Author's Notes: Written for Taragh McCarthy's Word Limit Competition on the HPFC forum.
Word Limit: 2000 Words (100 word allowance)
Prompt: Playing It Cool
2 000 words exactly. Enjoy!
"Is it true, then?"
Rabastan Lestrange's rather thin, quiet voice startled Narcissa, and she looked up quickly. She had been curled like a cat in one of the armchairs of her parlour, and saw Rabastan standing over her with a very serious expression on his face.
"Hello, Rab," she said, confused, but hitching a bright, innocent smile onto her face. "Have you come to see Andi? Because she's out at the moment…"
"No," he said. "I came to see you. To talk to you."
Narcissa's stomach lurched slightly. She didn't see much of Rabastan – speaking to him made Narcissa feel as though she was intruding upon his and Andromeda's relationship. That might have been silly, she thought, given the ease with which she was willing to tread upon Bellatrix (supposed) relationship with Rodolphus, but then, Andromeda and Rabastan were a much better match than Bellatrix and Rodolphus, so coming between them would have been a greater crime.
Or, at least, Narcissa thought that most of the time… as long Andromeda was not off gallivanting about with that Mudblood she was so fond of…
"Well?" Rabastan demanded, interrupting her thoughts.
"Hmm? Pardon me?"
"Is it true?"
"Is what true?" Narcissa's heart began to pound slightly, but she kept her expression smooth, a polite little smile on her lips, playing it cool. Her mind was racing already, though – what could Rabastan possibly be referring to? What had he heard that was so pressing that he would confront Narcissa – who he scarcely knew – to ask for confirmation about it? Had he heard about Andromeda's Mudblood, perhaps? Was he afraid that his darling Andromeda was unfaithful? Perhaps that was not a belief without basis, but still…
"Is it true about you and Rodolphus?"
Narcissa could have sworn her heart not only stopped pounding at those words, but stopped altogether. She swayed slightly, glad she was sitting, for if she had been upright, she was sure that she would have fainted dead away. Of all things, she had most certainly not been expecting him to say that.
"What about me and Rodolphus?" she asked, trying her best to keep her voice and expression supremely unconcerned, slightly sweet and polite, with just a hint of vague annoyance, as though the question were stupid. Despite her best efforts, she was all too aware of the not of panic that had worked its way into her tone.
"Oh, don't play stupid with me, Narcissa," Rabastan said in an icy voice. "My brother might believe that you're just a stupid, ignorant little girl who doesn't understand these things, but I know better. I know that you aren't an idiot."
"And I don't know what you're talking about!" Narcissa insisted, but she sounded panicky now, even to herself.
Rabastan's lip curled slightly. He sat down on the couch, pushing Narcissa's legs aside so that he would have room. He was uncomfortably close to Narcissa, she thought. His thigh pressed firmly against hers and
"Right," he said. "I'm going to take your stammering denial as assent. You are sleeping with my brother, then?"
"What?" Narcissa cried, and though she tried to make it sound like a revolted and incredulous exclamation, all she could think was how did he know?
"I told you not to play stupid. Are you doing it?"
"No!" she said, but her voice lifted and trembled at the end of the word, as though she were asking a question rather than defending her innocence, and her cheeks burned with embarrassment. She looked down, not daring to meet Rabastan's eyes.
"What?" Narcissa demanded, her head snapping up, completely scandalized.
"How long have you been… together for?"
Narcissa could have cried for sheer mortification. She dropped her head as she bit back her tears, but her throat choked up and her eyes were stinging. "H- how- how did- how did you kn- know?" she managed at last, hating how badly he had made her stammer but unable to form coherent sentences despite her best efforts.
"Well, I mean… good Lord, Narcissa, it's not as though you two are much good at hiding it." Rabastan's voice had softened a little. He no longer sounded as darkly angry as he had before, and when Narcissa dared to look up at him, he was smiling almost gently. "It isn't exactly difficult to pick up on it when you're always casting longing looks at each other–"
"We don't cast longing looks!" she protested.
"And then going and disappearing from parties and coming back all sweaty and dishevelled with great stupid grins on your faces… as if anyone who looked at you wouldn't be able to tell that you'd been off in some broom cupboard or empty room… you aren't very subtle about it."
Narcissa flushed still darker, her stomach twisting and knotting up in pure mortification. She had thought that she had been doing everything she could to hide her and Rodolphus's love affair, but now she was going back through her mind, considering and reliving all the parties and events that she and Rodolphus had slipped away from to make love, just as Rabastan had suggested, in broom cupboards or empty rooms. Perhaps they really hadn't been as subtle as she had prided herself on being – after all, if Rabastan had noticed, then anyone else could have. Who else had, she wondered. Her sisters, perhaps? Her parent? Lucius Malfoy, her betrothed, for whom she was supposed to be a virgin on their wedding night?
What if, she thought, her stomach twisting into a nervous knot, what if Rabastan had told someone about them? Her parents, her sisters or Lucius would all have been absolutely furious at the knowledge of what she and Rodolphus had gotten up to, and surely they would have been thrilled with Rabastan should he have been the one to impart it. She looked up at him, trembling in abject terror, with a pleading look in her eyes. Please say you didn't…
"Merlin. No one else knows," Rabastan said, with more than a little scorn in his voice. "At least, no one knows as far as I'm aware, and believe me… if people knew, I would be aware.
"If you've noticed…" Narcissa said in a tiny, tremulous voice.
"No one would be able to tell if they weren't paying very close attention to either you or to Rod," Rabastan interrupted, with what he clearly intended to be a reassuring smile, though it unnerved Narcissa more than a bit. "And, as far as I can tell, no one except me is doing either."
Narcissa looked down at her hands, balled into fists, and breathed a sigh of relief. She had never felt so glad to be easy to ignore. She managed to give Rabastan a tiny, hopeful smile.
Rabastan did not return it – in fact, his expression had gone quite icy once again. "And you didn't ever answer my question. I asked how long you two had been together. Will you tell me, now that you know that your secret is safe?"
"Not long," Narcissa admitted softly. "Just since last summer… since a little while before he and Bellatrix and Lucius and I were engaged."
"Not long at all, then," Rabastan said. His expression and tone were inscrutable.
"I said it hadn't been very long," said Narcissa defensively. "And does it matter? Does it make any difference?" Her voice rose slightly in anger and she balled her hands into tight fists, glaring at Rabastan's still utterly unreadable face and burning with fury. "Would you not be as angry with me if we had been– been together for years and years."
"On the contrary, I would be even more upset," said Rabastan, face as impassive as ever. "But I was merely curious."
"About what?" Narcissa asked suspiciously. She had tightened her fists so much that her long, perfectly manicured nails were digging into her palms, and she felt the skin split against them. The faint stabs of pain she was feeling gave her something to focus on besides her humiliation at being discovered and her anger at Rabastan for being the one to do it.
"Oh…" A smirk curled across Rabastan's face. For the first time in the course of their conversation, he looked smug about the matter, and Narcissa shrunk back quickly, watching him with wide, wary eyes. She didn't like this change – it gave her an all too distinct sense that Rabastan knew something important and was hiding it from her.
"It's nothing really," he said slowly, almost lazily, in fact. He suddenly sounded frighteningly like his brother and the resemblance was more than enough to frighten Narcissa into physically trembling. "Just that… well, at the risk of sounding rather childish… that means that I've won."
"Pardon me?" Narcissa demanded, then bristled as a though occurred to her. "Have you been making bets over this? Trying to get me to admit it so that you'd win a wager?"
"Good Lord, no," Rabastan said. A contemptuous sneer crossed his face. "What kind of man do you think me, Narcissa? Who would ever make bets regarding their brother's sex life? Or that of a lady, of course," he added before Narcissa could. "No, I most certainly have not making bets on the matter."
"Well, what, then?" Narcissa pressed. "What do you mean you won?"
"It was rather crude phrasing, wasn't it?" Rabastan asked mildly. "Do forgive me." He stood up and started for the door, not even glancing back at Narcissa and quite disregarding her question.
She jumped to her feet, anger and frustration overcoming her, and leapt forward, grabbing him by the back of his shirt. Narcissa was small and light and not very strong, but Rabastan – poor, sickly little Rabastan – was weaker still, and even the small force was enough to sent him toppling off his feat when she yanked at him. He went sprawling on the floor.
"Tell me!" Narcissa ordered, glaring down at him. "Tell me what you meant!"
He rolled over onto his hands and knees, and then slowly, painfully, pushed himself up to his feet, clinging to the edge of the couch for support. His sneer was gone, as was the maddeningly impassive expression he had been employing, and he glared at Narcissa with a look of purist fury.
"I only meant," he said, and though his voice was shaking and his limbs trembling from the fall, he looked triumphant, "that I got to my brother first." His face split into a grin so wide that he looked almost demonic. Narcissa's face paled. She could feel the blood draining away and it seemed to all settle somewhere in the pit of her stomach while she stared at him.
"Wh- what do you mean?" she whispered.
"It's a nice little bond for me and you, isn't it?" Rabastan continued quietly, without clarifying. His eyes glittered as he stared Directly at Narcissa, with none of the shame that Narcissa was feeling – and none that, if she was right about his meaning, he should have felt. "It's almost like being friends, isn't it? How sweet…"
Narcissa couldn't speak.
"You do understand what I mean, don't you?" There was a hint of annoyance in his voice now, mixed with his pride and amusement.
"No… no," Narcissa lied. She thought she knew, but didn't dare believe him, not until he'd said it properly. "No, I don't understand. I don't understand at all," she added in a whisper.
"You are so very naive, Narcissa, even if you aren't stupid," Rabastan smirked. "You really don't see? Why, Cissa…" He took one step forward, leaning close so they were nose to nose and she could see every emotion glistening in his eyes as he hissed, "We've been sharing a lover."
Narcissa felt as though she had been slapped. Her mouth opened but no words came out, and she could only watch dumbly as Rabastan – my friend, Andromeda's fiancé, Rodolphus's brother – turned away from her and strode from the room.