The Sugar Quill
Author: Tabari  Story: Dealing with the Devil  Chapter: Chapter One: A Deal with the Devil
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

“My daughters

Dealing with the Devil

 

 

 

Chapter One:  A Deal with the Devil

 

 

“My daughters!” Ariadne Black cried out, opening her arms to embrace first Bellatrix, then Andromeda, then Narcissa. Bellatrix, ever imperious, and Andromeda, ever mindful of her Gryffindor pride, lingered only moments in their mother’s arms. But Narcissa, just fourteen and more child than adolescent, hugged her mother hard.

 

Platform Nine and Three Quarters was full of bustling people, but unlike previous years, few of those people were stopping for gossip and chatter, and family reunions were hurried before the witches and wizards exited the platform into King’s Cross station, anxious to get home in the darkening evening. There was no denying the tensions in the Wizarding world this year; too many Muggleborns had been murdered, and rumors of a new power for darkness, a wizard to rival Grindelwald, had surfaced even in the Daily Prophet, bastion of skepticism and denial.

 

Not that the Blacks had any reason to fear for their safety. The oldest Wizarding family in Britain, rivaled only by the Malfoys and the (blood-traitor) Weasleys, none would dare to offend them.

 

Still, Ariadne Black did not want to linger. She and her eldest daughter, Bellatrix – the only one legally allowed to use her wand outside of school – levitated the girls’ trunks towards the Floo network fireplaces, and each girl, with a pinch of green powder, found herself whizzing away home.

 

The Black family had two sons, and after old Ulysses Black had died, it had been Aquila, and his wife (and cousin) Cassiopeia, who had inherited the Black Manor. He was, after all, the oldest son, born four years before Orion – and he had produced male heirs to continue the family name, rather than daughters. It had never sat well with Ariadne, though, especially as she surveyed the less than grand parlor of Orion Black’s home. She sniffed, as was her custom, and then, with a flick of her wand, sent the trunks flying up the stairs.

 

“Well! It’s good to be home, isn’t it, girls? You’ll have to tell me about your year later, though. There’s to be dinner at the Black Manor tonight, and there’s only the half hour to get ready. Bellatrix, the black dress robe – Rodolphus will be there, or so Aunt Cassiopeia told me; Andromeda, anything that isn’t red and gold – don’t be so perverse, dear; Narcissa, there’s a lovely blue dress upstairs for you, and a pink robe to go over it.”  With the air of someone accustomed to having her orders followed, Ariadne Black walked off to the master bedroom, humming tunelessly under her breath.

 

Bellatrix waited until Narcissa had run up the stairs to her own room before grabbing Andromeda’s arm with her clawlike fingers.

 

“Come on,” the older girl hissed. “My room. And be quiet about it if you can manage.”

Andromeda complied, more out of habit than actual desire to spend time in her sister’s presence, and was half dragged up two flights of stairs to the loft that Bellatrix had claimed as her own.

 

Pristine after months of abandonment, Bellatrix strode over to the windows of her room and closed the shutters with a bang. She then snapped the door shut behind Andromeda, and, with a dangerous smile playing about her face, leaned back against the wall.

 

“Dear sister, I think it’s time we had some … bonding. What with you in Gryffindor and Narcissa and I in Slytherin, I’ve grown rather apart from my middle sister! And to think, I won’t even be at Hogwarts anymore – such a pity, such a pity. You see, I do so long to be friends with you.” The last came out as a purr, the dark-haired girl’s smoky voice sinking even lower.

 

“Bellatrix, now is not the time,” Andromeda said, backing away, only stopping when she felt the door behind her. The younger Black was wary, her gray eyes never leaving her smiling sister.

 

“Now is the perfect time, Andromeda. You see, I really don’t plan to spend much more time here,” she said, her voice dripping with disgust, “now that I’ve left school. Much better things to do, really. I’ve only got so long to, ah, make an impression.”

 

Andromeda sometimes thought her sister could smell fear. Bellatrix’s nostrils were flaring, and her eyes were wild, not quite matching that beautiful smile. Stalling for time, Andromeda asked, “What about Narcissa? You’ll see even less of her.”

 

Bellatrix laughed. “Narcissa’s the good girl, I don’t need to worry about her. Already making eyes at the Malfoy spawn; even looks like one of them. She’s Slytherin too. But you, Andromeda, show promise – you have enough rebel in you to be sorted into Gryffindor, and to even wear red and gold home!”

 

“Mother won’t want us not to go to the dinner tonight. We have to – and you heard her, Rodolphus Lestrange will be there. I don’t see how you can accuse Narcissa of making eyes –”

 

Bellatrix cut her younger sister off, and the glitter in her eyes showed she’d seen through Andromeda’s attempt to change the subject. “Mother will be most glad if I can show you the error of your ways. In any case, do you honestly want to spend all evening surrounded by your family? Your Slytherin family, not a one of them a blood-traitor like you, Great-Aunt Elladora sniping at you all night, Mother and Aunt Cassiopeia fighting over your upbringing?”

 

“Sirius is in Gryffindor,” Andromeda said reasonably.

 

“Sirius knows better than to associate with Mudblood scum,” Bellatrix spat in response, and though Andromeda winced at the epithet, she didn’t reply.  “You’d do practically anything to get out of this evening, and you and I both know it. Go get changed. Bring your cloak; we’re flying.”

 

And with that, Bellatrix opened the door and shoved Andromeda through it. “I’m going to regret this,” Andromeda muttered.

 

Andromeda found herself back in Bellatrix’s room, her traveling cloak over a plain robe. Bellatrix, however, looked like a queen. Andromeda couldn’t help herself; at the sight of her tall, dark, radiant sister, in midnight blue robes and a black velvet cloak, she had to gasp.

 

“I’m glad you like it,” Bellatrix purred, before muttering a Silencing Charm under her breath, a ripple of air whizzing towards the door. “Dearest Mother shouldn’t hear us go. You can fly, right? That Mudblood friend of yours, Tinky, or whatever –”

 

“Tonks,” Andromeda said shortly, not bothering to correct her use of Mudblood, not after all the years of battling her sister’s bigotry in vain. “I can fly, Bellatrix. My broom, however, is currently in the parlor, along with dearest mother. How are you planning -?”

 

Bellatrix opened a trunk at the foot of her bed, and pulled out a long, elegant broomstick, of a model Andromeda didn’t recognize.

 

“How the hell did you -?” she started to ask, but her sister cut her off.

 

“Friend of mine. You might meet him tonight, if you’re lucky. Get on, and hold on. I’m going to try to get cloud cover. It’s a long way to the Leaky Cauldron.”

 

Despite the day’s previous night, the air was cold, and flying in cloud soaked Andromeda to the bone. Bellatrix was a daredevil flier, too – Bellatrix was daredevil at everything – and Andromeda was thoroughly miserable when they landed (in a side alley, at Andromeda’s desperate urgings to avoid scaring the Muggles). Bellatrix, of course, was still queenly, and it was with a self-satisfied smirk that she dried off her own robes, then Andromeda’s, before hiding the broom with a Disillusionment Charm, placing it behind a dumpster.

 

“Come on,” she said, and Andromeda found herself following big sister.

 

The Muggle nightlife had been busy and varied on the streets outside of the run down old pub, but the Leaky Cauldron was simply wild. Andromeda had only ever gone to Diagon Alley during the day, usually with one or more parents, to shop for school things or other household needs. She had never seen this part of the wizarding world by night, and the atmosphere was intimidating.

 

Men in their long robes were laughing raucously at the bar, great tankards of ale in front of them. Women, some of whom looked to be of dubious reputation, sauntered through the bar, some of them twined around male customers. Andromeda thought she spotted a hag, talking in rapid Albanian to a cloaked wizard. A goblin was hunkered over a table, counting gold coins, while a thickset wizard drummed his fingers in impatience.

Bellatrix did not look at all phased, and she didn’t linger long in the pub. Though Andromeda wanted to remain behind, to take in the scene, her sister dragged her forward, and counted the bricks that led into Diagon Alley.

 

Diagon Alley, too, was a different creature at night. The patrons had changed – no longer were the dithering old witches in from the country pottering about. Rather, it seemed as if the crowd from Knockturn Alley had come well into the main shops, and in the flickering torchlight, Andromeda thought she could make out a few familiar faces – graduated Slytherins from her sister’s circle of friends, shopkeepers from Knockturn Alley her father had had round for dinner once, and Aurors – not just regular Law Enforcement, but Aurors. Andromeda even knew one of them, from when the Ministry had raided Black Manor. Aunt Cassiopeia had tried to send a curse after him, before Uncle Aquila had vanished the spell.

 

Bellatrix still did not seem in the mood to linger. She strode purposefully past Flourish and Blott’s, past Madam Malkin’s, until they were in the plaza before Gringott’s Bank, where Knockturn Alley intersected the main road.

 

“Bellatrix, where –”

 

“Keep quiet. There’s going to be – well. There’s going to be some excitement here, let’s just say. I know some of the people – keep near me and no one will hurt a hair on your little Gryffindor prefect’s head.”

 

They waited. Andromeda was fascinated – the crowd was becoming increasingly more rowdy, and the Aurors in the crowd were becoming increasingly tense, their hands never leaving their wands. An argument started outside of Florean Fortescue’s, and one of the participants was hit by a nasty Engorgement Charm. The offending spell-caster was lead away by one of the harried Aurors, but there were plenty more of the troublemaking sort to take his place.

 

This couldn’t be normal, Andromeda thought. “Bellatrix, what’s going on? Why are there all these Aurors about? And all these people – this can’t be what happens all the time, can it?”

 

“Very good, little sister. The Ministry must have caught word – ah, there he is!”

She was looking towards a wizard in a black cloak, the hood pulled over his face. He nodded, once, at Bellatrix. She grinned savagely, and drew her own hood forward, hiding her face in shadow.  With a sharp pinch for warning, Bellatrix said, “Stay put. The excitement is just about to begin.” And with that, the beautiful young witch, her cloak flaring about her, leapt upon the steps leading into Gringott’s bank. Andromeda thought she could hear a spell, and then Bellatrix’s voice, magically magnified, boomed out across the square.

 

“Wizards!” she cried, “Wizards, listen to me! Wizards, awaken! Do you know what we are? What you are? We are the descendents of Merlin and Circe, of Queen Maeve and Agrippa. Look at you! Look at us! Here we stand, the heirs of the greatest men and women to ever walk across this earth, and we are reduced to imitations of men, living our mundane lives as if we were mere Muggles, ashamed to acknowledge our birthright, cowed into hiding the greatest talents nature can bestow on mankind.

 

“What are we? Are we to live our lives in fear of discovery by those ignorant of the glory of wizardkind, or are we to rise up and take what has been withheld from us, to reclaim the grandeur of wizarding history for our own times? Wizards, you are Men, not children. Witches, you are Women, not slaves. We have been kept silent too long, kept silent by the Ministry for Magic! Wizards, it is not the Ministry for Magic, it is the Ministry for Muggles and Mudbloods, and it has denied our heritage for TOO LONG!”

 

Andromeda heard a great orator in her sister, a brilliance she had not known that Bellatrix possessed, and she could not help admiring her. But she was scared, too. This was dangerous talk, especially with rumors of a new Dark Lord –

 

Men were gathering round. Some were murmuring, others conversing loudly, others shouting their approval. Aurors had gathered too, their wands out now, glancing for reassurance at each other, their expressions stony and grim. Andromeda felt lost in this crush of humanity, and she tried to make her way forward to Bellatrix. Firebrand though she might be, Bellatrix was her only assurance of safety. She couldn’t get through the throng, however, and she found herself shunted to the side by a tall wizard, smelling strongly of ale, who had begun to shout imprecations at the Aurors.

 

The assembly was turning into a fully-fledged riot, and Bellatrix had started it.

Terrified and confused, Andromeda jumped when she felt a hand grab her shoulder. It was the cloaked wizard. Up close, Andromeda could make out more of his features – definitely older than Bellatrix, in his thirties, with a hooked nose and thin lips. “Keep close to me. You’re a Black, correct? Bellatrix shouldn’t have brought you, you’re only a child….”

 

Andromeda felt indignant. She was eleven months younger than her sister, after all!  Still, this man had offered protection, and given the bloody mess that was unfolding around her…. Andromeda hesitantly nodded. “Thanks,” she said.

 

The drunken wizard who had shouted at the Aurors was now right in front, urging Bellatrix to continue. Looking satisfied at her work, Bellatrix engaged in further demagoguery.

 

“Wizards! Do you hear me? Are you angry? Or is the blood of our ancestors thinning? Have we allowed the pride of mankind, the flower of humanity, to be reduced to this? Where is the power of Paracelsus and Hengist? We have let the purity of our blood become dilute! We have married Muggles and filth, and become a race of blood traitors! Our children are taught alongside Mudbloods, brats raised like pigs by Muggle filth! The pride of our world, its splendor and magnificence, is draining away, to disappear forever if those of us who still remember who we are, what we are, do not stand up and REFUSE to allow this injustice!”

 

The Aurors were encircling her, pushing their way through the crowds. One of them strode purposefully towards Bellatrix, obviously meaning to keep her from inciting the already furious crowd any further, but the drunken heckler intervened. “Blood traitor!” he shouted at the auror, before screaming a curse Andromeda had never heard before. The auror flew backwards, twitching in agony, and his fellows in arms charged forward.

 

Sensing that her work was done, Bellatrix dashed into the crowd as the mob began to haphazardly destroy Diagon Alley. Hexes and Jinxes flew in every direction as aurors and purebloods dueled. Five wizards had cornered a witch, at whom they were screaming blood epithets; two Aurors were desperately trying to prevent a crowd of howling witches and wizards from destroying the Magical Menagerie. Andromeda wanted to cry.

 

At last, Bellatrix made her way over to her little sister, and the cloaked wizard. The man turned towards Andromeda’s older sister, and kissed her on the cheek, muttering, “You were brilliant.”

 

Bellatrix pulled away from his embrace, looking annoyed, but had enough grace to acknowledge his compliment. “Thank you. Do you want to stay, or should we go to the meeting -?”

 

“We stay. When this is done, we should be able to recruit some of them. Keep out of the way, though. The Aurors will be looking for any excuse to arrest you, and when their hands are less full, they’ll probably come after us.”

 

“All right, Avery, don’t lecture me.”

 

“I told you not to call me by my real name –” he started, obviously angry.

 

“And I’ve told you I have no interest in being kissed by you,” Bellatrix interrupted smoothly. “I’ll probably be a Lestrange in a year or two, you know that. And you’re married.”

 

He scowled, but said nothing further. They retreated into a side street off of Knockturn Alley to watch. Once they had found a vantage point, peering through the narrow space between two tall potions shops, Andromeda turned to her sister. “Bellatrix, I want to go. Now. I don’t know why you brought me here; you know I’m not like your friends. I’m going.”

 

To her credit, Andromeda did indeed start to leave, but Bellatrix again grasped her arm, and, reluctant to enter the riot, Andromeda stopped.

 

“Don’t be an idiot,” Bellatrix hissed. “What, you think that crowd’ll let you get through there unscathed? And then you’re going to fly home? I know you, Andromeda, you’d fall off before you were even a quarter of the way there. And then what? You wait until mother and father come home, and they lock you up for the rest of the summer? Nothing’s going to happen to you while you’re with me.”

 

“Bellatrix,” the man called Avery said, “If she wants to go… maybe she should. She’s only a student, a child….”

 

“Shut it, Avery,” Bellatrix said, a dangerous look in her eyes. “My sister, not yours. If it weren’t for me, there wouldn’t even be a riot out there, or don’t you remember? You could hardly get out there and give that speech, working for the Ministry.”

 

Avery fell silent, and Andromeda said nothing more. Her heart felt as if it were a maracca, not just beating, but shaking up and down. Screams and crashes from Diagon Alley rang through the night, and Andromeda thought she saw one of the Aurors going down, hit by a green jet of light…. Oh, Merlin.

 

Suddenly, a young witch ran into their side street, fear in her doelike eyes. Seeing Bellatrix and the others, she ran towards them. “Please! You have to help me, they’re after all the Muggleborns! I think they just killed an Auror, and –”

 

Bellatrix was laughing, withdrawing her wand from inside her cloak, and even the taciturn Avery had a smile on his face now. With a look of horror on her face, the young witch began to back away from them, but it was too late.

 

REDUCTO!” Bellatrix shrieked, and the young witch was blasted off her feet. A nasty, eager look on her face, Bellatrix ran towards her prostrate victim. Avery, too, was striding forward, his wand out.

 

“Refuse like you aren’t wanted here,” Bellatrix said, her grey eyes glittering in the darkness. “You made a mistake when you came here tonight. You thought you could walk among the purebloods as if you weren’t of filthy Muggle stock? Fools like you don’t deserve to live. Crucio!

 

Andromeda couldn’t believe it. She had known that Bellatrix hated Muggles, and Muggleborns even more, but this? This was unforgivable – it was literally an Unforgivable Curse. Her sister was torturing a Muggleborn as if it were nothing.

Running forward, wand out, Andromeda bellowed, “Finite Incantatem!

 

The young witch stopped thrashing, although her breath still came in moaning pants.

“Bellatrix! No, you can’t – I won’t let you – that’s an Unforgivable Curse, Bellatrix –”

Bellatrix turned around, and slapped Andromeda, hard, one of her long nails cutting into Andromeda’s cheek. The younger Black did not desist, however. She’d been fighting with Bellatrix for years. “Expelliarmus!” Andromeda shouted, but Bellatrix was too quick – she blocked it with a Protego, and the spell whizzed back at Andromeda, right at her hand –

 

Bellatrix deftly caught Andromeda’s wand. “You think you can duel me? You poor little puffed-up prefect, you thought that you could disarm me, a Slytherin witch from the House of Black, no traitor to her blood? You disgust me. If we weren’t kin, you’d be writhing on the ground, too. Don’t count on my good will a second time.”

 

The young witch had staggered to her feet and begun to run off, and Bellatrix whirled after her, shouting out the Impedimenta curse again, but in vain; she was too far off, stumbling her way to safety.

 

Frustrated, Bellatrix faced Andromeda again. “You lose me my quarry again, Andromeda, and I swear, I’ll have your blood for it.” Disgusted, she stalked back into the shadows of the alleyway, Avery following.

 

Andromeda did not doubt her sister for a minute.

 

--

 

Whether the riot lasted hours or only minutes, Andromeda could later never recall.  Certainly, time blended together in a hellish swirl of screams and violence and the flickering light of curses.  Knockturn Alley was surprisingly peaceful; the lowlifes seemed forewarned to keep their heads down and out of the way on this night.  Shops closed up, trays of bloody eyeballs disappeared, and the street’s usual patrons vanished.  Instead, those of violent persuasions, whether street toughs, thugs, or members of the liquored-up mob, set about destroying as much of Diagon Alley as they could get their hands on, from Eeylops to Gambol & Japes.  Eventually, however, the mob dissipated – Andromeda could not tell whether from increased efforts on the part of the Aurors, or through exhaustion, or merely from boredom – and the streets fell eerily silent.

 

Andromeda, hunched up against the wall of the sidestreet, her face in her hands, suddenly felt her sister’s hand dragging her upright. “The riot’s over. The Aurors have got it mostly calmed down, but they haven’t got all of them. Come with me, we’ve got some recruiting to do.”

 

“Recruiting? Who are you recruiting for?” Andromeda asked, sure she wouldn’t like the answer.

 

“You’ll find out later this evening if all goes well. Take your wand.” Andromeda caught the slender bit of maple wood and followed her sister. She had no other choice; she wasn’t good at flying, it was a long way home, and … and the hero-Gryffindor part of her thought that if she kept with her sister, maybe she could stop a few more people from being hurt.

 

Diagon Alley was quiet now. Few people were still on the streets; it was past midnight, and most of those who were able had apparated home. A few lay, moaning, on the streets, their magical injuries too great for them to leave. Andromeda stepped in a puddle, and was disgusted to see that it was blood.

 

Bellatrix, supremely unconcerned, made her way over towards one of the fallen. Andromeda recognized him as the drunkard who’d started the whole riot, and was nauseated to see how Bellatrix fawned over him. Avery muttered an incantation under his breath, and the man staggered to his feet, apparently healed. He conversed in low tones with the two, and then followed as Bellatrix set off again. Andromeda trailed after them, miserable and scared.

 

Part of her, a very great part of her, wanted to run away from the whole mess. Run back to the Leaky Cauldron, where no doubt Aurors would be tending to some of the injured and getting the worst of the rioters under control. It would be safe, there, at least. She’d have to give her name, though, and the reason why she, an underaged witch, was out of her bed, past midnight, at the scene of a riot. Her name – Black – would trigger warning signals throughout the Ministry, and more Aurors might search her Uncle’s home, or they’d interrogate she and Bellatrix. She might be safer for the moment with the Aurors, but in the long run she’d bring trouble down on her own family. Ariadne Black tried to love her middle daughter, but siding with the Ministry over her own kin would be unforgivable.

 

Trying to convince herself that it was bravery rather than cowardice that motivated her, Andromeda followed her sister as Bellatrix and Avery gathered together a crowd of the rioters.

 

--

 

Past exhaustion, Andromeda collapsed into a chair in Borgin and Burkes, where the proprietor, a thin, stoop-shouldered man with graying hair, kow-towed to Avery and Bellatrix. They’d managed to gather seven of the rioters, all wizards but one. Most were injured to some extent: broken noses, blacked eyes, after effects of various hexes (the witch’s face was still disfigured by a particularly stubborn boil). All of them looked at Bellatrix with respect, even admiration.

 

Once all were settled, Bellatrix began to speak. “I have brought you all here tonight because I know that you feel, as I do, that the wizardkind is threatened, even down to the purity of our blood. My friends, you are not alone. Wizards across Britain are stirring from their complacency, and are finally ready to rise up against the oppression of the so-called Ministry for Magic, and take back their heritage!”

 

General murmurs of assent ran around the room, but Bellatrix quieted them.

“My friends, I am but part of a growing alliance that wants to take back Wizarding England for wizards – true wizards – whose blood is untainted by Muggle scum. I and my colleague are but part of a vast movement, a movement whose ranks swell every day as more and more of the true blood flock to my Master’s banner. I met my Master only this year, but it took no more than one meeting with Him to know that His is the true calling. My friends, I trust I can rely on your support?”

 

More murmurs of assent were heard, and Bellatrix smiled.

 

“Good! My friends, there is to be a meeting tonight, a meeting with my Master, with the Dark Lord –”

 

Here she was cut off, as the assembled witches and wizards began to talk among themselves, excitedly. Dark Lord, Andromeda thought. That was what they had called Grindelwald – a Dark Lord. If this wizard were trying to be another Grindelwald….

She shivered. If Bellatrix had mixed herself up with the dark wizard all the adults were worried about….

 

Bellatrix finally got the small crowd to quiet. “My friends! There is to be a meeting tonight. If you feel as strongly as I do, I urge you to join me, to join my companions and myself, tonight! The Dark Lord – He is indeed a Lord, a Lord to rival all wizards who have ever been – will meet with you, meet with us, tonight! I extend this invitation to join me, to join the Dark Lord and His followers, tonight!”

 

The crowd looked uneasy – it was all very well to cause havoc, but this was far more serious.

 

Bellatrix was losing them, and Andromeda saw her redouble her efforts. “My friends, look at you! You voiced your anger and your righteous fury at the Ministry for Magic’s betrayal of wizardkind, and their representatives, the Aurors, attacked you!  They have stifled you not only as wizards, but also as free people whose voices MUST be heard! If the Ministry will not heed your calls for reform, you must turn to another, a wizard who knows the need for change, who understands your rage. Oh, my friends, the Ministry, your own Ministry, has massacred your fellows tonight for exerting your rights as wizards, and yet you still doubt the necessity of action?”

 

She had struck just the right note. Andromeda watched in sick fascination as, one by one, the doubts of the crowd were vanished by Bellatrix.

 

Bellatrix was incredible. She was beautiful – dark and radiant, her blue robe bringing out the black of her hair and her eyes. She was dynamic, her voice strident and pleading, forceful, commanding, and terrifying. She was – brilliant.

 

It was horrifying.

 

Avery spoke up, finally. “There is an Apparition point to which you must all make. I will explain the details to you.” He drew up a map in mid air, titled in a large and ornate script with what Andromeda thought had to be a Welsh name.

 

Meanwhile, Bellatrix had sidled over to her seated sister. “You can’t Apparate,” Bellatrix said flatly. “There’s no way to Floo, anyway. I’ll have to make a Portkey.”

 

The prefect in Andromeda came out, and, absurdly, she said, “You can’t do that, it’s illegal!”

 

Bellatrix laughed, and Andromeda laughed too – laughter that became indistinguishable from sobbing.

 

“Come on. I’ll stay behind with you. He won’t arrive there until two in the morning, anyway; we won’t be late.”

 

Andromeda looked up, her vision blurred by tears. “I won’t go, Bellatrix. Your sister I may be, but I refuse to become part of all this. I’m Gryffindor, not Slytherin. I don’t think the way you do, and I’ll be damned if I become part of all this!”

 

Fighting Bellatrix was always futile. “You’re coming, Andromeda. Why did you think I brought you here tonight? Certainly, the riot was fun, but I’ve bigger things to do. Anyway, He is very eager to meet another Black sister.”

 

“Bellatrix, I won’t –”

 

“Sit down.” It was a command, and Andromeda found herself complying, as she always did. She hated herself for it.

 

“Sit down, Andromeda. What else could you possibly do? To get home you’d need to go back into Diagon Alley, which by now will be swarming with Aurors. They’ll haul you in for questioning, and they may even charge you as an accomplice – your sister, after all, started the riot. They’ll want to know why you haven’t already reported to the Aurors, if you were just an innocent bystander. They’ll want your name. They’ll call in Mother and Father, and when they discover that I, too, am not present at home as I ought to be, they’ll know that I’m involved. They’ll search our house again. You’ll be ostracized and estranged by every full-blooded Black.” Bellatrix paused, enjoying Andromeda’s discomfort. “You’re coming. I’m the only one who can get you home safely, the only one who can keep you from the Aurors.”

 

Disgusted by her own weakness, Andromeda nodded, hating Bellatrix, hating herself more.  Andromeda was Gryffindor. She was brave, usually – she stood up for people in school, and she’d challenged her parents for most of her life. Bellatrix, though.  Andromeda had always been scared of her older sister, had never been able to win any fight with the domineering girl. And it hadn’t changed. Sixteen, a Gryffindor prefect, an excellent student, and she was still terrified of her sister. The seed of cowardice was in her, swallowing her.

 

With deafening pops, Avery and the other wizards apparated, and Bellatrix stood. “To action. Burke!” she shouted, and the store proprietor scurried forward. “I need something to use as a Portkey. My sister is, for obvious reasons, still unable to Apparate.”

 

Burke nodded nervously, but before he could leave, Bellatrix called him back. “Are you coming? The Dark Lord needs men such as you, men who have never abandoned the old ways. He would welcome a man such as you.”

 

Burke looked at the ground, unable to meet Bellatrix’s eyes. “I – it wouldn’t be wise, the Ministry… the Aurors will be along soon enough, making sure that I wasn’t involved… could lose my business, getting involved with this. It – it isn’t fiscally sound. Business, you know.”

 

Sneering, Bellatrix nodded. “I see. I shall tell the Dark Lord you are afraid, then.” If there was anything the Black family hated, it was cowardice, Andromeda reflected. Most of the Blacks loved blood more – but the few who cared little for familial descent always ended up Gryffindor.

 

Burke started, and looked as if about to reconsider, but then thought better of it, and, his shoulders in a defeated slump, walked towards his back room.

 

He returned holding a dingy bucket, a hole in one side. Bellatrix sniffed disdainfully, but still whipped out her wand. “Portus,” she said, the bucket glowing for a moment. “Grab on, Andromeda.”

 

Andromeda extended her hand at the same moment Bellatrix did, and felt a jerk beneath her navel, as Borgin and Burkes disappeared behind her, in a whirl of color and sound.

They came out into the midst of mountains Andromeda did not know, high on a rocky hilltop. Somewhat below there was a ruined church, Muggle, it looked like, and the tiny village visible far at the foot of the mountain was lit by electric lights. What on earth could they be doing here? Why here? Why would such wizards meet in this place?

 

No answers were forthcoming. The crowd Bellatrix had brought shuffled nervously, looking about them with surprise and, in some faces, distaste. Avery did his best to reassure the assembled recruits.

 

Then, to Andromeda’s surprise, more witches and wizards began to apparate onto the mountain. Not many – not the swarms Bellatrix had described – but an intimidating number nevertheless. They all wore hoods and cloaks as Avery had, and they all strode forward purposefully, forming a ring around the recruits from Diagon Alley. Smiling, Bellatrix pulled up the hood of her own cloak, and joined the circle.

 

Andromeda backed away, but found her way blocked by two cloaked figures, and, unsure, tried to make out Bellatrix. But in the gloom, the cloaked figures all looked identical. As she peered at the assembled wizards, Andromeda realized, to her horror, that they were all wearing white masks, masks that looked like nothing so much as skulls. She began to panic. Bellatrix was no guarantee of safety, but to be alone, with these wizards – wizards who she knew to be capable of the Unforgivables, if Avery… if Avery and her sister were any guide.

 

And then a surge of hot anger ran through her body. She had shown weakness in Knockturn Alley, but she would not show weakness here. She would not show fear here. She was Gryffindor, and she was a Black. The two qualities might be diametrically opposed, but both meant strength. She would be strong.

 

She shrugged her shoulders back, and stood taller, feeling bravery return to her. Return to her until she saw the tall, cloaked figure striding out of the darkness of the mountain toward the ring of masked witches and wizards.

 

It was his eyes. Red and piercing, shining through the darkness, the wizard’s eyes cut to Andromeda’s core. She felt them searching her, inside and out, as if they knew everything that she was – all her weaknesses, all her failings, all her fears and idiocies and flaws.

 

As he came closer, Andromeda could see his face, too – bone white, framed by black hair, the skin drawn tight over a narrow face that might once have been handsome, but which now bore eerie resemblance to the skull-like masks. He wore red robes, and a black cloak like the assembled wizards. In his hand was a long, thin wand, clutched by fingers even whiter than his face.

 

“Ahh,” he said, his voice hissing and sibilant. “You have come, all assembled, my faithful servants, and faces I have never seen before. Have you carried out tonight’s plans, my Death Eaters?” He stood, now, at the edge of the ring, looking inward at the recruits and at Andromeda. Then, in a sharper tone of voice, he said, “Black. Report.”

 

For one petrifying moment, Andromeda thought the order was directed at her, but then she heard her sister’s voice, saying, “I arrived at Diagon Alley as planned, perhaps a few minutes after ten in the evening. As expected, there were many wizards and witches of the old blood out tonight. I must praise whoever it was who started the rumors; they were all primed perfectly – agitated but not fearful, suspicious but not knowledgeable. Diagon Alley was, of course, swarming with Aurors. Ministry intelligence must be getting better.”

 

The red-eyed wizard nodded shortly. “Continue,” he said. “I am aware.”

 

Taking a deep breath, Bellatrix said, “I ascended the steps of Gringott’s, and addressed the crowd. They responded well to my words; a riot started, largely thanks to this man here.” She gestured towards the formerly drunken wizard, who looked nervously about, first at Bellatrix, and then – not looking him in the eye – at Bellatrix’s interrogator. “The riot soon escalated into a full-blown battle. I believe one auror was killed, perhaps more; many were wounded. I apprehended a Muggleborn, but was unable to complete my torture and execution due to… external circumstances.” She glanced quickly at Andromeda, but then continued. “After the riot was over, Avery and myself went among the wounded rioters, aiding those who seemed most responsive to our mission. We recruited seven in all.”

 

“I see,” the cloaked wizard said, his tone unreadable. “You have done well, Bella.”

 

Andromeda felt shock, not only that this wizard called Bellatrix by her childhood nickname, but that Bellatrix, who had always hated the pet name, had accepted it without protest. It made her more afraid.

 

“So,” Bellatrix’s interrogator said, “seven new recruits. An auspicious number, seven. But there are eight of you here tonight, eight faces which I have not seen before. Tell me, Bella, why did you tell me of only seven?”

 

The masked figure with Bellatrix’s voice jerked slightly, as if frightened, and Andromeda heard her sister nervously say, “Seven recruits, my Lord, seven recruits and one other. She is – the eighth is my sister.”

 

The skull-faced man threw back his head and laughed, delighted, gleeful. “Another Black! Well, it is indeed a noble house – two Death Eaters I can call my own, two Black servants of the Dark Lord.” He laughed again at his own joke.

 

Andromeda was terrified, but underneath it, she was furious. Bellatrix always presumed, always assumed that her younger sisters would be happy to follow her. And now –

“I won’t!” Reckless, stupid, foolhardy Gryffindor courage surged up inside of her, and she heard her own defiant voice say, “I won’t. I’m not my sister, I’m not my family, and I WILL NOT.”

 

Ten seconds ringing silence followed this proclamation. The skull-faced man stopped laughing, and turned his gaze on her. Try as she might, Andromeda could not meet it. The red eyes seared across her, and she felt as if her very soul were contaminated, made into bubbling filth by his stare.

 

“You won’t?” It was said quietly, and Andromeda was not so foolish as not to see the danger. It was the sort of question Ariadne Black asked of her when she defied some family tradition. It was a sign of impending pain.

 

“You won’t?” The man who called himself the Dark Lord turned towards Bellatrix and said, a little anger in his voice, “Tell me, Bella, when you brought your sister here tonight, did it occur to you that I should have to kill her?”

 

Andromeda’s heart stopped, but even as the terror poured over her, she thought she heard a faint cry from her older sister.

 

“My Lord! I beg of you, no – I thought to bring her here before you so she could see your glory and your power, I thought it would turn her back to the true path! She has been led astray by fools and blood traitors! I only thought to cleanse her here tonight in the splendor of your mag –”

 

Crucio,” the skull-faced man said, almost lazily.

 

It was the second time Andromeda had seen the Cruciatus Curse. The second time that night, the second time in her life. First it had been her sister’s spell, and now it was her sister being tortured. Justice. Wizard’s justice.

 

The terror was in every part of Andromeda, and she was frozen with fear. Only feet away her oldest sister was being tortured, and she couldn’t lift a finger to help her. Never mind that Bellatrix was cruel, that Bellatrix had manipulated her, that Bellatrix had shown herself capable of evil – it was her sister, and Andromeda stood helpless, defenseless, and useless.

 

She was going to die, Andromeda realized. He was going to kill her; she would die; she would never kiss Ted Tonks again beside the Lake; Narcissa would grow up sisterless.

“STOP!”

 

The curse lifted, and Andromeda could hear her sister panting. “If you’re going to kill me – don’t hurt Bellatrix.”

 

The man who called himself the Dark Lord laughed again, and it was cruel this time. “Oh, Bella, your sister is so sweet. You led her to her death, and she wants to spare you the pain. Little Black, I do not tolerate weakness from my Death Eaters, and I do not tolerate foolishness, either. Your sister was foolish to bring you. She deserves this pain. Tell me, little Black, before I kill you, why do you care what pain your sister feels?”

 

The world was spinning, but Andromeda did not give way to the vertigo. “She’s my sister!” She could barely get the words out. Panic was closing in around her throat, but those red eyes were compelling her, and she had to give him the answers he wanted. There was no way to defy this man – was he a man? – when he looked at you with those merciless red eyes.

 

“Such loyalty,” he whispered. “A pity it will die in you. Such loyalty would be well rewarded if you were to serve me. I give you one more chance, little Black, one more chance. Serve me, and you do not die, and your sister will be spared a little pain this night.”

 

“I won’t,” Andromeda said, thinking of Ted, and of the Muggleborn witch lying on the street.

 

The man who called himself the Dark Lord raised his wand, and Andromeda thought to herself that she might see another Unforgivable Curse before she died, but then Bellatrix cried out.

 

“I beg of you, my Lord, I beg of you the privilege – the Death Eater’s privilege, the family –”

 

The wand dropped, but the skull-like face did not turn away from Andromeda. In little more than a hiss, the man who called himself the Dark Lord said, “You ask a great deal, Bella. I will grant this, but you shall pay dearly for it.”

 

“Little Black,” he said, his eyes never leaving hers, “you will live tonight, but you shall not walk free. The Dark Lord does not give up his quarry gladly. You are sixteen, are you not? I give you one more year until you come of age, one more year to pledge yourself to me or to forfeit all privilege of protection as a Death Eater’s sister. The Dark Lord is lenient tonight, but he does not forget. Come here, little Black.”

 

When those red eyes ordered Andromeda to step forward, she did not hesitate.

The bone white fingers clutched her right arm, pulling back the sleeve of her robe.

 

Andromeda watched, both detached and horrified, as a slender yew wand traced a picture on her arm. Andromeda felt overwhelming pain, but she could see no mark on her skin.

 

He dropped her arm. “You bear the Dark Lord’s mark, little Black,” he hissed. “For one year past this day, none under my sway shall touch you. At this very hour one year hence, your arm will burn with my sign. You shall Disapparate to my side, and the mark shall stay, burnt black for eternity, or I shall kill you. Now, little Black – go!”

 

Stumbling, delirious from the pain, Andromeda staggered out of the circle of wizards, stumbling down the mountain to the tiny church she'd seen below, not stopping until she could lie quiet against its decaying stone walls. A few moments into her flight she heard her sister screaming in agony.

 

---

 

The soft sky before dawn matched exactly the color of Bellatrix Black’s robes, but the girl’s beauty from only twelve hours before was gone. Pain had etched itself into her face, and there was little of the joy – even the malicious, vengeful joy – left in it. It would return, Andromeda knew; the beauty would not be gone forever.

 

“Hello, little sister,” Bellatrix said.

 

“Hello, Bellatrix,” Andromeda replied. “You saved my life.”

 

“I do love you,” Bellatrix said. “You are my sister. You are a Black.”

 

“I’m going to die,” Andromeda could not help but say.

 

“Let’s go home,” Bellatrix said, too tired – or perhaps just too resigned – to dispute Andromeda’s assertion.

 

Grabbing hold of her younger sister’s shoulder, Bellatrix apparated them both home.

 

 

//
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