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A Better Life

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Anger was an emotion that Albus had conquered many years ago.

Fear, that had once been a common companion, had been thwarted and overcome.

Happiness was but a distant memory, fleeting and lost many decades before.

But this feeling? This envy, this jealousy? The feeling of having a good plan be wasted as he was outmaneuvered by a foe he’d underestimated?

The feeling was quite odd, of that he was sure. Alien even. In place of contented satisfaction he was left with frustration and a good deal of annoyance. The plans that he’d meticulously organized had been dashed against the rocks and nothing he could do would fix it.

In the beginning he was sure that his plan was solid. Foolproof, even. The method of execution had been vetted, or so he’d presumed. He would use an efficient method to pass information and inspire a certain decision. The break during Yule holiday had promised to be the best time to begin his work, the easiest time to plant those first few seeds. It could have become the perfect moment to test the weak points and stresses that his opposition seemed for all the world to lack. A chance to find a chink in the armor.

It had been so simple. Pass certain information along and ensure that it reached a certain student, and a certain adult. His plan would have been allowed to unfold any which way and all he would need to do is sit back and watch it all play out. The outcome, whatever it would have ended up becoming, would have been an easy win in his book. A chance to begin the removal of an obstinate piece on the field or find out if they were already off the board.

The original plan, causing the defection of someone he’d seen playing an enormous role in both of the coming conflicts, had been met with an unfortunate dead end. His intention to endear himself to them both and give them the information necessary to save a wayward soul before it could be blackened to the point of unrecognizability had needed to be scrapped. The plan to give them a hero to worship, scrapped. Give them something to hold onto and fold them into the newly formed Order, scrapped.

They had been his plans.

And now he sat here while everything around him went tits up.

Instead of the rebellious time-hopper falling into line like a good little soldier she’d unexpectedly struck out on her own, and now was attached to His side.

The passing weeks had made it abundantly clear to him that his initial work with setting up her cover had done far more harm than good. He’d allowed her a chance to dig herself in deep, make too many waves, and more importantly he’d allowed her to interact with far too many people. His time had been wasted hemming and hawing while he still held out hope that she would come around.

He’d been wrong.

The expectation that she would be forever grateful to him for all the hard work he’d put into her had gone unfounded. The meager allowance that he’d made available to her had been folded into a far more enormous fortune. She was no longer dependent on his approval or assistance and now there was absolutely no guarantee that she would graduate to a position that he could monitor or supervise. She’d been far less meek than he had initially assumed.

Now she was out cavorting with the enemy and attending the very same tutoring sessions that he’d hoped she would be able to put a stop to.

With a sigh leaning more toward anger than exasperation he swung his hand out furiously at the tiny tin box holding onto an assortment of rare candies. All the infuriatingly wrapped candies, decked out in pink wax paper and stamps of crimson, went sailing out across the room to crash down unceremoniously against the far wall before scattering about all over the floor. Bits and pieces of smashed sugar dusted the wall where they had impacted and sharp pieces of sweet shrapnel entombed themselves into carpeting and beneath furniture.

The loud crack of the sugar pieces cracking had awoken the tired Phoenix that had until now been sleeping peacefully at his side. With a croak that sounded like death and the opening of one eye the Phoenix stared him down until he deigned to apologize, feather ruffling in quiet annoyance.

“Ah, yes… My apologies dear Fawkes. I don’t quite know what came over me.”

“Yes, yes you bloody do,” a croaking old voice raised up from its position anchored up on the wall behind Albus. “You’ve been beaten! You old buffoon. Just admit it already and move on. There’s nothing worse than a wizard sitting on his arse and throwing out a tantrum. Well,” the portrait paused to laugh out in chords much harsher than a human voice should be able to, “Except mudbloods I suppose.”

Albus leaned backwards in his old chair, wood creaking unsteadily beneath him as he let his emotions sink through his body. One hand gripped down onto the armrest with white knuckled intensity while the other hand came up to run at the dark circles gathering beneath his eyes.

“Phineas, if you would be so kind as to exclude yourself and your ramblings from my-”

“No! Merlin be thrice damned, I will certainly not, you half-blooded twit! You’ve contended yourself to interfere with my bloody family. My descendants, my legacy. I will not content myself to sit here in inaction on a wall or participate in the farce of being deaf and mute when your actions are directly affecting those of my House.”

“Well then what do you suggest Phineas?!” Albus’s voice rose to a roar in the quiet room as he whipped around in his chair to pierce the portrait of the late Headmaster with a glare that could have shriveled daisies. “What exactly am I supposed to do? Give up? Lay myself down like a lamb to the slaughter? Should I sit by and allow Tom to run roughshod through our world? Please, tell me, oh honorable and magnificent Phineas, what is your wise and sage advice in these most trying of times?”

The portrait smirked down at Albus with a toothy and all too dangerous smile playing at its lips and eyes lit up like coal before replying. A chill wormed its way down Albus’s spine at the sight. The old man had never been one of his favorites, hells he hadn’t even been the favorite of anyone who’d gone to Hogwarts during his tenure, but the consequent years stuck on a wall hadn’t been kind to the portrait’s temperament. And when Albus himself had finally ascended to the position of Headmaster, Phineas had become downright hostile.

“Easy now Dumble. Admit your defeat. Let. Them. Be.” His voice practically growled out the last three words. “Suck it up and move onward from this fiasco. Being an arse about the whole situation or crying all the time won’t change it. It's your interfering that brought this all about, that and your damnable need for control and information.” Albus huffed in indignation as the portrait finished speaking.

“I cannot in good conscience allow them to run loose!” He swiveled away from staring at Phineas, hands wringing violently in exasperation. “They might interfere and in the worst case scenario they could bring it all tumbling down. I thought that I had a good read on Ms. Granger. The glimpses I had into her mind were illuminating I must admit. But they were incomplete, and since the event she’s been more buttoned up than Gringotts. I managed to figure out twelve uses for Dragon’s Blood and I still haven’t even the foggiest clue as to what she’s gone and done or whether it’ll even be reversible.”

“Well, you do know that it's your incessant attempts at gaining entrance to somewhere you’ve been clearing warned off from that’ve led the poor girl to whatever it is that she’s done,” another voice, Dippet he presumed, popped up alongside murmurs of agreement from Phineas and another portrait.

Light flashed in brilliant patterns as he squeezed his eyes shut at this newest interruption.

“You know, as long as I’ve laid claim to this office I’ve lived under the assumption that you lot were all bound to help me, not play devil’s advocate for the Dark.”

“Well you know what the Muggles say. When you assume, you make an ass of you and me. More accurately you in this case, but the sentiment still remains.” Phineas shot Ablus a self-satisfied smirk as Dippet finished admonishing his replacement.

“You don’t even know that she’s leaning that way yet. And for that matter there are more things between Light and Dark than are sided off to one or the other. We’d have thought that you of all people should know that.”

“No. I am precisely the person to know that there is only Dark or Light. Supposing there to be some form of Gray is what led me to make the mistakes that allowed Gellert to rise. Under no circumstances will I ever make those mistakes again. I’ve done nothing wrong, nothing to prompt Tom to become the dark spectacle that he is today. That was not my doing, but I’ll be damned if I let him get away with it.”

“Aye,” Phineas gravely agreed, “But you did nothing to prevent his descent either. It’s all on you either way.”

---oo---

Heaving breaths and adrenaline coursing through her veins brought Narcissa out of sleep faster than ever before. Her heartbeat ran a staccato rhythm through her chest and blood rushed like rapids through her ears.

The dream had been about… Something. In the first few seconds after waking she could hardly remember what it was that she’d been running from, only keeping with her the vague sensation that she had been running. Running from something unstoppable while holding something very precious in her arms. Something from Andromeda. The vague sensation that she’d needed to leave quickly was hovering in the back of her mind as she scrunched her eyes shut in an attempt to remember it fully.

Phantoms had been shouting loudly in her ears about something that had seemed relevant in the dream but was lost to the waking world.

Pulsing light filtered into the room through cracks between the curtains covering her window in dancing patterns against the far wall. Streaks and shapes merged and split with the brightness of winter morning behind them. It was an odd feeling to go from pain and heat, ‘Why was it so hot?’, to the sudden chill of her surroundings. The duvet and comforters were a tangled mess at the foot of her bed and the rest of her sheets had fled at some point in the night.

Sweat streaked across her brow and if she concentrated enough she could swear she still smelled the faint remnants of an acrid fire, more potent than the crisp ashy cinders produced in a fireplace. The distant memory singed her nose instead of leaving pleasant reminders of times past.

She shook her head in a vain attempt to throw off the lingering feeling of being chased as she slowly slid off the side of her bed. Bare feet found purchase on the thick carpeting while her toes dug in to further ground her in the feeling of being awake. The remnants of the dream faded to a lost memory as her concerns were replaced with a rumbling stomach and dry mouth.

With a practiced efficiency the young witch dressed herself before heading out into the hallway outside her room. Instead of turning right, she turned left, leading her to stand before Andromeda’s room with a need to check in on her older sister. She couldn’t describe what was driving her to do so, sisterly affection maybe, but if it was that it was the first time in many years that she’d reacted to it in this manner.

As she lingered before the door with her hand securely on the knob her heart began to creep up into her throat while her ears rang in the silence. Stuffing the fear into the back of her mind she twisted the silver knob that allowed entrance while straining all her senses against the still air of the corridor and room.

With a click, the door opened at her insistence, and she slowly tiptoed her way forward into the often forbidden room.

A sigh raced out of her mouth and her muscles relaxed as she took in the sight.

Her sister was curled up in multiple yellow and green blankets, tucked into a corner of her bed against the headboard in a nest of her own making. The bed was strewn with clothing and pillows, cheery colors of red and lilac clashing with the rest of the rather drab looking room. A brown mop top of curly hair slowly shifted as the witch within stirred at the quiet intrusion while Narcissa happily reconciled that her sister was alright.

The window was slightly cracked, something that Andy had always been fond of, causing Narcissa’s breath to ghost out in ice crystals as she breathed in the comforting scent of home.

Backing out slightly she left the room before padding down the hall. A smile played at the corners of her lips as the lingering feelings of worry and doubt that had branched off from the dream and into the waking world finally sloughed off of her small shoulders.

---oo---

The table in the dining room was filled to the brim before Narcissa even had a chance to sit down. The elves knew her preferences for food and her standing order was that it should be prepared before or at her arrival, not a moment after. The little beasts were somewhat… amicable, she supposed, if not good conversationalists. But she supposed that was all par for the course where it involved something as lowly as them.

One bowl of fruit, cubed. Check.

One plate, filled to bursting with a rasher of bacon, fried eggs, and toast. Check.

Simple, filling, and effective. And all so easy that the elves could prepare it in their sleep.

The stumbling noise of feet shuffling about on hardwood flooring heralded the arrival of Hermione, the tell-tale sharp healed clack of boots walking down heel to toe announced her eldest sister. As the duo passed into view she placed her fork down and glanced up to greet them.

“Good morning Bella, Em’.”

“Mornin’ Cissa,” her sister replied, while Hermione only grunted in acknowledgement. The witch looked a little worse for wear, short hair tousled and frizzed while dark rings fell drearily beneath her eyes. Breakfast proceed from there in a peaceful contentment as each of them silently ate their fill.

“So,” Narcissa asked once she’d finished her plate, “What will you two be up to today?”

Hermione shook her head before pushing the plate in front of her out of the way, elbows coming to rest on the tabletop while she cradled her head in her hands.

The social perfectionist inside of Narcissa nearly screamed out at Hermione’s blatant disrespect for proper decorum before she managed to school herself and remember that the witch had not been raised in their manner.

“Going to my,” Bella air quoted as Hermione said that, “Estates. Need to look them all over. See how they’ve fared after some years of being abandoned.”

"Well that sounds like… fun.” If her sister or Hermione noticed the slightly strained quality to her voice, neither brought it up.

“Yes. You have no idea. Literally cannot wait.” Hermione deadpanned her delivery as she sunk further into herself and the table.

---oo---

Morning passed quickly from there on out. By mid-morning she’d determined that staying inside was becoming unbearable and opted instead to take a walk around the grounds. Snow lay piled outside of the walkways and even warming and anti-frost charms did little to satiate the bite of winter in full force.

The grounds were worth the discomfort however. Beauty in all its splendor awaited her at every turn as the land around her lay quiet beneath a blanket of snow. Fluffy white drifts lay piled against the base of the Manor and crisp air encircled her very being as she focused on enjoying her time off.

She had no schoolwork to focus on after having blitzed through it all at Hermione’s determined insistence and now there was little for her to focus her efforts on. The past few days of worry had ended in a pleasant manner when Hermione’s plan had come to fruition, and she was determined to enjoy it in a more fitting environment.

That the older witch had come to fit securely in their dysfunctional little family, garnering Bellatrix’s love, and the sisters quiet affection for both her unique presence and the calming effect that she seemed to have on the eldest. That she was also working to help them in their lives was secondary to the feeling of finally finding someone who seemed thrilled to be around them for just being themselves. She was genuine in her endearment to the sisters instead of sycophantically clinging onto them like a leech.

Her thoughts were dashed from her head as a snowball sailed over the side of the hedge she had meandered over to, crashing down on the side of her face in a puddle of slush and snow. With a squeal of surprise she crouched down and dipped low, already taking up her own snowball as Andy’s laughter ran out over the lawn.

Within minutes the yard had turned into a full on battlefield as each sister threw lumps of snow, the sounds of joy and adventure ringing out through the air.

---oo---

Cygnus was fuming. Since the moment that the sisters had returned from their impromptu war, there had been shouting and ranting coming through the other side of his study door. It seemed even the ward surrounding its walls were unable to quell the anger raging within. Harsh words and the thumping of boots as someone paced were getting louder as the morning weaved into afternoon, sun climbing high and with it the tempers embedded on the ground floor.

Andy had taken in the sound for little less than a minute before running off to the rookery with an excuse of needing to send a letter. The lie was hiding a simple enough truth that Narcissa felt alright in letting it go. She was still slightly miffed though as Andy trudged up the stairs and away from the conflict.

In the first floor library the young witch had found refuge. Ensconced within multiple woven afghans on a comfortable armchair, she kept a book in her hands and ears open to the sound of unbridled fury flaming beneath her feet. At nearly even intervals she could catch snippets of shouts as the wards buckled against the screaming men.

Her hand wrapped around her wand as she absentmindedly pulled it out when a particularly violent shout passed through the floorboards at her feet. Setting the book down onto the end table at her side she threw the blankets off and stood to her feet. She didn’t know enough silencing spells to knock down the sound below her and listening to it was beginning to give her a headache. Reading had quickly become an untenable distraction.

She knew she could have run to Andy to keep herself busy and safe but the nagging pull of her pride kept her from doing so. The smell of mold and dry pages continued to waft throughout the room along with ash and smoke from the fireplace, settling her nerves in sensations that kept her feeling safe.

The logs cracked and popped while the wood within it shifted, embers growing bright with flares of heat and movement. Recovering her position she sat back down into the chair and attempted to contrate on her book again. As the sounds beneath her died out and remained quiet for over a minute she took a moment to believe that the fight was finally over. She could only hope that Cygnus had grown tired and that his temper had finally relented.

She had almost convinced herself that all was well, she was seconds away from it truly, before the loudest bang yet exploded off in the distance below her.

It wasn’t the first time she’d heard power being thrown off like that but it was the first time she’d felt it. The entire house seemed to shake on its foundations when the spell went off, dust falling off of the chandeliers above her.

In only seconds she was on her feet and sprinting towards the mezzanine staircase, her flats scuffing against the bare hardwood and rugs slipping out from under the force of her movements. Andy had been able to hear and likely feel the disturbance as well, the sound of her sprinting was banging loudly along the ceiling as she descended from wherever she’d decided to take refuge.

Dropping down the stairs two at a time she nearly landed into a heap when she reached the bottom, feet skidding to a stop as she went down on one knee while her balance fled her. With her wand out and trained down the hallway she took in the sight of the empty hallway. The sound of her sister reaching the top of the staircase caused her to look up. Andy stood at the landing, brown hair wild and eyes blown wide open in confusion and worry.

“Cissa, get back, now!” Andy hissed out through clenched teeth as she made her way to the bottom of the stairs. Throwing an arm out behind herself she pushed Narcissa to her back and whipped her wand out to face towards the hall. None of the elves had arrived to take notice of the issue, or they were purposefully avoiding the confrontation.

Narcissa couldn’t tell which option worried her more. Their lack of attentiveness during what could be a deadly intrusion or their apparent desire to avoid it entirely and let the family fend for themselves. She knew that they didn’t treat their elves the best that they could, Hermione’s constantly tight face whenever one of them interacted with an elf was obvious enough, but she couldn’t for the life of her understand why they would purposefully abandon them. They weren’t Walburga for crying out loud.

The seconds ticked on as silence continued to reign over the empty hall while both sisters strained their ears as best they could in an attempt to remain alert. A low sound traveled down the hallway, fast words spoken far too quickly and too quietly for them both to know much more than the face that someone was still alive in there.

“Who is that?” She asked Andy, the arm still wrapping behind herself in a protective grasp.

“Gregor maybe? I didn’t see who it was the Floo’d in. Not sure.” Andy’s voice was barely more than a whisper and still Narcissa could hear the tremor running through it.

CRACK!

The door to the study suddenly exploded outwards in a brilliant flash of blue light, the wood having been rent into pieces as it clattered against the wall before falling to the floor.

“Back up,” Andy began to push Narcissa further behind herself as she stepped backwards and angled them towards the front door. “Back up Cissa, move-”

“You’ve betrayed MY House-” A voice bellowed out as a spell flew out through the destroyed passageway and into the wall beyond it, crashing with a spark of blue flames and embers. Andy pushed Cissa away with renewed vigor, turning them both towards the door in an effort to usher her away from the danger.

As she turned them fully away from the hall and lunged out towards the door a spell shot by her right shoulder, singing a path through the air and colliding with the flooring in front of her with a high-pitched whine and an odor of ozone lingering in the air. As the spell landed a scream rose up out of Andy’s throat while she dived to the side with Narcissa following swiftly.

“Pierre, I don’t know what you’re talking about, as I’ve already explained to you already!” Cygnus’s voice caught their ears as Andy sprinted ahead to grab up Cissa’s free hand and began to drag her towards the relative cover of the opposite hallway.

Heavy footfalls followed their movements and Narcissa redoubled her effort at keeping up with Andromeda.

“I’ll kill you, and I’ll kill your whole fucking brood for this Cygnus. You dare disrespect my family? Yours deserved to be wiped off the face of the earth!”

Narcissa risked a glance behind herself as she lurched forward. Her eyes caught sight of a tall man with thin and wispy brown hair, a buttoned coat spattered with blood that reached down to his mid thigh, and a look in his eyes that threw her heart into a terrified pace.

Green light shot from the smokey ruins of the study towards Pierre’s position, the caster unsteady on his feet as blood dripped steadily from a cut above his eye and obscured his aim.

“Pierre, stop this madness! My children have done nothing to  you, you bloody fool!”

Cygnus was staggering after the man as fast as he could while only stopping to steady his aim and cast spell after spell in the wizard’s direction. Every spell was easily deflected into the side of the hallway or out into the foyer, blasting into the ground and walls in explosions of wood and plaster.

“You’d have us mate with those things and claim ignorance to my face? I think not. It’s obvious to me now that your whole line is rotten if you think you can get away with that marriage with simple restitution,” Pierre practically hissed out his last sentence, venom dripping from every word.

Andy was practically flying down the long hallway as she bounced from side to side in an effort to refrain from presenting a clear target to the murderous man behind them. She kept a wordless shield charm up and floating along with them, nothing near strong enough to stop a direct hit but maybe enough to stop a glancing shot.

Indiscriminate shouting reached Andromeda’s eas as they finally made their way to the base of the staircase at the far end of the Manor. As she shoved Narcissa up the stairs she turned around to block their retreat, weaving a ward in glyphs of red and blue into the base of the staircase. As she finished casting Pierre rounded the corner to stare her down with a manic look and a violently waving wand.

As his hand finished cutting through the air a hex of dark light shot out to smash painfully against Andromeda’s shoulder. Grunting in pain she pushed herself backwards and up the stairs while forcing a shield out, focusing only on blocking his next attempt as her arm lay ruined at her side. The pain was a biting, living thing, leaching into her shoulder and robbing her of both energy and breath. Adrenaline that had powered her only moments before was swiftly fleeing her, covering the pain in a rapidly thinning blanket of relief.

At some point Narcissa had leaned down to help, either unable or unwilling to trust using her magic. The young witch, shaking with exertion, reached down with both arms and pulled Andromeda backwards, practically dragging her up the stairs and to the landing.

Pierre stared up at them with a look of pure malice in his eyes while stepping towards the now invisible wardline that Andromeda has weaved. His left leg caught first, trapped by the spell, and as he moved to advance further the magic brought him to a standstill in a miasma he couldn’t see. The man moved furiously, waving his wand around himself while angrily growling in a tone that slowly morphed into a scream of pain.

“No!” The webbing of the ward appeared visible right before it began to tighten down on his body with surgical precision. The magic  and power began to lace together, digging into his skin and clothing and separating anything that got in its way.

With a faint squelching sound the lines wrapped tighter around his wandless arm, snapping the trap shut and sealing themselves through flesh and bone. The useless appendage dropped to the ground at the same time that he managed to extricate himself from the wards. He stood mutely for a second with his mouth agape and blood pumping uselessly through the cleanly severed stump.

“You fucking bitch, I’ll kill you!” The guttural proclamation from the wounded man carried the full might of his rage and anger, strong enough to make blood boil.

As he stood at the base of the landing Andromeda limped backwards and towards a safe room with Narcissa gamely trying to take her flagging weight while her own blood dripped onto the floor in rivulets. As she reached the door her wounds overcame her, darkness filling her vision as the world around her shut off.

---oo---

Bellatrix’s heart was running a marathon in her chest. Heaving gulps of air were making her lightheaded and the adrenaline coursing through her system was inducing a shiver to her muscles that she wasn’t quite sure she could control.

Fear and anger ruled as twins in her head.

As soon as she entered into the foyer, she turned to her right and caught sight of her father speeding down the hallway, his coattails flapping as he sprinted down the corridor. With a grunt of exertion she changed her direction and headed off after him, Hermione following closely at her heels. She wasn’t sure who it was that had been screaming earlier, not her father, she was sure. The voice had been too deep and scratched but a man for sure. Cygnus was mad, but he wouldn’t willingly attack Andromeda and Cissa, not now anyways. The man had no way of knowing about Andy’s dalliances with Ted and Cissa was a model daughter in all respects.

As Cygnus rounded the end of the corridor and took off to the left where the stairwell rose up to the second floor a spell of purple flame flew into the wall just inches from Bellatrix’s face and halting her progress. Skidding to a stop she threw her body up against the wall and leaned slightly to peek around the corner.

Cygnus was standing, wand raised, in front of a tall man that she distantly recognized but couldn’t place. His face was covered in blood, eyes wide open and more than half mad. A stump limb was spewing blood while he raised it up and down in time with his other arm that fired off spell after spell towards Cygnus. The flurry of spells was impressive but Cygnus appeared to be holding his own, each spell landing with a muted thud against his shield or crashing into the wall behind him.

With Hermione at her side she took a moment to look at the witch in her eyes before steeling herself and turning the corner. Her arm remained raised up to hold an opalescent shield and she planted her feet to keep herself grounded to the floor, moving forward in sure steps with at least one foot solidly on the ground at any time.

Hermione moved forward to take her place beside her with her wand raised and firing off a multitude of offensive spells in rapid succession, looking to all the world like a model duelist. Their faces were set in grim determination as they both kept up the push, the shield surrounding them doing its job and bouncing the mans spells off and into the wild directions before digging into the surrounding walls.

The man continued to back slowly up the stairs while his feet stumbled and bumped into the steps as he went higher and higher. He held himself straight through the continued assault, wordlessly keeping his own shield up while peeking around the corner to shoot off powerful spells and scream obscenities at the advancing trio. When he finally recognized Bellatrix as the witch standing before him he broke into a loud cackle of crazed laughter, lips set wide in an angry sneer. His arm reared backwards as the madness finally overtook him.

The man drew a complex figure with his wand as he brought it slashing down, shield still supported by his ruined stump to block and redirect the spells careening towards him. As the hand reached level with the ground he shouted out, “Maledictus Dei vivi Aestuo!”

When the final word left his mouth Bellatrix understood what he’d cast, her shield dropping and mind spinning back towards the D.A.D.A. lesson where she’d learned the counter.

Red flames, vivid in the tightness of the hallway, burst forth from the tip of his wand in swirling patterns of orange and white. The mass of fire accelerated forward with unparalleled speed as it grew and expanded to stretch itself out across the entire hall. Bellatrix could see a ram’s head forming in the center as it grew and approached with a frightening intensity to overtake her father completely. The flames blasted around his body with the fluidity of water to eat up his scream of pain and surprise. Heat bathed them as she dropped to her knees and dragged Hermione down with her.

“Caeli Remotionem!”

A popping sound similar to apparition started the counter as the air in front of them shimmered and glowed. A suction force began spinning rapidly at the base of the stairwell to draw the fire and air in front of itself inwards with a surprising amount of force and sound that nearly deafened her.

When the spell ended the fire had gone out completely, smothered by a lack of fuel, leaving behind the charred corpse of her father and the staggering man, his bloody stump boiling in the void. The man dropped down into a seated position on the stairs behind himself, free hand dropping the wand and grasping at his throat. The howl of wind picked up again as air rushed forwards to fill the gap between her and the hallway in front of her. Windows along the side of the Manor smashed at the sudden drop in pressure, glass shards imploding into the hallway in a shimmering rainbow of sharp edges.

Hermione shot herself forward before the man on the stairs could recover. Her wand was out and wordlessly she cast a white spell that impacted the man's chest before exploding outwards to envelop his whole body. She wondered to herself what exactly she had cast before the effects made themselves clear.

Slashes of white appeared all over his body in a cascading effect, the white lines taking chunks from his clothing and flesh to leave peeling skin and blood again and again and again. As Hermione stood tall, wand still aimed at the now dying man, Bellatrix left her knees to join her side. Her own wand hung uselessly at her side as she watched the carnage unfold.

Nearly a minute passed before the man’s gurgling screams finally ended and the sound of an invisible blade finally died out.

As Bellatrix came back to herself she looked up past the body and began to race up the stairs to follow the trail of blood at the top.

---oo---

Hermione couldn’t hear anything at all but the sound of her own breathing and the steady patter of blood dripping off of the stairs and onto the floor below.

‘In. Out. In. Out.’

The mantra revolved around in her mind while she waited for Bellatrix to make a reappearance or call her up.

Her body was just barely coming off of the adrenaline high that had been unleashed during the fight, arms and fingers still twitching involuntarily as she casually observed the scene. Cygnus’s body was a charred shell, his body baked and heated to unrecognizability.

The hallway in front of her was also a disaster zone. The floor and walls were scorched black from the intense heat of the Fiendfyre and the metal chandelier hanging above them was a twisted metal amalgamation. Bella’s quick thinking had avoided any further catastrophe by removing the air in the tiny space as fast as possible. It was a trickly play, one that usually worked but could turn deadly in an enclosed space. Thin tendrils of snow blew in through the now shattered windows to collect on the floor and almost immediately melt into the ashes.

The sound of Bella’s voice high above her brought her out of her reverie.

Sidestepping the body she made her way up the stairs in an aim to find Bella and figure out whether anyone else was injured. The landing was answer enough as a messy trail of blood led up and further down a hallway.

The trail ended before a partly closed door and Hermione stopped to collect herself before pushing it open and taking in the sight before her.

Andy was sitting with her back pressed up against the wall, the room around her bare with its furniture either banished or having never been furnished. Cissa was sat beside her uninjured arm, knees pressed to her chest and arms wrapped tightly around them to pull them into her chest.

Bellatrix was down on one knee and gently probing Andy’s wounded shoulder with the tip of her wand, gently muttering beneath her breath as she worked. Her free hand reached out to grasp Andy softly by the uninjured shoulder to steady the younger witch and keep her grounded through the shock. When Bella noticed Hermione’s presence she motioned with her eyes for her to enter and join them.

“Hey Andy,” Hermione said as she started setting up a number of monitoring spells, checking everything she could in an effort to help. The younger witch remained silent throughout the whole of the examination, only nodding her head in answer to Bella’s yes or no questions.

After a few more minutes Bella stood from her spot and turned towards her youngest sister. Narcissa was still seated against the wall with a vacant stare in her eyes that hurt something deep inside Hermione’s chest. The young girl shouldn’t have ever had to deal with what happened this afternoon, and she couldn’t help but feel the sorrow of the situation flow through her chest and scarred arm.

Bella reached down to lift Narcissa from her spot, turning the witch and picking her up to cradle against her chest as she walked out of the room. Narcissa buried her face in the crook of Bella’s neck but otherwise made no movement or sounds throughout the exchange.

“Andy, what happened?” Hermione’s voice was quiet in the still silence of the room.

“Mr. Lestrange must have interrupted Cygnus. I think… I’m not sure but I don’t think Cygnus intended to meet with him today. I don’t know where Gregor is, whether he left early or was caught in the crossfire. Need to check his study…”

The witch trailed off, free hand coming up to rub at the split in her top and massage the new pink skin of her scar.

“Let’s go.”

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