Shaken and thrilled, Ambrosia did not return immediately to The Bleeding Hippogriff to meet her sister. She lingered for several long moments in the clearing, taking in the features of it that had been muted in the Dark Lord’s presence. The ancient texture of the trees, the mist between them and the small sounds of the creatures of the forest had all been lost as they had spoken there, quite alone, for longer than she had ever dared hope.
She had not expected to be inducted the first time she met him, her sister had not been, but she knew that once he expressed a desire to have someone in his ranks, asking them of their reasons for seeking him out, it meant that there would not be long to wait. She could not stop thinking about how difficult it had been to look away from him, though she had observed most of the others in the clearing averting their eyes without hesitation. Perhaps this was why he had seemed, unless she was imagining things, unexpectedly intrigued by her.
She forced these thoughts out of her head, Disapparating and reappearing at the gates of Knockturn Alley. Really now, she thought to herself, as she strode to the very darkest depths of the place, she could not afford to be wrong about such a thing. She would certainly welcome his perception of her as unusual, and of course would love nothing more than to have a real private conversation with him sometime. But she could not be sure yet that he showed her any different an attitude than he did anyone else, and she resolved not to dwell on the idea unless she was sure. She found the book store the Dark Lord had described, a large but rather shabby place that did not bear a name above its doors, and was disappointed, though not entirely surprised, to find that it was closed. She allowed herself several minutes out front, reliving her conversation with the Dark Lord, before heaving a sigh and, most unwillingly, going to meet Bellatrix at their favorite pub.
The raucous atmosphere on the other side of the Bleeding Hippogriff’s dented and rusty door could not have been more at odds with her own desire for solitude and quiet. She stepped ruefully over the threshold, coming close to regretting her promise to meet her sister here, and thinking privately that she was in for a long night.
“Ambrosia!” Called Bellatrix’s voice, rather more loudly than usual. Ambrosia felt a hand plop heavily upon her shoulder, and just barely caught the faint scent of tequila. “You were gone for ages! Everyone’s here, you know most of them already, there’s Dolohov and Rosier and Travers and Lucius…. Some of them even waited for you before they had drinks!” She let out a feverish giggle and leant closer. “Not me though!”
Ambrosia smiled in spite of herself. Seeing Bellatrix drunk was very rare indeed, but when her sister did partake, she never did so halfheartedly. Taking her outstretched hand, Ambrosia allowed herself to be steered towards the rest of their party. Seating herself gracefully next to Bellatrix, she exchanged gestures of greeting with all except Travers, who was in deep conversation with a heavily inebriated blonde woman and oblivious to anything else. Evan Rosier flashed her a dazzling grin and reached for her glass.
“Here at last,” He said to her buoyantly. “I was worried I’d have to spend the whole night stone cold sober because of you.” She grinned back and took the margarita he offered, feeling her mood improve slightly.
“We couldn’t have that now, could we?”
“Cheers,” He replied, drinking deeply from his own glass. He set it down, eyeing Travers and the blonde. “Okay,” He said, smirking. “How do you know Travers here?”
“Just as a friend of my sister’s,” She answered, puzzled. “Why?”
“He’s got a bit of a grim reputation. We place bets on it sometimes….. Ah! Dolohov!”
The man turned, disrupting his fruitless attempts to converse with an increasingly intoxicated Bellatrix. “What?”
Evan motioned to Travers. “I give Blondie twenty minutes or less.”
A smirk flitted across Dolohov’s thin face. “You’re on. The usual?”
Evan nodded, turning back to Ambrosia. “You’ll see,” He promised in response to her bewildered expression.
Almost half an hour passed. Ambrosia was now beginning to feel a bit merry herself. Bellatrix had collapsed at last into a shocked-looking Lucius’s lap, rolling around in mirth after her seventh shot of tequila. A live band had set up in the back of the pub, and Dolohov was swaying rather animatedly to their beat, trying unsuccessfully to persuade Ambrosia to join him. She shook her head for the umpteenth time, beaming, and offered her empty glass to Rosier, who refilled it along with his own.
“To your graduation, celebrated our way.” He raised his own glass as he handed hers back to her. Picking up on what he meant by that and realizing that it meant more than drinks, she tapped her glass to his with a genuine smile. Setting it back on the table, she then looked up just in time to see the blonde woman slap Travers heartily across the face.
“Hah!” Exclaimed Dolohov, snapping out of his reverie. “Pay up mate.”
Travers looked on, red-faced and sullen, as Evan cheerfully slid two Galleons across the table to Dolohov, who pocketed them triumphantly.
“It really was great of you to throw me that little celebration.” Ambrosia was saying the next morning as she deposited ice cubes into Bella’s ginger ale. “I never realized our friends could organize such brilliant parties.”
“They were looking for an excuse,” Bellatrix groaned, weakly accepting the drink. “We did the same thing for Lucius. He was like you. Just graduated. Just met the Dark Lord. Dolohov suggested it…. He said that-”
But exactly what Dolohov had said, Ambrosia didn’t find out, for Bellatrix barely had time to lean over the edge of her bed before she was violently sick all over the Axminster.
“Up you get now, go on,” Said Ambrosia bracingly, easing her sister back to a sitting position. “Drink this. Evanesco.” She added, directing her wand at the vomit, which vanished instantly.
“Shut the curtains too, would you?”
She directed her wand at them, and the light in the room was extinguished with surprising efficacy. Her sister opened her eyes another fraction of an inch, so that a sliver of brown was visible. “I don’t even remember you showing up last night. Or deciding to get drunk without you. You must’ve been really late.”
Ambrosia, who had a perfect memory of the previous night, nodded. She had stopped after that third drink, not wanting anything to interfere with the memory of meeting the Dark Lord. Rosier, ever the gentleman despite his flirtatious nature, had kept pace with her the entire night, and had helped her take Bellatrix home at the end of it. For this Ambrosia was intensely grateful, as her sister had been in no fit state to Apparate, and Rosier’s company had certainly made the ride on the Knight Bus more bearable.
“Are you in?” Bellatrix’s hoarse whisper almost made Ambrosia jump. She smiled ruefully, twisting one corner of her mouth upward.
“Not yet. But I had an unbelievable night.”
“Were you talking with him all that time, or-?”
“Not the whole time. He told me about this bookstore- I went to it, but it was closed. I am supposed to go to the next meeting with you though.”
“I’m going to try that bookstore again, and I’m also supposed to meet Rosier later today. We’re going to go out and catch up, you know. We haven’t seen each other since the summer of my fifth year.”
“Well then, tell him I thank him for the lift.”
Ambrosia had been in the bookstore for the greater part of the evening. Surrounded by piles of books on wandlore, magical creatures, and every Dark subject imaginable, she was now immersed in her reading at the very back corner of the bookstore. Propping her feet up on an ottoman that was really just a statue of a skeleton holding up a fluffy blue cushion, she spared a glance at Evan Rosier before picking up The White Weapon: Ash Wands and the Silver Spears and beginning to read.
She had run into him earlier than they’d planned, entirely by chance, spotting him as he looked for a book on slow acting venoms. He had teased her playfully at first about being, as he termed it, “Such a good-looking woman in so sinister a place.” They had gotten along well thereafter though; she mused, and turned out to share some interests. Ambrosia had eventually told him about the Dark Lord’s desire to see her duelling skill for himself, and confessed to him that she was nervous. He had simply laughed, trying to reassure her by telling her that it wasn’t necessary to actually win the duel. “He just wants to know where you are in terms of skill,” he had said. “Winning isn’t a prerequisite to become a Death Eater.” He had seemed, however, to sense that her concerns were unaffected by this knowledge, and had taken her out to the back of the store, where they had practiced duelling for hours. Evan was far more experienced. Ambrosia had on several occasions felt inadequate while she observed the speed of his reflexes and the liquidity of his movement, but skilled as she was, she had just barely managed to beat him almost as often as he beat her; and was more confident for doing so.
“That was much better,” he told her after the last of these practice matches. “And you are still just eighteen. There’s plenty of time to grow.”
“I don’t know how I’m going to win if my opponent is up to par with you. I’ll do worse under pressure than I did just now, no doubt.” She said flatly.
“I told you, you did well. You just need to polish.”
“I want to win.”
Evan grinned at her impishly. “You will. If I may say so, I’m probably the best Duellist of them all, except perhaps for Dolohov. And the Dark Lord himself, of course. You’ve got real talent. It just doesn’t show so much against me.”
Ambrosia snorted. “Oh, I feel so much better now that I know I’m losing to the best.”
Evan rolled his eyes and changed the subject. “How’s your sister? She had one hell of a night.”
Ambrosia laughed. “Sick of extolling your skills?”
“No, I really want to know. After all, you couldn’t have gotten her home without me.”
Ambrosia shot him a playfully exasperated look, and they set off away from the alleys.
“She’s fine. Still recovering, you know? She said you all were looking for an excuse to celebrate.”
“Yeah, well,” Rosier began casually, striding toward the brick gate alongside her. “You gave us a good one. Keep ‘em coming. We’ll usually get together like that when one of our number has some sort of success. And the funny thing is, the one who had the aforementioned success is likely to be the most sober of us all. Take Antonin, for example; the guy takes out Everett Bones, who’d been a huge thorn in our side for months. The next time we saw him wasn’t until a week later, but we dragged him to the Hippogriff and got plastered while he watched. He and your damn sister didn’t touch a drink for that entire night. I kept telling Bella to lighten up and pour herself a shot, but she wouldn’t even think of it. I was shocked by her behavior last night, to be perfectly honest.”
“Yeah, well, she was patting herself on the back too. Rightfully so, I might add. I’m indebted to her for bringing me with her last night.” She paused, smiling at her thought before she voiced it. “She asked me to be her bridesmaid you know. I said yes. You’ll be there too, won’t you?”
“Of course, whenever the actual wedding may be. They can’t seem to get past the planning stage. Even Rodolphus’s bedroom is littered with myriad bits of lace and… You know those place cards, the ones you find on the table?”
Ambrosia giggled, nodding that she knew.
“Well, it’s all full of those too. Took a fair bit of persuasion before he would invite me in, I can tell you that.”
“Oh, I’m sure. He must have been horribly embarrassed.”
“Yeah, he colors up, does old Rodolphus.”
At this Ambrosia descended into a veritable fit of giggles, to which Rosier added his deeper laugh. The pair of them chatted amiably until they came to the gate itself, at which time they said their goodbyes and Ambrosia headed back to her sister.
Later that evening, Ambrosia sat at the dinner table with Bellatrix and Regulus, who was the reason for the table. Ambrosia had over the past two weeks grown used to preparing meals in the kitchen and eating them in some other area of the house, wherever she and her sister had something going on. Whether trying to make the second bedroom inhabitable (A task which Ambrosia was beginning to view as a lost cause, given how often they undid their work), poring over the complex drawings that constituted Bellatrix’s wedding plans, or merely talking on one of the ornate couches, meals had not interrupted them.
Regulus, however, was not only a “guest” of sorts, but also ate so much that not to use a table was utterly unfeasible. So there they sat, amidst a collection of puddings, meats, vegetables and a brightly yellow meringue pie, listening to Regulus talk of mostly O.W.L.s and Quidditch, whilst throwing in the occasional comment about wanting to lead the Duelling club Ambrosia had started.
“I’m telling you Regulus, it’s best to wait until after your exams.” Ambrosia was saying. “Leading that bunch eats up a lot of your time, and you’ll be better equipped to teach them things after this year anyway.”
“I could do it,” Regulus protested. “I know more spells than some of the sixth years, and I could find the time to study. I go out and practice with Severus and Rabastan every week already!”
“And that’s a good way to start,” Ambrosia continued. “But fifth year isn’t the best time to take on new responsibility. If you lead a club, you can’t miss a practice.”
“And you still have Quidditch to think about,” Bellatrix reminded him. “Aspiring Quidditch Captains would do well to devote their time to Quidditch.”
Regulus frowned; he didn’t seem to have thought of that.
“Probably so,” he agreed reluctantly.
Bellatrix changed the subject hastily upon catching sight of his suddenly dejected expression.
“So,” She asked, a little too brightly, “How is our Aunt Walburga?”
Regulus smiled ruefully and shook his head. “She’s actually quite beside herself at the moment…. Sirius, you see.”
“Do you mean that he’s done something new?” Ambrosia asked exasperatedly. “It seems he’s already proving himself to be the worst kind of blood traitor.”
“Yes, well, you know how she thought she could change him, right?” Bellatrix and Ambrosia nodded in unison. “Well, it looks like she’s going to be forced to accept that that isn’t the case. He’s gone and run off after some screaming match they had. It was over something pretty ridiculous I think, it sounded like it started over the posters in his room. Anyway, it got bad, and Sirius said some pretty horrible things. Told her that Black heritage isn’t worth a damn, and that he didn’t belong in her house and was leaving. Packed his things the same day. He’s staying at that James Potter's house now I think. Mum’s put off telling anyone because she’s still writing him, trying to get him to come home. I think she’s got to be close to giving it up by now though.”
There was a brief, shocked silence. Bellatrix’s mouth was pressed into a tight line, and Ambrosia closed hers, suddenly aware that it was open slightly. Bellatrix recovered first.
“Has she taken him off of the family tree?” She asked tensely. Regulus shook his head.
“She’s thought about it and talked about it, but nothing else, not yet anyway. Like I said, she’s holding out, hoping that he’ll see the error of his ways.”
“If he doesn’t come to his senses by the time he turns seventeen, he’s gone for sure. Off the family tree, disinherited, the whole package of dishonor. Not that it would be a surprise, what with how often he and Walburga would be screaming at one another. Last Christmas was fun,” Ambrosia added lightly.
At this, Bellatrix rolled her eyes dramatically, and Regulus groaned.
“James Potter indeed. I don’t see why she didn’t just allow Sirius to stay with him over Christmas. We could have been spared the row, and all he did over dinner was sulk anyway,” Bella said reasonably.
“And if he’d been at the Potters’ house, he wouldn’t have thrown the pudding at mum,” Regulus reminded her. Ambrosia laughed humorlessly at the memory. It had to have been the worst of Sirius’s offenses, and had resulted in his being confined to the house for the better part of the holiday. The three of them ate in silence for a while before Regulus took up the topic again.
“It’s actually kind of nice now that Sirius is gone,” he said, shifting guiltily in his chair. “Mum cries a lot, but Dad seems relieved. He shows it too, so long as it isn’t in front of her. He keeps going on about how he knew it would happen one day….”
“It’s not as though it can really come as too much of a surprise, now I stop and think about it.” Said Bellatrix cautiously. “It’s been coming for a while… we’ve wondered if something like this would happen ever since he was Sorted into Gryffindor...” She made a face.
“I would have gone home,” Regulus proclaimed. “I would have gone home rather than set foot in their filthy common room.”
“Yes, well, you do have a proper sense of pride in you.” Bella said kindly, with a patient attitude appropriate to one explaining a flattering but obvious fact. “And if Sirius had pursued that perfectly reasonable course of action, your parents could have worked something out for him that was just as good. Maybe sent him to Durmstrang. But he met the blood traitor James Potter instead, first thing on the train from what I understand, and everything went downhill from there.” She sighed heavily, stood up, and began to clear the table.
Ambrosia stood just after Bellatrix and directed her wand at the table, causing the remaining dishes to energetically arrange themselves in a neat stack at the center of the table. The process halted after a few seconds, leaving a single blue saucer, patterned with ivy leaves, tottering dangerously at the top of the stack. She and Regulus eyed it together for a moment, and Ambrosia directed her wand toward it abruptly.
The cup sailed toward her as though caught on a gust of wind, and she caught it gracefully in her free hand.
“Nice one.” Regulus commented, cracking a smile.
She was about to send the dishes ahead of her to the kitchen when she noticed Regulus’s expression.
“Hey, Reg,” She coaxed, lowering herself back into the chair next to him. “Is there something wrong?”
He shook his head slowly, his eyes fixing on the kitchen door, from which the sounds of clanking dishes and Bella’s footsteps issued.
“It’s going to be odd, living in the house without Sirius…. Even though all he ever did was moan about the way things are,” he said slowly, eyes never leaving the wall behind which the kitchen lay. “And it's not exactly a pleasant shock to find out that I’m the only hope for my parents to have a proper son.”
“Why the shock at all?” Ambrosia asked him gently. She laid a hand on his shoulder so that he would look at her. He did, and she knew his eyes were shinier perhaps that he would normally allow her to see, though he did not seem as though he was on the verge of tears. When he did not answer her question, she went on. “Sirius,” she said heavily, “Never cared about being a proper son to his parents. He ran about with filth at Hogwarts, made a nuisance of himself at family functions, and went out of his way to make sure all of us knew that he is a blood traitor at heart. Think of his room, Regulus.” Regulus nodded, looking slightly more cheerful.
“Thanks.” He paused for a long moment and his eyes returned to the kitchen. “If mother starts getting unbearable before term starts, d’you mind if I come and stay here for a bit?”
“I don’t,” said Ambrosia at once. “And I don’t think Bella will either, which is good because this is her house. You should ask her.”
As Regulus traipsed off to the kitchen, Ambrosia couldn’t help thinking about Sirius. Lost cause though he might be, and in spite of the fact that communicating with him was usually a singularly unpleasant task, she decided that there was nothing to be lost from writing to him herself.