For the Secret Santa Challenge. Characters Narcissa Malfoy and Blaise Zabini.
"By Salazar!" Porrima Selwyn swears. "You know what we should do? Secret Saint Nick!"
"Secret Saint Nick?" protests Charles Warrington. "I thought everyone knew who Saint Nick was—supposed to bring you presents, if you're a good little wizard." HE adds scornfully, "Some people call him Father Christmas."
"Or witch," Pansy Parkinson speaks up, sounding a bit nervous. Natural, under the circumstances; she's a third-year, but Porrima and Charles are already in their fifth year. A small difference, but that sort of thing matters when you're young.
Porrima makes a scathing noise. "Secret Saint Nick is when everybody gets a name out of a hat and then they have to give that person something. You know, like a circle of gifts. It's a tradition. My family's been doing it for ages."
"I don't see why it's so great, if you only get one present," my son, Draco, grumbles. I smile indulgently, not looking up from my embroidery.
"How dull," sighs Blaise Zabini to another of Draco's classmates, Theodore Nott.
"Should be easy to cheat," agrees Theodore. "Just pick whoever's name you want."
"The hat'd know, though—I mean, if it didn't, what'd be the point?" Pansy whispers across to them.
"Da' says. Fath'r Chris'mas. hates. Slyth'rins," protests young Gregory Goyle, with an effort.
"Nonsense—why, where would the world be without us?" Porrima asks—though I doubt she expects an answer.
"Still in the Dark Ages," Blaise says reflexively, however. I expect his mother taught him that. Dear Nefertari…I really should invite her to tea sometime.
"Great, so we're doing Secret Saint Nick," Charles says bracingly. "Everybody, write down your name somewhere—spare bit of parchment oughta do—and we'll pick 'em. Anybody got a spare hat?"
Porrima glances around under elegant dark brows, and, quick as thought, snatches Vincent Crabbe's pointed black wizard's hat off his head. "We'll use this," she says.
Vincent frowns slightly, as if he's going to complain about this freehanded treatment of his property. However, he can't seem to get the right words out fast enough, and Porrima wins the encounter.
Her sort always does. Although physically they're nothing alike, Porrima rather reminds me of my sister, Bellatrix. She's so determined.
Surreptitiously, I watch Draco drop a piece of parchment, with his name scrawled on it in loopy, careless script, into the hat. His gold hair, so like his father's, catches the light, and I smile happily at the domestic scene. Children playing and occasionally squabbling on the hearthrug in the parlor, warm flames dancing up the chimney, and crisp cold air outside our little haven. This is how we should spend every Christmas. Lucius will be home soon, too—he still works late, even though we don't need the few extra Galleons he can wring out of our investments, and the days are long gone when he spent the time on more controversial things. He just enjoys it—money, numbers…it's one of the things I love most about him.
As though called by my thoughts, Lucius appears in the doorway, absently shaking a few stray snowflakes off his hat. He glances around, sees that there are rather more children on the hearthrug than normal (and Porrima and Charles are sitting rather too close together—I suppose I ought to warn Alessandra Selwyn which way the wind is blowing), shrugs, and meets my eyes.
"Narcissa," he breathes, and I smile involuntarily. From across the room, his voice alone warms me. I put down my embroidery and rise.
"Father!" exclaims Draco, looking up from the game. He scrambles gracefully to his feet and bows his head, despite the eagerness in his voice. I know he longs to embrace his father (as do I) but appearances must be preserved. We have taught him that.
Lucius ruffles Draco's hair affectionately, and I smile, thinking of the hours my son spends in front of the mirror trying to get it to lie flat and neat. No easy task—he inherited the violent, curly mess from my side of the family (my hair's always been straight, but Bellatrix used to look like a Muggle etching of a wicked witch on a good day) and even potions don't entirely tame it.
"Narcissa," Lucius says again, this time rather urgently. I concentrate, and then I can hear his thoughts: We need to talk. Something's come up.
I nod, wink surreptitiously at Draco, and follow Lucius out of the room, down the hall, and into his study.
I wait, hands folded and outwardly calm, while he reinforces the wards around the room. We don't normally bother with them inside the Manor, of course, but only a fool would take them down completely.
"What is it?" I ask, when he lowers his wand and his shoulders relax. I wonder if he even realizes how much tension he's been carrying around all day…
"Your blasted cousin," Lucius mutters angrily, beginning to pace. "He's broken into Hogwarts, the Ministry thinks he's got some kind of special Dark Magic…"
"Impossible," I state positively. "We would know."
"Who knows?" Lucius says, distractedly running a hand through his hair. "Maybe the Dark Lord—not that, if anyone—I mean, Black—"
"Exactly," I agree. "It can't have been him. Quite apart from the fact that he's always been a self-sacrificial, brash idiot, Bella would've told me."
"Not if the Dark Lord told her not to," Lucius says quickly, not looking at me. He doesn't like to give me what he believes is bad news.
"No," I say, sure I know whereof I speak, "She would have. She would've bragged about being in on the secret, about convincing Sirius to side with the family after all—and she never could keep a secret from me." It's true—even when we were children, Bellatrix never shut up about herself, and what she knew; at first, it was everything Father had taught her, in lieu of the son he wanted, and then everything Rodolphus told her, and, later, every possible fact about the Dark Lord. She would've told me his favorite breakfast cereal, if he were the sort of person who eats cereal—or, indeed, breakfast.
Lucius sighs deeply. "Then we agree. Black is a red herring."
"Or whom?" Lucius continues my thought, frowning. "If only I were still on the Board of Governors!" he says frustratedly. "They're all idiots, of course, but at least then I would know—what is Dumbledore thinking?"
"Nothing." He raises his eyebrows, and I elaborate. "They think it was Sirius—the more fool they. There's only one person it could've been."
"Pettigrew. Had some backbone after all," Lucius says disgustedly. "Or the reverse—I'll bet that rat knew what would happen when the Dark Lord went after the Potters. Traitor."
"I daresay," I agree, but my thoughts are racing. I hated Pettigrew, but I can't regret that he sent the Dark Lord to his death. Everything is so much simpler now. I know I shouldn't feel like this—rejoicing in the Dark Lord's defeat—but I don't care. As long as I keep the thoughts buried, they don't interfere in our lives. And neither does he—anymore.
Lately, though—well, rumor is a dangerous thing.
"I'm sorry," Lucius says belatedly. "I didn't mean to snatch you away when we have guests."
"It's only the children," I reply, relieved by the change of subject. "They can amuse themselves."
"Good," Lucius says, running his fingers gently up my arms. I shiver and grin at him. "Because I want you all to myself…" he whispers.
I don't worry about Sirius, Potter, or the Dark Lord for quite some time after that.
"Why are we doing this again?" Alessandra Selwyn whines, the next day. It's Christmas Eve, and Diagon Alley is full of hoi polloi doing last minute shopping. My aunts Cassiopeia, Lycoris, and Melania taught me better than that, but this is a special case.
I roll my eyes at Alessandra when she's looking away, wishing I had the courage to do it to her face. But even after all these years, I can't look at her without remembering the rest of Bella's roommates—Anita Wilkes (later Rosier), Gertrude Goyle, and Rita Skeeter—and a part of me still doesn't understand why Bella doesn't leap out from behind a bush or something and scold me for being rude to her friend.
"We're getting a Secret Saint Nick gift for Nefertari's son," I explain patiently. "It was all your daughter's idea."
Alessandra wrinkles her nose. "Why can't you just find some worthless piece of junk in the attic and give it to—what's his name again?"
I stare at her. Some worthless piece of junk in the attic? Just what does she think our attic is filled with? Junk I might allow, though I deplore such a crude expression. But worthless? I think not. Oh, certainly, we have our share of portraits and half-broken heirlooms, but no pureblood would give those away even in jest. And the rest of it is potions and poisons in stoppered bottles, cursed jewelry, farseeing mirrors, old robes in outmoded fashions, and precious stones with too much 'interesting history' to be stored in a public vault. In short, the contents of any normal attic. Plus the ghost, of course—there might have been more, once, but he's probably scared the rest away. I swear, if ghosts had an odor, I would exorcise him—what you might call a preemptive strike.
"His name is Blaise Zabini," I say, because that at least I feel qualified to answer.
Her expression clears. "Of course," she agrees. "A year younger than Melanthos, then?" Melanthos is her son.
"He's in the same year as Draco," I say stiffly, cursing my inability to wrap Alessandra round my little finger. It must be a bit of Bella's influence still hanging around her—which is ironic, because Bella I know how to get around. Always have, really.
"So? Don't just stand there—this place is boring," Alessandra complains, and she grabs my arm and drags me down the turning to Knockturn Alley.
I probably could pull away, but Alessandra's impetuosity has certain advantages. This way, I can later disclaim all complicity to the Auror Department if necessary. Not that I've ever gotten caught before, but it never hurts to have a plausible story.
"Well? Got any suggestions?" I ask, keeping my tone as level as possible. It's not that I don't think the boy will enjoy something from here, but it'll have to be small, easily portable, preferably non-sentient, and preferably non-poisonous (if I let the children have any real poison, the next thing I know I'll be having to explain a tragic accident to that Parkinson girl's parents, and they're just the right social standing to make the maximum amount of fuss).
In the end, of course, we end up in Borgin and Burke's. Honestly, the amount we shop here, Burke should really give us a family discount. I'll have to remember to mention it to Lucius.
The shop's only nod to the approaching holiday season is green curtains instead of black ones. I sniff at the state of the floor. Being unable to afford a house-elf or several is no reason to let your housekeeping slip.
"Ah, Mrs. Malfoy, Mrs. Selwyn," says Burke, rubbing his hands together and sounding like Christmas has come a day early. "What can I do for you?"
Sighing under my breath, I turn on the charm. "Oh, Mr. Burke! Season's greetings! I'm afraid, in all the confusion, I haven't finished my shopping." I'm certainly not about to mention the children's scheme. What they plan is their own affair, and I won't betray their trust even if, this time, it's only a game. "I don't suppose you've got anything small that might suit me?"
"For a boy in his third year at Hogwarts," Alessandra adds helpfully. She's gone off to examine a glittering necklace. I don't waste time warning her that it's cursed; any properly taught pureblood would know, and if she can't tell, it's her funeral. One has to be especially careful with cursed jewelry, particularly when it isn't a family heirloom.
"Of course," says Burke. "Let me see…"
He suggests several things before I find one suitable—and his compliments grow more fulsome by the minute. There is a line he daren't cross; Lucius is one of his best customers, after all; but still, it's a nuisance.
"Thank you so much, Mr. Burke!" I say insincerely. "You've been most helpful."
"Anything for one of the magnificent Malfoys, Madame. Especially one so beautiful."
I nod graciously, and escape with my purchase.
"Excellent job on him, by the way," Alessandra says lightly when she's caught up with me. "You're quite the actress." Like me, Alessandra dislikes presumptuous members of the lower classes.
I raise an eyebrow, in lieu of a shrug. "Thank you."
"Mother! You're back!" Draco looks a little ashamed of himself, which mollifies me somewhat. I never could stay angry with my baby for long.
"Yes, and I've brought your gift," I tell him, passing him the package.
He eyes it warily, and Lucius grins at me from behind his desk. "Go on, open it, son," he says encouragingly. "Your mother wouldn't bring you something too dangerous."
"Thank you for the vote of confidence," I say snarkily. I'm relieved beyond imagining to be home with my family. At last, I can drop my various masks.
"It's an old knife!" Draco exclaims, making a pass with it.
"Clumsy, child; did I not teach you proper swordplay?" Lucius's voice is stern, but his eyes dance with laughter.
Draco pouts. "I'm using my left hand. And I was not clumsy!"
"It's not for you, anyway. Better wrap it back up; I wanted you to see it before you gave it away," I tell him.
"It's not for me?" he protests, though without any real disappointment. Rather to my surprise, I feel annoyed.
"Your mother very kindly purchased your Secret—what was it again?—gift for you, because she knew I wanted to show you the Rune Dictionaries today—it's past time you made a proper study of ancient tongues. Show some respect—thanks would be in order." Lucius gives quite a good lecture. It's one of the things I love about him.
Draco smirks. "'Malfoys,'" he quotes with relish, "'never say thanks.'"
I laugh, and Lucius, after a startled moment, joins in. "Touché, Draco!" he smiles.
"Well, what's so special about the knife, then?" Draco asks, relaxing now that he's sure of our forgiveness.
"In the old days, every wizard carried one," Lucius replies. "Although we have the benefit of swifter, more versatile weapons, the past continues to inform us."
"They didn't have wands in the olden days?" Draco asks, surprised and interested.
I shrug. "Some did—but a dagger's bite is always sure, while an unknown spell is worse than useless."
"There are some rituals which require a dagger," Lucius says thoughtfully. "But we won't speak of them, even here; your friends need not hear our family's secrets."
"Should we reinstate the wards? I'm sure Porrima listens at doors," I comment drily. That child will grow up to be quite a handful.
"S'okay," Draco says abstractedly, examining the knife with more care now that he knows of its power. "Father, can I stay in the library for awhile?"
"Research? I thought all students traditionally did their work the night before term begins," Lucius teases.
Draco grins. "Sure, but I've got to give the dagger to Blaise at the Christmas Ball, so I might as well get started now. I don't suppose you picked up anything for me?"
"Of course not," I say, scandalized, and Lucius laughs.
Draco glares at both of us impartially.
"He thinks you've not gotten him anything," Lucius explains.
"After thirteen years?" I say incredulously. "My son, acquit me of poor planning. Do my Christmas shopping on the Eve of the holiday? Surely they teach you Logic at that school."
"They don't," Draco says, trying to scowl but unable to hide his relief that he won't be giftless tomorrow. "Dumbledore got rid of it."
"That idiot!" Lucius snorts, but I'm not so certain. If Dumbledore struck Logic from the curriculum, no doubt he had an ulterior motive. After all, those who haven't proper training are easier to manipulate.
"We should greet our guests, love," I say, thinking of the dinner tonight and all the information we may glean from our exalted visitors.
"Of course," Lucius agrees. "Happy studying, son. My lady?" He extends his arm, and I take it.
Much later that night, I'm removing my jewels when Lucius says irritably, "We should've invited Severus. All that false politeness makes my teeth hurt."
"I did invite him," I reply. "Apparently Heads of Hogwarts Houses do not leave school grounds over the holidays, while they yet have charges."
"He's lucky they let him out for the summer," agrees Lucius. There's a pause, and then he begins rubbing my shoulders gently. I relax into his touch.
"You're really upset about Black, aren't you? I keep forgetting you are one."
"I don't," I say tiredly. Impossible to forget being a Black.
"He's clearly of little account—a bagatelle," Lucius says soothingly.
"Then why go to the school? How escape from Azkaban, when B cannot? Why now, after all these years? Why return to haunt me?" I moan, my voice rising in pitch on each question.
"I think your sister could escape, if she wanted to," Lucius says darkly. "As for the rest of it—I know not. If only we were in the loop—!"
"Whose? Dumbledore's? He knows less than we do," I protest, doubting my words even as I speak them. "None of this makes any sense."
"That it doesn't," Lucius agrees, dropping a kiss on my hair. "No doubt all will become clear when Potter's heroics collide with the measures set in store for his safety."
"No doubt," I say, thinking of the Dementors and my son being exposed to them on a daily basis, and shivering.
"Cold?" Lucius smirks, and I twist around to kiss him.
"Excellent idea," he breathes, when we break apart for a moment. Gently, he lifts me to my feet and away from my vanity table. I glance back once at my mirror image, mocking me with the family resemblance I use every day and now reminds me uncomfortably of the Blacks.
Why must Sirius haunt me now, after all these years? I don't know whether to be grateful or insulted that he has yet to darken my doorstep.
I thought I was done with that family, and all the wretchedness it brings its members. Perhaps it is not done with me.
"Happy Christmas," I say tremulously, and Lucius kisses all my tears away.
Author's Note: Porrima and Alessandra Selwyn are original characters. The name Porrima comes from a star in the Big Dipper, and also a Roman goddess of prophecy. Alessandra is a variant of Alexandra, the feminine form of Alexander. Alessandra Selwyn also appears in my story Bellatrix Black and the Hamburger-Prophet, as Alessandra Yaxley.
The other children are Charles Warrington, who may be canon (two years older than Harry, on the Slytherin Quidditch team) or may not; and Crabbe, Goyle, Nott, and Zabini.