Of Red Queens and Black

Ensanguined hearts ... and spades, the emblems of untimely graves. ~ William Cowper

On the day when Light fought Dark and won, another great battle was fought to the death. It was recounted in many stories: the tale of the Queen of Hearts and the Queen of Spades, or the Red Queen and the Black Queen. Superficially, it was just another skirmish; a race of wits, magical talent and luck which could only leave one survivor. But there was a poignant symmetry to the warriors that made this legend particularly beloved.

They were so different, seemingly designed to be adversaries from birth: they were of flame and tan and pale brown, and of darkness and ivory and stormy grey. Most remembered them only as they had become: one known as an endless fountain of love, the other feared everywhere as a harbinger of pain and death. But once they had been two little girls, best friends.

They had met at Malfoy Manor, during an illicit game of indoor Quidditch introduced to banish the boredom of a junior pureblood tea. Bella had stubbornly appointed herself a Beater – this was normally a boy's position, but her comrades had already learned not to challenge her when she had set her mind to something. Molly was a Chaser, and she had a grace in the air that was belied by her stocky figure, as well as a deep competitive drive hidden behind her angelic face. The game ended abruptly when Molly was crushed by an iron Bludger, which Bella's fierce determination had altered from rubber through raw magic.

The culprit was dispatched to the hospital room to apologize to her young peer; and while nobody ever knew what was said in that time, they left the small ward in St Mungo's as the best of friends. A childhood alliance of innocence, forged by the mutual admiration of courage and power.

x

In retrospect, it was hardly surprising that the girls got along so well. Each was the eldest child of a pureblood house and had grown up fully accustomed to reigning over her siblings. Headstrong, intelligent and successful at everything they attempted, the two made a fearsome duo. The trouble they caused was legendary, although they were generally sly enough to avoid getting caught.

They had their differences of course; if they had not, their strong wills would probably quickly have become bored with each other. Their tempestuous arguments breathed new life into their friendship every time.

Most of those differences revolved around family. Bella's arrogance regarding her family was legendary; the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black could do no wrong. And so her lip had involuntarily curled when she had discovered that the Prewetts had very little gold, that their house was nothing like as grand as the majestic Black Manor in the country or the elegant townhouse in Grimmauld Place. Her scorn had invoked her friend's fury as nothing ever had before.

In the end Bella had apologized, because her father had taken her aside and explained that no amount of money could buy purity of blood and the nobility of magic, and that was something that the Prewetts had in abundance.

The subject of money never came up again, and most of their subsequent arguments revolved around the difference in their family traditions. The Blacks were staunchly traditional; Bella and her sisters had been raised in the old-fashioned etiquette and were accustomed to observing all the ancient formalities. Molly's family acted in a way that Bella's Aunt Walburga often dismissed as common – Molly had been taught nothing of the age-old graces and talked with slang and a slightly rounded accent.

But all in all, there was nothing to materially divide them. They were daughters of the pedigreed pureblood world and queens of all they surveyed. And so the inseparable friends were most unpleasantly surprised when they found themselves divided at Hogwarts.

In truth, the Sorting Hat had strongly considered putting Bella in Gryffindor – her headstrong, passionate nature was well-suited to the House of the Lion. But Bella had projected her father's cast-iron certainty and insisted she be Sorted into Slytherin, the ancestral home of all Blacks since Hogwarts was established.

And indeed Molly's steely determination and substantial magical talent had made her a fair candidate for Slytherin, and Bella's placement had certainly warmed the Snakes to her heart. So nobody but the Sorting Hat was entirely sure why the cry of "Gryffindor" rang throughout the Hall.

But the rivalry between the Houses was not so pronounced at that time, and the girls' friendship continued unabated. They acquired a reputation of being quick-tempered and rather curse-happy, but were regardless well-liked for their sharp wits and keen sense of fun. Nothing came between them until that auspicious day when Arthur Weasley asked Molly Prewett to join him at Hogsmeade.

x

Of course, if Molly had known exactly who Arthur Weasley was, she would never have considered it. She may have prided herself on being a liberal, but she was first and foremost a Prewett, and Prewetts did not associate with blood traitors. But Molly's modern education had not included a thorough explanation of who was who in the wizarding world and she had no idea of quite how unacceptable her companion was. So when she met up with Bella that night to confide the thrills of her outing, she was nonplussed as to why her friend recoiled with such disgust.

Bella took a certain relish in relating the tale of how Septimus Weasley had dated Muggle girls and Mudbloods throughout his youth and had actually fathered a child with a Muggle girl. He had in fact offered marriage to this girl, and his disappointment at her refusal had finally persuaded him to rejoin the respectable wizarding world. Knowing he had ruined his chances of a good match, he circumvented the world of marriage contracts and secretly wooed Cedrella Black, whose good name could restore his tattered reputation. No doubt money had also been a factor; the fortunes of the Weasleys were always unstable (Molly remembered guiltily how Arthur … no, Weasley had counted out Knuts to pay for her butterbeer) and Cedrella's dowry had been significant.

Of course it had not worked. Septimus was a disgrace and would never be accepted into the Black family. When Cedrella insisted on marrying her unsuitable beau, she was formally disowned from the Black family. The Weasleys apparently still frequently hosted Septimus's Muggle daughter as a guest.

Molly has amply shocked at this tale. After all, it wasn't as if she hated Muggles, but to actually have one as a lover, to be related to one, was just … eurgh. She shuddered, and resolved to break things off with the blood traitor immediately.

She did so, backed by Bella, who took the opportunity to reveal Arthur's status to various onlookers, causing an immediate drop in the unfortunate Gryffindor's social standing. Yet Molly could not quite understand why she felt so uncomfortable when Arthur's soft eyes filled with tears; after all, she was obviously doing the right thing. For the first time in her brash, overconfident life, she felt internally shaken. But her pride would not allow her to continue the relationship with the unsuitable, and she walked away with her obstinacy intact.

x

And in a hundred other worlds, that was the end of the matter. But in this world, Arthur Weasley had fallen hard and fast for his fellow redhead, and was not prepared to allow his abruptly diminished social status to impede him. He followed Molly around persistently. While she did not relent to dating him, they became friends of a sort. Bellatrix sneered at the association, and derisively referred to Arthur as a Muggle pet. But her sister Andromeda had also acquired a tame Mudblood; it seemed to be quite the fashion to take on a risqué friendship, and Bella was rebellious enough to appreciate the appeal in a casual affiliation that was socially unacceptable without being really damning.

But in some subtle, indefinable way, something was different in their relationship from that point on. Perhaps it was because Gryffindor and Slytherin were so closely tied for the Quidditch Cup that year, their fifth, and inter-House tensions were running unusually high. Possibly it was inevitable that two such strong identities, forged ever firmer on the anvil of time, would eventually be unable to coexist so closely.

Or maybe, just maybe, the world itself was changing and they were responding to those resonances quite unconsciously.

But speculation is useless. What matters is that Bellatrix Black was betrothed to Rodolphus Lestrange at the age of sixteen and was swiftly drawn into the clandestine circle of violence to which he belonged. A charming, smooth-tongued man explained that the natural order of their superiority was not as secure as they had always imagined it, that they needed to fight to restore their rights and duties. He reminded them that not all would have the courage to do what must be done, but great rewards lay ahead for those who did. Bellatrix was totally enraptured; her dedication to the cause came quite easily. And when she told her friend Molly about her new extracurricular activity, her friend's influence, normally a defining factor in her every decision, was insufficient to divert her from her chosen direction.

Molly was quite horrified at the path Bella was going down. Of course Muggles were inferior; obviously the old families should be kept pure. But surely it was better to do that with politics and intelligence. Torture, murder – it was shameful and wrong, and she would have no part in it.

But, as sure as she was that Bella had made the wrong choice, she was deeply jealous. The cause had conferred new life on the other girl – it had given her ever-superfluous energy a direction and purpose. No longer did she pace the hallways with a palpable impatience, resembling nothing so much as a caged lion. Now she was graceful and content, because in those moments that truly mattered she was able to be the wild creature that she truly was, to feel the adrenaline that came with conquering fear and dueling to the death.

If she had not felt so isolated by Bella's new-found path of brutality, she would likely never have withdrawn her head from the sheltered world of her upbringing and reexamined the boundaries that had once seemed so clear. Her conscience was troubled; thoughts intruded that were most improper to a pureblood scion. She opened her eyes to those she had deemed her inferiors and for the first time saw equals. The lines once so sharply drawn now seemed absurd.

When she returned Arthur's smiles now, it was with no condescension. And when he told her of his dreams of equality and tolerance, she felt the fire in her rekindle. Now she had something of her own to focus her energy - a cause that was big enough to absorb her passion and talent.

Was the friendship lost to the cause, or the cause adopted to make up for the loss of the friendship? Neither girl could ever decide for sure.

x

During the first war, Molly never really got along with Andromeda. This was not regarded as remarkable; Andy Tonks gave most of the Order the creeps. It wasn't just that she looked so much like Bellatrix that unsettled people; it was the feeling that she wasn't really so different from her sister at all. Despite marrying Ted, she had never abandoned most of the old pureblood customs; it seemed that just because she was fighting Voldemort didn't mean that she had crossed over to their world. She was still part of the old society, and so she was still always thought of as a Black.

But for Molly it was different. She had tried to befriend Andromeda after her banishment, hoping to replace what she had lost in Bellatrix. But she was repulsed at what she found and soon turned away from her. If Bella had been part of the Order she would never have held back as Andromeda had done; she would have been front and centre of everything. Her eyes would be raging with excitement at victory and distraught at every loss; they would hold none of the studied, icy calm which Andromeda so rarely let slip. Ultimately, Molly disliked Andromeda not because she resembled Bellatrix, but rather because she was nothing like her at all.

x

Her mind was unequivocal as she faced her childhood friend. This was no time for contemplation or memories or regrets. Everything was at stake at this moment. She had already lost so much, and today would decide if the world would become as it was meant to be or if it would take the twisted trajectory which she had feared for so long. She had served this cause for over twenty years now, and it could not fail. And by some strange, illogical conviction, she became quite certain that the woman in front of her was all that obstructed victory. Of course, the bitch was not him, and obviously his death would be the true conquest. But (and her deep-rooted pride recoiled from admitting it) she could not slay him. Her meaning of her presence here today was to deal with her.

The eyes that met in that final moment held the same emotions with which they had shone at that game so many years ago when they had met – incandescent rage and unyielding resolve. The steps they took in the dance of death were perfectly mirrored as if rehearsed, and why should they not be when they had learned it as a duet since childhood? A timeless, macabre equilibrium held ever so briefly, in which life and death, love and hate, hearts and spades were interchangeable, a whirling kaleidoscope of passion and power.

As her lips formed the curse, she knew that if she died, a part of her would live on in the other, and if she killed a part of her would die. She knew not whether the awareness brought her comfort or despair, whether to laugh or to scream. But she knew that this battle was over.

x

Many years later, Molly looked out at her grandchildren playing in the garden and wondered. If not for Tom Riddle, she was quite sure that her old friend would be sitting with her on the porch, energy undimmed by the silver that would have crept into her dark hair. Squinting at young James, she instead saw the boy, Bella's child who they had decided would be called Pollux (and by the strangest of coincidences, the shadows cast on his cheekbones by the setting sun gave him an impossible resemblance to his second namesake). Of course things were better now; the world was more tolerant and peaceful, and how could she be contemplating a world in which her beloved grandchildren, almost none of them pureblood, did not exist or were pariahs? So why, when she stroked the wand which had saved her daughter and so many others, did she wish that she had never had to make that choice, that she had remained ignorant and sheltered and passively bigoted? Why could she not shake the feeling that, when Red battled Black and won, another unseen game was forever lost?