Ineffable Deceit

Wednesday 31 August 1966 – Saturday 31 July 1975

Kincarden Croft, Inverness-shire; Malfoy Manor, Wiltshire.

Rated PG for questionable child-rearing techniques and unquestionable deceit.

Ariadne spent much of her childhood running barefoot in the heather, bracing her face against the moist Highland winds and her muscles against the steep Highland slopes. But she never understood why outsiders called this “running wild”, for the MacDougals were among the most orderly people there were. “Tidy it away, dear.” She remembered her mother telling her that before she was two years old.

And nobody ever raised a voice. She must have learned that before she had memory, for she clearly remembered, at the age of three, feeling she had to scream with frustration when her brother Kenneth falsely accused her of stealing cream from the dairy, and their parents believed him. But she did not scream; she just sat.

That was the first time she ever did wandless magic. In her frustration, she only glanced at the great barrel, the one that Mamma churned every day, and suddenly the entire supply of milk – the fresh milk intended for cheese-making – was curdled. Her parents were so impressed that they forgot to punish her for the stolen cream.

Ariadne was almost an only child since her brother was thirteen years older than she was. There were, she knew, Muggle children in the village beyond the loch, but she never met them. Occasionally, Mamma took her through the Floo to play with other pure-bloods – Dragomira and Regelinda Macnair, Hazel Parkinson, the Malfoy or Macmillan cousins – but for most of the time, she played alone. She collected eggs from the henhouse, bottle-fed orphaned lambs and piglets, weeded out the herbiary, and climbed trees or swung on the gate, waiting for the Muggle lorries to drive up the narrow dirt road to take away the milk churns or bales of fleece. When it rained she kneaded the dough, swept the floors, tied messages to owls’ feet, and shredded herbs for the daily brew.

Her parents were too busy to pay much attention to her education. They taught her to read, then set her to the exercises on the basic maths syllabus for an hour a day, but otherwise, they considered that teaching her housework and farming counted as “education”. By the time when it no longer seemed like play to help Mamma with the chores, Ariadne took it for granted that of course she would do her share of the work. Besides, the farmhouse was full of books – the kitchen, the parlour, the bedrooms, even the hall and landings were all lined with loaded bookcases – so as soon as Ariadne could read at all, she was able to educate herself.

“Apart from reading and farming, magic is what matters,” said Papa, “and magic cannot be taught until she comes of age.”

Ariadne would have liked to ask why not, but she knew it was better not to ask “why” questions.

When the house was tidy and the farm chores were done, Mamma liked to sit by the cauldron over the kitchen fire. She brewed every day – potions for food, medicine, charms, hexes, abstractions – and she let Ariadne help her with that. “It’s not strictly magic,” she said, even though it was obvious that no Muggle who infused or desiccated or stirred the ingredients could ever have produced the same results. Ariadne learned to weigh the newts’ eyes, chop the teazle, stew the figwort, strain the crushed nettles, extract barakol from cassia, and bind pennyroyal powder into fine white pills.

“It’s all I have to remind me of my own dear mother,” Mamma used to say. “She was the greatest brewster in Scotland – perhaps in all Europe.”

“Why are you sad to think of your mother?” Ariadne once asked.

Mamma abruptly dropped her ladle into the cauldron. “That is too sad for a lassie to know,” was all she would say. “But if your Grandmamma were with us today, you would hardly be needing to go to Hogwarts at all – she could have taught you all you were needing to know.”

Ariadne learned not to ask questions about her mother’s family. Indeed, it was unwise to ask too many questions about any of their relatives, for questions usually led to trouble. Her parents disliked trouble, so she spent most of her childhood walking quietly, speaking softly, reading silently, completing chores docilely, obeying their gentlest suggestions without a murmur of argument. This behaviour kept them in a very good mood, which meant they would read her stories or play Exploding Snap with her in the evenings. But trouble occasionally blew up unexpectedly. She suffered the severest punishment of her childhood when she was less than four years old.

It happened when Kenneth was home for the school holidays, the same day a Ministry owl brought him his O.W.L. results. Kenneth had three Outstandings, two Exceeds Expectations and four Acceptables, which his parents assured him was an excellent result. Yet Ariadne knew that they were disappointed. She did not yet know what an O.W.L. was – it was different from the kind of owl who had brought the letter, and different even from the letter it brought – but it seemed that Kenneth’s O.W.L.s weren’t as good as they should be. When her parents were not looking, she hugged her brother’s legs and said, “I’m thinking you have a good, good owl there.”

That evening Cousin Lucius invited himself to dinner. Lucius Malfoy was her father’s nephew, and she knew her father was proud to be related to the Malfoy family, far prouder than he was to be related to the Macmillans.

“It was a tolerably pleasant surprise,” Lucius kept saying. “A little better than I had expected. Six Outstandings and three Exceeds Expectations. It really is very gratifying to feel that my diligence was not wasted.” He kept on and on talking like that, even though Kenneth was sitting right opposite him and was visibly shrinking into himself while Lucius talked.

Yet her father did not seem to notice. “A fine, fine show, young man. A very respectable score indeed,” he kept saying.

The more Papa spoke, the more Lucius spoke; and the more Lucius spoke, the more Papa spoke. Papa seemed not to know how to change the subject, and Lucius was not wanting to. Ariadne nearly said, “Kenneth will cry,” but realised in time that drawing attention to her brother like that really would distress him. She would not have said anything at all, but at about the time Mamma brought the cherry tart to the table, Lucius himself seemed to realise that he sounded daft saying the same thing over and over again.

“That looks like a sublime dessert, Aunt MacDougal,” said Lucius. “Quite ineffable. What do you think, little Ariadne?”

She had no idea what “sublime” or “ineffable” meant, but the sneer in her cousin’s voice suggested that they were disapproving words, so perhaps he really wanted to talk about his O.W.L.s again. Bearing this in mind, Ariadne replied, “I’m thinking you are cruel.”

The stunned silence around the dinner table told her that she had chosen the wrong words. Even Kenneth, who had every reason to agree with her, looked shocked; and William the farmhand, who had not listened until now, naÔvely said, “That’s boggin! Ist no, Mrs MacDuggal?”

“Ariadne, dear,” cautioned her mother, but with a cool note to her voice, “I think you are confusing real things with the story we read this morning. You’re needing to pay attention to what people say at the table, dear, and not daydream about fairy tales.”

But Ariadne knew that they had not read any stories that morning.

Her father broke the silence. “That was a dreadful, dreadful disaster on the London Underground last week. Death Eaters swarming all over the pipe, and fourteen Muggles dead. And nobody’s even knowing what they did to annoy Lord Voldemort.”

“Oh, dreadful, Uncle. Quite appalling.” As Cousin Lucius sliced the point off his triangle of cherry tart, Ariadne knew that his words did not match what he was really thinking, in the same way that Mamma’s words about fairy tales had not matched what had really happened.

“They are saying that young Travers ran off to join the Death Eaters on the day after the Hogwarts term ended. Did you know Travers, Lucius?”

“Not very well,” said Lucius in that same not-matching voice. “He was two years older.”

“I’m not understanding why a young man like Travers would associate with Lord Voldemort’s thugs. Have you a theory, Lucius?”

“My theory is that… to some people… the Dark Lord’s philosophies make sense. He wishes to see the Wizengamot in the hands of pure-blood families, who know the ways of the wizarding world. The Dark Lord says some wise things about learning from history to avoid repeating its mistakes. And it’s the old pure-blood families who know the history of the magical community.”

“That part, I believe, is beyond dispute,” said Papa. “But Voldemort is very publicly using violence to make his point. What I’m wanting to know, Lucius, is how youngsters like Travers are being fooled into accepting such blatantly poisonous ideology.”

Cousin Lucius kept his eyes on his dish as he said, “I’m told Travers never was very clever. But I don’t really know much about him.”

Ariadne did not know how her parents could yet listen to him; his voice was so different from when he had been talking about his O.W.L.s and had meant what he said.

“Everybody’s knowing that Voldemort commits these atrocities,” Papa mused, “yet he’s never present at the scene of crime.” Ariadne was not following this speech very well, but she certainly understood the question her father asked next. “Are you knowing, Lucius, whether anybody has ever sighted him?”

“I’m sure no one has,” said Lucius. “He’d be too cunning to expose himself to arrest.”

“But you did meet him!” Ariadne had not known that she was going to speak before the words burst out of her. “You did meet Lord Mort, and you’ve seen that he does use violence on his point!”

Once again, everybody turned to look at her.

“Ariadne,” said Papa, in a deadly-soft voice, “go up to your bedroom.”

She did not move. “Cousin Lucius is a best friend of Lord Mort,” she said stubbornly. “He’s liking that there is violence on the point.”

Without a word, her father rose from the table, lifted her from her seat, and carried her up the stairs.

Her heart thumped against her chest; Papa seemed so furious that she wondered if he planned to drop her out of a window. Papa did not speak until they reached the landing, when he pulled out his wand and ordered, “Scalae!” A trap door in the ceiling slid open and a stepladder glided down to the ground. Then Papa ran up the stepladder, still carrying her, and dumped her down on the attic floor. She began to cry; she had never known him move or touch her so roughly.

He spoke at a hiss. “You do not accuse other people of doing wrong,” he said.

Then he turned away, walked down the stepladder, and said, “Claudero!” The ladder rushed upwards, so fast that she had to jump out of the way, and the attic trap door closed beneath it.

Ariadne was alone in the unlit attic.

At first she was bewildered; she had never been up in the attic before, and she did not know what the room was for. It contained a few boxes (all sealed, as she discovered when she bumped into them), but nothing useful. She did not understand why she had been put here.

Then she became truly frightened. The attic was dark, and an attempt to rattle the heavy ladder showed her that there was no exit unless one had a wand to use the spell. Even if she did manage to blast the floor open (she was angry enough to make it happen) it was a long jump down to the landing. Her family was eating cherry tart two floors below her, angrily, she was sure, and even if she did manage to escape, it would make them angrier still. She was trapped in this dark place all alone.

She cried for a while, every so often feebly wailing, “Mamma, let me out!” But she knew that Mamma would never come unless Papa allowed it, and Papa was for now as angry as a cornered giant. After she had cried herself out, it seemed that she had been here for a long time, and she wondered how much longer they were going to leave her. Her next thought was that it was boring up here, and she wondered what she was meant to do. She kicked at the boxes, but they were hard, and kicking hurt her feet.

She lay down, muttering to herself, “But Cousin Lucius does like the violence-at-a-point, and he has met that man.” After a long, long time, she slept.

The next morning, Papa opened the attic and climbed the ladder, just high enough to put his head through the floor. “Ariadne,” he said, “do you understand now that nobody can say what is happening in somebody else’s life? Cousin Lucius is the only person who knows about himself.”

She understood well enough that Papa did not want her to contradict her cousin in public, but he had chosen his words most unfortunately. She looked him in the eye and said, “But Cousin Lucius was saying the wrong words. He has met that man and the man is using violence and Lucius is liking it.”

“Then I’m not believing you understand at all.” Papa jumped down from the ladder and, to her horror, sent it back up to the attic before she had time to step on the first rung.

She was left in the attic all that day and all the next night. They brought her no food, and she had to break the rules of personal hygiene. It was not until the middle of the next day, when she felt she might die of thirst, that Mamma came to bring her out.

Mamma did not ask if she understood now, so Ariadne did not have to weigh up whether she was willing to exchange freedom for speaking words that did not match and so make herself like Cousin Lucius.

* * * * * * *

That scene almost replayed itself three years later, when Ariadne was about seven. Aunt and Uncle Malfoy both caught dragon-pox and died, quite suddenly, and Cousin Lucius called everybody to Malfoy Manor to celebrate his inheritance. At least, that was how Ariadne remembered it later; at the time, it had been officially presented as some kind of post-funeral mourning party.

The five Malfoy cousins were dressed in black satin robes clasped with serpentine silver brooches, and silvery stars glittered in their platinum hair. An endless queue of dark-robed people shook hands with each one in turn, murmured polite nothings, and then dispersed outwards to the refreshment table, where house-elves were serving out cold lobster and cucumber salad. Ariadne clung to Mamma’s hand, an iron weight clamping around her chest as she imagined how wretched poor Cousin Letitia had to be feeling with both parents suddenly dead.

Letitia, who was the same height as Ariadne, extended one slim cold hand while she smiled a society lady’s smile, and her eyes glinted as brilliantly as an iceberg.

Ariadne’s words froze even before she brushed the proffered hand. How could Letitia be so relaxed when her parents were dead? She did not understand why Letitia had agreed to this condolence ritual, but she was chillingly certain that all sympathy was wasted.

Linus was exactly the same – coolly aplomb, superbly indifferent. So were Lucretia and Lavinia. Lucius managed to be haughtier yet. “Thank you for your good wishes,” he said to Kenneth. “This is a very sad day for us.” It was all said in the tone that Ariadne now called his “lying-voice”.

Ariadne had no appetite for the walnut pilaff and lemon sorbet on the dining table, but in a far corner she glimpsed the Macmillan cousins fussing over a toy cradle and a suitcase of doll’s clothes. They were the only people in the room who were unembarrassedly happy, so she moved over to join them.

“Bessie’s having a new dress, a yellow one because the green’s not really suiting her,” Felicity was saying.

“Ariadne, can you hold Polly?” Mercy greeted. “She’s needing help with feeding, but I cannot hold the spoon because Sukey’s teething and requiring all my attention.”

Both cousins sounded so much like their mother that Ariadne accepted the wax doll and pretended to spoon imaginary porridge into its mouth. Presently she noticed that Lucius was sauntering in their direction, with Uncle Macmillan following.

“ – frightful that the Dark Lord has gathered so many Death Eaters that he’s now able to attack two places at once,” Uncle Macmillan was saying.

“Terrifying,” Lucius agreed coldly. “Wizards without heart or conscience. I am glad that I never joined them.”

Ariadne pressed her lips together, knowing better than to say out loud, “But you’re lying. You have joined them, and you’re liking what they’re doing!”

She knew they were talking about Lord Voldemort, even though respectable people no longer spoke Voldemort’s name. Although both the Wireless and the Daily Prophet contained more and more information about his activities, they usually called him the “Dark Lord”.

Twelve months later a Wireless announcer pointed out that “Dark Lord” was what the Death Eaters called their master. After that, respectable people stopped saying even the “Dark Lord” – it sounded too much like admitting to being a Death Eater. Most people said “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” or simply “You-Know-Who”.

“Why can You-Know-Who not be named?” asked Ariadne.

“Hush, dear!” said Mamma. “It’s unlucky to speak the name of evil people. It’s as if we were wishing to attract their attention.”

“Is he evil, then?” It was so unlike Mamma to admit that anybody ever did anything wrong.

“We’d certainly do well to keep out of his way. Have you the dragon’s blood, dear? We’re needing to clean the stove-range.”

Before another twelve months had passed, Ariadne had to return to Malfoy Manor, this time because Cousin Lavinia was marrying Mr Valerian Crabbe. Ariadne was one of ten bridesmaids dressed in shimmering, pale-pink satin, which had cost her parents more than they could bear to think.

“But Lucius is paying for the garnet earrings and garnet necklaces,” said Cousin Lucretia, “so really there is no need to fuss.”

“That there is,” said Mercy Macmillan. “Father said that he could not afford the dress-robes, so Felicity and I were not to be bridesmaids. And then Lucius said we’d embarrass the whole family if we were not bridesmaids, and he could not ever speak to us again, but he did not yet offer to share the cost. In the end Grandfather Macmillan had to give Father some money and he’s not even invited to the wedding!”

If Ariadne had been caught speaking to Lucretia like that, she would have been banished straight back to the attic. Yet Aunt Macmillan, who had certainly heard the whole exchange, looked rather proud before she abruptly walked away, pretending not to have heard anything.

Ariadne tried not to think the disloyal thought: I like the Macmillans much more than the Malfoys. Then she remembered that nobody could hear her thoughts, so she let them wash over her like a warm wave.

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