"She's nuts." The words just came tumbling out of Hermione's mouth, the first she'd spoken since she'd been handed Bellatrix's letter.
"Yes, we know that."
Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose as she re-read the letter yet again and tried to get a handle on what exactly seemed off about it before her mum and godmother returned to the villa and they had to tell them...something about what was going on. The problem was that she didn't know what to think, much less how to explain her thoughts.
Because Draco was right, Bellatrix's insanity was no surprise. Anybody who'd gotten a glimpse of the Daily Prophet on the day after she had been broken out of Azkaban not six months ago was aware of the fact. Yet that was exactly what was bothering her so much about this letter. It was almost too crazy.
Hermione had some experience with unhinged Azkaban escapees. She was used to reckless and easily distracted, extreme mood swings, manic behavior. But the way this was written was different, it seemed almost intentional. To get Draco's attention, or perhaps she was faking her insanity, Hermione didn't know. Maybe it was neither.
"It's almost like she's trying to warn you," she said slowly, trying to reason through her thoughts.
"It's a threat, Calla, a very explicit threat," huffed Teddy, "Draco gets you onside, or you both die. And me too, for good measure."
"But that's my point! It's very existence is superfluous. She's not here to enjoy watching us suffer and our whereabouts are no secret, so her knowing our location isn't a threat by itself. But she can't possibly think you don't already know, or can at the very least surmise everything that this says. Why risk putting it in writing?"
"Uh. Because she's crazy?" Draco reiterated.
Both boys were surpassing irritated with her, which she understood, she was irritated with herself. And it was preferable to the palpable fear she'd walked into when she'd returned from putting on her swimsuit. At least she was used to people being annoyed with her and the way she over-thought things, but she had despised seeing them both so afraid.
She took a deep breath and pressed on. Because even if she couldn't put her finger on what it was, something told her that there was more to this than met the eye, and that it was imperative that they thought it through. Blind panic wouldn't serve them, regardless. "Or because she's trying to warn you," she soldiered on attempting to put words to her thought process. "You're her nephew, but now you're also the patriarch of the House of her birth, which is a pretty big deal."
"She killed the last patriarch of House Black, I think it's safe to say that the rules don't exactly apply to her. And I think we can certainly count out any family loyalty."
Hermione winced, not quite believing what she was about to say. "Well, it's my understanding that killing Sirius was kind of an accident. She stunned him and he just so happened to fall through the veil. Not to mention, as I understand it, she never got along with Sirius. But that's not true of your mother."
"Calla!" Teddy snapped. "What do you know that we don't?! Because it's like we're reading two entirely different letters."
That was how Bellatrix had signed it. She'd chosen to sign it with a sign of allegiance to the House of her birth despite the fact that the contents of the letter were full of adulation for Voldemort. And perhaps that was just a technique to manipulate Draco as the new head of the House in question, but what if it wasn't?
"I can't put my finger on it. Do you know what 'toujours pur' means?"
"We all speak French, Calla, you know this," responded Draco, "and it's not a particularly difficult translation anyway."
She could tell how annoyed they were growing with her by how often they were repeating her name. Repetition had meaning, emphasis.
Literally translated it meant: always pure. It seemed self explanatory, given the preoccupation in magical Britain with blood purity. But if you pulled the lense back from that very small group of people and the slightly larger islands where they lived, it became much less obvious.
Hermione remembered Sirius huffing and puffing over the bigotry inherent in the family motto, specifically because when she'd first learned it that hadn't been her thought at all. Instead, she had been reminded of the speech McGonagall had given her family when she'd come to deliver her very first Hogwarts letter. She had explained that attending a magical school would also allow her to get in touch and explore the purity of her craft. Hermione remembered how the words had resonated with her and how it had put her in touch with her magic for the first time as an essential part of her being, instead of this wild thing that she couldn't control.
But Draco and Teddy had never been given such a speech and as a result she couldn't be sure if it was they or she who lacked perspective in this instance.
"Calla," Draco huffed, "are you going to share your thoughts with us?"
She took a deep breath- she'd just wanted to have a fun afternoon with her boys, not parce through the ramblings of an apparent psychopath. "I think, perhaps, she's trying to communicate something to you beyond the plain meaning of the words on the page. I think that I wish we didn't have this foul reminder of what is going on outside of these wards. I think it's very important that we look into this further. But I also don't think this changes things for us, at least not in the immediate future and we shouldn't allow this to freak us out."
"Have you gone mad as well?!"
"Of course not."
Draco opened his mouth and closed it several times before finding the words he wanted to speak. "She wants me to use my relationship with you to manipulate you! She wants me to assert myself over you and then hand you over to her precious Lord like some kind of sick present!"
She could see the pain in his eyes, could practically feel it radiating off of him, but she didn't know what she could do for him other than to tell him the truth. She wouldn't insult either of them by offering soothing platitudes. "I understand that, Draco, she didn't exactly mince her words, though she did manage to make it sound like a great honor, but I understood what it would look like in reality. I'm to be his newest chattel, or all three of us would be, really. They obviously believe Teddy would follow suit."
"Why are you so fucking calm?"
"What else would you like me to do? We're as safe as we can be here for the time being. I've been in much more immediate danger many times. And frankly, if He didn't have any use for me, He would just want to eliminate me. I've already been on that side of the equation and it sucks. As sick as it is, I prefer this. At least this gives us time."
He clenched his fists and set his jaw. "Are you seriously this cold!? That's what they think about you at Hogwarts, you know. Uptight, stuck in your head, the only things you care about are books and your grades. Unfeeling," everything about him: his words, his posture, his eyes, was hard and unrelenting.
Hermione felt like he'd just slapped her, and then poured a bucket of ice water on top of her for good measure. But all she could do was stand there dumbly and wonder when and how he'd gone from merely annoyed to indulging in this cold and cruel rage. How, in the blink of an eye, he'd transformed back into the Draco Malfoy all her Gryffindor friends hated. She realized she'd never really met that Draco before now, hadn't believed he truly existed. Meeting him, and like this, scared the hell out of her.
"Nothing to say then?" He taunted. "They also say you were mis-sorted. Maybe they were right. Do you even care at all?" He hissed, but he didn't give her any time to respond, just spun on his heel and marched into the house, slamming the door behind him.
Draco knew that what he had said was wrong factually as well as morally- and possibly unforgivable- even as he was saying it, but while he knew it, he couldn't find room within himself to be bothered by it, he was full to bursting with too many other things. Things like rage and fear and suppressed grief, as well as a heaping portion of self-doubt.
But mostly love.
He loved Calliope so much that he wasn't certain he was built to withstand the force of it, he certainly hadn't been taught how to manage it.
Despite his confident words to Theo, he was struggling just to keep his head above water, to simply be there with her. Following her lead had been his best and only option so far. However, he couldn't follow her in brushing this off, and her nonchalance in the face of what he considered to be a terrifying situation more than chafed, it was like throwing a lit match into the middle of a field of dry grass.
Calliope was just about as far from helpless as a person could be, and he was surprisingly okay with that. He didn't need her to need his protection. He did need to be able to provide it should she ever been in a position where she required it, and he couldn't, not even from his own flesh and blood. He was fucking useless. And it was like she didn't even care, she acted like something that was bringing him to the brink of a complete crisis could simply be put aside to be dealt with later.
And that felt like agony because it made it impossible for him to deny any longer what he'd always known deep down: he wasn't good enough for her. He wasn't strong enough for her. He wasn't enough.
So he lashed out, that was what he was good at. When he found himself in a situation he couldn't handle, he blew it up. The difference this time was that even if his father were here, he couldn't make this all better. Even if he could get past his own inadequacy, this time the harm might be irreparable, she might not forgive him.
And on top of all of that he had almost certainly just made sure that he had a set of twins out for his blood.
He heard a set of footsteps come pounding after him, but he ignored them and kept moving. Suddenly there was a hand on his shoulder, he was yanked around, he stumbled, and then everything went black.
Before he was able to even blink his eyes open, he realized that he had been stunned. He shifted around to try and assess the situation and discovered that he was sitting in a straight backed, hard chair, and had been restrained. When his vision finally cleared Calliope came into view, pacing back and forth several feet in front of him. Once she walked past he could see Theo seated across from him, with Calla pacing between them. Theo was also seated and restrained by what appeared to be an incarceration spell. He seriously doubted Calla had tied her brother up without magic, however the mental picture made him snort with inappropriate amusement.
Her head whipped around at the sound and he could see that her face was streaked with tears. "Congratulations," she spat, "you let her win." She turned to Theo who also appeared to have just woken up. "I'm sorry I had to do that, but you're too big for me to be able to separate you physically and despite the fact that I kind of want to kill him right now, I still couldn't let you hurt him. I tried to cushion your fall but I couldn't tell if it worked."
"I don't feel sore," Theo said by way of an answer.
With a flick of her wand his bonds fell away, she ran to him and threw her arms around him. He stood up with her still attached to him, when he was fully upright she was actually dangling from his neck. Draco watched mutely as they murmured to each other for several minutes until, finally, Theo set her down and took half a step back.
She whirled around to face him then, that calm he despised once again painting her expression. "When you think you can handle having a conversation like a man instead of throwing a tantrum like a little boy you may come and find me," she started to walk away and then seemed to think better of it, "that is if you want a cold wife, otherwise I don't see any reason for you to bother."
She still spoke so placidly, and her expression was nearly blank, but just before she turned away something vicious flashed in her eyes. All Draco could think was: good.
He watched her until he could see her no more and then he looked back at where Theo still stood. He was surprised to see that while the other wizard was obviously trying to appear stern and angry, he mostly just looked amused. Or so Draco thought. Maybe Calla had just addled his brain with her stunner.
"Thank all the gods I wasn't totally wrong about what a prat you are," Theo murmured.
"Excuse me?" Draco sneered.
Theo just rolled his eyes. "Tell me again how you'd follow her off of a cliff without a broom?"
Author's Note: I had a chapter written and ready to post a week ago. This is not that chapter, Draco wouldn't have it. He's been pretty well behaved so far but there was bound to be a straw that broke the camel's back and, let's face it, it's Bellatrix, so it's actually more like an avalanche. Anyway, you will get an altered version of the original chapter later as I haven't significantly altered the plot to render it moot, but I just wanted to let you know where I've been. Thanks for your patience and for reading, y'all are wonderful!