Author: Snegurochka (snegurochka_lee)
Genres: Darkfic, Mystery, Drama
Characters: Lovegood, Tonks, Vance, McGonagall, Evans, Granger, others
Warnings: Character deaths (4/5 canon); references to suicide and murder, references to pregnancy/childbirth complications, references to mental illness, adult language, HBP SPOILERS
Disclaimer: Not my characters, and less than zero money is being made here; in fact, money is being spent. JK Rowling owns all, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Prompt: #45: Some there are who are much more ashamed of confessing a sin than of committing it. – Marguerite of Navarra, The Heptameron.
Many thanks to: dora_the_nymph, islandsmoke, and a third lovely lady who prefers to go anonymous, for the quick, thorough, and punishing beta reads. I have never quite seen a Darkfic-GenFic, and thus am certain this is not the kind of story the marvellous moderators had in mind for this Ficathon, but once it popped into my head, I couldn't let it go. I hope it still qualifies as acceptable FemFic, and GenFic.
Summary: Five vignettes, seemingly unrelated and featuring diverse Potterverse women, explore the link between these women that will answer the question: why are five of them dead?
If not for the choking cloud of blue smoke filling the room, the scene might appear tranquil.
A cauldron the colour of death sits, unmoving, atop a pile of withering embers. The thick liquid inside remains paralysed, undisturbed by a single ripple or bubble. A ladle, still smeared with the remnants of the potion it helped to heap into a goblet, lies abandoned on the counter. And that goblet, a chip now marring the rim from the fall, finds itself clutched in the fist of a woman, whose body preceded it to the floor.
Luna Lovegood enters the room seconds after hearing the crash. She is nine years old. Surveying the scene with wide eyes, she takes in the smoke, the cauldron, the thick liquid, the ladle, the goblet, and lastly, the woman. The colour of the cauldron does not escape the child, nor does the fact that this woman has never brewed a potion wrong in her life.
The girl looks on a moment longer, a dreary haze in her head slowly sharpening into dreary shapes – dragons' wings and skeletal faces on creatures so unlike horses she can't think of any other word for them, so she names them Thestrals. Her mind clears, and she forgets the word entirely, until she hears it again, spoken to her, several years later. The dragons' wings recede, and in her imagination, the drizzling rain outside turns the sky to stone.
When her father arrives home from work, Luna is sitting on the living room floor, stringing butterbeer corks together with careful precision.
"Mum's dead," she tells him, glancing up from her work, and the expected scene ensues: he drops his case and runs to the kitchen, alternately shaking and cradling the woman on the floor. Luna hears his sobs and imagines the dragon-horse-skeletons again, to drown him out.
"You always tell things exactly as they are, don't you?" he murmurs when he returns to the living room, his face sunken. She nods, and he drops to his knees, collecting her in his arms. As he takes her upstairs, past the kitchen with its fading smoke and its cauldron the colour of death, neither of them notice the battered old tome splayed open on the countertop:
Advanced Potion-Making, by Libatius Borage.
Move on, move on, move on.
That's all anyone ever says to her anymore, and Nymphadora Tonks is bloody, fucking sick of it. I'll move on when I'm damned well ready to move on, she thinks to herself, and not a second sooner. And anyway, what's with society's obsession with "moving on"? What's wrong with just being really fucking bummed for awhile? She was my teacher, my mentor, my friend, and I'm just supposed to forget all about her? No.
Tonks knows why everyone wants her to move on, of course – she and Emmeline were the only fully-trained women Aurors the Ministry has had since Alice Longbottom, sixteen years ago. Emmeline finished training only a few years after Alice – just in time to see Alice fall, and the Ministry discourage female applicants after that. Everyone knew what had happened to Alice, of course, and most of them conveniently left out the fact that it was an unprovoked attack, that there was nothing Alice could have done to change the outcome, and most importantly – that it had happened to Frank, too.
Tonks snorts as she drains her glass, beckoning to the Muggle bartender for a refill. That was the kicker, wasn't it? Frank had fought valiantly for the Ministry, and had done the Order proud, and was tragically overpowered at the last minute. Alice, on the other hand, well – Tonks had heard all the stories. Alice had fucked up. Alice was too worried about that baby of hers at home, like all mothers – her head hadn't been in the game. She had never done very well in her training classes anyway, the whispers went. It wasn't surprising that she couldn't repel that attack. Frank had done his best to defend her when she froze up, but those Death Eaters had just been too strong for him to handle alone.
The bottom of that glass looks awfully familiar to Tonks tonight, and she isn't the least bit sorry for it. She feels a bit like bloody Sirius probably used to feel, drowning her sorrows in alcohol, but she has had quite enough of Molly and her tea. Tea can only go so far towards making a person feel better, but whisky? Now there's a way of moving on that Tonks can get on board with. She signals for another refill, ignoring the knowing winks from the bartender, with his greasy hair and his hairy arms.
Yeah, that Auror academy was a tough nut to crack, but Emmeline helped her do it. Emmeline worked hard for that instructor post, too, and she worked even harder to get the Ministry to change their unspoken rules, to allow women to train again. And Tonks worked her arse off to make Emmeline proud, to go out of her way to prove herself, so that Moody and his lot of stupid instructors gave her the credit she deserved. None of the other trainees could believe she wasn't just there to land a husband, and Emmeline was always there with a stern pep talk, or a shot of whisky, when it all got to be too much.
Not to mention, the woman was a great teacher in the art of refusing the advances of idiots who thought their pretty instructor just needed a date in order to loosen up. Bloody hell, the number of times Emmeline had had to introduce a man's crotch to the pointier edges of her second-sex knee were more than Tonks could count.
"Ah hell, Tonks," she would say, twisting some idiot's arm around his back when he tried to pinch her arse between classes, "you're too nice with 'em. Got to show 'em they can't fuck with us, yeah?"
And Tonks would swallow, and smile, wishing she had Emmeline's confidence.
They pushed through together, though – ignoring the whispers of "dykes" muttered under the breath of colleagues who failed to secure a date with either of them; pushing aside that failing grade in Stealth and Tracking for Tonks, and that missed promotion for Emmeline; and most importantly, doing their best to brush off literally centuries of prejudice that tried to tell them that women make shitty Aurors.
And now, judging by the Ministry's reaction to Alice's condition, and to Emmeline's death, it was looking an awful lot like their efforts had been for nothing. Things were getting worse, if anything.
Tonks slams her flat palm on the bar and lets her head fall forward into her other hand, raking her fingers through her hair until it hurts. Move on, Tonks, they say, all the stupid arseholes who want to forget that Emmeline ever existed – and that Alice still exists. She'll be next; Tonks knows it. It's the '90s – they can't legally stop a woman from enrolling in the academy anymore, but they can sure as hell do everything in their power to send women on the most dangerous assignments, and to make sure they never come back.
Come on, Tonks, you're being paranoid, Kingsley keeps telling her, and it's not really his fault that he doesn't understand. None of them understands. Remus is a real treat – thinks it's about him, for fuck's sake, like most men. She yanks at her hair again and beckons for another refill. Like a fucking boyfriend is just what she needs right now. She shakes her head and curses the world one more time.
I miss her.
Her magic is off. The one thing she could count on to give her some credibility in this old boys' network – the one thing she had that they don't – it's slipping away. Her Patronus is all fucked up, some shapeless thing that only draws ridicule; her hair won't change; yeah, all in all, she's a sitting duck for dismissal.
Either that, or they'll just make sure she's front and centre in the line of fire during the next battle, just like Emmeline was. A woman killed on duty is still just another dead woman – and one less for all those blokes at the Ministry, at Headquarters, in the world, to have to worry about. All things considered, it's pretty tough to move on when you're convinced you'll be next.
"Hey," the bartender pipes up, pouring her another and gazing at her so intently she has to look away. "I've seen you in here before, right?"
Tonks rolls her eyes and stares at the wall, slumped over the bar with one hand still stuck in her brown hair.
"Yeah," he continues slowly, wagging his finger at her. "You had some punk hair, but it was you. With your sister, right? That older woman – the pretty one."
Tonks lets out a loud sigh. "Yeah. So what?"
He narrows his eyes at her before forcing a chuckle. "Nothin'. Just thought you might want this back. She left it behind; been waitin' to see if you lot'd come back for it." He reaches under the bar and pulls a thick, dusty book out, dropping it on the counter. "One of those joke things, yeah? From Hallowe'en or somethin'? Had a peek; there's all sorts of crazy shite in there." He leans forward and licks his lips, the whites of his eyes shot with red. "You ladies brewin' up somethin' special, or what?"
She doesn't notice his leering wink, because her eyes are glued to the large textbook in front of her. Advanced Potion-Making, by Libatius Borage. Emmeline had this?
"Thought I'd find you here," a gentle voice calls from over her left shoulder a moment later, and Tonks turns to find the wrong person looking at her with concern.
"Not now, Kingsley," she begs, and curses when she hears herself slur his name. Caught pissed on duty; this is just great. She suddenly wants to get as far away from him, from this bar, from everything, as she possibly can, and she rises abruptly from her stool. He catches her as she stumbles on her unsteady legs, but she wrenches free and bolts for the door. Not a moment's peace in this world, she thinks. Never a moment's peace, away from this war, to think, or swallow a bottle of whisky, or just to grieve.
Untouched atop the bar, the book watches her go.
"Miss Evans! Put that wand away this instant! Has it escaped your attention that this is a school corridor, between classes, and magic is not allowed?"
"But Professor McGonagall, he was trying to steal my book! I was just–"
"No excuses, Miss Evans – I saw no evidence of Mr. Snape trying to steal anything from you. Detention, tonight at eight p.m., in my office."
"Please, Professor, I–"
"That is the end of the matter. Off you go, now, or you shall be late for your next class."
Lily hurries off down the hall, her mouth a thin line and her head bowed low. Minerva watches her go, watches Potter try to catch her at the corner leading to the Charms classroom, watches the girl shrug out of his grasp and rush on. Lily clutches the book tightly under one arm, careful to keep it separate from the others in her shoulder bag. Minerva watches, oh yes. She has been trying to figure it out for weeks now: what is it with that girl, and that book?
Lily arrives at Minerva's office for her detention that evening without the book, and its absence shows. She looks as though she is missing a key piece of herself, like a finger, or a heart. "Professor," she says timidly, bowing her head a little.
"Sit down, Miss Evans," replies Minerva, gesturing towards a stiff office chair in front of her desk. She regards the girl for a moment, sizing up her discomfort, and vows to get to the bottom of it. "Now tell me," she begins, "what is the problem between you and Mr. Snape where that book is concerned? I have seen you two arguing over it for weeks now!" She gazes over her spectacles at the girl.
Lily, Minerva notes with displeasure, does not miss a beat. "What book?" she answers immediately, her eyes wide with feigned innocence, and fear.
The professor removes her spectacles and glares at the girl until she cracks.
"Oh, all right," Lily confesses after a pained silence. "He's right, I took his book. I saw him making notes in the margins in class, and I – well…" She pauses a moment, her cheeks flushing.
"Yes?" Minerva prods.
"Well, I really like Potions, Professor, you know that – you encouraged me to enroll in the NEWT class–"
"Yes, yes," Minerva interrupts, waving her hand. "Get on with it, Miss Evans."
Lily swallows. "Right. Well, the two of us have been top of the class, but I just – well, Professor, I've been dying for a chance to get a leg up on him a little, you know? Just to beat him outright for once."
Minerva watches with interest as the girl's face darkens, as though she's revisiting a particularly nasty memory.
"I just wanted to wipe that smug little smirk off his face," Lily continues in an angry voice. "Show him that a Muggle-born can be just as good as him!"
Minerva blinks, then chuckles. "Miss Evans, surely Mr. Snape is well aware that Muggle-born witches and wizards have achieved just as–"
"No, he is not aware!" Lily interrupts, her cheeks pink and her eyes flashing.
"So you thought that getting a peek at his notes would help you to beat him at his own game, did you?" Minerva narrows her eyes at the girl, and Lily's shoulders sink.
"Yes, Professor," she admits after a moment, "I suppose I did."
"And did those notes help you?"
"Er- a little, yes." Lily shifts uncomfortably in her chair.
"But?" Minerva raises her eyebrows, suddenly wishing she was permitted to supervise detention with a nice glass of firewhisky in one hand.
"But…" Lily looks for a moment as though she wants nothing more than to tell Minerva the secrets of the universe, to reveal that the earth is, in fact, flat as a board, and that she knows this because it says so in those marginal notes. But the look disappears as quickly as it came, and her expression closes. "I'm sorry I took the book, Professor," she says instead, dropping her eyes. "You have no idea how sorry I am," she adds under her breath.
"Very well," replies Minerva, clasping her hands on her desk. "You will return the book to Mr. Snape first thing tomorrow morning, and you will spend the rest of this evening working towards achieving high marks in Potions on your own." She rises to scan her bookshelves for the volume she seeks. "Ah, here it is. Magical Herbs of Africa. You will read the first two chapters of this book, and in two hours' time, I want a report on at least five things that the European Wizarding world can learn from African potion-brewing." She tosses the book at the girl. "Well? Get out your parchment."
But Lily is shaking her head. "No, Professor, please – I can't give it back."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'm sorry I took it – I'm very sorry I took it, but I can't give it back. He- the book–" She pauses and takes a deep breath. "If he gets the book back, terrible things will happen."
Minerva raises an eyebrow. "Miss Evans, please. It has been a very long day, and your petty feud with Mr. Snape about Potions grades is not one I care to waste any more of my time on. Now, open that book and get out your parchment to take notes, so we can both be done with this and go to bed!"
Lily reaches reluctantly for her bag and pulls out a sheaf of parchment, but Minerva notices that the girl's eyes are shining. She raises them to Minerva. "Professor, you don't understand – there's something strange about that book. It feels… it feels strange."
"And he's admitted it!" Lily continues quickly. "I asked him… told him it made my fingers tingle… and he–"
Minerva shoots her an impatient look.
"Please, Professor, you must listen! He said that- that girls can't touch it, that bad things happen to girls who touch it! His mother- his mother told him…"
Oh, honestly. Minerva sighs. So now the selfish boy was going to tell his classmate ghost stories in order to protect his precious Potions grade? She should just get Slughorn to fail the pair of them, to see if that teaches them a lesson about this ridiculous competitive streak they have. She furrows her brow. Didn't Severus's mother pass on recently? Perhaps she also needs to ask Slughorn to speak to the boy, to make sure he's coping normally. She sighs again and looks up at the girl before her.
"Did you touch it, Miss Evans?" Minerva asks pointedly.
"I- well yes, of course."
"And did anything bad happen to you?"
Lily's eyes drop to the floor. "No, Professor."
"Then I suggest you stop this rubbish and give Mr. Snape his book back, do you understand?"
She nods slowly, defeat etched on her face, and opens the new book. With a weary sigh, Minerva watches the girl work, satisfied with her resolution to the children's dispute.
Later that night, alone in her bed, Lily pulls the book out from under her pillow and opens it with shaking hands. She plucks a quill out from its place in the back cover and runs a moistened finger over the tip, hoping there will be enough residual ink on it for her purposes. She doesn't want to risk waking her dorm-mates by retrieving her inkwell from her trunk.
Sitting cross-legged and smoothing the heavy book open across her lap, she hunches over the inside of the back cover and begins to scratch with her half-dry quill.
The deserted library smells like lost ambition.
Mouldy curtains hang over grimy windows, as stacks upon stacks of leather-bound tomes rot mournfully on the shelves. Books are words, Hermione thinks as she reaches for another one, and words transmit knowledge, and knowledge is power. She nods to herself as she repeats that mantra, flipping through pages with increased frustration.
Well, if she has so much power, then why the bloody hell can't she find what she's looking for? Her sigh echoes against the hollow walls, as she leans back in her chair, rubbing her tired eyes. "Eileen Prince," she whispers, shaking her head, "where are you?"
She wasn't in any other old Daily Prophet files, that was for sure. Nor was she in the Wizards' Almanac, any of the volumes of the Encyclopaedia of Wizardkind, the Animagus Registry, the Index of Noteworthy Heroes of Wizard Games, Sports, and Hobbies, Witch Weekly's annual reviews, or the handbook of the International Gobstones League. And she wasn't in any of the records for old Potions awards, as Hermione had suspected. Refusing to go back to the dorm and admit to Harry that she might have been mistaken about Eileen Prince's connection to that book, Hermione has to keep trying.
But so far, the only place Eileen Prince has turned up is in one old Prophet photograph, the sullen girl who was lauded as captain of the Hogwarts Gobstones team. But that just isn't going to be good enough. If she is going to convince Harry that this "Half-Blood Prince" could be a girl – and could be someone other than one of his parents or their friends, for pete's sake – then she has to find some conclusive proof.
Hermione is just about to place the Prophet files back in their drawer when she sees one last glimmer of hope in the back of the cabinet of archived Wizarding newspapers. The title beckons at her from the index card marking this paper's separation from its respectable counterparts, and even as she tries to ignore it, her curiosity gets the better of her. She squeezes her eyes closed and reaches for the stack of Quibblers dated for the decade surrounding the year of that Prophet photograph. She grimaces as she hauls them back to her table, dropping them with a thud that reminds the sixth-year only of wasted time.
She flips idly through one issue, two, then three, wrinkling her nose and puffing her cheeks at each increasingly ridiculous headline. Four issues… five… This is just silly. By the middle of the sixth issue, she is getting hungry, and her thoughts drift elsewhere. She carelessly flips past the page before her subconscious mind instructs her to turn back. She stares with widening eyes at the headline:
Second cousin of Hogwarts' former team captain tells all!
In an exclusive interview with Agnes Cobblesworth, second cousin (twice removed) of beleaguered Hogwarts Gobstones captain Eileen Prince, The Quibbler has learned that the Ministry of Magic has offered Prince one million Galleons in return for her silence on the haunted textbook issue. (See Quibbler Issue 29 for full report).
Hermione's brow wrinkles as she paws through the stack of perused papers beside her, searching for Issue 29. She locates this 'haunted textbook article' in the front index and, cursing herself for not paying closer attention to her research, she flips through the issue only to find… that the article is not on that page. In its place is an advertisement for Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, and Hermione's frantic search through the rest of the issue yields no results. She turns back to the first article in frustration.
The Ministry has refused to comment on Cobblesworth's information, stating only that, "There are no 'haunted textbooks' at Hogwarts, or at Flourish and Blotts, or anywhere in the Wizarding world, for that matter. The entire tale was a fabrication – the misguided ramblings of a silly teenage girl."
BUT WAS IT?
Cobblesworth, who states that her family is very close to the Princes, sharing every tenth Christmas with them, as well as purchasing ice cream from the same Diagon Alley shop, says that Eileen Prince has been devastated by the scandal.
"She failed NEWT Potions because she refused to use her textbook," Cobblesworth informs us. "She said there was blood in it, and secret messages appeared on the pages, and that it whispered to her! It- it told her that any woman who touched it would die, and that it's illegal for girls to play Gobstones, and that- um, that the Hogwarts greenhouses are really a hiding place for aliens!"
(The accuracy of this final message from the haunted textbook has already been well-established by this newsmagazine. See Issue 14 for the full exposé on the complicity of Hogwarts herbologists with the concealment of alien life forms in Britain).
The smear campaign against Prince has clearly been ordered from the very top of the Ministry, to oust the school's first female Gobstones captain from her post.
"Oh, definitely," Cobblesworth agrees. "Eileen's the best player they've got, and the boys sure don't like it. I think they planted the textbook on her to get her kicked off the team."
Repeated calls to Hogwarts have gone unanswered.
Hermione slams the paper shut, her palm connecting hard with the wood of the library table. "Rubbish," she whispers heatedly to herself, shaking her head. She should never have looked at this ridiculous tabloid in the first place – here she is, wasting twenty minutes on this when she could have been searching reputable sources for any mention of Eileen Prince. She stares for a moment at the opposite wall, drumming her fingers on the table. But there was something about that textbook, wasn't there? And this is the only source she has located that mentions Eileen Prince and a Potions textbook in the same breath.
But aliens in the greenhouses? Honestly. Hermione's mind volleys back and forth between disregarding the article, and daring to take something from The Quibbler seriously. She can't possibly use such an article as her evidence! Harry will laugh at her; after all, she has never made a secret of her disdain for that tabloid. If only there was some way to check…
She rubs her eyes again and thinks hard. Any woman who touched it would die… illegal for girls to play Gobstones… greenhouses are really a hiding place for aliens… That's it. She has three declared facts. She knows that one of them is false; the best way she can think of to verify the authenticity of the one she is most curious about, is to inquire after the third. She jumps up and grabs the handbook of the International Gobstones League that she placed back on the shelf half an hour earlier. Quickly consulting the index, she finds what she wants: Introduction: A Brief History of Gobstones.
Her finger flies down the page as her eyes scan the text. Gobstones is a game involving stones played something like marbles, in which the stones spit disgusting liquid at the opposing player when they lose a point. Right, right, she knows that. Early players of the game wore masks to prevent permanent burning from primitive versions of the spit liquid. Fine, sure, this isn't what she wants to know. She flips the page, continuing to scan furiously for any mention of girls, when –
Up until 1945, the International Gobstones League forbade women and girls from playing the game, either at the professional or amateur level, owing to the belief that the liquid emitted from the stones was dangerous to a woman's fertility. Classified research conducted during the war against Grindelwald demonstrated that this belief was false, and the ban on female participation in the game was lifted. Since then, the International Gobstones League has boasted dozens of female members.
Hermione places the handbook back on the table, her mind racing. 1945… 1945… But Eileen Prince was at Hogwarts long after that date; how could the book have told her it was illegal for girls to play? It couldn't have – simple as that. She nods to herself, satisfied. Harry said that his book was printed fifty years ago, so it couldn't be the same one that had haunted Eileen Prince.
Rising to place the handbook back on its empty shelf, Hermione notices something taking up the space – a deep crimson volume, tattered at the edges. She plucks it from the shelf in order to return the handbook, then jumps and drops it when she feels her fingers burn.
"Ow! What on earth…" she mutters, bending to pick it up from the floor. It has landed awkwardly, with its middle pages ruffled and its back cover splayed wide open. Lifting it to the table, she notices a strange scratching in the upper left corner of the back cover. Her eyes widen with fear as she is just able to make out the barely-inked words of the desperate message.
L.E. … L.E. … Harry told her about seeing those initials before… She swallows hard and jerks her hands away from the book, the tingling in her fingers spreading like poison. But '77… If that's who it is, she didn't die for several years after this date… It just doesn't make sense. He's Charmed this book to kill women. Who is 'he'? No, this can't be the same book that spoke to Eileen Prince, and it can't be the same one that Harry hid. It moves on its own. No, that's ridiculous. Even Dark magic cannot make an object move like that; she has never read anything that says such a thing.
She returns her research materials to their shelves, then hovers over the book, thinking. After a moment she pulls a handkerchief out of her bag and uses it to pick up the book; she can't just leave it lying there, after all. She packs it away in her bag, covered with the cloth, then pauses to touch her thumbs to the tips of her fingers, shivering. There must be an explanation for this; there is always an explanation for things she doesn't understand. She simply needs to think some more, to do more research tomorrow, and to ask someone who may know the answers. Exiting the library, she heads for Professor McGonagall's office. If this book can change its dates, its contents, and its motives… if it can make the reader see what he or she wishes to see… if it has certain targets, or if it moves at random…
She suddenly realises that the book holds terrifying possibilities, and if there is a way for it to hurt women who touch it… she is in trouble. She forces herself to breathe steadily; this is no time to panic. There will be an explanation; there always is. Professor McGonagall will know what to do, Hermione is sure of it. If only she can shake that one lingering fact:
It moves on its own. Even Riddle's diary didn't do that, when Ginny had it.
Hermione reaches McGonagall's office and pauses to catch her breath, determined to stay calm, and determined to resist the feeling of dread creeping up her spine.
What if it has come for me?
Babies and death. That's all she has left now.
She shrieks with laughter at the thought, then immediately regrets doing so because those awful women in white come running in to restrain her again. She pulls uselessly at her wrists after the White Women have left, rubbing her skin raw on the bindings. It's an awful night, with howling wind and sweeping snow and tree branches that creak mournfully to her from outside the window. She doesn't have much time left, but the White Women don't know that.
Well, wouldn't her father just love to see her now. She almost laughs again, but bites her lip just in time. The bitter taste of blood fills her mouth, and she slackens her jaw. Ow. Everything hurts so much now. Everything she thinks, everything she does, everything she is just hurts, all over her body and soul. They think she'll claw the thing out herself, if they don't restrain her. Wait, they say. It's not time yet. As if they know anything about it.
Daddy! she cries in her head, but she hopes he doesn't hear her. He would never come here anyway – it's crawling with Muggles and White Women who are going to rip her open any moment now. She asked them to, of course; that's why she came here, to this awful place that smells like babies and tastes like death. He would never come here. He must never know she was here. She shouldn't leave a trace, but she will. She has to. A baby with his father's name has a chance in life, she tells herself. A baby with his mother's name has nothing.
She will make sure her baby has his father's name.
The pain of a thousand spiked fences tears through her body, and she screams again.
"Miss Gaunt!" a White Woman cries when she bursts into the room again. "You are not in labour yet, and there is nothing wrong with you! Stop this screaming, do you hear me?"
She watches the White Woman leave again, slamming the door behind her. Stupid Muggles. Her father was right: they never see anything they don't want to. There is everything wrong with her – everything that can't be seen or spoken of, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.
"Tom," she whispers, her dry lips sticking together as they close around the last letter of his name. He walks out of the wall, dressed in his riding gear and as handsome as the day they married. "Light a fire," she asks him. "It's so cold in here." But he glides past her, through her, then out the door – out to where the White Women sit, waiting to tear her open. "Get back here!" she screams at him, then clamps her mouth shut again.
She holds her breath, waiting for the White Women to appear and reprimand her once more. Be quiet, she instructs herself sternly, her arms falling slack over her head, pulling against the limits of her restraints. Be quiet and Tom will come back.
But Tom does not come back. Nobody comes.
The White Women return soon enough, bringing her a tray of grey Muggle food. They untie her hands so that she can eat, and she sees an opportunity.
"Please," she whispers, "my book." She points to the small case lying open on the floor, against the back wall. Inside are two ragged frocks and her Potions instruction book. She loathes that book; it has caused her nothing but trouble, but she cannot let it go. It made Tom love her, and she will always feel both thankful, and hateful, for that.
The White Women give her an appraising look, then shrug. "Here." One tosses it onto the bed.
"No pens or pencils, though," the other warns. "No telling what you'd do with 'em, eh?" They leave her to her food. They think she is crazy.
Alone again, she pushes the food aside and sets the book before her on her lap. The cover is worn, the lettering on the title already faded. It's the sort of book that has always looked old, because it has existed forever. It is only words now. It lists words, in the order they should be read – nothing more. She runs her fingertips over the cover, feeling the cracks in the leather burn through her skin.
It's nothing now, but it could be so much more.
Thinking about the potions contained within those pages makes her think of Tom, and thinking about Tom makes her chest hurt and her lips go numb. That makes her think about her father, and Morfin and how nothing she ever did was the right thing to do.
Mother is dead; mother has always been dead. All she has ever known are men – feeding her, clothing her, beating her, screaming at her, fucking her, hating her… and now kicking at her inside, so hard and so often that she begs for death every minute of every day. He will be the worst, she thinks, staring at the book cover under her belly. He will wound more than any of the others, for as long as he lives.
She is tired; she can't sleep. Her body aches, then goes numb. Her magic plunges through her like a spear, then disappears for days. She is dying; this is obvious.
The book stares at her, and suddenly she knows what to do, she knows what will help. She knows what will save all the others like her. All they do is kick, the men who make her cry, and all she does is let them. There will be a better place – she'll go first, and get it ready. She will make curtains, and plates of cheese, and the White Women won't be invited. She will invite the others though, and they will all live together on the other side, and leave the men here to kick and yell at each other.
She claps her hands in glee as the idea takes hold, careful to bite her tongue to keep from crying out in excitement. Mother will be there, to look after her; she will introduce Mother to all the others, when they come. Mother will be so proud of her.
A hiss rises up in her throat as she gazes again at the closed book on her lap, running her fingers in lazy patterns over the cover. She has buried this language for so long that it doesn't come easily anymore, but after a moment of concentration, she's got it.
She flips through the pages, one by one, speaking to them in hushed, serpentine tones, flattening her palm over each one before turning to the next. When she reaches the page containing Tom's potion, she pauses. Pointing her index finger to the page, she closes her eyes and begins to write. When she opens them again, spiky red letters run across the text of the potion in an angry line –
She cackles softly to herself as she watches the letters sink into the page, forever disappearing from the view of mere mortals. This book will answer to no one now, and will pass through many hands, whose owners will never be quite sure how they had stumbled upon it, and will never know quite what it can do. Nor will they ever understand why it can do it.
She continues turning the pages and whispering to herself in her family's language, sealing the magic inside the volume with every sputtered hiss. After fifteen minutes, it is done.
Staring at the back cover with unfocused eyes, she feels the shards of glass rip through her body again, and she can't hold back the piercing scream that escapes her lips.
"Miss Gaunt, really! Your constant cries for attention are not going to– oh my good Lord. Miss Shaw, call for the doctor immediately, please. Dear God, Miss Gaunt, what have you–"
The book falls to the floor with a thick thud, as the White Women clamour around the bed.
You'll see, Tom – you just wait, she thinks, her mind clouding with pain. You'll see. You can leave me, you can divorce me; you and Daddy and Morfin can get together and dance on my grave! I can't stop you; I never could. I'm not strong enough.
"Miss Gaunt, breathe into the cloth, please. The doctor's on his way; you need to relax…"
A divorced man can still wound, I know that. You won't suffer because of me. But I can make sure no one else will suffer because of you. I'm bringing them with me, you know – all the other women. We're going to live somewhere without you, without any of you.
"Thank God, Doctor, you're here. I just– where is all this blood coming from? I didn't know what to do…"
No, any man alive will always be free to wound, but a dead woman?
The blood and life and magic drain out of her, and the last sound she hears is not a baby's cries, but her own mocking laughter.
A dead woman can't get hurt.
Gobstones is a game involving stones played something like marbles, in which the stones spit disgusting liquid at the opposing player when they lose a point. Definition courtesy of the Harry Potter Lexicon