Chapter 1 : The Bird Knows Its Cage
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A tapping sound against her rain-splattered window sharply interrupted Barabelle Parkinson’s solitary reading session on the window seat of her chamber. She tore her eyes away from the copy of Atreus’ Tome of Gruesome Curses she had snuck from her father’s study earlier that day to notice a yellow messenger owl regarding her expectantly from outside her room, a fat, parchment letter clamped in its beak.
Her eyebrows arching at the sudden intrusion, the young witch put aside the forbidden book to slide open the window, the fresh scent of wet leaves and the churning ocean under the rocky cliff below greeting her. She inhaled deeply, drinking in the scent of a stormy evening before being jerked back to reality with a sharp nip from the owl. The golden bird climbed up her arm from its precarious perch on the flower box outside her window, releasing its charge on the girl’s lap and darting out again into the dusky downpour with a flash of flaxen feathers.
Barabelle narrowed her eyes and scrutinized the curious letter, wary of any nasty curses or enchantments cast on it. She flipped it around to the back, a red wax seal attracting her eye. Was that…the Hogwarts seal?
A warm sensation filled her body despite the chilly evening as her chest rushed with adrenalin and air caught in her throat. After all, I am eleven years old now…she thought delightedly to herself as she tucked a short black lock of hair behind her ear and ripped the letter open with ferocious gusto.
The parchment inside now free from its confinement, Barabelle’s eyes feverishly scanned the page. It was filled with the neat, precise writing of an orderly disciplinarian. She could already guess who had written it from her older brother’s grumbling accounts of his teachers at school.
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)
Dear Miss Parkinson,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.
Her heart was pounding in her chest, battering itself senseless against the confines of her ribcage. This letter meant more to her than most other young wizards and witches. To her, it was an escape, a release from the bonds that so resiliently fettered her in this miserable house.
She looked out the window at the soggy green grounds of her marble prison. Soon this will be gone, she thought gleefully. I’ll have someplace else to be who I am, at least for the next seven years. What happened after that, she was loath to think of.
To begin with, Barabelle Parkinson was always a stranger in her own home, even as a small child. Her first distinct memories were filled with a sense of being on the outside looking in on an alien culture. It wasn’t so much her personality or even how she felt or acted that marked her as different, but simply who she was; so much so, she used to have idle fantasies about being the secret lovechild of her mother and an unnamed wizard, dashing and mysterious.
To put it simply, it was as if she was assembled with the wrong parts, the wrong equipment to operate harmoniously with the occupants of Parkinson Manor.
Even her physical appearance seemed to mark her as a foreigner. While her close relatives shared an elegantly ochre complexion and lightly colored hair, she stood out with her thick, curly charcoal tresses and delicately pale skin. It was almost as if she was a living mutation, a genetic mistake.
Her family was composed entirely of prideful Pureblood wizards, a fact Barabelle had come to resent as she grew up. A tattered family tree tapestry hung proudly from an intricately carved ivory rod in the living room of the solemnly elegant Parkinson Manor, enchanted to constantly update itself on new family members. She never remembered feeling very comfortable with her relatives’ complaints of this filthy Mudblood at work or that pathetic excuse for a blood traitor who should be blasted off the family tree. Ever since she was a toddler, whenever she made a mistake or even caused a childish magical mishap, she was forcefully reminded of her “noble” parentage and how she was in one of the dwindling number of all-Pureblood families and should act like it.
But the truth was, Barabelle saw no meaning, no fulfillment in any of her family’s philosophy. Does the purity of your blood matter when it finally stops flowing through your veins? Are we so concerned with our breeding that we would rather inbreed ourselves to extinction than intermarry with Muggleborns? These dark thoughts tormented the young girl all through childhood, endlessly circulating as the girl would fall witness to virulent hate again and again. There were times when she thought of herself as no better than any of them. Was it not their precious pure blood that spilled whenever she bled? It poured readily out of a cut or a scrape as if to mock her.
But, a small voice in the back of her mind always persisted, I want something better, away from all this. I don’t care how I get it, it just needs to happen.
Her parents had mostly shown the chilly indifference of a tiger to the parasite that feeds off of it, acknowledging her presence occasionally but for the most part leaving her to her own devices; that is, until she did something that could embarrass the good name of Parkinson at one of her parents’ frequent parties with other Pureblood families. It seemed they only noticed her when their contemporaries forced them to, like a stain of mildew creeping its slimy way across the ceiling. They knew just as well as she did of her inherent foreignness. When looking proudly at her brother Conan, their eyes would slip over her meaninglessly, like a Muggle under a spell.
The girl could only tell herself that it was she they smiled warmly upon, not merely a pane of especially grimy glass through which they saw only what they wanted to.
Emerging from her reflections, Barabelle gathered up the parchment from the letter solemnly and glided down the marble ballroom steps to land with a light tap in the main reception chamber, where she found the rest of her brethren reclining on lavish chairs and looking up all at once at her arrival.
There was her ice-blonde mother, Victoria, lounging gracefully in her snowy blue evening gown like a big cat on an elegant armoire, her ruggedly attractive father, Aiden, sitting with a ramrod-straight back beside her mother, his thick eyebrows knotted, and her oafish older brother Conan, lying apathetically on a leather couch, picking at his ear and mussing his straw-yellow mop of hair.
Before she could fully register how odd it was that her family seemed to be expecting her, Barabelle noticed another person sitting lazily in the living room with them, someone she did not know.
He was a boy in the prime of his teen years with a muscled stature and a firm jaw, dressed in uncommonly fine robes. He had the languid half-closed eyes and the rather pasty, unnatural looking complexion of one who stays indoors, enjoying afternoons of tea and friendly duels. All the angles of his defined body spoke of quiet strength and cold efficiency, the accentuated muscles under his tailor-made clothing rippling even as he gripped her mother’s china teacup. Despite his otherwise princely appearance, painfully short dark hair covered his head and his eyes stared, unnervingly chilly and intent, over his cup as he drank. Noticing Barabelle’s entrance, he turned his head slightly, his regal azure gaze finally fixing on her.
She was filled with overwhelming dislike for the young man almost immediately. He scrutinized her attentively, his eyes glinting with cold cunning as they drifted over her from head to toe, as if surveying the health of a prize horse. There was something the way he was looking at her, something that filled Barabelle with an artic dread; she could not shake the feeling that he wanted to own her, break her and bend her to his will.
“You’re either deciding whether to buy me or devour me, I can’t tell which,” the girl quipped waspishly at the stranger, arms folded protectively across her budding chest. The thin fabric of the pepper green summer dress she wore felt like it exposed her completely under the boy’s intense gaze and she pretended not to notice her mother’s scandalized gasp at her venomous remark.
The boy only chuckled lightly as he broke his stare and sipped his tea, as if he knew exactly what she was going to say before the words left her mouth. Barabelle felt the acidic taste of weakly suppressed rage in the back of her mouth as she blushed mightily. But, like a good little Pureblood debutante, she bit her tongue. Very hard.
“Barabelle.” Her father rose and crossed over to her. His evergreen eyes warily watched his estranged daughter as his eyebrows tied themselves in disapproving knots, making the lines in his pale forehead deepen. The fine robes he always wore swished with his every move, giving him an air of aloof grandeur only matched by his exceptional middle-aged handsomeness. “We have a visitor here at Parkinson Manor,” he said, gesturing to the enigmatic teenage wizard. “Vladimir Karkaroff, the son of one of my old friends. He will be entering his sixth year at Durmstrang come September,” he explained crisply to Barabelle, though she seriously doubted he actually cared about her understanding of the situation. His introduction was only a platform for this Vladimir boy to make his introductory pleasantries to Barabelle, nothing more.
“Good evening, Miss Parkinson,” Vladimir uttered silkily with just a touch of a Romanian accent, making all his vowels rumble in his chest. He approached Barabelle, grasped her hand in his and, to her horror, bent at the waist and brought it to his mouth to kiss. His lips barely brushed her hand before he gripped it menacingly hard, as if reminding her of her place.
“Master Karkaroff is your betrothed. You will marry when you are both of age,” Aiden stated coolly, brushing his long, choppy salt-and-pepper hair back. He threw a glance at his wife, who purred softly and held his gaze as she fingered her emerald engagement ring.
Barabelle was suddenly under the distinct impression that she was drowning. Coldness filled her lungs and froze her in place so she could only gape at her father in shock. She knew her mother and father were betrothed to each other since birth, but she never thought they would do the same to her, no matter how they treated her. She watched in revulsion as Victoria slowly reached for her husband’s hand, looking much like a lost child save for the slow-burning devotion in her eyes. She kissed his matching engagement ring. No. Not like that. Please, God, never let me look like that.
“His family in Romania will provide for you two adequately,” added her mother between lingering kisses, interpreting her daughter’s dismay as fear of separation from the extravagant life. Victoria was very pretty in a sharp, pointed kind of way. Her glacial blue eyes scanned her daughter’s swirling countenance, searching for some kind of reaction. “You will want for nothing.”
Suddenly Barabelle’s brain kicked into action once again, out of the initial shock. Time seemed to slow a bit as the young girl worked out her course of action, weighing pros and cons in the blink of an eye. By the time her family began to look at her quizzically, Barabelle had worked out a plan.
The antique grandfather clock chimed eight times as Barabelle looked every occupant of the grand Victorian sitting room in the eye, calling their full attention to her. With each chime, the girl’s face softened into a clear, docile simper. The very furniture itself seemed to lean in to hear the girl’s response.
“Yes. I accept,” she said shyly, refining what she hoped was a timid but comely expression as she looked Vladimir straight in his bottomless orbs. Take it. Believe what you want to believe, she willed him, averting her eyes in virginal modesty as she offered her hand once again.
A slow, sinister smirk crawled onto his handsome face, like that of a canny fox that had his quarry right where he wanted it.
“It will be my pleasure to be your husband, Miss Parkinson.”
A/N: Chapter image by FairyQueen at TDA. Back, edited, and better than ever! Most of the other chapters will be edited as well, so hold on tight! Reviews really are a help to all authors, so take thirty seconds and leave one. Thanks to Misty_Rey and Wannabe for their wondeful reviews.