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Before the Storm (Part 2) [Dec. 23rd, 2012|04:27 am]
alley_skywalker
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Title: Before the Storm
Author: alley_skywalker
Pairing: Antonin/Bellatrix, Andromeda/Ted, Lucius/Narcissa, Rodolphus/Bellatrix, various others
Genre: drama, romance, angst, intrigue
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 30.134 (total)
Warnings: Minor character death, some course language, mature themes (war, elitist political ideologies, etc), an instance of implied sexual coercion/dub-con, allusions to sex and/or sexual situations  
Summary:[read more]
Wizarding Britain is on the brink of civil war. But even as the political tension rises, life continues. The Blacks are ready to marry off their three daughters. Narcissa has found a match with Lucius Malfoy, Andromeda has been promised to Rodolphus Lestrange (never mind that he loves Bellatrix) and Druella, grudgingly, acquiesce to let Bellatrix marry Antonin Dolohov if he proposes. But all these well laid plans go to pieces when Antonin is sentenced to Azkaban for killing an Auror, Andromeda elopes with Ted Tonks, and the war begins. As Bella turns to Tom Riddle for help and the Blacks frantically search for a way to preserve the family honor, choices are made that will define many fates, not the least of which are Bella’s and Antonin’s.

A/N:  For the other parts, click on the story tag (fic: before the storm).


-----PART II-----  
 
The dying rays of the evening sun fall over the grounds of Malfoy Manor, bathing the park paths, gardens, meadows and surrounding woods in a fiery glow. The dying sun halts at the horizon, bouncing on the line as though a slowly drowning child’s ball sinking beneath the glassy surface of a lake. Above the manor grounds, boldly outlined against the orange-painted sky, tinged with magenta and patched with navy, soars a majestic hippogriff. Lucius’ favorite glides over the manor park, turning smoothly at the guide of his master’s hand on the reins. It – or rather he – turns in a wide, sweeping arch and heads for the woods, large wings propelling him over the meadows to the delight of the two riders on his back.
 
Lucius sits holding the reins, his long, blond hair tied into a long, smooth ponytail with a dark green ribbon. He has one hand on the reins and the other firmly wound around the slight female figure in front of him. Narcissa sits in front of Lucius, hands gripping at the hippogriff’s neck for balance. She laughs brightly as they dip into a tern and head first into the sun, then away from it. She had never enjoyed flying on a broom, but the feeling of the warm creature below her and Lucius’ welcome presents behind her as he steers the hippogriff with a firm, sure hand, makes her shiver and believe that she is free, incorporeal. Like they are part of some other world, where all is light and feeling and love.
 
They fly over the trees and to a clearing in the wood. Lucius carefully sets down the hippogriff and waits for him to calm before sliding off and handing Narcissa his hand. She takes it as she slides off, the rustling of her skirts blending in with the whispering of the fresh spring leaves. Her blonde curls glow in the evening sun and she is dazzling in her white dress, the color of the snow which has just recently given way to new life. The fur collar of her dress brushes against her chin, tickling her cheeks and her smile seems especially soft then.
 
Lucius attempts not to stare. He turns away and feeds a treat to his faithful hippogriff, then takes the reins and begins to walk toward the hippogriff stables. Narcissa follows, the smile lingering on her face. “Thank you for taking me for a ride, Lucius,” she says liltingly, touching his arm lightly with her fingertips.
 
“Of course, Ms. Narcissa.” They walk for a moment in silence as Lucius seems to gather himself for something, Finally, he says softly, “I know politics bore you, but you must know that we are in preparation for war.” He looks over at her, expression unreadable, but she thinks there is something in his silver eyes that begs her to understand.
 
Narcissa nods, plucking a young leaf from a tree branch and twirling it between her fingers listlessly. “I’ve heard there is talk of making your Organization illegal.”
 
“If that were so, would you be angry with me if I were to continue within its ranks?”
 
She stops and grabs Lucius’ hand, making him turn toward her. The hippogriff lets out a moaning sound but occupies itself with burrowing its snout in the dirt. Narcissa looks into Lucius’ eyes, studying his face, her lips pursed. Unable to look for her answers further she drops her eyes and releases him, folding her hands before her. “If I were yours I would feel it my…duty to be beside you whatever your choices. You are a man of honor, Lucius Malfoy, and I would not expect you to give up your principles.”
 
Lucius smiles gently at her. He loves her when she is like this – soft and pliant, his for the taking. Just as Antonin could never understand Lucius’ preference for Narcissa’s placidness, so Lucius could not understand Antonin’s and Rodolphus’ desire for Bellatrix’s fiery nerve and temperament. For all Lucius is concerned, his friends are mad. A woman was most desirable in her delicate, subdued beauty. Like a lovely doll which is also warm and compassionate but still his own.
 
Lucius puts a hand underneath Narcissa’s chin and forces her to look up at him. The sun has set and the shadows begin to lengthen, turning Narcissa’s curls from golden to platinum. “You are beautiful. Would you be mine? Would you marry me?”
 
Somewhere in the depths of the wood, a songbird begins to trill a lullaby as Narcissa carefully wraps her hand around Lucius’ and brings it to her lips. “Yes, I am yours.”
 
*~*
 
Lucius instantly senses that something is wrong at the Blacks when he and Narcissa arrive hand in hand. She could not wait to tell her parents the news and insisted that Lucius go immediately to ask for her hand, forgetting that the hour may be indecent. He could not deny her despite his reservations as to what her parents might think of their impatience. After all, she was going back to Hogwarts the next day and may not have a chance to come home for a while. The school did not appreciate its students taking frequent trips home.
 
The house is strangely dark and quiet, something ominous and heavy hanging in the air. Narcissa doesn’t feel it. She is too preoccupied with her thoughts and feelings, the excitement rushing through her like a young stream. Lucius grabs her wrist and pulls her into his arms. She reminds him of a fairy pixie – fleeting and light, never in one place, a golden sun bunny on a hardwood floor. “Dear Cissy, perhaps we should wait. It is quite late,” he says calmly, casting around for any sign of a house elf, a sister or any living being at all. But all is still and Lucius is acutely aware of his intuition screaming at him to not be there.
 
“Nonsense, they will only be too pleased!” Narcissa protests. She tiptoes to subdue him with a kiss, before tugging on his hand and making him follow her into the sitting room. “Mama, Papa! I have wonderful news!” Narcissa sings happily as she flounces into the room, lets go of Lucius’ hand and twirls around, spreading out the skirts of her dress. When she looks up, her smile instantly fades. Lucius had stopped dead in the doorway moments earlier. “What…?”
 
The room is dimly lit, the several candles that burn, flicker and sputter in their effort. Druella sits straight-backed on the sofa in a black gown that could almost be fit for mourning. She is pale and her expression is mournfully stoic. Cygnus is beside her, holding her hand. His large black whiskers tremble and his eyes move shiftily from Narcissa to Lucius. Bellatrix is stood at the window with her back turned to the rest of the room. Her eyes are fixed at a point far beyond anything she could reasonably make out in the dark. Her shoulders are tense and her hands on the windowsill are white at the knuckles.
 
“Tell her, Cygnus,” Druella says stiffly.
 
“Dee, perhaps Mr. Malfoy should not—“
 
“Tell her,” Druella repeats, her voice breaking.
 
“Your sister…she…these papers…” Cygnus nods to two pieces of parchment on the tea table. He opens his mouth once again but nothing comes out.
 
Bellatrix turns slowly and catches Narcissa’s gaze. For the first time since the younger girl can remember, there are pieces of ice floating in the black lakes of her sister’s eyes. She speaks slowly and firmly, each word a hammer blow. “Andromeda has eloped. With a mudblood.”  
 
“W-what?” Narcissa stammers, her voice rising to a a hysterical squick. She begins to tremble. Lucius rushes forward and takes her hand. “What do you mean eloped? Meddy wouldn’t…” Her knees begin to give out and she hurries to sink into an armchair, eyes wide and bewildered, fixed on Bellatrix who is smiling viciously. Narcissa squeezes Lucius’ hand, her fingers digging into the soft skin of his palm. He doesn’t let go despite the discomfort.
 
“It’s true,” Bellatrix says, just as evenly and icily as before. “His name is Theodore Tonks. Or Ted as she calls him.” Bella spits the name and turns back to the window.
 
“Mother?” Narcissa’s eyes shift to Druella.
 
Druella reaches forward and picks up one of the pieces of parchment and holds it out to Narcissa. Lucius is the one to take it instead. He reads it over with a scornful expression. “She talks about it all in that letter. Something about not being able to live without the man she loves. I always knew she was—oh.” Druella lets out a wheezing noise and reaches for her handkerchief, dabbing with it at her eyes.
 
“Then we have to stop her! We have to talk her out of it,” Narcissa says, her eyes shifting pleadingly from her mother to her father to her sister. She finds solace in none of them.
 
“It’s too late,” Lucius says, showing her the letter. He is still holding her hand. “She is already married.”
 
Narcissa grabs at the parchment, reads it quickly, holding her breath. When she is finished, it drops lifelessly from her hand. “This is the marriage certificate,” Cygnus says, nodding at the thin roll of parchment remaining on the table.
 
“Do tell us your good news, dear,” Druella says finally around a sob. “I think I need some right now.”
 
Narcissa looks up at Lucius and he meets her eyes before clearing his throat and addressing Cygnus. “I wish to ask for your daughter’s hand…in marriage.”
 
Druella begins to cry and Narcissa jumps to her feet. She lets go of Lucius’ hand and runs to kneel on the floor beside her mother, hugging Druella around the waist as she use to do as a little girl.
 
Cygnus walks to Lucius and puts a hand on his shoulder. “I lost a daughter today, Mr. Malfoy. But I have also gained a son-in-law.”
 
Bellatrix continues to peer into the darkness of the garden. Her emotions are drained and desaturated, too jumbled up to distinguish one from the other. Mostly, she wishes Antonin could be there to hold her and make everything else in life irrelevant.  
 
*~*
 
“Well you should have kept a better eye on her then.” Priscilla Lestrange opens her fan and lifts her chin to peer down her long nose at Druella. “Dear, I understand you are very shaken right now, but that is very little of my business. You must understand how badly this reflects on my family and on my son.”
 
“I am sure there are other brides Rodolphus could consider,” Druella replies with a bite in her tone for the first time all afternoon. She sits besides Cygnus on one of the sofas of their sitting room; across the tea table from them sit the Lestranges. They are taking the news of Andromeda’s elopement calmly but with little understanding. Druella thinks of all the times she had received Priscilla on her visiting days and how many afternoons they had shared, sipping tea and gossiping. Now, Priscilla is as cold as the forgotten tea in the white-blue cups.
 
“You must understand,” Rodbertus Lestrange puts in. “It is time for Rodolphus to consider marriage, especially in these tumultuous times. We want to secure a future for our son and our family name no less than you do. I am certain you understand. Of course, Rodolphus can look elsewhere for a bride but we want you to understand what position you have left us in. This is a downright scandal and, although, nothing had been officially announced, everyone was well aware that Andromeda was Rodolphus’ intended. Society does not forget easily, I am afraid.”
 
“The poor boy is brokenhearted,” Priscilla simpers and sighs theatrically. Druella wants to strangle the woman. It is no secret to anyone, not to mention Mrs. Lestrange herself, that Rodolphus was no more eager to be joined with Andromeda in matrimony than she was. Before, Druella had always been indignant at how obvious Rodolphus made his feelings for Bellatrix, but now she is in no position to speak. Rodolphus had respected his duties, regardless. Andromeda had not.
 
“I wish there was some way we could amend this situation,” Cygnus says in his most diplomatic tone. He hopes Rodbertus can be reasonable. “This alliance was as desirable to us as it was to you.”
 
Lestrange sits back, looking thoughtful. “You are in quite a fix, Cygnus. This is not the first scandal surrounding your family as of late,” he says pointedly. Of course everyone knew of Bellatrix’s and Antonin’s courtship as well. “Of course, Narcissa’ engagement has softened this blow, but I think you and I would be well advised to proceed with our intended alliance. Our three families would make the perfect core for the new Pureblood movement. It would only be proper.”
 
Cygnus makes a helpless gesture, spreading both hands in front of him. “I agree, but how could we possibly do that? We’ve lost Andromeda. Narcissa is engaged…” He stops as realization dawns slowly and his eyes widen almost comically.
 
“You do have a third daughter, Cygnus,” Rodbertus draws out, a note of condescension slipping through in his voice. “Who is, as of late, not spoken for.”
 
“Bellatrix.”
 
Priscilla smiles cloyingly. “Rodolphus is very fond of her. You have always said, Druella, that she is a fierce supporter of Mr. Riddle’s movement, therefore she must be a fierce supporter of our traditions. I suppose we can put our trust in her and in your word once more. After all, a tragedy can happen to anyone.” She pauses for seemingly dramatic effect, her fan fluttering listlessly in her hand. “She is a little…feisty. But I think that can be taken care of.”
 
Druella is unsure what she should be feeling. She hates Priscilla in that moment but she is utterly relieved that Bellatrix will be married and that the family name can be redeemed from all of its recent scandals. Her sister-in-law has been unbearable with her reproaches. Walburga seems to take every opportunity lately to remind Druella of her failings. Of course, Druella is well aware of the hypocrisy behind those words. Sirius is far from the perfect heir and Cygnus often says that Orion and Walburga worry endlessly about the direction in which the boy is headed. “More tea? Or pie, perhaps?” she offers finally in lieu of an answer.
 
“Do we have an understanding?” Rodbertus presses, looking mainly at Cygnus.
 
“Well, ah…” He hesitates and looks at Druella. “This is an important decision, you cannot just expect us to…to not give it any thought.”
 
“What is there to think of, man?” Rodbertus exclaims, frustration seeping into his voice. Priscilla touches his arm with her fan lightly and he backs down.
 
“I have always wanted this match, if I am to be honest,” Druella acquiesces quietly. Cygnus looks over at her and she gives him a barely perceptible nod.
 
Cygnus clears his throat and rises. Druella stands as well and the Lestranges are forced to follow their lead. Cygnus holds out his hand to Rodbertus. “I believe we have an understanding.”    
 
*~*
 
The unsteady light of the after-hours ministry hallway bathes the faces of two young wizards in deep grey shadows, partially obscuring their expressions. The dark haired man grabs the hand of his blond companion, making him turn around.
 
“Listen to me, Lucius. You know I am right. Our parents have reached an agreement. She will marry me.”
 
“Rodolphus, I do not understand what—“
 
“Of course you do, Lucius. Your appeal did not go through, did it?”
 
Lucius pushes Rodolphus back and regards him with a heavy look. “There are other ways than appeals to get what you want.”
 
Rodolphus rolls his eyes and steps in front of Malfoy before he can walk away. “And mar the family name? What would your father say?”
 
Don’t bring my father into this,” Lucius hisses venomously.
 
“I am your friend, Lucius.”
 
“So is Antonin. What do you expect me to do? Nothing?”
 
“No.” Rodolphus practically spits the word.
 
“Besides, the Lord wants Tony in the Organization.”
 
“As do you.”
 
“That is beside the point.” The two men look around then drop their voices and raise the hoods on their robes just in case.
 
“It is not beside the point, it is the point. This way everyone will be happy. Antonin will be free and with us. I will be married and you, my friend, will still be held in high favor for the Lord can only do so much without us and you will have your opportunity to shine without the possibility of a disastrous scandal to your name.”  
 
“You think she will go to him?” A confirming silence is Lucius’ answer. Finally, Lucius says quietly. “I can’t make you any promises, Roddy. But make sure the Lord knows what to ask of her if she does go. We need to make sure to play our cards right. All of us. And not a word to anyone else. Rookwood would have my head, the fool that he is.”
 
Rodolphus nods seriously. “Thank you, Lucius.”
 
The blond sniffs and pushes past his friend. “Don’t thank me yet.”
 
*~*
 
Bellatrix finds herself seated in her father’s study the evening after her parents spoke with the Lestranges about Andromeda’s elopement. Narcissa is still in shock. She did not come down from school for the Disownment ritual, claiming that she and her housemates could suffer for it, as they did not take kindly to frequent trips home at Hogwarts and Narcissa was already forced to take these to oversee preparations for her engagement ball. Of course it’s all excuses. When she does come home, Narcissa stays far away from the family tapestries, unable and unwilling to see the black scorch mark where Andromeda’s name used to be. Their father calls it a process of mourning, but Bella doesn’t think that Narcissa has managed to move even remotely past the stage of denial. Instead, she runs around worrying about the preparations for her engagement party, and her classes and upcoming NEWTS, keeping herself occupied so she does not have to face the reality. Her letters home are always hectic and as far away in subject from anything remotely related to Andromeda or the Disownment scandal as she can possibly manage. Bellatrix is not quite so willing to sink into delusion; she is not quite as sensitive as Narcissa. Perhaps this has something to do with being the eldest daughter. She had always felt the keen weight of the responsibilities that came with being the first born. Of course, it is nothing compared to those of an eldest son, but she is still expected to set an example for her sisters.
 
As she sits waiting for her parents to speak, she feels a growing feeling of foreboding. Everything about the atmosphere of this meeting seems off to her – the formality of the occasion, her mother’s primness, her father’s white gloves which he never wears, barring formal occasions. When Cygnus begins, haltingly, his tone awkwardly cold, Bellatrix’s intuition screams in terror.
 
“Daughter, you understand, of course, the responsibilities that come with being the eldest of your sisters. I am sure you are also aware of the proper traditions that this family upholds and that you seem to aspire to given your faithful support of Mr. Riddle.”
 
Bellatrix nods, stiffly. “Yes, Father.”
 
“Bellatrix, this family has recently been rocked by a great tragedy. You and Narcissa have done very well in helping each other cope with this great grief. Now, you also have the chance to help this family save its honor and also affirm its alliances with other noble Pureblood families.”
 
Bellatrix stiffens at the mention of alliances. She clasps her hands in her lap, fixing her father with a searching glare. “I don’t understand.”
 
“We have arranged for you to be married.” Druella braces herself for the backlash.
 
For a moment, Bellatrix is silent. Her head spins and she searches frantically for some clue in her father’s face that might tell her that this is a joke. Or that, perhaps, they are merely suggesting that she consider a match. “Married?” she gasps, eyes sparking with indignation. “You have arranged for me to be married?” Bellatrix jumps from the sofa and takes a step forward before regaining control over herself enough to stop in the middle of the room and not charge at her parents like a rabid lioness.
 
Cygnus begins to speak but Druella cuts him off, her tone icy and uncompromising. “Yes. Married. You, Bellatrix, are far too involved in politics for a proper lady, you are too willful, too… What you need is a good husband. What we all need, including you, is to bring some honor back to this family. A brilliant match will help with that.”
 
Bellatrix feels like the floor is sinking beneath her feet and she is falling, wandless, into a pit of fire. Fire that burns her up from the inside and spouts from every possible opening in her body. “But I am spoken for!”
 
“Don’t be a fool, girl. Your Antonin is stowed away in Azkaban and will be for many years.”
 
“You just never liked him, Mother. You were overjoyed when he was sentenced, weren’t you?” Bellatrix gulps down tears and forces herself to stand straight and dry-eyed before her parents. “Well, it’s not over yet! Lucius’ solicitors are working on an appeal, these bastards—“
 
“Language, girl!”
 
“—have to see reason!” Bellatrix can hear her own voice rise to an impossible pitch but she can’t help it. Panic swallows her whole.
 
“Now, Bella, your mother is right. It is very unlikely that Lucius’ appeals will find willing ears. Even if they do, our people are not as strong as in Wizengamot as we would like them to be…”
 
“Please, Papa,” Bellatrix says, her voice falling into a more acceptable range. She looks at Cygnus, knowing that he is her only hope. “Can this not wait? At least until the appeals go through. I should know any day now. Even if-if…if nothing can be done, I do not wish to marry at the moment. Narcissa’s wedding will be enough to occupy idle tongues.” She beseeches her father with her eyes, pleading for him to see her desperation and help her. Take pity on her.
 
Cygnus merely shakes his head. “We cannot wait. This match needs to be made now.”
 
“Who on Earth could be so impatient?” Even before she finishes asking the question, Bellatrix knows the answer.
 
“Rodolphus Lestrange. He would have you give an answer within the week.”
 
“My answer is no!”
 
…Druella is shouting something, something about how Bellatrix, too, wants to humiliate their family, how she in ungrateful and disrespectful. By the time Cygnus has come around his desk to embrace her, Bellatrix can’t feel a single thing other than rage. And despair. But then, Druella begins to wail about the imminent loss of her second daughter and how only Narcissa seems to be capable of carrying out her duties.
 
Bellatrix fights against Cygnus’ firm hold on her, pushing her father away and taking a step back. She gives him a look of utter betrayal, than fixes her burning gaze on her mother. There is utter contempt in that look. “You are wrong, Mother. I know my place and I-I know my duties.” She swallows hard as tears begin to run down her face. “I will bend to your will and marry Mr. Lestrange but…” She swallows again and begins to take faltering, unsteady steps toward the door. “But I do hate you both so!” She turns and runs from the room, dashing through the halls and taking the stairs blindly two at a time, risking to trip and fall over the skirts of her dress.
 
Once safely in her room, she shuts and bolts the door, throwing several locking and silencing jinxes at it for good measure, then collapses onto the carpeted floor and cries like she hadn’t done since she was a little girl.
 
*
 
Bellatrix is brought back to reality out of her wildly spinning thoughts by a knocking sound, like a pebble continuously hitting glass. She looks up, brushing thick strands of black, mussed hair from her face, and glances around the room. A flash of white by the window catches her attention. She stands slowly, brushing down the skirt of her gown and wiping the tears of her hot, flushed face, and walks to the window where a large white owl hoots at her from the other side of the windowpane. Recognizing the bird as Lucius’, Bellatrix scrambles to unlock the window, eyes already locked to the envelope on the owl’s paw. Her hands are shaking so badly that she cannot get them around the latches. She grabs her wand and throws a spell and then another at the window until the latches fly off and the window swings open, allowing in a cold breeze of night air along with the owl.
 
The large bird perches on her shoulder and hoots expectantly but Bella has no desire to waste time feeding it. She sweeps her wand around the room to light the candles and rummages around on the writing desk, allowing papers and quills to fall onto the floor. She finally finds the letter knife, detaches the envelope from the owl’s leg and opens it. Her hands are still shaking as she unfolds the parchment inside. On it, in slytherin-green ink, Lucius’ short letter is written out in his usual precise cursive, as though he were writing an official document and not a note to his future sister-in-law whom he had known for the majority of his adult life. Bella holds her breath as she reads.
 
Bellatrix,
I’m sorry. They’ve declined my solicitors’ appeals and I’ve tried speaking to a few other people but I am afraid there is not much more I can do for Antonin as this point. All my attempts have met dead ends and I am at a loss of what more to do. After all, my father will not lend me his direct support. In fact, he has decided this would be the opportune time to leave the country. The power resources of the Malfoy name, as you must know, are diminished in my hands until I am head of the family. I wish there was more I could do; Antonin is my friend too. But I am afraid I am out of options.
Sincerely,
Lucius Malfoy
 
Bellatrix crumples up the letter, watching it shrivel in her tightening fist, and allows it to fall lifelessly to the floor. She evicts the pitifully hooting owl from her room and allows herself the pause to replace the latches onto the window with a couple of spells. She stands in the middle of the brightly lit room for several moments, all of her grief condensing and gathering up in one festering ball of rage.
 
She hates Andromeda. She will always hate Andromeda.
 
*~*
 
Andromeda has just left the cozy, bright coffee shop at the end of Diagon Alley where she always liked going for coffee. She thinks she will go home and cuddle with Ted on the couch, lay her head in his lap and he will put one large, warm hand on her stomach and they will be a family. Like she had always wanted. She thought the choice she had made would kill her but it was the most exhilarating freedom she had ever felt. She doesn’t know she is being watched.
 
Bellatrix had not lost time or energy on anger that wasn’t going to find an outlet. She found people and ways and figured out where she might find her wayward sister. Former sister, rather. The Tonks weren’t in hiding after all. Yet. She watches Andromeda from the shadows as she leaves the coffee shop and begins to stride down the half-empty street, her plum robes streaming out behind her. Andromeda seems perfects content with herself and her life. No thought at all, it seems, to the broken ones she’d left behind. As soon as Andromeda begins to merge with the evening shadows, Bellatrix moves toward her, lithely, almost silently.
 
“Meddy.”
 
Andromeda turns around at the sound of her name and the familiar voice. She searches for a moment for the speaker and tenses when her eyes stop on Bellatrix. She tries to relax as Bella walks toward her slowly. Just to be safe, she carefully shifts her hand closer to her wand. “Bella.”
 
Bellatrix comes to stand straight before her and just looks at her with an unreadable expression. Suddenly, before Andromeda can react, Bellatrix grabs her arm and they are apparating.
 
They land in a dark, silent courtyard, the windows of the building around them are shuttered. Andromeda has no clue where they possibly could be. She had not been prepared for the apparition and it takes her several moments to regain her footing and composure. That is enough time for Bellatrix to disarm her. Andromeda throws her hands up and watches her sister carefully as the older woman points a wand at her. “Bella, what are you doing?” Andromeda asks, trying to sound as calm as she possibly can, which is much calmer than she feels, to her credit. “Where are we?”
 
“This is all your fault,” Bellatrix hisses, the wand in her hand trembling from the strain. “Do you hear me, you dirty little blood traitor? This is all your fucking fault!”
 
“I don’t understand.” She does, but she would rather Bellatrix explain exactly what she is being accused of other than marrying a muggle and breaking her “proper” engagement.
 
“As though you don’t know!” Bellatrix’ voice begins to rise and the ends of her phrases become frayed and nearly hysterical. “As though you don’t know how you have shamed our family. As though you don’t know how you have hurt Papa and Narcissa and in what position you have forced Mama.”
 
Andromeda frowns, lowering her arms carefully. Bella brandishes the wand at her but Andromeda still manages to put her hands down all the way and fold them over her stomach. There is a fierce, desperate rage in Bella’s face, in her voice. Something must have happened that Andromeda had not foreseen and it touched Bellatrix personally. “That’s not why you’ve just kidnapped me is it?”
 
Bella seems taken aback. She pauses, still glaring at her sister as though she thinks she might produce the Killing Curse with willpower alone. “No,” she growls finally, “it’s not. I have to marry him because of you.”
 
“You have to marry who?”
 
“Rodolphus Lestrange. I have to marry him because you ran away and abandoned us! You betrayed us but now you are running around perfectly happy with your life and I have to pay for your poor choices! Do you understand, you bitch? I have to pay when it is you who had betrayed us!”
 
Shock is what Andromeda feels first, then anger and despair, the memories of her betrothal sting and eat away at her. Every feeling of betrayal and hurt and desolation she had ever felt come flooding back. “I betrayed you? Bella, you are out of your mind. Do you think you are the only one who has had to suffer for our family and these idiotic traditionalist views? What about my betrothal? You were perfectly happy to stand by and watch me get sold off like a mare to a rich Pureblood heir for the price of a family alliance. A man whom not only did I not love but who did not love me! But no one cared, including you and Narcissa! You were perfectly happy to marry who you chose and let me be the ones to suffer for the family pride!”
 
“That wasn’t my fault, someone has to suffer! Why does it have to be me?”
 
“Well, why me?”
 
“You didn’t bother to make a proper match for yourself!” Bellatrix is screaming now. They both are. Their voices rise and fall like the shrieks of sirens. Bella’s wand is still pointed at Andromeda’s face. 
 
“I love Ted! You, at least, Bella, support these traditions, you want them! Then suffer for them! I didn’t want any of them! I just wanted to live my life! As though anyone would let me!” Andromeda has to duck to avoid the curse Bella throws at her. It is sheer luck and intuition that saves her. She tries to run but Bellatrix nocks her down with a curse. Suddenly, as pain spreads through her body, Andromeda begins to feel acutely afraid. She had somehow managed, until now, to believe that all would end well, but Bellatrix’s restraint has obviously snapped. Andromeda gets up, blood running down her chin from where she had bitten into her lip. Bellatrix backs her up against the wall of a building and traces the side of her face with the tip of her wand.
 
“Give me a good reason for why I should let you go alive?”
 
Andromeda begins to shake, her hands find her abdomen and she wraps around herself. “Bella, please,” she whispers vehemently. “I’m your sister.”
 
“Not anymore. You forfeited that right.”
 
“Please, I didn’t mean for you to end up stuck with Rodolphus. I didn’t think that would happen, I didn’t elope to hurt anyone.”
 
“No, you eloped because you are a selfish traitor!” Bella gives her a hard shove against the wall, the tip of her wand pressing into the hallow between Andromeda’s collarbones, making it harder to breath.
 
“I couldn’t live like that anymore, Bella. And I didn’t have a choice, I didn’t!” Tears begin to well up in Andromeda’s eyes. “I didn’t have a choice anymore,” she repeats desperately. “Please, if you kill me you will be committing two murders, not one.”
 
“I don’t give a damn if your mudblood dies of heartbreak,” Bellatrix spits, her pupils dilating by the second. She wants to strangle Andromeda, make her suffer as much as she, Bella, is suffering.
 
“You don’t understand,” Andromeda gasps, the tears now flowing freely down her face. “I’m pregnant.”
 
For a moment, they are both completely still. The wind howls as it rushes through the gaps between the buildings. Finally, Bellatrix lets go, showing Andromeda away vehemently. She throws her sister’s wand aside and the hollow sound of it hitting the stones underfoot echoes piercingly in the enclosed space of the courtyard. Bellatrix apparates without another word, only a last look full of icy hatred aimed at Andromeda’s face.
 
Andromeda remains standing for another moment, then crumbles, sliding down the dirty wall with its peeling paint and rotten patches. In the dark emptiness of this unknown courtyard, she cries until there are no more tears left to wash away the remnants of what used to be her life.
 
*~*
 
Narcissa’s engagement ball finds Bellatrix straining to keep a straight face. She is incredibly jealous of her sister’s happiness but also very happy for her. Lucius and Cissy fit each other so perfectly that any other match would have been vastly inferior in all respects.
 
Narcissa seems to float as she dances with her fiancé, her silver gown spreading out in a wave of shimmering, soft fabric. Her blonde curls frame her face and she could almost be an angel. Lucius can’t take his eyes off of her. She is everything he had ever wanted and now she will be his. They are to be married not a week after Narcissa graduates from Hogwarts.
 
Bellatrix stands to the side, watching her sister light up the Malfoy ballroom and wonders at how at home Narcissa seems already, as though she had assumed her mistress-of-the-house duties before they had begun. Everything about her radiance during the ceremony wherein her necklace with the Black’s gemstone was exchanged for an identical necklace but with the Malfoy gemstone, spoke of how desirable this betrothal was to her and how Narcissa had no doubts about where and with whom she wanted to belong.
 
“Wine, Ms. Bella?” Rodolphus’ voice breaks through Bellatrix’s hazy introversion. She wants to tell him to go away but that would be beyond rude and she is forced into even tighter boundaries now that she had agreed to marry him. Rodolphus was impatient to make the announcement but Bella had managed to hold of the announcement, pleading that she did not want to steal Narcissa’s thunder. “Her engagement is the happier one after all,” Bellatrix had said, earning her disapproving looks from her parents but Rodolphus had acquiesced.
 
Bellatrix turns toward him and eyes the two glasses of red wine Rodolphus is holding with a mixture of longing and uncertainty. Finally, she reaches for one of them. “Thank you.” As Rodolphus remains standing beside her, Bella waits for the inevitable invitation to dance. It is a pity really: before she had never felt any animosity toward Rodolphus. In fact, she had found him sensible, perhaps even pleasant. He is certainly attractive. But she could not forgive him this, the way he had used her family’s vulnerable position to gain what he had always wanted.
 
The invitation to dance never comes. Instead Rodolphus draws out, “What did you make out of the Prophet today?”
 
Surprised, Bella glances at him, before continuing to watch the dancing. “What do you mean?” He does not say anything and Bella continues, unable to constrain herself. “The prophet spouts horrible foolishness most of the time. It’s a pity how controlled they are by the government.”
 
“You are very involved in the political situation for a woman,” Rodolphus remarks, sipping at his wine.
 
The bright candlelight dances off of the glasses and the wine turns the sort of ominous red that could easily give one shivers if the imagination was to be applied. Bella stares down into her glass, musing on the fine color, before replying. “We are on the brink of war, Rodolphus, I cannot possibly not be interested in the fate of my country. In the fate of our world. I think what Mr. Riddle is trying to do is very honorable.”
 
“The Lord is also a powerful wizard,” Rodolphus adds. “I think he could make great changes. His powers are...incomparable. I, and some of my colleagues who are privy to these matters, have witness but a fraction of what the Lord can do but that is enough to be convincing. He could well be the leader and messiah we have been waiting for.”
 
“You call him your Lord, some The Lord,” Bellatrix muses, twirling her glass one way then the other between her fingers.
 
“The Dark Lord,” Rodolphus puts in quickly.
 
“I honestly think Dark Magic should be re-defined. Magic is neither Dark nor Light. It is merely magic. Only mudbloods and such filth could possibly split it up into such primitive categories. That is why they are so dangerous – they do not understand our world, our history and traditions, as well as Merlin’s gift which they so pursue to suppress.”
 
“I wholehearted agree with you. We should be free to use our power as we please. How do you feel about the domination of wizards over muggles?”
 
Bellatrix shrugs, finishing off her glass and setting it aside. “Positive. Although, I’m not in a rush to have any contact with muggles, whether that involves dominating them or not.”
 
“Focus on our own society first, cleanse it, yes.”  A silence falls between them, It is no longer awkward but one of understanding and comfort, the sort that comes with a knowledge that you are in the company of a person who shares one’s views and values. “A dance, perhaps?” Rodolphus ventures eventually.
 
Bellatrix is still watching Narcissa as she laughs, leaning into Lucius and clinging onto his shoulder. Bellatrix wants to dance and be happy like that, too. She looks over at Rodolphus, eyes slightly narrowed with uncertainty, but their political consensus has made her soften toward him and she curtsies to show her acceptance.
 
They dance a quadrille. Not a waltz, thank Merlin, Bellatrix doesn’t think she could handle that quite yet. Rodolphus is smooth on his feet, without Antonin’s sincerity in feeling, but with an extra flourish that Bella’s own dancing lessons had taught her to accommodate and compliment. She can’t help but smile at the end of it.
 
Another glass of wine and she thinks she and Rodolphus might not end up killing each other in their sleep. She also starts to think that, perhaps, if he really does care for her, he might help her. Bella leads her intended aside to where they would not be overheard, given the music, and looks up at him searchingly. “Rodolphus, I must ask you…to help me.”
 
Rodolphus watches her curiously and nods. “With what, Ms. Bella?”
 
She can see hesitation in his eyes but it doesn’t stop her. “I’m sure you know that Antonin was accused unfairly. The Wizengamot is as corrupt a system as can be. They are not a court of law, they are a tribunal.” She stops to see his reaction. Rodolphus is tense, his eyes no longer meeting hers as he has realized where she is going with the tirade. The rest of what Bella has to say comes out in a rush. “Please, I know you are close to Riddle because of your father; they are school friends. I know that you may have access to resources that Lucius was not able to tap into. After all, the more ways that are attempted, the more chance there is that one of them will work. I’m lost for what to do.” She hopes he can tell how earnest and desperate she is without her having to resort to humiliating tears and pathetic pleas.
 
Rodolphus puts his half-empty glass down and regards her coldly. “I don’t think there is anything I can do that Lucius has not tried.”
 
“Please. Your father…Mr. Riddle…”
 
“Bellatrix, even if I could influence my father or the Dark Lord, do you honestly think I would risk…anything…to free the man you were going to marry?”
 
Bella pushes down the instant bubble of acidic anger that threatens to explode, and says quietly, instead, “That is awfully cruel. I have no intention of breaking my word, I simply want to free someone I care about. He was your classmate, Rodolphus, you have the same friends… Does that mean nothing to you?”
 
“Not as much as you.”
 
She huffs indignant at him, with just a hint of contempt slipping through. “You claim to love me, but you prove yourself to be incapable of thinking of anything but yourself.”
 
“There is nothing I can do, Bellatrix!” Rodolphus insists, his voice rising to dangerous tones and Bellatrix looks around to make sure they are not being observed.
 
“You haven’t even tried! Admit it, you are just a selfish coward who thinks only of himself and is incapable of anything but using the vulnerability of other people’s situations. At least Tony had – has – some honor.” She turns and walks from him as fast as she can without running. Bellatrix hardly manages to reach the hallway before Rodolphus catches up to her and grabs her wrist, turning her around sharply.
 
“Wait, Bella. You’re right, I don’t wish to help Antonin. He and I were never exactly friends, and you have always stood between us. I would not resort to dishonorable means to get rid of my competition but I will not bring it back. I understand you are upset right now, but you and I – we’re alike. We could be very happy together. I am not, despite what you claim, I coward. And if I am selfish… I think you and I can find common ground there as well.”
 
“Should I be insulted?” Bella asks, tugging her hand out of his hold and taking a step back.
 
“Never. Bellatrix…I do hope you can come to love me. Or at least that we can find friendship and partnership in our marriage.”
 
She looks at him wordlessly for a moment, then shakes her head and walks away briskly, hoping that he would not follow her. He doesn’t. Instead he watches her stalk off with mournful and longing eyes, standing still in the middle of a dimly lit hallway of Malfoy Manor. Her heart belongs to another and that he cannot change. Rodolphus also has the nagging feeling that Bella is not the sort of girl to have already given up.
 
 
*~*
 
Desperation can drive a woman to do crazy things, things she had never thought she would do. Perhaps because they are too dangerous or too unthinkable or too humiliating. That is not quite as important as that what she is willing to do because of desperation far exceeds her typical limits. Love can do the same. Bellatrix Black is both in love and desperate.
 
She goes to Tom Riddle, uncertain what she should expect. She has heard that he can do things, knows people, that others cannot do and do not know. Under such circumstances his defeat in the campaign last autumn is puzzling, but something tells Bella that Riddle is her last hope. She seeks him out and ends up going to his private office in London which is connected to his private rooms where he stays sometimes when work makes it necessary. Where Riddle’s permanent residence is, no one can be certain. 
 
The large dark building looms before her as she approaches. The halls are dim and her footsteps echo. Bella looks around, trying to orient herself in the maze. The soft, silky voice behind her is startling and she clamps a hand to her mouth to not scream.
 
“Ms. Black, were you looking for me?”
 
She turns slowly to see Riddle standing in the middle of the hallway, a strange, expectant expression on his face, nothing close to surprise.
 
“Yes,” she says softly, trying to not stammer. “I needed to speak with you. I’m sorry to disturb you so late—“
 
“I’ve been expecting you. Come.” His manner is regal but it is so befitting him that Bella couldn’t imagine Riddle acting in any other manner. She follows him through the halls until he leads her into a large room with a fireplace, a long table and large, strange pictures on the walls. There is no where to sit except for at the table but Riddle does not offer her a seat so she remains standing. She cannot be sure if this is his office or one of his private rooms.
 
Riddle flicks his wand at the hearth and fire roars to life. The room is instantly bathed with orange light and long, deep shadows. However, despite the fire, something cold and hard still clings to the atmosphere of the place, making Bella draw into herself.
 
“I had a feeling that you may come to me for help, Ms. Black. I have heard much about your plight recently. But, what exactly is it that I can do for you?”
 
“Mr. Riddle, please, I come to you because I feel deep within me that you are the only person who can help me now. Every other means I have access to has fallen short. But I have…I have heard great things of your power and your connections. I believe that you are, also, a man who would not leave a Pureblood and a good man to suffer at the hands of mudbloods and blood traitors.”
 
“Your words are most flattering. You are right to assume that my powers are such that I can do quite impressive things. I am a Lord of Dark Magic, Ms. Black. Speaking of which, I would prefer to be addressed in a manner befitting my accomplishments.” Riddle turns to face her and gives her a long, searching look, something ominous gleaming in his eyes and hiding in the shadows of his face.
 
“Of course, …my Lord.” The words give her pause but they come easier that Bellatrix had expected. Riddle has an incredible presence, his entire manner, his entire being emanates power. “I have come to…to plead with you to help a dear friend of mine. Antonin Dolohov is his name. He was sentenced to fifteen years in Azkaban for killing a mudblood Auror who was torturing his sister. He—“
 
“I am familiar with the case,” Riddle says casually, waving his hand in a bored gesture. “A very unfortunate case. Such a bright young man, I had hopes that perhaps he would join my ranks. Alas…” Riddle steps forward and peers into her face, his deep eyes swallow her and Bella shivers as he seems to be attempting to sink into her soul. “And you think that I can help you secure his freedom. By force, Ms. Black?”
 
“I…I do not know. I was hoping that…something that might allow us – him – to continue his life but…Please, if there is anything you can do…”
 
“Perhaps there is,” Riddle interrupts, his eyes rolling upward slightly as he seems to consider his own thoughts carefully. “Perhaps I do know the right people and the right methods. After all, I am not alone. There are influential people around me and I lead them. That is also a power, Ms. Black.”
 
Bellatrix nods, watching him like a mouse watches a cat from a safe, small crack in the wall, afraid that the cat might find a way to pry the plaster away and devour it.
 
“But why should I go through all the trouble to free Dolohov? It will not be an easy task and it would take quite some time… Perhaps, I find him interesting and possibly valuable to my ranks. But do you have any other reasons to give me, Ms. Black?” Riddle speaks as though the conversation is of nothing more than a question of where to take a vacation or hold the next political rally.
 
Bellatrix begins to shake. She wrings folds of her dark cloak in her hands as she begins to feel her last chance slip away. “What-what sort of reason do you require, Mist—My Lord?” she manages to force out as her head begins to spin.
 
Riddle steeps his fingers under his chin and thinks. His eyes roam over Bellatrix and then rise slowly to her face. He turns away and paces to the fireplace, leaning against the mantel. Still facing away from her, Riddle continues in the same heavy, velvety voice that carries across the room effortlessly. “I would need some sort of…repayment. Or, some other benefit, other that your gratitude and the possibility of Antonin joining me, to take on such a task.”
 
Bellatrix breathes out and the words come in a rush of air as she struggles to breathe against the walls that are quickly closing in on her. “I will do anything you want.”
 
“Anything?” Riddle turns around a little too sharply, his voice practically a hiss, and Bellatrix takes a half-step away from him. “You will do anything I ask to ensure the freedom of your…beau?” He stretches out the last word as though it were something lewdly comical or abnormally interesting.
 
“Yes.” She practically gasps it. Somewhere deep inside she knows he must be playing with her but she is powerless against the magnetism of his eyes and voice, the hope that he plants in her heart that she might see Antonin again, soon. That life may regain some of its former colors. He takes a step back from her shaking his head and something deep inside Bella snaps. She runs forward and collapses onto her knees before Riddle, the thick skirts of her dark dress spread out around her and the cloak slips off her shoulders. “I beg you to help us. I will do anything you ask of me.” She is looking down at the cold, blue-grey marble floor on which the reflection of the fire wavers and shimmers like a ghost in the dark.
 
Riddle begins to pace slowly before her, several steps to the right, several steps to the left, never leaving her line of vision. She is looking down so she can only see the hem of his robes and flashes of his shoes. “I may be able to help you, Ms. Black,” he says slowly, a slight sibilance fraying the edges of his words. “However, if I am successful in freeing Dolohov, you must bring him into the fold, have him agree to serve me. I am sure your charms are ample enough to achieve this.” Riddle thinks for a moment, then says thoughtfully. “And your engagement to Mr. Lestrange must stand.”
 
Bella shudders as though she had been slapped. “But why!” She tosses her head up, a look of defiance of on her face despite the fact that she continues to kneel.
 
“Because it is my wish,” Riddle says sharply, ice gathering in his bottomless eyes. “You will marry Rodolphus Lestrange either way if you are to remain with your family unlike your blood traitor sister, but if you leave here now you will marry him and never see Antonin again. Is that what you want?”
 
“No,” Bella breathes, looking down again, the word barely audible even in the dead silence of the room.
 
“Then,” Riddle continues in the same regal manner. “You will do both of these things. Your engagement to Mr. Lestrange may stay secret for the purposes of your other task for me. I shall inform Rodolphus and his father of this development myself.”
 
“Thank you, my Lord.” Her voice sounds hoarse and there is a lump growing steadily in her throat but she forces herself to remain still and silent, unmoved and invulnerable, even under Riddle’s piercing stare.
 
Riddle smiles in satisfaction as she looks back down. This marriage will serve him well. For him, the alliances of the Pureblood families are only marginally important. But he has been gathering some information on Dolohov and his knowledge of people tells him that Antonin would be much more likely to, not only stay loyal to the Organization, but to invest his heart in the Cause if there is nothing to distract him. His little sister is dead and if the prospect of a future family with Bellatrix were to be taken away, he would be all Riddle’s for the taking. Also, Rodolphus would feel highly indebted to his Lord on a personal level, as Riddle has every intention of making the young Lestrange believe that he, Riddle, was the one who convinced Bellatrix to accept the engagement and see it in a new light. After all, it would hardly even be a lie. Finally – Bellatrix. She would be inevitably bound to the Inner Circle through this marriage and to someone who was always eager to serve the Cause, unlike Antonin, who, obviously, was slightly less susceptible to the mainstream propaganda and had strong opinions of his own. He also wants the girl’s vengeful vigor to be put to use and a marriage to Rodolphus would ensure that she would fight. A woman as fiery as Bellatrix Black would not want to sit at home and play housewife, especially for a husband she does not love.
 
Riddle stops before her and bends down just enough to put two long, almost feminine, fingers under her jaw. He lifts her face up so she is looking at him and smiles predatorily. “Such a beautiful young lass. Such a shame for you to go to waste as a housewife. I have one more request for you. I wish for you to join my ranks.”
 
Bellatrix looks up into his face, trying to seem calm and collected eve if inside her everything is tumbling and broiling. “I am not a politician, my Lord.”
 
“You will not have to be one soon,” Riddle remarks and lets go of her face but Bella continues to look up.
 
“You wish for me to fight with the men?”
 
“I wish for you to serve the cause you so avidly support, Ms. Black. Or am I assuming too much?”
 
She swallows past the fear and nods. “No, my Lord.”
 
“Good. You have my word that I will free Mr. Dolohov as soon as possible. Do I have your word that you will abide by my requests?”
 
She nods and meets his eyes boldly. “You have my word, that of a Pureblood witch and a daughter of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black. Must I make the Unbreakable Vow as well?”
 
“No, but I would have you Marked tonight.”
 
“Tonight?” Fear and confusion flood Bella’s eyes, fighting for control. “But is the Marking not a ceremony…a ritual?”
 
Riddle leers. “Yes, Ms. Black, it is a ritual. Typically a ceremony. But the guidelines are special for beautiful young flowers such as yourself.” He offers her his hand. “Come.”
 
Bellatrix freezes. She shakes her head sharply. “But I…I could not…” The words do not come out. She cannot force them out. They are too terrifying to say allowed and she hopes that she has misunderstood.
 
“Anything, you said?”
 
Trembling, Bella takes Riddle’s hand and rises, watching him open a set of double doors with a light flick of his wand. Beyond the doors, there is blackness. His cold fingers close over hers and he begins to walk.
 
Bellatrix follows him into the swallowing dark. 
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