II. Confessions of an insomniac
II.1. Eye of the beholder
I was eight when Harry Potter defeated the Dark Lord.
Or should I say, when he didn't die at the hand of the Dark Lord's Killing Curse and somehow, through no magic of his own most likely, had it rebound upon his attacker instead? Which could be seen as a defeat I suppose, however passive.
When I first heard the news of the Dark Lord's defeat by the Boy Who Lived, I had imagined a story of legendary proportions to come with that tiny little sentence, so meaningless on its own. I had expected an epic tale of bravery, sacrifice, courage...
Imagine my shock and disappointment when the Boy Who Lived turned out to be a baby of barely a year old, and that the great epic sacrifice had been the precursory death of his parents. Boo hoo. What did I care?
All my life I had wanted adventure. I had been raised on books and movies, being brought up in two worlds as it were... the wizarding world and the Muggle one. I had always enjoyed the cop movies best, the detective stories and the adventure books.
Whether I'd fight imaginary dragons or the live breathing versions, whether I'd have a gun for a weapon or a wand, it did not matter to me: I knew I would grow up to become one of those people who worked actively against the rise of Evil in whichever form.
But whenever I dreamed up these future perils and escapades, a small part of my heart would curl up in a tight fist and recoil from these most fervent wishes of the heart. For I would remember my aunts: tall and gaunt, the both of them, resplendent in composure, ardent in approach.
One bearing the Dark Mark on her inner arm, while the other went to bed with her Death Eater husband every night.
I did not understand as of yet family ties and loyalty; all I knew of was a conflict of interest when it came to my inner feelings. For ever since I had met my dear mother's sisters, I had desired nothing more than to satisfy those calculating, glowing pairs of eyes. I desired only to please them: to make them proud.
Bellatrix and Narcissa had seen to it that I was spoiled to madness that first holiday at Malfoy Manor. In the time I was there, news came of Narcissa's pregnancy: she was three months along and literally bright with joy. I could see the fire beneath the ice.
I will never forget how Narcissa came to Bella first with the news, and the embrace that followed. It seemed, to my young and unpractised eye, to be more than just a hug between sisters... Standing there, enfolded in the other, they radiated an air of absolute togetherness, and the only thing comparable to that intimacy that I knew in my young mind was the love between my mother and father.
It matters little in the end. They were both superb to me that spring... I couldn't have asked for better partners-in-crime when it came to my plays and pranks of the day. They joined me in everything, always enthusiastic and willing: the years seemed to fall away from their faces as they indulged themselves in playing games with a seven-year old.
Sometimes, they would stand aside and watch me do my thing: trying to climb higher and higher into the massive oak tree at the edge of their terrain; fighting the waves (the location of the mansion truly was spectacular: the Malfoy family had both the forest and the sea at their beckoning); attempting to mount a broomstick fit for no man under eleven.
I was the tomboy, the prankster as well; I was being every child and every age with them. And they let me, sometimes joining in, other times observing me, but ever there. Ever there, with identical smiles on their however dissimilar faces, hand in hand or arm in arm, watching me approvingly, sometimes giving me a little nod.
I felt so proud in their presence. Proud not only of myself, but of my lineage as well. With them I felt my blood pulsing within me, felt it jump at my recognition of its power.
The rising blood rejoiced, and my aunts loved to see me practising my magical skills. They could almost taste my magic; it was as clear and familiar to them as the blood in their veins.
They would have me take on any build, any shape of face or form: an elderly man of parchment skin, colourless hair and deadened eyes; an exotic thirty-ish woman of olive complexion, midnight blue hair and almond eyes; a child younger than myself with golden locks and apple cheeks.
Bella would ask me to change into her, and so I would; she'd ask me to morph into her sister, and so I did. My aunts would exchange a look then... at the time I could never register the passing glance between them for more than a sort of grim satisfaction.
Now that I've seen this same look upon many of my peers, I recognise the look for what it was: restrained victory.
But I wouldn't even understand why this was the look passed back and forth between my aunts until well past my eleventh birthday, during the summer holidays.
II.2. Eye of the tiger
There was Bella first.
I had asked my parents to let me spend the last two weeks at my aunts' home, and they had obliged me. Since I would be entering Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry come September first, they were reluctant to alienate me so shortly beforehand or even oppose me in anything.
What I would later see as a sign of their difficulties in letting their only daughter leave the only home she'd ever known for a place where she'd be all alone and all subsequent insecurities and worries resulting from this trail of thought, I at the time perceived their free-reigning behaviour as nothing but weakness.
It is indeed almost ironic: they gave me what I wanted, and it led me to treating them as disdainfully as I could manage without being wholly disrespectful. I was entering puberty also, though unaware of it myself... Bella, however, could smell it on me.
Upon my arrival at the Malfoy mansion, again by Floo powder, there had been no one home. I brushed the dust from the fireplace off my robes and looked about for any sign of life.
This is when my eyes first fell upon the tiger.
I noticed him, lying in repose in a corner of the room just as his big jaw opened wide. The twofold rows of sharp-edged teeth – ::no, fangs,::I thought, ::fangs they are:: – were clear to view, thus my breath stopped in my throat at the sight of the massive beast. I knew my aunts were no tame kittens themselves, but a tiger for a housecat? They had interesting tastes in pets, for sure.
But I could scarcely believe aunt Cissa would have allowed a tiger in the household with barely three-year old Draco half-crawling, half-walking about at any opportune moment. And she'd thought the fireplace dangerous for the child...
He was a beautiful beast, however: all heavy frame and lustrous fur, the muscular tone of the chest and muscles striking in the tightness of the animal flesh, the stripes upon it proudly pronounced against the bleakness of the room, bleeding into the air as to hurt my young eyes.
He followed me with his own hypnotic eyes as I crossed the room to sink slowly into the bench on the opposite end, watching him all the while. In my head he was determinedly male, though I had no reason to be sure of this except for my intuition. Nothing so regal could ever be feminine, my adolescent mind reasoned. How wrong was I.
I could see his claws in open view, digging into the carpet. My breath skipped another turn up the gorge and I swallowed, hard. I still wasn't afraid, but I wondered how in this world I would pass the room without this big cat coming after me to play.
It wasn't until I considered briefly changing appearances to either of my aunts', but realising the beast could smell my identity on me and needed not eyes to be deceived by, that I was interrupted in my isolation.
"Now don't worry; he won't hurt you."
Rising from the couch, I turned in the general direction of the voice. Aunt Bellatrix was standing in the doorway, all dried-blood satin and majestic glory. The robe she was wearing showed off her figure in shameless abandon, the darkly ruby that the main colour consisted of bringing out the maroon in the steering wheels of her irises.
These eyes sparkled freely as she looked upon me. I swallowed convulsively, the fear, so abruptly risen within me upon hearing a seemingly disembodied voice come out of nowhere (and you'd think the sight of a tiger in the living room would have done the trick quite neatly!), not quite having left my bloodstream yet.
"Aunt Bella." The voice was steady, in the least.
A hint of a smile flashed across her features like a lightning bolt. "The very one."
She walked past where I was standing to the tiger, which had assumed a standing position much as I had... as though paying quiet tribute to his mistress. I knew, the moment I saw the confidence my aunt adopted in her steps as she approached the beast, that he was hers. They looked quite the picture together: I could have drawn them in one of my sketching books and they would hardly have been more surreal than the genuine sight presented to be.
Bella kneeled in front of the tiger and, in the same fluid movement by which she had gotten to the floor, swathed her sanguine-wrapped arms around his neck, so tight as though she was securing him with a collar. The tiger purred then, low in his throat.
And it was then that I, for the first time in my green and hitherto pointless existence, found myself aroused.
I knew it from the way my throat went dry as I watched aunt Bella and her pet in an embrace so reminiscent of the one I had witnessed between her and her sister, that one fateful day when the news of her carrying Draco in her womb broke out among the Malfoy residence. I felt aching, unfulfilled, looking on this seemingly private scene. I felt as an intruder. I felt unsatisfied. I felt dry, and wet, all at once.
It was the most sensual thing I had ever beheld, and my body reacted to it in ways I would not understand, not for years, not for many.
Then Bella's voice broke through my reverie, like a tidal wave breaking the heat on a sun-dried beach. "Tonks." Her tone was unnaturally soft, for her. My lips wavered, I forgot to speak in reply but it seemed unnecessary. Aunt Bella's eyes seemed darker yet against the drawn hotness of the tiger's fur.
"Dear cousin." Her eyes beckoned me, as did her voice. This art she would teach me, in later years, but for here and now I was still a child, still innocent, still ready to obey.
A corner of her mouth tilted into a mocking smile. "Want to stroke my darling? He's all ready to meet you, my mighty Caesar is. He won't bite or hurt you; I'll see to that."
As my hands went over Caesar's warm fur and felt my own skin transform into his, just to know the feeling, the softness folding my fear, she repeated behind me those words unholy. "I'll protect you... Don't worry, Tonks. He won't hurt you. See how calm he is under your touch? I'll see that you're safe. Don't worry."
And I believed her. Back then, not sensing from which direction the danger came truly, I still did.
II.3. The sunflower speaks
Much has changed since yesterday. To trust my senses would be wrong. I can't go up to him and utter my apologies he'd turn around and hit me with a hex, cold eyes gleaming, before you could say, "Bleeding fool."
The air in which we move is deceptively still. It's not a real calmness: underneath the surface, the tension lies thick on the air like layers of old carpet cloth, all stacked up in the mansion's attic. I suppose we could get rid of them, but they are each of them ancient heirlooms, and a particular silver-ribbed, emerald cloth even has certain emotional value.
I remember lying on top of that carpet, my feet sticking out at the end, toes rubbing against the marble floor. I remember how he covered me with all his naked body, making love to me amid the green and silver, and warmed my feet with his own.
There is no comfort now. None whatsoever. He moves in and out of here like shadow, he leaves dark spots in the room. And yet I don't see him, and he doesn't make his presence known.
This is what he does when he's angry with me.
When he leaves our master suite at night to make room for my sister, a part of me wishes only to call him back. But there is a silent law between us, an unspoken-of agreement that we do not speak of what happens after nightfall.
I did not question him in the not-so-distant past when, inhaling sharply as though holding his pain close to him like a blanket, he clutched his left arm with his other hand and promptly left the room, sometimes giving me a simple kiss on the forehead before departing.
I did not question him when, drained and exhausted, he returned to my bed at the hint of dawn... or when he didn't. Sometimes I knew he did not wish me to see him in his Cruciatus-induced weakened state. Sometimes I knew it was all he can do to keep going this day, lest he collapse from sheer pressure and give in to his body's call for rest. His mask is a front that allows him his power; he relishes the taste of it.
Now that the past has passed into the present and all reasons for nightly departures have vanished like the body of our Lord, he still clings to his mask as I resign myself to the silence. I like to believe he stays away to give me my rest, to never believe the deception of a restful life when our Lord is not dead, only away. I like to believe it is his way of showing a continued to devotion to him, our Master, even in his absence.
Mostly though, he stays away from my bed to accentuate his total lack of care. And it is this indifference which hurts me more than any thing in this world ever could.
I do not question him on his indifference, neither does he acknowledge mine. We are, both of us, playing our parts to perfection, the faintest hint of insubordination to our assigned roles a catharsis leading to the ruin of the very bond that keeps us together.
What am I saying here? It is simple. Lucius is my husband, but he is not the only person occupying his – our – bed at night. He has no way to prevent this (O, the parts we play...) and in his possession of me, relinquishes this very right in order to hurt me, punish me for my erring. He lets me have my... what is the word, endeavours?
It matters little, for he holds the power in this house. And he shows this by assuming the position of the compliant, the resigned one, to let me rot in my sins all by myself.
O, how I wish he would possess me. How I wish he would avow the right to his wife's intimacy, his own bed, the privileges of marriage. Every so often we play the part of the happy couple, and it suits us both fine. After all there is a genuine regard for the other, or so I hope... I know I love him. I have never proclaimed otherwise.
But then, there is ever Bella... My sister, my blood. My skin. I think she knows of her power of position, indeed she might misuse it. In this, we are not identical. Of this, not a word is ever exchanged between us. The illusion of perfection must be upheld, for the sake of us all.
Afraid of the potentiality of loss, my sister and I never speak of my husband. He is taboo to our discussions and engagements, though neither of us speaks of this lull in the conversation when it arises. Even the taboo is unspeakable. It is the only source of censure existent between us, and has thereby dominated us for the better part of five years, ever since her husband went to Azkaban prison and left his wife to rot and wither in her sister's home.
I know my sister has power over my husband... or rather, that they are jointly in a sort of battle for authority, holding the other in balance. I also know that somewhere in this delicate equivalence the Dark Lord comes into play, and that his influence looms over both their actions like the metaphorical Sword of Justice.
Other than that, I wish to know nothing. I cannot permit myself the fortunes of further learning... for it would destroy me.
Should Lucius one day determine he has had enough of this charade, of the play that we know by heart and has become more our lives than whatever other reality exists, should he take his wife to him, and his house, and his life, I would never see my sister again. And Lucius, second-hand though he is and has remained throughout, would likely never get away with such behaviour towards the mistress of the Dark Lord.
O yes... I do sense some of the dynamics. Some, not all.
And if my sister would try to insinuate herself into our lives even more than she already has... she wouldn't dare do so, for she wouldn't know how much support of her Lord still lies with her. Yes, she sought him these five years, she alone tried to find him. Of course Lucius and I financed her travels, so we were faithful in our own way as well. Neither of us believes he shan't return. It is only a matter of time, which is why it sometimes feels as though the Dark Lord's presence is more pronounced now than it ever was when he still roamed the free earth in his own body.
Both Lucius and Bellatrix rely on their connection to our Master in dealing with the other, and also to a certain extent with me. I am the only one with no personal ties to him, other than through my sister and husband. Should this complicated triangle ever be revealed in the light of truth, it is most probable that I alone go unpunished.
Either he would kill my Lucius for letting this go on, for claiming his place in our bed as long as his mistress preferred to stay there, or for staying in the same bed with the property – yes, property – of the Dark Lord.
Or, and this is another, no less ghastly possibility: He would kill my sister instead. Perchance for her continued bearings with me, perchance for deliberately placing herself between the marriage of her sister and his second-in-command. Though who knows, he might just praise such cunning and resourcefulness in securing her survival. I could never allege to having any insight into the Master's mind.
To make a choice, then? To choose is to pick sides is to side with one and cancel out the other. Should I choose, I would lose either one or both of them, regardless of whatever consequences arise when the Dark Lord returns to our midst.
But what a choice is this? What impossibility to be faced with... to choose between my twin and my groom? Between the blood of my blood, my kin, and the pain of my heart, my love? It is a choice that offers only absolution of choice as acceptable option. How could I ever decide... how could I ever be asked to decide.
In this, my husband has proven to be uncharacteristically obliging. He took the option entirely out of my hands and made the decision for me, hereby renouncing his claims to myself, so that I would continue to have them both; both him and Bellatrix.
And all that had to be given up was the truth of the marriage. All that was asked in exchange was that he became indifferent to me and my dealings with my sister. Only our hearts to break even as to not disturb the balance. And so we keep up our charade.
Really, for all the indecisiveness and inherent confusion in this, I am the fortunate one of the three of us. My continued silence saves myself from harm as it puts Bella into likely jeopardy and my Lucius treading through even more perilous waters. I get to keep both my lovers to me as undiluted as one contains water in a vase, while their grasps are merely handfuls.
I cannot make the choice, and so I remain silent. I let it all pass me by, and indulge in my Bella's hands while my husband leaves his shadow in the room. Or feel my sister's ghost fingers upon me as I sleep in the arms of Lucius.
But one day... one day at least, there should be only two in the Malfoy bedroom. This is the sun I reach to, this future day when perhaps, at long last and suffering, there are only two in the marriage of Lucius Malfoy and Narcissa Black.
Comfort in the sunshine. I think I shall eat out this morning. Cousin Tonks is no doubt up and running already. No doubt when I enter the dining hall my husband shall have left for work, and I shall see him again in the evening.
II.4. Sun-up senses: One.
Laughter in the woods.
"Be careful now, Bella!" Aunt Narcissa, laughing, her body bent as she clutches her aching tummy.
The last time I saw her this tummy was full of new life and destiny, now it is full of laughter and sunshine.
My aunt Bellatrix, climbing up a tree in that androgynous way she has, grabbing the trunk, hugging it to her skin... though in actuality she is as feminine as they come.
"Come down Bella, for you will fall and then what will I do!" Narcissa cries. It is not a request, and the emphasis on then' is almost ponderous, almost doubtful. If it were anything less of a command, it would be a question made to herself in the late night.
Bellatrix looks down into her sister's face and understands. She climbs back down.
She lands on the ground in squatted fashion, crouching like a frog at first, then lean and graciously she raises herself and stands tall again. "I just wanted to see the sky from inside."
She shrugs, one-shouldered, her smile lopsided. Then as she turns from her sister's eye she catches mine and winks.
II.5. Sun-set senses: Two.
Laughter in the fields.
Aunt Narcissa lies lenient and relaxed upon the grass, a contented smile on her countenance. Here her hair seems too light and fair against the greenness of her surroundings. She would suit as a blank spot in a painting, I muse. Since last summer I had been experimenting with making art. Aunt Narcissa had offered to lend me her charcoal during my stay here, I had cautiously declined.
"I have my own way of drawing, thanks Aunt Cissa." She needn't know that I use Muggle artifacts such as a camera and clay (though rarely combined, naturally - not that she'd know of this, O no) to make my artwork. She needn't know that.
"Yes, cousin mine."
"Do you love Uncle Lucius?"
A shift of frame. "He is my own, I love him as I do my skin. My blood." A beat of air. "I could not deny him."
"How did you know, at first, that you would feel this way for him?"
"I guess I had always known. Times were little different then, little Tonks: people fell in love in quite the same fashion they do now. Lucius had set his sight upon me long before I even knew him, true: but that does not mean I did not grow to feel for him as strongly as the ladies of old did for their husbands."
"It comes as a state of mind, then?"
"More as a state of being."
"And your sister? Was she in love with her hus -"
"I think you should ask her this question yourself, Tonks dear."
"Alright, aunt Cissa. I will."
"Yes. I'm sure you will; you wouldn't quit on an answer before it was given, would you?" A shift of voice, now: laughter again. "Do allow your aunts, both of them, a little bit of rest before going on another one of your inquiry sprees, if you please? What with the baby, time of my own has proven increasingly scarce these days."
I smile. "Of course, aunt Cissa."
She could be a wish of little fancy and more want, lying there so refined. Of the two, I generally touched aunt Narcissa least... her body was that of a goddess, a sculptor's dream, and I dared not touch it with my hands for fear of spoiling the clay.
I had begun my artwork in the hope of capturing that skin, that body, as to have my aunt closest to me even as she faded from my arms, and lips, and futile captures, in my defiant dreams.
II.6. Sun-hot senses: Three.
Laughter in the mouth.
Have you ever listened to the sound of laughter stifled by another mouth's embrace?
It sounds like bubbles erupting from a water surface, raindrops falling on leaves, or as air moving through a closing door. Just the hint of a touch of sound, then silence.
Silence and movement and you laugh in your throat yourself, watching... the two of them. Narcissa laughing and Bellatrix stifling the sound. Their arms around each other.
Do they see me? Do they know it is their cousin behind the tree, coming back from asking the House Elves for tea, watching, now, her aunts moving over each other with lips and hands too familiar with the other, too perfect and still, too resilient to touch... too ready to be called upon to make just the right moves as to moan in the throat and have the other stifle the sound.
If they knew it was I, watching them still, would they stop?
I ask myself this and stay perfectly still. Ponderously still as I listen to the silence grow about me, and watch as my aunts make love to each other's mouths upon the green, and feel the heat within. The sense of the sun upon us all is deep and clean.
Something inside me has been given life. I can feel my blood, shifting. Beating.
When I walked out of the woods later that day, I was no longer just eleven. I was eleven and a girl.
I was eleven and a girl and that day, of much heat and little sun, I drew a fish on the dry, the sun reflected in water, and the shifting of two sexless bodies as they bend to one another, safe against the blossom of their skin.
II.7. Roar and reverie
There, there my cat. Purr into your throat, I like the thrill of it against my skin. So close to you, I feel almost feline myself; coarse and yet subtle, like your stirrings in the dark. My Caesar... Emperor of cats, with eyes slit as a snake's, warm me up this night as I am chilled and thinly dressed. It is not nearly daybreak.
I woke up... entirely too early. Though when was I ever one to enjoy an extended sleep, as the dawn calls to me even before it has risen. Perhaps I don't exhaust myself sufficiently, but that line of thought seems rather preposterous, does it not Caesar? I play with you, I play with Tonks, I play with Cissa... and never once the same game. One could never accuse me of knowing little diversity!
And yet awake I am... But, I have no complaints. Your company is ever agreeable, and you're warmer than my bed.
O, what I would do for your fur! It is so cold this night... if only Tonks could lend me her gift. I would be most grateful. But whatever uses she will serve in the end, and even before, sharing her Metamorphmagus abilities with me can unfortunately not be one of them.
Ah, but to watch her transform into you... To have your pattern of skin emerge on those tender hands was a pleasure the likes of which I hardly knew I could feel. Yes, my cousin is indeed beyond potential, she is desire incarnated.
An advantage she will learn of soon enough.
It really is insufferably cold this night. I would light a fire... but it is Tonks' day of leave, and if she were to step onto the scorching ember and hurt her feet, I would not forgive myself. To damage such a beauty would be as sinful as to soil clean blood.
Sometimes, when watching her from the corner of my eye, I can see her eyes turn to coals. She is not as innocent as she looks, our fair cousin... she is cooking up a plan, a story of her own, like the heroines of the books she devours like a starved man might devour water. I will catch her eye at an opportune time and see little fires in their depths. And I have the very distinct feeling that she knows more than she says.
I forget how young she is.
Caesar, my strong beast, stay away from the ember and turn toward my fire. It is right here, above my hands. Just a little bit of warmth to crawl into. I am so cold all the time.
But Caesar my dear, you will ever stay. Though you are wild and powerful and king among beasts, you are still mine. Mine through ownership. As Narcissa is mine through blood.
As Tonks will be mine through my sister and my heart. How exciting that shall prove! To trap through passion... to trap through blood, once more, and make this stained girl pure again. Never shall one of the Blacks be born to the Light and remain there. O no. Not in our world.
We always played the wickedest games, Cissa and I.
It is ever cold and the day is not yet born...
Something wicked this day breaks.
_ TO BE CONTINUED _