by Jay Palmer


Azkaban prison, October 21, 5:00 PM

    I hadn't had a visitor in the three years since Voldemort had died; I stared as the dementor led the strange man into my cold cell. He was average height, thin, slightly frail, wearing a pale aquamarine robe patterned with tiny silver crescent moons. He had auburn hair, celestial blue eyes, and a nearly-white complexion, but that may have been the effect of the dementors; the last time I saw someone that frightened I'd arvada-kedavraed them just for the fun of it.
    "Mrs. Bellatrix Lestrange?" he asked, his voice filled with terror.
    I kept my expression plain and gave him a slight nod.
    "I'm Healer Augustus Pye from St. Mungos," he said. "I ... I've been given permission to speak to you ... on an important matter. I assume that you remember ... Frank and Alice Longbottom?"
    The fear in his voice nauseated me; he had to be a mud-blood. I stared at him, not saying a word.
    "Well, I've been working on their case, and ... I think I may have found ... a cure. It's a very complicated spell; a variation on the Morpheus Reunion charm. It takes five powerful wizards or witches to perform it. Are you familiar with the Morpheus Reunion charm?"
    "No," I said softly after an amusing pause, in which the healer trembled slightly.
    "It's a very old charm allowing any wizard who was transformed too well to have their original self restored through intimate connections with familiar objects. My hope is to draw the essence of Frank and Alice's earlier personalities from personal items, including wizard photos that captured snapshots of their former personalities, and use them to realign their current disturbed thoughts. Full recovery may not be possible, but my tests have shown remarked improvement, enough to continue."
    "Why?" I asked coldly.
    "I beg your pardon?"
    "The Longbottoms were blood-traitors. Why cure them?"
    "Mrs. Lestrange, I'm a healer," he said. "I help people."
    "Help me," I said. "Get me out of here."
    "I tried," Healer Augustus said, which surprised me. "The Ministry refuses to let you out of Azkaban, but they said that I could offer you comforts that you currently lack."
    "All I need is a wand," I said.
    "They wouldn't even let me bring my wand in here," Healer Augustus said.
    "Why tell me this?" I asked.
    "The Morpheus Reunion charm has one problem," Healer Augustus said. "The primary wizard who must perform the spell ... is the one who transformed the victim."
    I smiled deeply.
    "So, since I tortured the Longbottoms into insanity ... only I can restore them?"
    "I'm afraid so," Healer Augustus said, "and ... you have to want them to be healed."
    I stared at him, biting back a cruel smile. If this wasn't a joke, this was the first leverage I've had, and possibly my only chance to get out of Azkaban. My old self would've laughed at him and spit on him, but three years of dementor-induced torment had cooled me; if there was even a slight chance that I could get out of Azkaban, I had to take it. Whatever this frightened wizard wanted, I needed to hear him out and keep my true intentions hidden.
    "Tell me more," I said.
    "I can arrange for better food, a warmer cell away from dementors, and nice clothes and furniture," Healer Augustus said.
    "A pleasanter prison isn't much incentive," I said.
    "I may be able to ask for more ... later," Healer Augustus said. "Much depends on your ... recovery."
    "Recovery?" I asked. "What is it I need to recover?"
    "Wanting to restore the Longbottoms for your own benefit isn't enough," Healer Augustus said. "For the spell to work, you have to mean it. You have to believe that the Longbottoms deserve to be healed. You have to want them to be healed, not for your sake; for theirs."
    I almost laughed, which would have been my first laugh since I'd returned to this horrid existence, but I couldn't. Recovery? The very idea was repulsive, but how long would it be before another opportunity to escape from this eternal detention arose? I forged a willing smile, concealing my overwhelming disgust. If I played along with this fool, perhaps something would come of this.
    "I've arranged for permission to visit you once a week, on Friday afternoons, if you'll meet with me," Healer Augustus said. "If not ..."
    He stared pleadingly at me. I eyed him like a smiling wildcat approaching a trapped mouse, enjoying his nervous squirming; I couldn't let him get away.
    "You may visit," I said carefully.
    "Thank you, Mrs. Bellatrix," he said, relief flooding his face. "This is very important to me. We'll begin next Friday, if you please."
    "Why not begin today?" I asked slowly, watching his twitching, nervous hands shake.
    "I-I ... my materials ... I need to review ..."
    "Very well," I said. "I'll expect you on Friday. What day is this?"
    "Today is Tuesday," Healer Augustus said. "Ummm ..., before I go, if I might ask ... healer's curiosity, don't you know; I understand that you survived an arvada-kedavra curse ...?"
    "The sow miscast the spell," I scowled, snarling angrily. "I was only stunned."
    "Mrs. Weasely is a creator of life, not a destroyer," Healer Augustus said. "I would think that was something to be proud of. Good day, Mrs. Bellatrix. I'll see you on Friday."
    Healer Augustus turned, then spied the dementor at the door, and cringed as he slid past it. I smiled. For three years I'd had nothing, and now I had a shiny new toy to play with.

Azkaban prison, October 24, 5:00 PM

    "Welcome," I purred.
    Healer Augustus crept into my cell and the dementor closed the door, sealing us inside. My lock clicked; I grinned as Healer Augustus paled and trembled to the sound of it. He stared at my closed door as if it were the lid of his coffin.
    How easy it would be to kill him; I wouldn't even need a wand. I could squeeze the life from him with my bare fingers, reveling in the joy of killing another mud-blood, but then I'd be trapped in Azkaban forever.
    At my guest's request, a round table had been set inside my cell, a cold, steel table, with two metal folding chairs. Wood wasn't allowed; they feared that we might fashion a wand from it. I was sitting at the table, leaning forward. I'd brushed my hair for the first time in days and stared at my guest with wicked delight.
    "Please, join me," I spoke enticingly.
    Healer Augustus sat awkwardly, fumbling to set a bottle and two glasses on the table.
    "Elf-wine?" Healer Augustus asked.
    "Please," I said greedily. "Did you smuggle that in?"
    "Oh, no," Healer Augustus said as he popped the cork and poured both glasses. "They check me very carefully at the entrance. I said that I'd be able to bring you special comforts ... as long as you cooperated."
    The elf-wine tasted glorious; Azkaban provided nothing but plain water and disgusting pumpkin juice.
    "Shall we begin?" Healer Augustus asked.
    "Before we start, tell me; are you pure-blood?" I asked.
    "All blood is mixed," Healer Augustus said.
    "You lie!" I rose up out of my chair, glaring wildly.
    "The tests are quite complicated; dividing muggle blood from wizard blood," Healer Augustus calmly said, "but the evidence is ..."
    "The evidence is mistaken."
    "Even without evidence, it stands to reason: which came first, muggles or wizards? Squibs are very rare. If wizards came first, then muggles would be exceedingly few. The wizard population would be billions ..."
    "Inference of filthy blood is an insult," I snapped, fighting not to lose control. "Are you trying to offend me?"
    "No!" Healer Augustus yiped like a stabbed puppy. "Please, no; I don't mean any affront ..."
    "Then we'll speak of it no more," I said, and I forced myself to calm down. Control: I needed self-control!
    "I'm ... I'm afraid ... that's not possible," Healer Augustus said. "As long as you believe ... in dirty blood ... how can you hope to cure the Longbottoms?"
    "Is that really my only hope of getting out of here?" I asked.
    Healer Augustus looked at me warily.
    "Ms. Bellatrix, as I said, the Ministry may grant you many comforts, but as to getting out of here ..."
    "The Ministry doesn't believe that I will ever cure the Longbottoms, do they?"
    "No, they don't."
    "I'd be surprised if they did," I said. "They're weaklings, as always, hiding in cowardice."
    "The Confederation of Secrecy," Healer Augustus said. "You disapprove?"
    "Wizards are the superior race," I said proudly.
    "Really?" Healer Augustus asked. "What's your evidence of superiority?"
    "Wizards have magic."
    "That's true, but is that superior?"
    "What ...?"
    "The ultimate test of superiority is survival," Healer Augustus said. "The better a species survives ..."
    "You are a mud-blood," I cursed.
    "One set of my great grandparents were muggles, but my grandfather married a pure-blood, and we've all been wizards since," Healer Augustus said. "Wizards have magic, but muggles survive better ..."
    I stood and turned my back on him. I'd hoped to seduce Healer Augustus; if I could convince him to smuggle in a wand ...
    "And if we did kill off all muggles," Healer Augustus continued, "the total population of wizards is barely self-sustaining. Evidence says that at least fifty thousand are required to support a species ..."
    "Yes; required ... unless you have magic," I said.
    "No spell exists to prevent inbreeding ..."
    "Not yet, but necessity provides ..."
    "That's our existence you're gambling with."
    "If it's not risky, where's the fun?"
    Healer Augustus sat silent while I faced away from him, and I used the time to regain my composure. I couldn't afford to kill Healer Augustus with my bare hands no matter how good it would feel. No one else was going to give me a chance of escaping, so I had to endure his disgusting beliefs. Finally I took a deep breath, pushed up my breasts, and turned to face him.
    "Can we talk about anything else?" I asked.
    "Anything you want," Healer Augustus said.
    "Tell me about yourself," I said.
    Healer Augustus shook his head, and then began telling me of his childhood in Wyvern's Peak, his years in Ravenclaw, and his acceptance at St. Mungo's. He droned on about clinical research, endless residency, experimenting with muggle healing techniques, and working on cases that baffled other healers. Looking interested wasn't difficult; knowledge was key to manipulating without a wand. Healing excited him; curing people who whined about minor complaints and fools who couldn't reverse their own hexes. But what he didn't say spoke loudest of all.
    "Who was she?" I asked.
    "She?" Healer Augustus looked surprised.
    "Why did you become a healer?" I asked. "You were a chaser."
    "I was never good enough to be a professional quidditch player," Healer Augustus smiled, old memories flashing in his eyes; he was proud of his history of sport.
    "You loved a girl," I said.
    "I've loved several," Healer Augustus said.
    "Why did you become a healer?"
    Healer Augustus stared, then bowed his head.
    "Her name was Martha," Healer Augustus said softly, never looking up. "I barely knew her. I never loved her. Martha was a beater for Hufflepuff. She'd knocked me off my broom in the last game of the previous year, and when we met again, she seemed determined to do it again. I dodged her bludger and cut her off. I didn't mean to ... or maybe I did; I blocked her right into the Slytherin stands. I didn't ... mean to hurt her ..."
    "But you did," I said.
    "Madame Pomfrey cured her, but it took a week," Healer Augustus said. "Full recovery took months. She never flew again. She said that she didn't blame me ..."
    "You blamed yourself."
    "Yes," his whisper was barely audible. Healer Augustus raised his head and stared into my eyes. "You don't understand, do you? You tortured for fun ..."
    "Weaklings don't understand the strong," I said. "One doesn't have to be weak to understand weakness."
    "You're never going to change your opinions, are you?" Healer Augustus asked. "I'm wasting my time." With a heavy sigh, Healer Augustus stood up and drained his glass. "Enjoy the wine."
    "Wait!" I said as he turned toward the door. I didn't know what to say, but I couldn't let him leave, never expecting to return. "I ..., ummm ..., you're right. I don't know if I'll ever change ... but I know that I won't ... if you walk out that door."
    Healer Augustus stood silent a long time, his back to me.
    "Think on what we've said," Healer Augustus said as he knocked on my locked cell door. "I'll see you next week."

Azkaban prison, October 31, 5:00 PM

    "Happy Halloween," Healer Augustus said.
    I grinned; in his hands was a fresh pumpkin pie layered in whipped cream and striped with rich caramel.
    The pie was delicious, and we ate without talking until half of it was gone.
    "I'd like to talk about you today," Healer Augustus said.
    "You're much more interesting," I said.
    "I'm not famous, or infamous," Healer Augustus said. "I wasn't you-know-who's personal favorite."
    "He's truly dead this time," I said. "The jinx on his name has ended."
    "Force of habit," Healer Augustus grinned.
    "We were never as close as people think," I said.
    "Why not?"
    "I never knew," I said. "After my husband was killed, I offered myself to Voldemort, but he declined. Refused, really; only power interested him."
    "Odd," Healer Augustus said. "Sex is a form of power."
    "Not the kind of power he craved," I said.
    "But strong emotions bond more fully ..."
    "The imperious curse is stronger, faster, and you don't have to fear getting entangled in tiresome emotions."
    "Is that why you got married?"
    I lowered my brows.
    "I like that," I said, leaning closer, licking the sweet caramel on my lips. "You have a nasty side."
    "I'm no equal to you," Healer Augustus said. "I always said that you-know-..., I mean, that Voldemort was a sociopath. He wanted to live forever, and chose the fastest way to make most people want him dead."
    "If he'd brought the wizards out of hiding and conquered the muggles ..."
    "Impossible," Healer Augustus said. "Conquer hundreds, perhaps thousands, but billions of muggles?"
    "With the power of the Ministry ..."
    "How many muggles can you curse in a day? A hundred? Two hundred? The birth rate of muggles exceeds that many times over."
    "Necessity provides ..."
    "You do like to gamble."
    "You underestimated him."
    "Not anymore."
    "Harry Potter didn't defeat Voldemort."
    "There were hundreds of witnesses ..."
    "Dumbledore bet Potter's life on a theory; the rest was dumb luck."
    "I'm more interested in the present: the Longbottoms."
    "How are the dears?"
    "You really feel no remorse?"
    "Lord Voldemort would've taken over the muggles the same way that he took over the Ministry," I said. "Once he'd conquered, once the wizards ruled supreme, the Longbottoms would've been reviled as impediments to our destiny."
    "In my practice, I've dealt with muggles, and I've gotten to know them," Healer Augustus said. "They're not stupid ..."
    "That's a mud-blood opinion."
    "The comforts that you want depend on you adopting those opinions."
    To keep from responding, I helped myself to another slice of the delicious pie. I couldn't tell Augustus how much his opinions disgusted me, or that I'd never betray my pure-blood nobility with weak, false philosophies. If he knew how much he disgusted me, my only hope would depart and never return.
    But how long could I endure this charade? And, to cast his stupid spell, to heal the unworthy blood-traitors, I'd have to become equally weak and helpless. I'd rather kill myself, which was the trap that I knew he was laying. By not accepting his attempt to reform me, I was dooming myself to live in this cold, hard, miserable cell, surrounded by dementors for the rest of my life.
    There had to be another way.
    "My grandmother's ring," I said softly.
    "I beg your pardon?"
    "My grandmother gave me her ring," I said. "I appreciate the pie, and the wine, but the thing I'm most homesick about is my grandmother's ring. Is there any chance that ... the next time you come, you could bring it?"
    "There's no charm on it, is there?" Healer Augustus asked.
    "It's a baby dragon's fang," I said. "Of all the things I miss, trapped in here, my grandmother's ring would let me sleep at night."
    "If you tell me where it is ..."
    I told Healer Augustus exactly where it was hidden and how to overcome its protective charms. Then we sat and stared at each other. Healer Augustus was only an inch shorter than I, but he seemed very small, trembling in his chair. I could smell the fear he was hiding; even inside our locked cells, the drain of the dementors sapped us. He was again wearing his pale aquamarine robe patterned with tiny silver crescent moons. His auburn hair and celestial blue eyes gleamed in the candlelight. He wasn't unattractive, but his muggle-loving weakness was intolerable. I wondered if I could go through with it. I leaned back, letting him view me entirely; I wasn't young anymore, but I wasn't without physical charms. He didn't say a word, just watched as if attempting to delve into my mind. I couldn't allow that, but if I let him delve into my body, would he submit to my will?
    "Did Voldemort ever show mercy?" Healer Augustus asked.
    "Wha ...?" I said, startled from my reverie.
    "Lord Voldemort was said to be ruthless, when angered," Healer Augustus said.
    "The Dark Lord demanded loyalty," I said. "On occasion, he did show mercy."
    "Did you?" Healer Augustus asked. "Did Bellatrix Lestrange ever once show mercy ... to anyone?"
    "Never," I said proudly.
    "That doesn't bode well for our purpose," Healer Augustus said. "What does mercy mean to you? Forgiveness is a virtue. Are all virtues weaknesses?"
    "I wouldn't know," I said, narrowing my eyes. "To understand virtues, don't you have to have one?"
    "You aren't without virtues."
    "Thank you."
    "You're intelligent, strong-willed, determined ..."
    Healer Augustus blushed slightly and stared at the half-eaten pie, of which the whipped cream was starting to melt.
    "Your beauty is ... physically evident," Healer Augustus said softly, stiffly, as if trying to hide his discomfort. I smiled, making him even more nervous. He was accustomed to being polite; there were many girls younger than I, with thinner bodies and smoother skin, who'd giggle and flirt if left alone with a handsome wizard. I couldn't imitate their style, nor would I wish to. I was a dark queen, imperious, pure-blood; all that I needed was one loyal subject.
    "I think I should leave now," Healer Augustus said.
    "So soon?" I asked. "Must you?"
    "I'm ... I'm working on a project," Healer Augustus said. "I've never made a wand before; I started it as a hobby, but I've found a special core that I want to try out."
    "Giant tendon?"
    "The optic nerve of a basilisk," Healer Augustus said. "It was just laying there, and ..."
    "Harry Potter let you into the Chamber of Secrets?"
    "No, I let myself in."
    "You're a parselmouth?"
    "No," Healer Augustus chuckled. "I brought a small live snake into Hogwart's, used the imperious curse on it; I made the snake talk to Myrtle's sink ... and it worked."
    "If this works, then the basilisk's optic nerve should make a powerful wand-core," Healer Augustus said.
    "Why does a healer need so powerful a wand?"
    "To help people," Healer Augustus said as if this were obvious, and he rose and knocked on my door.
    "Thank you for the pie," I said, following him with my eyes.

Azkaban prison, November 7, 5:00 PM

    I sat waiting, anxious, excited. My cell seemed colder, or warmer; I couldn't tell. Minutes crept by like eternities. Finally, footsteps in the hall; dementors glide, not walk. I tried not to stand and forced myself to calm down.
    My lock clicked. My door opened. Healer Augustus entered carrying a large bundle wrapped in thick brown paper and bound with string. I stared confused: that package couldn't be my grandma's ring. Healer Augustus set the package on the steel table and stared at me in silence.
    "For me?" I asked.
    Healer Augustus nodded. I hesitated, and then I untied the tight bow. The twine and paper fell away and rolls of luxurious black fur rolled out.
    "Grandma's cloak!"
    "I recalled you saying how cold it was ... and Mr. Potter let me have it."
    "Harry Potter?"
    "Sirius' heir," Healer Augustus said. "He let me have your grandmother's ring, too."
    I couldn't stop myself; my eyes opened hungrily. Did he have it in his pocket?
    "Baby dragon fang, set in solid gold, very ornate," Healer Augustus said. "From a Russian Harbringer, I believe, barely six weeks old."
    "I don't know what type of dragon it came from," I said, clutching the cloak tightly, burying my face in its rich, warm fur.
    "Baby dragons are poisonous," Healer Augustus continued. "Dragon-poison excretes from venom sacks in the dragon's cheeks through tiny venom channels in their fangs ... into their victims through their bite."
    My smile faded as I lowered my head in misery; I'd failed.
    "A most remarkable, ingenious ring," Healer Augustus said. "Someone cleared the venom channel and slid a thin unicorn hair into it; making it a tiny wand without a splinter of wood. I'd never seen a wand that wasn't made of wood. It wasn't very powerful, but it would be useful enough to summon a better wand ... or float past Azkaban's protections to where one could apparate ..."
    He'd cheated me! My hands trembled to murder the mud-blood, but then I'd never get another chance.
    "Do you blame me?" I hissed angrily. "You're not trapped here, day after day, endless nights; the only thing that kept me sane before was knowing that Voldemort would return. Only the tricks I learned back then have kept me from going mad."
    "Desperation has made you incautious," Healer Augustus said. "If you'd let me acquire a few harmless trinkets first then I might not have been as suspicious. As it was, I examined it very carefully and only found the secret wand-core this morning."
    I said nothing, but clutched at grandma's cloak protectively.
    "You needn't be afraid," Healer Augustus said. "I brought you the cloak, didn't I? I never expected that this process would be rapid. Adapting you to cast my spell was never going to be a quick fix; this might take years."
    "There's no way to tell," Healer Augustus said, and then he glanced at the fur. "That's a beautiful cloak. African bug-bear?"
    "Sable satyr," I said.
    "Satyr?" Healer Augustus spoke loudly, losing control for the first time, his face pale chalk-white. "Satyrs aren't animals, they're ..."
    "You know what my family was."
    "That's disgusting!"
    "You seem to think that about most of my beliefs," I said, and I stood up and proudly flung the cloak over my shoulders, pulling it tight around me. "How do I look?"
    "Like you're wearing the skins of intelligent creatures," Healer Augustus looked like he was going to be sick.
    "This cloak was been in the Black family for six generations, long before I was born. My parents taught me to cherish their beliefs."
    "Their beliefs are why you're in Azkaban," Healer Augustus snapped, his teeth clenched.
    "But isn't that your 'natural order'?" I asked. "The practices of those who lose a war are always disgusting, but those same practices are honored if they win."
    "You would've lost even if Voldemort had conquered the world," Healer Augustus said.
    "Voldemort wouldn't sleep with you because you weren't worthy," Healer Augustus said. "In his eyes, no woman was. Voldemort was the ultimate paranoid; he had to kill and subjugate everyone for fear that someday someone might subjugate and kill him. If he'd conquered, his paranoia would've grown greater. To control the wizards and muggles, he would've had to grant you death-eaters more and more power, which he would've eventually perceived as a threat to him. He had to be the master, meaning that everyone else had to be his slaves. Even if you had won, you wouldn't have been his generals; just slaves with very short lives."
    "I knew Voldemort better than you."
    "Did you?" Healer Augustus asked. "Did Voldemort tell you everything?"
    "Albus Dumbledore didn't tell Potter everything."
    "Death is just one of the many things those two have in common," Healer Augustus said. "Do you fear death?"
    "I live in fear," I said coldly, and I tilted my head toward my narrow, uncomfortable bed. "Death is my only certain escape."
    "Unhealthy, but understandable," Healer Augustus scowled and, full of sarcasm, added: "I'm glad you like the cloak."
    "Shall we sit?"
    We sat, as always, facing each other, Augustus closest to the door. One back leg of my chair tapped the metal frame of my bed; I was eager to get out of this tiny cell, but I had to be more careful.
    "What was it like, growing up in the house of Black?"
    "Growing up as queens?" I shook my head. "Narcissa and I were given our own house elf when I was twelve, and that was after a childhood of endless indulgence."
    "Did you like your house elf?"
    "She cried a lot and died of injuries before I was thirteen," I recalled, thinking about the miserable scum for the first time in decades. "Pathetic thing ..."
    "You killed a house elf?" Healer Augustus asked. "Weren't you punished?"
    "They threw us a party. My mother was very proud."
    "Your family was truly twisted."
    "Are gods twisted?"
    Healer Augustus glanced at my bare walls and ceiling.
    "You don't live like a god," he said.
    I seethed, but restrained any reaction. He'd discovered the secret of grandma's ring, but I might yet get him to bring me something useful. For a mud-blood, he wasn't stupid; I needed to be slyer.
    I continued telling him of my coming to Hogwarts, where my sister met Lucius, and their attraction was instantaneous. But I was the queen of the Slytherin common room. I was a Prefect and Head Girl. Voldemort's name was already legend, and we dreamed of becoming death-eaters and ruling the world.
    Healer Augustus smiled at much of this; all childhood adventures seem simplistic to adults. He also shook his head a lot. I couldn't help smiling, recalling the days when my popularity was at its zenith. I hated my cousin, Sirius, but his popularity also buoyed me. By my seventh year, I was already esteemed a future death-eater and highly honored. Healer Augustus seemed disgusted by many of my attitudes, but understood that all Black children were indoctrinated into the dark arts.
    While I talked, I pulled my fur cloak tight around me, but when I saw him staring only at my face, I let the front fall open; if only my prison uniform displayed my cleavage better! Healer Augustus was a man; occasionally his eyes drifted beneath my chin, if only by accident, and then he'd jerk his gaze away, as if ashamed of his own lusts. He didn't want to look but couldn't help it; Healer Augustus was a weak man. The male sex drive is every woman's greatest strength, our power over our inferiors.
    Skeletal claws scratched against the outside of my cell door. Healer Augustus glanced at his wristwatch, then frowned.
    "Time's up," Healer Augustus said.
    "Must you go?" I asked.
    "The Ministry controls how long we meet," Healer Augustus said. "I wish it were otherwise."
    "Thank you for my grandmother's cloak," I said. "If you happen to find a nice dress to go with it ... that would be wonderful."
    "No more requests for prohibited magic items?" Healer Augustus asked.
    "No more," I said. "I promise."
    Healer Augustus stared doubtfully.

Azkaban prison, November 14, 5:00 PM

    Healer Augustus brought a white dress. It wasn't one of mine; it buttoned all the way up the front, with a high collar. It was positively Victorian, with lace sleeves and slender cuffs that buttoned tightly. Never had I worn such a repulsively modest dress, but I hid my disgust and exclaimed how beautiful it was. Healer Augustus looked pleased, but I wasn't going to let him off that easily for bringing me a doily.
    "Forgive me: I can't wait."
    Horrified, Healer Augustus spun around and faced my door as I pulled off my prison shirt. As I stared at his back, I grinned; he wouldn't watch, but he'd imagine me naked. I stripped and pulled the restraining white dress over my head, not hurrying to fasten its too-many buttons; let him sweat and imagine for a while. Its hem fell to my ankles. When I was fully-dressed, I forced a wide smile; I may hate this attire, but chances were that he chose a color and style that he preferred, and that fit into my plans better than any fashion I owned.
    "Well? How do I look?"
    Healer Augustus turned cautiously, as if worried that I might still be naked. I stood tall before him, garbed more fully than I could ever remember; a perfect, sweet lady, mannered and refined.
    "Y-you look ... swell," Healer Augustus said hesitantly, trying not to smile.
    I held out my long arms, my white skin barely visible beneath two layers of sheer lace, and posed in several respectable positions, modeling my new dress. I felt foolish; my fellow death-eaters wouldn't recognize me, and they'd laugh if they saw me wearing this English princess knock-off. Healer Augustus' eyes alighted, but he quickly changed the subject.
    "Why?" Healer Augustus asked as we sat. "You had magic. Your wealthy family had everything it wanted. Why dominate the muggles?"
    "Why heal?" I retorted. "You're a healer by choice, perhaps by nature. What if some law said that you couldn't heal anymore?"
    "That's ridiculous," Healer Augustus said. "Healing is ..."
    "Ridiculous is an opinion," I said. "What matters is ... you had a right, and a need, which you felt was not only gratifying, but important to all wizard kind. What if a handful of ministers at a distant conference decided to make your greatest delight illegal?"
    "A whole village of muggles captured a witch, stole her wand, and tortured our secrets from her," Healer Augustus said. "She was in their power as fully as any imperious curse. They used her to hunt and capture other wizards ..."
    "That whole village was slain," I said. "The witch was healed, and those she betrayed were freed. It should've ended there."
    "The danger that it could repeat has never vanished," Healer Augustus said. "The muggles are smarter now, and have technologies that they didn't have then. Our danger has never been greater."
    "We need to eliminate that danger," I said. "Only then ..."
    "Kill all the muggles?"
    "Not all. Kill enough that they can no longer threaten us. Let them be our servants."
    "Like house-elves? House-elves are enslaved by their unfortunate nature. Other types of elves avoid all wizards because of how their house-enslaved cousins are treated."
    "No one regrets their absence," I reminded Augustus. "Elves are notoriously disrespectful ..."
    "Elves feel that they deserve the highest respect, and that we wizards disrespect them," Healer Augustus said. "They're a far older race than humans, certainly older than wizards. Without a wand, no wizard could threaten an elf."
    "Without their forges, goblins would be worthless," I said. "Wizards have wands; it was in our nature to develop them. Our nature makes us superior."
    "If we are truly superior, why do we need to prove it?"
    "You don't," I said. "You're a healer, and no tries to deny you what nature made you. Could you stop healing, even if some silly law forbid it? Laws don't change nature; nature changes laws."
    "Some say destiny is what we make it," Healer Augustus said. "Our superiority could be temporary; what if elves, or goblins, discover magic wands? Their magic could someday exceed ours."
    "Then they should be wiped out now," I said, "before wizards become their house-elves."
    "That is a pitiful argument for genocide."
    "The line between paranoia and being realistic is a political judgment. Do you like the Ministry restrictions set on your healing practices?"
    Healer Augustus smiled.
    "I've debated that argument for years," Healer Augustus said. "The question is: do we follow our laws and live in peace ... or embrace lawlessness?"
    "Yet the healers are always trying to loosen the Ministry's restrictions," I said. "You don't embrace their laws."
    "No, but we abide by them."
    Healer Augustus smiled; rumors reported that many healers used forbidden healing spells, if no alternative was possible; Rita Skeeter did annual articles on it.
    "You say that nature can't be denied," Healer Augustus said. "For some, it's against their nature to follow rules. For humans, it's against their nature to accept servitude. Your plan would never work."
    "Give me a wand and I'll prove you wrong."
    Healer Augustus shook his head. I sighed deeply, yet I noticed that he kept looking at the white dress; I filled it out well. I forced myself to smile back. Most of the few death-eaters to survive the siege of Hogwarts had died in Azkaban, or have lost their minds; Lucius is the only one still able to hold a conversation, and only because Narcissa visits him every three days. I needed to get out of here before I cracked.
    "Let's talk about something else," Healer Augustus said. "What would you like to talk about?"
    "I thought you were setting our agenda."
    "Yes, but the only reason I'm here is to learn what you think. Surely you want to discuss something ..."
    "All I can discuss is the past," I said. "My life goes on, but for me, everything ended when Voldemort died."
    "How so?"
    "You've never been locked inside Azkaban. All darkness and misery; the only sounds are screams: dementors dragging out our worst memories, nothing new, no distractions. It's no wonder that so many go mad in here."
    "It's supposed to be punishment," Healer Augustus said. "We could use memory charms and imperious curses to wipe your minds and make you behave; would you prefer that?"
    "No, but a Daily Prophet would help pass the time."
    "So would repentance."
    "Why repent?" I asked. "What do we get from repentance? If a prisoner convicted of using an unforgivable curse repents, do you let them out?"
    "No one casts an unforgivable curse without knowing that it's forbidden. If Voldemort had won, and someone chose to rebel against him, their punishment would've been far worse than imprisonment."
    "The madness that Azkaban causes is worse than death."
    "I'm sure that the Longbottoms would agree with you."
    I held my tongue, stood up, and pushed my chair aside. The table took away most of my room for pacing, but I couldn't sit still any longer. I disliked this talk, but I had to placate this stupid healer. Pacing was better; let him look at me in this modest dress.
    "Tell me about your ancestors," Healer Augustus said.
    "Why?" I asked. "The Black family history is well-documented ... and I'll wager that you've read it."
    "I skimmed it," Healer Augustus admitted. "I just want to hear what you think about it: the feelings behind the facts."
    I took a deep breath, straining the buttons of my dress. I began as I'd heard my noble family history repeated countless times. I described ancestors and notable events going back to the first Black, four hundred years ago. Long I recited the long list of legendary wizard conventions that Blacks had led, the curses that we'd invented, and regaled in our history of pure-blood marriages. Family history was the first lesson Black children received to teach us pride in who we are; were, I should say. There will be no more Blacks.
    "By your hand the Blacks ended," Healer Augustus reminded me. "As you slew your brother, did you even think that you were ending your line?"
    "Our parents failed our line," I said. "Regulus was a Black, but he was weak and cowardly. Serius was a complete disgrace; better our line fail than he continue it."
    "You have an impressive heritage," Healer Augustus said. "You should be proud."
    "I am proud."
    "Not because of your family," Healer Augustus said. "I've studied your accomplishments. You're quite an adept witch. You've mastered spells that few others could. You've displayed incredible abilities. Of all your great ancestors, I'd say that you could do all that they did ... and more."
    I frowned; where was he going with this? But, before I could ask, skeletal claws scratched slowly down my door. Healer Augustus stared at me, then rose to go.
    "Thank you for the lovely dress," I said.
    Healer Augustus ignored my gratitude.
    "I didn't want to leave these as my last words," Healer Augustus said, and he drew in a deep breath, as if preparing himself for a difficult challenge. "I've always thought that people worshiped their famous ancestors because they had no accomplishments of their own. Your family drilled its pure-blood mania into you to keep up your family's image; if they'd just left you alone, then you'd have been their greatest accomplishment."
    I stared, unable to respond, as Healer Augustus left.

Azkaban prison, November 21, 5:20 PM

    He was late. I sat at my table, then paced, then sat again.
    Suddenly a silver light flashed through my door. Brighter than the light, a feeling washed over me that I'd almost forgotten: relief, clarity, and a lightness of spirit that filled me like the promise of freedom. The silver shape was a bright, wispy lemur; Healer Augustus had sent a patronus.
    "Bella, forgive me," his tired voice spoke from the lemur. "I can't come tonight. A boy in Hogwarts cast a bad spell, something we've never seen. I've got eight children mortally injured and we're fighting just to keep them alive. I'll be there next week ... with a special gift: I promise."
    The patronus lemur faded.
    I overturned my table and kicked my chairs aside. I stomped and cursed. I grabbed the delicate lace of my stupid white dress ... but I couldn't tear it. I wanted to, but I needed it; I had to keep my mind on my only goal: to escape Azkaban. Healer Augustus liked this dress. Shredding his dress could ruin my escape.
    I picked up my grandma's cloak and wrapped it back around me. I'd been sleeping under it and wrapped in it whenever Healer Augustus wasn't here. The thick fur was wonderfully warm, protection against my cold, lonely cell and the icy dementors. Healer Augustus couldn't have brought me a better gift, but sometimes I threw the cloak aside, unable to abide its touch. I hated Healer Augustus Pye. He was insufferably smug and condescending, always in control. I was his pet, his experiment, just a tool that he needed to heal a pair of filthy blood-traitors that should've died years ago. Cure me? It was wizards like him that should be cured; their muggle-obsession was a plague on real wizards. If wizard-muggle marriages were illegal then they wouldn't feel so kindly towards the non-magic vermin.
    The dementors were driving me mad, more than ever before. Once, I survived because I knew Voldemort would return. Now my only hope was pinned on a cowardly reject from St. Mungo who wanted to help everyone but me. If I did help him save the Longbottoms, would he ever want to see me again? He'd forget me like a used healing stone, cast aside once its enchantment was spent.
    I had to stay strong and remember who I was. I couldn't cure the Longbottoms with my bare hands; they'd have to give me a wand. Then I'd show them, all of them, why Bellatrix Lestrange lived to be feared.
    But, what if I failed? What if, against my will, Healer Augustus turned me, weakened me, succeeded? I'd disgrace my whole family! But how much longer could I survive Azkaban? Every argument in one direction brought three in others. Was my failing sanity still capable of choosing?
    Were petty gifts worth debasing myself before this confounded healer? I knew what he was doing; bringing me a kindly gift and one hour of friendly company, much-needed intellectual stimulation, and then leaving me for a week to cold solitude and dementors. Healer Augustus was increasing my mental diminishment. The longer that I let him meet with me, the worse I'd get, but refusing him would condemn me. I was trapped between the wand and its victim.
    No matter what, I wouldn't agree to heal the Longbottoms unless they promised to free me; that was my last gambit. To do that, I'd have to succeed at healing them: how could I? Blood-traitors deserved the punishments I gave them. But if I could escape before he broke me down, I had to; I couldn't let Healer Augustus win.
    But Voldemort was dead. The few still-living death-eaters were doomed. Was being right worth remaining trapped in this Ministry hell? Wouldn't I be better off changing who I was, hating myself, but being free?

Azkaban prison, November 28, 5:00 PM

    Healer Augustus came in wearing a black-cherry colored robe and carrying an even-larger box than before. He set the box on the floor and, without a word, drew from it three steaming platters, brass plates, two goblets, a bottle of elf-wine, and a large portrait of, to my astonishment, my old Uncle Phineas Nigellus Black.
    "Ta-da!" Healer Augustus chimed.
    "What's this?" I asked, confused.
    "Company," Healer Augustus said. "After all this time alone, I thought another Black would be fun to talk to. And a feast."
    "Hello, dear Bellatrix Black," Phineas said.
    "Put him away," I snapped, and I grabbed the fur cloak and pulled it over my shoulders to hide the white dress. "Phineas Nigellus is dead."
    "Blacks respect their elders," Phineas said to me.
    "My elders are dead," I said coldly. "You're just a reflection made before one of them died."
    "I asked to come here," Phineas said. "I need to speak to you."
    "I don't want to talk to you."
    "Too busy?" Phineas asked drolly. "Places to go, people to kill? No? Then I'll be quick. The Black family line doesn't have to end. Your husband is dead. You can still resume your maiden name and have children."
    "How dare you?" I screamed.
    "You have a responsibility to your family!" Phineas shouted back.
    "Me? A mother?"
    "I don't care if you raise them or not," Phineas said. "Let muggle-lovers raise them, if you must; just make sure that they know who they are ... and who their real family is."
    "Let my children become blood-traitors?"
    "They'll discover their family history soon enough," Phineas said. "If not, when they come to Hogwarts, I'll teach them ..."
    "You? A portrait? Raise my children?"
    "The Black family mustn't die," Phineas said. "Don't argue; just do it. That's all I came to say. Oh, yes; nice dress."
    Without waiting for a reply, Phineas turned and walked out of the side of his portrait. I glared at Healer Augustus, who was still holding up the empty frame. He looked horrified.
    "Oh, Bella ... I'm sorry," Healer Augustus said, sweat broken out on his forehead. "He never told me what he was going to say ..."
    "He died when I was a child, and everyone was glad to see him go," I said.
    "Surely not; he was a Hogwarts' headmaster," Healer Augustus said as he set the empty frame back in his box.
    "Exactly," I said. "Look at it from the Black perspective; Phineas had the power to expel all the muggle-borns, but never did."
    "The governors would've removed him."
    "He didn't even try."
    "Phineas was a practical man."
    "Phineas was a coward."
    "I'm sorry," Healer Augustus said. "I thought I was bringing you a great surprise. Well, at least we have the feast. Some wine first?"
    "Please," I said, gritting my teeth.
    I had to calm down, to control myself, and not target my anger on Healer Augustus. He wasn't a Black; he didn't understand how we thought, and he was too gullible for someone like Phineas Nigellus not to trick.
    "Let's forget him," Healer Augustus said, pouring my goblet to its rim. "I'll take him back to Hogwarts."
    I took a deep gulp of wine - too sweet, not dry enough - and leaned back in my chair.
    "What do you want me to talk about today?"
    "After this ... shock, I think we should forget what I'd planned and just ..."
    "I'd planned to talk about the Longbottoms, Frank and Alice," Healer Augustus said. "But let's eat first. We can discuss them next week."
    "That's another week I'll be trapped in here," I said.
    "Healing isn't measured in days," Healer Augustus said. "Healing requires verifiable evidence of improvement."
    "You're going to keep me here until ... what's the expression? Until I crack?"
    "Wasn't that what you did to the Longbottoms? Torture them ... until they cracked?"
    "Voldemort ordered me ..."
    "Yes, but you enjoyed it," Healer Augustus said. "You asked me to look at Phineas from the Black perspective; can you look at yourself from the Longbottom perspective?"
    "Why would I want to?"
    "You may learn something."
    "Nothing I want to learn."
    "What one wants to learn and what one needs to learn are seldom the same."
    I started eating; pork chops in a rich gravy, green beans in a steamy peanut sauce, and a curry rice with tiny shrimp in it. Healer Augustus joined me and we dined in silence while I struggled to think of something to say. I didn't know what was wrong with me; I'd never been passive before.
    "Let's be direct," I said finally. "I know what you want. What's the fastest way for me to get it?"
    "If there was a fast way ... well ..."
    "Veritas serum," Healer Augustus said. "You're a very smart woman. I never know when you are being honest and when you're just toying with me, which I know that you do."
    I glared; I couldn't let him give me that poison. If he knew the truth ... how much I despised what he was trying to do, then my only chance would walk away forever.
    "I can't."
    "I already know what you think of me," Healer Augustus said. "I'm not stupid, either."
    "What do you know?"
    "That you think that I'm a fool, a mud-blood or a blood-traitor, depending on how you perceive my parentage," Healer Augustus said. "You think that Frank and Alice Longbottom deserve insanity, and you equate the idea of changing with brainwashing."
    "That's what you think of me?"
    "I'm right, and so are you."
    I hesitated, trying to understand him.
    "I don't want to change you," Healer Augustus said. "You're strong, intelligent ..."
    "That, too," Healer Augustus said with a slight blush coloring his face. "I admire those qualities. I just want you to examine yourself, and the terrible things you've done, closely, from every possible angle. I think, when you see yourself from more than your own perspective, from the Black perspective, that you'll see things that you don't like ... and you'll change yourself ... for the better."
    "Like a trapped animal?" I asked softly. "Like a dancing bear before her master? I'm helpless. You decide when you're coming, if at all. You decide what I get. And here we are, trapped; you and I, alone, and you could do anything to me ... anything! No one would ever know or care."
    I jumped up, threw off the cloak, and displayed myself to him. Healer Augustus stared at me, his color draining. I rushed around the table, grabbed him, and pulled him to his feet. I pressed my face against his, leaning softly into his warmth.
    "No one would ever know what you did to me in here," I whispered gently. "I'm powerless. I wouldn't resist ..."
    I thought Healer Augustus would wrap his arms around me, but he seized my arms and forced me back.
    "Not being in control doesn't make you weak," Healer Augustus said.
    "I'm not used to being powerless; I don't like it."
    "Nobody does, but that doesn't mean we have to subjugate others."
    "I can't drink veritas serum. You'd hate me ..."
    "Someday, you must. The Ministry also thinks that I'm a fool. If I say that you're reformed without veritas serum, they'll claim that you duped me."
    I shook my head slowly.
    "There's ... only one way," I whispered.
    "What way?"
    "Bring enough for two ... and we both drink."
    Healer Augustus paused, but I didn't want to give him time to think.
    "I meant what I said. You could do ..."
    "It wouldn't be right," Healer Augustus said. "I'm a representative of St. Mungos, here with permission of the Ministry ..."
    "No one would know but you and I ..."
    "Perhaps I should leave."
    "No, don't ...!"
    "If you offer that again, I'm gone."
    We didn't discuss anything else. We ate in silence, and when the scratches came, Healer Augustus thanked me for my company, took the portrait of Phineas Nigellus, and left. I finished the elf-wine alone.

Azkaban prison, December 5, 5:00 PM

    Healer Augustus entered slowly, his eyes locked on mine. Onto the table before me he set a brown-wrapped package, two tiny glasses, and a small glass bottle of veritas serum.
    "The package is thick flannel pajamas; you needn't open it now," Healer Augustus said as he sat opposite me. "You know what this is."
    Unopened, I absently tossed the pajamas onto my bed.
    "I'm afraid," I said, staring at the crystal clear contents of the small glass bottle.
    "You should be," Healer Augustus said. "Truth can be perilous."
    "What if I ... confess to crimes ... that I haven't been charged with?"
    "I'm not here to judge you," Healer Augustus said. "I'm here to teach you how to judge yourself."
    "You'll hate me."
    "I try to hate actions, not people. If I'd been raised a Black, would I be any different?"
    Healer Augustus lifted the crystal stopper and slowly poured a teaspoon of veritas serum into each of the small shot glasses. Side-by-side, the tiny glasses looked like the empty eye-sockets of a skull.
    "Promise me that you'll come next week," I said.
    "I promise ... if I'm able."
    My hand shook as I reached out. I stared at my trembling fingers; fear wasn't a common experience before I came to Azkaban, and I'd thought I'd mastered my nerves since then. I touched the shot glass, then lifted it; the tiny poison splashed in its glass prison as my fingers shook.
    Healer Augustus reached out quite easily and took the other glass. He was calm and relaxed; our reactions were reversed.
    "To your health," Healer Augustus toasted.
    "No!" I startled, surprising myself. "Ummmmm ...., switch glasses."
    Healer Augustus looked disappointed, but set down his glass. I couldn't bear it if he'd cheated and only I drank the real serum. A moment later, we raised each other's glasses. He drank first, and I slowly tipped my glass into my mouth. A sharp taste filled me: the veritas serum was icy, and then suddenly it warmed. As I reluctantly swallowed, it burned like fire.
    "Don't ask me anything," I said quickly.
    Healer Augustus shook his head.
    "Tell me about the Longbottoms."
    The truth blurted out. I hadn't caught them, but I reveled in their torment. Voldemort had wanted to know where Harry Potter was hidden. I was curious as to why Voldemort cared about a baby, but after Voldemort vanished, I didn't hesitate to inflict the cruciatus curse on Frank and Alice. I cursed them alternately, each time asking the other if I should continue, and watching them beg for mercy, swear that they didn't know where Voldemort had vanished to, and offer themselves in exchange for their partner. I couldn't stop speaking, but every word I uttered felt like my throat was being ripped out by iron hooks.
    "Why didn't you stop?" Healer Augustus asked.
    I kept talking, lost in the elixir's poison. I loved torturing. I reveled in watching people crawl and whimper at my feet; it made me feel tall and powerful. Before I was done with the Longbottoms, they worshipped me like a god.
    "They were both willing to sacrifice their lives to spare each other," Healer Augustus said. "Have you ever been loved like that? Have you ever wanted to be loved like that?"
    His question caught me off guard. Never had anyone asked me a question like that. I stammered, unable to reply, when foreign words whispered from my lips.
    "Never ... and always."
    I stared horrified at Healer Augustus. I couldn't believe that I'd said that! My late husband had loved me countless times; he was insatiable, always eager and demanding, and I equaled his lusts. But had he loved me? Not once had he offered to suffer Voldemort's wrath for my sake, and never would I have endured pain for him. We pleased each other and delighted in the same pure-blood philosophy, but we'd never loved as the Longbottoms had.
    "Why did you settle for less than love?" Healer Augustus asked.
    Even the veritas serum stammered at this. I opened my mouth, but no words came. Pain erupted, searing, deeper than any cruciatus curse. I cried out, spat, and hissed, and finally a dead whisper choked out of me.
    "I ... can't ... love."
    Fire cascaded down my throat, burned me inside-out, and tortured my shattered soul.
    "I ... can ... love," the words scraped and clawed their path out of me. "I ... chose ... not ... to."
    Peace, tranquility, and the floating comfort of Nirvana swirled around me. I'd spoken the truth, truth that I hadn't even known, or couldn't admit. These weren't questions that I wanted to answer. I grasped at my chance.
    "Do you love me?" I asked quickly before he could torture me again.
    "No," Healer Augustus smiled, "... but I could."
    His smile vanished; he hadn't expected that answer, either.
    "Are you attracted to me?" I asked.
    "I think ... you're beautiful," Healer Augustus said through gritted teeth; he was resisting with as little success as I.
    I smiled at his compliment.
    "Why do you love to torture people?" Healer Augustus asked.
    My euphoria vanished into a thousand painful electric shocks.
    "I have to," I said. "It's expected of me. If I don't, I'm not a Black. My family ... disowns blood-traitors and weaklings. My friends would torture me if I couldn't torture them."
    The pain receded.
    "Am I ever going to get out of Azkaban?"
    "No," Healer Augustus said, and then he winced and cringed. "I don't know. Kingsley Shacklebolt said that it was impossible, but I don't know. You could escape ... he could change his mind ... Do you deserve to be in here?"
    "Yes ... no ... yes!" I gasped in utter agony, and this pain excelled all others. "I don't know. If we'd won, we'd be heroes ... reviled ... it's possible ... I can't say. But I did things ... terrible things ... broke countless laws ... tortured ... killed ... I deserve to be locked up ... I earned this ... and I knew it the whole time."
    The pain didn't end. I couldn't answer; I didn't know this answer, and veritas serum demanded the truth. This must be what the Longbottoms felt; how did they endure for so long? I felt like my skin had been peeled and I was thrown into a furnace; I screamed.
    "Enough," Healer Augustus said, and the pain slowly vanished.
    We sat gasping, staring at each other, clutching at the steel table to keep from falling off our chairs. This was madness. I could endure no more.
    "Where is Salazar Slytherin's wand?" I demanded.
    Healer Augustus cried out. He twisted and jerked as if invisible fists were knocking him back and forth. His limbs trembled: I'd asked a question that he couldn't answer; no truth existed to relieve his pain.
    "Enough," I said.
    At first I hadn't realized what I'd said. Then, as Healer Augustus' convulsions ceased, I realized what I'd done: I'd stopped torturing him. I had him at my mercy ... and I'd shown mercy. I didn't understand; had I done it, or had the veritas serum forced the word out of me? Truth: if I didn't want to see him hurt, how could I torture him? But I hadn't been asked a question; had it been the serum?
    Healer Augustus' eyes opened and glanced weakly at me.
    "This ... is insane," Healer Augustus whispered between ragged, labored gasps. "I-I'm honest ... I ... didn't think ... veritas serum ... would affect me."
    "Truth ... isn't what we thought," I said. "I thought ... we'd just answer ... questions ... as we believed."
    "Truth is ... more powerful ... than belief," Healer Augustus said. "This was ... a bad idea ..."
    "Let's stop."
    "One more," I said, exhausted. "Would you like to kiss me?"
    Healer Augustus paled.
    "You don't have to ask me that question."
    I rose, but as I did, Healer Augustus jumped out of his chair and banged his fist loudly on the door of my cell.
    "Let me out!" Healer Augustus cried desperately. "Help! Open the door!"
    He kept pounding his fist on my door. I stared at him. I wanted to rush to him, to kiss him passionately. He disgusted me; a weakling, a mud-blood or a blood-traitor, and I desperately wanted to kiss him. That was the truth, but I couldn't. Even if he wanted to kiss me, he knew he shouldn't; he was healing me, my healer ... and there were rules. Kissing me would jeopardize everything ... and I didn't want to lose him.
    We stared in terror at each other, silent, afraid to ask any more questions. As the dementor opened the door, Healer Augustus fell out of my cell.

Azkaban prison, December 12, 5:00 PM

    "The Ministry didn't limit your visits to once a week, did they?!?" I shouted angrily before Healer Augustus had even stepped inside my cell. "You did!"
    Healer Augustus paused, then entered and nodded to the dementor, who closed the door and locked us inside. He didn't flinch as he looked at the dementor; he was getting stronger ... and I was getting weaker.
    "We bargained," Healer Augustus said. "The Ministry didn't want me to visit you at all. They want the whole Voldemort nightmare to become ancient history."
    "To hide their incompetence?"
    "Probably," Healer Augustus said. "I believe we share that opinion. Still, Kingsley is a great wizard. He insisted that he be involved in the healing of the Longbottoms."
    "The Minister of Magic ...?"
    "Five people are required," Healer Augustus said. "The curse-giver, a healer, and three others; Neville and his Gran have volunteered; their essences will help restore their relatives. Why did you think that I chose the weekly schedule?"
    I said nothing; I wasn't drunk on veritas serum any longer. That bottle was still in the corner of my cell, on the floor, beside the cursed shot glasses. I was myself again.
    "You accuse me of enjoying torturing innocents," I scowled. "You give me a normal life for one hour and then deprive me for a whole week."
    "I don't enjoy torturing, although all healers can inflict pain, if we have to," Healer Augustus said. "If there was any other way ..."
    "So, you admit it," I sneered.
    "If I can readjust your moral center, then you won't have to live in this tiny cell any longer," Healer Augustus said. "Do you want me to stop?"
    "I won't heal the Longbottoms unless I get a full pardon."
    "Yes, you will," Healer Augustus said. "Don't you understand? If you alter enough to cure the Longbottoms, then you'll want to help them."
    "I don't see that happening."
    "Should I leave now?"
    "For someone who doesn't enjoy torturing, you're quick to do it."
    Neither of us sat. We glared at each other.
    "What do you want me to do?"
    "What do you want me to do?"
    Neither of us had an answer. The closeness of the veritas serum burned in my mind. All our answers were just a drink-I'd-never-take-again away.
    "I want to help you, but I can only do so much," Healer Augustus said. "Until this is done, we can't have a relationship."
    "Relationship ...?" I asked darkly.
    Healer Augustus swallowed hard, then bowed his head.
    "Forgive my presumption," Healer Augustus said. "I'm sorry."
    "I won't be weak," I said.
    "I don't want you to be weak," Healer Augustus said. "You can't be weak; you have to be strong to cast this spell."
    "If you steal my strength ..."
    "Compassion isn't weakness. We both experienced truth last week ... more than we expected. Telling the truth requires more strength than either of us have."
    "That wasn't truth."
    "What was it?"
    "It was revolting."
    Healer Augustus looked sick, made a strange face, and then burst out laughing. I cursed at him, but an unwelcomed smile twisted my lips. I fought against it, but it overwhelmed me; I started laughing.
    "We should talk," Healer Augustus said.
    "We talked last week; a drug-induced disaster."
    "We both learned a lot. I never realized the depth and damage of truth."
    "At least your only lies were to yourself."
    Healer Augustus stared at me.
    "Did you learn something ...?"
    "No," I said so quickly that even I didn't believe myself. "When you leave, will you take that damn serum?"
    "Gladly," Healer Augustus said. "That's the last time I'll ever use it."
    "Same here."
    By unspoken agreement, we sat down.
    "How long did it take you to break the Longbottoms' minds?"
    "Less than three days," I said, though not as proudly as I once boasted. "I'm an expert."
    "I don't have your experience, but I've studied torture," Healer Augustus said. "I knew this wouldn't take long; you've already suffered Azkaban for three years, and all the years of Voldemort's downfall before that. Pain changes people faster than most want to believe. I know what you're going through, but there's no other way. If I go too fast, you'll join the Longbottoms, not cure them."
    "They're all you care about," I accused. "Once I've cured them, even if I get a nicer cell, I'll never see you again."
    "So, you want to see me?"
    I said nothing, but every curse I'd ever known flashed through my mind. If only I had my wand!
    "We're in the middle of a treatment," Healer Augustus continued. "If I tell you everything, I may slow, or prevent, completion. You need to trust me."
    "Trust isn't a Black family tradition."
    "Already my process has changed you," Healer Augustus said, his voice lowered to a whisper. "Unfortunately, I think I've changed more than you. Please, trust me; let's see where this goes."
    "Even Lord Voldemort never tortured me this much. How can you ask me to trust you?"
    "Because I must. That, or we drink the serum again."
    An uncomfortable silence fell. I looked into his celestial blue eyes; what was he planning? But I understood that he couldn't tell me; I'd figure out a way to take control, and probably ruin it ... as I always did.
    "What do you want to talk about today?"
    "Forgiveness," Healer Augustus said.
    "What about it?"
    "I want to know ... if you'll ever forgive ... me."
    I paused only a second.
    "I could've forced you," Healer Augustus said. "The cruciatus curse, the imperious curse; how long could you have survived if I tortured you like you tortured the Longbottoms? Most of the wizarding world would've celebrated your torment. You know what tortured people become; I could've reduced you to a crawling worm and built you back up. Instead, I showed you courtesy and kindness that you've never shown to any of your victims. Do you know what I'm risking by attempting this? My reputation and my employment at St. Mungos! What do you think Rita Skeeter is going to write about this once she finds out? No one's going to believe in a reformed death-eater, and if you did walk out of Azkaban, you'd be in danger from a dozen witches and wizards who've been calling for your blood since Voldemort died. You can hate me, if you want, but don't say that I don't ... care about you."
    Healer Augustus fell silent, his eyes glaring into mine. I met his stare with all the imperious demeanor I commanded, the noble affect of every true Black. I couldn't let him see how deeply his words stabbed; I wasn't the person I used to be. I was a stranger to myself, unsure how I felt about anything. But that didn't mean I had to confess my true feelings.
    "Where's my gift?"
    Healer Augustus looked startled, and then perplexed.
    "I forgot," Healer Augustus admitted. "I'm sorry; I was so shaken by ... last week ... it never entered my mind. I'll bring you two, or something special, next week. What would you like?"
    "I don't have to wait. You can give me something this week ... right now." Healer Augustus looked up at me.
    "A kiss," I smiled.
    Healer Augustus shook his head.
    "You're not going to seduce me into bringing you a wand."
    "Again, that's mighty presumptuous of you."
    "Is it the truth?"
    "Shall we drink veritas serum again?"
    "No," Healer Augustus shivered as he glanced into my corner. "Not ... that. I'll bring you something nice next week."
    "Dragon-steaks, very rare, and some new dresses," I glanced at the white dress I always wore. "Fashions that I prefer; tighter ..., more revealing."
    "I wish I could take you shopping."
    "I wish you could, too."
    "You still haven't forgiven me."
    "No, I haven't."
    "Do you?"
    I tried to speak, but my jaws wouldn't unclench. My teeth crunched together, not letting the words squeeze out. If I told the truth, he'd win ... or, at least, he'd see it as a sign that I was weakening.
    "Let's discuss something else," I said.
    "No," Healer Augustus insisted. "Do you forgive me?"
    "I've never forgiven anyone in my life."
    "And look where you are."
    I gnashed my teeth and seethed.
    "I have ... ceased to blame you."
    Healer Augustus smiled.
    "That's nothing to smile about!" I snapped.
    "Of course not," Healer Augustus said, but his smile broadened.
    "I can beat the crap out of you," I warned.
    Healer Augustus broke out laughing. I jumped to my feet, fists clenched.
    "Voldemort killed himself by attacking the only person who could've saved him," Healer Augustus said quickly. "Will you do the same?"
    I stared down at him, furious.
    "What do you mean?"
    "You were unconscious by then," Healer Augustus said slowly. "Harry Potter tried to get Voldemort to show remorse ... for his own sake ... right before Voldemort died. Isn't that what I'm trying to do ... for you?"
    "Remorse? Voldemort had no remorse."
    "So he died," Healer Augustus said. "Please; you could die, too."
    "Is that a threat?"
    "A plea," Healer Augustus implored. "Imprisonment is killing you; I don't want you to die."
    For the first time, I wanted our session to end early. I wanted Healer Augustus to go, to depart, and never return again. What he was offering, and what he was feeling, I couldn't accept, or even name; it would truly be the death of Bellatrix Lestrange. I turned away from him and lowered myself onto my bed, atop the warm fur cloak, my face to my bare stone wall. Let him go. Let him leave. Let him spare me.
    Something wet rolled from my eyes down the side of my face. I didn't wipe it away; I couldn't let him see me ... moist.
    I heard Healer Augustus rise. I heard my chair beside my bed flex under his weight. I felt a soft hand close upon my arm. I'd wanted this. I'd tried to force this ... and now ... I couldn't bear this.
    Healer Augustus said nothing, just sat, his touch like a bonfire. When the skeletal scratches scraped against my door, he stood up and bent over me.
    "I didn't do this," Healer Augustus whispered, and he kissed the top of my head.

Azkaban prison, December 19, 5:00 PM

    I masked my face with calm passiveness. Over the last cold, lonely week my thoughts had been darker and more miserable than ever before. Surprisingly, Healer Augustus entered my cell smiling brightly. He set down the large box he was carrying with a toothy grin.
    "I just cured a ghost!" Healer Augustus said.
    "How can a ghost be cured?"
    "He was very depressed," Healer Augustus said. "He'd tried to catch someone who was falling and, of course, they passed right through his outstretched arms. He felt guilty and useless after they got hurt."
    "How could you cure that?"
    "You know that spell that you can put on doors, walls, ceilings, and floors to keep ghosts out of a room? I cast that spell ... on a pair of gloves! He can wear the gloves, you see, and the gloves can pick things up. He doesn't have his full strength, of course, but he was delighted. I'm thinking of enchanting a suit of armor next."
    "Are you sure you want to?"
    "Why not?"
    "Because the next thing you'll have to enchant is a sword to go with the armor. If a sword can't pass through a ghost, will it kill the ghost?"
    Healer Augustus paled.
    "I never thought of that," Healer Augustus said, and his smile faded.
    "You really do love helping others," I said dejectedly. "You believe that you're helping me, don't you?"
    "Certainly," Healer Augustus said. "Otherwise ..."
    "I was bitter, cold-hearted, and resolute," I said slowly, unable to meet his eyes. "My hate shielded me. Now I'm undone, regretful, and afraid; my nights are infinitely longer. How have you helped me?"
    Healer Augustus stared at me.
    "Don't you think that our discussions have helped?"
    "Helped pass the time?" I asked. "Helped keep me from going mad? Yes, in the long run, our conversations have delayed my insanity, but not prevented it. If anything, you've made me weaker against the dementors. What have I gotten in return?"
    Healer Augustus reached into his large box and lifted out a soft paper-wrapped bundle and tossed it onto my bed.
    He reached in again and brought out a covered platter and set it on the table.
    "Dragon-steaks, very rare."
    "What use do I have for a moral center?" I asked, unable to raise my voice above a whisper. "What good are steaks when all I can taste is the bitterness of never having them again?"
    "Perhaps your future isn't as bleak as you think."
    "I'm never going to get out of Azkaban," I said, struggling to retain my last vestige of control. "Bellatrix Lestrange was well-suited to enduring solitary, friendless imprisonment. I ... can't bear it."
    "I'm here ..."
    "Someday you'll be helping others. Someday ..."
    I faltered, unable to speak. My throat was powder-dry, my eyes moist, and I clenched my teeth; I couldn't cry before him. I averted my face, desperate to regain composure.
    "Bella, let's talk about the Longbottoms."
    "No," I shook my head, repulse by the idea. "Please, no ...!"
    Healer Augustus' hand reached across the table and laid atop mine.
    "Bella, I think you may be ready."
    Tears cascaded, flooded, burst like air from a popped balloon. No, I couldn't be ready; I was still me, the powerful Lady Bellatrix, regal, commanding, a murderess and a torturer. I hadn't changed that much. I refused to change that much. Healer Augustus came around and knelt before me, and I sobbed onto his shoulder like some pathetic little girl. This wasn't me! This couldn't be me!
    Then a second grief, far greater than the first, washed over me. If I was ready, if I healed the Longbottoms, then Healer Augustus would be finished with me. I'd be alone again, and the only gifts I'd have would be misery and loneliness. Once I didn't need company. Now I wept like one of my helpless victims; not until now had I understood them.
    "Come now," Healer Augustus said in a soft tone, so comforting that I wondered if healers were trained to speak that way. "We can talk later. Your dinner's getting cold."
    We said nothing as we dined, but our expressions penetrated deeper than legilimens without occlumancy. His celestial blues stung like scorpion barbs, and only then did I realize how beautiful his eyes were. His auburn hair, his handsome face; I'd miss him most of all.
    The steaks were perfect, and the wine that went with them was perfect, and the potatoes were perfect, and my mind was thinking so fast that no single thought coalesced. I stared at him as he stared at me, and he presented me with small strawberry tarts for desert.
    Finally, I'd eaten more than I needed, desperate to prevent conversation. Healer Augustus had long finished his last bite. I bowed my head.
    "What do you want to talk about?"
    "Nothing," Healer Augustus said. "I've told you all I know and all I believe. Our formal talks are over."
    His words stabbed like a hundred daggers.
    "I'll bring the papers next week. With your skills, it shouldn't take long to learn your part. I'll have to meet with Neville, Gran, and Kingsley to teach them their roles in the spell, but theirs are relatively simple; yours and mine are the complex parts."
    I opened the paper-package on my bed; five dresses lay inside, each a different color, one of which was black. I was so tired of the white dress that they all looked enticing, but no excitement swelled in me. What good were they? Who would see me in them?
    The black dress was long and sparkly of a stretchy fabric. I lifted it up and looked at it.
    "May I?"
    "It's quite inappropriate."
    Moments later, Healer Augustus was standing facing my door while I undid the dozens of buttons and changed dresses. The black cocktail dress was very slimming, hugging my every curve, revealing more of my mature figure than I preferred. The hem hung below my knees, but it had a high slit up the left side. I posed for Healer Augustus when he turned around, but then he spun back again, his nose almost touching my door.
    "For someone with no magic, you certainly have a lot of it," Healer Augustus said.
    I smiled weakly. Someday I'd treasure those words; I wondered if I'd recall them fondly.
    The scratches on my cell door startled us as if we'd been caught doing something wrong.
    "One kiss?" I asked.
    "No," Healer Augustus said. "We're ... too close."
    There was a double-meaning to his words; he could have said nothing crueler.

Azkaban prison, December 25, 11:00 AM

    "Merry Christmas!" Healer Augustus came in unexpectedly with both arms full of brightly-wrapped Christmas presents tied with silk ribbons and huge bows. I gaped astounded; not only were the colors brighter than anything I'd seen in years, but Healer Augustus was a day early.
    "But ... it's Thursday!"
    "Not come on Christmas?" Healer Augustus acted shocked (very poorly). "Nonsense! Couldn't forget my favorite patient, could I?"
    I jumped up and threw off grandma's fur cloak to help unburden him so that he didn't drop everything. I felt abashed in my new green dress; I'd wanted to wear the red for him.
    "Wow! You really wear that well," Healer Augustus said as I piled the presents on my table.
    Luckily I caught myself; I was so torn between rage at his complement, which my old self would have killed him for, and blushing like an innocent schoolgirl, that I almost did both. My green dress was thick cotton and would've been warm except that it had no sleeves and a thigh-length skirt. A slight, very-conscious discomfort tugged at me, which could've been my first experience with modesty. I tried to ignore it.
    Healer Augustus sat excitedly while I patiently unwrapped my presents, one of which he insisted on holding for last. I got a ladies' gold watch, a box of exquisite chocolates, a Slytherin-green scarf and gloves boxed set, a telescope that looked through walls and let me see the sky and sea, and a long strand of black pearls. The last gift was a wizard's wireless so that I could listen to music and keep up with the news.
    "I really can't stay," Healer Augustus said. "Technically, I'm only allowed to visit on Fridays, but since its Christmas, they're making exceptions for all visitors."
    I stared at all the gifts on my table. I didn't know what to say.
    "Merry Christmas, Bella," Healer Augustus said.
    As he rose to leave, I rushed him. I slammed Healer Augustus bodily against my door, forced my lips against his, and kissed him as hard and determinedly as I could. He struggled against me and proved stronger than I thought; he slowly shoved me back and pried my lips from his.
    "What're you doing?" Healer Augustus snarled. "Is that what you call a kiss?"
    I stopped and stared at him, confused; men had raved about my kisses. Healer Augustus looked disgusted.
    "Like this," Healer Augustus whispered.
    He leaned forward so slowly that I kept wondering what he meant to do. As our faces neared, he hesitated and raised a hand. One finger reached up and gently brushed my cheek, tracing the line of my chin, our noses inches apart. His finger slid down my bare throat, then floated gently across my shoulder-strap, and down my bare arm. His lips came against mine as soft as a cloud. At first it seemed passionless, without fury, intensity, or lustful demands. Then we melted together, and an unknown weightless, ecstatic sense of oneness conquered me. I willingly succumbed. A magic that I'd never known suffused my whole being.
    As he drew away, his knuckles rapped on my cell door. I glanced at him once, and then drew back fearfully; what had he done to me? How could I ... anyone ... feel like that?
    "Until tomorrow," Healer Augustus said as my lock clicked open.

Azkaban prison, December 26, 5:00 PM

    "It's all planned," Healer Augustus said as he came inside. He carried a box of food and a bottle of goblin ale. As he set out our meal, spaghetti with spicy meatballs, he apologized for the meager fare, complaining that the wizard stores were all closed on the day after Christmas.
    "What's all planned?"
    "New Year's Eve," Healer Augustus said. "Neville, Gran, and Kingsley will all be at St. Mungos with me. Aurors will bring you, and we'll perform the spell."
    "I ... what if I can't ... I'm not ready."
    "You're still yourself, but not as you were."
    "How do you know?"
    "If the Longbottoms were here today, would you torture them?"
    "No, but that doesn't count; I don't have any reason to torture them."
    "I thought they were blood-traitors...?"
    I held my tongue. They were blood-traitors, but what did that matter now? Voldemort was dead, his ambitions vapor, our plans failed. That past was never going to return. The mud-bloods and muggle-lovers had won. The battle was over. I had nothing to gain by fighting in vain for a dead cause; I'd accepted my defeat. Another generation may take up our banner and triumph someday, but I wouldn't live to see it. My world, all that I had left, was this cell, these gifts, and Augustus.
    Augustus explained all our parts in the spell. I was to recite a complex incantation which he'd written on a scroll and would leave with me. I was to use three difficult wand-movements in each pass, first on Alice, and then on Frank, and I had keep to repeating it until the spell was over. My part was to affect a partial time-reversal. Healer Augustus was the orchestrator, and he'd be doing a powerful healing spell which, if it wasn't cast properly, could melt their brains. Neville and Gran would be our sources, drawing from themselves, and the familiar objects, the pieces of Frank and Alice that they had lost. Kingsley was our anchor, as all of this would be taking us to the brink of magical resonance, which risked reality-warps.
    "It won't be instantaneous," Healer Augustus said. "Afterwards, Frank and Alice won't awaken for at least a day, maybe two. Until then, we won't know if the spell worked."
    "Is there any chance ... that they'll let me go?"
    "Like the Longbottoms, we won't know right away," Healer Augustus said. "I suggest you talk to Kingsley about it; he's the only one who can bring it up in council, and the whole Wizengamot must vote before you can be pardoned. Neville and Gran will also be given a chance to speak, and Minerva McGonagall will have her say."
    "Minerva McGonagall's head of the Wizengamot?"
    "Her appointment was honorary, at first, out of respect for Dumbledore," Healer Augustus said, "but she's certainly risen to the office. She was never someone to cross."
    "What ... if they don't let me go?"
    "I'll keep pushing them."
    "I don't know if I can go back to being alone."
    "I don't kiss unless I mean it."
    I looked up at him, but he opened my scroll and began to point out the special enunciations that I had to use, the few breaks where I could breathe, and the rise and fall that my volume had to match. It was a very complicated incantation, but Augustus said that his was just as complex as mine and twice as long. We worked and rehearsed while we ate, and afterwards, until unwelcomed claws scraped on my door.
    "A ... a kiss?" I asked as he rose.
    Healer Augustus shook his head.
    "We can't be thinking of that," Healer Augustus said. "This is the most complex spell I've ever participated in, and it's unproven; it might not work at all. We need to focus. Afterwards, we won't be doctor and patient anymore."
    He left me to wonder what he meant by that.

Azkaban prison, December 31, 9:00 AM

    Aurors arrived to escort me past the dementors and out through doors that I feared I'd never see the backside of. One auror was a short, plump young woman, but she held her wand with a confidence that I could only remember. The other auror was an older man, slightly balding, but powerfully built, like Mad-Eye before he started losing pieces of himself. They escorted me out of the prison and through the long corridor to the entry tower: the only place in Azkaban from where one could apparate.
    "Our wands will be on you every instant until we bring you back," the young woman warned me.
    I smiled; such threats would've once infuriated me, but this was just hollow posturing. What good would it do to escape, even if I could steal a wand? There was nowhere in the wizarding world where I could hide. I'd be an outcast, as alone as in my tiny cell.
    It was a long apparition, but we arrived in St. Mungos without incident. Healer Augustus stood there beside a young black-haired man and an elderly woman in a stuffed-vulture hat. Their gazes at me were worthy of Blacks. Undaunted, I walked up to them.
    "I'll do all I can," I said before either of them could speak.
    Their gazes continued, but they glanced at Augustus as if confirming some previous conversation.
    "We have a delay," Healer Augustus said. "Kingsley was supposed to be here half an hour ago."
    As he spoke, Kingsley appeared, standing right before us.
    "So sorry," Kingsley said. "Ministry business. Shall we begin?"
    Neville and Gran exchanged worried looks, but Augustus nodded.
    "I'll need you to stay a bit afterwards," Augustus said. "We'll have some important matters to discuss; it's imperative that you hear me before you leave."
    "Of course, of course," Kingsley said. "I'm ready; I practiced my part all last night."
    "One last thing to do," Augustus said.
    Healer Augustus reached into his robe and lifted out a slim, familiar object: my wand! Not just any wand; I knew it instantly and could feel its warmth just from its nearness. The aurors stiffened and pointed their wands at me, and Neville, Gran, and Kingsley watched nervously as I took my old friend from Augustus' hand.
    "This way," Augustus said.
    "I'll enter first," the old auror said, his wand pointed at me. "Bellatrix follows me."
    He entered, and I followed, and the plump auror trailed me. The others followed us inside. Frank and Alice Longbottom were side-by-side, eyes closed, on matching raised platforms surrounded by wizard photos and many other everyday objects. The wizards in the photos seemed just as anxious as we. In some of them, young Frank and Alice stood alone. Some were wedding pictures. Others had many people in them, and all stared unhappily at me as I entered.
    We all stood aside as Healer Augustus lit several magic candles and braizers of heady incense, and he began a cleansing and purification spell that took ten minutes and washed over our senses like a soft wave from an ocean of sparkling water. When he was finished, he whispered to us.
    "Take your places," Healer Augustus said, "and don't say a word except for your incantations until we're done."
    Our spell began as soon as we were all in place. I stood in the center, between Augustus and Kingsley, in the gap between the Longbottoms. Neville and Gran stood on the other sides of their kin, Neville by his mother, Gran by her son. Augustus nodded to me, and I raised my wand and performed magic for the first time in three years. It felt grand, but I felt threatened by the risk that it might also be my last spell.
    Healer Augustus displayed magical skills I'd seldom seen; he was a masterful wizard and an expert healer. His eyes never blinked, not once, and he recited his incantation with powerful but restrained emotion, and never missed a nuance. Gran and Neville began their part, and soon the whole room hummed with the power of our combined spells. Kingsley came in much later, after the hum had grown to a loud buzz, and he refocused all our energy back into us spell-casters so that we could redirect it to our targets. Tiny suns, no larger than pin-points, rose from the photos and objects and entered the prone, unconscious bodies of Frank and Alice Longbottom, which slowly rose, floating above their platforms, but Kingsley chanted harder and they lowered back into place.
    Pure energy swelled around us. The two aurors standing against opposite walls backed up nervously; they weren't used to seeing things like this. I was a death-eater with a wand, and I'd worn my white dress to give the best impression I could, but I was performing magic that I doubted if these aurors could even attempt. Through the thin layers of lace barely covering my arms, in the bright light of our spell, my faded dark mark could be easily seen. I ignored it and concentrated, making sure that I recited correctly and that each complex pass of my wand was perfectly executed.
    Our spell lasted an hour, and we were all sweating and exhausted before it was done.
    "Enough," Healer Augustus whispered. "Take it down slowly. Everything must be gentle now."
    Our voices were raw from chanting, but we kept going, growing softer with each recitation. Finally we fell below whispers, just mouthing our words. Kingsley's spell overwhelmed the rest of us: Frank and Alice gently lowed back onto their platforms; they looked like they were simply asleep. Even the people in the pictures beside them looked drained and exhausted, and some frames were completely empty.
    As we filed outside the healing chamber, one of the aurors snatched my wand from my hand, but Kingsley demanded it and gave it back to Augustus. I couldn't have fought much, anyway; I couldn't remember being this tired.
    Suddenly Neville stepped up and addressed me.
    "Lestrange, I can't thank you for what you did today," Neville said, "but I'll try to forgive you."
    "I'll try to earn your forgiveness."
    Neville stepped back and Gran embraced him tightly, but she never spoke to me.
    "Mrs. Bellatrix, I believe that I speak for everyone when I say how impressed I am," Kingsley said to me. "You had a wand and you used it to heal. As I understand, you couldn't even have attempted that spell if you'd been the same woman I incarcerated after the siege of Hogwarts. These aurors will return you to Azkaban, but you won't see that tiny cell again. A large apartment has been arranged for you, with vaulted ceilings and ornate furniture, and a large window that looks out over the sea. Dementors aren't allowed in that section of Azkaban, so you should be free of their influence. Whatever else may come of this, we need to see the results of Frank and Alice Longbottom before we can debate further action. Do you have any questions?"
    "Once the results are known, will you come and visit me, no matter what the outcome, to discuss my options?"
    "Certainly," Kingsley said, although he frowned as he spoke.
    "I have a question, Minister," Healer Augustus said. "This apartment awaiting Bella; is it big enough ... for two?"
    Everyone turned to stare at Healer Augustus, I with a feeling so powerful that I could cast magic without a wand if only to make it rain flowers.
    "I ... believe so," Kingsley said hesitantly, as if unsure what reply was appropriate.
    "Bella, go with the aurors," Augustus said. "I'll be there ... as soon as I'm off-duty."
    I felt as if I could've flown back to Azkaban on my own, but the two aurors escorted me a few feet away, although I never took my eyes off Augustus until apperation swept us apart.


    "Congratulations, Healer Augustus," Neville said.
    "Yes, Healer; an incredible accomplishment," Gran added.
    "Do you think it worked?" Kinglsey asked.
    "It'll be a miracle if it worked," Healer Augustus said.
    "What do you mean?"
    "If you'd arrived on time, I could've told you before Bella arrived," Healer Augustus said to Kingsley. "The odds of this spell working are a thousand to one. The damage done to Frank and Alice is beyond any repair that I know of. Neville and Gran knew this from the start; I couldn't do this without their permission, and it would've been unforgivable to lead them on with false hope."
    "False ...?" Kingsley asked. "You mean ... this whole healing ... was a charade?"
    "Not at all," Healer Augustus said as Neville and Gran smiled. "It was a healing spell, the most powerful that I ever devised, but there was no magic to it. The real subject of my healing wasn't Frank and Alice, it was Bellatrix Lestrange. My test was to see if a death-eater could be healed, cured of hatred and bigotry, and I believe that I succeeded."
    "Unbelievable," Kingsley stared at each of us in turn. "What about that other part? You're not going back to Azkaban, are you?"
    "Only love cures hatred," Healer Augustus said. "Every spell of this magnitude has powerful side-effects; I knew the danger when I began the experiment."
    "You cured a death-eater," Kingsley mused, shaking his head. "What about Frank and Alice?"
    "I'm not giving up on them," Healer Augustus said. "I'll still work at St. Mungos; if this doesn't succeed, then I'll try something else. I won't let Neville and Gran down."
    "You want to live in Azkaban?" Kingsley asked.
    "I want to be with Bella," Healer Augustus said. "Wherever she is, that's where I'll live. I love her."
    That was the end of Bellatrix Lestrange. I didn't learn the truth, about this secret conversation, until five years later. Augustus gave it to me as a wedding anniversary present.

    Yours truly,
    Bellatrix Pye