The great serpent slithered from the Dark Lord’s shoulders onto the mahogany dining table, jaws lazily unhinging as it approached the splayed body that had crashed out of the air mere moments before. Charity Burbage had been a small woman, short and still slender even after seven years of Hogwarts feasts, so swallowing her would present little difficulty to the enormous python. The drawing-room was deathly silent as the corpse slowly began to disappear down the snake’s gullet, head-first. Most of the gathered Death Eaters seemed unnerved by the sight, well aware that a similar fate awaited them should they ever displease their master. Young Draco Malfoy, still sprawled on the floor from when he’d fallen from his chair in fright, actually looked on the verge of vomiting.
Severus Snape regarded the scene impassively. He willed himself to think of the body as nothing more or less, to forget the sound of Charity’s cheerful laughter as it filled the staff room during interminable pre-term meetings at Hogwarts, her kindness toward even the most obnoxious of students, her desperate pleas for mercy and rescue before the Dark Lord’s wand stilled her voice forever. Pamona would be devastated—Professor Sprout had recognized a kindred spirit in Hogwarts’ youngest instructor, had been quietly grooming her to succeed her as Head of Hufflepuff for several years now. But such reflections were dangerous in the presence of the Dark Lord. Severus banished these thoughts almost before they were formed, focusing on Occlumency.
A terrified squeak broke the silence. Peter Pettigrew had returned from seeing to their ‘guest’ in the Malfoy dungeons, and was now standing in the doorway, visibly trembling.
The Dark Lord laughed.
“Why, Wormtail, surely we haven’t given you a fright? I should think you would be pleased to see my pet so well fed. Why, I imagine it will be weeks before dear Nagini can stand to even look
The other Death Eaters quickly joined in their Master’s merriment, Wormtail’s public humiliation a welcome distraction from their own terror. Pettigrew, the wretch, merely scuttled to his seat, flushed with fear or anger or both. Severus remembered a time when the sight one of his school-day tormentors so shamed would have filled him with the deepest satisfaction . . . but this too was a dangerous line of thought, and he stilled his mind once more.
Then the Dark Lord clapped for silence. “And now, my friends, we dine!”
On cue, a sumptuous seven-course dinner appeared on the table, with place settings and goblets of finest crystal, brimming with wine. The Malfoy Elves were nothing if not quick, and had cleverly arranged the food so there was still plenty of room for the Dark Lord’s snake to enjoy her own meal, like some macabre centerpiece. Severus set to filling his plate. There was no point in being nauseous on an empty stomach, after all.
The tension in the room eased as the others followed his example, though few could muster as much enthusiasm for the food as the pig-eyed Carrow siblings. The murmur of conversation quickly filled the air, occasionally punctuated by the thrashing of the python or the crack of bone as the serpent squeezed the corpse more tightly, no doubt to make it easier to swallow. Lucius Malfoy choked and spluttered on his food more than once at the sound. Narcissa couldn’t eat at all, prompting peels of laughter from Bellatrix Lestrange, who held forth on the various disgusting ways she herself had disposed of “Muggle filth” in the past, which was probably of little help to her sister’s appetite. Snape caught snatches of other conversation as well—Yaxely bragging about his infiltration of the Ministry, the Carrows cackling over some private family joke, Rowle grumbling about being assigned to work with the loathsome werewolfs again.
Fools, all of them, to be anything but mindful, to think the danger had passed. To drop one’s guard in the presence of Lord Voldemort was to invite death.
As if to prove the point, the Dark Lord startled him by speaking once more. “Severus, you will remain a moment after dinner.”
“I have an errand
for you to run. We will discuss it later, after dinner. And I believe Bellatrix and Rowle should join us, as well.”
Though he spoke softly, Voldemort’s voice still carried above the din. Rowle paled visibly, and Bellatrix straightened in her seat, eyes gleaming. Severus merely nodded. There was no argument with that tone, a quiet command. Rather like Dumbledore at his most honest, when there was no need to hand-hold mewling students with twinkling eyes and comfortable lies. Also rather like the Headmaster in his ability to make the most innocuous of words sound ominous. No doubt this ‘errand’ would not be pleasant, but brooding was a luxury Snape could ill afford. He would watch, and wait, and do what was required of him.
Marietta Edgecombe glowered at her plate, picking disconsolately at her casserole while her mother and Adam argued about . . . something. It had started with the latest security measures at the Ministry and how they compared with those at Gringotts, although Marietta had long since stopped paying attention. In the end it was always the same fight; Madame Edgecombe wanted her son to quit his job at Gringotts and take a position with the Ministry, and Adam had no intention of doing so because he thought the Ministry was run by idiots. Eventually her mother would tire of the discussion and turn her attention from the subject of Adam’s lack of professional ambition to the topic of Marietta’s lack of any ambition whatsoever, and Marietta would quietly submit to the hectoring litany of parental disappointment until the meal ended and she could retreat to the privacy of her room. The family had the exact same arguments every night so far this summer, although the discussion never grew more heated than slightly raised voices; Adam was too reasonable, her mother was too decorous, and Marietta was just too tired to care.
It had not been a good summer.
Marietta paused from stirring the casserole to pull at her bangs, making sure that her forehead was still concealed behind the curtain of hair she’d grown over the past year. Marietta hated having long hair. Her curls were much harder to manage when she let them grow out like this, and the result was turning into a frizzy mess nearly as bad as that bitch Granger’s.
The gesture didn’t go unnoticed. “Don’t tug at your hair, Marietta.”
“Oh, really Mum, can’t you leave Mere alone for one night?”
“I don’t see why trying to help my daughter . . .”
Marietta had heard enough. “May I be excused?”
“When you’ve barely touched your dinner. . . .”
But Marietta didn’t bother to wait for permission she knew she wouldn’t receive. She gently but firmly set her fork across her plate, gently but firmly pushed the plate away from her, stood with a mild curtsey, and firmly and not at all gently shoved her chair back into place. In the Edgecombe household this qualified as “Making a Scene,” but Marietta was dashing up the stairs to her room before her mother could even begin to complain about it, slamming the door with a satisfying bang. Then she stood there, staring at the room she’d grown up in, wondering why she even bothered to leave it anymore. Damn it, Marietta, you are not going to cry.
It had not been a good day.
She’d met with Cho, earlier. It was the first she’d heard from her best friend since the term ended, and the surge of happiness she’d felt when she’d woken to find Cho’s owl Gan waiting patiently on her windowsill had only made her feel even worse when after she’d actually met with Cho only to get into a screaming row barely a minute into the conversation. They’d had fights before, of course, but this fight had felt different.
It had felt like the last one. Cho . . .
For as long as Marietta could remember, she’d been best friends with Cho Chang. Mr. Chang and her own father had worked together at the Ministry, had been friends and Quidditch teammates at Hogwarts even before that, and so naturally the Changs and Edgecombes had been close, almost like one big family. A year younger than Cho, Marietta had grown up idolizing the older girl, and Cho returned the affection. Yes, Cho could be bossy at times, but it was the affectionate bossiness of an older sister. When her father died, it was Cho’s friendship that kept Marietta going while her mother fell apart and her brother retreated inwards. And when Cho went to Hogwarts later that year, she wrote Marietta constantly, at least once a week, often once a day. When Marietta was sorted into Ravenclaw herself, Cho hugged her so hard she’d thought she’d burst, and if Cho’s other friends looked down on her at first, well, that was only to be expected, and soon enough she was an accepted part of the group. For a while, everything had been as perfect as she’d imagined. Then the subject of Boys entered the picture. Well, that was only natural: Cho was a year older, of course she’d start dating first. Still, Marietta didn’t find boys very interesting, and watching Cho moon over perfect Cedric Diggory and Harry Potter made her insides squirm. They’d had their first big fight when Cho actually accepted Diggory’s invitation to the Yule Ball, although Marietta couldn’t honestly remember what silly pretext she’d found for arguing about it. The truth was, she was jealous—of Cedric Diggory. She felt as though she were being replaced. Marietta hated herself for feeling that way, and hated herself even more when Cedric actually died, because as badly as it hurt to see her friend in so much pain, a small part of her was thrilled when Cho turned to her for comfort. How horrible a person was she to even think such a thing? So she’d resolved not to be so jealous from then on, to dedicate the next year to putting Cho’s feelings first, because Cho would have done the same for her. The year that followed would sorely test her loyalty—the year of Umbridge, and Potter, and Dumbeldore’s Army.
Marietta went to her dresser, to look at herself in the vanity mirror. She pushed her hair back, exposing her forehead. The ugly purple pimples were long gone (and, Merlin, how it hurt
when they finally burst), but they’d left their mark; the offending word still spelled-out in her pock-mark scars.
She had never wanted to go to the stupid meeting. Cho did, because Potter was there, because she might finally get an honest answer about what happened to Cedric, and Marietta went along because she thought Cho might need her support. By the end of lunch she’d somehow wound up joining an underground movement whose purpose was nothing short of the overthrow of Dolores Umbridge, although even Potter didn’t seem to truly understand how far he’d taken things this time. Marietta knew, though—she knew how influential Umbridge was in the Ministry, knew the many ways Old Toad-Face could find to strike at her enemies. Besides, even if You Know Who was back, who was Potter to lead a bunch of students into battle—to lead Cho into battle? At least, that’s what Marietta said afterwards, but Cho wouldn’t listen. She called him ‘Harry,’ and of course the little bastard broke her heart. So when Umbridge called her into her office, threatening expulsion and insinuating her mother’s job might be up for review, Marietta didn’t hesitate. Sneak.
Fucking Granger; how did anyone so deviously vindictive not end up in Slytherin? She’d never felt so humiliated in her entire life. At first, the sheer cruelty of the curse won her a lot of sympathy, not just from Cho but from her other Ravenclaw friends too. Then You-Know-Fucking-Who decided to turn up alive and well after all, and Umbridge fled Hogwarts in disgrace, and Harry Potter stopped being a lying sack of shit and became the persecuted hero, with Marietta among the persecutors. Ass-kisser. Suck-up. Coward. Sneak. And those were just the names they called her to her face. But Cho had stood by her, and Marietta had never felt so grateful, because Cho understood
. Or so she’d hoped. She’d spent the whole of the past year trying to pretend nothing had changed, wearing her scars with sullen defiance at first, then admitting defeat and letting her hair grow out. And Marietta started noticing the way that Cho’s eyes would sometimes drift to her forehead, or how Cho would guiltily look away, and her other friends—Cho’s other friends—pointedly ignored her whenever Cho wasn’t around. They bickered more, too, always dancing around the real issue,. She hadn’t written at all since the disastrous end of term. Not until today.
Marietta let her hair fall back again, and collapsed back onto her bed.
It had not been a good year. Cho, how could you?
Instead of Cho’s new place in London, they’d met in Diagon Alley, at Fortescue’s—re-opened under Ministry management as part of the Economic Recovery Initiative, so of course it was nowhere near as good and almost completely empty. Neutral ground, she’d realized later. Cho had asked her how her summer was going, and if she’d still be going to Hogwarts for her last year if the school re-opened (lousy, and yes, because the alternative was an entry-level job in Magical Transportation, her mother’s department, and Marietta would rather die before taking that). And then . . . “I got a letter from Luna Lovegood, yesterday. She has the most adorable owl . . . .”
“Is that right?” Marietta knew, then, what this was about. “So, what’d old Loony want, then?”
“I wish you wouldn’t call her that, Mere. Luna’s nice. And she’s starting up a study group, for the summer, with some other ‘Claws. Padma, Terry, a few others."
Study group: Marietta knew what that meant. It was one of the old code-words, and of course Cho had already graduated, she didn’t need to study anymore. Cho was thinking of joining the D.A. again. Even now, Marietta felt a surge of anger at the thought. After everything . . . . “I know, and I’m not saying you should forgive Granger for what she did. But this’ll just be other ‘Claws, you won’t even have to see her. Don’t you see, Mere? This is bigger than us. The Death Eaters . . . .”
“That’s bullshit, Cho. We’re students . . . .”
“Fine: they’re students and you’re a sales-clerk at a Quidditch supply shop. I’m sure You-Know-Who is just quaking in fear at the thought.”
“You don’t need to be so snotty about it. People need to be ready to protect themselves, their friends . . . .”
“Let the Aurors and the Ministry deal with it, it’s not our job. Look what happened to Dumbledore, for Merlin’s sake . . . .”
“Well of course you’d say that.”
Which is just what Granger might have said, and Marietta had lost it then: two years’ worth of anger and frustration and hurt poured out of her in incandescent rage, all of it directed at Cho. Cho, her so-called friend, who seemed to be spoiling for a fight herself, matching her insult for insult; she called her proud and stuck-up and jealous, and that one just hit too close to home, so Marietta snapped and said the worst thing she could. “Jealous. Right, just because I don’t like watching you throw yourself at Potter like some fucking Quidditch groupie I’m jealous. Or did you find some new suicidal pretty-boy to crush on before the last one snuffed it for a change?”
Cho stood up without a word, but then turned, and looked at her like she was something disgusting she’d just scraped off her shoe, “I shouldn’t have come. I don’t know you anymore, Marietta.”
She’d known then that their friendship was broken beyond repair, but she’d been so angry, because Cho didn’t understand. She’d betrayed the D.A. and mutilated her face, and she would have done it all again, not for the Ministry, or for herself, or even to save her mother’s job. You don’t know me now? You fucking traitor, you never knew, and I did everything for you, everything but say the words.
Of course, that was the problem. Marietta could never say those words, because as terrible as the things she’d said had been, the truth would have been unforgivable, because “Sneak” was just two letters away from “Freak” and she’d rather be hated than reviled. If you’d only said it first; just once, Cho, you didn’t even have to mean it.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a light knock on her door; Adam, then, not her mother. “Mere? Can I come in?”
“Yes. It’s fine.”
Adam opened the door, but still hesitated a moment before actually entering. He was always careful to respect her privacy, or perhaps just a bit uncomfortable with the role of concerned older brother—they’d always gotten along with each other, but the five-year age difference was big enough to ensure they’d never been especially close. Still, he cared enough to check up on her, and that was something. Marietta sat up on her bed, shifting over to give her brother room to sit if he wanted. After another moment of hesitation, he accepted the implied invitation.
“Hey. So, I’ll be heading back to my flat soon, but wanted to talk to you before I left. See how you were.”
“Sorry about dinner.”
“Don’t be, you’re not the one who has to apologize. Mum just can’t leave well enough alone, sometimes.” Adam cracked a wry smile. “And by sometimes, I mean ever.”
“Well, you think I’d be used to it by now.”
“Oh, trust me, it only gets worse. At least you haven’t gotten the marriage talk yet.”
“Oh, Merlin, again
“Right after you left. Believe me, you escaped just in time.” Then Adam’s face grew serious. “Is everything alright?”
Marietta sighed. She could lie, of course, but what would be the point? “No.” She paused, wondering how much she could reveal without breaking down into a crying wreck. “I had a big fight with Cho, today.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. But I’m sure you two will work it out eventually.” Not this time
, she thought. “Maybe; honestly, I just don’t want to think about it right now.”
Adam nodded, accepting this. “So, I talked to Bill Weasley at work today.”
Marietta blinked, surprised by the sheer randomness of the change in subject. She remembered vaguely that Adam and Bill worked in the same department, Artifact Recovery, although Weasley was a curse-breaker while Adam dealt more with the paperwork. “Wait, wasn’t he the one who . . . ?”
“Yes. It was his first day back at the office; it was good to see him up and about again. He looks pretty good, considering.” Adam chuckled. “Naturally, only Bill could get mauled by a psychotic werewolf and actually end up looking more dashing.”
“Lucky for him.” Marietta frowned. She didn’t care how bitchy she came across; scars were a sensitive issue for her.
Apparently Adam picked up on this, because he looked a little sheepish. “Yes . . . well, anyway we got to talking, and he mentioned that the wedding’s still on for this summer. You remember Fleur Delacour, from the Tournament?”
“Yeah, it was kind of hard not to notice her.” Oh, and Marietta had
noticed her, and at the time had privately hoped she’d win the tournament and put the stupid boys in their place, show Cho that Potter and Diggory weren’t so great after all. It hadn’t hurt that she was stunningly gorgeous, and French. Maybe if Marietta bad been that exotic and talented, Cho would have . . . .
“So, would you like to go?”
“What? Where? Why?”
“Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Do you want to come with me?”
For a moment, Marietta was simply too stunned by the request to answer. Why on earth . . . ?
“I mean, the invitation says I can bring a guest, and I . . . well, I don’t have anyone else to go with, and, I thought you might like a chance to get out of the house, get away from Mum for a night. You’ve been cooped up all summer. It should be a fun party, anyway. Bill always knew how to throw a big bash.”
“I don’t . . . .” Attend the Weasley wedding? Marietta didn’t even know Bill Weasley, or Fleur Delacour—they were her brother’s friends, or colleagues anyway, not hers—and the Weasleys she did know probably wouldn’t be thrilled to see her. Granger would be there, and Potter for sure, and maybe some of the other D.A., maybe even Cho. “I mean . . . wait, don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“Ah, well, no. Valeria and I broke up.”
Adam shrugged. “I’m not. I never liked her family much, and . . . well, we never could agree on politics, or anything, really.” Her family . . .? Oh, right, Valeria Selwyn; one of those families, then. Fucking Slytherins.
“Why’d you even go out with her in the first place?”
Adam blushed, but didn’t answer, and Marietta was very glad he didn’t. She did not need to hear about her brother’s sex life.
“Yeah, I’ll go.”
“Are you sure? I mean, I’d be glad to have some company, but I don’t want you to feel obligated.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s like you said, I could use a good party.”
With a sudden burst of confidence, Marietta decided she could face Granger, and the Weasleys, and Loony Lovegood and the Boy Who Lived and all the curious looks and contemptuous glances at her forehead, and she’d show them all she’ wasn’t ashamed, and if they wanted a fight, she’d give them one. And maybe Cho will be there. Maybe I can apologize . . . .
Maybe she would even cut her hair.
“Wonderful, just so long as you’re not Austria as well. After all, we wouldn’t want you to split!”
Luna laughed. This was an old family joke, so while it wasn’t especially funny (old family jokes seldom were), it always lifted her spirits to hear it. And Luna was hungry: she’d already eaten a whole plate of spicy curry, and was just now scooping up a second helping. She’d never been a very heavy eater, but for some reason her appetite seemed to have doubled since the start of the summer. Of course, she’d been very active lately, practically brimming with nervous energy. Even now, as hungry as she was, Luna also felt like going outside for a long run.
“Daddy, do Gruggle Sprouts give people more energy?”
“Oh no, just the opposite: the symptoms of Grugglesproutitis are extreme lethargy and rickets. Which reminds me, I forgot to put the part about rickets in the article, I’ll have to edit it before we go to press . . .”
She sighed, not surprised by the answer but more than a little disappointed. She’d read the galleys of course, but wondered if perhaps some people might have the opposite reaction. It was known to happen in the case of Nargle-bites, which usually resulted in extreme sexual arousal but sometimes actually caused impotence in those with cat allergies. Unfortunately, this meant she was running out of theories to explain her own condition.
In truth, Luna was a little worried.
Luna Lovegood was a true Ravenclaw at heart, dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Of course, she differed from her classmates in that she was more interested in exploring the unexplained and hidden truths than in learning things people already knew. That was what her father did with The Quibbler, after all, and what her mother had done in her work for the Department of Mysteries. It was the Lovegood way. She’d had an interesting discussion on the point once with Hermione Granger, several years ago when they were making arrangements to have Harry Potter’s interview published, an argument Luna still remembered fondly because it was the first time she’d felt Hermione might be one of her
friends instead of just a friend of her other friends. She’d actually thought about asking Hermione if she was familiar with any spells or curses with effects like those she’d been observing in herself, but had ultimately decided against it. Ginny was still trying to keep the new D.A. a secret from Hermione and Ron (which was really about hiding it from Harry, of course), and Luna wasn’t sure she could lie about it if the subject came up. Not to a friend. Luna didn’t much like keeping secrets from her friends, but she seemed to be accumulating them at an alarming rate. Perhaps she’d offended a Leprechaun.
“ . . . Luna?”
“Yes, Daddy? Sorry, I was lost in thought.”
Her father grinned. Another person might have been offended by being blatantly ignored, but not Xenophilius Lovegood. “Best place to be lost, one’s thoughts. I was only asking if you had a nice time with your friend today.”
Luna smiled. This was a much happier topic than her increasingly peculiar physiology. For the third time in a week, Ginny Weasley had come to visit her, and they’d spent the afternoon finalizing their plans for the first D.A. meeting. Of course, they’d spent just as much time talking about other things, and then they’d gotten into a water fight in the stream, and Ginny had looked shockingly lovely with dark, damp hair, but Luna decided her father probably wouldn’t find that as interesting as she did.
“It was very productive. Ginny was very enthusiastic about your suggestion for the cellular organizational structure.”
“Well, that’s marvelous then, happy to be of help! One must do what one can to support the Resistance, after all, where would the world be today without the French Underground or the heroic Free Hydras of Cyprus? Classic organizational structure, that one, making sure one head didn’t know what the other was thinking. Although obviously you shouldn’t try to achieve that
level of secrecy, bound to be confusing . . . .”
Once again, Luna’s good mood was dampened by a pang of guilt and worry. She had not told her father about the various odd changes her body was experiencing, because so far they’d been mostly benign and she hadn’t wanted to worry him unduly. But because she felt guilty about keeping that secret, she had wound up telling him about the new D.A. instead, which left her feeling as though she’d betrayed Ginny somehow: not that Daddy couldn’t be counted on to keep the secret.
“You’ll be careful, of course.”
“Oh, yes, very careful. Our first rule is ‘Don’t Die.’
Unfortunately, her father didn’t seem to find this very reassuring, as he started in his seat and dropped his fork to his plate with a loud clatter. “Erm, oh, really? Well, that’s certainly a good rule to have.”
“Yes, I thought so too. It came to me in a dream last night.”
“Hm. Yes, well, useful things, dreams—tricky sometimes, of course, but one should always pay attention to them, I’ve always said.” As always, her father quickly rallied, launching into a long lecture on the subject of dream interpretation. Luna did her best to pay attention, as she’d been having the most peculiar dreams since the night of the Headmaster’s death, but her mind kept wandering back to one particular dream whose meaning was very clear. Luna sighed. She seemed to be accumulating almost as many divided loyalties as secrets, and she knew divided loyalties could do terrible damage: the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire being a case in point. She didn’t like lying to her father, or lying to Ginny, or lying to Harry Potter, but her loyalty to each of them meant lying to all of them about different things. Lying to Daddy about the risks she was taking, lying to Harry about the D.A., and lying to Ginny about . . . .
“Do you know, Daddy, I think there’s a better place to get lost than thought.”
“Yes. I think it would be much nicer to be lost in the arms of someone you love.”
Her father’s eyes widened a little at that, but then he smiled broadly, leapt to his feet and clapped his hands. “Oh, yes, that’s an excellent thought. I should write that down, that’s good copy!”
Luna beamed, because this was her father’s highest praise. Of course, once he started writing he would forget about dinner entirely, but Luna was perfectly fine with that—he was always happiest when working, and Luna would have time to consider the best way of dealing with her increasingly inconvenient sexual attraction to Ginny Weasley. After a few moment's hesitation, she picked up her father’s abandoned plate and scooped his leftovers onto her own: food for thought, after all, and Luna had a lot to think about.
It was lovely having friends, but also surprisingly complicated.
The stars were weeping again, and that was as it should be. They mourned her dearest darling; lost to fire and redemption just like Daddy, reverse Lucifers both. But their tears had grown tiresome of late, so she sang the stars to sleep. She sang lullabies and backwards Psalms and Gilbert and Sullivan, and then she made a new dress for Miss Edith out of cat skins. The lovely kitties screamed as they rolled about in naked, dying agony, and this cheered her for awhile. Then she tired of that game too, and crushed their skulls like grapes between her fingers. She sighed. Mummy liked grapes, and beatings, and the Psalms. Other Mummy liked beatings too, but not grapes and Psalms, although her beatings were much
Both her Mummies were dead now, dust and ashes.
Then Miss Marybeth whispered in her ear. Someone’s coming
. Dear Miss Marybeth, always listening for visitors; she would have to make a dress for her too, as a reward. Maybe the visitors would have something nice for her to borrow. If not, she could always use their skins.
A muffled crack sounded upstairs, followed by two others. Just like the gentleman caller who’d popped by the day before, materializing in the living room without so much as a by your leave. He’d tracked dirt all over the house and tasted like wet dog. Perhaps these were friends of his, looking for their lost pet. Certainly, they had the same bad manners, bursting in without even sending a note first. Mummy would not have approved. But then she thought, perhaps they’d brought her another present.
Oh, how she loved
The floorboard creaked above her as her guests made themselves at home: she could hear them whispering, the words were muffled but audible.
“Oh . . . bloody hell . . . .”
“So, it seems someone finally found a good use for Fenrir Greyback.”
“Yes, for once we’re in agreement, Snape. And stop retching, Rowle; honestly, you’re a disgrace to the Mark.”
Drusilla smiled. How nice, that her guests appreciated her new rug—she’d thought it only fitting that the werewolf should replace the one he’d ruined with his muddy boots. Then she drew her present from the sleeve of her dress, the long thin piece of wood vibrating in her hand, sending music through her bones. She listened for the proper notes, and smiled, thinking of piano lessons as a girl and the soprano she’d eaten in Venice, when her family was still together, before poor Mummy suggested they visit the Count in Romania . . . .
More footsteps; her guests would be arriving soon. How fun.
Drusilla stepped back into the shadows, behind the old boiler. Above her, the basement door creaked open, and a with whispered a word, “Lumos,”
a pale blue light appeared at the base of the stairs. “You idiot” someone hissed, and with another word, “Nox,”
the light disappeared again. Not that it made any difference now. As the three intruders inched cautiously down the stairs, only one of them moved with anything approaching stealth. One was too fat for silence, the other just uninterested in hiding.
The first figure appeared at the base of the stairs—as she’d guessed, this was the fat man, the one who’d been sick all over her pretty new rug. Perhaps she’d make him clean up his mess before she killed him. “I can’t see a bloody thing down here.”
“Well if you hadn’t blinded us all . . . .” The third voice she’d heard, the woman. Her voice was full and throaty. Drusilla couldn’t wait to hear it scream.
“Quiet, both of you.” This from the second visitor, the dangerous one: she could feel his ill intentions in the dark.
“Really, Snape, why so cautious? Whoever gutted Greyback is long gone—we did the Revealing Spell, there’s not a soul for miles.”
“Not a living
soul, Lestrange. There are other things . . . .”
Her Angel would have used this as the perfect cue to strike, but Drusilla was more patient than Daddy. The fat man entered the basement first, proceeding cautiously. She could smell his sweat. The others soon followed, and they spread out, showing more caution than they had so far. Of course, they couldn’t see as well in the dark as she did. Sure enough, the fat one wandered to the spot where she’d been playing with her kittens earlier, and slipped in the blood. He let out a loud shout as he fell, and this was when Drusilla moved—stepping out from behind the boiler, she raised her lovely magic wand and with a casual flick of the wrist, sang out the lovely spell it whispered in her ear . . .“Crucio.”
. . . and the fat man screamed. Off-key, unfortunately, and for a moment Drusilla had to pause so she could hear the notes again. The other woman acted first, spinning on her heals and shouting out a spell of her own. A lovely green light flashed in the darkness, and Drusilla let out a low, throaty moan as the burst of power shivered down her spine. Her own wand told her the spell would have been lethal, if she weren’t already dead, and the casual malice of the spell only heightened her enjoyment of its effect on her. The feeling faded quickly, but by then Drusilla was already across the room, shoving the woman against the wall, pressing against her body to body, using her free hand to keep an iron grip on the woman’s throat. She smelled of wine and ash, and Drusilla felt the hunger rise in her as she prepared to bite. Unfortunately, she’d been distracted by the lovely tingling of the witch’s curse, and had momentarily forgotten there were three of them.
“Lower your wand, vampire, and release her.”
Drusilla turned her attention to the third intruder, and snarled as a bright flame flickered from the end of his wand. In the light, she could see the man’s was pale and dark and greasy, and his eyes were cold and dead. She’d been right, he was the dangerous one.
“Naughty children shouldn’t play with fire.”
The nasty man smirked. “Perhaps, but neither should vampires.”
She let the woman go, and she immediately raised her own wand as Drusilla stepped away. The fat man remained whimpering and convulsing on the ground; she’d only been told to lower her wand, after all, not to end her lovely spell.
“A vampire? Using our
“Clearly, Bellatrix, we’ve been using different dictionaries; rare, yes, but not unprecedented. Such a pity we have to destroy it.”
Yes, she decided, the nasty man clearly meant her ill. She would have killed him already, but Miss Annabelle told her to wait, and Miss Annabelle was never
wrong. Instead, she let her face shift back to its more human form, and curtsied.
“Hold, Snape.” The woman—Bellatrix—interposed herself between Drusilla and the threatening flames, and Drusilla felt a shiver of excitement. The witch’s eyes were deep black, like nasty greasy Snape’s, but they were far from dead. Drusilla could see the hunger there, the lust, just like Daddy Angelus and Mummy Darla. “Look at Rowle—she’s kept him under Cruciatus without even looking at him. Our Lord will want to know of this.”
“The Dark Lord’s instructions . . . .”
“. . . Were to investigate the Shrieking Shack and find out why the late and unlamented Greyback had yet to report on his mission. And so we have, Severus, and if you want to be the one to return to our Master empty-handed, you’re welcome to leave. The werewolf was a useful tool, nothing more. Imagine how we’ll be rewarded for bringing Our Lord an even greater prize? Tell us, vampire, what is your name?”
She curtsied again, and because she liked this dark lady, she reached out and grabbed her by the hand, kissing her lightly on the knuckles. Bellatrix tensed at the sudden contact, but her posture shifted as Drusilla stepped away, and her nostrils flared just a bit as she kept her eyes locked on Drusilla’s. She thought of the Venetian soprano again, her dark eyes and soft bosom, and how much fun they’d had before she’d ripped her heart out. Would the beautiful Bella hit the same note when she screamed? There were many wonderful ways to find out, a few of which Bellatrix might actually survive. It would be a shame to break such a pretty toy so soon. Meanwhile, the greasy man froze, and the flickering flame of his wand died out. She could smell his sudden fear, sour and bloodless and not the least bit appetizing.
“The Scourge of Europe . . .”
“You’ve heard of her, then?”
“Yes. We need to leave, now
Drusilla pouted. “Parting so soon? But we haven’t finished our game. The fat one hasn’t even bled yet, not even a little, and Miss Edith gets ever so cross when she doesn’t get to watch. She cries for hours. It makes the other children cranky, and I haven’t any kitties left to slaughter.”
“Yes, Snape, it would be rude to leave when we’re only just getting acquainted.”
“Lestrange, haven’t you been listening
; a mad vampire is no use to us. Use your Occlumency, for Merlin’s sake . . . .”
“I don’t like that one,” Drusilla pointed at Snape and stomped her foot. “The air worries. His mind is full of mirrors, and he wants to take my dolls away and send me to bed without supper or cakes. But I shan’t
go to bed without cake, not for anyone but Daddy.”
“Yes, Severus, there’s no need to be a spoilsport. At the very least we ought to thank her for taking Fenrir off our hands.”
“Bad puppy. He didn’t want to play, either.”
“Bella . . .”
But beautiful Bellatrix had already made up her mind, and Drusilla decided she would find an especially nice gift for Miss Annabelle, nicer than kittens even—maybe another werewolf, or a unicorn, or a Slayer’s head on a stick. Everything in her head was singing, and the stars wept for joy. Oh, to have a family
again . . .
“Tell me, Drusilla, what kinds of games do you like to play?”