All recognizable characters belong to J.K. Rowling, Warner Brothers, and all subsidiaries thereof. No profit is being made. For entertainment only.
Mute. My younger sister was born without a voice. She was the sordid little family secret, locked away in a dim back room and left to the care of house elves, first Dobby and later, after sainted Harry Potter liberated him, Slinkwit. I sometimes wonder if Potter ever knew how much damage he did with that little act of kindness. My sister wept for weeks after Dobby left. He had been her only companion since the day of her birth, and his departure left her without ally or hope. I never hated Harry Potter more than I did that day, watching in silence as the sister I didn't have wept at this latest injustice, one among thousands.
My father hated her, at least so I believed for the longest time, a belief that was shattered irrevocably not long after my sixteenth birthday. Most people think that the Malfoys, especially Lucius, were incapable of love, but they are wrong. I know he loved me, and one winter night I saw with my own cynical eyes just how much he loved her. But perception is everything, and with no one left to set the story straight, we will always be the bastard Malfoys, the heartless, soulless clan of greedy, power-hungry snobs. My father never spoke of her to anyone, and we were forbidden to discuss her. She did not exist for us.
Because my sister did not exist, no one was allowed to see or speak to her. From a very young age, I was admonished never to go into the room at the far end of the basement corridor. But I did. First in curiosity; then in defiance; and finally, in love. No matter what my father said, she was my kin. The evidence of it was stamped into every crevice of her face. It was funny; she even walked like a Malfoy, with that same feline swagger. Some things are just in your blood, I guess. In any case, once I saw her, I couldn't stay away.
I was always careful. I crept to her dirty, cramped little room only in the darkest hours after midnight, when my father's dignified, polite snores echoed daintily through the halls. Even in the deepest depths and throes of my rebellion, I wanted to make him proud of me, and I knew that if he caught me skulking in the cobweb-festooned pathways of our basement, on the way to see the ghost-dweller of the manor, any chance of capturing his coveted approval would slip through my fingers. Even in my love, I was a coward. I still am.
I can still remember the first time I passed through the boundary between her world and mine. Seven years old and afflicted with curiosity stronger than fear of my father's unyielding hand. My mother was flitting aimlessly through the drawing room, bored as always by her role as the trophy wife of Lucius Malfoy. My father was away on business-whether it was the business of whoring or the business of conquest, I can't say. I was too young to understand such things then.
It was such an adventure! Creeping about paths and hallways my eyes had never seen in my satin-slippered feet. I felt so daring, so grown-up. And then the door was there, the one I'd sworn never to touch. Unlike the other doors of the manor, which gleamed with untold layers of polish, this one was dull and pocked with gouges and holes. Dust coated it in a thick, chalky layer, and when I reached out a hand to touch it, my fingers came away streaked with grey. No one, not even the house elves that attended to the cleaning of Malfoy Manor, had touched it in a very long time.
My hand wavered in front of the brass doorknob. Anticipation swelled, congealing in my throat and cramping my chest. Memories of my father's warning, the voice of a wrathful God from afar, stirred inside my hand. Three years old and staring up at him as he points his silver-tipped, serpent-headed cane at the very door in front of which I now stood. His cold, long-fingered hand gripping my chubby, warm one. Now Draco, listen very carefully. You must never, never open this door. You mustn't even go near it. Something terrible lives inside, and if you open it, the consequences will be most grave. Do you understand? I had nodded, all wide-eyed terror, and he had smiled at me and taken me to Knockturn Alley to buy me a treat. A bribe. And until now, the door had never entered my mind.
I thought things over. The door was so tempting, beckoning me with its forbidden secret. And yet the old fear still lingered. What if I should open the door and the monster ate me up? Worse yet, what if it should escape and lurk the corridors and shadowed cornices, hunkering perhaps in my father's ornately decorated study, slavering its foul drool on the rich carpets and waiting to devour my father? I still loved him then, and the possibility was terrifying.
In the end, though, I opened it. Any self-respecting seven-year old would have. The door swung open, screaming torturously on its arthritic hinges, and with a turn of my wrist, Pandora's Box was opened. I stood looking in for a very long time, unable to comprehend what I was seeing. The monster was revealed at last.
Merlin only knows what she must have thought of me, standing there in the doorway of her claustrophobic kingdom with my mouth agape. I know what I thought of her, sitting silently on the floor and goggling at me in wide-eyed surprise, a bundle of dirty rags that must have been a doll dangling loosely from her hands. A doll. A living china doll. What magic is this?
"Who are you?" I demanded, barging into the room.
She stood up quickly and backed away, clutching the doll to her chest. Her large grey eyes regarded me fearfully, and she shook her head vigorously. No, no, no. She never made a sound, and this infuriated me. I was accustomed to getting what I wanted when I wanted it. It was a privilege of being a Malfoy.
"Well, aren't you going to answer me?" I drew myself up, trying to look as imposing as my father did when he was angry.
She only backed further away from me and crushed the filthy bundle of rags to her chest. Her head continued to shake, a white pendulum spelling out denial in its never-ending rhythm. No. No. No. I took this for intractability and smacked the pathetic bundle from her arms. If she would not cooperate, then I would wrest the answers from her by brute force, as I had seen my father do so many times to those unfortunate enough to oppose him.
Her lips trembled, and then her mouth opened in a soundless cry of anguish, her four-year old chest hitching with sobs. Tears coursed down round cheeks and her small hands opened and closed in time with her breathing. I watched all of this in stunned fascination. There should have been the shrill sound of crying ringing through the stale air, but there was nothing. Just the sound of rasping breath. It was surreal, like watching someone speak underwater.
Looking back, I can't imagine what it must have been like for her. Living in quiet seclusion for all those years, ignorant, most likely, of the existence of others outside the four drab walls of her world. I know now that I was the monster on that day, the unwanted interloper in her secluded haven, breaking and trampling and terrorizing simply because I could. I often wonder now why she did not loathe me. She should have. I did nothing to earn her love, and in the end, when it really mattered, I failed her. For that I will never forgive myself.
I reached out, perhaps to slap her, but a small voice spoke up. "Please, sir, she is not talking because she cannot. She is not disrespecting Mr. Draco, sir." Dobby stepped out from a filthy corner, trembling in anticipation of the penalty his audacity would surely bring. His bulbous eyes darted fretfully from the cowering little girl to me, and he fidgeted with the hem of the vile, reeking gunnysack that bound him to me and my house forevermore.
"What?" I spat. I was too preoccupied by the revelation that she could not speak to inflict proper punishment. I had never heard of such a thing before. "What are you talking about?"
Dobby hesitated a moment, clearly choosing his words carefully. He knew he had said too much already. Then, in a barely audible voice, "She is mute, sir."
I looked at her as if examining a rather shoddy bit of furniture. "Freak," I muttered. She pressed herself against the wall, hoping to be lost in its cold stone depths, but there was no escape for her there. "Freakfreakfreak," I chanted, delirious in my power, knowing she could not fight back. Dobby recoiled but did not interfere. He was too painfully aware of his place and precarious position. It is sparse comfort now to know there was more than one coward in that house. Some call Dobby a hero for his loyalty to Dumbledore and Potter, but I know the truth. I know what he is. I saw it that day in that squalid little bedroom, and again on the day Potter freed him. He left my sister without a backward glance. I'll kill him if I can. It's the least I can do.
Through it all, she only looked at me and wept. She never lashed out, never tried to defend herself. Life in her cold, drafty cell had conditioned her to accept cruelty as a matter of course. She watched me with her slate eyes and waited for me to spend my fury, a young sapling weathering a summer storm. With each stroke of my cutting tongue, she grew a little paler, and her chest hitched a little harder, but she never broke. She stood tall beneath the wicked lash, and I can still say that today, even after all that has happened. No matter how violent the storm around her became, she never buckled, never wavered. She was a better person than I could ever hope to be. If there were any justice in this world, she would be here, not me.
I soon tired of the game. Torturing a rabbit in a snare is only fun if the rabbit screams. I left her standing there and turned to Dobby. "What's her name?"
Dobby shuffled his feet and looked at the floor. "Miss has no name. Master is not giving her one."
"That's ridiculous. Even a dog has a name." I turned to her again. "Are you lower than a dog, then?" I sneered. She flinched and looked away, twirling a shaking finger in her flawless hair. "I'll give you a name."
I strutted around the room, looking her up and down, evaluating possible choices. It was great sport for me, having another human being with whom to toy. I was cold and cruel and spoiled. So was my father. Only we were spared his derision. I had learned well. Her humanity was lost upon me. She was property, living, breathing property. To add to the fun, I stepped upon the sorry wad of rags that served as her doll, smiling wider each time her small pink mouth open in a mute wail of anguish.
I have done far crueler things since then, but I have regretted none so much as that. I have slaughtered innocent women and children, and their screams have not haunted my dreams. I have raped and looted and tortured in the name of purification and felt not the slightest twinge of guilt. And yet the face of my silent sister contorted in grief as I trod upon her only plaything has never left me. It followed me as I lay in the bedchambers of virgins and prostitutes. It was with me on the day I watched Aurors kill my father. It is with me as I stand here now, and it will be with me when I go to seek Winter's justice.
Winter. That was the name I gave her on that fateful day. It was meant to be a derisive barb, and for a long time-nearly two years-it was, but eventually it became something else, something beautiful. It came to me as I stood crowing at my latest torment of her rag doll, grinding my sole into its soft viscera. I could not take my eyes off her hair. Shiny and lustrous like my father's. Stardust and fresh-fallen snow.
"Winter," I snorted. "That's your name. You're just as cold and ugly as it is." I laughed at my own wit.
She sniffled and rubbed her eyes. Already she was becoming inured to my barbarism. She spared me a dull, red-eyed glance and went to sit on her bed, a rumpled pallet and a thin, worn blanket on the floor. She sat with her back to me, facing the wall, lost in the protective cocoon of her own thoughts.
"What is she doing here? Why should my father give her a name?"
Dobby cringed, wringing his knobbled, leathery hands in vexation. "Oh, I is not to tell you, sir," he squeaked. "You is not to know."
"Tell me, you little vermin!" I kicked him with my toe, sending him sprawling across the room.
"Oh please, sir," he simpered, on his knees in the middle of the room. I pulled my foot back to deal him another kick. "All right! I is telling you," he wailed. "Miss is your sister."
This was the last thing I ever expected to hear, and my foot dropped bonelessly to the floor. It was as if he had told me my best friend was a Mudblood. It was a lie, it had to have been. And yet a memory bubbled in my mind of angry voices in the night. My father's clipped, cultured voice, hissing like a serpent in the darkness. We cannot keep her, Narcissa! I could never explain something-. My mother's voice, softer but no less adamant. She's yours, Lucius. You know it. Those eyes are as good as a Paternus Divinitio test. Silence from my father, and then the sussurating whisper of muffled discourse, fading as sleep reclaimed my mind. It was the conversation of keeping secrets. And the proof of that secret sat still as a stone upon her miserable bed.
"You lie!" I screamed, unable to cope with what he told me. It contravened everything I had ever known, disrupted my well-ordered world, a world in which I had been the sole princeling. I had enjoyed the exalted status of only son of one of the most preeminent Pureblood wizards in the world, and now a dirty, ragged-eared house elf and a mute, sad-eyed little girl with my father's face threatened to topple my castle in the sky and undermine my formerly undisputed title of sole Malfoy heir.
Faced with such overwhelming evidence, I did what every Malfoy has ever done when threatened with an unpleasant truth. I lashed out at the closest available target-Dobby. I grabbed him by his thin twig arm and hurled him across the room. He hit the wall with a terrified squeal and slid down to land in a shivering huddle. There was a sunken impression of his little body in the mildewed plaster.
The quiet rabbit that offered no defense as I tormented her, tightening the snare and prodding her with my polished-dagger tongue, suddenly became a ferocious tiger. She sprang from the bed, her mouth open in a soundless snarl. She crashed into me with a bone-jarring thud, and my teeth clicked together as we tumbled to the floor in a tangle of limbs. Her body was hot and turgid as it writhed against me. I could hear her soft grunts as she struggled to free her arms from between us. Then a white flash and a searing pain in my cheek. Her nails came away slick with my blood. She had bested me.
I shoved her off and scrambled to my feet. She made no move to get up. She sat in the middle of the floor in her wrinkled, rumpled, once-white dress and stared at me, her small pearl teeth bared in a feral snarl. The hand smeared with my blood was curled on the floor beside her, her fingernails leaving tiny crescents of grue on the floor. Her hair was a wild profusion, a corona of satin snow. She was a changeling, a mad dybbuk, and for the briefest instant, I was afraid of her. My typical Malfoy swagger soon reasserted itself, though, and I loomed over her in calm superiority.
"I don't believe you," I snapped, and stormed from the room. But that was not true. Doubt seeped into my mind like infection. Her face, so like my father's. Those inscrutable eyes, just as cold as his. The same feline prance, the same stride I used to stalk and prowl the corridors as the rightful lord of the manor.
That night at dinner, my father asked how I came by the jagged scratch mark on my cheek. I told him I had gotten it from a thorn bush in the garden. He eyed me in silence for a moment, and then returned to his leg of lamb. A thousand questions swirled in my brain, a dizzying kaleidoscope of vague suppositions, buried half-truths, and half-remembered myth, but I dared not voice them. I had broken my father's law, and that had been a boy's foolishness, but already I was beginning to think like the man I would become, and the man knew better than to admit his transgression. So I sat and watched, and by the end of that supper I knew. It was in the deft, delicate motion of his elegant hands as he gripped his wine goblet, the faint lilt of his mouth as he smiled at my mother, the swirling air of betterness that surrounded him like a shield. The child, the fiery urchin cloistered in the basement was of him as surely as I was. The living winter beneath my feet was my sister.
I did not return to that surreal, subterranean world for two weeks. It was as if I thought I could make her disappear just by pretending that everything was as it had been before. I never intended to set foot there again, as a matter of fact. Out of sight, out of mind. But my feet led me there, called by an unseen compulsion. The footprints from my last visit were still imprinted in the thick layer of dust that carpeted the floor.
I did not speak to her this time. I merely stood in the moldering doorway and watched her. She did not acknowledge my presence, though Dobby squeaked and scampered from my view. She sat on her bed, playing with the beaten rag doll I had tried so very hard to destroy. Her mouth moved in time to her interior monologue, and her little fingers moved the swatches of fabric that were its arms and legs. Her eyes flickered to me for a moment, then flitted to her doll again, dismissing me. I was irrelevant to her, to her world.
Such callous dismissal infuriated me. No one ignored me. I spewed my most creative invective at her, called her every denigrating name at my disposal, even Mudblood. Her small hands ceased their play, and her eyes met mine. She appraised me and apparently found me lacking, because her white head dropped once more to the vista of the imaginary world inside her head. She knew I posed no real threat. She had established that in our first and last physical confrontation.
I saw her every day after that. Sometimes I berated her, but it was done out of force of habit rather than any real desire to inflict hurt. She had not reacted to anything I said since our rude introduction. Most times, I sat quietly on the floor and watched her like a curious child at a Muggle animal menagerie. Her ways were so alien; she radiated serenity, oblivious to her own strangeness and all that she did not know of who she was. Sometimes-and this was strangest of all to me-she sang, her throat straining with a melody that could not be heard.
This went on for two years, and I never expected anything to change. But one day as I sat cross-legged in the doorway, she looked up and held something out to me. Her face was expressionless, but there was a twinkling in her eye I had not seen before. "What is it?" I snarled, feigning a disinterest I did not feel.
She thrust it out at me, more insistently this time.
"I don't want it," I said, sniffing disdainfully at her.
She continued to hold it out, shaking it at me. Clearly, she had inherited the Malfoy trait of pig-headedness. She wasn't going to take no for an answer. Finally, I stood and crossed the invisible barrier between our worlds to look at her offering. I told myself I was doing it do keep her from pestering me, but deep down I was curious. She had never tried to bridge the gap between us before; indeed, she had never seemed to regard me as anything more than a tolerated nuisance, an illusive ghost that disturbed her otherwise idyllic peace.
I took it from her and stared at it, unable to believe what I held. It was a doll, fashioned in the same way as the one that laid at her feet, except that the one in my hands was quite detailed. She had drawn two large gray eyes on the face, and a large, crooked, red mouth. A round dot served as the nose. Shredded parchment was fastened to its head with Slug Bile, and around its back was draped a small black cloak. Despite its childish simplicity, it was obvious that it was an effigy of me.
"Where did you get this?" I asked, fingering the coarse fabric. When she looked guiltily at Dobby, something clicked in my mind. Last week, my mother had discovered that some of the fabric she had planned to use as lining for my father's winter clothes had gone missing. When she couldn't find it, she gave all the house elves perfunctory beatings and left it at that. Now the mystery was solved. "You stole this? You stole from us?" I thundered.
Dobby, keenly aware of my temper made a mad scrabble for the sanctuary of my sister's bed. Winter put a restraining hand on my arm and mouthed, "For you." She gestured at the doll.
I was dumbstruck. Nothing I had done merited this. Indeed, it had been my experience that cruelty begat cruelty. A kicked cur will bite the foot that strikes it. I had tormented her, berated her, baited her, and she rewarded me, not with like, but with the work of her own small hands, a delicate toil that must have taken hours, even days. I turned it over and over in my incredulous hands.
"You made this?"
"Why?" I asked suspiciously, considering that perhaps she and Dobby have colluded to poison the Malfoy heir.
A one-shouldered shrug. The same shrug my father used when a simpering, groveling victim asked why he was destroying their home and murdering their squalling children. Because I can. It is my right. A small smile played across her face.
I didn't know what to say. "It's stupid," I said at last, trying to affect an air of indifference. She only smiled wider, her eyes flashing. In the end I smiled, too, seeing so much of myself in that sneering little face.
I could not take the doll with me, of course. One of my parents would see it and wonder precisely why a nine-year old boy who had previously shown interest in torturing garden gnomes with the Cruciatus Curse was suddenly playing with dolls. It stayed in her room, given a place of honor at the head of her pallet. It was often the first thing I saw when I entered her universe. Over the years, the doll faded; its hair fell out and the cloak grew worn, but my sister never threw it away. It sat in the same place year after year, a moment frozen in time, a Portkey to more innocent days.
I found total acceptance in Winter. Docile as a fawn, she let me complain about anything I wished, as loudly as I wished. Having no voice, she was not burdened with that tiresome compulsion of every human being to hear themselves speak. She sat in silence while I ranted about the appalling ineptitude of the lazy house elves or the failure of one of my inferiors to show me the proper respect. Sometimes, if she thought I was being particularly crass or petulant, she would cluck disapprovingly, but that was all. I confided in her my hopes and deep-seated fears, unafraid because I knew her tongue would never be loosed. I told her things no one else will ever know. Later, when rebellion poisoned my heart against my father for a time, she listened calmly while I railed against injustices real and imagined. She plucked listlessly at the ragged hem of her dress while I spouted off all the ways in which I would be better than him, how I would crush the Muggles and Mudbloods beneath my heel when I grew to manhood. It had all seemed so easy then.
World domination and soliloquies on the greatness of Malfoy blood weren't the only activities that took place in her myopic little room. In my younger days, before the excitement of Hogwarts and perfecting my craft consumed my time and attention, we played together. I brought down tiddlywinks, Exploding Snap, and my crystal Wizard Chess set. She was terrible at tiddlywinks; I beat her every time. She was only fair at Exploding Snap, but the odds were a little better-sometimes she won.
But at Wizard Chess…she was a Master. I have played hundreds, even thousands, of games against countless partners, and yet I have never seen anyone play the game like she did. The first few games were awkward, hesitant. She felt her way around the board like a blind child groping through unfamiliar territory. Then the scales fell from her eyes, and her hands began to fly across the board, faster and with unchallengeable surety. She barely paused between moves. Her mind moved in ways that I could never follow, making leaps and logical connections that were lost upon me, changing tracks in the blink of an eye, leaving me to stare at her in slack-jawed disbelief.
It crushed her when I left for Hogwarts. The night before my departure she wept and clung to my cloak, her eight-year old body trembling with misery and desperation. Of all the things she had magically inherited from my father, his unyielding stoicism was not one of them. She threw her head back and howled, her sobs frantic exhalations of hot breath on my chest.
"Stop carrying on so," I said, trying to shake her loose. "I'll be back before Christmas. Besides, you'll be going…," I began, but then I stopped, because what I had been about to say was not true. She wouldn't be going to Hogwarts soon. Or ever, for that matter. She was never going to leave this basement. She was going to live out her life here, to die here, and when she died, she would be incinerated with the garbage. There would be no adventures for her, no joy, no light. The thought made me immeasurably sad. A lump caught in my throat, and fearing to show weakness, I shoved her away with a brusque, "Stop being a baby." She looked at me as though I had slapped her, and in a way I had. I hid my hurt by causing her more. Leaving that room was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I was dry-eyed when I did it. Malfoy men don't cry.
I forgot about Winter while I was at Hogwarts. It was so easy. I was busy learning new things, finding new enemies, and making the life of Harry Potter a living hell. Communication was impossible. She had no access to owls, and even if she had, she never would have sent them. That would have ruined the secret and compromised both our safeties, and though she was the younger sister, she was fiercely protective of me. She understood, I think, that our meetings were a sweet sin, punishable by the wrathful demigod that wore my father's skin.
I may not have given her much thought, but she had not forgotten me. When I arrived home for Christmas, she was waiting for me after all the lights had gone out. The room was as dark and dirty as ever, but she was beatific in her ecstasy at seeing me again. She barreled into me, wrapping her arms tightly around my neck and prancing about like an excited foal. Her eyes were alight with glee, vibrant in the flickering candlelight. I stood quietly amid the dervish of happiness, trying not to ruin my burgeoning manly aplomb by capering about like a child. In the end it was hopeless; her will was indomitable. We capered and waltzed across the floor in a giddy minuet, giggling. For Winter, I was still a child, and for the moment, I didn't mind.
When her enthusiasm abated a bit, she looked at me, her face flushed with exuberance, and her eyes widened in remembrance. She held up a finger and dashed to the rickety bureau that housed the few meager rags that she had been given as clothes. Opening the topmost drawer, she rummaged through it until she found what she sought. She came back and held it out to me, as though it were her greatest treasure. For you.
I took it from her, intrigued. It was an old, tattered, wrinkled parchment. Dobby had likely fished it out of the compost heap outside hidden discreetly behind the azalea bushes; such vaunted families as the Malfoys did not produce garbage. On the parchment was a drawing. The lines were still childish, but they had become more streamlined, more confident, and I could see that she would be a brilliant artist one day. The drawing was of me in my dress robes, leaning casually in the corner of her room. Though bulky and imperfect in its scale, the features of my face were perfect. Delicate blond eyebrows arched inquisitively above cold grey eyes. A thin mouth lived in the shadow of a smooth aquiline nose. Slavic cheekbones heralded my pedigree.
"What did you draw this with?" I asked, holding it by the edges so as not to smudge it.
Coal. She pointed to the top of the bureau, where a lump of coal was ignominiously perched.
"Let me guess. Dobby stole it from the furnace." She nodded. I turned to the elf, who whimpered piteously in the corner. "You're becoming quite the prolific little thief, aren't you?" I hissed.
He quailed, but stayed wisely silent. My sister tapped me on the shoulder, and when I turned she mouthed, Happy Christmas.
"Happy Christmas." I snapped my fingers. "I almost forgot. I have something for you." I rummaged in my pockets for the small snow globe I'd purchased on one of the school outings to Hogsmeade. It was a tiny bauble, but I knew as soon as I saw it that it was for her. An angel standing with upraised arms in the sleepily falling snow. It was such an evocative image that I snatched it from the shelf before good sense could thwart me. Crabbe and Goyle looked at me quite oddly indeed. Until then, the only things they had ever seen me buy were butterbeers and the odd bob of cheap jewelry for my fingers. I think Crabbe, in the dim, murky cesspool of his brain, was questioning my masculinity.
My fingers finally seized upon it, and I pulled it out. "Here you are."
I wished for a camera at that moment, any camera, Muggle or wizard. It had never occurred to me until then that the cheap little snow globe I so casually held out to her was the first present of any kind she had ever received. Her fingers shook as she took it from me, and her eyes were wide and glowing with an expression I couldn't quite read. She studied the globe and its beseeching angel, tracing her fingertips over the smooth surface of the glass in ruminative reflection. Then she clasped it to her chest. When she looked at me again, there was the glycerin glimmer of tears in her eyes.
"What's the matter, don't you like it?" I asked, readying a truculent answer should she say she didn't. This was hardly the reaction I'd anticipated.
Her mouth opened and closed several times in rapid succession as her mind fished for the right words to explain how she felt. Then she was on me, her one arm wrapped around my neck while the other possessively clutched her present. I awkwardly patted her on the back in acknowledgement. Such demonstrative affection was a rarity among the Malfoys; indeed, only my sister was ever free enough to manifest it. She had nothing to prove and no one to impress.
"I'll take that as approval," I said, trying to maintain my dignity in the face of imminent strangulation.
We spent the rest of that night playing Exploding Snap and drinking Butterbeers I smuggled from kitchen. The snow globe sat on her rickety bureau, and every so often her eyes would stray there, as though she expected it to vanish, a cruel mirage or some childhood hoax. She watched it, and I watched and marveled at how little I actually knew about this person that shared my blood. She was so like me, and yet so very different. She was the child of my father, and of unkind circumstance, of caprice and miracle maybe. Her face was his, but her mind was her own. Had she been lucky enough to sit at the family table, people would have recognized the difference even as they offered up the platitude of "the spitting image." Dirty secret? Buried treasure.
Life went on, and for five years our routine never changed. Nocturnal visits, tearful goodbyes, joyous homecomings, secret Nativity vigils in the candlelit shadows. And each year, a new snow globe. I often thought of getting her something grander, more ostentatious, more…Malfoy, but I never did. There was something fitting about the little glass spheres and their snapshots of life never lived. Like her, they were fragile and sad, and like her, they spoke of endurance and of permanence, of steadfastness beneath the smothering weight of years. I didn't see all of this then, but I do now, and oh, how the memories burn.
There were changes in life, of course, especially those last turbulent years of adolescence. I fought viciously with my father during those years, often physically. He knew exactly where to prod to get the results he wanted, and the knowledge that I could be so easily manipulated insulted my pride. I lashed out, called him brutal names. Through it all, he never raised his hand to me. He would sit, unmoving as marble, as I raged at him, hurling insults and accusations as angrily and carelessly as I could. If I struck him, he was no different. He watched me with those cold grey eyes while his ruby blood trickled gracefully from the corner of his mouth. Then he would get up, dab at the corner of his mouth with a lace handkerchief, and bid me a pleasant "Good evening," before retiring to his chambers. His indifference to my youthful rage maddened me beyond hope, and I think he knew it.
I tried to teach her some of the spells I learned in my studies, but she showed little enthusiasm for it. She would listen as I explained the theory, watch patiently as I gave her a demonstration of my prowess, and then go back to whatever it was she had been doing. She never accepted the proffered wand, never tried her own hand at magic. Maybe she just didn't want to torture herself with things beyond her reach. I always thought it was because she didn't understand. I even considered the possibility that she was a Squib, giving another reason for my father's shunning of her. She proved me wrong on both counts for good and all on the day my world ended, and I have never been prouder of her than I was on that day.
Three days after my sixteenth birthday my de facto status as a Death Eater became official. I stood with all the rest of the initiates before Lord Voldemort and received the brand that has followed me all the days thereafter. My path had been set before me before my feet were even formed, but unlike many others in that circle, I was neither resentful nor frightened by my predetermined choice. I reveled in it, celebrated it. The rightness of my choice was never in doubt. It still isn't. Even though everything I ever loved and held dear has been reduced to broken wreckage, I know we were right. But right does not equal might, and it is the victors who will write the things history will remember. They will build shrines to their fallen heroes and weep over the tombs of the lost. All I can do is lick my wounds in private and hope that someone cares enough to wonder about the truth. By the time they give enough of a damn to actually come asking about it, I'll probably be dead.
It was her that I ran to after it was over. Not my father, silent but proud. Not my mother, made cold by too many years of turning deaf ears and blind eyes to the things her aloof husband did in the black watches of the night and to the blood-spattered clothes she sometimes washed. To her. I sat in the arms of my sister, gawky, gangly, and just beginning the lonely journey into womanhood, and wept silently as the freshly seared wound burned and throbbed. It was all right, you see. She never judged. I could be the child, that, in many ways, I still was. In Winter's world, weakness and tears were not sins.
We were caught that year. Christmas. Years of getting away with it had made me arrogant, sloppy. I made more noise than was prudent, and I think the events that were unfolding at the time made my father's rest more fitful. Winter and I had just opened our second Butterbeers. I was setting up a game of Wizard Chess. Winter's newest globe, a stained-glass butterfly in white tinsel fog, glittered from its place on the bureau. Winter, toying with a lump of coal she had been using to sketch before my arrival, looked past my shoulder and smiled.
"What is it?" My hands paused in the placement of the pieces on the board. The air seemed heavier than I remembered.
"So you found her."
I spun around, the chess pieces I had been holding clattering to the floor. The bishop shattered into tiny, prismatic shards. My father stood in the doorway. His hair hung free, tousled from restless dreams. In his hand was his ever-present walking stick. He was watching us with a closely guarded countenance, the candlelight flickering in his eyes.
"Father," I began, wondering how I was going to get out of this.
He held up a silencing hand. To my surprise, a faint smile played upon his face for an instant. He crossed into the room, his black silk pajamas hissing softly. It was a jolt, seeing him there in that cold, drab room, a picture of pristine elegance surrounded by the refuse of the manor. He took in the room, his grey eyes lingering over everything. They froze on the collection of snow globes on the bureau. He walked over and picked up the butterfly, rolling it in his hands.
"You have impeccable taste, Draco," he said at last, and gently replaced it.
"You know about those?" I was too stunned by his sudden appearance to think of anything else.
"Of course." He said this in the same way he answered any question he deemed unworthy of his time. With truculence and a hint of scorn. He pulled the rickety, splintering chair my sister used when she was sketching into the center of the room and sat down, sniffing as it gave an ungentlemanly groan.
"But how?" I had never seen any footprints but my own in the small dunes of dust that carpeted the path to Winter's room, and she had never mentioned any visits to me. But then, I had never asked.
My father gave that faint, almost wistful smile again and steepled his long, aristocratic fingers beneath his chin. The serpent-headed knob of his walking stick shone from between his third and forth fingers. In the dim, wavering light his hair was white fire. A penitent angel.
"Apparition," he says simply. His eyes turned to my sister, who sat on the bed watching us with undisguised interest. They softened. "Happy Christmas."
She left the bed, unfurling like a loosely closed lily, and bounded to him with the same joy she had always shown me. It made me jealous; I had thought myself the sole beneficiary of her love. She stopped short and held out her hands, an embarrassed flush creeping into her cheeks.
He inspected her upturned palms, and his face became a moue of disapproval as he saw the grimy layer of coal dust. He reached into the pocket of his pajamas and pulled out a linen handkerchief, which he passed to her with casual grace. "Honestly, child, why must you fool about with coal, of all things?" he muttered indulgently. She only shrugged.
Anyone else might have been surprised to see that my father carried a handkerchief in the pocket of his nightclothes, but I was not. He was a fanatically fastidious man-some would say obsessed. In my snarkier moments, I thought perhaps he carried one in his knickers, but I never voiced the idea aloud. Nor did I then. I had more important questions to ask.
"Why didn't you just come down and visit?"
"It would be too dangerous," he said carefully.
I knew there was something he wasn't saying. "For whom? You? Wouldn't want the world to know the Malfoys were harboring a freak, would we?" I spat, my temper slipping dangerously. The idea of my sister spending all those years alone in this shabby little room because he feared public shame twisted my stomach, and I felt the half dozen pumpkin pasties I'd eaten earlier churn uneasily.
My sister paused in the cleaning of her hands to glance uneasily in my direction. The soiled cloth fluttered ineffectually, like a dove in the last throes of death. My father said nothing. He lowered his hands from beneath his chin and rested his cane lightly against his knee. His fingers wrapped gently around the armrests.
"Not me. Her." His voice was soft and quiet, lost in the cold expanse of the room.
"What?" I scoffed. I had heard my father lie a thousand times, but never so weakly. Indignation burned in my throat and belly. "How would it be dangerous for her? She is a daughter of the most influential wizarding family in the world. No one would dare mock her."
"Lord Voldemort," my father said, as though this explained everything. He looked at my sister, standing there with unconscious grace and watching the two of us. His mouth worked and his Adam's apple bobbed, and he tore his gaze away from her with an effort. "Lord Voldemort."
"What about him?" I asked truculently, my ignorance and naiveté as obvious as the Dark Mark I carried on my forearm.
My father fixed me with the patronizing, annoyed glance I loathed so much. "Use your head, boy," he spat. "How would it look if the child of his second in command was defective? It would hardly do wonders for his theory that wizards are of better stock than Muggles, would it? Something like that would have to be dealt with. Quickly."
"Oh." Most of my indignation withered on the shorn vine of youthful self-righteousness as the picture my father painted became clear. My sister would have been a target, a liability. The Light would have held her up as a symbol of the falsity of the precepts upon which the Dark Lord had fashioned his glorious castle. He would never have let that happen. He would have killed her; mostly likely he would have ordered my father to smother her at his feet. She would have been a sacrifice to the cause.
"So you hid her," I muttered faintly, feeling sick. "But Lord Voldemort must have known about her."
"Of course he did. Even in exile in Albania he had his ways, some lackey or other to keep his ear to the ground," agreed my father. His hands floated from the armrests, and he rubbed them together dreamily, his cold eyes unfocusing as he tumbled into the yawning abyss of recollection. "The whole damned wizarding world knew. The society pages of the Daily Prophet were rife with pictures of Narcissa and her ever-expanding belly. The grand balls were abuzz with the news that the Malfoy family would be heralding the arrival of another heir. There were even betting pools about the gender of the child. All very discreet, of course."
"Lord Voldemort was especially pleased. He praised my virility and crowed to the others that I would help supply him with the most loyal of soldiers. He even gifted me a fine cherry cradle. He had plans for the child, you see. If it were a boy, it would go on to serve as I had, be groomed, as you were, to be a steadfast servant. If it were a girl, then…she would serve as well. She would be a companion to him, and, if lucky, bear him many heirs to ensure that his deathgrip upon the world never loosened." He smiled, but there was no humor in it.
"She was going to be his whore," I said, the words tumbling from my mouth like lead ball bearings. I rubbed my hands across my marked forearm, a forearm that suddenly felt so very dirty.
He nodded once.
"If she had turned out…would you have let him?" I managed.
"Of course. Anything for the cause."
The bitterness in his voice stunned me. I had always assumed he was happy in the cause, content to fight for the eradication of Muggles and Mudbloods. Never had I suspected this from him, this bleakness, this disillusionment.
"What happened? I sat down on the hard, lumpy bed.
"Everything went smoothly throughout the pregnancy, and we expected no less for the delivery. When your mother's water broke, we Apparated to St. Mungo's. They tried to keep me away from the birth, but I was a Malfoy; the nurse received broken knuckles for her troubles."
"I knew almost immediately that something was wrong. The way the doctors and nurses were so hurriedly conferring, their hushed tones and furtive whispers. The Mediwizard between your mother's legs was squinting and murmuring. Praying, I think."
"Your sister came out, and they cleaned her up and handed her to me. At first I was relieved, but then I looked down at her. Her mouth was open, her tiny fists were balled up, but there was no sound. She was screaming, but there was no sound." His voice was awed and strangled. He was fighting to keep his composure.
"I just stood there with her in my hands, screaming up at me with no voice, watching her throat strain. Narcissa was talking, asking me what was wrong, but she was far away, like a voice heard underwater. All I could think of was Lord Voldemort. What he would think. What he would say. What he would do.
"Finally, I did something. I looked up at the Mediwizard who stood before me, wiping my wife's blood from his hands, and said, 'What have you done to her?' He goggled at me like the simpering incompetent he was, and started babbling about the umbilical cord being wrapped around her throat. I didn't care. I was beside myself. He ruined her. I knew. Oh, I knew."
Thirteen years later, the anger he had papered over for all these years erupted like a rancid boil. His hands shook, and the cane rattled softly against the chair. Winter went to him and wrapped herself around his legs, burying her face in his knees. He looked surprised, and then his hand came down to stroke the white silk of her hair.
"What did you do?"
"The only thing I could. I knew that if Lord Voldemort found out, he would hunt her down, so I placed Memory Charms on all the doctors and nurses. Except for the Mediwizard who cursed my child with his blundering hands. Him I took behind the building and snapped his neck. It was most gratifying to hear the grind and pop of bone, to feel it shatter beneath my hands. If my daughter wasn't going to have a voice, then neither was he." He said this with the same complacency he used when discussing the weather. It was only justice. "As far as anyone knew, my daughter was stillborn. Her Death Certificate is on file at the Ministry of Magic."
"She's been here ever since," I finished, dazed. "But why not keep her better? Why keep her in this squalor?"
"And how am I supposed to do that?" he hissed, startling Winter, who had begun to doze on his knees. "Do you think it gives me pleasure to keep her like this? You think I don't know she deserves better? Why do you think I hesitate to come here? I cannot bear to see the flesh of my flesh degraded and lowly." His eyes flashed. Winter's hand came up to stroke his knee.
"Then why not buy her better linens, better clothes?" I persisted, stunned by my father's raw emotion.
He snorted. "What excuse would I give for going about town buying pink silk linens and frilly corsets? My son Draco has become a ponce?" He straightened his robes indignantly.
"Then why let her live? Why not let her die at birth? It would have been a mercy compared to this."
He was on his feet in an instant, toppling a wide-eyed Winter onto her backside. I realized belatedly that I had asked the wrong question. "Because she was my daughter, not some filthy Mudblood mongrel!" he roared. The silver-headed cane came up to deal a blow.
Winter darted up and wrapped her arms around his waist from behind. The cane wavered, then lowered, and he turned to look at her. He cupped her frightened chin in his hand. "You were to be the pampered dauphine, the white-frocked Malfoy princess of unrivaled glory and splendor. Look at you, left here to rot like common rabble. This wasn't meant for you. I'm sorry, child." He was perilously close to tears.
She met his gaze. I love you, Papa.
"Good night, child." His gaze turned to me. "Draco." He started for the door.
"Father," I called, but he didn't hear me, didn't want to hear me. "Father, what would you have named her?"
He paused in the doorway and turned to look at me. His gaze flickered to my sister, who was watching his departure with forlorn resignation. "Demeter," he said after a long moment. I would have called her Demeter."
"Goodnight, Father," I said.
He gave me a curt nod. "Goodnight, Demeter," he said. Then he was gone, evaporating like a puff of smoke as he Disapparated, returning to the bed he shared with my mother.
Another three years passed before my father and I visited Winter together again. The visits were painful to him, and he preferred to keep his vulnerability hidden from everyone but her. It was clear he wanted no more interference from me, no more of my prying questions. I didn't mind. Seeing him with her forced me to re-evaluate my perception of him as the cold, unyielding, ever-disapproving tyrant, and that was not something I was ready to do. I was uncomfortable viewing my father as a human being.
I was sitting on the bed, letting Winter plait my hair, when he walked in. Though it was almost half-past one, he was dressed in his most formal attire. In his right hand was his trademark walking stick. In his left, he carried a full tumbler of the richest sherry, and beneath his left arm was tucked a large square package wrapped in black velvet. He smiled faintly when he saw us.
"Hello, Father," I said. I was not surprised to see him. I had known he would be coming. It was Christmas night, and in the morning we would go to war. Lord Voldemort was finally ready to launch his final assault on the world. We would start with Hogwarts. Things would be much easier with Albus Dumbledore and the do-gooding Harry Potter out of the way.
I was excited, but there was also a bit of shame. Hogwarts was the place that had given me the chance to learn my craft, and I was going to help destroy it using the very tools it had given me. I was going to blast its staunch walls, scorch its proud turrets, and shatter its eternal foundation. As in the legends of old, the apprentice would return to slay his master.
About killing Harry Potter, I had no compunction at all. In fact, I lusted for it. The very thought of his blood gushing over my hands in a rich, red stream sent electric shivers into my groin, made me stiffen in my trousers with a perverse, sexual excitement. For years, he had baited me, taunted me with his iconic status, lorded over me with his false modesty and saccharine self-righteousness. Now was the time for revenge. I would make him pay for all his insults. And an old debt had been festering in my heart for years. He had yet to be held accountable for my sister's tears after losing Dobby, and I had not forgotten.
"Happy Christmas." My father's face was pale and drawn, and fine lines had begun to creep into the corners of his mouth and around the creases of his eyes. He had not slept much as of late; the knowledge that everything for which we had toiled for so many years was now at hand weighed heavily upon him. He sat down in the rickety chair and watched us, sipping daintily and thoughtfully from the tumbler.
She must have mouthed something, because his mouth twisted into a fragile smile. Her hands winnowed through my hair, dividing and twining with fluid dexterity. She adored my hair. It had grown long like my father's, and if I let her, she would play with it for hours, plaiting and brushing. Sometimes she would simply scoop it up and let it drizzle through her hands like liquid gold.
"Demeter, you know what will happen tomorrow?"
Her hands froze. I felt the shift of air above my head as she nodded. Then came the soft, sussurating sound of sharply indrawn breath. The swell of her breasts brushed against my back as her chest began to hitch. The energy around her changed, and the air grew heavy. The fear came off her in sizzling, smothering waves, and I felt the soft jittering of her fingertips as she began to tremble. Hot liquid splashed onto the crown of my head. Tears. She was weeping.
"Come here, child." His voice was soft but commanding.
She left the bed and went to him. In the treacherous candlelight I could see the glistening tracks of her tears. She stopped beside the chair. She was so beautiful and fragile in that moment. The realization that my baby sister was a fully-grown woman of nearly seventeen struck me with the force of a rogue locomotive. The scales of familiarity fell from my eyes, and I saw her as a stranger on the street would see her. The metamorphosis from gangly badly limned caterpillar to stunning monarch butterfly was so sudden and so astoundingly complete that I felt dizzy.
She was tall, willowy. Years hidden from the sun or from any light at all had made her skin ivory white. A glorious crown of hair, white as ice and just as cold, fell in rolling cascades to her waist. It shimmered in the light like ghostfire. Our father's eyes looked out from her face, eyes from which warm tears still fell. Gone was the angular body of her youth. The curves and swells of womanhood had reshaped it, made it something fine and wonderful. The hidden Malfoy dauphine had come into her own, and it crushed my heart that the world would never know it. I was glad, too. It meant that she would never be contaminated, never fall victim to the predations of lust, greed, and hate. She would always be perfect, untouchable, a goddess in the dark.
"Why do you weep?" My father brushed a tear from her cheek with the ball of his thumb. "You knew it would come to this someday."
My sister nodded, but said nothing. There was no need. We both understood. Someday never matters until it comes, and then it means everything. I'm sure Winter didn't understand the full implications of tomorrow. She couldn't, trapped here in her gilded cage. She knew enough, though. She knew that, regardless of what happened in the morning, there would be changes. Not for her, of course. Her life would never change. We would change, her father and her brother. We would ascend to positions of power, places beyond her reach. We would visit less and less, too afraid of losing all we had gained to risk it for her. If we lost, she would never see us again. Our bodies would be left to rot in the sun, and the Light would come and take her away, pile all the humiliations they could not cast upon us onto her shoulders. For her there was no victory.
My father caressed her cheek a moment longer. "I've a present for you." He held out the velvet-wrapped package.
She took it reverently. This was the first time she'd ever received something from him. Until now, my snow globes had been her only gifts. She looked at him, seeking reassurance, and when he nodded, she pulled the velvet away. She gasped when she saw what lay beneath it. So did I. I was his firstborn, and though I received many lavish, extravagant gifts, I had never seen anything so fine.
It was a Wizard Chess set. The board was crafted from ivory and onyx, and its polished finish gleamed in the light. The pieces were made of ivory and jade, their minute features carved in the finest detail. I did some rough calculations in my head. The set in her hands must have cost at least half a year's salary. I was incredulous for a moment, and then comprehension dawned. That wasn't just a Christmas present. It was my father's atonement for all the Christmases and birthdays ignored or forgotten. It was real, irrefutable acknowledgement of her lineage.
I hid the unbecoming lump in my throat by staring at the wall behind his head.
"Shall we play?" he asked Winter, who was still staring at the chess set in dumb amazement.
She jerked her head up, startled out of her bewilderment by the sound of his voice. He raised one eyebrow in inquiry and pointed at the chess set. She nodded and sat cross-legged on the floor. My father was nonplussed. He looked for a table, and when he found none, he gave a one-shouldered shrug and joined her on the floor. Without a word, he began to arrange the pieces on the board.
The sight of my fastidious father sitting cross-legged on the filthy floor was surreal. If I hadn't been there to see it, I would never have believed it, and the bearer of such an outrageous tale would have been challenged to a duel on the spot for disparaging his name. He seemed not to notice the layers of grime caked onto the floor. He was aware of only the chessboard and the girl-child sitting across from him.
"Shall I send for some port before we begin?" he asked when he had finished setting up the chess pieces.
She shook her head. Only butterbeer for me, she mouthed.
"Yes, it's rather gauche for young ladies to drink, isn't it?" he murmured. "Shall we begin, then?"
For the next three hours, I witnessed something beautiful, something indefinable, something that changed my view of my family forever. My father and sister weren't just playing chess; they were bonding, discovering, two minds becoming one, offering one unto the other. There was a wall between them and me. I think that if I had reached out to touch them, tried in any way to breach the invisible barrier between us, I would have been reduced to a pile of smoldering ash. Two indomitable wills clashed, and I could only watch.
My father was an excellent chess player, ruthless and efficient. He gave no quarter to his opponents, and he gave none to his daughter. She paid for each little mistake dearly. My sister became a different entity altogether. The emotional part of her brain shut down, and she became a creature ruled by logic. She ruled the plain of the board with an iron fist, and each advancement on my father's part was an affront to her dignity, to her sovereignty.
When, after more than an hour, my father finally bested her, there was no question as to whether they would play again. She was setting the pieces as soon as the last was taken. My father met her eyes in mute challenge. Do you think you can best me? his eyes asked.
Yes, I do.
The pieces moved, and a father spoke to his daughter of love and regret. Jade took ivory, and a daughter told her father of love and absolution. For the first and last time in seventeen years, they spoke of things never spoken. Bishops gave benediction and knights testified to bravery under adversity. The queen ruled with dignity, and the king decided the fate of all.
After ninety minutes, my sister checked my father's king. She sat back with a sigh of contentment.
"One more for good and all?" My father was already setting up the pieces.
This time the match lasted just twenty-six minutes. Winter had been watching, testing, gauging, pushing him to the limit to determine where exactly it lay, and now that she knew, she was merciless. My father tried to keep up ay first, tried to interpret the lightning movement of her hands, but in the end he simply sat back and watched. When the ivory king toppled, they looked at one another silently.
"Well done, Demeter." Then he stood up and did something I will never forget. Not even a Memory Charm could steal it from me. My father, who had not hugged or kissed me since I left nappies behind, leaned over and planted a kiss on the top of her head. Then he rested his chin in her hair and closed his eyes. From beneath his closed eyelids seeped two glittering tears. My father was weeping.
I would have fallen if I hadn't been sitting. I waited for the dam to break, for the grand, melodramatic outpouring of emotion, for the wracking sobs and keening wails, but they never came. There weren't even any more tears. He simply stood there with his chin resting on the crown of her head and two teardrops streaking down his face. I was not terribly surprised to see that Winter's lips were moving. She was singing, her arms twined around his neck like white constrictors.
I can't say for certain how long they stayed that way. All I could think was that they looked like a snow globe, a snapshot of life perfect. I wish I could have captured it for her, sealed them there forever in unbreakable communion. It would have made the perfect addition to her collection of windows into a better world. It would have made a better end for them both, but I couldn't and didn't, and Fate had another end in store for them.
"Well," my father said, straightening up and pulling a handkerchief from his robes to wipe his eyes, "I think I shall retire. It's a bit stuffy in here." Winter looked disappointed, but nodded. She did not mention his wet eyes. "Are you coming, Draco?"
"No, Father, I think I'll be staying a bit longer," I said. I had yet to give Winter her snow globe, and I suspected she had something to say to me.
"Right, then. Goodnight." With a curt nod, he was gone.
Winter watched the door for a while, turning the jade rook in her hands. She was chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip, a sign that her composure was fragile. She gave no sign that she was interested in me at all. There was longing in her face, a pitiful hope that my father would reappear and tell her that he wasn't really going to war, but there was also miserable recognition of truth. She swallowed with a loud click. Then she started gathering up the chess pieces. She handled them like priceless treasures, which, I suppose, they were. They were souvenirs of the only truly meaningful interaction she had ever had with our father.
She turned her back to me, putting the chess set in the topmost drawer of her crumbling bureau. Her shoulders were bunched and taut. She was waiting for the next blow. When she turned to face me again, she had the tiddlywink set in her hands. She flashed me a wan smile, as if to say she knew she was too old for such childish games, and then held it out to me anyway.
Why not? She had played chess with my father, and now she would play tiddlywinks with me. She chose that game, the weakest of all the games she knew, because she had nothing to prove to me. We knew one another well. Our bond was deep, forged by years of secret communion, whispered secrets, and dark hopes. The game did not need to speak for us. We had said everything we had to say. This game would be the endgame, the final farewell to our childhood before the reality of war swept us irrevocably into adulthood.
The clack of tiddlywinks on stone and her strangled, ragged breathing were the only sounds. Her mind was not in the game, and I trounced her. Still, she made a valiant effort, setting up each new game with shaking hands and mustering a smile. On and on it went, defeat after defeat, but she was tireless. She was determined not to give me up until there was no other choice. Maybe it would have been more merciful to leave, to make the decision she could not make for herself, but I didn't. I didn't want to see that soundless, anguished wail. And I was selfish. Once I walked out the door, innocence and ignorance would be my companions no more.
Finally, as she was reaching for her Butterbeer with quaking hands, it spilled. She stared at it in dull contemplation, and then her chest hitched. Once. Twice. Her hands flew to her face, and she threw back her head and loosed a silent howl. I scrambled to her, scattering tiddlywinks in all directions.
"What's the matter?" I asked, immediately stunned by my own stupidity. "It'll be all right." I hesitated to put my arms around her, awkward and uncertain with her new curves and the sense of raw femininity she exuded.
She shook her head violently. No, it won't. She released another voiceless howl. I shoved my awkwardness aside and embraced her, pulling her tight against my chest. She curled there like a terrified rabbit, and her restless, fevered hands sought solace in my hair, drawing comfort and strength from its familiarity. My ears were filled with the soft sound of her frightened hunh-huhn as she wept and prayed to a God that would not hear her.
You have to come back. Both of you, she mouthed when she had regained some semblance of control. Her eyes were red and swollen. Tears and watery mucus streaked her face, and I found myself wishing for a handkerchief. Unfortunately, that was one of the few habits I had not picked up from my father. She solved the problem by wiping her face on the dirty, ragged hem of her dress.
"We'll both come back," I said. It sounded hollow and uncertain in my ears. I knew the odds of both my father and me returning alive and whole were infinitesimal. Everyone on the side of Light would be hunting us, and more than a few of our "allies" would be looking for the opportunity to eliminate Lord Voldemort's second-in-command and clear the path for their own ascension. The chaos of battle was the perfect time to settle old scores, and my father had trodden on countless toes in his quest for power. They would be looking for him, and because I bore his name, they would kill me too, if they could.
Winter sensed all of this, too. She gave an unladylike snort. Come back, she said stubbornly.
She wanted a promise from me, and I couldn't give it. I wanted to. I needed to. She had never asked me for anything. She deserved this if anyone did. She deserved the joy of seeing her father and brother return home again, but that prize was not mine to give, and I couldn't lie. Not to her.
"I will if I can."
Not good enough. She was staring at me now, fury and terror warring on the battleground of her face.
"I have to go." A knife went through my heart at those words, and it hurt to breathe.
She grabbed my wrist as I rose to leave. Undisguised panic was in her eyes now. Don't go. Don't you do this to me.
"I have to," I snarled, my voice hard to mask the pain. I pulled my wrist away. I whirled on my heel and fled, knowing even as I did that her mouth was opening again in a silent scream.
I passed my father as I sought the refuge of my room. He sat in a chair by the window, watching as dawn bled into the sky. He raised his hand in silent greeting, and by the milky light, I saw the silver gleam of tears on his cheeks.
The battle for the wizarding world raged for five days. We stormed Hogwarts with the rising of the sun. They were waiting for us. The two sides lined up on opposite sides of the sweeping field that stood between the border of the Forbidden Forest and the castle. Dead black faced flaming scarlet, brilliant yellow, deep blue, and a dotting of lush green. Silence as the wind rippled through robes and billowing cloaks. Then the sound of five thousand wands raising as one. Then the still, sweet morning air exploded amid a hail of hexes.
They were far better prepared than we had expected them to be. The hexes came fast and furious, and they seemed to know our every move before we made it. The survivors would later learn that Severus Snape, one of our most trusted, had betrayed us too the Light. His treachery cost us dearly. Our first wave was repulsed, and we were forced to fall back to the border of the forest. Several dozen of our ranks were scattered across the expanse of the field, cooling flesh returning to the bosom of the earth.
Most of my classmates died. Crabbe fell on the first day, cut down by an Chest-Cracker Curse. He gaped up at me as he died, his exposed heart spasming feebly beneath the sun. I stepped over him, shaking off his limp fingers as he groped for me. I had no time for him. I had to protect my father, to give Winter the one thing she asked of me. Goyle died in the retreat on the final day, struck in the back by an Avada Kedavra as he ran. Flint, Parkinson, Bulstrode, Avery, Knott-they all fell.
As suspected, my father was a marked man. Curses came at him from all directions. Most think my father a coward, but they never saw him on the battlefield that day. He was a demon, an angel of death, and I was in awe of him. His lips were pulled back in a feral snarl, his canines glistening. Friends or foes, young or old, he smote them all. I watched as he brought down a bent, weather-beaten Auror with the Killing Curse, then spun around to snap the neck of a twelve-year old girl. If they were to succeed in toppling him, at least his hands would be well-sullied with their blood.
It was Potter who defeated us. Of course it was. While the pawns ducked and dodged and spat out the blood of the person in front of them, the two kings met for the last time. The legends will say that at the climactic meeting, all stopped to watch the final confrontation, but that isn't true. The battle never paused. We kept fighting and dying. Not even Dumbledore stopped what he was doing. The fate of us all went virtually unnoticed in the middle of the maelstrom.
A scream heralded the end. It cut across the field in a high, wavering arc, shrill, outraged, and despairing. The voice did not belong to Potter. The Dark Lord had fallen, a victim of his own arrogance. He could never just win; he had to humiliate, to crow about glory not yet won. He had hesitated in his deathstroke to gloat over his foe, and Potter had made him pay, thrusting the glittering sword of Godric Gryffindor into his chest. The Boy Who Lived stood victorious over the body of the Lord Who Fell.
He did not completely deprive me of my vengeance, though. Before I fled the field that day, I killed Ginny Weasley, the doe-eyed fawn that he called his. I felled her with a Burning Curse as she knelt, bloody and howling, over the mangled corpse of her eldest brother. Whatever happiness Potter hoped for, I stole with a flick of my wrist. He should be thankful, really. A truly awful piece of minge was Ginny Weasley. You'd think with all his notoriety and wealth that he could find higher quality wenches.
It was over after that. My father tried to rally our forces, but it was useless. Most of them had only joined in the hopes of glory, fame, and power. They did not truly believe, had not built their lives around this moment. Those who had were dead, sacrifices to a worthless and futile cause. Eventually, my father surrendered to the inevitable and fled, knowing the hell that awaited him if he lingered. He spared me a long, searching look before he disappeared into the forest, his brilliant blond hair fading like early sunset as he faded from sight.
I arrived at Malfoy Manor to see the end of it all. Had I not been delayed slitting the throats of high-ranking survivors to keep them from betraying the rest of us, I might have been caught in the snare. I wish I had been. There are no burdens upon the dead, and I would give anything to be rid of the terrible burden I carry now-the gnawing, blistering ache of guilt, the hatred that lingers in my bones and sinew like long-borne disease, and the maddening, unquenchable thirst for revenge.
I saw the cadre of Aurors clustered around the door, and I knew. Maybe I should have ambushed them, attacked them from behind and gone out in a blaze of glory, but the instinct for self-preservation was still strong in me, then. I crept around to the side window and crouched in the high privet hedge. They didn't see me. They were transfixed by what was happening inside. In the pricking embrace of a thorn bush, I bore witness to ruin.
My father stood in the entryway, just to the right of the stairs. He was filthy, streaked with mud and blood. Bits of flesh and bone clung to his hair, which was matted and wild. His wand was out, and he leveled it at his persecutors coolly. There was no fear in his gaze, only defiance and that indescribable Malfoy hauteur. His eyes glittered.
"Come along quietly, Malfoy." Arthur Weasley stood at the head of the throng of Aurors. His eyes were puffy, scalded from mourning the loss of two of his children. His hands shook. Beside him, Albus Dumbledore murmurs encouragement, his own wand pointed at my father's heart. On his other side was Harry Potter. His wand was outstretched, and I could see his fingers twitching delicately. Oh, how he wanted to kill my father! He wanted it as badly as I wanted to kill him. He licked his lips, as though he could already taste the sweet gall of vengeance.
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Weasley." My father smiled as though he were amused, but I saw his eyes dart to his left, to the door that led to my sister's kingdom.
He's protecting her, I thought. He's protecting Winter. Visions of my sister huddled beneath her pitiful blankets as she hid from the noises overhead filled my mind. If they came for her, she would panic. They would mistake her silence for recalcitrance, and they would make her talk, even if they killed her in the attempt. A cold lump of fear settled in my stomach.
"I'll ask you one more time, Malfoy, come away." Arthur Weasley's voice quavered, unable to remain steady under the weight of his loathing.
My father only smiled. An impatient Auror started forward, eager to end the standoff. My father killed him with a murmured "Avada Kedavra!" The smile never wavered as the body crumpled bonelessly to the polished marble floor.
It was not Harry Potter who killed my father. I can say that with absolute certainty. His mouth never opened. Nor was it Dumbledore or Weasley. It was one of the faceless mob. Perhaps it was the father of the girl whose neck he snapped like so much kindling. The green light blazed forth, searing my retinas with its ferocity, and when it faded, my father sank gracelessly to the floor, his hair fanning around him like a broken halo, his eyes open and unseeing.
She must have seen, must have been crouching at the bottom of the stairs. Perhaps she heard the thud as my father fell, heard the curse and come to investigate. Her blazing snow hair appeared on the threshold separating her realm and the forbidden territory of Malfoy Manor proper. Then the rest of her came into view.
She stared at my father's body lying on the floor. Her face was a mask of confusion, as though she were wondering why he was napping in the foyer. Then the expression cleared, and the horror crept in. Her jaw went slack, and her chest began to hitch. She took a hesitant step forward, then another. Papa? Her lips trembled. Papa? Then the paralysis broke, and she lunged forward, collapsing on her knees beside his head.
She reached out a tentative hand to caress his cheek. Her mouth worked as she brushed the still-warm flesh. Her hand traveled to the matted wreck of his hair. A look of complete, uncomprehending incredulity passed over her face. She picked up his head and cradled it in her lap.
She sat with her head bowed for interminable seconds, her fingers tracing gently over his face. With shaking fingers, she closed his eyes. Then she drew a shuddering breath, threw back her head, and howled. Her body trembled with its force. The exhalation went on and on and on, a wordless paean, a silent curse. Her throat strained with the terrible aria she sang, and when it exhausted itself, she drew a breath and began anew.
The justice-seeking horde moved not a muscle. They had not expected her, and the best, darkest secret of the House of Malfoy mesmerized them. They watched her as she howled and rocked and damned them with every breath. Only Albus was immune to the thrall. He stood watching her, and I could see the wheels turning in his head, the levers clicking into place. He was old and wise, and surely the story of Lucius Malfoy's dead daughter must have reached him through the gossip mill. His blue eyes were thoughtful, almost compassionate.
As abruptly as they had begun, my sister's sobs ceased. Slowly, jerkily, like a badly made marionette, she turned her head to look at the faces of her enemies. I stifled a scream. My father was staring out from behind her eyes. The same fury was in them, the same defiance, the same cold-bloodedness. Then I blinked and the illusion was gone, but her face was still terrible to behold. The hatred had not lessened; indeed, it had grown, twisting her features into a living Death Eater's mask. In a moment of total recall, I saw her at four years old, sitting on the floor with my blood on her hands and staring at me with mad dybbuk eyes.
And the gods were wroth; fury rained from the heavens, and all was darkness and despair, and the Light was no more. The fear returned in a cold, giddy rush, and I giggled. Vengeance was not the Lord's that day. It fell to my sister.
She lowered my father's head to the floor, careful not to let it bounce on the hard marble. Then she picked up his wand and stood. She looked from the body of our father at her feet to the Aurors that had so brutally shattered her world. A slow smile spread across her face, a cold, calculating smile. It was my father's smile, and it did not reach her eyes. They were as hard and dead as the marble beneath her feet. Tears coursed down her cheeks and dripped onto his legs, anointing him with dearly bought absolution. She raised the wand.
Six times her mouth formed the words. Six times the world flashed emerald. In the eye-searing afterglow, six bodies crumpled to the floor, identical expressions of dumb amazement on their faces, and I saw my sister forever transformed. Winter was gone, replaced forever and anon by Demeter, mad Mother Earth, lightning flashing from her fingertips as she scoured the Earth of the scum that had robbed her of slumber and spilled precious blood at her feet.
I watched in a state of delirious ecstasy as the goddess struck them down, one after the other. Carpet the floor with their corpses, I shrieked inside my head. If the House of Malfoy was going to fall, then it would do so gloriously. We would give the world one last lament.
It happened so quickly that I almost didn't see it. Dumbledore cried out, a pre-emptive shout, but it was too late. The wand of Harry Potter exploded in a blaze of brilliant red light. There was a sickening pop as the Bonebreaker Curse struck her in the chest. At first I though that perhaps she had dodged the curse; she seemed well, looking at Potter with a superior smirk. Then the smile faded, and she sank to her knees. A runner of dark red blood trickled from the corner of her mouth.
"Oh, Harry," moaned Dumbledore.
Potter was deadly pale, and he dropped the wand with a clatter. "I'm sorry, Professor, I was aiming for her arm, and she moved…" He swayed a little on his feet.
I tried to scream, but in the last moments of my sister's life, the tables were turned. I had no voice, and her world became mine. I could only hiss and gargle, my fingers gouging divots into the window ledge. They world grayed, then came back into focus, and I saw her life end with hellish clarity.
She smiled at Harry, her teeth stained the color of overripe plums by her blood. Well played, that smile said. There was a flicker of gratitude in it, too. Then she dropped onto all fours and crawled toward my father. Each moment was an agony, and blood vomited from her mouth onto the flawless marble floor to pool in brilliant scarlet puddles. The madness was gone from her eyes, replaced by grief and blessed relief. Her mouth was moving, and even through the window and the burning glaze of enraged tears, I knew what she said. Papa. Papa. Papa. Over and over again. A talisman against death until she could reach him.
She collapsed at his side. She raised her head. It was a struggle now. Blood was dribbling from her nose and mouth in a constant stream. Her chin was slathered with it, like a phoenix feather against fresh-fallen snow. Her hand, lily white and growing whiter, groped for his face. With a last bubbling grunt, she pulled herself closer and rested her head on his chest. She smiled, her face relaxing. Her hand tangled loosely in his hair. Her own hair fanned over his chest in a pristine white shroud. She looked up at his face. Her mouth opened. She coughed, and a bright red mist sprayed from her lips. She fought with her failing body, willing herself to say one last word. Papa. Then, she surrendered and let her head wilt onto his chest. Her eyes closed, fluttering slightly, as though she were merely drifting into the temporary province of dreams instead of tumbling headlong into eternity. Her chest rose and fell weakly, and then stilled. My sister had escaped her prison at last.
I ran. I was and am a coward. Nothing, not even love, could ever hope to overcome my addiction to life. I've been too honest until now to start spouting pretty lies. I ran to save myself, blindly and without thought to the bodies of my father and sister. I did not grieve for them right away. It was only after I had safely hidden myself in a crumbling, derelict flophouse that revenge began to seduce me. It caressed me as I lay on the diseased lice-infested bedding, made me hard as I rotted my liver on bathtub hooch, trying to run from the debt I owed. But I couldn't run. What you owe always comes back to you in the end. If there's anything I've learned from this, it's that your debts always come home to you.
I learned about the aftermath of the war and my family's death from old Daily Prophets I scavenged from the trash. Those Death Eaters not killed in the assault on Hogwarts were hunted down by tireless Aurors and dragged off to Azkaban. The lucky ones were Kissed; those not as fortunate were simply thrown into a cell and forgotten. They would never again see the light. They were damned to living death.
My mother was one of those. They found her cowering in the kitchen, trying to hide amongst the house elves. Why she chose there, I'll never know. The house elves despised and feared her, and when the Aurors came, they parted like a leathery brown sea, clapping and squeaking as justice called for Narcissa Malfoy. They dragged her, kicking and screaming, to the Ministry, and when the kangaroo trial was over, they dragged her to Azkaban, where her power and rank were meaningless. One soul, one mind, is as good as the next to a Dementor. Alone in her cell, my mother, a taker all her life, is finally being forced to give, one scream and one memory after another.
The bodies of my sister and father were cremated with little ceremony in the crematoria used for vagrant wizards and Muggles, the Ministry's way of heaping one last insult upon my father, I suppose. The irony of it would not have been lost on him. In a twisted way, he might even have found it amusing. What happened to their ashes, I cannot say. Perhaps they decorate Arthur Weasley's desk in the Minister of Magic office, his idea of a fitting war trophy.
I think of them often, especially my sister. I see her as she was in the few shining moments before St. Potter cut her down, a cruel, avenging goddess, beautiful as the poison apple that cast down the glory of men. At night when I close my eyes against the stink of drunken piss and the burning bite of lice, I see her in the blackness of my eyelids, four years old, an exiled queen. Thirteen years old and awkward, loving my father because she had not learned hate. Seventeen and loving him because she chose it. When it is especially hard, and I consider turning myself in before doing what I have planned, I feel her gangly arms around me, giving me comfort as the Dark Mark throbs inside my chest. This you must do for me, she mouths against my ear. I have broken every promise ever made, but this one I must keep.
I visited my home last week, or what remains of it. After the removal of the bodies, the looters and souvenir seekers descended it upon it, hoping to carry away a piece of history, a small measure of the wealth my father worked so hard for. Mischievous children have defaced the walls with eggs and mud, daring one another to commit sacrilege. Most of the windows are broken, shattered by hurled stones. The beautiful gardens of which my father was so fond are in ruins, overgrown and littered with trash.
I shouldn't have gone. That's probably the first place they'd look for me, but I couldn't help it. I had to see. It is the closest I'll ever get to a gravestone. I wanted to say goodbye to my sister. I wanted her to know I tried.
It is a sad and lonely place now. The thieves and looters have taken all the finery. The Oriental rugs are gone, as are the lace curtains. So is the china and the silver. Outlines where priceless paintings once sat gaped at me like eyeless sockets. Some enterprising fool even took a chunk of the marble flooring, probably so he could carve a table from it and claim it was the marble upon which my family died. Unfortunately for him, that was a few feet over, untouched by the greedy chisel.
My sister's blood still stains the spot. It's faded, but you can still see it if you know where to look. It is dry and tacky to the touch. I know because I traced it with my fingers, squatting in the dark like a morbid treasure seeker, gloating over my find. I muttered a soft prayer and sat for a while, remembering. Then I rose and headed toward the door to memories agonizingly painful for their very sweetness.
Her room had not been spared. The rickety chair lay in a splintered pile in the middle of the room. The drawers to her bureau had been pulled out, the contents strewn across the floor. Most of her ragged, pitiful clothes were there, but the chest set she kept there, the one gifted to her by our father, was not. No doubt it was pilfered by a sticky-fingered Auror. Perhaps Arthur Weasley himself took it as a gift to Ron. The stupid git was always an avid chess player.
All but one of the snow globes she cherished so much were destroyed, their frozen occupants sprawled across the floor, most ground into powder by tramping feet. The sole survivor, spared because it was overlooked, was the beseeching angel, the very first one I ever gave her. I rescued it from the corner into which it had rolled, and held it in my hands, letting the weight of it settle in my hands, and the weight of the memories it carried settle around my heart. My sister flashed through my mind, her eyes on the day I gave it to her. So innocent. I laughed, a choked, furious bark, and slipped it into my pocket. Now I had my own souvenir.
I swiped irritably at my eyes, not wanting to give in to the grief that was massing in my chest like a cramp. My gaze fell on the lumpy bundle of rags that had been my effigy. The paper hair had yellowed and curled under, what little remained. Most of it had fallen out and disintegrated. The cloak was thick with mold. I picked him up and held him to me, wrinkling my nose at the smell of rot.
"Still here?" He stared back at me with faded grey eyes.
Suddenly I was furious, more furious then I had ever been in my life. This wasn't right. None of it. All around me was evidence of Demeter's innocence. Even at the end, she had still been very much a child. When Death had reached out his arms to her, she had fled to the sanctuary of my father, wanting his comfort for the journey ahead. I should have died. I was the bastard son, the one that lusted to follow in his footsteps, that wanted to share in his power and one day pry it from his dead hands. All she had wanted was to see our faces shining out of the dark.
The cramp in my chest grew tighter, closing off my throat. I tossed the rag doll down, disgusted. What was the use of crying? It wouldn't bring her back. Yet grief's grip refused to lessen. I stood up and paced around the room. I wouldn't give into this. I wouldn't.
Something crunched beneath my foot. I looked down to see a wadded piece of parchment. I thought about ignoring it, then bent down to pick it up. I smoothed it out against the dresser. My vision swam when I saw what was on it. It was a sketch, unfinished. Probably the last she had ever done. It was exquisite, the depth and shading flawless. Had she survived, she would have been a famous witch artist and brought cultural prestige to the family name.
It was my family as it should have been. My sister sat in the middle by my father's knee, not a raggedy tramp in tattered rags, but as a regal princess, bestowing honor on her rich family bloodline. My father stands behind her, his hand resting lightly on her shoulder. His gaze is proud and smug. I stand to her right, a portrait of good breeding, daring the world to think ill of me. My mother's face, fittingly, is blank. She is a one-dimensional mannequin at my father's side.
The shaky walls of my resistance crumbled, and I sat down hard upon the floor, the sketch clutched in my hands. The grief I had denied myself for seven long months overwhelmed me. Here in my hands was my sister's unspoken dream, the one desire of her heart. The questions I had been too selfish to ask during her lifetime were all answered on that single piece of paper.
I wept until I was hollow, until my chest ached and my sides throbbed. Everything she had ever missed flashed before my eyes, and I rocked back and forth, letting go of things I didn't know I held. I groped for my sister, for some essence of her, but she was not there. She had departed this place a long time ago, flying to a better, worthier place. This was only a tomb haunted by dark memories.
All of that has brought me to this. I've been standing outside the manor of one Harry Potter, legend and star Seeker for the Chudley Cannons. For six long weeks, I've been working on breaking the Charms that protect him, relying on darkness and complacency to help conceal me from prying eyes. One by one, I've brought them all down. There are only a few left now, and when they fall, I'm going to making Potter pay. Dobby, too. Oh, yes. I haven't forgotten about him.
I've come prepared. In one pocket is the angel snow globe, motivation should I falter. In the other, two Galleons for Charon, the ferrier of souls. I expect I shall die for this. I doubt there is any place in heaven for me, not after all the things I've done, but perhaps if God is merciful, he'll see fit to grant my sister her one wish. It would be nice to see her again. Not that she would recognize me; the beautiful hair she cherished so much is gone, shorn into brutally short spikes. To keep the lice at bay.
If there is a God or great cosmic ruler of the universe, I doubt even his mercy runs that deep. Most likely I'll wander eternally in a labyrinthine Hell, groping blindly in the dark and calling for a sister I'll never see. If as I suspect, Fate is crueler, I'll be forced to stand in the middle of the river Styx, torn between the two shores, and unable to reach either one until the shell left in the wake of the Dementor's Kiss withers and dies. Maybe then, my penance will be paid, and I can join her in heaven. Maybe.
Whatever happens, before my eyes close for the last time, I'll know Winter's debt has been paid in full. My life for the one she never got to live.
For once in my life, I will have kept my promise.