Sapphiria, or

Something in the Blood

Rain poured into Diagon Alley as if from a watering can. Witches and wizards dodged and jostled each other in the streets, darting in and out of shop fronts. Muttered drying spells echoed in doorways. Cho Chang was among the darters, and found momentary refuge in the doorway of Tennant and Tryer's Apothecary. She muttered her own drying spell, dropping her soaked portfolio as she waved her wand. "Oh, damn."

A pale, masculine hand retrieved the leather binder before she could kneel for it. Her dark eyes traveled the length of the jacketed arm to a familiar if rarely seen face. "Malfoy!" She couldn't keep the surprise or the mild derision out of her tone.

But the young wizard just smirked and proffered her portfolio gallantly. "Chang." His tone was calmer, unsettling in its unexpected kindness. "You look well."

She remembered to breathe, looked for sarcasm in his observation. She was well aware she currently looked like a harried, drowned shrew. "Hardly." But she softened. "You do, too." And that much was true. Draco looked as handsome and polished as he always had. And his features seemed less sharp somehow. She imagined he was quite humbled since the war's end.

"What brings you out on such a miserable day?"

Cho shrugged and hugged the folio to her chest. "I'm…I'm looking for a job," she admitted. Her face pinkened a bit.

"Ah." If he scorned her proletariatism, he didn't outwardly show it. "And you hope to find it here?"

She licked her rather dry lips. "Well. I hope to find it anywhere, really." Her now barely hidden truth surfaced; how tired she was, how hungry, cold and wet. And fuck if it was Malfoy seeing her. "I can't stay at Hogwarts now that I've my NEWTS and…well, you know my parents are dead."

His brows creased, but his silver eyes never once looked down – not even out of respect for her loss. "Yes, I read that. Many lives were lost." He made no apologies, and glanced toward the counter a few feet away. Cho followed his gaze and gasped a tiny gasp.

There stood Narcissa Malfoy – as crisp and pristine as usual – obviously completing a transaction with Arlo Tryer. For some reason, Cho felt herself flush. These were people she should hate, or at least despise. Why did she suddenly feel so less than important in her worn school shoes and frayed robes? She'd fought in Dumbledore's Army, for the goddess' sake, and nearly been girlfriend of the Boy Who Lived.

Then Narcissa's heels clicked a determined rhythm to her son's side and Cho realized she was in the presence of the Witch Who Lied. Her dry throat worked a swallow.

"Draco." The Malfoy witch's tone was mellow and smooth. "If you're ready, son?"

"Mother, you remember Miss Chang?"

So Cho's eyes slipped up; up over snakeskin shoes, shapely calves and an expanse of fine brocade skirt, over a trim waist and breasts too firm for a witch that age, up to a porcelain face and eyes so bright blue they had to be glamoured. "Mrs. Malfoy." Her own little fingers sweat around her bulging binder.

"Why, Miss Chang." The older witch smiled. "How good to see you. I do hope you're well. It's been quite some time since I've seen any of Draco's contemporaries."

Cho noticed she didn't say 'friends.'

"Mother, Cho is about looking for work, today."

"Is she?" Narcissa's eyes hadn't left Cho's. "Well, perhaps you should dine with us, Miss Chang. I may have an intriguing offer for you."

Cho bit her lip. She had exactly nine galleons in her purse to last until Friday, and it was only Tuesday now. "I'm afraid I –"

"And I'm afraid I must insist," Narcissa overrode her seamlessly. She was tugging a pair of snug, black leather gloves onto her long, elegant hands. "Come along. You need sustenance. You're pale, young lady." And as if she sensed Cho's dilemma, she continued. "Besides, this should be considered…a business meal. On me."

The door's cluster of bells tinkled when Draco held it open for the witches. "After you, Miss Chang. Mother."

"Thank you, darling."

Cho glanced once back to Arlo Tryer. The potioneer watched the trio depart with curiosity on his doughy features.

)O(

She fidgeted in her chair. She knew it was unattractive for a girl of eighteen, but Cho also knew with painfully self-aware certainty that she was not dressed for this establishment. The Malfoys either took no notice of her discomfort, or downplayed it expertly. Cho tried not to scarf the bread and butter while Narcissa talked.

"It's no secret, Miss Chang, and I'm sure you're well aware that my husband is in Azkaban. Sentenced to life, no less." This news was delivered with careless gesturing as the Malfoy matron buttered a warm roll. "So, my son and I had to take matters into our own hands when it came to finance. After Draco achieved his NEWTS from home, he took on an apprenticeship with my husband's broker. Now, we have a bit of an insider's perspective on money, and I've taken on a rather lucrative hobby." She paused to regard Cho. "What will you have to eat, dear? You look rather peaked. I recommend the filet."

Again, Cho blushed. Could Narcissa have guessed she was menstruating? She hoped not. "I…I'll let you order for me, then. If that's all right?"

A full smile lit the blonde's face. Her lips were red and bowed prettily. "Excellent." She snapped her fingers, and a server appeared. "Filet. All around. Rare for me. And the oysters, I believe. Draco?"

"Hm?" He glanced up distractedly. "Yes. Oysters. And those crackers with pate. I love pate. Do you like pate, Chang?"

"Um…" She'd never had it.

"Pate and caviar tray, then." Narcissa waved the server away as if he'd been a bother the mere thirty seconds he'd been there. She poured Cho a glass of wine that was rather sweet. "What was I saying?"

Cho licked the wine from her lips. "Your hobby."

Narcissa clapped. "Oh, yes. You see, I've always had a bit of a…green thumb, I suppose you could say. And I've taken to selling rare potions ingredients here in Britain. It's the best time, really, since the Ministry has levied such high taxes on…certain ingredients. Particularly imports."

Here, Draco spoke with a drawl and a raised brow. "My mother is trying to tell you she's pandering toxic, illegal or…otherwise questionable ingredients, Miss Chang. And she's quite successful." He raised a casual toast toward Narcissa. "Cheers, mum."

The purse of Narcissa's lips spoke her disapproval of her son's phraseology, but she didn't deny his statement. "The plants are rare, Miss Chang. And they require a subtle and knowledgeable hand." Her face softened and she regarded Cho openly. "Do you have knowledgeable hands, Miss Chang?"

Despite the delicious wine, Cho felt her mouth dry again. She tried to nod. "I did well in herbology, Mrs. Malfoy."

"Good! Good." Narcissa nodded. Her smile slid into snakelike seduction. "The other girls simply call me Mistress…Cho. If you'll come to work for me, I shall ask that you do the same." Her now bare fingers touched the sapphire dragon on her necklace. Cho's eyes followed those fingers, slid to the beginnings of cleavage beneath the bauble.

"Others?" Her voice seemed impossibly weak.

"Yes." Narcissa assured. "Two whom I believe are friends of yours. Padma and Parvati Patil? And of course, our little Pansy. Parkinson. You remember her?"

Cho blinked quickly. Draco watched her. "Padma and Parvati work for you? I haven't seen them in weeks! I wondered where they'd gone!"

"Oh, not only do they work for me, Cho." Leaning back in her chair, Narcissa swirled her wine in its glass. "They live with me. At Malfoy Manor. You see, your friends were left…temporarily homeless, as well. Unless they wished to reside in India, that is. And fortunately for me, they did not." She drank. Cho watched the motion of her throat. "I call them my three P's. In a pod. Lovely, lovely girls…and so talented with our delicate flowers."

Draco chuffed a soft laugh, and Narcissa silenced him with a flick of her eyes. "I'm making you the same offer, Cho. Room and board. Plus a salary. And you may come and go as you please. In fact, further distribution of the workload among the four of you should mean more free time. Oh, my P's would simply be delighted!"

A chime sounded, and suddenly, their table filled with platters. Cho's mouth watered at the fragrance of rare red meat. She could hardly concentrate on Narcissa's words. Something seemed to be happening too quickly… But where else did she have to go? She could only stay at Hogwarts for a few more weeks at the most, and that was on McGonagall's generosity. She bit her lip. It sounded too good to be true. But after so much hardship and hell…too good to be true sounded nice. "I'll do it." It was the most confident she'd sounded in a long time.

The Malfoys smiled genuine smiles at each other, then at Cho. "Wonderful!" Narcissa had a positively musical voice when she was pleased. Her fingertips were cool and smooth beneath Cho's chin. "Now. Eat, lovely. I won't have one of my girls fainting away."

Cho felt her body relax for the first time in months. Tears threatened her throat. She had a home now, somewhat, and didn't have to fear starving or falling upon friends' generosities. And it had felt strangely wonderful to be one of this witch's girls. Wonderful to belong to someone, to be cared for.

It simply felt wonderful to feel wonderful.

)O(

Narcissa had told her not to give out details of her employment. This made sense to Cho, given the sensitive and somewhat secretive nature of the work she would be doing. She experienced the tiniest thrill, even – to think she was involved in something so dastardly. She grinned as she packed her one meager bag. It was just so…Malfoy.

She grew a little more excited with every loose end she tied up. It was fun telling Minerva McGonagall that she couldn't disclose any details of her work, but that the headmistress could rest assured it was legitimate.

She had no family to owl, and few friends. But she wrote letters to both Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood, telling them she would not be imposing upon them for shelter, after all.

She left Hogwarts on a cool September morning, pausing only once to look back fondly at the castle. She had many fond memories there, and some rather painful ones, too. But it was as glorious as it had ever been, even in its incomplete reconstruction.

She apparated into Diagon Alley, just outside of Knockturn as instructed. Draco Malfoy was leaning nonchalantly against a storefront wall. He perked up when she spun to a rest, and reached for her bag. "Good trip?" He asked.

She nodded, tugging a strand of hair from her mouth. "Always a little upsetting to my stomach, really."

"Took me a while to get used to it, too." He offered her his arm, and she took it almost shyly. "Hungry? Thirsty? Mother's instructed me to take care of you."

She grinned. "How kind. But I'm fine. Thank you."

They were walking toward the Leaky Cauldron. Draco occasionally nodded to passersby. He seemed to know a lot of people. "You certainly are well-mannered, Chang."

She looked at him askance. It was an odd comment. "Thank you? I think."

He grinned. "My mother adores good manners. And she's weak for a pretty face." He turned to face her fully outside the pub. "I knew she would want you. Come on. We'll floo from here."

Her mind whirled around his words as he led her into the floo, grabbed the powder, and summoned the green flames that would take her to her new destiny.

Obviously, Narcissa had prepared her 'girls' for Cho's arrival. She'd scarcely stepped from the floo before she was swept into the arms of Padma and Parvati Patil.

"Oh, Cho!"

"How wonderful you're here!"

"How good to see you!"

"Gods, how've you been?"

"You look beautiful!"

"Look how long your hair's grown!"

Cho's eyes teared at her friends' warm and overwhelming welcome. Their hugs felt like the greatest comfort she'd ever known. "Padma. Parvati. There aren't even words…"

Over Padma's shoulder she saw another familiar face. Pansy Parkinson. The Slytherin had changed a bit, it seemed; her boyish features had softened to a jaunty cuteness, and her hair was affixed in an elegant up-do. But her demeanor was as cool as ever, and her smile seemed measured. She bowed respectfully when she met Cho's eyes, but had no warm words or hugs. Draco leaned in for a quick word with her, then motioned to the giddy trio.

"Pansy says tea is on. Come along, ladies. Don't keep mother waiting." He hefted Cho's bag once more. "I'll take this along to your rooms, Chang. I'm sure the P's will show you to your lodgings after tea. Good day, ladies."

"Good day, Draco!" Cho marveled at the polite chorus of voices that bade him adieu. This was obviously a well-worn routine for them.

Pansy led the way down the manor's extensive first floor corridor. Padma and Parvati clung to Cho's sides and alternately squeezed or interrogated her.

"How did Mistress find you?" Padma asked breathlessly.

"I was looking for jobs in Diagon Alley and ran into Draco, actually."

"Did she tell you about our garden?" Parvati's eyes shone.

"Well, she told me about the plants."

"It's more than just some silly garden, P." Pansy shot over a shoulder. "Don't mislead the girl."

Parvati stuck her tongue out at Pansy's back. Her eyeroll indicated that this was usual behavior for their taller companion. Cho just smiled. "How did you all end up here?"

"We were trying to sell robes to Madam Malkin," Padma confessed sheepishly. "Mistress came in, bought us new clothes and brought us here straight away!"

"Oh, it's just lovely here, Cho!" Parvati gushed. "And you'll love your rooms!"

"My rooms?" Cho wobbled as they turned a corner. "We don't share?"

Pansy stopped at a set of ornately carved teak doors. "Share?" She scoffed. "As if. Of course we have our own rooms. Mistress knows her P's value their privacy. It's bad enough I have to work with these two giggling ninnies all the time." Before the exotic Indian beauties could take issue, Pansy had swung the doors open and stepped through.

Cho was momentarily breathless. She'd entered a room she never would have imagined in the dark confines of Malfoy Manor – the solarium. It was a glassed enclosure, round and eastern facing, obviously designed to make the most of morning sun. Flowering plants of all sorts bobbed and bloomed about the room, and a table set in the center sported an elaborate breakfast spread. Cho's stomach rumbled.

But the nucleus of this room – the epicenter of its energy and the most startling presence imaginable – was Narcissa Malfoy. She stood facing away from the girls, into the distance beyond the plate glass. Her straight slender back was bare, the dress she wore hanging in elegant grey folds down her sides.

Cho was unprepared for such an expanse of bare, pristine skin. Pale as a ghost and as gorgeous as she could be, Narcissa turned slowly. She gave Cho such a startling smile, the girl froze in her tracks. Padma and Parvati looked at their friend almost knowingly, shy smiles of their own forming as they looked away and pulled out their chairs.

"Cho. My only C." Narcissa spread her arms in a gesture of welcome. "My newest exotic flower. Join us."

"Sit here, Cho!" Padma patted the seat of the chair beside her. "Between us!"

Cho shook off her blush and sat between the twins. Across the table, Pansy glared, a smirk on her thin lips.

"Help yourself," Narcissa said. "We breakfast here at eight every morning. If there is anything you wish added to the menu, don't hesitate to tell the elves. They are Peppa and Gibb. We luncheon here, as well, at one. But we take supper in the formal dining hall at seven. Meals are not mandatory, but I do so love to see my girls' faces." She dropped a lump of sugar into her tea. "Isn't that right, Pansy?"

Cho watched the two Slytherins' gazes meet. The look was almost smoldering. "That's right, Mistress." Pansy conceded. "And we do so love to please you."

Cho looked to Padma and Parvati, wondering if they'd noticed this odd exchange, but they were happily buttering scones and chattering. "Where is Draco?" Cho asked.

"My son rarely takes meals with us, Cho." Narcissa informed sadly. "He has his work, mostly. Though you will cross his path occasionally. I know I enjoy having him when I can."

"Of course, you do, Mistress." Pansy offered up a jam pot. "Marmalade?"

The rest of breakfast passed with a buzz of scheduling and locations that reminded Cho slightly of Hogwarts; east, west, north and south wings; greenhouses one, two and three; herb garden, nightshade garden and succulent garden; the hedge maze, rose garden and orchards. She couldn't fully wrap her mind around how expansive the manor's grounds truly were, nor how she would ever remember where everything was located.

"You'll get used to it," Pansy reassured her. "Soon, it becomes second nature. Just stay out of the west wing and you'll be fine."

All the table's occupants nodded at this, but Cho had to ask. "Why? What's wrong with the west wing?"

Narcissa supplied the quiet answer. "My husband occupied the west wing, Cho. He kept many dark objects there. And although the manor's been completely cleared by aurors and Unspeakables alike, I feel that vile magic still lingers there. I simply won't have my P's – or C's – exposed to it." Her hands fluttered, dismissing the dreary subject. "Plus, it hasn't been dusted properly in years and I dread to imagine what boggarts now reside there."

The women chuckled, and Cho smiled.

After breakfast, Narcissa herself saw Cho to her rooms, sending her other girls off to their respective jobs.

"All sleeping quarters are here on the second floor," she explained. "I am at the end of this hall. Padma and Parvati are across from you, there and there. Pansy is next door to you." Narcissa opened a heavy cherry wood door. "This is your room, love. I hope you like it."

But 'like' would be an understatement for Cho. Lush tawny carpeting caressed her toes and her fingers itched to touch the embossed silver wall covering. The ceiling was domed, painted with Greek figures. Her bag – dropped at the foot of the enormous canopied bed – was drab in comparison. "It's gorgeous," she breathed.

"Oh, good." Narcissa sighed in relief. "You've Perseus on your ceiling, I see. And the three gorgons. Do you remember their names?"

The witch leaned close to Cho as she spoke. Her hot breath lingered at the girl's ear, making remembering anything rather difficult at the moment. "Um…I remember Medusa."

"Right." Narcissa's arm brushed Cho's hand. It was difficult to differentiate the skin from the velvet sleeve. "The other two were Stheno and Euryale."

"Oh."

"I have an affinity for Greek myth and legend. All of our rooms here are decorated to reflect that." Suddenly, Cho felt cool, dry fingers sweep across the back of her neck. She jolted at the touch and gasped.

"You've such perfect skin, Cho. Just like Padma's and Parvati's. Won't Pansy be jealous?" She gave a soft laugh and stepped away. "You'll be working with Padma today in greenhouse two. Bulbs and orchids. She's working on a rather tedious project. I'm hoping you'll be better suited to it than her sister was."

"I'll do my best, Mistress." Cho gave a little curtsy. She couldn't explain why.

But in the doorway, Narcissa swelled. Her nostrils flared. "I like the sound of that word on your lips particularly, Cho." A shadow fell across half her face, leaving one eye little more than a serpentine glimmer. "And such impeccable manners. You're an absolute dear, aren't you?" Cho had no reply to that. "Come. I'll show you to the greenhouse. Padma will be your guide from there."

Padma was diligently working when Narcissa showed Cho into the greenhouse. The Indian girl smiled widely at her friend. "Cho! Grab an apron! I'm really glad you're working with me!"

"Have fun, girls," Narcissa said.

"Yes, Mistress," they chorused back.

"So what are we doing?" Cho asked as she approached Padma's bench.

"We're extracting lycorine. It's tough work." Padma raised her wand over a hearty white trumpet-shaped blossom. "I'll show you. Keep your wand movements tight, and listen to the charm a few times before you try it."

Cho nodded. She watched carefully and listened to the complex Latin. In miniscule amounts, she saw slivers of silvery liquid extract from the flower and coil in mid-air before Padma directed it into a nearby vial. She was impressed. "This is a tedious process," she whispered. "Just what is this stuff?"

Padma looked almost scared to reply, but did so after a moment's hesitation. "Well. In the right amounts, it's a deadly poison. But it's also used in medicine and make-up!" She added this almost as a defense.

"I see." Cho took a blossom from the basket atop the table. It was a strikingly pretty flower, and smelled sweet and inviting. "What's this flower?"

Padma shrugged. "It's a narcissus."

Cho blinked. "Oh." They continued their work in silence.

Over lunch, the businesswoman in Narcissa revealed herself. She checked items off of an internal checklist. "Parvati? Are the belladonna seedlings potted?"

"Yes, Mistress."

"Thank you. Pansy? Have you harvested the Datura?"

"Yes, Mistress."

"Thank you. Padma? The lycorine extraction?"

"Finished, Mistress."

"Excellent. I assume your helper sped the process along considerably."

"She did." Padma winked at Cho.

"Good. I'd like you to get started on extracting Pansy's Datura next."

Padma gave up a tiny groan, but agreed. "Yes, Mistress. Can Cho still help?"

Narcissa smirked. "I suppose. If you find her abilities suited to such detailed work. Pansy?"

"Yes, Mistress?"

"I'd like to see you in my office before you start germinating those new seeds today."

Pansy's eyes glazed and she suddenly seemed imperiused. "Yes, Mistress."

And with orders delegated, lunch dispersed. Headed to greenhouse three, Cho addressed Padma again. "I hope Pansy isn't in trouble," she hedged.

Padma snorted. "Hardly. She's Mistress' favorite. I doubt it's a disciplinary issue."

"Oh." Cho fingered a blooming white rose as they passed by it. "What does that mean?"

"Come on, Cho." Padma cut eyes at her. "You know what that means. They're together."

"Together?"

This time, Padma stopped. She glanced back to the manor before leaning conspiratorially toward Cho. "Pansy was here before Padma and I. It didn't take too long to figure out she wasn't exactly an employee."

"They're lovers!" Cho exclaimed.

"Shhh!" Padma whirled them back toward the greenhouse. "Yes, but don't announce it to the bloody firmament! Gods!"

Cho bit her lip. Something very like jealousy curled up in her abdomen. "I see." She quieted and watched the walkway before her.

Padma nudged her. "It's alright," she assured. "She won't do anything to you, so don't worry."

"Who won't?"

"Mistress! She's never bothered Parvati or me. Just compliments us a lot, but that's all harmless." They entered yet another hot and muggy greenhouse. Padma quickly located another basket of blossoms, these wide and tremulous. "If you thought there could be nothing harder than harvesting lycorine, your opinion is about to change."

Cho pasted on a game face and set to learning another charm. She tried to ignore the wicked thought curling like a tendril about the base of her brain – the thought that maybe she wanted Narcissa Malfoy to do something to her. Anything…

)O(

Cho found peace in the routine Malfoy Manor offered. She slept well in her thick down mattress, ate well at elaborate meals, and enjoyed a multitude of books or shopping on her days off. She was paid well considering her room and meals were included – a pleasant surprise, indeed. She didn't ask questions about her work, just did as she was asked. Narcissa praised her at every turn, and Cho practically cat-curled in the witch's approval.

On her 42nd evening at the manor, she was traversing from Padma's room to her own when she heard voices – Pansy and her Mistress. Cho had never been one for eavesdropping, but hearing one's name mentioned in passing tends to grasp one's attention. She slowed and quieted as she approached Pansy's cracked door.

"It's gotten out of hand, Mistress! The two giggling Gryffindors were one thing, but Cho… She's a bit sharper. I worry that she'll –"

"She'll what, Pansy? Start to suspect something? Only if you give her reason to, and might I say you have been out of sorts lately, my pet. Why is that?" Narcissa's voice was honey.

Pansy spat her reply. "Out of sorts!? You fawn all over her as if she's some great prize and expect me to simply stand idly by and watch? How do you think I feel?"

"Jealous? It doesn't suit you. You know better. You are my strong Slytherin, my princess of snakes. I need you, Pansy. In so many ways."

"Oh, please, Mistress. I just lick your pussy better than your son does."

Cho jolted at the resounding slap. A gasp followed, and then her Mistress, growling. "How dare you. You grow impertinent in your importance. Don't make me knock you down a peg."

"Like my predecessor? Amelie? Wasn't that her name? That poor beleaguered Beauxbaton?"

"Stop now, Pansy." Narcissa's tone was a warning.

"Whatever happened to her? Poor thing. She had no one to miss her, really. Just like us."

" I SAID STOP!" Cho flinched at her Mistress' fury. She'd never imagined Narcissa could produce such a resonance. There was a moment of heavy breathing, then – lower and far more menacing: "Maintain this attitude and you shall find out first hand what became of Amelie. And what's more, you shall never breathe a word of it to a soul. In fact, you shall simply never breathe again."

Cho heard a swish of heavy silks and scurried past Pansy's door toward her own, toes making no sound against the hallway's thick runner. She tried to appear as nonchalant as possible in opening her door.

Narcissa saw her, and froze a few feet from Pansy's room. "Cho. My lovely." But her usual smile was absent. Her expression could best be described as suspicious. "Where have you been hiding?"

Cho gave her usual curtsy. "I was visiting Padma, Mistress."

"I see." Narcissa approached. Her ice blue dressing gown flicked aside as she walked, revealing a bare, egg-smooth leg. "A rather late night visit, wouldn't you say? I wonder what exactly you and my lotus flower were up to?"

Cho colored at the implication, and didn't remove her eyes from Mistress' leg until firm, cool fingers pushed up her chin. Narcissa's eyes were frightening in their intensity. "We…we read the new Witch Weekly Magazine together, Mistress." A truth.

"Ah." The fingers traveled slowly along Cho's tensing jaw line. "And on your way back to your room, you no doubt heard something. Am I right?"

Cho swallowed. No use lying completely, but an omission couldn't hurt. "I heard raised voices in Pansy's room, Mistress," she admitted. "But I didn't eavesdrop! I promise!" Oh, please believe me… A nervous moment followed while Narcissa seemed to study Cho's eyes.

Finally, her fingers fell away from the girl's face and she sighed. "Well. If you would be so kind as to invite your Mistress inside your private chambers, I should like to…explain myself. I won't have you thinking ill of Pansy or myself. Nor will I have you feeling you reside amongst secrets and lies."

I already think that. But so great was her relief that her fib was believed, Cho relented immediately. "Oh, Mistress. Of course you're invited anytime!" Her hands shook as she pushed open her door. Narcissa entered ahead of Cho, but not before the Ravenclaw heard the click of Pansy's door quietly closing.

Cho found Narcissa staring up at her ceiling. "I forgot how much I adore this frieze," she murmured. The moonlight turned her white blonde hair to spun silver. "I'm afraid Pansy is somewhat…enamored of me." She faced Cho directly. "It's my own fault. Perhaps I've been too affectionate toward her. I just hoped that I could bring her out of her shell." She sat on the end of Cho's bed, crossed her legs until one creamy appendage peaked out, teasing. "She was such an angry girl when she first arrived…"

Cho nodded, uncertain what to do with this situation. Narcissa was staring at her purposefully. "Cho?"

"Hm?"

"Am I keeping you from your bed?"

"No, Mistress!"

Narcissa stretched out a hand. "Come here, dear."

So Cho stepped into surreality, let it absorb her like a liquid moment. She put her fingers into Narcissa's fingers and felt a tug. Soon, she was close enough to touch, close enough to smell. Her eyes drifted closed. Mint. Lavender. Spicy vanilla. Her Mistress smelled less like a person and more like a dessert.

"Pansy is jealous of you, my cherry blossom." Puffs of breath on Cho's face and neck. She leaned in helplessly, lurched when those same fingers pressed her belly. "Do you know why?"

Too weak and stupid to form words, Cho shook her head.

Narcissa chuckled in her throat. "She thinks I want you…as a lover." The hand ghosted over her small, firm breasts, up to her neck. "Can you imagine that?"

"Uh…" Blearily, she opened her eyes. She hadn't realized how close to Mistress she was, how close to her lips.

"Strange…" Narcissa tilted her head. "I can." The fingers tangled in Cho's sleek hair, curved around her head. And the lips were on her own.

And melting. The girl was melting. All was soft and downy. The muffled sounds of her skirt hitting her carpet. The clicks of Mistress' fingernails on blouse buttons. All was drowned to a murmur by the rumbling whoosh of blood coursing in Cho's ears – the earthy, windy sound of her own pulse.

"It's alright to touch me, darling," Narcissa whispered. "I want you to touch me."

"Oh, Mistress." Cool silk. Cool skin. Cho pushed at the dressing gown, pulled at its tie. She could never have imagined the true heaviness of Mistress' breasts, the soft pooch of Mistress' belly, the sharp taste of Mistress' mouth. "Mistress…" Her head spun even as it hit pillow.

Narcissa took the lead. Delicately, she kneaded Cho's pert breasts, lowered her lips to the dark, hardened nipples. She suckled, then nipped with sharp demanding teeth. Cho whimpered and arched, slid her hands across the sleek skin of Mistress' back. Long fingers dipped into her furry cleft and Cho twisted her head away, bit her lip. She was wet and embarrassed of it.

"Oh, sweet blossom." Mistress' finger worked moisture from Cho's slit to circle her clit, making the girl whine. "Can you have wanted this as I have, then?" Her free hand took Cho's from her back and slid it briskly down her front. Cho gasped to feel Mistress' hot split fruit, ripe and swollen.

"See?" Narcissa's voice was strained. "Don't be shy…"

So Cho explored. Emboldened by Mistress' salacious touch and encouraging cries, she flipped them. She was eager to press her lips to Mistress' breasts, to feel the pebbled pink buds beneath her tongue. And Mistress wriggled at the sensation. "Yes, Cho. Good. Good girl."

But then the tables turned again, and Cho was on her back. Mistress descended determinedly, paused with her mouth over Cho's mons. "Have you ever been pleasured this way, darling?"

The image of those ice blue eyes peering up between the valley of her own tits was disarming. Cho groaned. "No, Mistress. I haven't."

A kiss peppered her clit and Cho cried out sharply. "Have you ever been pleasured at all?"

Tears stung her eyes. How humiliating to be a virgin in this witch's hands, to know nothing of how to please or tease. "No, Mistress. I'm…I've never."

"Excellent." Then her tongue dipped in earnest, and Cho surrendered herself. She pitched at each stroke and suck, gasped and begged when Mistress' fingers joined the fray. She simply abandoned shame. The sensation was just to good, too irresistible. And something even better was pooling in the deepest part of her, the nameless part lower than her abdomen. Something burned just out of fire's reach – an ember threatened to explode into flame.

"You're close, my love." Mistress' voice was rough now. She kissed Cho on the mouth, let the girl taste herself. Below, her fingers still worked expertly. Above, Cho clutched her shoulders as if afraid of death. "Do you want to come?"

"Yes, Mistress! Yes!"

"Then let's delve a little deeper." Narcissa shifted. Her fingers shifted. Cho shifted. A hot slice of pain and she pressed closer to Mistress, one leg curled over the older witch's hip. Heat spread. Mistress' arm and hand worked faster, blurred between the legs of the lewdly opened girl.

Cho tensed, neck curved unnaturally. "Oh, goddess bless me!" She keened. "Mistress!"

"Now, girl!" Narcissa barked. "Now!"

The rope snapped. Strands of the coil seemed to splinter in Cho's belly and upward. She clenched and released in a sensual seizure and the guttural sound that escaped her throat was alien to her own ears.

Narcissa let the girl collapse back to her bed. She nuzzled her young lover as she withdrew wet, sticky fingers. Cho whimpered at the loss, and scissored her legs against a wincing sting. "I'm so sorry, my sweet," Mistress whispered.

"Why, Mistress?" Cho rubbed clumsily at tears she hadn't even felt form.

Narcissa held up her bloodied hand. In the moon's glow, the sticky fluid was black. "I'm certain that hurt a bit."

But Cho was more concerned with the bedclothes. She bolted upright, looked between her legs. Indeed, little dots decorated the pale green duvet. "Oh no!"

Narcissa let out a musical little laugh. "Oh, my cherry blossom. Only you would be concerned over such a triviality." She turned Cho to face her. "You've granted me a gift this night. Bedding is a small price to pay for a girl's innocence, wouldn't you say?"

Cho nodded, reality re-descending at last. She'd had sex. For the first time. With a woman. With Narcissa Malfoy!

"Regrets?" Mistress' voice was small, almost fearful.

Cho's eyes widened. "Oh, no, Mistress! Not at all! Just…" She shrugged, suddenly feeling terribly exposed.

"We need a bath," Mistress supplied. "A nice long soak. You will feel much better." Cho smiled and nodded. "Good. Why don't you draw it for us in your lavatory. And I'll have Peppa change these blankets. Elves cast no aspersions. They know young witches have these sorts of…accidents sometimes. Yes?"

"Yes, Mistress." Cho felt better already. She clambered off of the bed, legs a little wobbly when she stood. She looked back at Narcissa from the loo's doorway. "Mistress?"

The witch was cinching her dressing gown. "Yes, blossom?"

"You'll stay, then?"

"But of course I will!" She smirked. "I've still to teach you how to pleasure me, haven't I?"

Cho grinned and bit her lip. She practically skipped into the lavatory. So what if Mistress had taken Pansy as a lover before? It was obvious the Slytherin girl had been replaced. Cho wand-tapped the garden tub's elaborate golden faucet, selected a hot spray. Let Mistress have her secrets. A self-satisfied smile lit Cho's face.

She had some secrets of her own, now.

)O(

Pansy was late to breakfast. And when she walked into the solarium, she looked rumpled and half-awake. Mistress gave her a disapproving stare. "Pansy. Are you well this morning?"

Padma and Parvati watched this exchange curiously. Cho stared into her teacup.

"Fuck you," Pansy spat. The Patils gasped. Pansy vacillated between crying and seething. "You whore!" She screamed at a stoic and composed Narcissa Malfoy. "And you!" She slapped the back of Cho's chair. "Filthy slag!" Slowly, she circled a stunned table. "I'm done here." Her voice wavered. "I'm out of here. I'm taking what I have left of my dignity – and my life – and I'm leaving. You can't stop me, Mistress." She laughed ruefully. "What a joke."

Narcissa sat straight-backed and made no reply. Pansy leveled a gaze at the Patils. "Get out while you can," she whispered. "Or she'll get you, too." She cut eyes at Cho. "You poor little fool. I was just like you a few months ago. You, too. Get out while you can." Her face contorted and she turned quickly to prevent anyone seeing her weep again.

When Pansy had left the solarium, Narcissa cleared her throat. "Miss Parkinson makes a valid point," she said calmly. "I cannot and will not prevent any of you from leaving at any time. You are free to come and go here as you please. This house is both your home and your place of work and you owe no permanent allegiances to either." She rose with a grim set to her lips. "But I believe you all know that. Please, excuse me."

The Patils' eyes watched Narcissa's departure, then predictably settled on Cho. "Oh, my gods. Cho! Did you…" Padma asked breathlessly.

But Cho gave her a glare that begged her to drop the subject.

So Padma just shook her head, both resigned to and accepting the many secrets of this house. "Pansy was certainly upset. I can't believe she just walked out like that."

"I can." Parvati's lip curled a touch. "Stupid bint. Now I'm stuck germinating all those new seeds by myself." She hmphed.

Cho continued to stare into her teacup, but couldn't contain the tiny triumph birthing in the back of her mind. The whole day she worked with Padma, she wore a baby grin, and Padma kindly made no mention of the morning's escapades.

That night, Mistress spoke in breathy gasps while Cho pleasured her. "Cherry blossom, you know there's no cause to mention Pansy's departure to anyone, don't you?"

Cho moaned an affirmative. "Mm-hm." It was rude to speak with one's mouth full.

"Good, darling. Oh!" Mistress bucked when Cho's lips rolled over her swollen clit. Narcissa's fingers clutched at the girl's hair. "Such a quick study, my little Ravenclaw! So good to your Mistress!" She arched and came, thighs quaking against Cho's head.

Cho scrambled up the svelte body beneath hers for a sloppy kiss. "I love you, Mistress!" The admission was earnest if foolhardy. Embarrassing, in quick retrospect.

Narcissa chuckled in reply, shifted her lover into spooning. "Don't say that, dear heart. You confuse emotion with lust, I fear." She stroked Cho's hair from her face, kissed her temple. "Will you listen to me a moment?"

Biting back tears of humiliation, Cho nodded.

"I've chosen you to be my consort, you understand? But love is an emotion you must learn in time and reserve for that wizard or witch who will populate your heart –" long fingers stroked Cho's sensitive folds – "and not just your cunt." The word was surprising on Narcissa's lips, but left Cho strangely aching. "You see?"

"Yes, Mistress." She bucked against the massaging digits. Cooed when Narcissa's other hand slid down her back, betwixt the cheeks of her arse to doubly stroke that wet, wanting seether. "Please, Mistress!"

"Please what?"

"Please…put your fingers in me!" She wanted hard and fast. She wanted bruising, and Mistress complied roughly.

"Is this what you want, girl?" Her palm smacked against sweaty flesh and Cho spread her legs wider, curved one over Narcissa's hip. She looked down to see one set of fingers abusing her clit and folds as another set pounded into her brutally – two, then three glistening with her spilled lubricity. She wasn't capable of words, but Mistress was, and continued talking in a poised and firm monotony.

"I shan't come to your bed every night, pet. But when I do, I expect you to welcome me with this same level of fervor. If I request your presence or services at any time and in any place in my home, again I expect you to deliver without question your best efforts to satisfy me. You will not go unsatisfied yourself."

A slap against the girl's clit shocked her young body and she shouted wordlessly. "Do I make myself clear?" Mistress asked. Another slap.

"Yes, Mistress! Yes! Yes!" Cho sobbed and shattered, clutching her duvet in desperate fingers.

Mistress gentled her like a newly broken filly. "Very good, cherry blossom." She patted the girl's hip. "Now. Clean up and rest up. You've orders to fill tomorrow and you'll be one pair of hands short." She slipped from the bed, gathered her dressing gown from the floor.

Cho sat up and covered herself with rumpled sheets. "You'll not stay with me tonight, Mistress."

"No, my dear. I've my own business to attend before I sleep tonight. And Draco comes tomorrow to assist me further."

A stab of quicksilver jealousy. Was Draco his mother's lover as Pansy had suggested? Surely not. Cho shuddered to imagine that was true.

"Oh. Blossom?"

Cho looked to her doorway where Narcissa was framed by the hall sconces' orange glow. "Yes, Mistress?"

"I shall not be in your bed tomorrow evening. I will be quite indisposed, in fact – just for the night." She must have noticed the hurt on Cho's features for her voice softened. "You know…if you were very lonely, I would not disapprove of your…taking comfort with one of the Patil sisters." Her brows quirked. "Or perhaps even both? I believe they could quite possibly be encouraged." She blew a delicate kiss to Cho's shocked and gaping mouth. "Sweet dreams, my China doll."

In the dimness of her room, with only the drying fluids on her skin for company, Cho stared at her closed door. Envy, malice and pride were new emotions for her, and they felt like a flu coming on.

)O(

Mistress was not at breakfast the next morning. Instead, an elf delivered a list of tasks for the girls to achieve, mainly packaging of various orders to be taken to the owlery. Parvati scowled at it. "Looks like we'll have a long day today. Thanks, Pansy." She cast the list to the table. "Wonder if she'll find a replacement."

"Nonsense," Cho snapped. She grabbed the list. "We are more than capable. We'll simply have to work steady and stay focused." She sipped her tea.

Padma and Parvati shared a knowing look before returning to their own teas and Cho set her chin. She knew she'd been the topic of conversation between them. Fine. They weren't stupid, and so long as they didn't question her choices or challenge her position as Mistress' consort, Cho didn't give a damn what they knew or thought. She gave an impatient sigh, wondering what exactly could keep Mistress so busy with her son all day, not to mention the all night ahead. "Hell. Let's get started, girls." Distraction was in order, and the Patil sisters didn't object.

They worked through lunch by mutual agreement, filling the largest and most complicated orders first. By supper time, all that remained were a few simple orders, easily completed the next morning. The girls were exhausted and hungry. They ate what Gibb had prepared in relative silence, Padma flipping through the newest Witch Weekly Magazine. Every once in a while, she and her sister commented on some photo or article featured in the journal, but Cho could not seem to be engaged.

"Cho?" It was Parvati who finally addressed the issue directly. "Are you alright?"

"Of course, I am," Cho bit out. At Parvati's hurt expression, she softened. "I'm sorry. I apologize to both of you. I just…" She rubbed her arms self-consciously.

"You just what?" Padma asked.

"I just wonder what Mistress is doing. I haven't seen her all day." She blushed to know that now her friends knew her weakness, the extent of her need – and truly only the surface of that need.

Padma shrugged. "I don't know what she's doing, but I saw Draco earlier. He came to get some tools from greenhouse two while I was there."

Cho sat up. "What tools? What did he say?"

"He didn't say much," Padma spoke slowly, trying to remember. "He got some of the charmed cutters and saws, and when I asked what he was pruning, he laughed and said he and his mother were doing some renovations in the west wing."

Cho bit her tongue. Who does renovations all night? And with pruning shears at that? "Well," she said aloud, "perhaps Mistress intends to open up the west wing soon."

"Think we're expanding?" Parvati asked.

"Oh, I hope not!" Padma whinged. "And if we do, she'd better get some burly boys to prune back that bloody tentacula. D'you like this haircut?" She shoved the magazine in Parvati's face.

Cho left the table briskly. She paced in her room for a while. Ran a hot bath. Soaked and ruminated. She thought of her Mistress; those hands on her body, the heat of her, the taste of that mouth, the taste of that cunt.

Her mouth watered and she stood in the bath. Grabbing her wand, she dried herself with a whisk and a whisper, shrugged into a nightgown, and quietly entered the hallway. It would simply kill her to not know…

Passing Parvati's room, she heard giggling and the muffled beats of the wizarding wireless. Passing Pansy's room, she heard nothing. Mistress' door was cracked and the room appeared quite empty. The entire manor was quiet and dark. Even the elves were absent.

She paused at the foyer, checked for presences and finding none, skittered across. Her bare feet made not a sound. At the arch that opened into the west wing, she raised her wand. "Lumos." There were no lit sconces here, and the dark corridor ahead seemed interminable.

She proceeded with great caution, ready to nox at a second's notice. But the first floor was vacant, it seemed. Dead. Cho made out a steep stone staircase ahead, like the one that led to the dining hall from the east wing. She made her way toward it.

Her heart had ceased racing. The cold sweat had evaporated. The girl found that her search for answers and her obsession with the Mistress of this house trumped both instinct and fear. She dimmed her wand as she approached the second floor landing, slowed her approach til she could peer around a wide column.

"Nox." Ceiling high windows made her wand unnecessary. Cool starlight revealed undressed windows and a hallway empty of any décor. Odd, considering the rest of the house was a tribute to excess in every way. There was also no runner or carpeting of any kind on this pale marble floor. She had to tread extra carefully to prevent her toes making even the slightest noise.

For at the end of this hall was a cracked door emanating a shaft of warm, golden light. There was a tingle of strong magic, too. Cho paused, considered her approach. With nothing to conceal herself behind, this might be an abortive mission.

Then she caught sight of the farthest window and squinted. Reflected in the panes of glass were the activities of the lighted room. Cho smiled. It wasn't perfect, but it would suffice. Now she only had to get close enough to hear the activities…

She crept along the wall at slower than a snail's pace, her wand clutched tightly to her chest. Occasionally, light from the windows threatened to absorb her toes and she pulled even more dearly to the wall. In the shadowed alcoves of warded doorways, she took refuge and listened.

Finally, she could hear voices. Her Mistress and her Mistress' son. Draco sounded close to the door, so Cho hid herself completely for a time. She even squeezed her eyes closed – a holdover from the childhood belief that she was invisible to anything she could not see herself.

"What do you suppose makes it work, mother?"

"I don't know, son. Something in the blood, I assume." Their voices echoed strangely, as if they spoke in a cave. And there was an occasional heavy drip and splatter. "The goddess' gift of youth serum."

"Would it work the same if it wasn't pure blood?"

Her Mistress' warm laugh. "I've no idea, Draco. And I can't say I want to attempt it." They chuckled together.

"Well, whatever the case may be, you look fantastic, mum." A splash. "If you'd have me, I would be your lover." Cho's eyes snapped open.

"Don't be silly," Narcissa admonished lovingly. "Although the rumor works well to keep most of my recruits at arm's length."

"Yes. Most." The young wizard paused. "But not Amelie. And not Chang, eh?"

Mistress was quiet for a moment. Heavy drips created tiny echoing splatters. Cho stared up into the dark alcove above her, holding her breath. "I don't want that one at arm's length," Narcissa finally replied. "I like having her well within reach for now."

Relief and victory heated Cho's chest. She hazarded a glance to the window.

Draco's tall slim form obscured most of the limited view afforded her. He wore a trim, white frock coat, its high stiff collar brushing the ends of his short shorn flaxen hair. Fine red sprays marred the material. Blood?

Cho risked leaning slightly forward. Her heart had begun to race again. She almost feared it was audible. Now she could make out the room itself, as there was little to make out. It seemed completely tiled, floor to ceiling, in shiny white tile. There was more red spray here and there. No rhyme nor reason to the various arcs, really.

Draco moved, raised his arms. Cho's throat emitted a peculiar click and she froze.

Her Mistress sat straight and nude in a round white basin. The tub was filled with what was no doubt indeed blood. The bright red substance clung to Narcissa's nude body and matted her hair until she was solid sanguine. Draco was pouring more gore across his mother's back and shoulders from a silver cup. The light spatter hit his frock coat and feathered almost prettily.

But what truly stole Cho's breath was not her Mistress' blood bath, but the source of the blood bath.

"And this one, mother?" Draco referred to Cho's fixation. The Malfoys looked up.

Hanging above Narcissa, suspended almost gracefully from means either magical or physical (Cho couldn't tell) was the naked corpse of Pansy Parkinson. Thankfully, Cho couldn't see her peer's deathly face. The angle her opened neck created cast her unseeing gaze directly to the floor. Her dark hair, hastily and carelessly hacked off, dripped her life fluid into the basin or onto the Malfoy matron.

Cho could barely resist screaming when Pansy's outstretched hands occasionally brushed Narcissa's shoulders as the body twirled subtly hither and thither.

"I confess I'll miss this one." Mistress reached up, live bloodied fingers meeting stiff bloodied fingers and stroking. A loving touch… "But she's always with me this way, isn't she, darling?"

"Yes, mother." Draco dipped the cup for more blood. Poured it over his mother's long, sodden locks. "I suppose they're with you forever this way." His fingers stroked her upturned jaw. "All of you. Immortal this way."

If there was a spell to make her one with the wall at her back, Cho would have uttered it. Her feet were cold and numb. Her eyes dry. When she finally closed them, the grisly bath remained – an image destined to haunt her forever. An image as immortal as the blood-soaked witch whom featured in it.

She felt as if in a trace as she inched painfully back down the corridor. Her wand felt a part of her body now, and her arm was tingling asleep across her chest. Fear had given way to nausea, horror and something far more essential and nameless: the knowledge that she was as expendable as Pansy Parkinson, and that she too would hardly be missed…

)O(

Mistress was at breakfast the next morning. Padma and Parvati beamed at her, gushed over how simply radiant she seemed to them.

"I simply must know your secret, Mistress!"

"Yes! And can we bottle it?"

"Oh, it would make a fortune!"

"And stop saying 'a day off will do it.' We know it's more than that!"

"It's got to be some kind of potion!" Padma insisted finally. "What do you think, Cho?"

Cho looked up from quietly sipping her tea. She saw the exhilarated faces of her naïve friends, and the expectant (if slightly suspicious) face of her Mistress. She allowed a slow and secretive smile of her own to form. It almost hurt her face. "Padma, I see no difference today in our Mistress than any other day." She watched Narcissa's eyes brighten and blaze. "She is as radiant as the sun every time I lay eyes on her."

Mistress' nostrils flared. Over the tittering of the Gryffindors, she spoke to her consort. "Thank you, Cho. And if you don't mind, I'd like a word with you in my office before you assist your cohorts today."

Cho dabbed her lips with her serviette. "Mistress, I would be delighted to attend you."

In this manor, secrets or none, Cho Chang intended to survive.

AN: Originally written from a prompt in Dark Witches Fest on Livejournal, this piece was inspired by Dario Argento's classic film Suspiria. There's also a heaping dose of Elizabeth Bathory mythos at work. It was fun crafting this Dark!Cissa just in time for Hallow's Eve. I wish all my readers a Happy Samhain!