It was huge: expansive and elegant. Madeline gave the heavy knocker a crisp snap. She heard it echo on the other side door. “Remember, you must behave.”
“I’m sorry?” She asked. “I didn’t hear you.”
“Yes Mommy,” he added.
The door opened and Madeline gave a short nod, “Narcissa Malfoy, I received your owl last night.”
“Madeline Alcott,” The fair woman beamed at her. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Isaac speaks of you often and when he wrote, saying that you and Sereth would be in England…well, I wouldn’t have you stay anywhere else. Please come in.”
“Yes, he can be exceedingly helpful,” Madeline’s mocking sarcasm went unnoticed by Narcissa as she stepped into Malfoy Mansion.
It was just as pristine inside as it appeared from the outside. There were ancient and beautiful tapestries, amazing paintings and hundreds of photos on the walls. Madeline’s eye caught a glimpse of someone she recognized: Jaselle, (her niece) as a toddler, standing aside a pretty platinum blond little boy. They were both holding handfuls of red berries and covered in strawberry juice laughing their hearts out. Next to that picture displayed one of Lucius and Isaac both looking proud and haughty. Madeline chuckled, quiet the pair they were. Narcissa had a house-elf escort Sereth to a play room where she assured him he would find all sorts of things to entertain him while he stayed with them. He wasn’t at all reluctant when Madeline nodded her head and said he may go.
“It’s so good to finally have you here,” Narcissa smiled bringing her into a sitting room. “Isaac said your husband wouldn’t be able to join us, that he was busy with something or other. Klopp, fetch the wine, we have guests.” A shaky little house-elf hurried off at Narcissa’s words.
“No, he is indisposed at the moment.” Madeline bowed her head briefly.
“I trust that things are well?”
“Oh yes, never better,” Madeline lied.
“What was your profession again, I swear Isaac’s told me hundred times.”
Madeline thought for a moment to lie but Narcissa went on, “Necromancy was it?”
“That’s right,” Madeline nodded. “I teach.”
“Well if only you could pass your trade on at Hogwarts, something useful might come out of it.” She gave a slight laugh, “If Hogwarts opens again that is.”
Madeline merely hummed in response.
“What is it that your husband does?” Narcissa quickly picked up the conversation.
“He’s a teacher as well. His skills lie in alchemy, potions that is.”
“Does he teach at the Academy as well?”
“No,” Madeline shook her head, “he teaches at…another school.”
“I see,” Narcissa smiled just as the house-elf, Klopp, returned with a silver tray, two long stemmed glasses and carafe of deep red wine.
“None for me, thank you, Narcissa,” Madeline shook her head.
“Of course, I wasn’t thinking,” Narcissa recovered quickly, ordering for a glass of water in turn. “I had forgotten how small they were at three.” She sighed dreamily, “I always wanted another one.”
“Yes, he found having a son made the little world complete. And though I’m thankful for Draco everyday, it would be wonderful to have more. You and your husband must be thrilled.”
“Thrilled,” Madeline mimicked Narcissa. “You keep looking Narcissa, it’s all right.”
“Oh goodness Madeline I didn’t want to say anything but what happened?”
“I was in a tiny scuffle. I’m okay.”
“It looks bad Madeline,” Narcissa said leaning over examining the cut on Madeline’s face. “Are those…stitches?”
“Yes, I didn’t have much of a choice…I was in a Mundane – I mean – Muggle neighborhood when it happened.”
Narcissa waved a hand, “It’s all right, I understand the subtle colloquialism that separate us; remember we’ve been friends with Isaac for some time. But goodness, it looks painful. And Sereth, how long will he have to wear that thing?”
“I was told some ridiculous amount of time in weeks, but I’m having it off as soon as I get home. I have friends at the Academy who can correct the issue.”
“You should take him up to St. Mungo’s in the morning. I know it’s not exactly the most efficient place but they could take care of it right away and he wouldn’t have to suffer anymore.”
“Oh that won’t be necessary, we won’t be staying much longer. Perhaps only overnight.”
“Nonsense. You’ll be with us the rest of your time in England.”
“Narcissa, I meant that we’ll be traveling back to the United States tomorrow.”
“Oh,” she looked a bit taken aback. “But you’ve just arrived.”
“I mean you no disrespect, however it would seem that things are a bit upturned here.”
“Yes, you could say that,” Narcissa nodded, it was clear that the war was on the tip of her tongue but she refrained from mentioning it, just then. Klopp, appeared at that moment and reported that Sereth had fallen asleep. Narcissa instructed the house-elf to have him put up in the great suite in the south wing. The tiny creature nodded before disappearing.
“It’s a shame, he’ll miss dinner.” Narcissa frowned.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine, though I appreciate your concern. He needs his rest, the travels have been difficult for him.”
“I can only imagine,” Narcissa feigned concern. “Shall we?”
“Of course,” Madeline said, getting up and following Narcissa’s lead. She took her through another hall of photos before leading her into the dinning room. A long table was already prepared with four place sittings close together at the end of the polished oak table. “Are you expecting more guests?” Madeline asked.
“Not guests, the others who live here: my son, Draco and my sister, Bellatrix.”
“I see,” Madeline smiled briefly. She had heard of Bellatrix from Isaac, and she didn’t like the idea that Mrs. LeStrange would be gracing the dinner table with her presence. Madeline could handle Narcissa, she was noble and proud, easily predictable; however, Bellatrix was said to be a bit erratic and hot tempered.
“Please,” Narcissa offered a chair up to Madeline, which she promptly accepted.
“You really are Isaac’s sister,” Narcissa stated matter-of-factly. “You don’t merely carry the Alcott appearance, you have the same air. I imagine you’ve been told this before?”
“Many times,” Madeline gave another slight nod.
“I’m sure Sereth will have it too.”
“Undoubtedly,” Madeline agreed.
Bellatrix and Draco entered together, just as Narcissa was taking her own seat. Bellatrix gave an awkward start at seeing Madeline. “Do you think it wise to be playing hostess now Narcissa?” She asked with little concern for the weight of her comment. Madeline cocked an eyebrow and tipped her head at the thick jawed and narrow eyed Bellatrix.
Ignoring her sister Narcissa said, “Bellatrix, Draco, this is Madeline Alcott; she’s a friend.”
“Hello,” Draco said sitting across from Madeline.
“A pleasure,” Madeline nodded.
“You’re Jaselle’s aunt, right?”
Draco nodded approvingly.
Bellatrix noticed Madeline’s belly hidden under the table when she sat next to her. “Are you pregnant?” Bellatrix hissed in horror.
“Yes,” Madeline smiled snidely.
Bellatrix wrinkled her nose in disgust and looked at her empty plate, “I’m not hungry.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Narcissa barked.
“Yes, Bellatrix, don’t be ridiculous,” A sharp spiteful voice cut into the conversation.
Madeline felt her heart leap into her throat as her gaze shot to the entrance of the dining room.
“Severus,” Narcissa quickly got to her feet, “we weren’t expecting you until later this evening. I’m very glad you could make it to dinner, please, join us.”
“Now I’m really not hungry,” Bellatrix grumbled climbing out of her chair and stalking away.
“Don’t mind her,” Narcissa said, in general. “She has a special way about her. Madeline,” Narcissa smiled, “this is Severus, he’s a friend as well. He used to teach potions at Hogwarts, and for a time Defense Against the Dark Arts, if you know anything about your husband’s trade the two of you will get along admirably.”
Severus’s gaze fell onto Madeline, who he seemed to have overlooked at spiting Bellatrix. A rush of emotions, that he wasn’t prepared to deal with, flooded him. He was instantly faced with the image of a strange little family in a Muggle town in Florida who all practiced Necromancy, a weird series of events that led to his wedding, a warm beach on the Atlantic ocean that Madeline loved, a prestigious school that taught strange focused magic, a charming tourist looking man who befriended his wife, the birth of a son, snow at Hogwarts, seminars on potions with a touch of Defense Against the Dark Arts, a book called Advanced Necromancy…
He was pacing the length of his office, it was nothing out of the ordinary. He was found doing that a lot lately. Any moment now, any moment…he heard the knob turn and creak of the door. He didn’t turn, he waited…looking at his eye high level of pickled creatures. Finally a pair of arms snaked around his chest.
“Sev, I’m sorry I’m late.”
He refrained from snorting and just let her hold him for a moment.
“Sereth is sleeping, the trip tired him out, but he is looking forward to seeing you.”
“I have shared his anxiousness.” Severus reached out and pulled her around to face him. She laughed.
“I’ve missed you darling,” Madeline smiled laying her head against him.
“Again, I share in your misplaced emotions.”
She pulled away and looked into his stern face, “Misplaced?”
“Yes, these times are dark, and not suited for -”
“Sev!” Madeline cut him off. “You’ve never gone five minutes at seeing me for the first time in months without telling me how dark and dangerous things are. We’re magic folk, things are never happy and glorious. Never, period. Can’t you just appreciate that I’m here and you’re there and it’s a tiny ray of joy in this moment.”
“But the Dark Lord -”
“But nothing Severus,” Madeline said sharply. “I want to be seen, appreciated. For a moment suspend your thoughts of him and think of your wife, who will only be here for two days.” With each word she eased closer to him and naturally he leaned over to meet her. There was nothing delicate about the passion that pumped through their bodies as their lips met for what seemed like the first time in their lives. It had been months since they had seen one another, and clearly something both of them recognized – and desired. Neither of them had ever showed outward signs of needing the other, however in the moment of stress and anxiety that filled the world around them they were left only feeling comfort in each other...
It was a very potent memory that cut off sharply and left him feeling vacant and alone when Narcissa questioned, “Severus? Are you well?”
“Yes,” he snapped quickly.
“Madeline is Isaac Alcott’s sister.”
“We’ve met,” his lip curled.
A gentle smile passed over Madeline’s face but the softness in her expression was not mirrored in her bitter words, “You do remember. It had been so long I was almost certain you’d forgotten me. You’ll forgive me for not standing to greet you, I’m exceedingly tired from my journeys across the country.”
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