Even though it was still fairly early in the afternoon, everything outside was dark and covered in a thick mantle of snow. Lucius pulled the hood of his cloak up and turned away from the castle, carefully choosing his way towards the greenhouses. There was a blizzard coming, and he could think of many a place where he would rather be than out there in the cold, but some things could not be helped.
He had no trouble picking out the correct greenhouse, as it was the only bright spot in the dark landscape. The moment he opened the door, a mass of warm air greeted him. Stepping inside was like suddenly landing in a colourful world where spring was still blooming, seemingly unaware of the winter raging outside.
There was ivy climbing the walls and coiling around fruit trees, flowers blossoming in every corner, and conjured birds chirping perched in branches or flying around. Despite it being bright inside, the ceiling had been enchanted to resemble the night sky, dotted with stars and constellations he could not identify but was sure she could.
Alerted to his presence by the sound of the door closing, Narcissa glanced at him but did not get up.
"Professor Bark will not be impressed with what you've done to his mandrakes," he teased, removing the heavy cloak and dropping it on the bench beside her.
"What are you doing here, Lucius?" She regarded him coldly, carefully folding the letter she had been reading.
"You missed Transfiguration," he said, "It's unlike you to skip class."
"Is it your place to remark on my attendance record?"
"I was concerned."
"It is not your place to be concerned, either." She waved her wand and two rabbits started hopping around the daffodil plots.
Lucius sighed. As breakups went, theirs had been fairly civil. Narcissa was too poised and self-possessed for anything else. But she was still upset with him, and with no one else around to put up a front for, she could be difficult at her leisure.
He moved the cloak to the side and sat down next to the witch, who moved a few inches to the right so their legs wouldn't touch. There was no sound for a few minutes except for the birds and the cascading water from the small waterfall she had conjured on the other side of the greenhouse. There was something incredibly melancholic about the forced cheerfulness of the winter garden.
"My sister is getting married," Narcissa said at last.
"Bellatrix?" he asked. That was not surprising. There had been talk of a union with the Lestranges for some time now.
But Narcissa shook her head. "Andromeda."
Lucius thought for a few seconds before saying, "I don't know an Edward Tonks."
"No," Narcissa said, "you wouldn't. He was a fifth year Hufflepuff when we started Hogwarts. Muggle-born."
"How are your parents taking it?" He could not imagine the proud Cygnus Black taking kindly to the news that one of his daughters was marrying a Mudblood.
"Mother hasn't left her room in three days. Father is furious. He's threatening to kill them both if he catches them. Bellatrix believes he should."
"Your older sister was always a bit extreme," Lucius said with distaste. But he wondered whether in a similar situation his own father's reaction would be any more measured. Pride was every bit as important to Abraxas Malfoy as it was to old Black.
"Andromeda has written to me." Narcissa reached for the parchment she had put away and unfolded it on her lap. "She says she's sorry and that she loves me, and she hopes I can be happy for her."
The parchment was creased and wrinkled, as if it had been crumpled and straightened out again. Tears had blotched some of the ink, and Lucius wondered whether the tears had been Andromeda's or Narcissa's.
"What will you do?"
Instead of replying, Narcissa held the letter away from her body. Without the witch uttering a word or reaching for her wand, the parchment burst into flames. With the fire almost touching her skin, she let go of the letter and watched it fall to the ground, where it burned for a few seconds more, until nothing was left but ashes.
"I only have one sister," she said turning to face him. Her eyes were dry and her expression impassive, but Lucius knew her well enough to know the deep unhappiness masked by her restraint.
"Are you certain it's what you want?" he asked, because he loved her enough to support her even if she were to make a different decision. Even if she were to make a decision he did not necessarily agree with.
"She chose to turn her back on her family," Narcissa said, her voice strained but clear. "I will not have my parents grieve the loss of another child."
Lucius nodded gravely, holding her hand to his lips and kissing it. He had no words that could atone for the loss of a sister, but he would stay by her side for as long as she let him. Narcissa did not object when he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer to him. She leaned her head against his shoulder and let him offer what comfort he could.
The three Black sisters were as different as any three people born to the same parents could be. Bellatrix was all fire and manic energy that would not be contained. Andromeda was like a summer afternoon: lovely and warm, but with the sort of headstrong independence that every now and then reminded those around her that she really was Cygnus Black's child. Narcissa was like a river, with waters that ran deep under a mirror-like stillness.
The younger Black sister did not have Bellatrix's enthralling personality nor Andromeda's fairy good-looks, but he could never look at anyone else when she was in the room. And he'd be a fool to ever forget it.
"Marry me," he said suddenly.
"Excuse me?" Narcissa sat up straight, startled.
"You heard me," he repeated with a smile. "Marry me."
"We're not even together anymore."
"So? Marry me."
Narcissa stood up, frowning. "You can't possibly be serious," she said, staring at him.
"I am dead serious," he said, getting up as well. "I want you to be my wife. Why is that so crazy?"
"We haven't even finished school yet."
"We're finishing in a few months. I'm not saying let's get married right this minute. I just know that you're the best thing that has ever happened to me, and that I don't want to lose you."
"You don't have to marry me not to lose me," she said impatiently. "Merlin, Lucius. It's a big step. You don't just propose marriage to someone on a whim or because you want to make them feel better."
He grabbed her hands, closing the gap between them. "Look at me," he asked. "I am not asking on a whim or because I want to make you feel better. I am asking because I cannot envision a version of my life that does not have you in it. I am asking because I love you. Deeply and completely. I am asking because I want to spend my life with you." After a small pause, he added teasingly, "And who else would ever let you give your children silly star names?"
She smiled at that. "They're not silly," she protested. "It's a time-honoured tradition."
"It's easy for you to say so," he said. "You were lucky; you escaped the madness."
"Is that really the best strategy to win a girl's heart, by insulting her family?" she said with an amused smile, both of her hands tugging his robes.
"Tell no one, but I have a strong suspicion that I've already managed to win the heart of the lady in question."
"Is that a fact?" she teased.
"You tell me," he pressed his forehead against hers, wrapping his arms around her waist.
"Draco and Cassiopeia."
"That's what I will call my children, if I ever have any. Draco and Cassiopeia."
"Merlin help me," he laughed. "Don't mention that to my father. He may well decide he doesn't want to be related to the Black family that badly."
"Oh hush, you," she laughed, cupping his face with her hands and kissing him. He tightened his arms around her.
"Is that a yes, then?" He asked, tucking a curl behind her ear.
I should be working on my WIP instead of writing random one-shots about the Malfoys, but here we are... Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! ~Kel