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Chapter 34: Thirty-four.
There was no one around. Her heels echoed loudly in the corridor and her long gown swished on the white marble flooring. The occasional patient or healer walked passed, muttering a greeting or flashing a friendly smile. She walked quickly and her heart fluttered nervously. Tonight was their four-year anniversary; she was excited and had heard whispers of engagement from her friends and cousins. A smile graced her features as she mumbled an apology to a dark stranger who she had knocked into, but her mood was so carefree that she ignored his grumpy retort. Her insides still dancing, she reached out her hand and opened the office door.
“I thought you’d never come.”
He was sitting in the other side of the desk, and watched as she took her seat opposite. He looked smart in his lime-green uniform, his hair neatly parted to the side and his eyes flicking backwards and forth as he read the files and documents on his desk.
“I left late, sorry,” she replied. “What time does it start?”
“One moment, I need to talk to you.” His voice was quiet. He started moving the files into drawers, and heaving large medical books into shelves. He shrugged off his green coat and put it on a hook behind the door.
“All right,” she said, confused. He sounded serious. “What about?”
Her hands stopped moving in her lap, and the fluttering inside her quietened, replaced by a cold, sick dread. She had tried to bury those feelings, the ones that resurfaced occasionally when she thought about his brother.
“I know how he feels about you, and I know how you feel about him.”
“I don’t...” she said. He moved around the desk, and knelt down in front of her.
“It’s all fine,” he said, and smiled. “You can be with him.”
My eyes opened, trying to hold on to the remnants of the dream, the last remnants of Lorcan: the last remnants of some security, some love... before Lysander woke up and I found myself in too deep.
My bottle of pills was on the bedside table and I leant across to take two. I felt better.
Visions of last night flooded my mind as I lay awake, trapped under Lysander’s arm, too warm under the covers and from the heat of his skin. He had told me that he loved me, again and again. He had whispered it in my ear and mumbled it against my skin, and I had said it back.
I hadn’t meant it. I didn’t think that I meant it. I didn’t know.
All I knew was that it had been a mistake.
He had just looked so expectant, so different to the Lysander who had attacked Scorpius, who I accused of murder. He wasn’t the man who had appeared in the dingy alleyway near the hospital, he was new. Lysander was vulnerable, just like I had been. Someone rejecting me would have pushed me over the edge. It scared me, so when I felt my lips form the words, it wasn’t out of adoration, it was out of pity.
And I felt horrible - I had gone there to kill him, to do the work that Debole wanted me to do, but instead I had kissed him. He could never know about what happened, what drove me to him.
He shuffled in his sleep, and I froze.
I supposed I did love him - that burning need for him must have come from somewhere - but I had decided that it was just some unresolved feelings, unwanted tension that needed to relieved.
He didn't love me, I knew that. Lysander was just bored of Molly and this was some misguided attempt to convince my cousin that he was useless and he was wrong for her and spare him the boring task of 'it's not you, it's me'. The letters had just been a way to mess with my head when I was with Lorcan, his way of making sure I was always thinking of him.
I looked at him, with his face buried in the pillow, his mouth slightly open.
It had been nice - the first physical contact I had in months - but Lysander didn't love me, and I didn't love him. I felt dirty, somewhat guilty, about how meaningless it all was; and what it would do to Molly. She was irritating, yes, and boring beyond belief, but I still felt for her. She was my cousin. Weasleys didn’t do this to each other.
And it was my entire fault.
I had tried to reconfigure my memories of last night, forced them into some logical order where Lysander was the bad guy and I was just the femme fatale. My mind was telling me that I had played the damsel in distress, the weakling, Victoire, but I knew it was just some rouse to prove to myself that I hadn’t caused the mess I was now in. Once again, I was blaming my bad decisions on Lysander. I had to take the blame.
He just... he was just different. He was kinder, nicer, and I had kissed him, and now I felt guilty.
He rolled over to lie on his back, and suddenly I was free. I sat up in bed, and pulled the covers back, watching for any signs of life from the man sleeping next to me. I winced as the mattress springs creaked, but he didn’t move or open his eyes, so I hurried to the chair where my clothes were scattered, and started pulling them on as silently as I could.
Obviously I wasn’t silent enough.
“Hey,” I said quietly, heading back towards the bed. “I’ve got to go...”
“Why?” His eyes were still half-closed, and his voice was hoarse. “Where are you going?”
“Shell Cottage,” I improvised.
“Come back to bed.”
I pulled on my jacket, but he sat up in bed. His hair was all dishevelled, and it suited him. I was suddenly transported back to a time just after Lorcan’s funeral, when he had tried to kiss me in my flat, when Scorpius was out cold in the next room. I should have kissed him then. I had carried around this insatiable desire to know what it would be like to kiss him, and if I had just satisfied the desire there and then, I wouldn’t be in this mess.
If I had known then that I would grow to forgive him, then I would have kissed him. I wouldn’t have been so quick to believe that he had killed his brother, I wouldn’t have accepted the job with the Deboles and I wouldn’t have blamed him for everything.
I felt Lysander’s hand on my arm, and I turned to look at him.
“I’ve got to go, really...”
“Dom, please...” And he put his hand around the back of my neck, and pulled my lips towards his. I kissed him back. I had to. I wanted to.
And then I felt his hands on my shoulders, pushing my jacket back off me, and I let him continue. He unbuttoned my shirt. I felt my headache ceasing, accompanied by the dizzying rush that the pills gave me. They were finally kicking in, and so I planted my hands on either side of Lysander’s face and kissed him harder and harder until he was losing breath and grabbing at my arms and hair.
I let go.
“What the hell was that?”
“I really have to go, Lysander,” I said plainly.
“So you try to suffocate me? That’s a nice way for you to prove your love for me.”
I paled, and started doing up my buttons again.
“I’d prefer it if you proved it another way, though,” he said, and sat closer to me so he could push a stray piece of hair behind my ear. I wanted to laugh at his unoriginality.
“Mama’s waiting for me,” I said quickly.
“Well she can wait a little longer.”
“You know what she’s like.”
Lysander sighed, a flopped back into the pillows, running a hand through his hand. I didn’t want to lie to him - it was just that I had got so good at it that I thought it would be easier than telling the truth. I didn’t want to tell him that I didn’t love him. I didn’t know how he would react.
“Are you free tonight?”
I rolled my eyes. “No… no, I don’t think so.”
“What are you doing?”
“Mama wants me to stay at hers tonight. She says she hasn’t seen me in a while.”
“But I haven’t seen you in ages,” Lysander replied. He sounded petulant, and that just made me want to leave even more. He sounded needy - a far cry from the independent and strong-willed Lysander that I had been friends with in Hogwarts. “You’ve been here and I’ve been in France.”
“And whose fault is that?”
“You were the one who gave them evidence. You thought I was guilty.”
And now he was angry with me for blaming him, for accusing him. At least it would make it easier to tell him it wasn’t working out, that we shouldn’t be together. Maybe I should just tell him I came to assassinate him, but instead ended up having sex with him. I doubt Debole would be approving of my work methods but at least it lulled them into a false sense of security.
“And you put yourself in that position.”
He scoffed, and then pulled himself out of bed. He pulled his clothes on in silence and I watched, thinking that this would be the last time I would see in some state of undress.
“Aren’t you going to see Molly anyway?”
Lysander paused, and leant heavily against the dresser.
“Yes,” he said. “I’ll tell her it’s over.”
“Don’t do that.”
“Why not? Don’t you want this?”
No. Maybe. “I just think that we should wait a little while, until everything has calmed down.”
Lysander looked at me, and I saw realisation dawn on his face. He didn’t say anything, and soon his look of comprehension was replaced with a small smile. I knew that he understood - he knew that I didn’t love him, that I wasn’t there yet - but he didn’t say anything.
“That’s fine,” he said. He walked towards me and pulled me close to him. I instinctively closed my eyes, and breathed in. How come he was so warm, when the windows were open and with a cold breeze flooding the room. I heard the steady beat of his heart, and again I felt that overwhelming sense of pity combined with a sudden burst of affection. I desperately wanted to return his feelings.
I reached up to kiss him, again and again, before I had to leave. I didn’t know where to go, but I couldn’t stay here and lie to him again. I couldn’t go back to the country house, where they were still looking for the file.
I kissed him goodbye, and watched as he waved from the doorway of the house, and then disapparated.
It had been a long time since I had been in my flat, in the apartment where Lorcan and I had lived together. I had left it months ago to stay in the Leaky Cauldron, and then moved to the country house with Atticus and Jane and Dmitri.
My key still worked, though, and I managed to avoid the steely eyes of the landlord as I hurried up the stairs and opened my door.
I didn’t know why I had come back; maybe to find some memory of Lorcan before I forgot about him all together and did more things that were an insult to his memory. Sleeping with his brother was just the first. Maybe it was because I wanted to return to the norm, back to the place where it had all started.
It was dank and dark inside. I lit the lamps and stared around at the mess I had left. There were thousands of letters and newspapers on the doormat and around the open window where the owl would have dropped them off. Mugs of mouldy tea were still on the coffee table, and my dirty laundry was still lying on the sofa and the radiators.
I suddenly felt embarrassed: Dmitri must have come here to pick up my things and found the place looking like this. It must have been the reason why he never talked to me. I set about tidying, but after the marathon task of cleaning all the teacups, I sat down, exhausted.
This was going to be much harder than I thought it would be.
I approached the never-ending tower of newspapers and letters, and began to sort through them. The most recent was just yesterday, and the oldest - yellowing at the bottom of the pile - was dated the day after Lorcan died.
There was a picture of him, smiling and laughing, on the second page. He looked so handsome. Luna had written some sort of obituary, in her strange, equivocal yet oddly moving way. There was an article about his murder, about the Aurors’ investigations, and then something I had never heard about before.
Healer Scamander faced some controversy in light of the deaths of Lenore and Lyra Debole, who were admitted to St Mungo’s after a vicious attack that left the two in a serious condition. Lenore Debole, 32 and her daughter Lyra, aged only 2, were found in their home following the attack a few months before the death of Scamander. Scamander was the healer in charge of the case, fighting for eight hours to save their lives before they sadly passed away. However, an anonymous source suggested that they could have survived, and that their wounds could have been easily treated. Scamander faced an enquiry at the hospital, but the evidence was too insubstantial and the source did not testify.
I dropped the newspaper. Lorcan had never told me about this. I didn’t know there had been an enquiry, that he had been held responsible for someone’s death. I remembered a night where he had sat in front of the fire for hours, staring into the flames, and I had nattered away at him about Rose and Noah, about some article, about my family.
If I had bothered to read the newspaper before, instead of wallowing in my grief, I would have found out about this… about Debole, about his connection with Lorcan. I would have accepted their job offer; I wouldn’t have spoken to him.
Iago Debole had some hand in this, in Lorcan’s murder. Anthony Featherby had worked for him, and he had probably wanted him killed because he thought he had a hand in the death of his family.
I couldn’t imagine Atticus plotting so viciously to kill Lorcan. This was all the idea of his father - his ruthless, scheming father - in some bizarre attempt to get revenge. Atticus had to know. I grabbed my jacket and my wand, locked the door to my flat, and disapparated to the country house.
I opened the door slowly. The house was dark, and I shuffled forward, careful that my feet didn’t make a sound. Something was different. Jane was usually pottering around the kitchen, or reorganising the bookcases, or polishing something to within an inch of its life - but I couldn’t see her. It was quiet... too quiet.
I turned to leave. Atticus obviously wasn’t here.
I had reached for the handle of the door before I tripped over something in my path. Pulling my wand from my pocket, I tried to inspect the eerie darkness before me. I had tripped over a foot, and there was a body lying face down on the kitchen floor. My heart started racing at a million beats per second, and my pounding headaches came back in waves as I tried to deal with the situation.
There was no blood, no revolting stench. I lit my wand, and traced the body from the feet to the shoulders. It was Jane - I recognised her from the blue floral dress. I leant down, trying to find a pulse at her throat as I inspected her body for wounds. I couldn’t feel anything, no steady heartbeat, and there were no apparent wounds. And then my wand light illuminated the top of her body, and I felt faint.
Her head was the wrong way round. Her face was staring up at the ceiling, whereas the rest of her body was facing downwards. There was a mass of broken bones and twisted tendons wrapped in red and folded skin - that was where her neck should have been. Her silver necklace was still wrapped around it, like some ghastly ornament. Her eyes were wide and staring, her mouth hanging open.
I dropped my wand, collapsing onto the floor. I felt bile rise in my throat and I vomited, the stench stinging my nostrils.
“Ah, Dom, you’ve decided to join us. We were waiting for you.”
The voice came from the shadows at the other side of the kitchen. I recognised it instantly. Light flooded back into the lamps and I blinked stupidly in the brightness, white spots in front of my eyes. I couldn’t look at Jane’s body, at its twisted and manipulated form. I needed to get away.
“You’ve made quite a mess, haven’t you?”
When my eyes finally grew accustomed to the bright light, I looked up, but only to see my wand fly through the air. A pale, freckled hand reached out to snatch it. I was defenceless. I tried to push myself up from the floor, but my arms were suddenly very weak. I felt dizzy and sick. My little finger accidentally touched the cold of Jane’s skin, and I flinched.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?”
I looked at them. I looked at the person I least expected to be sitting at the kitchen table of Atticus’ house, and I tried weakly to stare them down, to be the one in control, even though I wasn’t holding a wand and my limbs had failed me. I was going to say something courageous, something witty, but my voice faded and waned, and all I could croak out was one word. One name.
Apologies for the quality of this chapter. It's pretty rushed and I really don't like it. In other news: TWO TO GO!