Her whole chest lit up with fire as air was forced back into her lungs. It was unwelcome, it was unnatural. It was unwarranted and unneeded. She'd been relaxing into death, the great respite, and the first few moments of life again were that of a blaze of agony. Suddenly, every wound and beating Nott had inflicted on her throbbed, burned, ached, protested. Imogen wanted nothing more than to collapse back into death, but the insistent hands on her chest were pumping blood through her heart, air through her lungs, life through her broken frame.

Vaguely, she heard screams and pleading from far away, dulled by distance and substance. "You must live." A hurried female voice muttered in her ear.

Why? Why do I want to live so that I can suffer again? Imogen thought, opening her eyes slowly and rolling her gaze to her left, feeling the ache and pain in even her eyeballs. She saw the clothed abdomen of a woman bending over her, dressed in black linen and satin. Lazily, slowly, painfully, she examined her surroundings with limited senses. Imogen was lying on the hard, uneven wooden floor of the house, though not in the hall, which she recognized. The room looked like a scaled-down version of the hall, but Imogen didn't care. She lied on the floor, unresponsive, uncooperative, unlifelike. Only her slow, painful blinking and sluggish reflexive rise and fall of her chest indicated there was life in her.

Let me die, Imogen thought desperately, surprised when her voice echoed the same sentiment raspily and weakly.

"No, no, you can't die. The Dark Lord needs you alive, and you must not disobey the Dark Lord," the woman whispered fervently. Imogen saw that she had white-blond hair and a strained, pinched face as she sat back and looked at the door, eyes widening at a sound Imogen couldn't hear. "He approaches!"

The door burst open, and the Dark Lord stood there, looking vengeful. "I heard that Nott beat our Muggle to death, nearly. I trust you made her live, Narcissa?" He asked. Imogen's sluggish mind recognized that he looked even worse than the last time she'd seen him, a few sparse, coarse hairs sprouting from his paper-white scalp, the yellowish tinge spread across his nose, which was more prominent now, the nostrils stretched and distorted slits trailing down to just above his lip, his eyes were milky now. Saying the Dark Lord was monstrously horrific was an understatement.

"My lord . . . there is an issue," Narcissa said fearfully, looking down at the floor.

"What issue?" the Dark Lord hissed, though his voice sounded as if he were standing behind a mattress: muted, though the "s" of the hiss penetrated the mattress and spiked at Imogen's ears.

"She—she has n-no . . . no . . ." Narcissa stuttered, tensing her body, expecting pain, ". . . n-no sp-sp-irit . . . or w-w-will t-to l-live . . . ?"

The Dark Lord hissed in anger, showing now-uneven, crooked teeth. With a flick of his wand too fast for Imogen's eye to follow, Narcissa was screeching and writhing on the floor, unintelligible pleas falling upon deaf ears, willing for the torture to stop.

"Make her want to live and give her your spirit." The Dark Lord spat in his muted voice as he released Narcissa and swept out of the room. Imogen's eyes fixed themselves on Narcissa, who was sobbing softly. She took a few minutes to compose herself before turning her attention to the Muggle and taking out her wand, hands not shaking with experience.

"Episkey," she said repeatedly, healing the more minor injuries to Imogen, who welcomed the absence of pain. Narcissa looked concerned at the deep slashes and cuts across Imogen's chest, reading "dirty whore". She remained impassive as she did her best to close the cuts, but the shining pink scars marring her smooth, pale skin could not be banished.

"You need to want to live, girl," Narcissa said, eyes meeting Imogen's. Her voice had taken on the quiet authority of the lady of the house. "If you don't want to live, you can die, but you will die far more horrifically than what Nott did to you, and you'll be the deaths of my family and many others."

Imogen blinked slowly, not comprehending. Narcissa looked around before whispering, "Ennervate." Imogen felt more aware suddenly, but her throat still hurt. "So, girl, are you going to live? Will you spare me? Spare my husband and son?"

Why should I? I had my family and my life taken from me, Imogen thought. She did her best to repeat it scratchily. "I deserve . . . to die," Imogen spoke slowly, breathing labored. She let her head fall back and eyes loll closed, a sense of peace and relaxation coming over her, one of lethargy that beckoned to her, enticing her with rest and relief and never again a spark of pain. Shaken out of her fatal slumber, Imogen couldn't rouse any emotion, much less anger, to look at Narcissa as she covered the Muggle with a sheet for modesty, tucking it under her body to swaddle her.

I have no reason to live . . . yet they want me to live. Why should I live? I deserve to die; I've been through things nobody should ever have to go through. I need to just never be bothered again . . . find my family, tell them I'm okay. My family . . . Lucy . . . better me than her, they'd kill her in so horrible a way . . . she wouldn't deserve that. At least they went quickly and easily. Thoughts swirled around Imogen's head, sad, heavy thoughts that should've roused grief and loss in her, but they failed to cause her to feel any emotion. She noted that and tucked it away in her mind for later thoughts. As Narcissa stood and walked out of the room, casting a watchful glance over her shoulder at Imogen, the Muggle's thoughts turned to the future.

What's going to happen to me? Maybe they'll keep me alive just so they can routinely torture me . . . Nott and the Dark Lord both view me as a play toy, doubtless . . . Again, these thoughts should've inspired terror or anger, but Imogen felt no emotions. She was completely objective, sterile, blank. That thought should've scared her, as it was unnatural, but she wasn't even curious to know why . . . she felt no sense of fear, elation, anger, curiosity, depression, nothing. Narcissa had said something to the Dark Lord, something about Imogen lacking a spirit. She had plenty of spirit, her father used to routinely describe her as spirited or spritely; there was no question about it. However, if she had no spirit now, for whatever reason, why was that?

Languidly, slowly and methodically, Imogen picked her way through her thoughts, eventually arriving at the conclusion that she had no spirit because her spirit had died, but her body and mind had been revived without it. This conclusion took her many an hour of deep thought, around three days. Narcissa would come to check on her every hour, even at night, to make sure she hadn't wasted away or committed suicide. However, it seemed Narcissa's fears were unfounded; the girl just lied there, perfectly still, eyes blank and half-closed, blinking only occasionally. It was unnatural, and spooked the Malfoy, but her memory stirred up the Dark Lord's words every time her eyes were met with the sight of the Muggle's still, supine form.

Narcissa wracked her brains for a way to give the girl a spirit again without sacrificing her own, and if that was even possible. There seemed no way to rouse her from her position on the floor, except to roll her over into a prone position to clean up her wastes three times a day and night. If the girl slept, Narcissa never saw it. She was a ghost, a shadow of a human, and a sliver of the person she'd once been, so spitfire she defied the Dark Lord, now turned into a slow-moving echo of herself.

Even in the expansive and information-rich library at the Manor, Narcissa could find no answers, and it was fraying her nerves, living in fear that Imogen would pass on and condemn herself and her family to death. The Dark Lord was still a monster to behold, virtually the same as the last time he'd visited Imogen, and he was more aggressive and cruel than usual. Everyone in the Manor was feeling the effects of all the tension from each other; it was only a matter of time before one snapped and set the Dark Lord off. They were all lit matches held delicately over a pile of tinder by a wish and a prayer, just waiting for one to burn through and set the nest on fire.

Narcissa was frequenting the library for what seemed like the hundredth time in the two weeks that had passed since the Dark Lord set her task when she ran into one of the house-elves. "You!" She called at it. It jumped, squealing, then miserably trudged back to her.

"Yes, ma'am?" It squeaked, looking down at its feet.

"Find me a way to save the girl's spirit." Narcissa commanded, and the house-elf nodded, Disapparating with a loud crack. Even with the elf on the job, Narcissa continued to search through the library, once again turning up empty-handed.

Within an hour, it was time to check on the Muggle, Imogen. She was blank and silent as usual, and once again, Narcissa was reminded of a victim of the Kiss; just as lethargic and quiet and freakish.

A week passed in this tense, fear-riddled state, Imogen still unresponsive, though the flesh was starting to melt from her frame as her muscles atrophied. One night, Narcissa was going back to her room from speaking with the Dark Lord, and the house-elf she'd set to do her task Apparated right in front of her. "Miss Cissy!" It squeaked. "Blinky has found a cure for Miss Cissy!"

"What? What is it?" Narcissa asked, eyes bright.

"Blinky had to look for a very long time, and Blinky has finally found the cure in the Muggle world! Muggles treat broken Muggles putting them on horses. The broken Muggles become whole again!" Blinky explained excitedly.

"Get me more information. Get me a book about it." Narcissa demanded, walking off. She heard Blinky sigh heavily and Disapparate and wished the elf would return quickly so that the Dark Lord, who was very testy as of lately, wouldn't decide that now was an opportune time to commit genocide against Malfoys.

XXX