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Chapter 3 : Act Three, Part One
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Many thanks to those who nominated or voted for Venom as the "Best Short Story" at TGS's Golden Snitch Awards! It's a great honour for this story to have won something. ^_^
Act Three, Part One
Thorn of the Rose
When the night came, it came with chilling depth, the darkness consuming their world beneath its inky cloak. All could not be well for very long. Ambition will take root in the minds of the weak and the hearts of the strong, tearing apart respect and virtue until only power remains. There is no person who can escape the draw of power, her cloying voice and silky words, tempting, corrupting. It does not take long before a new shadow is born, a new excuse to take hold of that precious, beautiful power and start the cycle of history turning once again.
But while history may repeat, it is never in quite the same way. The same story may be written once and again, but each time, one small detail will alter, the teller of the tale will remake the story for a new audience in a new place and a new time.
Eventually, the story becomes new.
“Is that you?”
One shadow spoke to another in the sunken depths of Knockturn Alley, to where only the fallen go when no other portion of the earth’s surface will suffer their presence.
“Why here?” asked the other shadow, voice terse. If they were to be found in this place–
The laugh that emerged is of the sort that brings chills to one’s spine even during the warmest of midsummer days.
The rains had long ceased and a fog had come in from the sea, anchoring over London, filled with the shades of past mistakes and future miscalculations. It swirled around the cloaked figures, at least one of whom was stifled beneath the folds of heavy fabric.
“It’s fun to be clandestine, isn’t it?”
Scorpius knew that this was all part of her game. For two long years he had played along, swept up in her enthusiastic passion as much as he was mystified by her rampant logic. She would act as though she felt so much, every nerve of her body quaking, but when it passed, there was nothing more than that dark glint in her eyes which betrayed no feeling, only thought. Pure, calculating thought.
“Don’t use those big words on me, Rose. They’re useless.”
He often wondered how much she had discovered about him, about the things he did when they were apart and the things running through his mind when they were together. He could play the game as well as she, and one day, he would play it better. Then she would be his.
“You have no sense of adventure. It makes me wonder why I like you at all.”
Her face marked by a childish pout, she ventured into the light, throwing back the hood of her cloak with a defiant toss of her head, spilling red hair like long drips of blood flowing over her shoulders. Her eyes flickered across the alley to see who and what else it contained, but there was only herself and her companion and the refuse that had drifted into forgotten corners. When they flickered back in his direction, the childishness had faded into shadow.
“You know very well that none of my family like you, Scorpius, and they never will after what happened with Bletchley.” She turned to face him, one white hand resting negligently against a wall. “Imagine dredging up all those old ideas, and for what reason?” Her jaw clenched. “And just because you’re a Slytherin, they take you down with them.”
It was an unexpected outburst, to say the least. Scorpius could not help but be impressed by her impassioned words, all very genuine in their feeling, at least for the moment.
“I go down willingly. Don’t forget that.”
Her eyes flared. “It’s difficult to forget when you keep reminding me.”
“You obviously need reminding. Clandestine, indeed.” He gave a little snort and gathered the cloak around him to drift off into the mist. She was in one of her moods again, as tempestuous and changeable as the ocean. Too often he wondered when she would drown him beneath her tempestuous waves.
She followed him, a slender hand grasping at his arm with claw-like fingers.
“That’s what it’s been, Scorpius. The danger is as serious for you, if not more so.”
He stopped, just as she knew he would. “More?”
Rose leaned forward, bringing her lips to his ear. “You are Montague’s best friend. Everyone knows that, and therefore, everyone wants you dead.”
To say that everyone wanted him dead was a slight exaggeration. She was, however, correct that there were a good many who desired the absence of Scorpius Malfoy on a permanent basis, and most of that merry band were Slytherins like him, all green with envy that a blond waif could stand at Montague’s left hand, a fair Lucifer to his lofty lord.
Head bowed, Scorpius thought of these things and smiled at their grand error.
“If we were to be found together–”
Her voice roused him once more.
“We could end it all, Rose. If they found us here, now–”
“They would kill us both.” She paused on the central word, relishing its taste.
“Me, certainly. You? You’re too valuable.” He glanced at her over his shoulder.
“As what? A hostage?” Gleeful laughter emerged with the final word. “They couldn’t catch me, not if there were twenty of them to... what’s the phrase? ‘Take me down?’”
Scorpius closed his eyes, shuddering at the echoes of laughter that rattled through his guilty bones.
Something in his voice sliced her laughter in two. He hesitated for a long moment, drawing out the silence, his ears perked for the sign of any intruder, any spy who could have followed them to this place to overhear this forbidden conversation. He did not like it here; it was not safe enough, not hidden enough, not far enough away from everyone they knew.
“What?” She crossed her arms, pointedly ignoring his misgivings.
He paused to swallow. This was dangerous ground. Once he had spoken, he could never retract these words; they would haunt him for the remainder of his life, if not beyond it. Were anyone but her to hear–
“What if I asked you to come away with me?”
The words hung in the air for some time before she replied, twisting a lock of hair around her finger.
“Come away with you?”
Scorpius nodded, stepping over to the window to glance out one last time before turning to Rose. “Leave England. Forever, if necessary. I can’t stay any longer–”
“Why not?” She stared at him, her face pale, but otherwise without apparent expression.
Of course she would ask. He should have taken greater care with his wording to ensure that her curiosity would not be piqued. As far as she knew, he was still near the top of the shadowy hierarchy that was the Counter Ministry, whispering his strategies into the ears of those who had quickly learned to listen. For all his youth and delicacy of appearance, Scorpius Malfoy could think. Perhaps he was even more skilled at this than Rose, though many would debate it.
“I don’t want to live like this anymore.”
She watched Scorpius, her sharp blue eyes burning holes through flesh and bone, tearing him to the core.
“I won’t leave without Hugo.”
First and foremost of that knowledge was that Rose would do anything for her younger brother. Feed him her last crumbs of bread. Give him her last drink of water. Force into his frail body the last drops of blood from her veins, if it would mean assuring his survival. And if something were to happen to the boy, then... He could not imagine her stopping short of murder. No, she would not balk at killing.
Scorpius had never seen such loyalty before; it was beyond his comprehension. There was no one in the world for which he would do these things. Not even for her. There were limits to a love such as his.
It had constructed obstacles at every turn, forcing his plans down a dangerous road that had, in the end, failed him. His attempts to draw Rose into the shadows had proved fruitless. For all of the darkness that lay within her soul, she revelled too much in the light, too much a creature of the sun and the sky, unable to shrink her being into the dungeons, unwilling to shape herself to his bidding. And when the time had come, she had remained aloof, still high on her balcony, her feet on the ground, but her head in the clouds.
Thus Scorpius had continued into the darkness on his own, without the light that could have guided his path, bringing him something, anything other than this life of bitterness and deceit, a life that failed to satiate his lust for life. He wanted no more of Montague’s great plans, no more of the adults who exploited them all, using their youth and ambition for higher ends. Like fodder the other Slytherins would stand before the cannons, their eyes blinded by the dangled carrots of power and glory.
He had wanted neither power nor glory, only satisfaction. A rare thing, most precious of all, the diamond in the heart of the darkness.
Even now, as he looked upon the face that had, once, given him such joy, he saw her as he would a particularly pleasing portrait. She would, he imagined, be a pre-Raphaelite in a million shades of red. Only a painter could capture the monster that lay behind the mask of petal-soft cheeks and dewy eyes. Her thorns, though hidden, were as sharp as knives and just as deadly.
“Of course. We three will go together.” He summoned a smile, unconvinced that he was making the correct decision. “It’ll be safest for you both.”
She raised a pale eyebrow. “And you?”
Glancing away toward the window, he let out an inelegant snort. “How nice to know that you care.”
“But I do.” She came forward to lay a delicate, freckled hand on his arm, the nails long and painted with blood, perhaps her only visible sign of vanity. How she would run them over his shrinking flesh, leaving lines across his back, even with the most sensitive touch–
“Would I say that I’d come with you if I didn’t want to be with you?” She brought her lips to his ear, standing on the tips of her toes. “What fun we’ve had together!”
He stared past her. “Yes, fun. It’s nearly had us killed a few times.”
A smile bloomed across her moist lips. “No one said we were conventional.”
He remembered all the times that he had smiled back, all of the times that he had relented, placed his whole self into her keeping, knowing that she could only spoil him, but loving her all the same.
Love. Hate. He knew what both felt like, how they tasted when she kissed him, mingling together on his tongue. They were the venom that had poisoned them both for so long, too long. Yet still he wanted her, still wanted to know what it was like to flirt with death, feel its fleeting touch across his brow before tearing himself away for a moment’s respite, a gasp of air before diving back into the sea.
“Even now,” she said, watching him through narrowed eyes. “You want to escape, to change all of this, and that should be boring, but it isn’t. And you know why?” Her teeth glinted in the sallow light as she shifted her body closer to his. “Because if you leave, they will never been satisfied until they can prove that you’re dead.”
Their lips touched, delicately at first, in that same fleeting, teasing dance that had tantalised him from the beginning, since their lips had met upon that balcony so long ago now, a lifetime in the past. Yet how much had things really changed, if the very touch of her could still affect him so, could still bring back the memory of every touch, every kiss, every time that her hair had spread across his pale skin like a pool of blood, their partings in early morning light like a stab to his chest, his heart bleeding out upon the sheets as her fingers ran down the line of his jaw in farewell.
Yes, these were the only right moments of their lives, the moments when they were here, in each other’s arms, warm breath giving life to cold hearts.
“I love you,” he whispered like the wind on the spider’s fine-woven web.
The spider at first shuddered, her body limp against him, as though the effort of love was too great, draining all her embittered strength. His name emerged from her slightly parted lips, a mere sigh against his cheek that shot lightning through his form, giving him the strength she lacked, his muscles tightening around her, crushing her against him.
“They will kill us both, Scorpius.” She breathed the words against his mouth. “They will kill us because of what we are...”
He smiled against her lips and thought of the nightingale.
“And what is that?”
The nightingale flew from its perch into the blinding light of day, much filtered by the damp and fog and gloom that lay its blanket over the monstrous city. Scorpius drew away to look upon the faded shadow of his dreams. Her eyes were the colour of the sea. Her skin tasted of its salt. But all else was light. Fire. The blush of the fevered rose blossomed across her cheeks, especially when she pronounced that final word, his death warrant at the hands of his comrades.
He took her hands in his with a strength that creaked her bones.
“What we had before, don’t you miss it?”
Blue met grey, sea clashing with ocean in violent tumult, eyes drowning in eyes, no air, only the water that drifted around them, everywhere: the war, for so it was, that swamped their youth in misery, the age-old blood feud that lay beyond understanding, always bubbling beneath the surface of history from the moment that the first pureblood thought himself better than those of differing heritage.
Heroes and Dark Lords may perish, but an idea never dies, not as long as it appears in the minds of those who would believe in its truth.
He turned so that he would not have to see her face, his own disappointment reflected in her eyes.
There was a whistle from below. Hugo’s signal. Someone was coming, but Rose had not yet finished.
“I will come with you, Scorpius.” She grasped his arm, pulling at his sleeve. “But don’t imagine that it’s because I love you.”
He stiffened. Perhaps he had selfishly expected that she would still be lost in her passion for him, for the shadows that surrounded his heart, shadows that only she could penetrate. If his affections had waned, it was due to circumstance alone, the coldness of his world freezing the blood in his veins. The world would not let him forget that he, beneath his sunken eyes and blue-tinged flesh, was the scorpion, his tail, filled with the poison of hatred, poised to strike all who obstructed his path, be they friend or enemy. He could run and run forever, but never could he escape who he was, what the world had made him.
“Is it for Hugo, then?” he rasped, face flushing as jealousy surged through every nerve. That he should be used to protect that worthless, weak-hearted fool–
She shook her head, but when she leaned toward him, she failed to reveal the truth.
“Tomorrow. In the other place. Be ready for our escape.”
Then she was gone, the ragged curtain in the doorway drifting back in place as though merely a stray breeze had shifted it. There were her footprints in the dust, the remembrance of her touch on his arm, the sound of her voice in his ear, but nothing more.
He blinked, head reeling. She could still affect him, it seemed. He could hardly believe it, but for the heavy beating of his heart in a cavity he had come to believe had grown hollow with the manipulation, the cruelty, the killing. If only she had known all of the things he had done these past years, then she would understand what it meant to hate. She would hate him.
He would ensure, with all of his power, that such a thing would never happen.
“You’ve been seeing her still, Malfoy. I know it.”
There was a chill in the air, and not from the open window through which the summer sun gleamed, a gentle breeze wafting against Malfoy’s face. He kept his back to the room, refusing to acknowledge Zabini’s accusation, knowing that Montague would exonerate him, however undeserved such protection was.
“He’s kept her from her family’s side, at least. Her brother, too,” Montague drawled, right on cue. “Every less Weasley they have is another victory for us.”
“The only good Weasley’s a dead one.” Zabini hit his fist on Montague’s desk.
Montague’s laughter made Malfoy cringe. It echoed off the walls, the floor, the ceiling, through every inch of his beleaguered, guilty brain.
“But what would be the fun in that? We wouldn’t have anyone to fight.”
The words struck Malfoy too deeply. He could imagine them spoken by a voice of higher-pitch, the syllables bouncing from her rose-red lips as her laughing eyes echoed the sick sentiment of pleasure gained from another’s pain. It was not the first time in which he had listened to his cousin and heard the thoughts from her mind pouring forth. They were so much alike; it confused his weary mind.
Zabini had joined Montague’s laughter, and Malfoy wished that he could hold his hands over his ears against the din, but then they would know his heart, they would see past the cloak of shadows behind which he hid his shrivelled soul.
“What’s wrong with you, Malfoy?” Zabini came toward him, but Montague’s voice rang out in time.
“He’s tired. Overworked. Too many great plans running through that brain of his.”
“Plans, or the thought of that Weasley girl’s–”
“Piss off, Zabini.” Malfoy snapped at each syllable, echoing the sound of his namesake’s claws rattling their displeasure. “Your presence in this room makes it hard to think intelligently.”
He hadn’t bothered to turn away from the window, and from behind him, he heard a rustle of fabric that signalled the removal of a wand. He half-expected to feel it poking into his spine, or worse, to feel a curse shatter his nerves.
“Leave him, Zabini.”
No one could ever be certain why one such as Montague, with his bulk and troll-like face, could intimidate with the merest intonation of his voice, the slightest emphasis on one syllable over another, no iota of strength spent on towering over his victims and allies. His sharp, black eyes burned out from his pasty, dull face as though he wore a mask over the chiselled charm of the young Tom Riddle.
All that they knew was that, when he spoke, they would listen. Should listen. All they could do was listen.
Zabini shut the door behind him with a snap that voiced his dissension.
It was the only way that it could be achieved. Voices were meaningless. Opinions were dangerous, if not fatal. Thinking was bad enough, but to think against? Inconceivable.
“You’re walking a fine line, Scorpius.”
Malfoy closed his eyes, leaning back his head as though to take in the rays from the sun, a sun that had not shone in so long. He could remember its warmth. He could remember warmth. It was only a memory, and what was that? It seemed meaningless to everyone in this world but him. The different one. The one who remembered. The one who still knew what it meant to feel.
“Don’t speak of things that don’t concern you, cousin.”
“How doesn’t it concern me?” There was a long, painfully measured pause. “I need to know whether I can still trust you.”
Malfoy let out a bark of a laugh, turning at last, a desperate glint in his eyes.
“It’s best that you don’t. Not anymore. Not ever.”
He began to make his way toward the door, thin shoulders set, power in every step.
Montague leaned against the desk with crossed arms, his bland features arranged into the most perfect of indifferent masks. Nothing about his manner revealed a single hint of surprise, disappointment, anger, anything at all.
“So that’s it? You think you can walk out of here without any of them killing you?”
Malfoy halted, glancing back over his shoulder, the glint in his eye fading.
“Only if you tell them to, Dorian. They’ll do your bidding, and only that.”
This time, Montague’s laugh was not grating. Its depth was chilling. Finally, one could catch a glimpse of what he was behind that terrible mask, of the more terrifying soul that lay within this wizard, still young by many standards. It was his youth that made him strong, made him the brightest chess piece on the board.
Not the weak, passive king who could move only one space here, one space there, his lone purpose to await capture.
As incongruous as the image may be, it was Montague who was the queen. He was everywhere across the board, knowing each square, each opponent and ally, every move that had been and was to come.
Except for this. He had not foreseen the door shutting behind Malfoy’s white head, casting a shadow that transformed him into black.
The white knight turned black.
He should have seen it, should have known that, one day, his cousin’s heart, grasped in the hands of the black rose, would cause the ruin of them all.
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