"Mum, how do you know when you're in love?"

I tried to make the question sound casual as I slowly stirred the chocolate chip cookie dough. There was only a week left of August, which meant school was almost here and I still had unanswered quesitons burning on my lips. Some of them only a mother could answer.

She cast me a knowing smile as she prepped for oatmeal raisin cookies. "Think you might be in love with your young man?" she asked in return.

"I... I don't know what I feel," I confessed. "I like him well enough, but I don't know if it's love. I don't know what this kind of love feels like. I love him as my best friend, but that's not the same. I'm asking so that when it happens, I can recognize it." I wanted to tell her about Ron, but enough people knew already. I'd finally decided to write to Ginny about it after a letter from her inquiring (and by that I mean demanding) after an answer. I told her not to tell anyone else- especially Ron. Her response had been typical-

Oh, I knew it! I knew something like that had happened! When are you breaking up with The Boot?

It was irritating that so many people disliked Terry. And what say did they think they had in my love life?

Mum sighed, bringing my thoughts back to the kitchen. I washed my hands and began rolling the dough into balls.

"Love comes differently for everyone," she said slowly. "It feels differently for everyone. I can't tell you exactly how your father makes me feel except to say that I love him. It's something you have to figure out as you go."

"Oh," I said quietly. That wasn't helpful.

When I glanced up, Mum was lolling her head from side to side as if contemplating telling me something revealing. Finally, she put her half mixed ingredients aside and folded her hands on the table top. I raised my eyebrows and put down my latest dough ball, wiping my hands on a towel.

Story time.

"When I was your age, I was a lot like Morgan. I gave my heart away freely before I started dating your father and I'd already had several boyfriends by now. And I loved every single one of them."

I blinked at her. What?

"Or so I thought," she continued with a wave of her hands. "Oh, I thought it was love! I was a teenager! I thought everything was love. I cried over them or was angry at them... Sometimes both. I thought I knew what heartbreak was..." A wistful smile pulled across her face and she looked so young for a moment, thinking back on those days. "Your father and I went through a lot in the beginning. Way more than I think either of us had bargained for.

"The summer we were married, I almost lost him. In a very... Permanent way." She paused then, fixing me with a mournful stare, the youth suddenly drained from her features. Suddenly she seemed much older than I'd ever seen her before. "I was pregnant with Jacob. I was scared. I was doubting everything I had agreed to. Doubting my choices, my marriage... Your father went on a mission of sorts..." Mum bit her lip, her face frowning. She was wondering how much to tell me, the gears in her head rearranging words to hide details from me. Her eyes began to glisten with a sheen of tears, but she smiled. "They tried to tell me he was dead. I refused to believe it, of course, but in that moment... That was when I truly knew what heartbreak really was. In that moment, I died, too."

She sniffed and wiped her eyes, laughing as she did so. The almost joyous sound amidst the heart wrenching look on her face seemed other worldly as I hung onto her words. "I can't even think about it without getting upset," she said. "But I knew without a doubt that I had never really loved any of those boys. Not like I love your father. There is a kind of love you can freely give to anyone- a kinship, really. And then there's love. When he goes, my heart goes with him. It's a hard road to find real love, darling, but if it doesn't break you when it's gone..." She shook her head. "Then it isn't real."

With a little sigh, she straightened and went back to prepping the oatmeal cookies while I returned to rolling dough balls. I hadn't given much thought to the events that led my family into hiding and I realized that it was pretty selfish of me. I couldn't help but still feel that keeping their secrets from us was pretty selfish of them, though. Still... It seemed unreal to me that Dad's life had ever been in danger.

We worked in silence for a few minutes, but... I still had questions. And maybe more questions would keep Mum from dwelling on such an awful memory. "So... What is the most important part of a relationship?"

She shrugged and replied, "You are."

"But... But I thought-"

She waved off my protest. "Oh, yes, honesty, communication- that's all well and good, but those things come naturally in a good and healthy relationship," she said. "The most important part of a relationship is you, the other party, and your decisions."

"I don't... Understand."

Her mouth twisted to the side as she thought up another anecdote to help her explain her cryptic answer. "I had a boyfriend at your age that I thought I was happy with. He came up to me one day- told me that life was short and the war was getting closer. He couldn't go one more day without telling me that he was in love with me and would I please go out with him." She wrinkled her nose. "It lasted two weeks."

"W- what?" I sputtered. "But that sounds so sweet and romantic!"

"Oh, it was," she agreed, nodding as she began her own dough balls. "He completely swept me off my feet with whispers of romance and his dreams to fight the dark wizards. We were inseparable for those two weeks."

"Well, then what happened?" I pressed. This conversation was becoming more interesting by the second. I had never heard many stories from my parents' youth before and I was utterly fascinated. The oven sounded and I put in the first pan of cookies, set the timer, and began a new batch. "Well...?"

Mum rolled her eyes at me. "I didn't like him!" She shrugged.

I stared in disbelief. "But-!"

"Oh, don't get me wrong- he was handsome and sweet and the whole thing took me completely off guard. I was swept away before I could even remember agreeing to his proposal... But..." Her mouth twisted again. "He chose me and I never chose him." She noted my questioning look before I could form the words. "When you start a new relationship, it should be with two people who want to be together. You have to choose each other. At the end of the day, I didn't really want to be with Barney Shunpike-"


"-he just wanted to be with me and I agreed without thinking. It's really the most important thing in a relationship. Don't just be chosen. You have to make the choice to choose, too. I didn't. I let myself get swept up in someone else's idea. Is any of this making sense? Sinking in?"

It was. Sort of. More than I wanted to admit. If she said 'swept' one more time, though, the image of some boy kidnapping her on his broom was going to be burned into my mind. "I guess I'll figure it out like you did," I said carefully. And then I laughed. "And without dating someone named Barney."

Mum rolled her eyes again. "He was very handsome!" she argued.

We giggled, but in my head all I could think about was how familiar that story sounded. It left me wondering...

Did I choose?


August thirty-first. Ten PM. I was staring into the darkness above my bed, wide awake. Not only had my conversation with Mum kept me up every night this week pondering my new relationship with Terry -could it still be called new after three months?- but her story about Dad kept reminding me that there were still questions I wanted answered and I was almost literally out of time. After the fall out with Dad when I got back a month ago, though, I was nervous to ask him anything despite the following reconcilliation.

I turned restlessly. Otus gave a low hoot and the sound made Ephi stir in his cage next to my bed. The two got along strangely well, though I was not about to let them out of their cages at the same time. I sighed and turned the other way, punching my pillow a few times. If I could just get comfortable...

Of course, I could also try to go find the answers I wanted. The thought made me sit up in bed, glancing around as if someone might be in my room ready to stop me. Of course there was no one but Otus and Ephi and if an owl and a Pygmi Puff could keep me from climbing the stairs to the kitchen, what sort of witch was I? The underage kind that can't use magic outside of school. Details.

Quietly, I slipped out of bed and up the stairs, into the empty kitchen. The door to the hallway creaked uncharacteristically as I opened it and I was ever so grateful for the carpet under my feet. In the living room further on, I could hear the television, but I didn't know who was still awake, watching it. I slipped into the first door on the left- Dad's office. It was a place normally only Dad was and it seemed a logical place to start looking. There weren't exactly a lot of out-of-bounds areas of the house and I didn't think I would find anything in Jake's room.

I switched on the light, blinking against the brightness. The room was quiet and empty and I'm not sure why I expected anything else. I went around the desk, sitting in the chair. The leather creaked under my weight. Suddenly, I felt like I was five again, sneaking into Daddy's office to play, Daddy coming in to laugh and shoo me away. I glanced at the closed door anxiously as if that were about to happen. Satisfied that it wasn't, I started the search.

I opened every drawer he had- paper, files, stationary, mail... The thin roll-out drawer right above the leg space was filled with more fountain pens than I had ever seen. What I didn't find was anything at all that would magically grant me the answers I wanted. Why had I thought this would be a fruitful idea?

With a sigh, I sifted through the neat stacks of papers on his desk. Case notes, incoming mail, out going subpoenas... I straightened a stack and went to put it back into place when I noticed an off-colored paper sticking out from beneath a legal pad. The moment I touched it, I noted the familiar feel of parchment. My pulse quickened as I unfolded it. Despite the size of the paper, the message was short. It was dated for April.


Don't worry if you don't hear from me for a while. There's a lot happening. I can't explain here. I can't visit, either. Make sure you check on your girls. The things we've been hearing from the school... Did you know Dumbledore was forced out a few weeks ago?

I will try to visit in the summer time.


Who was P-

The sound of the door clicking shut snapped my attention up. Dad stood there, looking down his nose at me. I shoved the letter under the desk as if he hadn't already seen me reading it.

"Shouldn't you be in bed?" he asked. His tone was soft, his face filled with amusement. It reinforced the feeling of being an innocent child from ten years ago. "School starts tomorrow. It's late."

"Couldn't sleep," I answered honestly.

"And you thought reading boring lawyer stuff would help you drift off?" he asked. With hands in his pockets, he walked toward the desk, coming around to stand before me. "May I please have that letter? It is very important to me."

I chewed on my lip before handing it over. "Who is Padfoot?"

"My brother," he replied, his fingers almost caressing the parchment.

"But that's not a name," I quipped before I could stop my mouth.

Dad smiled. "It was the name he chose." He sat on the edge of the desk, folding the letter up. "What are you doing in here, Piper?"

I shifted nervously under his gaze. "Just looking," I mumbled. He pinned me with the Dad Stare that invoked almost instant, guilty, spill-all confessions. "I was looking for you. For something that would tell me who you are."

Rather than scold me, he laughed. "You won't find any of that in here," he promised. I slumped in the chair, defeated. "All that stuff is in the attic."

"W- we don't have- We have an attic?" I sputtered. "Where?"

"Please don't forget that you and Morgan are not the only witches in the family," he replied. He opened a drawer, the one with the stationary inside, and drew his wand from behind the stack of carefully letter-headed paper. Then he walked to the bookshelf. I swivelled the chair to follow his movements. He removed a thick volume from his collection and used his wand to tap the empty space it left behind. A small section of the shelf swung forward to reveal a staircase. "Undetectable Extension Charm. Your mother is very clever."

For a moment, I thought I was speechless, but then my mouth began moving and I said, "What the hell? Does the staircase move as well? Secret passageways between the bedrooms and the kitchens? Tunnels to the neighbor's house?"

"Piper, don't be ridiculous," he replied. Me? Ridiculous? Who exactly was it that just revealed a secret stairway to the secret attic behind the office bookshelf? He gestured for me to follow him up. "Well, come on."

"What? Really?"

"Unless you'd rather not-?"

I jumped out of the chair so fast, I left it spinning. "No! No, I just thought you were going to make me argue with you first."

He chuckled as he led the way up to the top of two hidden flights of stairs. "I've been thinking about it since you came back," he confessed. "Maybe keeping secrets has been a little more... Detrimental than I thought... Finding you in the office with that letter seemed as good a sign as any."

"Cutting it a little close," I muttered. He paused to cast me a look of doubt. "Not that I'm not grateful!"

At the top of the stairs was a door. Dad produced a key from a small cubby shelf. My heart beat almost suffocatingly in my throat. Suddenly I would rather go back downstairs and be told rather than shown.

The door opened to a room that seemed impossible to be inside our normal looking house, charm or not. It took up the area I had assumed to be a crawl space under the roof. Dad turned on a light. It was littered with dusty trunks and boxes, a few covered mannequins with robes hanging off the frames, and what appeared to be some sort of tapestry on the back wall.

"This is all that is left of mine and your mother's attachments to the Wizarding World," he said. I watched him as his gaze fell upon the things in the room with a fondness. A sadness. I felt like I was intruding. "Ask me anything."

I fidgetted. "Have we ever met Padfoot?" That seemed as good a place to start as any.

"Oh, yes, thought I doubt you would recognize him. He was a bit of a dog at the time." Dad laughed as if he had said something clever.

"Was he that man who was hitting on Mum at our thirteenth birthday party?" I thought back to the chubby, balding man who had relentlessly hounded my mother despite her polite refusals and reminders of her wedding ring. I wrinkled my nose at the idea. Bad guess.

"No, that was Mr. Lorde from my office," he replied, annoyed. "Do you remember Mr. Snuffles?"

"Snuffles? Our summer time stray?" Mr. Snuffles was the name Momo and I (mostly Momo) had given to a large black mutt who wandered into our yard three summers ago. He came back every summer and we played with him and fed him, but Dad insisted we couldn't keep him. "Did he come back at all while I was gone?"

"Mr. Snuffles was an animagus..."


A silence stretched between us and my heart ached for him. He offered me a smile.

"No one lives forever, darling. You should remember that." He went toward the back of the room and I followed him. What I thought was a tapestry was a large sheet covered in names, some with pictures. "It's not like the one Mother has, but it's the best I could do on memory. This is... Our family tree."

I looked from him to the sheet. The photographs moved inside jagged, cut edges above names that seemed vaguely familiar. "Black. As in... Black?" I glanced back at him and he nodded. I took a deep breath. "So... So... Which Black are you?"

He pointed near the bottom of the sheet.

Sirius Black ---------- Regulus Black

"As I recall, Regulus, Sirius' brother, only lasted a few days when he deserted the Death Eaters." Remus Lupin's voice played in my head like a broken record, followed only by my mother's. "I almost lost him in a very permanent way."

So many little clues seemed to add up in my head that led to this natural conclusion, but I hadn't been able to put the pieces together. Why would I?

"I heard you got to meet my cousin, Nymphadora, at the Burrow," Dad said conversationally. "We're related to the Weasley's as well."

"Oh, no..." I made a face of disgust.


"I, er..." I chewed on my lip. "I just... I used to have a crush on... One of the Weasley's..."

Dad laughed and shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about it. There are few pureblood families in England that aren't related to the Blacks in some way, shape, or form. It's common practice for inter-breeding to keep the bloodlines pure. Not to mention, being considered blood traitors for generations, the Weasley's are more than distant enough for you to not even be concerned. Just stay clear of the Malfoy boy. His mother is my first cousin."

This directed my gaze to Draco's name. He had no picture, but the woman's name above his did. Narcissa Malfoy (Black). I squinted at the picture. The woman was very beautiful and seemed familiar.

"Isn't that... Isn't she the woman from Diagon Alley?" I asked.

He nodded. "That's Nissa," he confirmed.

I shook my head, mind racing. "Dad... I'm happy you're telling me all this, but... I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with this information."

He unbuttoned the cuff of his left shirt sleeve and pulled the fabric back, revealing a black tattoo. A snake and a skull. I shivered and looked back at him.

"I'm hoping you begin to understand why we're in hiding and why I need you to be careful of who you trust."

Author's Note: I just want to say, sorry for the rushed feel of the last couple of chapters! Trying to put in A LOT of info. I hope the story is still coming across okay! Thanks for reading!

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