The house was painfully familiar, as was the smell of the air. Rowan took a deep inhale of the first fresh air to bless her lungs since her capture; how ironic it was that it would be here, where she grew up. Then the lump in her throat returned, and the pain in her chest roared again. She couldn't believe Bellatrix's cunning and ruthlessness, despite how much time she had spent with the madwoman over the last three weeks. Rowan's final test was today. After today, she would be... allowed... to return to school, to escape the oppressive Death Eaters that diseased the halls of Malfoy Manor. It would not be true to say she would be free. The Dark Mark scorched into the flesh of her arm made her a slave to survival.
"I have a special treat for you today, Crixsona," Bellatrix said as she bounded into Rowan's bedroom and threw open the blinds. "Today, you will get to see your precious Andromeda and that thing she married."
Rowan rubbed the sleep from her gray eyes and squinted at the bouncing figure before her, shrouded by bright sunlight. Bellatrix was beside herself in excitement, and Rowan could not suppress her shudder of horror. Whatever had Bellatrix this happy was certainly not going to bode well for anyone else involved, and it made Rowan's heart pound. Her mother and father... how she missed them, how she cried at night for their arms and warm words. Bellatrix was orchestrating an evil thing, Rowan felt it in her soul, which thankfully remained intact. "Merlin's balls, no," Rowan whispered to herself fearfully, tears rising in her eyes.
"What was that, dear?" Bellatrix asked mockingly as she tossed a dress from the wardrobe onto Rowan's bed, and upon seeing Rowan's nose wrinkle at it in distaste, she cackled gleefully. "Can't have sweet Andromeda thinking I'm too far gone 'round the bend to take care of my own little piece of scum," she purred with a smirk, which disappeared abruptly. "Now get dressed. We leave in an hour's time, if you're late, they are as good as dead." And she smiled again as Rowan's blood went cold. "Hurry, lovie!"
"Yes, Mummy," Rowan whispered painfully, just wishing Bellatrix would leave so the tears fighting her eyes could slide free without punishment.
It felt like a dream, watching from behind her mask of cowardice that presented a non-descript Death Eater, standing behind Bellatrix as she commanded the door be brought down. Bellatrix was so bold that she bare no disguise, maniacally aloof as always, her wand at the ready as Dolohov kicked the door open with his foot. "Sister?" Bellatrix crooned into the darkness of the house, reaching back to wrap her bony fingers around Rowan's wrist, pulling her forward. Looking left and right with her wand drawn, she muttered a quick "Lumos!"
The beam from the tip of Bellatrix's wand illuminated an empty den, the old couch on which had Rowan loved to read her books, and the fireplace, which looked cold and lonely. Rowan felt her heart speed up, her breathing increase, and she felt like she could pass out from the lack of oxygen making it to her brain. It looked as if no one had been here for weeks. Could she be so lucky?
"Spread out," Bellatrix ordered, and when Rowan tried to move at her own liberty, Bellatrix hissed. "You stay with me, girly. Homenum revelio." A pause, and then Bellatrix gave a chuckle. "How weak," she muttered, tugging Rowan behind her to the back of the house. "I have something here for you, Andromeda," Bellatrix called tauntingly when they reached the kitchen, as dark and cold as the rest of the house. Another wave of Bellatrix's wand Vanished the mask over Rowan's terrified gray eyes, and at the same moment she heard a cry from behind them, and Bellatrix had turned and cursed the source before Rowan could even glance back.
There was a loud thud as Andromeda fell face down on her own kitchen floor, her wand frozen in her hand with the Full-Body Bind Bellatrix had blasted at her. Rowan unwittingly gave a cry of protest, rushing forward to help the woman she loved and knew as her real mother, but a blast of the Cruciatus from Bellatrix stopped her in her tracks, and she fell to her knees beside Andromeda's frozen form, balling up in agony, her screams bouncing from wall to wall. "That wasn't very smart, girl! Now get up, you have work to do, you ungrateful little bitch! GET UP!" Another brief blast of pain, and Rowan found herself scrambling to her feet, wiping the tears from her eyes, trying to hold back her sobs. "Your wand, Crixsona," Bellatrix snapped as Rowan stood straight, and Rowan looked at her with wide, pleading eyes, tears still standing deep over the gray-green irises.
"Bella-Mummy! Please, no, anything but that," she gasped, her breath coming in short spurts.
Bellatrix's black eyes narrowed, and her wand raised a bit higher. Rowan gulped, looking back down at Andromeda, whose eyes were also spilling silent tears, staring right into her own. Rowan squeezed her eyes shut, wiping her face on the lacy sleeve of the dress Bellatrix had made her wear, sniffing hard against the snot draining from her cherry red nose. Bellatrix strode forward, gripping Rowan's chin in her hand hard, bringing her face inches from her daughter's. "You'll do as I say, you sickening little piss ant," she hissed, flecks of saliva coating Rowan's pursed lips and chin. The odor of Bellatrix's breath was enough to shed the feathers from a hippogriff. "If you don't point your little useless stick at that woman and show her my displeasure for kidnapping my daughter to raise her to be a Mudblood-loving, blood traitor brat, I am going to show her in a whole other way, and I can promise you, Crixsona: you will want to put your wand to her before I let her feel mine." Pushing Rowan's face back as she stepped away, Bellatrix Disarmed her younger sister for which she felt no regard, and lifted the curse she had lain upon her.
Andromeda's sobs immediately filled the air as she rolled slowly to her knees before Rowan, looking up at her youngest with a shade of fear in the dark eyes that so matched Bellatrix's. Rowan could see how she had passed for Andromeda's biological daughter for sixteen years; the resemblance between the three witches gathered in that dark room was unmistakable. She was sure she looked much more like Andromeda at this moment in time, however, as Rowan felt the terror that was mirrored on Andromeda's face as Bellatrix chuckled to herself in the corner, holding Andromeda's wand hostage. "Rowan," Andromeda gasped, reaching for the hem of the dress Rowan wore; but Bellatrix caused Rowan's body to take a quick step back, out of the wanting grasp of a mother seeing her daughter alive and well after fearing otherwise.
"Crixsona," Bellatrix snapped, and Rowan's chest exploded with a new set of sobs, racking her body, breaking her ribs with their depth.
Rowan looked back down at the woman on the floor, and mouthed, "I'm sorry, I love you," before raising her wand, pointing it at Andromeda's chest with a shaking arm. She closed her eyes. "Crucio," Rowan whispered, then her heart stopped as Andromeda's screams filled the room around them, rival only to Bellatrix's mad laughter as she danced a victory dance around the other two witches. The spell killed itself as sorrow brimmed over, and at Andromeda's quiet panting, Bellatrix growled.
"Again," she said silkily, eyes narrowing into slits once more.
Rowan sobbed harder, raising her wand again, thinking hard that it was Bellatrix she was cursing, using the one thing that made her hot with a hate fit for the Cruciatus. "CRUCIO!" she screamed, and she ignored the sounds as she trained her wand on Andromeda for a full minute, sixty long seconds of torturing the person that nurtured and loved her for all her miserable life.
"Enough." The word was spoken low and calm, yet Rowan heard it over the torturous cries. And more than gratefully, she ceased the application, and fell to the floor beside Andromeda, trying to crawl to her mother, and their fingers barely brushed each other's before a curse hit them both. "I do not think so, Andromeda," Bellatrix purred after lifting her well-practiced wand. "She belongs to the Dark Lord, now." Reaching down and snatching Rowan back by the collar of her dress, Bellatrix leaned down to Andromeda, slowly pulling up the sleeve on Rowan's dress to show her the Dark Mark branded there. "Feel privileged that you are my Blood, little sister. It is what salvages your heart beat tonight."
"Hurry along, now, girls, we've only got so much time before we have to be back for the meeting," Molly Weasley whispered to Ginny and Luna as they made their rounds in Diagon Alley, trying scavenge school supplies from the remaining shops on the now almost-derelict street. "Ginny!"
Ginny jumped at her name being called so sharply, as she had been zoned out on the new broom from the Firebolt series, visions of fame and granduer playing in her mind as she imagined flying into a pitch with an announcer calling in the background, "...aaaaand, our Harpies' team Captain, Ginny Weasley!" Ginny gave a long sigh. Alas, she thought to herself. "Sorry, Mum, I'm coming," she muttered, and Luna placed a gentle hand on her friend's sagging shoulder.
"It's not much longer now," Luna said soothingly, mistaking Ginny's demeanor for Hermione's absence. Though Ginny appreciated the support, it was this which reminded her that she would be travelling the halls of Hogwarts' castle alone this year, empty handed and with a heavy tread.
"Surprisingly, that's not what I was worrying about," Ginny said dryly, looking ahead with a painful squint to her dark brown eyes, the hole in her chest twinging mercilessly. "I was thinking about... you know, trying out for the Harpies... after Hogwarts." She finished her sentence, and waited on Luna to laugh, but when it didn't come, she looked over at her blonde friend with a curious eyebrow raised.
"What? Don't you think you're talented?" Luna replied to this look, and Ginny chuckled.
"I know I am," she replied cockily, but she deflated soon after. "But good enough for Holyhead? I'm not so sure." She thought of her heroine, Gwenog Jones, and the genius with which Gwenog flew. Ginny shook her head as she saw in her mind the perfect Grinning Skull Pivot that Gwenog had manuvered in the Harpies last match against Jensington Heights. There's no way I could pull off beauty such as that without killing myself.
"I have confidence in you," Luna said serenely as they followed Molly into Flourish and Blotts for their new text books. "You are the best Chaser Gryffindor has had since Angelina Johnson."
"Rowan is better than I am," Ginny sighed, thinking of her Slytherin Chaser best friend. They had flown against each other several times in the last four years, and though Slytherin hadn't beaten them since Ginny had been on the team, Rowan was still a very skilled and able player, one of which Ginny was wary on the pitch. She found herself wondering if Rowan would return to school. They had heard no news of her since being informed that she was taken to the Malfoy's estate in Wiltshire.
September first was only two days away, and Ginny and Luna were both caught in trepidation of who they would and would not find on Platform 9 3/4. Four days after the raid on the wedding, the Daily Prophet had informed Wizardkind that attendance to Hogwarts was now compulsory for pureblood children, and that there had been a new committee formed to register Muggle-born children and adults alike. The Registry claimed to do research on how these witches and wizards came to bear wands with no magical ancestry, and had found that the magic had been stolen, or taken by force. If one could not prove his relation to at least one pureblood family, the person was thrown in Azkaban automatically, their wands snapped in half. Ginny's heart had stopped at reading it, thinking about her Hermione. Hermione was Muggle-born, and Ginny knew she would not register, knew that this was only going to bring more heat on the Golden Trio, and the fact that Hermione's disappearance would make the Ministry focus on Ron as well, when he did not return to school. She could only hope that the Death Eaters that would check up on him would buy the ploy of the ghoul in Ron's pajamas and nasty pustules across its facade.
This time when Luna clasped her shoulder, it was for the reasons she felt. Ginny missed all three of them terribly, but deep down she knew they were okay; Voldemort would venerate Harry's death, and use it as a symbol of lost hope, to break the remaining resistence to his regime. As the wanted posters bearing the familiar bespeckled face and tousled black hair were still plastered all over Diagon Alley, Ginny knew Harry, Ron, and her love were still alive, and it comforted her in the slightest.
A few hours later, Luna and Ginny lounged lazily at the foot of the stairs in the Burrow, an Extendable Ear trailing from beneath the door to the kitchen, and the two girls huddled together over the other end. Though Ginny knew Fred and George would tell her the discussions happening behind the door, Ginny wanted to be able to hear the topics first hand, in case of news of Rowan or Hermione and the boys. So far, she only heard updates about the things she knew, such as the Registry and its victims, to the Dementor attacks in Muggle London. There was news that the body of an Auror had been found in his home that day, and a family of Muggles had been found grotesquely disfigured and had been admitted to St. Mungo's for what treatment there was available. Luna could feel herself begin to be sick, and tossed down the end before ripping up the stairs to hurl in the bathroom. What monsters could hang a child by his own entrails like a sick piece of art?
It seemed the meeting was nearly drawing to a close by the time a shaky and paler-than-usual Luna rejoined Ginny in their previous position, and Luna had barely stuck the thing to her ear when there was a great slamming of the back door and everyone in the kitchen yelled in consternation of the noise. Ginny and Luna were in the kitchen with their wands drawn before they knew it, and it was a sight to see Maia and her mother holding up a hysterical Andromeda. At the sight of the look on Andromeda's features, Ginny and Luna both went numb with fear, because it took a great sorrow for someone to appear as broken as Andromeda appeared. Had something happened to Rowan? The Order members were clambering around her, trying to get her into a chair, and Tonks fell to her knees beside her mother, touching her red face, panicked.
"Mum? What's happened?" Tonks cried, and Andromeda gave a withering sob as everyone settled down and Maia found her way over to Luna, pulling her into herself to protect her from the news she was about to hear.
"She Apparated onto my door step, I can't understand how she did it in such a state without Splinching herself," Maia's mother Freesia explained in a distraught tone. "We brought her here."
Andromeda just threw herself into Tonks and sobbed unrestrainedly into the neck of Tonks' robes, and everyone held their breath as she took a deep breath and tried to speak. "Rowan..."
"No," Ginny whispered, clutching her wand to her chest in fear. It couldn't be.
"Mum... is she... is my sister dead?" Tonks whispered, and it seemed to echo in the crowded kitchen.
Andromeda swallowed hard and shook her head. She hoped that Rowan's punishment had not been death. "It was Bellatrix. She led another raid on my home." She paused to sit up and wipe at her eyes. "I Disillusioned myself and hid in the kitchen, but she cast the Revealing spell and caught my body in the current."
"Where is Father?" Tonks asked emotionlessly, trying to detach herself from the turmoil she felt inside.
"He left," Andromeda whispered. "He left when the Prophet announced about the Registry. I agreed, my Blood Status as a Black is enough protection for me."
"What happened when Bellatrix found you?" Kingsley Shacklebolt asked with his deep timbre.
Andromeda looked up at him as if she had just noticed he was there. "She came into the kitchen with another Death Eater, only this one wore a mask. You all know my sister... Proud, too proud to hide herself when she commits her atrocities. When I did not answer her calls, she Vanished the mask from the other person's face, and it was... my Rowan, my baby." She broke down again at this, her shoulders quaking while she hid her face in her hands, and Tonks' face went pale.
Ginny felt Luna's hand intertwine with hers, and she clamped down on it. There was so much...
"And then she told Rowan to show me her displeasure... and tortured Rowan when she wouldn't lift her wand against me. It was worse than being a victim myself, watching my baby girl scream and cry under that monster's ministrations. In the end, Rowan looked at me and apologized so Bellatrix could not hear, and told me she loved me. And Rowan applied the Cruciatus on my person." She broke down again, and Ginny's ear were ringing as that last last sentence rang like funeral bells in her mind. Rowan, torturing her own mother? How could she? Ginny would rather die than turn her wand on either of her parents. Could Rowan be so selfish that she tortured her own mother to save her own neck?
"Bellatrix wouldn't let us touch. She tried to come to me, and I to her, but Bellatrix tortured us both, and then she said- she said-" A strangled cry escaped her throat as Andromeda attempted to relay the last of her meeting with Rowan and Bellatrix.
"Oh, Mum," Tonks breathed, cradling her sobbing mother, slowly rocking her back and forth.
A few seconds passed as Andromeda collected her senses enough to spit out the last of her story. "Bellatrix pulled up Rowan's sleeve and said 'She belongs to the Dark Lord, now.' Rowan has- she has the Mark!"
If Maia's arms had not been holding Luna up, she would have followed Ginny straight to the floor when the red head's eyes rolled back in her skull and she fell out in the kitchen floor, and as it was, Luna was limp in Maia's embrace. As the the room went into an uproar once more, Tonks closed her eyes and held her sobbing mother while everyone around them fussed over Ginny and Luna. "I suppose this isn't the best time to tell you, Mother, but... I'm pregnant," she whispered.