Severus stood by the fireplace, swirling the Firewhiskey around in his tumbler. It was his twenty-second birthday, and though he should be pleased, he couldn't help but feel anything but miserable. Perhaps that was because the love of his life was right across the room, canoodling with his best friend as though she didn't even know he existed.
Of course, she did know Severus existed, and she even knew how much he liked her. She just... didn't seem to care. Or that was how Severus saw it anyway. She caught his eye and floated across the room, arm in arm with her husband, beaming at him.
"Happy Birthday, Severus!" Narcissa said happily, kissing him on the cheek.
"Thank you." Severus rasped.
Lucius held out his hand to shake, which Severus politely did. Fortunately for him, Lucius did not know of Severus' feelings towards his wife. "Happy Birthday, my friend. You don't look a day older."
"You're too kind," said Severus.
"Listen, Narcissa and I are having an evening garden party next weekend. Would you care to join us?" Lucius took a swig of his own Firewhiskey, watching Severus carefully.
As much as Severus wanted to say no, because it was painful to spend time in the company of Narcissa, he knew he had to say yes. It would be far too suspicious if he declined the offer when he and Lucius were supposed to be such good friends. "I'd love to. Thank you for the invite."
"Jolly good," remarked Lucius. "It really wouldn't have been the same without you. Oh, there's Avery, I've got some business to discuss with him. Mind if I leave you in the capable hands of Severus, dear?" Lucius didn't wait for an answer, kissing Narcissa swiftly on the head before strutting across the room, leaving them both in a very awkward situation.
"How are you?" Severus said, aware that they were being watched, as he usually was, and not wanting to give anyone reason to believe he and Narcissa were on anything but good terms.
Narcissa smiled. "Very good, thank you for asking. Lucius rarely does, these days."
"How upsetting for you." Severus knew that as much as Lucius loved his wife, he'd never been much of an affectionate man and found it hard to show it.
"It is, yes," said Narcissa sadly. One of the things Severus knew that he was sure Lucius didn't was that all Narcissa wanted was a romantic. She wanted someone who would go to any lengths to prove their love for her, even if it meant making a complete fool of themselves. No, that wasn't Lucius, but she loved him in spite of that. "I know what you're thinking, and before you say it, yes, I do love him."
"I know." Severus said simply, though he believed she'd grown to love him, rather than it being instantaneous love. Besides, Severus knew Narcissa and he would never have worked because Severus didn't have the kind of money that warranted marrying someone of her status.
"Lucius is going away after the garden party," said Narcissa, taking a sip of wine. "A business trip for You-Know-Who. I begged him not to go, but he says it's important and he's determined to get into the Dark Lord's top ranks."
"Oh right." A couple of years ago they'd had a few flings here and there, but after she got married, Narcissa swore against them, and that was the end of that. Still, it was her he thought of at night, and he hoped she thought of him too. Unlikely, but hope was all he really had going for him. He wondered if she was telling him this just out of polite conversation or because she wanted him to call round.
"Aren't you going to join?" Narcissa eyed him cautiously; perhaps she'd admire him more if he did. Not that he cared whether she admired him or not, he told himself. "Lucius say it's a mans game, but our Bella recently joined." Though he knew that he really did care.
"I heard. Send her my congratulations," Severus remarked; Bellatrix had always been a bit of a dark horse in their family, someone he'd tried to stay well away from because she could be highly unpredictable. "And yes, I've thought about joining. I'm still making my mind up, though."
Narcissa smiled politely. "I see." Her voice screamed that she didn't think he had the balls to do something like that, which just made his blood boil, but of course, he couldn't let her know she could get to him so easily. "So, seven days to my garden party," she said, changing the subject.
"Indeed. Why are you holding it?" asked Severus, in spite of knowing how much Narcissa loved social events.
"It's nearly the end of summer, and I wanted to celebrate it before it's too late." Narcissa drank the last of her wine and beamed at hin. "I'm going to get a top up. I'll see you in seven days, Severus."
"A lot can happen in seven days," Severus mumbled as she wiggled away, greeting everyone, though he noticed the air of superiority in her tone towards all of them
Severus had had several years to come to terms with the fact that he and Narcissa could never get married and have children, like any other normal couple who liked each other; not that he ever really wanted children anyway, but still, he wanted Narcissa. However, Severus was sure that if he could get Narcissa 'on side', so to speak, then the week Lucius was away after her garden party they'd be able to spend some time together as more than just good friends.
It would have to be something really special, yet at the same time, something that Lucius wouldn't find out about. Severus didn't go to bed until the early hours of the morning after his birthday party, staying up thinking of something he could do, and in the end he decided he'd send her something romantic every single day leading up to the party.
Severus was so confident with his plan that he was sure she wouldn't be able to resist him after the week ended, so when he finally went to bed, he did so with a smile on his face.
The owl hooted impatiently as Severus finished wrapping the parcel, making sure that no part of the present could be seen from the outside. Once he was done he stuck a letter onto the top of it, setting the owl off with strict instructions not to deliver until Lucius Malfoy had left the manor.
Severus knew he usually left around this time, but he wanted to be safe rather than sorry. He couldn't risk Lucius seeing any of the messages or gifts he was going to send Narcissa; he was a powerful and scary man at the best of times.
The present he'd sent Narcissa today was a first edition of her favourite book, one she'd mentioned in the first conversation they'd had together at Hogwarts. How he remembered it to this day he didn't know, but he knew she'd love it. The accompanying note was as follows:
It is seven days until your garden party, and seven days until your husband leaves to go off on business. In these seven days I plan to show you just how much of a romantic I can be; if you can't get it off your husband you may as well get it off someone else. You do deserve it, after all. I hope you enjoy this priceless first edition; please think of me when you read it.
Severus went about the day doing his errands and making potions as he usually did, half forgetting that he'd even sent that to Narcissa earlier that morning. It was near five o'clock when he got a response from the owl he recognised as hers; the one she'd had since her Hogwarts days. He took the letter from its clutches and read quickly.
Thank you for your gift, it was very thoughtful. As it so happens I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of that book for years, so I'm quite intrigued as to where you found it. I say, I'd never had you down as much of a romantic, but I look forward to the coming week. Let it be known now that you will be rewarded for your generosity.
Severus wasn't surprised to learn Narcissa hadn't been able to find a first edition of the book anywhere, as he'd come across it in an old antique shop. It was a place he knew Narcissa would never set foot in even if you paid her, so he felt quite proud of himself.
That night, Severus went to bed dreaming of the many ways Narcissa could repay him for his generosity.
The gift Severus had planned for today required several owls to be taken to Malfoy Manor, for it was far too heavy for one to take it by itself. He was nearly deafened by all the hooting as he put the finishing touches to the package, glad when he was finally able to attach the letter and send the owls off.
Today's gift was a antique mirror that spoke to you when you looked into it. Severus had known Narcissa had wanted one of these since she was a little girl, and her mother had told her tale after tale with one of them in it. Again, it was another find he'd made in an antique shop, and he realised it probably never even crossed Narcissa's mind to look in a place like that. The letter attached read as follows:
In our many conversations you have told me about your desire for one of these, and when I came across it I knew I could not let it go to someone else. I hope you cherish it with as much love as you've always said you would.
The mirror itself was rather ornate, so Narcissa could probably get away with saying it was a family heirloom and Lucius would never know. Narcissa's reply was a lot speedier today, giving Severus the impression she enjoyed this gift much more than the first.
I cannot thank you enough for the mirror. I confess, I had begun to think such a thing didn't even exist, as I have had many staff look for one over the years. How you came across it I'll never know, I'm just very grateful that you did.
Severus smiled; he knew Narcissa would never officially inquire as to where his gifts were coming from, particularly as she'd never been able to find them herself. Severus also knew half of her genuinely didn't want to know, and that the other half adored the mystery.
As Severus was sorting out Narcissa's third gift, he got a most unusual surprise in the form of Lucius Malfoy entering via his Floo. Lucius had never seen fit to warn Severus of his arrivals, so Severus was just thankful the gift was a brooch and he was able to hide it quickly.
"Morning Lucius," Severus said politely. "What can I do for you today?"
Lucius looked around awkwardly. "I'm going to make this quick, but I was wondering if you'd be able to look out for Narcissa whilst I'm away next week...? She's been acting oddly these past few days and I'm worried about her."
"Oh?" Severus nearly laughed, but somehow managed to keep a straight face."I can certainly do that. It would be my pleasure," replied Severus, inwardly breathing a sigh of relief that Lucius wasn't there to mouth off about the gifts to him.
"Thank you." Lucius nodded curtly. "I'd like to know if anything untoward goes on. Keep an eye out for me, if you will."
Severus nodded. "Of course. Is there anything you'd like me to bring to the garden party? It's just last time Narcissa berated me about not bringing a present."
"Well it was Bellatrix's birthday," said Lucius calmly.
"Perhaps she should have mentioned that then," muttered Severus, remembering how he'd been hit over the head several times by both sisters.
"Indeed," laughed Lucius. "But no, you don't need to bring anything. I'll see you there then, it starts around six."
"Okay," said Severus as Lucius stepped back into the Floo, waiting until he was completely gone to get the brooch out again and put the finishing touches to the wrapping of it. It was emerald, Narcissa's favourite colour, and he knew it would go perfectly with the gift he'd planned for tomorrow. "Tiza." Severus called over his owl as he added a small green bow, placing it carefully in her beak. There would be no letter today, he decided, as he was rather startled by the visit of Lucius.
It may not have been a visit about the gifts, or the fact that Severus fancied his wife, but Lucius had certainly noticed something was up with her. Perhaps she wasn't usually that happy.
Severus awoke to the sound of tapping at his window, finding a tawny owl staring at him impatiently. He yawned and opened it up, allowing the owl to float into the room and drop a letter on his bed. Having expected the owl to go, Severus was still standing there with the window wide open, but it just flew over and pecked him harshly on the shoulder.
"Fine." said Severus. "I'll reply. Just give me a moment to read it." He picked up the envelope and read the contents on the parchment inside.
While I very much appreciate the brooch, I could not understand as to why there was no letter with it. Perhaps you have grown bored with sending me gifts? Are my replies not enough for you? I do not wish to trouble you, Severus. Do not feel you have to send them.
Severus sighed and pushed his hair back as he grabbed a quill and parchment from his bedside drawer. He'd always known Narcissa was a little insecure, but not so much that she would send him letters asking where his letters to her were.
I very much enjoy sending you gifts I know you will cherish and appreciate, but I was visited unexpectedly by your husband yesterday, who wished to talk matters of the party, and it startled me somewhat. I thought the brooch would be enough for you, and that it alone would tell you how I thought about you. Many apologies.
"Here you go." Severus placed the letter in an envelope and gave it to the owl, who looked extremely impatient. As he closed the window after the owl he went over to his wardrobe, where there was a beautiful floor-length emerald dress. It was to go with the brooch, or rather the other way around. He carefully took it out and folded it out neatly to go in the pristine clean white box he'd reserved especially for it.
Narcissa had always loved beautiful things, and this was a dress that he just couldn't take his eyes off when he first saw it. It had spent years in his wardrobe, as he'd had nobody to give it to, but now seemed the perfect time, and Narcissa the perfect recipient. Knowing she'd want a letter this time, he sat down and took another piece of parchment to begin writing.
I know you will absolutely adore this gift; it is to go with the brooch I sent you yesterday. Hopefully by the end of this week you will realise how much I care for you. As we both know, probably nothing will come of it except your happiness, which truly is my upmost desire
Severus knew his annoyance about them never being able to have a proper relationship was coming across heavily in this letter, but he couldn't really contain himself, particularly after the letter she'd sent him yesterday.
A reply came from Narcissa barely two hours after the gift had been delivered, but he hadn't expected its contents.
My apologies if my letter yesterday hurt you. You are right, I do adore the dress, you have an eye for beautiful things. Oh, and please send your gift in the evening tomorrow, as Lucius is in most of the day.
It was short and sweet, but the most important part was that Narcissa had actually apologised. This was something she rarely did, as she had a tendency to be stubborn and she hated to admit when she was wrong. A coy smile spread over his lips as he started to think about the gift he would send her next.
As Narcissa had warned yesterday, Severus had to send the gift in the evening, so he'd been waiting patiently all day, having carefully wrapped it in the morning. He'd decided to send her one half of a two way mirror that he had, so they could communicate instantly whenever Lucius was out of the manor. It would mean she wouldn't have to leave and have one of her society friends spotting her visit him, and yet they'd still be able to keep in better touch then with owls.
Sighing, as he wished he didn't have to stick to communicating in secret, he sent the mirror off with the owls when it finally went dark. He hadn't sent a letter, as he figured she'd be able to work this one out for herself, so he sat patiently in the living room with it in hand, waiting for her to appear.
It was half an hour after he sent the gift that her face appeared, looking tired and slightly pissed off.
"Are you all right, Narcissa?" asked Severus, slightly concerned.
"Yes, I'm fine," she said. "Lucius and I just had an argument before he left, that's all."
Severus rolled his eyes; this was typical of his best friend. "Want to talk about it?"
"No." Narcissa shook her head vigorously. "I just want to forget. Thank you for this, it was a good idea, though I'll have to keep it safe."
"You're welcome. I just thought it would help us keep in contact. So, are you all set for the garden party?" Severus wasn't quite sure what to say, since all that was on his mind was what an idiot Lucius was, and how much he wanted to shout at Narcissa and let her know she'd made the wrong decision. He knew, financially and society-wise, that she had made the right choice in men, and he had always known that was more important to her.
"Nearly." Narcissa perked up; she had always loved a good party. "I've just got to get enough chairs and a gazebo, just in case it decides to rain on me."
"Let's hope it doesn't," he smiled at her. "Who is going?"
"The usual," Narcissa replied. "Most pureblood families, really. A few of Lucius' friends." By Lucius' 'friends', Severus knew Narcissa meant Death Eaters, an organisation of people he didn't think too fondly of.
"I see. Perhaps --" Severus started, but there was a loud bang from Narcissa's end and she started to look worried.
"I've got to go, Lucius is home. Thank you, Severus."
"Of course. Bye." Severus placed the mirror down on the table next to him. He sat in silence for a long time just thinking about how different his life could be if the woman he loved didn't care about status or money.
Today would be the most special gift that Severus would send to Narcissa, and the last of the week. As soon as he got up his eyes were drawn to it immediately, as it was extremely bright and shiny. Severus had managed to enchant a rose so it would never die, and it was stood proudly in a small glass tube, as bright as the day it had been grown.
Severus wasn't sure how she would be able to hide it from Lucius, so she'd probably have to tell him she'd bought it whilst she was out shopping or something. Either way, that was her concern, not his. He just had to make sure that she appreciated his gifts, and this he knew she certainly would.
After sending the rose very carefully off with the owls, he made breakfast and waited for Narcissa to appear in the mirror. It didn't take long for her to do so and he was pouring his milk when her beaming face looked up at him.
"Thank you so much, Severus!" Narcissa was so ecstatic it looked as though her face would crack from smiling so much. "It's so beautiful, I can't stop staring at it."
"I knew you'd like it," he said confidently.
"Look, I'm sorry, I can't really stop to chat," she said apologetically. "I've got to chase up those chairs, you see. The man hasn't delivered them yet. I'll try and catch you later, yes?"
Severus nodded. "I understand."
All day Severus waited for Narcissa to show up in the mirror again, but she never did. He tried not to take it personally, as he knew she was busy and Lucius probably came home before she got a chance to speak to him, but he couldn't help but be put out.
It was the day of the garden party, which meant Lucius would be leaving as soon as it was over. Severus hoped Narcissa would allow him to stay the night, as long as her society friends weren't there, of course. Even if nothing happened between them, he'd just be glad to sleep near her for once. Something was better than nothing, after all.
It was quarter to six when Severus had a shower and started to dress in his favourite suit, the one he also knew Narcissa thought he looked handsome in. She'd confessed that several months ago when she'd been drunk, and he remembered how hard it was to keep her away from Lucius in case she said anything that could incriminate him. He prayed the same thing would not happen tonight, so he swore to himself that he'd keep an eye on her alcohol consumption.
As per usual, Severus arrived fashionably late, so much so that his entrance wasn't really noticed. That was the way he liked it, allowing him to slip in and do his own thing without a fuss. It meant he wouldn't be collared by Death Eaters trying to recruit him, or women trying to seduce him. Either one was more trouble than it was worth at the moment.
"Ahh, there you are Severus." Lucius came out from the crowd and shook his hand. "I was beginning to think you weren't going to make it. Firewhiskey?"
"Please. And you know I'm always late, Lucius. I can't stand everyone watching my entry." Severus followed Lucius towards the drinks table, nodding curtly at Narcissa as they passed her. She was sat with her high society friends, who were all sipping tea and laughing. Though knowing her as well as he did, Severus knew it was fake. He was extremely surprised to find she was wearing the emerlad dress he'd sent her, complete with the brooch.
"Yes, well." Lucius handed Severus a small tumbler. "Narcissa doesn't like me to drink so early in the evening, but I'm leaving before the party is over, so I may as well have my fun now rather than later."
Severus smiled coyly. "What time are you leaving?"
"In around half an hour. I'm spending the week on a recruitment trip." Lucius' voice was quiet now, and Severus spotted a manic look in his eyes; Severus knew perfectly well that Lucius and the Death Eaters were going to try and get more to join the Dark Lord's cause. "Can't I tempt you, friend?"
"I'm pondering it, I must admit." The truth was that Severus wasn't even thinking about it, but it didn't do to let anyone else know that, they'd think he was against them, and that wasn't exactly true.
"I wouldn't ponder too long. We need good people like you. The Dark Lord would be happy to have you, and with some of the incompetent fools we have, so would I." Lucius looked around awkwardly, and Severus followed his eye line to the oafs that were Crabbe and Goyle. "They make a mockery of us," Lucius sneered.
Severus turned around to see Narcissa smiling warmly at him. "Hello, Narcissa. How is your party going?"
"Fine, thank you," she said, her face turning stony as she looked at Lucius. "No thanks to him."
Lucius sighed. "I'm not listening to this," he said grumpily. "I'm going to make sure I've got everything."
"You managed to sort out the chair covers?" Severus asked as he watched Lucius stalk over to the drinks table, grabbing a bottle of Firewhiskey and heading inside.
"Finally, but I won't be using their company again." Narcissa glanced at the group of women she was sat with earlier. "I've had many complaints off my friends that they just aren't comfy enough."
Severus shrugged. "Something is better than nothing."
"Indeed." Narcissa leaned in closely and whispered in his ear. "What's my gift for today?"
"It's the best one," said Severus. "I'm your gift."
"You?" Narcissa looked thoroughly confused and looked him up and down, as though he might be hiding a present on his person.
"My presence here is your gift."
"Oh." Narcissa looked embarrassed, and a little put out.
"I'm surprised you're wearing the dress," remarked Severus. "Didn't Lucius ask where you got it?"
Narcissa shook her head. "No. I don't think he even noticed it was new."
"Sorry," Severus said apologetically. "If it helps, you look absolutely stunning in it."
"Thanks." Narcissa blushed profusely, and then looked around as one of her friends called her name. "Look, I've got to go, they want something. But Severus? Meet me in my bedroom at the stroke of midnight," she said, winking at him before walking away.
For the rest of the party, which seemed to pass excessively slowly, Severus didn't know what to do. He spent it wondering about, trying to mingle with those he were sure weren't Death Eaters. Lucius must have left without saying goodbye, since it had been hours since Severus had seen him.
It seemed as if nobody would ever leave, but finally, as it got closer and closer to midnight, people started to disappear. Not wanting to draw attention to the fact that he was one of the only men left, with Narcissa's society friends still there, he went inside the manor, and spent the remaining time in the vast library.
As he heard the clock chime midnight, he climbed the staircase and paused outside Narcissa's bedroom door. He took a deep breath before he went in, a little unsure if he was actually going to go through with this, but he knew he'd been waiting far too long to let the opportunity pass now, and helet himself in.
"Good to see you." Narcissa stood at the window, walking slowly over as he shut the door behind him. "I wanted to personally thank you for the gifts." She loosened the straps on her dress, letting it fall to the floor gracefully and revealing her extremely sexy black underwear.
"You didn't have to..." Severus said, in awe of her absolutely stunning physique, though he knew the words he was saying weren't true. "I'm not complaining, though."
"But there’s one more gift I want…" she said coyly.
"Oh?" Severus coked out.
Narcissa smiled, then lunged forward and kissed him passionately, more passionately than he'd ever seen her kiss Lucius. He savoured every minute of it, and moaned slightly when she pulled away. "Stay the week," Narcissa whispered, taking him over to the bed. "Please, I don't want to be alone."
"It would be my pleasure," said Severus, leaning on top of her as they got on the bed together. "I told you a lot could happen in seven days." He knew perfectly well that had he not sent any of those gifts, this would not be happening right now, and he hoped this would be the start of a very beautiful and dangerous affair.
"You did." Narcissa started to kiss his neck. "Oh Merlin you did. Severus?"
"I think I love you."
Severus smiled properly for the first time in a very long time. "I love you too," he said quietly, kissing her with as much love and passion as he could conjure, and for her, that was a lot.
Maybe he could have his happy ending after all, even if it had to be behind closed doors. Something was better than nothing, after all.