The Sugar Quill
Author: Thessaly  Story: A Model of Decorum and Tranquility  Chapter: 1. The Beautiful People
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65, 66, 67, 68

            65, 66, 67, 68. “Mum, I am NOT going on the bloody stupid retreat!” 

Narcissa Black sat in her bedroom, running the brush through her white-blonde hair.  It was better than being downstairs.  Drama, never patient at the best of times, was having another fight with Mother.  And if Narcissa wasn’t mistaken, her elder sister was going to be chastised for her bad language.  73, 74, 75, 76, 77.  Narcissa had never understood her sister’s volatility, especially on this subject.

“I don’t like the Malfoys, and they don’t like me.  I’m not interested in spending time with them.  Why can’t you just understand that?  The Austins are perfectly respectable people, you’ve admitted that yourself, so why can’t I just go and spend the summer with Cassandra instead of going on some stupid retreat!”   

Drama was trying to be logical now, which would probably be better than indiscriminate yelling.  98, 99, 100.  Narcissa laid down the hairbrush.  Drama had never been very patient, and Narcissa wondered how long this streak of logic was going to last.  She parted her smooth hair and pinned it back with a pair of jeweled hair-pins she had been given for her seventeenth birthday, now three weeks gone.  “Mother, I’m nineteen years old, and I can do what I like!” The doorbell rang.

Someone tapped on Narcissa’s door.  “Come in,” she called.  Andromeda Black put her head around the doorframe.  “Guests for tea.  Mother wants you downstairs.”

“Did you win?”

“Does anyone win arguments with Mother?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, she can go to hell!  I’m going to Cassandra’s house for the summer.”

Andromeda dropped onto Narcissa’s bed with explosive sigh.  She was possessed of a mercurial temperament and a boundless reserve of emotion.  She was Andromeda to governesses and older family members, but Drama on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team.  Narcissa, used to her sister’s pointless tantrums, thought that her Quidditch nickname was more accurate. 

“Why don’t you want to go on the retreat?”

“Bloody Malfoys,” growled Drama, throwing one of the pillows across the room.  Narcissa winced. 

“Could you please not do that?  What’s wrong with the Malfoys?”

“ Oh, Julia’s all right, I suppose.  But she’s only Marguerite’s niece; she’s not really a Malfoy.”  Andi paused.  “Will Julia be at the retreat?”

“I think so.”  Narcissa paused.  “We’ll have to see Bella and Rudolphus though.”  It was as close as Narcissa could get to criticizing her sister and brother-in-law.  It would also be the first meeting since their marriage.  It would be – interesting.

“That’s it, I’m not going.  At least we don’t have to put up with Marguerite.”

“Drama!”  Narcissa’s eyes widened, momentarily.

“Sorry,” said Drama, flushing.  “No Cis, I really am sorry.  I just, well, I never liked her that much.  She always made such a pet out of Bella.”

Narcissa looked up, face immaculate.  “It’s fine.”

Drama shook her head.  “I don’t get you, you know that?  Most people would yell at me if I said something like that.  But it doesn’t seem to bother you.” 

Narcissa looked at herself in the mirror again.  “That’s why we’re not each other.   I don’t always understand you, either.”  She paused.  “Who’s here?”

“Guess.  I thought you know they were coming – you look so nice.”

“No, I didn’t know.  Is Julia with them?”  Narcissa adjusted the sweep of the liner under her eyes.  She wondered if she should put on a bit more rouge.  She would be the first to admit that she didn’t need makeup, but she liked knowing that she had control of  what other people saw when they looked at her.  Faces were unreliable.

            “No.”

Narcissa examined her expression again, and was satisfied.  She transferred her gaze to her elder sister.  “Are you going?”

“Nope.”  Drama sat up on the bed and winked.  “I got sent to my room for bad language.” 

At the door of Narcissa’s bedroom Drama paused.  “Didn’t Lucius give you those hair clips?”

            “Yes.”

            Drama shook her head.  “How can you let him do that to you?’

            “Do what?”

            “Chase you.  It’s disgusting, and you know he only does it because he couldn’t get Bella.”

            “He does not.”

            “Fine,” Drama snapped, suddenly irritable again.  “I didn’t put you down as that blind, Cis.  Can’t you see the way he looks at her?”  She tossed her head.  “Have it your way.  Be deluded.”

           

            As Narcissa entered the room, the two guests rose.  The Malfoys aged well, Narcissa’s mother always said, and certainly that was true for Abraxas Malfoy.  He had to be at least fifty, and he looked it, but somehow it didn’t matter.  He still carried with him the power, grace and lethal charm that all the Malfoys possessed in abundance.   Narcissa glided over to Abraxas with a polite smile on her face.  “Mr. Malfoy.” She held out a gloved hand and curtsied.  “This is a surprise; you usually come on Thursdays”

            “If I had my choice, we would call every day.” As she straightened up, Mr. Malfoy looked her over appraisingly.  “My goodness, Narcissa, you get prettier every time we visit.”

            Narcissa smiled.  “Thank you, Mr. Malfoy.” she said, lightly.

            “The pleasure is all mine” he said, and she laughed, the exquisite, bell-like sounds ringing through the drawing room.

            She then crossed to where Lucius Malfoy stood, one hand resting on the back of his chair.  He was the image of his father, or what his father must have been when he was twenty-one; tMalfoy was more intense than his father, and gave the impression of being dangerous.  “Mr. Malfoy.” Narcissa said, extending a hand.  “I am glad to see you.”

            Lucius Malfoy raised her hand, pulling the glove back so he could plant a kiss on the bare skin of her hand.  It was a surprisingly intimate gesture.  “As I am glad to see you, Miss Narcissa,” he said.  He relinquished her hand.  “Tell me you’ll go to all the London dances with me this winter.  I haven’t got a partner.”

            “Oh, no.  I have one more year of school left, Mr. Malfoy.  And surely you could get a better partner than a school-girl.”

 “I don’t think I could get a better partner than you, Miss Narcissa.”  Lucius said, with a half smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

            Later, Narcissa wandered the gardens arm-in-arm with Lucius, leaving her mother to play hostess alone; she was expected to entertain Lucius, preferably in private.

            “What is Julia up to?” Narcissa asked.  “I see you all so little, but especially her.”

            Lucius smiled.  “She has been in London a great deal, and her research seems to be better than our poor company.”

            “I don’t think I’ve seen her all summer.”

            “We were both at your sister’s wedding.”

            “Of course.”  There was a pause while they both remembered the spectacle that had been Bella’s wedding.  The presence of Bellatrix the warrior hung like a thunderstorm over the conversation, ominous and unfulfilled.  It would be another week before the pressure broke.  Narcissa searched for a subject more pleasant to her companion, and, if it must be owned, to herself.  “I was just thinking of the summers we used to spend together, all of us.  You know, Bella, Drama, Regulus, me, you and Julia.  Quite an interesting combination.”

            “Yes.  Never enough for a Quidditch team, though,” Lucius said smiling.  “I used to regret that so much.  Fortunately, we always got to watch Anthony Wilkes and Drama throw Quaffles at each other.”  He paused. 

“That is, when you hadn’t enchanted the Quaffles to do strange things,” said Narcissa with a twinkle of a smile.  “I was quite fond of the ones that belched smoke.  Highly creative.”

“Oh, Merlin,” said Lucius.  “What about when you and Julia dressed the Nott boy and Regulus up as winners of the Witch Weekly fashion show?”

            Narcissa laughed, and turned her face away, blushing.  “Oh, you would have to remember all the really embarrassing things I did when I was ten.  You know me too well.”

            “On the contrary.  I am very interested in knowing you better.” 

 

Several days later, as Narcissa was directing the loading of the coaches, Regulus and Aunt Ursula appeared on the doorstep.  Fifteen year old was Sirius dawdling behind them, along with one of his school friends.  Narcissa could just make out a faint “...really horrible”  as she followed her mother and Drama outside to the waiting carriage. 

            “Narcissa, dear,” her mother said, pulling her aside.  “Would you mind riding with them?” she asked, nodding to Sirius and the friend (what was his name?). 

            As it happened, Narcissa minded very much.  The last thing she wanted to do was spend three hours in a carriage with both Sirius and his friend.  It was a pity they couldn’t Apparate.   “What about Regulus?” she demurred.

            “He’ll come with me,” said Aunt Ursula, smiling at her son.  “Reggie missed Mummy when he was away at school this year.”  Narcissa smiled politely. 

            “Very much, ma’am,” Regulus said, smiling.  He was eleven years old, and pampered beyond belief.  He leaned around his mother and pulled a face at his brother.  “I’m getting a new broom for next year, did Mummy tell you that?” 

            Sirius, as anybody who spent enough time around him, would well know, desperately wanted a new broom.  “Yeah, well you can shove it up your - !” he yelled, a spark of red exploding from his wand.  Regulus bent over coughing, hit with some curse. 

            “Sirius Nigellus Black!”  Aunt Ursula advanced, pulling out her wand.  “Silencio Tempus!  Six hours.”  Sirius, adept at evading everyone but his mother, caught the charm full in the face.  He opened his mouth and shut it again, face red with humiliation.  “Narcissa, would you look after him, please?”

            Narcissa sighed, inwardly condemning her aunt to a private netherworld.  She didn’t want to babysit.  Not at all.  She opened the door to the carriage.  “Get in.” she said to the friend.

            “But, Miss...she...he...” the boy was almost in tears. 

            “Get in, please!  You too, Sirius.  Drama, which carriage are you going in?”  Finally, Narcissa grabbed both boys by the wrists and pulled them into the carriage.  “Drive on,” she called. 

            “Please take it off,” the friend implored.  Sirius’s face was still red, and his eyes swam with what looked like thinly disguised tears.  He rubbed at them and looked resolutely out the window.

            “I’m going to, oh, what’s your name?”

            “Peter, Miss.  Peter Pettigrew.”  Oh, of course.  His father was a minor Ministry official, and from what she’d been hearing, he was one of Sirius’s most respectable friends.  Narcissa wondered fleetingly how much Sirius had had to fight to get to be allowed to bring even this one with him.

            “Sirius, how many times have I told you to be subtle?”  Narcissa asked, searching for her wand.  “Finite incantatum.

            “Piss off,” said Sirius tiredly. 

            “I’m trying to help you Sirius,”  said Narcissa.  “You’re certainly old enough to look after yourself – why don’t you just do as you’re told?  Even Drama doesn’t court danger this badly.”

            “Don’t tickle sleeping dragons,” said Drama, winking at Sirius.  “Cheer up.  She doesn’t mean it.”

            “I do mean it,” said Narcissa with a warning look at her sister.  “If he would just pay attention, it would be a whole lot easier.  Subtlety isn’t a bad thing.”

            “Why should I trust you?” Sirius muttered mutinously.  “You’re one of them.”

            “Them?”

            “You know, the beautiful people.”

            “Who?” Drama looked intrigued.

            “Bella.  That sort.”  Sirius flushed.  “That’s what we call them in Gryffindor, anyway.”

            “The old families,” said Peter.

            Narcissa turned to look out of the window.  Drama was asking for a better description of these “beautiful people.”  But Narcissa understood what Sirius meant.  She supposed she was one of them.  It was her circle and her people: the Blacks, the Malfoys, the Wilkes, the Rosiers, the Notts, the Lestranges.  That sort.  The Old Families.  The Dark Families.  Society.  Respectable People.  There were a lot of names for them.  Narcissa wished Sirius hadn’t brought this topic up just now.  She twisted her fingers – fine, pale, French-manicured fingers, in the fabric of her dress.  The Beautiful People. She looked and acted like one; she knew that, but that was because she knew, deep down, that the best way to follow your own agenda was to do what other people wanted.  She thought of Lucius Malfoy leaning over his chess board, fingers tapping the fine gilt edge.  He saw life as a game to be played and to be one by certain rules.  As it happened, so did Narcissa.  The rules…she gazed at the summer trees.  That was Drama’s problem, the reason she kept flinging herself up against the parental decrees.  That was Sirius’s problem too; the lesson he hadn’t learned.  That was why her clever young cousin acted like a child of thirteen at home.  He didn’t understand those rules; neither of them did.  There was a reality that shaped the lives of the Old Families, a reality which must be accepted for survival on any level in their world.  Oh, Sirius.  That was why he was so desperately unhappy.  He was going to be trouble, Narcissa could feel it. 

            “Hey, Cis,”  Speak of the devil, Narcissa thought.  “You have your tarot cards?’

            “Oh, are you doing tricks?” Drama asked with a smile.  “Do me too, would you?”

            “Sirius, I have asked you repeatedly to call me by my full name.” Narcissa rummaged in the baggage on the seat next to her.  “Why me anyway?  You all take divination – you can do your own readings.”

            “Drama’s rubbish at divination,” said Sirius.  Drama pushed him. 

            “Doesn’t matter.  I’ve graduated, AND I’m gainfully employed, all without need of divination.”

            “Besides, its harder to read accurately for yourself, that’s what Applebaum says,” added Sirius. 

“Rem- one of our friends tried it and found out he was going to fall through a hole to China,”  Peter volunteered.  He giggled. 

            “Sounds more like an interpretation problem than anything else,” said Narcissa.

            “And you’re way better than anyone else,” Drama said, watching the cards sift through Narcissa’s fingers.  “Everyone knows you’re brill at divination.”

            “Hmm.” said Narcissa, noncommittally.  She was good.  It worried her sometimes.  A sweet, pampered daughter should not have talents as, well, unpredictable as divination.  Mr. Malfoy – or anybody else for that matter – would not want to marry a diviner.  They would want to marry an accomplished woman.  She could feel the familiar slick of the cards, and liked it.  It felt right; the tiny part of her that sometimes questioned the rituals and rigidity of life among the beautiful people was proud of an honest talent.

 

            The Malfoy’s summer retreats were legendary.  It was the ambition of many a petty minister to get onto the august guest list, but few ever did.  The Old Families, however, had been a part of the retreats since the conquest, and they figured in most of Narcissa’s memories.  It felt good to be pulling up to the old familiar house again.  She looked, automatically, for the figure of Marguerite Malfoy on the steps to welcome the visitors, and realized with a pang that the delicate, clever Mrs. Malfoy was really, truly gone.  She stepped out of the carriage, leaving the two boys to Drama, and smelled the light, pine-scented breeze.  Poor Marguerite...death left a gaping hole somewhere around your heart, and every time you noticed the absence, it hurt a little more.  What really hurt, Narcissa reflected, was that she might have prevented it.  Told Marguerite not to go out in the cold in such a thin robe – more suited to high summer than late, wet September.  And then, perhaps told Lucius or Abraxas how serious the illness was.  But she hadn’t, no matter how many times she saw a funeral procession or a grieving Abraxas in her crystal.  I’m not going to think about that, Narcissa thought, shading her eyes with one immaculately white gloved hand.

            She walked over to the steps to greet the hosts.  Aunt Ursula and Mother were talking to the second figure on the steps.  There was a nod, a few laughs, then the figure turned.  “Julia!” said Narcissa in surprise.  “Your cousin led me to think you had become a hermit!”

            “No, not quite.  And certainly not for you.” Lucius Malfoy’s adopted sister held out both hands, which Narcissa took gracefully, kissing her friend on the cheek as she did.

            “Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Malfoy,” said Narcissa, nodding to father and son as she passed.  Julia took her arm and led her into the house. 

            “Come and help me find some lemonade, dear.”

            As they entered, Narcissa thought she heard her mother saying, “...and do you know when my other daughter plans to arrive?”

            And from Sirius, who, with Peter, was halfway up the stairs to the second floor and the rooms he usually occupied, “Bella’s coming?  Oh, bloody hell.”   Her cousin, supremely oblivious at fifteen, was probably the only member of the family who wasn’t aware of Bella’s return, or of the undercurrent of tension she caused, whether present or absent.

 

            Bella arrived with the evening, in an elegant tawny brown coach.  She was wearing new robes of a particularly fine cut, bought in Paris on her honeymoon.  She was sleek as a cat, her particular and disturbing beauty at its fullest.  She always looked like that just as she was about to enter a room full of people she could manipulate, Narcissa thought.  It was so simple: Bella enjoyed causing trouble.  Narcissa both hated and admired her oldest sister, who was dark and sensual to Narcissa’s own refined fairness.  Bella had taught her, largely through example, about control and subtlety, and about getting what you wanted.  You did not trust Bella.  You avoided her.  Her marriage had been, in fact, quite fortunate.  Having something as de riguer as a husband did her good, especially when he was as presentable as Rudolphus Lestrange.  Narcissa heard the front door open, heard the voices in the hall.  She, Julia, Drama, Sirius, and Peter were clustered around Narcissa’s crystal, which she was reading as a parlor trick.  Lucius was watching and pretending he wasn’t.  His head snapped up when they heard Bella in the hall.  

            Narcissa remembered Drama’s earlier warning about Lucius and Bella.  She was well aware that Bella had been pulling Lucius by a string since he was twelve, but with her marriage to someone in almost every way his, Bella had most likely lost Lucius.  Ever since Bella announced her engagement, Lucius had begun to attack her as politely as one possibly could.  In the process, he had found it expedient to favor Narcissa, who, at sixteen and a half, enjoyed it a great deal.  He was clever, charming, rich, and very well connected.  That he was using her to get back at Bella, she was well aware, but she was trained to use any situation to her advantage. Her family expected her to marry, and she couldn’t do better.  Narcissa smiled, discreetly, at the prospect of the coming contest.  She decided to ignore Bella for the moment.

“What do you see?”  Peter asked, craning over the crystal ball.

 “I think it’s a white hawthorn,” she said. 

“Don’t those usually mean unrequited love?”  Julia asked.  She smiled archly at Lucius, teasing him a little as only a sister could do.

            “May I look?”  Drama asked.  She seemed amused too – it was no doubt the possibility of baiting Bella, who disliked Drama even more than Narcissa.

            “Certainly, but do be careful.  You know how determined Narcissa is to keep the things that are hers.  Especially if they were freely given.”  Julia was a cousin, properly a Desmoulins, but she played the old family games to perfection.  Drama leaned over the crystal, smiling at Julia as she did.

            “You know, I think you’re right.”  Peter’s head was going back and forth as if he were watching a Quidditch game, first looking at one sister, then at the other.  Julia had effectively ruined Bella’s entrance, and obviously reveled in the fact.  Narcissa wondered briefly what exactly the relationship was between Julia and Bella; she had never found out. 

            “Oh, is Narcissa still playing with that thing?” Bella asked scathingly.  “Honestly, Lucius,” she added, drawing his attention back to her.  “You’d never believe how young my sisters can be. Would you mind?”  She said, turning her back to him to he could take her evening wrap.

            Lucius remained seated.  “On the contrary, I find Miss Narcissa very mature.”   He paused.  “You seem in need of assistance.”  Bella was still waiting.  “Perhaps you’d better ask Lestrange, he seems to be standing around panting for something to do.  Some sherry, Lestrange?”  The man shook his head, but took Bella’s wrap without speaking.  “And, to be honest my dear,” Lucius said, nodding to Bella, “I think the only reason you married him was to have someone to take your wrap.”

            “You know me too well,” Bella said coyly.  “But I think an intellectual match is just as important for a woman with ... needs.  I find that I need a clever man to bring a tête-a-tête to a ... climax.”

            “I didn’t know married women could make innuendos like that,” said Drama, just loud enough to be heard.

            Bella’s head snapped around.  “I beg your pardon, Andromeda?”

            “What?  I didn’t mean anything,” said Drama sweetly.  “It was a joke, Bella.”  It was times like these, Narcissa thought, that she remembered that Drama was a Black too, no matter how she liked to ignore it.

            “I didn’t know any woman could make innuendos like that,” said Lestrange, who was standing in the doorway, showing off his tousled dark hair and broad shoulders to full advantage. 

            “Except maybe to her husband,” said Bella.  She went over to her ruffled spouse and kissed him.  “Everyone makes allowances for honeymooners.”

            “Lucius, are you going to offer us any sherry?”  asked Julia.  Lucius looked away from the couple in the doorway with a distinctly sour look on his face.

            “Of course, if you will ask me.”

            “Mr. Malfoy, I’ve been working hard,” said Narcissa, smiling through her eyelashes, and hoping he found them as pleasing a shade of gold as she did, “and if you could get me a sherry, I would be much obliged.”

            “I would get you anything, Miss Narcissa,”  said Lucius.  “Certainly such a small thing as a glass of sherry.”

            “I am exceedingly grateful, Mr. Malfoy,” said Narcissa, brushing his hand as she took the glass and leaning back in her chair.  “Consider me in your debt.”  Lucius’s fingers twined in hers for a moment and he leaned forward as she leaned back.

            “Narcissa, may I look at your crystal?”  Bella asked.  She had apparently recovered and renewed the attack.

            “Certainly,” said Narcissa vaguely, far more interested Lucius’s warm fingers, brushing the back of her hands.  I’ll have to leave my gloves off more often, she thought hazily.

            Julia stood up, smiling.  “While Bella spies on people, perhaps, Narcissa, you would play for us?”

            “Oh, no, I couldn’t.  It’s your house – you had better do the honors!”

            “Miss Narcissa,” said Lucius, suddenly, “I would love to hear you play.  I think harps are by far the most beautiful instrument.  Not to speak badly of your piano, Julia.”

            “What a wonderful idea, Lucius.  Narcissa can play while I sing,” said Bella.  She was sitting at the little table with the crystal, but had looked up, the firelight skidding along the sharp lines of her face.  “Or,” she added, coming up with a better idea, “Julia can accompany me.”

            “I would rather hear Miss Narcissa alone,” said Lucius coolly.  Lestrange appeared to agree.

            “Well, if that’s the case, I think its time I paid my respects to your parents, Lucius.”

            “Probably,” he answered, obviously far more interested in the sight of Narcissa walking over the music cupboard.

            “OH!” cried Bella.  “I’m so sorry.”  Narcissa’s crystal fell to the floor as Bella stood, shattering on the smooth wood parquet with a smash.  Narcissa spun around in time to see the look of pure malice on Bella’s face. 

            Lucius saw it too.  “Don’t worry, Miss Narcissa,” he said, coming over to where she stood by the music cabinet.  He put a finger under her chin and tipped it up until she looked directly at him.  “It’s provident, really.  I had been wanting to buy you something to prove my ... regard for you.  I hope you’ll allow me to replace the crystal your sister so carelessly broke.”

            Narcissa was surprised.  Even the charming Lucius Malfoy was not usually this demonstrative, or, for that matter, obvious.  “Thank you, Mr. Malfoy.  I would like that above all things.”

            The Lestranges exited the room, Bella pulling Rudophus behind her and fuming.  Sirius and Drama, who appeared to have been holding their breaths since Bella approached the table, let them out again.

            “Uh, do you want to ...?” Sirius muttered to Peter, gesturing towards the french doors and escape.

            “OK.”

            Drama shook her head at Sirius.  “Why don’t I show we show Peter the woods?”  No one paid them any attention, but Narcissa heard Drama saying as she ushered the two into the hall, “Now that, gentlemen, is subtlety.”

            Narcissa, alone in the room, took a deep breath and knelt to gather the pieces of her crystal.  She noticed her hands were shaking, and willed them to stop.  It was the first, perhaps second, time in her life that she had won a skirmish with Bella.  That was me.  I did that.  She swallowed, and the sense of empowerment vanished.  She was ten again, and afraid of what her glamorous sister would do next.  Bella took to revenge naturally.   Narcissa took a deep breath and stood up.  She examined herself in the wall mirror, reordering her hair and calming herself, preparing for the conflict that would begin the minute she walked into the dining room.  It was going to be a very interesting week, now that Bella was back.

 

 

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