Disclaimer: None of the Harry Potter world is mine, it all belongs to greedy old J.K. Rowling and Warner. I make no money out of this.
Author's Notes: Written for smalltumbleweed in the femmefest of 2009. Thanks to Malory and Beware the Smirk for accomplished beta-ing.
Hogwarts is still tonight. The school at night is so different, so empty of the life that thrums like blood through its veins during the day. Dust disturbed during the course of the day, stirred up into a semi-life caught high in the air, begins to drift back down to the floorboards. Particles drift in and out of the dim candlelight, or slightly harsher wand glow. Faint and ethereal, they return to their fellows in the grooves between boards without even a whisper. I love the still of the Hogwarts night after the bustle and crush of the halls during the day. Gryffindor Common Room will always be my home away from home, but there's something special about the school at night, silent and shadowed. Something more magical.
Remus is my normal partner on these night time patrols, and he seems to understand if not share my nocturnal fascination. Shy and studious, he's more than happy to pass the six hours silently. He doesn't have to make conversation, and I get to keep my fantasy that I am all alone in the ancient building, with only very occasional curfew-breakers to jolt me back to reality. We find it makes for a perfect partnership.
But Remus is on his monthly, as James likes to say. Normally James would cover his shift, but he has exams in the morning. He offered, of course, but I couldn't accept. Not when I knew there was an alternative.
"Thank you for doing this," I say into the half-dark, not sure whether I should make conversation or not. I don't know if she expects niceties.
"It's alright," she says. Her voice is clear but brittle, like expensive glass. It fits her. Narcissa Black could easily be a glass figurine, an expensive curio or interesting trophy. She walks a pace behind me, so I can't see her face without turning, and then she'd know I was looking at her. Perhaps that's why she does it. "My House could do with the brownie points."
I know it's not the only reason, although she makes it sound so glib and casual that no one else would pursue the matter further. I, however, know there's more to Narcissa's motives than meets the eye.
"Can we stop for a smoke?" she asks as we approach the Astronomy Tower. I blink in surprise, but nod, and turn towards the spiral staircase.
"I didn't know you smoked," I say, trying to sound casual.
She laughs, so I don't think it worked. "Why would you?"
Our wands barely illuminate the two steps before me, so I concentrate hard on keeping a steady climbing pace. I'm not a klutzy kind of person, but I'd hate to stumble in front of her. My free hand lies flat against the clammy stone walls, tracing the contours of the ancient building blocks through my palm, until the stairs run out and I have to stop to heave my weight against the heavy oak door. Narcissa slips through before I can hold the door open for her. She strikes me as the kind of woman who goes out of her way to side-step chivalry.
When we are out in the muggy night air, she wastes no time heading to the wall that circles the tower. I cast about a while, the Astronomy Tower being a popular meeting place for snogging couples. But we are the only couple up here tonight, and the Tower is as deserted and lonely as the rest of the castle. So I join Narcissa, leaning on the low wall. She stares out over the grounds. I stare at her. She doesn't seem to mind.
The cigarette is a tight little rollie. Sirius makes them like that when he wants to smoke pot, but I can't smell marijuana on the thin stream of smoke drifting upwards from the glowing tip. She holds it in her hand, not in her mouth, and brings it up to her lips every so often for a quick, nervous puff. I'm certain the smoke can barely curl in her lungs before she evenly exhales it back out. With a flick of her thumb nail against the filter, she sends ash skidding down into the black beneath us.
"I'm sorry, did you want one?" she asks softly.
I blush because I know I've been staring. "Thanks, but I don't smoke."
"No," she agrees, and there's a wry twist to her mouth. Because why would I? Clean-cut golden girls don't do things like that. And suddenly, in an angry flash, I can see her relating this small exchange to Sev tomorrow morning over breakfast.
"Why do you want the night shifts so badly?" I ask accusingly, needing a reason to change the subject, to push it away from my shortcomings as a teenage rebel.
"I don't want them 'so badly', I just wanted to help." Narcissa seems to realise how unlikely this sounds as soon as it has left her mouth. Her eyes slide down to her cigarette, as she flicks another flake of ash down onto Hogwarts' grounds. "If you must know the truth, I'm having trouble sleeping. Thought I might as well make some use of myself."
I'm trying to remember if she's ever said this many words to me in one go before.
"Why can't you sleep?" I ask, thinking that I should.
"Stop being so bloody nosy," is her tight response. The words are terse, but she could have been delivering Potions instructions for all the emotion they delivered. It's like she's reading from a handbook: Stuck-Up Slytherins and How to Be One.
Call it women's intuition, call it rampant gossip mongering, whatever you fancy, but I'm sure I know what's up. The Prophet was full of it last week. The news of Lucius Malfoy's upcoming marriage to a beautiful, teenaged pureblood spilled over from the society pages into the gossip columns and financial sectors.
"Wealthy financier and heir to Malfoy fortune betrothed to..." "The witch-about-town hears on the grapevine that Malkin's Robes for Special Events will be visited soon by..." "Parents of the couple reported to be delighted with the match that will unite two of the longest-standing pureblood families in Britain..."
"The witch-about-town hears on the grapevine that Malkin's Robes for Special Events will be visited soon by..."
"Parents of the couple reported to be delighted with the match that will unite two of the longest-standing pureblood families in Britain..."
"I don't remember Lucius very well," I tell her. Then I worry that I'm wrong, and making connections that aren't there.
She throws the butt over the tower wall, watching it with disinterest as it arcs in the air, suspended for a moment, before beginning to fall. I wait for her to say something, but she doesn't.
"It is that that's keeping you awake, isn't it?"
For the first time, she turns and looks me straight in the eye. She has beautiful eyes, and they skitter over my face, picking out every detail. But the rest of her face is serenely still and she shows no sign of wanting to speak.
I couldn't say why or how, but somehow Narcissa destroys my love of silence. Suddenly I want nothing more than to fill the yawning gap of empty space between us. "Because, I mean, I don't think you've had a boyfriend, have you? You're gorgeous and everything, and the boys all fall over themselves for you, but you're just above it all. And I always kind of liked that. But you can't really rise above getting married, can you? And sometimes I think that these pureblood marriages, well they look really arranged, and like you wouldn't even get to see this Lucius bloke on his own before the wedding, to see if you get along and everything-"
"Lily," she says very softly. I can't help but stop in my tracks. There's that curve at the corner of her mouth that's so close to being a smile. It's only then that I notice how close she is, how near her lips are to mine. "Do shut up."
It's her, I'm almost certain it's her that presses forward that extra inch that means that our lips meet. Thinking she's like glass is suddenly all wrong, entirely wrong, and how could I have been so stupid? Narcissa is all warmth and softness and the sweet slide of her lips on mine, her nose pressed into my cheek, her eyes still open and watching me even as her tongue slips against my skin and excites a thousand nerve endings.
When she pulls back again, that curve of her mouth is still there. Even her eyes look amused now, and it fires something like pride inside of me because it feels like I made her smile, not like she's laughing at me. When she speaks, though, her voice sounds brittle again. "No more questions."
She pushes past me, to the door back into the castle and out of this strange, steamy night. "No more questions," I agree.
And I don't ask questions, don't say a single word. Not at breakfast the next morning, when everything's just like normal, and her friends sympathise loudly at her having to spend a night with the Mudblood Gryffindor. Not when we disembark from the Hogwarts Express for the last time, and a strange man meets her on the platform, who bears only a passing resemblance to the beanpole teenager I vaguely remember. And if her eyes accidentally find mine as he bends to kiss her cheek, and I can see that curve at the corner of her mouth, and I remember the way those lips felt against mine, I don't linger on it. I turn to James and smile like normal, let him take my hand, and walk with him up the platform. Because anything else would be too complex.