The Spare Princess
Chapter Seven: Lesser Evils
Walden had generally steered clear of Evangeline's potions laboratory—there had been a few subtle mentions about the precarious and sometimes dangerous concoctions she sometimes left to simmer. Though he was by no means truly barred from the room, he tended to avoid the chamber, filled as it was with delicate crystal vials and carefully temperature-charmed fires and thin glass stirring wands—all sorts of things better suited to Evangeline's clever, careful little hands than to his own clumsy paws.
He sat with her there now, in the evening after work, in the dusty velvet divan, worn from years of use, so old that even the infrequent Scottish sun had managed to fade the burgundy fabric to a sad sort of raspberry pink. Evangeline curled up with him, her bird-boned little body in his arms and her mind a hundred miles away as her quill-clutching hand danced over parchment, writing and scratching in ink that was the same blue-black of her eyes.
Walden knew with a certainty, as he watched her work, that there was no one in the world who had a clear picture of how beautifully brilliant she truly was. He'd always known she was far more intelligent than he; it showed in her eyes, in her speech, but now he was beginning to recognize that she did not see the world the same at all. Even her family had offered only grudging, half-certain acknowledgements of her talent, a trivial and unredeeming footnote to all of her faults and shortcomings. They had tossed away a priceless gem because her setting was bent. It was clear here, as he watched her china doll face serene in concentration. Her eyes were fixed on the paper without even seeing the marks she made, she saw beyond the sketches and equations and tables and words she inked onto the vellum.
"This formula should work," she assured him, her eyes scanning her long scroll of notes. She was curled over the stained, acid-scarred table she used as her writing desk. Her words weren't really for him; she thought aloud sometimes, and even when he wasn't in the room, he could sometimes hear her speaking to no one. He combed his fingers through the matte silk of her hair as he stood over her, watching her quill trace over words and symbols that meant nothing to him. He smoothed the hair back down across her shoulders and back, stepping away to let her work. He wasn't helpful—he'd scraped through without a Potions OWL and couldn't brew so much as a sneezing solution, but he liked to watch her while she worked. She was beautiful; anything but weak. "Yes," she continued, sitting back. "But this has no place in the world; just the one brew and I'll destroy the rest, destroy the research."
Walden wandered from his place at her side, inching through the room. It was no place for him; packed with bookcases, leaving only the narrowest of aisles between the floor-to-ceiling shelves of delicate crystal and cracking leather-bound tomes and pottery and complicated-looking instruments. Evangeline was more suited to the room, she could slip like a shade between the towering cases, all silent, graceful efficiency and care. Walden had to pay careful mind where he swung his arms and how he moved, a bull tiptoeing through a china shop.
A small cauldron bubbled in one of the fireplaces that lined the back wall. The smell of it grew stronger as he approached, the steam rising from the mother-of-pearl liquid in swirling spirals. He started, nearly upsetting a basket of crumbled leaves as Evangeline slid up beside him, her hand moving up his forearm. "What's this?" he asked, moving closer to it.
"An experiment," she said quickly, quietly. There was that animal skittishness back again, the careful caged way she moved with her words. She was regarding him cautiously, the workings in her eyes a thousand times too fast for him to read. It was animal fear tempered with an intelligence that far exceeded his own.
"Illegal, Evangeline?" He laughed a little to himself. Leaning in to her conspiratorially, he whispered in her ear. "I'll not be telling them, don't worry yourself." He kissed her on the mouth. "But I might be needing some bribing."
Cool, soft relief melted across her tight face and the smile on her face spread like warmed butter. "Maybe it is, I don't quite know yet."
"Smells good," he commented. It was an understatement; the potion smelled like heaven. "You've been working on this for a while?" She nodded and he laughed roughly, pulling her up against him and leaning down to breathe in the scent of her hair. "You've smelled just like it as long as I'm remembering! Even in the garden when I first met you, you smelled just like this."
She turned her face up, puzzlement written on it. "I have?" she asked carefully. She had a studying look on her face, her eyes trained on him almost blankly, like she was sizing up one of her alchemical equations.
Walden nodded, shrugging. "Thought it was perfume."
"I smell just like it? Does it smell like anything I don't?" She questioned further, peering around him to look at the cauldron in question. Walden sniffed, putting more thought into the answer.
"Maybe a little bit like…iron." Evangeline never smelled like iron, like rust. That was the tang in the background of the scent; it was the bite of his axe, the red of blood. He shrugged. "But mostly you."
Her expression lightened, the shielded confusion that hung on the corners of her mouth falling free and she smiled at him in a strange, beautiful, diamond-perfect way. "I suppose I just can't smell it anymore," she said faintly, her face glowing like platinum in the moonlight. She crept her arms around his neck until he picked her up and held her to his chest, her silk slippered toes just brushing the scrubbed wood floor and her face tucked into his neck.
It was a strange and beautiful moment he would remember always without ever really knowing why. He didn't hear her whisper, "I love you, too."
Walden was sure that no further invitations to any Prince family gatherings would be issued. Between the mark on his arm and the scene at the last occasion, why would Everard bother any longer? Evangeline merely smiled and advised patience.
"Surely he can't be having any more to do with us?" Walden muttered over a cup of tea and the crumbs of Teapot's best shortbread. "He's had his fun, I'm thinking he's done with us."
Evangeline's face was crossed with some sad, stony expression; she looked like some angelic agent of divine retribution. "He's never finished with anyone."
Surely enough, an Easter invitation arrived by owl, and the hour came.
Everard was as infuriatingly jocund as ever, hiding his horns beneath a brass halo. "Walden, Evangeline, how lovely you could join us! Isn't it just the finest of Easter morns?" he greeted them, arms spread in the wide foyer of his grand estate as though he were welcoming treasured guests and not his afternoon entertainment.
Walden had promised not to speak much—the fury that rose up in him at the sight of his wife's old demon of a grandfather made politic words too much a hardship. It was just a touch too early for such anger.
"Beautiful, Grandfather," Evangeline replied, meek and humble as she submitted for a familial embrace. Walden's hands itched for destruction, his own skin crawled to see Everard's rheumy, liver-spotted claws on Evangeline. Walden managed a semi-polite nod to acknowledge the greeting before the man led them through the painting-lined corridor to the dining hall.
The dinner was even more sparsely attended than the disastrous Christmas. Evangeline's parents, what little refuge of decency had remained in the house, were absent; Elliot in Azkaban and Catherine having been taken in by her Macmillan relatives. Everard held court only over his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandson, the last, blighted branch of the Prince name, this once-mighty tree thinned down to these few unworthy animals.
The tree would fall tonight, hewn down by Walden Macnair's axe.
Everard was in rare form, baiting and sniping and leering at his two victims. Evangeline's hand steadied Walden under the table; three carefully spaced taps: almost, almost, almost. She kept her eyes trained on the fine, polished dining table, her food untouched, completely silent. Walden could not remain so still; he shifted restlessly, impatiently in his seat, struggling for the serene patience that came so easily to Evangeline, peaceful beside him.
The old demon raised a glittering crystal goblet, a blood garnet of red wine cut in a hundred facets delicate in his hand, gesturing at Evangeline. "Must be hard for you," he sympathized, a gloating tone greasing his voice. "Easter, springtime, rebirth, renewal. Must be difficult to be barren." It wasn't even subtle; it was a sloppy blow, a thoughtless, desperate attack against an untouchable enemy.
And then it was time. It had been the hour, this was the moment.
Evangeline raised her head, a cool, detached indifference slack on her face. "I wouldn't know. I'm two months pregnant."
A tic was the only reaction Everard had, an ugly twitch in the crepe-paper skin around his eye. Her uncle laughed, guffawing doubt in the other otherwise quiet room.
Walden was just as floored. Her hand squeezed his under the table and she spared a momentary spangle of color, a smile shot sideways at him, and nodded quickly. She was pregnant.
"Let's not be telling stories, Evangeline," Everard chastised her. "It's a sad fact, but that Healer we had examine you assured us you were incapable of bearing children, that you would always be too fragile. I imagine that's quite hard for you to accept."
"Well, then, I suppose I'm just defying impossibility at every turn today, Grandfather." She leveled her ink blue eyes on her grandfather, meeting his gaze for the first time in her life. "You always assured us the Prince name would last forever. It's a sad fact," she echoed back at him, arsenic running under the satin of her gentle tone, "but that name ends at this table. Tonight."
Her uncle and cousin began to look worried, her grandmother and aunt already casting fearful looks at Walden. Everard just scoffed his disbelief.
"Are you going to have your husband kill us, Evangeline? He's a good duel, I'll admit, but three Prince men? And with your dead weight to protect?" He took an arrogant, leisurely sip from his wineglass. "I don't like your odds."
"Oh, there's no need for Walden to dirty his hands," Evangeline smiled serenely over at her husband. "I've already killed you all, and more." She looked meaningfully down at her untouched wineglass. "You should be kinder to the house elves; they've never thought twice before obeying me."
"The wine!" Evangeline's aunt started screaming, red panic spreading out across her cheeks and the bridge of her pug Parkinson nose as she smashed her half-empty glass on the table. Evangeline's grandmother, a birdlike little talon of an old woman, had fallen out of her chair, quite dead, her wineglass emptied.
"Cowardly poisoner!" Edward, the cousin, screamed, drawing his wand. Walden was too quick and Edward hit the ground, toppling alongside his grandmother.
Walden killed the Parkinson aunt just to stop her screaming. The room fell silent.
"I was kind to them," Evangeline said softly, looking over to the uncle that remained, stock-still in his chair. "And to you, Uncle Edmund. It's painless, just a simple poison, I promise." He seemed quite unable to speak; his breathing stopped and there they were, a demon and two lesser evils come to exact their revenge.
Everard was grey with rage...or perhaps it was his death taking hold. He tried to speak; Walden silenced him ruthlessly, disarmed the wand that was being edged out of his sleeve. The monster had been speaking for far too long, and Evangeline had been silent all of her life. Walden helped her from her seat, offering a chivalrous arm to lead her around the table. She drifted to the head of the table with all the cool dignity of an empress ascending her dais and so she was; all the heirs to this grandeur were dead or disowned and so she prevailed.
She looked down on her grandfather, who still grasped tightly to his wineglass, curled back into this throne-like chair. "But you," she said coldly, "For you, there is no death. Oh, your breathing will stop, and your eyes will close, and your body will die and rot away, but you are tied down. There will be nothing for you but a failed, decaying corpse. I will throw you a grand funeral…repayment for my lovely wedding, the loving gesture of a dutiful granddaughter, and I will brick you up in a grand mausoleum and you'll exist there until the world ends. Maybe even after. You will exist, and your name will die." She smiled softly, leaning in closer to Everard, who was visibly, if silently, fading. "Your arrogance has given me everything; my champion and our revenge. I swear the Prince name will fade and my children will build up a house from your ashes. Macnair shall be grander, more noble a house than this waste." She drew an elegant hand back over the spilt wine and death behind her.
And Everard Prince died, there in his throne, the last of his name, helpless before the kitten and her manticore champion.
Evangeline's face turned up to Walden's as he tucked his wand back into his sleeve. She smiled softly up at him, and he leaned down and gently kissed her.
"A baby?" he asked.
She smiled. "Yes."
He swept her up against him, carefully gentle. After a moment, she stepped back away. Walden wielded the wand he had stolen from Everard. "Morsmordre!"
The constellation, green haze and pinpricks of light, rose in the air to hover over the house. Walden cast the wand aside and shared one more smile with Evangeline. Then she started screaming.
The Daily Prophet called the fate of the Prince family a tragedy.
A truly frightening blow from the Dark, they wrote. Mrs. Evangeline Macnair, the last surviving heir, discovered her family murdered on Easter morning when she and her husband, the respected Ministry employee Walden Macnair, arrived for a holiday luncheon. The attack has been credited as the work of You-Know-Who's followers, and investigation continues.
The funeral was widely attended and took place on the 23rd of April, a Friday.
Evangeline threw the paper into the rubbish bin, along with a worn, stained old Potions book: Devotios, Amortentia, and Variations.
The tea tasted funny; somehow bitter, lacking the sweet cloy he'd grown to like over the months. Walden shouted into the kitchen for Teapot. "The tea's wrong again! I haven't had a decent cup in weeks!"
Evangeline ambled into the dining room, resplendent in forget-me-not blue maternity robes. "Is there something wrong, Walden?" she asked, pausing in the doorway.
He jumped up, out the new, wide throne that stood at the head of the table. They'd burned Everard's chair. In a few steps, he charged over to her and escorted her to the long seat they shared at the head of the table, sitting down beside her only when she'd assured him twice she was more than comfortable.
She took a sip from his teacup. "It tastes all right to me," she told him, her eyes trained on his, studying his face. "It tastes normal...Teapot was making it funny before, I thought you didn't like it?"
"I got used to it...It just hasn't been the same, not since we moved here." He cast his eyes around the huge hall, once again assessing it appreciatively. Evangeline shrugged, leaning into him, pressing her face into his shoulder. "Must be the house," Walden decided, leaning over to press his face into her hair.
"Do I still smell good?"
"Perfect." Walden smiled into her hair, running a hand over the swell of her stomach.
"Perfect," Evangeline echoed, smiling.
I think I like this chapter most of all. It was hard to get started but, really, once I did...MAGIC.
Also, maybe I'm like the producers of The Sixth Sense, who said that they sat through the finished movie thinking "Fuck! The red, it's too obvious! They're gonna guess straight off he's dead!" because I was certain the funny-tasting tea was a bit too heavy-handed but...you got it, right?