Chapter 155 : The Measure of Mrs. Lestrange
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The Measure of Mrs. Lestrange
Andromeda whipped around, fear stark in her eyes.
Nymphadora nodded and tugged Remus to his feet. “The Vanishing Cabinet,” she whispered.
Remus however wanted nothing more than to take this opportunity to rid the world of Bellatrix Lestrange once and for all, but his fear that for all of that, Nymphadora might still be killed overrode everything else. And even if he were to insist that she alone disappear into the Cabinet, his presence would be all too suspicious to Bellatrix. In spite of her taking advantage of a chance opportunity, she knew that Remus would never in a million years leave Nymphadora unattended while pregnant, and simply saying that she was being looked after elsewhere (like the Burrow for example) wasn’t an option either, because that would just drag more people into more trouble than they needed—or deserved.
The best idea was to make both of them disappear.
Remus had never actually been in a Vanishing Cabinet before. By the time the height of the First War came about, and Death Eaters started exhibiting the practice of visiting their wrath upon people door-to-door seeking out victims, Remus’ parents were already dead, and Remus himself working for the Order and living a bachelor’s lifestyle. Before his parents’ death, the Death Eaters and Voldemort were simply a preemptive fear, a possibility that caused tensions. Their deaths at the hands of Antonin Dolohov had been one of the earliest instances of open murder, and war.
So, as a child, Remus had never been forced to hide in a Vanishing Cabinet with his parents, as Nymphadora had had to do, years later, as a child, with her father, that time Bellatrix came knocking, as she was doing now.
Nymphadora had said she hadn’t come calling again, that Andromeda had given her a good “tongue-lashing”. It would seem however, that Bellatrix was willing to give it another go for her attempts to “prune” her family tree, especially now that her “dirty-blooded” niece had united herself in marriage to a “filthy, beastly werewolf”, and worse—was pregnant with his child.
So Remus and Nymphadora squeezed into the Vanishing Cabinet disguised as just another cabinet and closed it around them. The second the latch caught together, there was a great rushing that enveloped them like a high wind, roaring in their ears.
Then they were left in darkness.
“And now we wait,” Nymphadora whispered, and Remus held her closer in the absolute darkness.
“Where are we…exactly?” he asked. “Are we at the other end of it? In the sister cabinet?”
“If we open the doors now, we’ll find ourselves up in the attic.”
“Of your parents’ house?”
“Mm-hm. That’s where we’ve kept the twin. The opening to the attic is hidden. When most people open it, they’ll only see it’s boarded up, not that there’s another door just behind the first, made to look like floorboards.”
“What about Hominem Revelio though?”
“Dad reinstalled the wards to prevent detection through that spell.”
“Ah, I see. Wait—I hear voices.”
“Yeah, we can still hear what’s going on outside the first cabinet.”
“Of course…we’re more or less floating in between, right? Because we haven’t reopened the doors of either cabinet.”
“Won’t you have some tea, Bella?” asked Andromeda’s voice from beyond the confines of the ground floor cabinet back in the sitting room. She made the offer stiffly enough.
“Actually I’ll take a little wine, if you have it,” said Bellatrix, and Remus imagined her smirking. Though to be honest, he didn’t think he’d ever heard Bellatrix when she was being conversational, all Black family propriety: normally she was flinging insults and threats and cackles or capering as she tortured or murdered a victim.
It was times like this he was glad they hadn’t been able to bury Sirius—otherwise his murderess would’ve surely had the audacity to dance on his grave, something for which Remus certainly wouldn’t have stood for without retaliation.
There was the sound of clinking crystal and liquid falling as it was poured.
“Mmmm.” Bellatrix made a smacking sound with her lips. “You always did have good taste in wine. So…tell me…how are you bearing up?”
“Without your husband of course. Must be so lonely without him.”
“I manage well enough,” said Andromeda icily.
Bellatrix clucked her tongue in mock sympathy. “Poor lamb.”
“But I’ve no idea where he’s gone so don’t waste your breath.”
“Clever one, you always were. Well…at the very least you have your sweet little brat to look after you. What’s her name again?”
“Oh? Now you’ve taken an interest in your niece besides killing her?”
“She is not my niece.”
“Isn’t she? Ah well, in any case, if you must needs reminding, it’s Nymphadora.”
“Ah yes, I knew it was something odd. Like a fish that lands in your lap out of nowhere. But I imagine it must be difficult to watch her be so blissfully happy with her beast of a hubby, eh? Or is it mate? And a new baby—or should I say, cub—on the way—which reminds me—where are my manners? I must congratulate you on your becoming a grandmother!”
“My dear Bella, do you mind very much cutting out all of this fat that we’re chewing? Such things have never agreed with me, and I know all you really want is to see my child and her husband dead, and even if they were here—which they’re not—I’d not let you lay a hand on her.”
“Oh please! Andromeda, I’m an accomplished duelist schooled by the Dark Lord himself in many a wicked trick, and what are you? Nothing more than a Mudblood’s tramp, breeding half-blooded filth, born a freak as punishment for your betrayal and espoused to a foul sub-creature and breeding its spawn—”
“I ought to tear her eyes out!” Nymphadora hissed, and she lunged for the latch on the Cabinet door, on the pretense of flinging it open and then closing it and opening it again to return to the sitting room, but Remus held her back.
“No, Dora! She’ll kill you on sight!”
“That’s all well and good,” Andromeda was saying with surprising calm in the face of these atrocious insults from her sister, “but I know where my foundations stand, and they’ll hold me a lot better than yours will hold you, because they’re made of something you never understood so you’ve no concept of its true power. Not even when we were little girls. In fact you were born with a part missing entirely, Bella, and it gives me some comfort when I think that Narcissa at least had—”
“Cissy didn’t dishonor the family and besmirch the purity of her blood!”
“Shall I illustrate for you your foundations, Bella? They’re rickety at best, to put it simply. You think you’re the favorite of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—?”
“I am! He has told me I am his most loyal—”
“Ha! I’ll tell you something, a narcissist like that doesn’t give a fizzing whizbee about you, except that you give him results. If he had a choice between himself or you, he’d pick himself.”
“Ah! And I would gladly pay that sacrifice!”
Andromeda made a derisory noise deep in her throat. “And what if you lived long enough to see how little he appreciates that? Has he ever rewarded you at all for the time you sacrificed for him in Azkaban? Hmmm?”
God, listen to how alike they are, Remus thought in awe as he held Nymphadora tight and trembling against him. There’s no question they’re sisters. The only difference is one of them has their moral compass screwed on right and the other…is just…screwy.
There was a loud shattering crack of exploding crystal: presumably Bellatrix had thrown her goblet to the ground, most likely into the hard tile of the hearth in the fireplace since the rest of the sitting room floor was carpeted.
“When He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is cornered,” Andromeda taunted, “if you’re still alive and the only one left, he’ll use you as a shield, mark my words. And then once you’re dead, he’ll be all alone—Oh, going to kill me, dear sister?”
“I should,” hissed Bellatrix, who had to have just drawn her wand on Andromeda (Nymphadora made another lurch for the Cabinet latches, but again, Remus restrained her against him). “You mean about as much to me as does any scum-veined Mudblood.” She made a hocking sound, like one launching a wad of saliva.
“I’ll thank you not to spit on my carpet, Bella,” said Andromeda with supreme tranquility. “And I know you’re not going to kill me, blood-traitor’ that I am. If you were, you’d have hunted me down and done so the moment you, Cissy, and our parents discovered my note in my bedroom proclaiming that Ted and I had eloped. No…no, it seems I’ve touched a nerve, is that correct?”
“One more word and I’ll blast you away, you Mudblood hussy!”
“Stick to the truth, Bella, it’s what you’re good at. People believe it when you say you’ll see them dead, but I know you’re lying when you tell me you’ll—what did you say? ‘Blast me away’?”
“I’m going to kill you now, where you stand! I’ve said such things before, and they have always been true. I’ll erase you as easily as I erased Sirius.”
A heavy pause followed this pronouncement, and Remus imagined Bellatrix with an ugly smile of triumph on her face, while Andromeda most likely blanched.
“And it was easy,” Bellatrix went on, enjoying her recapture of the upper hand.
“Sirius was ten times the fighter you were, or will ever be,” Andromeda said with quiet menace, echoing Remus’ own burning thoughts exactly.
Bellatrix gave a shriek of laughter. “How could he have been when I killed him?”
“Admit it, Bella: you killed him out of fear of what he might do otherwise.”
Now it was Bellatrix’s turn to give tense weight to this next subsequent pause.
“Well,” she finally said softly, “looks like I was smart enough to take care of it, wasn’t I? As for you….”
“You want to really know how I know you won’t kill me? Not just because you couldn’t do it last time, no less for my precious pure blood you’d not have spilled if you could help it—and usually you can’t, to be honest—but it’s because…you didn’t even have to guts to torture me yourself when your Death Eater friends came here looking for Harry Potter.”
Remus and Nymphadora held their breaths as tautly as they held onto each other.
“Why is that, Bella?” Andromeda wanted to know. “Why didn’t you torture me yourself? Why is it you can’t kill me when you had no trouble killing our cousin Sirius?”
Being that Remus and Nymphadora couldn’t see what was going on, they had no idea what sort of expression Bellatrix was wearing, and couldn’t even begin to imagine (as was their only alternative). Maybe there was no expression at all, and her face had emptied as easily as her own black heart.
Clearly, the question was deflected, because when she did speak again, it was with a non sequitur.
“Where are they, Andromeda? I’m getting sick and tired of standing outside Lupin Cottage waiting for them to slip up, when the Dark Lord doesn’t have me doing his bidding elsewhere of course, which is far too frequent for what I’m trying to do, though his plans come first.
“They’ve got the whole place protected by spells I can’t penetrate, even around their ‘special meadow’. Pah! You must have them here. They’re not at home, and where else would they presume to be safe?”
“My daughter and I are not on speaking terms at the moment,” Andromeda lied. “I’m still disappointed in her choice of a husband. I don’t know what else to tell you, except that even so, I’d die before I let you get your hands on her.”
Bellatrix growled, but it was a defeated sort of growl. Remus hoped that by now she’d stowed her wand away back in whatever cloak she had donned.
“Oh? Did He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named forget to teach you the little trick of Legilimency as well?” Andromeda asked lightly.
Bellatrix snarled, but again, that was all. There were the thuds of angry footfalls and the click of a door as it was wrenched open into the night. But no sound of a door slamming shut after it, which would have been logical.
Remus envisioned Bellatrix stopped in the doorway.
“Bella?” Andromeda prompted, though there was something beneath her voice: a softness, as if she were trying one last time to reach her sister across the void of hatred that divided them, driven by the blood that bound them, and perhaps some remnants of a love that used to be but was no more, and could not be recalled any more than the dead could be raised.
Finally, Bellatrix said: “I couldn’t kill you, couldn’t torture you—I couldn’t touch you…because…I knew that wouldn’t be enough. You can handle that. I know how to truly make you suffer, to make you pay. When I’ve killed your daughter, I want to see it in your eyes when you scream.”
Remus stiffened even as his arms remained locked around Nymphadora, who had gone so rigid herself she might have turned herself to stone. Her hand had flown instinctively to her stomach, as if that alone would protect the growing life within from sharing her fate if her aunt killed her before it was born; Remus covered that hand with his own, a reassurance, a promise to protect them both.
But then Andromeda rallied herself, and returned in a voice of proud serenity: “No matter how many you kill, Bellatrix, it won’t keep your own death any more at bay. Even if I don’t live bury you, I’ll know that when your time comes, you will shrink in fear. You say He-Must-Not-Be-Named will share with you his secret of immortality? When he didn’t even teach you Legilimency? Ha! You’re wrong. He may even promise you, over and over, and you’ll wait until you’re at death’s door, and if he’s still around, he’ll stand over you and laugh as the darkness and the beasts swallow you forever.”
There was another heavy silence, but Remus could swear he could feel Bellatrix trembling with pent-up rage (because what Andromeda had just said could only be too true) through the very wood of the Cabinet.
Finally the front door slammed shut, shaking the very pieces of crystal and crockery stored away in cupboards throughout the house. There was a moment of tense silence before Andromeda finally called in a thickly strained voice, “She’s gone. You can come out now.”
Nymphadora unlatched the Cabinet, fully transporting them to the small room up in the attic concealed from below by the false door. She closed the Cabinet again to transport them back down to the twin in the sitting room, clambering out with Remus’ gallant assistance.
One look at her mother’s white face and she crossed the room to her at the front window in three strides, hugging her close.
“Oh Dora,” Andromeda moaned into her shoulder. “If you could’ve seen how close she came to opening those Cabinet doors…sniffing around the bloodhound…I’m so ashamed to call her my sister….”
Nymphadora tucked her mother’s hair behind her ears in a soothing caress and kissed her forehead. When she pulled back, she managed a smile for her. “Auntie Bellatrix won’t be getting the better of me any time soon, Mum, if at all. Like hell I’d let her have the satisfaction.”
Andromeda returned the smile, if wanly. “You sound just like your dad, you know that?” She gave her daughter another squeeze before she withdrew. “Well, I suppose you’d better be heading home now. It sounds like you’d be safer there for the moment.”
Remus took Nymphadora’s hand and caught Andromeda’s eye. Something like surprise flashed across her face, but it was quickly replaced by a grudging acknowledgement (though only Remus picked up on the grudging bit).
I’ll do whatever it takes to protect your daughter and your unborn grandchild. I promised your husband, and I’m promising the same to you now.
I know Remus…I know…you’ll always be better than I’ll give you credit for.
Remus decided that would have to be enough, and he let go of Nymphadora’s hand and slid his arm around her shoulders. “We’d best be off then, yes?”
“Take care, Mum,” said Nymphadora, giving her mother’s hand another squeeze. “We’ll let you know as soon as we can we made it home safe, okay?”
“I’ll strive not to be too anxious then,” said Andromeda, smoothing the creases out of the skirt of her elegant dark blue taffeta dress.
She stood at the doorway as her daughter and son-in-law left, though not before a quick scan of the surrounding area to be sure Bellatrix hadn’t doubled-back and was lingering.
Then with a pop, they Disapparated back to Lupin Cottage.
Remus scanned the line of dark trees in the night from the kitchen window one last time. To his relief, he did not spy Bellatrix prowling around outside the protective barrier of the cottage, the lupine field, or his and Nymphadora’s special meadow. He also cast a spell across the perimeter just to see if it would pick up any outside persons: no such persons were detected.
“I think we’ve got the all clear tonight,” said Remus as he slid into bed next to Nymphadora, who was propped up on pillows as she flicked through her pregnancy book. “And for all of that, we’re safe inside the dome of our wards.”
Nymphadora laid aside her book after marking her spot. “Funny how that makes me feel only a little bit safer, not a lot.”
Remus settled underneath the covers and propped himself on his elbow. “I’m here too, you know.”
“Well I worry about you too, you know that.” Nymphadora managed a small smile.
“I do.” Still propped up on his elbow, Remus reached over with his other hand and laid it over Nymphadora’s stomach. He felt her shiver at the protective implication of the gesture, as well as the deeper, more amorous one. “You know that I would fight to my last breath to protect you and the little one, don’t you?”
Nymphadora reached down and gripped his hand on her stomach. “I know, that’s another reason…I don’t know what I’d do if Bellatrix came here and….” She swallowed. “I’m not going to be the reason you get yourself killed.”
“Dora…you and the baby are my family now. Every family I’ve had before…I’ve lost. I won’t lose this one. And we both know that if anything were to happen to me, you’ve the strength in you to keep going, for both your sake and that of the baby’s.”
“I know…I know I could do it. But at the first…it’d kill me to watch you die, no matter what. It’d kill me. Especially if it were at the hands of that woman.”
Remus leaned over and kissed her bare shoulder, drifting over her sweet scent of lilac and cacao. He noticed her free hand had gripped the bed sheets at the mere thought of Bellatrix slaying him, and he nuzzled into her neck, caressing the curve of her belly with his thumb, relaxing her.
“Darling, I’m surprised at you. You should know that it’s Bellatrix who should watch her back. We have a score to settle with her, if you’ll remember.”
“What about Dolohov? He still wants you dead too. Have you ever thought about him standing outside the protective dome of our haven, waiting for the chance to pounce?”
“I think he expects Bellatrix to do most of the work. Kill you and drag me off to him. Either that or he’s waiting for the opportune moment. In which case he should watch his back too. He has yet to learn that when you mess with the wolf, the fangs lie in wait.” In spite of himself he smiled against her skin.
And she felt it and her smile turned more genuine, and just as wicked. “You’re right, I reckon. We certainly can’t let Bellatrix and Dolohov get off so easily for their crimes, now can we?” She sighed and kissed the top of his head. “He’d be happy for you, you know. Him and James and Lily and Aurelia…and your parents,” she murmured into his hair. “They all would. Look how far you’ve come.”
“I know.” Remus swallowed and held onto Nymphadora’s hand more tightly. For a while they were silent together, and Remus held onto her, calmed by the sound of her breathing, deep and even, like the ebb and flow of the sea tide.
When he felt her slacken into sleep, he carefully extricated himself from her just so he could extinguish the lamps. Sleepily she snuggled further down into the blankets, and he followed her, curving his body around hers as he held her close and kissed her hair.
Tonight the moon would not separate them as it did every month, but instead it would watch over them, as it did over the other 352 nights of the year, and by her light both lovers fell into dreams of a more hopeful future for the both of them.
And for the little one too.
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