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    Pronunciations: See Chapter Fourteen (Deuxième Section).

    Chapter Twenty: Truth, the High Tide


    “She is telling the truth,” an auburn-haired woman urged.

    Alastor Moody remained dubious. “You can’t be serious, Andromeda. You can’t honestly trust her, you of all people. You left her kind.”

    Andromeda Tonks stood at one end of a grand table. “I did not leave by choice, Alastor. I was kindly turned away,” and her hands gripped the chair she stood behind. “And I do trust her. She is compelling, you have heard her yourself. With the information she has presented and Lucius arrested, what does she have left to hide?”

    Moody snorted, his posture radiating disregard. “She’s got you fooled, all right. I’ve seen Death Eaters kill for less than self-preservation. I’ve seen them kill for sport, for pleasure, for the simple fact they could. She doesn’t have to be hiding anything to lie.”

    Andromeda’s eyes flashed. “Well, she does not have anything to gain by lying either,” she snapped.

    Moody shot the woman an incredulous look. “You’re defending her!”

    Remus Lupin cleared his throat. “Might I suggest we speak to her rather than about her?” Moody reluctantly nodded and Andromeda thanked Remus with a glance. Lupin then turned to the other end of the grand table, where Albus Dumbledore sat. “Professor?"

    Dumbledore leaned forward in his chair, his attention solely on Narcissa Malfoy. The fair woman sat before her sister and was remarkably reserved after offering her piece. Dumbledore spoke only to her. “I understand it must have been hard for you to come here."

    Narcissa narrowed blue eyes. “I doubt you understand at all,” she replied coolly.

    Dumbledore smiled. “You would be surprised,” he remarked lightly. “I knew Severus before he became the man he is today just as you did. I witnessed a Marked man turn,” he leaned back, “so at the very least I can begin to understand your situation.”

    Arthur Weasley frowned. “What are you saying, Albus? How could her situation be any different?”

    “Narcissa Malfoy does not bear the Mark. It is not her life she risks. It is worse than that.”

    “Doesn’t have the Mark?” Arthur asked shrewdly.

    Molly’s eyes widened. “How can you be sure?”

    Moody growled from where he sat. “Preposterous. I know a Death Eater when it walks like one, barks like one...when it sleeps with one.”

    Andromeda’s eyes darted to her sister. Narcissa stiffened but said nothing. Molly paled. “Alastor, you should be ashamed of yourself,” she hissed.

    To her left, Remus’ expression darkened. “That wasn’t necessary,” he warned the seasoned Auror.

    “Enough,” Albus Dumbledore said and the mild clamour of the room quieted. He turned to catch Lady Malfoy’s attention. “If you would be so kind, Narcissa," and only she seemed to understand what he wanted. She raised her left arm and gently pulled back her sleeve to reveal an unblemished ivory forearm, soft and unmarred.

    “The Dark Lord never had need of me,” she remarked neutrally.

    “Gods,” Arthur murmured and Remus sighed with silent relief. Andromeda smiled softly, Molly’s brows furrowed, and Moody grunted something akin to acknowledgement.

    Dumbledore sat back in his seat. “I saw no Mark,” he said. The Order nodded in concession.

    Arthur Weasley reluctatnly pressed on with a question. “What could be worse than risking one’s own life, Albus?”

    Narcissa spoke before anyone else could, turning her calculating attention to the Weasley. “I risk my son’s life,” she replied evenly. Arthur’s eyes widened. Immediately, he found he felt sorry for the woman as a parent himself.

    Moody slumped in his seat and Molly’s expression melted. The matriarch didn’t want to imagine the controversy raging within Narcissa Malfoy: do what’s right or preserve your own.

    Remus crossed lanky arms over his chest. “Narcissa, what you said about his daughter, about the Dark Daughter,” he paused. “Is it true?” Around the room, Molly worried her lip, Andromeda averted her eyes, and even Moody didn’t dare breathe as the Order awaited the answer.

    “Yes. All of it.” Tension broke and the room gasped.

    Molly Weasley shook her head. “That’s unbelievable. Just unbelievable.”

    Arthur reached over and covered his wife’s hand. “We knew the girl had her mother’s fight in her. But this? We couldn’t have imagined she was—that she was—that she is what she is,” he said.

    Remus leaned in towards Narcissa very seriously. He wasn’t caught up in the improbability but in the reality. “Who else knows?” He asked, a slip of urgency in the question.

    Narcissa fell thoughtful. “My husband, Severus, a woman in France. Anyone who understood Collette and has not died should know.”

    “Oh, I just can’t believe it," Molly simpered.

    Andromeda frowned. She slipped into the seat adjacent to her sister’s. “I do not understand, does this information help you in some way?”

    Remus nodded slowly. “Before, our focus had been on the prime of Lord Voldemort’s army. There are youth of the Dark Order who do not take to what their parents have taken to. Before, we were waiting for them all to turn, Arabella included,” he paused and his tone softened, “very much like you did, Andromeda."

    The Black daughter blushed. “And now?”
     
    Remus shrugged. “Well, now the prime of the Dark’s army is nothing compared to Arabella Thoreau being a Sorceress. She has turned already and her place in the coming war has always been significant, of course, but this is something else,” another pause. “This makes her essential.”

    Andromeda accepted this but Narcissa narrowed her eyes. “Why?” And her voice took the assemblage around her by surprise. “Why does this make her essential? You will have a Sorceress already by the end of this night if I understood Severus’ intentions correctly. Why would you have need of two?"

    **
    Luc Lestrange rolled his fair eyes. “We’re going around in fucking circles. Jade’s the lamb, yeah? And you’re the slaughter. Right. We’ve covered the bollocks of this with a sodding vinaigrette of detail,” he growled.

    Simon shrugged. “I lied,” he said. He looked about, found a seat, and wandered to it listlessly. He threw himself into the chair and ran long fingers through tussled auburn hair.

    Luc shifted his weight as best he could. “What’s going on here, exactly? You lied about what?” He asked, his suspicion prevalent.

    Simon raised his brows. “Every Sorceress has an opposite, Lestrange...an Empath.”

    Luc didn’t like the sound of that. The Beauville skirted around clarifying anything. “I thought Empathy was just a myth,” and his words tasted uncomfortable.

    Simon frowned thoughtfully. “I feel very real,” he remarked.

    Arabella smiled wryly at her childhood friend. “We are myths, you and I, Luc, to whole races of people,” and she didn’t need to furnish the thought: Wizards were indeed the stuff of marvellous fiction. Arabella turned back to her brother. “I will bite. If you are an Empath, what exactly are you?”

    Simon chose not to answer relevantly or directly. “I became Empathetic when our mother died for you,” and his lips curled. “You, as a force on your own, are all sorts of sickening little contradictions with your good heart and dangerous ambition, your beauty and black roots,” he paused, “your father’s influence and your mother’s spirit. All absolutely revolting.”

    Arabella paled. “How do you know these things?” She asked. She found his fervour disconcerting.

    Simon shrugged anew. “You are one of the worst kept secrets of your side, Arabelle. There is very little about you I do not know.”

    The girl’s eyes narrowed. “And what are you to me, then?” She began to rise in her seat, noticed, thought better of it, and stopped short.

    Simon smirked slowly. “First address what you are, a whirlwind of conflict. I am your balance. I am your anchor more than you are mine,” and his easy tone quickly glazed. “We are what we are, though we never chose this.”

    Arabella didn’t understand. She was a Witch. She didn’t feel like such a danger, such an unbridled tip in society’s even cut grass that she needed a whole other human to share her burden, to shoulder her yet unheard of breadth of magical capacity. “I cannot be what you say I am,” she said, sure she wasn’t any such thing as a Sorceress. “You are mistaking me for someone—something—else,” but Arabella watched Simon shake his head and say nothing more. She bit her lip. “If I was in need of balance, of anchoring, why you?”

    Simon sat back in his chair. “Closest living…relative…blood—I do not know. The draw fell to me, I suppose,” and his words landed lazily on the ears of the room.

    “Gods,” Arabella swore, then fell quiet.

    “So the two of you are connected, that’s lovely,” Luc drawled. “But that doesn’t explain why you’re alive and caught in some listless limbo between death and immortality.”

    A ghostly smile flitted across Simon’s lips. “It is so simple, you poor boy. Neither one of us can die while the other lives. If I drop into the arms of Hades, I take your precious Jade Riddle with me.”

    **
    Blaise Zabini watched Hermione take a book from Draco and turn to a specified page with minimal patience. He'd come to seek Draco Malfoy for a reason, something needed to be said. Blaise sat in his seat and debated the merits of telling with keeping quiet. He didn't want to be the messenger, not in this case or any other. But Draco deserved to hear this news, especially from a discrete source. Blaise didn't know what to do, but while he was deliberating parting with the burden on his conscience, Hermone spoke. "I have one more question."

    Draco's mercurial eyes flashed. "Just the one, Granger?"

    She ignored him. "Arabella's mother left her great power with her death, but what about Simon?" Draco frowned so Hermione rushed on to clarify her question. "I know we know little about him and that the chances he had someone in his life like Collette are slim to none, but what does he have?"

    Draco answered carefully. "Well, he's clever. Don't underestimate the mind, Granger."

    Hermione frowned. "Yes, but being clever isn't always enough. A Sorceress has been sent to kill him. What's he have to defend himself with? Imagination, ambition...neither bring anything to a duel."

    Draco raised a brow knowingly. “Oh, Simon Beauville is plenty divine.”

    “What does that mean?"

    Blaise Zabini refocused on the conversation and rolled striking eyes. “He’s defended, blessed, brimming with potential, absolutely buzzing with magical capacity…”

    Hermione glared at both Slytherins. “Why didn’t either of you say something before?” Neither deigned to respond. “What does he have, then?”

    Draco regarded Hermione coolly. “A condition of sorts, so a long and weathered myth goes,” and he leaned in on the table. “You should know that contrary to the insinuations I’ve been feeding you, people have been studying the effective disappearance of the Thoreau Empire for entire decades.”

    Hermione's eyes narrowed. “How? I thought you said their case was impossible to solve and highly sensitive.”

    “It is both those things,” he reaffirmed, “but when three people—Arabella, Izabelle, and Simon—walked out of the wreckage unscathed, a few took notice and had the patience to bide their curiosity.”

    “So what, they investigated without ramification?” The Gryffindor asked, incredulous. “And your Dark Lord turned a blind eye to this after all the secrecy he designed?”

    Blaise shook his head. “He never knew, Granger. He still doesn’t know. These aren’t any sort of people in any impressive numbers. Fortunate for them, intelligence doesn’t need quantity so much as quality.”

    Draco leaned back again. “No one asks their questions aloud—at least not anymore. Some lessons are learned quickly and we’re not all stupid enough to need a repeat session,” he drawled. “Understand that drawing attention to yourself brings punishment in the Dark Order, Granger, because the only people drawing attention are those that should have known to stay invisible.”

    Hermione nodded weakly, acknowledging the information. “Then who are these theorists, as it were, and what do they say? How are they solving an unsolvable mystery?” While Hermione looked between the Slytherins expectantly, Blaise deferred to the Head Boy.

    Draco exhaled softly. “First understand, Granger, that investigation doesn’t always amount to answers. Furthermore, an unsolvable case might be unsolvable, but it isn’t inscrutable and unavailable to study. Do you accept that?” Hermione nodded. “All right. Simon Beauville can’t be touched, that much is obvious, but watching affords distance. Witnesses from afar have been reporting to select League individuals about Simon’s behaviour for years. The theorists, as you term them, figure Simon is an answer in the great scheme of things.”

    Hermione fell thoughtful. “In a way, the case isn’t nearly as unsolvable to you and your theorists as it is to everyone else, is it?”

    Blaise raised a brow. “She has a point.”

    Draco shrugged. “We know who killed the Thoreaus, we know how, and we know why. But we don’t know everything. Evidence suggests that Simon is an ambitious recluse who won’t show his face. He’s a vigilante but aside from some murky familial relation to Arabella, no one knows who he is. The theorists, at their core, are friends of Collette and they posit that best-case scenario, it’s possible Simon’s an Empath.”

    Blaise started. “What?”

    Hermione’s eyes snapped from one Slytherin to the other. “What? What does that mean?” Her blank stare wasn’t altogether unanticipated, but it wasn’t welcomed either.

    Blaise frowned, a rush of thoughts assaulting his mind. “That’s not possible,” he said.

    Hermione, beside the two, leaned in on the table. “What’s an Empath? What’s not possible?”

    As a child, Blaise had had the quaint storybooks with the pictures that had flown out of the page as one turned his or her way through the book. The storybooks had grand tales in them and one depicted the legends of great Sorcerers and their gentle Empaths. His puzzlement wasn’t one of ignorance but one of disbelief.

    Next to him, Draco went on. “Empathy—and that’s the technical term—is the little sister to big brother sorcery,” he said.

    Hermione felt the bristles of annoyance prickle her temple. “Every time you think you’re answering a question for me, I want to end my life, Malfoy,” she snapped. “You’re the breakfast kippers of information: absolutely stomach churning,” and she meant it.

    Draco ignored her. He liked to think his evasion was a personality quirk that meshed well with his flaxen hair and iron eyes. Next to him, Blaise turned to Hermione sympathetically. “He means that an Empath is a constant companion to a Sorcerer, an utter physiological match. Empaths and Sorcerers are opposites that complement each other. Neither magical rarity can exist without the other. Once you’re born or you become a Sorcerer, you’re bound to find you have an Empath connected to you in due course."

    Draco turned to Blaise pleasantly. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

    Hermione glared at him. “Couldn’t and probably wouldn’t have bothered,” she muttered. “But what is it that an Empath does? What purpose could one serve?”

    “What purpose does one serve?” Draco levelled Hermione with an enigmatic sort of look. “Sorcery is the most powerful of all magical capacities and it numbers among the rarest, autem. Do you really think that kind of unadulterated magic can be contained in one wizard, one wand, and one mortal mind?” And where Draco looked reserved, the question was reaching.

    Hermione managed to look nonplussed. “I saw a rat turn into a human once, and a life-size chess piece strike my boyfriend with its own stone hands. After a while, you start to think anything is possible,” she remarked lightly. She didn’t mention that discovering she was a witch at eleven was enough to render all other impossibilities trivial.

    Draco answered himself in a low voice. “Well, it can’t,” he said, “not in her.” It was clear whom he meant.

    “All right,” Hermione conceded slowly. “So an Empath is Empathetic to a Sorcerer—or Sorceress as the case may be?”

    Blaise tilted his head back. “That may just be where the name comes from, Granger, yeah.”

    Hermione ignored him and turned back to Draco. “But Empathy evokes physiological dependency, doesn’t it?” She frowned. “Arabella, assuming Simon really is her Empath, needs him?” And here her question was met with palpable hesitation.
     
    Blaise glanced at Draco, who shrugged, and sighed. "There’s some discrepancy as to how dependent a Sorcerer is on his Empath. Elizabeth Tudor, so stories go, was hardly reliant on her Empath at all. That being said, the presence of her distant cousin, Katherine Howard, managed to focus her magic, all powerful as it was.”

    Hermione’s brows furrowed. “Katherine Howard? Katherine her beheaded step-mother?”

    Blaise shook his head. “No. This Katherine Howard was the niece of Catherine Carey and the Countess of Nottingham. She was a namesake who lived quietly, served her country, and died the same year as her queen in 1603 because—”

    “—Because neither the Empath nor the Sorcerer can live while the other dies,” Hermione finished. Draco nodded. Hermione reached behind her head and bundled her bushy hair in a temporary bun. “What about the lack of an Empath? What happens when there’s no one there to shoulder the untapped burden of Sorcery, when there's no one to be Empathetic?”

    Blaise shared another glance with Draco before answering. “Nothing or an explosion of some sort,” he offered. “We’re not entirely sure…” he trailed off.

    "And is there some way for a Sorcerer to survive without his Empath?” Hermione asked carefully.

    Blaise glanced once again at Draco and a significant pause was felt before Draco spoke. “Well, actually, Granger,” he surmised, “there is.”

    **
    Remus looked to the Headmaster before turning to Narcissa. “You are right and, I must say, well-informed. Members of the Order have indeed been sent this night to collect the Priestess of the North, a Sorceress in her own right, from a Death Eater prison. Yes, the Priestess has loyalty to the Order of the Phoenix and, yes, she is a formidable ally but in the light of your revelation, she is not the Sorceress we need.”

    Andromeda frowned. “Is there a difference between she and Arabella?”

    “Yes,” Remus nodded. “The Priestess inherited her power, she was born with it great as it is. Inferred from the information Narcissa's provided, Arabella is an Induced Sorceress and there lies a great difference between naturally acquiring a gift and artificially receiving it.”

    Arthur Weasley narrowed otherwise kind eyes. “How?”

    “Well, think of it this way. There would be limitations to evolution and mutation that could be—and generally are—eliminated with premeditated design. Were a human to naturally develop a wheel for a hand, the utility of that wheel would be primitive and inefficient. If one could optimally devise a wheel for your hand instead, the utility would be boundless, very much like one’s imagination.” 

    Narcissa was sure she’d heard wrong. “Are you suggesting that Arabella Thoreau’s Sorcery was modified or devised to be some manner of infinite?”

    Remus visibly hesitated. “If not something so specific, something of the like holds true,” he qualified. “Simply by virtue of being given power, Arabella will operate with a different brand of Sorcery than the Priestess now does, age and experience cast aside. Innate Sorcery is fallible by its own standards, however mighty and inconceivable those standards are to us mortals to begin with.”

    Moody whistled low. “So we don’t need two Sorcerers so much as we need Arabella alone,” he clarified. “The Priestess is just a bonus?”

    Molly frowned. “Alastor, we should be so lucky the Priestess has a fair heart and the capacity to help us. We have a war coming. The Order needs as many friends as she can acquire.” Moody acknowledged this with a gruff murmur.

    Narcissa, at her end of the grand table, remained critical. “What the Order needs and does not need is very well but what is it you all intend to do with Arabella? How do you intend to wield your essential weapon?” And her questions were pointed, mocking.

    Remus was taken aback. “My dear woman, this isn’t about using anyone. This isn’t about control—”

    Narcissa raised a brow. “Is it not? The way you see this poor girl—” she paused. “You seem very sure she will go where you bid her but she has not killed in her lifetime. I am rather afraid she has lost her taste for violence if she ever had the capacity for it. So tell me, what do you intend to do with her? What would you have her do for you?”

    Remus started and Moody was quick to snarl his protest. “You can sit there and judge us all you want, Malfoy, but we know our boundaries. We’re not monsters. We won’t have her do anything she’s unwilling to.”

    Remus nodded emphatically. “We’re not relying a great portion of our expectations on the shoulders of a mere girl, Narcissa. It’s a victory in and of itself that she’s our ally and not her father’s. Arabella could hide herself away and we would be grateful because in any scenario she's depriving her father of a tool he desperately desires,” he lowered his voice. “We know what we’re up against, Narcissa, and we’re doing what we can to build a defence for ourselves. Subsequently, we have an army. We won’t need to fashion a cold-blooded killer out of some harmless girl as well.”

    Narcissa accepted this, but conditionally. Next to her, Andromeda folded her arms. "The Order might not be expecting Arabella to win the coming war for the Light on her own but she is still needed, is she not?”

    Remus' eyes softened. “Out of this nettle, danger, we try to pluck a flower, safety. We have great hopes for her. She is essential.”

    "Then where is she now?” The room fell apprehensive and all turned to Albus Dumbledore.

    **
    “I would die as well? Why would you want to do that?” Arabella asked, incredulous but with waning energy.

    “I would not want to,” Simon shrugged. “I would have no other choice.”

    Luc’s features darkened. “So it’s just the natural thing, is it? If you die, you go out killing? Is this the unavoidable course of fate in your eyes? Thinking you have no other choice doesn’t excuse you,” he barked. Arabella quelled him with a look before he could go on. Luc let her because in the past few hours she’d granted him very few looks.

    Arabella didn’t know what to say. “If I keep you bound to this earth, is it my living that keeps you alive?”

    Understanding the question, Luc’s fair eyes snapped to Simon. When he saw the man nod affirmatively, he swore incredulously. “Then why the fucking hell would you want to kill her?!” Even with his flash of anger, Luc sounded exasperated. “You’ve been preaching your need for survival loud enough but I’ve never seen a man turn suicidal faster.”

    Simon didn’t have a chance to defend himself. Arabelle spoke viciously. “Listen to me, Simon Beauville: why the fuck do you want me dead?”

    The silence that followed was brief and simple, not lingering or intricate. “If I kill you, Arabelle, I can finally die,” Simon drawled, his voice frigid. “My blood beats black, rife with the sinister taint of Magie Noire. You have no idea what it is like to waste away, to know death intimately, and then have reprieve always stray a strand too far by some duty of ancient stature I never asked for and certainly never dared want for,” and though the words were hissed at her, Arabella was starting to understand. Some would find it a blessing that someone else was inadvertently saving them but the poisoned Simon Beauville didn’t see it that way at all. Somehow, that didn’t surprise Arabella. What did surprise her was Izabelle Beauville ardently shaking her head.

    “Please, mon fils, you do not mean it, you do not mean it,” she whispered. Arabella turned to the elder woman and found her looking tired. It made sense suddenly: Izabelle wanted Simon to stay alive and to want to stay alive. Her survival depended on his. Arabella felt a twinge of sadness somewhere within her. For all of their preaching and desire, the Beauvilles wanted truly different things. For one of them, Arabella’s death meant freedom. For the other, it meant the eradication of a lingering threat.

    Arabella didn’t know what to feel. Resentment was a waste of energy, fury was fleeting, and sympathy for those who would easily harm her didn’t become her and she knew it. Arabella turned to Luc, met his fair eyes, and spoke quickly. “How does this end, then?”

    Simon smoothly intervened. “I thought that was rather obvious by now. I am tired of being helpless with a static fate,” he paused. “I want to die and you will grant me my death with your own.”

    Arabella kept her eyes on Luc. She knew from legends in the books she’d read as a child that the first Sorcerer and his first Empath didn’t get along. They had battled and battled for more power from one another and blood had been shed. It was only centuries later that Sorcerers began to embrace their Empaths, and that was just to avoid conflict. What Arabella didn’t know was how the first Sorcerers had purged themselves of their Empaths, how they survived the break of that connection when they were meant to perish with the dying half of their pair. Arabella was sure that what she didn’t know, Luc did. She asked him again. “How did the stories of the first Empath go, Lestrange? How did they end?”

    Simon glanced from one Dark child to the other. He was quick to frown when Luc was quick to speak. “Centuries ago, some Warlock wanted the strength of the Immortals for himself. He begged the Immortals for a share of their power and they—”

    “—What do you think a little story telling is going to change?” Simon interrupted. Luc quieted because he wasn’t in a position to override the authority of Simon Beauville where he sat, helpless even to help himself.

    Arabella ignored him and continued where Luc left off. “The Immortals relented after years of begging, I know. What happened to the first Empath?”

    Luc hesitated but did as Arabella asked of him. “He was discontent with being an anchor, he didn’t understand his duty, and he wanted more power. One day, he tried to force it from—”

    “—You will not escape this, Arabelle,” Simon drawled with a lingering note of warning. “A children’s tale will not save your life,” he said.

    Arabella threw the force of her glare at her brother. “Then what will? You have already tried to kill me and now you are waiting to try again. I cannot harm you—I stand in my own way. What will save my life?”

    “Nothing,” Simon purred. It was a harsh purr with no rough patches, just sharp edges. “But death, as I have seen it, is easy. You have no one to go home to, no family to house you. Let me finish this."

    Arabella shook her head. “No, it has been done before. Sorcerers have rid themselves of Empaths before,” and her attention snapped back to Luc. “Tell me how to do it.”

    Luc gaped. He could feel the invisible bonds around his limbs returning and tightening. He shook his head weakly, signalling he didn’t dare speak. Arabella nearly shrieked with frustration but Simon watched the two with minimal expression. “Let me finish this, Arabelle,” Simon repeated. This time, his voice was entreating. “Your death will become part of the order of the universe, part of the life of the world.”

    Arabella felt cold, stiff, and utterly alone. “No. I will not let you do anything. You can die. What do you need, permission? I will give it to you: die and leave me alone.”

    Simon frowned. “There is no other way this can be done. One of us surviving defies the very fabric of our nature.”

    “There is another way. You just will not let me pursue it,” she said, sure and certain.

    Simon exhaled softly. “You do not understand the finitude of will. You do not understand what it is like to have the solution to all your problems, the remedy to all your misery, at your feet. What does it matter when your end comes, Arabella? You started dying the day you were born,” he reminded her lightly.

    “Then let me live to death. You are the one condemned to waste away and stuck. You were the one who poisoned yourself. I have no debts to square and I do not owe you my life so spare me your new gentle tone. Your intention will never be some sort of favour to me.”

    Simon smiled sadly. “Yes, the past has condemned me to death but nature has condemned you.”

    Arabella shook her head. “You wish me gone, Beauville. That does not mean I will stand aside and let you murder me.”

    Simon leaned forward in his chair, his weight on his knees. “You will not need to stand for anything,” he replied solemnly. “You are unarmed. I can take your life when I please.”

    Luc growled in his seat, Izabelle tensed, but Arabella simply felt weaker and weaker. “Then why will you not do it? What are you waiting for? What brand of torture is this? Do you not know that I will never acquiesce, break down and thank you for threatening my life?”

    “I do not need you to welcome your death. I just need you to comprehend it.”

    **
    Hermione felt her fingers twitch where they rested. She eyed the heavy tomes flayed out on the wood before her and wondered if she could throw them at Draco Malfoy’s impossible head without consequence. The boy was distressingly unhelpful. Hermione reasoned that if she threw a book at him, or at the very least a nasty hex, he’d deserve it.

    The Slytherins watched Hermione watch them. She was eerily silent. Her chocolate eyes spoke of diminishing patience but also of a warmth neither son of blood and money could quite appreciate.

    Draco broke the silence he had been the last to prevent. “Well?” He drawled.

    Hermione blinked. “Well what?”

    Draco surveyed the Gryffindor but spoke to Blaise. “Why isn’t she running a million questions at us?” Blaise was at a loss so Draco redirected his question to Hermione. “Why aren’t you running a million questions at us?”

    The Head Girl rolled her eyes. She did so slowly and thus the simplicity of the gesture stuck. “You get off on suspense, Draco Malfoy,” she said, her calculating tone startling the Slytherins, “but I know you’re either going to say what you want or you’re not.”

    “That’s a bit lippy,” Draco frowned, “but all right.”

    Blaise narrowed sceptical eyes. “Is she going to kill us?”

    Draco considered the possibility. “I say no sudden movements for good measure.”

    “Is she just going to ignore us, then?”

    Draco turned his full attention to his friend. “It’s been an unlucky day for me so far, mate, so I feel like I’m just going to go ahead and say ‘no’ to that one.”

    “That’s fair,” Blaise said, slouching in his seat.

    Hermione glared at the Head Boy. “How do Sorcerers survive without their Empaths?”

    Draco’s unreadable eyes gave no answer away prematurely. “Don’t think I’ll tell you if you’re uninterested, Granger,” he said. He grabbed the first book he could reach from those set out in front of him and he turned to the arbitrary page of 478. The miniature of Tobias Thoreau, a gallant man and brilliant merchant, stared up at him and Draco settled into the biography penned on the opposite page.

    Hermione leaned in on the table and rested her chin on a convenient hand. “Maybe I don’t want to hear what you don’t want to tell me, Malfoy,” she replied.

    Blaise sighed impatiently at the unfolding power play. Draco turned the page to Odessa Thoreau, the third High Warlock of the nineteenth century, nominee for the position of Mistress of Magic, and mother of three. “Well, then maybe I won’t tell you what you don’t want to hear and I don’t want to tell,” he said, his eyes on the miniature of Odessa, who tilted her head graciously under his attention. Odessa had clear Thoreau eyes, slated cheekbones, and the inherent class of generations that caused Draco’s heart to momentarily constrict. He saw in the miniature features prevalent in Arabella.

    Draco let the thought pass and, horrified at the show of passé sentiment, flinched. Hermione, with a catty glint in her glare, dissolved before the emotion that flashed briefly in front of her. “I don’t know how many times you need to hear this, Draco,” and Hermione had to admit his name felt out of place on her tongue, “but she’ll be all right.”

    Draco didn’t bother looking up at Hermione Granger. Instead, he laughed. It was unexpected but it was a laugh, bitter and all. It sounded almost wanting of something one couldn’t place and it passed swiftly. Draco shook his head. “Your optimism continues to astound me, Mudblood,” he drawled, his voice laced with some kin of sympathy. “One day, Reality will come and rip your limbs from beneath you to do with as he pleases, as would amuse him, and you?” Now he chose to level Hermione with steel eyes. “You’ll think he’ll hand those arms or legs of yours straight back once the novelty’s worn off.”

    Hermione frowned protectively. “At least I try to be a positive force in the universe, Malfoy. Not all of us can be as tainted and cynical as you,” she sniffed.

    Draco just looked at her, deadpanned and blasé. “That sounded almost dark of you, Granger,” his lips twitched wryly, “but it’s not cynicism what brews loudly within me—no, it’s realism.”

    Blaise regarded one Head Student and then the other. They weren’t friends or enemies. They were allies, cautious and exploring this new territory of what they may have in common. He surmised it must be good for them because no one can know his or her mind until confrontation forces understanding.

    Hermione wrinkled her nose and persistent curiosity drove her frown to linger. “Are you saying there’s some sort of difference?

    Draco raised a brow. “Between optimism and realism? Certainly. It’s as blatant as the contrast between you and I.”

    Hermione was unconvinced. “And how’s that?”

    Draco evaded the question. “You shouldn’t put blind faith in the hands of wishful, well-rounded, and kind thinking, Granger.”

    “What does that mean?” Draco didn’t answer. Hermione started. “Are you just not going to respond anymore? Are you not going to react to a situation happening in the present because you don’t know how it’ll end? Do you realise her life’s at stake? Can’t you hope for the best instead of stewing in pessimism?”

    A spark of sudden anger flashed through Draco’s eyes but Hermione saw something else as well: defensiveness. Draco shook his head slowly and it was in warning. “You misunderstand me. Realism isn’t pessimism. It isn’t saying Arabella will never be all right.”

    “So what is it saying?”

    Again, Draco evaded the question. “Listen to me, Granger: blind faith does no one good. What right do you or does anybody have to predict the future—Arabella’s future? There’s no destiny here but the one she’s out there making for herself so why should I throw words around that won’t help anyone or anything?” Draco paused. His hard stare bore into Hermione and he lowered his voice. “I don’t want her hurt, Mudblood,” he hissed, “I wouldn’t let the wind so much as graze against her wrong, but neither am I going to sit here and belittle her by presuming she’s just going to be all right.”

    Hermione regarded Draco with palpable disbelief. “But you will just sit there, won’t you,” and it wasn’t a question but a cold statement. Draco nearly slammed two fists down on the table’s surface. Blaise winced and spoke before his friend could.

    “What else is he supposed to do? Talk some age-old flowery talk?” Blaise asked. “If there’s one thing you haven’t been given the chance to understand, Granger, it’s that with optimism, there’s always disappointment.”

    Hermione’s eyes cut sharply. “What kind of world do you live in? What kind of cruelty have either of you endured to be so obstinate?” Hermione turned her full attention to Draco. “This,” she gestured to him and his attitude, “all this—it’s more of your self-preservation, isn’t it? Avoid disappointment by barring hope?”

    Draco’s hard voice fell into a snarl. “Careful, Granger, you’re starting to settle into all sorts of bitter."

    Hermione would have none of it. “No,” she said. “No, you won’t say anything optimistic or otherwise because you’re too bloody scared,” she spat. “That’s not realism, Malfoy, that’s cowardice.”

    A bristle of halting fury ran the course of Draco’s spine. He swallowed with patience he hadn’t yet committed to. “What is there to fear in the future, Granger? The future is as of yet inconceivable and I wouldn’t waste my time fearing something as harmless as that,” he said and said nothing more.

    Frustrated, Hermione pressed on with a fervour that was indignant, yes, but also intimidated. “Stop that. Stop discounting me because you don’t agree,” she implored intolerantly. “You may think you’re self-sufficient with your misguided brand of rationalisation but you can’t abide for one minute emotionally investing here because you’re so damn scared you’re going to lose her.”

    Draco’s eyes flashed. “You don’t know me, Mudblood, how dare you pretend to?” He snarled. “That’s not even close to true.”

    Hermione felt her fists clench. “Then you’re a liar and hypocrite,” she accused. “You’re in love with Arabella and no love can survive muteness. Reassuring yourself, admitting that maybe Arabella might return unscathed, isn’t a betrayal to her, Malfoy. Affording yourself a little piece of optimism isn’t going to moot her efforts and condemn her to some kind of karmic catastrophe. For Gods’ sake, feel something!”

    And while Hermione’s voice rose, Draco’s fell and hardened. “There, that’s the difference between optimism and realism, Granger,” he replied. “This isn’t some fucking fairytale, all right? She’s come face to face with family that wouldn’t hesitate in eliminating her so what if I don’t want to sit here and play pretend?”

    Blaise nodded. “Things aren’t going to sort themselves out just because you say they will or he says they should,” he added.

    Hermione looked at the two Slytherins sadly. “So I’m just blind, then, am I? Blind faith, isn’t that what you called it?” Hermione levelled Draco with a careful look. “Hope isn’t a disease, Malfoy. It’s contagious but it wards against the detrimental. Hope sustains us, Malfoy, it doesn’t take anything away and its frustrations, however frequent, are nothing compared to its extinction.”

    Draco suddenly had no patience to call upon at all. “Then prove it. Prove it to me, Granger. I want to see this hope,” and he looked around. “Where is it, what does it look like? Weigh it for me, measure it—tell me, what will it ever do for me?”

    Hermione shook her head. “You could just believe, you know. You could just believe for a moment in something greater than your facts and objectivity. Arabella could be fighting for her life and you? You could be writing her off with your silence now, before she’s even had a chance to try and live for you.”

    Blaise laughed sharply. “Life doesn’t work that way, Gryffindor. Wishing doesn’t make for a good battle strategy and realism itself isn’t self-preservation. It isn’t denial or ignorance or a euphemism or even an excuse for cynicism. Realism deals with a reality that’s staring you in the face every second of your existence.” Next to Blaise, Draco balanced his chair on its hind legs. Blaise went on. “If you can’t admit that every choice you make could have ended up one of two ways—well or badly—and that you’re ultimately responsible for what happens as a result of each decision, then you’re cheating yourself,” Blaise said very seriously.

    Draco threw himself back in his chair. “For every good fortune that befalls you, Granger, you’re working a small miracle. So, if she survives this, if Arabella comes home, she can come home fucking proud because she did the surviving, she did something. Whereas you? You’re just spitting out words and words won’t bring her back. Hope won’t save her life.”

    A sad sort of shock subdued Hermione. “And that’s all it’s ever been to you people, has it? Optimism is some kind of joke?” She paused. “Can neither of you court the notion that what you feel, here and now, could possibly affect someone else?” She shook her head. “How can the two of you be so selfish with your humanity?”

    Draco let his chair fall down to the floor emphatically. The movement was so deliberate, it startled even Blaise. Draco levelled clear eyes, unmarred by any tint of colour, on the girl across from him and he spoke without so much as a stutter or blink. “Listen to me and listen good and hard, Granger. This,” and he gestured to the exchange they were having, “is meaningless. That,” and he then gestured out the window, indicating an arbitrary direction towards Arabella Thoreau, “is what matters.” There was a finality in Draco’s tone and everything stilled for a moment.

    Hermione’s features softened. “And what are you going to do if she doesn’t come back?”

    Draco didn’t snap to attention. He didn’t flinch or drop his eyes or evade the question. In lieu of grandiose movement or deferring to Blaise, he just answered. “I can’t See the future or guess at it like you, Granger, but I know life isn’t some effortless wonder. In one scenario, Arabella could survive the Beauville Villa because fuck knows what’s befalling her there. In another scenario, she could just as easily die. The future isn’t certain so I won’t prepare myself for some outcome I know nothing about. Whatever happens won’t happen by virtue of my hoping or not hoping for it, my wondering or not wondering about it, but by her doing,” he paused. Draco crossed elegant arms over his young chest. “The thrower of a coin sways which side lands up, Granger. I’m not the thrower, you’re not, and Blaise is not so I don’t know what I’ll do if she doesn’t come back. I do know, however, that we concern ourselves with the here and now.”

    Hermione frowned. “We concern ourselves with the present? Where you’ve deemed there’s no room for hope?”

    Blaise rolled his eyes. “Hope deludes you, Granger. Realism is reasonable and what exemplifies humanity if not reason?”

    Hermione shot Blaise an affected look. “I look deluded to you?” There was an edge to the question. “You, the both of you, can’t help but think optimism has weakened me?”

    Blaise raised a brow and regarded Hermione so ambiguously she felt suddenly small. “I think you’ll find this has very little to do with you.”

    Hermione turned to Draco. “So that’s it then?”

    Draco shrugged. “Optimism belittles the actions of Man, Granger,” he spoke slowly. “Even without this intangible hope of yours, you will someday come to understand that life is no simple marvel.”

    Hermione fell silent, speechless. It couldn’t be said the words meant nothing to her. She no longer looked defensive or argumentative. She looked reserved, concerned. “So you propose we just wait? Is there nothing for people like us to do in the Realist persuasion?”

    Draco uncrossed and re-crossed his arms. Hermione noted his lack of expression and knew she should be awed by the faculty known as the mind of a man made-up. “We wait,” Draco nodded, speaking quietly but powerfully because that was easy for him. “We will watch and we will wait.”

    Blaise smiled wryly. “You see, that’s the curse of dealing with a reality that doesn’t belong to you alone, Granger. Someone’s always left waiting.”

    **
    “…and Black, we expect you to keep watch for the duration,” a deep voice commanded in a whisper to the man behind him as the group on the whole trudged with him through a skinny, dank forest.

    “Understood,” Sirius Black, masked by complicated illusion charms, affirmed as they neared a seemingly defenceless cottage in Surrey from the south.

    “Remember your positions,” Kingsley Shacklebolt, the owner of the deep voice, continued, “and remember that—”

    “That the priority isn’t the Priestess but the guards in the way,” Nymphadora Tonks smiled from next to her cousin. “We know, Kingsley.”

    “All right,” Shacklebolt returned the smile. The group reached the edge of the dark forest and stilled. “Are we ready? Severus, are you ready?”

    Severus Snape, at the head of the group and its symbolic mastermind, nodded but said nothing. He was staring intently at the cottage. He was judging the cottage’s distance and planning the infiltration now that it was on hand. When Black turned to say something to his cousin, Severus raised a hand without glancing back behind him to indicate silence. All then saw a lone Death Eater hurry passed the cottage wall closest to forest. When the Death Eater guard vanished from view, Severus lowered his hand and that’s when the movement started.

    Taking their cue to commence, Black and Tonks swept in first. Coordinated and of similar mind, they moved swiftly though time seemed to slow. Their dark cloaks billowed like nothing but gracefully ignited shadows as they proceeded with their awareness heightened and their wands drawn. It was with deft skill and practiced precision that Black and Tonks manipulated the small stretch of dark before them to infringe upon the territory of the enemy without being seen. Shacklebolt surveyed their motion approvingly and it was he who next had a part to play.

    Shacklebolt carefully monitored the progress of the younger two ahead of him. He watched their backs and watched their surroundings, anxiously anticipating the first obstacle. The group plan was simple but based on sparse fact. No one knew how many guards to expect, how devious to be, or how secretive the cottage prison was. Shacklebolt progressed in the same manner as Black and Tonks and it was now Severus Snape left at the fringe, silent and sturdy.

    Snape’s task was one of solidarity and little danger, but equal delicacy. The former Death Eater followed in the wake of the Order members before him and strode purposefully up to and through the southern doors of the Surrey cottage, doors Black and Tonks had kindly unhinged with quiet magic.

    It seemed the ground floor of the arrested house was as clear as the outside. No sound emanated from any stealthy guards and no hexes were in place to impede the infiltration. As it was, Snape wasn’t paying attention to the dismantling of defence anyway. He knew his task and immediately set to executing it. He swept up the stairs that were to his right in the same moment the Order members took to exploring shadows and turning corners. The stairs were familiar to the Potions professor because they were the same stairs he’d ventured up in the light of day under altogether different pretences weeks before. Severus reached the first floor and ascended to the towers. He heard commotion behind him and imagined fleetingly the skill with which Black and Tonks were securing the area. The priority of the night’s mission was not freeing the Priestess, but staying alive. A Sorceress can take care of herself, but mortals must band together to battle other mortals. It was with this reasoning that retrieving the Priestess of the Witches of the North was a missive that fell to Snape alone.

    Severus came upon a familiar prison corridor with familiar hooded guards. With a sly smile, Severus swept a careless hand before him and the Death Eaters that hadn’t yet noticed him but were blocking his way fell to the floor, victims of wandless magic wielded by a talented man. Severus raised a hand to blast apart the prison door immediately to his left but the entranceway collapsed independent of his actions. With a frown, Severus froze. For a moment, he feared a trap, a trigger, or some disaster. When the dust settled, Severus was surprised to see the Priestess standing before him, closer than expected, with a coy brow raised.

    “I apologise for taking the glory of the final obstacle from you, but months of waiting uselessly have coloured me impatient,” she smiled apologetically.

    Severus returned the smile but said nothing for a moment. The Priestess turned around, picked up her cloak, and carefully crossed the damaged threshold of her now former cell to retrieve some final items. Severus frowned very slightly, very thoughtfully and gestured to the stairs from whence he came. “If you are ready, we should leave as soon as possible,” he reminded the Priestess gently.

    She nodded. “Yes, of course. Let us go.” She pulled on her cloak with Snape’s help and they disappeared down the stairs, through the ground floor, and from the grounds of the Surrey cottage entirely with the Order members flanking them the whole way.

    **
    “You want comprehension? Well, I am sorry. I hope you cope well with disappointment,” Arabella hissed.

    Simon Beauville tensed with sudden, unbridled anger. “How dare you,” he snarled. His hands closed to fists, his invisible hold on Luc tightened, and the boy screamed as his colour vanished and drops of vivid blood appeared around his neck and wrists.

    Arabella’s eyes widened drastically and her pulse quickened. “What are you doing? What are you doing to him?” And it surprised her, how alarmed she was.

    Her panic brought a sense of perspective back to Simon. He closed his eyes, simmered, and eventually loosened his magic's grip. “Have the tables here turned completely?” In an act of spite, he consciously seized Luc, demonstrating for both the tortured Lestrange heir and Arabella that he had the capacity to simply do so at will as well.

    Arabella was set on edge again. She was in a whirlwind of conflict, unsure of what to feel. She surrendered to the basics: fear and agitation. “Leave him alone,” she commanded.

    Simon looked at her admonishingly. “You were begging for my help against him when you first entered this house, you know. Or do you not remember,” it wasn’t a question so he didn’t pause. “And now, I am the bad man.” Simon raised a brow and regarded Arabella with intense scrutiny. “You are fickle. You are without discipline and you are rife with subjectivity,” he then frowned. “You are as disappointing as you are refreshing.”

    Arabella hardly heard him. Her eyes darted back to Luc, whose breath was shallow and whose skin was pallid with strain. “What are you hurting him for? Leave him alone.”

    Simon levelled cerulean eyes with Arabella, his face expressionless and his manner unreadable. He seemed to be thinking about something, perhaps calculating something. It was impossible to tell but the silence stretched on as a witness. When he spoke at last, his words were accompanied by movement as he loosened his hold on Luc Lestrange. “Fine,” he said mercifully. “Fine,” he repeated.

    Arabella blinked. Again, she glanced at Luc. He slumped in his chair, pain obviously no longer constricting his muscles. He didn’t look comfortable but he wasn’t screaming. Arabella frowned at her brother. “You listened to me,” it wasn’t so much a question as the happy medium between an awed remark and a disbelieving accusation.

    Simon was visibly surprised by his sister’s surprise. “And you see me as a monster,” he returned in the exact same tone. Arabella started. She didn’t seem to know how to respond to Simon. She didn’t seem to know how to convey exactly how obvious it should have been that she saw him as a monster. Simon deigned to speak again before the stunned silence became unbearable. “I do not mind, you know,” he said. “I do not especially care.”

    Arabella felt her glare soften involuntarily. She sighed, took a moment to collect herself, and raised sharp cerulean eyes level to her contradictory brother. “If you did not care, you would have killed me a long time ago,” she remarked.

    Simon seemed to consider this. “I suppose a monster capitalises on rash impulse, yes,” he paused. “Maybe I am not a monster, then.” He leaned forward on sturdy knees and studied the floor beneath his chair. “But playing the monster is better than the alternative,” he added, presumably more to himself.

    Arabella hesitated in what seemed to the twilight of her experience thus far. She wasn’t immediately threatened here in the moment. She wasn’t afraid, or angry, or really even that calm. Instead, she was tired. Tired and sad. She looked at her brother. “What alternative is that?”

    Simon looked up quickly, easily. He appeared surprised that she’d heard him or that she was there at all. When he spoke, it was curtly. “Admitting desperation, succumbing to it."

    Arabella felt expelled. She took a breath, one laboured with annoyance. “Beauville, if you do not let me go, if you do not stop this, I will do what I was sent to. Can you not understand that even with your patience, your slow determination to take your time and rationalise taking my life, you are leaving me with little other choice? I will kill you,” she almost warned.

    “That again?” And Aramis Thoreau laughed a bitter laugh. “Be my guest, poppet. See if you can succeed where not even I have,” he nigh implored.

    Arabella set her lips in a thin line. “I could kill you,” she said. Her eyes flashed to Luc and then back to her brother. “He said I could kill you.”

    Simon nodded absently. His detachment to everything around him seemed permanent. “Yes,” he affirmed with rapid, hasty ease. “Yes, quite right, he did.” Then his voice slowed. “He told you that you could kill me,” a pause, “but he did not tell you how. So tell me, Arabelle…tell me how exactly you plan to go about it.” Though Simon’s gaze teamed with cruel delight, his demand lacked the expected sinister subrideo.

    Wariness spread through Arabella’s eyes like a plague. She couldn’t tell him, of course she couldn’t. She had no idea how she’d attempt any such thing. She ran a harried hand through her hair. “I do not know,” she admitted. But she wasn’t defeated.

    Aramis Thoreau’s expectant look followed every thought that blinked through his sister’s calculating eyes. “Stultorum infinitus est numerus,” he drawled, seemingly as an afterthought.

    “There is a way. I know there is a way,” Arabella countered softly.

    “You know very little,” Simon said.

    Arabella ground her teeth together. “I will kill you,” she swore in whisper of a voice.

    Simon leaned back in his chair and exhaled easily. “Where is the bite in your words?”

    Arabella narrowed her eyes. “I will do it. Let me go or by some happy miracle I swear I will do it.”

    Simon smiled mirthlessly but when he spoke, it was very seriously. “If I thought you could, I would be counting on it,” he said. Luc drew laboured breaths and, to the side, Izabelle shuddered.

    Arabella tensed in her seat but she made no other movement. She thought for a moment, took advantage of the silence, and then sighed. “So we have a stalemate.”

    Aramis Thoreau raised a brow. “You cannot possibly think that,” and he sounded surprised that she might. Arabella’s eyes flashed but her brother went on before she could respond. “I have a wand and you have nothing but borrowed time. You can try and muster up a defence or reason like I implore you to reason, Arabelle, but tonight really comes down to two facts,” and he leaned forward in his seat. “We are in no way equals and you have only to wait for the moment my patience runs out, the moment waiting for you to understand anything at all becomes entirely inconsequential to me.”

    **
    Hermione ran a hand through her hair. She inhaled generously then slumped in her seat. “All right, you win,” she conceded. “In fact, I’ll never try to comfort you again.”

    Draco blinked. “Don’t be silly, Granger. I’ll need comforting so long as Potter’s alive,” he said.

    Next to him, Blaise frowned where he sat. His silence wasn’t conspicuous because he was known for his decorum. It was only after a moment’s quiet and a minute’s hesitation that he cleared his throat. A set of steel eyes snapped to him at once and Blaise spoke lowly. “Listen, Draco,” he started. “There’s something—” but then he trailed off. Draco raised a brow but Blaise offered only a half-shrug. “Something you need to know. Something’s happened and it’s better you hear it now, from me, than…well…anyone else,” he added but went no further.

    Draco felt any lightness within him drain. Though his mind wanted very much to jump to a myriad of conclusions, he wouldn’t let it; presumption was merely fodder for panic. Instead, Draco mirrored his friend’s frown. Children of the Dark prized composure in the face of any malignity of fortune or misfortune. It was alarming, then, that it was apprehension that ran freely and clearly in the eyes of Blaise Zabini. With moderated but sudden urgency masked well under an iron-grip of calm, Draco regarded his friend never more carefully. “What do you know?”

    Hermione had long since stopped listening. She didn’t sense the depth of the moment or shrink in her seat or briefly will herself invisible. She was observant, meticulous and clever by nature but here her attention was held captive by the millions of questions occupying the breadth of her own mind. Indeed, her attention had been ensnared in this way ever since she first came upon the Head Boy. It was an uphill battle trying to fight her curiosity. It was for this reason that there wasn’t fear inside of her that maybe Blaise was withholding something dire. In apprehension’s place, there was apathy: whatever transpired between Blaise Zabini and Draco Malfoy in her presence or otherwise would never be any of her business.

    Hermione dropped her eyes to the surface of the Library table. She began to sort through her rampant thoughts. She wondered after Lucius Malfoy and the loyalties him and his coveted—loyalties she couldn’t begin to dissect let alone fathom.

    Blaise, for his part, visibly hesitated under Draco’s scrutiny. “I don’t know how else to say this but bluntly,” he confessed.

    Draco wasted no time blinking or controlling his tone. He just responded, a trait he’d picked up from his father. “Then say it bluntly."

    Blaise lowered his striking eyes, fumbled with his hands, and spoke in a hushed voice. “It’s about your father,” was his final warning.

    Immediately, two things happened. Draco narrowed his eyes in avid impatience and Hermione’s focus leapt back to the conversation before her. Before Draco could inquire further, though, Hermione spoke.

    “Speaking of, when you said your father was planning something, Malfoy, what did you mean?” She asked.

    Draco’s eyes helplessly flashed to Hermione in one moment before they snapped back to Blaise in the next. “Granger, this isn’t the time,” he snapped not unkindly.

    Blaise ran a hand over his hair and looked entirely away. “Answer her,” he said feebly. He sounded altogether reserved, resigned, and defeated.

    Draco clenched his jaw. “No,” he replied quickly. “What do you mean it’s about my father? What’s about my father?”

    Hermione frowned. “What are you talking about? What’s happened, something serious?”

    Draco ignored the girl. “Zabini, what’s about my father?” He repeated.

    Hermione started. “Should I go?”

    Draco opened his mouth but Blaise spoke first. “No, Draco, answer her. Just answer her,” he paused. Draco shook his head so it was Blaise who turned to Hermione. “Granger, what is it?”

    Hermione’s eyes widened. “Oh, well, um…I was just—”

    Draco tensed. “One of you better have out with it,” he growled, agitated.

    Hermione opened her mouth but closed it again. Blaise was adamantly silent so it was left to her to say something regardless. “Your father, Malfoy. Would he be planning something for your side or mine?”

    Though it probably wasn’t mean to be provocative, Hermione’s question distracted Draco from pursuing Blaise for a crucial moment. “What? What’s the difference?”

    Hermione fumbled. “What’s the difference? Maybe good versus evil for a start,” she said incredulously.

    Draco hesitated but slowly turned fully away from Blaise. “What are you trying to say, Granger?”

    The Gryffindor started with uncertain conviction. “Well, you kept saying we—that is the Order—didn’t understand—that is didn’t truly know—your father but you never said any more. Who is your father, exactly, Malfoy? How many pies has he a finger in?”

    Draco frowned. “I don’t see how anything my father has done or will do, has thought or will intend, could be any of your business.”

    Hermione disagreed, shrewdly shaking her head. “I have a right to know. If he’s more to my side than an enemy, more than an icon of everything to strive against, I have a right to know.”

    Draco scoffed. “What he does is so thoroughly above you, Mudblood. Indeed, the world itself is so much more than you.”

    Hermione narrowed simmering chocolate eyes. “And I suppose you mean to say your father’s a complicated man with complicated loyalties in a complicated world?” She mocked.

    Draco’s eyes, too, cut drastically. “Yes,” he snarled spitefully. “Uncounted hundreds have sacrificed and sacrificed to keep your banner high for this very reason: you, the righteous, don’t understand right and wrong.”

    Hermione sputtered. “How dare you,” she swore but despite her agitation a brief pause reigned. A recluse in the company of others, Blaise surveyed the Head Students warily. Still reserved, he knitted his brows in slight anticipation. The vehement tenacity on either side of him took him by surprise. Draco seemed more than willing to unearth scurrilous presumptions and Hermione seemed adamantly against enlightenment without a fight.

    Draco tossed his head and sheer blond hair dusted the lines of his forehead. “Don’t play wounded with me,” he snapped and he was cold, unaffected, and deliberate. “You righteous hoard all the courage. You point, define, complain, and waste your bravery away. You critique the world and label all its frailties—you even lament on its behalf—but when it comes down to it, you operate in adamantium spheres, untouchably belligerent. The good are never the ones capable of fighting their own fights.”

    Blaise found himself nodding. Hermione was horrified. “No,” she said. “That can’t be true—that isn’t true.” Her voice had hardened.

    Blaise raised a brow. “Isn’t it? Are you so sure? When have you known the good to triumph over the evil on their own? On the way to every victory, we dabble in necessity and evil is sometimes that necessity.”

    Hermione shook her head blandly. “Evil poisons everything it touches, it destroys even itself. That’s never necessary and the world would go along a lot better without it.”

    Draco laughed mercilessly. “The words of true naïveté,” he drawled.

    Blaise regarded Hermione with disappointment. He spoke intensely. “Without our side, your side would be nothing. Without us, you are nothing. It is because you don’t even understand us that you take your triumphs for granted.”

    Hermione frowned and she did so deeply. “Are you saying good prevails only when evil allows it—that it wouldn’t prevail unless you helped it?” Her eyes widened. “What kind of nonsense are you spouting?”

    Draco dropped his head in his hands. “No, Granger, we’re saying the good can’t fight with good alone.”

    Blaise nodded. “You’d be at a disadvantage—actually, you are every time you try. In the same way, whole evil can never pierce whole good and won’t attempt to.”

    Draco raised stormy eyes. “In the war of black against white, it’s the grey that determine the outcome. To you—the white—black and grey are the same but they’re not. We’re here telling you they’re not.”

    Blaise crossed his arms over his chest. “People like us are the grey, Granger. People like Severus Snape and Lucius Malfoy are the grey.” He sighed. “You don’t know it because the righteous never know it, but you need the grey, however off-white they may be.”

    Hermione felt weary with revelation. “I don’t quite believe you,” she confessed.

    Blaise shrugged. “Can’t be helped,” he said.

    “But that being said, what is it really with Lucius Malfoy? It’s easy for you to sit there and label him justified and misunderstood but I won’t stand for rationalisations. What’s he ever done for the Order?”

    Blaise immediately bowed out of the moment and so two sets of eyes shifted to the son of the man himself. Under the silent, placid scrutiny, Draco made no movement. He stared at the books on the table without expression and spoke slowly. “The Battle of Blackburn—that was him. The millions in Serbia during the First Wizarding War—that was him. The Priestess of the North just recently—that was him. There have been dozens of highly specialised, unassuming attempts at your precious Potter’s life and every time they’ve been stemmed off…that was him,” Draco raised his eyes from the table. “I could go on but it’s none of your business and it’s not my place to. I’m not trying to convince you, Granger. I’m flat out telling you.”

    Hermione nodded her understanding. “The good can’t triumph over evil on their own,” she echoed hollowly.

    Blaise leaned back in his chair with a wry smile. “Now you’re getting it. Your kind need to sink down to our level to make any headway.”

    “But all the grey can’t have started out white. Was Lucius Malfoy every such a good man that he knowingly descended upon the evil?”

    Blaise shrugged. “No, I don’t suppose he was ever that,” he conceded, “but sometimes the black drag themselves up to your level on their own accord. That’s the kind of grey you’ll find most crucial. The evil that turn from the dark to the light can’t afford courage, they mitigate on bare conscience born from sheer necessity. They bring the information, the brawn, the capacity you need most and so you need them the most.”

    Hermione crossed her legs. “So Lucius Malfoy was a traitor to his own cause.”

    Draco raised a brow. “You make it sound like treason.”

    Hermione blinked. “It is treason.”

    “Can you betray a side that should have been condemned in the first place?” And the question was bemused and not entirely unkind.

    Hermione didn’t know. “Surely treason is treason.”

    Draco fell thoughtful. “Oh, I don’t know. In the end, isn’t treason just a matter of dates?”

    “I want to say it is but I can’t. I can’t fault your suggestion but I have to. You could say anything is relative but treason, betrayal, deceit…they’re wrong and morality isn’t seasonal."

    Draco regarded Hermione with distinct interest. There was a look about him as if he were pursuing something in the conversation. “Ah, you mean good and evil aren’t seasonal.”

    Blaise was quick to catch on and followed through on his friend’s thought in a way he perceived Hermione would understand. “Listen, Granger: the grey vices that operate in the realm between right and wrong can be any degree of good just as they can be any degree of evil. Reason dictates that intention is malleable, given context, so some things—some actions, observations, and processes—have two sides to them and treason certainly has more than just the two.”

    Draco ran his nimble, aristocratic fingers over the worn, ancient books within his reach absentmindedly. “Sedition—committing or inciting treason—is nothing more than lying and lying, more than anything else, is multi-faceted.”

    Blaise nodded. “Think of it, Granger, how many evil lies have you heard and how many good lies have you tried to tell? The underlying action is the same regardless, isn’t it?”

    Hermione, too, exhaled wearily. “Somehow you two manage to sound remarkably cavalier about all of this,” she noted.

    Draco shrugged his shoulders but said nothing. Next to him, Blaise chuckled softly. “I don’t think you could find another couple of people more conditioned for the grey’s confederacy than us, Granger. Draco almost absolutely even more than myself,” he said.

    Draco frowned at him. Hermione leaned forward with interest. “What do you mean?”

    "Zabini…don’t,” Draco warned in a low voice.

    Blaise tossed his head. “As if we’re withholding even any meagre, irrelevant information at this point, Draco,” he admonished before turning back to the Gryffindor. “What couldn’t I mean? Put it all together, Granger. A father and godfather dabbling near-constantly in espionage; a mother who couldn’t quite agree with either of her sisters when they divided as they did for the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eater’s League, respectively; maternal family who were once town between ancient honour and radical power before they partitioned according to convenient proclivities; friends who doubt the madness of the parents; and now,” he smirked, “the love of his life, Arabella Thoreau—the epitome of dichotomy herself and the living, breathing scion of good and evil.”

    Draco looked very nearly pained. “You’re overstating things,” he said.

    Blaise waved his friend off. “Nonsense. If anything, the providence of your own situation is lost on you.”

    “So it was circumstance—sheer coincidence—that rendered me as I am?” Draco asked pointedly.

    Blaise shrugged. “It wasn’t enough that you had the inkling to appear the Death Eater and aid the Order. If any of us were born and bred in a tangle of every face justice knows or has been falsely given, we’d have become just as you have become and done all that you have done.”

    Draco sighed. He had very little more to add to this strain of the conversation. “Right,” he said and then said no more.

    Hermione glanced between the company before her with an unmistakable gleam in her soft eyes. “A tangle of justice is one thing, but a tangle of duplicity entirely another,” she stated surely. With a pause, she levelled the Head Boy with a searching look and lowered her voice with all the accessory of seriousness. “Say Arabella Thoreau really is on Harry’s side,” and here Draco winced while Blaise snorted in protest, “and that I really believe your father pretends to be as well. Where does that leave you, Malfoy? What side are you really on?”

    **
    The Headmaster folded his hands before him and regarded all those seated around the grand table with due diligence. “Well,” he remarked. His kind blue eyes fell to the eldest Black daughter and a soft smile graced his lips. “You seem to have rendered an entire room silent with one question, Mrs. Tonks. What a talent that must be.”

    The auburn-haired woman blushed delicately and lowered her lashes. “More a hazard than a talent, I am afraid. Forgive me if I have asked too impertinent a question.” The humility in Andromeda’s voice was familiar to Narcissa. It was a tone her elder sister had picked up from their father. But it was Andromeda’s general sincerity that agitated Narcissa.

    Albus Dumbledore raised greyed brows serenely. “Alas, I would not dare forgive you your curiosity. The yearning for answers that compels us in any small or persistent manner is the momentum behind humanity’s progress and betterment.”

    Andromeda smiled at that. “I have seen it written that it is a sin to know.”

    Albus returned her smile. “My dear, the hardest task in the world is to think. Human intellect and the mechanics of human curiosity are achievements. To ask, to know…never have actions like these been more frowned upon when instead they should have been exemplified. One never apologises for doing something exemplary, Andromeda.”

    Narcissa tensed, indignant where her kin would forget to be. “My sister was not apologising. She was asking a question you have yet to answer—one that has your colleagues mute with mystery,” she drawled coldly. “Where is Arabella Thoreau?”
     
    The Headmaster dutifully shifted his attention to Lucius Malfoy’s wife. “At present, she is in France,” he said. “She has graced the villa of Izabelle Beauville with your nephew.”

    Naturally, recognition spread through Narcissa’s eyes like a flash of terrible light. “No,” she breathed. Next to her, Andromeda frowned with sudden concern.
     
    “What is it? What does that mean?” She inquired.

    Molly Weasley wrung her hands together, Remus Lupin waited expectantly, and Alastor Moody furrowed his brows. Further down the table, Arthur Weasley cleared his throat. “Who is Izabelle Beauville?”

    But the inquisitive glances and probes of the room’s company went unnoticed. Lady Malfoy narrowed her beautiful eyes with an elegance that eluded most and spoke carefully. “Does she know?” The question was ventured tentatively. Narcissa herself was incapable of believing that Arabella Thoreau could have gone to Toulouse knowing Izabelle Beauville was her very own grandmother and the world’s last link to the late Collette. Narcissa had last left Arabella as ignorant as her father had always made sure she’d been of the existence, let alone the whereabouts, of her maternal kin. Now, however, she feared that someone—namely any one member of the insolent Order of the Phoenix—may have finally told Arabella too much.

    When Dumbledore shook his head in the negative, Narcissa raised a brow with graduated surprise. “She does not know…but you do?”

    The Headmaster smiled easily if slightly. “Izabelle’s husband was a great friend of mine,” was his unhelpful reply. If Narcissa took him on his word, it made sense that through Guillaume Dumbledore would know exactly who the Beauvilles were to the daughter of the Dark Lord and why they were such a ghastly secret. Ultimately, the last remaining Thoreaus were as endangered because of Lord Voldemort as he himself found them dangerous.

    When suspicion thinned Narcissa’s lips, Dumbledore was quick to continue. “But be at ease,” he soothed. “I have ever had even the opportunity to acquaint Miss Thoreau with knowledge of her estranged relatives, let alone the volition or audacity to do so.”

    Narcissa said nothing but she was relieved. It was the place of Arabella’s own family to present themselves to her, to right the wrongs imposed by her father. If the young girl hadn’t known who Izabelle Beauville had been before entering the French villa, she probably knew now and that was enough. But if the young girl hadn’t known who Izabelle Beauville had been, her being at the villa at all was a great deal worrisome.

    “You mentioned a missive,” Narcissa noted as Dumbledore nodded patiently. “What has the Dark Lord sent Arabella to do?”

    The Headmaster knew what the Lady Malfoy wanted to hear, so he evaded the question. “I think the intention of the missive itself has become irrelevant. There are greater motives at work. It cannot be a secret to you what purpose that villa has served for nearly a decade.”

    Narcissa paled. “It has never been a secret to me but neither does it appear to be a secret to you,” she accused.

    The Order members sitting around the grand table blankly followed the conversation before them with profound confusion. Among them, Moody interrupted when no one else dared to. “Now hold on a second. What secret is this that’s secret only to the rest of us?”

    Narcissa scowled. She didn’t have the patience or compassion to deal with ignorance when she herself was after truth. Fortunately or unfortunately, Albus Dumbledore had kindness enough for two. “Suffice it to say, my friends, that Izabelle Beauville and her grandson have been Voldemort’s elusive prey for years. It is not now relevant who they are or how they escaped the untimely demise that once swept the late Thoreau line."

    Remus leaned forward with interest. “Albus, are you suggesting these Beauvilles are tied to that line? Are there more of survivors aside from Arabella?”

    Dumbledore smiled cryptically. “Now is not the time to orient ourselves. There will be much in the way of explanation when necessity presents itself,” and he turned to Alastor Moody. “Presently, the secret you seek is not of a person but of a place. Beauville Villa has been a refuge poisoned by the descent of many assassins bent on eliminating Izabelle. When none of these assassins succeeded, Tom Riddle made the best of a sure pattern. He began to send not his most skilled and useful, but those among his followers who displeased him.”

    Narcissa hesitated, not wanting to participate in conversation with these people unless it was highly imperative that she do so, but eventually deigned to nod. “No one returns from Beauville Villa alive.”

    Molly’s lips quivered. Andromeda narrowed her warm eyes. “And what has been the cause of death?”

    “Strategically unknown,” Dumbledore said. “It could be the inhabitants or it could be the magic of the house itself. Regardless, the end result has been remarkably consistent.”

    Narcissa’s countenance hardened. “With all this knowledge—this assurance that that villa is a threat—you let the girl go?”

    The Headmaster’s expression remained tranquil, unchanged. “It was her choice to go."

    “And it was your choice to do nothing about it,” Narcissa accused.

    Remus intervened carefully. “I don’t understand. Did Lord Voldemort send Arabella Thoreau to an execution of sorts?”

    Dumbledore replied slowly. “That is unclear. Whatever was meant to happen, it is most probable that Tom Riddle hopes to rid himself of either his in-laws or his own daughter this night.”

    The Order reacted in a myriad of ways but, in the end, silence reigned. The implications of the Headmaster’s revelation impressed themselves upon each member at the grand table. Survival would be granted to one or the other—the Beauvilles or the girl—not both.

    After several moments, Narcissa rose to her feet with a marked easiness and the attention of the room snapped to her. She levelled her gaze with that of Albus Dumbledore and her eyes flashed with icy fury. “You should have stopped her," she snarled.

    Andromeda sputtered on behalf of her sister's tone. "Narcissa, sit down!"

    "You should not have let her go, if she is so important to your fight."

    The Headmaster was nonplussed. "It was not my place to interfere."

    Narcissa scoffed. "Nonsense," she snapped. "You meddle endlessly in the lives of your students. You mean to tell me you could not have stopped one girl from braving the one house no one can survive?"

    "Now, just you wait, Malfoy," Arthur protested.

    Narcissa ignored him. "There are powers in that house that will overwhelm her, Sorcery be damned. If she dies, you will have ensured she could have never left your precious Order for the Dark League. You will have ensured no side could have boasted her allegiance." Narcissa lowered her voice and leaned down on the grand table dangerously. "But if she dies, Dumbledore, the only thing you will have ensured is another death at your door," she hissed.

    Tense clamour began to surface. There was shock at the words being said and indignation over the tone being used. There was a fear that Narcissa was conveying truth mingled with a disbelief that that could ever be.

    When Moody rose with all the momentum of anger to deliver a rebuttal, an unfamiliar cough from an unexpected direction doused the heat of the moment.

    The Order members and Narcissa uniformly turned to find a striking woman with long silver hair standing next to Severus Snape—flanked by Sirius, Nymphadora, and Kingsley—under the arch of the meeting room's door.

    The Headmaster slowly smiled a small serene smile. "My friends, may I introduce the Priestess of the North," he said. Surprise rippled through the room.

    "Good heavens, how I never thought I'd see the day!" Molly simpered.

    Remus hastily rose from the table. "Please, sit down. Your travels will have made you all weary," and he offered the Priestess his own seat. Severus watched the werewolf with amusement.

    Andromeda received her daughter and kissed her on the cheek, her attention on the Priestess regardless. Both she and Narcissa recognised the great woman but said nothing. The Priestess herself was silent, a surreptitious wince marring her otherwise remarkable beauty.

    And before Snape could begin to recount their journey or where the Order should proceed herewith, the Priestess cleared her throat. "I am sorry to intrude," she offered kindly, "but all of your thoughts are very loud." Her melodious voice took captive the attention of the room. "Were you saying there is a young sorceress in danger?"

    The Headmaster, too, rose from his seat. "Yes. Arabella Thoreau is a great deal under threat assuming even the best of circumstances."

    The Priestess nodded thoughtfully. She felt Severus regard her and she bit her lip. After a moment, her emerald eyes lit with regal determination. "I think I can help you, then," she said.



    Fin.
    References:

    1. Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety – Shakespeare (I Henry IV)
    2. My blood beats black tonight – Patrick Wolf (Bloodbeat)
    3. Your death is part of the order of the universe; it is a part of the life of the world – Montaigne (Essays I)
    4. What does it matter when it comes, since it is inevitable? To the man who told Socrates, “The thirty tyrants have condemned you to death,” he replied: “And nature, them” – Montaigne (Essays I)
    5. Oh, no, no love can survive muteness – Milan Kundera (Identity)
    6. It is necessary to hope, though hope should always be deluded; for hope itself is happiness, and its frustrations, however frequent, are yet less dreadful than its extinction – Samuel Johnson (Idler)
    7. Stultorum infintus est numerus (Infinite is the number of fools) – Ecclesiastes 1:15
    8. Evil destroys even itself – Aristotle (Ethics)
    9. Treason is all a matter of dates – Colonel Villefort (Count of Monte Christo)
    10. What is the hardest task in the world? To think – Emerson (Intellect)

    Notes:

    1. Lady Katherine Carey Howard was related to Elizabeth I by the Boleyn/Howard line and did indeed die in 1603.
    2. Arabella told Draco life wasn't a simple marvel in chapter 2.
    3. Yes, the Order remembers Collette. No, they don't realise Izabelle and Aramis still exist.
    4. Neither do the Order understand that Aramis is Arabella's empath. There is a level of threat at the Villa the Order doesn't get. The Priestess will and that's important.

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