Cup and Sword
The tinkle of a delicate fairy bell. The shop was dark and quiet, muted to a dull glow by the sunset reflecting off heavy red tapestries. It smelled of rosewood and spice, heavy exotic incense.
Narcissa Malfoy in her stiff and formal gray brocade felt immediately out of place. She glanced about. Peculiar charts upon the walls depicted human bodies laid bare like maps with various crystals for landmarks; astrological signs glittered, shifted and seemed to watch her curiously; star clusters winked, twinkled or spun wild upon their paper prisons. She took a deep breath and ventured toward the counter a few steps away. Her thick heels clicked loudly on the hardwoods. She had reached to remove them when a voice stopped her.
"Please, madam. They cause no disturbance." She looked up to see a young man standing behind the low, polished booth. Probably no more than 14 or 15, she thought. He was handsome, too. Rather an antithesis to her Draco. This boy had olive skin, dark hooded eyes and the sort of glossy black hair that makes a witch want to finger-comb it for hours. He bowed his head to her. "I am Besnik. Can I be of service to you?"
His soft and mellow tone penetrated her tense musculature. At first, no sound emerged from her opened mouth. She cleared her throat. She'd spoken so little these last years her voice was alien to her ears. "I'm here to see Madame Blavatsky."
"Ah." The boy nodded. "My grandmother." He smiled shyly and gestured Cissa to follow him. Through an amber-beaded curtain, she walked a long, shadowed hallway. Doors amidst elaborate panels suggested that perhaps this was Blavatsky's home as well as business.
Finally, at the end of the hall, a stained glass door – vividly coloured. An eye nestled inside a palm, the fingers of the hand outstretched like sun rays. When the boy lifted the latch, the eye blinked over his shoulder at Narcissa. She started.
Besnik slipped his head into the cracked open door. "Bunica!" He called out. A few more Romanian words were exchanged between boy and invisible grandmother. The Malfoy witch waited nervously, avoiding the eye in the door, until Besnik hemmed. "Come, Miss," he said. The door opened wide. "She will see you."
"Thank you." Cissa turned to smile at the boy, but he was gone. Her smile fell instead on the watchful green glass eye which blinked again.
"Hello." The voice was old, slightly nasal, and warm. "You are English?" The fortune teller appeared from behind an odd lotus printed screen. She was squat but trim, black hair shot through with silver and twisted up high in an elaborate scarf. Her eyes were peculiar – a watery blue clouded by cataracts.
Narcissa wondered if the woman could see at all, much less the future. "I am English, yes."
Blavatsky shuffled over. A head shorter than the petite witch, she looked up as she took Cissa's hand. Her skin was soft and dry, cool. Cissa, prepared to shake hands, was surprised when the elder tilted her palm to the light. "You've traveled far to see me." A skeletal finger traced the lines. The feeling was hypnotic. "Four years now you are a widow?"
Cissa nodded dumbly. "Many more years to be a widow." Blavatsky chuckled. "The grandson will be a comfort to you. And the others to come."
"Others?" Narcissa blinked.
Blavatsky dropped her hand abruptly and turned away. "Oh, yes. Others. Two more I see." She waved to a square table and two high-backed chairs, all worn with age. "Sit. Seat." Narcissa sat. The older woman was browsing a collection of small wooden boxes on a squat bookshelf. "Intriguing hand," she muttered. Her Romanian accent caressed the English syllables and Cissa vaguely wondered how many languages the seer spoke. "I see not so many witches."
Cissa's eyes snapped to the old gypsy just as she selected a box. She chuckled as she settled into the seat opposite the wide-eyed blonde. "Yes, yes. I know. A little line tells me." She lifted the box lid, revealed a deck of cards nestled snugly inside. They were nondescript, black with worn edges. "These are the best for you, my dear. Take them out. Shuffle them, please. Let them learn you." At Narcissa's hesitance, she coaxed gently. "Go on. Cards don't bite."
The witch's long fingers shuffled the cards delicately, letting them waterfall from one hand to the other. She didn't look at the images she knew were represented. While she whispered the cards from hand to hand, Blavatsky lit two slender candles on her table. White. The room brightened a bit, but there was no décor to take in. Just more dark paneling, and a colourful woven rug beneath them.
The seer relaxed in her chair, closed her eyes, and muttered in Romanian. "I ask the spirits to guide us today in the search for your future," she explained. "You may stop now." She accepted the cards, brushing Cissa's fingers almost affectionately. "Are you ready?"
Narcissa swallowed and leaned forward. "Yes," she breathed.
"You know my name," the crone intoned. "But I do not know yours, I'm afraid. Only it is a flower…"
Cissa spoke her own name as the first card hit the table. "Narcissa." Blavatsky repeated. "My fool." Indeed, the card shown was the fool. The images were gilded and intricate, a pleasant juxtaposition to their dour backing. Before Cissa's eyes the generic jester morphed into a decidedly nude feminine form with flaxen blonde hair. The witch gasped and looked to the madame, who laughed. "I told you this was the deck for you, lovely!" She tapped the card. "She is not stupid, my fool. Just...reborn. She embarks on a new path. See how free she is? So much chance ahead to be happy."
Blavatsky drew another card. "Let us see what frightens her now. What holds her down?" A card fell. Narcissa held her breath. "The hermit." Again the image morphed to match subject. The seer tisked. "So sad. She is lonely. Her grieving and her thinking have become her life. She feels mired in solitude. Why?"
Narcissa's nostrils flared, but she had no answer for the card reader. Another card. Death. A man this time, also long-locked and blonde. He dissolved into a skeleton and crumpled to a heap. Tears stung Narcissa's throat. "What a beast," Blavatsky murmured. "To leave behind his wife. Cruelty. It changed you. But he'd changed, too?" She put a dry, wizened fingertip over the grinning skull. "No. He could not change. So he asked for death. And death he received. And here you are."
The eight of cups flashed. Silver liquid spilled over the rims and ran in rivulets from overturned goblets. The seer sighed and smiled. "Yes. Good. You are ready to walk your new path now. Good. Time to leave all behind you. All the old past." A card. The three of swords. Blood swirled around the crossed blades. Blavatsky touched her heart plaintively. "Good to leave that past. All was blood. Loss and sadness. So much pain and strife."
Narcissa was nodding quickly, shaking. Another card lay down. The hanged man dangled and twirled, becoming softer and more like Narcissa with every smooth turn. "So she has been in limbo, my mother of fortune." Blavatsky closed her eyes. "You have sacrificed much, Narcissa. Learned many hard lessons and let go darkness. Now you wait." Her eyes opened, pinning the witch's. "What do you wait for?"
Cissa sniffed. "Happiness," she admitted quietly. She felt tears slide down her cheeks and blushed furiously. She wiped the salty trails with the back of her hand. "And I so want..." She paused. This part was hard to confess. "I want to feel love. I've never -"
A card hit the table, silencing her. The King of Swords. The two women watched the card together as it shadowed, obscuring the already unreadable face. Dark hair lengthened, and smoky tendrils seemed to swirl about his long legs. "Hm." Blavatsky tenderly stroked the card. "Perhaps love seeks you, as well, Narcissa. The King of Swords comes soon. He is clever and passionate. Learned. He is aggressive. He will come to claim. But he will be fair."
Cissa's brow furrowed. "But I don't know anyone -"
"Shh." Blavatsky hushed her gently, eager to examine the next card. A five of cups. "See? You are tired of your mourning. Tired of your loneliness. Already you welcome possibility and fulfillment. Your attitude is to move on. Let us see how others see you. Shall we?"
Truthfully, Narcissa couldn't be arsed over what anyone thought of her. Her eyes lingered on the darkly brooding king of swords who leaned laconically on the hilt of his propped blade. He seemed to be regarding her through a sheet of pitch hair.
"Temperance. Lovely." Blue eyes skated to the seer's most recent revelation. A woman so like herself in appearance poured wine into a goblet. "You hide your waiting - your wanting - well, it seems. Your family and those around you believe you to be at peace." Blavatsky spread her hands. "Perhaps it would behoove you to tell your son you are lonely? Would he not come to you? Bring the baby you already love?"
Narcissa sniffed. Had she been such a fool? Had she pushed her son away these years with her talk of peace and quiet achieved at last? She groaned and rubbed her face. "My fault," she murmured. "I sent them to live at the summer house. Thought they wanted to be a family without me. Gods, I did this to myself!"
The crone reached across the table and pulled Cissa's hands from her face. "One of those hard lessons, changed witch." Her wrinkled face softened. "But not a problem you cannot solve."
A smile tugged at Narcissa's lips. "True."
"Two more cards to complete our journey, dear. Shall we see your wishes and fears now?" At the blonde's resolved nod, the crone cast a card. Two of cups. Blavatsky grinned. "Ah, you do want love, don't you? To fill and to share these cups. And yet a part of you fears it as well. Or the seeking it out?"
Narcissa bit her lips. Yes, she was terrified at the possibility of socialising again. The dark Malfoy past and Lucius' well publicised suicide had done much to make her the hermit she'd become. And she was no longer a girl, either. "Your cards speak much truth, Madame." Her fingers inched toward the two shining silver goblets. "And the last card. Does it tell you what's to come for me?"
In answer, Blavatsky delivered the final image. The lovers. The nude blonde in the card looked shyly away from an equally nude raven-haired stranger. Narcissa flushed as a swooping cherub nudged the lady toward the man, and when she was in reach, he grabbed her to him. Their figures became one, then dissolved in a bright red mist. "Well." the seer snorted. "It seems love comes to you, budding flower."
Narcissa touched her own jaw. She was dreadfully warm of a sudden. "I see," she whispered. "When?"
Blavatsky shrugged. "We can only guess. But adding your number of cups suggests soon. Perhaps fifteen days."
"Fifteen days?!" Cissa stiffened. "Certainly not so soon? I hardly even know any wiz - man even similar to this king of swords."
"Oh, I imagine you do, dear." The madame swept all the cards aside save for the king. "Shall we gain a bit more insight to your dark lover?"
"Can we?" Narcissa sat forward, excited, and Blavatsky chuckled.
"The cards do favor you, witch. We shall try." She lay four cards face down around the man. The card atop him was revealed first. "His past is as somber as your own. The ten of swords. And filled with much strife and loss." Her fingers drifted to the right card. "His present. The four of swords. much recovery. Seeking a home. He wanders much - like a gypsy might. He works hard, but has little." The card beneath him was a flaxen haired Empress. She held aloft a wand, and cradled a brilliant golden shield. "His purpose? Why, he seeks you. You are his champion and the ruler of his heart. He has dreamt of you long." She flipped the final card. "His person? The World." The dark character balanced on one leg, a black cape billowing about him. He held two staffs and appeared about to climb an invisible ladder. "He has seen much and changed much. He now wishes to share his experiences and his life. To rest and love."
Narcissa took a deep, steadying breath. "Extraordinary."
Blavatsky winked conspiratorially. "Does he sound familiar?"
The witch shook her head, smiling softly. "No, madame. But I think I look forward to meeting him."
"Give me your hand once more, child." The seer traced the lines of Cissa's palm. "See? Your love line starts only now. Late. And this shape at its source? The crescent moon?" She paused, thinking. "Waxing crescent occurs in fifteen days. The cards are in league with your palm. Fate brings him to you on the evening of the waxing crescent. His dreams of you have plagued him for too long. Your loneliness and his prepare to dissipate." She closed Narcissa's hand, appeared suddenly very tired. "Go back home, English witch. I can tell you no more." Her cloudy eyes closed, and Narcissa rose quietly. She dropped a folded stack of leu upon the table - not certain of the amount, but knowing it was far more than what was required.
Her heels clicked victoriously down the darkened hallway, out the shop's tingling door, and onto the cobbled street. She took a deep breath. She was going home.
The manor was dim and filled with stale, oppressive air. She summoned the elf - Leppa - to open up the windows. The warm June air was cleansing and welcome. "Leppa please prepare the suite beside Draco's nursery for visitors. My son visits this week with his wife and child. The nursery requires readying, as well."
"Yes, mistress." The elf loved little Scorpius probably as much as the boy's grandmother did.
"Also the draperies I ordered have arrived. We shall hang them after you've prepared the accommodations." The window dressings she'd procured were white silk. Hardly as lush as the black velvet hangings, but far lighter and brighter. She wanted to see her grandson playing the sunlight. A charmed plush grey pony waited to be ridden about the quiet corridors.
"Mistress' new hangings is lovely!" Leppa exclaimed. It had taken them four hours to dress all the massive windows. But the difference was worth the effort. The manor appeared truly opulent. Fresh red roses in each room added to its splendor.
Two days until Draco's arrival for a week-long visit. Twelve days until the waxing crescent moon. She could hardly sleep for excitement and anxiousness.
Happily, she shopped at Twilfit and Tattings. She bought clothes for her grandson, a handsome grey cloak for Draco, a pretty peach shawl for Astoria. And on a whim, she bought a new frock for herself; long, pale blue satin that clung so tightly to her curves she would be unable to hide the lines knickers would cause. She quirked a brow at her reflection in the fitting room. I shall simply have to go without, she thought. Slender straps criss-crossed her scandalously bare back, and a perilous slit revealed a leg and much thigh when she walked.
A frock for the waxing crescent moon. She looked like the tarot's empress, and vowed that if her king of swords didn't dream of her now - he would after meeting her in this frock. Every night, she stared at the bed's canopy wondering if it was true. If he already dreamt of her. If he wondered, too. If he wandered. Where he slept...
In the month since she'd last seen him, Scorpius had grown an inch or more. At two, he babbled an almost constant stream of questions. He rode his pony everywhere, even to tea. Her called her Grannissa and insisted his nightly stories come from her alone. And Narcissa encouraged the behaviour, plied him with the sweets his parents denied him, shamelessly devoured his devotion and delight.
"You have spoiled him eternally in a week's time, mother," Draco told her. "An impressive feat to be sure."
"And I didn't spoil you?" She asked. "Childhood should be a joy. Mine was not, so I relive it vicariously." They stood on a second floor balcony, watched Scorpius and Astoria chase peacocks on the lawn. Narcissa took in her son's smile and hesitated before speaking again. "...Perhaps you and your family should come to live at the Manor for a while. Away from all that bustle of the city. Let the boy have fresh air and room to grow."
Draco looked at her sharply. "I thought you wanted your peace, mother. You certainly deserve it."
Narcissa leaned forward on the railing. "My peace has become loneliness, I suppose. I don't think I am meant to be alone, Draco."
He studied her a moment before gazing back to his wife and son. "I would like that. To come home. I'll discuss the possibility with Asti. I think she will approve."
"I hope so."
The little family left and there was quiet again. Narcissa read mostly, curled under a cashmere afghan in her library. Tried to avoid thinking of the waxing crescent or the king of swords. But closer drew the day, and eating, sleeping and walking became exponentially more difficult.
It fell on a Tuesday. A ridiculous, useless Tuesday. Lucius had always said Tuesdays were for business and drunkards. Odd, Narcissa thought. He died on a Tuesday. She sighed and arranged a vase of lavender and mint for her bedroom.
What time was one to expect a mysterious stranger? Fate made defining punctuality rather difficult. She simply went about her usual routines of breakfast, lunch and dinner. She did not request an extra place setting, though she did consider doing so.
At 8:42 pm she took a honeyed milk bath. At 9:17 pm she literally slithered into her new frock. She slid her hands over the fabric lovingly. If this doesn't say 'I was expecting you,' I don't know what shall. She was giving her reflection a sultry hooded gaze when she felt the wards shimmer. She froze, and when she caught her wide-eyed expression in the mirror, it seemed far from alluring.
A heavy pounding upon the manor doors. Narcissa crept from her room, down the corridor, to the edge of the landing. She heard Leppa open the door, muffled words between an elf and a man. A deep voice, but not carrying enough for recognition.
She heard Leppa pop away, presumably to fetch the mistress, and pressed herself against the shadowed wall. Her heart fluttered wildly. Leppa popped up before her and Narcissa frantically waved a gesture of 'be quiet.' "You is having a visitor, mistress," Leppa whispered.
"Who is he?" Narcissa whispered back.
Leppa cowed, ears drooping. "I ask, but he says only an old friend, misses!"
Narcissa gulped. Nodded curtly. She flicked Leppa away, distracted. Took a few deep breaths and began her slow descent to the main entrance hall. Her bare feet made soft slapping sounds on the polished marble floor. A few steps shy of the landing, she paused.
The stranger, head to toe heavily cloaked, stood out sharply in the sconce's orange glow. He was tall. His shadow stretched nearly to her toes. He saw her and tensed, grew still as a statue. His face remained in darkness beneath folds of dark cotton.
Narcissa clutched her wand hilt in one hand, her skirt slit in the other. She suddenly wondered how she would be reacting to this man had she not expected him. Her chin rose. "I am Narcissa Malfoy, mistress of this house. Who calls?"
Seconds ticked. The stranger stared unmoving, a glint of eyes shining in the blackness. She worried. And then: "Narcissa."
Her nostrils flared briefly, body burst into gooseflesh. That voice... Almost unconsciously she took the final three steps. He matched her pace, long pale fingers reaching for his hood, pushing it back, revealing a downcast visage and hair like ink spilling too fast across parchment.
The hand at her skirt was halfway to her mouth when he finally faced her justly. The hand clasped over a cry or a gasp, a sound that betrayed both breath and belief. She lurched away, against the cold stone foyer wall, needing steadying. "No," she barely hissed. Her hand with wand flew to her belly. "No." Why were tears stinging her sinus?
"Narcissa." His hands raised in surrender or supplication. "Please." He took a hesitant step toward her.
But the sting erupted and she wept. "You are dead!" She couldn't control the shaking.
He took more deliberate steps. "Obviously not." His hand extended. Her own fingers wet with tears reached for it.
The touch affirmed reality. A spark of magic she recognized immediately. She was touching this man. His fingers were warm and dry. They curled around her forearm in a familiar gesture and she returned it. When he tugged a hint of a tug, she ran against him, lost herself to wonder. He jerked against her collision, but folded his arms around her slightness.
"Oh, gods!" She groaned into his neck. The skin beneath her lips was pocked, alien-soft and scarred. Her wand clattered to the floor as she groped his body through thick folds of cloak. "Are you real, Severus?" She barely spoke the name, feared it might wake her from some dream.
"As real as you are." His voice sounded choked, harsh from disuse. His hands were hesitant against her back, but there was only skin to be found there. He shuddered. "Narcissa." He was breathing in her scent, face moist in the crook of her neck and shoulder.
They stayed there in the main hall for minutes, a barely dressed witch pressed into the hold of an over-dressed wizard like lovers long separated. But they were not lovers. Not yet, she thought with a bright suddenness. She pulled back, held him at arms' length, studied his face. Its planes and features were etched as always, but the eyes less harsh, less cold, less black. In fact, they were smoldering. She touched that face, stroked the furrowed brow, and he turned into her palm, let his lips brush it.
"Severus," she whispered. "Severus." As if it were a spell making him more alive. "Where have you been?"
"Everywhere." He answered. "Years wandering." His turn to touch her face and her eyes fluttered closed. "Sometimes...as though I was in between worlds."
She was pressing the back of his fingers to her lips. "Where did you sleep, Severus? Have you been cold?" It seemed a ridiculous question...
A long rumble deep in his chest. "Warm in my dreams."
"Did you dream of me?" A bold question.
His features sharpened, body stiffened, mouth opened. Suspicion cooled his gaze. He pulled his hand away. "Why would you ask me that?"
Her hands slid to his chest, over the strong, grey suede to settle over his racing heartbeat. "The muggle fortune teller told me," she murmured, as if he should know. Eyes flicked back up to his. "She told me someone would come tonight. A man." She blushed when one of his fingers sleeked up a thin satin strap. "Did you dream of me, Severus?"
His eyes narrowed. "Endlessly." Her breath caught. "Narcissa?"
"Where is Lucius?"
The sting returned. She blinked moisture to the corners of her eyes. She would not cry. "Dead."
Severus' eyes closed. His lip curled. "True, then," he hissed. "Killed himself?"
He nodded. "I dreamt you found him." Tears on her face anyway. She nodded. Severus pulled her to him again. "So much blood." He shoved his face into her hair. "I'm sorry."
"No." She mouthed against his jaw. "Stop, please. It is a lifetime ago for me now. I am sick of that sadness. I have left it." She felt her own breath hot in the shell of his ear. His hands were on her back again; they interrupted the chill of the wall. And his leg was nearly between hers. The coarse breeches chafed her bare thigh.
Then, as though a creature loosed, he was kissing the side of her face, her neck. At her ear he told her he'd dreamt of her just this way. "This dress," he murmured thickly. "This room. This light." She shifted against him - closer - pining for his solidness, the firm evidence of his longing above her hip.
She tried to focus past his shoulder. The open door there. The dark drawing room. She couldn't. "This night? In your dreams, Severus..." Her voice, at least, was strong if higher than usual. Her fingers rubbed the nape of his neck and he moaned softly. "Are we lovers this night?"
He tilted her head to the side, kissed her the first time. She panted like a virgin on his face. "Yes, witch," he growled against her lips.
"Oh." A demanding hand was inside her dress, nudging her thigh up. She wrapped arms and legs around him and he was carrying her upstairs. Her body keened almost painfully. It had been so long. She pushed the heavy traveling cloak from his shoulders. It pooled on the marble steps like a pensieve memory. She looked at it there, feeling outside of herself, and tugged his shirt from his trousers.
He certainly knew where he was going. Once they crossed the threshold of her room she felt in a dream, herself. Clothing seemed to dissipate. Pillows were clouds beneath her head and back. Their mouths, their bodies were links in a chain of stars. When her head tilted over the bed's edge on a cry, she saw the waxy crescent moon angle and become a smile on the night's face.
The sword melted in the cup. The cup spilled. The fire drowned and hissed. Its mist spiraled and coiled around the lovers who stilled to languorous touches, sleepy breaths and final murmurs.
"Stay." The empress spoke.
"Yes." The king lay down his sword. His arms encircled her. The wheel of fate turned to right and began its slow, perfected turn.
AN: I wanted to write a tarot piece for a while and finally did. I hope it translated well. Madame Blavatsky may be familiar to some readers. She is a historically celebrated seer. Wikipedia has some interesting information on her if you're curious. And if you're interested in trying your hand at Tarot, my favorite deck is the Tarot of the Witches by Ellen Dugan. Thanks to Wes, the black hearted bloke for my Britpick - you're the dog's bollocks.