Stateira did as she was told, wearing the locket at all times except for at the Ministry. No one would be able to trace it to the Dark Lord, but she was not about to risk it, especially after the fiasco with Edwina.

The girl gave her a look out of the side of her eye on occasion, but a delve into her mind had confirmed the Memory Charm was still holding strong. However, like the Dark Lord had alluded to, the charm only wiped memories, not intuitive hunches. Edwina suspected Stateira of something but could not prove what. Would Edwina feel a rush of clarity if it ever wore off?

The two witches stood across the table in the Record Room from each other, each avoiding eye contact. The last two Trainee Aurors standing—Achilles Longbottom, distraught, had taken an indeterminate leave of absence.

Edwina's face was drawn and pale, her hair lank and un-styled. Her shoulders were hunched, as if the air was too heavy. Stateira knew that feeling well. The weight of the Dark Lord's task was crushing her.

"Do you mind giving these to Brown?" Edwina asked dully, startling Stateira. She took the two grey folders from her and nodded.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome," Stateira muttered as they both left the room, walking side-by-side awkwardly. Luckily, Rachel's office was much closer than Brown's, so Edwina turned in there and Stateira was relieved of her presence.

After another excruciating seven hours, Stateira was free of Training, and since it was Friday, she didn't have class. It was still terribly cold even for March, so she planned on spending the weekend between silk sheets, alone.

In the elevator, she bumped into someone she hadn't seen outside of Knight meetings in a while: Abraxas Malfoy.

"Hello there, Stateira," he greeted warmly. "Nice to see you!"

"Hello, Abraxas," she replied. "Congratulations on your engagement." He'd recently proposed to Beryl Fawley, hosting a lavish engagement party at his manor that Stateira had skipped out on.

Still smooth and handsome, Malfoy winked at her, seemingly unbothered by her unexplained absence at the party. "Thank you, although she was not my first choice."

Stateira fake-chuckled shortly, unsure how to respond to his blatant honesty.

"You're going to Grimmauld Place, yes? Shall I escort you? I'm going there myself."

"Er, alright," Stateira said, since she didn't care either way. "What do you plan on doing there?" The question was posed to be polite, since she wasn't concerned about that, either. All she wanted to do was get home to the locket.

"I've got to speak to Cygnus about something." As they walked through the Atrium, Malfoy took her hand, which made her slightly uncomfortable. She was known as Professor Riddle's girl now, and that was how she wanted to stay forever.

Once in the Alley of Disapparition—as it was known to Ministry workers—next to the building, they Apparated together to Number 12.

Stateira had barely gotten herself together when Malfoy grabbed her around the waist and bent close to her ear. "Come upstairs with me."

"Why?" she asked suspiciously.

He raised a pale eyebrow. "Isn't it obvious why, sweetheart?"

She frowned at him. Behind him, a normally sour-faced portrait was listening eagerly. "Abraxas, you're about to be wed to Beryl, and you already know for whom I save myself."

"Do you see him or Beryl here?" he asked impatiently, tugging at her wrist. "Come on."

Stateira glared at him and he let go. Then he tried a different approach: "You know, darling, I still think of our kiss in sixth year. It was the nicest I've had."

"I'm not your darling," she said coolly, stepping away, although there was a part of her deep in some abyss that was quite flattered. Abraxas Malfoy was second in power only to the Dark Lord. Stateira had a specific type of wizard.

She looked into his grey eyes, biting her lip, and just then, Cygnus appeared out of nowhere, seemingly, glaring at the pair of them.

"What are you two doing?"

"Nothing," Malfoy said smoothly, turning away from Stateira. "Come, Cygnus, I need a word with you." Without looking at either of them, he strode into the parlor like he owned Number 12. A look of annoyance crossed Cygnus' face; he clearly disliked being commanded by his competition.

Stateira was halfway up the stairs before they left the hall, burning with a sudden rush of desire. Malfoy's attention had set it off somehow, but of course, she would not think of him but the Dark Lord.

Out of pure habit, she tossed her bag on the floor in front of the wardrobe, grabbed the locket, and slipped it on. After throwing herself on the bed, she plunged a hand up her skirt, yanking down her knickers. Naughty girl, she could hear in the Dark Lord's voice as little cries escaped her bit lips.

She lie in a haze, trying to catch her breath. The Dark Lord's voice was still in her head even though she'd finished, her right hand wet and sticky. My, my darling, you miss me already, yes?

Yes, she answered back silently, hesitantly.

I suppose I should've taken you to bed before leaving. You'll be the first I return to when I come back to England.

You're…you're in my head, my Lord?

A chuckle came from indeed inside her head, and then a response: What did I tell you about the locket, darling?

It…it has a part of you inside…

I told you I would guide you, the voice answered.

Alphard was summarily kicked out upon the arrival of his niece, Bellatrix. Druella had given him an hour to gather his belongings, and he ended up in Lucretia's and Ignatius' house by the sea. "Stay as long as you want," they assured him as he decided his next move.

He had enough money to buy a nice place wherever he liked, but he found he rather enjoyed the sea. It was quite calm, not at all like London. Best of all, no one in his family other than Lucretia lived in the vicinity.

Ignatius had told Lucretia and Alphard that Riddle had left England to travel abroad. What Alphard did not know was for how long. Regardless, he hoped Cygnus would be less angry and tense, but it was just the opposite.

The birth of Bellatrix brought even more bitterness between him and Druella, and he was constantly drinking. Alphard had been having a hard time tolerating the constant fighting. The only one at Number 12 who seemed unaffected by any of it—the screaming, the Dark Lord's leave, Bellatrix—was Stateira. She was lost in her own world, locked in Aunt Dorea's room when she was not at the Ministry.

"What are you thinking about, cousin?" Lucretia asked, smiling across the table at him. On their plates, there was shepherd's pie, made by her. Even though Irma and Pollux had begrudgingly offered to buy her a house-elf, Lucretia declined, for she thoroughly enjoyed cooking. She even hummed to old songs while she did it.

It was safe here, though Lucretia and Ignatius hadn't an idea to what extent. They still wondered whether the Dark Lord was around, and Alphard could neither confirm nor deny it. That involved explaining himself and implicating Cygnus and Orion.

"Nothing," Alphard lied. "Only work tasks."

She reached over and squeezed his hand. "You're always thinking about work."

After supper, he decided to take a walk to the sea, rolling up his trousers and trodding through the sand barefoot. The air was cold and windy but also fresh and salty, which Alphard's lungs really needed.

The more time he spent away from London, the less stifled he felt. For the first time since before finishing Hogwarts, he felt a slight marble of hope rolling around his insides. He knew the Dark Lord could appear and snatch it away at any moment, but still it persisted.

Had the Auror Office not been a chaotic mess, Stateira's week-long sick leave may have been frowned upon. However, for Edward Brown, Rachel Strickland, and their higher-ups at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, her absence was a blessing. They were down to one Trainee—Edwina—and they barely had time for her.

Dizzy and ill, Stateira had taken to bed, curled up with the locket. The Dark Lord's voice lulled her with sweet words and reassurances.

Rest up, darling, regain your strength. You are such a strong, capable witch. This is temporary.

The locket thought she was grieving over the Dark Lord's leave. She might have been, but she didn't let down the wall in her mind enough to ponder it.

Surprisingly, he did not tear through her mind or even push against the wall, only skimming the surface. He also did not mention Hollis, and he nudged her off the subject when it arose.

That was not often lately. Stateira was having trouble forming a coherent thought. It was quite a battle keeping her eyes open, let alone her mind so clear. Her body was weak and achy, her breaths shallow. The worst ache was in her head, and no silencing charm was strong enough to block out the rest of the house.

Alphard was gone, the lucky bastard, and the rest of the Blacks screamed at each other around the clock. Walburga had somewhere down the line decided she hated Druella, and the two women's roars filled the corridors. Cygnus and Orion came home from work and joined the chorus after an hour of peace. The schedule was the same every day Stateira spent bedridden.

And throughout it all, that blasted baby howled and screeched as if someone was twisting her neck. She had a wet nurse during the day, which somewhat lessened the crying. Unfortunately, the nurse left in the late afternoon, and after that, the wails went unanswered.

Poor baby Bellatrix, Stateira had thought for the first few days. She just needs attention, but the thought of rising from the bed was unbearable. She'd learn eventually, right? Yet still she wailed the whole week, and by then, Stateira only wished for her to shut up.

If I was there, I'd hold you like the last time. Would you like that, darling?

"Yes," she sighed out loud. Day five, and she was driving her forehead into the mattress, head pounding.

They must have some potion in that house. Ask them for some. I told them they are to make you as comfortable and happy as possible, and I'll know if they don't.

"Kreacher," Stateira called half-heartedly, knowing the elf wouldn't hear her over the din.

It's fine, my Lord, she told the locket. I only need sleep to feel better.

Your wish is my command, darling. A pleasant sound like ocean waves filled her ears, as a warm tingle spread through her limbs. At once, her eyelids grew heavy and sank down as the baby's cries finally faded.

About a minute later, Stateira drifted off into a sea of blackness. Then, slowly, a colorless image came into focus: Hogwarts grounds, more specifically, the shore of the Black Lake.

The sun was shining, but since the scene was devoid of color, the sky was simply one sheet of glaring white. The lake and surrounding trees were dark in comparison, the Forbidden Forest as stark as black ink blots on a crisp, white handkerchief.

Stateira was walking along the shore, but she couldn't feel the slimy rocks between her feet. The air was silent except for a faint humming coming from somewhere, perhaps from beneath the lake's surface.

"Stateira." The word was whispered in her ear, but there was no one around her. Then she saw it: the outline of a tall, slightly chubby female figure.

Antonia Longbottom was materializing before Stateira's eyes, but she did not go all the way to the solid phase. She resembled Myrtle Warren, her skin pale and slightly clear.

"Did you really think," Antonia's ghost hissed, "that I wouldn't come back to haunt my murderer? That you could stop the DA? That I would leave willingly before I ensure that you and Riddle burn in hell?"

As if there was a trace on his name, Riddle, in Hogwarts robes, appeared next to them, reaching for Stateira. Her mind was recording the events but not processing them.

"What's the matter, are you afraid of death, Longbottom?" he asked, but the ghost's form had started to change. Slightly taller and much thinner, she now had Stateira's longer hair and wider eyes.

"Who…?" Stateira breathed, unable to register that she was looking at a transparent, distorted version of herself.

"I am you, obviously," the ghost said in the cutting voice she'd often used toward other students at Hogwarts. "I'm the piece of your soul you've ripped away."

Someone was tugging on her shoulder—Riddle, who she'd completely forgotten about. "Let's go, darling…"

Ignoring him, Stateira squinted at the ghost, desperately trying to understand. "My soul? How…?"

"By murder, of course," replied the ghost, a sardonic smile on her face. "Murder rips the soul."

"Stateira!" Riddle barked, yanking her toward him.

The ghost turned to him. "Oh! Another soul fragment. How romantic."

Frowning in confusion and horror, Stateira watched the girl open her mouth and a terrible, piercing screech burst out, shooting through her eardrums. She squeezed her eyes shut, covering her ears and crying out in pain…

She opened her eyes and realized she was in bed, sweaty and with labored breathing from thrashing about. She pawed at the locket, which had been tangled up in her hair and digging into her neck.

The wail continued—Bellatrix was still crying in the next room. Tears poured out of Stateira's eyes and soaked the hair near her temples.

It's alright, darling, it was just a bad dream, the locket soothed. You've got quite an impressive imagination.

What if she does come back to haunt me? Her heart was racing with panic. She's extremely—

She is dead, Stateira. Enough of this.

How can you be so sure? Her eyes welled with tears again. Bellatrix's howls increased an octave with every passing minute. Somewhere down the stairs, she could hear Cygnus yelling, but the words were muffled.

My darling, please relax and think rationally, will you? You know we will keep her gone.

I can't, I can't!

The locket was still speaking softly, trying to calm her, but Stateira wasn't listening. For the first time in three days, she sat straight up, pulled the damp, musky sheets off her legs, and climbed out of bed. Her feet and ankles cracked, sending jolts of pain up her legs, but this went ignored. Stomping down the hall and throwing open the door to Alphard's old room, Stateira made a beeline for the crib.

Bellatrix was sitting wild-eyed as her open mouth spewed out high, drawn-out cries. Shaking with anxiety and rage, Stateira reached down, grabbed the baby under her arms, and pulled her to her chest.

"Where in the world can my lover be?" she sang, hissing out the lyrics and bouncing the baby jerkily in her arms. "Where in the world is there someone for me?"

Bellatrix immediately shut up and turned her wide eyes on Stateira's face, silently surveying her. She'd inherited Cygnus' dark hair and eyes along with Druella's aristocratic nose and full lips. Now she was just a fat-cheeked baby, but one day Bellatrix Black would be a stunning lady. If her relatives didn't suffocate her first.

"He may be standing on a lonely street," Stateira crooned on, her voice soft and tumbling now, "but tell me how will he happen to meet?" She remembered Calpurnia singing the same song to her brother when he was little.

The baby sagged against her, burying her face into Stateira's chest. Sliding the locket over her shoulder out of Bellatrix's reach, Stateira sang quietly and paced the room with her.

A moment passed before Cygnus appeared in the doorway, still in his Ministry robes, startling her. He usually fell asleep on his armchair in the parlor, aided by firewhiskey. When he registered the scene, the irate, sleepy expression vanished, and he leaned against the doorframe, watching her.

Bellatrix had fallen asleep, but Stateira didn't want to set her down and risk waking her, so she continued to pace, feeling his eyes on her.

"You'd be a good mum," he finally said before turning and disappearing from view.

Stateira shook her head as the locket, who had fallen silent to observe, spoke again. He's right. That's why out of anyone, you are best to carry Slytherin's heir.

She stopped short—she realized something, but she couldn't think of it any further. She bent over and carefully placed Bellatrix back in the crib, holding her silky-haired head steady. Her arm was tingling from the weight, and her vision was spinning from the abundance of sudden activity.

Pulling the locket off, Stateira crept back to Dorea's room, tossed it on her bed, and threw her robe on. Her destination was Druella's bathroom, which, unfortunately, required her to go through her bedroom.

Luckily, Druella was face-down, fast asleep—most likely drunk, too—and Cygnus absent. Stateira tiptoed to the bathroom, pulled open the mirrored door above the sink, and ran her hand over the potion bottles. She was searching for a specific one, hoping hard that it—there it was. She seized the neck of the bottle and dashed to her own bathroom.

Ten minutes later, Stateira's eyes were glued to the bottle, waiting for the clear liquid to change color while hoping hard it didn't. Then she blinked and it was right red: positive.

"Oh, Merlin," she moaned, clutching the sink and staving off tears. "Oh, no. Oh, Merlin…"

Yet another secret to add to the collection. She wiped her eyes and stood rigidly, determined not to break. Numbly, she pointed her wand at the bottle. "Evanesco."

Once it had vanished, Stateira went back to Dorea's room, picked up the locket, slipped it on, and lie down, depleted of energy.

Feeling better now, darling?

She nodded, suppressing the instinctual no pushing against the wall. The upside of the constant grueling exercise of Occlumency was that she'd mastered an extreme measure of self-control. The time for acting on any type of impulse, even completing a dangerous thought, had passed.

16 May 1951

Dear Stateira,

I'm writing to let you know that Mum has been taken to St. Mungo's. Since I'm at Hogwarts, Gran is there with her alone. So if you care anything at all about our family, I suggest you accompany her. Mum's heart has begun to slow. It's not looking good.

Hollis

"Damn it!" Stateira swore. It was her first day back at the Ministry, but apparently, her mother was on the brink of death.

What should I do?

Go to the office and explain the situation, the locket advised. Then go see her if permitted. Don't be too long. I've gotten quite used to you here with me around the clock.

What if she dies while I'm at the Ministry?

If she's going to die, it matters not if you're there.

She let out a tired sigh. You're right, my Lord. Goodbye. Carefully, she pulled off the locket and placed it in a box under her bed. Her neck instantly felt lighter and the caffeine from her tea was finally kicking in.

The Ministry was business as usual—doom and gloom, never-ending paperwork, and Edwina's side-eyed glances. They barely registered to Stateira anymore. She kept meaning to tell Brown she had a family emergency, but every time she walked to his office, she turned around right before she was about to knock.

Five o'clock rolled around, and she skipped Apprehension and Detainment to take the Floo Network to St. Mungo's. At the reception desk, she was directed to the second floor, where she immediately bumped into Evangeline, daughter of the Hogsmeade shop-owner Francine Meeker. Evangeline had been a year or two ahead of Stateira at Hogwarts.

"Oh, hello, Stateira!" she greeted warmly. "Nice to see you again!"

Stateira simply stared. She and Evangeline hadn't been friendly, as one was a Slytherin and the other a Hufflepuff. However, Evangeline was a newly-licensed Healer, and so Stateira had an advantage.

"Hello, Eva," she replied. "I'm looking for my mother, Calpurnia Travers. Do you know in which room she is by any chance?"

"Calpurnia Travers?" Evangeline repeated, frowning. "She's gone already."

At the stricken look on Stateira's face, she reached out, wide-eyed, and grasped the girl's shoulders. "Oh no, my dear, I mean discharged! Goodness gracious, I need to work on my vocabulary! I've only just been appointed, you see."

"It's alright," Stateira gasped in relief, pressing a palm to her chest. "So she's at home, then?"

Evangeline released her grip and patted her on the shoulder. "Yes, dear. We've got her heart beating at a normal pace, but she'll need to take the prescribed potions every day for the rest of her life. Your gran and brother took her home."

"My brother?" Stateira echoed stupidly. "Hollis?"

Of course it was Hollis; her other brother was dead. Evangeline smiled patiently and nodded. "He's been excused from Hogwarts, I believe. Your mother has to be monitored very closely."

Stateira nodded, distracted. She knew she must visit the flat in Lambeth, but Hollis' presence complicated things a bit. "Well, thank you, Eva. Hopefully we won't be seeing each other soon."

Evangeline chuckled; a Healer always appreciated some dry humor. "Good luck, Stateira!" she called as the other walked briskly to the elevator.

As soon as she'd Apparated to the back of Irvington Alley, next to the fence and rubbish bin, she walked briskly to unit four, chickened out, and passed it by, heading to the street. She knew she should take off her Ministry robes, but it was chilly out and they acted as sort of a barrier from late-evening London.

There was a courtyard near her flat on the next block, in which children played by day and old muggle drunks slept at night. Clutching her wand under her robe, Stateira chose the most secluded bench and sat, hugging her knees. Behind her, two muggle men were in the midst of an altercation. One threatened to get his "pistol" while the other smashed a bottle on the pavement. They were at least far enough away to ignore.

How had Stateira gotten here, huddling on a dirty park bench? She had two options: go and see her mum, like she should, or go to Number 12 and put on the locket. The second was marginally more appealing, but she couldn't will herself to Disapparate.

She couldn't see Hollis. If she saw him, she wouldn't be able to bring herself to carry out her task. At the moment, she didn't think she ever could.

Of course you can, a voice, her own, said inside her head. You're a murderer already. What's the difference? You will marry the Dark Lord and give birth to his heir. Isn't that what you want?

No, lass, a long-dormant voice that resembled Grandma McElroy's said. It had been so long since she'd heard it. This is not you.

"It is me," she whispered. "Murder splits the soul."

There was no rebuttal, and Stateira recalled that horrifying dream about Antonia's ghost and her own "piece of soul."

The look-alike girl in the dream was echoing what she'd learned—she was a part of her. Professor Merrythought had told Stateira and the other fifth-years in her class that murder rips the soul. Was it damaged beyond repair? She could not bring Antonia back to life, although there were many moments when she wished she could.

The second part of the dream was nagging at her even more, but she couldn't put her finger on why. Had it been because the girl looked exactly like her? The way she'd spoken to Riddle? No, not the way she spoke…rather, what she'd said…

Oh! Another soul fragment.

How on Earth would Riddle's soul be in her head? Shouldn't it, even if it's been broken, be in his? Stateira almost let out a nervous chuckle at the absurdity. Then she made the connection: his voice came through the locket…

I've placed a piece of myself in there…

Slowly, legs aching from the cold bench, Stateira stood up, glanced around for any alert muggles, and Apparated to Number 12. She knew she should put on the locket immediately, having been away from it for almost ten hours. However, she went directly to the dusty, infrequently-used library on the third floor.

The Black family had to have a book or two on the Dark Arts. Moving as quietly as possible, Stateira climbed up the ladder, still shaking from the cold. The ladder slowly glided across the room as she read the spines from the top shelves. On the third row down, she found what she was looking for.

Secrets of the Darkest Arts was the title. It was thick, heavy, and had sharp black letters over a purple velvet background. Shaking from nerves this time, she set it on the table and flicked it open with her wand.

She was expecting it to resist, to require some sort of Dark ritual, but it simply fluttered open to a seemingly perfect page, a chapter titled Soul Magic, as if it was eager to share her secrets with her.

You're a Horcrux.

Stateira lie on her bed later that night, trying to keep the words from escaping the wall, but she found that she no longer had the strength.

At once, the locket tore at the wall, blasting it into pieces, and plunged straight to the recent memory of the Black library and Secrets of the Darkest Art. Luckily, he was so keen on that, all of the other hidden memories were bypassed, such as Edwina's Memory Charm and the red potion.

Well, well, well…

You're…immortal, she realized. You've trapped your soul on Earth. Why? What are you afraid of?

What have I told you about poking around in my affairs?

The last time I did, it saved your tail, she pointed out before she could stop herself.

He chuckled softly. Fair point. Tell me, darling, what prompted you to look up soul magic? Of course I can simply flip through your mind now that the nice solid wall you've constructed against me is gone…but I prefer you to tell me.

That dream…myself, or whomever that was, told me that murder rips the soul, and I wanted to know if there's a way to mend it.

Is there? He sounded bored, not curious of the answer in the least.

Yes, through remorse.

Do you feel remorse for killing Longbottom?

Down the hall, Bellatrix was starting to whimper. Stateira thought of retrieving her, but the room was too cold, the blanket cozy and warm. Lying on her chest, the locket ticked away, waiting for her answer.

I don't know.

A fuzzy, pleasant feeling overtook her as the Dark Lord tried to placate her. Stateira, darling, you needn't feel remorse for doing the right thing. Longbottom was only a nuisance. We have enough muggle-lovers in our world.

Stateira kept quiet. Through the haze, she still felt uneasy. Bellatrix was crying in earnest now, but the wails were muffled and muted, as if she was underwater.

Remorse is for fools, the locket continued. All of those feelings—sorrow, guilt, envy, love—they drag even the sharpest, most rational down.

Love?

Yes, love. There was a slight tone of impatience. I've told you the story of my mother, yes? How she pined over that filthy muggle and lost her powers over such an unworthy reason? Dumbledore had tried to tell me love is stronger than magic, and look where that old fool is now. Around your neck is proof that I'm superior to him. I'll never submit to death.

What if someone destroys it?

I would hope you'd prevent that, darling, that's why I gave it to you. But no matter—I've got backups.

Like the diary. She remembered how she'd held it, not wanting to release it. And another?

Perhaps.

So that's what this is all about. Not purifying the race, not wizarding society. Only power and immortality.

Only? The voice came out as a hiss. And what's most important to you, Stateira? Your weak, miserable family? Your little infatuation with Professor Riddle? Little dumb schoolgirl you are, ruled by your emotions.

Anger blossomed in her chest as her hand curled into a fist around the locket. She should've felt sad that the object of her love and devotion for the past four years felt nothing for her, but she only felt rage. Tears pricked her eyes as the pleasant haze evaporated at once.

So you have never loved me.

Sensing that she was about to take off the locket and hurl it, the voice switched tones. I care for you, sure, but Lord Voldemort does not love.

Why keep me around, then?

You're an Auror, he said simply. And you're so very loyal, one of the best Knights I've got. The most beautiful and eager to please. So your little desires are useful after all.

Useful, but loved by no one. The realization could wither a witch away. She could hear the full force of Bellatrix's shrieking and gasping, still too young to realize that her parents didn't love her like they were supposed to. Like her mum had loved her, before her own realization hit.

You see? Love is for the weak. Your mother is of noble blood and look how magical she is now.

Yet you had shed many a tear over yours, she replied savagely, recalling the memory in the Pensieve when a teenage boy had collapsed in front of a gravestone. Everyone, magically gifted or muggle, had some type of weakness, and to deny it was useless.

Enough, Stateira. This conversation is absurd. Are you happy now that you've angered me, you silly little girl?

"No," she said out loud, sitting up. Before the locket could speak, she ducked her head, pulled it off, and dumped it on the nightstand.

Walking briskly, she headed to Bellatrix's room, not bothering to lighten her stomping footsteps. Let the stupid, mental Blacks holler at her. She was in the mood to hex the whole lot of them.

He's never loved you, lass, her inner voice told her matter-of-factly as she hoisted the baby out of the crib. You're just a pawn, and he wouldn't hesitate to kill you the moment you stop trying to please him. Just like Antonia had said.

"My, my, little Bella, you sure are in a right state." Her voice came out cheerful and lilting in contrast to the churning storm inside of her. "No need to kick up such a fuss, sweetheart."

At once, Bellatrix calmed, recognizing Stateira's voice, her breaths still ragged and heavy. Her red-rimmed brown eyes met Stateira's.

"Yes, darling, it's alright, you're safe now." And so am I.

Secrets of the Darkest Arts, as evil as the book was, had comforted her: it had told her the soul was mendable, and that Horcruxes were confined to their containers. The sudden absence of the Dark Lord's voice once she'd taken the locket off was evidence. Without the locket, he could not control her.

"I shall not hurt you…" Stateira leaned in and Bellatrix immediately grabbed her hair and pressed a plump cheek against hers, trusting her. Stateira recalled the long nights spent in the flat with her baby brother in her arms, soothing him in a similar fashion.

"And I shall not kill Hollis either," she whispered in the baby's ear, as if Bellatrix would remember the promise and hold her to it.

23 May 1951

Dear Stateira,

Mum has passed on. Not sure if it matters to you or not, since all you seem to give a toss about is that Riddle, but now that he's gone and left you, perhaps you'd like to attend your own mother's funeral. It's you who is always stressing the importance of family, but where have you been all this time? It is I who is missing classes and exams to take care of everything. Alexander was only out for himself and so are you.

Anyway, the funeral will take place on Saturday at noon at St. Augustine's. If you cannot gather enough grace to attend, I will no longer consider you my sister, and any loyalty to you I have will vanish. That will include refreshing Edwina's memory against the charm you've placed on her.

Hollis

He did not expect her to show. Then again, he hadn't expected his father to show either, but there was Lochlan McElroy in robes that probably cost more than the entire funeral. At least he had the decency to leave The Mug—Francesca behind.

Gran did not speak. She stood stoically as the coffin lowered into the ground and doves encircled the scene. How does it feel to bury your own child? Hollis hoped to never find out.

There were not many others, as many of the wizarding elite had severed ties with the Traverses after Alexander's conviction. Near the head stone, a group of witches in black robes, Calpurnia's schoolmates at Hogwarts, held lilies and wept.

Hollis excused himself from his father to the bathroom, unable to listen to the chirping and weeping. The air should have been still; there should have been peace.

He couldn't cry. Perhaps he would later, or not until he was back at Hogwarts, alone in his dormitory and when it had finally sunk in that his family was now officially demolished. It was just him and Gran now and, although thankfully Gran had seemed to forget about it for the moment, she still thought him a blood traitor.

As he left the building and walked back to the burial, a tall female figure dressed in black caught his eye. In disbelief, he stopped short and watched his sister approach, holding a tan leather suitcase. She's so beautiful, he thought despite his resentment toward her. A breeze blew her hair across her face.

"Stateira!" Gran called suddenly, snapping out of the gloomy haze and trotting toward her. "I am happy to see you, although I am not pleased about your suitor."

"Sorry?" Stateira asked, caught off guard.

"You know to whom I am referring. I've heard you're seeing what's-his-name, that half-blood." Gran, who wasn't aware of anything going on outside of London, was apparently still under the impression that Riddle was a colleague of Stateira's from Hogwarts.

"As if our family wasn't disgraced enough," she continued in a hushed voice. "You couldn't at least pick a pureblood to take your hand? I'll have no part of any half-blood spawn in the Travers line."

Stateira, keeping her face blank, didn't respond, turning to Hollis instead. "Brother, may I have a quick word?"

Before he could respond, she reached out her silk-gloved hand, grasped his, and pulled him away. Nearby, their father was reaching for her attention, but she ignored him, turning her head away as they passed.

He followed her into the farthest corner of the cemetery, where tall weeds surrounded cracked, neglected stones. Beyond, the London street was clogged with noisy traffic. He wondered if he should be afraid, if she planned on Obliviating him or worse, but he couldn't turn back. Above all else, even while suspecting her of killing Antonia, he missed her.

They stood face-to-face; he was as tall as she now, yet she seemed so much older, like their mother in his earlier memories.

"Moving away?" he attempted to joke for a complete lack of anything to say, gesturing to the suitcase.

She simply nodded and extended it to him. "Give this to Edwina. Tell her I'm sorry."

Astonished, he took it and stared at her. Her eyes clouded and her lip trembled as she reached out and caressed his cheek. Then he blinked, and she'd rearranged her face back to blank. She turned away and began walking to the exit, leaving her brother gaping at her, holding the suitcase. The cars passed, the birds sang, the sun shone, and she was leaving. She looked back only once, and he saw that her face had crumpled, the façade dropped.

As it turned out, there wasn't a special, secret charm to get the suitcase open but just the hands of Edwina Boot. Hollis had made a fuss about not being able to open it, but Edwina simply unclicked the lock and pulled it apart—evidently, Stateira had placed an enchantment forbidding anyone else to do so.

Inside was a stack of parchment and a potion jar filled halfway with shimmering silver fluid. Although she'd never seen anything like it before, she knew from Training that it was a jar of memories. Anytime it was involved in a case, protocol was to view it, write a report that was usually inadmissible in court, and send it to the Department of Mysteries to verify that it hadn't been tampered with.

Edwina set it aside on the desk and dove in the pile of parchment. The first page was seemingly irrelevant: a record page of a Marvolo Gaunt. The only interest that would evoke was that had been copied from the Record Room, which was forbidden.

The next hit closer to home: the file of Tom Marvolo Riddle. So Marvolo Gaunt was related to him somehow, then. But still…?

On a regular, unofficial piece of parchment, there was only one sentence, written in Stateira's loopy script:

The residence of Tom Marvolo Riddle is at 403 Groton Road, flat three, Newham, London.

Although this raised more questions, a substantial one was answered. Riddle was guilty of something, and Stateira knew of it. Perhaps this address was a scene of a crime? A murder?

He and Lysandra had gone to Hogwarts together, she realized. They were Head Boy and Girl. One an Auror, the other…

The last page of the pile was blank except for one line near the bottom:

Tom Marvolo Riddle = I am Lord Voldemort

As a surge of burning acid filled her mouth, Edwina jumped to her feet and slammed the suitcase shut. She took a large gulp, grabbed the potion bottle, and dashed out of the office, tucking it up her sleeve on the way out.

In the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, there was a door marked PENSIEVE; Lysandra had pointed it out to her once. Undoubtedly, someone would ask what a Junior Auror was doing there, but Edwina would simply say she'd been sent by Rachel.

This place was even more of a mess than the Auror Office. Edwina was able to weave through the harassed-looking witches and wizards undetected. Wand authorization was required to enter the Pensieve Room, so she placed the tip of her wand on the tiny rubber circle next to the door handle. She knew she would be asked about it in the future, but this ordeal—or whatever it was—had taught Edwina to act first, think later.

The room was very tiny, only slightly bigger than a wardrobe. A dim bulb cast a burnt orange glow on a tall, nightstand-like table with a stone basin. Edwina had seen a basin similar to this one somewhere, but she couldn't recall where. She peered inside and saw runes carved into the stone. Then it came to her: Riddle's office. That's where she'd seen a Pensieve for the first time.

Without further hesitation, she uncorked the bottle, poured the silvery substance into the basin, and leaned over, squinting. All she could see was the top of Stateira's head. The girl was standing in what appeared to be a lavish manor house.

More curious now than anxious, Edwina dunked her head in and slipped into spinning blackness. She landed next to Stateira, who paid her no attention. She was focused on a boy standing a few feet away, wand pointed at an older man in a high-backed sitting chair. Edwina recognized the boy as Riddle from his prefect days.

The memory was slightly blurred, but eventually Edwina made out an elderly couple sitting on a sofa. Riddle ignored them, intent on the man on the chair, who looked very similar to him.

"Too late for begging, Father," Riddle said, raising his wand. "Avada Kedavra!"

Edwina was spinning away into the blackness until she landed again next to Stateira. The girl stood in front of the Pensieve in Riddle's office, tracing the runes with her finger. This memory was much clearer—Stateira's own instead of Riddle's.

"Abraxas Malfoy and Icarus Yaxley say that the Dark Lord's mission is to purge the wizarding world of all muggles and mudbloods," Stateira said to the Pensieve. For a moment, Edwina thought she was talking to herself, but then she saw Riddle leaning on his desk behind her. "And you, erm, are not fond of them either, sir, so does that mean you support Lord Voldemort?"

"Of course I do," Riddle replied. "I am Lord Voldemort."

Stateira's jaw dropped as she turned to look at him. "Did—you're—"

"The Dark Lord, yes."

The look on his face, that satisfied smirk, made Edwina seethe in anger. Her fists curled as she spun away…

The next memory was even more repugnant: Stateira and Riddle were dancing in an unfamiliar flat. "I've only danced once before," he told her, "with the Head Girl of 1945, Lysandra Bell."

"Ooh, an Auror dancing with a Dark Lord?" Stateira, pink-cheeked and drunk, was looking at Riddle with such adoration, Edwina felt more acid creeping up her throat. Even after finding out he was the Dark Lord, Stateira still loved him.

"…a book for little witches that came out in '35," she was saying. "My mum used to read it with me."

"Well, Bell and I certainly weren't lovers," he told her. "I only tolerated her because of Head Duties."

Similar to how I tolerated Alphard Black, Edwina thought as a popular song came on. Except Black wasn't a monster like Riddle.

Now the pair was dancing quietly, holding each other close like they were the only two in the world. Edwina moaned and sank to her knees, covering her face, wanting out. Mercifully, everything went black a second later.

The next was quick: a group of black-robed wizards and one witch, Stateira, sat at a large table in a grand dining hall. At the head of the table was Riddle, but his face was obscured by a large black hood.

"When I return, I will be stronger than ever," he said. "So I suggest you all act as if I'm still here in command."

Just when Edwina's head had stopped spinning, she was pulled away again, landing in what seemed to be another room in the same lavish house. The room was spectacular: white wallpaper with painted pink and red roses, and silk-and-gold weaved white curtains over vast, floor-length windows. Stateira paced around a wooden crib in the center, holding a dark-haired baby in her arms. The baby looked at her in contentment, obviously familiar with her.

"And I shall not kill Hollis either," she whispered into the child's ear.

Edwina's eyes stung with tears and she reached out despite knowing nothing was solid. She held her hand out even as she was pulled away again.

Back in the Pensieve Room, which really should've been called the Pensieve Cupboard, Edwina tried to steady her breathing as she gathered the shimmering fluid back into the bottle. Her mind had processed what she'd just witnessed, but her feelings toward it was taking a bit longer to catch up.

Sliding the bottle back up her sleeve, Edwina went back to the Auror Office, expression stiff and mind numb.

"Edwina!" Brown called as she strode by Arnold's desk. "Go retrieve the Mulciber file, will you? I need to check something out with his wand…"

"Sure," she replied tonelessly, passing by without sparing him a glance. She didn't go to her office, where Mulciber's folder was, but to Stateira's.

Without turning on the light, Edwina shut the door behind her and made a beeline for the desk. The drawers were empty—she was gone. After two years of Training and making Junior Auror, Stateira McElroy had walked away from it all. What had been the wake-up call?

Edwina sat down as an invisible crushing weight was forced upon her neck and shoulders. She'd trusted Stateira, even looked away so many times, and now even after all the harm she'd done, Edwina only felt sorrow. The girl had considered only the path laid out for her.

Edwina set the bottle carefully on the desk, out of the way, ducked her head in her arms, and started to cry. She cried for the loss of her innocent friendship, her trust broken, but most of all, she cried for the next move she had to make. The pain of it seared through her chest, constricting her breath.

Stateira's well of tears had long run dry. She was dull and numb, standing in a muggle dress and clutching a stack of stapled-together papers, waiting patiently to board the ship.

Her neck felt lighter, absent of the locket. Before leaving Number 12 for the last time, she'd crept into Orion and Walburga's room, where she'd never dared to go before, and headed straight toward the gold-encrusted vanity stationed below a large Venetian mirror. Avoiding her reflection, she opened a small, pearlescent box. It had only contained a bracelet, and there was quite a bit of room otherwise. Gingerly, Stateira lowered her hand, letting the locket slide down her fingers and into the box. Then she snapped it shut and returned to Dorea's room to pack.

"There you are, then, Walburga," she'd muttered to herself, shoving skirts and blouses into her shoulder bag. "You wanted him so badly, so now you can have him."

Also inside her bag was her wand, which hadn't been used in over a week. Stateira had traveled to the western border by muggle means—trains, a bus, and her own two feet. She'd regretted wearing high heels, the only shoes she'd brought, but that seemed to be a fashion staple for muggle women.

The queue steadily moved forward until at last, Stateira was in front of a uniformed guard, who held out his hands.

"Papers, please."

Stateira extended the stapled sheets to him. He leafed through them, his eyes scanning each page quickly. According to them, she was Anna Wozniak, a Polish university student who was being targeted by the Russian government for writing "anti-communist" propaganda. Stateira had no idea what a communist was nor what actually happened to Anna Wozniak, just that those papers had cost a fortune.

The guard handed her back the papers and motioned her forward. "Go on."

She did not thank him, too nervous to speak. He didn't seem to expect her to, perhaps assuming she didn't speak English.

The ship was large, about as wide as the Hogwarts grounds from the castle to the lake. Stateira felt a slight wistful pang as she chose a seat in the back, next to a window facing the shore. If only she'd enjoyed Hogwarts for what it offered other than Professor Riddle, but there was no use lamenting about that now.

"Excuse me," an older man nearby said in a French accent. "Do you know what time the ship will leave?"

"Sorry, no English," she replied in what she hoped sounded like a Slavic accent. Since she was Anna Wozniak now, she had to sound Polish, except she'd never met a Polish person before and hadn't an idea what they sounded like.

The man wrinkled his nose slightly before addressing the woman on his other side, speaking rapidly in French. Stateira turned away from them and looked out the window. Everyone was on the ship, so it would be leaving shortly. Her eyes kept straying left to the dark green, choppy Atlantic Ocean. If she stared directly at it, a ripple of fear passed through her stomach; she'd never been so close to such a large body of water before.

There was an indiscernible cry and something rumbled to life at the bottom of the ship, vibrating the floorboards under their feet. The couple next to Stateira clutched each other as a baby on a mother's lap a few seats down started to wail. She was reminded ruefully of Bellatrix, picturing her lying in the crib, waiting for her. Stateira kept her eyes on the shore as it slowly moved away.

About an hour later, people were feeling comfortable to move about the ship, climbing to the top and clutching the railings, looking out across the sea in fascination. The cool, salt-tinged wind blew the ladies' perfectly-coiffed hair into their faces.

Stateira slowly walked to the railing, fighting the churning acid creeping up her throat. At the last moment she lost her nerve, standing still. Something deep down in her abdomen fluttered, separate from the butterflies in her stomach. Her hands immediately flew to her midsection as her hair was thrown over her eyes. The dress was snug around the hips in waist, significantly more so than when she'd bought it two weeks prior.

Pulling her hair from her face, she took a giant step forward and gripped the railing tightly. The way she saw it, she faced two very likely outcomes: one, she would be caught by the Ministry and sentenced to the Dementor's Kiss. This would have been less likely had she not given that suitcase to Hollis, but she owed Edwina that, and more. That did not mean that she was going to sit around and wait for the Ministry to catch her, however.

The second, almost guaranteed outcome was that Lord Voldemort would find her and kill her.

The third, which had a very minuscule chance of occurring, was that she blended in with these muggles, raised her baby in the United States without magic and got him safely to Ilvermorny, the wizarding school. This would obviously be the best-case scenario and Stateira didn't have much faith in it, but she had to try.

In all three options, she was going to be captured and killed eventually, and she was alright with that. She would've welcomed it then, if she wasn't pregnant—it was certainly what she deserved. However, the baby complicated things a bit. She couldn't give up that easily; she couldn't be like Riddle's mother. Perhaps, if the baby survived, he would grow up to be a ruthless Dark wizard. Perhaps it was his fate, being born from such a family history.

Or perhaps not—not if she could help it.

AN:

And that's all, folks! Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!3

Lyrics are from "Where in the World" by Midge Williams (1939).

Be on the lookout for my other one, which I will probably post next week!