Ambrosia stood in her old room with the only possessions she cared about packed away around her in several large trunks, stacked one on top of the other. She moved them carefully to the very top of the staircase, never making them float more than an inch from the floor. They collapsed back into place and she looked over them down the dark granite steps.
The return downstairs the week before had been eventful to say the least. They had been immediately accosted by an irate Walburga, who had just finished shouting at Regulus about the carpet he had drenched upon his return from the forest. Having hastily hidden his broomstick, he insisted that all he had done was to take a walk in the forest; that he surely hadn’t been flying in such weather; and had simply gotten wet on his way back. Ambrosia had rescued her cousin from the deep skepticism that was evident on Walburga’s features by assuring her that she had seen him leave, and he had definitely been devoid of a broomstick. Forced to concede, she then laid into Bellatrix and Ambrosia for disappearing, necessitating their insistence that they were entitled to spend some time catching up alone. Placated for the moment, Walburga had grudgingly allowed normal conversation to resume.
“So Ambrosia,” she had asked pointedly, drying Regulus off with her wand; “Have you any idea what you will do now that you have left Hogwarts?”
Ambrosia had paused to think, but before she was able to open her mouth, Bellatrix had answered instead.
“She’s still thinking about it. I’ve asked her if she’d like to stay with me at my place until she decides what to do with herself next.” She said with only a hint of a smile.
“Oh, but that isn’t necessary!” Druella had exclaimed. “Ambrosia, you don’t have to leave the house yet, not until it’s convenient.”
Ambrosia had patiently explained that now was as convenient a time as any, and Bellatrix reiterated, partially for Ambrosia’s benefit, that she would be delighted to share a house with her favorite sister. Eventually, Ambrosia had agreed to stay at her mother’s house for just under one more week, during which she would pack. She had known that the packing would take only a day, and had spent the rest of the time there to spare her mother’s feelings. All the while, Druella had kept up a constant stream of unsolicited advice, slipping in comments over meals or tea about her own ideas of a proper future for Ambrosia; most of which had included marriage.
Now however, the week was over, and Ambrosia gave her luggage a sharp tap with her wand, sending it to her sister’s house ahead of her. She traipsed back down the staircase, to where her mother and cousin were sitting down and finishing what appeared to be the last few slices of her graduation cake. Her aunt Walburga was nowhere in sight. They turned towards her as she moved closer to them.
“I am going to leave now.”
Regulus put his fork down and Druella nodded simply, keeping any potential display of emotion strictly under wraps.
“I know you’ll make me proud.” She said evenly, formally, her manner leaving Ambrosia with no doubt that this vote of confidence was contingent on how well she adhered to her mother’s desires.
Ambrosia smiled blandly at her before Regulus interjected.
“Can I come and stay with you two for a few days before I start my fifth year?” He asked enthusiastically.
Ambrosia’s face broke into a sincere smile this time as she answered.
“It is fine with me. I will mention it to Bella and we can send you an owl to figure out when. It will have to be okay with Walburga too, of course.”
“Okay. I’m sure it will be.”
“I’ll see you soon enough then.” She bade her mother goodbye and gave Regulus a brief hug before turning to the door, departing through it onto the moist path and Disapparating.
As soon as the usual pressure had lifted, she found herself, as she had known she would, in a much darker place than the one she had left. Once her eyes had adjusted to the lack of light, she took in the vaguely familiar surroundings. She had only been here once before, when her sister had first moved in. Though nothing was too drastically different, the trees surrounding the elegant house were becoming much taller and fanning themselves out in the marauding breeze. The ivy was inching its way further up the gate that had been set aside specially for it, and was beginning to take on the intriguing appearance that only ivy ever has. She associated it with ancient, crumbling dwellings. She strode up the path toward the house, altering her course only to keep a respectful distance between herself and the languidly waving branches of a gnarled bush. Her sister opened the door as soon as she reached it.
“I was wondering when you’d be here.” She said without preamble. “Your things are upstairs, I moved them into my room. If you don’t mind sharing it, that would be best…. I’ve got practically every book from my shelf dumped out on the bed in the guest room; I’m trying to organize them. I can move them, but….”
“Nah, it’s fine.” Ambrosia replied. “I don’t mind sharing. Are you talking about the books we inherited?”
“Yeah…. I’d be willing to bet it’s been a hundred years since anyone’s been through them properly. Most of them are really full of ancient Dark Magic, and they’ve been fascinating.”
The pair of them climbed the stairs up to Bellatrix’s room, where Ambrosia’s things were waiting next to the wardrobe. Apart from those three trunks and a solitary stack of books, the room was remarkably clean. The huge bed was draped in its familiar black covering, the Slytherin crest and colors behind it. The opposite wall actually had a fireplace carved into it, and above this bore the beautifully painted Black family crest and motto. The wardrobe was ancient and carved of ebony, and the vanity beside it held a mirror whose frame was compromised of twin serpents, which embraced one another at its highest point. Ambrosia looked around curiously, never having been inside her sister’s new room before. She crossed the room slowly and ran her fingers across the crest on the wall.
“This is exquisite.”
“Thanks,” Bella replied, seating herself upon the bed. “I had to have it somewhere, this room seemed a nice place. It ought to be big enough to keep us both comfortable until I get the books sorted out.”
“I can help you do that; I’d love to have a look at them.” Ambrosia volunteered, now examining the intricate scales of the serpents on the mirror frame.
“Excellent. We can deal with that tomorrow if we have time.” She got carefully off of the bed and made her way to the door. “Walk with me. I’ve got a few things I want to ask you, and the best thing about having my own house is that I can say them wherever I please without having to worry about family or anyone else overhearing. What would you say to a cup of tea?”
“Only that it sounds lovely.”
She followed her sister out of the room to the black leather couch downstairs. She lowered herself upon it with a loud creak. Bella had gone into the kitchen, and Ambrosia hardly had time to look around the room before her sister was back, a large silver tea tray in hand, and several cups arranged upon it in a circular pattern around a fat teapot that was steaming copiously. There was a subtle air of well-concealed buoyancy about her; Ambrosia would have overlooked it had she not known her sister so well. She placed the tray upon the table with a light click and straightened up to face Ambrosia, who had bent over the tray and was beginning to fix her mug. “Are you in the mood for questions about your future? I daresay you may have had enough of them, coming from a week at our mother’s house.”
Ambrosia laughed. “Ah, she hasn’t quite got the measure of me the way you have,” She replied cheerfully, stirring honey into her tea. “All the past five days or so she persisted in telling me that I ought to go into politics, says it’s a good way to make connections... Find a husband….”-She snorted-“Slughorn kept telling me I should go out for a few years and get some experience, then go back to Hogwarts as a teacher.”
“You’re kidding!” Bella exclaimed. “That’s got to be about the best compliment he can give anyone….” She paused, presumably to picture Ambrosia as a teacher, before letting out a short burst of laughter. “Barking mad though. Imagine you going back, to stay!”
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea, actually.” Ambrosia countered thoughtfully. “It’s something I’ve thought about, I could be happy doing it. I must admit, however, that the prospect of teaching cannot compare to my immediate plans.”
A familiar grin illuminated Bellatrix’s face.
“I take it those plans are still solid then?” Ambrosia nodded, a smile lighting her own features. She was almost offended to be asked; and it must have shown on her face, because her sister laughed at her. “I knew you were; but I had to make sure. Once you join, there’s no going back.”
“Now, why would I ever want to go back?” Ambrosia asked lightly, prompting a smirk from Bellatrix.
“I’m glad to hear it,” She replied, finally filling her mug and taking a sip. She lowered her voice; her tone suddenly became very serious. “I see that you are sure of what you want. But do you still stand by what you said to me the last time we spoke of this? If I were to be called right now, at this moment, do you feel that you are ready, in every way, to go to him with me?”
Ambrosia took a sip of tea to give herself a few moments to think. There was no doubt in her mind whatsoever as to her desire to join him. She had wanted to do so for years; and the longing to be among her sister’s other family, alongside the Dark Lord, had not waned, but grown ever stronger over time. She thought of her confidence in her skills. Her sister had mentioned her aptitude in the art of Duelling when she had said that the Dark Lord would love to have her, and her general knowledge of magic, she knew, was also well advanced for her age. Her quest for power had started early. She remembered that Bellatrix had joined just out of school, at precisely her age, and it was this that made her certain enough to open her mouth.
“I do. I stand by what I said before, in every way.”
Bella sat back, apparently satisfied. She relaxed her face back into an easy smile and lifted her feet up next to her, onto the far side of the sofa. “As I have said, I would expect nothing less of you. You will have to forgive me for asking.”
“Of course.” Ambrosia replied, matching her sister’s pleased, almost giddy tone. “I wonder though. Is there any way of predicting exactly when…?”
“Not really.” Said Bellatrix casually. “After dark, except in some very unusual cases. Sometimes He gives warning, other times we can only guess. And sometimes,” She added, shoveling sugar absentmindedly into her tea, “It’s a complete surprise, and you walk almost directly into a duel that you weren’t even aware of.” She took a sip and made a face.
“I can live with that.” Ambrosia began, watching Bella empty her mug to start over. “I was talking about today though. In the near future, I mean.”
“Well, I wouldn’t count on any particular time.” Bella answered. “If I were to make a guess, I would say sometime within the next three days. Tonight is a possibility.” She added, shooting Ambrosia a knowing glance.
Ambrosia did not sleep that night. She spent it deep in thought, watching the flames in the serpentine torch brackets flicker, listening to the occasional ghostly sound of an owl outside her window. The next day she was restless, unable to keep her mind off of the Dark Lord and her impending introduction to him. She was sure she had never been so anxious for anything in her life.
“Alright,” Bella had said briskly after breakfast, upon noticing that this mood of Ambrosia’s had persisted for a second morning. “We ought to go to Diagon Alley and get you some new robes. You’re out of school now, so you can finally get something other than black. It’ll take your mind off things.”
Ambrosia lifted her eyes somewhat unwillingly from the dusty copy of Repertoire of a Dark Potioneer she had been examining. “Oh, It’s alright. I’m fine here; there’s more than enough in all these books to keep my mind occupied.”
“About an hour ago I watched you stare at the same page for a good twenty minutes before turning it. Come on,” She insisted, watching Ambrosia’s face as it became tinged with pink. “It’ll be good for you to get out.”
So they had set off for what had always been known in Slytherin company as “The Alleys.” Most of the people they knew perused both Diagon and Knockturn alleys in equal measure, and it was from Twillfit and Tatting’s that they emerged with their robes. Ambrosia’s were a vivid emerald green that matched her eyes exactly. She had spent a lot of time and endured the familiar teasing of the proprietor, Erebus Tatting, to ensure that they fit her curves perfectly as well. She had strung the plunging back of them with crisscrossed ribbon and made the neckline low for good measure. Bella, though originally adamant that this trip be solely for Ambrosia’s distraction, had folded under Ambrosia’s insistence that she indulge herself as well. Her set were black and silver, fitted in a way more subtle than her sister’s, although just as flattering.
They talked animatedly on their way back from the shop, changing alleys briefly to purchase ice creams from a wary looking Florean Fortescue before heading back to where they had been, this time in the direction of Borgin and Burke’s. Caractacus Burke, an old man by now, greeted them with a low bow as they walked in. It really was becoming unnecessary to bow, Ambrosia thought to herself. The shop owner’s frame grew progressively more stooped every time she saw him. There was, however, the usual steely gleam in his eyes as he brought them over, as he usually did, to the very back of his shop.
Borgin and Burke’s had always been reserved exclusively for Dark objects, or objects with a strong magical history, Dark or otherwise. If you elected to venture into the back of the shop however, as Burke knew the two Black sisters always would, a measurably more sinister collection of objects would meet your eyes. Immediately upon entering the corner, Ambrosia recognized a large Erumpent horn, sealed tight in a glass case to keep even a rush of air from disturbing it and causing it to explode. There were snarled 200 year old Nundu claws strung along the wall, relics from the last known slaying of one of the beasts. They were priced at just over one and a half million Galleons. Sitting on the highest shelf was the skeleton of a strange winged insect with conspicuous fangs, and before long Ambrosia joined Bellatrix in examining a corked bottle of red liquid on the ledge directly beneath it.
“What’s this doing in the back corner do you suppose?” Bellatrix asked, eyeing it with interest. “Looks like it’s just blood.”
Ambrosia deliberated for a moment before drawing her wand, in just about the only shop where it was acceptable for one to do so. She tapped the flask and muttered something with no effect. Bellatrix raised her eyebrows.
“Trying to determine that it’s okay to pick it up,” She explained, doing so and gently shaking it. “Yeah, I thought so.” She said as bubbles rose. They continued to do so, in ever increasing size, as she sat it down. “It’s thestral blood. Entirely harmless on its own, powerfully poisonous in some potions; especially anything with aconite or essence of rhyne. It’s supposed to help lengthen life in its pure form, but I think that’s absurd.”
“Thestral blood? How in the name of Merlin do you know that?”
Ambrosia smiled ruefully. “Do you remember when I was fourteen; we were in that forest, trying to find a clearing to practice spells?”
“Ah, of course.” She said, grinning at the memory. “That thestral came up to you, and you couldn’t see it. Absolutely hilarious.”
Ambrosia laughed. “Maybe to you. Anyway, it kept happening at school, once I started the Duelling club. I’d have to go into the forest alone or with Yaxley and Wesley to find places where the three of us could practice uninterrupted. We never brought a spell to the club until all three of us had learned it ourselves, you know.” Bellatrix nodded, and she continued. “They’d come find me. They’d run around me so that I could feel them pass, brush up against me…. Sometimes they’d even tug on my clothes. I never could see them, so I looked them up to find a picture. I learned a lot.”
A slight look of surprise crossed Bellatrix’s face. “ I’ve read about them being attracted to certain witches and wizards - usually powerful Dark witches or wizards – but I’ve never known or heard about anyone with an affinity for them like that…” She trailed off, looking thoughtful. She held out a hand for the vial of blood, which had stopped bubbling, and Ambrosia handed it to her. She shook it gently and watched it effervesce. “In light of your current plans,” She said in a low voice, “I daresay you will be able to see them very soon. You ought to know then whether or not you have an affinity for them.”
Ambrosia, who for the first time that morning had briefly forgotten about her plans concerning the Death Eaters, gave a satisfied laugh as they immediately dominated her thoughts once again.