This story takes place during Half-Blood Prince.

O O O

Narcissa sat at the window of her room, staring out past her pale reflection and into the darkness. Her face was pallid, almost sickly, her once gorgeous blonde hair dull, and her eyes dead. Streaks of tears still stained her face, although she had stopped crying long before. She had a letter clenched in her hand, a letter from her son. Draco, oh, dear Draco…if he failed…but Severus had promised to keep him safe. Surely he would keep his word; after all, he had made the Unbreakable Vow.

"Cissy? Narcissa, are you awake?"

Narcissa ignored the voice of her eldest sister, continuing to stare out of her window. The sun was starting to rise; another hopeless day was beginning.

"Cissy?"

Sighing, Narcissa stood, quickly wiping away the tears on her face and smoothing out her clothing before she went to open the door to see what Bella wanted. She paused as she walked past the bed. She ran her hand along the silk sheets, feeling fresh tears fill her eyes. She had been sleeping alone for so long…not even sleeping, really, but merely lying on the sheets and staring up at the ceiling as she worried about her husband and son.

She felt guilty about not being able to sleep. It was her bed, after all, and it was comfortable. What about Lucius? He was in a cell somewhere deep inside Azkaban, likely chained to a wall. He was an enemy of the Ministry and a failure to the Dark Lord. Narcissa closed her eyes, trying to force the images of her husband as a prisoner out of her mind. She had to stay strong.

Narcissa took a deep breath and opened the door. "Not again…Cissy, did you even go to bed last night?"

Narcissa shook her head. "He's so frightened, Bella," Narcissa said quietly, looking down at the letter she still held tightly in her hand.

Bella did not need to ask whom Narcissa was talking about. "Draco should be proud. He is the youngest the Dark Lord—."

"Exactly, Bella!" Narcissa interrupted, suddenly glaring at her dark haired sister. "He's young. For the love of Merlin, he's just a boy, Bella! Do you understand that?"

"If I had a son, I would be—."

Narcissa growled, startling Bella into silence. "If you had a son, you would understand. The Dark Lord is only doing this to punish us for Lucius' failure to get the prophecy. The Dark Lord expects Draco to die!" Narcissa set her jaw. "Don't tell me about how I should feel about this. You have no idea what it's like."

"I spent years in Azkaban, waiting for him," Bella said quietly, her voice harsh. "I remained loyal, while you and Lucius…"

"We have a son," Narcissa said, shaking her head. "You don't understand."

Bella's eyes reflected her sudden worry about what Narcissa really meant, but neither dared to suggest such treachery out loud, so she instead said, "Go to sleep, Cissy. You need it."

Narcissa shook her head. "I'm visiting Lucius today."

"What?" Bella gasped.

Narcissa arched an eyebrow. "Something wrong with a wife visiting her husband?"

"Well…" Bella shook her head slightly. "I don't know. It seems unwise…"

"I am not a Death Eater, Bella," Narcissa said, pulling back the sleeve of her nightgown to reveal her unmarked arm. "I have nothing to fear from the Ministry."

Bella coughed, eyeing Narcissa worriedly. "Nor do I have any reason to fear the Dark Lord."

Bella's eyes widened in horror. "Cissy!"

Contrary to how Narcissa would normally react to her older sister scolding her, she laughed. "What more can he do to me? What else can he take?"

"Your lives!"

Narcissa shook her head. "We're all already dead."

She closed the door to the bedroom without another word and went to change clothes. She wanted to look beautiful. She had not seen her husband since that fateful day at the Ministry a few months before. They had been exchanging a few letters (which were all read by Ministry workers first), and Lucius had insisted that Narcissa and Draco did not visit him. He did not want his family to see him in such a state as in prison. But Narcissa could not go another day without hearing his voice, without seeing him in person.

It seemed to take an excessive amount of time to hide the dark circles under her eyes. She did not want to have Lucius worrying about her, and if he noticed that she had not been sleeping, he most certainly would worry. Bella did not try to stop Narcissa as she left the Malfoy Manor. Perhaps Bella did understand, in a way. But Narcissa's sister was far too devoted to the Dark Lord. It was as though she could not see the atrocities he committed in the name of pure blood. It was as though Bella did not notice what her own family was now going through because of him.

One could not get to Azkaban by the normal means of Floo Powder or Apparation. Narcissa had to go through a rather annoying series of steps, first going to the Ministry of Magic for permission, then getting searched (twice), and then finally being boarded on a small boat that did not appear to be able to handle the rough waters of the North Sea.

However, she did arrive safely at the island that played host to the wizard prison a few hours after she had first received permission for the visit. After handing over her wand, Narcissa nervously freshened up after the journey, determined to be as beautiful and strong as possible. But her reflection was still extremely pale and her eyes still lacked the spark of life.

"Mrs. Malfoy," said one of the guards of the prison, motioning for her to follow him. Narcissa actually felt sorry for the guard—Azkaban had to be the worst place in the world to work. At least the dementors weren't there anymore. Narcissa grimaced; they were now fighting alongside the Dark Lord.

Apparently the Ministry considered Lucius to be extremely dangerous, for he was in one of the cells deepest in the prison. He did lead the mission into the Department of Mysteries, but the amount of security around him seemed excessive. The guards searched Narcissa one last time to make sure she had nothing that could aid a prisoner in escaping before they led her to Lucius' cell.

I will be strong.

Narcissa bit her lip to keep from crying or gasping when she laid eyes on her husband. The guards left her by the cell, walking a few paces away to give her a little bit of privacy, although they still seemed to be within earshot for safety purposes.

Lucius was curled up at the back of his cell, appearing to be asleep. His blond hair covered his face, and his hands twitched as he dreamed. Narcissa swallowed hard, her eyes traveling first along his thin body and then to the shackles on his wrists and the chains that attached to the wall. This could not be her proud, powerful husband.

But he was.

Lucius stirred, brushing some of his hair from his face. He gazed at Narcissa with his cool grey eyes, eyes which had, like Narcissa's, lost their spark. He blinked and shook his head before suddenly sitting up, tossing some of his hair back over his shoulder. He eyed her in shock, appearing to have just realized that she was really there.

"Narcissa?" he said disbelievingly. Narcissa smiled as best she could at him and nodded. Lucius moved closer to the bars, tugging at his chains in annoyance as he watched her unblinkingly as though he feared that blinking would cause her to vanish from his sight. "Narcissa, darling…"

Narcissa reached a hand through the bars. Lucius looked at her hand skeptically, as though still not quite believing that she was really there. "Lucius," Narcissa said quietly. She stopped speaking, realizing that her voice was shaking.

Lucius gently took her hand and Narcissa suddenly shuddered. His hand was cold as ice. "You really are here," Lucius muttered, pressing his lips to Narcissa's hand, sending shivers through her body. His lips were even colder than his hands. Lucius finally closed his eyes, holding Narcissa's hand to his cheek for a moment before looking at her again. "Why are you here?" When Narcissa said nothing, Lucius' eyes widened. "Draco! Is he—?"

"Draco's all right," Narcissa said quickly, glancing at the guards. "He's fine." It tasted a lie—Draco was not fine. He was terrified. He was terrified of the job he had been given, and the price of failure.

"Then why are you here?"

Narcissa forced a smile again. "To see you, of course."

Lucius stared at her silently before letting go of her hand and backing away, his eyes cold. "I told you not to come."

Narcissa looked down at her hands. "Did you really expect me to stay away?"

Lucius snorted softly. "No. Not forever, I suppose. You've got more spirit then that."

"You won't be in here forever," Narcissa said, stepping right up to the bars of her husband's cell.

Lucius turned and gave Narcissa such a pained look that she had to look away. "No…only until the Dark Lord chooses to free me from this prison. And he will do so only then to torment me more." He sighed, putting a hand to his head and closing his eyes. "How…how is Draco?" he asked hesitantly.

Narcissa could not speak openly about her son's mission in the presence of the guards, but she had the feeling that Lucius already knew. Somehow the Dark Lord must have gotten a message to him, so that Lucius would now constantly worry that his son was going to fail and end up dying. "He's…all right, considering."

"His grades?"

"I—I'm not sure, really. He doesn't talk about school much in his letters."

Lucius nodded. "So he's doing worse than that Miss Granger again, I assume?" he said with the hint of a smile. Lucius looked up at Narcissa. "And how are you?" he asked, his eyes delving into her.

Narcissa opened her mouth, but could not find the right words. She bit her lip as tears began to fill her eyes. She had sworn that she would not cry…but now hot tears began to pour down her cheeks. Lucius came as close as he could to her, tugging angrily at the chains that held him further back then he wished. Narcissa reached a hand into the cell again so he could take it again. Lucius kissed her hand again, running his lips over every part of her he could touch.

"I love you, Narcissa," he breathed. "You know that."

Narcissa nodded slowly, taking deep breaths and trying to stop her tears. Lucius made to wipe away the tears, but was stopped by the chains again. He growled in irritation.

"I do it for you, you know." Narcissa looked at Lucius quizzically. "You and Draco." Lucius' eyes were now glistening with tears. "I am so sorry I failed you."

"You didn't fail us," Narcissa said quietly, squeezing his hand lightly. "I love you." The two stared into each other eyes silently until a cough brought them both back to reality.

"Mrs. Malfoy," one of the guards said quietly.

Narcissa turned to the man in surprise. She had forgotten anyone else was around. She felt her heart sink. "Not already."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Malfoy."

Lucius pressed his lips to Narcissa's hand again. "One day this will all be over, my love." Narcissa swallowed hard, wondering what the world would be like when this was "all over," and who would be in control. Somehow neither possibility seemed desirable anymore. Lucius kissed her hand again. "I love you, my darling Narcissa. Be strong," he said quietly, smiling lovingly at his wife.

"I will. I love you, Lucius," Narcissa said, savoring the feeling of his hand holding hers before she had to pull away from the cell. She quickly wiped her tears and smiled at her husband as she was led away.

Once back at home, Narcissa sat in the library, curled up in Lucius' favorite wingback chair. She stared at a book she had taken from a nearby shelf, flipping absentmindedly through the pages, her mind wandering. She thought about her son, her husband, the way their lives had changed so drastically of late…she wondered if they were going to survive this war, and then the most dangerous thoughts came: who did she want to have win?

Lucius was in that cell in Azkaban because he had been fighting to keep Narcissa and Draco safe. When he failed, the Dark Lord took it as a chance to humiliate and punish the Malfoy family. Was that the sort of man Narcissa wished to serve?

Then there was the self-important Ministry of Magic, who often had complete buffoons in charge. But at least the Malfoys had previously had high standing with the Ministry. Of course, now that would not be true, seeing as how Lucius was caught doing the Dark Lord's bidding…

Neither. Narcissa wished to have neither side win.

If only there was a third side, a side that the Malfoys could trust and depend on. But that seemed unlikely.

"I don't trust you, Severus Snape, as you very well know!" Bella's harsh voice said in Narcissa's mind as she remembered the night she went to Spinner's End.

"Narcissa, I think we ought to hear what Bellatrix is bursting to say; it will save tedious interruptions. Well, continue, Bellatrix. Why is it that you do not trust me?"

"A hundred reasons!" Bella had proceeded to list questions that shed doubt on Severus' loyalties. Severus had then responded to every point, seeming to leave no room to question what side he was on. He had convinced Narcissa's overly suspicious sister of his loyalty.

But as Narcissa remembered when Severus had taken her hand to make the Unbreakable Vow, something sparked in her mind.

"Will you, Severus, watch over my son, Draco, as he attempts to fulfill the Dark Lord's wishes?"

"I will."

Severus was not making such a vow to be loyal to the Dark Lord—he was actually taking quite a risk.

"And will you, to the best of your ability, protect him from harm?"

"I will."

The Dark Lord likely would not want him to make such a commitment, especially since he meant Draco to fail as punishment for Lucius' failure to obtain the prophecy from the Ministry.

"And, should it prove necessary…if it seems Draco will fail…will you carry out the deed that the Dark Lord has ordered Draco to perform?"

"I will."

Severus had been being loyal to his old friend Lucius and his family, not the Dark Lord, as he vowed to watch over Draco and to protect him.

And somehow, that thought helped.

Narcissa curled up tighter in the large chair and closed her eyes, and she drifted off into a peaceful sleep for the first time in months.

I will.