Deceit at the Wedding

Saturday 24 July 1976 – Thursday 1 September 1977

Kincarden Croft, Inverness-shire; Salford, Greater Manchester; Malfoy Manor, Wiltshire; King’s Cross Station, London; Hogwarts (unplottable, but believed to be in the Grampians).

Rated PG for reported violence and first-hand avarice.

A year after Cousin Lavinia’s wedding, the Malfoy and Macmillan cousins all congregated at Kincarden Croft, where Kenneth was married to a politely-mannered Edinburgh pure-blood named Janet Cornfoot. Ariadne wore the MacDougal tartan; Papa roasted a sheep and an ox on spits in the courtyard; and the wedding cake was a square of Dundee cake that Mamma had baked at home. The Macmillan children wanted to run around the farm to visit the animals.

“What, in your best robes?” gasped Letitia Malfoy in disbelief.

“In my robes,” said Dreadnought Macmillan firmly. “I’m wanting to see the pigs.”

“Ariadne’s knowing better than to scuff her bridesmaid’s robe,” interposed Uncle Macnair. “I would not play with those yellow-tartans if I were you, Ariadne. You’d be better off taking my daughters indoors to play a nice, quiet board game.”

It was unwise to disobey Uncle Macnair, who was Mamma’s cousin and whom Mamma respected to the point of reverence. His own children always obeyed him instantly, and he expected similar compliance from the MacDougals. But little Dreadnought looked desperately disappointed to be told to play indoors, so Ariadne said, “I’ll bring out a tarpaulin and some Gobstones. We can all play.”

Dragomira and Regelinda Macnair were willing to play Royal Ur and Wei Qi with the Macmillans, but Letitia could not bring herself to sit down on the dirty ground, not even on a tarpaulin. She sailed off to find her brother Linus, while Steadfast Macmillan distributed the counters.

In the middle of the game-playing, an owl arrived for Mamma. Perhaps she was unwise to open the letter in such a public place, for she turned very pale and clutched at Papa’s arm. She looked as if she wanted to walk out of the party on the spot, but of course she did not; that would have been quite improper on her son’s wedding day.

It was half an hour before Ariadne could politely leave her cousins to their games and ask her mother, “Mamma, what is wrong? Did you receive dreadful news?”

This turned out to be one of the few types of Bad Event that could be discussed freely. “Dreadful indeed,” she said. “My poor niece is dead! I always knew she would end up just like my dear mother!”

“Mamma, what happened?”

“I’m not yet knowing.” Mamma was spilling tears now. “The owl did not mention whether it was accident or illness or something worse. But I never believed poor Eileen could live a long life after she married that Snape!”

Ariadne hugged her mother, and this seemed to be the correct thing to do.

Even when Cousin Lavinia Crabbe approached with raised eyebrows, asking, “Tears at Kenneth’s wedding, Aunt MacDougal?” Mamma only replied, “Do not inform anybody until the party ends, Lavinia, but my only niece died this morning!”

Lavinia nodded, not with sympathy, but with a kind of satisfaction that no rule of Good Behaviour had been breached. She said, “I will mention it to Lucius this evening. If you wish to dismiss the party early, Aunt MacDougal, everyone will understand.”

“That I do not wish, for I could not cause such gossip,” said Mamma, speaking more steadily; and this seemed to be correct too.

Ariadne was nearly ten now, and it was harder for her parents to hide the distasteful secrets of their family history. She had access to photograph albums, to scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, to genealogies scripted in the family Bible. She knew that most of her father’s family had been killed on a holiday in Albania because they had encountered an agent of Grindelwald during a hike in the forest. Papa and two of his sisters had survived only because they had happened to dine on reheated chicken livers the previous evening and had spent the fateful day abed in the hotel with food poisoning.

Ariadne knew that her mother’s mother had been born Ankarad Murray and that she had married Cuthbert Macnair. But they and their children had never lived at Macnair Castle, for Cuthbert had belonged to something called a “cadet branch”. This meant that he had not inherited anything from his parents, while his nephew, the great Walden Macnair, had succeeded to the whole “from portcullis to pinnacle”. Mamma had always taken it as a great favour that her cousin Walden sometimes visited Kincarden or arranged to meet Papa in Diagon Alley and asked questions about the MacDougals’ well-being.

“But Walden Macnair is not as great as he thinks he is,” sniffed Lucretia Malfoy, “for he made weak investments and lost most of the Macnair fortune. Why keep a castle that you can’t afford to maintain? Walden Macnair has to work for the Ministry of Magic – work for pay – just to put food on his table!” According to the Malfoys, it was a shameful thing to need to work for pay.

“My father was never a happy man,” was the most Mamma would say about the Cadet Branch.

Aunt Macmillan was blunter. “Goodness, lassie, do not upset your mother by asking any more questions about the Macnairs,” she said. “Her childhood was the most miserable you could imagine. Her father never forgave Life for making him a second son, doomed to earn an honest living instead of inheriting that rickety old castle at Foss. He was addicted to Firewhisky and never gave a moment’s peace to anybody unfortunate enough to fall into his power. He would have gone to Azkaban for killing his wife – except that when the Aurors came to arrest him, they found he’d already been killed in a duel with a neighbour.”

So that was the shameful secret of Grandmamma Macnair, the greatest brewster in all Scotland – her own husband had killed her.

Ariadne knew from the genealogies and scrapbooks that Mamma had been the fourth of five daughters, and that none of her aunts had lived happy lives. The eldest aunt, Nyfain, had married an Englishman named Impugnus Prince, which Mamma always considered very unfortunate, although she would never say why. Aunt Prince had died in childbirth a year later, and there had always been something mysterious – something not to be discussed – about her daughter. All Ariadne really knew about her Cousin Eileen was that she had inherited Aunt Keindrech’s old school books because Uncle Prince had been too mean to buy new ones, that she had been a Gobstones champion, and that she had married a Muggle. But that none of these facts was the reason why Mamma was not liking to talk about her niece.

The second aunt, Gruoch, had been exactly like their father: she had married an Acerbus Nott, and, according to the newspaper clipping pasted to the scrapbook, the two of them had gone to Azkaban for killing their own children. Perhaps they were there yet; there was no record on the genealogy that they were actually dead.

The third aunt, Donat, had been the family rebel. According to another cutting, she had mysteriously died one week after refusing to marry a Dark Wizard, a man who openly admitted to six years in Grindelwald’s service. Ariadne felt that Grandpapa Macnair had probably killed Aunt Donat too, but of course there was no evidence of this.

As for Aunt Keindrech, the youngest, she had “never known what to do with herself” after her parents’ scandalous deaths. The album’s final photograph of Aunt Keindrech showed her at her parents’ funeral, dressed in black and carrying a spray of red roses. According to the caption underneath, she had on that day been invited to live as an indefinite guest at Macnair Castle in exchange for “assisting with experimental research into magical hexes”. The family Bible recorded her death-date as six months after her parents’ funeral, but there were whispers that her ghost was yet haunting the turrets of Macnair Castle.

Ariadne began to understand why Mamma always spoke so softly and never argued with anybody. If she had chosen to marry Papa, she evidently wanted to make her married home as unlike her childhood home as possible.

* * * * * * *

They had to go to Cousin Eileen’s funeral on the day after Kenneth’s wedding. After one glance at Tobias Snape, Ariadne knew why Mamma disliked him. There was a cruel, angry line around his mouth; he was probably a Muggle version of Grandpapa Macnair. It must be nightmarish for Mamma to be forced to imagine her niece’s life, living in that man’s house, listening to his soft, deadly voice, being punished by his sneers (and perhaps worse) and isolated from all her wizarding friends. Ariadne slid her hand into her mother’s and did not let it go all through the memorial service. Mamma squeezed her hand back and sobbed quietly throughout the final hymn.

The wake at the Snapes’ family home was crowded out with Muggle neighbours. They all spoke to Cousin Tobias, and he leered back at them.

“She was something of a witch. We’ll probably live more happily without her.”

Ariadne could not believe he would say anything so spiteful – or so indiscreet – in front of Muggles. She had no desire to meet him, so she studied his walls, which were completely lined on every side with bookshelves. The books surprised her too: there were no Muggle volumes (was Tobias unable to read?) but only blatantly magical ones. They must have been charmed so that Muggles did not notice them, for they had such frightening titles as Harnessing the Inferi, Fast Curses for your Foes and What Wizards can Learn from Vampires. At least half of them were related to potions: Dictionary of Aphrodisiacs, A Hundred and One Undetectable Poisons, Home-Brewed Hexes, Complete Uses of Deadly Nightshade.

Had Eileen dabbled in the Dark Arts? Was that why Mamma had made so little effort to maintain contact with her niece?

One bookcase covered an open door; Ariadne looked through it into a stone kitchen. She saw cauldrons, scales and jars of herbs; there was even a trail of red powder spilled carelessly over the counter, as if nobody had bothered to wipe up the mess from last week’s brew. There were more books – a herbiary, recipes for rashes and emetics, a collection of household hints – left lying open near the shelves, indicating that Eileen had continued her brewing right up until the day she died. Perhaps the softly-scented steam rising from a shimmering cauldron had given her a small corner of happiness even while she was living with that horrible man. Or perhaps it had been her way of deliberately annoying him, of reminding him that she had powers beyond his imaginings and that she might use them to destroy him if she chose.

Then Ariadne spotted him – the only person, apart from Mamma, who was honestly grieving. A thin, sallow, hook-nosed youth of about seventeen was staring out of the window at the dilapidated giant chimney of a run-down mill. She knew at once that he was Eileen’s son because he looked so much like Tobias. And she knew that he was utterly friendless. Mamma was by now leaning on Papa’s arm, so Ariadne drew a deep breath and approached the young man.

“I’m sorry about your mother, Cousin Severus,” she told him. “This has to be a bad day for you.”

Cousin Severus looked very surprised. He nodded, but did not speak to her.

* * * * * * *

Six months later, Tobias Snape was also dead, and Mamma said they were not needing to attend this funeral; everybody knew that she had never been acquainted with her nephew-in-law. However, she wrote quite a long letter of condolence to Severus “because he’s the only blood-nephew I have”.

Six months after that, Lucius Malfoy was married, and Ariadne was one of twenty bridesmaids, all arrayed in the finest pale-blue lace and carrying posies of sky-blue roses. Lucius was so determined to outshine his sister that he personally paid for the twenty pale-blue lace dress-robes, and the sugar figures around the edges of the seven-tier wedding cake actually moved like little clockworks, and the three fountains in the grounds of Malfoy Manor each ran with a different kind of wine.

The bride was Miss Narcissa Black, but she was so proud and pallid and platinum that she could have passed for a Malfoy by birth. Ariadne overheard Cousin Linus whispering to his sister Lucretia that Narcissa had brought a personal fortune – one might almost say, a dowry – of one hundred thousand Galleons.

Lucretia frowned furiously and hissed, “Don’t be vulgar, Linus! No well-bred person is so crude as to discuss money.” She slid her eyes across the lawn to ensure that the bride and groom were out of earshot, then finished her rebuke with, “Just because the Blacks are among the few families who are fit to associate with the Malfoys, there is no need to thank them. We have plenty of capital of our own and we don’t claim to be surprised that Narcissa accepted Lucius!”

“And bridesmaids in position again!” called the photographer.

Ariadne moved into her spot as Eleventh Bridesmaid and lifted her blue bouquet.

“I’m wishing we had not to take yet another photograph!” complained Felicity Macmillan, who was Thirteenth.

“How ungrateful!” hissed Letitia Malfoy sharply, from her position behind them as Second. “Attending a wedding between the ancient Houses of Black and Malfoy is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll want to treasure these portraits for the rest of your lives.”

Ariadne wondered how any of them dared speak so freely. She was still rearranging the chaplet of blue roses on Mercy Macmillan’s head when she noticed that her parents were speaking to Cousin Severus. She was surprised to see him at the wedding, since he was not related to either the Malfoys or the Blacks and, since he was a half-blood, it was unlikely that either family considered him a personal friend. But he was standing by the white-wine fountain, garbed in black dress-robes and with his greasy hair neatly combed, and Mamma was hovering over him affectionately.

Mamma was trying so hard, but Severus looked bored with her attention. He behaves badly because he’s been treated badly, Ariadne reminded herself. He’s needing a friend. When she was finally able to escape the torments of Being a Blue Bridesmaid, she tried to speak to him.

“Mamma says you did very well in your N.E.W.T.s, Severus. You have to be pleased.”

“I am not as lazy as some.”

She wondered which lazy person he resented so deeply, but she persevered. “What work are you thinking you’ll do now you have left school?”

“I have plans.”

These plans obviously did not involve love or friendship, but of course she could not discuss this. “Do you care for books, Cousin Severus?”

“Hmph! What would a little girl like you know?”

It was obvious why he had no friends, yet she knew she had to keep trying. “Was it not terrible news on the Wireless – about the vampire employed by Him-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to attack Muggles?”

“You’ll see what you’ll see about the Dark Lord,” he growled.

“I’ll – ?” There was something so cryptic about his tone that she heard herself asking, “Severus, you’re not a Death Eater, are you?”

“No,” he replied too quickly; and she knew instantly that he was.

She could not tell Mamma; Severus had denied it, so Mamma would not want to believe her. Mamma’s newborn affection for Severus was quite blind, but as her parents insisted on believing the best even about Lucius, they would certainly not accept accusations against Severus.

Fortunately, she did not have to worry about it for long. A few days later, her long-awaited Hogwarts letter arrived, and all Mamma could talk or think about for the rest of the summer was preparing Ariadne for the grand adventure of going to school.

* * * * * * *

On the first of September, Mrs MacDougal was more anxious than Ariadne. “There are hundreds of students, dear,” she said. “You have to make the effort to be friendly, but it would help if you already had a friend… Oh, dear, I’m not knowing if anybody from Hufflepuff is starting this year.”

They gazed around platform Nine and Three Quarters together. Letitia Malfoy and Hazel Parkinson, their black Hogwarts robes looking suspiciously as if they were made of velvet instead of the regulation merino, were standing in front of shiny new leather trunks, but they already knew that they would be in Slytherin.

“There’s Regelinda…” said Mamma dubiously. Macnairs were sometimes Sorted into Hufflepuff; but Regelinda Macnair was clutching the arm of her sister Dragomira, a third-year Slytherin, in a way that suggested the Sorting test would not dream of separating them.

“Steady Macmillan’s over there,” Ariadne suggested. The Macmillans were a backbone-of-Hufflepuff family, but Mamma would prefer her to make friends with girls, and Steady, already in second year, might not have time for her.

Finally Ariadne approached a kind-looking girl with large, chocolate-brown eyes and wonderful chocolate-brown hair curling over her shoulders. “Excuse me,” she began, “but I’m new this year… Do you know where the Hufflepuffs are?”

“I’m new, too,” said the brown lass. “My name’s Veleta Vablatsky, and I don’t know anyone at Hogwarts either. Except my grandmother – but perhaps teachers don’t count.”

“Really? Will your grandmother be one of our teachers? Which was her house?”

“Ravenclaw. Everyone in our family is always in Ravenclaw. But Granny doesn’t teach first-years, so I won’t be seeing much of her.”

Ariadne felt her mother watching them carefully. If Mamma did not recognise the girl or her name, then she was probably not a pure-blood; and she was not in Hufflepuff. But nobody else was making any friendly overtures, and a teacher’s granddaughter had to be respectable, so Mamma said nothing other than, “You two should maybe board the train.”

As Ariadne moved her trunk into the luggage rack, she was overcome by a wave of shyness. She was not used to meeting new people and she suddenly did not know what to say to Veleta. She cast around for something personal but not too personal, and by the time all their luggage was stowed, she was able to come out with, “Do you live in London?”

“Not far away – I’m from Guildford.”

Ariadne was pleased to recognise this name from her geography lessons. “It’s said to be a bonny town… Is it huge?”

“Not as cities go. Are you from a city?”

“I am not; I live on a farm near Loch Ness. Fort William is the nearest large town.”

“Ooh, in the Highlands. Are you near any castles?”

“We’re not far from the ruins of Urquhart – but you would not be wanting to spend a rainy night there.”

“Yes, I would. I’ve always loved castles – I’ve always wanted to go exploring one with a long history.”

It was a little embarrassing for Ariadne to admit that she had visited Macnair Castle four or five times, but that she had never seen it from the outside and did not know what it looked like. She took the Floo into the Great Hall, she explained, and then played in Regelinda’s room or in the garden…

Mrs MacDougal had worried that Ariadne might fall in with the wrong friends; she would have been more anxious still if she had known what would happen at Hogwarts that evening. Ariadne did not pay very much attention to the Sorting because she already knew her house. She almost missed her cue when Professor McGonagall called, “MacDougal, Ariadne!”

Ariadne sat on the Sorting stool, picked up the Sorting Hat and began to put it on. But it had barely touched the first hair of her head before it shrieked, “GRYFFINDOR!”

Astonished, she looked around to see who had shouted, but the Hat spoke again, this time so that nobody else could hear, “Put me down, you’re sorted!” So, strictly speaking, Ariadne never wore the legendary Sorting Hat at all.

She passed the Hat to Regelinda Macnair and stumbled right past the Hufflepuff table, wondering how on earth she was going to explain this turn of events to her parents. They were expecting her to keep to their approved circle of friends, but Regelinda was swiftly dispatched to Slytherin, and so was Letitia Malfoy. Ariadne thought briefly of the nice Ravenclaw she had met on the train – Veleta Vablatsky would have made a wonderful friend! – but then a round-faced big boy wearing a shiny P badge was extending a hand to her.

“Welcome to Gryffindor, Ariadne. I’m Caradoc Dearborn. And welcome to you too, Wendy.”

Ariadne saw that a mousy little girl clutching a very large toad had followed her to the Gryffindor table. Her face was familiar because she had attended all the right pure-blood parties, and Ariadne remembered in time that her name was Wendy McKinnon.

“Why don’t you two take the seats next to my sister?” Caradoc invited. “She’s in first year too.”

Hestia Dearborn was rosy and black-haired. When Wendy’s toad hopped into her lap, Hestia broke off her conversation with the boy opposite and smiled at them.

“His name’s Croaker,” said Wendy. “He’s a natterjack – the loudest species in Europe.”

“I didn’t think natterjacks grew that large,” said Hestia.

Soon they were chattering away about how Wendy fed growth-hormone to her tadpoles. Ariadne fervently hoped that this did not count as illegal breeding, for she would have to report at least one respectable new friend to her parents, and Hazel Parkinson had just been waved over to Slytherin.

“… Eats spiders and snails, and I’ve trained him to wake by day…”

The chair on Ariadne’s other side scraped across the floor and, before she could look around, Veleta Vablatsky sat down on it, her brown eyes dancing. “My goodness!” she exclaimed breathlessly. “Gryffindor! Ariadne, I was sure I’d be an Eagle!”

“And I was sure I’d be in Hufflepuff,” said Ariadne. “You could not be more surprised than I am. But,” she suddenly realised, “I’m not at all sorry.”

“Heavens, Granny will never believe that I’m a Lion!”

A beautiful blonde took the seat next to Veleta and asked, “What’s special about Slytherin?”

“Nothing much.” Hestia shrugged. “It would be my last-choice Hogwarts house.”

“That Sorting Hat took forever to place me,” said the blonde. “It kept telling me I could do well in Slytherin because I had the ‘preservation instinct’. So when I asked it – well, I didn’t seem to need to speak; I just thought – when I wondered why it wasn’t putting me in Slytherin, it kept saying, ‘Not so sure, there’s quite a lot of generosity in there too.’ In where, I wondered? So in the end I told it, ‘I’m hungry, so just Sort me, and if the other Slytherins are spiteful about my not fitting in, I can give them as good as I get!’ And the next second, it had made me a Gryffindor.”

“Then welcome to Gryffindor, Miss Sarah Webster,” said a tall black boy opposite. Ariadne knew at once that he was a very clever boy, but she had already forgotten his name.

The long table was hosting such a sea of strange faces – perhaps no more than seventy students, but at the end of a long day it could have been all of two hundred and fifty – that Ariadne did not know how she would ever remember everybody. She concentrated on the new first-years, the girls who would share her dormitory. Veleta-from-the-train, whose Granny was a teacher here. Hestia-the-prefect’s-sister. Wendy-with-the-toad. And now Sarah-almost-in-Slytherin. That was plenty to begin with.

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