Lucius strode purposefully through Diagon Alley behind his father, wishing he could have brought Severus along. But Severus was only a first year, and for the most part, Father didn't approve of him anyway. Of course, he couldn't forbid Lucius to talk to him, as Severus' father was too important to Lord Voldemort to upset with such pettiness.

It was Severus who'd come up with the idea. They'd sneaked to the kitchens for some food after a Quiddich victory, and the perceptive boy had commented on the frequent glances Lucius exchanged with Narcissa. He'd told him everything in a moment of weakness – his betrothal to Bellatrix, Narci's sister, and the dread he felt at trying to explain to his father that he had no desire to marry her.

Rather than spread the word around, as Lucius had feared he would, Sev had simply helped him plot. In the end, they'd come up with the plan Lucius would put into motion today. Lucius smirked, thinking back. Of course, Severus would understand perfectly, having been betrothed since birth to a girl who was now a Ravenclaw. Sodding bad luck, that. At least she wasn't aware that it was formal.

He followed his father into a jewelry shop and grimaced. It wasn't the one he'd made arrangements with. This shop had only just opened, and apparently it was now considered the best jeweler available. If it weren't, his father wouldn't be shopping there.

"Choose something," his father snapped. He exchanged a glance with the shop owner and went to wait outside. The elderly wizard turned a pitying glance on Lucius, who felt his back straighten in response. He lifted his chin.

"A gift for my betrothed," he responded haughtily to the unasked question. He didn't recognize the wizard, but it was obvious that the wizard recognized him, for he responded immediately.

"Of course, Mr. Malfoy. Did you have anything specific in mind?"

Lucius, at 14 years of age, had already mastered the disdainful look that would define him in his later years and he turned that expression toward the shop keeper. How the bloody hell should he know what a GIRL would like? The old man chuckled, understanding, and ducked behind the counter to bring out several boxes.

Lucius quickly chose two necklaces, one silver and one gold, which he could picture his mother wearing. She was always the height of fashion, and he knew he'd done well as the shop keeper murmured his approval. Nevertheless, he had a reputation to uphold. He sneered.

"I didn't ask your opinion. Only Miss Black's opinion is of importance to me," he responded coldly. This snapped the man back to reality. For a moment, the young boy had seemed almost caring in his choice.

"Of course, Mr. Malfoy." How he would grow tired of hearing that in the following years! Today, however, it suited his purpose well. He took the packages, careful to slip the gold necklace into his pocket before leaving the store. He was thankful that the jeweler had had the discretion not to mention his second purchase.

His father looked up as he exited, having neither thanked the shop owner, nor bid him goodbye. He was a Malfoy, after all. "Black Manor," the elder Malfoy said, his tone clipped. Lucius nodded slightly just before his father disapparated.

He took a moment to thank whatever gods were watching for letting him get through that without disappointing the man, then appeared beside his father. They were standing before a large country house, not as large as Malfoy Manor, of course, but certainly indicative of old money. Even the grounds seethed with it. Lucius took a deep breath and looked around. There was Narci, in the gardens, just as Severus had said she would be. How did he know?

A superior smirk firmly stamped on his face, he walked sedately after his father. Before they were entirely out of sight of the gardens, however, he stopped, drawing in a sharp breath as if he'd only just seen Narcissa. His father pulled up short and whirled around, fully prepared to berate his son for deviating from his expectations.

When he followed Lucius' gaze, he arched an eyebrow. He watched as his son's expression changed from pleasant surprise to calm acceptance. "Is that her, Father?" Lucius asked quietly. It was a gamble. She was far enough away that Malfoy Sr. might believe he hadn't recognized her.

"No," his father answered shortly. "I was told Bellatrix was gifted with dark hair, like her father. Come. Mr. Black awaits." Mr. Malfoy turned sharply to climb the stairs before the doorway.

"She's exquisite," Lucius whispered, knowing his father's discerning ears would hear. Then he trotted to catch up. He was standing arrogantly beside his father when a house elf opened the door and ushered them inside.

Lucius felt lucky to have made it this far in his plan. His pause outside had been tolerated only because of the formality of the occasion, he knew. Otherwise his father would have taken the time to punish him for such a display.

"The ladies are still preparing themselves, I'm afraid," Mr. Black said apologetically as they were ushered into a dusty library. Lucius had no trouble looking bored. How long would he be expected to wait, he wondered? As the adults poured drinks, he did his best not to fidget. He waited until their glasses were empty, fingering the box in his pocket and eyeing the one he'd left on the desk before him.

"Might I entertain myself in the gardens?" he asked finally. "Mother mentioned in passing that you have some rare magical plants that we have, as yet, been unable to cultivate." He spoke as though it was a passing interest, knowing his father would never approve of a keen interest in herbology. He knew, too, that Malfoy Sr. was displeased with his admission that the Black family had anything over their own family. However, Mr. Black was oblivious to all this and gave his permission easily.

Lucius bowed gratefully and turned to go before his father's voice brought him back around to bow again.

"You will not speak with anyone but your betrothed," he commanded sternly.

"Yes, Father," he replied solemnly. Well, that was going to complicate things. It wasn't as if he'd ever really spoken to Narcissa. They'd been housemates for 4 years, but they'd barely exchanged pleasantries. It was known that she was to be betrothed to Rudolphus LeStrange, and in general no one was foolish enough to infringe on that betrothal. The boy's father taught Dark Arts at Durmstrang, and not the 'defense' drivel that Hogwarts taught, either.

He found her in the gardens, affecting coy disinterest in the proceedings of the day. He stood behind her, leaning against the brick wall that divided the flowers from the orchard, smirking knowingly, though he was anything but sure of her affections.

Narcissa was aware of his presence. She had seen him arrive. The first year boy, Severus, had mentioned that if she wished to see him, she should be in the gardens, so that was where she had placed herself, not knowing what she hoped would come of it.

Now, as she inspected the roses before her, charmed a deep blue that muggles had yet to recreate, she could feel the hairs on her arms rise. His intense gray eyes were on her, as they had been each evening of the last term in the common room. She had managed to study in spite of his scrutiny, and she would manage to choose the flowers for her room as well. She examined them slowly, an unseen smile gracing her features.

When she'd decided, she summoned a house elf and instructed it as to which flowers suited her. When it had finished cutting the roses, it disappeared, arms laden, to arrange them on her dresser. Finally she turned to meet his gaze.

She was surprised to see that he'd gone. On the wall, near where he'd been standing, however, was a box. Casting a wary glance around, she opened it and gasped. A delicate gold chain, so tiny as to be almost invisible, was hung with alternating diamonds and emeralds. The gems were large and flatteringly cut, and she reached a hand toward them longingly, only to feel the tingle of magic about the necklace. It already held the betrothal charm.

Unfortunately, her father would be most displeased if she accepted this gift from her sister's betrothed. Rudolphus had not yet given her one, and she doubted it would be so fine as this. But then, she was a year younger than Bella. Certainly the best match possible had been made for her elder sister, and she should be content with the LeStrange boy. She'd heard that he was quite handsome.

She closed the box gently, and would have turned around if a hand had not fallen softly over her own. Lucius stepped out from behind her and opened the box again, taking the necklace out carefully, an intense look in his storm gray eyes.

"Good day, Lucius," she said quietly, trying not to sound breathless. She wasn't really sure what to make of it all, except that it certainly appeared that he meant to do something foolish that would upset both their parents. Although she shifted uncomfortably under his gaze, she kept her head high. Yes, the LeStrange boy probably was handsome, but he couldn't possibly be better looking than Lucius, whose face she'd chanced to gaze at in the orange light of the common room fire many times.

In answer, he simply bowed, then held out the necklace, the corners of his lips turning upward just a tad. Her mouth fell open as he gestured for her to turn around. Could he really be offering it to her? They'd barely spoken in all the years they'd known each other. Once, at a Halloween ball, she'd fetched him to turn Muriel's head back from the pumpkin it'd been charmed to resemble. He had gazed at her a moment longer than she'd thought strictly polite, and they'd been stealing glances ever since. But it seemed too much to hope that he could feel anything for her.

She looked into his eyes and read passion there, but for what she didn't know. Perhaps for the idea of getting his own way? Certainly not for her. They were only 14, after all, and as handsome as he was, she had no idea whether this was what she wanted. She thought of Bellatrix. Her sister would undoubtedly be furious.

Smiling coyly, she turned, just quickly enough to miss the look of joy that flashed over his features. Then she closed her eyes and waited.

He lifted the necklace over her head. Her hair was pulled up into an elegant bun, held in place with peacock feathers, and he was grateful. He'd never tried to clasp a necklace before. His hands neither trembled, nor faltered, however, in spite of the thrill running down his spine.

She felt his breath on her neck as he did the clasp and shivered. The weight of the enchantment fell on them, creating a feeling of contentment that hadn't been between them before. When she turned again, he took her hand in his and kissed the finger that would one day bear his ring, but he didn't smile. She had never seen him do so, and hardly expected him to now, though there was a lightness in his eyes that seemed to indicate happiness. How could she know? She barely knew him.

"I'll take care of everything," he said smoothly. His voice was confidence itself, now that she'd accepted. She looked down, smiling demurely as her mother had instructed her. But his hand was under her chin a moment later. "You're to be a Malfoy. You can begin now to hold your head up to everyone. Even me."

An instant later he turned sharply, his blue robes swirling elegantly around his legs, and strode back to the manor. That had gone far better than he'd hoped. The uncharmed necklace, still silver, was awaiting him. It would be good grace to give it to Bella in spite of what had happened, which is precisely why he'd bought it. To his good fortune, he caught a glimpse of the girl coming down the stairs.

He had seen Bellatrix Black before. She attended Durmstrang, but always made it home for Christmas parties and the like. As he remembered, she was lovely, though a far cry from Narci's pale beauty. He hurried as decorously as possible back into Mr. Black's library, fixing an angry scowl on his face. If this was to work, his act would have to be perfect. He closed the door behind his back with a sharp click that couldn't be mistaken as an accident.

The older men looked up at him, Mr. Black seeing a willful boy who'd never had anything but his own way, and Mr. Malfoy seeing an excellent reason to punish his son. His own expression had begun to match Lucius' when the boy spoke.

"Father, it seems Mr. Black has found a most subtle way of insulting us, and I must say, I'm deeply offended."

There was a tense moment of silence following this announcement as Malfoy Sr. reassessed the situation. He cast a glance at their host to find him looking decidedly concerned. "In what way have you been offended, Lucius?" his father asked graciously, eyes still trained on the dark haired man nearest him.

It was perfect. "I was under the impression that Mr. Black had offered his most beautiful daughter to be my bride. I find now that that is not the case."

Mr. Black was eyeing him warily, now, aware of Malfoy Sr.'s eyes on him. He took a long swig of whatever he was drinking before he spoke. Lucius raised a distasteful eyebrow in response and saw his father's smile out of the corner of his eye. Oh yes, the old man ate it up when he forced others to give him his due. How else could Lucius have gotten so good at doing just that?

"You do not find Bellatrix beautiful?" Mr. Black inquired quietly.

Lucius knew the man was trying to force him to stumble out of the enforced civility his father required, and would not be fooled. "She is lovely indeed, sir, but hardly as fair as her sister. Narcissa has grown into a beauty since last I saw her. It is she I desire for my bride."

He'd said he desired her, not that he would have her. His father's eyes darkened. He hadn't been forceful enough to satisfy the hard, cold man before him. But perhaps he'd been just gentle enough to sway the somewhat softer, cold man who was also gazing at him unblinkingly.

"Bellatrix is a far more powerful witch, young Mr. Malfoy," he responded slowly, using the boy's title as he now understood that it was Lucius who controlled the situation rather than his father. If anything, Malfoy Sr. seemed to be enjoying his son's admittedly adept attempt at dominance.

Lucius knew the line he was walking. As he'd been leading him toward insulting Bellatrix' beauty a moment before, Mr. Black now tempted him to insult her magical prowess by denying her superiority. He would do neither.

He carefully chose the timbre of his voice to be haughty, yet dignified. "What need have I for that? Already I am heralded as one of the most powerful students to attend Hogwarts in quite some time." A little arrogance was to be expected, after all, and he didn't want the man to forget the value of having a Malfoy for a son-in-law.

When there was no answer from Mr. Black, he strode to the desk at which he sat and placed both hands firmly on it, his voice suddenly hard and unyielding. "Narcissa's magical ability is more than suitable. It is she I shall wed, and no one else."

A delicate knock resounded through the room, and an instant later the door swung open to reveal Bellatrix Black, standing just in front of her mother. Lucius had turned at the knock. He turned his head questioningly toward Mr. Black, who nodded almost imperceptibly.

Another hurdle down. He took the box from the corner of the desk and, without so much as a glance at his father, approached Bellatrix and her mother.

He bowed respectfully. "Miss Black. A misunderstanding has been righted in your absence. It falls to me to offer my apologies, as I am no longer available to become your betrothed."

He saw the flash of anger in the brunette's eyes and allowed himself a slight smile, which only angered her further. Behind him, he could feel his father's pride. Vile man that he was, he always appreciated seeing Lucius with the upper hand in every situation.

Bellatrix still hadn't spoken, though she'd cast an angry glance at her father, and a pleading look at her mother. When she finally looked back at the sneer Lucius was sporting, her hand came up to slap him.

He was prepared, and he caught her wrist carefully. It wouldn't do to injure her in her own home. Thinking fast, he pressed the box containing her necklace into her hand. "Allow me the honor of giving you this, in token of my good will. You are a worthy lady. I would never say otherwise."

She jerked her hand viciously out of his grasp, making both her parents draw breath. Lucius had been careful to maintain his grace throughout. Bella's movement, however, had been nothing short of rude. She would likely be punished for that later, but Lucius could not afford to see that as his concern.

He exchanged a knowing glance with his father as if to say, 'You see? Narcissa would never behave so.' There was pride in the old man's eyes for a brief moment, but Lucius didn't let himself smile.

Moments later, his father was politely taking leave of them, their business concluded. Bella stood, her jaw set in an angry line as Lucius bowed to her again, then proceeded out of the library behind his father.

They were beyond the apparation wards for only moments when Lucius caught sight of movement in the garden, and turned to watch Narcissa. Her head was held high, and a ghost of a smile played across her lips. Her eyes were turned away, but he knew she was watching their progress. He was not, however, aware that his father was watching him.

The elder Malfoy's face took on a disbelieving look for a moment, as he noticed that the girl already wore the betrothal necklace. It occurred to him that Lucius must have spoken to her, and ought to be punished, but for once, he stifled the thought. In no way had his son shamed him this day. Indeed, for the first time he could see some of himself in the boy. Truly, his son had done well, for once. Not that he would tell him so.

"Lucius, it is time to return home."

"Yes, Father," he responded immediately. He apparated to Malfoy manor the next instant and followed his father inside, a vision of her pale face among the roses still drifting before his eyes.