Author's Notes: well, for those of you who have been wondering where that update for 'Renegade Cause' is... well, yeah, it's coming, but first I wanted to give you all this. It explores the backstory of a favourite character of mine, and it's probably the ONLY story that's ever bothered to invest this much time into it. And yeah, it's not exactly a fun story either. Kind of bleak, when you get down to it. I also want to put warnings for strong language, violence, and some sexual content.

Also, this story does tie into the continuity I established in 'Renegade Cause'. For those of you who haven't read that story... well, obviously, I'd advise you do so, but it's not entirely required. Certain scenes and actions will have a lot more context if you do, however.

As always, read, review, bitch, criticize, and enjoy!


Saturday, June 22, 1968

It was a wizarding wedding unlike any other.

The clouds which had mired most of the early morning had finally broken, leaving a clear blue sky and warm sunshine in their wake. The afternoon was balmy, with a hint of a seaside breeze drifting towards the richly decorated wedding pavilion. Rose petals, many enchanted to drift lazily through the breeze to the rollicking tune of the band, were all a brilliant white, perfectly matching the pristine tablecloths and gleaming silver platters filled with the finest food wizard gold could buy. Even the well-stocked bar was decorated, the bottles glittering in the light.

And filling the pavilion and surrounding garden were people, all in their richest dress robes, laughing and gossiping happily, a larger turnout than the hosts had dreamed.

All to celebrate the excellent and most happy match of Octavian Fawcett and Christika Dolohov.

"A fine match," Antonin Dolohov mused to himself, toying with his empty wine glass as he watched the bride – his older sister – dance with the groom, a very handsome, if somewhat windswept blond fellow with thick arms and a guileless smile. "A fine match indeed…"


Antonin blinked, and then glanced to the girl on the opposite end of the little table where they were sitting. It took him a fraction of a second to recognize her, but the rather blockish nose was unmistakable. Her name was Miranda Parkinson, and other than a nose that most preferred to look past, she was very pretty in her own right. Long black tightly curled hair surrounding a willowy face, a sly smile, and (if Antonin was a bit less of a gentleman) a magnificent chest that he suspected would put even the legendary Nimue to shame.

She was also his date – and had the potential to make the next ten minutes extremely awkward.

"I was just commenting on how good the match of my older sister with Fawcett is," Antonin replied, carefully keeping his face expressionless as he shifted his gaze back to Miranda. "Particularly for the family – Father's been adamant she find a man of quality."

"Well, Fawcett's good enough," Miranda said, sniffing slightly as she took a glass of wine from a passing house-elf. "Pureblood, at least."

Antonin hid a grimace behind his glass of wine. "At least."

"I must say, your father does know how to put on a good party," Miranda continued, gesturing out at the witches and wizards now moving onto the shimmering black dance floor. "I had to change out of that awful dress Christika stuck me in into something more pleasant –"

With a bodice that pushes your tits up like that, Antonin thought to himself, holding back a smirk he knew would attract some strange looks, I'm not complaining… well, at least not now I'm not. Eight minutes…

" – I swear, I like Chrissy plenty, but her taste in fashion is just abominable – I say, look at that man!"

Antonin glanced over his shoulder to a nearby tree, where a grey-haired wizard wearing mildly dishevelled dress robes in an outdated cut was muttering to himself, as if he was rehearsing something. Clenched beneath his teeth was a thick, bulbous cigar, and a steady stream of brownish smoke emerged from the glowing tip.

"That," Antonin said, glancing back at Miranda, "is an old friend of my father's. Name's Marcellus Fletcher. Good man."

Miranda wrinkled her nose. "He doesn't belong here –"

"If he didn't have an invitation, the gargoyles wouldn't have let him onto the property," Antonin replied evenly, reaching for the decanter of wine sitting on the table and gently pouring a glass. "Besides, old Fletcher is a worldly man – he and my father go back years. He used to tell the most incredible stories to Christika and I..."

Miranda cocked an eyebrow. "Really."

"Really," Antonin replied steadily, glancing back at the dance floor. The petals dancing around the floor made it look as if the party was taking place in a hurricane of flowers. "Truly incredible…"

"Then tell me one of these 'incredible stories'," Miranda pursued, leaning forward, her long eyelashes batting coyly.

Four minutes, Antonin thought, forcing himself not to follow the obvious sightlines created by Miranda's gown, and if I were a lesser man… "All right, I'll tell you a quick story. See that burly fellow at the bar, with the straw-yellow hair?"

"The groom?"

Antonin chuckled. "No, no, the one who's showing off his biceps to the Black sisters and will probably get Cygnus Black's fist through his teeth in about five minutes."

"I see him."

"That's Ludo Bagman. He was just drafted for the English Quidditch team – against my recommendations, mind you, but I'm not the captain or the one who makes the call. In any case, he is a pretty damned good Beater, but he didn't perform particularly well in the trials, and the previous coach wasn't willing to put him on the team."


"Well, the Bagman, Rookwood and Dolohov families have always been very close," Antonin continued, counting off the family names on his fingers as he looked steadily into Miranda's eager eyes. "Very close indeed."

"That's why that snivelling pock-faced pissant Augustus always hangs around –"

"Yes," Antonin interrupted, glancing again at the bar. Two minutes. "Well, in any case, Bagman Senior talked to my father, and he and Marcellus Fletcher decided to take the coach out for a few drinks."

Miranda frowned. "And?"

Antonin exhaled slowly and took a sip of the wine – it was a little too sweet for his taste, but he'd pick up something better when he left. "Marcellus was the one handling the drinks, and after the third drink, my father suggested that the coach sign off on Ludo's contract."

Miranda gave him an incredulous look. "I'm sure that got him far."

"Well, my father said that it would be either his signature or the blood he was vomiting up because of the Basilisk venom in his whiskey that was dissolving his esophagus," Antonin replied calmly, draining his glass and giving a stunned Miranda a knowing smile.

"But," she asked with confusion, "isn't Basilisk venom a highly restricted substance?"

Antonin scratched his chin. Good timing. "You know, I think it might be."

He turned and looked at Miranda. "Guess I really shouldn't have told you that. Fortunately, I can rectify this situation."


His left hand – which had been tightly holding his wand pointed directly at Miranda, bucked slightly as his wand jerked. The silent spell hit Miranda, who slipped back into her chair, a dazed expression on her face.

Antonin rose to his feet and nodded once to Marcellus Fletcher. "Oh, and by the way, Miranda?"

She looked up, her eyes childishly wide with incomprehension.

"We're through. You're bigoted, obnoxious, a bore, none too bright, and you support Ireland instead of England. Pass along my respects to your father."

And with that, he slipped away towards the manor, leaving the party and a bewildered expression on Miranda Parkinson's face.

Augustus Rookwood, Unspeakable of the Department of Mysteries, looked none too pleased when Antonin reached the bar. His face – heavily scarred from a nasty outbreak of dragon pox that nearly killed him as a child – twisted with contempt.

"You shouldn't have done that –"

"I have places to go," Antonin said with irritation with a tug at his collar, "and Miss Parkinson was not helping me get there."

"Her father –"

"Will have to marry her off to some other twit of a wizard, not me." He glanced back towards the dance floor, where an unfamiliar wizard was tugging a dazed Miranda Parkinson to dance. "And look, she already has company –"

"Willard Parkinson has powerful allies that you or your family cannot ignore," Rookwood growled in a low voice. "Antonin –"

But Antonin silenced him with a single, icy glare. "We don't talk about family business in public, you should know that."

"Oh, for the love of Merlin and all that's holy, why do you even pretend that this charade matters anymore?" Rookwood whispered hotly. "Your father's grip is slipping as times change, you know that –"

"You better not be talking about my father in that tone."

Antonin put his hand to his forehead and slowly began to massage his temples. And here I thought I was escaping the idiocy. "What do you want, Nicky?"

Nikolai Dolohov flushed scarlet as he glared at his younger brother. The two were a study in contrast: Nicky was thickly built, with a surprisingly amount of muscle, while Antonin was wiry; Nicky was clean-shaven where Antonin was beginning (and not particularly succeeding, much to his vast irritation) to grow a goatee; Nicky was smart and analytical, but quick-tempered, while Antonin was creative, but much preferred a more sly and diplomatic approach to business.

Except I'm not the businessman here, Antonin reminded himself as he accepted the glass of wine from the bartender and took a sip. Ahh, much better. No, Nicky's the one that's taking over the family business, not me.

"Father wants us for pictures soon," Nicky said curtly, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "And that means you have to be sober and sensible."

Antonin sniffed at the distaste in Nicky's voice – his older brother, much to the surprise of many, loathed alcohol. "I'll be fine, you know that – why is Father making such a big deal of this –"

"It's for Chrissy, not him so much," Nicky replied impatiently. "But come on, Tony, this is a family affair."

"There you go with the family talk –"

"Shut up, Rookwood," Nicky spat, rounding on the scarred Unspeakable. "You're on the outs with Father anyway –"

"He needs me more than I need him!"

A bold-faced lie, and Antonin knew it, but there was something off about the older man – he seemed on edge, as if something was worrying him. Well, he's safe her, Antonin thought to himself, glancing at where Marcellus was leaning against the tree. Well, for the most part.

He quickly drained his glass – a little disappointed to drink such a good wine so quickly – and got to his feet. "All right, I'm presentable. Where's Father?"


Horace Slughorn folded his hands as looked across the desk at the shadowed figure. His thick moustache quivered slightly as he squinted – why the blazes did the man insist on keeping things so bloody dark in the room? It wouldn't be difficult to open a bloody window…

"You do… you do understand my dilemma," he finished. Immediately, he cursed the slight stammer in his voice – why did he stammer, he wasn't weak like some of the fools coming to see the man! Sure, the darkness and the armed wizards that he guessed weren't entirely human at the doors didn't help his condition, but he had known the man for years!

"I understand," the man replied, his slightly accented voice dragging through the air like an old man shuffling across a carpet. Despite himself – and Slughorn had really tried to occupy his mind with identifying that damnable accent – he shivered at the words.

"It's a simple matter of flooding the market," Slughorn continued, shifting his ample bulk slightly in the extremely comfortable armchair. "You introduce enough of the material – preferably of poor quality that is difficult to distinguish, you know how the business works – you drive the price down, and foolish, would-be potioneers try the recipes and thus flood the market with inferior product."

"Which allows the potions made by masters to go for higher prices."

Slughorn cracked a weak smile. "Exactly."

"Masters… or your friends that you inform, allowing an easy stockpile before the market explodes, thus allowing a tidy profit."

The bead of sweat on the back of Slughorn's neck finally formed and trickled into his dress robes. "Ah… that would be correct –"

"But you're not asking for lacewings or puffskeins or even Boomslangs, Horace," the man continued, a strange note creeping into his voice that Slughorn didn't quite recognize. The damn man doesn't speak up, makes it bloody impossible to get a read on him! "You're asking for dragons and unicorns and acromantula."

Slughorn shifted uncomfortably. "Well… well, yes."

"I'm going to hire professionals for this sort of work. Taking down dragons is no easy feat, Horace, and killing unicorns is illegal in our world."

Slughorn took a deep breath and tried to quell the horrible feeling in his gut. "Well… you know… we are old friends."

"That we are." The man rose to his feet, and the light from the solitary lamp in the room cast his face into sharp relief. It was a face that could have been carved out of the softest of stone – hard lines around his nose and a firm chin, with supple jowls at the tips of his mouth. Any wrinkles only served to highlight his most striking features – which, strangely, were not his eyes, which were small and set deep in his face. Barely open, he looked as though he was half-asleep – when in reality he was awake, and far more dangerous than most realized until it was far too late.

He was Raskul Dolohov, head of the family, and one of the last remaining leaders of the seedy criminal underworld in wizarding England. Most of the families that had once been affiliated with the underworld, like the Blacks and Malfoys, had long ago turned away to adopt a more legitimate façade, but the elder Dolohov had never bothered. There was no need – nobody dared touch him.

And we're old friends, Slughorn reminded himself, even though the very thought of it sent a chill down his spine again. We're old friends, and he wouldn't hesitate to help an old friend…

"I may," Raskul said quietly, "be able to assist you in the matter… but it will cost you."

Slughorn breathed a sigh of relief. "Anything, you know I'd do anything –"

"I know," Raskul cut him off abruptly, "and that is why, some time in the future, I will ask you a favour – a very legal favour, of course – and you will do it without question." The old man eyed Slughorn, but did not smile. "I keep your wishes in mind because we are old friends – and you will respect that I keep those wishes in mind by having your group of potions masters send me five percent of your total revenues."

Slughorn could not supress a wince – that would hurt, but it would be manageable, and he would still make a sizable gain. Prince won't like it, but hell with what he thinks – if he can't manage his money, that's his problem.


"Good," Raskul said calmly. "Now, if you'd excuse me, I'd like to go down to the garden for pictures – it's my daughter's wedding, and I feel it would be uncouth to spend all of it doing business."

Slughorn nodded respectfully and pulled himself to his feet, his mind already racing to consider the profit margins – if Raskul Dolohov could pull it off, they would make a fortune.

But even as he stepped out of the darkened room, he couldn't help but feel that he barely escaped with his life.

The photographs were quick, but it wasn't that easy to flee. Stuck at the end of the head table with his parents, siblings, and relatives that he wasn't quite sure he even knew, Antonin was keeping his eyes open for any opportunities to dart away. Bagman wanted to hit London tonight with Prewett – Merlin only knows why, Prewett is an arse – but it shouldn't be difficult to leave…

"You look like you'd rather be somewhere else."

The snide voice was at precisely the right frequency to piss Antonin off, but he throttled back his temper as he turned around in his chair to view an extremely smug teenager with long blond hair and elegantly tailored dress robes.

"Malfoy, bothering a man while he's eating could lead to the person bothering removing their head from a Hippogriff's arse," he began calmly.

Lucius Malfoy sniffed. "You're being rude."

"And you look like a crossdressing tuft of blond pubic hair, but who's counting?" Antonin returned with a smirk as Malfoy went beet-red. "What do you want?"

"My father," Malfoy snarled, incoherent with fury, "my father will –"

"Tell me what you want," Antonin repeated, "and then kindly piss off."

Malfoy's hand darted into his robes, and he pulled out a thick wad of papers which he shoved into Antonin's waiting hands. "Give this to your father – it's from my Father."

"Of course it is," Antonin replied wryly. "Now you may kindly piss off – preferably in a direction diametrically opposed to mine."

He didn't watch Malfoy flounce away – even despite the immense satisfaction he knew it would bring – but instead got to his feet, quietly slipped down towards his father's seat at the middle of the table, and silently pressed the wad of papers against him.

Without warning, he felt his father's iron grip on his arm, and even despite his strength from being a professional Chaser, he guessed his father's grip would be difficult to break.

"I saw your little encounter with Master Malfoy."

"He'll get over it, Father."

"Which will be exactly what Abraxas will tell him," his father said, his voice hardly rising above a whisper, barely audible in the excited din. "But you're clearly unoccupied, so you are excused. Did you pay your respects to your sister?"

I helped pay for most of the wedding, Father, even though you might not know that, Antonin thought silently. Chrissy and I agreed it's better you thought you paid, but given the state of things… "Yes, I did."

"Then you may go. Where's Nikolai?"

Antonin shrugged. "If I find him, I'll send him to you."


Ludo Bagman was impatiently pacing in the foyer of the manor when Antonin came inside, his boots rhythmically tapping on the marble.

"Where were you –"

"Have the Bludgers beaten all of the brain matter out of your skull?" Antonin retorted, moving quickly for the stairs. "I just need to get my cloak from Nicky's room, and we can go. Prewett leave already?"

Bagman winced apologetically. "I told him to wait –"

Antonin groaned as he hurried up the stairs. "Bloody wonderful – we just have to make sure that we aren't seen with him for the rest of the night, and that the coach does not find the poor bastard in some ditch, drunk and splinched out of his mind."

He rounded the first corner and headed down the lamp-lit corridor. Two more quick turns and he was at Nicky's room. He twisted the doorknob and shoved it open –

And his eyes went wide for a second as he saw his brother and Bellatrix Black pressed tightly against each other, with Bellatrix's back against the opposite wall, her already scanty robes hiked up and her bare legs tightly wrapped around Nicky's stomach as she rhythmically moved up and down…

Her eyes met Antonin's, and without missing a single moan, they narrowed instantly in an expression that said five words explicitly.

You saw nothing. Get. Out.

Antonin was a professional Chaser for England and an extremely good duellist. If he had remotely cared for the career, he could have been an Auror.

Yet he figured – for the good of his health, he reckoned – that it would be an extremely appropriate and decent gesture to leave before his brother realized he had stepped in.

"Well?" Bagman demanded impatiently. "You took your time!"

"I needed a drink," Antonin replied diplomatically, straightening his dress robes – he'd change once he got to London.

"That's what we're going to London for! Couldn't it have waited –"

"I just saw my brother fucking Bellatrix Black against the bedroom wall."

Bagman's eyes went comically wide, and he nearly stopped in mid-step. "Get out."

"No, I'm quite serious."

"Merlin… lucky son of a bitch," Bagman muttered, rubbing a partially-visible bruise on the side of his chin that was not from a Bludger. "Man, Cygnus Black is not going to be happy."

"See, that's why there's this wonderful thing called alcohol," Antonin continued, forcing his tone to remain light and breezy. "And that's also why we're going to be in London for a good long time while my brother deals with the angry, powerful, not-particularly-stable father."

"And you're not going to defend him?"

Antonin shrugged. "He didn't invite me to join in. Therefore, his problem."

One look around the bar – which had been thoughtfully named 'The Steel Trap' – had told Antonin absolutely everything he needed to know.

"This is a shithole, Ludo."

"Oh, come on, it's not that –"

"I don't think you understand, Ludo. This is a hole where people deposit fecal matter – and from the stench, a fair amount of vomit and blood and piss –"

"Oh come on!" Bagman protested, ducking beneath a low-hanging rusty pipe jutting from the exposed girders of the basement bar. "It's not that –"

"I think that my health is going to be compromised if I stay any longer in this shithole –"

"Antonin –"

"- And Merlin only knows what the fuck they serve for alcohol down here – did you know I walked away from extremely expensive Firewhiskey to come down here?"

"I know, but Prewett said–"

Antonin's eyes flashed as she shouldered his way through the crowd of generally unkempt people of varying ages and genders (at least he hoped so, from the smell and in some cases the hair, he couldn't tell). "That's a very good point – where is Prewett? I have a sudden urge to paint the back wall of this shithole with his –"

"Would you shut up, he's over there!" Ludo said hurriedly, gesturing towards the corner, where a fellow with thick, dark auburn hair was laughing loudly and gesticulating wildly. He's drunk, Antonin thought sourly. Wonderful, just what I wanted to deal with.

"Looks like he's drunk."

"Are you surprised?" Ludo replied, glancing nervously around the crowded bar. "I mean, you were coming to get drunk –"

"Yeah, I've lost all my appetite for that," Antonin snapped, wrinkling his nose. I swear, the smell gets worse the further you get into this fucking pit…

But before he could slide away towards what he could only assume was a back wall, he heard a shout and felt a meaty hand on his shoulder.

"Tony! I mean, holy fuck you managed to get out tonight!" Gideon Prewett shouted, his eyes slightly bloodshot as he smiled widely. "That's… that's great, 'cause we got one hell of a fuckin' show coming up –"

Antonin suddenly had a very strong suspicion why Gideon hadn't been thrown out of the bar yet – and considering the man had probably hit on everything that moved and probably several things that didn't, and was belligerent and hot-tempered enough not to take 'no' for an answer, that was a surprise. "Wait – is your brother's band –"

"Yeah!" Prewett bellowed, his eyes widening. "How did you know –"

But Antonin was no longer listening – he had been through this before. "Come on, Bagman, we're getting out of here –"

But before he could say another word, the dingy lights in the bar suddenly went dim, and whatever lights left bright snapped to the small, elevated stage, and fixed on a trio of figures. One was an extremely hairy figure, twirling his drumsticks in the air. The second was recognizable as Fabian Prewett, if only because he looked nearly identical to his brother. He held a guitar with a thick neck and with what Antonin guessed was at least twelve strings.

And the third, holding a dented black bass guitar and standing next to a slightly tilted microphone, was a woman. Her red hair was long and unkempt, her clothes were a tattered mix of patched wizard robes and the worst of recent Muggle counterculture, and Antonin guessed the boots she wore would be better equipped as stabbing weapons than footwear.

She stepped up the microphone, and Gideon Prewett let out an earsplitting whoop. Antonin throttled back his urge to punch him in the trachea and concentrated on the singer.

Her voice was raw, almost husky, hardly contained. "Take cover," she whispered into the hissing microphone. " 'Cause this music's going to fuck this shithole up."

Huh, Antonin thought with satisfaction. She actually agrees with me.

There was a flash of bluish light as the black boxes – which Antonin suddenly recognized as speakers, began to hiss. A light that could only be magical.

This is a Muggle bar.

The cacophony that followed that moment of realization nearly broke Antonin's eardrums.

"I honestly didn't think I'd find you."

The red-haired woman sniffed as she accepted the bottle from the bartender. "I don't hook up, so if that's what you're looking for, you can take a flying –"
"I wasn't aiming for that," Antonin replied quickly, leaning against the bar next to her and accepting the cheap Muggle beer the unshaven bartender slid to him. "I saw you play –"

"I'm not handing out autographs –"

"You're a witch."

That caught her notice, and he could see her hand drifting towards a tattered pocket that inevitably contained a wand. "And? What of it?"

"You were playing in a Muggle bar," Antonin pursued, his eyes narrowing.


"Are you insane?"

She chuckled at this and tiredly wiped her eyes, only smudging her thick makeup even further. "The underground scene is the underground scene – nobody gives a fuck. You get business where you can, and considering how small the wizarding scene is –"

"And your business is breaking the Statute of Secrecy –"

She snorted. "Considering how drunk everyone was in there, I doubt anyone even noticed the amps were powered by magic. It's experimental – the amps are from across the pond –"

Antonin gingerly touched his ears. "It was loud, that's all I know."

The woman smirked and pulled a packet of cigarettes from her robes. "Want a fag?"

"Don't smoke, sorry," Antonin replied with some distaste as the woman lit her cigarette.

"You sure? Made these myself, it's got Knotgrass if you're into that –"

"No thanks," Antonin replied mildly, taking a sip of his beer and forcing back his immediate desire to spit it back out. "So, what I could hear, you were pretty good, Miss…"

He let his voice trail off, but the woman only eyed him with those light brown eyes with growing amusement.

"You're not going to tell me your name?"

"Told you," the woman replied, taking a deep pull from her cigarette before tapping the ashes onto the bar, "I don't hook up."

"This isn't a hook up –"

"You track me to a different bar a few miles away, and you tell me it's not a hook up –"

"It's a business proposition," Antonin interrupted, a sly contained grin on his face.

She cocked an eyebrow as she took another drag. "You can start explaining."

"I think you're a good singer," Antonin replied, taking another sip of his beer before sliding it down the slick bar, where it tipped over the edge and fell into the waiting trash can. "Good enough to make it big, so you don't have to play in the shitholes anymore."

She smirked and shook her head. "Oh, honey, you know jack about my industry – "

"Let me finish," Antonin retorted lightly, accepting another beer from the bartender. Shouldn't have done that – but as long as I'm drinking with her, we're maintaining conversation. "Now, I'm guessing you probably know by now that I'm a professional Quidditch player."

Her expression didn't change.

"Come on, I play Chaser for England," Antonin persisted.

"I don't watch Quidditch," the woman replied with a shrug, taking a final drag on her cigarette before crushing it out on the bar to the irritated scowl of the bartender. "Not really interesting to me."

Not really – well, I'll have a chance to change her mind later… "My point is that I'm reasonably famous in our world, and I can think of no better way for you to get some more attention than being with me," Antonin finished, trying not to grit his teeth. "You know, some more press – our world does have a pretty active paparazzi."

The singer stared at Antonin for a long few seconds, considering his offer – and then she sighed audibly and turned away, leaning heavily on the bar.

"You don't get it."

"Explain it to me, then," Antonin replied, leaning a little closer. "What would be so bad –"

"When you get big, you play what the label wants you to play," the singer spat, downing the remainder of her beer before shoving her bottle away. "You lose your creative control… and that's not what I want. I started playing because I wanted to fight for something."

Antonin frowned – he hadn't exactly expected this. "Pardon?"

She turned to face him, her hair falling across her face as she scowled. "You don't even know about the movements going on now – civil rights, fighting against segregation and the cowards in government, fighting for women's rights –"

"I'm sorry, what?"

Her scowl deepened. "Yeah, women's rights – want to make something of it, you fucker?"

"I genuinely don't know what you're talking about," Dolohov replied with growing confusion. "Women in our world are equal – witches have all the same rights wizards do, it's been like that for centuries –"

"Yeah, but out there," she snapped, pointing a sharp-nailed finger at the rest of the dingy bar, "it's not the same. Girls don't have the same rights in the Muggle world that they do with us – and that's not fucking right." She spat on the floor. "But do you honestly think the wizarding world will give two shits if I start making songs about that?"

"You get up to the top, you can make whatever the hell you want," Antonin said quietly, "and you can sure as hell affect more change from the top of the WWN than playing in shitty little underground bars where everyone's too drunk to care."

"I'm making a difference –"

"Can't deny that," Antonin replied with a shrug, relaxing slightly as he glanced down the bar and took another swig of the awful, awful beer. "You got me to come after you, and that is saying something."

She sniffed as she raked a hand through her hair. "Yeah, I guess."

"Look, there's no guarantee," Antonin said, taking a deep breath, "but it couldn't hurt. Just a few photo sessions would boost your image – besides, our team is winning this year."

"And what, you'd want me to date you?" the girl asked, her tone a blend of wryness and bitterness. "How do I know that this isn't some whole elaborate scheme to get me into your pants?"

"Because I'm not that good," Antonin replied calmly, spreading his hands. "And I'm honest – mostly."


"I may have placed a mild Memory Charm on a girl I broke up with at my sister's wedding this afternoon. But to be fair," he hastily added, seeing the scowl immediately return, "she was a massively racist and slutty bitch, and I was only dating her because my father had dealings with her father –"

She cocked an eyebrow. "Uppity pureblood, are we?"

Antonin snorted. "My sister only wishes – no, we aren't so privileged. The name's Dolohov – Antonin Dolohov."

She paused, and her hand, which was extending to shake his, clenched into a cautious fist. "I've heard things."

"None of it good, I can only assume," Antonin replied steadily.

The next second he grabbed a hold of the bar, as searing pain erupted in his abdomen.

The woman massaged her fist and smirked as Antonin gasped for breath. "That," she said lightly, "is pre-emptive against anything your family might try to pull. Gotta be cautious in a world like this."

"You're… you're fucking nuts," Antonin gasped, glaring at the woman.

She only gave him a sweet smile as she sidled closer and slid her arm around him. "No, I'm practical. There's a big difference."

And then she leaned close, and despite the wild unkemptness of her appearance, Antonin smelt something sweetly spicy.

"I'm Regina," she whispered in his ear, "and that's all I'll tell you for now. But let's head to some place… private where we can talk."

"Another bar?" Antonin asked, straightening and massaging the growing bruise on his stomach.

"Definitely another bar."

Friday, November 16, 1968

The two brothers, both cloaked and hooded, slid into the tiny, dark booth at the very back of the Hog's Head without speaking a single word. Neither of them wanted to be seen or heard, and the Hog's Head guaranteed that – but they also knew it was also a place where they would be safe, protected, even, particularly given the unstable times ahead.

The bartender placed two tumblers of Firewhiskey on the table and fixed them both with a wary eye before stumping back to his bar, leaving them in sputtering, candle-lit silence.

Finally, the bigger brother (the inch between them was the only way to tell them apart) cleared his throat.

"I don't know what you want me to say."

"She's been seeing him for the past five months," the smaller brother growled, his hands clenched tightly into fists, not touching the whiskey on the table. "I was in that bloody band for three years with her, and –"

"And what? Clearly she didn't get the hint, or you didn't make the move," the bigger brother snapped, taking a swig of his Firewhiskey. "I'm not going to complain about his presence, and frankly, neither should you – his publicity stunt has actually gotten the band some mainstream airplay –"

"I think he's seducing her. Him, with his charm, and his wit, and the fact that he's such a good Chaser –"

"Once again, I'm not going to complain about his presence," the bigger brother said evenly, setting his half-full glass down with a hollow thunk. "And while he is overconfident, he's good enough to back it up, and he's winning our team a lot of matches. If we keep playing this well, in a few years… well, we could be going for the World Cup."

"You'll need a better Keeper and Seeker, not to mention a better coach, before you have a shot at that."

"You don't need to tell me," the bigger brother remarked bitterly, taking another swig of his liquor. "So did you call me out here just to complain about the fact you're now making more money than you likely ever would have without his stunt –"

"It should have been me!" the smaller brother snarled.

"Of course it should have," the bigger brother replied tonelessly.

"Probably just because the bloody bastard is rich," the smaller brother grumbled after a few long seconds of silence, finally picking up his glass and toying with it. A few droplets of Firewhiskey gleamed in the candlelight as they dribbled from the edge of the glass, splashing lightly on the battered table. "Our family couldn't even compete –"

"You're wasting liquor," the bigger brother interrupted, heavy with disapproval, "and the Dolohovs aren't rich… well, not anymore."

"What? But I heard –"

"The old man is not getting any younger, and times are changing. The underbelly of our world is only getting darker, and the Dolohovs aren't moving from the mottled shade of grey they've occupied for the past century," the bigger brother remarked, draining the last of his whiskey. "And your little problem has made it very clear he wants nothing to do with the family business, so it'll fall to the older siblings, neither of whom are willing to bend from the family line – which I suppose is admirable, in a stupid sort of way."

"Hey, they're better than the Malfoys or the Blacks or the bloody Parkinsons."

"A good patch of pond scum or a good heap of werewolf shit is better than those families," the bigger brother said with a disgruntled snort. "It's a good thing Molly met Arthur. The guy's a bit peculiar, but he's decent. And as for the Dolohovs… well, the world's changing. I've got a feeling in my gut the next few years will be very interesting."

"That could just be your cooking."

"I know my cooking, and I know change," Gideon Prewett said, rising to his feet and tugging his hood tighter around his head. "Something bad is coming, I can feel it. Stay sharp, Fabian. Don't do anything stupid."

"Likewise," Fabian Prewett replied, quickly downing the rest of his Firewhiskey and taking a deep breath. "And Dolohov?"

"Let him win for you," Gideon said with irritation. "And when he falls… well, there's your chance."

Sunday, March 7, 1971

Raskul Dolohov eyed Marcellus Fletcher very carefully as he set the decanter of wine down on the desk.

"So he's dead."

"Yeah." Fletcher shifted uncomfortably in his chair.


"Curse to the back, it looks like," Fletcher muttered, raking a hand through his straggly hair as he stared down at the carpet. "Lot of finger-pointing 'bout who did 'im in, but I know."

Raskul closed his eyes for a moment to steady himself and then looked at his oldest son, staring with great concentration into the fire.

"It was him," Nikolai whispered. "It was the Dark Lord. Probably did it in person too."

"And you can confirm it?"

"The fact tha' none of our people wanna discuss the killer is evidence enough that 'e did it," Fletcher said quietly, swallowing hard and looking up at Raskul. "Even though they blamin' Muggle-borns for it – I know folk in the groups, they ain't stupid enough to knock off someone like that. 'Specially given how much clout 'e had."

Raskul's hand clenched into a fist. "And now Lord Orion Black has declared war on the eve of his brother's death. Somehow, it's… fitting."

"Father, we don't need to get involved –"

"They've already started picking away at our business, absorbing our competition into their organization," Raskul muttered darkly, sliding the Friday issue of the Daily Prophet across the desk. "It will not be long before sides are going to be chosen."

"Sides we do not have to –"

But Raskul was already shaking his head with bitterness. "If it were that easy, Nikolai, our family, and those like us, would be much more powerful than we are today. But characters like Abraxas Malfoy…" A smirk curled around the edge of his mouth as he slid open a polished desk drawer and withdrew a thick wad of yellowed papers that he had only perused once before tucking away. "I've ignored him for a long time without consequences, and I suspect that time will soon come to an end."

"And what then?" Nikolai asked, turning away from the fire and rising to his feet. "Are we to succumb, give in to this 'Dark Lord'? Are we going to betray our code –"

"You already know the answer to that, Nikolai," Raskul said calmly. "Our family may have declined externally, but our core remains pure. We may smuggle potions ingredients and brooms and flying carpets and magical creatures and ancient spellbooks and artefacts, but not Dark Magic and its tools." His eyes narrowed dangerously. "Never Dark magic, and woe betide the man that wants to change that."

"So what do we do?" Fletcher asked nervously, his gaze nervously darting between father and son, as if he wasn't quite sure where his orders came from. "Should I call Tony –"

"No," Raskul said sharply, his glance snapping to Fletcher in an instant. "He's made it quite clear he does not want to be involved with the family, and as much as I… regret his decision, I understand and have accepted it." He settled himself behind the mahogany desk and fixed his son with a steady stare. "Right now we need information, and we need protection of our assets. Expand the network, and find out what you can – when Malfoy or Black decides to come knocking, I want to know more than them. And get a hold of our legal contacts with the Prince family – even if young Miguel is completely useless, I've fairly certain Matthias still owes me a few favours."

"Parkinson won't like that."

Raskul scowled – his relationship with Willard Parkinson had been tenuous a few years earlier, but after the incident at his daughter's wedding, relations with the lawyer and his new firm had only soured. "I'm not a client of Parkisnon & Baddock, nor will I ever be, so Mr. Parkinson's opinion is irrelevant."

Even as the words left his mouth, he knew it was a lie – or at least only a half-truth. Willard Parkinson was far too well-connected, particularly politically, an area of influence the Dolohovs had lost decades earlier and had never quite regained.


He fixed Nikolai with a long, hard stare as he explained his idea, studying his son's every expression as it shifted from interest to shock to outright disbelief.

"You honestly think –"

"Yes," Raskul said curtly. "He will do it. This way, he keeps his hands clean through the greatest of disguises and shields: fame."

"It's politics, and you know it," Nikolai retorted, his eyes flashing. "And he'll know it too. He'll know what you're trying to do."

"Of course he will," Raskul replied with a cold smile. "And that's exactly why he'll do it."

"You're convinced."

"Of course I am, because I know my son," Raskul said calmly, drawing his wand and lazily levitating the Daily Prophet into the air before Banishing it into the fireplace, where the thin paper immediately began to burn. "He will do it simply because, in the end, it's just another opportunity for him to prove just how much better he is compared to everybody else."

He stared at the burning paper and the bolded words charring before his eyes.

Lord Black, Dead… those words will start more than just one war.

Wednesday, February 2, 1972

Darnell Jordan was not a happy man, but you could never tell by the look on his face. He was a man that seldom slept through the night, but you couldn't tell from the pristine condition of his robes or the immaculate polish that adorned both his boots and wand.

He was also one of the craftiest and most 'connected' wizards in England – and this, nobody could tell. Of course, there were rumours – half of them started by Darnell himself – but nobody knew the full extent of his reach and connections. And that was exactly the way he preferred it.

But today, he was just in a foul mood – namely because his job description did not involve catering to the every whim of a spoiled, insufferably arrogant, beautiful young woman named Celestina Warbeck.

He fought back his temper and fixed Celestina with an iron stare behind a paper-thin smile. "Celestina, darling, we are paying for studio time, you know."

Celestina Warbeck did not even meet his eyes as she continued eyeing herself in the mirror, her lips pursed in thought. "You know," she said, her fluttery soprano voice drifting lazily around the room (her one saving grace, Darnell thought acidly), "I don't quite think I'm ready for today. Could you inform the label –"

"Celestina, the wizarding world loves your voice, and if we want to have any hope in getting the newest songs to the label on time," Darnell said through a smile of gritted teeth, "we need to be moving. Preferably now."

She did look at him now, and while many would find the woman drop-dead gorgeous, Darnell knew Celestina far too well to have any attraction to her. She sniffed her delicate little nose as she rose to her feet, her expensive silvery robes fluttering around her.

"I don't suppose," she began lazily, "that we can afford a bit of lunch –"

"You want to keep paying for this studio at twenty-five Galleons an hour, then go ahead," Darnell said with a shrug, "it's not my problem. But considering we're already four hours late and the label's already peeved that we don't have the most recent album for them yet –"

"All right, I'm coming, I'm coming," Celestina snapped with a huff, taking a hold of Darnell's hand and abruptly turning. He closed his eyes tightly against the uncomfortable feeling of Side-Along Apparition –

The noise that hit them was deafening. Grinding, distorted guitars, unaltered by production, banging heavy drums, and a raw female voice screaming into an old, magically distorted microphone….


The instruments abruptly fell flat, and the three bandmates exchanged frustrated glances as a young, well-built man with a rough goatee rushed into the room, an uneasy expression on his face.

The striking red-head singer crossed her arms over her chest as she glared daggers as Celestina. "We nearly had that –"

"What," Celestina snarled, her pretty voice thick with growing anger, "is this Mudblood gutter-trash doing in my studio –"

Darnell winced at the furious expressions and drawing wands, but he quickly stepped in the middle, pulling his own highly polished wand free. "Easy, darling," he whispered quickly, eyeing the furious band members. "Don't provoke –"

"And I don't think you realize that I will smash this fucking guitar," the red-head snarled, her eyes blazing, "into your pretty little face!"

"Regina, cool it!" the young man with the goatee shouted, also stepping between them and exchanging quick glances with Darnell. "I'm sorry, we haven't been introduced. I'm Antonin Dolohov, occasional manager and agent of the band –"

"Darnell Jordan, prime agent and general wizarding business manager," Darnell replied quickly, exchanging a fast handshake with the other man. "I thought the studio was empty –"

"Trash like you will never sell albums –"

"How many albums do you think you'll sell when I set this on fire and ram it in your –"

"We've been fighting for studio time here for the past several months," Antonin hastily explained. "And then I heard that Miss Warbeck wasn't here and the studio wasn't being used, and they said might as well make more gold from the space –"

"Do you know who I –"

"Listen, bitch, I will fuck you up –"

"ENOUGH!" Darnell roared, snapping his wand up. There was a single, echoing bang, and finally the room fell silent. Both Celestina and the woman named Regina glared daggers at each other, but they didn't say a word.

"Right," Darnell said, taking a deep breath and primly straightening his hat. "Now, Antonin, you said you were manager of the group?"

"Part-time," Antonin admitted with a shrug. "I'm a Quidditch player for England full-time, but I'm dating Regina, and that means I occasionally get pulled into this. Band doesn't have much staff otherwise."

"Doesn't need it," the guitarist with auburn hair muttered sullenly.

"And you managed to find a way to talk the studio into letting you record? And here, no less?" Darnell asked, a little impressed.

"Yeah," Antonin replied with a sigh. "But I guess you're here now, so I think we'll get out of your hair –"


"I'm sorry?"

Darnell's mind was racing. Reaching into his bag, he pulled out the book of sheet music and tapped it with his wand. Immediately, the ink upon the page began to run and rewrite itself, the entire instrumental section rearranging, the vocal section now including a harmony. "I like the sound that you're producing – it had an edge, some real passion, and that's something I've been trying to bring to Celestina's music for a long time."

"Well, if her lyrics weren't banal or insultingly bad, you might have a good start –"

"Regina, later," Antonin said warningly before looking back at Darnell. "So what are you suggesting?"

Darnell smirked. "I think a duet would be perfect."


The word erupted from both Regina and Celestina, but a grin was creeping across Antonin's face.

"I get the feeling you like this idea," Darnell said calmly, casually Summoning the scribbled sheet music from the few rickety stands in the room to his hands – it looked like the band had brought most of their own equipment in, regardless of condition. "So, Celestina will sing lead on her songs, and Regina will sing lead on hers. We'll reinforce both sounds with my production and the band's sound… this could be it! This could be what we need!"

"Regina, it's your choice," Antonin said, glancing at her as she moved to the other two members of the band to talk.

A few seconds later, Regina sighed, and slung her bass guitar back over her shoulder. "Not the way I was hoping for… but it's been nearly four years with this… might as well take the breaks we get."

"I'm not doing it," Celestina spat, crossing her arms over her ample chest.

"Celestina, if you don't do it, you don't get an album," Darnell replied icily. "So that means no songs, no airplay, no more Celestina Warbeck, got it?"

Antonin cocked an eyebrow as Celestina glared daggers at Darnell, but still moved to the free microphone. "I should really talk to you later."

"For the man who managed to con the studio into letting him swipe this room," Darnell replied slyly, "I could spare a few drinks. Ready, people?"

They nodded, and as Darnell distributed the new sheet music, he couldn't help but notice a weary, yet smug smile on Regina's face – and on Celestina's face, nothing but a look of absolute loathing and hunger.

The bar was nearly empty when they Apparated into the darkest corner.

Antonin eyed Regina warily as she sat down. She hadn't met his eyes the entire time they had been recording – not even a glance. And he knew exactly why.

"This isn't what you wanted."

"Gee, that was your first clue?" Regina spat, giving her hair a shake and glaring daggers at Antonin through the strands. "I didn't… this wasn't why we made our little deal, Antonin. This isn't what I wanted –"

"I know, and it's not what I wanted either –"

"Then what's your fucking game?" Regina snarled, slamming her gloved fist on the filthy table. "What are you playing at? Why the hell did I just collaborate with Celestina fucking Warbeck? Explain it, Antonin!"

Antonin took a steadying breath – it hadn't been a pleasant recording session, and his nerves were on edge. "Look Regina, Darnell Jordan is one of the biggest names in your industry, so much so that he has contacts, even in the Ministry itself –"

He froze. He hadn't meant to say that.

Regina's eyes narrowed dangerously.

"Antonin, what the fuck are you trying to do?"

He gritted his teeth, and said nothing.

"Antonin, if you're using me to get into that shithole –"

"It's a family matter," Antonin said curtly. "And while we're on the topic of using people, you know as well as I do you used my fame to pull yourself up, get time in those exclusive studios where you have to be a connected pureblood to have a hope in all hell of getting in, so don't go calling me a hypocrite –"

He stopped himself again, and put his hand to his forehead, the headache from the long session pounding in his skull. I can't blow it all, everything we've accomplished…

"Look," he began quietly, "I'm just trying to keep things together. And besides, you know better than anyone that I've never cared about the Ministry –"

"So it's the family then?"

He sighed, not meeting her eyes, a hair's breath away from cursing his own surname. Everywhere I go, the tarring brush follows… "They're looking for a degree of… protection, and they think that the connections I have can help guarantee that."

Regina's eyes widened with incredulity. "And you're thinking the Ministry will care?"

"If I know the right people."

Regina sniffed. "If your family wants protection – I'd ask from what, but I know better – then why haven't they gone to Dumbledore?"

Antonin just looked at her, and Regina snorted.

"Okay, stupid question, considering what your family does, but still –"

"It's not a bad idea, but there's supposedly some bad blood between the Dumbledore family and my own," Antonin said slowly. "I'm not sure of all the details – something to do with the Grindelwald conflict and my father not taking sides…"

"It can't hurt to ask him." Tugging off one of her gloves, Regina took a firm hold of Antonin's hand. "Let me make a few calls – I'll see what I can do."

Saturday, July 1, 1972

Albus Dumbledore folded his hands as he surveyed the couple sitting across from him. He had received their message months earlier, but their busy schedules had prevented an earlier meeting – which was all right with him. It had given him a chance to check his sources and verify what he had heard – and some of the information had greatly surprised him.

"I must say, I am surprised to actually see you here, Antonin."

Antonin shrugged. "That makes two of us."

"I suspect, however," Dumbledore continued, "that our surprise may be for differing reasons. I, for instance, long suspected that your family would not deign to contact me –"

"No, Headmaster," Antonin quickly interjected, "this isn't from the family… well, not exactly."

Dumbledore frowned slightly, his mind racing. "So you have come of your own volition?"

Antonin shifted uncomfortably. "I guess you could say that."

That was interesting. "But you are still close to your family."

Antonin shook his head and gave a weary laugh. "I don't see them often, Headmaster. I've long been… separated from family affairs. But I am close to them."

Dumbledore idly scratched his beard as his gaze shifted to Regina. "Well, Antonin, I must say that I am very curious exactly why the son of a Death Eater is sitting in my office."

Antonin shot up, colour flying to his face. "That's not… that's not true! My father would never –"

"I heard it from my own brother, Antonin," Dumbledore replied grimly. "Almost fifteen years ago, when Lord Voldemort himself visited me on a cold, snowy night, he brought a group of men with him to the Hog's Head – and your father was among them."

Antonin was breathing fast, his rough goatee quivering with anger. "My father would never – maybe he flirted with the idea years ago, but that was years ago! He hasn't spoken to anyone connected to that group in years –"

"That you know of," Regina muttered darkly.

Antonin's hands balled into fists. "Headmaster, if my family was tied to the Death Eaters, I would know and I would not be sitting in this office. Considering how damn hard my father tried to get me to join with him –" He took a deep breath. "Look, I wouldn't be here, asking for protection from the Dark Lord if my family was allied with them."

He met Dumbledore's eyes. "You're the all-powerful wizard - you can probably read my mind, go ahead and tell me I'm lying!"

Dumbledore didn't waste any time. The surface thoughts of Antonin Dolohov opened to him behind those dark, angry eyes… and he saw a furious argument between a young man and a greying father, the young man on a broom, his face falling as soon as his eyes glimpsed the perennially empty seat – and then the seat was filled by a striking young woman, who was trying to feign cool disinterest even as she couldn't take her eyes off him…

Nothing of Lord Voldemort. Nothing of the Death Eaters.

Dumbledore blinked, and for an instant, a rush of weariness came through him. The couple sitting in front of him did not have an inkling of the horror that was coming, the horror that was already enveloping their world…

"You must understand," he began slowly, "that there is only so much protection I can provide, particularly given your careers. If you wanted to just disappear, it would be much simpler… but as it is, I cannot give you much –"

"Wait a second," Regina interrupted, "we're not talking about us, Headmaster. We can handle ourselves just fine –"

They couldn't, and Dumbledore knew it, but he let Regina continue.

"– No, Antonin's talking about his family."

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow as Antonin settled back down.

"Yeah… considering my father will never come talk to you… he wants protection, in case the Dark Lord –"

"Call him Voldemort," Dumbledore interjected lightly. "Calling him by his true name will give yourselves a level of protection that no one can strip away."

Antonin blew out a quick breath. "Right, well, in case Voldemort comes knocking. He knows about my father's business, and he'll want to exploit it."

"Indubitably," Dumbledore agreed calmly, "and anyone connected to that business must join or face the consequences." He rose to his feet and crossed the room to where Fawkes was softly cooing. "I think I may have a few ideas, but my influence, while wider than many would assume, remains limited outside the reach of the law."

"I understand," Antonin replied steadily, standing to leave.

"One thing more?"

Antonin turned.

"Well, two things, actually," Dumbledore corrected himself with a small grin. "Firstly, I remember reading some old essays of yours, Antonin – you have a creative mind, and a real talent in magical theory. I remember very strongly the regret of Professor McGonagall that you did not choose a career as a magical theoretician."

Antonin shook his head as he smirked. "I liked Quidditch better, thanks."

"I know, and there's nothing wrong with following your passion," Dumbledore agreed, smiling, "but I'm just saying it would be a shame if such a creative mind didn't produce anything in a time like this. Think about it?"

Antonin's laugh was a bit uncertain. "All right, I can do that. The other thing?"

"May I speak with Regina for a moment?"

The girl didn't expect that. As Antonin slipped out, she nervously raked a hand through her hair and tried to appear presentable. Needless to say, she failed dismally.

"My offer still stands," Dumbledore said, a sad note of inevitability coming into his voice. "And I would let him join as well."

"It's never what I wanted, for him or I, Headmaster," Regina said defiantly, "and you know that."

"I know," Dumbledore replied sadly. "He does love you, though."

Her expression softened, and she closed her eyes.

"The heralds are always the first to fall," Dumbledore warned. "Remember that."

She blinked back moisture, and she met his eyes fiercely. "He won't take me, Headmaster. If I go down, I'm takin' them all with me."

"I know." Dumbledore took a deep breath. "You're excused, my dear. Incidentally, I think I should mention that I listen to your music."

Regina smiled, a warm light of pride creeping into her smile. "Just the early stuff, I bet."

"No," Dumbledore replied with a wink. "All of it."

Wednesday, September 15th, 1972

It was one of the most austere conference rooms in the entire Ministry of Magic, and Antonin still found it hideously decadent. Gold leaf was slathering across the ceiling and marble pillars, the floor was polished to an embarrassingly bright mirror sheen (embarrassing in that even with magic, someone still spent hours getting the floor that bright), and the heavily embossed candelabras lighting the room gleamed with jewels.

"Honestly," he grumbled, tugging at the collar of his dress robes, "is this really necessary, Darney? We couldn't have gotten tea or split a bottle of Firewhisky somewhere if we wanted to meet this guy?"

"You were the one that wanted Ministry connections," Darnell Jordan replied with a wink, "and he… well, he's not technically part of the Ministry –"

Antonin glared at the agent. "Darnell…"

"He's a rising power, and frankly, I think you'll have a better shot talking to him than to anyone else in this place," Darnell added with a bit of exasperation, adjusting his grey bowler hat as he leaned against the wall. "Frankly, considering how wealthy and how ridiculously magically powerful he is, it can't hurt you to be friendly with the man. And he has an interest in publishing, and if you ever get a handle on that book you're writing –"

Antonin rolled his eyes. "I'm sorry, but between operating as Regina's agent and trying to keep her from murdering Warbeck whenever they're in the studio together, and taking international Portkeys across the bloody world for Quidditch, the book is sitting on the backburner right now."

"Well, he would publish it," Darnell finished, straightening. "And don't call me Darney."

Antonin smirked. "Sure thing. I still wish we could have found a different place to meet."

"Why, you don't like the feeling of standing in a room full of unchecked wealth?" Darnell asked mockingly.

"The decadence is a little wearying, Mr. Jordan."

Antonin paused, and his hand dropped to his wand at the unexpected voice. Somehow, out of nowhere, a new figure had appeared, a slightly amused grin on his face. He was young, brown hair neatly combed and styled fashionably. His robes were similar to Darnell's – almost resembling a Muggle suit in appearance, except with long hemlines, and while Darnell's robes were a smoky grey, this man's robes were navy. And in complete contrast with the rest of the room, everything about the man seemed classy, yet understated, even down to the subtle gleam in his bright brown eyes.

"I think I might need to visit your tailor," Antonin remarked, rising from his leaning position and extending a hand. "Antonin Dolohov, and a pleasure to meet you."

"He's a fellow down in Kent," the man replied, shaking Antonin's hand. "And my name is Nathan Cassane, and I think you and I can do great things together."

Thursday, January 25, 1973

His hand drifted across the foggy glass of the window as he stared outside into the blizzard. It was a frigid, hellish night, and most people would be very comfortable standing inside the tastefully appointed office, with plush green armchairs and mahogany tables.

But Raskul Dolohov saw through all of it. He knew exactly why he was here – he saw the stage, impeccably disguised though it was – and he could not deny the chill than ran up his spine as the double doors of the Malfoy Manor office closed softly behind the two men.

"If I was less polite," he began slowly, "or I was like that wild harpy my youngest son is seeing, I would say it would be preferable to be outside." He turned to face the two men. "It would certainly be warmer than here."

Abraxas Malfoy's eyes narrowed at the implied insult, but Willard Parkinson only smiled and gestured for Raskul to take a seat. The men were a study in contrasts – while Malfoy had aged fiercely over the past few years, his hair thinning and his wrinkles darkening, Parkinson looked only looked more handsome than ever.

"Please, take a seat –"

"I do not need to sit down," Raskul said calmly, fighting to keep the fire in his gut from spilling into his voice – for though he hated these men, he did not dare show it. "I do not sit and drink when speaking on business, particularly with gentlemen such as you."

"You did years ago," Malfoy said icily, his thin hands settling on a bottle of well-aged Firewhiskey on a side table. "You could have made that choice – followed him."

"You backed out just the same as I, Abraxas."

"And like dear Orion – who regrettably could not make it tonight – I have chosen to leave the fight to younger men," Abraxas replied, pouring two glasses and handing one to Parkinson. "But that does not mean, Raskul, that there is not things us older man can do."

"Simply put, Raskul, the world is changing," Parkinson continued, leaning forward and folding his hands as he matched Raskul's stare. "Evolving, I would argue, into something much different, and if we do not want to fall by the wayside, like families such as the Princes or the Vunerens –"

Both families of whom the Death Eaters keep killing members of, Raskul thought grimly. Don't think I don't know.

" – We must learn to evolve as well," Parkinson finished, "and I, for one, do not want to see the Dolohov family fall by the wayside."

"I have no intention of allowing that to happen."

"Well, that's excellent!" Parkinson said lightly, clapping his hands and spreading them wide, the smile on his face not reaching his chill, avaricious eyes. "But unfortunately, Raskul, I keep hearing little things that make me think you don't have the same plan in mind."

Raskul kept his expression rigid – he would not give anything away. "I'm sure any wild rumours you hear –"

"They aren't rumours, Dolohov." Parkinson interrupted, his smile abruptly gone as he slowly rose to his feet and began walking closer. "They are facts. I know you are seeking legal protections, and it's such a shame that all those lawyers you keep trying to hire from the Princes keep dying, isn't it? Or that your business, despite all of your hard, hard work, keeps crumbling in your hands like rotten fruitcake?"

Raskul said nothing. He had nothing to say, and he was never going to give an inch to slime like Willard Parkinson.

"And then that son of yours," Parkinson whispered, stepping even closer, "after breaking my poor daughter's heart, he goes off with a whoring little Mudblood slut, and begins making songs about rights and human dignity – just because the symbolism is a little better doesn't mean the message isn't as naïve, stupid, and pointless. He even gets Celestina Warbeck – a truly wonderful girl who sings the most beautifully trite songs – to collaborate on these 'anthems of protest'."

"What my son does," Raskul said through clenched teeth, "is not my concern. He is not connected to my business –"

"But he is rapidly becoming an irritant, and you're his father, after all," Parkinson replied calmly, stepping away and returning to his seat on the couch, where he retrieved his tumbler of whiskey. "And I'm sure that he wouldn't ever cross you."

"I will not manipulate my son," Raskul said flatly.

"Then let's get straight to business, shall we?" Parkinson replied with a smirk, taking a sip of his whiskey as he sat down. "Now, Abraxas is willing to put up a considerable amount of gold to buy you out – because, let's face it, you're not making a profit with your business right now. You can retire, you can pursue other interests, you can work on your memoires or spend time with daughter's two children, but you will not be tied to the business any longer. Your men will work under Abraxas' infrastructure."

"And by that," Raskul said grimly, leaning forward slightly as he played his trump card, "you mean for the Dark Lord directly, mostly out of Bristol and Liverpool."

Abraxas blinked with surprise, and Raskul let himself feel a moment of vicious triumph. That's right, Abraxas, I know what you're concealing – and you don't know what else I know either.

Parkinson did not react to Raskul's implied accusation. Instead, he let an insufferable smirk play across his face. "As I said, Raskul, this is business. A one-time transaction, untraceable to you, and we will never bother you again. Who knows – if you invite us to your youngest son's wedding, we may even get him a gift."

Raskul closed his eyes, and despite his own convictions, he considered the offer. It certainly was rich – most men would take the offer and the gold and run.

Most men.

He was not 'most men'.

He opened his eyes, and nodded respectfully at the two men sitting across from him. "I am sorry, Willard, Abraxas, but I must decline your offer."

"May I ask why?"

"Because in my organization, we have standards of quality," Raskul replied calmly, drawing his wand and wordlessly Summoning his cloak to his hands. "And that means we do not traffic in the Dark Arts – we tend to put our premiums on our humanity."

He fixed Abraxas with a steely stare. "The Dark Arts do not tend to preserve that very well, from my experience."

"Well," Parkinson said softly, rising to his feet, "it's clear you need some time to think this over, gain some additional perspective on how things are changing, so here's what I will do. Things will continue as they are… for now. But eventually, Raskul, I will speak to you again – and you would be wise to accept our offer."

"Funny," Raskul replied grimly, "I didn't know 'wise' was a synonym for 'stupid'."

Saturday, December 21st, 1974

As far as he could tell, Antonin was enjoying Paris.

The double act of Celestina and Regina was making a critically acclaimed fortune, and even though he wasn't formally affiliated with the band (he had let Darnell handle the majority of the management issues), it was still nice that all of his meals and travel arrangements had been accommodated.

But as he opened the door to his lavish hotel room, lit the candles with a wave of his wand, and took his first glance inside, he suspected that enjoyment might begin to peter out very quickly.

"Celestina," he began carefully.

She tossed her thick blonde curls – painstakingly arranged around her face to appear tousled – and blinked shyly twice. "Antonin. Would you prefer 'Tony'?"

"Rather not," Antonin replied dryly, loosening his tie as he quickly closed the door. "I thought you were going to be down at the party – you know, celebrating the tour and all."

"I figured this would be a good time to talk," Celestina said with a small smile.

"You know, down in the ballroom, with hundreds of people giving you adulation," Antonin continued, completely ignoring Celestina's words as he flipped open his trunk. "Instead of, you know, in my hotel room."

"I figured that you and I should get to know each other," Celestina said, batting her long eyelashes coyly. "You know, we seldom have time to talk."

"And clearly you didn't clue in that that was intentional," Antonin finished, exhaling quickly as he bent to root around in the trunk. "I guess I was a bit too subtle – my older brother always said I should be more expressive…"

"Oh, I think you're very expressive," Celestina remarked, picking up her champagne glass and taking a delicate sip. "I mean, to work with such a girl like Regina, you'd have to be."

"Well, she's a softie once you get to know her," Antonin remarked distractedly, pulling free two neckties. "Hmm… what do you think, the maroon or the navy?"

"Navy matches your robes better."

"That's exactly what I told Nathan," Antonin muttered, tugging off his own tie and tossing it in his trunk.

"But what was wrong with that tie?"

"Spilled a bit of wine on it," Antonin said with a snort, carefully watching himself in the mirror as he began tying the knot. "And you know, with conjured wine, the stains are bloody difficult to get out magically… oh, and I was lying about Regina. Lot of attitude – I've run across Hungarian Horntails who have less fire than her." He glanced at Celestina and smiled. "You know, kind of incomparable."

Celestina's moist lips curled into a pout. "Oh, you're just saying that. Setting expectations for me." The pout quickly changed, became sultry as she stepped closer. "Although given my track record… I'm fairly certain I can surpass all of your expectations."

"Doubt it," Antonin said mildly, finishing his knot and tucking his tie neatly against his chest. "So, can I get you anything?"

"I'm the one making the offer," Celestina whispered, her tongue flitting against her lips as she stretched out her hand and ran it slowly down the front of Antonin's robes. "And I'm the one who can give you anything."

"No, I was more thinking of ice, a bottle of wine, a snack, maybe a strong Sleeping Draught," Antonin corrected gently, taking Celestina's hand and gently kissing it. "But thank you very much for the offer – Regina's waiting for me downstairs, and from what she's telling me, the tarts are unbelievable."

"They're pretty good here too," Celestina said slyly, stepping even closer and slipping her hands around Antonin. "Strongest you'll ever taste."

Antonin returned her smile – and then smoothly ducked out of her embrace and walked steadily towards the door, his trunk levitating right behind him.

"Antonin –"

"Just so you know," Antonin said cheerfully, "the banquet and party will be ending by around one, after which Regina and I will adjoin to her quarters. You can keep this room, I'm probably not going to need anything out of here again. But as it is, I think you should come downstairs and enjoy the party."

He completely ignored the look of utter fury on her face as he opened the door and with a flick of his wand, sent his trunk racing down the hall.

"Oh, and one last thing," Antonin said, stepping out into the hall and giving Celestina a respectful nod. "I know we are in France, and I know the culture is very different out here, but as Darnell has told me, there's a fine difference between being artistic and being a slut, and most the guests here are cultured enough to know the difference." He winked at her even as he gave a shrug. "So, if you value your contract, it might just be a good idea, before you come down, to put some clothes on."

Monday, April 14, 1975

Antonin couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"You're joking."

"Actually, I'm not," Darnell said, his white teeth gleaming as he smiled. "Three players – a Seeker, a Keeper, and a Beater. All from Manchester, incredible Quidditch players. And best of all, they want me to sign on as their manager and agent."

"Since when are you qualified to be the manager or agent of Quidditch players?" Nathan Cassane asked wryly, taking a sip of his whiskey.

Darnell gave Nathan a frank look. "Please, it's me."

"And you've talked to Higgs?" Antonin asked with disbelief, already imagining the blood vessel that the coach of the English Quidditch team would have when he found out Darnell's scheme. "He's a control freak as it is – if you try and bring a commercial culture to the pitch –"

"The States does it –"

"The States also blows at Quidditch," Antonin said sharply, tapping his finger on the table. "This is different, this is England. And right now, I'm sensing you're holding something back, Darney."

Nathan cocked an eyebrow. "Darney?"

"All right, first of all, Antonin, kindly go fuck yourself," Darnell said calmly as Nathan hid a smile behind his glass. "Secondly, I've already spoken to Higgs, and he's agreed to it. But he also told me to talk to you because we've run into a little snag."

"Of course we have," Antonin muttered. "So what's the problem?"

"The new players are a package deal," Darnell explained, carefully weighing every word. "And you already have two Beaters."

Antonin frowned. "So you're saying I have to cut one my Beaters to the backup roster if I want to bring this trio on?"

"Pretty much," Darnell replied with a sympathetic wince. "And you're the captain now, so…"

"Why isn't Higgs making this decision?"

"Probably because he's testing your leadership," Nathan mused. "Make sure you're strong enough to lead the team to the World Cup."

"And with these three, you can get there," Darnell added. "They're bloody incredible, Antonin, you should see them –"

"Yeah, but the choices then become cutting Ludo – who is a long-time friend, I might add – or cutting the brother of the guitar player in my girlfriend's band!" Antonin groaned and glared at Darnell. "And the last thing I need there is more drama –"

"I can handle Fabian, don't worry," Darnell said quickly, waving his hand dismissively. "If he puts up a fuss, he can be replaced – he's not the one people are paying to hear."

"And from what I've heard," Nathan added, "you never got along well with Gideon anyways."

"He's a drunken boor, of course I didn't get along well with him!" Antonin exclaimed bitterly.

"Then it'd be smarter to stick with Ludo," Nathan advised, taking a swig of his whiskey. "And that way, if Darney here ever has trouble getting gold from him again –"

"Go to hell, Nathan –"

" – Then there isn't already bad blood between you two," Nathan concluded with a shrug. "Now, onto some real-world business, the reason I called you two out tonight."

"You mean it wasn't just for this contract playing –"

"Be serious, Darnell," Nathan said quietly, the smile gone from his face. He lowered his voice and leaned closer. "There have been… well, political issues in the past few weeks. Some instabilities."

Antonin's face darkened. "Yeah, I've been trying to stay well clear of that –"

"And for the most part, so have I," Nathan replied quickly, "but people are disappearing, and the Ministry is getting very nervous, so a certain person very high up in the Ministry has asked me to start putting things together."

"And… and what?" Darnell asked hesitantly. "Are you suggesting we should get involved?"

"It would mean a lot to me," Nathan said, taking a deep breath. "We won't be taking a combat role – it's just information gathering, keeping people informed – Antonin, you can even finish your book of spells, it's bound to be a hot seller. After all, if it's marketed properly, it can give the rest of the world some peace of mind –"


Nathan sighed as he looked Antonin. "Look, Antonin –"

"I don't want to play this game, Cassane," Antonin snapped, getting to his feet. "I'm sick of it as it is."

"Antonin, can we – Antonin!"

But it was too late – he was already gone.

You could always hear the rain pelting the roof of Dolohov Manor, regardless of the room within. It had always annoyed Antonin to no end as he had grown up – his father had always refused to fix it or spell the rooms, saying that it was good for them, teaching them how to live through distractions.

The rain was hammering on the roof now – and it was the last sound Antonin wanted to hear.

"I don't suppose," Nikolai began, taking a heavy breath as he took Antonin's cloak, "why you've decided to show up now of all times."

"What, aren't we family?"

"You haven't visited in five years," Nikolai said coolly as they moved towards the stairs, "and I was beginning to think I'd never see you again."

"You could always visit me –"

"Yeah, like that's going to happen," Nikolai snapped. "You, flying all around the world on tours or playing Quidditch – it's all over the bloody news, you know. You're famous, Tony, real famous. Doing the family name proud. Yeah, when would you have time to see me?"

"You chose this life, Nicky," Antonin replied coldly, his boots rhythmically tapping on the cracked stone floors. "I wanted out, and I got it. Hell, even Christika got out."

"And yet you're back here," Nikolai finished grimly, "with all the rest of us waiting to die."

"I assumed something was up with the guards at the gates," Antonin muttered as they reached the doors to the office – that damned office. "Father's inside?"

"Yes," Nikolai said quietly, crossing his arms over his chest. "He hasn't had good news – Marcellus defected today."

"Marcellus Fletcher, defect?" Antonin couldn't help but feel a pang of disbelief. "To who, Voldemort?"

"Dumbledore, actually," Nikolai replied with a snort, as if he himself couldn't quite believe it. "He and Mundungus, his son – or it could be his young half-brother, can't be bloody sure with Fletcher. In any case, Father didn't take it well, so I'm not going in there."

"Of course," Antonin muttered as his brother walked away. He took a deep breath and knocked twice on the door as he shoved it roughly open.

Raskul Dolohov had aged since Antonin had last seen him. His wrinkles were darker, his eyes were duller, and his hair was greyer than ever. And yet he still sat behind the same dark desk, his expression dispassionately blank.

He hasn't changed at all.

"You've come back." The words were barely a whisper.

"Yeah, but not for long," Antonin said curtly, dropping into an armchair by the fire. "I've heard bad things about the business."

"Whatever's left of it… may not be worth saving."

"So you're going to go down with the ship, then?"

Raskul's face hardened. "I have my dignity. My pride."

"I think both ships sailed a long bloody time ago, Father," Antonin spat. "Look at you – huddled in this crumbling old fire hazard. The glory's gone… presuming there was any to begin with."

"And what about you, then?" Raskul hissed, his dark eyes flashing. "In a world of paper accolades and false cheers, nothing but hot blood, empty lyrics, and your little dance on a broomstick… you have the gall to come and tell me there was nothing in my world when you live a gigantic lie?"

Antonin throttled back his fury, the rage he had against a man he had grown to hate over the years. "You… you never change, do you? At least in my world there's some joy, some life, some chance that I can bring a smile to someone's face – what can you bring, Father, other than fear, greed, and a bloody stain on a table?" He rose to his feet. "I shouldn't have even come here – I'm wasting my time again, like I wasted that seat for you on the pitch for fucking years –"

"Disowning me, then?" The mockery was full in Raskul's voice now. "You know the only reason you have any fame at all isn't because of your paltry successes that will be forgotten within a decade? It's because of your name, you stupid boy, see a young man rise from the gutter to become a star… yet you'll never lose the name, and what it means." He leaned back, staring at his son with utter contempt. "You built your career on my reputation."

"Then call this a parting of the ways," Antonin spat, rising to his feet. "Our business arrangement is done – no more reports from me. You won't hear from me again, you won't see me again, and you know something? In a decade, your name will be fucking nothing!" He snapped his wand up, and the pot of Floo Powder flew into his hands. "No, in a decade, they won't remember you – they'll remember me."


"I'm cutting Gideon to the backup line," Antonin said, trying to force his frayed nerves to calm. "Bring your dream team on. Then, I want you to process these documents."

Darnell took the paperwork and his eyes widened. "Antonin, are you – are these –"

"Papers that make you my agent?" Antonin replied as the bartender returned with two shots of Firewhiskey. "Yes. I'm assuming you accept?"

Darnell's eyes lit up. "Well, of course – I mean, it would be a huge honour –"

"Fantastic," Antonin interrupted, downing the first shot in one smooth motion and completely ignoring the burn racing down the back of his throat. "Then as my agent, I want you to get a hold of Nathan. Tell him… tell him if he wants a book to publish, he'll have one."

Darnell's eyes lit up. "Are you… did you finish it?"

"Not yet, but I will." Antonin took a deep breath as he downed the second shot – and nearly doubled choking over as the hot liquid burned the already scalded parts of his throat.

"Take it easy, Antonin –"

"I'm fine, I'm fine," Antonin said, taking a deep breath and wiping his goatee. "Finally, I need to find a jewellery store."

"For what?"

"I've waited long enough," Antonin said, a strange note in his voice. "I love her, and given the way we live and what's happening with our world, we could die tomorrow. So I'm done with waiting or trying to pretend it's anything less than –"

"Anything less than what?"

Antonin whirled, and his eyes widened as he saw Regina standing there, a look of confused amusement on her face as she shook out her soaking wet hair.

"Just got in," she said, tugging off her wet gloves. "The band's on the way in – Antonin, what are you –"

Now or never.

He took a hold of her hands and stared into his eyes. He wasn't going to fall on his knees – it was too corny, and they both would know it. But he had to tell her, he had to say something.

"Regina, I've wanted to say this for a while now, and I'm going to say this in the only bloody way I know how and that won't get your handprint across my face: Regina, will you fucking marry me?"

Her bright eyes shone, and a second later she had pulled him into a tight embrace. Her lips met his, and she kissed him passionately, sending the Firewhiskey in his gut burning again…

They broke the kiss, and Regina broke into a sly smile as whoops broke out across the bar – and a hateful scowl broke across Fabian Prewett's face.

"I think," Antonin said, exhaling deeply and smiling widely, "that I can take that as a fucking yes."

Saturday, August 23, 1975


"I don't know what you the hell you want me to say, Fabian," Gideon Prewett snapped, dropping into the booth, a foul expression on his face. "So the wedding's today, with all the fucking fanfare and publicity, and you chose not to go. At least you got a fucking invite – no, Mr. Dolohov doesn't invite the players on his backup roster –"

"Didn't know you cared," Fabian remarked bitterly.

"It's humiliating, that's what it is –"

"Humiliating enough for this?"

They snapped up with identical motions, and their hands immediately dropped to their wands.

"I don't think," Gideon growled, "that we have anything to say to you, Mr. Parkinson."

"Indubitably," Willard Parkinson said lightly, "which is why I won't sit down and join you on this fine morning – and dear me, it really is the morning too –"

"Go away," Fabian spat, "and clean up the slime you leave behind you. Scum that defends Death Eaters isn't much better than the snakes themselves."

"And so sulking in a bar makes you any better this early in the morning makes you any better?" Parkinson asked snidely. "But that's beside the point – just because I defend those accused of being Death Eaters – because, after all, we are all allowed, under the law, a defence before the Wizengamot –"

"Doesn't make you any less scum."

The lawyer threw up his hands with a sigh. "What I can say, boys, they pay better than… what is it you two are involved in, the Order of the –"

"I don't have the slightest clue what you're talking about," Fabian hissed, "but I think you had better leave or things might get –"

"Complicated?" Parkinson asked, a small grin growing on his face as he leaned closer. "Let me make this considerably simpler – I work for whoever pays more, it's simple. Of course I would want to support men whose causes one would deem righteous, but they don't tend to pay as well, do they?"

Gideon froze – what was Parkinson implying?

"All I'm saying," Parkinson continued with a quick wink to Fabian, "that I would be more than willing to make sure that certain folk pay the price for their actions… however, my services will not come cheap."

Gideon's eyes narrowed, but before he could pick up his glass, he heard his brother blurt.

"How much?"

Parkinson only gave him a cold hard smile. "Standard fees. Three thousand Galleons, no more, no less. After all, it's business."

Gideon snorted. He knew better than anyone that the Prewett family didn't have three thousand Galleons to throw away on this…

"Keep in mind he's engaged himself in a very dangerous business," Parkinson said softly, "and that means that he's bound to slip up." He dropped a business card on the table. "Enjoy your drinks, gentlemen. I look forward to hearing from you."

Wednesday, October 29, 1975

The glass of white wine fell from nerveless fingers as she staggered back into her dressing room, her makeup beginning to smear from the tears coming to her eyes.

This can't be happening, this can't be happening, this can't be happening…

She heard the dressing room door open, and Darnell's soft voice.


"I heard all of it," she whispered, choking back a sob. "I heard every word, Darney. Every bloody word."

"It's not what you think, Celestina, if you'd listen –"

"You want to replace me?" Celestina shrieked, spinning around, yanking her wand from her silk robes. "Replace me, when I'm the reason that fucking whore –"

"Language, dear," Darnell said quietly, but the words only infuriated her more. How dare he speak to her like that, treat her like a child?

"What, you let her curse and swear and say all the nasty things, but not me?" she screamed. "You don't want me to swear, because that might give me a 'bad reputation' –"

"It fits her image," Darnell said curtly, "it does not fit yours."

"And you think I'm bloody replaceable? You think that I'm a 'liability' now?" She was sobbing now, her makeup running rivulets down her face. "You don't think I have a fucking edge? You never gave me a chance to sing those songs you gave to her, you never let me –"

"You are replaceable."

The words hit her like a curse to the chest. She couldn't breathe, she staggered back against her dressing table. She couldn't believe what she was hearing…

"I hate saying this," Darnell continued, his voice utterly pitiless, "I really do, but you are replaceable. There are plenty of pretty young witches who want to sing who are just as good as you – and I would know, I heard about thirty auditions this afternoon. And considering you don't even write your own verses… no, Regina actually writes the songs, and while innocence and purity are easy to fake, you can't fake passion or fervour or drive. Something she has, and you don't." He shook his head sadly. "And the worst part is, if you had tried, if you had bothered to make the effort to have any chemistry with Regina outside the studio, this wouldn't even be a discussion." He looked up and stared straight into her eyes. "But you haven't – you hate her just as much as you did when you first saw her, and so she doesn't care the slightest bit about what happens to you. And right now, from what I can see, I have a hard time caring myself."

He reached into his jacket and pulled out an official-looking piece of parchment. "This is your contract – it's already been taken up by another benefactor, and for now, you are still on the label, but as of right now, I don't work for you anymore." Darnell sighed as he set the parchment on the table. "I'm sorry that it had to end this way, Celestina, I really am."

She didn't know what to say – she had to say something – but the words couldn't come from behind the sobs as Darnell put on his hat and quietly left the room.

As soon as she couldn't hear his footsteps, she rushed over to the table and picked up her contract and her eyes scanned to the very bottom, where there were new, unfamiliar words.

Agent: Lucius Malfoy.

Saturday, May 8, 1977

The Dark Lord eyed Lucius intently, but he did not say a word. He didn't even appear to move a single muscle, almost as if he was frozen in place, a white statue draped in black.

But Lucius knew he was listening to the song. Every bar, every verse sung by that sweet melodic voice. He was listening intently – and somehow, deep in Lucius' gut, he knew the Dark Lord approved.

The phonograph needle reached the end of the record and Lucius lightly lifted it free, and once again, the laboratory was silent.

The Dark Lord rose to his feet, no expression on his face. "Interesting."

"It will sell well, my Lord," Lucius whispered, carefully removing the record. "Despite some… setbacks, the label is conscious that people still enjoy Warbeck's music."

"One step taken into a culture war that has been overlooked for too long," the Dark Lord said softly. "It will do, but we must make sure the Wizarding Wireless Network realizes that the public must hear it." He moved towards the heavily carved stone table on the side of the laboratory and picked up his wand. Immediately, flaming symbols were etched in the air as the wand was a blur in the Dark Lord's hand.

"I understand, my Lord," Lucius replied, bowing deeply.

"What about Warbeck's former partner?" the Dark Lord asked suddenly, his gaze snapping to Lucius. "The one who continues to move in a rather distressing direction."

Lucius frowned. "You want to dispatch her?"

"It is too early," the Dark Lord rebuked him, stepping through the hovering lines of flame without a singe. "No, she and her husband must be dealt with, but such plans require time. The first steps are already in motion, and have been in motion for months."

Lucius paused and thought – a simple kill, even of popular figures like the Dolohovs, wouldn't require much time to plan. . What was the Dark Lord planning?

"My Lord…"

The Dark Lord ignored him, and turned back to the flaming glyphs. "The times are changing, Lucius." He gave his wand a skyward flick, and the glyphs suddenly merged together into a crest Lucius instantly recognized.

The Dolohov crest.

"Metal must be struck by a hammer to forge a sword," the Dark Lord murmured. "It must pass through the fires – or break."

Tuesday, March 15, 1977

Dolohov Manor had stood for a long, long time. A three-storey structure, made entirely of heavy stone, it had withstood countless raids, forays, and outright attacks over the years. The guards were extremely well-trained, and very well-paid.

Bellatrix Lestrange considered it a challenge.

She approached the building alone, her wand drawn as she sauntered towards the building. The well-paid guards tensed – and then Disapparated.

Even well-paid guards knew by now that it was suicide to face her. It was a shame – she would have relished a challenge. With an idle wave, she cast an Anti-Apparition Jinx over the manor.

Now the fun begins.

The gates imploded with a single flick of her wand, crumpling into a ball of liquid iron a few feet in diameter. Another tap of her wand ignited the orb with a hungry flame the colour of jaundiced flesh.

A cruel smile broke on her red lips.

"For the Dark Lord."

The ball of flaming metal dropped to the ground and began to roll with the speed of a charging Hippogriff. The cobblestones either charred away beneath the flame or joined the rolling mass, speeding towards the manor.

The doors crumpled next, and Bellatrix felt a thrill as she heard the expensive wood cracking and breaking beneath her toy. With a twirl of her wand, she split the orb into ten, which began rocketing out in all directions, ripping through masonry and stone and anything else in their path…

But before she could cast another spell, there was a resounding crack, and every single window and door of the manor blew apart.

Her eyes widened with interest. She hadn't triggered that detonation. Someone's still alive…

She picked up her pace, her skirt fluttering behind her as she stepped into the flaming wreckage. Immediately, she smelt fresh blood, and she licked her lips eagerly.

She ascended the broken stairs rapidly, every brush of her wand igniting new fires along the walls. A quick glance inside the rooms told her everything she needed to know, and she felt a rush of disappointment.

No survivors.

She stepped into a darkened panelled room, and she spotted a massive mahogany desk. Her eyes narrowed, and the desk burned to powder in an instant –

Revealing the corpse of Raskul Dolohov, with a broken vial in his hand.

She sniffed the air, recognizing the scent of nightshade instantly. "Coward," she hissed, pointing her wand at the corpse. "But the body's intact… a fine Infernius you'll make…"

And then she heard it.

A cough.

Her eyes lit up. Someone had survived, someone she could play with, take her time…

She raced out of the room, and up the next flight of stairs, the doors blowing apart in her wake…

And then she saw him. A dark haired young man, lying feebly against the wall – and from the look of his legs and the shattered bits of wood on the ground, Bellatrix suspected he wasn't able to flee.

I know this man.

Nikolai Dolohov gave another wet cough as he looked up with horror. "You…"

"Nicky, did you think I wouldn't remember our time together?" she asked, delight filling her voice as she reached down and seized him by the throat. With inhuman strength, she casually slammed him against the wall. "We made love here, don't you remember?"

"No," Nikolai wheezed weakly with horror. "Please…"

His voice was cut off by an agonized scream, as Bellatrix slammed her wand into his arm, driving it into the walls.

"But you weren't very good at fucking me," Bellatrix mused, her lips curling into a hungry smile as she buried his other arm in the crumbling stone of the house with a slow tap of her wand. "So let's see if I'm better at fucking you."

His eyes widened, and he began to scream. Bellatrix laughed.

The screaming didn't stop for hours.

"Have you heard Warbeck's newest music?" Regina threw the wireless a disgusted glance.

"It's making her a lot of gold, if that's what you're commenting on," Antonin said heavily, as he dropped onto the tiny couch next to Regina. "Nothing on what you're making –"

But Regina was shaking her head dismissively. "At least when Warbeck was singing with me, she was singing something worthwhile… but this?" She pulled her wand from her pocket and began toying with it. "This is embarrassing… and if you listen to the message in the lyrics, a little disturbing."

"I don't think anyone besides you cares, dear," Antonin said wryly.

"Well, if it's a glimpse into Warbeck's psyche, it's not pretty," Regina replied darkly. "It's empowerment for the worst of our society – and since it's behind such a pretty package, nobody would be the wiser…" She tapped the knob on the radio with her wand, and it began to spin. "Let's listen to something worthwhile…"

"…breaking news… new attack…"

Antonin's hand darted to the knob, freezing it before it could turn any further.

"Auror reports indicate that nothing remains of the manor other than charred rubble and the presence of the Dark Mark, indicating the Death Eaters have indeed struck again… looks to be a complete slaughter, as none of the bodies of the Dolohov family living at the manor were found..."

He couldn't breathe, and his hands reflexively jerked, twisting the knob to static as he dropped back into his seat.

It couldn't be. He had never… they were going to remain neutral… it wasn't supposed to…


He turned, and he saw the visible concern in Regina's eyes.

"They're… they're gone," he said numbly. "I hadn't seen them in almost two years… my sister…"

"She's with her husband, she's probably safe," Regina said quietly.

There were several long moments of silence, as conflicting emotions waged war in Antonin's mind.

"What do you want to do? The press will be at our door in minutes." Regina helped her husband to his feet. "I'd rather not be there when they show up."

"Yeah," Antonin whispered.

"Look, I know you don't have the highest opinion of the man, but Dumbledore would help us." Regina took a deep breath. "He would, we'd just have to ask."

"I don't want to take his side," Antonin said, gritting his teeth. "I don't want to have to deal with… deal with…" He raked a hand through his hair. "I need to think… no, fuck thinking, I need alcohol. Lots of it."

Regina understood instantly. "Nathan's?"

"If Voldemort was trying to send a message to me, he sent it." There was quiet resolve in his voice – resolve to do what, he wasn't sure, but it was something. "I think our mission with Nathan might change a bit."

Saturday, July 1, 1978

"Somehow," Antonin murmured, "I didn't think it would come to this."

Nathan glanced at Antonin with sympathy. "There was nothing you could have done, Antonin, you know that by now. Your father and brother chose their own path."

"They just wanted to be left alone," Antonin continued quietly, looking out at the Auror training room through the double-sided glass – an Auror training room that Nathan had taken for training of the new team. "And so did I…"

Nathan sighed. "Well, the world's doesn't work like that, and I don't think Voldemort really cares about what we think. Although you had to admit," he continued, a small smile appearing on his face, "the past year and a half have been pretty…"

"Insane's probably the best word," Antonin said with a chuckle. "At least that's what Regina keeps calling it." He placed a hand against the glass. "I'm exhausted, Nathan. Running around with you, trying to do our little secret 'operation'…" He shuddered. "Besides the nightmares, it takes a lot out of you."

"That's why we're getting the recruits –"

"They're kids, Nathan."

"They're of age and they want to fight."

"They're kids, Nathan –"

"It's better they fight with us than join up with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," Nathan retorted. "You've seen the attrition rates there. Or if they go off on their own… at least here, we'll be able to protect them."

"And of course, nobody can know."

Nathan gave a helpless sigh. "It's politics, Antonin, you know that. With what we do… well, the public wouldn't take kindly to it. And with Parkinson on the prowl… one slip up, and it's all over."

Saturday, November 18, 1978

"This had better be damn good," Nathan began heatedly, upon closing the oaken door behind him and glowering at the few richly dressed individuals standing together by the marble rail. "I don't get enough time with my wife as it is, and the last thing I need is –"

"Easy there, Nathan," Barty Crouch said coolly, his voice clipped and almost nasal in its businesslike tone. "I wouldn't pull you away from Cassandra if it wasn't absolutely necessary –"

Nathan could hardly hold back a snort of derision at that. Despite being a workaholic that tended to get very good results, Crouch was still insufferable. In fact, it was peculiar enough seeing him at the event at all.

"Nevertheless, I thought you were on the Parkinson case tonight," Nathan said suspiciously, wordlessly pulling a bottle of wine and a trio of glasses out of thin air with a tiny flick of his wand. "Wine?"

"Summoned or Conjured?" Crouch asked lightly.

Nathan did snort at that. "Conjured – I'm not that good at Summoning, Barty."

"Then no thank you, then," Crouch declined politely with a slight shake of his head. "I find Conjured wine lacks body... you don't get the same richness of flavour –"

"I'm not a wine connoisseur, Barty, just trying to be polite," Nathan replied with a shrug. "Besides, I'm more of a scotch person anyways, and you'd never conjure something like that... what about you, Rufus?"

"I'd rather stay sober tonight," Rufus Scrimgeour growled, pulling back his hood to reveal a heavily scarred, albeit younger face. His tawny hair was neatly trimmed, and looked surprisingly well-groomed – although standing next to Crouch's rigidly straight parting, it almost appeared unkempt. "This isn't a night for drinking, but business."

"Tell that to the people inside," Nathan replied, shaking his head. "I swear, I think Antonin's trying to match Horace drink for drink –"

"You'll have to show me when we go back inside, but unfortunately we have something else to deal with first," Crouch interrupted apologetically. "Something of vital importance."

Nathan popped the cork from the wine bottle and poured himself a glass, Vanishing the bottle, cork, and excess glasses with an irritated wave. "Well, spit it out."

"I've been promoted."

He didn't expect that. He let his face blossomed into a grin, and he raised his glass in mocking salute to Crouch. "Guess all that hard work paid off, didn't it?"

Scrimgeour snorted with disgust.

"Although," Nathan slowly added, after taking a swig of the red wine, "I can't help but be a bit surprised. I thought Charon or Bones were next in line for Department Head."

Scrimgeour visibly stiffened at the implied insult, but Crouch dismissively waved his hand – it was clear he wasn't going to let anything get to him tonight. A shame. "Ah, Charon's too valuable right now. The way he kills Death Eaters – he's a machine, Nathan, and it would just be silly to put him behind a desk. And considering the spat Edgar Bones got into with the Minister –"

"I was talking about Amelia, not Edgar," Nathan replied evenly.

Crouch gave a sniff of disdain. "Please. She might be a talented witch, but running the Department of Magical Law Enforcement requires a certain... stentorian presence the woman simply lacks."

Nathan throttled back his urge to punch Crouch between the eyes. The man had a very old-fashioned Muggle approach to dealing with women. Guess Regina might have a point, Nathan thought bitterly. Maybe we wizards aren't as unprejudiced to gender as we might think we are.

"So you're the new Department Head, then," he continued, forcing his voice to remain light as he toasted Crouch again. "Congratulations – so why did you want me here again?"

"Right to the chase, I like that," Crouch said approvingly, and Nathan shoved back his urge to punch the man again. "I like that sort of commanding presence, that strength of will you only find in men like you're exactly the sort of man I need by my side."

Nathan kept his smile, even though by now he knew it must resemble a mask. "I'm flattered, once again, Barty, but I'm not a Ministry employee."

Scrimgeour rolled his eyes at that remark, and Crouch chuckled, putting his hand on Nathan's shoulder – a gesture that did not make him feel any better.

"Oh, come now, Nathan, let's not clutter the truth of this," Crouch said breezily. "We're both intelligent men, and we both have a vested interest in defeating the Lord Voldemort. And considering... considering the current course the war is taking, we need a new strategy."

Interesting... "What do you have in mind?"

"Lord Voldemort is not going to roll over and die just because we ask politely," Crouch said, his eyes gleaming with righteous passion as he looked out over the balcony to the gardens below. "We cannot afford to simply be defensive and reactive in this matter – we need to take back our power, fight fire with fire. And you, Nathan... well, the results your team has produced... quite extraordinary, as a matter of fact."

Nathan gritted his teeth as he eased out from beneath Crouch's hand. "Where exactly are you going with this, Barty?"

"Simple," Crouch replied firmly. "I would like to deputize your and your entire squad. Pull the entire group under the Hit Wizard banner, incorporate your skills and contacts into our organization."

And from the look on Scrimgeour's face, he wants to kill you for even suggesting it, Nathan thought concernedly as he thought fast. Still…

"And what makes you think that my team has skills or contacts that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement doesn't have?" he asked, stalling for time.

"Well, you have managed to recruit Antonin Dolohov, for one," Crouch said with a huff. "Given his reputation as a duellist, I've been trying to recruit him for years, and yet you somehow snagged him in an afternoon. Not to mention his wife – now there's a foxy lady if I've ever seen one! And you have some fresh talent as well – Potter, Black, Lupin, Evans..."

"So I have talented people," Nathan replied with a shrug. And you're not that good of a liar, Crouch. You never even tried to recruit Antonin, he would have told me. "That's nothing special –"

"And to say nothing of your friendship with Judge Kemester –"

He struggled to maintain his smile against his rising anger. You think you can just force me to give up my contacts, you smug, self-satisfied bastard? "I don't know what you're implying, Barty. Claudius and I are old friends, but nothing more –"

"And yet all of those warrant that conveniently fall into your hands," Crouch replied knowingly. "Warrants that my Hit Wizards could never get even if they saved Claudius' little boys –"

Okay, enough of this charade. "Barty, if you're implying that I have some sort of illegitimate relationship with the good Wizengamot Judge, you've been badly mislead." He wasn't smiling now. Let's just see how far he'll push…

"All the same, Nathan, we're both on the same side here." Crouch said earnestly.

Of course we are, Nathan thought acidly.

"And your methods have proven most effective, don't you agree, Rufus?"


Nathan nearly choked on his wine as he glanced at the Auror. Crouch looked as if he hadn't heard the Auror correctly.


"Oh, his methods might be effective," Scrimgeour hissed through gritted teeth, "but there's no damn way I want his team in my Department."

Crouch was taken aback – why feign surprise, Barty, you should have known this going in. But I think it's high time a few misconceptions are dealt with. "This again, Rufus?"

"Your people are thieves and liars, Cassane, and don't even deny it!" Scrimgeour snarled. "The fact that the Ministry is paying your people to stand above the law is downright fucking disgraceful! You play fast and loose with the law and Ministry policy, and to top it all off, you have the gall to demand the bounties for the capture of Death Eaters you find through intimidation and blackmail!"

Nathan didn't have much to say to Scrimgeour's accusations – after all, it was all true. But my people deserve better than this ass insulting us. "Well, I'm sorry if I'm depriving you of your skim, Rufus, but my people get the job done."

"So what about the little brothel you set up in Knockturn Alley, in total defiance of the law?" Scrimgeour snarled, his face going red.

Nathan could hardly withstand a chuckle. That operation had been risqué, but it had been worth it – not to mention fun. "You mean the undercover operation concluding on Halloween that netted us three Death Eaters and three dozen recruits, not to mention the wealth of information we discovered on future operations?" he replied evenly. "Yes, that was such a disaster."

"You had Evans, Meadowes, Mrs. Dolohov, and your own wife disguise themselves as harlots!" Scrimgeour shouted, the blood vessel in his temple visibly popping. "And Black as a violent and abusive pimp! Do you have any shame or respect for even your own people?"

Okay, that's enough. "They all volunteered for the job, Rufus, you honestly think I would sink to Voldemort's level and abuse my own people?" Nathan snapped, his voice icy and barely above a whisper. "Besides, Cassie was perfectly safe – I was there under Polyjuice as a dancer myself, and I would have had no compunction of disposing of anyone who put my wife or my team in danger! And like it or not, because of it, we saved lives, and put Death Eaters in Azkaban!" And it's a shame that the Ministry long ago forgot about that particular mission.

"And that's my point," Crouch finished, raising a finger. "With the full backing of the law, your team will have the freedom to operate however they wish, and this won't even be an issue! And, I might add, you'll have much better resources, Nathan – the full might of the Ministry –"

Scrimgeour looked ready to explode, but against all odds, when he spoke, his voice was flat and even. "Crouch, if you let him in, make him part of the Department... well, I don't think I could be part of a Department that endorses and funds that sort of behaviour."

Nathan shrugged. The group was already getting well-paid.

"We already do pay them –"

"And believe me, if I had a way to cut that off, I would!" Scrimgeour snarled. "But there's a line between necessary evils held at a distance, and inviting them into the home." And before Crouch could protest, he spun on his heel and Disapparated with a crack.

Crouch huffed and turned back to Nathan, a frustrated expression on his face. "A shame, but –"

Nathan had had enough. "He's got a point."

Crouch was nonplussed – he hadn't expected that. "Pardon?"

"I mean it, Barty," Nathan said quietly, laying as much emphasis on every word as he could. He didn't have any illusion that he could make a career politician like Crouch understand, but he could try. "I understand what you want to do – really, I do – but bringing us into the Ministry officially would cause hell to break loose and you know it. For once, Voldemort would have a point about the Ministry."

"Nathan, you know how bad the situation is, and your people are some of the best –"

His temper finally ran out.

"No, damn it!" he exploded, stepping back and tossing his wine glass onto the marble balcony, where it smashed into a million pieces. "You can't legitimize what we do, it would make us what we're fighting against – particularly considering you wouldn't treat your people half as well, and you'd have psychological breakdowns on your hands! All my people know the ugly truth about our missions and get the help they need to cope! It's sure as hell not perfect, but we do it because it gets results!"

"And that's my point!" Crouch replied furiously. "It gets results – goddamn it, Nathan, we need that, and I'm willing to fight fire with fire –"

"And horrify the rest of the wizarding world when they see what your people would do, or what my people would do under the banner of the Ministry?" Nathan retorted, glaring daggers at the man across from him. "There's a reason we're not a part of the Ministry, it's called plausible deniability, Barty!"

There were a long few seconds of tense silence, and then –

"So I take then, your answer is a 'no'?" Crouch asked, his voice frigid.

"Emphatically," Nathan snapped, turning away and storming towards the door.

"Your funding can just disappear, you know!" Crouch shouted.

Nathan openly laughed at this – it was an utterly empty threat, and they both knew it. "Try that threat again – both of us know you don't have the balls to cut off one of the only groups that are making a difference and not getting slaughtered for their trouble."

And without another word, he stormed inside. Time to find Cassandra and go home.

Saturday, April 21, 1979

He woke up in a cold sweat.

Antonin blinked twice as he sat up, and then ran a hand through his tangled hair as he tried to slow his breathing.

He glanced at the bed –

"I'm right here."

Antonin let out a heavy breath as Regina stepped out of the bathroom. Her hair was even more of a tousled mess than usual, but this time there wasn't that same glow of fire in her eyes. This time her eyes were shadowed, and tired.

"You couldn't sleep either."

Regina untied the flimsy silvery housecoat she was wearing and tossed it on the floor. "Yeah."

"Nightmares about the Vunerens –"

Regina glared at him. "I don't want to talk about it, okay? I just relived the fucking thing tonight, I don't want to –"

"I get it, I get it," Antonin said hastily. He sighed heavily as his heartbeat finally began to slow. "It hasn't been a good month."

Regina closed her eyes and dropped heavily next to him on the bed. "Yeah, you could say that."

Antonin shook his head. "You know, I kept warning Cassane saying that we shouldn't have brought Lily or James or Sirius or the rest of them into this mess… and now we're the ones that can't sleep, who can't close our eyes without seeing it."

He glanced at his wife. "At least we got the Death Eaters responsible this time."

Regina grimaced.


"It wasn't the massacre at the Vuneren estates I was dreaming about," Regina muttered, her hand sliding into Antonin's. "It was when we found those fucking Death Eaters and… and…"

She took a shuddering breath, and Antonin looked at her with concern.

"Look, Regina –"

"We're getting just as bad, Tony," she whispered through gritted teeth. "Just as fucking bad as they were – and it's so damn easy when we're there, when we're looking those unapologetic little bastards in the eyes and know they deserve every ounce of pain we're giving them – but why the fuck am I waking up right now in a cold sweat, thinking that I'm the monster?"

Antonin closed his eyes. "Look, we have to do what we have to do. Believe me, I don't like all of this – hell, I don't like most of it – but Nathan needs us." He gently brushed the side of Regina's face, and he looked into her eyes. "We're the best at this."

"And isn't that something to be proud of?" Regina whispered bitterly. "I still can't sleep."

Antonin sighed and pulled his wife into a tired embrace. "I know. Let's just think of better things now… better times…"

Both of them knew it was easier to say than do.

Wednesday, August 1, 1979

It was long past midnight, and Darnell was getting impatient. He had been waiting for hours – hours – and he still hadn't come. Bloody Beater… it's unbelievable… thinks he can get to the semifinals of the World Cup and the world is his…

He heard a shuffling in the darkness, and his wand was lit in a second – to reveal a round, worried face.

"Ludo, there had better be a damn good reason why you called me out at this time of the night –"

Ludo Bagman shifted uncomfortably as he moved a little closer. "Haven't seen you in a while, Darnell –"

"Cut the shit, Ludo – you called me out at this ungodly hour, so you had better have a damn good reason. You've got a game tomorrow night, and you need to be in fighting shape if you want to make it to the Cup –"

"As a matter of fact, he doesn't."

Darnell's eyes snapped up, but he could feel the tip of a wand digging into his back. Yet despite it, he smirked.

"You can't harm me, Parkinson, or coerce me to do anything. If I vanish, all hell will break loose. Nathan and Antonin will tear you to pieces, and that's before the rest of my clients get a hold of you."

There was a rustling, and Parkinson's face came into clearer view. Somehow, the white light of Darnell's wand only made him appear more handsome – and volumes more deadly.

"You wound me, Mr. Jordan. I'm not here to kill you – you're a powerful opponent, and you don't deserve to die in some filthy alleyway."

"Glad we agree on that."

"However," Parkinson added, his eyes glinting, "that does not mean a deal cannot be made here."

"I don't bargain in alleyways either."

"Well, it's not much of a bargain, really," Parkinson said lightly. "It's more of an understanding that must be reached. You see, our mutual friend Ludo has accrued quite a debt gambling on the fortunes of certain teams, and he cannot make it up betting on his own team, the clear favourite." Parkinson tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Although, I hear the odds on the next game, betting against England, are quite high… he could win back everything he lost…"

Darnell's eyes hardened. "You son-of-a-bitch."

"That's rude, Mr. Jordan."

"It's also true, and here's the other thing: you don't have a hope in hell of convincing anyone on the English team to throw the match." Darnell laughed openly at the absurdity. "You'd have a better chance on arresting Antonin for treason."

Parkinson's smile did not waver – and suddenly, a rush of horror surged through Darnell. "You wouldn't – no, you can't! You don't have a shred of evidence –"

"I don't think you realize that the political climate has shifted somewhat in the past," Parkinson said coolly, "and that means all those rules of evidence mean less and less. I guess you can thank your good friends Crouch and Cassane for that –"

"And you think you can turn everyone against Antonin?" Darnell retorted incredulously. "He's the top Chaser for England, on top of the world –"

"Fame is fickle, Mr. Jordan," Parkinson replied with a cruel wink. "One loss could spell damnation."

Darnell could see it all now – a trap, twisted and elaborate – but he could see a way out. Antonin's tough as nails, and Merlin only knows what would happen if they tried to bring Regina in… they won't give Parkinson anything.

"Looks like you have it all figured out," he said, his tone mocking, "so I guess I should only ask – why are you coming to me? You're going to have him arrested anyways –"

Parkinson's smile changed now. It wasn't snide, or mocking, or even cruel – it was downright evil. "Well, I figured you should know, so you can have a chance to talk him out of the match – so that he'd survive."

Wednesday, August 8, 1979

He had survived.

He wasn't quite sure how – somehow, the luck that he lived by must have kicked in to save him, but the Bludger hadn't killed him. He knew it had done a number on his broom, sending him tumbling from the air and knocking him out of the match… but he had survived.

Only to get arrested right off the practice pitch. He didn't put up much of a fight – he was innocent, after all, but the cameras had caught everything. There had been more paparazzi at the pitch than Aurors…

There weren't any cameras flashing now. The cell was dark and dank, and stank of filth. He didn't know where his wand was, but even with it, he wasn't sure he'd be able to break the enchanted chains binding him to the wall.

see a young man rise from the gutter to become a star…

"Shut up, Father," Antonin muttered aloud, tugging on the chains again.

He had figured out what Voldemort's angle was – one 'interview' with Parkinson had made that abundantly clear. His ears were still ringing from the impacts of the fists and Bludgeoning Charms – no punishment was forgotten.

But he had told Cassane – he had warned him and Dumbledore when they had visited him in the cell… he had given them time…

"They will betray you…"

Antonin froze. That voice was not his father's, and the chill in the cell was new…

Something – no, someone – was here with him.

"Show yourself!" he shouted, rattling the chains loudly. "Face me like a man!"

"But I am not a man."

The voice was high-pitched, icy cold, and devoid of human feeling. And though he had never heard it before, he recognized it instantly.

"I am much, much more than a man," Lord Voldemort hissed, stepping out of the shadows, the faint light gleaming off his bald head. "And as I have come to realize, so are you, Antonin Dolohov."

Antonin snorted as he fought to control his racing heartbeat. "If this is what being 'more than a man' looks like, I'll pass."

"You are an extremely talented man, from a promising bloodline," Voldemort continued as if he hadn't even heard Antonin's taunt. "Extremely talented indeed… I read your book, by the way. Some truly interesting spells in there –"

"'All put to great advantage against you, I might add –"

"You created new magic," Voldemort replied simply. "I do not care how it was created or how it has been used – simply that it is new, and I understand and possess it."

Antonin coughed raggedly. "Good for you. Now get out."

"I have an offer for you, Antonin."


Voldemort's eyes narrowed. "My offers are not refused lightly."

"I'm sorry, was the 'no' not heavy enough for you?" Antonin snarled. "Would a 'go fuck yourself' help?"

"You've been manipulated all your life, Antonin," Voldemort said softly, "and when I come here, offering you a chance to spit in their faces and seize your own life, you mock me."

"Namely because you're a lying albino dogshit," Antonin said hoarsely. "And here's the thing, you don't scare me either, 'cause sooner or later, you'll have to leave, and I'll be a free man again."

"Except that you've never been a free man."

Antonin stiffened.

"You've never been free, Antonin, and you know it better than I," Voldemort continued. "Always chasing some higher aspirations, seeking some vestige of light… or was it redemption?"

"Shut up."

"Tell me, does it still hurt to know you never got to hear from your father before he died?"


"Nobody can hear you," Voldemort said calmly. "The cell has been enchanted – it's just you and me, for the next several hours."

She knew they were coming.

She crouched behind the flipped table, her wand drawn. Her high-heeled boots had been discarded for combat boots of dragonhide, and she had replaced most of her usual garb with armour that would withstand most spells.

"This is the Aurors! We know you're in there, Dolohov, so come out with your hands up! An Anti-Apparition jinx has been placed upon your home, so do not attempt to flee or you will be splinched –"

She stopped listening as she picked up her guitar – that old, beaten black bass guitar. With a muttered few words, it sputtered to life, and the old, damaged amps behind her began to crackle as she turned the dial as loud as she could.

It won't be a song, but their dirge.

"Regina Dolohov, if you do not come out now, we will take you by force –"

She recognized the voices now. "Come and get me, Fabian," she snarled, spitting on the floor. "Don't see how the Aurors took trash like you, but you could never get me before, and you'll sure as fuck won't get me now!"

The door cracked at the first spell. Shrapnel peppered the room.

"Last chance!"

A wave of her wand Summoned a bottle of Firewhiskey to her hand. Pulling the old cork out with her teeth, she poured it on her guitar. Not quite the way Jimi did it, and this won't be legendary… but they'll remember. Someone will remember.

The door exploded, and she could see a darkened shape rush in –

She stood – and stomped down on the neck of her guitar.

The discordant explosion of sound nearly staggered her, but it sent the two Prewetts, wearing Auror garb to their knees. She snapped off a few curses, but they deflected them as the ear-splitting sound began to fade…

She ducked down out of the line of their hasty spells, and winced as a shower of sparks exploded from her amps, but she couldn't stop. Seizing the broken neck of the guitar, she raised her wand.


The sound was, if possible, even louder. The blue-white lightning forked from her wand, struck the guitar, coated it in fire –

And with a single downward motion, like throwing a medieval axe, she hurled the flaming guitar straight at Gideon Prewett.

And it hit him right in the middle of the face.

He toppled backwards, but Fabian Prewett had risen to his feet, his wand raised high –



The Exploding Curse hit the hastily conjured wall, and bounced upward towards the ceiling.


The central beam of the room split, and Regina Dolohov closed her eyes as it fell.

Antonin was shaking with fury as Voldemort continued to pace, a thin, lipless smile on his face.

"You seem so convinced I'm going to join you," Antonin spat, yanking at his chains. "So fucking convinced – well, let me tell you something, you have nothing that I could possibly want –"

"And they have nothing as well – nothing but betrayal," Voldemort replied grimly. "Your best friends have betrayed you and deserted you. Where is Darnell Jordan? Where is Nathan Cassane? Where is Ludo Bagman?"

"Fighting to save my ass, probably," Antonin retorted hotly.

"Ludo Bagman is hiding in shame," Voldemort said coolly, "because he gambled the fortunes of his team away, and did not have the courage to take responsibility. And Mr. Jordan has already decided where his allegiance lies… that is, where it always has." Voldemort's eyes narrowed pitilessly. "As soon as you became a liability, you were sold for a bill of goods and his worthless life."

"You're lying –"

"And Cassane? He runs with Dumbledore, his tail between his legs," Voldemort continued. "He has accepted that you are a necessary sacrifice – you, and your beloved wife."

Voldemort paused. "A shame you already sacrificed her a long time ago."

Antonin's blood went cold. "Don't you… don't you fucking dare –"

"Or maybe you just don't know the whole truth," Voldemort continued, drawing his wand and quickly sketching a burning square in midair. "Take a look… let's see how your wife is doing…"

Antonin squinted as an image coalesced between the flames…

It was a house – his house – but it was wrecked. Broken beams, the furniture broken beyond repair, flames licking the edges of the room…

And in the center of the image was a broken beam, splitting through her back, blood pooling from between her red hair…

His heart began pounding. "No… it's a lie…"

"You know it's true."


"She cannot hear you," Voldemort said emotionlessly. "She has gone on to the darkness, delivered courtesy of… ah, there they are…"

Antonin's eyes widened as a new figure crawled into view – a figure with very familiar auburn hair. A figure crawling forward, taking Regina's head in his arms, stroking her lifeless hair –


The image vanished with a flash as Voldemort strode close, his face inches from Antonin's. "Your friend Cassane swore to protect your wife, and now she is dead at the hands of one of Dumbledore's men. Your family was persecuted for decades because of what they chose to do, and the only reason the world chose to accept your fame was because you brought them something in return – a feeling that their own pitiful lives were worth just a little more."

Voldemort's eyes narrowed. "And then they turned on you. They abandoned you. They left you to rot, to become the scapegoat for their sins, to pay the price for their transgressions! They do not care you're in pain, that you have fallen. They do not care that you're alone."

His lipless mouth twisted into an expression of disdain. "After all, it was all just politics."

He didn't want it to make sense – it couldn't make sense, it shouldn't make sense –

It makes sense.

He knew that reason was beginning to slowly slip away, that every rational part of his mind was screaming for him not to think of it, not to even consider the fact that the monster standing above him could be right…

But it made sense. Where were they? Where were those mobs of fans that had screamed his name on the pitch? Where were his friends, friends who he had saved time and time again from Death Eaters or worse? Where was his wife?

Your wife is dead.

He didn't want to believe the image that Voldemort had shown him – every part of his mind screamed that it was a lie, that it wasn't true, that it was all a dream, that it was all wrong.

But he knew it wasn't. She was dead – she was dead – and he wasn't there. A pair of worthless, craven losers were there instead, pawing at her corpse…

It felt like a dam was breaking in two. Hot, bubbling fury boiled up in his gut. Everything he had seen, everything he had done…

"They have made it worthless," Voldemort hissed, "for the sake of their games, for the sake of their moves. To claim more power, power they have never deserved, that they are too weak to ever truly seek…"

Voldemort's livid red eyes burned with anger – righteous anger. "They have stolen power from you, stripped you of your gains. Lied to you, betrayed you… and killed the one you love."

Suddenly, Antonin felt a lightness around his ankles, wrists, and neck, as the chains around them dissolved. He slumped forward onto the stone, to his hands and knees.

"I can offer you power, but I know you will not take it from me," Voldemort said softly. "I can offer you peace, but you do not want that either. No, what you want is –"


The word was guttural, torn from his ragged throat – and filled with all the venom he could give it.

He had tried to believe – he had tried to fight for good, distance himself from the family that had tainted his name, join sides with the ones fighting for something worthwhile – and because he had fought, he had lost it all.

Had they suffered? Had they lost their innocence? Had they tortured or killed to protect others? Had they ever woken in the nights in a cold sweat out of horror at what they had done to protect people they didn't even know?

Had they even cared?

No, he thought, the word stark in his mind. They hadn't cared – hell, they didn't even know. And even when the morning came, they still wouldn't care.

Apathy is the greatest betrayal.

"To destroy them. Tear them down piece by piece, rip their schemes into tatters." Voldemort extended a white hand. "Eviscerate those that have betrayed you and destroyed your life. You see, while I may have political aims, politics are for those without the power to take what is truly theirs. And the power is yours."

"It's mine…"

He looked up now. The rage had solidified now, burning in his core. He would grieve later – now there was time for only one thing.

He would not follow the deceitful path of his father. Not that, never that. Even with the world burning around him, he still had his dignity. He was still sane. His mind was still very much intact. For him, there would be clarity.

And fire.

He took Voldemort's hand with his left arm, and Voldemort did not hesitate. The wand descended like a striking snake on his forearm, and the brand erupted from his tip.

He did not scream or cry. Pain could be managed, could be controlled. And physical pain is nothing compared to how I feel… oh Regina, how they will suffer for taking you from me…

"The power," he growled, "is mine."

Friday, August 10, 1979

"There has been no sign of him, Headmaster," the Auror said wearily. "Since the fire… I haven't seen him, sir."

"I understand," Albus Dumbledore said quietly, his eyes fixed on the empty shackles inside the cell. The door of the cell was charred beyond recognisability – from the inside.

He closed his eyes and felt Fawkes' talons dig into his shoulder. "I think… I think I failed, Fawkes."

The phoenix let out a long, mournful call. There was a flash of fire and when Dumbledore opened his eyes, he was sitting in his study, back at Hogwarts.

He paused. Something wasn't quite right.

He glanced down at his desk and saw a book, one that he had seen a few times in bookshops, but he had never purchased it. A leather cover of purest navy, with a single scarlet ribbon sliding from the binding.

WIT OF THE DUELLIST – By Antonin Dolohov

With a slightly quivering hand, he prized the book open to the first page.

Only two words had been printed on this page, but they had been viciously crossed out, but Dumbledore could still make them out.

For Regina

Instead, six words were scrawled in ink across the bottom of the page.

She's dead. Everything burns. I'm sorry.

"So am I," Dumbledore whispered softly to his empty study. "So am I."