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Be Content with the Lies
The lift was broken so Dmitri Montague had to take the stairs. He would've Apparated but he couldn't be sure the tenth floor corridor would be empty. It would be difficult to Obliviate anyone who might see him. He was too tired from the long journey for a chase that might ensue and he could hardly be so careless as to run with a child in his arms. Also, his wand wasn't directly in his reach. He thought of Apparating directly into the apartment but decided against it. No matter how many shrunken heads she displayed or how much incense she burned, Dmitri still doubted that Arlene Johnson was comfortable with real magic.
The stairs smelled like urine, cigarette smoke, and garbage. It was awful but bearable. Dmitri had smelled worse. The stairs smelled like a field full of flowers compared to the stench of rotting corpses. He shook his head, willing the thought away. This was no time to think about that. The time of war had come and gone and the Golden Era had been ushered in. It was time to move on, as everyone liked to say.
Unlike Dmitri, his son was not used to unpleasant odours. Marley made soft mewling sounds all the way up the stairs. Dmitri chuckled slightly. He wasn't the type of parent who thought it best to shield his son from discomfort. It would do Marley a bit of good to be uncomfortable. It would make him stronger in the long run. No Montague child could afford to be soft in these times. It wasn't the Golden Era for everyone.
Finally, Dmitri stood before the faux wood door of apartment 1009. His chest was heaving as he panted for breath.
Not as spry as I used to be, he thought.
Arlene Johnson looked nothing like her daughter. Where Angelina had been tall and slim, Arlene was short and round. Her skin was lighter, akin to the brown sugar Dmitri had once seen in a West Indian shop in London. Arlene had a pleasant open face and smiled widely when she saw Dmitri.
"This is a surprise," she said, letting him in. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
"You have other plans?"
"Not right now, but tonight the girls and I are going out to the new pub that opened up around the corner." Arlene took Marley out of Dmitri's arms and kissed him on the cheek.
Dmitri dropped the rucksack filled with Marley's things at the door, glad to be free of the weight. He went to the lounge and took a seat in his favourite chair. Arlene followed and sat across from him with Marley on her lap.
"You look tired," she said.
"It's been a long trip," Dmitri muttered.
He'd spent the last few months in Italy at his estate outside Rome. The place had been abandoned a few years earlier when war had broken out and he'd had to spend his entire stay supervising repairs and keeping Marley out of harm's way. The nanny he'd hired had been a careless young witch and because of her ineptitude Marley had almost been bitten by a doxy.
Throughout the stay, Dmitri had walked around the house, wondering if he could ever call it home. He would never take up permanent residence in England. There were too many dangers. He was watched constantly by those who believed, and were correct, that he'd been a Death Eater sympathizer. One wrong move and he'd be facing the Kiss. "But they were my friends, my family" wouldn't be an adequate defence.
There were also other things, other people Dmitri didn't want to face. They knew he had a son; they knew too much.
"Have you decided on a place yet?" Arlene asked, seeming to read his thoughts.
Dmitri shook his head.
Arlene didn't know the things most would believe she had a right to. She didn't know that once Dmitri hated her daughter as much as he loved her. She didn't know that Angelina had never been a guest in his house, but a prisoner, captured during a Death Eater raid on a dance club frequented by Muggleborns. Madeira and Julius Montague had been fascinated by her tenacity. While others had Apparated or run away, she'd stayed to defend the club and those who could not flee. Her efforts came to nothing. The place was burned with the remaining few in it.
While at the Montague home Angelina had been treated well. She'd been given a room of her own and nice robes to wear, but she was never able to go where she pleased or do as she liked. She'd been important to Dmitri's parents. Not for her knowledge or her close relations with those in Dumbledore's not so secret order, but for her body.
Madeira and Julius fancied themselves intellectuals and scientists. They'd wanted tangible proof that Muggleborns were biologically inferior and Angelina was a good specimen to prove so.
There were silencing charms in the attic where the experiments were conducted. Nevertheless, Dmitri swore he could always hear when Angelina screamed. It drove him mad. It was why he'd gone to see her. "If you hate it so much why don't you get me out of here?" she'd asked once. "They're my parents," he'd replied. She'd called him a coward. He hadn't disagreed.
His parents' experiments failed, as they came to no conclusion. After three months they were ready to dispose of Angelina, but then Madeira ran a simple diagnostic spell. Angelina was pregnant. It was an opportunity she couldn't pass up.
"Think of all we could learn," Dmitri heard his mother say to his father. "We might be able to see how they do it. How the magic develops. Where it comes from even." Madeira had developed a theory that the Mudbloods somehow stole magic and this theft created pureblood Squibs.
The war was at its height then, but the Montagues paid no attention to it, all their thoughts oriented around the young girl and her unborn child shut up on the third floor.
The day Angelina gave birth she killed Dmitri's parents. As Julius and Madeira carried her into the attic to deliver the baby Angelina knocked over several vials of potions, causing an explosion which caused a quick spreading fire. In their excitement the Montagues had forgotten to bind her.
Dmitri had come home to half the house gone and Angelina in the middle of labour in the smoke-filled dining room. He'd carried her outside where she gave the last push. Marley had come into the world screaming, desperately gasping for air. Hearing her son, Angelina smiled and closed her eyes.
Dmitri would never ask for forgiveness or try to justify what he did that day. He'd carefully wrapped Marley in his cloak and carried Angelina's body back to the house. Holding Marley, he'd watched the house burn to its foundation.
Arlene didn't need to know those truths and neither did anyone else. The lies would do. The little spell Dmitri cast on her would make sure Arlene would never question them or the inconsistencies of his stories. It was time to move on.
"Angelina always liked to go back home to the islands," Arlene said, ending Dmitri's trip to the past. "When the magic started coming she kept telling me about the strange things she saw there. She said she never saw anything like them in your world. I think the only thing she regretted was that she never got to explore those things. Maybe you might want to go there, give the boy a chance to know his people and culture the way she never got to."
Dmitri nodded. Why not? The islands were far away from the complications of England and he'd do anything to give his son a sense of security and identity. There, Marley could become more than a Montague, more than a suspected Death Eater's son.
"You could come with us," Dmitri suggested. He'd also suggested the same before he'd left for Italy.
"No. Thank you, but I'm an old woman set in my ways. I can't just be getting up like that and going half way around the world. I left that place a long time ago and I said I wasn't going back there to live. Too many bad memories," she said wistfully. Dmitri knew she was likely thinking of her dead husband. "My home is here. Anyway, you have to do this without my interference, build your own family."
Nothing more was said on the subject.
Marley fell asleep a short time later and was laid in a crib transfigured from a small table in the sitting room. Arlene set about making dinner while Dmitri retired to Angelina's old room for a short nap. It had been converted into a guest room but there were traces of her lingering behind. Her smell was in the sheets and her favourite poster, now framed, was still on the wall: Bob Marley, guitar at his hips, his dreads flying free in the air, a look of ecstasy on his face.
There were photos of Angelina on the dresser. In one she sat on a bench in a park, smirking at the camera as if she knew something no one else did. He liked that photo. He'd memorized it so that when he thought of her it was the first image that came to his mind and not the one of her lying on the grass, bleeding to death outside his former home.
She'd never had a kind word to say to him during her imprisonment. She'd sneered at him, made sarcastic comments, and never once thanked him when he brought her magazines and books. She'd hated him because she needed to and he'd loved her to make up for it.
Yet, despite her hate, she'd died smiling. Her son was in his arms and she'd smiled. Dmitri didn't remember much about that afternoon, but he was certain about that smile. It was the only sign he needed to know that what he was doing was right.
By the time Dmitri woke up, dinner was finished and Arlene was setting the table. At the center of it was a sheet of folded parchment. It was from the Ministry. Dmitri could tell by the crispness of the paper and its pale yellow colour. He'd signed enough Ministry forms and had received enough summonses to know their parchment by sight.
"What's that?" he asked as Arlene set down a bowl of rice.
"It came while you were sleeping. Your government just wanted to send word that they're going to issue death certificates for Angelina. They're going to file one with our government and one with theirs."
Dmitri quickly read the parchment. It was just as Arlene said. A month ago the Ministry had begun declaring those who'd gone missing during the war dead. It was all a part of their plan for the Wizarding World to leave the past behind.
Dmitri grimaced when he got to the end of the letter. It was signed by Fred Weasley, the Minister of Wizard-Muggle Relations.
At the end of the war the Weasleys and their friends had all but taken over the Ministry. The elder Weasley had been promoted and his sons were Ministers of Gaming, Magical Creatures, Finances and so on. Dmitri couldn't argue that they weren't doing their titles justice, but the thought of a Weasley with so much power made him uneasy. He'd had firsthand experience of what Weasleys could do when they believed they were in the right. They were no different from his parents.
"Angelina used to talk about a Fred when she went to school. Had a last name that sounded like that fellow who signed the paper. Is it him?"
"Unfortunately," Dmitri replied.
"I can't remember if they were going out or not. They went to a dance once, didn't they? After that she just stopped talking about him. I never figured out what that meant."
"They were only friends as far as I know," Dmitri said. It was a lie and then again it wasn't. He didn't know much about Angelina's relationship with Fred, only the outcome of it.
During dinner Arlene told him about the trip to Paris she and a few of her friends were planning. She'd worked overtime for months to finally be able to afford it. She thought she deserved the trip. Dmitri quietly agreed, asking if she needed anything in the way of money. He'd repeatedly offered to help Arlene, had even offered to buy her a house in a better neighbourhood, but she always refused. "I do things on my own," she said every time. "That's how we Johnsons do it." This time was no different.
The sun was setting when Marley woke up, crying out to be fed. Arlene carried him to the windows, pointing out the buildings in the horizon. Marley took no notice, content with his bottle. As the sun disappeared, its receding rays fell on him. They caused his hair to look like the dying embers of a fire, a faint ginger.