“Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”
Lucius stared in open-mouthed shock, gray stubble popping against his even grayer skin.
“The balance of power restoring itself,” The Dark Lord went on, his words a faint drawl crawling around somewhere in the back of Lucius’s head. He could feel Voldemort’s slither, a snake pushing holes through his memories. Unconsciously he tilted his head to the side and shook it, as if waiting for a snake to wiggle out of his ear. Surely these were not his eyes seeing, his ears hearing. Surely this was not Lucius himself standing there, a willing participant to the most revolting show he’d ever seen.
One of his biggest faults was his ability to hold a grudge. Once wronged, Lucius never forgave. After Circe blinded him and made him repulsive to his staff, a creature in tissue-paper-thin skin, he yearned for nothing but her death. He imagined all the ways he could do it himself, even without his sight for guidance. He would wrap his fingers around his cane and tell himself it was her neck, and revel in the snap. The castle’s magic would always put the cane right again, fixing it instantly. But the echoing snaps still remained, and he thought they helped dull the ache of bitterness.
As the ancient witch writhed in a cold fire suspended in midair, cobalt flames reaching through her nose and open mouth to lick at the hollow interior of her skull, he did not feel any of the happy retribution he thought her death would bring. My own horrified eyes, as I was seated opposite him, served to make everything even worse in reflection. Out of everyone in the room, the two of us ought to have gleaned the most satisfaction from such a scene, but it appeared that we were the only ones not joining in the communal delight.
“Do you hear that?” Voldemort went on, his voice a black fog that never truly dissipated. It was unnaturally loud, clear as ringing bells. A sinister smile warped his wan face and he solicited Bellatrix for a physical cue that she understood. She was only too willing to supply him with agreement, giddy as a child.
“It sounds beautiful, too,” she exclaimed, eyes shining with joy.
Circe continued to scream – a never-ending quake that reminded me of the candles adorning the table the Dark Lord’s servants occupied. The scream flickered and faltered at times and grew unexpectedly, the pitch of hell. Voldemort was killing her so easily, so effortlessly that it struck me as impossible. While it would have been justice if inflicted by myself or Lucius, in Voldemort’s hands it was an act of evil.
He was killing her with fire like snow, so cold that it froze my eyelashes together. The fire strengthened with each breath she exhaled, sapping her strength and burning brighter. Circe’s body was trying to regenerate, a natural defense mechanism. She flashed a searing, horrible white over and over as she crippled, like a phoenix bursting to arise. She burned to a spark, until the flames had consumed everything except for her ribs. Her scream was still present, hanging in the room all around us while only a radiant ribcage glowed. I could see the nicks in her bones, little notches of a tally.
And then she was only ash on the carpet.
“And that,” said Voldemort, “is what will happen to you if you don’t join my ranks.” He inclined his gleaming forehead towards a man standing in the corner, next to an alcove window now fringed with icicles.
The man had been one of Circe’s wolves, the last of them captured alive. He fidgeted nervously, hairy face unused to so many eyes trained on it all at once. His speech was a testimony to his life of seclusion, riddled with mispronunciations and despicable grammar. Voldemort winced every time the man made a mistake.
“What do you want…what would you do with me?” he stammered, toying with the pocket of his ripped jeans.
Voldemort gazed evenly at him, one long finger tapping his cheekbone. “Your hand is dangerously close to where your wand is concealed in your pocket, Greyback. Are you actually thinking of fighting against me?”
Several Death Eaters laughed, Bellatrix’s cackle the loudest and most ridiculous. My eyes flashed in embarrassment, wishing I could kick her under the table but knowing I could end up kicking any one of a dozen other people instead. Voldemort raised a hand to quiet everyone, enjoying the way they fell silent under his skin, and turned his attentions back to the hairy-faced man by the window. His knuckles were abnormally hairy, too, and his eyebrows so tangled that they needed to be combed.
He swallowed. “Wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”
“Sir,” Voldemort repeated, spitting. “Sir is for Mudblood men. You will address me as your lord.” He raised a challenging eyebrow. “Am I your lord, Greyback?”
“Ye – yes.” His eyes flitted nervously around the room, trying to find purchase in a pair of empathetic ones. Lucius stared coolly back at him, unwilling to be the first one to show weakness. I looked at the ground, pretending to be suddenly absorbed in its patterns.
“Ye-yes?” Voldemort mocked, the underdone of a laugh ghosting across his tongue. It gave his fellows permission to chuckle darkly to themselves, as though the man’s apparent terror was a highly amusing event. “You stammer. I have no room in my ranks for imbeciles.”
“I’m not, m’lord,” Greyback insisted, the skin under coarse patches of fur blushing furiously. “I could be of much use, if you let me. I knows all sorts o’ things…I knows alls the people in Diagon Alley who is only pretending to obey the law, sir – I mean, sir, I mean Lord –” He faltered, eyes brightening with pink-tinged tears that betrayed his frustration. “Your Lordship. I knows the men who aims to fight against you, too, and I knows where all their little children sleeps.”
“You know nothing that I haven’t already known for a month,” Voldemort replied in a bored tone. “Do not claim to be informative. You are, at best, a nail on the finger of the limb that conquers. The head is for me to maneuver but I shall be needing more fingers, more nails. Your role shall be small but your aims always high.”
Greyback, unsure whether or not to take Voldemort’s ensuing pause as a finished statement in need of answering, said, “Yes, of course. Am I – am I gonna get one of those skull tattoos now?” His eyes cut to Lucius’s exposed arm, which beheld a snake winding through the eyes of a skull. The skull’s jaw was loose on its hinges, mimicking a scream.
But Voldemort was not finished speaking. “I expect that between now and our next meeting, which will take place in two weeks at an undisclosed setting” – he paused to nod at a hooded figure seated at the end of the table, who appeared to have come of his own inclination rather than by invitation – “you will have not only handed over the wand of a member of the Order of the Phoenix, but will have acquired a dictionary and learned the difference between ‘know’ and ‘knows’. I’m sure Alecto has one she can share, as she recently needed grammatical lessons, as well.”
Bellatrix snickered amidst Alecto Carrow’s livid mortification, but was cut off by Greyback replying, “Member of the Order, sir? I mean, Lord.” He swallowed, realizing that he was standing on tiptoe for some odd reason, and sank back down to the floorboards. He couldn’t stop glancing frequently at the messy pile of ashes on an antique rug, the remainder of a witch who had been supposedly invincible until she met her match in Tom Riddle.
“Yes.” Voldemort’s mouth quivered in a condescending little smile, a long strand of black hair falling over his expansive forehead. Bellatrix stared at it, open-mouthed. I could see the individual cracks on her colorless lips. Her gums, in contradiction, were quite red. “A wand. Shouldn’t be a difficult task to complete, Greyback, given your brutal physique. I’d imagine that in your…enhanced form, it should be quite easy.”
During the silence that overcame the room after this remark, Greyback mentally went over the lunar calendar in his head and brightened considerably. It seemed that when confronted with such a task in his human form, he was not so confident. When reminded that a full moon was only days away and he could leave his problems for a much hairier and more menacing version of himself, all distress smoothed itself out.
“Easy, indeed,” he began to say, grinning now, but Voldemort turned his face curtly away from him to signal that their conversation was over.
“What news from Hogsmeade, Goyle?”
“Little,” replied a surly, badly-shaven bloke. “Found a ‘traveling magician’, he calls himself. Winthropp Mulciber. Fake name, if you ask me. But he puts on shows for Muggles and makes magic look like sleight of hand.”
Goyle shrugged, somehow not bothered by Voldemort’s leering presence. He was unaware of the tension scattered throughout the room, building up like a smog that was now choking the ceiling. “Gotten into trouble with the Ministry for it, with the Statute and all, and they won’t let him alone. Word has it that he’s been looking for a new job.” He cleared his throat, hoping to bring weight and importance to his speech. “Something far outside the law. I reckon he’s heard about our lot and is waiting to hear from us personally, if you get my meaning.”
“Who would be so thick as not to get your meaning?” Yaxley scolded.
Voldemort rolled his eyes. “I’m surrounded by fools. Crouch has already told me about Mulciber, who was inducted three days ago. The only reason why he’s not here is because he’s performing Imperius curses on the unfortunate staff of Level Nine.”
“Level Nine?” Yaxley repeated before he could stop himself, eyebrows shooting up. “At the Ministry, you mean? That’s – blimey – that’s the Department of Mysteries!” When no one else shared in his surprise, he added for emphasis, “But the staff there’s all Unspeakables, innit?”
“Alecto, you must tutor this one, as well. I am honestly disturbed by the height of your ignorance, Yaxley. Just when I think that you can embarrass me no further, you prove just how little you have listened at our gatherings.” Voldemort glanced lazily at Lucius. “How do you think Yaxley should be punished for this, Malfoy?”
I went immediately rigid.
Lucius, however, didn’t skip a beat. “His evident languor in light of whom he sits in front of is cause for concern. I propose that he is barred from the next meeting, so that he may feel the full scale of being misinformed. There is nothing more slighting to a show-off than to be purposefully excluded.”
“Yes, I agree.” Voldemort’s eyes gleamed, redder than ever and twice as malevolent. He laced his fingers together and brought them to a gesture of finality under his chin. Bellatrix unconsciously mirrored him, bowing her head as if in prayer. A lock of her hair was melting in a pool of candle wax and she didn’t even notice; Amycus, who was sat on her other side, did. He opted not to say anything. “Valuable insight, Lucius.”
I could barely restrain my hiss, and only did for fear of being burned alive like Circe. I didn’t appreciate how Voldemort was picking and choosing his closest cabinet of advisors, and the reasons behind them. My sister was Bella instead of ‘Lestrange’ because she groveled. Lucius was no longer ‘Malfoy’ because he could turn his heart to stone instantaneously upon entering the same room as Voldemort. Despite their spar earlier in the day, Voldemort had chosen to forget it and was now gazing at Lucius with a measure of…what was it? Faith? I got the feeling that he was plunging into Lucius’s thoughts again with Legilimency.
Lucius’s left hand jerked, proving my suspicions correct. I wondered how many times Voldemort would dig around inside of us until our brains were scrambled from the abuse.
“What is that you were thinking about?” Voldemort inquired in a curious sort of way, studying him closer. Lucius closed his eyes, looking to be almost in pain, and Voldemort smiled. “Regulus,” he said softly, blood-red eyes flickering to the south end of the table. My cousin gave an involuntary shiver. “What do you have in your pocket?”
Regulus frowned. Whatever he had thought Voldemort was about to say to him, he had been wrong about it. He reached one hand into the pocket of his robes and withdrew a round, golden object I placed at once. I looked up at Lucius, knowing he would recognize it, too, but he made no sign of acknowledgment.
“Pocket watch,” the boy supplied. He began to slide it across the table rather than physically get up and hand it to his master, but Voldemort tapped his wand and the object soared through the air and into his waiting palm. “We were passing it around before you got here, my Lord. We found it on the witch’s person.”
“Circe, I presume?” Voldemort gave another irritated spasm, the kind he got whenever someone was being overly thick. “There are numerous witches here, Black. Let us be precise.”
Regulus sat back in his chair, frowning. Just like that, he’d been demoted from ‘Regulus’ to ‘Black’ and everyone in the room could feel the insult.
“It’s of no use to me,” Voldemort decided, flinging the watch back down the table. It skidded like a stone over water and landed in front of Severus Snape. “Doesn’t even tell the time.”
Voldemort switched his concentration to my sister, enquiring after her latest efforts to seduce a man named Langley (who was, by the gist of their conversation, useless himself but potentially rich for spying purposes). Severus had waited until Voldemort was distracted to click open the watch, which had now garnered Lucius’s proper interest once more.
The young man’s lips moved almost too infinitesimally to notice, glinting black gaze and pale fingers roving over its surface. I knew that instead of numerals, Severus was seeing twelve hands with little planets ticking around the edge. He pocketed it, bringing his bony elbows back up to rest flatly upon the table again while watching Voldemort's and Bellatrix's discussion with keen fascination. On his left, someone lowered their hood just a fraction and I gasped out loud.
Lucius glared warningly at me, but I ignored him, leaning closer. “Margaret?” I whispered.
Despite the many eyes now staring at me, Voldemort’s attention was still locked on Bellatrix and I felt safe in saying, “Margaret, what are you doing here?”
“Margaret?” She pursed her lips, quizzical. “My name is Genevieve, dear. Genevieve Parkinson.”
“What?” I stared at her, blatantly confused. Of course she was Margaret. I never forgot a face, did I? I’d seen her in the mines in Doorturn, her stomach swollen with some sort of tumor. I’d seen her being branded with the Dark Mark after showing up in Little Hangleton. For some reason, I had completely forgotten about her existence since then. Had I subconsciously expected her to die, maybe? To not survive without someone like Lucius standing at her side and keeping her world upright?
When no one was gawking at us anymore, our companions disinterested, she winked slyly at me and looked away towards the window. I had no idea what to make of it. Why had she created a new identity?
I tried to focus on Lucius, yearning for a nod or smile or softening of his features, but found nothing but cold hardness. He was a statue, sitting proudly in his chair like it was a throne, and I remembered the similarities I’d once seen between him and the Dark Lord. I wished I knew when he was pretending and which of us he was pretending to. Was he pretending here with Voldemort or at home with me?
I bit my lip, moving down the row to find another person I hoped I could count on to indicate some shred of humanity, to assure me that I wasn’t sitting in a soulless room. Voldemort abruptly rose from his seat, exiting without explanation. Dolohov and Rosier flanked him. Bellatrix sulked in her seat, resentful. When Alecto turned to smile spitefully at her, she snapped her teeth together.
I took advantage of Voldemort’s absence by slipping into a chair next to Regulus. “Well,” I offered, trying for a wobbly smile, “at least I get to see you every now and then, eh?”
Regulus was tense, exuding an almost derisive demeanor. His eyes were slits as they wandered up and down the table, picking Death Eaters to the foreground to mentally mock them. I could feel it resting just on the edge of his skin, ready to jump off. “Is that why you’re here? To see me?” He laughed without humor. “You should have saved your concern for someone else. It’s wasted on me.”
I lowered my voice, wary of this new, sour side of my cousin. While he could never be called a ‘happy’ child, he was useful for a laugh or two on occasion. He’d always been my favorite over Sirius, who could usually see right through me. “Why are you here?”
He drummed his fingers on the table, not willing to meet my gaze. His voice was so quiet that I could barely discern it when he said, “We’re all here for different reasons.” He stopped, as Severus was watching him intently. When Severus fished out Circe’s pocket watch again, Regulus finished, “And I know an opportunity when I see one.”
I sensed a double-entendre in his words but couldn’t grasp what he was trying to say. I thought it over as the voices around me grew louder even though I was drowning them out, Lucius’s stare burning holes through my profile.
And then it clicked.
I recalled the boy in the graveyard, staggering to his feet amongst the tombstones with an expression of utter determination. The way he alternated between wanting to be lost, ignored among the Dark Lord’s followers and his fearless attitude. He was not here to follow. He was here to infiltrate. Maybe he wasn’t an extension of another group – operating for those who opposed Voldemort. He was here on his own conscience, which was even more dangerous. He was representing himself.
“You idiot,” I said through bared teeth.
He lifted his jaw imperiously, angling it away from me. He sat there, regal and clenched, his presence not borne from a command thrust upon him by the superiors of an organized force, but because of his own strong, scrupulous sense of morality I had severely underestimated because of his surname.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He turned back to me, dark eyes snapping. “Shut up, Narcissa. This is none of your business. You don’t know anything.” He yanked his hands through his hair. "You don't know a thing about anything, really."
He shook his head. "You're all just noise. You don't make any sense."
I was about to demand to know what he meant by that comment when Voldemort reentered the room at that moment, putting Regulus at perceptible unease. Regulus folded his arms stubbornly and fell back into his chair as far as he could go, black fringe hanging in front of his eyes to screen their hostility. He looked so young, so boyish, that I thought of his mother and felt sorry for her. Did Walburga know what her son was getting up to these days?
But Voldemort did not intend to stay long. He aimed his wand behind his back as he walked, casually murdering the hooded figure in the very back. It was the one he'd nodded to earlier in the meeting when he refused to release the specific location of our next meeting. The person’s hood wrenched back, exposing a red-haired woman whose skin was still green from the rebounding Avada Kedavra. Those surrounding her had fallen out of their chairs, scrabbling to get away from the emerald light.
“Ah. I see that the Mudblood-loving Order has been paying us another visit.” Voldemort twirled his wand and deftly replaced it to his pocket, nonplussed. “They do like to drop in unannounced, don’t they?” He gestured to a boy around Regulus’s age, named Scabior. “Take her to the usual place. I need more Inferi.”
Despite the purr in his voice, and despite the dead woman destined to become an Inferius and the pile of ashes on the carpet that had been Lucius’s long-time tormentor; despite Horatio’s beloved pocket watch now sitting in Snape’s possession and my wonderful, horrible Lucius – who at this moment looked every bit the stately Master Malfoy, I had eyes for no one but the angry young man by my side who went unnoticed by everyone else. I leaned in close, letting my contempt bleed into his thoughts.
“You better not mess things up for me.”
Author’s note: Recognize that watch? If you open up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (in my edition, it’s at the bottom of page 12) to Chapter One, you’ll find who it presently belongs to.
I've probably lost all credibility when I apologize for being a rubbish updater, but I've finally finished Purgatory! There are two more chapters to go after this, which will be posted next week and the week after. If anyone's still around, thank you for reading! And thank you for nominating this for 2012 Dobbys. :)