On the second-lowest level of the Ministry of Magic is, Level 9, only accessible via the lifts from the Ministry Atrium. Deep within the last chamber is a long, cold chamber with high ceilings full of towering shelves covered in small, dusty, glass orbs. Some of the orbs still glimmer dully despite dim light produced from lit blue-flamed candles.
In a heavy fur coat, a tired dark-haired man with dark eyeshadows and even more gaunt cheeks loudly coughed as he is overcome by a coughing fit. Alphard Black wearily leans against one of the towering shelves causing the orbs to shake as he finds he is unable to breathe. Thankfully, the choking fit passes as his burning lungs desperately gasp for air. Gasping in relief, he breathes in the dusty, burning air.
Spitting into the red-spotted handkerchief, Alphard glances down to wipe his red flecked lips clean to only find red like crumbs stuck to the white tissue. Swallowing, he crumbled the handkerchief as he wipes his mouth clean and shoves the silk tissue deep into his pocket. Feeling a bit lightheaded, he thinks it best he retires for the day. At a rather slow gait, he makes his way past the long alleys of shelves willed with thousands of tiny, yellowed labels beneath each orb.
Somehow, Alphard made it to the lift and wearily leaned to rest against a sidewall. He must have closed his eyes, because he hears the worried voice of Amos Diggory say, "Black, are you alright?"
Whatever response, Alphard was going to say, he can't recall. For the moment, he opened his eyes and raised his head everything began to toss and turn, sickly as if on a ship. Like a towering tree, he found himself sliding forward as he felt hands catch him and shouts in the distance. He found his eyes rather heavy to be honest as he merely rested them for a second. It would be just for a second.
Alphard tiredly blinks his gritty filled eyes to see a heavy linen screen pulled around him. Feeling his mouth to be rather dry, he licks his dry lips as he finds a cup behind held out before him. Without glancing at the older, he croaks, "Thank you," before sipping the water through a straw. Gulping as much as he could, he lets out a sigh and leans back to find himself in a white linen bed with a pillow at his back.
"St. Mungo's?" Alphard thought, before turning to stare at the kind figure, who was sitting at his side. He must have blinked twice at seeing the stern, dark-haired woman with sharp features and gray eyes waiting at his side. In all his years as an a.d.u.l.t not once had his elder sister ever inquired about his health. And yet, here she was unable to hide the anxiousness in her eyes with a frown on her face.
"You really should take better of yourself, Alphard," Walburga snapped as her regular haughty demeanor appeared on her face. "With your delicate condition and all that is."
"I do try," Alphard replied not quite sure what to make of the present situation before him. "Am I on the second floor of St. Mungo's in the usual ward?"
It had been the ward that his mother, bless her deceased soul and had always rushed him to whenever he was sick with the fever and much too weak to move. His father, on the other hand, would have left him to die a hundred times over if not for the fact that at that time, he'd been the sole male heir to the Black family.
His mother had married much too young having foolishly fallen for the Black family looks. But what she didn't take into account was the Black family's cold-hearted natured. She was much too soft of a witch and should have never married into the family.
During his childhood, Alphard had much to often see his mother be berated by his cold father. He'd always privately thought she should have married her childhood friend, who'd always come to her see. The childhood friend never did marry and passed away only a year after his mother's death.
After giving birth to Cygnus, his younger brother, his mother never fully recovered. Perhaps, she was much too tired at this point or the simpler explanation was that his father no longer had any further use for his wife. His mother passed away two years later never being able to see Alphard leave for Hogwarts as he'd only been nine years old at the time.
"Yes, your usual spot even," Walburga answered as she glanced down to hide the rare sheen of emotion in her eyes. Smoothing the sheets before her, she instead says, "Father wanted to come, but he is unable to leave his bed. I think this will set his recovery quite a bit."
Alphard tries to chuckle to only be overcome with another spasm of coughing. This time around there was nothing for him to couch into except his hand. When the fit ceased, he found a rather tight-lipped Walburga holding out a tissue for which to wipe his mouth and hand clean. "Thank you," Alphard croaked.
Walburga didn't trust herself to speak as she simple pressed her lips into a thin line. Weakly smiling at his older sister, Alphard says, "Do you remember all the games mother use to play with us, while I was here? I find myself recalling those long ago, forgotten times."
Walburga's eyes flash as she recalls the mousy brown-haired woman, Irma Crabbe, that had been her mother. She must have been pretty once as their father had married their mother. But all Walburga could recall was the timid, witch who would keep her head down never rising to meet her father's gaze. That's why, Walburga had solemnly promised herself to never allow herself to be trampled by others. She would never become her mother.
Feigning ignorance, Walburga coldly says, "I can't quite recall. It was a long time ago."
"I see," Alphard softly said half-understanding his sister. He never quite understood why Walburga disliked their mother.
But then again, Walburga was seven years older than him, much like he and Cygnus had been. And in her childhood, she must have seen how their father crushed the spirit out of their mother. But still, a child should never hate their parent. Yet he wasn't one to talk, he'd never forgiven their father either. The Blacks were quite good at hating others especially those members of the same family. It was an inherited family trait at this point.
Changing the subject, Alphard says, "What did the healers say?"
"That you are to be on bed rest for a day or two," Walburga sniffed. "And that you are to not exhaust yourself so. Really Alphard, what can your desk job at the ministry possibly entail?"
Alphard hid a grin as an unspeakable couldn't exactly go about telling family members that. Many suggested it to their spouses, but he knew his sister. And she was a Black, through and through. "Tis the season, and with spring upon us, various creatures are about to mate, and as such smugglers and creature sighting are about to go up," Alphard lied with a straight face.
"Why you wanted to become an obliviator, I will never know," Walburga rolled her eyes. "You had such promising talent that you could have been anything you wanted. I know the Auror department would have turned you down considering your health. But still, you should have gone into law enforcement given your talent."
Alphard hides a smile as Walburga huffs, "But then again, things always do seem to work out for you. I thought you mad, when you asked, Orion to ensure that Georgine and Reginald Prince accepted Malfoy's invitation."
Walburga paused as she eyed her younger brother with a suspicious gleam in her eyes. "If I didn't know any better, Alphard, I would suspect that you knew of the attack to occur at the Malfoy Ball."
Alphard doesn't react beyond a lonely smile and replies, "A fierce crow told a tiny sparrow."
Walburga snorts at the whimsical riddle and immediately put the outlandish idea out of mind. Alphard was a great deal of many things, but foolish he was not. Still, he had once been good friends with Rodolphus Lestrange, her deceased niece, Bella's husband. And whether she liked to admit it or not, her deceased niece, Bella, and her husband were intertwined with a demonic half-breed.
Alphard begins to chat with her about the children causing Walburga to immediately brighten up and forget her previous train of thought. And for a time, they chatted just like old times, before his sister had married their cousin, Orion, and had become Lady Black. Sooner or later, Lady Black would return and the distance between them as well. However, in the meantime, he'd enjoy this rare bittersweet moment. It was all he had left.