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Chapter 25 : The Fragments
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Creepily perfect (perfectly creepy?) chapter image by the wonderful Eponine at TDA! I think it's the chest hair... Not that Christian has much to do with this chapter, but he's just so pretty to look at! Okay, okay, go ahead, you can find out what happens now! :)
Time moves slow.
10:53 PM. The winter wind whipped his hair slick against his head, moisture from what remains of the snow trickling at his face. Or perhaps it is sweat, or tears from perspiration or from the mere sting of the air. They are hovering above the funny-looking building, which sways slightly in that vicious gust.
He is frightened: not for the family, whose firelight warms the windows in a golden glow, but for his own sake, his own loved ones, warm and safe until his slightest misstep.
A girl, about the age of his own daughters, stands in the window, winter light coating her profile and shining across her red hair. The man wrenches his eyes away from her, tightens his grip on the broom until pale full moons grow upon his knuckles.
He pulls his eyes and thoughts away from the girl and concentrates on the boy: a hard, iron concept neither human nor relatable, a creature so far from his own children that cannot possibly be identified within the sympathies of humanity. The boy is a talisman whose possession will ensure his safety, and that of his own family. He catches Rookwood's eye, nods once. It is time to descend.
11:02 PM. The art of torture, Theo has quickly learned, is nothing more than a furious direction of will, a moment of fear or anxiety which drives the magical power through the wand in a brief, fleeting act. He turns his wand over again and again in his hands: a device for inflicting pain and rage, a vehicle of the terror which reigns within his own self, weaves malicious vines about his ribs, squeezes and clamps, tight.
Theo had not been sent on the raid, only brought here, to this quiet back room dressed in rich carpets and sluggish, elaborate oil portraits with haughty pointed faces. He had been summoned to prove himself capable. He had scarcely been forced to move.
His power had faded twice, and he had heard the displeased murmurings of the others and the Dark Lord's cold laughter. He had repeated the word of power over and over again, until it became less of a meaning but rather a mess of sounds and syllables sliding like hot butter from his dry tongue, watched the stranger writhe before him, their screams a measurement of his own might, magic, for the first time, used as a hammer to knock the fingers of another one by one, to light a fire in the confines of their skull and tend to its burn.
Theo has lived a charmed life. He has lost and persisted. He was a solemn, thoughtful child, an adolescent with a small smile to spare, a quiet and perceptive young man. He has always loved. He has always been loved.
He wonders of the stranger, where he has seen those blue eyes of faint familiarity before, the kind mouth opened in a toothy scream with no leftover voice.
11: 24. Above the cellars, the party continues, sallow, ageing faces, papyrus skin stretched over decaying cheekbones, painted lips with dry, cracking lines. Arms wrapped around the coils of necks, lips whispering close to bejeweled ears, wands tucked neatly into dress robes and gowns, ready to be drawn at a moment's notice.
Christian Haynes has rejoined the party alone, a fact not unnoticed by Daphne Greengrass-Yaxley. She, also, has been in contact with Haynes over the past few months, carefully constructed letters in parchment envelopes lined with golden ink, the confident, self-satisfied smirk preserved in each curling 'S.'
Daphne curls her hands tighter around Blaise Zabini's neck. She found Haynes' proposals seductive, once, his smooth words painting a youthful picture of glory and light, of possibilities only achievable by the brilliant uprising of youth, of talented, fierce young wizards and witches. But Daphne has known fear, when her father's tasks made him missing for several weeks, the painful lack of being able to place each family member in their safe compartment. She has seen desperation, nothing glorious, in the drawn, once-proud face of Draco Malfoy, in the thin quiver of his mother's pale shoulders. Daphne is intrinsically selfish, after all. She does not want this life of fear and risk for herself: she prefers to stand on the sidelines, continue in the flood of victory and be bourne along with it, beautiful and quiet and unimportnat, a prize, not a tool.
So she discarded Haynes' letters, though she suspected the others - Theo, Avery, possibly even Crabbe and Goyle, if the Death Eaters were particularly desperate- have been eagerly lapping up the seductive words like half-starved cats, letting the Dark Lord's promises through his mouthpiece sink into their heads.
Daphne wonders fleetingly if Astoria, too, is in the process of being considered and evaluated, the way she is sure Theo has been tonight. She hasn't see either of their younger siblings for at least an hour. But, they are still so young, and not even near to being of age. Better the Dark Lord keep them all under his looming thumb, grooming them to be the perfect servants. Surely Tor will be easily swayed: she is outspoken, yes, and prone to instigating arguments, but intrinsically she is a true daughter of Yaxley and unable to resist the greatness which is her birthright. Yes, Daphne is sure of it, Tor will be too easily tempted, so easily swayed.
She curls her chin into Blaise's shoulder, nipping a little kiss on the inside of his jaw. His arms tighten comfortably around her, and he gives her a cool, bland smile of polite affection.
11: 29. And in the cellars, which we surely were not meant to find, Pyxis Nott stands confused, hands outstretched, towards me. I, Astoria. Whose heart has ceased to beat, whose mouth has gone cold with sweat and sick. Whose legs tingle with the feeling of nothingness, of mergence with the gritted dark floor, of shadows lurking behind the darkness, ready to turn this nightmare scene into reality.
Terry's body lies before me: still, one eye half-open with blue edging through cautiously, hands draped carelessly at his side, warm blue bruises edging at his wrists and where his neck meets his chest. His chest is hollow, still, his lips parted slightly as if he died shocked.
It is a very long moment, when I believe Terry Boot is dead.
11: 47. Daphne is waiting for Blaise to bring her a glass of champagne in preparation for the New Years toast, plumping her lips in anticipation for the profilic New Years Kiss - the first of many, she is smugly convinced. She smacks her lips, once, twice, and is irritated when Theo Nott appears in her compact, his white features providing a sharp contrast to her rosy cheeks.
"Well?" She snaps, closing the mirror and capturing his face. She grabs Theo by the scruff of his dress robes and pulls him down beside her, surprised when he does not even scoff at the indignity. Between them lies the childhood familiarity, the knowledge that he knew her before she was cold and prim and proper, that she had known his mother before her death. "What happened? What did they say? Did you meet..."
Theo nods his head, hands pooled in his lap. He turns to look at Daphne. "It was... He... He's nothing like I could have imagined." He is fearful, fighting the urge to glance over his shoulder and at each shadow in the room, for fear the inhuman white face will appear once again, the clawlike hands will touch his bare skin. He wonders if the Dark Lord can pick through his thoughts from his lair deep within the house, whether he is coldly amused at the young man's fear, how he wished he could call out for his parents, yet knowing this being has taken both of them away from him and beyond being his rescuers.
Daphne raises her eyebrows, seeming to understand. While Tor is perceptive to the sways of the mind Daphne understands the cues of the body: the tense set of Theo's shoulders and hardened line of his mouth tell her more than peeking into his mind could discern.
"Did you have to-?" She watches a small, lace-adorned girl prance by in the arms of her father, giggling as he twirls her in the air and then glances around sheepishly at the other dancers, who hide smiles behind their partners' elaborate shoulders.
Theo shakes his head. "No... He wanted me to, but I couldn't do it." He quivers. "I don't know if I'm in or not, when I'll find out next. Christian hasn't said anything. They did kill, when I couldn't..." He swallows hard, as if fighting the rise of bile in his throat. "They used me as their torture device, to see how I'd cope, and then they killed anyway."
"Who was it?" Daphne breathes, intruiged despite herself. Theo shrugs.
"I don't know. Can you imagine, being murdered by somebody you don't even know, who bears you no particular grudge?" Bringing his voice under control, he adds. "All I could tell you is that she had blue eyes, and it was a woman."
12:00. In another part of England, Terry Boot presents his mother a smack on the cheek, grinning as she ruffles his hair lovingly and moves to accept kisses from each of his younger brothers. Terry plucks a glass of champagne from fourteen-year old Tommy's hand, the owner of which scowls at him before turning back to his mother. Terry moves to the window, where a small icicle dangles, sparkling against the fairy lights. His father always forgets to take them down, and often they will shine on until May or June, a reminder of the ever-approaching winter.
Terry raises his stolen glass in a brief toast, imagining her face, somewhere out there across the hills and moors and dales, her thin lips curled in that most beautiful smile which he sees as his personal responsibility to exhume. He imagines himself kissing her, whispering Happy New Year in her ear, his lips against her skin. For a moment he is lost in the thought, until his cousin Will swings a heavy, brotherly arm around his shoulders, jarring him from the melding of memories and desires.
"Happy new year, cuz," Will grins, his free hand entwined with that of his girlfriend, a pretty blond girl whose name keeps escaping Terry. "What are you doing, all lonesome by the window?"
The wizard shrugs, amused at his cousin's antics. A few years his senior, he's grown apart from Will since leaving for Hogwarts. Will's girlfriend grins slyly.
"Look, William. He's thinking about his girlfriend," she says, and the treacherous blush staining Terry's cheeks makes her giggle and poke Will in the stomach. He guffaws, ticklish as a child. "I told you so!"
"Terrance in love," Will says fondly, releasing his cousin and scooping the nameless girlfriend under his broad shoulder, giving her a little kiss on the top of her light head. "You'll have to bring her round next year, mate. Gran and Mum and the rest are desperate to meet the little lady who's captured our Terry's sweet heart."
Terry rolls his eyes, but casts a glance around the crowded kitchen. His father, the yearly requirement of the passionate New Years kiss over, is chatting angrily and animatedly about Structural Adjustment Programs in southern Africa. His younger brothers are staring shyly at the two friends Will's little sister brought to the family gathering. His Gran, eighty-six and more opinionated than ever, is fussing over another cousin's haircut, while his mother bosses around his uncles, much as she must have done when they were her younger brothers and forced to attend the infamous teddy bear tea parties. They are so comfortable, so kind, so intrinsically Muggle, in a world of merit and justice and virtue enforced by their own construction.
He imagines Tor asking his father questions about international intervention, her small features intent on the art of understanding. He imagines her teasing his brothers, making the strange girls feel welcome by talking about those things adolescent girls are interested in, sitting beside his Gran and admiring the wedding wing Terry's grandfather bought for her from a peddler on the street all those years ago, her white hands smooth and young beside his Gran's wizenened ones, pouring the old woman a cup of tea. In his mind, Terry sees her laughing with his mother, sharing a family recipe, trying to explain what is the exact function of a Patronus charm.
In Terry's mind, Tor fits in perfectly.
"Yes," he says, turning to Will. "Next year, I'll definitely bring her round."
12:11. Biting cold air stings at my face, freezing the tears that have descended upon my cheeks without realizing. Confusion coating his face, Pyxis clears a bench - a silvery, ornate thing - from snow and seats me down, concerned. He pulls my hands against his as I shiver, shaking them back and forth a few times.
"Tor..." He bites his lip, eyes intent. "What... what happened down there? What's wrong?"
My heart is calming now, returning to its regular, cautious and guarded state. The shock of seeing Terry's body, lifeless on the floor in the depths of a Death Eater-infested stronghold, has jarred me, disconnecting my rational self and allowing it to float about in my body, lamenting, searching for a secure platform in which to regroup.
It was just a Boggart, after all.
As I broke down in the cellar, shouting and trying to reach the cage which held Terry, Pyxis held me back, shoving himself in front of my body with a strength I wouldn't have expected. As he advanced, Terry's body changed, turning into a figure I could not make out behind the determined set of Pyxis's shoulders. I heard him gasp, then felt rather than witnessed his jaw set.
"Riddikulus," he whispered, pointing his wand, and shuddered, and with a loud Crack! he pulled me away, away from the fearful creature lurking in the cellar, contained and forgotten, waiting to dissuade people like us who began to venture too far, to where the real prisoners were held, the true secrets concealed.
"That was a Boggart," Pyxis says, brow crinkling. His eyes shine against the new year, although only a few stars can be seen peeking from their shroud of winter clouds. "Tor, we've learned about Boggarts before, my Dad even made us confront one last year. Don't you remember?" He is frightened at seeing me, his best friend, always so cool and calm, unhinged as such.
"I remember," I reply, my voice chilling the air, my first words of the new year. It was only a Boggart, I remind myself, urging the fear in my heart to cease. Not a warning. Not a body. Not Terry.
"Yes, but I thought your Boggart took that female form," Pyxis muses, thoughts darting. I can feel them racing, trying to make connections in my head. "That wild woman, with eyes of stone and snakes for hair."
"Medusa," I clarify, shuddering despite myself. I was so young then, forgetting about danger, a childhood fear that had resounded in my imagination before taking shape in the Boggart Mr. Nott had showed us. But this - the destruction, the de-humanization of someone I cared so deeply for, and the dreading feeling that it was my fault - was worse than any monster, any horror of the underworld that could be thrown into my path. Monsters were figments, people like Terry of flesh and blood and truth. Fragile, lovely Terry.
"Yes, so when did it change?" Pyxis presses, and I feel myself calming, consciousness knitting together in the familiar form of fabricating a lie.
I shrug. "I'm just really freaked out by dead people, that's all. I read a lot about Inferi for Defence, and it really jarred me. I didn't tell you because I was embarrassed."
Pyxis looks incredulous. "So, all that... you freaked out because the Boggart became an Inferius wearing Hogwarts robes?"
"Yeah," I insist, and can't resist adding, "and no particular Inferius. I have no idea how the Boggart decided what it wanted to look like."
Pyxis is suspicious, I can tell, and I'm sure this isn't the end of the conversation. He finally straightens, saying he is going to find one of my parents to take us home, and leaves me there in the snow-ladden garden. I sit with my back towards the house, unable to face it or the eyes which may be peering out, curious what this daughter of that most clever and ruthless of Death Eaters is doing hunched and shivering in the lonely realm beyond Malfoy Manor. Suddenly, I hate this house, forging the horror to create an iron cage around my mind. For my sake, for Terry's, I have to be stronger and cleverer, letting nothing slip. For our sakes, I shall be strong and impassive, denying any attachment to the form of the Boggart on the floor.
But the image of his body, askew and lifeless, will continue to haunt my nightmares, a tableau playing over and over again within my most secretive of hearts, hidden deep beneath layers of falseness.
On New Years Day, my father and I are the only ones to awake early. I hear him in the kitchen, the whistle of the kettle representing the black coffee which he so relies on, specially packaged and ordered by the Leaky Cauldron and laced with energy-boosting potion.
"Good morning, Tori," Father says, glancing up at my as I sit down at the kitchen table. His voice is tired and embroidered by false cheeriness. In front of me, I place the journal Terry gave me, which is full of scribbled messages over the evening begging to know if he's alright, just in case the Boggart in the cellar was more than a horrible hallucination. I lay out the second copy of the newsletter Professor Burbage's friend, Margaret Macauley, publishes and has sent me in secret. A cheerful note adorns the interior, wishing me a happy new year and best of luck with my studies. The paper is charmed to appear as Ancient Runes notes to anyone but me.
I am scanning through an article about wizarding fashion being inspired by Muggle trends when Father snaps his fingers in front of my face. I look up exhausted and infuriated.
"Oi, do you mind? I'm trying to read here!"
Father rolls his eyes. "Are you going to begin the new year with such cheek? I asked you twice what you were reading."
"Just some Runes," I say sheepishly, and force a thankful smile as he places a mug of steaming coffee in front of me, it's bitterness dulled by milk and two sugars. I slide the paper out of sight.
Father nods. "And are you feeling better? Pyxis seemed quite frantic, said you weren't feeling well." He gives me a hard look. "You know, your mother and I don't mind if you have a few drinks now and again, but you are only fifteen and being... wasted, I believe they call it, is really not an attractive trait in a young woman."
"Father," I say, exasperated, but he isn't finished, moving towards the liquor cabinet and extracting a bottle of rich elf-made rum.
"Around here," Father explains sternly, pointing to a spot about a third of the way up the bottle, "is my alcohol limit for the night. Now, since you're quite small and a novice drinker, I would say your limit would be about here." His hand lowers and he gives me a knowing look. "Knowing your limit is very important, do you understand?"
"Yes, yes," I groan, biting back a laugh in spite of everything. Little does Father know, but Pyxis and Daphne had actually raided that exact bottle a few nights ago, using a Replenishing Charm to replace the squandered liquid with a rather weaker substitute. I wasn't paying too much attention, but would bet my broomstick they finished off more than the "limit" Father is currently trying to impose. Seeing my expression lighten a little, Father decides he's fulfilled his parental duties for the day and replaces the vile alcohol in its rightful place, next to an enormous vessel containing premium Firewhiskey.
He settles at the kitchen table with me, smiling with that affectionate, amused look specially reserved for me which promises that all is forgiven. We always understood each other so perfectly, sharing glances over the dinner table when Mum or Daph went off on a tangent, his teachings about Legilimency-craft, always being the first there when I cried. If anything, my entrance to teenage years only brought us closer, as he listened carefully as I griped about the homework assigned over the holidays, or I lent an unaware ear as he complained about the useless sods in the Department, or goblin laziness when he was trying to withdraw from the family vault. Several times I have longed to tell him about Terry, leaving out the crucial facts which would condemn him in Father's eyes, wishing to earn the reassurance and understanding he owes me as his youngest.
"How was your New Years?" I blurt out instead, wondering if he knows I am aware of the mission he had laid out.
The slim, redheaded teenager, her face framed in a halo of firelight. The inpenetrable borders, no matter how they cursed and cast. The glance of the father from the front door, his self-assured blood traitor smirk, showing he knew exactly what they were attempting to do, sure of their failure and his success in protecting his loved ones.
"It was fine," Father says dismissively, sipping at his coffee and wincing slightly as it scalds his tongue. "Not quite the same without Lucius parading about."
Rookwood's rage at having failed, taking out his frustration on one of the newer recruits until two others stepped in, leaving the younger initiate trembling and spluttering in the damp winter grass.
"I can imagine," I reply, cupping my hands around the warm mug. The morning sun streams through the windows, constant and all-seeing.
The terrified journey back to the Manor, fearing the Dark Lord's wrath. Again and again, he thanked himself for not informing his master of the exact purposes of their mission, hoping that this might let them off without hurt. Upon returning, he discovered they already had a prisoner, and the Dark Lord was amusing himself by forcing Theo Nott to torture for the first time, a great New Years sport of corrupting the young, more thrilling than bear baiting, a gladiator battle within the confines of the mind.
I'm relieved to know you and your young man are both alright. It must have been such a relief, hearing back from him after that horrible sight on New Years! You must stay strong, and stay fast to your beliefs while back at Hogwarts. While revealing your secret may seem a relief, keep in mind the danger associated for both of you. Once the secret is out, you may no longer be safe. Choosing public allegiance would mean losing your protected status, your safety within and beyond Hogwarts. Choose well, and plan your escape should the need call for it. I know that's what saved me.
I am well, and happy. I wish my sisters a happy new year, projected into the air when I cannot speak it aloud, and visited the graves of my stubborn, pureblood parents. Can you imagine, it has been more than twenty years since I braided my sisters' hair, kissed my father's cheek. I loved them dearly. I will never be ashamed of who I am, or the choices I made, yet I love them all still.
Did I trick you? Ah, I'm sorry! I hope you enjoyed this chapter, even if not a lot happened there was a lot happening, if that makes sense. Let me know what you think of the changes in perspective, and if you're relieved that Terry and Tor are safe... for now, at least!
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