Amelia Bones hasn’t had a cigarette in twenty-four hours.
Funny thing, time, and what can happen in the unfathomable space of it.
One month is how long it has been since Lord Voldemort tried to kill Harry Potter and destroyed himself. Two weeks since Aurors captured the Lestranges and Barty Crouch Junior as they fled from the home of Frank and Alice Longbottom, leaving the couple mindless from torture and a terrified boy in their wake. Eight days since Alastor Moody, hero of the war, was mugged by a fool on his way home from the Leaky, losing an eye to the terrified and overzealous reflexes the man displayed once he realised he was trying to rob an Auror.
Thirty-six hours since uncaptured Death Eaters broke into the home of Oscar Bones and his wife Penelope and killed them both for Oscar’s involvement in the resistance.
Twenty-five hours since Amelia visited their son, Sean – her nephew – to tell him that yet another Bones had been killed by Death Eaters. Sean had been in his final year at Hogwarts when, years earlier, his uncle Edgar, aunt Sally, and young cousins Phoebe and Alex had all gone the same way.
Twenty-four hours since Sean’s wife Adelaide showed Amelia into the nursery where little Susan was sleeping, and Amelia touched the tiny hand of her great-niece and promised her that they would know each other, that she would do everything she could to stay alive and see the girl grow up.
Twenty-four hours since her last cigarette.
Amelia can feel it in her blood, the lack. It’s like wild magic, unchannelled and crackling, like sandpaper rasping the inside of her skin, but it feels appropriate. It feels perversely good, as she strides down the halls of Azkaban prison. It’s something the Dementors can’t take away, this need, and it keeps the grief for her brother at bay.
It allows Amelia the recklessness she needs to ignore the conflict of interest in trying to find out who killed him.
Bellatrix Lestrange is who she’s here to see. Voldemort’s right-hand woman, everyone knows her as, though of course aloud they refer to her as ‘You-Know-Who’s most trusted supporter.’ Amelia thinks that if any of the captured Death Eaters are likely to know who killed her brother, it will be Bellatrix. She’s been in Azkaban for weeks now, so she can’t possibly have been told, but there is something that Amelia knows that she hasn’t yet shared with any of the other Aurors.
She knows that both of her brothers were killed by the same man.
It’s not something that would hold up at trial. When Edgar and his family were killed, it was a piece of information no doubt forgotten instantly by everyone but Amelia, although she had shared it at the time. Amelia’s niece, Phoebe, at the time of her death only seven years old, had owned a toy unicorn. It was a small, golden figurine that had once galloped around the room, but after years of being played with constantly, the animation charm had worn off, leaving it poised mid-gallop, one hoof in the air. Despite its defect, Phoebe had loved it intensely, carried it with her everywhere. After her death, it was nowhere to be found. Amelia had told her superiors, but they hadn’t thought much of it, and Amelia had let it slide. After all, children lose things – even favourite things – all the time.
But Penelope Bones had been Muggleborn, raised a Catholic, and around her neck she had always worn a gold cross, also missing in the wake of her murder. Amelia had walked the crime scene herself, twelve hours ago, feet crunching on broken glass. She’d searched for it everywhere, on the off chance the Scene of Crime Squad had missed it, but she’d found nothing.
Amelia had never known a Death Eater to take trophies before. Many of them had cruel streaks and enjoyed inflicting pain, and Amelia thought that most of them had joined Voldemort because his ideologies offered them the chance to indulge their more vicious desires, but they always maintained that they were fighting for a righteous cause. They weren’t animals like the Muggles, they didn’t kill for the pleasure of it. Only, this one apparently did.
If anyone’s likely to know a person like that, Amelia thinks, it’ll be Bellatrix Lestrange. After all, Voldemort’s right-hand woman has a cruel streak larger than most.
Amelia stops outside the interview cell and lifts her wrist to the panel on the wall. Upon entering the prison, she had surrendered her wand and been given in its place a wristband – charmed to resonate with her magical aura and useless once removed – that would allow her through the checkpoints and give her access to the cell Lestrange had been moved to. As her wrist passes the plate the wards shift, and she slips through them into the room.
Bellatrix Lestrange is sitting on the table, swinging her legs. She smiles when she sees Amelia. It’s a cold smile, almost feral. Knowing like an animal. Her hair is still long and sleek, but she’s thinner than she was at her trial, sallow-skinned from too much weight lost too fast. Her bony fingers are white at the knuckles where they grip the edge of the table, and there are dark circles beneath her eyes. Azkaban is already beginning to take its toll on her.
“Auror Amelia Bones,” she says. “Your other brother is dead.”
Amelia’s step falters for just a moment, and she has to fight the urge to hiss ‘How do you know?’ To cover up her hesitation, she takes another step forward, not within reach, but close enough to look Lestrange in the eye. Folds her arms. Feels her chest expand and contract. Her lungs feel strange: heavy and empty. “Yes,” she says, eventually. “I’d like to know what you know about it.”
Bellatrix licks her teeth, keeps smiling. “I’ve been in here for weeks. What could I possibly know?”
Amelia holds her gaze. “It is my understanding,” she says, “that you were one of the people closest to your Master, privy to his plans.”
“I was,” Bellatrix says quickly, the smile vanishing from her face, but her eyes taking on that glint of fanatic zeal everyone remembers so well from her trial. “I am. He will rise again, and he will know that I remained loyal to him. I will not sell his secrets for a reduced sentence. I’m not like them.” She waves a hand in the direction of the door. Amelia understands her to be referring to her fellow prisoners.
“I’m not here to offer you a reduced sentence,” Amelia says. “Merely the opportunity to ensure that one of your fellows is not tempted to stray from the path of loyalty.”
Bellatrix laughs. “He killed your brother and his filthy Muggle wife. It doesn’t sound like he’s straying from the cause.”
Amelia takes a step forward, arms dropping, hands curling into fists, but pulls herself up immediately. The hot flash of anger she feels at hearing those words ripples through her, burning to the tips of her fingers. She fights it down, but Bellatrix has seen, and smirks knowingly, and that anger remains within her, a thing of simmering heat and torn edges.
“Who is he?” When Amelia’s voice comes out of her, it is grating, barely restrained. She can hear the edge to it. “I know he’s the same man that killed Edgar. A Death Eater who likes to collect trophies from his victims. Someone who enjoys hurting people even more than you do. You must know who he is."
Bellatrix arches an eyebrow, then drops her gaze, lifting a hand from the table to examine her grimy, too-long fingernails. After a moment, she looks back at Amelia.
“I couldn’t possibly tell you,” she drawls.
The anger flares again, rising in Amelia's throat like bile, and she takes another step forward.
Bellatrix moves so quickly Amelia barely sees her. One moment she’s on the table, apparently careless, and the next she’s flying at Amelia, hands going for the throat. Amelia feels the scrape of those dirty, claw-like nails before she manages to react, throwing up an arm and casting a wandless Immobulus. It’s weaker than she could manage with a wand, but strong enough to hold an Azkaban inmate whose magical ability has been dampened by the presence of Dementors and the potions in her food.
Amelia takes a step back, heart beating hard, and surveys Bellatrix. She’s hanging mid-step, only one foot on the ground, arms outstretched. Her head is back, throat bared, but her eyes move and her fingers twitch as she fights against the spell.
This time, it is Amelia who smiles. There’s something perverse in the expression, she’s sure. It feels unusual on her face – cruel and unlike her – but she doesn’t care. It feels good to lash out, and it feels good to be in control. She couldn’t control her brothers, couldn’t stop them from joining Dumbledore’s resistance and getting themselves killed. She can’t control her body’s need for nicotine, roaring like fire. Perhaps she can’t even control the grief, which is buried within her at present but perhaps closer to the surface than she’d like to think. But this woman – this venomous, smirking creature who’s harmed the lives of Merlin knows how many people – this woman, she can control. It’s a heady feeling. It’s something she needs right in this moment, and although she knows, dimly, that feeling like this is dangerous, that it’s at odds with both her moral and professional codes, at this moment she cannot bring herself to care. Sometimes, a person needs a break from being stoic and dependable.
Amelia circles Lestrange, inspecting her spellwork. Bellatrix’s hair is loose from the spell, still swaying gently, and she is able to move her extremities just slightly, but the spell will hold for as long as it is needed. Stepping wide of Bellatrix’s outstretched arms with their twitching fingers, Amelia returns to stand before her, this time drawing close, mere hand-spans away. Taunting.
“Now,” she says, and her voice sounds foreign to her, too insinuating to be coming from her body; “what were you hoping to gain by that? Even if you’d managed to choke me unconscious and get out the door, you wouldn’t get as far as the first checkpoint before the Dementors got you. And then what use would you be to your great Lord?”
A laugh rasps from Bellatrix’s throat. Ah, so she can speak. Amelia was wondering about that. When she does, her voice is hoarse, straining against her constricted throat.
“I wasn’t trying to escape, you silly bitch. I wanted to see what a wandless Crucio would do to you. Could still manage one, I think, if I had my hands on you.” From her peripheral vision, Amelia sees Bellatrix’s fingers twitch again.
“You underestimated me,” Amelia says. “But then, you got closer than most would have, so perhaps I underestimated you, too. Cost you more, though. You’re extremely vulnerable like this.” Amelia’s eyes rake over Bellatrix’s stretched-out body. The vein in her throat pulses against the skin, and her prison robe has slipped down over one bony shoulder.
“How did you know about my brother’s death?”
“Are you going to beat it out of me?” Bellatrix asks. “You wouldn’t be the first to try. Or,” she seems to mark Amelia’s eyes, resting on her prominent clavicle, “is there something else you want? That wouldn’t be a first either, an Auror wanting a bit of dark.”
Amelia sneers. “I don’t want you. Don’t flatter yourself. But I do want to know how, so don’t push me.”
Bellatrix watches her in silence for several moments, dark eyes calculating. Then, finally, in a voice barely above a whisper, she says: “I Saw it.”
Amelia feels the sharp bite of need that rose in her when Bellatrix began to speak fall suddenly flat. “What?” she asks.
“I Saw it,” Bellatrix repeats. “Neither awake nor asleep. It happens more than it used to, in here. The Dementors can’t take it away.”
“I don’t believe you,” Amelia breathes. Seers are so very rare. Far more likely that Bellatrix is lying, stringing Amelia along, wasting her time. She feels the anger rising again.
“Broken glass,” Bellatrix whispers. “A shout of alarm. He went first, quickly. Getting old. Poor reflexes. Took his time with her. Tortured her. Crucio, Crucio, Crucio. Until she couldn’t stand, could barely speak. Whimpering. Mmm. Not as good as me, didn’t push her as far as she could go, but he had other interests. Pushed her robes up. Knew how to do her without leaving a mark. She was screaming, begging for life in one breath, for death in the next...”
Bellatrix’s eyes are closed, and her voice is like a caress, almost pornographic, and the anger that has been writhing in Amelia’s blood finally breaks loose. She wants to hurt someone, be hurt.
“Liar!” Her hand flashes out and slaps Bellatrix’s face, and with that contact, the Immobulus snaps. Amelia has only an instant to see the surprise on Bellatrix’s face and feel satisfied by it, before her suspended momentum returns and she barrels forward into Amelia.
Claws and hair, limbs in a tangle. Amelia feels her back thud into the opposite wall of the cell, feels her monocle ripped from her eye. Amelia throws a punch and it lands, drawing a grunt of pain from Bellatrix, but neither of them are accustomed to fighting without wands, so it is an ugly, undignified fight. Amelia takes a perverse, vicious thrill in it, though, in the pure physicality of it. It gives the anger and the need and the grief an outlet. She fights off hands, shoulders into Bellatrix and unbalances her, tries to get an arm around her neck. Bellatrix’s hand flings up and Amelia feels the palm under her chin pushing her head back. She squeezes her left eye shut to avoid the gouge of fingernails, but that leaves her vision blurred, and in the next moment Bellatrix’s other hand slaps against her opposite cheek, and she feels the spark of magic against her skin. Pain follows, flaring from the contact and twisting Amelia’s nerves into knots, arcing down through her neck and burning tracts beneath her skin. She feels her legs give way, falls to her knees, but Bellatrix doesn’t let go.
The pain doesn’t last long, though. It’s Crucio, but weak, diluted by Bellatrix’s lack of magic. It doesn’t leave Amelia twitching on the floor, or make her lose control of her bowels, but it does leave her raw and stupefied for several moments. Bellatrix doesn’t let go. Her hands cup Amelia’s cheeks and lift her face up. Bellatrix is half bent over, searching Amelia’s face, hair mussed and hanging in a ragged curtain, her expression halfway between a smirk and true rapture.
She strokes a thumb over Amelia’s cheek. “I knew I had one in me,” she breathes, voice almost affectionate.
Amelia takes one more moment to breathe, allowing her unfocussed eye to lend her a glazed expression. Then:
“Not enough,” she says, and reaches up to grab a fistful of Bellatrix’s hair. Her other hand closes around Bellatrix’s wrist, and as the other woman tries to jerk away, Amelia uses the resistance to pull herself to her feet. She pulls Bellatrix toward her with the fist in her hair, spins them around, and a moment later she has Bellatrix pinned against the wall with the weight of her body and a forearm across the throat.
“Tell me,” she hisses, ignoring the hand that clutches at her arm and tries to pull her away, and the other that fists in the fabric of her waistcoat. She leans in, pressing her arm into Bellatrix’s windpipe. “You’ve no magic left,” she whispers, “no way to defend yourself. Tell me who killed them, or I’ll kill you, and no one in the world will blame me. I know how to remove the marks, too, you know.”
She presses harder, watching the smirk in Bellatrix’s eyes finally turn to fear. She feels that bony body struggle against her, frail for all its agility, and waits for fear to turn to panic before she eases her forearm off and lets Bellatrix breathe again. She coughs and splutters, gasps in a breath. Amelia gives her only moments to recover.
“Well?” she demands.
Bellatrix’s voice is ragged. “I never Saw his face. He kept his mask on the whole time.”
Amelia had thought her anger spent, but it rises again. This time it is not heat but cold, an icy fury. She presses her forearm into Bellatrix’s throat again, harder this time.
“Bullshit,” she growls. “You didn't See anything. You know who he is. The same man who killed Edgar. You know. Tell me!”
She presses harder, elbow almost against the wall, shaking with rage. She feels tears against her cheeks, burning their way from her eyes, but that only makes her angrier. Bellatrix’s hands begin to lose their grip on her. Fingers flail ineffectually. Amelia removes her arm again, and Bellatrix repeats the gasping and spluttering.
“He took something from her,” she chokes. “A necklace. Gold. Something hanging from the end of it. I Saw it, but never him. I don't know who killed your brother. One Muggle-lover is much the same as another. We only compared notes on the important ones.”
Amelia’s arm drops, she pulls away as if burned. Bellatrix’s knees give way and she slides down the wall, falling in a heap and dragging in breath after breath. Amelia stares at her, shaking still, but not with anger any more. She feels dirty, wrong inside her skin. Picks up the monocle from where it hangs on the chain attached to her waistcoat and replaces it over her eye with a trembling hand.
Merlin, what was she thinking, coming here? How could she ever imagine that this woman, who cares so little for human life that the death of an entire family is nothing, beneath her notice, could be persuaded to talk? All she's managed to do is turn herself into a monster.
Amelia moves toward the door, legs barely functioning, and waves her hand over the wrist plate. Before she can leave, though, Bellatrix speaks again.
“Auror Bones,” she says, and Amelia turns. She says it quietly, but Amelia hears the mockery in the title, though less in Bellatrix’s voice than in her own mind.
There is a smile on Bellatrix’s face again, small but triumphant. “I See the Dark Lord rising again,” she says, “stronger than before. And I See your death at his hand.”
Bellatrix’s laugh echoes in Amelia’s ears long after the door of the cell has closed between them.