Alanna awoke the next morning with a cold sweat filming her forehead, her heart pounding with fear. She lay in bed for nearly half the morning looking up at the ceiling, but she couldn’t draw up the energy to rise.
Her dreams had been riddled with mystery men, all dark-haired and handsome like her Rabastan, but where their faces should have been there was only a white expanse.
She shivered at the memory of the chilling image. Who had Rabastan Lestrange become anyway? The change in him was palpable, but Rabastan became wary, even defensive, whenever she brought it up. Last night had been the worst confrontation between them yet. She had known she would provoke him, but Alanna could not help herself. She felt that their relationship—and their life together—could never advance anywhere if she did not do something. And she was losing patience; she had waited so long for him already that she was beginning to suspect that Rabastan’s intentions were altogether different from her own.
What if he had never intended to marry her? What if he indeed expected Alanna to live like this for the rest of their lives?
This was a thorn that had been driven into her heart repeatedly, many times by her own thoughts, but it had never once been as painful as when inflicted under the hand of Bellatrix Lestrange.
Her hands clenched into fists, clutching onto her comforter, at the very thought of the name. Drawn away from underneath her oppressive presence, Alanna was free to harbor as much anger towards the other woman as she would. But all of it meant nothing, because once Alanna came to face her directly, Alanna knew she would be helpless to defend herself once more.
Rolling over onto the cold, unoccupied side of the bed, Alanna knew at once that Rabastan had not joined her to sleep the night before. This was common enough of an occurrence that Alanna usually thought nothing of it, but after last night this was different. Her mind raced. Had their row been so irreconcilable that he couldn’t even bear to lie next to her?
And what of the pin—still unexplained. What was Alanna to make of that?
With a growing sense of urgency, Alanna strained her ears to listen. But from the utter silence in the house, it seemed that Rabastan was gone once again. The only noise she could hear was the faint tinkering of the house elves in the downstairs kitchen, a sound so familiar to her by now that she could immediately identify it from the alien ones which were Rabastan’s deep voice and heavy footsteps. A wave of loneliness swept over her as she realized that she was beginning to think of Rabastan as a stranger in whose house she lived. This wasn’t how the bond that connected them had meant for them to live. They were together, but it felt forced.
Alanna shoved at the heavy blankets, fuming and kicking them off of her legs like a child in a temper. Rabastan was her anchor, and she needed him. He could manage and tame her mind like none other. After yesterday’s row Alanna assumed that he would not be leaving again for at least a few weeks. If he cared, he would stay.
All of a sudden, she remembered the pity of the house elf that had passed her in the hall last night. Disgusted with herself, she swiped away the tears that trickled down her cheeks. It was useless to dwell and wonder.
Shoving the bitter disappointment back in her throat, she rose out of bed to meet the prospect of another day without Rabastan. She was determined that she would find some way to survive.
As Alanna padded down the stairs, headed for the kitchen, she passed an open door on the second floor landing which filled her heart with curiosity. The argument of the previous night, coupled with her disquieting dreams, made Alanna feel an itching impatience for herself and her unchanging routine. She craved something new, an escape to take her mind off of her troubles. And all her life she had known but only one place to find such a thing—but four years ago she had exchanged it for Rabastan Lestrange.
Fleetingly she thought that it could even be for the better that Rab had left her alone once more. She had a secret from him, buried deep in the drawing room.
Rabastan charged up the marble steps and shoved the great wooden doors open unceremoniously. He raced into the room, the unnatural darkness flooding his vision for a long, dreadful moment before he regained sight. A gasp of apologetic explanation hovered on the tip of his tongue. “I was—up all night…I took a—a walk—”
“You’re late, Lestrange,” the Dark Lord interrupted coldly. He gestured to an empty seat at the long table and motioned for Rosier to continue speaking.
“My source is credible, my Lord,” Rosier said with a smug smile. “The Mudblood Lily Evans is indeed with child—and of course it is no doubt Potter’s. She must be far along, the way that Black was carrying on about it, drunk off his arse in Diagon Alley in the middle of the night—”
“He was celebratin’ with the werewolf,” Adrian Inglish drawled, eliciting several laughs from around the table.
“Celebrating so ardently the night after our encounter at Hogsmeade?” Lucius Malfoy asked. He smiled coldly. “Apparently Black and Lupin have not learned their lesson.”
Rosier smirked. “My Lord, with a tongue as loose as Black’s, it will be easy to find a way to circumvent the Fidelus Charm on the Potters. I say we go after them first.”
“We have no indication that Black is indeed their Secret-Keeper,” the Dark Lord mused. “After all, Potter is of a good breed. His family is not daft. To choose Black as their Secret-Keeper would make it all too easy for us to find them. No, their Secret-Keeper must be someone improbable—more improbable than the werewolf, and less improbable than Pettigrew.”
Rabastan rose to his feet, his heart pounding. For years he had kept nearly silent at these meetings, speaking only when spoken to and saying nothing that was not pre-rehearsed in his mind time and time again, just in case. This proposal was no different—it was meticulously prepared—but everything was riding on it. “If I may speak, my Lord?”
Lord Voldemort acknowledged Rab with a short nod.
“We have also recently received confirmation that Alice Prewett Longbottom gave birth at St. Mungo’s a fortnight ago to a male child. Given the circumstances that surround her and the father, Frank Longbottom, it is more likely that the Longbottom child is the child that my Lord is seeking, not the Potter child.”
“And how do you figure that, Lestrange?” Rosier challenged, halfway rising out of his chair. Only a warning look from Lucius Malfoy stayed him from speaking further without the Dark Lord’s permission.
Rabastan hesitated, eyeing the friendly and unfriendly faces at the table that surrounded him. He had known this would happen, of course—it happened every time the Dark Lord needed to make a crucial decision. The possible courses of action would split the group into halves and thirds, and they battled it out until their Lord was sufficiently convinced one way or the other. Heading a successful mission heralded the Dark Lord’s favor, but whoever had proposed an unsuccessful one was less lucky. To set himself up for such failure was undeniably dangerous, but Rabastan knew that if he never stepped up and took charge, he would be left forever out of his Lord’s innermost circle.
“Both fathers—James Potter and Frank Longbottom—are of pureblood heritage,” Rabastan said, training his eyes on Rosier. He spoke slowly, as if Rosier was a child who did not understanding easily. “Alice Longbottom is also a pureblood. But the mother of the Potter child, Lily Potter, is a Mudblood.”
“I assure you, my Lord, that I am well aware of this fact, as is everyone else in this room,” Rosier snarled. “This is unnecessary, Lestrange.”
“But the child we seek to eliminate, my Lord,” Rabastan insisted, his voice growing louder, “is the one who poses a problem to us. Who is more likely to be the more powerful—the pureblood child, or the half-blood?”
“The Potters were Head Boy and Girl,” Rosier said with less conviction. He had only just realized that he would be advocating the half-blood child’s potential magical abilities against the pureblood one. “They could not have been chosen unless they demonstrated—”
“Headmaster Dumbledore is daft!” Rabastan interrupted triumphantly. The Dark Lord despised Albus Dumbledore. “He evidently chooses his Head Boys and Girls, not on ambition and magical ability, but on popularity.” He spat the last words out with disdain.
Several men that sat beside Lucius Malfoy began to look thoughtful. Malfoy’s own expression remained stony as he regarded Rabastan.
“Pure blood James Potter may have,” Rabastan continued, “but he has none of the other defining qualities of good breeding. Look at the friends that he chooses to keep, the wife that he chooses to take. He is currently unemployed. He has made no effort to contact us, and in fact, has rebuffed all of our past invitations.”
“Frank Longbottom is no better,” Rosier countered. “He is employed at the Ministry of Magic, of all the daft places. He keeps company with a number of half-bloods and his wife comes from a family of blood traitors. He has also chosen to ignore our offers of initiation.”
Rabastan no longer addressed only Rosier. He could feel the men around him shifting. “If you claim that the fathers are of equal standing then let us look at the mothers. The Prewetts are blood traitors, but purebloods nonetheless. Alice Longbottom comes from a branch that is not as corrupted as the Prewett-Black and Mulciber-Prewett lines.” Rabastan held his breath for an outburst, but the Mulciber seated before him only grumbled softly to himself about his wayward second great-cousin. “Lily Potter, on the other hand, has no known magical relatives. It seems that her entire living family is Muggle.”
“My Lord, that means little,” Rosier protested. “The circumstances that surround each child are of the utmost importance, and must be considered above their parentage.”
Lord Voldemort raised a hand for silence. Rabastan took a seat immediately and Rosier followed grudgingly a moment after.
“The information has been presented,” the Dark Lord said. “I will not make my decision until I see where all of you stand.” With trepidation, Rabastan saw Malfoy smile at their Lord and nod his head. Voldemort looked first to Rabastan and then to Rosier. “I will see how convincing you can be,” he told them.
Then he dismissed them all with a wave of his hand.
House elves dusted down the drawing room twice every week. The untouched ivory and wood was as spotless as the rest of the house.
The heavy curtains were closed —Alanna drew them open to admit weak autumn sunshine through the window into the room. Slowly she walked around the large instrument twice, remembering the way it sounded under her fingers, before sitting down at the keys. Her memory raced through various colorful melodies, but after so much time Alanna wanted to start small.
She closed her eyes and let her fingers rest lightly against the keys, moving wherever they chose. The notes, tiny and tentative at first, began to appear in her mind. Erratic sounds flew together into a simple, gliding melody that made Alanna’s heart jump. She recognized it immediately; it was something she had made at age nine, shortly after she had found the abandoned old piano in the back room of the orphanage. It was the fourth time she had ever felt the need to play.
Alanna didn’t realize that she still clutched the soggy clump of coarse napkins in her fist until she had reached her piano room. Tossing them onto the floor in the corner with a splat, she sat down on the bench. Dried tears cracked on her cheeks and dried oatmeal cracked in a stain on her too-large dress as she began to play, pressing random notes to a pattern in her head. Sometimes she was wrong, but she always felt it and tried her best to fix herself. More often, though, the sounds that came out from the piano sounded just right.
Her stomach growled. She was hungry. James, one of the bigger kids, had accidentally backed into her as she was stepping out of the food line, and her bowl of pottage had spilled all down her front. He had apologized well enough, but it was no use. Now she would have nothing to eat until lunchtime tomorrow.
The music pounded through her empty belly in an angry swarm of notes. Her head swam.
“Lana?” Alanna didn’t turn. She didn’t stop playing, either. She knew who it was—Polly, the six-year-old who followed her around and always asked too many questions. “Lana, can I please stay?”
She was dizzy. Alanna’s fingers slipped off of the keys with a dissonant crash and she turned around. Polly had never asked her permission to stay before. Then again, Polly had never caught her playing the instrument buried in the back room of the orphanage before.
“I heard the music,” Polly explained. “It’s pretty.”
The little girl carried in her hand a half-eaten bowl of pottage, and the two pockets of her dress bulged with pilfered rolls. “Give me your pottage,” Alanna ordered. “And one roll. Then I’ll let you stay with me.”
Polly handed the food over and Alanna took it and ate it without a word. Then she wiped her hands on her knees and began to play again, little cascading waterfalls of music. The swell of the notes grew higher and louder each time before tumbling back down until Polly was laughing and clapping her hands and Alanna’s eyes were shining.
“Where did you learn to play so good?” Polly asked when the notes had become softer again.
Alanna used two fingers to press two notes with one hand at the same time. Then she tried three. It sounded different, but still pretty good. “I dunno,” she said. “I teach myself, I guess. I come and play here whenever I feel bad.”
“Why?” Polly reached out to press a key, but Alanna batted her hand away.
“Because,” Alanna replied, the food in her belly warming her, “it makes me feel better.”
The chords pounded to a close. Alanna was shaking. Her limbs trembled and quaked as if she had just run a long way or lifted a huge load. She rested her elbows gently on the keys and buried her face in her hands. She should have been surprised that she could still remember what it felt like, but she was not.
“It makes me feel better,” she mumbled to herself again and again.
Alanna didn’t notice when a small house elf named Pinky peered curiously around the door. The house elves had heard the strange music in the kitchen, but Pinky was the only one who had dared come upstairs to investigate.
Pinky smiled softly at her mistress before pulling her head out of the doorway again and toddling back to report to the others.
When Alanna had gathered the strength to look up again, she noticed for the first time a small picture frame of a young man hanging on the wall behind the piano. Alanna rose to her feet carefully and approached it. The daguerreotype portrait itself was old and yellowed behind the spotless glass of the new frame, and at the very bottom in small letters, Alanna read, “John D. Lestrange, 1834.”
The man inside looked so much like Rabastan that Alanna froze for a moment in front of him, cold guilt coursing through her blood. She knew she would not be able to sit down again and play with John D. Lestrange watching her.
She turned to the piano, ready to lay the cover down forever.
Instead, she turned back to the portrait, reached out an arm, and took John D. Lestrange off of the wall. “I’m moving you to another room,” she told him. Then she had another idea. Setting the picture frame down gently on a table near the front hall, she grabbed her cloak and set out the front door.
When Rabastan returned home later that day, Alanna was not in the sitting room at her usual spot. The wireless sat, silent, on the table.
“Alanna, dear, where are you?” Rabastan called as he walked through the rooms, crossing the house, headed for the kitchen. Panic rose again as he thought of the argument that they had had the previous night. Had he finally gone too far? Had his reckless jibe about Bellatrix finally been insult enough to drive Alanna into the arms of the Ministry? It had slipped out of his lips before he could bite his tongue, and now he sorely regretted it.
“Where is she?” he demanded harshly as he came upon several house elves chopping and preparing food for supper. Alanna was nowhere to be seen.
“Pinky does not know who you are asking for, Master,” the one standing nearest to him squeaked in terror. Her cheeks, indeed, were pink from heat, and were made no better by the steam that rose in billows from the pot of soup on the stove.
Rabastan glowered at the young house elf. “The mistress,” he snapped. “Where is she?” It felt strange to speak the words off of his tongue, to call Alanna the mistress of his household. He had never really thought of her as such, yet she held the position here all the same. His house would have fallen into sad disrepair, had Alanna not been here to preside as mistress over its daily routines.
“The mistress,” Pinky whispered, avoiding Rabastan’s eyes in terrified defiance. “Pinky is sorry, Master, but she does not know.”
The sense of desperation peaked within him as horror crept up his throat. Where was Alanna? He could not have her wandering about the world as she wished! Rabastan slammed a fist down onto the counter, making several of the house elves in the kitchen jump. One nearly spilled a jug of milk onto the ground.
“How do you not know where your mistress is?” he roared, stalking over to the side door that opened onto the large backyard. One hurried sweep of the land behind the house showed no sign of the woman. “One of you must have heard her leave!”
Suddenly a sob sounded in the darkest, furthermost corner of the kitchen. Rabastan whirled around towards the noise and peered at a small form cowering, half-hidden by the shadows and the shelter of its own trailing beard. Rabastan fought the urge to laugh despite his urgent situation. “Gimpy?” he asked incredulously. “Are you crying?”
Gimpy had served the Lestranges since Rabastan’s birth, if not before. When he came of age, his father had given him to Rabastan as a house-warming gift, an elf to serve him in his own household. Now the house elf was elderly, even by elf-standards, and he headed the rest of the elves in Rabastan’s home like a general most loyal to his prince. But Rabastan could see upon second glance, in the glowingly honest orbs that he had come to know, a tint of guilt. Rabastan swallowed the fear that perhaps his oldest servant had developed a stronger loyalty to his mistress than that which he reserved for his often-absent master.
“Well?” he asked softly, walking over to where Gimpy sat, his knobbly knees drawn stiffly to his thin chest. His long beard draped over his legs.
“Gimpy!” cried Pinky the house elf, hurrying over to hover behind Rabastan. “Do not cry, Gimpy! What did Pinky tell you? Do not cry!” She rang her little hands nervously, but Rabastan didn’t spare her even a glance.
The older house elf seemed to pay the younger one no mind. “Gimpy is sorry, Master!” the elderly elf cried, shaking with heavy sobs. “Gimpy did not know that Master would need Mistress when Master came home! Gimpy saw her go! Gimpy saw Mistress go out the door and Gimpy did not stop her!”
Rabastan groaned inwardly. He did not want to take the time to soothe this house elf from his hysterics, but there was no other way. Crouching down in an awkward and somewhat painful position, he patted the old elf on his shoulder and rubbed his ears. Almost immediately, Gimpy ceased his sobbing and looked up at Rabastan’s face with tearful reverence. He would have promptly thrown his arms around his master had Rabastan not risen hurriedly and stepped away.
“Did she say where she was going?” Rabastan asked gently.
Gimpy moaned in despair, hanging his wrinkled head once more. “Gimpy did not ask, Master,” he whispered. “Mistress did not even take her tea. She only found her cloak and left.”
Rabastan raised his eyebrows. “Her cloak? Only her cloak and nothing else?”
“Nothing else, Master, nothing.” Gimpy pulled at his long beard, tears of pure anguish springing from his eyes. He smoothed the sheet that covered his body, using the corner of the cloth to mop his face.
A portion of the weight lifted off of Rabastan’s chest. Perhaps she had taken his advice and contacted a few of her friends. Perhaps they were only going to shop in Diagon Alley and catch up, nothing more. It was simply an innocent trip that he was blowing out of proportion because Alanna rarely went out, and he had gotten used to always having her under his eye.
But there was one last thing to make certain. “And what was Mistress doing before she left, Gimpy?”
The old house elf sniffed, but before he could answer, Pinky bustled in once more and dropped to her knees before the other elf. “Remember, Gimpy cannot cry! Mistress would not want Gimpy to cry!” she wailed, seizing the other elf’s hands in her own and squeezing them tightly.
Her small nails dug in a vice-like grip on Gimpy’s palms, and at once the elderly house elf seemed to gather his wits about him. “Nothing, Master,” he whispered through gritted teeth, and for once he could not look Rabastan in the eye.
All at once Rabastan felt a wave of revulsion overcome him, and he could not stand to stay another moment in the company of the pathetic creatures. “Very well,” he said tersely. He ran a hand through his hair in agitation before leaving the kitchen.
A/N: Thanks to my beta Blissbug for being faster than a speeding bullet, to SwissMiss @ tda for being amazing with GIMP, and to everyone who has reviewed thus far. If you have a bit of time to review, I'd really appreciate the feedback!
By the way, sorry for the false alarm. There's a long explanation, but the gist is that reading over this chapter, I realized it was in conflict with the original planned storyline. I took it down intending to add a chapter in between, but after much agnozing deliberation I decided I actually liked this storyline better. So I hope you enjoyed this! Please let me know. :)
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