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Chapter Two: Don Mirth, For We’re Already Clad


She hadn't thought the stairs would be this long. She followed her father, one step or two steps behind him, as they descended into the foyer. Tall and willowy, she was a gracious shadow. Her father said nothing to the guests that dotted the entrance hall. He lifted his chin to blood far better than his own and they received him because they didn't know him at all, really. He was a perfection they perceived him to be.

At the foot of the staircase, in the foyer of Gaunt Mansion, Jade caught the eye of several guests. She smiled at them, acknowledged them. He father stood, basking in a way in the light of a social hierarchy.

This was the goodbye dinner. It was a dinner to celebrate the opportunity Jade had to infiltrate an outside world, broaden her education, and teach the cause of her father. Naturally, the turnout was significant. As Arabella followed in the wake of her father, straight backed and proud, she greeted the small gathering.

There were the prominent Lestranges, of course, but Rudolphus' brother was absent, presumably on a missive. The brother's wife though was clinging to Bellatrix's arm, naive and vapid as she was wont to be. There were the MacNairs and their young son, Harold. Aged a mere four years the child couldn't come any cheekier with his messy straw brown hair and his sneering green eyes. There was Alamine Duncan and there as Stephen Thormaine, the former a wealthy thoracic surgeon and the latter an exceedingly lavish and straightforward entrepreneur. There were the great Parkinsons, sans their daughter who had left for the School early, but their son, Peter, was there. A family of old blood and old money, the Parkinsons were talking to the lone Antonin Dolohov, a man of a quiet and illicit fortune. Ethan Pucey and his wife stood next to Lydia Linus. They were all long time friends, the fourth of their group, Henry Travers, absent but missed. Nearer to the back of the crowd, one could spot Edvard Suponalic and Jean-Michel Quincompoix discussing something in rapid German, a language they had a common mastery of despite the fact they had both taken up residence in the United Kingdom for some years now. Next to be spotted were the illustrious and well pure Waldorfs who stood next to the equally impressive Notts. The Waldorfs, a family of five, were in the business of printed media with land holdings in Suffolk. The Notts were well known for their dealings in art pieces and relics of the past though they had lost the Lady of the house to an ugly bout of smallpox nearly a decade ago. As ever, the Crabbe family and Goyle family were standing together, alike in presentation and girth. Though they had a moderate estate, the Crabbes and Goyles were classless and yet intrepid. Farthest from the group and hauntingly quiet were Charles Prichard and his wife, Julia, with their teenage sons, Sean and Elliot. Middle class and very conservative, they stood together with stiff smiles and one-word responses. Missing though were the Wexfords, the Sauvanes, Terry Yaxley, Igor Karkaroff and his spirited girlfriend Tatiana Nuravic, the Cederlands, and any other number of individuals.

And then, there were the Malfoys.

Found in an environment where they shared the floor with a relative few of substantial social status, the Malfoys were oddly warm. Lucius was standing with the senior Theodore Nott, smirking over something the man had said in his black and very dark grey dress-robes. Narcissa, though near her husband, was talking to Miss Alamine Duncan about the status of her career and the recent failing health of her sister Amelia with a look of understanding on her features.

And Draco? He was standing by the archway leading to the East Sitting Room. He was leaning on its frame with his hands in his trouser pockets. He was straight backed, stoic. He was just as he was and he was beautiful and he was cold.

Tom Riddle turned around, behind him, and offered his hand to his daughter. Funny thing was, offering, a simple gesture, was demanding, a simple demand. Lifting their joined hands, the Dark Lord thereby presented his daughter to the dinner guests. The expression he donned was nigh proud but not doting. God Arabella hated how he played the public and how the public pandered to him. She hated how they knew nothing about him - the twisted, angry little halfblood from the orphan house of muggles who one day learned he could talk his way out of needing to breathe. Her father lowered her hand before he dropped it. He began his walk towards the Dining Hall, walking through the small crowd as they parted for him. The bustle of mingling, the sounds of whispering and soft laughter along with the strain of conversation that sprung forced from where there was none to be found, moved with him, followed him. Graciously.

Naturally, Arabella lagged behind the group. Duly, she smiled at each guest that paused to congratulate her. She answered all the questions posed, she asked after all absent family, ill relatives, and aspiring kin. She played hostess, shook hands offered to her, and let the more affectionate lay a hand on her shoulder as they spoke. With who she thought was the last guest satisfied and done with her, Arabella watched him pass and let thoughts that needed to be bit down seep to the surface for just a moment before she too had to enter that Dining Hall.

It couldn't be said that Arabella liked her father. It would be difficult to say that she even loved him, blood be damned. He was manipulative, deceitful, malicious, ruined, and a killer. Worse, he asked other to kill for him. Worse still, she was expected to be just like him.

Sometimes it seemed appropriate to assume that that was the reason he was always disappointed with her. She wasn't just like him. They had their similarities and she adapted to all his teaching but she was never wholly just like him. But then something told her it had to be more than that. The judgement Tom Riddle passed on her had more to it than the triviality of nature versus nurture.

For now, Arabella turned towards the Dining Hall as the third to last guest stepped through its wide doors. She smoothed down her dress and glanced (nearly peered) into the room before she came upon it. With its black tile floor, deep wooden panelled walls, and high vaulted ceiling, the regal Hall was spacious, proud, and tastefully lavish. It all barely belonged to Tom Riddle, but he never took credit for the room anyway. The ornate chairs were all of fire wood with plush crème seats and curling arm rests. The table, long but adjustable if needed, was set with emerald napkins and there were candles where flowers would otherwise have been.

The guests took their places as though they'd been to the house enough to feel comfortable but there was, indeed, a strain in their movements. After all, it was nearly impossible for any of them to forget in whose presence they were about to dine. This was the house of a man who none of them dared to bring up in conversation outside the mansion's walls. A man who none admitted to knowing where and whether he existed let alone acknowledging their familiarity with him.

Arabella lingered by the doorframe. They, these guests, had all passed her in their semi-formals. They let her exist as though she were one of them but not nearly one of them. They listened to her father, sent their best on his missives, and never spoke out for they all really either believed in him or found silence to be the mightier valour.

Jade, for all her busy thoughts, brushed all the thinking aside when she felt the air behind her shift.

"You look like you're ready to run. Turning your back on them now will only make them bite harder when they catch you," came a slow voice (low, young, and arrogant). Arabella smiled and pushed off the doorframe. She leaned back until she grazed the smooth dressrobes of Draco Malfoy with her bare shoulders. She could practically feel his smirk.

"I'd never dream of running. This dinner is in my honour, after all," she breathed. She was fully aware that they were precariously perched in the archway of the doors, but the solidity Draco offered stalled her motivation to move.

So it was when he gently slipped from behind her and came beside her that she allowed his fingers to weave through hers and pull her into the room. He pulled her a chair, took the empty one beside her, and shared her silence as the Dark Lord held his proverbial court.

Jade soon tuned out from the evening.

They ate. They talked. They drank. There were some vapid laughs and some provoking talk. There was some societal gossip and there was business like talk on the status of the Dark Lord's great plans. So what.

When dinner ended, the guests moved one by one and two by two to the Eastern Sitting Room (with its green curtains and white sofas, green vases and white carpet). But Arabella excused herself. She turned to her right, towards the stairs, but instead of climbing them she ducked down a barely used corridor and continued down the hallway until she reached near the back of the Mansion. This side of the house faced the North and it wasn't restored like the rest of the house was. It was older, damper, dirtier. It held the history of an ancient family with a tragic story and a bigoted legacy. And Arabella stood there.

That was, of course, until she was pulled into one of the rooms by a firm hand.

**
The hand manoeuvred her in such a way that Jade found herself pressed against a wall with a hand over her mouth. Blinking slowly and adjusting to the light in the dank room (that was moreover marred by dust), she smiled against the fingers of the firm hand and yielded when that hand slowly pulled away to instead be replaced by demanding lips.

At this, she let her eyes flutter shut as foreign but all too familiar teeth nipped at her bottom lip. She smirked a smirk that wasn't hers into the kiss and felt her hands pull him closer to her, her deft fingers trailing their way up his neck and interlocking though the hair behind his head. His mouth left hers and she arched her back in response to the trail of searing open-mouthed kisses he pressed to her neck.

With a sigh like a moan, she felt him pause. Warm, fast breaths tickled her skin as he lingered at the juncture where her shoulders meet her neck. She knew this was how it was supposed to feel because she'd felt it before. She felt him smile that smug little half-smile into her flesh and hardly could care less. Retaliating, albeit meagrely, her hands spread across the contours of his back with a conscious familiarity that was scarcely lost on him.

He pulled back mere centimetres, the sound of his breath and her breath that should have been amplified in the ample space was instead mollified by the dust of the empty room.

"What would you do if I kissed you again?" Draco Malfoy whispered, bringing his face level to hers.

"This," Arabella responded as she pulled his mouth down to her again before she could so much as catch her own breath.

After a moment, he smiled a smile that broke the kiss. "Beg for it."

She shook her head and had to bite her lip when he nudged a leg in-between hers. He slipped a hand behind her, supporting the small of her back. He let his smile linger. "I can't hear your begging," he whispered.

She dug her fingers into his shoulder blades as he pressed himself against her, moulding to her. "Kiss me," she drawled and he raised his brow.

"Better," was the remark he offered before he dusted the line of her jaw with soft kisses. When he dropped his head to lavish attention on the bow of her breasts, she felt her knees go slack, her weight falling securely into his.

Again he parted company with her skin and she was sure he could feel her heaving.

"So what was that you said about not running away?" He smirked.

Pushing him gently away from her so that she could regain her footing, Arabella tossed him a wry glance. "Well, you didn't have to follow me."

He nodded in response. "And yet somehow I'm glad I did," he drawled, a glint of something sort of smug and sort of soft blatant in his searing silver eyes.

She looked up at him as he ran a hand through his hair. She smiled. "I'm sure we can make it back to the dessert if we hurry."

Draco's firm hand somehow found its way back to Jade and he pulled her to him as he walked out of the dusty, empty room. "We can take our time. I'm sure we were hardly missed."

And Arabella considered this. She lent some of her weight to their unintended embrace and felt him tighten the arm around her.

"All right," she said."

**
It was almost midnight. The day had been disjointed. It was almost tomorrow. The day had been abridged. It was almost quiet. The day had been irrelevent.

Arabella was lying on her stomach. There was a book laid before her, the pages of which were between her fingers. Her eyes were looking at the pages as though she were looking at a mixture of nothing, everything, something, and anything else entirely.

She was looking rather than reading because she was thinking. By midday tomorrow she would be embarking on her first proverbial exile. Her father's perpetual disappointed had never amounted to anything more than words before. Docking his daughter privileges or status would make any problem he had with her perceptible. Vulnerability within a hierarchy lets the inferiors preceive weakness, and Lord Voldemort was not one to enjoy losing face.

Usually, her father just forgot about her, paid no attention to her, and let their lifestyle remind her of her place. She was seventeen and in two years she would be eligible to be branded, responsible for taking on the horrors that came with being named a Monster, and accountable as a number among the Death Eaters and a member of the most devastating part of the Dark League.

But the "exile", if you would, was not all Arabella was thinking about. Her title, her inheritance, and her seemingly inevitable future were not all she was thinking about.

Jade cradled the book she was pretending to read and she gave it one more hopeful glance before giving up on it completely. She closed it and put it on the edge of her bed before fluidly turning on her back.

All the guests from her lovely dinner were long gone and long quieted. The Pleine Lune was blatantly looking through her window, its angles bright and its circle dazzling. And her father? Well, Tom Riddle was off in the outskirts of Bucharest revelling in blood sacrifice, his favourite form of celebration. Truth be told, parting with his daughter was not nearly a difficult affair. It was far easier to send something off when you didn't want to look at it in the first place, you see.

Arabella let her legs stretch out, her toes skimming the soft cover of her duvet. In the silence, she let her mind dredge up memories it willed. And the last thing that occupied Arabella's thoughts as she stared at her white ceiling with bright cerulean eyes was the last thing she was remembering, pondering, and calibrating.

Draco Malfoy.

Flashback. Anything in italics.

"Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured," he shrugged. "Surely you've heard that."

Arabella nodded with her sigh, her sapphire eyes bristling with something not necessarily unlike bitterness.

Draco tilted his head. "Don't huff like that," he smirked, though he enjoyed the way she tensed. "It's unbecoming."

Arabella adjusted her attitude accordingly. She scowled with her glare, her sapphire eyes brislting with something still not necessarily unlike bitterness. "I still don't like it," she said.

Draco laughed. He turned the smooth stone he held between his fingers deftly before eyeing the lake before him. He drew his hand back and skipped the stone across the small watery surface. The rock soared for three skips before sinking.

"Tisn't meant for you to like it, dearest," he smirked. "Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale–"

"–Vexing the ear of a drowsy man. Yeah, I know," she finished the thought and was silent.

Draco scrounged around for another stone. "If you liked life...well, that just wouldn't be right." He didn't want to touch all the rocks necessarily, so he searched very closely with sharp grey eyes. He spoke to her without looking at her. "You've come far enough, anyway."

Arabella focused her eyes on his back, which was facing her. "What's that even supposed to mean?" She shifted her weight and placed her arms behind her to hold her up. She was perched on a boulder, swinging her feet against sturdy stone while enjoying sun and sea. Her right hand landed on a rather vicious stone. With a soft, conniving smile, she picked up the rock and tossed it at the back of Draco's head.


"Shit!" He spit out in surprise. He rubbed the back of his blond head and levelled her with a glare. He picked up the same vicious stone from where it landed on the ground and knew his face betrayed the battle raging within him. Should he throw it back at her or use it as a skimming rock? The lake won. The rock soared for only two skips before sinking sadly.

Giving up after a millisecond of searching for yet another stone, he jumped up on the boulder beside Arabella and spoke with his eyes on the horizon.

"Well, I meant that you're alive. You've been on and off in your father's favour for years now. Liking what he's done or said or thought or demanded has certainly marked you, but you're still alive," he said his piece understanding that both of them knew, to the best of their knowledge, that her live had never been truly threatened to start with.

Arabella folded her hands in her lap. "He's evasive and he's cruel. He exists as an end to himself and I exist dependent on what he wills."

Draco shrugged again. "Throughout the whole of man is nothing that is good. You sound almost surprised that your father is who he is."

She shook her head immediately. "Gods no, not surprised. I'm frustrated."

Draco was hesitant to speak and Arabella tensed anew.

"You're the Dark Daughter, Arabelle," he drawled after a minute or two of pause. "Surely you're not meant to question your own father, his actions, or his motives."

At this statement, Jade looked a little stricken. Yes, her father had just a day ago taken away her title. It was the fourth or fifth time he'd done so in the passed two years. Sure, she shouldn't care as much as she did. In the end, the title always came back to her. She was his heiress. But she was still shaken. Time after time her father exerted power and authority to bend and shape her. Time after time, then, he showed her exactly how dependent she was on his favour. And despite what she innately thought about his life choices, she needed her future because without it she was nothing.

But what was more was that she had just turned fifteen. In all her life to date, despite what she thought, she had never consciously questioned whether what her father deemed was in the right or not. And now? She was, indeed, questioning...him. She was questioning her father, her place, his actions, his motives. And she didn't know if she could own up to such treason.

"I'm...I'm not. I just don't understand what I did wrong. I never understand what I've done wrong," she sputtered.

Draco frowned. He, too, leaned back on his arms. "Children of the Dark wait. We bide our energies, we bide our time. We stay in line until we're old enough to be taken seriously. It's a bear and endure thing. Are you questioning it?" There was some strain in his question but not judgement. Draco Malfoy would sooner part with his honour than disrespect one of his oldest friends.

Arabella paled a little in the wake of the moment. She wilted a little and her shoulders went slack a little. She didn't have anything to say.

Draco took the reins. "And now you look a little green," he teased in a tone that was playfully corrosive. "Definitely more becoming."

And it was with that that Arabella felt the mood lighten.

She turned her head to face Draco and she smiled softly. "I'm sorry," she offered

He shook his head but didn't look at her. "You've nothing to be sorry about," and it was emphatically that he said this. Arabella knew they'd never speak of this conversation again. Not because it was implicative, not because it wasn't important, not because it signified nothing, and not because it was dangerous and needed to be kept veiled. They just wouldn't bring it up. And Arabella appreciated that.

"So, we'll bear and endure," she said.

"Yes," Draco answered to the statement that could have easily been a question.

"And we'll wait," she went on.

"Yes," he answered again.

"And we'll skip rocks to pass the day," she smiled. "Life is no simple marvel."

Draco immediately absorbed these words. He looked at Arabella thoughtfully. "Yeah," he said softly before resigning himself to trace nonsense patterns on her fingers as they sat in the sun, savouring the day.


End Flashback.

As much as Jade was of the persuasion that what was in the past was passed...she really wasn't. That day had significant ramifications, a lot of which Arabella herself didn't realise (even those she did realise, she never spoke about and rarely thought about). When it came down to it, she learned a lot about herself that day, through the course of a ten line mostly subtexual conversation. She didn't like her father. She didn't like whom she was when she was with him, she didn't like what she was taught, and she didn't like what was expected of her.

But more than that, she missed her mother. And that's something she realised long after the sun set that day and she was tucked away in her East Wing bedroom. She missed her mother and she was her mother's daughter.

And no one really spoke of Collette Riddle.

Arabella presently caught herself giving the room an almost nervous cursory glance, as though even having thoughts of one's deceased mother dredged up consequences. But, naturally, nothing happened. There was no one there to tell her to hush up, that she didn't know what she was talking about, and to not worry and dwell on something else.

Arabella shook her head, her movements slowed because she was still lying on her back. She went back to think about what started this strain of thought in the first place and that was Draco. Finally, after six years of insane jealousy and separation anxiety, she was going to the place that harboured him for most of the year. And the part of her that realised that was thoroughly excited. She stoop up to throw some more things into her trunk. She passed her bookshelf but thought better than to bring anything she wouldn't have time for.

This was her world. But it was changing. She was the Dark Daughter, the icon of the Dark League. But she was going somewhere where she would be a tabula rasa. Aside from the general resentment of being brushed aside, Hogwarts was going to be a completely new experience. And some part of Arabella appreciated that.

So she turned to her wardrobe and picked at the robes that hung there. She was told she'd be given a uniform. These were all useless, then. She shut the wardrobe and turned to give her room a look over to see what she still needed to pack. She fell to her feet at her smallest armoire and picked up a small handbag. In it she placed her brush and comb, her jewellery box, her perfume, and her soaps. The bag was saturated in the smell of Yas. All of the contents, everything smelled of Yas. Always.

Arabella smiled. Of what she could remember, her mother smelled of Yas.

After a pause, she moved to put her small bag in the left-top corner of her trunk. She closed the wooden and metal trunk and locked it with a flick of her finger. She stood up and sat on it, falling onto it with an attractive plop. Before her, her room was a little barer and a little more spacious. It was wider and emptier. Taunting and daunting. It was bidding her farewell in its own cold, inanimate way.

Her packing done until morning, she climbed into her emerald plated bed. The night had aged, the morning was waking, and Jade snuggled into her covers. Tomorrow shed be on a train, sailing off on metal wheels to some far away castle. It was a handsome thought. With that, she fell into another dreamless sleep. The turbulence of the day was completely forgotten as she drifted comfortably for the first time in months.



Fin
References:

1. Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured - Johnson (Rasselas)
2. Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale/Vexing the ear of a drowsy man - Shakespeare (King John III)
3. Man and generally any rational being exists as an end to himself - Kant (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphisic of Morals)
4. Throughout the whole of man is nothing that is good - Luther (Table Talk)
5. Tabula rasa (Blank slate) - Latin
6. Yas - Persian flower

Notes:

Arabelle is not a typo.

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