The Beast slumped on the stone bench in the middle of his rose garden. The plants had a life of their own, curling around the trellis, vines creeping along the ground. He normally wished they would wend their way into him, wrapping around his cold and aching heart and tear it apart.
Now, his mind was filled with the exquisite young man currently inhabiting his castle. Harry was so noble and kind, willing to trade places with his mother as a prisoner in the castle dungeon. The Beast marvelled at the devotion, the love required for such a sacrifice. He wished he was capable of such things.
He contemplated his castle where it speared into the sky, trying and failing to imagine what it looked like before the curse took over. It was different now, of course, just like he was. Dark, menacing, vicious. He could only imagine how it looked from a distance, perched atop a mountain, edges rough as if it was carved from the mountain top itself. The surrounding forest was wild, filled with dangerous creatures.
Only after he was confined to the grounds and mansion did he succumb to such maudlin thoughts, contemplating the castle and how it would be perceived. He snorted derisively to himself. Clearly, solitude was addling his mind. Still, it had taken a little while, in the beginning, for him to realise that he was not truly alone in the castle. The statues stalked him, watching him constantly. The feeling never went away and so, he was soon driven from the castle, endlessly pacing the grounds to try and escape their silent judgement.
Once, when he was still human, he had loved hunting in his extensive forests. Once he became something to hunt he had retreated to the West Wing until claustrophobia had gripped his heart. He could feel his heart beginning to race at the confining memory, the castle had swallowed him whole and what was spat out was a shadow of a man, more beastly monster than anything else.
Pushing aside the downward spiral, he tried to focus on the beacon of hope within the walls of his prison. It calmed the Beast to think of him, Harry, his beau. He looked upon the silvered pool tinkling at the centre of the garden, clinging to the momentary tranquillity it afforded. He had often come here to find solace and peace in this small corner of his gardens. Always careful to never glimpse his reflection, the horror shown there would only tear him apart.
He had been almost obsessed with his reflection when the curse had begun. He had always looked remarkably youthful, ethereal even, men and women had thrown themselves at his feet. The lines that had begun carving themselves into his form had made him look older, more menacing and he had revelled in it. The curse had continued, progressing further until… Now he couldn’t stand the sight of his monstrous visage. All of the mirrors had been destroyed in one of his blind rages; no pool of water was permitted to be still. Every misdeed, every crime had been carved into his skin, he was no longer able to lie to himself.
Shaking himself, he endeavoured to refocus once more. He had a beautiful man, a willing captive inhabiting his castle and he couldn’t even have a conversation with him. Fear gripped his heart, would it forever keep him from living any kind of life? Forcing him from the castle where it had once kept him locked inside.
His musings were disturbed by the click of tiny heels on the stone path leading to his garden. Jerking around, he watched as the three witches made their way into the secluded space. They were indistinguishable from each other in shades of moonlight. Their hair was long and white, eyes soft silver, lips pale pink; they looked like ghosts hovering before him. Their finery glittered like stardust, their glances and movements conveying a silent conversation between the three that no one else would ever be able to follow.
They seemed to be taking their measure of him, and he bore it silently, their tinkling laughter making his hackles rise but he refrained from reacting. They appeared and disappeared as they pleased, fading away like morning mist. Something in their behaviour mocked the tiny flicker of hope in his heart.
Daphne was the first to speak, tone cruel. “So, you managed to finally snag yourself a pretty bauble.”
He didn’t bother asking how they knew about Harry, they always knew.
“We’re surprised Beast.” Astoria sneered.
“Astonished even.” Luna spat.
“We expected you to have deteriorated Beast.” Daphne cocked her head to peer at him. “We dreamed of you lost in the woods.”
“We dreamed of you being hunted.” Astoria giggled.
“We saw you being slaughtered, your head mounted on the wall of the tavern.” Luna’s expression was positively gleeful.
“Why, you’re even wearing clothes Beast, trying to cling to humanity are we?” The three chanted in unison.
The Beast shrank back in fear, loathing that they were reminding him of his nature. The monster within clawed inside his chest roaring to be released, to rip and tear apart the witches that had cursed him.
Daphne laughed, the sound was cold and harsh in the night air. “There’s our little beastie!”
Astoria lent towards Luna and said in a stage whisper. “He will never succeed, Harry’s heart will be forever closed to him, no matter how desperate he is to break the curse.”
“He is too far gone I daresay.” Luna replied.
“Perhaps he could gain a little pity by showing his beau what he looked like before.” Astoria sneered again.
“Pity yes, but not love, never love. No love for our little beastie!” Luna was verging on deranged.
The Beast had learnt long ago there was no point in responding, it only drove them into a frenzy of torment at his expense. He had learnt to simply bare it. He deserved punishment after all.
“In case you have forgotten pet, here are the rules laid down by us. You must love and that love must be returned with true loves kiss, before your twenty-fifth year. Your love may use your mirror, as you do to see the world beyond your kingdom but can never know of your curse or the details of it.” Daphne was smug beyond belief.
The Beast could only bear it, silence was his only choice left.
“You will notice that your love sees the castle differently to you, it will be a beautiful enchanting place for them. The true horror of the curse is reserved for you and you alone.” Astoria continued.
“This is a blessing beastie, you are the only thing in this castle, on these grounds, that will cause fear in your love.” Luna giggled wildly.
“When was the last time you looked in the mirror Beast? Or gazed on the rose?” Daphne cocked her head, pity in her eyes.
There had been a time when he couldn’t tear himself away from the rose but lately, he couldn’t stand the sight of it. He had thought, when the triplets had arrived tonight, that they were here to tell him his time was up. But they were just here to mock him, to push him further into the monster he had become.
Daphne’s cackle wrenched him from his musings. “Not long now!”
“Not long at all beastie!” Astoria joined in on her sisters' cackle.
“Soon, the last petal will fall and you will be frozen like this for eternity, cursed to suffer for your failings.” Luna twirled on the spot.
“And on that day we will celebrate!”
“We will dance!” They finished in unison.
The Beast finally worked up the strength to speak. “What of the others? Are they to remain cursed along with me? Doomed for eternity?”
Luna’s eyes widened in wonder. “Is that concern I hear? That’s new.”
“Concern for himself more like.” Astoria’s expression was filled with hate.
“For himself, always himself, only himself.” Daphne murmured.
“Why the sudden concern for others? You never gave them a second thought before, unless it was to punish them.”
“Are you afraid of what they will do to you when the curse becomes permanent?”
“Or are you afraid what your love will think?”
“I can’t wait to see, sister.”
“It shall be gruesome.”
“We shall revel in watching it.”
“Don’t forget beastie, true love, given and returned, sealed with a kiss before the last petal falls.”
He watched as the three faded into mist leaving him alone once more.