The Young Guard of the Dark Lord stood in close-knit formation, at attention, wands out and at a diagonal angle over their chests. The boys, between sixteen and fourteen years of age, were of the finest Pureblood families and had entered the service of the Lord with utmost enthusiasm. Antonin, who stood before them, his own wand crossed over his heart, knew what pride these boys took in fighting for the cause. It was in their eyes.
"Who do you fight for, gentlemen?"
"For the Lord, sir!"
"And what do you fight for?"
"For freedom and dignity, for the purity and liberation of magic, for our forefathers who have granted us with the gift of Merlin, for a better world of purer blood and higher moral. Sir."
The corners of Antonin’s mouth quirked upward. "Good, gentlemen. Now turn and face a partner…"
By the time Regulus portkeyed home, the headache that had begun earlier in the day had increased to a steady whine. He shrugged his cloak off in the dark entry hall and hung it up on the rack next to the others. His pale expression faced him from the ornate mirrors across the chamber and he made a face at it. Regulus could just barely make out the low, ominous, muffled sound of his mother’s voice rising and falling, some way off deeper into the house. Perhaps in the private sitting room, but more likely in Father’s study.
Regulus took cautious steps closer, aware that it was most likely the same story, the same scene as always – Sirius being chewed out by their parents for his liberal ways. The fourteen-year-old rubbed his temples and hoped that his headache would wait for a few minutes before exploding. Eavesdropping was not respectable, but Regulus always felt like he could not possibly pull away, miss out on overhearing these arguments. He was always fascinated by some feature – whether it was Sirius’ audacity, his mother’s shrill, crow-like cries or his father’s steady, booming baritone, he couldn’t be sure. But Regulus knew it was almost never the words they said that lured him, but the emotions behind them. The words he knew, knew them by heart and could almost repeat them after his mother as she squeaked them at a disheveled Sirius.
"…You fraternize with those blood traitors and Mudbloods. You disgrace this family, Sirius Black! How can you, after all we have done for you?"
Regulus stopped at the doors to his father’s study and pressed his back against the cold wall. His father’s voice carried even more than his mother’s; it thrummed through Regulus, even as he mentally repeated the words after his father. "You are the heir of this family, Sirius. You have a responsibility, a duty. Despite what you may like or dislike. Look at your brother. He carries himself like a Black. Why is it so hard for you to do the same?"
"Because Regulus is a pretentious little bastard like you. He could be otherwise if you and those Slytherin bastards he hangs out with didn’t fill him with all the bullshit—"
Regulus closed his eyes, suddenly very aware of the pounding in his temples. Perhaps this was why he listened, from beyond closed doors in dark hallways as his parents attempted time and again to drill into Sirius the very concept of being a Pureblood heir. Perhaps he came so he could hear his brother disown him time and again, so that his own allegiance with his parents against his brother did not seem too alien.
The doors of the study flew open and Sirius stormed out like a hurricane, robes flying behind him, curly black hair unruly and over his eyes. Regulus retreated into the shadows but not fast enough. Sirius barreled into him and they almost toppled over onto the hardwood floor.
"What are you doing here?" Sirius asked abrasively, stepping away and tugging at one of his sleeves.
"Nothing," Regulus replied. "I was going to ask Father to order the house elves to brew me a strong soothing potion for this blasted headache."
Sirius eyed him skeptically. Regulus knew it sounded horrible – he could have ordered the elves himself.
"Where do you spend your days anyway? Somewhere Mother and Father approve of apparently, since they never ask after you."
Regulus chewed on his lip, thinking. They hadn’t told Sirius that Regulus was now at the Academy. Regulus had asked his parents not to. At least not yet. "Nowhere you’d want to be."
Sirius huffed and continued stomping down the hall. Regulus looked up to see his father beckoning him into the study. Regulus obeyed, leaving the shadows of the hallway and entering the warm candlelight of the room. He sat gingerly on the plush sofa of blood-red velvet, next to his mother who was dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. His father took a seat behind the sturdy oak desk.
"How is your training going, Regulus?"
"Well, Father. Mr. Dolohov is quite satisfied with me I think."
His mother’s hand fell onto his shoulder, cold even through his shirt and waistcoat. "We are so proud of you Regulus. You know how to value family, you could never disown it."
Regulus nodded quietly, his eyes fixed on the dancing flame of a candle as he wondered when Sirius had begun to disown them. All of them. Even him.
Severus felt like every time he came home for the holidays, the world turned a strange shade of purple. The sort of purple ugly bruises or incorrectly brewed potions tend to turn. He was not allowed his robes at home and was reduced to oversized shirts and pants, worn-out shoes and sweaters that frayed at the hem and on the sleeves. He could hear his parents’ never-ceasing arguments from downstairs that carried through walls and doors even as he attempted to work with his books and the new portable potions set Evan had given him for his birthday.
Severus measured out two powders, holding each probe to the light, then dumped them together in the preparations bowl and leaned low over a dusty book he had borrowed. The text was faded and the pages brownish and shriveled in places. He tried to concentrate on the ingredients and the proportions but it was difficult with his father’s constant yelling of profanities from downstairs.
"All your fault, Eileen…your son, yours you hear, woman?...we didn’t have to send him to that fucking place but you insisted…"
The tirades were so familiar they were never painful anymore. Severus use to pity his mother but he couldn’t bring himself to do it anymore. All the pity had been sucked out of him years ago when she had stood by, hand over her mouth, motionless, and watched as his father inflicted every sort of perversion on him. She had merely stood there when a flick of her wand could have ended the ordeal.
That had been before Hogwarts, before there was an Evan Rosier to run to, like he had last summer. Before there was a future.
But Severus had found his future now, and he searched for the key to it among the dusty potions books and fading inked lines on tattered parchment. He made that future with potions ingredients, small glass flasks and silver blades, black cauldrons and a hell of a lot of financial support from Lucius Malfoy.
The door to his room flew open, its hinges squeaking their protest, and Severus jumped, one hand going to his wand. His greasy black hair flew out of his face, coal black eyes tracing the leering figure of his father with cold defiance and hatred.
"What are you doing, boy? Have I not told you that there will be no magic in this house?"
Severus bristled, eyebrows drawing lower over his eyes. "I’m not using magic."
"Of course you’re not. What is all this then? A science project?" Tobias jeered, indicating the bowl with herbal powder, the pixie wings ready for chopping and the scattered books. "Clean this up and I don’t want to see any of it again. Ever! You understand, boy?"
"My name is Severus, not boy!"
Eileen’s skinny, wasted form appeared behind her husband at the top of the stairs. The faded blue dress almost blended with the dirty carpet. "Let him be, Tobias, he’s not harming anyone."
"Shut up, woman." Tobias backhanded his wife across the mouth and Eileen fell back, with terrified doe eyes and a rivulet of blood trickling from her lips down her chin and neck.
Severus’ wand was now trembling in his hand as he pointed it at Tobias. He knew he couldn’t use magic outside of school – not here, anyway – but every curse he had learned on his own or at the Academy was running through his head faster than he could distinguish where one began and one ended. "Get out of my room or I swear I will hex you," he growled, eyes burning with hatred for the man and contempt for the woman. These people dared to call themselves his parents, but he did not see how he could possibly be related to two such despicable individuals…
Somehow, Severus ended up with his things at Evan’s. Rosier Manor was in full bloom, the white marble reflecting the sunlight and shinning so brightly that Severus had to cover his eyes at first to not be blinded. The garden was full of the most dizzying smells and colors as the flowerbeds surrounded him on all sides during his walk toward the glowing manor house. Everything here was light and joy and freedom. Severus felt like an intruder, a tattered puppy staining the expensive lush carpets of the rich and pure with its muddy paws.
Before Severus could climb the terrace steps, Evan came swooping around the corner of a garden hedge on a gleaming new broom. He saw Severus and landed, his smile first faltering, then brightening, then faltering again, as though the other boy did not know if he should be happy or not. "Severus! I didn’t expect you! Have you come to stay?"
"If you’ll let me."
Evan jogged over to him and pulled him into a tight hug that Severus would have probably rejected from anyone else. "Come, let’s get ice cream. It’s such a warm day." They ate ice cream in the garden and flew around the grounds once Evan found Severus a broom. They watched the sun go down by the lake and skipped rocks across the smooth, gleaming surface. Then Severus locked himself up in the Rosiers’ lab to finish his interrupted potion until Evan announced dinner.
At night they lay side by side on Evan’s bed and stared up at the ceiling, listening to the symphony of crickets and frogs outside in the garden where the nigh butterflies roamed and the midnight lilies opened their golden peddles. "I think you should stop going home all together and stay with me for the summers," Evan mused.
"Your place sure feels more like home than my place. It would be easier to attend training as well."
Evan nodded slowly. "You know, I told Jack the other day when he was here that all the people who believe in the good of Muggles should take a look at you and your family."
Severus snorted. "I’ve never met a man more disgusting than my father, He has corrupted what good there could have been in my mother and he wanted to oppress me and my magic, too."
Evan flipped onto his stomach and studied the side of his friend’s face for a long time. "One day there will be a world where no one will have to suffer because of the Muggles’ baseness. Not you, not anyone."
"I sure hope so."
"I know so, Sev." Evan reached out and grabbed Severus’ hand. When the other boy looked over at him, Evan held his eyes. "Our Lord will make sure of it. We will make sure of it."
Lauretta Crouch looked up from the large birthday cake she had baked for her son’s birthday and regarded the brownish-blonde boy with her large green eyes. "He’s running a little late, darling, but he will be home soon enough."
Barty cocked his head to one side, scrutinizing the cake. "Then why are we having cake now?"
"Well…I thought you would want to…"
Barty shrugged. "Ok. I know dad’s not coming." The boy turned and stalked into the sitting room, placing himself on the windowsill to watch raindrops slide down the glass. Lightning flashed, illuminating the yard with a surreal purple glow. The old swing set that he had played on as a child swayed in the wind, creaking and croaking with effort.
"Barty, you know how busy your father can be. His work at the Ministry—"
Barty whipped his head around to peer through long, scraggly bangs at his mother who stood in the doorway to the kitchen with the cake in her hands. There were fourteen candles on in. It would only take the flick of a wand to light them and a single blow to put them out. How many times had he blown out birthday candles wishing that next year his father would be home for his birthday? Just for once. Sometimes he even managed to miss Christmas. "Don’t defend him, mum. You always defend him. He says he’ll be here and he never is! Why is it that everyone else’s parents actually care about their birthday and my father just doesn’t?"
"He cares, Barty, but he’s busy. His job is very important. Especially now with this war and that raving lunatic…"
Barty shrugged. "All the good people are on that side."
His mother let out a gasp. "Barty don’t say that and never let your father hear that. He will… why he… he spends his time putting those people in Azkaban."
"Yeah well, maybe if he wasn’t so busy doing that he’d be here like a normal father. Have you realized that he’s never here anymore? Ever. We’re hardly even a family."
Lauretta put the cake down on the coffee table and wrung her hands, clutching at her apron and twisting it. A bright flash of lightning made the rain glow and the thunder cracked overhead, drowning out her words. Barty did not care to listen either way.
"If we were a normal pureblood family, dad would value me as the heir, he would be here, he wouldn’t think I’m a failure and a waste of space because I don’t want to become an Auror and think Old Magic is cool and interesting and not dangerous!" Barty jumped from the windowsill and made a dash to the stairs, gripping the railing until his knuckles turned white. "He wouldn’t be ashamed to be a pureblood. Well guess what? I’m proud of it," the boy hissed, his back turned to his mother.
"Barty, your father is not ashamed—"
"Save it mother. You always defend him." He made it halfway up the stairs before his mother’s voice made him halt for a moment.
"What about the cake!" Lauretta looked lost and flustered. The cake sat lonely and faded on the coffee table before her.
Barty shook his head and took the rest of the stairs two at a time, slamming the door of his room as hard as he could. Hours later, on hearing his father’s voice, the boy crept out to the top landing of the stairs and stood still, listening to his parents arguing in agitated half-tones.
"Really, Bartemius, you promised the boy. You could have at least made an effort to show up. He waited for you all night and it is his birthday."
"Lauretta, I forgot, alright. Stop trying to chew my head off. I have more important things to think of than a kid’s birthday. You got his presents, baked him a cake, what else does the kid want? He’s old enough to understand what’s important."
"He thinks he’s a waste of space to you."
"Well he isn’t exactly my pride and joy if that’s what you’re referring to."
Barty was biting down on his lip so hard it had begun to bleed. His heart was pounding in his ears and the wind whistling outside gave him goosebumps. The boy turned and silently retreated into his room, grabbed his cloak, his wand and broom, and slipped out of the house into the raging storm through the back storeroom entrance.
By the time Barty found his way to where he thought he might find Antonin Dolohov, he was soaked and freezing cold. His hands had become so numb he could hardly hold his broom and wet strands of hair constantly plastered themselves over his temples and eyes.
A slightly disheveled Antonin met him at the door. "Barty Crouch? What are you doing here so late… all wet?"
"I’m fourteen today, sir."
Antonin nodded slowly, not quite comprehending.
"You accept boys into the academy at fourteen, yes?"
"Yes. That’s - that’s correct."
"Alright, now hold your wand like this. No, up a little bit. There. Now draw the figure in slow motion…careful on the edges. Alright, one more time but faster."
Antonin watched carefully as the strawberry-blond boy of fourteen drew out a complicated figure with his wand, swishing through the angles. The boy looked up anxiously once he was done. "Like that?" he asked, his French accent slightly thicker than usual from the nerves.
Antonin shook his head. "Almost, but not quite. You’re swishing your wand too much, allowing it to glide. You want those angles to be defined and sharp. Battle Magic is all about precision; put some energy into the motions. Try again, Anatole."
Anatole pursed his lips in a determined pout and repeated the figure. Antonin went to stand behind him and took the boy’s wrist with his hand. "Here, I’ll show you." He guided Anatole through the motion once, then again. He let go to let the boy try on his own. Anatole sped through the figure, then looked around at his mentor with the same anxious, large grey eyes as before.
"Better. I think you’re done for tonight. We will cast it tomorrow for real."
Anatole nodded and tucked his wand protectively away into an inner pocket of his robes. "Thank you, sir. I really appreciate you doing lessons with me."
Antonin nodded with a slight smile. "It’s quite alright. I have no worries about you anyway. You and Mulciber are our blooming Imperius specialists."
Anatole smiled brightly at the indirect compliment and Antonin couldn’t help but think of watching the Sorting during Anatole’s first year through a charmed mirror with Andre Rosier and Theodore Mulciber. Anatole had been sorted into Slytherin after the longest pause of the evening and he had lit up with the warmest smile Antonin had ever seen. He had joked then that the boy would have been better suited for Hufflepuff. In fact, he still believed that and still suspected that Anatole had had a hell of a hard time of convincing the Hat he belonged in Slytherin. Sometimes, Antonin blamed himself. After all, it had been him who had told that ignorant little French boy earlier that day that Slytherin was the best House. Anatole had believed him as openly as was possible.
"Do your parents not regret letting you come to the Academy?"
Anatole looked up from where he was gathering his cloak and book bag, preparing for the double port key jump to take him back to the Bonfantes’ Paris manor.
"My mother doesn’t really… know. Papa is afraid she would be too frightened by the idea of war. But Papa is delighted. I even heard him tell Mama and Eleanor that he is more proud of me than of Francis."
Anatole was practically glowing. Francis was the older brother, the heir. He should have been the center of attention, but he’d stayed on the side of caution, away from what was considered a foreign war. But Anatole had always wanted to fight for something just, for something magnificent. He had always wanted to be a hero, so when he heard from Regulus and Evan of an opportunity to do just that, he’d leaped for it.
Anatole, unlike Evan, Rabastan or Ashley Mulciber, did not have an older brother in the Organization to idolize and live up to, so he hero-worshipped Antonin instead, who did make quite the dashing figure. To the point where the young Bonfante didn’t quite know who he was really fighting for – the Lord or his mentor and commanding officer. In return, Antonin had chosen Anatole as a sort of personal protégé. He had always wanted a little brother, and after his sister’s death there was a gaping hole in his heart that he continually struggled to fill.
"I wish I had more like you," Antonin said, ruffling the boy’s hair in a rare gesture of pure affection.
Anatole blushed and ducked his head. "I’m glad you’re satisfied with me, sir."
"Alright, off with you. Training tomorrow morning. Don’t be late."
"…Good, gentlemen. Now turn and face a partner."
The Young Guard turned inward. The Tallis twins turned toward each other, Mulciber turned to Wilkes, Rabastan to Regulus, Anatole to Barty. Evan, Severus and Jack Avery turned to each other.
"Now, say those words again looking into each others’ eyes. We are all here for one Cause, gentlemen. You are the core, the elite. You are the future. These people you are standing with are as integral to your life as your families, your honor, and you blood." Antonin paused and surveyed his boys. "You may all have some other, personal reasons for being here. Your families, situations, values may vary. But they all led you here to fight and to win. Now. Say those words again and make sure you mean them."