“But the monsters turned out to be just trees, And when the sun came up, you were looking at me.”“Out of the Woods,” Taylor Swift
It was only the end of July, and Imbolc had been summoned to the Headmaster’s office. She stared at the note for several long minutes before handing it to her Uncle Lucius over breakfast.
He was eating an egg and blotted his mouth and took it up. “Strange,” he murmured. “You’re a minor until February, so I’ll accompany you.”
“I just—whatever could it be about? I’m around enough for those blasted Order Meetings at Father’s house.” Her hair was in its usual twists that fell to her shoulders. “He’s always officiating. He could just call me in then.”
“Perhaps it’s something more delicate than that,” Lacerta offered. She’d be going into her fourth year in Slytherin this year. She looked every inch Draco’s sister. They had the same platinum blond hair, pointed faces, high cheekbones. The only thing that differed was that Draco had his mother’s gray eyes while Lacerta had inherited her father’s icy blue. Imbolc was positive that Lacerta would be a heartbreaker for her fortune alone when she came of courting age next summer.
“Whatever can be more delicate?” Draco insisted. “It’s utterly preposterous!”
“Well, we shall just find out, won’t we?” Aunt Narcissa said from her seat at the table. “We have only to wait until—this afternoon, was it?”
“Yes,” Lucius answered. “Imbolc, you must firecall the Dark Lord and inform him of your ambiguous plans as he planned to take you out tonight.”
Draco attacked his Canadian bacon. Even little Io noticed.
“I’ll just do that now,” she murmured, getting up from the table. Imbolc decided to be a little bold and do more than firecall. She stepped fully into the flames and entered a beautiful room, if that’s what it could be called, given that instead of walls it had pillars that opened up into marble open space. There were two blue couches facing each other, perpendicular to the floo, and then a green armchair parallel to it at the end. There was a green carpet in between them. The room had no ceiling. Instead hallways seemed to border it each floor up, leaving it open to a skylight above.
“Peverell?” she called. Moving forward she took to a staircase and felt the marble beneath her fingers.
She found him in an office on the third floor. She recognized it as the room one usually floo called into. “Peverell,” she greeted, pushing the door open. The room was in lush reds and mahoganies.
He looked up, his snake face as stark as always. “Lady Imbolc,” he greeted. “I was not expecting you.”
Hesitating in the doorway, she bit her lip. “I hope it’s not an unwanted surprise. Uncle Lucius had a message and I thought I’d come through instead of just firecalling.”
He looked at her calculatingly. “You were curious about my home in case it would one day become yours,” he guessed correctly.
“Can you blame me? You’re so enigmatic, and you can learn so much about a person through their home. Where are all the portraits?” She hadn’t seen a single one on her way to the office.
“Burnt,” he admitted casually. The thought horrified her. “Now, tell me, what is the message, and then I will give you a personalized tour.”
“Oh, it’s Dumbledore. He’s called me in personally for a ‘chat’.”
The Dark Lord surged forward. “That half-blood dares,” he began before he closed his eyes and calmed himself. “My name is Mal Peverell if that is what is needed, m’lady.”
“Mal,” she tried it in her mouth. “I think another name hides behind it.”
“How perceptive of you,” he complimented. “However, to you I am ‘Mal,’ from this moment on.”
“I cannot offer you a similar diminuitive of ‘Imbolc,’” she responded. “Draco’s called me ‘Immy’ since before my mother was murdered, but I would not give that name away.”
“No,” he agreed, standing. “That’s family. Why were you named after the holiday?”
“I was born during its late night hours. My mother was named Lux for ‘light,’ after Uncle Lucius, and she thought it fitting that I be named for Winter’s Light.”
“Then, by your leave, I will call you ‘Winter’.” He sketched her a short bow and ushered her out of the study.
“I find I do not dislike it,” she murmured, taking his arm.
Imbolc had appeared at the Manor before lunch so no one had noticed her absence. The appointment with Dumbledore had her worried, but she tried not to let it show. Instead, she merely looked in the mirror, wondering how she had gotten to the place where she now found herself.
An owl fluttered to her window, and she opened it. There she found a package and the owl did not wait for her. Opening it, she was so startled she almost dropped it. Curled in around itself was a pink fairy. Fairies were used for night lights and were rare. To have one was an incredible status symbol, even if one wasn’t afraid of the dark.
“Aunt,” she called as she hurried down the hall to find Narcissa. “A fairy! He actually got me a fairy!”
She was, of course, vaguely familiar with the Headmaster’s office. As a prefect, she had found herself there once or twice. Still, she felt like a truant. It did help that he had tea. Imbolc was about to accept a cup, when Lucius stilled her hand.
“What is this about?” he asked. “Let us forget the pleasantries.”
Dumbledore sighed and put down his teacup. “A few highly placed individuals were curious about these.” He opened a drawer and removed a few international papers, all of them featuring Imbolc. “Sirius, of course, knows nothing, only that she is now being courted by some second wizard. Who is he, might I ask?”
“That is hardly—“ Lucius began, but Imbolc cut him off.
“Mal Peverell. He squired me to all the events in the papers. He’s quite the international figure.”
“These are events the Minister of Magic isn’t even invited to.”
She shrugged. “I couldn’t possibly comment. I usually don’t speak the language so I’m a bit confused when someone asks me to dance while Mal goes off and talks politics, for all I can tell. Maybe they’re discussing curtains. It could be anything.”
“Peverell,” Dumbledore said doubtfully.
“You didn’t think the line died out, did you? There were three brothers after all. He’s never told me which one he’s descended from. Death stick, resurrection stone, or the invisibility cloak. I much fancy borrowing the cloak. Imagine the impact it could have since I’m a prefect.”
“Quite,” Dumbledore responded, looking at her now in curiosity.
Lucius looked between the two of them, and cleared his throat. “If that’s all?”
“Yes, yes,” he said, shooing them away. “Please submit the necessary paperwork for this second courtship. May I see the ring?”
Imbolc hesitated but Lucius nodded. Holding out her hand, she showed Dumbledore the ring. He sucked in the breath. “I think you’re within possession of one of the hallows already, Miss Black.”
She exchanged glances with her uncle.
“I doubt that,” Lucius said. “Peverell is not a frivolous man. He would not give up something so precious to someone who’s not a certainty.”
“Then he must not consider Mr. Malfoy a threat,” Dumbledore decided, releasing the hand. “Thank you for coming.”
The two were utterly bewildered as they floo’ed back to Malfoy Manor.
“I’m not testing it!” she cried. “It’s utterly preposterous.”
“The Dark Lord has never before revealed a name, and he gives you the name Peverell. Tell me you don’t see the significance.”
“He’s just from a family older than the Malfoys!” she cried. “We always knew his blood was unmatched, this is just proof—and I’m not testing the ring. I refuse to see the shade of my mother. Plus, it’s just a silly fairy story.”
Lucius looked at her sadly. “Go find one of your cousins. I’m sure they’ll be wanting you.”
However, if she found her cousins, she knew she would run into Draco. She was almost positive, in fact, that she would find Draco. She sat down at her private writing desk in her rooms, ready to pick up the unicorn pen to write to Apricot about the rollercoaster romance she had no idea what to do with, when she saw it. Blown in wizard glass, so there were no lines or imperfections, was a perfect cat that was curled up.
She touched it carefully and like true wizarding glass, it was like ice to the touch.
There was a small note next to it and she immediately recognized the handwriting as Draco’s: To remind you of Valentinus on her nightly escapades. DBM.
The gift made her cry. Her form only stopped shivering when Peverell’s owl came for her. She went to her window and opened it. It was simple. An invitation to dinner with a floo address and a time the following evening. He wanted to give her the night off considering her trial with Dumbledore.
It seemed she would never escape. She would always be caught between her two suitors.
They were walking by the pond where there was the swing. “Io comes to Hogwarts this year,” Draco mused. “It will be strange. All four of us will be at Hogwarts for two years straight.”
“These are uncertain times, though,” Imbolc noted. “Who knows what could happen?”
“What have you seen?” he asked slyly.
“Darkness,” she answered. “I think we’re going to hide during the battle. Not choose sides, wait to see who’s victorious.”
“You say this even when your suitor is the Dark Lord?”
“Peverell gave me immunity and granted you with an unblemished arm. Lacerta and Io are far too young.”
“What of that other cousin of yours, Selenadora?”
Draco led her to the swing and she sat down on it. She smiled up at him and their lips brushed softly.
“She’s the wild card,” Imbolc admitted. “I don’t know what to do about her. All she seems to want to talk about is courting and Harry Potter—and, really, the entire thing gives me a headache. I tried to tell her about how we wear our hair here, how it shows respect for magic, but nothing.” She sighed. “She’s going to look to the entire Hogwarts population like a common heathen.”
“You defy pureblood styles,” Draco reminded her.
“I play with them,” she qualified. “There’s a difference. Her hair is completely free. People are going to think her a common Muggleborn and she’s a Black! I also don’t see her being sorted into Slytherin, and she needs to be there given her disrespect for pureblood traditions. Slytherin would protect her.”
“She’s not going to make Slytherin,” Draco agreed, “or Ravenclaw. I don’t know the other houses well enough to figure out where she’ll end up.”
“If she has any say, it will be Gryffindor and close to that blasted Potter. She better not undo all that work I’ve done.”
Draco kissed the crown of her head. “No one could do that, darling. He’s too besotted with you.”
“I seem to have that effect,” she said darkly. “Thank you for the wizard glass cat. It was truly thoughtful.”
“I know how dear Valentinus is,” he murmured. “He’s probably your only confidante through this entire process.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “He offers no judgment and his feelings cannot be wounded.”
“I wish I could be there for you,” Draco told her honestly. “I wish, for you sake, I weren’t in love with you so that I could help you navigate the waters of being the Dark Lord’s chosen.”
“Don’t say that,” she murmured with tears in her eyes. “Your love is my constant.” She took his hand and squeezed and then, impulsively kissed it. “I know that, for now, I only love you as a cousin, but I know I’m falling in love with you, Draco. That’s what’s making this so difficult. He’s not just some lover I can scorn—he’s the Dark Lord and—he tells me not to fear him, but how cannot not feel some form of—?”
“Hush,” Draco murmured, turning her around and kissing her lips softly. “I understand. When you’re with him, you must promise that I do not exist, to keep yourself safe. And when you’re with me, he never has had a right to you, because our hearts beat together.”
She nodded shakily, and then he was kissing her again, his hands on her jaw.
They were standing out on a balcony after dinner. House elves had served them exclusively and Imbolc had not seen another human. “Where are we?” she asked, as she looked out over well-manicured lawns.
“A follower’s home. He was more than gratified to lend it to me for the night and to give you your anonymity.”
“Tell him I thank him then, whoever he is,” she quipped. Imbolc refused to look at Peverell.
“What have I done,” he asked carefully, “to upset my lady?”
“Do you often dine in the company of ladies, who are not drunk off of sake?” she inquired, her violet eyes flashing although he could not see them.
He paused. “You are the first in a great many years.”
“You talk to us,” she told him, turning toward his imposing figure. “Silent dinners are bad dinners. This reminded me of dining with my father.”
“You dislike dining with Lord Black,” Peverell determined.
She sighed. “That is not the topic of conversation, Mal.”
“Perhaps I wish to learn more about you, Winter,” he said, a little testily. “I may have failed at dinner as a conversationalist, but that does not mean that I have to fail now.” He snapped his fingers and two flutes of champagne appeared. “To your continued health.”
She took a sip. “I dislike my father,” she admitted. “He calls me ‘Lux’. I find it disturbing.”
He paused. “I do not wish to ruin the fairytale of your parents’ marriage, but you are, of course, aware that your grandmother, who is your Uncle Lucius’s elder sister, Madeleine Kingsley, was my spy. What you may not know is that Lux, Heiress Sirius Black, was also a spy for my cause and accepted your father’s suit at my bidding. She was disturbed by the fact they were godsiblings. I have no doubt, however, that she truly cared for you. The story of her death is one of a woman impassioned, not one protecting a child simply because it is a child of worth.”
“James and Lily Potter were right,” she said in horror.
“Yes,” Peverell mused. “Sirius would come home from Order meetings, he would confess to his wife almost everything, and she would in turn give me the information.”
“My mother was a whore,” Imbolc whispered in realization.
“No,” Peverell denied quickly. “Never that. A whore takes money for sex. Taking secrets for your country is a far nobler process.”
Imbolc quickly finished her champagne. “I think I need another.”
He snapped his fingers and another was provided for her.
“Is Mal your real name?” she asked after a time.
“No. Dumbledore would have recognized it, so I shortened it. It pleases me to hear ‘Mal’ on your lips.”
“I looked into the future,” she said quietly, her mind turning back to the battle.
His head snapped to hers. “What did you see?”
“There’s this stone at Hogwarts, on the sixth floor, that if you tap the right way, opens to reveal a hiding area. My Malfoy cousins and I hide in it. I don’t know if Selenadora is with us.”
“Go on,” he murmured, gesturing with his glass.
“We hide in there during the battle. Lacerta and Iolanthe are too little, you see, and you allow Draco to guard me.—Only you and Harry Potter know the secret hiding place and the victor is to let us out. The future is too unclear to show me whose face comes through the door.”
“Your immunity,” Peverell guessed.
“It’s much more than that,” Imbolc breathes. “Do you truly want to know?”
He nodded, the candlelight showing his snake face.
“You must be fond of me still if it’s Draco, but I’m married to one of you, and I’m carrying the next heir to the house.”
“And I would want to protect both the heir to the houses of Malfoy and Peverell,” he surmised. He was looking at her intently.
“It’s a boy,” she rattled on. “I haven’t decided on a name if it’s a Malfoy. Lux perhaps for Mother. It can be a boy’s name. Now, if he’s a Peverell, then perhaps—“
He discarded her champagne, wrapped an arm around her waist and kissed her softly. It was strange being kissed by someone without lips. Her nose could go straight on without turning, but she chose to turn anyway, perhaps out of habit, perhaps because she found it more romantic, and she kissed him back.
Peverell was bolder than Draco, whose kisses were always chaste. Instead, his tongue poked forward and breached her lips. She was uncertain what to do, but his warm tongue teased hers, stroking it, and she just let him, until his tongue seemed to beckon hers forward. When she pulled back, she gasped. “I—no one—is that?”
He leaned his forehead against hers. “That is how a wizard kisses a lady,” he informed her.
She tried to get her breathing under her control before she finally smiled and said, “Perseus. Perseus Lux Peverell. Does that suit?”
He leaned forward until they were breathing the same air, and he murmured, “I find, Winter, that it more than eminently suits.”
Then he was kissing her again, and she was grasping his shoulder with one hand and the back of his head with another. Imbolc found she didn’t want him to stop kissing her. Their tongues entwined and although she was a little clumsy at first, he honestly didn’t seem to care. All that mattered was that she was in his arms and he was holding her like she was more precious than the largest Gringotts vault.
“Dream of me tonight,” he demanded when he pulled away again. She was still in his arms and she must have been looking up at him with her large violet eyes.
“Do you dream of me?” she asked a little desperately.
“When I’m not dreaming of the horrors of Muggles,” he answered enigmatically.
Sirius ordered rose tea just the way she liked it. Back at Malfoy Manor, Imbolc had claimed a headache before slipping out to an Apparition point and had come here, to Grimmauld Place. Really, she didn’t know what she was doing.
“Lux, what is it?” Sirius asked.
Harry looked over at her sympathetically.
“I’ve got a problem, Father, and I can’t go to Aunt Narcissa about it. You courted Mother, right?”
“Not as such,” he admitted. “She was being courted by someone else. Then I kind of swooped in and stole her just after I turned seventeen. We had the dispensations all ready by the time I graduated sixth year and she graduated seventh.”
Imbolc paused. “She had to wait a year for you to finish Hogwarts?”
“Could have been worse.” Sirius shrugged. “We were madly in love.”
“Of course,” she murmured. Imbolc wondered how her mother was able to fake it.
Selenadora still had her hair down and was now wearing a garland. Imbolc feared what Peverell would say if he saw her.
“What is it, then?” Harry asked.
That drew her from her thoughts. Setting down her teacup, she looked up around the circle. “I won’t pretend to be coy. I’m sure Dumbledore told you that my other suitor is not a French wizard but a Peverell.”
“Yes,” Sirius said, slightly happily. “Is that the Resurrection Stone on your hand?”
“No idea,” she answered truthfully, “and I have no intention of finding out.—We—We had dinner last night. I was talking about something I saw in my tarot cards. I’ll tell you about it, Harry, when the time comes, and he was so happy that he—kissed me.” She seemed utterly flabbergasted.
“Is it not usual for wizards to kiss witches?” Selenadora asked Harry.
“He kissed Cho,” Imbolc put in helpfully.
“How can you possibly—?”
She sighed. “I have a mastery in Tarot Cards. I see things. You may think you told no one or only a handful of individuals, but a Clairvoyant knows.” Her violet eyes sparkled at him. “And, Selenadora, it is customary for courting couples to kiss. I’ve kissed Draco in the gardens here.”
Harry suddenly looked decidedly uncomfortable, which caught Imbolc’s attention.
“I don’t understand the problem then,” Sirius stated.
Imbolc was afraid of this. “It was more. It wasn’t just lips.”
Sirius then started laughing. “You snogged a Peverell. This is priceless.”
“I did not!” she said resolutely. “Mal is far too stately to snog like a common Muggle-born.”
“A pureblood is never too stately,” Sirius told her. “Let me guess, it was more heated, your tongues got involved, they moved back and forth a bit, you were out of breath at the end of it. Does this sound at all familiar?”
She blushed. “I—yes. But it wasn’t so sordid! It was quite romantic, which is part of the problem. Why doesn’t Draco ever kiss me that way?”
“He may not know how,” Harry said, his face slightly pink. “How many people has he kissed? Apart from you?”
“No one,” she admitted.
“And this Peverell?”
“I thought it would be rude to ask,” she murmured.
“I take it,” Sirius said delicately, “that he’s older than you and Draco, perhaps by a few decades? To be an international figure, he would need to be.”
Selenadora then asked the dreaded question. “Is he handsome?”
“Oh,” Imbolc said. “He’s distinguished.”
“But you don’t mind snogging him,” Harry then put in, his ears pinking.
“I thought I would, but no. Definitely not. I was rather sorry when it ended. Oh, by the old gods, what am I going to do about Draco?”
Sirius set down his cup and sat up straight. “I don’t have much experience with this, but it drove me insane when Lux would bring her other suitor’s experiences into our lives in any way. Let Draco kiss you the way he’s been kissing you. Don’t expand his horizons, unless you marry him. Then it’s your right to get as much—enjoyment—as possible. Also, please choose this Peverell. He sounds like he has the true Marauding spirit.”
Imbolc couldn’t help it: she laughed. If only her father knew he was talking about the Dark Lord.
“I doubt I’m going to choose before I take my N.E.W.T.s,” she lied, remembering the vision in her crystal ball of the end of her seventh year when she was already pregnant. “So, I have two years left, Father.”
“When do we get to meet him?” Selenadora asked.
“You don’t,” she responded calmly. “He’s a bit of a recluse unless it comes to his politics.”
“I’m glad your headache’s better,” Draco murmured as they followed Io along the back gardens.
“It still lingers a bit,” she lied, “but the fresh air was calling to me.” Imbolc smiled at him. “I heard you speaking to Uncle Lucius earlier after breakfast. You have an audience with the Dark Lord.”
“Did he mention it to you?” he asked, looking at her anxiously.
She shook her head. “Be careful,” she begged. “You know how important you are to me.”
“Remember how you used to sneak into my bedroom and we used to use our practice wands to cast Lumos and read those Muggle comics we got from somewhere?” Draco asked, laughing.
“We were incorrigible,” she agreed. “If only we could go back to such innocent times.”
“We’ll always have each other,” he promised, taking her hand and kissing the back of it. “Even if the worst happens, and you are forced to marry another, I’ll always be here, waiting.”
“Always?” she asked a little desperately.
“Always,” he confirmed.
Io continued to skip ahead of them, her golden curls tied up on her head in blue ribbons.
“Hufflepuff,” Imbolc decided. “I’ll bet you ten galleons.”
“I’m afraid you might be right,” Draco sighed. “I’ll take it on principle though.”