Disclaimer: Harry Potter and everything associated with it is the intellectual property of J.K. Rowling. None of this is being done for profit, and no copyright infringement is intended. The quote (mentioned below in the A/N) is from Le Petit Prince and was penned by St. Éxupéry.
The parlor had been decorated by a famous foreign wizard with an eye for design. Called in from France and paid double, he had chosen to drape the room in deep shades of burgundy, turning it into a miniature world of swishing fabrics and gleaming mahogany wood. Long velvet curtains trailed over the windows, letting in slats of glimmering sunlight to dapple the lushly carpeted floor. The candles mounted loftily on the wall in their glimmering holders gave the room a soft, ethereal glow. Bookshelves stacked high with ancient, yellowing tomes lined the walls. A dancing light was cast over the entire room; the fireplace was crackling and alive, though it was a muggy day in mid-August. An unmistakable air of the forbidden hung about the room, heavier, even, than the velvet curtains that enveloped the windows.
It was outside this very room that young Narcissa Black hovered. Narcissa would reach forward, biting her small, pink lower lip, grasp the cool metal knob in her hand, and then draw her hand back, as though she had been scalded with boiling water. She repeated this series of actions several times as she twisted a strand of pale blonde hair around the finger of her other hand. Young as she was, Narcissa knew the rules. Children were not to be allowed in the parlor. The parlor was a haven for adults who smoked foreign cigars and drank expensive wines, a room where they talked in booming tones about things Narcissa didn't understand. And yet, Narcissa had to ask Mother a question—a question concerning a very important game that Bella, Andy, and she had been playing, and Bella had always said that Narcissa was mother's favorite.
She sighed suddenly, but quietly, disentangling her hand from her hair, as though she recognized the foolishness of her actions. She smoothed the creases from her robe and patted down her hair. Mother wouldn't like it if she came in looking mussed. Narcissa knew that she wasn't a common Muggle born. She had been born into a family of great status. She knew how to conduct herself.
But even this secret knowledge could not disguise the wide-eyed look on Narcissa's face as she walked into the parlor, her eyes traveling from the fireplace to the mantle to the form of an austere woman silhouetted against the flames. She tried to walk silently while still trying to take in the almost golden atmosphere of this strange room, her feet sinking luxuriously into the wonderfully plush carpet. She thought fleetingly of the games that she, Bella, and Andy could play later—they could hunt for treasure or build a fort in this secret room when no one was home.
"Oh good, Knobbly," her mother's voice came. Narcissa froze but her mother did not turn. "You brought the bottle I asked for? Place it here, on the table." A pronounced silence hung in the air.
"M-Mother?" Narcissa tried, moving tentatively forward, her blonde hair and fair skin and soft lines juxtaposing harshly with the ambiance of the room. She twisted her fingers nervously behind her back, then forced herself to cease, keeping her hands down by her sides.
"Narcissa?" Her mother didn't sound angry, just perplexed. The angular silhouette of her mother shifted slightly.
Narcissa took another hesitant step towards her mother. "Mother," she started, "Bella and I were wondering if we could use—"
"Come here, Cissa." Her mother beckoned Narcissa forward with a wave of her hand, inviting her into the circle of light cast by the fire.
Barely having time to marvel at her mother's use of 'Cissa' instead of her full name, Narcissa tried to walk bravely towards the fire, tripping over an expensive hearthrug as she came. The low table situated in between the fireplace and two straight-backed armchairs was strewn with glass bottles in varying stages of emptiness that glinted gold in the firelight; a half-finished cigarette smoldered in a crystal ashtray. Her mother was now sitting regally in one of the seats, a half-empty glass of dark liquid swirling in her hand and a shawl, light as gossamer, wrapped tightly around her shoulders. She was staring pensively into the fire, the rim of her glass clutched loosely between her fingertips. Her profile looked as though it had been gilded in gold, and her eyes shone fiercely in the light of the flames.
Narcissa perched delicately on the very edge of the other chair, trying to remain as far from her mother as possible. Despite the considerable distance between them, Narcissa's nostrils filled with the scent of her mother's flowery oils and clay-like scent mingling with the stench of alcohol.
"Narcissa," her mother intoned throatily, starling her daughter. "Never marry an arrow…and arrogant—an arrogant man." She hiccupped loudly. "Your father thinks I know—thinks I don't, don't know about the women. All the other women." She took a great swallow from her wineglass and spluttered.
Narcissa opened her mouth, searching for the right combination of words that would lock her mother's lips. She settled for fiddling with the lacy hem of her robes instead. She had always thought that her parents got on well enough. They were certainly better than Sirius and Regulus' parents, who were always at each other like Crups and Kneazles. Perhaps her parents weren't as affectionate as the Patils, but they were of a more common sort, all things considered. And anyway, hadn't Daddy touched Mother lovingly on the elbow, and hadn't she kissed him briefly on the cheek, just yesterday in the hallway before he left? Anything more than that would have certainly been indecorous.
"Your—" her mother tried, but again dissolved into a coughing fit, "your father is a stupid man. Damn him! But I know even though he thinks—he thinks I don'. " She stood, the firelight glinting in her madly gleaming eyes. She strode to the mantelpiece, seized her wedding picture, and threw it onto the floor.
"I know he's not out on business. 'Business' he tells me—bah! I don't b'lieve a God-awful word of it! Damn him!" She waved her arms wildly, tiny droplets of wine spattering the floor, and poured herself another glass, adding another empty bottle to the array.
"But you did—I mean, you do love him, right, Mother?" Narcissa was frightened, and had hitched her legs up towards her chest, burying herself in the very back of the burgundy-colored, cushioned chair.
Narcissa was scrambling, scrambling for anything that might stifle the unfocused rage that was now wafting thick and pungent on the air. Her words, far from comforting or soothing, seemed only to further incense her mother.
"Love?" She laughed a harsh laugh and swayed slightly on the spot. Her voice seemed to become amplified. "I? Love him?" She placed her glass down onto the table with a dull thud and strode over to where Narcissa sat, cowering in her seat. Narcissa's words had unintentionally struck a cord, and her mother grasped Narcissa's chin roughly in her hand. Her eyes—eyes that were the very twins of Narcissa's—shone brighter than the flames hissing in the grate now, and her breath was hot and sticky on Narcissa's pale face.
"Your father—he told he told you to ask. Spying on me. He told you." She tightened her grip, her fingernails digging into Narcissa's chin.
"No, Mother, he—he didn't." Narcissa gasped, eyes filled with tears—water that she hoped would snuff out the fire in her mother's eyes. Her hands scrabbled at her mother's bony wrist—a silent and futile bid for freedom.
"You are a silly girl, Narcissa. A silly girl with foolish thoughts. You know nothing. You—you're beautiful, but you're empty—" She paused as though searching for her deepest, most cutting words. Her eyes narrowed into dark slits. "No one could die for you."
Narcissa gaped openly at her mother. "Mother, I—"
"Get out," she hissed, pushing Narcissa towards the doorway, across the threshold, out into the hallway. "And tell that elf—tell Knobbly—tell her to, to get in here and clean up this wretched mess!"
The scene beyond the parlor—bright rays of sunlight, beautiful portraits, and light woods—seemed suddenly surreal. Sunlight winked off of the marble floor, and the occupants of a painting directly in front of her smiled cordially as they lazed about in the shade of a large willow. Knobbly came scuttling quickly up the corridor, her feet making soft slapping sounds on the floor and her blue eyes opened wide. She gave Narcissa a quick pat on the arm before opening the parlor door and going inside. Narcissa quickly concealed herself behind the cool marble bust of her great-uncle Orion Cygnus and wept bitterly into the palm of her hand.
The source of her tears had not been her mother's words, for nine year old Narcissa Black knew nothing of emptiness and death; no, it had been the look of utter and complete revulsion present on her mother's face when she had spoken the words 'no one could die for you'. It had been an expression of such rawness that Narcissa felt the words ought to be taken as truth.
Though her mother spoke quite docilely to her at breakfast the next morning—"I do beg of you to have a bit more toast, pet. You're looking quite pale."—and in fact, remained quite innocuous for the remainder of Narcissa's life, it was too late. Narcissa had taken her mother's drunken words to heart, but not knowing how to make herself full, resigned herself to finding someone that would die for her.
One day, Narcissa Black married Lucius Malfoy.
Narcissa's mother had wholeheartedly approved of the engagement and wedding, her words of thirteen or more years ago eroded, effaced in her mind. It was a 'smart match' she had said, and had made sure that Narcissa was outfitted most luxuriously for the occasion.
And so, Narcissa Black had taken his name, moved into his manor, and shared his bed, her mother's words (almost) forgotten.
It was one night, not very long after the wedding, after they had clutched and grabbed and satisfied themselves and each other that Narcissa clung to Lucius, the silken sheets tangled down around her legs and sweat like dew on her skin. He absentmindedly caressed her hand, teetering on the very precipice of sleep. His eyes were drooping and his breathing steady. She however shifted restlessly beside him.
"Lucius?" she whispered softly to him through the velvety darkness, pulling the sheets to her chin. Cool night air blew in through the open window and played along her face.
"Mm?" He lifted his head and looked at her, his brow furrowed. Women asked questions at the oddest times.
"Lucius," she turned to look into his eyes, or towards his face, really, as she couldn't actually see his grey eyes for all the darkness, "would you die for me?" She twisted the corner of her pillowcase deftly between her fingers, waiting for his reply, heart in her throat.
"Wh-what?" came his muffled and sleepy reply. He yawned into his hand. She watched his profile as his brow furrowed even more. "Narcissa, what do you mean by this? Let's sleep and we'll talk tomorrow."
She wanted to smooth his brow, to grab his face, to make his lips form the words she desperately wanted to hear. She clutched his arm.
"Please," she said tensely. "Just answer me. Would you die for me?" She spoke more slowly this time.
"Are you feeling alright? You're being rather silly, darling." He attempted to wrap her in his arms but she pulled away from him, the sheets suddenly feeling too sticky and hot around her body.
"Lucius—please—chock it up to a silly woman's fancy if you must. Please—answer my question." Her lip trembled and her hands found his arm once more.
"I—" he started. She could feel his body tense beneath her fingers and could almost see his thought process in the shadows on the wall. "Well," he said, drawing back to rest on his elbow, "if it came to it, I suppose would find a way to save us both."
It was later on the next day while strolling about the lush, green gardens which lay on the Malfoy estate that Narcissa realized that she could perhaps live with Lucius' philosophy. After all, he loved her. Plucking a plump blossom from the bushes and breathing in its delicate scent calmed her in a way that not even a cup of her favorite chamomile tea could. She could smell the crisp green scent of freshly watered plants all around her. Of course he should try to save them both! He knew that he could not live without her as she could not thrive without him. Truly, it was the only responsible, loving thing he could do. And besides, she was loved by her husband—more than she would ever be able to say for Mother or Bella.
She continued to walk along the winding cobblestone path that twisted throughout the garden, admiring the way that her dainty shoes clicked on the stone and the way in which the hem of her robes glided just slightly off of the ground. Lucius had always said that, from far away, she looked like a pale little ghost drifting along the estate.
Bright dots of color pricked her vision—honeysuckle, tulip, rose, daisy—she knew them all. She carefully used a Severing Charm to cut the full blossoms at the stem, quickly managing to amass a veritable armful of flowers. Returning to the house, she handed the bouquet to Dobby, instructing him to arrange them in the crystal vase that Regulus had given her as a birthday present. After thinking for a moment, she also asked him to prepare Lucius' favorite meal—a very tender roast lamb with a fresh garden salad on the side—before sidling out of the kitchen to have a hot bath.
She felt sure now. She could certainly live with Lucius—she loved him, after all. It was not an impossible feat. It was silly, she realized, to want, no, to need to find someone willing to die for her. Goodness, she half wanted to bury her face in her hands for the utter foolishness of the question! She could feel her face heating as she remembered the exchange of the night previous. In all actuality, would there ever even be a moment where he would consciously be forced to choose to die at all?
She ran the bath and watched the steaming water pouring out of the faucet and into the marble basin below before adding lavender salts, slipping off her robes and shoes, and sliding slowly into the water.
She emerged a short while later, wrapped in a fluffy white towel, smelling faintly of sweet lavender. She scrupulously applied the slightest kiss of makeup to her skin and clothed herself in beautiful pale blue robes. Lucius was just striding through the imposing front doors as Narcissa carefully made her way down the marble staircase, the slight clicking of her heels on marble causing him to look upward. A smile lit his face.
He offered her his arm and smiled again, telling her that she looked beautiful and that he loved her. She found herself suddenly wishing again that he had responded 'yes' to the question she had asked the night before, but allowed herself to be swept down the corridor and into the dining room all the same.
A few months afterwards, she found out that she was pregnant.
The same wizard who had so long ago decorated the Black family parlor was called in to do up the nursery. Although Lucius had no knowledge of the exchange which had occurred between Narcissa and her mother in the parlor that day, Narcissa had told him that she had never been allowed inside. Thus Lucius, with a poorly suppressed smile playing about his lips, said that Narcissa's choice of decorator was ironic and slightly sad. Narcissa had merely clucked her tongue and disagreed, saying it was merely good taste. So it was, for though he was old in years and was losing his vision (he now wore a pair of very thick spectacles and had gray hair that rose from his head in a cloud) time had not stolen his instinct for design, and he proved this by choosing a palette of oatmeal and ocean blue for the nursery.
Narcissa could never forget the months leading up to the birth of her beloved son, as they coincided with Lucius' increased level of service to the Dark Lord. At first, she had thought that Lucius was playing at some silly game—that it was merely a phase from which he would soon grow out of—but his absences became more pronounced, more protracted, and many nights, Narcissa would wake in a cold sweat, having dreamt of his death, having seen his empty eyes a thousandth of a second before.
He knew that it upset her, and so he would wait until she was asleep to leave. She would roll over in bed, expecting to feel his warm body next to her own, and find cold empty sheets, or else catch the hem of his cloak whipping out of sight as she woke for a sip of water.
He hadn't been there on the night of Draco's birth.
No. He had been out cavorting around with Bella and Avery torturing Muggles and breaking apart families, while Narcissa desperately tried to strengthen her own. She bit her tongue and crossed her arms as she thought about the irony of it all.
A violent storm had raged outside that night, battering the windows and shaking the very foundation of the house. The pain of childbirth had snaked itself through the center of her body, and all she had wanted was the comforting warmth of his hand in hers. She had been propped up in her nest of downy pillows in the bed that they shared as the Medi-Wizard bustled and poked and prodded, trying to keep Narcissa calm. Narcissa had wanted to go straight to St. Mungo's, but Lucius had refused to let her step out alone. Prestige and pure blood alone could no longer ensure safety, and so, with a reluctant huff and a slight pout, Narcissa found herself confined to her bed.
She knew from the moment that she set eyes on Draco, on her son that it—the pain, the fuss, the nine months that she had spent feeling like an overfilled balloon—had all been worth it. The years passed. The nursery morphed before her very eyes, changing from the room of a baby, with its crib and pastel tones, to that of a boy's. The teddy bears and stuffed dragons were replaced with Quidditch posters, outmoded racing brooms, and other assorted trinkets one manages to amass at a boarding school. His adoring love for her, however, remained constant.
The years continued to pass. Narcissa aged, but did not become any less beautiful. Draco aged, too. All too soon, the Quidditch posters and trinkets disappeared, to be substituted with posters of Alyssa Savoy, or some other witch fresh from the pages of PlayWizard's Top 100, and the latest merchandise from Borgin and Burke's. Though not altogether pleased with her son's liking for objects such as the Hand of Glory or superficial infatuation with scantily clad models, Narcissa was generally satisfied that Lucius and she had managed to raise a wonderful child.
And then, Lucius was taken away to Azkaban.
Narcissa had been seated at the dining room table a week or so later, absentmindedly prodding at her breakfast. It was a beautiful morning—the sun slanted through the large bay windows, kissing the pristine linen tablecloth, and sparkling off of the German crystal in such a lovely way—and Draco was home. She knew that she should have been happy in a way that the only the sanctity of her home could make her, but Lucius' absence cast a cloud over her existence.
She leaned back in her chair—something she would not have done had there been anyone else in the room—and took a sip of her morning tea, the cup and saucer trembling gently in her fingers. A soft knock came from the door. Startled, Narcissa sat up straight and tucked stray wisps of hair behind her ears, attempting to appear dignified and composed. She couldn't imagine who would interrupt her morning retreat. She checked the gold mantel clock quickly. It was only nine o'clock. Draco wouldn't be up for another two hours, and surely none of the servants would see fit to disturb her breakfast.
"Yes?" She spoke softly, hoping beyond hope for Lucius to be the owner of the hand that had knocked upon the dining room door. The door swung silently open, but there was no one there. She felt a puzzled look come over her face, and stood slightly so as to peer over the massive vase of wildflowers perched in the center of the table. She sighed. It was only Noggy, the house elf that they had inherited from her Great Uncle Charlus when he had died.
"Ma'am?" Noggy intoned, hesitant to set foot across the threshold. Narcissa nodded curtly to indicate her attentiveness. "Ma'am, there is someone here to be seeing you."
"Who…?" Narcissa wondered aloud, but did not have to wait for an answer. A slim, pale figure stepped into the room and took a seat opposite Narcissa at the table.
"Hello, Cissa," the woman said, her dark empty eyes glittering.
The dark-haired woman sitting opposite her was her own sister, but she had not seen her in many years. Azkaban had stolen the life and the luster from her. Indeed, the dark, luscious tresses that Narcissa had so envied as a youth now hung lank and dead around her thin, hollowed face. She looked startlingly out of place with the cleanliness and light of the dining room.
"Ma'am, I is trying to tell her to wait in the entrance hall, but she is not listening to Noggy, ma'am. I is trying, I is." The elf piped up squeakily, fear echoing in her voice.
"That is quite alright, Noggy. Please offer Bellatrix some refreshment." Narcissa waved the elf away.
"Why have you come here, Bella?" Narcissa turned a hardened stare onto her sister who was idly considering her fingernails.
"I have come bearing a message from the Dark Lord." Her cold eyes glittered menacingly at her sister and her red mouth stretched wide in an unnatural-looking smile. She plucked a plump ruby rose from the vase and considered it in the same manner that she had her nails.
"What more does He want with me and my family, Bella? What more have I to lose? Lucius is already imprisoned in Azkaban. I want nothing more to do with Him. I will hear no message." Though her voice was steely, a note of desperation sounded within it. She clenched her hands together after pushing her breakfast plate away from her.
"Lucius deserves to suffer for our Lord! He needs to suffer just like I did." A fanatical gleam now took its place in Bellatrix's eyes and she stood, her dark boots clicking on the wooden floor. "And either way dear sister, the message is not for you. It is for Draco. The Dark Lord feels that it is time." She fingered the rose's stem, running her hands deftly over the thorns.
"He has already wrested Lucius from me. He will not have Draco!" The tears were starting to brim in her eyes now. She stretched her hands imploringly to Bella, begging for her to do something, not caring that in her haste, the tablecloth had started to slip from the table, the good china only centimeters from falling. "He will not have my boy, Bella."
"You should be honored, as should he, Narcissa. Draco will be serving a noble cause and a higher purpose." Her ringing tones were echoing around the room as she stamped around, ignoring Narcissa's weeping.
"He will not serve. I do not care what message you care to impart to him. He will not help your cause. If you want to gallivant off and invite death into your life, so be it, but you will not impose the same fate upon my child." Narcissa's eyes were gleaming in the sunlight now, and she stood, her height matching that of her sister's. Neither woman paid attention to Noggy as she walked in with the tea tray laden with a teapot and other snacks and stood near Bellatrix.
"If he does not," Bellatrix paused for a long moment, pulling the petals off of the rose and dropping them carelessly onto the floor, "he and you and everyone that you care about will die. If he does, perhaps only he shall die, but he shall die with honor." She ground the petals under her boot heel, knocked the tea tray out of Noggy's hands, and walked quickly out of the door, leaving a mess of broken china, running rivers of tea, and piles of crumbs in her wake.
"I is sorry I is letting her in, Mistress Malfoy." Noggy's ears dropped sadly as Narcissa slumped to the floor and wept, not noticing that tea was starting to soak into the hem of her robes.
Now, months later, Narcissa sat in her large, beautiful home completely and utterly alone. She could not sleep. She could not eat. She ordered the servants to stay hidden from her sight, except at mealtimes, when she would have them prepare lavish dishes, and then sit across from Lucius' place at the table, forgetting to eat what was in front of her. Tears came unbidden to her eyes without the slightest provocation. She wrote Draco daily, fearing that he had encountered some danger in the night and had not survived to see another school day.
She would sit at her bedroom window for hours with her face pressed up against the glass, hating everything. She hated herself for not having more of a handle on her emotions. She hated Bellatrix for influencing Draco in a cruel and unforgivable way. She hated Draco for listening to Bella instead of to her. She hated Lucius for leaving her. Most of all, she found herself hating her mother.
She had spent all of her life looking for someone who would die for her. Now that she'd found someone, she realized that it was she, Narcissa, who would rather die.
A/N: This story was written as a response (albeit a late one, but a response nonetheless) to the May Quote Challenge for the Review Lounge. The object of this was to incorporate the quote: "Vous êtes belles, mais vous êtes vides…On ne peut pas mourir pour vous." Roughly translated, this means "You are beautiful, but you are empty. No one could die for you," which is what Narcissa's mother says to her at the beginning of the story.
I don't really know what the concept behind this was, but it sure took a long time to write. Anyway, as always, feedback is appreciated, loves.