Narcissa swallowed, hugging herself. Bella's departure seemed to have sucked something else away with it, leaving a hollow feeling in the pit of Cissy's stomach.
Something between them was gone, she felt sure of that. She only wished she knew what it was.
Cissy blinked, numb. Lucius had leapt to his feet, his cane clattering against the chair legs, and she realized abruptly that her wandering feet had led her back inside. Lucius looked less than pleased to see her.
"You were outside?" he snapped. "What were you thinking?" His eyes narrowed. "What was she thinking?"
"She . . . I don't know. Ha. I don't know!"
Narcissa laughed unexpectedly ; a hopeless, lonely little sound. It bubbled away before she could clamp down on it, but the action still seemed to startle Lucius. He drew her to him and wrapped her in his cloak, examining her as though he suspected a fever, as though an unbalanced mental state might be contagious.
"Where is she?" he demanded.
"I don't know."
Lucius scowled. "Of course not. Bellatrix is a law unto herself. Why should she feel responsible for you? You're soaked to the skin. I expect she hardly noticed. If you were to contract pnuemonia, she'd doubtless consider that a weakness on your part -"
Rodolphus interrupted him. "She's gone?" he said sharply.
"I'm sorry." She had no idea why she was apologizing.
Lucius ignored her.
"Why," he snapped at Rodolphus, "would you bring her here? You must have known what would happen."
Rodolphus simply shrugged. "I don't keep her on a leash."
"She's your wife. If you can't keep her under control -"
Rodolphus let out a snort of laughter. "She was never under my control. If you want someone to rein her in, you're asking the wrong man."
Narcissa sighed. Lucius was wearing the look he usually wore when engaged in his least favourite activity – biting his tongue. A vein twitched in his cheek.
"Excuse me," he managed at last. He left the room without looking at either of them.
Rodolphus stared after him. "He can't think he's going to find her."
"Of course not," Narcissa said wearily. "He's annoyed. He'll have gone to take it out on one of the house-elves. He can't stand Bella, and I don't think he's too happy with you."
She stood for a moment, dripping water onto the carpet, until she remembered that she was supposed to be angry with Rodolphus. She sniffed, attempting to regain some dignity.
"I'm not happy with you either," she said belatedly.
"Why's that then?"
There was a flat, lifeless quality to Rodolphus' voice which suggested he had absolutely no interest in the answer, but was asking anyway. It was strangely aggravating. It was pulling her out of her numbness, forcing her to make the effort. Rodolphus' mere presence, when she was still dizzy from Bella's departure, was making her head hurt. He was forcing her to feel things – pity, confusion, resentment – she didn't particularly want to feel.
"You know why," Narcissa retorted. There it was, the edge in her voice that was cutting through the blurred edge of her consciousness, pulling her back into the present, when all she really wanted to do was find Lucius and fall asleep for a little while, curled against his chest. She sighed.
"You would have kissed me. Wouldn't you? Just to get back at Bella."
Rodolphus shrugged, apparently apathetic. "Yes."
"I'm her sister!"
Rodolphus gave a hollow laugh. "That was sort of the point."
"I don't understand."
Rodolphus sighed. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. You're the only one who would have really hurt her." He paused and continued more quietly. "And I wanted to hurt her."
Narcissa pursed her lips, trying to remain patient.
"I don't care how much you wanted to hurt her," she managed eventually. "I know that she hurt you, even if I don't want to know how. And I understand. But you had no right to drag me into it! I've wasted weeks trying to make Bella see that my relationship with Lucius is none of her business – and her marriage is none of my business. I won't let you make it so."
"I didn't drag you into this. She's your sister," Rodolphus said bluntly. "You chose to throw your lot in with her."
He wielded the unspoken implication – you could have sided with someone else – like a fist.
You were doubted.
Narcissa inhaled sharply. "That's enough. Go home, Rodolphus."
Rodolphus shifted uneasily. "Alright. That was out of line. You're soft, but you're not . . . You've got some sense of pride, anyway. It's hard enough to come by, these days. Some families . . . "
He shook his head wearily, and Narcissa found herself echoing the movement.
"Thank you," she said stiffly. There was a moment's awkward silence before she completed the sentence. "But I would still appreciate it if you went home now."
The corner of Rodolphus' mouth twitched at her formality, but he stood up obligingly. "Of course. Good evening, Miss Black."
Narcissa rolled her eyes. "Oh, go home. I'm dripping water into the carpet, you know, and some of these fabrics are family heirlooms. Lucius would have a heart attack."
The twitch became something of a smile as Rodolphus crossed to the fireplace. "I'm sure he would."
Narcissa felt her own smile fade as he reached for the Floo powder. "I hope you find her," she said quietly.
Rodolphus gave a harsh laugh. "Don't waste your time. I know where she'll be."
He positioned his hand above the grate, and Narcissa hesitated.
"For what it's worth," she said carefully, "I think you might be a better husband than Bella deserves. If you still love her, please, don't do anything . . . stupid. I'm getting quite fond of you, and I'd rather she didn't kill you, if it's all the same to you."
"I'll bear it in mind."
"I'm almost sure she doesn't want to kill you either."
Narcissa sighed. "Goodnight, Rodolphus."
The fire flared green, and when she opened her eyes again, Rodolphus was gone.
She found Lucius in his study, apparently lost in thought. He was gazing out at the rain, wearing an expression that made her uneasy.
He started. "Oh. Narcissa." There was a moment's pause, as he pulled himself back into her presence, and then he waved at the back of his chair. "I brought you a robe."
"So I see." Narcissa put it on and flashed him an encouraging smile. Lucius didn't notice, but he did pull her closer to him and point his wand at her hair. Narcissa shivered happily under the resulting stream of hot air.
"What's wrong?" she said softly.
"I . . . nothing, I'm sure. She'll have gone to tell the Dark Lord, that's all."
"Your sister. She'll want to see me punished."
Narcissa frowned. "I don't understand. Punished for what? What can she tell him - that you're marrying her sister? That's only a crime in Bella's book, surely."
A muscle jumped in Lucius' neck, as though he had been about to shake his head but thought better of it at the last minute.
"Of course," he said smoothly. "But you know your sister. She wants to make trouble for me. In telling the Dark Lord before I do, she . . . it makes it appear I have something to hide."
His concentration faltered, and the charm drying her hair briefly became an icy breeze. Narcissa swallowed, and let it pass without comment.
"But you don't have anything to hide."
Lucius avoided her gaze. "It's late. I'm sure you're tired."
"Well . . . yes, but . . ."
"Then go home, and don't worry. I'll set things right in the morning. Your sister has nothing she can use, anyway."
"What do you mean, use? What would she use against you?"
"Nothing," Lucius said coolly. "She has nothing." He kissed her forehead absent-mindedly and steered her towards the door. "Get some sleep. I'm sure you've endured enough tonight."
If any of this was meant to soothe her, it had the opposite effect. But Lucius didn't seem inclined to enlighten her any further. Still . . . Lucius didn't make mistakes. Not, as Narcissa had come to think of it, professionally. Lucius was good at evading awkward questions. If he had made a misstep somewhere, he could put it right. Of course he could.
With one hand on the doorframe Narcissa turned, and said the only thing it made any sense to say.
"I love you."
Lucius looked up, his face half in shadow.
"Yes," he said quietly. "You do."