As soon as the door fell closed behind her, the fragile dam of denial that she had built in her mind was broken. Insecurity flooded through, and her thoughts began to race along the dangerous course once more.
She raced down the long driveway and onto a non-descript Muggle country lane, casting wild glances around her without seeing much of anything. It was all she could do to suppress the chaos in her mind for one moment while she Apparated—becoming splinched would not help her. She had barely come of age when she had left Hogwarts for Rabastan’s household, and had only learned to Apparate clumsily at best. That was another, secondary reason she rarely left the house: she didn’t want Rabastan to discover her ineptitude at performing such a minor task. It would only be further proof that Alanna did not deserve him. But now staying inside that empty house for even another minute was out of the question, and she would risk the splinching to escape.
Luckily, she landed whole in an Apparation-safe zone a few blocks from the Leaky Cauldron. Almost immediately the unease which she had left behind caught up with her again and began to fester as she joined the throngs of Muggles swarming down the street, shivering underneath her jacket.
She was sure, in her external consciousness, that it was nearly impossible for Rabastan to be having an affair behind her back. They had lived together for years, and had been lovers for even longer. Rabastan had always expressed the utmost concern when it came to her safety, comfort, and happiness. He toiled away at all hours of the day and night, working hard for his organization to keep up the lifestyle that he provided for her. She never questioned where he acquired things she wanted or how he had the money to pay for them, because she trusted him.
Never mind Bellatrix Lestrange’s wayward words, Alanna was sure that Rabastan loved her. Even to contemplate such a betrayal of their bond was insanity.
But below the denial, the incessant rationalization, her inner mind knew that she reasoned in vain. She wanted so much to restore the peace that she had thought she had found in Rabastan’s house. Still, she didn’t know the truth. Where had it all—if indeed it had—gone wrong?
She halted in front of the Leaky Cauldron, aiming only to cross through to the back and enter Diagon Alley. But when the door to the pub squeaked open and emitted a large gust of warm air into the swirling autumn winds outside, Alanna heard something inside that made her thoughts quiet and her heart jump.
It began as a light tinkling noise, a spattering of bare sounds that barely rose above the din of the pub’s drunken chatter. Her breath caught in her throat as a long-estranged emotion tickled her subconscious memory.
She strained her ears to hear more, all the dread of that morning shifting to the back of her mind; this was something even more important. She took a hesitating step towards it, and then another, shivering from recognition and fear more than from the cold. A cramp grew in her legs as she commanded them to stop, in vain. Her hands twitched, the inside palms and fingertips itching. Her frozen cheeks burned with warmth. There was nothing she wanted more than to run away, far enough so that she could not hear it again. But she also wanted to stay. The tinkling intensified until notes rained frantically down upon the small space in the room.
Before Alanna could muster the will to resume her original path out to the alley, she found herself standing right next to the piano. Chords crashed onto her ears in discordant harmony as the piece ended, and then Alanna was left with chattering silence again.
She stood, frozen, and the black and white pattern of the keyboard swam in her vision. She wanted to reach out and touch the cool ivory.
“How can I help you, Miss?” The elderly piano man was staring at her. Of course—she must have looked Confunded. Alanna forced herself to give him a polite smile and reached into her pocket for a sickle, and then dropped it into the glass jar that sat atop the mahogany body of the instrument. Unwillingly she let her fingers brush the wood.
“No, thank you,” she murmured. She knew he was waiting for her to request a song, but the only songs that she wished to hear were ones that would certainly be unknown to him. “Just…keep playing.”
The piano man smiled easily and returned his attention to the instrument in front of him, flipping through his music books to find his next selection. Alanna wavered between blazing straight through the enticing sound out again into the autumn chill and accepting the warmth that it brought into the small room. But her legs shifted of their own accord, and within a second the decision had been made for her. Trembling, Alanna turned away and began to walk towards the nearest empty table she saw. It was a table for four, but no matter; she had been alone now for twenty-one years. In the background, she barely registered the piano music resuming, but unbeknownst to her the sound began to slowly sooth her distress away.
By the time she chose her seat, her vision had returned to normal and there was nothing left of her previous anxiety but determination. She knew that she deserved Rabastan’s full and undivided attention—she had kept it before. But what was it about those early years that had fostered his love?.
Alanna sank back into her chair, glancing about the dingy pub. “What do you wish to have today, lass?” the bartender suddenly called out, leering unabashedly.
Alanna flushed, looking past the man at the assemblage of drinks behind him. She had never seen so many varieties of liquor in so many colors. She rarely drank, and then it was always only whatever Rabastan ordered the house elf to bring to the dinner table. “Some soup and bread would be wonderful,” she said. A beautiful rose-colored bottle on the bar caught her attention. After a moment’s hesitation, she added, “And…and a glass of the best thing you can make from that raspberry vodka.”
The piano tinkled away behind her, the food was brought, and peace seeped slowly through her ears and settled into her unwilling mind. Elusive thoughts flickered by in a dull haze until the music slowed and threw a familiar memory of serenity into sharp relief.
The corridors that Alanna took were always silent and nearly empty. For years she had purposely ventured away from the crowds of other students until she had a thorough understanding of which routes were always busy, and which ones were never so. She could sometimes manage to go from class to class without seeing a single person. After all, Alanna had a certain contempt she bestowed on twittering, flighty girls and loud, obnoxious boys. And there were few that would speak to her, anyway.
An echo of a step sounded on the marble tiles behind her and startled her. This was a corridor that she had taken to this class for weeks, and it had unfailingly been deserted. Who could possibly be there today?
She whipped around, her anger beginning to rise, to see who had disrupted her solitude. Her heart pounded to a halt as she recognized the tall figure and dark hair striding down the hallway towards her. Unintentionally, she slowed her gait until he could easily catch up to her.
He tilted his head and looked down at her with a crooked grin. “Fancy seeing you here.”
Alanna tried to frown but found that it was impossible to will the corners of her lips downwards. She couldn’t be angry when he smiled so convincingly. Besides, if there was one person at Hogwarts who she could be persuaded to spend time in the company of, it was Rabastan Lestrange.
“I always go this way,” she replied with a small smile. “The fitting question is: what are you doing here?”
Rabastan’s casual grin did not falter. He shrugged. “Skiving off NEWT Potions. My brother has saved all of his notes for me from a couple years ago, so why bother attending class?” He looked down at Alanna’s face curiously. “Actually, I’m supposed to meet some friends down this way.” He motioned ahead of them, where the hall split to the left. “But it’s nothing urgent. I wouldn’t mind walking you to your destination. Where are you going?”
“Ancient Runes,” Alanna murmured in apprehension, and then Rabastan burst out laughing. She cringed with suppressed pain, turning her face away from him to blink back tears. Even though she had expected it, the searing of her wound was inevitable. Her father never would have laughed at her for attending class.
“Ancient Runes? When are you ever going to need to decipher ancient runes?” Rabastan shook his head. “That class is such a waste of time, love. Don’t go.”
It wasn’t that Alanna didn’t agree with him; it most certainly was a waste of time. But she had nowhere else to go, nobody with whom she wanted to skip class. It would almost be as much fun just to go back to her dorm to take a nap.
“Well, what else is there to do?” Alanna wondered aloud, ready to turn on her heel and change course towards the dungeons.
Upon hearing this, Rabastan screeched to a halt and pulled Alanna to a stop as well. Her heartbeat, which she had managed to calm in the last few minutes with deep breaths, sputtered to a stop once more at his close vicinity. He bent down until his long nose nearly touched hers, and took her small cold hand into his large warm ones. “Why don’t you come with me?”
Alanna tried her best to plaster an appropriately indignant expression onto her face at his brazen behavior, but her attempt was feeble at the least.
“I—I don’t think so. I barely even know you. I bet you don’t know my name,” she whispered, looking away from him in shame. Her cheeks burned. That was the best thing she could manage? For years now, she had waited for this man to look upon her with anything but dismissal in his gaze. Observing him in silence, she had come to know his character even better than her own. She had plotted and planned so many conversations with him in her mind’s eye—but now that the opportunity had finally dropped into her arms, she was failing herself.
To her immense surprise, Rabastan smiled sincerely. The dreaded and treasured laugh was withheld, and confined to the light in his eyes. “Of course I do,” he stated. “It’s Alanna, isn’t it?”
Alanna, entirely taken aback by this, gaped for several moments before finding her voice. She wanted so much to believe that he had finally noticed her, and taken the same kind of interest in her as she had in him. But there was a sliver of insecurity in her pride that overwhelmed her whenever she even simply thought of Rabastan, and that part of her disputed it as impossible. “Well, I suppose you’re a diligent prefect, then,” she sighed. “But we’ve scarcely spoken a word to each other.”
She knew that they had in fact spoken—and she had remembered every word, every expression, and every gesture of every instance. But she was hoping the question would lead him to answer another one, one which she could not bring herself to ask: Why have you waited so long to acknowledge me? Why now?
“Don’t be silly,” Rabastan replied, looking infinitely amused. “We’ve spoken plenty enough times to say we’re acquainted. Don’t you remember? You were about to leave your Transfiguration textbook in the common room a while ago, but I caught up to you and returned it.”
“Oh, yes,” Alanna said stupidly. She had not expected him to remember that trivial encounter. What else did he remember?
“And two weeks ago, I came across you exiting the dungeons as I was entering. I asked if you had seen Regulus Black in the common room, and you replied that you had not.” The corners of Rabastan’s eyes crinkled at the memory. “I looked everywhere for that little imp. He had hexed a couple Gryffindors, and McGonagall told me to bring him in to her. Of course, she has no power over me, but I’d do well to keep Headmaster Dumbledore on my side, at least while I’m still here, don’t you think?”
Alanna nodded. Talking to him at such close range was beginning to feel uncomfortable. She felt as if Rabastan could see easily through her feeble charades, right down to the bond that drew her irrepressibly to him. She didn’t want to be laid bare before him when he had spent almost no time studying her, while after so many years he could still remain an enigma to her.
So she said, “That’s hardly grounds to ask me to skive off lessons with you. So, why…?” Horrified, Alanna repressed the urge to clap her fingers across her mouth. At the moment her tongue seemed out of the jurisdiction of her clamoring mind.
“That first time I saw you walking away, chasing after you with Transfiguration book in hand, I took a liking to you,” Rabastan stated shamelessly, the lights in his dark eyes winking. “I wanted to make an effort to get to know you, so here I am.” He grinned again, making Alanna’s heart swoop dangerously. “It’s only fair. I know you already know me.”
Instant horror and shame doused Alanna’s insides like a bucket of icy water. “What?” she whispered. “W—what do you mean?”
“Don’t you remember what happened on Saturday night? Or am I of so little consequence to you?” Rabastan asked wryly. “I was sitting with some blokes in our corner of the common room, and you were sitting in a black armchair near the fire.” He furrowed his brow as color flushed back into Alanna’s pale face in relief.
“Oh,” she said yet again. “That’s right.” He had a way of speaking that made every carefully constructed sentence, every meticulously chosen word incite a different feeling inside her. Only moments ago she was sure that she had met her end—that she would die from humiliation. But now she had gone so weak-kneed with relief that it was all she could do to keep from slumping to the ground.
“And I thought you looked lonely by the fire, so when my friends headed out, I stayed behind,” Rabastan continued. “And I came over to you and told you that I liked your hair, that it was pretty when you wore it down. Don’t you remember now?”
Alanna nodded again, half-paralyzed with conflicting doubt and ecstasy. It was one thing to fabricate such a conversation between them in her mind’s eye; it was quite another to hold one. At the time, she had almost been certain that the encounter he was describing had been a dream.
Rabastan slipped his fingers through hers in a subtle gesture that sent a tiny involuntary convulsion along her spine. “You looked at me, much like you’re looking at me now—as if I was raving mad.” Miraculously he contained the laugh that threatened to escape his throat once more. “And then I said that my name was—”
“Rabastan Lestrange,” Alanna said abruptly. Cursing her tongue, she bit her lip to quiet herself.
Rabastan smiled triumphantly. “See, you do know me. So, now that that’s all settled, would you mind joining me? In the library there are a few interesting books that are worth a look at, and I’m sure Ancient Runes won’t miss you too much.”
Alanna frowned. “The library?” she said with distaste. “Really?”
“No, not really.” Rabastan laughed at her, but somehow the sound didn’t seem to hurt so acutely this time. In fact, the throb simply paled in comparison to the plunge in her stomach as Rabastan closed the distance between them. “I’d be content simply staying here.” And then with a sensation surreal and unknown to Alanna, she received her first kiss.
It wasn’t at all like the explicit descriptions she had overheard from late-night conversations pierced with giggles among her dorm-mates. It was nothing. Certainly she felt the warmth of another’s breath and the natural heat of desire between two bodies—but it was all on a superficial level. What she really felt, and what she knew she continued the contact for, was the nothingness in her heart and soul when he incased her in his arms. She ceased to think at all, and it was comforting. Rabastan could halt the searing arc her psyche swung with only a touch of his hand, a glance of his dark eyes. They were two halves of a whole that could only heal when they were together. And with that knowledge, Alanna was sure that he loved her.
She pulled back after a moment, bone cold with fear that she would do something to somehow drive him away. “What about your friends?” she asked.
Rabastan raised a brow. “What friends? They can wait.” And without another word of explanation offered, he bundled her into his embrace and breathed peace into her body through her lips.
Nothingness had never seemed so addicting.
The crowd at the bar had changed significantly since Alanna had last looked up. Gone were the quiet old wizards and frail witches that sat to take their tea and gossip. Even the boisterous unemployed men, clad in ratty robes and the perpetual stank of alcoholism, had returned home. Now the younger groups were gathering, ushered in by the end of the workday and the beginning of the weekend. Alanna was sometimes fascinated by their time-dependent routines—every hour of every day seemed to serve the same purpose to her.
Then she noticed that the music had stopped, leaving the air in the room barren.
Standing, she left her empty plate at the table and shuffled her way towards the piano once more. The mahogany gleamed brightly underneath the dim bar lights, the instrument almost too beautiful to be found among loud and coarse patrons. Alanna wondered fleetingly why the piano even bothered to bear such company.
The piano man was smiling at her again, and Alanna noticed that he was an aging, toothless wizard. Returning the smile, she said kindly, “You play beautifully.”
“You should come here more often—appreciate it while it lasts.” He sighed sadly, flexing gnarled hands. “I don’t put in many hours anymore here as it is. My bones are weary, especially in this weather. I can’t keep playing here for much longer.”
“Go to St. Mungo’s,” Alanna suggested in a soft voice. “They’ll fix you some draught or another that will keep you going.”
The piano man picked up a rag and began to wipe down the dust that had collected on the wood. “I would, but I can’t,” he said offhandedly. “This business doesn’t pay too much, and medicines are expensive nowadays.” At Alanna’s shocked expression, he laughed. “Don’t look so surprised, miss. It wasn’t always like this, you know. The Ministry’s gone corrupt from the inside, and they’ve taken St. Mungo’s right down with them. Besides, I’m ready to retire. With all the sickles and knuts I’ve collected over the years, I think I’ve got enough.”
Alanna grinned as the old man jangled his glass jar. “Well, I’ll be sorry to see you go,” she said honestly. “I really do mean to return here soon.”
“You won’t be as sorry as old Tom—that’s the owner of this place. He’ll be hard-pressed to find someone to take my place, especially on wages not fit for a busboy.” The old man tipped his hat to her, his eyes sparkling wickedly. “Well, my shift is done, so I’ll see you around, miss.”
Alanna turned to go, shoving her hands in her coat pockets to brace herself for the autumn chill. There she brushed across some coins.
“Wait,” she called, whirling back around. The piano man stopped and watched her drop two galleons into the glass jar, smiling his toothless grin. The metal jangled loudly on the glass, but nobody saw the coins fall except Alanna and the old man. Then she turned away quickly and walked towards the door.
A/N: Well, I hope you liked it. Please leave a teeny review and let me know what you thought. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed this story so far, you guys really make my day! Thanks also to my beta Blissbug and the wonderful SwissMiss@TDA for making the beautiful graphics.
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