Author's Notes: Written for the het_bigbang on LiveJournal – a challenge wherein writers write a 25K or longer story featuring a heterosexual couple and artists create art for it. Twisted_slinky did a wonderful job on the art, which can be viewed here: archiveofourownDOTorg/collections/Het_Big_Little_Bang_2012/works/493525

Many thanks also to RubyRed. 950 for betaing the story (on very short notice too…)



Narcissa clung to Lucius's arm, her breast heaving with every deep, shuddering breath she took as she watched with teary eyes, the Death Eaters newly sprung from Azkaban being marched into her manor. She could not have said whether she cried for pity because every one of them looked so broken, so feeble and diseased and far from the good health she had known them all to have possessed once, or whether her tears were for fear because now, she could no longer deny, even in the deepest part of her soul, what she had known logically for months – that the Dark Lord was rising again.

"Cissy," Lucius whispered in her ear, "propriety."

Narcissa nodded very slightly, just enough to indicate that she had heard her husband, then straightened up, putting a small smile on her face – large enough to be visible but small enough to indicate that she was not really happy to see her home being taken over by those that the Dark Lord had seen fit to spring from prison.

Not happy, but willing. Willing, because her husband was a Death Eater and that meant that they both had to do exactly as the Dark Lord wished.

"Don't you have a hello for your sister?" Bellatrix rasped, stepping out of line and looking at Narcissa with hollow, feverish eyes. Narcissa cringed automatically, then bit her tongue and straightened, forcing her smile wider. She reached out to touch Bellatrix's shoulders.

"I have missed you so, Bella," she said quietly, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice.

"You wouldn't have missed me so if you'd ever bothered to visit Azkaban…"

"I couldn't do that, Bella, you know – please don't blame me for–"

Before Narcissa could finish, or before Bellatrix could cut her off, the Dark Lord, who had followed the parade of Death Eaters into Malfoy Manor, laid a hand firmly on Bellatrix's shoulder and she froze, her cheeks flooding with colour and her eyes going to him.

"Move along," the Dark Lord hissed at Bellatrix, letting his hand drop after only one lingering moment of contact, and Bellatrix nodded quickly, falling back into line with the other Death Eaters and marching upstairs, towards the row of bedrooms that Lucius and Narcissa had been ordered to prepare for them.

"We are grateful for your hospitality," the Dark Lord said, looking now at Lucius and Narcissa. His voice, high and cold, made Narcissa wonder if perhaps he was mocking them, but she did not dare look up to see whether a smile was twisting his mouth or whether he looked cold and serious, as he so often did.

"It is our honour, my Lord," Lucius spoke up quietly, and Narcissa was grateful that she was not required to respond. She wasn't sure that she would have been able to do it without crying.

He – the Dark Lord – inclined his head, then swept up the stairs, after his Death Eaters, and only when Narcissa and Lucius were alone again did she collapse.

"I can't do this, Lucius," she sobbed, falling into his arms and burying her face in his shoulder. "I can't! Please – please don't put me through this, I can't abide having these… people in our home!"

"There's nothing I can do about it, Cissy. You know that."

"But you can, Lucius!" she whispered hysterically, though she knew perfectly well that the Dark Lord would be no more willing to take orders from Lucius than from her. "Please, I don't- I can't–"

"I know that this is difficult for you, Cissy…" Lucius rested his hand on her back, drawing her comfortingly closer into the embrace. "But we need to give up our home to the service of the Dark Lord – and think…" He lowered his voice to the quietest whisper he could manage, and Narcissa could hear the fear straining it, as hard as he tried to conceal it. "It is better than giving up our lives… or our son."

"That's true," Narcissa whispered tearfully, nodding and clinging to her husband as if he could protect her, but what he said was little comfort.

No surprise – he didn't know why she didn't want the Death Eaters there, after all.