The weather had cooled considerably since Hogsmeade weekend’s sultry heat, and Narcissa shivered slightly when a draft swirled her skirt around her knees as she returned to her dorm after Astronomy class. Not wearing robes over her uniform had been a foolish thing, but she hadn’t found time to grab hers in her haste to leave the Common Room. Engrossed in her novel, it wasn’t until Severus expressed surprise to see her that she realised she was late for class. Ignoring Parkinson’s snicker of derision from her newly achieved and much-coveted (if Caterina was to be believed) seat at Malfoy’s side, Narcissa had grabbed her satchel and sprinted through the castle to her lesson – only to have to stay behind to polish, oil and pack away the telescopes as punishment for her tardiness.
Scowling slightly and wrapping her arms about herself in an attempt to ward off the cold as she walked, Narcissa conceded that it could have been worse. She could have received detention. Instead, she merely suffered the indignity of being upbraided before her peers, and a chilly walk back to the Common Room at midnight after a spot of menial labour. Thankfully the Professor had issued her with a pass to be out past curfew. Of course, she’d hoped not to need it, but the measured footsteps behind her dashed her hopes, and the sound of someone clearing his throat could be heard.
Biting her lip in consternation, she turned to face the other occupant of the corridor, and fought back a snippy response to the smug look on his face. Here was the worse she’d thought she’d avoided.
“I have a pass, Malfoy,” she sighed.
He raised his eyebrows. “Did I say anything, Black?”
Lucius gestured down the corridor, indicating that she should walk with him. She did so rather grudgingly, but she had no real reason to refuse him, other than the fact that he irritated her to no end. Besides, he could still take points… and he appeared to be waiting for an answer.
“No,” she conceded, grudgingly. He hadn’t, but he was Head Boy, and she was out after curfew, and she’d thought it prudent to pre-empt his question.
“Although,” he said slowly, “I will confess to curiosity as to why you’re out past curfew, and without your robes. A secret tryst, perhaps?” His tone was teasing, but there was a clipped quality to the last words that had her looking at him askance.
“Oh, yes,” she replied, sarcasm fairly dripping from her tongue. “You caught me.”
He looked startled at this.
“Honestly, Malfoy. If you must know, I was late to class, and had to stay behind.”
She hugged her arms closer about herself, annoyed at having even a minor fault exposed, and even more annoyed that she even gave him the reason to begin with.
“I… find that surprising,” he said quietly, looking straight ahead.
Narcissa pondered that as they walked in silence, trying to work out just which part of her statement had been surprising, before curiosity got the better of her.
“Fine, I’ll bite,” she sighed as they reached the entrance to the Common Room, weariness and irritation making her voice flat. He spoke the password and gestured for her to precede him through the entrance, which she did, good manners having been drilled into her for so long that the fact that he even did so didn’t register. “What do you find surprising?”
She turned to face him as she asked, and was annoyed to see a grimace of distaste on his face. About to berate him for his rudeness, she realised the cause of his expression when a distinctively nasal voice repeated her question.
“Yes, Lucius. What do you find surprising?” Lucinda’s words were sweetly venomous, and Narcissa didn’t bother to wait to hear his response. Ignoring the pair of them, she crossed quickly to the stairs leading to the girls’ dorms, Parkinson’s mocking tones following her.
“Go to bed like a good girl, little Cissy!”
Narcissa usually hexed people who called her that, but she made an exception in Parkinson’s case. Opting for a very unladylike gesture instead, she was satisfied to hear the older girl splutter in outrage at Malfoy’s snort of what she suspected was amusement as she descended the steps, rolling her eyes as Lucinda’s voice became wheedlingly possessive.
“Where were you? Did you forget…”
Blocking out the syrupy words, Narcissa reached her dorm and slipped inside, easily finding her way to her bed in the darkness. It wasn’t difficult, she merely needed to aim for the patch of quiet between Caterina’s delicate snores and Eleanor’s deeper ones. Either sound was preferable to Parkinson’s far from dulcet tones, and she thought she might possibly pity Malfoy for having to hear it. Not too much, though. She grinned to herself. Perhaps they were well suited after all – they were both equally irritating.
“Parkinson has it in for you,” Caterina muttered as she slid into her seat beside Narcissa. Neither girl was fond of Divination class, but they were imaginative in their predictions and enjoyed a cup of tea, so the Professor allowed the two a little more leniency than she would otherwise.
“I know,” she whispered in reply, setting up their crystal ball. “But damned if I know why.”
Caterina snorted quietly as she retrieved her Divination textbook from her satchel, opening it to the chapter on crystal gazing. Pushing her dark hair away from her face, Caterina gave Narcissa a look.
“Narcissa. Tell me you’re joking.”
Shaking her head, Narcissa raised an expectant eyebrow at her friend.
“Would I have asked for clarification if I was joking?” she replied quietly. “I know we’re in Divination, Caterina, but clairvoyance really isn’t my thing.”
A muffled giggle was all the response she got, because the Professor chose that moment to wander past their table in a perfumed cloud of flyaway hair and trailing silk scarves. The girls contrived to look busy until she passed, and Narcissa elbowed the brunette in the ribs.
“Well?” she muttered. “I mean, she gave me some ridiculous warning about Malfoy of all people weeks ago, but she has him now, so I don’t know what her problem is.”
Caterina’s expression was surprised, and almost pitying. “You really don’t know?”
Exasperated, Narcissa thumped her own textbook on the table with more force than necessary.
“No, Caterina, I really don’t,” she whispered, annoyance colouring her tone to the point of harshness. “Care to elaborate?”
The dark-haired girl leaned close enough so their heads were touching, the better to ensure privacy.
“Rumour has it,” she breathed near Narcissa’s ear, “that Malfoy is only with her to shut her up, since he actually has his eye on you.”
Narcissa blinked in disbelief. “What?”
Several heads turned their way, interest and curiosity on their faces. Narcissa blushed, and lowered her voice.
“That’s preposterous!” she hissed. “He does not! Have you been talking with Severus? What kind of hare-brained scheme is this? Besides, she has nothing to worry about. Luc- Malfoy is an irritating berk, and I have done nothing to encourage him, and I’m pretty sure your information is patently false. She can have him.”
She sat back with a huff.
“Shh, I believe you,” Caterina soothed, and patted Narcissa’s hand reassuringly. “I was just warning you, that’s all.”
Nodding, Narcissa gave the darker girl a small smile, and turned to their crystal ball.
“I foresee an itchy rash in an unmentionable place in the future of a bottle-blonde harpy,” she intoned in a mystical voice.
“With undoubtedly Charm-enhanced curves,” Caterina added, and the two began to snicker behind their hands, drawing the ire of the table next to them, until they calmed down and settled into the lesson.
Very few students took the Evening Prophet, mostly Ravenclaws and the Slytherins with their eyes on a government job. So a post owl dropping a letter in front of Narcissa Black during dinner was noteworthy and cause for speculation, even more so when it didn’t wait for payment.
Laying aside her knife and fork, Narcissa dabbed at her hands and mouth with her napkin before opening the missive with studied disinterest. The expensive parchment rustled satisfyingly as she unfolded it, and she took a brief moment to appreciate the texture under her hands before she read the letter. Recognising the elegantly hasty scrawl as belonging to her oldest sister, Narcissa frowned in confusion. Bella never wrote to her; it wasn’t her style. She was far more likely to just show up if she wanted to talk. It wasn’t until she got past the “Darling Cissy,” that Narcissa realised why her sister, usually a poor correspondent, had written, and her face automatically assumed a forced neutral expression as she read.
…gone off and married a Mudblood. Aunt Wally burned her off the tapestry as Mama refused to do so, and Mama has since taken to her room in despair. There is much weeping and wailing and slamming of doors; I am glad I no longer live here. Uncle is swearing blind that he knew this would happen, the daft git, and Papa is enraged. He is talking of making a contract to make sure you don’t do the same. I told him you were better than that, but he won’t listen.
I hope you’ve caught someone’s eye, Cissy-baby, because if you haven’t, Papa will catch it for you.
Feeling the colour draining from her cheeks as she carefully re-folded the parchment, Narcissa became aware of an expectant silence at the Slytherin table, and the light touch of Caterina’s hand to her arm made her glance around. Lucinda Parkinson, horrid cow that she was, had a copy of the Evening Prophet, held up so Narcissa would be sure to see the glaring headlines of the society section.
“BLACK DAUGHTER DISOWNED FOR MARRYING MUGGLEBORN”
“TRUE LOVE: DOES IT CONQUER ALL?”
“OUR THEORIES BEHIND THE BREAK-UP OF A FAMILY, PAGE 3”
And there was Andromeda’s face, shyly smiling in her seventh year portrait, peering out at her, the Slytherin crest on her robes mockingly prominent in the picture.
Knowing she was only confirming the story by leaving the table, Narcissa still saw it as the only option, because she’d be a Squib before crying in front of anyone here. Standing smoothly, she climbed neatly over the bench and walked out of the Great Hall at an even, unhurried pace. Her chin was high and her expression neutral, and only the parchment crumpled in her fist gave any clue that she was anything but calm.
Severus Snape watched her go, her back proud and straight as she made her exit through the double doors. He knew she would be heading for the lake – it’s where she always went if she was upset – but there was a storm due later. Sighing, he resigned himself to the fact that he would be up late tonight to comfort her when she came in. Not that he really minded. She was pretty, and smart, and listened when he spoke, and he thought they might even be friends. Shaking his head as he heard the outer doors bang shut, Severus went back to his dinner. She wouldn’t thank him for chasing her.
Perhaps walking around the lake for hours after lights-out in a bout of self-pity hadn’t been the best of ideas. The skies had opened, delivering the promised rain, and catching Narcissa on the far side with her wand in her dorm, of all the stupid places to leave it. Since a drying charm was obviously out of the question, and deciding she couldn’t possibly get any wetter, she stopped walking long enough to smooth out the letter, holding it out in front of her til the rain washed the ink from the parchment. She watched as it soaked through the page and ran off her hands, and only when it was completely illegible did she let it fall to the ground, not caring that it tore under her heel as she walked away.
No, this particular fit of pique had not been well thought out at all. Autumn rain was still rain, and still freezing, and Narcissa was forced to walk through the entire castle in soaking robes and squelching shoes, her long hair slowly drying into its naturally unruly waves. Her one consolation – other than Filch owing her a favour for permanently de-fleaing his cat and thus never reporting her on the occasions he found her breaking curfew – was that no one would be up to witness her bedraggled state.
Naturally, he was in the Common Room when she got back. Of course it was too much to hope for it to be entirely empty past midnight on a Sunday when people should be sleeping. Did no one care about classes? A cursory glance around proved him to be the only visible inhabitant – and he held her wand, spinning it idly in his hands.
Her eyes narrowed.
“Where did you get that?”
He stood from the sofa, his tall frame unfolding til he filled her field of vision.
“Being Head Boy has its perks,” Lucius replied, his usual drawl oddly absent. But Narcissa didn’t notice, focused as she was on the polished cedar he should not have been holding. Irritation swept through her, and she snatched her wand away, stripping off her sodden outer robes and drying them before throwing them carelessly on a chair.
Ignoring his dry chuckle, she kicked off her shoes and made quick work of wicking the water from the rest of her clothes. Finally dry, Narcissa raised her wand to her head, intending to Charm her hair back into its usual poker straightness. A hand closed over her wrist just as she was about to complete the final wand movement.
“You’re doing it wrong.”
Narcissa fought back a scream of frustration.
“What now, Malfoy?”
There was no mockery in his expression as he gently pushed her arm down.
“Your hair is fine. You don’t need to charm it.” Merlin, but she could almost believe he was being sincere. “It looks lovely… you look lovely.”
And there was the lie.
Giving him a look that said she thought he was mad as a hatter, Narcissa twisted her hand away from his – why was he still holding her wrist? – and brought her wand back up to finish the coiffure charm. Muttering mostly incomprehensible insults about Malfoys and sanity, she gathered up her robe and shoes and stalked from the Common Room, stomping down the stairs to her dorm in a most unladylike fashion. So caught up was she in the absurdity of the situation that she completely missed the defeated sigh he gave as she left and was already in her dorm by the time he spoke.
“This isn’t going to work. She doesn’t like me.”
“It will,” a much younger voice answered him from the armchair facing the hearth. “And she does. She just hasn’t realised it yet. Patience, Malfoy.”
“Patience? Patience? I’ve been patient for two sodding months, Snape! Nothing I do is right – she thinks I’m a pretentious git, and she barely looks at me!”
The expression of utter misery on Malfoy's face was something to behold, Snape thought, and he resolved to put this memory in his Pensieve for Narcissa to chuckle over in later years. He knew her better than she thought, and Malfoy was getting under her skin.
“Trust me. She’s coming around.”
Lucius gave him a woebegone look. “She isn’t.”
Severus fought the urge to roll his eyes. This was what had all the girls swooning?
“She didn’t snap at you, did she?” He pointed out. “She didn’t push you away, threaten to hex you, or insult you to your face. I’d say that’s progress.” He grinned at the older boy. “Next time, try using her name.”