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Before the Storm (Part 1.2) [Sep. 28th, 2012|02:55 pm]
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: Prologue and Part 1.1



“Why can’t I go with you?” Curious brown eyes watch Antonin from a corner of the room where the old, plush armchair resides, hidden away in its snug alcove.
 
“Because you’re not out in society yet, Nina,” Antonin says patiently, holding up his dress robes and examining them critically. “This is a ball.”
 
“But when can I go to balls?” Nina jumps up on the armchair and balances on the soft, somewhat rounded cushion.
 
“When you come out into society,” Antonin replies, smirking in amusement, watching his sister’s antics in the full length mirror
 
“When I’m sixteen?”
 
“Yes.” He puts on the robes and begins to close the inner golden clasps, watching himself all the while. The new hairstyle looks well on him and Antonin can feel that bubble of anticipation growing in his stomach. The one he always gets when he knows he will be seeing Bella soon. Dancing with her. Holding her. Maybe even kissing, if they can get a moment alone. Merlin knows the Ministry of Magic isn’t the most romantic place, but they’ll manage.
 
“But that’s an entire year,” Nina nearly howls with frustration. She plops down in the armchair and watches him mournful. Antonin picks up the broach with the family crest and latches it onto the top clasp of his robes. He’s been head of the family since his father went missing – died, according to the family tapestry – but he still feels that strange weight on his chest every time he bears the family crest on formal occasions. He didn’t wear the crest until he came of age, since his mother was technically head of the family until then, acting in his name, but Antonin has always known his role as heir and head, long before it was official. “Will I have a coming out ball?” Nina asks after a long pause.
 
Antonin turns and considers his sister for a moment, then smiles tenderly at her. “Of course you will.” He beckons her to him and she flits from the armchair straight into his arms. Antonin holds her close, her small frame fitting perfectly into his arms. She is so fragile, he thinks, that sometimes Antonin is almost afraid to hold her too tightly for fear of breaking her. Maybe it’s her lack of magic. Nina may not be a squib but some birth defect, some illness, had affected her spell casting abilities. She has access to magic, she can even use a wand for very simple spells, but he and their mother had decided, when the Hogwarts letter came, that it would be better if Nina was to remain homeschooled. She cried, of course, when they told her. She’d cried and he’d held her and promised her that she was still the best witch in all of wizarding Europe as well as some other nonsense, none of which he could recall the morning after. “You will have a stunning debutante ball next year,” Antonin promises. “You’ll buy a new, bright yellow gown and I will escort you down the grand staircase and you will be the most beautiful and desirable witch there.” It would be the first formal Dolohov ball since the family’s immigration.
 
Nina giggles and presses closer into him. “It’s too bad Papa won’t be able to see me,” she muses more seriously after a moment.
 
Antonin nods mutely, his mouth suddenly going dry. He wonders if Nina even remembers their father but doesn’t ask. He thinks she does, even if vaguely. She was about nine then, after all. Antonin steps back from her, both hands still on her shoulders, and pears into the young girl’s face with his usual smirk. “Do I look good, Nina?”
 
She giggles again and makes him turn around once, then again before declaring in her most proper voice, “Charming. This is all for Ms. Black, yes?”
 
Antonin laughs and swipes at her playfully. “Maybe it is. Now, you be good, alright? I will be late and Mama is at the Sokolovskis so she may be late or not even until tomorrow morning.”
 
Nina sticks her tongue out, skipping along beside him as Antonin heads for the floo. “I’m not a little girl, Tony, I’ll be fine.”
 
He turns to reply and meets her eyes. For a moment, something constricts painfully in Antonin’s chest but he can’t put a name or a meaning to it. Suddenly, he wants to take her with him, to not leave her alone. But that’s silly, Antonin tells himself, and takes a pinch of floo powder. “Just be good, Nina. Till tonight.”
 
“Have fun!”
 
Antonin throws the powder into the flames and steps into the mass of writhing green tongues. “Ministry of Magic.”
 
*~*
 
The Ministry lobby is unusually still and quiet when Antonin arrives. After the day’s bustle, the lack of people and dimmed light seems like a terrible anomaly. From a distance, music carries through the halls and into the open space, just barely distinguishable over the gurgling of the fountain. They are playing a waltz. Antonin tugs somewhat nervously on the sleeve of his robes, fidgeting with the white cuff of the undershirt. Several people arrive, popping inconspicuously out of fireplaces and heading down the hall toward the music. They don’t pay him any head accept for the couple who recognize him and nod. Antonin prefers it that way. He isn’t the socially awkward sort, but formal events always make him feel slightly out of sorts. He isn’t Lucius; this is Malfoy’s environment, not Antonin’s.
 
Antonin runs a hand through his hair, hoping that Bella has already arrived despite the fact that it is rather early. He peers into the basin of the fountain on his way toward the music, catching a flash of his own reflection. The water distorts his face, making it wrinkly and his hair far curlier and more unruly than it actually is. Antonin sighs and continues down the dimly lit corridor, his steps echoing slightly, the sound becoming less obvious as he nears the music.
 
“Tony! There you are.”
 
Antonin looks to his left where the corridor branches off into another one. Lucius stands leisurely sliding his wand between his fingers. Antonin doesn’t think he wants to know the answer to why Lucius has it out at all. “Hello. Are you stalking Narcissa?” He grins at his friend, noting the slightly smug look on Lucius’ face.
 
“No, no, I wouldn’t,” Lucius purrs but his eyes are dancing. Antonin supposes he fancies the idea. “Come have a drink with us, Tony. Get your spirits up before the dancing. You’ll be lighter on your feet.”
 
“Us?” Antonin asks uncertainly, but takes a step toward Lucius anyways. He wouldn’t mind a drink. Or two. Perhaps three, even. But that is it – three and no more.
 
“Augustus and I and Roddy. Edward, Theodore, Andre…must I list everyone?”
 
“Riddle?” Antonin asks with eyebrows arched slightly, but he is already walking toward Lucius.
 
“Perhaps.” Malfoy is smirking in the most frustrating manner, but it makes Antonin smile fondly.
 
“Alright, lets have drinks,” he gives in finally, taking Lucius’ arm and half-dragging him toward the door that stands ajar at the end of the hall.
 
*
 
“What do you think, Rafe?”
 
“I don’t think anything, Malfoy and Dolohov are friends, everyone knows that.” The older Auror shrugs and, conjuring up two glasses, begins to pour the whisky.
 
“Yes, but, did you hear all those names? And Riddle? You know Riddle’s up to something, everyone knows Riddle’s up to something. What with the whole Lord Voldemort stage act.” He younger Auror takes his glass and gulps down half of it in one go. “I think it’s shady, all of it.”
 
Rafe sighs and drinks from his own glass, coughing when the burning liquid hits the back of his throat. “It’s a free country, Robbie. If they want to make a party and spout bullshit, no one’s going to stop them.”
 
“Not if it’s illegal bullshit – pour me another? – Riddle could win the elections. Then what?”
 
“Then…I don’t know. As long as I can keep my job I don’t care.”
 
Robbie downs his second glass and rubs a hand over his eyes. Two years out of the academy and he is already chafing on all the indifference around the Auror Department. Did no one care that Riddle and Co. where spouting racist belligerent hogwash? It’s like World War II never happened. Although, for all he knows, it didn’t in the wizarding world. But what about Grindelwald? Everyone has to remember that, and yet no one is doing a thing about it. “Listen, Rafe, you don’t get it, do you? They need to be stopped.” Or perhaps the problem is that most of the people he works with don’t have two muggle parents. Rafe is a half-blood, so of course Riddle’s rhetoric interests him little.
 
“How do you plan on doing it then?”
 
“I’m going to get information,” Robbie vows over another glass of whisky, drinking it to seal the oath. “I’m going to find out what these bastards are up to. Especially now that they have Dolohov with them. Maybe they’re in league with the commies.”
 
“The who?”
 
“Communists. You know? The Russians?”
 
“Ah-hah. You mean except the fact that the communists are all for equality, right?”
 
“No, seriously!” The younger man feels heat rising and spreading through his body as he remembers and the realization comes, falling upon him like a hippopotamus accelerated with a blasting hex. He can hardly stand still now. “Dolohov’s father knew Riddle. Then he disappeared, and now his son is finishing what his father started!”
 
Rafe looks at him with an expression of exasperated boredom. “Robbie, why aren’t we in the ball room twirling the lasses but are out here, in a dark hallway, getting drunk, doing hell knows what?”
 
Robbie sighs. Rafe is an idiot for a squad leader. “Did you hear anything I just said?”  
 
“Yes. You want to get information about Riddle and his party and what they are up to. But how?”
 
Robbie smirks with utter self-satisfaction. “Dolohov has a younger sister.”
 
“Oh, Merlin, don’t go there, Robert. Moody will have my head if you get into trouble. You know what a pain he can be.”
 
“Relax, mate. I can handle myself.” The young Auror smirks and pats his partner’s shoulder before stalking down the hall, a plan brewing in the back of his head. If he is correct, if his suspicions come to be not nonsensical babblings, well, then he would be worthy of all sort of praise and promotion. That would show certain stuck-up colleagues who wave their heritage around as though a pile of dusty bones has any influence on one’s abilities and wit. Besides, it is proper that a muggle-born should stop the party of the elitists. 
 
*
 
The room Lucius shows Antonin into is a spacious office with a long oak table in the center and a blazing fireplace. The room is warm and the bottle changing hands is attractive. Antonin looks around, marking the familiar faces of friends and acquaintances. This could be an evening at Malfoy Manor, all except for the rather business-like manner in which most of the room’s occupants are studying the strips and squares of parchment laid spread out before them. Antonin says his hellos and moves away from Lucius before the latter can make some sort of awkward formal introduction. Antonin moves to the fire and claps for an elf who quickly provided him with a glass of brandy. The thick, brown liquid reflects the firelight, glowing an inviting orange. Antonin drinks and feels himself relax. He begins to listen to the conversation, leaning lazily against the wall beside the fireplace.
 
Tom Riddle sits at the head of the table, his eyes narrowed in concentration, although the rest of his body drapes leisurely over the armchair. He leans on one hand, knuckles firmly under his chin, dark eyes sharp and watchful.
 
Augustus Rookwood, Edward Parkinson, Brutus Greengrass, Andre Rosier and Theodore Mulciber hover on both sides of the table, pointing out different locations and naming various defensive spells. Lucius and Rodolphus, as well as a few others, hang back, drinking their alcohol and not bothering with the logistics of whatever project is being discussed. Antonin finds his curiosity peeked and he moves cautiously forward, edging in between Augustus and Andre to get a better look at the documents. They are maps of a building, blueprints with colored dots – red, black and green – representing types of people, that can be moved around with the tip of one’s wand.
 
“If we set three lookouts here, here and here,” Andre says, moving three black dots into various positions, “we can guarantee that we will be covered on all sides.”
 
“Yes, but I want more men on site, not less,” Riddle remarks in his low, thick tone that carried across the room without, seemingly, any effort from the man to make himself heard.
 
“But efficiency, sir?” Brutus puts in. “We don’t want to look like we have something to fear, either. We need to pretend to be wide open.”
 
“What is this?” Antonin asks suddenly, looking specifically at Rookwood, though he doesn’t really care who answers him. 
 
“They’re strategy maps. This is our headquarters in Liverpool. We’re trying to figure out how to remain best protected. The Aurors have their own headquarters there. We don’t want… raids.” Augustus throws him a meaningful look.
 
Antonin gifts him with a suspicious glance, then looks back down at the blueprints. “These don’t look like defensive maps.”
 
“What?”
 
“These aren’t defensive maps. They’re…the circle is all wrong. More men on site but spread out in a manner where they cannot be easily detected? Why? We’re not at war, this is a political headquarters. Surely defensive wards and a couple of lookouts would suffice.” He outlines two circles with his wand, one on the outer perimeter of the building and one inside, around the offices. “This is a double tire system. Either you’re really expecting an attack or… you mean to provoke one and set an ambush.” Antonin looks back up at Augustus in askance. His friend looks lost for what to tell him. Behind them, Lucius makes a move toward Antonin but Riddle quietly raises a hand. His dark, heavy eyes are now boring into Antonin.
 
“What if we are expecting an attack?”  Riddle ventures, the words falling from his lips like bundles of dark velvet.
 
“Then,” Antonin says, leaning back and focusing a heavy, searching gaze on Riddle, “then I would suggest you get rid of the outside tire and use warning and warding spells instead. Move the front tire back, give the enemy time to think they are not going to run into difficulties, then surprise them as you will have been forewarned.” The silence is heavy and Antonin has a nagging feeling that he had spoken out of turn. Finishing off his glass, he sets it down on the table resolutely and backs up toward the door. “Now if you’ll excuse me gentlemen, I think I will join the dancing. Good evening.”
 
The room is quiet until the door closes behind Antonin. “Who is he?” Riddle asks, looking at Lucius.
 
“Antonin Dolohov, sir.”
 
Riddle’s eyes spark with something inherently predatory. “I want him.”
 
*~*
 
The Ministry Christmas Ball proceeds with the same festive, grandiose air as always, with the high walls decorated with enchanted dancing angels and twinkling fairy lights. Mistletoe hangs there and here, confusing and embarrassing couples both young and old, both likely and unlikely. Champagne is passed around and Father Christmas, perched beside the ceiling-high tree, chortles happily, if somewhat idiotically, offering passers by champagne glasses and apple tarts instead of presents. The music flares and flits around the room, echoing from corner to corner, lifting couples into soaring, light steps across the polished floor.
 
Antonin spots the Blacks as they arrive, Druella on Cygnus’ arm, her graying hair pulled up into a tight swirl on the top of her head, feeling quite in place with her strict dark gown. Cygnus is beaming as though all the men in the room were his cohorts. Of course this earns him a smack from Druella’s fan and Antonin, who watches them from across the room, snorts into his glass, making champagne bubbles creep up his throat and tickle his nose.
 
Druella’s daughters are dressed much more lightly then their mother. Except, perhaps, Andromeda, whose burgundy, velvet gown and large earrings seem to way her down. Narcissa is much like the soft, charmed snowflakes that float across the room, sometimes falling on top of the heads of the dancing couples or peppering the floor under their feet. Her silver gown and the matching tiara that holds up part of her hairstyle, glisten and seem to glow. Antonin is unsurprised that Lucius wastes no time to offer her his hand. She takes it, white glove falling on white glove, and they are instantly swirling across the floor, two snowflakes joined together with smiles warm enough to melt them. They’re a blinding sight, and Antonin is earnestly happy for Lucius.
 
Bellatrix’s gown is dark like Andromeda – except it is green and black – but the wide layered skirt, the laces on her gloves and neckline and the frills on the sleeves and skirts render her perfectly girlish. Their eyes meet and Antonin finds himself gliding across the floor toward her. He is stopped by Druella’s firm gaze and can’t help but feel a sting of indignation. Lucius was allowed Narcissa’s attention without the added formalities.
 
“Mrs. Black, good evening,” Antonin kisses Druella’s hand. “Mr. Black,” he says, turning to Cygnus. He can feel Bella’s smile behind him and her eyes on the nape of his neck and he can’t help the shivers that cover his chest and arms.
 
“You are looking quite flushed, Antonin,” Cygnus tells him with a thoughtful smile and a knowing twinkle in his eyes. “All that dancing.”
 
“Surely, it can’t be drink with the night still so young,” Druella adds, regarding him over her lacy, black fan. Antonin does his best to not scowl at her provocation. Instead, he ignores the comment completely.
 
“May I dance with your daughter?” he asks Cygnus.  
 
The man nods and smiles good naturedly. Antonin waits no longer; he turns and offers Bellatrix his arm just as the round of quadrilles finish and a languid, slow waltz begins. Bella allows him to lead her out onto the dance floor before sliding her free hand, the one he’s not holding, over his shoulder. He can swear her eyes are laughing at him.
 
“So is it the dancing or the drink that have you so flushed?” she asks as they begin to sway, unable to keep the laughter from her voice.
 
“You,” he answers simply, but she only laughs more. A snowflake lands on her nose and glistens there for a moment before falling off. The music rises in a crescendo, then drops into low, staggering notes and Antonin switches their direction. “You don’t believe me?”
 
She shakes her head, laughing. “No.” A curl falls onto her face and he wants to reach out to brush it out of the way but his hands are busy. Her hand tightens on his shoulder as they continue to dance. The whole world is them. They are light and music, feeling and laughter. Bellatrix dances until she can hardly breathe anymore from the exertion. Here she is allowed what she cannot have in her father’s house – the right to drown in his eyes, to laugh, to feel, to be free in a wild whirlwind of dance steps and touches that no one can distinguish.  
 
“Are you happy?”
 
“Very.”
 
*
 
Rodolphus dances a courtesy dance with Andromeda before retreating to the sidelines during the period of which they hardly said enough to each other to account for polite small talk. If Rodolphus tries, he can almost pretend she is Bellatrix – the two certainly look alike – but almost is never good enough. Andromeda does not have Bella’s dazzling smile, her lithe movements, her fiery eyes. Andromeda is cool and collected, proud and reserved. He supposes she could be warm with others, with her sisters and friends, perhaps a man she loves, but Rodolphus knows he is not that man. He also knows that their wedding is inevitable. His father cannot wait to have the family heir married and a Black girl is a brilliant match. Rodolphus can’t argue, of course, and he wouldn’t even care so much for the lack of love in their relationship – he was brought up with the idea that marriage was about politics – if it wasn’t for Bellatrix.
 
Every time he sees the eldest Black girl, something within him yearns to touch her. He is drawn to her as though with a sticking charm. Rodolphus can’t remember ever being drawn like that to any other woman, no matter how beautiful. Seeing her in Dolohov’s arms is unbearable. It simply is not fair. He knows, of course, that Bella and Antonin will be married, there is no other way. Even Dolohov has enough honor to not compromise a lady in such a way.
 
He breathes a sigh of hope when, after a particular dance, Bellatrix and Antonin make their bows. It seems they are ready for a break and Rodolphus sets aside his glass, meaning to draw Bellatrix away when the next dance begins. The champagne flute is almost knocked out of his hand by a curvy, short girl who has flounced off to the sidelines, waving a lewdly coquettish goodbye to the man who had just partnered her. Rodolphus is surprised to recognize her as Alecto Carrow. She is too young – only fifteen – to be at the ball. The Carrows had lost all shame apparently.
 
“I’m sorry, Mr. Lestrange,” she sings out, nodding at his glass.
 
“Don’t worry about it,” Rodolphus mutters distractedly, his eyes still fixed on Bellatrix as she makes her way toward him on Antonin’s arm.
 
Alecto fidgets with the skirt of her gaudy, shimmering dress, plump arms outlined with bright aquamarine gloves. She follows Rodolphus’ gaze and her smile fades. “Oh,” she murmurs to no one in particular, mousy-brown eyes blinking rapidly to hide Merlin knows what emotions. “They have been dancing all night haven’t they?”
 
“Yes,” Rodolphus answers automatically, not really thinking about what he’s saying.
 
“Do say, Mr. Lestrange,” Alecto says in a girlishly pleading tone, suddenly quiet and timorous. “How could I make your friend, Mr. Dolohov, notice me?” Her voice fades as Antonin and Bellatrix come into earshot.
 
Rodolphus glances over at her and tries to not laugh. Stupid little girl has harbored a crush on Antonin since her first year at Hogwarts. Jealousy is burning him up as well, and even though he could more likely relate to Alecto’s feelings than not, what comes out is more cruel than he could have even intended. “Kiss him under the mistletoe,” Rodolphus remarks lightly, and steps away from her to greet Bellatrix. “Ms. Black, a dance?”
 
Bella shakes her head. “I need a break,” she says simply, offering him a pleasant smile.
 
“A drink then?” She nods and Rodolphus offers her his arm. “Antonin,” he says, turning to Tony who is doing his best to not look too displeased. “Ms. Carrow would like a dance. Do oblige the poor girl.”
 
Antonin sighs, watching Rodolphus lead Bellatrix away. He turns to encounter the burning gaze of Alecto Carrow. Antonin can’t decide if he should pity her or not. He doesn’t say a word, merely offers her his hand and she takes it, trembling visibly, the glove wrinkling from the clamminess of her palm on the inside.    
 
Alecto is nowhere near as light on her feet as Bella. She is awkward and heavy, her young age, nervousness and bad genetics getting in the way of grace, but Antonin has to give her credit for sheer audacity. She is a girl of unfortunate looks, a bloodline not nearly as pure as the Carrows would like to believe, with a bumbling fool of a brother for a family heir, and a sweet disposition that allows her to not notice just how socially awkward she or those around her can be. The combination is pitiful if slightly endearing. As it is, Antonin is in too good a mood to be sharp with her and he treats her as he would treat a child of a girl as they dance.
 
“I feel you must find it very dull here with all the old Ministry loons,” Antonin quips, twirling Alecto around.
 
“Oh no,” she says breathily, eyes alight with something between childish excitement and youthful infatuation. “I enjoy the dancing. Especially when I’m dancing with you.”
 
Antonin laughs, wondering at her nerve. “Ms. Carrow, is that a compliment?”
 
She tilts her head to the side and gives him a dopy smile and he gives her another turn before the music ends. Alecto seems to freeze for a moment, then takes a step back from him, then another. Antonin, a little uncertain as to what she is doing, follows her, offering her his arm pointedly. He needs to take the girl to her brother or father. Someone who would keep an eye on her.
 
“Mr. Dolohov,” she says, taking his arm but not moving, peering up into his face with an unexpectedly shy smile. “You are a man of honor, true?” She looks up to somewhere above them and her smile widens.
 
Cautiously, feeling like he had just stepped into a trap, Antonin looks up and can barely hold back his frustration. A bright green mistletoe hangs above them. It glints in the bright light of hundreds of candles and sways slowly, seemingly laughing at the victims below it. Or, rather, one victim, as Alecto looks very satisfied with herself. “Yes, of course,” Antonin says, a little stiffly. He leans down, his hand still holding hers, and kisses her fleetingly. She is more audacious than he had thought however, tugging on his arm hard enough to make him practically fall forward into their kiss. When Antonin finally manages to free himself of her grip and look up, his eyes meet dark, fiery ones and his heart skips a beat.
 
Bella is watching him from the refreshment table. Rodolphus is beside her, but he is now distracted by Lucius and Edward. Bella’s eyes seem to burn into him, everything from hurt to shame to anger seems to writhe and burn within their depths. Then, slowly, deliberately, she picks up her fan and walks for the door, only breaking into a run when she reaches the first shadows of the hallway.
 
Antonin wrenches his arm away from Alecto. He suddenly hates her with her childish tricks, social inadequacies and poorly bred manners. He bows stiffly and sharply to her before turning and taking off after Bellatrix in long strides, then breaking into a run himself once he reaches the hallway.
 
He catches up to her around the corner where she has stopped to take long, ragged breaths that could almost be sobs. Antonin grabs her arm and turns her to face him.
 
“Let go of me!” she hisses, trying to pull her arm away. “I’m ashamed to have…you…in front of everyone, how could you?” The red blotches on her cheeks seem to be pulsating in the unsure light of the hallway.
 
“Bella, listen to me, you saw there was mistletoe. I couldn’t do anything!” he whispers back vehemently, pushing her against the wall, both her wrists caught in his hands.
 
She shakes her head, black curls flying out of their bun, hitting him in the face. They feel like soft, silken ribbons, much like the ones tying the front of her corset. “Why should I believe you?”
 
“Why shouldn’t you?” Antonin tries hard to not sound exasperated, or desperate. He could be either at this point. “She means nothing to me, Bella. She or any other woman.” He releases her wrists and slides both hands up her sides, from the waist to her shoulders. She is looking at him with wide eyes, mouth open slightly, her breath hitting his lips and nose. He throws himself forward, devouring her mouth with his. Antonin presses his body against hers and moves to kiss her chin and neck. She whimpers and growls into his hair, clutching at his shoulders.
 
“Stop.”
 
“No.”
 
“We must not.”
 
“I love you.” He looks up and finds her baffled eyes. They brim with anticipation and as soon as he speaks again, they overflow with triumph. “Will you marry me?”
 
Antonin can feel her hands on his shoulders tighten even as she smiles. “Tomorrow. Ask my father for my hand.”
 
“Then yes?”
 
“Yes, Merlin, Tony. Yes!” She laughs, an echoing ringing sound like the clinking of thousands of pieces of fine china. He picks her up and twirls her around. Her arms are locked around his neck, then cupping his face, and she is kissing him. Rapturously.
 
*~*
 
Antonin floos home in high spirits. His intoxicated brain is fixated on that first round of waltzes, on her delighted “yes,” repeating it over and over again in his head. The warmth from the champagne he had consumed and the lingering sensation of Bella in his arms makes his fingertips tingle and he finds himself grinning lopsidedly even as he steps out of his home fireplace into a darkened room. Antonin thinks of the next morning, imagining how he will go to the Blacks and ask Cygnus for his eldest daughter’s hand in marriage and Druella’s sharp but satisfied look that she will drill him with. But it won’t matter once Cygnus says yes and Bella says yes and they go running like bratty children through her garden to their small alcove in its very depths.
 
Antonin takes off his already unfastened dress robe, remaining in a tailcoat, and reaches for his wand to light the candles, his mind wondering briefly if Nina has already gone to bed. What stops him is a noise that sounds like something between a whimper and a cry. Then a gruff voice making a demand. Antonin freezes, listening. His heart speeds up, and his mind races. Nina, Nina, Nina!
 
Antonin begins to quietly make his way toward the voice, locating it around the dinning room. A man is demanding someone – Nina, who the hell else! – tell him something. Antonin can’t hear her voice and his heart jumps up into his throat. No one else is home. His mother is out, the elves were given a holiday night…
 
Antonin bursts through the double doors, wand drawn. In one sweeping look he takes in the room. The chamber is dimply lit by the remaining candles. Broken glass is strewn across the floor and peaces of china plates and cups are scattered over the table and chairs. The table is stood at a strange angle, as though it had been purposefully but sporadically moved and some of the chairs have been overturned. Nina lies on the hardwood floor, her body twitching. Her mouth seems to have frozen in a scream, eyes scrunched shut, bright red blotches on her cheeks, limbs at awkward angles. A man in a crimson, Auror robe stands over her, his wand drawn and pointed, a fierce expression on his face. The Auror looks up when Antonin bursts in and his wand droops. He’s surprised.
 
Antonin’s vision goes red and he can’t think. His whole attention if focused on Nina. The green light around her body flickers and fades. She twitches spasmicly several more times, then her body stills and she lies limp and lifeless on the floor at the Auror’s feet. Antonin wants to scream but nothing comes out. Somehow he knows she is dead and that bastard, that fucking bastard, has used the Cruciatus curse on her. 
 
The Auror comes out of his stupor and lifts his wand but Antonin is faster. Rage and grief guide his hand and before he knows what he’s doing, Antonin casts the first spell that his railing, raging mind lands on. “Avada Kedavra!”
 
 *
 
When the Aurors come for him in the early hours of the morning, they find Antonin as he had been for the past several hours, sat on the floor in the middle of the ransacked dining room, with Nina’s body cradled in his arms and the Auror’s crumpled form lying several feet away. When they read the arrest warrant, Antonin does not protest. He hardly says a word at all, except for a hoarse, helpless whisper, “Nina…”
 
*~*
 
In the mist of the early morning, the docks from which prisoners’ boats are to sail several miles north to Azkaban are slowly emptying as they release the mournful vessels docked their into sea, one by one. There are three small ones that morning and they sail away in ten minute intervals from each other. There is a certain fear associated with putting too many convicts in one enclosed space for any extended period of time.
 
The grey sand beach is teeming with red cloaked guards, most of them Aurors, who oversee the dispatch of the boats. Among the red cloaked figures, relatives and close friends of the convicts are dispersed. Antonin’s mother is there with Augustus Rookwood standing beside her, one arm awkwardly around her shoulders. Tony had asked him to look out for her, to make sure she didn’t go into despair. How could she not, having lost both of her children? One to death and the other to the Wizengamont. Andre Rosier and Theodore Mulciber stand a step back, stoic and silent, as though at a funeral. Lucius is beside them, muttering sentiments along the lines of, “The Wizengamot isn’t a trial court, it’s a damn tribunal,” and, “The bastards don’t issue fair judgments, they issue death sentences.” Narcissa, wrapped up in a long, warm robe with a fur color, has one hand comfortingly and steadying on Lucius’ arm. Her eyes are fixed ahead, however, on her sister, who has gone as far as the barrier and is attracting more looks than necessary from the Aurors.
 
Bella stands at the magical barrier that separates the grey sand beach from the icy water. Her eyes are locked on a single shape on deck of the last boat. Wandless, already in the prisoner’s garb, still grief stricken by the death of his sister and blind Wizengamot conviction, Antonin looks like a ghost. He holds one hand out, as though reaching for her, and she presses her hands against the barrier, longing to feel his touch. She still cannot believe this is happening. The trial had all been a hopeless blur to her. The Aurors always protect their own and the Wizengamot has long since answered to the Aurors. It’s a disturbingly corrupted connection, but no one can reasonably do anything about it. Riddle is trying, but the party has still to make gains. After the lost election – stolen election, some say, implying that the Ministry rigged the results to not allow through Riddle’s candidacy, considering him too dangerously radical – nothing has gone right.
 
Lucius had provided the best solicitors, who had filed detailed reports and argued eloquently. The problem was that they could not prove direct self-defense and the Aurors’ representatives claimed that there were plenty of other, non-illegal, ways to stop an attack. Antonin himself had been in too much shock. He recounted the evening as he remembered it – honestly, without embellishments. That, in the end, had played against him. He was in for fifteen years, and that was with the crime degree lowered due to “mitigating circumstances of shock.” Bella had wanted to stand up and shout that the entire trial was a pompous farce, but her father’s iron grip on her arm had kept her in her seat.
 
The mist grows and condenses, slowly swallowing the boat as it drifts on toward the horizon. Bella does not hear a thing, she hardly can see for the tears clouding her vision, but she forces herself to stare past them, to viciously blink them out of her eyes so that she can peer into the distance and make out Antonin’s fading silhouette. Watching him fade away is like ripping her own heart out one heartstring at a time. His eyes are locked on her face as he seems to try to memorize every line of her face and body. Soon she can’t make out the features of his face anymore as he becomes a single, dark shape against the lifeless white mass of the mist. Several seconds later the mist has swallowed the boat entirely and there is nothing to make out except for the charcoal, brawling waters and the thick white mist.
 
Bella lets out a high-pitched, hysterical sob and sinks to the ground, hands fisting in the sand. Moments later, a pair of arms fold around her and she knows it’s Narcissa. They stay like that for an immeasurable time as Bella cries silently against her sister’s shoulder.
 
Finally, Lucius comes and apparates them both home.
 
*~*
 
The winter is a bleak time and the Black household is unusually quiet these days. Druella mourns such a scandalous end to what could have been an acceptable match for her eldest daughter. Cygnus is worried about Bella’s fierce determination to not give up intermixed with moments of utter despair that she tries to hide but rarely succeeds. Narcissa has gone back to Hogwarts. Bellatrix spends half her time locked up in her room and half the time out Merlin knows where. As for Andromeda, she contemplates the strange uselessness of her life. Even Bella’s grief seems fulfilling to her. At least she can go through an intensely emotional process. Andromeda can’t seem to focus on a single thing. Her entire life seems to drift on without a certain end or purpose. She feels torn up and more a commodity than a person. Rodolphus’ visits are painfully boring and her own rendezvous with Ted have become increasingly filled with a frustration that bleeds into everything they say and do so that she is unable to enjoy even those moments that they have together.
 
As she sits, watching the sky slowly turn lighter in the East, she thinks that perhaps if she had been someone else, she would be happier. Bella had been crying again and Andromeda knows to not bother her but she still cannot sleep. So she sites on the wide windowsill in her bedroom and tries to count the stars that fade slowly as the day draws closer.
 
Andromeda wonders if she could possibly feel as happy as Bella or as miserable as her. She wonders if something could lift the thick layer of ice that had settled over her soul some time so long ago that she cannot quite remember what it felt like to live without it, to be exposed to emotion and feeling. She thinks she knows a way; she remembers how it feels when Ted’s lips meet hers and when his hands run down her body and slowly lift the dress of her skirt… Andromeda wonders if she could really have that joy or if perhaps she is meant to be stuck in a gilded ice castle. Perhaps that is the meaning of her life. She drifts off to sleep without realizing it, heavy eyelids falling closed and her thoughts jumbling up into a warm cocoon around her soar mind…
 
*
 
Andromeda wakes with a start, her stomach turning and a sick feeling of bile rising up in her throat. She rushes to the washroom as the nausea takes its toll. She emerges several minutes later, shaken and burning from the inside. Tears sting her eyes because she knows. She has known for perhaps a couple of weeks now, ever since the visit to the Mediwitch, but dear Merlin, she is deadly certain and she wishes that she could mold that certainty into a weapon.
 
Andromeda glides silently, barefoot, across her bedroom to the writing desk and stops, hands locked behind her neck. She watches the cold, watery winter sun wobble and waver over the far off horizon of trees. The first rays of light fall into the room and streak across the wooden floor, stopping at her feet. It is like the rays of sun are attempting to guide her, guide her away from her ice castle. She was wrong; she does know what it is like to feel utter joy and pitiful misery. Except she does not want to be miserable like Bellatrix, she doesn’t want to run from her happiness. Bella had her love taken away from her, while Andromeda punishes herself.
 
She grabs a piece of parchment and a quill. Her hand shakes slightly as she writes out her short letter, her heart beating faster with every sentence she commits to parchment.
 
My dear Ted,
I love you with all my heart, I am sure you know this. You have told me countless times that there will come a time when I will have to decide between which two of my lives I want to lead. I want to lead my life with you, Ted. You and always you. I want to be your wife.
Don’t hurry back when you get this. I know this trip is important to you and our love can be patient for a little longer. Besides, I cannot leave Bella and the rest of my family right now. I must wait over at least another month or so before abandoning them to more losses. Please understand.
Always yours,
Meddy
 
She summons an elf and instructs him to send her an owl from the owlry. As soon as the creature disappears, Andromeda seals and addresses the envelope. She opens the window, allowing the winter air to flood her warm room, and waits. Soon, an owl perches on her outstretched hand and she attaches the letter to his leg and sends him off.
 
Andromeda watches the owl fly away, both hands folded over her stomach. The cold air bites at her face, turning her cheeks rosy and the sunrays of a new morning flood her room, promising a new beginning.      
 
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