She wasn't herself.
Lucille Hall knew too well what it was to bear the weight of a crowd's eyes, each set piercing her skin like a proboscis to drink her in, feeding thoughts and feelings most unwelcome. To perform for the masses was to invite oneself into their fantasies, to become one more plaything in their twisted little toyboxes.
She knew what it was they wanted from her. It was what anyone desired of a beautiful creature; her notice, her favor, her love. How they would shrivel with disgust if they knew her true name—that of the second most infamous killer in the last fifty years.
She was Luscinia Lestrange, but only in her head.
It had been so since the end of her schooling: her life's great crucible. Narcissa's rearing had left her ill-prepared for those frivolous social interactions everyone seemed to revel in. In spite of that, or because of it, she'd been as a wall of iron to the pitch and fire thrown by students and staff alike.
But metal must melt with heat and time, and melt she had.
As ever, the venue was a cesspit of humanity, teeming with thousands and thousands of parasites wearing the faces of witches and wizards. They craned over one another with the pencil-thin stalks of their necks to catch the most complete glimpse of her. Luscinia felt more as an actor than a songstress in the fleeting moments she met their eyes, when she didn't allow her mask to twist and reflect her disgust.
The spotlight's hue shifted from brilliant azure into bloody sapphire to match her voice as it crawled from deep in the chest to spill from her. The melody haunted the soul, she'd been told, with wistful memories of better times gone by. On rare nights, she'd wondered what such a feeling might be like.
A thought and flourish from muscle memory tore the light from the air and wrapped it around her form, afterglow trailing from her limbs as she walked her languid walk across the stage, through the void vaguely trembling with the maneuvers of her cellos, the audience bleating their amazement like so much displaced cattle.
The crescendo built on the back of the violins' lamentations and the throbbing keystrokes of the piano, and the flicker of life in Luscinia flared as she directed with her wand the instruments around her to ascend to the strain's climactic notes in a visceral harmony of heart-wrenching sound. Her luminous wreath swelled to swathe the arena in empyreal light; she howled the denouement, felt the energy pour from her as the song concluded until at last she was empty, silent, before the roaring crowd.
There was no more devastating comedown to be found on earth. Luscinia would know.
Sparks flew from a hundred thousand wands to burn the black sky with iridescent lights before bursting, shattering the endless heavens with transient trails of luminescence, like spiderweb cracks across the void. Conjured favors rained over Luscinia, pathetic offerings that surely stretched thin the crowd's creative inclinations; fine wines and exotic chocolates settled at her feet, love letters fluttered about her and carried the curated stench of their authors, and flowers of every kind and hue tumbled off her shoulders in a jumbled statement that spoke all too clearly.
Antipathy pulsed through her veins until she thought she may split apart at the seams. They were all base animals, they were beneath her, they clamored for what they didn't understand—what they didn't deserve to lay their beady eyes on. Luscinia wished dearly she could teach them what it was to hurt.
She recognized the signs in herself; the boiling rage, the pounding heart and labored breath, the searing need to take part in pain. It built within her as something climactic, begging, pleading, promising exquisite release if only she would abandon composure for one passionate minute. It was a warped corner of herself she visited more and more often. She loved and hated it.
Indulgence in public wasn't an option. A quiet, steady voice at the back of her mind counseled patience; it sounded much like Goren. Luscinia drew protracted breaths and took a graceful bow toward the yammering masses, stowing her wand safely away. She held the bow a beat or two longer than proper, gathering her disparate impulses and sealing them tight under a well-worn lock. When she was ready she raised her head, stared over the crowds, and with a parting wave prepared to make her exit.
His face froze her in time. He was a stranger, bald and pale and indeterminate in age; he was no one, but he was everything that mattered in waking life; love and terror and passion and death. Horror enveloped Luscinia as another episode clutched at her fraying sanity—he was no one, she told herself. No one. She impressed the words on her psyche, but some ingrained part of her wasn't listening; it regarded the stranger with feelings that had no place inside her.
She was screaming before she'd thought anything at all. It was a visceral, bleeding wail; those in the frontmost rows leaned back in shock as Luscinia ripped the wand from her robes and gestured grandly; the favors littering the stage like refuse soared into the air and hung suspended far above her, poised in the manner of countless arms raised with intent for violence. For an exhilarating moment she imagined a swarm of knives taking the audience, their agonized cries, the vital scent of the spilled blood scribbling their fate across the ground in crimson ink.
The moment passed, but the world ached for release in the cowed faces of the audience—an ache mirrored in the destructive lust still curling around Luscinia's heart.
Fire erupted from her wand in a roaring torrent that took to the air. It was the most sublime sound she'd ever produced, akin to the blistering force of the winds that were ever torn from the edges of their whirling Earth. The crowds were unified in shock and terror, the whites of their wide eyes shining in hellish light, colorless faces frozen like the empty dolls they were; thus they watched as the churning inferno ravaged their favors at the direction of Luscinia's wand until nothing was left.
Unparalleled pleasure ensconced her soul. She lowered her arm and the blinding storm evaporated, the radiating heat snuffed out in an instant. Ashes fell like tender snow down upon the crowd to cover them in their own deficiencies.
They broke into wild applause.
Goren had always been there for her.
Always, from the beginning, when she'd escaped the veritable prison of Hogwarts only to be cast adrift in a world with no place for her. It had quickly become clear during those dreadful years that a new identity was paramount, if she harbored any hope of living in peace; Luscinia Lestrange vanished when she came of age. Stood in her place, the immaculate Lucille Hall.
Among other facets of life, Lucille's education had suffered the burden brought on by consequence of her parents. She wasn't a fool—she was brilliant, in fact, with an instinctual grasp of magic Narcissa occasionally compared to her departed mother in a voice without pride, without affectation of any sort, save for the odd glint in the eyes of the masklike expression she reserved for her ward. Despite Lucille's talent, her near-limitless learning potential, her marks told a far sorrier tale.
She didn't dwell on those who'd singled her out along with the other Death Eater progeny. She couldn't dwell on them, because there were far, far too many, and even she couldn't summon such a volume of hate. There had only been so much Professor Longbottom could do for her, and those pittances had been more than she'd been willing to accept. His mere presence, calm and kind-eyed, had driven barbed splinters of guilt beneath the hostile indifference she bore like a shield.
Lacking the scholastic records necessary for any conventional occupation that may hold her interest, Lucille resolved to utilize her talents in a more straightforward manner. It was during this degrading time in her fledgling career that she met Goren, while shopping herself around agents and promoters and venues, moving ceaselessly and advancing nowhere.
"You're standing far too close. What do you want? Are you with them?" she'd asked, waving a hand at the tittering, glass-tinkling moguls that swarmed the ballroom's bar like flies on a carcass.
She'd felt foolish the moment the question left her lips; the man before her was old, yes, but his manner wasn't superior, solicitous, or simpering. Looming apart from the droves, stiff and stone-faced, he couldn't have looked more out of place.
He'd studied her with crinkled dark eyes for a full, unnerving minute, a far cry from the ogling she was accustomed to. "No," he'd finally rumbled. "My name is Goren. I've come—I'd like to offer . . . whatever I can provide. No expense."
She'd turned him away, of course—there never was a more suspect offer, and she'd endured more than her share of withered old men with ambitious eyes and empty promises. The very next day, her primary competition in the running for a small frontrunner performance abruptly bowed out, citing unexpected obligations. Lucille had contacted Goren with the charmed parchment he'd slipped onto her person the night they met.
What did you do? she'd written. If he was responsible, he would know what she meant.
The reply had scrawled itself across the page seconds later. What was necessary. That mudblood hack doesn't deserve this opportunity. You do.
She'd considered the situation for the three weeks of her very first tour. Upon her return home, flush with success, she'd had a small flock of owls awaiting her patiently, jostling for position in eagerness to be the first to relay their masters' offer. That night, she had spoken to Goren for the third time.
You're hired, she'd written, but you'll never again use the word 'mudblood' around me.
As you like.
She'd thought for a minute, then added, Did I see you in the crowd?
How would I know?
Did you attend? she'd revised irritably.
The answer should've unnerved her, but somehow, it didn't.
Despite all past experience with humanity, Lucille had grown fond of Goren. His steadying presence and underhanded methods had laid at least as much groundwork as her own talent in securing her career, perhaps even more; without a name of note, without connections, she would've been hard-pressed to break into the business on her own. It wasn't competence that truly counted in society, after all.
He was yet more than a conniver. Ruthlessly level-headed counsel was also his domain, and Lucille made use of it, in time. At first it was small matters of opinion; which notes sounded more pleasant, which offer garnered more benefit? As she came to trust him, she confided more and more of that which consumed her world, and found that even when he had no answers to give, she felt a little lighter for it.
Eventually she'd confessed to the turmoil that at times reared within her like a snake poised to strike, the bottomless well of rage that grew ever more difficult to rein in. Rather than renounce her as a madwoman, Goren had nodded slowly and given her a fateful piece of advice.
"Hurt someone," he'd said. "You'll feel better."
"Hurt someone?" She'd been outraged. "What in—? I am not like—" my mother, she'd nearly shouted, but this secret still remained with her. "—like that," she'd finished. "What would possess you to suggest . . . ?"
Goren had merely given an unrepentant shrug. "Hurt someone who deserves it."
The matter had been dropped from then until one twisted night six months later. A meddling reporter for the Prophet had made connections, drawn parallels between Luscinia's turbulent Hogwarts years and Lucille's various isolated incidents with paparazzi, stalkers, sycophants and other such scum of the earth, matters brushed under the rug with the assistance of Goren and substantial sums of money.
Lucille had attended Iggy Midgley in his modest home and listened quietly as he threatened to tear down everything she'd labored to build for herself. She could see to it that her secret stayed that way, of course, with a respectable donation. The reporter had sat there so smug and self-assured of his blackmail, it made his shock and terror all the sweeter when she'd turned her wand on him.
Hours later, Midgley's home and mind alike were purged of evidence, and in her fervor Lucille had claimed his tongue for good measure; it had graced her mantel as a seashell for a bare two days before the afterglow of exultation gave way to the horror and disgust beneath, and she'd blasted it to dust.
Lucille had sobbed her heart out into Goren's shoulder. "I'm not like this! I don't want to be like this!"
"You did exactly right," Goren had said. "It was him or you; he gave you no choice. You did right, girl."
"It wasn't—fucking—right!" Goren jerked back when she punctuated the shouts with her fist. "I went too far, I—I reveled in it, like—!" She'd choked back the hated name on her lips.
"Like your mother?"
The blood in her veins had turned to ice.
"H-how long . . . have you known?" But for a slight tremor, her voice had gone remarkably calm.
"Since the beginning."
That Goren still stood there with her, despite all that she was, meant everything to her. She collapsed into his embrace again and drank in the assurances that rumbled from his chest in his low, steady rhythm.
Lucille indulged again and again, and it came easier each time.
She told herself it was best this way; if she didn't find an outlet, a controlled release, she may one day snap like taut string and do someone innocent serious harm—perhaps with fatal ends. But the miniscule part of her that was right and good, stranded deep beneath the surface, whispered the truth in her ear; she took pleasure in inflicting pain, and whatever remorse she felt afterwards was wholly irrelevant.
In accordance with Goren's advice, her attentions were limited to those who'd gravely wronged her or someone known to her, and had thus far escaped consequence. That left her with more choices than days in the month. The old man's rationale played a small part in ameliorating the guilt she carried everywhere like a cold stone talisman in her chest.
What troubled Lucille most of late were the episodes. Violent flashes of foreign emotions and thoughts always seemed to follow the eye contact of a particular breed of stranger, adhering to the basic template of men with pale skin, a thin frame, and total baldness. It sounded absurd even in her head, and it felt no less so to speak of it aloud to Goren.
He listened silently from the lounge chair beside hers while they watched the setting sun from the rooftop terrace of her Venetian villa. Bloody sunlight washed over them and mingled with the glass decanter of firewhiskey between them, creating a scatter of dazzling amber fractals that crept along the sandstone balustrade their feet rested on. The pool behind them ebbed and flowed with a charmed tide, and birds of paradise made music from the distant garden, music carried on the breeze along with sweet, flowery scents.
Lucille lapsed into self-conscious silence when she finished her account. Her heart pounded more and more persistently while the quiet stretched, and she wondered if this, at last, was the final straw, the revelation that would drive Goren away from her.
Eventually, he grunted. "Hm. Strange."
"Yes, it's strange," Lucille repeated derisively. The stress of her revelation had her high-strung. "What do you make of it, apart from the stunningly obvious?"
The quick dismissal set Lucille off balance. She sat up and turned to face him. "The bloody hell do you mean, 'nothing'?"
Goren avoided her gaze with an irked look. "I mean nothing. It's strange. That's it."
"That's all you have to say on the matter?"
"Right." Goren was acting odd, defiant, for no reason apparent.
"Look me in the eyes and say it again," Lucille demanded, malevolent heat rushing through her veins.
"Fuck off, girl."
Her wand was in her hand. She stood and pointed it at Goren; that captured his attention.
"Put it away." His voice was a low growl. His weathered face seemed carved of stone.
"Tell me these flashes I've described mean nothing to you," Lucille said, "and I might."
His dark eyes bored into hers; the fury and distress there was an undercurrent, but Lucille could read it plainly. They remained in a deadlock for a time while the sun sank behind the bleak, bruised radiance of the distant horizon.
"I know nothing about it," Goren ground out, his eyes still locked with hers; she could see the lie there. Goren was lying to her? About this?
Goren jerked back and roared, and Lucille broke off the curse for a brief interval to charm the terrace for sound insulation; she resumed her attack before Goren could draw a full breath. His raw howling drove the birds from the garden, booming voice cracking with strain, and he writhed and thrashed and gasped for the air he needed to scream even more. Lucille lowered her wand when the beginnings of a headache bloomed behind her eyes.
Her pulse rushed in her ears, passing adrenaline throughout her invigorated frame, and her heart throbbed with life. It was the first time she'd ever cursed Goren—the first time he'd warranted it.
Goren lay on the ground in a twitching heap, red-faced and wild-eyed with panic. "W-wha—what—?"
Lucille blasted the chair just behind him into a cloud of hot ash with a bang, and he cried out and flinched away. She hated how gratified the reaction made her feel.
"You're going to tell me what you're hiding," Lucille said, her voice remarkably level for the outrage bubbling in her. "The when of it makes no difference to me. You know better than anyone what to expect if you persist in this pathetic dissembling."
"Voldemort!" Goren snarled. "Voldemort, you stupid girl—could it be more fucking obvious?"
"Voldemort?" Lucille echoed, stunned. "He's dead."
"Well reasoned," Goren said with a sneer. "Your strangers fit his description. Your parents were part of his inner circle—"
"I know this," Lucille hissed.
"Then fuck off, because you know everything I do about it now."
Goren groaned as he pushed to his feet. He turned and limped arthritically away, making for the door to the stairwell.
Goren's knees made exhilarating crackling noises as they were twisted and wrung into useless pulps. The old man toppled over and roared in agony, the outcry coinciding with a flutter in Lucille's chest. He moaned and clutched at his legs impotently while she ambled over to close the distance again; with a gesture she turned his ruined body to face her.
His wand was out; she flicked the curse aside with a flash of light and cast one of her own; Goren's wand burst into fragments, some of them piercing his own hand and face. He reared and cried out in pain over again, edging blindly backward, scrabbling at the splinters in his eye.
"Another lie," Lucille said over his outbursts. A dreadful weight of anticipation settled over her. "You're hiding something else—you always have been. I won't ignore it any longer."
Goren heaved great breaths and exhaled them between his teeth. Blood welled between the fingers that covered his eye.
"Stop!" he yelled when Lucille aimed at his other eye. "Okay. Yes—you're right, I—I haven't—"
"Say it." Lucille's heart was crumbling, and she didn't want to endure it longer than she had to.
"I'm Rabastan. Your uncle."
He stared up at her with his remaining eye betraying something like hope; that light dimmed swiftly when he saw her expression.
Rage and despair bled through Lucille's body like a virulent poison that heightened the perceptions of every nerve, the better to feel her demise descend over her senses like a deathly veil. She burned with loathing for her family and her own willful ignorance . . . and felt rending sorrow for the loss of her only friend in the world.
Rabastan could see it all in her face. "Now, it—it doesn't have to be like that, listen—listen, girl—"
"I'll listen quite closely," Lucille said quietly, "but it's not words I want to hear. Not at first."
There was one thing Rabastan hadn't been lying about; he hadn't a clue what Lucille's episodes meant.
She was left adrift again. The motions of life followed themselves through with a numb cadence, broken more and more often by the flashes of blinding emotion previously unprecedented by her dull heart, always triggered by those who shouldn't matter. Voldemort was dead, Bellatrix was dead, but their dark legacy clung to Lucille's flagging soul and dragged her lower every day.
Not even indulgence could stir her from misery; she'd renounced Goren's—Rabastan's counsel. No matter how many justifications she laid neatly upon one another, they fell apart in the face of her belated conscience. Though what she'd done thus far had been dearly deserved, she thought, Bellatrix surely felt the same of her victims.
Lucille would not be like her.
It was a mantra that sounded more feeble every day. Lucille's being was at war with itself, and she wished more than anything for the power to excise from her brain the black notions that festered where they didn't belong. Directionless rage compounded the loathing focused inward; why, why, why was she the way she desperately pretended not to be? It was wrong that she should endure so much for being born into a tainted bloodline.
Lucille bottled her emotions with grim resignation to the fact of impending catastrophe. There was no help to be had for her; after Rabastan, her capacity for trust had withered and died. Even he hadn't settled her.
"I'm sick of hearing about it, girl," he'd told her one troubled day long ago. "Accept who you are or fight it, I don't care, but keep it in your own head. I'm not your bleeding sanamens."
The fight was a lost cause from the beginning, she knew. But if she didn't try, she was everything the world had told her she was. So she tried. There were days her will won out, and those passed in a stupor that clung to her like a favored cloak from the moment she woke. There were days she was weak, and she wasn't the only one to suffer for it. Always she was ready to surrender to the refuge of sleep.
Two torturous months passed, and then she couldn't even escape her insanity in dreams; Voldemort haunted her rest in a recurring tableau with the selfsame figure, pale and bald and indistinct, but unmistakable. The nightmares conveyed that same sickening wave of unwelcome urges as had the waking episodes, and together they made consciousness a formidable hell.
Every day her true nature rose closer and closer to the surface. Lucille lashed out at all in reach, and they learned to stay away for their own sake. Press events were blown off, tours were canceled—she locked herself away, a last stand of defiance, and in her grand and empty home she contemplated ending it all.
It was a solution—the only solution she could conceive of. The dead couldn't inflict their evil on the world, after all.
Lucille gave a hollow laugh.
It would be poison. A self-inflicted Killing Curse was yet beyond Lucille's willpower—she didn't want to die.
To use one of the dozen untraceable concoctions stored within the ancient vault of the Blacks spoke to her poetic side, but it wasn't to be; the Malfoys had cut her out long ago through Lucius's connections, bribes, and legal trickery. At the time, she'd laughed at this misguided strike against her—they couldn't seem to grasp a familial hatred so pure as to disdain a fortune.
There were no potioneering implements of any kind to be found in the house; it had always been one of her worst subjects. She would have to risk society one final time, and then she would be free. Disguise was considered and dismissed; all she had at hand was her own transfiguration, and her magic hadn't performed properly of late. She didn't want to leave a disfigured corpse.
It felt like a dream, a proper dream—the entire experience of life was heightened, as if the world were urging her to hold on a bit longer. She felt as if every bodily process operated on a level she could perceive; the tingle of oxygen and blood, the hissing rush of secreting adrenaline suffusing her muscles that stretched and contracted with faint groans like tautened rope. Her heart thundered with steady resolve.
The ash of the Floo singed her nose, and suddenly she was amidst a bustling crowd of the Leaky Cauldron's regulars. It was the prime of the evening, judging by the cosy half-light drifting through the windows. Lucille wondered vaguely what day it was she would die; she wasn't curious enough to inquire.
Nerves set in where they had no right to be. She passed through the bar swiftly, but not too swiftly, taking care not to draw attention. She had spent the past week in a stupor, and she knew she appeared nothing like the resplendent Lucille Hall of expectation . . . but a feeling like the edge of a knife crept down her spine, as if anyone could take one look in her eyes and know exactly what she intended.
Her gaze remained transfixed by Diagon Alley's cobblestones, though she wanted nothing more than to look around one more time and try to recapture her distant childhood, unhappy though it was—that unbelievable time before her mind had ruined itself. The sounds and scents sufficed; the hoots and flaps of dutiful owls darting overhead, the children cajoling exasperated parents who protested the hour to deaf ears, the not-unpleasant smells of broom polish and the spent fireworks that littered the way.
It seemed no time at all had passed when Lucille stepped through the door of the apothecary. Musty air mingled with the smoky scent billowing from the back room along with faint curls of bluish vapor.
Lucille stepped carefully around a rack of plants with leaves that reached feebly for her robes and approached the counter, attended by an older man with a genial, Father Christmas air about him.
"Hullo, hullo there! What can we do for you?"
"Pois—" Lucille's voice cracked, and she started again. "I need poison. Please."
The proprietor's bushy eyebrows rose a little. "I'll venture you're referring to our Doxy-Gone? Yes, I've got some just over here—are you familiar with the, er, with how to—? Well, it's safe and easy enough to handle, I'll walk you through—"
"Thank you, no, I—I need something stronger."
The man's blond beard wobbled a little while he worked his jaw in thought. Discomfort and anger were already stirring in Lucille as she anticipated his refusal.
"Any poisons with a, er, wider scope than common pest-control fall under Class B Non-Tradeable Materials, and I'm afraid our establishment isn't licensed for—"
"Right, sorry to waste your time." It had been foolish nostalgia that guided her here; Borgin and Burke's would have what she needed.
"Oho, hold on there—weren't you in my daughter's year?" the man called before she reached the door. "Young Luscinia?"
A cold spike of terror lodged in her chest. She turned back out of shock; the shopkeeper looked after her with concern, and other looks had been drawn from his pronouncement; a young couple near the door were peering at her too, and the man's eyes widened.
"Blimey, Liza, that's Lucille Hall, look!"
The woman's confused response was lost to Lucille as she hurried from the shop, heart pounding—the man followed and called after her, and passers-by looked on with interest and scattered recognition. Rage and humiliation flooded her as she walked quick as she could without appearing to flee. It wasn't supposed to be like this—it was supposed to be peaceful, her final day.
Something snatched her wrist and she spun around, yanking back—a woman, this time, leading a family of four—
"—ry to be a bother, but I'm just the biggest—"
The husband, faintly embarrassed, ran a hand over his pale, bald pate—
"—an't believe our luck, really—"
The dam burst.
Her assigned sanamens was called Camille.
St. Mungo's conspired to have her believe that it was a place she could heal, a place meant only to help her. But they wouldn't let her leave her room. Her wand had been appropriated, even her clothes—they had her dress in the white robes without pockets. Lucille lay unmoving and stared up at the featureless ceiling, nebulously lamenting the calculated lack of fixtures to tie her robes to.
The monotony was broken twice a day by her sanamens, a woman with that inexplicable aura of sensibility. Her patient eyes exuded a sense of trustworthiness.
"You know my first question by now." Camille smiled, somewhat apologetic.
"It's still a blur." Lucille remembered just fine, but she didn't want to talk about it. She suspected Camille knew.
"Then we'll move right along." Camille nudged her floating quill out of the way and flipped through her notes, then looked back up. "Is there anything you want to discuss?"
"Anything that helps get me out of here sooner."
The sanamens raised an eyebrow.
"I can't talk about what I don't remember," Lucille said stubbornly.
Camille gave a placating nod and settled back in her chair, hands folded in her lap. "How do you feel today?"
"Fine. The same."
"Does annoyance count?"
Camille chuckled. "Well, if that's the extent of it . . . good to hear."
Lucille huffed. "It's always there . . . even if I can't feel it, the next moment it can—" she broke off with a sick, descending feeling; she wasn't exactly helping her case.
Camille leaned forward a little and nodded encouragingly. "Don't hold back, this is a good thing. Progress," she said with a bit of emphasis, "is what will get you out more quickly, you have my word."
Eventually, Lucille capitulated, as much out of sheer boredom as a desire to make a change in her situation, any change, good or ill. She couldn't stand being trapped there.
That was how she thought at first. As their sessions continued, stretching longer and longer each time, Lucille began to change her mind about the process. She was locked away, yes, but there was no stimuli waiting to waylay her fragile psyche, no bystanders unwittingly caught in her warpath. Here, she could exist without hurting anyone.
The nightmares soon disabused her of that notion. She couldn't escape them, even here, and each one heightened the vile feelings she fought to keep down. Some days, Camille could help her; some days, she felt she would gouge out the woman's eyes if she were once again subjected to that understanding look. When Lucille felt that, she told them so—and then cried into her pillow when Camille didn't come.
"Let's talk about these nightmares, these episodes."
Lucille stared. It felt like that was all they'd ever talked about.
"When did they begin?"
That question was new. Lucille remembered her first episode vividly. "Sixth year. Sixteen. My apparition instructor," Lucille went on, knowing the next question. "He was bald, and, yes. I panicked, I'd thought one of the students cursed me. I attacked them."
Camille hummed thoughtfully. "Did you know this instructor?"
"I'd never seen him before."
The sanamens steepled her delicate fingers and looked over them with open caring. "These men you describe . . . has anyone like that ever hurt you?"
"No," Lucille said, somewhat exasperated. "I—not before then. I know you might think I'm avoiding it, but there's really noth—"
"I believe you," Camille said with a forestalling hand raised briefly. She considered her notes, where the quill penned something with careful strokes.
"I think my uncle was right," Lucille said softly. "It's Voldemort. It must be."
"You said the nightmares were indistinct?"
"Clearer every night. What else explains this? My mother . . ." Lucille swallowed against a lump in her throat. "She cursed me."
Camille shook her head patiently. "You've been evaluated on seven separate occasions by several senior staff members; I promise you, you're not cursed. Not with magic," she added with a sad smile.
Companionable silence enveloped them, disturbed only by the light scratching of the quill. Footsteps passed the door occasionally, at varying degrees of urgency; Lucille had requested the soundproofing charms be undone. The absolute quiet had made her feel alone.
Camille looked up from her notes. "Have the elixirs had any effect on your sleep? Positive or negative."
Lucille shrugged. "They put me down faster, perhaps I sleep a little more. The nightmare is the same."
"Let's discuss your family."
Lucille laughed quietly, without humor. "They made me like this. I hate them."
Camille tilted her head, inquiring. "All of them?"
"Yes." Lucille shrugged. "My older cousin, Draco—he was kind to me, but I almost never saw him."
"Did you reach out when you came of age?"
"He's close with his parents, the ones who raised me. I didn't want to see them."
"Please, tell me what they were like."
Old hurts were dredged up as Lucille described her childhood. She'd been handed off to them at two years old, following her parents' deaths, too young to understand. The Malfoys had taken to their duty with a distinct lack of familial care. Her formative years were a haze of indifferent responses and sidelong glares—it was never obfuscated that she wasn't welcome, that her presence was tolerated out of social obligation.
By the time she was old enough to grasp the nuances of her situation, Narcissa's demeanor had taken a hateful turn. Where Lucius remained content to ignore the trespasser in his home, Narcissa went out of her way to find fault with any and all aspects of Lucille's existence; arbitrary rules were invented, cruelly enforced, and changed for her detriment, sometimes all in the same day; there were uncounted evenings of 'lessons' devised to trip her up, make her lash out or break a rule; barbed comments were offered freely on every facet of her conduct and character, from the way she cast a charm to the sound of her laugh.
Lucille recounted their injustices until she grew sick of her voice. It felt as if something had dislodged in her; she stared up at the ceiling to keep her eyes dry.
"I think she hated me," Lucille finished hoarsely, "because of my mother. I reminded her of Bellatrix."
Camille nodded, in sympathy or agreement Lucille couldn't tell. "Whatever her reasons, I want you to know you didn't deserve any of that. None of it."
Lucille inhaled sharply against the tremor of emotion; she'd never thought to hear that from one who knew her so well. She kept her gaze fixed to the ceiling.
After a minute of unexpectant silence, Camille said, "Mrs. Malfoy's been by to see you. Several times."
"I told them to send her away," Lucille said, though she was certain the sanamens knew.
"I think you should see her."
Incredulity and anger shot through Lucille, and she lowered her eyes to level a look that conveyed her opinion.
"I'm suggesting this for your benefit, not hers," Camille assured. "It's an opportunity for an honest appraisal of your relationship. Closure, of a sort. I've spoken to her; forgive me for suggesting it, but I think she does care for you, beneath her history with your mother. I may be very much mistaken, of course," she added at Lucille's expression. "Nevertheless, I feel this is a critical step on your path to recovery."
"I'll think about it," Lucille said, but the decision was clear in her tone.
Camille gave a sad smile and lowered her gaze to her folded hands; she seemed to consider something for a long while. Lucille waited patiently until the sanamens met her eyes again.
"I could arrange an outpatient meeting. Would you like to get away for an evening?"
Lucille never imagined she'd have cause to walk the grounds of Malfoy Manor again, much less flanked by two aurors.
The weather was ideal; a halfhearted sort of overcast, with pale sunlight leaking between the cracks of the grey-gold foil stretched across the sky. Wind whipped around their robes and then settled to a gentle caress the next moment, before howling back again into wild abandon. The towering hedges emitted that faint smell of greenery, a scent enhanced by the crisp morning air.
Lucille ached to visit the gardens, to linger anywhere that didn't bring her closer to the imposing double doors of lacquered ebony, but the grim babysitters on either side steered her toward the manor with their bodies.
"What happened that you're landed with this job?" Lucille asked the one on her left, a dour young man with a ponytail. "Did you hit someone for calling you pretty?"
The auror offered an irritated look before taking the lead up the wide marble steps and rapping at the door. Lucille's heart lurched when it swung open at once without the faintest noise, casting forth a dreamlike pall in the wake of its arc, as if something unknowable had been unleashed. A severe shape silhouetted the entrance.
It was her. Age had claimed Narcissa Malfoy's beauty, but she still struck an imposing figure, framed in the manor's doorway. An upsurge of volatile emotions assaulted Lucille as their eyes met; under that familiar imperious stare, she wilted a little inside.
"Come in," Narcissa said, standing aside. She managed to make the offer an order.
"She's been relieved of her wand," the auror advised as Lucille passed the threshold. "We'll wait right here. When—"
The doors boomed shut.
Nothing had changed within the expansive, elegant entrance hall—Narcissa led the way to the drawing room door without pause, and Lucille hurried not to lag too far behind; she cursed herself for so easily lapsing into fearful childhood mannerisms.
A chill swept over Lucille upon her entrance. From end to end the chamber remained as it always had, with the dead fireplace gaping behind the head of the long ebony table, the murky green paint of the walls paneled with the same lacquered wood. It felt like a shameless veneer; here was the site of deliberate horrors that spanned generations, from murderous gatherings and feverish persecution to Lucille's own corporal discipline so zealously carried out.
It was wrong that the room once host to the worst of humanity could ever appear so pristine.
Narcissa stood by the nearer end of the table, one wrinkled hand on the high backed chair. She hesitated, a rare shadow of unease crossing her features.
"Luscinia?" The uncertainty in her voice rang oddly.
"Is it your eyes failing you, or your memory?"
Narcissa's expression hardened into something eminently familiar. She drew out her chair and extended a hand to indicate the seat to her left. "Sit."
"No." The refusal gave Lucille a spark of childish amusement. Before the rebuke she added, "I'm not here because you wanted this; I'm here for myself. I'll take my leave when you answer my question—you owe me this."
Narcissa slid the chair back in place and clasped her hands at her waist, ever so properly. A stare distant and dark as the new moon traveled Lucille's length and settled beyond her face, as if in search for something lurking beneath the surface of her skin, behind the whites of her eyes. "You will return like for like, and hear what I have to say, or you will leave with the only debt I owe you; nothing."
The old woman's expression seemed to have set in stone from distant childhood, a maddening mockery of contentment, twisted satisfaction drawn from justified cruelty. Lucille traced with her eyes the deep age lines like cracks in the facade and sated the same vindictive side in her.
Behind a mask hid her indignation, her rising tumult, and she voiced her question calmly; she would have her answer first, and allow the old woman to infer her agreement. "I've come here only to hear from you why you've treated me, your own blood, your child, like a monster waiting to catch you unawares. I never had a chance. From the beginning, I never had a chance. Tell me why . . ." To her horror, the floodgates inside her began to fail; moisture pricked at her eyes, drawn from a sudden gnawing ache in her heart. "You never loved me. Tell me why—why didn't I deserve it? What have I done . . . ?"
Something like satisfaction lightened Narcissa's expression. "It seems our desires are at an accord, at last."
"An accord . . . ?" Lucille felt utterly lost as she watched Narcissa turn away and round the room idly, eyes on each oil lamp in turn as she surpassed them. "This was what you wanted? You came to my ward," Lucille said, "to tell me why you never loved me?"
"I'd hoped circumstances would . . . make themselves clear," Narcissa said quietly, her eyes still anywhere but Lucille. "After the . . . incident at Diagon Alley, I couldn't stand by in good conscience any longer."
An ominous, bleak feeling was crawling its way down Lucille's neck. It was as if she'd walked into a trap set before she was born, placed with perfect, sinister certainty; the walls seemed to lean in and lap up her reception to what embedded evil now unfolded from the old witch.
"Bellatrix learned much from the Dark Lord—from Voldemort," Narcissa amended with a haunted flicker in her eyes. "She was his most faithful, most devoted servant. We had both committed atrocities in his name; I, out of duty to the ones I love, and she, the same . . . and yet not the same. She derived pleasure where I never could, but she was my sister. I loved her."
Lucille wanted to interject, to let free invectives that might somehow encapsulate her lifetime of stranded hurt, to drive the testament to her consuming anguish down Narcissa's throat. But she couldn't speak; she was sinking into dread welling up around her chest like a pit of tar, its clotted falls trickle-fed by Narcissa's every syllable.
"I loved her . . . until she did something I couldn't forgive."
Lucille's blood roared in her head, but she couldn't miss the words for anything.
"Bellatrix cast a spell upon her daughter. I think it was as much for Voldemort as it was for her—to be as he was, in yet one more way." Narcissa turned slowly to face Lucille, a vision of most intimate hatred swimming beyond brimming tears. "With the aid of the Dark Lord, she made of her daughter a hamasarx."
A deafening heartbeat filled the room, each mute wave pressing inward. From the lowest reaches of human spite seemed to come Narcissa's hideous hiss.
"They marked her daughter with the darkest magic man could conceive, and when Bellatrix perished, the spell snatched her from the jaws of death. Her soul found another home . . . in the body of her infant."
Thus was awareness mutilated and misshaped as a perversion from which there was no rescue, for her own soul could not leave itself. There was never a trace of the daughter that hadn't been.