Victoire slowly sits up in bed.
The old house is eerily quiet.
If she listens carefully enough, she can hear it even from here, the grinding sound of the old sewing machine in the drawing room two floors down.
Everyone in the family knows that Aunt Ginny spends her nights making curtains. She's been suffering from severe insomnia ever since Uncle Harry's death, so she tries to make herself useful. She sews curtains and sends them to charity shops to sell. Uncle Ron says this is probably cheaper than therapy, but that joke has long since gone stale and it was never all that funny to begin with.
Victoire takes a deep breath.
When she thinks about it, a sewing machine is really rather fitting, so inappropriately Muggle in its very essence.
Ginny's coping method is in no way a conscious statement—she doesn't know what's going on; she's blissfully unaware of the terrible peril that awaits her—but nonetheless, it remains an indisputable sign that she'd never conform, much less surrender. Her way of life has become habit, second nature rather than choice, and this is probably only the tip of the iceberg.
No wonder he wants her dealt with; gone.
He isn't the only one, either.
Though in Victoire's case, it's less about Ginny and more about the others, the ones she must protect.
Victoire has no choice. She knows what he is capable of.
It's either Ginny or them.
Determined, she nods to herself and slowly climbs out of bed.
No more time to waste.
This isn't how things were supposed to go. People deserved a fresh start followed by a bright, fearless future.
Harry Potter had won the war, defeated Voldemort, made him vanish forever, and with their leader gone, the remaining Death Eaters, the ones who didn't escape to Argentina or Mexico, surrendered instantly. They didn't even put up a fight.
It was a surprisingly simple victory after such a harrowing war.
Lucius Malfoy was one of those who seemed to show genuine remorse. He managed to convince the Wizengamot that his heart hadn't been in it. He'd had no choice, he claimed; the Dark Lord had threatened his life, and the safety of his nearest and dearest.
The officials believed him. They had no rational reason not to. There was no hard proof to the contrary and moreover, Lucius' testimony was spoken under Veritaserum. Everything suggested he was telling the truth.
In addition, there was also his reputation to consider. Over the past few years, he'd come to be looked upon as the sort of man who'd put aside any personal convictions and simply picked the side that would allow him to continue living his life of luxury without too many restrictions. Despite his bravado, he didn't appear to be genuinely evil.
So he escaped a second prison sentence.
The verdict was a leap of faith in many ways, and it might just send the whole world crashing down.
They couldn't have been more wrong about him.
He'd had a hidden agenda all along; he'd just been waiting patiently, biding his time.
He waited for more than fifteen years, played the model citizen, did whatever it took to regain people's trust and finally be reinstated on Hogwarts' school board.
In the year that followed, a year that saw him spending most of his time at Hogwarts, no one suspected a thing.
Victoire's certain they still don't.
His first… intervention, as he has taken to calling them, took place during a Quidditch match. It was held at Hogwarts, but open to the general public, with sponsoring and all proceeds going to charity, to benefit an orphanage that had been set up during the war.
It all started wonderfully. Quite a few celebrity players took part, Viktor Krum as well as Harry Potter. The latter had become a bit rusty since leaving school, but was still more than skilled enough to compete, or so everyone thought, right up until that heart-stopping moment when in mid-air, high above the ground, Harry Potter suddenly lost control over his broom and began spiralling downwards at breathtaking speed.
No magic could stop the impending tragedy, and none of the other players was fast enough to intervene.
Pale-faced spectators watched in horror while the wizarding world's greatest war hero plummeted to the ground and broke his neck.
No one knew it wasn't an accident, or that it would be the first of many unfortunate mishaps.
As quietly as she possibly can, Victoire tiptoes down the stairs, casting a brief glance at the antique portrait that hangs on the landing.
Its sight is as daunting as it ever was, even though Walburga Black hasn't yelled at anyone in years.
Since the end of the war, the woman has yet to utter a single word. She just sits there with her gnarly, sallow hands folded in front of her, bearing an enigmatic smile that makes her look like an ugly, twisted Mona Lisa.
It's impossible to tell why she remains silent. Is it out of protest or simply because she considers the present occupants of number 12, Grimmauld Place miles beneath her station?
Or perhaps Mrs Black knows something Ginny doesn't.
Portraits may be smarter than they seem. Some recent theories claim they can tap into vast, universal knowledge of which mere mortals have no clue.
Victoire shakes her head and hurries to her destination.
If the rumours about Mrs Black's political views are correct, if her past behaviour, her relentless hatred towards anything even remotely Muggle wasn't exaggerated, she won't say a word, before or after the fact.
Of course, once all is said and done, that mysterious smile of hers might end up a tad more sinister, with a hint of gleeful to boot.
The second 'unfortunate mishap' involving someone near and dear to her occurred two months after Harry Potter's untimely demise.
On a sunny afternoon mid-May, Victoire lost Teddy.
They'd started dating three months previous, when she'd just turned sixteen.
He was part-Werewolf—had been from birth, of course—but with the right potions, his condition was perfectly kept under control. In his whole life, he'd never done anyone any harm. He was merely prone to bouts of extreme moodiness when the moon was high, but it was nothing he or Victoire couldn't live with. He certainly never threatened anyone's safety.
Nevertheless, he had to go.
Victoire remembers Lucius Malfoy watching them from his tower office window that morning, while they were strolling across the courtyard, hand in hand. His eyes were cold and full of hatred.
She sometimes wonders whether jealousy wasn't his true motive for doing what he did, but she always dismisses that idea as quickly as it comes. After all, she, too, is unworthy in his eyes. She has Veela blood running through her veins, and she's also a Weasley, a member of a family people like Lucius Malfoy tend to consider blood traitors.
Besides, it's far easier to believe Teddy's murder to be an act of war, not a means of quenching an ardent desire to possess her, otherwise she'd be partly to blame, an unwitting accessory simply because she'd fallen in love.
She couldn't live with that much guilt. The burden of what she must do already weighs heavily on her conscience, and things will only get worse in the aftermath.
She can still picture it vividly in her mind's eye: Teddy's mangled corpse sprawled at the bottom of the Astronomy Tower, his purple hair stained with dark, already drying blood, his previously bright eyes gone dull and lifeless.
The coroner's official verdict was suicide; Teddy Lupin's moodiness had driven him to the ultimate act of desperation.
The boy was buried during a small, brief ceremony, after which the whole tragic event was rarely mentioned again, except in some well-meant attempts to offer comfort by looking on the bright side.
"He's probably with his parents now, and completely at peace."
People moved on, and for all the world, the case was closed.
Not so, however, for Victoire. She couldn't accept, neither emotionally nor rationally, that Teddy would ever do such a thing, take his own life while they had so many plans, so much to look forward to.
They would finish school and move to France, stay with some of Maman's relatives for a while and then travel across Europe. The whole world lay at their feet.
The more she thought about it, the more Victoire decided she couldn't let the matter rest.
Though, perhaps, in hindsight, that's exactly what she should have done, because this is when the trouble truly began.
She still can't comprehend why she thought it a good idea to head up to Lucius Malfoy's office that morning, where she soon discovered she was in over her head. He had been waiting for her, actively anticipating her arrival.
"I'm glad you finally came," he said, a smug sneer playing around his lips.
She blinked, speechless.
"But whatever you are planning," he continued in an imperious tone, "I suggest you abandon those ideas this instant."
She shook her head and as soon as she found her voice, retorted, "I know you're responsible for Teddy's death. I don't know how you did it, or-or why, but once I find the proof, I…." She was bluffing—mostly, for at least eighty-five percent—but a part of her also knew, in the same way that she sometimes knows other things, too. Perhaps she's highly intuitive, or possesses vast Divination skills Trelawney has yet to discover. In either case, there wasn't a single doubt in her mind that Lucius had murdered Teddy, or had given the instructions to murder him; Lucius probably wasn't the sort of man who'd dirty his own hands with something like this.
Any remaining doubts she may have had about his guilt were instantly obliterated by his brusque reaction to her words.
"You shall do no such thing," he cut her off sharply. "Not if you value your life, and the lives of your parents. Furthermore…" He swiftly rose from his chair and with large, determined steps strode towards her. "You haven't got a leg to stand on. You don't possess a single shred of evidence against me."
"Perhaps not," she replied, sounding far braver than she felt, "but I'll keep looking until I find something. Or were you planning on killing me before I even got the chance?"
"Kill you?" He laughed a sardonic, almost sadistic laugh and continued, "Miss Weasley, rest assured that what I have in mind for you is of a far more… personal nature, and definitely requires you to be alive."
Young though she was, she knew exactly what he meant by that. A mortifying chill settled around her heart. She didn't care how cowardly she might have looked, or how pointless her action was, but she turned on her heel and ran, and she didn't stop running until she'd reached the relative safety of the Ravenclaw dorms.
Victoire shivers. She wraps her arms around herself in an attempt to fend off the cold, but it doesn't help one bit.
There is no draught here. Harry had the elves take care of that before he moved in. Even Kreacher helped to fix up the house so it would be more like a real home.
This harsh chill originates from deep inside herself.
She feels like she's been Lucius' mistress forever, his secret whore.
No one must ever find out about it. He said there would be terrible consequences otherwise, and she knows better than to underestimate his threats. She understands full well, now more than ever, what he is capable of.
She doesn't care that much about her own life anymore—it is cold and empty, and often seems pointless, especially without Teddy by her side—but she can't allow Malfoy to hurt her parents, for he would; of that, there isn't a single doubt in her mind.
Rumour has it that his wife lost her mind after the war, and that's the reason why she never goes out in public anymore.
Perhaps she discovered what he was planning, but disapproved and thus was silenced, driven mad, or worse.
Victoire heard other rumours too, years ago, frightening whispers that under Lucius' Manor, there lie miles and miles of dungeons. In cells deep underground, people are left to rot; no one can hear their anguished screams; no one even suspects their presence.
She wonders whether that'd be her fate, too, if she were to ever disobey him.
She's not his prisoner in the traditional sense, yet she has no choice to comply every time he summons her to his chambers.
Funny how no one seems to question that a member of the school board, a man who's neither a teacher nor an actual member of staff has elected to move into the castle. She supposes it's further proof of how much trust Lucius Malfoy has managed to regain in recent years.
None of the others can see how evil he is.
They'll never see them coming, either, the horrors he has planned. People still consider him weak.
She knows he's anything but. He probably lost his last remaining shred of sanity when his only son decided to go into Auror training, not because he wanted to prove something, but out of sheer conviction. Draco wanted to clear his family name of everything it once stood for.
The boy's efforts must have turned Lucius' heart to stone.
Yet Victoire hopes and dreams, against all logic and reason, that maybe one day, if she's a good girl, if she keeps doing as she's told…
Maybe one day he'll let her go.
For two weeks after Teddy's death, he didn't approach her again.
One night, however, just as she was beginning to think—and especially hope—that he might have changed his mind, he did send for her, just after curfew.
"I take it you know what I want?" he said the moment she walked through the door
She nodded slowly, and wordlessly allowed herself to be led to his bedroom.
When she undressed in front of him, she silently told herself she wouldn't feel anything, neither pleasure nor pain.
It was a mistake, a gross miscalculation on her behalf, and a testament to how naïve she still was.
Her Veela side betrayed her, as it was bound to do. She's more sensitive to touch than most, and a part of her nature craves male attention and yearns to be admired.
Moreover, Malfoy turned out to be a highly skilled lover. He knew exactly what he was doing and was determined that she, too, found pleasure in the experience. His pride demanded as much, or was it just another way to humiliate her, to break her remaining resolve?
Not before long, she moaned loudly and her hands clawed at his shoulders as she was swept away by a climax that was as much brilliant as it was unwelcome.
"You're mine now," he whispered in her right ear. "All mine, Victoire."
He pushed himself inside her for the first time that night, and she struggled not to cry.
Victoire walks into the drawing room, and forces a smile.
Ginny looks up at her and smiles back, seeming a little puzzled.
Victoire swallows hard. She takes a deep breath and braces herself.
This isn't fair. Ginny doesn't deserve this.
None of them do.
But sadly, she has no choice in the matter; it's either her aunt or her parents.
The die has long been cast.
"But she doesn't bother anyone, least of all you," Victoire protested as vehemently as she dared. "She doesn't even keep in touch with current affairs any longer. I never notice any newspapers lying around the house when I visit. She doesn't own a wireless, either, just one of those antique record players, the kind Muggles use, or well, they did a few decades ago…."
"All of that proves exactly nothing," Lucius stated. "Situations have been known to change quickly, and there is, of course, also the woman's history to consider."
Victoire blinked, uncertain what he was referring to.
"At Hogwarts, she hexed my son on more than one occasion, and she also played a very active part, I believe, in Potter's little defence club."
"Dumbledore's Army," Victoire thought aloud, blurting out the words before she had the common sense to stop herself.
"Quite," Lucius said with a tight smile. "So I fear she will have to be eliminated without further ado."
"B-But…" Victoire stammered.
"You do value the lives of your parents, do you not?" Lucius cut her short. "Technically, they're almost as high a liability as Ginny Potter is, even if their involvement in the war was rather minor and I believe they have no bonds with the Ministry at present?"
Victoire shook her head. "Not one," she replied firmly. "No one in my family has had all that much to do with the Ministry since Uncle Percy quit and Granddad retired."
"I'm pleased to hear that. Nonetheless, in your Aunt Ginny's case, we do have to take into account a dangerous precedent. Therefore…"
Victoire held her breath.
"We must act quickly, to ensure nothing similar ever happens again."
"S-So you want her out of the way for what she might do?" Victoire muttered. "A-At some point in the future we can't determine yet?"
"Precisely." He sneered at her, and if there still existed even a hint of doubt in her mind, it certainly vanished that very instant….
She knew then as she knows now that Lucius Malfoy is evil to the bone, and quite possibly also clinically insane.
"Can't sleep either?" Ginny asks kindly. "Insomnia is such a drag, isn't it?"
Victoire nods. She cringes inwardly, realising that soon, her aunt Ginny won't be suffering from that particular ailment any longer, or indeed, from anything else.
Victoire knows she shouldn't hesitate for one more second; the longer she waits, the harder it will be to go through with this. She reaches into the pocket of her dressing gown, whips out her wand and yells, "Stupefy!"
Doing the spell is easy.
The next part of her assignment will be considerably more arduous.
She'll have to go about it the Muggle way. She can't use an Unforgivable, assuming she even possesses the skills to cast one. The authorities would it trace it back to her eventually.
Right now, no one but Ginny knows she's even here. She was supposed to spend the first week of Summer Hols with her aunt Gabrielle in Nîmes, while Ginny's kids were far away in Egypt with the rest of the Weasley clan.
But at the very last minute, Victoire decided to stay behind, claiming she was exhausted from cramming for her exams and needed a few weeks by herself to recover.
Ginny stayed home, too. She doesn't leave the house much anymore, except when circumstances force her to. Her self-imposed isolation is something that unsettles her extroverted family greatly, but Ginny keeps insisting she's happier this way.
It's certainly more convenient, and presents Victoire with an ideal opportunity, too.
There won't be any witnesses here tonight, and by the time the Aurors get involved, everyone will assume an unknown robber was responsible; some Muggle, if she's lucky.
It'd help Lucius' cause greatly if people were made to doubt the integrity of Muggles. It might fuel deeply rooted and presently dormant prejudices.
Create hysteria. Plant a seed of fear and wait patiently for it to grow.
It's the perfect plan.
It's laughably easy.
Except for the part where Victoire grabs the dagger Lucius gave her, takes a deep breath, advances on the unconscious Ginny and stabs her in the chest.
Over and over again.
It's easier when she shuts her eyes. She can pretend it's Lucius.
Or his wretched son (who may have redeemed himself, but some things cannot—-will not—be forgiven.)
When Victoire finally opens her eyes again, certain that Ginny is no longer breathing, she tells herself it's long blonde hair with hints of grey she can see, sprawled out over the rug, and that all the red is only blood.
Merlin, there is so much blood!
Victoire leaps to her feet, reminds herself to breathe, and purposely avoids looking at the floor, determined not to cast another glance at the maimed corpse that lies there.
Maybe it'll be easier to forget, easier to pretend she never did this, if she doesn't commit the gruesome sight to memory.
She shakes her head, turns around and runs up to her room to change and to get the bags she never completely unpacked, along with another bag, one filled with silver and other valuables to make what happened here tonight seem more like a violent robbery.
She'll make that one bag disappear somewhere along the way, but only when she's at a safe distance from the house.
She nods to herself.
Yes. She mustn't dawdle. Or contemplate.
Her mission is almost complete.
There will be plenty of time for guilty reflection later.
Too shaken to Apparate, Victoire walks through the streets of London, hoping Lucius will still be waiting for her at their designated meeting place by the time she shows up there.
If not, there will probably be hell to pay, even if she did exactly as she'd been told, carried out his instructions to the letter.
She doesn't want to ponder on that possibility now, however.
She shoves her hands deep into her coat pockets and keeps on walking, her footsteps loud and hollow on the grey pavement, the light from the streetlamps only barely illuminating her pale face.
Someone told her once that the night is always the darkest just before dawn.
She knows better now. Her parents may be safe, at least for the time being. But for her, dawn will never come.
This night is endless, and eventually its darkness will consume her.