Two days after his initial homecoming, Rabastan told Alanna that he would be inviting some old childhood friends over for tea in the afternoon. Alanna’s heart jumped at the news—perhaps he had really taken her request into serious consideration. She could feel a smile tugging at the corners of her lips until Rab said, “Would you please go to Diagon Alley and pick up some things for me while they are here?”
“Why do I have to go today? Is it that important?” Alanna asked cautiously. She wondered if she could convince Rab to let her stay and meet his friends before leaving, or perhaps even postpone the shopping trip to another day, when she and Rab could go together.
“Well, I need some new socks, for one,” he replied with a grin. “My favorite pair—the one with the Quaffles on them—is becoming threadbare.”
Alanna frowned, irritated and disappointed. “Socks? That’s what you so urgently need me to buy?” She glanced out of the window to where the autumn leaves, propelled by strong gusts of wind, swirled like brown cyclones. “It’s cold outside, dear. I don’t want to leave the house unless I really have to.”
“You have to,” Rabastan said sharply. “I have an entire list of things I’ll need right away, and I can’t simply pick up and leave when I’m expecting guests. Plus, I can never trust the house elves to buy the right things.” He walked down the hallway over to the desk in his study, picked up a quill, and began to scrawl hurriedly onto a piece of blank parchment. A short note from Rodolphus lay nearby on the desk, but Rabastan barely glanced at it. “I haven’t been home in two weeks, and you know how I lose things while I’m away.”
“I guess that’s true,” Alanna conceded, her aggravation falling away slightly. She knew Rabastan was scatter-brained like her, and never seemed to be able to keep track of his belongings either. It was another sign of a preoccupied mind, though personally Alanna found it endearing.
After a prolonged silence as Alanna waited at the doorway, Rabastan emerged from his study and handed her the list. “Thank you, love, and don’t worry about playing the hostess. The house elves will manage the tea and snacks.”
“I never play the hostess,” Alanna reminded him of their near-argument two nights ago, and the promise that Rab had made to her. She was afraid that maybe he had forgotten to owl Rodolphus.
Rabastan furrowed his brow in confusion for a moment as he appraised her anger. He tried to control the stab of disappointment in his heart as he realized that all this was not only another one of Alanna’s passing fancies, to be cast aside as quickly as it had entered her mind. Rabastan had so hoped that if he didn’t mention it, she would have forgotten his promise, and lunch with the Lestranges could have been avoided.
But now she was angry, and if he wanted to appease her there was no choice but to brave the tempest that was his brother’s wife. He grinned crookedly at her, as if he was finally now remembering their small row. “Oh, Gods, I forgot to tell you!” Rabastan exclaimed, shaking his head sheepishly. “Rodolphus replied to my owl yesterday.”
“Yes? Well? What did he say?” Try as she might, Alanna was unable to rein in her enthusiasm.
“He said he and his new wife Bellatrix would meet us for lunch at the Three Broomsticks on Thursday at noon.” Rabastan smiled wryly and handed Alanna her cloak from where it hung on the wall. He slipped a small metal key into her cold hand. “Now, you had better get going or else you won’t be able to get back before dark. Here’s the key to my Gringotts vault. Thanks, love.”
Alanna recognized the dismissal, and trudged towards the front door in defeat. But the prospect of finally sitting down with Rabastan’s friends—and family, no less—warmed her considerably. She knew that even meeting the Lestranges for the first time would take her one giant step closer to her ultimate goal—to bear Rabastan’s surname.
She took a second look at the list in her hand just before she exited the door, and nearly laughed out loud. Quaffle socks, it read. Disposable Razors. Coffee mug. Wand polish. The Trollops and the Trolls’ latest album—I seem to have misplaced mine.
Rabastan and Alanna Apparated to the Three Broomsticks pub in Hogsmeade at noon on the appointed day to find the place virtually deserted. After all, nobody came to the pub in the middle of the day unless they were unemployed. Or, in Rabastan’s case, it was only possible if they had a very erratic job schedule.
Alanna, noticing this, looked around more closely at the few people in the pub. Rodolphus and Bellatrix had not yet arrived. Most of the bar’s patrons paid her no attention and continued to lounge about lazily, but there were several shrewd-looking men scattered about who observed her and Rabastan with sharp eyes. Rabastan avoided their eyes uncomfortably and escorted Alanna hurriedly to a table.
“Do you recognize those men, love?” she asked curiously. “I’ve never seen them before, but it seems like they know you.”
“They don’t,” Rabastan said tersely. “They must be mistaken.” He gestured to an empty seat at the table in front of them, and they both sat down. He was careful to place Alanna so that she would sit with her back to the men.
“So when will Rodolphus and Bellatrix arrive?” Alanna asked, fidgeting eagerly and smoothing her black skirt. “You know, I haven’t seen them in years, ever since they graduated from Hogwarts. I’m so glad to finally be meeting some of your friends, Rab.” She looked to Rabastan, suddenly nervous at the sight of his bland expression. “I can’t believe your brother married Bellatrix Black! Do you think they will remember me?”
“I have no idea, dear, but I’m sure it doesn’t matter,” Rabastan sighed in a weary manner. “But Bella rarely agrees to go to lunch with anyone, so we are…lucky.” He smiled dryly, causing Alanna to smile back in a rare moment of peace between them.
“Good afternoon, sir, miss.” Alanna jumped as a server appeared at their table from behind her and set a bottle of firewhiskey down in front of Rabastan. “On lunch break, are we?”
“Yes,” Rabastan replied quickly before Alanna could answer. “We’ll be another moment, if you don’t mind. There are two more people who are arriving shortly.”
“Oh, of course,” the server replied smoothly, and walked away.
Once he was out of earshot, Alanna grinned at Rabastan. “You know, dear, it really is okay to admit that you aren’t working. I mean, it might be a blow to your ego, but honesty is always the best policy…” She trailed off her teasing as Rabastan sent her a cold look.
“I do work,” he said, sounding slightly irked.
Alanna sighed, regretfully admitting to herself that Rabastan had been particularly on edge ever since his latest outing. Then again, his irritability could also just be attributed to nervousness about seeing his brother today. Maybe they weren’t on amicable terms with each other anymore, and Alanna had only forced him into this.
The very thought induced the onslaught of a suffocating wave of guilt, and Alanna resolved immediately to do anything to make him feel better.
“Well, then,” she began again in a light-hearted voice, “your organization is about the only job I know of that gives so much time off on the weekdays. Bellatrix and your brother must work for Riddle, too, if they were able to meet us here today.”
“Shut up!” Rabastan snarled viciously, his eyes suddenly ablaze with fear. Hurriedly he swiveled around in his chair and glanced around the room to see if anyone had heard her. “How dare you talk about that here?!” he hissed furiously once he had turned back around to face her. “Don’t you know any better, you stupid girl?”
“But—but I didn’t realize—” Alanna stammered, terrified. Tears were beginning to well up in her eyes. She hadn’t meant to put him in danger.
“Well, when Bella and Rodolphus get here, you had better become smarter fast,” Rabastan stated darkly, the anger in his eyes swiftly fading though he fought to keep the bulk of his disdain from his voice. “They will have no tolerance for your ignorance.”
Alanna bowed her head sorrowfully, blinking away her tears as Rabastan unfurled the menu and placed it in front of him. Silently he turned his attention entirely from her to study the choices printed on the paper, and Alanna fought a strong urge to really cry.
“Rab…” She exhaled shakily, and reaching across the table, placed a cold, trembling hand on his in apology. “I’m sorry, love. I didn’t realize I was wrong until too late.”
For a few long moments he refused to look up at her. To take no notice of her was more than a sign of disrespect and contempt when wielded against Alanna; it was a punishment. He knew that with every second he tarried, her need for his validation grew tenfold, and it was that desperation which inflicted her heart with pain far deeper than mere physicality.
When he finally deigned to look at her, a movement behind her drew his attention. His eyes went wide and he drew himself up nervously, removing Alanna’s hand from his. “Don’t be sorry,” he told her quietly. “Just learn quickly. Here they come.”
Slowly Alanna turned in her seat. Entering the room first was a tall, dark man with a handsome face, made so only by regularity of feature. Alanna could undeniably recognize her Rabastan in his face, but the new man’s eyes were dull and betrayed no sense of command like that in Rabastan’s gaze. Clearly this man had been born to follow, not to lead. In a fleeting rush of triumphant affection, Alanna knew that she herself had chosen the stronger Lestrange brother.
On his arm Rodolphus Lestrange led a thin woman with long tangles of black hair. With a rising sense of trepidation, Alanna saw that within Bellatrix Lestrange’s wild-eyed, malicious face there now gleamed a trace of madness. She had always had a tendency to cruel behavior, Alanna remembered. Dumbledore had never appointed her as a prefect for that very reason. And also for that very reason, all of the fear that Bella’s reputation had inspired over the years came flooding into Alanna at that instant. She wanted nothing more than to grab Rabastan by the arm, and flee.
“Rab—” Alanna muttered meekly.
“Stay put.” The corner of Rabastan’s mouth curled up wryly in a strange sense of satisfaction at her fear. “You wanted this lunch, now you must endure it.”
As the Lestrange couple crossed the room, headed for their table, the idle shrewd-eyed men scattered across the room turned their heads to watch them. Rodolphus stared straight ahead as he walked with a stiff gait towards his brother, but in comparison Bellatrix was careless. Her presence commanded the room even as her husband slunk in her shadow. She addressed the other men with proud, haughty nods that spoke of familiarity.
“How does she…?” Alanna began to ask, but was interrupted by Rabastan once more.
“Stand up,” he ordered as he himself did the same. The other couple was almost upon them. Clenching his fists tightly in his pockets, Rabastan took a step towards them. “Dear brother, it has been too long…” he called out loudly, and though his voice was warm, it contained a strain that had not been present before.
Alanna waited hesitantly for Rabastan to clasp hands with Rodolphus and kiss Bella on the cheek before rising. The two new Lestranges seemed to take no notice of her, even as she stuck her hand out for them to shake.
“I’m Alanna Lancaster,” she said, her voice coming out in more of a squeak. “It’s nice to meet you, Rodolphus and Bellatrix.”
Rodolphus glanced at her offered hand for a moment before reaching out to take it. “Lancaster, you said?” he asked in a quiet voice.
Alanna nodded and smiled as Bellatrix took her hand in turn. The other woman’s hand was thin and hard, though not as cold with apprehension as Alanna’s own. Bellatrix smiled back, as if she could sense the unquiet that she had caused.
“I’m sorry, dear,” she said to Alanna as she and her husband took their seats, “but I haven’t heard much of anything about you. How long have you and Rab been together?” A smirk played on her lips.
Alanna bit her own lip, her heart pounding. She was certain that Rabastan must have mentioned something about her in these past four years that they had been living together. After all, Bellatrix and Rodolphus were part of his family. Why wouldn’t he want them to know?
Her mind raced for a proper answer, and she found herself unable to think while surveyed by Bellatrix’s cold grey eyes. She settled for placing her hand over Rabastan’s own and replying, “We’ve been housemates for years, and I’m so very happy about it.” She followed with a tinkling laugh that rang hollow and grating in the air when nobody else so much as cracked a smile.
Rabastan made no effort to save her. Instead, he had buried his face in the menu once again, and with an apprehensive glance across the table his brother followed suit.
Bellatrix beamed at Alanna. “Oh, I’m so happy for you two, dear. When’s the wedding, then?”
Rabastan reached for his glass of firewhiskey as Alanna blushed. She cleared her throat before answering, “Well, we haven’t really—”
“Good afternoon, again, and welcome to the Three Broomsticks! What would you ladies and gentlemen like today?” The server had returned with a wide grin on his face and a cheerful voice that Alanna winced at, feeling that it was ill-suited for the occasion. Bellatrix had not but just walked in the door, and Alanna was already drowning in her presence.
“I think I’ll be having the…” Rodolphus began to speak to the waiter, looking to his wife for approval. With Bellatrix occupied, Rabastan leaned slightly to the left across the table to whisper in Alanna’s ear.
“She means no harm, love,” he muttered. “Please don’t offend her.”
Alanna glared at Rabastan, but could only nod sharply as Bellatrix turned her attention back to them. “I’m sorry,” the other woman said, dismissing the matter with a shrug of her shoulders. The smirk had returned with full vindictive force. “What were you saying, Alanna?”
Alanna felt her cheeks burning and repressed the urge to clap her cold fingers onto her face. She had always been somewhat of a proud person, despite the limitations of her fragile psyche. There had always been only one exception where she was rendered helpless, torn asunder from her pride by the force of a bond. It was uncomfortable for her to experience the same urge towards Bellatrix, whom she was growing to hate as much as she loved Rabastan.
Looking to Rabastan, she found that he was still hiding his face in his glass of firewhiskey. Bellatrix was waiting expectantly for an answer, and Alanna noticed with a rising sense of tension that his eyes occasionally wandered to her. Unclenching her jaw, Alanna looked the other woman in the eye and swallowed her pride painfully. “I was saying that we haven’t discussed that matter at length yet.”
“Oh.” Bellatrix laughed knowingly. “I quite understand. With life so busy for the two of you and all, I doubt you even have time to enjoy each other’s company. It’s alright, dear,” she said, consoling Alanna with a brisk pat on the arm. It was as if she could scarcely bear to touch her.
“I thank Merlin every day that Rodolphus and I have not given in to the difficulties of that situation,” she continued, laying a claw on her husband’s shoulder.
Alanna and Rabastan shared a doubtful glance. His eyes had flickered like lightning in her direction for only a fraction of a second, but the warmth she felt in his gaze immediately revitalized her strength and will to fight. The love between Bellatrix and Rodolphus was something that she would never want for him and herself.
“Don’t worry about us, dear,” Alanna assured her coldly. “The situation is difficult, but I’m sure it will work out in the end.”
With that, she turned her attention to the passing pedestrians in the street framed by the window, hoping to quell the flow of conversation once and for all. Unfortunately, Bellatrix only became more reckless when she was deprived of an audience. Affecting a sudden revelation of sorts, Bellatrix surged from her seat with alarming speed, her eyes wild with excitement.
“Rab, I have just the solution to your problems!” she cried, seizing the other man’s hands. Her husband, the other Lestrange brother, did not flinch. “We should introduce Alanna to our friends!”
Rodolphus’s stoic, unmoving countenance slipped into a momentary grimace as Rabastan choked on his own breath. “What did you say?” he asked, aghast at the thought.
Bella’s eyes shone with a sliver of mirth, so suppressed that Alanna could not at all tell whether or not her intentions were malicious. Perhaps this was only a joke. Perhaps Bellatrix enjoyed being trying—perhaps she liked to test the nerves of all who crossed her path—and it was all in good humor. Alanna bit back another angry retort as the other woman threw back her tangled head of hair and laughed outright.
“Relax, Rab! I meant only that maybe it would help your relationship if you involved Alanna in your life outside of home. I mean, you’re always away.” Bella grinned at Rabastan, who slumped, pale and nervous, in his seat. “I’m surprised that Alanna even bothers to deal with you, the poor dear.”
“We do not deal with each other, we love each other!” Alanna interjected heatedly, her voice edging higher with strain as she fought to keep from lashing out at the laughing woman. “And I thank you for your counsel, Bella, but in all honesty our relationship needs no help.”
Caught within a surge of pride, Alanna had practically convinced herself of the truth in that statement. Temporarily gone was the small knot of ill-feelings she had harbored against Rabastan’s long absence. She felt that if he was subdued by the oppressive personality of this woman, if he could not step up to receive the blows, then it was her responsibility to defend their honor.
Alanna clenched her fists so tightly underneath the table that her nails dug painful trenches into her palms. She knew she was losing control. After all, the pendulum swung wildly when she did not have Rabastan to support her.
Bellatrix had raised her eyebrows in a feigned hurt expression. “There’s no need to get testy, dear, I was merely speaking as a friend. Rab has been…restless ever since he was young, and I’m surprised to see him finally happy to be committed to someone.”
Rabastan cleared his throat and frowned warningly. “I am here, you know, Bella.”
Bellatrix chuckled again with easy familiarity that made Alanna’s stomach squirm. “I know, dear, I know.” Rabastan’s frown deepened as he realized that she would not heed the warning.
Bella turned to her husband, who was eyed the bare table unhappily. Evidently he also wished not to be a part of this conversation. “Hasn’t Alanna absolutely transformed your brother?” she asked him, a vindictive look flashing through her eyes. “Why, I remember when he used to have a different girl in his bed every night. We thought he’d never change.” She smiled with lupine teeth bared. “He was always partial to blondes, too. Alanna must have performed some sort of miracle!”
Rodolphus glanced over at Alanna with cold, empty eyes that spoke of no emotion at all. His face was impassive. He himself was worn down, dulled by years of oppressive company until all reactive emotion had simply fled him.
Slowly Alanna realized that the building pain and panic within her had not been solely caused by this wild-eyed woman with the maniacal grin, but by the indifferent man and the helpless lover. A tremble grew in Alanna’s limbs as she looked at the three Lestranges seated opposite her, and saw that they each had a part to play. She herself was the only remaining variable, but she was allowing herself to be twisted and pulled accordingly to their will—according to Bella’s will.
Bellatrix took her silence for submission and dealt the final crushing blow with a smile on her face. If she had not known better, Alanna would have thought it a joke. “You know, I admire you, Alanna, dear. I really do. It takes a very strong woman to place the amount of trust in a man that you do in Rabastan. I’m not sure he deserves it.”
The mounting pressure of frustration pounded in her head and threatened to overflow, but Alanna was beyond reaction. Bellatrix’s words, sharp as daggers, buzzed harmlessly on her deaf ears and yet the meaning behind them struck through with impossible clarity. The faces of the Lestranges, equally malicious and impassive, swam before her eyes. The feeling of claustrophobia was overwhelming. They were closing in on her and suffocating her life force, for without her trust in Rabastan she knew she could not breathe alone. Her throat was choked with grief—her breath was leaving her—and the trust was slipping away through her fingers. She made a final grasp for it as she stood up and stumbled her way to the washroom, passing on her way the cheerful waiter who had finally arrived with their meal.
It was too late.
A/N: Gods, I really need some advice and feedback on this one. Does it live up to your expectations? Please review and let me know what you liked and what you didn't. Thanks!
Thanks to SwissMiss@TDA for the chapter image.