The window was open. Even over the sound of the afternoon program playing on the wireless, she could hear the sharp sound outside, a crack of displaced air. It was altogether too familiar to startle her, though her heart still gave the customary little leap and her stomach wrenched in excitement. She jumped up from her seat and straightened the wrinkles from her skirt. Running her fingers through her hair to neaten the mess, she looked eagerly to the hall.
The heavy front door creaked open on its hinges loudly. “Alanna?” His voice floated uncertainly through the hallway and up the staircase. “Are you home, love?”
Was she home? He didn’t even need to ask it, yet he did every time. Had she ever not been home when he arrived? Some would call it a woman’s intuition to recognize exactly when her man would return to her, but secretly Alanna knew that with her it was no coincidence. The truth was that she rarely ever left the house in fear that she would not be home the moment he arrived.
“Alanna!” he called again.
Her instinct urged her to call back to him immediately, to reassure Rabastan of her presence, of her love. She imagined that he felt tired and lonely, and did not want him to come home to an empty house for the first time since she had moved in. It was now habitual, part of a routine, for her to greet him eagerly as he returned.
But even as she touched up her appearance in the mirror and fidgeted with trinkets around the room, she forced herself to repress that habitual instinct and keep quiet, only for the moment. Across the house, she could hear the sound of his footsteps.
This time Rabastan had been gone for nearly a fortnight, and despite the many owls that she had sent, imploring him to reply and tell her when he would be home, the birds had always come back empty-handed. Sometimes they had returned with singed feathers. He had never been gone this long, nor had he ever denied her correspondence. And most importantly, he had left her no definite hope of a day when he would return to her. She had almost despaired that this was the time when he would leave forever.
Now that he was back, Alanna felt herself justified to ignore him as well. It was a game she had imagined, a petty establishment of the weak malice that she was harboring inside of her. The small, cold knot of anger that had developed over the last two weeks singed her insides like the feathers of her rejected owls. It was a matter of principle, that he could not take her for granted—that he could not leave and then return as he wished, and expect her warm welcome.
The plan was such: let her keep quiet for but a moment and establish in him the fear that she had left him while he was wandering the world on duty. Let him miss her for but that moment as she had missed him for years. It was small retribution, but it was enough to content her.
She had been devising it—running the scene over in her mind’s eye—for day upon empty day. And there was only one way in which she was satisfied it would end.
“I’m here, dear,” she finally called when she could bear it no more. She grabbed a magazine and settled herself nonchalantly back on the couch. Despite her efforts to appear comfortable, nobody but she herself ever sat in the sitting room and the furniture felt quite stiff and unused. It was a pretense that felt awkward.
The malice hadn’t quite drained away; she wasn’t satisfied that she had made him suffer enough. She composed her features into a vaguely cold and distant expression as she gazed uninterestedly at the magazine, because today she wouldn’t have him see the customary flutter of her heart as she thought of his embrace.
It was a strange game, even to her. She felt with frustration that it seemed that perhaps the less Rabastan thought she loved him, the more he would love her.
“Alanna.” His form appeared in the doorway. Still she refused to look up. Undeterred by her indifference, slowly he made his way across the room to stop in front of her and slide his hand underneath her jaw.
The words on the magazine began to slide in and out of focus as the weak malice deteriorated in her mind. She could feel the swing of her psyche already beginning to cease, her anger losing momentum and her resolve slipping with every passing moment that she released control.
She stood, half unwilling, her legs trembling. She knew that it was too late to bring it back now. He held out his arms, and he didn’t even have to touch her again before she melted into his hold completely. The self-righteous anger was gone, whether she wanted it to be so or not. There was nothing she could do about it. Truthfully, she had never been in control of her mind and heart; try as she might, she could never maintain anger against Rabastan for long. She had only thought that after so many replays in her mind’s eye, today’s situation would be different. Tears of frustration began to flow from her eyes as she saw her satisfaction disappear.
Rabastan stroked her back, the large warmth of his hand running up and down her spine. “Don’t cry, love,” he whispered, and kissed the top of her head. “I’m home now.”
Alanna sniffed, internally furious with herself. She had vowed to make him pay, to no avail. It was almost as if he knew about the effect that his mere presence exerted on her. He had cracked her resolve today as easily as he always had, and now even her anger towards herself was beginning to slip away. It seemed insignificant in the face of the reunion of their fragmented souls.
“It was so long this time,” she said tearfully. “You didn’t even owl me with when you would be home.”
“It was a big project, love,” he said in the indifferent tone he adopted whenever he spoke of his work affairs with the anti-Ministry organization. He released her, and immediately a frigid cold began to envelop her body. She wrapped her own arms around herself to fight the cold, but the sensation of safety had gone.
“Come sit down next to me,” she whispered, tugging on his arm.
He smiled wanly. “I would, but I’m starving. I’m going to see what there is to eat in the kitchen to tide me over until supper.” He turned away, and she stood there, watching as he started towards the door. She watched until she could no longer bear it.
“Rabastan!” she cried out.
He spun around to face her, eyebrows raised, and watched as she shivered in silence. Then he turned around and left the room.
They were sitting down to supper together for the first time in two weeks. As the house elves hovered around their small corner of the long table, delivering dishes of food, Alanna tried to curb the anger that was still simmering inside of her, burning her throat. Rabastan was paying more attention to his meal than he was to her, despite their separation of the last fortnight. It was like he hadn’t eaten in days, the way he considered the food in front of him with such distracted fascination.
“Do they not feed you when you’re away at work?” she asked flippantly, a small snarl in her voice. “Shouldn’t you have a workers’ union for that sort of thing?”
Rabastan, who had until now been staring hollowly at his plate, suddenly raised his head to fix her with a steely glare. “You shouldn’t talk with such arrogance about things you don’t know,” he said. Alanna noticed for the first time that his voice seemed hoarse and raspy, like he had been shouting too much recently. His dark hair was covered with a thin film of powder that appeared to be dust. “I’m just tired, that’s all. My job is very strenuous, in case you were mistaken about it.”
“I—I never said—” Alanna protested, all of her anger draining away instantly. She hoped that he didn’t think she was intruding on his privacy. She had only meant that she wished Rabastan would talk to her—give her some indication that he still loved her, and that he was glad to be home.
She felt an uneasiness begin to rise in her at his distracted behavior, but she forced herself from falling into despair so soon. Perhaps she just needed to try a different approach.
Rabastan had returned to his dinner again. Alanna ran a hand through her hair to make sure it was in order and then donned a sweet smile. She laid a gentle hand on his arm, and he looked up, neither interested nor impatient. In fact, his eyes were dazed and took a moment to clear, like Alanna had pulled him out of a dream.
“An owl from the Zabinis came for you the day before yesterday,” she said kindly, in the way she imagined a well-bred and caring wife—the type of wife Rabastan did covet—would.
He frowned slightly. “Did you open it?” he asked, his eyes flickering with something akin to alarm.
She blinked, trying to discern it. “No,” she said slowly. Her smile did not waver, but a small wrinkle of consternation appeared between her eyebrows as she watched the last of the mist clear from his eyes. “I never open your mail. You should know that, dear.”
Rabastan grinned somewhat crookedly, letting out his breath in a loud and exaggerated huff. “I’m sorry, love, I shouldn’t have asked that. I just wondered if it was about business.” He covered her cold hand with his warm one. “I wouldn’t want you to get tangled in that sort of stuff.”
Alanna smiled back, a great weight lifting off of her chest. “Actually, I don’t mind hearing about your adventures at all. I’ve rarely seen you in the last few months. What have you been up to lately?”
There was a sudden silence as the house elves ceased to mill about them, and the dining room in which they sat grew empty and hollow of movement. Rabastan slid his hand out from underneath hers and turned to them by way of buying time to gather his thoughts, raising his eyebrows. “Is anything wrong?” he asked sardonically.
“No, Master,” the closest one squeaked, and the rest of them hurried to flock away towards the kitchens, muttering amongst themselves.
“Sorry, dear, what were you saying?” Rabastan swiveled back around in his chair to face Alanna.
Without the constant bustling of the house elves, the room in which they sat suddenly felt huge to Alanna. Such grandeur really wasn’t necessary for the sole use of two people, and the words they spoke bounced off of the walls more sharply than she would have liked. She felt like she and Rabastan rattled around in this room like beans in a shoebox.
“I was saying how I’d love to hear more about your work,” she said quietly.
This time, Rabastan’s countenance was composed, his reply ready. His crooked smile appeared once more as he said, “You know I can’t say much about it. We enter a pact of secrecy when we first join.” His grin faded and he adopted a serious expression. “And it would be too dangerous for me to involve you anyway. If the Ministry ever got wind of our operations, they would destroy us all. I’m trying to protect you, Alanna.”
Alanna sighed. Their conversations always went like this. She forever tiptoed around sensitive subjects on eggshells whenever they spoke of their lives apart from each other, for fear that she might somehow unleash his temper.
“I know,” she whispered, looking back down at her plate. “And you know I’m grateful. It’s just that I get lonely, staying here without any company while you are away. Nobody ever comes here to visit unless you are here.”
Rabastan wrinkled his nose. “Nobody? What about all your old friends from Hogwarts? You should get in touch with them.”
“I didn’t…I have no idea what has become of any of them,” Alanna replied hurriedly. She didn’t want to tell him that she had regarded Hogwarts—and almost everyone who attended there—as a general inconvenience, an obstacle which limited her. Even so, she had greatly preferred the castle to her summer lodgings: she had stayed at a stinking, festering orphanage in Liverpool.
Alanna forced her mind back to the subject at hand. “In case you don’t remember, I suddenly up and left them in the middle of seventh year to come live with you.” She smiled slightly at the memory. “I haven’t seen or heard from them since. I doubt they even know where I disappeared to.”
“Where else would you have gone?” he asked, not unkindly.
Alanna shrugged. “Certainly not back to that awful orphan house. That stinking, dirty place was overcrowded with stinking, dirty children. From dawn until dusk, they screamed and cried and chased each other around, and there was no escape from them…” Except for my music, she added to herself silently.
Rabastan laughed, very softly, but it still inspired its usual streak of pain. Nobody knew that she was an orphan. She rarely thought about her parents and spoke of them even less. What was the point? They were gone, and she knew nearly nothing about it. On the books she was a pureblood, simply by the surname they had left her with at the orphanage: Lancaster. The workers at the orphanage told her that her mother had been burdened with a mysterious disorder of the psyche, and that her father had left them both when the woman’s behavior became unbearable. Her mother had been found unconscious, sedated with drugs, a few weeks later.
Alanna had been four when all this happened. She remembered nothing of her mother, but of her father she knew his laugh. A low chuckling, like a man is prone to uttering when he is amused by his child. But every time she heard a sound remotely like her father’s laugh, it sent a searing pain through her heart. And it was less than convenient that Rabastan’s easy laugh affected her with such heaviness.
“Well, what would you have me do about it?” Rabastan asked, and for a moment Alanna had been so lost in her own reverie that she had quite forgotten what they were talking about.
“The orphanage?” she asked softly. “There’s nothing to be done now.”
“No, no. You said you had no visitors, nobody to keep you company. Would you like me to hire a personal maid?”
The very thought made Alanna chuckle. “Hired company is not the same, Rab! Besides, I would tire of her—or scare the poor thing away—within a month. I need someone who can entertain me. I need someone on the same intellectual level as you.”
Rabastan looked at her strangely, like he had never considered her as an intelligent being with intellectual needs of her own. “I don’t understand,” he said slowly.
Alanna cast a quick glance at him out of the corner of her eye before she dropped her gaze nonchalantly down to her plate again. “Oh, I don’t know,” she stalled, a feeling of apprehension rising inside her core, a red-flagged warning against obeying the impulse that had seized her. At that moment, her strong desire to prove her worth to Rabastan had manifested itself behind a new, daring idea. And she would not be lonely.
“What?” he asked, somewhat impatiently. He had cleared his plate and now wished nothing more than a hot shower and an early night.
“I’d like to meet some of your friends, dear.”
Rabastan froze in his agitated state, his hands dropping to his sides. “What?” he asked again, sounding aghast.
Now that she had begun, Alanna was determined to finish. Admitting that this request caused her discomfort would only give him more grounds to refuse it. “I know that because you’ve been busy, we haven’t ever gotten the chance to socialize much as a couple. I’ve only ever caught glimpses of your friends when they come pick you up to go to the bar. And don’t you think it’s time I met your family, too?” she pressed.
Underneath the table, her trembling hands gripped the hem of her skirt tightly. They had ventured into this dangerous territory before, but she had always backed away before the imminent explosion of temper could occur. Now the cold knot of malice that festered at the base of her heart burned strongly against her fear. After today, it was the least he owed her.
Rabastan opened his mouth to speak—and inevitably argue, as he always did. But the spark of anger that usually ignited in his eyes before his temper lashed was not there. All Alanna could discern was the weariness that usually accompanied him home, tinged with a dash of fear.
What are you afraid of? she wanted to ask, feeling lightheaded from holding her breath. But, of course, she did not dare.
“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” Rabastan said, sighing and heaving himself up from the table. He deposited his napkin, unused and white as snow, onto the table beside his plate.
Alanna frowned, and emboldened by his lack of response, pushed further. “If not now, then when, Rab? I want to meet your family. I consider it an honor!” she exclaimed. Her flashing eyes burned, simultaneously angry and terrified. “Why won’t you let them see me? Are you ashamed of me?”
His eyes snapped to her face instantly, startled. “No. No, never.” He walked over to stand behind her chair and stroke her hair. The action soothed her against her will. “I just think…I just think it would complicate things between us. But if it will ease your concerns, love, I’ll arrange something.”
Alanna exhaled, the breath leaving her feeling deflated and hollow. “I wish I didn’t have to throw a temper tantrum for you to understand what I want,” she said regretfully.
Rabastan’s fingers lifted out of her hair, and she missed their presence almost immediately. “What about Rodolphus? Will he do?” he asked, avoiding her comment.
Alanna nodded sadly as she turned to watch him head toward the doorway. This was not how she had imagined his homecoming to pass. But then again, things seemed almost never to be how she imagined them to be. The deception of her mind’s eye was her own fault and her fault alone. Rabastan had little to do with her disappointment. She had ruined this evening for herself by building it up in her expectations past anything even remotely possible.
“I’ll owl him in the morning,” he said as he disappeared from view, leaving Alanna alone with her thoughts, which rattled about the large room loudly like beans in a shoebox.
*bites nails in anxiety* So, how did I do on this one? Please let me know by dropping a little line into the box below. I welcome all comments and suggestions. Thanks so much!
Thanks to SwissMiss@TDA for another great graphic.
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