Chapter 17 : A Lapse in Time
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It was extraordinary, and frightening, and he wondered if he had slipped halfway into a dream. The blend of musical notes floated away behind him on thin, fragile strings, echoes of the song he had just been playing. They washed away in a tide, churning out of his mind, and he found himself staring at the curve of his knuckles and thinking that it was the most surreal thing he’d ever laid eyes on.
Lucius Malfoy lifted his head, its weight seemingly disproportionate and hefty. His temples ached, almost as though he had slept for too many hours, and he closed his eyes again. Everything was much too bright – tiny spots shivered before his dilated pupils, dancing in bulbs of green and blue and electric yellow. His brain tried to decipher the colors he had long ago lost the ability to detect, the nerves and senses confused as they attempted to make sense of such vivid pain.
But this was not a dream. Dreams gave him colors that reality could not, but they were never this vibrant, moving even after his eyelids closed, flooding through his skin with warmth.
He cocked his head, searching for the sound before he even realized its absence. There was nothing at all – only silence. He could not perceive the light footfalls of Miu, which he had been so accustomed to recognizing; or the easy gait of Ramien, or the heavy pounding of Wren heading from one room to another. The suffocating quiet disturbed him for a long, puzzling moment, and then the missing sound clicked into place as easily as a key turning a lock.
The grandfather clock was no longer ticking.
Its pendulum had kept time to the castle’s pace for eight years, swinging violently for all to hear from every floor, every room. It was inescapable, and yet the incessant swish, swish, swish was unnervingly dead now. Lucius wondered if perhaps he had fallen deaf – maybe Circe had flown through the night on black wings while he was asleep, restoring his sight and smiting his hearing. It would be a tradeoff he would embrace, despite the loss of music…
Lucius pressed his fingers down on the glass keys and was met with firm resistance. They did not bend to his will, flickering like splashes of water. He slowly opened his eyes once again, and realized that the substance under his hands was cold and gray. Hard. With blurry vision, Lucius widened his eyes as far as they would go and leaned close to his instrument; he was unable to discern anything clear and glass. There was no reflection of himself in the keys – only a wide expanse of smooth rock.
His piano had turned to stone.
Panic gripped at his chest, and he jumped to his feet. He could not remember… Certainly, he must be dreaming. He could not remember falling asleep. The last thing he was conscious of was sitting at the piano bench with Narcissa Black, wondering what it would be like if he could feel her face under his roving hands instead of cool, unfeeling glass.
Lucius held his arms out, unsteady, and surveyed the room. Everything whirled around him in quick flashes, his overwhelmed brain still trying to tie it all together – the proverbial and the unaccounted for. Every flash of understanding was a gift to him: the twist of the trees, the beautiful square windows, the slight arch in the ceiling that he had forgotten was there. It was so achingly the same, just as it was when he had last touched it with his beloved sight – and yet, the room and its furnishings were warped, misshapen. He had been certain that the bed frame was much larger, that the walls were taller and had once extended into infinite space… He could see the ceiling again and it was too close to be possible.
There was much that he could not make sense of. Why was there snow on the floor? He recalled the crunch of leaves under his boots, the smell of autumn rain. He felt like he was missing a very vital piece of an exceedingly peculiar puzzle… In the space of one blink, fifty pages in the book of his life had flipped, leaving a strange void that seared the air like a black hole. He looked harder for the thing that he knew, somehow, was out of place.
He grappled at his memory. There had been something alarming – or there should have been. His heartbeat lulled, not quite matching the moments flitting only minutes before, when he had clearly felt terrible panic. Why had there been reason to panic? Lucius staggered back to his bench, feeling his way with his hands even though his eyes could now make out the shapes almost clearly. He shut them again, wrapping himself in the safe and known, and imagined once again the swirl of velvet leaves dropping from the heavens of his bedroom like a soft rain.
From memory, he felt them splatter in his outstretched palms. He smelled the dull rubber of his boots, the sweet scent of Narcissa like a pine forest…and something else lingering on her fingertips – the stain of blackberries she had eaten earlier. He knew she was looking at him; he could feel her breath along his neck and he wished he knew, for the thousandth time, what she was seeing. Fire scorched his throat, suddenly hungry to lay his sight on her with leisure and luxury. Fire.
Fire. He remembered it with a knife to the lungs, and Mrs. Macnair’s high, tormented voice. “Scorched. Gone. Seven years of your compositions, all up in flame.”
Lucius flew to the door without realizing he had moved, throwing it wide open. The stifling silence was penetrated by voices filtering through the floor above, bleeding through the floor like ink through parchment. There was no stench of acrid smoke, no flavor of ash or peeling, blackened paper on his tongue. The air was stagnant and bland, no hint of burning anywhere that he could distinguish.
His spirits rose. “Narcissa?” he called. The voices upstairs ceased immediately. Surely I did not dream her up, he told himself. His breathing began to serrate as he worried over this. Even if the glass piano and autumn leaves and my compositions burning are not real, she must be. She must be…she must be…
He had played it over and over in his mind while he stretched out in bed each night, resting easy in the peace of knowing that night was an endless veil of black for everyone, not just him. He liked to imagine Narcissa standing at his doorway, one hand on the knob. It was creaking open, washing several steps of his bedroom floor in a delicate glow. He did not focus on her face, as he couldn’t accurately paint it with his imagination; he looked only at her blue shoes as they travelled together down the corridor. The peak of his fantasy was always the moment when the curse over the castle broke. The declaration of love.
“Do you want to leave with me?” she asked.
He never lifted his gaze from those powder-blue shoes, with the pattern of gold webbing running along their surface; he went to great lengths to fabricate less intimate parts of Narcissa so that he would not have to dwell on the fact that he would never know what her face looked like.
“I want to if you want me to,” he responded.
And then, together, they walked outside into the rosy sunrise. He could feel the blushing pinks and pale yellows on the horizon even if he knew they weren’t real, and it soaked through his smile in a lovely shade of the G minor scale played in descending order. Narcissa folded away into his arms, allowing him to wrap them around her. Lovely Narcissa – his lovely Narcissa – who in his daydreams was the one to shatter the curse, fit perfectly like the puzzle piece he never knew was missing. And together, beyond the horrors of Malfoy Manor, they were the perfect rendition of an E flat major scale.
“Lucius.” An old woman glided down the corridor, gnarled hands reaching out for him. Lucius’s mouth split into a wide smile.
“Wilda!” Tears formed in the corners of his eyes and he quickly brushed them away. He would not allow anything to taint his vision now – and not ever again. “I can see, Wilda.” She did not smile in response, and he racked his memory. Perhaps he had forgotten what smiles were like.
Mrs. Macnair slid her steely talons around his shoulders, gazing squarely into his eyes. She stared at him for a moment, expression fierce. “What have you done?”
Lucius’s lips parted, perplexed. “What do you mean? I haven’t done anything.”
She let go, and her body seemed to collapse in on itself without ever altering in posture. She was soon swallowed up by figures so aged, so much taller or shorter or wider than he remembered them, and they were one large, wriggling mass of arms and joy. “You can see!” Ramien cried.
From the group’s exterior, Mrs. Macnair raised a trembling arm, the tip of her wand poking through her sleeve. She pointed it first at Wren, and then at Ramien. Hot tears swam down the hard lines of her face, and she murmured incantations as she traced the wand to Miu, Cook, and Horatio. Tiny spurts of lukewarm air burst through her wand, stirring between the elated figures. All at once, the faces of each person she cast spells on grew wildly confused, and then blank, before they were restored to their original enthusiasm.
She fixed finally on Lucius, wavering, and slowly lowered her wand without performing the spell on him. He can’t feel pain if he doesn’t know what he misses. The haggard old witch walked down the corridor and turned right toward Magnus Malfoy’s bedroom, unnoticed by the rest.
“You can see!” Miu echoed. Cook embraced him, but Lucius did not feel it. He searched and searched but his eyes did not flit over a single unfamiliar face. There was no young woman with blonde hair and bright eyes as Wren had described her, no sweep of powder-blue shoes in the sea of his old companions.
The Narcissa from his daydream fell out of his cold arms, sinking into a flowery hillside. Blue forget-me-nots pushed through the earth in her wake, and he stood there all alone in his newfound, lonely freedom. Of course he was alone. He had made her up, everything from the way she twisted hair around her index finger to the embellishments on her shoes. He knew that she could not exist, and yet he could not stop himself from seeking confirmation.
“Where is she?” he whispered thickly.
Wren, who was the closest, stooped down to his level. She rested a huge hand on the top of his head, smiling with impossibly broad teeth. “Who?”
His heart sank. “Narcissa.”
The responding expression of bewilderment was enough to tell him that Narcissa had, indeed, been only a figment of his dreams. Such a powerful dream, he thought. A small hole burned through his chest, and he was at once bitter and mournful that his subconscious had provided such a woman for him when he could never attain her because she didn’t exist. He drove his fist through the wall, feeling it crack pleasantly under his knuckles. Miu hurried behind Ramien, but she was the only one, somehow, who had seemed to notice his rupture of fury.
Lucius’s gaze unfocused as the hands patted him on the back and the grins spread from one person to the next like an infection. He wanted them to drop their grasps, to leave him alone. More than anything, however, he wanted to never be alone again.
A strong breeze swooped through a window and rolled across the shabby rug, catching everyone off-guard. Horatio gave a great whoop, and Ramien’s features lit up like candelight, and they turned to each other for a brief second to exchange incredulous glances. They rushed over to the window, exclaiming with loud wonder to one another; Lucius loitered on the fringe with the hole in the wall and the hole in his heart, solitary with his scattered thoughts. He flexed his fingers, ignoring the way Wren was looking at him.
The words spilled out of him before he could stop it. “You’ve never heard of a Narcissa?”
Wren smiled – sad and pitying. “I’ve never met anyone by that name,” she said gently. “Did you have a dream, Master Malfoy?”
Lucius gritted his teeth and ripped himself away from the wall, walking smartly down the corridor just to be away from them. Wren’s expression stung him with her evident ignorance, her blissful ignorance. He wanted to rip the mask from her face, to make her see the woman who wasn’t there. He wanted to thrust Narcissa in front of them so that he could prove she had never left. And if she was there – in the flesh – then he could finally, finally look at her. At last, here was the thing he had wanted to see more than anything else in the world, and she had vanished in a wisp of smoke.
“Never met anyone by that name,” he repeated angrily, stomping quickly down the stairs. He halfway listened to the crowd of voices tearing down the corridor above him, realizing the significance behind a gust of wind that could penetrate the window. They emerged at the base of the stairs, smiling hugely with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes. They raced greedily down the hall, not pausing by his side, and continued onward. He knew that they would not stop running until they were long past the forest beyond, spread out in all directions.
With stiff shoulders, Lucius slid along the wall. He dragged his fingers along the shedding wallpaper, walking and walking. He walked until his legs were sore, the pads of his feet swollen. He moved aimlessly around the castle because he had nowhere to go and no one to run with.
Depression settled in his stomach like dangerous toxins, and he climbed tower after tower, descending stairway after stairway. Everyone was gone, even Charlie, and the only creatures that stayed behind were the demons that clung to the walls like shadows, lurking behind Lucius and widening his heartache with their teeth and claws. They had ways of getting into your head, those creatures, and Master Malfoy was particularly susceptible to them now that he was unaccompanied.
He still had not looked at himself in a mirror. He supposed that he did not want his reflection to become his only companion, now that it had returned to him after eight years and everyone else had left. “Wilda!” Lucius called hoarsely. Golden light glinted through the arched windows, gradual enough that it did not hurt his eyes. He stopped at one of them and simply stared, feeling lonelier than he ever had in his life as he watched the sun spread beautifully over the mountains, shining its radiance over the wide field below. He wondered if he was looking out of the wrong window, with a different perspective on the landscape, because he did not see a vast, shimmering lake.
Lucius moved to another window, concerned. No lake appeared, and he continued from window to window, hurrying faster as a nervous crease developed in his forehead. He raced the rising sun around the castle, catching each window just as the rays hit it, smothering it with glorious gold and scarlet and the deepest pinks. No matter which angle he stood at when he stared down at the grounds, the lake refused to appear. It was only when he had circled back around to the floor below the one that contained his bedroom that he glanced out of the window again and saw the deep gouge in the brown, barren plain.
Snow occupied most of it, glittering like dried sea salt in the rising light. Where there had once been an endless portrait of water, grass grew as tall as shrubbery; it was beaten down from weather, lying flat. The little details that no one had ever thought to mention – the receding lake, the tint of gray in the roots of Wren’s hair, the new layer of paint on the door beside him – it filled his veins with slow-moving despair. Slowly but surely, it was working its way to his heart.
He already knew she was there. She had been following him in silence as he picked his paths around the castle, her eyes watching his with a mixture of pride and regret. He wondered how she was able to travel through portraits where the canvas had been slashed and torn out. Everywhere she went, Tulia Malfoy brought the muddy brown color of her own canvas with her, temporarily restoring each portrait she possessed back to normal. Hers was the only portrait in Malfoy Manor he had not destroyed, and only because she had asked him not to. She’d pleaded with her son. Not me.
“She’s real, Lucius.”
He snapped his head up, piercing her with a stare that could rival only her own. “Who?”
She smiled knowingly. “Narcissa Black.”
Lucius froze, the blood draining from his face. “Where is she?”
She opened up her mouth to reply, but he was already turning swiftly on his heel, pushing open the newly-painted door. He knew it – he could feel it. This had been her bedroom. He had paced from one end of the room to the other in the bedroom above, listening intently as cherry blossoms from his personal forest hit the floor. He marched over them, thinking of the sleeping girl below.
He’d wondered if he could ever become twisted enough in her eyes to be someone to consider; he’d wondered if it could be possible for him to cultivate her mind into believing he was beautiful or worthy. Could a person ever become so lost with reality that she mistook him for a love interest? She would never love him on her own initiative, and the spell could not be tricked. The only way to overcome the spell was for someone to love him in all of his disdainful arrogance, which had proven to be impossible.
But now she was gone, and the spell was broken, and none of it made sense. Did it mean that wherever she was at the moment, she was in love with him? Had Circe removed the spell herself, or perhaps died?
Lucius slid his wand out from inside the hollow walking cane where it had been concealed for eight years. During that period, the wand had been useless but the cane was very much not. He slipped it into his pocket and pulled eagerly on the wardrobe doors. It was empty inside. He dropped to the floor and peered under the bed. Nothing.
He let out a roar of rage, nearly splitting the wardrobe doors from their hinges when he blasted them apart with his wand. He had not lost the potency of his spells, the magic inside him rushing into the wand as if it were a part of him – an extension of his own muscle. He gripped the elm and dragon heartstring wand tightly in one sweaty hand, livid. He would reduce his mother’s portrait to slits of fabric on the corridor floor for lying to him.
There was no trace of a blonde woman anywhere. Upon closer inspection, there wasn’t a trace of anyone having occupied that room anywhere. A thick layer of dust coated the bed and wardrobe and dressing table – the only three pieces of furniture present. There was no indication of human presence – no hairbrush, no clothes, no perfume on the satin pillows. Only dust.
He was about to turn around and storm from the room when he glanced at the dusty coverlet. There was something about the thickness of it that did not sit right with him. It was unsettlingly gritty, like sand, and the odor was slightly sour. Anyone else probably would not have noticed – anyone who was not accustomed to seeing with their sense of smell and the touch of fingertips.
With his newly sensitive eyes, Lucius followed the blanket of dust up the coverlet to the pillows. His attention came to rest on the gleaming headboard of the four-poster, with the intricately carved wood that his father had picked out himself – his real father, Magnus, not the depraved Uncle Abraxas with the iron fist and sharp tongue who had somehow slithered his way into Tulia’s marriage. By the time he was twelve, he was already supposed to call that man his father…
The wood was still polished and untouched by sandy grit. Shining, spotless, smooth.
The crease in his forehead softened, the fire in his ribcage dwindling in ferocity. He ran one gloved finger over the strip of headboard, and it came up unspoiled. Lucius allowed his gaze to wander over the rest of the room; a sense of strong unease crept over him with a wave of gooseflesh, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. The dust had been placed there on purpose, in uneven amounts, and the person who had done it had not been thorough.
Where are you, Narcissa?
Sunlight poured through the room he had dreamed belonged to her, casting a narrow beam of light across one wall. Lucius stood alone in the center of the grimy room, watching with sad eyes as the beam grew and stretched. The curtains rippled, glowing from the other side, and when they parted a bit more it widened the shaft of light on the wall. Something he had not previously noticed was made luminous, dancing along one wall that was painted precisely the same powder-blue color as the shoes Narcissa might have worn.
A small strip of parchment was sticking halfway out of the wall, flapping brazenly like a train ticket in the morning breeze. It was a curious sight, almost as though a gap had opened up in the wall and something had been tossed through it – and, inexplicably, the hole had tried to close before the paper could fall completely through, sealing itself around it. He touched the edges with his fingers, feeling where paper blended seamlessly into the wall.
Lucius tilted his head, his heart swelling as he peered closer to the fading words.
Please pass the message to Cygnus Black of Wasteir that his daughter, Narcissa, is trapped in the forest of Wauning…
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