The sun was almost a little too bright, and the sky almost a little too clear as Rabastan wandered down the path that lead towards his ancestral family estate. After so many years in the dingy cells of Azkaban, the cheery rays of light hurt his eyes as they bounced off the white gravel road. It had been his father's decision to pave the road with light quartz to accent the cream exterior of their home and he'd loved the picture it created as a child – exuding opulence as one approached their house. Today, however, he would have preferred something a little darker.
It felt awkward walking up to the expansive manor, a place that he hadn't been in over a decade. The estate that he'd called home for his formative years was now almost more foreign to him than the formidable prison that had housed him for almost half his life. In between his first stay in Azkaban and his second he'd spent most of his time at Malfoy Manor, avoiding their home to evade recapture. His lips twisted momentarily in a smirk as he realized that at least at Azkaban he could be assured of a few meals per day. Suddenly finding himself released into the wizarding world once again, without access to his vaults and with a significant stain on his family name, made his future even less certain than endless, drudging days within Azkaban.
He had been quite surprised just a few weeks ago when he was told that he would be up for parole and possible release. He was even more surprised 4 days ago when he'd been abruptly informed his sentence had been revisited, and he would be free to go that weekend. This morning he'd been removed from his cell, given the opportunity to take a cold shower and shave, suited in ill fitting clothes, handed a suitcase with any remaining of his effects, and essentially shoved out the front door of the prison. A short boat ride and a mocking salute later, and he'd found himself unceremoniously restored as a member of society. He still believed it was a trick.
He'd known that his brother had been removed from the prison two years prior, and placed into protective custody after being repeatedly harassed by guards. He'd heard nothing from, or about, him until two days prior to his release. He'd received a short note penned in his brother's handwriting telling him that he was being housed at their family's home, and Rabastan was welcome to join them upon release. Apparently, news traveled fast when it came to ex-death eaters.
His journey home had been slow. Understandably, many people were suspicious of the raggedy looking man carrying a single suitcase, traveling away from the direction of the infamous prison. Some recognized him, and scurried in the opposite direction. Some openly glared at him with unmasked hostility. A few seemed to take pity, and managed to help him secure safe passage up to the last mile from his home. From there, he had decided to walk, though at an admittedly slower pace than he might have in years past. He soaked up the feeling of the sun on his skin for the first quarter mile, and cursed it for the last three quarters as his polyester suit trapped heat against his skin. The breeze was wonderful, but not nearly frequent enough to prevent him from sweating unattractively by the time he arrived at their gates.
As he passed through the ornate gateway, there was the prickle of unfamiliar wards that slipped over his skin and made his hairs stand up. He was left with the feeling as if the only reason he was allowed through at all was due to his familial bond with the home. It was unsettling, especially since his brother had been the one to invite him there. He tried not to question it too closely as the manor loomed before him, looking decidedly well cared for in spite of the lack of inhabitants for the last 10 years. He made his way up the stairs, pushing the front doors open and crossing the threshold into the house.
Once inside, he realized that his initial assumptions about the occupancy of the home were completely inaccurate. There was a hum in the air, the sort of noise that came along with the presence of many bodies. He could hear voices faintly in the rooms above them, and the rush of feet and fabric along the floors around them. There was a loud bark of laughter from a location he knew was close to the kitchen, followed by a crash, and a curse, and another laugh.
He stood in the parlor for a moment, hesitating uncertainly over where he should go. He'd expected a quiet, cold manor, and perhaps some private time with his brother. Instead, this place bustled with life. As he lingered, pondering his next move, someone made his decision for him. A well dressed, blonde haired man trotted down the stairs towards him, easier smile on his face than Rabastan had ever seen, hand held out.
"Rabastan! Rodolphus said something about you possibly coming. I'm glad to see you"
"Malfoy" returned Rabastan, shaking the older man's hand, "I am surprised to see you here"
The look on Malfoy's face changed from welcoming to amused in an instant, lips curling as if he knew the best secret, "Oh, Rodolphus didn't tell you? Well, come this way"
Rabastan frowned a little, shifting his hold on his suitcase as he followed the Malfoy patriarch up the stairs towards the main level of the manor. Turning left towards the kitchen, instead of right towards the bedrooms, he was surprised to be brought directly to the antechamber that traditionally was reserved for family breakfasts. Even more surprising was how the room had been enlarged to accommodate a long wooden table, almost as long as their formal dining table had been, and that it was nearly full of wizards and witches partaking in the first meal of the day. A shriek from above them caused him to pause before he entered the room fully.
"THORFINN ROWLE! WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT ENTERING MY ROOMS? GET OUT YOU INCORRIGIBLE PERVERT OR I WILL FORCIBLY REMOVE YOUR FAVORITE TOY!" A booming laugh he recognized as belonging to one of his former allies filled the air then, and Rabastan's eyes widened as he sought out Lucius's knowing smirk.
"Welcome to Granger's Reformatory for Ex-Death Eaters" he answered without being prompted. Rabastan furrowed his brow. Wasn't Granger the brainy friend of that obnoxious Potter brat?
As if he had been called for, messy black hair entered the room from the other side, and several voices called out their greetings. Peering back around, Rabastan was astonished to see faces from both sides of the war sitting about the table. Red-headed Weasleys sat at the far end, engaged in conversation with a boy he recognized as being Nott's son. Draco Malfoy was talking with the Potter boy, though his eyes kept wandering over to a heavily pregnant blonde girl who was chatting with another slight blonde girl with a dreamy look on her face. A dark skinned young man argued heatedly with Flint's boy, though from the snippets he could pick up he understood it was about Quidditch. Most surprisingly, standing in the corner close to the stove was Antonin Dolohov, arms crossed over his chest, observing the room even as he did. The Russian raised a somber hand in recognition, which Rabastan returned before landing his own eyes on his brother at the end of the table closest to him.
"Dolph?" he asked, tenatively. His brother stood, reflexively, smile on his features as he reached across the table to shake his hand.
"Welcome home, Bast!" he responded before sitting back down, digging back into his oatmeal. Rabastan observed him for a moment. His brother had filled out again, away from the starvation rations of prison life. He still bore the deep lines of life hard lived, but there was a softness about him he hadn't seen in many years. Not, perhaps, since before they'd ever heard of Tom Riddle. For the first time in decades he could see some of the aristocratic visage they'd had as children – high cheekbones, hazel eyes, soft brown hair that was well coifed and cared for. His eyes drifted back up to Lucius's before he caught sight of the person walking in behind them.
"Rowle?" he sputtered, shocked to see the tall man enter the kitchen in spite of just having heard his name cursed within the house. A large grin split the Viking's lips as he reached over Rodolphus's head and shook his hand as well.
"Welcome home, little LeStrange!"
"What are you? How did you...?" he asked, confused. Lucius gestured for him to sit in the open chair across from Rodolphus.
"I'm sure this is all quite confusing for you" started the older Malfoy. Rabastan nodded mutely.
"Malfoy here was the first of us lucky bastards to get house arrest instead of being stuck in Azkaban" supplied Thorfinn, shoving a chunk of pastry into his mouth. Rabastan wrinkled his nose a little at the lack of manners, but the younger man didn't seem to notice.
"Yes, well, perhaps we should start at the beginning" responded Lucius, "I'm sure you know, after the war most of the assets owned by us – Death Eaters I mean – were seized by the ministry. Homes, vaults, even some business holdings"
No, Rabastan didn't know that. He frowned as Lucius continued, "They were then distributed to people who had major roles in the defeat of the Dark Lord. Money seized was and is being funneled towards reparation and charity cases. Most of what we used to own we no longer do. Narcissa had the presence of mind to transfer our estate into Draco's name, and move much of our money into a french bank when it first looked like the Dark Lord was going round the bend. Fortunately, we were able to retain most of what we owned"
"Others, like yourselves, however, weren't quite so lucky" he had the good grace to look a little embarrassed at the information, "Your estate and vaults were given to a war hero"
As if on cue, Hermione Granger entered the room, ignoring them as she headed for the stove. She ruffled Rodolphus's hair affectionately, dropping a kiss on the top of his head with a soft, "Morning Dolph". She squeezed Lucius's shoulder affectionately as she passed him, only bestowing the grinning Thorfinn with a glare as she worked her way towards the stove. Everyone paused as she passed, greeting her familiarly, Death Eater and Order member alike as she wove through the crowd.
"My home belongs to...to..." sputtered Rabastan, unable to completely grasp what was going on. Lucius gave him a mildly chagrined look.
"Ah, yes. Your estate and vaults were awarded to Miss Granger" he replied. Rabastan gaped at him, then looked at his brother.
"How did you end up here, then?" he demanded. Rodolphus shrugged.
"Hermione is nothing if not a bit of a bleeding heart. When news came in about some of us getting mistreated in Azkaban, she demanded that we receive better care. Something about how we should be treated better than how they expected we would treat them. Unfortunately, it got little traction within Azkaban's walls. After a particularly spectacular evening at the mercy of Entwhistle's boot, I was told I was to be transferred the next day"
"Miss Granger had already worked to get me put on house arrest when she found out I'd had pneumonia and wasn't being cared for. I've been told, she gets quite scary when she's angry. Apparently, our minister for magic has been at the receiving end of her mean streak a time or two. He made very quick arrangements to get me transferred back to our own home under Draco and Narcissa's care" interjected Lucius, sharing a slightly cruel smile with Rodolphus.
"So, imagine my surprise when I was summarily shuffled down the hall, through the intake room, shoved through a floo and dumped me out here" continued Rodolphus, "Hermione was here to meet me, with a few of her friends of course. I was in no condition to really fight, and after my first night in a real bed, to be honest I didn't really want to. 15 years with restricted magic is a small price to pay for access to a shower and your own bed"
Now Rabastan was sure he was in an alternate universe. Or, he had actually fallen into a coma in Azkaban and this was some crazy conjuring of his stimulation deprived brain, "And...And you stayed? You just...put up with it?"
Rodolphus regarded him quietly and shrugged again, "Bast, we've spent half our lives either behind bars or enslaved to someone who wouldn't hesitate to kill us for something beyond our control. Toss 15 years of marriage to that insane harpy on that pile, and I'd be happy to spend the rest of my life as a dog if it meant a little peace and quiet"
Rabastan wasn't sure what to say to that. To see his brother, a fearsome man in his own right, essentially giving up to living a life little better than a squib settled uncomfortably in his gut. What happened to preserving their heritage? Protecting their magic from those who would take it? Looking around the room, he realized much had changed while he was hidden away from the rest of the world. People who had tried to kill each other were now chatting as if they were old friends across the table from each other.
As if sensing his disquiet, Lucius started again, "It wasn't always like this. At first, it was just Rodolphus, Miss Granger and a rotating bevvy of Aurors who stayed here. Then, they loosened my reins and allowed me to have access to the Lestrange Estate along with my own home. I'm still confined to the grounds of both. I suspect I always will be"
"Once I started stopping by to visit Rodolphus, Draco would join me as well. He and Potter work together, " he explained, "And because it's Miss Granger, other friends started coming by regularly as well. When Dolohov was found half dead from starvation and abuse, she'd demanded he was remanded to her custody as well. And from there" Lucius gestured to the scene around them.
"Thorfinn was signed over about six months ago" chimed in Rodolphus, "He's been doing an excellent job of driving Hermione round the bend. But, it's nice to have some life back in these old walls"
Rabastan gestured to the group gathered for breakfast, "Does this happen frequently?"
"This?" asked Lucius, and he chuckled, "Oh, this is nothing compared to Thursday night dinners"
Thorfinn leaned over towards them again, "There's only three rules you really need to follow. First – never let Granger cook" The three men shuddered, and again as if it had been directed, Rabastan noticed her reaching for the food already on the stove. At her movement, Dolohov stood up off the wall, gently taking the pans from her and redirecting her to sit with her friends as he took over cooking duty. Behind her head, one of the Weasleys gave him a thumbs up and he snorted back.
"Second, never talk about her parents," supplied Lucius, his visage grim, "The only people who know what happened to them are Granger, Potter and the youngest male Weasley"
"And third is don't start fights with the Order members" chimed in Rodolphus as he finished his breakfast.
"And you just...accept these rules?" asked Rabastan curiously. Rodolphus shrugged.
"They're not that hard to follow. Really, after the initial shock, it's pretty easy to get along"
"I understand that Miss Granger has given you restricted access back to your vaults. She doesn't wish to keep you from what's yours, but there are limitations on what you can withdrawl and spend your money on" said Lucius, "And she's graciously agreed to allow you to live here as long as you would like. Though, she has taken the master suite for her own"
Rabastan felt the familiar prickle of someone watching him, and turned his head to catch chestnut eyes with his own. He was surprised to see the muggleborn woman looking at him. She stood up from her spot at the table, and patted Dolohov on the back as she squeezed behind him and back down the room towards where the three older men were seated. Lucius gave her a beguiling smile that she returned, with a small roll of her eyes. Standing next to Rabastan she reached out her hand.
"Hello, I'm sorry I didn't see you there when I came in. Welcome home, Rabastan" she said softly. He looked at her hand, and then back up at her face mutely, not returning the gesture. A curious look scrolled across her features, and she dropped her arm after a long moment, "I know this is all a lot to take in. Can I assume that Lucius has filled you in on most of the details?" He nodded coolly at her, "Well, any questions you have, please ask. You're free to take any rooms that are open still. I'm sure they told you I've got the master suite, and we have a few permanent guests who have their own set of rooms. But you're welcome to anything that isn't claimed"
"Thank you Miss Granger, for giving me permission to inhabit my own home" he answered roughly. Her eyes widened, and her lips tightened a bit.
"Mr. Lestrange, as difficult as this is for you to understand, this house is no longer yours. Your lost it when you decided to follow a megalomaniac into war and tried to wipe out half of wizarding England, myself included. You were released from Azkaban on my recommendation and at the request of your brother. I understand that a lot has changed, and you will need some time to adjust, but you currently literally own nothing. It is only my great affection for your brother that is allowing you the comfort of even sitting here right now. Do not make the mistake of confusing my kindness for weakness" she bit back sharply, before turning and shoving her way back to her friends. A small smirk stayed on his lips as he turned back to his other compatriots, and was surprised to see them all scowling at him.
"What?" he asked. Thorfinn muttered something under his breath that Lucius nodded at, before he turned to join in the Quidditch debate next to him. Lucius regarded him with cool eyes before standing up and weaving his way over towards the curly haired witch.
"You're an idiot Bast" came Rodolphus's sharp voice from across from him, "I guess some things never change"
Rabastan sat quietly, alone at his end of the table, as his brother stood and left the room abruptly. What fresh hell had he fallen into?