It didn't surprise Lucius Malfoy that the Black Family motto was "toujours pur". Quite apart from the family's noted pureblood mania, he found it appropriate on another level. It was the perfect antonym for their surname and, put together, the words summed up quite nicely the essence of what it was to be a member of that clan: Corrupted and Pure- Black and White. For them, there was never anything in between.
Malfoy considered himself well qualified to make this observation, for he had known the family his entire life. Although his father, Marius Malfoy, and the Black family patriarch, Orion, were often at loggerheads, their wives were devoted friends. Lucius passed many summer evenings at the Black's home, Ravensden Hall, playing hide and seek in the ancient manor, and dueling in the gardens with the little Blacks.
It was a pity that Mrs. Black had died so young. Quite contrary to fashion, she was a beloved wife and a devoted mother to her three little girls but she had always been a delicate thing. Her third daughter had nearly killed her. So, it was little surprise that bringing her fourth child into the world- the son that the Blacks craved so dearly- did.
Mrs. Black might have lived if she had let the mediwizard use magic to bring the child. But she knew that magical birthings almost always squibbed the child, and a squib would not have been tolerated by the Blacks. So Lucretia Black died, aged 32, the mother of Andromeda, Bellatrix, Narcissa and little Rigel who outlived her by less than a month.
Though his visits to Ravenseden ended with Mrs. Blacks's death, Lucius knew the elder two Black sisters well. Effervescent, apple-cheeked Andromeda and mercurial, ravishing Bellatrix were Slytherins with him at school. His memories of Narcissa, however, were murky. Her little face was frozen in his memory just as it had looked at six-years old when he saw her hiding in the corner at her mother's funeral. He remembered only tear-stained eyes of the most extraordinary blue peeking out occasionally from the pages of a musty book. She had been sent away to Beauxbatons, their mothers' school, and he hadn't heard from her in years.
Although the Blacks were admitted to the most rarefied of social circles, they seldom lodged appearances at balls. Lucius's mother (who fretted constantly about the girls, but never did anything to help them) opined that this was a result of their being consigned to the care of their father and the dubious influence of their all-together terrifying aunt. "Orion ought to have married again!" Evelyn Malfoy invariably sighed whenever the Blacks were mentioned in conversation. Her conviction was unshakable (though Lucius guessed that she held a very different opinion on the subject of her own replacement). "Those poor, motherless girls…" She curled her fingers as she spoke, almost as if she could imagine her slender fingers raking through Bella's coal-black hair, or Andromeda and Narcissa's curls. "They're running positively wild."
Lucius probably would have lost touch of the Blacks entirely after school if not for his friendship with Rodolphus Lestrange. Malfoy couldn't justly say that he liked the other boy, but his company was not as painful as most. Lestrange was handsome, rich, intelligent and easily amused, qualities that made for a good companion, and so Lucius was often by his side. At Hogwarts, Rodolphus and Bellatrix Black began a romance, a romance that eventually thrust she and her sister unexpectedly back into Malfoy's world.
Lestrange considered himself quite the rogue, but ever since fourth year, Bellatrix Black had kept him wrapped around her little finger. He liked to think that his little dalliances were proof that he was still his own man, but Lucius was certain that Bellatrix knew what she was doing. She reminded him of nothing so much as a fisherman, giving slack to coax a fish into tiring itself out before reeling him into the boat.
In recent months, Bella's hold on Rodolphus had become more serious. For five years she had kept up the charade of wanting nothing more than to glide along on Rodolphus's arm to parties and let him sew his wild oats. Things were changing though. By the time that they turned twenty, it was obvious to Malfoy that she intended to be made a proper wife, though Lestrange was still blissfully in the dark. He was around her nearly constantly; so that it was no surprise when he cancelled at the last minute on Lucius's offer to spend the winter holidays abroad.
"Oh, come on, Lucius. Come with me to Ravensden instead! Mr. Black is going to be in Buenos Ares almost all month, and you know how difficult it is for Bella to get time alone…"
It hadn't always been, Lucius wanted to point out, but didn't. The two youngest Blacks were serving penance for their sister's sins.
Always high-spirited, Andromeda character had taken a turn for the worse after her mother's death. Poised on the cusp of adulthood, she was at the perfect age for testing limits- limits which grief-stricken Orion refused to enforce.
Lucius couldn't count the number of times he had overheard his mother gossiping with her friends. There wasn't any sort of trouble that Andromeda seemed able to avoid: boys, hexes, illegal potions. She left Hogwarts after fifth year and, to no one's surprise, was pregnant by the time she turned seventeen.
Perhaps if word of the situation hadn't leaked out, the baby would have been quietly disposed of, or Andromeda would have been sent away to keep things quiet until it was born, but fate had finally intervened. The Black family's name and influence had pulled Andromeda out of harm's way time and again, but there was no way that the family could support an effort to extract her from her latest disaster. Word of her pregnancy had come, quite unfortunately, by appearance of the name "Nymphadora" on the family tree hanging at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, home of the London Blacks. Its mistress, Mrs. Agrippina Black was completely incapable of discretion. She burst into Orion Black's office at the Wizengamut and demanded to know what would be done. Stunned, he had answered as best he could: that whomever the rapscallion was that had impregnated his daughter, he would be made to marry his little girl. After a vow made in front of so many witnesses, he had no choice but to hold true to his word- even when the offender turned out to be no more than a half-blood conductor on the Knight Bus.
Andromeda had been disowned. There had really been no alternative, lest the Blacks resign their entire family to perpetual disgrace. Orion had gone along with it at the insistence of his brother and his wife, but the effort sapped what little spirit remained. He inflicted draconian controls on his remaining two daughters could do, and then quietly buried himself beneath a mountain of work in the wizarding courts.
Lucius was frankly astonished that the Bellatrix received permission to remain at home alone for Christmas while her father was abroad- and even more astounded that Rodolphus was allowed to visit. Then it hit him: "You're giving her a ring, aren't you?"
Rodolphus looked at his feet. "Well, it won't change things much anyhow, will it? You're always joking that I'm as good as married as it is."
Lucius sighed and bit back all the cutting remarks that he had prepared on the subject, grudgingly admitting to himself that his friend was mostly correct. Rodolphus already bore the burden of serving as Bella's de facto spouse. He might as well entitle himself to the benefits as well.
"I really want to do it over Christmas. Bella will be miffish if I leave her for the holidays, but I don't want to miss our sport. There's wonderful Dervish Pixie hunting at Ravensden, and Mr. Black's library is legendary, there-"
"There's something you aren't telling me." Lucius interrupted, eyes narrowed suspiciously on his friend.
"What?" Rodolphus held his smile, but Lucius could see a glimmer of nervousness in his eyes.
"There's something else. If you're so happy to finally be alone and cosy with Bella it seems odd that you'd invite along a third wheel."
"Ah. Well." As Lucius suspected, Rodolphus lowered his gaze. "Her little sister will be there too."
"And I'm meant to keep her distracted while you and Bellatrix sneak away."
"Oh, it wouldn't be hard. You know Narcissa. She's happier curled up with a spellbook than entertaining company. I doubt you'll have to say more than two words to her."
Lucius did not know Narcissa, at least not anymore, but nothing that Rodolphus said implied much difference from how she had been when he had seen her last. "I wonder what's she like now?" Lucius mused aloud. "She must be…seventeen?"
Rodolphus nodded. "She's just finished at Beauxbatons."
Malfoy nodded, remembering that the little girl had been sent abroad. He tried to picture her in his mind, finding it surprisingly difficult to remember the details of her face. She had blue eyes, he recalled, and dark blonde hair that had seemed out of place on a Black. "Is she pretty?" He asked, without meaning to.
Rodolphus bit his lip. "She's Bella's sister, isn't she?"
Lucius dipped his chin in acknowledgement. It didn't really matter, did it? Surely the girl would be pleasant enough to sit with for a few hours while Bellatrix and Rodolphus saw to their private affairs? He didn't really want to go abroad on his own, and after the news of Rodolphus's pending nuptials- Lucius had no doubt that his mother would know before even Bellatrix herself- a holiday at home would be intolerable. He wouldn't be able to sit in peace for three minutes without being plagued to answer when he was going to get married as well. "I suppose I could stay for a while."
Rodolphus hadn't technically lied.
It was indisputable that Narcissa was Bellatrix's sister. The stature of the young women, as well as the haughty tilt of their chins was virtually identical, and the expressions on their aristocratic faces as they looked down from the front door toward their arrivals, clearly belonged to the "Ladies of the Manor." However, that was where the resemblance broke down.
Bellatrix was a woman often described as "lush". Full hipped, pouty lipped and composed of vividly contrasting colors- ebony hair, ivory skin, chocolate eyes and crimson lips- she had caught more than one eye in Slytherin house. Her clothes were less elaborate than those typically worn by ladies of her circle, but simple garments suited her. Her finely boned face and impressive figure required little enhancement.
Narcissa, on the other hand was...Lucius tried not to stare at the girl too obviously as he struggled to put his first impression into words. She wasn't ugly. That was something Black blood probably didn't permit, but she lacked any hint of refinement and her beauty regime appeared cursory at best.
She was clean. He would give her that. The hair that hung raggedly over her eyes and shoulders was greaseless and she smelled like soap, but that appeared to be the extent of her efforts. He couldn't even tell that a comb had been drawn through the wavy locks. They were twisted into a bun, stuck through with a quill and quirked off in odd angles as if they'd been allowed to dry just as they were.
There were glimmerings of the little girl that he remembered. He saw them strongest in her eyes- crystal blue almonds that peeked out from behind the mop like patches of summer sky, although even these were now glassed off behind a pair of thick, dark spectacles. Most everything else had changed. The gold in her hair had faded to a dull, mousy brown. Her figure was indiscernible beneath tent-like puce robes, and her skin was markedly pale. She put Lucius in mind of a garden that had been left to seed, still lovely in her way, but wild. The roses in her cheeks and lips and the two tiny rows of pearl-white teeth were nearly lost behind the gnarled vines of her hair.
"You remember Narcissa, Luc?" Bellatrix's half-hearted introduction tore Lucius's gaze away.
He nodded his head, slowly. "Of course."
Narcissa didn't curtsey. She inclined her chin in his general direction, and then stared over his head.
"Won't you come inside?" Bellatrix asked, gracefully stepping aside to grant Rodolphus and Lucius entrance to the house. Narcissa held her ground.
"I'll just wait here for Augustus." The younger girl said lightly, and Bellatrix rolled her eyes.
"Mr. Rookwood is perfectly capable of knocking on the door." She snapped, making a point of slamming the door behind their guests. "And he can give father's post to the elf. I say Cissy you'll scare him off mooning after him, and then Papa will come back."
"Maybe I want him to come back." Narcissa said, hands resting on the location that her hips should be beneath the vast and shapeless dress, "And I'm not mooning."
Bellatrix rolled her eyes. Narcissa answered by sticking out her tongue- a bit of appallingly immature behaviour which did nothing to enhance her charms in Lucius's eyes.
Pointedly ignoring her sister, Bellatrix directed some house elves to retrieve the gentlemen's bags and led them into the house. "Are you hungry? Tired? I thought we'd dine early tonight. You'll be tired from your journey and wanting bed."
"It's just a simple Apparation, Bella." Rodolphus said, cluelessly. Lucius, however, noticed that she hadn't mentioned sleep.
"You haven't been here in a long time, have you Malfoy?" The eldest Miss Black said, finally stopping in front of a heavy panelled door. Pushing it open, she revealed a comfortable gaming room. Wizarding chess was set beside a roaring fire while a billiards table and other amusements were placed about the room. The air of the enclave was faintly perfumed with pipe tobacco, reminding them that this was not a place that ladies were meant to be. However, Bellatrix plopped onto a chaise in a familiar manner and Narcissa, still sulking, scuttled off to a pillow in the corner in a manner that confirmed this was their usual haunt. "What do you think? Is it how you remembered?"
Lucius nodded to Bellatrix, surprised to realize that it was. Not a single painting seemed to have been rearranged since Mrs. Black's funeral more than a decade before. It was still grand but, like the youngest Black daughter, it was permeated with an air of neglect.
"Quite." Lucius answered simply. Rodolphus had also dropped into the chaise, pulling Bella into his lap and Narcissa was quite absorbed in a book she picked up from beside her tufted nest. He settled onto the edge of a sofa and began a half-hearted conversation with Bellatrix on their memories of summers past. Before long, his interest waned. Rodolphus and his soon-to-be fiancé dismissed themselves for a "walk around the grounds" leaving Narcissa and Lucius alone.
If Narcissa noticed her sister's departure, she gave no sign. She was entirely captivated by her book, a raggedy tome which Lucius expected to be a novel but, which he discovered upon closer examination, was actually: "Most Potente Potions". He felt a surge of excitement. There was a Veritaserum potion in the volume that he'd give his right arm to have access to. Polyjuice, Invisibility Serum…His mind raced with the possibilities. Hogwarts had one of the few copies in circulation, though none of the teachers had let him near it while he was in school. He had inquired discreetly about obtaining it on his own, but had been unsuccessful. Lucius was aware that Mr. Black was reputed to have an extensive library- but he couldn't imagine his luck!
What in the world did Narcissa want with the book though? Lucius frowned, trying to puzzle it out. He was about to ask her, or at least to wander closer so that he might see which potion had earned so much attention when Narcissa suddenly stiffened and jumped to her feet. She closed the book with a loud clap , miniaturized it, and slid it into the pocket of her robes. "I'll get it!!!" She yelped to no one in particular, and then darted from the room.
Surprised by her sudden departure, and having nothing better to do, he followed her back out of the room, letting the patter of her footsteps lead him back to the front of the house.
The knocker sounded loudly- Lucius assumed this was what had drawn Narcissa from her book. The heavy rap implied that the caller was angry. He or she had been left in the cold too long.
An elf was standing next the door, fingers twitching as if it would love to fling the portal open, but a glare from Narcissa sent it dashing off back into the house. Lucius watched, unseen, as Narcissa took off her glasses and slid them into a pocket of her robes. She smoothed her unkempt hair, unbuttoned the collar on the awful dress, and then opened the door with a flourish. "Why, Mr. Rookwood," She said in a tone that was trying too hard to be musical. "What a pleasant surprise!"
Lucius had been at school with Augustus Rookwood, though they had never truly been friends. The older boy, middle son of a mid-level Ministry official, was not quite up to snuff as a member of Malfoy's circle, though he understood that Rookwood had done well for himself since leaving school. Rookwood had studied wizarding law as a clerk to Orion Black, and was a researcher and advisory counsellor now for the Wizengamut. Lucius heard murmurings that Augustus, with Black's backing, was being considered for a high and secretive position at the ministry, though to Malfoy's way of thinking, he was still little more than a lackey for now.
Obviously a self-important lackey, Lucius thought to himself as he observed the man's interaction with Narcissa Black. It was just about painfully obvious that the girl was completely smitten with him. It was hard to conceive how she could possibly be more obvious without wearing a flashing badge.
"Well, did anything come in the post?"
"No," Narcissa gave an apologetic sigh. "Is there anything to drop off?"
"Only these." Rookwood pressed a bundle of parchments into Narcissa's hands. "They've all been seen to except the Everwand verdict. You are going to get these too him today?"
"He's flooing at nine."
"Fine. Until tomorrow then." Rookwood said brusquely, turning toward the door so swiftly that his cloak swirled around him in the air.
"Tomorrow." Narcissa answered breathily, following him with her eyes. She was standing so close to the door that she shook when it slammed in Rookwood's wake.
For a moment Narcissa remained just staring at the door. Her back was toward Lucius so that he couldn't see her face. He could imagine, however, the dreamy look that he was sure was on her face. He felt a surge of something unpleasant, like a bad taste rising to his mouth and he grimaced.
Lucius couldn't stop a sarcastic clap. "Well, that certainly went well."
Narcissa spun around, cheeks flaming. She fumbled for her glasses and settled them on the bridge of her nose. Her glare might have been a match for Bella's if it hadn't been distorted through half an inch of convex glass.
"You know." Lucius drawled as he stepped closer, audaciously picking up one of the scrolls meant for Narcissa's father and reading the address, "You might get a better response if you combed your hair."
Narcissa's fingers instantly reached for the flyaway strands of her tresses, raking through them in a panic. She caught herself, however, and scowled at him. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Mr. Malfoy." She said, hefting her chin.
"I'm sure you don't." He purred, quite amused by her defiance. "Which is why Mr. Rookwood doesn't give you the time of day."
"I've never asked him the time of day!" Narcissa hissed back, unable to stop herself. Her hands were clenching and unclenching at her side, making more wrinkles in her already rumpled dress.
"Don't you mean time of night?" He teased.
Narcissa made a little shriek of frustration and whirled around. "Goodbye, Mr. Malfoy!" she hissed, and then stalked away, not to be seen again for the rest of the night.
When Lucius discovered that he'd been assigned to Andromeda's old quarters- the suite adjacent to Narcissa's room- he had to roll his eyes. He'd hoped that Rodolphus's motives in dragging him to Cornwall had been as pure as they seemed: to create a distraction while Lestrange and Bellatrix slipped away. Now Lucius wasn't so sure that his friend wasn't plotting something more- perhaps entertaining a hope that he wasn't the only one to tie the knot that year. Lucius could almost believe that his mother had a hand in the outing- she had seemed remarkably calm when he announced that he wouldn't be spending Christmas at home- but the very notion that he might fall for Narcissa Black was absurd. Lucius liked women. Lucius adored them in fact, but only collectively or for less than twelve hours at a stretch. If they thought that the wild-haired terror he had met this afternoon was going to change his mind than they were clearly deranged.
It wasn't that Narcissa was so ugly, he mused as he laid back in his canopied bed and tried not to think about how many Mudbloods Andromeda might have entertained there. She could be pretty-ish if she tried. He assumed that somewhere under the mop of horrid hair there was a face rather like her sisters. When she was little- far too little for him to have noticed- the older women had cooed over her, claiming that she was the loveliest of all three girls. Even beyond here appearance, there was something vaguely attractive. She was interesting- a trait that he hadn't used to describe a woman in far, far too long…not that it mattered. Lucius shook off the memory of her cornflower eyes and concentrate on something more deserving of his notice: the book.
After dinner, Lucius gave himself permission to explore the house. He located the library with little effort. It was an impressive, enormous room at the end of the East Wing with wide bay windows, stacks that stretched two stories, an impressive desk and a large fireplace…and absolutely no sign of a dark arts collection whatsoever.
At first, he couldn't believe it. He didn't precisely expect books on Necromancy and Forbidden Curses to be on full display, but he found it dumbfounding that Orion Black didn't seem to possess even a primer on elementary hexes, alchemy or others of the "Grey" arts. After nearly an hour of fruitless searching (at least there were no Muggle books. He didn't think that he would ever wash the taint of A Tale of Two Cities out of his mind!) Lucius concluded that there was a separate stash elsewhere in the house.
He could have asked Bellatrix about them outright, but when he hinted casually at dinner that he was looking for a book on Voodoo (innocent enough, all things considered), she replied that her father had one but she hadn't the faintest idea where.
"They're locked up somewhere, I think. Maybe under the house. He doesn't want us in them." She said, frowning. Something in her look made Lucius remember the gossip surrounding an Earth elemental that Bella had accidentally summoned during summer holidays after sixth year. No doubt access to the books had been severely curtailed after that. Still, Narcissa obviously knew how to get them. Perhaps she was worth watching after all.
Surprisingly, considering his restless thoughts, Lucius slept well. When he appeared for breakfast in the morning, Narcissa was nowhere in sight. "Probably out in the conservatory." Bellatrix said, arching an eyebrow as if she was surprised that Lucius had asked. "We won't see her again until time for Rookwood to come."
At the mention of the name, she and Rodolphus shared a condescending laugh.
But Narcissa wasn't there when Lucius looked for her. After Bellatrix and Rodolphus disappeared for their afternoon "Walk" he settled in the front hall, waiting for the youngest Black to appear again.
Precisely as it had the evening before, the doorknocker sounded a few minutes after five. The house was very still. Then, just before Lucius rose to go and answer the door himself, he heard a flurry of footsteps on the stairs. He had only a moment to secrete himself in a cloak alcove beside the stairs. He was just in time to see Narcissa whip past, and to note that something seemed odd about her before she answered the door.
"Mr. Rookwood." She said. Lucius could hear the smile on her face, even if he couldn't see it with his eyes.
"Hello, Miss Black." Rookwood said curtly, all business as he had the evening before. "Is there-?" Amazingly, he paused. The silence was so surprising that Lucius peeked his head out to look. Rookwood looked rather puzzled by something, and finally blurted. "You're looking well this afternoon, Miss Black."
"Oh, its nothing." Narcissa answered breathlessly. Before she could say more, Rookwood dropped the evening's pile of parchment in her hand.
"Good afternoon, Miss Black." He said hurriedly, and then he was gone again.
"Well, wasn't that sweet enough to rot teeth." Lucius snarled as he strode forward. The surprise of his sudden appearance caused Narcissa to jump. She spun toward him.
"Mr. Malfoy!" She gasped. "What are you doing here?"
"I don't have to ask the same of you, do I?" He said in return, finally getting a chance to look her up and down and struggling to disguise his own shock at what he saw.
Narcissa had carefully brushed her hair into a ponytail at the base of her neck. The change was simple, but profound. Tamed into smoothness, the murky brown hair had a golden gleam that seemed especially pronounced in the fine hairs that framed her face. With the waves pulled off of her face and her glasses mysteriously missing, her features were finally visible.
She really was quite stunning. He had noticed straight away that her eyes were extraordinary but, finally exposed, he could see that her bone structure was every bit as fine as her sister's. Her high cheekbones were flushed a happy pink, her nose was small and straight, and her mouth was like a little strawberry: plump and red and sweet, twisted in a radiant if crooked smile.
Without preamble, the remarks didn't immediately make sense. The euphoric look on Narcissa's face, however, jogged his memory. "Rookwood." He growled.
"Yes!" Narcissa clapped her hands together and swung around, the loose folds of her oversized robes fanning out around her, "Did you hear him?"
"He said 'Good Afternoon'"
"No! Before that." Her eyes took on a distant look as she sighed, "You're looking well this afternoon, Miss Black."
Lucius rather thought she might faint from joy. If she did, he was certain that he would be sick. "Quite the Casanova."
"I think he was sweet!" Narcissa defended. She looked as if she was going to tell him off for being so cross, but then her expression changed. "Thank you."
"Thank you?" Now Lucius was confused again.
"For your advice!" Narcissa gestured toward her hair. "It worked!"
Lucius shifted uncomfortably, "All I said was to comb your hair…"
"And it worked! He noticed me! He said my name."
Lucius decided not to point out that he had called her "Miss Black"- a name equally applicable to any woman living in the manor.
"He hasn't ever said my name before."
Lucius didn't know what to say to that. It seemed rather inconceivable to him that Narcissa would waste so much time on a man who was, clearly, a buffoon. "Well, congratulations. What would you like for a wedding gift?" He quipped.
Narcissa missed the sarcasm. "Oh, I hardly think he wants to marry me…yet." She pressed the lips together thoughtfully. "Unless…"
Lucius was certain that he wouldn't like what she was about to say. This sentiment turned out to be prescient.
"Unless you helped me out!"
"Helped you?" Lucius scrunched his features in distaste. He didn't "help". It was not in his nature.
"Yes!" Narcissa's face was more animated than he had ever seen it before. It seemed lit from within as she began to chatter: "You must know lots about attracting men, I mean-" Her flush deepened as she realized that this could be misinterpreted, "since you are one and all. You know what makes a girl stand out."
"And you could teach me!" Narcissa paused a moment, eyeing him hopefully.
"Teach you?" Lucius said in a tone that implied what he thought of the idea: that it was preposterous!
"There's loads I don't know. I mean, there's the hair, obviously." She admitted with a shrug, "And…I don't know. Flirting? Clearly I'm hopeless at that!"
Lucius felt uneasiness dripping through him. "Surely your mother taught you those things?"
No, of course she hadn't. Lucius regretted the words as soon as he had said them. He remembered that Mrs. Black had died when her youngest daughter was still a tiny girl. Surely that was the root of Narcissa's shortcomings? Her other family members were too wrapped up in their own lives to teach Narcissa any of the things that they needed to know. It was no wonder that she was so unpolished and awkward…which wasn't to say that Lucius felt he should be the one to rectify matters! He cleared his throat.
"That is to say- I hardly think I'm the best person to address those issues. I didn't come here to-"
"What did you come here for?" Narcissa interrupted, her tone clearly stung.
"I wondered if you would do me a favour."
"Help you?" Narcissa said, arching a brow that reminded him he had just denied her own request.
"Yes, well. It's a small thing. It doesn't require any effort on your part. I was just wondering…" He took a breath, annoyed that the previous exchange had made this request so awkward. "That is…could you tell me where you got that book you were reading yesterday."
"Book? What book?" Narcissa's words were innocent, but her expression was guilty.
Lucius frowned. "Most Potente Potions." He reminded, frowning. "You were reading it in the library."
"No I wasn't!" Narcissa answered quickly, so transparently lying that Lucius would have laughed if he wasn't so annoyed.
"I suppose I imagined it then." He glared at her, holding her gaze until she finally broke. "I really can't help you Mr. Malfoy….surely your father could help you with something like that."
The way that Narcissa flung his own words back at him triggered a fierce frown, swiftly followed by a twinge of admiration. She might not have gone to Hogwarts, but this little Black was the equal to any Slytherin. She wouldn't give him something for nothing.
"Very well." Lucius frowned. "Perhaps you might remember if I considered your offer?"
It wasn't good enough. She continued to frown, but Lucius could see that she was ready to deal. "Perhaps if you accepted my offer then I might be able to jog my memory."
"And if I refuse?"
"Then even if you find the books, you'll never get them without my help."
"Books?" Lucius was practically salivating as he imagined the volumes that Orion Black must have stashed away.
"Books." Narcissa confirmed, holding his gaze. "More than you can read in a lifetime." She quoted a few titles to tempt him.
For one long minute neither spoke, but finally the silence broke. "Deal." Lucius said. "When can I see them?"
"When do lessons begin?"
She drove a ridiculously hard bargain, but Lucius had no choice but to concede. "Tomorrow morning." He finally answered.
"Ten-thirty in the Ballroom." Narcissa nodded. "Don't be late."
Lucius was late, of course. He couldn't permit himself to be bossed around by a little slip of a girl, even if she was a Black, but the tactic nearly backfired when he entered the ballroom at Ten-fifty and saw that Narcissa was nowhere to be found.
He waited for a while, seething over the fact that she wasn't there. It galled him that she would have the audacity to be late...or was it possible that she had already left? Could she have forgotten? Feeling steadily more ridiculous, Lucius lingered in the ballroom for another ten minutes before storming out, determined to find the wretched whelp and remind her why Malfoys were never made to wait. He found her in the breakfast room, drinking milky tea and perusing the morning paper as if nothing was at all was wrong.
Narcissa glanced up as he entered the room, but appeared unperturbed. She took a bite of muffin and a bit of strawberry jam clung to her cheek, arousing the strange urge to wipe it off. Her hair was unkempt again- of course, Lucius thought with a sigh- and her tiny hands were smudged with ink, giving the impression that she had been up half-the night copying down text. The entire affect was so adorable that Malfoy almost forgot why he was cross with her.
He cleared his throat and waited for Narcissa to acknowledge him. "Good morning, Mr. Malfoy." She said at length, and then popped the last bit of muffin in her mouth, swallowing it down with a sip of tea.
He didn't want to say "good morning" back, so he simply glowered at her. "Is something the matter, Mr. Malfoy?" She asked, turning the page of the Prophet so that he could see she had been reading the Agony Aunt section "Dear Cassandra".
"I think you know." He answered stonily, fingers still twitching to wipe away the jam.
Narcissa's eyes were all innocent. "I'm afraid I don't."
"I thought we had an appointment." Lucius said tightly.
Narcissa's lips pressed into a line. "I thought we did too." She said at length, "At ten-thirty."
So, she had been there. Lucius felt slightly vindicated, but not enough to soften his frown. "I was there at ten thirty five." He lied. "You were not."
"Our appointment was at ten-thirty." Narcissa answered with a dismissive shrug.
"You could have waited."
"Blacks do not wait."
She sounded so much like Lucius's own inner monologue had that had he been an impartial observer, he would have laughed. Malfoy, however, merely bristled. "Neither do Malfoys!"
"Then they ought to learn to be prompt!" Lucius opened his mouth, willing something clever and scathing to fall out, but for the first time in recent memory, wit failed him.
There was a long pause (during which Narcissa, quite maddeningly, buttered another crumpet and poured more tea) before she finally spoke again, "If you aren't otherwise engaged, perhaps you'd care to go forward with the lesson's now?"
He wanted to say "no", but he wanted the book as well and so he sat angrily into the chair. "Lesson one." He growled, "Men don't like to be contradicted."
Narcissa's lips quirked in amusement, "I shall endeavour to remember that." He didn't quite trust her sudden docility, certain that she was about to add: "Or make it a point not to speak to conceited prats." But she didn't. She merely let him think it and went on with her breakfast, popping a raspberry into her mouth.
Lucius watched her eat the small fruit, mesmerized by the way her tongue lapped at the corners of her mouth. She didn't have on any makeup, but her lips were nearly as dark and as red as the berry. He was staring again. He didn't realize it until he caught Narcissa staring back, her head quirked questioningly to the side.
"You've got jam on your cheek." He muttered quickly to cover the mistake. Narcissa lifted her napkin, dabbing at the wrong cheek. "No, here." Lucius plucked the napkin out of her fingers. Then, to their mutual astonishment, he wiped the smear away himself.
From the instant that he touched her skin, Lucius knew that he had made a mistake. He felt an odd sensation that started in his fingertips but ended somewhere in the pit of his stomach. It was fluttery and pulsing, like he had touched his hand to an electric current and couldn't pull it away. He wondered if Narcissa felt it too because her enormous blue eyes fixed on his face and seemed to grow larger.
He held her gaze for a long, breathless moment, paralyzed and faintly panicked by his inability to discover what was going on. He wasn't attracted to her! The very notion was ridiculous!
"Oh, there you are Luc!" Bellatrix's voice suddenly filled the room, luckily managing to sever the odd connection that had been forged. Lucius dropped his hand guiltily and spun to face her. "Rodolphus is looking for you. He wants to go kill birds or something." She said in a clearly annoyed tone. "He's in the conservatory waiting. You don't have to sit here with Cissy any more."
Lucius couldn't feel Narcissa's eyes on his skin. He assumed that she had already folded back into herself, staring down into her tea as Bella sucked the air out of the room. He wouldn't ordinarily have cared, but he had started to feel…sympathy. Lucius smiled in relief. Of course! That was what he was feeling! He was sorry for her! She had been practically left to raise herself: a dead mother, a distracted failure, a sister who belittled and ignored her at every turn. The realization strengthened him.
"Actually, I'll have to send my regrets. Narcissa and I have plans."
"Oh?" The look of disbelief on Bella's face was cruel, and he suddenly hoped that Narcissa was looking down so that she wouldn't see. Why should Bellatrix be so amazed? Narcissa was a Black. That hardly put her beneath his notice! In fact, her name and pretty face could go rather far in the circles in which they moved. Bellatrix, however, seemed not to have realized this. She continued to gape for several seconds before her mouth shifted into a knowing "O". "So, she's uncovered the dirt on you too? The little sneak…Still putting the 'Black' in blackmail, Cissy?" She ignored Narcissa's indignant huff, "Don't worry, Luc. She's pants at everything but potions. Just mind what you drink and she's harmless."
Lucius frowned and narrowed his eyes rather coolly, "I don't know what you're going on about, Bellatrix. Narcissa was just going to show me around the house…if you would excuse us?" He wasn't certain that Narcissa was finished with breakfast. However, she seemed to pick up what he intended, and rose from her chair, chin raised.
"Yes, Mr. Malfoy. I believe you wanted to see the galleries." And they drifted from the room.
Lucius didn't trust himself to put his arm through Narcissa's own. In fact, he didn't even know what had raised the thought in his mind- they were only walking through the house! Still, he felt the need to stuff his fists into his pockets. He wished that he had something to hold. His father had a very dashing walking stick that would come in quite useful at this moment.
They weren't really going to the gallery. Lucius remembered the house well enough to figure out that they were heading for the ballroom after all. They climbed to the first floor, wove through the servant's corridors and then entered from the rear, behind the raised box where the orchestra sat.
To Lucius's knowledge, the ballroom had not been used since Mrs. Black's passing. Although cleaning charms kept the floor and furniture spotless, the air was musty with disuse. Thick white canvas covered the chairs and furniture in the room, which looked as though it were ringed with snowdrifts.
A very dim light was filtering through the french doors at the far end of the room, but Narcissa swished her wand and a candelabra flared to life. She summoned two chairs and sat down in one, facing Lucius. She took out a quill and parchment. "Well?" She asked.
Lucius's mouth suddenly went very dry. He realized that he had promised to give lessons, but he hadn't given the first thought to what they would include. He couldn't just sit down and tell Narcissa all her flaws and shortcomings, could he?
He frowned and tried to avoid recognition of the fact that yes, ordinarily, he would. Lucius had never felt the need to sugar coat or avoid unpleasant truths. He preferred a direct approach, which was why the situation he suddenly found himself in was so awkward. His…sympathy…prevented him from telling Narcissa the whole truth.
She was still staring up at him expectantly, waiting for him to speak, and he felt the pressure build as time ticked past. What was she expecting of him? That seemed a reasonable place to start. He offered what he hoped was a detached but benevolent look. "What do you need to know?"
"Everything." Narcissa answered with a shrug.
"Well, the hair yesterday was a start. More things like that."
"I see." He nodded, slightly relieved. If it was only her appearance that Narcissa was concerned about, he could probably help her. He didn't know much about shopping and cosmetics, but he knew what he liked when he saw it. "You ought to do your hair every morning, you know." He said frankly, "And you could really do with a trim."
"It hardly seems worth the bother." Narcissa frowned. "No one ever sees."
"Rookwood sees." Lucius contradicted, "I see. Your sister sees. Rodolphus sees- and don't you ever look in mirrors? Don't you want to look pretty for yourself?"
"For myself?" Narcissa's tone implied that this thought had never occurred to her, "Why would I want to do that?"
"It's a matter of self-respect." He said, losing his patience. "Besides, appearances carry a lot of weight. You have a very superior bloodline, Narcissa. You ought to look superior."
She arched her chin as if she was practicing snubbing a mudblood.
"It's not just that though." Lucius interjected. "You shouldn't have to say anything or to act any certain way. It ought to be obvious when you walk into a room that you are a lady of the highest order."
It was clear that Narcissa didn't know what he meant, so he sighed and moved back to a safe topic. "At any rate: your hair. You ought to get in the habit of styling it every morning- make the elves do it if you don't want to. You can sit still and read a book while they work. Do you have any magazines?"
Narcissa shifted uncomfortably, "Bella might."
"Witch Weekly or Spellbound?" He named two of the periodicals that he noticed his ladyfriends reading. "We'll owl for copies tonight. They ought to have ideas for hair and clothes."
"Oh, I don't need any new clothes!" Narcissa said, improbably gesturing toward the deep red sack that she was wearing. "Bella only bought this two years ago. It was very expensive, and it's hardly worn at all."
Lucius didn't try to understand her logic. She was the first female of his acquaintance who had ever denied a need for shopping. "Yes! I'm sure it was a lovely dress when she bought it, but you said it yourself- Bellatrix bought it- and it's out of style. Red does nothing for you."
"I'll charm it green then." She said, flicking her wand at it in aggravation.
"Blue." Lucius countered almost as soon as her spell had taken effect. The heavy velvet of the gown didn't hold the charm well. There were blotches of crimson showing through. "And you need to buy dresses of your own if you want Rookwood to pay attention."
"Rookwood doesn't care what I'm wearing!" Narcissa insisted, crossing her arms in a manner which only emphasized that her sleeves were three inches too long. "He's very serious!"
"Has he asked you on a date?"
"Then my point is proven."
"He hasn't failed to ask me out because of my dress!" Narcissa insisted stubbornly.
"It has to be that. What's not to love about your sweet retiring nature?" Lucius thrust back sarcastically.
To this, Narcissa only sniffed, and so he returned to his previous task of picking out her flaws, turning his attention to her owlish glasses, "Why haven't you gotten correcting charms?" He asked.
Narcissa shrugged, "It didn't seem worth the bother either. They're terribly expensive- and besides they only last a year."
Lucius sniffed at this explanation. True the temporary charm might cost a quarter of what an ordinary witch brought home in a year- but Narcissa was no ordinary witch! Having heard Rodolphus recount some of Bella's shopping sprees, he couldn't believe that Orion was depriving his daughter of access to funds. "You need to make an appointment immediately."
"You asked for my advice." He pointed out smugly. "Besides, your eyes are your best feature."
The compliment silenced Narcissa where his barbs had not. She looked at her feet and the mood between them suddenly became uncomfortable.
"I'll see about the magazines." Lucius mumbled. "I'd better go see what Rodolphus wanted.
He was already to the conservatory before he realized that he had forgotten to ask after the book.
That night, Narcissa didn't come to dinner. At breakfast the next morning Bella said that she had gone into town. "She was being so secretive!" Bellatrix said with a nasty smile on her face. "All she said was that she wanted to see about some shopping- probably working on that nasty potion of hers."
It was the second time that Bellatrix had mentioned her younger sister's penchant for potions. This time Lucius felt compelled to ask about it.
"Oh, Narcissa's always down in the dungeons brewing up something or another." She said dismissively, waving her hand in an elegant, affected manner which would have served to underscore her graceful beauty if she wasn't speaking in such a haughty tone. "She and that greasy little Snape boy are thick as thieves. He's convinced that he's working on a cure for lycanthropy and Cissy's brewing a love potion."
Lucius nearly choked on his tea. "A love potion?"
Bella arched an eyebrow and smirked, "Oh, Luc! Surely you've seen how she hovers around that ridiculous Rookwood. If he ever drops a hair in our front hall, he's done for. Cissa's tried everything. It's really pathetic."
Malfoy frowned, but covered the expression by taking another long draught of tea. At last Narcissa's obsession with Most Potente Potions made sense. He was both concerned and puzzled: concerned because love potions were illegal (not that the illegality bothered him at all, so much that he worried that someone as naïve and inexperienced as Narcissa was almost certain to be caught) and puzzled because, to hear Bellatrix speak, her sister was very accomplished at potion making- why didn't it work?
He wanted to ask some more questions, but before he could an owl swooped in with the morning post.
"Witch Weekly, Lucius?" Rodolphus said, arching his eyebrow in a suggestive manner. "Getting in touch with your feminine side?"
Lucius stuffed the magazine into his lap and held his expression still, unwilling to show a reaction to the barb. "One of my friends is modelling."
"Oooh! Who?" Bella asked, suddenly interested, "It isn't that hideous Zabini girl is it? Oh, I'm sure it is- though she strikes me as more of a Page Thirteen girl."
Lucius stood abruptly, suddenly wanting to rid himself of the magazines as soon as possible. "I just remembered…." He said quickly, "I left my elf ironing his ears."
He headed down the hall to his room, shoved the Witch Weekly under the door and then went for a walk into the neighbouring village until time for tea.
Five o'clock arrived was no sign of Narcissa. Lucius was becoming anxious. One of the elves told Malfoy that she had returned to the house, but she hadn't made an appearance all day. He wasn't certain if their lessons were meant to continue, but he had spent the better part of the morning planning what to teach her next.
Lucius admitted that Narcissa's artlessness was a part of her charm- but he doubt that it would work with Rookwood. Augustus fancied himself an "up and comer" and his chief interest in Narcissa would, romantic notions set aside, be her pedigree and connections. Malfoy would advise her to play up both.
The Rhys-Boomslangs were hosting a Christmas party at their estate the following weekend. Lord Rhys-Boomslang was the Deputy Minister, and all of the senior officials would attend- and be expected to lodge an appearance. Of course Narcissa and her sister would be invited. They were old enough that they would be expected to bring dates. Bellatrix would take Rodolphus, but Narcissa had no one to ask. Rookwood was the perfect choice. Greedily upward-mobile he would probably like nothing more than a chance to hobnob with his superiors. It wasn't hard to be charming at a ball. If Lucius put Narcissa in a pretty dress and set his mother's stylist to do her hair, there was no reason that she couldn't keep Augustus entertained.
Lucius was still pondering these thoughts when the sound of the doorknocker echoed through the front of the house. He sat on the steps, not even planning to hide his presence that afternoon, but was surprised when the expected flurry of footsteps never came.
The pounding on the door was repeated. A few moments later, it sounded again, angrier now.
Finally, when the doorknob began to rattle, Lucius nodded to the elf that was hovering nervously just out of sight. With an obsequious bow, the little creature swung the door open. As expected, Rookwood was on the other side.
"Blasted, worthless creatures." Rookwood thundered as he stepped into the room, sending the elf sailing against the wall. A light snow was falling, and he shook the flakes off his cloak before looking around, puzzled.
"What are you doing here?" He asked suspiciously.
Lucius gave him a tight, chilly smile and ignored the question, "Ah, Mr. Rookwood. It's good to see you too." He said silkily. "I see your working for Mr. Black now. You're his…secretary?"
"Research assistant." Rookwoods's dark eyes narrowed.
"Ah. Yes. Something like that. I knew it had to do with running errands." It felt exquisitely satisfying to launch the cruel little barbs, though Augustus looked annoyed rather than abashed. "I suppose you're coming to pick up the post?"
"Yes." Rookwood grunted, "One of the Miss Black's usually has them ready for me."
Lucius was about to call for Narcissa when his eyes landed on a neatly stacked pile of parchments from the door. He glanced at the elf, who nodded, then went to pick them up. There was no reason that he couldn't give Rookwood the post himself. After all, if Narcissa wanted to be seen she would have made an appearance by now. "Mr. Black wanted you to take care of these." He said. "Is there anything else?"
"No. Nothing." Rookwood's gaze swept toward the staircase again, but he said nothing more. He tipped his hat and was about to take his leave when inspiration struck.
"Say, Rookwood. Who are you taking to the Rhys-Boomslang ball next week?" He asked, trying to sound friendly even though he knew that the other man had not been invited.
"I don't know." Augustus answered, unwilling to rise to Malfoy's bait.
It didn't matter. Lucius was interested in only one thing. "I had thought of taking Narcissa Black, myself…but I had a prior engagement." Half of it was true. He had promised Kitty Slater weeks ago that he would accompany her. "You don't think you could manage it do you- as a favour to her father…since you don't already have a date?"
He could almost hear the gears turning in Rookwood's head as the thoughts trickled through his mind: He had a chance to attend the ball. He would be saddled with Narcissa, but that barely seemed to matter. She was his employer's daughter- and besides, she was a pureblood of the highest order. No one would think that he actually had any interest in her. Besides, Lucius Malfoy had considered asking her himself…
"I suppose I could." Rookwood finally said. "As a favour."
"Naturally." He was rather annoyed at the other man's choice to underscore that he didn't care about Narcissa as a woman, but he let it slide. Narcissa would be ecstatic. "I'll tell her you asked then?"
Lucius could see that Rookwood was second guessing his choice, so he quickly said goodbye before there was a chance to change his mind. He waited until the clerk was completely gone before he started for the stairs to tell Narcissa the news.
Something was wrong. He could feel it. It didn't make sense for the youngest Black sister to miss the highlight of her day. Pace quickening, he mounted the stairs.
At first, he thought that the elf had lied about Miss Black being home. Narcissa didn't seem to be in her room. Then, as he was about to walk away, he heard sniffling in the en suite bathroom. He strode toward it, knocked, and waited for a reply.
"G-go away!" Narcissa blubbered back, but Lucius ignored her, pushed the door open and burst inside.
He wanted to laugh. He would have laughed if not for the tragic expression on the young girl's face. Narcissa was standing in the middle of a pile of cosmetics and hair styling utensils which would have put the entire collection of the Slytherin girl's dormitory to shame. Open boxes were strewn across the floor, and one of the Witch Weekly's that he'd delivered was lying open on the edge of the tub.
Narcissa had clearly been trying out some of the suggestions. Her legs (exposed by tucked-up skirts) looked silky smooth and her nails were neatly filed. The rest of her efforts had not fared so well.
It wasn't just that some sort of charm was making Narcissa's eyebrows grow across her face, so thick and bushy that her eyes could not be seen, or even the hideous stench of "Eau de Bog" which she had clearly purchased in the hag aisle by mistake. The most comical sight was the curling wand which was stuck in a huge mat of hair on the top of her head, wagging as her neck bobbled up and down in cadence with her sobs.
He forced himself not to break a smile, but hurried forward, wand drawn. "Finite Incantatuem."He said, touching it to her forehead and easily reversing the eyebrow spell. The smell of the cologne would have to dissipate on its own, and there was no help for the styling wand apart from disentangling it, strand by strand, out of the top of her hair. He set straight to work, scrubbing her wrists and neck, Disapparating the bottle, and then beginning to pick at her hair. Narcissa was crying so hard that she barely noticed.
"Whatever were you trying to do, Narcissa?" Lucius asked in a patient tone as he worked.
Narcissa sniffed before she replied: "I…I was trying to do what you said- to get an idea from the magazines."
Now that she was looking up, he could see that she had managed to paint one of her eyes. A blue black ring of eyeshadow and mascara covered half her face. "W-witch Weekly is a r-rag." She gestured at the open page: "Spellbinding Hair! Updos that will take Him Down!" it chirped next to a picture of a svelte redheaded witch with perfect sausage curls on top of her head.
This time, Lucius couldn't help a chuckle. "Perhaps." He said. "But maybe you should have started with something easier?" He'd send for one of his mother's elves in the morning. Evelyn would be glad to help. She'd probably think that Lucius wanted Narcissa to look pretty for him and send two!
At last, the curling wand began to ease free from her hair. He tugged it the rest of the way out, then picked up a nearby brush and began to smooth the knots. "Don't cry." He soothed, "I have some exciting news."
"W-what?" Narcissa said, peeking up at him through the nest of knotted fringe.
"You, ma chere, have a date."
"A date?" The look in her eyes most resembled panic.
"A date…" Lucius paused dramatically, "…With Augustus Rookwood."
TO BE CONTINUED
Comments welcomed, as usual. This story is already finished, but the other chapters are being edited. Therefore I may not be able to incorporate all suggestions into this particular story, but I will read and consider them all! Thanks for reading!
BTW- Longtime readers may notice that my other stories are gone from For version control and other reasons, they have all been moved to the webpages noted on my bio page.