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Black Sands by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 8: In the Dream of Night
In the Dream of Night
I was still in that position when Cadogan entered once again some time later. It was becoming rather like a bad play, one of those confusing dramas that, with the love-triangles and long-lost relatives, really ought to instead by a comedy. I did not want my life to be a comedy. Blacks were supposed to be above such trivialities.
Then again, I wasn’t the usual type of Black. No, I had to be the one who had run away from home, reject my intended husband, live with Muggles, pretend to be a Muggle, and because of all this, be entirely open to trouble of all sorts.
Cadogan stood over me, his air rather more gloating than genuinely worried.
“You are very unwell, then?” I could only see his legs, the creases of his trousers beyond perfection. “Do you require any medicine, anything at all?”
He was being nice as though nothing had happened at all. Once more I was his employee, one who was needed, but not necessarily wanted. I really should have been relieved, but for some reason, I wasn’t. I was bloody disappointed.
When I didn’t respond soon enough, he walked to the door that led to the other rooms.
“It is your stomach, I fear, that pains you, and it also affects your head. I will find some remedy for that.”
I looked up when I heard his footsteps recede into the water closet. I couldn’t be sure whether I was awake or dreaming anymore. Everything seemed of both worlds, neither real nor unreal, but part of each. Some would say that, as a witch, I already was of that other, imaginary world, the one in which anything was possible and there could be no need or want, but that was far from the truth, so painfully far. My first nineteen years of life were spent in want while the last five were spent in need. I had willingly left the magical world that had betrayed me and I couldn’t go back, never in the same way.
Magic could do very little to make a person happy, nor could it save one from suffering.
Or danger, for that matter.
Perhaps it would be easier to pretend that I was just seasick. Better to forget than remember that power in his eyes, a power that could only lead to–
“Here you are. Drink.” The thing in his hand was not from an apothecary, as I’d assumed. Rather, it was a cup of tea that smelled peculiar, like biscuits at Christmas, still soft inside, their sweet, spicy scent tingling the nostrils.
Ginger. Including it in tea was beyond my knowledge, but Herbology had been my worst subject in school, rescued from Troll status only by a stroke of luck, not even my own. It was also of note that no one had ever made me special tea before, making this strange man one of the few individuals who had actually cared about me.
I stared at him with what must have appeared to be the eyes of an owl.
“This will relieve your distress to some degree.” He put it into my hands, then placed his around mine. They were warm.
There appeared to be nothing untoward about the tea, and I smiled to thank him.
“I’ve never been good on boats” was the only excuse I could offer for my weakness.
Our eyes met by chance, and my stomach lurched once more, the bile rushing to my throat, its acids burning the flesh. I felt myself falling into their odd shade of grey, or was it blue, or green marked with hazel? I could not be sure, could never be sure about him. He changed with each second, shaping and reshaping himself to suit the passing moments.
I was glad when he was the first to look away.
He rose like a tower, straightening his form to well-above six feet, so unnatural and painful to see. Every doorway was an obstacle and every person nothing more than the top of a head. Not that the top of a person’s head wasn’t particularly revealing; it was merely a portion of the body that I rarely caught sight of myself.
“Avoiding a fear only makes it more frightening.” Looking down on me like an ant on the ground, he seemed older than he appeared, the lines of his face filled with all the incredible experience of life, of many lifetimes.
It made me feel even smaller than normal. I definitely had the short end of the stick.
“Very true, but it isn’t easy to make that first step.” Evidently that feeling made me rather philosophical. “There are some things in the world that will always remain frightening.”
Including food from dubious sources, no matter how alluring it smelled. I took a closer sniff of the tea, then put it down on the shaky table beside me, trying not to look his way to see his reaction. I straightened my skirt for the fifteenth time, probably doing more damage than good. Oh damn and blast, why was I being so conscientious?
“Well, look at me not avoiding boats right now.” A silly grin crossed my face, though it must have been the most fake one in history. “As long I’m kept distracted, I think I just may survive this little trip.”
There was a spark of pity in his eyes when I dared to look up at him. “And here I have forced you on a journey you were not ready to take. My apologies.” He put a hand over his heart and bowed. “Now I will give instructions to the cook in regard to our dinner.”
I swallowed, hands growing red against the cup. “Dinner?”
He moved toward the door, turning at the last moment, his face in shadow. “I will ensure that we are docked before eating. Some sleep will help you prepare for our outing tomorrow”
Gone again. His footsteps were quiet, even on the stairs to the deck.
Sleep did sound like a good idea, I thought, driving my mind to a less anxiety-inducing topic. My eyelids grew heavy as soon as he had mentioned it, though that has a tendency to happen, just as the word “yawn” will, in turn, make those who read it yawn. If I was lucky, nothing would happen and I would awaken refreshed, ready to guide him around a... a... very large lake.
That thought only increased my desire for sleep. I took the tea with me to the room that contained my trunk. It was separated from his room only by the water-closet, which wasn’t much of a water-closet, all things considered. I took one look at it, then tossed myself onto the bed, face plunging into the thin pillow, my eyes shut and my mind already in the keeping of Morpheus.
There was a dream there, vague and colourless, but it was too far beyond my reach, voices touching my ears that threw me into memory. Not one of those melodramatic moments when one relives one’s life, of course. I cannot remember what they were as I write this, some twenty years later, and it must have been later events that make me now believe that, when at last the dream began to clear, the veil dropping, I saw a face and heard his warning.
“...no one knows how he arrived in Egypt. No boat or train brought him. It’s like he–”
“Appeared out of nowhere.”
From nowhere. A rare thing among Muggles, but not among other–
When I sat up, I was not alone, the eyes of another spying as I slept, waiting, perhaps, or something more. I wanted very much to ignore the feeling of violation, especially since it came at what seemed to be the most significant portion of my dream, but it was not a feeling that could be easily disregarded. However, I did take my time in opening each eye and lifting my head from its place of rest.
“Emile.” The correction was immediate, his voice light. “I trust that you have had a satisfying rest. You have slept long..”
“Hopefully not too long a one.” I offered a little smile as I peeled strands of hair off my forehead, then tried to rescue my clothes from their wrinkles to no avail. They were too old and soft to retain any neat shape.
When he looked into my eyes this time, I was a little more prepared, but still weak against his mental onslaught. I could hear his demands, what his mind wanted and how it should be done, and my hands strained against themselves, yearning to follow direction, gripping the chair arms with painful reluctance. How could I resist? How dare I? A young girl such as I without power, without history, only a stubborn resistance against that which could only improve her, help her, make her better, more effective. Too much independence filled her mind and gladdened her heart, giving her this... this... this....
The thoughts were inside of my head, drifting through my own thoughts, alien at first, but slowly becoming familiar, growing and growing until–
“Come. Dinner is ready.” He took possession of my arm and returned me to the sitting room, where a table had been set as I had slept, steaming food on china plates. At the sight, my stomach managed a pathetic grumble.
I was just being paranoid. Again. My mind was hiding something from me, I could feel it. Hiding something behind that wretched mask of paranoia.
He deposited me in a chair and took the one across the table. I was relieved that he followed decorum; my breath was still having trouble making its way to my lungs. It made me lightheaded, and I of course blamed it on hunger, a rather unfortunate word if one thought about that doctor’s ideas regarding the mind. I could just hear what he would say, prefaced by a Germanic Ja, “this hunger is not related to your stomach, Fraulein.”
I put down the fork that I had picked up, staring down at the food, feeling a green tinge settle over my features.
He had been watching me, rather than touching his dinner.
“You are still unwell?”
My eyes remained lowered on the table so that I could only see his hands, palms flat downward, fingers outstretched, bones protruding. It helped to think of them as monstrous.
“Do you require prayer before meals? I had not thought–”
“No! No, I just had a slight dizzy spell.” I hastily retrieved the fork and stuffed some matter of food into my mouth, chewing with gusto. “The movement of the boat,” I added around a potato.
I did not hear him eat, but I was intently concentrating on the contents of my plate, and only noticed that his food had silently disappeared, the plate cleaned bare. Someone appeared to take it and my plate away, though I do not know how Cadogan could have given the signal; no one had been with us in the cabin. These helping hands returned to clear away the rest, including the table cloth. I think they would have removed the table and chairs had we moved.
But we had not.
Most men would take out a cigarette or cigar at this time, asking if I didn’t mind without really caring either way. They would ask for their port and drink deeply, as though the combination of nicotine and liquor were the only way they could survive the evening, probably also the night. Cadogan sat on, watching me.
“Are you cold?”
“Then here.” He rose and removed his dinner jacket. I stiffened, but he did not notice, coming around to drape it over my shoulders, smoothing down the fabric over my arms before returning to his chair.
I was stricken with the smell of him, clearer even than when he had kissed me. Or nearly had. My memory played tricks on me, telling me that he had, then that he hadn’t, and then again that it’d been true. Mint was strong in my nostrils, soothing my dulled brain with its softly cloying scent. I began to wonder whether his skin smelt the same way, not even bothering to check my thoughts. It seemed unnecessary, though I did not know why, or even how I had come to regard it in that way.
“You are oddly silent tonight, Helen. I am afraid that this little excursion has done more harm than good.” His voice was soft, sliding over the syllables with ecstatic precision.
I put a hand to my head. “I’m sorry for being so delicate. It’s not like me at all.”
Something in his voice made me look at him, expecting pity, but seeing... seeing–
He was not a good-looking man, but there was an aspect to his looks that was deeply compelling. It could have been the vibrancy of his eyes, or the set of his features, but it was neither. His aura positively oozed out of him, every fibre of his being intense upon the subject of his gaze or thoughts.
At that moment, as it had been so many moments in our acquaintance, that subject was me.
“I trust that everything here is comfortable for you.”
“Yes, thank you. It is.” My voice wavered and I cursed myself.
He rose, and I took in a sharp breath. Blinking, he turned and stared down at me, eyes opening wider than I’d seen before, but it was a darkened room, the candles on the table the only illumination. I saw them reflected in his eyes.
Yes, I looked into them, but felt nothing of the fear of before, succumbed to nothing. It must have been a fancy of mine to imagine that he had tried to control my mind. What I had seen in his eyes was myself, the things that went on within my mind that, for so long, I had held back, kept locked in a tiny box, deep within. They were the memories of school, of watching at keyholes, of catching Canis Malfoy at his business. He had known. It was the reason for all else.
Cadogan watched me earnestly, and I knew that everything was passing across my face. I could not help but look up at him and pass over his features with a gaze that was anything but casual, as though a mask had fallen from my face. Perhaps it was the one that Moody had seen, the side that he constantly tried to pry out of me.
But it was Cadogan who managed it, without even trying.
“Would you like a drink?” his voice was strained, yet his eyes were steady.
I shook my head, eyes drifting toward the darkness. The chinking of glass and pouring of liquid was the only sound. Even the water outside had stilled, the men silent. The air was asking for the inevitable to occur, I could hear it calling, and from the stiffness in his spine, I could tell that he did too. What else had he expected?
So many perhapses running through my head. I had more than a sneaking suspicion that he was a wizard. It explained so much. But he hid it better than I ever could for Merlin knew what reason. Perhaps he was running, just like me. A lonely man, hardly forty, more uncertain of himself that of the world around him. In that way, he had the advantage.
It was the way he held himself, one hand seeking his pocket while the other cradled the snifter, swishing the liquid from one side to the other, his shoulders gently sloping downward, his head bowed, the red curls glinting in the flicker of candlelight. I could see his story written on his back, could feel his uncertainty reverberating through the room.
I waited for his choice. I supposed that he still had one if he had been driven to drink rather than follow through. I would never think of myself as an easy catch; even in my depraved state, I still had my principles. They were why I kept making up excuses for my attraction to him.
After three drinks, he had not made his decision, pouring out the third with trembling hands.
A lost cause. Typical.
The mood – what else could one call it, irrational as it had been, hiding all his flaws, the light playing on his features, reshaping them into another, more desired, visage – had passed. My nerves resorted themselves, no more electricity in the air to stimulate their fragile tips. I stood, my legs still shaky beneath my feet, or was it for the other reason? I was surprised at the disappointment festering in the pit of my stomach.
At the door to my room, I stopped, catching sight of myself in the mirror. The jacket dwarfed me, the sleeves hanging low at my sides. My stomach lurched as I thought of returning to the main room, but my curious hands reached into the pockets, already conscious of what I would find.
Ten inches of willow branch, very plain, but practical nonetheless. I wasn’t entirely sure whether it suited him, but as in many wizarding families, particularly the poorer ones, wands could be handed down through the generations. I would say that Cadogan’s was about fifty years old, so perhaps it had been his father’s. The initials EC were hand-carved on the hilt, possibly denoting that he also shared his father’s name, but I wondered if the edges of the letters weren’t a little too juvenile, a small boy with messy curls greedily making the wand his own.
He was a wizard, though I wondered at his behaviour, much of which was not suited to someone of our race. There was a Cadogan family in the books, though it had died out long ago, or so I’d thought. The portrait in Hogwarts of a knight was the only reason I remembered; now he was an annoying cad, certainly well-named.
This Cadogan – dare I call him mine? – was a very different sort.
One may think that it should have bothered me to have, at last, come across a wizard, particularly one who showed so much interest in me. He could have easily been sent by Malfoy or my mother to get rid of me once and for all, but I didn’t want to believe that. Not of him.
There was a handkerchief in the other pocket, a small, delicate thing that I would have taken for a woman’s, if it wasn’t from a man’s coat. The embroidery around the edges and on the monogram – again of an E wrapped around a C – spoke volumes regarding the maker, a viscous little woman with rock-hard eyes, stitching in anger, poking herself with the needle without removing the blood-stained thread.
Only a wife could have made this.
I blinked, crushing the fabric in my hand before stuffing it back into the pocket. I cannot describe what I felt at that moment. Betrayal may have raised its ugly head, but not before reason stilled its hand. He had worn no ring, though those were easily removed, but he did not act like a man on the run from his spouse, chasing down any bit of skirt in his path. I knew that such reasoning wasn’t very good, laughing at myself even as I thought of it.
But the laugh was bitter, my thoughts darkened, stained.
It was not that I had a heart that needed melting at the hands of the right man. It wasn’t even that I was too wounded by the past to think of being in love, or even sharing any mutual attraction with someone else, man or woman. I had always been alone.
I looked at my reflection in the mirror and saw the same girl I’d seen five years ago, before I had left England. She was of middling height and build, her chin proudly tilted upward no matter the situation, grey eyes boredly curious, or was it curiously bored? surrounded by dark circles. Her hair was fair, hardly gold, but a pale yellow, styled according to fashion, or near enough so. My nose was too long and my lips too small. I may have been called pretty, especially now, in the dim light of a candle and the moon.
My eyes fell. Self-consciousness was a strange feeling. What would they say of me in Luxor now, seeing my as a failure of femininity? No wiles, no beauty, just a naive girl who, at that moment, may have supposed herself, at long last, to have been in love with the wrong man.
There was a creak behind me, but I took it for the movement of the boat on the water. I did not know where in Egypt we were, or where in all of Africa, for that matter.
When I looked up once more, meeting my own eyes in the mirror, I froze at the sight of the shadow looming behind me, a pair of pale hands reaching around my neck.