Lily is my friend.
Bizarrely, this is the only thought in Narcissa’s mind as she stands in front of Lord Voldemort. Her home has been overrun by Death Eaters, she had to place a silencing charm on her son’s room lest his small cries irritate the Dark Lord, the house elves are late with the tea, and yet all she can think is Lily is my friend.
It seems an innocent enough question – “You knew Lily Potter at Hogwarts, did you not?” – but she’s not a Black and Lucius Malfoy’s wife for nothing. It’s hardly harmless, and she knows it.
“I did, my Lord,” she says evenly. His eyes narrow as she doesn’t say more; she only answered the question as it was asked, without volunteering the information he’s really looking for. She feels Lucius fidget behind her. He’ll catch hell for it once she leaves the room, which means she’ll catch hell for it when they’re preparing for bed, but she squares her shoulders and lifts her chin in a centimeter of defiance. Lucius has invited this nonsense into their home, and he has presented her and offered her as a servant to the Dark Lord without so much as a by the way for any of it – she loves him, but she’s furious with him and not above sending him off for a good scolding from the man he so admires.
“Were you,” he pauses, and his face twists in a way that makes Narcissa think he’s swallowed something sour, “close with her?”
“We were friendly,” she says. It isn’t strictly a lie, but her life hasn’t dealt in absolutes since she was a child. An uncomfortable tingling begins in the base of her spine, and the edges of her vision go blurry. She swallows and nudges a tiny bit of magic out to fortify her walls; she’s built them far enough back that he can find what he’s looking for without knowing that there’s anything beyond, but she refuses to take any risks – not when it’s her life on the line, and not when it’s Lily’s.
He tilts his head and studies her. The rest of the room – Bellatrix and Mulciber and Augustus and the others – whisper to themselves, both furious and revolted that one of theirs could befriend a mudblood. The Dark Lord twitches the fingers of his left hand, a small command for silence. They abide.
She blinks at him, her face schooled into a cold, featureless expression.
The parlor falls further into shadow as the sun sets behind the dark curtains. The wall sconces brighten in response, keeping the parlor at a dim, hazy grey. Malfoy Manor never had the brightest corners, but she’s grown tired of squinting.
“I believe I have a special mission for you,” he says, apparently satisfied with what he’s found in her mind. The corner of his mouth twitches, and he almost looks smug.
There’s a version of this that turns out very differently: one where her spine is made of pure steel, and she tells him no. She’d be up against the wall with a wand at her throat before she could even blink, but she’d narrow her eyes and refuse to betray someone who resides so deep in her heart – in a place so treasured that it should be reserved for her husband.
Avada kedavra, maybe, an angry, impulsive response to her defiance. She’d crumple to the floor while Lucius watched, and leave Draco to grow up in this cold, dark world without her. Or maybe imperio, and she’d turn into a husk of herself, her mind no longer her own, and her defiance entirely for naught.
Lily is my friend.
But six lives hang in a single breath, and she’s no good to any of them if she’s dead or not herself.
“Yes, my Lord,” she says, acting ever the dutiful wife and pureblood she’s meant to be. She smiles and casts her eyes downward, as much of a genuflect as he’ll ever get from her.
“You will reignite your friendship,” he spits out the word, and a thick veil of disappointment and disgust falls over the room, “with the mudblood, and learn where the headquarters of this Order of the Phoenix are located.”
She is Narcissa Malfoy, until two years ago she was Narcissa Black, and she isn’t particularly fond of most of the Order, but Lily isn’t just her friend.
Lily is love. She is more than power, more than purity, more than family.
Narcissa adds another layer to her walls, and raises her eyes. “As you wish, my Lord.”
The train is crowded, and Narcissa stumbles as her cousin pushes past her and runs down the aisle. “Sirius!” she calls after him in annoyance, but he doesn’t bother with even a perfunctory Sorry! tossed over his shoulder. She scoffs, apologizes to the older children she knocked into, straightens her shoulders, and continues down the aisle after him to find an empty seat.
She finds one across from Rabastan Lestrange just as the train lurches to life. She’d rather not sit near him, he always looks like he’s just pulled the legs off a spider and enjoyed it, but neither does she want to be the girl wandering up and down the aisle for half the trip. He doesn’t say anything when she sits down, and she scoots all the way to the end of the bench beside the window. She reaches into her bag and retrieves a book – Witches in Winter, one of Davinia Merriweather’s tamer romance novels, smuggled into the house by Andromeda over the summer and given to her under the hushed promise that she absolutely positively not tell Mother about it, and that she not even try to find any of Merriweather’s other novels for at least two years. This is her fourth read of it, and the plot is still terrible, and she still rolls her eyes at the rapidly-beating heart of the damsel in distress, but the rescue scene is still exhilarating.
An hour out of London, Everard Mulciber drops into the seat beside her. She looks up, and he smiles at her, flashing crooked teeth. “They were dull,” he says, waving his hand in the general direction he came from, and it’s not ten seconds before he’s pulled out a deck of cards and is dealing a hand of Exploding Snap to Rabastan.
Narcissa clenches her teeth, but doesn’t say anything about the noise. She tucks her dark hair behind her ear and continues reading, only surfacing to purchase two chocolate frogs from the trolley witch.
She’s nearly at the daring rescue when the train comes to a halt. Nerves she’d kept at bay so well that summer suddenly jump into her throat as they disembark the train. All first years are herded toward a large bearded man in need of some good shampoo. Andromeda waves at her as she passes, a strange boy close at her side, and Narcissa manages a smile for her sister.
Sirius bumps into her again and she slams out her elbow, catching him in the side. He glares at her, but she only smiles sweetly. With a roll of his eyes so dramatic she’s half-concerned his eyes will roll straight out of his head and onto the dock, he turns back to his newfound friends – a boy with floppy dark hair, a pinch-faced boy she immediately recognizes as Peter Pettigrew, a boy with dull, patched clothing, and a girl with red hair.
She sighs and steps into a boat with Rabastan and Everard. A boy with greasy hair and a hooked nose joins them, and she vaguely hears him introduce himself as Severus Snape, but she’s too distracted for proper introductions. She’ll have to be in Slytherin, everyone from her family is Slytherin, but she took a quiz in an old issue of Witch Weekly over the summer: Was the Sorting Hat Correct? What House Should You Have Been In?
The quiz gave her Ravenclaw, and even though she took it five times over, the witch in the picture kept answering Ravenclaw.
Even Andromeda, kind to everyone and dating a mudblood (she thinks she’s hiding it, and maybe she’s fooled Bellatrix and their parents, but Narcissa’s caught the end of enough Floo conversations this summer to put it together, even at the age of eleven), was put in Slytherin.
In the end, the Hat hardly needed a moment of contemplation before it put her in Slytherin, and it’s Sirius who breaks with Black family tradition. Narcissa’s barely seated at the Slytherin table, her tie still changing color while Andromeda gives her a smile and a thumbs up from the far end of the table, when the Sorting Hat shouts out “Gryffindor!” Sirius hops off the stool with delight and bravado, and runs to join his new house.
She watches as the redheaded girl – Lily Evans, a surname so unfamiliar to Narcissa that it must be Muggle – sits on the stool after a few more students have been sorted, wide grin on her face. Like Sirius, it’s an easy choice for the Hat, and she’s off to Gryffindor, eventually followed by their friends from the train.
Later that night, full from the feast and exhausted from the excitement, Narcissa stares up at the canopy above her bed. Silver thread shimmers in the muted green light of the glowing seaweed creeping up the outside of the window. All elegant swirls and curves, the embroidery evokes a serpent, without being an actual snake.
The light shifts as a mermaid swims past, disturbing the seaweed, and Narcissa yawns. The walls are charmed against leaks, and though it’s dark enough that she’d need her wand if she wanted to do any reading after lights out, she’s glad she chose the bed farthest from the window. Let someone else put their feet in water first thing in the morning.
Before she can think any further about silver snakes, or leaking stone walls, or even when she has to wake up to ensure she makes it to breakfast before her first class in the morning, sleep overtakes her.
Lily covers a yawn and rubs at her eye. Sirius passes a plate of toast in front of her to Remus beside her, and she grabs a piece before the plate disappears out of sight.
As exhausted as she was last night, she hardly managed more than a few scant hours of sleep. She’s used to the sound of cars through the night, her father’s snoring, and the low hum of electricity. The tower came with its own noises, all of which were wrong: the gentle lapping of the Black Lake, the creaking of the Whomping Willow as it tried to adjust to its new home just like her, wind through the rafters. But mostly, it was strangely silent.
The bed was more comfortable than her bed at home, though, and more than once she wondered if the mattress was shifting itself to better fit her.
Remus nudges her shoulder with his, and she shakes herself out of the sleepy fog and digs into her breakfast. It’s strange to look across the table and see Peter, and not Petunia like every morning since she can remember, but the eggs also aren’t overcooked, and pumpkin juice is tastier than the concentrated orange juice her mother always has in a pitcher in the refrigerator. She waves at Severus, sitting a little off to himself at the Slytherin table across the hall. He gives her a small wave in return, dropping his hand before his housemates can determine who he’s waving to.
Careful to keep an eye at all times on someone whose name she knows, Lily follows everyone out of the Great Hall and into the ever-changing hallways of Hogwarts for her first class as a witch.
Potions is in a dark, windowless room near the end of the hall at the bottom of a staircase. Shelves holding glass jars with all manner of creepy contents line the walls, and there’s an eerie green glow about the room, seemingly without a source. Lily shivers, but banishes from her mind all the bedtime stories and fairytales about witches in the forest, and sits between Eleanor Carter and Remus on the Gryffindor side of the room; she sets her book and cauldron in front of her, ready for anything. She just started chemistry last year in school, and though it wasn’t much more than baking soda and vinegar to form a volcano, she quite enjoyed it and hopes Potions is much the same.
A pale, dark-haired girl across the aisle – Nancy, Nellie, N-Something, Lily can barely keep Betty Magnus and Rosie Wood straight and they slept on the beds beside hers – waves frantically at Sirius, who’s deep in hushed conversation with James.
“Sirius,” she leans forward and taps him on the shoulder, “who’s that girl?” she asks.
He turns around and gives the girl a smile and then rolls his eyes. “My cousin, Narcissa. I suspect she wants a word about my sorting. I’m the first Black to not be in Slytherin.”
Lily’s saved from having to ask why that would matter at all by Professor Slughorn clearing his throat at the front of the room. She pays rapt attention to every word, eager to learn.
Halfway through the lesson, though Professor Slughorn said they weren’t going to start with any practical applications for a few weeks yet, Lily writes down the interaction between dried nettles and snake fangs and thinks that she’s going to enjoy Potions very much indeed.
Narcissa sighs and rests her head in her hands. She chose this table in the library precisely because it’s on the edges of the Restricted Section and mostly solitary, but she’s beginning to regret that choice. Not being around people means that she’s less concerned about how she looks, and therefore more likely to actually break down in tears about this Potions essay.
She’s alright at Herbology, decent enough at Transfiguration, and ace at Charms, but Potions is beyond her. She melted four cauldrons in her first semester alone, and the only reason she isn’t failing entirely is because Severus has leant her his notes. His notes are thorough and his handwriting is precise, but she still ends up with smoke or sludge or sparks more than half the time.
“Are you okay?”
She looks up, sniffles, and draws herself up straight and stern in a cold, haughty posture that would make Bellatrix proud. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine,” Lily says.
Narcissa huffs. “What do you care?”
Lily shrugs and adjusts her bag. “Okay. See you in Herbology. But,” she pauses, squints at what Narcissa’s written so far on her essay, and grimaces, “that’s going to get you something that smells about as bad as boiled rotten eggs.”
Groaning, Narcissa slides down in her chair. One good exhale and she’ll slide right off onto the floor. Maybe she’ll just hide under the table and never come out. Bad enough with Sirius in all his Gryffindor glory, and even worse that Andromeda officially announced over Christmas that she was dating Ted and said anyone who minded could bugger off, Narcissa doesn’t need to add “Potions failure” to this year’s list of Black Family Hogwarts Disasters.
“Would you like some help?” Lily offers, kindness clear in her voice.
Exams are in a month, and she still hasn’t managed the Cure for Boils potion, which Lily completed perfectly on her first try. Loathe though she is to ask for help at all, let alone from a mudblood, let alone from a Gryffindor, Narcissa nods. Her other options for help are Severus, who’s too caught up in trying to befriend Mulciber and Avery to be any assistance other than sharing his notes, or Rabastan, who has developed a questionable and flighty relationship with personal hygiene.
“Yes,” she says. “Please,” she adds as an afterthought.
Lily smiles and sits down opposite Narcissa. She pulls out her books and parchment as she talks. “For starters, you want to stir clockwise, not counterclockwise, and there’s an important difference between slugs and horned slugs, and,” she abruptly stops, noticing Narcissa staring at her. “What?”
“What is that?” she points to the thin cylindrical object in Lily’s hand.
Lily blinks. “It’s a pen.” At Narcissa’s silence, she raises an eyebrow. “You write with it. I know you’re a Pureblood, but you don’t really live under that much of a magical rock, do you?”
Narcissa makes an irritated noise in the back of her throat. “I know what a pen is. I’ve just,” she presses her lips together, “never seen one up close before.”
With a shrug, Lily hands her the blue pen.
Narcissa holds it up and examines it. Experimentally, she scribbles with it on a blank piece of parchment. Nothing happens.
Lily reaches over and pushes down on the end of it for her. It clicks, and Narcissa startles as a tiny pointed bit pops out the other end. She gestures for Narcissa to try again.
She does, and ink comes out this time. She writes her name and promptly frowns. It’s awkward, this pen, and not at all as elegant as a quill. “We’re supposed to be writing with quills,” she says, handing it back.
“I know,” Lily says. She twirls the pen between her fingers. “And I do for essays and exams. This is easier for notes, for me. I’m used to it,” she says sheepishly, as if she’s embarrassed.
Narcissa knows she’s supposed to be scoffing at Muggle objects, but as awkward as it was to write with, it’s most certainly easier than having to carry pots of ink everywhere. “Counterclockwise and horned slugs?”
“Clockwise and horned slugs,” Lily gently corrects.
Narcissa reaches into her bag and withdraws four chocolate frogs. She offers two to Lily. “Thank you,” she says, though they haven’t even started. She’s sure to get an earful if Bellatrix ever finds out that she got help from a mudblood, but it’s a far better fate than actually failing Potions her first year.
“You’re welcome.” Lily holds her gaze for a moment, and then drops it. “Now, the Cure for Boils potion and how to not melt cauldrons.”
Lily waves at Narcissa as they step off the train at King’s Cross. Narcissa returns the wave and adjusts her grip on her owl’s cage.
“Narcissa Black, stooping to having a mudblood friend?” Sirius says, and the way mudblood drips off his tongue, it feels less like an indictment of Lily and more a curse on Narcissa’s entire family.
She turns around sharply. “Would you like me to tell Walburga that Professor Slughorn gave you enough detentions that you’re actually going to still be serving them at the beginning of next year?” She smiles sweetly at him.
Sirius pushes his hair out of his eyes and glares at her. “You’re such a Slytherin,” he scoffs.
“And proud of it,” she smiles even wider and pushes her way through the crowd to Andromeda, Sirius on her heels as he shouts at his friends a final promise to write over the summer.
As she walks through the barrier, part of her wishes that she’d thought to shout the same promise to Lily. But Lily only helped her pass her Potions final, and as grateful as Narcissa is for that, they aren’t really friends.
I hope this letter reaches you, James, and Harry in good health.
Draco’s sleeping through the night now, which is a relief (as I’m sure you can understand). He’s trying to walk, but mostly runs into things and falls over. Lucius thinks he’ll fly before he can walk, but I’m holding out hope that he does things in the proper order: remain upright on his own for more than two seconds, then broom.
It’s been so long since we saw each other, and I do miss you. Might you be available for lunch Tuesday? I’ll let you choose the restaurant.
All the best,
With a long sigh, Narcissa folds up the letter, addresses it to Lily, and gives it to one of the Manor’s many owls. After watching the bird disappear into the night sky, she walks down the hall and slips into her Draco’s room. She’s expected downstairs at dinner soon, but she can spare the time to watch her son sleep.
She reaches out and gently strokes a finger down his soft cheek. Draco makes a quiet, sleepy noise, and turns over in his crib, but stays asleep. With the tap of her finger, the mobile above his crib starts to turn. She shares her husband’s Slytherin pride, but she drew the line at a mobile with little snake charms, instead choosing shimmering stars for her son. The stars light up with a soft silver glow, highlighting Draco’s blonde hair and pale cheeks. She smiles as he settles again, and she brushes a stray lock of hair from his forehead. He’ll need a haircut soon.
The light beside the door lights up, alerting her to dinner ready in five minutes. Though the door’s closed and she’s disabled the bell in this room, she still hears the dinner bell’s muffled ring throughout other rooms on this floor.
Narcissa lifts her hand to her mouth, kisses her fingertips, and lightly presses them against Draco’s forehead. “I love you,” she whispers.
Before leaving, she takes a moment to compose herself. She can’t fool the Dark Lord forever, and even if she could, Lucius and Bellatrix are bound to catch on, but she can stall him for a while and keep Lily safe.
The only question is – for how long?