The other half of the castle was not polished and gleaming like its counterpart had been. I walked slowly upon a dirty red aisle runner that scanned the length of the cobwebby hall, Horatio and Ramien’s hushed voices fading into distant echoes. There was a massive grandfather clock pushed up against a grimy window, ticking curiously fast. I paused for a few moments, examining how the pendulum swung from side to side at every half-second, moving tirelessly. The needle-like hands on the shimmering silver face pointed to ten o’ clock; however, judging by the strange stillness in the air and the pressing black sky, I knew that it could have been no earlier than one in the morning.
I turned the knob on the first door I came across. It was a small, empty room with two sets of stairs sprouting out of the floor – one spiraling right, the other left, like the horns of a ram. The right stairway was packed with cardboard boxes, dusty and dented with corners of parchment sticking out through open flaps. I pulled at one of them, straining my eyes in the darkness, but could see nothing more than what looked like symbols sketched in several long rows.
I eyed the left stairway, wondering whether to continue up it or turn around and search out another room in the dilapidated corridor. But then I recalled the turrets with their lighted windows, disappearing one by one over the dewy grass outside, and purposefully began to climb.
It wound up and up in dizzying circles, and revealed another corridor much like the one below. This one harbored more doors – doors of all shapes and sizes. Some were so small that they looked to be for elves, and others were huge – gouged apart with an axe to admit something enormous through its passage.
Hesitant, I inched along with one hand still curled around my broken wand. There was simply so much to see. This corridor was used as a storage cupboard of sorts, with white linens thrown over bulky objects scattered throughout like a maze of hidden things. The coverings slipped off halfway in places, showing bits of furniture. As with every portrait I had seen thus far, the ones on the walls here were also shredded to pieces – all except for one – but it was empty aside from a yellow wooden chair with delicate flowers painted on its high back.
Brushing a strand of hair away from my eyes, I continued forward, curving around a vanity mirror that stretched from floor to ceiling, its glass cracked and chipped away in many places to give it the look of a mosaic. I reached out with one hand, just about to enter the door at the very end of the corridor, when something struck the air with a sudden force.
The swift, rolling succession of piano notes poured through the walls, under my feet, along the ceiling. It moved like water, tinkling in my ears and drowning out the rapid clicks of the grandfather clock’s pendulum. I wondered what sort of person would play an instrument at such an hour, so long after the sun went down. Without thinking, I turned on my heel and backtracked to a door I had passed earlier. My fingers sought a clear knob, ready to twist it, and before my flesh could touch the thing the door opened of its own accord.
I stepped back apprehensively, but was soon drawn in again by the smooth stream of piano notes wading down from above like snowflakes. There was something so dark about the song – yet so lonely and sweet, like the wolves and their low, thrumming cries – that compelled me to locate the source of it. And so I followed the tinkling of music, my feet travelling quickly in the dark as I crept silently along low-ceilinged corridors and ascended staircases. And at long last, I reached the very top.
Andromeda’s cautious face swam in my mind for a moment, warning me to stem my curiosity. But I had always been one to indulge my desire to know everything, and so I pushed the door open just an inch and peered through the shaft of yellow light.
Dozens of lit candles reflected in the ceiling. And the ceiling – a cone-shaped tower made entirely of large squares of glass fit into tarnished brass frames – glimmered brilliantly like a candle itself. In the very center of the small, circular room, directly below the tower’s highest point, was a wide, sweeping grand piano made of glass. It hovered several inches from the ground and intricate swirls and looping designs were etched into the surface. The light shone remarkably off of these indentations, bathing the room in a pearly incandescence. I watched the glass keys press down as pale fingers roamed along them, quick as hummingbirds, and a beautiful crescendo surged through the air.
The pianist’s back was to me, and I could see that he was dressed in an old-fashioned black cloak that was stiff around his hunched shoulders. His long hair was colorless, like sand bleached white by the sun, and tied back at the nape of his neck with silver thread. His head was cocked just the slightest bit, listening intently to his song, and I found myself forgetting completely that I had set out in search of a wand or an owl. Disconnected by the stupor of the melody, I pushed the door open wider yet and found that I was not the only guest in the pianist’s tower.
An elderly woman was seated at a narrow desk and chair against one round wall, leaning over a roll of parchment and writing furiously with a bent, much-abused quill. Three feet of parchment unfurled over the edge of the desk, rustling softly against her knees. The old woman wore robes with gray lace at the collar, which matched the streaks of gray in her otherwise white hair. Her hair was pulled up in a loose knot on top of her head, and although her face was soft and kind-looking, her expression was stern in contrast. Her lips pursed, lines crinkling all around her mouth, as she scribbled in fierce concentration. That is, until her quick eyes flitted to mine and she dropped her quill to the floor.
“Oh!” she gasped in shock. She glanced at the pianist, who ceased his playing at once. My left foot dragged backwards, and I was already turning – but so was he. The man revolved abruptly around, facing me, and I found myself too arrested by the sight of him to move. My hand flew to my throat, terrified, and I could feel my heartbeat thumping violently there underneath my skin.
The man’s face was waxy and bone-white, his irises a flat black. Even more strange than the color of his irises, though, was the size of them. They swallowed up most of his eyes until the only whites left were reduced to mere corners. They stared – perhaps at me, it was difficult to tell – blank and unblinking. When he finally did blink, it was as if he disappeared altogether. The only color at all on his face was from his startling eyes, so wide and frightening. They were like chunks of obsidian set deep into his skull, his pupils indistinguishable as they blended into midnight. When he blinked, his entire face was nothing but an expanse of pallid white – jarringly void of life.
And when his eyes did snap open once more, just after that fleeting second, I realized that he was not staring at me but at the swinging door behind me. It creaked, and diffused candlelight spilled onto the landing I had been standing on just moments before.
His thin lips parted as his black eyes continued to search. His teeth seemed just a fraction too long, just long enough to make my skin crawl; and they rested sharply against his ashen lower lip, the incisors protruding into his skin with two miniature dents.
It was the tiny twin pinpricks of blood that I spotted there, pooling under the serration of his teeth against his own skin, that finally kicked the ability to run back into my consciousness. And with a loud thundering of footsteps, I fled down the stairs and retraced my path through a series of corridors until I found the one with furniture covered in sheets and the single undestroyed portrait on the wall, still empty of an occupant. With my heart in my throat, pulsing as it kept time to the grandfather clock’s frantic ticks, a dangerously livid voice rose over the castle like a tempest. It crashed all around my footfalls, reverberating through the floorboards. I felt it in the doorknobs I turned, in the lights that flickered on one by one as I raced past them. It felt like the manor itself was vehemently outraged by my presence.
I ran past Horatio and Ramien, who were waiting in the foyer at the base of the grand staircase as though hoping I might pop up there, and the latter shouted out, “Miss Myrtle! The Master's tower is off-limits! There are very dangerous things up there.”
“Such trouble!” Horatio crowed. “She will be in such trouble!”
No, I won’t, I thought to myself, flying past the disfigured fireplace to the front door. I heaved on the door handle with all of my weight, my shoes scraping against the floor, gritting my teeth together as I pulled. “Who locked this?” I demanded shrilly, pointing at the door. I beat on it with my fist. “Unlock the door!”
“It only opens from the outside,” Ramien answered, and Horatio made ‘tsk tsk’ noises, pulling the pocket watch out of his waistcoat. He examined the front of it nervously without flipping it open, and then slipped it back inside his pocket.
“I do not know why you bother to explain,” he complained with a sniff. “Let her yell. Let her kick. None if it will do her any good. Personally, I think we ought to hurry off. If we are found down here, Master will think we let her in.”
“All the better!” Ramien replied heartily. “We should be rewarded for it. This is a great and wonderful miracle, dear Horatio. After all of those wasted hopes and bitter fantasies, the answer to it all wanders right into our midst, completely unexpected.”
“Mr. Horloge,” Horatio corrected irritably, “and although you are quite right, you know Master’s stubborn ways.”
“What are you suggesting?” interrupted a third voice. I whirled quickly around, flat against the front door. The man from the tower was at the top of the stairs. His hand slithered to the railing and he began to walk down towards us. In the dark, the white of his skin stood out like plaster. As he advanced into a beam of light sifting down through a high window, I caught a glimpse of his arm. The sleeve had fallen down as his hand grazed the banister rails, and I could see that the skin clinging to his bones was as thin and translucent as a jellyfish; an army of veins raced along just below the surface. Bones were visible underneath his transparent hand, and the blood rushed back and forth like minnows under the surface of a pond.
I recoiled in repulsion, fear whirling in my head as I wondered where I could run. The splintered end of my broken wand dug into my stiffened fingers, and I fervently prayed that it still held traces of magic, traces of anything at all that might defend me. My eyes darted to his ghastly hand again, but he had moved out of the patch of light and his sleeve was gradually slipping back down over the tips of his fingers. As if knowing what I was thinking, he said, “My gloves, Wax.”
Ramien bowed and scurried off up the stairs. When he reached the entrance to the east wing, I noticed the old woman from before, standing in the shadows next to the door of the west wing. Her face was unreadable in the dark, but her hands were balled tightly into fists at her sides.
“Who are you?” the man inquired. He had reached the floor, but he stepped no further. The train of his black cloak was still trailing up the last three stairs.
“She is Myrtle,” Horatio responded before I could even think about speaking. “And I had absolutely nothing to do with it, sir. I am just as astounded as you are.” He closed his mouth and then opened it again, gaping like a fish. “I am innocent in this matter, completely innocent.”
“She?” the man repeated, and his lips parted further. His mouth reminded me of an endless cave, with stalagmites shooting from overhead. Those impossibly black eyes lingered around the room.
“Yes,” Horatio confirmed, looking slightly relieved that he hadn’t been stabbed to death yet.
“Myrtle.” His voice was barely audible as he considered this. He cocked his head, teeth glinting. “What is your real name, Myrtle?”
I raised my eyebrows. “I just want to leave,” I finally managed to say. “I’m sorry for intruding; I cannot even tell you how sorry I am. My father is right outside – he’s looking for me. So are my three uncles.” I turned my ear toward the door. “That’s them now. They’re hunting wolves. It’s for…” I struggled for breath. “Sport. They hunt for sport and they’re searching for me.”
He remained silent.
“Once again, I apologize for my rudeness,” I went on, aware of a bleak stress permeating the air. “I’ll just…if you’ll just unlock the door, then, I’ll be right out of your hair.”
Ramien returned with a pair of black leather gloves. He pressed them into the pianist’s palm, and the man slid his fingers into the gloves at once. “I do not hear anyone outside,” he stated. “And if I were you, I would hope that they do not come looking for you here. Tell me again, please, what your name is?”
“Narcissa,” I obliged, my heart sinking. “My name is Narcissa Black. I just want to leave. I swear I’ll never bother you again. I’m not a thief – I’ve stolen nothing. I just…got lost.”
“You wandered into the castle on accident?” he mused quietly.
“Master,” Ramien cut in, bravely edging closer to the man. “Surely you can see the benefits of this fortunate coincidence.” He stole a peek in my direction, and with a lowered voice, continued, “I implore you to be on your best behavior. It is pertinent that you display your kindest, most inviting side.”
I watched the Master’s reaction to this, thinking to myself that a more uninviting creature could not possibly exist.
“You…” the man curled his lips over his long teeth, pressing them together. His upper lip was now stained with drops of blood. “You may stay. But only because you have no choice. My name is Lucius Malfoy, and this is my house.” He waited several long seconds, looking impatient. “I am waiting for you to thank me for my kindness,” he told me bluntly.
“Kindness?” I repeated. “I don’t want to stay here in your house. I want to go home.”
“This is your home now.”
“You can’t make me stay,” I said with more menace than I thought I was capable of.
“No, I cannot. But the house can, and it will. You are going nowhere and since there is nothing you can do about it, you might as well get used to it immediately. And then I shall be awaiting your respect and appreciation for my hospitality. You will thank me.”
“I certainly will not,” I shot back, trying to pry the door open again. It still refused to budge. I skirted over to a window. It appeared to be locked, but that would not stop me.
“How dare you speak to me in such a way?” Lucius admonished. “After all I am preparing to offer you! After you trespass here like a scoundrel!” Ramien narrowed his eyes at him, and Lucius took a steadying breath. “All right. If you will come with me, I can show you to your room. It is the largest of my guest rooms, and I think that you will be comfortably happy –”
I lifted a chair and smashed it through the window.
Lucius stopped talking. The shattered glass was still rattling on the floor like a rainstorm, and Horatio looked flabbergasted. I, however, did not particularly care. I lifted my knee onto the sill and lunged outward, knocking right into an invisible wall, and rolled backward until I hit the glass-laden floor with a heavy thud. Shards poked my legs, piercing the backs of my arms, and I sat up.
It was impossible. There was no…how could it have…? I stared in confusion at the tall juniper bushes outside, and the crows that faced away from me as though I was not ten feet away from them and they could not hear me. There was nothing to separate us but air. I should have plummeted into dirt.
I raised my hand and plunged it straight through, nearly cracking my knuckles on an unseen barrier. “Ouch!” I shouted, shaking out my fingers. With my other hand, I investigated the window. Despite the cool breeze I felt stirring my hair, it was sealed somehow. My fingers drifted over a cold, rock-like substance that I couldn’t see. A wall. It stung my fingers several seconds after skimming against it, like a burning aftertaste. I remembered Ramien’s words about a spell…
“How…?” I trailed off, turning back to stare at them each in turn, my eyes wide with worry.
Ramien shook his head mournfully. “How very bad for you…and how very promising for us,” he remarked in an undertone.
I went back to the window, and saw that the glass on the floor had fit itself back into a solid sheet once more – immaculate – as though it had never been broken at all. I rapped twice on it, and it rang crystal-clear throughout the foyer.
“If you are done,” Lucius growled through bared teeth, “perhaps you will allow me to show you to your room –”
“Absolutely not!” I cried, horrified. I rushed to another window, desperately trying to fling it open. The curtains closed forcibly around it with a life of their own, and I dashed away just moments before they could strangle me. “I’m not staying here,” I proclaimed, pointing at the still-ruffling curtains. “My family needs me. They're waiting for me. I won’t stay here.”
“Then with that attitude, you can sleep right here on the floor,” Lucius snapped.
“Master –” Ramien entreated.
“I don’t care,” Lucius muttered, turning around and sweeping up the stairs. The old woman at the top emerged from the shadows, holding out a hand to receive him. “It is not this one. It is not Narcissa Black.”