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Chapter 22 : Self-Destructive Tendencies
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The sky fell into the sea.
We watched it happen while sailing on the boat that brought us there, the iridescent purples of sunrise blending seamlessly with its reflection on the water. Whales of waves, greedy and gushing with froth on their lips, stained the surface of Malfoy Manor with ruthless fixation. They scaled the walls and tore it down, bit by bit, until the many onyx towers and turrets had crumbled away into the deep cracks in the surrounding earth. Splintered, gone.
The ghost of Tulia Malfoy sprinkled the clouds with dust from her piano, her fingers quite as ivory as the keys. Sheets of dust from an instrument of stone billowed, cape-like, through one of the shining windows and stretched over the swollen shore into her son’s eardrums. Her music tinkled the air with the pastel blues and lemon yellows of sunshine, of wind chimes, and Lucius lifted his head to gaze at the notes only he could visually see as they floated over water.
Where before there had been only a barren bowl of grass, there was a pond; and now instead of a pond, the sea rumbled forth on swift legs to greet us. It pushed with its teeth at the confining ridges of the pond, softly stroking Malfoy Manor, reshaping it, until the castle melted away its abstract malformations and stood there in the form of a white-washed house with a tin roof. It faced the sea with four lonely windows, each of them choked with ivy.
“We’ll build it back up,” Lucius murmured, the promise more to the memory of his mother than anything else. “Marble and iron. We’ll make it grand again.”
I slipped my small hand in his and we pattered along the walkway, Lucius looking down through my eyes, seeing straight through to the scattered sand on the other side and envisioning rows of tall shrubbery that should go there, the wrought-iron gates and the ominous don’t come here stamped across everything Malfoy.
“It already is,” I said.
Lucius smiled, almost glowing. He gently tilted my chin upward with one hand, his clear blue eyes smiling too, and leaned down to sweetly kiss me. Just as his lips grazed contact with mine, his nose lightly touching my skin, all of the warmth of my pulse quickly reversed; it rushed backwards in my veins away from my now-cold lips and we pulled apart, eyes flying open, as all of our blood and fire began to boil in our left arms. I could feel his heartbeat in his fingertips, rapid now with fear instead of anticipation, and both of us stared down at the thrumming tattoos that would disease our flesh even in death.
A summons from our master.
There was a girl before me. Her name was Rosalind and it was this person I found myself thinking of while I was seated at the great oak table, staring at the only pair of eyes in the world that matched mine. I couldn’t explain why the image of Rosalind chose to distract me, specifically, but I imagined her raising her fist to knock at Malfoy Manor after traipsing, lost, through the wilderness. The castle would have been a monstrosity still, just the way it was when I had first seen it. All black shadows and sharp corners, the picture of prison, inviting to no one but the desperate. She had come to Malfoy Manor quite recently after the spell was cast over it, but had died there before she got the chance to fall in love with Lucius and break the spell.
It was meant to be her, of course, who stole Lucius's heart and broke the spell. It made sense. I’d stumbled across a picture Wren had taken of her, resting on a bed yellowed with age and dust in Tulia Malfoy’s once-locked bedroom. And right there, propped up in a window seat just across from the framed photograph, Tulia herself sat with her knees tucked to her chest, staring longingly at the mirror mounted above her dresser and dreaming of younger days.
“She left.” Tulia inclined her translucent head at the picture. “That’s the difference, isn’t it? She woke up in the place where she belonged. I wasn’t even given a choice.”
Not knowing what else to do, I seated myself on the bed and crossed my ankles, swallowing. The photograph wasn’t so very old; the person inside it trying to flit away from me but not succeeding because she had no parallel portraits to run to. She turned, brown eyes petrified, and stared. Relief visibly engulfed her when she saw that I was not someone she had evidently been dreading seeing, and she sat down on a bed in the powder-blue bedroom I had once engaged, mirroring me.
I closed my eyes and resisted the urge to drum my fingers on the thick table, not desiring to draw excess attention to myself. They were not my eyes to close or my fingers to drum, after all, and soon enough every person who occupied the elaborate dining room would know that their friend had been borrowed for the evening. A figure seated just under the cuckoo clock spoke, her words swimming in my ears with blood that pooled there, hot, twisting with fear under the threat of death. I couldn’t make out what she was saying to the array of guests, laughter from someone’s joke ebbing on her tongue, as her voice was so muffled and distorted, buried under many years’ worth of memories that made me think of other things, happier things, that she had once said.
How I had ended up here, and what I would do after I left, inched apart from each other like peeling paint, falling so far away from the present that I felt the layers of myself exhausting with frost, waiting for it all to be over, waiting to breathe.
The voice continued to drone on, laughing as an intermission to every statement another person made, and I waited for the steady beats of the clock to accumulate. A quarter hour was all that remained. I bit my lip so hard that I tasted the blood on my teeth, wondering if anyone saw the woman with soft brown hair closing her eyes at the end of the table – not speaking, not listening, and existing as the arms and legs of a bigger mind, a powerful operation. I no longer belonged to myself.
I hated that she was so pretty.
Rosalind was the sort of girl I would have spent all of my time trying to vilify if I met her in a locale such as Hogwarts. I would have watched her with narrowed eyes in the courtyards, whispering to anyone who would listen that she was hiding something darker up her sleeve, that she wore the simper of a seductress and couldn’t be trusted – knowing all the while, of course, that my rumors were borne from envy. She was the sort of girl who was constantly flanked with friends because she possessed a natural sweetness of temper, natural blush in her cheekbones, and hair that didn’t have to be long or vividly-colored to enhance her appearance.
A twinge of jealousy gnawed at me, even though I looked on at the image of a woman long since deceased, because my beauty had always depended entirely on my hair. It was the single cure for my plainness, the only part of me my sisters had ever wanted. I took better care of it than I did my mother while she lay dying, seated in a high-backed chair in front of her vanity mirror and brushing it very carefully – fifty strokes. And now, my hair was barely long enough to pass my chin.
“Feels nice to get out of that chair,” Tulia Malfoy sighed. “I’ve been in it for an eternity.”
I frowned, setting the picture down. “Why didn’t you just get up?”
The responding laugh was cynical. “My dear, I couldn’t. I was the chair myself, you see, only transfigured. And now I have to sit on top of it in my painting – isn’t that ironic?” The laugh trailed to a bitter echo. “Oh, if I ever cross paths with her… I won’t be the only one haunting the hallways of this manor, I assure you. She’ll meet her end soon enough.” She noticed me still looking at the photograph of Rosalind and offered a faint smile. “That girl wasn’t the one, you know.”
I chewed on the inside of my cheek. “How can you be sure?”
There was a long silence, and Lucius’s footsteps slowed just outside the doorway. He paused to listen, and Tulia smiled wryly, sinking back with her shoulders falling right through the wall. “Because she should have been.” Her eyes wandered over the ceiling, counting each wooden slat on its lattice pattern, expression despondent. “My Lucius has always poured his heart into the very worst things for him, the most self-destructive. He got that from me, you know.” She sighed. “And just like me, he never sees it until it’s too late.”
No more than an hour ago, I was standing behind Lucius’s arm, which was extended to bar my path. The landscape was unnervingly familiar; I recognized the enormous, fuzzy crimson pumpkins that I’d landed on after dropping out of Gaspard’s carriage, rising like boulders out of the hardened soil. I remembered stumbling through these pumpkins and the surrounding dense trees, my eyes zeroed in on a tiny pinprick of light that led me to Malfoy Manor’s glass tower. “She’s just now obtained another wand,” Lucius said shortly, eyeing Rosier. “I gave her my mother’s, but it doesn’t work properly for her yet – not nearly well enough to Apparate with.”
“Side-along Apparition, then,” Rosier replied, waving his hand at me. “Come on.”
Still, Lucius kept me back with his arm, hesitant. I could see the cogs spinning in his head, trying to figure out a way to keep me away from Lord Voldemort’s plans. “I am better at curses and jinxes than Narcissa, as I'm older and have had more practice. I should go instead.”
Rosier grinned, displaying two silver-capped teeth. “That’s not the orders, Malfoy, you know that. Don’t worry, you’ll be gettin’ plenty of action of your own once this one leaves.” He nodded at me, and I stared from one man to the other.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Where are you going, Lucius?”
He looked uncomfortable. Bending close to my ear for the illusion of privacy even though Rosier could still hear us, he mumbled, “I’m being sent to an undisclosed location. I don’t know what I’ll be doing.” In a louder voice, he addressed Rosier: “I can do both in one night, I promise you. There's no reason why I can't finish both tasks, and no one has to know that Narcissa was never involved.”
Rosier’s features cooled, and he stepped forward to manually pry Lucius’s arm away from me. I was callously robbed away and Lucius’s jaw tightened, gazing off into a forest blackened with night. “Drink all of this, every last drop,” Rosier told me, forcing a corked bottle into my hands. “No Apparition, eh?” He glanced from me to Lucius, shaking his head in irritation. “Fine, then. Better hope your new wand works better with spells, as you'll be needin' 'em..”
He clinked the tip of his own wand against one of the impeding pumpkins on our route. At first, nothing happened; but very slowly, and then suddenly quite quickly, the pumpkin shook and shivered, blooming thirty times in size until it might have been a little round garden shed. He smirked at his creation and slashed his wand again, gouging out two eyes for windows and a crooked mouth for a door. One more nonverbal incantation later, the jack-o-lantern was ablaze with light from the inside, its carved mouth grinning horribly at us.
The door swung open, exposing a bench gouged into the pumpkin's carved intestines, its armrests shaped like serpents. “Read this, your instructions are on it,” Rosier commanded, thrusting a wad of parchment at me. Lucius reached out, anxious and alarmed, but not before Rosier shut the door behind me. The colossal jack-o-lantern began to roll away of its own volition, rattling me around inside of it as it bounced from hilltop to hilltop. I was queasy and bruised, bumping against the floor, walls, and ceiling; it took every ounce of effort I could summon to wedge myself more firmly in place using one outstretched hand and both feet planted on the walls of the pumpkin.
The blazing light had no direct source; it was a miniscule ball of flame, no bigger than a Galleon, and it floated along like a swallowed firefly as the jack-o-lantern zipped along at head-spinning speeds, demolishing every tree in its path. I unfolded the crumpled paper and smoothed it out, and then began to read.
“Amelia!” someone cooed, snapping me out of my self-inflicted fog, hands flapping as they raced over to me. I knew this person as the matriarch of the family, but she looked all wrong up close: her skin was wrinkled and coarse, etched with tiny crisscrossing lines; her hair was peppered with gray so light that it could have been blue and she smelled vaguely of sour milk, especially around her thick neck. I withdrew from her, momentarily forgetting that to Amelia Bones, this sort of gesture would be most welcome. Grimacing, I allowed her to envelop my stiff shoulders in a hug. “It’s been ages since you’ve been down! So glad to see you. How’s Edgar doing?”
“Good,” I muttered, examining my fingers. Nearby, I felt Travers watching from under his disguise as a man named Broderick Bode. I could feel his resentment and frustration penetrating the many chairs occupied with chattering, delighted bodies, trying to tell me with his glare how disappointing he found my lackadaisical acting.
The woman – presumably Marlene’s mother – gave a half-smile and waded past me, distractedly searching for more people to embrace. I felt a pair of eyes looking at me, and with a countenance as innocent as I could muster, I raised my gaze. I already knew who it was.
Those eyes, identical to mine but not to Amelia’s, searched me curiously. I wouldn’t have been surprised, given her shrewdness, if Andromeda recognized me even through the brown hair and chalky complexion, my borrowed eyebrows so thinly plucked that they grew too sparsely apart. Amelia must have filled them in with a cosmetics pencil, which probably contributed to the regular question: You look off-color, Amelia. Are you ill?
I swallowed, flicking my attention from the clock on the wall, each tick loud enough to drown out the rest of the room, to the pocket in my cloak. I could plainly remember a line of script:
The Polyjuice Potion will wane at the stroke of midnight. You must kill everyone in the house before this happens.
My quarter hour was swiftly draining…it had dwindled down to seven remaining minutes. Travers stiffened in the corner, tapping his shoe impatiently. He was supposed to have walked in fifteen minutes behind me, but he didn’t trust me to show up and arrived early; now, he didn’t trust me to fulfill our obligations. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him pinch the sleeve of his left forearm, dark eyes tunneling holes through my skull. He was reminding me of my Unbreakable Vow, and the threat of imminent death if I failed to come through on Lord Voldemort’s orders.
Andromeda was still staring at me. I matched her scrutiny, feigning indifference, and her lips tightened, whitening. Both of us knew, at that exact moment, that she was very much aware of my true identity. Without severing eye contact, she grasped her husband’s wrist – I hadn’t even noticed him, but he was stationed on her left – and her mouth was rapidly yawning open in confused surprise, eyes clouding over. Heart beating fast, I switched focus to the clock again, ticking away faster and faster, revolving in rhythm with my burning Mark. My skin smoldered, waiting for me to make good on my promise. Hurry, hurry, hurry, it seemed to scream.
Travers’s head snapped up, teeth clenching tightly together. His façade was shredding away, revealing greasy black locks underneath Broderick Bode’s prim hairstyle and the shadows like raccoon eyes, the contrast of colors highlighting every angle on his wan face. My hair was shrinking, lightening in hue. I gripped the edges of my chair in a panic. Lungs knotting up to choke my raspy breathing, I beseeched Travers with my expression and he nodded.
Andromeda looked like she wasn’t sure whether to hug me or scream. Ashen and disoriented, one of her hands knocked a wineglass, breaking the stem neatly in two. Her husband turned to her, his voice sweet and low. “Are you all right?”
Her lips opened, then closed, gaping as she struggled to work out what to do. One of her hands travelled to her stomach. Acid washed against the lining of my throat, stomach churning when I caught sight of the rounded, distorted abdomen. She clutched at it protectively, dragging up her gaze to pierce me through and through.
“Andromeda?” another voice chimed. It was Marlene McKinnon, passing out mugs of tea. “Would you like one? It’s not caffeinated.”
I couldn’t breathe. The clock’s thunderous tickings pricked at the walls, which seemed to be dimming and closing in on me, the air around my vision yellowing with indistinct striations. My Dark Mark was scorching, becoming almost impossible not to touch in the vain hopes that it might soothe it. Travers glowered impatiently at me. Andromeda half-sat, half-stood, her mind at odds with itself, while Marlene shifted the tray of mugs from one arm to the other, reaching out to rub my sister consolingly on the shoulder. Andromeda’s face glistened with sweat, her delicate features taking on a winded look. Her husband fondly petted her braided black hair. “Is something wrong?” Marlene inquired. A few strands of fair hair swept across her forehead, mingling with her long, spiky black eyelashes.
There was a long pause. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
Travers, no longer content with waiting, leapt from his corner with his greasy hair swinging in full view. He raised one arm aloft, face alight with vicious triumph, and the words barely escaped his mouth before a spiraling jet of green light blasted from the tip of his wand, streaking across the room to hit the woman who smelled like sour milk squarely in her broad chest. Her chair fell backwards against the wall and she didn’t stir.
Andromeda shouted something, trying to yank her paralyzed husband out of his seat. He could only gawk, eyes wide and terrified, at the disastrous spectacle. “Help me!” Travers hollered, pointing his wand my way. Andromeda’s face crumpled upon hearing proof that I was the enemy, shoulders breaking into dry heaves as she let out a distressed sob.
“Cissa,” she moaned. “Cissa, why…”
There wasn't enough time to talk to her, to reason with her. The clock was ticking and I was ticking with it. “Stupefy!” I shrieked. A bolt of red light connected my pallid wrist to my sister’s breastbone, the shock and the heat of the spell seeming to electrocute her. Her eyes rolled back into her head; she collapsed in a lifeless heap, sprawling into her husband’s waiting arms. “Get her out!” I yelled at him, hands flailing. He heaved her up the stairs, her head lolling from one shoulder to the other. “No, not upstairs! Get her out of the house!” He stopped, torn between obeying me and pulling his wife out of the line of fire. Nearby, Marlene’s husband Wilson plunged his hands inside his robes, face contorting furiously.
His eyes glazed over and he turned sloppily around, loping without use or aim. Travers struck him between the shoulder blades with a curse and Wilson was promptly blasted across the room, brickwork from the fireplace exploding the southern wall in a blanket of ash and debris. It littered the rims of my eyes with burning pink, lining my mouth with soot that made me cough.
“Hey!” a portly, older man roared, tipping over one of the vacant chairs to clear his way. “What are you doing? This is my daughter’s house, we’ve done nothing to –”
I had no time to think before I reacted. The words were on my lips seemingly before they entered my head, and then were horribly cast through the air. “Avada Kedavra!”
I could sense my own hesitation, my intense bewilderment at what I had just done, and I saw the horror flash across Marlene’s father’s face as well. He staggered back, bones losing the ability to hold him upright, as he smashed with an excruciating loudness against the bare white wall. I couldn't focus on anything except for the way his chest seemed to sink in, deflated, never to rise with breath again. I'd once caught Bellatrix muttering the Killing Curse when we were children, playing with Father's wand in the back garden and trying to get it to work. Before this moment, the two powerful words never entered my head, never formed in my mouth. I couldn't believe that the wand had actually done what I told it to, that I was strong and capable enough to perform such a spell.
Behind me, Marlene McKinnon’s eldest daughter was draped over the dining room table, the ends of one of her braids floating in the punch bowl. She stared upward without seeing, the lamplight bright in her eyes and her pupils constricted to tiny silver dots. Dinnerware and glass was strewn everywhere, hurls of light from hexes flung from wand to wand; and then abruptly, there was no one left to conquer.
Everyone was dead. I frantically wiped the hair out of my face, sifting numbly with shaking hands through the damage, searching for a head of curly black hair I hoped to Merlin and back that I would not find.
Travers scowled at me. “I had to kill six! You took too long with the old man – I had to watch your back and mine. Next time, I’m refusing to allow you to come along with me. You have to be quicker than that.” He shook his head angrily, stomping out the door. I wiped my nose on the back of my sleeve, my breathing so shallow that it ripped up my sides with stitches, and resumed looking. There were bodies everywhere – I found myself counting the same ones multiple times, my brain refusing to store them to memory the first time around, to grasp the magnitude of what I had just helped occur.
“No,” I whimpered, bordering on something endlessly black and catatonic. “No, no, no, no, no…” I sat down in the wreckage, frightened tears spilling down my cheeks, and blinked at the dead family surrounding me. Sons, uncles, sisters, all of them gone, all of them killed by Travers. I rubbed my palms over my temples, rocking back and forth. No, he wasn't responsible for all of them. The old man was dead, eyes closed, but I would forever remember them open, reflecting that emerald gleam and the dawning terror. I’d split his body from his soul, and that would never leave me.
The singed Dark Mark on my arm faded to a dull ache, and Lucius appeared in the doorway. He scanned the room with his sharp eyes that absorbed everything, flooding with relief when he saw me sitting there, the survivor of a war waged against the defenseless, the surprised hosts of a dinner party attacked within their own home, by people they’d thought were friends. “Their friends,” I repeated aloud, whispering hysterically. Flashes of the dead appeared at the forefront of my mind, burning themselves in my brain as the imprints of a wall-to-wall bloodbath.
“You have to leave now." His tone was empty, dead. “Their real friends will be here soon.” He took me up in his arms and held my head against his chest, stroking my shorn hair to quiet my sobs. Without warning, he grasped me firmly around the waist and we were sucked out of the McKinnons’ house into a welcome, timeless oblivion. I closed my eyes for the space of our travel and didn’t open them again until I felt my feet being swept up off the ground.
It was not the reunion with Lucius I would have chosen. He and I sat next to each other on the sofa, swathed in sweat and darkness, for hours until unconsciousness opened the doors to its sanctuary. I did not ask him what Lord Voldemort had ordered him to do. Lucius did not ask me who I had killed, or if I’d killed anyone at all. We stared at the ceiling that seemed to open to the heavens, cool and remote and dizzying, silently waiting together all through the night for soothing words that couldn't come; staring and shrinking into ourselves and never once speaking aloud.
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