--Five months later . . .--

"Lucius," Narcissa gasped, blinking in astonishment as he stood in the doorway. "What – um . . ."

"Good evening, Narcissa. Your parents called for me, so I was wondering if I could have a word . . ."

"Yes," the young woman said, stepping back to allow him to pass. Lucius entered the house he had not entered in months, trying to ignore the painful memories and feelings that erupted in him around every corner. At last he reached the study.

"Ah, Lucius . . . come in, come in, have a seat."

Lucius stepped inside the office and sat down across from Cygnus Black. "You asked for me, sir?"

"Yes," said Cygnus, leaning back in his chair. "I wanted to talk to you about . . . marriage."

Lucius stiffened.

"After that little – mishap – back several months ago – " Cygnus' mouth twitched and his beady eyes narrowed even further " – well . . . our family is still flustered and furious over her actions, as I'm sure you are . . ."

Lucius gave a sympathetic nod.

"But in any case, we've been trying to move on, and find a suitor for our remaining daughter, Narcissa." It was at this point that Cygnus' stern face gave the man opposite him a small smile. "Your parents and I have been discussing the matter, and we believe that the two of you would be a perfect match. We have most of it figured out, in fact . . . but . . . well, we wanted to know what you think of the matter."

He didn't really want to know what Lucius thought of the matter. They both knew that. He was merely asking to be polite, because purebloods were always very civil to one another, both acting as though they were just as mighty as the other.

"It sounds like a fine arrangement," Lucius replied, because he knew that was the response expected of him. And Lucius always did as expected of him. "I would be delighted to wed your daughter."

Cygnus smiled. "Excellent, excellent. Would you be able to propose today? You know, getting down on the knee and the whole shi-bang? She has these silly ideas of how a proposal should work, and, well, Druella and I like to please her . . ."

"I can purchase a ring this afternoon and be back here within thirty minutes."

And he did exactly that. Lucius went to the finest wizarding jewelry shop in London, browsing over rings and trying to pretend that he cared which had the biggest stone and which one his future wife would like best. But all he could see, as he stared into the display case, was the large diamond ring he had picked out for Andromeda. Each of the rings in the display cases looked exactly like that one he had bought for her so long ago. He hastily selected the most expensive and jetted out of the shop.

When he arrived back at the Black mansion, Cygnus ushered him inside to the sitting room and called to Narcissa. The blonde woman curiously flounced down the stairs, looking even more curious and wary when her father left the room and it was now just she and Lucius sitting on the couch together.

Feeling as though something about this picture was horribly off-kilter, Lucius got off the couch and crouched in front of Narcissa, bent on one knee. The young woman's eyes widened. He wondered why Cygnus wanted him to be so formal about the proposal. When he had been betrothed to Andromeda, they had both found out about the proposal through letters from their families, and he had given her the ring later, quite after the fact. Maybe this time the Blacks wanted everything to go 'properly', seeing as how wrong it had all gone the last time; as if a proper proposal were the deciding factor for whether the girl backed out of the marriage.

"Narcissa," he said, flicking open the little black box, "will you marry me?"

Narcissa reached for the ring immediately, as any young female would; it was gorgeous. But just before she plucked it from the box, her hand twitched, and she paused. And for a brief moment, she hesitated, her eyes looking at him fearfully, remorsefully. But she knew her place and her duty, just as he did; and as quickly as the hesitation came, it left, and she reached for the ring once more. Lucius knew he would never speak of how she had momentarily fretted over whether to accept, she would be frowned upon dreadfully; but knowing she had paused and having only him as witness did forge a small, unseen bond between them. He helped guide the ring onto her pale, slender finger.

He smiled at her determinedly, and she did the same. "We should go tell your parents," Lucius said. "They'll – be wanting to know." Even though they already do.

"Yes," Narcissa agreed, gazing down at the ring on her finger

Lucius got to his feet, and held out his hand for her to take. Narcissa slipped her palm into his and delicately rose to her feet with his assistance. He felt an unexpected pang in his chest at this simple action, and how, with one simple movement, she had proven just how unlike her brunette sister she was.

You are a Malfoy, he reminded himself. You do not fret over your silly emotions, and you most certainly do not fall in love. That is a concept far beneath you.

Maybe it was a concept far beneath him, but as Lucius gazed at the blonde woman, he knew that silly concept had overtaken him regardless. Narcissa was beautiful, poised, and elegant, and he was sure they would be able to be civil to one another without much trouble – but she still wasn't her.

But, regardless, he strolled away hand-in-hand with his new fiancée, towards a new future for both of them . . . however devoid of love it might be.