Chapter 4


April 21, 2035

11:03 PM

Riddle Manor, Scotland


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Once she was sure, dead sure, she was out of Voldemort's range, Bellatrix's stride took on a heavier, almost-stomping quality, and her already unpleasant expression settled into a snarl that made some of the Death Eaters she passed in the halls jerk back in surprise. Seething, the rejected witch at last reached the door to hers and Rodolphus's own private quarters and threw it open. Without a moment's hesitation she pointed her wand at the antique queen-size bed. "REDUCTO!"

A bolt of energy flashed from her wand and the bed exploded into kindling, feathers, and shredded fabric.

But Bellatrix's thirst for vengeance was nowhere near satisfied. She wanted to Cruciate someone badly right now, and it barely mattered who. If only I could cast Blackburn…or Crucioburn!

Oh, that would be a dream come true! Blackburn was possibly the blackest of black magic, more painful than Crucio, and had the added benefit of targeting one area of the body and keeping it in mind-altering, terrible pain for weeks on end. When it was finally cured or wore off, the flesh of the afflicted area was forever black and charred, sensitive to even the mildest increases in temperature. Crucioburn was the curse Voldemort himself had invented by combining Crucio and Blackburn: the very best in both worlds of torture. The pain and suffering caused by Crucioburn was impossible to describe in words because there simply weren't any strong enough to convey the sheer torture, the pure agonizing hell it put its victims through. Draco had said it had made Crucio feel like being in a comfy bed with a warm cup of cocoa, and the wizarding world had only his word to go on, as he was the only one who had ever survived it. Even then it had put him in a coma for four days — a coma from which he almost hadn't awoken even with constant care and the most powerful healing magics available.

How fun it would be to use those on Wicca! Bellatrix would laugh with wicked delight as she screamed in rapturous agony, her eyes dripping gore as they quivered in their sockets, her face twisted with the personification of hurt, her body convulsing on the floor and covered in a merciless black cloud of magic ripping and searing her oh-too-perfect skin. Then she would use that handy cutting hex to rip deep into the bitch's body, eviscerating her as quickly as she could while she still lived. Her excitement would soar into mania as she tore into those strawberry-blonde locks dear Voldemort loved so much, tearing them up violently in patches by the roots.

Would Wicca plead? Would she rue the day she'd ever laid eyes on Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix's Lord Voldemort?

No, no. She'd be in far too much pain to form coherent thought.

Spasming muscles. Quivering, bloody flesh.

Lovely.

Beautiful.

Worthy of a portrait. Worthy of her love to Voldemort.

If only you didn't have to be a damn Phenomenal to cast magic of that level, and if only Voldemort wouldn't mind.

"Bellatrix?"

Drunk with rage and visions of torture, the black-haired witch whirled, her wand leveled firmly at…Rodolphus.

Rodolphus drew back immediately, startled. His slender hand dipped for his wand. "Bloody hell, Bellatrix, it's just me. No need to get…" his one good eye studied her wand, "excitable." He quickly shut the door behind him.

"Excitable?" Bellatrix spat, fighting to keep her voice below a roar, "Excitable! I've just been permanently rejected by the only one I will ever — could ever — love because of some stupid halfblood with the bloodlust of a fucking dwarf hamster and you have the nerve to tell me not to get excitable? Do you know what this means?"

Rodolphus's wand was in his hand now, and he kept it lowered to his side as he pressed his back against the deliciously red wall and slunk sideways, the whole while keeping his line of sight fixed firmly on Bellatrix's wand as if he expected her to lash out and Cruciate him at the bat of an eye. "Yes. It means that we'll have a royal opportunity to impress the Dark Lord with our superb baby-sitting and mentoring skills once the child is born. And — better yet — we'll have a shot at forming a really close bond with this child when it's young and impressionable. How strong magically do you suppose a child mothered by the daughter of Willow and Draco and sired by the Dark Lord himself will be? Bella…Rich was a do-gooder with marvelously impressive defenses, but if he had cared to toss a curse…imagine! Imagine being friends with someone with that kind of power! Someone who protected us because he truly cared about us, not just to preserve a useful tool."

Bellatrix stamped her foot. The vibration sent three or four tiny snakelings slithering for cover. "You're missing the point, you stupid git!" Checking her voice, she whispered icily, "That child should have been mine! After all the work I've done for him, after all the bull I've had to wade through for…how many years? Sixty? Seventy? Doesn't matter. I'm his most loyal Death Eater, his most willing companion. And unlike that bint in the living room I can actually manage to summon up enough ill-will to do unforgivables. Wicca doesn't even know the first thing about dark magic!"

"But he's made his choice abundantly clear, and there's nothing we can do about it. We might as well get used to the idea, because at his worst he'll torture us to death slowly for harboring ill will against his family and at his best he'll banish us from Riddle Manor, leaving us to fend off Willow, Aurors, Dark Aurors, Deathbusters, and Mixers by ourselves. We're good, but we're not that good." Rodolphus's voice was soft, almost pleading. "If you know what's good for you you'll just accept fate and make the best of it. And…as much as I'm starting to regret this, I am your husband. If it's a child you want I can give you one. We can raise it up with To—I mean, Lord Voldemort's child. And when he finally takes over, we'll be practically like royalty ourselves!"

Bellatrix opened her mouth to tell Rodolphus that that was not good enough, then, deciding against it, closed it again. She had to get this temper of hers under control or she risked losing what little she already had. While he couldn't legally divorce her ( or do anything else legally, for that matter ), marriage was not an all-powerful binding spell forcing two individuals to stay together or even care about one another. Rodolphus could just as easily find someone else. And as the number of people who cared about her shrunk, so would her protection.

Ever-so-slightly, the muscles in her fingers relaxed. She finally lowered her wand.

Rodolphus pointed his at the destroyed bed. "Reparo." The furniture flew back together in a snap, perfectly resuming its former glory.

The door whooshed open and both Lestranges whirled, wands ready.

Just as quickly they lowered them. It was only Alexia Sutters, fellow "exposed" Death Eater and one of Bellatrix's friends.

"Yeesh, jumpy there, are we? Relax. It's not like just anyone is able to waltz in here." Alexia's voice had a bit of an insane giggle to it. Unlike the Lestranges, she hadn't received ambrosia in Azkaban and looked every bit of her age — 45 years — and then some. Her once shining waist-length gold hair was always frayed and matted, her formerly soft features as cold and sharp as if she were made of marble and someone had taken a chisel to her face, cutting every line deep. Cold and worn lapis lazuli would have made a fine substitute for eyes that once seemed to sparkle with a magic all their own. Her body was thin to the point of being anorexic, and her clothes and silver Death Eater robes hung off her. Bellatrix always thought she seemed so frail that a simple gust of wind could knock her over, but Alexia had somehow managed to survive mostly-intact for this long at least. Must have been a combination of skill, utter ruthlessness, and luck.

Bellatrix frowned. "True, but I am not in a good mood."

Alexia nodded and walked between the two and over to the bed. Dropping onto it, she pointed her wand at the door and shut it with a quiet Depulso. "I know." she said, crossing her legs, "I overheard you in the corridor."

Rodolphus panicked. "You didn't tell anyone, did you? Because Bella and I weren't supposed to tell anyone and if Voldemort finds out he'll Crucioburn us straight through Hell and into oblivion!"

Alexia waved her hand casually. "Relax. I'm not going to rat on you — I'm not Pettigrew after all — and right now Voldemort's so caught up with Wicca I doubt he'd notice if the manor began to collapse in around him. He's in a very, very good mood right now."

"We've noticed." Bellatrix grumbled, straightening her clothing, "That little bitch is ruining my life. I tell you, right now nothing would give me greater pleasure than to Cruciate the living daylights out of someone. Oh, I could do so much more than that! The way I'm feeling right now, I could face down seven Aurors and soak the earth with their guts. Make it eight! There just isn't a vulgar word strong enough to sum up just how incredibly pissed I am right now."

"Then why don't you join Bernard, Randolph, and I on a mission tonight? You can come too if you like, Roddy. Bernard found out where a pair of Deathbusters live. Brothers, I think. We can torture them and their whole family to our hearts' content!"

For the first time since being blown off that evening, a shallow smile blossomed on Bellatrix's face. Yes! This is getting better…I can pretend they're all Wicca!

She chuckled: a scary, shrieking laugh. "Yes! And that would be worthy of the Dark Lord's praise…Deathbusters put up a better fight than Aurors. The more we kill, the more Voldemort will favor us over his spineless servants…think! We may even capture their Dark Lord!"

Now Rodolphus was smiling gleefully, the tips of his ivory-white vampiric "fangs" glistening beneath his upper lip. "That would be something indeed!" Then, almost as quickly, his smirk faded. "Assuming we can find out who it is. They're rather secretive, that lot. And the Aurors don't seem to be very good at taking them alive. Well, the ones that try to, anyway."

"Piss on their Dark Lord." Alexia said rather matter-of-factly, running a hand down her tangled hair, "If we find him, great, if not, no big deal. I'm more interested in these brothers. It's someone to throw nasty spells at, and best of all, if Aurors do show up they'll be just as much the Deathbusters' enemies as ours."

Bellatrix gave her wand a hearty twist. She was practically brimming with anticipation, barely able to keep still. "Count me in."

"Me too!" Rodolphus chimed, "I'm always ready to kill people!"

"Excellent." Alexia purred, getting up off the bed, "Let's gather the others, shall we?"

Sure, Bellatrix thought as she made for the corridor, and while we're at it you can break down and take a shower for Voldemort 's sake. You live in a fully-functional mansion now, complete with access to soap and hot water. There really is no excuse for blasting hygiene out the window and walking around like a filthy inferi.

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Once they were all properly cloaked, masked, and assembled in a spare room Alexia laid out the plan in crystal-clear terms: they were going to Number 42 Rosebalm Street. The house they were looking for was big, green, and decorated with gargoyles. Once they found it they would make a swift, silent entry and get in as much torturing and killing as they could before any serious threats arrived. The bodies of the Deathbusters and any Aurors they killed would be taken back to Lord Voldemort as proof.

It was such a clean-cut, simple plan, and everyone couldn't wait to get started, especially Bellatrix. Tonight she would taste blood, and she didn't care whose. Unbridled rage was in her heart and tearing at the seams.

They apparated as a group.

Rosebalm Street was quiet, tranquil. A gentle rain misted down from an overcast nighttime sky. It was a trifle nippy out, and Bellatrix pulled her Death Eater cloak closer around her neck. The only light came from a waxing moon partially obscured by clouds and a few lit-up windows scattered here and there. No-one was out.

Let's do this. Bellatrix surged to the front of the group as though she were made to lead and ran through someone's yard and behind their house, the others hot on her heels. Keeping to the darkness, they traveled as silently as Death itself, trying to pick their target from among the many dark and unmemorable houses they passed.

After a block or two they came across a large green one with gargoyles perched on the corners of the roof.

Bellatrix halted in her tracks. Was this it?

Turning to the others, she gestured with her hand for someone to dash around front and check the number.

No-one moved. Four gleaming white skull masks stared back at her blankly.

Annoyed, Bellatrix used her free arm and pointed energetically to the front of the house. Telepathy would really come in handy now. She thought with chagrin, Must be nice enough to have enough magical power to actually use it. And to think the Fen and Semi-Fen take it for granted every day.

One of the Death Eaters — Bernard from the size of him — got the picture and raced around to the front.

Another cloaked figure sidled up next to Bellatrix. "If Alohomora doesn't work, Reducto will." She breathed quietly, as if Bellatrix were too stupid t figure that out for herself.

What does she take me for, an imbecile? Rather than waste energy with someone so far below her, Bellatrix merely nodded and waited for the signal.

She didn't have long to wait.

Half a minute after he'd gone to investigate, Bernard reappeared around the corner of the house and quickly Lumosed, then dounced, his wand.

This was it. They were ready.

Bellatrix charged the back door, was aware of Alexia and Rodolphus right behind her. Randolph shot off to join Bernard in a frontal assault — they'd rush the enemy from both sides.

"Alohomora." Bellatrix commanded, training her wand steadily on the lock. A burst of yellowish energy shot out and connected briefly with it, but when she tried the door it held fast. Smart. But not smart enough. Taking a few steps back, she tried Plan B. "Reducto!"

The door burst apart into a mess of ripped wood and splinters.

There went the element of surprise. They were going to have to be fast.

Bellatrix smashed through the sad remnants of the door headfirst like a charging bull. She heard a ruckus…people getting up…the front door blowing to smithereens.

Then…light! The whole room was flooded with it. Apparently, someone had performed the charm to light the entire household at once.

All the better to see you by. Bellatrix cackled inwardly. She saw a white and gray cat dash out from under a chair. "Avada Kedavra!"

The creature dropped dead to the floor the instant the green curse touched it, its small body still stretched in a running position.

"Honestly, a cat?" Rodolphus scoffed from somewhere off to the side.

Bellatrix ignored him. "Reducto!" She smashed the first door to her left to pieces, and was delighted to hear a sharp cry of pain from the other side. "Crucio! CRUCIO!" She tore into the room chasing the brilliant red streaks that left her wand.

The person on the other side never stood a chance. Bellatrix entered to see a forty-something year-old woman dressed in night robes and slippers writhing on the floor in agony. Large spikes of splintered wood lay all around her: some were even protruding from her clothes and flesh. Splatters of blood covered the floor and debris.

"Please! Mercy!" the woman shrieked once she was able.

Laughing, Bellatrix fixed her with her wand. "Depulso!"

The woman went crashing into the side of her own bed and nightstand; her head struck a sharp corner with a sickening crack.

"Sorry love, but I don't care for mudbloods. Silencio!"

The woman's howls of pain were cut short by the spell.

"Ava — "

"Stupefy!" Bellatrix had pivoted in a flash, catching her would-be killer square in the chest with the red bolt.

The victim, a young male around the age of twenty with short dark-brown hair, dropped like a sack of bricks in the threshold, completely unconscious. Thank God that killing curse takes some time to say.

Now that he was unable to defend himself, she walked over to him and grabbed his right arm, yanking it up savagely. Ripping his long sleeve down she found what she was looking for: the image of a roaring, proud green dragon perched defiantly on his arm, flapping its wings occasionally as it moved its head. It seemed to notice Bellatrix and made biting motions in her general direction.

"Yes!" she hollered over the noise of battle, " I got one!"

"Great!" Rodolphus rushed over and was standing over the man's head in an instant, fidgeting with excitement. "We should take him alive — he may be able to tell Voldemort where more Deathbusters are. Even the identity of their Dark Lord!"

"We can take the other one." Bellatrix groused, eyes scanning the room beyond Rodolphus quickly for danger before returning to the fallen Deathbuster. She pointed her wand at him. "Avada Kedavra!" A green jet shot out of the tip and hit his face. He stopped breathing.

That felt good. Beaming, Bellatrix stepped over the body and into the living room. The mudblood in the other room wasn't moving or making any noises, so she figured she had to be dead. Glancing into the kitchen she saw the limp figure of a young witch close to the Deathbuster's age lying at an awkward angle half under a table.

Rodolphus's handiwork, no doubt. From the looks of it he'd Cruciated her first.

Ah, that's the warlock I married. Despite his inferiority to Lord Voldemort, there were times — like now — when Bellatrix felt proud of him. He wasn't afraid to cause pain, and he knew what she liked.

A huge ruckus exploded upstairs. It sounded like furniture was breaking through glass, pottery, even wood. Randolph was yelling something about antlers and giant crickets along with a few choice non-magical curses.

A masked figure glided out of an another room like a ghost and hurried to the stairs.

Although she knew he couldn't see it, Bellatrix grinned at her husband. "Let's go!"

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Shivering in the dark in a secret compartment behind the wall of his bedroom closet, the Deathbuster Corvus struggled to steady his nerves enough to perform the emergency action. They'd taken them by surprise; he hadn't realized how many there were until he saw the two and heard the awful sounds of an untold number more fighting his family downstairs.

He'd managed to kill the big one, luckily, but the other Death Eater had barely missed his face with the dreaded green curse, and the fighting antlers, giant bugs, locking charms, and hidden compartment would only last for so long.

And what of his family?

He prayed his mother, sisters, niece and brother were okay, or at least still alive. At any rate he couldn't — no, wouldn't — abandon them.

The Death Eaters had the advantage of numbers and seasoned fighters, but he and his family had an ace up their sleeve.

Switching his wand to his left hand, he poked around his right wrist until he felt the tingle that meant he'd located his Dragon Mark. Pressing the wand to it firmly caused it to glow a mystical, radiant green. Focusing his thoughts on Draco and Draco alone, he lowered his lips to the tattoo and spoke…

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The moment Draco felt his mark tingle with a mild electrical sensation he leapt of his barstool and teleported to the top of a wooded hill outside town limits. Shifting his wand to his left hand, he pulled up his sleeve and uttered the incantation to make his dragon tattoo visible again. Once it appeared he pressed the tip of his wand into it and held it there to open up communication with whoever was trying to get ahold of him.

"Draco? Draco we need your help! Come quick! My brother Astor and I are being attacked by a large group of Death Eaters in our own home!"

Draco recognized Corvus's voice at once. The young shade's tone was flushed with panic.

Bloody Hell.

Still a bit buzzed, he formed his reply. "Is Tom there?"

Promise or not, valuable minions or not, Draco had absolutely no intention of going up against Lord Voldemort.

"I don't think so…no!" Corvus sounded about ready to wet himself, "Please, My Lord. They're breaking down my door as we speak!"

Draco decided that Corvus's report was genuine and Tom probably wasn't there. It wasn't like him to bring backup on simple missions, and anyway hadn't Wicca said she was going to be with him tonight? Tom's mind was likely to be elsewhere. "Address." he commanded, feeling a little light-headed. The subtle but unmistakable beginnings of nausea were already starting to stir in his stomach. I'll make this quick.

"42 Rosebalm Street. Big green house."

"Already there."

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Bellatrix raced up the fine-grain mahogany stairs with the unbridled joy of a teenaged girl rushing to a super-sale and the grace to match. She could almost see her victim struggling in pain, feel his sheer, desolate hopelessness and sorrow as she informed him she had already killed his brother. She would drink his suffering like fine wine: each spasming muscle and desperate attempt at salvation tickling the nerves along her spine with sweet ecstasy.

Reaching the top, she shot down the corridor to the right, the sight of Randolph struggling with crickets the size of dogs drawing her attention like a moth to light. She took no more notice of Bernard lying stock-still to the far left other than to acknowledge that he was down and probably dead. The dull roar of Alexia and Rodolphus's footfalls a moment behind mixed with Randolph's sharp "Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra!" and overpowered her hearing.

When she caught up with him, the crickets were dead and the mysterious antlers she'd heard him swearing about nowhere to be found. Everything was broken and lying about in ruins, and there were sharp gashes and holes in the sides of the walls. The silver-clad Death Eater was staring at a fine black wood door with an intricate carving of a unicorn charging a dragon on it.

"He went in there." Randolph grumped, "And he killed Bernard!"

Bellatrix shoved him aside. She was first, she was always first. "I can bloody well see that." she snapped, pausing a moment to appreciate the perfectly-rendered art on the door. A dragon had never looked more fierce, a unicorn more noble.

It was beautiful.

Too bad she had to destroy it.

"Reducto!" she barked, backing up and slamming someone — she didn't care who — into the wall.

The door caved inward as though a mountain troll had smashed into it with a giant sledgehammer. The Death Eater she'd backed into grunted.

Where is he? The eager black-haired witch thought the moment she entered. Messy bed, knocked-over terrainium…no sign of the Deathbuster. She stalked to the center of the room, took another look. Her three companions followed behind her, turning their heads this way and that.

The moment was filled with an eerie silence.

In the upper right-hand corner of the room next to the head of the bed sat a tall vertical dresser on which a large figurine of a majestic black jackal outfitted with gold trimmings rested.

The god Anubis.

Bellatrix didn't like the way the figure lay so solidly with its paws outstretched, ears fully erect, staring her down fearlessly with those Egyptian-style black-and-gold eyes. Eyes that seemed almost alive.

Anubis was the god of death, funerals, judgment, and protection. Upon a person's death, he took their heart and weighed it against the Feather of Truth on the Scales of Thoth. If the scales balanced, the person would have a Heavenly afterlife. But if the heart was too heavy with selfishness and corruption, the soul in question was doomed to a hellish afterlife. Or so the legend went. Anubis was said to be among the oldest and wisest of gods and no-one, witch or otherwise, could ever hope to deceive him.

A phantom chill electrified Bellatrix's spine. She didn't like that figure. Not one bit.

Yet she dared not destroy it. Gods had good reason not to fear mages — they were fully and truly immortal, and could not be killed by any means, even the killing curse. Their magic was foreign and dangerous.

She didn't realize how long she'd been staring at the Anubis statue until she heard Alexia say "Maybe he disapparated?"

"Always a possibility." Randolph muttered, "Not everyone puts their family above themselves."

At that moment, Bellatrix noticed the closet door was slightly ajar.

Aha!

"No, I think our rat is hiding in a little hole." she laughed. Hurrying over to the sliding door, she threw it back. "Reveal."

A glowing cinnabar line appeared and traced a perfect square shape in the wall, betraying the secret compartment.

Yet rather than gleeful anticipation, a black unease fell on Bellatrix. She could almost feel Anubis watching her.

But that's ridiculous, she reasoned, the Deathbusters couldn't possibly be in cahoots with him, could they?

Their dragon masks did look more like jackals than dragons…

That's just stupid. She shook the thought from her mind. Now was not the time to be getting cold feet. "Reducto! Expelliarmus!" The wall imploded inward and the black-haired young man standing behind it gave a sharp yell of pain as the pieces sliced into him. His wand jetted out of his hand and hit the wall behind, dropping uselessly to the floor.

Bellatrix gazed upon this lesser being with the cold ruthlessness of a venomous snake regarding its next meal. He looked a little like Regulus Black, but there was no way in hell he was a pureblood. He was more handsome than his brother had been, and she was glad she had saved him for capture.

"Mercy!" He cried at once, no doubt overwhelmed by the five masked figures crowded before him. His face bled with tiny cuts.

"You expect mercy? From her?" Rodolphus asked incredulously. He laughed at the absurdity of it.

"Yeah!" Alexia huffed, leveling her wand at him, "Where's your Dark Lord now?"

"Right here." The voice was slow, confident, and hauntingly familiar.

As one Bellatrix and her companions pivoted to see none other than Draco Malfoy standing before them, blocking the wrecked door. He wore no mask, but his everyday attire was almost completely covered in a cloak of the darkest silver. A smug, slightly-drunken smirk was plastered upon his face.

IMPOSSIBLE! Her own nephew, Dark Lord to the Deathbusters?

Gasps filled the large bedroom. Bellatrix wasn't sure, but one of them might have been her own.

"Oh sh — " Randolph started to say, but his speech mutated into screams as Draco threw out his left hand and hit him in the face with a snaking current of blue-white lightning.

Alexia made the next move. "Avad — "

Draco swept his wand through the air like a cutting scythe and the next thing Bellatrix knew her wand was flying out of her hand and she and the others were hitting the wall/bed/wherever.

Yeeowch! Now it was her turn to experience pain. The back of her skull had collided with the wall with enough force to temporarily daze her. She fell forward onto her hands and knees, the carpet feeling too rough under her twisting fingers.

Vision swimming slightly, she glanced up through the eye-holes of her still-in-place mask to see Draco stop the eruption of lightning from his open palm and fire a green curse — silently — from his wand. The magic hit Randolph and he dropped to the floor, dead.

Now Draco uttered some strange words Bellatrix had never heard before and a whirling black-and-violet torrent of pure ripping, violent magic shot out of his wand and licked around the body of one of the two other remaining Death Eaters like a lashing, live whip of barbed-wire. The size and width of a rattlesnake it seemed to be all over the target's body at once, and there must have been some kind of a cutting hex involved because large spatters of blood began appearing on the sandy carpet and furniture.

"Silencio!" Draco banished the earsplitting screams — most definitely Alexia's — into nothingness. He gave his wand a couple of swift jerks up and down, and Alexia, still covered in angry black magic, flew up into the ceiling forcefully and then shot back down, only to repeat the process again and again, even as her life's blood began to decorate the room.

How DARE he hurt me! Rage billowed within Bellatrix, filling every fiber of her body until she felt she would burst. I've had enough! The penalty for hurting her was death. Nephew or no, Draco had to die. Being an enemy of Lord Voldemort's made him as good as a bloodtraitor in her eyes anyway.

Then another thought quickly occurred. I'll be famous! Famous for killing a Phenomenal! And Voldemort will be highly pleased with me for getting rid of his most dangerous, troublesome enemy. So pleased he'll be forced to notice me! He'll know my love for him is truly pure, because I valued him over family.

All this thinking took less than two seconds. Her decision made, Bellatrix held out her hand. "Accio wand!" Her voice was a rushed whisper, so as not to attract Draco's attention.

"No! Draco! It's me! Your uncle Rodolphus! Uncle Rodolphus!" He had removed his mask, and now his pointed, ghostly face was even paler than usual. He was pleading, begging for his life.

Pathetic.

But it was distracting Draco. That was a plus.

All she needed were a few seconds and a clear shot. Even warlocks as powerful as Draco was couldn't survive a direct hit from a killing curse. She threw off her mask, both to increase visibility and further distract her nephew if he happened to look this way. He wouldn't be expecting his Aunt Bella to try and kill him.

Naïve idiot. He may be a pureblood, but the way he's acting makes his life forfeit. If only he'd done the SMART thing and STAYED a Death Eater.

The next second flashed by in a surreal blur.

Bellatrix, in a sitting position, aimed her wand at Draco. But Draco spun towards her at that same instance.

"Avada Kedavra!" Two voices rang out almost simultaneously. Bellatrix's stream left her wand first, but only by the bat of an eye. Unlike her, Draco didn't actually need to say the words to get his killing curse out, and in this case only pure adrenalin had sparked him to belt out the command in the first place, so his magic actually left his wand before he'd even finished the last syllable.

Green collided with green, and Draco's curse barely slowed its pace in the process of annihilating Bellatrix's. Reduced to half-power, it continued on its path and struck the witch's wand and hand at the same time. Bellatrix Lestrange fell to the floor lifelessly, her wand exploding in her hand.

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Draco was aghast. He couldn't believe what had just happened. It seemed too strange, too messed-up to be real.

She wouldn't.

She couldn't.

Yet she had.

His own aunt had just tried to murder him. And in defending himself, he had killed her.

Why? Why did she want to kill me? I didn't do anything to her…I'm family! How could she kill family! How could she?

It was as if he'd been all warm and cozy in bed and someone had thrown a giant bucket of ice-water over his head. A nightmare come true. A horrible, twisted reality. If he hadn't been a Phenomenal, if he hadn't possessed such awesome magical power so as to be able to cast most spells, including the killing curse, purely by will, he'd be dead.

My god, what a heartless bitch!

Draco barely noticed Rodolphus and Corvus in the room with him. Holding out his free hand, he silently Accioed Rodolphus's wand into it. Just in case. "How could she?" he said softly, sounding like a traumatized little boy, staring at the lifeless body of his aunt crumpled onto the floor, "We were family." His face had taken on an ashen color. He looked sick.

"Oh, don't act so surprised," Rodolphus panted, climbing to his feet. His face was slick with sweat, and his one good eye kept flitting nervously between Draco and Corvus. "Remember what she did to her niece, Nymphadora Tonks? Tonks was just as closely related to her as you are."

Corvus rose, wiping wood and debris from his face. Scowling, he said, "Yeah, I heard about that. Was that for being an Auror or marrying a werewolf?"

"Does it matter?" Draco shook his head, "Family are supposed to watch out for each other, or at the very least not kill each other. Even Harry treated me better than this woman!"

Rodolphus coughed. "Harry treats me better too, even with him being the Auror General and me a known Death Eater. At least he never played with my heart and made a lame-ass attempt to pretend to care about me."

Corvus made a face at him. "How could you stand this woman?"

The Death Eater shook his head, and his hood fell back to reveal that long, unnaturally shiny red hair. His eyeliner was smeared down his cheeks with moisture, giving him the appearance of a goth makeup-job gone horribly wrong. "She was a pureblood. She looked good on my arm." he admitted in a rather subdued tone, "And…I used to think she cared. But even after she proved to me time and time again that she didn't…I was so used to her. She and Rab were all I had."

Old habits are hard to break. Draco agreed silently. Then, realizing Corvus's condition, he held out his left hand and curved his fingers back slowly, willing the desired effect. Little slivers and splinters of wood worked themselves out of Corvus's flesh, making him flinch a little, and the cuts and bruises healed up instantly without a trace. Not even the tiniest drop of blood remained.

The Deathbuster kneeled down on his knees respectfully, eyes sparkling with gratitude. "Thank you, My Lord."

From his perch at the foot of the bed, Rodolphus just shook his head, disbelief flickering over his sharp features. "I should have known…dragon tattoo, and your name means dragon. It's so obvious."

"I know, and that's exactly why people don't figure it out." Draco's tone of voice verged heavily on solemn. Never thought I'd see the day Harry treated me better than family.

Corvus straightened. "And my family?"

Draco averted his steely gaze to Rodolphus. He'd never been good at these kinds of things. "I don't know." he answered flatly, "At least a few of them were dead when I got here. I didn't see Astor." He watched his uncle search around frantically for his wand. The vampiric Death Eater's green eye went wide with horror as he realized who held it. "Now," these next words were directed at Rodolphus, "the question is what to do with you. I can't have people knowing my identity and Tom can read you like a book from cover to bloody cover."

For a moment, Rodolphus froze up, eye alive with fear, his expression distinctly akin to that of a Death Eater who had just moseyed up and slapped Tom in the face and called him a filthy manbitch, only to wear out of the Imperious he was under at that exact moment. Then resolution set in, and he hung his head sadly, all the fight leaving his body. "I suppose you're going to kill me. In that case there's nothing I can do to save myself. Just…please, make it quick. No super Crucio, or black-and-purple magic whips of death, or flaying me alive, or whatever the hell else you Fen can do."

"Would you do it?"

"Pardon?" Rodolphus's French accent was at its thickest. He lifted his head, puzzled.

"Would you kill a family member?" Draco elaborated. As his uncle was forming a reply, he read his thoughts. "You don't believe you would," he announced matter-of-factly, "You believe you would do anything you could to avoid killing a family member, even if it was someone you didn't personally care much for. Your cousin's an Auror who's deliberately blind when it comes to you, and you likewise never bother her. You appreciate this. You loved your parents and brother. You have strong family values."

"You're a legilimens?" Corvus marveled.

"No. I just read his thoughts. It's easy because he's thinking very loudly and I can hear everything clearly. He thinks I'm going to kill him. Now he's wondering how I'm going to avoid it." Draco tilted his head to one side, frowning grimly but with more than a hint of compassion playing about his features. "I'm not going to kill you." he stated, and though his voice was not exactly reassuring it was not unkind, "I'm not my aunt. I don't kill family, even if they're only related to me through a marriage that just ended. And…I think you'd make an excellent godparent for my new grandchild, which Wicca doesn't want me to know about yet." Sighing, he shifted Rodolphus's wand over to his right hand to rest with his own and used his free fingers to massage his temples. The more I learn the more I wish I didn't know. They say ignorance is bliss…I guess that explains why I'm not happy these days. Rodolphus perked up, and he regarded him with a second heavier, more heartfelt sigh. "However, there is the problem of you knowing about my pastime. I don't fancy the idea of completely wiping your mind of all memories, which is what would happen if I tried to make you forget about me being the Deathbusters' Dark Lord, but perhaps something can be arranged." He paused, deep in thought. "Severus knows a lot about mind-altering and mind-concealing spells…maybe he could help. And Willow once mentioned something about a Lethe's Bramble that can make you forget specific things…we'll start with Severus. Yes. That's the way forward. I'll take you to him now."

Rodolphus swallowed nervously. "You think he'll want to help?"

Draco's intonation was the verbal equivalent of a shrug. "Probably. He might not be a Death Eater anymore, but he's not as fluffy and de-clawed as people like to think. He has friends on almost all sides, so it's really hard to tell where he stands. But he's good friends with me, so he probably won't turn us away." He stepped towards his shifty uncle.

"But…won't the Aurors be here? Why haven't they come already?" Corvus wondered, "Not that I'm complaining…"

Draco stopped briefly to glance at him before continuing nonchalantly on his way. "Oh, they'll be here alright. Eventually. The moment I got here I made this whole house soundproof and cast strong spells of confusion and repulsion around it. Anyone who approaches will instantly forget whatever it was they were going to do and become confused. They'll also instinctually move away from this house and chase after wild geese elsewhere. I couldn't have Aurors busting in and finding me helping Deathbusters, now could I? It'll wear off in about another fifteen minutes. You know what to do about your mark."

"Yes My Lord." Corvus's tone was satisfactorily respectful.

Draco rested a hand on Rodolphus's shoulder, causing the other warlock to flinch most unbecomingly. Grey-blue eyes found the green one, and Draco gave his new "friend" a small smile. "Don't worry Uncle. We'll fix this. You'll be back Death Eating in no time. Just stay away from my Deathbusters next time, kay? I might not be as big an arse as Tom, but even my patience has limits."

They vanished before Rodolphus could manage a reply, leaving Corvus alone in a house full of corpses.

X-x-X-x-X-x-X

X-x-X-x-X-x-X

I'm dreaming. I have to be. Did that…did that really happen? Am I really dead?

When the darkness of oblivion cleared and Bellatrix's vision returned, she could see nothing but a heavy grey mist.

Wait.

No.

There were tiny golden lights far in the distance. Slowly moving dots meandering through a sea of endless grey.

Here there was no perception. No up, down, sideways; no horizon. It was impossible for Bellatrix to tell where she was in relation to the lights, or anything else for that matter. Though there was no ground, she felt ridiculously heavy, and as though she should be falling. Yet she lingered in the same space, if this place actually had space.

It's true. He killed me. Little bastard killed me! Her fury burned bright, turned the "air" around her red. She glanced down to look at her hands, only she had none. She was formless.

Formless, and her emotions could light her surroundings with color.

Beautiful. Just bloody beautiful.

This is pish.

Then…a streak of black! White fangs. Gold trappings.

Anubis.

The jackal at last stood in front of her ( Or was it behind? She could see every direction at once. ), and morphed into a blinding human-shaped silhouette made purely of brilliant golden light and energy.

Come, he said, and his powerful, ancient voice seemed to be everywhere at once, I will take you safely to a place where you may learn compassion. Go astray from me, child, and your journey will be a long one of tears and hardship, for one way or another, the Scales will be made to balance in the end.

Bellatrix hesitated. She didn't like this. Weren't gods sometimes tricksters? The one that had given her ambrosia had done so with cruel intent. Whichever god that had been. What if this one was of the same train?

Please, Anubis's tone was teaming suspiciously with unconditional love, infinite understanding, Let me help ease your suffering.

No.

She couldn't.

She wouldn't.

She knew better than some high-and-mighty 'god' what was best for her! If she went with him he'd lead her straight to a Hell dimension, she just knew it.

You aren't fooling me. She thought angrily.

And with that, the spirit that had once been called Bellatrix Lestrange turned her back and shut her mind to Anubis and the light.

No, you're fooling yourself. As her essence left his in favor of darker places, the black jackal reemerged from his brilliantly luminous form. A single tear trickled down his eye.