Fandom: Harry Potter
Warnings: character death, soul-sucking aplenty
Prompt: Promp no. 35: Some people are still unaware that reality contains unparalleled beauties. The fantastic and unexpected, the ever-changing and renewing is nowhere so exemplified as in real life itself. (Berenice Abbott.)
Summary: She was a young Veela who only wanted to be beautiful. When her body failed her, she started looking for inner beauty. Alas, her own soul wasn’t enough to make up for what she couldn’t achieve.
Word count: 3,209
Author’s notes: There I sat, completely stuck with a quotation about beauty in real life that I could easily second, but that elicited not a single idea beyond my nodding. Until I had the idea to write a completely twisted, perverted interpretation of the prompt, thanks to an inspirational talk with jaelle_n_gilla. I thank symetric very much for her speedy and detailed beta-reading job. Comments and concrit are always welcome!
Once upon a time, there lived a young Veela girl. However, unlike others of her kind, she suffered from the condition of being ordinary. Where other Veela-children had a head full of long silvery hair, she wore simple brown curls. Where the others supported features that made witches and wizards think of angels, her plain face elicited nothing but limited interest. Interest that quickly turned into mild ignorance once a person found that her mind was nothing out of the ordinary either.
Often, she would stand in front of the mirror and curse herself. It wasn’t only her plain looks that bothered her. It was the stolen, worried glances from her mother, the stoic look on her father’s face whenever his eyes fell upon her and the unveiled snickering from her sisters. If she only could have been a boy! It wasn’t so bad for boys to be ugly. They could still redeem themselves with becoming skilled craftsmen or mighty warriors. But a girl – a girl could only count on being beautiful.
“Wait until you reach puberty,” her mother scolded, whenever she caught her glaring into the mirror. “How many times have I told you, darling? You are a late bloomer. And now don’t stare at your face like that – it will only give you wrinkles.”
The girl cringed every time, while trying to force the smoothness back on her face. What did it matter if she had wrinkles on her face anyway? Anyone in their right mind would see that they made no difference. She was ugly, and puberty wasn’t going to change a thing.
She was wrong about that, though. On her thirteenth birthday, puberty did change her. But not into the beauty her mother had hoped for. It merely served to highlight the birdlike features an ordinary Veela would only let slip in real anger. Her face elongated, and her nose was beaklike even on the days when she didn’t come home with a rat-tail of taunting children in her wake. Her brown curls grew even thicker and tangled easily into messy knots.
But worst of all, when she was agitated, she would grow these scaly wings. Only hers wouldn’t transform back into nonexistence for hours. It didn’t take long for her siblings to find out. Once when she had accidentally set the family table on fire, their parents strictly forbid them to tease her – but their power lasted only around the house and didn’t stretch into the green woods and the dark lake where the children would spend the endless summers of their youth. She was never one of them. They played and sung and danced while she stood watching.
Through the loneliness, she learned the contentment of being alone. Through the ugliness, she learned the power of an itch she couldn’t scratch. How could a person become more beautiful? She would have given anything she possessed to know that secret.
And then a family dinner provided her with hope. Her grandmother had come to visit and she was one of the most beautiful Veela of their clan. The girl wasn’t sure how she was even allowed in talking distance to the old woman, as she suspected that her presence alone could be regarded as an insult. And it didn’t take long for the beauty to notice her ugly grand-daughter. But instead of turning away from her she beckoned her over.
“So,” she said, and the girl felt the stern gaze piercing her to bone and marrow, “this is Marietta’s youngest daughter.”
The girl curtsied. “I am, grand-mère.”
Her chin was lifted up and she looked into eyes of the palest blue. Beautiful eyes; eyes that were wise, compassionate and cruel – all at the same time. Abashed, she felt her eyes watering and her cheeks burn with heat.
“Ma petite,” her grandmother chided, “don’t look away.”
And the girl drank the image of her grandmother’s beauty, while tears of shame streamed down her face; to be appreciated by someone so beautiful when she wasn’t worthy of the attention – she couldn’t believe this was happening to her.
Her grandmother said goodbye the next day and she had a present for every one. When she reached the girl, she handed her a small mirror. “Whenever you look into it, you will see the beauty of your soul. Let this be a reminder to you that true beauty will always show itself.”
The girl almost dropped the mirror. To receive a gift of such wealth and magnificence! She couldn’t wait to look, but at the same time she feared it. What if her soul wasn’t beautiful at all?
So when she finally found herself unwatched, she sneaked away into the woods to her favourite place and took a look at her face in the mirror. She saw a plain girl looking sadly back at her. A closer look revealed wrinkles on her brow. Crestfallen, she lowered the mirror into her lap. What did she expect? A shining beauty? She hadn’t done anything to deserve a beautiful soul. But ... she would gain it and she would work hard on it. She smiled, because finally, she had another, better goal to reach than just beautiful looks.
It wasn’t easy. No one would understand her questions. Her siblings still mocked her and when she asked her father, who was a man of great knowledge, he shook his head, took his tools and walked away to work on another beautiful sword. So she turned to her mother, closest of all, but even she had no answers to give.
“A beautiful soul, darling,” her mother said, the helplessness evident in her voice. “How to reach a beautiful soul? Well ... I suppose you must simply be a good girl, sweetheart.” When she saw the desperate look on her youngest daughter’s face, she added, “But you are already such a good girl. Just keep on.”
“But I don’t look beautiful, maman. Shouldn’t I look exquisite when I have a lovely soul?”
Her mother shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way, darling.”
“Grand-mère is wise beyond all our years. I’m sure she knows her words, but I’m not sure if we do.”
The girl hung her head and said nothing more. But determination grew inside of her. Her grand-mother had handed her the key to beauty, and she was willing to find the lock.
From the simplicity of being good she turned to the challenge of gaining knowledge. She abandoned the woods for the books and tried to study every tale she had heard of and every book she could find. She pestered her father until he brought her books from far-away places, books he had to pay a lot of Galleons for. He saw how she suffered and complied with her whims.
After the books, she sought out experiments. She ordered herbs and barks, metals and potions; all to discover the secret of beauty. Like an alchemist looking for gold, she subjected her mind to fumes of different origins. They gave her hallucinations and made her dizzy. Sometimes she got angry, spat fire and sprouted wings. Other times, she simply grew sad and sat crying. But when she looked into the mirror, her face hadn’t changed.
She almost slammed it down on the stone where the remnants of her latest experiment still gleamed, but refrained from destroying the thing in the last moment. She couldn’t do it. It had been a present from the most beautiful woman in the world.
And then an idea struck her. She had to go and visit her grandmother. She had to go and see what her grandmother saw, when she looked into the mirror. Then she would surely know how to strive for the beauty of her soul. Her grandmother was the most beautiful Veela she knew of; her soul must be full of beauty as well.
So she said goodbye to her mother, who wept a little, to her father, who handed her a pouch of food and a bottle of water, and to her siblings, who simply stared at her with big, unbelieving eyes. And she steered her steps into the woods and past the lake, further to the open land and into the mountains. For long she wandered, until she finally reached her grandmother’s hut at the other side of the mountains. And her grandmother sat on the porch, almost as though awaiting her arrival, and watched her coming nearer and nearer.
“Grand-mère,” she called, “I need your help. I need you to look into the mirror.”
“Good day to you, youngest grand-daughter,” said her grand-mother gravely.
“Good day to you too,” the young woman answered impatiently, for she wanted to go on and finally see her grand-mother’s beautiful soul. “I need you to look into the mirror you gave me. For when I know what your soul looks like, I will finally know how to shape mine and to gain beauty.”
The old woman smiled her beautiful smile, with the sun shining in her hair and the young woman trembled with anticipation.
She held up the mirror. Her grand-mother looked into it. And the young woman screamed. An old hag was looking back at her from the mirror with a toothless grin in her face. The young woman screamed again and the old hag smiled her horrible smile, until the mirror shattered.
“You lied,” she whispered in a hoarse voice. “You lied to me. I will never gain beauty through a beautiful soul.” And her hands closed around her grand-mother’s throat.
The old woman never stopped smiling. Even in death, she was still the most beautiful Veela in the world. And the young woman’s hands were sullied with guilt. She could see her own face, distorted and multiplied in the shattered pieces of the mirror, and she wept.
She would never be beautiful. She would never gain a beautiful soul. But maybe, just maybe, she could cover up her own sin with the beauty of others. Just like her grand-mother had covered the ugliness of her soul with the beauty of her face.
She had memorised her books, she had run her experiments and she now knew how to find those with beautiful souls – the good people. Slowly, she gathered the broken remains of her mirror into her pouch and left.
Around midday, the young Veela reached a small farmhouse at the foot of the mountains. A woman stood in the yard and watched her intently, a small, half-full bucket of milk dangling from one of her arms. She turned out to be the farmer’s wife and beckoned her inside to share the family’s meagre meal. Two thin and sickly looking children watched with awe as the Veela put down her bundle and took out some of her herbs. Nobody questioned her when she sprinkled them over the bread and cheese on her plate and said a few words in Latin.
“Where is your husband?” she asked the farmer’s wife.
“Gone to the market place to trade.”
“He won’t be back for another few days, will he?”
The woman shook her dark head.
When the time came to say goodbye, it was easy. She simply stepped towards the farmer’s wife and opened her arms in gesture of embrace. The woman stood stock-still, her nostrils fluttering, taking in the herbal smell of the Veela’s breath. She didn’t move, even when the Veela touched her lips with her own cold mouth.
The Veela felt the warm lips, they opened and she tasted the cheese and bread on the other woman’s tongue. Her teeth caught and held the struggling tongue, while she filled her lungs with the woman’s breath. Breathing in and sucking, she felt images racing into her mind. They showed her the delight of kissing a beloved and the tenderness of singing a baby to sleep. She couldn’t believe the sweetness of the soul she held in her arms. Her own sin was blasted into oblivion and her soul felt a cleansing she had never experienced before. It was pure bliss.
Later, she left the motionless bodies lying in the hut. The children’s souls hadn’t nearly been as interesting, they were too innocent and so didn’t provide the depth of their mother’s soul. In the darkness of a tavern in the city, by the shine of a candle, she squinted into a larger piece of her mirror. Huge eyes stared back at her, with a hunger she now finally had a cure for.
A man who inhabited the neighboured room in the tavern.
A whore in a little alley-street on the following night.
A stranger she met on the road that lead directly to the next city.
They all followed in quick succession. Even the whore had her dreams, she noticed.
Their dreams gave her bliss, but not enough to feel sated. And so, she went on.
After a while, she didn’t even need the herbs to calm her mind, or an incantation to open the victim’s soul. She simply put her lips on the other mouth and sucked. And when their soul swelled, when she felt it blooming and opening up under her gentle coaxing, it was like all the beauty of the world would enfold her.
People, of course, started sensing that something was off with her. They seemed to grow uncomfortable in her presence, draw their scarves tighter around their shoulders and unconsciously move closer to the fire, rubbing their hands together. Shortly enough, she couldn’t risk them skirting away from her. From the lightness of the souls inside her, she gained a light-footed walk, almost like a sliding motion. With a bit of practice, her victims never knew what came upon them. She felt neither heat nor cold.
Living in the cities became more difficult, though. First she thought that she was openly ignored out of fear, until she realised that Muggles and Squibs couldn’t see her any longer. For several weeks, she had to suffer little children pointing at her with a mixture of excited fascination and fear, screaming “Ghost!” while being hastily dragged away by their mothers. When the pointing and screaming stopped, she knew she had become truly invisible.
That was why meeting the first wizard after several years gave her such a surprise. He talked to her! She wasn’t used to people talking to her any longer.
“Why are you sneaking up to me like that?” he asked, his eyes huge in his face.
She smiled at him, or at least she tried to, but seemed to fail miserably, because he didn’t smile back, but started to back away from her.
“Leave me, you filthy hag,” he snarled and fumbled in his robes for his wand. He tripped over his own feet and she swooped down on him, her eyes closed shut against the disgust on his face. The stench of his fear filled her nostrils, and then her mouth closed around his, sucking, taking what was rightfully hers to take.
The wizard didn’t lose consciousness, and that was a first as well. After she had finished her feast, she noticed, delicately dabbing his spittle form her lips and the corners of her mouth, that his eyes were still open. He stared about himself, though wouldn’t respond when she waved her fingers in front of his face or to any of her touches. He showed no longer fear, nor any other emotion. She sat there, considering him. So this wizard was more robust than the Muggles or Squibs. And he had been able to see her. She shrugged. It didn’t matter. She was curious, though, if all wizards reacted alike or if this one here was just a freak of nature.
She quickly found out. All wizards and witches could see her. And most of them stayed conscious through the kissing. But apart from that, their bodies and souls weren’t any different from those of the Muggles and Squibs.
And one of them, she would have to remember forever. He fought her, his hands clawing at her throat while tears streamed down his face and he sobbed about his beloved sister drowning in a pond. He possessed a strength she seldom encountered and at one point of their struggle – for she was determined not to let go a soul so strong and beautiful – he managed to flatten her on her back and to sit on her middle. His tears fell upon her face and stung in her eyes; and she turned her face away from him, disgusted and elated in the same moment. As the blazing sun burned down on them, she felt the sweat on her skin that refused to cool down and he still sobbed about that girl, long gone, who had died in the water, hands outstretched towards a brother who had been forced to suffer her death and his own inadequacy. And when his hands grabbed her hair and twisted her head to “Look! Look!” into the sun, “Can’t you see her, she needs our help. Help me save her!” – she didn’t fight. She stared into the sun until all emotion had left her and her eyes were dead, so dead, so sightless. And only then she turned her head away from his trembling hands, a motion so easily to accomplish that she wondered why she hadn’t thought of it earlier, and kissed him all the same.
With her sight burned away, her other senses increased. She could sense the presence of soul-bearers, either Muggle or Squib or wizard, and followed them without any problem. Her ears grew sharper and as if to prevent any further rustling around them, she lost all of her hair. She became an expert in the light scent of nervous hurry and feasted on the sharp tang of fully-grown panic that emerged from her prey in the last moments of their struggles. She grew wary of the tiny flecks of emotion that preceded the swelling of the soul, the little images of happiness and joy that she could take before that last mighty swallow. She collected them all, a huntress who knew to cherish the smaller game as well as the big kill.
Maybe it was a mercy that she couldn’t see any longer, that her ears, though sharp, couldn’t distinguish individual voices any longer as well. For when she glided into a Veela dwelling one night, after passing a lake in the middle of a forest, she could only sense the happiness draining from of her victims. She didn’t suffer from the anguish in the screams of her brothers and sisters, she was unperturbed by her mother’s sobs when the woman recognised the last stitches of Veela ornaments on the ragged, once beautiful robes of her youngest daughter. She didn’t see the hatred on her father’s face when his gaze fell onto the leather pouch he’d provided her with years ago. She simply took all of the seven souls in a single night with a rattling breath.
In the morning, she sat on the porch, the sunlight warming her face. Her hands itched, and she scratched the scabs, sighing contentedly when she finally felt the skin give way under her nails. Maybe, she thought, maybe it was time to look out for company.