This one’s for Sakkiko, for all your support, keeping the peace on Discord, and every now and again mustering the determination to fix all my typos! – I hope you appreciate the pun!
If you prefer audiobooks, listen to the audio version created by Sam Gabriel below!
The Dark Lord prowled the shadows beyond the ring of light spilling in through the oculus. The half-moon hovered in the sky amongst tattered wisps of cloud and veiled stars beyond the glass. A circle of silver-masked, dark-robed figures watched every step the Dark Lord took.
One of them is playing games. Bella glanced between the gleaming silver faces. One of them thinks they can beat the Dark Lord, Bella. She giggled under her breath. One of them’s going to die, Bell.
‘I am pleased.’ The Dark Lord’s whisper echoed beneath the pale frescoes and white marble. ‘Our numbers begin to swell with those dissatisfied at European regimes. The alliances built by Grindelwald stir as we gather momentum. Our old allies, those magical creatures whose territories and lands have been stolen by swarming muggles, will flock to rejoin us. Soon, we will be ready.’
Ready to play, Bell? Bella ran a finger down the length of her wand. The game never ends, Bella, not while we’re alive.
The Dark Lord’s circling slowed and he paused on the balls of his feet in the moonlight. ‘Once Britain is ours, we will have control over the pre-eminent magical power. We will halt its slow decline, then rebuild its strength. The rest of the magical world will follow or fall before us. And then, finally, we will be ready to save our world from the slow rot that’s killing it. The powerful do not hide from the rabble. The superior do not let the inferior dictate their lives.’
Muggles. A little heat traced through Bella’s veins. Boring, useless, cattle who want to drag us all down into the mud to suffer with them.
‘Go forth, my followers. Be ready. Together we are going to accomplish something great.’ The Dark Lord’s murmur came soft as the shadows clinging to the room’s corners and he crooked a finger. ‘Bella.’
‘Yes?’ She bounced across.
An odd gleam flickered through the Dark Lord’s eyes. ‘Fetch Greyback for me. I promised him a boon in return for his loyalty.’
Bella cocked her head. ‘A boon?’
‘Something he thinks will give him the power he needs to defeat me and spread his curse across the country.’ His lips curled into a cold grin. ‘Greyback thinks I do not know his mind.’
‘I’ll fetch him.’ She giggled. ‘Maybe he’ll try to do something he shouldn’t.’
‘He is at the gates.’ The Dark Lord closed his eyes for a moment. ‘Nagini is keeping watch on him. Do not kill him, Bella. I will be very angry.’
Bella beamed. ‘I’ll only kill him if he tries to kill me.’
The Dark Lord’s crimson irises and slitted pupils bored into hers. ‘Not even then, Bella, but you may hurt him as much as you like after I’m finished with him, should he annoy you. It will make a good test of the boon I’m going to grant him.’
Boring… She pictured the tall wrought-iron gates, the gravel road and the harpy-topped pillars that flanked it. All this skulking and scheming is so boring.
Bella stepped out onto the gravel with a loud crack. ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf?’
A talk, dark form loomed from the trees. Yellow eyes glinted from a face of dirt-crusted skin, tangled hair, and thick, crude features. ‘Dinner time, little witch.’
She giggled. ‘If you try to eat me, I’ll eviscerate you and feed you your own entrails, Mr Wolf.’
‘I don’t try to eat anything.’ Greyback padded over the gravel. ‘I just bite once.’
Bella stuck her hand out. ‘Come on, then. The Dark Lord is waiting.’
Greyback’s huge hand seized hers in an iron grip. He bent and sniffed her skin. ‘No point in biting you anyway, you’re too old for me.’
‘Too old?’ Bella huffed. Heat flashed through her veins. ‘You’re not supposed to talk about a lady’s age, Mr Wolf!’
Greyback grunted as smoke curled from beneath his fingers and the faint reek of burning hair and skin drifted to Bella’s nose.
But if we play with him, Bella, the Dark Lord will be cross with us.
‘But I’ll let you off with a scolding just this once,’ she said.
‘Just apparate me there, little witch.’ Greyback’s yellow eyes flicked up to the moon and a broad grin of jagged, sharp teeth spread across his face. ‘I’ve plans for tonight.’
Bella rolled her eyes and apparated them back into the hall. ‘Fetched him.’ She paused and giggled. ‘Really, though, he should’ve been the one doing the fetching. He’s the dog.’
Greyback released a dull growl. ‘I ripped the throat out of the last person who made a joke like that.’
She laughed. ‘That’s not how you play fetch, Mr Wolf. You’re supposed to go get the stick for me.’
‘Bella…’ The Dark Lord’s figure curled together in the centre of the room like smoke. ‘Greyback will need all his strength to survive the bestowing of my gift. Go amuse yourself elsewhere.’
Somewhere like Andi’s house, Bella.
‘Ok.’ She beamed and apparated away to the small, squat, muggle dwelling.
Harsh, white, muggle light spilt through the gaps in the curtains into the street and the glass bubble at the end of the metal pole above her flickered with light, then died.
We should knock, Bell. She eyed the door and the neat, square garden. But we don’t want to be caught, Bella, or the Dark Lord will be cross. Bella disillusioned herself and crept round the side of the house through a small gate.
Short grass stretched away to a thin, blue, wooden fence. A scatter of cheap, wooden chairs and a short patio overlooked a small pond before a large pair of glass doors. The mudblood she’d glimpsed with his arms ‘round her sister sat in one of them, a glowing cigarette hanging from between his lips.
‘What an ugly house,’ she said.
‘The fuck!’ The mudblood leapt to his feet and tugged his wand from his pocket.
Bella disarmed him and stuck his wand through the girdle of her dress. ‘Don’t be annoying. Where’s Andi?’
‘Like hell I’m telling you where my wife is.’
‘Tell me.’ Bella stamped her foot. ‘I want to see my sister.’
‘You Narcissa?’ The mudblood eyed her. ‘I’m Ted. Ted Tonks.’
‘Don’t care.’ Bella peered through the windows. ‘And no, I’m not Cissy. Cissy’s busy being sad and boring.’
The colour drained from the mudblood’s face. ‘Bellatrix.’
A strangled laugh escaped the mudblood’s lips. ‘Just Dora,’ he muttered. ‘Jesus.’
‘Where’s Andi?’ Bella demanded. ‘She needs to come with me and help make Cissy fun again.’
‘You’re really nuts, aren’t you?’ The mudblood folded his arms and clenched his jaw. ‘Well, I ain’t telling you where Andi is. She doesn’t want to see you or Narcissa. You can try whatever you want, but that’s not changing.’
The glass door slid open and a familiar figure with long, dark curls and grey eyes stepped out onto the patio. The hem of her blue dress whispered around her knees. ‘Teddy? Are you done smoking?’
‘Andi!’ Bella bounced on her feet and beamed. A flood of warmth rushed through her chest. ‘I missed you, sister, but I’m back! We can play together again now!’
Andi twisted ‘round and stared. A storm swirled in her grey eyes, its shadows bleeding out into the faint wrinkles of her face. ‘My sister’s dead. She died when she was nine. She fell four storeys and her skull shattered on the floor. I killed her. You’re just a ghost.’
‘I’m not a ghost!’ Heat boiled up inside Bella.
A ripple of air burst from within her, stripping the neat grass from the dirt, shattering the cheap garden furniture and tearing through half the house. The mudblood tumbled across the ground and smacked into the wall, then crumpled to the floor like one of Cissy’s dolls. Bricks and glass rained down into the mound of rubble behind Andi.
‘We’re sisters. Sisters forever.’ Bella huffed and crossed her arms. ‘The weird sisters, like the band you love.’
‘You’re not my sister, ghost. You’ve never been my sister.’ Andi pulled her wand out, tears leaking down her face. ‘But it’s time you moved on.’
You’re not making any sense, Andi. Bella stifled a knot of frustration and glanced down at her reflection in the pond. Her eyes glowed like violet stars. Of course I’m your sister. We’ve always been sisters.
Andi took a deep breath and raised her wand. ‘I’ll do it myself. It’s all my fault to begin with.’
Bella tracked the tip of Andi’s wand. Maybe she’s just playing, Bella. The frustration faded. Of course, Bell! It’s another game! She’s our sister, of course she wants to play with us!
‘A game!’ She cocked her head and bounced on her feet, pulling her wand out of the waistband of her dress. ‘I always beat you at these games, Andi!’
‘It’s not a game, ghost.’ Red light flashed from Andi’s wand and splashed against the gatepost. ‘I don’t play games. Not anymore.’
It’s definitely a game. Bella beamed. She’d never call me ‘ghost’ like that for real.
‘It’s all games.’ She giggled. ‘But ok. If you win, I’ll go until you’ve calmed down, Andi, and we can play another time. And if I win, you have to come back to Cissy and I, and play with us again straight away.’
‘Teddy.’ Andi glanced over her shoulder. ‘Get somewhere…’
Bella frowned at the still mudblood on the floor. Crimson seeped out from under his head. ‘He’s already lost, Andi. You should pay attention, you’re not going to beat me if you’re distracted.’
‘Avada kedavra,’ Andi hissed.
Green light flashed past Bella’s shoulder. High stakes, Bell! A pleasant thrill shivered through her.
‘That’s better!’ Bella ducked another green beam and stuck her tongue out. ‘My turn.’
Pretty purple. Bright pink. Shiny yellow. She hurled all her colours at her sister.
Andi batted some of them away and threw up a bright shield. Flashes of colour burst against it, white sparks showering down into the wreckage, then the shield burst like a bubble. She transfigured the garden furniture into a steel mesh and hurled it forward. Bella unleashed a wave of bright pink fire, sending molten metal spattering over the dirt and across the patio.
‘Avada kedavra,’ Andi cried.
Green light arced past Bella’s thigh.
Bella pouted and crossed her arms. ‘That’s not a nice spell, Andi!’
Andi pointed her wand at Bella’s chest and blinked tears away. ‘Avada kedavra.’
The green light splashed against her stomach without so much as singing the purple silk of her dress.
Bella sighed. ‘You’ve got to mean it, Andi. It’s not fun if you let me win.’ Fire crawled through her veins. ‘Don’t let me win! It’s cheating!’
A shimmer tore from her, throwing Andi back into the rubble of the house and tossing debris across the garden.
‘Oops.’ Bella clapped her hands to her mouth. ‘Didn’t mean to do that.’ She skipped across the dirt and the steaming spots of cooling steel to stand over her sister.
Four iron rods stuck through Andi’s chest like the pins from the butterflies in Cissy’s collection. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth and a red pool spread beneath her back. ‘Guess you won, ghost,’ she gasped. ‘How does it feel?’
A horrible cold washed through Bella. ‘Don’t die, Andi.’ Tears prickled at her eyes. ‘You can’t die. Who will play with me and Cissy?’ Her magic roiled and churned beneath her skin like boiling water. ‘I didn’t die when I lost. You don’t have to die either!’
Andi’s grey eyes darkened. ‘Better to be dead than to turn myself into something like you did, Bell.’ She dribbled red down the front of her blue dress and brushed a hand against Bella’s foot. ‘But I am sorry, Bell. I’m so, so sorry I killed you. I ruined everything.’
Bella watched the light fade from Andi’s eyes. ‘You said we’d be sisters forever!’ She poked Andi with her toe and stamped her foot. ‘Don’t die, little sister! You’re not meant to lose yet!’ Fire seared through her veins. ‘Andi! Andi!’
A bubble of violet light crackled out from within her. Andi’s body crumbled as the magic swept over her and the mudblood’s corpse burst into flames. The remaining walls of the small house shivered, then crashed down into a pile of shattered brick and stone. Plaster dust hovered over it like a soft, thick veil of fog.
Bella watched it settle over her sister’s ashes, wrestling with the knot of frustration and the tangle of thorns twisting up in her chest. Who’ll come play with me and Cissy now? I can’t cheer Cissy up on my own!
‘I’m sorry you lost, Andi. I wanted to play with you again so much.’ She stumbled away toward the gate and a tight, hot knot coiled in her throat and around her heart. Tears trickled down her cheeks. ‘Bye bye, Andi,’ she murmured. ‘Bye bye.’
Cissy’s going to be even more sad now. She paused and stared down at her reflection in the pond. White dust coloured her long curls, shining tear tracks traced her cheeks, and her violet eyes glowed bright as candle flames. Everyone loses, Bella. Even we’ll lose one day. This game’s over, so we find another one. And another one. And another one. And we never get bored or sad again.