Chapter 27 : Twenty-seven.
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I sat up quickly and called out, struggling to remember events from that morning - if it had even been that morning. I remembered killing Anthony Featherby, and talking to Scorpius and then an Auror had been chasing me. I had been rescued. I had been saved.
And then the memory of Atticus Debole’s cold, grey eyes slammed into my mind, and I grappled with the sheets and blankets, falling ungainly out of bed in my hurry to get away. He was probably going to try and kill me now, just as they had forced me to kill Copperfield. I eyed the glass of water on the table suspiciously, and the basket of fruit. Poison seemed to be their best option.
I tried the handle of the door, but obviously it was locked. My jacket was nowhere to be seen, and my wand had been in it. Searching my pockets – I was still wearing my jeans and t-shirt from the morning – I attempted to look for anything that would help, that would get me out of this situation. Nothing. They had taken the file too.
I looked around the room, checking whether the window was open (it wasn’t). I searched the wardrobe and the chest of drawers, but there was nothing inside. There were no loose floorboards and the walls were bare, aside from a couple of paintings.
There was a photograph of Atticus Debole and a young woman and child on top of the drawers. He didn’t have his scar, and he was handsome. The woman was pretty, with long, flowing brown hair and a round face. The little baby had ringlets and the two adults grinned as she giggled and chuckled happily. It was strange, seeing Atticus in some sort of personal situation. He looked at ease in the photograph. He looked different. I had spent too long with him in dark, underground corridors and in the shadows of the night, discussing things like murder and technique and motive. He was too professional, too involved in what he was doing, to have a family. It didn’t suit him.
He looked happy in the photograph.
He could look murderous. He would lock me up in this room and then come and find me later, perhaps at night, when the neighbours were asleep. There would be no witnesses.
Glancing once again at the photograph, I turned and returned to the bed. I was very tired and my bones and muscles ached from the morning or yesterday or how ever long ago it was. I wondered whether Higgins had actually begun to suspect me, or whether Scorpius had returned to my room at Diagon Alley to try and talk to me. He would realise that I was missing, surely, and then people would be searching for me and I would eventually be found, lying face down on the river bank, my skin pale and blotchy from the water, my eyes blank and empty.
I wondered what Lysander would do then.
I heard footsteps on the stairs and lay down quickly, pretending to be asleep. Someone whispered a spell, and the door clicked open. A stench of sweat and cigarette smoke filtered into the room and I lay rigid, hardly breathing, as someone looked at me from the doorway. The bed creaked as they moved towards me and I imagined them producing their wand, or a knife, or a small vial and I imagined the pain.
“She’s still asleep,” the person called downstairs. It wasn’t Atticus, but it was another man – the voice was low and rough, the footsteps heavy. He crept towards my bed, and I heard a swallowing sound as he drank from the water glass. I heard a muffled reply from below, and the man retreated and the door closed. I could finally breathe, and moved around in my bed, glancing at my half empty water glass - I wasn’t being poisoned. I popped a grape into my mouth, and suddenly felt very lethargic. My eyes couldn’t stay open, and I yawned hugely, my muscles still aching. I fell back onto my pillows, and returned to sleep.
When I woke for the second time, it was dark outside and the orange light from the streetlamps spilt into the room. I lifted my head slightly off the pillow, glancing at the fruit bowl – obviously they had been drugged, and now I really had no idea what time it was. I turned around, and froze when I realised there was someone else in the room.
Atticus Debole was sitting in the old armchair, the photograph from the dresser in his hands, the light from the window spilling onto his face. It was silent. No sound came from the empty street outside or from the rest of the house. I looked at Atticus, staying completely still. He wasn’t dressed in sweeping expensive robes as he usually was and instead he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He had scars on his arms as well. His usually neat hair was all over his face.
Tears glistened on his cheeks and I looked away, away from the obviously private moment.
He was going to kill me.
There was a soft clunk of wood on wood as Atticus set the photo down on the dresser. I squeezed my eyes shut as I tried to feign sleep again, but I could suddenly feel his breath on my face and the scream of the bed springs as he leant over me.
“Dominique,” he said quietly, “you’re not breathing.”
I opened my eyes. There was a single, silent moment.
I leapt into action. I twisted around, grabbing the water glass from the bedside table and smashing it hard into the wood. I pushed Atticus into the bed, the jagged glass edge at his throat.
“You were going to kill me,” I said quickly as Atticus struggled against me.
He had his hands around my wrists, trying to push them away from him. I pulled one hand swiftly out of his grip and wrapped my fingers around his throat, the broken glass dangerously close to his pulsing veins. He tried to move, but I hit him around the face, forcing him further into the pillows.
“Dominique… I don’t…”
There was a thud of footsteps on the stairs and soon the door was flying open, and Debole’s colleague was holding his wand. Suddenly I was being thrown across the room. I crashed into the wall, the painting falling to the floor, ache and pain spreading along my back and shoulders. Atticus stepped up from the bed and wiped at the trickle of blood seeping out of his nose.
The other man picked up his wand, aimed it at me and a jet of red light hitting the wall just above my left shoulder and leaving a black burn mark. Atticus sat up immediately his arms wrapped around the other man, trying to pull him back.
But the man was gripping onto my arms, my skin growing paler and more painful with the pressure. His eyes were bright, his teeth snarling, flecks of spit dancing around his mouth. He looked like the monster I had become. His breath was foul. His grip grew tighter.
"Dmitri!" And suddenly the pressure was gone and Atticus' face swam in front of my eyes. His skin looked smooth in the early morning orange light, free of the scars that stopped him from being beautiful. Dmitri stood up and left, shutting the door and soon the room was doused in silence.
"You're going to kill me." I said.
"What gave you that idea?" Atticus asked quietly, eyes downcast.
"You followed me,” I began, and my voice croaked and squeaked dangerously. I suddenly felt very tired again. "You kidnapped me, you drugged me, your little friend just tried to attack me..."
"You tried to attack me. Who’s to say that you're not trying to kill me?"
Another silence and I rested my head against the wall. My shoulders, neck and head ached, and I tried to stand up. Atticus put out a hand to stop me. His eye was already swelling and at this close distance, his scar seemed to be throbbing, pulsing.
I knew I should be trying to escape, at least trying to move, rather than sitting here, my head pounding and staring at Atticus as he wiped his face free of the blood that I had drawn. I felt oddly at ease, quietly comfortable, like I could fall asleep at any moment.
“Is that you?” I began, gesturing at the photo frame on top of the dresser. “Is that you in that photo?”
“And who are you with?” Silence again. A flicker of emotions passed across Atticus’ face and again I felt a pang of sadness for the man, stuck here in some god-forsaken cottage with only Dmitri and the night for company. Seeing me, kidnapping me and eventually killing me was probably the most exciting thing to happen to him the past week.
“My wife and my daughter.” They had looked beautiful together.
“I’d love to meet them.”
“Did you kill them too?” I joked, but immediately knew it was a bad idea. Atticus had finally lifted his eyes to mine, and I couldn’t look away. Even his left eye – white and clouded, blank, destroyed by the thin red scar running down his face – showed so much grief and sadness that I wanted to move across the room and hug him as if I wasn’t so poor at comforting people and saying the right thing.
I almost expected the next words to come out of his mouth.
“They were murdered.”
“Then I know how you feel.”
My jaw clenched and a flurry of anger burst inside of me, but almost immediately I felt guilty – I had no right to suggest that my grief or despair was worse than this, even though it felt like it. Again, I recalled the image of Lorcan lying in a puddle of his own congealing blood, his blank eyes staring. It started replaying over and over, as if I couldn’t think of anything else. The only reprieve I had was looking at Atticus’ ashen face; watching his eyes closing as he leant against the wall, noticing the slight clench of his knuckles.
“Don’t talk about…”
“We were attacked. It’s where I got this.” I watched as he traced the skin running his face. “They were barely breathing by the end. I got off lightly, apparently.”
I didn’t want him to do this. I didn’t want to listen to him as he started his sinister soliloquy before he killed me. Maybe it was some sort of ritual, some fake story to unsettle people and make them nervous before he took the last blow. I refused to listen to him.
I tried to think of anything else. Lorcan, covered in blood and his hand clamped in mine. Rose, white-faced and silent, bones broken. Scorpius, the breath leaving his body, his eyes blank. Lysander. I tried to picture something else, look at something else, apart from the hypnotic movements of Atticus’ lips as he told his story.
He was telling me about the hospital; the months they waited for a sign of life. How small his daughter had looked in the vast white bed, how the rosiness and the life had left her cheeks. And his wife; how she was still beautiful to him. Beautiful to him for no other reason than her chest still rose and fell to show that she was breathing.
Did his victims always feel this bad? This guilty? As if their suffering was nothing in comparison to his? I was certain that once I had been able to form coherent thoughts, but now it was as if my brain had been infused with a static that wouldn't cease.
“Stop it,” I murmured, but he continued. His knuckles were white now, and his eyes alight. A vein throbbed threateningly in his temple. He explained the pain he endured as they waited, as the healers failed to do anything, as the countless medicines and therapies had done nothing.
As the white noise in my head finally began to die down, as the light of morning drowned the orange glare of the streetlamps, as Atticus’ voice slowed and cracked, as his story ended, I felt my senses and my thoughts return to me. The picture of Lysander, suspended in darkness with his eyes wide and his mouth screaming as water flowed into his lungs, dissipated.
“They died. They were murdered.”
“You’ll murder me,” I said, and my voice felt unsure and unnatural.
“I won’t,” he said, with a wry smile and a small chuckle. I rearranged myself, prepared myself, as if I could dodge a curse from this close distance. Atticus noticed my change in stance. “I’m not going to kill you.”
“What was that sob story for? Was it to freak me out? Distract me from the obvious fact that you must have some sort of weapon hidden in the room? Or did I stop you half way through? Were you midway through some massive monologue about how you and your crazy father are going to take over the world with red carnations and an enormous body count?”
I was verging on hysterical, but Atticus just sat opposite me, his eyes averted, tracing patterns on the floorboards. He looked so young, and a smile graced his features. He looked more like the man in the photograph. And when he finally lifted his eyes to mine, it was almost as if the scars had left his face, that he was handsome and happy man.
The vision lasted only a second.
“It was true.”
“I’m sorry.” My over-emotional speech seemed stupid now, seemed immature and childish, and so did my ideas that Atticus was out to kill me. I felt guilty at the self-centered way I had thought that his story was somehow about me, about how it would upset and disturb me, with no thought as to how Atticus must be feeling.
“Of course you are,” his voice was calm and quietly sarcastic, “what reason would you have to believe or trust me?”
“I don’t trust anyone anymore.”
“How indiscriminate of you.”
“I mean it.”
Atticus laughed again. His black eye was now swelling. “You’re being stupid, Dominique. Surely there’s someone you rely on and confide in.”
I trusted Lorcan, and then he died. I trusted Rose, until she made the wrong decision. I trusted Scorpius, until he asked me to kill someone. Lysander. Lysander I had trusted completely and utterly until he left me but when he returned to me, I felt I could begin to depend on him again. And then I ruined it.
“Didn’t you trust us? In the beginning?”
“Yes,” I answered, a little too quickly, “almost explicitly.”
“And why did that change?”
“You said Copperfield would die cleanly, that I wouldn’t suffer, that it wouldn’t remind me of Lorcan. You lied.”
“You wouldn’t do it otherwise," Atticus said quickly.
"You don't know that." He laughed again and I marveled at the strangely knowing smile. I hadn’t moved from my place against the wall, and instead moved my arms and legs slowly, trying to rid them of ache and pain. It was strangely easy to change my mind so quickly and so freely – that I could go from picturing Atticus as an axe-wielding murderer to seeing him as a grieving family man with genuine emotions and feelings. We sat in silence for a couple of moments.
“Did you get revenge?” I asked quietly, and Atticus’ head shot up. “Did you get revenge for the death of your family?”
“No,” he croaked.
“I don’t know who did it.”
I smiled knowingly. “I’m sure that’s not true. I’m sure you’ve got something planned.”
Atticus returned to looking at the floorboards, his long, scarred fingers running along the patterns in the wood, and he smiled.
“We have something planned. We don’t know who the murderer is, but we…” His voice cracked a little. “We have something planned.”
I felt happy at the thought that Atticus would get retribution. Maybe it was just a manifestation of my post-Copperfield emotional unavailability when it came to murder and death. Maybe I’d just seen (and done) too much of it. Maybe I just wanted him to feel the same sense of relief and liberation that I did after I killed Featherby.
“Well, it feels good when you get it,” I said, “well, as good as murdering someone can feel.”
Atticus took a moment to understand what I was talking about. His eyes lowered slightly, but a grin passed over his lips. “You killed Anthony Featherby.”
I nodded. “Do you know why he did it? Why he killed Lorcan?”
“No,” he replied. “He was freelance. We roped him in for… special occasions. He could have been doing work for someone else, we don’t know.”
“He framed Lysander.”
Another beat of silence. Birds started their early morning song.
“How did you feel after?” Atticus said. “Happy?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Yes,” I lied.
“Then you’re lucky; most of us don’t even get that far. Maybe you’re not as suitable as we thought.”
I let out a strained laugh. I don’t know why I had lied. It just came to me naturally, and I hoped that the subliminal reaction to the question meant there was actually some guilt, some self-condemnation, hidden away somewhere. I didn’t want to tell Atticus that I had felt nothing besides unadulterated happiness.
“What happens now?”
“I think you should stay with us.”
I found myself agreeing.
“You can keep a low profile. Dmitri can go and get your stuff from the Leaky Cauldron tomorrow. You can write to anyone you want, you can leave anytime you like. I don’t want you to think that you’re a prisoner here. I just thought it would be best if…”
“Higgins didn’t see me for a while.”
“Exactly.” He pulled a wand from inside his jacket pocket and handed it over to me. It was mine.
I let out a long, steadying breath. I felt drained. Atticus smiled and got up off the floor. He offered his hand towards me and I took it gratefully. I made my way slowly over to the bed. He grabbed the drugged fruit bowl and opened the door.
He turned to look at me.
“There’s a pile of letters on the bedside table. With red ribbon. Tell Dmitri to bring them as well, will you?”
“Of course.” He smiled, closed the door and once again, I fell asleep.
Yes, Dom didn't kill me. I am still alive. Hello.
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