Bella was nude. Her hair floated around her like polished serpentine ringlets. She was ethereal, angelic. Not at all what Narcissa had expected. "Sister…"
"Cissy." Even her voice rang musically, a delicate trill. She floated toward Narcissa, drifted through the mists of the astral plane where they lingered. "I'm done for. You know that?"
"You left us no choice, Bella. I couldn't let you harm my son."
The spirit chuffed softly. "Your son… You've come to finish me here, I assume? A final battle for power and glory?"
"I just want you gone, Bella. Back to the realm of the dead."
Bella chuckled. The chuckle turned to a violent cackle. She twirled, stirring mist into a red glow, and grabbed her sister's thin shoulders. "Oh, Cissy. That's here! Didn't you know?"
Narcissa squinted. Blinked. Her thoughts seemed as fuzzy as the mist about them. "I'm…I'm dead, then?"
She looked down at her own nakedness.
"Yes, yes." Bella circled predatorily. "Such selfless sacrifice for your sweet little boy. It complicates things."
"What do you mean?" Even as an intangible being, Narcissa felt threatened by Bella's deep grin and sultry growl.
"I mean I had it all figured out until you made that ridiculous decision. You know I can't resist your precious blood. Unfortunately, my weakness has trapped me here. Again. So…"
"What are you talking about Bella?"
"I was meant for your body, Cissy. For any body, I suppose. But I rather had my mind set on yours for…sentimental reasons." She brushed fingers across Narcissa's cheek. "Oh, well. I suppose at least now we shall have each other. For eternity."
But Narcissa was smiling and shaking her head. "I don't think so, Bella." She laughed her own laugh. "I don't think I'm meant to stay here with you. At least not yet. Not ever, actually. As this is just one of your tricks."
"What?" Bella's gentle fingers had hardened beneath Cissa's chin.
"I promised Draco, you see." Narcissa started to fade, to become ever so subtly invisible. "I gave him an Unbreakable Vow."
Bella was wide-eyed and attempting to grasp her sister's dissipating form. "What Vow? Cissy! Narcissa!"
"I vowed to return to him, Bella."
"NO!" Bella flared red, hair exploding in a halo of furious frizz. "You bitch! You can't! Damn you, Cissy!" She hissed into mist…and made one final lunge.
Narcissa suddenly hurt. She was very aware of burning and an acute throbbing. She felt the burn of magic on her body and heard voices echoing as if from far above her.
"Is she alive?" Draco.
"Yes, boy. Stand back." The gruff tone of Merrik. Her sight was blurry. She could barely make out faces. Another wave of magic hit her and she howled at the burn. "Forgive me, witch." Merrik said softly. "But by all rights, you should be dead." Then he was snapping at Draco and Potter. "Prepare blankets. Warming charms. Blood replenishing potion. We'll get her stable here before we move her." They must have dallied or moved too slowly for Merrik's taste because he bellowed: "NOW!"
Narcissa turned. She felt tough, hard hands pressing at her back. A wave of pain clenched her body and she opened her eyes only to see her sister staring back. "Bella…" Her voice was weak.
"Damn," Merrik muttered. He turned her the other way, but Narcissa's head refused to let go Bella's empty gaze.
It took a moment for the reality to coalesce; that Narcissa was gazing not into her living sister's eyes, but the eyes of her sister's corpse. And slowly, that corpse started to evaporate, to mist into molecules and rise like steam. "Bella…"
Then warmth engulfed her. Lips touched her forehead. "Mother, you'll be fine. Just stay with me." And Draco's arms enfolded her as darkness descended.
It seemed that days passed in a haze of darkness and muffled voices. Narcissa was content to rock in a bastion of softness, her bed, warmed by charms and her son's arms at night. Draco whispered to her, and often, she recognized Merrik's sure and solid tones reciting some spell or other.
"It's been three days."
"These things take time, boy."
"She's so weak."
"There was a great deal of blood loss. And quite a few minutes without oxygen. We're fortunate she responds at all. Unbreakable Vow… Foolishness! It nearly destroyed our plans."
"Well, it didn't!" Draco spat venemously. He was fussing with her duvet. "And what would you have had me do? Let my mother die? In front of me? No one loves me like this woman. Never will."
"Mind your business, old man. Your time here is nearly done, anyway. When she's well, you may never trouble yourself with our unnaturalness again."
"Someday you will have to let her go."
"Someday is not today. If you're done for now, get out." There was a soft snick of the door closing and Draco's sigh. Narcissa moaned. "Mother?" His face clouded her vision and she tried a smile.
"You're being impossible," she whispered.
He grinned, cradled her and kissed her cheek. "I've been worried sick. How do you feel?"
"Weak." Her eyes were drifting closed again.
"I'll send for some broth."
Her stomach growled. Her mouth erupted in saliva. "I want blood," she murmured. Sleep reclaimed her, leaving her son blinking and creasing his forehead. He consulted Merrik immediately.
But Merrik said it was normal. "She'll need to replenish her iron. She's craving it." The elderly wizard moved certainly about their kitchen. "I'll prepare something for you to take her. And I'll see her once more before I leave."
Draco watched him from the doorway. "Thank you," he said quietly. "For everything. And I'm sorry I was…harsh earlier." The words didn't seem to suffice, really, but the Unspeakable paused to accept them just the same.
He nodded. "Work with demons makes one hard. You've been very strong." He looked up. "Both of you have. I'll be up directly." And he went back to his work at their cooktop.
Narcissa slept restlessly and lightly. Occasionally her eyes flickered open, but never quite focused. She murmured wordlessly and clenched her fingers in the duvet. Draco cooed to her, dabbed at her forehead with a cloth, checked the bandages on her heavily charmed arms.
When Merrik appeared with a tray, her eyes opened with a bright unexpected awareness and she sniffed the air, struggled to her tightly wrapped elbows. "Mmmm." She moaned and sat up as the Unspeakable settled the tray across her legs. "That smells good."
Draco leaned in and scowled at the bowl's contents. "What the hell is that?"
Merrik's lips pursed pragmatically. "Blood."
"Just blood? That's disgusting!" He reached for the bowl. "Mother, don't –"
His breath caught sharply when her hand clamped round his wrist. She growled, and he saw her eyes turn black, feral. "Don't touch it," she hissed.
"Mum?" He rubbed his wrist as he drew it to his chest, suddenly feeling vulnerable and…frightened. He watched in horror as she raised the bowl to eager, chapped lips. Her throat worked like a drinking swan's, bobbing and hitching as she drank. He had to look away when she licked the rim greedily. And when her fingers cleaned the container completely, he covered his mouth with his hand.
Merrik watched all this with an odd expressionless face. "I should leave now," he said finally. "If you'll walk me to your gates, Mr. Malfoy?"
Draco nodded, distracted by his mother's new predatory gaze and the way she sucked down scalding tea as though she felt no pain. "Of course," he whispered.
They were in the corridor approaching the manor's front entrance before Draco spoke again. "What's wrong with her?"
Merrik sniffed. He collected his valise, hat and coat from the foyer. "I can't tell. Probably a result of the aggressive healing spells and potions I used… Possibly a result of whatever encounter she experienced with the demon while we battled its physical form…" He pushed through the double doors and blinked against the sunlight. It had been days since any of them had seen sunlight. "Possibly it will pass once her iron levels are normal and her mind's back in order."
"And if not?" Draco was struggling to keep pace with the older wizard. Their shoes crunched fine gravel as they traversed the long walkway to the Malfoy gates.
Merrik paused at the gates and affixed his hat. "If not? Your vow damned you both." He pressed one of the gates and they swung open with an obnoxious creak. "That blood came from one of your birds. I had to make do. You will need to arrange a more permanent source until her cravings end. I also recommend another elf to assist with her wound dressings and to watch over her nights. You'll need to take rest when you can. Good day, Mr. Malfoy." His apparation was a crack of thunder.
Draco was left staring at the place where Merrik had stood, a grim and determined set to his features.
He owled Potter a letter of gratitude and an update on his mother's health. He also asked graciously for a reference toward a new house elf, as the fate of their last one had left them wanting. After his trip to the owlery, he visited his mother, surprised to find her standing before her full-length mirror. "You shouldn't be up."
"Why not?" She asked. "I feel fine."
She regarded her reflection while Draco regarded her. Her hair was wild, a halo of alabaster silk floating amorphously about her shoulders. Her eyes seemed a darker blue than before, and her lips a deeper red. Despite the last few days' weight loss, her curves were remarkably full. "Still," he said doubtfully, "you should probably rest some more." He gestured to her bandaged arms, now showing a few dots of blood. "Those need to heal properly."
Her smirk over her shoulder was magnetic. "I've such a good boy to care for me this way," she drawled. "And will you lie down with me?"
He chuffed, nervous. "Not now, mum. I've things to do."
"Things more important than me?" She was swaying toward him, the satin of her gown shimmering in the noon light.
"Don't be daft," he whispered. She pressed herself against him. He stiffened, then embraced her tenderly. "I'm worried for you. And I need to procure a new elf and…some animals, I suppose."
"Animals?" She asked in his shoulder.
He rubbed her back. Her skin was cool, but dry. "Yes. Merrik suggested it. For your…craving."
"Hm." She drew away as if she'd suddenly lost interest and wandered back to her bed. "But you will join me tonight? Like always, darling?"
He nodded as she flopped gracelessly into her pillows. "Yes. Like always."
When she smiled, she licked her teeth.
The new elf arrived nearly three weeks later bearing a letter from Potter. Its name was Mustard and it was eager to work. "Mr. Potter sends Musty to work for you, Mr. Malfoy." It groveled in that way they had, making Draco sorely tempted to kick it off of the front steps. "Musty is good with the sick, sir."
"Are you?" Draco asked. "And can you slaughter a lamb?"
It blinked its big eyes. Stuttered slightly. "M-Musty can, sir. If it is required of him."
"Good." Draco dismissed it with a wave. "Take one from the pen near the greenhouse. My mother takes three bowls of blood per day. It is only fresh for two days. After that, cook the rest. Sometimes, there are goats, instead."
The elf's lip quivered as it apparated away with a pop. Potter described Mustard in his letter as honest, caring and eager to please. He hoped Narcissa's health continued to improve, and that the Malfoys continued to fare well. Draco crumpled the missive and tossed it to the lawn.
Mustard disappeared four days later. Narcissa claimed - twirling a shank of gleaming white flax around one finger - to have no knowledge of its whereabouts. Draco couldn't be terribly put out. She'd taken to slaughtering her own animals anyway, preferring to drink 'straight from the tap,' as she called it. Her mad cackle after each kill set his nerves on edge…
For the most part, their lives continued as they had before. Quiet. Isolated. Insular. They read together, ate together (or Draco ate while his mother drank her meal). And they slept together.
Were they still lovers? Yes, Draco supposed, if you could call what happened between their sheets love.
If he had wanted her to be more passionate before, now he regretted the wanting. He missed her timid touches and reticent cries. Now, she was more likely to take him like a hellbeast, sweating and grinding like a thing that couldn't be satisfied on any physical plane. And perhaps she couldn't…
He knew she would scratch. He knew she would bite. She would draw his blood and she would drink and she would fuck him like a whore wouldn't dare. What frightened him was the fact that he enjoyed it.
And in the quiet nights, with only the occasional wail of a peacock or the bleating of a future meal, Draco would lie entangled with her until she drifted purring or growling into sleep. He would make his way sorely to the lavatory, fix the scratches, heal the bites. He would stare in the mirror and sigh, knowing he'd done this to himself.
Because she'd sacrificed herself to be rid of a demon. And selfishly her son had refused that sacrifice. So the demon had never truly been defeated.
Whatever had once walked the hallowed halls of Malfoy Manor alone and with malice, now walked within Narcissa Malfoy, never to be alone again.
AN: Tis done. A nod to one of my favorite authors there at the end - Shirley Jackson, a true mistress of subtle darkness and fear. Thank you to all for your patience with this piece, and for your loyalty to it.