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Chapter 41: The Portrait
After several more days, Draco finally healed. Being bed-ridden in a small, dark room had driven him mad and he was more than elated when he had discovered that he was able to move around comfortably.
Mr. Weasley was right in the fact that the house would be empty throughout the week. There was an eerie vacancy that he wasn’t used to like he was the Manor’s vast loneliness.
He had taken it upon himself to explore the house, a solution for sheer boredom and an excuse not to do homework. He was free to roam; Narcissa had kept herself busy within the kitchen, trying to make the decorations more bearable. He hadn’t found anything particularly of interest, until he opened a room and nearly fainted from fright as he saw an ungodly looking creature mumbling to himself as he created a nest of grungy socks in the corner.
“What the hell?” He exclaimed, not knowing that there were any House Elves at Grimmauld Place.
The creature turned to Draco, who started to give him a nasty glare, but seeming to recognize who he was, bowed deeply.
“Master Malfoy, I am Kreature. Kreature lives here at Grimmauld Place.”
Draco gave him a look of disgust. Kreature looked extremely old compared to the House Elves at the Manor. The wrinkly elf had a long, pointed nose that hung down past his mouth and had flaps of skin that hung below his throat, moving with a mind of its own as Kreature stared at him.
“It does Kreature great honor to serve you.” He bowed again, “All Kreature has seen is filthy Mudbloods and half breeds dragging their dirty feet through my Missus house. Missus Black will be very pleased to know you are here.”
“Missus Black?” Draco asked. “You mean the portrait that screams like a Banshee down there? No, I don’t think I want to talk to her.”
“Missus was very ill before she died.” Kreature told him, his deep, throaty voice filling the room. “She is very upset that filthy Mudbloods is in her house.”
“Mudbloods?” Draco questioned, “You mean like Granger?”
Kreature turned back to his sock pile, mindlessly rearranging the lone socks in various heaps. “Theys always in here, always moving in and out of Missus house. It pains Missus to have all these people here, where they don’t belong.”
“Right.” Draco started to back out of the room, his appearance and mad ramblings unsettling. “I think Mother’s calling.”
“Narcissa?” Kreature’s eyes lit up. “Missus Narcissa is here?”
Draco didn’t know whether or not he should continue. “Yes.”
A crooked smile twisted on Kreature’s face. “Kreature remembers Missus Cissy. And Missus Bella.”
“Yes, well…” Draco trailed off, closing the door again as if it would keep him locked in.
Draco became weary as he started to explore further, wondering what other sort of mangled House Elves or any other creatures lived in the confines of the boarded up rooms.
When he had faced the door of the last room on the third floor, he recognized it as the parlor they had entered earlier that week. The sunshine fought its way through the old curtains that didn’t help the sorry atmosphere. The room had an overall green appearance, reminding him of a sunken room in a shipwreck. The fireplace was smudged with soot and what appeared to be mold; he supposed that it could have been white at one time. The couches were rather old, with holes scattered throughout the cushions, yellow stuffing blooming out of its interior.
The desk bothered him most of all, with its broken leg. He wondered why no one had bothered to fix it, knowing that it wouldn’t have taken more than a few seconds with a wand.
“Episkey.” Draco waved his wand. The desk straightened up, its splinters coming back together to restore the leg as good as new.
“It amazes me how downhill this place has gotten.”
Draco jumped, turning to the source of the voice. Turning to his right, he saw a picture of a young woman. She was very pale, and her stark black hair contrasted beautifully against her paper white skin. Dark eyes looked down at him. She had a very classic beauty, her short hair curled at the ends, her bangs waved and plastered on her high forehead.
“And you are?” Draco asked, stepping closer to her.
She gave him a twisted smile, “Don’t you recognize your own grandmother?”
Draco was rather taken aback. He had heard of Druella Black, but had never seen pictures of her; she had died while he was young. She looked nothing of his mother, in fact, if he hadn’t known of Druella, he wouldn’t have believed the relation. He wondered how his mother had inherited such blond hair, seeming to morph into the man she married than resembling the woman she came from.
“Druella.” He stated.
She gave him a small smile, “You look so much like Narcissa…and Bellatrix.”
Draco glared at the sound of her name, “She’s mental.”
Druella threw her head back in a cackle. “Of course she is, she’s a Black!”
“My mother isn’t like that,” Draco retorted, “and I doubt that Andromeda was either.”
Druella’s face darkened, “That name hasn’t been spoken in this house for decades.”
“Your house?” Draco wrinkled his brow, “I thought it was that bloke’s that Potter calls his godfather.”
Druella crossed in arms in a snarky fashion, shifting all her weight to one hip as she raised a dark, angled eyebrow.
“It was ours, for a time,” She said venomously. “Dear Walburga let us buy it from her when Cygnus and I first got married. After the bastard drank himself into stupidity did lovely Wally decide to take the house back from us. This is our home, this is where the girls spent most of their lives, until they started going to school. It was for the better, I didn’t want my girls growing up around her filth of children.”
Draco raised an eyebrow in interest, trying not to scoff at how well her children turned out.
“Mudblood lover.” She spat, “She went off and married that Muggle, brought shame to our house.”
Druella shook her head, but locked her gaze with his. She leaned forward in her portrait, taking a good look at him. “But you’re rather handsome, aren’t you? Make all the girls squeal at school?”
Draco found her presence a little intimidating and couldn’t bring himself to give her a smile. “I suppose.”
Druella looked at him, “Modesty doesn’t get you anywhere, boy.”
“Is there a batty picture of you, too?” Draco asked, the starting wails echoing from down the stairs inciting the question.
Druella laughed quietly, amused by his snarky humor, “I died before I got that mad, although I suffered for many years being married to your bloke of a grandfather.”
Draco watched as her face seemed to slip into a meditative state, her soft smile reflecting happy memories that only she could see.
“When we met, I was head over heels. He was a pureblood and my parents approved and gave us their full blessings. I couldn’t have been happier.”
Draco took a seat at the chair tucked into the desk. Pulling it out, he sat down and looked at her. She was intimidating, but mesmerizing all the same. It was odd, to see his blood encapsulated on fresco, painted ever so carefully with oils and paints.
“But you can only interbreed so much before the offspring go mad.” Druella’s face grew dark, “I’d heard stories of his family, of Cygnus’ parents, who were supposedly cousins. Anything to keep the same blood running through their veins…”
“What happened?” Draco asked.
“The same thing that happened to your mother.” Druella scowled at the memory. “But more rotten that than nasty father of yours. Can you imagine? I was never going to be tied down by a man, lest of all who was weak enough to treat a woman so. But look what happened to me. I grew ill in my last years as a result of the stress and trying to protect three girls, which of one betrayed me. I gave them everything and look how they turned out?”
Druella’s tone was extremely bitter.
“Andromeda cast out of the family, Narcissa falling into the same pattern as I, and Bellatrix, mad as a hatter.”
Draco frowned, “You’re disappointed with the way Bellatrix turned out? Isn’t that what you always wanted?”
“You’re looks seemed to have drained your head, boy!” Druella glared at him, “A good pureblood family immerses themselves in the name of the Dark Arts, but is sure not to lose themselves in it.”
Druella huffed, crossing her arms over her chest, looking out the window. “No daughter of mine would’ve attacked her sister’s child, that much I can tell you.”
“You knew, then, that she did it?”
“I heard the whole conversation when you lot entered with those Weasel’s.” Druella sneered. “You better be glad that I’m not alive, or they wouldn’t have left this house intact, I assure you. Filthy blood-traitors dirtying my carpets!”
Draco was about to retort that they had given them a safe shelter, but if she was so supportive of the Dark Arts, she probably wouldn’t have been happy that he had run away from the life of a Death Eater, so he remained silent.
“Bellatrix’s work is unique, unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” Druella told him, “It was clear who cast it on you before you even said anything. She was the only child I ever knew that made other parents wary.”
“Well, with good reason.” Draco instinctively grabbed for his side, but the pain had substantially weakened.
“What of your mother, is she still married to that Malfoy?” She asked.
Draco froze for a moment, deciding that the simplest answer was the best answer. “No, he passed.”
Druella frowned at him for a moment, “So, that drinking finally caught up with him?”
“Sure.” Draco answered automatically.
“Sodding git.” Druella rolled her eyes, “If he hadn’t had so much money, I wouldn’t have let Narcissa married him, pureblood or not. But you, you seem to have turned out all right, have you found a nice pureblood girl to marry?”
Draco looked at her strangely. This portrait must have been old, for he would’ve thought that she would know that there weren’t very many pureblood families anymore. He was about to answer her, when he heard his mother calling for him.
“Who is that?” Druella rose from her chair, looking towards the door.
“Mother.” Draco answered, rising from his seat and opening the door, “Up here, Mother.”
Narcissa’s heels echoed on the aged wooden floor, her form wondering into the room.
She turned up her nose in disgust, “I always hated this room.”
“Narcissa?” Druella called.
Narcissa looked around the room until she saw her mother in the portrait. She stiffened, “Mother?”
“My girl,” Druella drawled, “I haven’t seen your face in years. Last time we talked you told me you would get a portrait of me in your house.”
Narcissa looked uncomfortable, but her hard expression masked any desire to dodge the question, “My husband has died recently, Mother, I’ve had more pressing matters to attend to.”
Druella raised an eyebrow in interest. “I told you, you married a good for nothing. And look: widowed before you’re even forty-five.”
Narcissa’s nostrils flared in anger. Turning to Draco, she seethed, “You are needed in the kitchen.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. Rising from his seat, he stole one last glance at Druella, who gave him one last twisted smile. Grabbing his mother’s arm, he ushered her out of the living room.
“What nerve!” Narcissa hissed.
“Don’t worry about it.” Draco mumbled to her, “Look what happened to her: she’s got a batty portrait downstairs. Obviously, she didn’t do well herself.”
Narcissa muttered incoherent strings of insults as Draco led her down the stairs.
He guided her in the kitchen, only to see Stella there.
“Oh, Master, sir!” Stella bowed.
“What happened?” Draco panicked, “Is something wrong?”
“No, sir, no!” Stella quickly recovered, “We have not had anything happen, sir, but I do have something for you.”
Draco frowned as Stella reached inside a sewn pocket on her pillowcase shirt, withdrawing a little scroll, handing it to him. Unrolling it carefully in his hands, he read the intricate script:
Please, just tell me that you’re alive.
“The Unicorn?” Draco asked out loud, “Is this a joke?”
“It was a Hogwarts school owl, sir,” Stella told him, “if that helps any.”
Draco looked out the window for a moment, trying to think. It was obviously a code name. But a Unicorn? What sort of alias was that?
“This also fell out of the letter, sir.” Stella handed him a crumpled piece of paper, recognizing it from the Daily Prophet.
His eyes went wide, gesturing for Narcissa to look.
“I’m afraid the outbreak has been published sir.” Stella added, “Although, it does not mention you by name.”
Draco looked between the piece of paper and the torn article and cursed himself for taking so long to realize it.
A Unicorn. He remembered the vision of the ghostly being that came to get him months ago, when Blaise had attacked Ashley.
Her Patronus was her alias.
Looking back to the article, he could see why she would’ve panicked. Although the ordeal was frightening enough in itself, the torn pictures of Bellatrix and Fenrir, along with the detailed article, contained nothing that was reassuring that he got out alive.
“Draco,” she felt a hand on his shoulder, “I remember the feeling of not knowing whether your father was alive or not and I would never wish to live through it again. I would certainly not wish it on her. It’s a hopeless feeling that’s romanticized only by fools.”
Draco stared at her handwriting. “I just-I think it would look odd if owls were flying out of here.”
“The owl that delivered the letter is still at the Manor, sir.” Stella inclined her head, hoping that she wasn’t out of line to speak.
“I don’t want her to do anything rash.” Draco announced, his eyes unable to look from her desperate note.
“She’ll do something rash if you don’t answer her.” Narcissa argued gently. “I haven’t forgotten that you’ve done this for her and I’m sure that she hasn’t either, but, I think it’s more than acceptable to give her a peace of mind.”
“I’ll think about it.” Draco finalized, stuffing the letter into his pocket.