CHARACTERS: Narcissa Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy, Draco Malfoy & Severus Snape.
WORD COUNT: 2.700
SUMMARY: Last time, things were different.
WARNING: SPOILERS for DH, of course!
This way, my Lord; - the castle's gently rendered:
The tyrant's people on both sides do fight
All this death fills the house, Narcissa notices, with an atmosphere similar to the tight, merciless air in Azkaban. It smells of decay wherever she goes. And the house seems to correspond by becoming slightly altered. They move differently between the rooms these days: silently, as if wood and marble are living elements and can hear their very thoughts; stubbornly, determined on not breaking down; hopelessly as changes succeed changes and they're still falling in the hierarchy.
Captives have been executed in the lounge, in their dining room, on the veranda, in front of their eyes. She has tried to cover Draco's only to realise it's past those pathetic measures by now. (It breaks her heart.) She has disposed of bodies and once, blind for all other options, she has felt the stale humiliation that comes from lying flat on the ground, pleading for her husband's life. (She would do it again, in a heartbeat.) She has wiped blood off artefacts and treasures (her heritage) and held Lucius's hand in the dark where nobody sees them, asking if it's never enough.
Last time, things were different.
When they found out they were expecting a child, Lucius announced it to the Death Eaters as "the hope for the future, a pureblood heir!" and Narcissa spread her fingers over the bulging robes thinking it was a lot of responsibility for such a small thing. She hadn't desired a child until she found out one was growing inside her, didn’t wish to adjust to such circumstances. Now, touching its unborn features in her mind, it seemed only natural that everything else would have to adjust instead.
Voldemort raised a goblet of wine to honour the birth of Draco, she recalls. She stood there beside her husband, their baby in her arms at last, and searched for a gaze to hold on to in the midst of the noise and the speeches.
It was their Lord and Master who suggested, in a confidential voice, that they'd ask Severus to be godfather. A strategic measure, naturally, but Narcissa nodded her approval.
"Such a fine boy needs a trustworthy godfather," he said and reached out a hand to touch Draco's head.
Narcissa will remember, for as long as she lives, the sight of Lucius then: his face stern, his hand already reaching for his wand, prepared to strike.
At least they've never been naïve.
"Forgive me," Lucius says in the bedroom only days before he is sent away from her. It had been building up, she thinks afterwards, it was as if he knew.
In their bedroom she doesn't answer. She feels betrayed by his failures.
Narcissa sleeps with her back against her husband, repeating all the Dark Arts she knows in her head, counting the spells one-two-three-four, Crucio is the easiest to master, blood magic useful in battle, silence charms for when she's screaming in frustration, hoping it can be heard in the deepest, darkest cells of Azkaban.
"Forgive me," she mumbles into his shoulder as he's released, his head bowed in an unusual way (he was always overly proud) before his Master. "I couldn't do anything until now."
She calms herself down with routines and there is nothing she likes better than this: to spin her wedding ring round her fingers, twirl it like a Slytherin snake over knuckles and nails. It’s made of silver and bears the Malfoy crest. An heirloom, Lucius told her once when they were young and giggly from too much alcohol and infatuation and pressed each other up against the walls in the wine cellar to celebrate the engagement. Take care of it or my mother will decapitate you.
Narcissa does. For the first years of their marriage, she took it off every night to polish it. There is something about that ring, something singing to her blood and heart. Diamonds and emeralds - and their handwritings narrate stories of how Narcissa escaped the fractured glory of her own family line.
"The Dark Lord's done so much for you, Cissy," Bella says. In her teacup there's both wine and Doxy Draughts to keep herself awake at all hours. Always on duty, always ready. Narcissa wraps her hands around her own cup that contains nothing but a faint taste of peppermint. "Besides, with your family's history of failing missions, you can't afford to be ungrateful!"
"You have no right to insult my family. Never, Bella."
Bella merely laughs.
And Narcissa practises Dark Arts on their new house-elf until she bursts into tears at the sound of his pain.
She's in scant need of Doxy Draughts to keep herself from sleeping that summer.
She walks around inside the house, up and down the stairs, touching the tapestry and making small-talk with the portraits. "Terrible noise, these days," Lucius's grandmother says with a frown. "One is rarely treated with respect anymore. Who invited these brutes into our home?"
"Be respectful of the Dark Lord!" she snaps back. She remembers what Severus told her once, long before Malfoy Manor became a hotel and a torture chamber, about revealing emotions even in her own mind. (Lucius is bad at this, utterly awful.) Hearts do not belong on sleeves and they save their words in fear of sudden fits of truth, a lurking Agent Provocateur, unmasked horror sliding beneath carefully controlled behaviour.
Malfoy Manor, Headquarter of the sanctioned nightmares.
She walks around in the attic, among the furniture they've found no use for and the items Lucius thought wise to hide from his Master. On one of the walls she spots her framed family tree in the shape of a painting taking up a gigantic amount of space. Her fingertips trace the bloodlines, all the branches and dead-ends, until she finds herself down at the bottom. Toujours Pur.
Her family is perishable, debris of pure blood and black magic. It has always been clear that they must vanish; as a girl, Narcissa used to re-draw the lines of this tree, fill in the faded spots and empty spaces with new ink to make it seem less hopeless. Forcing life, she named this habit. Preservation. She always longed for escape.
Now she's struck by the realisation that almost everything she owns will outlive her, remain as ghosts while she's bones in the ground.
"There is no need for you to have a wand."
Lucius surrenders, her hand forcing him to remain with her, remain strong, endure. Forcing him to stoicism and acceptance the way she's been taught, growing up as a woman in the Black family.
"Soon there's going to be a change," she half-promises after they've disposed yet another corpse and let Draco practice vanishing spells. "I know that."
It's a weak promise, an absurd one coming from her powerless mouth, but it's all they have.
Last time, things were different.
All the promises and the adventures, thrilling stories of the oncoming change that would shake the foundations of their society. Those things rubbed off, even on Lucius who groaned with annoyance as the Mark flared up and confessed to Narcissa that he was going to attempt bribery to escape future obligations.
He returned home with Severus, not able to walk on his own. She never had to ask how Voldemort had taken to the idea of a bribe. For weeks, the stench of illness coming from his bed was so strong it swallowed all other scents and surrounded them both with a reminder or what they were. Puppets, pawns, servants.
"The important thing is that you're alive," Narcissa said, kissing his cheek. "We need you."
So they remained faithful, as best they could.
But when Draco many years later announced he'd like a Dark Mark, Narcissa slapped him before she could stop herself, leaving red marks in his face for hours afterwards.
Easter, they fight.
They fight for their independence and honour and it all fails, in the same way everything has failed lately.
"You don't even deserve death, Malfoy," the Dark Lord says and his fury resounds against the walls for hours after the curses leave Lucius's body.
Draco enters their bedroom early that night, to check on his father. Narcissa reaches out a hand to pull him in, hold him close, but instead she starts crying and Draco is the one who has to hold her.
They don’t speak at all, don't know what to say.
They've become the cautionary tale of the pureblood world.
"Forgive us," Narcissa whispers to Draco before she slips her wand into his hand the night before his departure. Then stronger and with more force behind the words: "And remember what you are, who you are. You're a Malfoy."
She says it like a charm, like an invocation.
"What about you?" he asks, weighing the new weapon, as if measuring it. He looks mortified. "If you and dad need to use magic-"
"-there are ways for us to do that anyway."
"Besides," she says later in an attempt to sound cheerful, "you'll need a good and proper wand for the last months at Hogwarts!"
"I don’t want to return to Hogwarts. I want to – there's… Are you going to stay here? With… him popping in and out?"
"You must be respectful of the Dark Lord," Narcissa says but her arms are around her son's shoulders, mumbling different truths into his blood. We'll survive, we'll all survive, your father and I love you so much and we'll survive, we'll make sure of it.
She says it like a charm, like an invocation.
Please forgive us.
Merlin help me but I don't love you, she thinks as she watches Bella crawl at the Dark Lord's feet, mocking Lucius's lack of wand, questioning Severus over and over again. I don't love you, you're not of my blood. You are not human.
"Please, our son. Please. My Lord, I beg you-"
Lucius's voice is fading.
"You're irritating me again, Malfoy."
"All I ask is that I can take my son away from the castle before… before we strike. Don't let him fight. Master, all I've done for you-"
"-is hardly enough for this request," the Dark Lord says coldly. "You're no more than a useless and easily replaceable tool to me, as you must surely know by now."
From her position on the Dark Lord's right side, Bella chuckles. Narcissa thinks of Dark Arts as she clenches her fists and steps forward, kneeling beside Lucius.
"I beg you, Lord," she echoes. He's not her Lord, she can't form that bond even in her most desperate hour, won't give him the pleasure. "You can have anything – anything in exchange for this one small favour. I will give up my life if that's what you desire-"
"One irritating Malfoy is more than enough," the Dark Lord raises his wand; Narcissa closes her eyes and waits. "Cru-"
"NO!" Lucius roars, already up from the floor, flinging himself at the outstretched wand and almost grabbing hold of it before he falls down to the floor, writhing in pain. "Leave… her… out of…"
"There, there, Cissy," Bellatrix pats Narcissa's shoulder. "There's no need to doubt Draco's capacity to defend himself, should he suddenly discover that he has the courage for it - I've taught him well."
That day, the last, Lucius returns to the Manor screaming for Severus and Narcissa can feel that it's drawing to a close, this war. It's in her husband's desperate voice.
"Draco," Lucius says after he's announced his message from the Dark Lord. "Please, Severus, get him out of there. I don't care how. Just…"
"You've made a promise," Narcissa adds, clutching Severus's robes, then his hand. He looks down at her with a facial expression more open than she expected, his eyes almost pained.
"I'll do my best," he replies. "You know I will."
"Don't listen to any delusions he might have about fighting for our cause!" Lucius is terrified on the verge of being furious now; he folds his arms and unfolds them again, looking for a wand that isn't there. "I don't care if you have to hex him unconscious, if you just get him out."
Severus bows his head slightly, seemingly at a loss for words. When he looks up he looks straight at Narcissa and the edges of his gaze, the raw emotions in the corners of his eyes, speak more than anything else.
"I'm truly sorry," he says. "But I can't make any more promises today."
On his way out, he lets his hand rest for a while on Lucius's arm.
"Forgive me," he says, and Narcissa wants to kill him.
They find their son in a corner, fighting a grown-up man wearing a pathetic Gryffindor robe that seems to have belonged to him many years and several pounds ago. It's barely a duel. Vermin, Narcissa thinks, a jolt of anger flaring up inside her. Draco waves his wand and ducks for hexes while the man aims for the boy's face with his fists.
Without looking at each other, they dive for spare wands on the floor, find four of them and aim those simultaneously at the broad back of the man harassing Draco. He flies several metres in the air and lands softly on a deceased Hufflepuff.
Draco stares at them, taking it in, and then he lowers his wand.
"I… I've been- The Death Eaters have attacked me," he says, pointing at a wound on his upper arm.
"They tend to do that," Lucius says. "Stupid, foolish brat. Why the hell didn't you flee before the madness begun?"
Narcissa looks at Draco, who stares stubbornly at his father.
"Why the hell didn't you?"
And Lucius doesn't have an answer to that so he merely shakes his head.
They remain in their corner for the rest of the battle, an independent army of three.
In the end, of course, Bella is right about Severus.
In the end, of course, the announcement of Bella's pet theory isn't her triumph but Harry Potter's. Narcissa thinks of her sister's dead body, thinks I spared the boy's life, I don't regret it, I actually don't.
"Did you hear, darling?" she asks, gently elbowing her husband. "Severus betrayed the Dark Lord."
"Yes, I heard," Lucius replies, his face expressionless. Then, as he turns his head slightly to meet her gaze, he gives an almost incredulous laugh. "The clever bastard!"
"He's dead." Draco isn't laughing. He stares at the corpses on the floor a few metres away. "I spoke to him earlier today, he told me to… He's dead."
And I'll send an ocean of flowers for his funeral, Narcissa thinks generously and pulls Draco closer. His eyes are wide, blank with tears and she pretends not to notice. They don't speak again for several minutes, maybe half an hour.
"What… What do we do now?" Draco asks eventually. "Are we fleeing?"
"No." Lucius shakes his head. "There's still enough gold in our family vault to keep us quite untouchable here, regardless of regime."
"We'll go back home and sort out the mess," Narcissa adds, feeling Lucius squeeze her hand that rests in his lap. "That's what we'll do, Draco."
The enormous room is crammed with sounds – people shouting out their grief and joy, people still dying, people already dead, ghosts circulating above them to assist with the passing over – but Narcissa realises the noise has finally stopped. It's quiet.
A cult of death, a thousand requiems for a thousand deadly sins but all that remains of it right here in the crowd is a shadow's chant: here we are mortal, here we are mortal, here we will always be mortal. She thinks everyone can hear it in the silence created as endearments and brutalities merge.
An Auror Narcissa doesn't recognise stops them before they leave, informs them of rules and policies and they Apparate home in the company of a pair of Aurors connected to the Order who will ensure they don't leave the country before the Death Eater trials. Draco pales, but Lucius merely nods.
This time, things are different.
Alone in their bedroom, too exhausted to sleep, Narcissa lifts her hand and shows it to her husband. Dim moonlight from the open windows makes it seem extraordinarily pale, like she's been drained.
"I lost my wedding ring," she says. "Must have fallen off during the battle."
"I'll buy you a new one." He sneers, faintly. "Once I've bought a little mercy from the powers that be."
They look at each other; remain motionless side by side upon the bedspread while they wait, in silence, for the moon to leave room for something else.
And so the night finally ends.