T rating for dysfunctional dynamics (including the elder Blacks' A-grade parenting) and violence. Canon couples (chapter 15 is rated M, you can blame Bellatrix), but romance isn't the main focus.

This fic aims to answer three main questions : Who are the Blacks (notably Andromeda, Narcissa, Bellatrix, Sirius and Regulus)? How did they become those people? How do the survivors fit in a world where Voldemort has been defeated and old dark families are forced to reckon with their prejudices?

I'm trying to stay faithful to canon (books & movies). The first Wizarding War and the years leading up to it are the main focus until chapter 20 or so. Then we'll be into post- second war territory (where Harry becomes a major minor character) with occasional flashbacks.

It goes without saying : Harry Potter is the property of J.K. Rowling.

"SLYTHERIN!" the Sorting Hat bellowed after a few tense seconds.

It surprised no one, but Andromeda had been pleased to hear she had an uncommonly sharp mind. Nobody had seen as many minds as the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, after all.

The eldest of the Black sisters intended to live up to her heritage. Her parents would stop lamenting the family's glorious past. There would be no more reason to say that the Black family was not given its dues. Andromeda was not heir to the main line, but she was the eldest cousin, and Sirius looked up to her. Besides, he was too unruly and would need guidance. She would restore her family to its rightful place.

Her elders' words had shaped Andromeda's childhood. She came to Hogwarts believing purebloods were superior in magic. Then, forced to share classes with those of lesser blood, she could not observe any significant difference past first year between students of good and poor breeding. She did consider, that it might be a teacher or curriculum-induced bias, but upon further examination, that didn't hold up either.

She had spent her childhood convinced purebloods were superior in character, but she saw little as a teenager to suggest they distinguished themselves by their morals or work ethic. They did distinguish themselves by their grasp of manners and their ability for conversation, although dignity was often an elastic concept that often depended on one's audience.

Mudbloods stood out because of their ignorance. They could be so shockingly crass. Some of them spoke an English so accented one would wonder if it was English at all. But mudbloods were only 15% of the student population, and a solid half of them left the wizarding world by the time they were twenty. None held positions of power. It was ridiculous to think they had much to do with the state of the wizarding world.

"What's this?" Bellatrix challenged, looming over Andromeda who'd been reading over her charms notes on the bottom bunk.

Ah. Andromeda stared at the book her thirteen-year-old sister was holding between two fingers, as if it was a fat rat's dead carcass.

"A novel, a rather good one too."


"Bella, there are, what, twenty thousand wizards and witches in the Isles? I'd read every half-decent story ever written by a witch or wizard by the time I was twelve. Muggles are counted in tens of millions in England alone. Some of them actually write decently."

"Truly, muggles?"

"What's the point of being superior, if it shackles us? I want to read a book. Nobody's going to tell me I can't read a book."

Bella smirked and threw The Princess Bride on the bed. "Well said. Morgana's tits, I'm going insane here. Meda, let's duel, please? Nobody wants to duel me anymore. I might just decide I don't care about House points and hex them all."

"You almost maimed Malfoy, and that was with a Seventh Year supervising."

Bella bit her lip, her contrition unabashedly fake. "Narcissa was looking at him. Hopefully I humiliated him badly enough that she won't look at him twice now." She rolled her eyes. "Of course Cissy would be interested in boys... She's twelve. Give me a break."

"You scare them. A little diplomacy would go a long way."

"But I don't want to be diplomatic, Meda! They're all so... flaccid. Happy to rattle off their ancestors five generations back, but scared to pick up their wands. They're so weak, it disgusts me."

Not weak. Insecure. Everybody had told them they were superior and now, confronted with real life and in the throes of adolescence, they didn't dare try too hard. After all, if they tried and failed, what would that make them? Slytherin house, more than any of the others, was poisoned by expectations.

Andromeda sat up and folded her hands in her lap. "What do you think would happen if Cissy and I dueled together against you?"

Bella considered it. "I'd lose," she admitted. "I mean, I can't risk killing you, can I ? I'd have to hold back..." A grin bloomed on her face. "Sounds fun. I'll go grab Cissy."

Andromeda smiled slightly as Bella bounced out of the room. A smile as worried as it was endeared. Anger clung to her sister's skin, as it often did these days. Bella felt trapped: classes were too slow, too tame. She was bored and shunned for being too intense.

Bella didn't mind getting sweaty or dirty. She been sneaking out to the grounds at 5 AM to run laps around the castle before classes ever since she'd read one's ability to harness the dark arts was improved by a good physical condition. That the other Slytherin didn't match her single-mindedness frustrated her. She'd decided that if she couldn't have their approval, she'd settle for their fear.

Bella was only in her third year, but Andromeda didn't doubt that in two years' time, no one would dare deny her anything. On some level, it scared Andromeda. On the other, she understood.

Slytherin was supposed to house the greatest wizards yet the great majority wasted their time with petty gossip they self-importantly called 'house politics'. Less than half read outside the coursework (except for a few N.E.W.T level curses for bragging points), and fewer still bothered to craft their own spells. And outside of Slytherin, the Black sisters were to be avoided at all costs.

Bellatrix thought it was because of her unabashed fascination with dark arts, and because the others were lesser people anyway. Andromeda figured it had more to do with her parents, and just about every living adult Black, being nasty people.

But it had taken her a long time just to admit it to herself.

Muggle books had changed her. How could she consider them less people after she'd lived so many adventures with them? How could she not see the parallels between the world she lived in and the heroes and heroins who'd faced prejudice because of the circumstances of their birth ?

Oh lack of magic made a mountain of the silliest things, their technologies were confusing, and their women were irritatingly weak (or absent), but the way they felt and related to each other? Andromeda struggled more and more to see the difference.

With her eyes open, the world wasn't any nicer. She could now see that her family was dysfunctional. A place of neglect where children were supposed to fit nicely into molds, by force if necessary. Andromeda was stuck in a small town where everybody knew everybody and small mindedness ruled supreme, except there was no wider world to run off to.

Narcissa didn't look thrilled as Bellatrix dragged her in. "If I'm dueling, I want to test my new spell on you."

"What is it, another hair charm ?" Bella asked, her black curls pinned precariously on the top of her head.

Narcissa, and her perfectly straight blonde hair, ignored the barb and magically shut the dorm door.

"It's a blood ritual that prevents you from cursing people of your own blood."

Even Bellatrix stared at that.

"Why?" Andromeda whispered.

"Cousin Sirius."

"Oh he's such an idiot," Bella spat, "talking back like that, in public, before he even has a wand of his own."

Eight years old, his mouth spelled shut for two days until he was almost unconscious from water loss.

"Oh, I agree," Narcissa said, "but I never want to find myself in that position."

Blood magic. Andromeda couldn't stop a shiver. Not that she hadn't dabbled, but when she'd read that dark arts changed you, she'd paid attention.

"You're their favorite, Cissy," Bella huffed. "What are you afraid of?"

Narcissa smiled with perfect sweetness. "You, maybe. Maybe I just want to give myself the freedom to tell everyone to... fu...uh... eff off."

Bella's faux gasp and twelve-year-old Cissy stumbling on the curse word brought a treacherous smile on Andromeda's lips. It withered at the thought of her baby sister using blood magic.

"What emotion are you powering it with?"

Narcissa blinked. She had always been too poised for a child but Andromeda knew her well. This was Narcissa struggling not to drop her gaze. "I was thinking fear."

Morgana, no. "Cissy, you'll make yourself a terrified person. We... How far along are you?"

Narcissa took a slow breath. "I'm flattered, Sisters. I'm... I'm at the beginning," she finally admitted. "I've read up a little."

Andromeda's knees almost gave away in sheer relief. "Very well, then let's craft this spell together. Life's hard enough without worrying about being hexed by family."

Bellatrix nodded with a growing smirk. "With a spell like that... I wouldn't have to hold back during duels now, would I ?"

"Well, there's your motivation," Andromeda said with a knowing smile.

"Do you think we could later get our spouses protected too?" Narcissa wondered. "Would that need a second ritual, Meda?"

"Cissy, I'm going to castrate Malfoy."

"Who? Oh, that guy. Why?"

Bella frowned, doubt entering her eyes. Narcissa's confusion and indifference looked absolutely genuine.

Andromeda laughed.

"Hope," Andromeda decided after all too many sleepless nights poring over protective spells, wards and rituals. "We use hope. For this family, for us."

It was a look of rare vulnerability that Bella and Cissy shared with her that night.

"We're stronger together," Narcissa acknowledged in a whisper.

Bella didn't whisper. "We must stay together," she said fiercely. "Always."

"Always." Andromeda promised, unaware she would be the first to betray them.

In the Order of the Phoenix and among Death Eaters, they all wondered, years later, why Bellatrix never went personally after Andromeda. Years later still, Tonks also wondered, why Bellatrix's spells never seemed to hit her quite as hard as they should have. That close-range blasting curse in the Department of Mysteries shouldn't have just have knocked her unconscious. It should have broken her spine.

It was only a matter of time before Andromeda was caught sneaking into the muggle section of the Hogwarts' library. It was a Saturday morning, barely six AM and still pitch dark outside.

Reading The Great Gatsby had been a weird experience for someone who'd so long thought muggles were a homogeneous social class of their own. One more book adding to Andromeda's unease but also helping her untangle her own upbringing.

Rustling of robes had her freeze. Her disillusionment charm fell apart before she thought to cast a Protego. Before her, a pudgy Ravenclaw seventh year, Edward Tonks, stared at her wide-eyed.

"Black! Wow, talk about a teenage rebellion. You've actually been reading these?"

Andromeda stared back flatly. "Why do you need to sneak in here?" She may have been one year younger, but she didn't doubt she'd out-duel him blindfolded and silenced.

"I don't want to be caught reading erotica."

Her lips twitched. "I must've read a very different Jane Austen than you have, then."

He bowed his head to concede her point, and slid Sense and Sensibility back to its rightful place with obvious forced calm. "Am I the first muggleborn you've ever had a conversation with?"

Andromeda blinked. A furious blush colored her cheeks because, Morgana, he actually was right. Two years of rethinking everything she'd been taught and it actually hadn't crossed her mind to actually go talk to a mud- muggleborn.

"You know," he added thoughtfully, "not all English magicals go to Hogwarts, only about a third. The wealthiest and most pure."

"Yes. Your point?"

"All muggleborn go to Hogwarts, the landed gentry and the kids of jobless single moms. I almost died when people couldn't shut up about Crabbe being ruined because his parents had to sell their manor and settle for a three-storey house. ยป He took a sharp breath. "The magicals not good enough for Hogwarts hate muggleborn because they 'steal the spots that should go to real witches and wizards'. Which, as Hogwarts is big enough to house triple the students it does, makes me think all this is done so that everyone keeps hating on muggleborn instead of looking upwards."

Andromeda frowned. She took a few seconds to process his words and decided she agreed with them. Hogwards could house all wizarding children from the Isles. Although why Tonks was making such a speech to her- "Are you trying to upset me?"

"Maybe. Abusing you for all the injustice in this world sounds cathartic, but maybe this was my awkward way of asking if you wanted a book recommendation."

Andromeda's lips twitched. Her smiled died. She wasn't in the mood for joking.

"I won't tell we spoke," Tonks said, uneasy now. It looked like... compassion. He ran a hand through his sandy hair and sighed. "I... I just wish it wasn't so hard for people like me, you know? I don't know why you make it so hard."

Andromeda had a theory by now. "There no spell that gives you power or status. You need people to give you that, else you take it. Magic or no, people are the same. We're like a small town. Everyone's up in your business all the time, something's recent if it happened in the last century and we don't like outsiders."

"Ha. Too right. But you're a princess and I'm nobody."

"You'd trade your parents for mine?"

"I... I actually have no idea how your parents treat you." He had to have heard how they treated others. "But I guess you wouldn't ask unless the obvious answer was no. Although waiting until they're eleven to tell a kid they're magical is a swell way to destroy both kid and family."

Andromeda crossed her arms. "Why?" Another thing she'd never thought to think about.

"Because I terrified myself, and my parents. We didn't understand it. And culturally, for muggles, magic isn't great. Devilish some might say. My parents could have turned abusive. It wasn't that bad. But I talk of the weather when I write my monthly letters." He shook his head bitterly. "What if you had been a muggle? A squib I mean."

Easy. "I'd be dead. Hopefully painlessly murdered." Her mind flashed unhelpfully to the ghastly beheaded house-elves on Aunt Walburga's shelves. Marcus' parents had been progressive, as Blacks went. His squibness had been hidden until he'd been old enough for Hogwarts, then he'd been given a bag of gold and sent to a French school for squibs. He'd never set foot back in England.

"Shit. Not even smuggled for adoption to a nice muggle couple? Isn't that how muggleborn happen?" His words were joking but his voice was hollow.

Andromeda stared. Tonks flinched at her cruel smile. "No," she said softly. "Mud- muggleborn steal magic from respectable people. Everyone knows that." She dropped the act and took a deep breath. "Now I'm curious to have the goblins test your blood... The Blacks drown their squibs, but perhaps there's hope for the Greengrasses or the Longbottoms."

"Well, I've got my apparition licence. If you trust me not to splinch you, we could sneak to Gringotts next Hogsmeade weekend."

It'd take a bit of managing of her sisters, but she had a whole week to find a suitable excuse. It'd be enough time to practice her glamours. No one could be allowed to recognize her in Diagon Alley. "Very well."


"Yes. Bella and Cissy know what I read, but they treat it like..." her lips quirked, "erotica. They consider it a guilty pleasure of mine. I'd be happy to have conversations about everything absurd about traditionalist beliefs with someone other than myself." Wow. She'd actually said that out loud. She took a deep breath. "But I'm also going to ask for a vow of silence."

Tonks took a half-step back. "Like honest-to-God dark arts secrecy vow?"

"That's barely dark arts," Andromeda huffed. "It's powered by intention not emotions."

"So dark's just using emotions ? Wouldn't that make a Patronus dark ?"

What. a. muggle. "No. A patronus needs you to be focused entirely on a happy event to be corporeal, but it's not powered by happiness. That would drain the memory used, require you to make use of a different one each casting. Happiness, that feeling that in a given moment everything is right, is not easily renewable like anger, curiosity, fear or hope can be."

"That's not in the school books..."

A small laugh built in Andromeda's chest. "It wouldn't be. Have you invented any spells?"

Tonks stared. "Uh... No, there's enough to learn as it is... I- Where would I even begin?"

"Hasn't silent casting taught you it's all about intent? Words and gestures are to guide the brain, to the reduce the required concentration. The magic isn't in the latin words."

"Oh." Now Tonks looked annoyed at himself. He frowned, eyes lighting up. "Say, Andromeda, has any wizard ever gone to the moon?"

Huh. Andromeda's face broke into a broad smile. "Now that's a worthy project. But first, that vow ?"

"Fine, but only if it doesn't hurt."

To be honest, she wasn't sure she was in love with Edward, Ted, when they eloped less than two years later, a few months after her Hogwarts graduation. Despite all the muggle novels she'd read, she wasn't convinced love had to be there. He was intelligent, fun, loved magic as much as she did, and he didn't play games with her. The lack of fear, the ease with which they could be themselves, the great sex... it was already so much more than Andromeda would have thought possible. She wasn't sure he loved her, love-starved as he had been since his parents had pulled back from him after a particularly tragic bout of accidental magic. At six, Ted had made the wall between his parents' bedroom and his own vanish after a bad nightmare, and the roof, with nothing to rest on, had collapsed. The dog had died crushed. His father had almost lost a leg. Ted's letter finally gave them an explanation, but the fear was too rooted by then, the relationships too damaged.

But years later, Andromeda and Ted were sure. They had made it work. They opened a small practice, where people asked what they needed, and together, Ted and Andromeda crafted spells. People came, not enough to be rich, but enough to get by. For the rest, they had magic. Andromeda had no qualms about charming the cash dispensers and spending the money the muggle way. There was no compare between the fashion options in muggle London and the dozen shops scattered across the wizarding Isles.

And yes, Cissy, it shields spouses. Her family could disown her, but they couldn't change the essence of her magic, or stop her from holding a blood-adoption ritual. The kind that was used to recognize life debts owed to one of lesser blood, and elevate them to the status of family.

"Couldn't everyone be technically made pureblood then?" Ted had pointed out.

"Technically. But no traditionalist would ever want that. And the ritual is a drain: I could maybe cast it one more time, but I could never bind myself to three."

By choosing freedom, and Ted, Andromeda lost her sisters. She'd written a few letters. The tracing spells revealed that Narcissa had read them and that Bellatrix had burned all but the first unread. She only got an answer once. From Narcissa. A picture of baby Draco giggling in the camera and a single eloquent sentence. I'm raising him a Malfoy. The only acknowledgment Andromeda would get from her that the Black family had been a toxic mess.

Her one true regret was not having spent more time with Sirius. He'd been a first year when she'd turned her back on her family. Andromeda had been thrilled to receive a letter from Dorea Potter, James' mother, once a Black. To learn other people were keeping an eye on him. He'd been adopted by the Potters after his fifth year, and Andromeda had been certain this was a bond that couldn't be broken. Of course, there were ways to break people, torture and mind arts, but those did not make a man guilty. There had been no trial, only Dumbledore's word, and Andromeda desperately wished to know. She made an inquiry, for visits. They were quick to tell her no, and that didn't it look bad, for the sister of Bellatrix Black, to ask after Death Eaters?

She asked Dumbledore personally, and Dumbledore had looked at her with eyes that had seen too many horrors.

"Mrs Tonks, I'm really sorry, and I understand, but I'm using every favor I can, every bit of influence, to get the people who followed Voldemort in Azkaban, or at least out of positions of power. Azkaban is under lock-down. We can't risk a rescue operation freeing Death Eaters."

Like your sister Bella. Her anger swallowed up in dark arts until they ate her mind and all that had been good about her.

"On a happier note, your daughter will be admitted to Hogwarts. I've made sure of it."

Andromeda stared, suddenly speechless. She'd expected -. Muggleborn were all admitted, but children with two muggleborn parents were treated the same as lowly wizarding citizen, and with her being disowned-

Dumbledore smiled sadly. "I can't make the world fair, but this I can do."

Tears stung Andromeda's eyes. She hadn't allowed herself to acknowledge how much this had mattered, not until now. "Thank you, Headmaster."

Tonks grew up thinking her mother was cold. She didn't realize that Andromeda had no clue how to be a mother. It wasn't as simple as doing the opposite in everything of whatever Andromeda's parents had done. Tonks never noticed how her mother watched her father, trying to learn from Ted, desperate to not mess it up.

Tonks suspected that Andromeda had never wanted to be a mother. She was right. The idea had terrified her but her husband had wanted a child so badly, so she had decided to be brave.

She had sometimes regretted it at first, swallowed by anxiety, but by the time Nymphadora was toddling around, cheerfully singing songs to herself, it was just a bad memory. Her clumsy metamorphmagus. Her pain-in-the-ass Hufflepuff daughter. The incredible young woman who Mad Eye Moody himself had chosen to mentor.

Now all Andromeda had was Teddy. But she had had time to learn.

That little boy would be mothered to death.

Hello, Readers !

So this story is a series of chapters centered on the Black sisters, Sirius and Regulus. The chapters won't all be standalone (actually, this is one of the few that is), think of them more like episodes that will grow more and more entwined as we bring in more perspectives. The idea is to reveal the layers to all these wonderful characters.