A hand closed over her wrist just as she was about to complete the final wand movement.
“You’re doing it wrong.”
That supercilious drawl could only belong to one person, and Narcissa knew if she turned around, she would see a smug smirk on the face of Lucius Malfoy. She also knew she would be tempted to wipe it away with her fist, but ladies didn’t punch people no matter how much they deserved it. So instead she took a deep breath, smiled tightly and prayed her voice would be even.
“How would you know?”
Narcissa Black’s Charms marks were currently the best in the school, despite her being only two weeks into her sixth year, and the best Slytherin House had seen since some decades-ago Head Boy called Tom Riddle sat his NEWTs. Everyone knew that. Lucius Malfoy’s Charms marks were merely average, since he spent most of his time haranguing the Quidditch team and using his position as Captain and Head Boy to flirt with anything in a skirt. Everyone knew that, too. So for him to tell her she was doing it wrong, and in the Common Room no less… well. You could have heard a pin drop.
Reaching up with her other hand to remove his fingers from her wrist, she turned to face him, folding her arms and giving him an expectant look. He was smirking at her – just like she knew he would be – and his tone was condescending as he replied, “I may not suck up to Flitwick the way you do, Black, but even I know you can’t make a Colour Change Charm permanent.” Unspoken was the fact he clearly thought her foolish for even trying.
Her eyes narrowed. She didn’t suck up to Flitwick at all. She paid attention and did extra credit, because the diminutive Professor had told her she had a very good chance at earning her Charms Mastery if she worked hard. And Narcissa wanted that Mastery. It was her only way out of the life her parents had planned for her. She refused to marry Crabbe or Goyle, who were the most recent names being bandied about. Pucey was a possibility – Alistair was decent enough, she supposed, and Xavier Nott was certainly easy on the eyes… but she didn’t want to marry straight out of school. Narcissa wanted to see the world, and the only way to do that was an apprenticeship to a Master. So, she worked on her Charms.
A snap decision and a quick flick of her wand finished the spell she’d started earlier, and she gave Malfoy a smug look.
“Try and change it back, then.”
Stepping to one side, she indicated the cushion she’d changed from a faded black to brilliant sapphire blue. He raised an eyebrow at her, but Narcissa knew he wouldn’t back down from a challenge – he never could. She was counting on it, in fact.
“Unless you think you can’t,” she goaded him.
The lazy smirk on his face tightened to a sneer, and he glanced around the Common Room for what anyone else would have been reassurance, but for him… well, she wouldn’t venture to say.
“Fine,” he snapped. “I’ll play your little game. Finite Incantatum.”
But the cushion stayed blue, and a mutter went through the younger crowd. Lucius Malfoy was their idol, and he had just failed.
A slow smile began to curl Narcissa’s lips. “Care to try again?”
He glared at her, and his stance and aim became much more focused. “Termino Incantatum!”
The higher-level spell made no difference, and the almost obstinately sapphire hue of the cushion was practically taunting him. Lucius turned to her with an accusing and faintly impressed look. Narcissa merely smiled, and said mildly, “Tempus clause and inflection change with a modified wand movement. Perhaps you should study harder?”
Turning her back on him, Narcissa left the Common Room, closing the door on shocked silence. She couldn’t keep the massive grin from her face as she walked down the corridor, though it quickly disappeared when she heard the irritating nasal tones of Lucinda Parkinson from behind her.
“Suppose you thought that was clever, Black?”
Sighing to herself, Narcissa stopped walking, and turned to face the seventh year. She didn’t respond, knowing that girls like Lucinda loved to hear themselves speak, and she only had to wait for the twit to get annoyed and blurt out her reason for following. One raised eyebrow and five seconds of awkward silence later, she got what she wanted.
“Showing off the way you did,” Lucinda sneered, twisting what was otherwise a quite pretty smile into something rather ugly. “You think he’s going to want that? ‘Perhaps you should study harder’!” Her mimicry was cruelly accurate.
Narcissa rolled her eyes. “What makes you think I want him? Malfoy is an arrogant berk.”
Lucinda huffed, and tossed her long, unnaturally blonde hair over her shoulder. “Please. You’re playing a classic game of hard to get. Ignoring him? Making him think you don’t like him? You’re so obvious.” The older girl stepped closer, and Narcissa was uncomfortably aware of the weight and height advantage Lucinda had. She hated the fact that she did not have the height of her sisters, and Parkinson knew it, and loomed over her.
“He doesn’t want you,” she breathed near Narcissa’s ear. “Not when he can have me.” Stepping back, she indicated her admittedly stunning curves – something else Narcissa did not possess – and smirked nastily. “So back off, little girl.”
Narcissa fought back a cutting remark. It wouldn’t do to anger Lucinda; she and her twin brother were into the Dark Arts and didn’t care who knew it. Narcissa herself had a moderate interest in them, since she was both a Black and a Slytherin, but she didn’t advertise it. Far better to hex and not be suspected. Instead, she smiled coolly and replied, “You’re welcome to him, Parkinson.”
Just then, the door to the Common Room banged open and both girls turned to see the subject of their discussion stumble into the corridor, a slim brunette wrapped around him. Narcissa had to hide her smirk when he made sure that they were both watching before he pressed Prudence Avery – for that’s who was clinging to him like a limpet – into the wall and kissed her passionately. Prudence was very pleased with this development, and made that known with breathy moans and gasps as Lucius kissed his way down her neck, his hands somewhere under her shirt.
“That’s if you think you can catch him.”
Lucinda sputtered angrily as Narcissa walked away, her even footsteps not betraying the mirth she felt upon witnessing Lucinda’s reaction when she saw Luc-Malfoy kissing Prudence. She did allow a grin to break free when she realised how ridiculous their names would be. Lucius and Lucinda? How revoltingly sweet! Smiling to herself, she’d made it round the corner before a set of lighter footsteps became audible, and Narcissa turned to see a skinny second year boy following her.
“You made her mad,” he said through the straggly hair hiding his face.
“I know, Severus. But she’s got someone to be even madder at, now,” Narcissa pointed out, and offered him her elbow. He inclined his head in acknowledgement before taking her arm with a mock bow, and the odd pair headed for the library. Narcissa smiled down at him. “Tell me about that levitating spell you were thinking about!”
Snape’s mien brightened considerably at this, and his other hand began gesticulating wildly as he spoke. “Well! I’m pretty sure I have the incantation I want, but I need to work out the wand movements because I want to shift the focus…”
Nodding in all the right places and offering suggestions and sounds of agreement, Narcissa soon forgot the incident in the corridor and what had led up to it. There were far more interesting things to think about.
The last weekend of September was a Hogsmeade weekend, so naturally the Common Room was buzzing with chatter about who was going with whom and what shops people would visit. Even Caterina, who normally didn’t irritate Narcissa at all, was getting on her nerves with her gushing about exactly how sweet Alistair Pucey had been when he asked her to go with him. Realising that staying in the Common Room was not conducive to keeping her sanity, Narcissa took advantage of the relative quiet of the library on Friday evening to complete her Astronomy homework in what she hoped would be peace. She was about two thirds of the way through her essay when someone slid into the chair opposite her.
“Hey, you,” she said with a smile, not looking up from her parchment. Stunned silence greeted her, and Narcissa lifted her gaze, wondering why Severus hadn’t spoken yet. Her smile immediately fell when she saw just who had decided to interrupt her.
“What do you want, Malfoy?”
His surprised expression shifted into a lazy smile, and he reached over to pluck her quill from her fingers.
“Hogsmeade tomorrow, Black,” he drawled, and gave her an expectant look.
Irritated and scowling, she stretched across the table to take her quill back, but he held it out of her reach, a small smirk playing about his mouth. Narcissa was unimpressed.
“Really? I must have missed the fliers and chatter and constant going on about it in the Common Room,” she replied with false sweetness. “And give that back.”
He gazed at her for a moment, idly twirling her quill between his thumb and forefinger. It was rather delicate, Lucius noted, and he glanced down at it, musing that she must have small hands to be able to write without crushing the shaft. The sound of her clearing her throat impatiently drew his attention, and one of those small hands was held out, clearly waiting for the quill to be deposited in her open palm. He did so, somewhat startled to have been caught daydreaming, and she snatched her hand back immediately.
“Really,” he confirmed, his smirk widening. “You should go.”
Narcissa stared at him for a moment, nonplussed, before haphazardly stuffing her belongings into her satchel.
“You should stop bothering me,” she retorted, and stalked away, irritation obvious in every line of her body.
Lucius stared after her until he heard the library doors thud closed, at which point he stared at the tabletop. He was deciding whether or not to bang his forehead against it when someone slid into Narcissa’s now-vacant seat.
“You’re doing it wrong.”
Lucius sneered, but then thought better of it. Though it clearly galled him to have to say it, his words were quiet but clear as he asked, “Can you help me, then?”
Saturday dawned bright and sunny, and unbearably muggy. Having no intention of sweating with the masses in the quaint but cramped stores, Narcissa waited for the horde of students to leave for the village before she made her way to her favourite spot on the grounds. Summer’s last hurrah was making itself known in the form of oppressive humidity, and even her single lightweight robe stuck uncomfortably to her skin as she lay sprawled under the giant oak. Even the shade provided no respite, and Narcissa used her book to create a breeze, for there was none present.
The high moisture levels in the air created the illusion of heat, and it was uncannily close to the reality of an actual summer’s day. It was too hot to read; too hot to think. The light musical splashing of water over rocks was inviting, though, and she turned a speculative gaze to the small inlet of the lake her oak presided over. The current was swift further out, and the lapping of the tiny waves along the pebbled shore was getting hard to ignore. Her shoes long ago abandoned, it was a simple matter to get her feet wet, and the gently moving water swirling about her ankles was cool and refreshing.
To swim or not to swim, that was the question.
It was while she pondered this that another splashing was heard, and she grinned, knowing without looking who was ankle-deep in the water beside her.
“If you do, you’re on your own.” Severus’ tone was dour, but when she glanced at him, the corner of his mouth was quirked upwards.
“You don’t know what I was thinking,” she teased him. He did smile then, and shook his head.
“No, but I bet I’m right,” he replied. He stood in the shallows next to her, trousers rolled up to the knee exposing pale, skinny legs, his shoes and socks scattered near her sandals and book under the tree. “I bet you were deciding whether or not it was worth swimming in your robes, since I also bet your wand is back in the dorms.”
She blushed a little at that. Narcissa had a habit of leaving her wand in her room on weekends. She always completed her homework the day she was given it, and if she wasn’t working on her Charms, she didn’t see the need to constantly carry a wand. After all, she was a Black and a Slytherin – it was unlikely anything would happen to her. Unless she gave into the urge to take an impromptu swim, of course. Which, since Severus was being such a smug git about it, she just might do.
Stepping in front of him, she smirked. “I bet you have yours,” she pointed out, and promptly kicked a wave of water over him.
Taking advantage of his utter shock, Narcissa turned and ran a few steps deeper into the inlet, before diving under the surface of the clear waters, not caring for the state of her robes. Severus always had his wand, and though he might be mad at her for splashing him at first, she knew he’d dry them both off.
Surfacing with a grin on her face, Narcissa was surprised to see Severus had thrown his outer robe up with the rest of their belongings and was wading further in before he too, dived under.
“Shut up,” he said irritably when he reached her. His hair was plastered to his head, making his already prominent nose seem bigger than it really was. Narcissa privately hoped he grew into that nose, since he already garnered teasing for it, and it would only get worse as he got older. She raised an eyebrow.
“This sort of excessive humidity is ridiculous. It’s hot, and I don’t like it, alright?” He looked sour about admitting it, and she laughed.
“It’ll be our secret, Sev.” Her tone was light, but she meant the words. Severus was wickedly intelligent for a twelve year old, and good company if you could get past the sarcasm. He also didn’t treat her any differently for coming from the family she did, and had as much fun studying for hours as she did. If he’d been four years older, they’d have probably been best friends.
He nodded, then threw himself onto his back, floating with arms and legs stretched out. Mirroring his actions, Narcissa sculled the water with her hands, pushing herself along til she could see him from the corner of her eye.
“You’re so skinny,” she teased him. “How you gonna catch yourself a wife with those knobbly knees and elbows, hmm?”
He flicked water at her, a grin threatening to break across his face. “I could say the same for you, you stick insect,” he teased back, “except that you seem to have caught someone’s attention.”
Narcissa scowled at that. “I don’t know that being the focus of an irritation campaign is the same as having his- someone’s attention.”
She gazed up at the patches of sky visible through the over-reaching branches of the oak, and sighed. Severus waited patiently, until – “He keeps talking to me. What on earth does he want?”
She didn’t need to name ‘him’. It was clearly Malfoy, and Severus decided that in this case, honesty – such as it was to a Slytherin – was probably the best policy.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he replied, lying with a straight face. “Maybe,” he drew the word out, “he likes you.”
An unladylike scoff was her response, and she muttered, “That’d be just my luck. One more reason for Parkinson to get her hackles up, the pug-faced harpy.”
She was silent for a moment, then stood abruptly in the chest-deep water, and began making her way back to shore. Severus followed wordlessly, and they walked barefoot back to the castle, Narcissa deep in thought and Severus stretching to keep up with her slightly longer stride.