The foyer of Malfoy Manor reminded Narcissa of a funeral parlor.
Her hands clung to one another in a vice grip, sitting fearfully in her lap as her blue eyes fixated stonily on the thin layer of dust that coated the elaborate fireplace. It was a warm summer night, and while the wood and pokers had clearly not been touched in some time, it still irritated her that the house elves didn’t do a better job of caring for the mansion’s furnishings. A frown creased her thin, pale lips, and she told herself she’d hand out clothes and hire new ones when she moved into the home with her new husband. Her heart fluttered uncomfortably in her chest.
Normally, Narcissa wouldn’t focus on such a minute detail, not in someone else’s house. She would instead admire the flat shade of olive green that adorned the walls of the room, or perhaps the sterling silver serpents that decorated the fixtures all around her. She loved the Malfoys’ estate, especially the way everything looked eternally unused even though Mrs. Malfoy surely hosted guests on a regular basis, just like Narcissa’s own mother. The house was always silent and perfect, and the resounding echo of her high heels on the cold floor signified her comings and goings whenever she came to visit. It didn’t bother her, though. It made her feel important.
But tonight, the house that reminded her of home was not comforting. It was far too quiet.
Her eyes darted now to a pair of snakes that curled around an ornate lantern jutting out from the wall. In her mind, she watched them come to life and flick their tongues menacingly at her. She swallowed, tearing her irises away before her eyes filled with water once again. It had taken nearly her entire effort to cease her crying earlier, the soaked lace handkerchief residing now in a hidden pocket in her purse. But the sound of her shoes on the floor had reminded her that she was entering a place where she had an image to project, and this sense of purpose was helpful.
She accidentally clipped her flesh with a nail as her hands continued to writhe atop her dress, and she winced, forcing them to opposite sides and under her slender thighs. She crossed her legs at the ankles, staring down at her expensive shoes and trying to make her feet stop shaking. Narcissa closed her eyes, swallowing again and breathing in and out. Lucius would be down any minute, or worse, his mother would be the one to have heard the familiar click of her pumps.
She frowned, digging her nails into the underside of her legs, trying not to see Andromeda’s face. But the sad brown eyes dug deep inside of her, pulling her back to a different house.
Her mother’s announcement that Tithonius Yaxley was interested in taking Andromeda on a date was the final straw. At first, Narcissa had found this amusing, as she couldn’t imagine Lucius’s stiff co-worker giving a woman any semblance of a romantic evening. Andromeda, however, had stormed upstairs without another word. Bellatrix, who had been observing from the kitchen, smirked and strode into the living room with a book tucked under her arm. Mrs. Black muttered something to Narcissa about how Andromeda was too choosy for her own good before screaming at a passing house elf to replenish her tea. Mr. Black never looked up from his paper.
If Narcissa hadn’t paused to fluff her hair a second time, she would have left before it happened.
Her dainty hand was on the doorknob when Andromeda thundered back down the stairs, dragging her suitcase behind her. She proudly informed the family that she had been carrying on a secret relationship with a Mudblood, a nobody called Ted Tonks, for the past two years. She had met the boy at Hogwarts and written to him for three years before she began sneaking out to kiss and cuddle with him. He had proposed to her on the most recent of these midnight dates.
From her place in the living room, Bellatrix glanced up and smiled a curious sort of smile. She looked adoringly over at her mother, who had begun to scream once more. Then she looked at Narcissa, who was gaping like a fish, and winked. The sight of it made Narcissa’s stomach turn.
The world grew fuzzy as the truth sank in against her will: Andromeda was leaving. Forever.
She didn’t hear Andromeda’s parting words, but for a split second, her blue eyes met with the warm brown irises of her older sister. Andromeda turned sharply, spilling the tears in her eyes onto her pale cheeks, and yanked the doorknob from beneath her sister’s fingers. Narcissa stepped back, narrowly avoiding getting hit, and watched her sister Disapparate from her life.
She sputtered an excuse about running late and escaped into the dark, her own eyes flooding.
Narcissa tried to ignore the sound of footsteps on the elegant staircase, breathing deeply and purposefully as she erased the evening’s happenings from her conscious mind. She opened her eyes after a moment, smoothing her dress with her now still hands. As she slowly counted to three in her mind, she thought of Bellatrix’s knowing look. If she did something to mess up her weekly dinner at the Malfoys’, Bellatrix would get her wish. She would be Mother’s favorite.
Bellatrix already had her father’s affection. Narcissa didn’t want to give up her mother, too.
Just calm down, Cissy. You weren’t the one who swore off ever having children—
The footsteps stopped behind her. Narcissa took one more deep breath, smoothing her hair idly and rising to her feet. She slowly turned to see Lucius waiting there, handsome as always.
“Hello.” He said calmly, reaching out to her. He had been courting her for a year, and she knew the routine, lifting her hand to him and allowing him to kiss her palm sweetly. A warm smile played at her lips as she felt his soft touch, but she forced it away when he met her eyes again.
He should have offered her his arm to escort her into the lush dining room, but he just stood there, studying her. His scrutiny made her uncomfortable, and she felt her face growing hot.
“Lucius!” His mother called, and Narcissa blinked.
“Mother, we’re going out.” He returned the call, and he gestured to the manor’s door. Narcissa stood still, confused. This was not the way her Sunday evenings went. Each week, she made the short journey over to Malfoy Manor, a trip that was made even easier once she’d passed her Apparition test. She sat there in a dress that was a bit too tight, holding her opinions inside of her unless queried by Mrs. Malfoy, and she waited for the kiss on the hand that made her shiver.
She almost felt guilty for craving his touch so much. Her admiration of him was embarrassing.
Finally, she found her legs and followed him. Her heels clicked down the stone steps onto the pavement, and Lucius did not ask her permission as he wordlessly brought her against his chest. She closed her eyes, comforted by the soft velvet of his robes as it brushed against her frail cheek. He held her there for a moment too long before she felt the familiar pull behind her navel. Her feet found the ground again outside a posh restaurant. His choice was expectedly impressive.
They were seated in a fairly private corner of the dining room. Lucius ordered salmon for her, steak for himself, and two glasses of expensive red wine for them to share. She kept quiet.
“You’ve been crying.” He said, when the server departed.
Narcissa looked at him, feeling a bit of anxiety rising up in her chest again. She forced her face into what she hoped was a neutral expression and met his eyes. “No, I haven’t, actually…”
“Nonsense.” He said, and she closed her mouth. “Why are you lying to me about it?”
She blinked. “I’m not.” Her voice wavered at the last minute.
“Is there someone else?” His tone was even, but his eyes flashed dangerously.
“No.” This time she was firm.
“Why—” He was interrupted by the waiter, who received a frown from Lucius as he filled their glasses with wine. “Why don’t you just tell me?” He asked when they had renewed privacy.
Narcissa felt her lip quivering. She couldn’t take it, not tonight. She felt so angry at Andromeda for ruining her evening, for making it impossible for her to keep her composure for her weekly social engagement. She hated Bellatrix for presumably wanting this prominent son of Slytherin to be ultimately unimpressed with her, and she hated herself for thinking that way of her sister. She loathed Lucius’s suspicious look, and her mother’s screaming, and damn Tithonius Yaxley.
At last, she sank into her chair, slumping for the first time in her public life.
“An—andromeda.” She sniffled. “S-she’s been s-sleeping with this Muggle boy, Ted Tonks, and Mum told her Tithonius Yaxley wanted to take her out, and s-she j-just lost it, and s-she packed up her b-bags and l-left.” Now she was crying freely and blushing furiously. “S-she’s g-gone.” She finally forced her eyes up to Lucius’s, and he was staring, and she choked on her next sob as she realized what she’d done. Her hands began to wring one another once more in her lap.
The few people seated around them were glaring at Narcissa, annoyed that her inappropriate bawling had interrupted the tranquility of their meal. She felt very hot, and she became unusually aware of the tight brassiere that crushed her small breasts beneath her expensive gown. Lucius looked something between bewildered and disconcerted. Narcissa nearly shed a fresh tear.
After a tense silence, Lucius stopped staring. He folded his hands on the table and spoke.
“Yaxley.” He said thoughtfully. “Well, yes, a terrible choice.” He commented after a moment.
Narcissa stared at her wine glass, wishing she could drown in it.
“Narcissa?” He said, and her eyes shot back up to his anxiously. “Are you all right?”
“Y-yes.” She stuttered, sitting back upright, wanting to pretend nothing had happened.
“Good.” He nodded, though he looked as if he didn’t believe her.
They sat in silence as their entrees arrived. Narcissa didn’t move a muscle.
“I—” He began to pick at his London broil. “I’m very sorry.” He said finally.
Narcissa glanced up at him curiously. His face looked pained, and she felt guilty.
“To be honest, however, I’m relieved you’re not hurt.” He continued slowly, taking a small bite of his meal. “I was worried something had happened to you on the way over to the manor.”
“What?” Narcissa said softly, eyes widening. “Is that why you brought me here?”
“Yes.” He admitted. “I thought I’d spare you Mother’s inquiries tonight.” Now it was his turn to stare awkwardly into the untouched wine glass in front of him. “I was… concerned… for you.”
Narcissa gingerly picked up her fork and knife. She felt her heart grow warm in her chest, and it was hard not to smile. “Thank you.” She said quietly, beginning to nibble at her dinner politely.
They finished their meal without saying anything to one another, and when both wine glasses were empty, she walked at his side into the street. He Apparated the pair of them to her door, and she could faintly hear Bellatrix and her mother yelling at one another through the ancient wood.
He stepped back, and she almost frowned when she felt his touch leave her thin form. For an hour or so of quiet, she had forgotten about the crisis at home. She’d just sat there with him, eating expensive food and stealing glances at one another across the table. She was content.
She thought briefly of Andromeda, running as far as she could from this familiar world of arranged partnerships and hoping love might grow from nothing. But Lucius, who had been chosen for her long before she could give consent… she felt something for him after all.
She glanced up into his gray-blue eyes and couldn’t muster up an ounce of hatred for anyone.
Lucius reached for her palm, which she in turn offered. Gentle lips met delicate skin.
Narcissa let him bid her hand goodnight. Then, without hesitation, she gave him a proper kiss.
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