The next morning, Lucius was sitting in the dining room, feeling the desperate urge to curse something.
He had been quite unable to sleep the previous night. The beds in the guest quarters were perfectly luxurious, of course, but the fact remained that none of them were his bed and as such he could not sleep properly in them. Besides, it had been well over twelve years since he'd slept in a bed without Narcissa beside him. The last time had been shortly after Draco's birth; she had stated, quite resolutely, that he was never coming near her again. In fact her exact words had been "From here on out, any part of you that touches me you're not getting back." (It had been a difficult pregnancy.)
She had lasted less than a week before welcoming him back. In the twelve years since he had not once fallen asleep without his wife there beside him. She was nothing short of essential to his continued ability to rest. Every time she would slip into bed beside him, all the various hindrances to his relaxation would melt away, leaving only his bed, his wife and anything else he happened to feel smug about. He was, therefore, quite aggrieved sleeping without her there.
Though lack of sleep was hardly the only thing to incite Lucius's ire that morning.
He had received two rather irksome owls that morning: The first was from the Hogwarts Board of Directors, demanding his attendance at a meeting that afternoon. A meeting which was no doubt set up to address his immediate dismissal. Lucius wasn't particularly concerned about this, but it was irritating all the same.
The second, much more distressing letter had been from his own son. Draco wanted to know why Dumbledore was back, why the Weasleys were simply alight with happiness and why Slytherin was going to lose the House Cup, again. His son was obviously more enraged by that last part than any other; as Draco had frequently mentioned how much self-restraint it had taken him to refrain from killing the Defence teacher that year and he rightly felt that Slytherin deserved the House Cup for his troubles.
All in all, Lucius felt quite ashamed of himself.
Added to all that he had to hunt down a bloody House Elf and beg it to return to his service. Frankly, Lucius felt he should be commended for the fact that he wasn't having a stiff drink with breakfast.
He re-read the letter from the Board of Directors to double check the time and place for their afternoon meeting (Four O'clock, the Conference Room at the Leaky Cauldron - which Lucius took to mean "That back room nobody uses"), then he took a sip of his tea. He thought it tasted ever-so-slightly bitter, but it was entirely possible he was just imagining such things as a result of his foul mood. Putting the cup down, he sighed and rubbed his eyes. It was going to be a very long day.
A noise on his left caused him to snap his head up; a move which was not recommended for those who had just slept in a strange bed. He winced at the pain in his neck but zeroed in on the source of the noise, all the same. It really wasn't that hard to determine. Narcissa, uncharacteristically dressed in muggle clothing, had just taken a seat beside him and started helping herself to breakfast.
Lucius eyed her suspiciously.
Her muggle clothing was consisted of a floaty silver blouse and a black skirt. Her hair was perfectly coiffed and she looked, for all the world, like someone who had just enjoyed a fine and restful night's sleep. The self-satisfied old hag.
"Oh Lucius, do stop glaring at me as though I've just snapped your favourite broomstick in half," she sighed, finally looking up from the French Toast she was serving herself. She was looking at him with a magnanimous smile playing about her lips.
Lucius scowled at the cavalier harridan he had somehow wound up married to. "Terribly sorry, darling," he drawled. "I do hope my behaviour hasn't doomed you to an unpleasant day or anything."
Narcissa had the good grace to look a little apologetic. A very little apologetic. A Blink-and-you'll-miss-it apologetic. Still, it was the most he was going to get. "Lucius," she said calmly. "I want you to know that I've been thinking. There's a chance I over-reacted about the House Elf incident."
"Oh really?" he exclaimed. "What an interesting conclusion to reach. Please, do tell me how you came up with this radical new-"
"Don't push your luck, Lucius," Narcissa said crisply, as she poured herself some orange juice.
Lucius broke off, muttering inaudibly to relieve tension, rather than ranting outright as he'd intended.
Narcissa nodded in appreciation. "Good boy," she said, patting his thigh approvingly.
Lucius looked down at where she'd touched him. The warmth of her hand had gone straight through his robes, cutting through the unnatural cold that settled on him whenever he hadn't slept. He was absolutely certain she did it on purpose, the diabolical shrew.
"Now," his wife continued, acting as though she hadn't just deliberately taunted him. Damnable woman. "I have charity auction to attend in London at eleven o'clock and afterwards I have lunch plans." Narcissa looked mildly horrified at the prospect of the latter. "We can discuss the House Elf situation tonight. Perhaps we'll purchase a new one, or re-educate one of the existing elves, or some such. Anyway, you shall not be forced to reacquire that Dobby creature. Does that sound agreeable?"
Lucius sighed with relief. "Certainly." he agreed. "Though I am still of the opinion that you are overreacting to the entire affair."
Narcissa looked unaffected by this small jibe and poured herself some tea. She always poured her tea before eating, to give the brew a chance to cool. She was quite insane in that manner. "Yes, well, I was of the opinion that you were overreacting to the news that your son lost a Quidditch game to Harry Potter, however I had the good grace to keep quiet on the subject," she told him blithely.
"Well he was obviously cheating!" Lucius snapped angrily. "Nobody's ever beaten Draco in a fair game, and you know it!"
Narcissa rolled her eyes. "Yes, and the Slytherin Quidditch team has never cheated in order to win, have they?" she commented.
Lucius growled. "Well it's different." he said. "And besides, when I was overreacting, I didn't make you sleep in the guest bedroom!"
Doing very little to lessen Lucius's indignation, Narcissa scoffed. "Well of course you didn't." she said dismissively. "You wouldn't dare."
"I really do detest you on occasions." Lucius snarled at her. It was his bloody house. He'd lived there since the day he was born. His great-great-grandfather had built the sodding place. It was his house, and she was of the opinion that he wouldn't dare throw her out of their bedroom.
Narcissa quirked an eyebrow. "Oh really? Well then, I suppose I won't bother going to that ladies' lunch at Phyllis's." she said tauntingly. "That ladies' lunch that will be attended by the wife of every single member of the Hogwarts Board of Directors, and will occur approximately two and a half hours before your little meeting." A smirk appeared on her face, as she daintily started eating.
Lucius blinked a few times, allowing her statement to sink in. "You.. How can you… How on Earth did you know about that afternoon meeting, when I only found out a minute ago?" he asked, bewildered.
Ever the aristocratic lady, Narcissa finished chewing before answering. "Do you remember Delphinia Arbour? That Australian witch?"
Lucius did, indeed, remember her. It was rather hard to forget a woman with a voice like a fog horn, who wore robes that were designed to hug every curve and were made in colours that could be seen from space. More to the point, he remembered Narcissa pointing her out at a dinner party, and informing him in an undertone that she was 'Henry's bit of stuff' - Henry Britten, the Secretary on the Board of Directors, who was quickly approaching his centennial, and who was married to a woman that was often mistaken for a prune and spoke of nothing but her beloved pet Krups. Shortly after Lucius had discovered her identity, Delphinia Arbour had propositioned him. In response, Lucius had done what any man would've done in that position: He turned a whiter shade of pale, went off to find Narcissa, and stayed glued to her at all times until they went home, while silently thanking whatever Gods may be listening that he had his wife there to protect him.
Lucius shuddered at the memory.
"Ah, I see you do remember her." Narcissa commented, looking clearly amused and just a bit smug. "Well, it seems that dear old Henry went and broke her heart when he didn't leave his wife for her. And so, Delphinia rigged his writing desk."
Lucius stared. "Pardon?"
Narcissa carried on, insouciantly. "She rigged his desk. She used some new product from Hong Kong, or Singapore, or somewhere. Anyway, whenever he writes something at that desk, a copy of what he writes appears on a slate she has at home. She was planning on using it to show his wife when he got a new Mistress, in the hope that his wife would divorce him, he would assume his new Mistress was responsible, and he would then go running back to her." She said, in a completely matter-of-fact tone. "Naturally, I would've been more amused if she'd intended on using it for revenge against the cadaverous old fool, but it takes all kinds I suppose."
The fact that his wife saw any vague logic in this woman's actions, worried Lucius just a bit. But he chose to overlook that. "Fi-ine." he said slowly. "But that still doesn't explain how you knew. It simply explains how she knew."
Narcissa sighed, and sent him a 'Gosh, you are so adorably stupid' look. "I know, because she told me, Lucius." she said simply.
"But… But why would she tell you?" Lucius was becoming increasingly frustrated. Normally he found the politics of his wife's social circle interesting, or at the very least amusing, but in his sleep-deprived state, it was simply irritating.
"She told me, because she thinks that by telling me she is doing me a favour. By doing me favours, she is getting close to me. And, in her mind at least, by getting close to me, she can get close to you. By getting close to you, she is creating the possibility that you will be ensnared by her womanly wiles, fall madly in love with her, and buy her pretty things." Narcissa explained patiently.
A wave of nausea hit Lucius upon hearing this statement, causing him to cover his eyes with his hands.
Seemingly immune to his disgust, Narcissa continued. "The point is, she contacted me this morning and told me everything. She also informed me that, while your dismissal has been unanimously agreed upon," her tone changed from explanatory, to scheming. "Many members of the Board have the strange idea that you only behaved in the manner that you did, out of concern for you only son."
Lucius looked up instantly.
Narcissa was smirking nefariously at him.
It was moments like that which made Lucius realise why he simply could not have married anyone but Narcissa - She was the only woman he had ever encountered who had both a mind that was so inescapably unscrupulous, and a manner that was so undeniably aristocratic. She was also the only woman he had ever encountered whom he could imagine loving her son as desperately as Narcissa loved Draco, and also feeling perfectly comfortable using said son's existence in such an utterly self-serving manner. Oh this was just perfect, Lucius thought complacently.
If he and Narcissa played the part of doting parents who were oh-so-repentant, then he would be dismissed from the Board on good terms. A year or so of apologetic behaviour, and they'd be begging him for his counsel, just as they had before his official appointment to the Board of Directors. For the two years following his first advisory session, he would be invited to innumerable dinner parties and events, and then all he had to do was wait for one of those doddering old fools to drop dead, and he'd be back on the Board of Directors with a pat on the back and a celebratory cocktail party. Probably just in time for Draco's sixth year, if he played it properly. Oh yes, this was perfect, all right. Especially considering the fact that it was hardly difficult for him and Narcissa to play the parts of doting parents, since that was precisely what they were most of the time.
A smirk tugged Lucius's face, matching his wife's. "You devious little strumpet." he said appreciatively.
"Oh? Am I to take this that you no-longer detest me?" she asked, as she polished off her French toast.
"Don't get me wrong, Narcissa, there's still some lingering resentment." Lucius said in his most serious tone. "However there is a definite possibility that this revelation has once again tipped the scales in your favour."
Narcissa arched her brow, and set about reorganising her table setting, so that her tea was directly in front of her. "Well," she started, picking up her porcelain teacup. "I should be able to have the entire Lunch Party sympathising with me without too much trouble. All I need to do is tear up slightly while telling the story, become extremely high-pitched while uttering Draco's name, and then 'pull myself together' and they'll all be eating out of my hand. Work's every time." she informed him, before taking a sip of tea.
Lucius wracked his brains, but could not, for the life of him, recall an instance where Narcissa had been forced to engender sympathy from her peers. He was about to ask her when she had discovered this little trick, when he saw her expression. The question died on his tongue.
Narcissa was sitting, with her teacup held a few inches from her mouth and a sour look on her face. She stared at it for a moment, before taking another tentative sip. She then grimaced, placed the teacup down, and folded her arms in annoyance. Lucius suspected that this did not bode well for him.
"Er… something the matter, darling?" he asked in a would-be casual tone.
Narcissa was rather preoccupied, pinning the offending teacup with a glare and did not respond.
"This tea is wrong." she stated without looking up. She wore an expression of such heartfelt candor and honesty, that Lucius doubted she was faking, simply to make fun of him. Her arms were folded tightly across her chest, in a position her son had adopted many years ago as his "bad things are going to happen because of this, y'know" pose. The innocuous, amber liquid sat placidly in the cup with the occasional coil of steam snaking up from it, but still Lucius could not see anything particularly wrong with it. Had it been green, then he could understand her distress, but as it was...
Lucius stared at the tea.
He then stared at his wife.
He then resigned himself to the fact that nothing was ever going to make sense ever again. "How, precisely, can tea be wrong, Narcissa?" he inquired.
"It's just… wrong." Narcissa said again. "It's bitter. And it's not strong enough. The House Elves made it wrong."
Narcissa looked over at him. "I'm not saying that I've changed my mind or anything." she informed him, prissily. "I was simply that… that…" she took a steadying breath. "I am going upstairs to collect my things." she said in a stiff tone. "Then I really must be going to this auction. Is there anything you want in particular? I understand that Horace Slughorn donated a few items from his private collection."
"Anything you want." Lucius said, without particular interest. He had taken up Narcissa's earlier activity, and was now gazing at her teacup with the utmost interest. It was the first time in many years that Narcissa had left the breakfast table without finishing at least one cup of tea, and Lucius had no idea why. He simply knew that it was not in the usual way of things.
When it came to his home and his wife, Lucius Malfoy was exceptionally fond of the usual way of things.
"Very well." Narcissa agreed offhandedly, getting to her feet and adjusting her outfit. "I should be finished by the time your little meeting is over. Would you care to meet for dinner?"
They spent a few moments, arguing where to go for dinner, before finally agreeing upon a restaurant in Paris called Enchanter. It was, technically, in Muggle Paris, however its clientele was almost entirely magical, as it looked like a tiny and unremarkable restaurant to the average muggle. And although international Apparation was somewhat trickier than the regular variety, it was entirely worth the effort in Lucius's opinion. Particularly if it would put Narcissa in a good mood, as French cooking always seemed to do.
She certainly seemed to agree with his choice, as she was nodding along cheerfully. "Excellent. Seven o'clock?"
"We should definitely be finished by then, yes." Lucius said confidently. After all, the Board of Directors was hardly known for its lengthy meetings. With most of the Board being over ninety, very few of them had the stamina for meetings that lasted more than a few hours. Very often, the meeting was adjourned by the noise of raspy snoring, or by one of the attendees falling asleep in the sugar bowl. If, however, an attendee was to fall asleep quietly and without obstructing the tea set, then all continued as normal. That was just how exhillerating the Hogwarts Board Meetings were.
"Wonderful." Narcissa said, oblivious to her husband's momentary mental digression. "See you then." she stooped to kiss his cheek, and then left for the kitchens.
"Hmm. Yes." Lucius agreed.
His gaze was back on the teacup. The very, very full teacup. It just wasn't right.
The day that Bellatrix was arrested, Narcissa found out at the breakfast table and she finished her tea before doing anything about it. When she had discovered that she was pregnant with Draco, she had read the fact in a letter from Saint Mungo's and finished her tea before telling Lucius, as she knew that he would insist upon immediate action of some kind. Immediate action which might impede her tea-drinking.
With a sigh, Lucius realised that Dobby had probably made the tea. That elf had also made most of the desserts, and run Narcissa's baths, and washed her clothes so they smelt like Jasmine… She really had spent a lot of time making sure that the elf got everything just right. And perhaps it was all that time she spent with it that had led to it's otherwise-inexplicable independent streak. Regardless, he knew that it would make his wife infinitely more pleasant to be around if everything was done just as she liked it.
And Lucius got the definite impression from his son's letter that he would be needing at least one family member to be pleasant around him over the coming months.
Besides, he really had been foolish in losing the elf. Dumbledore had requested its presence, and Lucius had agreed without question. Mostly because he was rather furious that Dumbledore was daring to give him orders in the first place, and also because his burning curiosity at just what Dumbledore was doing back at Hogwarts would have compelled him to do pretty much anything, so long as it got him an explanation. Which was an act of unrivalled idiocy, now that he thought about it.
Also, the amount of dirt that elf could probably dish on him now that it was free was enough to make him cringe. Nothing particularly illegal, but certainly quite a bit that was frowned upon in polite society, and which would irreparably damage his chances at getting back on the Board of Directors. Actually, it would irreparably damage almost all of his current endeavours. And so, it had to be dealt with.
He had to get the blasted thing back. He had to go chasing after a House Elf.
Groaning to himself, Lucius got up and headed for the Entrance Hall, where there was a fireplace designed specifically for use with the Floo Network. It was going to be an extremely unpleasant day, Lucius decided.