Let's see… BAMF antihero/villain protagonist, check. Sane and deadly Dark Lord, check. Familial angst aplenty, check. Muse bouncing around like a squirrel on cocaine, check and double check. Looks like we're ready to roll.
Disclaimer: Did James and Lily trust their security to someone outside their cottage, even though Bill later proved that having the Secret Keeper living under the Fidelius Charm he protects is entirely possible? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, Warner Bros., and whoever else she sold the rights to.
"Sirius, I've been looking all over for… What are you doing?"
The grey-eyed wizard held out a hand to request her silence while he hung the mirrored ball from the ceiling and charmed it so that all its reflections would be blue and yellow. Lowering his wand, he motioned towards the other decorations. "What do you think?"
His guest quirked one eyebrow and glanced at the palm fronds, the pitchers full of red and green drinks, the golden streamers stretched along the walls, and the phonographs blaring catchy tunes before she ran her hand through her brown locks – just a few shades lighter than the black hair her sisters and he himself bore – and sighed heavily. "Three things, Sirius. First, disco is dead. Thankfully. Second, why are you redecorating the kitchen?"
"It's the summer solstice, Andi!" The woman sighed again and waved her hand in a 'get on with it' motion. "Since Narcissa was so insistent on following the Old Ways this past December, I figured, 'Sirius, you old dog, why don't you do the same?' But, and here's the kicker, since the winter solstice is all about the Dark, that means that the longest day of the year would be for the Light. It's perfect!"
Andromeda Tonks nee Black, affectionately known to her family as 'Andi', closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. "There are so many things wrong with that line of thought that I'm not sure where to start. You do realize that Cissy will probably take offense at this, right? And that Jen's almost sure to side with her over you?"
"Nah, she'd know it was a joke," Sirius replied with a broad smile. Over the past year, he had gotten to know his cousin much better than he ever expected he would, and eventually he discovered that she actually had a slight fondness for elaborate pranks, though she would rather cut out her own tongue than ever admit that fact. The cheerful expression melted off his face as he answered the second question. "And I think Jen could use a couple of laughs right about now, even if it's just from them chasing me around the house and hexing me."
The other member of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black looked down at his statement. Jennifer, his goddaughter and heiress, had won the Triwizard Tournament hosted at Hogwarts this past year despite being the second youngest competitor, and the reward for her display of skill had been to witness the resurrection of Lord Voldemort, the most violent Dark Lord to wage war upon Magical Britain since Edward Cromwell in the late seventeenth century. She had been tortured and nearly murdered in an unknown graveyard, and it had been only her quick thinking – along with casting the horrendously illegal and dark Imperius Curse – that let her escape.
Only four days had passed since that terrible event, and already he was becoming distraught at her increasing silence and depression. Just the previous afternoon, she had retired to her bedroom before the sun had even set! She needed something to cheer her up, even if just for a few minutes.
Andi finally returned her gaze to him and nodded. "Right now, I don't know that she would necessarily enjoy it, but I do believe she would appreciate the effort you put in. Still, I am a tad confused. You said you wanted to celebrate the Light, yes?"
"But as far as I am aware, the actual Light families renounced the Old Ways centuries ago. They don't have solstice celebrations, do they?"
"Not that I've ever heard of."
"So… you're basically pulling all this out of your arse, aren't you?"
"Pretty much," he cheerfully agreed.
She sighed a third time, causing him to wonder if that many of those in such a short time could possibly be unhealthy. "Which brings me back to my final point. It's obvious you have no idea what you're doing."
"Well, excuse me for being out of practice," he said none-too-sullenly, his mood plummeting. "Azkaban doesn't exactly make for the best partying location. Too dreary, too damp, and too many soul-sucking demons."
"Well, I do seem to be putting my foot in my mouth today, don't I?" she commented after a brief pause. "Here, I'll finish setting all this up if you find Jen and bring her down."
A whimper escaped him. "Er, well, can't you do that? She's probably still in bed right about now."
"Is the big, brave Padfoot afraid to face one sleeping teenager?"
"Andromeda, she sleeps in the nude," Sirius reminded her with a shiver. "Seeing her run around naked when she was a baby was one thing, but I'd rather not have to see her like that again if I can help it. It's beyond awkward." It had been for him, at least; Jen had not cared one little bit, too familiar with grown men staring at her bare flesh to have retained any form of body modesty.
Once again he cursed the fact that when he had finally managed to find her the previous summer, she had been working for the past several years in a child brothel.
"And you think it isn't for me, too? The only one of us who doesn't have a problem finding her in that state is Cissy, for obvious reasons."
He groused, "Don't remind me. I spend my time trying to forget that she's a pedophile."
"At least she isn't your little sister," the woman snapped back. "Get upstairs and wake Jen up. It's past noon, for Merlin's sake! Stick the sheet to the bed if you don't want her to get up until you've left the room; it's what I do."
Grumbling as he left his cousin to clean up his clutter – he had little interest and even less talent for interior decorating before his twelve-year stay in prison, let alone after – he exited the room and began climbing the stairs. His mood lifted slightly as he passed a large landscape painting hanging in the stairwell where his mother's portrait had once been. In return for keeping the wretched thing, Kreacher, the Blacks' house-elf, had been willing if not exactly enthused to remove the reminder of the foul old harpy from its place. Thank Merlin he was agreeable that day; I shudder to think how much longer the restoration would have taken had I given in to my first impulse and Confringo'ed the damn thing, wall and all.
He continued to the third and top floor before turning to the right. This level of the building had once provided space for numerous members of the family, but as of today, only he and Jen actually resided in the house. Andromeda, along with her husband Ted and her daughter Dora, lived just outside Lancaster while Narcissa called a manor in the Wiltshire countryside home. Sirius was unsure how much longer that arrangement would last, however; her husband, Lucius Malfoy, had been Voldemort's right-hand man in the previous war, and he doubted anyone had supplanted the blond dandy while the Dark Lord had been out of commission.
At least she knows she can stay here if it gets too bad. Mr. No-Nose didn't have the best of tempers thirteen years ago, and Jen escaping his clutches must have brassed him off royally. Let's just hope he doesn't take it out on Cissy; for all that she's a pervert and a blind bigot, she's also one of us. Not to mention, if Jen found out her 'Auntie' was murdered, there's no telling how she'd react. Well, except violently; the dark witches in this family are traditionally good at that.
Sirius's feet stopped immediately outside his goddaughter's closed door, and he hesitated for a moment before knocking firmly. "Jen! Time to get up!" When there was no response, he repeated the call before reluctantly twisting the knob, the door slowly creaking open.
Sticking his head through the crack, he barely withheld a laugh at the girl sprawled facedown on top of her bed; to his relief, she was clothed in the same dress she had been wearing the previous day. Loki, her raven familiar, aimed a piercing glare at him from the headboard before taking wing and flying out her open window. She must have been truly exhausted yesterday. I almost feel sorry for having to wake her. Almost. Smirking, he conjured a large balloon filled with ice-cold water. "Come on, Jen, you better get up on your own before I have to do something unpleasant." She did not stir at his soft, singsong voice, so he giggled and levitated the heavy balloon across the room until it hung a couple of feet above her. "Last chance. Three… two… one… Fire!"
The projectile fell and burst, soaking her with its contents.
He laughed uproariously. "That's what you get for staying up… all… Jen?" To his consternation, the young witch had not responded to his prank in the slightest. That's weird. If there's one way of getting her out of bed, it's splashing her. Tiptoeing warily towards her – it was entirely possible that she was feigning sleep in order to lure him nearer before she retaliated – he shook her shoulder only to jerk his hand back from her scorching flesh. It felt like her blood was literally boiling in her veins.
"Jen!" Unmindful of her drenched outfit, he grabbed the collar of her dress and rolled her onto her back. Now that he was close enough, he could see just how red and clammy her skin was, as well as how wet the sheets underneath her were. Was she sweating the whole night? Why didn't she tell me she wasn't feeling well? "Ennervate!"
A brief spasm told him the spell had worked, and he leaned over to listen when he noticed her lips moving. "…hurts. Put it out. Burns. Bright. Stop…" With a shudder, her slurred voice ended and she grew still again.
"Come on, stay with me. Ennervate!" The spell did nothing, the girl too deep in her fevered somnolence. Desperate now, he screamed, "Kreacher!"
The miserable being popped into the room at his call. "Master bes—" The house-elf's eyes opened wide as he noticed what was happening. "Miss Jen!"
"Andi's in the kitchen. Bring her up here. Now!"
For once not arguing, Kreacher snapped his fingers and disappeared, almost immediately returning with the woman. Taking in the scene, Andi whipped her wand from the pocket of her cream robes and shoved him out of the way. A long, elaborate incantation soon had numbers formed from different colored smokes rising from Jen's skin. "That can't be right."
"What is it?" he demanded.
"Her temperature's much too high, but that's the only measurement that makes any sense. Heart rate, breathing, blood pressure; they're all a fraction of normal, let alone what they should be with her this sick. Has she been unconscious the whole time?"
"A reviving spell had her babbling for a couple of seconds, but that's it, and it didn't work the second time," Sirius said, worry twisting in his belly like snakes. He had never heard of any magical disease behaving like this, and precious few Muggle diseases could affect witches and wizards. Those that did were either inconsequential nuisances or invariably fatal. "What the hell is wrong with her?"
"Don't ask me; I'm not a Healer!" Another flick of her wand caused her to gasp in surprise. "That's why… She's completely magically exhausted. I can't even find her core. It's like she doesn't have a drop of magic left in her."
His eyes widened. "Which explains why she's been so tired lately; her magic's been fighting this off. Do you think it's something she picked up when she was kidnapped?"
"Could be?" Andi answered weakly with a shrug of her shoulders. "There's no way to know. The best thing to do would be to just cool her down; that fever is what will hurt her if we can't stop it."
"Kreacher will prepare a cold bath," the old elf offered, surprising both humans that he was still in the room, before he popped away.
Sirius blinked for a moment. "…Thanks, Kreacher. Should we take her to St. Mungo's after we get her temperature lowered so they can figure out what's going on?"
"You mean where the first thing they'll do is shove a Pepper-Up down her throat and then be shocked with nothing happens?" she shot back. "Jen will get better only to be asked question after question about why potions don't affect her. I doubt she'd accept a simple apology after that."
Good point. Nodding at the wisdom of her advice, he asked, "Why don't they work on her? She's never told me."
"Nor me, but Poppy fire-called me a couple of weeks ago about this very topic. She said Jen's core is oddly shaped and possibly interferes with how the potions are meant to access her magic, which is as good an explanation as any. Of course, she also thinks potions make Jen throw up rather than sit around pointlessly, so we have to take that finding with a grain of salt."
"Let's hope Jen can keep her in the dark about that. Poppy does not like being lied to." A faint smile appeared on Sirius's face then as he fondly recalled having to go to her after one particularly furious spat pitting James and himself against Snivellus in their fifth year and trying to make her believe the enormous reindeer antlers growing from their heads and their feet switching positions had been a joke gone horribly wrong. The old battle-axe had seen through their deception and given them detention, though at least she had not told McGonagall what they had done. He had already been in enough trouble after the very poorly thought out decision to sneak firewhiskey into the dorms.
Unaware of his reminiscing, the brunette blushed faintly. "I might have let that misconception stand. It's just a little white lie, right?"
"True, very true." A pop, and Jen disappeared, leaving only her dress to fall heavily to the floor. Curiosity making itself known, he asked, "How do you even know those spells you used on her? Were you training to be a mediwitch at one point?"
"Oh, no. You see, Metamorphs respond very strangely to many diseases, and most of the time it's best to just treat their symptoms until they recover on their own. Dora's Child Healer was more than happy to teach me a few of the basics about how to monitor her."
He nodded with a sigh. "That's all we can do for Jen right now, too, isn't it?"
The pair spent the rest of the day caring for the youngest member of their family, which mostly consisted of simply switching out cold compresses and maintaining the cooling charm they erected around her bed. Her fever finally broke right at sundown, allowing her to slip into a deeper sleep. Sirius and Andi exchanged one last significant look before the woman departed for her own house; despite how independent the girl was, they would make sure she got some proper rest until she had fully recovered.
Jen reluctantly pulled her attention away from her book when the wards informed her of their newly arrived guest. "Dumbledore's here." The doorbell rang as if to confirm her declaration.
"I wonder what in Merlin's name he wants now," Sirius muttered before rising from his desk. "Shall we adjourn to the drawing room?"
With great reluctance, she accepted the man's offered hand and let him pull her to her feet. She did not like having to rely on anyone, but she was still suffering the effects of her annual fever two days earlier. Every year since an old Haitian witch named Elsie had inducted her into the macabre mysteries of Voodoo, she spent a full twenty-four hours unconscious and ill, struggling to complete such simple actions as even breathing. Just as the winter solstice was the day when dark magic was at its strongest, the summer solstice was a time for those of light magic.
As a black witch, the darkest of the dark, that one day saw her normally immense power reduced to nothing, saw her laid there helpless and weak. She despised being weak.
Moving slowly in deference to her unsteady steps, Sirius guided her down the hallway to the drawing room, both ignoring the bell's increasingly demanding rings. This room was where all but the closest of friends were received, hence its proximity to the front door and its connection to the Floo Network. A wave of the man's wand had the furniture inside rearranging itself, a soft sofa and a single unpadded chair facing each other in the middle of the floor while all the other seats took up positions along the walls. Settling Jen into the couch before plopping down on her left side, he called, "Kreacher, could you show our guest in?!"
"He is not happy with you right now," she commented as her magical sonar reported the house-elf downstairs in the kitchen practically throwing a pan into the oven and popping to the door. Sirius simply laughed at her words. "Honestly, I'm surprised you're having Kreacher bring Dumbledore to us. Being escorted by a servant is quite the snub."
The Head of the Blacks nodded and leaned back into the cushions. "Oh, trust me, I know. Before serving time in Azkaban, even just last summer, I would have greeted him myself, and he knows it; this is a good way of pointing out just how much of my respect the stunts he pulled over the past year have cost him. The chair is to reinforce that message. I'm actually interested to see if he conjures one of his normal squishy armchairs rather than sit in it."
"Because by doing so, he rejects our hospitality," she said, the plan unfolding in her mind. "You will have already shown that you have a grievance with him, so that would be yet another bridge burned. I presume his persistent demands for me to go back to the Potters are why I'm not just at your right hand, but seated right next to you?"
"Exactly. You're a Black now, whether he likes it or not. The sooner he gets that through his skull, the better."
"Very impressive. Here I thought Aunt Cissy was the politician in the family."
"Who do you think taught me all this stuff?" he asked with a broad grin. She stifled her chuckles when the door opened and the subject of their conversation entered the room. "Mr. Dumbledore, we were not expecting you today."
"I do apologize, my boy. I have been so busy recently that I forgot to call ahead." He hesitated a brief moment before lowering himself into the chair set out for him. "You seem to have been able to prepare for my arrival despite the short notice, however."
Sirius nodded but said nothing.
The old man sighed. "Very well, then. I take it you received the message I left you?"
"A simple feather isn't much of a message, but if you were trying to tell me that you were reactivating the Order, yes, I got it."
"The Order?" Jen asked in confusion.
"Order of the Phoenix, a group founded to stand against Voldemort during the War. Well, the last war, technically, since we seem to be in a second one now," Sirius qualified. "Basically, we went wherever the Death Eaters showed up and tried to limit the damage they caused and help the DMLE capture them if we could."
Understanding hit as she recalled something he had said following her own encounter with the Dark Lord. "So that's why you were dueling Voldemort that one time you told me about. I had wondered why you would do something like that."
"No, I dueled him because I was young and stupid and in denial of my own mortality. He disabused me of that last notion real quick."
Dumbledore coughed lightly to regain their attention. "Indeed, though ultimately you did survive and became wiser for it. And may I say, Miss Black, that it heartens me to hear that you have lost the fear you had just a week ago of speaking Voldemort's name."
"Oh, I was never afraid," she denied airily. "I just noticed how everyone else reacted and decided it was pointless to terrify them all unnecessarily. We all knew to whom I was referring, so saying 'You-Know-Who' instead of 'Voldemort' made little difference."
"That ingrained panic is the precise reason why those of us with courage must call him by that name. Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself."
She smiled with all the false politeness she could dredge up. "A nice, rational argument. Unfortunately, fear – and a fear reinforced by society, even more so – is innately irrational. All the logic in the world cannot stop that instinctual, visceral response."
"Both of you have very good points," Sirius interjected, cutting off the headmaster's response. "Nevertheless, I very much doubt that you came here to debate philosophy with my scion."
"True, true. You might have guessed this already, but I was hoping that you would be willing to join the fight against the Dark once again. Despite your loss to Voldemort himself, I seem to recall you being a talented Hit Wizard who was quite capable of fighting nearly any of his Inner Circle to at least a draw." Dumbledore smiled congenially to reinforce the praise.
"Unfortunately, I shall have to disappoint you." The old politician stilled at Sirius's words. "I have responsibilities now that I did not back then, responsibilities that require me to think of others before myself. I am unsure if the interests of the House of Black would be best served by allying ourselves with your organization."
Jen forced herself not to join their unwanted guest in gaping at her godfather in surprise. He had accepted the knowledge that she was a dark witch, and his opinions in the Wizengamot were often more along the views of the Neutral Houses than those of the Light bloc, but she knew that he held nothing but disgust and hatred for the Death Eaters, which was part of the reason he and Lucius had avoided each other over the past year despite Cissy spending most of her time in Grimmauld Place.
For all that he is an incorrigible prankster, he truly does take his role as our Head of House seriously, she thought, smiling in her mind at the unintentional pun. When Cissy last visited, she mentioned that Arcturus had carefully navigated the waters of neutrality so he wouldn't commit the family to the losing side of the war, whichever side that wound up being. I can tell that part of him wants to rejoin this band of do-gooders, but as he said, he's putting the rest of us first.
Dumbledore swiftly shook his head as if to convince himself that he had misheard the other man. "I do not think you understand the gravity of your situation. Voldemort does not forgive, and he does not forget. You can try to stay out of his way, but he will want revenge for your actions against him in the last war, to say nothing of Miss Black's a mere week ago. He will come for you sooner or later. Do you honestly not want friends to come to your aid when he decides that time has arrived?"
"I understand just fine. What you seem to have forgotten, however, is that our family is known for having some of the best warwards outside of Gringotts, and that reputation is not without merit. They will be able to hold him off long enough that he loses interest or, in the worst case scenario, give us enough time to flee to safer climes." Sirius crossed his arms and leaned back, a position their family had come to understand meant that further discussion would be naught but a waste of time.
"Very well," the leader of the Light replied reluctantly. "If you are so insistent on staying here, might I offer to add a protection of my own? The Longbottoms and Potters have both taken refuge under the Fidelius Charm, and I would be more than willing—"
"Whatever do you mean by 'No', my dear?" Dumbledore asked her.
She pushed her flare of anger back to the depths of her mind, no matter how deserved it was. "Exactly what it sounds like. Should we decide to use that charm, we will cast it ourselves. Under no circumstances will we give the authority to decide who may or may not enter our home to anyone who does not bear the name of Black."
Especially not when that unnamed person has seemingly made it his goal to force me back into the Potters' arms; if we let you erect the Fidelius, you would almost certainly make yourself the Secret Keeper, and the very next day we would find them moving in. I would sooner kill them and you in such a manner that even Voldemort fears my wrath than meekly surrender to them so much as a scrap of power over me. For the Baron's sake, I'd watch Britain and all within her borders burn before I capitulated to their demands and retook that abhorrent surname.
"You tell him," Sirius praised quietly. Turning back to their 'guest', he said, "Was there anything else you needed to speak to us about? Surely there are other items on your agenda more important than merely making small talk."
Dumbledore stood from the uncomfortable chair, straightening his robes with sharp movements. He obviously recognized the dismissal for what it was, and equally clear was that he was not happy about it. "Actually, there was one more topic I wished to discuss, specifically with you, Miss Black. What condition do you have that required Madam Pomfrey to prescribe ongoing treatment?"
"I do not understand how that is any of your concern, Headmaster. Did you learn about this because she asked you to pass along a message to me?" The only thing it could possibly be about is the scar-reducing potion I've been using to regain my sight. She did say that I would probably be fully recovered before I finished this month's vial, and I didn't exactly give her the chance to check my progress the last time I was in her 'care'.
He smiled faintly, the expression devoid of any sort of humor. "On the contrary, if your disorder poses a risk to other students, it is my concern."
You just won't let it go, will you, you wrinkled bastard? Fine, two can play at this game. "I would be quite surprised if my yeast infection could ever be considered a public health issue." He tried and failed to suppress a sickened grimace at her words; considering his advanced age, she knew he would be extremely uncomfortable the moment she so much as implied that her visits with the nurse related to her genitals in any way. "As I said, nothing you needed or wanted to know. My message, if you please?"
"Ugh… She wanted to let you know that you should continue taking your potion every other or every third day from now on and then stop once there is no further improvement. You have one final checkup with her when you return to Hogwarts. If you don't mind, I think I'll take my leave now."
A loud crack split the air; Narcissa wavered on her feet for a moment before falling. Jen threw herself out of the sofa to catch the woman before she could dash her head against the hardwood floor. What the hell?! Her core is practically empty; I'm shocked she even had enough power left to teleport. What has she been up to for the past few days?!
Exhaustion was not the only problem; her aunt's arms and face were littered with cuts, and the fingertips of her right hand had been abraded to the point that they, too, were oozing blood. Someone had been working her over, and hate raced through Jen's body as the feel of Lucius's core rose from her memory. He had been in the graveyard when Voldemort returned, and in fact was one of the Dark Lord's chief lieutenants. If I find out that he had anything to do with this, he's a dead man. Magic amplifying her voice to echo down to the kitchen, she cried, "Kreacher, get Andi!"
The elf, apparently hearing the distress in her words, vanished.
"Allow me to help, Miss Black," Dumbledore ordered, whipping out of his pocket what she could only assume was his wand. This was the first time she had ever payed attention to his focus, and to her surprise and disconcertment, she felt nothing. It was as if there was a long, thin void in her sonar.
"We don't want your help!" She lightened the weight of Cissy's body and spun so that she knelt between her aunt and that inhuman wand. The last object she encountered that she could not feel through the world's magical currents was a pendant depicting Holda, more commonly called Mother Earth, that her friend and housemate Luna Lovegood had offered her immediately prior to the final Task of the Triwizard Tournament. That little trinket was supposedly protective in nature, but just a second or two of contact had come close to killing her due to it being imbued with white magic. Without knowing exactly whose hand had crafted the old man's wand, there was no way she would permit him to cast even a single spell on any member of her family.
No matter who was responsible, it was likely better to keep him away from them anyway. Of the fourteen entities who could have made it, half of them hated her for what she was while the others did not concern themselves with trivial issues like 'collateral damage'.
"Miss Black, that is no way to speak to someone willing to assist you. Don't allow your pride—"
"Enough!" Sirius turned to her and gestured towards the stairwell. "Take Cissy to an empty room until Andi gets here. Dumbledore, it's time for you to go. Feel free to use our Floo to return to Hogwarts."
"My boy, surely you understand—"
"I understand that you need to leave. Now."
She tuned the pair out as she carried her aunt up to the third floor, repairing the woman's wounds while she walked. She could find nothing wrong with Cissy beyond the obvious, but Andi had recently displayed a far more extensive grasp of magical healing than she herself had. Better that the elder of her aunts come and say she had fixed everything than risk harming one of the most important people in her life because she assumed she knew better and missed something. Not even she was quite that arrogant.
The last of Cissy's cuts and scrapes healed, Jen gently laid her on the bed in the room next to her own. Now it was just a matter of waiting. Waiting for Andi's diagnosis. Waiting for her aunt to awaken. Waiting for the name of her attacker.
And waiting for the best time to pay the guilty party a little visit. It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but this debt would be repaid.
A banishing charm flung Narcissa into the unyielding stone wall. Slumping to the ground, she remained motionless and closed her eyes until they were just barely cracked. Perhaps if her abuser thought she was unconscious, he would leave her.
Thankfully, her deception seemed to work, or perhaps he had just grown bored. Either way, the Dark Lord Voldemort lowered his wand with an irritated huff. "Foolish stubbornness truly does run in your family, doesn't it? I ask for a simple thing, and yet you continue to refuse me. Oh well, no matter. I have all the time in the world, and none can hold out against me forever. You will comply with my desires sooner or later." The hem of his robes fluttered in his wake as he walked calmly out of the room.
From his position beside the open door, Lucius sighed. "You can stop with the act, Narcissa."
Her eyes shot open, and she watched him warily. "How did you know I was awake?"
"After being married to you for 22 years, I should hope I can tell when you're pretending to sleep." He pushed off from the wall and strode halfway across the room towards her. "What I can't understand is what you mean to accomplish with this show of opposition. His patience is not limitless; just do as our Lord com—"
"Your Lord, Lucius, not mine," she snarled. He jerked away from her, shocked at the vehemence in her voice. "He can cajole me all he wants, torture me all he wants, but I will not take his Mark. Not now, not ever. I would rather die."
"What has come over you? Before this past week, you never expressed any disagreement with our goals. Has spending all your time with your cousin caused you to develop a sudden fondness for Muggles and Mudbloods?"
She forced herself to her feet and glared at him. "You are not normally this dense. I don't care about them; what I care about is that he tried to murder my niece! If you can honestly stand there and think that I would ever turn against my family, you do not know me nearly so well as you think you do!"
"Don't be a fool, Narcissa!" he protested. "I have done all I can to persuade him not to harm you, but I can't protect you for much longer if you don't bend. Four days you have tried his patience, but today he finally hexed you; what will your continued obstinance earn tomorrow?" The blond crossed the remaining distance and grabbed her shoulders. "You are either with him or against him, you know this. Don't throw your life away for your pride in a dying House!"
Her anger roaring in her ears, she shoved her husband away. "Better to perish serving my House than betray it for a man who was defeated by a mere babe! Would you sacrifice Draco were you in my place?!"
"If the Dark Lord asked it of me, yes!" Narcissa gaped in astonishment and disgust at his admission. "The Dark Lord is the only one, the only one, who can save our world from the Muggle invasion. I did what I could to counter Dumbledore's obsession with those vile apes in the Ministry, but he is too strong. Buying off Cornelius helped some, but he's just the Minister; he can twist the Wizengamot's orders, but he can't defy them. The Light Houses worship Dumbledore, and the Neutral Houses fear him. If we don't get rid of him and his sympathizers, our society will crumble. Is that what you want?"
"The House of Black has existed for over a thousand years, changing with the times as need be. We can survive an influx of Muggle ideas. If House Malfoy cannot do the same, that is your problem."
Lucius sneered. "You are a Malfoy, too, or have you forgotten?"
"By marriage alone." She held up one hand, crimson leaking from the many shallow lacerations Voldemort's scouring charm had inflicted on her pale skin. "It is Black blood that flows through my veins. It was a Black womb from which I was born. It is Black teachings that have guided me all my life. In any conflict between Malfoy and Black, you know where I will stand, and your servitude to the Dark Lord has created exactly that."
"Fine. If you are so determined to die for your birth family, who am I to stand in your way?" He walked to the open door and looked back at her. "I will not come here tomorrow, nor the day after. I can only hope you open your eyes before the Dark Lord decides to close them forever." The door slammed shut behind him.
"My eyes are open, Lucius." She moved to the rug in the middle of the floor and dropped to her knees on the unforgiving stone. Though she doubted it was due to her husband's pleas as he had convinced himself, Voldemort had been treating her with kid gloves thus far, even placing furniture and a small fire pit in what she could tell had once been an empty dungeon. It's because he knows that I'm the only way he can get to Jen. She killed his familiar, escaped his grasp; of course he wants revenge. Unfortunately for him, she is well protected in Grimmauld Place, and Andi's family would run before he could enter shouting distance. The only one of us he could reach is me, thanks to Lucius. A dark growl clawed its way out of her throat as she recalled returning to Malfoy Manor on Monday evening, only to be greeted by a stunner from the Dark Lord. She had woken in this room without her wand, and after several attempts, she had accepted that he had anticipated her plan to escape and so had erected at least an anti-Apparation jinx, possibly even an actual ward, over the entire dungeon.
She rolled up the carpet and stared at the large eihwaz rune, each line as wide and deep as her middle finger, that she had been hiding. Despite the fact that she was a prisoner, she was also a Pureblood, and so whoever was charged with her care had provided her with a magically reinforced metal fork rather than the wooden spoon they would normally give Muggleborns to eat with, assuming those captives had anything at all. It took a great deal of effort and time, forcing her to work every minute she was not fitfully sleeping or being 'recruited', but she had finally managed to carve the rune into the hard floor. She was quite thankful for the long stretch of solitude Voldemort had given her a couple of days earlier; without it, she would not yet be finished.
I really wish I had paid more attention in Ancient Runes, she complained, not for the first time. There were undoubtedly better languages to use for her jailbreak than Futhark, but as she had only taken Runes through OWL level, her options were decidedly limited. Ogham was only good for bodily enhancement, and she could not for the life of her – possibly literally – remember any of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, which were used primarily for warding and therefore exactly what she needed. No use crying over spilled potion, though. Eihwaz is good enough for my purposes; the way it destabilizes magic makes it more or less a runic Finite charm, so with enough power it should break through the jinx. I just hope the Dark Lord didn't throw a ward on me instead, or I might not be able to get away.
Runes normally required a wand to activate them, but since Voldemort had taken hers away, she was forced to improvise. Grabbing the fork from under the small bed, she prodded her recent wounds and forced them to bleed anew; that fluid she then smeared over the sides of her rune, ignoring the scrapes she picked up on her fingertips. Blood and crystals could be used to funnel energy into runic scripts, though they were of course inferior to the Epoto charm. She pushed herself from her crouched position up to her knees, the blood-loss making her slightly light-headed, and stuck her abused index finger into the rune. She muttered, "If you're listening, please let this work."
With a bit of effort, she pushed her magic into the symbol. The blood burst into cool blue light, followed by an ear-ringing snap that heralded the destruction of the spell holding her prisoner. Shouts echoed down the hallway, Death Eaters hearing her break through the defenses, and she staggered to her feet. She was so close to her freedom. Spinning on her heel and momentarily spotting Lucius as he burst through the door, she embraced the familiar squeezing sensation of Apparation.
Landing in the the middle of the drawing room of Grimmauld Place, she barely had time to see Jen and Sirius's astonished expressions before she passed out.
Silently Watches out.