By eggads, Horace!
Christ, the room was moving, with me in it!
A sudden lurch heralded the beginning of much more rapid movement, and Sarah was flung shrieking from my shoulder. Books and quills hit the walls, and I hit the floor, hands held protectively in front of me in the total darkness. The complete disarray my room always seemed to be in was suddenly explained, even as something metallic bounced off my skull and skidded across the floor. I yelped; the room took a sharp turn and sent my body careening into the desk. I doubled over in pain, shouting, "Bloody blue hell!"
And just as suddenly as it had started, the motion ceased.
I unbent myself carefully from around the desk, moving slowly in respect of the several cracked ribs I was sure I had. Shaking, I whispered, "Lumos," to my wand, clutched tightly in my hand. The harsh blue light fell on a scene of utter chaos. I stood, scooping a shuddering Sarah off the floor. I was examining her for injuries when, lo and behold, we were privileged to witness the birth of yet another window, a bay. It simply folded into existence, and the damage in the room was highlighted farther.
The door opened, and Wystan poked his head in. "Malfoy, I heard--holy shit! Didn't Dadimus tell you we were moving?"
"No," I muttered, still surveying the mess. "No, he didn't. He never does. I'm going to have a word with him about it, very soon."
Wystan took one look at my expression and made himself scarce; after all, it was Gryffindors that were known for stupid heroics, not Ravenclaws. They lived more by the Slytherin creed: "He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day."
The heroic scholar was not going to get that option.
Sev finally showed up at supper, looking positively merry. It was a strange look on Severus' face, and I wasn't the only one who shot him suspicious glances throughout the meal.
Later, pleasantly full and content, we attempted to find our way back to Dadimus. Owing to both of our extraordinary navigation skills, we ended up in what I suspected was a Ravenclaw corridor. The Locus Dadimus spell was directing us into a wall, from which hung a large gilt mirror coated in gray. A dusty table, graced with dead flowers, completed the aura of disuse and dilapidation.
Then again, perhaps we were in Hufflepuff territory. Ravenclaws were notorious neat-freaks.
"Well, we did find it," I pointed out to an understandably annoyed Severus.
"Yes, I can see that. And how you propose we find our way through solid granite, Lucius?"
As we stood arguing, a small voice piped up from in front of us. "I could help."
As one, we turned to the mirror. There, plainly standing behind us, was a small girl in a pink and white ruffled party dress, hair in ringlets and bows. She looked around six years of age. I turned, but there was no little girl in the corridor. I looked back. She existed only in the mirror.
Severus must have drawn the same conclusion. We exchanged glances; this was a new phenomenon, even for prefects. While I had seen various mirror-creatures, they seldom were anything but floating heads or limbs, never whole bodies. "Can you…" How to phrase it? "Physically guide us?"
She cocked her head to the side, evidently confused.
"What he meant," Sev clarified, giving me an overly patient look, "Was, can you leave the mirror, or would you just give us directions?"
Her face brightened. "Oh, I can leave the mirror! Just give me your hand."
Generally, in the wizarding world it was very bad policy to break anything out of so obvious a binding; the fact that the girl was cute and young simply might have meant she was trying to entice us into letting her out.
No. Slytherins were not the curious House. We left ill-advised, dangerous pursuits to block-headed Gryffindors.
Her lower lip trembled. "Please? I'm so lonely…"
Damn it. I reached out a hand and pressed it to the mirror's surface; breathtaking smile on her face, she grabbed it.
Her hand was icy; not cold as if she'd been outside without gloves, but as cold as metal left out in winter. The burning cold of a ghost.
As I pulled her out, her clothes and flesh silvered, turning white and gray as they left the mirror. With a small pop, her feet slid clear. She floated above the floor, still clutching at my hand. I was trying to pry it away from her, and Severus was not helping. He looked extremely amused, and I swung the clinging ghost toward him. "You twit, help me!"
He tried to grab her shoulder, but passed right through her. He stepped back and rubbed his hands in distaste. Touching the dead was never a pleasant experience.
She shouldn't have been able to touch me, either. She should have gone straight through me as well. But, evidently, as I had been the one stupid enough to help her, I was also physically touchable.
She was still smiling, laughing now. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! I didn't know how to get out. I was so lonely. They won't let me out, they say they're not supposed to. My brother won't come and see me."
"You've a brother?" Severus asked. "What's his name? House?"
"Brian," she giggled, swinging my arm in imitation of a children's game. "I don't care about him anymore. He wouldn't come and see me. He's dead now."
Severus' eyes met mine; we were thinking the same thing. How long had this ghost been in the mirror? And more importantly, why was she in the mirror in the first place?
"Let's go play, Lucius."
Her voice deepened from its childish tones to something darker, and for a moment her eyes were bright, dangerous yellow in her clear silver face.
"How did you…" Know my name. Yes, this was a deep shitpile I saw myself sinking into. "And your name is…?"
"My name's…" she stopped swinging, and her face went blank. "I… I…don't know. Lucius, I can't remember! Can't…" She wrapped her arms around my waist and buried her face in my robes.
All right. I was connected to a young, recently-imprisoned ghost by telepathy and touch, she wouldn't turn loose from me, and was playing me like a violin. I'd been quite certain I couldn't be played by anyone. We were still lost, and tired. And I felt queasy.
Deal with one thing at a time, Lucius. One thing at a time.
We did manage to find the dormitories, after extensive searching, and Dadimus found it quite funny that I had a literal hanger-on. Surprisingly, the ghost spoke to him, voice surprisingly serious and adult. "Do you know who I am?"
I'd taken it at the time to be more questioning into her past, her quest to find her name, but now I wasn't so sure.
It might have been a threat.
Early in the morning, I'd left her playing with Sarah to answer Professor Charian's summons.
Like all Slytherin heads before her, Celeste Charian held an impressive office in the dungeons. However, Charian's office was well blanketed against the cold and damp, and decorated in blue and gold, definitely not Slytherin colors. Professor Charian herself was not the image of a proper Slytherin woman; rather than clever, yet retiring, she was bold, sharp as Godric's sword and twice as deadly. She'd nodded at me to close the door behind myself, then motioned towards the plush chairs in front of her massive desk.
She went right to the point. "I would like you to farther explain Severus' report to me, Mr. Malfoy. Start with the mirror." She leaned back her comfortable chair, completely at ease. I was not.
The imagined dire consequences had manifested-I had to spend more than five seconds with my Head of House, who happened to have very direct ties to my father. And my Lord. Reason enough to be very, very wary of her presence.
I detailed our adventures, and told her of the ghost's ability to touch me. She raised her eyebrows, but said nothing until I'd finished.
"Lucius," she said sweetly, giving me a very dangerous smile. "What is one of the first things taught in DADA at this school?"
I could recite the exact passage she wanted by heart, but I took the risk of digging the hole deeper and ventured, "I realize that assisting the ghost out of the mirror was not the best course of action, but…I thought…"
"Enlighten me, please, on what you thought, Mr. Malfoy."
I said nothing.
"Malfoy, that creature was locked in the mirror for a very good reason." She stood, and walked around to my side of the desk, robes swirling dramatically. "She was the sister of a student here, once. His twin. She killed him, Lucius, drained him of his life in an attempt to regain her own. In doing so, she became more than a ghost. That was why the Headmaster trapped her in that mirror, nearly two hundred years ago."
I was starting to really appreciate the sheer height of that shitpile. I was up to my neck and still couldn't feel the bottom.
(A/N: That was supposed to be a disgusting mental image.)
"Do you understand?"
"Yes, Professor Charian." No. No, I didn't understand. What was she, if she wasn't a ghost? And what the hell was I supposed to do about it?
Nothing, it turned out. They had no idea how the previous Headmaster had gotten her into the mirror, and she wasn't going to go back willingly. She wouldn't let either Severus or I leave her sight, and the professors were at a loss as how to deal with her. Even Dumbledore could get nothing concrete out of her, and seemed bespelled by her childish charm; she had great fun dashing about his office after Fawkes. I've never seen the phoenix so ruffled.
I monitored Sev and myself for signs that she was draining us, but found none. The rest of September went by this way; Severus and I constantly paranoid and panicking whenever we grew tired, Nameless laughing and telling us we were silly. Slowly, we grew used to having her there.
Fall was upon the castle, and students and staff alike turned their eyes to the Great Halloween Feast, drawing nearer every day.
"…And, in order for the hatchling to develop properly, frequent pruning is encouraged." Professor Hidt demonstrated with merciful efficiency; the head of the juvenile Hydra fell into the container with a thump, spraying blood.
I heard retching sounds coming from the Gryffindor side of the pen, while the Slytherins looked like they wished they'd brought something along to read. Severus had brought something to read, and leaned against a post, in full view of the professor. Nameless stood next to him, hands folded primly in front of her. She didn't appear to be paying much attention to the lesson; instead, her undivided attention alternated between my face and Severus' book.
Sev'd made it very clear in the beginning that Nameless was completely my responsibility, and that he wanted no part of her. Understandably put out, she'd taken to haunting his every step. I was so relieved I could of cried.
Have you ever gone through your daily routine-eating breakfast, going to class, taking a shower, for God's sake-knowing that someone was always staring right at you the entire time? It's impossible. Nameless hadn't let us out of her sight since I'd pulled her out of her prison, and it had been wearing on my nerves like a saw on wood. Such prolonged exposure, however, made it easy to spot that she'd begun to change.
She was…growing. In the mirror, she'd been six. Now she could easily pass for my age. She still wore a ruffled party dress, but it had grown with her, and she had added gloves and a small parasol. Where do ghosts get clothing accessories? She wouldn't tell me.
Color was beginning to show itself, on her dress, in her eyes. Her hair, once silver, was now tinted gold, and her skin was more peach than white.
She was scaring me. She knew it. And insisted I was still being ridiculous.
On the coldest morning yet this year, we had the misfortune to have a scheduled double dose of Care of Magical Creatures. Instead of staying inside and doing bookwork, something most of us were perfectly happy doing as long as the fireplace was lit, Professor Hidt had dragged us outside, insisting that the young Hydras would be more docile in the cold. If that amount of wiggling and yowling was considered docile, I wasn't sure even Tirian would be able to handle raising them.
The professor called partners over to collect their young specimens; our trimester project would be to take over the 'pruning', care and feeding of the breeding population newly instated at Hogwarts. Severus brought back a small box; from inside, hisses and scratching along the insides could be heard. When fully grown, I knew Hydras were fiercely loyal, ferocious fighters; their skin, scales and teeth were highly useful in any number of protective and defensive spells.
Severus and I, Nameless not far behind, stationed ourselves under a tree. I opened the box and carefully lifted the pathetically disorientated creature from its soiled blanket, wrapping it snuggly in a fresh towel. It crowed out a wailing croon I thought might mean hunger; the fresh chicken giblets provided had frozen to each other in the cold. Gritting my teeth, I worked them loose with equally frozen hands and began dropping them down the ugly thing's throat, one at a time.
Not ten feet from us, Potter's Marauders stared down at their charges with varying expressions of revulsion and illness. James sat, holding the cardboard box and tentatively poking at the tiny hydlet, which let out a scream of outrage and attempted to bite him. He jerked his hand out of harm's reach, and the hydlet fell down, out of sight. Black eyed the 'pruning shears' in his hand, then the hydlet, face going gray around the edges. Remus had a box under one arm and the other around Pettigrew; I could hear him murmuring soothingly to the smaller boy, "It's alright, Peter, it's alright. Put your head between your knees, and take deep breaths."
Abandoning my own project without a thought, I strode over to the little group, bringing the shears with me. Black was always the easiest mark, so I stopping before him, taking in with relish the queasy look and shudder he gave as he turned his attention to me.
"You're looking a mite green, Black," I purred. "Not up to it?"
Almost immediately, the sick expression faded from his face. He smirked, abet weakly, and replied, "Always up to it, Luscious." That was Sirius Black, never one to let a straight line pass him by.
In previous years, we'd had a certain mutual respect for each other; our minds thought nearly the same way, as much as a mere Gryffindor could hope to compare to my devious mind. In truth, we hadn't been able to resist each other; but there was only room enough in bed and out of it for one of our colossal egos. His had ended up injured, and there had always been a hard edge from then on whenever he talked to me, no matter how friendly he sounded. Sirius Black had streak of Slytherin in him, and I managed to rouse it.
I sneered, and reached to pluck up the small reptile from inside Potter's box. "Hmmm," I commented, then snipped off an obviously ailing head. Sirius winced, Pettigrew moaned, and Remus gave me a chiding glare worthy of Dumbledore himself. I smirked at him and handed the wailing hydlet back to James, who gave me a look that said typical Slytherin, and began to feed the remaining heads chunks of icy chicken liver.
I hated that look, especially from him, the one person in Hogwarts who didn't fear me or my actions. Damn it, I wanted him to look at me with desire, not disgust, or fear. In the back of my perverse mind, the small, piping voice of my vanity stated, theatrically enough, that I was going to get under that pretty Gryffindor skin if it was the last thing I did. I told Vanity to shove it, but I couldn't let the look pass. I opened my mouth to retort, but James' eyes drifted beyond me, the ultimate insult if he only knew it. Vanity wailed. Potter asked, "Who's that?"
I flicked my eyes back. The unnamed ghost stood, uncertain, I few steps behind me. I waved her away. "That's Nameless, the-"
"-ghost who won't leave you alone;" Sirius interrupted. "Even the dead can't resist you, Lucy!"
I felt more than saw Nameless come forward. I glanced aside again; she had a delicate frown on her face, and slipped her arm through mine almost protectively.
"It can touch you?" James asked, surprise coloring his voice.
"Ooooooo, Lucy," Black said delightedly, breath fogging spectacularly, "I wonder if the professors know of your special attachment to her."
"Get your mind out of the gutter," Remus intoned, then looked at me pointedly. "You have your own project, Malfoy, and Snape is starting to look quite annoyed. Why don't you join him?"
Ah, Remus, peacemaker to the core. I had a deep and abiding affection for him, and his lost cause. Nothing could make the Marauders more peaceable. Smiling, I cupped his cold cheek in my hand, mostly to fluster him and enrage Sirius. It was pitifully easy to do both. "Only because you asked so nicely, Remmie-darling," I said, sliding my fingers teasingly across his lips, before turning away. Sirius muttered something uncomplimentary to my retreating back, the expected parting shot. I smirked, even though he couldn't see it. I knew I'd won the day.
Too soon, Halloween morning came, and with it an invitation, summoning me to my father's estate for our own festivities. It happened every year on this date, the day most associated with witchcraft and wizardry. My father and the senior Death Eaters would have a civilized dinner party, black tie. Then, after midnight, they would don their robes and masks, ready to participate in another kind of fete altogether.
Severus saw me reading it as he made his way down to breakfast; even as I spotted him and attempted to conceal it, he was striding over, and snatched it out of my hand. "Tonight, then," he murmured, face hardening in determination.
It frustrated me, that I couldn't change his mind. When I'd been younger, I'd recruited as many to my Lord's cause as I could, believing he would somehow overlook my lacking in other areas if I provided him enough fresh meat. Now, I realized that I'd done nothing but doom others to my own fate-that of belonging unto death, either at our enemy's hands or our Lord's.
Severus was different. He had approached me, and pressured me to take him with me to the Death Eater's most private of meetings. There, he struck a bargain with my Lord, ensuring his part in the new society to come and destroying any life he might have had in the old one. I was awed by his sheer audacity, and saddened. Another life bartered for my own, another promised to walk paths of Darkness the rest of his days.
Joy; I was to have company.
Severus first grew angry when I tried to protect him from the fate he'd chosen, then amused. He'd patted me on the head and patronizingly told me he was a big boy now, fully able to handle the consequences of his actions.
It wasn't getting through to him how serious those consequences were.
Classes were a blur, and I barely tasted the feast. Hours flew like minutes and minutes like seconds, until the clocks read eleven-thirty. Or, if they were wizarding clocks, something to the effect of "You should have been in bed ages ago, you irresponsible brats!"
Hogwarts had some very sarcastic timepieces.
I sat, running my finger across a black white mask. It was almost like the Japanese noh in simplicity and chilling emotionlessness. When I wore it, I became faceless, nameless like the ghost that even now stood beside me, uncharacteristically quiet and solemn.
The Halloween feast had been over hours ago. I awaited the stroke of midnight and Severus, who had a mask to match mine.
Tracing the smiling lips, up the slightly protruding nose, across the blank hole where an eye would show. That was how the Death Eaters knew each other-by eyes alone. It was the only thing the smooth, porcelain-like mask would show. Tirian was green, Etienne was flat, cold blue-and my Lord was crimson, like rose petals and bloodlust.
I slipped the mask over my face, carefully securing the delicate ties behind my head. I studied my own face my mirror, over the blackwood dresser. I was gray, a shade of shadow that barely contrasted with the whites of my eyes when I was frightened.
I was clearly frightened now.
Heavy silk robes clung to and draped my body, unadorned and completely black. They were spelled against dirt, fire, tears, Cruciatus and all between. They offered no protection from cold, nor were they cool in the summer. They were meant for one purpose: appearances. Severus, who could not pay for so fine a set as I could, was treated with less respect simply because his wardrobe did not match the others. He would not spell them to appear silk or satin. Whether or not he would admit it, Severus was much more like James Potter than he wanted to be. Honor, fairness, and earning your way.
A slight swishing sound announced him, and I pulled up my hood, covering any trace of humanity my visage might have held. "Are you ready?"
He nodded, and I held out our Portkey. A small, ornate iron key. It was no doubt part of tonight's festivities. It was scheduled to activate at midnight proper; again, terribly predictable. What worried me was not the contents of the meeting, but the purpose. The invitation was phrased to make it very clear I was not to come without Severus, when he had barely joined the Death Eaters and there were several other students who would have cheerfully given their firstborns for the honor of attending this event.
To put it less than delicately, what the bloody hell was my Lord playing at?
Of course, I wouldn't find out until he himself ripped the veil from my eyes, and Voldemort would take the greatest pleasure in revealing it the most unpleasant way possible.
A disorientated swirl of colors, a sickening lurch and the sensation of being flung forward through space followed the activation of the Portkey. Used to such travel, I bent my knees slightly and landed well, while Severus stumbled and almost fell off the stone path, into the lush, overgrown grass. There was only the quarter-moon to light the small, empty clearing from which the strange path led. The trees surrounding it were subtly alien; I'd've bet Sev out loud that we weren't in England anymore, but it seemed almost sacrilegious to disturb the preternatural silence that had fallen, heavy as any spell.
Damn, it was cold; I'd hoped the gathering would be somewhere warmer, just this year. I would have hunched my shoulders against the pervasive chill, but the pack of rabid wolves that were the Death Eaters would see the weakness. I knew they were already monitoring us. Beside me, Severus shivered. I put a hand on his shoulder to still him, sending a warning glance. "Watching," I whispered, and left it at that.
Faint screams rose above the sigh of the fragrant wind, then died back; I turned in that direction, stepping off the path, and started toward the sounds. Severus, after a brief hesitation, followed.
The moonlight dripped between boughs and leaves of the ancient trees we walked under, alternately highlighting and hiding the root-riven ground that threatened to trip up our every step. The forest floor itself dipped and twisted through the trees like a frozen river. Intent on the screams, I almost fell down one waterfall of rock and dirt, and put out a hand on a tree to steady myself. A pulse, deep and low as the lull of the sea, answered mine, and the bark grew warm against my palm. I jerked my hand away.
No, we were not in Britain. Definitely not.
We'd been moving at a respectable clip through the forest, quiet as we could be. I picked up the pace slightly, but even though I hadn't changed directions, the screams grew fainter, more distant. "Sev," I whispered as I turned to him. "What-"
He'd disappeared, as had Nameless. I was alone. Shit, shit, shit.
It had gotten as bad as it could. Severus, as cocky and daring as he was, wouldn't last five minutes with even the most Junior Death Eater, and though Nameless was a pain in the ass and able to take care of herself, I still worried.
For some reason, I was sure they had been taken, not simply lost. In strange situations like this, which were depressingly commonplace in my backward life of pomp and circumstance, I trusted my instincts.
A voice murmured on the edges of my hearing, like the fey music that played in the mounds of the sidhe. It was amused, and it knew my mind well.
Didn't even notice at first. Tut, tut; I'm disappointed. We have your upstart friend, though he is not aware of it yet, and we will mark him tonight. Our Lord has decided. We are waiting for you to join us.
Etienne! I shouted with all my might into that blank void he spoke from. Do nothing until I speak with our Lord. Severus is too young, the Mark is too much for him.
So you maintain. You-
His tirade ended, sharply, as if someone had cut a telepathic telephone line.
In its place, a voice unmistakably my Lord's filled my head full of Light and Shadow. My vision clouded in violent reds blacks, and unable to help myself, I sank to my knees, clutching my head in agony.
Use the key, Lucius. He drew my name out, savoring it like a fine wine. It sounded somehow obscene, as if he'd propositioned me rather than directed me. He read the thought as it crossed my mind, and laughed; the rich, dark laughter that only I seemed to rouse. It rolled through my mind like an orgasm during torture; incredibly painful, indescribably pleasurable, unwanted and unexpected for a reason.
Then, as suddenly as he'd intruded, he was gone again. I could not, dared not call him back.
So. Severus was to be marked. I could do nothing in my present position, which could be ten feet or thousands of miles from the actual meeting. Nameless, who would not leave our sides, had gone, presumably with him. I didn't know if Severus would resist the Mark, or go eagerly into the hell I had managed to avoid for sixteen years.
Again, I noticed the moonlight. It shimmered, dripping down from the gnarled branches to pool at my feet. It looked viscous, almost as if I dipped my fingers in it, they would come away coated in liquid silver. The illusion faded as the wind shifted, rustling the trees into secret conversation and dissolving the puddle of moonbeam.
Human life could be as beautiful, and over as quickly. I knew that from personal experience; but I hoped, almost prayed to a God that all Malfoys supported but none believed in, that just this once, I could win against my Lord. I could save Severus, perhaps even myself. I could.
I drew out my wand, and began to walk.
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