On Becoming a Woman
I. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Girl
Her mother and mother-in-law (to be) had set the wedding day without her consent. Flavia Black and Blodwen Malfoy allowed for no contrary opinions when they were determined, and certainly they were very determined about this. With Bellatrix's wedding just passed, and Bella having handled near all the details of it (according to Flavia, it had barely avoided being termed a fiasco), both women wanted to be sure that nothing of the kind happened again. This was the last chance for them to make their mark upon society, and they planned to make the most of it.
"July is too hot for a wedding!" she had protested. "Mother, please! You know how I burn in the sun."
"Whoever said your wedding must be held outside?" Flavia mused, sitting in her husband's study, dissecting heavy books of patterns and fabrics. "I can think of any number of lovely indoor locations. The Golden Hall at the Malory Library, for example…"
Blodwen narrowed her eyes and looked down her nose at the other woman. "You would hold a wedding in a library? A wonder you weren't Sorted into Ravenclaw."
"There's also the ice gardens at Durmstrang, if they'd ever let anyone in," Flavia continued, unperturbed. "Say what you will, Blodwen, the ice gardens are twice as nice as Beauxbatons' crystal fountains."
"And just how have you seen these ice gardens if Durmstrang is perennially closed to visitors?" asked Blodwen, an annoyed expression on her face.
Flavia smirked. "Why, connections, of course."
It took a great amount of strength for Narcissa to refrain from fidgeting. Ordinarily this would hardly have been a problem—but here they were, ignoring her, and dictating what would happen on her wedding day! "I don't object to having it in June," she said politely, if a little edgily. "Then we could hold it on the grounds of Malfoy Manor like I wanted to."
"No," her mother said immediately. "Absolutely not."
"But it's so hot—"
"July, or no wedding," Flavia said coldly.
Narcissa froze. "No wedding?" she whispered. "Mother, you can't mean that."
"I can and I do," said her mother flatly. "You think it would be impossible to call off the wedding for something so small? Hardly. Weddings have been called off for smaller things in the past."
"But I—" She swallowed, licked her lips. "But Lucius—"
"Poor girl," Blodwen said. Her voice was gentle, but her gray eyes weren't pitying in the least. "Do you really think my son cares so much about you? He could easily find someone else. He could hardly care less if the wedding continues or not."
"You see," said Flavia, picking up where the other woman had left off, "we can make it seem as if you broke the engagement—perhaps you were involved with a classmate, or in a fit of pique you declared that the long-standing traditions we follow are 'outdated.' " Her smile was thin and brittle. "You'll get nothing but scorn by declaring independence, Narcissa. Should we disown you, nothing you can ever say will make a difference in others' opinions."
She moved the books from her lap, stood and crossed the room to where Narcissa sat, pale-faced, in an antique Chippendale chair. "You will be pitied," Flavia said coldly, passing behind her daughter to brush dust off the mantelpiece. "You will be pitied by Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, who cannot understand our ways, and they will court your company because they hope that now that you have lost your old status you might stoop to dine with the lower-class." She swept to the side, bending over Narcissa with a cruel smile on her face. "But you, of course, will still have your pride, and so you will shun them as lower-class, even though you will be no better. You will be an anathema to those whose company you used to share, and yet you will refuse to admit this. Your existence will be lonely, Narcissa, lonely and bereft of any of the comforts in which you used to indulge. And one day you will walk down Diagon Alley, twelve years after you in your stubbornness refused to marry Lucius Malfoy, and you will see him walking with Cordelia Montague, and they will have a son who will soon be starting at Hogwarts—and then," her mother said coldly, "you will see all that you gave up for a silly dream of having a wedding outdoors in June, and you will know that the fantasy of a crown of silver and white roses was not worth the life you threw away."
Flavia straightened up and returned calmly to her seat. "I have little doubt," she said benignly, "that after observing such a sight you would return to whatever hovel you were dwelling in and turn the Killing Curse on yourself."
The tears she had repressed throughout her mother's warning now threatened to spill over and fall in dark blotches on her blue silk robes. Her hands clenched white-knuckled around each other in her lap, her nails digging half-moons into her skin. Everything suddenly seemed much clearer now. All her beloved childhood traditions, the formalities of greeting guests and pouring tea, of politely entertaining visitors, of learning how to manipulate people from one room into another without being observed as doing such—everything she had loved seemed to take on a sinister angle. No: not sinister. She merely was seeing them now as they truly were.
"You shouldn't cry over something so silly, Narcissa," Blodwen said calmly. "After all, you don't want to be like your sister, would you?" At the mention of Andromeda, whose disgrace was still raw to her even after the years, Flavia stiffened and sent a look of utmost poison to the other woman. Blodwen was utterly unconcerned, and continued: "You're almost a woman now; you know it's for the best."
No, she didn't, Narcissa thought bitterly, and it was hardly fair to compare her to Mrs. Tonks, who'd only shown contempt for the family and Pureblood tradition and honor in running off with a Mudblood filth. But she said neither of these things. "We'll marry in July," she said, and words that had felt thick and ugly in her mouth came out cold and clear. "Only tell me the reason. Tell me why this is so important."
Her mother smiled in a sad sort of triumph and shook her head as she looked away. Seeing she would not speak, Blodwen answered for her. "If you marry on your birthday," the woman said, "your husband will never forget your anniversary."
"Men have very small minds for details, you see," Flavia added suddenly, her eyes cold as she returned her gaze to her daughter. "If they only have to remember one day a year, there's a much greater chance they'll remember it at all."
II. Another Sort of Prelude
It was almost with a shriek of glee that Bellatrix pushed her out of the way, crying, "The groom can't see the bride before the wedding!"
From her scrunched hiding place behind a pillar, her sister's hands pushing her back, Narcissa heard a cool laugh. "I never thought you, of all people, would fall prey to superstition, Bellatrix."
"Then you're not so clever as you thought, are you?" Bella responded sharply. "Run away now, Malfoy. There's too little time for me to bother with you."
There was cold silence and then Lucius said in a low voice that made spiders dance down her spine, "Then surely another time, Bellatrix." Then she heard the swish of robes and the quiet noise of his footsteps as he walked away.
A moment passed, and when the man was out of sight, Bellatrix extricated her sister out from between the Corinthian pillar and the wall. "I don't like him," she said.
Narcissa's eyes went wide in what might have been shock, but was more truthfully annoyance. Shock would have implied that she hadn't already known of the enmity between her sister and her fiancé: neither had made much a secret of it. "Bella!"
Her twin's eyes were cold. "I won't apologize, Cissy. You know I've spent more time with him than you have."
"You just don't get along, that's all," Narcissa said. "Please, Bella—it's my wedding day. Don't spoil it for me." It was already a far cry from what she'd imagined. As an excuse for the matron of honor—Bella had married Rodolphus Lestrange in January—and all of the groomsmen being unable to wear short-sleeved robes (the wedding was, after all, in July), Flavia Black had somehow arranged for the wedding to be held in the exclusiveness of Durmstrang's ice gardens. Therefore, it was perfectly acceptable for long sleeves to be worn by all. If the wedding had been in June, Narcissa thought darkly, there wouldn't have been this problem because it still would have been cool enough to have an outside wedding.
"It's your wedding day?" Bellatrix gasped in mock surprise. "I'd never have realized!" But she turned a small, close-lipped smile on her sister. "I'll try to keep my dislike for Lucius Malfoy to a minimum today." Then, at the look on Narcissa's face, she sighed grimly and said, "I swear on my honor as a Slytherin that I will try my best to be cordial to Lucius Malfoy until the honeymoon has ended."
Someone snorted behind them. "What honor?"
Narcissa spun around with a gasp; Bellatrix turned with extended wand. "You're not supposed to be here," she said coldly. "How did you get past the wards?"
"Why, Mrs. Lestrange," Sirius Black said with a bow, ignoring the wand aimed at his throat. "Thank you for your pleasant welcome."
"How did you get past the wards?" Bellatrix asked icily, wand still pointed at his jugular.
"Your mother let me in, of course," he said with a calm smile. "Aunt Flavia always did have a soft spot for me. Now, Mrs. Lestrange, are you going to be nice and let me congratulate my cousin on her marriage?"
"Consider her congratulated," she snapped. "Get out." The end of that statement was unspoken, but it was all too obvious in her eyes. Get out, "cousin," before I splatter your intestines across the ceiling and then decorate the gardens with them.
He was a Muggle-loving Gryffindor, but his pranks had always been directed at Bellatrix, not Narcissa. "No, Bella," she said strangely. "It's all right. Would you go set out my robes for me and make sure everything's in order?" She smiled slightly. "I can take care of myself, after all."
Shock and anger mingled on Bellatrix's face, and she spun away. As her footsteps faded, Sirius said, "Was that wise?"
"As if you're one to lecture me on wisdom," Narcissa said haughtily, brushing a curl of blonde hair behind one ear. "Why are you here, anyway?"
"Because it's your wedding," he answered seriously. "I told you that no matter where I was I'd make sure to come to your wedding." Her cousin quirked a white-toothed smile. "Remember?"
Barely, she thought, but only because he'd mentioned it.
She was nine years old and in tears, because her brat of a cousin Regulus had snatched her doll from her—her china doll in white silk and lace and veils and with bouquets of real white roses—and thrown them into the mud that decorated the land the Black summer home was built on. "Dolls are girl things," he sneered, seven years old and the perfect image of his father. "I don't want to play weddings, I want to play Quidditch!"
He ran off towards the house, and she shrieked after him, "I'm not inviting you to my wedding, Regulus Black! When I get married, you're not going to be there!" Bellatrix would have hexed him. It was probably good Bellatrix wasn't there.
"I don't want to go to your wedding anyway!" he yelled back. "Anyway, you'll never get married, because you're stupid and fat and ugly!" Then he barked a little laugh and kept running towards the house.
Narcissa burst into another round of tears. Sirius picked up the doll gingerly and tried shaking off some of the mud. All he succeeded in doing was shaking mud onto his cousin. "Sorry," he muttered.
She sniffled, the tears gone as quickly as they'd appeared. "It's all right," she said, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. "You don't think I'm ugly, do you, Siri?"
Sirius squirmed. "'Course not."
Her lower lip began to tremble. "You're lying!"
"I am not!" Sirius said indignantly. "'Course you're not ugly!" Something his father had said came to mind. "You're a Black, aren't you?"
A small but very pretty smile appeared on her face. "And you're not going to be mean like your brother and not come to my wedding, are you?"
"I'll be at your wedding, Cissy," he said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "Promise." Then he grinned. "Even if you are ugly."
Her dress was already spotted with brown, and likely it would get dirtier still—there was nothing, Narcissa figured, that she really had to lose, and so she threw mud at him.
"Of course I remember," she answered. "I just didn't think you did."
"Ah," Sirius said, with a cool look in his eyes. "That explains why I somehow didn't receive an invitation, then."
Narcissa's face smoothed into a carefully practiced expression of polite apology. "I'm dreadfully sorry about that. Mother insisted on handling the invitations herself." It was true, in fact. Just like she'd insisted on the wedding date, and location, and every other detail save the robes. Those Narcissa had been allowed to choose herself.
He snorted a laugh. "As if you didn't know how easy it would have just to slip an extra one in there."
"I've been busy," she said with a delicate shrug. "I never would have thought you weren't on the guest list—after all, you're…" Narcissa paused. "No, I don't suppose you are family anymore. Father said you'd been burned off the tapestry," and she shuddered.
"No," Sirius said darkly. "I don't suppose anyone does consider me family these days. I'd thought you might, though." The expression on his face suggested that at the moment he wasn't entirely sure why he'd had those thoughts.
She looked at her cousin, troubled and a little angry. "Aunt Augusta's disowned you, Sirius. By all family and Pureblood standards, you might as well have not been born! Why should anyone consider you family?" Narcissa shook her head. "This wedding—this wedding's the social event of the year. You have no idea what kind of disgrace, what kind of insult it would be to me, to the family, for anyone of lower status to be here."
Sirius's eyes were dark and hollow. "Disgrace," he said flatly. "Insult. Lower bloody status. Is that all I mean to you these days, Cissy? I'm just someone to track mud all over your spotless robes and reputation?"
"You've done quite enough of that already, dragging down the family by consorting with Muggles and Mudbloods," said Narcissa tartly, unthinkingly, and then her small hands flew to cover her mouth. "Oh—no, I didn't mean that—"
He laughed roughly and she was reminded of the bark of one of the frighteningly large dogs that her father kept in a kennel. "You're a bloody bad liar for a Slytherin, Cissy. Of course you meant it. Might as well speak your piece now, since this'll be the last time we'll ever speak to each other, what with me being of 'lower status.' " He flashed a bright and cold grin, like the sun glaring off snowdrifts in the winter. "Be a shame to part on good terms, don't you think?"
Narcissa narrowed her eyes, her manicured fingers curling into half-formed fists. "You brought it on yourself, you know," she told him coldly, her voice trembling with anger. "You did—no one could deny Aunt Augusta that she had the right to blast you from the family tree. Oh, it wouldn't have been so bad if it was just Potter; he's at least a Pureblood, even if his parents are the largest Muggle-loving fools this side of the Atlantic. But the other two! Lupin's contaminated, a halfblood, which is even worse than if he hadn't any Wizarding blood at all. And Pettigrew, well…" Her lips curled into a distasteful but implausibly polite sneer. "Really, I don't know how a fool like that ever made it through Hogwarts. He's no sense of what's important, not really—better he'd been a Hufflepuff, don't you think? All he did was sit at your feet and hope that some of the glory might radiate off of you and get absorbed by him." She laughed, a cold and bell-like sound that echoed in the empty corridor. "It didn't, of course." Narcissa twisted the silver and diamond engagement ring on her finger; it caught the light and shone soft patterns on the floor. "The light can't reach you when you're already standing in the shadows." A slight smile crossed her face and didn't reach her eyes. "And poor Peter Pettigrew didn't realize that my cousin casts a long shadow."
Her cousin's face had been growing more and more angry as her litany against his friends had progressed, his eyes growing darker, his fists white-knuckled against ordinarily sun-browned skin, his perfect teeth clenched and grinding together—but his furious retort was stopped by her final statement. "Your cousin, Narcissa?" he asked through still-gritted teeth. "Don't you mean your former cousin?"
"You're still my cousin, Sirius," she said with a calm smile, smoothing out her robes. "As long as I'm a Black, that is."
"But as soon as you're a Malfoy you'll be disowning me too, is that it?"
"That's exactly it," said Narcissa shortly, though it was tempered by an expression that wasn't quite a smile. "It's politics. You needn't worry, though, you'll have company. If you visit Mrs. Tonks, do tell her I'm married now."
"Mrs. Tonks," Sirius said bitterly. "You can't even acknowledge she's your own blood!"
"Mrs. Andromeda Tonks is of no relation to me," she said, voice calm and cold. "But you are—you still are, Sirius." Her voice was suddenly young and earnest. "You'll stay for the wedding, won't you?"
Sirius laughed at her. "I don't see any reason why I should! You've given me no reason to."
And he was right, she hadn't. None at all. "If you wish, you could call it family obligation. Or you could leave, if that was what you wanted. I won't make you stay, and I won't stop you leaving." She turned to go, then hesitated. "If this is goodbye, Sirius…then I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
"I don't know—come up with something. Something I've said or done, or—" Narcissa smiled a smile of bittersweet regret. "Or you could save it for something I might do in the future. It's an all-purpose apology, Sirius, and I don't give those out often. You could even reuse it, if you wanted to." She laughed, a feigned laugh, light like a new butterfly that died between the crushing fingers of a malicious boy.
With that she turned finally, hurrying to the chambers where her bridesmaids were frenzied and Bellatrix was seething. The bridesmaids—all Pureblood girls who had been with her in Slytherin—pounced on her when she came inside, fluttering about in delight as they began helping her get ready. But Bella leaned against one wall, her eyes cold fire, helping with the process only when she was needed.
Narcissa expected some sort of hex to work its way through her white wedding robes, cast in retaliation for her conscious and willing slight of her sister. None came, but neither did any words at all come from her sister. Bella's silence lasted through the wedding, but by that point Narcissa was standing in the ice gardens with Lucius—tall, pale, aristocratic Lucius—clothed in white and with her hair piled in delicate curls on top of her head, a few tendrils framing her face, and just enough cosmetic charms applied to illuminate her eyes and lips. None of that could be seen, of course, until the white veil was lifted from her face and Lucius bent to kiss her—
And as Narcissa Black became Narcissa Malfoy, a tall man standing half-hidden behind a frozen statue shifted into a dog and trotted out.
III. Afternoon Tea
Now and again she wondered if this was really what she wanted, if this sterile life of fine china and tea and high-quality robes and formality for which she had been bred was really the life for her.
Times like these Narcissa simply smoothed her expression into one of practiced calm. Her breathing was carefully measured, so that in no way would anyone gather an impression of her rapidly beating heart. There was nothing wrong. Why should there be?
Narcissa's slim hands and fingers held the teapot delicately, as porcelain demanded, but with a sure grasp on it so it would not slip from her fingers. Some women—old Mrs. Avery; Louisa Parkinson-Bletchley, who had been two years ahead of her in Hogwarts; Mrs. Rookwood; and others—preferred not to pour their own tea, but to have house-elves deliver steaming cups upon silver trays without a hint of tarnish on them, as if to say, "I am so lofty I cannot even be bothered to do something as menial as pour tea."
Yet there was an old-fashioned kind of dignity that was wrapped around pouring tea. Narcissa's mother had calmly instructed her at her first lesson when she was eleven, only once, for it only took once for the words to sink in, "When you have guests, always be sure to pour tea for them. It shows that you care enough to do the work yourself and are not content to leave it to creatures that are not even human. That is of the utmost insult to your guests, and you should know that it is never wise to insult your guests. Pouring tea, girls, shows that you possess class."
Whereas twice Bellatrix had managed to damage the teapot, the first time dropping it and the second breaking the thin handle with a too-strong grip, Narcissa had taken to the art (as her mother called it) naturally, holding the teapot in such a way so that the weight was balanced. At the sight, a rare smile had lit Flavia Black's face, one that reached into her eyes as well as her lips. One of her daughters, at least, would carry on the elegant tradition that Flavia so proudly upheld.
It was not that Bellatrix was a hopeless case; had she chosen to pay attention, she would have been fine. She simply did not care. After their third year at Hogwarts, Flavia gave her dark-haired daughter permission to stop coming to the etiquette lessons she gave Narcissa each summer. "I just won't entertain, no matter who I marry," Bella had said haughtily when her mother agreed.
"Whom you marry," Flavia said icily, "matters a great deal. Never forget that." The insult of Andromeda's marriage to some filth of a man, though over eighteen months past, was still raw in her breast.
Narcissa finished pouring tea for her guests and set the teapot back in its place with care. They were all women of her mother's generation, mothers of her own friends and schoolmates. Having been married less than three months, Narcissa was obligated to extend invitations to them to come to call at Malfoy Manor, in order that they should advise her on marriage and running a household and anything else that might arise. Four other women had called last week, and four more would next week, and after that Narcissa would be free to invite whom she wanted, when she wanted.
Squeezing lemon into her tea, Luciana Montague gave a patronizing smile. "It's so good to see that your mother raised you with the proper respect for tradition, Narcissa. In fact, I daresay you pour just as well as she does."
"Even better, I should say," said Célestine Nott archly, as if implying that Mrs. Montague's opinion was based on entirely the wrong facts. "You have a lovely tilt to your wrist, my dear—incredibly elegant."
"Thank you both," Narcissa said with half a smile. "It's very kind of you to say so."
It was a sentiment she was incredibly tired of expressing. It sounded just as trite as it was and every one of them knew it, but they continued with pleasantries and unfelt but practiced smiles, which she politely and just as unfeelingly returned.
This was like a game to her, but a game she could play while asleep. That was why Bellatrix had hated it so. Bella had a passion for passion, and considered the traditions of the aristocracy to be quite dispassionate—and boring. "There's a reason boring things are called dull," she had told Narcissa once. "They can't do any damage, they're perfectly safe, and, gods, but they're no fun at all! Now, me—I like things to be sharp." She had smirked. "Dangerous. Risky. Exciting."
Narcissa had sighed. "You always did like playing with sharp objects."
But Bella was wrong about this being safe. Even if the entire conversation could have been scripted, a single wrong inflection or slightly askance look, a mistake in the seating or in the order of who was served first, in those or in dozens of other things, could cause jealousies, rupture alliances, or spawn rivalries for generations. Some said that the reason Malfoys and Weasleys had hated each other for centuries was not because Horatius Weasley had killed Alexander Malfoy in an underhanded move in a duel over Malfoy's wife, but was in fact because Weasley's wife had slighted Malfoy's by forgetting to say "thank you" for complimenting her robes. (Others, of course, held that it was entirely the other way around, that it was Malfoy who'd killed Weasley and so forth, but Narcissa knew this could never be true. A Malfoy would never stoop so low as to use underhanded tactics.)
"Is something the matter, Narcissa?" Katharine Oldcastle asked kindly, pausing as she made sure no strands of graying hair had fallen out of place.
"Why, no!" she said, selecting a sugared biscuit with care. "I beg your pardon, I should not be so distracted."
"Indeed you should not!" said Luciana Montague smugly. "Your mother—"
"My dear Luciana," said Lady Rosier, cutting the other woman off in mid-sentence. "Not a moment ago you were complimenting her skill, and now you change your tone completely. It appears that your house's fickleness infects even those who are not Montague by blood."
No one knew quite how old Lady Rosier was, for her face was almost unlined though her hair had been white for years, but she was of one of the few families to hold a noble title by birthright rather than by their own creation. If there was anyone Narcissa aspired to be, it was her: Lady Rosier was never caught off guard, always a gracious hostess, but she never let anyone get away with anything at all—and she always had complete control of the situation at hand.
Narcissa wondered how she did it.
"We can all enjoy tea without discussing the traits of our families, I'm sure," she said politely, breaking the disagreeable silence that had formed over the table. "I've always been of the opinion that such conversations are better suited for larger groups—if they take place at all, that is."
"The more the merrier?" Luciana Montague inquired; if not truly amused, she was feigning it, so as to appease Narcissa and Lady Rosier.
She sighed inwardly, opening her mouth to speak, before Célestine Nott smoothly interjected, "I'm sure what dear Narcissa meant to imply, Luciana, was that there is a far larger sphere of…information, shall I say, when more women are gathered." She raised the teacup to her lips and smiled thinly. "Or was I incorrect in that assumption?"
"Of course not," said Narcissa. "You were as astute as ever." As was Mrs. Montague, she added silently, whose statement you repeated, only using more words. There was a constant battle of one-upmanship between the two of them, and had been (or so she had been told) since the two of them were at school together. Mrs. Nott usually won, and far be it from her, Narcissa thought, to interfere with the natural flow of events. Therefore, the natural flow of events continued until Narcissa courteously ushered her guests out the door and politely bid them good day, and my, she hoped it didn't rain today, and do come again.
She was utterly glad to see them gone.
Once, when she was pregnant with the Malfoy heir (as Lucius proudly referred to the child she entirely planned on naming Algernon), Narcissa took a stroll through Diagon Alley. It was October, so there were no filthy Mudblood brats running around trying to find textbooks and robes, and therefore hopefully no chance that she would run into any of them. Whether or not she had the misfortune to come into contact with a grown one—less bratty but still equally Mudblooded—remained to be seen, but that was out of her control. Hopefully they, at least, would have the knowledge to stay out of her way. The last thing she wanted was her Algernon to become contaminated; he might be born with some hideous defect and then the family name would be ruined forever.
She wasn't sure if that was true or not, but she had heard stories.
As she passed by Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor, stepping gingerly around a spot on the street where some child had dropped a cup of ice cream (with rainbow sprinkles that cast real rainbows), she heard someone call "Narcissa!" and turned around to see a woman hurrying towards her from out of Flourish and Blotts. Recognition dawned within a moment, and Narcissa spun away, increasing her pace. Unfortunately, while Malfoys did not run, unwanted former-relatives did, and the woman quickly caught up to her.
"Narcissa, wait—" she said, breathless, and grabbed Narcissa's shoulder.
"You will take your hand off me," said Narcissa coldly, stopping but not turning around. "I am unaccustomed to being accosted in the street by strange witches."
There was the sound of a sharp intake of breath and the hand fell aside. "But, Narcissa," she said softly, hurt. "I'm not strange. I'm your sister."
Narcissa's lips tightened. "I only have one sister, and you are not she."
"But it's me," the woman whispered helplessly. "It's Andromeda."
Why, Narcissa wondered, wouldn't she just take the hint and go away? "My sister's name," she said evenly, "is Bellatrix."
A sigh, and Narcissa hoped she had given up. But, no: "Sirius told me about your wedding," she attempted. "I wish I could say I was surprised not to receive an invitation, but neither you nor Mother has acknowledged me since I was married. You didn't even respond when I sent you news about Nymphadora's birth and christening.
"I know," she continued, "that Mother always had a vendetta against Muggles and Muggleborns, but you—I thought better of you, Narcissa. I really did. Especially since we had been close—so close—when you were little. I called you Cissy and you called me Dreda, and I read you bedtime stories…" Her voice grew hushed. "Do you remember?"
Narcissa made no motion to move, her blue eyes growing colder with every word the woman spoke, and taking her silence as an affirmative, she continued speaking. "Bellatrix always hated those stories, you know, and she used to hide under the covers of her bed so she wouldn't have to hear them. But you loved them, Narcissa. You loved hearing me read to you, and looking at the book… It was a big, leather-bound book, with gold-edged pages, do you remember? And it had hand-drawn illustrations, all in gold and silver and jewel-tones…" She trailed off for a moment, and Narcissa recalled despite herself that Andromeda had always waxed poetic about books, which was why she had been Sorted into Ravenclaw—
Not that Narcissa knew who she was, of course, because they had never met.
"All the stories were of forest spirits and unicorns, fair maidens and the princes who rescued them—fair princes and the maidens who rescued them, and then shunned them because they weren't rich enough—but there was one story that you loved, and I read it to you over and over again." The woman's voice dropped. "It was my favorite when I was little, too, you know." From the corner of her eye Narcissa saw her shake her head. "It was about a girl who lived in a forest with the Fae, and she rode on a Pegasus and fought giants and dragons, armed only with a magic rose. On one of her adventures she met a handsome prince named Draco who she rescued from a band of thieves, and he took her back to his palace with him and when they grew older they married, and she became queen over the nation. Do you remember that, Cissy? Her name was Nymphadora, and you wanted to be her more than anything."
She took a step forward and placed a hand tentatively on Narcissa's shoulder. "I named my daughter for you, you know. I knew that you loved that name and I thought you'd be happy—I thought, maybe, you might come to the christening, or at least send a gift, or a note, but I suppose I was wrong, wasn't I? I thought at the time that perhaps Mother wouldn't let you, as you were only thirteen. After your wedding, now, I suppose I know the truth. You just didn't want to sully yourself by mingling with the likes of me."
"Touch me again," Narcissa said, voice calm, controlled, and cold enough to chill blood, "and I promise that I'll have you jailed."
The woman drew back with a flinch. "What happened to you that you're like this, Cissy?" she breathed. "What did they do to you?"
"I'm afraid," Narcissa replied, "that I've no idea whom you mean when you say 'they,' and nor do I care to know."
"Your parents," the woman said brokenly. "My parents. Flavia and Orion Black. What did they do to you, Cissy, that you can't even acknowledge your own sister?"
"My name is Narcissa Malfoy," Narcissa said coldly, after a silence that seemed to drag forever as passersby looked at them curiously. "Kindly do not refer to me as 'Cissy.'"
Her tone became pleading. "Narcissa, it's me—Andromeda Tonks. Andromeda Black."
There was silence again for a moment. "I used to know an Andromeda Black," said Narcissa finally. "But she's dead now."
"And aren't you allowed to mourn for those who die?" the woman asked bitterly. "Or doesn't that factor in when you're married to a pureblood?"
Narcissa whirled to face her, taking in the woman's wild brown curls and pink cheeks and plain, mulberry-colored robes, all in an instant. "Hate is stronger than the grave," she said flatly, "and I think you're beginning to understand that now. It's taken you long enough."
"What about family?" she asked, voice trembling. "Surely that counts for something. Or love?"
"Family doesn't mean anything unless it's pure," Narcissa answered coldly, and turned away. The woman didn't follow her when Narcissa stalked down the street and into Gringotts.
Afterwards, when she arrived home to Malfoy Manor, she penned a letter.
To Mr. T. Tonks.
I had a most unpleasant encounter on the street today with your wife, one A. Tonks, who claimed to be a relative of mine. Clearly this woman is delusional. I would therefore advise you to either have her entered into St. Mungo's or keep her out of my way.
She received a Howler in return the same day. She handed it to a house-elf to dispose of and her mind never touched again on the subject.
But months later, when her son was born, she remembered stories from when she was a little girl, and whispered weakly to Lucius she wanted the heir to be named Draco.
She never told either of them why she chose that name.
Author's Notes: Thanks to Ozma for the beta, and to Minna for the edit, which she generously offered even though she didn't know a thing about the HP world! ) This 'fic won first place in La Guera's "Strong than Death" HP 'fic challenge.
A brief explanation of the section titles: "I. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Girl" refers to the fact that, throughout the first section, Narcissa is verging on realizing how close she is to growing up, but isn't there yet. "II. Another Sort of Prelude" plays off of the previous title, but is also a prelude to the afternoon of her girlhood, for, though she's realized it's nearing its end, she isn't yet truly a woman. "III. Afternoon Tea" reaches that afternoon, almost the end. As for "IV. Night", after her meeting with Andromeda truly is the night of her girlhood, the end of the girl we met in the beginning. Narcissa Black is gone; the woman Narcissa Malfoy is here to stay.