(WL08) Part the Eighth

“That I’m not a princess, This ain’t a fairytale, I’m not the one you’ll sweep off her feet, Lead her up the stairwell.”

“White Horse,” Taylor Swift

“I have a present for you.”  The voice was sibilant and calm and so unexpected that Imbolc dropped her silverware.  The family was in the breakfast nook and she could see that Draco’s eyes had gone wide.

She turned her head and asked, “Am I allowed to finish my breakfast or does this gift have a time limit set on it?”

He laughed his smooth cool laugh and he kissed the arch of her exposed neck.  “I would never presume to halt a lady’s breakfast.”

Uncle Lucius immediately vacated his chair and offered it to the Dark Lord, taking his plate with him.  Peverell settled into the seat and surveyed the family. “Lady Iolanthe,” he commented, “I hear you are going to Hogwarts this year.  Are you excited?”

She squeaked.

“She’s very excited, Mal,” Imbolc told him, cutting her egg.  “We’ve all made a game of trying to discern which house she’ll be in.”

“I favor Slytherin, myself, though I am his descendant,” Peverell admitted.  “Your cousin, Lady Iolanthe, though, I believe, does Ravenclaw an honor by her presence.”  He gave Imbolc his approximation of a smile and she offered one in return.

Draco looked between them for any clues as to their relationship, and didn’t seem to like what he found.

When breakfast was finished, Peverell led her out onto the grounds and then behind a tree.  “This cannot possibly be my present!” she cried, but he placed a hand above her head, another at her waist, and he kissed her in that strange, wonderful way that he did.

She hadn’t realized her eyes had closed until they fluttered open again.  “Someone might see.”

“Let them,” he said in his attractive voice.  “I’m courting you.  I have every right to kiss you.”  His red eyes flashed.

“On my family estate?” she asked.  “Where the other wizard I’m courting also resides?”

“Why do you think I employed the tree?” he smirked.  “I didn’t have to, Winter.”

“Mal,” she argued, but then he was kissing her again.  Her hands reached up and grasped the fabric of his black robes around his shoulders, and that only prodded him to pull her closer to him.  “Hmm,” she sighed, when he released her.  “Why the black?  You usually wear it.”

“It frightens my Death Eaters when they compare it to my skin,” he answered truthfully.

She reached up and the back of her hand brushed his cheek.  “To look at you, one would think you had a reptile’s cold blood.  However, you’re just as warm blooded as any wizard, Mal.”

“Did you have to convince yourself that I’m a man?” he murmured as he leaned down and gently kissed her.

“Every time I see you,” she admitted.  “You’re the all powerful Dark Lord who has Britain on her knees.  Everyone whispers as to whether or not you’re back.  It’s only a matter of time before you give them confirmation.”

“To you I’m ‘Mal’.  To no other mortal, not even the courtesans I frequented before my disappearance, did I give that name.”

Her violet eyes searched his.  “Courtesans?”

“Look at me,” he breathed in her ear.  “Who would make love to a face like mine but a woman paid to do so?”

“You haven’t, not since we—“ she checked, her hand moving upward to stroke his cheek.  “Please say you have not dishonored me so.”

“I have not,” he promised, his hand moving up her arm until it clasped the hand by his cheek.  “How could I when I had the hope of you?”

Her eyes flicked down and she breathed out.  “Hope,” she murmured.  “You’ve so confused me, Mal,” she admitted. 

“Then let me remind you why you should fall in love with me,” he whispered before taking her lips with his own.  She mewed into the kiss and he laughed slightly.  Yes, Imbolc decided, she was snogging the Dark Lord, and she couldn’t seem to mind.

When he pulled away, smiling down at her, he grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the stables. 

“Mal!” she cried.  “What are you about?”

“Read this morning’s Prophet,” he told her.  “You’ll see that prize racing Abraxan Elizabeth Woodville has been sold, and she is now yours.”  He showed her to a stall and she stared down at a beautiful mare.  It was perfectly gray, which was unheard of, even by the most exclusive breeders.

“You bought me Elizabeth Woodville?” she asked in astonishment.  “But I always just borrow—“

“A lady of your standing should have her own Abraxan,” he told her resolutely, his eyes twinkling at her happiness.  “I asked your Uncle Lucius, and he quite agreed with me.—Now, go get your riding leathers on.  I’m sure you want to take this beauty for a ride.”

“I—“  She reached for him and kissed him deeply, losing herself in the kiss as he pulled her toward him by the waist and her arms wrapped around his neck.  “I’ve done a reading,” she exclaimed, as she walked back to the Manor, his arm around her waist.

“You know I would never ask, now that we’re courting—“

“But I can still tell,” she reminded him with a smile.  “There’s a Battle at Hogwarts at the end of the year.  It’s not the final battle; that comes a year later.  This Battle, though, you come through a cabinet and you find Dumbledore and kill him.  Potter is hidden and sees what you’ll do.  There will be other witnesses and someone will catch a picture of you and you’ll be in The Daily Prophet the next day.”

“Where are you?”

“Hidden, in that dark place,” she told him.  “I don’t know who’s meant to let me out.”

“We’ll have it sorted,” he promised, tweaking her nose.  “I’ll have some Death Eater’s spawn let you out.”

“But my anonymity?”

“Draco Malfoy then,” he decided.  “You won’t need guarding as of yet.  I won’t be able to let you out if I must make my escape, though I suppose you can always ask Potter.”

She shrugged as they walked down toward the smoking room.  “You may wait in here,” she told him, opening the door.  “I’ll be right back.”

Closing the door, she almost screamed when she turned around and saw Draco.

“Don’t,” she begged.  “I don’t want anything confused.  Right now I’m with him.”

Draco nodded to her once before putting his hands in his pockets and walking away.

“He gave me an Abraxan,” Imbolc confessed to her father.  “You would have read about it in the paper: Elizabeth Woodville.”

Sirius almost choked on his coffee.

“They speculated that millions of galleons were spent on her.”

“I know,” she said sadly.  “What am I to do?  Peverell keeps lavishing me with gifts and dinners and balls, while Draco is always quietly there.  I don’t know what I feel anymore.  When Peverell first gave me the courting ring, I cried and cried and now I don’t want to go to Hogwarts and be away from him.”

“And what of Malfoy?” Selenadora asked carefully.  “What do you feel about him?”

Imbolc sighed.  “I was ready to marry him at the beginning of summer.  Now I just don’t know.”

Draco held her hand as they boarded the train, Lacy and Io in front of them.  “Another year,” he murmured as they headed to the prefect’s compartment.

“Another year,” she agreed, squeezing his hand.

She was surprised when she was invited, along with Draco, to a luncheon with Professor Slughorn.  She sat primly and properly next to Harry to show him her continued support in his endeavors, and he smiled at her.  He took her free hand and squeezed it.

Imbolc stared at him accusingly.

Still, there was nothing for it.  She would remain close to Harry Potter and she would put up with his attentions.

Imbolc was running down the hall, blood seeping from the left side of her face, her arm, and her leg.  Her white dress robes were in tatters.  She could hear footsteps behind her, but she honestly didn’t know who was following her.  She had to get somewhere safe, somewhere few people knew about.

Grasping along the wall, she found the stone that opened to the hiding place.  She quickly pressed herself inside and took a deep, shuddering breath.  Imbolc hoped Draco or somebody knew to look for her there.  Otherwise she’d be trapped in here for an eternity, with no food and no water.  She doubted even house elves could get in.

Sighing, she pressed her hand to her face and felt the claw marks there.  She closed her eyes in pain and remembered the incident in horror.

Slughorn had introduced her to Sanguini, the vampire in attendance at his Yule Party, and he had lunged at her and attacked her.  The entire left side of her body was ravaged.  Who would want her now except for her money? she thought bitterly.  Surely not even Harry Potter.

It took hours for someone to find her and strangely it was Potter.  He looked at her in horror and helped her out of her hiding place.

“Is he gone?” she asked in barely more than a whisper.

“Yes,” Harry answered.  “We must get you to Madam Pomfrey.”

She laughed hollowly.  “No,” she disagreed.  “Professor Snape.”

Potter looked at her oddly but brought her to the former Potions instructor who cleaned the blood away from her skin.  “A vampire did this?” he qualified.

At her nod, he swore under his breath.  He had her lie down and applied strips of cloth covered in some neon blue cream that made the gashes sting.  Next thing she knew, Uncle Lucius and Aunt Narcissa were by her side.  Lucius gently kissed her forehead, before swearing that he’d make them pay, and then they were gone.

Imbolc promised that she wouldn’t cry, but tears nonetheless formed in her eyes.

“Immy,” Draco said, coming up to her.  “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Potter found me,” she explained.  “I was hiding in the dark place and you didn’t come.”

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, stroking the hair away from her forehead.  “I was casting every dark curse I could think of on that monster—well, every one that wouldn’t get me expelled.”  He smiled wryly at her.

She found she couldn’t smile back.

It was days before Imbolc was allowed back among the general public.  Potter was mainly by her side, not minding that she didn’t talk back to him, nattering on about how Dumbledore had been sacked and McGonagall was the new Headmistress.  Draco had been there the first day.  Then he had disappeared like a lethifold.

Apparently, McGonagall was still teaching transfiguration as they had yet to find a suitable replacement.

It was her first morning back and she couldn’t bear the stares.  She sat eating her porridge, trying to ignore everyone, and was hyper aware of her scars.

Then there was a disturbance in the back of the room and she looked up with everyone else.  There, for some unknown reason, was a delegation of vampires.  A shiver ran down Imbolc’s spine as they approached her and stopped directly in front of her.

Squeezing Apricot’s hand, she stood and faced the leader.  “May I help you?” she asked.

He sketched a rather gallant bow.  “Lady Imbolc,” he said, his voice deep and wonderful.  “I come on behalf of vampires to show true contrition.”

“Contrition,” she stated.  She knew that everyone could hear her, but she was curious.  “How can you offer me contrition?  A witch’s beauty shows her power and mine has been marred beyond recognition.”

“To a vampire, it is not the case,” he stated.  “Your scars show that you are a survivor.  However, we bring you these.”  He motioned a vampire forward who brought with him many bolts of what appeared to be silks.  “To adorn yourself with on your many international travels, my lady.”

She nodded at the gift and then another vampire came forward.  He was holding a large urn made of silver and deep blue.  “Myrrh,” the vampire stated.  “If you place it upon the scars on your face and other parts of your body, they will become beautiful.  This should be enough to last you three lifetimes.  All you need do is to barely coat your fingers before applying it.”

Imbolc was genuinely startled.  “Why do you give these gifts to me?” she asked in confusion.  “I am but one human who has encountered a vampire.”

“You are the chosen consort of the man who calls himself Peverell,” he answered.  “Is that not reason enough?”

“I suppose it is,” she reasoned.  “I would have you deliver the cloths to Malfoy Manor and leave the urn with me, if that would not greatly inconvenience you.”

“Not at all, my lady,” he answered gallantly.

The urn was placed in her hand and she felt the heaviness of it.  Forgetting about breakfast, she walked out of the hallway and toward Ravenclaw tower.

“Immy,” Draco said, meeting her at the door.  “You can’t trust vampires.”

Peverell sent them,” she argued back.

“Theoretically,” he told her.  “How can you be sure?

She looked away from him.  “Draco,” she whispered.  “I’m scarred.  Even I can tell you don’t look at me the same way.  You might as well just end your courtship.  Here, I’ll make it easy on you.”  She held the urn with one arm and took off his courtship ring.  “This is what you want, isn’t it?” she demanded.  “I never thought I’d say it, but even Harry Potter is more wizard than you are.  He’s been by my side every step of the way.  You may have come the first day to assuage your conscience, but he kept on coming.  Do you know what that’s like, Draco?  To be abandoned not only by your courted but by your best friend and cousin?”  She wouldn’t cry, she simply wouldn’t.

When he said nothing, she simply pushed past him toward the stairs.  Imbolc didn’t even bother to say that she would see him in class later that day.  Hopefully, Apricot would let her sit with her.

The dorm room was empty and she set the urn on the vanity.  Carefully Imbolc opened it and she dipped to fingers into it.  It was creamy and just barely coated her fingers.  Carefully, she turned her head in the mirror and traced her scars.  At first nothing happened, and she almost kicked something in her frustration.

Then the scars began to shimmer and before her eyes they turned from an ugly purple to an enchanting gold.  Peverell had done it!  He had given her something priceless.  Yes, the scars were still thick ropes on the side of her face, but they now shimmered gold and shone with power.  Looking down at her right wrist and hand, where the same scars were present, she layered them with the same myrrh on her fingers.  The same marvelous thing occurred.  Next was her leg that wasn’t hidden by her skirt or her socks. 

In the end she looked like a female Adonis.  Seeing she had only ten minutes to class, she quickly stowed the urn away and washed her fingers.

It was with a new strength of spirit that she descended the stairs down to Potions.

The note was short and simple.  It read: I’m still in love with you.  I never stopped.  DBM.

She folded it up and took a deep breath.  Honestly, Imbolc didn’t know what to do.

She met him by their favorite oak tree.  “I’m here,” she stated a little brusquely.  “Honestly, it’s getting a little disgusting watching my cousin moon over Harry Potter.”

“Let’s not talk about that,” Draco begged.  “I want to talk about ‘us’.”

“There is no ‘us’,” she shot back.  “I already wrote to Uncle Lucius about how our courtship ended.”

“But you didn’t write to the Dark Lord,” he surmised, “even though he’s your magical guardian in all things.”

She toed the ground.  It was true.  Something had held her back.  The night she had received the myrrh, she had written a long, eight page letter to Peverell about how thankful she was, and how her scars were no longer an ugly purple but a glorious gold.

“I want to marry you,” he said into the silence, and she looked up in shock.  “The reason why I didn’t find you was because I was cursing the hell out of that vampire, avenging your honor.  The reason why I didn’t stay by your side is I couldn’t stand to see you in such pain.  Perhaps it was cowardly of me, I know that now, but I do love you, whether your scars are a disgusting purple or a brilliant gold.  I don’t need tricks to love you.  I love you for better or worse, as the Muggles would say.”

“Then prove it,” she whispered.  “I don’t need fancy gifts.  I just need—“

Then he took her cheek in his hand and he kissed her, not deeply like Peverell, but truly.  When they broke apart, he asked quietly, “Does that help?  I couldn’t kiss you like that if I didn’t feel something for you.”

“No,” she agreed.  “I suppose you couldn’t.”

Her mind immediately flickered to Peverell, but she forced it to remain where it was.

“I can give you freedom,” he whispered.  “He can only bring war and possible destruction.  We can be free of it all.”

“I bought you your freedom,” she argued back at him.  “I also know you’re part of the attack on the school sometime this year.  Don’t play coy with me.”

He sighed and looked at the ground.

“Who’s letting me out of my hiding place?”

“The Dark Lord is telling Harry Potter where you are, suggesting that he captured you and put you there.”

She rolled her eyes.  “Potter will be insufferable after that.  I may even have to kiss him.”

“Not if I get to you first,” he murmured, taking her hand and drawing her in close.  “Friends?”

“Just friends,” she agreed.

She waited in the hole in the castle wall, hearing the fighting going on around her.  Imbolc had taken Lacy and Iolanthe with her, not bearing the idea of them getting caught in the crossfire. 

Then everything went silent, and Imbolc knew she only had to wait.  It was half an hour before there was rushing and then the stone opened that would release them and she saw the flushed face of Harry Potter.

“I wasn’t expecting you,” she said, only half seriously.  She let him help them each out and looked around them at the bodies lying around them.  “What happened?”

“Death Eaters,” he explained.  “Dumbledore had come back for a ‘chat’ with McGonagall”—that was clearly a lie—“and they somehow knew.”

She put her hands on Lacy and Io’s shoulders.  “Back to your common rooms, immediately,” she told them.  “Io, I can walk you down to Hufflepuff if you like.  I don’t want you seeing such things.”

Potter, of course, elected to go with them.  They first dropped off Io and then looped around to Slytherin to where Lacy was going, and then Potter and Imbolc headed up the stairs.

“What really happened?” she questioned, looking at him with her violet eyes, making them as big and vulnerable as possible.

“Voldemort came,” he answered.  “I don’t know how he got through the wards.  Malfoy, most likely.”  They looked at each other.  “Sorry, I know he’s your cousin, but he’s been hanging out on the seventh floor all year.”

True, he had.  She’d asked about it a few times at the beginning of the year, but after the incident with Sanguini, they barely talked, even though they were technically on friendly terms.

She didn’t know how it would be once they got back to Malfoy Manor.  He still had the betrothal ring.  Draco had never offered it back for all of his professions of love.

“So the Dark Lord came,” she prompted.  “Then what?”

“He found Dumbledore on the top of the Astronomy Tower and killed him.  Mentioned how he had locked you up, for some reason.  I came as soon as I could.”

She nodded her head.  Clearly there was more to the story, but it would have to do for now.

“You’re not wearing Malfoy’s ring,” Potter suddenly said.

Imbolc paused, but continued.  “I haven’t for months.  We had an argument about my scars.”

“You’re still wearing Peverell’s.”

“I think I’ll marry him, to be honest,” she sighed.  “Strange, but I think that’s what will happen.  I’m seventeen already.  I’m of marriageable age.”

He looked at her sadly.  “And not even the Chosen One can change your mind?”

“I’m a pureblood,” she explained.  “I will marry another pureblood.”  She shrugged.  “He takes care of me.  You cannot understand what that means to me.”

“Well,” he stated.  “I’m not marrying Selenadora.”  They shared a rueful smile.

“Poor Selene,” she said, smiling.  “Don’t tell Sirius about me possibly marrying, all right?  It’s just a thought.  I haven’t even told the Malfoys yet.”

“Or Draco, you mean.”

“Or Draco,” she confirmed.

She was absolutely flabbergasted.  “No,” she stated emphatically.  “Absolutely not.”

Draco was standing by a traditional bonding table, a silver athame and a pomegranate on it.  “Immy, please, we’re in love.”

“No, we’re not,” she stated, crossing her arms.  They’d only been back at the Manor for a day and now he pulled this?  “I refuse to even wear your bonding ring.”  It had killed her the day she had lost her Draco, her dearest friend.  She had been falling in love with him, and then he had disappeared on her and hadn’t been there for her, unlike Harry Potter and Mal had, in their different ways.

She made to leave the room, but the doors were shut.  Taking out her wand, she performed several spells, but they would not budge. 

“Malfoy family magic,” he told her gleefully.  “No, please, Imbolc.  None of this nonsense.”

“Nonsense.  It’s not nonsense.  It’s—!”

The doors smashed inward and Imbolc took cover behind a sofa.  When the air cleared, she looked up and saw Peverell.  “Oh, thank the old gods.  Could you take me to the floo?  I need to go to my father’s house.  I simply can’t stay here.”

He looked at the table with loathing before putting Draco under the Cruciatus Curse.

“No!” she called out as Draco writhed in pain and with a look to her, Peverell flicked his wand and Draco was left a weeping mass on the floor.

“Come, Winter,” he commanded, and not seeing what else she could do, she went to Peverell and took his arm.  He stormed through the house and to the floo and then took her in his arms and floo’ed to his own home.  They were at the familiar sitting area with the skylight and she was utterly surprised.

“Mal,” she stated.  “I can’t stay here.  It would ruin my reputation.”

“No, it won’t,” he disagreed.  He swept her into his arms and carried her up the stairs until he reached a bedroom. 

“Peverell!” she exclaimed as he dropped her on the bed.  “This really is not the best form!”

“Of course not,” he breathed, tracing the scars on her cheek.  “You’re so beautiful.”

“Don’t say that,” she begged.  “I’ll never be beautiful again.”

“I beg to differ,” he murmured before drawing closer.  “And we are bonding under the ancient rites.”

She sucked in a breath.  “You think I’ll give my virtue to you with no guarantees that you’ll honor your vow?  What do you take me for?”

“A woman,” he answered.  “If you’d rather a traditional bonding…”

“I had not thought of bonding,” she lied.

“Of course you have,” he answered a little viciously.  “You’ve thought of the child you’re to carry in your womb next May.  Do you deny me the right to create that child with you?”

She stared into his red eyes and sighed.  “Total anonymity,” she bargained, “at least until you come to power.  I will not have a target on my head or the child’s.”

“Granted,” he told her immediately.  “Now, the ancient rites.”

“I don’t want it to hurt,” she begged, “and you’ll see all the scars.”

“And I’ll love you for them,” he answered, kissing her as he undid the laces of her dress.

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