The tower is narrower than most of those at Hogwarts and was abandoned decades, or possibly centuries ago. If it ever had a name, no one living remembers it. What's always mattered to me is that no one ever goes there. In fact, the one time I mentioned it in passing to Minerva, she gave me an odd look, as if she didn't know what I was talking about.
To me, it's the Black Tower. Black for Narcissa's name when I met her, years before she was betrothed. Black for the mood I'm in when I go there without her.
"Are you going to the wedding?" Pomona points at the envelope in my hand with a fork loaded with sausage and dripping with brown sauce.
I shake my head, then pull my wand and Banish the gilt-laden invitation before I change my mind. "I have plans for New Year's Eve."
Pomona snorts. "The staff party doesn't count, Rolanda."
"I have a life," I say, my voice mild.
We both know that's another lie. My world hasn't extended far beyond the gates of Hogwarts since Narcissa told me that she was going to obey her parents' wishes and marry Lucius Malfoy.
On New Year's Eve, Minerva stops me after dinner. She places a hand on my shoulder and gives me one of those looks she obviously thinks is sympathetic, but which actually tends to make people think they're wandering around with their robes tucked into their knickers.
"The party's in my rooms this year," she says, as if I hadn't received an invitation.
"Thank you, but I have plans."
Pomona frowns. "I thought—"
Minerva shakes her head, and Pomona hushes.
"If you finish early," Minerva says, "you're welcome to join us."
I leave without responding and escape to the Quidditch pitch.
I'm windswept, damp, and shivering when I land at the base of the Black tower. I feel almost like myself again. There's nothing like a night flight to banish the cobwebs and uncertainties.
The courtyard is quiet and dark, and the creak of the door seems to echo off the walls as I enter the tower. I carry my broom upstairs with me. It's an old one, the first I ever bought for myself, and using it tonight seems fitting.
I stuff my gloves into my pockets as I walk up the stairs, my heart as heavy as my tread.
The octagonal room at the top is filled with the same hissing noise that half-deafened me as I flew. This much lower, however, it's not the wind alone, but the snowflakes melting against the spells that protect the glass-less windows.
Ignoring the dust-laden bed, I kneel in front of a window that overlooks the lake and place my Silver Arrow across my lap. It only takes me a few moments to disassemble it, stacking the twigs on the floor and putting the handle and footrests on the windowsill.
Retrieving my wand, I transfigure the handle into a tall, fat candle.
The ache in my heart grows as I cast the charms that melt down the footrests and reform them into a latticework holder for the candle. Snakes twine around each other, mouth-to-tail, mouth-to-mouth, tail-to-tail, forming a pattern that comes from my heart rather than a pre-planned design.
After I set the candle inside, I gather the twigs and toss them into the air. As they fall, I transfigure them into holly vines.
Then I open the box of narcissi I stole from Pomona's greenhouses and tuck the white flowers in amongst the green, allowing the spiky leaves to scratch me.
I holster my wand and cup my hands around the candle. My hands are steady, even though I feel like I'm shaking inside.
Closing my eyes, I focus on my magic and the loss that is threatening to tear me apart. Narcissa comes to life in my memories: laughing, dancing, lying back on her broom with her hair trailing through the clouds.
I love her. Far more than is safe in our world.
Heat blossoms in my heart and in my palms. I open my eyes just in time to see the flame jump from my hands to the candle.
I'm not a romantic. Just the thought of keeping an eternal flame for an unrequited love leaves me wanting to simultaneously retch and slap the berk who bought that twaddle. Life's too damn short to waste it on pining away.
As for Romeo and Juliet, those nincompoops were evolution in action. Salazar help our world if they'd survived to procreate. We have more than enough problems with all the inbreeding as it is.
I'll never forget Narcissa. But we live in different worlds now, and I'm constitutionally incapable of being a nun. Sex is far too much fun for that.
I still see Narcissa occasionally, passing her on the street and in shops, attending the same purebloods-only parties given by rich former Slytherins. Even Hogwarts now that Lucius Malfoy has joined the Board of Governors.
Marriage does not become her. She's closed herself off, turning up her nose and holding herself aloof from everyone who isn't part of Voldemort's small, dark circle. Still, she reserves her most disapproving looks for my partners. I'm surprised any of them survive an encounter with her.
I don't allow myself to think about what or whom she's protecting herself from. That way lays madness.
My holiday ritual is another form of madness. Whether there's someone in my life or not, New Year's Eve is sacrosanct. Mine alone. I change into my Quidditch leathers, go flying, and take my candle to the top of the Black tower.
Year after year, I walk out on partners and turn down invitations to ensure I'm there to light that end-of-year flame. The ritual comforts the part of me that's convinced Narcissa will be lost, drowned in the darkness that Voldemort's drawing down upon us, if there's no light to guide her through.
Harmless superstition perhaps, but she survives.
Standing in the Great Hall, I'm simultaneously distraught at how many people we've lost and relieved at how many of us survived to tell the tale. The dead from both sides lie in the middle of the room, being mourned by their families. Except for Voldemort, who has no place in this world Harry Potter has created.
I make my way between the tables and towards the dais, pausing now and then to reach out and reassure someone.
Despite the lost look in Narcissa's eyes as she hugs her son, I keep my distance. It's enough to know she's alive.
Guilt is a terrible mistress. All those pompous twits at the Ministry and in the Wizengamot who sat on their arses and twiddled their wands throughout the war are showing their true colours now, tempering their judgment with a desperate need to be seen as on the right side.
I mightn't mind so much if this were one of the Carrows' trials, rather than Narcissa's.
I can't bear to watch this circus, but I can't leave her to face it alone either. Even though she can't see me, someone has to be here for her, to stand on her side.
Circe's poisonous tits, I want to hex them all. The Wizengamot might as well be starting a witch hunt and talking about burning people at the stake.
The Mugwump, such an appropriate name for that sanctimonious bastard, smirks as he interrupts Potter's testimony. "While we appreciate that Mrs Malfoy's actions seem to favour the Light, Mr Potter, the fact remains that she's a Malfoy and a supporter of Voldemort. Marked or unmarked, she must suffer for her crimes."
I'm balling my hands into fists, ready to jump the barricades, when Shacklebolt snarls, "Enough," and halts this farce of a trial.
"You'll come to the New Year's party," Minerva says, looking determined.
Even though I hadn't really thought about it, I automatically shake my head and say, "I have plans."
"There's no point in—" She cuts herself off and presses her lips together before placing a hand on my arm and trying again. "The school is opening again in January, and the new staff members will be attending. It's important, Rolanda."
I shake my head again. Now that I've thought about it, I cannot imagine not lighting that candle. The war may be over, but there's still darkness in the shadows.
Snow is swirling through the air when I land at the base of the Black tower. My heart is lighter than it has been in decades.
Sticking my tongue out, I catch the cold, wet flakes then spin around with my head tipped back so the snow falls on my face. I laugh like a complete fool. It seems like forever since I last had time to play.
The door creaks when I push it open, and torches flare to life as I head upstairs, taking the stairs two at a time. I don't stop until I reach the top.
The octagonal room is blazing with light. Candles hover in the air and are stuck on every available surface. Their flames dance as if caught in an invisible wind.
Narcissa is sitting on the bed, waiting. She smiles as she stands up and moves across the room towards me. "This year," she says, "I thought I'd be the one to provide the light."
Her hands are warm in mine, thinner and stronger than I remember. She looks tired. There are new lines around her eyes and a few silver strands in her hair that glint in the candlelight. She's beautiful.