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Peki [userpic]
Fic: Ouroboros (6.1/?), Lucius/Narcissa, NC-17
by Peki (peki)
at June 24th, 2016 (02:44 pm)

Title: Ouroboros (6.1/?)
Pairing: Lucius/Narcissa
Rating: NC-17
Summary: The long, long courtship of Narcissa Black and Lucius Malfoy.
A/N: Chapters aren't getting any shorter, so the two-part format seems to be the way to go. Um, sorry? :)



March 1975

“And then he said, ‘Until you learn to focus, you can dust and rearrange the window displays’. The nerve! Gods, I hate the old bugger.”

Narcissa scowled fiercely at her cousin when he began to laugh. Evan was supposed to soothe her bruised ego, not find humour in her misfortunes, but apparently, everyone around her was set on vexing her, old Jigger being only the worst culprit.

“Well, you did burn that batch of this-or-that, didn’t you? So he might have a point,” Evan said now, grinning. “Why is it that our diligent potions mistress is suddenly so absent-minded, hmm?”

Colouring, Narcissa ducked down behind the counter to begin unpacking a shipment of vials, which had arrived that morning. If she was honest, she had to admit that her heart hadn’t been in her potion making lately, but where it had been instead, she did not even want to think about, much less answer questions about it. At least old Jigger had gone and left her in charge of the shop once again, his actions in complete contrast to the way he berated her for her failings on a daily basis. She felt a bit of pride at that, even if the workload he saddled her with was excessive and cut into the time she could have spent with...friends.

“Mistakes do happen, Evan,” she told her cousin crossly.

“Not usually to you, though.” Evan hung lazily over the counter, watching her unwrap the vials one by one from delicate tissue paper.

“Weren’t you going to go get us lunch?” Narcissa asked.

“Trying to get rid of me, are you. You know, Cissy, I’m hurt.” He clutched at his chest as if she’d stabbed him through the heart, pulling such a pitiful face that Narcissa had to smile. “Aren’t you going to tell me where that pretty little head of yours has been?”

“It’s been here, with my brain slowly leaking out through my ears.”

“That’s a pity. I’ll be losing one of my best mates. Who else can I fall back on? You know, Malfoy’s been making himself scarce, too. Isn’t that odd.” He showed all of his teeth when he grinned, like the hyena he was, always sniffing around the cadavers in other people’s closets.

“Odd,” Narcissa said sweetly, and Rosier groaned.

“Oh, for gods’ sake, Cissy! Won’t you take mercy on me? I’m so bored, I’d kill for a bit of gossip! I’m feeling really left out, I only ever get the news from Portia these days.”

Where Portia Goyle always got her gossip from was anyone’s guess, but then, she had little else to do in the final stage of her pregnancy except have Gregory feed her chocolates and involve herself in the love lives of her friends. Narcissa had shared only bits and pieces of what had happened on her birthday outing with Lucius, but the fact that he had given her a cauldron had set her friends aflutter. Evan had called the present lame (Narcissa not having told anyone that it was a golden cauldron), but Portia, always more astute than anyone else, had declared the gift thoughtful and the way it had been presented exceedingly romantic. Narcissa herself had tried to shrug off whatever assumptions her friends were making, but ever since, there’d been a glint in Portia’s eyes whenever she saw Narcissa and Lucius together, which didn’t bode well.

“There is no news to be had,” she insisted to Evan’s obvious disbelief. “And if you want to know what Lucius is up to, ask him. I’m sure you have more of an insight than I do.” After all, Evan was connected within the Dark Lord’s circles now too, and whatever happened at those gatherings was shrouded in mystery. It greatly annoyed Narcissa, and if she could vex her cousin a little by not being forthcoming, that only served him right.

“Oh, pish posh, that’s just politics, it’s boring,” Evan said dismissively.

“That’s not what I hear.” Just that morning, the Daily Prophet had reported on a skirmish in the Midlands; there was war brewing, and Narcissa fervently hoped it would soon take over as the topic du jour instead of her relationship with Lucius.

Truth be told, things were changing within their circle in all sorts of ways. Many of their friends had gotten involved with Lord Voldemort’s group; the Goyles were about to become parents, Crabbe had got himself a Burke sister for a girlfriend, and Evan was looking at a promotion at work. Narcissa felt like she was the boring one, and didn’t see why she should have to suffer her friends’ scrutiny. There were more interesting things to be discussed than her love life or lack thereof, though she herself could think of little else.

That was the worst thing about it: they all might just have a point.

Lucius never dignified any of their friends’ prodding with answers or even his attention, but then, he never committed to anything at all. That made it easier for Narcissa to maintain that nothing out of the ordinary was happening, but in her heart of hearts, she was always vaguely disappointed when Portia made another ill-concealed attempt at matching them up at her dinner parties and Lucius laughed her off. It seemed insulting to be dismissed so readily even though she did the same to him; she was used to more reverence from her would-be suitors, but Lucius wasn’t that and she was sensible enough to recognise that she was being silly. They were the best of friends, and she enjoyed the preferential treatment that came with that enviable status without giving their friends the satisfaction of seeing them make fools of themselves.

“Fine,” Evan sighed, pushing off the counter when it became apparent that Narcissa was not going to indulge him. “You win, old girl, I’ll go get lunch. Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

“I can’t, I have to look after the shop. And Eleanor. Thank you, Evan.” She waved him off, then took up the feather duster to start on her important duties of rearranging the window display.

Now that Narcissa had progressed to ‘advanced training’ – a joke in and of itself, she thought – Mr Jigger had hired a new first-year apprentice, a smiling, pink-cheeked girl by the name of Eleanor Abbott whom he could needle instead of Narcissa. She would have welcomed the shift of focus away from her and towards the new girl if Jigger could actually be arsed to give his apprentices more than just the most superficial attention. As it was, it had fallen to her to introduce the other girl to standard safety protocol at the shop and begin training her in basic potion making, which was entirely unfair.

“Eleanor, are you all right?” she called out dutifully, rolling her eyes at a cobweb above a display of digestive tablets.

“Yes, quite,” came the girl’s muffled voice from the back room, where Eleanor was sorting beetle eyes. “I’m almost finished!”

Narcissa had little patience for cluelessness, but fortunately, it turned out that the girl was fairly quick to learn, and it wasn’t her fault that they were left to fend for themselves almost always. The blame for that fell squarely on their boss, and they banded together against him, Narcissa making snide remarks about the old man while Eleanor alternately giggled and scolded her for being so mean.

By the end of the first working week, Eleanor had learned not to mix bicarbonate with vinegar, and Narcissa knew the girl’s whole life story. She had finished school the previous year and was newly engaged to a Eustace Greengrass, a fact which she wanted to shout off the rooftops. Narcissa knew her face from Hogwarts, of course, but the poor girl had been in Hufflepuff and a year younger, so their paths had never crossed, which had probably been for the best.

Eleanor was a habitual oversharer, chattering all day long as they worked, which would have irritated Narcissa to no end if they hadn’t been trapped in Jigger’s potions laboratory with nothing but dead rats for company. As it was, she actually found herself enjoying having a companion, especially one who was so sweet and daft that she didn’t even realise she was being ordered about. It was pathetic, but Narcissa supposed that a silly friend was better than none; she didn’t have many, and if things continued along the slippery slope she was going down with Lucius, she soon wouldn’t be able to call their relationship ‘friendly’ anymore, either.

She thought of him a lot, her mind wandering as she dusted the shelves and then went to tend to her cauldron. Today, it contained Essence of Dittany, which had only received her half-hearted attention, but the potion was almost done, only needed to simmer, so she allowed herself a minute of quiet contemplation. Things were starting to get complicated, but she couldn’t for the life of her find a solution to the puzzle that was Lucius without her mind wandering to very startling places. It was all her own fault, of course; she shouldn’t have kissed him on the night of her birthday, but she’d been so overwhelmed with conflicting emotions that she hadn’t thought her actions through.

They had seen each other with some regularity since, and resumed their Arithmancy practice, but the carefree mood of a few months ago was gone. Instead, every silence now seemed fraught with promise, with barely ignored thoughts of what they could be doing if every minute of their togetherness wasn’t filled with activity and meaningless chatter. It was becoming hard to bear the tension that hung over them thick like a cloud; they were coming up on a thunderstorm, and Narcissa felt she’d better batten down the hatches.

Oh, they still enjoyed each other’s company, but perhaps they enjoyed it a little too much. If she’d known what an innocent little peck could do to their friendship, Narcissa would have restrained herself, she thought, but then immediately shook her head at herself. No, she wouldn’t have been able to resist the small touch at that moment, and she refused to regret it. Her mistake had been to try and forget it afterwards, tell herself that it had meant nothing. She wasn’t generally in the habit of lying to herself and it was silly to start now. No interaction she had with Lucius meant nothing. Even before they had ever shared a moment of intimacy, their relationship had been purposeful, always. At first it had been a give-and-take of mutual advantage, and later they had begun to rely on each other for amusement, which eventually turned physical. That part of it should have been over and done with, but the attraction between them refused to die, and no matter whether their paths forked or crossed, the road ultimately, inevitably, seemed to lead them here.

Where ‘here’ was, Narcissa had no idea, though. They were in an odd in-between state, a grey, blurry fog of a dreamland between their past and the future, and she could not see ahead to know where she must tread. It was exciting, like setting off on a great journey, but she also felt wary with it; she’d never gone far outside of her comfort zone, and who knew what awaited her when she took this leap into the unknown. If she wasn’t careful, she might fall.

“Excuse me, dear. I am quite ready to pay.”

Narcissa snapped out of her thoughts with a start. An elderly witch had entered and browsed without Narcissa even really noticing. She was now standing at the counter, having waited a while as Narcissa stared into her cauldron. The Essence of Dittany had finished cooking, too. Narcissa quickly extinguished the flame under it, then went to ring up the vial of sleeping draught that the old witch wanted.

“Will that be all, Madam?” she asked as she put a cushioning charm on the fragile vial and placed it in a shopping bag.

The elderly woman smiled. “Yes, dear, thank you. My, you have beautiful skin. What do you use for it?”

“Pardon? Oh – a potion of my own making.”

“Well, you should put it in a tin and sell it!” the witch laughed. “I’d like a bit of that youth back!”

An idea occurred to Narcissa. She thought fast. “Well, Madam, I can’t turn back time, but I could give you a sample of my face cream to try?”

The old witch looked delighted. “Yes, dear, that would be lovely. Thank you.”

“Just one moment, please.” Narcissa swept aside the bead curtain and went into the backroom, glancing around for Eleanor. The trap door into the basement laboratory was open, and she heard the girl rummage around downstairs, quietly singing to herself. Quickly, Narcissa found her purse and searched through it for the small pot of the beauty potion she always carried with her to freshen up during the day. She spooned a bit of it into a thimble-sized container, then sealed it and returned to her customer. “There you go, Madam. If you’d like to return for a purchase, please ask only for me. I’m in charge of all beauty products.”

It was a bold move; Jigger would surely fire her if he found out she was using his shop to make some money under the table, but the opportunity had been too good to pass up. Narcissa had sometimes entertained ideas of selling her own concoctions, but it had always seemed like a pipe dream. Why not try, though. The future would not become any clearer unless she went and explored it.

The elderly witch looked at Narcissa’s nametag. Her eyebrows twitched upwards, but if she recognised Narcissa’s venerable family name, she did not comment. “I’ll be sure to remember that, dear. Good day to you, and thank you.”

“Good day, Madam.”

“She looked very pleased,” Eleanor commented, walking out of the backroom. She was levitating several jars of beetle eyes in front of her, which jiggled in the gelatinous liquid they were preserved in. She made one of the jars bounce, giggling. “I didn’t know we sold beauty potions.”

Narcissa glanced back at the bead curtain. Jigger was due to return shortly. She wondered if it would be too risky to have an accomplice, but Hufflepuffs were the trustworthy sort. “We don’t,” she told the other girl in an undertone, “I gave her something that I made.”

“Oh, you make beauty potions?” Eleanor looked up admiringly at Narcissa’s perfect, clear skin. “That’s so neat. Do you think you could make me something? To fade my freckles? I’d love to have skin like yours for my wedding day, but I can never stay out of the sun long enough, it’s so much fun to be outside now that the days are getting longer again, don’t you think? My mother has a vegetable garden and I help her out a lot...”

She went on and on, excitedly. If she’d been dealing with a Slytherin, Narcissa would have suspected blackmail, but Eleanor was so artless, it wasn’t hard to believe her request came from genuine admiration. Snorting softly, Narcissa nodded. “I’ll make you something,” she cut into the girl’s soliloqy. “But you can’t tell Jigger. If that old woman comes back, send her to me.”

“Oh. All right.” Eleanor looked at Narcissa, wide-eyed. “But, Narcissa... Say the old lady has an adverse reaction to the product... Wouldn’t Mr Jigger be liable?”

Narcissa smiled. “Don’t be silly. She won’t have an adverse reaction. I’m really careful with my potions.”

“Of course.” The other girl brightened again. “Could you show me sometime? How you make them?”

“My secret recipes?” Narcissa laid a finger over her lips. “If you’ll keep it quiet?”

“Sure! Oh, how exciting! We’ll have our own project! I can’t wait, I’m sure you can show me a lot, you always look ever so pretty, Narcissa, I don’t know how you do it...”

The bell rang with the arrival of a new customer, which brought a welcome interruption, especially when Narcissa saw who it was. “Why, hello there, Sir. What can we do for you?”

Lucius sauntered up to the counter, wearing handsome dark blue robes and his customary smirk. He looked nice, Narcissa thought, and her heart skipped stupidly. Truthfully, he looked just the same as always, so her thoughts said more about her than about him. She felt silly, as if he could see right through her and realise how he was affecting her. Resolutely, she straightened up and returned his self-assured look with one of her own.

“Good afternoon, ladies,” he said, glancing back and forth between the two women. Eleanor ducked her head and giggled nervously. Narcissa shot her a quelling look. “I have an appointment with Mr Jigger. Would one of you be so kind as to fetch him?”

“Mr Jigger went to tend to some urgent business, but he will be back shortly, I’m sure,” Narcissa said, then glanced meaningfully at her co-worker. “Eleanor, could you go look if he has returned to the office yet?”

“Oh – certainly!” Eleanor hurried off to the backroom, still giggling. Narcissa waited for her footfalls to disappear in the direction of Jigger’s office before she turned back to Lucius. “Well, you certainly know how to make an entrance.”

He snorted. “Your Hufflepuff pet, I take it? What a silly twat.”

“She amuses me. You know, when she’s not being bloody annoying.” She smiled at him. “What are you meeting with Jigger for?”

“I come on behalf of my father. He’s a shareholder in this business.”

Narcissa had not known this. She hoped that whatever Abraxas Malfoy wanted would be inconvenient for Mr Jigger.

“Are you free later? I expect this meeting will go on until it’s time to close shop,” Lucius continued.

“Yes, I’m free,” she smiled, pleased that he’d ask her out outside of their regular routine. It was not like their appointments were usually focussed on business exclusively of pleasure, but she’d kind of regretted turning him down for a night at the ballet, even if it might have been a pity date. She found that she was glad that he wasn’t completely deterred. Exciting outings were few and far for her; the last one had been on the night of her birthday, and Narcissa still got a funny feeling in her stomach when she thought about that. She wouldn’t mind repeating it.

“No potions to brew? Exciting dates to go on?”

She pretended to think about it. “I suppose I could find something to do, depending. What did you have in mind?”

“I have to Portkey over to Paris to meet with my father’s French solicitor.” His smirk turned to a full, smug grin when she gasped, but Narcissa couldn’t contain her delight even if she’d wanted to. “I don’t think the meeting will take long, and those Frenchmen are on continental time; we could have dinner and still be back at a halfway decent hour. Would you like that, hm?”

“Yes!” she burst out, then reined herself in with some effort and continued, “Thank you. That would be nice.”

Lucius nodded, still grinning. Their eyes caught, and they stood there looking at each other as one of those odd long silences stretched between them until Eleanor returned from the backroom.

She coughed politely. “Mr Jigger is back, and he will be along shortly.”

Narcissa nodded in what she hoped appeared to be a businesslike manner. “Eleanor, this is my friend, Lucius Malfoy. Lucius, Eleanor Abbott. She’s just started with us as a first-year apprentice.” She’d told him all about the old chatterbox already, of course; Lucius smirked.

“Pleased to meet you,” Eleanor said uncertainly, caught off guard by the wry look he wore. It must be disconcerting to meet him for the first time, Narcissa supposed. She could only remember their first encounter distantly. It must’ve been on the Hogwarts Express, and even though Lucius had been cocky and self-assured even then, he’d only been a snotty eleven-year-old. It was different now to be subjected to his good looks and supreme confidence, or perhaps she only felt that way because she was so hyperaware of his presence.

“Pleasure,” Lucius drawled, then returned his attention to Narcissa. “I’ll find you when you’re finished. Ah, Jigger, there you are.”

“Welcome, Mr Malfoy,” Jigger said, bowing low as he came through the bead curtain. “Please, step into my office.”

The two men disappeared, Eleanor looking after them curiously. “So that is the wealthiest man in Britain?” she asked Narcissa in an undertone.

“His father is, I suppose,” Narcissa said.

Eleanor hooked her arm under Narcissa’s and squeezed excitedly. “I’d seen him before, of course, at school – he used to play on the Slytherin Quidditch team, didn’t he? But we’ve never been introduced. Oh, Narcissa! You’ve been holding back on me! Why didn’t you tell me you had a special friend, and someone so interesting, too!”

“He’s not my special friend.” Come to think of it, that was exactly what Lucius was, and Eleanor seemed to have realised that she had struck gold, for she grinned and nodded slyly.

“Oh – sure. I see.”

If even this clueless little Hufflepuff would look so smug in the face of Narcissa’s pretence, her feelings really had to be blatantly obvious, Narcissa thought ruefully. She wondered what it was that gave her away; she was used to guarding her secrets closely, and no one had ever seemed to guess at them, but it was becoming more difficult to hide in plain sight when she just couldn’t stop smiling whenever Lucius was around, or she was thinking of him, or even just because.

“Still,” Eleanor continued on, winking, “He’s so tall and fair and famously rich – I could see how a girl would want to be more than just friends, couldn’t you.”

“Certainly,” Narcissa said, because that didn’t seem like much of a concession, simply the truth.

Unfortunately, Eleanor just didn’t know when to stop. “And the way he carries himself, it’s actually kind of intimidating, isn’t it? In a good way, I mean. And those blue eyes--”

“Grey,” Narcissa said without thinking about it, “His eyes are grey.”

Eleanor giggled stupidly, and just as stupidly, Narcissa felt herself blushing. She turned on her heel and went to tend to the Essence of Dittany, which had cooled down enough to be bottled. She was actually glad at the prospect of boring, routine work. “We should get to this, it’ll take a while.”

“Oh, that’s right! You don’t want to be working late today, you have a date! Paris, oh my goodness, so exciting! Here, let me help, we’ll finish more quickly together!” Eleanor went to get the bottles for the potion and thankfully shut up about Lucius as they worked. She seemed to feel the need to make up for waxing poetic about another man by prattling on about her fiancé, which Narcissa didn’t mind. She’d heard all about Greengrass before, so she could meet Eleanor’s stories with a well-placed ‘hmm’ or ‘oh?’ without having to really listen.

Her mind skipped ahead to after-work delights, which helped pass the time. She always looked forward to her meetings with Lucius, but she had never been to Paris, and the pleasure of a fabulous night out was heightened by how unexpectedly it had come. She went through the motions of her work with uncharacteristic cheer, feeling reconciled to her job, her co-worker, and her teasing cousin, who returned with a sandwich and heard all about Narcissa’s exciting adventures from Eleanor.

“Well, well. Paris, eh? Yes, I can see why he’d take you there; it’s the famous City of Friendship, after all,” Evan winked, and then hurried off, cackling, when Narcissa drew her wand to hex him. But neither he could ruin her mood nor Jigger, who looked decidedly glum after his meeting with Lucius had concluded and he finally dismissed Narcissa and Eleanor.

“Have a good night, Sir,” Narcissa told the old man, feeling quite generous and sympathetic. She smiled at him, and Jigger actually looked startled.

“Good night, Miss Black.”

Narcissa spent a minute in the back room transfiguring her severe black business robes into something resembling eveningwear. She altered the neckline to show a bit of skin and changed the colour to a dark green. Elaborate Transfigurations always looked terribly obvious, that was what proper tailoring was for, but her simple changes made for an all right result, she thought. She watched herself critically in the mirror as she took down her crown of tight braids and brushed out her hair. It fell over her shoulders like a shimmering cape and hid the buttoned back of her dress which had been mended several times. She did not look fancy, but she was pretty enough to make up for it. That would have to do.

Outside, it was drizzling, but Narcissa didn’t even mind; she wasn’t long for London, after all. Humming softly under her breath, she crossed the street, where a cloaked figure was waiting in the shadows. “Old Jigger is quite downtrodden, the poor man,” she announced cheerfully. “I take it your meeting went well?”

“My father wasn’t happy with Slug and Jigger’s performance in the last quarter,” Lucius said, pushing off the wall to saunter towards her. “I suggested the burden of management might be becoming too much for the old man. He assured me otherwise, but we’ll see. Shall we?”

“Yes, please.”

He took out his watch and a tattered envelope, which he held out to her. Narcissa grasped a corner of it. “The Portkey is set to activate at five past seven. Half a minute now.”

“Where exactly are we going?”

“I have business to attend to in the Tuileries. You can take a stroll through the garden in the meantime. Or go to the Musée du Louvre. I expect the Muggles will have left by now.”

“The Louvre! Yes, I think I shall.” It was terribly exciting to be making such plans in a manner as casual as if they were simply going for a walk in Hyde Park.

Lucius saw the delight written all over her face and smirked. “Here comes the Portkey. Hold on.”

And they were whisked away. Portkey travel was always quite uncomfortable, but not even that could dampen Narcissa’s mood at that point. The journey was fast. One moment, Diagon Alley was a blur all around her, and then they arrived in the shadows of a large archway. They took a moment to gather their bearings. As far as Narcissa could see, they had arrived in an enormous courtyard. Dusk had settled over the city of Paris, but a lot of people were still crossing the square to the East. To the West, there was a magnificent palace, which the Muggles seemed to ignore entirely. She watched them for a moment and understanding dawned. “They can’t see it, can they.”

“No. As far as the Muggles are concerned, Tuileries Palace was demolished a hundred years ago,” Lucius said contemptuously. “Just as well; we have the place to ourselves, if not the Louvre.” He gestured towards the building across the courtyard. “You’ll be all right by yourself for an hour, won’t you. I’ll come and find you.”

Nervousness shivered through Narcissa, but she nodded. Lucius tipped his hat and disapparated. Slowly, she crossed the square, trying to steer clear of the Muggles. She felt conspicuous in her long dark robes, but people hurried past and didn’t pay her any attention. Relieved, she walked right up to the entrance to the Louvre, where the Muggle guards were just closing up. She didn’t usually visit places where she had to interact with them at all, but on the one night she could savour the delights of Paris, she wouldn’t let those people deter her. The guards looked around at her as she approached.

“Bonsoir, Mademoiselle. Le musée du Louvre est fermé--”

“It’s quite all right,” Narcissa said, subtly flicking her wand at her side. The Confundus charm worked nicely: both guards suddenly got a faraway look in their eyes. They looked at Narcissa, befuddled, but let her pass without trying to stop her.

The museum was empty; it was a treat. Narcissa walked slowly through the galleries, her steps echoing off the high walls, which were hung with artwork. Now that the Muggles were gone, the place was mostly quiet, but occasionally she heard a hushed whisper or a giggle that made her smile. Some of the portraits were coming to life after a long day of sitting still and pretending to be ordinary when they were anything but. She nodded to a lady in a Vermeer painting, who was stretching out her back after bending over needlework all day.

“Goedenavond!” the painting greeted her in Dutch.

“Good evening, Madam,” Narcissa said politely before she passed on. The place was vast, and it wasn’t just the magical art that was magnificent, she had to grudgingly admit. She stopped here and there, admiring Greek antiquities and fine ancient glasswork, paintings and sculptures. She had never seen as vast a collection of art as this. In front of an enormous painting depicting a coronation scene, she stopped. ‘Emperor Napoléon crowning his wife, Josephine’, the plaque on the wall read. It was quite splendid, though everyone looked very serious on the joyous occasion. Narcissa found Muggle paintings unsettling; the people in them always seemed frozen and trapped, lifeless. She wondered how the empress-to-be had felt that day, and if she hadn’t smiled as her husband placed the crown on her head. Surely she must have.

Narcissa walked on and finally came to the room where the most famous painting was displayed. She’d heard the Muggles were quite enchanted with it, always guessing at its mysterious subject and making up stories about the one they called La Gioconda, the happy one, but of course none of them could guess why the enigmatic lady was so fascinating. This only became apparent now, after hours, and to a witch.

The Mona Lisa sat in her frame and yawned behind a slim white hand. She looked startled when Narcissa approached, but Narcissa raised her wand and the portrait smiled. “Buonasera, Signorina.”

“Good evening,” Narcissa said.

“Ah – Inglese! I speak a leeetle,” the lady held out two fingers to indicate a small amount. “I learn from my visitors.”

Astonished, Narcissa looked at her. She hadn’t known portraits could learn much of anything, but the lady truly was special. She must’ve been a great beauty in her time, and the skilful way she had been depicted spoke of deep admiration. “Oh. How neat. Your reputation precedes you, Madam, but you are even more magnificent than they say.”

Mona Lisa smiled in her cryptic manner. “Thank you, Piccola. Now, excuse me, I must be quick before the night guard arrives. I have a date in another portrait. Buona notte!”

And she walked off, leaving behind a pretty landscape in its frame. Narcissa blinked, a little disappointed to be stood up so unceremoniously.

“Women. So flighty,” Lucius commented, strolling up behind her. He came to stand beside Narcissa and laid a hand on the small of her back. “Did you catch a glimpse of her? She’ll sit all day for the Muggles, but once it’s night you’re lucky to get a word in before she runs off! They say she has lovers in twenty-three different portraits.”

Narcissa laughed. “A busy woman! The portrait is wonderful.”

“Yes; can you imagine, those Muggles really believe Leonardo was one of them. Blasphemy.” He snorted. “Did you enjoy yourself?”

“Yes. How was your meeting?”

He made a dismissive gesture. “Oh, fine. None too interesting; my father just wants to shift around some of our French assets.”

“What are those?”

“Real estate, mostly. Several vineyards. They yield a very decent Grand Cru, by the by. Perhaps we can try it with dinner. Are you ready to go?”

Nodding, Narcissa took his arm, and he apparated them away. They materialised a second later on a roof overlooking the river Seine. Boats were bobbing lazily on the water beneath, and the street lights cast yellow halos in the darkness. Muggle traffic passed by in the distance, but the rooftop garden they found themselves in seemed far removed from it. Ivy climbed up along delicate trellis panels and stretched overhead, creating a roof that allowed only the stars to peek through. Twinkling lights had been cast to float among the lush green like fireflies. Tables were set up a ways from each other, each half hidden between the ivy to afford privacy.

“Bonsoir, Mademoiselle,” a quiet waiter with a thin little moustache greeted her, bowing low as he took her coat. Lucius gave some instructions in French, and then they were seated at a little table looking over the river. Two glasses appeared in front of them: a drink served over ice for him and a champagne flute containing a pale yellow concoction for her. Lucius raised his drink, smugly toasting her across the table.

“Santé, Cissy.”

Smiling, she returned the toast. The drink contained peaches mixed with champagne. Narcissa loved peaches. “This is good. What are you having?”

“Lillet.”

“May I?” She stole a sip from his glass, curious for the unfamiliar drink. It had a bitter aftertaste, not bad, but Narcissa was in a mood for sweetness. “I think I’ll stick to the peaches and champagne. This place is nice. Do you own it, too?”

“No. But I used to come here with my mother sometimes when I was a boy. It was her favourite.”

She tried to imagine him then, with a nose too long and an attitude too bossy for a small child. What had his mother been like, she wondered; what had he been like with her. Lucius hardly ever spoke of the woman, and there was a stiffness to his demeanour when he did, as if he had to try particularly hard to contain his true feelings on the matter. Narcissa didn’t dare ask about it. She nodded, raising her glass again. “I can see why. It’s lovely.”

“Well, I hope you’ll like the French cuisine. Take a look at the menu.”

He had barely said it when the server appeared to talk them through the daily specials. He spoke in rapid French, which went far beyond the phrases Narcissa had learned from her tutor when she was a girl, so when he looked expectantly at her, she just smiled and waved a hand at Lucius. “Please order for me, or I shall have to make a fool of myself.”

He smirked. “That sounds amusing. But I will take mercy on you. No shellfish, if memory serves?” He glanced at the menu and ordered several courses, upon which the server bowed low and disappeared.

The feast began a short time later, with a starter of liver paté, followed by soup, salad and veal. It was all very French, but delicious. They’d sat together at mealtimes often enough for him to remember that shellfish made her throat itch, but she was surprised that she enjoyed everything he’d picked. She hardly ever ate much and never this well, so it was almost overwhelming to have so many lovely things put in front of her. Narcissa felt excessively spoiled and luxurious refusing dessert, a truly decadent chocolate mousse. A girl could get used to being treated like this, she thought as the waiters discreetly fluttered around her. Somehow, her glass was never empty either. It was wonderful.

She felt giddy, and giddier when the wine from the Malfoy family vineyard worked its magic. Her cheeks were pink with excitement, and she couldn’t stop smiling even when Lucius began to tease her and made the server fill her glass with water on the next round. His French seemed effortless, and in her tipsy state, Narcissa could admit to herself that it sounded extremely sexy when he spoke it.

“I wish I spoke the language as well as you do,” she told him later, when they strolled along the Seine together and two men called out to Narcissa, laughing and bowing to her.

“You don’t want to know what they said,” he said, glaring after the pair of Muggles. “My grasp of French is sufficient, I suppose, but only as long as I’m not forced to write in it. My spelling is atrocious.”

She clasped his arm, walking more closely so people would hopefully refrain from catcalling. They were coming up on a footbridge which afforded a lovely view of the small island in the middle of the river which Lucius had said was called the Ile de la Cité. Lights seemed to float on the water, reflections of the street lamps which glowed in the darkness. The hum of a busy city was all around them, but on the bridge, they were alone. “You’d admit to a deficiency? Why, Mr Malfoy, I’m surprised.”

“Why? You like to point out my deficiencies regularly.”

Narcissa thought that all the ways she gave away her affection for him far outweighed any censure, but perhaps she was simply self-conscious. “Not tonight,” she smiled. “Thank you for taking me along, it was a welcome relief from the drudgery.”

“It’s not so long until you’ll be done with your apprenticeship,” he pointed out. “What are you going to do when you have your licence to practice?”

She shrugged. “Continue working for Jigger, I suppose. I don’t know that I have a choice.” She could open a small country apothecary’s near home and quietly make a living there, but that was hardly a grand plan. “It’s not so bad, really. He allows me to use the laboratory for my own projects. I’ve been working on a collection of poisons derived from the common plants of Britain. Oh, that reminds me. Here, this is for you.”

She pulled a small vial from her purse and handed it to him.

“What is this?” Lucius asked.

“Something I made in the cauldron you gave me. It’s an extremely effective poison derived from Narcissus Poeticus,” Narcissa said proudly. A small gift of a potion hardly measured up against the largesse with which he’d treated her lately, but she had thought about how she could best show her appreciation and decided that the only things to give to a man who had everything were such as could not be bought, either because they were so rare or so illegal. Luckily, her talents lent themselves to both. She had long been itching to experiment with some trickier potions, and her results were very satisfying in the quality cauldron he had given her. It was only fitting that she share them with him.

“Poison?” He looked around at her, grinning. “Miss Black, I am shocked. As an apothecary, you should know that sale and ownership of poisons is strictly regulated.”

She shrugged. “Your point?”

Lucius laughed. “What does it do? Is it lethal?”

“No, not in this concentration. But it’ll cause a great deal of pain while presenting as a simple stomach upset.”

“Well, well, Cissy. And what else are you sitting on?”

“Oh, all kinds of interesting things,” she teased. “I’m working on a batch of Felix Felicis at the moment. It’s just a first attempt though, mind; I don’t think it’ll turn out, but practice makes perfect.”

“Liquid Luck? Now that would be something.” He held up the vial against the dim light of a street lamp. The potion was clear and sparkled with the tiniest flecks of gold. “I’m sure I will find an opportunity to put this to good use. Did you test it on anyone?”

Narcissa coloured slightly. “Yes.”

He seemed to enjoy her deviousness a great deal. “On whom?”

“Bellatrix,” she admitted. “She never knew it, but it worked a treat in her wine.”

“You couldn’t have picked a nicer person to bestow your gifts on.” Chuckling, he pocketed the vial. “You cannot possibly slave away at Jigger’s for the rest of your life. It’d be a waste of your talent.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said bashfully.

Lucius looked deeply unimpressed at her lack of quintessential Slytherin ambition. “You’ve always wanted to revive your forefathers’ business, and you should.”

“Yes, but there’d be a lot of bureaucratic hurdles. My father wouldn’t approve, it would make him look bad if his daughter outdid him in carrying on the family legacy. And I really hate doing Arithmancy.”

“So hire an accountant.”

“He’d have to be willing to work for a smile and the warm glow of my gratitude, and I’m not sure anyone would.” A new thought occurred to her. “I could marry an accountant, I suppose. That’s not a bad idea.”

He laughed. “I’m sure you could have your pick of accountants, but I’d rather not see you wasted on one. No; when the time comes, ask nicely and I’ll give you a loan.”

She stopped short in the middle of the bridge. That seemed like an awfully great offer for him to make, especially since he was always so strategic about his investments. Lucius had treated her extremely well tonight and on other occasions, but as a general rule, he wasn’t generous. An odd pattern seemed to emerge there, and she felt partly thrilled, partly suspicious of it. “Why would you do that?”

“Return on investment,” he smirked. “I’m sure you’d make it worth my while.”

Narcissa didn’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted at the implications. “What exactly would you expect in return?”

“Profit, of course. Don’t tell me you want to revive Cepheus Black and Sons merely for the sake of nostalgia. You, my dear,” he tipped her chin up with one finger, “want to get rich.”

Narcissa tilted her head haughtily, away from his hand. “And what is wrong with that?”

“Nothing. Labouring for the sake of it is for dimwits. You are dedicated to your craft, but not that dedicated, I hope.”

She considered this. “I want to be the best potions master I can be. But mostly I want to build something of my own. Something no one can take away.”

“So there,” he said.

“Well, but if I took a loan from you, I’d be beholden to you,” she smiled, not quite minding that as much as she probably should.

He leered playfully. “Don’t worry, you’d enjoy it.”

Narcissa didn’t know what to say to that. Their banter had been fraught with implications lately. Lucius had always enjoyed making her flustered with his jokes, but she wasn’t sure he was still joking now when he said these things. They’d been funny because they seemed so outrageous once, but suddenly the things they said to each other weren’t charged with innuendo so much as actual, tantalizing possibility. She wanted to reply in kind, but wasn’t sure what would happen when she did, and if she was ready to find out.

Her heart beat fast against her breastbone. She squeezed his arm, half turning into his side so they were facing each other. Even in her heels, she felt small before him, vulnerable in her affection for him. The wind rippled over the water behind them and whipped their robes around their legs. Narcissa shivered, but not with the cold. “You’re very sure of yourself,” she said softly.

Lucius blinked. He’d been watching the wind play with her hair; now his gaze shifted back to her, and he reached out to catch a long blonde lock between his fingers, smoothing it back from her face. “I think I have reason to be.”

He was so smug, so conceited, but he wasn’t wrong. Narcissa had to smile. She had always liked snogging him, and her dreams had revolved around little else of late when she was alone. When they were together, well; she’d barely been able to stop herself at a peck on the night of her birthday, and the ache that throbbed through her whenever he touched her had only gotten worse since. She wondered what would happen if she just rose on tiptoes and kissed him. Could they go back to the way things had been at Hogwarts, in cheerful defiance of all labels that might be attached to their relationship? Would she want to, with no thought to what the future might hold for them?

She was awfully attracted to him, but if she was very honest with herself, Narcissa had to admit that the feeling wasn’t just physical. If that had been all there was to it, she could’ve acted freely on her desires, but she was on unfamiliar ground here and did not dare take another step for fear that she might sink and never escape again.

The river below gurgled softly, lapping against the foot of the bridge. The lights danced all around them on the water, and the glittering sky above stretched vast and endless like a dome to meet the dark earth in the distance. They were removed in space and time from all they knew, all they were. Only this once, Narcissa thought, swaying towards him, and then they were kissing, kissing, and she did not know how to stop.

Truth be told, she did not want to. For all that she’d dwelled on the memories, she’d forgotten what it felt like to be in his arms, to be held so deliberately, as if he was shaped to hold only her. Lucius was restrained in his emotions, but his kisses never left her in any doubt that he was fully there with her in the moment and completely focused on her. He was the only one who’d ever made her feel truly worthy of attention that went beyond admiration of her good looks, but it didn’t hurt to feel how much he desired her, either. He cupped the back of her head in one hand, the other sliding down to the small of her back to hold her to him, and bent over her to snog her so thoroughly that she knew he’d envisioned this too and could hardly get enough.

The thought sent a shiver of pleasure through her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and clung to him, twisting her fingers through his messy ponytail. She’d always liked his little idiosyncrasies, of which his hair was an outward display, a small detail that was unique to him and reminded her of who she was with even with her eyes closed. Not that she could possibly have mistaken his kisses for anyone else’s, there was no comparison. Only now that she was kissing him so freely did she realise that she always held back with other men; there was a degree of revulsion there that she could never completely get over. She never trusted herself to not give away too much, or them to not demand what she did not want to give, but there were no such limits with Lucius. She might have been embarrassed of how much she wanted him if he hadn’t been blatantly obvious about how much he wanted her, too, and so they were matched in their desire as in everything else.

With a sigh, Narcissa fit herself into his embrace and simply let the pleasure take over. She did not know how long they stood there – Minutes? Hours? – but when they finally parted, both of them breathing heavily, it felt as if a lifetime had passed and she had been reborn, all shiny and new under his reverent gaze. She blushed, but did not draw back even when he began to smirk. For a minute, neither of them moved. Narcissa did not quite know how to follow up, but perhaps she didn’t need to. Perhaps they could just let this one encounter stand as it was, a singular occurrence at the end of a lovely evening.

“We need to get back,” she said softly. As if on cue, a clock struck midnight in the distance, an end to her fairy tale. She smiled a little sadly, patting down the hair at the nape of his neck that she’d tousled with her fingers. “I wish we could stay longer. Paris is lovely.”

“It is,” he agreed. “We could return sometime.”

It was a nice thought, but Narcissa didn’t think they could ever replicate this night or the way she felt just then, her heart beating fast and her breath hitching in her throat as if she’d run a long way to arrive there, just there, on the bridge with him. “Yes. But I don’t think it’s possible to ever explore it fully.”

Lucius tilted his head thoughtfully, and she knew he was devising some plan. She smiled, waiting him out. “Well. Paris is grand, but there are places to go at home, too, that we’ve never been.”

She wanted to believe that they could carry some of the magic of the moment with them, although she was not sure how. But perhaps he was right; the night wasn’t just ending, after all, it was also the beginning of a new day. In the distance, the last chime of the clock subsided. “Any place you had in mind?”

“Not yet. We should get together to…map it out sometime.” There was a glint in his eye she tried very hard to ignore, but under his wry look, her cheeks burned pink and lovely like roses blossoming under the sun.

“I’d like that,” she said, because it was pointless to claim that it wasn’t so.

Lucius looked unusually pleased. “Well then. Shall I call on you next weekend? Would that be convenient?”

“Very,” she smiled. “There’s an Arithmancy problem I haven’t quite been able to riddle out.”

He nodded as if the conversation they’d had in the last minute made any sense at all outside of pretending that everything was still as it had been. It wasn’t, and Narcissa sensed this when she stepped back and felt instantly cold and bereft. It was so easy to get used to his closeness, so easy and so dangerous. In her experience, being too dependent on people led to disappointment, so it was better to keep expectations low. Still, she couldn’t quite help the small thrill she felt when he took her hand and pressed a kiss into her palm before handing her the Portkey envelope.

“Until next time, then,” he said, and Narcissa clung to that promise as they were whisked home.