It was never supposed to have reached this point. It was never supposed to have crossed that line - that line that separated what one dreamed from what one knew to be true. It had all been fairly harmless, up until now. Plenty of talking, but none of those talks had ever extended beyond a dirty table at the Hog’s Head. Plenty of dreaming, but none of those dreams had come to fruition. Plenty of planning, but none of those plans had attained as much as Antonin Dolohov had – and none of them had ever hinted at this terrible price.
It was late, well past midnight; Antonin suspected it was probably three or four in the morning at this point. As usual, he couldn’t sleep. Sleep had not come easy to him lately, and if he had said he didn’t know the reason why, he would only have been kidding himself. He knew very well why he had turned into an insomniac, it would have happened to anyone with any semblance of morality. Maybe that was the problem; he had too much of a conscience to run with this crowd.
He felt guilty over his lack of sleep, knowing what his master would say if he ever had to reveal his sleeplessness. He knew the punishments the Dark Lord had inflicted on those he felt were unfaithful to him. Hell, he’d carried out some of those punishments himself.
He turned over in his bed; the sheets felt scratchy on his face, the pillows hard beneath his head. He half wondered if he would ever feel comfortable again. Moaning slightly, he sat up and swung his legs off the edge of the bed, clasping his pounding temples beneath his sinewy, trembling fingers. He breathed deeply through his nose, trying to will himself into unconsciousness. This didn’t work; it never did. He already knew he’d be turning things over in his mind still when the dawn broke outside his bedroom window.
How welcome sleep would be now, just one moment’s respite from the soreness in his head and the bitter taste of what he had done still on his tongue. But when he closed his eyes, it was still all laid out before him, as though he were still outside the house, laughing with his friends as he made his way up the sidewalk to the front door…
The night had been cool and pleasant. It was a shame they’d have to die this night; it was a shame they’d have to die any night. But things had started to become much too difficult for the Dark Lord and his followers to be able to continue in peace, and these two were right at the root of the stickiest of the problems.
Antonin glanced around at his friends; four faces hidden in the shadows beneath identical hoods. They would remain forever anonymous, forever apart from what would happen there that night. Antonin alone would claim the reward when he returned, triumphant, to stand at the Dark Lord’s side.
Their cloaks hissed and slithered over the few leaves that had already fallen from the trees to rest upon the walkway up to the door. Antonin threw his hood back as he mounted the porch steps; there was some satisfaction in allowing himself to be recognized, for whom would they be able to tell? They would not live to reveal their murderer…
A cat yowled from somewhere outside, startling Antonin out of his reverie. He swallowed hard and rubbed a hand over his bloodshot eyes, rising slowly from the bed, feeling every joint groan in protest at being asked to move. He deserved no better than that pain.
He reached blindly for the carton of cigarettes on his bedside table, one of many that littered the dirty carpet under his feet. Most of them were empty by now. Grasping his wand, he tapped the end of the cigarette and it lit up at once; he drew a long, slow drag and blew the smoke out slowly, watching the cloud hang suspended in front of his face, smelling its acrid scent as it invaded the air of the room.
Antonin stood from the bed and crossed the room into the tiny hallway beyond, freezing without the lamps lit. The floor beneath his bare feet was ice, and if he let his mind wander just far enough, the smoke between his lips was his breath in the chilly air…
They had been expecting him; they were smart, he would grant them that. They were not unaware that they had been wanted men, sought after for a matter of weeks now. Antonin gave them credit for the fact that they had remained hidden for as long as they had.
Fabian had been in the sitting room when Antonin had entered the house, just sitting on the sofa as though he was waiting for precisely this moment. His wand was grasped tightly in his hand, ready to cast any spell its owner might ask of it.
Neither man had said a word; they eyed each other coolly. Now that the moment had come, it had an unreal quality to it, almost as if this were just another sick fantasy playing through Antonin’s mind.
One of his friends decided that that had been the moment to act. “Stupefy!” he had cried, his wand pointing directly at Fabian’s heart; the red jet of light missed easily as the target had leapt up nimbly from the couch.
“Deprimo!” Fabian roared; Antonin ducked instinctively as the ceiling above their heads cracked, plaster and wood raiding down on the Death Eaters still assembled in the hall. One gave a cry that was quickly muffled by the debris…
A faint glow from a streetlamp outside illuminated the front window of the tiny house. Antonin crossed to the window, his mind wandering once more as he inhaled another puff of smoke from the cigarette.
He didn’t want to do this anymore. This wasn’t anything at all like he had envisioned. He could handle the tortures; those didn’t bother him at all. Watching people scream, beg for mercy – but he’d never thought it might have stretched beyond that. He’d underestimated his master’s limits, and once they’d been realized it was too late.
All was quiet and still beyond the window. Nothing moved in the street save for a skeletal black cat, prowling around the garbage pails three houses down. Antonin could see its ribs clearly from where he stood, even in the dim light that three o’ clock in the morning provided. The sight made him nauseous; he didn’t want to think about bones. He didn’t want to think about anything…
Running footsteps had sounded from the landing above. “Stay where you are, Gid! It’s them!” Fabian had shouted, wand braced for whoever emerged from the rubble first.
Antonin snarled, leaping up from the pile of wood nimbly, roughly wiping the blood from his lip where it had split in the crash. He hurled a curse noiselessly in his opponent’s direction, but it was deflected by an equally silent Shield Charm, and Antonin just managed to dodge the rebound.
Catlike, Fabian leapt from the sitting room across the fallen ceiling and onto the bottom step of the staircase leading to the second floor. Leaving his accomplices to struggle out of the wreckage, Antonin threw himself after his opponent, slipping on the carpet runner as he did so.
A jet of bright blue light flew over his head from a door to his right; whirling around the corner, he brought his wand down through the air wildly. Fabian had been hiding in the corner, and as the streak of purple slashed the air, he crumpled wordlessly on the carpet. Anger blinding his senses, Antonin brought the heel of his boot down hard on the fallen man’s mouth, feeling teeth snap and watching blood run down his chin…
The cigarette had burned down; Antonin opened the window a crack and flicked the stub out of it. The air outside was just as icy as the temperature inside the house promised. It had been three months since the coolness of that autumn night and winter had set in resolutely, not giving any hints as to when it might allow warmth again. Winter was by far the cruelest of the seasons.
Three months… It was much longer than he had expected to hold out on his own. He had not been summoned since returning to relay his triumph to the Dark Lord. Secretly, he knew why; they all thought him a dead man. It was inevitable that he would join others like him in Azkaban, others who had fallen under the Dark Lord’s influence and had committed crimes in the master’s name.
The only thing more frightening than the nightmares that plagued him now was the thought of them never going away, once in Azkaban. There, all hope would be lost. They would make sure of that…
Antonin pointed his wand at Fabian’s chest, preparing to make the final incantation that would end this troublemaker’s life. He had never killed before; he did not know how it would feel. Fabian lay pitifully still on the carpet, blood down dripping onto the carpet under him.
Suddenly Antonin had felt his wand fly out of his hand; whirling furiously on the spot, he found himself looking at Gideon Prewett, clutching two wands and looking mad with rage and grief for his brother. He knew his brother’s life was already a lost cause.
There was still a great scraping and shuffling from the floor below; it seemed Antonin’s partners had managed to free themselves from the remainder of the torn floor, visible behind where Gideon stood clutching Antonin’s wand.
“You’re finished, Prewett,” Antonin spat, a cruel smile twisting his face nastily. He took a step over Fabian’s body toward the upright one of his brother; Gideon did not back down. “You could end this all right now. Come back with us, join us and you will be spared-“
His voice was cut off as his enemy all but ignored him. “Reducto!” Gideon cried, pocketing the spare wand and pointing his own at the wall lamp behind Antonin’s head. It shattered magnificently; Antonin tried to dodge the glass shards, but felt some of them cut into his neck. He yelled in surprise at the pain, and then looked to see two of the other Death Eaters sprinting up the stairs; he had grinned, knowing Gideon would soon fall…
The clock on the mantelpiece struck four; Antonin glanced over at it without expression. He wished for another cigarette to try and ease his mind from the only subject that had plagued it for months. Part of him knew it wouldn’t work – why would it work now, when it had been ineffective up to this moment? But at least he had the distraction of something in his hand when it was there.
Perhaps he was better off dead, rather than just awaiting the time when someone would discover him and cart him away to Azkaban. He had never thought of himself as an especially morose person, but death did sound more and more appealing to him as the days oozed by. He wondered if it would hurt to die; maybe it would be less painful than the depressing existence that surely awaited him in prison.
He thought of his wand, lying on the nightstand still – it was tempting. But he would never have the courage.
Why had this happened to him? How had he managed to wreck his life so completely in just a matter of years? He had let himself become bullied by people stronger than he, had gone under their influence and had been wrapped up in the aura of power that they had exuded.
It was his own fault; he deserved everything that he was feeling now…
Gideon had heard the Death Eaters on the stairs as well; he turned to meet them, raising his wand. Antonin seized his opportunity and dove at him, trying to recapture his own wand from the pocket of Gideon’s jeans. He managed to grab him around the knees and they both fell, Gideon landing hard on the edge of the hole in the floor and yelling in pain as the sharp splinters drove into his back.
Antonin finally managed to grab his own wand and crawled backwards on his hands and knees before leaping to his feet, panting, a malicious gleam alighting his dark eyes. Unfortunately, he had underestimated the scope of his opponent’s injuries; Gideon too found his feet and managed to dodge the next hex Antonin threw at him, lurching into the other two Death Eaters.
They had fumbled inside their robes for their own wands; Antonin cursed, angry that he had agreed to the idea of bringing reinforcements on this mission. He was strong, he was worthy, he could have done this alone… But no matter. Now it was time to finish the job.
He raised his wand and made the slashing motion again, but Gideon somehow managed to evade the purple light. It hit the first of the two Death Eaters instead, and he fell instantly back into the other; they both toppled down the stairs and out of sight.
But Gideon had lost his strength; he slumped to his knees and merely looked at Antonin submissively. A tiny quaver of remorse had blossomed then in Antonin’s heart, but he had shrugged it off. It was not proper, it was not right… He had come this far…
He brought his arm down in a different slashing motion; a great gash bloomed on Gideon’s neck, and blood poured from the wound. He fell sideways, and was dead before his head touched the floor.
After Gideon was dead, it was only a matter of minutes until Antonin and his friends left the house; both men were confirmed dead, and they departed quickly, leaving the wreckage as it was; no point in tidying a house for dead men. Their neighbors would discover what had occurred before too long…
He gave into his impulses and returned to his bedroom for a second cigarette. His head was throbbing so hard he thought it might burst; perhaps all would be better if it did.
He was sorry he had done it. As painful and humiliating as it was to admit it, even to himself, he knew the strange emotions that had been afflicting him since that night were guilt and remorse. He had spilled pure blood, and there was no justification he could make for doing so.
Antonin lit his cigarette and sucked in a deep breath of the smoke. He waited for the day when he would go to Azkaban; then he would get what was coming to him. He would welcome it, because it was what he deserved. He put out the cigarette in the ashtray by his bed and climbed back beneath his sheets, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling.
Azkaban was another day closer.
A/N: This story is much darker than anything else I've ever published, so I'm a little worried as to what reaction I might expect from it. And YOU are the givers of that reaction, so I encourage you to let me know what you thought! Many thanks for all who have so far read and taken the time to review, and for those at the forums who were so helpful, answering questions as I wrote this. I hope you enjoyed "Insomniac"!