Christmas Day, 1870. London.
Elladora Black, second-youngest and most beautiful (in her eyes, at least) daughter of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, had spent every December afternoon waltzing down Knockturn Alley into that most salubrious of emporiums, Borgin and Burkes, to gaze adoringly at the love of her life.
Her love was beautiful. Elegant. Refined. He was long and broad; a two-hander if she had ever seen one.
He reflected the December sunshine from his position behind the counter but she was a Black, dammit, and if she wanted to touch him she bloody well would. He felt weighty in her gloved hands. Smooth and cold. But with an edge sharper than her brother’s tongue.
When she held him she felt like the most powerful witch in the world. She must have him for her own.
“Recently oiled,” the old Burke told her the eighth time she had entered the shop.
“I should think so,” she said, sticking her nose in the air.
“Goblin-made,” the younger Burke told her on the fourteenth day.
“Yes,” she snapped. “I am aware.”
“Reserved,” the wizened Burke told her on the twenty-second day. “For Christmas collection.”
“You don’t say,” she hissed, her dark waist-length hair whipping around her as she turned to stride out of the shop.
She had fretted and fretted all December, ever since he had caught her eye and proceeded to taunt her with that stupid reserved sign. She had spent countless restless nights tossing and turning in her four-poster bed because what if he hadn’t been snapped up on her behalf? He was so beautiful, so elegant, how could she ever bear to see him wielded by another? What if a damned Rosier got her disgusting claws on him? They would ruin him!
A little part of her wondered if perhaps dearest Papa had purchased him. He knew, didn’t he? He had been listening when she had told him all about her love, hadn’t he?
But what if he hadn’t?
Mama was a frightful bore and hated Knockturn Alley, she would never venture down there for anything. Nige was far too self-obsessed to have picked up on any of her clever subtle hints. And darling Iola had been at stupid old Hogwarts since September so even if she had wanted to buy him, she wouldn’t have been able to, because Borgin and the Burkes wouldn’t accept mail order for such precious items. She had checked, just in case some filthy foreign witch was trying to get her paws on him.
Christmas morning arrived, and Elladora woke with a start. She flew downstairs, flicking her wand towards each bedroom door that she passed so that the house was soon filled with the sound of incessant knocking.
There were a whole host of silver-wrapped presents under the tree; Elladora darted over to it and began searching through them. There were some big, some small, some long and some round, all discarded and tossed to the side.
“Elladora, what are you doing?”
“I’m looking,” she hissed, not bothering to turn around to greet her brother.
Phineas Nigellus gave a careworn sigh and took a seat in his favoured armchair beside the fireplace. It wasn’t yet lit; he called for an elf while he waited for his sister to stop behaving so childishly.
The rest of the family ambled in not far behind him, Iola stifling a yawn and Papa with that glow he always had about him on Christmas Day. Elladora had finished her fruitless search through the presents and was sitting cross-legged and cross-armed in the middle of the silver packages, glaring petulantly at her parents.
“Where is he?”
“Who, darling?” asked Mama as she began to hand the presents out to their rightful owners.
“You know who! I’ve been wanting him for so long! All month!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, dear. Why don’t you open your presents?”
She huffed and began tearing paper from her gifts, barely acknowledging any of the beautiful robes, the Yeti-fur muff and matching mittens, the bejewelled comb and hand mirror, the Honeydukes selection box. The perfume elicited a sniff of approval, at least.
Elladora flopped backwards among the discarded wrappings and glared up at the ceiling while she waited for her spoiled siblings to finish opening their stupid presents. They seemed delighted.
“Did you like your presents, Dora?” asked Iola, coming to lie down beside her.
“Oh dear,” said Papa, rather theatrically. “I seem to have forgotten something!”
Elladora sat up, her heart thumping, and watched as Cygnus pulled a very long, very sword-shaped parcel out from behind one of the display cabinets. She held her hands out to him, eyes gleaming, and he placed it gently in her palms.
“What is it?” asked Phineas Nigellus, looking up from his stupid book.
She ignored him and set to tearing off the paper with gusto. There he was. Cold steel, just as sharp and shiny as she had remembered, with an elaborate hilt decorated with glittering emeralds and diamonds. He was perfect. She grinned wickedly.
“What on earth do you want with a sword?” he scoffed.
“Shut up Nige!”
She stood and slashed the sword through the air, causing Iola and two house-elves to scurry away in fear of being struck. Elladora giggled. She strode over to where Phineas Nigellus was sitting and poked his book with the sharp end of her sword.
“Don’t be a bore,” he sighed, and shifted in his seat so his back was towards her.
“Bet I could slice right through that stupid old thing.”
“Dora,” Papa said in a warning tone. “I didn’t purchase that sword for you to antagonise your siblings with.”
“Oh,” she pouted. “What was the point then?”
She twirled it around in her hands, getting used to the feel of it, and strolled around the drawing-room to slash at the discarded wrapping paper the elves were attempting to clean up. She went over to the tapestry and poked at the smattering of burn marks there, twisting the point of her sword into those dregs who had dared betray their family.
There was a clatter.
Elladora spun around, sword held outwards. One of the elves was stood, quivering, wringing its wrinkled hands. Mama’s favourite silver tea service was scattered at its feet. The tea was spreading out over the antique rug, mixing with the milk and biscuits and slices of lemon.
“YOU IDIOT!” Elladora yelled.
The elf shrank back as she advanced on it, and the other elves - wisely - disappeared in a series of popping noises.
“Now, Dora…” Papa started.
But she didn’t hear. She raised her sword, holding it high above her with both hands, and brought it crashing down onto the cowering house-elf. The sharpened edge sliced straight through its papery skin, through the wasted muscle and decaying bone.
“Oh, goodness,” Mama said faintly, pressing a handkerchief to her mouth.
Iola fled the room. Phineas Nigellus buried his head in his book and pretended like nothing had happened. Like the headless body of the elf that had nursed the siblings wasn’t bleeding into the floorboards.
“Well,” said Papa. “That… that, too, was not how I intended you to use your gift.”
Elladora threw her head back and cackled, letting the blood-stained sword drop to the floor with a metallic clang.