A/N Thanks to everyone who has been reading and giving feedback! I feel really encouraged by the enthusiasm expressed so far :)
This chapter contains a little bit of Cornish dialect which I have asterisked like so* and have provided a brief translation in the end notes. If this seems too distracting, let me know, and I may edit them out. AU note: Instead of Snatchers, we have Fetchers. Read on to find out more.
I hope you enjoy this installment, please leave a comment with your thoughts, I'd really appreciate it!
I very much wished to go outside and see something of the village of Tredraconis, but after the indignity I had suffered at the hands of the two thuggish wizards, I was no longer confident of a friendly reception, or even a respectful one. The watchful (and somewhat disconcerting) gaze of the publican seemed the only thing standing between me and I-knew-not-what peril.
Keeping my eyes bent either on the hearth or my coffee cup, I made myself as unobtrusive as possible while I waited for the porter from the Manor to arrive.
I could not help but feel despondent. It was as if all the building excitement of the preceding few days had been doused by a cold 'Augmenti' spell, and I was left dazed and shivering, wondering what next I was to expect. My Aunt's voice seemed to echo in my mind, berating me for having jeopardised my safety—or, worse, my character; that I had not been left alone ten days but I had embroiled myself in a future of mischief and misery; that for all her hard work to bring me up respectably, I had stumbled at the first hurdle and would undoubtedly fall hereafter.
These melancholy ruminations were eventually interrupted by the swinging open of the inn's heavy oak door, as a young man—perhaps five years older than I—appeared upon the threshold. He was of a tall, lanky stature, with bright copper hair cropped shorter than the fashion and partially hidden beneath a brown leather cap, with a pair of merry blue eyes in a frank, liberally-freckled face.
He certainly cut a better figure than the patrons within the murky tavern, being neatly (though humbly) dressed, and scrupulously clean. His amiable countenance immediately reassured me; I felt instinctively that I had nothing to fear from him.
"Good morrow, pards*!" he addressed the room with cheerful confidence, using an old-fashioned dialect that I had rarely heard spoken in the decorous streets of Turningstone. "Wasson*, Fletcher?"
"Good morrow, Weasley, " the publican called across the room to him. "I'm finer than china, my boy, and good as wand-wood. Step in, and let me fill ye a tankard while the lads load the cart."
The young wizard passed near by me, but did not seem to notice my place by the hearth. Surreptitiously, I watched him approach the counter, where he nodded to and exchanged words with the wizards who had so rudely attacked me, both of whom then sauntered behind the bar and disappeared through a back door. I did not like to see this young man's apparent civility to two such louts as they, and wondered if he would have defended me against them, had he been present an hour earlier. Something made me believe he would have.
The publican drew a tankard of ale for the porter—this 'Weasley'—and the pair began to converse earnestly, the older wizard casting many a sly and furtive look about the room as they talked. At last they both straightened, and the publican led the younger man over to where I was seated.
"Miss Granger," said Mr. Fletcher with an oily smile, "allow me to present you to my par-tic-ular friend, Ronald Weasley, otherwise Porter of Malfoy Manor."
I stood and curtsied, and was gratified to observe the copper-haired wizard remove his cap and bow respectfully in return. "Honoured to make your acquaintance, miss," he said, a pleasant tinge of colour spreading across his freckled cheeks as he addressed me. "Fletcher tells me you're to be the new Governess at the Manor."
"Yes, sir," I replied, my eyes bent alternately on the floor, my hands, and anywhere except the personage before me, acutely aware of an complete dearth of experience in conversing with young wizards, let alone begging a favour of one. All other words forsook me, and I more than matched the porter's light flush with a brighter hue of my own.
Observing, I suppose, my sudden confusion, he said in a kindly voice, "If I may, miss, I'm quite at your disposal to carry you thither. ...If you'll only bide a little longer while I help with loading, I'll bring the cart around front."
"Thank you—y-yes, if you please," I stammered, greatly relieved to have the embarrassment of imploring his assistance removed by his offering it. We both made our obeisances again, and the younger wizard departed the same way the two ruffians had a few minutes prior.
Mr. Fletcher remained behind, gesturing for me to sit down again, and drawing up a wooden stool he stationed himself nearby.
"If I may impart a few parting words of friendly advice, Miss Granger?"
I didn't particularly wish to hear what he had to say, but could not without rudeness decline. With a brief nod I assented to hear him.
The publican leaned in nearer again to me. "I hope as you won't take it ill, miss," he said in a gruff murmur, "if I make mention that it don't do to ask too many questions around here."
I drew back with a sharp breath, unsure if he were issuing a threat or really (as he put it) offering me advice. Quickly he continued, "Meaning no disrespect to 'ee, miss—I see you are a neat, quiet sort of lass; you must forgive my...indelicate turn of phrase. I only wish to do 'ee a good turn, nothing more."
"I'm much obliged for your concern, but I don't believe such advice necessary," I replied coldly. "I very much doubt I'll return with any haste to Tredraconis, after—." I stopped short. I had been about to say, "after the disgraceful way I was treated in your establishment", but something in the man's keen glance hindered me from doing so.
"That is as may be, miss," said the publican, with an expressive smile at my sudden faltering, "how-some-ever, you'll find it applies as much to the place you're going to, as the one from which you're departing. For all their airs and graces, you'll find that the fine folks up at the Manor have as many skeletons as they have closets to hide 'em in, if you'll pardon another coarse saying. I only want to put you on your guard, Miss Granger, seeing as how you're a stranger to the ways and customs of these parts."
Another warning! I hardly knew what to make of it all. Could I really be blindly blundering into some kind of 'den of iniquity', no better than the one I presently found myself in, or was I merely hearkening to a reprobate with agendas of his own?
"Thank you, Mr. Fletcher," I mumbled, with an appearance of submissiveness, though I was still uncertain as to whether his words were intended to forewarn or to frighten me. "I will think on it."
At this timely moment the front door swung open, and the rangy figure of Ronald Weasley brightened its threshold a second time. Immediately my heart gladdened to his friendly, honest aspect, and I thought, if such a man works for the Malfoys, they cannot be so bad...surely?
"Are you ready, miss?" he asked me, and I responded by quickly donning my bonnet and gloves, picking up my reticule, and recasting a 'Locomotor' on my trunk.
Dipping a brief curtsey to Mr. Fletcher, with a parting thanks for the coffee, I turned and made my way over to where the porter waited for me, an engaging smile overspreading his face.
"Cummas 'zon*, maid," he murmured in his rustic dialect, beckoning me to follow him outside. "I'll see thee safely home."
A heavy wooden dray-cart, stacked with boxes, barrells and packages wrapped in oilskin, was stationed on the cobbled street, tethered behind two great, grey Shire horses with silky white manes and large, gentle, dark eyes. I had never seen Shire horses up so close; in genteel Turningstone only slim-legged, elegant horses were seen in the streets, and the work horses relegated to the surrounding fields.
Seeing the awe and admiration on my face as I looked up at the pair—easily eighteen hands apiece—Mr. Weasley grinned proudly, patting their noses each in turn.
"This is Oak," he told me, "and this is Ash." Then, addressing the beasts, he said, "My 'ansums*, you'll be carrying a lady, so step light and level."
Stowing my trunk among the piles of freight, the porter then cast a load-lightening charm over the whole cart before handing me up to the wooden plank which served for a seat, springing up beside me to take the reins. I peered along the street, my curiosity a little dimmed by the unprepossessing, dilapidated buildings and grimy, narrow street. I had always supposed the village closest to the famously-magnificent Malfoy Manor would reflect some of its glory, but now I could only hope that its virtues would lie in its contrasts, not its similarities.
The porter flapped the reins and the cart began to rumble forward.
Tredaconis proved to be little more than a one-street village, perhaps only a third the size of Turningstone. Within a few minutes of driving, the terraced granite buildings which loomed forbiddingly over the narrow main street were replaced by rows of small, lime-washed cottages. They looked unkempt and generally run-down, and many were empty.
I considered asking Mr. Weasley about the derelict state of the village, but with Mr. Fletcher's warning that "it don't do to ask too many questions" still ringing in my ears, I thought the better of it and held my tongue.
Then, quite suddenly, and much sooner than I had expected, we turned off the cobbled street and were out on the open road, buffeted by a fine wind that rushed over tracts of wild moorland on one side, while on the other—"Oh!" My breath caught with a rush of returning excitement as I turned and surveyed a vista I had only ever seen before in illustrated print or painted canvas.
There it was! The silver sea!
Glistening beneath a bright morning sun, stretching out into infinity, so vast and powerful and breathtakingly beautiful! Hungrily, almost greedily, I devoured the spectacular panorama, drinking in the unfamiliar sights, sounds and scents of the sea crashing upon a pebbled shore far below us, the cry of gulls swooping overhead, and the bracing, briny air that filled my lungs and tasted tangy upon my tongue.
I could not help but be exhilarated, nor contain my exhilaration which burst from me in the form of a joyous laugh. The porter, who had maintained a respectful but amiable silence until now, chuckled at my obvious excitement.
"Hast never beheld the sea, maid?"
"No, never!" I exclaimed. "If only for this, I am glad I came!" Then, noticing a speck of colour in the distance, I asked, "Is that a muggle fishing boat?"
"Nay, 'tis further out than the muggles dare drift."
"These waters are dangerous, then?"
"Treacherous, even to such as ourselves. Many a wizard has pitted his powers against the mighty Atlantic, and been lost to her deeps."
I shivered a little at this. "So that is a wizard's boat?"
"Aye, more than likely a Fetcher's vessel."
"A Fetcher's vessel?...I have never heard that term before," I said.
"'Tis no great wonder; you'll not find such folk but by the coast. They're a thewy, hardy bunch, the Fetchers are, in the business of harvesting ingredients not found in forest nor field."
"You mean, ingredients for potions?"
"Potions, tinctures, draughts...and other, not so wholesome, preparations..."
My eyes widened at the inference I could not help but make from those words. "Poisons?" I asked, aghast even at the implication of such unlawfulness.
The porter bit his lower lip as if regretting having said so much. "Nay, I spoke only in jest," he said quickly. "The Manor folk and the villagers often quiz one another. The call us soft maidens, and we call them smuggling curs. 'Tis no denying they're a rough lot, not overmuch concerned with appearances of civility."
"Indeed, I know too well," I said rather sharply, as I recalled being so contemptuously manhandled by the two ruffians at the inn. "I have already sampled their 'incivility', as you would term it—though I should call it insolence."
The young man was quiet for a moment, then in a chastened voice he murmured, "Fletcher mentioned some trouble."
I flushed at the humiliating memory of being incapacitated by one wizard while the other forced his tongue in my mouth. "I was treated so disgracefully I shall never again set foot in the place," I replied, my voice atremble with rekindled disgust and ire. "I own myself shocked that you are on speaking terms with such scurrilous brutes."
Mr. Weasley shrugged apologetically. "Aye, Scabior and Rowle are confirmed velluns*, no mistake," he said. "But t'would be impolitic to affront men whom I must work alongside."
I gasped. "You do not mean to tell me they work for the Malfoys?"
"Not directly, miss. They are hired hands; they work for whomever has coin to pay 'em, and are not scrupulous about the tasks they undertake..." His body suddenly tensed, as if again realising he had said too much, then he added, "However, 'tis my opinion there's more mischief than harm in them."
I was not much pleased by this response to my complaint. It seemed to me that, without the publican's timely interference, the thuggish wizards might very well have inflicted a great deal of harm upon me. And it sounded to me like 'hired hands' was but a euphemism for 'mercenaries'.
"Well, I hope never to lay eyes on them again," I said shortly.
"Very likely you won't," the porter replied. "Their work rarely brings them to the Manor—and if ever it should, I'll take pains to keep them out of your way."
"Thank you," I said, though despite his reassurances, I was extremely unhappy to learn that the Manor was no stranger to such wretches darkening its doorstep. My anxiety, however, did not seem to be noticed by my companion, who had quickly regained his cheerful aspect and soon began to whistle a cheery tune.
For an half-hour longer we drove along the rugged coastline, until finally the road turned inward and we left the coastal splendour for a quieter, quainter terrain of lush fields and winding lanes hemmed in by "Cornish hedges"—tall walls of interlocking rocks grown over with grass, moss and heather. The horses made good speed, thanks to the load-lightening charm cast upon the cart, and when I asked how long the journey might take, Mr. Weasley assured me we would reach the Manor in another half-hour or so.
After a while I gained the courage to speak on a subject which had played on my mind since I had first heard it mentioned by the publican. "Mr. Weasley, I hope you won't think me impertinent if I ask you a—a question," I said, then lapsed immediately into silence, afraid to actually submit it.
The porter turned and smiled encouragingly at me. "Ask away, miss, I don't mind."
"Well...well, you see...Mr. Fletcher informed me that the position I'm to fill at the Manor was last occupied by your sister. Forgive my curiosity, but may I ask why she left so suddenly?"
The porter's smile did not waver, but seemed somehow to stiffen. "...She did not impart her reasons to me," he said at length. "But then, we aren't close or confiding. She never did like to—." he stopped abruptly, then spoke again in such a way as made me believe he changed the content of his original sentence. "—to stay in one place for long. She is a flighty, headstrong sort of lass." He did not say it unkindly, but I was sure there was a note of discontent in his voice.
"I'm sorry to seem officious," I said, "it is only that I have heard some...puzzling accounts of the Malfoy family, and I wonder if your sister's reasons for leaving might all too soon become my own."
The young man seemed to relax a little at this, and the frank quality returned to his smile. "Oh, 'tis doubtful you'll have much to do with the family, miss. Keep your head down and you'll get along fine—that's my own policy, and it's stood me in good stead these five odd years."
I nodded, but did not reply. "Keep your head down," reminded me very much of something my Aunt Agna would have advised me to do.
As I mused on this, a great black coach appeared suddenly in the narrow lane, preceded by four magnificent black horses. The young porter swiftly reined in and swerved upon the verge, giving way—and it was just as well he did, for the vehicle showed no sign of slowing down or deviating from its path.
It was quite a formidable sight, bearing down on us at such velocity; huge, black and gleaming beneath the bright morning sun. As it approached I could see that it was driven by two coachmen, sitting high up, while a footman stood at the rear of the coach. They were dressed in full, splendid livery, the colours of their frock-coats matching the silver and green appointments of the carriage, including a beautiful design on its door, identical to that which had graced the top of the Indenture Retainer I had signed, and which I now knew to be the Malfoy coat-of-arms.
None of the coachmen deigned to acknowledge us as the carriage thundered past us.
Raising my eyes from the Malfoy crest and shield, I was suddenly conscious of a gaze connecting with mine through the pane of glass above it. My breath caught in my throat and a strange shiver stole over my body as I beheld a pair of silver eyes glittering icily in a sharply-chiselled, high-bred face, framed strikingly by a sheet of long, white-blond hair.
In mere seconds the coach was gone, but I had the strangest feeling for some minutes afterwards that those eyes were still fixed on my own.
"Who was that?" I tentatively asked the porter, who was clicking to his own pair of horses and gently urging them back onto the road.
"Why, that was Milord, of course," he replied.
Yes...yes, of course I had guessed as much, but the man looked so entirely different from the sketch my imagination had furnished, that I was unaccountably unsettled. The fact of his having a full-grown son, the rumours of his cruelty and affinity with Dark magic had made me envisage him as a much older man with a sunken, wizened face, twisted with spite and malice, with a back hunched from poring over his forbidden books and brews... I hadn't imagined him to be so young—in a palpably powerful prime, perhaps mid-forties, or a little older. And I certainly had never imagined him to be so...so very...beautiful.
"Where is he going in that coach?" I asked, a little too loudly, trying to distract myself from that last unbidden thought. "Does not the Manor have a Private Floo connection?"
"Aye, but M'lord has many interests in the area, outside the reach of the Floo Plexus."
"Why does he not fly or Apparate?"
The young man paused a little before answering, as if wondering how best to reply. "'Tis the fashion to travel in high style," he murmured. Then after some further minutes of deliberation, he said, "Not wishing to alarm you, miss, but I take it you have not heard of the unfortunate incidents afflicting the family in recent times?"
"No!" I exclaimed, very much alarmed despite his wishes. "What do you mean?"
"Not to worry, miss; you and I are safe as Gringotts, as the saying goes..." He peered around us, as if not quite convinced of his own words. "'Tis only the family who've been targeted, which has led to a general disinclination for broom-flying and other forms of unaccompanied travelling."
"Targeted!" I cried. "Do you mean that attempts have been made upon their lives?"
"Aye, I suppose I do mean that," he replied. "On one occasion the young master was thrown from his broom, on another the sister of Milady (rest her soul) was ambushed and suffered a Curse to her face—nearly lost her eye, she did. Milord himself was attacked only two weeks ago, but he managed to fight them off—"
"Them? Then there was more than one assailant?"
"Aye, there were three on that occasion."
"But why?" I cried, now really frightened. "Who should wish to murder them?"
"No one knows, miss. But, if I may say so, the family are better at making enemies than keeping friends—although," he added hurriedly, and I feared not quite truthfully, "I know nothing about that."
My heart sunk at this. So, perhaps there was some veracity to the rumours I had hoped were but idle gossip... Recalling vividly those silver eyes and that supercilious, almost cruelly-beautiful face, I began to think I could believe them.
Before I could sink too far into despondency, the road twisted and suddenly widened, opening up a vista almost as breath-taking as my first glimpse of the sea, causing me to gasp aloud and my heart to thud wildly inside my chest.
An immense wrought-iron gate, ornately scrolled and set between two great stone columns, stretched up into the noon-day sky, flanked by a high railing which disappeared into a row of hedges on each side. Beyond this gate was a wide stretch of smooth, velvety grass, sloping upwards and encircled by a ring of gravel that formed a long driveway leading up towards the zenith of this incline. Looming at the top like some enormous medieval fortress, stood the famous—or I was beginning to believe, infamous—Malfoy Manor.
Though I had seen its illustrated likeness sketched in journals and books, I was unprepared for the sheer scale of the place, the impenetrable facade, the imposing turrets and thick buttresses, which seemed to dominate the very landscape over which it looked.
I...I was to live and work in there?
Momentarily it seemed impossible—everything seemed impossible, and I felt almost paralyzed by doubt, dismay, and even a kind of terror. How could I ever hope to forge a place for myself in such a noble and forbidding residence, belonging to such a noble, forbidding master? How could I possibly measure up to the standard already set by the beautiful and clever governess who preceded me? How dared I even set my foot in a place steeped in so much history and grandeur? ...I, so plain, so ignorant, so ignoble...
"Don't worry, miss," the porter's cheerful voice threaded through my thoughts; evidently he had noticed the despair and panic I could not disguise. "They're no better than the rest of us, and some of 'em are a deal sight worse."
He flicked his wand and the gates swung silently open.
*Good morrow, pards—Good morning, friends
*Wasson, Fletcher—How are you, Fletcher?
*Cummas 'zon, maid—Come on then, maid
*my 'ansums—"my handsomes", a casual term of endearment in Cornwall, similar to "my friends"
A/N Love to hear your thoughts on the chapter :) Thanks for reading! xox artful