The dark, quiet suburb of Tatting Cross, though used to its fair share of rain, had scarce experienced the cascading sheets of water now slashing almost sideways through the air. Trees at the sides of houses swayed dangerously with the wind, their leafless branches scratching the stained walls they stood next to. The houses themselves had a consistent air of faded grandeur. They were, without exception, multiple stories, with faded, peeling paint and overgrown gardens that spilled their contents out onto the lawn. The neighborhood’s general state of disrepair was suggestive of a place that had long since been vacated, an impression contradicted by the scattered lights along the street and every now and then, gleaming from the windows of a house.
Tatting Cross was, and had always been, a neighborhood with a reputation. In its early days, which hardly a living soul could remember, it had been a spectacular retreat for the prim, uptight and successful members of society. As these residents began to age, however, the younger generation as a whole had been ill-suited to continue this reputation for success. Bad investment decisions and a liking for grandeur led the first few houses into states of neglect, and the resultant drop in the value of the neighboring homes had taken its toll over the intervening decades. Now the place had for itself a new designation: it was where the most eccentric and unreliable members of the community could be found. Plagued further with tales of hauntings, (The street, after all, ran beside a rather extravagant looking graveyard) Tatting Cross was a place that any self-respecting normal person avoided.
The downpour began to lighten up very slightly, and as if this had been a cue, the pale, dark haired figure of a young woman appeared at the far end of the street. She took in her surroundings for less than several seconds before setting off down the street in the direction of the oldest and most destitute houses. She carried no umbrella, nor any other means of protecting herself against the weather, just one more indication that Ambrosia Black was just about the farthest thing possible from a normal person. She grew gradually wetter as she made her progress down the street, turning her head repeatedly from side to side, examining the houses. Her pace quickened as the street she strode upon darkened, and upon reaching the second to last of the houses, without breaking stride, she turned sharply into the path of the familiar house.
It was as proudly decrepit as any surrounding it, with ancient trees on either side of its path linking arms over the walkway and plunging it into an eerie darkness that teemed with the sounds of owls in the trees and small critters through the vegetation. A large gray cat streaked across the path in front of Ambrosia, who spared it a small smile before continuing toward the mansion. Upon reaching the door she stepped over the threshold as it swung open, seemingly of its own accord. Her green eyes narrowed as she took in the familiar room. It was exactly the way she remembered it, except for the green and silver balloons and serpent-shaped cake that now lay upon an ornate table in the center of the place. Smiling to herself, she drew close enough to see the green icing that spelled out the greeting: “Congratulations Ambrosia, new Hogwarts graduate.”
She stepped back, peering into the kitchen. “Bella?” She called tentatively.
There was a metallic clang and a yell. Bellatrix Black came tearing out of the kitchen at top speed and threw herself upon her sister.
“Ambrosia! We weren’t expecting you until late…. Kreacher’s here, he’s still working on dinner….”
A series of clanking noises from the kitchen gave evidence to her statement. Grinning and disentangling herself from her sister, Ambrosia raised her voice. “Hello Kreacher!”
“Good evening mistress!” came the croaky reply. The left side of Bellatrix’s mouth curved upward. “Cissy and Regulus are upstairs, and Aunt Walburga’s supposed to be coming. Mum was in the kitchen with Kreacher, but I’ve no idea where she is now….”
They made their way around the kitchen to a magnificent sitting room where a large sofa and two chairs formed a semicircle facing a stone fireplace, in which several logs crackled energetically. Ambrosia took a seat on the sofa, and Bellatrix paused before it. She looked over her shoulder toward the din that Kreacher was still making, and brought the volume of her voice just below it.
“You still keeping up with what the Dark Lord is doing?”
“Yes of course. You know how I watch…. Regulus too…. He’s taken to cutting out all the articles about him in the Prophet and pinning them to the wall in his dormitory, you know.” At this, Bellatrix exhaled forcefully in quiet mirth.
“Regulus is still in school, very much underage. You’ve just become fully qualified. I’m allowed to give you more than snippets and ratty newspaper clippings now, if you’re feeling up to it.”
Ambrosia shifted herself on the sofa to make room for Bellatrix, leaning in eagerly as she sat down. She had been hoping for an offer of this type from her elder sister for a great while, and, given Bellatrix’s sporadic and tantalizing hints, she had been reasonably sure it would come. Although her sister had heartily enjoyed playing with her until it did. She nodded her assent, and Bellatrix smiled at her, obviously in her element.
“The Dark Lord is still gathering followers. In order to really begin elevating purebloods to power, he’ll have to either overthrow the Ministry, or get enough of our people inside it to start changing policy. He’s trying to keep the resistance under control as well… Including Dumbledore’s Order. There aren’t many people yet who know enough about us to muster a resistance. The Aurors are catching on though, and seem to be gaining in number and power. It isn’t very relevant though. Those of us who have been thrown into Azkaban for his cause will not remain there.”
“He can get people out of Azkaban?” Ambrosia asked. The words sounded rather more skeptical aloud than she had meant for them to be in her head.
“Of course. It’s not the sort of thing you can do inconspicuously though, so he’s careful. Dementors don’t seem to have the same effect on him as they do on most people. I’ve seen him near them, but they don’t touch him. I’ve never seen him cast a Patronus.”
It was mostly this last piece of information that Ambrosia pondered in the ensuing silence, making it difficult to organize the rest of the questions in her head. She knew that her sister would not tell all she knew, loyalty to the Dark Lord demanded the keeping of any real secrets of his that she had been entrusted with. She decided on a question she thought was not only safe, but that she could twist to allow Bellatrix a chance to fawn on the Dark Lord, something Ambrosia had enjoyed listening to since her sister had become a Death Eater five years ago.
“I know he’s incredibly powerful, and gaining followers,” She began slowly. “But do you really think he’s capable of taking the Ministry for his own? It will surely become the very stronghold of the resistance, alongside the Order….”
As she had expected, Bellatrix let out a gleeful laugh.
“I am certain beyond a doubt that he is capable!” She intoned incredulously. “I have seen him perform feats of magic that the filthy half-bloods running the Ministry could never hope to match. And it is an incredible pleasure to watch him in a duel! I have seen some of the most respected Aurors to surface in this new resistance fall at his feet, and when the Mudbloods and their sympathizers are finally driven into hiding the Ministry will be helpless to stop it. When that time comes, we will no longer have to abide scum like Ogden and Bagnold at the head of the institution that is supposed to symbolize magical leadership. Anything the Dark Lord desires, he will grasp in the end, with or despite the Order’s interference. If you had ever seen the same proofs of might that the Dark Lord has shown all of us who are faithful at his side, you would never ask me such a thing.”
Ambrosia smiled in spite of herself. Bellatrix never could seem to resist throwing herself, and occasionally the Death Eaters at large into the conversation whenever she spoke of the Dark Lord. Oh, it could be wearing at times. But it was always endearing, and today Ambrosia found, most unusually, that this tendency of Bellatrix’s did not provoke jealousy in her. She was simply intrigued by it. Through five of her years at Hogwarts, she had gotten used to Bellatrix flaunting the fact that she was so close to the Dark Lord; basking in the envy of Ambrosia and their cousin Regulus. It was something that none of them acknowledged in words, only in exasperated looks and the occasional knowing smile from Bellatrix. The thought of the Dark Lord had always fascinated Ambrosia. She found it difficult to imagine that so much power could belong to a single wizard. She wondered how he had acquired it, and loved that it was possible for him to inspire such a degree of fear, awe and respect that the whole of the magical world would not dare to speak his name. Curious about his skills and his every mannerism, she had long cherished hearing whatever her sister or the Daily Prophet would say about him.
The pair did not speak again until about ten minutes later when they gave their expressions of thanks to Kreacher, who had appeared in the doorway holding a large silver tray laden with sugar, honey, and two teacups arranged around a fat silver teapot. They drank in silence for awhile, Ambrosia deep in thought about what she had been told and why. She figured it was simply because she was now both of age and out of school, and tried not to allow herself to contemplate the possibility of there being any more to it than that. Bellatrix glanced at her every so often, and the minutes passed comfortably. The audible ticking of an ancient grandfather clock and the cracks and pops of the fire were the only sounds they could hear until the old front door opened again, and whoever had just entered slammed the door behind them with enough force to make the drapes sway on their mounts.
“Regulus!” Cried a female voice reproachfully.
Bellatrix stood up immediately and went to greet their aunt and cousin. Their enthusiastic exchange drowned out the sounds of the clock and the fire. Ambrosia sighed. To wait too long before greeting them would be a serious breach of etiquette; especially because it was her graduation they were here to celebrate. She set down her mug and strode into the other room, trying hard not to look as irritated as she felt.