(This scene was written by Chantal Whittington and Suse Hammond.)
Death-Eaters seemed to do the majority of their dealings at night, Paul had noticed, even in the scant few months since he had begun meeting with them. He had been put into a small group of new recruits and partnered with a fellow novice Death-Eater named Melusina, with whom he was ordered to practise the Imperius Curse. He and she were of comparable ability in legilimency, though Paul had the impression that his was raw talent, and hers was finely-honed skill. They sat in her living room after a fruitless half-hour of what could only charitably be called 'practise.'
I have no desire to enter her mind, even if I would find it fascinating to attempt, Paul thought. That one exposure to the Dark Lord was quite enough.
"This is a waste of time, Melusina. They should pair you with someone else." Paul slid his wand into his sleeve with an annoyed gesture and rubbed at his temples. "I don't give a damn about learning the Imperius Curse, and I never will." He leant back in his chair and finger-combed black hair away from his face.
"You're going to get yourself wiped off the face of the earth, if you don't pull your shit together." Melusina said frankly.
Paul gazed at her. "I do not want to be in the Death-Eaters and have made no secret of that fact." He sighed "Frankly, I don't know why the Dark Lord didn't simply imperio me into obedience." He grimaced.
Melusina looked at him. "Because, even here, some things have to be given, Paul. Not taken."
"You could've fooled me," Paul said dryly. "All these people know how to do is take, take, and take. Be it one's life, or one's will." He shook his head. "If I had a brain cell in my head, I wouldn't speak so frankly to you. But you appear to have more sense than the rest of the lot I've seen."
She grinned, pushing her dark hair out of her eyes in a habitual gesture. "Sense is as sense does. You may as well carry on speaking frankly, I've warded down this room enough to know if someone is eavesdropping."
Paul arched an eyebrow at her. "And I should trust my words to you, Melusina? From what I've observed, no one in the Death-Eaters trusts anyone else, save on a very tenuous level. The only things one can rely on are that the leadership will control by fear, and that assassination is the road to higher power. If either of us are to be considered to have 'learnt the ropes' here, the first lesson should be, 'Trust no one.'"
"You learn some things better than others." Melusina grinned at him. She pulled a small folding knife from a pouch at her waist, flicked open the blade, and nicked the tip of her little finger. "By blood." she said simply. "The words you speak go no further."
Paul stared at her in startlement and brief confusion. Then he decided and held out his hand for the knife. He cut into his own finger, then pressed it against Melusina's as he began to bleed. "By blood, the words you speak tonight in this room shall likewise go no farther. So mote it be." He felt the blood magic settle over them as he wiped off the knife blade, then closed it and passed it back to Melusina. "That was...unexpected," Paul said.
"What was? The fact that I'd rather not see you throw your life away, or that I know some of the old magics?" Melusina put the knife away, and fished out a bottle of Jack Daniels and some glasses.
"The fact that you are willing to engage in confidential conversation with me," Paul said. "I am a thorn in the Dark Lord's side, who he finds useful enough not to kill. Despite that, you could gain considerable favour by reporting my indiscretions to him."
"Perhaps I am merely a thorn collector." She poured them each a measure of whiskey, and pushed a glass over to him. "Perhaps it is my life's work to save people from the knife when they prove too troublesome to tolerate."
Paul froze with the glass midway to his lips and stared at Melusina. What she had just said explained several things he had noticed about her. Despite her earlier assurance, he quickly glanced about the room, hoping she hadn't been heard by anyone else. "You are damned lucky you said that before I took a sip," he told her in a low voice. "If you think I am skating on thin ice, you, madame, are sprinkling salt on the cracked area as you skate over it."
She laughed a quiet laugh that did not have much humour in it. "You do not know the half of it, dear Paul, not even perhaps a quarter. Drink your drink, Paul, and I will drink mine, for I only said 'perhaps.' Then - perhaps - you'd like to share some of that burden you're carrying around with you on a daily basis."
Paul lifted his glass in a silent toast to her, then sipped at the whiskey. Americans, he supposed, could do some things right. The whiskey was smooth and slid down his throat like liquid fire. "Thank you," he said. "That was good, going down."
Melusina toasted him right back, and downed half of the measure in her glass without pause. "It always is."
He smiled at her and drank a little more, preferring not to knock it back. "What is it you would like to know?" he asked.
"Whatever it is that you have such a hard time keeping to yourself. It's quite obvious that you're skilled; you merely choose to fail in some things."
Paul took another sip of the whiskey and let out a breath. "Yes, I probably could excel in most of it, if I wanted to. But I don't--want to." He frowned for a moment and went on. "I am here because the Dark Lord finds me useful. But the person he really wanted was my father--or rather, my father's research. Father was happy to conduct the research until he realised for whom it was to be done and why. When he learnt that the Dark Lord wanted it, my father destroyed his notes, destroyed every last item in his laboratory, then obliviated the knowledge from himself. That wasn't good enough for Our Dark Lord. As near as I can tell, he cast an imperio on my father to compel him to recreate his line of research, then spirited him away somewhere with a portkey.
"You may have seen news of my father--Petrus Graves' funeral? It was all a sham."
Melusina did not look too surprised. "He was an alchemist? It could have been worse. Could have been a repeat of sixty-two..."
"The Greenleys? Yes. This was more along Muggle lines of research, however. Something called 'immortal cells.' Mitochondrial DNA, and so forth. The line of research is beyond me. Father had somehow devised a way to combine the Muggle molecular biology with magic. As far as the Dark Lord was concerned, it looked easier to acquire than a philosopher's stone."
"He wants immortality. Anyone who is even close to finding it is at risk." She sipped at her drink. "Are you looking for Petrus?"
Paul nodded. "Yes, but I have no leads, and he could have been taken anywhere. My movements are being closely watched, of course, which also hampers my efforts."
"Give me your hand." Melusina put down her glass and held out a hand to him.
Paul arched an eyebrow at her, then did so. In for a penny, in for a pound.
She turned his hand palm upwards, dipped a finger in her glass, and flicked a droplet of the liquid into his palm. Turning it to the light, her expression cleared to become calm, and then her eyes lost total focus, and she seemed to look right through his hand.
Paul glanced at her curiously, but remained silent. She was clearly doing some sort of working; whether it was a divination or something else, he didn't know.
"Tick tock," she said quietly, her eyes looking very far away. "How the world turns. If you walk in the Light now, Graves, your father will lie in one. If you follow Riddle, you'll find Petrus."
She blinked and let go of his hand, then sat back in her chair and drank some more of her drink. "Your choice is fairly clear."
Paul stared at her. "You remember what you See?" he murmured.
"Blood secrets." She touched the tip of her cut finger to his in reminder. "I have one of yours. And you have one of mine. A fair trade, no?"
"I...would say so," Paul replied. He stared at his hand a moment, then idly wiped off the drop of whiskey. "So it is as I suspected. I can gain no information at all, outside of this group. My only hope of finding my father is to earn their trust."
She sighed, propped her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her cupped hands. "The future is always prone to change, Paul. It may be that you can do this some other way."
"Possibly," Paul conceded, "but when my own logic dovetails with what I suspect was a true divination, that tends to weight the matter, in my opinion." He frowned. "I would seek the Ministry's assistance, but I am already Marked. And...these people insinuate themselves where one least expects. They have infiltrated the Ministry. I don't know how deeply, but I would not know who I could trust, if I went there."
Melusina shook her head slightly. "No, the Ministry is not the place to seek aid. Not if you are already Marked."
He sighed. "And there is also my family to consider. My wife and I are expecting in the spring."
"What do you intend to do?" she regarded him seriously.
Paul leant back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. He thought for a long few moments, his expression fluttering between a frown and impassive. Finally, he let out a breath and looked at Melusina. "Better the devil I know. I cannot just leave Father in their hands. You say I shall have to follow Riddle for the present, not walk in the Light, and you say that the future is mutable. I hope I shall have wit enough to recognise the time of change when it happens."
"If you are resolved to stay with the Mark you wear, then they will find you out, unless you do something about your conscience." Her reply came calmly, with a few moments pause for thought. "I can teach you to Imperio without touching the unique part of a person, but I cannot teach you to kill without killing."
Paul grimaced. "Nor can you teach me to torture without torturing." He looked away for a moment, as if trying to not think about something, then glanced back at her. "I shall have to find some part of me that can do it," he said at last. "I know there is such a part of me. The night they took Father, I would have killed the Dark Lord, if I could have." He bit his lip. "Do you know what truly frightens me though, Melusina?"
"Tell me." she invited softly.
Paul shivered. "Some insane part of me is looking at this entire situation and saying, 'Bring it on!' The more I tell myself it is impossible, the more I want to do it--not because I want to hurt people, but because I want to succeed at the deception and fling it in their faces that I can succeed. It is a fool's attitude. Such arrogance will get me killed. And yet, I also feel that such arrogance is necessary for the role." He shook his head fiercely, as if to clear it. "I don't know what is the matter with me."
"There's an adrenaline rush to it. An addiction." A wry half-smile. "To see just how close to the edge it can drive you, and to see how far there is to fall. And it can be said that the darkness of your own shadow can sometimes look very soft and rich."
Paul nodded slowly. "I am not normally a gambler--at least, not for money. But I played seeker for Slytherin for two years at Hogwarts, and I loved it. There is some damn-fool part of me that looks at this as if it were more a strategy game than the suffering of real people. And I think what horrifies me the most is that I shall have to give that part of me free reign, if I am to survive among these people longer than a few more months."
"There is something that you can do to make it easier, Paul." This time she had hesitated before she spoke.
Paul studied her. "Block off part of myself?" he asked quietly.
"Put it aside." She corrected gently. "If you block something away, other people might find it. If you put it where no one would look for it, then it is safe from discovery."
Paul considered it. "How do you mean?"
"I'm not familiar with that," Paul said.
"I am," Melusina said.
"Presumably so," Paul shot back. "But what is it?"
She reached out and caught up a handful of her own shadow where it lay on the table. "This." She poured the handful of grey from hand to hand like water, before she dropped it down to the table where it had been. "You can put that part of you into your shadow. It's old magic, from long ago days. People don't look for it now, and if you're careful, if you're subtle, you can put things there to keep them safe."
Paul blinked at her. "As in...conscience and so forth?" he asked.
"Conscience. Memories." Melusina smoothed her shadow out thoughtfully. "You can set triggers, as well. Lock it away until, for example, the twelfth of April; or until Mr X is appointed president of Y country, or the moon falls from orbit... You get the idea."
Paul nodded. "I don't think I want to do that, Melusina. If I am to do the things necessary to succeed as a Death-Eater...They should not be done easily. They should not be done without care. This..." He gestured to her shadow--"could become too great a temptation. I know that I will hate what I shall have to do. I do not want this escape open to me. What I do, I will take responsibility for."
"Gods, Paul, you're in a pickle." She looked at him slightly harder than she had done before. "Listen to me, and listen very carefully. If I were not a collector of thorns, you'd already be falling from grace. You won't Imperio. You won't Kedavra. Without these skills, you will not be allowed the access to find your father. You will, if you are lucky, end up as a minor spy somewhere remote. Do you understand how limited you have allowed your choices to become, by pushing to be Marked so early?"
"I didn't push to be Marked early," Paul said. "It was done to bind me into the Dark Lord's service, will-me, nill-me. As for the Unforgivables--you have already pointed out, and I concur, that I shall have to throw in my lot with the DE for a while. There is no longer a question that I will set myself to learning them. As you succinctly put it, some things must be given."
"Fair enough." Melusina put her hands down on the table in front of them, palms down. "Is there anything I can do for you, Paul?"
Paul shivered, then let out a breath. He spoke to her in a low voice. "Yes." He paused for another moment, then continued. "Be human with me while I can still allow myself to be human."
She turned her hands palm upwards and held them out to him. "You understand, that when the blood magic between us is done in a few hours, I will be leaving this place."
"Ah." Paul took her hands and clasped them in his. "Is there anything I can do to cover your tracks?"
She shook her head a little, dark hair falling around her face with the gesture. "I have proved myself amongst these people with my grasp of Imperio. I will merely put in for a transfer. But I will not see you again, Paul. When you are different, you would be able to drop me through that thin, salted ice of mine, just by looking into my eyes.
"Better that you forget Melusina Harker, and put her memory aside with the others."
"I find your confidence in my abilities a trifle alarming." Paul gazed at her. "You have been a friend, Melusina, probably more of a friend to me than I have been to you. I'm sorry that we cannot meet again, because I will miss you. But I don't wish to betray your secrets."
"Sometimes I look too far ahead, and sometimes I see people with the imprint of what they will be, rather than how they are now. It makes me too cautious sometimes, and not cautious enough at other times." She met his gaze steadily. "You will not miss me if you do not remember me, and I think it would be safer for both of us if you put these memories away when you put away what you need to. If I can, I will watch your family for you, but I cannot promise it."
Paul nodded. "I appreciate that. Thank you for what you offered me. I--I hope I will not someday regret refusing that offer."
"We all have regrets." She leant forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. "It's what makes us human, at the end of the day."
Paul returned the kiss. "That is certainly true." He smiled slightly at her. "I think I shall go home now and show my wife how much I love her. I hope you will collect a great many thorns."
"Take care, Paul." She let go of his hands, and reached down to pick up his glass. His shadow lay partly across the glass, and she swirled her finger almost idly in it as he stood up. He did not see the gesture, or if he did, he chose to ignore it. The words were only a soft whisper on an exhale of breath. May the Dementors never find your hope.
(From CW: In TMTH, I'll have to omit that last line. Any mitigation of the consequences, I think, would lessen the value of Paul accepting those consequences, at least in a reader's mind. To me, it's very important that Paul not have an easy way out, even if he doesn't know about it.)