A/N: Hello again! I wanted to give you an update on my planned posting schedule for this fic. Currently, I plan to post 2x each week, once on Monday and once on Wednesday. Chapter length will be dependent on the scene (and what makes most sense to me), and so I won't be setting myself any parameters for chapter word count. If you enjoy, please review, and happy reading!
November 9, 1981
Chateau Black, France
When Cassiopeia Black left England at the tender age of 17, she vaguely expected to return with some frequency. Holidays, funerals, rituals, funerals, ceremonies, funerals- there were plenty of reasons to either Portkey or Floo across the channel at least once per season if she wanted to.
It would seem she hadn't wanted to.
Over the course of 49 years, she'd returned only a handful of times- mostly for funerals. Each time she'd been summoned, Pip had spent days carefully packing, unpacking, and reorganizing her travel trunk before forcing Cassiopeia into whatever abominable robes were currently in fashion for travel. Each time, Pip had full knowledge of their itinerary for the entire trip, complete with notes for Cassiopeia about the reason for their visit (this precaution was deemed necessary after Cassiopeia returned home for her mother's funeral and wished everyone a Most Merry Yule… in June). This trip was… different.
"Missy Cassiopeia, if you would just be giving Pip one week, Pip would be having an all new wardrobe for Missy Cassiopeia to go with!" Pip pleaded, tugging anxiously at the bottom of her toga as her mistress tossed random robes in the general direction of her travel trunk.
"No time, you silly creature, I've already told you! This is our next great project, and we must react with due haste." Cassiopeia eyed her jewelry box. "But I do admit you should probably finish the packing in here- anything I could need for every possible occasion, if you please. Perhaps I will see to packing up the labs now-,"
"NO!" Pip squeaked, eyes so wide they threatened to pop out of her head, "Missy mustn't! Missy must…." Pip stopped, and the gleam that entered her eye made her look entirely too mischievous for any self-respecting house elf (which, of course, Pip was not). "Missy Cassiopeia must be preparing for our project, she must. Initial research is most important! Pip will handle ALL of the packing for her mistress."
Cassiopeia was very much aware that her house elf would put a majority of the Slytherins she'd gone to school with to shame, but she'd never been one to crush initiative (nor had she ever been one to enjoy packing). "Quite right, Pip, I'll be in the study working on a timeline of the family's disasters then."
Pip nearly dropped to the floor in sheer relief when she left the room. Instead, she scurried to unpack everything that her mistress had tried to pack, muttering irritably about witches who had no appreciation for color coordination or wrinkle-resistance spells.
It was past lunch when Cassiopeia's travel trunk was shrunk down and tucked into one deep pocket of the burgundy travel robes that Pip had chosen for her mistress. A matching hat was carefully pinned atop the charmed black curls, and they were ready to leave.
"Missy Cassiopeia is wanting Pip to come as well?" Pip asked hesitantly. She had, of course, already packed the few items she needed for herself (mainly secretarial items) but confirmation was important to gain before leaving the home undefended.
"Of course Pip, who else will look after me? I did tell you this could take quite some time," Cassiopeia regarded her elf with some surprise at the mere insinuation that they would separate indefinitely. In their 49 years together, she had only left Pip in France while she traveled twice.
Witch and house elf regarded one another quite seriously for a long moment before, smiling eagerly, Cassiopeia turned to the large fireplace specially designated for Floo travel. "Hold tight Pip, we might have to crash through a ward or two. I do hope she didn't add any new traps."
November 9, 1981
Calderon Castle, Spain
Isla Calderon may have married into a family wealthy beyond belief for their invention of more stable cauldrons in a variety of materials, but warding was her real birthright. As such, her own rooms in Calderon Castle were better protected than most Gringott's vaults. Without her explaining the key hidden in her warding layers, no one could get in or out.
Even her husband didn't know the secret to dismantling her wards.
So it was rather a shock when, while taking tea in her sitting room, the entire fireplace began to wobble.
An intruder had made it through her initial Floo screen? How rare! Isla smiled morbidly, imagining how mangled the body that the Floo would spit out would be by the time it made its slow progress through each trap she had laid.
Isla's newest house elf appeared at her side instantly. "Mistress?"
Isla nodded towards the clearly upset fireplace. "You've been in training for what, six months now? Have you seen what happens when people cross through our wards uninvited?"
The trainee (a baby, really, at a mere 50 years of age) shook his bald head.
"It starts like this, with the shakes and distortions. Next, you'll hear some crunching- bone breakers- followed by, if memory serves, rather a lot of screaming through some acid splashes. Depending on the strength of our intruder, we may make it to the third trap- entrail expelling curses- before they fall through."
Tolly made an apprehensive little eep!-ing noise, and darted behind his mistress's chair to watch the fireplace. They both listened for the sound of crunching to begin, and if Isla were said to have looked rather excited by the prospect, well, this was really just professional interest was it not?
Except quite suddenly, the rather undignified wobbling stopped. And a chime sounded, followed by a noise quite like someone tromping loudly down wooden stairs.
"Should Tolly be getting the Master for intruder…?" the elf looked incredibly surprised- day one of lessons had been a study in the strength of Calderon Castle's wards, after all.
Isla narrowed her eyes at the fireplace, then huffed theatrically. "No need. Just bring another setting for tea- and I'm sure she still likes biscuits, so best bring a plate of those as well."
"Mistress invited a... guest?"
"Mistress gave a standing invitation quite a long time ago," Isla said dryly, "Apparently it's just now being taken up on. Now Cassiopeia Black, would you please pull yourself out of my Floo?"
The tromping noise abruptly stopped, and Cassiopeia toppled out of the fireplace with a house elf clinging to her skirt. "Entrail expelling layer? That's new." The extremely exasperated looking elf she'd brought poked her Mistress in the hip with one too-long finger. "What Pip- oh, right, good manners. Isla, you seem dangerous as ever. I hope you don't mind me barging in."
"Safe as ever, darling, it sounds much better than dangerous," Isla chastened. "Best sit down I suppose. Tea?" Tolly had just popped back into the room with a second setting.
"That'd be wonderful," Cassiopeia settled delicately into the paisley patterned chair across from her host, Pip taking post behind her. "That's why I'm here, you know."
"Two sugars, no cream still? And really, darling, you owl me once a week- I hardly think public opinion is a good reason to fall through my fireplace."
"Three sugars, if you please, it's been quite a long day."
Isla passed the toothache inducingly sweet tea across her spindle legged table, glancing towards one of a dozen photo frames on top of the mantle. In it, two Slytherin girls stood attached at the arm and hip, laughing loudly at some forgotten joke. The girl on the left was tall and lithe with bright blonde hair, blue eyes, and a smile like the cat who had gotten the cream. The girl on the right was her opposite- shorter, more compact, with jet black curls and the famous Black family grey eyes. Isla didn't make a habit of being nostalgic- really, who had time?- but a flicker of affection shot through her when she considered that this was the very first time her oldest friend had taken her up on the standing invitation to tea she had made after graduation.
Looking back to Cassiopeia, Isla gently crossed her ankles. "What do you need, darling?"
"My research has determined that the Black family is currently suffering our worst PR nightmare since Great Aunt Elladora attempted to pass Muggle Hunting through the Wizengamot in 1901. I'm fairly confident you're the only one who can help me handle it."
Well, the papers for the past two years had been rather clear about the Black family's involvement in the war, and the most recent convictions had hardly helped matters. But research? It rather sounded like Cassiopeia was taking the whole family on a project- and everyone knew how Cassiopeia felt about projects. "Why aren't you talking to your paterfamilias about this? Or Pollux?"
To Pip's visible dismay and Isla's more hidden delight, Cassiopeia did not bother to mince words. "Arcturus is an idiot. Pollux is a slightly more tolerable idiot, but his word doesn't affect Arcturus in the slightest. And everyone else in my generation but Callidora are dead."
"And you've no faith in the next generation? Orion is next in line, I understand, and Cygnus has his first grandchild now."
"All children raised by idiots become greater idiots, if the timeline I've compiled is any indication. The Prewett lot might be alright- they haven't been in the papers at least- but Orion and Cygnus seem to have both failed their own offspring. There is no longer an actual Black scion- there is no one to redeem the family name before we almost inevitably die out. A whole Ancient and Noble house will be forgotten as merely a Dark footnote in history if nothing is done."
Isla could hardly disagree with that statement either- already others in the Sacred 28 made jokes about how the Malfoy and Potter families would be left fighting over who got the Black fortune. "Arcturus is rather stubborn, how on earth are you going to change his mind?"
"Leave that to me."
Curiosity burned in the back of her throat, but Isla managed to restrain herself to a brief nod. "So to be clear, you want to re-establish the Black name as…. respectable?"
"Right on," Cassiopeia raised her tea cup in an informal salute.
"And you think that I, as in myself specifically, am the best choice to help you get what you want?"
The barking laugh was not the response Isla expected in face of her dubious expression. "How many times has your daughter been widowed while remaining the darling of the press now? Five?"
"Six, actually. You may remember that Elvira had a child last year with the most recent, an Italian wizard named Zabini, before he was caught in a storm on his broom." Isla smiled and summoned a much newer picture frame from the mantle. "This is my little grandson, Blaise."
"He's a doll- perfectly symmetrical features and your own husband's complexion, if I remember correctly." Cassiopeia offered. "So, you'll help?"
Isla smiled coyly. "Tell me, darling, when was the last time you talked to your other brother?"