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Before the Storm (Prologue and Part 1.1) - alley_skywalker [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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Before the Storm (Prologue and Part 1.1) [Sep. 26th, 2012|08:54 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: 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: Special thanks to slumber for all of her support and firefly1344 for the wonderful art which you can view here.
Because this fic is so long, it'll go up in 4 posts.




-----PROLOGUE-----

Consider the world in the pause before a thunderstorm. The air goes still as clouds slowly creep across the sky, throwing shadows along treetops and across the grass. The sun still shines, teasingly bright, on one edge of the blue expanse even as the other half is swallowed up by ominous grey. The crickets sing their symphony, alone in the stillness and silence as the air thickens and the heat condenses. Somewhere in the distance, breaking through the anticipation, rolls and rumbles a wave of thunder, broiling and brawling like a hungry giant. It crawls closer as more and more of the silky blue sky is conquered by the grey mass of cloud and the electric tension of the world continues to thicken. The colors brighten, glowing neon, hypersaturated in the last rays of a surrendering sun, then darken and smoothen out as the sun disappears. In moments, the wind will begin to blow, rushing powerful gusts rustling through the foliage and sapping twigs. The lightening will flash purple across the ash-covered sky and just before the tidal wave of thunder crashes down, the rain will fall. But that is still a few moments away. In the minutes before a thunderstorm, the world is bright and clear, electrified and sharp, beautiful in its awed suspense. Waiting.



-----PART I-----

Three ladies hats sit daintily on a hat wrack, soaking in bright sunlight that streams through a gap in the light, white curtains of the large windows overlooking a garden in full bloom. The hats – one powder blue, one foliage green and one forget-me-not violate – watch their mistresses twirl in front of the full length mirrors and help each other with the lacing, clasps and skirts of their dresses.

The powder blue hat belongs to the youngest girl, Narcissa. At seventeen she is only a year out in society but already with a prospective beau. Narcissa resembles a doll. An angelic porcelain doll, much like the ones she collects. Her hair falls over her shoulders and coils on her neck in soft, blonde ringlets that glitter gold in the sun. She has large blue eyes and full pink lips, lips that spend most of their time in a childishly sweet smile of elusive rapture. She is petite and slim, a perfect little statuette that floats with graceful steps across the room in a pretend waltz, skipping between her two sisters, flaring out the skirts of her sky-blue dress.

The violet hat belongs to the middle sister, Andromeda. Andromeda just out of Hogwarts, is perhaps the most serious and reserved out of the three sisters. She is more like her older sister than Narcissa, with dark brown, almost black, hair that she twists up in an elegant braid that rings around the back of her head and out of her face and dark, seemingly bottomless eyes. She stands patiently fixing the ribbon on her corset that has come undone, re-tying the knot and bow with long, nimble fingers. Her eyes are locked squarely with her twin in the mirror, as though challenging the girl reflected there to tell her something, but the reflection merely stares back.

The third, green, hat belongs to the eldest sister, Bellatrix. Bella, perhaps the most desired bride of wizarding Britain, is in a lot of ways the opposite of Narcissa. Although both girls are beautiful and seem to glow from within, they are vastly different. Where Narcissa is light and angelic, Bella is dark and fiery. Her dark ringlets and bright features seem to suck in the surrounding light and saturate her with it. Where Narcissa glows and glitters like a sun bunny, Bella seems to burn like a flame, a flame that burns brighter and hotter with every breath of life she takes. As Andromeda finishes tying her bow and continues to seriously examine herself in the mirror, Bellatrix turns to Narcissa and grabs her hands. The two girls twirl across the room, giggling with excitement.

Narcissa lets go of her sister and picks up her hat. She puts it on her head and turns back to Bella. “So? Do you think he will like it?”

Bella laughs. “I think he likes everything about you.”

“Meddy?”

Andromeda breaks her staring match with the mirror and glances over her shoulder at Narcissa. “Cissy, you’re lovely.”

Narcissa and Bella exchange knowing looks. Andromeda doesn’t like visiting days much. She has been promised, and every fiber of her being seems to revolt against the idea. Her sisters both begin to answer, Narcissa to offer encouragement, Bella to put things sharply in perspective, but they are interrupted by a house elf.

“Mistresses,” the creature squeals in his high-pitch soprano. “The Messieurs Malfoy, Lestrange and Dolohov are here.”

Andromeda purses her lips and walks across the chamber to take both her sisters’ hands. “It’s time.”

*

Druella holds visiting days on Tuesdays and Saturdays, much like her mother once had. Lately, these dates have become of extreme interest to her. Her daughters, the three blooming flowers of the Black Family, are now all of marriageable age and Druella keeps an eye out for possible suitors with the watchful vigilance of a spider that weaves its web and waits for a foolish fly or two to get caught up in its intricate design.

Today she is expecting all three young suitors and her best china has been set out for tea. She is in the drawing room at ten till the hour, sitting primly on the embroidered sofa, stiff and focused, attempting to envision in her mind how the afternoon will run its course. Most likely, they will walk in the garden first, given the good weather, splitting off into pairs. She can imagine Andromeda and Rodolphus not bothering to go further than the benches and sitting down to chess or some other activity. Druella can imagine Narcissa with her flighty, girlish smile, flitting between the flowerbeds, luring Lucius further and further from the house like a nymph lures a lad into the depths of the enchanted forest. What Bellatrix and Antonin would do, Druella has a hard time imagining, but she doesn’t think she would want to. It isn’t that there is anything very wrong with Dolohov – he is Pureblood, well mannered, handsome, talented and perspective, after all. The fact that he is not an Englishman would not count against him were he wealthy, but the Dolohovs had always been a family of modest means by Pureblood standards and had lost their landed estates in the immigration. Yet, Bellatrix is set on marrying him, him or no one at all and Druella, knowing her oldest daughter’s fiery temper, has tactfully retreated. Better a respectable marriage to Dolohov than a disgrace.

Next, it will be time for tea and they would all sit in the drawing room and make polite conversation, Cygnus will talk to the young men of politics and affairs. Druella can already predict the bored look on Narcissa face, the strange expression of being choked that Andromeda seems to get every time the issues of the day come up, and the warning looks she will have to shoot at Bella, like an archer at an apple, for the girl’s inappropriate involvement in something that is clearly a men’s topic. Once she has had enough and taken pity on Narcissa, Druella will ask the girls to sing. Andromeda will play the piano, running her long fingers lightly over the heavy oak lid, opening it slowly and trying out a couple of chords before plunging into a romance, and Bella and Cissy will sing duet as they have always done since they began their singing lessons in the golden days of their childhood.

Lastly, there will be kind words and polite excuses before the men depart. Druella has gone through this routine before and she cannot foresee any problem. Unless Rodolphus forgets himself and shows favor to Bella too openly. Or Antonin, the audacious boy that he is, stays too long, talking to Bellatrix, making the girl blush and laugh, allowing her to slap his arm playfully with her fan. Or Andromeda decides to introduce one of her “progressive thinking” ideas into the conversation. Perhaps the last is the most troubling, but Druella tries to hope for a smooth afternoon. The large grandfather clock in the corner strikes one in the afternoon. “Cooooo,” draws out the little clock bird, then disappears again inside its wooden prison.

Cygnus appears in the doorway, twirling one of his long, bushy whiskers. “Is it time, dear?”

“Any minute now,” Druella says quietly, unfolding her fan and flourishing it for effect. “I’d see one of our flowers in white, walking down the isle this time next year.”

Cygnus laughs the hardy laugh of an old, good-natured fool. “Of course dear, of course. I’ve just talked to the Lestranges the other day. They are quite satisfied with the match. They want their heir married.”

Druella sighs and waves tiredly at her husband. “Your daughter is impossible sometimes. I just hope she sees sense.”

“Meddy is as much my daughter as yours, Dee,” Cygnus chortles. Clearly, he is not worried one bit. “They’re fine ladies,” he continues more seriously. “Andromeda is a very smart girl. In fact, I am least worried about her out of the three. Cissy is too pliant and Bella too fiery, carried away too easily on the tidal wave of her own passion. But Meddy? Meddy will do what is best.”

Druella purses her lips and doesn’t answer. She hopes he is right.

*

Antonin hates the small talk part of calling most of all. If he had to only deal with Cygnus, that would have been half the problem, but Druella never fails to play the part of the good hostess, going on and on about silly, empty things. All Antonin can do is nod, smile and pretend to listen. He often finds himself studying Druella’s face unceremoniously in search of Rosier traits. She has Rosier eyes and the soft curve of the Rosier mouth and chin, the delicate bone structure. All of these traits Druella has transferred smoothly to Narcissa.

Actually, Druella can be quite frightening. Antonin’s own mother was always soft spoken. He has tender childhood memories of Maria Dolohov in a salad-green dress and white apron, standing in the doorway to the kitchen, with a smile on her face and an apple pie in her warm hands. She took his little sister out on walks in the neighborhood park and always gave treats to the incoming owls. Before his father disappeared, Antonin would often find his parents dancing in the sitting room, or even on the terrace on warm summer nights, to tunes they hummed in unison. He honestly can not imagine Druella Black doing any of these things. She is the sort of woman who should be feared most of all – an aging, wealthy socialite with too many daughters to marry and no sons to give her peace of mind. Antonin often compares her to an owl out on a hunt, swooping silently over fields until the prey is located, and then a dizzying dive downwards. The poor field mouse never stood a chance. Therefore, the rustle of skirts in the hall and Cygnus’ pleasant, “Ah, my daughters, gentlemen,” are a relief.

Antonin looks up toward the door and feels a fluttering in the bottom of his stomach that is silly and unnecessary. He never felt this way at school. At Hogwarts the rules were much less stringent. He and Bella could run across the grounds chasing each other, her hair flying behind her in the playful breeze. There, they could roll in the grass or fly on one broom without a thought, floating high in the darkening sky, watching the twilight fade. At Hogwarts, Bella’s knee length skirt and light blouse, her House scarf and uniform robes, were so simple and undemanding, that Antonin could pretend that there is no dance that must be done around her and her family, that there are no rules binding them. Sometimes he wondered if, perhaps, he could simply sweep her up in his embrace one evening, after a victorious Quidditch match, and carry her off to the stars.

But this is their reality. Here in Druella Black’s drawing room, under her old hag’s watchful eye and Cygnus Black’s nose. Etiquette and formality first, everything else last. As the three sisters enter, Antonin has a vague association with watching a parade of expensive enchanted dolls, the lewder variety of which are sold in Knockturn Alley under the slogan “For a Witch-less Wizard’s Needs…” Despite the difference in the color of their hair, eyes, dresses, the Black sisters seem to all be molded in the same standardized way in which antiflu potions are made for medishops. The dresses are similar in style as are the hats that bob attractively and enticingly on their heads. Their expressions are the same – carefully pleasant. Their steps seem to almost be choreographed – float to the middle of the room, curtsey to their father, take three more steps, curtsey again to the guests. Bella had once told him that Druella calls her and her sisters “my flowers.” Antonin can honestly say that Druella has the right to be proud of her garden, then, for it blooms and behaves perfectly, not a weed in sight.

Bella meets his eyes and offers a small quirk of a smile, her eyes promising Merlin only knows what. A hot spark flies between them, burning them both so that Antonin can hardly stand in one place. He feels Rodolphus’ eyes on him and keeps still. Poor Roddy. Antonin was never Lestrange’s best friend but they were classmates and Antonin always feels a little guilty, a little uncomfortable, when he, Roddy and Bella are in the same room together outside of Hogwarts. It is a secret to no one that Rodolphus wants to marry Bellatrix and not Andromeda.

Poor Andromeda, for that matter. She doesn’t even get a choice.

“Mr. Dolohov, it’s such a pleasant surprise,” Bella draws out liltingly, tipping her head to the side so that it’s a wonder her hat doesn’t fall off. His appearance here is certainly not a surprise but Bella uses it as an excuse to offer him her hand.

“A walk in the garden, perhaps?” Narcissa asks in her ringing, girlish voice, looking rapturously at Lucius who suddenly gets the most unusual glint in his eyes, like he’s back in second year and about to play his first prank on a professor.

Andromeda and Rodolphus merely stand before one another for a long time without even acknowledging each other. Rodolphus has his eyes fixed on Bella, on her lips and the low, generous cut of her gown. Andromeda is looking down, not wanting to see the man who is to be her intended, if thing’s work out Druella’s way, devouring her sister with lustful eyes. Finally, Rodolphus takes Andromeda’s hand and kisses it, then gestures to the garden.

“Are you sure it is wise, Dee?” Cygnus asks quietly as the three couples make their way outside. “Rodolphus loves our Bella and Meddy obviously cares nothing for the boy either.”

Druella sighs and gives her husband a good smack with her fan. “Cygnus, marriage and love do not have to go hand in hand. A tie with the Lestranges is very advantages. I would have Bella marry the boy, but she’s…” Druella pauses, searching for the right word. Finally, floundering, she admits, “Bella is very hard to control, you know that. Besides, how am I supposed to argue with her on the matter? Simply because Dolohov is not quite her social equal doesn’t outweigh the fact that he is both eligible, strictly speaking, and her chosen match. I don’t exactly want to make my daughters unhappy.” There is another reason that Druella is not quite honest about. She wants Andromeda married – quickly. The girl is too quiet, too separatist in thinking, too unlike her sisters. She has begun to keep secrets, Druella knows, and she fears what the nature of these secrets might be. Society still talks of Lola Greengrass in whispers, though it has been many, many years since her elopement.

*

Bella’s dress is the color of thick foliage. This is convenient, because between her green dress and Antonin’s dark robes they can easily melt in the depths of the garden, unobserved and undisturbed. Here the carefully pruned rose beds give way to large exotic lilies and poppies and the neat lawns with their intertwining white and peach stone paths that wind and intersect like ribbons on a silken petticoat are replaced by shady trees and thick groves of berry-bearing bushes. In the isolated corners of the garden, the sunlight seeps through lush foliage and large, bright leaves, bending and twisting into sun bunnies and blotches of light that fall onto Bella’s face and Antonin’s hair, bringing out the copper strands in the thick chestnut mass. The warm summer day welcomes in colorful, vibrant butterflies of all colors and the songs of shrill, trilling birds.

In the quiet, they are finally alone.

Antonin stops, watching an ant scurry between the cover of a bush and a mound of dirt, lost in a moment, feeling her presence with his back. She watches him carefully, dark eyes catching every tensing of his shoulders, every small movement of his hands.

“Touch me,” she says suddenly, almost breathlessly.

Antonin jumps, startled by such a brash request. He turns and looks at her, clasping both hands behind his back to not lunge at her in the most unseemly manner. “Ms. Bella—“

“Merlin! Don’t call me that. Not when we’re alone.” Bella takes off her hat and tosses it aside. It lands neatly atop a lily, scaring the resident butterfly into a soaring flight. “A month, Tony,” she breathes, her eyes bright. “Where have you been, damn you? When Lucius disappears for a month, even Narcissa doesn’t think to worry. Everything about those two just screams propriety. But us—“

Antonin cuts her off, finally losing his self control and pulling her into him, his lips descending on hers with all the force of a tidal wave, sucking her in with his heat. Bella’s eyes fall closed, long thick lashes fluttering as her hands find his strong wide shoulders and she digs her fingernails into the soft fabric of his robes. He cradles the back of her head with one hand, the other woven securely around her waist. The hand at the back of her neck finds her curls and tugs at them gently. Antonin wishes her hair was down now as she often wore it at Hogwarts so he could run his hands through its inky depths, burry his face in the ebony coils that smell of expensive French perfume and never surface again.

“Bella,” he mutters against her mouth, nipping gently at her lower lip and smiling at the way her body lurches forward, her breasts pressing against his lower chest. “I’m sorry. I should have at least written. I was busy; there has been so much work. You mentioned Lucius—“

“Oh, not now!” she cries, still clinging to him. “We can talk politics later, with my father.”

“But you must know, Bella.” He suddenly seems very serious, tilting her head up so that she must look at him. Bella wants to not listen, to simply drown in the misty grey of his eyes, lose herself behind his veil. “The elections this fall, the campaign, everything seems to be coming to a standstill. I think Lucius is in a hurry to marry your sister and I think that is because he knows something is brewing. Something is brewing, Bella, can’t you feel it?”

She can, sometimes. In the evening, just after the sun has set and the cold has begun to seep into the air. Sometimes she will sit in the garden or stand on the balcony and watch the sun disappear, and in that moment of change from daylight to dusk, the feeling of inevitability, of something beyond her comes to her, grips her around the shoulder, constricts her throat so that she can’t breathe. She hates that feeling, that sudden unsettled peace of her idyllic, youthful world. “Tony,” she pleads helplessly, the fire in her eyes melting. “Why is everything spoken in whispers now? Why is Lucius jumpy?”

“I’m not part of their party or, rather, Organization, as Augustus and Lucius call it. Riddle’s party, you know? They say the right things and want the right things but how will they get them?” Antonin has a vague idea, in fact. It is the things he hears from his closest friends that put him in the loop and simultaneously keep him on the defensive. They don’t tell him everything because he’s not in the Organization, not part of this Inner Circle that they have formed around Riddle. Antonin feels a strange duality in his behavior, in his desires. On one hand, he feels like Riddle has the right idea – muggleborns pollute wizarding society with the muggle customs they bring into the pure world of magic, the power of Old Magic is being reduced because of the invasion of muggles and muggleborns and dilution of the bloodlines, the definition the of Dark Arts needs to be re-evaluated so that powerful magic, now restricted, can be used for the good of science and society, academic research should not be subject to such tight censure, the Aurors department – as well as certain other departments – should be restructured and purged of their inherent corruption and so on and so forth. The only division in the ranks, and one that Antonin considers significant, seems to be the way the party wants to handle the outside muggle world. Some are for the “liberation of magic,” which includes the repeal of the Statutes and consequent, necessary, subjugation of muggles. Which also would mean massive warfare. The other half of the party wishes for complete isolation. Antonin, personally, sees this as a more achievable platform, practically and politically. After all, it is much more reasonably to stop accepting muggleborns into their world than to wage war against a population that outnumbers them significantly, even if they are only muggles. Riddle’s answer seems to be a sort of middle way – focus on the latter platform as a starting point, a way to reorganize everything in their world first, and then think about the outside muggle population later. But either way, the movement is radical, separatist even, and brave, from what Antonin has seen, and will likely meet with harsh opposition everywhere. He wonders, sometimes, though, if his forebodings of war are merely a paranoia developed from being not quite on the inside but just deep enough to catch snippets of ideas and plans, ripped carelessly out of context. This is why he poses the question to Bella, in a sneaky rhetorical form, yes, but he is certain she will answer it.

Bella locks her hands behind his neck and considers the question carefully. Her mind is slowly returning to its normal sharpness after the retreat into mush while they said, what she considers to be, a proper hello after almost a month of separation. “I don’t know. I’ve heard whispers of war. But do you think that’s possible?” Her eyes flicker to his face and them away. “Do you think Riddle will risk civil war? You know, my father has been thinking of holding a ball and inviting him as a guest of honor of sorts.”

“That’s why I’m not in the Organization. I’m…I don’t wish to go to war. With all of my support for their Cause, I simply don’t want to get caught up in something where I will be in over my head. The ideology I agree with, but I’m not about to risk my family or throw away my life. Our life.”

“Our life?” Bella tightens her grip on him a little, her whole body tensing as her heartbeat speeds up. In the distance, she can make out Cissy’s joyous laughter and the splashing of a fountain. Bella can almost see the glittering droplets of water, how they fall around Narcissa, painting her into the perfect summer picture, and she can also imagine the adoring smile that lingers on Lucius’ face for long minutes after the precious moment passes.

Antonin suddenly looks very uncomfortable. “Yes,” he says finally after a long, heated, pregnant pause. He speaks firmly, as though having made an important decision. “Our life.”

Bella laughs. She laughs with joy and amusement. She laughs because in the golden rays of the sun, tinted the slightest shade of green by the leaves, her world suddenly becomes crystal clear, painted in bright, vivid colors. Within those colors, that change and flow and meld with one another, she can, faintly, make out the outlines of her wedding day.

*~*

The rain drizzles lightly over downtown London, dripping down in a light sprinkling of drops, like confetti trickling from a hole in a just barely ruptured piñata. The water trickles down windows and over cobblestone in the alleyways and pavement on the muggle streets, blurring softly lit windows and obscuring the sharper edges of objects, making everything seem fuzzy. A young woman in a dark dress and a thin, lacy, purple veil that obstructs her face, stops at the entry to a bleak apartment building with peeling pain and graphite decorating the alley-side wall, beside the large trash bins. She looks around nervously, as though expecting to be watched or followed, then disappears in the dark depths of the lobby. She climbs the stairs after throwing a cautious, suspicious look at the elevators and stops on the landing of the fifth floor, rings the bell and waits.

“Coming, coming!” a young man’s voice calls from the inside a moment before the door flies open and a slightly disheveled Ted Tonks appears in the doorway.

The young woman lifts her veil and smiles weekly, tucking a lose strand of hair behind her ear. “Hi, Ted.”

“Meddy… Come in, quickly. Before the food burns.” He ushers her in and closes the door behind her. “Take off your shoes, that damned veil – scared me with it – and, ah, do you need a blow dryer or something?”

Andromeda laughs with unconcealed amusement, kicking off her shoes and taking off the veil. “No, I’ll manage,” she says softly, taking out her wand and sweeping it down her body once, then again. Her dress lightens in color as it dries. “Those waterproof charms are no good when I do them. But I forgot my umbrella.”

Ten nods. “I still forget sometimes,” he says, flushing with embarrassment. He waves for her to follow him and walks into the kitchen.

“You really should put some of those housekeeping charms to use. Perhaps get a place in a wizarding area of town?” Andromeda follows Ted into the kitchen. He has all sorts of muggle things in his apartment, from electric lighting to a television, the concept of which still baffles and delights Andromeda. They really need something like that in the wizarding world. Another thing she likes about Ted’s apartment is how it always smells of food, of honey muffins and strawberry pancakes, mushroom pies and spiced meatballs. Ted likes to cook and he especially likes to cook for her, but today she has come on a whim.

“Maybe I will,” Ted answers thoughtfully, flipping something over on a frying pan. “My mum isn’t big on the whole wizarding thing, though. Didn’t want to send me to Hogwarts to begin with, thought it was all a bunch of hogwash. But she wants to move to America… Maybe once she’s done that, I will.”

Andromeda sits at the small kitchen table and stares a bit dazedly at the yellow lamp hung in the corner and the empty, crystal vase on the windowsill. She wants to put some colorful flowers in it, like the ones on the wallpaper. “I’m not intruding, am I?” she thinks to ask after a few minutes of silence.

“You’re never intruding, Meddy.” Ted closes the lid on the frying pan and begins to make tea for them.

“My mother had one of her visiting days today,” she says softly, not looking up at him. She can feel Ted tense practically from across the kitchen. “Rodolphus was there,” she continues in the same flat tone. “My sisters will be married soon.”

“And you?”

Andromeda looks up. Ted has pressed himself into a corner between the counter and the wall. He is glaring fiercely at the teapot that gurgles and bubbles happily in response. “Ted. You know my situation.”

He gives a disdainful snort. “Yes, I know your situation, Meddy. You made it very clear to me when we were at Hogwarts, that I was never to mention your visits, that everything between us was to remain in complete secrecy. As though we could really live our lives like that, always hiding and lying, always afraid. What good is it really?” He shrugs, still giving more attention to the teapot than to her. It comes to a boil and whistles mournfully, as though to echo Ted’s listless expression. “I suppose your sisters will marry who they are told. “

“My sisters will marry who they love.”

“And you?”

“I will marry who I am told.”

Finally, Ted looks up. His expression is dangerously blank. Behind him the teapot is threatening to explode with exertion. “Then why the hell are you here?”

Andromeda slams her hand hard against the tabletop. The cups on it jingle and clatter in protest. “Why do you think I am here, Ted?” she chokes out, dark eyes flashing with pain and anger. How dare he doubt her when she risks so much every time she comes to see him?

He doesn’t answer, instead turns and rescues the poor teapot. “You want black tea?”

Andromeda looks down, blinking away traitorous tears. She begins to play with her silver bracelet, watching her distorted reflection in the polished buckles. “Yes, please.”

Ted pours their tea and brings it over in two large mugs, so unlike her mother’s dainty cups that are pretty but hardly practical. Andromeda measures out a single teaspoon of sugar into her cup and begins to slowly steer it in, not looking up at Ted. “I love you, Meddy. I’m not trying to make your life hard. I’m just tired of coming home to an empty apartment, of seeing you only in secret, of feeling like a thief, like your dirty little secret.”

Andromeda keeps her eyes lowered. She doesn’t want to tell him that he <>is her dirty little secret and that he<> is a thief. After all, he did shamelessly steal her heart. She doesn’t want to goad Ted because she knows how it infuriates him, that feeling of inferiority from being a muggleborn. That is not something she can help, just like she can’t help her own pure blood. Just like she can’t help her feelings for him. She didn’t think she would ever find a man like Ted, someone soft spoken and yet with character, someone charming and decent, someone smart and funny, someone who understands her own tendencies. If there is something Ted doesn’t seem capable, or willing, of understanding, it is her traditions, her attachment to the society she grew up in. It’s hypocritical, she thinks. After all, he keeps a muggle television, so why can’t he understand her natural inclination to respect her place as a Pureblood daughter, now a half-baked Pureblood bride? “I love you too,” is all she can say, looking up to peer into his face with desperate honestly. “You and only you.”

“I’m sorry, Meddy,” Ted says with a heavy sight, rubbing a large hand over his forehead. “But you need to understand how I feel too. I was hoping…” he breaks off, as though afraid of the words themselves.

“Don’t say it,” Andromeda advises. “Why torture ourselves?”

“Because it’s reality.”

She laughs. It’s a cheerless sound. “Sometimes my life seems hardly real, Ted. I’m like some princess, caught in a tower. I have everything I need, it seems. Except for the freedom right outside my window and that hole, that gap in my existence burns.”

He reaches out and takes her hand, intertwining their fingers. “Let me be the one to save you.”

She smiles sadly, looking down at their hands and gives Ted’s a small squeeze. “If only life was a fairytale.”

*~*

Andromeda is burning incense on the windowsill when Bellatrix and Narcissa come running into their large, shared dressing room. Frankincense, myrrh, rosemary, cedar and juniper make the perfect Samhain incense. She readjusts the charcoal blocks that make the foundation for the black and orange candles and stands to greet her sisters.

Narcissa twirls around, already undoing the ribbons on her black corset. “I’m so glad the formal rituals are over with, now we can prepare for the masque!” She stops in front of a mirror and picks out a straw that had blown into her hair from the altar during the formal rituals.

“We must honor our ancestors, sister,” Andromeda admonishes softly, picking up Narcissa’s masque dress and laying it out in front of her sister.

“Says the girl who has a hard time with the family tree more than three generations back,” Bellatrix teases, easily unlacing her own black gown and allowing it to drop to the floor. Her masque dress is also black but of a much finer, silkier material and the cleavage is far more generous.

“Besides,” Narcissa adds, donning her pink dress – she is to be a flamingo – and starting to lace up the corset with nimble, long fingers. “What is the use of a holiday without a ball?”

“Better yet,” Bellatrix adds, smoothing down her skirt and reaching for the small cat ears head piece, “this is the one party where we will be allowed to run wild!” She laughs happily and spins across the room. “Andromeda, get dressed, we’ll be late.”

Andromeda nods and begins to dress. She is to be a ladybug. The amorphous black spots on her red gown shimmer as the fabric of the skirt folds and unfolds. When she is done, she helps Narcissa pin the pink flamingo feather into her hair.

“You and Lucius will made quite a couple,” Bella teases Narcissa, looking at herself in the full length mirror from one side then the other. “Two birds! I’m ready to bet anything he will be a peacock!”

“They do fit each other very nicely, don’t they?” Andromeda agrees. “You’re so lovely, Cissy.”

Narcissa giggles. “I would have died if I had to have stayed at Hogwarts for Samhain, it’s so terribly boring. What do you think Antonin will be, Bella?”

She shrugs. “Oh, I don’t know. I heard him saying something about a wolf? I think his patronus is a wolf.” She straps on her black mask which covers the upper half of her face watches as Narcissa and Andromeda do the same. Narcissa’s mask is pink with white glitter and Andromeda’s is satin-red with large black dots to match the ones on her dress. “Come ladies,” Bellatrix declares happily, holding her hands out to her sisters. “Let us go dancing and scrying!” The three girls hold hands as they apparate.

They land in a large field, strewn with colorful autumn leaves and peppered by bonfires around which girls dance with their chosen lads. Enchanted pumpkins and candles float through the air, circling the dancers overhead. On the edges of the festivities, older witches and wizards sell allspice berries, catnip, mountain ash berries, mugwort, mullein, rosemary, and other herbs. Divination professionals use cards and crystals, rune stones and special spells to try and predict the futures of young women and men. Most wish to know the name of their intended.

The three girls, still holding hands, approach the bonfires, smiling and laughing. They buy a cider each from the witches selling herbs and refreshments and watch the dancing. Suddenly, Narcissa lets out a joyous laugh and waves to someone in a group of young men.

Lucius’ peacock mask is stunning – gold, green and royal blue. “It suits him,” Bella comments. “He’s just like a peacock every day.”

Andromeda laughs and Narcissa giggles despite trying to look displeased. Another figure dethatches himself from the group – a grey wolf in silver robes with charcoal accents and a charming wolf mask – and follows Lucius toward the three sisters. Bellatrix’s smile grows.

The wolf and the peacock exchange glances, then run to the three girls and drag Bellartix and Narcissa away with them toward the nearest bonfire. Andromeda laughs, watching as her sisters giggle and squeal with glee. They join the circle around the bonfire and a new round of dancing begins.

Lucius has one arm around Narcissa’s waist from behind and holds her hand with his free one. Narcissa flares out the skirt of her pink-and-white gown with her free hand and allows the light fabric to fly on the breeze as they dance in a circle around the fire.

Antonin leads Bellatrix around and she tilts her head back until it is almost resting on his shoulder. "Shining bright against the sky, they never seem to fade or die. And as they glow throughout the night, round the world they go in flight!” they half-sing, half-shout with the rest of the group. On the last word, the men pick their partners up and twirl them around thrice. Narcissa clings to Lucius’ shoulders. Bella spreads out her arms as though they were wings and as though she might truly fly away in that very moment.

*

Andromeda watches the dancing, wondering if she should join the group as the pairs break up and everyone holds hands in a single circle around the fire.

“Might I tell your fortune dear?”

Andromeda jumps, startled by the gravely voice behind her. She turns to see an old witch with graying hair standing behind her. She is wearing the traditional black Samhain dress and holding a scrying mirror. Her black, beady eyes watch Andromeda carefully. “No, thank you,” Andromeda says, feeling a strange coldness wash over her. “I don’t believe in divination much. It is a very…slippery form of magic.”

“Ah yes,” the old woman hums. “But on Samhain the veil between the living and the Otherworld is thinnest. There hasn’t been a single Samhain prediction that has not come true.” ‘

For some reason, Andromeda finds that she cannot say no. “Alright,” she says and hears her own voice as though from a distance.

The woman calls two candles to her and has them hover behind Andromeda at eye level. She holds up the scrying mirror and whispers an incantation. “The mirror will show you...” she rasps out.

For a moment, nothing happens and Andromeda only sees her own reflection in the mirror. Then, the candles flicker and a cold breeze blows through her hair. She sees flashes of her two sisters dancing by the bonfire, though they are too far away to be reflected in the mirror. Then the mirror fogs. Andromeda’s lips part slightly as the sounds around her dim and blur. She can hear echoes of laughter all around her and the mist in the mirror seems to grow. She can see hazy outlines in the mirror that morph into resemblances of people she knows.

She is in Ted’s arms as he kisses her. Rodolphus and Bellatrix dancing. Bellatrix, wand drawn, screaming something. Screaming at her? Bright flashes of green and red. She is standing in a field of ash and fog—

The mirror goes black and Andromeda looks away, gasping for breath. When she looks back, there is, once again, nothing in the mirror except for her own reflection and the steady burn of the candles behind her. Andromeda looks over the top of the mirror at the old witch who is smiling thoughtfully and humming to herself. The old woman sends the candles on their floating way and apparates before Andromeda can get in a word.

“Meddy! Meddy, come dance with us!” Andromeda turns to see her sisters waving to her. She runs to them and grabs their hands. She looks between them and smiles, then loses herself in the swirling, wild Samhain dance around the bonfire.
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