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Monday, 16 February 1976

It was a quiet Monday morning on Chesterfield Street, in the London district of Mayfair. A stately townhouse overlooked the occasional passersby, though it was visible to few who crossed it. The exterior of the home was largely unchanged since its construction in 1715, and a gleaming number seven adorned its rich mahogany door. Beneath it rested a heavy brass knocker in the shape of a serpent, twisted into a circle to consume its own tail.

The entry hall was dim and still on this day, though the lone occupant of the grandiose residence secretly hoped that this would not be the case for much longer. Pale-faced portraits dating back to the first family that enjoyed the address dozed or glanced about, their expressions the very picture of ennui. They had not found the current owner of the property to be very interesting thus far— he never spoke to them, rarely had visitors, and was away quite often doing Merlin knows what. It had been around four years since he moved in, and never once had he hosted a fete or gala. During the day, the visitors he did have were serious looking men who spoke of nothing but trades and investments. At night, on the rare occasion he wasn't off galavanting, those who stopped by were rather more intriguing; men of diverse appearances who spoke in urgent, hushed voices or, more infrequently, beautiful women that the painted figures eyed with unabashed disapproval.

The lone occupant and source of entertainment for these portraits, Lucius Malfoy, thought nothing of the paintings aside from covering each one in his study upon moving in after leaving Hogwarts. It was in this study he now sat, a pile of documents upon his desk that he was meant to be reading and, if they did not require edits, signing and mailing out. However, the dry contents were not holding his interest today, and his eyes kept sliding to the ornate clock resting upon the fireplace mantle across the room. It was nearly noon; he had not expected things to take so long to unfold. Just before close of business the evening prior, he had asked for paperwork to be drawn up regarding holdings in France that had become his only two years prior. The contract was absurd and he had no intention of signing it, but he had asked the agent to send word of the pending sale to the currently reigning head of the lovely chateau nestled in the Loire Valley and inform her that she should consequently vacate the premises at once. He had been waiting since daybreak for her to accept his unspoken invitation for further discussion, but so far, not even an owl had arrived from the mainland.

With a barely perceptible sigh, he dragged his gaze back to the pages in front of him. A fine eagle-feather quill with a brass nib rested in his right hand; so little was his focus that he had yet to touch the metal to ink. He was dressed in immaculate robes designed for a business man of great taste— though he had no intentions to leave his house that day, he simply owned few things of lesser quality. Still, he shook his sleeve back, lest it approach the ink should he choose to sign anything that day. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps the arrangement had been a mistake— perhaps the man he'd agreed to terms with had not been the fool that Lucius believed him to be, perhaps his agent had failed to pass his message along— when an enormous crash reverberated throughout the foyer and his study, indicating that the front door had been thrown open with great force. He allowed himself the flash of a sharp, self-satisfied grin before settling his features into a stoic mask and intently dipping his quill into the inkwell.

A house elf appeared before him quite suddenly. "Master!" it squeaked, but managed no more before the door to his study was thrown open as well. It began to apologise profusely, but he waved a dismissive hand, his attention now fully focussed on the figure standing in his doorway.

She was a tall, exceptionally stunning woman, though her expression currently held no gentleness nor feminine efforts to appeal. Her long blonde hair was pulled tightly back from her high cheekbones and twined into a strict bun at the crown of her head without an errant hair to soften the effect. Her robes were a steely grey brocade with a fitted bodice and sweeping skirt, with long sleeves and a high neck that ensconced her throat. On her hands she wore white kidskin travelling gloves. The entire ensemble reminded him of battle armor, with no tender, weak flesh exposed. Fitting, he mused, for the occasion.

"Explain yourself," she demanded sharply. Rage flickered in her narrowed blue eyes, but she kept her expression neutral, and her tone level. He ignored the command, instead feigning interruption by carefully setting his quill down, straightening his papers, and moving them aside.

"Mrs. Malfoy, what a pleasant surprise. Hardly a fitting greeting after such a long absence though, wouldn't you agree? Please," he gestured to the two chairs positioned before his desk, "won't you have a seat? May I have an elf bring you a beverage?"

She shook her head tersely at his offer of a drink, but hardly one to eschew social norms any further than she already had by showing up unannounced, she closed the door behind her and swept across the room, sinking gracefully into one of the proffered seats, though her posture remained ramrod straight. She removed her gloves stiffly, one finger at a time, and laid them across her lap.

"Very good," Lucius continued. "Now, why don't you start again? How was the trip from France? I know crossing the Channel can be tumultuous at times." He spoke idly, in a leisurely tone designed to put off the matter at hand, the one that was burning in every inch of her being.

"It was uneventful. As I'm sure you've guessed, I'm here to discuss—"

"Uneventful! Well that's strange, I read in the paper this morning that there were expected to be storms all day today," Lucius interrupted, and was rewarded for his interjection with briefly pursed lips.

"It was no matter. As I was saying, I received word this morning that you have designed to—"

"No matter?" he echoed, again cutting her off mid-sentence. "Did you come here by carriage? There's nothing I hate more than being tossed about in a storm when all I'm hoping for is a peaceful journey." He was enjoying himself immensely, but was careful to keep his visible attitude light and unamused.

When Narcissa responded, the only indication she gave of her irritation were her inhospitable words; she maintained a coolly tolerant tone as she replied, "Be that as it may, there's nothing I hate more than being repeatedly interrupted. That land is mine. It has belonged to the Black family for centuries and it was a wedding gift from my father. You cannot sell it, particularly not to—"

Deciding not to heed her warning, he spoke over her once more. "You see, darling wife, that is where you are incorrect. I suppose for sentimental purposes Cygnus told you that the property was yours, but it was an empty promise and your point is irrelevant. Everything to your name became mine by law when you became my wife. By omitting any mention of it being set aside for you in our contract, your father gifted that property to me on the occasion of our nuptials."

She was clearly not surprised that he had led with this argument; what he said was fact and she knew the house and land were only hers anecdotally. Any other husband might have allowed her to refer to it as her own, but the fact that hers would not came as no shock. Still, she pressed on.

"There's no need to sell it," she pointed out, keeping her tone calm and including the smallest hint of flattery by adding on, "you don't need additional liquid assets."

"You are correct," Lucius conceded, accepting the ego stroke in her nod to his wealth, but continued, "there is no urgent need, but it is up to me to decide where my money is invested for the good of our family. If I can grow the income from the sale, it will be of greater use to the Malfoy family than yet another empty estate in France."

Narcissa seemed to bite back the urge to mention that the property had not, in fact, been uninhabited at all. With her two previous arguments she had set him up for an easy win; at last, she came to the most cogent and infuriating issue of this whole affair. "You sold it to the lowest bidder," she said flatly, presenting finally the least comprehensible element to the entire scheme.

She had him there; Lucius knew better than to attempt a transparent rebuttal for her to tear to shreds. The man that he had drawn up the contract with was not one of esteem, and certainly not the kind he would generally ever consider doing business with. The nouveau riche half-Muggle had been just witless enough to allow Lucius to buy him a drink at a club he normally wouldn't be caught dead in, and once Lucius had made his too-good-to-be-true offer, the fool hadn't stood a chance. The opportunity to own an esteemed manor home, rather than the garish rococo reconstruction that was his current abode, had been too incredible for him to pass up, particularly at the price. Normally, no amount of money would pry an estate from an old Pureblood dynasty, even if the home was crumbling and the long-time owners too poor for repairs. But here had been Lucius Malfoy, a charismatic Pureblooded prince and growing legend in his own right, offering him covetable and well-maintained acreage in the Loire Valley that had long been a favorite holiday home for the Blacks. Without taking time to ask questions, he had agreed on the spot.

A wiser man, one who was a member in the correct social circles, would have known that Narcissa Black Malfoy had been living there full time since her marriage to Lucius two years prior. The the couple was seen together only at the most important of social occasions, such as weddings, funerals, christenings, and the occasional gala, if the host was ranked high enough to be graced with their presences. Narcissa was never seen coming or going from Number Seven Chesterfield Street, and Lucius seemed to be everywhere at once, except for with his wife in the scenic countryside of the Loire. Rumors abounded regarding the pair, but none would even consider bringing these whispers up to either of the individuals they concerned.

This is not to say a wiser man would not have jumped at the opportunity to purchase the ancestral home of the Blacks— however, a wiser man would not have purchased it with the intent to move his own family there. Narcissa would have been a huge asset as a tenant, as she ran the home with elegance and brought to her drawing room the glitterati of elite Wizarding society. In the two short years since she had left school and married Lucius Malfoy, she had established herself as an important figure in both London and Paris society. No one (apart from, perhaps, her husband) was unwilling to make the trek upon receiving an invitation for tea, and she always had an assortment of friends from school, wives of government officials, and prestigious cousins at her side. As an additional bonus, taking a rent payment from Lucius Malfoy for the housing of his wife would have given any man who had ever met him enormous pleasure.

"I can sell to whomever I wish at whatever price." His statement, while true, answered none of her questions.

"Your ultimate goal seems to be humiliate me. As for the reason behind this crass action I cannot fathom, but do you not see that you are cutting off your own nose to spite your face? This reflects poorly upon you as well, doing business with such a creature and letting go of such a valuable property. It makes you look foolish and irresponsible." Narcissa folded her hands primly as she spoke, but her words were frigid. "I'd like to believe my husband is neither of those things."

Lucius studied her features intently, but she revealed nothing. Was she purposely provoking him, or was she truly naive enough to not have guessed that the far greater humiliation was the one she had placed upon him? Immediately after their wedding, Lucius had been called away for a week for urgent work, so there had been no honeymoon. He was simply too busy. But when he'd returned he had found that, instead of moving her belongings to his London house, where the two would live until his parents retired or expired and they could move to the Manor in Wiltshire, she had taken up residence in her own house. For a week or so he had expected her arrival when she learned that he had returned, but she never appeared. At last he had sent her a bland letter dealing with practical matters, but also mentioned that he had returned to London. Her reply had come swiftly, but addressed only the practical matters he had mentioned and gave no indication of when, or if, she might plan to join him in his home as his wife. His pride forbade him from requesting that she do so, and his admitted reluctance to sacrifice his freedoms as a bachelor had prevented him from demanding it. They'd had maybe a score of in-person interactions over the two years they'd been married, and their letters mainly consisted of her updating him on the state of the property and the visitors she was hosting; he often sent lists in reply of individuals he was working closely with so she could in turn contact their wives or sisters. They would discuss events they need to attend as a couple, and she would notify him if she happened to be in London, so they could have supper together.

To his credit, Lucius had tried less drastic measures to provoke her into moving to London. He was not immune to the gossip; he knew their circumstances were unusual in this day and age, especially considering that she had not yet produced an heir to the Malfoy fortune. About a year ago, he had reduced her allowance, hoping to slowly drive her into a state of discomfort in France. However, the first month that the amount was less than her normal sum, he had received a note in her neat handing writing politely requesting the original amount, unless that presented a financial hardship for him. Seeing no valid excuse to refuse, and of course feeling slighted by her suggestion, he had given up on that plan rather quickly. About five months ago, he'd come up with a rather more sordid attempt to provoke her outrage and return. Either the rumours had not reached her or she would not deign to confront him about them, but regardless of which it was, Lucius had created far more of a problem for himself than for Narcissa, and now he only had four months left to resolve the matter. It had been a matter of weeks ago that he'd been attending an event with the Lestranges that he had overheard Bellatrix talking about how she planned to visit the Loire Valley soon— and how Narcissa "loves that place more than I've ever seen her care for another human being, honestly." And so the current plot had unfolded.

"My father will buy it back from you, I'm sure." Narcissa was growing uncomfortable with his long silence, but did not fidget nor show her anxiety. "Double what you've agreed to sell it for."

Surely she had realised by now that it had nothing to do with money? Lucius inhaled slowly, then allowed himself a cat-like smirk. He wasn't in a hurry. He would not grow frustrated. He was going to win. She was the one who had traversed countries this morning to argue with him.

Lucius rose slowly to his feet; pensively, not dismissively. He turned from her to face the large window behind him that overlooked Chesterfield Street. For a moment he allowed his gaze to follow that of a young Muggle couple holding hands and laughing, but then a wave of utter disgust overtook him and he flicked his eyes back to the objects of his study. He moved idly to his globe, which glowed softly with enchanted pinpoints of light tracking various locations, though it would be challenging for an innocent man to guess what the dots indicated. He gave it a lazy flick with his index finger, and for a moment the dots transformed to lines as the orb spun. Of the many gold threads, one glowed red and a slight frown creased Lucius's brow; he would have to look into that later.

His hand fell next to another object; a victrola, rarely used. One disc lay in the tray, poised beneath the pin. It would play any song he requested. "Shall we have music?" he suggested, and with a flick of his wand, the most poignant aria of Lakme was filling the study. He knew little of the quotidian activities of his wife, but he did recall, prior to their wedding, her great love of opera. The song he selected was not unintentional. At once beautiful and trilling but also subtly undermining the role of the patriarch, it hinted to the wilting authority of a father as a lovesick young woman blossomed to adulthood. Cygnus held no power here, and he wanted her to remember.

"My dear wife," he continued, turning back to her at last. He sank into his desk chair once again, drumming his fingers in time to the Duo des Fleurs, "funding your nostalgia holds no financial gain for me. There is no tangible purpose for you to be there, and there is no reason for it to go on any longer."

Immediately, he knew he had overplayed his hand. Narcissa's eyes widened for a heartbeat, and then narrowed slyly.

"My dear husband," she replied softly, a hint of malicious pleasure only barely perceptible in her subservient words as she echoed his sardonic term of affection, "if only you had told me that my absence was causing you distress. I would have been here in a moment, of course." This time she rose, and while Lucius wished he could rise to his feet and impose his stature once again, she was already moving away toward the door of his study. "I'll have my belongings brought here posthaste," she continued, "and direct that the permanent fixtures of the home in Blois are moved to storage. And you," she turned only when she had reached the door and her hand rested upon the knob, "will cancel your foolish agreement with the Mudblood at once, I suppose?"

Lucius gritted his teeth. "I can only imagine the property will require little upkeep once uninhabited. There is no need to divest of it promptly, if you were to move here."

"As I imagined," she quipped primly, and Lucius swallowed a sneer in return. "I'll see you for supper on Friday then, at eight."

It was on the tip of his tongue to retort that supper would be whenever he damn well pleased, but he let the urge slip away. He was, after all, bringing her here to manage his household, and it would be a waste of his time to interfere in her feminine domain. He firmly reminded himself that her presence here would mean all the advantages of having a wife, though in this moment he was loath to recall what those might be.

He nodded tersely. "Very well." He should have felt victorious, as he'd won the battle to get her to move in, but the victory tasted bittersweet; he had revealed too much, and she was walking away barely scathed while he had lost too much in the spar.

"Oh and Lucius," she pushed the door open and her parting words floated in from the entry hall, "get rid of that girl you got pregnant before then."


Chapter Text

Tuesday, 17 February 1976

The Tuesday afternoon was grey and still in London, but when Lucius stepped out of the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, the weather was bitterly cold and blustery. Icy shards of snow whipped around the ankles of his boots as he stormed down the cobblestone thoroughfare, deserted today in the absence of students. During his term at Hogwarts, he'd always pictured the small town as a bustling spot, and had many fond memories of dates and antics from his formative years. However, coming back during an unassuming weekday in February, years after leaving, was much like standing in the Slytherin dormitory in the early hours of the morning. It was familiar yet eerie, uncannily close but not fully innocuous. Anyone could appear at any moment and recognise him, but encounters with the known were surreal when the timing was off.

The pub that he was heading toward was nondescript; not inviting, not sinister. A characterless spot off the main street, constructed within the last two decades, it attracted neither students nor seedier types; rather, it was a place locals could come to drink without effort or pretense.

She was at the bar when he arrived. As usual her hair was resting in a long braid down her back, glossy black and thicker than his wrist. When Lucius sat down beside her, she was drinking a beer.

"That had better be your first one," he snapped by way of greeting. She flashed him a grin, her white teeth obscenely bright in dim lighting.

"Hello to you too." Angelique Begaye beamed up at him, undeterred by his cold tone. He sighed and gestured to the bartender ("Firewhiskey, double") before giving her a quick peck.

"I hear that's bad for the baby," he drawled as his beverage was placed before him and he took a long sip.

"I hear your wife is moving in with you," she parried cheerfully. He cringed and threw back the rest of his drink as she laughed at his discomfiture. "Should I feel guiltier now that we're on the same island? Should you?"

"You're going to have to lie low for a bit; she knows about you," he replied coolly, pointing at his empty glass when the bartender met his eye once again.

She shrugged. "I'm out of the country. Whatever could she know about me anyway?"

"That, probably," he gestured casually to her midsection. "Also, who told you she was back? I had no idea gossip about me still travelled so quickly in the dorms."

She rolled her eyes. "Slughorn, obviously."

Lucius snorted. "Obviously."

Angelique Begaye was a Pureblooded witch, technically, but not the kind Lucius had ever known before. She had grown up in Central America and had been educated at Ilvermorny, and her magical blood went back before recorded history. But it was the blood of shamans and witch doctors, healers and mystics— it was not the kind of blood that generally crossed the Atlantic back to the Old World, because they knew their world and brand of magic was in fact much older. It was not the rarefied blood of an aristocrat, either. Scotland did not suit her— her spirit was too loud for the heaths and too large for the hills— but she was pursuing a career in poisons and studying under Horace Slughorn, before moving on to Uagadou and finally Mahoutokoro to learn under the greatest living masters. It was Slughorn who had introduced them about a year ago at the Leaky Cauldron after a Ministry holiday party where everyone had had a drink or two too many. She was unlike any witch he'd encountered before, but then, earthy, passionate souls did not often make it into his social circles. He liked her not because she allowed him to be a truer version of himself, but instead quite the opposite; she allowed him to play a character so vastly unlike his true self that it was freeing. With Angelique he could pretend, for a few hours, that the expectations of the world did not rest so heavily upon his shoulders. He could be a wealthy playboy, a lazy heir, all the things society might have expected from him if he were simply rich and good-looking, and not Lucius Malfoy.

"I've come to see if there's any chance left to talk you out of having it."

"'It?'" she echoed incredulously. Lucius scowled.

"My child."

"This is not your child, Lucius, we've always been clear on that." Angelique wagged a finger in warning close to his nose, and then picked her beer up once again. "If it's a girl she'll be a goddess of the earth and sea; if it's a boy he will soar on the wings of eagles and his talons will score the flesh of the land. And if anyone asks who the father is," she laughed preemptively at her own joke, "I'll tell them he is borne of firewhiskey and bad faith." She took a long drink, and then added with a smirk, "This baby will be raised in the way of true power and knowledge; all I wanted from you was your cheekbones." With these words, she rested an affectionate hand upon his face, leaning in close. "And I'm much too far along now to end it, you sick bastard."

"In that case," —and Lucius was not surprised that it was— "I'm going to have to make an offer that I already know you won't like."

She twisted her lips into an expression of irritation as she extended her hand to pick up her glass and take another sip of beer.

"Is there any, ah… expanded study project you've been considering lately? One that might take you abroad for… say, a year or so? I'd be happy to finance such a valuable academic endeavor. I find your work in the field to be more than worth the expense. I am nothing if not an avid supporter of academia and investor in new discoveries."

She snorted and set her drink down. "You know I have my own resources, Lucius."

He sighed, his eyes sliding shut. "Of course I do. I just was hoping there was some way to persuade you, as a friend…It would be such a favour to me if you might consider…"

Angelique's eyes narrowed. "How did she find out, anyway?"

"I wish I knew," Lucius hissed, his fingers curling tightly around his glass. "She's more than well connected, she's some sort of a hub— information flows through her, as it seems."

"You know I never wanted…" Angelique sighed heavily, and redirected. "This was never some ploy for the Malfoy name. My respect for Old World magic is… negligible," she continued, although he suspected she had wanted to use a far less flattering adjective. "All the rules and the wand waving— it works for you, but it's rather embarrassing to a large part of the Wizarding world, if you must know. In Africa and in the Americas, we rely on the magical power of the body, the hands— it's much more real, more powerful, Lucius. And we've had this discussion a thousand times, I don't want to do it again." She help up a curt hand, cutting off the argument bubbling on Lucius's lips.

"I'll admit there is something to be said for the commitment to blood Purity here," she went on. "We often choose life partners based on power and not longevity, which, admittedly, leads to occasional disaster, exposure to non-Majs... and you and I, our kind, we don't mix often. Your magic is the fragile breath air and mine is the immovability of the earth— I think this life inside of me will be truly divine. But I suppose what I'm saying is that I will, as you hope, leave. Slughorn is brilliant, but his brilliance is finite. I need to learn on a deeper level. This has been a valuable experience in discipline and a purer level of curation: meticulousness. But I want more. I want the tools to sense the magic in each plant I handle, each ingredient, and how to bend their magic to my skill. I'll find those in my travels, but I won't find them here in the United Kingdom." Her gaze, when she finally looked up to Lucius, was ferocious. "I won't see you again, Lucius. Not for many years, if ever at all. We're not leaving off on bad terms, but I don't want you to feel good about this either."

He considered her words for a moment. He wanted another drink but supposed it would be inappropriate to order one, given that she was pregnant and still only halfway into a pint.

"You'll hate me all the more for saying this," he managed at last, "but I think you'd like each other. You and Narcissa. You're sharp, decisive women, and in this moment, you both despise me."

At last, one of Angelique's obscenely bright smiles cracked over her moody countenance. "In that case, we must be introduced… when you're dead." She tossed him a cheeky wink, but his gut clenched. Didn't she know it could happen at any time? Although— it hardly mattered. She lived day to day, each one new and bright and next. He lived for something else. Something that would remain forever, shape the course of history, of lineage, of magic. Perhaps her brand of magic was ancient, but his was the brand he was sure would survive into modern day and onwards.

Lucius stood up and grasped her shoulders— in his frustration he was rougher than he meant to be. The manhandling was not something she usually would have allowed but she knew this was a special occasion; this was the end.

"I hope I'll—" he began, and then faltered. Was there really never going to be a next time? Did he want there to be? The speech hadn't been planed well. She could see his difficultly and continued for him, her grin unfaded. She reached up to grasp his chin, and kissed him deeply, irreverently; kissed him to remind him of the nights they'd sweated and and laughed and used one another's bodies selfishly for their own pleasure. He felt a heat in his gut— he wanted her one last time— but of course this was her intention, and it was not going to happen.

"Goodbye, Lucius Malfoy, you son of a bitch. And best of luck."

Lucius sat in the bar for some time after she left, though his desire to drink more diminished with her departure. Instead, he mulled over the events of the morning, and what was yet to come. Angelique had taken the news as best as he could have hoped. He took her at her word— he fully trusted that she would move her studies elsewhere, and that he would be less than a footnote in her child's genealogy. He wondered, briefly, if he would miss her; but decided with all the issues he currently had to deal with, he most likely would not have time to do so.

When at last it began to grow dark outside, he paid his tab and headed toward the castle he'd inhabited for seven years. The walk felt especially long in the cold, but at least the wind had died down. His eyes sought familiar landmarks in the dark— there, the Shrieking Shack: a nondescript old house until his final year at Hogwarts, during which a particularly insidious spirit had apparently taken residence there. He trudged on, reaching the gate at last and smiling up at school in spite of himself. Despite the cold, several students were still moving over the grounds, laughing and calling to one another. He took his time as he walked up towards the great front doors. Some of the best days of his life had been spent here, after all. The memories of simpler times warmed him- hours sent in the library and by the lake revising, when his most difficult decisions revolved around which girl he should ask to Hogsmeade that weekend, or when his greatest uncertainty was which new broom model his father would send him for his birthday.

There were very few memories of Narcissa from their Hogwarts years, he mused. In his earliest years of school he'd spent some time with Rodolphus and Bellatrix, before they'd left, but for some reason his now-wife had scarcely registered while he'd been a student. She had, of course, been lovely and well-liked in general, but she was reserved in a way that her sisters had not been. She didn't draw crowds the way Bellatrix had, or scandal like Andromeda. Pretty, studious, quiet. He'd known little else about her, though he had occasionally caught her listening to opera records late at night when the common room was deserted, and they'd chatted about Wagner once or twice. Their parents hadn't decided they should be wed until after he'd left and was engaged in his own endeavors, so he hadn't had time to get to know much else about her.

They'd both had a choice in the marriage of course; their world might be old fashioned, but they were not living in the Dark Ages. He'd gone to Hogwarts because the Malfoys had supported the school for generations and were afforded special privileges there. Or at least, they had been under Armando Dippet and his predecessors— Albus Dumbledore, while Pureblooded, gave little notice to the families that had poured Galleons into the institution's coffers nearly since the time of its founding. Lucius had been toying with the idea of sending his own child, when he came in due course, to Durmstrang, but there was still time to decide.

Narcissa had attended Hogwarts as well, the year below him, so would likely prefer it. Strange to think of her as the mother to his child, but at this point there was no recourse. Her mother, Druella Rosier, had begged to have all three of her girls educated at Beauxbatons, as she herself had been. Perhaps a Mudblood could not have seduced Andromeda at a different institution, but it mattered little now because Cygnus had refused outright to send the girls so far from home. Once a stalwart man, the lack of male heirs had softened him, and it was a well-known secret that the man had grown passive and fond as he aged. Bellatrix, his oldest, had been raised almost as a boy. So desperate was he for an heir that he had begun to dispense and divest his knowledge as soon as Bellatrix could walk, and no son had followed in her place. First afterwards there had been Andromeda, much like her sister in looks but radically different in personality; she disagreed with her family's stance on most topics even before her ultimate betrayal. With the birth of a second daughter, there was no threat to Bella's tyranny. But then there was was Narcissa, who demanded attention for so many different reasons. Weak at birth, waif-like in childhood: even Bella had found it hard to express any sort of brutality against this favoured child. If Bella resented this, she took it out on her parents and Andromeda, but never her Cissy. Pretty little Cissy forbade anger or dispute between both her parents and siblings.

Lucius didn't reject the proposal when it was brought to him, nor did Narcissa. He still didn't think of it as an arranged marriage; more as a beneficial match that his parents had orchestrated and fervently encouraged. He knew Bellatrix and Rodolphus well, the Blacks were of an unquestionably pure lineage (perhaps, though he would never admit it, purer than the Malfoys), and it had never occurred to him to disagree with his father's heavy-handed hints that the youngest Black would make a suitable match.

And then, she had agreed too— he had never bothered to wonder why. The Blacks, while pure, had spent too many generations marrying their cousins; their wealth had not grown, and their branches had become weak and diseased. The ancient and most noble house had little to lose in the match, particularly after having produced two blood traitors in a generation.

Drawn from his thoughts, Lucius found himself at last at the castle. The doors swung open to admit him, and he traced the familiar route down to the dungeons. His former Head of House had left the door to his quarters ajar, and an inviting glow shone from within. Without bothering to knock, Lucius pushed the door open.

"Ah, Lucius, my dear boy!" cried Slughorn in delight, springing to his feet and hurrying forward to greet a former favourite.

"Professor Slughorn," Lucius replied by habit, correcting himself as he shook the man's hand, "Horace. Excellent to see you."

"It's been too long! Haven't seen you since your wedding to the lovely Miss Black— or Mrs. Malfoy, I should say!" he added with a twinkle. Lucius did not respond to this comment, but as his eyes swept the office he'd once whiled away hours in during his school days, he realised they were not alone. Slughorn followed his gaze.

"Ah yes, Lucius, I'm not sure if you remember Severus Snape? Slytherin, of course, though I suppose he would've just been starting his Hogwarts career when you were finishing yours? With six "Outstanding" N.E.W.T's, if I recall correctly?" he chortled fondly, popping a sugared pineapple candy into his mouth.

Lucius merely smiled, not wishing to correct the mistake; he had in fact received only three "Outstanding" grades, two "Exceeds Expectations" (one of which had been in Slughorn's own subject), and a disappointing "Acceptable" in Ancient Runes. Still, he'd passed them all and supposed that was all that mattered now.

"Severus is a brilliant Potioneer," Slughorn continued, not waiting anyway for a reply from Lucius. "Your potions were always flawless, excellent attention to detail, but the sheer creativity young Severus shows— it's truly remarkable."

Lucius smiled at the Snape boy, and it didn't feel forced. In fact, he did remember Severus from the two years they had overlapped at Hogwarts, and he felt passively glad that Slughorn was taking an interest in the deceptively scrawny and weedy-looking student. Once, while Lucius had been studying for his Defense Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T, he had borrowed the library's copy of Magick Moste Evile to gain a better understanding of a curse that had mentioned in class (and secretly, to master said curse). He'd been perusing the tome in the common room when he heard a sudden intake of breath behind him. Severus had been reading over his shoulder, eyes wide and greedy. Instead of apologizing or shrinking back at being found out, he'd blurted instead:

"Can you turn back a page? I've just had an idea."

Upon which Lucius, grinning, had handed over the book and simply requested that Snape turn it back in to Madam Pince before its due date the following Tuesday.

It was no surprise then to learn he was also innovative when it came to mixing potions. Clearly, the boy had a sharp mind and quick grasp of theory that few witches and wizards ever bothered to learn. He was someone, Lucius mused, to keep and eye on and stay in touch with.

"Severus, of course," Lucius said, changing his tactic abruptly. He crossed the room and sat down next to young Snape. The boy was perched awkwardly on a wooden stool; Lucius chose an arm chair, and flung his feet irreverently onto a pouf before him. "You're taking your O.W.L's this year?"

Snape nodded curtly, but didn't elaborate further. Lucius was not deterred. "Of course, there are gaping holes in the curriculum here in recent years, though Ordinary Wizarding Levels don't cover everything worth learning. I have some books in my personal library; I can have my elf send them if you might be interested in supplemental reading before your exams. Particularly if you're interested in… ah… defending yourself against the Dark Arts." His dangerous, silky tone left no doubt as to what these volumes might contain, but Slughorn seemed to have gone happily and temporarily deaf as Snape gave a quick nod. Satisfied, Lucius turned to his former teacher at last.

"I've just been down in the village, speaking with Miss Begaye."

Slughorn busied himself over a box of caramels, not quite meeting Lucius's eye as he responded.

"Ah, yes, what a lovely, charming girl she is."

"She's leaving for Uagadou soon, did you hear?" Abruptly, Slughorn straightened up and shot Lucius an accusing scowl.

"I had not heard. I still feel I have some left to teach her before she departs-"

"And yet her departure has, unfortunately, been expedited by newly uncovered information," Lucius replied smoothly. He hoped to insinuate to Snape that this information was potions related, though he fully intended Slughorn to comprehend the true meaning behind the accusation. "But, Horace, that is not the primary reason for my visit today. There is a promising young Ravenclaw Quidditch player poised to leave Hogwarts this year, is there not?"

Slughorn perked up immediately. "You must mean dear Gwenog. Why, the lengths that girl is willing to go to win— obviously I'm disappointed she wasn't in my house, but any student with such excellent potential—"

"I know she's been recruited by a number of teams. She is an... ah, promising investment. Particularly if she were to sign with the Holyhead Harpies."

Slughorn's bushy eyebrows skidded upwards. "Well, yes, that is one offer, but the team hasn't won the championship in a decade and they have a weak infrastructure."

"Precisely. She'll rise quickly through the ranks. I would like to dedicate a certain amount of… time… to her advancement on the team." As he spoke, Lucius rose and made his way across the room. When he knew Severus's gaze was blocked by his back, he slipped a bag of gold out of the pocket of his robes and onto Slughorn's desk. "When it comes to Quidditch… well, team loyalties aren't in the short term, are they?"

"No, no," Slughorn bustled, patting Lucius on the shoulder while simultaneously slipping the gold into his pocket. "I'm sure she'll be thrilled to hear of your interest— incidentally, would you like me to call her down here?"

"Not at all," Lucius smoothed the front of his robes and offered Slughorn a quick, close-lipped smile. "I think it's best if I return to London. My wife should be alighting shortly." He started for the fire, but turned back suddenly. "Severus," his voice was sharper than he'd intended, but he pressed on regardless. "In addition to the books, I'd like you to stay in touch. As Horace mentioned, you're adept in potions and promising with creative solutions. I'd like to help you where I can, which is— forgive me— really anywhere you'd like to go. And Horace," he continued, dipping his head to Slughorn, "I am at your service, as always."

Chapter Text

Thursday, 19 February 1976

She was moving in by Thursday, which he hadn't anticipated. Or at least, all of her belongings were. He'd been woken at the first wink of dawn by the cacophony of a stampede of trunks, valises, furniture, and elves. At first he'd stumbled from bed with wand in hand, certain an intruder had decided to call, but he'd quickly realised that items were entering the household rather than being stolen from it. A hired wizard, washed out and sun-scorched pink, directed the action.

"Bedroom, bedroom," he gestured to two growing piles as he spoke, "that will be in the study— ah, Mr. Malfoy, a pleasure to see you at last." Lucius glared from the top of the stairs, wrapped in an emerald green dressing robe, his platinum hair mussed from sleep, wand still drawn.

"I've been having the elves sort the missus's belongings, but your staff seems unclear on which will be her bedroom, and her study. Could you kindly point them?"

"What in Merlin's name are you doing in my home at this hour?" Lucius snarled in reply, though he'd deduced the purpose by now. The man shrugged.

"Your elf let me in— I've a letter here from Mrs. Malfoy. Seemed pleased to hear a lady would be joining the household and ushered me right on in."

As if on cue, a figured appeared beside Lucius. Her hair was in equal disarray, and she was wrapped in a sheet.

"What on earth—" she began in a high, nasally drawl.

"Get dressed!" Lucius snarled at her, "and leave." She shot him a resentful look but slunk back to the bedroom to comply. Lucius pinched the bridge if his nose and sighed heavily. "Her study is back by the dining room. And her bedroom—" he paused. Would he grant her the privacy? "The third door on this level." He wouldn't sacrifice his own as the price of depriving hers. The wizard dipped his head in acknowledgement, and waved at the elves.

"You heard the man, get going."

"And keep the noise down," Lucius added, before sweeping back towards his bedroom. "Dobby!" he snapped into the empty hallway, "Coffee!"

The witch from last night was almost finished dressing, and threw him an irritable and reproachful look when he came back in. "You didn't tell me you were married," she hissed.

"I'm wearing a ring, what did you expect?" Lucius shot back as his elf appeared with a steaming mug. His first sip help a bit, but part of him wished it was something stronger. She wasn't even here yet and Narcissa was already driving him to his wit's end. "Anyway," he tried to soften his tone a bit. "I had a good time last night, but—"

"Yeah, I get it. Wish you both the best," she muttered scathingly as she brushed past him. He shrugged and called after her, "you too!"

Lucius headed to the shower, trying to push thoughts of his wife from his mind. She was faithfully keeping up her end of the agreement, it seemed, and thank Merlin for it too because if he had had to go bring her from France himself he might have killed her. He tried to convince himself that she would be less of a nuisance once she arrived— he could keep her on a short leash, under closer supervision. Limiting her liberties would surely bring her in line soon enough.

Besides, he had more important things to consider at the moment. There several meetings at the Ministry of Magic lined up today to assess the status of a current project on which he had been diligently working for the past six months. The meetings were with key members of the project— though most had no idea that they were involved.

"Wand: Twelve and a half inches, elm and dragon heartstring."

Lucius drummed his fingers impatiently at the entrance to the Ministry. When his check-in was complete, he snatched it back and swept across the foyer without a word of thanks. The floo at the Manor was connected directly to an unoccupied office on Level Six, and Lucius resented that his request to connect the London residence as well was still held up in approvals. It was rare for any new approvals to come through these days, but the Manor had been connected in 1789 as one of Minister Osbert's first actions in office. Septimus Malfoy had made it particularly difficult to disconnect, though no one had ever tried very hard, as the family had been frequently present in the Ministry over the past two centuries. Lucius found it distasteful to have to arrive like any other common visitor, but until his father decided to vacate the Manor, he had little choice.

Abraxas had been virtually absent from public life since whispers of his involvement in the poisoning of Nobby Leach, the former Minister, six years prior. While he'd spent Lucius's final years at school carefully making the appropriate introductions to ensure Lucius could step effortless into society as soon as he left school, Abraxas had begun enjoying retirement once it quickly became apparent Lucius was well-suited for the role into which he had been born and groomed. And yet, Lucius ground his teeth as he jabbed the call button for the lift, he won't leave. His parents should have vacated the Manor years ago, and yet, they selfishly lingered on and on.

Of course, Lucius had never disagreed that the Muggle and Mudblood-loving fool Leach had to go, but he thought his father had been rash in supplying the poison, and even more foolish to have allowed it to be traced, however tenuously, back to him. There were other ways to get unfortunate ministers out of office— they just required a bit more patience. The man had been a Mudblood, after all, and it would only have been a matter of time before his ineptitude and natural inferiority drove him from office.

At last, the elevator grate opened to Level Two. Lucius swept through the Department of Magic Law Enforcement with a sense of smugness that added even further arrogance to his already haughty demeanor. He felt the department was largely useless, in light of recent events, and the fact that he could stroll in whenever he pleased gave him a perverse pleasure. He stopped at one of the doors on his right. A newly engraved plaque read "Bartemius Crouch" and below it, "Head of the Department of Magic Law Enforcement."

"Good morning, Bartemius. Congratulations on the promotion. It was well deserved." Lucius slid smoothly into a seat before the older man's desk. Here was one of the few current threats to the Dark Lord's rise to power, Lucius thought with a smirk, hosting in his office an active member of effort to bring down the current regime. Crouch narrowed his eyes and Lucius quickly rearranged his features into a polite mask. "I think we both know what this means," Lucius went on lightly.

"Yes," Crouch replied guardedly, "it means that man… that he will be stopped at last. We will strike back ruthlessly in the face of these murders and disappearances."

Lucius nodded thoughtfully, leaning back and folding his arms. "You will, naturally, have a bit more say now, but Minister Jenkins is still at the forefront of the fight and she's hardly—"

"Eugenia's days are numbered in office," Crouch cut in angrily. Lucius has to repress another grin. This was precisely what he'd been hoping to hear. Instead, he put on an air of mild interest.

"Is that so? Well, I can't say I ever believed that putting down a couple riots in her day qualifies her to deal with the issues at hand. Too soft-hearted by far. That said, most of those on the shortlist for the next minister would disagree with your methods as well, Bartemius. I happen to know, however, that August Rookwood, while not as senior, is certainly amenable to your tactics. Not, of course, that he is in a position to be himself considered… that said, he works closely with Harold Minchum, whom I've heard is considering running."

Crouch frowned thoughtfully. "Minchum isn't on the shortlist though. And, forgive me for saying so, his father is a Muggle. I'm surprised that you and Rookwood would back him as a candidate."

"I feel…" Lucius began carefully, "rather, I know, that that will give him a close relationship to the Minister for Muggles. It would be useful to have someone keeping close tabs on the Muggles for a while, considering that so many of their kind are turning up dead."

"Prime Minister, not Minister for Muggles," Crouch corrected, but Lucius waved a careless hand.

"Whatever they call it. Rookwood comes from a decent family and would be a natural choice for Advisor to the Minister, and he would keep any Muggle leniencies out of legislation."

Crouch nodded slowly. "And what, precisely, is Harold Minchum's stance on the matter of fighting fire with fire?"

Harold Minchum doesn't have a stance on anything that matters, Lucius wanted to say. Though a radically brilliant wizard, the Head of the Department of Mysteries was turned inwards at all times. He was low-spoken and serious, giving him the impression of quiet strength, but in reality he was far more interested in studying the deepest mysteries of magic rather than looking out at the world burning around him. If he were placed as Minister, with Rookwood as his right hand, he could be swayed into actions that would seem to act against the Dark Lord but in reality strengthen the powerful wizard's agenda. Or, failing that, Rookwood would be in an optimal position to place the Imperius Curse upon him.

"That's an excellent question for him to develop his platform around. His competitors would be unwilling to give you free reign in your new position, but I have no doubts that the public is looking for a firmer stance, and you could take one if you were working alongside Minchum."

"Well, I don't disagree with you there Malfoy. You've given me a lot to consider— I'll set up a meeting with Harold sometime next week."

Lucius nodded and rose gracefully. "Thank you for taking the time today, Bartemius. I know you have a lot on your plate with the promotion, and I wish you the best of luck." He extended his hand and Crouch grasped it firmly and rose as well, not returning Lucius's solicitous smile.

"I'm not sure what your angle on this is, Malfoy. I find it hard to believe you'd back a candidate with a non-magical father. I've known you and Abraxas my entire life-"

"Because we're both from Sacred Twenty Eight families," he cut in smoothly. "At the end of the day, you and I want the same things."

"Don't presume that some directory from the thirties dictates what I want, Lucius," he snapped. "I know that your father would have supported this tyrant before it became clear the lengths he was willing to go gain power."

"As would yours," Lucius retorted, "perhaps not as publicly, but all of our fathers would have. Sons are very different than their fathers at times, you know."

"And sometimes they're exactly the same," he replied bitterly. "And while I have taken drastic steps to distance myself from my father and his support of Pureblood supremacy, I have yet to see you to the same."

"Well, Bartemius, you've had a considerably longer time to do so." They were still gripping hands across Crouch's desk, each unwilling to yield. "Perhaps backing Minchum is my first step."

At last, Crouch's grasp relented. "You will back him, then?"

Lucius mentally cursed his slip of tongue as he let his hand drop. He had not intended to directly finance Minchum's campaign. He did not want his name associated with a half-Muggle, but even if he donated anonymously, at the very least Bartemius Crouch would know, which likely meant other high-ranking officials would find out as well.

"I will," he admitted, seeing no way around it. Crouch nodded once, looking appeased.

"I'm sure I'll see you soon, Lucius."

"Indeed," he replied and, with a curt nod, swept from the office. The meeting had not gone exactly as he hoped, but things rarely did with Crouch. Anyway, he'd set the cogs in motion to get Minchum elected, which had been his ultimate goal. It was a delicate balance, getting key figures into positions of power, faces and names the public would trust, but keeping them from exercising that power fully. Something Crouch had said had also planted a seed, only a small inkling, but Lucius would have to devote time to think about it later. Distance myself from my father. Crouch had a son in Hogwarts, though Lucius couldn't remember exactly how old. It might be worthwhile to find out if the boy had any of his grandfather's leanings on the preservation of blood purity. Having an easy way to discredit Crouch down the line could be useful.

But back to the matter at hand. Minchum was a step in the right direction, but he was not the ultimate goal for Minister. There were several rising members of the Ministry who would better fill the role down the line; he was confident this next meeting would go better than his first. He got off the elevator once more at Level Five, and headed towards an office much smaller and messier than Crouch's.

"Lucius! Perfectly on time, as always. I'm just having a late breakfast, haven't had time this morning for anything." Millicent Bagnold, a brilliant associate in the Department of International Magical Cooperation, shot him a grin as she took a large bite of toast. Lucius returned the smile and sat down in front of her desk, lounging back with one ankle resting on the opposite knee. She was a plain looking woman, about fifteen years his senior, but she had an intense energy and charisma that Lucius had respected from the start. She was one of the few members of the Ministry with whom he genuinely did not mind socialising.

"The ambassador from Japan giving you trouble again?" he posited, remembering her troubles during the last visit he'd paid her. She waved the query away dismissively.

"Oh, no, he's old news. No, this time it's a witch going to Uagadou— she's been accepted there for study, she's apparently a brilliant potioneer, but she's crossing about a dozen international boundaries with a trunk full of poisons and dangerous ingredients, and despite my owls and floos, she's getting held up at every border." She waved her hand again. "But listen to me ramble. What can I help you with today, Lucius?"

"I just thought I'd stop by to chat about this new law that's being bandied about— something about a heavy tax on imported dragon hearts?"

"Mmm," she hummed affirmatively, swallowing her bite before continuing. "It's mostly coming from the magical creatures guys on Four— it's the Hebridean Blacks up north, they're getting out of hand. We need incentive for them to be hunted, but honestly, who wants to hunt dragons, especially Hebrideans? The only ones harder to kill are Horntails, thank goodness we don't have any of those to deal with. We're hoping the tax will discourage the importation of Chinese Fireball hearts, and we can whittle down the numbers of Hebrideans while growing domestic revenue. It has a lot of support."

"I understand, but I think it's shortsighted. Don't you think the steady trade of Fireball hearts is more advantageous in the way of international relationships? Are just a few dragons really worth-"

"It's not just a few dragons, Lucius, it's wearing multiple departments down between the damage and sightings by Muggles, and honestly, we need to be focussing all our energies on…that… well, you know who I mean. I know you're invested in the importation of Fireball hearts but my hands are tied, honestly. I'd like to help you but I can't oppose the legislation based on the fact that it would hurt your financial interests." She gave an apologetic shrug as she finished off the first slice of toast and started on another.

"I would never expect you to compromise the integrity of your office like that," he replied smoothly. "It just so happens that I may have a different solution to the dragon problem."

She raised her eyebrows expectantly while she chewed.

"A colleague of mine would be willing to act as a contractor for the Ministry to hunt the dragons. He has experience in the matter, and a small team of associates willing to take the risk… for the right price."

"A band of bounty hunters? And what's the 'right price,' Lucius?" she demanded. "We wanted them hunted and are prepared to add financial incentives for those who subdue and seek them, but paying a huge sum is out of the question. The true payout is in the sale of the dragon, the Ministry cannot afford large bounties."

"I would be happy to subsidize a portion of their hiring cost. It would take care of the problem quicker than you could possibly hope for otherwise, and this bill could be killed. There would be no need to endanger our positive trade relations with China."

Millicent tilted her head, considering the offer. "Who's the dragon killing colleague anyway? Where do you find these people?"

"Walden Macnair." He ignored her second question. "I'd be happy to arrange a meeting."

She sighed and after a long moment, nodded. "Alright then. Normally I'd say no but right now… well, this is really just a problem we need dealt with fast. With everything else going on. If I hear so much of a whisper of 'poachers' though, they'll be prosecuted faster than that," she emphasized with a snap. "I mean it, Lucius. I won't tell anyone you referred this Macnair, but you won't be able to get him off the hook if I find out anything besides Hebrideans are being hunted up there."

"Naturally," Lucius smiled. "I always know you're someone I can talk sense with, Millicent. I'll set up a time for you two to meet later this week."

"Next week," she corrected. "I'm still dealing with the horrible massacre of all those Muggles from last Thursday— there were dozens of foreign non-magical guests in that hotel where it happened."

"Ah, of course," Lucius tried to make his smile sympathetic as he remembered the blazing heat and acrid smoke and screams of the Muggles trapped within the sudden inferno of FiendFyre that water hoses stood no chance against. "I'm sure that is quite trying. I'll leave you to it then."

"Thanks Lucius," she replied with a hassled half-smile, already distracted as her fire began to glow green, indicating an incoming caller. "See you later."

When Lucius returned home late that evening after a productive dinner in town with serval business contacts, the house was silent and dark. Everything looked as he had left it, but a glance into the smaller study by the dining room showed him Narcissa's move was complete. Her possessions were all here, but was she? A quick casting of homenum revelio told him she not. As he got into bed, he tried not to dwell too long on the inevitable changes to his life she would surely bring with her the following day.

Chapter Text

Friday, 20 February 1976

Friday afternoon was an uncomfortable one. He knew her belongings had been brought in the day before, but he had yet to see his wife. He recalled her demand to arrive promptly at eight in evening for dinner, and he had fully intended to comply despite his more belligerent inclinations, but meetings at the Ministry held him up longer than intended. As he was departing, a particularly repugnant exchange slowed his progress:

"They're not children, Weasley," he snarled, shaking off the over-eager associate of the most useless department of the Ministry. "They're Muggles, and if you just eliminate them— their memories, I mean— there're no question weather or not poisonous pacifiers are actually a threat to any sort of valuable existence."

How was the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts still a department at the Ministry? Had enough funding not yet been cut to the branch? How was Arthur Weasley still bringing in enough galleons to keep his wife plump and children alive? It was a mystery Lucius feared he'd never solve.

When he did arrive home and reach the table just before half past, Narcissa's plate was almost cleared. She hardly afforded him a glance when he sunk into his chair.

"Gods, salmon again?" he groaned when food appeared on his plate. Her irritable gaze gave him all the response he needed. "Fish twice a week, no more," he snapped. "Merlin knows there's nothing fresh and edible locally anyway." He could not abide by eel. 

"The elves were unable to provide any sort of prior meal agenda," Narcissa replied lightly. "I gave a best guess."

"Ask next time." Lucius pushed his plate away. A small, nearly-silent voice in his head whispered that Narcissa had no way of knowing he'd eaten salmon two nights ago at a restaurant, but he ignored it. He wasn't feeling charitable.

Of course, he'd been unavailable for any of her questions. She'd moved into an otherwise uninhabited house today. He tried, unsuccessfully, to soften his tone for his next statement as he rose.

"I'll see you later this evening." He hadn't quite meant it as a threat, but how else could it be perceived? He pushed the thought away and headed towards his study to answer post. It was nearly midnight before he looked up again, realising it was well past time to visit his wife's quarters. Regardless of this fact, he made the trek upstairs anyway and found himself stalled before her door. 

He turned the knob. For a moment it caught, but then gave way. So, he thought irritably, she had locked it. Surely she realised the house was warded to him and no lock would keep him out— however, she had made the gesture. If this was the case, she had also heard it give way to his entry. Lucius pushed the door slightly. Not enough to open it fully, but enough to make it obvious that it would not resist him. She could not keep him at bay, even if she wished to do so. Content that she knew he could come in if he pleased, Lucius knocked gently on the door. Give her the illusion of privacy, of choice, and in the long run, she'd realize he was just toying with her all along.

"Come in," she called; lazily, idly, as if she cared not at all whether he desired entered her sanctum or not. But surely she cared, if she had bothered to set the lock? Lucius scowled and pushed the door completely open.

Narcissa was seated at her desk, scratching away furiously with an audaciously ostentatious quill— it appeared to be a peacock tail feather, but it was glistening white. Lucius took her appearance in first, languidly appreciating the way her silk robe fell from her narrow shoulders; they way the Chantilly lace hugged her fragile wrists. Seeing her in bedclothes, draped over a parchment, she appeared pleasingly soft and feminine, but when she looked up at him, her icy gaze showed no weakness.

"Can I help you?" she asked breezily, and Lucius wanted to laugh. This stubborn creature, his wife, that he could overpower in a moment, dared to contest him even in the bedroom. And yet, somehow, he had no desire to vanquish her. It would bring him no satisfaction to have her against her will; not her, not his wife. It would be no victory; he was certain Narcissa would find some form of retaliation to make him more miserable than he could fathom if he dared to do so.

"What are you writing?" he queried instead, moving further into the chamber and crossing his arms to lean against a large armoire. She twitched her head towards a stack of papers; different sizes and shades, indicating a different author of each.

"I have to respond to these invitations; now that I'm in London I must prioritise the ladies I visit in a way that causes offence to none. After I've called upon each, I must invite them to call upon me here, but it will take some time before I am able to bring them here en masse— I was young when I left and I've been in France for some time; the more established ladies will not want to spend time here while I host others, but it must happen eventually. In three months we must host a soiree; small by necessity, this house was not made for large gatherings. However in six months I believe we should host a real event at the Manor— Michaelmas, if not sooner. Now that we are cohabiting, your parents should retire within two years. It will be uncomfortable if they do not— we need the Manor for more than events— but I don't think it will be an issue. Your mother loves your home in Portugal, and I doubt Abraxas will protest the move."

Lucius was frowning thoughtfully by the time she finished. He'd expected she was merely writing some drivel to her sister or mother. The politics of women were all but lost on him, though since his wedding he'd begun to get a sense of their importance, and had found deals to move much more effectively when the wives of the men he worked with raved about the lovely Mrs. Malfoy and her hospitality. His parents' unwillingness to leave Malfoy Manor was something that had grated on his nerves for some time, but he had not been able to persuade his father to relent on the issue. Lucius was no longer the heir apparent, but leader of the family in affairs of business and state, and it was frustrating to be confined to the London house. His father had retired shortly after Lucius finished school, and his mother rarely hosted any besides her closest acquaintances— matrons and grandmothers, the lot. If Narcissa could could excise his parents from the ancestral home and brush them off to another holding in their retirement, Lucius would be more than grateful— however, he coldly suspected that if he were to demonstrate his eagerness, his amenable wife would make the issue less than a priority.

He was loath to offer her any word of approval; particularly not before he had yet to demonstrate his own value as a husband. Thus far he had merely dragged her from her home and set her up in a townhouse surrounded by Muggles. He changed the subject. "And how was your move from the continent? Any troubles?"

Her face did not reveal whether she spotted the avoidance or appreciated his personal concern. "An easy move, to be sure." There was a lie somewhere in the statement, and Lucius doubted it had anything to do with the physical journey. Only a week ago she'd been the ruler of her own domain, surrounded by friends in a household she had known since childhood. Now she found herself quite alone, in a house she had visited only a handful of times, and never more intimately than the drawing room. Gone were her dearest acquaintances, and instead she had only her husband, this stranger.

"Was there anything else you needed?" While not accusatory, her words were distinctly cool and brought Lucius from his reverie. He glanced up and a scathing response was on his lips, but when he spotted what was behind her, wit failed him.

"I— what in Merlin's name is that?" he blurted before he could stop himself. The apparent source of her quill had just landed gracefully on the ledge of an open window near her desk. Narcissa smiled vaguely.

"Lovely, isn't he? I've about a dozen of them, you'll probably spot one or two next time you're out on the grounds of the Manor; that's where I've sent them. Not all are albino though. He's a bit nosy, probably just homesick and wants to see what I'm up to, stopped by London on his way." She reached out and gently stroked the bird, seemingly lost in thought. He cleared his throat after nearly a full minute, and she turned to face him once more with a scathingly arched eyebrow. Obviously, she had no intentions of making this easier for him.

Lucius narrowed his eyes and straightened up slowly. Whereas she had begun the exchange civilly, he could sense her growing impatience with his continued presence. He approached her desk and leaned his hip against it beside her, crossing he arms once more.

"Now, darling wife," he began in the most condescending tone he could muster. She shot him a look of loathing before turning back to her letter. "We've been married for some time now, and as such you must realize that there are responsibilities required of a wife that extend beyond the management of a household."

"Are there?" She blinked up at him suddenly, her bright blue eyes so wide and convincingly innocent for a moment that he faltered, before she scoffed, shook her head, and resumed writing. Fury boiled in him with a searing surge, and for a moment he had to fight to keep from seizing her, throwing her upon the bed, and ending this stupid conversation in the most brutal way he possibly could.

"Be serious, Narcissa," he growled, contenting himself with yanking her chair from this desk and trapping her in it by grasping both its arms and dropping his face close to hers. The look of alarm in her gaze was fleeting but that he'd caught it at all caused Lucius to smirk. "There's an easy way to go about this— pleasant, some might even say— and there's a much more difficult way to which I hope I will not have to subject the future mother of my child."

She stared at him stonily, her lips pressed into an unyielding line. A dart of arousal shot through him and he could feel his pulse quicken; while the threat was mostly empty, she seemed to take it as fact and still she showed no him of fear. She was not, as he had thought (when he had bothered to give her much more than cursory consideration since the time of their wedding), the frail creature she appeared and purported to be. Lucius rapidly lifted one of the hands that was caging her, but the gesture did not end in violence; instead, he brushed it against her cheek, lightly letting the tips of his fingers slide down her jawline and coming to rest beneath her chin, lest she decide to drop her glare. Not that she showed any indications of doing so.

"I don't want this to become a point of contention or…" he hesitated, groping momentarily for the right word. "Angst?"

Narcissa, predictably, rolled her eyes. "I'm not a child. I know what is expected of me and moreover…" she shot him a cool, calculated look. "You don't scare me. Nor do you cause me such emotional distress that I find myself an angst-ridden adolescent."

She was scarcely out of her adolescent years, but she spoke with enough derision that he let this fact pass. "Fair enough," he conceded; he had sufficient evidence from this evening to give credence to her claim. Their faces were mere inches apart, it would be easy enough to bridge the distance… in fact, she seemed to be anticipating a kiss to be his next move. Not, of course, that he wasn't tempted— if her slightly parted lips and half-hooded eyes weren't invitation enough, her sharp words had unexpectedly excited him. Never had he thought that it would be a chore to bed his lovely young wife, but now, leaning close to her, never had he desired it so much either.

Too easy, a voice in his head warned him suddenly. He heeded the caution reflexively, surprising both of them by standing abruptly and saying, "I'm sure you're tired tonight, and you'll need your rest."

She eyed him warily, before giving a small nod. "Yes, I suppose I am."

Half-cursing his foresight, he turned away from her. "Good night, Narcissa," he drawled airily, retreating from the room and closing the door behind him with a smirk. His smug air dissolved the moment the door latched, and he was scowling by the time he reached his own chambers. It would have been too easy, he reasoned, and taking that cheap advantage would have cost him dearly later on, he was certain. To end a spar with a kiss would negate his authority entirely. It wouldn't do to have her thinking that she could distract or tempt him with physical appeal. Besides, he thought bitterly as he began to undress, it not as though she's the only source of that I can find. It would reflect worse on him than on her if his extramarital affairs were to continue as blatantly as they had been, and he would need to be in her favor, at least publicly, if he wanted to avoid very uncomfortable social situations. Uncomfortable social situations would lead to awkward conversations that had the potential to be very bad for business. It was far more prudent to give Narcissa no just cause to censure him before their friends and associates. Still, it would be only slightly less embarrassing seem overly fond of or affectionate towards his bride, and he refused to hand her the leverage to make him appear as such.

The last thought before he fell asleep was somewhat comforting: despite his disappointment at having to leave her to her own devices this evening, he wouldn't have to wait long.


Chapter Text

Saturday, 21 February 1976

"Dear god man, isn't it a little early?"

Rodolphus looked up with a languorous grin at his friend who stood, appalled, in the doorway of his study. Rodolphus was flung across a settee, cigar in one hand and a glass of scotch hovering near by. He wore a heavy crimson brocade house robe that was with dense with gold embroidery— opulent enough for a king. His long, thickly muscled legs were covered by red silk pants and crossed at the ankle, and his matching slippers would not be out of place at a Venetian masquerade. "A little early for a call, isn't it?"

"It's half noon!" Lucius replied indignantly. A low fire glowed beneath the ornately carved obsidian mantle, and the burgundy velvet drapes were pulled closed against the sunlight that should be pouring in through the towering windows. Rodolphus shrugged, taking a long pull of his cigar and exhaling several perfect smoke rings before replying.

"I had a late night. What do you want?" His tone was idle, but Lucius knew well enough that Rodolphus was thoroughly irritated by the judgement upon his lifestyle choices. Unlike Lucius, he bothered little with advancing the Lestrange wealth; he was content to be part of a generation who squandered rather than sowed. Not that he was in any danger of running out of gold for several lifetimes.

"Gambling or something more interesting?" Despite his criticism, Lucius summoned the decanter and poured himself a glass of amber liquid. Rodolphus brightened immediately, leaning forward as Lucius sank into a nearby armchair.

"Both," he replied, warming to the subject. "I won three hundred galleons off Mulciber and another two from Nott. I was on a streak, could've won a thousand easily, but I was called away." He eyes gleamed, wild and excited. "A vocal Mudblood and his family to get rid of; I got to try out that curse I've been working on, from the book you loaned me, remember? That old Viking one, the Blood Eagle. It worked alright on his Muggle bitch, but the Mudblood only ended up with a few cracked ribs, he had some sort of counter-spell when he saw what I'd done to his wife. So then I figured, why not do it the Muggle way?"

Lucius snorted and shook his head. "You do like getting your hands dirty," he muttered as his took a long drink. Rodolphus was generally genial in society, but he was truly in his element in the dark and covered with blood. Lucius usually preferred to keep his missions efficient and to the point, though admittedly he was never opposed to weakening the infrastructure of Muggle buildings or casting the Cruciatus curse in passing for a bit of sport.

He had known Rodolphus his entire life. His mother and Mrs. Lestrange had become fast friends soon after the former's marriage. Though five years Lucius's senior, he'd always gotten on better with him than Rabastan, who was Lucius's age. Rodolphus had been a willful but happy child, causing and finding trouble wherever he went but always avoiding consequences with his dimples and disarmingly gleeful laugh. A month before Rodolphus started school, his mother died under mysterious circumstances. Though he never spoke about it, it had hardened something in him. Where there was once giddiness there was now a reckless wildness that didn't calm until the summer before his seventh year when, quite as suddenly as his mother, his father died, and left Rodolphus as the head of an ancient family line at seventeen with a twelve-year-old brother to raise.

It was that year that his careless and frequent dalliances ended, and he had set his sights on Bellatrix Black. She was a year younger but they'd always gotten on well; that year, however, all distractions fell away and he hadn't so much as glanced at another girl since. It wasn't really a surprise that he'd fallen for Bella— most boys did at some point or another— but it was a shock to most that she went along with it. Not least of all her parents. They'd been in serious talks to wed her to her first cousin Evan Rosier, though the latter was three years her junior and they'd never been close. The Blacks were known for keeping bloodlines clean by intermarrying— too clean, sterile. However when Roldolphus left school Bellatrix had agreed to be his wife, and there had been no more talk of a union between her and her cousin. For a moment, there'd been whispers that perhaps Andromeda… well, that talk ended quickly enough and it was clear the last Black daughter needed a publicly advantageous union to pull the Black name from disgrace. Enter Lucius Malfoy.

Through marriage they were brothers, but Lucius personally preferred to stay a healthy arms length away from the other man, despite their long friendship. At his best Rodolphus was mercurial and wild, easily annoyed but slow to true anger. Which was for the best, since on the occasion he did lose his temper, his rages were generally fatal. He had a taste for gore rivaled by only perhaps Fenrir Greyback, and his frequent laughter, the same bright, ringing laughter that had won so many hearts when he was a boy, was disturbing to hear as he was elbow deep in the abdominal cavity of a still-twitching Muggle.

Rodolphus was describing and reenacting the separating of rib from spine when Bellatrix glided in. If he'd thought Rodophus unsuitably attired for the afternoon, his wife made him look ready for a gala. Lucius swiftly averted his eyes from her long, bare legs and exposed cleavage as she drifted lazily over to her husband. She stood behind him and leaned down (Lucius became suddenly fascinated by a dingy portrait on an adjacent wall), pushing Rodolphus's robe aside to knot her fingers in the dense hair of his chest. He accepted her ministrations with a wolfish smirk, settling back in his seat.

"What in Merlin's name are you doing here, Malfoy?" she snapped, rising slowly but not bothering to pull her own robe any closer around her.

"Just paying a cordial visit," he threw a tight smile in her direction. She laughed, deep and rich in her throat, but it was thick with derision.

"I heard what you threatened to do with Cissy's house in France," she snapped, all mirth abruptly evaporating. Rodolphus's brow creased and his eyes flicked with concern between the two. "What exactly was the meaning of that? Simply to insult the Black name, or is your fortune not what you claim it to be?"

"Neither," he hissed, but refused to elaborate further. She shrugged and plucked Rodolphus's drink from his hand.

"How's having little Cissy around anyway? Has she bored you to death with her godawful opera records or prattling about art and history and—" she waved a vague hand and took a swig, clearly unable to recall any further interests that her sister possessed.

"No, she's been… pleasant," he supplied, seconds too late. This time, both Bellatrix and Rodolphus sniggered, exchanging significant looks.

"Narcissa Black is nothing if not exquisitely pleasant in company." She chose her words carefully, and Lucius couldn't help but suspect they both knew something he did not. "Just keep being company, and you will have the most pleasant of wives."

"I didn't come here for marital advice," he snarled, although, in reality, he had. However he had recognised it as a mistake the moment Bellatrix came in. They were as dissimilar in coloring as in manner, and Rodolphus had never given good advice anyway ("You don't really need to study for potions mate, just throw some rosemary in if you're in doubt" was the recommendation that had led Lucius to his one and only D grade in school, back in his first year).

"Good," Bellatrix huffed, settling into her own lounge. "Because we have more important things to discuss. There's been a rumor, a whisper, a potentially ally up in the North."

"The giants?" Lucius posited, but Rodolphus was already shaking his head.

"No, no, we already have people on that. I don't have the details, but you have Swedish blood, don't you?"

"Yes," he replied stiffly, unwilling to reveal much. "On my mother's side."

"Could be helpful," Rodolphus insisted, taking a drag from his cigar and summoning his scotch back from Bellatrix with a quirk of his wrist. The glass was empty by now, but he refilled it with a mumbled direction to his house elf. The elf supplied its mistress with her own glass before vanishing.

"I'll wait until I hear details for a more reliable source," Lucius quipped drily, willing himself to ignore the the smirking, heavy-lidded looks of desire that Mr. and Mrs. Lestrange kept passing to one another.

"You will soon, I'm sure," Bellatrix waved a hand; despite her state of otherwise undress, she'd managed to laden it with precious gems. Heirlooms and gifts from her husband, he supposed. Rodolphus caught her floating hand and pressed his lips to her palm. 

"Well I'm off," announced Lucius, loudly and necessarily as he rose to his feet. Enthralled with one another, the Lestranges did not even acknowledge his departure. The pair was of no use when it came to grappling with his young wife. Not that I need help, he amended his thoughts quickly. An insight that could put him at an advantage would not be undesirable, however. Clearly the insight was not to be found here.

Lucius spent an hour or two at the Ministry, but it was Saturday and with no one around to speak to about this bill or that official notice, his accomplishments were limited. He apparated home feeling vaguely put out by how the day had been going so far, and had no idea how much worse it was about to get as he stepped into his study.

"Fu-father," Lucius blurted in surprise, managing to change his swear to a greeting just in time. Abraxas raised one brow, clearly not fooled. He sat at the chair behind the large desk ("My chair and my desk," Lucius thought acidly), and was reading a dusty tome on— from what Lucius could spot across the room— Arabic curses.

"Lucius. Please, have a seat." Feeling much like a scolded child, Lucius had no choice but to cross the lush carpet and sit in a smaller chair before his father, where just days early he'd enjoyed placing Narcissa so he could lord his superiority over her.

"Shall I have the elf get us drinks?" he posited hopefully. Abraxas frowned.

"At three in the afternoon? I daresay not," he drawled in disapproval. Lucius grit his teeth as the nastily reversed sense of deja vu and, perhaps buoyed by the scotch he'd already been drinking, he loudly announced, "Well, I'll have one. Dobby!"

The elf appeared with a bottle of firewhiskey and a tumbler, and Lucius steadfastly avoided his father's eye as he helped himself to a healthy measure. Who was he, after all, to show up unannounced, take over his study, and deride him for drinking his own liquor? He took a quick gulp for fortitude, and continued speaking.

"My apologies if you've been waiting long, I was visiting the Lestranges and was not anticipating visitors." Especially not uninvited, supercilious visitors who would take over my study.

"Not at all, I was in the area for lunch and thought to stop by. Your lovely wife has been an excellent hostess," he replied lightly, although his tone turned suddenly serious. "She is a credit to you, Lucius."

To this Lucius said nothing, but a sense of nervousness began to grow in the pit of his stomach, which he betrayed only by tapping his finger against the crystal rim of his drink. "Indeed, a woman of faultless character," he agreed cautiously.

"Well, it pleases that you think so, although if that is the case, I'm surprised you've done nothing but humiliate her," he continued sharply. Lucius grimaced and took another swig of his drink.

"I'm sorry to hear that you feel that way," he managed through gritted teeth. "But I think our marriage has gone swimmingly so far, hardly a disagreement between us."

"Sorry to hear it?" Abraxas echoed incredulously. "And if you haven't argued, it's only because you've had her shut away in France since the wedding!"

"I haven't had her 'shut away—'" Lucius began heatedly, but his father cut him off by raising a hand.

"Enough, Lucius. You've been behaving like a child and you will put a stop to it at once. Cygnus and I arranged this match to the mutual beneficence of both our families. You agreed to it willingly enough, but you have taken great measures to embarrass me in the time since. I can hardly look the man in the eye after what you've put his daughter through."

"Father! For Merlin's sake, you're acting like I beat the girl," he objected. Abraxas's eye narrowed, and his voice was a hiss when he replied.

"At least that would be behind closed doors," he spat, "and not fuel for gossipmongers who look for any opportunity to scoff at the Malfoy name."

To avoid addressing this statement, Lucius refilled his glass and waited for his father to continue.

"I couldn't care less if you have dalliances. But as if it doesn't look bad enough to live estranged from your new bride, to go and impregnate another girl? A Pureblooded girl? And that, before even producing a legitimate heir?"

Lucius was too dumbfounded to respond; not that he was given a chance to. "At best you appear as a lovesick boy who can't control his desires, and at worst you come across as an idiot rake with no sense of duty or responsibility."

He couldn't fathom Narcissa sharing such a thing with his father. She was intensely private, and the notion that she might have confided such things over tea to her father-in-law was simply preposterous. Though he didn't know her as well as a husband ought, no version of the woman he knew would bring up such sordid matters in polite company, let alone—

The bafflement cleared from Lucius's face at once and his eyes hardened. "Who did you have lunch with in town, Father?"

"I hardly see how that's relevant," Abraxas replied archly. However, the two men were too similar for such deceits.

"It was Slughorn, wasn't it? Circe, the man had no right to broadcast my personal matters—"

"He had every right," Abraxas interrupted. "I think you forget that Horace and I were at school together, and as one of my oldest friends, he was merely aiding me in eliminating any further disgrace to the Malfoy name."

"Did he tell you that he was the one that introduced us? Likely he told you about the affair out of guilt for his hand in the whole mess."

"You cannot possibly consider blaming him for the irresponsibility of your actions." Abraxas retorted icily. Then he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as his eyes slid shut. When he looked back up at his son and heir, most of the anger had slipped away. "Swear to me it won't happen again."

"It won't," Lucius assured him. "And Angelique is out of the picture. Out of the country. I won't see her again."

"Good. Now, onto the matter I came here to discuss with you in the first place."

That wasn't it? Lucius wondered incredulously, finishing off his second glass of firewhiskey. He wasn't drunk, but he was definitely starting to feel a headiness that he knew was best avoided in conversation with his father. He placed the tumbler down rather abruptly.

"You mother and I will be retiring to the estate outside of Viana do Castelo in the fall. If I can trust your word that your youthful mishaps are indeed a thing of the past, I feel it is time for you to take over at the Manor." The statement was made somberly, imparting the weight of each word and its meaning.

Lucius's straightened up, eyes bright. "Absolutely, Father. I agree."

"You will host the annual Samhain Gala this year, and it will mark the passage of Malfoy Manor to its heir."

Lucius feared he was not doing as well as he would have liked to conceal his excitement at the prospect. "Of course," he nodded earnestly.

"Although," Abraxas continued, his tone darkening once more, "if I hear word that you've been publicly dragging the Malfoy name through mud, I will not hesitate to cancel the move and you can stay here in London until you're able to shoulder the responsibilities of being Lord of the Manor."

"I am ready," he assured him quickly. Abraxas nodded once and rose to his feet, and Lucius followed suit. Standing face to face, Lucius was several inches taller than his father, but at twenty two, still not as impressive in bearing. He extended his hand and Lucius shook it solemnly, leading them out of the study. In the foyer, Abraxas collected his cloak and turned back to his soon.

"She is a credit to you, you know," he spoke softly of Narcissa once more. "As one husband to another, I can tell you there is no good to come from a quarrellous marriage. There's not a better match to be found in all of Britain, and you'll face enough challenges down the road without earning the ire of your wife as well."

Lucius pressed his lips together in order to keep himself from expressing dissent. His mother was a gentle, affectionate woman; what could his father possibly know about dealing with a wife from whom no smile could be elicited, no warmth? Of course Narcissa presented herself as dutiful and sweetly retiring in nature, but he couldn't possibly know the truth.

As if reading his thoughts, Abraxas chuckled. "Give it time, son. You've caused nothing but damage so far, but she is yours for life and nothing is irreparable yet." He opened the door, turning on the top step to impart one final piece of advice. "And give her a child to care for, the sooner the better."

Though he'd missed lunch, Lucius did turn up in time for dinner that day. He and his wife arrived almost simultaneously to the dining room through different doors, and as he sank into his chair at the head of the table, he was pleased to see veal rather than another fish dish appear before him. He almost said so, but one glance at his wife's stony expression silenced him. She sat to his right and was dressed in elegant dinner robes, her hair in an updo that he had frankly no idea how she'd gotten the elves to manage. She looked perfect, was perfect in presentation and decorum, but something about her passivity made his blood simmer. Still, her letter from the previous evening to his mother had apparently done the trick, and faster than either of them could have possibly hoped for.

"I saw my father today," he began, interrupting the soft clinking of silver on porcelain.

"Yes, I did as well."

Of course she had, Lucius remembered, feeling first foolish and then annoyed with her for making him feel that way to begin with.

"We'll be moving to the Manor in October. We're expected to host the Samhain Gala as our first public event as Lord and Lady of the Manor, so I suppose you'll want to sort those details out with my mother." His words were brusque, but Narcissa nodded thoughtfully.

"Eight months is sooner than I'd anticipated," she shared, "but it won't be an issue. We will have to host an event here before we move— perhaps the summer solstice? Michaelmas?"

"This house isn't really the size to properly entertain," he countered. The veal was remarkable— had she brought her own elf? Surely mere direction on her part couldn't have induced his to produce something of such improved quality.

"Not for a large dinner, of course, or dancing, but we could open the doors between the parlor and the informal living room, and my study and the dining room are just across the corridor. We could serve passed hors d'oeuvres with drinks stationed in here, and guests could move comfortably between the three rooms. I'd say we could manage fifty easily, seventy five if needed."

"Well if fifty is all we're having, we'll have to cull the list of regular invitees quite severely. Is this a Sangiovese?" he asked, swirling the wine lazily in his glass before taking in its aroma.

"A Brunello di Montalcino I found in the wine cellar. I thought with the tomatoes—"

"Yes, it's perfect," he agreed with a brief nod of acknowledgment. "You were saying?"

"I think it's for the best that we're forced to cut back the list for our first event. Most won't be too offended— after all, they'll recognize that this isn't the Manor— and when the night is a success, it will only build anticipation for Samhain."

He dipped his head in acknowledgement but continued eating. After a moment, he began again: "Just be sure to check-"

"With your mother, I know." There was something like a smirking toying with the corners of her mouth. "It would look foolish if she and I both hosted an event on the date."

"Actually," he replied coolly, "I was going to say..." Precisely that. "... that you should be sure to check the wine cellar here to make sure we don't need to have any bottles sent from the collection at the Manor."

She shot him a look he couldn't quite place, but his words had erased any hint of a smile that might have been forming. "Of course," she murmured stiffly, and they remained silent for the rest of the meal.

That evening, Lucius was feeling rather put out about the whole day, with the exception of his father's news that his parents would at long last be vacating the Manor. He couldn't place a finger on what precisely was bothering him, but by ten o'clock, he'd given up on all attempts to read anything from the pile of post on his desk, let alone write any missives in reply. He trudged up the stairs, his Mark itching and prickling, and he knew he would be called soon, but it was difficult to judge precisely when. Without really thinking about it, his feet stopped in front of Narcissa's door. A light spilling onto the floor of the hallway from the gap beneath told him she was still awake. He paused for a moment, and then opened it.

He wasn't entirely sure how to bridge the distance between himself and his wife. Here he stood, fully clothed and imposing, and she lounged on the bed, a book in hand, unperturbed. However, he'd be damned if he let her sense his hesitation. His eyes narrowed. Without further explanation, he stalked forward, shedding first his outer robe and shoes, but the time he reached her bed, he was unbuttoning his shirt. She carefully marked her page and set down the book. He stood at the foot of her bed for a moment as he smoothly unfastened and stepped out of his trousers, lest she feign any confusion as to the reason for his presence in her room. Her eyes were wide and alert but unafraid.

Good, he thought, almost viciously. If he had a wife frightened by this, a natural act between a man and woman, she hardly stood a chance in what was to come. He didn't move to kiss her first, but rather climbed onto the bed and snaked an arm around her waist and dragged her forward, so she was laying flat, unsupported by pillows or lofty notions. Now that he had her beneath him, his touch was unhesitating and incautious; he savored the dip of her back and curve of her bottom and thigh before settling his hand upon the side of her knee, drawing it upwards to bend at his hip. He let his nose brush her collarbone, throat, and dipped his head to kiss her at last, unsure of what to expect.

Well, at least she wasn't a total novice. She met his intensity with her own, surging against him to grab the collar of his unbuttoned shirt and pull him closer. They battled for a moment, but in this arena there was a clear winner— he knew more than one way to have a witch begging, and he felt sure his wife's experience extended no further than a giddy snog behind a tapestry. He allowed her nails to skim over the dusting of gold-blond hair on his chest and muscles of his abdomen, gratified by her apparent appreciation of his body, even if little else about him as a husband seemed to appeal to her. However, he permitted her ministrations for only a moment before grasping her wrists and pinning them on the pillow above her head.

He moved over her wordlessly; his hand caressed her neck and shoulder, grazed teasingly over her breast before shifting his weight to pin her body closer to his. She didn't protest and this fact delighted him; despite her removed words and attitude, she was still human, after all.

Lucius pulled back for a beat and, with little consideration for the integrity of the garment, he yanked her silk gown unceremoniously over her head and chucked it aside. She was nearly nude beneath him and she pressed into his caresses— he bit back a groan as she arched her hips against his. He'd been a fool to wait these two years; his wife was young, nubile, and eager, and he should have taken advantage long before. He couldn't suppress a low chuckle, amused and aroused as he pressed her legs wider to settle between them more comfortably and—

Suddenly a searing pain in his left arm made him gasp—simultaneously Narcissa's perfect white teeth sank into his lower lip, which doubtlessly would have elicited the sound on its own. She didn't realise what was happening. He lifted his head, intending to apologise and explain the need for his hasty departure and yet…

He could't pass up the opportunity. Her eyes were slitted and desirous, hungry for his next kiss. He drew away suddenly, indulging in only one more luxurious roll of his hips between her legs. She bit back a moan— she clearly still did not yet understand that their struggle for power had resumed— and he turned away suddenly, so he was leaning on one elbow beside her, looking down. She misunderstood the movement and made to follow, to climb on top of him, and though she was slight, it took Lucius every ounce of willpower he possessed to grasp her hip and force her to remain supine. She looked up at him expectantly, one brow quirked, and he couldn't help but to trace his fingertips over a taut nipple, the sensitive skin of her ribs, over the flat plane of her stomach and for a heartbeat, between her slim thighs, which she parted willingly in response to the gentle caress, encouraging more.

His left arm throbbed again, a deep and insistent pain. He could delay no longer. "Well, darling," he drawled, sitting up and summoning his robe. "I trust that was more than enough excitement for you for one evening." Lucius didn't meet her gaze as he pulled his robe on, busying himself with the fastenings before glancing back at her once more.

Narcissa was propped up on her elbows, staring at him in disbelief. His eyes raked greedily over her tousled hair, her unashamedly heaving chest and swollen lips— he half wanted to fling himself through the door to escape her accusing gaze. He had won, he supposed, leaving her raw and wanting, but at what cost? His pleasure at having bested her was superficial to say the least— much more satisfying it would have been to slide himself inside of her, hot and wet and untried, hear her gasp his name as her nails bit into the flesh of his arms…

But no matter. There were other concerns tonight. Unbidden, he reached out to gratify a final urge, to feel her a final time under his hand before he set off, but predictably she moved quickly away to avoid it. He rose from the edge of her bed, pushing his hair from his eyes and keeping his back to her as crossed the room, lest she spot the evidence that she was not the only one that their brief encounter had left unsatisfied.

"Goodnight, wife," he drawled, shooting her a smirk over his shoulder as he vanished through the doorway.

Chapter Text

Friday, 3 August 1973

Malfoy Manor was an imposing but elegant structure, situated on a prime piece of land in Wiltshire. It had belonged to the first Malfoy to cross the channel from France, given by William the Conqueror for services rendered during the Battle of Hastings. The center of the Manor was its oldest standing portion: a massive Romanesque hall, with a columned nave and broad side aisles, crowned with sweeping Norman arches. It was the inspiration for the grandest cathedrals of the time, though it had always been used as a strictly social space in the residence. It had once entertained aristocracy and royalty of both Wizarding and non-magical blood, but since the Statute of Secrecy had been ratified in 1692, only those who could claim magical inheritance had crossed its threshold. The rest of the home was far more Gothic in style, though numerous salons had been renovated over the centuries to match the taste of the current occupant and current trends. Rather than making the Manor feel disjointed, however, it flowed more like a museum, with perfectly preserved and maintained exhibitions displaying the highest levels of decor throughout history.

The room that currently held the lord and heir of the Manor had been largely untouched over the ages. It was a spacious, stone-walled room, a study of restrained yet sumptuous style. One end featured a massive fireplace, kept lit year round, and the other featured towering windows that looked out over sweeping acreage and forests. Father and son stood on opposite ends of the room, one with hands clasped easily behind his back as he stared mildly over his lands; the other glared into the flames, clenched fists shoved into his pockets.

"No. It's out of the question. You are nineteen years old," Abraxas Malfoy drawled without turning around. "Your time will come Lucius, but that time is not today."

"Father, the wedding is tomorrow," Lucius' tone was strained with barely-leashed frustration. "Isn't this the last step? The final box to check?"

With a quiet sigh, Abraxas shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Becoming lord of the Manor is not some sort of checklist that must be completed. You are not ready yet, Lucius. I will decide when you are."

"Not ready?" Lucius echoed incredulously, whirling around and storming across the room. "I've been ready for years, as you damn well made sure of. And now I'm marrying the Black girl, just like you wanted, and you expect me to take her back to the London house?"

Abraxas shrugged, unconcerned. "Or another house, I'm told she has a great preference for France. Perhaps an extended honeymoon in Léon?"

"You know I'm far too busy for that," Lucius snarled, level with his father at last. "Perhaps you and Mother might prefer a vacation there?"

Abraxas chuckled but continued to stare over the grounds, refusing to turn and acknowledge his seething son who now stood beside him. "No, I think we're quite content here for now."

Before Lucius could reply, there was a soft knock on the door. "Come in," Abraxas called, turning around to smile at his wife. She was followed closely by Druella Black, behind whom trailed—

"I thought it might be pleasant for Narcissa and Lucius to spend a bit of time alone together," Mrs. Malfoy spoke warmly as she glided over to the windows to stand beside her husband and son.

"An excellent idea. Druella, perhaps you could tell me where Cygnus might be? I have a few details to go over with him." The three of them moved from the study, though Abraxas shot a final look of warning to his son before closing the door.

"Mr. Malfoy," Narcissa walked towards him confidently and offered her winningest smile, but Lucius was still scowling after the door his father had just disappeared through.

"Miss Black," he muttered distractedly, rubbing his jawline irritably.

"I was hoping," she pressed on doggedly, "that you might show me around the gardens? It would be lovely to get to know one another a bit better before the ceremony, and I was thinking—"

"What?" Lucius interrupted rudely, his eyes meeting hers at last and showing nothing but annoyance. Her expression immediately grew cold as well.

"Well, I thought it could be pleasant to spend some time alone together before we are wed, but clearly you have no such—"

"Oh, come off it," he snapped. "We're alone now, aren't we?" Without waiting for her reply, he strode over to the bar cart and poured himself a drink.

"I— Mr. Malfoy!" she exclaimed, genuinely shocked.

"Sorry," he grunted, "did you want one?"

"No thank you," she retorted, "I'm just rather surprised that it's before supper and you are drinking liquor."

Lucius scoffed. "Get used to it. Join in, if you want. Might make things more bearable."

What more can I do? Lucius wondered bitterly, glaring at the closed door once more. It wasn't his fault that his father had provided a poison to which no one besides he himself could reasonably be linked to assassinate the Minister for Magic. His surname and more than a few called in favors had kept him from official charges or a trial, but his less fortunate of cohorts were serving terms in Azkaban. The Malfoy name and gold were far to valuable and entrenched in Wizarding society to be ostracised for a whispered accusation, but the whispers were enough to keep Abraxas out of the Ministry for good. Eugenia Jenkins wasn't the most brilliant Minister, but she was certainly wise enough to stay clear of those who had attempted to murder her predecessor. Since he'd been newly fourteen at the time, Lucius had not been linked to the plot, but he had been privately dealing with the repercussions since midway through his third year. Academic expectations had remained high as always, but his Hogsmeade trips had turned eventually from divertissements with friends to dealings with financiers. He had dutifully followed every stern instruction that arrived almost daily in the post, and by his fifth year, he was writing letters to promising junior Ministry associates and foreign business contacts and the sons of old families that attended Durmstrang and Beauxbatons as often as he was revising for his O. W. L's. In addition to that, he had been named prefect and had to maintain the responsibilities of that role. It hadn't left much time for a serious romantic relationship, and receiving the note after he had finished school that he would be coming to Wiltshire for the weekend to meet "a promising young lady" had hardly been a surprise. And while he no longer needed to devote time to his studies, his nights had been filled with new and more important activity. Lucius had done everything asked of him and excelled beyond anyone's expectations, and now his father, who had been out of society for years, was refusing to vacate the Manor after the wedding? The London house was suitable for a bachelor, but it had only four bedrooms and was hardly fit for a family. More importantly, he had shouldered many of his father's duties long before his time— why should he be denied the main perk of being the Lord of the Manor, but bear the brunt of all the work it entailed?

"I hate to disappoint you," he spoke frostily once more to his bride, who had at least had the good grace to seat herself and summon an elf to bring tea while he brooded, "but it looks as though we won't be occupying the Manor any time in the foreseeable future."

"I don't mind," she replied quietly. "I'm sure we won't require such a large space until your parents retire and we have children to occupy it."

"Child," he corrected immediately. "Just one. And we have plenty of time before that happens." The thought of a screaming infant in his home made his stomach turn, even if that infant was his heir. "But it's the principle of the matter, not the necessity. My father is retired, for all intents and purposes, ever since…" he paused, not wanting to reveal too much. "Ever since my third year I've been responsible for what should have been his," he pressed on lamely, "and while my mother still enjoys hosting, she could do so from elsewhere."

"Well by that logic they should have passed rights on to you when you were thirteen," she replied primly, taking a sip of tea. His eyes narrowed.

"Don't be absurd. But when I came of age—"

"You were in Hogwarts still, were you not?"

Though her tone was airy, Lucius was quickly losing what little patience he had left after his conversation with Abraxas.

"When I left school—" he began through gritted teeth, but she was already waving a dismissive hand.

"All these points in time are arbitrary. Why would your parents want to leave the home they've occupied for decades before they were ready to do so? Even our wedding is an arbitrary event in this matter. The task of running the Manor is a huge responsibility, for both of us. And we hardly know one another yet. I think it may actually be beneficial to spend time together while we're under fewer demands before we—"

"And what would you know about demands?" he sneered, refilling his glass and crossing the room to sit across from her. "The youngest daughter of an ancient line, what whims weren't handed to you on a platter, my dear? And I'm no hypocrite—" he took a swig of his drink, "we were both raised with certain privileges, but it's my responsibility to handle Malfoy family investments and financial growth, deal with politics and prevent Muggle-loving fools from ruining the Ministry, orchestrate alliances with other Pureblooded families around the globe— and what do you do? Manage the elves and throw parties? Have tea and gossip? Give me an heir at some point in the future? Must be terribly demanding to be Narcissa Black."

For a long moment after he finished speaking she simply stared at him, her face inscrutable. Whether this was because she had no response or, like him, was unwilling to reveal any vulnerable truths this early in their relationship, he could not say.

"If you don't mind, Mr. Malfoy, I'd like to go rejoin our families. I was hoping to get to know more about my husband-to-be, and I think I've seen enough." She began to rise, but Lucius held up a hand.

"I do mind. Sit down, I'm not finished. Drink your tea."

She complied, though her noticed her fingertips trembled. Was she about to cry? he wondered, with a feeling somewhere between revulsion and fascination. The set of her jaw, however, indicated a suppressed rage rather than stifled tears. He felt a thrill of hot exhilaration dart though him at the possibilities of this fact. His irritation began to slip away, replaced instead by a devious urge to see if she possessed the famous Black temper that her sister wore so proudly. So far she'd done a much better job at concealing it than Bellatrix ever had, but he wondered how far he could push before she cracked.

"We should lay out some ground rules," he smirked, sinking back into his chair. He slung one arm around its back, and rested his left ankle upon his right knee. She regarded his change in tone and relaxed posture with suspicion. Narcissa remained rigidly perched on the edge of the settee.

"I think the ground rules are laid out in our Bonds," she murmured coolly, finishing her tea and peering thoughtfully at the remaining leaves.

"Don't tell me you put any store in divination," Lucius queried with a derisive chuckle, taking a drink from his own glass and lazily swirling the amber liquid.

"Tasseography is a fallible branch of magic," she admitted, still frowning slightly at the leaves and rotating the cup clockwise, "but it never hurts to get hints of what may come to pass."

"Rodolphus and I are playing cards tonight with some associates— tell me, should I fold or call?"

Ignoring his snide comment, she turned the cup a final time. "A dragon," she announced at last. "Not that that tells us anything we don't already know."

"A dragon— let me guess, foretells a long and happy marriage?"

"No. It simply portends great and sudden change. Whether those changes are for the best… well, I'd need another cup of tea."

"Then by all means," he gestured to the teapot, and summoned the decanter of scotch as well. "Are you sure it isn't an eagle?" he ventured nonchalantly as he poured. She glanced up in surprise, a reluctant smile twitching at the corner of her lips.

"'Honour and riches through change of residence,'" she quoted from memory. "According to the ancient Highland seers, anyway, which is what is generally taught at Hogwarts. Although I could see you favoring the Greek interpretations as well. I thought you didn't care for the practice?"

"I said I don't put any store in it," he corrected with a half grin of his own, "not that I failed the classes. Did you know the first Lucius Malfoy, my namesake, used to scry for the Muggle Queen Elizabeth I? Not that that means he had an affinity for it, none of the Malfoy men have been known Seers, but even the most elementary of spells would have seemed incredible to a Muggle."

"I think I had heard that story," she was smiling in earnest now. "Many have thought that he was an unsuccessful suitor to the queen, and a jinx by his hand the reason she never married?"

It was the wrong thing to say. His face grew immediately serious once more. "That has never been confirmed— neither that he was a suitor, nor that a subsequent curse was cast. More than likely she was merely an intolerable Muggle and he eventually ceased performing for her once he was past novelties of youth. As for why she never wed, there is a multitude of explanations that do not involve magic. If you intend to become a part of this family, you would do best not to slander it."

"I didn't mean that," she insisted quickly, her smile sliding away at once. "It's just an old story, I wasn't slandering anyone—"

"Oh, and do you appreciate hearing the story of, say, Phineas Black recited to you? The brilliant duelist who, if I recall correctly, risked the exposure of our kind in order to save countless Muggle lives during their Great War?"

"He was disowned for his actions," replied Narcissa hotly, any hint of apology gone.

"Yes, disowned," Lucius mused, before adding viciously, "Just like your sister Andromeda."

Her eyes widened and she flew to her feet. He rose as well, expression burning with victory. "How dare you—"

"Narcissa, dear, there you two are!" The door to the study opened and Cygnus Black entered, followed by his wife and Mrs. Malfoy. "And having tea, how lovely." Lucius's glass of scotch had conveniently vanished.

"I hope you two have been getting on well," Druella added, though she was appraising her daughter's balled fists and tense pose with disapproval. "But it's almost time for supper. Narcissa, please come upstairs with me, you need to dress."

"Yes Mother," she managed, still glaring at her fiancé. "I'm so glad we were able to spend this time together, Mr. Malfoy. It would have been such a shame to enter matrimony not knowing the character of my new husband."

He bowed his head in mock gentility. "Miss Black, the pleasure was all mine."

"I never said anything about pleasure," she hissed under her breath as he bent to kiss her hand. Once straightened, Lucius did not release her; instead, he pulled her forward so her could lean in a whisper without their parents overhearing:

"That's why I said it was all mine, darling," he purred, his lips brushing against her ear. "Get used to it."

Saturday, 21 February 1976

When Lucius arrived in response to his calling, the house was already silent and dark, the front door hanging ajar. He swore under his breath and entered cautiously, wand drawn.

"Homenum revelio," he whispered, revealing that the only human presence was in the back of the house, down a narrow corridor and to the right. He moved forward silently, towards the crackling and popping of burning wood, and glow coming from the parlour. He held his wand at the ready, shoulders squared and chin lofted, body turned to offer his opponent the smallest possible target— he had been practicing dueling since before he'd had a wand, and his form was immaculate by nature. However when he turned into the room at last, he faltered.

"What in Merlin's name do you think you're doing?" Lucius hissed incredulously. He was hardly a stranger to violence and chaos, but the scene before him was a bizarre one. Rodolphus sat in an armchair before a blazing fire, dressed opulently in midnight blue velvet robes embellished with gold braid and brass buttons, smoking a cigar held lazily between two fingers. Beside him on a cocktail table rested the box whence it came, and a decanter of rich golden liquid. Next to that, the severed head of a Muggle man in a pool of gore. His body lay on the opposite end of the room, and the corpses of what could only be his family was strewn, mutilated and in pieces, around the den. Lucius never objected to a bit of Muggle baiting for sport, but at the end of the day liked to finish things neatly. Rodolphus, on the other hand, preferred to kill and torture Muggles in ways they could better comprehend, with knives and his own two hands rather than the Cruciatus Curse— that spell he generally saved for fellow wizards. Based on the state of disheveled, partial-undress that the Muggle's wife was in, Rodolphus had used more than a knife on her. Lucius averted his eyes distastefully, hoping he had at least had the decency to kill the children first. Probably not.

"Cubans," Rodolphus offered by way of explanation, gesturing with the cigar. "Want one?"

"Have you gone mad? Cast the Mark and let's get out of here."

"Now now, I was pulled away from a perfectly lovely evening at the symphony for this. I should at least be allowed to enjoy myself here a bit longer. They won't let me reseat until intermission, you know," he finished with mock earnestness.

Lucius rolled his eyes, and turned towards the door. "I'm leaving."

"Ah, not so fast." Something awry in his friend's tone caused him to pause. "We're not quite finished here."

"Oh?" Lucius snapped impatiently. "If you don't want to cast the Mark—" he began to raise his wand but Rodolphus was shaking his head and chuckling.

"That's not what I meant. I saved one for you."

"Saved…?" Lucius began, but his eyes were already following Rodophus's gaze to the corner of the room. There, for the first time, he noticed a child of no more than five years, standing as if a statue; only his wide, darting eyes moved at all. "Had to Petrify him, did you? Couldn't subdue him on your own?" Well, so much for hoping he'd taken care of the children first. The boy was frozen but otherwise physically unscathed. His cheeks were wet; his tears had cut pale streaks though the blood of his parents and siblings that Rodolphus had smeared over his face.

"You were late, and I didn't think I should get to have all the fun."

Lucius rolled his eyes again and with a slash of his wand and flash of green light, the boy collapsed into a motionless heap. Rodolphus took a long pull directly from the decanter.

"You're a bore," he accused. "And what were you so late for, anyway?"

"I was… in the middle of something."

"Narcissa?" he guessed leeringly. Lucius rolled his eyes.

"Are we done here now?"

"I am," Rodolphus sprang to his feet and tossed his cigar on the carpet, where it began to smolder menacingly. "You aren't. Cast the Mark and then Apparate to Knockturn Alley. He wants to talk to you."

Lucius nodded tersely. Rodolphus grinned and, with an earsplitting crack, disappeared.

Openly repulsed and secretly apprehensive, Lucius took a moment to compose himself before raising his wand. "Morsmordre," he murmured and vanished as well, albeit without a sound.

Chapter Text

Sunday, 22 February, 1976

Lucius wasn't home until daybreak the next morning. He was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to sink into his bed and sleep though the day, though that was a luxury that had not been permitted to him since he was ten years old and had caught a mild bout of Vanishing Sickness. With a great sigh, he retrieved his traveling satchel from the top shelf of his wardrobe and began to wearily shove necessities inside. This mission required more than the basics; he would have to descend to the basement to see what valuables from antiquity might be stored there. He hoped he would not have to stop by the Manor to explore its vast catacombs for something suitable, but feared it might be inevitable.

"Dobby," he snapped, and the elf appeared at once. "Go to the cellar and see if you can find anything related to Norse mythology or… I don't know, pre-Saxon armor or weaponry?" The elf bobbed its head and vanished at once. However, Lucius doubted the search would be fruitful; surely such objects would be kept at the Manor if available, and he did not know that he possessed the energy to argue with his father and convince him to divest of them.

After packing, he headed gratefully towards the shower. He needed to parse out precisely the route he would take, estimate the time and devise a strategy, and he began plotting possibilities as he stood beneath the steam jet of water.

When he had arrived in Knockturn Alley hours before, the Dark Lord had found him almost at once. As Rodolphus had alluded to several days previously, he began to question Lucius on his Swedish heritage— questions that had made Lucius's blood run cold. His mother's grandfather, a man of a strong and Pure bloodline, had fallen madly in love with a famously beautiful and clever ingenue, said to be the loveliest witch of her generation. Because of her fame, it was difficult, once the pair had wed, to fully suppress the commonly-known information that she was a Halfblood— while both of her parents were of magical decent, her father's mother had been a Muggle. This was certainly not a fact that the Malfoy family advertised, but it was the most recent non-magical stain in Lucius's ancestry, and he avoided the topic at all costs.

Fortunately, this had not been the reason for the questions. The Dark Lord sought allies among the Volsung, an ancient race of near-human beings, famed primarily as warriors. Lucius's family history made him an ideal candidate to seek them out, and he had been instructed to head north at once.

Lucius was feeling considerably refreshed after his shower, and rather peckish. He was pondering whether to pack food and set out immediately or have breakfast when a new thought occurred to him suddenly— Narcissa. An unavoidable inconvenience. He pulled on plain black robes, of lesser quality than he would normally don, and hurried downstairs. His wife was already eating, and regarded him icily as he sank into his seat. The Daily Prophet had been ironed and laid neatly beside his plate as he preferred (when had she asked the elves to start doing that?), but for once he did not touch it. She cast a scathing eye over his strangely poor attire but said nothing, instead reaching for a scone.

"I need you to do something for me," he spoke abruptly, the idea forming in his mind even as the words left his lips. She narrowed her eyes.

"Oh?" she replied coolly, arching one brow and taking a sip of tea.

Lucius didn't have time to acknowledge her snide attitude; in fact he'd all but forgotten their exchange the previous evening. "I need you to go to the Manor right away. Tell my mother…" he paused, wondering what reason she could possibly give to delve into Malfoy artifacts. "Wagner!" Lucius exclaimed suddenly. Narcissa blinked at him, nonplussed.

"Tell your mother 'Wagner'?" she echoed disdainfully. Lucius was already shaking his head in impatience.

"No, no, tell my mother that you want to see any pieces in the archives that might have to do with Wagner's Ring cycle. She knows of your great love of opera, does she not?" He was unable to keep the derisive edge from his tone in respect to what he considered to be a rather frivolous interest.

"We've discussed it," she set her teacup down cautiously. "But what for?"

"You needn't know. Just bring back whatever she shows you to my study here." Lucius almost allowed himself a self-satisfied smirk at his own duplicity. Narcissa, however, was frowning.

"Must I go now, or might I finish my breakfast?"

"Well… alright then, finish your breakfast. But don't delay."

She nodded stiffly. "Dobby!" she called, and the house elf appeared at once. "Please inform the lady of the Manor that I will be visiting shortly." The elf bobbed in a low bow of acknowledgement and vanished promptly.

"Ah, women and their social niceties," drawled Lucius. "How the world would fall apart without them. When you get to the Manor, focus your collecting on… the content of the opera," he added.

"Perhaps you could tell me what I am looking for," she suggested flatly, clearly unamused by the cryptic nature of his request.

"The less you know the better." He stood up, hardly having eaten anything. "I'll be in my study when you return."

An hour later, Lucius was pacing and beginning to regret his decision to send his wife on such an important errand. Likely she was gossiping with his mother over a plate of biscuits— what did she know of urgency? It was not yet ten o'clock, so he wasn't running late per se, but he had already mapped his course and browsed and packed several books with background information to read on his journey. He was considering flooing to the Manor when there was a knock on his study door at last.

"Come in!" he called impatiently. The door opened and an antique trunk levitated into view, followed by his wife. "Put it over there," he continued hurriedly, gesturing to the rug before the fireplace and picking up his rucksack. She complied without a word and stood back silently, waiting for his evaluation.

He kicked open the trunk and began to rummage through its contents. Most of it was quite useless and he mumbled as much under his breath as he threw aside a handful of playbills, four records, several biographical tomes, and an oil painting with hardly a glance. However, at the bottom, he found several items much closer to what he had had in mind.

A worn and tarnished silver figurine of a woman holding a shield and sword could only be an early representation of a Valkyrie. It seemed to be fashioned into some sort of pendant, and perhaps had once been worn as jewelry. This his deposited into his bag, and kept looking, tossing some old photographs out of the way. An ancient-looking goblet with runic inscriptions looked promising as well, although when he lifted it, he felt a familiar hum of Dark magic upon it.

"It turns the contents to poison," Narcissa offered by way of explanation. "Enchanted by völvas sometime in the late 700's."

He nodded, and this went in with the silver figure. He held up a gold ring next, not especially intricate but comprised of twisting bands.

"You mother said that had been in her family for a millennium, but she isn't entirely certain of the details."

Lucius tossed it in the bag as well without comment. It would serve a better purpose on his mission than collecting dust in storage. He reached at last for what was clearly the prize of the haul, and held it to the light to better inspect it.

The metal, riveted helmet had blackened with age, but it felt warm in his hands and shone dully in the late morning sun. He was at once possessed with an almost overwhelming urge to put it on- something he knew would not only look utterly foolish but was also likely to be incredibly dangerous. He resisted the desire, turning it over in his hands to see what he could make of the interior. It was covered entirely within with tiny etched runes, hundreds or perhaps a thousand giving the metal a ridged texture. In spots they were worn away, which he suspected was why the item was safe to handle with bare hands.

"A Berserker helmet," Narcissa spoke softly, her gaze fixed upon him carefully. He realized her wand was drawn, likely ready to blast the artifact from his grip should he succumb to its temptations. Not an unwise precaution, but he was nettled that she thought he would be so easily susceptible. "It drives any who wear it into a frenzied bloodlust, and gives them remarkable protection from both physical and magical attacks. The wearer can only be stopped once the helmet is removed by an external force... or killed."

"What's that?" he jerked his chin in her direction, setting the helmet down. She had something behind her back, and seemed to be inching towards the door.

"It's… nothing. It doesn't have anything to do with all this," she gestured towards the trunk. He realized she had carefully collected and tidied the items he had carelessly tossed aside as rubbish. "I saw it and asked… well, when your mother told me what it was, I had the notion that you might like it, but I was just being… sentimental, I suppose. Foolish."

He held out his hand and looked up at her expectantly. With a small, perhaps embarrassed sigh, she produced an gleaming ebony cane. She hesitated before handing it over, as though she already regretted bringing it to him in the first place and now wished not to part with it.

"It was a gift from my great-great-grandfather, Phineas Nigellus Black, to your great grandfather, Augustus Malfoy, sometime around 1880, for services rendered in the south of Africa. A Confundus charm to a Major-General that resulted in significant Muggle casualties in the Boer War, including some bothersome landowners. It's supposed to be imbued with powerful anti-jinxes but she didn't know all the details."

It was an elegant walking stick, with a silver snakehead and two glinting emeralds set in the metal as its eyes. Lucius turned it over curiously but did not have time to stop and examine it; he set it on a side table and rose to his feet.

"I'll look at it later," he told her dismissively. "Right now I have somewhere else I need to be."

"Where are you off to?" she prompted. She withdrew a handkerchief to pick up the Berserker helmet without allowing her bare skin to make contact. With a wide and innocent gaze, she helpfully added it to his bag and offered it to him. Lucius's eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"It's none of your concern. I should be back within a week. Maybe two." He snatched the bag from her outstretched hands and swung it over his shoulder, turning towards the door.

"A week!" she echoed, all traces of falsely-sweet curiosity evaporating at once. "And what in Merlin's name am I supposed to tell anyone who might come looking for you?" she hissed, following him out of the study and into the foyer.

"No one will bother asking you, darling wife. And if they do you can simply say I'm gone on business. Or a family emergency. Or shacked up with a mistress in Avignon. Frankly I don't care, and the further it is from the truth the better, so feel free to be creative."

Her pale cheeks were flushed and her blue eyes flashed dangerously and she trailed close behind him as he opened the front door.

"And if you don't return after two weeks?" she demanded furiously. Lucius sighed and fought the urge to roll his eyes.

"Then you wait, say nothing, and continue to make excuses until you hear otherwise. But you needn't tell anyone anyone that I've left, and no one will ask you. Live on as normal." He had known that cohabitation might bring this issue to a head, but the sooner she became accustomed to blissful ignorance, the better. Lucius glanced back at her, and couldn't resist an insolent half-grin at her livid expression. "What, no kiss goodbye? I'll be back soon enough, and we can pick up right where we left off last night."

Narcissa lofted her chin and gave him her haughtiest look of disdain before turning on her heel and marching back into the house. Lucius chuckled as he closed the door behind him, and Disapparated with a small pop.

Wednesday, 25 February, 1976

On the rocky knoll, a figure stood alone. He was cloaked in black and unmoving; this, Lucius was sure, must be the contact he had been told to seek. Still he proceeded with caution, his fingers resting on the wand in his pocket. When he reached the other man at last, he surveyed him carefully. The man was perhaps thirty five or forty, with black hair and a thin mustache. He had heavy brows and a weak chin; when he opened his mouth to speak, his teeth were yellow, despite his youth.

"Your destination?" The other queried, his voice oily.

"The villages of the sky," Lucius answered tersely. "Your quarry?"

"The sons of Odin," the other man replied with a smile that did not reach his cold blue eyes. Satisfied with the other's answer, they moved on as a pair.

For hours they travelled in silence; both had clearly been given the same directions, as there was no need to discuss their path. The terrain gradually began to shift during the course of the day, growing steeper and rockier though not yet treacherous, as the day passed. By nightfall Lucius estimated that they had walked nearly twenty miles; going without magic was slow, but he was confident they had not been detected. The following day would be more difficult and their path less sure as they traversed the mountains, but with any luck they would find signs of a Volsung village before it grew late.

"We should stop here for the night." Lucius broke the silence at last. They stood before a gneiss outcropping that would provide some shelter, and hide any signs of their encampment. They dropped their belongings and began to gather wood for a fire. Lucius allowed his companion to build it as he pulled a map from his bag in order to search for their precise location. It had long been dark; they were close to, if not past the edge of the arctic circle, and the sun dipped from view in the early afternoon. At the sound of a click he glanced up; the man was using a small rectangle to produce a flame at the base of the kindling.

"Muggle gadget," the man explained with a distasteful shrug. "But we can't risk using magic and I don't intend to rub sticks together for an hour trying to get a smolder in this wind."

Lucius did not reply; he folded the map and returned it to his sack, withdrawing rations that could be cooked in the primitive method available to them. They ate in silence, as Lucius carefully ignored the inquisitive glances and overtures from his traveling partner. After the food was cleared away, however, it seemed that the other man could keep hold his tongue no longer.

"You're very young to be in service to the Dark Lord."

Lucius bristled. "There are many much younger than I who follow him."

"Of course," he agreed quickly. "My name is Igor Karkaroff," offered the other man, with what Lucius assumed he thought to be a solicitous smile. Lucius said nothing, merely stoking the fire and watching the resulting shower of sparks. "It's been years since I've visited the north country, but I was born here. I grew up mostly back and forth between Denmark and Ukraine— Scotland while I was in Hogwarts, of course. I did an advanced study program at Durmstrang in Dark Artifacts, and I've made a living on that in Constantinople for the past decade."

Lucius nodded in acknowledgement, but remained silent. He leaned back onto his elbow and produced a silver flask from a hidden pocket in his robes, taking a long pull before offering it to his companion. Karkaroff accepted it gratefully, but didn't immediately take a drink. Instead, he raised his brows curiously at the obvious quality of the flask— the weight and luster revealed it to be solid silver. Lucius was glad to have left the one engraved with the Malfoy crest at home. At last Karkaroff took a swig and handed it back.

"And what about you?" he asked.

"I also attended Hogwarts," Lucius replied succinctly. Karkaroff paused expectantly, but Lucius took another drink and said no more.

"At least tell me what I should call you?" he pressed. Lucius sighed and pulled his cloak around him, laying down and closing his eyes.

"Call me whatever you'd like, I'm going to sleep."

The Volsung had emerged suddenly and violently in Northern Europe less than a thousand years after the start of the common era; one of the first records of magic in the Western world, and certainly more powerful than anything that had come before in Europe. Almost as swiftly as they appeared, opposing factions had risen to put their leaders and most prominent members to a brutal end. This story was one that everyone knew; it had shaped even Muggle history, but history had a way of recording only momentous events: marriages, funerals, births— legitimate births, not the the births of a hundred bastards born to ten dead sons. But the bloodline had remained, away from the eye of history, living the old ways primarily in Sweden. A thousand years of isolation and interbreeding had created a specie of something other— where perhaps the Volsung had once been no more than powerful wizards, now, like the Veela, they had become something else; though unlike the Veela, they did not embrace the curiosity of the masses. They remained sequestered, removed from society. Occasionally, perhaps once a generation, a Volsung would appear at Durmstrang, to keep abreast of recent developments, or perhaps to remind the rest of the world that the clan remained. In this way it was known that they still thrived, but few attempted to venture near the famed warriors in their homelands.

Warriors, however, were precisely what the Dark Lord needed.

The following day, they set off before first light. As Lucius had anticipated, the path soon grew hazardous; though the mountains here were not tall, they were often steep and icy. They did not pause to admire the sweeping views of fjords and glaciers, but instead studied the terrain for signs of magic and life. The temperature dropped steadily throughout the morning despite the rising sun, and Lucius privately doubted that, if they did not find their quarry before nightfall, they would be able to survive another night without warming spells. Using magic in this remote of an area would betray their movements not only to the Volsung but any Swedish Ministry agents watching the area, but he did not intend to freeze to death on this mission and would devise some excuse should they be discovered. However, he needn't have worried— after pulling themselves over a precipitous ridge, they came to a winding path that led to the first sign of intelligent life they had seen in days. An hour more they trekked before reaching a settlement.

The village was far from what Lucius has expected, but he did not doubt they had found their destination. It was not a simple, woodland hamlet filled with dirty and primitive inhabitants— the only vision he could conjure for a reclusive tribe. This was unlike anything he had ever seen before. The individual dwellings they passed were crafted of a glass-like substance, each morphing and conforming to the mountainside. It was impossible to see within, and the reflective surfaces echoed the stones and trees of the surrounding area, providing camouflage even from passing wizards, and almost certainly fully hidden from Muggles. As far as he could tell, they did not have entrances. A soaring archway of etched silver ushered them into what could only be the main thoroughfare. Lucius paused for a moment to glance at the complicated network of patterns and runes that were carved into the surface of the metal. A few he could recognize as protective enchantments, but most were entirely unfamiliar. He turned to look ahead, where a vast structure rose before them, domed like the overturned belly of a great seafaring vessel. It was fabricated from the same glistening as the smaller dwellings they had seen as they approached, punctuated with vertically arcing beams of smooth spruce. It was set in a clearing and reflected the sky, with a large, carved wooden door set on one end. As they moved through the arch, Lucius realized that the door was set with precious gems. Once the pair had reached the great hall, a low, mournful horn began to sound. The bejeweled door opened at once, and a figure stepped out to meet them. As if by Apparation, the Volsung began to appear— he realized they were stepping out of the dwellings as though the walls were no more solid than water.

Lucius supposed the women might pass as human, but only just. The shortest among them were still at least six feet tall, but the tallest men he estimated to be closer to eight. To an individual they were pale and blonde, with tones ranging from nearly-white flaxen to deep golden. Their eyes were light as well, some blue, grey, and green but many varying shades of violet, all the more stark as their fairness rendered their brows nearly invisible at a glance. Perhaps most unsettling was their mouths- deep crimson slashes, and when they spoke, blood-red gums and unnaturally white teeth were revealed. Some carried wands, crude but powerfully made, while others grasped staffs or spears that Lucius could see were made of wand-quality wood and he suspected held magical cores. The man who had come forth to greet them must be their leader; the ones that were not watching the intruders carefully glanced to him as though awaiting direction.

To his dismay, when the leader spoke, it was in a language completely unfamiliar to him.

"Svenska?" Lucius inquired hopefully in his mother's native tongue. After a moment, the Volsung nodded once.

"Ja. What have you come here for?"

"We have come with an offer," he began, and was rather surprised when Karkaroff spoke as well.

"And we come bearing gifts." He addressed the Volsung in Bulgarian, and the leader nodded once more to indicate understanding and a willingness to continue. Lucius was less confident with the language but, considering Durmstrang's prominence in Pureblooded circles, it was also a tongue that he had been taught as a boy.

Karkaroff approached first, and handed what appeared to be a glimmering length of string to the stony figure. "Rope of Gleipnir," he announced, and Lucius craned his neck for a better look as well. The mythic cord was said to be lighter than silk but unbreakable, goblin-forged and nearly impossible to find. There was a murmuring amongst the gathered Volsung, and Lucius stepped forward as well.

"A ring fallen from Draupnir," he announced, handing over the gold ring. After consulting several texts during the journey, he was confident that this was what the artifact long held by his mother's family was; however despite its magical origins, he still felt that his initial offering was inferior to Karkaroff's.

The Volsung chieftain silently handed the gifts to a young man to his left with hardly a glance before turning back to them.

"What are your names? Efternamn? Familno ime?" He repeated his request in both Swedish and Bulgarian.

"Karkaroff," Igor introduced himself first, and then turned to Lucius.

Malfoy would mean little here. "Fager," he spoke his mother's maiden name with simple confidence, and saw a ripple of recognition. Karkaroff perked up too; Lucius supposed he had been overly optimistic in his ability to keep his identity a secret for the entirety of the mission.

"Then you share blood with my kinsmen," he replied, focusing his attention on Lucius alone. "I am Sieghardt." He paused. "It grows late. Return tomorrow at this time if you wish to have discourse." With a nod to those who had come to watch the scene, the speaker led the way back into the hall.

Karkaroff gave Lucius a shrug and turned back the way they had come.

"We should make camp as close to this place as we can," Lucius suggested as they passed back through the arch. "They know we're here now, and our magic should be masked by theirs if we don't stray too far."

"Should we not put some distance between us and those spears? What if they seek to kill us in the night?"

Lucius shook his head. "If they'd wanted us dead they had their opportunity. That Muggle flame box is not going to be a match for the temperatures at this altitude."

As they had been bid, Lucius and Igor returned the next day as supper time grew near. Lucius presented the Valkyrie figure and cursed chalice, while Karkaroff offered a cauldron he called Odrorir and claimed would increase the efficacy of any potion brewed in it a hundredfold. This time, the leader did not send them away.

"The journey here is not an easy one; come and eat with us."

Sieghardt gestured that they should follow him into the hall. It was dimmer inside, shaded, but the walls and roof were transparent from within, so the sheer peaks of the Scandes range remained in clear view. The hall was lined with long tables and low benches, but Sighardt motioned that they should walk past these to join him at a table at the head of the vast chamber. The Volsung filed in behind him, taking seats and speaking amongst themselves in the same unfamiliar tongue in which they had been greeted. All were dressed lightly for the season: clearly they did not feel the cold as acutely as a human. Once they were seated, Karkaroff began to speak once more.

"We are here on a mission of—" Immediately, Sieghardt held up a hand to silence him.

"First, we eat." At his word, figures entered the hall bearing large trays laden with food, and began to place them before those who were seated. Though tall, Lucius was surprised to see that it was unmistakably children who served them.

"You make servants of the young?" Karkaroff queried, and the question was met with several derisive chuckles.

"No. These are our children. All must learn to live as equal here, for we have none other but our own kind."

"Once this was not the case," Lucius ventured carefully. "Once you had conquered peoples to serve you."

"And once Jörmungandr encircled the seas and Odin walked among men," Sieghardt replied stonily. "And once our forefathers were slaughtered out of fear and ignorance and we have survived here ever since." He signaled someone from one of the long tables below, and a young man rose and approached them. Lucius recognized him as the same individual that had stood behind Sieghardt the day before and taken their gifts.

"This is my cousin, Albrekt. He is your cousin too, Fager." He nodded in Lucius's direction.

"Kusin," Albrekt bowed his head, and Lucius inclined his in greeting as well. Whatever features they might have shared through his mother's blood had long been overtaken by Volsung characteristics, except for one: the pale jade eyes that stared back at him were precisely the same shade as those of the woman who had birthed him. Still, it was not a feature they shared- Lucius had inherited his father's grey gaze.

"Albrekt has graciously offered his home for your stay while you are among us," Sieghardt continued, and then waved another man forward. "This is Malfred," he explained to Karkaroff, switching easily from Swedish to Bulgarian for the other man's benefit. "Malfred's grandfather visited Durmstrang years ago; he knows your language well and he is interested to hear your tales. You will stay with him."

Lucius kept his expression neutral at this announcement. He did not particularly enjoy the company of his traveling companion, but it did not bode well that the Volsung intended to separate them. Karkaroff seemed to have the same thought and shot Lucius an uneasy look that he pretended not to see.

After the remnants of the meal were cleared away, Karkaroff again tried to steer the conversation towards their purpose, but was cut off once more. Instead, more ale was passed around, and entertainment for the evening was brought forth in the form of music.

Despite the invitation to dine, it was clear that the Volsung were not going to hear their proposal this night. After the singing subsided, Lucius and Karkaroff, somewhat grudgingly, each followed their hosts to their respective abodes.

They did not melt through the walls, as Lucius had seen them emerge; instead, they entered a tunnel into the mountain, with fairly standard entrances, somewhat like a long corridor in a modern apartment building, with flats off to each side.

At a branch in the corridor, the two Death Eaters had no choice but to go separate ways. Lucius went silently with Albrekt to his dwelling, and though he couldn't be certain, suspected they were deep in the mountain. A large mantle and fireplace dominated the main room, and a woman was bent over a cauldron there.

"This is my wife, Öda."

Lucius bowed his head, not entirely sure how one greeted a female Volsung. The society seemed relatively egalitarian, so he doubted that he would easily offend. Still, it was best to be cautious, and he did not speak until Albrekt continued.

"Öda, meet my kinsman, Fager."

"That is not his name," Öda replied dismissively, with hardly a glance in their direction as she stirred whatever was brewing over the fire. The two men tensed at once, and Albrekt turned accusingly. Lucius's hand rested in his pocket, but he did not yet draw his wand.

"She is right," Lucius admitted at last, warily. "My mother is a Fager, but it is not my name."

"Bad faith," Öda spoke again, turning to stare at him with pale lilac eyes. He dipped his head in careful acknowledgement at the translation of his surname, but she continued, "one only lies in bad faith."

"I did not mean to mislead," he continued carefully, "I only meant to give the name that would have the most meaning here."

"Öda is not a Seer," Albrekt explained, moving beside his wife to lay a protective hand on her shoulder. "She simply Sees things... more clearly. Not what will come to pass, but what is." He paused. "Do you have a wife?"

"Yes," Lucius replied, at the same moment Öda gave a dismissive, "No."

Albrekt glanced between them, and Öda gave him a knowing look before turning back to her potion once more.

The last thing Lucius needed was another scathing commentary on his relationship with Narcissa. "It has been a long journey- is there somewhere can I rest?"

"Through here," Albrekt gestured him into a small alcove that, by the looks of it, was used for storage when not filled with furs, piled high into a makeshift bed.

"Is there another name I should call you?" he asked as Lucius dropped his bag and shrugged off his cloak. As he kicked off his boots, Lucius shook his head.

"Fager works as well as any other title."

"Malfoy!" Öda called helpfully from the hearth, causing Lucius to scowl.

"Ja," he conceded, "Malfoy. That all-knowing perception must be a constant pleasure," he added, jerking his head in the direction from which her voice had come. Albrekt spread his hands as though to indicate helplessness.

"She is not always so attuned. The magic she is working on now- it helps her vision, while she conjures it. It-" he broke off suddenly, clearly unwilling to share any more. He called to his wife in what Lucius supposed was the same language Sieghardt had first addressed them upon arriving, and though the words she replied in were foreign to him, the irritated tone was not.

And she says I don't have a wife, he mused bitterly.

"I bid you rest well this night," Albrekt continued in Swedish once more. "And in the morrow, perhaps you can tell us why you have come."

Lucius woke at dawn the next day, but knew that, because of their latitude, it was much later than he was used to rising. Or at least, it seemed to be dawn; the residence lay deep within the mountains, with no access to natural light, yet the space was suffused with a golden glow that signified the rising sun. An enchantment, he supposed.

Though he ate breakfast with Öda and Albrekt, he was permitted to rejoin with his companion shortly thereafter. There was little to report after the night of separation, and the pair was largely ignored as Volsung went about their daily routines. When it came time for supper, however, they were summoned into the hall once more. Before eating commenced, Karkaroff produced his third and last gift to lay before Sieghardt.

"This is Hrotti, a sword of great power from Fafnir's hoard." The slaying of the legendary Norwegian Ridgeback Fafnir was as integral to the history of the Volsung as Thor or Odin. "Siegfried himself, one of the first of your brethren, has laid his hand upon this sword," Karkaroff continued, his head bowed. It was undoubtedly a treasure of great historical significance; Lucius, however, knew his own contribution was of far greater magical power. However, he did not yet place it forward.

The meal passed much as the one the night before, with children serving and a steady pour of ale for all attendees. However after the plates were cleared, no bards came forth; instead, Sieghardt turned to the two outsiders and asked at last:

"Tell us, then, strangers. Why have you come all this way? Why seek us out?"

"Perhaps you have heard of the Dark Lord's growing power in the South?" Lucius began broadly. Sieghardt waved his hand in a vague gesture as though to remind them of the surrounding mountains.

"We keep to ourselves and know little of the world beyond."

"A wise decision— your kind has been demonized by the non-magical masses, and hunted since even before the Statute of Secrecy. But the sorcerer we represent wants to bring an end to not only your persecution, but the suppression of all magical beings. There is no denying that what you have built here is impressive, but what if you were able to expand? What if that expansion was not viewed as an act of aggression, subject to non-magical resistance but also governmental censure, but a natural right?" Carefully, certain he had captured his audience's attention, Lucius reached into his bag and brought forth his final offering: the Berserker helmet. A soft murmuring filled the hall, but he kept his eyes locked upon Sieghardt's. "Yours is a warrior nation. It has been such since Odin walked the earth. The time to fight has come once more."

Chapter Text

Tuesday, 2 March, 1976

Lucius was back in England by early afternoon, but stopped first at the Manor. It was easier to approach without attracting attention than the London house, though his parents' curious assessment of his disheveled state when he arrived in such a fashion was a constant irritation. Just a few more months, he reminded himself, as he grudgingly buckled to his mother's heavy-handed hints that he should stay for supper.

It was nearly nine in the evening by the time he flooed back to the city. The first thing he saw when he stepped into his study was a mound of parchments— a week of unanswered post awaiting his reply. With a long-suffering sigh, he poured himself a drink, sat down at his desk, and pulled out a quill.

About an hour later, he heard soft footsteps approach the door, pause, and then continue up the stairs. He'd forgotten to let Narcissa know that he had returned, but he supposed she was a bright enough witch to see the light under the door and make the connection herself.

After another half hour he was still far from finishing, but he had at least managed to sort through all the letters and scratch off replies to the most urgent ones. The rest could wait until the following day, and he seemed to recall that he had unfinished business with his wife. When he reached her bedroom, he saw with some satisfaction that she was still up with a book.

"Oh, hello." Her tone was higher than normal, and aloof. Clearly she was going to make him fight for the intimacy they had brushed before his hasty departure. He sighed and settled into the chair before her desk; with a gesture, a house elf appeared with a drink for him. He accepted it, and watched her carefully. "My darling wife." If only he could say the words without drenching them in sarcasm. "Reading anything of interest?"

Narcissa stared at him for a long, inscrutable moment. "Mais Où Sont Mes Mains?" she responded at last. Lucius made a face of distaste.

"Malecrit? I had a tutor that forced his plays into the syllabus, but I didn't think anyone read Malecrit by choice."

"I do," she replied tersely. "But if you do not wish to discuss 15th century political satire, perhaps we could instead discuss where you've been for the past week?"

"No, no," Lucius waved the suggestion off. "Let's talk about Malecrit. Personally I found Mais Où Sont Mes Mains? to lack the subtlety of his earlier work."

"I suppose his only earlier work you've read is Hélas, Je me suis Transfiguré Les Pieds, and I suspect you've only read both in translation," she sniffed haughtily. Lucius narrowed his eyes.

"And so what if that is the case?"

"Well, Hélas is the most famous of his works and has been translated many more times and with far greater attention to detail than any of his other plays. Although of course you miss something in both by reading them in translation, you miss far more in Mes Mains." Her tone was matter of fact, which only served to irritate him further.

"Yes, well—" he set his empty glass down with a satisfying thump and rose to his feet. "Some of us have more important things to concern ourselves with than long-dead social critics who cling to the robe hems of decent people by way of satire."

"What sort of things?" she queried slyly, but Lucius dismissed the inquiry once more by saying:

"Nothing so tediously academic, I can assure you." He tossed his robe aside, but was still mostly dressed by the time he reached her bedside. She was sitting straight up and staring at him, her blue eyes hard and demanding.

"What did you do with the Norse artifacts?" she tried again, clearly unwilling to be deterred. Her gaze stayed locked onto his face as he began to unbutton his shirt in easy, languid movements.

"An expert on French satirists perhaps, but hasn't anyone ever taught you that it isn't a wife's place to question her husband's decisions?" he drawled, fighting a smirk as her lips tightened with anger. "Move over, I'm tired of talking," he continued arrogantly, kicking off his shoes and dropping his belt to the floor. With no choice but to obey as he was already drawing the coverlet aside, Narcissa shot him a look of utmost disdain before sliding to the opposite side of the mattress, laying down, and turning her head resolutely away from him.

"Now, now," he tutted softly, his hand slipping around her waist, "don't pout," he chided. He expected her to push him away— was rather looking forward to it, in fact— but she instead passively allowed herself to be drawn against his body, her face still turned aside. Lucius frowned and grasped her chin to force her to meet his eye, and this she permitted as well. Her expression was carefully blank, and when he released her jaw, her head fell limply back to the side.

"Narcissa," he growled warningly, his bravado evaporating quickly to be replaced by genuine irritation.

"I thought you didn't want to talk anymore?" she replied mildly. This was true— he tried to kiss her, but was unsurprised when her lips remained still and unresponsive beneath his. If she had fought him, as he had somewhat hoped that she would, he would have been able to reshape her fury into passion— after all, the two were not such dissimilar emotions. But this…

Lucius made a sound of disgust and shoved her away, swinging his legs to the floor and rising quickly. So she could hold a grudge, of course she could, but he could too. He had remonstrated himself. She would need to do more than lie passively back.

She propped herself on her elbows and watched him gather his effects with a cold gaze, but called out sweetly, "good night, husband!" as he slammed the door and stalked to his own bedchamber.

Saturday, 13 March, 1976

At promptly seven thirty in the evening, the fire of Lucius's study glowed emerald, and a young, skinny man stumbled from the flames. Lucius glanced up, uncharacteristically gracious in ignoring his visitor's inelegance.

"Severus, it's good to see you." He rose and extended a warm handshake. "Would you like a drink?"

Severus nodded but did not specify a preference, so Lucius poured him a measure from the already-opened bottle of scotch on the cart. He accepted it without thanks, and sat down near the fire without being invited. Usually these casual breaches of social standards would have rankled Lucius, but something about Severus's utter lack of awareness of niceties forbade censure.

"I pulled some books from the library at the Manor that I think you'll enjoy," he began, taking a seat as well. "Magick Most Evile, Moste Potent Potions, some things in the Hogwarts restricted section it might be— ah— inconvenient to have a professor sign off on. Plus Secrets of the Darkest Art, The Banned World— make sure no one sees those or they'll certainly be confiscated— and you mentioned that you'd never read Nature's Nobility, so that's there as well."

Severus dipped his head in acknowledgment, a lock of lank black hair falling across his forehead. "You mentioned in your letter that there was something you wanted to ask me?"

Lucius grinned and took a swig of his drink. "Always straight to the point. Yes, there was something I was hoping you could help me with. There is a certain… promising recruit at Hogwarts, and I think you are best suited to make the initial contact."

"Oh?" replied Snape guardedly, frowning as he continued, "I assume you know I don't exactly have the same... social clout that you had as student." Lucius waved a careless hand.

"I'm not asking you to recruit on a large scale. There's a fourth year boy in Slytherin—"

"Barty Crouch, Jr.?" Severus guessed drily. Lucius arched an eyebrow at the interruption, but nodded nonetheless.

"Is he under some sort of suspicion already? Or has he shown interest?"

"No, but it makes sense. He's exceedingly bright, he's from an old Pureblood family, and his father is a senior member of the Ministry, though there's no love lost between them. I'll speak to him; I think he could be interested. He isn't well-liked— half the house hates him for his father's policies, and his personality doesn't exactly endear him to the rest." Severus took a small sip of his scotch at last. "Barty is… eccentric. Intense."

"We can work with that. Make the initial contact, make sure he's interested, and I'll have one of the Lestranges handle it from there. If anyone can take intense eccentricity and turn it into a productive fanaticism, it will be one of them." Bellatrix, he suspected, would particularly enjoy taking on a protege to mold into an echo of her own wild support of the Dark Lord.

A house elf appeared suddenly between them, bowing low and addressing the floor. "Mistress is wishing me to remind you that dinner is served shortly, Master," it squeaked shrilly. "Dobby is very sorry for interrupting Master and his most esteemed guest—"

"Yes, alright, we'll be there," Lucius snapped, waving it off. "Did you know Narcissa in school?" he asked in a more cordial tone as he rose to his feet. Severus gave an odd, one-shouldered shrug.

"Knew who she was." But of course they wouldn't have spoken— Narcissa had been older, popular, and well-liked, after all. Lucius wondered suddenly what she would think of their guest; she was accustomed to hosting members of the highest social echelons, not misfit teenagers of questionable bloodlines and indecorous habits. Perhaps he should have warned her, but it was too late now.

If Narcissa was not expecting the thin, sallow visitor that slouched into the dining room behind her husband, her expression did not betray her surprise. She glided over with a winning smile and extended her hand, gracefully turning it to fit his palm when he shook it brusquely rather than bowing above it as she was accustomed to being received.

"Severus, what a pleasure to see you again after all these years." Her tone was warm, as though greeting a dear friend. "You must tell me, what's new at Hogwarts these days?"

Having already addressed the matters he needed to discuss with Snape and loath to bring up any sensitive topics in front of his wife, Lucius permitted Narcissa to steer the conversation through the meal, touching lightly on one subject to the next with such skill that even their reclusive companion began to emerge from his shell. She managed to elicit several hesitant smiles and an enthusiastic description of a new potion he was working on, and by dessert a faint flush had appeared on his pale cheeks, likely from the wine that kept replenishing in his goblet.

"I can't believe you're taking ten N.E.W.T level classes, Severus. I took six and still have nightmares about number charts from Arithmancy," Narcissa laughed, waving her wand as she spoke so all the remains of their meal vanished. With a quirk of her wrist, an antique sterling silver coffee service appeared, and began to pour itself neatly into small cups before each of them. "Do you take milk or sugar?"

Severus shook his head, looking bemused. "I can't believe that you're related to Bellatrix," he blurted, then turned red at the incongruous observation. Lucius hid a smirk; he knew the obvious comparison was not one she enjoyed having to address. To her credit, however, Narcissa merely smiled patiently.

"You are not the first to say so," she replied, and opened her mouth to change the topic, but Lucius could not resist commenting as well.

"You only think so because you haven't seen Narcissa lose her temper yet," he goaded, unable to let the fortuitous opportunity to torment her pass by. "If you had, you'd know they are cut from the same cloth."

Narcissa turned her gaze away from Severus and her expression lost every ounce of solicitude she had been demonstrating superlatively all evening. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean," she replied, her tone carefully sweet but eyes piercing. "If you had seen me lose my temper, you would know that it is when my sister and I are at our most dissimilar."

"Of course," Severus interjected awkwardly. "I'm sure you would never, er, fly off the handle the way she is wont to do."

"Indeed," she agreed mildly, but she kept her eyes locked on her husband's, and he was certain that she meant him to understand that, should he ever provoke her to that point, the consequences would be far more severe than one of Bellatrix's frequent rages.

Wednesday, 17 March, 1976

It was several hours after supper when Lucius felt his Mark burn. He had been expecting it for days, and it was with a sense of anticipation that he Disapparated. His mission in Sweden had gone well. Furthermore, he could share the news that the son of an important Ministry official was being recruited at Hogwarts, and Severus Snape had once again proved to be a valuable asset. Though he was young, Lucius suspected that the boy would take the Mark shortly after he came of age.

They had been called to what appeared to be an abandoned attic situated above a busy Muggle street. When he arrived, the Lestranges were already present; Rodolphus and Bellatrix were unmistakable forms even when masked, and it could only be Rabastan hovering at his brother's shoulder. He moved to stand by the trio, and noted that Yaxley and Nott were there as well, recognizable by their low voices as they spoke to one another. Roodwood appeared a moment later, slipping on his mask a moment after arrival, then Crabbe and Goyle. Though shorter by inches than Rodolphus, they were far wider, and shuffled with significantly less grace to their positions. Only a few gaps remained- Evan Rosier, his cousin by marriage, Apparated into view and stood by Rabastan with a nod of greeting to his extended family. Macnair did not materialise; he was still in the north country and must not have been called. Dolohov was last to join them, and the group fell silent as the Dark Lord stepped forth at last to greet them.

"My friends," he spoke softly, turning to look at each of them in turn. His red eyes moved over every face, and he stopped at last before Nott.

"Tell us," he began, "of your efforts at Hogwarts."

"We have two more ready to join our ranks," Nott responded swiftly. "When the term ends in three months, they will take the Mark, should you choose to grant it, my Lord."

"Good. The Mulicber and Avery families are old and Pure, they will do well among our ranks."

Lucius supposed he must be talking about Lettie Avery's younger brother- he hadn't realized that the boy was of age. He did not know the young Mulicber in question, but the boy's father was on the board of St. Mungo's and Lucius had had some communication with him in the past.

The Dark Lord moved on, past Crabbe and Goyle- while the pair were brutal and effective killers from well-known families, they did not possess the intellect for any missions that would require updates.

"Rookwood— how are things at the Ministry?"

"Going smoothly," the other man replied. "Harold Minchum has privately agreed take the on the role of Minister for Magic, though the news won't be made public for at least another week."

A murmuring broke out amongst those assembled at the news, and Lucius felt a surge of satisfaction that his meeting last month with Crouch had not been a waste.

"Good," Voldemort said succinctly, then queried further, "and has he named you as his Advisor?"

Here Rookwood faltered, and the group fell silent once more. "I... I have been promoted to Senior Unspeakable in the Thought division but... no, Minchum gave the role to... to a Half-blood in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes."

There was a pregnant pause. "Which Half-blood?" he inquired silkily. Another beat, and then,

"Marlene McKinnon."

"Marlene McKinnon... is a member of the Order of the Phoenix, is she not?"

Unable to make a sound, Rookwood merely nodded.

"I see. Crucio."

Lucius felt his own anger surge towards the other man. To not only miss the appointment himself, but allow it fall to one of Dumbledore's henchmen? How could he have been so careless? In that moment he felt that Rookwood deserved his punishment and more; the other man's screams were well justified.

After a minute or two, Voldemort moved on, leaving Rookwood gasping on the floor to regather himself. He paused next before Antonin Dolohov. "Speaking of the Order... I have confirmation that Gideon and Fabian Prewett have joined its ranks. You will try once more to persuade them— they would be useful allies— but if your attempt fails, which I suspect it will, kill them both. Take whoever else you need; they are not to be underestimated."

Bellatrix could not suppress a cackle of delight at this statement, while Dolohov bowed his head in acknowledgement. The Lestranges were next.

"You three did well causing destruction in the West End sector in January— however I am told that your good work was credited to some disgruntled Irish Muggles." He smiled unpleasantly. "I suppose you will just have to incite chaos on an even larger scale, until it cannot be ignored."

"Yes, my Lord," Bellatrix breathed eagerly. "Of course, at the first opportunity-"

"That opportunity is tonight," he cut her off. "But we will discuss that in a moment." At last, he had reached Lucius.

"Tell me, Lucius. Do we have new allies coming to fight for the supremacy of magic?"

"We do," Lucius replied confidently. "Even now, at least a dozen Volsung warriors are headed south to join us."

"Good, very good." He nodded slowly, and Lucius continued. "Furthermore, I've identified another potential recruit, still in school, and had Snape reach out to gauge interest. It is early yet, but he is from an old family with connections to very senior positions in the Ministry, in a department we have so far struggled to infiltrate."

"I am glad to hear it. Keep me apprised on the situation if it proves fruitful." Voldemort paused thoughtfully. "And young Snape demonstrates his commitment once again. I must admit, Lucius, I had my doubts when first you brought him to me, but I see now that he can be trusted... perhaps with greater tasks."

Voldemort stepped back, and addressed the group once more. "You are likely wondering why I have brought you to this location. Today is a Muggle holiday; they are celebrating the death of their Saint Patrick. Foul creatures, revelling in the martyrdom of their own kind, by their own kind. You will find many out tonight on this street, drinking... defenceless. But there is more. We are in the town of Wimbourne... a place where, as you all know, wizards have lived side-by-side with Muggles for centuries. Depending on one another. Living harmoniously. Is that what we want? Is that our ambition, my friends?" He stopped. For a long moment, no one moved. "Well? Go!"

Rodolphus led the way with what could only be described as a battle cry. They poured out onto the brightly lit, busy streets, wands drawn and curses flying. For a moment there were the usual shouts of confusion and surprise, which predictably melted into screams of terror. Lucius felt the cold spring air whip his hood back as he slashed his wand in the direction of a fleeing couple- a gash opened on the man's back, and he yelled and tumbled forward. His partner cried out as well, fumbling in confusion and dropping to the ground beside him, scrabbling desperately at the wound as if she could hold the flesh together and stem the flow of blood.

"Expulso!" he shouted, sending the girl flying into the wall behind them- dead or only concussed, he did not wait to find out. His attention was drawn by a fleeing man, and he raised his wand and shouted "Carpe Retractum!" to drag him back, but needn't have bothered: someone had set up a barrier, and the Muggles were unable to flee through the invisible walls that now enclosed either end of the avenue. As they began to realize this, the shrieks increased in intensity, to a fever pitch frenzy. He heard Rodolphus laughing somewhere nearby, and turned to see the other man shoving his fingers into the eye socket of a Muggle to pluck it out. A jet of purple flame scorched past his elbow and he know that Dolohov had found a victim with his favored curse.

"Bombarda Maxima!" Evan Rosier bellowed to his left, and a Muggle girl was suspended in midair for a heartbeat before being blasted into a fine mist that showered Lucius in droplets of blood.

"Expelliarimus!" A voice shouted nearby, and Lucius turned in confusion- who was disarming Muggles? But he saw instead that it was a witch dressed as a Muggle, apparently out with non-magical acquaintances, her eyes huge and panicked.

"Confringo!" Yaxley roared, having spotted her at well, and at such close range Lucius knew the spell would be fatal. A fragment of brick was broken free from the spell and whizzed towards him— he felt it catch and slice his brow. But the true damage had already been done; it seemed she had managed to alert more wizards before attacking, as sudden cracks began to fill the air. The newcomers were not merely local warlocks coming to aid their neighbors, they were Aurors— Lucius recognized John Dawlish and, more concerningly, Frank Longbottom, which surely meant Order members were there or en route as well.

"Out! Out!" boomed Rookwood, before Disapparating with a loud crack. Like Lucius, Augustus would be under strict orders not to risk capture, since both had significantly more value as free men than soldiers in direct combat with Ministry employees who might recognize them. Pulling his hood back up to shield his recognizable hair and firing off one last curse, Lucius vanished as well, reappearing somewhat incautiously on his own front step in London. But no one was watching the house, and even if he'd given them reason to, he was certain no one would dare. He threw open the door with a bang and slammed it shut behind him, flying up the stairs and bursting into his bedroom.

Adrenaline was still coursing through him. He still wanted to fight, to break, to kill, destroy… he slammed his fists against the door of his bedroom, not angry but excited. He couldn't slow his heart rate or catch his breath yet as he impatiently shed his robes and mask. His heart was pounding and he wanted to grab something, break something, throw anything to the ground and watch it shatter. The closest thing he spied was an ornate clock upon the dresser— not even his, he'd never bothered with the decor in this place- and he flung it with satisfaction again the far wall where it shattered and left a sizable dent. Before he could locate a second inanimate victim, however, a voice at the doorway drew his attention.


Her timing couldn't have been worse. He seized Narcissa's arms and threw her against the wall, pressing her body close to his.

"What in Melin's name is going on here?" she hissed, but didn't fight his grip. "I heard—" a moment of hesitation as she took in his state, and then she pressed on, "are you alright?"

The answer to that was debatable.

"Why are you in here, Narcissa?" he growled, dropping his forehead so their faces were inches apart. She stared up at him stubbornly, her chin lofted and eyes narrowed.

"With the noise you're making, I'm surprised half of London isn't in here," she snapped. He snarled and slammed his hands on the door behind her, one one either side of her head. Though she did flinch, her eyes opened after a split second and she glared up at him.

"What exactly do you think you're doing, Lucius Malfoy?"

It was a challenge and he could worship her for issuing it. It was an act of defiance that begged to be acted upon, and he knew at last, the time had come.

He seized her waist and hair and dragged her body against his, crushing his lips to hers and not worrying, for a moment, about winning or propriety or what she wanted. But she wanted this too— she surged back against him and wrapped her thin arms around his neck to drag him closer. But of course she remembered herself in a moment and shoved him away unceremoniously; rejecting his grasp and turning instead towards the mirror above his dressing table. He watched her go to her reflection and tidy her hair, glancing over her shoulder.

He was behind her in an instant. The flesh of her upper arms was soft under his grip as he dragged her upright against his chest. Her dressing gown was distinctly style of the late 19th century— empire waisted and gauzy, diaphanous sleeves mere wisps about her shoulders. He grasped these first, dragging them roughly and shamelessly lower, freeing her bosom and monitoring her reaction carefully in the mirror. She didn't drop her gaze; her large blue eyes were steady and alert and something else— something he was in too much of a hurry to unravel. He tugged the gown lower, past her tiny waist and slim thighs until it was a pool on the floor. She was studying his face carefully; looking for something— perhaps looking to see if this was another one of their battles?

The idea of taking her like this flitted through his mind; bent over his vanity while he forced her to watch. His fingers cruelly gripped her hips as he entertained this notion, forcing her to pitch forward and throw her hands out to steady herself. He rubbed his erection suggestively against her bottom, but changed his mind and returned his grip to her waist instead, all but lifting her off the floor.

Lucius tipped her onto the foot of his bed, grasping one of her ankles and pulling the corresponding leg over his shoulder, wrapping his arm around it to ensure that she was locked in place. Not that she was struggling.

"This has taken a long while, wife," he growled, leaning forward, so his weight pinned her down and her leg curled slightly, pleasingly, to rest against his neck. "No reason to delay any longer, don't you say?"

"You're the one that's been putting it off," she hissed back and suddenly her hands flew up, one to dig her nails into his back and the other to hook in his hair and pull him closer. He kissed her again; langorous and somewhat sloppily this time, only half aware of his mouth as his fingers found his way to the point between them. He moved one finger patiently over the silk fabric of her knickers in teasing exploration. He matched his kiss to the pace, and she began to move against him; he felt her melt. And then squirm. And then finally he felt dampness through the cloth, and dared to venture further. He pushed the fabric aside without altering his pace, but now it was flesh on flesh and she was hot and slick— he bit his lip to mute any sound of appreciation. He was not inexperienced, and he moved his hand to massage precisely where he knew it would be most effective— as if on cue, a soft cry was dragged from her lips and she bucked her hips up beneath his caress. He chuckled low in the back of his throat, amused and aroused.

"It'll hurt, you know," he warned softly, even as he continued to move his hand in warm, focused strokes. She nodded quickly and jaggedly.

"That's what I've heard." She was panting now, arching up against his palm each time he pushed a finger inside of her. "I think I can handle it."

"Oh, I'm sure you can," he agreed huskily, removing the last barrier of his clothing between them so he could feel her truly, finally. He dragged her back to the edge of the bed and stood for greater control. "Bite down if it hurts," suggested Lucius irreverently, pushing his thumb into her mouth as he pushed into her hot, tight entrance and felt her tense, and then her jaw clenched and he moved in anyway, savoring the resistance, and then she tore and stretched to accommodate him and he relished the pain of her biting down so hard it cut his flesh. She stifled her own cry of pain in her throat, refusing to show him any sign of weakness, but he could see it in her eyes, mingled with fury at his victorious smirk.

"That's it," he encouraged, withdrawing and then sliding in again, not waiting for her to find her bearings. She twisted and clenched her fists in the duvet but didn't fight away, and his free hand dropped once more between them. "No woman likes this the first time," he assured her arrogantly, and her eyes promised injury, though he knew for at least the time being, she was in his power. "It will feel better later though," and his promise was not an empty one, even as he increased the tempo of his thrusts and grabbed her hip to keep her immobile. He tugged his finger from between her teeth, dragging it down her lower lip and chin, leaving a faint smear of blood. He used his newly freed hand to seize her ankle once more and ran his tongue along her calf, a groan escaping at last as he began to move faster.

Using his upright leverage, he pushed her back further onto the bed and let her leg drop from his shoulder so he could crawl atop of her, fisting one hand in her hair and using the other one to support the weight of his body that wasn't pressed upon her, pinning her down. She was gasping now, and he kissed her again; she bit his lower lip, hard, and he laughed roughly, pulling her hair sharply so her head jerked back and bared her throat. He lavished the thin, pale skin with his tongue and lips, nipping and sucking with abandon. Her thighs, clenched against his hips, were trembling with effort, and he knew she was reaching the end of what she could endure tonight. He tucked his forehead to the curve of her neck, the sweat from his brow mingling with the dampness where tendrils of hair clung to her skin. If he'd been able to form a coherent thought, it might have been to slow down, to be gentler; her gasps were strained and nearly a whimper each time he plunged into her, but he selfishly ignored the impulse, he was so close now, he just needed another minute…

"I can't—" she burst out suddenly, but he was spilling his seed inside of her already. Lucius drew his hand away and fell forward, and there were several long minutes of silence as he fought to regain composure. Narcissa was coiled beneath him, shaking, but she did not attempt to remove his weight, and after some time her quivering stilled and her muscles began to tentatively release their tension.

He rolled over at last, withdrawing himself from her, and flopped with a great sigh onto his back before sitting up slowly. With a grunt of effort he pushed himself off the bed and headed for the bathroom to clean up. Once alone, he splashed cold water over his face, wiping away the dried and congealed blood, and dabbing some dittany from his cabinet onto the cut above his eye. Quite suddenly he was acutely aware of the time— he was drained and exhausted and it was past four; he had to be at the Ministry in a few short hours and wanted nothing more than to collapse into bed and sleep. Still, in an uncharacteristic act of consideration, he ran a clean towel under warm water for his wife, and reemerged into the bedroom. But he needn't have bothered; Narcissa was gone, the only indication that she'd been there at all were the divots where she had lain and grasped his duvet, and the stain of her blood.

Chapter Text

Thursday, 18 March, 1976

"So…" he drummed his fingers on the paper, atop of an article investigating the disappearance of several valuable Nordic artifacts from the collection at Durmstrang. "What are you doing today?"

The question surprised them both, but Narcissa took it in stride and responded lightly. "I'm calling on the future Mrs. Parkinson, she has asked for my help in some wedding arrangements. As a bridesmaid—"

"Ah, that's right. The old bachelor getting married at last," Lucius chuckled, shaking his head. Britt was not necessarily old— he had been a seventh year in Lucius's first. He was considered exceptionally handsome by most of the girls in Hogwarts, but not necessarily bright; he did decently in classes, with a great deal of effort, but had a quiet and unassuming nature that gave him a certain blandness in the eyes of his housemates. He was captain of the Quidditch team for his final two years at school, and more than a few young women, from every house, had pursued him. While genial towards all who showed interest, he'd never seriously dated any of them, which had led to Rodolphus spreading more than a few nasty rumors that no one really believed.

His new wife was young, younger even than Narcissa. People whispered scandal about their relationship from its start. The age gap was not so extensive; just less than a decade. Younger women had married older men regularly on more than a few family trees. The true issue was driven by petty women—while so many female Pureblooded witches of his own age had been smitten with Britt, he had fallen madly and publicly in love with a schoolgirl. Knowing his strict tendency to adhere to rules, Lucius personally doubted anything untoward had taken place while Britt's now-fiancee was underaged, but he'd been seen meeting with the girl on Hogsmeade weekends since she was in her fourth year.

"Adrienne is one of my closest friends," Narcissa continued, "She was only a year below me in school. She used to come visit me in France…" she trailed off, and took a sip of tea.

"We're going to that wedding, right? I think I recall receiving an invitation…"

"We are, it is in two months time."

There was a long beat of silence; Narcissa broke it by pressing on. "I think it's a charming story, really. Ari only has brothers, much older, from her father's first marriage. The youngest of them was a year above Britt at school, and as she tells it, she fell in love with him when she was a small girl and he would visit during the summer. Of course," she smiled warmly, "it was much longer before he noticed her."

"Not that much longer," Lucius muttered. Narcissa narrowed her eyes, not missing the implication.

"I wouldn't have thought you were one to listen to idle gossip," she chided airily, though there was an undercurrent in her tone.

"A statement of fact is hardly gossip, darling wife," he returned snidely. "He could have married half a dozen witches years ago— Darla Bulstrode, Deirbhile Runcorn, Renata Baddock, likely even Laetitia Avery, but instead he was obsessed by a child—"

"It wasn't like that," insisted Narcissa, setting down her fork. "They were family friends, and the affection developed into something more over the years. And besides," she added waspishly, unable to stop herself, "Perhaps Lettie Avery isn't the prize that so many men find her to be."

Lucius smirked and said nothing, taking a bite of food rather than offer a reply. He knew from personal experience what made so many men find the beautiful witch to be especially sensational, but doubted any good could come from sharing such knowledge with his wife. Particularly not after what had transpired the evening before.

At this thought, the smug look on his face vanished and he felt an uncomfortable twist in his gut the he was unwilling to explore. His eyes flicked towards his wife— she seemed quite herself, haughty and aloof as she took a delicate sip of tea.

"I only mean to say there are witches of older bloodlines that he might have wed." And far more beautiful, he chose not to add. Narcissa frowned but could not argue the point; Adrienne MacDougal could claim maybe only half a dozen generations of Pureblooded ancestry on her father's side, though she did have Sayre blood on her mother's side, lending her a bit more status. Still, it was not truly her heritage that Lucius took issue with— not everyone could be a Malfoy or a Black. He'd only met her a few times, but had the impression of a difficult and unappealing girl lodged firmly in his mind.

"Ari is from a perfectly acceptable family," she managed at last. "And they're very happy," she added, so softly he nearly missed it. At normal volume, she continued, "she was one of the top witches her year, I've never met someone with such a natural inclination for Arithmancy."

Lucius said nothing but was privately rather surprised that this would be something that appealed to Britt Parkinson. Though confident in his own intellect, he could not fathom the draw of marrying a witch more intelligent than himself. It never occurred to him he might have already done so.

Sunday, 25 April, 1976

Lucius stopped so suddenly in the middle of Diagon Alley that the wizard walking behind him gave an angry "Oi!" and had to swerve abruptly to avoid him. Lucius scarcely noticed, as he'd just spied one of the strangest sights of his life and whirled around to confirm what his eyes had told his brain— that Bellatrix Lestrange was sitting outside of Florean Fortescue's with a magenta-haired toddler eating a sundae.

As soon as he turned, he recognised his mistake and could have cursed his own foolishness. Of course it wasn't Bellatrix. It had been so many years since he'd seen Andromeda he had forgotten how alike the sisters were in appearance, if nothing else. Particularly with her hair pulled back, it was not immediately apparent that it was light brown instead of inky black. He began to move back the way he had been headed, but it was too late. Andromeda had already seen him staring at her.

"Malfoy, wait!"

Lucius wasn't sure why he heeded the instruction— he didn't like the idea that it might be because he was so used to hearing commands from her sisters in precisely the same tone that it had become instinct to at least listen to what was being said. With a swift glance down the street to ensure he saw no familiar faces, he grudgingly approached the small cafe table where she and her half-Mudblood progeny sat.

"I won't keep you long," she assured him coolly, easily able to read the distaste on his face. "I know I'm a couple years late on this too, but I wanted to congratulate you. I sent an owl when you got married but Cissy sent it back unopened so…" Here, she shrugged uncomfortably. "I just hope you're happy. Well, I hope she's happy," she corrected her statement. "But I'm sure she must be— when we were in school I always suspected she had a bit of a crush on you."

It was on the tip of his tongue to let Andromeda know that she was grossly misinformed, and they were both decidedly unhappy, thank you very much, but he could think of no way to do so without insulting himself, so he remained silent. His gaze fell to the small, sticky girl perched on her knees in the opposite chair, clutching a dripping spoon in her fist and watching the exchange curiously. For the life of him, he could not fathom why Andromeda had dyed the young girl's hair such an abnormal shade. Perhaps it was something Muggles did with their children? The girl stared frankly back at him during his silent scrutiny, and then, to his shock, she screwed up her small face and her hair began to change. It grew longer and paler until it was at last the exact same color his. When her eyes opened, they were an identical shade of grey to his own.

Alarmed, Lucius took a quick step back and turned to Andromeda in a silent demand for explanation, who looked amused and exasperated. "She's a Metamorphmagus," she told him with a long-suffering sigh. Then, to her daughter, "Change it back, Nymphadora. That's not a good look for anyone."

Lucius ignored this insult to his physical appearance, appalled but unable to look away from the girl that now resembled precisely what he supposed a daughter of his own might. She grinned broadly up at him for a moment, then scrunched her nose and her hair darkened to a pinkish purple, and her eyes became a soft taupe once more.

"Last week it was turquoise— it changes depending on her favorite color at the moment," Andromeda explained. "She's in control of it now, it was spontaneous when she was a baby, but we can't take her to see any of Ted's extended family until she stops transforming a dozen times a day…"

"I don't care," Lucius cut in rudely. "Was there anything else you needed?"

Andromeda shot him a glare that could rival either of her sisters' haughtiest looks. However, after a moment she relented and asked, "Well, is she?"

He did not immediately grasp her meaning, and Andromeda pressed on. "She was fifteen when I left. I needed to leave, but…" she closed her eyes and shook her head. "Is she happy? Can you just let me know that?"

It would be easiest to lie, but that would be a kindness. He certainly wasn't going to get into the complications of the truth. "If Narcissa wanted you to know anything about her private affairs, she would not have sent your letters back unopened," he evaded instead.

Andromeda gave him a sad smile at these words. "I was rather hoping my parents— and later, you— might be stopping her from receiving them," she admitted. Lucius scoffed.

"You think I have time to monitor my wife's post?" he returned scathingly. "Look, not that I blame you for regretting your traitorous decisions, but—"

"I regret nothing," she hissed, her hand moving instinctively, protectively, towards her daughter.

"Well then, you've made your choice. Do not speak to me and do not try to contact my wife again."

Before she could respond, he turned on his heel and swept down the street towards Gringotts.

Supper that night night started as it usually did— silent and uneventful.

"I saw your sister today," Lucius began carefully, taking a sip of wine. Narcissa raised a disinterested eyebrow, reaching for her glass of water.

"Are she and Rodolphus back from Marrakesh already?"

"Not Bellatrix," he clarified slowly, and she froze.

"Bellatrix is my only sister," she snapped, setting her drink down abruptly.

"Be that as it may," he drawled. "Did you know that her spawn with that Mudblood is a Metamorphmagus?"

"I don't know anything about it," Narcissa hissed, "nor do I want to."

His mouth opened to deliver another scathing remark, but he hesitated. What was the point of antagonising her over this? She had behaved precisely as she should have given the circumstance— admirably, even, considering that she had been just fifteen when her sister had absconded with the Mudblood.

"Good," he said at last, and resumed eating his meal. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her watching him suspiciously, but clearly she had no desire to continue the conversation and accepted the too-easy win.

Saturday, 8 May, 1976

Narcissa left early the morning of the Parkinson wedding after explaining over breakfast that she was a bridesmaid. Lucius was certain she had never shared this fact with him before, but she insisted that she was only reminding him and would reunite with him at the reception. As such, Lucius felt that the Malfoy family would be sufficiently represented at the ceremony and was glad he could instead catch up on work before attending the festivities later. By the time he arrived at Parkinson Palisade, in Capel-le-Ferne, it was twilight and twinkling lights were rising from hedges. It had been years since he had visited the property overlooking the strait of Dover, and the agreeable weather created a rather stunning backdrop to the fortress-like dwelling. Rather than enter through the front door to highlight his tardiness, he took the long way around the manor house to reach the rear where the dramatic cliffs dropped sharply into the sea, and the party spilled out onto back lawn. He managed to slip relatively unnoticed into the ballroom and secure a beverage before finally allowing himself to relax. His eyes skated over the crowd to locate any acquaintance with whom he actually wanted to engage.

"Long time no see," a familiar voice crooned near his shoulder. Lucius turned with a reflexive grin, recognizing the sultry tone at once despite the fact he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen its owner.

"Francesca Zabini," he replied, cupping her elbow and dipping his head to kiss her smooth hazelnut cheek. "Circe, how do you do it?" he murmured, lips still by her ear. "More beautiful with each passing year." Her mother was an Italian witch and father from an esteemed line in Mozambique, and he considered himself fortunate that they had decided to emigrate from their homes to settle in the United Kingdom when their only offspring was a year old. If they had sent her to Uagadou he would never have gotten the opportunity to know and enjoy the stunning witch, with her sly, slanted eyes and wicked smile, in his school days.

Francesca tilted her head back and laughed gaily, placing an affectionate hand on his shoulder. "And you never change, always the flirt," she half-chided. "Save me a dance later?" she added, already moving towards another guest. He nodded from habit, though he doubted he'd see her again the rest of the evening— there were far too many eligible bachelors at the event for Francesca to waste any time on a married man. Until several months ago she had been the wife of a mid-level Ministry employee who reeked of new money, but he had died suddenly of a strange, fatal splinching accident mere months after their nuptials. He'd at first been taken aback when he'd learned of the wedding as her name, though foreign, was much stronger than her new husband's; though as it turned out, she'd had hardly a chance to be a wife. Speaking of— he cast a gaze around once more to seek his own wife, and when he found her after a few moments, standing by the bride, saw that she was staring at him with a stern expression. At once he bristled at the implied accusation. There had been no impropriety in greeting an old friend, and if perhaps he and Francesca had been more than friends, well, that was years in the past. He wondered fleetingly if she might be jealous, but even his considerable ego would not allow him to entertain that notion. She was walking towards him— he quickly downed his drink and snagged another off a tray floating past.

Edward Nott reached him first. "Good of you to show up at last, Malfoy."

Lucius did not particularly like the older man who now stood beside him with an expression of utmost irritation. Nott was nearer in age to his father than to himself, but he was one of the Dark Lord's earliest supporters and as such was an essential attendee at every social event in their circle. Unlike Abraxas and many of his peers, Nott had gambled his youth, name, and affluence before the Dark Lord had any substantial following, and been rewarded generously for it. Though the Nott family was listed as one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, the likely author of the directory was Cantankerus Nott, and he had strategically placed his own name among far more illustrious families. Prior to the volume's publication in the 1930's, Nott had been a middling Pureblood appellation at best. Now, however, Nott had amassed a fortune and reputation that even a Malfoy could not ignore.

"You might not have missed me so much if you'd managed to find a date," Lucius muttered, taking a sip of his whisky. Nott had never married— or more precisely, as he would state if asked directly— he had not yet married. He ignored Lucius's juvenile comment and continued as though he had not heard him.

"If you've forgotten, we were meant to have a new initiate tonight." His voice was low and words cryptic as he went on. "There's been a change of plans. Meet me and some of the others in five minutes somewhere more private to discuss— the third door on the left down the north corridor."

Rather than allow Lucius to demand further explanation, Edward vanished. He finished his drink and was looking for a place to set the glass when Narcissa materialized beside him, her face a serene mask. Before he could make his excuses, she spoke.

"Perhaps we should dance?" Her tone was light and expression inscrutable; Lucius assumed she made the suggestion out of obligation, but her timing couldn't have been worse.

"Can't," he answered shortly. "I've just told Nott that I'd meet him and some colleagues in the study to discuss an urgent business matter."

"I'll dance with you, Cissy." Lucius could not say whence he had appeared, but gave his friend a brief, grateful nod.

"Rodolphus will dance with you," he parroted, moving away and not considering in the slightest just how unsatisfactory a substitute partner her brother-in-law might be in her eyes. When he reached the study, Corban Yaxley and Augustus Rookwood were already there, speaking in hushed voices. Lucius closed the door behind him and looked at the pair expectantly.

Augustus spoke first. "Britt won't be taking the Mark."

Lucius's expression turned thunderous. "What in Merlin's name do you mean?" he hissed. "Doesn't he recognize what an honour— and how foolish it would be to—" but Yaxley held up a hand to stop his tirade.

"He hasn't refused the Mark," he amended quickly. "It has not been offered." This silenced Lucius at once, and he looked between the two men in confusion. Rookwood shrugged.

"The Dark Lord did not find him satisfactory," he explained. "He'll remain an ally— a useful one, he is amenable to the cause, but…"

He didn't need to finish the thought. Britt was amenable to most of the proper things. The Dark Lord needed soldiers and strategists, and Britt Parkinson was neither. There would be no benefit to inducting him into the inner circle. It was disappointing to have the face of such an important line as a mere bystander, but, Lucius supposed, not an unwise decision.

"And what about—" he stopped himself at once, before the thought could be fully actualized. Bellatrix was a ferocious exception and not the rule; they were not generally in the habit of recruiting wives. "And what about all the time we've spent?" he finished lamely.

Nott addressed his irresolute argument. "It hasn't been wasted. A financial ally is only one we can use. And more than that; he is living the life that we are fighting to promote. A Pureblooded line with a Pureblooded wife—we cannot demand more than that from everyone, or normal society as we expect it will not thrive."

Lucius grit his teeth. Nott wasn't wrong, but considering what Lucius had put on the line to support the Dark Lord, the fact that a passive and mild man might skate though almost unnoticed was more than frustrating.

"Fine," Lucius ground out, "what has he committed? What sort of percentage of his income or investments—"

"He doesn't..." Corban looked around uncomfortably. "He's doing alright, Malfoy, but he doesn't have much to dedicate..."

"So this has been a waste of time," he snarled, and before any of them could reply stormed out. When he returned to the main room, the song he'd absconded upon was well passed, but Narcissa and Rodolphus had not yet separated, though it seemed as though this was the decision of only one of them.

Rodolphus had been married to Bellatrix long enough that Lucius had forgotten about Rodolphus and women. It would be vastly untrue to say they uniformly disliked him— it was rare that he was not the tallest man in a room, and his rich, deep laugh made him seem initially approachable. More often than not, in a room full of strangers, it was Rodolphus that would be collectively determined the most attractive.

The problem began when he would catch the eye of an individual woman and decide upon her for the evening. Things would start off well enough; the woman would be flattered by his attentions, pleased to have drawn the notice of such a conspicuously handsome and well-born man, but almost without fail, the situation would deteriorate quickly. Even if she didn't mind that he spoke loudly, quickly, and exclusively about himself or topics of interest only to him, there was a wildness in his behaviour that made almost all people— men and women alike— nervous. However, once Rodolphus had decided he would have a certain woman for the night (and he only picked girls who had shown interest; who had smiled and flirted first), it was fairly unheard of that his desires were not realised. There had been a nasty incident at school, but perhaps what was more surprising was that there had only been one; only one girl had demanded action to be taken, but it had been her word against his, and she had been overheard telling a friend that she found Rodolphus "terribly handsome" prior to the night of the alleged event, and in the end she transferred to Beauxbatons and no disciplinary action was taken.

By the time he began pursuing Bellatrix his final year of Hogwarts, he had a reputation for being someone younger girls should avoid, particularly at parties, particularly if they'd been drinking. His interest in Bellatrix had come as a shock to no one— fiery, ferocious, darkly beautiful Bella commanded a room with the quirk of her brow tilt of her chin. She didn't rely on artifice and coquetry the way other girls did, and was more like a man in her easy confidence. However, his devotion was swift and absolute, and rumours faded from lips and from memories as he made it clear that he would live and die by her word, without question. Suddenly no other women existed in his eyes, and Rodolphus's actions were looked at from a distance as youthful indiscretions.

Most of it was rather before Lucius's time at Hogwarts, and even though he'd been aware of his friend's reputation during his first year, it wasn't something he had thought about for years. It certainly wasn't something that had occurred to him before leaving his wife with Rodolphus. And yet, her expression brought all of these details back suddenly; he was unused to seeing her look so obviously displeased and shaken. Though slim, at five feet and nine inches Narcissa was a tall woman, yet she was utterly dwarfed by her brother-in-law, whose thick arm was thrown over her narrow shoulders and head was bent close to her ear. He was not a stranger to the malicious glint in Rodolphus's eyes, though he couldn't help but fleetingly wonder what knowledge he might have over his wife to cause her such torment.

"Alright, Rodolphus, enough." Upon his arrival, Rodolphus released Narcissa, who stepped quickly aside, regarding the pair with utmost dislike.

"I'm going to check in with Ari," she announced, but Lucius shot her a quelling look.

"I believe the new Mrs. Parkinson is fine," he jerked his head towards the dance floor, where Britt was blissfully leading his new bride in a foxtrot. "We should leave," he suggested darkly, shooting Rodolphus a sharp glare when he opened his mouth to interject.

"Lovely to see you as always, Cissy, Lucius." He bowed deeply and winked before giving a shout of laughter and wandering off in search of his next victim.

Lucius and Narcissa stood facing one another, uncomfortably silent for several moments. As if on cue, a bottle-blonde witch with dark roots wandered by them and gave a simper; they both automatically offered Rita Skeeter smiles of their own in return, unwilling to let the social columnist sniff out any discord or story.

"You've only just arrived," Narcissa spoke at last. "Perhaps you should give your best wishes to Britt and we can leave in an hour or so."

She melted into the crowd once more, leaving Lucius to his own devices. Surprising even himself, he was true to his word and danced with Francesca, and several other girls he remembered fondly (and intimately) from his school days. He had an excellent conversation with Amon Shafiq and Balthazar Fawley on the recently instated embargo on flying carpets, championed by that idiotic Weasley— though not the most practical mode of transportation, the notion that they were banned based on the sole fact that Muggles also used them to cover their floors was contemptible. After some time he did end up finding and congratulating Britt, during a brief lull that the beaming groom was separated from Adrienne. He even managed a passable exchange with the very inebriated Carrow twins before Narcissa sought him out once more, looking weary.

"Britt and Ari have given their farewells," she explained in an accusatory tone that clearly suggested he should have been there to witness the sendoff rather than sampling bourbons with Rabastan, which was where she had located him. "We can go home now."

Despite his willingness to leave earlier, he was now feeling warm and mischievous and balked.

"Have a drink, Cissy," Rabastan suggested, pushing a tumbler towards her. "This one's new from the States, called Eagle Rare. It's-"

"I'd love a glass of water," she interjected coldly, not accepting the glass he offered. "Pray tell, could you find me one of those?" As soon as he vanished, she turned to her husband.

"I want to leave."

"I want to stay," he countered, mostly for the sake of argument.

"Yes well I've been here since the morning and you only deigned to show up a few hours ago."

So she had noticed his late arrival. But to what end?

"Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy!" Rita materialized once more, a roll of parchment under one arm and camera tucked under the other. She had also been in Slytherin, several years ahead of Lucius in school and a generally an unpleasant busybody. However, she had managed to make a name for herself in journalism by closely monitoring (and perhaps embellishing upon) the lives of the Sacred Twenty-Eight and other elite Purebloods. No matter how evolved and accepting society claimed to be, there was still a ravenous appetite to read about the affairs of the wealthy and established, though no one would claim her columns garnered more view than the front-page stories on Celestina Warbeck or Randolph Keitch; musicians and Quidditch stars would, after all, always be the most intriguing to the masses. It was a more achievable dream.

"Smile for us, won't you?" she implored, whipping out the camera. In a perfect world Lucius would dismiss her entirely, but the unfortunate truth of the matter remained that the press was almost always necessary to appease, whether or not he could purchase half the shares of the paper. Public opinion shaped policy almost to the same degree that his own heavy influence could.

"Of course," Lucius agreed smoothly and moved beside his wife. He did not slip a hand around her waist or back, as Rita seemed to be waiting for him to do; instead, they each posed regally and separately next to one another, creating a neat composition but not the tableau she seemed to be angling toward.

"Very well," she sigh halfheartedly, snapping a photo with little enthusiasm. A formal and proper portrait of the married Malfoy's would hardly interest her readers. "See you at the next one, I suppose."

Chapter Text

Sunday, 23 May 1976

The doorbell at Number Seven Chesterfield Street chimed for what Lucius was certain was the hundredth time that morning, and he slammed down his quill, unable to endure the disruptions in silence any longer. He could not fathom what his wife could be doing today, bringing so many visitors into the household. It was not uncommon that she had guests; in fact, Narcissa had company most days. Should he venture into the foyer around teatime, he was almost guaranteed to cross paths with some of society's most influential witches. Last Thursday he had exchanged pleasantries with Darla Bulstrode, and the Saturday before it had been the matronly Mrs. Fawley and her two school-aged daughters. But these calls were always quiet, intimate affairs, and certainly did not involve incessant ringing in the entrance hall and a stampede of women throughout the entire early afternoon. With an exasperated sigh he rose to his feet and pushed an impatient hand through his hair as laughter and chatter rose outside of his door. What in Merlin's name could she be up to? He stormed out of his study towards the commotion coming from the library, fully intending to tell her off for the noise, but when he reached the doorway he hesitated.

There were even more women than he'd anticipated. Narcissa was perched prettily on a settee in the center of all the commotion, Ari Parkinson beaming on one side of her and Bellatrix on the other, leaning heavily on the back of the lounge and looking rather bored as she swirled a flute of champagne. It was Bella who spotted him first, and she sat up abruptly with a feral grin.

"Didn't know you'd be joining us today, Malfoy," she spoke just loudly enough to be heard over the general chatter, and to his vague horror the crowd fell silent, punctuated only by the occasional giggle and whisper. Narcissa had frozen, a smile still plastered on her face but no longer lighting her eyes, and was watching him carefully.

"I'm not joining," he began, and Narcissa rapidly rose to her feet.

"If you'll all excuse me for a moment," she started quickly, but Bellatrix spoke over her.

"Really? Not going to join Cissy's party for even a little while? What could possibly be more important than your wife's birthday?" She looked up at her younger sister with a falsely innocent expression, though it was evident to any that knew her well (which, of those present, he fervently hoped was only himself and his wife) that she was perfectly aware of the fact Lucius had had no idea the significance of the date. "Cissy, didn't you say Lucius was out? And yet… here he is."

Narcissa had flushed slightly but remained composed as she prepared what Lucius was certain would have been an acceptable retort, but he didn't give her the chance.

"I was out," he amended quickly. "I just got home. I can't stay though, I have a meeting."

"On a Sunday?" Bellatrix snorted, downing her drink and waving a house elf over to refill the flute. Lucius narrowed his eyes.

"I'm sure the notion of having anything worthwhile to do with your leisure time is an entirely foreign concept to you, but I happen to have—"

"Lucius," Narcissa cut in gently, seeming somewhat embarrassed as she moved towards him. "If you'd like to speak, we can go to your study." She was looking at him rather insistently, silently urging him to spare her the humiliation of a full-blown confrontation with her sister in front of so many visitors.

"That won't be necessary," he replied smoothly, before realising he now needed to provide a reason before all the eager witnesses for his presence. "I did not mean to interrupt, I simply wished to confirm that you will be ready for supper by eight this evening."

A faint line of confusion appeared on her brow as she took in his words. They ate at eight every evening, why would he need to confirm?

"For our reservation at Somptueux," he arched a brow, feigning surprise as though at a lapse in her memory. "For your birthday— surely you didn't forget?"

To her credit, she knew how to improvise. "Of course! You must forgive me, it entirely slipped my mind. I'll certainly be ready by eight." She spoke with confidence and tilted her chin up with a light smile. He couldn't help but notice she was exceedingly talented at creating an immaculate image: everything from her neat chignon and chiffon robes to her tidily composed countenance were designed to portray a perfected portrait of elegance and grace, fondly pleased by her husband's affections.

He wasn't entirely sure how old she was turning today. "Excellent, I'll see you then."

At seven thirty that evening, there was a knock on the door of his study.

"What?" Lucius called irritably, poring over a list of rather disappointing figures reflecting poor valuations on a real estate investment from the last quarter. "What do you want?" he continued without looking up.

"I came to ask if you'd really made a reservation for tonight. I suppose this reception is as good an answer as any," Narcissa's tone was cold and clipped, and he sat back at last to take in her appearance. She was wearing cerulean dress robes that consisted of a fitted silk sheath with long sleeves and diaphanous outer mantle. A thin gold chain emphasized her small waist, and sapphires glittered at her ears and throat. The bateau neckline was modest but offered the rare treat of glimpsing her delicate clavicles. Her hair, however, hung loose and unstyled around her shoulders and down her back. He rather enjoyed the effect, but upon his scrutiny, she explained, "I didn't want to waste time having an elf fix my hair if you only said that to save face this morning."

"Let's go to supper," he decided in that moment. As she had insinuated, he had not actually made a reservation, but knew the owners and did not believe his lack of preparation would pose a problem. "I'll change as well and meet you in the foyer in a half hour."

At eight o'clock Narcissa arrived downstairs, her hair now twisted carefully into a neat coiffure. The entrance to Wizarding London in Covent Garden was only a little over a mile away from their Mayfair house, so the carriage ride to Ambrosey Alley was both brief and silent. Once they reached Somptueux, a quick word with the maître d'hôtel secured them a table and they were seated immediately. Lucius reached for a leather-bound booklet and began perusing the selections offered there.

"How about a bottle of the '58 DRC? It's a special occasion," he suggested after a few moments. A small line appeared between Narcissa's brows.

"I think I'll just keep to water," she replied vaguely, eyes trailing over the supper menu. As far as he'd knew she had never had much interest in alcohol, but Lucius realised it had been some time since he'd seen her drink even wine with meals. He wondered suddenly if she was poisoning him. He felt fine, but some poisons were slow-acting and could mimic symptoms of natural illness if dosed over a long enough period of time.

He closed the wine list with a snap, giving himself a firm mental shake. "I'll just keep to scotch, then."

They lapsed into silence once more. Lucius recognised the waitress from previous visits; she smiled as she approached the pair with a double pour of Macallan on a silver tray before he could place the order. He made a mental note to leave her an extra gratuity and took a long swig before turning his attention to his wife.

"It looked like you had quite the event this morning," he began broadly.

"Yes… Attendance was certainly higher than it's been in the past two years, since I'm hosting from London now. It was lovely to see everyone."

"It was rather distracting, the noise from all those women coming and going," he drawled. "I shall have to put a reminder in my calendar for next year to not attempt to get any work done on the twenty third of May."

She looked as him with a small frown, clearly uncertain whether he was chastising her for the disruption or assuring her that he would not have the same insulting lapse of memory in the future. He wasn't entirely sure himself. "For your scheduling purposes," he continued, "my birthday is—"

"November thirteenth," she interrupted with an odd look. He cleared his throat and took a sip of the amber liquid in his tumbler.

"Well, yes. How did you know that?"

She made an irritated face. "You act as though we weren't in the same house for six years. Your birthday was practically a Slytherin holiday."

Lucius had the decency to appear slightly chagrined at her statement. During his first three years he had perhaps made a bigger deal of his birthday than entirely necessary; he'd outgrown the tendency by his fourth year, but the trend had already caught on, and if his classmates were going to organise an event for the occasion he was hardly going to act ungrateful by refusing to play along.

"Erm, yes, well, I think it was mostly Rabastan who led that— you know what he's like, any excuse to be drunk. To be honest I'd quite forgotten about those little get-togethers…"

Narcissa actually laughed out loud in disbelief at the understatement. "Little? Half the school turned out for them. I think even Professor Slughorn attended one year."

The year Lucius came of age, Horace had agreed to hand-deliver a gift from Abraxas that had been far too valuable to send by post, and then, seeing the quality of the alcohol being served in the common room, decided to stay for a drink rather than put an end to the festivities. Strictly speaking, he had been there by accident and not as a guest, but Lucius decided not to correct her.

"I was almost surprised when, during my seventh year, there was no celebration in your absence," she continued.

"There was a celebration," he corrected. "It just moved to Rodolphus's hunting lodge in Germany. Gods," he chuckled, "what a production that was."

"Oh?" she prompted curiously.

Lucius swallowed the rest of his scotch and waved a server over for a refill. "Just juvenile diversions," he replied dismissively, not meeting her inquiring gaze. To this day Rodolphus still referred to that particular affair as the "Lost Weekend," although Lucius couldn't be sure whether he referred to the loss of memory from excessive alcohol consumption (among other substances), or the loss of dignity of many of the party-goers from the resulting debauchery.

Lucius decided it was safer to steer the conversation in a different direction. "So, any new weddings or births on the horizon of which we should be aware?"

"Darla Bustrode is engaged to Timothy Goyle," she answered quickly. This was news to him, and he listened with removed interest to her recounting of all the social updates she had acquired that day. Most of it was drivel, but it was still worth hearing, as occasionally she would slip in a valuable piece of information. However, the conversation turned to an exhibition on eighteenth century portraits she'd recently viewed, and then to her favorite soprano currently singing in La Traviata in London, and eventually he lost count of how many times he called the pretty waitress over to refill his glass. As always the food was flawless, but by the time he'd paid, he was aware of little else aside from the fact that his wife was the loveliest woman in the restaurant and though he'd hardly listened to a word she'd spoken over the past hour, he was still the one bringing her home.

Upon arriving back at the house, he trailed up the stairs behind her to afford himself the opportunity to appreciate the view. When they arrived at the landing he reached out to grasp her hips and she turned with a small gasp; he used the opportunity of her disorientation to push her back and press her between his body and the door to her bedroom. Languorously, he slid his hands up her waist to allow his thumbs to graze the sides of her breasts, simultaneously dipping his head to kiss her with greed.

He'd had too much to drink. Lucius took a step back and released her, turning away. He wasn't drunk, per se, but he didn't entirely trust himself to follow her to bed and treat her properly, as his wife. It was her birthday, after all; in lieu of an actual present, he supposed the least he could do was grant her her privacy tonight. She looked rather rattled from even the brief forced contact, but rather than shy away, Narcissa placed a hand on his chest. With a dart of excitement, he thought for a split second that she was going to ask him to stay.

"Thank you for supper," she said gently instead, and he gave a curt nod.

"I suppose I can tolerate taking you out for one meal a year." He'd meant the words in jest but they sounded cruel even to his own ears— there was too much truth in them. The softness left her expression and she lofted her chin haughtily.

"Good night, Lucius," she retorted sharply, and jerked the door to her room open to retreat to the sanctuary within.

"Good night, darling wife," he murmured as the door closed with a snap, and he headed down the hall to his own chambers.

Monday, 21 June 1976

Their first event the young Malfoys hosted as a couple was necessarily on the smaller side. The Summer Solstice was an ideal opportunity to invite close acquaintances to the London house, whether or not Lucius believed that it was entirely suitable as a residence, let alone a venue to host company. Nevertheless, host company they did, and Lucius was not entirely disinclined to receive it.

"Laetitia Avery, lovely as always." Lucius grinned and bowed over her small hand. The buxom witch was the very picture of an English Rose, with deep gold curls and a peaches and cream complexion. She stood at only five feet tall, and her emerald eyes were almost always dancing with mirth— though the reasons for her amusement were rarely kind.

"Oh Lucius, you've grown out your hair," she sighed in high, breathy tones. With affectionate familiarity, she reached up to touch a loose strand by his face, and let the backs of her fingers trail over his cheek as she withdrew. "It looks quite dashing, tied back like that."

"It's been this way for some time, you've simply not graced me with your presence in far too long." He was still holding her hand, and she dimpled up at him.

"Only because you've missed all the best parties," she replied with a pout, though he knew better than to flatter himself into believing that she had looked for him.

"I've been busy, Lettie. And suffering every moment of it without your radiance. Besides— you've come here with Edward Nott, haven't you? He's not one for parties either, so I suspect you've be hiding away as well."

Laetitia blushed prettily. "I don't just go to events with Edward," she protested, playfully swatting his shoulder. Lucius smirked darkly.

"No, I suppose spending all your time with an old man would get dull for you."

She quirked an eyebrow and tilted her head. "Maybe it's flirtatious boys that have gotten dull for me, Lucius."

"Well then it's fortunate I haven't been a boy for some years now."

"You'll always be a boy to me," she retorted lightly, drawing a genuine scowl. "A handsome one though," Laetitia continued in her girlish lilt, "and endlessly… enthusiastic." She gave him a wink and, with a tinkling laugh, turned to join the other guests. He watched her go with a grudging smirk of reminiscence, but before he could get too lost in memories, Narcissa materialised at his side.

"I don't remember inviting her," she commented drily, and Lucius fought the urge to roll his eyes.

"She came with Nott, and moreover, she knows she has an open invitation to any event we host. Lettie is an old friend."

"Well," replied Narcissa tightly, "I'll be sure to include her in the headcount from now on. It's almost time to begin eating; we should go."

He followed her dutifully into the dining room, and the rest of the night was a blur of toasts and soporific conversation.

Monday, 13 September 1971

As Lucius ascended the steps of the Manor, he knew he was inexcusably late. His father's note had specified that he should be present and dressed for supper no later than seven that evening; even with the half hour buffer he'd likely built in to that time, it was still nearer to eight. As he burst through the doors, still in his business robes, an elf wordlessly and tremulously pointed in the direction of the formal parlor. Lucius privately thought this to be overkill. The Blacks had suffered a recent humiliation, and he strongly suspected he knew why they were here. There was no need to impress them, he thought coldly, though perhaps Mr. Black had been to the Manor before and would recognize a more casual reception as a slight. Lucius paused with his hand on the handle to the room, carefully composing his features to reveal nothing but placid indifference to his own tardiness.

"Father," he scarcely made eye contact with Abraxas, who stood at the mantlepiece with his pipe and a drink, as he entered the room. "Hello, Mother," he murmured, bending to brush his lips to her upturned cheek. She offered him a brief smile, but could tell she was unhappy with his late arrival as well. He turned at last to Mr. Black, who stood across from Abraxas by the fire.

"Cygnus, a pleasure to see you," he shook his hand firmly and, at a sharp glance from his father, added, "I apologize for my delayed arrival. I was held up at the Ministry." This was half true; he had been there later than expected, but a far more important— albeit esoteric— meeting was the true reason he was arriving at this hour.

"Lucius," Cygnus inclined his head and regarded the younger blond haughtily, though his words were the epitome of graciousness. "I understand entirely, business can run away with us at times."

He was struck by how closely the man resembled his eldest daughter, both in coloring and demeanor. Cygnus had the misfortune of three daughters and no male heirs, but this had not diminished his superior air in the slightest. He did have male nephews, but also a publicly fraught relationship with his sister Walburga, and rather than name either of her sons as the unequivocal inheritor of the Black estate, he had taken the unusual step of not only openly treating Bellatrix as his heir-apparent, but actually bequeathing a number of properties and not insignificant amount of gold to her on the event of her wedding. This was not public knowledge, but Rodolphus had casually mentioned it once, after a drink or two too many. Lucius supposed this was to prevent his sister's sons from claiming it upon his death; even a will leaving the property to any of the girls might be successfully overturned by a determined male claimant. Compared to his own inheritance it was of no consequence, but Lucius wondered what, if anything, was left for the youngest daughter.

He turned his attention to her at last, where she sat demurely in an armchair between her mother and his own. He bowed his head to both Miss and Mrs. Black, but before he could greet them, Cygnus continued to speak. "My second cousin Bartemius works in the Department of Magic Law Enforcement; most say he is likely to be promoted to head of the department within a year or so. His mother was Charis Black, you know…"

Abraxas held out a drink to Lucius, which he hastily accepted with a surge of rare gratitude towards his father. He took a gulp before replying. "Yes, well, Torquil Travers should have retired years ago. He was a fine man in his day, but he's frankly gone senile." Lucius was merely parroting general opinion; in fact, Travers's senility was of distinct advantage to the Dark Lord, and Lucius had been working of late to keep some of the man's huger blunders out of the public eye in order to prolong his tenure in office. Bartemius's appointment, though seemingly inevitable at this point, would be a massive stumbling block.

"Come, now," Abraxas flashed a brief, solicitous smile that did not reach his eyes in the general direction of his wife. "I'm sure we're boring the women. Lucius, did you know Narcissa in school? She's just started her final year."

Lucius nodded politely. "I did, it's good to see you again, Narcissa. What subjects do you take?"

It was the truth, he had known the youngest Black girl in school, but not well. In fact, he remembered only one conversation of any length with her: during his second year, and the details were hazy. The aftermath was much more vivid. The interaction had taken place after a victorious Quidditch match— back when he'd still been on the team, before the mess with his father's scandal, when he'd been cocky and perhaps a bit stupid. He remembered the party well, the soaring elation of having won a close game against Gryffindor, drinking butterbeer and feeling on top of the world. That feeling had been supplemented, he learned later, by Rodolphus thinking it a hilarious prank to spike the twelve year old seeker's drink with hard alcohol. Narcissa was a year younger, but had arrived at school with a certain level of notoriety as Bellatrix and Andromeda's youngest sister. She was exceptionally pretty, even as a first year, and Lucius's interest in girls had started early. He could not remember what they had talked about, only that they had been talking long enough that people had begun to take notice, and when he'd gone to get another butterbeer, Bellatrix and Andromeda had cornered him, in rare agreement, and had teased him mercilessly (with some light-hearted threats thrown in from Bella) about the attention he was paying Cissy. Finally Rodolphus had materialized to ostensibly rescue him by handing him another spiked beverage and dragging him over to the center of the Common Room for a team photograph. He'd determined that day that there were plenty of other girls, and Narcissa Black was likely not worth the harassment of her upperclassmen sisters. Over the years, once Bellatrix had finished school and he was anyway no longer a child that could be bullied, he had not thought to attempt to curry favor with Narcissa. His initial determination that there were plenty of other girls remained true, and he'd never bothered to reassess the label of 'too much effort' that he'd given her his second year.

And yet here she was, sitting in his ancestral home, telling him of her interest in History of Magic as he feigned attentiveness. Though it had not been spoken aloud, this was the girl his father had chosen for him to wed. Her youthful prettiness had blossomed into beauty, as expected, and despite the recent scandal of her sister running off with a Mudblood, her lineage was untainted. Lucius supposed he would not object to the match. He finished his drink, and realized she had stopped speaking and was looking up at him expectantly with large, blue eyes.

"A fascinating subject," he gestured vaguely with his glass towards the door. "We will have to discuss it at length later on, but if you will be so kind as to grant me leave, I'm afraid I've held up supper for long enough. I must go freshen up, and will see you in the dining room shortly." Narcissa looked rather taken aback by his hasty exit, but nodded once.

"Of course, Mr. Malfoy," she demurred, and Lucius avoided his father's doubtlessly disapproving gaze as he swept from the parlour. As soon as he was out of the room, he summoned an elf to refill the glass he had taken with him. When he got to his old bedroom, he found that someone (likely an elf but also possibly his mother) had already laid out dress robes and shoes for him, as though he were a child incapable of selecting such things on his own. He stripped down and splashed cold water on his face, and stood for several minutes before the sink, letting the faucet run. Being in the same room as his father was suffocating. The level of control Abraxas still felt the need to exert over him was frankly exhausting. Narcissa Black was a good match, but he was not yet nineteen years old for Circe's sake. He should have a least a decade to consider the matter of marriage, why this great hurry? Had he not proved himself capable and dependable? There was important work to be done, and now hardly seemed the time to bring a new bride into his life. Although, he told himself, there was no way his father could know about his involvement with the Dark Lord.

At last, Lucius dressed in his robes for supper and rejoined the party. During the meal, Narcissa talked for some length about an opera she had seen recently in Paris. When she turned to him to enquire whether or not he enjoyed the medium, he had responded, as kindly as he could in such a trying situation, that he hardly could be expected to find time for such diversions. To her credit, Narcissa did not take offense at the dismissal.

"Of course. What sort of recreation do you enjoy, when you do find the time?"

The question threw him for a moment— he could not immediately recall the last time he had engaged in any activity solely for the pleasure its entertainment value. "Hunting," he offered at last. It had been over a year, but it was the most recent activity that came to mind. "The Lestranges have a lodge in the Flechtingen Hills— but perhaps you've been? There's fox and graphorn hunting, plus good joberknoll sport in the fall, and Rodolphus breeds Granians for racing."

"I'm afraid I haven't the stomach for hunting," she confessed with a wan smile, "and it's been years since I've been riding, although it was something I enjoyed as a girl. We had Aethonans; a bit more sedate than Granians. Bella has mentioned visiting though, I gather she quite enjoys it there." Then, as though she sensed she was comparing herself unfavourably to her sister, Narcissa added, "Although I'm sure it's lovely, and I do hope to go someday."

There was little chance to say much else, as their parents primarily monopolized conversation at the table. After the Blacks had taken their leave, Abraxas summoned his son to his study.

"Take a seat, Lucius." It was not a suggestion, and the younger man complied. To his surprise, his father unlocked a lower drawer in the desk and withdrew a bottle of scotch that Lucius was sure had not seen an occasion to be shared in some time. Abraxas summoned two tumblers, and poured them each healthy measures of the deep golden liquid.

"I do not want a hasty answer to what I am about to discuss with you," he began, handing one glass to Lucius. "Though I am sure you can imagine why I invited the Blacks here tonight."

Lucius did not respond; he had already made up his mind that he would agree to marry the youngest Black girl, but wondered how much he might stand to gain by withholding this information.

"I asked you several months ago whether you were interested in any witches at the time, and you told be you were not. Is that still the case?"

Naturally his father would attempt to entrap him into confessing to an unsuitable relationship. However in this regard Lucius had not been untruthful, and he simply nodded once.

"Good. Now, I've discussed the matter at some length with Cygnus, but it is, of course, ultimately your decision whether or not you will wed the girl."

There, the words had been spoken at last. Lucius took a long, slow drink, buying time as he savored the rare liquor. "I suppose Cygnus is in rather a hurry to see her married off," he evaded uncharitably. Abraxas frowned.

"Perhaps certain recent incidents have expedited the process," he conceded, "but the fact remains that Narcissa is of remarkable character and breeding. She is untouched by the scandal that seems to follow her sisters, and given the Black's propensity for marrying their cousins, I consider it fortunate that Cygnus spoke with me before wedding her to Evan Rosier. His oldest daughter was married within the year after leaving school."

Lucius knew that had little to do with Cygnus's views on the matter and everything to do with Rodolphus's impatience to claim Bellatrix as his bride, but he refrained from sharing this information with his father. What did not occur to him—could not, in his arrogance—was that Abraxas suspected far more of Lucius than his son was aware. Lucius assumed that the marriage was being orchestrated primarily at the behest of Cygnus Black, eager to see his last child make a successful match as quickly as possible in light of Andromeda's betrayal. He imagined it was simply Abraxas's vanity that caused him to agree; the older man's seemingly-unshakable belief that he and he alone could make wise decisions pertaining to his only son. It had not occurred to him that his father might have an inkling of the danger Lucius regularly subjected himself to, both mortal and social. A disgraced man himself, Abraxas could recognise the danger of Lucius's extralegal activities both in their capacity to physically injure, incapacitate, or (Merlin forbid) extinguish the life of his heir, but also ruin him politically, a fate perhaps as severe as death for a Malfoy and nowhere near as quick. It was a race against forces unseen, but the sooner Lucius made a respectable match and had a son of his own, the sooner Abraxas could breathe easily once more.

"I don't want to marry her within the year," Lucius spoke at last. "But I suppose that the time is fast approaching that I must take over the family name and assume all the responsibilities the title suggests." How to state the obvious without openly offending his father? "And a wife is an essential aspect of that persona." He sat back in his chair and peered thoughtfully into the tumbler. "I am willing to do whatever required." He stared into his father's eyes in an attempt to press his meaning— eyes identical to his own. In so many ways they were similar, yet there were few people he'd met in his life whose thoughts he could read less accurately.

Abraxas simply dipped his head in acknowledgement; Lucius supposed this was the closest he'd get to an admission of imminent inheritance.

"I look forward to seeing her again soon, then." He raised and then drained his glass.

The Blacks came to visit several times over the following months. Roughly once every other week Miss and Mrs. Black would come for tea; after greeting them, Abraxas excused himself and left his son to seethe alone with the three women. Perhaps if he had actually been able to speak privately with Narcissa he might have found the occasions slightly less painful, but never once was he left alone with her. Not that he had anything in particular he was hoping to say, but rather than form an image of her character, it was all blending unpleasantly together with their mothers, and after the first few meetings he had all but ceased seeing her as an attractive young woman and instead considered her hardly more than a dowdy matron, despite her youth and loveliness. Already he was excruciatingly bored with the idea of marriage, but despite the negative side effects the teas did ultimately have the effect of solidifying the image of Narcissa as a wife in his mind.


Chapter Text

Saturday, 18 January 1972

"Where are the Blacks?"

"Sit down, Lucius," Abraxas nodded to the chairs before his desk. "They won't be here for a half hour yet. I asked you mother to instruct you to come here earlier because I wanted to speak with you before they arrive, and also because you have been abysmally late nearly every time they've come to visit."

Lucius narrowed his eyes and shifted forward in his seat, feeling combative. "This may come as a shock to you, Father, but I've had more important things to do these past few months than sip tea in the solarium with gossiping women."

"One of those women will be your wife," Abraxas reminded him coolly, "and those dinners and teas were scheduled for your benefit, to get to know the girl better. Your mother tells me you've done little more than sulk, so clearly her efforts have been wasted. Which is why I wanted to speak to you." He leaned forward and opened a drawer, withdrawing a small box and sliding it across the desk to his son.

"I think you should ask Narcissa to marry you tonight."

Lucius lifted the box from the gleaming wood surface and opened it without real interest. The diamond ring was a Malfoy heirloom; he guessed around three carats and from the beginning of the century based on the French cut of the stone.

"Wouldn't it just be easier for you to propose to Cygnus, skip the middlemen altogether?" he asked snidely, tucking the ring into his pocket tossing the box aside carelessly. The less pomp and circumstance around the action the better; he certainly wouldn't be getting down on one knee and flipping the lid up for some grand reveal.

Abraxas frowned, nonplussed. "Cygnus has, of course, already given his approval. He agreed before—"

"Yes, yes, I know," Lucius interrupted waspishly. "I'll ask her after supper. Is that all?"

His father gave him a long, measured stare. "I told you before your courtship began that you needed to take this seriously. If you're going to act like a petulant child, you are not ready for a wife," he expounded gravely. Lucius fought the urge to roll his eyes.

"Then we'll have a long engagement," he snapped. Abraxas opened his mouth but Lucius pressed on before he could speak. "Don't lecture me Father; I know you aren't going to do anything to impede the marriage after all the effort you've put into wooing Cygnus."

Much to his surprise, his father did not immediately speak. At last, to Lucius's shock, the older man nodded his head. "You're right. I won't." He fell silent once more, considering his son inscrutably. "You've always been headstrong, Lucius, and that isn't necessarily a shortcoming... once you have lived a bit longer and have experienced more in life you will hopefully gain a more even view on such matters. You may not want my advice any longer, but regardless, you shall have it: you are sabotaging only yourself."

"You're right, I don't want to hear it." Lucius rose to his feet, feeling brash and over-confident. "I've been cleaning up after your sloppy mistake since I was a boy, and it's time for you to pass the torch and stop clinging to this absurd notion that you have some great wisdom in your old age. I've learned all you can teach me, and you need to let go." His pale cheeks were flushed by the time he finished speaking; his words were thoughts that he had long held, but never imagined he'd be bold enough to actually voice, let alone to the man at whom they were directed.

The time that it took for Abraxas to speak again felt endless, made all the more agonizing by the fact that he kept his eyes locked on Lucius for the entirety of his silence. When at last he broke his reticence, there was a chilling lack of anger in his words.

"I can only hope that you never falter in life, Lucius. That you do not make errors that return to haunt you and your family, when all along your intentions were only to build a better world for them. Now, go find your mother; be ready to greet the Blacks when they arrive."

After a somewhat strained supper, the dishes were cleared and the Blacks rose to take their leave, the group chatting in low voices as they departed the dining room.

"Narcissa," Lucius murmured, slowing his stride to fall behind their parents. She paused as well, smiling up at him earnestly.


They weren't alone, exactly; their parents had paused into foyer and were still talking, albeit in hushed tones and with darting backward glances. Still, it was the closest he'd been to her without their direct attention from an arm's length away, and he found he still had little to say.

"Well, I suppose this can't come as a great shock," he began, reaching into his pocket. "It wouldn't make sense to have a wedding before mid-to-late next year, given my current workload and travel schedule." He withdrew the ring and offered it to her. "That said, I understand your family's position for a public engagement to be announced sooner rather than later."

Narcissa was no longer smiling. Her brow was slightly creased as she studied the ring and listened to his words, and for a long moment she said nothing. At last, she tilted her head upwards to stare at him with large, searching blue eyes. She was undoubtedly lovely, and under different circumstances he was certain that he would have shown more interest, but there was no thrill in pursuing a girl that his parents had chosen for him, and who had already accepted her role as his bride. From what he had seen so far, there was little spark to her, though he supposed that was preferable to the wildfire of her sisters. Perhaps he should commend Druella on raising at least one proper daughter— on the third try— but while he had no desire to marry anything less than a paragon of Pureblooded domesticity, he could muster little enthusiasm at the prospect.

"Mr. Malfoy…" she began formally. "Lucius," she tried instead, though didn't seem much more comfortable calling him that. "I don't know what to say."

He frowned. Was this an attempt at playing coy? Pretending she might turn him down, as though the agreement had not already been made?

"Because you haven't actually asked me anything," she prompted softly, gaze still locked on his. A small smirked tugged at the corner of his mouth, and perhaps a twinge of respect.

"Very well. Narcissa Black, will you marry me?"

She grinned once more and held out her left hand, not to take the ring from him but to allow him to slide it on her finger. "I would be delighted."

Tuesday, 3 August 1976

When Lucius had received Rodolphus's owl to meet him in Muggle London for drinks, he had very nearly refused. More than likely Bellatrix had been sent on a mission and her husband was bored, and Lucius was loath to serve as his entertainer. Still, it had been unusually hot in the city for the past week and he was feeling distracted and restless. After a rather stilted supper, Lucius caved at last and replied that they could meet outside the Leaky Cauldron.

The pair walked for some time though the strange and unfamiliar non-magical streets. Though he spoke at high volume of nothing in particular, drawing curious stares amplified by their magical attire, Rodolphus seemed to have some goal in mind, though Lucius could not guess what it might be. It turned out that he'd been correct in his assumption that Bellatrix was out of the country, but Rodolphus did not lament this fact over a drink, as he'd proposed earlier in his message; instead he continued to march through increasingly quiet neighborhoods, occasionally peering into darkened windows. Lucius lost track of the many turns they took and was beginning to lose patience when Rodolphus stopped at last before a nondescript residence.

"Come on, this one," he grinned, knocking on the door. Before he could ask what they were doing there, a bespectacled Muggle opened the door with several rectangles of paper in hand.

"For one pepperoni and one cheese, how much—" The man stopped abruptly, staring at them in confusion. "And who the bloody hell are you?"

With a savage grin, Rodolphus seized the front of the Muggle's shirt and shoved him backwards into the house. Lucius followed closely and shut the door behind them; a flash of green told him the man was dead, but voices floated in from the adjacent room.

"Bring the pizza in here, Dad!"

"I'm starving, hurry the movie's starting!"

It didn't take long to dispatch the family, especially since Rodolphus showed an unusual lack of interest in torturing the mother and her two boys. Instead he turning his attention to the object that the family had been gathered around— a box emitting a lighted image.

"What is it? I thought Muggle pictures didn't move?" Lucius asked suspiciously, eyeing the box as thought it might attack them in lieu of the human inhabitants of the residence who had so utterly failed.

Rodolphus shrugged, throwing himself onto the couch beside the lifeless form of the woman and reaching for a packet of crisps. "I thought at first some sort of primitive Pensieve, since it can't see or hear you," he explained. "But they can't be memories— there's magic in them sometimes, but not accurately depicted; Muggles doing and surviving things they never could in real life. I think they're elaborately staged plays of some sort."

Lucius narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the other man, whose large frame cut an incongruous figure in the Muggle den. "You've seen these before? Watched their plays?"

"Nothing better to do," Rodolphus crunched, eyes fixed on the screen where a rambunctious group of non-Magical children played at the seashore. Their happy shrieks were dimmed by the sound of ominous music, and a series of disjointed shots showed flailing limbs and a fountain of blood in the churning water, their joy morphing to panicked chaos. Rodolphus laughed loudly. "See? Even Muggles like watching their kind get killed."

Lucius supposed he could see the appeal that Rodolphus would find in the images of violence, but had no desire to linger in the house. "Well, I'm off." He sheathed his wand and raised his cane to Disapparate, but Rodolphus wasn't finished yet.

"Big plans tomorrow?" he asked without looking up. Lucius hesitated with a frown at the insinuation in his tone.

"Plans for what?"

"It's the fourth of August, isn't it? Doesn't that date ring any bells? Wedding bells, perhaps?"

Lucius felt a surge of dismay. "Right, I hadn't given it much thought." Narcissa had been in France for their last two anniversaries— he had not even sent a note acknowledging the date. Now that she had returned, he supposed he should do something commemorative for the occasion. "What did you give Bellatrix for yours?"

"Multiple orgasms," Rodolphus smirked, tossing another crisp into his mouth. "And a trip to Havana, but it was pretty obvious which she preferred." Again he chuckled at something happening on the screen, gesturing in amused bafflement. "Can you imagine being so frightened of something as harmless as a shark?"

"This has been supremely unhelpful, as usual," he snapped. "I have a dinner scheduled in town already with Harold Minchum and Millicent Bagnold that I can't postpone… I'll owl the jeweler for something and that will suffice, I suppose."

A ring at the door caused Lucius to stiffen, but Rodolphus laid a finger upon his lips and rose swiftly. "Coming!" he called, moving to the entry hall and grabbing the Muggle's body by its ankles and dragging the corpse into the living room. He then plucked the paper still clenched in the man's hand and opened the door while Lucius looked on, utterly incredulous.

"That'll be sixteen quid and—"

"Here," Rodolphus shoved the Muggle currency at the speaker. "Keep the change." He took the two flat boxes from the dumbfounded man and slammed the door.

"What in Merlin's name…" Lucius trailed off as Rodolphus sat back down and flipped the box open.

"Ever tried pizza? It's not bad."

"I— of course I haven't—" Malfoys did not splutter, but Lucius was finding it difficult to form a coherent sentence. "I'm leaving," he snapped at last. "This is a perversion."

Rodolphus lifted the limp arm of the dead woman next to him and twitched it back and forth in a bizarre, macabre wave of farewell. "Give Cissy my best."

Still shaking his head in disgust, Lucius Disapparated with no more sound than the swish of his cloak.

Lucius sought out his wife early the following afternoon, after receiving several parcels from a jeweler in Diagon Alley and selecting the best of them. She was seated before the piano in the parlour, her fingers moving easily, elegantly over the keys. The song muffled the sound of his approach, so she gave a small gasp of surprise when he set a black box in her line of sight, in front of the sheet music from which she read. At once she ceased playing, and looked up at him with wide, curious eyes.

"What is this?" she queried cautiously, and he arched an eyebrow.

"Surely you didn't forget?" he drawled, leaning against the instrument. "We've been married three years today. Unfortunately I won't be able to join you for supper this evening, but I thought I should find something to commemorate the date."

"Of course I didn't forget," she replied quickly, rising to her feet and moving towards the secretary on the other side of the room. Withdrawing a key from the pocket of her robes, she unlocked a drawer and pulled out a velvet drawstring pouch. "I got this for you, I just wasn't sure…" she trailed off, returning to his side and placing the bag in his hand. He opened it without much curiosity, not particularly interested in what trinket she had purchased for him with his money, but was rather taken aback to pull out an instantly-identifiable blank square of shimmering metal, though he'd never actually handled one before.

"A binding tablet? Where did you find this?" Binding tablets were imbued with an ancient, long-forgotten form of magic by Greco-Roman oracles. Used ones were fairly common to come across: once the spell inscribed upon them was enacted they became inert pieces of lead, safe even for Muggles to find and handle. Blank ones were almost unheard of in the twentieth century, not that anyone possessing one would advertise ownership— they were highly illegal and considered extremely dangerous by most governing bodies. Once a curse was inscribed upon its face, it would seal a fate in an unyielding bond. It could be a severe as a blood curse placed upon a familial line, or as inconsequential as determining the outcome of a sporting event, but if all was done correctly, the magic upon it could not be broken. The main shortcoming of the item was that its power was location-based— he could not, for example, engrave a runic conjuring for mind control upon its face and suddenly have control of the Minister for Magic— it needed to be buried deep within the earth at the victim's dwelling or another spot he or she frequented. Most magical dwellings had basic protection spells that made this task impossible in the current day, but it was still a rare and fascinating Dark artifact.

"Oh," she smiled mysteriously, "I have my sources. These are lovely, by the way," she continued, gesturing to the diamond and emerald necklace and earring set he'd chosen for her. "Thank you."

Her words scarcely registered as his fascination with her gift continued. Since she had moved back to London, he'd permitted her carte blanche in terms of expenses, rather than the monthly allowance he had sent while she resided in France. Though he tracked the spending, he did not monitor it closely; her frequent shopping trips and lunch outings might have caused concern to a less wealthy man, but he saw no reason that she should not be well-outfitted and keep an active social calendar. This tablet, however, he would conservatively estimate to have cost about the same as the average annual salary of a mid-level Ministry employee, yet he'd seen no such exorbitant line item in his ledgers.

Turning the metal thoughtfully over in his hand, he couldn't help but ask, "What did you pay for this?"

"Lucius! What a question," she laughed, almost teasing as she fastened the necklace around her throat and moved to admire herself in the mirror above the mantle. "I believe I negotiated a very fair deal for it, given its rarity. Do you like it?"

"But where did you take the money from?" he pressed. "I haven't seen any withdraws lately that would account for something of this magnitude."

Her smile was quickly souring at his line of interrogation. "Perhaps you forget that I was not destitute when we wed? I do have my own vault at Gringotts you know, and I wanted it to be a surprise."

Lucius rather suspected that by "surprise" she in fact meant that she wanted to option to hide that she had purchased anything at all, should he have forgotten their anniversary. "Yes, well," he slipped the tablet back into its pouch and dropped it into his pocket. "In the future you should let me know if you're planning such a large purchase."

By now her genuine pleasure at receiving the new jewels had fully evaporated, and she removed them with an irritable glance and dropped them unceremoniously back in their box. "I shall endeavor to remember to do so. Happy anniversary, husband, and I do hope you enjoy your supper tonight." She sat back at the bench and picked up her song where she'd left off, effectively dismissing him.


Chapter Text

Saturday, 4 September 1976

"Lucius, do you… have a few moments?"

Lucius glanced up and blinked several times to clear the columns of figures from his head. Normally he would have asked her to wait, in part to make a note of his stopping place and in part to show a lack of regard for her time, but her tone disarmed him. It was soft and hesitant, and though she stood in the doorway with all the posture and grace of her upbringing, her hands were tucked behind her back, eyes cast downwards, and she seemed… brittle. Was she nervous? What could she possibly have done that she would be nervous about? He set his quill down with a dart of curiosity and anticipation.

"Come in, have a seat," he waved a hand indicating the she should make herself comfortable. She stepped in the room and, to his amazement, her eyes flickered to the glass of scotch on his desk, the bar cart nearby, and then to his face for a split second before dropping once more.

"Do you want a drink?" he offered incredulously, actually rising to his feet to pour it for her in his shock. Narcissa began to shake her head, a course of habit, but then took a deep breath and nodded.

"Some… wine might be nice," she admitted at last. He walked over to select a bottle and opened it quickly, hardly realising that he had assumed the role of barkeep as he watched his wife. She did not move to his desk to sit before it, and Lucius sensed her intent and ushered her over to two armchairs before the hearth. She sank down and gave him a look of what could only be described as gratitude when he handed her the goblet. Though he'd been nearly ready to retire mere minutes before, every nerve of his body was now suddenly alert. This behaviour was so unlike Narcissa that he couldn't look away from her; her small sip and then deeper gulp of the wine, the way she cupped the bowl of her beverage in both hands as though to keep it steady. Her long hair was parted in the middle and tucked behind her ears, her face scrubbed clean. She looked young; she was young, but so rarely was he aware of it. Unbidden, Lucius felt a surge of excitement— not the usual streak of adrenaline and anger she provoked, but something deep in his gut. Something that made him want to touch her and feel her weak and yielding under his hand. To have her look at him with her wide and sad eyes, seeking comfort from him.

Why couldn't she always be like this? he wondered suddenly. The hours they could have spared fighting if she just came to him like this, vulnerable and insecure. In a vivid flash, he imagined what it would be like to have her gaze up at him with limpid eyes, sweet and passive as he generously indulged her easy whims. It was what he had imagined, he realised, if he had ever stopped to picture himself as married prior to his actual nuptials.

So enthralled was he with this fantasy and her discomfiture, he did not immediately notice that they had been drinking in silence for several long minutes now. With a snap he summoned the bottles holding their respective beverages, refilling the glasses.

"It's a rather delicate topic," she began at last. "But I wanted to… let you know… or I suppose, discuss the issue with you, before I took any action."

Lucius was quite sure he'd never been so voraciously curious in his life. "I'm glad you came to me then," he offered candidly. She met his eye for a second, and he thought he might have seen another glimmer of gratitude. He leaned forward, scarcely bothering to mask his eagerness.

"I'm concerned…" Here she took a long sip of wine and a deep breath before forcing out the words, "I'm concerned by the fact that I haven't conceived yet." Once she managed to voice the fear, she flushed an appealing shade of pink and brought the goblet to her lips once more. "I didn't want to summon a healer without your knowledge," she explained hastily into her merlot.

Lucius almost laughed aloud, but caught himself just in time. "Narcissa," he smiled, and his tone was so warm and confident that she met his gaze fully at last.

"Don't say we have time," she replied quickly, but there was no edge to the words; with a thrill, he saw that she was pleading with him. "I know there's time but it's been so long and I haven't so much as…" she broke off here, unable to vocalise the thought, and drained her glass for a second time in the short span of time.

"I wasn't going to say that," assured Lucius. "You haven't gotten pregnant because I don't want a child yet," he clarified patiently. He was even considering reaching out to gently take her hand and explain contraceptive potions to her, poor naïve darling, but then he noticed that she had gone still. Strangely so. Perhaps concerningly so.

"You mean to tell me…" Her voice was dangerously low. He couldn't see her eyes; they were veiled by her long lashes as she stared into her emptied cup. However, he suspected that when she did raise them once more, all the insecurity he had been relishing would be gone, replaced with something far less pleasing. "All the this time I've been wondering what was wrong with me, you haven't even been trying to have a child? Every month, when I wonder why I can't even…" her voice was rising steadily in volume, and he knew he should speak, but her disjointed words kept pouring out. "Eight months of pent up frustration and anxiety, only to learn that you—!" Coming to speak with him about this sensitive subject already went against everything she had been raised to understand as appropriate conversation between a man and woman, and fully finishing such an uncouth sentence was beyond her ability, despite the wine. "You never thought to discuss the matter with me? Then why, for Circe's sake, have you even bothered to come to my bed—" she stopped herself once more, but not quite before she had gone too far.

This time, it was Lucius's turn to freeze, processing the words she had both spoken and left unsaid. The fury in her eyes was melting rapidly to something else: panic. "That's not to say… I only mean that—"

If he had allowed himself any sort of serious introspection after their first time together, he would have named the sick feeling in the back of his mind as shame. He hadn't been fully in control, he had hurt her more than necessary. She had run from him afterwards. Though he may not have named the emotion, he had adjusted his actions accordingly. Without exception, he came to her room sober, not too late at night, when he was a usually a little tired and looking for satiation that would afford him a peaceful night of rest. Perhaps there had been a certain lack of ardor, but he'd considered their regular tête-à-têtes satisfying and without antagonism— rare, in interactions between them— and rather thought she'd felt the same. Apparently not.

"I was worried there was something wrong with me, physically," Narcissa was still speaking quickly, attempting to find the right combination of words to negate the ones she had already uttered. "I asked Bella if she thought—"

"You," he spoke suddenly and the word sounded like the tearing of something dark and heavy. "Discussed this matter… with Bellatrix?"

Two bright spots appeared on her already flushed cheeks. "She's my sister," defended Narcissa, "and it isn't as though you and I have the sort of relationship where we can discuss such things. Everything between us is… is sterile at best, when it isn't openly hostile." She picked up the bottle of wine and poured herself a third glass. "I might as well," she gestured with the cup, ignoring its precipitous sloshing, "since there isn't any chance I'll be having a child any time soon!"

"Why in Merlin's name would you ever think that your bloody mad sister was someone you should discuss my personal—"

"Yours!" She cut him off with a cold laugh. "Yes, you're the only one that this involves. And I just… just… lay there, that's what you want, is it? At least Bellatrix has a relationship with her husband, she and Rodolphus have passion, and—"

And then, because he was drunk and furious and because she was right, he seized her by the arm and dragged her to her feet, ignoring the clatter of her goblet to the floor and her gasp of pain. The hand that was not cruelly gripping her upper arm cupped the back of her neck, dragging her forward so she was pressed against him. An outsider coming across the scene might think it an intimate embrace, but in reality, she was utterly trapped and immobile. He dipped his head so is was beside hers, nuzzling the hair at her temple almost tenderly, so that when he spoke, there was no doubt that she could hear every word.

"I've seen Rodolphus rape a girl in front of her parents while your sister restrained them and forced them to watch." Narcissa jerked but he merely tightened his hold. "I saw them fuck in the blood once everyone was dead, while Greyback ate the corpses." His breath was hot in her ear and she tried to revolt again, but he did not free her. "Is that what you want, Narcissa?" He couldn't see her face though she was struggling against him, but the harder she fought the harder he bore down. "Is it?" he panted, twisting her arm and grasping a fistful of her hair and crossing his arms to force her around, so one of his arms encaged her chest and the other pressed against her back in a vice, and she no longer faced him. "Do you know what I could do to you, Narcissa? Do you know how easy it would be?"

Using the fist anchored against her scalp he bent her forward, over the arm of the chair she she been sitting in moments before. A sound caught in her throat and she wrenched against him with all her might, but it scarcely registered. He held out the hand not forcing her down and the cane ensconcing his wand flew into his waiting palm. With the metallic base, he snagged the hem of her dressing gown and drew it sharply upwards, bunching the fabric over her hips and exposing her pale, slim legs.

"What part of it appeals to you the most?" he whispered, resting the length of wood against the bared backs of her knees. "The violence?" With carefully precision, he lightly tapped the tender flesh; she jolted as though he'd slapped her. Lucius dragged the serpent's head higher, the silver no more forgiving than ice on the inside of her thigh. "The voyeurism? Do you want people to see you, Narcissa? Like this?" Beneath his cruel grip she was shaking, but still she refused to give him the satisfaction of a reply. "It could be arranged…" he growled, pressing the unyielding metal against the juxtaposed silk of her undergarments. His threat was unspoken but tangible. Would he dare?

"But some of us have more civilised tastes. You should consider yourself lucky," he spat, shoving her away and watching her stumble with disdain. Fully anticipating her hasty departure, he took a step back, eyes already searching once more for his drink. However, she did not flee; in a whirl of silk she spun back towards him. Her haughty, aristocratic features were twisted into an animalistic grimace, and before he could react she was upon him. Narcissa gripped his face in both her hands, her own an inch away, nails digging into his flesh and drawing blood. In a voice he would never imagined possible from her carefully cultivated throat, she snarled, "I am your wife."

She dragged her nails down his cheeks, leaving crimson streaks, blood beading to the surface of his skin, and Lucius hissed in pain. "Try that again," she warned, her tone granite and unholy, "and it will be the last thing you ever do." And only then did she sweep from the room, certain he would not follow, her head lofted as though it bore a crown.

Saturday, 4 August 1973

"The lovely new Mrs. Malfoy."

Narcissa twitched in surprise but her features were composed by the time she turned to the speaker. "Rodolphus," she acknowledged archly. Her brother-in-law was slouched lazily in a darkened alcove, his features thrown in sharp relief by the glow of his cigar. The chiaroscuro effect failed to disguise the black gleam in his eyes. He beckoned for her to come closer and Narcissa, loath to demonstrate her uneasiness, grudgingly took two small steps in his direction.

"A bit closer pet, I don't like to shout," he purred, a sly smirk stealing across his lips as he took another drag. Her eyes narrowed slightly, and she lofted her chin.

"I wouldn't want to get ash on my robes," she replied with a slight sneer. He chuckled and irreverently ground the lit end of the cigar against the silk wallpaper beside him to snuff it, before straightening up and approaching her instead. Narcissa's spine stiffened and she crossed her arms.

"My dear sister, Lucius will have fun with you, won't he?" Rodolphus laughed again, louder this time, as if at a private joke, and it took nearly all her resolve not to step back. "Cissy, darling, you do look lovely tonight."

"Thank you." Manners came first, her words were automatic. She stared resolutely ahead, and due to his height, this meant her gaze fell low on his chest. She busied herself studying the intricate, bright silver embroidery on his rich brocade robes, a delicate display of artistry for this— in her opinion— most brutish of men. Most of the Pureblooded men she had known all of her life were refined, chivalrous towards women, clean-shaven, and simply not so… large. In the areas he could control Rodolphus made no effort, and furthermore he seemed to enjoy using his size to make others feel inferior or uncomfortable whenever possible. She was unsure what she had done to deserve the misfortune of having such a distasteful man as both her brother by marriage and the best friend of her new husband.

"Well, I didn't come here just to compliment the bride; I have a message." He lowered his head, so his mouth was next to her ear. She fought the urge to cringe away when she felt the scratch of his beard against her temple. "Your beloved has been called out on a bit of urgent business."

Now she did step back, but in confusion rather than fear. Rodolphus was grinning widely, displaying his shining teeth and deep dimples, pleased at her discomfiture. "What do you mean?" she demanded, fighting to keep her tone neutral.

"Lucius has had to leave this splendid party earlier than anticipated," he rearranged his expression into one of mock sorrow. "Much to his dismay, I'm sure." Still with a countenance of utmost contrition, his eyes flickered up and down the length of her body. "And at a great loss."

"You pig." While Narcissa may have been thinking something along those lines, she never would have voiced the words. She gasped softly and turned around once more to see Bellatrix gliding down the corridor towards them. Rodolphus gave a great, bellowing laugh, clearly unconcerned with keeping quiet any longer, and sprang forward to catch his wife around her waist and spin her into his arms.

"Your pig," he corrected, pressing his lips to hers. "Let's get back to the festivities, love."

"Done harassing Cissy, are you?" She rolled her eyes but allowed herself to be steered away from her sister.

"Wait!" Narcissa cried, seizing the voluminous skirts of her wedding robes and hurrying after the pair. "What do you mean, he's left?"

"Ah sorry Cis," Rodolphus didn't even bother looking over his shoulder. "He's out for the night. Maybe a few days. Hard to say, really," he waved a nonchalant hand, the one that was not resting too low on Bella's back, and Narcissa eyed his bejeweled fingers disdainfully. Another flaw of his— it was gauche to wear quite so many precious stones and metals at once, even on a hand so large.

"Where did he go?" She pressed on regardless, though the probability of receiving a response was looking less likely at every moment.

"Can't say, doll," he muttered, though by now he had become entirely enthralled with Bellatrix, his fingers winding in her hair as he stared down at her in rapture. Had it been any other woman Narcissa would have suspected him to be under the influence of a particularly powerful love potion, but she had long watched her older sister have a similar effect on many hapless men over the years. She shifted her tactics.

"Bella," she spoke gently and imploringly, and after a moment and with a great sigh, Bellatrix shrugged off her husband's arm.

"Go back to the party, Roddy," she commanded easily. He quirked an eyebrow but obliged, withdrawing his cigar once more and lighting it with his wand.

"See you in a bit, ladies."

Once he was out of sight, Narcissa pressed on. "What does he mean, Lucius is gone? Did you know about this? Does everyone?"

"Not everyone," she replied, although she didn't quite meet Narcissa's eye. "No one besides me and Rodolphus."

"They will soon enough though?" Narcissa guessed, correctly.

"Well… not if you leave too. Come, I can help slip you out a back exit. Everyone will just assume that the smitten young couple snuck out early. You can have your things brought to his house in London and wait for him there."

Narcissa mulled over her words for a moment, her expression unreadable. Bella shifted impatiently. "You're newlyweds, everyone will think—"

"I know what people will think," she snapped, her calm mask slipping for a moment. Her eyes slid shut and she took a deep, steadying breath. When she opened them, her expression was carefully blank. "No," she continued in her usual soft tones, though her sister could recognise the underlying anger. "No, one of us should be here to thank the guests and give them our goodbyes. It's the only proper thing to do." She squared her shoulders and began heading back to the ballroom like a warrior into battle, Bellatrix skeptically in tow. "And afterward, once everyone has left… I'll be going to our house in the Loire Valley. Father told me this morning it was mine, as a wedding gift. When Mr. Malfoy decides that he is ready for a wife… well, I won't be hard to find."

Chapter Text

Sunday, 5 September, 1976

Deep in the pine forests of northwest Germany, nestled between the rivers Aller and Spetze, ancient and volcanic bedrock breached the skin of the earth to form the Flechtingen Hills. Spruce and beech trees crowded their oak neighbors, creating camouflage for every creature from the gentle doe to malevolent forest drudes that inhabit the woods. One could walk for miles— days— without seeing any signs of human life before coming across the perfectly round clearing encircling a handsome nineteenth century jagdschloss. It was a two-storey, three-winged structure, constructed with locally quarried stone at the foundation and ground floor, and half timbered above. Dormer windows stared down from the steeply slanting shingled roof, and oriel windows adorned the facade below. Though no roads led to or from the edifice, broad stone steps climbed up to an arched entryway, where a stately pair of enchanted oak doors forbade access to any but those to whom an invitation had been explicitly extended.

It so happened that Lucius had received such an invitation two days earlier, scrawled in Rodolphus's lazy shorthand, insisting on his presence for a season of hunting, riding, and revelry. It had been a number of years since Lucius had responded affirmatively to one of these summons, and in fact he had not replied to this missive at all, so Rodolphus was more than a little surprised to be woken in the early hours of the morning by his elf announcing the Master Malfoy had arrived.

"Not that I'm not pleased you're here," he yawned, staggering in wearing a heavy black velvet robe and smoking slippers, "but what in Circe's name were you thinking, showing up at this ungodly time?"

"It's past ten," Lucius sniped at the ungracious reception, rising to greet his friend. They stood in the central wing of the lodge, a dining hall that featured a soaring arched ceiling and exposed beams. Chandeliers of antlers and wax candles levitated above the three long parallel tables, at which a handful of the guests were already seated, eating breakfast and chatting amongst themselves. Rodolphus shrugged and stretched his arms, glancing around idly.

"Bella nearly took the ears off the elf that woke us up. You didn't bring Cissy?"

The question immediately put him on edge, but he forced his voice to remain casual when he replied to avoid alerting Rodolphus to anything out of the ordinary. "She couldn't make it," he stated carefully, sparing any unnecessary details. Fortunately for him, Rodolphus was not at his most astute or observant shortly after waking— he accepted this excuse without comment as he sank into the nearest chair and reached for a roll and marmalade.

"Brötchen?" he offered, gesturing with the bread in his hand to the breakfast spread that had been laid out. Lucius sat beside him, relieved to have escaped further inquiry for the time being. "Glad you decided to come after all," he continued around a bite of boiled egg, "we're taking down a graphorn later this week. I've been tracking a herd that's coming south for the winter; they should pass within a few miles of here by next Sunday, depending on the weather. We'll go riding this morning— I'm breaking a yearling, wait 'til you see him— and fox hunting at dusk."

Lucius nodded agreeably, helping himself to a slice of ham and feeling himself being to relax. It had been far too long since he had allowed himself any sort of leisure, and a week away from the Ministry and his wife without the pressures of a mission from the Dark Lord sounded ideal.

"Roddy said you weren't going to make it." Bellatrix sauntered over to the table where they sat with a lazy smirk. She wore jodhpurs and riding boots with a fitted white silk blouse, and her normally unruly hair was pulled away from her face to accentuate her high cheekbones and finely chiseled nose. She was barefaced in preparation for the ride, and despite her dark and heavy-lidded eyes, he felt this made her resemble her sister more than usual.

"Change of plans," Lucius muttered, turning his attention down to his plate as she dropped gracefully into a seat across from them.

"Where's Cissy?" she demanded at once, her gaze far sharper than her husband's as it sought her sister in the hall.

"She couldn't make it," he echoed the same reasoning he'd given minutes earlier, but Bellatrix arched a brow expectantly, waiting for elaboration. "She's, er, visiting a friend in France."

Rodolphus, who had been rather inelegantly shoveling food into his mouth, paused suddenly upon hearing these words and glanced at Bellatrix, who steadfastly refused to acknowledge the look. It only lasted for a split second, and Bella continued her line of questioning.

"Which friends? The Durands? The Laurents? Adelise de Louis? Manon Chastain? Or maybe—"

"I don't know," Lucius interrupted coldly. "I don't recall the name she gave."

"Well, that's too bad. She has no taste for hunting of course, but she might have enjoyed riding some of the more sedate mares, and there's alway dancing at night."

Lucius said nothing and did not intend to comment, but he was saved the need to do so by another pair of guests entering the hall.

"Mornin' Bella! Rodolphus," Deirbhile Runcorn glided into the room with a wide grin, Laetitia Avery at her side. Both women wore riding habits, but here was where the similarities ended. Whereas her friend was petite almost to the extreme, Deirbhile was a tall, willowy redhead with a heavy brogue and hawkish nose. She had been in her seventh year during Lucius's first so he hadn't known her well at school, but she was from an excellent family— a Prewett on her mother's side— and was known for being a riotously fun addition to any gathering. Lettie dimpled and waved in their direction, but the pair moved to sit by Edward Nott and Sinclair Crabbe.

Rabastan entered the hall next, meandering drowsily towards them. "Malfoy! Haven't seen you up here in ages." He sat down beside Bellatrix with a grin, though instead of eating, he withdrew a cigarette and lit it with his wand. Lucius had spent most of the summer after his fifth and sixth year at the lodge, and the spring holiday of his seventh. He'd only managed one or two brief visits since he'd left school, and he felt gladder by the minute that he'd decided to accept this invitation. "You still owe me a rematch from our last race, if I recall," Rabastan continued.

"I'm rather disadvantaged there," Lucius chuckled. "I can't remember the last time I went riding."

"Well they say you never forget, like riding broomstick— or Granian, as it were. I'll see you down at the stables later then?"

"Wouldn't miss it," he agreed, as Ghada Shafiq drifted in to sink into the chair next to Rabastan.

"Lucius Malfoy, it's be a while," she smiled warmly. "Is Cissy here too?" Ghada was the younger sister of Idris Shafiq, and had been in the same year as Narcissa at Hogwarts. "I was just at your home in London a few weeks ago, it's lovely."

"We're moving to the Manor next month," he assured her quickly, lest she fall under the impression that he and Narcissa were permanently establishing themselves in town.

"She mentioned that! I suppose invitations will be going out soon for Samhain; I'm looking forward to it. I must say, it's a joy to have her back. Not that a trip to the Loire Valley every now and then wasn't nice, but just being able to pop in for tea…" she drifted off, looking suddenly as though she worried she might have said too much. Quickly, she turned to Rabastan instead, placing her hand on his arm. "Let me know when you're heading to the stables?" Without awaiting his reply, she rose to her feet and hurried over to speak with Deirbhile and Laetitia. Rabastan shook his head, slowly exhaling a cloud of smoke.

"When are you going to propose to her?" Rodolphus demanded, rather unkindly. His younger brother shrugged, taking a long drag.

"I'm in no hurry. It's your responsibility to carry on the name, not mine. Speaking of which, when are you—" he rounded on Bellatrix with an expectant smirk, but she didn't bother to afford him a glance.

"Finish that sentence and I'll put the cigarette out in your eye, Bash," she yawned, reaching for a pitcher of pumpkin juice. The four of them managed to keep conversation relatively amiable for the rest of the meal, which required avoiding a number of uncomfortable subjects, such as Narcissa's weakly accounted for absence, a future Lestrange heir (or lack thereof), and the fact Rabastan had poured almost an entire flask of liquor into his coffee by the time they rose to head out.

It was a clear, cool morning, and the woods were filled with the sound of chatter, laughter, and crunching footsteps as the group of twenty or so witches and wizards made the brief trek out to the extensive stables and numerous cleared and fenced-off training areas. The Magister Equitum had already brought the sleek grey Granians out and bridled them in preparation for the day's ride. Rodolphus led the way, eagerly waving Lucius over to one of the horses.

"I think he'll be over twenty hands by the time he's finished growing," Rodolphus circled the pale pewter, dappled horse appraisingly, "and at least a thirty foot wingspan. Magnificent, isn't he? Only eighteen months, but in a year or two I think he'll be my best racer." With a grin he seized a handful of the horse's mane and hauled himself onto its back. On the other side of the paddock, Bellatrix leapt upon a graphite-colored stallion, dug her heels into the creature's sides, and took off at once. Lucius selected a pale ash mount of his own, pulling himself up with slightly less ease— he hadn't lied when he told Rabastan it had been too long since he'd been riding. Speaking of— the younger Lestrange rode over on a smoke grey gelding, grinning.

"Alright then, Malfoy?" he cantered up beside him. "You sure one of the mares would be more your speed?" he goaded, nodding towards the next enclosure where the rest of the women were laughing and settling into their side saddles— Bellatrix was naturally the only of them to ride astride like the men.

"Well enough," he replied, tugging on his mount's bridle. It spread its wings at once, ready to take to the air. "Now shall we say to the Aller and back?"

For supper that evening, the three long tables had been moved to be adjacent to each of the three walls of the cavernous space. Rodolphus and Bellatrix sat at the center of the table at the head of the hall like royalty; while the other two still had highbacked chairs on both sides, at their table all of the ones on the side that might impede the view of and from the open floor had been removed. Both were dressed resplendently in coordinating dress robes of rich vermillion; a golden diadem even glimmered from Bellatrix's ungovernable black locks, completing the illusion. They were perfect co-regents of a dark and indulgent underworld, hosting dukes of debauchery; emissaries of excess; viscounts of vice.

Rabastan was already seated at his brother's right hand, the place of highest honor aside from those taken by the hosts. Lucius moved to sit next to Bellatrix instead, the second-most position of status. She smiled lazily in his direction, pushing a pitcher of wine towards him.

"Good hunt today, Malfoy," she drawled, "though honestly, your riding could use some work."

"I'm out of practice," he conceded, filling his goblet and taking a deep swallow. "There's obviously no room for stables in Mayfair. I'll have to take it up again once I move back to the Manor."

"You've always been a good hunter though, certainly up to scratch there," she winked. Lucius smirked.

"Foxes are rather more of a challenge than Muggles, so it was still exciting," he replied casually, causing her to laugh brightly and clink her glass to his in a toast. Lucius helped himself to some sauerbraten and potatoes with a low chuckle. Rodolphus leaned forward to catch his attention and draw him into a discussion he'd been carrying on with his brother.

"Back me up here, Malfoy- the Holyhead Harpies are an embarrassment to the league."

"The Harpies will win next year," Lucius replied succinctly, drawing disbelieving laughs from those who heard them. Rodolphus straightened up, outraged.

"Not a chance! Why, I'd be willing to bet they don't even place close to the top ten."

"I'll take that bet," Lucius reply with a sly smirk. He remembered the small sack of gold he'd slipped to Slughorn to get the league's best up-and-coming recruit to quietly join the underdog team; he wondered how much of a profit he could glean from Rodolphus. It was the chance he'd been waiting for.

"Put your galleons where your guess is, Malfoy," the elder Lestrange goaded, causing Lucius's smirk to widen.

"Very well. Name your price, Roddy." Rodolphus had always hated the nickname, tolerating it only from Bellatrix, and he gave a silent snarl.

"Your father's globe," he challenged, to the confusion of those listening in. The globe was a key to the Malfoy's financial success over the centuries, but it wasn't a secret Lucius shared with many. Lucius narrowed his eyes— Rodolphus has set the bar unfathomably high for a sporting bet.

"Mine now," he corrected with feigned lightness, "and I'll only barter that against one thing— Flamel's debt to you five-times-great-grandfather."

They were speaking in riddles to one another now, a reflection of their long friendship, but much to his surprise Rodolphus nodded and reached over to shake his hand. Tucked deep somewhere in their vault at Gringotts, the Lestranges possessed a small satchel of dust from the Philosopher's Stone. By simply sanding the corner of the rock into a fine-grained sand, Flamel had shared a tiny portion of his immortality in exchange for some great and forgotten favor— but only enough to extend a single user's lifespan by a century, give or take a decade. Lucius, however, privately envisioned a different use for the powder; he suspected that the dust could be mixed with sands of Atlantis and charmed in such a way as to create a Time Turner with the ability to span lifetimes, generations, millennia. It was an incredibly dangerous notion but then, perhaps the only worthy adversary to a globe that indicated where important men were living and dying— where fortunes were made and lost in seconds of opportunity. A wealthy patriarch could perish on the other side of the world and Lucius— as his forefathers before him— could appear in an instant to capitalize on the abrupt familial instability. It had served them well since the Elizabethan era, though the Lestranges had, perhaps wisely, never spent much time engaging with their own unique possession.

Lucius was sure he would win and Roldolphus was reckless. It was the perfect combination. After they shook hands on the bet, Rodolphus changed the subject.

"I flew north today," he announced loudly, so his voice carried throughout the hall. "The graphorn herd is closer than I initially thought— we'll take one down on Friday." This announcement drew cheers and applause from the others; it was always a most exhilarating hunt. Grinning at the reception of his statement, Rodolphus settled back in his seat and turned to privately address his brother and Ghada Shafiq, who sat to Rabastan's right. A flurry of colorful silks to Lucius's left drew his attention.

"Hello there, is this seat taken?" Laetitia trilled in her breathy soprano. Lucius grinned.

"If it were, I'd forcibly vacate it at once to make space for you," he offered, and Lettie giggled appealingly as she slipped next to him.

"Such a charmer," she sighed, tossing a mass of golden curls over her shoulder and resting her chin prettily in her palm as she fluttered her lashes across the hall. Lucius followed her gaze to the leftmost corner of the room where a group of men sat—he couldn't guess which one had captured her attention.

"Are you trying to make someone jealous, Lettie?" he guessed, accurately. She sat up at once and flushed an endearing pink.

"You have my undivided attention," she promised as a distraction, clasping his hand and turning to him with wide and entreating eyes. He smirked and used the opportunity to slide an arm around her bare shoulders; her dress robes featured a coy Bardot neckline and he did not bother to to disguise his appreciation of her exposed skin, skating his fingertips over the nape of her neck as he pulled her closer. A new song was beginning, something of an updated Regency quadrille, and Lucius pulled her to her feet. She was nearly a foot shorter than he, but a superb dancer, and she was happy to be led to the floor.

"So who is it?" he insisted as they easily fell into the rhythm of the steps. "Idris Shafiq? Not a bad choice."

"Idris is moving to Pakistan in the spring, hadn't you heard? Most of his father's family is still there, and Amon is concerned about his only son being forced into service of the Dark Lord. He'll marry a witch there and send their children to Durmstrang or Uagadou, to stay out of the whole affair."

"Coward," Lucius hissed, his lip curling.

"I don't disagree," she sighed. "Ghada will stay though, her parents still hope that Rabastan will extend an offer of marriage."

"Best of luck to her," Lucius muttered, effortlessly lifting Lettie into the air by her waist and setting her down once more as the tune dictated. She glanced up at him coyly, her interest piqued.

"Do you think he won't? Is there someone else?"

"I wouldn't know," he evaded quickly. It wouldn't do to discuss the personal affairs of the Lestrange family. Lucius knew more than most about the fates of Mr. and Mrs. Lestrange and suspected even more— their mother had died when he was only six and Rabastan had been fully orphaned at the tender age of twelve; the boy had never quite recovered from being raised largely by his unpredictable brother. Nothing about him suggested the ability to bear a functional relationship, with a woman or otherwise. He decided redirecting the conversation was the safest course of action. "Still, the heir of a Sacred Twenty-Eight family leaving the country... a huge disappointment, certainly. There are so few truly great families left here as it is."

"Geographies come and go," Laetitia countered airily. "Take Francesca for example, her family had no presence here a generation ago, but the Zabini bloodline is incontrovertible." Her eyes moved curiously over the faces around them. "I'm rather surprised she isn't here, actually."

"I don't think she and Rodolphus get on well," Lucius offered, then immediately wished he hadn't. Lettie rolled her eyes.

"I forget how unbearable he was before he married Bella. Do you remember when he—"

"You still haven't told me," he interrupted, "who it is that you're trying to beguile, if not Idris."

"I said already, Lucius." The song was drawing to a close, and she pulled away with a teasing grin. "You have my utmost attention as always. Now, I must go find Deirbhile before she has enough Reisling to persuade herself that Sinclair isn't so bad looking."

"You're a good friend," he assured her with a grin and quick peck on the cheek, before she flounced off across the hall.

Friday, 10 September, 1976

The morning that the graphorn herd moved into range, the hunting party woke and assembled before dawn— even Rodolphus had retired early the night before and was up and eagerly distributing weapons. The group had spent the week enchanting a selection of crossbows, atlatls, clubs, and swords. Graphorn hide repelled most spells, and any curse that could penetrate its skin was likely to cause explosive damage that would destroy the valuable tusks.

Lucius selected a crossbow. Nearby, Bellatrix took practice aim and flung her spear at an ancient oak. It pierced the trunk, slicing all the way through and lodging instead in the tree several meters behind it. Satisfied, she sauntered over to dislodge and loft it triumphantly above her head with a wild grin, turning to face the assembly.

"Well? What are we waiting for?" As if on cue, a great rustling filled the air, and Rabastan appeared above the treetops astride one of the fastest Granians, leading one for each hunter, carefully selected from the herd as the best trained and most agile.

The flight was short, less than three miles. Graphorns had no natural enemies, so the herd was not perturbed by the beating of wings well above as the six wizards and one witch circled overhead. There were perhaps twenty five in the group of animals, and while a calf or smaller female would be the easiest to take down, the true prize was the horns, and the largest and most valuable of these would be found on the leader of the herd.

The first step would be to separate the bull from the rest of the herd. As the strongest in the pack, it led the way but was not well guarded, and the technique was risky but not particularly difficult. At a signal from Rodolphus, three hunters peeled away from the rest. Rabastan, Edward Nott, and Idris Shafiq flew in a wide arc, looping back to face the herd in a parallel line almost directly above the leader's humped back. At a second signal, they dove directly at the herd, shattering the calm morning air with shouts and brandishing their weaponry, firing noisy spells into the air, startling and driving the herd back. Meanwhile, Lucius and Crabbe flew in low to the ground from the opposite direction on their target's right, while Bellatrix and Rodolphus mirrored their movements from the left, driving it and it alone forward in panic. The maneuver worked, an auspicious indication— while the rest of the herd stampeded back the way it had come for safety, the leader was left exposed and alone.

Eager to draw first blood, Bellatrix gave a battle cry and hurled her spear towards the isolated graphorn. She hit her mark, but the point was embedded only an inch or two, nowhere close to a fatal blow. However this was sufficient distraction to cause it to begin to turn in her direction, and Sinclair Crabbe used the opportunity to swoop forward with a club and smash a mighty blow to its right eye. With a bellow it swung its great head towards this new assailant.

Crabbe pulled away, but not quickly enough; one of the beast's horns caught the flank of his mount and tore through the lean flesh and muscle. The winged horse gave a scream of agony and Sinclair was flung forward as the Granian plummeted, hitting the ground at force from at least twenty feet. The real danger, however, was not from the fall: half-blinded and enraged, the graphorn's massive, four-thumbed feet trampled indiscriminately. A sickening crunch of bone silenced the horse's whines of pain abruptly, but Crabbe managed to roll out of the way just in time to avoid the same fate.

Lucius took aim at the remaining eye, but Rodolphus flew up behind the creature and slashed at its hind leg at the same moment. It turned, and Lucius swore as his arrow was deflected easily by the thick hide of its shoulder. Bellatrix had managed to reclaim her spear, and was circling overhead once more. By now, confident that the rest of the herd was safely out of reach, the other three men returned, and the six began to circle the confused and aggressive monster. Crabbe had climbed to the top of a nearby outcropping of rock and held his club defensively, but it was far too dangerous for him to approach on foot. Lucius lifted his crossbow once more, waiting for his opportunity to strike. Rodolphus flew down again, a flash of silver as he hacked at the same back leg as before, this time succeeding in deepening the gash in the mottled purplish-grey hide enough to knick its hamstring.

Flying on opposite sides of the graphorn, Shafiq and Nott used enchanted atlatls to launch sharpened projectiles at its hump. Both lodged, still far from fatal, but further incensed their victim. It reared back and Lucius at last found his moment— he released an arrow and this time it drove into the eye that Crabbe had not already destroyed.

A primal shout of victory rose from the group; now blinded, there was no chance that their quarry would escape. It could still cause a great deal of damage without sight, but Rodolphus dove down and struck the same wound he'd been creating for a final time, deeply severing the muscle and causing the leg to give out beneath the creature's vast weight. It gave a bellow of pain, and in this instant, Bellatrix leapt from her horse with an ecstatic scream, both hands on her spear as she drove it into the bull's opened mouth and down its throat. It was a wildly risky move, and she could have easily been gored by one of its horns or crushed beneath its collapsing body, but Rodolphus, still mounted, was behind her in a blink and caught her easily around the waist with one arm, pulling her to safety with a laugh loud enough to be heard over the spluttering groans of the dying graphorn.

The group landed around the massive, still-shuddering body and dismounted quickly. Rodolphus reached it first, his blade drawn, and he immediately began hacking at the base of one of the horns. Bellatrix arrived and began to pull at her spear, the weapon that had delivered the final blow, and Rabastan and Idris went to work on the second tusk. Nott and Lucius stood back, surveying the damage. Crabbe was jogging over, still too far to hear them.

"Rodolphus won't let him come on the next hunt," Edward predicted drily, watching the hulking man lumber towards them with distaste. Lucius nodded in agreement.

"He'll recoup the financial loss of the dead granian a dozen times over selling the horns, but Crabbe was sloppy and the risk was unnecessary."

Bellatrix at last freed her weapon, managing to cover herself the beast's blood. With a grunt of effort, Rodolphus stomped down on the horn to snap it off entirely, then turned to his wife with an ecstatic smile that resembled the grimace of a wild animal. He grabbed her face and pulled her lips to his, smearing the blood on her cheeks under his fingers. The rest of the party ignored them, used to this behaviour from the pair after a successful kill.

Crabbe joined Idris and Rabastan and with a final heave they managed to dislodge the second horn. Dragging himself away from his wife, Rodolphus remounted his stallion and Idris passed the horns up to him. Following suit, the rest climbed back upon their horses, except for Crabbe, who lingered awkwardly on the ground.

"It's not far, you can walk," Rodolphus told him icily, digging his heels into the sides of his horse and shooting off. Bellatrix rolled her eyes and, with a glance at her brother-in-law, dismounted and pulled herself up behind Rabastan.

"Thanks, Bella—" Crabbe began, but they had already lifted away as well. He hurried towards her vacated Granian, and Lucius took off with a derisive smirk. When they landed back at the lodge, most of the guests had come out to greet them, and there were shouts of excitement and celebration. Lucius moved through a sea of congratulatory voices, and couldn't resist stopping to recount several of the highlights.

Still grinning, he placed one foot on the wide stone steps leading to the double oak doors of the lodge, but then he glanced up and froze. At the landing stood Narcissa, dressed in a heavy emerald brocade robe and draped in a matching velvet cloak. She seemed to have selected the colors from the lush forest surrounding them, and the contrasting fairness of her skin and hair seemed to gleam in the dim afternoon light. How had she found him?

He took the steps two at a time, his expression betraying no displeasure at the sight of her, taking her hand and bowing his head over it when he reached the top step. "My darling wife," he drawled, releasing her quickly and stepping to her side. He monitored her movements carefully— would she curse him, in front of all these witnesses? But Narcissa merely gazed up at him placidly, even feigning a wan smile at his greeting.

"Cissy, you've arrived at last!" Bellatrix caught up with them, grinning wickedly. "Turns out she could make it after all, Lucius."

Well, that answered how she had located him at any rate. Bellatrix was streaked with dirt and blood from the hunt, and Narcissa unconsciously took half a step away from her sister.

"Yes, thank you for sending the portkey, I'm sure I never would have found it based on your directions," she quipped drily, "'Deep in the woods, I think there's a river nearby' is how I believe you described it?"

Bellatrix tipped her head back and laughed, brushing past her sister and gesturing that she should follow. Rodolphus was close behind them, but Narcissa was spared any unwelcome physical contact from her brother-in-law as he still balanced a gold graphorn tusk over each shoulder, grasping the narrower ends in his hands to keep them steady.

"Hey Cissy," he winked, and trailed after his wife into the lodge. Lucius purposefully walked behind Narcissa to avoid her gaze. Fortunately he had the excuse of needing to shower and change, whereas Narcissa was already dressed for supper and remained downstairs with the rest of the women. He doubted there was a separate spare bedroom she could take, and even if there were, it would be an uncomfortable thing to insist upon when it had not been offered. Her belongings had already been taken up to his suite, though he tried to ignore this fact as he put on his dress robes. It wouldn't too difficult to avoid a discussion with her during the meal, and he pushed the knowledge that he would have to face her one-on-one later tonight from his mind.

When he returned back to the main floor, most of the guests were milling between the entry hall and the main parlour with drinks, waiting for the host and hostess to reappear. Lucius did not ignore his wife per se, but he actively refused to seek her out as he instead headed towards the bar where a surly dwarf was pouring cocktails. He nodded in greeting to Sinclair Crabbe as he waited for his scotch.

"Alright then?" he asked carelessly, drumming his fingers on the dark gleaming wood as he waited.

"Prost, Malfoy," Crabbe replied, raising and then draining his own glass. "Great sport today. Lestrange will be hard-pressed to come up with anything better in the coming weeks."

"Well, I'm sure he'll think of something. His elves have been clearing the old Quidditch pitch, I imagine he has a tournament in mind. I won't be here to see it, unfortunately," he added, accepting his drink from the dwarf without thanks. The Lestranges would continue to hold court here until shortly before Samhain, likely returning to the city only for a brief spell to participate in Michaelmas festivities. "I've ignored responsibility for long enough," he continued, taking a sip of scotch. "I'll be returning to London tomorrow." He'd made this decision approximately a half hour ago while showering and trying to decide how best to deal with the surprise appearance at the lodge. No matter how he handled the issue, he was confident he'd prefer to do so in private, away from the endlessly curious and often malicious gazes of their peers. Besides, he had been out of touch with business and government contacts for a full five days now, the longest since before he'd come of age, excepting times he was on extended missions on behalf of the Dark Lord.

Crabbe mumbled something about how it was a shame to see him go, but his reply was cut short the long awaited arrival of the Lestranges drifting carelessly down the main staircase. As usual, the pair could not resist the opportunity to make an entrance. As they descended— again in coordinating robes, this time of navy brocade embroidered with silver— music began to play in the dining hall.

"Let's eat!" Rodolphus roared, raising both arms and grinning widely, leading the procession of witches and wizards through the massive double doors. As he had been over the past week, Lucius sat to Bellatrix's left; the seat next to him had been occupied by a rotating cast of characters, but tonight, as was proper, the chair was left for his wife. Narcissa was one of the last to enter the hall, deep in conversation with Ghada Shafiq, and the pair moved towards the main table together, splitting at the last moment to move to the mirror seats of one another— Ghada as the de facto consort of Rabastan, and Narcissa as the de jure spouse of Lucius.

He did not greet her when she sank gracefully down beside him, and was spared the need to do so when Bellatrix unexpectedly grasped his arm.

"Switch places with me Malfoy," she demanded, rising to her feet. "I want to talk to Cissy. You can keep Roddy occupied."

Normally this sort of demand would have rankled him to the point of argument, but he was grateful to have a human barrier. Without complaint he rose as well and moved a chair over to his right. Rodolphus registered the swap with a nod, asking at once, "Stichstock tourney, starting tomorrow. What do you think?"

"I think you are the only reason the memory of that game has not yet died out. Regardless, I won't be able to join. I'm returning to London tomorrow."

Rodolphus snorted and Lucius knew at once that his friend would not accept the same empty excuses that Crabbe had. "I'm sure that had nothing to do with Cissy showing up today."

"Some of us have responsibilities, you know," he snarled. "I've already wasted enough time here."

Rodolphus, who had been eating with one hand and had the other arm around the back of his brother's chair, dropped both to turn and fully to face Lucius.

"A waste of time? Are you joking?" His dark eyes were sparking dangerously and as always, his voice carried at an inappropriate volume. "You fucking ingrate, I invite you to my home and you spend the week fawning over beautiful girls and getting drunk on my best whiskey, and you have the nerve to pretend it's been an inconvenience? Fuck off, Malfoy."

"You needn't be so sensitive," Lucius drawled, draining his goblet and reaching for a flagon of Trollinger on the table. "I didn't mean it as an insult, I'm only saying that I haven't checked my post in almost a week... It's not my fault that you have this place enchanted against owl detection."

Rodolphus's volatile temper settled as quickly as it had flared. Instead he shifted the conversation to the inferiority of the wine being served compared to that of the previous evening; a conversation to which Lucius was more than willing to contribute.

Once the meal was cleared away, dancing began and Lucius focused primarily on drinking. Rabastan led Narcissa onto the dance floor almost immediately and he watched them with disinterest, even as several other men vied for her hand. All he could focus on was the leaden sense of dread in his gut, knowing that in a few short hourshe would be obligated to spend time alone with her. He rather hoped that if he stayed up past the prime of the merriment she might retire early and he could avoid engaging with her directly, but it turned out that she was entirely capable of entertaining herself and others well into the small hours of the morning. When at last the crowd had thinned to just a few stragglers, Lucius found himself departing to his rooms quite unalone, with Narcissa bidding goodnight to her sister and friends as she ascended the stairs behind her husband. Once the Malfoys reached their shared chamber it turned out that each was unwilling to strip their robes and reveal any hint of vulnerability; instead, they took the seats before the hearth in their room and continued to drink rather than converse.

It was Narcissa who broke the silence at last, just when it had, perhaps, stretched on long enough to be mistaken as companionable. "I think you're a coward for coming here. For running away, after what you did."

Lucius continued to stare into the flames. "Did it ever occur to you that perhaps the fact I left had nothing to do with fear and everything to do with a lack of desire to see you? And yet, here you are."

"I don't believe you," she replied simply. "You know, when we were first married, I might have believed you; believed that it was something wrong with me. I thought for a long time that I had done something wrong… why else would you vanish from our wedding without a word? Why else would you leave me in Blois for two years, and have child with another woman? What must I have done for you to threaten to sell my home and lands to a Mudblood? But I've been starting to realize, over the past year, that it's really nothing to do with me at all, is it? And last week, you finally confirmed it. It's not that I've done something wrong, except perhaps bruise your ego. It's that you don't see me at all. You don't see anyone besides yourself."

Lucius did not immediately deny the accusation. Instead, he let the words hang in the darkness above the mantlepiece, grow hot in the embers of the fire, cool on the ice in his glass.

"I could tell you," he began at last, "that I'm involved with a great number of things from which it would be best that you stay separated. But I suppose you've gathered as much by now." With a heavy sigh, he ran a hand down his face. "But was I meant to tell you that at our wedding? And then when I came back, you were gone." He took a long swig. "You'd gone to France. Was I meant to drag you back to London and force you to play house? Besides, I didn't exactly have time to be a doting husband. Perhaps it was easier, having you gone," he admitted at last.

"Then why marry at all? I wasn't forced into it, so certainly you could not have been either."

He shrugged. "I had hoped it would drive my father out of the Manor. I had very little time to find a wife and Father had done the work for me— there you were, young and beautiful and of flawless reputation, aside from the stain of your sister. Which is, I assume, the reason Cygnus was in such a hurry to see you wed?"

Narcissa gave a brief, jerky nod and took a long sip of wine without speaking.

"I doubted anyone better would come along, and besides," he snorted, "you seemed pleasant enough at the time."

Her eyes flashed dangerously and she opened her mouth, but Lucius pressed on quickly. "I didn't agree to it with a mind to make you unhappy."

For some time, they lapsed into silence once more. The ugly and unspoken truth was that, no matter his intentions, clearly neither of them was happy now.

"It will be dawn in a few hours," he spoke once more at last, and gestured towards the bed behind them. "You should get some rest."

"And you?" she queried as she rose to her feet, albeit gripping the arm of her chair for support. They'd both had more than a little to drink. He regarded her thoughtfully, tracing each step as she moved unsteadily across the room. She shrugged her robes off, careless now, and sank onto the edge of the bed gratefully, the plush mattress sinking beneath her hips. With practiced ease, she began to wind her hair into a plait. There was nothing performative in the act; in fact, he doubted any outside those closest to her had ever witnessed it. Certainly he had never been permitted to watch such a personal moment. Usually she wore her hair long and loose, neatly brushed back from her face and virginal in its simplicity. And why not? It was a shining halo that was hers alone, unseen in either of her sisters. For more formal events her carefully composed coifs were the epitome of style and the very height of fashion, and the work of hours of elves' weaving fingers. This was something else entirely.

Unbidden, Lucius rose abruptly to his feet and moved to sit beside her, reaching for the thick cord of her braid and winding it around his hand. Narcissa did not protest but grew quite still, her hands coming to gently rest in her lap as she anticipated his next action. "My lovely Porphyria," he murmured wryly, brushing his free hand along the exposed sweep of her neck. At once she stiffened, as though she would pull away. He quickly released her hair to allow her to do so and stood once more. Again he had said precisely the wrong thing; he'd only been reminded of the poem in passing, but supposed it was unsurprising that she had heard a threat in the words.

"Robert Browning was a Muggle," she snapped, pulling back the duvet to slip beneath it. Lucius shrugged and headed back to the fire and his scotch.

"Son of a Squib and a Mudblood, but his blood wasn't worth much more than that of a Muggle," he conceded as he sat back down, glaring into the flames. "The poem is about a witch though. His Squib mother's sister. Hopelessly in love with a man who was promised to another, and honour-bound to give her up. So she chose to die in his arms instead."

There was a beat of silence, but curiosity overcame her irritation. "How do you know that?"

"She was in love with Thaddeus Malfoy," he drawled, back settling into the armchair that he supposed would have to serve as his resting place this evening. "And his Porphyria was a Halfblood witch. He married a Bulstrode girl instead, his intended, as was his duty. No poems about that relationship," he gave a mirthless chuckle. "They had a son though, and that son was my grandfather."

"What an illustrious, woman-murdering ancestor you have," Narcissa replied coldly. Lucius laughed outright at the statement, finishing off yet another glass.

"My darling, don't be a hypocrite. Neither of our lines would have survived without a few convenient deaths here and there over the centuries. Besides, Porphyria chose to die. Rather romantic, don't you think?"

"No," Narcissa replied promptly. "Foolish."

Lucius smirked, and though she was in the dark behind him, he was certain she could hear it in his tone when he replied, "Some women would prefer to die than marry anyone other than the Malfoy heir."

"As I said— foolish."

Lucius scowled and closed his eyes, leaning his head against the leather back of the chair. "Go to sleep, Narcissa."

"Good night, husband," she bid him bitterly, and did not speak again. Whether or not she slept he could not say, but he spent the next few hours somewhere between dozing and drunken restlessness, unable to get comfortable and unwilling to go lie beside her. Too much of what she had said that evening had been a truth that did not sit well with him. He did not think her faultless or a victim, but perhaps he had not been entirely fair to her over the course of their marriage. Not that he had mistreated her— well, aside from the night in his study last week, but she had insulted and provoked him in that instance. He disagreed that it was cowardice that drove him here, for in reality he had not been sure he could reign in his temper towards her if he had stayed, and it was in her best interest that he put some distance between them. What was the phrase she had used? Bruise his ego? He couldn't deny that he was tempted to prove her wrong— but he had proof of that enough already; countless women who would disagree with her opinion that he was an unsatisfactory lover. The real issue, he believed, was that she didn't want him for reasons outside of the bedroom, and no amount of skill could surmount that barrier.

What if, he wondered with a touch of resentment towards Narcissa, he had married one of his previous paramours instead? Angelique, perhaps; while her mannerisms might have been foreign and often mystifying to him, and he knew they would have fallen apart in wedlock, she had always been exciting and unexpected. She had treated him as a plaything, much as he had her, and the mutual disregard for social niceties had led them to fucking in bathrooms in pubs, in alleyways in the posher parts of London, anywhere they could steal a few moments alone, really. He didn't admire her for it but he didn't judge her either. As always when he recalled her he felt a squirming sense of guilt; he shouldn't have let her have his child.

Pushing this from his thoughts he let his mind wander further back: to his school days. He could have found a wife there if he'd bothered to give it any thought. There'd been Laetitia Avery, the first witch he'd every been with, although she had been three years his senior and rather hesitant to be seen out publicly with a fourth year. Francesca Zabini could have been an option. She was a stunningly beautiful witch and in retrospect he supposed she had wanted a relationship with him, although at the time he had never considered that she was interested in anything more than casual sex. One time in particular, he recalled, he had been alone in the common room late at night— brooding, she always used to tease him, since when things began to seem overwhelming he would stand by the fire, one hand resting on the mantle, glaring into the flames. The randomness of the burning logs soothed him, watching the wood eaten slowly by worming and writhing brilliant seams of light. She had come downstairs and seen him there, and without a word she had crossed the room to where her stood, unfastened his belt, and dropped to her knees before him. It was still one of his favorite memories to replay when he was with a less stimulating woman.

It was dawn by now; Lucius stood and stretched, stifling a low groan of discomfort. A cold shower helped him sober up and wash away the dredges of the strange night, and when he emerged, Narcissa was still soundly asleep. He decided to join her in the bed at last, knowing he would not drift off himself as sunlight streamed in through the gaps in the heavy drapes.

Lucius was not accustomed to being inactively in bed with a woman, and it was more instinct or reflex than intent that caused him to sidle up behind her, his hand drifting over her breast and stomach and reaching between her thighs. Sterile, she had called this? Little did she know. Narcissa stirred.

"Mon cher," she murmured, and though her voice was thick with sleep, she was smiling when she continued. "Arrêtez!" To his surprise, she giggled and rolled over to nuzzle against his chest. "Nous ne pouvons—" Suddenly, she froze. Her eyes flew open and she twitched her chin up at him with an expression that reminded him of nothing so much as a cornered animal.


"Nothing!" Narcissa blurted, her face flushing as she began to wriggle away from him. He sat up, confused but not sure whether or not he should be angry with her. She was certainly behaving oddly, but he wasn't sure why, or what exactly what she had said. My dear, she had called him, unusual but not necessarily insulting. The rest he had missed— while he had a thorough knowledge of Latin, Gobbledegook, and Swedish, and could muddle though some conversation in Italian or Bulgarian, his French was sadly lacking.

Narcissa rose quickly and headed for the en suite, locking the door and turning on the water. Lucius shook his head and stood as well, frowning as he dressed for breakfast. He could hear other voices from below and, deciding not to wait for his wife, he headed downstairs. On the way to the dining room, he caught sight of a familiar figure turning the corner.

"Bellatrix!" he called, a new idea forming. She whirled around with an arched brow; he supposed he did not often seek her out specifically, but it was too late to reconsider now.

"I was wondering if you could translate something for me."

"Aren't you supposed to be the one that's good with languages?" she asked, producing a cigarette from the pocket of her robes and lighting it with a snap.

"With some; I don't speak French," which she well knew; Bellatrix just enjoyed reminding others of their inadequacies.

"Of course not. Well, give it here then," she held out a hand, waiting for him to hand over whatever note or text he needed translated. Rabastan came whistling down the stairs at that moment and Lucius stalled uncomfortably. The younger man exclaimed in pleasure to see them both; he plucked the cigarette from Bellatrix's lips, took a drag, and returned it with a peck on her cheek. She smiled at him tolerantly; after her marriage to Rodolphus, she had adopted a similar affection towards Rabastan that she showed her own younger sisters. Or rather, sister.

"Are you two coming to—"

"Can you give us a moment, Rabastan?" Lucius snarled, startling both of them.

"Erm, sure Malfoy." He gave Bellatrix a confused look as he departed, but she shrugged and turned back to Lucius expectantly.

"What does… Ar-ree-tee mean?" Lucius asked in a would-be casual undertone, once Rabastan was gone at last. Bellatrix gave him an odd look. "Ah-reet-ee?" He tried again.

"Arrêtez?" she asked with a scathing smirk that he chose to ignore. "It means 'stop.' Why? Trying to learn French, what, to impress your wife?" When he didn't reply, her smirk widened. "Or are you bothering Cissy? Arrêtez Malfoy," she mimicked her sister scolding, "Parles français comme une vache espagnole."

Lucius glared but remained silent. So Narcissa had told him to stop, which was not out of character, but for some inexplicable reason she had been smiling. And then what had she said after?

Bellatrix was laughing now, and placed a seemingly-affectionate hand on his cheek, patting gently. "Bête comme ses pieds," she continued in a staccato falsetto.

"Qui?" Narcissa was descending the stairs now, her gaze sharp.

"Ton mari," she replied lightly, taking a drag.

"Ferme ta gueule!" Narcissa snapped, sweeping over to the pair and pushing Bellatrix's arm away from her husband. "Casse-toi, Bella."

With a shrug, she turned and glided from the room, singing a song in French that sounded vaguely familiar and highly sardonic.

"What were you two talking about?" Narcissa demanded, her irritation switching targets as her sister disappeared. Frustrated and vaguely offended by the whole exchange, he ignored her question and tried to move past her towards the dining room, but she blocked his path. "Lucius—"

"What did you say earlier?" he demanded, seeing no further evasive route.

"I just said… 'stop,'" she wouldn't quite meet his eye. "I didn't mean to… offend you. I was asleep and dreaming, I was confused."

"Dreaming in French?" he pressed on suspiciously.

"Well, yes. We grew up speaking French and English at home, and between when I left Hogwarts and before I came to London, it's what I spoke almost exclusively."

The explanation made sense, but there was still something she wasn't telling him. Her chin was jutted defiantly and her gaze was fixed somewhere past his left ear. He decided to change tactics. Carefully, he placed the side of his hooked index finger below her chin, and used it to guide her eyes to meet his as he dropped his head towards hers.

"You called me 'mon cher.' I don't need a translator for that one."

Narcissa swallowed but didn't pull away. "Sarcasm," she said at last. "Do we not use our droll terms of endearment? You call me 'darling wife,' why should you not be mon cher?"

Grey eyes narrowed. "I am not a fool, Narcissa."

"I do not believe you are." She seemed calmer now; whatever understanding she had feared he had gleaned from their odd exchange this morning was clearly beyond his grasp, at least for the time being. Her secret was safe. With a scoff of irritation, Lucius released her and stepped back.

"We should go to breakfast before Rodolphus eats it all," he muttered, not bothering to check whether she followed him to the dining hall.


Chapter Text

Saturday, 17 August 1968

"Cissy Black!"

Narcissa put on her most enchanting smile and turned towards her assailant. "Hello, Rabastan. A pleasure to see you." It was not, in fact, ever a pleasure to see Rabastan, but niceties still had to be made. Though a year her senior, the younger Lestrange boy had a peakish, underdeveloped air about him. Perhaps she ought to have more empathy; he was an orphan, after all, with only his volatile older brother to look after him. However at thirteen, she had not yet learned to be graciously pitying, and instead made a face when he eagerly took her arm.

"We're family now, what do you make of that?" he laughed, and Narcissa wrinkled her nose at the high and slightly manic edge to it.

"I'm very happy for Bella," she evaded carefully. Rabastan laughed again and, to her horror, began dragging her towards the dance floor.

"I didn't think Roddy was going to get married," he confessed, "and I don't think he ever would have married anyone besides your sister."

"Well of course he would have, he has a responsibility," Narcissa retorted, looking desperately around for an escape and, finding none, regretfully allowing Rabastan to sweep her into the ongoing waltz. "But I do agree that they seem to be well-suited to on another."

Seated at the head table of the hall, for once no one was giving the pair disapproving glares; though Rodolphus was as irreverent as always, lounging back in his seat with one arm slung lazily over the chair beside him, and Bellatrix was speaking in far too an impassioned manner to one of the guests, everyone seemed tolerant and even pleased with the couple on this evening. A good marriage was always something to be celebrated, she supposed; perhaps even more so when it was between two difficult individuals who might otherwise have caused some other hapless spouse misery.

Rabastan was a decent enough dancer, though privately Narcissa did not feel her own grace quite equally matched. Her attention wandered by habit— she was always watching others at these sorts of events, waiting impatiently for the day that she would be one of the watched, by eyes other than her mother's sharply critical ones. If only Bellatrix had waited a few years to wed, Narcissa felt she would not be looked at as such a child on this momentous occasion. The younger sister of the bride, after all, was an important member of the guest list, but she knew at thirteen she could hardly hope for much attention from any of the prestigious attendees. She was amongst the youngest there, but a number of her classmates were in attendance with their parents. Not her closest friends— Ari's family would not have earned an invitation— but Britt Parkinson was there, and even smiled and waved as she and Rabastan danced past, though she could do little more than nod in acknowledgment. She would say hello later, though she supposed there was little news she could pass along that he did not already know, as his owl was a daily presence at the Slytherin breakfast table, and Ari was always scribbling long notes to send to him during class. Ghada Shafiq was there with her older brother Idris and father Amon, but Narcissa had been with her all day and was ready for a change of pace. Ghada very evidently believed that they ought to be the dearest of friends, but the other girl's overt tendency to constantly seek approval and nervous habit of speaking incessantly drove Narcissa to the brink of madness after a few hours.

As they moved past the high table, she spotted Lucius Malfoy speaking to the groom, and her stomach gave a small flip. She could not count on him to find her later to give his regards, although she wished he would. He didn't notice her at all— he stood across the table from Rodolphus and leaned towards him with one hand on the table and the other gesturing emphatically, and she couldn't begin to guess what they were discussing, but both were grinning. She could not watch him for long, but the song was coming to an end, and she made her excuses to Rabastan before the next one could begin. Narcissa had spotted a familiar face that she was sure would not turn her away.

Her cousin Evan Rosier was fifteen and, until about a year ago, first in line for Bella's hand in marriage. Her mother had talked about it for as long as Narcissa could remember, and she had assumed it was a matter that was settled until Bellatrix had announced that she would be marrying the Lestrange heir. Narcissa thought Evan to be rather handsome, with auburn hair and hazel eyes, slim and standing at almost six feet tall. Fixing a bright smile in place, she approached him confidently and and touched his arm to draw his attention.

"Disappointed to see your betrothed with another man?" Narcissa teased, though her smile faded as she peered up at her cousin's expression.

"Bella would never marry a man she didn't want to," Evan replied coolly. "And if she were made to do it, I doubt her husband would last long. No, I'm not sorry to see her wed to Rodolphus." Why then was he scowling quite so ferociously at the opposite side of the room? Narcissa followed his gaze and realised, with a sickening jolt, that he was watching Andromeda and Sirius laughing together over some joke or another. "Bellatrix isn't a blood traitor though," he continued, and his words were scarcely audible.

"You mustn't say such things," Narcissa defended quickly, as concerned for her own reputation as much as her sister's. "I know Andromeda is… shockingly open-minded, to be frank, but just because she gets along with Sirius— I mean to say, the two of them will surely grow to realise—"

Sensing her panic, Evan glanced down at her and his expression softened somewhat. "You aren't to blame, Cissy. You and Bella both know what's right and what's an abomination. I just can't fathom what went wrong with your sister. I won't marry her," he pressed on, suddenly vehement, "and I don't care what our parents want. I didn't really want to marry Bella either, though I would've if I'd had to. But Andromeda I will not have."

"I suppose that just leaves me," Narcissa smiled nervously. Evan looked as though he had not considered this possibility.

"Well, we'll see Cissy. You're still more than a couple years from being of age, I don't think we need to go worrying about that quite yet." He reached over and tweaked a curl mindlessly before finishing off his drink. "Now if you'll pardon me, I haven't spoken to Lettie Avery all summer and I'd like to go say hello."

Sunday, 19 January 1972

"Bella!" Narcissa could not recall a time she'd ever been so happy to see her sister. Bellatrix waved a lazy 'hello' in acknowledgement, and turned back to conversation with her husband. Narcissa gave rushed pecks and greetings to all the family she encountered as she made a beeline for where the couple sat ('So good to see you, Uncle Orion!'), seizing her sister's hand when she at last made it to the pair.

"I have to talk to you," she insisted, not sparing her brother-in-law a glance.

"Cissy!" he boomed, clearly ignoring her avoidance. He leapt up to sweep her into a giant hug and it took all her willpower not to squirm away, but her grip on Bellatrix's fingers tightened in alarm.

"Alright Roddy, that's enough," Bella scolded laughingly, and he released a very ruffled Narcissa with a chuckle of his own as he sank back into his armchair. "Little Cissy needs her big sister now." Bellatrix rose gracefully and extracted her hand from Narcissa's with a flick. Though the demeaning tone normally would have infuriated her, Narcissa was too impatient to argue at the moment.

"I wanted to write, I should have done, but felt I ought to tell you in person. You haven't been around at all over the past few months, or I would have mentioned that we'd been going for dinners and teas but… I'm going to marry Lucius Malfoy," her words tumbled out in a rush. Bellatrix raised her eyebrows; clearly, this was news to her.

"I didn't even know you spoke to Lucius Malfoy," she replied, and Narcissa was pleased, for once, to have her sister's full attention.

"Well I haven't really, in the past. I mean, I knew him of course, but that's why we're a day late, I was with mother and father at Malfoy Manor yesterday. They've… well, arranged it, I suppose, or rather suggested it to both of us… after Andromeda—"

"Don't use that name!" Bellatrix shrieked, but, used to her sister's outbursts, Narcissa pressed on.

"— they wanted to make sure that my future was secured. So…" she faltered, suddenly at a loss for words, and instead presented her left hand before Bella's nose. "I'm engaged."

For a moment the elder of the two simply stared in shock, and then she gave an abrupt cackle of mirth. "Oh, Cissy, what misery! What fun."

Narcissa whipped her hand away and scowled. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, Mother has no idea what a mistake she's made! Although it was likely Father's idea. You know she always wanted one of us to marry Evan." Narcissa nodded in agreement but waited for Bellatrix to continue. "He'll bring out the worst in you," she predicted knowingly. "All those nasty tendencies you try so hard to hide from Mummy— your temper, your spitefulness, your manipulative little plots— the side of you she thinks you've outgrown. Lucius will bring that all out again."

"I don't know what you mean," Narcissa responded airily, though she refused to meet her sibling's gaze and instead studied the large jewel upon her finger with a certain haughtiness. Bellatrix laughed again, throwing herself onto a nearby settee upon the pillows. "Lucius seems like a very serious and respectable man," Narcissa insisted, following after her to perch on the edge of the bench.

"'Man?'" Bella echoed incredulously. "Don't forget he's just over a year out of school himself, Cissy. He's an arrogant, stubborn boy, with too much gold and responsibility. I hope you're not setting him up in your wild little imagination to be some handsome, charming prince who will fall madly in love with you."

"Well, he is handsome!" Narcissa shot back, her cheeks growing hot. Bellatrix waved the comment aside.

"He isn't… sentimental, Cissy, and I rather suspect that if you show him any unearned kindness that he will lose all respect for you. He likely already thinks you're just a little doll of no consequence to his life and dealings." A wicked smirk spread over her lips. "But you won't let him get away with that, will you?"

"I don't know what twisted mind games you play with your husband," huffed Narcissa, quietly enough that there was a slim chance Rodolphus could not hear her, "but I think Lucius Malfoy and I are well-suited and will have a lovely marriage." She stared intently down at the diamond on her hand once more.

"You don't really know him," Bellatrix continued, frowning as she crossed her arms. "And I can't really imagine he'll make you particularly happy." She turned back to her own husband, who was seated once more and feigning interest in the Prophet's sport section. She stretched her leg across the rug and nudged his foot with her own to signal that he should pay attention. "Did you hear that Roddy?"

He looked up immediately with a wicked grin— it had been taking nearly all of his effort to not add his opinion to the conversation, at his wife's initial behest. "I did; Cissy and Lucius getting married. Pay no mind to what Bella says— Lucius is an excellent fellow. Girls love him."

She offered her unexpected ally a tight-lipped smile, but this endorsement did not exactly put Naricssa's mind at ease.

Bellatrix had guessed correctly: she had always thought Lucius to be handsome. Of course she was hardly the only one to notice him, the girls in her year whispered about him almost endlessly, but he mostly was seen with older girls— Francesca Zabini, Laetitia Avery, beautiful but cruel witches that made the ones in Narcissa's year seem like little children. Witches that had looked up to Bellatrix when she had still been at Hogwarts. For his first few years of school, he'd been in the same group as her sister and Rodolphus; not the leader, as none of them would have been commanded by an eleven year old, but certainly not as a tag-along lackey either. Her memories of him during her first and second year contrasted greatly. Her first year, she recalled him as always basking in a spotlight; perhaps even a bit boisterous, dueling in the corridors with Gryffindors when there were no professors around, showing off his new racing broom, joking with housemates and flirting with girls. Something had changed his third year. There had been a huge deal of gossip about it— the attempt on the Minister's life was the headline for weeks, and though at the time she hadn't understood how Lucius was connected to it, he had begun to change. The whole house had been disappointed when he quit the Quidditch team mid-season, and it seemed that suddenly coursework became his sole focus. He had always been a good enough student, but he was soon at the top of his year in all his classes. It was rare that he wasn't reading a textbook or parchment, and when he wasn't reading he was writing. This did not mean he became a social pariah, but his relationships became quieter, more guarded and less friendly. The entire effect did nothing to dampen female interest; if anything, words like 'mysterious' and 'stoic' were thrown around and only heightened his appeal.

Some small part of Narcissa had always felt he ought to have paid her more attention than he had. She was Bellatrix's sister, after all. If she'd wanted, she could just have easily been a part of that group, although quite frankly she didn't have much interest in her sister's activities and found her friends a bit unrefined. 

Saturday, 11 September, 1976

Lucius had fully intended to leave after breakfast, but Narcissa had other plans. After their brief dispute, she followed him into the dining hall with a placid expression and sat resolutely at his side.

"You ought to head directly to the room to pack up your things after we finish eating," he told her as he began to serve himself from a trencher in the middle of the table.

"No," she replied serenely, pouring herself a glass of pumpkin juice and regarding the traditional German fare before them with detached curiosity. "I'd like to go riding after breakfast. And I would like you to accompany me."

Lucius paused. This was not the reply he had anticipated. Her tone was not belligerent, but surely she could only mean to start an argument with her contrary words? "I've spent quite enough time here and need to return to more practical matters in London," he replied carefully, keeping his voice low so none of the other guests would hear them. Narcissa selected a roll at last, taking a curious nibble before giving her response.

"Well, I've only just arrived and would like to stay and see the grounds. Go if you must; if nothing else during the course of our marriage I believe I've demonstrated the ability to keep myself entertained." She spoke flippantly, but he could easily spot the threat in her next words. "This is my sister's home which makes it mine as well, as long as I wish to stay. Perhaps I'll remain here until after Samhain, and beyond that, who knows?"

Lucius set down his fork and knife, attempting to swallow his growing anger. "You know that I have responsibilities, I cannot remain here for the entirety of autumn, Narcissa."

"I know," she assured him lightly. "And I wouldn't ask it of you. I simply ask that you accompany me riding this morning."

"If I do," he bartered, "will you leave with me this evening?"

"Well, I don't prefer overnight carriage rides," Narcissa evaded primly, though Lucius was willing to compromise no further than this offer.

"Yes or no?" he hissed impatiently, casting a quick gaze around to make sure no one had wandered into earshot.

"Yes, alright then," she agreed at last. "But I must ask that you wait while I change into my riding robes and show me to the stables."

The morning, which had begun bewilderingly, was become no less confounding. "They're not difficult to find," he told her incredulously. "Merlin knows it takes women an age to dress for anything. I'll meet you there once you've gotten ready; you can walk with Ghada or Lettie—"

"You have my terms," she insisted primly. "And I think, given the circumstances, that they are very fair."

Lucius couldn't fathom what his ferociously independent wife might be plotting by keeping him at such close reach, and remained on guard after they finished their meals and returned to their room to change. Narcissa gathered her riding habit and retreated to the privacy of the powder room, a show of modesty that he found rather unnecessary. Elves had cleaned and laid out his riding clothes, which he put on in a matter of minutes and then sat impatiently by the hearth. Unbidden, his mind wandered returned to the strange moment they'd shared in bed that morning. The murmured term of endearment, the laughter in her voice as she had told him to stop, though she pressed her body against his...

Narcissa re-entered the room, interrupting his train of thought. Her dress was deep navy in color, with a fitted bodice and high neck. Over this she wore a matching jacket. Sensible boots with an almond toe and low, practical heel peeked from beneath her full skirts with each step. The effect was completed by cream kidskin gloves and a small hat, to which netting over her face was attached. Her shining blonde hair was twisted into a neat chignon at the nape of her neck, and upon noticing his expression, Narcissa gave a small, sly smile.

"I do hope the ages you've been waiting here haven't been too unbearable," she quipped, the comment laced with sarcasm— despite his earlier complaint, she'd taken perhaps only ten minutes to compose herself.

"Careful, Mrs. Malfoy," he warned, rising from the chair as he pulled on his own black leather riding gloves. "You look very fetching, and it would be a pity if you were to ruin the impression with your sharp tongue."

With an arched brow, Narcissa glanced over her shoulder to regard her appearance in the full length mirror on the wardrobe. "It would take more than a few sharp words to do that," she disagreed, and despite himself, Lucius felt a small smirk twitch at the corner of his mouth.

"Very well," he conceded, opening the door to the corridor and gesturing her forward with a small bow. "Shall we?"

"Thank you." When they left the house, Narcissa did not take his arm, though it would not have been inappropriate for her to do so. However, she remained near his side and asked softly, "Is there much a difference in riding Granians and Aethonans?"

Though he was suspicious of the innocuous nature of her inquiry, after a pause he answered the best he could. "Well, Granians are much faster, as you surely know. Larger, too, but not by much. They can be rather unpredictable, though Rodolphus has done a considerably good job at bringing these to heel."

"Surprising," Narcissa quipped, "considering how unpredictable he is."

"Yes, well, he's not exactly gentle when breaking them. Granted, the breed requires a heavier hand than Aethonans and they're still spirited."

"And remind me, what do you keep at the stables at the Manor?"

"Abraxans," Lucius drawled. "I think it's just a nod to my father's vanity, but I suppose they are also the best breed for pulling carriages, which is mostly what we keep them for."

They had reached the paddock by now, and Narcissa circled the fence slowly, examining the mares. They'd arrived early, and the Magister Equitum was still bridling the grazing horses. Once they passed through the gate, Narcissa strode confidently towards a pale silver palfrey.

"I rather like the look of her," she commented, dipping her hand into her pocket and withdrawing a lump of sugar. She offered it to the creature on a flat, gloved palm, and it moved its fuzzed lips eagerly over the treat and shrugged its wings in apparent appreciation. Smiling in earnest now, Narcissa stroked its neck and turned to address Lucius once more. "She'll do very nicely. Help me up." It was a command rather than a request, and Lucius followed her to the side of the mare. Narcissa turned to face him, placing her hands on his shoulders as his moved to her waist and lifted her effortlessly into the sidesaddle and held her steady as she hooked her right leg around the pommel. Under the guise of helping her arrange her skirts, he let his fingertips trace the contour of her thigh and calf before stepping away; if Narcissa noticed the light caress, she did not show it. She took up the reins in an expert grasp, tapping her heel to the flank of her mount so it spread it wings. With a direction given by the quirk of her wrists, they took off in a great swoosh and began to circle low overhead. "Go on then," she called down, "choose yours and join me!"

Lucius selected the same pale ash stallion he'd been riding all week, feeling quite comfortable with the beast at this point. Others had reached the stables by now, but he ignored Rodolphus's shout of greeting by feigning deafness as he swung onto the horse and kicked off. He shot into the air, several hundred feet, before soaring slowly back down to where Narcissa circled easily above the treetops.

"There's a bluff overlooking the Spetze about fifteen miles from here," Lucius gestured to the east; Narcissa dipped her head in acknowledgement and took off in the direction he'd indicated. He allowed her to set the pace of the journey: rather slower than he might have taken the route, but every glance in her direction evinced that she was enjoying herself immensely as they swept over the forested hills. Admittedly, there was a certain pleasure to riding at this relaxed speed— he had spent the week racing and hunting, chasing thrills without pausing to enjoy the simple sensation of flying or the rugged beauty of the northern German country. The rushing wind prohibited any conversation over the course of the brief journey, but it was only twenty minutes before they were landing on a stretch of grass set well above the water's edge. Lucius dismounted first, coming beside her once again to offer his hand in helping her down. Narcissa accepted it and slid gracefully from the saddle, turning to look out over the panorama.

"It is quite picturesque. How did you find this place?"

The truth was that once, years ago, he'd had a picnic lunch here with the lovely but loquacious Selene Fawley, though on that occasion neither of them had done much talking... or eating, for that matter. "I've been coming to this property for years," he answered instead, moving to stand beside her, his hands clasped behind his back. "I know the area rather well at this point."

"You've mentioned it several times. Once quite early in our courtship, do you recall? The first time I visited the Manor with my parents you said you were fond of coming here. Are there any Malfoy estates in Germany?"

"A townhouse in Munich, smaller even than the one in London. It doesn't get much use, we have a rather large Austrian holding that's somewhat more comfortable and not terribly far from it." They were walking along the precipice now, as their horses swooped happily and aimlessly over the river.

"I should like to go," she offered candidly. "Vienna is positively an epicenter of arts and culture. I never got the chance to travel much, even around the continent. We spent a great deal of time in Paris and Blois, of course, but my parents left us girls at home with a nanny most of the time when they vacationed. I'm rather envious that Bella travels all the time now..." she broke off and shot him a quick glance, perhaps concerned she had touched a nerve. Lucius was feeling remarkably tranquil in that moment however, and let the comment pass.

"She and Rodolphus are often on holiday," he agreed. "I suppose I take visiting foreign cities for granted, though travelling for business it hardly the same."

"Might I join you sometime?" When he didn't immediately respond, she pressed on. "Not on any trips that might be... er... of a sensitive nature, of course. But perhaps if you're out of town for investment matters or board meetings, I could see a bit of the world while you're working."

It was not an unreasonable request, but he still felt the need to avoid giving her a direct answer. "I suppose we shall see if any such trips arise. I've fortunately reached a point that I can conduct most of my business in London, and once we move into the Manor there won't be much need to traipse across the globe for meetings."

"Just over a month now. Which reminds me— your father came to call while you were... absent."

Lucius exhaled sharply in unfettered irritation. "And I suppose you told him I'd vanished without a trace?"

"Of course not," she snapped, smoothing her voice before adding, "I told him you had been at the Ministry for long hours every day that week, pursuing some important matter. I knew he wouldn't attempt to seek you there."

He hesitated. It had been a tactful and thoughtful reply, especially considering how abominably he'd behaved before his abrupt departure. However when he spoke, he merely asked, "Did he say what he wanted?"

"Only that he'd been in town for lunch and was hoping to catch you. It didn't seem urgent."

"My father is hardly one to stop by for idle chat," he countered.

"Well, you're rather older now, and more established. Surely there will come a time when he treats you as more of a peer than a child. It may be that that time is arriving, as you prepare to move into the Manor?"

"I doubt it," he scoffed, kicking a stone over the edge of the bluff as they went. "My father is utterly blind to the realities of life. It seems sometimes that when he looks at me he still sees a wandless boy of seven who doesn't know his left from a Lethifold."

"That's all parents though, don't you think? My mother still can hardly resist the impulse to fix Bella's hair every time she sees her, and that's Bella; imagine the sort of fussing I face."

Lucius chuckled and shook his head. "I believe it's different with sons. Or at least, it ought to be. From the moment a son is born, it becomes a father's responsibility to prepare his heir to take his own place in the world. Perhaps it's morbid to think of it as such, but it's the sort of thinking that keeps families strong in perpetuity."

"Which rather suggests," she surmised slyly, "that the earlier an heir is born, the more time you have to prepare him. A benefit to everyone."

"Narcissa..." he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Now is not the time for children. Things should settle down in a few years, and fall in a way that very much will suit our family. And we will have a son then, I can promise you. But not right now."

The crease of her brow revealed that she did not like this answer, but at least he had given her one, and in a calm, rational manner at that. At that moment a bright blue Jobberknoll fluttered silently by, and Lucius hastily used it as an opportunity to change the subject.

"It looks like the season is starting. Jobberknoll hunting in the fall is a pastime up here, one of Rod's favorites. You can't possibly imagine the cacophony. As I'm sure you know, they repeat every noise they've ever heard in reverse at their death, and when the hounds startle a flock and you shoot a dozen of them— Circe, but it's loud."

"I have heard such... Samuel Johnson wrote on them," she added. The eighteenth century half-blood wizard had caused quite a commotion in both Wizarding and Muggle spheres in his time, but in modern times had largely fallen out of popularity in both. However, given his wife's predilection for antiquated literary authorities such as Malecrit, he was hardly surprised that she studied Johnson as well. "I suppose it's getting late," she added. "You've upheld your end of the bargain, and I will stay true to mine. Let's return for a brief meal and then we can go home."

In light of the pleasant conversation and mild climate Lucius had all but forgotten the deal they'd struck that morning, and in that moment another day or two at the lodge did not seem like the worst compromise he could imagine. However, at her pointed prompting he recalled the Granians, and they flew back without another word.

Chapter Text

Saturday, 18 September 1976

Though he would certainly never admit to it, Lucius was privately aware of the fact that he had erred rather egregiously in both his treatment of his wife during and subsequent absconding after their argument. That personal knowledge explained the careful adjustments in his behaviour towards her following their return to London. What it did not account for was Narcissa's seemingly similar change in attitude. If anything, he might have expected her to become even more recalcitrant and argumentative, and was fully prepared to deal with these repercussions. He even intended to do so with grace, though there was no telling how long he would be able to manage such a thing if she proved particularly difficult. However, it quickly became apparent that she had no intention of punishing him any further than she had done the night of her arrival in Germany, when she had aired her grievances and gone to bed alone.

It turned out that being on pleasant terms with Narcissa was not nearly as challenging as he had anticipated.

When Lucius arrived in the dining room for breakfast, Narcissa was already seated, reading a letter and frowning slightly. The scroll was thick with dense cursive, and her scowl deepened as her eyes passed quickly over each line. Lucius sank gracefully into his own chair, and she wordlessly held out a letter to him without looking up.

"It's from my sister," she murmured distractedly. He opened it with mild curiosity; the content was brief and made little sense.

Go to dinner and talk to Regulus. R and I already have, he just needs one more recommendation; it can be yours.

She hadn't even bothered signing it; fortunate that Narcissa had recognized the script or he would have been even more baffled. She set her own missive down and turned to him at last.

"My Aunt Walburga's written," she began tentatively. "She's asked us over for supper this evening. I realize it's quite last minute, but she seems rather... unhappy that I've been in London for so long and we've yet to call on her and Uncle Orion."

"You haven't seen her since you moved back?"

"I have," she paused. "She takes offence that we have not."

"Ah, right." This did shed some light on Bellatrix's note, at least. "I suppose they live rather nearby?"

"It's less than three miles," she sounded relieved that he'd not immediately declined the invitation. "I can tell her that, since she's given so little notice, we won't be able to come for cocktails, we'll just stay for the meal and head out right afterward."

"Regulus... is your cousin, is he not? Isn't he at school?"

She gave him an odd look. "Yes... though she's written that he's home for the weekend. He'll be there tonight; it's my uncle's birthday. How did you know?"

"I didn't," he replied brusquely, crumpling the paper in his fist and Vanishing it with a tap of his wand. "Tell your aunt I look forward to seeing her tonight. What time are we leaving?"

They were shown into Number 12 Grimmauld Place by an elf that Narcissa greeted by name, and it bowed deeply in obsequious delight in response. It led the couple through a long hallway papered in rich baroque acanthus leaf patterns, lit by a glittering chandelier overhead. Bored portraits with heavy-lidded eyes watched their procession, some nodding lazily in recognition of Narcissa, others pointing Lucius out curiously to their neighbors. When they reached the grand staircase at the end of the entry hall, Lucius was reminded unpleasantly of one of his wife's family's more hideous traditions; he'd only been in the house once or twice before, but the severed heads of house elves were a difficult memory to shake. At last they reached the drawing room and were greeted by an overly effusive and perfumed Walburga Black.

"Kreacher, go tell Master that our guests have arrived," she directed the elf, offering her hand to Lucius with an unpleasant simper. Meanwhile, Narcissa embraced her previously-unnoticed cousin.

"Reggie," she beamed, pressing her lips to his pale forehead and brushing a dark lock of hair out of his eyes. "How tall you are now!" Though he wasn't, really; still several inches shorter than her and notably thin. "Are you still playing Seeker?"

It was truly a testament to how fond of Regulus she was to bother asking about Quidditch; she smiled with what seemed to be unfeigned enthusiasm as he described the first match of the season. Orion arrived and Kreacher began to serve drinks before vanishing to presumably finish cooking supper.

Orion greeted Lucius with a vague nod, watching with removed disinterest as his son mimed a dramatic flying maneuver. "Remember the days when life revolved around nothing but Quidditch?" he queried in a dry undertone.

"Barely," Lucius shook his head. "Although I suppose it is still a relevant source of financial opportunity."

"Surely you don't mean gambling?" Orion narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

"Of course not. I've recently sold all my shares in Universal Brooms Limited and invested in the Nimbus Racing Company. I'd be surprised if they haven't declared bankruptcy by he end of next year."

"Really, do you think? The Shooting Star has been the most popular model since... well, before I was born."

"The Nimbus may not be as well tested, but their marketing department has taken full advantage of Fabius Watkins' fatal accident last year- he was riding the newest Star model and was still outpaced by a Muggle flying machine. They were already struggling to keep up with the new advancements in handling at altitude that Nimbus has made, and the unfortunately-timed death of Watkins has inevitably sealed their fate."

"A good tip, Malfoy," he acknowledged, taking a sip of brandy. "Say, did you hear about the rogue Antipodean Opaleye spotted in Australia?"

He was spared the need to reply by Kreacher's reappearance and announcement that dinner was served. They returned downstairs to the dining room, and Walburga dominated the conversation during the meal, managing to mention her eldest son's absence regardless of the topic. It seemed Sirius could not be bothered to spend the weekend at home despite his mother's summons, though Walburga seemed undecided on whether this fact was a relief or betrayal. After they'd eaten, she encouraged the men to take off to Orion's study, as she purportedly had matters to discuss with her niece. Regulus seemed uncertain whether or not he was included in "the men," but she waved him off and he looked positively thrilled to follow Lucius and his father back upstairs; Orion even poured his son a small measure of Firewhiskey before they took seats by the fire and the conversation turned, predictably, to politics.

Regulus was fifteen, but had a slight build and hesitant demeanor that made him seem younger. Lucius had taken the Mark several months before turning twenty; Rodolphus even younger, at seventeen, and Bella shortly after her wedding. Still, they'd at least been of age- as far as Lucius was aware, it was rare for any student to take the Mark while still under Albus Dumbledore's watchful eye, but not unheard of. Rabastan had been sixteen, and recently Barty Crouch Jr. had joined as well. The Dark Lord was growing stronger and, as a consequence, more emboldened. Moreover, the boy's family provided a character reference in and of itself. Perhaps the Dark Lord believed he had found a clone of Bellatrix in her cousin: a loyal supporter with a disgraceful sibling, thereby doubly eager to prove his own allegiance. Lucius wasn't sure he should disagree. Bella's note had, after all, suggested the both she and Rodolphus had met with and approved of Regulus, and if so, his own nepotistic write-off could hardly hold much weight. As the boy spoke, he couldn't help but notice that his language sounded derivative, as though he were carefully quoting each idea from an op-ed in the Prophet. This was not necessarily a problem; it was a very Slytherin trait to hedge one's bets, and even some of the Dark Lord's most strident supporters would not have been the first to publicly declare their allegiances. However, there was a difference between recognizing the superiority of Pure Blood and being willing to fight for it. To live and die for it.

Their goodbyes felt impossibly drawn out, but at last they were back in the carriage and on the way home. Lucius did not let the short ride pass by in silence.

"You seem rather fond of Regulus," he began, and Narcissa answered with a gentle smile.

"He's a darling boy. Nothing like his horrid brother, thankfully."

"Bellatrix and Rodolphus want to recruit him." He couldn't tell if she was surprised by this fact or the fact that he'd shared it with her; either way, she took several moments before answering.

"Yes," she agreed at last, "I suppose that makes sense. When he comes of age in a few years, I'm sure he'll be eager to join."

"They don't want to wait a few years," he offered candidly, and Narcissa immediately scowled.

"Well, that's just too bad, isn't it? He's only fifteen, their impatience won't accelerate the aging process." She crossed her arms defiantly, as though this settled the matter.

"He's not the only one. Some even younger have joined, from old families." No need to share too many details on the recruitment of young Barty Crouch, but from what he'd heard Bella and Rodolphus were thrilled with their protege. "It's an honour."

"I know that," she retorted defensively. "But he's so young, what could the Dark Lord possibly want with children who aren't even fully qualified wizards yet?"

Lucius's reply was swift and cold. "It isn't your place to question him." After a beat, however, he relented slightly. "Having loyal supporters as students is helpful for finding other like-minded individuals, as well as keeping apprised of Dumbledore's latest travesties in championing Muggles."

The implication that he would not be subjected to any immediate danger seemed to be of some comfort, and she relaxed back into her cushioned seat and glanced out the window before changing the topic. "Thank you for coming with me tonight. I know my aunt is not the easiest to get along with, and she's been rather vocal about having us both visit for some time now. I just consider it a blessing that she and Uncle Orion have such a strong distaste for social gatherings; we shouldn't have to see them again before the Christmas holiday."

Lucius leaned back as well and smirked contentedly. "By Christmas I will have no living immediate family in the entirety of the British Isles. I anticipate this being the best holiday I've ever had."

"My mother will insist on having us over for luncheon," she warned. "Bellatrix and Rodolphus will be there too... although I'm not sure whether that's an improvement on the situation. My father does not exactly appreciate Rodolphus's sense of humour. Last year became rather... tense."

Reading her uncomfortable expression, he did not press her for details. It did not surprise him that Rodolphus had a fraught relationship with her parents, considering the one he'd had with his own father. Though he had never outright admitted it, Lucius strongly suspected Rodolphus had had a hand in the elder Lestrange's abrupt and mysterious death shortly after his seventeenth birthday.

They'd reached the house by now. Lucius disembarked from the carriage first and turned to offer his hand. She accepted it and once she had descended, he did not release her immediately, instead pressing his thumb into the soft flesh of her palm and brushing his lips to her knuckles. She dipped her chin in acknowledgement but withdrew as soon as his grip loosened, and she moved ahead of him, directly to her room, without even a hinted invitation.

Wednesday, 29 September 1976

The London house was filled with fragrant amethyst asters, clustered on every free surface, overflowing from vases and filling decorative bowls. Narcissa had been directing the elves since early in the morning; several were on loan from the Manor for the occasion. Blackberry branches were woven throughout the blossoms, adding prickly and vaguely dangerous element to the otherwise saccharine arrangements. A traditional Michaelmas goose had been roasting since early in the day, and a variety of pasties and meat pies were being baked in anticipation for the feast. It was a strain on the smaller kitchen, even with the enlarging enchantments Narcissa had placed on the dual ovens, but no fewer than twenty five guests would be attending the meal, and an additional twenty for digestifs afterwards. Lucius had meetings at the Ministry in the morning, and when he returned home around two in the afternoon, he found his wife charming dozens of Remembralls to levitate above the entryway, another traditional token for the holiday of remembrance. Hovering votive candles glinted off the glass and caused the pearly smoke within to glow gold, creating a warm and festive effect. He immediately retreated to the sanctuary of his study, the only room on the ground floor that would remained locked and inaccessible to guests. As such, some of the superfluous pieces of furniture had been temporarily moved there, and Lucius irritably dodged a chaise and end table on the way to his desk. He stayed ensconced in his sanctum until half past six, when an elf nervously appeared to let him know guests would begin arriving shortly.

By the time he changed robes and returned back downstairs, the first of their invitees had already arrived. Though he generally took it for granted, it was, upon closer consideration, a relief to have a wife who could manage such social affairs. His mother had enjoyed event planning and execution, but Narcissa excelled at it. She bloomed with purpose on such occasions; he supposed it made sense that simply planning dinners for the two of them might become monotonous for such a bright witch.

By now he fully recognized that Narcissa was bright, though her passions were not lucrative. One could know all there was to know about British art and Italian opera and French literature but never see a knut; fortunate, then, that she was from a wealthy family, had married an even richer husband, and her hobbies could be fostered in an environment that encouraged the love of culture without any real demands. Certainly there were plenty of people with the same loves and interests forced into menial labour because it did not pay well to know a Holbein from a Hogarth.

As with their previous gatherings, the night was an unmitigated success; the food was well-timed and well-made, interesting bites that were not experimental enough to be off-putting to unadventurous eaters, but still complex enough to satisfy the gourmands present. The wine had been carefully selected from the Manor's cellar, and the cocktails were refined and competently concocted. Even in the relatively small space, the flow moved well between the open rooms of the ground floor, and no group too large gathered in any one space. The entire event required careful consideration and an unusual artistry that Lucius had not given much thought to until recently.

And why had it come to front of mind lately? Her actions and mien had been strangely conspicuous to him lately. He was cognisant of the fact that he had lost his temper and reacted abominably, but that did not explain why she too had been conciliatory and strangely pleasant. It did not seem to be merely a reaction to his own increasingly considerate behaviour; it seemed to be driven by something within her as well, as though she too had something for which to atone.

Still, he did not dwell on the curious new circumstance throughout the evening. In fact he managed to have an exceedingly pleasant time, easily moving between talk of business with Evan Rosier and ribaldry with Amycus Carrow; light flirtation with Selene Fawley (now Abbott) and a more intense discussion with Edward Nott regarding the current effort to weaken the Department of Magical Law Enforcement's hold on the dementors stationed at Azkaban. It was getting late by the time he realized the crowd had thinned and it had been some time since he'd seen Narcissa. The handful of remaining guests had convened to her study in her absence, and he began a brief search of the residence.

When he located her near the entryway, she was standing before a gaunt figure with waxy skin and vibrantly red eyes, and Lucius felt his stomach drop. He took three, four, five long strides and stood so near to her side that they almost touched. She acknowledged him with a polite smile but continued to speak, as he'd clearly interrupted her mid-thought.

"Well, I rather look at it this way. The Muggles look at an orangutan and they think, 'why, that's almost like me.' And they keep it in a zoo, experiment on it, it isn't an equal. It's something less evolved. Much as Muggles are to wizards. I've no desire to keep one in a zoo or experiment upon it, so in that way I believe we are far more humane than the Muggles. But they are a different sort of creature. The idea of interbreeding is repugnant. To each breed its own, of course, but to join a Muggle to an ape, or a wizard to the Muggle… It's unsettling to picture. A deviation of nature."

"My Lord," Lucius interjected, "I see you've met my wife. She-"

The other man raised a hand, and Lucius fell silent immediately. If Narcissa noticed this uncharacteristic passivity in her husband, she did not comment.

"My dear Mrs. Malfoy, I appreciate your candor. How is it that I have not come to meet you yet?"

An explanation, hastily formed, began to bubble on Lucius's lips, but Narcissa spoke faster, and with an easy confidence Lucius did not feel in the moment.

"Oh, my apologies! It's my fault. I fear I have spent entirely too long on the continent after our wedding and have yet to engage with my husband's most essential connections here. I hope to rectify the situation as soon as possible, and I'm so pleased that you've managed to join us this evening."

"Indeed," Lucius cut in again. "In fact, we have a small gathering going on now that might hold your interest at the moment."

"I think not, Lucius," the words were scarcely more than a hiss. "Mrs. Malfoy, I commend your gracious hospitality, but other duties call me this night." Like a flash, her hand was in his, and he ducked his head in a shallow bow and pressed his lipless mouth to her fingers. Simultaneously, Narcissa swept into an elegant curtsy, sinking lower than his bow to demonstrate an utmost respect.

"Lucius will show me out," he added, making eye contact with the blond and twitching his head in the direction of the front door. Narcissa nodded as she rose gracefully, and moved silently towards the study, where the remainder of her guests lingered.

"My Lord, I must offer my sincerest apologies. Had I known you planned to attend tonight, I would have-"

"Enough, Lucius." Lord Voldemort interrupted coolly. "I stopped but tonight intentionally unannounced, out of curiosity. I see you've married well. Your wife is an asset. If not for her, for women like her, and the children they will bear, what is our goal?" He did not wait for an answer before pressing on. "Preserve a line of blood that is pure."

"Of course." They had reached the front door, and Lucius opened it solicitously. "I have no greater wish, my Lord."

Bored of the nature of the conversation or simply bored of his disciple, the Dark Lord nodded tersely and raised one arm, vanishing abruptly into the darkness.

Slightly stunned, Lucius made his way back into the house and towards Narcissa's study. When he entered the same group from before remained, but Narcissa was entertaining them spectacularly. She was apparently concluding some joke or humourous tale, as the crowd dissolved into laughter around her, and Lucius felt a surge of— something, something more than affection or lust— pride, perhaps? Whatever it was, he wanted to take her away and tug back her flaxen hair, and mar her glacial skin with claims of his own. She rose when she realised Lucius was watching her from the doorway. "Anyway," she continued as she approached him, "I thank you all for coming this evening, but I must beg pardon-"

"Stay," Lucius commanded, so softly that none of the others heard him. He thought she might protest, but was pleasantly surprised when she nodded in a barely perceptible tilt of her chin.

"Although… I suppose I could stay up a bit later," she flashed a charming grin over her shoulder, to the approval of the group. A smirk toyed at the corner of his lips, and he headed toward the winged chair by the hearth. There were no other seats available, but as the pair approached, Rodolphus, currently occupying the seat beside Lucius's, slid easily to the floor to lounge against Bellatrix's legs to allow the hostess to sit beside her husband. He was holding a crystal tumbler of scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other, and had launched into a story about a recent Quidditch match he had attended. His house elf bobbed endlessly beneath his gesticulating hand, holding a heavy but small, round bronze tray aloft to prevent any smoldering embers from reaching the rich rug beneath. As such, he never had to halt his tale or break eye contact whenever he mindlessly ashed the cigar. The ceaseless, energetic motion was mesmerizing— when engaged, no one could keep an audience captive like Rodolphus.

Under the guise of social propriety, Lucius allowed himself the luxury of lazily surveying his wife. She was so entirely in her element, listening with an engaged smile, captivatingly beautiful while shining attention upon her guests. Her gown was a pale cerulean of simply cut but flawlessly tailored silk, emphasizing her lithe form. It had been nearly a month since he had touched her. Though they'd been getting on unusually well since returning from Germany, he had yet to visit her bed again. Lucius would die before admitting to any sort of insecurity, but each time he'd considered it he had remembered her words and instead returned to his own room. Tonight, however, as he watched her tilt her head back in laughter, he was determined that would change.

"But enough talk of sport," Rodolphus was saying. "Did you hear Edward Nott is marrying Lettie Avery?"

"You're joking," Lucius replied, vaguely aghast at he thought of the beautiful and vivacious witch joining herself irrevocably with a warlock so staid and serious— not to mention nearly twenty years her senior.

"Don't look so disappointed, you already have a wife," jibbed Rodolphus, earning himself a swift glare.

"Watch it," Lucius hissed, though Narcissa seemed to have either not heard or was choosing to gracefully ignore the remark.

"I always thought she was exceedingly boring," Bellatrix yawned, and Lucius could not tell if she did so for effect or actual fatigue. "That squeaky voice of hers— ugh— and I could have hexed that simper right of her face. I think I may have, once or twice. At least Nott is interesting."

"And rich," Rodolphus added brightly. "I'd say they're both getting something out of the arrangement. Laetitia Avery may not appeal to you, darling, but she knows more than one way to keep even an interesting man intrigued, and I can assure you it has nothing to do with her voice or her smile," he finished with a smirk. Bellatrix whacked his shoulder in reprobation, but there was no real malice to it. On the couch, Sinclair Crabbe guffawed at the comment and sloppily finished off his drink.

"'M in for the night," he announced, staggering to his feet. An elf materialized to show him to a spare room, and over the next half hour the rest of the remaining guests, too tired or too intoxicated to find their ways home, were escorted to spare bedchambers for the night. At last it was just the Malfoys and Lestranges remaining, and Bellatrix loudly and lewdly suggested it was well past time they retire to their respective beds as well. She pulled her sister aside as they headed out of the study, giving Lucius a brief moment alone with his friend.

"He was here tonight," he murmured, and Rodolphus glanced over in surprise. "For just a brief word."

"And what did he speak of?"

"He… spoke only to Narcissa. I believe he approves of her."

"Good. Though why wouldn't he? She's not a fighter, but Cissy is worth ten of any of the rest of us." It was a rare thing to hear Rodolphus give a genuine compliment to any woman aside from his wife, and rarer still that it was unrelated to her appearance.

"She hates you, you know," Lucius added unhelpfully, but Rodolphus just chuckled.

"Further proof she has good taste, then."

They headed up the stairs as a group; apart from the hosts, Rodolphus and Bellatrix were the last to retire, slipping into the remaining spare room and already in one another's arms as they closed the door. Narcissa averted her gaze and continued on down the corridor, Lucius walking beside her. "Tonight was…" he began, but drifted off with an uncertain smile; praise did not come easily.

"I would say it went well," Narcissa said with a quirk of her head, standing before the door to her room. "Well, good night then." She reached for the handle, but Lucius was faster; he caught her hand in his.

"Wait." He lifted her fingers and pressed his lips to them. "You were… superlative this evening."

She dipped her head in acknowledgement of the compliment. "No more than than I was raised to be."

Lucius shook his head and stepped closer, releasing her hand to instead cup her jaw and keep her from withdrawing. "You were flawless," he insisted. "A perfect hostess."

A small smirked toyed at the corner of her mouth as she met his gaze. "Well if we were all like Bella, pureblooded lines would have died out a thousand years ago. Some of us need to be wives."

"And I have the best of them," he murmured huskily, lifting his free hand to hold her face tenderly, mere inches from his own. Unbidden, her cheeks pinked at his words, and for perhaps the first time in their marriage, Narcissa seemed at a loss for words. However when she parted her lips to reply, he didn't give her the chance; instead, he dipped his head to kiss her. Slowly, softly, achingly. With one thumb he stroked her cheek, and the other moved to brush the tendrils of hair that had escaped their coiffure at the nape of her neck. Though she kissed him back, he could sense her reserve— and why shouldn't she hesitate? He'd done nothing but give her cause to mistrust him, again and again. And yet tonight, she had acted the role of adoring bride and supportive wife so well that even he had been fooled. He didn't want to let the illusion vanish yet.

Lucius drew back, but only to reach one arm behind her legs and the other against her shoulder blades; agreeably, she wound her arms around his neck as he lifted her and carried her wordlessly the short distance down the corridor to his own chambers. His bedroom was silent and dark, the curtains pulled shut to block out sound and the street lamps beyond. The only light came from the embers of the banked fireplace.

As gently as he could, he laid her down on the dark brocade of his duvet, and pulled away for a moment to admire her crystalline beauty, her pale skin somehow managing to gleam despite the low light. Narcissa said nothing but her eyes were locked on his, a deep indigo in shadow. He began to unfasten the stays of her dress robes, unhurried but efficiently, and while she made no move to assist or undress him in return, she lifted her shoulders and hips accommodatingly when it came time to slip the garment off of her body. Lucius paused only to shuck his own clothing aside unceremoniously before turning his attention back to her once more. When he reached up to pull the pins from her hair, she lifted her head and he kissed her once more, taking time to savor her lips and the silken tresses that tumbled into his hand and across the pillow.

He'd been here before, dozens of time. But never with his wife. Between the two of them, one always had to win. Tonight he had no desire for victory. The night was hers, and she had won it for both of them with unparalleled grace and no casualties. He kissed her for a long while, taking time to lavish her throat, breathe gently in her ear and catch its lobe for a moment between his teeth. His lips found their way to her temple, her collar bone and shoulder, before meeting hers once more. Hands moved through her hair, his fingers brushing the side of her neck and moving across her back, gripping her waist but remaining languid and undemanding. It had been years, he realized, since he had simply spent time kissing a woman. After he'd lost his virginity at the age of fourteen, kissing had become no more than a means to an end, rushed through to reach more gratifying activities. Laying here kissing his wife brought him an unexpected pang of nostalgia, for simpler times when holding hands with a girl by the lake on a sunny Saturday had brought a thrill.

He moved lower, shifting his body down the bed, to place small, tickling pecks down the side of her neck and across her clavicles. She sighed softly, and he glanced up to see a tiny smile upon her lips, and her eyes closed in contentment. Certainly he had never seen her look so happy and relaxed, least of all in the bedroom, where their constant arguing found silent physical release. For him, at least. He had thought she got something from it as well, but never really paused to ascertain. And she had made it apparent the passionless satisfaction was not mutual. Stifling a surge of guilt, he leaned up to press his lips to hers once more, and then dipped his head to a taut nipple. But he didn't stop there; he showered soft kisses down her navel, sliding lower, his hands smoothing down the sides of her waist to settle on her hips, thumbs caressing the sensitive skin at the crease of her legs. He lifted one to drape over his shoulder, rubbing his cheek against the inside of her thigh, and pushed her other knee gently aside. He could feel her trembling, he hoped in anticipation, and when he lowered his head to taste her he was rewarded with a small inhalation that quickly melted into a soft moan. This he knew as well— he'd been taught by the best, after all, and she wasn't wrong when she'd accused him of being lazy and inconsiderate in their prior couplings. Gentle suction, as his tongue made quick circles, and in just minutes her hand was knotted against his scalp and she was arching her back, startled but eager, and when her thighs tensed and her calves clenched against him, he knew his efforts were not in vain.

He rode out the spastic tensions of her orgasm and did not stop the hot, languorous flicks of his tongue until she sank limply into the bed. Only then did he pull away at last to meet Narcissa's lidded, unfocused gaze. He tried to read the emotions there— she was still so much a stranger to him. But she smiled and touched his cheek and he felt a surge of something he had no desire to explore in this moment, pulling his body up to rest his head momentarily beside hers.

"Here," he murmured, grasping several pillows and piling them against the headboard. Lucius sat back and drew her on top of him so they were face to face, and she obliging wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply as he guided her to lower herself onto him. She didn't know what to do, exactly, and he discovered this fact didn't frustrate him as it might have in the past with other women. He laid his hands heavily on her hips and orchestrated her movements, but soon enough she found a pace that she preferred, and he permitted this by lightening his touch, skimming his fingertips over the thin and sensitive skin on the back of her knees, her thighs, letting her conduct their steady rhythm as he stroked every part of her back, throat, breasts... until she started to move erratically once more, one of her arms hooking around his neck and the other hand fisting in his hair, her forehead damp and flush with his as she shuddered and gasped. Her lips against his were incoherent in their whimpering sighs, but he wasn't there quite yet; he tipped her onto her back without with withdrawing and pinned her wrists over her head, pushing into her until he found release as well, and for perhaps the first time in his life, he felt more than desire mingled with need, because there was nothing else he wanted in this moment besides her body clinging to his own, as she cried out his name.

Thursday, 30 September 1976

Lucius was woken the next morning by his wife's gentle stirrings. He turned his head to see that she had slipped out from under the sheets, and was perched on the side of his bed, facing away from him.

"Wait." He reached out to enclose her wrist briefly— not restraining her, and just for a moment to give her pause. He wanted to ask where she was going, or ask her to stay, but instead simply murmured, "It's early."

"Yes," she agreed. She did not move, her back still to him. "Our guests will be getting up soon."

"Hm," Lucius made a noncommittal sound and rolled onto his side so he could run his hand up along her arm, cupping her shoulder and then letting his fingertips drift down the curve of her spine. He moved closer, dipping his head to press his lips to her waist, but she stood abruptly to avoid the caress.

"I need to be ready to greet them and ensure the elves have breakfast ready," she continued, hurrying to her discarded dress robes from the evening before and holding them up to cover herself as she searched for her wand. Her long hair hung like a curtain shielding her face, so he could not see her expression. Frowning, Lucius sat up.

"What's wrong?"

"'Wrong?'" Narcissa echoed with a short laugh. "Nothing is wrong, I merely have matters to which I must attend." She had found her wand at last, and used it to summon a robe from her own room that was more appropriate for daytime.

Lucius bristled at the implied accusation. "And I don't? It's barely dawn, I just don't understand why you're running off—"

"Oh for Merlin's sake Lucius, I'm not running off! I'm going downstairs to the dining room," she replied impatiently. Now that she was dressed, she met his gaze at last, but Lucius was baffled by the expression he saw there— she seemed angry, but for once he truly could not guess what he might have done to cause it. Lucius scowled and rose as well, blocking her retreat towards the door.

"Is this about what happened last night?" he demanded, and then, more gently and with a flicker of worry, "did I hurt you?" He reached out to touch her cheek but she pushed his hand away.

"No! I'm fine," insisted Narcissa, attempting to move past him. "Our guests will be up soon and I don't have time for this."

"Time for what?" he demanded, his back now against the door so she could not move around him to leave.

"To argue with you," she hissed, "or lie around in bed all morning. Whatever it is you happen to want from me today. Now stand aside."

The bluntness of her reply startled him into complying, but his confusion hardened into anger and he followed her out into the corridor. "Circe, have you gone mad?"

"Keep your voice down," she whispered hotly, gesturing to the closed doors of the guest rooms.

"This is my home, I'll be as loud as I want," he spat. "You owe you me an explanation. What happened? Why this sudden change?"

"I don't owe you anything and nothing has changed." There was a note of desperation to her voice now. "That's the whole point. Last night didn't change anything. Go get dressed before you wake someone up."

There was a sinking feeling in his gut as he watched her turn on her heel and disappear into her own room to finish getting ready. He was right, it had just been an illusion; one night of the charade was all she had been willing to give him.

Resentment boiled as he showered and dressed for the day. But it was more than that— he felt decidedly foolish as well, and this was an emotion far less familiar to him. Last night he had been certain that they had broken down some barrier; Narcissa had spoken with the Dark Lord and shown herself to be worthy. And then afterwards— he firmly believed it was sentimental and naive to consider sex to be anything other than physical enjoyment and release, but he could have sworn…

There was, of course, one caveat to her icy behaviour. She would not treat him scornfully in front of their guests, and so when he arrived in the dining room, Narcissa offered a perfect society smile and gestured that he should take a seat. He did so, and she gracefully poured him a cup of tea before moving on to replenish Sinclair Crabbe's. A quick glance around the table showed that Narcissa had been right about their guests waking early— everyone who had stayed the night before was already up except for Bellatrix and Rodolphus. In fact the Lestanges did not make an appearance until half past ten, when all the other visitors had respectfully given their thanks and taken leave. Bella materialized wearing a vastly inappropriate bathrobe, and if her state of undress were not problematic enough, the she immediately asked,

"What were you two bickering about in the ungodly hours of this morning?"

"Ta gueule," Narcissa snapped, causing her sister to laugh.

"So crude, Cissy," she scolded mockingly. "Lucius, your proper, prissy wife is rather foul in French when she thinks she can get away with it. I thought you'd want to know— perhaps you ought to do a better job of keeping her in line."

"Honestly Bella, I doubt there's anything anyone could say to you in any language that is insulting enough to be undeserved," he drawled, taking a sip of tea and earning an outraged scoff from Bellatrix and a surprised glance from his wife. Maybe a flash of a hinted smile? Rodolphus entered at that moment, erasing any trace of warmth from her face.

"Cissy," he beamed, throwing himself into a chair and reaching for a scone. "Excellent party last night. Although—" he took a large bite, still grinning, "it sounded like you had an even better time afterwards."

Lucius knew that he was just fishing— all the bedrooms had silencing wards on them, and while sounds could be heard from the corridors for safety reasons, no noise could escape out— but Narcissa didn't and flushed a deep, revealing crimson that caused Rodolphus to burst into laughter. Lucius stood up abruptly.

"Enough," he growled. "Get out. You two have overstayed your welcome."

"Oh, come now, it's only a joke—"

"Out," he snarled. "Both of you. You'll be invited back when you can behave like civilized adults."

The Lestranges exchanged incredulous glances, but clearly it was beyond either of them to apologize for what they saw as an imagined slight. Rodolphus rose slowly to his feet. "Very well, we won't intrude where we aren't wanted. It's a long trip back to the lodge at any rate."


Chapter Text

Saturday, 2 October 1976

"Lucius!" Narcissa gave a small squeal of surprise and sat up to wrap her arms around her knees. "It's only nine… maybe half past… what are you doing in here so early?"

She wasn't technically wrong, it was normally much later than this that he came to her. But here she was, dressed only in bubbles, and he found himself strangely unwilling to retreat.

"Yes, well," he shrugged off his robe, unbuttoned his cuffs, and began to neatly roll up his sleeves as she regarded him warily. "I finished up with some matters rather sooner than I'd anticipated and thought I'd spend the remainder of the evening with my wife."

As he spoke he seated himself on the edge of the tub, watching her with a dark gleam in his gaze.

"Right, well, if you'll give me just a few minutes I'll dry off and meet you in the bedroom," she offered, but Lucius was already shaking his head.

"No need to stop what you were doing on my account." He let his fingers dip into the warm water, skimming for a moment before finding her leg beneath the surface. He traced the contour of her calf with both finesse and curiosity, knowing the general shape well enough, but eager to discover which spots were particularly sensitive and receptive. His palm moved to cup her knee, and then slid teasingly along her inner thigh.

She permitted the caress for only a moment before yanking her leg away and fixing him with a stern glare. "I don't really think this is appropriate," she snapped haughtily. Lucius blinked at her in momentary confusion; after all, he'd fucked women in pubs and alleyways and corridors, and a tub containing his wife half a step away from the bedroom hardly felt adventurous to him, but he supposed she was only familiar with spousal intimacy between crisply ironed and sanctioned sheets.

"I do," he retorted simply, though when he reached for her once more, he acquiesced reluctantly to her rebuff by merely placing a hooked finger beneath her chin and tilting her face upwards for a brief but firm kiss. "Come to my room when you've finished here," he continued as he rose to his feet. He found he preferred to have her in his space rather than intrude upon hers; she was his wife and would not refuse him without reason, but to his own mind having her in his bed gave her a greater sense of agency, and diminished his role as aggressor. After Michaelmas, she had shown a tangibly increased interest in their intimacy, but he found her warmth and receptiveness to be rather unpredictable.

It was obvious that she had very strict notions of propriety and when any sort of physical contact was permissible; it was rare that she would even take his arm amid company. Still, if he was only permitted to have his wife after nightfall and prior to dawn, he was certain he could work within those limitations. He was devising a plan once they relocated to the Manor to ameliorate this issue, but had yet to solidify all the details— the details, of course, being her reaction to unexpectedly finding them cohabiting in a single chamber.

It wasn't a terrible idea, he was almost sure. The rift between his wife and himself could be diminished by being in close physical proximity, he felt certain, because he could think of no other probable correction. He returned to his room to shower and, after bathing, moved unannounced into his bedchamber to meet a most unexpected sight. True to his command, she had come to his room... and was now standing before his desk, studying the letters there with considerable intent.

"What are you doing?"

Narcissa whipped her hands away from the parchments and stared at him with wide eyes. "Nothing!" she said quickly, taking a quick step back and bowing her head guiltily as he crossed over to where she stood. "I was just curious," she confessed as he picked up the pile of papers. "It's just... you never tell me anything about what you're working on! I do my best to be supportive but I never really know what's happening."

"It's nothing very interesting," he told her without malice, flipping through each one. "This one is to Maureen Gamp... Edgecomb, I should say, Gamp when I knew her in school. She works in the Department of Magical Transportation; I've hit a bit of a dead end on getting this house connected directly to the Ministry's floo network and thought she might find herself able to assist if I fund her husband's latest expedition to Bavaria to study Erklings. Academics never have money, it will be a tempting offer since they have children and he hasn't been published yet. It isn't really urgent since we're moving this month, just a point of pride now I suppose..." He tossed the paper aside and moved to the next. "This is to Cogrus Borgin, he has procured a portrait that claims to be Brutus Malfoy in his very old age, painted by an Imperiused William Hogarth; I was composing some questions for him to ask the subject that could help verify its identity." Lucius dropped back to the desk as well. "This is one is just regarding some property I own in the States: office and multi-family buildings in New York, single-family residences in San Francisco... still good markets to buy in, unlike Los Angeles, which is completely oversaturated with mediocre wizards."

Narcissa had moved to sit quietly on the edge of his bed, so he continued. "It's a haven for any Mudblood that can get his hands on a drop of Felix Felicis... as if the adoration of Muggles could every bring about a fulfilling life," he scoffed.

"Tar from the La Brea Pits is an essential ingredient in Skele-Gro," she offered listlessly. She knew many facts, but had little to share from experience. "Have you been there? To New York and San Francisco?"

Lucius nodded, moving to sit beside her. "I wouldn't buy property sight-unseen."

"What are they like?"

"Dreadful," he assured her firmly.

"The cloudscapers are supposed to be rather incredible to see," she posited tentatively; he stared at her, nonplussed. "The very tall buildings in New York that the Muggles made? The travel correspondent in the Prophet writes about them sometimes. Almost unfathomable that they were made without magic, apparently."

"Ah yes, I forgot that's what they called them. I wouldn't risk my life ascending one, but I suppose parts of Manhattan aren't terrible," he conceded reluctantly. "But the whole country is gauche, and the way they champion the Mudblood... fifty years ago MACUSA had the right idea, outlawing intermarriage between magical beings and Muggles, though they framed it as being for the safety of Muggles, but since repealing the ordinance there's scarcely a single decent family left. For Melin's sake, Ilvermorny was founded by a Muggle, there was hardly any hope for the place to begin with. Some of the indigenous magical tribes have manage to escape taint of non-magical interference; ancient knowledge that has been preserved, mostly in potion-making and Herbology, though they would argue theirs is a far greater power than European magic. I once knew a woman who-"

Lucius stopped abruptly, shocked at how close he'd come to telling her of Angelique. He hadn't thought of her in months, and tried not to now. Instead he rose to his feet suddenly and motioned that she should do the same. She wore a light house cloak over her night dress, and he untied the satin ribbon at her throat and tossed it aside. He then pulled the duvet and sheets down so Narcissa could climb into bed, uncharacteristically obedient as she stared up at him searchingly, propped up by pillows.

"It's all very well and good if you've been to these places, and decided for yourself." In her relief that he had not been angered by her intrusion, she spoke openly. "But I'm here all the time, every day... I can only tell the elf to polish the silver so many times. And of course there are always women over for tea, and practicing music, and reading and painting and any small activities to fill the time, things I do enjoy, but I feel..." Narcissa did not finish the sentence, and Lucius mind helpfully supplied him with any number of probable descriptors that she left unsaid: bored, trapped, neglected, lonely.

"It will be better once we've moved to the Manor," he assured her with more confidence than he felt. "A larger household to look after... and I never knew you had such a thirst for adventure," he added, half-jesting as he moved to the opposite side of the bed. She stared at her hands in her lap.

"Well, I suppose it would be rather a consolation to travel, even if it isn't something I foresaw wanting. Before we were married, I had anticipated that I would have child to care for by now."

Not this again. With a deep breath, he fought to swallow his irritation— she did not sound combative now, only morose. For a long moment he did not reply, but at last raised his wand to extinguish the lights. "We'll come up with something," he offered finally, leaning over to press his lips to hers for only a moment before lying back and closing his eyes, but sleep would not come.

Monday, 4 October 1976

Lucius arrived at the Ministry early in the morning and at the beginning of the week; not totally uncommon, but he usually only did so when he was actively seeking something of great significance and urgency. His first (and he hoped only) stop of the morning was to Level Five. When he entered Millicent Bagnold's office, she was scribbling a note and dictating simultaneously to a Quick-Quotes Quill; he imagined regarding two different subjects. Her free hand held a scone piled with jam, and a large drop of raspberry preserve had fallen, unnoticed, onto the front of her robes. In another witch this sloppiness might have disgusted him, but Lucius was aware that in most respects she was far brighter than he himself, and he was willing to overlook a certain lack of refinement in those he considered highly valuable. When she saw him she grinned, waving the Quick-Quotes aside and gesturing that he should have a seat.

"It's been ages, did I ever tell you how well your man Macnair worked out with the dragons? Like I said, can't fathom where you find these people but we've decided to keep him on for further work with the Beast Division." Though she had ceased her dictation, she was still scratching her quill rapidly across the parchment before her on the desk.

"I'm glad to hear it," and he was; another of the Dark Lord's supporters in a position to gather information on the inner workings of the Ministry, and Lucius had placed him there. "I need to call in a favor," Lucius continued lightly, but Millicent paused, alert. Lucius was generous in distributing favors to a wide number of individuals and departments, but there was something about his general demeanor that rightfully made anyone accepting his monetary good-will rather cautious. His was not an unselfish spirit, and the unspecified date on which his charity must be repaid always loomed, even as he gave lavishly to his preferred causes. "The Mud— er, Muggle-born tenor giving that wizards-only recital on Saturday at the Royal Opera House— I need two tickets. Good tickets," he added. This was clearly not the request she had been anticipating, and she set her quill down in confusion.

"It's been sold out for weeks," she began uncertainly, "I could maybe finagle a pair in the upper slips but—" Lucius was already shaking his head.

"It needs to be in the centre orchestra stalls, or grand tier. No point otherwise, is there?"

"Well that narrows your options; you aren't going to find anyone to happily give up such prime seats."

"Perhaps if you could… ah… simply allow me to see the list of names to find out who purchased those tickets?" he pressed carefully, despite her frown. "Perhaps if I know anyone on the list I could persuade them to sell the tickets to me?"

"You know I can't," she retorted quickly. "And don't think I don't know you won't resort to measures beyond buying if no one will take your gold. I really wish there were something—" Millicent stopped suddenly. "You know what, maybe I actually can help you." She hesitated again, but it was not for effect; she'd spoken hastily and now, upon consideration, was regretting her words. He arched an impatient eyebrow, and Millicent sighed, looking wistfully down at the letter she'd been writing, as though she could will herself back to five minutes ago when she thought this missive would be the most trying part of her morning. Seeing no alternative, she divulged the information at last: "Barty Crouch has tickets, but said this morning that he didn't think he'd be able to go because his wife has been unwell. I don't recall where but I'm sure they're in a prime spot."

Lucius fought to keep a scowl from his face as he thanked her tersely and left the office. Crouch would never give him the tickets— or if he did, they would cost him dearly. He also knew better than to try to Confound, threaten, or curse the older man into giving up his seats. He took the lift to the second floor, and found that Crouch was currently occupied in a meeting with the obsequious junior minister in the Magical Accidents and Catastrophes department. He knocked on the door anyway, and when Cornelius Fudge turned and spotted him through the small window he sprang to his feet and moved to open the door, despite Barty's obvious protestations and gestures that he ought to remain seated.

"Mr. Malfoy, a pleasure!" he cried, flinging the door open.

"You must call me Lucius, please," he corrected mechanically, shaking Fudge's hand. There was something distasteful about a man twice his age so blatantly attempting to win his favor, but Lucius was canny enough to recognize that social climbers within the Ministry could often rise to great heights; such was the nature of bureaucracy. Fudge could trace only perhaps two or three generations of wizarding ancestry, but was an open admirer of the Sacred Twenty-Eight and rumoured to be an avid consumer of Rita Skeeter's social columns. There was no harm in ingratiating himself with the man. "I didn't mean to interrupt, I was just hoping for a quick word with Crouch."

"Not to worry at all," Fudge replied with overblown generosity and small bow, though Lucius had not actually apologized. "We were finishing up anyway. Go in, go in!" He waved Lucius into the office and nodded his head to Crouch, who was still glaring at the intruder.

"What is it?" Crouch demanded mistrustfully as soon as Lucius closed the door. With anyone else, Lucius would have carefully worked his way around to his request, first making pleasantries and coming to his actual reason for visiting slowly in the conversation. However Bartemius Crouch despised both Lucius and his father, and Lucius's only attempt to forge a connection with the man, years ago, had been utterly rebuffed with accusations of the Malfoy family attempting to enact a shadow plutocracy in the Ministry for centuries. It rang of truth, Lucius had been justifiably offended, and their relationship had been tense ever since.

"Millicent tells me you have no use for a pair of tickets in your possession. I was hoping to buy them off of you," he announced rapidly, and as he finished speaking he squared his jaw as if anticipating a strike. He hated stating his goals so openly to a foe, but it was the only way to move forward when dealing with this particular one.

"Tickets? You don't mean... you want to go to the opera?" Crouch echoed incredulously, as stunned by the admission as Bagnold had been. "What deal could you possibly be trying to close that you'd go to those lengths? Who are you bringing?"

"My wife," Lucius confessed grudgingly. Crouch scoffed.

"Very well, don't tell me then," he replied, brusquely disbelieving. "These are very visible seats you know, I'll find out the truth anyway."

"So you'll sell them to me?" Lucius replied too quickly; too eagerly.

"I suppose I could be persuaded to part with them… although I've already gotten several offers above face value…" Crouch tapped his chin thoughtfully, watching Lucius with a scheming gaze. "It's not really about that though, is it? I don't need the money…" At last, Crouch's gaze brightened as he alighted upon the perfect price to exact. "But you know who does? The Special Messengers Taskforce— you know, the volunteer organization that connects with Muggle-born children and their families to bring the children into the magical world when they turn eleven. It's a terribly underfunded group, and those who donate their time often find themselves having to pay out of pocket for travel expenses and learning materials. I was just looking over some of their numbers the other day, as a favor, and a donation of, say, three thousand galleons would really help them out of a tight spot. They'd be able to reimburse their volunteers and make good headway in outreach with next year's class. Make the donation, Malfoy, and I'll gift you these tickets as a token of my gratitude," he finished smugly, smirking in triumph across his desk at Lucius, who could not hide his distaste.

"I'll make the donation in your name," he managed at last through gritted teeth. Crouch smiled unpleasantly.

"Oh, I couldn't take credit for your generosity. Besides, a Ministry employee donating such large sum to any cause would draw public ire. There's always talk as it is that we're being overpaid."

"An anonymous donation would be far more—"

"If it's made anonymously, how would I know to whom I ought to send the tickets?" he interrupted, almost gleefully. Lucius tried a final time.

"Could I just pay you the three thousand galleons? The pair of tickets couldn't have cost more than three hundred, your profit margin would be excellent."

"As I said, Malfoy, I don't need the money. You have my terms, take them or leave them."

The two men stared at one another for several long moments. It would be embarrassing, but Lucius supposed his ego would simply have to take the blow and he would hope that no one would be bold enough to question him on the matter if word did get out. At least if anyone in his immediate circle discovered any record of the transaction, he could tell them honestly it was the cost of securing the tickets for his wife, and Bellatrix would be able to vouch for her sister's great love of the opera. Precisely why he was securing the tickets for her, when she'd not even mentioned the concert in his hearing... well, certainly even Bellatrix would not dare ask him that, and he refused to ask even himself.

"Fine, you have a deal," Lucius snapped, rising to his feet and extending his hand. Bartemius stood as well and shook it, bemusement clouding his features.

"You must really want to see this show," he said suspiciously. "I've never known you to acquiesce to what I'm sure you consider public humiliation to close a deal. Will you tell me who you're really bringing, now that I've said I'll give you the tickets?"

"I've already told you," Lucius replied icily, drawing his cloak over his shoulders. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll keep an eye out for your owl."

Friday, 8 October 1976

"Do you have plans this evening?" Lucius asked mildly over breakfast, The Daily Prophet open before him though he was not actually reading it on this morning. Narcissa glanced over, unwilling to reveal too great a curiosity.

"I do not," she replied with practiced carelessness. Wordlessly, Lucius withdrew the pair of tickets that had arrived with the evening post the night before from beneath the newspaper and slid them across the table towards her. One elegant hand extended to move them closer, and then, seemingly not comprehending what she saw, she lifted them and studied the small printed text with surprise.

"I thought," Lucius drawled, a cat-like grin beginning to curl the corner of his mouth in response to to her wide-eyed and evident delighted shock, "that you might care to accompany me to the theatre."

"Lucius," she breathed, looking up at him at last with a stunned but pure and joyful smile. "How did... when... these tickets sold out in hours, weeks ago. Have you been planning this for so long? Oh, never mind. Thank you." She was practically glowing and he thought wildly for a moment that she might kiss him, here in the dining room, but she merely continued to beam. No matter, he mused, plenty of time for that later. Still clutching the tickets, something else seemed to occur to her.

"Accompany you, you said? You'll be coming as well?"

His brow drew down swiftly, and he bristled at the inquiry. "Did you have someone else in mind?"

"I only meant that I know you don't particularly enjoy opera, I'd understand if you didn't want to join me but I'd be glad to spend the evening with you."

She sounded sincere enough, but he was still annoyed. He had intended to propose a late supper in Ambrosey Alley, but in light of how the conversation was going, instructed her to have the elves prepare them something to eat before the show instead. She agreed, but when he rose from the table she stood as well.

"Thank you, Lucius," she repeated earnestly, handing the tickets back for safekeeping. "I can't wait."

He replied with a half-hearted smile, and they went their separate ways for the day. At half past seven that evening, he headed to the foyer to meet his wife. He could have remained in his study until she sought him, but found he enjoyed watching her make a more dramatic entrance. Lucius did not have to wait long for her to appear at the top of the stairs, and he was not disappointed.

She wore an exceptionally tailored royal blue silk taffeta dress robe, with a wrapped front and back bodice forming twin shallow v-necklines at the base of her throat and nape of her neck. The long, tight sleeves tapered to points that rested perfectly centered at the middle knuckle of each hand, and the fluted trumpet skirt fanned behind her into a modest train, charmed to hover several centimeters above the ground to avoid dirt and damage. A small diamond glittered in each ear as she tilted her head and smiled down at him. He recalled that he had gifted her with emeralds on the occasion of their anniversary, and those would not have matched the current ensemble at all— he made a mental note to purchase something more versatile next time. The rest of her jewelry likely would have been given to her as a girl by her father, he supposed, as her mother was still alive and Bellatrix would traditionally inherit the majority of the heirlooms anyway. Her long hair was twisted into an elegant and elaborate chignon, which served to accentuate the graceful sweep of her neck.

"You never fail to dress flawlessly for any occasion," he drawled, offering his hand as she descended the final steps. She accepted it for only a heartbeat, a moment of decorum, before slipping away and raising her wand to summon an ermine stole— with the lingering reflexes of a Quidditch player, Lucius caught it before it could reach its intended destination and wrapped the rich garment around his wife's shoulders, making sure to luxuriate in the dense fur, rolling it between his fingers.

"Beautiful," he murmured, the subject of this compliment intentionally vague as he ran his hands over her shoulders and arms. She glanced back at him with a soft smile, blue eyes luminous in the low light of the entryway. Her upturned face was only inches from his, he'd simply need to to bow his head to kiss her, yet he resisted the impulse; it wouldn't do to spoil the moment by having her reject his caress.

The Royal Opera House was a short carriage ride down Piccadilly, and much to his pleasure she did not bother to conceal her eagerness as they rode along. Peeking out the window as they passed the Ritz, she shared several arias she hoped desperately to hear performed that evening, as well as several other shows that would be in town this season— she'd seen Gianni Schicchi before but would love to go again, and the production of Der Fliegende Holländer was meant to be exceptional. Lucius replied only that he'd probably prefer Wagner to Puccini, drawing an odd look that she did not elaborate upon, but made no promises regarding either show. If he did take her to the theatre again (which, admittedly, he was already feeling inclined to do), it would be to performances that still had available seats in order to avoid any further grudging donations towards unworthy causes.

When they arrived the area was swarming with impeccably dressed witches and wizards. Rita Skeeter stood outside on the steps with a camera and Quick-Quotes Quill hovering by her elbow (unable to procure a ticket, he assumed uncharitably), and once they made their way inside, were accosted every few feet by friends and acquaintances. Crouches tickets were in the Grand Tier boxes, just left of centre, and were pleasantly private— only one other pair would share the box, seated behind them, though in the future Lucius planned to reserve one exclusively for their use. Where were these plans coming from? He didn't stop to give it too much though as they reached the level of their seats, though they did not yet enter the auditorium. A housemate from Hogwarts had flagged Narcissa, and she was pulled away for a moment as he continued on, intending to procure champagne before someone calling his name snared his attention.

"Lucius Malfoy? Is that really you?"

Lucius turned towards the voice, a reflexive smirk already tugging at the corner of his mouth. Francesca Zabini was gliding towards him with a wide smile, a huge diamond glittering on her left hand as she reached out to greet him.

"You don't waste any time," he purred, taking her hand under the guise of examining the ring and allowing her to use the gesture to pull closer to him, so the length of her body nearly touched his. She was dressed in a tightly fitting, deeply plunging red gown, surely held to her body with enchantments as there were no sleeves or straps to suspend the fabric over her bosom. Her deep caramel skin seemed to glow in the golden light. "If we were seeing Carmen, they'd have to pull you from the audience for the title role," he continued, not releasing her hand as his other instinctively found its way to her waist. She tilted her head back to laugh, causing thick black curls to roll easily over her bare shoulders. "Are you here with him tonight? The new fiancé?"

She shook her head playfully, dipping her chin to gaze up at him through her lashes. "I'm here with a friend— you know that new Quidditch star everyone is going on about? Ludo Bagman? I met him at a photoshoot and when he said he had tickets to this, I just had to tag along."

"That was cruel," Lucius tutted in mock reproach. "He won't be able to keep his eyes off you; he'll miss the whole show, and the tickets weren't cheap."

"Where are you sitting?" she demanded, and before he could reply she slid her hand beneath the lapel of his robes, her manicured fingers searching for the interior pocket there where she knew he'd be keeping the tickets. He did not attempt to stop her; not even when her coy glance became a flirtatious grin, and her nails scratched him lightly through his shirt. At last she found what she was looking for, and plucked the slips of paper out with a flourish. "Let's see," she read quickly, "oh, different sections, what a shame." She returned them with a pout, but added, winking, "come find me during intermission."

His hand still rested on the curve of her waist, thumb absently stroking her side. "I'm sure you won't be hard to find, but how will I get to you through the crowd of admirers you'll have acquired by then?"

"You know there's aways a spot for you by my side, Lucius," she stretched to touch her red lips to his cheek, though with the height of her heels she didn't have to reach far. "Or behind me," she whispered, close to his ear. "Or under, or on top of me. Do you remember the night Slytherin won the Quidditch Cup, my seventh year? In the Astronomy Tower? I'm hoping that's how Ludo fucks; otherwise why waste time with younger men?" She pressed against him as she spoke, just enough to remind him. He made a sound somewhere between a groan and a wistful laugh, his hand sliding from her waist to grip her hip for just a moment before releasing her. "Anyway, who are you here with tonight?" Francesca continued at normal volume as she stepped back. "This isn't really your scene."

"My wife," he murmured, having the decency at least to feel some chagrin as his eyes roamed the crowd for Narcissa. She made a small sound of disbelief.

"No, really? I always remember that you're married, but somehow always forget about your wife."

"Yes, well, she's quite the opera fan. I had to debase myself before Barty Crouch to get these seats, but here we are."

Francesca tilted her head curiously. "That's a lot of effort for a woman you already have. Could it be that Lucius Malfoy has fallen in love? How unfashionable," she teased, but he wasn't smiling. He was spared the task of answering, however, by the appearance of a sandy-haired, heavily muscled young man at Francesca's shoulder, holding two flutes of champagne.

"Here you are! I was looking all over. Had a dozen fans looking for autographs slowing me down too, but how could I sign a thing with two drinks in my hands?" He passed her a glass, beaming under her lazy nod of gratitude. "Ludo Bagman," he continued, sticking out his newly-freed hand towards Lucius. "Great to meet you."

"The new beater for the Hornets, of course," Lucius shook his hand cordially. It gave him no pleasure to think of this man as an escort to his former lover, but he did follow Quidditch and making acquaintances with the players was always useful. "Lucius Malfoy."

"Malfoy, of course," Bagman echoed eagerly. "I suppose you and Francesca are old friends then?"

"Something like that," she purred, snaking an arm around Ludo's waist but her gaze stayed locked on Lucius. "And here's our fourth— Cissy Black!"

Narcissa had materialised silently at Lucius's elbow and was watching the scene with a closed-lip smile that did not reach her eyes. She did not immediately correct Francesca, but offered her hand to Bagman with a cool, "Narcissa Malfoy."

"How lovely, Mrs. Malfoy," Ludo ducked his head to press his lips to her fingers. "Ludo Bagman, at your service."

"Mr. Bagman, a pleasure. Do you work at the Ministry?" she posited, to general chuckles from the group.

"You'll have to forgive my wife, she isn't much of a Quidditch fan," Lucius interjected as Francesca opened her mouth to speak. "She prefers song to sport— I daresay she'll have a greater appreciation for this performance than the rest of us will."

Narcissa smiled graciously in acknowledgement of her own ignorance, and added, "I daresay anyone can appreciate Pavarotti, but he's quite right— the nuances of Quidditch are lost on me."

"You must come to a match!" Bagman exclaimed, gesturing dangerously with his glass of champagne in a way that made Lucius wonder if it was not his first. "Front row seats, right where all the action is."

To this Narcissa merely smiled enigmatically, and Lucius had to fight back a smirk of his own at the notion of his wife surrounded by rabid, screaming fans in a stadium. From within the theatre, an A note sounded, signaling that the performance was about to begin. The couples gave their farewells and moved towards their respective seats. "Bagman's the best new beater in the league," Lucius explained in an undertone as they found their box. "Remarkable accuracy and—"

"If you don't mind, I'd like to take a look at the program," Narcissa interrupted archly, her eyes pasted to the small text in the booklet on her lap. Taken aback, Lucius fell silent at her uncharacteristically rude words— even at her worst, the was still frostily polite, and this was an unanticipated about-face from her earlier warmth and excitement. Before he could compose a response, the conductor was walking into the orchestra pit, and a wave of applause drowned out any words he would have spoken, followed by the opening swell of music from the orchestra.

Even in his inexpert opinion, the performance was remarkable. Though perhaps he might not have invited the man to dinner, musical theatre was an acceptable career for a Mudblood, he supposed, and there was no harm in enjoying the concert. The Italian sang with a charismatic and obvious pleasure— it was no surprise, he mused, that Francesca would seek out such a performance, but he found himself curious that his reserved and oftentimes cold wife would find such enjoyment in it. And yet when he chanced a glance in her direction, he found himself unable to tear his gaze away from her expression. She leaned slightly forward in her seat, eyes wide and fixed upon the tenor, lips parted and on occasion, silently tracing the words of an aria along with him. Her normally pallid skin was flushed pink and, though it was difficult to be certain in the dim lighting, he could have sworn he saw tears shining in her eyes during some of the more powerful moments of the songs. So enraptured was she by the recital that she did not notice her husband's attention upon her for several long minutes. When she at last felt his eyes unsurreptitiously resting upon her skin, she settled back into her chair at once and looked rather embarrassed, as though she'd been caught out in some indecent act.

At the intermission, she excused herself to the powder room before he had a chance to get a word in edgewise, and he remained seated, flicking listlessly through the program and feeling annoyed that the evening was not going as he'd hoped, despite the fact he'd had no clear intention or hope. He wasn't sure what had soured things, but her mood was clearly amiss. He turned when he heard a movement behind him, glad she'd returned so soon and eager to rectify the situation, but it was not Narcissa he found there.

"I thought I saw you in the opposite box, but Edward insisted it couldn't possibly be Lucius Malfoy at the opera. And look, I was right! We just had to come see for ourselves." Normally the airy tones drifting into his slip would have improved his demeanor at once, but Lucius found himself less than thrilled to see Lettie Avery for perhaps the first time in his life. She continued in anyway, her hand securely linked around the elbow of her husband-to-be. Edward Nott gave him a weary nod.

"Seems this really is the spectacle of the year if even you've come out for it," Nott spoke dryly, settling himself into Narcissa's vacated seat as Laetitia leaned over the balustrade to wave to an acquaintance below. "Unless you've a more interesting reason for being in Covent Garden on this evening?" Nott continued in an undertone, almost hopefully. Lucius shook his head regretfully.

"Just this, I'm afraid. Although I suppose afterwards we might..." but he shook his head again and broke off his train of thought; there would be no Muggle baiting tonight with Lettie and Narcissa in tow. "Congratulations, by the way," he added, nodding in Lettie's direction. She whirled around at once, beaming.

"Thank you!" she exclaimed warmly, though he'd more intended to congratulate Nott on somehow managing to secure an engagement to one of the most sought after witches in English pureblood society than to Laetitia for promising herself to this withered old bachelor. "We're so pleased, and are planning a summer wedding. You'll be invited, of course! Everyone will." She sat down on Lucius's other side, perched on the arm of his chair for lack of an additional seat, happily chattering about plans. "I do so love roses, though it will be a little late in the season for them we've already found a Herbologist who grows the best in the country, and uses a freezing charm that preserves the scent as well as the appearance— oh, hello Cissy!"

Lucius turned to see his wife reappear in the box, and Nott rose at once with a small bow. She greeted him cordially, but it visibly took more of an effort for her to greet Lettie pleasantly. This did not appear to bother Laetitia in the least, who clasped Narcissa's still, stiff hands as though they were the dearest of friends and refused to release her despite the taller blonde's rigid posture.

"Cissy, how wicked of you to drag your poor Lucius here tonight," she teased, flashing a dimpled grin. "Don't you know he hates the theatre?" she laughed brightly, though there was a certain maliciousness to the tinkling sound. "Or perhaps you're punishing him for something," she went on.

"Actually, it was Lucius's idea to come here tonight. He surprised me with the tickets this morning." Even Lucius could see that her smile at these words was false, and it vanished entirely when she shot him a cold glance and added, "And I'm seeing more with each passing minute why he did so."

Lucius frowned at the clear accusation, though remained unsure of what she was accusing him. Had it not been for Laetitia and Nott's suddenly uncomfortable presence he would have demanded that she explain the comment. Nott cleared his throat awkwardly and Lettie released Narcissa at last, pressing a peck to Lucius's cheek before departing and promising they'd catch up more at the Samhain gala at the end of the month. However, before Lucius could press his wife for clarification, the two Italian witches seated in the rear of the box reentered, chatting gaily and loudly enough to foreclose the possibility of any conversation.

The show ended with a spectacular rendition of Nessun Dorma to thunderous roars of approval from the audience. Lucius was so miserable by its conclusion that his did not bother to applaud, nor rise to his feet for the well-deserved standing ovation. He knew enough Italian to understand the women behind were criticizing him viciously for this lack of respect, but did not care. The crowd at the exit was nearly impenetrable as men and women poured onto the street; Narcissa shook her head impatiently.

"This is impossible," she hissed. "I'm just going to Apparate home."

"Good idea, I'll send an elf for the carriage—" But she had already dematerialised with a small pop. Lucius scowled and reappeared on the front steps of the house in Mayfair, catching the door before it could swing closed and trailing up the stairs after her.

"Narcissa—" he grasped her wrist before she could vanish into her room, and she turned quickly.

"Lucius I… I have a headache. Do you mind if tonight we don't…?"

He released her at once with a brief nod, and turned to go retrieve a potion from his own rooms. There was no reason to suppose she might be lying about feeling unwell— Narcissa had always been entirely transparent when she did not desire his company without having to resort to weak excuses. This would also help explain why she'd been so quiet and frankly unpleasant since shortly after arriving at the theater. Poor timing, likely an illness brought on for being around Muggle miasma, he mused. His work necessarily brought him around non-magical scum, so he probably had some sort of immunity, whereas Narcissa has little occasion for exposure and would be particularly vulnerable.

"This will help," Lucius reentered her chamber unannounced, looking down at the small vial in his hand. "Just a few drops should—" he broke off suddenly. Narcissa had obviously thought that he had left her alone for the night, and her head shot up with a small gasp from where she sat on the edge of her bed, hastily wiping her face.

"Circe, is it as bad as all that?" Swiftly, Lucius crossed the room to place a hand on her forehead. "No fever…" he murmured, dropping his hand to brush away the wetness still lingering on her cheek.

"Stop," she whispered, jerking her chin away from his concerned gaze. "I just need to rest."

There was no question that she was not telling him the truth, but it was equally evident that she was not going to do so tonight. He straightened up slowly, trying to understand, but she refused to meet his eye to give even a hint.

Chapter Text

Saturday, 9 October 1976

It was not a restful night for Lucius, alone in his bed. When he arrived in the dining room and seated himself for breakfast, Narcissa was already there and spoke almost immediately.

"I wanted to apologise for my behaviour last night. I was not feeling... like myself," she said solemnly as she poured a cup of tea for each of them. Lucius raised a quizzical eyebrow.

"And what, pray tell, were you feeling like? A manticore?"

A small, grudging smile twitched her mouth at the half-jest. "Perhaps," she conceded, but maintained her obstinance by refusing to speak further on the matter. "As you know," she pressed on instead, "the Samhain gala is in less than a month. Moreover, we will be moving into the Manor on that date. I will be quite busy in the coming weeks but will do my best to be present for breakfast and supper every day. I'll handle all of the logistics of the move, of course, but you should be aware that non-essentials will be packed up beginning on Tuesday."

Lucius nodded. "Just keep them away from my desk in the study and any papers; the rest can go."

"All of it?" she asked with a wry twist of her lips. "Well, I'll have them leave at least one set of robes, for the sake of common decency."

He chuckled at her joke, and then swiftly frowned in suspicion. After the previous evening, he could not understand from where her lightheartedness was coming. "When you've finished the plans, I'd like to have a final look at the arrangements before you hand them off to the elves and foreman."

She agreed to this request, and resumed dining. Lucius felt satisfied that his plot would go undetected.

Sunday, 31 October 1976

Lucius felt no sense of nostalgia as he tipped the last of his papers into a briefcase and clicked it shut. In the foyer Narcissa was putting on her travelling gloves, and gave him a small, impatient smile as he emerged from his study.

"All ready, then?"

He nodded, dropping his attaché into the hands of a waiting elf.

"Good," she continued, turning towards the door. "The chef has been onsite at the Manor since eight this morning. My dress robes will be delivered by noon, and a stylist is coming at half past three. All the decor is ready of course, I've made certain all the guest rooms are ready too, although I doubt we'll need all forty two of them... I've designated some specifically for my parents, Bella and Rodolphus, another for Rabastan; obviously he'll need one. A few friends from Paris are coming too, their first time at a British Samhain gala and they're making a trip especially for ours. Your mother owled last night, she and your father are safely arrived in Portugal and she says she's not sad at all to not be hosting for the first time in over two decades—"

"My darling wife," Lucius drawled, pulling open the door and gesturing that she should exit ahead of him. "You are rambling."

She shot him an irritated glance and fell silent at once. He offered a patronising smirk along with his hand to help her into the carriage, both of which she pointedly ignored.

"I've invited Rita Skeeter. I didn't really want to, she's a parasite, but we could use the coverage and she'll be there at seven."

"Did you promise some sort of sordid exclusive?" He stretched across the plush seat of the carriage, kicking his feet up and settling in for the hour long trip.

"Not exactly. She'll want some photographs, of us and the property, but nothing too invasive."

When they landed, one of Narcissa's peacocks was resting near the front doors; it rose elegantly and shuffled its feathers upon their approach. She greeted it with a small smile, lightly touching its beak with affection before crossing the threshold.

Returning to the Manor, knowing he was now at last its lord was invigorating. His own papers had be transferred to its main study, a room he'd hardly been allowed to visit in his youth. Despite the many candles and live fairies Narcissa had added to the corridors, there was still an oppressive sense of gloom and foreboding to the edifice; somehow, Lucius found it comforting. The familiarity of the stone walls, now finally untainted by the oppressive presence of his father, felt pleasantly cool under his hand, and he even mustered an unironic smile at the pale-faced portraits that silently regarded their procession through the main hall as the new masters of the mansion.

"I'm going to double check the ballroom," Narcissa announced immediately upon their arrival. "We'll have a light dinner at six, but there will be heavy passed bites over the course of the evening if you're feeling hungry later."

He dipped his head in acknowledgement and headed instead upstairs.

The master suite of rooms was located on the centre south side of the Manor, facing expansive gardens at the rear of the house. A handsome set of double doors off the corridor led to an elegant sitting room with diamond-paned windows stretching from floor to ceiling, through which sunlight poured during the summer months. A door on the left wall of the room led to the smaller of two bedchambers, and it contained its own powder room and an adjacent nursery. There was a distinctly feminine feel to the space, and had for centuries served as the dwelling for the Malfoy matriarch. The door on the righthand side of the sitting room was larger, almost to the point of feeling cavernous. It had been his father's room, and Lucius had only seen its interior once or twice in his youth. He'd spent some time playing in the sitting room as a child, but in general stayed well away from his parents when left to his own devices— private language, classics, and maths tutors had taken up most of his time, and he'd preferred flying to indoor activity when possible.

When Lucius entered the salon, he found it largely unchanged from his memory, with the addition of a garment bag levitating in the middle of the room. He realised it must be Narcissa's attire for the evening, already dropped off and awaiting a final fitting. Curiously, he crossed over to take a peek at the dress robe, a new idea forming in his mind. After studying it for several moments, he went to find his wife in the ballroom

"I've left something in London," he announced, "I need to go fetch it. I'll be back in an hour or two."

She frowned over her shoulder, her wand aloft as she carefully repositioned a levitating bought of autumnal leaves and carved turnips. "You were adamant that you hadn't forgotten anything. Can you not just send an elf?"

"It's far too delicate for that," he evaded. "I'll see you shortly."

His trip took longer than he'd anticipated, and by the time he returned to the Manor for the second time that day he found Narcissa standing in the the antechamber between their rooms before a gilt Louis XV three-paneled mirror, critically assessing her final appearance for the gala.

The gown was a pale, gleaming platinum silk, shimmering with meticulously hand-sewn gold embellishment. Like everything she wore it was modest, with long sleeves and a high neck, but it was cut close to her lithe form and his eyes appreciatively moved over her figure. The skirt fell straight to the floor in a column, just skimming the rich rug beneath her heeled feet. Her chin tilted up slightly as she anticipated his evaluation, knowing his sharp gaze would find any errant thread or missing bead. Of course there were none, but he still took the opportunity to circle her slowly, examining each shining detail.

"This is well done," he murmured at last, letting his fingertips drift over an aureole at her waist. "Who designed it?"

"Madame Hecate."

He nodded once in acknowledgment of the exclusive fashion house, lifting his hand to the bared nape of her neck under the guise of admiring the elaborate chignon into which her hair had been styled.

"Almost perfect," he conceded at last, provoking a skeptically raised brow as she watched him in the mirror.

"'Almost?'" she echoed. "And where, pray tell, does the flaw lie?"

"Not a flaw," he amended quickly. "Just a small omission." He reached into to the pocket of his robes and withdrew the true purpose of his hasty trip earlier that day. Her skepticism morphed into surprise, which was hastily smoothed into a small smile as he held an earring by her cheek; a glittering starburst of diamonds set in gold.

"But Lucius, they're perfect!" Narcissa turned to accept the jewels, fastening them swiftly and beginning to move back to the mirror, but he caught her elbow.

"Not quite finished," he purred, producing a bracelet as well. Her smile grew and she allowed him to secure it around her slim wrist. The corner of his mouth tugged upwards as well, and after he'd clasped the band of diamonds he dipped his head to press a chaste kiss to the back of her hand.

"Now you're ready," he announced, stepping back. "I suppose I should change as well."

"Is this what you went back into town for?" she asked, carefully keeping her tone casual as she leaned towards the mirror, tossing her head so the earrings caught the light and dazzled.

"No," he responded shortly as he vanished into his room. "I had something important to tend to."

"Oh... of course."

When he emerged fully dressed a short while later she had vanished, and he did not see her again until supper. Narcissa appeared in the dining room for only a moment to inform him that she was far too busy to possibly eat before hurrying off once more. As a result he found himself eating quite alone his first night back in the Manor, unable to enjoy the experience at all.

Guests began arriving promptly at half past seven, and he had no chance to speak to Narcissa as he shook dozens of hands and intoned the same greeting to what felt like at least a hundred visitors. He recognized most, and those he didn't he pretended to.

Francesca arrived at eight with her fiancé, a thin, pale man with a suspicious cough he was apparently having some trouble shaking off. Francesca, on the other hand, was positively radiant in a low-cut carmine gown. She draped her arms around Lucius's shoulders and was whispering a greeting when he was distracted by an entirely unexpected sound— a bright peal of laughter from his wife. He found her with his gaze some thirty feet away, familiarly grasping the arm of a young woman with a short, sleek black bob and speaking intimately.

"Excuse me," he muttered, moving past Francesca as though in a trance. Though his wife hadn't summoned him, he felt an overwhelming urge to hear the laugh again, and learn what had elicited it. She was still grinning when he materialised at her side, and she looked taken aback at his sudden appearance.

"Lucius, you remember Ari Parkinson," she gestured to her companion and he nodded.

"Of course."

Now that he was here he realised he had nothing to say, and the silence stretched on for several moments before Ari asked, rather impatiently, "Did you need something?"

Lucius was reminded swiftly of why he so disliked Britt's wife. Ari took a drag from her cigarette and raised an expectant brow when he did not reply.

"I hardly think I need to give you a reason for coming to speak to my wife," he spoke scathingly at last, but attempted to suppress his irritation when he saw Narcissa's abrupt frown.

"Is everything alright?" she asked, and then in an undertone, "Rabastan hasn't had too much to drink again, has he?"

"No, no, nothing like that," he assured her quickly. "You two seemed to be having such a splendid time I thought I'd come to see what all the fuss was about."

This was the truth, but Narcissa obviously interpreted it as a veiled insult— her lips pressed into a thin line and she replied archly, "We'll try to keep it down."

Frustration welled in Lucius, but he had far too much pride to insist on his sincerity in front of their guest. He tried a different tactic.

"Shall we dance?" he suggested, offering his arm. For a moment he thought she would refuse the request, but after a beat she gave Ari an apologetic glance and slipped her hand around his elbow.

"Very well. I'll find you later," she promised over her shoulder as Lucius guided her towards the dance floor. "Now," she looked up at Lucius once they were out of earshot. "What did you really want? There was no need to be short with Ari."

"What sort of name is that, anyway? It sounds… common."

"It's for Adrienne, as you well know, and she's my dearest friend." At the edge of the dance floor, Narcissa tugged her fingers free. "No need for this charade, just tell me what you want."

"I want—" Lucius growled, snatching up her hand up once more, "to dance with my wife. I've scarcely seen you this past month."

She made a small sound of disbelief, but in the interest of not causing a scene, did not protest any further when he pulled her onto the floor and into his arms. "Forgive me if I suspect an ulterior motive; you haven't danced with me since our wedding."

This gave Lucius pause. They'd been to dozens of events since then— weddings, holiday galas, and political fundraisers to name a few, all with dancing. Even while she had lived in France she had come to London to attend; surely he had asked her to dance at some of them?

"Circe, has it really been over three years since I've last danced?" he mused, only to be met with an utterly incredulous stare.

"You aren't serious?" she hissed. They were waltzing now, effortlessly and gracefully, but there were two bright spots of color on her cheeks that had nothing to do with exertion. "You have, Lucius, just not with me."

Several bars of music played while Lucius attempted to articulate a response. Now that she brought it up he knew she was absolutely correct, and while he had not meant to insult her in doing so, he was sure that he had been embarrassing her with his actions for years. He had always believed his extramarital affairs to be discreet, and while he had never carried on with any women in their social circle after their wedding, he saw now that that hardly mattered. Everyone had known they lived separately, and many would know which women he'd been linked to romantically in the past, and most would assume that he was unfaithful to his vows. Dancing with Francesca or Lettie or half a dozen other witches at events could only appear to be for one reason.

"I swear to you Narcissa, those women are just friends. Acquaintances from my school days. I haven't been with any of them since we were married." He was fairly certain it had actually been since before their engagement, but couldn't quite remember and did not want to entangle himself in an accidental falsehood. This assurance, however did not have the comforting effect he had intended. The furious flush drained from her face leaving it ghastly white, and her eyes darted from side to side, attempting to ascertain who might have overheard him.

"How dare you," she whispered, her pale lips barely moving, "how dare you bring up your infidelity tonight… with all these people here… our first event at the Manor…" Her hand was shaking in his, and though she did not miss a step her perfect society mask was no where to be found, and Lucius was certain they only had a few moments before guests began to notice that she was staring at him with something resembling horror and revulsion. The song was not over, but he steered them towards the open doors of the balcony, and guided her outside where it was darker. The moment they stepped off the dance floor she pulled away from him, walking several steps ahead as he trailed after her.

"Narcissa—" he reached for her shoulder but she jerked away.

"Don't touch me," she breathed, her hands finding the stone railing and eyes sliding shut. He obeyed her wish, crossing his arms and leaning against the balustrade so he could watch the guests and ward off any potential intruders. "I don't want to speak to you for the rest of tonight. We will say goodbyes to our visitors together at the end of the evening and before that time you will not approach me."

"You're overreacting," he replied. "I've just said that I haven't been with any of those women since before we were wed, and if you've heard otherwise it's a lie."

"I know you've been with other women since our wedding, Lucius. You know I know that, don't treat me like a fool. And how many others in there know?"

"Is this why..." His mind felt sluggish as the pieces began to fall together. "You were so upset when we saw Pavarotti? Because you saw me talking to Francesca?"

"'Talking,'" she echoed with a derisive hiss. "The way she was hanging on of you, and you couldn't keep your hands off of her! You might as well have asked me to switch places with her during the performance so you two could've shared the box and had a bit more privacy. Except then you wouldn't have been able to entertain Lettie Avery during intermission." Her tone was acid.

"I... you must see sense, Narcissa, Lettie is engaged and was there with her fiancé! I didn't invite them to the box, and you were the one who ran off!" His voice was louder than it ought to have been. Frustration was welling within him and he struggled to reign in his temper, which flared before he could accurately pinpoint the focus of his fury. "I got those tickets because I thought you'd be pleased, yet from the moment we stepped into the theatre you were nothing but truculent and spiteful. I can assure you that watching a Mudblood ramble in Italian gives me no great pleasure, so the whole ordeal certainly was not for my benefit."

At once her eyes blazed. "I can't speak for your motives, but I gave you ample opportunity to avoid attending! Do you know how often I turn down invitations to go to evening events, simply on the off chance that you'll deign to come home for supper that night? Do you think I couldn't have bought those tickets myself, when the show was announced? I've prioritised being your wife, Lucius, since you brought me to London. If there's been any shortcoming- please, I welcome the feedback. But I don't think that there has been. If you're going to be late, you've never once sent an owl, and I sit alone at the table while my friends enjoy themselves elsewhere at a meal I could attend as well. And I was so pleased when you handed me those tickets, Lucius; for once you'd stopped to think of me, but the moment you spot one of your lovers— former lovers, whatever they are— I become invisible to you. It wasn't just at the theatre, it's all the time. You left me in France for two years after our wedding; you vanish without notice every couple weeks for a night, or three, and how am I to know what you're off doing? And then you spend a week in Germany with our friends and family about you with your wife conspicuously absent, advertising to anyone who cares to take notice that you couldn't care less about my whereabouts."

"It matters naught. You are my wife and above idle gossip— especially here, in our home. No one would dare to insult you."

"Except for you, at every turn." She looked up at him at last, her eyes hard but her features composed into a polite smile. "Come now, we've neglected our guests for too long." He didn't dare try to stop her physically, and for once, words failed him. This was not at all how he had envisioned the evening going, but he felt he had no choice but to follow her back into the hall. She had found a new attendee to greet almost at once, and was chatting brightly with a heavily pregnant Mrs. Flint. His gaze fell next on the Parkinsons— Ari and Britt were dancing, holding one another closely and looking obviously, disgustingly taken with one another.

"What was that about?" A low voice drifted from behind his shoulder, and Lucius grit his teeth. Rodolphus was the last person he wanted to see at the moment— he hadn't spoken to his friend in a month, since unceremoniously throwing him and Bellatrix out of the London house the morning after Michaelmas.

"Fuck off," he spat, beginning to turn away, but Rodolphus simply spoke louder.

"Trouble in paradise?"

Lucius spun back, eyes blazing as a nearby witch glanced over curiously— swearing internally, he realized it was Rita Skeeter. "Let's have a drink on the terrace, shall we?" Rodolphus added, nodding towards the doors Lucius had just reentered. Seeing no alternative to Rodolphus causing a commotion before the gossip columnist, Lucius waved over a floating tray for two tumblers of scotch, handed one to Rodolphus, and followed him outdoors.

"I don't know that I've seen Cissy so angry before, even at me. What did you say to her?" he inquired idly, taking a swig of his drink.

"It really isn't any of your concern," replied Lucius bitterly, glaring into his own glass. Rodolphus chuckled.

"I think you forget that I may understand your specific marital strife better than most." He reached into an interior pocket of his robes and produced a cigar, lighting it carelessly with his wand.

"Forgive me, but I hardly think you're qualified to speak on the subject of my wife, or my relationship with her," he hissed. "She's nothing like her sister and even if she were, I certainly would not foster her… lack of inhibition the way you are wont to do."

"That's true," Rodolphus agreed amiably, gazing out over the dark grounds of the Manor. "But I've know Cissy for longer than you have. She was only a girl of thirteen when I married Bella. Narcissa confides in her sister, perhaps more than you realise. More than you might condone." He took a long drag from his cigar and exhaled the smoke slowly. Lucius, of course, had indeed realised this last month upon their explosive fight in his study, but said nothing.

"I remember when she told Bellatrix of your engagement. Narcissa was…" he paused to take a drink. "Thrilled," he offered at last. This was clearly not the adjective Lucius had been anticipating, and he shot Rodolphus a startled glance.

"Yes, I was surprised too. And Bella even tried to warn her off from marrying someone she hardly knew. But Cissy wouldn't hear a word of it. She seemed… dare I say… smitten?"

Lucius narrowed his eyes. "Narcissa was doing her duty, and cleaning up Andromeda's mess. I imagine there weren't exactly suitors lining up after the whole affair."

Rodolphus snorted. "She's met more men than you know of, I'm sure."

"Meaning?" Lucius snarled, turning his head to glare at the other man.

"I'm just saying— she was a well-liked girl in school. And it wasn't only women visiting her in France…"

"Who else?" His tone was sharp but Rodolphus grinned; antagonising others was inescapably one of his favorite pastimes. He took his time answering, examining his neatly trimmed nails and finishing off his drink.

"Do you have anything better?" he asked arrogantly, holding up his empty glass. Lucius made a sound of impatience but drew his own wand to summon a different bottle. Rodolphus perused the label and nodded at last, pouring himself a small taste. He savored it for a moment, before proceeding to slosh a large portion into the tumbler. Finally, he continued. "I don't know anything specific, just what Bella mentioned, you know I don't listen when she's gossiping—"

"Bellatrix doesn't gossip, and you hang on to every word from her mouth," Lucius spat. Unperturbed, Rodolphus shrugged.

"She may have mentioned something about a childhood friend from their summers there, grown up and visiting every time she went to see her sister…" he took another drag of the cigar, drifting off unhelpfully.

Lucius took several moments to swallow his rage and consider the accusation. "I don't believe you," he said at last, draining his own drink and pouring himself a refill. Narcissa had been a virgin their first time together. There were secrets he might not know about her, but he did know that much. Rodolphus shrugged again.

"I don't really think she was unfaithful, personally. Doesn't seem the type. But the fact remains that, upon your engagement, you had an eager and willing young bride, a bride with options, and now she can scarcely stand the sight of you. But perhaps all hope is not lost. I think that, lately, you have found yourself with a rather different take on marriage than in the previous few years."

"If you have a point then make it. I have other guests to attend to." Lucius felt Rodolphus was treading dangerously close to territory that he himself had been unwilling to explore, let alone speak of with another.

"You never wanted to marry a woman that was your equal," Rodolphus spoke quietly. "But you have, and you may as well enjoy the benefits if you're also dealing with the inconveniences."

On this erudite note, Rodolphus finished his drink once more and lobbed the empty crystal tumbler over the stone balustrade and into the darkness with a grin, listening as it shattered far below. He set off with a laugh to find his own wife; Bellatrix was talking to Deirbhile Runcorn, one of the few women aside from her family that she would tolerate. Thoroughly tired of Rodolphus and not desiring the company of any Blacks, he continued to let his eyes cast over the revelers, finding many familiar faces but none he wished to approach. At last an odd, jagged movement amongst the elegant dancers caught his attention. Towards the outskirts of the floor, Rabastan had been clumsily leading Ghada Shafiq through a foxtrot, but had lost his footing and most of his weight sagged onto her small frame. She bore it surprisingly well and attempted to right him, glancing about nervously to see who might have noticed. Everyone, Lucius thought snidely, but moved towards them nonetheless.

"Here," Lucius muttered, seizing the staggering man by the arm and helping Ghada guide him out of the ballroom. He led them to a small sitting room a short distance from the party, and pushed Rabastan ungently onto a couch. Ghada sat as well, stroking the dark curls from his damp forehead. Lucius called an elf for water, and when the creature reappeared with three glasses and a pitcher, he had to fight the impulse to toss the icy liquid over Rabastan's face to startle him out of his drunken stupor. Instead, he sat in a fauteuil nearby and watched as Ghada poured a glass with utmost care, lifting his head with one hand and bringing the water to his lips with the other. Inchoate as he was, Rabastan still managed to drink greedily, sloppily, perhaps thinking that it was alcohol. When he finished, she tenderly lowered his head to rest on her lap.

"Why do you do that?" Lucius demanded, a bit rudely. "Take care of him like that? You aren't his wife; has he even proposed to you yet?"

Ghada sighed, raising her doe-like brown eyes to meet his sharp grey stare. "He hasn't yet," she admitted. "I'm not worried though. I love him, and I don't mind waiting until he's ready."

He wanted to ask what would happen if that day never came, but asked instead a perhaps crueler question. "Why do you love him? Look at him. He's like this all the time." He couldn't keep the derision from his expression as he gestured to the semi-conscious man mumbling incoherently on her knees.

"Not all the time," she argued quietly, but rather than defensive she simply seemed sad. "It's a long story."

Lucius leaned back in his chair and gestured that she should continue, wondering if it would be inappropriate to summon a glass of scotch. Either way, the longer he could justifiably postpone returning to the party to face his wife's wrath, the better. He waved his hand expectantly when she still did not speak, and at last Ghada opened her mouth and spoke softly.

"My second year of school, I came back late from the library, and there was a party going on... I always tried to be in bed early those nights, especially when I was that young. There hadn't been a Quidditch game, I'm not sure what everyone was celebrating on a weekday in November; regardless, I was caught off guard. But when I came into the Common Room, Rabastan looked over and... smiled at me, like he'd been waiting for me all night. We'd barely spoken before then, but he came over and put his arm around my shoulders and in some ways it feels like he still hasn't let go." She shook her head wryly. "Anyway, he was drinking a lot, even back then. Towards the end of the night he took my hand an led me out to an empty dungeon. I suppose I thought I was about to have my first kiss. But instead, he told me..."

Here, she stopped, for long enough the Lucius was not sure she was going to continue. He attempted to cast his mind back that far, remember them both at that age. Most of his memories from third year were self-involved, overshadowed by the fact that that was the year his father had been implicated in the assassination attempt on Nobby Leach's life and as a result, his own life had irrevocably been altered and his childhood unceremoniously brought to an end.

"Told me about his mother," Ghada went on at last. "His father, his brother. More than he'd told anyone before. Or since. I'd never seen anyone hurt like that before... or if I had, I'd never seen them so vulnerable. There's something about seeing someone else in such a state that stays with you. And he was right to trust me, I'll take his secrets with me to the grave," she added with a quick glance at Lucius, as though worried he might pry. "I know that he isn't always..." she struggled for words. "Maybe I deserve better, but I want him. I know him. I hurt for him and I love him."

Lucius nodded once, and rose to his feet. "When you're ready, call an elf to help you get him upstairs, there's a room ready."

"Thank you," she replied with a genuine smile, her teeth radiantly white against the dark backdrop of her skin. She was lovely— it was not always apparent as her brow was usually knitted with concern. "Cissy is lucky to have you." Ghana paused, then continued. "I suppose I can say that without stepping on any toes now that you're married. When we were in school, you know, Cissy always had the best of everything— robes, accessories, cauldrons, anything— but she never really dated. Boys would ask her out all the time, of course, and she'd go to Hogsmeade with some of them, but she was never very interested. A some point we started teasing her... oh, I can't remember who started it, but it was in light-hearted fun, and we'd tease her that she was just waiting for the best... and naturally that could only be Lucius Malfoy." She shook her head and laughed, stroking Rabastan's hair thoughtfully. "Funny how well things work out... sometimes."

Lucius felt an overwhelming sense of sorrow for her as he left the room, despite her quiet optimism. Years later he might have named the feeling a premonition. True to her words, Rabastan would plan to propose, even buy a ring, but the Dark Lord would fall before he had the chance. On the day news of his arrest was released to the public for the torture of Frank and Alice Longbottom, her father would return and drag Ghada, almost literally kicking and screaming, back to Pakistan with him. She would manage to scrawl off a hasty note begging Rabastan to come find her and rescue her when he was free, but the owl would never reach him. Even if it had, and even if he'd had the ability or means to seek her out after escaping Azkaban thirteen years later, it would be far too late. The girl he had known would be gone, replaced by a tired and serious woman whose waist had thickened considerably after the birth of four children and whose face looked heavy with sadness even in the best of times. She didn't learn of his first escape until after he was incarcerated once more, and little news escaped England during Voldemort's reign so she did not know there had been a second breakout. In late May of 1998 she would come across a list of those who had died during the Battle of Hogwarts, and would read his name there, lost in a column of so many others. She would show no visible reaction when she read the news, but that night, as she lay beside her husband of more than fifteen years, a man that still felt like a stranger to her despite the fact she had borne him three sons and a daughter, several tears would leak from her perpetually puffy eyes and she would wipe them silently away, surprised that after all these years she could still manage to cry.

It was painfully late by the time they were able to retire to their rooms. Hoping to avoid the chaos he suspected was imminent, Lucius paused once they entered the antechamber off the corridor leading to the master suites. "Er... Narcissa," he began, but she brushed past him towards the door on the left.

"We can talk in the morning," she told him icily. "Or not."

The door to her new room slammed shut behind her, and he swallowed an unseen grimace of regret. Knowing the night was not yet over despite her every intention, he walked to the door on the opposite side of the antechamber and stood quietly at the foot of the bed.

Lucius only needed to wait about twenty seconds before the door to his bedroom was flung open and Narcissa swept in, eyes flashing. He was reminded vividly of the day she had come to England to confront him over the sale of her chateau, although this time he was not eagerly anticipating the battle. When had he stopped enjoying the fine art of provoking her?

"Where are my things?" she demanded without prelude. He tried to look innocent— not an easy feat for the sharp and cunning features that graced the Malfoy line.

"What things?"

"My clothes, my jewelry, my belongings, Lucius; don't play coy."

He hesitated. "I'm not sure. Perhaps the elves mistakenly…" As he spoke he moved over to a wardrobe and peeked inside as though he did not know perfectly well what it contained. "Ah, yes, you see? A simple misunderstanding with the move, it seems. Unpacked in the wrong room."

"That isn't possible," she hissed. "I made carefully detailed diagrams," Narcissa continued to rage as she swept across the room and began to rip open drawers to reveal her missing possessions. "Each item classified, from gowns to garters, which closets, which armoires—" she was seething by now, having at last located a nightgown and seizing it in her fist. "There's no way the elves could have made this mistake. They would have had to be told to do otherwise, and by someone who could overrule my command, which means—"

She broke off mid-rant, eyes wide as though she'd be slapped, though Lucius had not uttered a word or moved an inch. Her gaze moved slowly from the silk bunched in her hand back to the open doors and drawers she had left in her wake, where her garments, while not organized precisely to her exacting preferences, were not hidden; they were tidily folded and arranged with obvious consideration. There was no doubt that he was found out, but the realisation of his duplicitous actions did not seem to have further angered her; she appeared thoughtful as she retraced her steps, carefully assessing the situation. "Right," she said softly at last, as though to herself. "Right," she repeated with slightly more volume, for his benefit, though her tone was mild. "I'm going to change for bed."

Even after she'd disappeared into the bathroom (rather than return to the other bedchamber, he noted), Lucius remained still for several long seconds, hardly daring to believe his good fortune. Would it really be this easy? He hurriedly undressed and climbed into bed, waiting impatiently for her to reemerge. When at last she did, he could hardly pull his eyes away.

Her hair, normally straight with perhaps only a hint of a wave, spilled over her shoulders in golden spirals and curls, not fully back to its relaxed state after being charmed tightly into an elaborate coiffure for the event. After a quick glance about the room she located her brush on the vanity and sat silently before the mirror, running it through her locks for several minutes before winding it into a neat plait as he'd seen her do the night we spent together in Germany. He shifted restlessly and she glanced over with an imperious look, as if daring him to speak. Lucius held his tongue.

At last she came to bed as well, slipping beneath the duvet and turning determinedly away from her husband.

"Narcissa," he began haltingly, not entirely sure the point he was attempting to make.

"Don't." She spoke softly, but did not turn in his direction. "It's... it's all right, Lucius. I don't want to discuss it any further... I really don't. Good night." She rolled over briefly to press a quick and impersonal peck to his cheek, and then pulled away once more.

Chapter Text

Thursday, 4 November 1965

Bellatrix whirled around at the sound of a soft chuckle behind her, her wand aloft and poised to strike. However she needn't have worried— it was just Rodolphus, and he was leaning with one shoulder against the wall of the corridor and watching the scene with darkly gleaming eyes. She hadn't heard him approach, but if there was anyone at Hogwarts that would not pass judgement upon her for hexing a Mudblood, it was Rodolphus Lestrange.

"Bonsoir, Roddy," she greeted with a coy smirk of her own and turned back to her victim, a fourth year Gryffindor who was far less brave than he'd been five minutes ago now that he was Petrified with tentacles sprouting from his arms. She cast a quick stinging hex at the boy to ensure that her full-body bind still held— it did— and she sauntered closer to determine which spell she should practice next. Rodolphus pushed himself easily from the wall and strode over the where she stood, grinning down at the scene.

"Go on then," he encouraged. She pointed her wand squarely at the boy's forehead, savoring the flash of apprehension he fought to suppress, and clearly pronounced, "Anteoculatia."

At once, two lumps began to bulge from his skull just in front of his temples, stretching the skin grotesquely until two boney protrusions split forth, elongating into a rather impressive pair of antlers. She cast a Rodolphus a triumphant smile, and found that rather than admiring her handiwork, he was gazing at her intently. Bellatrix did not find Rodolphus frightening, or even intimidating, but as he towered over her, mere inches away and staring down at her as though his black eyes could bore into her, she supposed she could see why others might.

"Amusing," he acknowledged, flashing a deeply dimpled smile that disappeared as quickly as it had come. "But I know one that's even more fun."

She quirked a brow expectantly, standing aside and sweeping her arm towards the boy, indicating that he should demonstrate. He pulled out his own wand with a lazy grin and performed several spells in quick succession.

"Finite Incantatum." The boy's body relaxed and the tentacles melted away, but as soon as the rigidity left his body he sprang up and launched towards his wand, which lay several yards away. "Locomotor Mortis." The boy's legs snapped together and he fell once more, this time immobile from only the waist down. "Silencio," he added for good measure. The boy continued to struggle for his wand, so Rodolphus summoned it and stowed it safely in his own pocket. Bellatrix was still waiting expectantly— he'd performed no more magic than a third year Hufflepuff could manage— but instead of performing some stunning feat of spellwork, he sidled up behind her, placing his left hand on her left shoulder and sliding his right hand down her right arm, encompassing the hand that still grasped her wand with his own. He guided her to once against point it towards their target.

"I want you to say it," he murmured. She began to turn her head towards him in confusion, but he tightened his grip on her shoulder to force her to maintain her stance. "Don't look at me, look at him. Look at the Mudblood, besmirching the halls of this ancient institution. His presence here is an insult to you. An insult to your bloodline. And how do Blacks respond to insults? Don't you want to punish him, Bella?"

On the floor, the boy was touching his newly sprouted horns in horror, clearly trying to shout obscenities at them through Rodolphus's Silencing charm.

"You have an instinct for violence, Bella," he purred, dropping his lips to her ear. His breath was hot against her skin, and she found she didn't mind in the least. "I want to see how you can use it." He squeezed her wand hand and then let his own fall away to stroke her hip. "You know the word."

She did. With a deep breath, she pointed her wand at the boy and announced, "Crucio."

The boy's eyes widened in stark fear, but it was obvious the curse had failed.

"Mean it, Bella," he growled, and the hand that had rested on her shoulder fisted suddenly, painfully in her thick raven hair. He dragged her body against his, and in the split second of forced contacted she felt that he was hard.

"Expulso!" she screamed, whirling to direct this curse instead at Rodolphus. Caught entirely off-guard he was flung down the corridor and slammed against the far wall. "What do you think gives you the right to touch me, Lestrange?" she shrieked, but before she could assess the damage she had done, she realized her original victim was using her distraction to drag himself away. Eyes blazing, she spun back around and, with a surge of adrenaline, shouted, "Crucio!"

This time, it worked. Though still Silenced, the boy crumpled at once and his arms jerked wildly. A swift, pressing need to hear him scream filled her, and she almost succumbed to the urge to free his voice, but Rodolphus's presence at her side once more shattered her concentration.

"Good!" Rodolphus was laughing now; his lip was bloodied and he was absently rubbing what was sure to be a painful welt on the back of his head from hitting the wall, but his features were painted with glee and his raucous laughter echoed where she had longed for screams. It thrilled her, and she answered with a smile of her own. Rodolphus did not touch her— he had clearly learned his lesson, for the moment— but shot her a look of immense hunger before drawing his own wand and pointing at the still-twitching boy. "You did beautifully, but we can't have the Mudblood running off to tell anyone about your flawless spellwork. Obliviate."

The pained expression melted off the boy's face, and Rodolphus carelessly tossed the wand he had stashed at the boy's feet. He would come to with antlers and no memory of how they got there, quite alone. Bellatrix, still beaming, took Rodolphus's arm and led them back towards the Common Room.

"Well, Roddy," she began conversationally, the excitement still surging through her barely leashed, "that was fun. Shall we do it again sometime?"

Friday, 10 December 1965

Bellatrix slammed A History of Magic closed. For four and a half years the text had been sitting in her trunk, unopened, and now mid-way through her fifth, she at last had to acknowledge that she was running the very real risk of failing her O.W.L in the subject. It was well past midnight by now, and the Common Room had mostly emptied. She let her eyes move idly to where seventh year Britt Parkinson was playing chess— and losing, by the looks of it— against first year Lucius Malfoy. The younger boy seemed to be rambling about Quidditch and gesturing to an open copy of Seeker Weekly on the side table; Britt was frowning at the board trying to determine his next move. Several members of her year were up revising as well; Sinclair Crabbe had fallen asleep with his face on his open Herbology book, and Darla Bulstrode was attempting to Vanish her ink bottle, though so far she'd only managed to turn its contents a watery grey. Perhaps that was because her focus was divided— the girl kept sending hopeful looks in Britt's direction, though he did not appear to notice. Britt made a move of his bishop and looked smug for a moment but, with hardly a glance at the board, Malfoy captured his castle and continued blathering about the new Chaser on the Appleby Arrows, leaving his handsome opponent looking crestfallen. A movement by the entrance to the sixth year boys' dormitory caught her eye; a disheveled girl emerged, gaze twitching almost guilty across the room.

Bellatrix fought the urge to roll her eyes. Even though she was only in her third year, Francesca Zabini was already gaining quite the reputation, and now that she thought of it, Bellatrix had seen the girl flirting with Rodolphus at supper. But Francesca did not look like her usual overly-confident and made-up self; her robes had clearly been thrown on and fastened quickly and sloppily, and the girl darted towards her own dormitory without preening about to see who might be watching; very uncommon behaviour for one who so often sought to be the center of attention. She was not the only one who had noticed Francesca's appearance. Malfoy had perked up as well and finally stopped talking sport, and Bellatrix almost laughed. Although she supposed his interest was only ridiculous for the moment: in a few years the Malfoy heir would be able to have his pick of any pureblooded girls he wanted. As Francesca passed near the table where Bella sat and had spread out her books and papers, she noticed the unmistakable bloom of bruises on the girl's dark skin at her throat. So no question that it was Rodolphus she'd been with, then.

Perhaps another soul might have felt some sympathy for the obviously shaken girl, or at least pity, but Bellatrix felt only vaguely scornful. Everyone knew what Lestrange was like, and it was her own fault if she'd bitten off more than she could chew.

With a sigh, she reopened A History of Magic and found her place and began to read about why Urg the Unclean had been such a pivotal figure in the eighteenth century. Because of this, she did not immediately notice that another figure had entered the room.

"Hey Bella." Rodolphus grabbed one of the other chairs from the table and pulled it next to her, so close that when he slid his body into it, his thigh was pressed against hers. He hadn't bothered to shower, and he smelled of sex and tobacco and myrrh and his chocolate curls clung to his temples, pasted there by drying sweat. "What are you doing?"

"I'm reading about Goblin Rebellions— do you know they were proponents of dismemberment as punishment?" she asked archly. "And I can't help but to agree." He stared at her nonplussed, so she clarified, "Move back, Lestrange, or lose the leg."

He laughed, far too loudly for the hour and hush of the Common Room, and obligingly slid away several inches so they no longer touched. "History of Magic is a waste of time," he insisted, reaching out to close the tome and capture her full attention, but in a flash she lifted her wand and laid it gently upon his knuckles in a palpable threat.

"It's late and my patience is very thin," she explained lightly, as he slowly withdrew. "I'd watch where I put that hand, if I were you."

He flashed a wolfish grin. "I can think of other places I'd rather put it," he insinuated, but his smile turned into a grimace of pain as she cast a quick stinging hex at his open palm.

"Like around Zabini's neck?" she sneered, turning back to the chapter in front of her. Rodolphus did not look chagrined by the accusation; instead, he watched her thoughtfully as he rubbed his injured hand.

"Are you jealous? Say yes," he continued quickly, "I'd love to have you jealous."

"Of her?" Bellatrix snorted. "What's there to be jealous of any girl you've been with? You'll put out for anyone, I could fuck you if I wanted to."

Rodolphus laughed again, drawing a perturbed glance from Parkinson, but Lucius seemed accustomed to the noise and took the opportunity to covertly switch the location of his rook with one of Britt's pawns. Cheater, she thought, with nothing more than detached amusement. "Check," she heard him announce, and the older boy turned back to examine the board in dismayed confusion.

"That's true, you could," Rodolphus agreed, leaning in close. "I'm free now," he offered, his voice no more than a persuasive rumble.

"I'm not," she yawned. "My first priority is learning about these goblin massacres, and my second is sleep. If getting off were on my list, I certainly wouldn't entrust the task to you anyway."

Rodolphus did not look offended by this statement, merely curious. "Who then?"

"Myself," she snapped. "Can't be bothered to outsource." This was not strictly true. Bellatrix was not a virgin, but she genuinely had no desire to permit any of the boys at Hogwarts to fumble ignorantly between her legs and then allow themselves the privilege of saying they'd had her. All her conquests had been older— most recently, at the Flint's Summer Solstice gala, she'd convinced Edward Nott that she was in fact in her seventh year and of age.

"What I wouldn't give for a ticket to that show," Rodolphus groaned, leaning forward on his elbows but apparently still taking her threat to his limbs seriously enough to refrain from touching her. He had the same hungry look in his eyes that he'd had a month ago when he'd found her in the Charms corridor after hours and shown her how to cast the Cruciatus Curse. Despite herself, she still felt a thrill of titillation at the memory.

"Even all the gold in the Lestrange vault at Gringotts couldn't buy that," she purred, closing the book and rising to her feet with a feline arch of her back. He watched the movement greedily, and with an impulsive laugh she ducked down and pressed a kiss to his cheek, almost-but-not-quite letting her lips touch the corner of his mouth. "But if you play your cards right, maybe one day I'll let you lend a hand," she whispered against his cheek, liking the way his stubble scratched her delicate skin. She laughed again and turned towards her dormitory. Rodolphus half rose to follow her but, without looking back, she held up a hand to still his movement.

"Not tonight, Roddy. I'll see you around."

Wednesday, 6 July 1966

The seat of the Lestrange family was located in England's Lake District, hidden in the shadows of two fells and overlooking a remote shore of Windermere. Built in the first half of the eighteenth century, it was an austere neoclassical edifice, unwelcoming and imposing. The Lestrange home in France was much older and admittedly grander, but the last Lestrange in that country had died during Grindelwald's rise to power, and the ancient palace seized for reparations.

Alcindoran Lestrange was the younger of two brothers, though the elder was now many years dead. He had died in the lowest manner possible, in Alcindoran's opinion— a drunken duel, likely over some woman. The date of death had been some seventeen years prior, and even at the time Alcindoran had not bothered to hide his glee from his heavily pregnant wife when he announced that they were now the sole inheritors of his father's estate in Cumbria. He'd never liked his brother. Half-brother, at that— his father had been married twice, and both his wives had died in childbirth with sons. The best possible outcome for them, perhaps. Marcellus had been taller, louder, and handsomer than his younger brother, and on top of that, lazy and cruel. Even Alcindoran's demure wife had not been able to hide a skittering of relief across her brow when he'd shared the new that Marcellus was no more. After firmly establishing himself in their ancestral home, he had had Marcellus's portrait relocated to an anonymous corner of the attic (it had enchantments upon it that prevented its obliteration or removal from the home— he had tried everything), and felt a icy sense of relief that he would never have to see his brother's smug face again.

Imagine then his dismay as his firstborn grew into the mirror of the man he'd so despised. By now the sixth anniversary of his wife's passing was nearly upon them so there was no one to suffer the brunt of his suspicions aside from his sons. Rodolphus had been eleven when he'd inadvertently killed her, too young then to bear more than a passing familial resemblance to his uncle— or at least, young enough that Alcindoran had still been able to convince himself that's all it was.

It had been an accident. Rodolphus was a reckless boy to to say the least, but he'd always been happy. Jubilant, even. As fast as he could break a toy he could rebuild a laugh, a joke, something that would temper his ferocious grin. He hadn't meant to kill his mother. He'd only just brought his wand home from Ollivander's and it was a momentous occasion— he waved it around, he was yelling, six year old Rabastan was in the room too, shouting in excitement when the flowers flew off the table, when a chair went flying— Mrs. Lestrange was flustered and trying to repair the small damages and keep her youngest son out of harm's way, and so was caught unaware when the china cabinet tipped— more than a tip. More of a sudden crash, it came down so abruptly and his mother had been standing there only a moment before… well, no matter. He was a Lestrange and it was covered up quickly. Unfortunately there was no spell to undo an abruptly severed spinal cord and crushed skull…

There was no question of Rabastan's parentage, however. It seemed the mother of both boys was no more than a vessel to carry Lestrange genes, as none of her own characteristics were present in either son. Rabastan had Alcindoran's lean frame and black curls, long legs and slender hands. Alcindoran would be dead years before Rabastan reached adulthood, but neither would ever fully grow into their ears or possess the ability to produce more than a sparse goatee in the way of facial hair.

Most of the year, Alcindoran was able to put any thought of the boys out of his mind, but both were back for the summer holiday. More problematic was the fact the Rodolphus had only one year left in school, and had yet to demonstrate the slightest desire to pursue employment or further education or anything that would take him out of the home. A cohabitation with only the two adult men in the house could not end well.

He started when the door to his study flew open without warning, worried that his anticipated visitor might have arrived early, but it was only Rodolphus, wandering in without invitation or permission.

"Evening Father," he waved a careless hand in greeting and moved over to the liquor cabinet on the far side of the study, helping himself to a glass fine brandy. Alcindoran watched him with unmasked dislike and did not return the greeting. This did not deter his son from strolling over to the desk and throwing himself into a chair. Rabastan must have retired for the night and he was now seeking further amusement; Rodolphus grew restive if left alone for too long.

"The Malfoy boy was over earlier today," he began conversationally, swirling the dark liquid in his tumbler with a lazy quirk of his wrist. "He and Bash found the portrait of Uncle Marcellus in the attic. Thought it was a portrait of me until they got to talking to it. Odd, isn't it?"

"Not particularly. Your whore mother—"

"My mother was not a whore," Rodolphus interrupted, rising quickly to his feet.

"No," Alcindoran conceded slowly, with malice. "Likely not, she didn't really have the spirit for it. And she became inexplicably terrified of Marcellus about a year before you were born… it seems likely that he raped her and she was too frightened to do more than try to pass of his son as mine, but there's no one left who knows the truth, is there?"

In reality, Rodolphus cared very little if his biological father was the man before him who had claimed the title for his entire life or his supposed uncle— the reality of his paternity between one brother or the other did not greatly change his self-identity. If Marcellus was his true father, that still made Rodolphus the firstborn male heir of the Lestrange line. Hence, the cutting comment did not have the devastating impact he had intended; Rodolphus merely wandered over to one of the curio display cabinets and began to fiddle with a Grindylow skull.

"I heard on the WWN this morning that Margred Dearborn was found dead," Rodolphus changed the topic idly, seeming to have already forgotten the insult to the late Lady Lestrange. "One less Muggle-lover in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is no tragedy; they're calling it murder, and crediting the death to the Dark Lord."

"You've never been very bright," Alcindoran said coldly. "Marcellus was at school with this so-called Dark Lord. Worshipped the boy— he was called Tom Riddle back then. If the name sounds common, it's because his father was a Muggle. This half-blood, the champion of our cause? I think not," he spat, his hand coming down emphatically upon a parchment on the desk before him. "Marcellus would go on and on about the powerful and brilliant Voldemort; oh yes, Tom Riddle has been Voldemort for longer than you've been alive, boy. And what results have we seen, what's he been doing in all this time?"

"Gathering an army," Rodolphus replied easily. He had returned to the desk and still stood— he towered over his father, even if Alcindoran had been standing as well, and Rodolphus suspected that was why he remained seated: to give the illusion that he had some control over their disparity in height. "Honing his magic. No one since Grindelwald had represented a chance like this— the possibility to crush Muggles and Mudbloods underfoot, where they belong. And Voldemort is willing to go further, do whatever it takes. He's smarter than Grindelwald was, taken more precautions. He isn't afraid of Dumbledore, that's why he's growing more powerful right here—"

"Enough!" Alcindoran shouted, hating that he had to raise his voice to make himself heard over his son's naturally strident tone. "This Dark Lord of yours is coming here tonight. I've already composed a letter," he jabbed his finger at the parchment again, "to Bartemius Crouch; he's the only Pureblood in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement that will take a sensible stance on the matter… and as one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, he can be counted on to handle the situation discreetly and efficiently. If I send the owl now, he should arrive shortly after Voldemort does; just in time to ask him a few questions of his own."

Feeling vindictive, Alcindoran turned to the golden perch behind him, where an eagle owl waited patiently. He lifted it from the stand but when he moved to face his son once more, Rodolphus had drawn his wand.

"I can't let you send that." There was an odd lack of emotion in the words, as though he were simply stating a bland bit of fact. Alcindoran scoffed.

"You think I'm afraid of you? You're a brute, just like Marcellus, but stupid like he was too; you barely managed four O.W.L.s. Do you really think you can outduel me? I wouldn't trust that you could transfigure a teacup into a tea cozy."

A slow smirk curled the corner of Rodolphus's mouth at these words; it was not the reaction Alcindoran had been anticipating.

"You're right, Father. I never bothered to learn such things. Not a valuable use of my time, you see. But there's plenty of magic outside of what you can learn in class at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

"Indeed? Well I doubt you could master that either," he sneered, beginning to roll up the parchment to affix to the bird's leg. And this snide, casual comment would be his last, because without preamble Rodolphus raised his wand and spoke two words. A flash of green light and Alcindoran dropped to the floor, his features not having had time to register fear or surprise. There had been no buildup, no exchange of curses or even insults.

Rodolphus walked slowly around the large mahogany desk to nudge his father's shoulder with one booted toe. He had practiced on insects and animals, and would have imagined it would be far more difficult to execute a human, but it was not. It certainly felt different, far more magic was required, but it had been fueled by hatred and as such was perhaps actually easier to cast. Apathy was not a strong motivator for an Unforgivable Curse, though he'd managed it on hapless creatures. At last, his terrible calm began to ebb away, replaced by a new new emotion: excitement.

Rodolphus felt his blood moving through every artery; he imagined every vein. Hot, percussive fluid, that beat insistently in his temples, throat, and wrists as he poured himself another drink, sat down in the dragon leather armchair before the hearth, and waited. It didn't take long before he heard a sharp knock on the front door, and the elf that showed the guest in was visibly shaking.

The visitor was tall, slim, and pale. His speculative eyes took in the scene with wary curiosity; they lingered for several seconds on the elder Mr. Lestrange's body near the desk, but there was no sign of concern in his gaze.

Rodolphus broke the silence first. "You are the Dark Lord?"

There was a long pause. "And who are you?"

"Rodolphus Lestrange. You came here tonight expecting to meet my father but he was— forgive me, my Lord— unworthy to serve you. Even before what I understand was your initial contact, he planned to betray you." Rodolphus stood and passed the parchments he'd taken from his father's desk into the spider-like fingers of Lord Voldemort. His cold gaze swept over the words, absorbing their implications in a matter of seconds.

"Did you find him like this?" he asked, his expression revealing nothing of his thoughts.

"No." Rodolphus's face, on the other hand, was painted clearly with defiance and a wild sort of fanaticism as he lifted his chin. "I killed him. For you."

Voldemort swept across the room and lowered himself into the high-backed armchair across from the one Rodolphus had occupied. Eagerly, Rodolphus poured another glass of brandy and offered it to the other man, who took it without thanks but did not drink.

"How old are you?"

"Seventeen," he replied honestly, though knew he could easily have passed for twenty five.

"Too young." He shook his head. "Perhaps in a few years—"

"That's where you're mistaken," Rodolphus blurted, unable to stop himself, unwilling to let this opportunity pass by in silence. "Men like my father— they're past their prime, they're set in their ways, they're too old to fight or gamble all that they have on the future that you're promising. The idea appeals to them, very much, but they aren't willing to take risks." He leaned forward eagerly. "But I would do anything— anything—" Here he gestured towards his father's corpse without taking his eyes off the Dark Lord and continued with his rapid speech. "To further your cause. To prove my loyalty. And there are others who are just recently of age, or will be soon, that might do the same. My younger brother, naturally, and old families like Travers and Shafiq, and even more in the next few years: Carrow, Malfoy, Rosier, to name just a few. Families that have long been disgruntled with Dumbledore's regime at Hogwarts and in the Wizengamot."

Voldemort absorbed the impassioned speech in silence, and rose without comment. He walked over to the body in the room and considered it thoughtfully once more.

"You can cast the Killing Curse," he surmised the cause of death accurately. "What about the Cruciatus Curse?"

"Of course," Rodolphus leapt to his feet, withdrawing his wand. "Tanby," he barked, and the quaking elf reappeared. "If I may?" The Dark Lord dipped his head once, and Rodolphus rounded on Tanby with a grin. "Crucio."

The creatures gasping shrieks and convulsion were less satisfying than that of a human, Rodolphus felt, but there were no Muggles nearby on whom to demonstrate his skill. Neither of them spoke for nearly a full minute as the elf contorted, throwing random shrieked pleas out but mostly unable to form any coherent words through its desperate screams. At last Voldemort raised his hand, signaling that he should cease, and Rodolphus let his wand fall. "Stop sniveling," he snapped, and at its master's command, the elf's hysterics went silent at once.

"An inferior creature. But what about against the spell against a human? Something with a more self-determined will."

"Yes my Lord, and I look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate my ability when the situation arises."

Voldemort regarded him thoughtfully. "But we are not alone here, are we?" His silence stretched on for several long beats before he insisted, "You mentioned a brother?"

At last, he hesitated. "Yes," he agreed guardedly. He knew what would come next, but did not volunteer before it was asked. Rabastan would understand. It was necessary.

"Bring him down here."

It took more than a few minutes after the elf vanished to fetch the youngest Lestrange; he'd been asleep for hours. The pair did not speak as they waited.

Rabastan rubbed his eyes sleepily as he stumbled into the study, still in pyjamas and bare feet. "What's going on, Rod? Tanby said you needed to see me—" he fell silent upon seeing the Dark Lord there; it was clear he did not know who the older man was, but it was far too late for regular callers. Rodolphus wondered if he should try to explain, or preemptively apologize for what he was about to do— but he was't really sorry. If he were, he wouldn't have been able to complete the task before him. The Dark Lord raised an eyebrow expectantly, and Rodolphus lifted his wand.

Rabastan's screams were more than that of an elf because he was human, but he was only a child and it did not offer the same pleasure as reducing a man to his most helpless self. In fact Rodolphus found for once he felt very little pleasure in it at all, but certainly not the guilt once might associate with torturing one's own twelve year old brother. He did not cease the curse until the Dark Lord raised his hand once more.

"What are you doing, Rod?" Rabastan sobbed, dragging himself up onto his knees and wiping snot from his face with his striped sleeve. With pity or irritation— it was hard to tell which— Rodolphus seized his brother by the elbow and dragged him to his feet so he would no longer humiliate himself before the Dark Lord. This turned out to be a mistake, however, as it allowed the boy to see what lay on the other side of the desk. His eyes grew huge and what little color remained there drained from his face. "Father?" The single-worded question was high-pitched and tremulous.

"Gods, Rabastan," he groused, shoving him into an armchair and summoning a glass and bottle of whiskey. "Father really didn't leave me much of a choice." He poured a heavy measure for his brother— perhaps his first taste of liquor— and pressed it into his hand with a glance that served as an unspoken threat: he would take a drink and calm himself or suffer the consequences. The boy's hands were shaking badly as he obeyed the silent command, and he gagged on the burning liquid and sloshed some down his front.

"Would you kill him?" An inquiry of poisoned silk from the opposite side of the room, spoken with detached curiosity and perhaps a hint of amusement.

Rabastan froze, then forced down the rest of the contents of his tumbler, spluttering but pouring himself more from the nearby bottle. His eyes shone but he did not cry. The silence was even longer now than it had been before.

Rodolphus selected his next words carefully. "His blood is pure and it is mine own, Lord. I wouldn't wish… It is not something I desire."

"But if I commanded it?"

This was a greater sacrifice than he'd anticipated. But to ask such a sacrifice could only be repaid in an unimaginable reward. "… My Lord. Yes. I would. I would do whatever was required. If what you claim to stand for is true, and my own brother fought against it, I would not hesitate."

At last a small, terrified sound escaped Rabastan's wet lips and Rodolphus shot him a warning glance, then jerked his chin almost imperceptibly. Keep drinking, he tried to telepath. The alcohol would dull any further pain, cloud his memory of the night, should he live to see the morning. In fact Rodolphus was not entirely sure his magic would not fail him if forced to attempt the Killing Curse once more, but knew his hands would not; if his brother had to die, he would ensure it was clean. A snapped neck would be swift.

Voldemort rose, lynx-like, and approached Rabastan at last. "Just a boy," he murmured, placing a long finger beneath his chin to tilt his small, pale face upwards. "But you'll be loyal to me too, won't you? Just like your brother?"

Rabastan nodded quickly, hope flaring in his dark eyes. "Y-yes," he gasped. "Of course."

"Good." He swept a white hand towards the door. "Leave us now."

He didn't need to be told twice. Staggering from abject terror and encroaching inebriation, Rabastan rushed from the room without a backward glance. After a stretch of quiet, Rodolphus dared to speak once more.

"My father may have been a traitor, but he was the exception. I will be faithful, as will Rabastan. And I think you knew my uncle before he passed— I think he was your friend at school."

Voldemort nodded slowly. "Marcellus would have been a useful ally in my current situation, had he lived. As he did not, I thought his brother could be of service." Snakelike eyes flickered once more to Alcindoran's corpse on the other side of the room. "Very well, Rodolphus. You are young, but you shall have the opportunity you so desire." He drew his wand with an easy elegance. "Give me your arm. Your left one."

Breakfast the next morning in the Lestrange household was a solemn affair. Rabastan had almost finished eating by the time Rodolphus appeared and, as though it had always been the way, sank into the seat at the head of the table.

"So it wasn't just a nightmare," Rabastan muttered dully. He looked dreadful; his hair stood off in different directions and deep shadows ringed his eyes.

"Cheer up, Bash," Rodolphus replied brightly as began to shovel food onto his plate, feeling positively famished after a night of deep and restful sleep. "Father hated me because I reminded him of our uncle, and he hated you because you reminded him of his own failures. We're better off."

"You told him you would kill me." They were no longer discussing Alcindoran. Rabastan pushed has plate away, looking ill. "I know why you said it, I do, but I don't know if you meant it."

"Look at me," he commanded, and waited until Rabastan dragged sunken, accusatory eyes from the table and met his brother's gaze. "It's just me and you now, Bash," he said softly, with a sense camaraderie and empathy that managed to ignore the fact that Rodolphus was the sole reason for this fact. "And we're not just going to be fine, we are going to be even better than before." He paused to let the impact of his words sink in and be felt, then picked up his fork once more. "After breakfast we need to move Father to the crypt."

Monday, 1 August 1966

No one had expected see a Lestrange attend the Lammas gala, hosted by the Blacks this year. The widowed patriarch had died just three weeks prior, and the eldest son was only newly legal. Yet when Rodolphus arrived, dressed resplendently and beaming at anyone who caught his eye, no one dared question his presence. Druella Black had just welcomed Amon Shafiq and his son Idris, but could not entirely disguise her surprise when Rodolphus strode over to her and bowed deeply.

"Mrs. Black," he began with a wide, dimpled grin. "You look well. Thank you for your gracious invitation to this spectacular event."

"I… of course." In coloring, she resembled her eldest daughter very little; Druella had dark blonde hair and lapis eyes. However, her high cheekbones, pointed chin, and suspicious gaze were very familiar to him. "I was so sorry to hear of your father's unexpected passing—" she began formally, but broke of abruptly at his bellowing laugh.

"Were you sorry? Gods, did you never meet him? Not a great loss, Mrs. Black, I assure you. Can you tell me, is the captivating Miss Black attending the ball tonight?" Rodolphus spoke very loudly and stood uncomfortably close to the hostess as he spoke.

"Bellatrix?" she frowned, both at the boy's breach of social niceties and his query. "Yes, she's here somewhere…" Not that she could be kept away. Druella did not think a girl who was not yet of age should attend a ball, even at her own home, but since she had turned fifteen Bella had been attending all events the Blacks hosted, and somehow even managed to secure invitations from other families. She simply came downstairs in dress robes that were the very height of fashion, presumably purchased with funds furnished by her father, and began interacting with guests at her leisure. Druella was loath to make a scene and send the girl to her room, particularly as she always had her father's blessing, but it was frustrating nonetheless. Still, perhaps it was best that one of her schoolmates was seeking her— Druella had spotted the girl hanging around several older bachelors at the past few events and, given her eldest daughter's tendency towards unpredictability, it made her nervous. At least, she was fairly certain that Rodolphus was still in school; over the past few weeks she'd heard many that it was such a tragedy that two schoolboys were orphaned by Alcindoran's passing, yet the young man standing before her could have told her he was in his late twenties and she would have easily believed it. "I last saw her by the refreshments," she supplied at last, and with a final deep bow, Rodolphus turned and headed off in the direction she had indicated.

Bellatrix was not difficult to find. She was currently threatening a cowed-looking house elf that hovered near the bar, hissing obscenities and pointing furiously at her pumpkin juice.

"Miss Black," he beamed, slipping beside her and leaning one elbow on the gleaming wood. He signaled the dwarf that was pouring beverages for a Firewhiskey. "Anything for you?" he asked chivalrously, earning himself a sharp glare.

"My mother has this blasted creature hanging around, ostensibly helping keep service up, but in fact reporting back to her if I dare take anything strong than Butterbeer," she snapped irritably. He laughed loudly, and took her by the arm to steer her away from the elf's frightened but watchful eyes.

"Aren't you its master too? Can't you tell it to fuck off?"

"My mother's word takes precedence, unfortunately, though it punishes itself quite spectacularly for having to disobey me."

"Take me somewhere it can't get too close," he suggested, voice low and persuasive, and after a moment of consideration she nodded and led him up the grand staircase and down a corridor lined with alcoves. Each depression framed a window, offering a few feet of privacy from anyone not standing directly in front of the cutout. Seeming to believe her safely away from any intoxicating substances and wanting to avoid her violent outbursts, the elf mercifully remained at the end of the hallway. Rodolphus withdrew a flask from the inner pocket of his robes and she snatched it away greedily to take a long swig before he could make a verbal offer. He did not interrupt her nor make any attempt to slow her consumption; in fact he nodded that she ought to continue drinking when she half-heartedly held it back out to him. As she proceeded to drain the vessel, neither of them spoke, though after some consideration he did run his fingertips down her ribcage and waist to settle possessively just above the outer curves of her thighs.

"I read that your father died," she said at last, little sympathy making its was into her tone as she screwed the top on the flask and tucked it back into his pocket.

"He did." Rodolphus's tongue darted over his lower lip to moisten it, and he dropped his voice until even she could hardly hear the next words. "I killed him."

At this she recoiled, though she couldn't get far with his hands still locked on her hips. "And why would you do such a thing?" Bellatrix demanded sternly, though she did not seem afraid.

"He planned to betray the Dark Lord. I couldn't let that happen."

Even if she didn't wear her emotions plainly upon her haughty face, the rapid rise and fall of her chest and pulse beating at the base of her pale throat would have betrayed her excitement.

"I don't believe you," she whispered, although he could see plainly that she wanted to. Craved to have found a link so close to the enigmatic and fearsome warlock, just as he craved her.

It did not frighten her that Rodolphus stared at her as though she were something to be hunted; he treated all women like prey. She likely could not even defend herself from him in this moment: her reflexes might be faster and spellwork more elegant, but her wand was not easily reached in the folds of her gown and he could physically overpower her without a thought. But none of that mattered— he could pin her to the floor and rape her in this moment and still would not be getting what he truly wanted from her.

"You can believe me or not," he breathed, backing her slowly against the window and pressing his thigh intimately between hers. "I've taken a vow. He's given me his mark."

"Mark?" echoed, and he lifted his left hand from her body to shake the sleeve of his outer robe back. His right remained firmly on her body, so she would need to complete the task.

"Go on then," he encouraged, and she unfastened the cufflink of his inner sleeve and rolled it downwards. There, upon his forearm, was branded in red the symbol that had begun appearing in the skies lately; the mark that appeared when death had visited.

"That could mean anything," she breathed, though for some reason she dared not touch it. Instead, she laced the fingers of her hand with his and lowered her head to the divot beneath the side of his thumb, and her teeth found the tendon. At some point she'd begun to rock against the leg that dared press against the apex of her own. "You could've given yourself that tattoo." He had others, after all, hidden under his dress robes. She'd seen glimpses of them; somehow, more often than not, his shirt seemed to end up unbuttoned halfway down his broad chest during parties at school.

His forearm became an iron rod across her chest as he forced her backwards against the cool glass. "I could have," he agreed, hungrily studying her features, lapping up any hint of lust in her eyes. And she did desire him— there was no point in pretending otherwise, he'd only need to delve his fingers briefly beneath her skirts for the evidence. "But I didn't."

In truth, she had perhaps spent some small amount of time wondering what it would be like to be seduced by Rodolphus. She supposed she'd been planning to allow it to happen for some time now, and she was not disappointed thus far. He did not kiss her, instead electing to drag the rough stubble of his jaw across her cheek and neck, the friction burning pleasantly, creating added heat between them.

"I want to hear you scream for me, Bellatrix," he murmured huskily in her ear, biting and sucking the lobe as he added, "In pleasure or pain, I can't decide which…"

She sighed and let her head fall back to give him better access, and the arm pinning her to her window moved upwards to press against her throat. She found she rather enjoyed the primal surge of adrenaline that coursed through her at the insinuation that her air supply might be restricted, and her hands moved over his chest and hard, muscled torso, wondering if it would be too risky to unfasten the brocade robes here, in their semi-private enclave. Could they make it back to her room without being spotted?

"Bella?" A small, cherubic face peeked into alcove a second after the voice found them.

"Get lost," Rodolphus growled savagely over his shoulder at the tiny blonde child, who gave an indignant gasp and repeated more insistently, "Bella!"

Bellatrix hesitated, her hand still resting on his abdomen as she regarded her sister. "I said—" Rodolphus turned towards the tiny blonde threateningly. "Go!"

"Rodolphus!" Bellatrix chastened, slipping from between his body and the glass and reaching for her sister as the girl turned to flee. "You can go. Cissy," she pulled Narcissa close, glaring reproachfully at her companion. "It's alright, Cissy," she soothed. "What are you doing out of bed?"

Rodolphus raised his brows, clearly taken aback by this maternal display of protectiveness. Bellatrix had not been seeking an excuse to put him off, but his evident frustration brought a wicked smirk to her lips.

"I was watching the guests from behind the statue of Agrippa," Narcissa confessed. "I saw you come over here, I thought you'd gone to admire the view but then when you didn't return..." she trailed of and chanced another nervous glance in Rodolphus's direction. Bellatrix looked over as well, scarcely able to swallow her haughty smile at his outraged expression.

"If you'll excuse us, I need to see my sister safely returned to sleep. Then I ought to get some rest myself... I'll see you at school."

Thursday, 1 September 1966

Though she would never admit it, Bellatrix felt an unprecedented anticipation for the autumnal term to begin following the ball. If anyone had noticed her eagerness she would have excused it as a happiness that at last both her sisters would be joining her at Hogwarts, but she managed to maintain a facade of icy indifference well enough that no one noticed her impatience to leave.

The train ride was uneventful, but there would be no avoidance once they arrived at the castle. Upon entering the Great Hall, she saw right away that Rodolphus was seated beside his brother and across from Idris Shafiq, the seventh year Slytherin prefect. Bellatrix, who normally paid attention to none of her housemates, made a point of heading as far down the table as she could, her hand clamped on Andromeda's elbow. She selected a seat towards the front of the Hall, leaving a space between the two of them and snarling at anyone who dared attempt to sit in the gap.

"That's for our sister," she hissed at Sinclair Crabbe when he moved towards the space. There wasn't any doubt that Cissy would be in Slytherin— even if it weren't Black family tradition, Bellatrix was certain there had never been as shrewd and manipulative a child as her little sister; the girl was the very embodiment of a Slytherin. As she walked to the stool at the front of the Hall, Narcissa looked considerably more confident than the rest of the students in her year. Sure enough, the hat had barely touched her shining gold locks before it was shrieking their house name. A tiny smirk lifted the corner of her lips, and she floated over to the long table bedecked in green and silver to sink gracefully between her sisters. There, away from the prying eyes of the rest of the school, she allowed herself a brief, ecstatic grin: first at Bellatrix and then Andromeda. Andromeda ducked her head to press a swift congratulatory peck to Narcissa's cheek, and even Bellatrix could not resist the urge to stroke her sister's long blonde hair affectionately.

"Glad Mother won't have to blast you off Aunt Walburga's tapestry," Bellatrix congratulated wryly, and Narcissa's glee and relief were apparent in her louder-than-normal giggle in response to the quip— at eleven, she was already in the habit of policing her visible emotions.

"Congratulations, Cissy." The voice came from near Bella's right ear; she did not need to turn to know it was Rodolphus leaning over her shoulder. The Sorting wasn't over; had hardly begun, in fact, and more than a few professors were shooting disapproving looks at the large boy who'd risen during the ceremony, casually strode to the opposite end of the Slytherin table, and now spoke as though he were quite alone with the three sisters and his timing was not poor to the point of bordering on offensive.

Narcissa stared up at the intruder with a hard and unfriendly gaze. Clearly she had not forgotten his behaviour at Lammas over the summer.

"I prefer 'Narcissa,'" she corrected coolly, causing him to laugh loudly and draw even more irritated stares.

"You're too small for such a big name," he replied dismissively, turning his focus instead to Bellatrix, who had obviously been his intended target all along. "We've some unfinished business, my pet. You haven't answered any of my owls."

"You haven't sent any owls," she returned, sounding bored, although she could not fully suppress a slight shiver as his fingers found the curve of her spine.

"Well, no matter. I think tonight you and I should—"

"Take your seat, Lestrange," Idris had marched over as well, looking livid. "I won't miss my sister's Sorting because you can't wait ten more minutes to gossip with Miss Black."

Rodolphus sneered but followed the other boy back to the far end of the table, winking at the Black sisters as he went.

"He's dreadful, Bella," Andromeda whispered several minutes later as 'Shafiq, Ghada," was also sent to the Slytherin table amid thunderous applause. Ghada's relief was palpable as she hurried over to sit next to her brother; across the table, Rabastan extended a friendly hand for her to shake. Between her own siblings, Narcissa nodded in fervent agreement. "What did he mean, 'unfinished business?'" Andromeda pressed on.

Bellatrix shrugged but kept her eyes fixed with suspicious interest upon the few remaining first years waiting to be Sorted. "We were talking at the gala last month. Didn't get a chance to finish our conversation."

Here Narcissa gave a tiny but revealing cough, and Andromeda blinked at her older sister in disbelief. "No, not Lestrange. Bella, you know what everyone says about him." Their small blonde counterpart looked up curiously at these words— she did not know what people said about Rodolphus, but evidently hoped to learn. "He could really hurt you, you know what he did to the poor Bletchley girl…"

"Hearsay," Bellatrix waved the old accusation aside. "Besides, I can take care of myself."

Bellatrix stayed close to both her sisters as the meal ended and they headed to the Common Room. Narcissa was absorbing everything with wide eyes, and when they reached their destination it was with some pride the Bellatrix saw her move away to join the other students of her year rather than remain in the familiar and secure company of the older two girls.

"She'll do so well here," Andromeda spoke aloud, echoing Bellatrix's silent sentiments. Already some of the young girls were exclaiming in envy over Narcissa's elegant robes (she'd taken the plain black uniform off at once, something Bella too was in the habit of doing; Andromeda, on the other hand, was content to wear hers in the common room and on weekends, in addition to classes where they were required).

"You should send an owl to Mother tonight to let her know Sorting went well," Bellatrix suggested, in part because she knew Narcissa would be too distracted to write until the following day, but mostly because she saw Rodolphus cutting a path through the throngs of Slytherins directly towards her.

"Be careful, Bellatrix," Andromeda murmured, only to be brushed off with a dismissive hand.

"Drink?" Rodolphus produced a bottle of elf-made wine and goblet; she quirked a disdainful brow at the label.

"Really? This swill? I'd be better off with pumpkin juice."

His eyes narrowed, and the corner of her mouth curled up into a smirk. She wondered how much abuse she could dole out before he lost either his temper or interest in pursuing her. They were standing in a rather central location, and she could feel many pairs of eyes upon them— not unusual, she was used to being watched and so was he, but both were well known to be unpredictable and destructive; most were wise enough to give the pair a wide berth as they stood with their gazes locked.

At last he raised his wand, and pointed it towards the seventh year boys' dormitory. "Accio Macallan." A new bottle soared through the air, clipping a second year boy as it flew across the space. Ignoring his shout of indignation, Rodolphus offered the scotch to Bellatrix with some impatience.


"Hm." She made a show of studying the label before breaking the seal and taking a deep swig. "It will do," she conceded at last, not returning the liquor but turning away.

"Bellatrix…" He reached out to grasp her arm, but she caught sight of the movement in her periphery and spun easily away.

"Don't be grabby, Roddy," she chided with a cruel laugh, taking another long pull of the expensive scotch and twirling lightly on her toes as if they stood on a ballroom floor, dancing out of reach when he tried again. "Greedy as a goblin, counting all his gold," she began to sing the tuneless nursery rhyme with wicked glee as she spun around him gracefully, "Tried to use a freezing charm, but it only made you cold."

It was a childhood game of chase and capture, and a few of the amused watchers dared to join her in chanting the familiar words. "And now I've run, you've been told, you can't tell your left from a lethifold!" His dark eyes stayed fixed on her flitting form, though he moved after her only very slowly, taking careful steps in her frolicking wake and never coming quite near enough to put an end to her antics. She continued to drink and sing as she wove through clusters of arm chairs and knots of students, picking up more voices as she went until half the house was chanting along with her. The game, usually played in a group, required one player to capture another by the end of the song, and that child would be "it" for the next round. If the child could not claim another by the last word, he would generally be ejected from the game and subjected to jeers and ridicule from his playmates. The swell of voices was reaching a crescendo; they had come to the last verse: "We'll cast a spell, we'll be so bold, Flagrante and Geminio! And now I'm something you.. can't… hold!"

Like a flash, his hand shot out to curl around her wrist in a crushing grasp just as the word "hold" was shouted by all— cheers erupted around them but neither noticed as he dragged her body against his. It was hard to say whether she'd allowed him catch her or simply underestimated his reach. At first she thought he was angry— humiliated, perhaps, by being paraded amongst their peers in a foolish game— but it was merely impatience that darkened his expression as he curved his free hand, the one not currently grinding the bones of her wrist together, around her waist to press into her lower back, forcing out any space that might try to linger between them. Her chin jutted as she met his gaze without fear, and she tipped her head back to take another gulp of scotch. The bottle was half empty by now. To Rodolphus, it was as though the rest of the house had vanished. He didn't hear their chatter, didn't see their covert, or blatant, glances. All he saw, the only things that existed to him in that moment, were her flashing black eyes staring up at him in an inescapable challenge, and the shine of alcohol clinging to her startlingly red mouth. A small amount beaded on her lower lip, but since she held the bottle in one hand and he held her other wrist in captivity, she had no means to wipe it away. It was his liquor, after all, he'd been remarkably generous in sharing it with her; he felt he deserved a taste.

Despite her teasing and his insistent pursuit, and his reputation of insatiable appetites, Bellatrix had genuinely not believed that he would dare to kiss her in front of a quarter of the school. If one could even call it that— his lips scarcely touched hers, the coarse hair on his face grazing rather then abrading her skin, and his tongue moved once in a single upward stroke over her bottom lip, then again, slowly, as though to ensure he hadn't missed anything. Perhaps it was the strangeness of the gesture that kept her rooted in place, or perhaps it was the unexpected heat the unusual, primal caress ignited low in her gut. He drew back fractionally.

"Come upstairs," he whispered roughly. An invitation, a command, a plea? It was impossible to say.

"Now, what sort of example would I be setting for my baby sisters if I did that?" she replied silkily, pressing the pointer finger of the hand still wrapped around the neck of the scotch bottle emphatically to his chest.

"I truly do not care," answered Rodolphus, loosening his breaking hold on her wrist only to twine his fingers with hers. "Enough of the games, Bella."

"The games are what make it fun, Roddy," she whispered and rose once more to her toes, having the dual effect of bringing her face closer to his and sliding her body suggestively against his. Her lips twisted victoriously when she felt his respond; he wasn't smiling. Later, years later, she would think back on this moment with wonder and amusement; how badly her usually-flippant and laughing husband must have desired her to be so serious and intent. How unsure he must have been of her imminent capitulation to his needs. This was, of course, before the many years later, when she wouldn't think of him at all.

"Not when neither of us wins," he groaned, the fingers laced through hers tightening, his other hand digging painfully into the small of her back. "Can't I have you?" he murmured, dropping his head so that his forehead rested against hers.

"No, of course not," she laughed, twirling out of his hold once more but not releasing his hand. Bellatrix watched the different emotions darken his features with amusement, taking a long drink of his scotch and thinking he resembled a Byronic hero when so tortured. "I won't be owned by any man, I've no use for such arrogance. Now, if you're quite done sulking, perhaps we could go somewhere a bit more private. Not that I'm opposed to a bit of exhibition, mind you, but as I said, with both my sisters in the room... it does sort of put a damper on things."

Rodolphus brightened at once, eyes lighting up with a wild sort of flame as he absorbed the meaning of her words. With a final smirk she turned to lead him from the common room.

Saturday, 5 November 1966

Bellatrix watched as Rodolphus poured out a bit of butterbeer from its bottle and refilled the space with Firewhiskey. "Lucius, here," he called the young seeker over, and pressed the bottle into his hands. "Well done, mate."

The blond grinned and took a deep gulp before turning back to his conversation with Laetitia Avery, a pretty fifth year who looked utterly amused by the precocious twelve-year-old's attempts at flirtation. "Just watch," Rodolphus murmured, his lips to her ear, "I'll bet I can get him unconscious by half nine."

"He's seven stone, it's hardly a challenge," she drawled, reaching for the bottle of whisky that dangled in his hand and taking a pull. "Have you got a cigarette?"

"I've got something even better," he announced, reaching into his pocket. "Lifted it from Slughorn's office last night in detention." Bellatrix rolled her eyes.

"I don't want a cigar, I want a fag," she snapped, her eyes wandering the Common Room. "Crabbe will have one." She hopped up off the couch, but Rodolphus caught her wrist to prevent her escape. She paused with an impatient scowl as he pressed his lips to her palm.

"Hurry back," he grinned devilishly up at her and she rolled her eyes. Just to annoy him, as she could feel his eyes on her even as she walked away, she draped herself over Sinclair Crabbe's arm and put her lips close to his ear to make the innocuous request. The hapless boy was more than willing to supply her, but before she had a chance to light it, another voice spoke at her shoulder.

"Do you believe this?" Bellatrix turned to see her sister standing beside her looking scandalized. "She's eleven, for Circe's sake!" Bella's head jerked in the direction that Andromeda was staring, and sure enough, Lucius Malfoy, holding his third spiked Butterbeer of the night, was lounging against the mantle by the fireplace and chatting to the youngest Black with the same interest he'd been showing Lettie only minutes before.

"Oh I don't think so," Bellatrix hissed, seizing Andromeda by the elbow. "Come on, let's go put a stop to it."

"Yes, alright," Andromeda agreed, attempting to free herself from her sister's vice-like grip. "But do try to be delicate about it, Cissy looks rather pleased with the attention." This was true; Narcissa, normally so carefully reserved in her countenance, was beaming up at the boy and speaking animatedly, but rather than evoke any tenderness in Bellatrix the uncharacteristic display of joyful emotion only served to enrage her further as she marched over to the pair.

"You flew well today, Malfoy," Andromeda began, slipping an affectionate arm around Narcissa's shoulder. Immediately Narcissa scowled and tried to shrug her off, but the hold was firmer than it appeared.

"And you should stick to flying," Bellatrix added hotly, crossing her own arms to glare down at the boy. "Flying away, that is."

Narcissa flushed an angry pink. "Lucius, I imagine you know my sisters? Bella and Annie?"

"He knows us," Bellatrix answered shortly, watching him with narrowed eyes as he finished off his drink. "Knows what we're capable of," she added in a dark undertone, gratified to see him choke slightly in alarm. "Need another butterbeer? Let's go get you one." It wasn't really a suggestion, and the two older Black girls flanked him as he regretfully withdrew from more pleasant companionship and headed towards the drink table.

"You and Cissy seemed to be getting along well!" Andromeda started brightly. "What were you talking about?"

"Erm, I dunno…" he frowned— Bellatrix was now blocking the path forward so he was forced to stop and speak to them both. "Classes?"

"Classes, right. It's so important to focus on studies your first year, don't you think?" she pressed on cheerfully while Bellatrix glowered at him.

"Yeah, I suppose—"

"We're saying she doesn't really have time for boys, Malfoy," Bellatrix interjected, at last lighting the cigarette she'd bummed with a snap of her fingers. She took a long drag and not-so-subtly blew the smoke directly in Lucius's face as Andromeda chirped,

"Nothing against you! We'd just hate for her to be distracted while she's settling in and making friends."

"And I can't be her friend?" Lucius snapped, waving the smoke away irritably.

"No," Bellatrix replied swiftly, at the same time that Andromeda assured him, "Just friends is fine!"

"Ladies, what's all this about?" Rodolphus approached the trio with a grin, a newly-opened bottle in hand. "Here Malfoy, for you." He slipped an arm around Bellatrix's rigid waist as he handed the 'butterbeer' over to Lucius.

"Malfoy's just met our baby sister," Bellatrix replied drily, leaning into his embrace despite her annoyance. "We were confirming that he knows who he's dealing with."

"Yes, alright, I've got it," Lucius muttered, taking the opportunity to slip away from the conversation. Bellatrix followed his retreat with her gaze suspiciously, only turning away when she saw him strike up conversation with fourth year Francesca Zabini and knew that Narcissa was no longer a subject of his interest.

"She could do worse than Malfoy, he's a bright kid," Rodolphus added idly, then winced as Bellatrix stomped on his foot.

"She's eleven!" Andromeda repeated, aghast. "She's just a baby." She shot a glance at the Malfoy heir once more. "He's a little young for Francesca though," she added with a sniff, with some judgement towards her dorm-mate.

"Leave them be," Rodolphus suggested offhandedly. Andromeda nodded once, tersely, before slipping back into the crowd; she never stayed for long when Rodolphus was around. The arm not wrapped around Bellatrix's waist crossed over her chest, and he dipped his head to rest his lips on the curve between her shoulder and neck. "M'bored," he mumbled against her skin, widening his mouth to sink his teeth into the soft flesh.

"You still need a team photo," she reminded him, pulling her shoulder away irritably when he bit down harder. "To commemorate this momentous occasion."

"Right," he agreed, lifting his head and looking around the room. "Shafiq!" he barked, causing several people nearby to jump in surprise. Idris, the captain and Keeper, glanced over from his conversation with a tired sort of expression.


"Get everyone together for the picture, I have more important things to do with the rest of my night," Rodolphus called, his grip tightening suggestively on Bellatrix as he spoke. The command resulted in no necessary action on the part of Idris, as the entire team had heard the request and began to assemble in the middle of the room. Six of the seven had gathered within a minute or two; Rodolphus frowned as he counted. "Bash... Rosier... Flint... Carrow... Where the bloody hell did Malfoy go?"

Rabastan snorted. "Over there," he jerked his head towards the stairwell of the second year boys' dormitory. "With Selene Fawley."

"She's chatting his ear off, I suppose?" Amycus wheezed a laugh. "Never met another girl who talks so much as her."

"She's doing something to his ear," Evan drawled distastefully.

"Malfoy!" Rodolphus bellowed, and at last the blond stumbled out of the darkened alcove, running his hand through his hair to tidy it and tugging the wrinkles out of his shirt. He was remarkably composed by the time he reached the group.

"Yes?" he grinned cockily.

"Look sharp," Rodolphus grumbled good-naturedly, seizing the younger boy by the shoulder and turning him roughly around to face the camera.

Saturday, 25 February 1967

"Roddy? What are you doing?" She couldn't keep the confusion and wonderment from her tone as she approached the table where he sat. "Surely not…" Bellatrix's gaze wandered over the open pages before him, the small bubbling cauldron and assortment of potion ingredients beside it. "Surely not revising for your N.E.W.T's?" She was fairly certain that Rodolphus was literate, but only from the obscure and odd poetic references he occasionally tossed into conversation. She'd never seen him open a book or read the paper in all the years she'd known him. He was taking only four classes: Care of Magical Creatures, Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, and Defense Against the Dark Arts. She wasn't sure any of them required the ability to read or write English.

"No, pet, of course not. Never fear." He reached for her hand and pulled her into his lap with a grin. "I'm glad you're here. You're going to help me with something."

She rolled her eyes, though even as she dismissed him, her hand began to find its way towards the buckle of his belt. "Fine, but if Slughorn comes in I'm inviting him to join."

"Not that," he snatched her hand up to his lips before she could distract him, but then confused the situation further by casually unbuttoning his shirt. "Not yet, anyway." He shifted her so she was facing away from him, forced to study the items laid out upon the table more closely. The tome was a runic text, and he'd circled several symbols and scratched illegible notes in the margin. A smaller, dogeared journal lay on top of it, open to a page with a detailed illustration of a human arm. She realized after staring at it for several moments that the text matched the unreadable notes in Rodolphus's hand— it wasn't poor penmanship, it was written in a language with an alphabet she didn't recognise.

Giving up finding any deeper meaning there, she shifted her attention from this to the cauldron, where a tar-like substance bubbled unhurriedly despite no visible source of heat. She hoped he did not plan on drinking the potion; it looked as though it would burn away lips, glue a throat closed. A silver dagger was next— this she was familiar with, had seen in his hand before— and finally a fine-tipped quill and ink pot.

"Alright, I give up. What am I helping you with?"

He had cast his shirt aside by now. "You're going to use the quill to draw these—" he leaned forward to point at the circled runes, "on my arm, here." He pointed out the area on the anatomical diagram, and then brought her fingers to the same spot on the back of his right bicep. "And then you're going to take the knife—" but by now she understood. He had several other of these markings, self-inflicted, already in place, though the area he had indicated would be hard to reach on his own, especially since he was right-handed.

"A numbing potion?" she asked foolishly, nodding towards the cauldron.

"Of course not. You'll rub that into the cuts to ensure the raised scarring, while you speak the name of each rune to seal the enchantment."

She smiled gamely and lifted the quill. He described the order and the positioning of each symbol and she drew each one carefully, standing back to allow him to examine her work with a small mirror once finished. He had her make several small changes, and then instructed her to take the knife. She hesitated for only a moment before pressing the blade into his flesh.

"Deeper, into the muscle." His voice was relaxed but arm stiff, and she bit her lip to suppress a grin as she tightened her grip on the handle. It was mesmerizing, watching the honed silver disappear beneath his skin, and the blood welling to the surface in response. She began at the bottom as to avoid smearing the ink, taking her time to trace the angular shapes with precision and feeling a dart of exhilaration each time he grunted in discomfort.

"Finished," she breathed, running her hands in fascination over his bicep as she admired her work, staining them red. She wanted to lick her fingers. He tore the page he had been referencing from the book and handed it to her so she could see the phonetic spellings of each rune, and moved the potion to the floor beside her.

"Uruz," she whispered huskily. The potion stung her fingertips as she smeared it into the fresh wound, but she could tell it seared him; his muscles were tense and he'd begun to sweat. "Eihwaz," she continued, pressing harder and watching the dark rivulets of blood run down to his elbow and drip to the stone below. "Hagalaz!" And she could tell that the spell was working— the runes were beginning to radiate heat and light. "Nauthiz," she breathed, and with this rune, the symbol of pain, his whole body lurched, and the four symbols composing an ancient spell flash briefly white, then returned to their blackened, bleeding state once more.

"Good," he panted, holding out a roll of gauze she had not previously noticed. When she wrapped the wound, she found that she did so rather sloppily— so much easier to damage than mend. His arm was strangely limp in her hands, and when she released him it fell uselessly to his side. "The pain and numbness will wear off in a few hours," he explained before she could speak, and used his left hand to pull her onto his lap again. "You did it perfectly."

She gave a contented, catlike grin and began to hastily draw the hem of her robes upwards. He kissed her like he wanted to consume her and touched as though he wanted to hurt her; it was the norm, but now he could use only one hand, and this handicap added an unexpected element of interest. She unfastened his belt and trousers and curled her hand around his stiff length to position herself, sinking down with a heavy sigh of satisfaction to impale herself upon him. Titillated as she was by the thrill of his blood on her hands and brush with the Dark Arts, it didn't take her long as she mercilessly ground against him, rocking backing and forth— he met her climax with a harsh, guttural chuckle, and when she grew still, panting, she realized he was still huge and hard inside her. He didn't give her time to catch her breath, increasing the tempo of his thrusts in an effort to find his own release, but was struggling to do so; it was not a typical issue for him and after only a few minutes Bellatrix moaned in impatience, "Come on, Rod..."

Abruptly, he wrapped his one good arm around her back to seize her waist on the opposite side. Before she could react, he'd jerked, hard, and simultaneously rose to his feet, dislodging her and causing her torso and face to slam against the table, momentarily knocking the breath from her. With a with a low snarl of frustration he slammed into her once more, furiously seeking that which eluded him. The heel of his palm at the base of her skull her kept her cheek pinned against the table, and her fingers curled around the first heavy item she could locate— the pestle he'd been using to grind herbs for the potion. With unfailing aim, she swung it behind her and made contact with his right arm, near the newly engraved symbols. He stumbled back at once with an agonized shout and Bellatrix straightened up with an imperious scowl.

"I've told you not to do that!" she started furiously, shaking her skirts down and smoothing them. "I know you get off on it and I put up with a lot, but you could have broken my tooth. Oh get up." She spat a mouthful of blood from her split lip and glared down at him. Down, because he was on the floor, cradling his right arm in his left hand and taking short, hissing breaths through his teeth. "Stop being a baby," she insisted, though with some curiosity. She'd seen him take a bludger to the face and break his nose and orbital bone without even calling for a timeout. If she recalled correctly, Slytherin had even won that game. "Is it supposed to hurt so much?"

After a moment of hesitation he nodded, but still seemed unable to speak or rise.

"For Merlin's sake," she grumbled in exasperation, bending down to seize his arm— the uncut one this time. "Get up." She had to tug with all her strength several times before he at last staggered to his feet, and gave a grunt of surprise when he immediately began to tip forward. He had not lost enough blood to account for the vertigo; she could only guess it was a combination of the pain and spellwork. Leaving him alone seemed like a poor idea— if there had been any doubt before that he'd asked her to aid him in Dark Magic, it was evident now and her mother would be furious if it was traced back to her. With a martyred sigh she brought his arm around her shoulders and let him lean heavily upon her. Bellatrix was five foot ten and in no way frail, but standing upright under the weight of his six and a half foot frame bearing down upon her was no negligible task. She managed a wave of her wand to vanish the potion and send the rest of the paraphernalia into her school bag, but left this behind to fetch later. Rodolphus was taking Ancient Runes at the N.E.W.T level, and if they were found she was fairly sure there was nothing inherently forbidden in the books— though the practice was quite a different matter.

Fortunately they did not pass Slughorn or any other professors in the corridors between the dungeon and Common Room; she hadn't bothered with an attempt to get his shirt or robes back on, and fat beads of blood left a macabre trail in their wake. A few curious eyes acknowledged their unconventional entrance, but only one rose to offer any assistance.

"Circe, done this again has he? Hold on, I'll get a potion that will knock him out for a while." Rabastan rose slowly and padded off to his dormitory, muttering under his breath. Bellatrix half-dragged Rodolphus up the stairs to his dormitory and deposited him with a sigh of relief onto his bed.

"Bloody fool, does this even do anything?" she tutted, carefully removing the soiled dressings. Rabastan appeared with a vial of azure potion, humming absently as he came in.

"Down it goes," he mumbled in a sing-song voice, tipping the contents into his brothers mouth and clamping a hand over his nose and mouth until he swallowed.

"Aren't you meant to just use a drop or two?" Bellatrix asked suspiciously as Rodolphus went suddenly limp, his eyes shading but not entirely closing.

"Yes," he confirmed absently, pointing his wand at the messy wound. "Aguamenti." A jet of water bathed his arm and Rabastan used the duvet to wipe away the blood and excess black residue. With a flick he conjured a clean roll of gauze to apply a new bandage. "All set. He'll wake up in a few hours feeling much better."

"Thanks Bash," she sighed, feeling suddenly exhausted and sinking onto the bed beside Rodolphus. Rabastan gave her an oddly bright smile and pulled another stoppered bottle from the pocket of his robes. "Want something for your face too?"

"My face...?" Bellatrix blinked in confusion before reaching up to gingerly touch her swollen lip. "Oh, yes, I suppose if you've got something."

"Did he hit you or were you dueling?" he inquired conversationally, tossing her the potion. There was a strange lack of empathy in his voice, only detached curiosity.

"Neither," she replied, dabbing the yellow paste on her lip and cheek, but she could tell from his expression that he didn't believe her. He reached into his pocket and this time withdrew a pack of cigarettes, offering one to her before taking one for himself. Bellatrix ignited hers with a snap of her fingers, Rabastan with his wand as he sat down on the opposite side of his brother. She watched him thoughtfully as they smoked in silence for several minutes. On the small side for his age, Rabastan both looked and was young, and she felt a fleeting moment of pity that both of his parents were deceased.

"Well, he's dead to the world for a bit, no use in hanging around here," Rabastan spoke first and stood, illustrating his point by callously pressing the still-glowing end of his cigarette into his brother's shoulder. He held it there for a few seconds with a blank stare until the smell of cooking meat reached Bellatrix's nostrils, and then tossed the extinguished butt carelessly to the floor. "See you later, Bella."

Friday, 30 June 1967

"Will you miss me, Bella?" The dormitory beds were not intended for two, and Rodolphus alone was already rather too large to fit comfortably on his own. However he did not resent the narrow, foreshortened mattresses when she joined him there, and tonight was the last time she would do so; the last night she would be forced to twine her nude body with his as there was no space to roll away, the pair ensconced between walls of green velvet, waiting for the rest of the seventh year boys to fall asleep so she could slip back to her own bed.

"Probably not for a while," she yawned carelessly. "You've been dreadfully clingy these past few weeks, I should say I'll enjoy some solitude back at Grimsden Hall."

He growled and raised his head to bite her shoulder in reprobation, and she laughed. "I suppose you'll be bored," she posited. "No more school, no need for a job— however will you fill your time?"

"I'll stay busy enough in service to the Dark Lord," he reminded her, and she reached for his left arm to admire the tattoo there, her favorite by far of the many markings on his arms and chest, even above the ones she had carved into his flesh. "You should marry me, don't you think?"

The statement hung in the air for a long moment and neither of them moved. At last, Bellatrix asked, "And why should I do that?"

It was not a 'no,' which was frankly rather more promising than Rodolphus had anticipated for a first attempt. This had simply been a test to see where her mind currently rested on the matter, and that she had not yet scoffed or hexed him was highly promising.

"It would be fun," he replied with a shrug, reaching with the arm not wrapped around her back to blindly fumble on his nightstand for a packet of cigarettes.

Bellatrix snorted. "I doubt it. Sex is fun and we're already doing that." To emphasize her point, she rolled over on top of him, draping her legs on either side of his hips and folding her hands on his chest, upon which she rested her chin. Rodolphus grunted in agreement and the hand that had been resting on her shoulder moved lower to grip her arse, but he was not quite ready to drop the subject. He'd managed to extract a cigarette from the carton and placed it between his lips, raising his eyebrows expectantly. Lazily, she lifted her fingertip to its end, and a small flame erupted there. Bellatrix waited for him to take a long drag, and then plucked it from his mouth and did the same.

"I'm very rich," he suggested, and she laughed with only a hint of derision.

"So am I, and my father doesn't have any male heirs. Keep trying."

Rodolphus took the cigarette back, buying time. "Erm…" he exhaled a cloud of smoke. "We could travel the world."

"We don't have to be married to do that," she pointed out reasonably. "And I could do it on my own too. Besides, I can't go anywhere for another year anyway. So what I'm really hearing is you don't have anything to offer me other than your admittedly magnificent cock, which you've made the grave mistake of letting me have out of wedlock." She tapped his nose in mock scolding. "Didn't your mother ever warn you that you ought to protect your virtue at all costs?"

"Don't you think that your mother, and father, for that matter, will make you marry eventually?"

"I think they think they will," she responded evasively, finishing off the cigarette and dropping it carelessly on the stone floor beside the bed. She began to shift against him, inching her way downwards with a mischievous gleam in her eyes, and he knew it was only a matter of seconds before she had successfully distracted him from the matter at hand.

"What to you want then?"

This question, unlike his previous one, captured her full attention and interest. "I want to meet him," she said at once; Bellatrix kept no secrets from her own heart, and at last here was the opportunity to share the dearest one with someone who might be able to grant it.

A slow frown crept across his brow. "There are no women in his service," he protested in confusion. Bellatrix sat up with a swift scowl.

"What does that have to do with anything? I'm a better duelist than you, and just because I don't know as many curses doesn't mean I can't learn them. I'm much smarter than you are," she snapped.

"Not very smart to insult someone you want a favor from," he countered lazily, starting to reach for another cigarette but she slapped his hand to keep his full focus on her.

"I'm not asking for a favour. Just an exchange of more or less equal value to each party."

Rodolphus stared up at her with an expression somewhere between bewilderment and frustration. "You'd marry me if I gave you an introduction?" he clarified, just to confirm he was not misunderstanding. Bellatrix shrugged, shaking her long tangled curls down her back.

"I don't see why not."

His hands flew up, wrapping around her arms just above her elbows and yanking her back down so she was pressed against his chest once more. "Don't lie to me, Bella," he growled.

"I'm not!" she huffed in indignation, trying to break free but failing. Tomorrow there would be bruises, but that was nothing new.

"I don't think you fully understand the enormity of that request, Bellatrix. The risk—"

"I'm not afraid!" she interrupted, raising her voice and glaring at him from her locked position.

He chuckled at her indignation, releasing her to slide his palms over her bare back. "Not the risk to you, pet. The consequences I would face, the humiliation and punishment for bringing someone…" It was on the tip of his tongue to say "unworthy," but the appellation could never apply to the seething and wildly beautiful creature before him. "Someone he would not have." A pause. "But there could be danger to you as well," he added, almost as an afterthought as he wound his hands in her raven locks and tugged.

"Well now you have my terms." She was no longer struggling; instead, she let her eyes fall closed and she nuzzled against the coarse hair on his chest. "If mine are unconscionable to you, well," she yawned, "yours are to me too."

"They aren't unconscionable," he murmured, running his fingertips up the curve of her spine, massaging the nape of her neck thoughtfully. "I just… let me think about it, Bella. Give me a bit of time."

Saturday, 11 November 1967

It was a crisp, clear autumn morning, and Bellatrix was in a foul mood. Two and a half months of her final year at Hogwarts had thus far produced nothing more interesting than mounds of schoolwork, and if she didn't come up with a thesis topic for Charms by Monday she'd have to drop the class. She was flicking listlessly through a book on weather-changing charms; it seemed like a valuable skill to have, but she was failing to come up with any sort of research inquiry that she could pursue for a final paper.

It was also the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year. She'd elected not to go. It would have been refreshing to get out of the castle, perhaps, but she was tired of the quaint village. What thrill was there left in Zonko's or Honeydukes? She'd spent the summer with more freedom she'd ever before been granted— although admittedly that largely revolved around slipping out after her mother retired and back in before dawn—and she longed for the thrill of traipsing about London and the continent with no one to answer to, dining and drinking out late, no essays hanging over her head...

If she missed the partner she'd enjoyed on these excursions, she would certainly never admit it. She hadn't heard from him since the week before term started, and supposed she shouldn't have been surprised by this fact. Never had she known someone more distractable and restless; what had she been expecting, a daily owl?

But perhaps one or two owls might not have been out of the realm of possibility, she thought, and then felt at surge of fury at herself. With an irritable hiss she scratched a quick note on how basic Drought Charms were modified to expel rainclouds, but the modification was ridiculously complex, hardly even the same spell...

"Bellatrix Black?" A young boy with a colorful bruise across his jaw and bleeding lip was staring at her sullenly, shuffling his feet. She didn't recognise him, and narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

"Who's asking?"

"Dunno, do I?" he snapped. "And I got this for trying to find out," he pointed angrily to the injury on his face. "There's someone at the gate who wants to talk to you though. Said he'd do worse if I came back before you did. I just want to see Hogsmeade, it's my first time going and—"

"Yes, yes, alright," she interrupted, rising quickly to her feet. "Tell him I'll be there shortly."

"I'm not an elf!" The boy snapped, and then cast a nervous glance over his shoulder. "And I'm not going back there before you."

"Well, I won't be rushed," she replied haughtily, stacking her books neatly and placing her parchments and ink bottles into her bag with uncommon consideration. After a moment of deliberation, she decided to return to her dormitory to fix her hair, and once there elected to put on a new set of robes as well. The boy was gone by the time she returned, but she thought she caught sight of him lingering behind a suit of armor near the front doors of the castle.

She crossed the lawn at a leisurely pace, refusing to let even a glimmer of excitement or anticipation reveal itself in how she moved. The cool air could be blamed for pinking her cheeks, and she kept her expression carefully aloof, even when the the gate came into view and she saw a tall figure slouched indolently against one of the stone pillars that flanked it. Chin lofted and shoulders squared, she glided over to him with an indifferent air.

"Hello, Rodolphus."

Rodolphus, on the other hand, demonstrated no such reserve. He tossed his cigarette aside at once— the ground by his feet was littered with butts, he'd been waiting for some time— and seized her by the waist, lifting her easily into the air and spinning her around as though she were no bigger than a child.

"Bella," he murmured, ignoring her splutters that were half laughter, half indignation as he kissed her, his fingers rooting in her hair. "Bella, Bella, what took you so long?"

He didn't give her a chance to respond right away as he turned to pin between the column he'd been lounging against and his body. When his mouth moved to her throat she managed to reply at last, "How was I meant to know you were waiting?"

"Where else would I be? I've taken a room above the Three Broomsticks for the weekend and we've wasted enough time already."

"You could have sent word," she breathed as he brazenly moved his hands from her hair to her shoulders to her breasts, tilting his hips suggestively and nipping at the tendons of her neck.

"No need, I knew you'd come," he grunted, pulling himself away reluctantly. "Let's go, pet, unless you want me to take you here in broad daylight in front of whatever child might wander by... I'd be happy to oblige but thought you might want to maintain the last shreds of your reputation since you haven't even agreed to marry me yet..."

She hit his arm in reprobation and he dimpled at her, sliding a hand down her back to rest somewhere between her lower back and curve of her bottom. With a small, satisfied smirk she permitted him to guide her towards the village.

"Get up to anything fun lately, Roddy?"

"Derailed a train full of Muggles outside London on Sunday."

"That was you?" she laughed. "The train from Hastings? I read about it in the Prophet."

He grinned and nodded in affirmation, and her continued laughter sifted brightly through the leaves above.

Saturday, 13 April 1968

"It's so nice to have all my girls home for the Easter holiday," Druella sighed, walking over to the double doors which were thrown open to allow the golden morning light to pour into the intimate dining room.

"Maman," Narcissa began, smiling in contentment as she followed her mother's gaze over the the Loire river. "Pouvons—"

"There's something I'd like to say," Bellatrix announced loudly over her little sister's voice as though she hadn't spoken. "Now that everyone is here." She placed her fork down and glanced about to ensure she had captured the full attention of all present. Satisfied that she had, she focused her gaze on her father. "I am going to marry Rodolphus Lestrange. He'll be coming tomorrow to ask your permission officially, Father, but you should know that I have agreed and it is happening as soon as possible. I suggested June, the week after term ends."

A stunned silence filled the room for several long seconds, and then everyone began to speak at once.

"You can't get married in June, it's less than two months away! What will people think if you have such a short engagement—"

"I rather think the decent thing to do would have been to ask my permission before—"

"Will I get a new dress robe for the reception?"

Only Andromeda remained quiet, staring at her older sister with a sort of horrified disbelief. This Bellatrix ignored, and addressed Druella first.

"I hardly care what people will think, Mother. And he asked me at end of term last year, I've only just agreed, so it's similar to having a year long engagement. I won't wait until next year."

"Darling, is there… are you…" Druella did not articulate the vulgar thought, but glanced meaningfully at her daughter's flat stomach. Bellatrix rolled her eyes.

"Oh for Merlin's sake, do you really think I'd marry him just for getting me pregnant? Of course I'm not."

Druella flushed but pressed on. "But what of Evan? Surely you understand there's always been an agreement that you two would wed when he comes of age."

"I agreed to no such thing. Andromeda can marry him if you'd like, and Cissy can marry Sirius. You had a surplus of daughters and one of us was going to get to choose a husband anyway; I'm the oldest and I've made my choice."

Both the younger girls began to protest this suggestion, but fell silent when their father spoke. Unlike their parents, they had seen Bella and Rodolphus together at school, so the announcement took them somewhat less by surprise. "Are you sure you've thought this through?" Cygnus demanded sternly. "The boy has no parents, he's young to be on his own in the world and I would feel better if you were marrying someone more grounded."

"You needn't worry, Father. I'm very sure of my decision." She took a sip of tea and made a face at Narcissa, who was still waiting in glowing anticipation for a response to her own inquiry. "And of course you'll get a new robe, don't be a flobberworm."

The small blonde beamed at this outcome, but looked up at her mother for a nod of confirmation. After she had received it, she went on. "But Mama, I don't want to marry Sirius. He's very rude and dirty."

"Boys outgrow that," Druella replied in clipped tones. "And you're only twelve Narcissa, ages away from thinking of your own wedding. Sirius doesn't even start school until next year." At once Narcissa protested this statement, pointing out that she'd be thirteen in a month, but Druella turned her attention back to her eldest daughter. "June simply cannot be done. The planning involved… why, even a year is short notice for such a production."

"I'm marrying Rodolphus this summer," she repeated steadfastly. "Whether your production is ready or not."

"August, then," Druella insisted pleadingly, knowing that every additional second would drastically improve the overall outcome, and that four full months would almost be enough time to satisfy everyone present that the pair was not marrying due to an unexpected conception.

"Fine, August," Bellatrix relented grudgingly. "But not a day later."

"I'll start composing an announcement at once," Druella swiftly replied, already sweeping out of the room. "Make sure Mr. Lestrange is here early tomorrow, so we can publish the announcement in the evening Prophet!" she trilled over her shoulder as she vanished in the direction of her study.

"I've invited him for supper, not breakfast," Bellatrix told her father dryly, not bothering to inform the more interested party. "But he won't care when the notice comes out."

Narcissa was happily listing off to Andromeda, the only one who deign to listen, all the boys she would prefer to marry over Sirius if given the choice. Predictably the neighbouring boy Michel Perrot was at the top of the list ("The spring holiday at Beauxbatons doesn't overlap with ours," she was explaining sadly, "so I won't be able to see him while we're here this week.") but several Hogwarts students made the roster too ("Well I suppose Lucius Malfoy is rather…" and here she blushed and took a bite of a croissant). Naturally Andromeda encouraged her association with Perrot, a soft option if Bella had ever seen one ("I remember you two listening to records for hours in the conservatory!"), and had nothing positive to say about the far more suitable pureblood heirs at Hogwarts ("I don't know Cissy, with a father like Malfoy's… surely you've read the papers?"). Still, the conversation was for naught because Narcissa was still a child and almost certainly destined to marry one of her cousins.

Rodolphus was late for dinner, and Bellatrix judged him to be a little drunk by the way he kissed her in front of her family, but was unconcerned. He shook Cygnus's hand with too much enthusiasm, complimented Druella's beauty too loudly, and had the audacity to ruffle Narcissa's carefully brushed hair, sending the young girl into silent paroxysms rage. He likely would have offended Andromeda as well, had she not insisted that she had an unbearable headache that no potion could cure and refused to be present for the meal.

"Gods, it's bloody warm here, isn't it?" Rodolphus began causally, throwing his traveling cloak at an elf and loosening the filigree fastening of his dress robes at his throat. "Nothing a cool glass of Sancerre couldn't help, of course."

An elf supplied one immediately in response to Druella's nod and Rodolphus took a deep gulp, seemingly oblivious to the fact that no one else was drinking. Supper was a strained affair for three of the attendees. Rodolphus made virtually no effort to censor his usual volume and vulgarity. When Druella politely inquired what he had been doing since leaving school the year before, she certainly had not expected to be subjected to a detailed description of animal husbandry as he told them about the Granians he was breeding. She looked faintly ill and kept sending anxious glances in Narcissa's direction, worried perhaps that she was discovering for the first time how new life came to be. Narcissa however had been scowling since the enraging hair-ruffle incident and seemed entirely absorbed in her own small fury; apparently she had decided to block his words out for the rest of the night to the very best of her ability. Cygnus worried over his wife's discomfort and Narcissa's pout, trying and failing several times to steer the conversation to more suitable territory. For her part, Bellatrix seemed entirely unaffected by his behaviour, even smiling indulgently, although in all fairness she had ruined more than her fair share of family dinners in the past.

After the meal Rodolphus and Cygnus disappeared into the library to discuss more technical details of the engagement, and Bellatrix retired to the music room. Druella went upstairs ostensibly to check on Andromeda but more probably to find a Calming Draught, and after only a few minutes Narcissa followed her oldest sister.

"Bella," Narcissa seemed pleased to have caught her sister alone, and squirmed onto the seat beside her. She was still small enough that sharing a single bergère was not terribly invasive, and Bellatrix permitted it. "I have a question," the small blonde continued, blinking innocently and tucking her hair behind her ears.

"Yes, Cissy?" Bellatrix felt indulgent, even willing to pet her sister affectionately, although at almost-thirteen she was getting too old for it.

"I know there isn't a baby, you told Mama and I believe you. But you've been dating Roddy for ages. Why the hurry to get married?"

Bellatrix hesitated and then laughed, scooping her sister close and kissing her forehead. "Oh Cissy baby, you're so much brighter than anyone gives you credit for!" Though Narcissa was clearly annoyed by the observation and tried to pull away, Bellatrix kept her close and pressed on. "Mother had so many questions but never thought to ask the only one that truly mattered. And you've asked just the one, so I'll tell you the truth." When Narcissa was an infant, Bellatrix would sit and cradle her for long minutes; never too long, as she was a restless child, but now she pulled as much of her sister onto her as she could manage and continued conspiratorially. "Rodolphus knows someone very important. Have you heard of the Dark Lord? The papers are calling him He Who Must Not Be Named, or colloquially You-Know-Who."

Narcissa nodded but did not speak, so Bellatrix went on. "Roddy knows him well. He supports and helps him reach his goals… they're rather like friends. And he promised me that if I marry him, I will meet the Dark Lord too. Isn't that exciting?"

"Isn't that awfully dangerous?" Narcissa protested.

"It's a little dangerous," Bella admitted. "But it's worth the danger to keep all magic safe, isn't it? Imagine if you didn't have to hide your magic everywhere outside of Hogwarts, Cissy. We can do it here at home, of course, but even when we visit Aunt Walburga in town… there's so much of ourselves we have to stifle, and it isn't fair. Muggles are so much weaker than we are, yet we mask ourselves for their benefit. And why? Because there are more of them? There are more birds in the sky and fish in the sea, but we harness those to our benefit. Why not the same with Muggles?"

"You're right," Narcissa agreed, "But why must you do it? We're ladies, Bella. The Ladies Black. Shouldn't we let boys take care of it?"

Bellatrix laughed again and rose from the chair, setting her sister on her feet. "You should let the boys take care of it, Cissy," she agreed. "You're a perfect little lady. But I prefer to have a bit of the fun for myself. That's why I'm marrying Rodolphus."

"Not because you love him desperately?"

Bellatrix laughed outright once more. "Oh Cissy, darling, no. I like him well enough, and… and other things that you'll understand one day when you're older, but love is a bit silly."

"I don't think so," Narcissa argued. "I think it's the nicest thing there is."

Bellatrix couldn't help but to smile down at the girl, her head so full of romantic ideals and so little else. "And so you shall have it. As you said, we are Blacks, and we shall have whatever we want."

In the library, Cygnus offered Rodolphus a glass of port which, unsurprisingly, he accepted. Though he didn't often drink, he poured a glass for himself as well, feeling certain he would need it to make it through this conversation. They each took a wingback chair by the hearth, and Cygnus spoke first.

"I know your father is no longer with us, but have you no other relative with whom I could discuss this matter? An uncle, perhaps? It's rather unorthodox for a groom to negotiate his own marriage contract."

"I have a brother," Rodolphus suggested, leaning back in the chair and stretching his legs. "He's fourteen but you're welcome to try hammering the details out with him if you'd prefer."

"How old are you?" Bellatrix had claimed that he'd asked her to wed him at the end of last year's term, implying that Rodolphus had been at school then as well, but he found it improbable that the young man before him was only a year out of Hogwarts.

"Nineteen. How old are you?" he replied with snide impudence. Cygnus scowled. Admittedly he had been very young when he'd married Druella, it had caused some whispers when Bellatrix was born promptly nine months after their nuptials, but any scandal around the matter was long past.

He decided to let the impertinent reply pass and tried again. "So tell me, why do you want to marry my daughter?"

A slow smirk began to twist the corners of his mouth upwards, but as he opened his mouth Cygnus held up a hand to cut him off.

"Think carefully before you speak, Lestrange, about what you stand to gain by your answer. I am not so naive as to believe that Bellatrix will not marry you with or without my blessing if it is what she desires, but I have a great deal to offer in addition to my approval, should I choose to bestow it. As you know I have no sons, and I would prefer to leave the majority of my holdings to my children rather than my sister's, despite their misfortunes of being born female."

At last, the lazy, insolent expression left Rodolphus's face, and he stared thoughtfully at Mr. Black for several long moments. "I'm not sure what you want me to say," he admitted after a pause. "Both our families are a part of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, it's hardly an illogical match. As you pointed out I have no father, so I'm not relying on a dowry of any sort before I come into my inheritance. Is that not reason enough to want her as my wife while asking nothing of you? I'd have thought this was every father's dream if he were unfortunate enough to be saddled with three daughters."

Cygnus took a careful sip of port. "I supposed I rather hoped to hear you say that you want to marry her because you love her."

"'Love?'" he echoed disdainfully. "My good man, that's rather sentimental, don't you think? And a rather hollow purpose. What is it that you fear for her? That she won't be provided for? Of course she will, she'll have anything she desires that is within my power to give her and more. That she won't be protected? Even if she were defenceless, which I think we both know she is not, I would kill for her without a second thought. That I will be disloyal? She will consume my thoughts until my dying breath. But love? What of it?"

Rodolphus did not love her because he had no capacity to love; but he could worship, he could adore, and the manic fire in his eyes spoke plainly of his devotion to Bellatrix. Satisfied, Cygnus nodded.

"Very well. I'll have to look over assets and discuss the matter with my wife; she'll insist on giving this house to Narcissa, and Grimsden Hall will have to stay under the Black name. Druella and I will live there until we pass on, but I don't see a way to avoid leaving it to Sirius. Still, if Sirius and Narcissa wed... but that's not a concern for years yet. Andromeda will marry first, likely to Evan, and the two of them will inherit the Rosier estate in Cornwall..." Cygnus drifted off with a rueful smile. "You'll have to forgive me. I don't relish the thought of all my girls leaving home, but I suppose I can no longer avoid confronting it."

Rodolphus nodded, but his eyes were beginning to wander in boredom. He rose to his feet to examine a collection of intricately etched Remembralls on a display shelf.

"Each time we've hosted Michaelmas I've gifted Druella with a commemorative Remembrall; they're one of the symbols of the holiday, you know. That one you're holding was owned by Dorcas Wellbeloved, founder of the Society for Distressed Witches. It's one of Druella's favored charities, she's on the board."

"Hm." Rodolphus tossed the delicate crystal sphere high in the air with a flick of his wrist and held out his hand to catch it on its descent, but it remained suspended several feet out of his reach. He glanced over his shoulder to see Cygnus with his wand out, carefully levitating the Remembrall back to its place on the shelf.

"It's her favourite, I'd hate for anything to happen to it," he explained lightly. "My barrister will send you a notarised contract later this week, feel free to have your own counsel review and send back any comments."

At the prospect of receiving a legal document he would have to review, Rodolphus did not bother to hide his annoyance. "Send whatever you think is reasonable, I don't want to haggle over her."

Cygnus regarded him with mixed emotions. He did not like him in the least, but neither did he doubt Rodolphus's sincerity when he claimed to want nothing besides Bellatrix. It was an unexpectedly ingratiating quality in the eyes of the father, and he supposed he would have to simply overlook the many flaws of Rodolphus Lestrange.

"Well, we should return to the ladies," Cygnus sighed, rising slowly. Rodolphus was already halfway to the door.

"An excellent plan."

They found Druella and Bellatrix on the terrace, speaking softly and enjoying the warm evening air. Upon closer inspection it turned out Narcissa was there too, but has fallen asleep with her head on her mother's lap as Druella stroked her long golden hair. Celestina Warbeck was playing somewhere nearby, harmonizing nicely with the gentle chirp of crickets. Cygnus sat in a chair near his wife and youngest daughter, smiling gently; Rodolphus sank onto the bench beside his fiancee and threw an arm around her shoulders.

"So, what did you get in exchange for taking me off their hands?" she whispered, nuzzling the abrasive stubble on his jaw. "I hope you at least asked for the flat in Monte Carlo."

"I told him I couldn't possibly endure the trials of taking a spouse without at least a dozen castles, three Quidditch teams, and a dragon."

"Seems reasonable. He'll have a contract drafted soon though?"

"Ah, Bella. I have always had more dread of a quill, a bottle of ink, and a sheet of paper than of a sword or wand."

She frowned; he was quoting from something, but she couldn't place it. "No matter," she continued impatiently. "You'll let me look over it once it arrives?"

"Of course." He reached into the internal breast pocket of his robe and pulled out a cigar. With a practiced ease she lit it for him with a snap of her fingers, and after he exhaled the first puff of smoke he took it from his mouth to free his lips for a brief kiss. "When do I get to call you wife?"

"August. And when do I get to meet the Dark Lord?"


Monday, 12 July 1971

"Abraxas! It's been too long."

Abraxas looked up slowly from the tome on generational curses he'd recently acquired from Borgin's shop, his confusion betrayed only by a faint creasing of his brow as Rodolphus Lestrange strode familiarly into his study and closed the door behind him.

"Looking for Lucius?" he asked guardedly, his eyes following the younger man as he began to wander through the cavernous room, stopping to examine a collection of dragon fangs on display.

"I asked your elf to take me to its master, clearly I should have been more specific," he replied idly, nudging a Fire Crab shell cauldron with the toe of one polished boot to better admire its gemstones. Privately Abraxas doubted that his elf had misunderstood the boy's intention, but assured him the creature would be dealt with accordingly. By now Rodolphus had reached an elegant globe, glowing with pinpoints of light. He smirked, giving it an irreverent spin.

"I suppose you knew from this when my father died," he murmured, sounding unconcerned. "And who else was there?"

Cautious now, Abraxas closed his book and rose to his feet. Rodolphus laughed, a sound not often heard in the room, and shook his head. "Don't worry, I know you aren't the fool he was. That isn't why I'm here. I just wanted to stop by to see if Lucius would be joining me and my wife in Germany this summer."

"Lucius hasn't lived here for a year," Abraxas replied, though knew this was news to no one. Rodolphus stopped his ceaseless investigating and feigned shock.

"Of course! How could I forget? He's been difficult to pin down lately, hasn't he?" He picked up one of the larger fangs and tested the sharpness with his thumb. "My wife and I were hoping he could visit," continued Rodolphus with an exaggerated sigh. "I suppose you have rather a difficult time keeping track of him, since you had to turn over all public responsibilities and most of his inheritance when he came of age to keep up appearances. That must be frustrating. All for nobly attempting to keep the position of Minister a pure and magical institution," he tutted with mock regret, and Abraxas's expression tightened.

"Unproven allegations. Now, if that's all you were looking for, could you please—"

"It's just that my wife and I were so looking forward to his presence at the lodge this year— you know my wife, don't you? Bellatrix? Ah but of course, you were at our wedding. I hate to disappoint her just now... she's had some unfortunate luck with one of her sisters recently. Would you believe it, but the girl ran off with a Mudblood."

"Yes, I'd heard something of the sort," Abraxas agreed cautiously. He wasn't sure why Rodolphus would bring up the humiliating affair; after all, it reflected poorly upon him to have a sister-in-law that would sully herself in such a way.

"Yes, my darling Bella is distraught." He sighed again, and despite his sardonic tone this one had more of a hint of truth to it— he wasn't sure how much longer he could endure her daily screaming rages, furious tears, and hysterical vows to eradicate this Ted Tonks at the first possible opportunity. "Although, I daresay it's even worse for the youngest Black girl. You did know, I suppose, that she has another sister? Little Cissy. Well, not so little anymore. She's just finished school. A charming, lovely creature. Most people say she takes after her mother; all the traditional Rosier grace. Poised to make the perfect wife for some young man, but with this scandal... well, I hope it doesn't cause anyone to forget that the Black name still denotes one of the purest lines of Wizarding ancestry." He'd cut his finger on the fang but didn't seem to notice as he stared at Abraxas pointedly. Blood was dripping from his hand, vanishing into the dark ruby pattern of the Turkish rug beneath his feet.

"Anyway, I must be going. Important to be home before supper." He set the incisor down carelessly, not even on the same shelf he'd picked it up from and now covered in sanguine smears. "Funny how a waiting wife can tame a man," he added with a meaningful grin. He paused halfway out the door and, perhaps concerned that his heavy-handed allusions had somehow gone unabsorbed, added: "You can generally find Cygnus at the Walpurgis Club on Thursdays."


Chapter Text

Despite its inauspicious start, the first year that the young Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy spent in the Manor ended up immensely satisfying to both. Less than a month after the Samhain gala, a minor investment opportunity summoned Lucius to Vienna. Perhaps the matter could have been settled by owl, but he elected instead to go in person and invited Narcissa as well, and permitted her to plan a long weekend there. After that trip he orchestrated one to Italy, and they ended up spending almost a month there, as meeting in Rome segued easily into the opera at La Scala in Milan and carnivale in Venice and back to Florence to see the Uffizi before Lucius declared he couldn't spend another day in the country and promised he'd take he back to watch the Palio in Siena that summer.

There were things to do in the meantime anyway; he took her to Japan to try raw fish for the first time, flying her around the world to watch her skepticism, surprise, and finally delight when she managed to lift a sliver of maguro sashimi to her tongue with chopsticks (he was fairly sure she cheated and the bite was briefly levitating, but he elected to let it pass unnoticed). They went to Portugal, paying a brief visit to Lucius's parents before exploring Lisbon and Porto. Narcissa reached out to Fager cousins in Uppsala that Lucius had not seen since he was a small child and after staying with them for a week they crossed the Baltic Sea to see St. Petersburg.

They went to Kenya with Rodolphus and Bellatrix for some large game hunting— erumpents, nundus, and tebos; Narcissa observing the wildlife from a safe distance. Afterwards the couple crossed the continent to spend a weekend at a runespoor sanctuary near Ouagadougou. Egypt was a natural stop on the return journey, and both thoroughly enjoyed learning about ancient tomb curses and meeting the preeminent mummy reanimator in the field.

Narcissa liked New York more than he had suspected she would; the wives of his business associates there were taken with her immediately and insisted on bringing her to high-end boutiques and the Cloisters and lunches in the Palm Court that lasted half the day and overflowed with champagne. She loved the Metropolitan Museum, entering the wizard-only collections through the Temple of Dendur and spending every free morning of the trip wandering through the exhibits. Lucius owned a floor in a Prewar building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 64th Street and despite an unshakable distaste for the general notion of Americans, it was one the more valuable pieces of real estate he owned and one of the most elegantly outfitted. The last time he'd visited the city it had been with Rodolphus, and Lucius had by now reached an age where he could admit a preference for returning home to find his wife enjoying a quiet glass of wine in the study rather than a Muggle vivisection on the dining room table.

At the end of their first week there he sent word that she should join him for a late supper in an exclusive club, to which Lucius had reciprocal membership through the Walpurgis Club, with dark wooden paneling and opulent crimson velvet chairs. Five years ago this club had taken the radical step of allowing the wives of members to enter certain dining spaces when accompanied by their spouse. The more traditional Walpurgis Club would never have permitted such a thing, naturally, but this was America after all. He had spent the majority of the day in a board meeting, simultaneously annoyed that profits of this particular venture were not where he felt they should be at this stage and crushingly bored. He'd agreed to the dinner early in the day, and was further irritated with himself for not foreseeing his utter lack of desire to spend another minute with his fellow directors after the meeting. Narcissa spent her morning at the Frick, personally finding it less lovely than her own residence in Wiltshire, and after receiving Lucius' owl around noon, designed to go shopping with the other wives who would be attending the evening meal.

American fashions at the time were rather different than those in London, and even amongst Pureblooded witches, rather immodest to her eyes. However, she was loath to appear démodé in any social situation. Though she would never venture from the boudoir with her legs visible in the short hemlines the American women easily donned, she was still able to find a gown to make the other women squeal with admiration and envy.

Lucius was on his third glass of bourbon by the time Narcissa and the others arrived, his eyes very nearly glazed over in boredom until he caught a glimpse of muted gold near the entryway. The gown was a halter with a high, collar-like neck that covered her throat but left her shoulders bared. He stared for several seconds, drink halfway to his lips. He was certain he had never seen her with bare shoulders and arms in public. Her hair was parted to the side and pulled into an elegant chignon and a sweeping, diaphanous cape flowed behind her, shielding the exposed skin of her upper back. The dress fell in iridescent pleated silk, billowing rather than fitting to her form, but as she walked towards him the fabric clung just enough to highlight the swell of her breast, the curve of her thigh... Lucius rose quickly to pull out her chair for her, and she gave him a small, almost sheepish smile as she gracefully sank down. His head lowered so his lips were by her ear under the guise of greeting her, but he merely breathed, "you look..." and she shivered at the tone of his voice, and what was left unsaid.

He knew better than to touch her at the table, even as bottle after bottle of wine was emptied and the evening grew raucous. Modesty was not something he had any great appreciation for prior to his marriage, but he had developed a grudging respect for Narcissa's unwavering insistence on propriety. Still, he found ways to skirt it, to tease her without provoking anger. Towards the end of the meal Narcissa excused herself to the powder room, and Lucius counted to one hundred, swirling the dregs of wine in his glass thoughtfully before rising to follow her. He timed it just so that they would have to pass through the narrow, darkened corridor leading from the dining room at the same moment. She was just emerging from a door marked with an elaborate gold "W" when he turned the corner, and did not look surprised to see him there. Wordlessly he blocked her escape, forcing her to take one step back and then another and when she pressed her back against the wall to slip past him he placed a hand on the rich mahogany paneling to prevent her return to their table. With calculated gentleness he brushed the back of his fingers against the sensitive flesh of her inner elbow, and let a heated look tell her what she would never permit him to speak aloud: a warning that she should not hope for much sleep that night, and a promise that it would be for the best of reasons. He then stepped aside with a gracious inclination of his head, and when she sat back amongst their companions her cheeks were pink and she blushingly declined a final digestif.

In a year they'd seen much of the world together, but not all of it. They did not go to Paris, or the Malfoy estate in Leon, or Narcissa's chateau in the Loire Valley. He never offered to take her to France and she never asked to go.

Monday, 8 August 1977

Their trip around the globe was not entirely without tension. It was not unusual that Lucius would vanish in the night, leaving Narcissa alone in a strange country for days at a time. She knew better than to ask any questions when he returned, exhausted and solemn, or express any displeasure or anxiety at his departures, but still he could sense her resentment.

In early August they had returned to Wiltshire with no upcoming holidays planned, and Lucius was up well past midnight answering post when his elf, trembling in fear, announced a visitor. He stood at once, knowing immediately that there was only one person who would appear unexpectedly at this late hour and inspire such terror in the elf, and was already pouring two glasses of one of his finest scotches when Lord Voldemort swept into the study. Lucius bowed in greeting and Voldemort accepted a glass without thanks.

"What news have you for me, Lucius?" he asked drily, taking a seat in a winged armchair by the fire.

"Minchum is placing more Dementors at Azkaban, despite Crouch's protestations. It might be more of a concern if anyone truly valuable from our organization had be captured, but for now..." Lucius waved an unconcerned hand. "Who are they guarding, really? It's a problem for a later date."

"Not a problem," corrected Voldemort. "Dementors are our natural allies, and when the Ministry falls it will be advantageous to have an increased number on hand." He paused, studying Lucius carefully with bloody irises. "Have you considered what role you'd like in my new administration, when I have the Ministry? Perhaps Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot?"

Lucius dipped his head in acknowledge of the distinction. "Any position would be an honor, my Lord, especially one with such high esteem." He paused, wanting to say more but uncertain of how to begin, and Voldemort looked rather amused.

"Do you want to be Minister, Lucius? It would not be an unreasonable request. I think it best that I lead the government though its transitional period but I do not see why, after things have fallen into place, you should not take over the role. You have served me loyally and well, and moreover you would be suited to the office… I shall have to think of alternate rewards for others, such as the Lestranges, if I do not wish to see the world I plan to build dissolve into chaos…"

"You offer too much, my Lord," Lucius protested quickly. "I merely hesitated because, while I will gladly serve as you see fit, I believe I might be better suited to running Gringotts. The goblins will eventually be brought to heel, but there is no reason they should not stay on in the day-to-day management of the bank, and I've worked with them successfully in the past."

Voldemort was regarding him thoughtfully, so Lucius pressed on. "As for the Ministry, I've given that some thought as well. Nott would do well as Chief Warlock, and Rookwood as the Minister— he's already a bureaucrat. With guidance, I actually could see Rodolphus doing well as the Head of Magical Law Enforcement— after some persuading to take on the responsibility. I can think of no one else who would devote the same level of passion for bringing Mudbloods to justice. Macnair is already working in the Magical Creatures department and due a promotion. Depending on how loyalties play out, some departments could remain largely intact— Games and Sports, for one, and Millicent Bagnold over in International Cooperation is exceptionally competent. Of course, all the offices dealing with Muggles could be eliminated, so no need to worry about staffing those. Then there's also Hogwarts to consider… I know he's still young, but I think Snape has the necessary penchant for academia to oversee our interests there."

"You have given this some thought," Voldemort agreed silkily. "For some time now, I've begun to think that your role in this cause has superseded the position of foot soldier. My interests are no longer best served in sending you abroad to find allies, or in skirmishes with the Order and Aurors. But do not consider the fact that you will no longer be called for these responsibilities a demotion." He reached into the pocket of his robes and Lucius leaned forward in anticipation. However, the item he withdrew was mere a book— a rather slim, ratty one at that. "Looks can be deceiving, Lucius," he spoke softly, weighing the journal in his hand as he spoke. "This diary is of greater value than even you could fathom." After a long silence, he held it out towards his disciple. "I am asking you to guard it with your life. Whatever it takes, do not let this fall into any hands aside from your own, until I command you otherwise."

Fascinated, Lucius rose to take it at once. Before he could stop himself, he flipped it open to discover what secrets of such great value might live on the pages— but each leaf was blank. He frowned, turning it over in his hand and then looking up for further explanation. There was a sense of foreboding, but he could not tell if that was generated from the book or the situation.

"As you know, I am the last living descendant of Salazar Slytherin. As such, there is certain knowledge, a certain heritage, to which only I have access. And yet, even I cannot be in all places at once, and do all things. You have heard, I must assume, of the Chamber of Secrets."

Lucius nodded, frowning. "There were whispers that it had been opened some thirty five years ago, but it turned out the oaf Hagrid had merely been raising monsters in the school and one got loose, killed a girl…" He didn't know the story well, it had happened before his birth but after his own father's time at school, so he'd never heard a first-hand account of the events.

"The Chamber was opened," Voldemort amended quietly, eyes glittering as if at a fond reminiscence. "And it will open once more, when the time comes that the Ministry is under my power and it is time to cleanse the school of Mudbloods once and for all. In the right hands, that book you hold now will guide a selected student to complete my ancestor's noble ambition of a purer class of witches and wizards."

Lucius felt a thrill of excitement, staring down at the diary with renewed interest. Perhaps to this aforementioned student the pages would not appear blank, or writing would appear at the prescribed time.

"I will keep it here, my Lord, sequestered with the most valuable objects I possess. I have a secret chamber of my own, in fact, beneath the drawing room floor."

Voldemort nodded once, satisfied with this answer, and rose. "No task that I have ever asked of you is more significant than this one. You are to risk everything— your anonymity as my servant, your life, Lucius... if this book falls into the hands of Albus Dumbledore, it could be fatal to our cause."

Lucius assured him once more that it would sacrifice anything for its protection, and the Dark Lord swept silently from the Manor. Immediately Lucius moved to the drawing room to stash the diary, placing several protective wards around the item and making a mental note to research further protections in the coming weeks. His mind was reeling at the implications of their conversation, and he knew that one in particular would be well received by his wife. He went directly from the secret enclave to his bedroom; he would finish his correspondences in the morning.

Narcissa had been soundly asleep for some time and he undressed in silence as not to disturb her. When he slid into bed with her she did not stir, allowing him to move closer and watch her peaceful slumber for several long seconds before reaching out to gently rouse her. Her luminous eyes opened at the first touch of his fingers in her hair, suggesting she may not have truly been sleeping, but she lay perfectly still as he brushed the stray tendrils from her face. Perhaps she was right to be suspicious of this uncharacteristic tenderness and affection, but she permitted it nonetheless, even leaning into his hand as it cupped her cheek. Her curiosity got the better of her and at last she asked, "What is it, Lucius?"

He lowered his head to kiss her, and she responded willingly if rather tiredly by slipping her body beneath his and twining her legs around his hips; it was half past three after all. However, this what not what he'd intended— well, not yet, at any rate— and he drew back to meet her gaze once more. "It's time, Narcissa," he replied softly, unable to resist a small smirk at her confused frown.

"Time for what?" she demanded, ready to protest any activity at this hour that involved leaving the bed.

"Time for you to have my son." He bent to kiss her again, and this time, did not pull away.

The next morning, Lucius was unexpectedly woken by the soft fluttering of Narcissa's fingertips across his chest. He remained still for several moments with his eyes closed to ensure he has not imagined the caress, and then several seconds longer to enjoy the sensation. At last he turned his head and open his eyes, bright silver in the early morning light. Narcissa lay close to him on her side, smiling shyly. He stretched to kiss her and she moved closer still, her leg sliding over his to link them together. His hand ran lazily from her hip to her knee, and after a moment she drew away fractionally.

"Did you mean it? What you said last night?" she asked breathlessly.

"Did I mean...?" he echoed, mind momentarily blank. She withdrew further and raised her eyebrows expectantly. "Oh, that. Yes. Some matters were favourably resolved last night and I should expect to be called away for the Dark Lord's business far less frequently moving forward. He has entrusted me with matters beyond recruitment and incitement."

"You'll be home more often?" Narcissa surmised, dipping her head to press a flurry of pecks along his jaw and neck. He hummed in approval, and she sighed happily before slipping on top of him with a sheepish but determined expression. Lucius, on the other hand, grinned wickedly before capturing her lips once more.

"Was there something you wanted from me, Mrs. Malfoy?" he asked devilishly, fingertips teasing down the backs of her thighs. He was determined to savor this, if not victory, then at least momentous occasion: Narcissa had never before been the one to initiate physical intimacy. She flushed but refused to be deterred.

"Yes." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear that had worked its way free from her plait overnight and nipped at his earlobe. "A baby."

He captured her chin with two fingers, tilting her face towards his and studying her with a brief and searching look. Not finding, perhaps, what he sought, Lucius released her and the intensity melted from his gaze. "It may not happen right away," he reminded her mildly, his palms smoothing down her back.

"I've waited this long, haven't I?"

"And it's been unbearable, I suppose?" he groaned sarcastically. Narcissa paused, thoughtful.

"I suppose not all of it," she conceded at last. "I would rather have had a baby, but I did like Burkina Faso."

Sunday, 25 September 1977

The first time she told him that she was pregnant was the only time she did so without trepidation, without fear that it would end not with a child but heartbreak. She waited until they had retired for the night, and she sat on the edge of the bed while he undressed, beaming down at her hands folded in her lap. It was early still, only six weeks, but she had received confirmation from the Healer that afternoon and she could not wait a moment longer to share the news. It had taken all of her self-restraint to not announce the pregnancy at supper, but she feared that to do so would've been vulgar. Lucius had not been expecting it to happen so quickly, but when he took her in his arms and kissed her his pleasure at hearing the words was unfeigned.

She miscarried sixteen days later.

He woke before she did, disturbed from sleep by her incessant turning in the bed beside him. Annoyed that his own rest had been interrupted and half asleep, it had been on the tip of his tongue to tell her off for waking him, and then he recalled her condition. He instead reached for his wand to illuminate the room. Narcissa was curled on her side, ghastly pale and eyes shut, damp with a clammy sweat when he reached out to touch her.

"Narcissa," his voice was low and rough, and he had to shake her shoulder gently to bring her to consciousness. She looked disoriented and gave a soft moan of discomfort, blinking at him in confusion and turning her face from the light of his wand while her hands gripped her midsection.

"I feel..." she breathed, and then her eyes widened, suddenly alert in her panic, and she sat up and kicked the blankets off her, whispering "no" frantically under her breath over and over again, a wrenching cry escaping her when she saw the blood...

Several hours later, Narcissa had been bathed, changed into a new night dress, and was laying in relative comfort under the influence of a number of potions in the bedroom across from the chamber she and Lucius shared. Lucius had summoned a Healer at once, an elderly man called Marlowe who had discreetly aided him and a number of his associates on several dire occasions without asking any superfluous questions. He was well compensated for his tact and arrived within minutes of receiving the summons despite the late hour. Lucius restlessly paced the sitting room as the Healer examined his wife, a gnawing disappointment in his gut that he attempted unsuccessfully to ease with a glass of scotch. He had accepted the inevitable long before Marlowe emerged to confirm that there was no longer a child; Lucius had seen the dark stains on the sheets, he did not need an official diagnosis to know the truth.

At last Marlowe reappeared from the bedroom, closing the door gently behind him. He pushed his spectacles nose with a nearly inaudible sigh and adjusted the case under his arm.

"Here are the potions I've given her," he began in a reedy voice, handing over a piece parchment with several lines scrawled across it. "Have your elf get these from the apothecary, there is a sedative and blood restorative. She is in good health but not spirits. There is no physical reason to wait before trying again; all tests returned indicating that there is no reason she should not be able to carry a child to term. She said this is her first pregnancy? Miscarriage is not uncommon and often spontaneous in the first trimester." He spoke with little emotion, adjusting his glasses once more. "I should warn you that she is distraught. I have not shared any information with her, I thought it best that you convey the results of the tests and, as her husband, tell her how you would prefer to proceed." If his bedside manner was rather lacking, the man made up for it with efficiency and chauvinism.

Lucius nodded and shook his hand. "I appreciate your prompt arrival and will be in touch should we need you services in the future. An elf will show you out." And would also deliver a handsome sack of galleons for his trouble, but Lucius did not need to mention this; it was assumed.

Before entering the other room, Lucius poured another splash of scotch into his tumbler and tossed it into his mouth. At some point over the past year she had redecorated it along with much of the rest of the Manor, and despite the fact that she never slept there she had designed it freely to her tastes. This room, along with her study and music room, were the only distinctly feminine spaces in the grand house, its closets and armoires filled with her excess robes and gowns and belongings. She was in the center of the bed when he entered, propped up by square lace-trimmed pillows and covered with a fluffy white duvet, staring blankly at her folded hands in her lap. She did not look up when the door opened. Her face was pale and tearstained but currently dry, and there were two incongruous bright spots of pink on her cheeks as a result of the replenishing elixir.

He stood watching her for several moments, but she did not make his task easier by acknowledging his presence. Though her eyes were open, she was entirely consumed by her own thoughts, and he was not sure she even realised he was there.

"Narcissa," he murmured, and her gaze flickered over to him at last. "May I come in?"

She nodded once, and resumed staring at her knitted fingers. He approached the bed cautiously and, after a beat of hesitation, sat down on its edge. It was not as large as the one they shared, but large enough that she was not easily within his reach. The distance seemed vast.

"Healer Marlowe said that you were well." Lucius immediately regretted his words, though she did not flinch. "Physically," he amended quickly. "He told me that there was nothing... wrong..." But everything was wrong, particularly each word that he spoke. "You should have no problems conceiving again. What happened was not due to any deficiency or fault, it was simply a natural—"

"Stop," she half-sobbed, burying her face in her hands. "Please, stop."

He fell silent at once, struggling against the tide of helplessness that threatened to overwhelm him. Face still hidden, her shoulders shook, though she made no sound. A dull ache was spreading beneath his ribcage that he could not define, and he longed to touch her but feared it would only upset her further.

"Narcissa," he whispered, miserable. "Tell me what to do."

Her trembling subsided after a few moments, and she raised her head to him at last. Her eyes looked huge and impossibly blue when rimmed in red, her grief painfully apparent in her now-wet gaze.

"I want..." her tongue darted over her lower lip to moisten it; she looked nervous. He leaned forward, trying to wordlessly convey that should should continue; he could think of nothing he would not grant her in this moment. "I want to..." she tried again, but her attention dropped to her lap once more before she was able to finish the request. "... to go home."

His brow knotted fleetingly, not grasping her meaning. They were in the only home he'd ever known; the London house had been a fleeting displacement. Why would she want to return?

But of course she did not want to return to London.

"To the Loire Valley, you mean?" he asked softly. "Your chateau there?"

She nodded without meeting his eye and drew a shaky breath. "Just for a few weeks. I think the climate in Blois would... help to speed my recovery."

"Very well." Relieved to have a tangible course of action, Lucius rose to his feet. "I'll have an elf pack our trunks. I think you should rest now but I'll have a carriage ready to take us first thing tomorrow morning, if you're feeling up to it. I imagine you have an elf there that can prepare for our arrival? We can—"

"Lucius, no." Though quiet, her words were enough to silence him at once. "I want to go by myself."

There was a strange lurch in his gut and he paused halfway to the door. His mouth felt dry as he attempted to process her statement.

"I don't think you should be alone right now," he managed at last, speaking each word carefully.

"I'll owl my mother," she conceded after a brief hesitation. "And ask her to meet me there."

He was numb as he dipped his head in acceptance of her terms and swept from the room. It was as though he'd been dealt a great blow and had yet to recognise what had just occurred. He moved blindly into their bedroom— his bedroom— and stood for several long beats without moving.

"Dobby!" he snapped, and the elf appeared before him at once. "Pack a trunk for your mistress, she will be departing for a week. Quickly!"

Dobby bowed in acknowledgement, his bat-like ears nearly touching the floor. "And a trunk for my master as well?"

Rage flamed suddenly in his throat and boiled over in a searing flash; Dobby was flung across the room with a shriek of pain. "Do as I say and do not question me!" he snarled, turning sharply to the en suite bathroom. He threw off his robes and opened the tap to its fullest, sending an icy jet into the sink. He leaned over to splash his flushed face but it did little good to calm him. His anger threatened to consume him, but he could immediately not pinpoint its primary target— he suspected it was directed towards himself.

"Fuck!" he roared, slamming his fist onto the marble countertop, the shattering agony in his knuckles momentarily distracting him from the mental turmoil that was making him feel nauseated and disoriented. He gasped another string of obscenities and thrust his hand beneath the stream of cold water, thoughts racing. It was unfair to begrudge Narcissa her privacy in this trying time, he told himself stiffly. After all, theirs was a marriage of convenience and mutual beneficence to their families. If she did not want to share her grief with him, it would be unnecessarily cruel to force her to do so. Panting, Lucius sank to his knees, broken hand still lying limply in the sink. His forehead rested on the stone edge of the vanity. A small but insistent voice seemed to echo in his mind: was this not his loss too? Had he not also been ready to welcome a child into their lives? No. He firmly pushed the thought aside and dragged himself reluctantly back to his feet. This child was the thing Narcissa had longed for since their wedding; she was the one who had had the thing she so desired callously snatched away by some unknown and unjust force. Besides, he need not fear an indefinite absence this time; after all, there was no reason to believe her wishes had changed, and she would have to return to him in order to try again.

Lucius spent a restless night alone, rising several times to pad across the room separating him and his wife, but stopping each time outside her door. In the unlikely event that she had found respite he was loath to interrupt her slumber, and he heard no signs that she stirred. When dawn arrived at last, its first weak rays filtering through the drapes, he gave up on sleep and decided to begin the day. After he showered and dressed, he emerged to find Narcissa slumped listlessly in a brocade upholstered armchair before the windows of the shared sitting room, an untouched saucer of tea on the table next to her. Wordlessly he moved to take a seat near hers, and saw that she was already wrapped in her traveling cloak.

"Did you take your draughts yet?" he asked, if only to break the silence.

"Yes." She didn't look at him. He reached out to pour himself a cup of tea as well and she gasped softly, her eyes widening in alarm at the sight of his swollen and blackened fingers. Cursing himself internally, he withdrew at once, but she sat up a bit straighter, concern for him painted clearly on her features. "Lucius..."

A dozen half-formed excuses began to form in his mind, but he swept them away. He would tell her the truth: that he'd acted out in a moment of frustration at his own ineptitude and unhappiness at her loss— their loss, and he would ask once more to accompany her to Blois; he did not want to be without her right now.

But the question never came, and her expression hardened suddenly as she arrived at her own conclusion. "You were out last night," she surmised coldly, sinking back into her chair and staring out the window once more. "Doing his bidding. I thought I heard you moving about out here..." Her words were bitter, and he instinctively reacted with similar iciness.

"It's nothing, a foolish accident." He drew his wand and pointed it at his hand, muttering "Episkey," and the bruises melted away at once, leaving his fingers as pale and elegant as before. "See? A mere trifle."

When she did not reply, he turned his attention out the window as well. "The Abraxans are harnessed and ready to depart whenever you are ready. Perhaps after breakfast—"

"I'm ready now," she interrupted, rising to her feet at once. He rose as well, albeit more slowly.

"Very well." Neither spoke as they headed out of the Manor, but as they stood on the gravel of the drive, he could not resist the urge to add a final reminder. "Send word when you arrive. If you do not feel up to corresponding, have Druella write."

"Yes, Lucius," she agreed, watching with dull eyes as he pulled open the door of the carriage for her.

"If your condition declines in any way at all, I want to know at once. Send word first to Healer Marlowe but then notify me. Even if you do not think it an urgent matter, let the Healers make that decision, do not risk your wellbeing by taking matters into your own hands."

"Yes." She stepped up into the phaeton, ignoring or not seeing the hand he offered in assistance.

"Narcissa." It slipped into his voice before he could stop it: a bare trace of anguish slithering into the syllables of her name. She froze, her back to him, and by the time she looked over her shoulder he had regained control once more and was watching her with an inscrutable silver gaze. "Have a pleasant journey. I'll see you in a week or so." He closed the door of the carriage firmly and did not wait outside to watch it vanish into the clouds.

Chapter Text

Monday, 10 October 1977

Lucius sat at his desk with three pieces of parchment before him. Two were letters from his mother-in-law, the first of which was dated two weeks prior. In it, Druella's elegant script informed him that his wife had arrived safely in France, had eaten a small meal of vichyssoise, and was now resting comfortably. Her potions had been measured out and were ready for prompt consumption after supper. She fervently assured him she would keep a vigilant watch for any signs of severe distress in her daughter.

The second, dated a week later, read much more optimistically. Druella informed him that Narcissa seemed much improved, had taken up her music once again, and planned to return to Wiltshire expeditiously. He'd received the owl with a great deal of satisfaction and relief, and yet, Narcissa herself had never materialized. This led to the third sheet of parchment: a blank one, and Lucius had held his quill poised over it for nearly half an hour. He was not yet even sure whether he intend to write to his wife, from whom he'd heard nothing these past two weeks, or respond to her mother. He did not care to keep up a correspondence with Druella and was loath to give her the opportunity to open that channel by replying to her letters, but felt foolish using the information in Druella's two notes to begin a communication with his wife.

It was no use. Lucius dropped the feather in disgust, leaving an unsightly blotch of ink on the otherwise unmarred page. There was nothing to say that he felt like putting into writing. He was still frustrated by her hasty departure, and resentful that she had refused to acknowledge this miscarriage as a mutual loss. While he had no desire to punish her or add to her suffering, he also could not find it within himself to offer sympathetic platitudes. While exceptionally articulate in both speech and writing, he'd never before had occasion to compose a missive based on feeling rather than fact; he could think of no words to appropriately inscribe the sentiments he wished to convey.

He would simply have to go to France himself.

The chateâu was built sometime during the reign of François I, and its architecture was typical of the French Renaissance. Lighter and more ornate than Malfoy Manor, in addition to being several centuries younger, Lucius felt it to be unnecessarily flamboyant but then, he could say the same for most things in the country his wife so adored. At least this house showed more restraint than the monstrosity in the nearby town of Chambord. Two tuffeau pillars supported an arched wrought iron gate, left open to allow carriages and visitors during the day. The front lawn was a flat expanse of well-kept grass and boasted little additional adornment. The afternoon was quiet, and he felt distinctly out of place as he strode up the short drive to knock imperiously on the oak doors. They swung inward after a beat to reveal a small house elf swathed in a cornflower blue checked linen tea towel.

"Where is your mistress?" Lucius snapped impatiently. The creature blinked up at him with large, blank eyes and shuffled its feet in obvious distress, but did not reply. "My wife?" he hissed. "Where is she?"

"S'il vous plaît, monsieur," it trilled helplessly, gaze shifting back and forth in alarm. "Je ne comprends—"

"For Merlin's sake," he snarled. "Narcissa! Where is—"

"Madame!" it gasped at last, finally recognizing his demand. "Oui, oui." The elf waved him into the foyer eagerly, chattering away happily now that it was able to be of assistance. It showed him to a sitting room that looked out over the rear lawn, and opened onto a wide patio that spanned the back of the house. He spied her at once through the double glass doors and, seeing that the veranda led down to the green, waved the elf aside and headed directly towards her himself rather than wait in the proffered space for her to come find him.

She was standing in the garden near a copse of hemlock trees, a book open in her hands. She walked slowly as she read, taking easy and unhurried steps through the grass, her long hair loose down her back. Her robes were unlike anything he'd seen her wear before, flowing and unstructured silk with a simple tie at the waist as the only definition of her shape. She looked well, and he felt relief mingled with irritation. If she was feeling well once more, why had she not written or returned to Wiltshire?

"Lucius?" she looked bewildered at the sight of him and froze where she was, closing the book and holding her hands behind her back as he approached. "What are you doing here?"

"I hadn't heard from you. Druella wrote a week ago and her letter sounded as though I should expect you at any moment, and when you did not materialise I felt I should investigate."

Narcissa bowed her head, looking discomfited. "I told my mother last week that I was feeling well and would likely return to the Manor imminently... she left shortly thereafter but I decided to remain a bit longer. I didn't realize she'd written to you, I would have sent word."

"You could have sent word anyway," he told her shortly, and she flicked a nervous glance up at him. So she knew she'd been wrong to remain silent for so long. Lucius crossed his arms but despite his frustration over the past two weeks could not find it in himself to be angry with her. "What are you reading?" he tried to start again, but she kept the novel firmly behind her.

"It's nothing. You'd think it silly."

Lucius held out his hand sternly and, after a reluctant pause, Narcissa placed the slim volume in it for inspection. It was of no use, of course; the title was in French, and he'd never heard of Alexandre Dumas fils.

"What's it about? La Dame aux Camélias?" He suspected his pronunciation to be imperfect, but she did not correct him as he returned it to her waiting grasp.

"It's nothing," she insisted again. "A romance," she admitted at last, casting her glance away from him. "A tragedy."

"Aren't they all," he drawled sardonically, following her gaze around the garden. Like any jardin à la française, it was elaborately and meticulously landscaped. This one displayed low, neatly-groomed hedges lining white gravel pathways. A fountain stood in the center of the geometric alleys and a bronze veela rose from the depths, water streaming down her hair as she tilted her face up to the sunshine. The south side of the property was bounded by the Loire river. They were standing off the tidy avenues in the grass, and the unruly trees appeared to denote the western property line. From somewhere within the thicket a birdsong was drifting towards them, bright and clear. It seemed to be following a tune in fact, something vaguely familiar. Lucius tilted his head, frowning.

"Is that a caladrius? I didn't think they lived this far north."

"Lucius," she spoke suddenly, uncharacteristically loudly, and the whistling stopped at once. "Let's continue this conversation inside, shall we?" Without waiting for his reply, she turned quickly and headed back towards the chateâu, leaving him no choice but to trail behind her, bemused.

"I don't suppose you've had a tour?" she sighed when they reentered into the sitting room, always the consummate hostess. He shook his head but had little desire to be dragged about the space and lectured to about each element of the architecture and portrait on display.

"It's nearly supper time, perhaps I could just be shown a room in which I can change my robes?"

"Of course," she agreed quickly. "Mimi!"

"Don't you have one that speaks English?" he asked hastily when the same elf that had answered the door earlier materialized before them. She shook her head apologetically.

"Just the one here. I'll send her back up once supper is ready."

Mimi led him cheerfully to the main hall and up a sweeping staircase to the first floor. The chateâu was laid out in a series of self-contained suites rather than corridors. Several passages of the Manor were arranged similarly, resultant of renovations made around the time period this edifice had been erected, but was mainly designed in the medieval style of corridors leading to individual rooms. He followed the elf through a parlour for guests, small study, more intimate sitting room, and boudoir before reaching the bedchamber at last, where his holdall was already waiting. Not wanting to arrive seeming presumptuous, he'd had Dobby pack for only a few days.

Supper was a rather stilted affair. Neither was willing to discuss the past two weeks, and so the conversation revolved primarily around the quality of food and drink they were consuming. Narcissa's knowledge of wines in the region was admirable, and she seemed determined that they should discuss nothing of any greater substance than the terroir of neighboring vineyards. She begged off a digestif by insisting she had some personal letters to attend to, and Lucius could not resist a snide comment in praise of her fastidiousness as a correspondent. After she departed he realised he did not know where in the house she slept and he could not ask the elf; his only option would be to wander the residence seeking her out if he wished to see her again that evening. Having no choice but to retire to his own assigned rooms, Lucius was irate to discover nearly all the books in the study were in French, but after some searching managed to find an interesting Latin text on curses annotated by a feminine hand that was not his wife's. Still, he was sure he'd seen it before, and deduced it was Bellatrix, not Druella, who'd gone through circling passages and describing wand movements for several of the spells.

At last he deemed it late enough for sleep. Lucius shrugged off his robes and trousers and was unfastening the cuffs of his shirt when there was a soft knock on the bedchamber door.

"Come in," he called, still rather surprised when Narcissa slipped into the room despite knowing she was the only other person in the house.

"I just wanted to make sure you'd settled in well and have everything you need," she told him quietly, moving effortlessly into the space with the easy and unconscious confidence of ownership. She lifted her wand and began to draw the curtains closed without prompting.

"You know, these were Bella's rooms when we were younger." She had hesitated before the last window, and the drapes remained untouched. "They're grander than even our parents', but theirs are on the south side, overlooking the river and the rear gardens. A far lovelier view, which my mother preferred, and my father prefers anything she does." Narcissa smiled crookedly, seemingly lost in thought as she stared into the darkness. "My rooms are directly above these. Both look out just on the drive and gate, as I'm sure you noticed."

Lucius nodded, but if she saw his gesture of assent she did not acknowledge it. He finished taking off his clothes and moved to find a dressing robe in his luggage, and still she peered thoughtfully into the night.

"It worked out well for Bella when she grew older, having rooms on the opposite side of the house from our parents. Perhaps she'd planned all along on needing the freedom. The summer before her seventh year, Rodolphus would come wait for her every evening after nightfall, just beyond the gate. It was dark, but I could see the light from his cigarette as he stood just beyond the drive, waiting until she snuck out to meet him. They'd go to Paris or London or Brussels or sometimes even Spain..." A small sigh escaped her lips, but then she twisted them as though tasting something bitter. "Of course, I didn't know Rodolphus well then. Or I should say, I knew well enough that I did not much like him, but it hardly mattered who was waiting for Bellatrix at the end of the drive, only that she was whisked off every night on daring and romantic adventures... at least that's what I assumed at the time. I was only twelve. And his devotion was admirable—it still is, I suppose. He'd show up after supper and wait all night sometimes, if my father had associates visiting and she couldn't get out until quite late. It seems sometimes that he has no patience at all, and at others like the world could fall around him and he would remain unmoved, staring up at my sister's windows, smoking one cigarette after another until the dawn. And yet... she says she does not love him, and that he does not love her. What drives that sort of dedication, if not love?"

Lucius frowned, feeling that she had led them blithely into dangerous territory. He settled into an armchair and wished he spoke enough French to tell the damnable elf to bring him a drink. Rather than engage upon the metaphysical, he instead drawled, "And you never thought to tell your parents, put an end to her escapades?" Narcissa laughed, lightening the mood at once, and pulled the final drapes closed before turning at last to shoot him a wry smirk.

"I certainly did. The very first night I saw him there, I confronted Bella the next morning. So she started bringing me little bribes— a Hummel figurine from Leipzig, a painted porcelain teacup from Vienna, pomegranate flowers from Granada... anything easy to pick up in whatever city they were in that night, but I was thrilled and to this day have never told Mother of her misadventures. I was always impressed how far they managed to go."

"Rodolphus is very good at creating unauthorised Portkeys," yawned Lucius, stretching his legs and tucking his hands behind his head. "It can be done without notifying the Department of Magical Transportation, but it's tricky and usually not worth the three month stay in Azkaban if you get caught; not many people want or need to travel in secrecy the way he does. I imagine he made the one that brought you to the lodge last year. I don't think the Ministry knows that place exists."

Narcissa did not look surprised by this news; it clearly fit her understanding of Rodolphus's character that he would risk prison simply for the ability to travel undetected to the city for a meal. Sensing she was about to bid him goodnight, Lucius pressed on. "Will you join me for a drink? Have your elf fetch something— the Chenin blanc we had earlier was good, but maybe a scotch? There are a few matters I was hoping to discuss with you."

"I don't keep hard liquor in the house," she prevaricated, flicking her eyes towards the door in clear reluctance to sit with him. "I've a few bottles of a Pineau d'Aunis you'd probably enjoy though," she admitted finally, clearly finding no graceful escape from his innocuous request. "Mimi!" The elf appeared at once, and after receiving its orders, disappeared to fetch the wine as Narcissa took the seat closest to his. "It's been a rather long day and I'm quite tired," she added evasively as Mimi reappeared with an opened bottle and two glasses.

"I don't mean to keep you for long," Lucius assured her, taking a newly filled glass and waving the elf out of the way. "As you know, the Samhain gala is in just a few weeks, but if you don't feel up to it, you need not feel pressured to act as hostess this year. Your health and expeditious recovery are far more important."

Her guarded expression softened at these words, and she took a small sip as she considered them. "You would really cancel it for my sake? It's the largest and most important social event of the year."

"Cancel? No, there'd be no need to do that. I've already written to my mother and explained the situation, she would be happy to stand in this year." Lucius had thought this a generously considerate compromise but she looked oddly deflated upon hearing the statement.

"Of course," she agreed dully. "I'll let you know by the end of this week but I've been planning it for months and suppose I should be able to manage it."

"Good," he replied, albeit uncertainly. Her tone and mien suggested this was not in fact good at all, but he decided to move on. "I'm glad to hear it."

"Was there anything else?" she asked coolly.

"Yes. If you'd like to stay here longer, that's fine; I didn't come here to drag you back to England before you're ready." He drained his wine glass and kept his voice carefully steady as he went on. "But if that is your decision, I would like to stay here with you. Obviously I'd have to return to London often to deal with matters at the Ministry; I could stay in the townhouse if matters kept me there late, but at this point in our marriage I don't think it makes sense for us to be living in two separate locales."

"This point in our marriage," she echoed slowly. "You mean the point at which you are ready for an heir?"

"I mean—" he started swiftly, but suppressed the impulse to admit that he meant the point at which he no longer wished to live somewhere she was not. "I mean that it will be very difficult for you to conceive again if we are not cohabiting."

She nodded, looking rather grim as she rose to her feet. "Naturally you are correct. But I will have Mimi pack my belongings and I will return with you to the Manor tomorrow morning. If that is all, I'd like to get some rest now."

The second time she miscarried, shortly after the new year, she did not leave the country. She'd whispered the news of her pregnancy in bed on Christmas morning, as sunlight sparkled through the frost-painted window panes and despite their first painful experience, Lucius had felt a bubble of optimism grow within him as she lay curled in his arms, sheltered from the chilly morning air. Wanting to cheer her up, he'd spent a frankly ridiculous amount at her preferred jeweler and furrier to commemorate the holiday, but conceded that her news was the far superior present. They had celebrated New Year's Eve at the Lestranges', and when she complained of feeling overtired the next day he hardly thought it cause for alarm. However her fatigue persisted into the next day, and when she mentioned she felt rather faint as well, he insisted on calling Healer Marlowe. Though the older man had been out of the country on holiday, he still arrived within the hour, but the telltale bleeding had already begun. Upon his exit this time Marlowe shared the disheartening statistic that as many as a quarter of pregnancies ended in spontaneous abortion, and not to be discouraged over this.

When Lucius was at last able to see his wife once more, he did not bother with offering words of reassurance. His last attempt had been an embarrassing failure at best, and at worst the impetus to drive her back to Blois. Instead he pulled a chair up to her bedside and sat leaning forward with an elbow on each knee and his fingers loosely clasped, hopeful that his presence could offer some small comfort, and that she would not feel alone.

It was a long while before she spoke, and when at last the silence was broken, he was unprepared for what she asked. "Are you angry with me?"

He sat up straighter, frowning in confusion. "Angry? Of course not, why would you think that?"

She sighed, her fingertips tracing the lace edging of the sheet covering her lap. "I don't know. I couldn't tell why you were sitting here."

"I've no where more important to be." He'd meant to express that this was the most significant thing to him, that sharing this pain was his only priority, but her lips tightened and a flash of fury cut momentarily through her grief-stricken eyes. He could hardly blame her for the misinterpretation, she had good reason to think the worst of him, but as he opened his mouth to clarify she spoke again, savagely this time.

"Of course you wouldn't, it's late and most offices are still closed for the New Year anyway, aren't they?"

He scowled. "Yes, but—"

"And I suppose even He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named needs to take a holiday occasionally!" she snapped sarcastically.

"Don't jest about such things, Narcissa," he warned blackly. "It would be foolish to treat matters regarding the Dark Lord with flippancy."

She did not look chagrined. "I don't need you to sit here in silent judgement of my pain. It may be raw now but I'll bear it as I bear the rest, and in a few days you won't know the difference." She shot him a look of loathing and her next words were acidic. "It's not as if you notice anything aside from yourself."

"Damn it, Narcissa!" He stood abruptly, steel gaze flashing dangerously. She was staring up at him with a strange blend of emotions: fiercely victorious, but not pleased— more as though she had proven a point she'd hoped not to. He struggled to reign in his temper. "Damn it, Narcissa," he repeated, more softly this time. "I wanted this child too."

Before she could insult him further he turned and headed to the door, and as such missed her stunned expression as he strode from the room.

Lucius spent another sleepless night. The next morning, Narcissa was unexpectedly seated at the breakfast table when he arrived in the morning. He had assumed she would take her meal in her room if she ate at all, and after their exchange half thought she might have left the Manor entirely. Her eyes were ringed in shadows and she was wan, but she'd dressed and her hair was twisted in a simple chignon. He took his seat at the head of the table warily, watching her listlessly rearrange the fruit in her bowl with a sidelong glance. He found that he was not particularly hungry either.

Eyes still fixed on her dish, she reached out towards him, the fingers of her left hand closing briefly around his right wrist. She exerted only a faint pressure before withdrawing, but he knew the gentle touch was a signal that she'd understood him, and this time she would not be going anywhere.

Sunday, 2 April 1978

Lucius did want a child, for both their sakes, but found it to be a small mercy that she did not immediately conceive again following the second miscarriage. After a month or so he felt her begin to relax once more, occasionally even curling up to his side at night and suggesting holidays for the future— two of the only signals of affection he could interpret from her.

He was rather surprised when she asked him over supper whether or not there was a Malfoy family tree she could study. Naturally there was a thorough record dating back from before the early medieval period, though the visual presentation was not in the tapestry form to which she was accustomed. Each birth and death was meticulously inscribed in a codex, and the earliest sheets were delicate vellum that could crumble with insensitive handling. After their meal he took her into his study and located the dusty tome, walking her though the notations and abbreviations, as well as pointing out some of the more historically interesting figures (he did not, however, care to point out previous instances where the Black and Malfoy families overlapped... he supposed only she would enjoy that discussion). He arrived at last upon his own name, linked with a double line to hers on the day that they'd spoken the Bonds. She ran her finger thoughtfully over the ink; there was, to no one's shock, no issue yet descending from their union.

"I know our luck has been poor thus far, but I feel confident it will change," Narcissa began, sounding somewhat fanatic; her flush reminded him oddly of her sister in the throes of declarations of support towards the Dark Lord. "Life illuminated by children is truly the most anyone could hope for. I'd love a daughter," she confessed, colouring more deeply.

Lucius took a deep breath, and tried to consider her perspective.

"You won't have a girl," he spoke at last, as carefully as he could. "It's not because of what I want, you simply will not. Malfoys used to have girls, when it was advantageous to marry them off to other powerful families across Europe. We used to have second and third sons too, when the infant mortality rate was higher. But now…" Lucius gestured, almost helplessly, to the record before him. "Over three hundred years and there's been only one each generation. A male successor, no more and no less. It's been beneficial— the wealth is never split or spread among sons, and it's far more difficult to intermarry when the family tree has fewer branches. It can't be coincidence, but I've never seen or heard of generational magic like it in any of the other Sacred Twenty-Eight, or any other families for that matter."

Narcissa was frowning. She had come to stand beside him, and was carefully scanning the names denoted in the book. "Here," she said quickly, pointing. "Not two generations ago! Not a daughter, but your father has a brother…" However, she quickly fell silent as she read the dates written below the names.

"My father had a brother," he correctly softly. "Before he was born. The boy died at the age of fourteen, and though all logic said my grandmother should have been too old to have another child, my father was born a year later."

"I come from three sisters," she tried again, "perhaps—"

"Perhaps," Lucius agreed quickly, turning to her. "Perhaps we will have more than one child. I simply don't want you to be disappointed if we do not." He could already tell by her expression that she was.

"But for you... there already was a child." Her words were cold, but not accusatory.

"There was. I'd imagine, anyway. Last time I saw her there was going to be. She wanted a baby for her own reasons. I shouldn't have agreed, although I suppose I didn't put much thought into it. I didn't think it'd be so easy. She never asks for money, she never reaches out… I think she's in east Africa or Japan now, or somewhere else. I don't know if she had the child or where it is. It isn't mine, really. To my mind it's barely even hers. It's this concept that may become a witch or wizard someday."

"Your firstborn," Narcissa answered softly. Before he could stop himself, Lucius shrugged and replied:

"Well, first that I know of, anyway."

She wanted to leave, he could tell. He immediately regretted the words, as he could see her rejection of them in her narrowed eyes and stiffened posture. But he didn't want to lie to her anymore.

"How could you allow something so foolish to happen?" she demanded through gritted teeth. He, who had taken great care to ensure she, his wife, could not even hope to conceive a child for their first three years of marriage.

"We were… drinking," he confessed, although it had been more than that, something crushed and white that he thought must have been a potion ingredient and let her add it to their absinthe, but she confessed later were Muggle pills; something that had made him feel relaxed and euphoric and stupid and agreeable to they notion that they should have sex, even though neither of them had taken a contraceptive potion that day nor had access to one. "She said she wanted a baby and that mine would ideal. I wasn't thinking clearly at the time so I agreed to…" Well, no need to get into specifics, Narcissa knew perfectly well how babies were made. "We didn't take precautions. I didn't really think much of it the next morning, and I didn't see her again for some time… a month, two? Anyway, as soon as I met her again she told me it had worked and at first I didn't even remember what she was talking about. She said there was no doubt about it being mine, but to stay away from it. She wanted it for herself. She's selfish though. I think she just wanted another flattering mirror."

"Maybe it isn't," Narcissa ventured tentatively. "Yours, I mean."

Lucius shrugged. He privately could think of no reason why Angelique would lie and then disappear from his life, but it was a somewhat comforting thought. "It isn't mine either way. The child that you and I have together— or children," he amended quickly, "—will be my only children."

She nodded thoughtfully at this promise, but her pale, slim finger was still on the opened page of the book before them, absently tracing the single line connecting each generation of the Malfoy family: father, son, father, son... and each generation, only one.

Chapter Text

Sunday, 4 June 1978

"I'm going to see Rodolphus today," Lucius announced over breakfast. "Would you care to join me so you can visit your sister?"

Narcissa tilted her head, considering the offer. He could hardly find fault with her for not leaping at the opportunity. "Why are you seeing Rodolphus?" she asked instead, clearly intent on gathering more intelligence on the situation before committing either way.

"He lost a bet on Quidditch last year and owes me his forfeit. He's been conveniently forgetting to bring it with him every time I've seen him for months now, and I've run out of patience so I'm going there to collect it myself."

Narcissa frowned curiously. "Gold?" It was unlike her husband to be concerned to action over such trivial matters.

"No. Something far more valuable, something he certainly should not have gambled on a Quidditch outcome, but I cannot be responsible for his foolish decisions."

"There won't be any dueling over whatever it is, will there?" she asked suspiciously. Lucius shook his head. It was not like his friend to renege upon his word so publicly given and besides, he was a more skillful duelist than Rodolphus anyway. If Bellatrix got involved however...

"Yes, alright, I suppose I'll come as well," she decided at last. "Shall we floo?"

Lucius shook his head. "He's had it disconnected from the network, and recently made it Unplottable as well. We'll have to take a carriage."

It took just under an hour to fly to Windermere to see the Lestranges, about the same time as to London despite the greater distance between Wiltshire and Cumbria. With a far sparser population density of Muggles they were able to take a more direct route and land directly in front of Vengeson House, where the couple resided. On trips to London they were forced to land well outside the city, cast partial Disillusionment Charms to make the Abraxans appear wingless, and continue on the ground to their final destination.

The Lestrange's elf admitted them into a vast, dim foyer. It was bleeding and limping as it led them through the darkened entry hall into a Neo-classical drawing room, largely unchanged over the past hundred or so years. At one end the furniture had been cleared, pushed carelessly against the wall, and Bellatrix stood with her hand on the wand of a young, sandy-haired man who appeared to be scarcely out of boyhood. Rabastan hovered nearby, wand in one hand and drink in the other, evidently waiting for Bellatrix to finish whatever instruction she was in the middle of doling out. It seemed the pair had been dueling, and Narcissa shot Lucius a look of warning; after all, she had explicitly confirmed there'd be no fighting when she had agreed to come.

"They're just practicing!" Lucius hissed defensively under his breath at her accusing glance, and she relented with a small quirk of her lips.

"Cissy!" Bellatrix exclaimed in apparent delight at the appearance of her sister. "Try it again boys," she added over her shoulder to the pair as she crossed the room towards the newcomers. Narcissa winced as the blonde boy shot a spell at Rabastan, who staggered out of the way just in time and a vase behind him exploded instead. Bellatrix laughed outright and linked her arm through Narcissa's, steering them back out into the hall. "Come out back if you'd prefer, Roddy is training hellhounds to hunt erklings." She did not bother to greet Lucius, and he found himself vaguely irritated as he trailed behind.

"There are no erklings in the forests around here," Narcissa pointed out as they wove through the house. Bellatrix shrugged.

"He uses the house elf for practice and when they're ready he'll move them to the lodge in Germany." They'd reached the rear of the house at last, and Bellatrix led them out onto a wide balcony. "Roddy!" she called, waving to summon his attention. He waved back to indicate that he'd seen her, then resumed the task at hand. Two of the largest dogs Lucius had ever seen ("Still just puppies," Bella announced) stood at attention on either side of him, tense and focused on something small moving across the far end of the lawn towards the treeline. Rodolphus raised one hand, and the skeletal beasts dropped into a crouch, and when he let his hand fall they took of at incredible speeds, streaking across the grass towards the bobbing house elf. The pair reached their target in seconds, and the slightly faster of the two seized the elf, which gave a long, pitiful wail. At a sharp whistle from Rodolphus, the dog that had not captured the prey dropped into an obedient sit, but the other seemed too excited by its bounty and bounded in an energetic circle. At once a sharp bolt of electricity found its way from Rodolphus's wand to the errant hound; it gave a yelp of its own and sat as well, still holding the elf in its teeth. Even from this distance it was possible to hear Rodolphus's string of swears as he advanced on the disobedient pup. To the one that had obeyed his whistle he carelessly tossed a piece of raw meat, and it trotted off happily; the other, it seemed, was reluctant to surrender its capture. The three on the balcony watched— one impassively, one in amusement, and one rather disgusted— as Rodolphus seized the powerful jaws of the beast and prised them apart, so that the elf could roll out and scuttle away, clasping at new puncture wounds on its side. It seemed for a moment that the hound would attempt to go after it once more, but with a resounding crack Rodolphus struck the dog, knocking it fully to the ground. It scrabbled back to its feet and sat forlornly at its master's boots.

"I'm going to be quite vexed if he kills another elf this way," Bellatrix groused. "Would you two like anything to drink?"

Having kenneled the dogs, Rodolphus came up to join them at last, gleaming with sweat and smelling of tobacco, myrrh, and blood, still panting slightly. "That cur," he growled, ducking to press his lips to his wife's, "is going to drive me to my wit's end. If I can break him he'll be a damn fine hunter though." He shook Lucius's hand warmly and kissed Narcissa's cheek as well, despite her slight grimace at his approach. "Good to see you both. Bash and Barty still at it?" he asked Bellatrix, who nodded.

"They've probably practiced enough for the day though." The group returned to the study find them finished with practice indeed: Rabastan was lying on the floor with a handkerchief stemming the flow of blood from his nose, and Barty was plopped facedown on a couch, his right eye blacked. However he sprang to his feet when they entered; Rabastan merely propped himself up on one elbow and summoned a bottle of gin to refill his glass.

"Cissy, do you know Bartemius Crouch's son? He's just finished his fifth year at Hogwarts," Bellatrix introduced lazily, throwing herself onto a settee. The boy smiled shyly at Narcissa.

"We haven't had the pleasure," Narcissa replied, offering her hand. "But you surely must know Regulus, he'll be starting his final year in the fall."

"Yeah, I know Regulus," he replied enthusiastically.

"This is my little sister Narcissa," Bellatrix continued the introduction.

"My wife," Lucius added, annoyed. Not, of course, that he would ever be threatened by a schoolboy's obvious admiration of Narcissa, but he was nettled by Bellatrix's dismissal of his claim to her, and presence in general.

"Yes, she has that dubious honour as well," Bellatrix conceded, patting the space beside her as an invitation to have Narcissa join her there. She called the house elf to pour them all drinks, but grew impatient with its slow, ginger movements. Rodolphus kicked it aside and poured the sisters goblets of wine himself, lest she become annoyed with him for keeping the creature from its regular duties. Narcissa subtly tapped hers with her wand to transfigure it to water, a motion Rodolphus unfortunately did not miss.

"Not the right vintage for you, Cissy?" he asked loudly, causing her to flush.

"No, I'm sure it's lovely, I just..."

"Go take a bath and get dressed for supper," Bellatrix snapped at her husband, sparing her sister from justifying the action. He shrugged and obeyed without argument, and she turned to the youngest boy once more. "Will you be joining us?"

Barty shook his head. "I promised my mother I'd be home, she's usually not well enough to sit in the dining room for meals but when she is she likes the company. It's not as if my father is ever there for her," he added darkly. He bid them farewell, and once he was gone Rabastan came to sit by the remaining three. Bellatrix gave him a haughty look.

"You go get cleaned up too," she commanded, though he'd thoroughly wiped the blood from his face. He rolled his eyes but clearly knew better than to argue with her, and took leave to his rooms as well. She gave Lucius an appraising glare, but evidently decided after a moment that she would not be able to send him off as she had the others and instead elected to ignore the fact that he was there. Which was fine by him— he rose to inspect the collection of books in the room that he very much doubted Rodolphus had ever opened. Though she spoke in an undertone, Bella's words were clearly audible across the room.

"Still no luck then?" she began without preamble. Narcissa must have shaken her head 'no' because Lucius did not hear a reply, and Bellatrix continued. "Well, perhaps it's for the best, you're still awfully young to ruin your figure."

Lucius stiffened at the words and looked over his shoulder to tell her off for the comment, but much to his surprise saw that she was stroking Narcissa's hair comfortingly and his wife was smiling ruefully, seeming to have recognised that she had spoken in jest.

Lucius felt an odd sensation at the sight and turned back to the bookshelf, selecting a volume at random and opening it with feigned interest. Their conversation shifted to their mother— it seemed she'd been ill recently—but Lucius was unable to dislodge the feeling of discomfort that blossomed under his ribcage at the sight of them; a leaden, angry sort of longing ache that he could not immediately name. The longer he dwelt upon it the worse it became, and he tried to focus on the text in front of him as a distraction but everything seemed to blur.

"Interesting reading material for cocktail hour." Lucius turned with a start; he hadn't noticed Rodolphus return. The other man was now looking over his shoulder with amusement, and Lucius glanced down at the page and realized he'd selected a volume on Muggle torture methods during the Spanish Inquisition, and the page he had been staring blankly at for some time now contained a graphic illustration of a woman being mutilated. He closed it with a snap.

"Perhaps if I could just collect what I came here for, my wife and I could be on our way," he retorted. Rodolphus waved a careless hand.

"Very well, if you insist." He drew his wand and reached past Lucius to tap a series of book spines, muttering quietly. The shelf swung forward to reveal an iron door set into the wall with no visible handle. "Still don't understand how you knew the Harpies would do so well last season," he added, summoning a small silver dagger.

"Lucky guess," drawled Lucius. Rodolphus gave a grunt of disbelief and pierced the flesh of his own palm with the knife, and when blood welled to the surface he smeared it across the metal. The door dissolved at once to reveal a small moleskin satchel.

"Well, here you are then," Rodolphus dropped the sack into Lucius's waiting hand, who quickly slipped it into an inner pocket of his robes. "I hope you don't plan to use it for yourself, the world doesn't need you around for an extra century."

Lucius muttered something dark and insulting under his breath that just made Rodolphus laugh and clap him on the shoulder with his still-bleeding hand. "Let's have a game of Exploding Snap, shall we? Bavarian rules."

Lucius cast his gaze to his wife who, with a glance in Rodolphus's direction, gave a tiny shake of her head. "I'm afraid we already have dinner plans back in London with some Ministry contacts and must be heading off. It has been splendid to see the both of you, as always."

"Do you ever get tired of being such an insufferable plutocrat, Malfoy?" Bellatrix yawned, supremely unconcerned as he turned furious eyes towards her.

"Do you ever get tired of—"

"Please don't," Narcissa interrupted quickly, rising to her feet. At her behest he kept the scathing insult to himself, and Bellatrix sniggered obnoxiously.

"Does Cissy always keep you out of trouble?" she goaded, and Narcissa turned to her pleadingly.

"Bella, stop it."

"Or do you just let her fight your battles for you?" she went on, stretching lazily on the settee. Lucius's fingers itched to draw his wand, but he was certain doing so would violate his earlier assurances that there would be no dueling. Instead he called for their travelling cloaks, and ignored Rodolphus apologetic shrug as he swept from the house to their waiting carriage. Narcissa followed a minute later. She seemed put out by how the visit had ended, but held her tongue as she climbed on board and settled onto the plush bench. Lucius glared fruitlessly at a spot on the opposite wall, and for some time they were silent.

"I lied to Bella earlier," Narcissa spoke suddenly. "I am pregnant again."

Lucius's glower vanished at once and he sat up straighter and reached for her hand. She twitched away, staring out the window with steely determination. "I can't be happy about it yet," she continued in a strained whisper. "Not after the last two times. Not when there's still so much that could go wrong. I can't keep letting myself..." Here Narcissa broke off and glanced down at her lap.

Lucius flashed back to the sick feeling he'd experienced at the Lestrange's while watching the two sisters and realised with a jolt that he had been jealous. For perhaps the first time in his life, he felt a spiky prickle of jealousy watching the sisters together; why should Bellatrix so easily make Narcissa smile with an acerbic quip, pet her reassuringly, when he, her husband, could manage nothing of the sort? Envy was not a familiar sensation and he hated that he should feel it in regard to his wife— it seemed beneath a man of his calibre. People were meant to be envious of him, and it was foolish to wish he could elicit the same response from his wife as her sister did, or (he recalled her laughter with Ari Parkinson at the Samhain gala) her closest friends. Still, it stuck in his throat and constricted his chest almost painfully.

"I suppose," he began carefully. "That is the wisest perspective to take on the matter. However," he added quickly, sensing a storm brewing in her expression. "I do not know if it is a feasible one. This is good news, Narcissa. It will always be good news."

She peeked up at him at last, and he chanced reaching for her gloved hand once more; this time she permitted him to take it. Neither of them spoke much for the remainder of the trip, instead content to watch the countryside far below slide in and out of view between clouds as the sun set and darkness fell. Lucius did not relinquish her hand until they were pulling up the gravel drive of the Manor.

For the next week and a half Lucius was permitted to dwell in the convivial circumstance of being in possession of a thoroughly comforted and happily pregnant wife. However this pleasant situation lasted only until around noon on Wednesday the next, when Narcissa's urgent cries drew him from his desk and into her music room, where he found her doubled over on the piano bench in tears. This time when he left, Marlowe merely nodded to Lucius as if to say "I'll be seeing you soon."

Lucius very nearly considered not visiting her after the Healer departed. He was not certain he could hide his frustration, and did not want Narcissa to think it was directed at her; rather, it stemmed from an overwhelming sense of uselessness on his own part. He was faced with a situation that he could not bribe, buy, or bully his way out of— there wasn't even a grueling high road to take, if he had so desired. After downing a quick drink he steeled himself and entered her room, finding her looking as pale and miserable as the past two times. It was exhausting for him— he could scarcely imagine the toll it was taking on her.

"It's been a bloody awful year, Narcissa," he began frankly, sitting on the edge of the bed beside her. "Perhaps we ought to... take a break for a while. I'll begin taking contraceptive potions again and you can have a chance to rest and recover. We'll go abroad; we never made it to South America last time. Or perhaps..." he hated himself even as he made the suggestion, but at this point was utterly desperate. "I've an associate who breeds Crups, perhaps if you had a pet, you might—"

"Lucius, no." She was staring up at him, aghast. "Each time this has happened, I think to myself that you can't possibly handle it any worse than the last time, and then you go and prove me wrong. The only thing worse than trying and failing to have a child would be not trying at all."

Beginning in the next few weeks, Lucius started to notice that the Manor was quieter than usual. Generally there was a steady stream of callers for his wife: she enjoyed acting as hostess and did so often and with aplomb. At first he assumed that she was out on visits more frequently than normal, but whenever he cared to check, she could be found within minutes either in the gardens, library, or solarium (after the third miscarriage, she seemed to shy away from the music room that had once brought her such happiness). She had little to say to him at meals, and seemed to be retreating more and more into books— the novels she had always loved on occasion, but oftener brochures on pregnancy and, strangely, old tomes on curses that she had pilfered from his collection.

He tried to talk her into a trip to the Argentine, and when she tiredly declined he suggested more local excursions, but she could not even be persuaded to go see Tosca at Covent Garden. All of his propositions were met with a gentle shake of her head, inviting no further discussion on the matter. At first he tried to stay close to the Manor in hopes that the fog would lift, but as the weeks turned into months he began to devise more reasons to be away from home. He spent so much time at the Ministry that he began to grate on the nerves of even those who usually did not mind his presence. He set up meetings with wizards seeking capital investment, meetings that he usually actively avoided and considered beneath his notice. There was of course always the option of wasting his days hunting and drinking with Rodolphus, but he felt restless doing so and besides, Bellatrix made a point to make him feel unwelcome and served as a thorny reminder that he was avoiding his wife.

They were still having sex, occasionally, and despite what were clearly her best efforts Narcissa was not able to persuade him that she was enjoying herself. He did not have the slightest doubt that she was still grieving the loss of their unborn children, but she persisted doggedly in very much the same manner he imagined she would practice an infuriatingly difficult piece of music or incantation, grimly and mercilessly for an eventual positive outcome. Neither of them derived much pleasure from the act, and afterwards she physically withdrew from him once more. Emotionally, she never engaged at all.

Wednesday, 16 August 1978

"Is everything alright, Narcissa?" But he knew it was not; he could count on now hand the number of times she had interrupted him in his study, instead waiting for supper to discuss household matters with him or after they retired to their room for more personal conversations. She was dressed in rigidly tailored brocade robes and wore kidskin gloves, several pieces of folded parchment pinched in the fingers of her left hand. Clearly she had just come in, but he did not know from where. She did not look particularly distraught; in fact the steely determination in her gaze and set of her jaw made him rather uncomfortable, though he couldn't place why. He had a strange sense of deja vu as she entered and sat before his desk. When he gestured towards the liquor cabinet in wordless offering and she shook her head stiffly, he realised at last: he was recalling the day she had come from France to deride him for the sale of her home. Her attitude could then only mean that she was very angry with him; however, this time he felt distinctly wrong-footed, as he did not know what he might have done to upset her so immensely.

"I'm going to talk, Lucius, and I need you to listen. You are not going to like what I have to say, but I am going to say it and you will not interrupt me." She set the papers down on the desk, out of his reach, and pressed both palms to the rich wood, fingers spread wide as if looking to root herself in place. Lucius nodded, cautiously accepting the terms, but summoned a decanter of scotch nonetheless, quite certain he would need a drink for whatever was coming next.

"I've just come back from St. Mungo's with the results of a number of tests." Her eyes followed the motion of his hands as he deftly poured a measure of deep gold liquid into a tumbler, but she did not lift them to meet his gaze. "As it turns out, I am very healthy. Regular ovulation, Fallopian tubes unblocked and undamaged, uterine tissue and cervix both normal and healthy."

Lucius raised an eyebrow but said nothing, occupying his mouth with alcohol rather than words. She was perfectly aware of the reputational risks of seeking healthcare from an institution open to the masses; it was fortunate for her that all the results had come back in her favor. There were a number of individuals who would pay dearly for damaging information related to the wellbeing of the Malfoy family. She had said nothing Healer Marlowe had not confirmed after her first miscarriage— she was well, there was no reason that she should not be able to carry a child to term. They had merely been unlucky so far.

"That's not all." Her fingers curved slightly, long, carefully shaped nails pressing against the polished surface. "Actually… perhaps I will have a glass of wine."

For the sake of something do, Lucius rose to his feet to peruse the labels of several bottles before selecting one for her. "Pray continue," he added over his shoulder as placed his wand at the mouth of the bottle, running it around the rim to cut the foil and withdrawing the cork with a practiced flick. She thanked him with a nod as he brought her the glass and took his seat once more.

"So, as I've said.. There's no reason that I should not be able to have a child… and..." She took a deep gulp of wine here. "There is also no reason you should not."

"Of course there isn't," he agreed with a confused frown. Did they not have repeated indications of that fact?

"Yes, well." Her cheeks flushed a faint pink and she took a drink. "I gathered a sample and provided it to my Healer for evaluation and confirmation."

He was less stunned by her duplicitousness than the vulgarity of the act, the crude thought of her vanishing into the bath after sex to gather the fluids from inside her body, placing them in a vial for later evaluation. Of course Marlowe would never have agreed to it; she must be paying her own Healer, he realized, to run the necessary tests without his presence or consent… a very foolishly brave Healer, knowing exactly who he would be crossing in performing the tests… but there would be time to deal with that later.

"In essence," she spoke more quickly now, correctly sensing that he would not let he continue uninterrupted for much longer. "There is no physical reason why we should not yet have a child."

Lucius opened his mouth angrily, ready to berate her for exposing their personal affairs to scrutiny and gaining no insight from it; however she was anticipating this and held up a hand to indicate she had not finished. "All of this is supported by the numerous successful impregnations— conception is not the issue." She took a deep breath and long sip of wine. "After these tests were finished, the Healer asked me if it was possible that either of us had been placed under any hexes. I knew that was a potential risk, so you may have noticed I've not left the Manor often these past few months, and minimized the number of visitors, hosting no one except those closest and most trusted… of course, I could not expect the same of you, but it seemed unlikely; all known fertility-related hexes placed upon men would prevent conception, not cause me to miscarry. I explained this to the Healer, and at last was offered one final possibility— the most frightening and difficult to overcome and, I believe, the most likely." For several long seconds she did not speak. She finished her wine and set the empty glass down; utterly in her thrall, Lucius did not think to refill it. "A blood malediction upon your family."

Lucius rose to his feet at once, fury overtaking him at last. "Impossible! And a very serious accusation to make, Narcissa... to accuse the Malfoy family of such a weakness... one of the oldest and purest lines in the history of wizardkind... and not rife with inherent weaknesses from inbreeding that—"

"Don't," she hissed, eyes narrowing. "Before you insult me and my entire family, you have agreed to listen to what I have to say, and I am not finished yet."

Still fuming, Lucius shot her a furious glare but sat down once more, tipping a large splash of scotch into his tumbler and throwing it down his throat with a practiced jerk of his wrist.

"When the Healer suggested it, I couldn't stop thinking about what you said," she spoke slowly, carefully, and he knew that she had turned these words over in her mind again and again before making them known to him. "You told me that there was an heir born once per generation. A boy. It doesn't follow any natural patterns. If there was a curse, it may even have been self-inflicted— in general, the pattern has been beneficial to the Malfoy family; its wealth and longevity. I'm not suggesting a weakness or failure."

Ego somewhat assuaged, Lucius refilled his glass more calmly and reached across the desk to refill her wine as well, though his eyes still flashed dangerously.

"But the thing is, Lucius…" she peered into the crimson of her glass, then brought it to her lips. When she set it back down, she met his gaze with frigid resolution. "You've had child already. Have you not?"

He'd told her the truth; he'd told he everything. "As I said before, I don't know—"

"You know enough to find out," she interrupted coldly.

"And if there is a child?"

She took a deep breath, smoothing her hair back from her face and not yet giving him a direct answer. "None of this has been easy. For me to say or, I am sure, for you to hear." For a split second there was a softness to her voice, a brief glimpse of tenderness, but she suppressed it with sangfroid once more. "But what I am going to say next will be even more difficult." Narcissa swallowed more Bordeaux and pressed on, the alcohol coloring her cheeks and giving her the false courage to proceed. "The way I see it, there are several courses of action if you already have a child by another woman and cannot have another. We could use a discreet Healer and find a donor by whom I could become impregnated and carry a child to term."

"And you expect me to raise some other man's bastard?" Lucius sneered. "Obviously that is untenable. What are your other ideas?"

Narcissa tapped the nail of her pointer finger several times against the desk, the only sign of her discomfort. "Let me make something clear, Lucius. I will have a child, and I will be a mother. I'd like it if you were the father— that would be ideal— but it will happen one way or another. If that idea does not appeal to you… then we need to consider the annulment of our marriage."

"Annulment?" Lucius echoed derisively. "I hardly think we qualify for that, my dear."

She took a steadying breath. "We might, if we are able to provide sufficient evidence that we are unable to produce a child due to the circumstances of our union. These tests rule out the possibility of physical impairment, it's true, but through process of elimination and further study we may be able to find concrete evidence of a curse and pre-existing, singular heir."

Lucius closed his eyes with a sharp exhalation, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and middle finger. "No." Losing her was not a viable option. "What else?" he asked through gritted teeth.

"That's it, Lucius," she replied silkily, lifting her glass to swirl the remaining liquid with a quirk of her wrist. "Unless…"

"Yes, unless?" he growled impatiently, though a growing sense of dread in the pit of his stomach was giving him some idea of what her next suggestion would be.

"Unless it turned out there was no child after all. Or no child… any longer."

"Do you understand what you're asking?" he insisted, almost desperately. "Angelique's son or daughter— Narcissa, it's not as though I recognize the child as my heir, it was just a dalliance that led to a pregnancy, I don't think it has anything to do with our current issues."

"You don't think," she repeated quietly. "You don't know though. Can you refute any of these tests?" She shoved the parchments across the desk towards him that she'd brought with her. "Can you think of another solution? Or will you just keep saying 'give it time' for years, as I suffer one miscarriage after the next, until it is too late for me to bear a child of my own?"

"Narcissa," his voice was ragged, and his fingers curled hopelessly against the unforgiving wood of his desk. "Do you understand what you're asking me to do? If I find her and there is a child? What you are asking me to do based on a mere possibility?"

"I'm only asking you to correct a mistake you have willfully made," she replied savagely, her demeanor becoming more ferocious with the weakening of his resolve. "I've laid out several paths for you to do so, and now you must decide for yourself which of them you can live with."

Monday, 21 August 1978

"Oh, Malfoy, come in," Millicent Bagnold waved him in warmly with what appeared to be a photograph. The other occupant of the office turned, his beam instantly sliding into an expression of wary dislike.

"Ah, Lucius." He hastily stuffed a stack of pictures into his pocket and reached to retrieve the one Millicent still held, but Lucius was faster; he crossed the small office and snatched it away with a flick of his wrist. The photo showed two small, identical boys, grinning widely and waving fat fists, with matching tufts of flaming red hair.

"Dear god, Weasley," Lucius drawled, tossing the picture back to its owner, unable to hide his distaste. "Still breeding? How many is it now, a score?"

Arthur Weasley coloured an unpleasant puce as he fumbled to catch the discarded photograph without creasing it. "Fred and George are numbers four and five," he replied tersely. "Molly and I consider ourselves remarkably lucky." Lucius sneered.

"Well I suppose with a name like "weasel" it can hardly come as a surprise that your kind demonstrates a rodent-like prolificacy." As he spoke he let his gaze fall pointedly on the turned hem of Arthur's robe, the meticulously mending leaving it several inches too short. "You know, if you didn't keep spawning so many mouths to feed, you might be able to afford—" he broke off suddenly, catching a glimpse of Bagnold's shocked expression out of the corner of his eye. Occasionally he forgot that not all his associates shared his same repulsion for vermin.

"Anyway. Congratulations," he managed through gritted teeth. "Millicent, do you have a moment? There's an important matter I was hoping to discuss with you," he continued, making sure to heavily insinuate that any matter Arthur Weasley might have brought to the department head's attention could not have been of any significance.

"All set then, Arthur?" she confirmed before agreeing to the request. Weasley replied with a terse nod, first to her then Lucius, and brushed agitatedly from the office. Millicent offered Lucius a stern look. "Alright." She leaned back in her chair and spun fully around once. When she faced him again, she was grinning. "I'm very busy and important now Lucius, haven't you heard?"

Despite himself, he grinned back. "Short list for the Minister isn't a guarantee, don't get cocky," he warned, sliding into a seat before her desk. "It's months before elections and unless someone calls for a vote of no confidence in Minchum, you wouldn't be in office until January the year after next."

"It's a pity you aren't in the Wizengamot, isn't it? I know you'd call one for me."

"Well if you can oust Dumbledore as Chief Warlock and reinstate the House of Lords, I'm sure I could be of assistance." The offer was not entirely made in jest. Prior to Dumbledore's ascension to the role in the 1920's, there had been a much stronger pureblood presence in the Wizengamot. The combination of Dumbledore's appointment to the role and Nobby Leach's election had greatly diminished the strength of the old families in England, and if Lucius could use his personal friendship with Millicent to aid their return, he would not hesitate. She was, however, a public servant and slave to popular opinion, and it was unlikely he could make any direct progress there at this time. It had been half a century, and popular opinion leaned towards permissiveness concerning Mudbloods and their ilk.

"Some days I feel like Dumbledore is the only thing keeping He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named from swallowing us whole," Millicent sighed, reaching for a half-eaten scone and taking a hurried bite, a shower of crumbs falling unnoticed to her lap. "I probably shouldn't show you this, but it's going to print tomorrow morning anyway." She thrust a sheet of paper in his direction, and he kept his expression carefully neutral as he read. "Volsung in London, can you believe it? I thought they were a myth, or at least a long time gone. They're absolutely terrorizing the Muggles, as I'm sure you can imagine, but they've frightened more than few wizards as well."

"Upsetting," he agreed blandly, unwilling to engage on the topic. "Millicent, I don't even know if you'll remember this, but a time back you had to pass a dozen or so clearances for a witch heading to Uagadou for an advanced potions certification. This must have been February of '76?"

"Yes." Naturally she did, Millicent famously had perfect recall regarding any minute detail of her job, but had been seen more than one arriving to the office in mismatched shoes. "Angelique Begaye, an American witch but with residency in the UK studying under Slughorn. I spent days writing letters on her behalf and flooing border patrols to explain why she was carrying a Venomous Tentacula, among other things."

"Do you know if she ever made it to the Mountains of the Moon?" he inquired in what he hoped was a disinterested tone.

"She did, she sent me a lovely Wiggentree bonsai as a thank you gift."

"Is she still there?"

Millicent tilted her head, curious but not yet suspicious at his line of questioning. "I have no idea. Is she a friend of yours?"

"More of an acquaintance. We have a bit of unfinished business... I think she may have something of mine."

Chapter Text

Friday, 3 August 1973

"You look awful," Rodolphus announced brightly as Lucius was shown into the library by a quaking elf. "And you're early. Bash is still getting ready, or maybe sulking in his room; I warned him you were the only one permitted to get embarrassingly drunk tonight since it's your stag night."

"I don't think it's possible to get drunk enough to forget this disaster of a day," he growled, but accepted a glass of scotch nonetheless. Rodophus chuckled and gestured that he should sit.

"Your father?" he guessed.

"He won't leave the bloody Manor!" Lucius exploded at once. "He expects me to keep living in the London house after the wedding. What is the point of getting married if he won't leave the damned country, as he should have done when I came of age?"

"Gods, could you relax? You're nineteen, you have time," drawled Rodolphus, not bothering to hide a smirk. "Or if it's really a problem, just kill him."

Lucius shot him a sharp look, but quickly changed the subject. "I'm going to New York next month to see a few properties. You said to let you know next time I go to the States; it will be sometime in mid-September."

"I'll see if Bella is busy, or has any issue with me leaving the country for a few days," he replied airily, causing Lucius to glower.

"You need her permission?" he questioned derisively; Rodolphus just laughed.

"You'll find out soon enough for yourself that it makes things much easier. Besides, I don't think she's forgotten what happened in Monte Carlo yet."

Lucius rolled his eyes. "It was just a small flat."

"Yes but it was her flat. In Monaco-Ville, and it's irreparable and now we've both been banned from the neighborhood."

"Well, we'd be staying in my property on the Upper East Side. Very little risk to her, no matter what... diversions we find taking place there."

"'Beautiful sins, like beautiful things, are the privilege of the rich,'" Roldolphus grinned darkly, inclining his glass in a toast. Lucius thought his friend was quoting something, but couldn't be bothered to find out what. "And will you bring Cissy?" he added as an afterthought.

Lucius scoffed and took a sip. "Hardly. She's—" But whatever he'd planned to say about his almost-wife was interrupted by the arrival of Rabastan into the room, followed by Evan Rosier. Sinclair Crabbe, Walden McNair, and Augustus Rookwood appeared next, then Britt Parkinson and Idris Shafiq; Corban Yaxley and Antonin Dolohov were the last to arrive.

Once they'd all been handed drinks and cigars, they naturally fell into smaller groups playing a game similar to euchre, wherein two men formed a team to play each hand against another pair. Rodolphus was sitting across from Britt and they were losing badly to Lucius and Evan. The game was in part luck, but where it was possible to advance through skill Britt was utterly useless, and Rodolphus's expression grew more thunderous with each trick that Lucius or Evan took. They were playing for money but it was a negligible amount; his frustration stemmed from the embarrassment of failure, hand after hand. Britt's careless attitude towards the game did not help the matter; he met each loss with a sheepish half-smile and helpless shrug. At last Rodolphus tossed his cards down, threw back the rest of his drink, and snarled loudly enough to be heard over the low, easy rumble of conversation in the room, "I heard you're sleeping with a schoolgirl Parkinson, is that true?"

Britt's handsome face went pale for a moment and then blotched red. "'Course it's not true," he mumbled, showing previously-unseen attention to the cards in his hand.

"No? Just babysitting her in Hogsmeade then? Thomas and William MacDougal's little sister, isn't she?" he pressed on, cruelly satisfied with the other man's obvious discomfort.

"It isn't like that, and she's of age," Britt muttered, glancing over at Lucius for assistance. "She's good friends with Cissy, I'm sure you know."

Lucius had no idea who Narcissa might be friends with, but nodded once as though in agreement. This exchange, however, had the unfortunate effect of turning the current of Rodolphus's spite toward a new target.

"Ah, Cissy, of course." He regarded Lucius with a glittering malice, his cheeks momentarily pulled concave as he sucked in smoke from his cigar. "Your blushing bride. You know, Narcissa is probably the most beautiful woman I've ever met that I've absolutely no desire to fuck. Tell us Lucius, is she as frigid as she seems?"

Evan, who had been midway through a gulp of wine, choked on a laugh at the blunt statement, setting down his drink and coughing for several seconds before managing to regain his composure. "Do tell us," he encouraged, once he'd found his voice. "She was almost arranged to be my wife so it will be good to know if I've dodged a Killing Curse here. She's the very mirror of Aunt Druella's virtuousness, but with all the traditional Black superciliousness. Best of luck to you."

Rabastan leaned over to join the conversation as well. "Ghada told me Cissy's never dated anyone. Probably hasn't been kissed, even."

With a snort, Rodolphus poured himself another deep measure of cognac. "Nothing quite like making a virgin cry, is there?" he asked, his gaze shining with brutal pleasure as though lost in the reminiscence of untried, perhaps unwilling young women pinned beneath him with tears streaming down their temples and into their hair as he forced himself inside. "And you won't even have to Silence her screams." As he'd undoubtedly done before. While some of the other men glanced about uncomfortably, Rabastan merely looked annoyed at his brother's words.

"Oh, shove off Rod; Bellatrix probably makes you cry in bed."

Rodolphus cuffed Rabastan ungently on the back of his head for the remark but simultaneously gave a crack of laughter. "She is savage," he confirmed, rubbing his close-trimmed beard ruefully. "Perhaps Cissy will turn out to have some of the same fire and surprise you, Malfoy."

Lucius had grown very still. With careful movements he stacked his hand and laid it neatly down before him on the table. "I'm quite tired of cards. What else did you have planned for the evening?" His tone left no doubt that this topic of conversation was closed to any further discussion.

Rodolphus's grin widened, the viciousness not evaporating from his gaze but changing form. "Thought we'd go down to town. A little Muggle hamlet that's far too quiet most nights."

Saturday, 4 August 1973

Druella carefully adjusted the gossamer veil around her daughter's shoulders and stepped back to critically inspect the overall effect. Narcissa waited with a serious expression, her chin lofted in anticipation of the verdict, and when she saw that her mother's eyes shone she extended her hand with a smile.

"Maman, don't cry!" she pleaded laughingly, and Druella laughed abashedly as well, swiping at her cheek and then squeezing Narcissa's fingers briefly.

"Oh, ma fille. My darling girl. You look so lovely. I can't believe you're already getting married. It seems just yesterday I was watching my girls playing in the garden…" Druella shook her head and moved over to the table that displayed the bouquets, adjusting a blossom here and there and no longer looking at her youngest. "And… for tonight, tu es nerveuse? Intimidé?" she asked in a suddenly strained tone, slipping into French as she always did when dealing with any difficult or emotional topic and studying the blooms with unwarranted attention.

Narcissa pressed her lips together into a thin line. In truth she was, but felt compelled to assure her, "Non, Maman."

Druella gave a sad smile to the peonies, evidently hearing the lie in Narcissa's tone. "Darling girl. I can only speak from my own singular point of view on the matter but… I think it is something that should not frighten you. It is something… that can bring much joy in a marriage." However, she was well aware that her own nuit de noces would not mirror her daughter's; Cygnus had been very young, more inexperienced than even Druella herself, and absolutely desperate to please her. She knew the Malfoy boy was none of these things but hoped he would still be kind to her most beloved and fragile child. He had not, after all, been Druella's first choice in a partner for Narcissa, but she refused to let her own bias cloud her apprehensive daughter's heart. Bellatrix entered at that moment, looking distracted.

"Mother, the photographer from the Prophet is searching for you," she announced, and waited for Druella to leave before producing a bottle of champagne and two crystal flutes with a mischievous grin. "Poor deluded maman," she sighed, flinging herself onto a settee and opening the bottle with a tap of her wand and a loud pop. "Thinking you're still a virgin after all these months of being courted by Lucius Malfoy." Clearly she'd been listening to the conversation for several minutes.

Narcissa blushed and turned to the mirror once more, but not quickly enough. Thinking the visible embarrassment a confirmation of her assumption, Bellatrix gave a very witch-like cackle and filled the glasses, levitating one across the room to her sister and taking a long swig of her own. "I don't want it," Narcissa protested quickly, stepping aside but unable to dodge the hovering beverage that followed her doggedly around the room. "I can't possibly think of having any alcohol before saying the Bonds in front of so many people. What if were to slur my words? What if Lucius could smell that I'd been drinking?"

"It's just a bit of champagne, you needn't lose your head," Bellatrix yawned but relented, tossing her own emptied glass aside and starting on the second. "And Lucius wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the alcohol on your breath and his own. I'd bet a thousand galleons he's been drunk since noon yesterday. What are you so nervous about anyway? Your gown is sensational and you love showing off for a crowd."

"It's not the crowd I'm concerned about," Narcissa hissed in an undertone. She wished she could find even a small fault with her hair or robes to have the distraction of fixing it, but she looked perfect and so could do nothing but stand in the middle of the room feeling helpless. Bellatrix frowned and sat up slowly.

"What's Malfoy done to make you so nervous, then?"

"He hasn't!" protested Narcissa quickly. "He hasn't done anything!" With this statement she appeared to deflate. "He hasn't done anything, Bella," she repeated forlornly. "Mother and Mrs. Malfoy were there every time we went to the Manor, and I've hardly seen him since the engagement. Yesterday was the first time they left us alone together and he… well, he didn't seem very…" What could she tell Bellatrix that would not provoke her into causing a scene? If Lucius had dared to utter half of what he'd said yesterday in front of the eldest Black daughter, Narcissa was certain he would not have lived to see his wedding day. "He didn't seem very interested in the prospect of matrimony."

Bellatrix waved this concern aside, sinking back down onto the cushions. "Of course he isn't, he's a man."

"Rodolphus couldn't wait to marry you," Narcissa reminded her softly, staring down at her hands. Bellatrix brushed this off as well.

"Don't flatter my husband by making him out to be some sort of romantic. Rodolphus is a hedonist and there aren't many people in the world, let alone women, who can tolerate his gratuitous appetites. It just so happens that I am one of those few and he recognised early on that he was not likely to find another Pureblooded woman who could stand being his wife. I wouldn't wish him on you for the world, Cissy." Her tone was blasé, and she took another sip of champagne. "I don't know that you'll be happy with Malfoy," she added bluntly, "but I'm certain you don't want Roddy. Nor do you want anyone remotely like him."

The words were of little comfort, although she knew her sister was right. With a pang, she felt sure that Andromeda would know what to say, but the moment of sorrow quickly soured into anger. It was Andromeda's fault that her parents had rushed her into this wedding. If Andromeda hadn't run off, there would have been no hasty courtship, she could have taken the time to get to know Lucius better—

"Wait, so does that mean you are still a virgin?" Bellatrix laughed in disbelief at the realisation. "Gods, of course Lucius Malfoy of all people would somehow end up with a perfect Pureblood virgin bride. Oh Cissy, I don't know what Mother's been saying but—"

"I did share a dorm with half a dozen other girls for seven years, you know!" she huffed. Few of whom had made it out of school with hymens intact. "I'm not entirely ignorant, thank you." A few girls she knew well had even been with her almost-husband. From what she recalled, the reviews had been unanimously positive.

"It's not like what you've read in your ridiculous little romance novels— oh yes, I know all about those," Bellatrix smirked at Narcissa's scowl. "Even the Muggle trash you keep hidden," she added, though her smug smile vanished at this statement. "You'd better not try to sneak any of that into the Manor, by the way; Lucius would be even less tolerant than Mother if he had any inkling you read such garbage."

Narcissa had flushed a deep pink, and turned away from her sister in hurt humiliation. "Of course I won't," she mumbled, thinking anxiously of the non-magical authors she'd thought to be safely hidden in the false bottom of her wardrobe— D.H Lawrence, Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, the Brontë sisters, Tolstoy, to name only a few… The Wizarding world had long been a small and insular community, cut off from much literature and art after 1692. Voracious reader as she was, she'd consumed all the Wizarding classics at an early age, and had been sneaking Muggle literature for years. If she simply pretended the characters were underaged to explain their inability to use magic, there was hardly any difference. "Why were you going through my things?" she snapped, suddenly aware that Bellatrix could only have found the collection through thorough and illicit investigation. Bella shrugged carelessly.

"I was bored and you weren't at home so I thought I'd have a look around. But the point I'm trying to make—" she raised her voice over Narcissa's indignant protestations— "is that you're only setting yourself up for misery if you try to make Malfoy into some hero from one of your silly books. You'll make yourself sick if you spend your days hoping for romance and affection from him."

"Then what can I hope for?" she demanded, praying she sounded less desperate than her sister's words made her feel. Bellatrix shrugged again and refilled the flute of champagne. Half the bottle was gone.

"Everything else. Gold, power, prestige— things certainly worth having, I assure you."

"Passion?" she whispered, naming intangibles that she knew Bellatrix had not had to sacrifice in marrying a man who ostensibly did not love her. "Devotion?"

"Maybe," Bellatrix conceded, her features softening for a moment into pity. "I don't know, Cissy. Malfoy isn't like Roddy. He's certainly got a reputation for liking women, collectively, but apart from that he's… cold. I don't know if he'll be faithful to you. Honestly, I rather doubt it. But as his wife you'll be more valuable to him than any other woman in the world— doubly so once you have his heir, I imagine. And he takes very good care of the things that are his. If I thought he'd ever lay a hand on you in violence," color flared in her sister's face, "I'd kill him before this wedding could take place."

"Thanks Bella," she replied thickly, knowing the threat was not hollow coming from her sister. However it was of little comfort to be assured that the man she'd hoped might give her love could instead merely be counted on to cause her no physical harm.

"Oh, don't look so glum," Bellatrix sighed, rising to embrace her briefly but firmly. "You'll have all the pretty gowns you could ever want and you'll be so much richer than all your friends, and soon you'll have a baby… I know how important that is to you," she added in a tone that clearly conveyed it was not a shared interest. "And besides," she went on, turning Narcissa by the shoulders so they stood side by side in the full length mirror. "Look at you, you're flawless. If Malfoy can love anyone apart from his own vain self, there's no reason why it shouldn't be you."

Tuesday, 17 October 1978

It was well past ten in the evening and Narcissa had just retired for the night when an elf appeared before her to let her know she had a caller. Upon hearing that the visitor was in fact Madame Lestrange, she had to fight the perverse desire to tell Dobby to send her sister away and enjoy the mental picture of the elf attempting to banish her sister from the Manor while she stayed in the comfort of bed. Instead Narcissa slipped from beneath the sheets and decided on a light silk housecoat and told it to show Bellatrix to her study and get her a drink. If she waited long enough, perhaps some wine would soften her sister's jagged edges and make her more pleasant to deal with.

"Cissy," Bellatrix rose to her feet at once when Narcissa entered the room, eyes darting and hair wild. Narcissa took a bracing breath and poured herself a very full goblet of Anjou Rouge.

"Bella. What brings you to Wiltshire on this lovely evening?" A deep roll of thunder punctuated her words, and rain lashed mercilessly upon the window. Bellatrix sneered at her sarcastic tone and opened her mouth to reply, but before she could speak the door to the study crashed open and Rodolphus strode in, dripping wet and looking highly annoyed.

"I told you I would handle this!" Bellatrix snapped at once. Narcissa drew her sheer robe more securely around herself, wishing that she'd bothered to dress after all. "She's not going to tell you anything!"

Rodolphus shook his dark, wet hair out of his eyes and threw off his sodden cloak. "And I told you that I should be here too to convey the gravity of the situation!" he shot back, before turning to Narcissa and grasping her shoulders in large hands. "Listen, Cissy—"

"Don't touch me!" she hissed, trying and failing to jerk out of his hold.

"Roddy," Bellatrix warned, and with an impatient glance at his wife Rodolphus let her go.

"Narcissa," he went on quickly, "you must tell us where Lucius is."

"I hardly think my husband's whereabouts are any of your concern," she replied acidly, drawing her wand to dry the spots he'd left on her dressing gown. At the sight, however, the Lestranges tensed, and Rodolphus went as far as to reach for his own.

"Really!" Narcissa exclaimed, incensed, at the same moment that Bellatrix shrieked at him to put it away at once. He obeyed grudgingly and sat down before the hearth uninvited, stretching his hands towards the flames. "Now, what exactly is going on here?" Narcissa continued archly.

"If you know where he is, you need to tell us," Bellatrix pressed evasively. Narcissa gave a haughty sniff and took a sip of wine.

"I don't think I need to do any such thing without an explanation," she retorted.

"Cissy!" she exhaled sharply, her hands balling into fists. "This is not the time to be coy, it could very well be a matter of life or death."

At these words, a small flicker of concern clouded her blue eyes at last. "Whose life?"

"His! Yours! All of ours if it turns out that he's..." Bellatrix stopped and cast a desperate look towards her husband. Rodolphus shook his head slowly, expression grave.

"She doesn't know either." He rose suddenly, slamming his fist down on the mantle and causing its adornments to clatter and Narcissa to jump. "Fuck!"

Bellatrix looked stricken. "Is that true?" she demanded, and when Narcissa nodded, wide-eyed, it looked as though she might break something as well. "When was the last time you saw him?"

Narcissa cast her gaze away guilty. "It was... late August. Over a month ago."

Rodolphus swore loudly again. "I don't know what could have happened," Bellatrix muttered, raking her long nails through her gnarled black hair. "I mean, I've never much liked him, but never would have believed that Lucius Malfoy would turn out to be a blood traitor—"

"Wait!" Narcissa cried. "What are you talking about?"

"The Dark Lord summoned him three days ago and hasn't heard word. He has ways to make his displeasure known, even from afar, and he can tell if one of us has been killed... Lucius is alive, somewhere, and from the looks of it has gone into hiding, likely in the protection of the Order of the Phoenix."

Oddly, relief broke out across Narcissa's face at this pronouncement and she reached for her sister in reassurance. "Oh, Bella, it isn't anything like that! I don't know precisely where Lucius is, but I know what he's gone to do. It has nothing to do with the Dark Lord or Dumbledore or anything of the sort."

This time it was Bellatrix who grasped her, and Rodolphus abandoned his post at the fireplace so stand behind her with his arms crossed. "Cissy, this isn't a game!" She shook her once, firmly, and Narcissa's irritation boiled over into her reply.

"I'm not a child for you to bully any longer! Lucius had a matter to deal with beyond the scope of his involvement with the Dark Lord, and it is not one that impacts you or your husband in any way. He does have other commitments and obligations, you surely must understand!"

A sudden soft blow to the back of her knees forced her to sit; Rodolphus had pushed an armchair up behind her and she craned her neck to scowl at them both. "This is becoming ridiculous," Narcissa protested as her sister dropped to her knees before her and clasped her hands— ostensibly a pleading gesture but also serving to hold her firmly in place.

"Cissy, I don't think you understand what a serious matter this is."

"I could make her understand," Rodolphus growled, and for the first time since they'd arrived, Narcissa felt a small shiver of fear. She suppressed it at once, confident that Bellatrix would not allow any harm to come to her. However, Bella bit her lip and flicked her gaze briefly towards him, as though weighing all the options.

"She's my baby sister, I don't want you to hurt her," she announced at last, almost sounding apologetic.


"Enough." The word was spoken from the doorway with icy gravitas, and the three turned to see Lucius standing there, his grey eyes crackling with fury. "You two," he pointed at the Lestranges with his wand, "get out of my house." He looked dreadful; his robes were soiled and ragged, hands and face dirty, but his fierce expression did not permit dispute.

"You should be thanking us," Bellatrix hissed, rising slowly to her feet. "For convincing him to let us come talk to Cissy first when he could have come himself, and you know very well how that would have gone! She's your wife, Malfoy, you're meant to keep her safe and out of this business. Instead you're off doing Circe-knows-what and ignoring his call, leaving the rest of us to deal with the fallout—"

"I said get out!" Lucius roared, his wand slashing downwards with a sound like the crack of a whip. It had been no more than a warning, no one was actually injured, but Bellatrix raised her wand in a flash and Rodolphus regretfully drew his as well, though it was evident he had no desire to duel with either of them.

"Don't you dare," Narcissa jumped up and swept between her husband and sister, hands held out placatingly but tone firm. "There's no need for this. As you can see, Lucius has returned and so your great question of his whereabouts has vanished. Please leave, it's late and I would like to get some rest. I'll see you both in two weeks time for Samhain."

Bellatrix's black gaze sparkled with malevolence but she would not hold a wand to her sister. "Hiding behind Cissy yet again, just what I'd expect from a man of your merit."

"Declining to engage in pointless destruction of my property is hardly the same as hiding, Bellatrix," he sneered, sheathing his wand. Rodolphus pocketed his as well but Bellatrix lowered hers only slightly.

"Where were you?" she demanded, "if not sheltering with the Order?"

"There is a whole wide world beyond Dumbledore's battalion of fools and I owe you no explanation for my whereabouts within it." Lucius moved further into the room in agitation, coming to stand by the hearth and resting one hand on the mantlepiece.

"I hope he—"

"I don't care, Bellatrix," he snarled, "what you hope or what you want. I've been very patient thus far but this convesation has ended." He gestured towards the exit, a callous mockery of civility, and Bellatrix jerked her chin at her husband and swept from the room. Rodolphus trailed after her, but paused to clasp Lucius's shoulder and bent his head to whisper something, but Lucius shrugged him off with a fearsome expression.

When the Lestranges were gone at last, they left an echoing silence in their wake. Lucius did not relinquish his position before the fire, and did not turn to face her. When she could bear it no longer, Narcissa asked simply, "Well?"

"The next time you lose a child, you'll know for sure that you have no one to blame but yourself," Lucius spat, still glaring into the flames. He'd meant the words to wound her, and she did feel a hot surge of rage, but it was rapidly replaced by a strange sense of calm and she crossed the room to gently touch his wrist.

When he had sought her out in Blois and she'd told him of Rodolphus and Bella's youthful escapades, her question regarding the motives of a loveless but consuming dedication had not been a hypothetical one. Naturally he had not answered it, but the query had consumed her thoughts of late. When she had set forth her ultimatum, she had not been entirely sure what he would do (aside from the certainty that he would not permit her bear another man's child to be raised as the Malfoy heir). He had left almost immediately afterwards without a word, and for a brief time she wondered if he was arranging his affairs to oust her from the Manor and take back his name. However no owl appeared, and he did not materialise as the days became weeks, and she knew in her bones that he had taken the third option. And if he would do this at her behest, there was nothing that he would deny her. She had once known love; a beautiful, gentle thing. It had not been like this: there'd been no battles for the upper hand, no scores kept, and caring was not repaid with pain and insults. But this was something like power, and at last its balance had shifted in her favor.

He looked agonised, but she saw no trace of guilt or remorse. He knew she had won, had to know it, and perhaps now he feared that she would use her unequivocal dominance to make him suffer. But Narcissa was not a sadist—it was only because he knew so little of her nature that he could not be sure she would not torture him. Despite his concerns, and the shallow pleasure she would feel in bringing them to actualisation, she felt they'd both suffered enough, and would likely suffer more without her abusing his anguished devotion. Besides, she was not yet confident that her hold over him was not more tenuous than Bellatrix's over her own husband, and it would be a terrible power to risk losing over petty whims.

"Things can't go on like this, Narcissa," he whispered, his voice strained.

"I know," she murmured, stretching to press her lips to his. He seemed briefly startled but kissed her back at once, his hands curling around her waist and pulling her against his chest, accepting this as his due for what he had done for her. A dark excitement hummed through her, both at the confirmation of her newfound influence, and the knowledge that, if her theory was correct, there should now be nothing standing between her and child at long last. Her fingers skated over his shoulders and knotted in his hair, dragging their bodies closer, and she felt his begin to respond...

"I have to go," he pulled back abruptly, and she blinked in confusion.

"But you've only just returned. Where—" But then she recalled the Lestranges' dire warnings. "Will the Dark Lord still be angry even once he understands you haven't betrayed him?"

"Yes," Lucius answered shortly, raising his wand to summon a clean cloak and gloves. "Our domestic affairs will not spark his interest nor move him to pity, and I have nothing to show for my unexplained absence that will win his favor."

She noticed for the first time that he was limping very slightly. "But you claim to fight for a Pureblood cause. Perhaps, then, he will understand the motives of your absence."

He shot her a thoughtful look as he discarded his damaged outwear and donned the new. "Perhaps," he agreed, "but you shouldn't wait up."


Chapter Text

Saturday, 14 October 1978

To his immense frustration, it had taken Lucius weeks to locate Uagadou. Despite its notoriety as the largest of all schools of magic, its location in the Mountains of the Moon was a well-guarded secret, especially as he had needed to travel under the cloak of anonymity. Likely he could have offered a weak excuse to Millicent Bagnold to receive a letter of introduction and clear directions to the school, but it was absolutely essential that no one recognize him or know where he'd gone. He'd gambled enough in asking her to confirm this as Angelique's destination after leaving Slughorn's instruction two and a half years prior. However it had been his only option, as he needed a concrete starting point to track her down. The journey to Uganda had not been an easy one, undertaken largely on broomstick in the cover of night and Disillusionment charms. Fighting between the Muggles of this country and their neighbors to the south had recently erupted, and though the violence was some distance away, it would not do to have to Apparate out of a war zone and draw the attention of the local magical government. From prior reading and descriptions, he'd been able to deduce that the school was located in the Ruwenzori Range. Unlike his expedition to find the Volsung, Lucius did not have to deal with arctic temperatures, but the rainy season had just begun and his Impervius Charms only lasted a few hours per casting so it was difficult to get anything like an uninterrupted stretch of sleep.

Travelling during the day was challenging for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he had no legal reasons for being in any country whose borders he crossed, and the fact that he was moving by broomstick would be highly suspect should he be caught: while fast, it was still slower than flooing or apparating, but had the well-known benefit of not being Ministry regulated. He'd brought a sufficient number of galleons to bribe a lower level member of any government official he might come across, but should he be apprehended by a scrupulous warlock, he'd not wanted to slow himself down with the weight of so much gold; to access his funds he'd have to reveal his true identity. And so in this method of exhaustive and frustrating travel, it took him a full month to even get close to the famed Wizarding institution on the African continent. Fortunately due to his excursions seeking the Volsung and other missions for the Dark Lord he had some experience with moving in secrecy and untraceable stealth, but it was certainly not his preferred means of transit. He tried not to dwell on the last time he'd been on this continent— a wonderful holiday with his wife, and enjoyable few weeks hunting with her sister and brother-in-law. She'd surprised him by loving it here, but then she'd loved New York too— she was so happy when traipsing the globe, where they went seemed almost to matter naught. But even that was a second-choice option; he could hardly wait to bask in her joy upon the actualisation of her true desire of motherhood. But there were still obstacles to overcome on that front.

Magic always left traces, and it was these traces that he scrupulously tracked through the mountains and jungles. Uagadou was a powerful institution and consquently source of magic, and its influence spread like long, twining fingers through the continent, and once he'd found a vein it was not especially difficult to follow it towards its source. When at last he laid eyes upon it Lucius found that reports were not exaggerated: the school was a spectacular edifice carved out of the mountainside and shrouded in mist, appearing at the right time of day to float in mid-air in a breathtaking feat of magic and nature.

At Hogwarts, students seeking to advance their studies past the N.E.W.T level did not generally live on grounds, or at least had not in Angelique's case; she'd kept a small flat in Hogsmeade. He suspected then that she might do the same here, and rather than seek to penetrate the school's defenses, he took a modest room in the magical town nearest by which, like Hogsmeade, served as a gateway to the institution and offered the more adult comforts of pubs, hotels, and restaurants. Kyarumba was not entirely exclusive of Muggles but was remote enough that few ventured there and even fewer lived within its limits, and it offered the most direct access to Uagadou.

Like Hogsmeade, Kyarumba had only one main thoroughfare, and so it was here that Lucius stationed himself to watch and wait, under alternately a Disillusionment charm and various facial transfigurations, until he could hope to spot his quarry. He did not have to wait long. Just after dawn on the second day he saw a witch with coarse, straight black hair marching confidently up towards the school. He recognised her at once, despite the years that had past, and followed her at a distance only to the archway that signified the entrance of Uagadou. After she passed its boundary, he had little choice but to wait for her to return many hours later, and move after her in secrecy to her home here.

He supposed, with a deep sense of egocentrism, that he had expected her to live in some sort of wattle and daub hut under thatching, foregoing basic luxuries in order to inhabit the area. This was not even remotely the case: her house was constructed of a locally quarried pale beige stone with windows that stretched from the ground to the roof in one crystalline sheet. The modestly sized dwelling was far more modern than the Manor but lacked unwieldy experimental elements one might expect from the avant garde; elegant and practical in its design. It was also well guarded with wards. Having located it, however, he was able to return to his rented quarters until the following morning, when he could safely test the magical walls of her home without raising alarm. He arrived early enough to see a woman arrive before Angelique departed— a nanny, he supposed— and spent the rest of the daylight hours before her return exposing the weaknesses in her protective charms. Fortunately the spellwork was minimal; clearly she felt safe here, and did not bother with extensive defenses. It was a mistake that would cost her dearly.

She returned home before nightfall and Lucius became conscious of the fact he'd not eaten during that whole day of sharp observation. Still, he was sure the his strength was sufficient to execute the task at hand, and all the better if he might be delirious during the act. Slipping inside was no trouble at all, and he'd been able to deduce the layout from several circlings of the property. He located the nursery in almost no time at all.

It was still and humid inside the room. A beautifully carved cradle rested in its centre, mango wood inlaid with ivory in geometric designs. This Lucius approached after breathing "Lumos," and he neatly compartmentalized all thoughts of the fact he would now carry out the most loathsome crime known to mankind. He'd committed many sins, violence was not a repulsive act to him, but this, against his own blood, was an unnatural violation that he would need to overcome. With a bracing inhalation, he leaned forward to look upon his doomed offspring for the first and last time.

The child was too young; little as he knew of children even he could see this was an infant of at most a year, not a toddler as he'd expected. Furthermore, though Angelique's colouring was darker than his own, there was no question that this little one was African, with skin the same color as black walnut and an inky fuzz of hair. Lucius held the illuminated tip of his wand closer to the sleeping boy, frowning in confusion and trying to fit together the pieces. Had she birthed a second offspring so soon after her first? And where then was bastard conceived by his injudiciousness?

A sudden teal light filled the nursery a split second before a crushing pain threw him from before the bassinet and sent him staggering across the room. He spun around and hissed "Expelliaramus!" but the spell was ineffective because the witch standing in the doorway of the room did not hold a wand. Instead her left hand was outstretched towards him and her right palm was open towards the baby, simultaneously shielding her son while sending another volley of light towards him. This one he managed to deflect, and it rebounded off the invisible barrier she'd created and gouged the opposite wall.

She shouted something in a language he did not understand but guessed was the local Bantu dialect, and he spat "Silencio!" but her words had not been a curse; it was evident she had no trouble with wandless and non-verbal magic, and she was instead trying to communicate with him. She raised her hand to her throat to undo the effects of his charm and, once her voice was free, gasped in English:

"Stop! Who are you? What do you want?"

He did not reply or lower his hood, instead sending a jet red light in her direction, but she twisted to avoid the Stunning spell.

"Enough!" Both of her hands came together in a deep, echoing clap, and Lucius found himself suddenly immobilized. She flew first to check on the child which was, by some miracle, still asleep (he suspected her shield charm must have blocked noise and light as well as magic), before crossing the room to rip back his hood.

At once, confusion clouded her expression and she released him from the bind. "Lucius Malfoy? What in the name of all the gods are you doing here?" It had been foolish on her part to end his incapacitation, but he did not move to attack her once more. He was very aware of a bone-deep, bruising pain in the hip her initial spell had struck, and he found it suddenly difficult to remain upright. At the moment, it seemed more likely he could lie his way out of this mess than fight from it.

"Hello Angelique," he began evenly. "It's been a long while... how are you?"

She stared at him, incredulous. "How am I? I wouldn't worry about that if I were you. You'd better start explaining yourself if you want to leave this place in one piece."

"Yes, yes, alright," he agreed hastily. "I came because..." The best lies were founded on a kernel of fact. "I wanted to see my child."

The dubious expression did not leave her face, but it began to harden. "Your child? There's no child of yours here."

"Well obviously not here," he gestured impatiently to the cradle. "I can see that, I mean the one of mine that you were pregnant with when last we spoke. Have you misplaced that one or...?" he drifted of snidely. A flash of pain flickered over her features but they then settled into cold lines. She looked almost angry.

"The baby was stillborn, Lucius. The baby that still would not have been yours, I might add."

Lucius felt a rush of emotion that he could not immediately decipher, and at the same moment his leg gave out. He sat down on the floor, hard. "Stillborn?"

"Yes. A girl child who never drew breath in this world." She stared at him, her dark eyes inscrutable. "But that was more than two years ago. Why are you here now?"

Lucius had never even considered the horror of a lifeless infant— difficult as the miscarriages head been, he'd believed that if Narcissa could make it past the first few months their troubles would be ended. The idea that she might carry a child for nine months to be paid at the end with only pain was unfathomable.

Seeing no other option, he continued tell her some semblance of the truth, though if she knew his actual motives he would be lucky to escape with his life. "My wife is having difficulty bearing an heir."

"So?" Angelique challenged. "There are dozens of healers to better assist you with such matters. With your gold, I would imagine you can buy the time of the very best."

"We've consulted them, they can find no reason that it should be the case. I wanted to find you, to…"

"Yes? To?" Her tone was sharp. "To what, Lucius? Steal my baby since she cannot have one of her own?"

"No!" he defended quickly, "Of course not, I would never imagine doing such a thing." The real reason was far worse. He rubbed his face in helpless exhaustion. The relief he felt at avoiding the dreadful task he'd been sent forth to undertake was nearly overwhelming, but it did raise other questions. "I suppose I just wanted confirmation that I could be a father. That somewhere was a healthy child to whose making I had contributed. That these miscarriages are not somehow my fault."

It worked: her eyes softened at last and he could see that she believed him. With a sigh of empathy, Angelique sank to the floor beside him and laid a reassuring hand on his arm. "Oh, Lucius. I am sure it isn't your fault, or anyone else's. Sometimes these things happen. The maagd that helped bring my little ones into the world— both the living one and the dead— could find no reason that my girl should not have lived as her brother does now. Still…" she frowned. "To sneak into my house in the middle of the night? I could have slain you before realising you were not a stranger. What were you thinking?"

"I didn't want you to know I'd been here." This much, at least, was entirely true. "I'd promised you to have nothing to do with the baby and I didn't want you to know I'd broken my word."

"Not very wise," she sighed, "But I suppose no lasting damage has been done. Let me see your leg, I'll make a poultice for it," she offered, but he was already shaking his head and dragging himself to his feet.

"I've been gone from home for a long time, I need to get back at once." Flying straight home at top speed would still take him over forty hours, and even that was not a tenable option. He could not safely travel in daylight; there were too many remote villages that he could not possibly hope to avoid them all, and it was still essential that he avoid detection as he had no substantial justification for being in the area. However, he quickly calculated that he could cut nearly a thousand airborne miles from his journey by flying to the southern tip of Italy— public floo networks were notoriously mismanaged in the country, infrastructure some of the worst in Europe, and with a bribe or Confundus charm he could get to Milan in minutes and remain anonymous, cross to Switzerland from there, and anyone with a substantial number of galleons to their name did not need to justify their reason for being in Zürich. He doubted he could get from Zürich to London through regulated means without notice, but at that point it would no longer matter, as he travelled frequently between the countries anyway; the vast accumulation of Malfoy gold was not contained merely to Gringotts.

His desire to leave at once was not solely motivated by his wish to see his home and wife once again. Lucius had noticed his left arm beginning to prickle and itch earlier that afternoon, though the magnitude of the task he'd believed lay before him had not allowed him to dwell on the significance of this fact. With the unpleasant matter behind him, not nearly as unpleasant as he'd feared it would be, the knowledge that the Dark Lord would be calling him imminently and he would have no way to respond to the call weighed heavily on his mind.

"I'm rather surprised you didn't try harder to kill me," he told her idly as she led him from the house. She gave a short, bitter laugh.

"I would have without hesitation had I not been afraid of a curse hitting my son— you know that no shield will stop an Unforgivable. You're lucky I did not find you in the kitchen."

He nodded stoically, feeling very fortunate indeed.

Wednesday, 18 October 1978

Lucius returned shortly before dawn to find Narcissa had come back to their shared bed. In the days following her ultimatum he had slept alone, as she had presumably moved across the private salon into the opposite room, but his pride had forbidden him from ascertaining this fact. Feeling he could breathe a bit easier seeing her returned, he moved cautiously, both in attempt not to wake her and also to avoid further aggravating his numerous injuries, but she sat up before he could make it even halfway across the room.

"Are you…?"

"Fine," he managed through gritted teeth. "I'm fine. Go back to sleep." The unpleasant aftereffects of the Cruciatus Curse generally faded within a few hours, but in the throes he'd badly wrenched the leg that had been hit by Angelique's spell and now he could scarcely put any weight on it. She ignored his command and padded softly over to him, examining his face in the semi-darkness for signs of new injury. Her fingers moved over his neck, chest, and arms, firm but gentle as she sought hidden damage. "I'm fine," he repeated, but a hiss of pain escaped when her exploration found its way to his hip. "Damn it Narcissa, stop!" he growled, pushing her away irritably. She gave him a hard look before turning and heading in the same direction that he'd been inching, and after a moment he heard the sound of running water. By the time he arrived, there was steam clouding the windows and mirror, and Narcissa had added gently perfumed bubbles to the claw-footed tub. When he entered the room she wordlessly unfastened his robes and slipped them from his shoulders, inspecting him for bruises or abrasions as she worked, dabbing dittany on any cuts she exposed in the process of undressing him. Upon revealing the worst of his wounds she made a soft, scolding 'tut' sound.

"Get in the bath, it will help. I'll go see if I can find a salve that will get rid of that."

He obeyed, albeit suspiciously. However she was right; almost at once the hot water began to relax his tense, tired muscles, and he leaned back with his forearms resting upon the cool porcelain on either side of him. It was a relief that his left one no longer seared as it had for nearly four days beforehand, and the Mark had faded from seething black to its usual red once more. His head lolled against the rolled towel Narcissa had placed there and his eyes slid shut as he grew indolent. He felt his pale skin growing flush with the heat, and the stabbing pain in his hip dulled to a muted throb. When he heard his wife reenter the bathroom, he did not bother to look over as she assiduously shuffled objects on the vanity.

"Feeling better?" she asked with a hint of amusement, and Lucius merely hummed in assent. One eye cracked lazily as he heard her approach, revealing to his gaze something silver and glinting in her grasp.

Like a striking snake Lucius's hand shot out and curled around her wrist in a crushing grip, slamming it down on the unforgiving lip of the bath. She gave a wretched cry and the dagger she'd held dropped ineffectually into the water. "What the hell were you thinking?" he snarled, sitting upright and not easing his vice-like pressure.

"That you needed a shave!" she returned with furious indignation, even as tears of pain welled in her eyes. It took a moment for him to absorb her words, but upon spying the badger brush and bowl of foam she clutched in her free hand he relinquished her at once.

"And you thought the best way to tell me that was by coming at me with a damned blade?" he asked harshly, but his alarm and anger quickly melted to chagrin as he watched her gingerly massage her abused joint. "Are you alright?" he continued in a softer tone, fishing the straight razor from the water to sheepishly hand back to her.

"Yes," she sniffed, refusing to look at him. "And I wasn't coming at you with a blade, I was about to say something before you lashed out like that!" Abruptly Narcissa shook her head, as though reprimanding herself. "No, you're right. It is my fault. I forgot for a moment…" She did not finish the sentence but she did not need to; it was apparent she had momentarily forgotten the sort of man she'd married, and his reaction to a perceived threat was only what she ought to have expected.

"Lie back," she commanded, more coldly than she meant to. "If you've quite gotten over your nerves. You look dreadful, it's embarrassing enough that Bella and Rodolphus saw you in such a state last night and they're family. I won't have you spend another minute looking so slovenly."

Lucius hesitated, warily tracing her movements as she dried the blade and set the other accoutrements nearby. He trusted no living creature with a knife so close to his throat— not even his elf, which was magically-bound to obey his word. "I'll do it myself once I'm finished."

"Nonsense. You'll stay in the bath for at least ten more minutes; the powered moonstone I added should permeate by then and then we can sort out that hip injury." Her tone left no room for arguments and she placed one finger under his chin to tilt his head back. He opened his mouth to object once more, but he caught sight of her wrist— reddened and already beginning to show the blossom of bruises from his rough handling— and kept silent.

She moved with considerable confidence and skill. It would actually be a rather pleasant sensation if he were able to suppress the feeling of panic at his undefended state. Lucius comforted himself with the knowledge that she probably had no idea how to properly slit his throat— likely she would cut straight across the windpipe, a messy injury to be sure but if he acted quickly he could survive it. She would not think to sink the blade into the flesh on the side of his neck just beneath his jaw to effectively slice through his jugular and carotid arteries, leaving him incapacitated and dead from blood loss in moments. Another thought occurred to him suddenly; murder was not the only skill of which he would have suspected her ignorant. "Narcissa, where did you learn—"

"Don't talk," she chided, tapping his mouth with the soft pad of her fingertip before resuming her methodical motions, drawing the strap across his cheek in neat, careful strokes. If she could feel his tension each time the razor touched a particularly vulnerable area she did not comment upon it, and at last she set it aside to check her work. This sensation he was able to fully enjoy at last, the feeling of her thumb and forefinger slowly tracing the contours of his chin, stroking his upper lip, and brushing over his neck in a feathery caress. He attempted to repeat his question from earlier but she silenced him this time by draping a hot towel over his mouth and gently wiping away the last vestiges of shaving cream.

"There," she breathed softly. "Much better." She straightened up and gestured to a vial of orange potion on the countertop. "For your leg. I'll have elves send breakfast up, if you'd like. You should rest."

"No, I'll take it in the dining room with you. I'll likely have to go in to the Ministry today. I imagine the pile of post waiting for me is..." he exhaled sharply in annoyance and shook his head. Narcissa hesitated.

"I... I've sorted it, I hope you don't mind. I wasn't sure when you'd be returning and if there was an emergency I thought it would be best if I attempted to manage rather than let it run unchecked, or at least offer an excuse to buy more time." It was not the first time she'd rifled through his letters, but despite a natural inclination towards secrecy he doubted there had been any missives unfit for her eyes. Anything he'd want to keep from her would not arrive by owl, and on the off chance it did it would certainly be encoded."I haven't felt the need to reply to any except for those from your mother, but I didn't think you would be bothered by that. I sorted them into different piles for Ministry, investment, and personal matters with the oldest on top and anything that looked most urgent flagged."

Lucius breathed out slowly and gave a brief nod. "Do not make a habit of going through my things," he warned, but there was no real anger in the chastisement.

"Of course," she agreed quickly. "It was all rather dull anyway," she added with a glimmer of humour before slipping from the room. When she had shut the door behind her, Lucius closed his eyes once more and sank back into the bath with a heavy sigh, rolling his head slowly from side to side to relieve some of the tightness in his neck. It seemed she would not question him further regarding what had happened in Uganda, and he was glad for it. Though he had not planned to lie, there was no need for her to know a full account either; after some consideration he realised it mattered very little whether or not there had been a child for him to do away with. The salient fact was that he would have done it. For her, but also for himself: if he could have only one son and heir, it would not be by some thoughtless dalliance of pure but un-pedigreed blood. In this instance, there was no great difference in letting her believe he had committed filicide at her behest and actually performing the crime.

He wondered if he might feel guilt if he'd had to go through with it, but, as he ran his hand thoughtfully over his newly-smooth jaw, Lucius did not believe he would.

Chapter Text

Monday, 13 November 1978

A gentle brushing of feather-light pecks across his forehead and cheek woke Lucius on the dawn of his twenty-fifth birthday. A contented smirk stole over his sharp features, and he reached up for his wife without opening his eyes.

"Good morning," she whispered, kissing him at last on the mouth and leaning into his embrace. "Did you sleep well last night?"

He gave a noncommittal hum in reply. He could feel her hair loose and fanning across his chest, indicating she had brushed out her braid from the night before, which meant that she'd been up for some time and begun getting ready for the day ahead. However his lazy exploration found that her arms and shoulders were still bare, and he opened his eyes at last to survey her.

"What are you wearing?" he asked eagerly, his hands already moving with unchecked greed over the peach silk of her unfamiliar attire. The lace-edged slip was open all the way down the front, held together only by a thin, neatly tied bow where the neckline plunged into a V shape. The hemline ended more than few inches above her knees. He'd never seen her in anything like it.

"Oh..." she blushed slightly but the mischievous sparkle in her eye told him this was precisely the reaction she'd hoped to elicit. "Just something I picked up when we were visiting New York last year."

"This is what American witches are wearing to sleep these days?" he asked in a voice that might have been casual if not for the blatant hunger in his gaze as he parted the gown to reveal her matching knickers. "Because I must warn you, Mrs. Malfoy, if it is your intention to dress in bedclothes such as these from now on, I fear I shall never be able to allow you to sleep again." His lips were already at her navel.

"I have something for you," Narcissa drew away with a soft smile, and he made a sound of indignant protest.

"I like this present well enough, and I'm not quite finished with it yet."

She shook her head in playful scolding, rolling from the mattress to retrieve a small parcel from a locked drawer in her wardrobe. He propped himself up on one elbow to watch her progress, and when she returned to the bedside and held out the neatly wrapped object he reached instead for her thigh.

"Lucius!" she laughed, placing the box before him and dancing nimbly from his searching grasp. "Open it," she encouraged. He grumbled but obeyed, ripping the paper aside impatiently, his eyes flicking over her figure rather than the gift in his hands as he worked. However upon opening the box, his curiosity was at last sparked and he lifted an ancient-looking but untarnished dagger from within.

"It's Carnwennan," she told him breathlessly, gratified to see his brows rise in pleased surprise. "And before you say anything, I didn't spent a knut on it," she continued quickly, clearly recalling his unsatisfactory reaction to the binding tablet she'd given him two years prior for their anniversary.

"From Arthurian lore... used to kill the Very Black Witch?" he recited from a vague memory of Professor Binn's lectures, turning it over carefully as he inspected the gleaming white handle, inlaid with fire opals that caught the low light to produce brilliant flashes of green and orange.

"Orddu Black," affirmed Narcissa with a nod. "Her brother claimed the knife as reparation for her murder, it's been in our family for a millennium, passed from father to son. It's goblin-made, so if her blood truly was as powerful as legend says, it should still be within the blade."

Lucius looked impressed. "And your father gave it to you?" he guessed. She nodded, but something in her expression made him pause. "I'm rather astonished Bellatrix didn't want this," he added slowly, watching her closely. "It's true your father has no sons to pass it on to, but she is his firstborn." And obvious favourite, he thought but did not say aloud. Narcissa would not meet his eye.

"It might be best if you... don't display it anywhere she could come across it while visiting," she murmured, suddenly fascinated by the embroidery on the coverlet. He arched an eyebrow and she sighed in defeat. "Bella doesn't know I have it, she's forgotten about it entirely. When I visited my parents last month I mentioned I would be seeing her soon, and Father asked that I bring it to her. But she has no appreciation for historical artefacts, and moreover she and Rodolphus don't intend to have children! So it would go to our son eventually, I just thought I might... leave out the step of Bellatrix possessing it. She may be careless with her will and it could end up going to Bash's children if he has any, and it would be a shame to see it leave the Black bloodline." She glanced up at him nervously at last. "If you don't want it I'll take it to her next time I go to Windermere."

"Not want it?" Lucius laughed, a bright crack of mirth that put her at ease at once. "I want it even more now. Come here," he added, setting the dagger safely aside and reaching for her waist. This time she cheerfully obliged, and the Malfoys did not leave bed until luncheon that day.

Monday, 25 December 1978

"Happy Christmas, Narcissa."

Narcissa jerked awake with a small gasp at the touch of his hand on her cheek.

"You're home," she breathed, and surprised him by reaching up to loop her arms around his shoulders, tucking her face into the curve of his neck. Lucius gave a small, bemused smile that she did not see and stroked her hair, running down the length of her plait.

"I've only been gone three days," he pointed out reasonably, and she let go at once, nodding almost guiltily. It had not been his intention to make her do so. "I didn't expect to leave so close to the holiday," he continued, sitting on the edge of the bed and tracing a gloved hand over the outline of her leg beneath the duvet. "But these things cannot always be planned. And I've managed to finish my, ah, business in time for brunch at your mother's." His fingers continued to drift across the shape of her body, smoothing over her stomach and brushing towards her breast. "With perhaps enough spare time for us to truly enjoy the morning?"

"I think... we'd better just get dressed and head out. Would you mind if we take a carriage? I'm not sure if I feel up to flooing or apparating this morning."

"You're not too ill to go, are you?" he asked hopefully. Narcissa offered a wan smile and shook her head. Upon closer inspection, however, he realized her normally fair complexion was a shade whiter than usual, and the lilac shadows under her eyes suggested she'd not slept well in his absence. "Not pale from missing me, I daresay?" he asked in a faintly jocular tone, though she wasn't looking at his face and hence would not have caught any trace of genuine hope that she might indeed have been, had it been there.

"Of course not," she replied shortly, pulling herself into a sitting position and away from his gently searching caress. "I assume your trip was... profitable?"

"Always," he affirmed brusquely, rising to his feet and reaching into the pocket of his robes. "I got you this," he added almost carelessly, dropping a velvet satchel into her lap and heading for the bath, leaving her alone to open the exquisitely jeweled perfume atomiser he'd had custom made for her in Switzerland, already filled with her preferred scent.

The carriage ride was not a long one, and it was quiet. Narcissa spent most of it gazing out at the countryside below, and answered only direct inquiries in a reserved manner. He was disappointed to find her in such a state after his trip, but left her to her thoughts and assumed seeing her family would brighten her sombre countenance. It seemed for a fleeting few minutes upon their seeing her mother and cousin that it had, but when all the guests arrived and they were seated in the dining room, she picked at her food and did not join in the genial chatter.

After they'd finished eating, the party progressed to the drawing room and fell into smaller groups of conversation. Not really knowing how, Lucius found himself standing alone with Bellatrix as she smoked near a window.

"Do you think Narcissa seems out of sorts today?" Lucius asked in an undertone, then immediately felt like kicking himself. Bellatrix shrugged one shoulder lazily and took a drag of her cigarette.

"She was ill all the time when she was younger, I don't suppose she's grown a stronger constitution out of thin air. Say," she brightened suddenly. "Did you hear there's a new Headmaster at Durmstrang and he's come out in open support of the Dark Lord?"

"Of course I did, I've just returned from Bulgaria ensuring his confidence," he replied shortly. "But don't you think it's rather odd that she would be so reserved on Christmas? Usually it's her favourite holiday."

"She...?" Bellatrix echoed blankly. "Oh, Cissy? I don't know Malfoy, you've probably done something to make her angry. What's he like, this Igor Karkaroff? Did you have to buy him off or threaten him to get the public declaration? He's not under Imperius is he?"

"No," Lucius returned, sounding nettled now. "He's been a supporter on his own accord for years, I met him back in seventy six on an unrelated mission. The Dark Lord helped secure his post. Why would you just assume that she's angry with me?"

"Because you're an absolute prat," retorted Bellatrix matter-of-factly. "And a bore. Oh dear, speaking of bored..."

Lucius followed her gaze to the corner of the room where her husband lingered. Last he'd noticed him, Rodolphus had been speaking civilly with Cygnus and Druella, but his attention had now been caught by the large gilded cage containing a single golden snidget. He stood close to the bars, perfectly still except for the twitching fingers of his right hand, his eyes fixated on the bird's darting zips around its confines.

"He's going to try to catch it," Lucius predicted drily, and Bellatrix chewed her lip.

"Yes, and he'll certainly crush it if he does and Mother will be so upset. I can't handle her hysterics today, you'll have to fill me in on Karkaroff some other time." She flicked her cigarette out the open window and swept across the room. He watched her take her husband's arm and guide him easily from the cage, drawing him instead into a spirited debate with her uncle on the best way to kill a Chimaera. It seemed Walburga was monopolising the attention of her brother and sister-in-law and Lucius had no desire to join their discussion, but that left him no choice but to intrude upon his wife and Regulus, who'd been engrossed in conversation since the meal had ended. Last year Rabastan had been there to provide additional entertainment, but he'd gone to Pakistan with Ghada to see the Shafiqs, assumedly to obtain formal permission to marry her at last.

When he approached his wife and her cousin, they were talking of painting: a topic to which Lucius could contribute nothing of substance. He sat down next to her anyway, elbows resting on his knees as he wondered if it was too early in the day for a drink. Narcissa did not turn towards him, but Regulus faltered and cleared his throat nervously.

"Alright then, Lucius?" he asked with an odd, twitchy smile that Lucius did not return.

"Fine." The last time he'd seen Regulus had been shortly before the start of term. The boy had come along on a raid, nothing of great import: clearing a house of the Muggle relatives of a troublesome Ministry official. No Aurors or Order members had arrived while they were on the scene so the risk was nonexistent and the mood had in fact been rather sporting. However despite his and Bellatrix's coaching, Regulus had scarcely been able to cast the Cruciatus Curse, and he certainly had not shown any interest or aptitude in Rodolphus's more physical methods of torture. At this rate he would never earn his Mark, and he wasn't entirely sure Bellatrix's already unstable temper could bear another disappointment in the family. Lucius found the matter irritating but it was frankly low on his list of priorities and he doubted he'd find the time or inclination to step in short of a direct order from the Dark Lord.

"Cissy was just telling me she'd been to see a show at the National Portrait Gallery featuring official portraits of all the female Ministers for Magic... I've heard it's excellent. Have you been?"

"Of course not," Lucius snapped distractedly, studying his wife in an attempt to decipher why she would not deign to look at him, and if she was sincerely ill or instead upset with him as Bellatrix had suggested. "Why would I have been to see that?" he added dismissively, and Regulus turned faintly pink.

"Evangeline Orpington's portrait is said to be one of the best likenesses of—" he started weakly, but Lucius interrupted him.

"I'm sure. Would you find the elf and ask it to bring up a bottle of scotch?"

Regulus nodded and rose quickly to his feet, presumably to find the alcohol himself rather than trouble the elf. Narcissa seemed to find his fondness for the creatures endearing, but Lucius thought it a faintly repulsive tendency. When he was out of earshot Narcissa sighed and addressed him at last.

"Must you be cold to Reggie?" she asked tiredly. "He so admires you and Bella and you're both so impatient with him. And it's early in the day for liquor."

Her tone was flat but she did not sound angry, and he imagined that under normal circumstances she would be able to muster a bit more fire in her defence of her beloved cousin and criticism of his drinking. He decided at last that she must indeed be unwell. "Narcissa, I think we should go home so you can rest," he proposed cautiously. Despite his thorough observations, he was still taken aback when, after a moment, she nodded.

"I think you're right," she agreed, and he stood at once to begin giving their regrets for an early departure. Rodolphus looked to his wife upon the pronouncement that the Malfoys would be taking off, visibly hopeful that they too could leave, but his optimism was dashed with one quelling glare.

"I'll summon Healer Marlowe as soon as we arrive back at the Manor," he promised as they settled into their carriage for the return flight.

"No!" she blurted, sounding almost panicked. "No," repeated Narcissa, fighting to sound offhand but twisting her fingers in her lap. "I really just need to rest."

He did not want to force the issue, but after several seconds of silence could not help but interrogate her further. "Are you angry with me?" he asked in a tone that he intended to insinuate that he did not care very much whether she answered in the affirmative or negative. Narcissa shot him a quizzical look.

"Of course not." A brief hesitation, and then with some suspicion: "Is there a reason I ought to be?"

"Just something your sister said when I asked her if she thought you might not be feeling entirely yourself." He felt a bit ridiculous confessing that he'd consulted Bellatrix on the matter. "She suggested that some unknown transgression of mine might have been the culprit of your distemper."

Narcissa did not seem derisive at his admission; rather her expression turned pensive and she stared out the window of the carriage. "Bella is... a very talented Legilimens. When we were younger she enjoyed tormenting me with the ability, ridiculing me for every errant infatuation or fleeting dark thought; she delighted in mocking my worst fears and taunted me with my deepest insecurities. Our age difference matters very little now that we are both adults, but she began practising on me when she was in her third year and first learned of the art... I was only eight at the time, a very easy target as I not only had no way to defend myself, but could not even figure out how she learned such secrets that I dared not whisper aloud to even my closest friends. I read of Occlumency shortly after I started school and my parents gave me freer access to their library... read of it in a novel, in fact, and realised at once what my sister had been doing all those years once I found further information on the subject. With a great deal of focus and concentration I am able to repel her, but I am certainly not very good at it."

She paused, frowning down at her hands.

"My whole childhood I believed she understood me so well, but by the time I was able to bar her from my mind, she'd found others she preferred to harass and I had long given up trying to keep information from her. Habits are difficult to break, and beliefs you grew up with even more so. It's only in recent years that I realised she isn't listening to me with the aid Legilimency any more; she has not been for a very long time. And as it turns out, without it, I'm not sure that she understands me very well at all."

With a small shake of her head, Narcissa forced a smile and tilted her chin up to meet his eye. "All this to say, you've done nothing wrong. I'd just like a few days of rest and then I'm sure I'll be feeling quite myself again. You mustn't take what she says so seriously." And then, after another pause, "Neither of us should."

Wednesday, 23 May 1979

Lucius suggested the South Pacific for her birthday, their own private island in French Polynesia. Neither of them was particularly well suited for sand and sun, but a well-appointed bungalow over a lagoon and far from prying eyes, a part of the Tetiaroa atoll, was deemed acceptable to both. During the day she watched him swim, amused and sheltered from the heat beneath huge straw hats and colorful parasols, and kissed the salt from his lips when he emerged from the crystalline water. He bought her ropes of black Tahitian pearls and insisted she wear them - and nothing else - to bed. "I love the contrast," he murmured absently, dragging the inky pearls slowly, luxuriantly over the cream silk of her skin, too enthralled to notice the way her eyes flew open at the first two words of his statement and then shuttered once more upon its continuation.

Though complicated enchantments kept the weather clear during the day, the rains were allowed to fall naturally at night, and Lucius laid awake listening to the the steady drumming long after Narcissa had slipped into sleep. He watched the steady rise and fall of her back with each deep breath, and wondered, almost helplessly, of what she might be dreaming. A child, no doubt, if her waking desires manifested literally in her unconscious. Seven months had passed since he'd lied to her, and he dreaded the day that she would announce she was pregnant again, since there was no real reason it would not be followed by the same misfortune as before. But that day had not yet come. In moments such as this one, he felt as though their happiness was existing on borrowed time, sifting like sand through an hourglass and when it ran out, he would surely have to confess that which he had not done. He wanted to suspend the passage of time, postpone the inevitable, as surely her anger when she learned of his falsehood would be terrible.

He rolled closer to run his fingers down the curve of her spine and though she did not wake, she turned instinctively towards the caress and sighed contentedly. There was no need to rush into anything before his hand was forced, he decided. If things were not perfect, they were certainly better than ever before, and there was no sense in jeopardising them over an issue that might very well not exist.

He'd never had anything like this before.

The closest he'd come was a string of repeated liaisons with a select handful of women, and those could hardly compare. Perhaps the sex had been more adventurous then (the things he would do to Narcissa if only she'd let him! Best not to dwell on it), but he had not spent hours with them each day and night, learning by osmosis their likes and dislikes, what made them smile and what they detested. It was strange, the impact this knowledge had on him. He wanted her smiles. He wanted to be the cause of them. The world was so open to him, it seemed he could easily give her anything except that which she truly desired. But still, now was not the time to worry. They were young, after all. She was only twenty-four today, they could spend years in harmony before there was any reason to trouble themselves. The three miscarriages last year could very well have been a string of bad luck. Maybe she was pregnant even now, and in nine month's time he would look back on his fretting and laugh that any of this had concerned him at all.

With this comforting thought in mind, he turned over and let the pattering of the storm lull him to sleep at last.

Saturday, 4 August 1979

For their anniversary he'd planned to take her for a weekend in Vienna, but she'd been feeling ill again that week, the same indeterminate ailment that had overtaken her for a handful of days around Christmas, and once in the late spring, and now again as the summer reached its end. She insisted on sleeping in a different room during these phases, and Lucius stood over her bedside after a quiet dinner, bidding her good night before retiring to his own room.

"Six years... seems rather hard to believe, doesn't it?"

Narcissa made a small, ambiguous sound of dissent. "Only three and a half that really count though, wouldn't you say?"

"No," he bristled at once. "I would say six."

"It will be eleven years for Bella and Rodolphus in a few weeks, and they've managed to live together that whole time."

She was blatantly attempting to provoke him and he could not determine why. By far the most troubling symptom of these mysterious periods of malaise were not her persistent fatigue or ferocious resistance to being touched by his hands or a Healer's (the second time she'd been struck down he'd called Marlowe against her wishes, and she'd embarrassed them both by sealing the door of her bedroom and refusing to be seen. Marlowe alone had not been rattled by the display, vaguely mentioning something about decades spent dealing with hysterical women and suggesting that Lucius slip a Sleeping Draught into her next meal, and offered to return once it had taken effect to examine her whilst unconscious. Narcissa however seemed improved by sheer force of will the following day so it hadn't come to that); it was her strange behaviour during them that was most disturbing, the way she refused to meet his eye and tried her hardest to avoid anything but superficial conversation. He had begun to wonder if she was not physically sick at all but rather overtaken by fits of moroseness, but he'd never recalled her experiencing them before this past year. Perhaps he simply hadn't been paying attention?

"Yes," Lucius drawled, voice dripping with sarcasm as he added, "and how many years do you think you would have managed to survive with Rodolphus? If you find me difficult to live with I'd be fascinated to see you try tolerating him for more than a week."

To his surprise, Narcissa laughed softly. "You're right," she agreed. "I certainly would not be able to do it. And I don't find you difficult to live with," she added as an afterthought, fiddling with the cuff of her nightgown. "Most of the time."

"Well, praise Merlin for small mercies then," he sighed, sitting down on the edge of the mattress next to her. She gave every indication of being fully engrossed with her perfectly shaped and buffed nails and did not spare a glance for him. "This isn't how I envisioned us spending our evening."

"I know," she murmured. "I'm sorry." She sounded as though she truly was.

"Perhaps you might come back to our bed? Just to sleep," he added quickly, sensing her frown before it had a chance to appear.

"I... I don't think that's a good idea. I'd hate for you to have to suffer whatever blight has afflicted me."

"Come now, Narcissa," he went on patiently. "I think we both know what's wrong with you isn't catching."

Her eyes grew huge with alarm and raced to his face. "What do you mean?" she demanded.

He exhaled slowly. "My father's mother was prone to... bouts of melancholia. Days, or sometimes weeks would go by and she could not be persuaded to leave her rooms. She refused visitors and often meals as well. I was young but I recall it still." Aging but beautiful, his grandmother had been sometimes distantly affectionate when his parents brought him to visit, and other times stared at him without seeming to know who he was. He had no happy memories of her and had not been sad when she died the year before he started Hogwarts.

She looked simultaneously irritated and relieved by his declaration. "It's not that, Lucius," she protested, and seemed on the verge of sharing more but decided against it. "I... I do wish you'd believe me when I say I'm simply in need of a week with little activity."

"I do," he agreed hastily. "Of course I'm not doubting that, I just wish you'd let Marlowe see you to ensure it's nothing more serious."

She wrinkled her nose slightly.

"I know his bedside manner isn't flawless," Lucius conceded, "but he really is the best there is, and he's discreet, which is nearly as important as skill in his field."

"I shouldn't like to waste the time of such an illustrious Healer for my over-tiredness," she replied archly.

"You needn't worry about that, he's well compensated for his efforts."

"Lucius." She took his left hand in both of hers and stared at it earnestly, as she still seemed incapable of meeting his eye. "If I thought for a moment there was anything wrong that he could help, I'd let you summon him."

With a defeated sigh, he curled his fingers briefly around hers and then rose to his feet. "Very well. Call for me if you change your mind, I'll leave the door open to be sure to hear you."

She smiled cheerlessly at his words and sank deeper into the pillows as he departed, lying on her side and drawing the duvet to her chin as she pulled her knees up. She looked so utterly defenceless and forlorn that he nearly turned back but, out of respect for her unmistakably expressed wishes, Lucius exited the room in silence and left alone with her thoughts.

Friday, 7 September 1979

Orion Black passed away in his sleep at the age of fifty. An autopsy indicated the cause of death was a brain aneurysm. Normally the body of an esteemed pureblooded wizard would not be subjected to such indignities as dissection and inspection but his wife had insisted, ostensibly to rule out any foul play but Lucius uncharitably suspected she wanted to make sure he'd not offed himself to finally escape her. The funeral was held on dreary Friday morning in the Black Family cemetery in a remote section of the grounds of Grimsden Hall. He recognised most of the mourners— the death of a scion of pureblood society could be an excellent business opportunity which kept attendance high— but his wife insinuated that he might consider keeping the Lestranges occupied while she comforted Regulus and her aunt. Bellatrix seemed unusually stricken as she watched her uncle's casket lower into the earth, and so she was not keeping the necessary eye on her husband and brother-in-law that was required at such sombre events. Someone had had the good sense to sedate the widow, and she was causing none of her usual trouble, so they were the two likeliest culprits if mayhem were to arise.

Lucius could not determine if Rodolphus was becoming more unstable and Rabastan's drinking was getting worse or if he was simply losing patience with the brothers as he aged. Irritated as he was with needing to tend to two grown men as if they were oversized boys, he suspected it was the latter. Their mother had been one of the first witches in the country to embrace his after she moved from Sweden and married Abraxas. The young Mrs. Malfoy had been too foreign, too beautiful, and too youthful to be accepted immediately, and though her peerless grace and easily given affection won them over eventually, Cordelia Lestrange had been the first ally and remained her closest friend for the first six years of Lucius's life. His mind was turning over these recollections of his early childhood with the brothers when a sharp, startled cry wrenched him back to the present.

Several things happened in quick succession.

Regulus tore from Narcissa's comforting grasp and started sprinting across the moor, dodging mourners and tombstones alike as he barreled for the property line. Narcissa was not a hunter so her eyes merely followed him in bewilderment, perhaps thinking that the ceremony had overwhelmed him. Lucius's gaze, however, snapped towards the trees where the boy was heading and sure enough, standing mostly in shadow, was Sirius Black. Blood traitor though he was, it seemed he'd gotten word of the funeral and come to either pay respects or make sure his father was truly dead— Lucius neither knew nor cared why the boy had risked showing up but it had been a very poorly planned move.

Lucius was not the only one who saw him. At his left, Rodolphus tensed and without hesitation took after Regulus, easily evading Lucius's attempt to grab his robes to halt him. Lucius swore under his breath; despite Regulus's head start, Rodolphus would catch him in seconds if he was not stopped. He whipped out his wand and leveled it at his friend's back; he did not need to see his wife's face to know she would not want Sirius ripped apart in front of so many witnesses. "Impedimenta," he hissed, and Rodolphus slowed at once, struggling in vain against the binds of the spell. If the Lestranges questioned him about it later, and he was certain they would, he would claim he had been aiming for Sirius. In the corner of his eye he saw Narcissa with her fingers wrapped around Bellatrix's upper arm and Cygnus gripping her shoulder, their combined efforts preventing her from tearing after her husband.

Lucius grit his teeth and took off in the direction Regulus had sprinted, albeit at a more rational pace. When he surpassed Rodolphus he silently issued an Impediment Hex once more, as the larger man seemed on the verge of throwing off the first. By now Regulus had reached his brother, and seemed to be trying to push him backwards, towards the invisible demarcation of the Black's land. When he drew near enough to hear what the younger man was saying, his brow drew sharply downward into a fierce scowl.

"Get back, Sirius, you have to leave, you don't understand, they'll kill you, you don't know what they're capable of—" he whispered rapidly in one long breath, shoving his brother's shoulders, edging him towards safety. Lucius raised his wand and fired a stunner, intentionally high, as a warning. With a look of utter loathing, Sirius at last recognised that he was outnumbered and leapt nimbly past the wards, raising his hand to make a rude gesture at Lucius before disapparating with a resounding crack. Regulus watched him go with a strange expression that blended triumph and defeat.

Seething and far enough away from the others to not be overheard, Lucius seized Regulus by the elbow and jerked him around. "That was very, very foolish of you," he hissed. "If you aren't careful it'll be your cousins after you next."

Regulus jutted his chin defiantly. "There's nothing wrong with telling my blood-traitor brother to stay far away from us," he replied loudly, as Rodolphus caught up to them at last. Lucius blinked in surprise. That had not been why he was telling Sirius run, he'd obviously been doing so to protect him. But Regulus stared at him with hard eyes, and did not flinch when Rodolphus towered over his shoulder.

"You should've taken the chance to do more than drive him away," he growled, his wild gaze snapping dangerously. "Here, unprotected and without any Aurors or Order members? Might've been your best opportunity to be done with him once and for all."

"I'm sure I'll have another chance, Rodolphus," Regulus replied calmly. He ducked his head, and suddenly he was the frightened boy once more with whom Lucius was familiar. "We should get back to Father," he added softly, and began trudging back towards the gravesite. The brandy and Calming Draughts had done their job well: Walburga still sagged against her sister-in-law and elf, staring blankly and slack-jawed at the casket containing her husband's body, apparently unaware that her eldest child had made an impromptu appearance.

Whispers buzzed at the reception regarding the events at the burial, but Lucius did not think it the appropriate setting to discuss it with anyone, least of all the Lestranges who clearly wished to do nothing else. Bellatrix relented first after a serious word from her father, and when Lucius resolutely ignored Rodolphus's multiple attempts to find out why he'd hexed him, he resorted to drinking and smoking on the balcony with Rabastan. Lucius spent as much time as he could speaking to the oldest witches and wizards in attendance, having found that the elderly usually had the most to say of the least import. Narcissa's great aunt Cassiopeia, an unpleasant woman who'd never married, spent nearly an hour telling him about the Abyssinian shrivelfig plants she was growing. Narcissa's grandfather Pollux had been at Hogwarts a few years ahead of Abraxas (both Pollux and Cygnus had had children at appallingly young ages), and told him a story about their school days that might have been entertaining under different circumstances.

Most of the family stayed for supper, and it was expected that they should remain until the next day. Lucius saw very little to be glad about in this arrangement until he heard Druella inform her daughter that she should retire to her room, and he realised with some renewed interest that they would be staying in Narcissa's childhood bedroom for the night. He followed his wife up to the second floor, but she paused in the corridor and gave him an odd look.

"If you laugh at me I shall never forgive you," she warned, before pushing open the door. It wasn't as bad as it might have been— there were no visible unicorns and it wasn't overwhelmingly pink— but it was humourously girlish nonetheless. Lace curtains hung in the windows and swathed the four poster bed. There was no free wall space, as the perimeter of the room was mostly occupied with dressers and bureaus and overflowing bookshelves, and what little remained was hidden with posters. These posters were mostly replicas of famous works of art, but one showed a young, handsome Keeper winking at the viewer.

"I never knew you liked Quidditch," he teased mercilessly, and she flushed before excusing herself to get ready for bed.

While she washed her face, he shamelessly rifled through drawers and wardrobes, interested to see that the entirety of her clothing from her school days still resided here. As he surveyed the familiar Slytherin uniform, he came upon a hanging row of pleated, checked skirts and a wicked idea formed in his mind.

"Narcissa," he began eagerly when she emerged from the bath, holding the article of clothing up in his hands. "Would you—"

"No." She cut him off with a quelling look, crossing the room to join him at the wardrobe. "Put it back. I can't believe Mother hasn't gotten rid of all this," she added, running her fingers over the dated attire.

"I wonder if it still fits," he goaded, and she rolled her eyes.

"If you wanted me while we were in school..." she started, but seemed to think better of whatever she had been about to say and turned away. "Well, you missed your opportunity, didn't you?"

"Would you have let me have you?" he purred, sidling up behind her and taking her hair in his hands. "In the potions classroom after hours?" He pressed a kiss to the nape of her neck. "Or the Prefect's bathroom, that was always a good time." His hands stole around her waist, drawing her flush against him. "Oh, and the Astronomy Tower is an old favourite... I never caught you snogging anyone on my night rounds though. Too good to get up to that sort of trouble, aren't you, Miss Black?"

She smiled halfheartedly but was clearly in no mood for his games. The day had been a long and draining one and she eased out of his grasp to go sit on her old bed as she began winding her hair into a braid. After several moments of introspection, she spoke again.

"I feel so bad for Regulus. As though burying his father weren't difficult enough, for Sirius to make an appearance and have to be sent away..." Anger flashed over her face. "He's so selfish! He was the one who chose to leave this family, and then to turn up for this... I don't think he and Reggie have been close for a long time, but still I'm sure it gave Regulus no pleasure to have to tell him that he was unwelcome."

He opened his mouth but closed it again without speaking. He would not tell her yet what he'd overheard Regulus saying to his brother. First he would find an opportunity to speak with Regulus about the matter. If he was truly having doubts, Lucius knew he would have to tell the Dark Lord, and hope he chose to be merciful due to the boy's familial connections. Perhaps it would be best not to mention the matter to Narcissa at all, to avoid causing her undue stress.

Or maybe he could simply choose to believe the words Regulus had spoken after the fact, when he'd loudly called Sirius a blood traitor. That did seem like the easiest course of action.

He undressed as well and sat on the opposite side of the bed from where she still perched, apparently lost in thought. Deciding he may still get a variation on what he wanted if he took a subtler approach, he moved across the ruffled duvet to sit behind her, her hips between his legs, and cupped her shoulders in each hand. "Try not to worry about it for tonight," he soothed, pressing his thumbs into the tense, aching muscles of her upper back and kneading tenderly. "You've done so much today already, the best thing you can do for your family now is relax and be refreshed for tomorrow." A soft moan was her only reply as he worked deftly, finding knots and easing them away with the pressure of his hands. The fabric of her nightgown bunched and she did not protest when he removed it under the thinly veiled guise of better alleviating he tension she carried near the base of her spine. Nor did she protest when his searching fingers moved around her body, one hand continuing its steady, massaging rhythm but now over her breast, and the other slipping into the front of her knickers. Her head tipped back to his shoulder and allowed his lips access to her throat. When he laid her down she warned him "quietly, Lucius," but otherwise made no objections.

Afterwards, she rolled over to kiss him and whispered "thank you," and he almost laughed aloud until she clarified: "for helping manage things with my family today. I know they're difficult, and they aren't yours by blood. I appreciate you stepping in to keep things in hand."

Lucius was not sure how to respond. It seemed unfathomable now that he would abandon her to deal with with them on her own, but hadn't he done precisely that for years? Rather than say anything to this effect or accept her praise magnanimously, he gathered her close and pressed his lips to her brow.

"Get some rest," he murmured. "You're going to need it tomorrow."

Wednesday, 31 October 1979

Surely, surely there'd always been so many pregnant women? Lucius wondered incredulously as he moved throughout the hall, greeting guests with a smile that did not reach his eyes. After all, the Slytherin common room remained full each year with every incoming class of students, so clearly they were being born on a regular schedule. It must have been that he'd never paid any attention to births before the struggle to have an heir of his own, but it seemed to him that every woman in the room was expecting a baby except for his wife. He wanted to spare Narcissa the pain of seeing them all, but then, he reasoned, she must have been attuned to the cycle of life for years now, while he was only just becoming aware. Still, it felt cruel for so many couples to show off their happy fecundity while their hosts struggled to conceive.

Perhaps part of the issue was that two of his long-term former lovers were obviously and joyfully with child. Lettie and Francesca both were openly expecting. Though the two sensational witches had always maintained a subtle rivalry, they appeared to be the best of friends now, clasping hands and chattering brightly. Francesca was further along, her stomach huge and conspicuous, but Lettie had evidently selected a gown intended to highlight her own unmistakably expanding midsection. Nott was in better spirits than Lucius could ever recall seeing him before; Francesca's husband, on the other hand, had been too ill to attend the gala. As a society, Purebloods were only a few generations past treating pregnancy as a private, almost shameful condition, sequestering women in seclusion as soon as their state became apparent. However with the dwindling of the old families, there'd been a shift in the past few decades, and the birth of pureblooded children had become a highly anticipated event; men and women alike were eager to let friends and family and even mere acquaintances know that their lines were growing and continuing into the modern era.

As the evening progressed, Lucius recognised that he was not really enjoying the gala. Samhain had long been one of the most amusing nights of the year, but it seemed to him that no conversation could hold his interest for more than a few minutes, he had no desire to drink with friends, and he was looking forward to the Manor growing quiet and calm once more.

It took some time to connect this state of discontent with the fact that he could not find his wife. He was certain he'd seen her earlier on, greeting each arriving guest with grace, and he knew he'd seen her speaking for some time with Adrienne Parkinson and Ghada Shafiq (whose left hand still had yet to bear a ring from Rabastan). The hours after most guests had departed were generally the only ones they could truly enjoy as hosts, slipping from their responsibilities to spend time with lingering close friends and family. But once the crowd had dwindled, a thorough investigation of all the usual gathering spots and interrogation of their friends returned fruitless; no one had seen her for some time, but most were very drunk and might not have noticed anyway.

When only the Lestranges remained awake, dancing alone in the ballroom to music that had long since ceased playing, Lucius gave up and retreated to his rooms where he found her at last, tucked beneath the blankets and dozing only lightly. She woke at once when he entered.

"Are you alright?" It wasn't like her to retire before all her guests were situated and he'd anticipated finding her in a state of distress, but instead she beamed up at him and reached for his hand.

"Yes. I was just tired. The evening was winding down and I didn't think anyone would notice if I slipped away."

"I did," he murmured, lifting the hand she'd given him to kiss each knuckle. "I looked for you everywhere."

"Now you've found me. And what shall you do with me since you have?"

Lucius grinned, white teeth flashing in the dark of the room. It was all the invitation he needed. He dipped his head to kiss her firmly before straightening up to remove his dress robes. "Did you have a good time?"

"Yes." She sat up slowly, watching him. "It's always good to see everyone. The chef did a phenomenal job this year."

"At your phenomenal instruction, I'm sure," he complimented, stepping out of his trousers.

"Perhaps." She hesitated before adding in a would-be casual tone, "Ari is going to have a baby."

Lucius froze, his shirt only half unbuttoned. "Fuck. Are you…?"

"I'm fine," she insisted quickly. "I'm happy for her." To her credit, she did appear calm and genuinely pleased for her friend.

"How far along is she?"

Narcissa stared down at her hands. "Twelve and a half weeks." Further along than Narcissa had ever been, as they were both well aware.

"And… how long were they trying?" he asked, not really wanting the answer.

"Oh… they started maybe four or five months ago."

Despite her assurances, Lucius swore again under his breath and came to sit down on the edge of the bed beside her. "Narcissa…" He reached out to stroke her cheek, half expecting her to turn away, and when she did not he pressed his lips to hers once more. "When we finally have a child, I'm sure the wait and pain will have been well worth it," he sighed, and for once he'd said the right thing because her eyes softened and she cupped his face his her hands. The poignant gesture took him by surprise, and he remained carefully still lest she change her mind and draw back prematurely.

"What will we call him?" she asked, her blue gaze studying his expression intently.

"Anything you wish," he promised, and she smiled crookedly.

"I'll hold you to that," she warned, stretching to kiss him again.

"Do. I shall be happy with a healthy wife and child, no matter what he's named. You have fine taste, I've no concerns there." They'd never spoken so openly of their future offspring before; he had always assumed that to do so before confirming a successful pregnancy would only wound her, but he saw plainly in her glowing expression that he had been wrong. He ran his fingers up her arm, toying questioningly with the shoulder of her nightgown. "Are you too tired?"

Narcissa bit her lip and shook her head, gathering the hem of her night gown to her waist. She raised her arms to allow him to remove it entirely, and then laid back onto the pillows in anticipation. He quickly removed the rest of his clothing and slipped beneath the sheets with her, raking his fingers across her stomach and thighs as he settled against her. However he did not move to mount her, instead encouraging her to turn on her side as well, facing him. With clear intent he drew her leg over his hip, slipping two fingers between them to stroke her until she was exquisitely slick and began to squirm impatiently and rub herself against him, wanting more. He obliged, guiding himself into her entrance and they both made a breathless sound of delight.

It had never been like this before. Every inch of their bodies pressed together so closely that Lucius could only move his hips in a shallow, unhurried rhythm, their arms wrapped tightly around one another and breath mingling still even when they stopped kissing for brief snatches of air. He could not guess how long they stayed that way, his hands tracing an endless route over her back, neck, and shoulders, fisting with tender desperation in her hair. The heat was nearly unbearable but less still could he bear the idea of being an inch further from her, and their perspiration mingled and breathing grew labored.

The slow, steady friction brought her to the edge first, and her moans reverberated against his lips as he felt her muscles clench and unclench repeatedly around his shaft. He groaned as well, slowing his pace so that he scarcely moved at all, allowing her to grind against him to wring out the dregs of her pleasure. Once she grew still, he hooked his forearm beneath the leg that was still wrapped securely around him and rolled her carefully onto her back, not withdrawing from her and pressing her other leg toward her chest as well. It wasn't enough— even inside her, so deep that each thrust drew from her throat an involuntary gasp, he felt he was not close enough to her. He was gripped by a desire that he was sure could only be satisfied if he were to melt into the marrow of her bones, lose himself entirely and merge with her to become one.

She made a strained sound that could have been a whimper and he wondered through a haze if he was hurting her, but no, she was clinging tightly to him rather than pushing him away. He then wondered if she was hurting him, as he did not seem to be able to accurately comprehend sensory information any longer, but no, this sharp and expansive sensation that seemed to press even the air from his lungs was the opposite of pain. It was immense and prodigious and a part of him feared it but a greater part believed it to be safe, and never more so than in this moment: it could not hurt him if he stayed pressed against her. His hands slid between the mattress and her arced spine, gripping her shoulders with his fingers as his palms pressed against their blades, pulling her downward in concert with each push into her. If he could speak at all he would have cried her name but instead he struggled for air and felt her body seize again, and this time it was met with the hot surge of his own release.

They remained still for a long time afterwards, arms and legs tangled with no desire to separate. His head rested on her breast, and he listened to her pounding heart slowly return to normal as she affectionately carded her fingers through his sweat-dampened hair. Though his body was wholly sated, the same overwhelming need to be close to her still hummed through his veins, and he lifted his head to catch her gaze. She seemed to be waiting for him to speak but he felt at a loss for words and kissed her instead, hoping that it was enough for her, but unable to shake the sense that it was not.

Thursday, 1 November 1979

"Are you awake?" Lucius murmured against her neck as the first rays of dawn filtered across the bed. Narcissa nodded and tilted her head to allow him better access, but otherwise remained still. It was unusual that she should sleep later than him, but when he drew back she was smiling softly with her eyes closed.

"Yes," she admitted. "Just so terribly comfortable I didn't want to ever move."

He understood. If they could just remain forever like this, the spell could not be broken.

"I want to show you something after the guests leave," he announced at last. "Wear something warm."

It was some hours later that she met him in the entrance hall, ensconced in her heaviest wool cloak of deep emerald and a cream cashmere scarf wrapped thrice around her throat with matching mittens. They walked for some time in companionable silence, past the landscaped portion of the grounds and into a wooded area beyond, where bare deciduous trees stretched towards the pearl grey sky.

At last they arrived at a small glen, in the center of which stood a massive, ancient elm tree, towering at well over a hundred feet. It was apparent that it had once been a wandwood tree, intangible magic whispered around it, but closer examination revealed that it could be one no longer as it was slowly dying. A large hole that began at about knee height and reached up to Lucius's shoulder, sizable enough for a smallish person to enter, showed that the trunk was hollow; rotted away on the inside despite its impressive exterior. It had been this way for as long as he had known of its existence.

"I used to come here often when I was a boy," Lucius spoke at last, "though I haven't thought about this place in years. I don't know what made me recall it now." But in truth he did— it had been their discussion the previous night about a child, and he liked the idea of a son of their own knowing this spot as well, that another Malfoy boy might one day clamber inside the shadowy but safe space. Lucius ran a leather-clad hand over the rough bark and peered into its empty interior. "It's smaller than I remember."

He was hesitant to turn around and see her reaction— some part of him was certain she would be uninterested in the tableau, irritated that he'd brought her out in the cold weather, and he was already feeling a bit foolish.

"Do you suppose there are bowtruckles living in there?" she asked brightly, closer to his shoulder than he'd realized. She was leaning over as well, her cheeks pink as she blinked inquisitively into the darkness. "I used to have such fun looking for them when I was young."

"It's not likely, they prefer living, healthy trees. I've no taste for magizoology, I never sought any creatures here… I enjoyed the escape."

"From what?" she asked mildly, stepping forward for closer investigation when he moved back. It appeared for a moment that she would climb into the trunk, but a glance down at her fine robes and cloak stilled her. "Did your parents fight?"

Lucius gave a short, humourless laugh. "Oh no, nothing like that. My mother always did precisely what my father asked of her, and outside of that he paid her little attention. There was never any argument. I hid here from tutors, and if anything related to my parents, it was my mother's cloying affection I tried to avoid." He paused, kicking at the dried brush with the toe of his boot. "I never thought much about their relationship when I was young— what sort of child wonders about such things? It seems unlikely that she could have been happy though. She grew up in Uppsala, and went to a small, all-witches school near her home. She didn't know anyone here. But she never seemed unhappy, nor do I recall hearing her complain. In all honestly I thought her simple, her coddling irritated my father and so it soon grew to irritate me."

"Why would that irritate him? A mother's love of her only child?" Narcissa asked quietly. Lucius squinted up through the tangle of branches overhead, not turning to meet her gaze.

"I think part of it was that he did not think very highly of her, or her family. But my father is a vain man, and he wanted a beautiful wife. There were few options available when he wanted to wed, he would have had to choose Haydee Slughorn— Horace's sister, they look very alike— or Araminta Meliflua, who was well-known to be mad. Betrothals were more common in his time— he was meant to marry Enid Ollivander, but she died of Vanishing Sickness when she was sixteen. He was nearly thirty five by then and didn't want to wait for another witch to come of age, so my grandfather sent owls to some of the old pureblood families across the continent looking for marriageable daughters. Father met with a dozen or so and decided on my mother. From what I gather it had little to do with anything besides her looks and acceptable heritage. It was all very… transactional."

Narcissa made a small sound of disbelief, and he quickly defended his statement, adding, "It's not as though I selected you from some sort of cadre of eligible women! You were the only one he'd suggested or encouraged, just because I went along with it does not lessen—"

"But you would have gone along with any witch he suggested, would you not have?" she cut in silkily.

"Well, not any witch—"

"What if he'd wanted you to marry Francesca Zabini? Or Laetitia Avery?" she challenged.

"It certainly turned out for the best he didn't put Francesca forward," Lucius replied, rubbing his chin ruefully. "Given her track record with husbands I might be dead…"

"But if he had—"

"Then I would have married Francesca!" he exhaled in exasperation, finally losing his patience with the line of questioning. "Or Lettie or Selene Fawley or Deirbhile Runcorn or Darla Bulstrode or any number of other women he might have chosen; but he didn't choose them, he chose you, and for that I will owe him an immeasurable debt of gratitude for the rest of my life."

This silenced Narcissa at last, and he turned around to face her. "It took me far too long to realise it, Narcissa," he went on softly. Her eyes were huge and anticipatory, though the confession he spoke next did not seem to be the one she hoped to hear. "I wonder how things might have gone differently if I'd not been called away the night of our wedding," Lucius admitted.

"I used to wonder that too, all the time," Narcissa returned drily, her expression loosing its dazzling expectation and falling into more neutral lines. "At first I thought things might be idyllic. A happy, peaceable marriage. But I don't think you were ready for a wife at the time, and I learned many things living in Blois. About life, but also myself."

"Such as?"

She did not respond for several long moments, and ran a mittened hand over a cluster of firethorn berries, vividly scarlet against the browns and whites of their wooded backdrop. "Wine," she answered finally. "I knew almost nothing about wine prior to living in a region that produces some of the best in the world."

Lucius smirked. "And that's why you stayed in France for so long?"

"No." She lifted her face to him, and he had only a split second to realise she was about to tell him something momentous. It was not enough time to prepare. "I was in love," she replied bluntly, unflinchingly. "I was in love with a man and in the shadow or your disinterest, we could play out a fantasy in the Loire Valley. I didn't leave to be with him, you must know. And when it happened, the love, it happened by accident and to begin it was very innocent, very chaste. A few kisses, perhaps," she wouldn't quite meet his eye, but Lucius remained silent. "And that was the magic of it; it could never be anything more. We could be Lancelot and Guinevere, a chivalrous sort of love that would never hold up under scrutiny but it thrived when we strolled through the gardens or went out riding— I knew him as a child, you see. We were old friends. But a little smile, a hidden caress… perhaps it was foolish, but when sinister rumors of your husband swirl on every side— a mistress with child, different women in his bed every night— it felt harmless and a bit… well, gratifying."

"Do I know him?" Lucius demanded, although a dozen other thoughts fought to be voiced.

"You'd know his surname, I'd imagine. You don't move in the same circles, but he's a man of decent lineage and upbringing. As I said, he and I were close as children— he wasn't a Slytherin, I know that's what you're wondering. He attended Beauxbatons."

"There wasn't a different woman every night," he added, for lack of a better argument. He wasn't sure how to process this new information, and needed to divert for a moment. "And there was never anyone serious. There was never anyone I loved." He spoke the word as though it left a foul taste in his mouth. His numbness was starting to dissolve, leaving a burning sensation in its wake— humiliation? Fury? He could not yet distinguish. "You said is was innocent to begin with. But it went on for two years?"

Narcissa stared down at her hands. Perhaps she had hoped he'd missed this admission, or perhaps she wanted at last to confess the full truth, he couldn't determine which. "We didn't…" More than half a decade of marriage and she still could hardly bring herself to say anything uncouth, even when it was just the two of them. "We never…"

"You never what, Narcissa? You never fucked him?" he snarled. There were half a dozen euphemisms he might have used to avoid her discomfort but none seemed to fit his growing rage.

"I did not," she replied stiffly. And then, "but there are many other ways of making love and I won't pretend we eschewed them all."

He would have been less shocked if she'd slapped him. "That morning, at the Lestrange hunting lodge." The memory had risen swiftly, like bile— how, over these past four years, had it been her only slip? And yet as he recalled the incident he knew without a doubt she'd been thinking of her lover in France while in his arms. She nodded, eyes fixed on the ground.

"We'd had so much to drink and so little sleep, and then your hands were on me and I was hardly awake. It was only a dream."

"Have you spoken to him since you moved out of Blois?" His tone was tightly leashed— if his temper slipped out of control now he knew he would never get the information that he needed to accurately assess the situation. She nodded again, still not looking at him.

"We correspond. Far less frequently now than when I first came back, but do still exchange the occasional owl." Her responses were flat and mechanical.

"Have you seen him?"

She hesitated.

"Narcissa," he growled warningly, taking a step in her direction. "Have you—"

"Yes! Yes, but only once."

She did not elaborate, instead waiting for him to deduce the terrible truth on his own— to recall the only time she'd been back to France. It took him a split second to realise, but several moments longer to find his voice to articulate a reply. "After you miscarried our first child… you went to go see him?"

He'd been stabbed once before, by a Muggle he was about to kill. It was strange to be reminded of that sensation now, the similarity between this and a knife sliding into his ribs.

"That was two years ago Lucius," she spoke very quickly, "It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me and I was devastated. I didn't go fully intending to see him, I just wanted to be somewhere I felt safe and cared for and comfortable. But after my mother left, he came to see me. Maybe I should have turned him away, but I wasn't strong enough then."

"So," he spoke with careful enunciation, each syllable sharp. "Just to be sure I have the timeline straight: I was called away on the evening of our wedding by the Dark Lord, you immediately left for the Loire Valley, and then proceed to whore yourself to some childhood infatuation for the next two years? Until I had to threaten to quite literally evict you from your home to bring you back to my side? Does that sound about accurate?"

She sucked in a quick breath and took a step back as though he had struck her, and in some part of his mind alarm bells were ringing, telling him to stop, that'd he'd already gone too far, but he could not seem to stem the unrelenting flow of wrath that was pouring forth from his lips.

"Toujours pur indeed," he sneered, voice dripping with sarcasm as though he would spit upon her family motto if he could. "I should never have agreed to to marry you; one sister who fucks Mudbloods and another that's mad— you and Andromeda are cut from the same faithless cloth, you just do a better job at pretending to be a good, traditional pureblooded girl than she ever managed to. You're not fit to bear my heir or the Malfoy name." He wanted to take back the ardent declaration of gratitude he'd made mere minutes ago, but words were not retractable and instead he lashed out as a wounded animal might, desperate to conceal his injury from the predator threatening to tear him apart. "Not that any child seems able to survive in your poisoned womb."

He expected her to respond to his insults with rage to match his own and braced himself for the full might of her acrimony, but the reality was far worse. Her lips were slightly parted and eyes were huge, pupils dilated by a reaction of her sympathetic nervous system to his devastating accusations. "I just wanted… I just wanted to put an end to all the secrets standing in the way of our marriage. I thought if I started..." she whispered, the words scarcely more than a puff of air. She had made a grave miscalculation and could not regain her footing quickly enough to combat his terrible censure.

"Oh come now Cissy, try to be an adult," Lucius snarled. "Everyone has secrets, secrets aren't the problem here; your commitment to another man is."

"I'm not—" she tried again but her words were set adrift in the chilled autumn air and drowned by his raised voice.

"Gods, Narcissa!" he expostulated, shoving both hands through his hair as he stared up at the clouds. He felt sick and lightheaded and could not bear to look at her for one more moment. Without a hint of reconciliation or even a final bitter word, he stalked past her, back towards the Manor, leaving her cold and alone.

Chapter Text

Thursday, 9 August 1973

"Bonjour, Miss Black." For a moment, Narcissa did not recognize the man standing in the doorway of the parlour, hat in hand. He was tall and fair, with black curling hair and a round, gentle face. Neither thin nor stout, he had a rather average build that gave him an overall impression of softness. Instinctively she knew that when he smiled he'd have a dimple on each cheek, and when she reached his most distinctive feature, glacial blue and sparkling eyes fringed by thick, dark lashes, she realized at once who had come to call.

"Dieux," she breathed, rising to her feet. "Surely not… Michel Perrot? Is that really you?"

In reply, his face split into a brilliant beam, and he swept across the room to take her hand in both of his own. "Ma chère, lovely Narcissa Black. I haven't seen you since we were children, summers spent amongst the wild flowers on the banks of the Loire, hunting for bowtruckles in the woods—"

"—sneaking into the stables and riding your mother's Aethonans," she added with a delighted laugh, laying her free hand upon his. "I still remember the scolding I received for that! What trouble we were." Grinning in earnest now, she gestured that he should sit and poured him a saucer of tea.

"We were," he affirmed. "I only returned from abroad two nights past; imagine my delighted surprise to learn that you had decided to take up residence here once more. I knew I must call at once, but I confess, I rather wished to surprise you. Your elf remembered me, and she told me you were in here alone so I asked to enter unannounced. I hope I have not been an intrusion?"

"You are a most welcome one indeed. Tell me, how are your parents? Your sister?"

He showed true warmth and affection when he assured her they were all well. "And yours? Is Bella still as wild as I remember? Annie still lost in watercolors and fantasy?"

Narcissa stiffened slightly. "I'm surprised you haven't heard," she began delicately. "Andromeda… well, several years ago she embarrassed us all by running off with…" Narcissa found she could not even bring herself to say the word. "She's no longer a part of the family."

Michel's brow creased in concern and he opened his mouth, but she pressed on before he could make any inquiry for further detail. "Bellatrix has been married for some time now, to Rodolphus Lestrange."

"Ah yes, that I did know, now that you say so. My parents attended the wedding, the Perrot and Lestrange families have ties, but decided Faustine and I were too young to join. A shame— it would have been a pleasure to see you. I suppose I was only, what, fourteen at the time? I recall I was angry but in retrospect, who wants children at a wedding?" He chuckled and shook his head wistfully, taking a sip of tea. At the mention of weddings, however, Narcissa felt her own smile fading; a fact that did not go unnoticed by her companion.

"I suppose I spoke in error earlier," Michel began again, his voice rather more sober, "when I called you 'Miss Black.' I must extend my congratulations on your nuptials. Your husband— is he here?"

It was several long moments before Narcissa could manage a reply. "No, he is not. He was called away on urgent business."

His dark brows rose in surprise. "So soon after the wedding?"

Despite herself, a short, bitter laugh escaped her lips. "During the reception," she confessed coldly, without really meaning to. At once she flushed and set down her tea, lacing her fingers neatly and staring into her lap. "You must excuse me for speaking so bluntly. I fear I'm rather overtired, it's been a tumultuous few days."

She was only slightly taken aback when one of Michel's hands appeared in the narrow line of view, curling gently around both of hers. "Ma chère," he murmured, tone sympathetic and soothing. "He is a fool to have walked away from such a beautiful bride."

Narcissa knew she should brush his comforting touch and words aside, but found she could not. "He's… very busy. He has many important business ventures." The words sounded empty even to her own ears, but she could think of no more salient defense of his behaviour when the pain was still so raw. Michel made a disbelieving sound and drew away to settle back in his chair— she felt an unbidden pang at the withdraw of his caress.

"He's the wealthiest wizard in Britain. Perhaps in Europe. Perhaps even the world. Surely he can afford to take a loss on a deal that interrupts his own wedding?"

Narcissa had no reply. The record she had been listening to when he had come in had reached its conclusion, and the silence was punctuated only by the soft, persistent, whirring scratch as it continued to spin on its turntable. Michel rose to change it, gracefully spending several moments sorting through the albums and giving her a chance to dash the tears from her cheeks and compose herself once more. There was dry shuffling as he drew a new disc from its sleeve and placed it carefully on the turntable, followed by a brief hiss as the needle sought the grooves of the vinyl. And then— her breath caught in her throat as the instantly identifiable opening bars filled the study, and a rich tenor began to sing:

" O soave fanciulla, o dolce viso—"

Tears threatened once more and her eyes were incredibly blue as she stared up at Michel with something between wonderment and shock. "I can't believe you remembered..."

"How could I forget?" He held out his hand once more, drawing her to her feet but not relinquishing his grip once she stood. Instead, he pulled her into his arms; it was not music to dance to, but they swayed gently as the aria soared around them. It felt so good to be held. She'd hidden her hurt from all her family and friends beneath a façade of indifference, but she could feel her callousness begin to unravel when confronted by this compassion.

"Your love of Puccini, while I always preferred Verdi," he continued with a smile she could not see, since her head rested on his shoulder, but could hear in his voice. "I always thought you would come to see my point of view— Puccini is… flamboyant; Verdi tells better stories."

"We were both wrong," Narcissa sighed, letting the familiar music fill her; fill the void left by her husband's abrupt abandonment with Rodolfo and Mimi's hopeless but passionate declarations of adoration. "It's Wagner."

"Wagner, the very epitome of opera," he agreed. The music wrapped around them for several moments more before he spoke again. "But his works are epics. They touch the soul and the mind. Puccini and Verdi merely engage the heart."

"The mere heart," she echoed listlessly, and her voice cracked.

"Ma chère," he sighed sadly, stroking her long blonde locks tenderly. "Dear Narcissa." But he could offer her no more platitudes; he could not assure her that her husband would realise the error of his ways or that matrimonial bliss was imminent. Instead he held her, long after the song had finished and moved to the next, and even after this record too reached its conclusion, still they stood with her in his arms, her head on his shoulder, his hand running comfortingly through her hair.

Tuesday, 13 November 1979

If Lucius had given it any prior consideration, he would have hoped to never end up in this pub again. He'd once frequented it without shame— it was a Wizarding bar of decent reputation, but he never had to worry about seeing anyone he knew well and he never visited often enough to become a regular. When he had come in the the past the clientele was young, recent Hogwarts graduates mostly, and he was rather dismayed upon arrival on this night to see that it was still very young while he was not any longer. In the two years he'd lived in London after his wedding as a pseudo-bachelor, he'd found it unnecessary to venture anywhere else to meet women for the night. No respectable pureblood witch would come here but there'd always been plenty of attractive and willing half-blood girls that he felt no qualms about dismissing the following morning. That wasn't why he was here tonight though. At least, he was fairly sure that wasn't why he was here.

He was here to drink. Normally he would have preferred to drink at home, and his own stock was of higher quality than anything served here, but he did not want to be alone with his thoughts. It had been two weeks and he still hadn't spoken to her. She didn't come down for meals and was sleeping elsewhere. The Manor was vast, it was not difficult to live completely separate lives within it. He was somewhat confident she had only moved across the sitting room to her own suite but was in equal measures too proud to check and too filled with terror of what he might find out if he did so.

Even if he had spoken to her, he was not certain what he could say. He was still furious. She had made a fool of him countless times over— each new realization made him sear first with mortification and then rage. Their first time together he should have recognized that she was too eager, too unafraid to be as unexperienced as he had assumed. And after all, what woman unacquainted with pleasure would have even known enough to accuse him of being passionless after that first year?

He tossed a handful of galleons on the bar and took the entire bottle of firewhisky with him to a darkened table in the corner. From the shadows his eyes flickered resentfully over the youthful witches and wizards who were laughing and generally enjoying the company of one another. A pretty girl with brown curls noticed him staring and offered a tentative half-smile, and he returned his gaze to the glass in front of him. Even if he'd been even remotely interested, she was far too young, probably only recently legal.

Lucius, on the other hand, was twenty-six today.

All day he'd been haunted by thoughts of his last birthday; it felt like a lifetime ago. He rubbed his jaw as the memories flashed through his mind, wondering if he could ever again hope to be woken in the morning by his wife's soft lips on his temple. His fingers met with rough stubble, and he suddenly recalled the time she'd shaved him in the bath— how he'd tried twice to ask her where she'd learned to do it, and how she'd nimbly evaded the question. Fury flooded him once more as the now-obvious answer came to mind, and he threw back the rest of his drink and poured another.

How many people knew, he wondered bitterly, that he'd been played for a fool? Rodolphus had been the only one to try to warn him (though not very hard, he thought with acid), so Bellatrix naturally knew as well. Likely Ari Parkinson, and she seemed the type to share everything with her husband. If he was lucky the list ended there, but Rabastan lived with Rodolphus and Bellatrix, and he'd long been involved with Ghada Shafiq… in the worst case scenario, anyone in society could know, might be sneering behind their hands at blind, ridiculous Lucius Malfoy, who couldn't even keep his wife under control… he gave up on the glass and took a deep slug of whisky directly from the bottle. It was not making him feel better, but that did not stop him from drinking more of it. He was confident that if he had enough, he would stop feeling anything at all, and that would be a welcome relief.

The pretty brunette was looking at him again. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and tried to recapture his own mindset five years prior. He would have smiled back, bought her a drink or three, danced with her, and invited her back to his house. It was nearby and far more appealing than the shared flats most of the rest of the men in this pub called home.

But he didn't want her. Not even slightly. His tingling fingertips fumbled slightly as he lifted the bottle and took another long pull. When had his desires so drastically altered? This carefree, grinning girl likely had none of his wife's compunctions. She would probably take him in her mouth, or let him have her from behind while she was bent over the bed. Frankly mild fantasies, but she found even these to be base and so he'd not indulged for years now. But he did not miss them, really, or at least wouldn't if he had her back.

But she had made a mockery of their marriage. She had cuckolded him and he could not forgive her for that. For her he had censored his sex drive and poured forth emotions he'd never even known he possessed in hopes of winning her affection and goodwill, and what did he have to show for it? A hard road paid at the end with a false coin.

It was not late but the bottle of Ogden's Old was empty. When he stood, the whole room shifted and he threw his hand out on the table to brace himself. He swore; under his breath he thought, but several people nearby shot him alarmed glances so perhaps not as quietly as he'd intended. Time to leave then— but where to go next? No matter, he'd figure something out. He dumped a few more galleons on the table, fairly sure he'd already paid his tab but reckoning it would not hurt to ensure he was welcome should he decide to visit in the future. Once he managed to weave through the other patrons and reach the crisp autumn air beyond, he sucked in several quick lungfuls.


It took several seconds for him to place the slight, hooded figure just emerging from a shadowed lane nearby. He blinked to be sure and placed a hand against the stone exterior of the pub to steady himself.

"Severus?" he asked, too loudly. The younger man gestured that he should keep his voice down and swiftly approached. "What in Merlin's name were you doing in Knockturn Alley at this hour?" Lucius continued at the same volume. By the time he'd reached him, Snape looked furious.

"What's wrong with you?" he spat, seizing Lucius by the sleeve and pulling him away from the busy entrance of the bar.

"Just wanted a drink, no law against that." Words felt unwieldy in Lucius's mouth and he knew he should speak fewer of them but seemed unable to stop himself. "Thought it'd be nice to have a whisky somewhere I wouldn't be judged or made a fool of."

"You're making a fool of yourself, Lucius," Severus hissed, guiding him swiftly through unfamiliar and winding back alleyways. "You're far too recognizable to indulge in this sort of juvenile behaviour."

"Juvenile," Lucius parroted with a scoff. "Are you even out of school yet?"

"For over a year now," he snapped back impatiently, pushing Lucius through a gate onto a bustling street. However, it was not populated with witches and wizards— he'd taken them through a back exit of magical London into the Muggle sector of the city.

"Fucking scum," Lucius snarled as a burly Muggle teen shoved past him, and began to reach into his robe for his wand. Fortunately his reflexes were slowed and Severus managed to pull him away towards the kerb as the boy vanished into the crowd. Looking desperate now, Snape stuck out his hand, waving frantically at a black vehicle that zipped by without even slowing. "What are you doing?"

"Hailing you a cab," he replied through gritted teeth, trying once more with the same ineffectual result. Lucius rolled his eyes.

"Just call the Knight Bus if you need to get home." He spoke slowly as if to a particularly dense child, and reached for his wand once more.

"Stop it!" At last a car pulled up in front of them— Severus yanked the door open and shoved Lucius inside. "Will you take him to Chesterfield Street?" The man behind the wheel nodded, and Severus glanced at Lucius. "What's the number?" he prompted.

"Seven," Lucius mumbled, looking around the interior of the cab in repulsed fascination. The driver frowned.

"'S no number seven on Chesterfield."

"Of course you wouldn't think so," Lucius sneered, and Severus seemed to realize the impossibility of leaving him alone with a Muggle in such a state and got in the car as well.

"Just take us to the corner of Charles and Chesterfield, we'll manage from there," Snape sighed.

"I hate that house," Lucius groused as the vehicle took off. "I never wanted to stay in it again after we moved to the Manor. I don't even know if it's currently fit for habitation. Dobby!"

An elf appeared between the two men— the cabbie gave a shout of alarm and nearly swerved into oncoming traffic. Snape muttered a string of expletives as he whipped out his wand and pointed at the Muggle. "Imperio. Take us to Charles and Chesterfield Street," he repeated. The man nodded in dreamy contentment as Severus furiously rounded back on Lucius, who was lazily giving the elf instructions to prepare his study and bedroom and make sure there was plenty of scotch on hand. "Getting drunk in the middle of London wasn't bad enough? Now you're violating the Statute of Secrecy?"

"That Statute is a farce," Lucius ground out bitterly as Dobby vanished to complete his tasks. "If it's so important to keep hidden from Muggles, why do we allow Mudbloods to have wands and attend Hogwarts? Hm? It doesn't make any sense at all."

Severus rolled his eyes— as though he needed yet another lecture from Lucius Malfoy on the importance of keeping those of non-magical heritage away from the Wizarding world. Inebriated slurring certainly did not improve his usual allocution on the topic. However he allowed the other man to continue to rant in the same vein to prevent him from hexing the driver, his own mind wandering.

When he'd first met Lucius Malfoy, Severus had been certain that he was everything he himself could ever want to be and never achieve— handsome and well-liked by peers and professors, obscenely wealthy, and, perhaps most importantly, of a long and unquestionably pure heritage. First prefect and later head boy, Lucius was never bullied and rarely even spoken ill of; and those who did criticise were often merely envious. After all, weren't arrogance and cool condescension simply indicators of good breeding and old money?

Even by nineteen, however, Severus had begun to realize that much of the glamour surrounding Lucius Malfoy was something of an illusion. First of all, Snape noticed quickly that his supposed academic brilliance was in fact the result of many, many hours of revising— while Lucius had been at the top of his year in almost every class, the success was not accompanied by creativity of thought or natural inclination towards any subject. Second, he soon realized that something he'd envisioned as one of the main appeals of a long pureblood line— namely, a strong sense of family— was absent in Malfoy's case. Lucius made little secret of his resentment towards his father and derision towards his mother, and he had no siblings or apparently even cousins of whom to speak. Moreover, despite his many admirers, he fostered few if any close friendships, and his romantic relationships were even more superficial. Severus could not help but view this a something of a deficiency of character— as though no one could bear to spend enough time around him to get to know him well, or perhaps that he was unable to open up to anyone. Either way, a deep lack of trust or trustworthiness was implied.

They'd reached Mayfair at last, and when they came to a halt Lucius struggled briefly with the unfamiliar latch on the door before spilling onto the street with an absurd grace. Severus paused to pay and obliviate the hapless driver, despite Malfoy's loud suggestions that he simply end the man's life (not considering, of course, the implications of a dead Muggle in front of his doorstep). Not really wanting to, Severus trudged up the steps after him into the townhouse.

Lucius was still complaining about Mudbloods as he strode into his study and threw his cloak aside. Dobby had made quick work of removing dust cloths from the furniture and lighting a fire in the hearth, but Lucius noticed only that a decanter of scotch and two tumblers had been placed upon a side table and went to these at once. After pouring a glass, he tossed himself onto a settee, expostulating to the ceiling. Severus considered taking the drink away but after a beat of hesitation decided that doing so was not his problem— he walked instead to the mantle and found a pinch of floo powder in an ornate snuffbox.

"Who are you calling?" Lucius demanded at once as the flames blazed green, sitting up with a suspicious frown.

"Your wife," Severus replied irritably.

"If you dare," he growled, suddenly more coherent than he'd been for some time, "you alone will be responsible for her fate."

Snape hesitated, gathering at last that marital strife might be behind this binge. Lucius sighed and flopped bonelessly back onto the couch. "You're a smart man for not marrying, Severus. Wives are not worth the frustration and at the end of the day, they'll betray you just as easily as anyone else."

"I'm sure that's not true," he argued haltingly. Snape was hardly one to speak about what made a successful marriage. "Narcissa is a… a gracious and considerate person." This he knew from experience. "I'm sure she loves you and would never betray you." This was a wild extrapolation. Lucius snorted and swallowed a deep gulp of scotch.

"She doesn't love me. She loves some French wizard from her childhood, she said so herself. She's never said that about me." He paused, scowling into his glass before adding quietly, "She wants a baby, but doesn't even care if it's mine. She said that too."

"And…" Despite himself, Snape felt a vague tug of curiosity. "Do you love her?"

Lucius frowned again. "What sort of stupid question is that?" he sneered, without answering it. Severus, reaching the end of his patience, turned back to the fire.

"If you don't want me to call Narcissa, is there anyone else that can keep you company?" Someone else to be your childminder for the night?

Lucius considered this for a moment, finishing off his drink before declaring, "Rodolphus."

"No," Snape answered swiftly and with finality. There were few situations he could think of that would not be made tenfold worse by the presence of Rodolphus Lestrange, and this was not one of those rare occasions. In the best case scenario, Rodolphus would goad Lucius into a dangerous fit of drunken rage for his own amusement; worst case, the pair would head back out into town and burn down half the city. "Why don't you have your elf help you get ready to go to sleep?"

"I'm not tired and I don't need help," Lucius protested, sounding like a petulant toddler. "She said she loved him, Severus," he repeated, as though Snape might have somehow missed it the first time. "She's never said… Do you know what she's said about me? That I don't see or care for anyone apart from myself. That I didn't care about the children she's lost— our children! Three of them, and she made me believe it was my fault— and do you have any idea what I was prepared to do if it had been?" he seethed. Snape did not want to know, and fortunately Lucius did not elaborate. "She finds me unbearable, she's all but said it in so many words." Many of these were old hurts, brought to the surface by his intoxication.

Lucius flung an arm over his face and groaned, perhaps a bit melodramatically. Still, Snape mused as his eyes wandered from the meticulously tailored cuff of his robe to the opulent study (in a house which, by his own admission, Lucius purportedly hated), some of the aura of Lucius Malfoy had not been exaggerated. He had more money than anyone Snape had ever met or would meet in his life. For reasons unbeknownst to him, Lucius had always shown him an almost uncharacteristic kindness. He'd introduced Severus to the Dark Lord. Of course he could not stifle small measure of resentment— if he'd been wealthy and good-looking and pureblooded like Lucius— like James Potter— perhaps things might have turned out differently with Lily. But while he could never entrust Lucius with his own secrets, he felt a deep sense of obligation towards him.

"I'm sure she'll forgive you in time," Snape offered uncomfortably, and Lucius sat up once more, eyes blazing.

"Her, forgive me? She should be begging for my forgiveness on her knees— that's not a sight anyone is likely to see… except apparently for her French lover. Holier-than-thou, just like all the Blacks, as though any of them have earned the right to moral superiority... I called her a whore and I meant it, no action on my part can justify her running into the arms of another man. It just isn't done. I left the night of our wedding at the summons of the Dark Lord, I didn't have a choice— she did."

"You called her a…" he echoed, aghast. "Enough, Lucius. You don't mean this and you won't thank me for hearing it once you've sobered. Where to do keep your potion stores?"

Lucius waved vaguely in the direction of an elaborately carved chest and poured himself another drink. Severus was to relieved to see that, while lacking fresh ingredients, it contained a variety of dried ones with which he could cobble together a Sleeping Potion. Or at least a Calming Draught that should be sufficient to make him fall asleep given his current level of inebriation.

"It seemed as though things were finally going well," Lucius went on without prompting. "Not so well that she had a baby yet, of course, but she was starting to…she seemed happier, most of the time…" he broke off, looking distraught. "Why hasn't she had a baby yet?"

"Erm…" Severus cleared his throat uncomfortably as he splashed a measure of hellebore syrup into the cauldron. "If you need a fertility potion I'd be glad to—"

"No, no," Lucius waved the offer aside impatiently. "It isn't that. I've no problem getting her pregnant—" Snape colored slightly at his friend's matter-of-fact tone on the subject, "— it's getting her to stay pregnant. I'm utterly useless when it comes to that part and it's driving me mad." He paused. "You know what the worst part is?" he asked, sounding morose rather than angry once more.

"The fact that you won't stop talking?" Severus guessed under his breath as he crushed some chamomile flowers and dumped them into the brew. Lucius did not appear to have heard him.

"I think she may have told me about this other man because she had finally come to trust me. And now I've gone and ruined everything." He rubbed his eyes, and was quiet for a long stretch of time while Severus stirred diligently. "I'm going to floo her," he announced suddenly, having finished off another glass of scotch.

"You will quite literally lose your head if you attempt to do so in this state." Snape had finish concocting the draught at last and poured it into a glass vial. "Here, drink this."

Lucius pushed the proffered potion away, reminding Severus once more of a finicky adolescent. "I just need to make sure she's at the Manor and hasn't gone back to France."

Severus poured the vial into the tumbler Lucius still held and added a splash of alcohol on top. Lucius, staring pensively at the fireplace, did not seem to notice the unusual color, consistency, or taste of his drink as he took a thoughtful sip. "She's threatened to leave before, you know."

"Purebloods don't divorce," Severus countered drily. Lucius shook his head, looking stricken.

"That doesn't mean she can't leave me." His voice sounded strangely constricted. "It just means neither of us could remarry. She has her own money, and house. There are ways to stop her, of course, but… I don't want to keep her by force." Lucius dragged a hand down his face. The potion was working quickly; his eyelids were growing heavy, he sank back into the couch cushions, and the tumbler slipped forgotten from his fingers, spilling its contents across the rug. "She said she loved him," he repeated for the third time, scarcely more than a whisper as his eyes closed at last. "She's never said that about me."

Chapter Text

Saturday, 25 August 1973

It had been three weeks since the wedding, and Narcissa had stopped lingering hopefully by the the fireplace during the day in hopes of a floo; she even barely felt a spark of anticipation when the elf brought her the daily post. Bitterly, she rather wondered if he'd yet returned, and if so, whether he had even noticed her absence. Her fingers moved across the ivory keys of her piano, the one she'd had since childhood, and the only thing that felt different than when she'd played here last was the weight of the gold and diamond on her left hand. She found a familiar tune, the most famous aria of Gianni Schicchi, and she sang mindlessly. Since she had no formal operatic training her soprano voice was not strong, but still pleasant enough to her own ears to fill a lonely summer afternoon.

"La chanteuse." A warm hand came to rest gently on her shoulder, and she ceased playing at once.

"Michel!" she exclaimed, in pleased surprise. "Monsieur Perrot," she amended with quick, flustered uncertainty, causing him to laugh. She was rather mortified by her behaviour during his last visit; though once a dear friend, they had not spoken in years and she should not have acted so familiarly.

"Non, ma chère Narcissa, I will always be your Michel, as when we were children."

"I am rather embarrassed," she confessed, but nonetheless briefly rested her cheek upon his hand with affection as she gazed up at him. "I've not sung for company since I was a girl. My mother felt it unsuitable for a lady to perform even before friends. Perhaps she feared I would wish to appear on the stage," she laughed ruefully.

"Perhaps you should have," he offered flippantly, moving to sit to her right, close to her on the bench. Narcissa gave him an odd look at this suggestion— no woman of her class and blood status would ever consider such a thing— but he did not appear to notice as he shuffled through the sheet music to locate a new piece. "Let us play this," he declared, setting the pages before her. It was Schubert's Fantasia in F minor, written for four hands rather than two, and she blushed slightly. It was commonly known that the music had been written for and dedicated to the composer's unrequited love, by its very nature an intimate act to perform with another pianist.

She nodded and placed her fingers on the keys, but it was not a piece she knew well and moreover Narcissa found that she was suddenly terribly nervous. Though his was the more difficult section it was she who faltered more frequently. Only a few minutes in she moved at precisely the wrong moment, tangling the fingers of her right hand with his left. He stopped playing at once and snatched her hand up, pressing its back to his lips with a bright laugh.

"I... I'm afraid I'm rather out of practice," she apologised haltingly, blinking in confusion at the small fluttering in her stomach the gesture had evoked.

"It takes time to learn to play with another person; you must practice with that same musician over and over, one partner is not interchangeable with another no matter how well you play or know the music. You must learn to move in sync so the notes find harmony and truly blossom." She was already nodding in agreement when he added carelessly, "It is not unlike making love."

Colour flooded her cheeks and she stood abruptly to step away from the piano, but he ignored her discomfiture and began to play another song, familiar enough that he did not need to find it in her songbook and he spoke over the melody as his fingers moved in easy elegance. "Hogwarts does not have music classes anyway, I think?"

Narcissa was still very nearly too flustered to reply and watched him continue to play Für Elise for several more seconds before managing to shake her head. "No, nothing like that."

"I thought as much," he went on easily. "We had art classes as well, both the creation and study of its history, and theatre electives. I think you would have been very happy with the courses at Beauxbatons, a creative magical soul truly could flourish there, and there is no doubt you are an artist."

Despite herself, Narcissa could not help but to find herself drawn in by his descriptions and sat on a nearby chaise. "I should say I would have enjoyed that very much. We had only History of Magic, taught by a long-dead professor whose course material focussed far too heavily upon goblin uprisings."

Michel wrinkled his nose distastefully. "Hogwarts is too militant a school. Not, of course, as brutal as Durmstrang in such matters, but to have an entire subject devoted to Dark Magic and defending oneself against it! No, our education was concerned with elevating the minds of students, not preparing them for combat."

Despite her affection for her own alma mater, she could not deny the appeal of what he described. He finished with his song but continued playing Beethoven, the Moonlight Sonata now. Spotting her thoughtful expression, he asked, "Do you miss school?" When she hesitated in answering, he modified the wording slightly to clarify his meaning. "Do you miss the companionship you had there?"

"There is nothing so bad as parting with one's friends," Narcissa said wistfully, switching momentarily to English and thinking of the many she'd left, not just after finishing school, but in coming here as well. Michel cocked his head curiously.

"This is a quote?" he guessed, and she nodded sheepishly.

"From a… an author called Austen," she affirmed evasively, wishing she had not spoken.

"I do not know him," he announced without shame. "Will you loan me something of his work?"

"Her," she corrected tentatively. "And I ought not. She was a Muggle." She found herself blushing once more as she stared at her hands and made her confession. "I know I should eschew all non-magical writings but some of the stories are..."

"Beautiful," he finished for her. He stopped playing at last and moved to sit next to her on the lounge. "Oui, I know. I enjoy many of their stories as well. Dumas, Voltaire… I know your family is very against such things," he added. "It is a peculiarity of the old British lines, I think. My family is very old too, but we do not worry so much about these things. We do not compile lists of thirty five holy families—"

"The Sacred Twenty-Eight," she corrected laughingly.

"Yes, that, and we do not marry Moldus of course, but Grindelwald showed us it is dangerous to pit ourselves against them. 'Live and let live' wrote John Ray, a Moldu Anglaise, I believe?"

"Yes," Narcissa agreed cautiously, "But he said that before the International Statute of Secrecy. Muggles have become a menace in recent years. It's really not the sort of thing I should be reading."

Michel shrugged, unruffled. "We cannot pick and choose, I think. What I find beautiful I enjoy, and I care very little for its origins. A non-magique novel, a magical painting, a bird in song, a winding river, an exquisite woman..." He studied her for a moment before adding, "Beauty is what gives you peace and pleasure. Why doubt it simply because of its source?"

"Spoken as a true aesthete," she teased, swallowing her deeper concerns of his nonchalance. It was one thing to privately indulge as a guilty pleasure, and quite another to openly admit that Muggles could create true, laudable art. Music was a slightly different matter; most of her favorite composers were half-bloods, and their vanity had encouraged them to share their masterpieces with wizards and Muggles alike. As far as she understood, the Muggles thought these men to simply be brilliant members of their own species. This was especially preposterous in the case of Ludwig van Beethoven, who had been cursed in a duel in 1798 and left deaf, able only to hear with an enchanted ear trumpet and hence his ability to write all his subsequent compositions remained intact. However the listening device had been clearly magical and could not be used in front of Muggles— as far as she understood, the Muggles believed he withdrew from society and all of his later works had been written despite his inability to hear.

In general, many of the same songs hence became popular in both realms, and the intangible nature of music made it very difficult to contain in any regard. Muggle paintings, static and simplistic, held no appeal to her at all, but books fell into a grey area. She certainly detested any tales of magical and non-magical blood mingling, but most Muggle fiction dealt only with romances among their own kind, and so eliminated the element of grotesque perversion that she so disdained.

Still, to openly praise them! To steer the subject away from such a delicate matter, she stood once more. "Come," she suggested mildly. "The weather is lovely today. Shall we go for a walk?"

Thursday, 13 September 1973

Narcissa was reading in the gardens when she first heard it— a clear, bright whistle, perfectly reminiscent of a songbird, except—

"I can think of no bird that knows Mozart," she laughed, turning towards the thicket of hemlock trees whence the tune emerged. "And you dared to call me a chanteuse!"

Michel appeared from the grove moments later, grinning. "Peut-on vivre sans amant?" he sang the final line of the verse he'd been whistling as he strode towards the seat where she was perched. His own estate, where he lived with his parents and younger sister, was perhaps two miles west, and cutting through the deciduous forest that separated the properties was the most direct route to hers. He was dressed in a white silk shirt and brown jodhpurs with riding boots, and his black curls were windswept and rakishly tangled; clearly he'd been out on the Aethenons earlier. "I shall always warn you of my approach with a song," he swore, dropping to one knee before her and clasping her hand. "Tell me, ma belle, what are we reading today?"

Beaming at the sight of his shining gaze, Narcissa showed him the volume she'd been flipping through; he exclaimed in delight. "The Idylls of the King! Well, you know my English is not perfect, but I will read to you from Lancelot and Elaine; it it my favorite. I am particularly fond of the line— how is it? 'I know not if I know what true love is, but I know then if I love not her, I know there is none other I can love.'" He reached for her cheek as he recited the words, stroking it with a tender brush of his fingertips. Narcissa pinked and relinquished the collection of poems, but could not help but to correct his recitation:

"'Him.' The line is 'if I love not him;' it's Elaine speaking of Lancelot."

"Oui, I know, ma chérie. But I am in love with a 'her', not a 'him,' so I edited the verse to my own purposes."

Her flush deepened but he spared her the embarrassment of responding by settling in the grass by her feet, one arm bent to cradle his head and the other hand holding open the book. "Narcissa ze fair, Narcissa ze loveable, Narcissa ze leely maid of Asolat—" he began in heavily accented English.

"Arrêtez!" she cried laughingly. "Stop, it's a sad story; I don't want to hear my own name in it."

"Fair enough," he conceded, dimpling up at her and squinting through the sunshine. "Your own story will not be a sad one."

At his words her face fell somewhat, eyes casting down to the rings upon her left hand. "Is it not already one of bitter disappointment?" she asked softly. He waved her self-pity aside.

"A little so far, perhaps, but you are far too young and beautiful to stay sad for too long. No woman half so charming as yourself can fear living a life unloved. It is simply not possible."

Narcissa sighed, her heart heavy at his optimistic words. "I'm married, Michel," she felt the need to remind him, "to a man four hundred miles away who seems to despise me. Or at the very least cares so little for my whereabouts that he cannot be bothered to even recall me to his side."

"And so?" Michel sat up slowly, and made a show of craning his neck to look in all directions of the garden. "I do not see him here. I think he will not bother us."

Narcissa tried to frown in reprimand but could not keep a small smile from twisting her lips. "The fact that he is not here," she pointed out reasonably, "Does not make me any less married, you know."

"Ah! I think here in France we are far less concerned with things like this. After all, if a sensible husband never thinks of marriage, why should his wife?"

Now she did smile fully. "I don't think that's what Alexandre Dumas meant with those words."

Michel rolled over onto his stomach, propping himself up onto his elbows and squinting up at her. "You worry too much, I think." Carelessly, he toyed with the hem of her gown as he spoke, the cornflower silk slipping fluidly between his fingers. "I think I know what might cheer you up. We will go riding tomorrow, yes? Faustine shall come as well. She is jealous that I have spent so much time here this past month, and she returns to school in a few days."

"Yes," Narcissa agreed at once. "That would be lovely, I've not seen you sister since she was small. She must be... fourteen now?"

"Fifteen, and she will be thrilled. She has wanted for some time to see you, but I must confess, I selfishly wanted your attentions all for myself. I was not sure how long I would have you here."

Narcissa sighed again, but now it was not entirely with unhappiness. "Indefinitely, it seems." The week before, she had received word at last from her new husband. It had read about as romantically as an Arithmancy essay. It spelled out the details of her monthly allowance (she'd been surprised by the generosity of it, and he included an instruction to simply inform him in the even she had an uncommon expense and needed more), asked her to send out owls thanking the witches and wizards who'd attended their wedding and given them gifts (she had of course already done this), and a brief note at the foot of the parchment confirmed that he had, in fact, returned to London. There was no hint he desired that she do the same.

"Good," Michel replied firmly, and lifted the book once more and resumed reading aloud. Her eyes slid shut, lulled by his soft voice, and she tilted her face up to be warmed by the sunshine. If her husband did not want her at his side, surely there could be no harm in enjoying this?

Monday, 3 December 1979

"Bella!" Narcissa's heart was pounding and she knew she must look like a madwoman, but for once, she didn't care. She pounded on the door again, unwilling to accept that fact the her sister might not be home; not when she so desperately needed to see her. "Bellatrix!" she cried again, hitting the heavy ebony door with a flat palm when her knuckles began to ache. "Bella, you must—" and the door opened at last, and relief flooded her, as though somehow seeing Bellatrix would reverse the news she'd received that morning.

"Oh thank Circe, I—" but it was not her sister who greeted her.

"What do you want, Narcissa?" For once Rodolphus was not grinning down at her with misplaced glee, but this was hardly the most startling thing about his current appearance. He stood in the entryway shirtless and scowling, and had what seemed to be a bullwhip looped carelessly around his arm and resting upon his shoulder. Despite her fine upbringing and deeply ingrained manners, she could not help but to stare for several long seconds. Somehow, paradoxically, being unclothed made his already huge frame seem even larger than usual, heavily muscled and imposing. Scars from long-healed wounds scored his torso, their faint iridescence evidence that the marks came from curses and magical injury. The inside of his left forearm bore the same skull and snake that her husband wore, but his right arm was heavily tattooed as well, beginning just below his elbow and covering his bicep, spilling over onto his chest until the markings were obscured by dense, dark, curling hair. There were several purely decorative images— a exquisitely realistic raven, the sigil of his family, stretched its wings and shuffled ominously beneath his collar bone— but most looked to be far more primitive: runes carved into his skin and rubbed with black pigment before being left to heal without the aid of magic, resulting in raised inscriptions. Narcissa recognised some of the symbols; it seemed he had placed defensive and protective wards on his wand arm, and spells to enhance the power of his casting. She'd read about such things, but the barbaric practice had died out a thousand years ago with the end of warring magical tribes. Supposedly the pain was nearly unendurable, and positive effects negligible if there were any at all.

"I—" she was truly at a loss for words and blurted the first thought that came to her mind. "Don't you have your elf answer the door?"

He gave her a long, measured stare, still unsmiling. She had always found his inappropriately-timed laugher to be unnerving, but in its absence, real fear thudded in her throat as she beheld her brother-in-law. She tried to assess his physicality in less alarming terms; beneath the scarring and tattoos, she reasoned, he looked like classical statuary— not a slim-hipped Apollo or a effeminate David; but a contrapposto Jupiter, Neptune of Bologna, or the Farnese Hercules. Though of course, these were not her favorite works of art. Even cast in bronze or sculpted from marble she'd always found them somewhat intimidating. Slowly he reached into his pocket— she flinched despite his languor— but he merely withdrew a package of cigarettes. Never taking his eyes from her face, he struck it thrice against the heel of his other palm to pack the tobacco.

"I sent the elf on an errand," he replied at last, opening the box and plucking one of its occupants from within. He brought the cigarette to his lips, and she realized suddenly that he was gleaming with sweat, as though she'd interrupted him in the middle of some sort of vigorous exercise. His chocolate brown hair was darkened with it, clinging to his temples and staying slicked back when he ran his hand through it. Rodolphus drew his wand and this time Narcissa did take a step back and reached instinctively for her own, but he merely conjured a small flame to use as a light before stowing it once more. "My wife isn't here either." He took a long, slow drag, eyeing her with an unreadable expression. "This isn't a good time. You should go."

At his words, Narcissa recalled why she'd come with painful acuity. "Do you know when she'll be back?" she half-pleaded. Rodolphus raised an eyebrow at the trace of desperation in the question.

"I don't." A cloud of smoke accompanied the words, and she waved it away impatiently.

"It's important," she insisted, "or I wouldn't have come."

"I'm sure it's not," he scoffed, and she bristled at the dismissive condescension. However, before she could reply, a high thin wail split the silence from inside the mansion. Narcissa's eyes widened, and Rodolphus made a sound of irritation. "I told you this was a bad time," he offered simply as explanation, taking another drag of his cigarette and glancing over his shoulder with annoyance.

"What in Circe's name—" Narcissa breathed, her fingers drifting towards the pocket of her robes that contained her wand.

"Wouldn't do that if I were you, Cissy," he spoke almost apologetically, his eyes snapping to her hand. "Bella will be furious if I have to curse you."

"Please!" A hysterical female voice rose from the annals of the house. "I'm locked in here, please help me!"

"Who is that?" Narcissa demanded, though she resisted the urge to draw her wand; she was sure Rodolphus's threat was not an empty one.

"An acquaintance with a piece of critical information that she's been rather unwilling to share," he replied coolly, stepping out of the doorframe towards Narcissa and closing the door behind him with a firm click, cutting off the screams. "I've been tasked with encouraging her to do so."

Narcissa shuddered but did not press the matter. "It's Regulus," she managed at last, accepting at last that she would not be able to share this new with her sister as she had hoped. "This morning my aunt went into the drawing room and a date of death had appeared on the family tapestry." She blinked furiously upon speaking the news out loud, hating that it was brother-in-law with whom she was sharing the raw information.

Rodolphus's expression remained inscrutable as he finished his cigarette and flicked the butt carelessly away. "Well," he sighed at last. "That's a disappointment."

Her eyes raced to his face in disbelief that he would be so blasé. "Can't you tell me it isn't true? What happened to him? If he was killed, where's his body? He's just a child, he's only eighteen…" Narcissa's voice broke and she began to shake. Rodolphus withdrew and lit another cigarette.

"I don't know what happened to him," he muttered darkly, distractedly. "Gods, but Bella is going to be livid when she hears."

"Why would she be angry?" demanded Narcissa, her tone full of accusation.

"Honestly? Because he probably killed himself. He's been… off, lately. Not exactly living up to the hopes we had for him, if you want the truth." He spoke matter-of-factly, but Narcissa found that she didn't want the truth after all.

"How can you say that? He's five months out of school, you should be helping him, not putting demands on him that no child—"

"He isn't a child!" Rodolphus interrupted loudly. "My brother was sixteen when he took the Mark, I was seventeen, your sister eighteen. The issue was not your cousin's age, it was his cowardice and lack of commitment. And what of yours?" In a flash before she could duck away he seized her chin, his large hand locking her jaw in a vice grip, and forced her to meet his gaze. Accustomed to years of Legilimency attacks from Bellatrix, Narcissa was no stranger to what he was doing, but she was feeling overwrought and more than a little distressed and unable to keep him at bay. She felt him force his way past her hasty mental barriers and penetrate deeply, violently into her mind, as carelessly rough in this realm as the physical one. Images swam before her eyes unbidden, memories of Regulus as a child, but more overwhelming were the waves of emotion his assault dragged to the surface— bereavement, loneliness, and a suffocating sense of terror.

He released her after what felt like an eternity but was actually perhaps fifteen seconds, his hand moving to her upper arm to steady her when she staggered back. When he was sure she would remain upright on her own accord, he removed his hand entirely and crossed his arms, leaning back against the door. She wasn't sure if he'd found what he was looking for, but was shocked by his next question.

"Why haven't you told Lucius that you're pregnant again?"

"I… it's still early," she stammered. "We've had a bit of a row and I… I don't want to discuss it," she snapped, fighting to regain her composure. Rodolphus shrugged and ashed his cigarette before taking another slow drag.

"You're afraid," he breathed an acrid halo. "How many is it you've lost?"

Her shoulders sagged. "Six," she confessed, her voice cracking; there was no point in hiding it any longer. "Lucius knows about three of them."

There was a long silence. Rodolphus looked uncomfortable as he stared past her; his irritation had gone, and he put the cigarette to his lips once more. Narcissa opened her mouth to announce her departure, but he did not see and spoke first.

"Bella got pregnant once, you know," he blurted gruffly. "Her seventh year. I came to visit on a Hogsmeade weekend, she wasn't expecting me and I'd forgotten to take a potion before I left that morning." He hesitated. "She got rid of it though. Children aren't everything."

Narcissa blinked. She was sure she would be offended and hurt and angry when she looked back on this moment, but for the time being she only stare, stunned that anyone could say something so completely and utterly wrong and inappropriate in an attempt to offer some semblance of reassurance.

"I'm going to leave," she managed at last and Rodolphus nodded, looking relieved.

"I'll tell Bella she should contact you when she returns. And good luck with…" he gestured vaguely towards her midsection with his cigarette.

"Right. Good luck with…" she waved towards the door, behind which she was certain a brutalised woman was still screaming for help.


Chapter Text

Monday, 31 October 1973

Narcissa took a deep breath and smoothed her hands over the lap of her traveling robes. Though she was alone, this was the only outward indicator she would permit that might bely her agitation. A week ago she had received a letter from Lucius Malfoy (her husband, she had to quickly remind herself). It was only the second he had sent since their wedding, and like the first it was written in elegant script and its contents were brief. However, unlike the first, this one had contained unequivocal instructions that she was to return from France.

Not permanently, it seemed. He'd said only that she should be at Number 7 Chesterfield Street no later than five o'clock on this date so they could attend his parents' annual Samhain gala as the ostensible pair they were meant to have become after their nuptials in August. She peeked out the window of the carriage to see that it had stopped at her destination.

An elf showed her into the stately townhouse and seated her in a parlour with tea. She felt very much to be a guest as she waited for his arrival, her gaze moving curiously over the elegant but unwelcoming decor. She sat alone for nearly ten minutes before he swept into the room at last, already dressed in handsome formal robes.

She kept her expression carefully calm; she had years of practice hiding behind an untroubled face. But her chest seemed to constrict at the sight of him and her stomach gave a small flip. This was not new— she'd harboured a secret infatuation of him for years, most girls did though, and not always so secretly. It did not seem real that he was her husband.

That's because it isn't real, an insidious voice in her head that sounded strangely like Bellatrix whispered. She swallowed and the thought that that might change tonight flickered through her mind, but she immediately dispelled it. If she dwelt on such considerations she would never be able to remain unaffected in his presence.

"You're not wearing that, are you?"

She started; she'd been concentrating so hard on maintaining an icy aloofness that she had not noticed his gaze flickering over her. Two faint spots of color appeared on her cheeks but her voice was remarkably even when she replied.

"Of course not, these are my traveling robes." Honestly, did he think this was the sort of thing she'd wear to a gala? It was only quarter past five, they'd not be expected at the Manor for three hours yet!

"Well, hurry up and change, will you? My mother wants us to join them for an early supper beforehand, we need to be there by six."

Her lips parted in shock. "And you didn't think to mention this in your letter?"

"I said to be here at five, didn't I?" he snapped, glancing impatiently at an ornate grandfather clock on the opposite end of the sitting room. "I'm going to answer some post in my study," he added abruptly. "Let me know when you're ready and we'll floo over."

"In dress robes?" she protested.

"You think my elves don't keep a clean hearth?" he sneered, already heading out of the room.

"But the powder alone—" she began, but he was already out of the room. It was a brief and unsatisfactory reunion, but she supposed it could only get better from here. Biting back a wave of frustration, she followed an elf up to a spare bedroom and bath to hurry through her preparations and made it back downstairs with two minutes to spare. When she knocked on the door to his private study and he bid her to come inside, she felt another, irrational surge of hope: it would soothe her nerves considerably to hear just one kind word, and her elf had really done an excellent job with her hair given the constrained timeframe.

He was sitting at his desk, frowning at a sheet of parchment that was dense with numbers. A decanter of scotch and half-empty tumbler sat near his elbow, and he tossed down the page and picked up this instead when she entered.

"You've very nearly made us late," he groused, throwing back the rest of his drink and rising to his feet. His gaze swept over her once more, and she thought for a moment that his cold, grey eyes softened for a split second (her heart contracted), but in the next moment it was gone and he merely nodded. "You'll go first," he announced, crossing to the fireplace and taking down an ornate snuffbox. He flung a pinch of its contents into the flames, which flared and turned green at once.

She delicately lifted the hem of her silk gown, trying not to cringe as the pristine suede of her shoes met with ash, and tried to keep the irritation from her voice as she announced "Malfoy Manor" and swirled off. She hated traveling by floo under the best of circumstances, and she held her skirts close to avoid them catching on any of the grates she passed.

Narcissa stepped out into the main drawing room of the Manor and was greeted at once by the lovely Mrs. Malfoy (the other Mrs. Malfoy, she had to remind herself, as the title now applied to her as well). Lucius arrived seconds later and had little more than a nod of acknowledgement for his mother, who looked neither surprised nor hurt by his careless reception. She told an elf to go fetch her husband and led the way to the dining room, enquiring politely after Narcissa's health and tactfully avoiding asking any questions that might lead to the topic of why she was now living in France.

They took their places at the table and waited for the patriarch to make his appearance. Lucius snapped impatiently at an elf to fill his goblet with wine and had very nearly finished it by the time his father arrived.

Narcissa smiled tentatively in Abraxas's direction, hoping her nerves did not show. It was her first time alone with her husband and his parents; in all past visits she'd had her own mother, and often her father there as well. From what Druella had told her last year, Abraxas had approached Cygnus at the Walpurgis Club and asked after her specifically, setting the entire courtship (if it could be called such) into motion. Narcissa had not the faintest idea why he had done such a thing, and less still could she comprehend what had made him think of her. Prior to all this, she had never spoken to the senior Mr. Malfoy, and would not have expected him to know her even as one of the Miss Blacks, let alone her given name. The fact that he'd come to her father so soon after Andromeda's decampment was stranger still, as most of the old families had been keeping their distance. She worried suddenly that he would believe his choice to be a poor one— that he'd made a mistake in securing for his son a wife that would not deign to stay in the country.

But Abraxas, as it turned out, had absolutely no interest in their marital affairs whatsoever. After greeting her cordially and taking his seat, he spent the entirety of the meal interrogating Lucius on various goings on at the Ministry, and even Narcissa could sense his subtle criticisms of most of the replies he received. Lucius bore the critiques fairly well, often conceding to his father's point, but after his third or fourth refill of wine, in response to a query as to why Minister Jenkins had not done more in the face of the rising acts of violence towards purebloods that had openly declined to support He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, he snapped silkily:

"Well Father, you might have asked Eugenia yourself, had she not declined the invitation to our soiree this evening for fear of meeting a similar fate as her predecessor."

This ended the discussion on politics quite abruptly, and the meal mercifully concluded shortly thereafter.

Mrs. Malfoy was kind enough to bring her daughter-in-law around the Manor to explain the preparations that had taken place for the annual event. This insinuation was, of course, that Narcissa would one day take over these responsibilities, but she did not give a hint of when that might be. Once the guests began to arrive, she left Narcissa on her own once more, but this at least was not an arena where she felt out of place. Like Lucius, she'd grown up surrounded by many of these families, and she was happy to greet dozens of friends and distant relatives as the evening came underway. Here she could feel truly like herself once again, and it was easy for a fleeting snatch of time to forget that she was no longer merely enjoying society as a beautiful and well-regarded young woman, unattached and carefree. It was not truly obvious until the dancing picked up in earnest. No one aside from her family would dare to ask for her hand so soon after her wedding to the hosts' son; a tragedy, as she did so love to waltz. Lucius, apparently, did as well, and did so with seemingly ever other woman in attendance while pointedly avoiding his wife.

Narcissa tried to convince herself this was not such a terrible thing as it seemed in the moment; that it was harmless and not an insult to her personally. However after a lengthy conversation with Ghada Shafiq, at the end of which Rabastan materialised to steal the other girl away, Narcissa could not help but to let her eyes roam the hall somewhat longingly.

He was dancing with Francesca Zabini again, and the sight of them together made her stomach turn. Once, in her fourth year of school, Narcissa had been unable to sleep and went down to the Common Room to fetch a book she'd left there during the day, hoping to read until she drifted off. She had not expected to see anyone else, it was past three in the morning, but her heart had nearly stopped upon spying Lucius Malfoy standing by the fire, one hand resting on the mantlepiece, presumably lost in thought. For several seconds she hesitated, debating whether to return to her dorm and put on a robe, or perhaps just return and remain there, or to go ahead with the book retrieval. As she deliberated from the shadows, he lifted a hand to rub his face and made a sound as though he were in pain, although some innate response in her body, thrumming low in her gut, told her he was not. It was not until that moment that she spied his companion, understandable as only a sliver of her was visible, the dark curls piled with artful messiness atop her head bobbing in a steady rhythm.

"Fuck, Francesca, I'm going to—" she'd heard him groan before whirling around and dashing silently back to her bed, face burning with humiliation though at the time she still scarcely understood what she'd witnessed.

And now he was dancing with her, laughing as he held a flute of champagne in one hand and twirled her around with the other, tugging her close to whisper in her ear. She could not help but feel relieved when they parted ways and Lucius began to speak instead to Tarquin Travers, whose grandfather had recently stepped down from his position as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at long last.

"Oh hi, Cissy."

Though she did not know its owner well, Narcissa recognized the voice at once. In her eighteen years, she'd only ever met one person who spoke with such a high and breathy soprano, as though she were always surprised and somehow also in on a private and slightly scandalous joke.

"Laetitia, what a pleasant surprise." She'd never liked Lettie Avery, and it took little introspection to recognize that at least some of her distaste sprang from jealousy. Lettie was blonde and fair, like herself, but there the similarities ceased. Narcissa was more than a full head taller than the other girl and far slimmer, though for once her willowy stature did not feel like a benefit by comparison. Laetitia's portions seemed unreal at first glance, although no one had ever been able to prove them anything other than natural. By contrast, Narcissa felt herself to be bony and elongated, with no fat to pool at her hips, bust, or anywhere else.

Men loved Lettie. It didn't really matter their particular type or taste; the petite witch appealed to them all. Painfully delicate yet powerfully feminine, she was effortlessly entrancing. She was several years older than Narcissa— not nearly old enough to be considered by a separate pool of eligible suitors, but old enough to make Narcissa feel inexperienced and immature. It was anyone's guess why Laetitia was not yet married— as far as everyone knew, almost every single pureblood man between the ages of seventeen and forty had asked for her hand, but she'd turned them all down; or rather, coquettishly deferred giving a straight answer in order to keep them all interested.

"Lovely to see you back on this side of the channel," she trilled slyly, batting her eyelash and wiggling her fingers at Narcissa's cousin Evan Rosier as he passed. He grinned and returned the wave, promptly walking into a floating tray of champagne glasses. Seemingly satisfied, Lettie gave a small giggle and turned her attention fully to Narcissa. "I'd heard you were honeymooning in France? But then a week later I saw your new husband at dinner with Augustus Rookwood and some other boys from the Ministry in town! I hope there's not already trouble brewing?" she asked with wide-eyed innocence.

"Obviously not, Laetitia," Narcissa replied as cordially as she could. "As I'm here tonight with my husband, at his family's gala."

"Well, the wedding was just marvelous," she sighed, carelessly fondling a pearl pendant that dangled from one ear as her eyes skated over the crowd.

Narcissa fought to keep her reply light, though a hint of smugness still managed to find its way into her voice. "Thank you, I thought it was well done." She did not hold out her hand to show off the large diamond that glittered there, but glanced down at it fondly.

"I do hope you're liking married life. Lucius is a charming boy," Laetitia enthused, but there was a hint of maliciousness in her huge green eyes. "Insatiable, really. A good listener and fast learner." She laughed again, and it was the tinkle of silver bells. "But you must know that already, of course!"

Narcissa gave only a tight smile in reply, a creeping iciness driving out the superiority she'd felt only moments before.

"You're welcome, Cissy. I taught him everything he knows!" And then, as if they were old friends, she squeezed Narcissa's hand, apparently blind to her horrified expression. "You enjoy him now! Can I give you tiny bit of advice?"

She wanted to snap 'no,' but she knew so little of her husband, or the activities Lettie was referencing with such carelessness, that she found herself utterly silent.

"Don't let him get bored," she purred, still not releasing Narcissa's fingers. "He's easily distracted, that one."

"If you'll excuse me," Narcissa replied coldly after a beat of stunned silence. "I have other guests to see to." Pulling free from Lettie, Narcissa moved blindly and aimlessly into the crowd, her cheeks tinged with humiliation. Was it so obvious, then? Perhaps she should not have left after the wedding, but still her home in Blois seemed the only refuge she could fathom. She knew she could not approach her husband in such a flustered state and her gaze moved hopelessly around the crowd— she could just picture Laetitia laughing cruelly behind her and so she kept moving. Bellatrix was surely here somewhere, but she wasn't certain that she even wanted to see her sister right now, and she knew she did not want to see her brother-in-law.

After several rounds of the hall, she'd reached her decision and managed to calm herself enough to execute it. Squaring her shoulders and tilting her chin to show that she was not affected by the events of the evening, she headed towards a knot of men near the edge of the dance floor.

"Lucius, may have a word with you?"

Several of the wizards he stood with smirked knowingly at her arrival, but she ignored them, attempting to telepath to the only blond among them the urgency that he must, for once, act the role of her husband.

"What is it, Narcissa?" he drawled lazily, hardly sparing a glance in her direction. She angled her body away from the rest of the group, forcing him to turn away as well if he wished to hear her words, giving them a slight modicum of privacy.

"I'm leaving now," she announced at once without intending to. She had meant only to insinuate that she might consider going, remind him gently that he'd severely neglected her this evening, but something about the way he was looking at her, as though she were nothing more than an inconvenient acquaintance, drew the words forth before she could stop them. He did not seem concerned upon hearing them.

"Very well, have a pleasant journey," he replied, turning away from her once more.

The following morning, Narcissa had Mimi prepare a carriage for the short trip to the Perrot estate. The lord and lady were abroad and the youngest at school, guaranteeing that she would find her quarry quite alone. She had arrived back in Blois late last night and slept hardly at all, but she could not wait even for an owl to summon him to her side. His elf showed her to the conservatory where he was eating breakfast when she arrived.

"Ma cherie," Michel rose to his feet, looking surprised and cautious. "I did not expect you back so soon… or perhaps at all."

Whatever Narcissa had planned to stay was lodged in her throat. Instead she simply shook her head and hurried across the room towards him, unable to describe her relief at seeing his gentle and concerned expression, the need to feel his warmth after the frigid reception she had received in London. She threw her arms around his neck when she reached him, and he wound his easily around her waist, murmuring softly. "Tu vas bien, cherie? Are you alright?"

"Oui," she breathed. "I am now," and she was— the pain of the weekend was already slipping away as he held her.

"Did he… hurt you?" he asked, unable to keep the trepidation from his voice. Mutely she shook her head, and felt her resolve crumble as she turned her face up to his. His hands stroked the hair back from her face, curving his fingers along her cheeks and jaw. As though reading her thoughts he lowered his head nearer, but still paused a fraction of an inch from her lips, giving her the opportunity to change her mind. She did not. Her toes pressed upward, body supported against his as her fingers curled in the front of his robes and she dragged his mouth to meet hers at last. For months now he had been her closest friend and confidante, showering upon her the affection and attention she had expected from Lucius that had not been forthcoming. It did not feel like a crime to do so, it felt as natural as breathing and after her husband's behaviour at the gala no trace of guilt spoiled it for her. It was not her first kiss but it was the first that gripped her, that she felt in every inch of her body; the first kiss, she believed, as a woman and not a girl.

When she pulled away, charmingly flushed, Michel was grinning. "How long I've waited for that!" he laughed, taking her hand an leading her to the table. Narcissa offered a rueful smile of her own as she took a seat on the bench beside him, but could not bring herself to apologise for her behaviour. "I suppose the gala was...?"

"Dreadful," she confirmed, but did not elaborate.

"Ah, you cannot imagine how I in turns both hoped and feared that you were having a wonderful time!" he continued, then added, "'It is extraordinary how a husband, absent and perhaps ridiculous from afar, is nonetheless so easily able to regain the advantage over us!'"

Despite herself she laughed. "Alexandre Dumas always knows just what to say," she agreed. "It was dreadful, Michel," she repeated with a sigh, resting her forehead against his shoulder once more. "I don't wish to speak of it any longer."

"Then we shall not," he agreed quickly. "Since you are here today, I will take you down to our vineyards. Harvest season is ending but I will show you where they are barreling some of the new wines."

She brightened at this suggestion. "I know so little about the process," she confessed. "I should like to see it in person."

He nodded agreeably. "Tonight before supper I will pull some bottles from the cellar so you can try different vintages. Have you done a vertical tasting before? You will see how the sun and rain can change grapes from the same land and vine from year to year. Wine is a very good thing to know about, it is like learning the history of the land on your tongue."

And with that, things were returned to normal once more.

Tuesday, 25 December 1979

Happy bloody Christmas, Lucius thought darkly to himself as he stared into the fire in his study.

Months earlier, he'd managed to track down what seemed to be the earliest extant copy of Hélas, Je me suis Transfiguré Les Pieds, with handwritten edits and notes on stage direction by Malecrit himself. It had taken a small army of rare book dealers ages to find and he'd paid a fortune for it, but he'd been certain she would be delighted with the manuscript. Their discussion of the author shortly after she'd returned to London was not a happy memory, per se, but when he'd set out to obtain the present he'd done so thinking they could now laugh about it, the petty disputes of their earliest days cohabiting nothing but a shaky start to their matrimonial bliss.

What a fool he'd been.

It now sat in a box in a drawer of the desk, untouched and not gifted as intended. When he woke in the morning he'd wondered fleeting if she might attempt to reconcile for the holiday, but after he rose and dressed he discovered she was nowhere to be found in the Manor. An elf nervously informed him that she'd left already for Grimsden Hall. It would hardly do to turn up separately, hours after her, and he firmly told himself that he did not want to be with the Blacks anyway. Surely it would be a bleak affair after Regulus's fatal disappearance two weeks prior and Orion's untimely demise in September.

Gods, had it really only been three and a half months since Orion had died? It seemed to Lucius that he remembered it as though from another life. Regulus's funeral, held with an empty casket, took place days after his date of death appeared on Walburga's tapestry and felt much more real. Narcissa hadn't even been the one to tell him her beloved cousin was dead— Rodolphus had contacted him, presumably after learning the news from Bellatrix, to find out if he had any idea what might have happened to the boy.

If she was devastated by the mysterious death, she certainly was not allowing him to see it. They had not had even a single conversation on the subject; the closest they'd come was her informing him what time she would be leaving for the burial, and mentioning that it might look suspicious if he did not attend with her but that ultimately it was his decision whether or not he wanted go. Lucius had gone with her, but they'd sat in stony silence for the entirety of the carriage ride over (she had told him she would not floo or apparate but declined to give a reason for this decision). She had made it through the interment without showing any sign of weakness aside from a pale visage and slightly trembling fingers, but an hour later when he began to wonder if she had left the reception without him (and he'd be damned if he had to stay with these people a moment longer than absolutely necessary), he located her at last alone in the garden, vomiting quietly behind the dead rosebushes with tears running down her face. Deciding to do them both a kindness, he pretended not to have seen her and waited instead for her to return to the parlour and signify that it was time to leave.

He wondered how she would justify his absence to Druella and Cygnus at breakfast today. There was little doubt they would take it as a personal affront, he assumed at first, but then wondered if perhaps they were aware of their daughter's affair. Perhaps they even knew and liked this other man, his imagination embellished cruelly. Had they considered him as a match when looking for husbands? At the very least they had known him as a boy and encouraged the children's friendship. Had they seen Narcissa with him after her wedding, happier than he himself would ever make her?

Unable to remain still any longer, Lucius stood and began to wander aimlessly through the familiar corridors of Manor. He'd spent his whole life here, and could not understand why no happy memories came to mind when he drifted through its halls. He'd tried to floo his parents this morning, but unsurprisingly they'd been absent, likely travelling. He did not really have anything to say to them anyway, it had simply occurred to him that he had not spoken to either of them recently. Narcissa handled the correspondence with his mother now, and prior to all this she'd always kept him apprised of the goings on with the senior Malfoys, but now as far as he knew they could both be dead and he'd be none the wiser.

We correspond, Narcissa had said, and suddenly he realised he was standing in her room and thinking about his parents no longer. To what degree? he wondered, picking up a stack of holiday cards and flipping through them. He recognised many names and tossed these aside carelessly, but at least a dozen were written in French and he pored over them with more interest than he cared to admit. About half were from people such as Adelise de Louis and Manon Chastain, clearly women, so he did not spend long on these either. Others were from families: Les Durands, La Famille Laurent, and he knew nothing about his faceless rival aside from the fact that he lived near her chateau; it was very probable that she knew his family well and it could be any of these. One card caught his eye, the only with an individual male name in it, but it was signed from both a Michel and Faustine on Perrot stationary, and he guessed it more likely that they were a married couple. Frustrated with his fruitless search and the fact he'd gone looking in the first place, Lucius restacked the cards and moved to sit on the edge of the bed.

Despite being freshly laundered, the sheets still smelled faintly of her perfume. He wanted to lie down in them, bury his face in her pillows and maybe get a moment of untroubled rest, but that desire alone was enough to prompt him to rise to his feet, disgusted by the impulse. What had become of him? He was ashamed of what he'd been reduced to, and he silently reaffirmed his vow that he would not be the one to relent first. Let her come to him, eyes wide and words soft, begging for his forgiveness. And he would grant it, assuming she agreed to some very basic terms.

Outside the chamber, he heard the door of the sitting room open, signaling her return. Lucius swore under his breath, knowing himself to be caught, and went out to meet her with a carefully blank expression.

"What were you doing in my room?" she demanded at once, pulling her cloak more snugly around her. Snowflakes still clung to her hair and shoulders.

"Your room?" he sneered. "This my house, none of its rooms are barred to me."

Narcissa looked as if she wished to argue but decided after a moment against it. "What were you hoping to find in there?" she asked tiredly instead, sinking onto a settee and slipping off her shoes with a small sigh of relief.

"Father Christmas seems to have forgotten to bring me any parcels this year, I was checking to see if he'd mistakenly left them with you," he replied archly, earning an irritated glare from his wife.

"Perhaps you haven't been good enough to merit any," she returned waspishly.

"That does seem likely," he agreed smoothly, "but it's never stopped him in the past."

For a brief moment, he thought this remark had very nearly earned the glimmer of a wry smile, but she quickly hardened herself towards him again. "I'm going to go lie down for a while, if you've quite finished with you search."

He nodded, but before she vanished into the bedroom he asked, "Is your family well?"

She hesitated. "Of course they aren't," she answered at last, her voice heavy, and she closed the door between them, shutting him out once more.

Chapter Text

Monday, 26 November 1973

"Cherie, I've been here too long." It was true— he'd not strayed from her side from almost four days now. Lately there seemed to be little reason for them to part. Michel ran a rueful hand over the dark stubble on his fair cheeks, but a new idea occurred to him and he brightened at once. "Come, you shall shear me."

Narcissa laughed at the suggestion but realised after a moment that he was entirely serious. "I don't know how to do that!" she protested, even as he called his elf and commanded it to bring the necessary supplies from his home.

"It's very easy, but you must be sure your hand does not slip and wound me fatally," he warned playfully, drawing her in for a kiss. She frowned at the scratch of his hair against her chin.

"Well, you do need to shave," she agreed. Michel winked and summoned a chair to the bath so they could begin. He laid out the accoutrements and briefly explained the method, then settled in and tilted his chin back expectantly. She swept foam across his chin and throat in unpracticed motions.

"Like this?"

"Exactement," he sighed with contentment as she moved the blade cautiously against his cheek. After a moment he asked, "Sing for me?"

Narcissa smiled. "Any requests?"

"Depuis le Jour, from Louise," he replied with a broad grin. Narcissa laughed again. The Charpentier song was from the point of view of a young woman utterly given over to the bliss of new love.

"'Ah! Je suis heureuse!'" she quoted from the aria, though it was beyond her range to sing. Then her expression clouded over and she continued with what felt like too much significance, "'Trop heureuse…'"

"Never 'too happy,'" Michel corrected quickly. "You deserve all the happiness in the world."

"Are we not too happy here though?" she asked. "After all, it is not... real."

He raised a dark brow as if in surprise. "Are you not real, cherie? I admit you to be a very pretty dream indeed, although," he winced very slightly as she accidentally nicked his jaw, "perhaps not without edges."

She quickly apologised and applied a drop of dittany to the spot, but he did not seem concerned. "If it is as you say, there is no harm in feeling all the happiness in your heart. There is no need to dwell upon misfortunes that are far from you, my love. Why should we be unhappy when each day is so beautiful? Dwell on the fact that it must one day end? I think not."

"Hush," she chided, though his words brought a gentle smile to her lips. "Or I shall make a mistake again."

He dimpled up at her but obeyed, letting his eyes slide shut once more in complacency.

Saturday, 9 March 1974

Their nights were usually the same now, and had been for months. They dissolved from the days of reading sonnets and playing sonatas into hours of warm voices in the dark; endless kisses, fevered strokes that never dared touch bare skin. They'd fall asleep and sometimes Michel would wake her with gentle brushes against her hip or stomach; 'stop' she would whisper, even as she giggled and turned to twine her limbs with his; "we can't," she would warn, because though she was a married woman she was still unbroken, and their affair could never truly be consummated.

Michel never grew impatient or angry with her. He understood, perhaps even better than Narcissa, that she did not belong to him and as such owed him nothing, and he was careful to place upon her no demands. However, he was only human, and she gave her kisses and affection freely and he did not turn them away.

Narcissa had, over the past half a year, received numerous reports of her husband's casual adultery. More than one acquaintance had told her (sometimes with pity, sometimes with thinly veiled malice) that Lucius had been seen taking home halfblood girls after small parties usually hosted by Ministry officials, or leaving pubs with pretty but anonymous witches. And she'd seen for herself how he'd danced with Francesca Zabini and Selene Fawley and how many other girls at Samhain without shame... it seemed entirely likely that he was carrying on romances begun in his school days without thought to the fact he was now a married man. So why should she not do the same?

And why, she wondered as her hands roamed freely over Michel's shoulders in the dark, threading through his black curls, should she stop at kissing?

"You could have it, you know," he murmured huskily against her throat. "And still be a virgin for your husband."

"Have what?" Narcissa replied quietly with a dart of anxiety mingled with stark, fearful anticipation. He chuckled softly but not unkindly at her naïveté, his touch a bare trace over her her breast, teasing the rosy peak into a firm point through her thin cotton gown, and waiting for her sigh of pleasure before continuing.

"The thing you so badly crave, cherie. The release for which your body yearns." His nose was at her temple and his fingertips ventured lower, over her ribs and circling her navel. Warmth coiled low in her gut. This time when he found the lace-trimmed edge of her underwear she did not pull away, but remained perfectly still except for a very slight tremble that was beyond her control. "La petite mort," he breathed against her ear, the backs of his fingers ghosting over the damp silk between her thighs. "If you trust me, my love."

"I do," she moaned softly, her strained tone wrought from both desire and terror. "But you know I've never… I can't, he'd know I wasn't…"

"So much pleasure can be given on the exterior of a woman's body. Pleasure I could give you, and some you could even give yourself. He would never know, you would remain wholly intact, and it would be just one more secret between us… perhaps even a smaller one than the secret of our love." With his lips he caressed the pebbled nipple his hand had abandoned, and she moaned again; with his fingers he continued to tenderly stroke her heated centre through her knickers. She felt torn; her heart pounded in her throat and she wanted what he described more than anything, but she worried still that her husband might somehow realise her infidelity, when inevitably the day arrived that he deigned to take her as his wife in more than just name. When Michel kissed her, however, she felt her resolve melt away and nodded jaggedly, cupping his face in her hands and demanding that his blue eyes meet her own.

"If you're sure he'd never know."

"Not unless you tell him, cherie," he promised, "and should you want me to stop at any time, you need only say the word."

Thursday, 24 January 1980

Lucius had been planning to skip breakfast, or getting something to eat in town as had become his habit of late to avoid unnecessary meals sitting in silence with his wife, but on this morning an alarmed cry came from the dining room as he was heading out and he hurried to investigate, wand drawn.

Narcissa was standing behind a high-backed chair, eyes widened in fear and fixed on a monstrous bird that perched in the window, crunching on what sounded like bone. "It— it ate one of the elves!" she exclaimed, forgetting for a moment in her shock that they were not speaking. Lucius rolled his eyes as he crossed the room towards the massive harpy eagle.

"Dobby, I hope?" he asked drily, snatching from the creature's leg a small scroll that she had not noticed.

"No, one of the kitchen elves. What in Merlin's name is that thing doing here?"

Lucius made a sound of annoyance as he scanned the note. "Who do we know that would send something like that with post?" he snapped, tossing the parchment in her direction. She did not need to look at it to answer, her eyes narrowing with dislike.

"Rodolphus. Make sure it doesn't go after my peacocks, will you? And tell him he has to replace the elf, I don't mind paying for it but they're getting so difficult to find these days."

"Tell him yourself," he responded coolly. "We're getting dinner with them tomorrow."

She went suddenly very still. "Why would we do that?" Narcissa picked up the note but could not decipher the illegible shorthand he used— the only recognisable piece were the initials 'R.L' scrawled at the bottom.

"Because if we don't meet them in town they're going to show up here and I would prefer not to have them over for half the night. I don't know why you've been avoiding your sister—" (Narcissa scowled at this statement and redoubled her efforts to read the message) "—but you're going to come with me to keep her satisfied that I've not murdered you and hidden your body somewhere on the property. Much as you might deserve it," he added sneeringly under his breath, but she heard and shot him a scathing glare.

"I'm not sure…" she began hesitantly, crossing her arms over her chest and angling her body away from him. "I'm not sure if I'm really feeling up to—"

He did not let her finish the weak attempt. "If you're not feeling well you can take a Pepper-Up Potion or an Invigoration Draught or whatever is required to get you sitting upright at a restaurant for two hours. I'm not going by myself and making excuses for you to your sister."

The following evening, Lucius apparated to London alone. Narcissa had left an hour earlier in the carriage, claiming that her fictitious illness had her too nauseated for apparition or travel by grate. He knew she was lying— it was clearly a ruse either to spend less time with him or embarrass him by arriving separately— but if he cared, he certainly wasn't about to let her know it.

Narcissa was already seated at the table with her sister and brother-in-law when he arrived, though he was not very late. Oddly, however, she was still wrapped in her cloak, despite the warmth of the dining room. He thought this must be to torment him— it had not only been ages since he'd last touched her, but sleeping separately meant he'd hardly even laid eyes upon her (and certainly not in any state of undress). It would have been a welcome treat to see her this night in exquisitely tailored and form-fitting dress robes, but clearly she was going to every possible length to deprive him of any morsel of pleasure he might derive from her presence.

A member of the waitstaff came to take Lucius's outerwear and gloves as he sat down, and offered to take Narcissa's as well. She politely declined, explaining she was rather cold and would prefer it on, but thanking him for his consideration. Lucius fought the urge to roll his eyes at her statement; when she shifted her legs the cloak fluttered and he felt a chilled waft of air near his feet: she'd cast a Cooling Charm beneath it to remain comfortable.

Bellatrix was speaking animatedly about a recent trip to Cuba; apparently she'd felt like salsa dancing and so they'd gone on a whim. Rodolphus promised him cigars from the excursion and described in graphic detail a Santerían curse he'd seen there and was attempting to replicate. Narcissa asked questions about the cuisine and culture, her face alight with curiosity as Bella described outlandish dishes they'd tried and the vivid colors of the streets. They'd been enough places that Narcissa was able to tell travel stories of her own now, though each offhanded mention of a museum they'd visited or indigenous creature they'd seen struck Lucius as bittersweet— or perhaps just bitter, as he could find no joy in thinking about how happy they'd briefly been on their trips.

Narcissa begged off flooing with the Lestranges back to Windermere for a nightcap, claiming to be too tired and wishing to take the carriage home, but since the alternative for Lucius was to sit alone drinking in is study, he elected to join them. Bellatrix merely waved a lazy farewell to her sister before vanishing in green flames, but Rodolphus seized her shoulders, kissed each cheek, and loudly announced that she was positively glowing before stepping into the fireplace. Lucius wanted to hex him.

The Lestrange's house had been disconnected from the floo network for some time, so they arrived at a pub in a nearby village and took a brief carriage ride to Vengeson Hall. With Narcissa gone, Bellatrix could not be persuaded to speak of anything besides the Dark Lord, and she dominated the conversation until they arrived at last at the front doors of the great house.

When they entered, they were met with the odd sight of Rabastan apparently asleep halfway up the stairs. Upon spying his brother unconscious from drink, Rodolphus rolled his eyes and took several steps towards him, but then paused.

"Bella, would you put Bash to bed? There's something I want to discuss with Lucius."

To Lucius's surprise (and perhaps Rodolphus's as well), she agreed without argument. As Rodolphus summoned them drinks and led him to a balcony overlooking the water, Lucius felt a stab of apprehension— he wondered if his friend might try to reclaim the dust from the Philosopher's Stone he'd won off him, or try to lure him into another wager for his enchanted globe. He was in no mood for gambling.

Rodolphus cast a warming spelling but did not offer him a seat, so they stood in silence for several moments before Rodolphus asked finally:

"You and Cissy not getting along?"

It was the last thing he'd expected him to say. Lucius narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "I should have realised marrying the sister of your wife was a mistake. Why bother asking? I'm sure Narcissa has told Bellatrix who has in turn told you all about it."

Rodolphus shook his head. "I don't know if Bella knows about it. If she does she hasn't said anything to me. This may come as a shock to someone as self-involved as yourself Malfoy, but you rank very low on the list of things she and I are interested in discussing."

Lucius ignored the slight. "How did you know we weren't getting along then?"

Rodolphus rolled his eyes and took a swig of cognac. "A blind Muggle could've sat through that dinner and known you two aren't getting along. I don't think you spoke to each other the entire night."

"Yes, well." Lucius frowned. "Certain things have come to light that, quite frankly, have made a future together rather untenable."

This, clearly, was news to Rodolphus, who did not bother to mask his shock at the statement. "You can't get a divorce," he said quickly, though Lucius suspected he was more concerned over his own wife's reaction to such a public humiliation than how the Malfoys might feel about it.

"No," he agreed, "but an annulment might be possible. I haven't… I would still have to do some research on the matter." Despite his words and his lingering resentment, the idea of severing ties to Narcissa permanently filled him with dread. He was fairly certain he'd prefer drinking himself into an early grave alone in the Manor to undertaking the monumental task of finding another wife.

Rodolphus exhaled slowly, and reached into the pocket of his robes to withdraw a silver cigarette case. He offered one to Lucius who accepted, though he did not usually smoke. Tonight he felt he needed one.

"So tell me what happened that's so terrible you're giving up on Cissy altogether," Rodolphus prompted as he lit them both. Lucius inhaled slowly, a paradoxical cool sweeping his body as the warm smoke filled his lungs.

"She had an affair when she was living in France. Since I found out I can't… I can't even look at her."

Rodolphus grunted. "Don't you think you're being a bit of a hypocrite, Malfoy?" asked he bluntly. "How many women have you been with since you were married?"

Lucius's lip curled in a snarl and he ignored the question. "It isn't the same thing. Don't pretend you wouldn't murder any man who dared touch your wife," he spat, knuckles white around his tumbler. If it hadn't been charmed to be unbreakable, it might have shattered in his grasp. He'd expected an outraged reaction from his friend but Rodolphus was staring thoughtfully into his own drink, a small line between his brows.

"Would I?" he asked quietly, running his thumb along the rim of his glass and turning to lean both elbows on the wide stone railing of the balcony, squinting off towards the lake. "Bellatrix wasn't a virgin when we married," he pointed out evasively, taking a sip. "And I wouldn't be stupid enough to leave her on her own for two years in a different fucking country," he finished with a growl.

"So now you're saying this is my fault?" demanded Lucius indignantly, earning a derisive chuckle.

"Of course it's your fault, but I'm not going to argue with you about it." A sly smirk stole over his features as he added, "It's only the intellectually lost who ever argue."

Lucius sneered in irritation, unable to place the quote but sure the words were not his friend's. "You knew about the other man though. You tried to tell me."

"I didn't try to tell you anything," Rodolphus corrected quickly, glancing over his shoulder as though concerned they might be overheard. "I didn't know anything for sure so there wasn't anything to say. Bella just mentioned there was an old friend around every time she dropped in for a visit, a man. But she didn't seem to think there was anything untoward going on— it's Cissy, after all." He sighed. "Look, what's done is done. Unless it's not? Are you concerned the baby might not be yours?"

Lucius stared at him for several seconds, unwilling to reveal his utter loss at the words. Rodolphus, however, noted the silence and turned back with a sudden frown. "She hasn't told you yet? It's been ages."

"I…" He'd scarcely seen Narcissa since she'd admitted to her affair. The rare meals they did share passed by in silence, although, now that he thought of it, she had been wearing looser, billowing robes as of late… it had never occurred to him that it might be a choice that was not strictly sartorial. Was it possible, that after all this time…?

"She came to find her sister after Regulus went missing. Bella was gone but…"

"She told you?"

"Er…" Rodolphus fiddled with one of his rings, not meeting Lucius's eye. "She didn't exactly tell me." It took him only a moment to understand.

"You used Legilimancy on my wife? My wife?"

Rodolphus shrugged but looked ready to reach for his wand should Lucius decide to draw his own. "She was upset over the news about Regulus and I just wanted to make sure she was still loyal, that she hadn't become a liability; you can hardly blame me for doubting her, with Andromeda and Sirius turning out the way they did, the last thing we need is another blood traitor in the family. But there was no disloyalty when I looked past her grief— only fear. Fear she'd lose this one too. Fear that she'd already lost you."

Lucius dropped the cigarette and crushed it beneath his heel. "I have to go home. We'll discuss the fact that you invaded my wife's mind on a later date." He was already turning to leave.

"I don't think that's the issue here," Rodolphus retorted, and Lucius paused with a glare.

"Isn't it?" he snarled. "How would you feel if I—" he began, momentarily forgetting exactly to whom who Rodolphus was married. Rodolphus gave a bark of a laugh and took a sip of his drink.

"By all means, go ahead. I'd love to see you try to get into Bella's thoughts. Hell if you managed it, I'd love to know what she's thinking. But she'd kill you first, of course."

He exhaled sharply. "Have we married the two most difficult women in the country?"

"Yes," Rodolphus replied placidly, taking a final drag and tossing his cigarette into the darkness below. "Come back to me with your complaints when you've been tortured with the Cruciatus and then hate fucked at wand point because she was angry about something somebody else did."

Lucius grimaced at the imagery, paused, and then muttered, "Honestly at this point that doesn't sound so bad."

Rodolphus gave another crack of laugher. "It wasn't. Go home and deal with Cissy."

"Narcissa!" he bellowed, bursting through the doors of the Manor, voice magically projected to echo through the house. It was late, she must be in bed— he all but ran though the halls to reach their rooms, yanking open the door to the chamber she'd been sleeping in for months. "Narcissa—"

She had dressed in a hurry, no doubt having been awakened by his entrance, and her hair still hung in a braid down her back. "Yes?" She answered coldly. She'd put on a bulky house robe and her arms were crossed over her chest, so that even now, now that he was looking for it, it would be impossible to see any changes to her figure. Impatiently he swept across the room and began to pluck at the garment, tugging it from her shoulders and pulling the tie at her waist loose. At once she misread his intentions and a flash of trepidation came over her face; after all, he hadn't touched her since Samhain. It wasn't like him to go so long without satisfying his carnal desires. Never before had he waited so long for her, or any other woman. Even when she'd moved to London, even during their most explosive fighting in the past, it had always been less than a month before he found his way to her bed or brought her to his. With a small cry she pulled herself from his reach, but there was nowhere to run and she could only back away. Her eyes flickered to her wand on the bedside table, well out of reach.

"Take off the robe, Narcissa," he growled, advancing menacingly to continue the task himself should she object. For a moment her chin jutted defiantly and he thought she would refuse, and fight tooth and nail against whatever violence she suspected him capable. But, perhaps recalling that for the time being her body was not entirely her own and wanting to avoid any undue trauma, the fight left her eyes and she allowed the heavy fabric fall to the floor, her gaze downcast in defeat.

Lucius sucked in a quick breath of shock. Through the diaphanous, clinging fabric of her nightgown there was no mistaking the distended curve of her midsection. Rodolphus had not lied— she was pregnant, and much farther along then she'd ever been in the past.

She gasped and flinched at the touch of his hands on her stomach, but there was none of the roughness she had dreaded. "Narcissa…" he whispered brokenly, sinking to his knees before her and, after a moment of speechless wonder, resting his forehead on the firm swelling. "How long…?"

"A little over twenty weeks," she answered guardedly. "Sometime in early or mid-September. By the Samhain gala I knew I was a late but it was far too early to mention given my previous misfortunes, and then…" And then he'd made the mistake of pressing her for details of her life in their years apart and they'd scarcely spoken since.

"Gods, Narcissa…" he breathed, "I've been such a bloody fool."

"Yes," she agreed unsympathetically, "you have been." She was shaking, he realised, and he turned his face up to hers questioningly. There were tears in her eyes, and anger. He reached up tentatively to touch her cheek, but she jerked away. "Don't," she hissed. "Do you really think after the things you said, after the way you've treated me, that I would just fall into your arms the moment you showed a hint of desiring reconciliation?"

"No," he answered slowly, rising to his feet. "I suppose not." He turned away from her and sat down on the edge of the bed, pressing the heels of his hands into his closed eyes, trying to ease the pounding in his head. The timing felt supremely unfair. He wanted to be able to put everything else aside, take her in his arms and kiss her, tell her how elated he was. It was clear, however, as she pulled her robe back on and stood by the window with her arms folded inhospitably, that he would be permitted to do no such thing.

"Well…" he exhaled a long, tired sigh. "We need to come to some sort of détente at least, for the sake of the child." He half wished to pluck the memory of her confession and his reaction to it from both their memories to store in a Pensieve or, better yet, destroy entirely. "We need to find a way to..." To forgive. "To live peaceably."

"And what do you need to do that?" she asked tersely. He paused before answering, trying to remain as dispassionate as possible.

"I suppose I would need to hear first how publicly known your affair was. You are widely connected in our circle— am I the last to be informed of your involvement with... this other man?"

Narcissa was shaking her head before he finished speaking. "I only ever told Ari, and she swore not to tell a soul, not even Britt. I think Bella might have… suspected. She had a very annoying habit of turning up to visit with absolutely no warning, and one time she came upon us holding hands in the garden. After that I was very careful that we would have no sort of physical contact during the day when anyone might happen upon us, even when we were alone. But she continued to stop by unannounced and whether we were touching or not, he was very often with me when I was not anticipating any other visitors."

Lucius absorbed her words and sat silent for several moments as he mulled them over. Rodolphus had not then been lying about this either— or if he had been, they'd matched their stories very carefully, which did not seem to be a thing the unlikely pair would work together to do. If it was true that only Adrienne knew of the affair then the societal impact was far less severe than he'd supposed as well. Something was still bothering him though.

"Is that why you never let me touch you outside of our bedroom?" The words slipped out as soon as he thought them and he immediately regretted them. It was embarrassing enough to confess that he'd noticed such a small matter, let alone spent any amount of time wondering on it, but her instinctive reservations towards taking his arm in public or allowing him to kiss her in the parlour when they had no guests went beyond appropriate modesty and had long frustrated him.

Her lips pressed together and she replied quietly, "Old habits, I suppose."

He ignored the lancing pain through his gut at her words and pressed on gravely. "You must never see or speak to him again, Narcissa."

This, he believed, should simply have been assumed, but her eyes hardened. "Do you really think you're in any position to be making demands of me right now?" she asked icily. At once his temper flared.

"The last time I checked I was still your husband, and I have every right to forbid you from having contact with your former lover," he snarled.

"Forbid me?" she echoed in disbelief. "I suppose then you'll have no trouble never speaking to any of your past paramours again? No? It would drastically cut down on the number of women we invite to parties and I'm forced to socialise with regularly."

"How many times must I tell you," he ground out, "that I've not slept with any of those women since we were married?"

"And I've never been with any man at all besides you!" she cried in exasperation. "You're angry with me for something that happened years ago and is long finished." Here she hesitated, before asking in a quieter tone, "Have you no remorse at all? For the things you said to me?"

Lucius stared resolutely away from her. Whether or not he regretted his words there was no way of retracting them, and apologising would only make him appear weak. "I think you're reacting rather too sensitively. Obviously you're a perfectly suitable wife and I'm sure you'll be a fit mother as well." Hoping he might currently have the advantage and be able to gain some ground, he continued firmly: "Now, I think we should discuss the matter of our current sleeping arrangements."

She was staring at him, lips parted in dismayed incredulity, and he took this as an indication that he should continue.

"Given your, ah, history, I think it would be in the best interest of the child if you returned to sleeping in our shared chamber. If you were to become suddenly incapacitated, it would be important to have help nearby," he explained in a condescendingly patient tone. Narcissa's eyes narrowed.

"If I become 'suddenly incapacitated', I'll call an elf for help," she snapped. "If you're so concerned about the wellbeing of this child then perhaps you would kindly leave so I can rest? As I was doing before you so rudely barged in?"

She did have a point, and it was quite late. Perhaps she would be more amenable to the suggestion in the morning. He rose to his feet and walked to the door. When he reached the threshold the question he truly needed answered slipped out at last. His back was to her and he spoke to the floor but knew it might be his only opportunity to ask and in a low voice he hoped would give her no indication of his feelings on the matter, he murmured: "Do you love him still?"

"No!" The answer came so swiftly and with such ferocity that he felt a small bubble of hope grow in his chest for the first time in nearly three months. "Of course not, I—" but she broke off the impassioned words abruptly. After a moment, she proceeded in a tone of forced calm. "I've outgrown it. There's something… very beautiful and flattering, but ultimately very false, in being loved only for your most carefully curated qualities. As I said before, it was never a love that could have survived in any other environment other than the insular little world of our two homes in Blois. It was like a fairytale. I won't say it wasn't real, but it wasn't…" she struggled for the correct words to convey her sentiment. "True. All-encompassing," she decided at last, her tone gentle.

"Then why must you still keep in touch with him?" Lucius demanded, spinning back around. Her softened demeanor grew sharp at once.

"Because you have no right to dictate which friends I speak to and when! You know I take no pleasure in seeing your former lovers, but I invite them to our home and smile into their faces and keep my loathing away from you and from them." She rubbed her eyes, hiding her frustration for a moment behind her fingers. "You… you have such a need to control everything and everyone around you. You cannot try to do the same to me. You must trust me when I tell you that sending and receiving the occasional letter from him is no more a detriment to our marriage than any other correspondence I keep."

"And what reason have I for trusting you?"

"I told you about him, didn't I?" she demanded. "I could have kept it a secret for the rest of our lives but I wanted…"

"Yes?" he prompted jeeringly. "What did you want? What did you hope to accomplish by telling me of your infidelity? Was it meant to provoke jealously, or did you merely wish to taunt me?"

"I wanted…" she tried again, but seemed to be struggling for words. He bit back his desire to throw more insults at her, knowing they would never get anywhere if he could not manage to reign in his temper. Her eyes shifted and she clasped her fingers in her lap and suddenly more of Rodolphus's words came back to him: how, when he'd looked into her mind, he'd found only fear there.

Was she afraid of him? A sharp twist of panic darted through him at the thought, but he soothed himself at once when he remembered that her fear was largely centered around losing the baby. She was also probably more frightened of Rodolphus than she let on, but that was a problem to deal with at another time.

"Lucius, I have to tell you something," she whispered, and his alarm returned swiftly, redoubled. He did not think he could bear any more of her confessions and asked, trying to fortify himself for what he believed was the worst case scenario and with nothing short of revulsion:

"My gods, Narcissa, how many men is it that you've let have that supposedly pure body of yours? The baby is mine, isn't it?"

In the course of their marriage, he'd seen her cry before, but if he'd ever been the cause of it— and if he was honest with himself, it was likely he had been on more than one occasion— she'd never let him see an immediate reaction to the pain he'd caused. But at the accusation, hurled cruelly to preempt any injury she might have been about to cause him, she seemed to crumple and tears filled her eyes.

"Get out," she managed, turning her back to him but unable to hide the shaking of her shoulders.

"Answer me," he demanded, crossing the room and spinning her back around roughly.

"Of course the baby is yours." At the sight of her face he felt his own anger dissolving, but he would not go before she admitted to whatever further sin she'd been on the verge of confession.

"Then what were you going to tell me?"

"It had nothing to do with that," she wiped at the wetness on her cheeks but could not seem to stem the flow of tears. She was, after all, nearly five months with child; physically and emotionally drained. "I can't talk about this any more tonight." Her voice trembled with rage and hurt and weariness. And he believed her, because she frankly looked past the point of exhaustion and seemed ready to collapse.

Whatever she needed to tell him could wait, he decided, if it truly had nothing to do with her affair or the paternity of the child. Nothing else seemed very important right now anyway.

"Rest then," he conceded. Unable to resist the urge, he reached out to stroke her hair; he wanted to show her that, despite everything, he was glad to learn of her pregnancy at long last, that some way or another they would find a way to make things right for the sake of their boy (and he had no doubt that it was a boy, this he did not need her to tell him). But predictably she turned away from the caress, and he let his hand fall into empty air. "We'll talk more in the morning."

Narcissa slipped back into bed and remained resolutely silent until he left her alone once more.

Chapter Text

Monday, 16 February 1976

"He's sold my house," she breathed, eyes wide and startled as a doe as she clutched the parchment. "Do you think he knows about us? Is that why he's done this?" She could not keep the panicked edge from her voice, and Michel slipped a warm arm around her shoulders.

"No, cherie, I do not think so. I think if he knew about us he would have come here in person to punish us both. I think the day has come at last that he is recalling you to his side, my love."

Narcissa shook her head quickly, his words doing little, for once, to assuage her fears. "It can't be. Who would do something so underhanded and unnecessarily cruel and…" her voice drifted off. Michel shook his head sadly.

"Truth be told, I think he wanted you to come back last year when he reduced your allowance. I said nothing at the time because I am selfish. I even wondered if perhaps the bastard child—" he felt her tense at the mention of this sensitive subject but pressed on, "was not some strange attempt to provoke you into enough of a fury to go to London and confront him. For then could he not have blamed your absence as an excuse for his wandering attentions? But this, Cissa, I think is the clearest message yet— you will have to go to him if you have nowhere else to live."

Narcissa sat down abruptly. "But this is my home. Why would he not just… what sort of man cannot bring himself to write a note asking— or even commanding!— his wife to return, and must resort to these tactics?"

Michel shrugged. "A man such as the one you married it would seem. Ah, ma belle, do not look so forlorn. We both knew this day would come. That it has not come much sooner, I consider us very fortunate." He tilted her face up with a light brush of his fingers along her jawline, and bent to kiss her.

"I should perhaps not even say this, but as I mentioned before, I am selfish. Our friend Dumas would agree that love is the most selfish of all the passions, and I am greedy when it comes to your affections, Narcissa. I want as little or as much as you will give me, and so I will say it even if I should not. When you are a married woman, cherie, truly a wife in more than just name, I ask that you do not forget your Michel who loves you, should you find yourself... disappointed. There is so much we have not been able to share, and I would like that, if it is something you wish." He cupped the back of her neck, his fingers rooting in her hair. "I have so enjoyed this time together," he murmured. "And perhaps we will have more. But if we do not, it is not something to mourn, I think, since we have been so happy."

Narcissa ducked her head, her throat tight. "That's easy for you to say. You do not have to give up your home, where you feel safe and loved, to live with someone who cares so little for you that—"

"C'est assez," he chided gently. "Enough. Do not let him see that he has upset you so. There is nothing to be gained from a man like this if he believes you to be at the mercy of your own tender heart— he will only wound you further. You will go to him now and you will change his mind about giving your house away, I have no doubt about that." He paused to kiss her again. He took his time now, placing his lips on each closed eyelid, the tip of her nose, and finally her mouth. This might not be their last kiss— even if he was right, she'd have to return to move her belongings back to England— but the number they had left was certainly limited. "And," he added softly, "if you can, write to me sometimes and let me know that you are well. If nothing else, I shall always be your fond and affectionate friend, cherie."

Thursday, 7 February 1980

"I can't believe you didn't tell me sooner, you thoughtless bint," Adrienne Parkinson growled, and the words might have stung had she not been hugging Narcissa so fiercely that the blonde could scarcely breathe. "At least now I understand why you've been avoiding me these past two months!"

"I am sorry about that," Narcissa conceded at once. "But I knew you'd notice right away and I had to keep it from everyone until Lucius knew."

Ari nodded and released her at last, placing an affectionate hand upon Narcissa's stomach and then resting it upon her own larger bump. "It's just the best news. They'll be in the same year at Hogwarts and be best friends," she declared with conviction. "Do you know if its a girl or boy?"

"No," Narcissa bit her lip. "Well, likely a boy. But I want to hold out hope for a girl as long as possible so I've asked the Healers not to tell me."

"So does this mean you and that wanker you're married to are on speaking terms again?" Ari asked lightly, kicking her shoes off and tossing her feet up onto the settee.

"Oh yes," Narcissa lied at once, dipping her face to take a sip of tea. "Yes, much better now. And please don't call him that," she added as an afterthought.

Ari rolled her eyes, not for a moment deceived. "He was happy to hear the news at least, I hope?"

Narcissa made a little moue and refused to meet her friend's inquisitive gaze.

"Or did you not tell him? Did you just turn up five months pregnant at breakfast one morning?" She laughed at the mental picture of such a scene, and Narcissa sighed.

"My brother-in-law told him. To be honest I'm surprised he didn't let it slip ages ago, he's known since December and he kept dropping these little hints about it over supper. I think he must have assumed Lucius already knew or he'd have made a much bigger deal of things. He must not have told Bella either, come to think of it," she went on with a thoughtful frown. "Bella certainly would have said something months ago, if not to Lucius then at least to me."

"Rodolphus Lestrange knew before I did?" Ari replied, aghast. "How could you, Cissy!"

This time it was Narcissa's turn to roll her eyes at her friend's theatrics. "I certainly didn't tell him. He used Legilimency on me when I was still in the first trimester. I wouldn't have said anything to my husband that early even if we hadn't been fighting."

Ari gave a disgusted shudder. "My brothers' wives are terrible bores, but at least I don't have to deal with anything like that. So go on then, what happened when he found out?" She reached for a biscuit from the silver tray on the table between them.

"He came home in an absolute state and at first I didn't even understand what he was going on about, but then he saw... I'd been wearing loose robes and keeping my cloak on around him as much as possible, you see, but there was no hiding in my nightgown... Anyway, he was... pleased." Narcissa had been more touched than she cared to admit when he'd knelt before her in awe, but she couldn't dwell on that when she was still so furious with his prior and subsequent actions. "But that doesn't change the way he's behaved since November and I tried talking things through with him again and it... it didn't go well."

Ari waited to see if any more was forthcoming, and when it seemed Narcissa would share no more unprompted, she asked, "Was he angry you kept it from him for so long? Because I for one am livid that you kept it from me, so I can only imagine—"

"No, I think he felt rather responsible for that." A pause. "It was so much worse," Narcissa murmured, staring at her hands in her lap. "I tried to tell him about the children I lost last year, but when I said I needed to tell him something, he accused me of being pregnant with another man's child."

"But that's absurd!" Ari cried, indignant on her behalf. "You and Michel never even had sex. It's preposterous." Scowling, she chewed the cuticle of her thumb and considered Narcissa's words for another moment. She'd given up smoking when she and Britt had started trying for a child, and taken up nail biting in its stead. "I suppose what makes it so much worse is that you weren't even going to say something that would upset him, or at least shouldn't have done— not noticing your miscarriages last year is something he ought to feel guilty about, not the other way around."

To this, Narcissa remained silent. Ari did not know about the ultimatum she'd given Lucius in regards to his illegitimate child. Their friendship was long and had endured many trials, but she did not think Ari would ever see her in the same light if she admitted to pressuring her husband into murdering his own offspring. Perhaps if she'd been right in thinking its existence was preventing her own pregnancy Ari could have come around to her reasoning, but now a nameless, faceless toddler was dead because she had drawn a mistaken conclusion in her own baffled grief. She told Ari many things, more than she meant to at times, but this was a secret that would never leave the confines of her marriage.

"Well, that's where we left the conversation. I told him it had nothing to do with Michel but that I could not stand to look at him for one more minute and he left. He hasn't so much as even hinted at saying that he is sorry for what his words or actions and it's been a week."

"Has he ever apologised?" Ari asked, rather certain she knew already knew the answer as she reached for another biscuit. "For anything?"

"He has not," she admitted grudgingly. "But I wonder if this occasion might not merit an exception to that particular obstinacy?"

"You would think so..." she agreed slowly, nibbling on the custard cream she'd selected. "But I rather doubt it."

"So I'm meant to just forget what he's said? Again?"

The other witch tilted her head to the side, considering the question. "I wouldn't, but you already know what I think of him." She hesitated. "I don't know, Cissy. You're so much happier when you aren't angry with him, and things are going to be hard enough if you reconcile with him. Not that I won't be here to support you, you know I will of course, only... well, I'm already a cow, by the time late March comes around I'll hardly be able to waddle to the loo, let alone rush to your side if something goes wrong. Not that I think anything will!" she added quickly. "Just that... this is a difficult enough thing on its own, and that's with Britt fawning all over me and doing backflips to keep me comfortable. I don't know how helpful Lucius'll be, after all he's a man and we know they're generally rubbish at most things that matter... but... do you see what I'm trying to get at here?"

Narcissa sighed. "Get over it for the sake of the baby?" she guessed.

"Not really," Ari disagreed. "Get over it for the sake of yourself. From what you've told me, I think he does sometimes— and this is going to sound like I'm defending him, I'm not, you know I think he's a complete tosser— but I think sometimes he does sort of say that he's sorry without actually saying it, you know?"

Narcissa shot her friend a wry smile. "Why, I think motherhood has given you a tender heart," she accused playfully. Then she closed her eyes, letting her head rest against the back of the sofa. "Perhaps you're right... but this was really dreadful, Ari."

Ari shrugged. "Wait until you're sure, then. That he really feels sorry for what he's said, or until you aren't angry any longer. But don't wait for the words."

Thursday, 14 February 1980

"I have something for you." Lucius spoke from the doorway with just enough volume to carry over the notes soaring from her piano as her fingers flew easily over the keys.

"Oh?" Narcissa replied disinterestedly, not bothering to look up from the sheet music before her. "Is it an apology?"

He grit his teeth and ignored the barb. "Will you come upstairs, please?"

"After I finish this song."

Lucius nodded in agreement and sat down to wait. He did not know the piece she played, and suspected she transitioned from one song to another and perhaps a third or fourth, as it was nearly a quarter of an hour before she gave up on waiting for him to leave and her hands stilled at last. He had not minded the wait, it had actually been rather pleasant to listen to her performance and watch her for longer than he'd been permitted to for some time now, but when she stopped she seemed defeated and vaguely irritated.

"Alright, let's go," she conceded, rising gracefully and sweeping from the room without waiting for him. He sighed and moved after her, following her upstairs and once they'd reached the private parlour that separated their bedrooms, she sat down and raised her eyebrows expectantly.

"In here," he held his hand towards the bedroom they'd shared up until this past November. She watched him warily as she moved towards it, and he could not blame her; she was not wrong in regarding his motives for luring her into the chamber with mistrust. A large, neatly wrapped parcel waited for her at the foot of the bed, complete with a temptingly large, metallic bow. However she was not charmed by this presentation; she merely tapped her wand to the package so the paper and ribbon vanished, and flicked the top off without enthusiasm. Inside sat a sumptuous navy cloak; she scarcely glanced at it and did not bother to touch it.

"It's lovely," she announced dismissively, setting the box aside.

"Try it on," he insisted, attempting to swallow his frustration. "Here, I'll help." He lifted the heavy velvet and draped it over her shoulders, the ermine-trimmed hood settling richly to frame her face.

"What do you think?" he prompted when she remained quiet and still.

"I said it was lovely already, what else would you like?" she replied shortly.

"I'd rather hoped you might at least show some small indication you were pleased." He fought to keep irritation leaking into his voice. After all, it was St. Valentine's Day; surely she could set aside her anger and thaw to the romance of the date?

"When have I ever given you the impression that my goodwill can be purchased, Lucius?" Her voice was frigid. He exhaled sharply, his hands still on her shoulders.

"It's been three and a half months," he reminded her unnecessarily, stepping closer so her back was pressed to his chest.

"Since what, Lucius?" she asked in saccharine tones. Despite his sneer at her mockery he could not seem to control the hands that slid from her shoulders down her arms, slinking hopefully to her hips. "Oh yes, now I remember," she went on, her voice suddenly ice. "Since you accused me of being a whore and defaming the Malfoy name with no mind at all to your own transgressions." She unfastened the clasp at her throat and dropped the luxurious outwear back into its box unceremoniously, showing every indication of leaving the room.

"You are my wife, Narcissa," he growled in what might have been a warning, catching her wrist. It seemed cajoling and bribery would get him nowhere; it was time to try his other long-favoured tactic of intimidation. "And this has gone on far too long. It's unacceptable."

Fury flashed in her gaze at the statement. "This is what you want?" she snapped, her willingness to argue about the subject rapidly evaporating. "Fine." Narcissa pulled out her wand and pointed it over her shoulder at the back of her dress, and all the buttons popped open at once. She stepped out of it and kicked the skirts aside impatiently, ripping her slip off next and stalking over to the bed. "You're right, you are my husband and you are entitled to my body whenever you choose. So go ahead. I won't stop you." She pulled her underwear off and laid down on top of the blankets, fully nude and jaw squared in an unspoken challenge.

Lucius pursed his lips as he considered his next move. A better man would walk away; it was what she wanted him to do. His gaze raked her prone form, fascinated by the changes from the last time he'd seen it. Normally so thin, the protrusion of her stomach was a novelty, and her small breasts had grown fuller as well. Some instinct told him they'd be more sensitive now, and he longed to confirm this intuition. Her cutting stare aside, he'd never seen her look so soft and welcoming. Fuck it, he thought, shucking off his robes as he strode across the room to join her on the bed; it had been months and no one had ever accused him of being a good man anyway.

He was only slightly disappointed when she stayed resolutely unmoved by the first sweep of his hands over her. It was hardly a surprise. She had tried this ploy before with success, early in their marriage, but she was forgetting one very important fact: they were no longer strangers to one another. He knew her body well by know, knew what she found irresistible, knew what made her fingers clench the sheets beneath her and toes reflexively curl. As he knelt between her thighs and slid two fingers into his mouth to lubricate them, he had no doubt at all that her resistance would soon be in tatters.

It was with some relief that he discovered she was not fully able to stymie her body's response to his touch, though she refused to look at him and her jaw remained stubbornly set. While his right hand rediscovered her most sensitive areas, his left moved to a newly-rounded breast and teased the darkened nipple there to good effect, but when he cupped the soft flesh and squeezed indulgently he was met with a sharp little hiss of pain and warned to be gentler. He made amends by peppering pecks over her throat and clavicles and attempting to distract her with quick, light caresses that normally would have made her gasp and plead for more, but now she merely pressed her lips into a thin line and stared towards the windows.

After several minutes of his ministrations, her hands twitched and back arched and still she stared resolutely away, but it was getting harder to keep her expression from belying signs of her impending release. Lucius smirked and she saw him do so; with a sharp, vexed exhalation her hand flew out and seized one of the pillows piled next to her head, dragging it over her face to hide from him.

"That's cheating," he protested at once, attempting to pluck it away with the hand that was not stroking persuasively between her legs. Her grip was firm though and she'd been closer than he had realised, as her hips jerked suddenly and he felt her her muscles clenching spasmodically around the fingers inside of her. It was a supreme injustice that any sounds or expressions she may have made were swallowed by her shield and once she grew limp he withdrew his hand and yanked the pillow aside, tossing it from the bed. For good measure he seized the rest and threw them out of reach as well, depriving her of any additional chance to hide.

"That wasn't fair," he growled, prowling forward to cover her body with his own and grasping her wrists, pinning them above her head.

"Since when have you ever concerned yourself with fair?" she spat, somewhat breathlessly. He snarled in frustration and bit her shoulder, knowing that doing so to her overly-sensitised skin would cause her to gasp and twist beneath him. He couldn't wait any longer. Doing his utmost to ignore her obvious, persistent anger towards him, he reached down between their bodies to slide into her at long last, making a sound that might have been mistaken for pain if not for the visage of anguished relief pained across his features.

"Fuck," he hissed inelegantly, then pressed a brief peck to her sharp cheekbone. "Look at me," he murmured as he began to move, his tongue traveling over the side of her neck, teeth nipping at her ear. She refused. Her lids remained closed, blind to his searching, quicksilver gaze, and her hands lay limp beside her. While she might allow him to take whatever pleasure he could muster from her body, she would give him none that he did not steal.

This wasn't what he wanted. He wanted his wife back. This cruel imitation of what they'd shared was not enough. Even as he moved inside her she remained withdrawn from him, and he could force himself and even pleasure upon her but she would not give him herself, and she was the only thing he wanted.

"Narcissa, look at me," he repeated, nose brushing her cheek, palms gliding over her breasts. He could feel her heart pounding, see it in the fluttering pulse at the base of her throat. Why did she have to make this so difficult? He was ready to forget her indiscretion, why did she refuse to do the same? She could only make them both unhappy by refusing to participate in this. In his mind he began forging desperate compromises— he'd settle for once a month if only she would kiss him; thrice annually could be enough if each time was like it had been after Samhain.

"Narcissa," he breathed urgently, his voice very nearly breaking. "Narcissa, please. I need you to look at me."

And finally, she did. Her eyes blazed like sapphires when they met his at last and her hands flew up to grip his face roughly. She looked like a valkyrie, and it was an apt comparison: he felt as though she alone could decide whether he lived or died in this battle of their interminable wills.

"If you ever," she panted, her nails digging into his cheeks as she held him, "Ever say anything like that to me again, or treat me as you have these past few months, I will take our child and you will never find us. All the gold and influence and power in the world will not bring us back, do you understand me?" Her thighs were a vice, locking him into place and preventing the movement of his hips. He was nodding in acquiescence even as she continued to speak, agreeing preemptively to whatever would end his torture. And not just the agony of his delayed sexual gratification, but the intangible torment of these past months, of being away from her for so long. "And if by some chance you find us, or if you imprison us here, it will not matter; we will never belong to you again, and your suffering will be tenfold for it. Is that clear?"

"Yes," he gasped, and at last she released him and finally, finally condescended to lift her lips to his. He kissed her as starving man might consume a meal, with a heedless desperation that stole the air from her lungs. She returned the kiss with ferocity, her own demand rising to meet his. He was not the only one who had been waiting a long time for this. "Yes," he repeated as he began to rock into her once more, his tongue moving against her mouth as he spoke her name as though in prayer, confessing at last, "Gods, how I've missed you." Her arms wrapped around his neck to keep him close, foreheads pressed together and sweat mingling as he spilled inside her at last with a ragged, spent groan. He was careful not to let his full weight settle upon her midsection but remained in the comforting loop of her arms and stayed close as he sank into blissful contentment.

It took less than a minute for shame, like bile, to rise in his throat and leave him with a bitter, choking sensation. He rolled away from Narcissa's enveloping warmth, his back to her as all the languor left his body. Hot mortification rushed through him and his heart rate, already elevated from their coital activities, was increased further by the sick sense of anxiety that flooded him now. How could he bear to face her again after what he'd just said? He had pleaded for her affection and she had, in a fleeting moment of charity, granted it, but now he felt suffocated by humiliation such as he'd never known in his life. This was worse than his humiliation after learning of her lover— that, at least, had been largely out of his control. For this he had no one to place blame upon apart from himself. He balled his hands into fists, shoving one under the pillow beneath his head while the other clenched impotently upon the sheets. Any trace of lingering respect she might have held for him would now surely have been stamped out by his own pathetic words and actions. In that moment, he loathed himself more than he had any Mudblood he'd ever tortured or blood traitor he'd slaughtered, and couldn't begin to fathom the degree of disgust she must surely be feeling towards him. Nothing he had done had successfully earned her regard so at last he had cracked and begged for it— it was no victory at all, but a crushing defeat. There could be no reconciliation now, as surely she'd move in her heart from mere anger at his words to utter revulsion at his weakness.

For some time now Lucius been denying to himself how weak his desire for her was making him— not just a simple physical want of her body, but a craving for her affection and approval. And he'd not merely wanted her, he had needed her— he could not forgive himself for losing control of himself so completely. How could he face her again? How were they meant to raise a child together? How could he be a father when he was not even strong enough to be a husband? He was meant to be a pillar of strength for his family, and yet how easily he crumbled before his wife. Just his wife; there were so many external challenges they would face, yet he could not convey solidity even before her alone. How would she ever trust him to keep them all safe?

"Lucius?" Her tone sounded worried, and he jolted in surprise when her fingertips brushed the knots of his back. "Where did you go?" she whispered, her hand running from his shoulder to elbow and back up, over and over again as she tried to decipher why every muscle in his body was held rigid and tense. "You were here with me, just moments ago," she continued to murmur in sad bewilderment as she stroked his flushed skin. "Come back."

When he did not reply she tugged gently on his elbow, maintaining the soft pressure until he conceded to lie supine beside her. His eyes were clenched shut, his brow drawn downwards as though in pain, and she sighed quietly, pressing a small peck to the hollow of his throat. "Lucius…"

When he did not reply, she lifted the arm nearest to her and wrapped it around her shoulders, nuzzling up to his side and resting her head on his chest. She reached across his torso to grasp his other hand, unfurling one finger at a time and laying his palm upon her swollen midsection. "Here," she commanded, and he responded with gentle, tentative pressure. "Do you feel it?"

Slowly his expression eased, transforming to one of confusion and then wonderment. "Was that…?"

"Yes," she smiled encouragingly, and he splayed his fingers across her abdomen's firm curve.

"Can you make him do it again?"

"No," she laughed. "I cannot. But I imagine you will have many additional opportunities before June."

"Will I?" he asked uncertainly. Would she grant him this again, or was she merely acting now out of pity?

"Yes," she promised resolutely.

"Narcissa..." He tried to make his tone hardened and untroubled. Perhaps there was still a chance of salvaging the situation. "I... when I said... I didn't mean..." But there was nothing he had spoken that he could claim to be false. He had needed her to look at him, acknowledge him and touch him. He had missed her, unbearably, though she'd been sleeping only in the next room. Lucius did not think she would believe him if he tried to insist otherwise.

Her fingertips were tracing mindless patterns over his chest, and another small flutter beneath his hand rendered him momentarily speechless. She grinned up at him.

"You felt that one too?"

He nodded, and the movement was almost painful. It seemed that anything he might say would ruin this moment, yet he could not bear his reeling thoughts in silence. Fortunately, it was Narcissa who spoke next, her voice suddenly tremulous beneath a veneer of attempted nonchalance.

"It's been rather lonely, doing this alone." She swallowed. "I'm glad..." But she didn't tell him what she was glad for; instead she leaned up to kiss him. "Do not estrange us again, Lucius," she murmured when she drew away, and he could not tell if it was a plea or a threat.

Chapter Text

Sunday, 16 March 1980

When Lucius and Narcissa came down to the dining room in the morning, it was just in time to see the neatly laid out copy of the day's Daily Prophet incinerated in a brief inferno.

"I… Rodolphus?" All other pressing questions aside, Lucius was fairly certain he'd never seen his friend awake this early in his entire life. "What are you doing here?"

"Just wanted breakfast!" he announced loudly, tipping the combination of what Lucius and Narcissa would have eaten together onto a plate and sitting down. Narcissa took her seat cautiously, and flicked her eyes at Lucius with a gaze so clear she may as well have spoken out loud: Deal with this.

"Are your elves not feeding you?" he asked snidely, but at a second irritated glance from his wife he amended, "Was there anything you wanted to discuss over breakfast?"

His mouth was full so he simply shook his head, but shot a meaningful and unsubtle look in Narcissa's direction. Lucius ground his teeth.

"I'm not terribly hungry this morning," he lied pointedly. "Perhaps you and I should go to my study then?"

Rodolphus nodded quickly and swallowed. "Excellent idea," he agreed, rising noisily to his feet. "Lovely to see you, you look positively radiant," he informed Narcissa sweepingly, reaching out to touch her stomach. Before he could make contact she swatted his hand away and, unperturbed, he followed Lucius from the dining room. Once they reached the study and Lucius had closed the door behind them, he raised a scathing brow and turned to his friend expectantly.

Rodolphus took a deep breath. "Look… There's something I need to tell you and I wasn't sure how'd you'd react so I didn't want to say anything in front of Cissy. I thought it would be best if you didn't read about it in the paper either."

Rodolphus paused and Lucius snapped sarcastically, "Oh, really? Were you behaving strangely back there? I hadn't noticed."

For this remark he received a vexed glance before at last Rodolphus continued. "Laetitia Avery— sorry, Nott— is dead."

Lucius was not sure what he'd been anticipating, but it certainly wasn't this. He sat down abruptly. "Lettie's dead?"

Rodolphus nodded in affirmation, and handed Lucius a drink— he hadn't noticed him pouring it. Almost absently, he took a sip. "Circe, that's a tragedy. What happened?" A new thought occurred to him. "The baby?"

"The baby is fine, Nott has his son. But… I don't really know the details, apparently the labour didn't go well and…" he broke off with a mournful shrug.

"Well, despite your utter lack of tact I suppose I appreciate you not saying anything in front of Narcissa, she's already worried enough about—" he stopped suddenly. "What do you mean, you didn't know how I would react?"

"Weren't you sleeping with Lettie?" Rodolphus replied easily and without real concern. He'd found a handsome set of gobstones on a shelf and was handling them carelessly. Lucius was not even angry about the blunt query, just nonplussed.

"I haven't been since I was a teenager," he said incredulously. "Why would you think that?"

"I figured if you and Francesca were still—"

"I'm not sleeping with Francesca either!" he interrupted loudly, his irritation now growing. "Gods, I have to deal with Narcissa's paranoid jealousy and yours?"

He frowned, thinking for a moment. "What about that American witch you were spending so much time with a few years back?"

Angelique. "Ah, well, alright, yes. I was sleeping with her. But that was while Narcissa was still in France," he defended quickly, and then wondered suddenly if it perhaps might have been better to let Rodolphus go on thinking he was carrying on affairs. He wasn't sure how the other man would weaponise the knowledge of Lucius's strict fidelity to his wife, but if anyone could unearth a way to do so, it would certainly be Rodolphus Lestrange. "And besides, foreign witches don't really count," he added belatedly, hoping to add a sense of disinterest to the previous declaration.

Rodolphus looked amused. "What about foreign wizards? I'm sure Cissy will be relieved to hear her's didn't count either because he was French."

"I'm not discussing this with you any further," Lucius snapped haughtily. This announcement did not seem to surprise Rodolphus, who headed over to the fireplace.

"Can I use your floo?" he asked and, without waiting for a reply, dumped the entire contents of the snuffbox above the mantle into the flames. "Knockturn Alley!" he announced, vanishing without a farewell. Lucius rolled his eyes and headed back into the dining room.

"What did Rodolphus want?" Narcissa drawled, flicking listlessly through a copy of Witch Weekly. Before her pregnancy she never would have bothered with such trash, but as the months progressed her attention towards reading material had waned when it came to anything not directly related to the child growing within her. Lucius returned to his seat, considering his reply carefully. He hesitated a moment too long, and her blue eyes narrowed and shot to his face in razor-sharp suspicion.

"Lettie Nott died in childbirth," he blurted. She would find out sooner or later, and likely put the timing together anyway. "Rodolphus didn't want to say anything in front of you, due to your, erm, condition. He was trying to be considerate."

"That was considerate," she agreed in honeyed tones, and for a split, wildly optimistic second he hoped that might be the end of the conversation. "Far more considerate than any motive I'd ever ascribe to Rodolphus Lestrange." Her voice became ice as she glared at him. "Tell me, dear husband, what drove him to rush to the Manor and deliver the news to you in person?"

"Difficult to say, really." Lately, when they argued, Lucius had absurdly found a part of himself longing for the early days of their marriage, and the opportunity for a fair fight with biting repartee and no real injuries. He felt himself entirely disadvantaged by her pregnancy. His heir grew in her womb, it was a trump card he could not ignore, and thus he was obligated to appease her whenever humanly possible. Yet he'd never been forced to grapple with her wildly unpredictable anger before; her stony silences and biting lashes he was well-accustomed to, but he likened this new form of sparring to facing a dragon unarmed, crippled, and ultimately unwilling to cause the beast any harm even if he were able. Despite all of this, his pride forbade him from merely acquiescing to her demands and remaining silent before her taunts. "You know that trying to trace any sort of logic in Rodolphus's actions would be a fool's errand," he continued as lightly as he could, avoiding her gaze and reaching for a crumpet. He never made contact with the glutinous baked good however, as it shot out from beneath his fingertips and hit the far wall of the dining room with a scarcely-audible thwack. His gaze followed its trajectory with a small frown, and, refusing to spare a glance at his wife, he reached for a scone instead.

This time, the silver tower that prettily displayed a wide variety of breakfast pastries was whipped away, slamming against the the wall with a far more satisfying crash. Lucius let his hand fall upon the newly-bared table, his fingers drumming in irritation. "These temper tantrums are very unbecoming for an adult woman," he snapped, rounding on Narcissa at last. Her wand was drawn and lips were pressed tight with fury. "When our son is born, is this how you intend to teach him to behave when—"

The rest of his admonishment was lost in an inarticulate yell, because this time it was he that was flung across the hall. Lucius sprang back to his feet at once, whipping out his own wand with a snarl of fury, but, with a brief look at Narcissa's swollen midsection, he did not raise it. This did not slow her advance or soften her demeanor, however; she swept across the room and seized the front of his robes with her free hand, jamming the slender length of wood against his throat. It would be false to say he did not recognise the the witch before him, although the woman he saw was certainly not his wife.

"You were sleeping with her," she accused with a lethal hiss, sparks spitting from the end of her wand and searing the pale skin of his neck.

"Yes." It was a gamble with absurdly high stakes, but fortunately it paid off— her face slackened in shock at the admission, and her grip loosened for a heartbeat. He acted at once, seizing her wrists and holding them behind her back, pinning her struggling body against his. "Yes," he repeated, "I was, a decade ago when I was at Hogwarts!" Lucius managed to extract the wand from her grip and, having disarmed her, he released her and returned to his chair at the head of the dining table. "You can have this back when you've gotten yourself under control," he added, though a glance at her expression told him that she was no longer a threat.

Narcissa sank back into her seat as well, pinching the bridge of her nose and resting her other hand on her stomach. Wordlessly, he placed her wand on the table, but she did not reach for it.

"I hardly need to tell you that your behavior is highly reminiscent of—"

"I know," she breathed, shooting him an anguished glance. All the rigid fury had seeped away, and she looked drained and exhausted. The pregnancy was taking more than a physical toll on her— they were both aware. "I feel rather sorry for Bellatrix, for the first time in my life. If I had such wild emotions like this all the time, I can't imagine we would have turned out so differently from one another."

She would not apologise and he would not take her in his arms to console her; it was not their way. But he reached out to enclose her wrist gently, briefly, in a small act of conciliation.

Friday, 25 April 1980

"There you are." Lucius arrived in the entry hall at the same moment Narcissa slipped in from outside carrying a tiny bag from a shop whose logo he did not recognise. She quickly shut the door behind her and turned to him, beaming winningly. He did not return the smile, as she oddly seemed to be holding the door closed with her foot.

"Hello, Lucius," she effused.

"What are you doing?" he asked suspiciously. After a moment of silent calculation she gestured him forward and when he reached her, to his utter shock, she pulled his face down to kiss him deeply. While he'd been enjoying a certain increase in her amorous affections as of late ("The Healers say it's still just hormones acting up, all very standard," she'd explained matter-of-factly while climbing on top of him shortly after waking that morning), this was unprecedented. Narcissa leaned heavily into him and cupped his jaw in both her hands, gently backing up and leading him to press her body between his own and the wall. It almost worked— he very nearly did not notice the door crack open over his shoulder.

Lucius whirled around at once, and she dropped her face to her hand in embarrassment. "Oh for fuck's sake, Narcissa," he growled in exasperation. "This is the sixth time this month! How much more could you possibly need?"

She had the decency to look chagrined as a veritable army of house elves, some their own and others on loan from the shops to deliver her purchases, began to stream in with dozens (what seemed to Lucius to be hundreds) of parcels of all shapes and sizes. "It's not what I need Lucius," she defended hotly. "It's what our baby needs. Don't you want him or her to have the absolute best—"

"'The best' does not mean you need to clear out every store selling childhood wares in London!"

She bit her lip. "I suppose it wouldn't help matters if I told you these were from Paris," she muttered. "The selection in London is really inferior." He spun back to her, grey eyes flashing, but before he could speak she thrust her hand into the minuscule bag she still gripped and held up an exquisitely wrought silver rattle and swirled it gently. "Beautiful, though, isn't it?" she asked softly, and it truly was: it made a gentle whirring sound, simultaneously low and high pitched, an ethereal, otherworldly whooshing... mermerising, really... Lucius felt a drowsy calm begin to creep over him...

"No," he snarled, snatching it from her hand and feeling his irritation flood back at once. "You are not using an enchanted rattle to get out of this!"

Thwarted, she pushed out her lower lip and dropped her gaze. "But, Lucius," she protested, her tone soothing as her fingers found the lapels of his robes, "It's not as though you can't afford it or we haven't the space for it." She arched her back slightly and he knew what she was trying to do, but rather than roll her hips seductively against his, the movement only served to push her ever-expanding midsection firmly into his abdomen. Curiously, this had perhaps an even greater effect upon him, and his expression grew gentle at last.

"You'll spoil him terribly," Lucius warned, but there was no malice to his words. Narcissa grinned once more, sensing her victory as he stepped back. "No more shopping trips like this, you haven't even had a baby shower yet, it's distastefully excessive."

"Yes, Lucius," she agreed quickly. "Only the essentials."

His eyes narrowed— he suspected she would have an argument ready from now on for why every superfluous outfit or wildly expensive toy that she brought into the Manor was 'essential'— but decided to let it go. "I hope you told the shopkeepers to send me the bills of sale for accounting purposes, at least?" he asked resignedly as they headed towards the dining room. Narcissa hesitated.

"Yes but... well... they might be labeled as grocers when they arrive."

Lucius rolled his eyes. "You thought I wouldn't notice that our food expenditure had increased a hundredfold in the past thirty days?"

"Well, I am eating for two."

Monday, 19 May 1980

Supper in town with Augustus Rookwood had run late, and it was nearly eleven by the time Lucius returned to the Manor. As expected, his wife had retired for the evening. However, as he approached the bedroom, with its door left invitingly ajar, he heard the sound of her voice from within. He could not distinguish the words, but felt a surge of irritation that she would allow anyone into the place where they slept, even if only her mother or sister, who he assumed to be the likeliest visitors at this hour. He listened for several seconds to determine who the intruder might be, but could not make out the sound of a second voice. She could not be flooing— there was no hearth within. Finally he pushed the door open to find her tucked into bed, long hair in a plait over her shoulder and both hands resting in contentment on her jutting belly.

"Who were you talking to?" he asked, more confused than wary as he began to undress. Narcissa cast her gaze about uncertainly, as though searching for a reasonable excuse. Finding none in the room, she admitted at last, "I was talking to the baby."

"Er... I've been out a few hours but surely I haven't missed the birth of my son?" Lucius confirmed, and she rolled her eyes good-naturedly.

"Don't be obtuse, the baby obviously hasn't been born yet. But sometimes it feels as though..." she sighed happily and sank back into her pillows. "I'm sure he or she can hear me, and it feels as though there's an understanding as well. I do it often when you're not here," she confessed with a little smile as he slipped into bed beside her and extinguished the lights with a wave of his wand. "I love being pregnant," she went on, finding his hand in the dark and lacing her fingers with his. "I mean... I'm ill all the time and my back and feet ache terribly but I just adore it. It's remarkable, being so in love with a little human you've never even met.

"It's easier, I'd imagine, to love someone before you know them," he quipped drily.

"What a thing to say!" she protested. Then, worried he was not speaking in jest, asked, "Surely you don't really feel that way about it."

"Well... I can only speak from personal experience, I suppose," he began slowly, and she nestled against him to encourage him to go on. "My mother loved me when I was a child." There was no doubt in his mind of this fact: from his birth she'd whispered to him in her native language, showered him with praise and affection, slipped him sweets when no one was looking, spent hours reading to and playing make-believe with him. "I think it was around the time I began to emulate my father that she stopped," he went on, trying unsuccessfully to keep his voice even. He'd turned away from her affection long before she'd withdrawn it, it was true, but he'd been a fourteen year old boy with too much responsibility thrust suddenly onto his shoulders. His father had little use for children but when Abraxas was implicated in the assassination plot on Leach's life, he needed the son he'd largely ignored up until that point to become the public-facing representation of the Malfoy name. Lucius had had no idea how to do anything of the sort— he cared little for anything besides Quidditch and girls at that age— so mimicking his father's behaviour in all regards seemed the only viable option.

He'd taken her affection for granted and selfishly misused it his entire life, but he would never forget the shock of seeing her look at him the same way she did her husband for the first time, with a wide but flat smile, her words correct but lacking any real warmth. He knew very well he'd never appreciated her love when she had given it, but the abrupt realisation that he had lost it irrevocably had still been a stunning blow. It had been over the summer holiday after his sixth year. In unusually bright and sociable spirits, he'd come into her library and found her alone writing a letter to her sister. His question had been an innocuous one, asking only how his aunt— an aunt he could scarcely remember— fared, and perhaps due to the subject matter or his affectionate mood, he'd asked her in her native tongue, a language they hadn't spoken to one another in years. She had turned to him with a fixed expression of insincere friendliness, and chided in a soft but disinterested voice, "Don't use svenska at home, Lucius. You know your father does not approve." It had been a simple and truthful statement, but he'd understood the subtext at once: 'Do not speak to me so intimately; that is not the sort of relationship we have any longer.' He'd withdrawn at once and spent most of the rest of his summer with the Lestranges in Germany, and had never spoken aloud about the incident with his mother. It seemed a pointless tale to rehash.

"I did not think I even wanted it, but to realise so suddenly that it was gone…" he broke off and remained quiet for a long stretch. "She was the only person to ever love me. And she stopped when she saw the man I was growing into."

Narcissa did not reply, and he could sense by the uneasy quality of her silence that she did not know how to. He spared her the trouble by continuing in what was meant to be a flippant tone but perhaps came across a rather too sincere: "I hope, should our son turn out to be like me, that you will not be so similarly disappointed."

"Lucius," she breathed, as though a thousand meanings could be conveyed just in the syllables of his name. She did not know his mother well enough to dispute his claims, and she seemed to struggle to find anything more to say, so again he came to her aid.

"It's not the worst thing. It's a weakness to be overly fond," he pointed out reasonably.

"It is no such thing," she argued at once. "Love makes both parties stronger." It was something she believed unequivocally, but her voice trembled slightly; they'd never discussed such matters before.

"Together, perhaps. By weakening the individual. It is too much a sacrifice of self. Narcissa," he spoke over the beginnings of her demurral. "It's a silly disagreement." It wasn't, but it was not one he felt like having. "Let's both try to get some rest, shall we?" He knew it was not what she wanted to hear. She turned onto her left side, both for the sake of comfort and, he guessed, to face away from him. Undaunted, Lucius pressed his hands to the base of her spine, working upwards slowly, and she made a small, pleased sound.

"What do you tell him?" he asked suddenly, and Narcissa did not immediately reply. "When you talk to the baby," he clarified, "what sort of things do you say?"

"Oh... stories, I suppose. Old children's tales, Beedle's; sometimes abridged versions of novels that I enjoy; sometimes stories of things we've done and seen. I was talking about runespoor sanctuary outside of Ouagadougou before you came in. It's amazing think of all the marvels of the world that we'll be able to show him or her."

"Tabula rasa," Lucius added helpfully, pressing a kiss to the nape of her neck and trying not to dwell on all the ways he might potentially fail as a father.

Wednesday, 5 June 1980

When Lucius woke in the morning, a faint predawn light filtered into their chamber and Narcissa was sitting propped up by pillows, staring into space with a strange expression. For a few seconds he watched her, attempting to unravel the emotions he saw unguarded on her face— happiness, but fear as well. Excitement? She must be thinking of the baby, of what would certainly be coming in the next week or two. He reached for her hand, and she took it at once with a gentle squeeze.

"Do you have plans for the day?" she asked softly, seeming relieved when he shook his head.

"Just some post to answer," he elaborated. "Crouch is attempting to push through some legislation that..." but he broke off; it would not do to worry her about such things in her current condition.

"Will you stay here with me for a little while?" she requested and he agreed at once, sitting up as well, drawing her to his chest and stroking her hair.

"Have you decided on a name yet?" he asked mildly, and she hesitated.

"I like Maia, for a girl. Maia Malfoy." It would not be a girl, but Lucius decided to humour her anyway.

"One of the Pleiades— would we not then need to give her six sisters to keep her from growing lonely?"

Narcissa laughed. "I would not object to seven daughters, we certainly have the space for them." Her eyes shone at the thought of so many children, all her own, playing in the gardens; every one with a golden halo of long, flaxen hair and eyes of lapis or silver. And if one ran off with a Mudblood (not that any child of theirs would do such a thing), each girl would have five others to console her. To her such a family would be paradise on Earth; Lucius, however, groaned.

"I could not bear to be so outnumbered," he protested. "Besides, where would we ever find pureblooded husbands for them all?"

"Don't the Weasleys have seven sons by now?" she asked innocently, dissolving into giggles at the outraged sound her husband made.

"You're a cruel witch to make such a jest," he grumbled, placing a hand on her hugely swollen stomach affectionately. The sat in companionable silence for several moments before he prompted, "And... if it's a boy, what did you have in mind?"

Narcissa lifted his hand to her lips. "I can't say yet," she replied carefully, and he did not press her for any further details. "Lucius..." she sounded suddenly serious, and he frowned. "If something should happen to me—"

"No," he interrupted at once. "No, we are not having this conversation. Nothing will happen except that you and I will have a healthy child." He said this as much for her benefit as his own, and held her rather more securely in his arms. They'd been over the plan before, many times, and he reiterated it once more for both of their comfort. "Marlowe and an assistant Healer and a small army of hand-selected nurses will be here the entire time. You've already written out notes to both our sets of parents and your sister and Ari Parkinson, and an elf will send them out the moment things begin so no one will be absent at the birth. Your room is ready with every potion one could reasonably need, and I think I've better stocked the cellar with ingredients than Hogwarts and St. Mungo's combined in case they need to make anything more on short notice." He pressed his lips to her temple. "And I shall be in the Manor the whole time, awaiting news that I have a delighted wife and strong son."

She smiled, a little wanly. "Very good. Then I suppose we'd better... get to it."

His brow lowered in confusion. "Get to what?"

"All you've just described." She bit her lip. "My contractions started just after midnight."

Chapter Text

Wednesday, 5 June 1980

"Exciting day," Rodolphus offered a cigar, but Lucius brushed past to pour himself a sizable glass of Firewhisky instead.

"Save those for after," he muttered tersely, draining his tumbler in one go and not hesitating before refilling it.

"You'd better take it easy," Bellatrix's voice wafted from the doorway of the study. "Cissy will kill you if you're too drunk to hold your son when he gets here."

For once, it was good advice. Still, Lucius whipped around to glare at her intrusion. "Shouldn't you be upstairs with the rest of the women?" he snapped. Bellatrix shrugged and glided over to his side, plucking the bottle from his hand and taking a swig directly from it, ignoring the glass he offered.

"Cissy kicked me out. Probably for the best," she conceded, moving over to drape herself across a settee, taking the Firewhisky with her.

"What did you do?" snorted Rodolphus, who had disregarded Lucius's refusal and lit the cigar anyway.

"I just told her the pain couldn't possibly be worse than the Cruciatus Curse. I was just observing, really, don't know why it got her in such a snit."

Lucius's eyes slid shut and he pinched the bridge of his nose. At least Narcissa would not be the only one suffering over the course of her labour, though their trials were of a very different sort. He was unaware that he was pacing the floor until Bellatrix snapped at him to sit down lest she hex him into stillness. Scarcely aware of his surroundings, he obediently sank into an armchair by the fire.

With her multiple miscarriages over the past three years, he suspected it would be too much to hope for an easy birth. All he could wish for, for her sake, was that the child was a healthy boy and they would not have to go through the ordeal of any additional failed pregnancies. That this could end as Angelique's pregnancy had was not a notion he would entertain. That Narcissa had struggled and suffered so much already, and the worst may still be yet to come...

Nor would he allow himself think of Lettie Avery. Nott had his heir and a dead wife. No mother for his son. Laetitia had gotten pregnant within months of her wedding and, as far as he knew, had an effortless pregnancy. A stillborn child would be devastating, but if he were to lose his wife, there would be no return... A knock on the door mercifully distracted him from this morbid line of thought, and the Parkinsons appeared in the study moments later, shown in by an elf.

Ari passed their small baby over to Britt and followed the elf deeper into the Manor to join Narcissa and Druella. Britt beamed down at his daughter, but his grin faltered as he looked up at the three stony faces staring back at him.

"Er, hello," he began awkwardly. "This is Pansy." His eyes found Bellatrix hopefully; perhaps he felt that a woman would show some interest in the girl, but she merely gave a grunt of acknowledgement and took a long pull from the bottle she still held. At last he seemed to decide that Lucius was the least threatening of the three, but still approached him with caution.

"You're doing much better than I was," he began encouragingly. "I was an absolute wreck when Ari went into labour— after a while I just had to go into the room to be with her."

"How… progressive of you." Lucius took a sip of whisky, privately certain that his own wife would murder him on the spot if he were to burst in on her at such a time.

"It was amazing," Britt continued, warming to the subject. "And these past two months have been…" He broke off with an helpless laugh. "Well, terrifying. And exhausting. But the most incredible thing in the world. I can hardly begin to describe—" Suddenly, something sharp whizzed between them. Britt sprang away, sheltering Pansy in panic; Lucius turned with an irritated glance towards Bellatrix and Rodolphus, each of whom held several darts, and the latter's arm was still extended towards the board behind Lucius's head.

"What?" Bellatrix asked innocently at his expression, taking aim herself. "We fancied a game."

Britt had retreated to the opposite end of the study, gently hushing and bouncing the now-fussing infant, and Lucius was not inclined to follow him. He was fairly certain that neither of them had poor enough aim to actually hit him, even after a few drinks, and if one of them did so, at least it would be a distraction from what was happening upstairs.

Several owls came in, it was a normal Wednesday in the rest of the world, but Lucius found his eyes could not focus on the words and tossed them aside irritably. He couldn't even find the energy to tell Rodolphus off for picking the parchments up and perusing the missives casually; hopefully it was nothing confidential or private.

After what felt like an eternity, but in reality was just over two hours, Lucius stood abruptly. It wasn't the wisest move— he almost staggered and knew he should have stopped drinking some time ago.

"Bellatrix," he barked, "go see what's happening."

She balked, not entirely out of laziness. "If there was anything to know, my mother would have come to tell us," she insisted, examining her nails to avoid his gaze. Lucius scowled.

"Could you just go?"

Bellatrix shot her husband a glance, perhaps hoping he would give her an excuse to stay, but Rodolphus was sprawled out on the couch, head thrown back, fast asleep.

"While you're up there," ventured Britt tentatively from the other side of the study where he still sat with Pansy, reading the comics section of the Prophet, "Could you remind Ari that it's time to…" he gestured vaguely to the small bundle tucked in his arm. Bellatrix stared at him, nonplussed.

"Time to what?" she asked bluntly. He flushed slightly.

"Feed Pansy," he muttered. She rolled her eyes but stretched and sprang lightly to her feet at last, shot Lucius a final disdainful look before sashaying from the room. She returned only minutes later, looking thoroughly shaken.

"I won't lie to you Malfoy, it doesn't look good," Bellatrix announced grimly, pulling a cigarette from the pocket of her robes. She tried to light it with a snap as she usually did, but after several unsuccessful attempts with trembling fingers, she gave a shriek of frustration and flung it across the room. The sound woke Rodolphus, who sat up and looked around sleepily.

"S'it over?" he mumbled, but one look around at the faces in the room gave him his answer.

The door opened again, and Ari materialized. She looked visibly disheveled and did not speak to anyone, instead heading straight to her husband and daughter. Britt rose and gave her a brief, firm kiss, and passed Pansy over. She sighed as she fussed over the baby, leaning her head against his chest. He slid an arm around her shoulders and stroked the short, dark hair back from his wife's face.

Lucius averted his eyes as though witnessing something perverse.

"Is there another room we could use?" Ari asked, and he nodded without looking up.

"My elf will show you," he gestured with his drink and Dobby appeared to take Ari to another sitting room. Britt followed eagerly, and the next half hour passed in relative quiet, though the silence was punctuated by the sound of Bellatrix methodically shredding pages from one of his books and tossing them in the fire for the amusement of watching them burn.

When the door reopened he continued to stare into his glass, and so was surprised when Ari dropped heavily into a chair beside him. "I'm going back up in a moment," she began briskly. Her cropped black hair was parted down the middle and she tucked each side behind her ears. "I just wanted to let you know that… she's doing alright. It's not great, I won't lie, but she's so strong—"

"She's not," Lucius argued in a strangled voice, dragging a hand down his face. "She's barely been eating, she's hardly had the strength to—"

"That's not what I meant," Ari interrupted. "You know it's not. She wants to pull through because this baby means more than anything in the world to her, so I know that she will. I know it," she insisted. Her large brown eyes, which he'd always found unpleasant and somewhat bulbous, were fixed on him with such absolute confidence that he did feel reassured for a split second.

Then, "But anything could happen. Look at Lettie—"

"She is not Laetitia Nott!" exclaimed Ari indignantly. "And I certainly won't tell her you'd dare make that comparison. She's a hundred times the woman Lettie could ever be." She paused, and had the decency to look chagrined. "Not to, er, speak ill of the deceased." Abruptly, she rose to her feet. "I'd best return. Is there anything you'd like me to tell her?"

A million thoughts flooded his mind. One in particular that he still could not voice, to Ari or Narcissa or anyone else. There were no words of support he could offer that didn't seem trite, and he had no desire to upset or distract her at this time. Silently, he shook his head.

Some time after her departure, the door opened once more. All heads turned eagerly towards the sound, but it was only Cygnus Black, accompanied by his sister. Walburga Black looked distinctly worse than she had when he'd seen her at Orion's funeral last year; the unexpected loss of her husband followed so closely by her beloved son's demise had taken a toll. Though emaciated and rather wild-eyed, her voice had not lost its stridency and she announced, "Well, I suppose I should go see how my niece is faring. A nasty business, childbirth, and—"

"Aunt Walburga," Bellatrix sprang to her feet, uncharacteristically mollifying as she pressed a kiss to the older woman's sunken cheek. "Come sit with me and Rodolphus for a while first. Roddy," she hissed over her shoulder, "get her a glass of brandy."

Rodolphus did not look thrilled at this turn of events, but obeyed nonetheless. Bellatrix threaded her arm through her aunt's, acknowledging her father's grateful glance with a nod. However, this left Cygnus quite on his own, and after a moment, he plodded across the room to sit beside his son-in-law. Lucius wordlessly summoned a wine glass and crystal decanter of Bordeaux, recalling that none of the Blacks aside from Bellatrix showed much of a taste for hard liquor, and Cygnus poured himself a measure. They drank in silence for several long minutes, trying to block out the sound of Walburga's droning which seemed to oscillate in topic between the horrors of giving birth and open criticisms of Bellatrix for not having done so yet. Lucius was rather impressed with Bella's restraint, and was furthermore beholden to her on his wife's behalf, for keeping the hag occupied and out of the birthing chamber.

"My first grandchild," Cygnus mused. "Well," he amended with a heavy sigh, "first that I'll ever meet."

Lucius wanted to curse the man for alluding to Andromeda on such an occasion. It was in doubly poor taste to suggest that his disowned daughter's child by a Mudblood might be one he'd even be interested in knowing.

"And Cissy the baby of the lot, too," he went on, oblivious. "Perhaps you'll have more luck than Druella and I did... three girls and no sons, and now with Regulus gone and Sirius disowned, there are no boys to carry on the na—"

"I don't really feel like discussing how the Black name will die out after this generation ends, Cygnus," Lucius snarled. The older man blinked at Lucius's uncharacteristic rudeness— if nothing else, Lucius could always be counted on for civility, unlike his other son-in-law— but after a moment his offended expression softened.

"Of course not. You're anxious for Cissy's sake. I was in quite a state when Druella had Bellatrix... the next two were easier."

"I'm not anxious," Lucius snapped, rising to his feet once more and resuming his earlier pacing. Some indeterminate span of time later, the door opened once more, and the new arrivals had not needed an elf to show them the way— his parents had arrived at last.

Mrs. Malfoy greeted her son first, before turning her attentions to the other visitors. She did not return to her husband's side, however, staying instead with Britt to admire his daughter. Abraxas, on the other hand, greeted first Cygnus, offered Rodolphus a wary nod, and then came to stand beside his son by the hearth.

"I suppose you've some brilliant bit of advice to impart now that I very nearly have a son of my own?" Lucius suggested sneeringly and without preamble, although he found that, for the first time in many years, he actually did rather hope his father might have something insightful to say. Abraxas, however, merely shook his head and took a sip of whisky as Lucius poured a drink of his own.

"You've been your own man for years now, and I have no great wisdom on the subject. Do you know what you're going to call him yet?" Abraxas asked mildly, swirling the ice in his glass.

"I told Narcissa she could decide. Quite frankly I don't care what we call him. If he's healthy, and she's alright, who cares about a name?"

Abraxas chuckled softly. "A clever choice. I told your mother the same thing, you know. Well, not exactly— I told her she could choose a traditional name from our family tree, not something dreadful she might think of on her own. Can you imagine being called Hallmar, after her father? Gunnar, like her brother?" He chuckled at the thought, and Lucius gave a grudging smile of his own. "I wouldn't have chosen the name she did," he went on, causing his son's smile to flicker. "I might have chosen Septimus instead, perhaps Brutus… your namesake was rather an embarrassment, wasn't he? Pining after the Muggle queen."

Lucius's momentary good humour had fully evaporated by now, and he took a swig of his drink without replying. Noticing his silence, Abraxas glanced over and gave a sigh. "And see? I've gone and said the precisely the wrong thing. No… I certainly haven't any advice to give on being a father."

They remained silent for several minutes after the statement. It was the closest Lucius had ever heard him come to admitting any sort of shortcoming, and he wasn't sure how to respond.

"I was out of the country when you were born," he continued at last. "And I'll confess— I stayed away for several days after. Your mother's family had all come down from Sweden, and I wanted to give them the chance to see you, and her, since I knew it would be years before I gave them the opportunity again."

Abraxas had never made his dislike for his wife's family a secret, and Lucius remembered meeting them only once or twice as a child. He had become reacquainted with them in recent years only through Narcissa's design that they should visit Sweden in the year following their move to the Manor. Abraxas had no apparent great love for his wife either, though he was fond of her and treated her well. Though she was exceedingly beautiful, he did not view her as particularly bright and had little respect for her thoughts or opinions. Lucius privately suspected that his mother was far more intelligent than she let on— she'd have to be in order to keep her ill-natured husband gentle and pleasant towards her for these many years of matrimony— but she always presented a simple, happy face to the world and stood passively by her husband even through his disgrace and his exile from the Wizarding spheres of influence upon the botched assassination attempt.

"Where were you?" Lucius asked, thinking that no business in the world could have kept him from the Manor on this day.

"Oh, I had a woman in Vienna back in those days," he replied almost wistfully, "delightful company. She had a son of her own, though I never met him, and she had some sound advice to give on parenting. Not mine, of course," he continued, misreading Lucius's surprised and repulsed expression. Lucius supposed he should not be surprised at this casual admission of infidelity. Years ago, when Abraxas had come to the London house to chastise him after learning of the horrid mess with Angelique, he'd had no criticism about the affair— it had been the liability, the potential scandal, that had so disturbed him.

"Were you not worried that the birth might go poorly?"

"Don't be sentimental," Abraxas replied coolly. "There was a full staff of Healers there; if something had gone awry, what would I have been able to do that they could not? Besides, she was young and healthy; there was no reason things should not have gone smoothly."

"Did she ever miscarry?" he asked abruptly.

Abraxas looked over, visibly taken aback by the question. "Yes," he answered at length, turning back to stare into the fire. "Twice, before you were born. Once very early, and once in her second trimester. A girl." He lifted his shoulder in a disaffected manner, as though to indicate that this was no great loss.

"And after I was born?"

"She never became pregnant again. Perhaps she was taking a contraceptive potion without my knowledge; she may not have wanted any more children."

Lucius glanced over to where his mother was still speaking with Britt Parkinson. Now she was holding Pansy and crooning affectionately to the girl. "Perhaps not," he responded drily. Across the study, Walburga would be deterred no longer; she extricated herself from Bellatrix and loudly announced that she would head upstairs. His mother returned Pansy to her father and exited as well, and Lucius could only fervently hope, for Narcissa's sake, that it would not be too much longer before their child arrived. It was half past seven in the evening now. It felt like a lifetime ago that he'd woken beside her; in reality, it had been just over twelve hours. Marlowe and his staff had been onsite within the hour of being summoned, Druella shortly after, and the Lestranges had arrived at noon. He had expected the whole ordeal to have been finished already; by her account the earl