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Chapter 40 : The Monster
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Stunning image by Lostmyheart at TDA.
As simply as a whisper, things fall apart.
The breaking moment happens right before Halloween – and my birthday - when I am caught out of bed after hours trying to get a letter to Terry to the owlery. In the past month, Slytherin prefects have been stationed on duty outside the owlery and charged with bringing any interesting or incriminating letters they confiscate to the Carrows, and so this was an attempt to try and thwart the system.
But I am not caught by a wizard or witch, but something far more frightening. Hogwarts has always played host to some strange and dangerous magical creatures which creep into the school: from a mountain troll in the girls toilet and a three-headed dog in Daphne’s first year to the dragons on the school grounds for the Triwizard tournament – not to mention Hagrid’s pack of Blast-Ended Skrewts or the occasional Boggart infestation. But this is a horrid thing that I have never seen before beyond textbooks and storybooks, and I freeze outside the owlery, pressing my back into the stone wall as if the castle could soak me up and protect me from its gaze.
The creature has the winged body of a lion or large cat, with a curling, scaled tale that twines around in the air behind it. But most freakish is the human neck and head grotesquely protruding, with dark eyes without whites – like those of an animal – and three sets of grinding, grinning teeth. A manticore. It is an a magical creature from nightmares, though it cannot shock me that the Carrows have carried through on their promise to leave something sinister patrolling the halls of Hogwarts at night: an atrocity Dumbledore would never have permitted to touch the stones of the Entrance Hall.
“Please let me pass,” I stammer, wondering if the manticore can speak. “I am a Slytherin student and I need to get back to my common room.”
There is a horrible, grinding noise, and the manticore’s mouth opens, three sets of sharp teeth shining in the light from the candles. In a nearby portrait of Yuri the Owl-Speaker, the painting’s occupant shrieks and covers his eyes and those of the snowy owl perched on his shoulder.
“I am the manticore, devourer of flesh,” the monster intones, dead eyes staring hungrily at me. As I watch, it licks its papery lips. The human head has the air of a corpse. “I guard these halls from bad students. I am to hurt the bad students.” It steps closer to me, nostrils flaring. “I am not to eat the bad students. But you would taste so delicious to me.” Its voice is monotone, flat, hardly the voice of a human creature.
I draw my wand, rushing through the defensive spells that I know. My heart pounds in my chest, up into my neck, constricting my airway, but my mind is strangely clear. In the corner of my eye, Yuri the Owl-Speaker flees from his frame, calling something out that echoes through the corridor. The manticore’s claws scrape against the stone floor, and as it approaches me, the letter to Terry still clutched in my hands, a whiff of something horrible – like decaying meat mixed with excrement – wafts into my nose. The manticore grins again.
It is said later that the creature had no true benefit in harming me, and that most likely it was just toying with me like a lion with its food. But I panic. I slash my wand against the air, trying to drive away the smell, the dark, animalistic eyes, the horrible, contorted human face. And magic blares out of me – uncontrollable, instinctual magic, the kind that all children have, the sort of magic which protects a young witch from a car speeding towards her when she crosses the road without looking, or cushions a young wizard when he falls out of the tree in his garden. I have no power to tame the magic, and then there is the sound of grinding stone and thick dust fills the air, and as I lunge back something falls on my leg, crushing the bones. And the pain is so great that I tumble from consciousness, the air thick and blinding me with dust.
I come to my senses in a familiar, airy room, awoken by the invasive shine of an early Highland sun shoving its way through the gaps in the curtains. My head aches and there is a dull ache coming from my left leg, and my mouth tastes dry and sour. Swishing the saliva round my tongue, I try and lean up on my elbows or raise my head, only to find that I am immobilized on the bed.
Taking a deep, rattling breath, I close my eyes briefly and then open them, looking around. I am in the hospital wing: that much is sure. The curtains around my bed are drawn, exposing my frozen humiliation and lack of movement for any visitor to witness. I open my mouth, mumbling something indistinguishable: happily, it is enough, for Madam Pomfrey, tying her apron tightly around her round middle, comes bustling over.
She sits beside my bed, to my surprise: Madam Pomfrey is rarely seen sitting still. I turn my head slightly to look at her.
“Miss Greengrass, do you remember what happened last night?” she asks softly, putting a gentle, cool hand on my immobile arm: despite its stillness, I can feel her touch. Surely that is a good sign, and one that my immobilization is not caused by some sort of nerve or spine damage from the falling stones in the corridor. I nod slightly, wincing as the horrid face of the manticore flashes through my head.
“I was attacked by a manticore,” I say quietly. “Of course I remember. Is…does my sister know?” Despite my mixed feelings towards Daphne which have grown since her Head Girl duties and Michael’s detention, she’s the person at Hogwarts I would most prefer to see. Sisters don’t care about how ugly and broken the other one looks, and though we keep secrets from one another the thought of seeing her is oddly comforting.
“Miss Greengrass, there are others who will be pleased to hear you are awake and must urgently speak with you,” the matron says quietly. She glances at my eyes then looks away quickly, as if afraid to learn too much. “I am afraid I must inform them now that you have awoken. I suggest you prepare yourself for the questions.” With a rustle of skirts she moves across the hospital wing and into her office, and the sound of the window opening and a rush of cool air comes through, moving the curtains of my bed. I shiver and try to lift my arms again to brush a strand of hair away that is tickling my cheek, but once again cannot move my arms or legs – I am immobilized, and there is nothing I can do to struggle against it. My wand is nowhere in sight.
A few minutes – though it feels like hours – later, a familiar black, swooping shape enters the hospital, moving towards me. Dark eyes glimmer down and with a wave of the wand, the magical binds holding me still on the bed release, making me a little less helpless. I struggle to prop myself up on my elbows and then scoot back on the bed, leaning against the headboard and crossing my legs under the sheets, staring at Professor Snape.
I have just succeeded in sitting up when my mother appears behind him, fussing as she pulls up a chair and sits next to me. She kisses my forehead, then shifts guiltily, sitting back and staring at her hands without really addressing me. That’s when I know I’m in trouble.
“Miss Greengrass, your incident last night caused great damage to the corridor outside the owlery as well as destroying three very valuable paintings,” Snape says quietly, his voice thick with oil. “Most disappointing that you would break the school rules – imposed for the safety of all students – and cause such a…fuss.”
I bristle. “Alright, yes, I was out of bed after hours, but this is Hogwarts. How did the bloody manticore get inside, anyway? Mum.” I look at her, at her limp hands coiled around her wand in her lap. “Mum, surely as a parent you can see how completely deranged this whole situation is. The damn thing was going to eat me!”
“The manticore was only toying with you – it was under strict jurisdiction to bring any rule-breakers to the professors on duty,” Snape says quietly. I look at Mum again, but her usual spirit is cowed.
“It was very wrong to be out of bed when you knew the dangers and consequences, darling,” she says, glancing at Snape. “Your father and I are very disappointed. And I suggest you keep your tongue in check.” This last sentence, though it sounds like a warning for my use of swear words, is perhaps hinting at keeping some secrets more closely hidden.
“Is Dad here?” I look towards the door hopefully. Surely he will see the madness of the Carrows in allowing the manticore to patrol the corridors and attack students.
“No, Astoria, your father is extremely busy with his new post at the Ministry, doing his master’s important work,” Mum says crisply, and I again feel there is an insinuation in these words. She looks at Snape again. “The Headmaster also needs to inquire about the upsetting contents of the letter which was found in your possession last night – Severus?”
“Indeed, Selena – most troubling. As a member of Slytherin House and a daughter of one of the Dark Lord’s most trusted followers, Astoria, we were most shocked to discover the…well, shall I say slanderous nature of the letter.” Snape’s lip curls as he pulls out the opened envelope that was meant for Terry. “You may care to refresh your memory.”
My heart sinks.
Dear T –
Things are getting worse. I passed some students earlier who were grumbling about the Headmaster being a Slytherin being why us Slytherins are so ahead in house points and get the best Quidditch pitch scheduling. How can they think about these trivial things when there is a war being fought within our very walls?
I hate Carrow. I hate her, I could see her dead or dying and not give a care. She is a beast – I cannot even write what acts she forced me to do. Her brother is a dumb brute but she is cruel with an unusual cleverness. I despise the lot of them.
Please let me know you are alright. I know you are in hiding but I long to hear your news.
“It’s for my friend, Taurus – the one who had all those rumours about him that he was gay last year,” I say after a short pause. “We dated for a bit, but we’re still close, and – and I was worried about him.”
“If Mr. O’Halloran is willfully ignoring his duty to return to Hogwarts this year,” Snape says tightly, “then he is a truant and an enemy to the Ministry.”
“He’s neither of those things – he’s just frightened, I suppose. I’m sure his family is in good standing with the Ministry and has made other arrangements,” I say, choking slightly over these past words as I realize how dry my mouth is. Glancing around for a glass of water, I notice one on the bed stand and reach for it. But just as my fingers close around the cool glass, my hand twitches and spasms, and the glass slips from my grip and falls to the hard wood floor, with a loud crash and the splattering of water across Snape’s leather shoes.
Snape pulls his shoes back under his cloak with an angry sniff, while Mum sighs, waving her wand to repair the glass. She does not replenish the water, however, and my dry throat grinds.
“It’s the curse they put on me to keep me on this bed,” I say angrily. “Mum, when I woke up I couldn’t use my hands or my legs – I thought I’d been paralyzed! It was horrible – surely it isn’t legal to treat students or people this way, not when they’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Nothing wrong, really?” Mum says, and there is a quiet, disappointed anger in her voice. “Taking an aggressive stance against the Ministry-appointed professors and earning yourself detention – this is not admirable behavior, Astoria. There are rumors, reports – sweet Salazar, I truly hope they are not true – of your heists with those of lesser blood status – God knows I have pushed these stories aside all summer…”
“Wait… you mean from Demetria?” I whisper. My mother waves her hand aside: clearly these trivial details are unimportant.
“Astoria, please look at me,” Snape says, and I turn in surprise. His black, captivating eyes seize my own and grip them, prodding into my mind, testing its defenses. Legilimency. I take a deep, shuddering breath, and let my anger and sense of betrayal float to the surface: my fear over meeting the manticore, my rage and panic at being immobilized while unconscious, the burning resentment at my mother’s decision to believe the words of strangers over her own daughter. Terry’s face, so present in my conscious thoughts, floats back far inside my mind, turning his features away like a child hiding his identity in the shadows.
“Miss Greengrass – Miss Yaxley,” Snape corrects. “I am afraid that at this time, your presence has been too much of a disturbance to the other students and to your own learning. Your parents and I have discussed it, and we think that – for the time being, at least – it is best if you were suspended on full leave from Hogwarts. This has been a decision brewing for some time, now – not simply due to your recent actions.”
My mother reaches out to touch my trembling hand, but I yank it away. Tears brim at my eyes. I look at her: and she nods her head. The understanding it clear: my mother will not fight for me.
“You will continue lessons with a private, Ministry-approved tutor to revise for your O.W.Ls and maintain the use of your wand during lesson times,” Snape clarifies. “This is not only a punishment, Astoria, but something done for your own good.”
They give me the afternoon to pack. My mother has some business at work to attend to and Snape swoops away after delivering this blow. My escort is set to meet me in the Entrance Hall at half-five, and so I slowly make my way back to my dormitory, trying to process the news.
They must be seriously concerned to go this far, I realize. Pulling me out of Hogwarts, should the true reasons get out, reflects very poorly on our family, particularly with Daphne as Head Girl. I know that Carrow’s hatred of me surely played a role in this and she seems to have Snape’s ear in these matters, but my anger resonates with those who should have known better: my sister, my parents, the Head of Slytherin house for as long as I could remember and family friend.
In the dormitory, Amaris is sitting on her bed, taking some notes for a Charms assignment. She smiles at me hesitantly when I come in and sit on my own bed, panting slightly from my weary body’s descent into the dungeons.
“What’s wrong, Tor?” she asks gently. I realize that I’m lightly crying, tears running with rare delicacy down my cheeks.
So I tell her the safest version of the sorry tale – the manticore, the letter to ‘Taurus.’ Snape’s concern and my mother’s disbelief in her own daughter. Amaris shakes her head.
“But what about O.W.Ls? This is such an important year, they can’t just do that.”
I laugh, hollow. “There are far worse things happening in the world right now than examinations, Amaris. I suppose I’ll be back eventually, I mean, they can’t keep me cooped up at home forever.” She frowns.
As I fit Lancelot’s food into my trunk and secure it closed, Amaris stands up and gives me a careful, impersonal hug. It’s the closest we’ve been since the rift between us started last year and all I feel between her and I is falsity, emptiness. We are so changed.
“Goodbye, Amaris,” I tell her. As I leave, I wonder if she knows that when she went to the toilet, I dumped the contents of Lancelot’s cage – an assortment of wood chippings, poop pellets and fluff – underneath Griz and Demetria’s pillows.
To my surprise, the wizard waiting to escort me from the castle and transport me home is not one of my parents, but Draco Malfoy, who looks uptight and upset in dark traveling robes. He has a leather traveling pack with him, bound with expensive silver clasps, and he smiles tightly and falsely at me as I drag my trunk across the Entrance Hall.
“I hope this isn’t inconveniencing you – my suspension, that is,” I say drily. Draco shrugs a thin shoulder.
“Frankly, I was on orders to return this weekend regardless – the Dark Lord’s duties do not take into consideration the three essays due next week.” He inhales sharply through his nose. “Looks like you have a goodbye committee.”
All the students passing into the Great Hall for the evening feast stare at us: two Slytherins, in esteemed positions and from great families, put on display for everybody to see and whisper about. I wonder what they’re assuming: that my bad behavior finally caught up, if I’m being initiated to be a Death Eater, if I’m ill or even pregnant. The possibilities are endless and the few who do know an inkling of the truth – Ginny, Michael and Anthony – stand a little aside from the crowd.
Ginny and I meet eyes and she nods slightly, putting her hand on her heart as if in a silent salute. Don’t give up, her eyes seem to say, and there is kindness around her, and empathy, and the silent trio moves into the Great Hall, Terry’s friends parting ways with Ginny as they move towards the Ravenclaw table.
“We should go,” Draco says, checking the fine golden watch around his wrist. “I prefer to Apparate when the day is still light. We can go from the village – somebody will arrange transportation for your trunk so I don’t have to lug it all the bloody way down to Hogsmeade.” He fingers his leather traveling case.
“What about Lance – will he be okay Apparating?” I ask, putting my finger in through the bars of his cage for my little pet to nibble gently at. Draco shrugs.
“Reckon so – I’ve Apparated with my owl before.” Clearly, Draco doesn’t really care. “Oh look, there’s that Nott oaf you’re so fond of.”
Pyxis bounds up to me, followed closely by his brother.
“Tor, we can’t believe this – I’ve only just heard!” Theo whispers, agitated. Pyxis steps up and wraps his arms around me, leaning his head on my shoulder and squeezing me uncomfortably tight.
“Absolute, stinking bullcrap,” he whispers. I claw at his robes, remembering something.
“Pyx – blast it, I completely forgot about Guinevere!” I pull away. “You’ll look after her, right – don’t think old Malfoy will wait around while I go back.”
“It’s alright – I’ll arrange to have her brought to you. Or you could be back at school before you know it. Just be good and don’t toe the line, Tor, please. No matter what they say. It’s not worth it.” His dark eyes stare into mine, raw and frank. I memorize his face for a moment: we haven’t even been apart for a few days since the summer before my fourth year, and leaving Hogwarts when Pyxis and all the others – friends and foes – are still here seems startlingly wrong.
I cast my eyes around the grand Entrance Hall one more time, bidding a silent goodbye to the silent, still statues of armour, the crooked cobblestones, the tapestries depicting the four houses, the portraits muttering and clucking away and adding to the din of the students moving in for their meal. Below me is the Slytherin common room and the dormitory where I once found a dead snake left there as a warning from somebody who only cared about my safety: many stories above, there is the secret room which was my sacred escape to be with Terry, and the Astronomy tower where Dumbledore bid farewell to his life, and of course the broken walls outside the Owlery which crushed the manticore when I was most afraid.
And the Carrows are here, eating themselves fat on the feast, reveling in the power which nobody has ever afforded to them. Wreaking punishments on the prisoners of Azkaban, soaring amongst the Dementors: Amycus Carrow’s former career as a guard there offers nothing in comparison to this. I think of her cruelty towards Mr. Nott when he was incarcerated, how she hated me after I drew forward a Patronus: the Dark Lord put her in charge regardless of her former treatment of his Death Eaters. Power matters most now at this beloved school.
Draco walks beside me in silence as we move down through the grounds towards Hogsmeade. The night is growing chilly with that particular smell of dry leaves and thick earth: an autumn perfume. Around us, the mountains cast great shadows upon Hagrid’s burn-edged hut and the Quidditch pitch in the distance. Great ripples wiggle across the Black Lake and the wind moves, shuddering, through the Forbidden Forest. The outdoors has an edge of warning and danger, full of shadows and dark things, and I am sure that wherever Draco is taking me, the wilderness is warning me that it is far worse than Hogwarts.
“This is preposterous,” my father whispers. We are sitting on a bench in the sprawling gardens at Malfoy Manor: it seems that Draco had direct orders to take me here. Dad shakes his head. “He should not have brought you here, Astoria. It is very dangerous: we are fortunate, for I am high in favour, but my colleagues are an unpredictable bunch.”
“I thought it was mandatory for all witches and wizards to attend Hogwarts this year,” I say quietly. Dad smells like familiar laundry soap from home, and I long for him to wrap a comforting, fatherly arm around me, or to tell him that he’ll find justice for my suspension. Surely he can see that it is not my fault.
“We have heard negative reports of your behavior since last year, Astoria,” he says sternly. “I never thought it would come to this – though I very nearly do not want to know just what you were doing in the corridors after hours – risking your life for a boy, acting out against the professors…”
“I did not realize I would be risking my life, only detention, but since somebody allowed a bloody manticore into the school full of children that wasn’t quite the case,” I say tightly, scowling. “And those Carrows are lower class lowlifes. It would be below my station to simply, blindly obey them.”
My father pauses: this is difficult for him to negotiate. I have bought myself a few moments of silence to look about the gardens in the growing twilight: the old manor with only a few windows lit, the hedge maze in the distance and the rows of drying flowers set in orderly patterns, ivy twining up over the gates. It is beautiful here, yet like at Hogwarts the natural world seems to be tense and held immobile.
“You must watch your behavior very closely. My time is not truly my own,” he says at last. “I am under recommendation not to leave you unsupervised, in case your mutinous words against the Carrows carry over into your personal beliefs…”
These are complicated, twisted words, but his meaning comes through clearly enough. I gasp slightly, gut churning, since his accusations are in fact true.
“Father, you know I am entirely loyal to our family and to the cause,” I insist, voice rising a little. I force conviction into my voice: after all, I am loyal to our family, those three other people of my blood whom I love very much: I would do anything to protect them.
“I dearly hope so,” my father says. He turns to me, putting a finger beneath my chin, and forcing me to meet his gaze. Blatant Legilimency – he is skilled enough that despite the fact that it is dark enough he cannot properly make out the features of my face, he can still slip inside the earliest defenses of my head: the front door, if you will. Those who are skilled can find the entrance to the mind even without the crutch of sight. He glances about, looking for suspicious thoughts or traitorous behavior. I force myself to remain calm, as if he could enter any of the doors of my consciousness and find nothing more upsetting than the typical musings and emotions of a silly little girl from Slytherin. To my relief, it works: Father pulls away, nodding.
Then he releases a secret: “Your grandmother has gone into hiding.”
I am surprised: my only living grandmother, Grandmother Greengrass, is notoriously opiniated and likes to be in the public eye with her army of mothers and wives of the current Death Eaters. Rumour has it that she knew the Dark Lord when he was still a boy at Hogwarts, though she never speaks of it.
“But why? Is she frightened of the resistance wizards?”
“No.” Father’s lips tighten. “Actually, your grandmother is openly rejecting the Dark Lord’s rule over the Ministry. She wrote me a letter voicing her displeasure at the dismissal of Rufus Scrimgeour as Minister and Thicknesse being put in his place-”
“So she’s openly declared as a traitor?”
“For all intents, yes. I suspect she’s just hiding out at the old family estate – a Fidelius charm would be simple enough for a witch of her talents, they all learned such things during the world wars in the earlier half of the century. I have managed to keep this irritating family problem from the eyes of the higher associates – but you must understand, Astoria, this is why you must not act out.” He sighs, rubbing a hand over his forehead: with the wrinkles in his forehead, he looks older and wearier than I have ever seen him. “There was an incident at the Ministry – with Potter, Undesirable Number One. We all must play our cards carefully.”
“Of course, Father. I understand.” A creature moves out from the shadows in the distant garden: a bleached, strutting peacock. I pull my Hogwarts robes tighter over my frame. “I truly do understand.”
“See that you do,” he says sharply, running gentle fingers over his forearm, which is shrouded by his robes. “They are calling – we are meeting. I must go inside. Stay here.”
Treading careful as a ghost, he moves along the path and up into the manor, leaving me alone on the stone bench. I sigh, thinking of Grandmother Greengrass: perhaps she, like myself, has seen the flaws in the bigotry of the Death Eaters, or it may be that there is a simpler explanation, like if another Slytherin matriarch insulted her carpeting and Grandmother chose to take this far too personally. I haven’t seen her or really corresponded with her since Christmas past when we met for dinner with the family: perhaps we have more in common than I previously thought.
I sit on the bench for what feels like a dreadfully long time, wishing that I had thought to bring a book. I was told that my father would Apparate me back home, but he appears to have abandoned me for the time being. Wondering if Draco is somewhere about and weary of my thighs starting to ache from sitting for far too long, I cautiously stand up and move towards the ornate front door of the manor. Perhaps I can just sit in the entrance parlor and wait there: it seems there is no real need to freeze outside.
The door is silent as I move inside, and my footsteps make no sound on the stone floors. The whole grand place is strangely muted, a real contrast to New Years Eve when it was lit with candles and glittering people and calls of celebration. I pass the door which leads to the secret rooms beneath the manor, where Pyxis and I found the Boggart which so cruelly took the form of Terry’s dead body, and the place where hovering plates of sparkling champagne rested the night of the ball. I wonder if there will be a ball this year, or if the war will have taken away the celebratory spirit of these hosts to the Death Eaters.
And what will happen when the Dark Lord wins this war? I muse silently. When Potter is dead and his enemies are slaves and Muggleborns and Muggles are locked away or worse. Will there be music and laughter and joy? Or will the unsatiable hunger continue to grow, out of the British Isles, onto the continent and beyond? Is this fear and silence to be the future of our lives?
I cannot answer these questions: none of us can, pieces of chess on an invisible board. Instead, I slide through the door which leads to one of the front parlors: a place public enough that few secrets are sure to be kept there.
But instead, I find three pairs of eyes staring back at me, narrow and suspicious. The three ragged men, who were lounging on Narcissa Malfoy’s expensive, plush sofas, drinking something strong out of finely carved goblets, jump to their feet like hunters ready for the chase.
“Erm, I’m sorry – I didn’t realize this room was occupied,” I say, peeling away from their stares. One of the men steps forward, and before I can react he is pointing his wand at me. He wears ragged robes and has a scruffy, dirty face with missing teeth, and his wand is short and blunt. He jabs it towards me, whispering a spell, and my feel and legs are instantly frozen to the rich, emerald green carpet.
“oo are you, then?” the man growls, stepping a little more closely. His eyes peel up and down my body, taking in my messy braid, my Hogwarts robes, the dark circles under my eyes from the stress of the past few days. “Not a leetle intruder, wanderin’ right into our arms? What do you think, lads – Rattler, Dimitri?”
One of the others chuckles, a low, dangerous sound. “Perhaps the leetle bird kin tell us ‘er name – in case she’s playin’ truant from the school, eh, Scabior,” he says, cracking his knuckles. Perversely, I fixate on the dirt under his long, yellow fingernails. The three men are interchangeable with one another: filthy, rough, ill-spoken. It is easier than meeting their lives.
“My name is Astoria Yaxley, and I am a guest of the Malfoys. I suggest you release your curse before my father hears you turned your wand on his daughter,” I say as imperiously as I can manage. But I am weak and tired and drained and my voice falters on the word ‘daughter.’
“Most likely a truant of some sort – if you was clever ‘nuff ter get inter Malfoy manor then would ‘ave thought you’d know better than ter barge inter rooms where you don’t belong,” the other man, Rattler, grins. He strides towards me, eyes keenly looking at my face, my eyes, then trickling down to my body. I feel the urge to cover myself, wishing I could force his eyes to turn away.
The third man says something nervously in a jarring language. Rattler rolls his eyes.
“Bloody foreigners. Now – Astoria, well that’s not your real name, ennit…” Just as he steps up to my frozen form, running a dirty fingernail across my cheek, I scream. I’ve never really screamed before, not a desperate scream begging for interference, and the sound is rough and harsh and incomplete in my throat.
But as Rattler’s hand descends onto my shoulder, the door to the parlor bangs open, with my father standing behind it. I see him from the corner of my eye as he strides forward, and light flies through the air, sending Rattler bounding back to the floor. As I stare, blood flows forward from his fallen body. Scabior bounds backwards in alarm.
“How dare you filth touch my daughter,” my father bellows. He waves his wand again and more blood pours forth, staining the carpet. Rattler is completely still. Scabior bows to hs knees.
“We did’n know – I swear it, I bloody swear it-”
“And your friend will pay bitterly for it, Snatcher,” my father says, fire flashing in his eyes. With relief I find my legs have been freed from their curse, and I fall forward into his arms.
“You should have stayed outside on that bench, fool,” my father whispers fiercely to me. When we reach the hall he releases me, scowling. In the hall I see Draco staring at the ground beside his father. “You are fortunate that the house elves heard your scream.”
I glance at Draco. “I thought you lost your only remaining house elf a few years ago?” Despite my recent trauma this thought draws me forward out of my fearful trance and interests me. Traditionally, a family only owns a house elf if they have inherited one through old bloodlines. The biggest collection is at Hogwarts, whose families have served there for generations.
“The Dark Lord has methods for providing servants,” Lucius Malfoy says tersely. He looks terrible, face gaunt and pale, white-blond hair hanging limply over his shoulders. “There is nothing beyond his power.”
His eyes – and his attention - shift ever so slightly down the corridor. A man emerges from there, a dark, heavy figure: Mr. Nott, sweat trickling down his dark-stubble cheeks. In this moment, he looks very much like his son: not plucky, careless Pyxis, but pinched, pale Theo.
“I have told him of what you did to the Snatcher, Orpheus,” Mr. Nott says in a low voice. “We must clear the way.”
My father nods, putting an arm around my shoulder and moving me with no little force towards the front vestibule of the manor, Mr. Nott following. Lucius Malfoy bows his head.
As I am ushered out the door, a gentle, predatory sound of a snake flowing across the ancient wooden floors hisses out in our wake, as the Dark Lord’s high laughter rings through the corridor, rebounding against the goblin-carved window sets. The sound of the great snake sliding, fangs wide, to devour the dying man in the parlor.
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