Narcissa returns home for the summer holidays after her fourth year with a sense of apprehension, fearing that her parents will sense a change in her demeanour. So she lurks in her room, exchanging endless letters with Sirius via owl, or staring dreamily into the stars. Her parents are satisfied as long as she keeps out of their way, and turns up correctly attired for social events. Druella Black has always favoured screeching at house-elves or knocking back cocktails above showing her children affection; Cygnus Black regards Narcissa as the surplus third girl, the daughter who should have been a son.
The oppressive boredom is broken one day when an owl from Grimmauld Place arrives, dropping a letter onto Cygnus' lap. He scans it briefly before casually tossing it to Druella.
'Old Alphard's finally died. They'll be pleased to have his room empty again; he'd been free-loading in their house for months.'
Druella tuts as she eagerly devours the note:
'Walburga hasn't spelt it out, but I strongly suspect the old codger drank himself to death on other people's Firewhisky. Personally, I don't know why they took him in, I'm sure he corrupted Sirius - Oooh, and she writes that Sirius had been looking after him until he died, so no doubt the boy's been filled with even more blood-traitor nonsense!'
Narcissa gives an involuntary jerk at this and her tea-cup crashes to the floor. Her mother shrieks for a house-elf, but Cygnus raises his eye-brows and examines Narcissa's face with narrowed eyes.
'So do you converse with your cousin at Hogwarts?' She carefully wipes her tea-soaked hands on a napkin, knowing she must tread cautiously. Her father is no fool.
'Well we're in the same year and House, so yes, we do see each other quite a lot.' He slams a clenched fist onto the table:
'Don't wilfully misunderstand me, Narcissa; you know very well I was referring to that Muggle-loving traitor Sirius. My cousin Owen Rosier informs me his son Evan thinks you're unsuitably friendly with him. I will not tolerate you associating with that degenerate cur!'
Narcissa allows her voice to rise as she replies, a contemptuous sneer on her fine features:
'Father, would you seriously lower yourself and take the word of a hormonal teenage boy, who to be frank is obsessed with me, above my own word: the word of a Black?'
Cygnus leans back on his chair, and surveys her thoughtfully; pleased with not only her response but the way she worded it and her poised composure. Tracing the outline of her body speculatively, he realises that in only a few more years she will be a useful bargaining tool in the intricate games of pure-blood marriage. Narcissa shifts uneasily under his assessing gaze, feeling somehow defiled. At least he seems to have fallen for her act. Cygnus stands, at which she and her mother hurriedly leave their chairs, standing to attention for the master of the house. He nods at them then heads to the door.
'Alphard's last will and testament will be read this afternoon at Number Twelve Grimmauld place, we shall all be attending. Bellatrix will join us there. And Narcissa - I will be asking her to keep a close watch on you, just to make sure you aren't associating with the misfit. Is that clear?'
Narcissa and her parents arrive ay Grimmauld to hear screeches, curses and the smashing of costly plates. A portly, terrified solicitor-wizard rushes out past them as they pause in the hallway.
'Pleasure-to-meet-you-I'm-afraid-I-have-another-appointment-have-a-good-day' he blurts before practically flinging himself onto a broomstick.
'What in Salazar's name is going on?!' barks Cygnus Black. He is answered by Sirius' father, Orion, as Mrs. Black is still in the kitchen cursing incoherently.
'The sly old fraud's been sitting on a bloody gold-mine, that's what! Alphard's left a fortune behind - and it's all for my insubordinate excuse of an eldest son! Solicitor doesn't reckon we can get our hands on it; contract's water-tight.'
Narcissa slips up the back stairs in the ensuing clamour, her disappearance covered by the shocked exclamations of her parents and Mrs. Black's howls of: 'Filth! Scum! Blood-traitor!'
A cursory glance into Sirius' room reveals he is not there, which she expected. She heads down a twisted corridor into a dusty, seemingly abandoned section of the house, nervously approaching the room in which Alphard spent the last months of his life.
Sirius sits on the floor, back cradled against a bed stripped of sheets. There is a hideous poignancy in the way he clasps a battered suitcase stamped 'Alphard Black' to his chest: face white and tearless.
'Narcissa.' A dry toneless rasp. 'Here for the will-reading? It went very well. I'm a rich boy now, it seems. Of course my beloved parents are ecstatic for me.'
She doesn't know what to say, how to reply to this grief-stricken stranger. His vulnerability frightens her: here in this house he seems diminished, beset by troubles, not the reckless school-boy of Hogwarts. Narcissa is not drawn to vulnerability, however much she loves him; it's too akin to weakness. She knows she is weak. Sirius, the brave passionate rebel, is supposed to protect her, he likes protecting her. But today...today he seems broken.
'I - was - was he in a lot of pain?'
Sirius arches an eye-brow and laughs mockingly:
'Would you like the nice, tactful answer, or the unsweetened truth? I mean, liver disease does get rather painful in the end, and I'm not the best at healing or soothing spells...Black talents lie more in the other direction, you understand.'
'Sirius please, don't shut me out - '
'Oh, sorry, am I not giving you enough attention? I know I'm not my usual fun and games, I promise I'll remedy that as soon as possible.'
The harshness of his voice is chilling; Narcissa feels afraid of him.
'Sirius. You can be how you want. Say what you want. Just - just let me - '
'Let you do what exactly? Sit and listen to be ramble? Do your good deed for the day, the thing you do to knock out your conscience and to let yourself sleep at night. Being a nice little girl to the boy who's lost...whose uncle just...Alphard...my uncle...he died.'
The words crack as he speaks, shattering into wracking, tearless gasps: the sound of a crying dog that has had its vocal cords cut. Dropping to her knees she reaches out to gingerly embrace him, but he doesn't seem aware of her anymore. His pain begins to emerge as a feverish mutter:
'It must have hurt really bad he bit his lips until they bled to keep from screaming. Couldn't help, didn't know spells, asked mum asked dad but they wouldn't. Wouldn't pay for healer. Alphard had money but I didn't know would have made him use it but he saved it for me he should have used it for healing potions not me I'm not worth it. Not worth anything. A Black. He said get out get out get out while there's still time before you get like them or you're reduced to me. Don't end up like me afraid unloved too afraid to leave. Don't end up like me...'
Suddenly he shudders and stands to his feet, causing Narcissa to topple over. Sirius looks down at her with an expression she cannot read haunting his grey eyes; his voice suddenly controlled.
'I wish you'd known Alphard better. You're so alike. Maybe if you'd seen him, you'd have understood how dangerous a game you're playing. Alphard...Alphard was not a good man. Not what you could call evil, but not good. Drowned in the poison of this family, never finding the courage to break away. Pissed everyone off with his drinking and gambling and loose women, but he never actually left, was too shackled by fucking blood ties. He said he was a coward just before he died, and much as I love him that was true, but he was brave enough to admit it. Do you want to stay a coward, Narcissa, cowering in the dark surrounded by prejudiced monsters, just because they're your 'family'?'
Narcissa feels choked by the anger welling up inside her trembling body.
'Don't you understand compromise?! Don't you understand that I can keep my family whilst still respecting Muggle-borns and half-bloods? Have you completely blanked out memories of how your mother rocked you when you were little, your father giving you your first broomstick, when Regulus pulled you out of the pond when you were drowning? Blood is thicker than water, Sirius, however sodding clichéd that sounds. I don't have to pick one side or the other - there are no sides!'
'There will be! Believe me, before long there will be sides and abstaining just won't be an option. You can only perch on the fence for so long, Narcissa, before you fall and break your fucking neck. You've heard the whispering of the foul acts Voldemort's been committing, don't pretend you haven't. And you've heard our family's gleeful rejoicing at each new atrocity.'
She doesn't remember standing up but she is face to face with Sirius, the expression in his eyes is now clearly that of rage. 'Make up your mind,' he hisses, grabbing her arm violently and raising his fist. Yet as he sees the fear in her eyes, the memory of his mother stumbling beneath his father's blows comes to him, causing him to drop her arm as if her skin were flame. His eyes burn with guilt and he flings himself onto the mattress, finally relieving himself of the crushing weight of unshed tears. You yell at her for being prejudiced, as rotten-hearted as the rest of our family, but you're just as bad. You're still a Black. Narcissa reaches out to him; strokes his face.
'It's alright Sirius, it's alright,' she soothes, rocking his sobbing body. After several moments they reach out to hold each other, a tender embrace of grief, sorrow, anger, regret, betrayal, an embrace that communicates both love and distrust.
Soft footsteps approach and a voice calls 'Cissy?'
Only Bellatrix calls her Cissy. Narcissa feels that something inside is tearing, ripping apart, as the door handle begins to turn.
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