A faint peal of thunder reverberated throughout the dark room, rattling the window panes as a brief streak of lightning forked across the black mass of churning clouds that obscured the

sky. From somewhere downstairs the dull 'bong' of an ancient grandfather clock announced the hour to be midnight. As the last rings faded away, a young ebony haired girl slipped out of

the large four poster bed dominating the far end of the room.

Crossing her arms across her shivering body, she crept quietly over the icy, dark wood floor to the open doorway. Craning her head around to peer cautiously into the deserted hallway,

she slipped out of her room, shutting the door softly behind her. Once in the corridor, she paused, tilting her head slightly as she strained her ears for any sound that may have otherwise

been drowned out by the raging tempest surrounding the mansion. Her well honed senses picked up on the quiet breathing of her younger sister Andromeda.

Moving as stealthily as possible on the antique timber floor, she made her way to her sister's room and spotted the six year old curled up in a ball, one thumb in her mouth and her other

arm wrapped securely around a stuffed bear. The corners of the older girl's mouth twitched upwards slightly in a small smile. Andy didn't seem to be in the least bit bothered by the storm.

Normally, she would have invaded her elder sibling's room long before, her dark eyes wide with fear. Bellatrix would have made a show of sighing loudly at the unpleasantness of being

woken up before taking the younger child in her arms and setting her on the bed.

Her overjoyed yet still terrified sister would then cling to her as Bellatrix gently stroked her brown hair and told her that there was absolutely no reason whatsoever to be frightened of a

little thunder, and that it was most unbecoming of her status as a member of the ancient and noble House of Black to show her emotions so strongly. Andy found this strange technique of

comforting rather effective and would soon have drifted off into a peaceful sleep under the security her sister's presence provided.

Now, however, she was still soundly asleep, shifting only occasionally in a dream. Satisfied that Andromeda was not what had awoken her, she stepped out into the passageway once

more. Old portraits of her ancestors, some stained at the corners from sheer age, lined the walls. All of their occupants were either sleeping quietly in their canvases or had drifted off to

visit some other painting. Bellatrix sneaked past them, eager to avoid detection.

Upon passing a mirror, she glanced up almost unconsciously at its silver surface. She was a little startled to note the pale shade of her face, even lighter than her normally unusually fair

skin. Thick raven coloured hair framed her face, which was as something carved by a master sculptor of marble. Her strong jaw and deep, piercing eyes spoke strongly of her heritage as a

daughter of the House of Black.

The sound low murmuring of voices immediately pried her attention from her reflection. At the far end of the hall, her eyes, now adjusted to the dark, could pick out the faint glow of

candlelight emanating from a door barely cracked open.

Holding her breath, Bellatrix took one hesitant step toward the light and then another and another until she was face to face with mostly closed door. Dropping noiselessly to her knees,

the young girl of nine put her eye to the keyhole and attempted to see what was inside. The only thing visible for a few moments was an expanse of white. Suddenly, she realized that it

was a doctor from St. Mungo's wearing a medical coat as he stepped away from the door, simultaneously revealing her grave looking mother sitting by her father's bedside. The man's

eyes were closed, his face ashen.

Bellatrix frowned faintly to herself. Her father had been ill for a few weeks, but he had always assured her with a gentle smile that it was merely a severe cold or some other such

nuisance, nothing serious. But now, she heard the doctor speaking in a quiet tone with her mother. The eldest Black daughter's ears picked up a few words, "Severely ill….look into taking

care of the future…for your daughters' sakes…." Her mother nodded, her face unreadable now. The medical wizard gave a polite bow to the Mistress of the house and moved toward the door.

Seized by a sudden panic at the imminent danger of being caught out of bed at this hour, the girl stumbled back, unfortunately losing her balance and falling to the hard floor with a 'thud'.

A moment later, the door was thrown open, the doctor appearing in the doorway with his wand drawn. He lowered it upon realizing that there was no threat. Drucilla Black materialized

beside him, looking at Bellatrix with a cold, disapproving look. "What are you doing up at this hour, Bella?" she asked, her voice laced with a silent menace.

Diverting her eyes from her mother's unnerving stare, she mumbled, "I woke up…and couldn't sleep…" The woman was clearly about to respond when a weak voice rasped from inside the

room, "For heaven's sake, Drucilla, let the girl come inside." Pausing for only a second, his wife nodded slowly and stepped aside to allow Bellatrix to enter. "Well get up," her mother said

icily. "Your father wishes to see you."

Scrambling to her feet, the young girl swiftly moved by her mother into the dimly lit room. Attempting to sit up somewhat, her father motioned for her to come closer.

Upon seeing him up close, Bella noted that he looked more like a corpse than a living human being. Nevertheless, his eyes still held a faint spark of life, weak though it now was. His

eldest child knelt down by the side of his bed, looking up at him concernedly. "Father, what's wrong? Are you getting worse?"

Cygnus Black sighed tiredly. "I'm afraid so, Bella. The kind doctor tells me it is much more serious than I had hoped." Bellatrix grimaced ever so slightly. "You aren't going to have to stay at

St. Mungo's for any length of time, are you?" she asked, dreading having only her mother around. Andy wouldn't mind it too much, generally getting off the hook easier than Bella due to

her young age, and the youngest sister Narcissa, still only a toddler, would hardly notice. At the same time, Bellatrix didn't want their father gone for too long, not wanting to contend with

his wife.

The older Black frowned a little. "I'm afraid….it's more dire than you realize, Bella," he began slowly. A cold chill shot down Bellatrix's spine. "What do you mean "more dire"," she asked

warily. Her father smiled sadly, his eyes filled with sorrow. "I'm going to need you to step up and take care of your mother and sisters…when I'm gone," he told her quietly.

Bellatrix automatically moved back a bit, staring at him in shock and denial. "No…you're not going anywhere, Daddy. It's just…you've just got a chest cold or something…It will pass once

the weather gets warmer…" Her voice sounded far more confident than she felt. Indeed, she purposely tried to project certainty into her tone in order to make her father realize that he

was overreacting. He was going to be alright; he had to be.

Cygnus studied her sympathetically for a moment before reaching out and tucking a stray lock of her dark hair behind her ear. "My Bella," he murmured quietly. "I have no doubt that great

things are in your future. You're going to make an impact on our world, you can be sure." Bellatrix moved closer to him, looking pleadingly into his eyes, begging him to say that he

wouldn't abandon her. He squeezed her hand gently and continued in an even more hushed voice than before, as if what he had to say concerned only her, "You have to be strong, Bella,

for me and everyone else. I know you'll be alright." Bellatrix started to answer, only to realize that her throat had tightened up considerably. "But…you can't just leave us…me…"

Her father nodded lightly, as if that thought had occurred to him. "Do not worry. You won't be alone. I will send an angel for you...to guide you whenever you are uncertain of your path."

His voice started to die away, his grip loosening as his life force ebbed.

"I don't understand…" she pressed, but it was too late. Her mother pulled her firmly to her feet and sent her off once more to her room where she simply stared at the wall, not crying, not

even making a sound.

Her door opened at long last, but she didn't even turn to look. "Bella?" Andy asked timidly. "What's going on? I saw Mother talking to a doctor. Is Daddy okay?" Bella turned to look at her,

her eyes hard. "He's dead, Andromeda. Now go back to bed." She turned her head away, expecting to hear the sound of her sister's retreating footsteps. However, it didn't come.

Instead, the little girl whispered, "Bella, can I sleep in your room tonight?"

Bellatrix hesitated, wanting to give her a sharp reply, but the pathetic sound of her sister's request stopped her. Turning with a sigh, she nodded, scooting over to make room for the

Black's middle daughter to sit on the bed. Andromeda climbed up beside her sister, sniffling softly as she curled up against Bellatrix. Holding onto her tightly, Bellatrix listened as the little

girl cried herself to sleep. Outside, the storm picked up in intensity.