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).
Riddle keeps his word. It takes time, but finally, in late November, Bella stands on the same grey sand beach where she had once watched the prisoners’ boat sail away, bearing her love away with it, and waits with baited breath.
A boat appears in the distance, breaking through the perpetual mist, and sails slowly, lazily toward shore. It docks and several men step off the boat. Most of them are guards in red cloaks, but one is in a prison robe. Bellatrix feels her breath catch and her heart miss a beat as the guards step aside and allow Antonin to pass between them. She longs to run to him but forces herself to wait until he has been reunited with his mother. Finally, Antonin looks up at her. There is something in his expression that makes her feel like he had not expected to see her and the smile he gives her is cautious and a little bashful.
Antonin steps away from his mother and Bella runs, almost tripping over the hem of her cloak as her shoes sink into the sand. She throws her arms around him and buries her face in his shoulder, disregarding the grime that has eaten into the fabric and the smell of Azkaban that lingers on his skin and in his hair. At that moment, she doesn’t care about anything but that Antonin has wrapped his arms around her and is holding her close to him, pressing her against his chest and whispering loving nonsense against her ear in a voice filled with awe.
She’d waited for him. He pulls away just enough to look into her face. She swipes a long strand of hair out of his eyes. He’s pale and thin and there’s a certain scraggliness to his appearance. “We need to get you cleaned up,” she says with a smile, her voice dipping into a fond teasing tone he can easily recognize.
Antonin laughs softly, returning her blissful smile. Had it really been hardly a year since he last saw her? Time is immeasurable in Azkaban; it flies and crawls all at once. He breathes in the smell of her hair and runs his hand along her soft cheek. Her frame fits perfectly into his arms and he wants her. Then and there. He kisses her, deeply, without a single thought, hoping to drown in her. He owes Tom Riddle a life debt just for making this single moment possible again. “I’ve missed you so much, Bella. Needed you…”
She buries her face into his robes so that he would not catch any stray emotion that might flicker across her face. “Oh, Tony…”
The fist snow falls early that year, sprinkling down across the fields and treetops in early December, promising that perhaps there will be snow on Christmas. Bella likes to stand on the edge of the thinly frozen lake of the Dolohov estate, wrapped up in a warm fur coat, with Antonin hugging her from behind as she watches the snowflakes tumble listlessly to the ground against a darkening sky.
“It’s beautiful,” she says one snowy evening, leaning back against Antonin.
He nods, resting his chin on her shoulder, and stares across the glassy surface of the lake.
“What are you thinking about?” Bella asks after a pause. “You’re quiet today.”
“Augustus came to talk to me. About joining the Organization.”
She turns slightly in his arms so she can steal small glances at his face. “And what did you tell him?”
“I told him that I’m not sure.”
She sighs and leans her head back against his shoulder. “You really owe Riddle. We owe him your freedom.”
“I know.” Antonin nuzzles the top of her head. “With him I will have a lot of opportunities. Besides, he fights for the right things, I know all this.”
“It’s a noble cause, Antonin.” She turns her head back and kisses his neck, slowly, languidly, tracing her lips up and down his warm skin.
“I know.” He pauses and seems to turn her words over in his mind. “Do you wish for me to fight?”
She looks up into his face and bites her lip. “Darling, I won’t hide that I would like you to become one of us.”
“Of us?” He’s surprised and turns her over in his arms so that he can get a better look at her face. “Are you…?”
Bella slowly rolls up the left sleeve of her coat and robes. The black snake tattooed onto her arm is a burning contrast against her fair skin. Its eyes seem to glisten in the wavering evening light.
Antonin gently reaches out and rolls the sleeves back down. For a long moment he does not look at her, then, finally, meets her eyes. “Is it really that bad that women must fight?”
She shrugs. “You know me, Tony. I can’t sit still while the fate of my world is decided. Can you?”
He slowly shakes his head. “I don’t know. It’s not cowardice, I just—“
She puts a finger against his lips. “I know. But think about it? I would be proud to fight along side you. For our future, Tony. One that we can build together. You and I.”
He leans down and kisses her. She tastes like snow and, for some reason, strawberries. He likes the idea of building a future with her. Together.
When Lucius asks Antonin for brandy, quietly, during a dinner, noting that Narcissa will be away that night, Antonin instantly knows that there is a reason behind the invitation that has nothing to do with simply a friendly talk by the fire. Lucius has been in the political field since he graduated Hogwarts and his father may or may not approve of his son’s illicit activities in Riddle’s Organization but he turns a blind eye either way. Now with the war, Lucius is recruiting. They all are. Augustus had already told him that he would be very well settled in the Organization. “I’m not a politician, Augus,” Antonin had answered. “You don’t need to be anymore,” was the answer he’d received. Antonin feels stuck, torn in both directions. His mother is still alive, even if Nina had been sacrificed to the ambition of the Auror scum, and, Antonin is afraid, would not be able to bear the death of her last child, who also happened to be the family heir. But something tears at Antonin from the inside, lures him to Riddle and the entire war. The need to fight, to avenge his sister, perhaps. He knows he owes Riddle and as cloyingly irritating as the feeling is, it is also the truth. Lucius doesn’t waist any time to remind him of this.
“You owe Riddle now,” Malfoy says with a slight shake of his head as they settle before the fire in high-backed armchairs with glasses of brandy brought in by the house elves.
“I know,” Antonin replies smoothly, taking a long drink and wondering if Lucius will be as forward as Augustus had been. It’s unlikely.
“You know, even before your… incident, the Lord was always very aware of your talents. He’d asked me and Roddy if you were considering Auror training.”
“How foolish, who in their right mind would be an Auror?”
Lucius shrugs noncommittally. “A lot of people. Not everyone has the knack or social standing for politics and on the other hand, Aurors have flashy careers the department is important and influential, you can get away with a lot, the pay is good, the adventures are many, as are the opportunities to study combat and deeper magic than most other professions allow.”
Antonin considers this and nods slowly. “He didn’t know I was a Pureblood Slytherin did he?”
Lucius smirks. “Because no Pureblood Slytherins become Aurors? Well observed my friend, but I don’t think the Lord was being serious with the question.”
Antonin shifts uncomfortably. He thinks for a long moment, taking another long drink of his brandy and watching the fire. “I don’t know, Lucius. Sometimes I feel like you’re following this man and yet what you fight for he doesn’t embody. You don’t honestly think he’s a Pureblood do you? I’ve never heard of a Riddle family.”
Lucius shrugs. “That’s irrelevant, Tony. So there was a muggle or two in his lineage. We’re not excluding halfbloods. If Wizards breed wizards that’s for the better of all of us. We just prefer they did so with other wizards but some people have no brains, we can’t help that. I’ve seen him do amazing magic…” Lucius’ voice drops a notch, so that Antonin has to lean in slightly to hear him clearly over the crackling of the flames. “He speaks Parselmouth, Tony. That’s something.”
Antonin shivers. There is something foreboding here, in the long shadows that streak over the rich carpet of the Malfoy sitting room and the orange tingle of Lucius’ face, his low and deadly serious tone and the words… Speaking with snakes is a sinister gift, or so the prophesies say. And yet, with every second, Antonin wants more and more to get a closer look at this Riddle, to fight for an understanding he doesn’t think anyone would grant a curious wizard in the currently regime and certainly not in the world where it is headed. “So you’re for halfbloods now?” Antonin asks teasingly, hoping to shift the mood.
Lucius makes an irritated face. “Merlin, Tony, you’re being dense on purpose. Of course I’m not counting halfbloods as equals, but they do have wizarding blood, they usually are raised in wizarding families… at the very least they are much less likely to pollute our world with muggle ideas and filth. It all has to do with sanctions and policing, basically a regime that isn’t corrupt, that is all together and knows what it’s doing. To get to such a regime, we need to overthrow the current one, to begin with.”
“How can you follow a man you consider your inferior, Lucius? How can you call him ‘Lord?’”
Lucius seems to consider this for a moment, choosing his words carefully. “I don’t think Lord Voldemort – Riddle, alright, don’t get picky – can be measured in the typical terms of mudblood, halfblood and Pureblood. He has incredible talent, incredible ability, incredible potential.”
Antonin snorts derisively. “Listen to yourself, Lucius! Everyone can be sorted into those categories.”
“Again, you are missing the point. He is a leader, a man of power and will, someone who can lead us to the victory we want. His blood lineage interests me only very slightly in this case, and I’m not about to go digging around in it. For all we know, Riddle could be his taken name for political reasons. He could be of a German family, for example.”
“Unlikely. Doesn’t he claim to be heir to the Slytherin line?”
Lucius nods, “Yes, but the Slytherin line has failed in its male heirs. Most likely that bloodline runs in his mother’s or a grandmother’s side of the family.”
Antonin waits out a pause, staring into the dark brown liquid in his glass, twirling it around thoughtfully. “Has it really come to war then? Can we not wait, take another coarse? I’m sympathetic to the cause, Lucius, I’m no politician but…”
Lucius stands and walks to the mantel. He sets down his glass and speaks in a tone deeper than his usual voice, facing the wall, away from Antonin. “Tony, the Auror who killed your sister was a mudblood.”
Antonin freezes. Lucius isn’t exactly hitting him over the head with new information but every mention of Nina, of that night, of the scumbag who had tortured her to death still makes everything inside him burn. “I know,” he forces out and downs the last of the brandy.
“He was a career climbing, self-assured, Gryffindor graduate mudblood. Do you think, do you honestly think, Tony, that a Pureblood or even a respectable halfblood would have ever done such a thing? Would have tortured a young girl for information about her obviously long deceased father whom she only vaguely remembers and her respectable older brother who has never given any sign of participating heavily in the political movement he so opposes. Do you think anyone with an inkling of honor would have done that?”
Antonin watches the floor, studies the fuzzy outline of the shadow his leg casts. He can’t answer. He doesn’t want to. Lucius had hit a sore spot with something that could almost be a low blow if it wasn’t the truth and if they weren’t friends.
Lucius turns to face him and his expression is sober and serious. “Here’s how it is, Tony. The war is coming. In truth, it is already here. We have been declared illegal, the first curses have been cast. Roddy and I, as well as those of us who remain in the political field, remain in a very precarious position. We form a political block but we can not show an alliance further than sympathy toward what is now the Organization. We are gathering recruits, an Academy. You know our views and I know you agree with them. You have every reason to fight, Tony. The Lord wants you, we, your friends, want and need you, our Cause needs you. If you think that you can stay away, not chose sides, not participate, you are wrong. Everyone will have to choose now. Are you for the mudbloods or for the purity of our world?”
“You know how I feel.”
“Come train at the Academy, Tony. At your age you already know so much. You will have all the opportunities to study that you need. You’ll get a chance to avenge your sister, to help us build this world. You always told me you wanted to be someone.”
“I was going to marry Bella before Azkaban.” Antonin hardly recognizes his own voice, it sounds hollow to him. “But now she’s head over heals for the Cause. And I’m head over heals for her.” Something flickers across Lucius’ face but Antonin doesn’t catch it. “She told me…she told me that she wants me to fight, that every self respecting gentleman needs to fight. I hate Aurors, Lucius. I hate mudbloods.”
“Then why are you hesitating, Antonin?”
“Honestly? …I don’t know.”
Antonin had expected it to burn. He had expected the inky lines of the Dark Mark engraved into his skin and soul to burn and sting. Instead, the point of Riddle’s wand seems to be saturating his skin, his whole being, with ice. It is like the ice is seeping deep into his system, into his very blood, coloring it a snowy, numb hue of cold. The cold attaches itself in icicles to his nerves, freezes every coherent thought. There is a frozen glint to the fresh, black tattoo on his arm.
“I’m glad you decided to join us, Antonin,” Riddle says calmly, slowly lifting his wand. “I need good officers now, good, loyal, brave men. Those are hard to come by these days. It would have been such a pity if you had so unfairly remained locked away in that abomination of a prison.”
Antonin swallows and looks up, trying to break through the snowy haze of his vision as the ritual ends. He is still kneeling but he doesn’t dare get up. He has accepted this man’s help, his leadership, and now his lordship. He has no other choice now and Antonin isn’t certain he ever did. “Did you know? When you got me out of Azkaban did you know I would come to you?”
Riddle seems to think this over for a moment. “No. But I know people, Antonin, and I know a good man with sense when I see one. Enough for now.” Riddle’s voice takes on a commanding edge. “Rise.”
Antonin slowly stands, his feet feel uncertain for a moment, but then he adjusts. But something, something has changed within him. Something on a level that his mind cannot reach, cannot fully grasp. He had knelt one man and has risen another.
Bella is waiting for him when he emerges from the Marking just as she had promised. She had told him, “I’ll be here when you come back a real man” and Antonin had gone, head held high with all the power of his love carrying him forward to a destiny that would bring… something. Hopefully, something that would keep her beside him. Now, she stands waiting on the bridge, framed against the sky. But there are no stars, no more moon. Only ominous clouds. Bella holds out her hand to him, her breath catching as the wind whips her hair over her eyes and she tosses it back so she can focus on Antonin’s arm. “Show me.” Antonin rolls up the sleeve of his robes and she gasps in awe. “Tony…”
He doesn’t let her finish but grabs her and pulls her flush against him, their dark robes mingling as his hands slide around her waist and wrap her up into an embrace. She throws her head back exposing her face and Antonin captures her lips into a long, fiery kiss. She moans into it, then pulls back and smiles blissfully. “I was afraid.”
“That you would turn on me, that you would…that you wouldn’t fight. That you didn’t believe like we all do.” Her eyes are sparkling, glistening with tears. Antonin thinks they must be tears of joy but Bella knows otherwise. They are tears of the overwhelming feeling of loss. Tony had done everything she ever could have wanted – he had chosen to fight for her, for their Cause, for their world. But she had lost him now. Soon, very soon, she will be forced to announce her engagement to Rodolphus and then all will be lost. Antonin will be gone from her, he will hate her. She has sacrificed her love, in the end. But she has done the right thing, she has to have. Bellatrix hates Narcissa right now. Because Cissy can have everything – honor, family approval and love. But she hates Andromeda even more, far, far beyond any possibility of forgiveness, because Andromeda had not only secured her happiness but she had allowed herself to abandon her duty and Bella had to pay the consequences, and Bella had to buy her honor at the price of her happiness. “Take me,” she whispers hoarsely into Antonin hair. He murmurs something about waiting and she huffs, bristling. He can’t deny her, not now. “I don’t care! Please, Tony. I want to be yours.” I want to be completely happy at least once.
Antonin wraps his arms tighter around her waist, a wave of heat washing over him as his body strains toward hers. His doubts are gone in that moment. His flesh is hot against hers and she is pliant in his arms. He knows, of course he knows, that now she will be his. Now that he has itshe will love him forever.
Bella lies with her head on Antonin’s bare chest. She can feel his heart beating and the warmth of his body sooths her. Her breathing has evened out after the orgasm they had shared. She had given herself fully to that feeling of being whole, of being complete. She isn’t worried about her wedding night, about Rodolphus discovering that she is no longer a maiden. Because he won’t. The Lord had taught her well that there are ways to hide what you don’t want others to know. The candles burn low and the shadows in the room are dark. The sky in the far East begins to lighten slowly. It is overcast again, as it usually is in the mornings of early winter and the room seems especially comfortable when compared to the murky world outside.
Antonin runs a hand through her hair and plays languidly with her curls. His left arm still hurts slightly from the Marking but he ignores it. He is in awe of her, of how the world has changed around him. But he knows that he is willing to follow her to the end of the universe, not to mention the ranks of Riddle’s Organization. “I love you,” he says quietly, the words slipping out of their own accord. He doesn’t think there is any more reason to hide them.
Bella looks up and shifts so she is face to face with him. She kisses him fully, some of their earlier passion seeping into that kiss. “I love you too. I always have and always will,” she murmurs against his lips. She knows she will have to tell him. Now. Rodolphus will not wait a single day more.
Antonin must have sensed her unease, the hesitation in her body language. “Bella, what’s wrong?” he asks, sliding one hand down her cheek.
“It’s…it’s nothing,” she stutters, not wanting to tell him. “It’s not important right now.” She wants a few more hours with him, at least until the sun comes up and she has to wake up from this dream that she wishes so badly was her reality.
“Don’t be like that, Bella,” Antonin says softly, still playing with her hair. “I know you, I can sense your moods. What is it?”
She can’t tell him like this, lying in his arms, in the bed they had just shared, as he plays with her hair. She untangles herself from him and slides from under the blankets. Bella throws on her cloak without bothering to get fully dressed and walks to the window. She looks outside at the unfamiliar night landscape, wondering if, in another life, it could have become as familiar as the view out the window of her room at home. If home could have become this house, Antonin’s house. But she will never know. “You’re right. There is something I have to tell you. But it’s not easy to say.”
Antonin sits up, anticipating, intuitively, a hard conversation, and summons a shirt. He pulls it on, waiting for Bellatrix to continue.
“I only hope,” Bella says, wrapping herself as tightly as she can in the cloak, as though it could offer her comfort. “I only hope that you can understand why I did what I did and that it was for you, because I love you.”
“What are you talking about?” Antonin asks. He finishes pulling on basic articles of clothing and walks across the room to where she stands. He wraps his arms around her and pulls her back against him, nuzzling her thick, curly hair. “I don’t understand, Bella.”
She turns in his arms and looks up into his face, trying to memorize it, to remember how exactly he looked while he still harbored love for her instead of hatred. “I’m engaged, Tony,” she whispers, barely managing to form the painful words.
He stares at her like she has gone mad, then shakes his head. “I don’t understand. What do you mean, you’re engaged?”
She shakes her head sadly, her eyes pleading for him to at least listen. “I’m engaged to Rodolphus. I—“
“You’re engaged to Rodolphus?” He lets go of her and takes a step back. His hair is mussed and strands of it fall in his eyes but Antonin doesn’t seem to notice. He’s staring at her as though he does not know her. It’s the most bewildered and disbelieving expression she has ever seen.
“Please, Tony, listen to me. It’s not that simple.”
He lets out a sharp, dark laugh, shaking his head. “Not that simple? How can that possibly be complicated?” He shakes his head at her. “Please, tell me that this is some sort of joke, Bella.” A note of pleading slips into his tone and her heart threatens to shatter at any moment.
“It’s true,” she says flatly, forcing herself to look at him. “It will be announced formally today. Rodolphus is not willing to wait any longer.”
Antonin opens his mouth to say something, then closes it. He makes a helpless, frustrated gesture and turns away from her. She takes a frantic step toward him but he cuts her off, “Don’t come near me.” Bella stops in her tracks, shock vibrating through her. He had never been abrasive with her before. Antonin claps for an elf and orders the creature to bring a bottle of vodka. Bella looks down.
“Can you let me explain?”
Antonin glances at her, then away again. He sinks heavily onto the edge of the bed and puts his head in his hands. “I don’t see what you could possibly explain unless you wish to say that you will break the engagement off.” There is just enough hope in his voice to make Bella’s already broken heart shatter irreparably.
“I can’t. I’ve given my word and to more than just Rodolphus. Our Lord expects this marriage.”
“Our Lord,” Antonin scoffs. “What matter is it of his whom you marry? Your word! Did you not give me your word that you love me?” His voice rises but not quite enough to morph into yelling.
“It’s not the same and you know it,” she says as calmly as she can. “I did this because I love you.”
Antonin looks away and shakes his head. “You’ve become engaged to another man while I was in Azkaban for trying to protect my sister and you did this because you love me?” He sounds so disbelieving that Bella could almost doubt her own feelings if they weren’t so strong that they threaten to overcome her at any moment.
“Tony, you were in for fifteen years and served not a year. Our Lord helped get you out. Have you considered why he would work so hard for you?”
“I-I don’t know. What does this have to do with anything, Bella? He wanted me to be in the Organization so—“ Realization seems to dawn over him and he begins to laugh. It’s a strange, strangled sound and Bella backs away until her back hits the windowsill. “I’m an idiot,” he mutters. The elf pops back in with the vodka and shot glasses, then disappears. Antonin ignores the bottle. He is too preoccupied with his own mournful thoughts. “Merlin, how could I be so stupid? You didn’t tell me about the engagement because you were afraid that I would not listen to a single word if I knew the truth.” He turns and glares at her. “Is that right?”
“Yes,” she admits softly.
“Fantastic. You and Riddle plot to get me into the Organization. How long, Bella? Has it been a lie all along?”
“No!” She screams it and runs across the room, grabbing his arms before he can push her away or get to his wand which he’d left on the bedside table. “No! It’s never been a lie! Listen to me, please! My parents were forcing me to marry Rodolphus after Andromeda eloped. Lucius and the others had run out of options. I was desperate so I went to Riddle. He told me that he would help you if I promised to bring you into the Organization and if I would accept my betrothal to Rodolphus. I don’t want to marry him, Tony! I don’t want to be with him, I never wanted this but my parents are making me and now I have sworn to our Lord that I will keep my word. I have no regrets for convincing you to join us because I know you believe in what we believe. But I could… I wish I hadn’t had to have…” Her voice breaks off and she lets out a sob. She brings his hands to her face and presses them to her lips. “Believe me.”
He looks at her, confused and hurt and uncertain where the truth ends and lies begin or if any of it is a lie or the truth in the first place. He can hardly believe that this is happening. A large part of Antonin still hopes that he will wake up the next morning and discover that this had been a dream and that Bella is sleeping peacefully beside him and she is his and no one else’s. “Bella,” Antonin forces himself to say finally. “Break the engagement. I will talk to the Lord. Who cares about Rodolphus and what society thinks? We’re both Purebloods, we can marry if we wish without marring our wizarding purity.”
Bella lowers his hands but down not let go. She shakes her head slowly, not daring to look up at him. “The ritual is done. All that’s left is the announcement but the ritual has been completed. We are to be married next month.”
“Forget the ritual!” he shouts in frustration, then lowers his voice to a more suitable tone. “Let’s just get married. Lets forget about all of this and run away…Somewhere, I don’t know where. I don’t care. I want to be with you.”
“Oh yes, Tony, that would really work. An elopement.” She laughs bitterly, finally looking up into his face. “I cannot abandon my family, Antonin. I am not Andromeda.” The name still burns. “Besides, we serve the Lord now. He does not take resignation letters, Tony. Think of your mother.”
He understands her correctly and shudders. Antonin wrenches his hands out of her grasp and pushes her away. “So there is nothing we can do?” he asks flatly, opening the bottle. It’s more of a statement than a question.
“Nothing without sacrificing everyone we love, everything we stand for and possibly our lives.”
For a very long time, Antonin does not answer her. He throws back a shot then another. After what feels like forever, he turns toward her, his expression completely blank. Antonin walks to her and cups her face in his hands. He stares into her eyes, searching for something there. Perhaps the truth. Among the shattered pieces of his heart a raw feeling of betrayal still lingers like an aftertaste.
Bella looks up at him, dropping her head back so she is looking directly up into his eyes. “I love you, Antonin.”
He closes his eyes and shoves her away from him. Antonin turns away from her with a finality in his movements that allow for no arguments. “Go, Bellatrix.”
She summons the missing articles of her clothing into her arms and apparates away, knowing that she will never be allowed to return.
“You knew, didn’t you? You knew she was engaged and you didn’t bother to tell me a damned thing!” Antonin is too furious to abide by etiquette. He arrives at Malfoy Manor fairly sober but absolutely furious. Kicking the elf who had come to greet him aside, he runs into Lucius’ sitting room, shouting accusations without even first looking if anyone is there to hear him.
Lucius is, in fact, there, as is Augustus. They both jump to their feet as Antonin burst in and exchange looks. “Good thing Parkinson has already left,” Lucius drawls out to Augustus. “Tony, sit down and stop trying to imitate a bull.”
Antonin stalks closer to Lucius. Malfoy stubbornly meets his eyes. “You knew that Bellatrix was engaged to Rodolphus. You must have known.”
“Bellatrix is engaged to Rodolphus?” Augustus asks, eyes widening. “Why? When?”
“It’s a long story,” Lucius says, in the same infuriatingly calm voice. “She didn’t have much of a choice,” he adds pointedly. “And yes, I knew of the engagement. I was Roddy’s witness at the ceremony.”
Antonin stops dead in his tracks. Obviously, he had not expected Lucius to admit to the fact so easily, “So. You knew and you said nothing to me? Despite our friendship?”
Lucius sighs theatrically and sits back in his favorite armchair. “Tony, will you sit down already? I hope you didn’t damage my elf too much on your way in, by the way. We could hear him squalling from here. I don’t exactly want to spend the money on replacing servants at the moment.”
Lucius’ even tone throws Antonin off kilter so much that he even allows Augustus to push him down onto the sofa. For a moment, the three sit in silence. “Do you want to explain to me, Lucius?” Antonin asks finally.
Lucius makes an indulgent gesture and smirks slightly. “What would you like me to explain, Tony? That I had orders from the Lord to not say a thing? That Rodolphus is also a friend and I do not particularly want him dead? That I knew you would be better off with us than somewhere under a rock, licking your wounds and drowning your sorrows in vodka without a direction of allegiance to keep you together? I think these are all fairly obvious.”
Antonin sucks in a breath. He gets up and begins to pace. “Damned Rodolphus. You know, it is so like him to use someone’s weakness to his own advantage. He would never let Bella go even if he knows that this is making her unhappy.” Antonin makes a fist and slams it hard into the palm of his other hand with pure frustration. Suddenly, he stops and turns sharply to face his friends. “I’m going to challenge him.”
“What!” Augustus jumps to his feet.
Lucius’ eyebrows go up. “You’re going to challenge Rodolphus to a duel?”
“Yes, yes I am. Because, unlike him, I have some honor and I will not let this go!”
“You must be mad, you’ll kill him. Rodolphus was never a good dueler.”
“Does that upset you, Malfoy?” Antonin sneers.
Lucius makes a dismissive gesture. “Dolohov, you’re an idiot when you stop thinking. And every time something concerns Bellatrix – you stop thinking.”
Antonin looks confused so Augustus explains. “Tony, the Lord will not tolerate this. There cannot be any disagreements in our ranks. We cannot seriously duel each other.”
“He wants us to forgo our honor? And after that we are expected to follow him into battle?” Antonin’s voice rises in disbelief.
“Antonin, the Lord wishes for this marriage, you have chosen to serve him,” Lucius says forcefully. He doesn’t make the effort to stand, but he leans forward, trying to find Antonin’s eyes and hold them. He needs his friend to understand.
“There is nothing you can do, Tony,” Augustus says, voicing what Lucius has not yet said. “The situation is against you. Bella has made her choice.”
“I can’t just give up! I can’t just let this insult go. You both are mad.” Antonin looks around at his friends, searching for some understanding, but they merely shake their heads.
“Sometimes the most honorable thing you can do is to do nothing,” Lucius says finally, leaning back into his armchair. “Why cause a scandal for Bella? Why mar her reputation and risk your position in the Lord’s favor?”
Antonin seems to think this over. Finally, he collapses onto the sofa and stares into the fire for several minutes, lost in his own thoughts. Finally, he looks up to meet Augustus’ eyes. “So what do I do?”
Rookwood takes a step forward and slowly comes to kneel before Antonin. He takes Antonin’s hands in his and looks at him earnestly. “You pull yourself together and move on, my friend.”
“Move on where?”
For a month, Antonin studies intensively, like he had rarely studied before at Hogwarts. Riddle’s resources provide him with the books and documents he had lacked before. He plans and makes up strategies and methodologies. For another month, he watches Brutus Greengrass train rows of boys in their teens how to fly formation, how to properly hold a wand for complicated combinations, how to perform offensive spells, how to run cover for each other, and other things they will need in battle.
On the third month, he stands between Andre Rosier and Augustus Rookwood on a balcony overlooking a new training polygon which is mean to be home to the Young Guard. This is meant to be the upcoming generation of elite fighters, all of whom would be Pureblood with exceptions possibly made for a rare, properly minded and highly talented halfblood. Lucius says he has an upcoming boy who fits the bill. But he is still only thirteen now and the Academy accepts boys after fourteen.
Antonin looks over the profiles of all five of his new trainees. He’s been promised at least three more by summertime. Tallis twins, Rabastan Lestrange – thank Merlin he is nothing like his brother – Ashley Mulciber – Theodore’s little brother – and Angelus Wilkes. They line up in a single row, holding their wands at salute position as they wait for Antonin to begin the session.
“They’re all fourteen. Only the Tallis’ have turned fifteen,” Antonin says quietly, looking over at his two friends.
“The sooner they start structured training the better,” Andre says with a shrug.
Antonin nods. “Of course.” He is a little nervous. The boys are young and he doesn’t feel himself experienced enough. But perhaps… “Good morning, gentlemen,” Antonin says evenly as he walks from the balcony down to the training floor.
“Good morning, sir!” they chorus enthusiastically.
“I am pleased to see you have decided to spend your spring holidays wish us.” Antonin paces up and down the row, looking over the childishly serious faces of the boys before him. Slowly, the fear drains away and a calmness settles over him. A determination. “Wands at the ready. Take offensive stances…”
“Do you think he’ll manage?” Andre asks, as he and Rookwood watch from the balcony as Antonin begins his first training session with the Young Guard.
Augustus thinks it over for a moment, then replies somberly, “I think so. If he makes these boys his own they will become his new purpose in life. Perhaps that’s a good thing. I think Tony needs that now, after everything that happened with Bellatrix.”
Andre nods with understanding. He puts a hand on Rookwood’s shoulder and nods at the door. They walk out together, their departure unnoticed.
Below, on the polygon floor, Antonin is busy demonstrating the Dementia curse.
Antonin feels himself to be some kind of god of disaster as he watches the scene before him. The burning and twisted remains of buildings, the mutilated bodies of witches and wizards, the bright red stains of blood on the ground, all symbolize the battle that has taken places here.
This is the first large raid Antonin was put in charge of. Now that it is over, he is allowed to take in the full scale of the destruction his offensive has caused. They had won this battle, and now Antonin’s people are busy securing the perimeter and burning bodies of dead enemies. The reek of blood and burned flesh, of healing and sedating potions, of smoke and dirt, is thick in the air. Their own medical team that had been summoned works to relocated the wounded and bring home bodies of the dead. Antonin notices some familiar faces among the dead boys and tries to not allow the memories of those people to crowd his mind. His job isn’t done yet. Hisboys are all safe, that is all he needs to know. Wilkes has a bad burn, but that will heal in a day or two. Antonin closes his eyes so he does not have to watch two mediwizards walk by, levitating behind them a stretcher with a blonde haired boy, hardly sixteen, whose limbs have been badly mutilated and his chest covered with boils.
A presence beside him makes Antonin look up. Bellatrix comes to stand alongside him, dropping the hood of her black robe. They stand in silence, watching the scene unfold before them. Antonin is starting to learn that the battle is only half the job. Cleaning up after is often many times harder.
“This is hell,” he says quietly to Bella, feeling his conscious drown in the flaming red tongues of the fires that burn the bodies of the dead.
Bellatrix wants to tell him that this is the price they must pay; this is horribly beautiful because it is the start, the building, of the future for their world, but she cannot find the right words, so she merely lets them slip out as they will. “This is our future.”
Antonin looks over at her, watches her entranced expression, lit up with the yellow-orange light of the fires. He opens his mouth as though to say something but understands there is nothing he can say. He has lost her. And now, he thinks, he has lost her in more ways than one.
Antonin turns away from her and continues to watch his self-created Armageddon in silence.