After the horrid affair at the Three Broomsticks, it was yet another few days before Rabastan announced that he was being summoned to a 2-day conference in the city and would need to leave immediately.
“Gods, I wish I didn’t have to go again so soon, love,” he sighed apologetically, running his hand through his dark hair in exaggerated agitation. It stuck up in sloppy angles, so Alanna simply brushed it straight again impatiently with her fingers before ushering him and his heavy trunk quickly through the front door.
Rabastan raised his eyebrows at her behavior and turned around to face her. “I’m going to have to stay overnight at the hotel tonight,” he warned her. “I don’t want us to part on a bad note. I hope I’ve made myself clear on how sorry I am for what Bella said.”
“Hmm,” Alanna grunted, committing to neither anger nor forgiveness. She began to close the door.
He stopped her. “You know, I warned you that meeting my family would not be a great idea. I know they can be a bit trying sometimes, especially to strangers,” Rabastan continued, looking more and more concerned.
Alanna avoided his eyes and instead watched the dead leaves stir on the grassy lawn outside at a point just above his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” she stated flatly. “Just concentrate on your work. That’s more important, anyway.”
Rabastan made a last desperate attempt to ease his fears. Had Bella pushed her away from him for good? That could only mean danger to all of them. Was Alanna out for vengeance on the Lestranges? Would he return home this time to an empty house, with Alanna gone and a regiment of Aurors awaiting him in her place? He grabbed for her hand and held it, looking earnestly into her face. “You have every right to be angry, love, but Bella is a flighty person. More often than not she speaks without thinking, so I hope you’ll put your heart to ease and forgive us both.”
Alanna rewarded his apology with a nod and a tense smile. She realized that she would never be rid of him unless she pretended nothing was wrong. “Of course,” she said shortly. “Have a nice trip, dear.” And then he was gone.
Feeling a strange rush of relief as he made his departure, Alanna could barely muster the interest to bid him goodbye. Instead, she reveled at finally being alone to consider her thoughts. These last few days following the Bellatrix Incident—as Alanna had christened it in thorough humiliation—had been fraught with tension, and the both of them skulking cautiously about the house had made Rabastan’s presence unbearable. It was an alien feeling to Alanna, utterly unknown until now, that she would wish to be alone without him. Yet she knew that it was exactly what she wanted, to be alone.
Things were different now because of a feverish suspicion that had lodged itself into Alanna’s brain since her encounter with Bellatrix. For her own pride’s sake she had brushed off all of Rabastan’s following apologies for the other woman’s vindictive behavior, but she could not dislodge the demons that Bella had unleashed. They cackled and clawed at her insides with their fiery fingernails, agitating her beyond tolerance.
Alanna and Rabastan had always preferred to ignore the glaring gaps in their lives, but the demons seemed all too eager to pry away Alanna’s only shield of defense—denial—and strike at the tender spots beneath.
Whenever Rabastan was around this horrible uncertain feeling multiplied, but when he was gone she thought of it still. There was no respite, yet she wished for him to leave all the same. Only when he left her presence could she drop all pretenses and root down to the deepest point of her suspicion. Only then could she rid herself of this awful uncertainty.
She started in their bedroom.
Rabastan was away so frequently that the sheets never smelled of him, like they should have. Instead they gave off a light lavender scent of the soap the house elves used to wash the linens.
Quickly she rifled through his clothing dresser, finding nothing but the plain t-shirts and undergarments she had expected. Like the sheets, they gave off the bland smell of laundry. She examined the shirts one by one, looking for stains she couldn’t remember ever being there before; spills of wine glasses knocked over in the heat of passion; smudges of lipstick from careless and uncontrollable whims; and dustings of cosmetic powder. With each shirt that came up clean, the knot in her stomach loosened. Finally, she even looked for pipes and needles buried deep in the corners of the drawers. But she found nothing.
Replacing everything neatly in the manner in which she found them, she moved on to the closet. Here hung sweaters, suit jackets, slacks, dress robes, casual robes, and even his old Slytherin Quidditch robes. Hidden all the way in the deepest corner, the deep green cloth inspired an onslaught of old Quidditch memories.
Chaser. Alanna had been intrigued by the way Rabastan’s power manifested itself on the pitch. She had spent hours considering why he seemed to elevate himself above his team, for even when he was not scoring goals Rabastan had been the center of attention.
Her Rabastan had been perfect for the position of Chaser, and none of the other ones, because of the restlessness that dominated his mind. Seekers concentrated on a single goal, a small, elusive prey which did not foster patience in those who did not already have the trait—and Rabastan did not. He had never been particularly fond of brute strength, either: teams had to depend on the ever-blazing spirit and energy of their Beaters, and that was a responsibility that Rabastan didn’t want to carry. The Keeper was purely a defensive position, for all purposes the chief laborer of the team that yet harvested almost none of the glory. Needless to say, Rabastan had always craved the aggressiveness of the sport of Quidditch almost as much as the glory that came with it. So Chaser it had been.
“Keepers, Beaters, Seekers—ha! The real game in the sport lies with the Chasers and the Quaffle. Strip away all of the fancy details, and we’re all you need,” he had once told Alanna, back when they had often discussed the game together. Unbeknownst to anyone but him, she loved watching Quidditch. She would bundle up in the winter, or wear a sunhat in the spring, and sit in the stands to watch the Slytherin team play. She had been the lone figure sitting on the stairs, surrounded by a sea of hollering silver and green fans in the stands.
“Not true,” she had argued. “If it weren’t for Keepers, the Quaffle would go through almost every time.”
Rabastan had smiled with his crooked grin. “But who watches the Keepers, love? The action is all with the Chasers until the final moment when the Seeker catches that damn Snitch. What’s the point in playing, in expending all your sweat and blood, if nobody’s watching?”
Alanna thought with small irony that Rabastan’s attitude towards Quidditch held much resemblance to the way he regarded a family.
Now she flipped the set of robes around to look at the back side. Emblazoned grandly across the shoulder blades in silver was the name R. Lestrange. Alanna had become quite accustomed to the sight of those silver letters during her time at Hogwarts; that was almost all she had ever seen of him during the House after-game celebrations. Even then she had mused at the unnecessary “R” that had preceded his surname. It was an assertion of his pride, more than anything else. After all, Rodolphus had never played Quidditch.
Alanna’s thoughts were brought back to the present when, running her hand across a line of soft sweaters, her fingers snagged on a small piece of metal. Hurriedly she brought the offending sweater up close to her eyes to examine it, and her heart nearly stopped.
Embedded in a stitch close to his heart was a small silver pin, enameled black in the shape of a flower.
Immediately Alanna’s mind snapped to Bellatrix and in a vicious, jealous rage she tore off the pin and tossed it across the room, where it landed with an audible clatter.
“How dare she?” she whispered, the blood pounding through her skull to pool around her cheeks and light them afire. The pressure built in her temples until she could barely hear herself think, and couldn’t hear herself breathe. Her mind tried to push the horrible thoughts away in defiance, and in turn it continued to push the breath in and out of her lungs. Her heart called feebly for her untainted trust in him to return, but with every shallow breath the familiar confidence was dying.
Slamming the closet door shut without a second look, she leapt onto the bed. She landed face-first within the infuriatingly generic lavender-scent and buried her head under the suffocating mass of pillows, breathing it into her rebellious lungs. She felt her chest heave and waited for the sobs and the wave of wild sorrow that would inevitably follow.
But they did not straight away. Even with anger ascending to a frightening level within her, Alanna knew that it didn’t make sense. A woman of Bellatrix’s character was destined for a man like Rodolphus Lestrange, not his brother. The older Lestrange was moldable, pliable, and would become anything that his wife demanded. Bella could never offer the same service to Rabastan which his brother provided for her. Rab himself was scatterbrained and wild of nature, and under the influence of Bellatrix he would grow only more so.
Alanna reasoned—no, she knew with deep certainty—that because Rabastan had accustomed himself to taking care of her, within the last four years she had reined in some of his fragmented concentration with her own. It was for the good of both of them to stay together—and Bellatrix Lestrange would ruin the balance.
She extracted her face from the bland sheets and focused for a moment on the fine stitching in the French linen. They could have been hotel sheets, for all they smelled of laundry. There was no hint of Rabastan about them. Her mind reeled as she pictured them on somebody else’s bed, under somebody else’s warmth. It fit. They were something like hotel sheets. They didn’t belong to her, and perhaps Rabastan did not, either.
Alanna let out a hoarse sob. Where had all this gone astray? Things had been going so well. It had taken four years, but she and Rab were almost there.
But now there was this pin, this small trinket which at first glance seemed so unimportant and yet was an indication of everything wrong in her relationship. Even if it didn’t belong to Bellatrix, the flower had been just as effective in conveying her message. Alanna knew she would not be able to rest until she knew who it belonged to—who had come into her home and wrenched apart her peace of mind.
In a spurt of inspiration, Alanna had an idea. She slid off of the bed and bent over to pick up the pin. “Gimpy!” she cried, an unusual snap of authority in her tone. “Come here!”
Almost instantly a trembling house-elf stood cowering in the doorway. It was amazing how fast the little creatures could run when they had the mind to. “Yes, Mistress?” he said in a small voice, fidgeting with the hem of the sheet that covered his small frame. He was Rabastan’s oldest house-elf, and had a long white beard that trailed comically behind him.
“I need a box,” Alanna ordered. She held out her hand, the pin dangling, repulsive to her touch, between her forefinger and thumb. “And I need you to hide this in it.”
Gimpy eyed the pin with open distrust. “Where did Mistress get that flower?” he asked. “Is it for Master?” When Alanna didn’t answer, he said perceptively, “That isn’t Mistress’s flower, is it?”
Alanna didn’t have the heart to reprimand the poor creature for asking too many questions—it wasn’t his fault, after all—but her eyes narrowed unconsciously with irritation. Gimpy noticed this and began to tremble. “Mistress!” he cried, throwing himself down into a bow. “Mistress, Gimpy is sorry, he is sorry for asking questions! Gimpy knows he is not supposed to ask questions. Oh, bad, bad Gimpy!”
Alanna frowned as Gimpy dashed over to the doorway and began to bash his own fingers in the door as punishment, squealing apologies all the while. The sound of his short and tortured yelps grated on her nerves.
“Stop that,” Alanna snapped, yanking the house-elf away from the doorframe. Her spirits sunk with every moment she spent looking at the wretched pin. There was no way she could live with it in her presence, but neither could she leave it in Rabastan’s possession. There was only one solution: to bury it somewhere deep in her mind and far away. “Gimpy, are you listening to me?”
“Yes, Mistress,” he said, standing at attention, his watery eyes on the piece of silver in her hand.
Alanna bent down to face the little elf at eye level. “Gimpy, you must tell me what you know. Do you know whose pin this is?” she asked slowly, as if she was talking to a child.
The elf hesitated for a moment, and it looked like he was about to refuse to answer her. “But Master—”
“Oh, sod the master, you wretched thing!” Alanna cried. Taking the elf roughly by the shoulders, she blinked back tears of despair. “I am your mistress! Do you hear me? You cannot lie to me! Do you or do you not know the name of the lady who gave your master this pin?”
The brightness in Gimpy’s large eyes seemed to dim in sympathy when he saw the pain visible in Alanna’s face. He let out a little breath before he said quietly, “No, Mistress. Gimpy does not know her name.”
“You lie,” Alanna snarled. Despite her best efforts to contain them, the tears in her eyes had bubbled over to slide slowly down her cheeks. She turned away from the house-elf in utter shame and let her eyes wander across the landscape paintings on the walls. The sunny plains and sparkling beaches seemed so surreal.
“Gimpy does not lie!” the house-elf cried urgently, tugging on Alanna’s sweater. Alanna could not tell the difference between fear and guilt in the creature. “Gimpy does not know where the flower came from! He does not know which lady, Mistress, Gimpy is sorry but he swears he does not know…” The elf trailed off, now consumed with sobs of his own.
Alanna wiped her wet cheeks and sat down hard on the ground with a thump. In her hand she still clutched the enameled black flower, and its sharp edges cut into her palm mercilessly. Without opening her eyes, she whispered, “Which lady?”
Behind her, she could hear Gimpy gulp. Now it was apparent to Alanna that the old elf was conflicted between his mistress’s orders for the truth and his master’s trust and well-being. An unusual cold calm set over her mind as she forced the rising panic away for a moment and tried to think rationally. She realized that it was no use blaming the poor elf for her relationship’s shortcomings. She wasn’t even sure of the truth in her assumptions—in fact, she was certain it was her own paranoia, enflamed by Bellatrix Lestrange’s lies—so there was nothing to do about it until Rabastan returned home. Then, she could ask him about it and clear the air for good. It could not be true. Her Rabastan? No, it was impossible.
Her conscience, which cried out violently against the denial, was smothered by the acute shame she felt as she tried to rationalize what she saw, and failed. Confused thoughts swirled wildly, wrenching her psyche awry. Her grasp on reality was confounded.
“Don’t cry, Gimpy,” she said dully without turning around. “Just put this cursed thing into a box and hide it in the cellar.” She dropped the pin on the floor, where it clattered again against the cold tiles. Wiping her face on her sleeve, she rose. All at once, the silence in the empty house became unbearable, a crushing weight on her lungs. She wanted to breathe air untainted with Bellatrix’s demons.
“And Gimpy, one more thing. I’ll be going out for lunch.”
A/N: Million thanks to Blissbug for beta-ing this chapter and SwissMiss for the chapter image! Any feedback, good or bad, would be greatly appreciated, so if you read, please review! =]