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Peki [userpic]
Fic: Ouroboros (8/?), Lucius/Narcissa, NC-17
by Peki (peki)
at September 14th, 2016 (09:44 am)

Fic: Ouroboros (8/?)
Rating: NC17
Summary: The long, long courtship of Narcissa Black and Lucius Malfoy.



May 1975

It was still early morning when Narcissa apparated to London, but Bellatrix had announced herself for breakfast at their parents’ house and Narcissa didn’t fancy spending another morning being talked down to as if she was a naughty child. It had been several weeks since that cursed Violet Bulstrode had betrayed Narcissa’s secret meeting with Andromeda Tonks to Bellatrix, but ever since, life at home had become more uncomfortable than usual, if that was possible. Her parents had decided to deny Andromeda’s very existence, so they couldn’t openly berate Narcissa without addressing the elephant in the room, but between her mother’s constant, tearful sniffling and her father’s disciplinary measures, they were making their displeasure felt. Narcissa had been unable to defend herself before the wall of silence they put up, and mealtimes were fraught with so much tension that she could never choke down more than one or two bites. The upside was that she’d lost three pounds; the downside was everything else.

Going to work was the only liberty she had now, which made her appreciate the sanctuary of the apothecary’s more than she would have thought possible. Even old Jigger became less irksome when compared to her family, and Eleanor Abbott, bless her simple heart, pitied Narcissa muchly for the strict rules her father had imposed and covered for her when Narcissa sneaked out a few minutes early after work.

For there was one aspect of her life that had taken a rather pleasant turn. With her father’s newly imposed curfew, Lucius couldn’t take her on whirlwind trips to Paris, a fact which Narcissa greatly resented, but he had casually begun to find excuses to appear at the shop almost every day, exactly fifteen minutes before her shift ended, to give Narcissa a reprieve between work and having to go home. Eleanor thought it was all exceedingly romantic. Narcissa thought in more strategic terms. Her spare time was precious, and to keep Lucius interested, she’d better spend it in a worthwhile manner, even if snogging in the back alley behind Slug and Jigger’s wasn’t exactly dignified. They did make the most of those precious minutes, and if it was becoming harder to leave him and go home at the appointed time with each passing day, that was a burden Narcissa had to bear. Caution had been thrown to the wind a while ago; she couldn’t quit her one pleasure now no matter what her reasonable mind told her.

Narcissa ached for freedom, but even more than that, she just wanted to be with Lucius. Her own neediness made her wary, but she was powerless to steel herself against it when he knocked on the back door of the shop precisely at six forty-five and her stupid heart skipped a beat. If her father’s tight hold on her had been meant to tie her more closely to her family, it had quite the opposite effect.

“Why do you allow them to do this to you?” Lucius had asked her when she voiced that thought the previous day.

“Because it’s only going to get worse if I defy them,” she’d sighed. It had been two minutes to seven, as a glance at his silver watch told her; she didn’t want to spend their time dwelling on the unfairness of her life, but her discontent was like poison seeping into every moment and tainting it.

“How could it get any worse?”

Narcissa had visions of being struck from her family tree like her sister, or her stupid cousin Sirius, who had recently decided he’d toed the family line long enough and run away from home to go live with that terrible friend of his, James Potter. Narcissa’s aunt, Walburga, had dropped by the house to personally erase her son from every photograph or written piece of memory, and now the library would smell like smoke for weeks to come.

Narcissa’s father had given her nothing worthwhile in her life except for his name, and it was what he held over his daughters’ heads whenever they disobeyed him. Bellatrix was safe in her rebellion; she was a Lestrange now, and useless as Rodolphus was, Cygnus Black would not cross him to get at Bella, never mind that Bellatrix could do no wrong in their father’s eyes, anyway. Narcissa didn’t feel nearly as safe from his scorn, and especially not from her aunt, who ruled the Black family with an iron fist. The only thing she was sure of was that her family would not want to risk the scandal of having another child break away, but Narcissa didn’t want to do that in the first place. She never had; she wanted to belong somewhere, and if it couldn’t be with her family, it should be with someone who appreciated her, but he always only smirked at her in that infuriating way of his that made her stomach feel funny.

Would he still stand with her if she fell from grace, would he raise her up through the power of his name and reputation? Narcissa didn’t feel safe to risk it. They cared for each other, but Lucius was nothing if not smart about his allegiances. A Black was a match for a Malfoy, but a shop girl with no family was not. For the moment, she was stuck, but he was right about one thing: the situation couldn’t really get any worse.

It was a silver lining on a bleak horizon. A clock somewhere had struck seven then, and she’d kissed him one more time with some desperation.

Lucius had laughed when they broke apart. “Always so dramatic. It’s only two days till Sunday, you silly thing.”

Narcissa clung to that thought. She never knew how he maintained his cheerful defiance, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Then again, he had never been denied anything in his life, or if he had, he had gone and seized it anyway. She couldn’t resent him for it though when he’d employed his powers of persuasion to convince her father that she should be able to receive visitors in her golden cage. Tomorrow was another Sunday, and nothing would spoil her anticipation until then.

Narcissa let herself into the apothecary’s and went straight to the laboratory. It would be hours until Mr Jigger arrived and the shop opened, so she had some time to experiment by herself. Currently, she was working on a first attempt at Felix Felicis, which was the most elaborate potion she had ever made. She wasn’t entirely sure she was getting it right; when she peered into the cauldron, it was a murky ochre colour instead of a pale yellow that would eventually turn to gold. Distraught, she poked around in it a little with her wand, but the potion just kept getting darker, so she poured it out and started over.

Lucius had been extremely interested when she told him that she was trying her hand at making Liquid Luck, but she’d tried to curb his enthusiasm. It was a notoriously tricky potion, and besides, it was known to enable reckless behaviour in the people who took it. Lucius didn’t need to be any more reckless than he already was as far as she was concerned, but she supposed he deserved a treat for all he’d done for her lately. Her mind supplied some ideas as to what kind of treat that should be, and Narcissa quickly lit a fire under her cauldron and focussed on her work, trying to banish the treacherous thoughts that sneaked up on her.

She concentrated carefully on the first steps, which involved cleansing her work surface and utensils with a complicated spell. When everything was sterilised, physically and magically, she began to prepare the ingredients, chopping precise thirds off a bunch of clover leaves. She wished she still had the gold cauldron; Jigger had professional grade equipment, but she missed the glamour of casually working with such a priceless piece. It had always made her feel exceedingly luxurious.

Mournfully, she frowned at her clover. She’d have to find a way to make enough money to replace the cauldron, and preferably before Lucius ever found out it was gone. Some good ideas had occurred to her lately, including the hangover cup with ready-marked instructions for the wizard who simply couldn’t be arsed to pay attention to potion making. She’d sneakily sold some beauty potions to needful people too when Jigger wasn’t looking, and a few witches had been back to buy more. Narcissa was sure she could make something of that given half a chance, but first she needed her licence and for that she needed to endure a few more months of drudgery.

Experiments were keeping things interesting, though, so she refocused on the Felix Felicis. It would be truly grand to accomplish something so rare, and besides, it couldn’t hurt to have a few drops of liquid luck in one’s possession. Aside from that, she had a face cream simmering over the fire that she was planning to give to Eleanor; the wedding was coming up in just a few short months, and the silly girl had spent far too much time outside in the spring sunshine.

Eleanor was giddy with excitement when she came in to work an hour later and Narcissa presented her with a pot of pink cream, fragrant with the oil Narcissa had distilled from some of the roses in her garden. “You went to so much trouble, Narcissa! Thank you!”

It was true, Narcissa didn’t usually like to expend so much of her time and energy on a gift, but it was nice to have someone be so artlessly enthusiastic about her efforts. “I can’t let you get married with all those freckles on your neck, can I.”

Eleanor laughed. “I keep forgetting my hat! Eustace bought a phaeton and two Granians to pull it, imagine! He’s been taking me out in it, there’s not a quiet moment to be had at my parents’ house now with the wedding preparations, and sometimes you do want to be...alone...” She trailed off, blushing furiously.

Perhaps she should’ve made the girl a cream that would have made her break out in spots, Narcissa thought; no one deserved to be as thoroughly fortunate as Eleanor. “That sounds splendid.” Brusquely, she turned back to her cauldron of Felix Felicis. She would need all the help she could get if she was ever to escape her invisible prison, because clearly everyone else was having all the good luck.

Eleanor coughed quietly. “I was hoping I could ask you something, actually, Narcissa.” She stepped around the cauldron so they were face to face again and Narcissa could see that the other girl had taken on a shade of beet red that clashed horribly with her strawberry blonde hair. She thrust a piece of parchment at Narcissa, which upon inspection turned out to be a list of potion ingredients. “Do you think I could safely make this myself? It’s just, I’d rather not buy it and have Jigger know.”

Narcissa recognised the potion at once. Cohosh, pennyroyal, tansy... She arched an eyebrow at Eleanor. “This is preventative, I hope? Because it’s not meant to be an abortifacient, it’s not strong enough.”

“No! I mean, yes. I need it as a, er, um, a measure of protection.” Eleanor wrung her hands. She looked terribly embarrassed, but also terribly eager, not that Narcissa could blame her. “Have you ever made this before?”

“Yes, of course. For customers.” Narcissa debated momentarily whether her good will extended this far and, with a sigh, decided to err on the side of generosity for once. “It’s too dangerous for you to attempt alone. Too much tansy and you might make yourself bleed to death!”

Eleanor turned wide, beseeching eyes on her, and Narcissa left her hanging for half a minute as she debated the irony of this little Hufflepuff planning and premeditating and getting away with her naughtiness while Narcissa herself was stuck in an almost literal ivory tower. She felt quite bitter about the world; nothing in it made sense anymore. “Fine,” she said at length, “I suppose I should help you,” and Eleanor brightened visibly. Narcissa could only dream of having as good a friend as she was to Eleanor, but girls in need should probably stick together. This was what having a sister was supposed to be like, she thought, and frowned.

“Thank you, Narcissa! I won’t forget this!”

Narcissa waved her off; Eleanor wasn’t likely to ever become a valuable ally in any way, but if she amused her in the meantime and occasionally directed Jigger’s scrutiny away from Narcissa, that was something. They got started on the potion right away, every minute of time without their boss being precious.

Eleanor chattered on as usual while they worked, describing the splendour of Greengrass’s new carriage down to the exact shade of ivory it was painted and the dappled, winged horses that pulled it. Narcissa listened with some resentment, which must have shown in her monosyllabic answers, for even Eleanor got the hint eventually and quieted. This gave Narcissa an opportunity to impart some professional wisdom, which always made her feel better. She took pride in her work, and when Jigger wasn’t breathing down her neck and hassling her with accounting problems, she could remember that she enjoyed potion making. Eleanor would be married soon to an adoring husband, but Narcissa had a bright future in potions and a reasonable chance at a career if she wanted it, and that was better than...

Oh, who was she fooling; she’d much rather be in Eleanor’s place.

“Are you all right, Narcissa?” Eleanor asked, and Narcissa snapped out of her thoughts to catch her reflection in the polished surface of a copper pan, which hung on the wall above their work area. She was scowling; quickly, she smoothed her expression to avoid frown lines.

“Yes, of course.” Narcissa was terribly envious, but she couldn’t very well tell Eleanor that. She didn’t have to, though; the other girl laid an arm around Narcissa’s shoulder and suddenly hugged her close.

“Oh, I’ve been selfish, haven’t I, going on and on about Eustace! But don’t you worry, surely your dear papa will calm down soon enough and allow you some fun!”

Narcissa doubted it. “Surely.”

“Malfoy should just propose to you,” Eleanor continued on fancifully, “Then your parents wouldn’t have any reason to object to you going out with him! Wouldn’t that be grand!”

Narcissa gritted her teeth, shrugging like that had never occurred to her before. “Now you’re being presumptuous, Eleanor. We’re only seeing each other casually.”

“That’s not what it looks like--”

“Well, perhaps you shouldn’t be looking!” Narcissa burst out, annoyed. She shrugged off the other girl’s touch and reached for the sugar, which was meant to make the bitter potion palatable. “Lucius and I are friends...who occasionally kiss. That’s all it’s ever been.”

Perhaps if she told herself that often enough, she’d eventually come to believe it. The implications of their continuing this relationship were becoming hard to ignore, but Narcissa refused to attach too much meaning to it or let herself become dreamy about the future. Lucius cared for her, but she doubted he was planning in the long term, and even if he had been, there were major obstacles to their happiness in the shape of her family and his. That he’d go and challenge her father on her behalf so they could keep seeing each other was an enormous step, but Narcissa wasn’t going to fall all over herself trying to take the next one.

Still, Eleanor’s example set something in motion inside her, a train of thought that would not be stopped once it had gained momentum. For however muddied the future was, the next step in their relationship seemed obvious and felt quite natural whenever they kissed, but Narcissa kept dutifully removing his hands from wherever they wandered and leaving him in the twilight of the evening as the clock struck seven, unwillingly, unfulfilled, and unhappy.

She wanted to scoff at stupid little Eleanor, but had to admit that the other girl was far more daring than she, and the thought of that nagged at her whenever she disentangled herself from Lucius’s embrace and stepped back to become once more the prim and proper Miss Black. It wasn’t that she wanted to be that way, no; she wanted what all young women wanted, to be with the man she... To be with someone handsome and charming who was also a good kisser, and to explore all the pleasures that might entail, but she couldn’t bring herself to take that last step.

To think, even Eleanor Abbott had more of a love life than she; Narcissa’s frustration knew no bounds. Of course Lucius would be only too eager to pursue a physical relationship the moment she wavered in her steadfastness, and that made abstinence even more torturous. Sometimes – often – she didn’t know why she bothered to maintain her half-hearted chastity. All the other young people she knew were far more sexually adventurous than she, at least if one believed the giggly accounts of Portia Goyle and the Bulstrode sisters. It wouldn’t have been so shameful to admit how attracted she was to Lucius if physical desire had been all she felt for him. But that was the whole problem; she could freely concede that he was handsome and bloody sexy, especially when he did that thing with his tongue that made her shaky in the knees, but she always stopped short of articulating how much she appreciated him otherwise.

In her head, she tried to list his qualities in a manner appropriate for a friend: he was clever and funny, at least if one enjoyed biting sarcasm, and generous towards her. There was nothing wrong with liking him for these reasons, but they hardly seemed adequate to explain the flutter at the pit of her stomach whenever she even thought about him. And she thought about him a lot; in fact, she missed him every minute of every day that she didn’t spend in his company, and that wasn’t just because of the kissing, even though she liked that a lot, too.

No; the only fair conclusion was that she was well and truly caught in his spell, but she could barely admit this to herself, never mind anyone else, even though she might have had a sympathetic audience in Eleanor, who freely adored her fiancé and would hardly have found fault with the sentiment, or even unburdened herself to Portia, who was a terrible gossip but would likely delight in assisting Narcissa in any love-related pursuit.

Love. Narcissa shivered to even think it. The feeling was hardly of concern in matchmaking within their circles, and Lucius himself would probably scoff at it if she ever voiced it out loud, no matter how much he seemed to enjoy being the object of her affections. Declarations of sentiment were out of the question; it was just Not Done, and Narcissa had long despised the hapless idiots who cast themselves into the dust before her, professing their undying devotion without even knowing the first thing about her. She had too much respect for Lucius to expect such a thing from him, and too much dignity to run after him like a little fool in love. No; their feelings for each other would remain unnamed, unspoken, but this left her in a bit of a predicament.

She wasn’t at all sure what Lucius’s intentions were, and if his musings on their relationship ever strayed in the same direction as hers. For that matter, she didn’t know if he even entertained any musings at all. Perhaps he was simply having fun. Wasn’t that was they had set out to do? His treatment of her seemed to imply other things, too, but she was self-aware enough to realise that she wasn’t exactly making it difficult for him to manipulate her if he so chose. Narcissa craved attention, and he was giving it to her in increments that only ever made her want more.

To be fair, she was doing the same to him, she thought with some dark amusement. It took a master manipulator to know one, and they were as evenly matched in that respect as in most others. This was another reason, of course, to not give in to him when things got heated between them and he did his best to persuade her to allow him more liberties with her. Narcissa wanted to, oh, she did, but she was not going to consummate their relationship, such as it was, in the back alley behind Slug and Jigger’s. When it happened – for it was a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’ – it would be on her terms, and in all the splendour Lucius could afford. She imagined silk sheets and champagne when she thought of it, and preferably diamonds too, but that was just being fanciful and silly. Narcissa refused to become another little fool like Eleanor Abbott, but much as she chastised herself for it, she couldn’t help wanting what she wanted, and she ached with the secret as if under a heavy burden.

Lucius, for his part, seemed to bear the frustration well, although he moaned about cold showers a lot. That, at least, was satisfying, as were the small favours he bestowed on her and which brightened her weeks between Sundays. Some days, he simply sent her lunch from his café, on others he dropped in on Mr Jigger on ‘urgent errands’ and kept the old codger out of Narcissa’s hair for an hour or two. And then there were the letters, which arrived right on time for breakfast every morning.

It was a surprising new habit of his, but very welcome. His messages, though short, often were the only bright spot in her otherwise tedious routine, and Narcissa savoured them with quiet delight when they arrived at the breakfast table under the piercing gaze of her father.

Today was finally Sunday, too, so they would be seeing each other shortly, but Narcissa still appreciated the short note muchly when Lucius’s eagle owl dropped it into her lap. She fed the owl a bite of toast, stroking its soft feathers. It was a magnificent animal.

“Get that bloody bird off my breakfast table!” Cygnus Black tried to shoo the owl off the back of Narcissa’s chair, only for the bird to hack at his fingers. With a yelp, he snatched back his hand.

His wife sniffled nervously. “Is that from Malfoy, Narcissa?”

“Yes,” Narcissa said, handing over the letter unprompted. Privacy was unheard of in her father’s house, but Lucius did not believe in putting anything meaningful into words, much less on to paper. She watched her mother greedily scan the few lines only to frown at the innocuous message, which warranted no needling or chastising whatsoever.

“Well, if that isn’t awfully nice.” Mrs Black sounded disappointed as she passed the letter back to Narcissa, who took it, dipping her head politely.

Only when her mother busied herself with her morning potions did she glance at the letter, paying little attention to the actual message, which was of little consequence. Lucius’s penmanship was infinitely more interesting. Today, the letters were slanted and blurry where the ink had run, which told her he’d been in a hurry or else too impatient to bother with neatness.

Mindful of his haste, she sat down immediately after breakfast to reply to his comments about the weather, I agree, it is a lovely day (Perfect to take tea outside), But I’m afraid my mother is too unwell to enjoy it (We will be alone), It’s so good of you to ask, I’ve given her your regards (Like you care, you fiend!).

She sealed the inane message with a complicated charm that would take a while to unravel and annoy Lucius just enough to bring him to her doorstep to complain as soon as propriety and filial duties allowed.

Sure enough, the clock had not yet chimed three when there was the sound of apparition outside the front door and, a moment later, a house elf announced the visitor. Smiling faintly to herself, Narcissa took her time finishing the page she’d been reading in the family grimoire before she got up from her desk and turned to receive him. “You’re early.”

“No thanks to your enchanted letter; do you know how much time I wasted riddling out that charm?”

“I couldn’t resist, I just devised that safeguard to keep my dear sister out of my things. It can’t hurt to practise your charms now and then, don’t you think?” She smirked, recalling that Lucius’s career in Charms had been short-lived and ended with their fifth years’ OWLs, which said nothing at all about his real ability but was a shame nonetheless.

Then again, they’d had a lot of fun that year, so she couldn’t say Lucius had employed his talents unwisely.

His lips twitched, and even though the humour in self-deprecation was usually lost on him, she suspected that he was thinking of the same thing she was. “Oh, I do practise my charm. Constantly.” At last, he stepped forward and lifted her hand to his lips in greeting. “Haven’t you noticed?”

It was an old joke, but she still had to bite back a smile. “It’s not very charming to call my efforts a waste of time, Malfoy.”

He smiled, unrepentant, before he turned her hand over in his and touched his lips to the inside of her wrist. “Well, if that time could be spent doing more pleasant things...“

Narcissa tried hard to ignore the innuendo, but she’d have to be a fool to mistake that kind of voice for anything other than what it was. Within half an hour, they’d be kissing, she just knew it; she’d long had her ways of avoiding her parents’ scrutiny, after all, hiding in plain sight. Her greenhouse could be seen from the main patio, but there were some strategically placed lemon trees within; and anyone might walk up to the herb garden unannounced, but the stone steps that led to it were loose and made noise if people approached. The rose bushes were growing to a nice convenient height, too. It was lucky they had been experiencing lovely weather.

Smiling, she took his arm and gestured towards the open glass doors that led on to the patio. “Perhaps we should start conversing in code.”

“I thought we already did. No; let’s just conduct our business in person from now on.” The look with which he sized her up was positively wicked, and Narcissa felt it slither across her skin almost like a physical caress. He’d always been just a little lewd, but she was finding it difficult to even pretend to object to his behaviour anymore.

She suppressed a shiver. “You’d deprive me of the letters? I have so come to enjoy them.”

“You know I hate writing.”

“That’s part of my enjoyment.”

“Ah. I always knew you were evil, but I’m surprised you’d admit it.”

“You won’t tell, will you? Something about glass houses...?” she smiled. “And besides, you like it.”

“I do, though I prefer watching you vex other people.”

“Vex? I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

They stepped outside, where cakes and sandwiches appeared on the table at the ring of a small silver bell. Lucius seated himself in a wicker armchair and watched her prepare their tea. There was no spell, no matter how well-practiced, that was as graceful as Narcissa serving tea by hand, but she didn’t bother making a show of it for just anyone. Lucius certainly deserved the torment. She leaned forward to pick up his cup, aware that her dress gaped at the neckline, and poured just slowly enough to make the view worthwhile, then leaned back and folded her shawl primly around her shoulders.

He cleared his throat. “How is your potions practice coming along, Miss Black? I trust the gold cauldron has proven itself to be a quality piece of equipment?”

Preoccupied with the pink tint that had risen in his pale cheeks, she blinked. “Pardon?”

“You haven’t shared any of your brews lately. Did you run into problems?”

“No, it’s just...” Embarrassed, Narcissa ducked her head. She couldn’t tell him about the cauldron, it was too shameful. “I haven’t had the time. Jigger keeps me very busy, and when I’m home, my mother always finds something for me to do.”

“Of course she does. Are your parents still determined to keep you confined to the house? I was thinking we could go to the theatre next weekend. Your father must loosen the reins eventually.”

Narcissa sighed. As far as her father was concerned, she was doomed to gracefully serving tea for all of eternity. “He was just beginning to let himself be distracted – I told him I’d started experimenting with alchemy and suddenly he discovered an interest in potions, imagine – and then my bloody cousin... Well, you know.”

Narcissa didn’t know whether she wanted to curse her cousin or envy him. Sirius was free now, like Andromeda, to go and do whatever he pleased, except for one thing: he could never return home. The thought of never seeing her family again was less disconcerting to Narcissa than it should have been; what she feared was losing this: the lovely springtime afternoons sitting here under the lilac tree, watching the sunshine paint patterns over the silk of Lucius’s waistcoat and lighting up his fair hair like a fiery halo. She wouldn’t need her family if she could be sure she would have him, she thought, her heart clenching painfully in her chest. If she could be sure...

“Well, Sirius was always going to get himself in trouble. He went down that path when he let himself be sorted into Gryffindor,” he said now, startling her from her thoughts. “It couldn’t have come as a surprise. But why is your aunt dignifying his childishness with such drastic action? Let him run wild for a while, what could possibly happen as long as he stays with the Potters? They are a liberal lot, certainly, but they’re still a proper pureblood family. Surely Sirius would return to the fold eventually.”

“No, he wouldn’t. He’s too stubborn.” Narcissa’s heart ached. First Andromeda, now Sirius, and Bellatrix was as good as lost to her, too.

“A true Black,” Lucius smirked.

“Quite,” Narcissa said, unable to even get worked up about it. He was right, and it was shameful. “So perhaps my father’s predicament is understandable, but I wish he would trust me. I’ve never given him reason not to. But of course he thinks otherwise. I’m lucky he still allows me to work.”

Lucius had the gall to smirk at her over the rim of his cup. “Lucky? I’m sure I could think of better ways for you to spend your time.”

She glowered at him, but try as she might, she couldn’t quite stay gloomy when he looked at her like that, infuriating man. “You want to enjoy my talents exclusively,“ she said, smiling in spite of herself. “My father doesn’t believe that I have any.“

Anyone else would have protested, all politeness, but not he. “Your father is a blind fool. He won’t notice anything more subtle than Bellatrix’s temper.”

It was meant to be a comfort, but it hardly felt like one. Bellatrix had always been their father’s favourite. “Perhaps I should show him a glimpse of my temper.”

Lucius’s mouth twisted with distaste. “It’s not that I disagree, but you’re better for not resembling your sisters much.”

“At least Bella gets what she wants,” Narcissa said fiercely. Their eyes met; they stared at each other until she felt heat flood her cheeks and dropped her gaze.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“To be appreciated for all I do, and not just chastised for my shortcomings,” she said, unable to bite her tongue for once. “Or else, to just be away from them all. Perhaps Andromeda was right and it is better to live in squalor with her Muggle.” Narcissa shuddered.

“That’s going a bit far, don’t you think?” he smirked. “And I never thought you were a damsel in need of rescuing.”

“And what if I am?”

“You’re probably out of luck. No man could afford such defiance on the thought of your dowry.” He laughed when she drew her wand on him. “You’d hex me for speaking the truth?”

“It’s the very best reason to hex anyone.”

He held up his hands in defeat. “I promise to be good.”

It was her turn to laugh. “You wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“Oh, but you like that.”

Perhaps she did. Narcissa slid her wand back up her sleeve and busied herself with the teapot again, anything to be able to look away, bite her lip and stay silent. It was too easy to imagine that there could be a lifetime of moments just like this if only she was allowed to follow through on the flirtatious repartee that was at the tip of her tongue.

The light mood of the previous moments vanished as quickly as it had come. Narcissa swallowed down the words she longed to say with a sip of tea, the strong aftertaste burning in her throat in spite of too much sugar, and only looked up when he said, after a long minute’s silence, “For shame, Narcissa. You’re usually more amusing than this.”

“It’s hard to laugh at my own misfortune.” She hadn’t meant for the words to come out so sharp, but there was a bitterness like poison in her mouth that was hard to swallow down.

“Your life is not that sad,” he snorted, but he switched seats to sit beside her and draped his arm over the back of her bench, lending a bit of support even if it was at odds with his words. “Do you want to know what it is to be miserable? My father presented me with another ugly little duckling at that inane dinner party last night.”

Narcissa gave in to temptation and took a piece of chocolate.

“A Lisa Macmillan. Fresh out of Hogwarts, and a Hufflepuff, no less.”

“But he can’t be serious. The Macmillans aren’t even purebloods,” Narcissa said, aghast.

“That just shows you how much he hates me.”

“‘Hate’ is too strong a word, surely.”

“No, I really don’t think it is.”

There was an awkward pause. Narcissa wondered if she should protest, but they weren’t in the habit of telling each other lies only for the sake of propriety. “And why does he hate you?”

“Because I’m not frightened of him,” Lucius said, his eyes fixed in the middle distance. “I’m not a boy he can beat into submission anymore, he has no power over me. He’ll try to break me, but I won’t let him. I can’t defer to him, not knowing who he is. What he did to my mother.”

Narcissa hesitated, but an opportunity like this didn’t often present itself. Her morbid curiosity won out over a sense of tact. “What did he do to your mother?”

“He killed her,” Lucius said, low. “He may not have done it with his own hands – although I’m still not sure on that account – but he certainly made her miserable enough that she wanted to die. Towards the end of her illness, she did not even struggle. I still remember the healer telling me that. ‘She just went to sleep, boy. She never felt a thing.’ As if that’s any consolation! How could she not have fought back, how could she give up--” He broke off abruptly, scowling. “I’m not going to give in to him. I’ll make him wish he was dead before he does the same to me.”

Narcissa took one of his fists in her hands and stroked her fingertips over his white knuckles. Aurélie Malfoy’s illness and untimely death were shrouded in mystery. Rumours abounded, and perhaps that was the worst thing about it, never knowing for certain what had happened. It was no wonder Lucius was such a restless soul, never content, always striving for more knowledge, more power. She wished she could help him somehow. “You don’t have to give in. It’s perfectly reasonable for you not to settle down with a Macmillan, no one in their right mind would expect you to. Your father is being ridiculous.”

Lucius stretched out his long legs under the table, sliding half an inch closer to her on the bench. His fists trembled with barely contained anger, but he did not stop her caressing him. “The pox on my father!”

She smiled. “At his age, they might well kill him.”

“Hope springs eternal.”

Narcissa had to laugh, but the sound echoed hollowly off the ancient stone walls. It was a beautiful day; she shouldn’t have spoiled it with her questions, but the gloom that perpetually hung over her was hard to shake and poisoned even her time with him. Suddenly, she felt sick of it all: the sunshine, the unseasonable warmth, the fragile new buds in her flowerbeds waiting only for the days to grow longer to burst into life. Everything was lovely here, ever so perfect; only she was stuck, the ever-same flower standing apart from the life blossoming around her and the world changing, poised on the brink of decay. She wished she could break out of her paralysis, take action, but as she watched him, still scowling at a tree in the distance and his mind a thousand miles away, she did not dare say another word that might upset him. She only wished she could hold his hand always, lead him back to her where he belonged.

“Lucius,” she whispered, “my love, I’m sorry--”

He turned back to her, his eyes suddenly focussed and very much there with her, and Narcissa blushed, fumbling for a follow-up to the endearment that had slipped out without much thought, but then her mother called out to her and the spell was broken.

“Cissy? Where are you?”

Narcissa jumped to her feet, suddenly in a hurry to get away: from her mother, Lucius, herself as she was at that moment, blushing and awkward. She did not wait for him to catch up as she glided down the worn stone steps of the patio. Cool, damp grass brushed her ankles under the hem of her dress. She heard his footfalls behind her and walked faster.

“Narcissa!”

She didn’t have to turn around to know that her mother’s inquiry had, upon her looking out the window and seeing the pair head into the garden alone, turned to a demand. Mrs Black’s voice rose shrilly. “Narcissa, I need to see you in my room.”

Narcissa wouldn’t usually have been so obvious about sneaking off, but she couldn’t stand the scrutiny for one second more. Her steps quickened. At the edge of the lawn sat her mother’s tea house. Narcissa rounded the corner and disappeared into the shrubbery that had begun to creep forward and climb up the walls of the wooden structure. Here, out of view of the main house, the garden grew wilder, thorns and brambles sprawling over the mossy stones of a narrow path that led to the back of the property. She hitched up her skirt around her knees to keep it from snagging, her steps slowing as she reached her destination.

The sprawling maze had grown high, evergreen bushes stretching overhead towards each other to create a roof. Narcissa took a deep breath as she reached the narrow tunnel of leaves, green all around her and blissfully cool. A few steps, and the path before her forked; without stopping to wait, she turned left, then immediately right, disappearing into the green depths of her favourite hiding place. The maze had been built by her design and it still changed at her will. Her mother couldn’t begin to guess at its twists and turns.

“Narcissa!”

She stopped, panting slightly, and listened. Mrs Black’s voice came from far away. “Narcissa! Come out at once!”

Lucius had caught up. He seemed to have regained his equilibrium; now he leaned against the hedge, his hands buried in his pockets, and regarded Narcissa with amusement. “What now? We can’t stay lost forever.”

“But we can. That is the whole point of this place,” she said petulantly.

He snorted softly. “Melodrama never did suit you, Cissy.”

She turned her head to glare at him. “You are free to leave me to my thoughts.”

She walked on slowly; after a few seconds, Lucius pushed off the hedge and followed her deeper into the maze. “But you are the only one who knows the way out.”

“I don’t know that I do. It’s always changing.”

“Now that’s an unsettling thought. What are we going to do?”

What were they going to do? Narcissa walked on, her head held high, until they turned a corner and suddenly found themselves facing a wall of thick, green bushes.

“It’s a dead end,” Lucius said, surprised.

Perhaps it was; she couldn’t see for the blur before her eyes. Blindly, she spun around and kissed him.

This always felt like coming home: the taste of him, the texture of the fine wool bunching under her hands, the sweet, damp air, and green all around them like they were back in the little alcove off their common room, whispering secrets into the breath of space between them.

He drew back, but even in the shadows cast by the evergreen, she could see that he was smiling. “And you couldn’t wait until we could make a less conspicuous exit?”

“I don’t care just now,” she breathed, pulling him back down by the front of his shirt and into the kiss. “I have to give you something to remember me by on those nights you spend otherwise engaged, don’t I.”

“Oh, please.”

Smiling faintly, she reached up to touch his cheek, his brow, brush back the long strand of blond hair that always fell in his face. She knew he wasn’t interested in the likes of a Macmillan, but she also knew that he took his pleasure where he found it. There was no point dwelling on such things though, unless... But she wasn’t feeling reckless enough for that yet.

“You still haven’t learned the grooming charm.”

“No. It’s what I keep you around for.”

She couldn’t quite help the bitterness that rose in her throat, choking her up. “Ah. I was beginning to wonder.”

There was a charged moment of silence.

“You’re being silly,” he said at length.

“Am I?” she sighed.

“Yes.”

She waited for him to say something else that would make her feel better, but he didn’t. “Oh well.” Brusquely, she let him go and stepped back. “I told you, you’re free to leave, unlike me.”

“Are you done feeling sorry for yourself? It isn’t always going to be like this. Some day, you’ll break free, we both will, and then...”

“What then?”

He was silent for a moment before he shrugged, and smirked. “Bide your time. Why should you have it better than I?”

Narcissa was tired of always considering others before herself, of waiting to be moved around like a chess piece in someone else’s game. “I wish I could have the life you lead. At least I could be miserable in splendor.”

“Well, I might be able to do something about that.” He dipped his head, leaning in so closely that she could feel his lips forming the words and the smile that went with them. “Shall I persuade your parents to let me take you out to dinner and the theatre this weekend?”

Narcissa smiled; there was little she didn’t think him capable of, although she still wasn’t quite sure how he’d pulled off that remarkable feat of persuasion the first time, when he dropped by for tea on her original invitation. She’d been there to watch him come upon her parents like inclement weather – unexpected, unwelcome, but incontestable – but it had seemed like a miracle to her even then.

“Charmed,” he’d said, all politeness as he bowed over Druella Black’s hand. He’d looked impeccable that day in all black, the golden clasp of his robes gleaming in the sunshine, and Druella had become flustered at the attention being bestowed upon her, giddy like a girl. Her husband had scowled. “You maintain a lovely garden, Madam. I shall look forward to seeing it in full bloom this summer.”

Narcissa had been unable to look at him then, but she’d noticed her father’s face grow a lovely shade of red. “Planning to grace us with your visits regularly, are you, Malfoy?”

“Yes, Sir. I hear Narcissa’s presence at home is required at the moment, so her friends shall have to come to her, won’t we. I trust it’s not too much of an inconvenience?”

He’d looked Cygnus in the eye as they shook hands, his gaze grey and steely like a sharp new blade, and Narcissa had shivered with sudden excitement, watching the colour drain from her father’s face until he looked ashen and old. “It’s...” Cygnus had started, and she’d noticed Lucius tighten his hold on her father’s hand almost imperceptibly, the pleasant expression on his face at odds with the hard look in his eyes. “No, of course not, not at all,” Cygnus had gasped out, and that had been that. Every Sunday since, Lucius had come to visit her at tea time, and her father had grudgingly tolerated it, even though he’d wasted no chance to make his displeasure known to Narcissa in the meantime.

It was worth it, though, she thought, unable to bite back a smile. “And what is it that you want in return, Lucius?”

“What could I possibly want beyond the pleasure of your company?” He brushed the back of his hand over her brow. “You are amusing when you’re not working yourself up into one of your moods.”

“My moods?” His face was gleeful, and she knew that he was well aware exactly how to build her frustration, fuel the infamous Black temper that lay dormant even inside her. “If I was Bella, you wouldn’t dare say that to me. No one would.” Perhaps she should be more like her sister, take her wand and repay him and everyone else for all the ways in which they riled her up.

But hexing her only ally for speaking uncomfortable truths would’ve been stupid, and Narcissa was never that, not even when she was out of sorts. She only allowed the current of magic running through her to discharge where her palms connected with his chest, just unpleasant enough to make Lucius whoop and laugh as he retreated a few steps.

“Careful now.”

“What if I’m tired of being careful?” Suddenly, she couldn’t bear watching him laugh at her anymore. She turned and fled down the path that opened up before her into the depths of the maze. The rows of hedges grew thicker around her as she hurried down between them, her skirt hitched up around her knees. Soon, the maze would swallow her up completely.

“Wait!” she heard from behind her, and ran faster along twists and turns that opened up for her, only to rearrange themselves to stretch endlessly before anyone who’d dare follow. This was her secret garden, her domain, and Lucius would walk in circles until she was ready to be found or he gave up, whichever came first.

Narcissa wondered which would come first.

Another few steps and she was there: the green around her opened up to reveal a small round space and a fountain murmuring within. Nestled into the hedge was a bench, only just large enough for one, or two who liked to sit close together.

Panting, she walked slowly to the fountain, running her hands over the cool marble serpents that curled around the basin, and under the stream of water pouring from their mouths. Narcissa stood still for a few moments, breathing deeply, savouring the peace and quiet at the heart of the maze. Confinement hurt less if it was of her own making, and she often came here to think.

Only today, she did not particularly want to think.

She wanted to pretend she felt nothing but nostalgia when they kissed, harkening back to their carefree time at school, but it was more than that and they both knew it. There was something beyond the coy glances, the covert touches and flirtations that they shared, something solid that had long been and could be again if they let it, but she wasn’t sure if that was even possible.

They never spoke of the future, but a small, stupid part of her had wanted him to finish the sentence he’d started earlier, commit in plain words to that which was every day implied. They belonged together. It was a simple truth that she held on to in moments of despair. She’d come to let herself believe that, even if every single member of her family abandoned her and the world around her fell to ruin, she would have him. It was a dangerous leap she’d taken, trusting him, and Narcissa felt unsure on this shaky new ground now, never knowing whether to venture confidently ahead or remain, motionless, and hope he’d come to her. Somehow she knew that he never would; it wasn’t his way to drag others up to the summit with him who couldn’t make it there by their own strength. Perhaps she was meant to feel heartened that he didn’t think she required his assistance, but sometimes, she wished he would make things easier for her.

She watched her own reflection in the water pout, and felt like a petulant child. Truly, she could not say what it was that she hoped for. She would have respected him just a little less if he’d fallen at her feet like an infatuated fool, but if he cared for her at all, it wouldn’t kill him to be a little more demonstrative, provide a little encouragement that her dreams were not vain. Or perhaps she was being unfair. Lucius had gone to some lengths to be able to see her, and he never left her in any doubt how much he desired her. Physical attraction was hardly all she wanted from him, but she could feel his affection in the way he sometimes held her just a little more tightly than anyone else would, or the passion of his kisses. She felt beautiful in his eyes, with his gaze slithering over her like ice over bare skin, making her shiver and burn. Perhaps she should allow herself and him the sweet relief of consummating this relationship and see if she would find in their physical union the communion of souls that she craved.

Her breath hitched in her throat at the turn her thoughts had once again taken. She looked at herself in the mirror of the water’s surface and saw that she was flushed. Her reflection touched the tip of its tongue to its lips. The taste of the earlier kiss lingered long after the heat of the moment, but it was never enough, never. Whatever was she going to do?

On that uncomfortable question, the leaves rustled behind her and a moment later, a fair head joined hers in the reflection of the water.

“Have I solved enough riddles for you today, nymph?”

“You did not find your way, the way found you,” she said, but she wasn’t sure it was entirely true; being ready to be found would’ve involved having fixed her hair first, for one thing. Perhaps he was more attuned to her feelings than she thought.

“Does it matter? I’m here now.”

She dipped her fingertips into the water, and their reflections rippled and vanished. “So you are.”

She felt him close to her, but when he laid a hand on her hip and drew her back against his chest, she couldn’t suppress a shiver. Unexpectedly, he dropped a kiss on the crown of her head, and Narcissa was too surprised to do anything but stand still, her heart beating hard against her breastbone, and savour the precious moment so she could commit it to memory. Lucius hated being caught in a gesture of tenderness, but there was no other word to describe this small touch.

“I never meant anything by it, of course,” he said quietly. “You’re nothing like your sister, and that is a good thing.”

She felt his lips on her neck and tilted her head, her heart fluttering inside her chest, unable to resist. “I just wish...”

“What?”

“I could be as carefree as she is. Unbound by anything or anyone.”

“Why can’t you?”

“I don’t know. Somehow it’s fallen to me to be the good girl.”

He laughed. “You’re not a good girl.”

“Fortunately, you’re the only one who thinks so.”

“I’m the only who knows you,” he countered, “And what you can do.”

“Well, keep it to yourself, won’t you. I don’t need my father breathing down my neck more than he already is.”

“Again, why should you have it better than I?”

She smiled. “What does your father think about you taking me out?”

“I don’t care.”

That told her all she needed to know. “Be careful. I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble on my account.”

“My father is the one who should take care,” he said, and his face twisted darkly with the thought. “He’s giving me little reason, very little reason to comply with--”

“Lucius.”

“If my mother was still alive--” He broke off and scowled.

Narcissa stroked her hand gently along his arm. “I should’ve liked to have known her.”

He let her go. “It wouldn’t have made a difference. She would’ve done nothing.”

No child of hers would ever have to say such a thing, Narcissa thought, watching his eyes cloud over like grey winter skies. No child should have to grow up without a mother.

On second thought, however--

“Narcissa!”

Mrs Black was beside herself. Her voice was closer now, coming from the other side of the hedge, but the enchanted maze would keep its secrets; Narcissa had made sure of that. Her mother would be forced to retreat to her bedroom on account of her poor, abused nerves and summon Narcissa later, when the poppy smoke had taken the edge off her suffering. Narcissa would sit through the slurred recount of her sins, then tuck her mother into bed when Mrs Black fell mercifully unconscious.

She sighed. “We must go back.”

“No.” The ferocity of his tone startled her. She made to touch him, placate him as she ever did her mother, her sister, but Lucius did not want her to quench the sudden flare of his temper. He caught her wrists, pushed her back against the edge of the fountain and kissed her so thoroughly that her head spun. “Tell me to stop if you want me to,” he whispered between kisses, “and only because you want me to.”

Narcissa didn’t. Everything that was good and pure in her life existed only inside her heart, and she opened it only for him. What would happen to her if she had to lock it away forever? Ruthlessly, she shoved the thought aside; regret could come later. Now, now, there was only sensation, no room for anything but the feel of his lips on hers, the heat that spread throughout her body until she felt like she would melt from the inside out.

He released her wrists, and then she felt his hands at her sides, stroking up and down insistently. Narcissa wrapped her arms around his neck, clinging to him as his touch became bolder. He folded his large hands over her ribcage, tracing the prominent bones there with his fingertips before he cupped his palms around the undersides of her breasts. His thumbs stroked over her nipples, and even through her clothes, the touch sent shivers through her.

Narcissa squirmed. Her nipples tightened under his searching fingers, as if to invite his attention in spite of herself, and his caresses became more insistent.This had always been the point where she’d stopped him, but at that moment, she couldn’t think of a good reason to do it again. How many more times could she push him away until he grew tired of it? She didn’t want to find out, didn’t want to risk missing out on anything that might happen between them when she craved it so. She arched into his touch, pushing back against his hands to a delighted chuckle from Lucius.

He plucked at a satin bow at her neckline, but it was merely ornamental and as such a source of some frustration. He tugged but got nowhere, which made him draw back, swearing. “What the bloody hell is this ribbon even for?”

Narcissa laughed quietly. “Prolonging the suspense?”

“The suspense is killing me,” he remarked, pressing closer so she could feel the evidence of his arousal. His hands fanned out over her back to examine the small pearl buttons there. “All these trimmings, so unnecessary. I’ve always thought you wore way too many clothes.”

Perhaps there would come a day when all her constraints of propriety would fall away and she could simply be as she was. But today was not the day, Narcissa knew even as she tugged him back down by his tie to kiss him again. A minute more or two, that was all they were to have, she thought, then suddenly felt a breeze brush over the back of her legs and started. He was tugging her skirts up at the back to expose her legs, pulling a little too hard on the ancient seams of the dress that had once been her mother’s, and worry for her clothing was what finally compelled her to stop him.

“Don’t tear it!”

His expression when she caught his hands in hers behind her back could almost be called a pout. “Honestly now? I’m in danger of spontaneously combusting, woman, and you fret about your dress? I’m offended.”

Narcissa giggled, which was probably not the ladylike thing to do, but she reveled in the way he looked at her then, his eyes burning like a pale winter sun and his face flushed with desire for her, only for her.

“In fact, I’m so offended I might just tear the old rag off you,” he drawled, leaning over her to kiss at her neck. A moment later, she felt herself being lifted up and set on the edge of the fountain, and then her skirts were bunched around her thighs and his hand was sliding up, up, up from her knee, and oh--

Her gasp was loud in the silence of the maze. She’d never allowed him to touch her like that, and with good reason; how was she ever going to stop him now? “No, no,” she moaned even as she tilted her hips to press back against his teasing fingers, which were rubbing circles over the damp crotch of her knickers.

“No?” he asked, amused, finding the very spot she wanted touched with maddening ease. He did know how to make her forget herself, she thought, dragging her heavy eyelids open to find his face hovering above hers, alight in a way she had never seen. What were rhyme or reason against this, how was she supposed to deny herself and him when this was the culmination of every desire she’d ever secretly harboured, every dream she’d dreamed and every wish she’d breathed into the universe? She burned with her need for him, and at that moment, she knew they were one, for she could see in his eyes the same fire she felt flaring at the pit of her stomach.

They were going about this the wrong way, falling all over themselves in their hurry to be together, and a part of her didn’t care. Another part could still hear her mother wailing in the distance, and knew that she couldn’t allow her family any part of this; it was theirs alone, and no one would spoil it for them.

With a shuddering sigh, she pushed him back, smoothing her skirts down her shaky legs. Lucius let out a low growl of displeasure, and she peered up at him, her pulse pounding in her ears and her heart threatening to burst out of her chest to shatter at his feet, should he be careless with it.

“Not here,” she breathed. It wasn’t quite a ‘no’ and they both knew it.

He smirked. “Well then, elsewhere perhaps...?”

“Perhaps.” Narcissa felt some excitement at the thought.

“When?” he persisted, and she laughed quietly.

“When the time is right.”

“Tease.” He touched her cheek, her neck, smoothed a lock of hair back behind her ear. She savoured the secret thrills she felt when he touched her like this, when they stood so close that she could feel how much he wanted her. She shouldn’t have stopped him touching her, she thought, but they were a hair’s breadth from getting carried away, and she knew without the shadow of a doubt that sparks would fly when they did. Narcissa half feared the inevitable explosion of all these years of smouldering desire and half wanted to ignite it right then and there. They were alone here, lost to the world. She could lay herself down underneath him in the grass and just let go – she very much wanted to, but she knew somehow that if she did, it would become even harder to separate herself from him and go back home to her family, as she must.

Still, it was something to look forward to, something to get her through lonely nights, when she hid under her blankets and touched herself with cold hands. It was waiting for them at the horizon, and she only had to make up her mind and go seek it out. That much, at least, was for certain.

With more clarity of mind and heart inside her, their surroundings changed. The maze rustled and shifted, branches stretching out in one place and retreating in another to form a straight path out from where they stood. In the distance, beyond the hedge, they could see the Black mansion, bathed in evening sunlight. Wordlessly, Narcissa took his arm, and they set off towards the house together, walking at a leisurely pace now.

They were both silent until they reached the patio, each of them deep in thought. Narcissa wondered whether they were contemplating the same things; after what had almost happened earlier, it seemed fairly likely. She smiled a little, feeling her body still humming with the memory of his touch, knowing that she would think of it that night and so he would be there with her, in a way, after all.

At the glass doors leading into the parlour, she stopped. “Thank you for your visit,” she said primly. “As ever, it was much appreciated.”

“Yes, I could tell,” he smirked, and Narcissa felt herself blushing. He laid a hand against her warm cheek, chuckling. “So you’ll reserve Saturday next for me? I’ve got a daring adventure in mind for us.”

“Do you now.”

He leered playfully. “I hear the Muggles are staging a play about the Salem witch trials in Covent Garden. Should be good for a laugh.”

Narcissa doubted that anything to do with Muggles could ever be particularly amusing, but she didn’t really care where they went, if she was perfectly honest; not that it would ever do any good to be too honest with any man. “The Muggle theatre?” She wrinkled her nose. “Is that the best you can do, Malfoy?”

“I’ll make it worth your while, never fear,” he said, stepping close once more to kiss her. Narcissa stiffened, glancing towards the door, but then he simply pressed his lips to her forehead in a tender gesture that was at odds with the glint in his eyes, which promised more intimate pleasures. “I’m afraid I won’t be seeing you much this coming week. I have some urgent business to attend to.”

He touched his left arm as he said it, as if he was smoothing out a crease in the fabric of his sleeve, but Narcissa knew better. She nodded, feeling bereft already as she released him and stepped backwards through the open door into the parlour.

The air was mild tonight and smelled of summer. Narcissa’s daffodils blossomed yellow and white in her well-tended flowerbeds. The pair faced each other on the threshold, she standing in the glow of a dozen candles and he outside in the dusky evening light, still rubbing at the mark on his arm.

Narcissa took a deep breath of the fragrant air. “Be careful, will you?”

“There is no need to worry about me.”

She let out a tiny huff. “That is not for you to decide.”

“Fine, then, worry if you must. But it’ll give you frown lines, and you don’t want that, do you.”

The man knew her entirely too well, Narcissa thought. Sighing, she rose on tiptoes to kiss the corner of his mouth, just above the smug curl of his smirk. He stood very still until she drew back, and only squeezed her hands once before he put her from him and pulled up the hood of his robes. With his fair hair and skin covered, he instantly struck a far more sinister figure, but she’d only ever been afraid for him.

“Good night, Cissy. I’ll write to you tomorrow morning,” he said, and then he was gone.

Narcissa heard a door opening behind her and turned to find her father glaring after Lucius. “You are being reckless, girl,” he growled, but didn’t waste breath on threats and punishments, as if he knew they were pointless.

Triumph was sweet, Narcissa thought, especially when it was won without having to fight. She banished her father’s words from her mind, basking instead in the sweet satisfaction of getting her way for once. “I promise you I’m not doing anything unseemly, Daddy,” she assured her father, in a mood to be generous.

Cygnus Black scowled at her. “Well, don’t come crying to me when he’s done toying with you.”

She wouldn’t, Narcissa thought. It simply wouldn’t happen.