Chapter 4 : Camlann
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Author's Note So all that talk about finishing before July is obviously worthless. However, this is the penultimate chapter, and I hope you enjoy it. The last chapter (Camelot, of course!) will be up either the second week of July or... August. (I will not be around for most of the month).
The manse they called Camelot was a skeleton now, though not shoved aside into the closet of collective consciousness. Camelot was a great, sprawling ruin, and in the year since its burning had left an indelible impression on the nobility of the magical populace. The sky above seemed always darker when it touched the disintegrating expanse of scorched land and heavy dust. But Daphne Greengrass was not looking closely at the house she considered more than a building, but more her skin. In the Cornwall wind, which was rougher than she remembered, her skin seemed to chafe without the manse called Camelot protecting her.
There were cuts on her arms and a shallow slash down her cheek, and dried blood crusted near her mouth, but she didn’t notice enough to care. In the back of her mind, certainly, she realized that she would have to clean her wounds, but her blood paled in significance under the ashes of the manse.
“Oh, my,” she whispered. Her voice, bright despite its morose timbre, floated through what was left of the manse. It fought gravity; instead of dodging the ashes and bones of the manse, it passed through them. Daphne was not so lucky, the sinews of her body painfully mortal, and so picked her way more carefully through her old home. She remembered dimly that her stepmother’s ashes would be mixed in with the houses–her stepmother, Eloise Richelieu, who had watched for her to fall asleep before turning in herself. Eloise, who greeted her when she returned from school. Eloise, who was the reason her mother had been driven to madness.
The spell was useless. Though Daphne was sure that the house’s remains had been left alone by the rough breezes of the year, it seemed that someone had gathered her stepmother’s remnants. Perhaps her father had done so, in some rare instance when he had the courage or stupidity to leave his daughters alone after their flight. Not likely, but Daphne did not care about that. The blood beneath her raw skin grew warmer as her heartbeat quickened at the thought of her father.
“You nearly killed us,” she hissed to the remains of the manse. “You weren’t content with dying yourself so you tried to drag us with you! Probably did it, too, for all I know.”
She was not satisfied with the Malfoy boy’s work. While she had avoided the majority of the bloodshed and fighting that the Revival brought with it, she had experienced a different sort of horror, and did not believe that any other could quite stand up to it. What had Draco seen, after all? Mere death? Death could not hold a candle to Daphne, or her mother, or her sister. Death was simple. One minute alive, the next not. Daphne was not.
But there was something peculiar about the Malfoy boy, she reflected as she carefully stirred up more of the remains. It did not dance in the wind, like normal dust might have, but it floated like a prison ghost, as if chained. Daphne watched it rise, jerking against gravity, before the wind caught it and struggled with it, too. Yes, yes, the Malfoy boy had something strange in his darkened blood; there was no doubt about that. Not stupid, or frightened, or willing, but resigned, for whatever reason. He had all the potential he needed, and all the money to boot. Daphne pitied him for a moment, for he did not know that he did not have to live the way he did. He did not have to wait to ban the lilies and poppies, or breathe them in until their fragrances caked his nose like so much filth on cave walls.
And the girl, at the pub, with the wide, frightened eyes and the wand tucked behind her ear. She knew they were familiar, even friendly, and regarded the relationship with great distrust. The girl was too kind. In another world, in Daphne’s world, it could get her killed.
“Serve her right.”
She was unaware of having inhaled anything but air and ashes, but she did, though no notice was given to that extra dimension of scent.
That girl, whose name she didn’t care to know, would have realized that she was gone. Instinctively she kicked at a haphazard pile of dirt, sending whatever was in the little hillock drifting above ground. The Malfoy boy would know, too, since the barmaid was too timid to do anything by herself and would have called on him for help. He would be crawling through the wreckage of her rented room now. Picking apart the shards of the dirt-encrusted mirror, and removing splinters of worn oak from his calloused fingers. Daphne sighed. What then?
As she mulled over the response to such a question, she inhaled again, and then more, to fully appreciate the lingering scent, which was adroitly woven through the air of what was once Camelot.
When his arm snaked around her waist in not a show of seduction but of restraint, she gave a knowing grimace.
“What have you done, Daphne?” he hissed into her ear from behind. The other arm joined the first, and Draco held her as firmly as he could.
She couldn’t answer, and deflected. “How’d you find me?”
He forced her to march, farther from the manse that was once Camelot. Daphne did not struggle, though in her head she calculated what she could do to escape. When they were at the bottom of the hill upon which the remains lay, he let her go. Daphne stumbled from his grasp, and turned to run back up, but found that his wand was trained on her. It shook a little, but it was there. As little as she respected him, she knew that he was not incapable of Stunning her, maybe even worse. She knew nothing of what he experienced in the Revival. What if, what if…
“How did you find me?”
“Same way you found me.” She found it curious that he would not look her in the eye. “Come on, we’re leaving.”
Daphne shook her head. Her sable hair swung back and forth, flirting mischievously with the Cornwall wind, and her lightning eyes flashed. “You haven’t found her yet, Draco! Go on, and then I will follow.”
Draco was just as washed out as the country sky beyond. Robed in black, with a dark wooden wand, and pale hair, he was a study in monochrome.
“Find her!” She laughed, throwing the higher-than-normal notes for the wind to take as it would.
“Don’t make me do something I’ll regret, Daphne.” He edged closer, knuckles white.
Daphne danced out of reach, twirling, skirts flaring around her, tresses whipping in her face, and Draco couldn’t see her eyes.
“Find her! Find her, Draco!”
She began to feel stronger now. Invincible, for what could a boy with a wand do that she could not counter? Her own wand was still in the pub, under the barmaid’s care, but that didn’t matter.
She came closer, danced away, in and out and out and in, and Draco was spinning in his own head trying to keep up. She still knew the charred ground better than he, and he stumbled in concealed holes and tripped in patches of earth, and still she danced away. Her high laugh continued to echo in his ears. Once her sleeve brushed against his outstretched arm.
“Daphne!” he roared in frustration. In some detached part of his consciousness he was aware that she was leading him to the skeleton manse of Camelot. “Daphne, what are you doing? Come back!”
“You have to find her!”
How had she reached the summit of the hill already? Why was there ash in her hair, her face, her mouth? Draco panted all the way up, until he was on the same level as her. If only she stopped spinning, he might hit her with a Stunning Spell to immobilize her and get her to St. Mungo’s, where she clearly belonged. But she kept moving, weaving in and out of the bones of the manse that was once Camelot, ducking gracefully when she came close to an exposed beam.
“You have to find me!”
“Find you a Healer, that’s what,” he muttered under his breath, and, swearing colorfully, he ducked into the corpse. It was dark under the charred rafters, and with dust and ash swirling everywhere, he was hard pressed to maneuver without being blinded. Twice he stumbled over something (he wasn’t sure what), and he stopped every few seconds to claw the dust out of his eyes.
Then, as he neared the center of the ruin, Draco stumbled back at the sight of fresh blood smeared on the crumbling beams. “What the hell–Daphne!” he called out for one final time. “Homenum revelio!!”
It did not work.
He sent many more spells of varying natures into the blood-violet-grey evening, but none achieved his ends. When his last spell failed, he knew that he had, as well. He did not regret the failure, for it was a feeling too often felt, but he did stare at the beam. Blood dripped from the wood to the ashen ground at a regular pace, until the stain was elongated and contorted in a disquieting way. Draco was transfixed at seeing it; though it shared a hue with the dying sun somewhere behind him, the tangibility was what frightened him.
Daphne was mad, that much was clear. From defacing the room at the pub to this, there was something clearly wrong with her. In the back of his head lurked the fake story she had provided mere days ago, about the Welsh mansion and her father, and her time in Prague. He had to assume, based on this episode that so disturbed him, that Daphne was not coming back. She might even have set out on her own quest to find that sister of hers.
But all of this was at the back of his mind, as was the beginning of a snowstorm above his head. He brushed away the first of the snowflakes and stared still at the stain on the beam. More fascinating–and perhaps deadly so–was the fact that Daphne’s tainted blood was brighter than his own.
On some days, the cavity carved into the tower bedroom that Honoria Selwyn once occupied seemed larger than others. Other days, it seemed to have shrunken in, minimizing Astoria Greengrass’ chance of escape, which never existed in the first place. Much of Astoria’s gazing in the mirror was punctuated with falling stones, the detritus of some unhappy spirit, wishing to bring her into its hell. Though at first she did not deign to shake out the dust and grime from her hair and did not attempt to smooth out her robes, by the time December rolled around (though she did not know it was December), she almost looked whole again. Six months or more–she never was sure how many sunrises she had seen, or how many lightning storms she had slept through–in the tower had taught Astoria a little something about captivity.
She knew there was no chance for escape, and accepted it as undeniable fact. Her belief in her interment was so strong, her intuition regarding the cerulean flame seal of the window so deep-seated, that in her eyes, there was no point to struggling. She could try and try to deny it–and at first she did–but the cavity in the wall, which should have–could have!–led far beyond the poppy fields and wild grasses, had eroded her spirit much farther than she would have thought possible.
The world was beyond her, but she was never sure what sort of world it was, or if it was really a world at all. Something told her, perhaps the mother-spirit that lurked in the walls and could never be definitively seen, that all was not right in what she saw. The fields of flowers swayed in the summer breezes and, as they were now, decayed, rotting, in the winter, and yet there was something strange about the way they grew and the way they fell. Dim memories, hazy from being underused and having no real importance in Astoria’s quietly crazed little mind, told her that flowers grew slowly, millimeter by millimeter, almost indistinguishable to her weak eyes.
But these flowers, which grew in the darkened soil beyond the tower, grew very quickly. They were in full bloom before she could blink, and dead in another instant. And when they died, they did not shrivel up and they were not swallowed by earth. No, no, these flowers fell. One by one, all in a single moment–though how long was a moment, really? Astoria could not say, and for all she knew, her interment had lasted a mere moment–the petals fell, like so many droplets of blood–Astoria had long since hardened her palpitating heart to the sight of blood, and indeed found it odd when her hands were not stained with her own. And the stems would remain upright, though mud brown and dehydrated.
No, no, the world beyond the tower was too dangerous. It had changed in the moment that she had been removed from it, for the worse. Though the society that had once proclaimed her a dear adopted daughter was rising up once more, though cowed by the stern gaze of government, Astoria was here. She never thought about the moment of her interment, having blocked it out a long time before, but sometimes in the mirror she saw a man. At least, she believed he was a man, but there was nothing to go by, for all she saw were bones. Bones, and a chipped, charred branch protruding from the chest cavity.
This was her father.
Of course, Astoria was not aware of that, and simply stared at the bones and the branch and wondered, and cried, and her throat would ache the next time she bothered herself with bodily needs. Why this was happening, she did not know, either, though one might have thought that it was from silent screaming.
With the strange life patterns of the bloody flowers, and the pile of bones and branch, Astoria decided that the world was too dangerous a place for the likes of her. There was a reason for her interment, and she would accept that. She knew that she would die in this tower, just as strongly as she knew that the world beyond could and would reduce her to bones and ash. And it was surely better to be here than on a mound of dust, too easily disturbed and scattered, until she and her remains were nothing, no one, gone.
So Astoria was almost content in the later moments of her interment, content at least to accept her fate as protected from a world that would destroy her. The cavity grew wider and smaller by the day, and while she set aside Honoria’s diary for longer periods of time, she was still transfixed by the mirror’s reverse world. She came to love–if love existed–each and every person she saw vaguely reflected in its cobwebby, blue-tinted depths. And if it was not love, then it might better have been described as an unrelenting dependency.
The tower became more and more appealing as the blood hardened and the cavity shrunk, and the flame at the window faded, and the mirror cleared. Soon Astoria began try to sleep in her mother’s bed, though she passed out more than once, due to her inability to inhale her mother’s scent. The ledger she had written in became a vigilant, sobering watchdog, making sure that she never did anything out of line that might endanger her. She was not insane! No, no, she was nothing of the sort. She would never go her mother’s way. Honoria was away (she was not sure where), but Astoria would live her last days in secluded, uneasy peace.
The date was the twenty-fourth of December, though she was not aware of it, and the tower was sheathed in thick white. The cerulean flames grew brighter with the lowering of the temperature, but other than that, Astoria was perfectly comfortable. As she was wont to do, she was staring into the depths of the mirror she so depended on. None of the figures she usually saw crossed her reverse world, and Astoria contented herself with watching the unnatural flowers crumble under the weight of the snow, finally dead after so long and abnormal a lifetime.
But then, the mirror shifted its gaze, for the first time in her feeble memory, and focused on a young man.
Astoria tried to blink his image away, but he stayed in the mirror. When she realized that he would not leave, she tried to watch him as coolly as she had the other denizens of the cruel, cruel world, but there was something wrong with him, just as there had been with the flowers: his image was not tainted with blue. He was not beyond the tower window, and he was not cloaked in the flame seal. He was somewhere else.
He stumbled down a hill plastered with a curious black-gray substance and snow. His face was hidden under the hood of his coal-colored robe, but there were strange maroon splotches on his hands. In the left he held a branch not unlike the one in the bones of Astoria’s vision, and the right was empty. She watched him travel down the hill to the base of it, where there once ran a river of melt-water, and he followed its frozen form farther than Astoria could bear to look.
The cerulean flame at the window flared brighter.
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