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Chapter 1 : Christmas in Prison
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her name's on my tongue and her blood's in my stream
The girl living in his cellar was a ghost. That he was certain of.
When Wormtail was busy, the job of looking after the ghosts went to him. Of course, they weren’t real ghosts. Real ghosts would have been able to slip through the walls of the cellar in an instant and would have fled Malfoy Manor for good some weeks ago. She couldn’t, and neither could the old man she shared her prison with. He knew that she’d tried, though, by the bloodied hands she had a habit of hiding behind her back.
He was trying too. He knew that he was an altogether different class, possibly even a different species from the filth in the cellar, but he also knew that he craved escape just as much as the ghosts did. In those long, lonely nights over Christmas, he often sat in his room and stared at the latch on the window, wondering how many curses it would take to break it open, and from then how many hours it would take for his mother to notice he was gone. From there, it became a matter of how many days he would survive on his own out there.
The more he thought about it, the more those days became hours, and then minutes.
He knew that, first, he’d have to break the spell on the manor itself. Then cross the grounds, which were woven with spells and patrolled by lesser sorts. Then, the gates – he would get through them fine, the mark on his arm was, for once, a gift rather than a curse – and then the countryside beyond, which, as far as he knew, was free.
And where from there? Snatchers, most likely. He’d have to go in disguise. If he didn’t, they’d bring him straight back. If he did, though, they’d be likely to kill on sight. He’d seen the victims. Some of them still lingered in the backs of his eyes, there when he blinked, there in his dreams along with the ghosts. Their screams still seemed to echo in the shattered furniture of the drawing room; their lives still seemed to sing from the dark stains of the dining room floor. When he passed smashed mirrors in the hallways, the shards seemed to blink at him.
His father laughed it off, a crystal wine glass grasped tightly in one hand. His mother was a mute, but her eyes did all the talking. She barely made eye contact for this reason, preferring instead to shuffle along with her gaze fixed on the floor as if inspecting the carpets for sudden dust. He wouldn’t have spoken to them about it even if he could. He couldn’t trust them. He couldn’t trust anybody. Somehow word would get around, and inevitably he would be the next stain on the rug in front of the fireplace.
This was why he reminded himself of how lucky he was to be a Malfoy and not a splinter of a creature in a cellar.
It had all started quite by accident.
Early one January morning he was staring at the spindly frost on the kitchen windows when he heard footsteps. He did his best to blend in with the dead trees around him, nudging the snow on the ground with the toe of his shoe. He was hiding from his father. The kitchen door banged open and two men appeared; he recognised them as Avery and Nott. Neither seemed to see him, poorly hidden behind the skeletal branches, and leant against the wall. Nott pulled a pipe from his pocket and lit it with the tip of his wand.
‘I don’t know what came over me,’ Avery was saying. ‘I just couldn’t do it.’
Nott took the pipe from his mouth and exhaled a plume of lilac smoke. ‘What was it?’
‘It’s Mrs Lestrange. There’s this bloke – y’know The Quibbler?’
‘Yeah. Getting very pro-Potter. Edited by some blood traitor filth, getting very vocal about supporting the order – all that rubbish. They took his daughter, right, and she’s here, banged up – apparently a pureblood, right? So they’re not killing her, not yet anyway. Mrs Lestrange just wants her roughed up a bit so her pa will stop printing. But then they found out she’s apparently a big friend of Potter-’
‘I know. So they’ve been asking her all sorts. But she won’t talk. So they got me in to try and persuade her.’
Nott let out a low laugh. ‘It’s your expertise, right?’
‘I suppose. So I went in, just thinking it’d be like it always is, right? You just go in, few curses, throw them about a bit – they always talk in the end. But I went in, like I always do – and there’s just this little girl there. Tiny. Waif of a thing. A child.’
‘I’m not. She must have been about twelve, thirteen? Got these huge blue eyes, and she just stared at me. Didn’t say a word. Usually they’re a wreck by that point, but she hardly even blinked. And it got me thinking of my own daughter, and I just…’
‘You didn’t do it?’
‘No, of course I did. What do you think? I’m not going soft. That’s how you get killed.’
‘Did she talk?’
There was a silence. Avery seemed to be thinking.
‘No,’ he said, finally. ‘She didn’t. Weird one.’
‘And what happened to you?’
‘Not much,’ Avery said evasively. ‘Mrs Lestrange flipped, though-’
The two men lapsed into silence again. A minute passed, and then they left.
Wormtail was away, so the job of taking food and water to the prisoners went to him that afternoon. His mother coaxed him into carrying the tray – he was frightened by what he’d heard in the garden that morning, knowing all too well how good Avery was with his fists – and he descended the stairs at about half past three, trembling fingers making the water jug rattle against a pewter plate onto which two torn chunks of bread had been thrown.
He unlocked the barred door and crossed the threshold, balancing the tray in the crook of his elbow. Against the facing wall the two prisoners sat hunched over the candle flame, their inquiring faces turned in his direction. He couldn’t meet the eyes of the old man who’d once sold him his wand, so instead his gaze flickered to the girl. He was accustomed to her strange eyes by now, but not to the vivid bruise that circled the left one, the tears that had pooled in the corners, the way she held one arm across her chest awkwardly, a cut bright and angry on her cheek – he turned away quickly and dumped the tray on the floor. The two prisoners turned back to each other and continued their conversation in hurried whispers. He strained to hear them, hoping to pick up some fragment of an escape plan he could relay back to his Aunt.
‘Does it hurt?’ the old man asked.
‘Yes. Lots,’ the girl said, her voice little more than whispered scraps.
‘Can you move it?’
He heard her gasping in pain as he turned back to the door, unlocking it as quickly as he dared. He felt the prisoners turn their eyes back to him, the rattling of the lock loud and echoing in the cellar. He was tempted to turn and glare, demand to know what they were looking at – after all, he was superior to them in every way. Instead, he let himself out of the cellar and locked the door again, trying to ignore the whispers that now seemed so loud, whispers he no longer strained to hear.
‘I think it’s – it’s broken, Mr Ollivander…’
‘I’m afraid it does look bad.’
‘Do you – do you think they might fix it? It hurts…it hurts so much…’
He didn’t need to listen more to know that the answer would always be no.
After a week, he surmised that the girl probably wasn’t human.
In a seven days he must have visited the cellar at least ten times; Wormtail had a habit of skiving his duties. He had a routine; he’d descend the steps, unlock the door, put the tray down, lock the door again, and leave. Each time the two prisoners would glance up at him; quite often one slept while the other kept a vigil near the door. He only ever saw their faces; it was dark in the cellar, and the light of the guttering candle didn’t even reach into the hollows of their eyes. He saw only the vague contours of cheekbones and the cracked skin of ash-pale lips.
Meanwhile, life in the manor above went on much in the way that it always did. He rose at six, usually having slept very little, and wasted away his morning in the grounds or in the library, jumping at footsteps and shadows. He usually ate lunch with his mother in the kitchen, ignoring whatever racket his Aunt was making in the drawing room or ballroom. In the afternoon, when the house was quiet and empty, he sometimes took a detour into these rooms, although never for long. If his Aunt was visiting with important guests, he was usually invited – no, coerced was a more suitable word – to help her in her tireless crusade, or merely to watch. If this was the case, as it usually was, he often found himself in one of the less ornate of the seven bathrooms in the evening, watching the water in the sink bloom with gaudy scarlet flowers. Then, from about eight in the evening onwards, he usually stayed in his room. Whatever went on in the afternoons at Malfoy Manor was nothing compared to what went on at night.
It had been like this at Hogwarts. His dormitory in the Dungeons was well-placed for a Prefect; it was his duty to attend and aid with detentions. Even when he wasn’t present, he could still hear everything from the Slytherin Common room, Pansy sitting stiff-backed like a statue at his side. They never spoke about it, but he caught her eye sometimes in the middle of detention duty and knew she felt the same. It was the same slight curve at the edges of the lips, the shining eyes – neither of them wanted to be there, but neither of them wanted the alternative either.
The fourth visit to the cellar was a little different. He couldn’t remember his walk down the stairs, nor depositing the tray on the floor. He remembered her instead. She filled his thoughts, filled his head to the point that everything else from that moment was pushed out, forgotten.
That was the perfect word. He didn’t know her name, but he’d heard her called Loony by his Aunt. Loony didn’t quite suit her though. She was ethereal. Serene. Not Loony at all. An oasis of calm in living hell – but that was exactly what made her so odd.
She stood by the door. The spindly fingers of her good arm wrapped themselves absently around the metal bars. He remembered that the knuckles were stark red and scratched as if she’d been fighting. Her eyes were black, hidden in shadows and bruises, two tiny keyholes of reflected candlelight dancing on the surface. Her free arm hung in a sling, crudely made from what looked like the jumper she’d been wearing. She did not shiver with the cold as he did, but stared. Stared, and stared, and stared.
He was caught.
When she opened her mouth to speak, he scarcely believed it was her voice.
‘What time is it, please?’
It was cracked with pain, hoarse with disuse, but it still held some light, airy quality, a lilting accent putting new meaning to the words. It sounded like she’d just woken from a fantastic dream into and ugly reality.
He couldn’t start on anything else – the straggly hair, the strange clothes – those were all unimportant. It was her eyes. They terrified him.
‘I don’t know.’
His voice was a hoarser whisper than hers. She looked away, the spell was broken, and then somehow he managed to walk back upstairs without once looking over his shoulder, although he could feel her eyes like searchlights on the back of his head. When he went back down the next day they changed; now they were dim; dying candles.
Aside from asking him the time (it seemed to be an obsession of hers) the girl (or ghost) was a mute. She would not speak to his Aunt, Avery, Nott, or any of the others reputed to be good at questioning – even, rumour had it, threat of the Dark Lord himself had not brought a single word to her lips.
For this, he didn’t know whether to fear or admire her.
Tuesday. Raining outside. Christmas rarely brought snow these days. His Aunt had drawn the curtains against the weather, but the slit of sky between them occasionally flashed with lightning.
He was tired. He closed his eyes, and opened them again; midnight, and the drawing room was dark. Deserted. The house breathed and settled into the night above him, but he knew it was empty. His feet moved mechanically and took him to the basement.
The door unlocked with a single spell. She was waiting. Without a word, he took her upstairs – Ollivander followed, little more than a blur in his peripheral vision. Through the drawing room, through to the kitchen, walking on the razor edge of the shadows – moonlight settled on her shoulders like a fine cloak.
He opened the door, and out they went into the garden. She slipped out like a scrap of air, bare feet pale, bright red at the toes where frost had bitten them. In the moonlight, she was monochrome. A breath of wind caught her hair, sending it up into the air, and she looked less substantial than a ghost.
He waited by the door, holding his breath, hardly daring to blink. He expected her to run, and he also expected that he wouldn’t be able to stop her.
But instead, she stood.
He’d never seen a smile so small, yet so obvious. It traced across her lips like a crack, only the breadth of a single hair or a snip of the wind – and yet it still let all the light through, all the light he knew she’d kept inside her. The light of a soul.
Her eyes, more dead than anything these days, glinted with moonlight. Her skin seemed statue-pale; for a moment he was convinced she was made of stone. And when she came closer, closer still, and her statue lips fixed on his, he was surprised by how warm they were, how soft.
And when he woke, he was convinced that it had been real.
At the top of the staircase he felt for sure he was about to faint. He’d taken his chance at around eleven at night, when the mansion was empty save for his mother, his father, and himself. His father had locked himself into the study, perhaps having seen the state of the drawing room with sober eyes for the first time, and his mother had announced she was going to draw a bath. He had an hour at most, half an hour if he was being pragmatic – but it was best to be safe and only stay for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes at most. Of course, if he was being truly pragmatic, truly sensible, he would not go at all.
In one damp hand he held a potion bottle; in the other his wand. In his head the page of a practical healing textbook had been memorised. He’d fixed injuries before, of course, having been on a Quidditch team – although he hadn’t played in so long he might have forgotten everything he’d learnt. He’d fixed a broken finger of Pansy’s once in a holiday in France, and he’d always been good at cleaning up minor wounds. The last six months had been good enough practise.
But broken arms? No. It was the only way, though. It was the only way he could consider himself free.
He hadn’t slept all night for thinking about it. His route, how he would take the potion without his mother noticing. When he would find the chance to visit the cellar. He urged himself to be calm. He visualised it; how he would walk, composed, down those cellar steps, stride in and have the whole thing over in five minutes, then leave without a trace, and his conscience would be free forever.
At the top of the staircase his mind went blank.
His hands shook. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears. The potion bottle slipped from his grasp; he fumbled for it, but it smashed to the floor a second later.
The crash echoed around the entrance hall and up the stairs. He froze for a second, crouched to the floor with a hand hovering over the mess. A thud came from upstairs. He couldn’t breathe. Then there was silence.
‘R-reparo,’ he muttered, pointing to the broken bottle. It leapt into the air and the shards came together, the potion left trickling down the stairs. He swore, trying to siphon it back into the newly-repaired bottle – about half of the liquid, now mixed with dust and mud, returned – but then a flash of something white caught the corner of his eye and he jumped up, clutching the bottle to his chest.
It was the girl. Loony. He still didn’t know her real name. One of her spindly hands clutched at the bars of the cellar door, the other arm held in that awkward position across her chest. The bruise on her eye had faded since he’d last seen her. She looked gaunt, flimsy, as if a breath might knock her to the floor. He placed a finger against his mouth, jerking his head from side to side. Her eyes followed him as he descended the stairs.
‘What time is it?’ she said. He didn’t respond, and she stood back as he unlocked the door with trembling hands. Once inside, he shut it behind him and locked it again. Why did she always want to know the time?
She looked expectantly at his arms for the tray, frowning when she did not see it. He’d forgotten that Wormtail was away; in his tortuous planning, he’d forgotten to feed the prisoners. Instead, her eyes fixed on the bottle – clearly labelled Skele-gro – and widened.
‘Shut up, please?’ he whispered. ‘I don’t – I only have fifteen minutes.’
‘For what?’ she breathed back.
He handed her the potion without a word, his shaking hands making the loose stopper ring against the glass neck of the bottle. The girl took the bottle from him in her spare hand and clamped a finger over the stopper, the sound cut off at once. Her eyes searched his face; she looked frightened for the first time.
‘Are you trying to poison me?’ she murmured.
As if she should suspect him! For a moment he forgot his shaking hands; he was annoyed.
‘Why would I poison you?’ he demanded, forgetting to keep his voice down for a moment.
‘You all want me dead,’ she barely moved her lips when she spoke; her words could have been his imagination. ‘I thought this was coming. I had a dream that-’
‘It’s not poison,’ he snapped. ‘It’s Skele-gro. For your arm. I’m doing you a favour.’
She didn’t move.
‘Fine. I’ll take it back-’
‘No,’ she said quickly. ‘I’ll drink it right away.’
His hands had started to shake again. He had to be quick, much quicker than this. He was wasting time. Gripping her by the elbow of her good arm, he steered her past the sleeping form of Ollivander, out of sight of the door and the guttering beam of the candle. They stood in pitch blackness until he lit his wand, kneeling on the floor – she copied him, already tugging at the knot of her makeshift sling.
‘Are you really helping me?’ she murmured.
He nodded stiffly, pulling her broken arm towards him – she winced, and he held up a hand for silence again. The sleeve had been rolled back to the elbow; a painful ring of bruises around the wrist had only just begun to fade.
‘I have a broken finger too,’ she said, matter-of-factly. ‘But you can fix that easily, the spell is ‘Episkey’-’
‘I know what the spell is,’ he snarled. ‘I’m not thick.’
He started with the finger. Her ring finger, he noticed vaguely, wondering if they’d taken a ring from her amongst the other things they must have confiscated. The spell was quick; she winced again and pulled her hand away, flexing the finger with apparent awe, her wide eyes fixed on it.
‘Come on,’ he pleaded, snatching her arm back. ‘I don’t have much time.’
The bruises and cuts would take longer to clean up. She sat back against the cellar wall, scrutinising him with her strange eyes while he worked, frantically, with the pastes and plasters he’d stowed in his pockets.
‘I wonder why you’re here,’ she said, after a moment. ‘Nobody usually stays this long. It’s usually that horrid man-’
‘Him. Yes. He usually just throws things on the floor, and he often calls us names – he calls me ‘Loony’ sometimes, but usually something worse. It’s nice having you, you don’t do that.’
His blood went cold for a second. What if this girl – this mute - chose to speak for a change, perhaps to his Aunt?
‘Oh, don’t worry,’ she said, as if sensing his thoughts. ‘I won’t say anything. Nobody would want to hear, anyway, I thought they’d forgotten us by now. When Harry comes along, though, I’ll tell him you’ve been-’
‘Don’t tell anyone!’ he snapped. She winced again, and he realised a moment too late that he’d been gripping her wrist too tightly, his ragged nails printing little crescent moons on her skin.
‘I’ve kind of been expecting this for a while,’ she continued, her voice hushed. ‘Although I didn’t know what, I just knew you were going to do something. For a while I honestly thought they might send you to kill me; I’ve heard them talking, they say I’m worthless and you’re only fit to deal with the worthless people-’
Somehow these words did not affect him.
‘-but I had this dream and I’ve been trying to figure you out ever since. But you don’t like to look at me, I can tell, so I haven’t had a chance. I’ve had lots of dreams down here.’ She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially; ‘I think it’s the Wrackspurts.’
He stopped his work for a moment, even forgetting his shaking hands.
‘You are a Loony,’ he said, wishing instantly that he’d dismissed his silly plan and stayed locked up in his room as he usually did.
‘My name is Luna, actually,’ she said brightly. ‘But everyone forgets that.’
‘You don’t half talk.’
‘It’s nice having someone to talk to.’
He didn’t dare bandage her arm; that would just give it away if anyone saw her. Instead, he tied the jumper back into a sling – she lifted her birds’-nest hair to oblige – and then lifted the stopper from the Skele-gro, pressing it into her hand.
‘Come on. Drink it.’
She – Loony or Luna or whatever she was – did as she was told.
‘Ooh, that tastes horrible,’ she grimaced, then switched topic immediately. ‘Harry can help you.’
‘I don’t want Potter’s help.’
‘You do. Professor Dumbledore may be gone, but-’
‘I don’t want help.’
Of course he didn’t. He would do anything to get out of the Manor, but it was not a new allegiance he wanted, not a life on the run – he wanted life back to the way it was.
‘It’s all for the best, Draco-’
He snapped out of his thoughts at once; ‘how do you know my name?’
‘I didn’t,’ she said, with a hint of a smile. ‘It was a guess. But night after night, people go past the stairs, and they always talk about the Malfoys, and – well, it sounded like you. Besides, I’ve heard Harry talking about you-’
‘-I just had to put a face to the name. I’m a Lovegood, by the way, my family’s ancient, technically I’m a pureblood too-’
‘What does that even matter?’ he said, in spite of himself. ‘You’re still filth.’
She smiled at these words as if he’d made a trivial, mildly amusing comment. ‘You’re better than the whole lot put together. Better than this. That’s what I think, anyway.’
Of course he was better than this.
‘I think you should try it.’
She smiled again, one hand going to her arm – obviously, the potion had started to work. ‘Getting out. Getting away from here. I know you want to, I can see it in your eyes. You really don’t want to be here.’
Somehow, her vocalising his thoughts made them all the more unsettling. He stood. At once, she threw her arms forward, grasping his wrists – she let out a cry of pain as her healing arm flew out of its makeshift sling, and bit her lip to stifle it. Her fingers kept an iron grip around his wrists.
‘No. There must be a way. A way out. I had a dream you got out. I don’t know how. It’s this place. Must be Wrackspurts. I’d like it if you got out. You could send someone for us.’
The dreamy quality of her voice was slipping; she sounded desperate, her words breaking into splinters the more she spoke. The way she said the word Wrackspurt – he noticed – was different too. Somehow that changed the whole meaning of her mind to him.
I know, he thought. I’ve been having dreams too. About getting out.
Instead, he remained silent.
‘Please,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t care how, but I had this one dream about a fire – the spell’s Incendio and I heard that if you think really hard about escaping you can get away and you can do anything, it’s this thing called the subconscious and it’s in a book I read – I’d like to read it again, would you let me out? And I bet I missed Christmas this year and I do like the snow so much and we really could help you, we really could. It’d be so easy and you can’t let us die – didn’t he sell you your wand?’ she added, tripping over her words in desperation. ‘Look, Draco-’ she pulled on his wrists, made him turn towards Ollivander, asleep in the corner. ‘You can’t kill him with the wand he gave you, Draco, it’s just not right and I bet he made the wand your parents have too and your aunt and everyone…’
‘I can’t. I can’t kill.’
It had never been harder to speak. His eyes started to burn, his lungs sealed and his fingers shook, and he found himself drawing away from her, snatching his hands from her grasp and scrambling for the door. And, just like that, the desperation seemed to leave her and it was like his dream again – that hairline crack of a smile, the way it seemed to shine in the darkness – just a glimmer, just a tiny, silver gleam of hope.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘Harry will come.’
His fingers fixed on the lock and he was hurrying up the stairs, but-
Her whisper froze him.
‘You didn’t lock the door.’
He turned back. She had never looked so human as she had then, standing once more at the barred door with her wide eyes and tiny crack of a smile. No longer a ghost. No longer a splinter of a creature, but something whole, something bright.
A moment took a century to pass. Her smile faltered. Silence settled over the scene like thick dust, then was scattered - the lock turned and shut her out of his mind, his dreams, for good.
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