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Chapter 24: Unwinding
He has lost everything, and there is nothing left to hold him back from what he wants, from what he’s wanted for years and years. He’s lost all three of his daughters in three different ways; he’s lost his house, his pride, his resolution to keep waking up every morning, over and over, just to greet the same colorless day. Most of all, he’s lost his love.
What is it, to love?
Druella. Where are you? Why did you leave me? Didn’t you know how lost I would be without you?
He acquires the stones first, not bothering to stagger his orders and ward off prying eyes. His stones arrive by the barrelful within three days, delivered to an empty moor in Wasteir that is his now, intimate, out of the way. No one will bother crazy old Cygnus Black here.
He lays the stones with cement, paving between every crack to ensure its stability and endurance. The picture of what he is about to create has lived for so long in his mind that it springs to life with ease; the blueprints are already there in his fingers, working their way down into the earth with a trowel and spade. So he lays the stones, and he lets them dry, and this will be his platform.
Cygnus does not expect for anyone to find him, to hassle him or confiscate the monstrosity of a sin he is attempting to build. Maybe this is because he’s already forgotten about other breathing, thinking things; he himself is hardly breathing at all, so it is only too effortless to imagine that he is a part of the unthinking, unfeeling stones that sing with rain, soothing away all the dirt; part of the archway that will soon curve across the platform, sealing his fate. A gateway to the love he has so missed.
To no one’s surprise, nobody comes to stop him.
He’s been wearing the same ragged robes for three weeks. Instead of returning to Andromeda’s warm, dry house in the evenings, he curls up at the base of a willow at the edge of his endless moor and sleeps there every night. Sometimes Andromeda calls out to him in his nightmares, her face pinched and haggard with distress, pleading with him to come home.
But it’s not my home, he moans in his sleep, rolling fitfully onto his other side. I’m going home, I’m going home. I’m almost there.
He is half-insane and he smells like a cow field. He can’t remember how long it has been since he wasn’t a soiled mess. I’ll have to take care of that, he thinks in a daydream that punctuates his sanity, dream after dream colliding in a string of non-reality. Druella will disapprove if she sees how filthy I’ve gotten. He smiles to himself, almost anticipating that withering look she might give him, the stoic disdain she always reserved for her doting husband. She had an angel’s face carved from granite, a tongue that could slice him every which way. He misses her so much that he misses that, too, and he isn’t sure how to function without her.
What is it to be real? To be happy?
He lifts the black cadaver up to eye-level with his hands, appraising its worth with a hardboiled gaze. He is an inventor, Cygnus, and he knows quality when he sees it. Although it is not quite as uniform as he would have wished, its hem riddled with tiny holes, he knows how difficult it must be to extract the molting skin of a dementor. The potential is already there – it’s in his fingers, not in the cadaver. He will make excellent use of it. This is the closest he will ever get to perfection.
He cuts away at the skin with a knife, sometimes tearing it with just his hands, all the while wondering how many souls this dementor might have swallowed. He has studied them obsessively for months, his mind blurring between the muddled lines of here and what lies beyond; he’s figured it out. He’s cracked the biggest mystery this world has to offer.
He is going to get his wife, and he will bring her back. If they get lost along the way, then at least they will be together.
He fastens the dementor skin to the arch with magic, and then anoints it with the Draught of Living Death. During the week it takes for the potion to cure, Cygnus trims his hair. He shaves his overgrown beard, washes his spectacles. He purchases robes the color of a summer sky from Gladrags and leaves his own dirty clothing in a gutter outside the shop. By the time he is ready for Druella, the potion is ready, too. He pens three letters to his daughters, concluding each with the promise to see them soon, and with an extraordinary surprise in tow.
It requires a grand scale of faith to tinker with death. He has spent so long craving it, wanting to know more and more about it. Curiosity is the strongest component of his profession; and what if he is successful in building the greatest invention of all? What if he could resurrect loved ones from the grave?
When he climbs onto the dais, the black veil flickering in a wind that exhales from the other side, it is enough to quiet any remaining qualms. He hears them breathing. He believes Druella is watching, waiting – that she is breathing, too, in unison with his pulsing heart. Their daughter Narcissa would not like such an abomination. As much as she loves her mother, Cissa has always feared the dead. She would be terrified that the dead would be able to use this gateway to pass through. Just Druella will use it, he reasons with himself. I only want her. The rest can stay.
That’s not how it works, someone breathes from beyond the veil. It rattles and shakes like a clattering of bones. Cold swoops into his abdomen, hooking him around the stomach. It is time to test his invention.
He has created a passageway, a portal. Through his moth-eaten expanse of thoughts and plans, he knows and does not know, understands and underestimates. He looks on at the undulating fabric with wide, wide eyes, as though he is a blind man grappling for light. His mouth his open, his lips dry and cracked. He is already gone.
And he steps through the veil.
“No one knows. All’s they found was a dais with a curtain on it…it seems like he was building it for something. He must have had a psychotic break, because he was in the middle of bloody nowhere.”
“Do you think he was kidnapped by the Ministry, then? He might’ve been in debt again…”
“Possibly. The only good that could come out of this is that Andromeda will be distracted for a while, looking for her father. Maybe we can make it look like she had something to do with his disappearance, to discredit her. The Ministry’s called for a hearing, you know.”
“Shh.” Bellatrix’s voice dropped to a whisper. I could feel her leaning around the doorway, panning the hall with her shadowed eyes. “Don’t let Cissy hear you. She doesn’t like to hear about Andromeda or her father. Gets her into a right state.”
Her father. As if Bellatrix wasn’t Cygnus’s daughter, too. Her emotional disconnection was an insult to every evening she’d ever spent as a child curled up in our father’s lap, listening to him read from an anthology of our ancestors’ histories.
“How could you talk like that?” I demanded without thinking, stepping towards them with my arms crossed tightly over my chest. Lucius backed away, instantly regretful. “Andromeda must hate us now, and that doesn’t even bother you?”
“Why should it?” Bellatrix shot back, looking down at me like I was something that had just crawled out of a dustbin. “Think of how we’re going to be rewarded for our sacrifices, Cissy! The Dark Lord is more powerful than the Ministry. He’s going to protect us.”
Lucius fixed her with an ugly look. “Is that really what you think?”
Her eyes snapped sharply up to his. “Isn’t that what you think? Or isn’t it?” She swerved to glare at me. “What about you? Is it just him, or are both of you deceitful little cowards?”
“Stop it.” I rubbed my forehead with the heel of my hand. “I’m not in the mood for your self-righteous speeches today.” I turned around and headed into the bedroom, wishing my sister would just go home. Where did she even live, anyway?
“Narcissa.” Lucius had followed me. He closed the door behind him and leaned heavily against it, sighing. His gaze strayed over the walls, fixating on a loose thread blowing around the curtains. His exhaustion was tangible. “We’ve got to get out.”
My eyes widened. “We can’t get out. We’ve got…” I held up my left arm, peeling back the sleeve to reveal my Dark Mark “…these.”
The muscles in his jaw twitched. “Not out of that. We won’t be out of that until –” his voice dropped so that no one could eavesdrop “– until he’s dead.” I didn’t have to ask who he meant by ‘he’. “Andromeda’s going to be a mess right about now. Her father’s missing; one of her sisters is a murderer and she probably has suspicions about the other, and on top of that, she’s pregnant. She’s feeling vulnerable. She could do anything. She could have us all killed.”
“You don’t know her,” I replied lightly, running my hand over a satin pillowcase. I stood staring at the corner of two joining walls, watching the way shadows from tree branches outside rippled along the speckled white paint. It was bright out – beautiful. Despite the many spells and charms Lucius cast around our house, I was still too scared to venture further than the doorstep. “She’s not doing this because she’s feeling vulnerable. She’s doing this because she wants to see me in Azkaban. Her friends are dead; she wants justice.”
It was quiet for a while. “Maybe I should go see her,” I suggested, not even really meaning it.
I’m sure he could hear my teeth grinding. “You can’t tell me not to.” I turned around, piercing him with a scowl, daring him to try to boss me. “No one tells me what to do.”
“I’m not going to argue with you.” His blue eyes were soft. He reached across the dusty space, silently asking for my hand. I ignored it. He sighed again, irritated now. “Come on, Narcissa. You know you can’t see her. She’s probably been sleeping worse than you have, you can’t just barge –”
“Are you pretending to care about how she feels?” I gave a snort. “After being a statue at all the meetings? Just sitting there listening, not showing any emotion at all. Sometimes I think he’s gotten to you and it scares the hell out of me.”
He gestured limply, frustrated. “Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?” He tried to hug me but I held my arms out to block him. “What do you want me to say to you? Just tell me and I’ll say it.”
“Don’t interrupt me, Lucius. I wasn’t finished talking. No one here in this entire stupid house knows Andromeda, not even Bellatrix. But I know her.” I thumped one fist against my chest. “She’s angry, but she’ll forgive me. We’re sisters. Sisters forgive each other. We’re family.”
“No.” He shook his head. “She has a new family now. She wasn’t happy with her own so she went and made a new one.” He moved closer, deftly lowering the arm I held out against him in defense. “And you’re my family. I’m asking you to leave with me.”
“Where are we supposed to go?”
“North, but just for a little while. Just until all of this dies down.”
Dies down. The murders of Marlene and her entire family. Something like that would never die down. I could feel the wizarding world screaming for my blood. My skeleton would have to rot in Azkaban for centuries before anyone would consider absolving me, or Travers for that matter. Lucius sounded so matter-of-fact about it, like all of our problems could be solved by simply running away.
“I’ve arranged everything – all you’ve got to do is agree to it. Goyle’s offered us a piece of his property in the mountains. We won’t have to hide anymore, don’t you see? No one there will recognize us. We can be anyone we want to be.”
Anyone? But who am I? Who is he, really? “But –”
“The Dark Lord wants us to relocate near Hogwarts, anyway; he says he wants to start recruiting more students.” My heart sank. For a moment, I thought he was going to suggest outrunning the Dark Lord himself. Impossible that feat might be, I would have admired Lucius for trying, for being brave. It was tempting to dream about…dying together might be better than spending our lives doing the gruesome servant work of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. “We’ll keep busy doing what he wants us to do, keeping our heads down, and after everything’s over we can come back home.”
I frowned. “You can’t possibly know that.”
“I know that I love you.” He watched me intently, his left hand roaming to the doorknob to keep it closed. Someone was trying to turn it from the other side – probably Rosier or Dolohov, or one of the Carrows. This house didn’t belong to us anymore. Everything the Death Eaters owned was community property – from their belongings to their bodies to their memories. Nothing was sacred. I wanted to get away from all of them. “Everyone falls,” he finished quietly. “Everyone.”
I didn’t have to ask, and he didn’t have to explain. He was banking on Voldemort drawing enough enemies in his quest for power to eventually be killed, thus severing our Vows. Everything I owned felt so broken – everything except for Lucius. He was still mine. The Dark Lord might try, but he would not claim him, could not take him from me. And Azkaban could not take me from him, either.
His eyes were sad. He extended his hand again, and this time I rushed into him. I buried my face in his collarbone, so thankful, despite it all, that I’d found Malfoy Manor. I could have kept walking through the forest and found something else that night after escaping Gaspard’s henchmen, but I hadn’t. I’d saved Lucius and he’d saved me; I thought it would only have to happen once, this saving each other routine, but apparently I was wrong. It would be an ongoing struggle. Right now he was still trying to fix our unsalvageable present, all of our threads unwinding with the future growing progressively more dim.
Who did Bellatrix have to fall into for comfort? Certainly not Rodolphus. Bellatrix and the Carrows and Dolohov and Rosier – they didn’t want to fall into anyone for support. Voldemort’s black cloak encircled them all, suffocating them. It choked their senses until they began to think it was their idea all along.
“When do we leave?”
He grasped my hands inside of his and kissed each one, leaning forward to press his forehead against mine. “Thank you.”
I kissed his cheek, not yet ready to give him what he wanted: It’s all right, Lucius. I don’t mind. My father and my sister must despise me, have probably disowned me by now. My other sister has completely lost her mind. Take me away from it, I don’t care about them anymore. But I couldn’t give him that, because I didn’t feel it yet. I was still waiting to wake up.
“We just have to wait for a little while, and then we’ll have a real life together. A proper wedding, another house, a wand –”
“I like your mother’s wand just fine.” I could feel Tulia Malfoy make a ‘hmph’ sound up in the attic, her displeasure floating down the brick chimney, and I almost smiled. The doorknob twisted, and without Lucius there to hinder it, someone flung the door open.
“This is our bedroom!” Lucius snapped, revolving around angrily. “Get out!”
“Sorry, Malfoy.” It was Jugson, twiddling nervously with the doorknob. “But it’s important.”
“The Ministry?” I gasped. Lucius involuntarily held me tighter.
“No. It’s some witch. Circe, I think she’s called? We’ve got her. Avery thought you might be interested in knowing and sent me along to fetch you.”
Lucius had gone quite pale. “Circe?”
“Yep.” Jugson grinned at the evident importance of this news. “There’s a meeting tonight, anyway, so you can torture her then if you like.”
“There’s always a meeting,” I growled under my breath. “Some of us have lives, you know.” I felt the cool press of fingers around my wrist, warning me to be quiet.
“Sorry, Jugson, but we can’t go tonight,” Lucius responded sleekly. “We fancy a bit of time to ourselves before we have to leave. I’m sure you’ve heard that we’re relocating to northern Scotland?”
“What does that have anything to do with your attendance at meetings?” another voice cut in. A chill froze the very marrow in my bones; this time, I’m sure I didn’t imagine Lucius’s grip tightening around my waist. He swallowed thickly as a tall, white-faced man entered our bedroom. It was so alien to see him standing there, the most powerful wizard I’d ever met, next to the wardrobe. His hairline had receded even more since the last time I’d seen him; it made his forehead look huge. The color of his skin was sickly and wan, perpetually clammy with sweat that oozed all remaining pigment from his flesh.
“My Lord, it is an honor to have you here in my house –”
“If you feel so honored in my presence, Lucius, then why miss an opportunity to coordinate with your fellow friends and myself this evening? Am I incorrect in overhearing that you were about to decline such an elite invitation?”
“It’s just that Narcissa and I – we’ve –”
“Your only purpose in life is to do what I have asked of you, which so far is very little because you have not proven yourself to be worthy of higher orders,” Lord Voldemort spoke in a whisper that seemed to shake the house. “Are you valuable or are you not? I can easily dispose of you if you’re beginning to question your loyalties.” Lucius was going to reply, but Voldemort continued, “I do not understand this ungratefulness. Have I not given you both exactly what you wanted? You are both free. Lucius, you are able to see again because of me. Your quality of life would be hopeless without all I have done for you, and yet you dare to spit in my face?”
I felt my heartbeat stutter.
“This is my repayment for capturing the witch who tormented both of you? Here I have offered her to you on a silver platter, and you reject it?” He withdrew his wand arm, positioning it behind him as though he’d just been struck in the face.
“No, My Lord –”
Voldemort slashed his wand in the air, furious. Lucius jerked violently and released a yell of pain, twisting to one side, before collapsing to his knees. I screamed, hands flying to my mouth in horror. I was going to bend down next to him, but he jerked his head again in silent command, ordering me to stay away. He stared downward, humiliated. The tips of his long blond hair touched the floorboards. Voldemort brandished his wand once again and Lucius cried out – a long, horrible sound.
“You will go tonight, Lucius. You will never say ‘no’ to me again.”