~Elaborate Lives Chapter Five: Mirror, Mirror~

Narcissa stood in front of the dormitory mirror in bras and knickers, critically examining her reflection. She had been. lax, lately. Was she imagining it, or was the sharp concave line from hip to waist and out again to her ribcage beginning to soften, the muscles of her long legs becoming slightly less defined? She bit her lip, trying not to make wrinkle- producing scowls.

She had skimped too often on her daily workouts lately. And she knew precisely why, and wasn't sure whether she like the idea. It was one thing to admit to herself she was in love with a chubby, irritatingly nice Hufflepuff who was in love with someone else. Quite another thing to let the emotion control her life to the extent of jeopardising her figure.

Especially when she got so little out of it. A few girlishly affectionate gestures at best. Molly was free with hugs. always had been, with her other girlfriends. and sometimes she would casually slip her hand into Narcissa's as they walked. And for some reason the other girl could not quite explain, the world would narrow down until the only real thing was the brushing of palm against palm, the mild pressure of interlaced fingers, the slightly sweaty heat of hand in hand.

Oh, and Narcissa now had the chance to listen to a lot of gossip that wouldn't interest her in the slightest, except that it fell from lips she had kissed and wanted so much to kiss again. And oh, be honest with yourself, Narcissa, was infused with the warmth of the girl herself. She could prattle about her family and school all she wanted - somehow, Molly's personality leaked through the most mundane words. Even when she was angry at some injustice visited upon others and ranted about it, her righteous ardour was engaging. Fire and honey, as far from Narcissa's sterile world as it was possible to be.

Narcissa had always known, deep inside, that she would become addicted to Molly's friendship if she let herself fall for a moment.

She still wasn't certain why she had yielded. The incredible embarrassment of their one shared kiss should have been a barrier to intimacy, not an irresistible invitation. Except that she would be going to Lucius so soon, and he was Molly's polar opposite. She was. safe, in some way she was not ready to analyse. What she did and felt in this last term did not really count. She believed this in a small place of her heart she knew wouldn't not be able to hold an argument if she gave her mind much of a chance against it.

The door to the room opened amidst her meditations, and the object of her obsession entered. Some tiny part of Narcissa still wanted to pose a little. just in the stupid desire to see if she could provoke any response. but unfortunately Molly was not alone. And Narcissa had no desire to turn Isis on.

"Contemplating your true love?" the second arrival asked, her full lips quirking at one corner. Narcissa was almost sure that Molly kicked her ankle in response.

She ignored the dark girl, and smiled at Molly instead. It was still strange, to smile at someone in greeting, but she was rapidly becoming used to it, if only for the way the other girl's brown eyes lit up. Just so long as she was not expected to smile at anybody else, she could live with it.

"Isn't true love worth contemplating?" she asked lightly, and her smile grew wider as the roses of Molly's cheeks deepened. "Come here, Molly, I need your advice," she added. "Girl to girl." That replaced the blushing with more normally cheerful eagerness to be of help.

"Anything I can do, for the great Narcissa Hanover." Molly slid an arm around her waist, in one of the caressing gestures that came so naturally to her. It felt curiously intimate to have her arm against the bare skin of her waist, even though in actual fact all Narcissa could feel was the cheap crackly fabric of Molly's robes.

"Do you think I'm putting on weight?" It was all she could think of to say, to keep Molly by her side and her attention fixed on herself.

Molly shrugged. She seemed slightly uncomfortable. "You look. nice. to me."

Isis muttered something in which the words "vain," "pathetic" and possibly "anorexic" could be distinguished, but Molly shot her a hot glance, and she subsided, settling on her four poster bed with a book.

"I think I'm gaining." Narcissa said stubbornly.

"What's the matter, Narcissa? Afraid your rich husband won't want you if you're fat?" the girl on the bed asked, more lazily than spitefully. "You have a way to go before you need worry too much about giving that huge rock back."

Narcissa stiffened. "Lucius has a right to expect what he." She almost said 'paid for,' and was aghast. That wasn't what the marriage was about at all."Chose in a wife," she finished lamely. "Besides, I think it's important to look after your feminine beauty," she added coldly, looking with calculated distaste at Isis' square body. Isis was the Hufflepuff Quidditch Goalkeeper, and was more sturdily built than delicate. Not that she was unattractive at all. But that was beside the point. Someone who rarely even wore makeup had no right to criticise someone like Narcissa, who took care of herself.

Concentrating on her spite for Isis, she was taken aback when Molly suddenly pushed away from her. "I'll talk to you when you've finished examining yourself for a scrap of cellulite on your perfect body, okay?" she snapped, tossing bright hair.

"Molly?" It was a weird feeling, having her friend so angry at her after the last few cosy months. "What's wrong?" Narcissa's internal voice jeered mockingly at her, both because what was wrong was very obvious, and because she sounded like a bewildered little girl, not her usual cool self.

"If you need to worry about being overweight, what exactly does that make me? Do you ever consider other people's feelings for one second, Narcissa?" The angry words hung on the air for a moment, then Molly shook her head. "It doesn't matter, anyway. I'm happy as I am. I just wish you'd realise there were more important things in life than your bloody looks, that's all."

"Oh, Narcissa doesn't mind your looks, either, Molly dear," Isis put in from her bed. She seemed to be enjoying the situation.

Narcissa tried to block her out. She was more concerned with whether Molly was blinking through anger or to hold back tears. She felt sick suddenly, a chilly pulsation of regret in the pit of her stomach.

She reached out and touched Molly's face with her fingertips, knowing the other girl would have no notion of how much difficulty was involved in the simple gesture. Narcissa had no physical vocabulary for affection. Right now, however, she was only too aware that words in themselves were insufficient remedy for her thoughtlessness.

"I apologise," she said. Not easy words, even more than the caress came easily. "I didn't mean to hurt you. And you know. you know I think you're. better than beautiful."

Molly did not move away, but her face was still bright with anger and hurt feelings, tinged with something uncomfortably close to scorn. "Do you even know what you mean by that?"

Narcissa's hand dropped. It was natural to her to respond with cutting sarcasm to an attack like that. but not from Molly, she told herself. This was too important to ruin with cold temper. "I mean, you're." Inspiration hit, with a clarity that suggested that, after all, it was entirely true. "You look like yourself. And you know how much I. like. that. And I wish. I wish I was as happy with myself as you are."

Molly's smile bloomed across her face, as promptly as an earned reward. "You're learning, Cissy dear." She opened her arms and gave her friend a forgiving hug.

Narcissa was squeezed tight against yielding warmth. She wanted with every inch of her body to close her eyes and just relax into it. Somehow, she found words instead, easy sentimental words that were yet tense with the effort of saying them. "I'm glad you're not mad with me, Molly. It would have broken my heart to lose you."

Molly leaned back in the embrace, lifted her shining head, and smiled right into her eyes. The detached part of Narcissa was asking something about what exactly Narcissa was learning - to find the right words to manipulate her "friend"? But the rest of her, the feeling girl, was drowning in brown eyes that were suddenly their tender, merry selves again.

She did not really have to think about leaning forward. She would not even have thought she had moved, except that Molly's lips were now a whisper away from hers, so close she could taste the brown scent of tea and bergamot on her breath.

She was going to kiss Molly again. That was inevitable. What was more, she - almost knew, almost - that Molly would kiss her back. She and Molly would have kissed without excuses of games or pity. And then - what would that mean? How could it not change everything? She could taste triumph as well as Earl Grey tea and desire and what was probably love.

The very tip of her tongue touched her own lower lip. Molly was flushed, and Narcissa could sense her breathing harder, feel it through the way they were pressed together in the embrace. The smaller girl's lips parted slightly, as if involuntarily, and she expelled a breath like a silent sigh.

Isis coughed. It sounded like a particularly bad failed Potions experiment. The heads of the two girls in the clinch whipped around to focus on her, now sitting upright in bristling disapproval.

There was a stunned silence, and then Molly pushed away and left the room, muttering some apology. Narcissa was left standing staring after her, Isis' accusing gaze drilling holes in her back.

It was not a particularly dignified situation. There was little Narcissa could do but gather up what remained of her pride, and sweep off herself.

She certainly was not going to burst into disappointed tears.

~tbc~

(I just hope you won't all kill me after the next chapter.)