Enzo Giulliardi pulled his cloak more tightly about him as he walked up to the front door of Gravesend Manor. Not for the first time, Enzo considered fleeing to Muggle London and never coming back. Anything, even a lifetime in Azkaban, would be better than a life spent working with the pack of nutters who comprised the Death-Eaters. So far as Enzo had been able to determine, Death-Eaters came in two varieties--the completely terrifying lunatics who were determined to kill all Muggles and bring about a world of pure Wizarding kind--or else the completely terrified conscripts--into which category he firmly placed himself.
Why did I accept Graves' invitation to visit him alone? Enzo asked himself for the hundredth time. Why didn't I bring someone with me?
The house itself seemed dark with foreboding. It was an old manor, nestled in the Forest of Dean, built early in the 17th century, a huge pile constructed of grey stone and rimmed with hedges. Enzo could see that the place was candle-lit with perhaps a lumos glow here and there for added brightness. It was the sort of lighting he had come to expect from arrogant, pureblooded DE members who had no use for Muggle electricity.
Enzo shivered. Am I going to die tonight? Wouldn't surprise me. Mergan is worlds better at the Imperius than I am, and Graves has admitted to killing students before. He shivered again and then forced himself to knock at the door. Might as well get this over with.
It startled him when Paul Graves opened the front door himself rather than having a House Elf do it. The man looked oddly different outside of DE robes. He wore a somewhat Victorian-styled grey suit that had been tailored to fit him well. His hair was raven-black and trimmed to just above his collar, his eyes dark brown--though that was an entirely inadequate way to describe them. Of all his features, his eyes looked exactly the same as Enzo recalled them from DE meetings--intense and piercing, eyes which missed nothing.
"Enzo, do come in," Graves said with a brief smile. Enzo had never seen that expression cross Graves' face before, and the change it made in his features startled him, as if he saw an instant's glimpse of a different man. Then Graves pulled the heavy wooden door shut and held out a hand. "May I hang up your cloak?"
The sheer mundanity of that query made Enzo want to stare. Numbly, he pulled off his cloak and handed it to his host with a murmured thanks. He almost wished to take it back, so he could bury himself in its folds, but that would be quite impossible to do in Graves' drawing-room.
He watched as Graves hung the cloak up without a whisper of magic and shut the door to the foyer closet. "Come on into my study. I've tea set out, and you look as if you could use some."
"Tea would be welcome, thank you," Enzo said. With a sick dread, he supposed it would be poisoned. Graves was being entirely too pleasant. Normally, his manner was brisk, exacting, and remote. His pleasantries had never extended beyond a cool "Good evening" in greeting to Enzo and his fellow student, Mergan.
He followed his instructor into a surprisingly comfortable study and sat on the sofa when Graves made a vague gesture toward it. Graves poured tea for Enzo and then himself and leaned back against the sofa cushions, cradling his steaming teacup in his hands.
"I suppose you're curious as to why I have invited you here without Miss Nolsonn," he said with a glance at Enzo.
"It had crossed my mind to wonder, yes, signor," Enzo admitted. "I thought that perhaps this must be a remedial session, as Mergan is much better at your specialty than I am."
"No, I didn't call you here for remedial work," Graves said. "I'm more than satisfied with your progress."
Enzo stared at him. "But my Imperius is weak."
"Of course it is weak, Enzo; you do not want to cast the spell. My Cruciatus is equally weak. My job is to ensure that you can cast the spell, not to make you want to do it."
"But you could make me want to," Enzo shot back. "I've seen what you can do. Even Mergan can't match it."
Graves eyed him. "Yes, I could. I could make you sincerely want to use Imperius. But I am content with your opinions on the matter as they stand."
Enzo gave Graves a wary look. "Why? All my opinions can possibly do is make me look weak in front of the others and get me killed."
"Yes, there is that risk," Graves said. He stared into his teacup for a moment and then took a sip from it. "Be careful to whom you make such admissions." He lifted his gaze from the teacup. "Tell me, Enzo, why did you join the Death-Eaters?"
Enzo's hands went icy, despite the warmth of the china teacup he held. "To serve the Dark Lord."
Graves shot Enzo a sudden hard look. "That is a fool's answer. I would not expect such an answer even from Mergan, much less from you."
"What other answer is there?" Enzo asked. "What other answer dare anyone give?"
"That is a valid point," Graves conceded. "But it is not, in your case, the truth."
"If you expect me to agree with that conclusion, you're very much mistaken," Enzo said.
"I don't require your agreement to confirm my observations, Enzo. It is in the essence of your magic. The Unforgivable Curses are torture for you. Why are you attempting to master them?"
"Why are you asking me this?" Enzo hissed. "If you're going to kill me, Graves, just kill me. I might even thank you for it!"
"I'm asking you this because I'm trying to keep you from making a wreckage of your life. You are not like Mergan, Enzo; you despise this work and everything the Dark Lord does. You still have a heart; you haven't yet given away your soul. This life has not yet crushed you. Get out of it while you still can."
Enzo stared at Graves. This had to be a test; everything was a test. Yet no other Death-Eater he knew ever spoke of wrecking one's life or of giving away one's soul. And certainly, none of them had ever suggested that he attempt escape.
"I'm no traitor to the Cause," Enzo retorted through clenched teeth.
Graves pinned him with a look. "Mr. Giulliardi, your Imperius is barely passable, your Cruciatus--weaker than mine. And your Avada Kedavra--I pray you never have to defend yourself with it; you'd have better success with Fibrillatio. The Cause is no place for you. I say again, get out while you still can."
Graves was looking straight at him. Enzo suppressed a shudder. "You mean that?"
"As sincerely as I have ever meant anything in my life, sir."
Enzo fought to keep his shoulders from slumping. "I don't understand," he replied in a low voice. "You killed two of your students, yet you show me kindness? Why?"
His instructor grimaced. "I killed two budding Voldemorts. They had no conscience; their only joy lay in tormenting others and using people as playthings. I don't doubt they'd have risen quickly, but they were too dangerous to be allowed to live."
Enzo looked at Graves and shivered. "And you just...made that judgment? And acted upon it?"
Graves looked directly at Enzo once more. "Yes, I made that judgment. I did not want them to murder more people for sport, and...I did not want to be in their minds again."
Enzo could not mistake the haunted look in the other man's eyes for anything but distaste. He swallowed. "Now you're making dangerous admissions."
Graves nodded. "How could you take me seriously, if I did not?" He refilled his teacup and offered the teapot to Enzo, who shook his head. "You should leave England," Graves said. "Claim family illness, death, whatever. But leave England, and disappear. You have a decent heart, Enzo. I would not see it destroyed."
"What about your own?" Enzo countered.
Graves closed his eyes for a moment and shook his head. "They have my father. I won't abandon him to them. I'm searching for him, and to do that, I must stay in. I must...earn their trust."
Enzo sighed. "So must I. It's a matter of family honor. Mine owes a debt to the LeStranges, and service to the Dark Lord is the coin they have exacted for payment."
Graves frowned. "That is...an unenviable position to be in. It would be dangerous to you and your family to betray Bellatrix."
"Yes." Enzo swallowed hard.
Graves sighed. "That being the case, I will do what I can for you, Enzo." He pulled his wand from his sleeve. It was a long, ebony wand that gleamed in the candlelight. "If you will permit?"
Enzo snorted. "I came here expecting to die, Graves. I don't know what you or anyone can do, but, si, go ahead."
Graves stabbed the wand toward him. "Imperio!" he said, peering into Enzo's eyes. "Let me in, Enzo."
Terror nibbled at the back of Enzo's mind, but he relaxed his mental guard, anyway. Graves was his instructor, and he was used to obeying him. Enzo's thoughts became muddled. Why was he at Graves' home, anyway? Why was Graves in his mind? Was it Imperius lessons? Where was Mergan?
Then it became clearer. Yes, of course, a remedial tutoring session; how could he have forgotten?
A flick of the wand, and Graves leaned back in his chair. "How do you feel, Enzo?"
Enzo blinked. "Not--not bad. What did you do?"
"A mild Imperius to aid you in remembering the steps of the spell," Graves said.
"Thank you," Enzo said.
Graves shook his head. "Don't thank me; you hated it before, and you'll still hate it. When it becomes intolerable, come to me, and we'll talk."
Enzo stared at him. "You--you know how much I hate it, yet you let me live? Why not kill me, like the others?"
"You are not nearly as incompetent as the two students I killed were. They were a waste of my time; you are not. You are welcome in my home, Enzo. See me when you cannot go on."
"Why?" Enzo asked. "What would there be to say? I can slit my own throat without your help."
"I would be an irresponsible teacher if I permitted you to get to such a state." Paul said. "But I know the day will come, and I have a duty to you to prevent it. Find me when it does, Enzo."
Enzo blinked and then nodded at him. "I will."
Paul saw him to the door and then sagged against it as Enzo departed. He had never devised such an exhausting nonverbal sub-layer to the Imperius before. So much of the spell depended on the flow and subtlety of the conversation used to disguise it. He had not been entirely certain it would work, but the shift in Enzo's expression had confirmed it.
Perhaps now, he could help some of them escape.