Length: ~4000 words
Summary: There is more to the identity of pure-blooded wizardry than the excesses of the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters. But the obligations that come with old blood are not always less painful…
Author's Note: Set at the end of OotP. Thanks to waterbird and lazy_neutrino for the beta!
It is Blaise Zabini who shows her into the compartment, a grin trying to break through on his lips despite the mask of feigned deference. Respect your elders, Slytherin teaches its children, but some are more worthy of respect than others. He vanishes when she steps into the doorway, loath to answer the obvious questions such as, 'Where were you when they ambushed your housemates?'
They twist in the luggage racks of the compartment, oozing and stinking of a wild combination of diverse magics. Again. The only one she can distinguish is the Malfoy boy, recognisable by his slender size and the blond wisps of hair on top of his misshapen head. Lips thinning in frustration, she draws her wand to levitate the lumpy bodies from the luggage racks. As they squirm on the floor in front of her, she can finally identify Gregory by his clothes.
They've been thoroughly overcome by their adversaries. It should pain her to see a child of her blood outhexed by his agemates, but she, of all people, has no right to fault Gregory. After all, it's not his fault that he is a sad excuse for a wizard.
It had been a few years after his first public appearance that the Dark Lord had set out to extend his influence beyond the British Wizarding World. Not firmly as yet, of course, but to hammer in a few signposts of import. And he'd chosen well, Lord Voldemort, she had to grant him that. Picking out a French wizarding family of old pureblood repute, one whose ancient name commanded respect, but whose present-day representatives had lost a bit of their glamour. Oh, old Cassius Lemarchand was still revered right up to his death, for his youthful duelling feats as much as for developing the Foeglass out of the traditional scrying mirror.
But after his passing, with his son and heir a socialite, and his younger daughter studying under Igor Karkaroff's tutelage at Durmstrang, Lemarchand's older daughter was easy prey to the new Dark Lord. A gifted Healer, but not as supremely powerful as her ancestresses, plain and without the allure of striking beauty imperilled by evil, Hélène Lemarchand's cause was not quite one the young bravos of French wizarding society would flock to.
Her brother was the first to be approached - Bernard, flattered by the attentions of exotic figures on the darker side of the wizarding elite, by the enigmatic scions of old families, toying with the Dark Arts and worshipping their mysterious lord. Dashing Rodolphus Lestrange with his stunning bride, sinister Anton Dolohov, Michael Mulciber, who had the grace of a wildcat and the very same edge of a duellist that the Lemarchand heir had always been aspiring to.
They took him on fancy outings to Swedish Arjeplog for the annual dragon race, and initiated him to mysterious rituals that just happened to be illegal in most corners of wizarding Europe until he had tangled in their master's web beyond escape. No, Bernard had not ever intended to become a servant of Lord Voldemort, but found himself owing favours and disappointing his new 'friends' with his reticence. When the veiled threats became oppressive, the casual offer of a marital alliance suddenly seemed like an honourable way out. And as Bernard and Hélène had moved in different circles, there was no great barrier of affection to overcome.
This arrangement was presented to her in the reception rooms of a Paris Ministry representative during an exclusive house party. The oily, goateed smile of Igor Karkaroff, thin and knowing as he praised her sister's skills at Charms. There were... things that could happen to an unprotected young girl at Durmstrang, if her family offended the Dark Lord her headmaster served.
Even without the subtle threats surrounding the offer, there was no way to tell the Dark Lord No to his face. He wielded charisma as others wielded the Imperius, Lord Voldemort, a thin veneer of superior joviality smudged over a personality too saturated by magic to feel fully human. So, without betraying a single note of outrage at the proposed husband who had not even deigned to put in an appearance to assist his suit, she nodded her assent and felt the first drops of impotent hatred trickle down her throat as she swallowed.
Her brother, offering a dry kiss to her cheek and drier words of congratulations, took a Transcontinental Portkey to Brazil two weeks later, when it became obvious that although the Dark Lord had returned to the British Isles to pursue his conquest, his continental followers merely considered their success as the first step to luring the heir of Lemarchand into their ranks.
Years later, she learned that Bernard had managed to ingratiate himself with Brazil wizarding society, undoubtedly dazzling scores of doe-eyed witches with tales of the Parisian magical aristocracy and his exploits on the duelling floor. He ended up married to the halfblood daughter of a native medicine woman and a Muggle cocoa baron in Aracaju, never to return. They did not pursue him, the Dark Lord's chosen; evidently, proving to the aloof old bloodlines of wizarding Europe that he had the power to ruin an ancient family if he so desired was enough to satisfy Lord Voldemort.
Instead, droves of cousins and relatives to the Lemarchand name descended to lovingly gobble up the family inheritance between them. She purposefully chose nothing for herself apart from her Healer's kit, an ancient Vanishing Chest and a handful of heirlooms. What influence she still possessed went to securing a decent marriage portion to await her sister when she came out of Durmstrang. She herself brought nothing of value to the match with Andrew Goyle but her rage and her bloodline.
She took an Unbreakable Vow with her marriage oath, swearing fidelity and obedience in the presence of the Dark Lord and a small scattering of his faithful. She felt grateful that no member of her family was present to witness her disgrace. Even if the heir of Lemarchand failed his duties, honour demanded that she stand up for those of her bloodline, even for a sister she hardly knew.
In a way, it was a little bit as if she'd never been born at all, or as if her marriage ceremony, travesty that it was, had been the funeral of an unloved relative everybody was secretly glad to be rid of. At least if she'd chosen a Mudblood, she could have taken pride in flaunting ancestral customs and opinions. But being a victim of the Dark Lord? To think of her would shame those who had once called themselves her family and friends, but who could not have been bothered to stand up for her. Better by far not to remember her at all.
To her own chagrin, she was aware that she would not have fought so hard - not in the way she finally did - if the Dark Lord had given her to a worthy follower; the unmarried Lestrange brother, Dolohov, even sullen young Snape. But to force her onto a mindless goon, for no other reason than to improve a weak bloodline through the ancient heritage of Lemarchand...?
It wasn't that Goyle treated her cruelly - he never raised a hand to her, unlike brutish Victor Crabbe who thought nothing of slapping around his drab wife. It was evident Goyle was a little in awe of her, and would not dare to ill-use a gift from the Dark Lord. Especially not when said gift was likely one day to stand between him and deliverance from curse damage inflicted by Aurors or by the followers of Albus Dumbledore. The sexual part did not bother her much either - it was certainly less disgusting than ridding a patient of a stomach infestation of Flesh-Eating Slugs.
But then, only half a year after her forced initiation to matrimony, she found herself pregnant...
Had she been carrying a girl, she would not have dared to tamper. The healing gift that ran and occasionally surfaced in the female line of the Lemarchand blood was rare and all the more sacred for it. And not deadly. But the male bloodline had produced generations of superb duellists, and she would not see those intrinsic gifts handed to the Dark Lord on a silver platter, to produce a new generation of Death Eaters. Not against her will!
So she twisted her healing gift and turned it inwards, suffocating the bright aura of magic in the unborn's blood, quelling its exceptional potential, grinding down the peaks of its power before they could ever blossom into being.
It left her curled into a miserable ball in her bed next to the oblivious, snoring bulk of Andrew Goyle, dry heaves wracking her body and cold sweat dripping down her skin. If it hadn't been for the Dark Lord, and the threat to her sister's life, she'd much rather have destroyed the embryo altogether instead of violating a helpless, unformed creature like this.
Divested of the potency of its Lemarchand heritage, it became more thing than being in her mind; Goyle's entirely, having no share in the gifts of her own bloodline.
In her resentment and all but self-destructive mindset, she only just lived through the birthing process, rushed off to St. Mungo's Midwitchery Ward when she pointedly refused to employ her healing magic in her own cause. She wouldn't have minded death in childbed despite its Muggle connotations - it would have been preferable to facing the infant whose essence she had mutilated.
Only four weeks later, called to assist Narcissa Malfoy in her own childbirth, she fought tooth and nail for the life of little Draco Malfoy. Narcissa, frail and damaged after a near-fatal earlier miscarriage, barely survived the night. Had the baby carried the full raw power of its Black and Malfoy bloodlines, she would certainly have died. Aware of Malfoy's excessive pride and Narcissa's stubborn devotion, she knew as she examined the squalling infant with hands and mind that neither would have resorted to dampening the child's power even to protect the mother's life. But Draco was what the Lemarchand line had been for the last two generations: an average result of his bloodlines, but not exceptional.
"This is your heir," she told Lucius Malfoy as she put the swaddled bundle into his arms while Narcissa lay on the bed, deathly pale and cocooned in healing magic. "If you try again, she will die."
Even though Draco wasn't a healthy child, she hadn't been called on the matter again, which imbued her with an unspoken respect for Malfoy - not just as the representative of an ancestral wizarding house, but as a man.
And then, only months after her unwanted son had been born, Harry Potter destroyed the Dark Lord, proving once again that supreme, cosmic irony ruled the universe.
She kept an eye on the Malfoy heir through ailments and childhood illnesses, with a longing she hardly dared face up to. This was what should have been hers - whole and undamaged and born out of mutual affection.
Little Gregory, on the other hand, was the quiet mirror image of his father in colouring, build and character, as if her rejection of him had reached right down to the cellular level. He was a slow and often unresponsive child, as if her tampering with his magic had also affected his intellect. And it probably had; it was almost impossible to interfere with the feeble, vulnerable mind of an infant without damaging its tender brain. Had he not been inseparable from young Crabbe, who was equally slow in his development, the lateness of Gregory's first signs of magic would have been even more noticeable. Lemarchand children came into their power early.
She did not conceive again; her own magic had ensured that much after Gregory's birth. It did not matter. She had destroyed her son's potential - compared to that, drying out her own future contribution to the bloodline seemed trivial. And her sister, having made a proper match with an offspring of the ancient wizarding enclave of Grindelwald, had given birth to an heir who would carry on her late father's name and his power.
Andrew had not touched her once after the downfall of the Dark Lord. He was slow, but no fool. She had sworn an Unbreakable Vow to obey, but they both knew, without having to spell it out, that this would not stop her from casting the Killing Curse on him if cornered, even if it resulted in her own death. She hadn't felt the urge to end her existence since the birth of Goyle's son, but she wasn't exactly afraid of it either.
In the years to follow, Hélène Lemarchand became plain Helen Goyle, unremarkable, drab and middle-aged, as common as Adele Bulstrode or that Weasley woman with her blood-traitor husband. An uncaring spouse, a disinterested mother, a small-time healer for indiscriminate locals and Death Eaters.
Gregory prefers hanging around the Crabbes' to the frosty atmosphere at home, not that she blames him. Vincent has brothers and sisters, and a mother whose gruffness and quick hand cannot disguise her devotion to her children. They complement each other well, Edith Crabbe and Helen Goyle - the former to distribute what motherly affection there is, the latter to take care of physical damages and ailments. What Crabbe and Goyle senior get up to when they are out together, she doesn't waste one thought on. Firewhisky, Muggle-baiting, duels and bewitched Mudblood wenches, most likely.
It's almost possible to adjust to the quiet kind of life after the Dark Lord, until the Muggle girl.
She remembers the morning she'd found it on one of her prolonged excursions for herbs in the fields. It had rained the night before, and the grass blades dripped with fresh condensation from the morning fog.
The Muggle lay on the ground, a bit off a muddied tractor path, unmoving with almost translucent skin, fine, dirt-blond hair straggling around its face. But even as she fought the impulse to turn her back (she'd never been close enough to a Muggle to actually touch it, and this wasn't her kind or responsibility) a thrill crept through her at the thought of slapping the face of Lord Voldemort's memory. She bent down to feel the pulse at the blue-veined throat, and probed the weak whisper of the mind underneath clammy skin.
Disentangling strands of memory jumbled by unconsciousness and exhaustion, she learned that the girl, daughter of a local presbyter with very rigid moral standards, had found herself pregnant after a forbidden, drunken summer night. The knowledge had festered inside her, a black maw gnawing on her brain, until she'd taken a phial of Muggle sleeping pills out into the fields and there slipped into fitful unconsciousness in the upcoming drizzle. Probing the child's body with her magic, Helenrealised that the drug itself was unsuited to kill, but the rain and hypothermia were close to fulfilling the girl's goal.
Though it was a Muggle and too lowly for a Healer's attention, she'd pushed a warming charm through the girl's body, and then listened deep into her and snuffed out the little spark of life glowing in her belly. The girl had certainly been willing to pay dearly for this result. There would be other chances for her once she was grown. And if not - well, a Muggle had no magical bloodline to pass on, and there already were so many of them in the world as it was.
She sunk parting feelers into the girl's mind, implanting an Imperius compulsion to employ whatever its kind used in place of contraceptive potions until it truly wanted little Muggles. To hell with the British Ministry's presumption to legislate what spell an adult, qualified witch or wizard was or was not to use! Only barely, she resisted the impulse to have the girl slip a poison to that father of hers who had brought her to the brink of chilly death in a rain-drenched field. But then they were only Muggles, and not worthy of so much effort. She neutralised the sleeping drug, jolted a waking charm through the newly-warmed body, and Disapparated.
The girl had felt so infinitely fragile under her touch, and not just because she was hollowed out by despair and close to death. Her blood ran sluggish without the bright burn of magic, her body defenceless and thin-boned like a bird's, whispering of early death and vulnerability. There is an ancient law in the Healer's Codices forbidding practising the Art on Muggles for fear of contaminating and weakening the Healer's power. She's always thought it bogus, born out of the same isolationist spirit that had once outlawed interfering on behalf of Muggle 'witches' being burned to death.
And even if it damaged her - how often will she be called upon to employ the full extent of her gift again? Challenges come her way rarely now - so rarely indeed that she gloried in the opportunity when they brought in Marcus Flint, screaming and writhing in his blood-soaked black robe only months after the return of Lord Voldemort, with his intestines transformed and mangled by an Auror's curse. And so she duelled the ancestral enemy - death - inwardly raging at the Dark Lord drawing half-children into his circle. Stupid children at that, only a few years older than her own, who is spun along in the same direction like a ladder in a cheap stocking. Her healing serves the Dark Lord too, she knows, but she can't consign fools to death for being fools.
In retrospect, her encounter with the Muggle was foreshadowing, not contamination. The girl's fragility and despair mirrored her own powerlessness when, only a few months after that wet autumn morning, the Dark Lord returned to his fawning devotees. Somewhat damaged, or so she learned from the rumours that will always be spread in the dark corners of Death Eater households. So it is unlikely that he will concern himself with the failure of his breeding project any time soon. And should he do... well, Andrew is very fond of the boy, as are his Death Eater friends, and the risen Lord has not so many followers that he can just alienate a whole group even if it displeases him that Gregory is anything but the powerful wizard he'd been expecting. And should he turn against her... well, her sister is a grown woman now, ready to fend for herself, and the Dark Lord's power, considerable as it may be, is still not sufficient to restore her fertility. He can only destroy, and death is nothing that would terrify Helen Goyle after all this time.
She lives the year on borrowed time, always aware that sooner or later Lord Voldemort's eye has to fall on her. There surely is no joy in her heart when the Dark Lord's most nefarious followers break out of Azkaban - the Lestranges and Dolohov, who have played their hand in her brother's corruption, and her own disgrace.
And after the disaster in the Department of Mysteries, she was able to tell the Aurors in perfect honesty that she did not have an inkling what Goyle left the house that night to do. Not that they believed her.
They came to search the house barely a day after the arrests. She had expected no less. An assortment of phials from her Healer's kit went into the Vanishing Chest, along with a set of ritual daggers bearing the Lemarchand Crest, and Gregory's silly shrunken head, his birthday gift from Draco Malfoy. If Andrew possessed Dark materials, they were likely hidden away at the Malfoys', and he had taken his Death Eater outfit with him to the Ministry.
In retrospect, it was a wise decision. The quartet of Aurors, led by a surly figure calling himself Williamson, went through the place with an assortment of Magidectors and Foeglasses, confiscating Andrew's tattered Hand of Glory and a handful of trinkets, none of which seemed particularly Dark. They poked around her Healer's kit like Nifflers in a coal heap, noses wrinkled with suspicion as if she'd go right out to practice the Dark Arts with her Sophoribus Beans. A pinched-looking black Auror finally pulled them away. Although the ingredients she'd locked away are legal in the kit of a Master Healer, she did not feel like defending her right to them or trying to win back material confiscated by the Ministry. She lacked the standing, and now also access to those who had, like the Malfoys.
And so she finds herself, at last, collecting hexed children on the Hogwarts Express after an owl from Narcissa Malfoy, whose unladylike scrawl screamed 'frantic' off the parchment, while the lady of Malfoy Manor is off to try her wiles on the Minister.
Flicking her wand, she begins to undo the spells, painstakingly identifying and drawing off one after the other. She first attends to Draco, who is the worst afflicted, employing a considerable amount of healing energy to erase boils and tentacles. A conglomerate of different minor curses is harder to repair than one or two strong ones, and the longer they are left untreated, the greater the danger of lasting scarring. While Malfoy peers out of gritty, swollen eyes on his way back to consciousness, she waves her wand first over her son, then over his friend Vincent. They make it to their feet, grunting and swaying while Malfoy digs nails into his palms, fizzing with rage - a familiar sight if things don't go his way.
"Potter and his goons," he snarls.
"Your mother is at the Ministry and won't be able to pick you up," she says calmly, ignoring his fury altogether. If he were prudent, he'd get used to harsh words and curses. But then again, he's a Malfoy. "You're to stay with us until she returns."
Despite its puffiness, she sees Malfoy's face fall and cannot blame him. He'd much rather stay at the Crabbes', of course, but Narcissa Malfoy is circumspect. If the Ministry decided to go after the children of those arrested in the Department of Mysteries for what would without doubt be euphemistically dubbed an 'interview', Edith Crabbe would not be much of a deterrent. Not as much as a daughter and sister to duellists.
"Your father has been sent to Azkaban," she tells Gregory, wishing in vain she could inject a hint of regret into her voice for the boy's sake. But there is none. If Goyle rots in Azkaban for the rest of his natural life, it will only make her life easier. The boy stares at his feet and nods.
She waves to the three boys to precede her to the exit and steps out after them onto the nearly deserted platform. In the hall beyond, a few wizarding stragglers still linger, and she recognises the stray glances that pass over her and the boys. 'Death Eater wife', those looks are snarling. She is familiar with them from the past; they hadn't been able to touch her then, either. Young Malfoy notices as well, and a pink flush colours his cheeks.
His rage does credit to the boy's bloodline, although it will inevitably lure him right into the hands of the Dark Lord like so many fools before him - if with slightly better cause. But the burning face and the soft wobble of his lower lip betray his unfitness to move in the company of wolves, as his father has done. She'd warn him, but he won't listen to a woman who's never been more than the sullen, indifferent mother of a minion. Especially not one who, having done a good impression of a wolf gnawing off parts of herself to escape the trap, has never come close to succeeding.
She'll do what she can to keep those children, at least Gregory and his friend, out of the circles of the Death Eaters and their master until they're old enough to make their own choices. Honour demands that she do no less, just as she could not save herself at the expense of her sisters safety, or leave that nameless Muggle girl to die in a field.
But - like everything else she's ever done - it will not be enough. And in the end, it will not matter either.
Disclaimer: Most of the characters in this story belong to J.K. Rowling. I'm just experimenting with them a bit. No harm intended, no money made.