It's been a while; thank you for sticking with me. Your reviews and alerts on this and other stories during this unexpected hiatus have been very heartening.
The morning of New Year's Eve dawned grey and dismal, the skies filled with clouds that threatened heavy snowfall at any moment. Narcissa spent the day being ignored by her mother, who possessed the amazing ability to be everywhere at once, overseeing preparations for tonight's party. Druella Black insisted that this evening be perfect, and as such, Cygnus Black wisely took refuge in his study, and their youngest daughter was left to her own devices.
To Narcissa, this meant spending most of the morning in her windowseat wrapped in a blanket and reading a vaguely salacious romance novel. She ate lunch in the bathtub, then proceeded to soak in it til her hair hung limply in stringy and her fingers and toes turned wrinkled and pale. An indulgent nap took her through til mid-afternoon, when an elf woke her to get ready, at which point another leisurely soak was taken, this time with her hair receiving more care. Throughout the day, Narcissa had seen neither hide nor hair of anyone actually related to her, and she began to wonder, as she sat at her dressing table in her undergarments and began to brush out her hair, if perhaps she could avoid this evening's festivities by way of accidental oversight.
The arrival of her elusive mother interrupted her musings, the elegant blonde's arms full of midnight blue silk.
"Why aren't you ready?" Her mother's panicked tone belied her chic and unruffled appearance.
Narcissa nodded at what appeared to be her dress, flowing from Druella's arms to the floor in a rippling flow of material.
"You haven't given me my gown, Mama."
Clucking her tongue in realisation, her mother motioned for Narcissa to approach, and held the gown out for her to step into. The folds of silk settling around her, the unsightly bunching waistline and the gaping neck made it immediately apparent that the measurements were incorrect. Narcissa could clearly feel air flowing between her back and the row of buttons holding the gown closed. She could also hear her mother struggling to contain her irritation.
"Take it off. I'll have Missy adjust it; she'll find you when it's completed."
Stepping out of the gown, Narcissa barely had her foot clear of the mass of silk before Druella was gone. In her haste to leave, her mother had neglected to instruct her as to the arrangement of her hair, nor what she was to do with the hour before the guests were due. Narcissa quickly decided to take advantage of this unexpected loophole, and she curled up in her windowseat, her novel open in her lap.
Utterly caught up in Prince Rogier's adventures under the skirts of the kitchen wench, Narcissa did not hear her door open. The footsteps making their stealthy way across her bedroom were muffled both by design and the thickness of the carpeting, and she fairly shrieked in surprise when her vision was obscured by a mass of something dark and heavy. It wasn't until she heard the delighted laughter of her sister that she stopped fighting the obstruction.
"Bella! Get it off me!"
Her sister's smiling face came into view as she relented and removed the gown from Narcissa's head.
"Hello, Cissy-baby! Did you miss me?" Bellatrix crooned. The rubies dangling from her earlobes swayed gracefully against her pale neck, shown to advantage by her elegant upswept hair. Narcissa sighed. She would never, ever be as stunning as her sister.
"Desperately. But that's no reason to smother me with my gown."
Bella laughed, rich and low.
"So it isn't. But you'd be such a pretty corpse, you know, all blonde and pale and slim, and all that blue would really set you off – like a dying star in a midnight sky."
Narcissa wrinkled her nose.
"Must you be so morbid?"
But she stood, and allowed her oldest – and now only – sister to assist her to dress, ignoring the tightening of the gown as the buttons trapped her inside, pretending she didn't feel the occasional scratch of Bella's rings and fingernails on the smooth skin of her back, and smiling brightly at the kiss that was dropped on her bare shoulder.
"You look divine, darling girl. Let me fix your hair, and then we'll go make an entrance, hmm? Impress all those people you're being dolled up for."
Unable to form any response but a nod, Narcissa allowed Bellatrix to coax long, loose curls from her untidy waves, pulling part of it back and securing it with a diamond clip. Truthfully, Bella could have given her bright pink spikes and she wouldn't have noticed, because all she could see in the mirror was the expanse of creamy skin above the strapless neckline of the gown. The notch in her collarbones supported a solitary diamond pendant that only served to highlight her breasts, pushed high against the midnight silk, creating a cleavage even she didn't know she had. It wasn't vulgar by any stretch of the imagination, but she'd never looked like this in her life, and she began to wonder whether perhaps there was hope for her, after all.
Unusually distracted by her own reflection and the marvels Bella had wrought with a few simple maquillage charms, Narcissa neglected to cast comfort charms on her shoes, and sorely regretted it as she was steered around the room by yet another eligible Pureblood with his eyes firmly fixed on her décolletage. Smiling tightly at him as the music finally drew to a close, her slight limp as he escorted her to her seat was not feigned, and Druella gave her a disapproving glance when she sat without thanking him.
Glowering slightly, Narcissa nodded once in the dark-haired young man's direction, noting with distaste that he still wasn't looking at her face.
Sighing in relief as he left, she murmured to her mother, "If I never see him again, it will be too soon. Did you see where his eyes were?"
But if Druella replied, Narcissa didn't hear it. She could feel other eyes on her, and her searching glance landed on Lucius Malfoy, sitting two tables away from them with his father. There was approval? and something else she couldn't quite name in his gaze, and she felt a blush beginning to rise in her cheeks.
Flustered, she reached for her champagne flute and drained it, ignoring her mother's clucked admonishment. Still stealing a glance from the corner of her eye, she was quite sure she saw him hide a smirk as he rose and walked purposefully towards them, and she glared at the tablecloth rather than look at him. Surely he wasn't going to ask her to dance. She'd refuse, of course – she certainly didn't want to dance with him, not after his little display of attention in the parlour at the Christmas Gala, followed by that ridiculous waltz she hadn't enjoyed in the slightest. Besides which, his name wasn't on her dance card. Her mother would never allow the breach in protocol, and Narcissa forced a cool glare onto her face as Lucius reached their table.
Scowling at her lap as he bowed politely at her mother, she ignored his blithe compliments about the party, and pretended she didn't hear her mother's warm replies. Didn't Druella see how annoyed she was by his presence? Didn't she realise how very much Narcissa hated every inch of his Malfoyness, and his hair, and his eyes, and the way he bowed over her own hand now and how on earth was she in his arms again? At what point in the conversation had she agreed to dance with him? Throwing a flustered glance over her shoulder at her mother, Narcissa was dismayed to see Druella's social mask firmly in place, the only sign of her approval being the fact that Narcissa moved across the dance floor with Lucius in the first place.
Fuming quietly as he guided her across the floor, she did her level best to ignore him. His smooth steps that so perfectly matched her own were of no consequence, and the fact that he hadn't once forced her to break her hold in order to leer at her was… well, she supposed that was gentlemanly enough. She firmly pushed down the small part of her that wished he would leer, and fought to keep her expression neutral as he lead them around an increasingly crowded dance floor – until it became so crowded he was forced to halt their movement. Glancing about in confusion when she realised that although they had stopped dancing, he had yet to relinquish his hold, she found herself looking directly up at him. He really did have the loveliest eyes…Frowning slightly as someone jostled her closer to him, it occurred to her that everyone was counting backwards.
The room suddenly erupted in cheers, and Narcissa blinked, startled at the unexpected noise. Realising the reason for the crowd's joyous outburst, she flushed slightly, and presented her cheek for the traditional kiss to welcome the New Year.
Lucius chuckled, and leaned forward to brush his lips lightly over her cheek. Keeping his face close, he murmured in a voice so low it was naught but warm air across her ear, "You're doing it wrong."
Something twisted in her gut, and for reasons she couldn't explain, Narcissa did not turn away when he moved to face her. She also couldn't explain why her eyes drifted closed as Lucius' lips met hers, nor why her mouth opened under his, nor why her arms wound their way about his neck. The room disappeared as he kissed her. It was gentle – surprisingly so, given the possessive way he held her – and despite her toes curling from the sensation of being pressed to him in the crowd, his kiss was chaste enough, though desire was evident. He gave, rather than took, and Narcissa was pleased not to have to force his tongue out of her mouth. Just as she was convincing herself that this was really happening, that she was allowing Lucius bloody Malfoy, of all people, to kiss her in a crowded room, and that she, horror of horrors, was kissing him back, an accidental shove broke them apart, and the riotously celebratory crowd swept her away from his arms. Flung from person to person as she fought her way to the edge of the dance floor, Narcissa was flushed with exertion as she finally broke free from the mass, not entirely sure she hadn't imagined the entire encounter.
She could explain her dazed expression to her mother as a headache, though she wasn't entirely sure she was believed. The appraising look Druella gave her as she headed upstairs was noted – a distinct advantage to hosting these events meant her escape route was always assured; no one could breach the privacy charms at the top of the stairs – but since Narcissa sent an elf for a headache potion as she left, it couldn't really be refuted. However, she couldn't explain why she sought out a particular head of blond hair as she travelled along the landing, though, nor why she was pleased to discover grey eyes following her progress until she rounded the corner and out of sight. Champagne, she told herself, flopping facedown on her bed, still in her gown. Narcissa hadn't drunk more than a glass, but it would wear the blame nonetheless.
"-I'm sure it wasn't what you-"
"-I know what I saw, and if you think-"
"-darling, I sincerely doubt it was-"
"-the way he was looking at her-"
"-you insisted on that gown, despite my objections-"
"-but at the Christmas Gala, too, and the station, before that. We need to speak to-"
"-are you sure that's necessary?"
"You'll write to him at once, Cygnus."
The door to her father's study flew open, and Narcissa crouched instinctively behind the banister on the stairwell. She'd been coming down to breakfast when the rare sound of raised voices floated up to her, and she couldn't help but pause to listen. Obviously her parents were discussing last night's party to ring in the New Year (the elves were still cleaning), but most of the pertinent details had been muffled by the oak door. Thankful that her mother didn't happen to glance at the stairs as she swept past, Narcissa crept carefully down the last of them and peered into her father's study.
"Papa?" Her voice was smaller than she would have liked, but when her father turned to smile warmly at her, she forgot that she minded and flew to hug him. "Am I in trouble?"
"No, sweetheart," Cygnus replied, smoothing her hair absently. "But is there anything you'd like to tell me about Lucius Malfoy?"
Narcissa held herself perfectly still. Anything, indeed. She could start with his constant staring, the fact that he thought he was better than she despite not having a lineage anywhere near the length of hers, the way he always hung around in her field of vision, his oddly comforting silence when Andromeda had shown up, that chaste little kiss he gave her under the mistletoe, his hands on her legs in a darkened parlour and the resulting dream she was determined to pretend had not happened because the first was an aberration so twice was worrying and the events of last night were pushed firmly to the back of her mind.
"No, Papa. Nothing. Why do you ask?"
If Cygnus felt her tense, he gave no indication, simply kept holding his youngest daughter, and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.
"Just your mother's fanciful notions, my love. Don't you worry about it."
The sight that greeted her upon stepping through the barrier to Platform 9 and ¾ gave her mixed feelings. Seeing Lucinda Parkinson trying to climb down Reginald McNair's throat as he groped her bottom was not pretty, but she was surprised at the relief that filled her at the realisation that Lucinda and Lucius really had broken up – and she immediately chastised herself for feeling so.
Severus took her look of distaste at face value, however.
"Repulsive, isn't it?"
Narcissa glanced downwards to where the dark haired boy was sneering at the snogging couple.
"Just a little," she admitted, lifting her chin and moving past them, trunk in hand. "And it's certainly a step down, much as it galls me to admit it – oh, thank you."
Her trunk suddenly grew lighter, and really, Severus was rather slight, so it was kind of him to assist her. Turning to smile at him, her expression froze upon meeting Lucius' gaze.
"You're welcome, Narcissa," he replied quietly, with that annoying habit he had of making her name sound like it did when he spoke in her dreams. The subtle way he drew the out the vowels made her wonder if he practiced it. Certainly his lips made a pleasing enough shape as he formed the word, and oh, Merlin, he was still talking. "-than you do of McNair."
Blinking once, she ignored the laughter Severus was trying desperately to hide, and smiled brightly at Lucius.
"Yes, of course."
She ought to have been listening, because his face shone with triumphant delight, and she wondered what on earth she had just agreed on. Befuddled enough to allow him to guide her onto the train, Narcissa threw a last desperate look at Severus over her shoulder. He smirked at her, and she was certain he'd mouthed "you're screwed" before the crowd of students surged towards the locomotive and he disappeared.
Lucius insisted on guiding her trunk to her carriage, despite her protestations that she was perfectly able to steer her own luggage, being an excellent student of Charms. Unsaid was the fact that she really didn't want him near her, since every time he spoke her eyes went to his mouth. It was incredibly disconcerting. Only the fact that hexing the Head Boy was a Very Bad Idea prevented her from doing just that, and it was an indignant and slightly irate Narcissa who merely pointed out the rack where she wanted her trunk to be stored for the journey once she found the carriage she'd be travelling in.
A dark-haired girl was already seated in the compartment, wide brown eyes above a copy of Witch Weekly taking in the almost silent scene with great interest.
One eyebrow rose as Lucius inclined his head to her fuming friend – Narcissa's body was fraught with tension, her shoulders set and her expression mutinous.
The other eyebrow joined it as the Head Boy wished them both a pleasant journey, though his gaze was fixed firmly on the blonde girl almost trembling in front of him.
Lucius left the carriage after smiling once more at her furious friend, "I'll be back to collect your trunk at the end of the journey."
"Narcissa." Caterina's face lit up with glee as Lucius left. "What is going on?"
Managing to be haughty and blushing at once, Narcissa turned to draw the blind on their compartment door before casting several privacy charms on it. Taking a seat, she crossed her ankles neatly and raised an eyebrow at her dark-haired friend. Then her expression crumpled, and she buried her face in her hands.
"I don't know!" she wailed.
The magazine cast aside in favour of comforting her distraught friend, Caterina patted Narcissa's arm, and made soothing noises as the whole story came out in fits and starts. The mistletoe, the Christmas Gala, the ridiculously sensual yet entirely innocent footrub, that perfect waltz… the kiss to ring in the New Year. The tale was topsy-turvy and full of self-contradictory statements about her opinion of 'Bloody Malfoy', as she kept referring to him, but Caterina was fairly sure she'd caught the gist of it. Lucius liked Narcissa, and Narcissa, to her great horror, liked him back.
"Oh, Cissy," she sighed, holding the other girl close. "You're so screwed."
Narcissa muffled a sob against Caterina's shoulder.
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