Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

A/N: Many, many thanks to my betas, Plumeria, Verdant, Darklites, and Lowi. Thanks also to VanityFair, Earthquake and Aidan Lynch, who helped me with the prologue.

Author: Penguin

Title: OF SNOW AND DARK WATER

PROLOGUE

The cupola-shaped greenhouse lay slumbering in the soft summer dusk. The multitude of glass panes reflected the light that remained in the sky and made the faceted structure shimmer like a jewel that someone had dropped in the grass on the Malfoy grounds, away from the manor house itself, halfway down towards the lake.

Inside, in the circular central pool, hundreds of varieties of lotus flowers and water lilies floated on the dark water, their rainbow spectrum of colours glowing faintly through the gloom. It was hot and humid and still, quiet except for the occasional drop of water falling into the curved basin that ran along the greenhouse walls. The effect was soporific.

But not all the plants were asleep. In the central pool, enormous green pads with upturned edges, like giant pie dishes, floated on the water, and here and there among them, grotesquely large, hairy flower buds lifted their heads. The giant nymphaea plants did not sleep. They were at work. They were involved in a strenuous reproduction process, labouring to send up more buds to the surface, their effort so intense that anyone who touched the buds would have jumped back in surprise – the buds were warm to the touch, nearing human body temperature.

Some of them were opening now. The thick green sepals unfolded almost reluctantly, some to reveal bridal white petals and some to reveal blushing pink ones, yes, blushing as they lamented the loss of their virginity the previous night or rejoiced in having been initiated into the mystery of life.

The giant nymphaea plants flower at night, and for two nights only. The first night, the flower is pristine and white. It lays itself open, waiting half in dread for the insects to enter it and crawl deep into the trembling golden centre to feast on the nectar, to ravish and plunder and gorge themselves with it. The flower endures the night, shivering at the crawling invasion into its deepest, most secret core, and in the first morning light, it vindicates itself by closing around the drowsy, sated, intoxicated insects.

It doesn't kill. It only keeps them there for the day, determined to utilise the violation and turn it into something good, making the sticky little bodies scuttle around in confusion and gather as much pollen as possible. And when night returns, the flower opens up again, slowly, to release the disoriented insects, tumbling out of the sweet-smelling heat into the cooler air of the glasshouse. And now the flower is pink. On the second and last night of its brief life, it blushes in pride and shame.

And then it is all over. The flower dies and sinks back into the dark depth of the pool, where the seeds develop and mature in mud and slime, their short lives in air and beauty finding completion in those long, unsavoury months in the deep – until they reach maturity and begin to grow, to push pads and flower buds to the surface, where they in their turn can open to air and life, and have their brief taste of beauty.