the softening in the corner of her eyes, the loosening of her grip on the cup. Yes. Give an inch and then one can take a mile, especially where the fairer sex was concerned. They loved a damaged soul to fix, no matter that his soul was too far gone for anyone to repair. He made his choices and had come out stronger for them.

He opened his mouth to continue on, but before he could get too far, a small child dashed out the back door and bolted for the Heiress. He barely hid his sneer; children should most definitely not be seen or heard, as his old infernal matron used to say. He wasn't sure what else could possibly interrupt them, but Salazar must have been listening to his frustrations and sent one in the form of a young brown haired man who had been a pain in his side for far too long.

 



"Amelia!"

Holly placed her cup down quickly so that the little girl could climb into her lap and curl her arms around Holly's neck.

"Miss Holly, I don't like him. Make him leave," Amelia whispered into Holly's ear as quietly as possible, and Holly's eyes flashed up to Tom, catching the tail of something ugly on his face, but it was gone far too fast for her to be sure.

She was about to chide Amelia for her rudeness, but stopped when she witnessed Lord Longbottom step through the back door, looking ruffled and sheepish.

"Hello, Lord Gaunt. Ho-- I mean Lady Potter Black," he gave a small bow before his eyes fell on their tea, "Oh, I'm sorry to interrupt, Matron Pickett had pointed me out here when I had asked after your cloaks, and Amelia decided to tag along."

He ran a hand through his hair and gave it a small ruffle before sending them a shy smile, "Would it be okay to join?"

Holly let out a small laugh, but Tom remained rigid, displeasure written all over his features.

"Y--"

"No."

Holly had barely gotten out the first letter of affirmation when Tom's cold voice had cut across hers. She stared at him and his blatant rudeness before turning to Neville, feeling out of sorts.

"I'm sorry Neville, I don't know what has gotten into him, but you're free to--"

"Leave. You're free to leave."

His voice was like ice, and his eyes spelled out danger if he was disobeyed. Neville looked shocked, rightfully so. Holly could feel her temper rise like an oncoming wave, washing over her. Before she knew it, her mouth had opened and spoken without her brain's consent.

"Yes. You can leave."

She had stood, Amelia on her hip and hiding against her as she faced Lord Gaunt with a vicious sneer on her face.

"I must remind you that you have no say over this situation. You intruded on my day here, and now you believe you can demand who stays and who goes? At least he had the grace to ask permission to join!"

She gestured at Neville who looked like someone had hit him with a confundus as he watched the both of them. Tom's jaw clenched as he stood, his seat sliding back with an awful screech before toppling over as he took in Neville and then her, before brushing down the front of his shirt.

"So be it. To think you had once faked an injury to avoid Lord Longbottom, and now you've become bosom buddies," his eyes glinted angrily and his sneer was worse than hers, "You were right to remind me of your age. I almost had forgotten you were nothing but a child."

He turned and brushed past Neville, almost slamming into him before disappearing into the house to retrieve his cloak and disapparate.

Holly let out a breath and slumped back into her chair while holding Amelia close for comfort. She glanced up at Neville sheepishly and nodded to the chair.

"Sorry about that. Father says I have a temper like my mother did. Unfortunate some times. I apologize on his behalf for the rudeness."

Neville righted and slid into the newly vacant seat before shaking his head, "It's alright, Lady Potter-Black. You don't need to apologize. I'm sorry if I interrupted your day."

Holly let out a small laugh, "You were no interruption at all. He had commandeered my day and turn about is fair play. I am sorry about the 'escaping you' bit though. Bit tactless of me."

Neville laughed loudly, his eyes shining brightly in amusement, "We were brought up in the same world, I think I can recognize an escape when I see one. I admit I might have been a bit too loose with my tongue and my drink that night, and I recognize it made you uncomfortable. I apologize for that."

Holly felt the side of her mouth curve up, "Well, we all have our days. Thank you though."

Neville nodded, "It's no problem at all really. I had just come to drop off some supplies for the Matron, so I should be headed out. It was nice to see you though."

He stood, and Holly felt something rise up in her throat.

"Neville... I was wondering. Would that invite to the Leaky Cauldron still be open to me? Hypothetically speaking, of course?"

Neville lit up and was smiling like a mad man, "Of course! We're actually meeting up tomorrow night if you'd like to join, 6 o'clock if you would hypothetically like to come.....Holly?"

Holly nodded in approval at the unspoken request to use her name. She watched Neville leave, almost getting run over by the children on their way back outside to play. As she and Amelia were tugged into the next game, she felt a sharp sting of anger. If she was so childish, she should make friends her own age for once. Lord Gaunt could go play with Fiendfyre for all she cared; to think she had felt any softness for him earlier. She wouldn't let him that close again. The look on his face when seeing Amelia and Neville sent a bad feeling down Holly's spine; Sirius had been right to warn her away.

Chapter Text

Mia cried into her sleeve, trying her best to be quiet the way mum had told her while hiding her. Daddy had been downstairs when the screaming had started and mum had gone to help him, but now there was only silence. Maybe mum and dad had managed to call the police and had forgotten where they hid her? That had been a while ago, and they had told her not to come out until they came to get her, but one peek wouldn't hurt, right?

She uncurled from the back of the closet and reached out to pop the door slightly to look out into the bedroom. As she leaned out a shadow fell over her. She looked up, up, up at a severely pallid man with sharp beady black eyes and greasy long black hair. He wore a funny black dress and reminded her of a large bat. She tried to scramble into the back of the closet but the damage had been done. He grabbed her shoulder and dragged her downstairs to the living room.

When she entered, the first thing Mia noticed was an extremely large snake poking out from behind the sofa; it looked like it had been wrapping around something, but mia was being moved too fast to look for long. The second thing Mia saw was a man lounging on her daddy's high backed chair like he was the King. Mia thought him pretty like the princes in the stories mum told her before she went to bed until his eyes connected with hers. They reminded her of the hellfire that the pastor preached about on Sundays. Mia was sure she was looking into the face of the devil; beautiful and yet terrifying.

She glanced around frantically, searching for her parents; she saw a glance of a shoe through the kitchen floor, but she was pushed too close to the man in the chair to be concerned with the shoe for long.

"Severus," the man on the chair addressed the other man behind her in acknowledgement.

"My Lord," Severus (what sort of name was that? she thought) bowed, forcing her into one as well with the grip he had on her shoulder.

Severus' Lord leaned forward and grasped her chin in an uncomfortably tight grip, inspecting her and turning her head side to side. Mia tried to tug away, but that just made him smile.

"Oh dear," he said in a soft, soothing tone, almost cooing at her, "You poor lamb. You seem to be frightened of me."

His smile became sharp and dangerous, "I promise this will be over soon and we'll be on our way. Nothing to fret about."

His bloody eyes glanced up to Severus over her shoulder and his tone became cold and business-like once more, "The others?"

"The disposal unit is digging out a shallow grave in the flower bed and setting up the scene to look like a murder-suicide. Lucius' team is reaching out to the contacts in the ministry to contact Thicknesse in the DMLE so that he can do memory and damage control with the Muggle authorities."

Mia jerked at the words, but only succeeded in hurting herself more because the devil's grip on her chin wouldn't loosen. He barely spared her a glance before speaking to Severus once more.

"All that is left is her," he tipped Mia's head up with his grip before shoving her back into Severus' hands once more. "Hold her still."

The hands that clamped on her arms were a death grip, holding her still no matter how she tried to thrash and buck out of Severus' hands. The devil raised a stick between her eyes with an amused look on his face.

"This will be over soon. Obliviate."

Mia felt her mind go hazy.

What was this feeling....?

Where were mum and dad?

She had hid.....-

That's right, she had hid from them because her father had been drinking again.

He had swung at her, and her mum had told her to run and hide.

Her dad had been yelling about her 'freakishness' and how he would beat it out of her. He always yelled about this when he drank, and he was drunk more often than not.

She had heard screaming from her hiding spot before a loud pop split the air.

A few silent minutes went by before she heard another pop and then the house was deathly silent besides the sound of her crying.

But how had she gotten out of the closet?

She vaguely remembered a man in a red robe.

Yes she remembered now; he had come to help her, because her 'freakishness' - magic he had called it- had alerted the roarers to the danger she was in.

Dad had killed Mum and then himself when he couldn't find her.

She was so tired though.

It wouldn't cause too much trouble to sleep before she got to her new home with the other kids like her, would it?

She was just....so......tired...

Severus looked down dispassionately at the limp child in his arms.

"The Orphanage, my Lord?"

"Yes, Quietly. I will make sure those in the ministry that need to be alerted will be. I hold no confidence in Lucius. Matron Pickett is aware that you will be coming with a child tonight."

Severus bowed once more before he twisted on his heel and disapparated to the orphanage.

Voldemort stood before looking down at Nagini in amusement.

"No, my ssssweet. I sssshall find you another meal. Thissss muggle filth needsssss to be left ssssso that my followerssss may usssse her corpssssse."

Nagini, who already had the muggle's corpse in her body up to her knees, threw Voldemort a glance as if thinking about disobeying before regurgitating what she had swallowed to follow her master.

"yesssss masssster. The female wassssss too sssskinny anywayssss."

Voldemort snorted in amusement as he stepped over the useless corpse of the male muggle in the kitchen on his way to the back door. Muggle trash like this didn't deserve a precious magical child. They would stamp out everything special in the child with their religious nonsense about witchcraft and devil worship. He refused to lose magical blood, no matter how tainted. The children could be retaught the proper wizarding way. His mind briefly brushed on the Potter-Black girl; he felt a snarl twist his features. How dare she raise her voice to him. He, who had gone farther than any other Wizard alive, who had done more for their society and survival than any other.

He paused outside to let Nagini crawl up his leg and wrap around his torso and shoulders, "I'll get you another treat, one that is fat enough. Now hold tight, my sweet."

They disapparated, leaving behind a barely audible pop in the otherwise silent, calm night.

Chapter Text

"Order, order!"

Dumbledore stood at the head of the table in the Weasley kitchen, looking around at the faces of what remained of the Order. Molly and Arthur, Tonks, Remus, Kingsley, Mad Eye Moody, Severus, and now, finally, Sirius Black. They were a small group, but they were resourceful and placed in the right areas.

"Tonight, I'd like to welcome back into the fold my dear boy, Sirius. Sirius, while the circumstances are less than pleasant, I'm still glad to have you in our midsts."

Sirius was at the end of the table across from Dumbledore, seated in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest and a look of mistrust written plain across his face for everyone to see.

"Not that I don't believe you, Albus, but I find it extremely hard to believe. To think that You-Know-Who survived sounds completely insane."

Dumbledore nodded while stroking his beard, "Yes my boy, I know it is a lot to take in, but I've had both Kingsley and Tonks here working in the Ministry for a while, secretly watching certain players that all hold a connection to Lucius Malfoy who had been known to us as a follower of Voldemort during his rise. There's been a suspicious amount of palm greasing and a few of the higher up ministry officials show signs of either confundus charms or possible compulsions."

He nodded to Kingsley who proceeded to speak up, "The head of the DMLE has been acting odd lately. He's been coming and going at all hours, taking on cases that shouldn't concern him, keeping a close eye on those who have spoken out in defence of muggleborn's parents. His behavior has also been closely tied with the recent spike in children appearing in the Wizarding Orphanage, set up by Lord Thomas Gaunt. We believe that he, and a few other older wizarding families have been working under the Dark Lord's orders."

Albus nodded in thanks before shifting his gaze around the table, a sad look on his face, "I loathe being the bearer of bad news, but it seems that he and his death eaters have once again struck. A muggle couple with a witch daughter were found murdered. The muggle authorities were saying that it was a murder-suicide, but they showed severe signs of memory tampering. We aren't able to speak to the girl they took, she was whisked away to the orphanage too fast, but I'm sure she also bears the same signs."

Albus took his glasses off and rubbed at the bridge of his nose with a deep sigh, "We believe the wardship act had been enacted by the Death Eaters in the Wizengamot. What should be a plan to help children acclimate to the Wizarding World easier by being sponsored by a family has turned into kidnapping and murder. A way to purge our world of non-magical humans. Voldemort has no care for the families he destroys, only the consolidation of magical power. While this saves many muggleborns from the old blood prejudices, it also paints a large target on their family's backs. The Minister is the only one with access to the birth ledger that keeps track of any and all magical births in the UK, but I'm willing to bet my spectacles that he's shown it to others of less savory backgrounds. Whether through coercion or greed, we're not quite sure."

Sirius sat in silence, chewing over all the information they had dumped on him. This had to be false. There was no way. How could this have even happened? Under all of their noses?

"This still doesn't prove anything. How do we even know that You-know-who is even alive? Where is the proof?"

Albus glanced from Sirius to Severus before giving Severus a small jerk of his head. Severus rolled up his sleeve, but not without a nasty sneer thrown at Sirius as he spoke.

"The mark has become darker in the past year. The Dark Lord marked his followers with this brand, and the only thing that could change it would be his death. When he died that night in Godric's hollow, the mark faded to a vague scar, but now it is almost at full strength. I am not sure who is at his side helping him for now, but I feel he will call upon his followers soon, once he can be sure he will not show any weakness."

Sirius snarled silently at Severus, "Ah, yes, trust the man who worked with a crazed murderer that killed both Lily and James. Find what you were looking for when you joined that trash, Snivellus?"

Severus' face colored in rage, but before either man could draw their wands to hex the other, Dumbledore banged his hand on the table, drawing all eyes to him.

"Now is not the time, gentlemen. We need to work to get this new act passed. The wardship act must be abolished. Beyond just the murder, our culture and magic grows stagnant without new blood mixing in. The total isolation is damaging to our knowledge and growth, and kids being ripped away from their family to become a genetic fix for the inbreeding of Pureblood lines is abominable."

Heads nodded around the table in agreement. Sirius took a deep breath, eyeing all of them.

"So let's say this is all true, why do you need me?"

"Because, my dear boy, you stand at the same height as those who are proponents of the wardship act. We wish for you to work your way through, seeing what you can do to change the minds of others, plant any seeds of doubt, or even bring us news from the Wizengamot's shadows in ways I can not see," Albus smiled grimly at Sirius, knowing that the man wouldn't be able to keep away, "Imagine if this had been Holly. If Lily had been muggle. She wouldn't have been allowed to stay in the Wizarding World, and James and Lily would have either been obliviated or murdered. Holly would have gone under the wardship act's protection, and there would have been a high possibility she might not have been placed with you, because your memories of James and Lily would have been erased."

Sirius felt sick. He knew he probably looked as if someone had just stabbed him as well, but the thought of losing not only James, Lily, and Holly but even the memory of them made him want to scream and cry. He sat there in a daze, eyes locked with Dumbledore's before giving a shaky nod.

"I'll do what I can, let you know what I see or hear, but I need to be safe for Holly's sake as well. Anything I do could harm her in the process, which I will never allow."

Albus' eyes sparkled joyously as he took in the table, "Wonderful. Just wonderful. I could ask for no more than that, my boy. It will help us greatly."

Sirius had a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach, but he pushed it away and wrote it off as nerves as he stayed until the end of the meeting before directly heading home to Holly as quickly as possible to assure himself she was still there.

 




Severus appeared at his Lord's manor, making his way up to his Lord's study hastily. He knocked on the door and waited for his Lord's response before entering and kneeling at his Lord's feet, waiting for permission to speak.

"Severus, what news have you brought to me?"

Severus lifted his face, his eyes catching on his Lord's bloody red ones so that his Lord would know the truth in his words.

"I have managed to put them off of your return for a little while more, they still think you too weak to move too strongly for now. It seems Black has joined their ranks; he is to watch over your follower's moves inside of the Ministry and Wizengamot and report back anything he sees or hears to the old man. It seems his weak spot is still his daughter. Would you like me to have someone leverage this information to have him back off and turn the other way, my Lord?"

Voldemort shifted through Severus' mind for a moment more before withdrawing.

"No, you have done well. I am pleased with your work so far. If we try to use force this early on then it will most definitely make the Order suspicious. No, for now we remain hidden. Make sure that no one is caught unawares in the ministry. I'd hate to have to dispose of Black for seeing something he shouldn't. He could still be useful to us."

Severus bowed his head again before rising and stepping away, leaving his Lord to his thoughts and the fire he sat in front of while drinking his firewhiskey. He would go to Lucius' manor first; that man was the most likely to cause a problem and didn't have a subtle bone in his body.

Chapter Text

Holly stepped out from the Apothecary into the summer heat, hood pulled firmly over her head. She had taken the trip by herself to get some air and stock up on a few ingredients that she liked to keep on hand for her bathing potions. She thanked her lucky starts that it was in a slightly seedier area, because she might have snuck out without letting her father know.

It was on the outskirts of Knockturn, but while she disliked the area, it provided her some semblance of anonymity to actually pull off this little excursion without a guardian. She knew it probably wasn't her best decision, but she just wanted one night where she wasn't a Heiress who had to put up with certain pompous Lords.

She slipped down one of the side streets to find an out of the way offshoot to apparate back home. She passed quickly by Bourgin & Burke's along her way; as she glanced through the grimy windows she thought she saw a familiar head of sharply styled chocolate brown hair, but she just pulled her hood closer to her face and picked up her pace.

As she neared the apparition point she had used earlier, she felt the air thicken with something that had a taste of danger. Had he followed her?

She turned and looked back down the alley that housed Borgin & Burke's but saw nothing unusually. Huffing out a laugh to herself and shaking her head at her own paranoia, Holly turned to continue on, but slammed directly into another body. She would have fallen if not for the grip on the front of her cloak.

"Well, well, well. What have we here, Little Miss? Lost yer way, have ya? Such pretty clothes and hair."

The hag who had a hold on the front of her cloak leered at Holly, her teeth blackened and half missing. Her nails which were like claws dug into the fabric of her robes, cutting into the material.

Holly felt a frisson of apprehension before she gathered her nerves and reached up to remove the hag's hands from her person.

"No. Just returning home. If you'll excuse me."

Holly spoke quickly and curtly before she turned on her heel to make a tactical retreat -it wasn't running, she swore- but found her way blocked by another figure, this time by a male who looked like he hadn't used a scourgify or seen a bar of soap in the past twelve years.

"Now, now, Missy. We was just lookin' ta make friends. No need ta leave so fast."

Holly was surprised there weren't maggots crawling in the man's putrid smile. She glanced to the last alley to her right but found more figures slinking from the shadows. The grip she had on her wand in her right pocket tightened so fiercely that she sent a silent apology to the poor thing while she also took stock of the dagger strapped to her forearm and how fast it would take to get out if needed.

"I was just looking to return home, no harm, no foul. I would rather get there without a disturbance."

Holly moved to the left, putting her back up against the brick wall to keep the small group in her view while she thought up at least three escape routes so that if one didn't work she could move on to the next.

"Did'ja hear that? Little Missy wants ta' get home without a 'disturbance'," The hag mocked with what she assumed was a poorly done imitation of her own voice, while those around her laughed.

Holly shifted her stance, her feet apart and body turned slightly to make her torso less of a target the way Sirius had taught her during all of those long afternoons in the training room at the mansion. She prepared to pull out her wand as the air turned menacing and the aggression ratcheted up on the group's collective faces, but before she could a sharp crack split the air as the cobble between herself and the group shattered from spellfire.

Holly pressed tighter to the brick as she shifted to take in this new threat; a witch or wizard with a wand was a worse threat than some hags and hermits who had none. She had no reason to worry though, she found. The shot wasn't a warning for her, it was for the group. She gaped slightly as Tom stood a slight ways down the alley, his wand lifted lazily even though his body language was coiled like a snake waiting to strike.

His face was as hard as stone and his eyes were fierce with anger. She thought she saw a glint of red in them, but passed it off as a trick of the absolutely wretched lighting down in these parts.

"I see we're making friends. I am sorry I missed my invite." He looked over the group surrounding her as if he were trying to pick which one to shred apart in his anger first.

"I would suggest you leave. Now. Unless you'd rather stay and play?"

Tom's words were clipped in fury and his face was nothing less than blood thirsty, begging one of the group to step up and pick a fight. The group looked between her and Tom before scattering like a dropped bag of gobstones. When the last shadow disappeared, Holly let a huff out, standing up straight once more.

"I could have handled that myself, y'know. I didn't nee-"

Holly's words caught in her throat as Tom's gaze swung to meet her own and she saw how he was barely restraining his rage. His body and attention fully turned to her and as he stepped forward Holly took a matching step back. They did this twice more before Holly was backing into the brick wall again, but she took no notice of that. She knew better than to take her eyes off of the potential danger that was staring back at her. Her grip strengthened on her wand as the thought that she had jumped from the cauldron into the fire hit her.

"Lord Gaunt?"

No reaction, no recognition.

"My Lord?" her voice was only barely wavering as she watched him advance one more step, still too caught up in his pent up anger that had no release.

Holly took a deep breath, "....Tom?"

He halted, as if something had grabbed the back of his robe and tugged, barely more than an average wand's length between their bodies. He seemed to be struggling with himself, his eyes flashing as if he were fighting an internal battle with another piece of himself as his jaw clenched so hard that she felt pity for his teeth. He closed his eyes and took a few breaths, but his rage was still palpable in the air. Holly knew Sirius would have killed her for her next actions, but she found she couldn't just leave Tom to explode.

She reached her hand out and gently grasped at Tom's sleeve of his robe, giving it a tug, "Tom.... I swear I'm okay. You did a good job, thank you for helping me."

He cut her a sharp look as his hand twisted to grab her wrist. "What on Salazar's green earth possessed you to come to a place like this."

It was less of a question and more of a statement that already had an answer, which was most likely her stupidity in his eyes.

"I swear I was okay, I am armed, and it was only a short walk." She frowned, trying to tug away from his grip but he would not yield.

"No, I'm returning you to Diagon, you have absolutely no business being down here."

He pulled her towards the main alley, forcing a noise of surprise out of her throat at the sudden man handling.

"Tom. TOM." She tried to plant her feet but ended up just tripping herself straight into his back, almost causing the both of them to fall; it got Tom to stop for a moment though, and that's all she needed.

"Stop trying to make me go where you want! I'm not a krup that needs to be leashed and brought back home! I had a place to apparate from to get home, I was only one street away!"

"Does your father even know where you are? Does he know what almost happened to you? Why don't you even have a chaperone? Do you not realize the multitude of ways you could have been hurt?"

Holly took a moment to stare back at the man in front of her; his nostrils were slightly flared, his jaw tight and his eyes dark. His lips were tilted down in the corners and his eyebrows were furrowed.

Was he angry?

'No' Holly realized in a sudden jolt, 'he's worried.'

She felt a little touched that he had been worried on her behalf; she didn't think he had enough in him to care about anyone besides himself and his own desires. Her eyes and mouth lost some of their tightness before she wriggled her wrist in his grasp so that she could hold his hand properly. She could swallow her pride and thank him, even if it hadn't been necessary.

"I'm sorry. I didn't think it would be such an issue. I've been trained by my father to fight, but I see where a lot of issues could have arisen that I would have no way to defend myself against. Thank you."

Tom took a deep breath and seemed to let out some of his anger and worry with the air expelled from his lungs; her apology seemed to be enough for him for now. He looked down at their joined hands and let out a small cough, into his free fist before trying to tug away in embarrassment over his casual touching with her, but she refused to let him go for the moment.

"Well, as long as you realize. Your father would stand to lose a lot if anything happened to you."

She smiled at him and at the way he wouldn't meet her eyes. She gave his hand a squeeze before heading for Diagon, now tugging him along in her wake.

"Join me for a bite to eat. I know a place where we won't get too much attention and can still get a good meal."

Tom tilted his head to the side as he examined the back of her head, allowing her to move him along for now. If he had known it would be this easy to have her focus fall on him, he would have set up a 'rescue' with a few of his followers weeks ago after the argument they had at the orphanage. His face darkened as he remembered the disgustingly filthy hands of those wretched hags and hermits reaching for something that was so above them. They were not worthy to touch something so delicate and special the way he was. She was like a fine jewel that just needed some polishing to fit his needs; her touch sent a rush through him that couldn't be explained but whispered in a hungry voice 'mine'. He could easily suppress his anger for now; a few of his death eaters needed disciplining anyways, he could just use his anger in a more constructive manner. 

He plastered a smile on his face as she looked back at him for an answer.

"Yes, a quick bite would do both of us well, I think. Lead the way, my Lady." He watched the way she used her free hand animatedly to explain to him where she was guiding him, cataloguing her movements and her opinions so that they could be of later use; it would do him no good if he did not study what she wanted and hated for him to use in the future.

Chapter Text

Holly found herself seated across from Tom at the little cafe, The Whistling Teapot. The place was a quaint out of the way tea shop that had finger pastries and cakes, old fashioned but not run down, just well loved. She came here usually to get a good cup of tea and to lose herself in the white noise of the mundane chatter of the other customers.

She tried her best to observe him without being too obvious, but she could tell he was aware of all of his surroundings, including her, even though he was currently using wandless and nonverbal magic to pour them both a cup and then set about fixing his Earl Grey to his liking. She was mildly amazed at the blase display of power; she could do most spells non-verbal, and a minor amount wandless, but Tom seemed to use his magic as an extra limb with little to no effort put into the actions.

After they had both fixed their cups, Holly relaxed back and cradled her cup close. She had given up on being subtle and now was just straight out staring at the man across from her. Tom was once again tapping his golden ring against the fine china. Was it a nervous tic?

'No,' She thought to herself, 'He was too controlled for that.'

Maybe it was a way for him to focus his thoughts like a metronome? Holly wasn't sure but he always seemed to fiddle with the thing every time he was lost in thought.

"So, what had brought you down into Knockturn, Lord Gaunt?" Holly decided to revert to his formal moniker; she was already treading very thin ice by having no guardian present, she wouldn't fan the flames and draw attention from nosey old hags who lived for scandals by using his given name.

He tossed an amused look her way as his eyes refocused on the here and now, as if to say 'I see what you're trying to do, and I'll allow it for now.'

"As distasteful as Knockturn is, Bourgin & Burke's will get in some rather fascinating historical objects that are, shall we say, frowned upon in politer society from time to time. This time it had been a personal Slytherin line heirloom that had been discovered through a hag who had been looking to pawn it off for galleons. Burke firecalled me because he knew I would prefer to come and verify it myself, and I paid him well for the discretion as well as the piece."

He paused before he eyed Holly with the corners of his mouth twitching as if he were holding in a frown.

"Would you mind explaining what possessed you to enter Knockturn on your own? I rather thought you more intelligent than that. It's no place for anyone to walk alone, let along a young witch who has barely come into adulthood."

Holly took a second to breathe, not wanting to snap and cause a fight even if Tom was being a condescending arse.

"If you must know, I was going to a nearby apothecary for supplies. That particular one has more quality ingredients, even if they aren't a large shop, and they're cheaper than that commercialized rubbish from Slug & Jigger's. Anyways, if it was so dangerous, then why were you also walking around alone? Surely such a high ranking Lord with money to burn would be a prime target."

"Oh my dear," He started, his mouth curled up into a shark like grin, "what's in Knockturn knows better than to test me. A few have tried and learned from experience that I am not to be trifled with, and the rest learned by the example those incidents set."

Tom looked darkly amused, as if those memories of others feeling the consequences of testing him brought Tom joy. Holly tried not to shiver outwardly; she wasn't sure if she was afraid of the casual violence in Tom's voice or morbidly curious about the 'examples' he had set. She was always intrigued by those who were capable and intelligent. She supposed those who had started the fights should have known there was a chance of retaliation, for Tom to not react would be advertising himself as weak and easy pickings.

"Lady Potter-Black, " His voice drew her from her musings, a solemn look on his unfairly attractive face, "I regret my actions the last time we met. I had been too agitated that day and took it out on the wrong person. You didn't deserve to bear the brunt of my rudeness."

Holly scrutinized him, wondering if his words were actually sincere. He was, but then again, was that even a real apology? She was pretty sure a hippogriff could apologize better. Maybe it was for him though; she suspected he had never apologized a day in his life, what with being at the top of society.

"I believe we might have both been at fault," she stated, not quite letting him off the hook, but willing to rightfully shoulder some of the blame, "My temper had gotten the better of me. I apologize for the way I spoke, I could have handled my reaction better, I admit."

Tom ducked his head slightly, looking up at her through his lashes with a soft smile, "Well, I'm glad we have that cleared up. Now, I believe I have kept you from home longer than is probably wise. Let me escort you home."

Holly nodded and attempted to pay, but Tom wouldn't allow it. Soon enough, the pair had gathered their belongings, stepped outside, and had apparated back to the gates of Black Manor with Holly side-alonging Tom. As Holly moved to slip away from Tom, he held her hand fast in the crook of his elbow.

"No, allow me to walk you to the door, I insist."

Holly sent a small smile up at Tom before nodding in acquiescence. He guided her up the stone path to the front door before turning to face her, taking her hands in his own in the process.

"Lady Potter-Black," he teased, "I had a wonderful afternoon in your company. If you would permit me, I would not be opposed to another outing if it is agreeable to you?"

Holly nodded, a little stunned but not loathing the idea. He sent her a rakish grin before bending at the waist in a bow and placing a kiss on her knuckles. He straightened up before speaking again, "Well then, I will bid you good evening. Keep an eye out for my owl, I shall send one later this week," and then turned and left, disapparating after a few long strides.

Holly wasn't sure how she managed to make it inside and up to her room without tripping and breaking her neck; small mercies. She sat on her bed, still a bit flabbergasted, only one thought running through her mind, 'What in Merlin's name did I just agree to?'

 



Agatha rustled around in the trash, looking to see if anyone had tossed anything valuable by accident that she could foist off for a quick galleon; Knockturn was good for pawning off other's wares. She thought she saw something shiny and reached for it, but before she could grab the object she was blasted off her feet and into the wall, leaving her disoriented and hurt on the ground. Looking up, she noticed long legs that lead up to a slim waist, broad shoulders, and a face that was both placid and cold.

"M-My Lord, what-what-?"

Her words were cut off as her back arched and her screams split the air. Oh Merlin, she would give anything to get the pain to stop, she wanted to die, it was too much.

Tom lifted the cruciatus, tilting his head to the side and inspecting the vermin that laid before him.

"What have I said about touching my things? I'll have to make an example out of you. Shame really, to lose you as an information source, but something must be done. Trash like you has no business touching a witch or wizard, especially one of such high breeding. Not to mention, she's mine."

A short while later, Tom stepped from the side alley and strode through Knockturn until he got to Diagon, slipping seamlessly into the crowd. In the dark bowels of Knockturn, what was once a hag was ripped apart at the limbs and permanently stuck to a wall with both hands missing and a skull with a snake wound through it painted in blood; a clear warning and reminder for those who lived their to keep their hands to themselves or they would suffer the same fate or worse.

Chapter Text

Holly sat at her writing desk, a letter spread in front of her and a dark female Long Eared Owl perched on the edge of her desk crunching on bits of toad and awaiting a reply for her master.

'Dearest Holly,' the letter read,

'I hope this letter finds you in good spirits. The days have felt unbearably long since our last meeting, and I found myself writing to you before I could even think of it. I find myself curious about you as our last meeting never allowed for those sorts of questions. They seem so trivial to the world, and yet, they paint a picture of who you truly are. What are your ambitions? Dreams? Desires? What hobbies do you partake in? Where do you go for comfort? How do you prefer your tea? I find myself unable to stop these questions from forming in my mind, and I fear they will not cease until I gain answers. If it is pleasing to you, I would be amenable to a continuing correspondance or perhaps another outing, one closer to home to avoid prying eyes and loose lips.

I eagerly await your response and have instructed Kauket to remain until you are finished so that she may rest from her flight without rushing you.

Fondly,
Lord Tom Marvolo Gaunt'

Holly glanced from the parchment to the owl, then back down again in bemusement. He had actually written to her? She knew Tom was a man of his word, but she hadn't thought he would write so soon after their last meeting. It was...charming, to say the least. Normally she would find the eagerness off-putting, but coming from a man who rarely, if ever, showed eagerness, the action was, well, cute.

Holly gave Kauket a quick brush of her fingers down the owl's breast feathers before reaching for a quill made from a primary that her own Owl had gifted her when preening. She sharpened the tip with a knife before dipping into her pot of ink. What should she write though? She found herself at a loss of words, before she decided to just write from the heart; she could rewrite it later if need be.

'Dear Tom,

I am glad that you wrote to me, and feel warmed by the fact that I have not left your thoughts. I find myself curious as well to see who you are as a person and would not mind the chance for an outing myself. As I have chosen the last place we went, it would only be fair to offer you the chance to decide for this meeting. Letters are also welcomed at any time. I have fed Kauket some frog treats and she is resting for now. Very interesting name, I must say. Not many choose an egyptian goddess' name for their familiar, but I must assume that she causes some sort of chaos in your home to have earned the title, although she is sweet for me. I await your reply so that we may make plans to meet again.

Yours sincerely,
Lady Holly Potter-Black

P.S. I take my tea black with two sugars.'

Holly tapped a bit of pounce on the wet ink and then sealed the letter once the paper was sufficiently dry. Turning to Kauket, she held up the letter, to which Kauket offered her leg to tie the rolled missive on to before the owl turned and launched into the sky to carry Holly's response back to her master.

 



Sirius stepped from the alley, a hand over his mouth to stop himself from being sick. He knew when Dumbledore had asked him to go to this scene that it wouldn't be pretty, but honestly? Gruesome was an understatement. A contact of Dumbledore's in Knockturn had warned them of potential Death Eater activity, some one with the word 'dung' in his name, but if any Dark Mark had been left, it was completely lost in the Hag's blood that had drenched the brick wall.

He slipped back into the main crowd of Diagon, heading for the Leaky Cauldron where a few of the others from the order waited. Stepping inside, he moved to get two fingers of firewhiskey from Tom the Innkeep before locating the table that the others were seated at. He gave Arthur, Kingsley and Tonks a nod before taking a decidedly large gulp to warm his frozen insides. One of them threw up a muffliato and a disillusionment charm for good measure.

"So, what are we looking at?" Kingsley asked after the area was secured, his voice low and deep in his seriousness.

Sirius shook his head minutely, a grimace firmly in place as he took another sip of his whiskey to bolster his nerves (or numb them, really which ever came first was fine with him).

"I don't rightly know. Any mark that might have been there was gone by the time I found the body. I couldn't remain long unless I wanted to run smack straight into Robbards, but it was a right mess; so much darkness and fury was pouring from it."

He shivered and licked his chapped lips before continuing, eyes darting around to confirm there were no eavesdroppers.

"The body was dismembered at the extremities with what looked like a severing charm, but I'm not sure which one. There was no way to tell what limb went first, but she had definitely been alive and awake when it all happened, or so the terrified expression frozen on her face told me, but that's just speculation on my part."

Arthur looked like he was seconds away from sicking up, his already pale, freckly skin turning a pasty white.

Tonks pipped up, "So all we have is the informant's word? Even if it was You-Know-Who, he was usually more meticulous than this. He doesn't leave messes this way. What caused the change?"

"I don't know, I feel sorry for the poor chap who got on his wrong side," Arthur spoke, shaking his head before taking a sip from his ale.

The group continued to drink and chat, trying to was the foul taste of worry from their thoughts. Before long, the group separated, saying their goodbyes and heading for their respective homes. Unbeknownst to them, a familiar figure swathed in black was only a booth over under his own disillusionment charm. His sharp black eyes swept the pub before he finished his drink and stood to leave. He ignored Tom the Innkeeper's, "Ta, Severus!" as he walked out the door and apparated away.

Chapter Text

Holly knocked on the door of Gaunt Manor, her modified witch's hat, similar to the Beauxbaton style, both blocking the sun and hiding her face from prying eyes. They had agreed to having their next outing at Tom's manor to take advantage of the sprawling land he owned and also the favorable weather for a picnic.

She waited a moment in front of the arched black door with gold metal work until it was opened by Tom himself. Holly startled slightly, having expected a house elf to answer.

Tom's lips quirked in amusement as he took Holly in, from her hat to her cream colored acromantula silk robes.

"Expecting someone else? Should I close the door and allow someone else to open it?" Tom asked teasingly.

Holly shrugged a shoulder as she felt her face go slightly pink. She stepped through the doorway as Tom motioned her inside.

"No, not necessary, I just assumed - quite wrongly - that you would utilize a house elf like some of the older families for smaller tasks."

Tom took her hat and the gloves she had pulled off, placing them on a foyer table. Holly glanced around; most had never even stepped foot in the manor except for a few close allies she assumed. The foyer was expansive, the floors a marbled black and white with little veins of what she could immediately tell was gold running through it, large bay windows allowing light to spill in along the room which caused the gold to sparkle subtly and tastefully. A black wrought iron chandelier hung in the center, candles unlit for the moment. It was decadent, and yet understated. Extremely old money, subtle yet powerful, like the man next to her.

Tom mimicked her shrug, seeming more relaxed in his own home. She knew it must have been tiring to face the scrutiny that Tom did every day, so his home was a form of escape. She felt appreciative that he was willing to share his space with her, even for this short amount of time.

"For most I would have allowed Dipsey to greet them at the door but you, my dear, are not 'most'. I thought it might be best to greet you myself."

Holly felt a small curl of pleasure in her chest at the attention. She glanced around one last time before her eyes fully stopped on Tom to look him over. He had on a button up, but the sleeves were rolled up to bare his pale, yet strong forearms and a pair of black slacks were fitted to his trim waist and long legs. Tom let out a small cough, breaking Holly's perusal of him. Her eyes shot up to see his grin and immediately flushed in response for her blatant ogling.

"So," she spoke, her voice a little loud as she tried to move his attention on, "Where will we be going today? You must have some idea."

His grin got wider, showing his straight white teeth before he snapped his fingers sharply. Holly's hat and gloves disappeared and in their place was a basket and a parasol - clearly house elf magic. Tom handed her the parasol, took the basket and offered his free arm to Holly.
"If you'll allow me, I'd be delighted to escort you to our picnic spot, m'lady."

Holly let out a soft snort before she slapped a hand to her mouth and nose in horror. Tom only laughed and wiggled his elbow at her in response, looking so different from the man she usually saw. Holly took his elbow and allowed herself to be lead outside, opening the parasol to cover both herself and Tom as they strolled down the path towards where ever Tom deemed their destination. Holly took in the land and how serene it was. She could see a graveyard in the distance, but they were moving away from it. Possibly for the town? The Gaunt family plot? It wasn't unusual for older families to have one.

Holly finally noticed a blanket on the ground a little ways off the path under an old oak tree. She tightened her grip on Tom's arm to get more stability and in response he tucked his arm in closer so their hips were in contact and she could use his side as a sort of support. Under the shade of the tree, Tom and Holly sat and set out their picnic of fruits, cheeses, crackers and wine before they began to fully talk and get to know each other.

"What would you do, if you had free reign of your life?" Tom asked her after a while, making her pause in thought. She finished chewing on the grape she had in her mouth before shaking her head.

"What? Come on, tell me. I won't laugh. Not at you."

Holly took slow breath in through her nose before slanting a look at Tom who was laid out on his side, his head propped up on his fist as he ate a cracker and watched her.

"You're sure?" She asked, seeing him nod in response. She let out a small huff before ripping at the small square of cheese in her hands, fidgeting in a way she hadn't since she was young.

"I wanted to open a ....... a school of sorts, I guess you could say. We have children who never receive a proper wizarding education when they're young, and when they're tossed into Hogwarts they're lost. We also have children who are growing up sheltered and 'home schooled' and they never learn to socialize the way children should, only the way adults do, which causes more problems when they clash with the children who have had no education at all. I would want to work on fixing that gap. Give children a place to play, learn, and explore without the worry of grades or parents scolding them. It's a dream though. I'm sure the person I marry would think it's cute, but it would never fly for a wife of a noble household."

She said the last with a sneer, hating that she was backed into a corner no matter what she did. She wanted to be free.

"Why?"

Holly's head swung towards Tom at his question, finding his eyes riveted on her and a look on his face that was almost....hungry.

"What? What do you mean, why?"

"I mean, why do you think you wouldn't be able to do that? Why do you think you'd be stopped from following that dream?" 'Why do you think I would stop you from following that dream?' was the unspoken question, but Holly heard it all the same.

Holly spluttered, "Wh--What, Tom! You-!"

He sat up, leaning on both hands closer to Holly as he studied her face.

"You're motivated, intelligent, caring, and your vision is just what this society needs. Why would anyone want to ever stop that? Marrying someone who would stop you is a waste of your mind and talents. I won't let you."

Holly's breath caught in her chest as she stared back at Tom, seeing the steel in his eyes. This. This is what she was looking for. Someone to see her as her, not just a trophy wife. To see who she was, what she wanted to do, and approve. Not allow, no, but to support her and her ambitions.

"Tom.."

Tom gazed at her a moment more before leaning back out of her space, leaning back on both hands and staring resolutely out into the open grounds. A few moments passed in silence, Holly feeling as if someone had hit her with a stunner.

"I...apologize. That was uncouth of me. I shouldn't have invaded your personal space in that manner or spoken to you so brazenly. I....I apologize."

Holly stared at the side of Tom's face, her mind racing over his words. He hadn't said that his words were a mistake, or that he didn't mean them, just that he regretted the delivery. Holly felt her heart give a particularly hard thump. Her hand crept across the space that divided them and laid her bare hand across his. He looked at her from the corner of his eye before he shuffled up so he would be able to flip his hand and hold hers in his grasp. A smile played at the corner of his mouth as he looked out at the land again. Holly felt a flutter in her heart as she gave a squeeze which he returned; they spent the rest of their time in quiet company, eating and just holding each others hand.

 



Tom had escorted Holly back inside as the sun started to set, but had to quickly answer a fire call that Dipsey said was urgent. He pulled away from her hand reluctantly, telling her to look around while he was in the sitting room, he would find her.

Holly wandered along the halls, her fingers brushing along portraits as she took the stairs and wandered room to room, glancing in the open doors. At the end of one hall was a door that was painted a shimmering silver that seemed to call her closer. As she approached, she glanced around, feeling as if she was about to do something that was not allowed; he told her to explore though. It wouldn't hurt to look, would it?

With that thought, Holly twisted the knob and entered what must have been a library that was at least a few centuries old, going by the vast space and amount of books crammed floor to ceiling. Holly walked among the stacks, her fingers brushing along the spines as she felt little licks of magic from the books here and there. She found a desk in the back, nestled in among the stacks, obviously where Tom wrote and read.

She moved to the stack behind the desk, her hand coming up to touch each spine gently. She could hear something. Almost a whisper. Was it like the books in the Black library that could speak? or the ones that screamed if opened wrong? Her fingers rested on a small, slim, black leather bound book that held no inscription on the spine. Here. This is where the whisper came from. Her fingers started to close on the book to pull it out for inspection, but a hand gripped her wrist before she could. Holly let out a slight yelp as she turned to find Tom next to her, an indescribable look on his face. It was almost blank, but there was something in there that she couldn't place.

His eyes inspected her, then swung slowly to their hands and the book, before looking back to her, drawing her hand away.

"I would not recommend touching that particular book. It contains some ....less than pleasant surprises for someone who does not know what resides within," Tom said, his grip loosening on Holly.

He held her wrist up and inspected the slightly reddened grip, grimacing in distaste at what he had done.

Holly was uneasy; she had forgotten. How stupid. This man, no matter how sweet, had something inside that was like a panther, as likely to nap in a tree as it was to kill you and drag you up said tree to store your body for it's next meal. She shook her head, letting him keep her hand as she tried to dislodge the startling thought.

"It's-- It's okay. I would rather you stop me from unknowingly harming myself, honestly. The mark is nothing. I should have known when I heard the whispers to not touch it, but I felt .... drawn in. It was odd."

Tom's head jerked up as he inspected her face, a look of surprise and confusion covering his features.

"Whispers....?"

His eyes checked her over for any issues, she assumed, before his eyes met hers and she felt a gentle nudge at her mind, akin to a knock at her mental doors. Holly inspected Tom for a moment before nodding and allowing him inside, trusting him not to rummage. He must have found - or not found, rather - what he was looking for as he pulled from her mind moments later, staring at her in amazement.

"No damage?"

Her voice was slightly shaky, hoping nothing had happened when she had touched the book. Tom continued to stare, so much so that she was about to snap her fingers in his face to get him to focus, but before she could even lift a hand, he had pulled her into his arms and was hugging her tight to him, his chin resting on the top of her head.

Holly let out a small noise of surprise, her hands coming up to grip at the sides of Tom's shirt.

"Tom? You're scaring me. Am I okay?"

Tom let out a breath, his grip getting slightly tighter, as if he didn't want to let her go.

"Perfect. You're perfect."

Holly jerked slightly, a flush coming across her face at his words.

"Tom!"

Tom seemed to snap out of his daze. He pulled back, holding her by the elbows as he looked at Holly.

"I apologize, my darling heart. Your mind is fine. I was just relieved. You hearing whispers worried me."

Holly nodded before leaning back into Tom, embracing him. His arms wrapped around her and she felt safe. Cared for.

Tom stared into the stacks, his fingers fidgeting with his ring as he thought on this new ... development. This just solidified what Tom felt. Holly was his. He knew now why he always felt drawn to her. There would be no other. He would keep her close, protect her, protect her soul. He just needed to take his time. He would provide for her, allow Holly her dreams, support them, and keep her at his side until time wore them down. Hah. Time. Tom wouldn't allow time to touch either of them. He knew Holly had to return home, but he held her for a while longer, just basking in the treasure he had found.

Chapter Text

Holly felt like she had been walking among the clouds this past week. Ever since she had snuck out to meet Tom everything had taken on a brighter hue, and she couldn't stop the little skip in her step. She knew she was being a cliche, but was it a cliche if it was sincere? She didn't care.

Sirius had been unusually busy the past few nights which had caused him to miss family dinner time. Tonight though, the two had agreed that nothing would interfere with their long standing dinner tradition.

As Holly entered the dining room, Sirius rose to greet her, pulling her into a tight embrace. Holly's arms held her father just as tightly, conveying just how much she had missed him; the sentiment was fully returned. After a soft kiss to the top of her head, Sirius held Holly at arms length, taking in her slightly darker skin and sweet expression.

"I feel as though you've grown without me knowing. Where has my little Hollyberry gone?"

Holly felt fondness rush through her at her father's sentimental nickname, taking note of the new stress lines on his face.

"I feel as though you have grown older," she teased gently, running a hand along Sirius' crowfeet, "What worries you, da?"

Sirius caught her hand and pressed a kiss to her knuckles and then her forehead before leading her to her seat, helping to push in her chair before taking his own. Holly knew her high standards came from her father and the way he cherished her and taught her to never take anything less.

"Work has been particularly unpleasant these past few weeks, love, but that is neither here nor there. You, young lady, look as you have been busy," he gestured at her with his fork as their meals appeared, "Where have you been? Teeky tells me you went to visit a friend? Hopefully not Narcissa and Draco, those two are like having your nails slowly be pulled out."

Holly laughed at the exaggerated shudder her father gave, even as she felt the back of her neck start to sweat slightly. Did she tell him where she had really been? He wasn't strict in the sense of chaperones needed in private hidden areas, he trusted her not to be caught and to always do the right thing, but she had deliberately disobeyed him regarding Tom. No, she thought, best not to poke a sleeping dragon.

"Ah, I had spent some time with Luna. She thinks she may have discovered a new magical fungal colony, so I offered to help her investigate. It looks like a Mimbletonia Colony to me, but who knows, maybe she's seeing something I'm not."

She had technically seen Luna this week for that exact reason, so it wasn't like she was lying. Just leaving out a few minor details about the rest of the time she spent elsewhere. She shrugged before taking a sip of water to help her suddenly dry throat.

"Good, well, I'm glad you're at least spending time with someone your own age who isn't a ponce," he nodded happily, taking a bite of food and chewing slowly before he swallowed and continued on in a slightly hesitant manner, "You haven't run into Lord Gaunt, have you? I know I mentioned at the last party that there was a possibility of him dealing in less than proper business. They've found possible Death Eater activity in Knockturn Alley, or so I'm told. A murder, in fact, but I'll spare you the details."

Holly felt as if someone had gripped her lungs tight and squeezed with all their might as her eyes locked onto her plate, seeing nothing before her. She chewed her food mechanically, slowly, until she could bring her breathing under control. "Ah, no, I haven't run into him," technically they hadn't run into each other - semantics, really, "We belong in different circles anyway, so there's no real chances for our paths to cross unknowingly. The most would be at parties, but I'll have you by my side for those, so no worries there."

"Good, Good. I just want you safe. Something seems to be stirring up out there, and I don't want you to get caught in the crossfire."

Holly swallowed roughly, almost choking on her food. She took a sip to wash down both the food and the rising guilt while Sirius reached over to pat her on the back; Merlin, she really was trying for the Worst Child of the Year award, wasn't she? Sirius spoke up suddenly, his tone bright and excited in a way she hadn't heard in weeks.

"Lets do something soon. Just you and me. A walk. A picnic. A shopping day, going for a fly, anything. We haven't spent time together in a while. What do you say? How about this weekend? I just have that one Wizengamot meeting in the morning on Saturday and then I'm free for the rest of the day, for old times sake, eh?"

Holly felt her face lighten, a fondness taking over her features. She nodded happily; she had missed her father in a way she wasn't aware of until tonight.

"It's a date, then," she replied, returning the beaming smile he sent her. She looked forward to whatever he would plan. Just spending time with him would be enough to settle her again.

 


 

 

Sirius stepped out of the chamber, removing his stupid Wizengamot hat as he took advantage of the early release. He was excited to get home and see Holly; he would be early for their date today, but that would be fine. He could stop off and get her a little trinket on his way, just something for her to wear, he hadn't bought her something like that in a while.

He took a less used hallway to escape, not wanting to be caught up in conversation that was sure to snag him if he went through the atrium route. He knew he would have trouble escaping if anyone got it into their heads to talk to him.

"......Won't be happy!....You know the Dark Lord-"

"Silence! You imbecile!.....Kill you myself, never mind our Lord!......Lord Gaunt, not Dark lord......not here!"

Sirius paused - the first voice coming from the next branch of hallways was unfamiliar, but that second voice, oh, he knew that voice. A certain Lord with long silver blond hair sprang to mind instantly. He tucked himself close to a wall as to not cast any shadows or to alert the two conversing men to their eavesdropper. Everything sounded slightly distorted, probably a weak spell to stop anyone from hearing, but it seemed as though the caster didn't put enough power behind it, so words kept slipping out. Had he heard correctly? 'Dark Lord'? Why did they mention Lord Gaunt? Were the two connected more than the Order suspected?

".......The girl.....No contact!.......Father is a lord, can't just........"

Sirius jolted, a hand coming to his mouth; someone's daughter was involved in a way and the father in him felt sick. Who's daughter? His? It couldn't be.....but the timing of everything, Lord Gaunt's interest in his daughter, this conversation linking Lord Gaunt and the Dark Lord. How fortuitous, he thought, that Voldemort would die and a short while later an extremely powerful and unknown heir to the Gaunt line - the Slytherin line- would arise. For Merlin's sake! They had been so blind, so stupid! Sirius needed to get the hell out of there and to tell Dumbledore. This is what the man had wanted him to look out for. He quickly cast his wolverine patronus and sent the silvery apparition with a short soft message.

"TG connected to You-Know-Who."

Sirius watched it bound through the wall in search of Albus before he turned on his heel to make an escape to the main halls and the Atrium; the crowd would provide a good cover for him to slip away.

"Petrificus Totalus," a cold oily voice murmured, locking up Sirius' body mid turn so that he crashed to the floor face first.

"Levicorpus," the same voice spoke, yanking Sirius up by the heel into the air. Now able to see more than the floor and his own blood smeared on it, Sirius felt a rage blinding him. Black beady eyes met his own while a crooked, yellow toothed smile under a hooked nose mocked him from a sallow face.

"Black. How......Unfortunate."

Snape looked delighted in having caught him unawares. Creep.

"You may have snapped off that message too quickly, but I can promise you that it will be your last. My lord has asked me to.....watch you. Asked me to stop you if you got too close. He was not specific as to how to stop you, though. I'm sure you won't be too missed. I'll try not to play with you too much. I do need you for information.......pity for you."

Snape's eyes gleamed with barely concealed glee. Sirius felt horror rising up in him. He found Snape's familiar Acacia wand pointed between his eyes before a quiet 'stupefy' turned his world dark.

Chapter Text

Sirius woke feeling groggy and disoriented, not to mention highly uncomfortable. A quick glance around the room told him very little besides the fact that it was a stone cellar, devoid of personal objects or color - a dungeon of some sort. Twitching slightly, he felt restraints holding his wrists and ankles to the chair he was seated on, while a collar wrapped around his neck kept his head pinned to the chair backing. His moments were limited in this position, meaning that whoever had him was familiar with this process. He tried to recall what had happened before he woke in this place, but his head hurt too much for Sirius to truly recall - head trauma of some sort. He opened his mouth to call out, but then he thought better; he wasn't in any particular rush to meet his hosts, sooner was not better in this case.

He knew panic would only worsen his situation, so Sirius breathed in, held his breath, then slowly blew it out. In for seven seconds, out for seven seconds. He looked around again with a slightly clearer mind, but found nothing to aid in an escape. A few plans crossed his mind, but he discarded them just as quickly; he could break his thumbs to slip the cuffs, or use the metal to cut into his skin and use the blood as a lubricant to wriggle his way free, but those both posed too many risks. Too much blood loss would easily take him out, finish what his captors most likely were starting, and breaking his thumbs wouldn't get him very far with no wand and no way to remove his ankle bindings and collar. He had a very firm feeling the shackles were enchanted anyway.

Sirius heard a sharp screech of a metal door and knew his time was up. A pair of boots clipped on stone stairs as whoever it was came into the cellar for him. Sirius sneered as he witnessed Severus Snape - the greasy git- step into the dim lighting the candles afforded in the cellar. What he wouldn't give to wipe the smug grin off the others face.

"Black." Snape hummed, nodding his head in a mock greeting as if they were two friends meeting up at a pub, "Such a good look on you. Someone should have collared you years ago. Possibly with a muzzle. I still have Albus' confidence, so I know all about your flea ridden second form - though that is not too different from your usual look. Your cousin and her loving husband allowed me the use of their spacious cellar to have this chat with you; Narcissa sends her love."

He's sure if he wasn't numb, the announcement would have sickened Sirius, but all he could feel was a resigned horror; they were never really his family to begin with, anyway.

"Tell me, Black, how does it feel knowing you're alone without your little band of thugs to back you up the way they did in school? The wolf deserted you all, Pettigrew dead by my Lord's hand, and that ingrate, Potter, gone the way of his parents. Though you'll soon join him, I assure you. I've waited years for this."

The look in Snape's eyes was blood thirsty and slightly unhinged. Sirius felt something ugly rise in response.

"Go drown in one of your damned potions, you piece of shite. You talk as if school boys were the worst of your life - you sold your soul to the devil without a second thought, practically damning our whole world. There's no wonder Lily ditched you. Took her long enough to see the monster lurking under your skin. Both you and your gang of blood purists can take a long walk off a very tall cliff. You're a child who threw a tantrum because your obsession with Lily never panned out and she left you behind when she realized what a shitty person you were, you creep."

Sirius saw the flash of pure hatred in Snape's face before his body felt like it was being both compacted and ripped apart. Breathing wasn't even a thought as his chest and lungs were crushed under the cast spell.

It lasted for hours and minutes.

Snape released the crucio after a few moments and watched Sirius twitch and shiver from the aftershocks.

"I'd say mind your tongue, but that would deprive me of my fun. Now. Who did you send your message to? I know the contents, but not the recipients. Was it Dumbledore? Your daughter?"

"Fuck you, don't you dare talk about my daughter. You'll find out over my cold, dead body," Sirius spat back, baring his teeth in a snarl.

"We'll get there, don't worry. Legilimens."

Sirius threw up every barrier he had, reinforcing his walls as Snape's mind slammed against his. His biggest mistake though, was creating a wall; walls could be cracked, broken, or slipped under and over with the right training. Snape was only second to his Lord in the Mind Arts.

Snape found a place of weakness and tore at the wall, widening the crack enough to slip in. He ripped through Sirius' memories with no remorse or care as he chased after the one he wanted. He did not care what would be left behind. He hoped it hurt.

Sirius tried to fight, tried to hide, but all he could really do was write in his bindings and scream. He watched memories -years- of his life with Holly be dug up and discarded like trash. With no mooring, the memories floated aimlessly just out of Sirius' reach as he quickly lost who he was. His body slackened as his mind was destroyed and as Snape pulled away, all that was left behind was a body that was only alive in the clinical sense. He reminded Snape of the Azkaban inmates who had received the kiss; it would have been wonderful to watch Sirius fall under that fate as well.

Snape sneered in contempt as he overlooked the body before him. He took out a vial and stepped forward, uncorking the mixture and pouring the contents down the body's throat. The mixture would mimic cardiac arrest and once the body was fully shut down, no one would be able to discern the damage done to Black's mind. He watched the life leave the body's eyes with a deep seated satisfaction before snapping for a house elf.

"Fetch your master. We have clean up work to do."

A crack signaled the house elf's departure as it obeyed Snape's command, leaving Snape to relish in his triumph and for a blond head of hair to quietly and quickly disappear from its' hiding spot near the door where he witnessed the murder of his uncle.

Chapter Text

It was unfair, Holly thought, that the skies were clear and the sun was shining today. In fact, it was downright offensive. She was sure that if she could feel anything past the gaping emptiness and sorrow, it would be anger that the weather be happy today. Shouldn't it reflect her feelings? She felt cheated. Wasn't it enough to lose one set of parents? Why was the world so cruel as to take the only person left who was unequivocally hers?

The healers at St. Mungos had declared her father dead due to a heart attack. She could still remember Healer Travers' fake look of sympathy when he had told her there were no signs of foul play or spellwork - just an unfortunate biological tragedy.

What rubbish.

Holly knew the Black Family's health history and issues the way that she knew the sun rose in the east and set in the west. There was no history of cardiac issues, mostly just the Madness that came in a multitude of forms. Father had wanted her aware of the risk because of her ancestor Dorea Potter who had been a Black. Holly apparently resembled her very much and her father worried that the Temper that Dorea had displayed would rear it's ugly head in Holly. She knew it was in her somewhere, but she always tried to keep her head about her shoulders the best she could.

No, she knew something had gone wrong, though. Her father hadn't died of a heart attack. She resolutely shoved the burning need to know who had done this so that she could exact her revenge down deep; that would be for another time. For now though, Holly, who was just shy of nineteen years old, needed to bury the last person she truly loved on this wretched earth.

Holly stepped up to the altar in her black and forest green robes. Before her sat a small crowd of mourners gathered on the Black Family property close to the family burial grounds. Before her lay her father. Never would he call her Hollyberry again. Never would he kiss her forehead or hug her again. He lay on a black marble altar on a navy coloured linen so dark it was almost black. He looked serene in death, as if only asleep.

At her sides stood her cousin Tonks, Aunt Andromeda, and her cousin Draco. She had asked these three to help her with the funeral rites, not trusting any other 'family' members to step in to help. Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy would get close to her father's body over her dead body. 

As she faced the crowd and took her place at cardinal north, she gathered her unlit white candle close to her chest and spoke to the crowd that was so silent that you could hear a galleon drop.

"Brothers and sisters, I thank you for attending the funeral rites of my father, Sirius Orion Black. We join together, in this place which is not a place, in a time which is not a time - halfway between the embrace of Mother Magick and Mortals."

She glanced to the side at Draco, who stepped forward with his own white unlit candle, representing cardinal west. He looked paler than usual and shocked, as if he could not believe what lay before his own eyes. Clearing his throat, he began.

"As the sun sets," his voice was steady, but thick as treacle, "So Sirius Orion Black has left us. The water of our tears, like the salt water of the sea, and like the water of Mother Magick's womb, blesses this circle."

Aunt Andromeda stepped forward seamlessly, her back to the crowd as she faced the altar with her unlit candle, representing cardinal south.
"As life is day, so Sirius Orion Black has passed into the night," Andromeda's eyes sparkled with unshed tears, and her voice wobbled ever so slightly even though her spine was ramrod straight, "The fire of our life, the memories and courage, and the strength given to us by Sirius Orion Black blesses this circle."

Tonks stepped forward as cardinal east with her unlit candle, tears shining at the corners of hers eyes as her voice barely rose from a rasp, "As all that falls shall rise again, so Sirius Orion Black shall be reborn. The air we breathe, this treasure of our life, the compassionate caring we give each other blesses this circle."

Holly took a deep breath, knowing that as she spoke, she heralded the end of her father's life and that after this rite was through, she would no longer be able to look on the smiling corporeal face of her father. All that would be left was memories and photos. Her pause drew the eyes of the other three and with it, their sympathy.

She spoke directly to her father, her eyes drinking him in like a parched traveler.

"As the earth forms us, so shall you return to the earth. Mother Magick feeds our souls and cloaks us in her power. She gives us everything and in the end she takes our back into the earth to make us new. Mother Magick blesses this circle."

At her last word, all four candles flared to life, burning bright despite the daylight hours. Holly glanced beyond the circle and felt sick to her stomach. Her thoughts soured as she gazed at the faces of people who didn't care for her father the way she did. They only saw the money, the power, the prestige that was now open to them with her father dead and her the sole recipient of the House of Black's wealth and power. She could see the cold glint in more than a few of their eyes.

Shaking her head slightly, she attempted to dislodge the mounting rage. This was neither the time, nor the place; her father would always come first, and his rites were more important than her feelings.

"I reach beyond my sorrow and fear of death to open my eyes and heart to the blessings of Mother Magick's love," here she addressed the crowd, her voice ringing with a strength she did not truly feel, "Our lives are formed of many others, and we form others' in turn. We gather to honor Sirius' life and love. As he once told me, 'there is only love; the love of our parents births us, the love of our family and friends guides us, and the love of Mother Magick sustains us.'"

A tear escaped and traveled down her cheek, but her arms were so heavy, liked her heart; she could barely keep her candle raised, never mind wiping her eyes.

"Journey on, Father. we will follow when it is our time. May you be born again at the same time and place as those you knew and loved in this life, and may you know and love them again."

Tonks was openly crying now. She placed her candle in its' holder before taking a hold of her corner of cloth and covering Sirius with it, "W-we welcome our ancestors and those n-not yet reborn. The sun shall r-rise again," and then her silent sobs over took her and she cast her face down with her hand over her mouth.

Andromeda glanced at her daughter but did not break the circle before she copied her daughters actions and saying, "We welcome our inspiration and heroes. Our lives continue on."

Draco stepped closer, placing his candle and folding his corner of cloth before speaking, looking as if he would be violently ill, "We welcome the children and grandchildren of our families not yet reborn. Love is all we can be sure of."

Holly stepped forward, placed her candle and covered her father completely with the last corner, obscuring him from her view for the final time. She rested her hand over his stilled heart, "Only Mother Magick is eternal. We welcome our deaths and lives."

All four stepped away and broke the circle. Andromeda went to her daughter while draco sought out his parents.

Only Holly was left at the burial altar, once more an orphan.

Her soft voice traveled over the hushed crowd, "Thank you for attending the burial rites of my father, Sirius Orion Black. The rites have now ended and all are welcome to say their last goodbyes if they wish. Located back at the manor is both food and drink; please feel free to partake and remain as long as you wish. I'm sure my father would have wanted those who came to find some comfort."

People rose, hugging their loved ones close, while others approached to give their condolences to her and pay their respects to her father. A hand brushed her shoulder, causing her to flinch. She felt disconnected, her soul watching from outside of her body; the touch had brought her slamming back down to reality. She turned her head, feeling as if she were moving through treacle to find Tom standing beside her, a silent pillar of strength and encouragement. His face held sorrow for her in the crease between his brows and the ever so slight downturn of his mouth, but thankfully she found no pity in his eyes. So slowly, she lifted her hand to rest on Tom's, saying thank you with her touch because she had no room for words right now.

She dropped her hand as she turned back to receive more people but Tom stayed by her side, his body heat helping thaw some of the chill that had set into her bones in that hospital room. She could remain strong and standing, and even if she couldn't, she had someone who would help her.

Holly's face turned to stone, her shoulders stiffening as she gazed upon the next man in line, his beard neatly groomed and that damned twinkle in his eye.

"My dear, I am so very sorry for your loss. Sirius was an extraordinary boy, we'll miss him dearly."

Albus Dumbledore's voice was like nails on a chalkboard to her already weak control -she wasn't sure if she should be seeing this much red- but she managed to paste on a facsimile of a smile, shaking his hand and trying to ignore his patronizing words and tone. This man had indirectly lost her two sets of parents. Lily and James she was sure of, but she had the strongest feeling that Albus had his hand in Sirius' death as well, somehow.

"Thank you, Chief Warlock Dumbledore," She knew her smile probably looked more like a grimace, but it could be excused. She was at her own father's funeral, for Merlin's sake.

"No need to be so formal, my dear," He said before his gaze caught on Tom over her shoulder and he drew up in height slightly, "I see you have Tom here to support you. I'm glad you're not alone, but if you should wish for some company that your father himself kept, please don't hesitate to contact us. You should be around those your age in these trying times, such as Mr. Longbottom and his friends."

Holly felt something light in her gut, reigniting the anger she had felt earlier in the day during the rites. How dare Albus speak so rudely. Oh it was fine on the surface, but the ignoring of both hers and Tom's titles, speaking to them so patronizingly, and implying that the company she kept was lesser was so far out of bounds he might as well have been in Germany.

"I appreciate your concern, Chief Warlock, but I find myself comfortable with Lord Gaunt's company. He knew my father and we have spoken many times. If I wished to spend time with people my own age I do have friends beyond those you have suggested." read: stuff your suggestions up your ugly hat and bugger off.

Dumbledore's eyes hardened slightly, losing the grandfatherly twinkle as his mouth pulled down, "My dear-"

"Lady Black-Potter has others waiting. If you wish to continue your conversation with her, please do so after she receives the other mourners. It would be terribly impolite to delay those who wish to give their respects. One would think you didn't care if you linger overly long Lady Black-Potter and didn't see to the late Lord Black."

Tom's voice was pleasant, but his hand resting on Holly's shoulder and the look in his eyes dared Dumbledore to continue. There were places and times for these sorts of dances in politics and maneuvering, but Tom would be damned if the old man tried it on Holly while the young woman was grieving.

Dumbledore gave a nod and bid them farewell, stopping only shortly to pay his respects before striding off towards the manor, a familiar young man falling in line with him while Holly turned back to those who had approached her and her late father.

Tom didn't know who had killed Holly's father, but he would find out. He had already received word from a source he had in St. Mungos that it had been a poison, now it was just a matter of time until he could bring the vermin who had hurt the other part of his soul so terribly. Holly had such rage in her just simmering under the surface, just like him, and to give her a chance at revenge would bring her only that much closer to him. After all, couples who killed together stayed together, he thought in dark amusement, careful not to let it show on his face.