Chapter 7 : The Madness of a Mother
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She needn’t have worried, as she got home just fine, but she felt strangely separate as she did so. There was no doubt now, the Dark Lord thought of her differently than the other Death Eaters. Her hand still burned where his lips had touched it if she thought about the night’s encounter for too long. She put her head in her hands. She could no longer prevent herself from thinking it. She knew she was in trouble of monstrous proportions then, because she wanted him. She was drawn by his power, yes, but she could not pretend now that that was the limit of his allure. She let out a vehement exclamation of frustration that made her sister stir, and then she was out the door, cloak in hand, gone to try and regain her sanity.
“God, Ambrosia, you look dreadful.”
She nodded in silent agreement with her sister, the movement sending one of the twigs caught in her hair to the floor. She took the cup of tea that Bellatrix offered her, taking care not to get either half of her bisected sleeve in the sugar bowl. Her senses had returned to her after a long and reckless jaunt in the woods, but she was taciturn and moody, unable to think of anything for long if it did not relate directly to the Dark Lord and her meeting with him that night.
Her head ached. She placed it in her hand as she tried once more to figure out what on Earth she was going to do about her situation. If there was anything she could do. Bellatrix watched her with mild concern, sitting down in the adjacent seat and adding sugar to her own tea from the bowl. She lowered her voice and spoke in a manner that would have been appropriate when trying to talk someone down from a towering temper.
“Is this about the initiation? Because if it is, you really need not be concerned. He likes you, and if you’ve only been to two meetings - Well, it was unlikely to happen last night! You’re really good, but he doesn’t normally bring people in that soon, even after a duel. Well, admittedly there was Evan, but he’s always the odd case. It didn’t happen that soon for Rodolphus or Lucius, and it was ten weeks before I got in.”
Ambrosia did not bother to tell her sister that it had almost nothing to do with the duel. She nodded and pretended that the fact of Evan being recognized sooner bothered her, deliberately pulling a face at the mention of his name. She allowed her sister to continue with the words of comfort, all the while mulling over the implications of trying to hide your improper feelings from someone who could perform Legilimency….
“Ambrosia? Are you listening to me?”
She hauled herself back to the present and nodded mutely. Then, making up her mind on the spot; because she needed to confide in someone close to her, and because the Dark Lord hadn’t forbidden it, she told her sister at least part of the truth.
“He wants me to meet him alone at a bookstore he told me about later tonight. I haven’t got a clue what it’s about, and it’s making me anxious.”
There, the sane part of the truth, she told herself reasonably. Her sister gasped.
“But that could be wonderful news! He might just want to speak to you with less than all of us around, or maybe even in private. He’ll probably bring you in at the next meeting…”
“Have you heard of that happening before?” Ambrosia interrupted. Bellatrix shook her head.
“No, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t. That is the point of a private meeting, isn’t it? You will tell me what happens, though, won’t you?”
“As long as he does not mind me mentioning whatever it is,” She replied slowly. She could not imagine why he would mind if this were strictly business, but if it were otherwise… She gave herself a mental kick, not sure how foolish to feel.
Her sister grinned. “Well, if he doesn’t strictly forbid it! I can’t see why he would mind, and if he tells you when you are going to be initiated before it happens, I want to know about it too. Not even for the sake of the surprise so much as the fact that if I know and Evan doesn’t, I can rub it in later…. He’d be so jealous…”
Ambrosia couldn’t help but smile at her sister’s obvious delight.
“I’ll make sure you know, if he tells me. I really don’t know what to do with myself today though. Do you want to go practice duelling or visit Tatting’s?”
“Oh, no!” Bellatrix said regretfully, her eyes widening by a fraction. “I could’ve sworn I told you - I promised father we’d go back to their house today and have dinner. Because of Sirius, you know? He thinks it’ll do mother good to have some company around….”
Although Ambrosia was not terribly keen on the idea of a large family event that she would be required to go to right before the night’s events, she nodded her consent. She was rather used to hiding her feelings when there was something on her mind that would interfere with family festivities.
“Walburga’s coming too,” Bellatrix added.
At this, Ambrosia sighed. “Well, I suppose that was always to be expected. Who has been more affected by this dismal business than Aunt Walburga?”
“She’s still bound to put a bit of a damper on the mood though,” said Bellatrix bluntly. “We’re going to have to do our best to be charming and talkative, even if the business concerning the Dark Lord is all we can think about.” She spoke mildly and included them both, but Ambrosia knew that the words were very much for her. As if she needed to be told.
“So this is today, and you never said anything?” Ambrosia asked incredulously. Bellatrix nodded, looking tenser than she had a moment before. Addressing a sneaking suspicion, Ambrosia narrowed her eyes and continued. “When, exactly, have you committed us to be present?”
“In about two hours, give or take, depending on what time it is,” Bellatrix said apologetically.
Ambrosia did not need to be told twice – She ran out of the room and across the house to change out of her Death Eater robes and get the remaining twigs and leaves out of her hair.
“God, Ambrosia, Aunt Walburga looks dreadful.”
It was true – The dark circles under her aunt’s eyes revealed without a doubt that Sirius’s treachery was keeping her from sleeping at night, and her skin had taken on a decidedly waxen look and yellow tinge. Ambrosia wondered idly if the portrait of her in Grimmauld Place also reflected these grim signs. Bellatrix’s comment went absolutely unnoticed in the din of pots and pans that signaled Kreacher making dinner. Even without this distraction, it would have gone unnoticed because of the simple fact that everyone was paying attention to the booming monologues of Cygnus; Bellatrix and Ambrosia’s father. He was in the middle of a passionate description of his most recent dealings with St. Mungo’s, where he donated great amounts of gold chiefly for the sake of reputation. He was a large, robust man with a good natured face, belying his sharp, steely eyes that missed nothing. Shrewd and calculating in his investments and business deals, he was quite adept at both using his wealth to gain political influence and adding to the fortune that allowed him to keep the great Black manor.
His audience of Druella, Orion and Regulus gave out the collective laugh that signaled the punch line and end of this story; which had had something to do with a Healer contracting dragon pox, and his attention was now free to dwell upon the arrival of Ambrosia and Bellatrix in the room.
“There are my Warrior Women!” He boomed, using the long-standing nickname he had for his two daughters. Unlike their mother, he had always been delighted by their interest in the traditionally masculine area of martial magic. “Getting ever closer to being married at last I hear, Bellatrix.”
“Yes father,” she said with a broad smile. “Rodolphus and I are to be wed within the next few months I am sure. The planning is slow.”
“Ah, and yet he is a fine, wealthy young man, and a Death Eater too! It is no wonder the plans have taken nearly a year, I suppose, but it is a great blessing that he is so open-minded.”
“Oh it is, father.” She lowered her voice, even though Druella and the others were now engrossed in their own discussions, “And Ambrosia is known to the Dark Lord now as well!”
Cygnus eyed his second daughter with interest.
“Are you really? Well, congratulations are certainly in order, but not all men are like Rodolphus. You must be aware that a potential husband might not appreciate your belonging to the Dark Lord as well as to him. Or the level of violence that has come to be expected from the members of the Dark Order…”
“If any potential husband of mine is not loyal to our Lord, or is opposed to martial prowess on the part of his betrothed, then clearly I am not the woman he wishes to marry.” Said Ambrosia dryly, with only a shadow of a smirk. Inwardly, she was quite sure that the man she wished she were not interested in would be well pleased with her involvement in the Dark Order. She almost grimaced at the thought, but restrained herself.
“Never let your mother hear you say that, Ambrosia.” Cygnus admonished, though he ruined the effect slightly with the trace of a grin that graced the corners of his lips. “Get married and have plenty of babies; you know by now that that is Druella’s great vision for the pureblood woman. As for me, if you can seek power in some other way, I will not discourage you. Neither will your mother, if I do not, but it is best not to upset her with reminders of the fact that she has raised two daughters who are most unlike herself. Do you seek to bear His Mark?”
“I will not seek to trouble her with it, father,” Ambrosia promised. She paused. “I do seek to bear His Mark, but will still do as my sister has done, and take a husband in spite of it. I know, though, where my priorities lie.”
Cygnus nodded. “So it is, and it does not trouble me. Tell me now; what is this business about Andromeda and the Tonks boy? You see the state of my sister-in-law after Sirius’s betrayal, and I must confess I live now in fear that your mother will face a similar fate.”
They all glanced over at Walburga, who was sitting at the head of the table across the room, tears cutting twin paths down her face in silence. Druella was now patting her back with a most peculiar expression, rather akin to that of a cat walking a balance beam over a large pool of water. Orion looked exasperated. He was participating loudly in Regulus’s well-intentioned attempts to distract the women with both tales of his latest Quidditch exploits and an amusing story about Reginald Cattermole blowing up his Strengthening Solution during the Potions exam Slughorn had set the previous school year.
“Quite understandable,” said Ambrosia gravely, turning away from this rather disheartening sight. “And although I can tell you with regret that Sirius takes pride in influencing Andromeda, the best person to tell you what she actually feels for the Tonks boy is probably Narcissa. She is still in school with them both….”
“Is she here, father?” Bellatrix inquired.
“No, but she might come later.” Cygnus answered in a satisfied tone.
“She is dining at Malfoy Manor this evening so that she can get to know Abraxas. It seems that things are getting quite serious between her and Lucius, young as they are.” He shot another furtive look at Walburga and the relatives around her, and this time she stared back blankly. “We’d better go over,” he said under his breath, before rushing over to Orion’s side. Bellatrix and Ambrosia followed.
Druella was shoving a teacup into Walburga’s hands as her two daughters made their way over to her.
“Bellatrix, Ambrosia,” She said by way of greeting, spilling a bit of sugar onto the floor from her full left hand. “One of you hold this for me.”
As the sisters exchanged looks, a teapot was shoved into Bellatrix’s outstretched hand. Druella tutted slightly as she surveyed Walburga’s impassive and tearstained face.
“My goodness dear sister, pull yourself together!” She said in a valiant attempt at a soft and understanding manner, the frustration just barely seeping through. “You still have a fine son here who will not disgrace himself or fail you-” Regulus looked uncomfortably to Ambrosia at this- “And no one could say that Sirius’s attitude is your fault.”
“And whose fault would you say it is?” Asked Walburga hoarsely, speaking for the first time. Ambrosia could not help but admire the composure of her voice despite the obvious effort she put into keeping it. “Our son, who we raised in the ways of our heritage, has thrown our traditions away for a werewolf, and a blood traitor brat! Surely we did not instill them forcefully enough!”
Orion looked uncomfortable and grim, though his depression was clearly nothing compared to his wife’s. Cygnus stood next to him with an expression of sympathy, whether for his wife’s condition or the betrayal of his son it was impossible to tell. Gently, Bellatrix took the teacup from her aunt and replaced it with a small glass of brandy. To everyone’s shock, Druella did not even cast it a look of disapproval. Walburga sipped it lightly, wincing as it burned her throat. She sat up a little straighter, taking in Bellatrix and then the whole room with the air of one who had been awakened quite suddenly to face some dire situation. She turned to Cygnus.
“Is my beloved niece Narcissa still with the Malfoy boy?” She demanded suddenly, with a very quiet hiccup.
As everyone present rushed to reassure her that Narcissa was indeed courting Lucius as they spoke, Walburga seemed to collect herself, though Ambrosia was left with the distinct impression that this arose more from shame caused by her emotional display than any true sense of comfort in the fact.
Walburga was calm but quiet as dinner progressed, eating only what politeness and sociability absolutely demanded. By the end of the night Ambrosia had a new reason to be upset with Sirius - The condition that he left his mother in was absolutely pitiable. Her gloom was spreading about the table like a fog, kept at bay only by the enthusiastic conversation waged by Cygnus, who was rambling on about the pains of dealing with the Russians to organize the next Quidditch World Cup, which was to be held in Moscow. Regulus was listening to this with interest, asking detailed questions, and for the first time Ambrosia wondered if he had his sights set on playing for England one day. He no longer had a glance to spare for his mother, but engrossed himself in the conversation as though he really needed to distract himself. Ambrosia was beginning to feel the same desire herself after the second course, and seized a gap in the conversation to ask Regulus if he was ready to go back to school.
They conversed with a vigor that was actually sufficient to draw the attention of Walburga. Regulus talked about Quidditch trials and Ambrosia broached the subject of the Slug Club. Then Cygnus joined them for a discussion of the secret places and passageways in the castle. This toned things down some, but Cygnus’s natural booming presence made it impossible for the talk to be anything but loud. Ambrosia found in this a great distraction from the Dark Lord, and was sure that Regulus felt equal relief from the burden of Walburga’s condition. She was sure he did not know what was troubling her, but as they exchanged a glance across the table, she felt for the first time with her cousin the sort of mutual insight she had come to expect with Bellatrix.
It took nearly four hours, many condolences to Walburga, and a certain measure of cheer brought with the arrival of Narcissa, who had pranced through the door flushed with happiness at around eight o’clock in the evening, to provide Bellatrix and Ambrosia with enough opportunities for sociable conversation that they could leave afterwards without being impolite. It didn’t hurt that Narcissa’s presence took a certain amount of Walburga’s attention off of Sirius, though it seemed that she was rather jealous of the fact that her sister Druella had Narcissa for a daughter. Bellatrix and Ambrosia had exited the gathering soon after their younger sister’s entrance, insisting that they needed to go and tidy the house for Bella’s engagement party. They said their farewells, prised Bellatrix from the clutches of Druella, who was hinting heavily that she wanted a granddaughter named after her, and then proceeded at last to Disapparate directly to the bookstore at the most private corner of Knockturn Alley.
“Damn, I thought we were going to be late for sure,” said Bellatrix with a smirk in Ambrosia’s direction.
Ambrosia laughed moderately, scanning the window display of a nearby shop for the time and settling in front of a large grandfather clock with a brightly golden pendulum.
“I certainly didn’t. Ten more minutes there and I would have had to run out the door and Disapparate midstep. Great idea, using the engagement party as an excuse. Are you really planning to have it so soon as a week from now?”
“Well, I suppose I am now!” Bellatrix exclaimed with a short burst of mirth. “I had best go and tell Rodolphus, and preferably before the Dark Lord shows up expecting you to be alone. How much longer now?”
“Fourteen minutes,” Ambrosia answered automatically, and far too quickly. Bellatrix flashed her a knowing sort of glance, and she could feel her face flushing. “Let’s take a look in the clock shop,” she suggested to cover the moment, craning her neck in an attempt to see the name of the place as she opened its door and stepped through, holding it open for Bellatrix.
She never did see the name, but she was amazed at the vast array and supreme quality of everything in the store. It looked like a cross between a magical antique shop and a clock collection. There were more grandfather clocks just like the one Ambrosia had used outside, small cuckoo clocks perched on the walls, and a large assortment of clocks that did not tell the time at all, instead offering various pieces of other useful information.
Bellatrix busied herself reading the hands of a transparent, spherical clock with a globe across its face. There were six or seven different hands meandering within it at random, and the moment Bellatrix placed her hand on the clock, all seven of the hands pointed to various places in Britain. Ambrosia meandered over to the desk that she assumed belonged to the proprietor. This was coated thickly with dust, but displayed several pristine objects. Ambrosia bent over what looked like a plain, solid silver plate in the exact center of the desk.
For a brief moment she saw only her own eyes reflected on its surface. Then, the image began to shimmer weirdly, transforming into a ghoulish face which winked at her with a smile. The eyes closed, straightened and slid across the surface to become hands. The mouth extended bizarrely around the whole perimeter of the clock, bunching up in those places where the numbers would be a split second before they started to form. She stared at it with interest for a few moments before a loud clattering noise from the back of the store made both she and Bellatrix jump. Ambrosia whirled around in time to see a grinning young man jump from a thin staircase descending from the attic. He was forced to jump because the ladder did not extend to the floor. The lower half of it lay in splintered fragments below him, and he was careful to avoid these on his way down.
He straightened up and glanced at the clocks the sisters had been examining. Ambrosia thought he had a rather bouncy air about him, with his sparkling eyes and disheveled dark hair; and this among other things about his demeanor was definitely out of place in Knockturn Alley. He made no effort to imitate the stately grace that most purebloods were exposed to from an early age. Ambrosia saw that she was not alone in this observation; Bellatrix was glaring at him with a thinly veiled measure of contempt.
He strode over to stand between Ambrosia and Bellatrix, beaming.
“Two of my favorites,” he said brightly. He gestured first to the sphere in Bellatrix’s hand. “That one can show you the way to any of your favorite haunts. Not sure what it’s pointing to at the moment, but all you need to do is tell it what you want, as long as it isn’t Unplottable. Here-” He reached out for the orb, and Bellatrix handed it to him as though it suddenly disgusted her, looking slightly shocked by his familiarity. “Leaky Cauldron, London.”
Ambrosia watched, impressed, as the hands all congealed into one red line and twisted into what was clearly the path from their current location to the Leaky Cauldron. It was not a long path, and as they looked at it across the surface of the orb, little shadowy representations of the other buildings in the Alleys that stood between they and the Leaky Cauldron appeared. The path wound between the buildings like a fiery snake, quite three dimensional on the spun glass. She looked up from it, impressed.
“This is quite extraordinary magic. Who is its creator?”
“My father,” the boy answered. “It’s completely unique, but so is a lot of the merchandise in here. This place is his, I look after it sometimes when I have a break from school.”
“I thought you seemed rather young,” Bellatrix interjected. “What’s your surname?”
Ambrosia knew that her sister was thinking still about the boy’s lack of refinement.
“Aldris. This store has been in my family for a long time. No one has bothered to count the generations…” He trailed off with a pointed glare. Bellatrix had the grace to look embarrassed. Far too close, Ambrosia thought, to bluntly and boorishly answering the question on both of their minds.
But the boy was a half-blood at least, and so Ambrosia continued to roam the store, gazing at one curious instrument after another, forever mindful of the incessant ticking of hundreds of clocks, conspiring to eject her from their domain by threatening her with the possibility of lateness to the Dark Lord’s meeting. She returned her attentions eventually to the splendid glass orb that knew her city so well.
“How much is this?”
“Forty-five Galleons, two Sickles,” the boy answered from his ladder.
Under the scrutiny of the clocks’ stern faces, she paid for the thing and bade Bellatrix a rather rushed goodbye in front of the store. There were eight minutes to go, and the bookstore was close enough for her to see, though she did not go to it yet, simply staring. The alley was completely dead at such a late hour, the clock store was the last bastion of activity. In fact, it was silent enough for Ambrosia to hear the soft ticking of the clocks despite the heavy glass of the shop display. The only lights in Knockturn Alley at this hour were dim, accordant with the preferences of the only types who might be out at this hour.
She fingered her wand in her pocket. She didn’t need the presence of anyone else in order to feel safe. She meandered aimlessly to the other side of the street, watching from there beside the lifeless streetlamp as the boy locked his clock shop and set off down the way toward the Leaky Cauldron. A few paces down, he stopped, turned toward her, and waved. She returned the acknowledgement with a nod and quickly set to examining her new orb, making as though she was merely trying to get it to work in the hopes that he would leave her alone.
Unfortunately, this had the opposite effect. The boy came striding purposefully in her direction. Five minutes to go, she thought to herself ruefully.
“Fancy a bit of help with that?” His broad grin was sickeningly endearing as he drew up next to her. The orb slipped slightly in his hands as he took it from her, were they sweaty or shaking? She felt a twinge of regret for what she was about to do.
“Aldris, is it?” She asked. The boy nodded. “Hand me my purchase at once. I am not an imbecile, nor did I ask for your help mastering my own possession.”
Aldris’s eyes widened in shock.
“I did not mean to imply any lack of intelligence on your part, madam!” He insisted, bowing to her shallowly. “I simply meant to -”
“It matters not what you intended,” She said icily, taking the orb. “Remove yourself from my sight, and know that you would do well in the future to treat your patrons and your superiors with respect!”
He threw her an absolutely filthy look, hitched his cloak into place, and set off down the road without further ado, and the last glimpse she got of his face was of a hurt and bewildered look. She sighed as he vanished. One minute to go. She set off at a pace quite as brisk as his had been toward the ancient bookstore at the back corner of the alley. Here, with the moon obscured by buildings and every lamp darkened, she drew and lit her wand.