Disclaimer: The Potterverse belongs to its original author, J.K. Rowling, and to her publishers worldwide. If you don't recognize it, I probably made it up!
Author's Note: I won't give any more warnings about going any further in this AU without having read the previous volume. Pinky swear! Hope you enjoy it, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.
The North Sea
Darkness. Blinding white light. Between the two, tearing, ripping, excision.
Great tree trunks snapped, wrenching apart as if torn by a cyclone, but no wind stirred. In the sky, her own ghostly face shone alongside the moon: it was the end of the world.
Explosions. The ground cracked, falling in. If she were dreaming, she would hit the bottom and wake safely in bed. The sides of the pit crumbled all around her and the trees toppled down, the ground slipping past her, exposed stones and worms and roots rushing by faster and faster and the pit caving in. Her lungs filled with soil and gravel, choking on debris. Darkness.
Dorcas's eyes opened. Awakening was worse than her dreams. Wandless, without even her silver spectacles to shield her eyes and pull the world into coherence, she was utterly alone.
She had stopped marking the days; she had nothing to mark them with save her fingernails on her dry skin, and the little white marks wore away within a day, leaving a clean slate. Perhaps she had been in Azkaban for a week. Perhaps a month. The tiny arrow-slit windows let only a bare minimum of chilly twilight into the cell: a mixed blessing, for while Dorcas continually stubbed her toes in the dark, at least the cold winds of the North Sea were partially kept at bay.
You are Dorcas Meadowes. Ex-Auror, Order of the Phoenix. Friend of Minerva McGonagall, friend of Albus Dumbledore: Dorcas took a drink of stale water from the metal cup on the floor and spat. Fat lot of good Dumbledore's so-called friendship had done her thus far. Friend of Sirius Black. And Rubeus Hagrid…
Dorcas pushed her strength forward once more, enveloping the tatters of her self-awareness and pushing the shredded thoughts back together by force. Rubeus's friend, and more than that if he'll have me, if I survive this.
One terrible day, Dorcas had thought sure she heard Rubeus's voice bellowing in the prison yard below: far down at the bottom of the hollow stone prism of Azkaban, shouting as if he'd tear his throat apart.
"Dorcas! Don' give up! I'm comin' for yeh! We'll get yeh out of there! Ouch, get that bloody thing off me, you hag… Dorcas!" Dorcas ran to the window and screamed. Only the Dementors heard her. In tattered black shrouds, they floated closer and closer to the window, drawn like thirsty vampires to her soul's blood. Dorcas no longer looked out the window. She kept as far away from it as she could, terrified to glimpse the trailing garments of the wraiths in the sky.
Dorcas curled under the small wool blanket on the damp mattress and wished she could cast a wandless charm for warmth. She didn't have the strength anymore. When she was a little child and had not yet received a wand, she could do anything she dreamed up. Teach her kitten to sing? Done. Bounce on the surface of the lily pond behind her grandmother's house when no one was watching? Done.
Dorcas remembered the slick feeling of walking on wet lily pads and the tiny green frogs leaping away from her dancing feet. Her childhood games were closer than the explosion, clearer than Lily Potter throwing herself between her son and Voldemort, more vivid in her memory than Myra Spring's sacrificial fire.
If Dorcas left Azkaban alive, if she ever again saw the inside of the courtrooms at the Ministry, where she had brought so many Death Eaters and criminals to trial, she already knew what she would say in her defense; she would tell the truth.
I knew what I was doing when I used the veritaserum. It wasn't Riddle's fault; he was merely a fly on the wall, repeating my words to Malfoy. I'm not ashamed that it was my idea. Harry's all right. Lily's all right. Nothing else matters.
If Riddle was right about me, let him be right; damn him to hell… Perhaps I'm already there.
Malfoy is dead, but Narcissa is here somewhere, I saw her when we came in... I hope their boy is safe. I couldn't take a child's blood on my conscience, even if his father was a Death Eater.
At least Harry's all right. Lily's all right. If I'm still alive, Rubeus cares for me… Harry's all right. I saved them.
The night-dark sea roared at the base of the nightmare tower. Under the thin blanket, Dorcas repeated her heart's meditation over and over until she fell once again into a restless sleep.
"Draco! Come back here at once!" The silver-blond child stepped unhappily from behind a drooping cutwork-lace curtain, where he had been watching the goats at play in the barnyard outside.
The innkeeper leaned out over the high, polished counter and smiled at Draco. The toddler immediately fled to his aunt's side, burying his thin face in her sable cloak. "And this is your son, Madame?"
"No!" snapped Bellatrix Lestrange. "He is my nephew."
"What of his parents?"
Bellatrix drew her wand. "Silence!" The innkeeper stopped and goggled at her, his baby-blue eyes wandering off to either side. "It is none of your concern. The boy and I require a room for the night, a hot meal both now and at daybreak, and a separate bath."
The innkeeper's wife looked frightened. "My Lady, please," she said in a thick Swiss German accent, "We don't have separate baths in our hotel… only in our family apartment."
Bellatrix exploded. "You surely do not expect me to share with the unwashed cretins who show up here to see the sights and ride the Muggle cable cars? Do you expect me to bathe a child with a queue forming outside the door?" The innkeeper opened his mouth to object. Bellatrix leveled her wand at his throat. He lifted his hands and his wand fell from his palm, rolling across the shabby antique desk. "I require your family quarters."
"Mathilde!" The innkeeper never took his eyes from Bellatrix's wand. Sensing she had won, she shook back her raven curls with self-satisfaction. "Prepare our apartment for Madame… your last name, please?"
"Walpurgis. Madame Walpurgis." The Knights of Walpurgis – her beloved's first followers. So many had fled: cowards. The Dark Mark lay quiescent under her skin; Bellatrix prayed that meant he was not entirely dead. Bellatrix had stayed in England only long enough to collect her nephew from Malfoy Manor and steal back her own house-elf from Rodolphus before fleeing for the Continent. She did not know whether the Dark Lord had been found. She did not care whether Rodolphus or Rabastan were captured. All that mattered were Draco and revenge.
The innkeeper settled Bellatrix at a long, tilting wooden trestle table in the empty dining room. He poured steaming chocolate into a china cup and set it fearfully before her, spilling some onto the saucer. He poured a second cup for Draco, but she snapped at him. "This will scald him! Bring him a cup of milk!" She waved furiously with her wand, making the bric-a-brac on the carved shelves tumble to the wooden floor and shatter to pieces. The innkeeper ducked his head. "Surely with all of these stinking goats and cows and vermin about the place, you've got to have fresh milk!"
"Yes, Madame. Immediately, Madame."
Bellatrix settled back in her chair and let a smile creep onto her face. She had finally made the proper impression on the imbecile. Perhaps she would be comfortable enough for the evening, but she would not be staying long. The mountain village was barbarous; she would have preferred to rest in luxury in Interlaken, but she did not yet wish to risk discovery.
Bellatrix's imbecilic house-elf stood uselessly by the table, pleating her ragged skirt in both hands and staring at Draco as if he were a ghost. Posey had been acting peculiar ever since Snape had brought his Mudblood toy to the castle. Perhaps Narcissa was right, and Lily Potter had given her a severe crack to the head.
"Posey!" Bellatrix cracked out.
"Find yourself something useful to do. Go into the kitchen and see how quickly you can get our supper on the table."
Posey snapped into action, her butter-toffee-colored hair whipping behind her. Bellatrix was satisfied; if she could say one thing about Posey, the little monster was very quick on her feet. The little wretch was also surprisingly deft with Draco, possessing tireless patience for the toddler's preferred amusement – dropping things from his high chair onto the floor. Bellatrix's full lips twisted with impatience. She loathed that particular game, but it kept Draco quiet and gave the nervous house-elf a useful occupation.
Draco wandered again to the window, tugging back the lace curtains with his fine-boned little hands: so like his mother's. Twilight fell on the snowy alpine slopes: the sun gently touched the knife-sharp stone peaks and slid like golden syrup into the next valley to the west. Goats grazed just outside the door. A gray-coated kid nuzzled up to its mother and began to nurse, its tail twisting with greedy enthusiasm.
"Mama," Draco said, turning to his aunt with sorrow and confusion.
"I will take care of you, my Draco. I will save your Mama," said Bellatrix, gripping the little boy's shoulder. He whined at the feeling of her pointed fingernails, and she relaxed her hand. She often forgot how small he was, how fragile. He was so like his mother. Bellatrix did not know how to care for a child, but she would keep this child safe and make him grow strong.
Bellatrix remembered being as small as Draco, cuddling in Narcissa's room with their nurse and an old copy of the Tales of Beedle the Bard. She remembered brushing Narcissa's silky blonde hair on her wedding day, adorning the bride for her beloved: taken, gone, dead. Even though she had hated him for marrying her sister, for being higher in her beloved Lord's graces, Bellatrix found that she regretted Lucius's death. She had no one to tease, no one to discomfit.
Outside, the swift winter evening fell across the angular alpine slopes, casting midnight-blue shadows on the snow and on the waterfalls frozen among the stones. The first stars wavered into being above. When the stars aligned, Bellatrix Lestrange would take revenge on Snape and the Mudblood… and on Cousin Sirius as well.
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