I waited until the following morning to make my apology, much to the staff’s dismay. I knew that Mr. Malfoy must have expected me to follow after him immediately, so that I could grovel at his feet as Horatio and Ramien and Wren seemed so inclined to do. However, I had no such fear of him – only a hesitance to look at him again.
Wren stirred me at eight o’clock, just as the dim sun was beginning to make its way through the high windows of the room designated as my own. I was still lying on the floor, unwilling to touch the furniture. The feeling seemed to be mutual, as the furniture had scooted itself up against the walls opposite me, shuddering when I moved as though afraid I might get too close to it.
“Hurry up, I think he’s in his study,” Wren urged. “Come on!”
I shoved one of the pumpkin pasties she offered me into my mouth before the plate could bite my hand, and grudgingly stood to my feet. “Fine,” I growled. “I’m going.”
“Try to be sincere,” she said, her large eyes even wider with worry. She fussed with my hair and robes and I swatted her away, still frowning.
“I don’t even want to apologize,” I told her as she scooted me out the door. “Why should I be sorry? I spoke the truth. It doesn’t matter that he’s upset with me, anyway, since I will soon be leaving. I’m going to find a way out of the castle, or find a way to break this spell. It’s ridiculous that none of you have even tried to break it –”
Someone snorted from behind me, and I turned to see Horatio. Ramien accompanied him, along with a girl I had not seen before. She had short, jet-black hair and cautious almond-shaped eyes, and she carried a bottle of wood polish and an old rag in one hand.
The four of them trickled after me as I dragged my feet down the corridor to the study I had eavesdropped outside of only the day before. Chewing on the inside of my cheek, I raised one fist and knocked.
The door opened a fraction of an inch, and a severe female voice said, “What is your business?”
“I have come to apologize to Mr. Malfoy,” I responded.
There was a pause. “That is unnecessary. Master Malfoy is not affected enough by the inferiority and ignorance of your comments to be offended. Go away.”
I turned to the others, lifting up my shoulders as if to say now what?
“Open up the door, if you please,” Ramien spoke, his complexion pale. “If Miss Cissa and Master are to live in such close quarters, then they should have a more pleasant understanding of each other.”
“I advise Miss Cissa to stay far away,” the woman snapped. I tried to peer through the crack in the door, wishing to know what she looked like, but she pulled it further shut until I could see nothing. “No one wants her here and no one needs her here, least of all Master Malfoy.”
“Wilda.” Ramien’s voice was waspish. “We all know that’s not true. It is not your place to speak for Master, and you must let Miss Cissa in.”
Several seconds passed. “As you wish…” the voice replied lightly. There was a sinister edge to it that made several hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. She closed the door and I could hear a fumbling of chains. “It’s unlocked,” she said, drifting away.
Horatio stumbled back, as did Wren and the black-haired girl, and Ramien nodded at me. “Go on.”
The woman was already gone when I entered. The study was a vast, triangular room with three fireplaces – one on each side. Instead of what I expected, however – a desk and hundreds of shelves filled with books – there was a small collection of claw-footed furniture in the center of the room, sitting atop a bearskin rug, and the walls were empty except for a tall mirror resting in one corner.
A door I had not previously noticed because the wallpaper covered it opened up, and the elderly woman I had seen in the tower sauntered through. Her eyebrows raised in surprise as she saw me, but her features were soft and kind. “May I help you, dear?” she asked.
“I’m looking for Mr. Malfoy,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck. “I was told that he was in here. Wilda didn’t want me coming in…I…” I trailed off, not knowing what to say.
“Oh, what does Wilda know,” the woman laughed, waving with one hand. “Don’t listen to her, she’s set in the old ways and doesn’t like change. Of course you are most welcome to visit Mr. Malfoy any time you please.” She smiled at me. “I’m Mrs. Macnair, by the way.”
I returned the smile. “Do you know where he is?”
“In his tower, of course. Why don’t you just Apparate there?”
My eyes widened. “I can Apparate?”
“Anywhere inside the castle.”
Enthusiastic, I turned on the spot, thinking Wasteir, Wasteir, Wasteir. I knew she had said it was only permitted inside the castle, but of course I needed to try it. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t move an inch. All right, I thought grimly. The glass tower. Once again, I felt myself slamming against solid air. “It won’t let me,” I said angrily. “Why won’t it let me?”
“Ah.” She tapped her chin. “I worried about that. No matter. You walked all the way to this castle. You can walk up a few flights of stairs.”
Several minutes later, and considerably more nervous than I intended to be, I rapped on the door to Lucius Malfoy’s tower.
He was looking away from me as I entered and seated myself, choosing instead to stare at a spot on the wall several feet to my right. I was relieved that he didn’t make eye contact, as I shuddered at the thought of those wide black irises locked anywhere near me. I folded my hands in my lap, fidgeting uselessly, and finally opened my mouth. Words, however, refused to come out.
“I hope that you have found your stay…pleasant…so far,” he said at last.
I made to retort and assure him that it most certainly was not pleasant, but thought better of it. I had only hours left in the castle, surely, before I found a way out of it. In the meantime, it might work in my favor to be friendly – this way, the house would at least allow me to eat. “It’s lovely,” I answered, my voice dry. I motioned toward his piano. “You play often?” My fingers itched to press down on the clear keys, for me to hear those notes like pealing bells.
“I must play to compose. I’m not the best pianist, but I do have a talent for writing music.” He paused, his mouth dropping open slightly to reveal the sharp, curving teeth. “And I should tell you that you must never, ever touch this piano.”
I raised my eyebrows. “And why not?”
“The keys are laced with poison.” He trailed his long fingers over them delicately. His gloves were off, lying next to him on the bench, and I quickly focused on the piano itself so that I wouldn’t have to watch the blood rushing back and forth in his bright veins. “One slip of the finger – one wrong note – and it puts you into a very long sleep that nothing can awaken you from.”
I sat forward, interested. “How do you know this?”
“My mother was an extremely practiced pianist,” he told me. “But she had a bit of arthritis in her left hand. One day, she was playing as usual, and I copied it all down so that I might play it later. And then my father came into the room, startling us. She missed a key and instantly fell asleep. Never woke up from it.”
“So what happened to her? Why do you still play this piano, with such a risk?”
He pivoted his body toward the wall opposite me, his pale hair draping over one shoulder and hiding his face. “What brings you up here, Narcissa?”
“The others wanted me to apologize.”
The ghost of a smile crept across his face, I could tell by the way his cheek lifted. “Ah. They would.” He cocked his head. “And is that what you’re doing? Apologizing?”
“I’m sorry that you heard what I said last night,” I decided on saying. “You can’t really help…” I gestured weakly with my arm. “…what you look like.” It was an awful choice of words, but I couldn’t help my bluntness. It was a trait I picked up from Bellatrix and I’d never been able to shake it.
The seconds ticked by, growing louder and louder. I tapped my foot on the floor in time to the swift rhythm of the grandfather clock downstairs, its pendulum still swinging away a mile a minute. “Am I that hideous?”
I was struck by the question, as it was seasoned with more curiosity than bitterness. “You’re…” I stopped, unable to speak the truth. I was still rather frightened of him, even with his back turned to me.
He simply nodded, hunching over his piano once more. He stretched out his hands to play, hovering just above the glass keys, and then suddenly cranked his neck to look at me. “And you?” he inquired softly. “What do you look like?”
I followed his gaze, realizing that he was not looking at me at all, but at a space of wall slightly to my left. The glassy black eyes stared, unblinking, as he waited in frozen patience for me to speak.
“You’re blind,” I whispered.
“You didn’t know?” His lips were chapped and rubbed red with the blood from his protruding incisors digging into them. I watched his focus lingering on the patch of wall, morbidly fascinated. “It’s an unfortunate side-effect from the curse on this castle. I wasn’t born blind.”
“Oh.” I grappled for something to say.
“What do you look like?” he encouraged, and I was grateful that he couldn’t see how I had unconsciously shrunken away from his smallest of movements.
I considered lying a little, stretching the truth about my appearance to make me sound better. In the end, I told him exactly what I looked like: blonde hair, blue eyes, with a heart-shaped face and narrow chin, and eyebrows just a tint too dark. I was neither short nor tall, neither large nor skinny. I looked exactly like my mother – vague – and that was all there was to say.
He leaned forward, fingers reaching. “May I?”
I withdrew instantly, and he did the same, perhaps sensing my repugnance. “No, of course not,” Lucius muttered to himself. “Of course not.”
I envisioned Andromeda and her reproachful look, and felt instantly ashamed. “Would you play a song?”
Lucius steadily obliged, and I spent the next several minutes wondering how something so wretched could produce such beautiful sounds.
Ramien and Wren, as I halfway expected, had been eavesdropping outside the door. Horatio cowered at the foot of the spiraling stairway, unwilling to step any further lest he be caught by Lucius, and pretended to have been merely walking by. “Nosy and insubordinate,” he chastised the others as we slipped between the furniture cloaked in white sheets.
“What’s all of this, anyway?” I asked, ignoring his raving. I lifted up a flap of sheet and examined the swell of arched wooden headboard.
“Don’t touch it!” Horatio stopped his blubbering and pinched my elbow.
“This all belonged to Master,” Wren said in a low voice, ducking her head so that it ran sideways against the ceiling. “The original Master.” She gave me a purposeful glance. “Magnus Malfoy.”
“Magnus,” I repeated. “Magnus, Magnus, Magnus. I know I’ve heard of him. Why are all of his things sitting in the hallway, covered up?”
“The younger Master Malfoy was in the process of renovating seven years ago. He was moving several rooms around, cleaning the furniture and putting it all back. Everything from Magnus’s bedroom – for Master’s father had been deceased for several years by that point – was sitting here for the time being. And then when the spell was cast, we found that the door to Magnus’s bedroom had locked itself. There was no putting anything back.”
“Couldn’t get in,” Ramien murmured woefully. “Locked, positively locked. It was a dark and grievous time.”
“Odd,” I marveled. “So the house can just do anything it pleases, like it has a mind of its own? And why would anyone want to put this house under a spell?”
Ramien and Horatio exchanged loaded expressions. “Oh, come on,” I pleaded. “Just tell me.”
“There was a fairy,” Wren supplied. “Usually, fairies are not also witches. But this one just happened to have come from Oaupe, and was a highly skilled sorceress. Master offended her –” Wren’s eyes shifted to Ramien for a half-second, and he frowned sternly. “Anyhow,” she went on briskly, “she cursed everyone in the castle and now we can’t escape it. And the castle is bewitched to keep her spell alive, to think in place of her and maintain the sense of punishment she would want to convey at all times. This house is Circe, incarnate.”
“Circe!” I gasped. But then I grinned at her, laughing. “You can’t really believe that, can you? Circe is a myth. Her existence has been documented so varyingly, so sketchily drawn out over the past however many years, that she can’t possibly be real. Every portrait ever drawn of her is different! Old and haggard in one, young and pretty in another. It’s ridiculous.”
“But it’s true!” Wren looked affronted. “And as you can imagine, Circe is not someone you want to cross. Very sensitive, that one. One minute we were just walking about, doing our business. Miu was cleaning, Mrs. Macnair overseeing Cook’s menu for a very late dinner – just how he prefers. I was tending to Char-”
“And I,” Horatio interrupted, his face drawn with exaggerated sorrow, “had been detained for the night because of the horrible snowstorm. I was completely innocent in the matter; I was a victim.”
“Maybe if you’d accomplished what you had been hired to do,” Ramien mused, “you could have left earlier in the day before the snow got so bad.”
“Not my fault!” Horatio stopped short, his face reddening while his chest puffed out with indignation. “I do not know what is wrong with that clock, Mr. Wax, but I tried absolutely everything I’d ever learned in my trade, and it still would not work right.” He roughly pulled out his pocket watch, observed the gold casing of it for a moment, and then slipped it back into his waistcoat pocket.
“That grandfather clock that ticks too quickly, you mean?” I questioned.
“Yes.” Ramien smiled. “Horatio here –”
“– was hired to fix it. He was a handyman.”
“Flew from my own country, way up north,” Horatio ranted, stomping along. “Heard that it was of the upmost importance. I told Master Malfoy that it was a lost cause, to just get rid of the thing. There was nothing to be done about it! I checked it over and over myself, tried every trick of the wand. And what did he say to me? He told me that he wouldn’t accept that answer, that I must fix it or else. So I sat around and spat incantations until I was blue in the face, and by then, the snowfall was much too thick for me to fly home. I knew I should have gotten my Apparition license! I just knew it. And then Master told me that this house was not connected to the Floo Network –”
“Which is true,” Wren interceded as we snaked down the last stairway to the same corridor my room was located in. “It’s not.”
“Madness! Every bit of twenty fireplaces, and not a one of them connected to Floo! I’m not much of a broomstick man, myself, but we were out of the powder at home and I had little other choice. All the way from Kincraig, I tell you…”
We all stood still as the noise of apparition reverberated throughout the dead-silent corridor, and I saw the figure of a man right under my doorway, staggering to regain his balance. “He apparated by himself!” Horatio whispered, horrified. “He’s supposed to always be accompanied!”
Lucius held out a hand, quieting him instantly. “I was wondering,” he said, eyes concentrating on empty space next to my ear, “if I might entreat you, once more, to join me downstairs for dinner.”
And with all of the heavy, threatening gazes piercing my skull, there was nothing to reply with except for, “That sounds delightful.”