The Sugar Quill
Author: Thessaly  Story: A Model of Decorum and Tranquility  Chapter: 2. Diagon Alley in the Summer
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“So this is your secret hideaway

“So this is your secret hideaway.” Narcissa said, looking around the small room.  Alembics, glassware and potions materials were ranged along the walls of the ruthlessly tidy lab, everything clear and surgically ordered. 

            Julia picked up a bit of glass tubing, absently working as she spoke.  “Yes, it must look rather impressive.  I keep all my long term projects running in here.”  Her hands caressed the glassware and jars and Narcissa realized just how much her friend belonged here.  Julia was always poised, smiling, and elegant, but in the lab her manners took on a sense of ownership.  Visible through the other girl’s habitual poise, Narcissa could see a deep, possessive love.  Julia was invested in this lab and in her work with a fanaticism that reminded Narcissa of Bella           Narcissa looked at a sheaf of notes by one of the vials.  It was labeled Veritaserum 129 in Julia’s elegant backhand, and beneath it, Narcissa could see an old manuscript, the blurred writing apparently on the same subject.  “What are you doing?”  she asked.

            Julia coloured.  “I’m sorry - I can’t tell you.  He said it was to be a secret.”

            One of the things the old families had in common was an ability to recognize italicized pronouns. Narcissa was amazed.  She had known her friend was talented, but she hadn’t known that she was talented enough to come to the attention of the Dark Lord.  “You work for Him?  Is it dangerous?”  Narcissa asked.

            “I am in his employ,” said Julia, her voice taking on formal cadence.  “Is it dangerous?  Perhaps.  Anything is dangerous, especially for Him.  But it will be worth it.”

            Narcissa was reminded again, unnervingly, of Bella and her child’s curiosity, followed by her teenage crush and then by her woman's obsession, with the Dark Lord.  “I’m...amazed.  I didn’t know you were that good.” 

            Julia shrugged.  “We haven’t talked that much in the last few years.”  She took a quick look at one of her bubbling cauldrons, stirred it and added something, then turned to Narcissa.  “It’s a bit close in here, and the fumes can be quite oppressive.  Why don’t we go out on the terrace, and have a nice long chat?”

           

            Lucius had been right: they didn’t see much of Julia.  Whatever she was doing took up a lot of her time, but she would emerge in the cool evenings to join them on the porch, or to play a little music; sometimes smiling, sometimes frowning.  Narcissa, for her part, carried the avoidance of Bella to a fine art.  The week that Drama got the owl, Julia’s frowns were noticeably more common than her smiles, and Narcissa was feeling on edge from one too many evenings with the Lestranges.  It was at breakfast, held every day in the wood-paneled dining room with the immaculate white sideboard and the shining silver trays, that the owl arrived.  Narcissa sipped black coffee delicately and wondered if Bella was planning to join the walk out to the lake and the al fresco lunch planned for that afternoon.  Peter and Sirius were the only other two in the room, and they were busy trying to make the strangest combination of breakfasts they could.  “What about eggs and ham and treacle and oatmeal?” asked Peter.  Narcissa wondered where the treacle had come from.  It stuck her as somewhat inelegant for the Malfoy sideboard.

            “Sounds vile,” said Drama, coming in.  Her purple robes were surprisingly tidy this morning, but she looked as if she hadn’t slept all night.  She registered the subject.  “Why do the Malfoys serve treacle at breakfast?”

            “That’s boring,” Sirius declared.  “That’s like Scottish breakfast or something.  Try this:  yogurt, treacle, and kippers.”

            “Ugh!  You win.”  For once, Narcissa had to agree with Peter, tiresome child though he was.

The owl soared through the open window and landed in front of Narcissa, who divested it of its letter.

            “Is it for me?” Sirius asked, abruptly losing interest in the game.  He was corresponding with his school friends semi-covertly, mostly because he didn’t know how his mother would take it, and kept a watch on all owls entering the property.  Narcissa looked at the letter.

            “No.  Drama, it’s for you.”

            “Is it? Yes!”  Drama grabbed her letter and read it over quickly once, then again.  The hand looked like Cassandra Austin’s.  There was a familiar look on Drama’s face as she finished reading it for the fourth time.  It was a cunning look: the look she had when she was going to give someone a particularly nasty case of boils, or when she was going to bowl the Slytherin keeper over backwards with an overly forceful goal.  The boys left the room, heading for the woods.  Narcissa took another sip of her coffee, wondering about the letter, and where a distraction was when you needed something.  She would have liked to know just what Drama was up to.  The distraction came in the form of a house-elf, who edged into the room and said, “Miss Andromeda, Mistress Ursula is wanting to see you as soon as possible, please.”

            “I’m coming,” said Drama vaguely.  A summons from Aunt Ursula was always thing to be dreaded and, if possible, avoided. 

            “Andromeda!”  Aunt Ursula’s voice echoed through the four rooms leading into the dining room from the front stairwell.  Drama panicked visibly and slid out the side door, giving Narcissa an eloquent eye message of cover for me, please?

            Narcissa turned a quelling look on the house-elf.  “You may go,” she told it, and it went.            “Where is that girl?” Aunt Ursula asked, striding into the room.

            “I don’t know, Aunt,” said Narcissa politely. 

            “What’s that?” Aunt Ursula asked, distracted by Drama’s letter.

“Mine,” said Narcissa coolly, picking it up as her aunt reached for it.  “Just a note from a school friend.  She’s...” Narcissa opened the letter, “gone to Italy on holiday.”

“Oh,” answered Aunt Ursula, somewhat thwarted, “Well, if you see Andromeda, tell her I want a word with her.  Irresponsible child!  I don’t know why the Ministry tolerates her.  If I had my way with that girl...”

Narcissa continued to peruse the letter so that she might not have to listen to Aunt Ursula’s tirade about Drama’s bad behavior.  The woman finally left, and Narcissa was alone at last.

Hoy, Drama! read the note, in Cassandra Austin’s large, curvy writing.  Have you figured out how to escape the wax-works yet?  Ted and I had a long discussion on this subject last night, but we didn’t generate anything useful.  The ideas got stranger and stranger the more drinks we had, but somehow I don’t think you can transfigure yourself wings and fly out of the Labyrinth of Castle Perilous (Ted’s idea, not mine.  He gets very classical and very romantic when he gets drunk, but bet you knew that already.  He wouldn’t even listen when I told him Icarus ended badly).  So, we don’t know how to get you out, but if you can get to London, we’ll take care of you.  I’ve a spare bed of sorts, and Ted says his floor is very comfortable.  Let us know when your coming and we’ll be around to kidnap you in the middle of Diagon Alley. 

Keep in touch!

Cass 

On the bottom of this note was scrawled a short message in an untidy hand.  Sweet Lady of my soul, come to London!  Cass and I are lonely, and spend the evenings hitting Galahad (that’s the new club – it just opened and its (it's)  one of the reasons why you have to come back to London) without you.  It’s a sad, sad thing, and we miss you most horribly.

Your Teddy-Bear

What’s a Teddy-Bear?  Narcissa thought, putting down the letter.  So Drama’s boyfriend missed her.  How adorable.  She had no doubt the romantic Ted and Teddy-Bear were the same boy.  Narcissa tapped her nails on the table top.  Drama was inarguably up to something.  The question was, how was she going to do it, and how much was it going to annoy the family?

 

            Diagon Alley in the summer was rather horrible.  The constant stream of out-of-school children and tourists added to the usual bustle and made the streets seem even fuller.  They picked up dust and other unspeakable street litter that accumulated in corners and, while it didn’t actually do anything, looked liable to grab your ankle as you walked by.  Narcissa still didn’t quite follow how she’d been talked into coming to London with Drama – something about camouflage, which was probably unnecessary, but, well, this was Drama after all – but there she was, standing in the bookstore with Cassandra Austin and a boy with floppy brown hair who’d been introduced as Edward Tonks.  Narcissa didn’t recognize the name, and assumed, for Drama’s sake, that he was obscure wizard blood.  She hated to think of Drama consorting with a - Muggle.  The little group finished their conversation, and Drama looked over at her sister.  “Narcissa, we’re off.”

“Goodbye, then.”  Narcissa nodded at Drama’s friends, but mostly at Cassandra.  Narcissa’s horrible feeling that the Tonks boy was Muggle-born was growing.  Drama looked somewhat flustered.  “You should probably be back early tonight, in time for the music.  Just tell them I dumped you somewhere and ran off, right?”

“Of course.”

Drama sighed, and hugged Narcissa quickly.  “I’ll see you sometime this fall, maybe.”

“You’re not coming back this summer?” Narcissa was surprised.

“Cis, are you having a laugh?  No, but seriously, I’m going to owl mother tonight and tell her.  They actually do want me back at the Ministry early, so I’ll stay here.”

Narcissa hugged Drama back.  “Goodbye then,” she said again.  “I’ll...miss you, Drama.”

Drama squeezed her shoulders, waved, and walked through the door with her friends.  She looked alive for the first time this summer. The Tonks boy was flirting with her rather gauchely, but it seemed to bring something out of Drama that Narcissa had never seen before. Narcissa felt, for a moment, a sting of loneliness, or discomfort: she wasn’t sure which.  Jealousy, perhaps.  She shook her head, feeling foolish.  She was a Black, born and, more importantly, bred. If Drama wanted to betray her family and run around with a Muggle boy, that was her business; Narcissa knew what was expected of her.  She was in London to do some shopping, so she had better do it.  But she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to walk into the seething mass of humanity that was Diagon Alley in July. 

            In the end, she went, a slim, elegant figure in green robes, white gloves and a large white hat.  She threaded her way through the street with the expected difficulty, but the crowd outside Quality Quidditch Supplies was too much and she had to actively push her way through.  Someone shoved her, and she tripped sideways into a smaller, and shadier, alley.  Glaring at the crowd, she leaned against the wall, fanning herself with a hand.  It was too hot.  There was a store opposite her, the flaking hand-painted sign at a slightly drunken angle announcing that this was Jasper Jumbley’s Junk.  The store looked cooler than forcing her way through the main Alley, and Narcissa had a weakness for Diagon Alley junk stores.  Despite her tidy habits, she rather liked the little stores with their eclectic merchandise and eccentric owners.  The merchandise, old, dirty, and usually broken, had the thrill of novelty.  She pushed the door, and somewhere in the dusk, a bell rang. 

            “Need any help, Miss?”  Said a pimply youth who was sitting in a tall chair behind the side counter, reading what looked like The Standard Book of Spells, Grade Four

            “No, thank you.  I’m just looking.”

            “Good,” said the youth, and went back to his book.  Narcissa threaded her way through the junk.  The store was full of wonky brass scales, potion kits missing half their ingredients, and a shelf full of tired, very boring books.  After some hunting, she found one gold earring with a pretty filigree pattern.  Perhaps it could be turned into a pendant?  Drama would like it, Narcissa thought.  It wouldn’t do for Julia, who liked her jewels colored, cut and new.  There was a box of old gloves, and Narcissa was digging in it, wondering if she could find a pair in aubergine to go with the robes she was having made for the winter, when she realized she was not alone.  The other customer was standing, back to her, reading one of the little books.  Narcissa looked back to her gloves again, and something caught her eye.  It was a table of divination supplies: a pack of tarot cards missing the entire suit of wands and with mustaches drawn on all the major arcana. A dowsing rod that looked as though it might have been doubling as a slinky.  A wooden box of I Ching casting tablets, intricately and beautifully carved, which Narcissa distrusted because they were in such good condition.  It was not nearly as good material as you’d get in Knockturn Alley, but cheap and surprisingly diverse.  There were some other loose I Ching paraphenalia, several chipped rune stones, two broken oracle bones, and a crystal ball. 

            Narcissa picked it up.  Lucius Malfoy had offered to replace hers, but she was a little unsure of the propriety of accepting.  Were crystal balls in the same league as flowers or candy?  This one was in good condition, considering its compatriots, but not as well cared-for as the I Ching set.  There were a few chips on the outside and a curious, smoky flaw in the center of the ball, but nothing too out of the ordinary.  On a whim, she whispered the incantation to start up the dormant crystal.  She might as well see if it worked.  To her surprise, the ball filled with the pale bluish smoke she expected from good crystals.  It roiled for a moment, then twisted in on itself, giving her a brief glimpse of a woman in black and pink and gold, her hands in the air and dancing.  She was smiling.  Narcissa gave the ball a closer inspection, but there was still nothing outwardly wrong with it.  It was good, there was no doubt about that.  Very good.  There was no reason not to buy it.  She would need one for her NEWTs this year.  She also picked up the pair of gloves and earring, and headed to the till, still looking at the crystal.  Of course, since that sort of thing always happened, she walked into the other boy in the shop.  She hoped she handled it well, although it was equally both of their faults.  He was reading as he walked and she was still looking at her crystal.  Both the objects of their attention fell to the floor, the crystal rolling towards a table.  His elderly glass ink jar fell as well, and splattered explosively, sending gold ink across the bottom five inches of Narcissa’s robes, and probably her shoes as well.  She just managed to hold onto her gloves. 

The robe was ruined, of course.  The boy looked up at her properly, and flushed bright crimson.  “I’m so sorry.  I – Well, I obviously wasn’t looking where I was going, now was I?”  He rubbed his forehead.  “Umm.  Merlin, I feel like such an idiot.”  They arrived gathered their things and paid for them at the till.  He held the door open, saying “That was just horrible...a really great way to start my life as a responsible adult.  I, umm,” he saw her properly in the sun and looked, if possible, even more embarrassed.  “Oh, sweet Circe, it’s Narcissa Black, isn’t it?  The one who wins the Divination prizes every year and always looks immaculate, even at the Quidditch matches when the rest of us are a holy mess.  Oh, Merlin, I just dumped gold ink on Narcissa Black.” 

Narcissa smiled in spite of herself.  “I am here, if that makes any difference in what you’re saying.  It’s – Longbottom?  Head Boy Longbottom?”

“Yes.  Well, former Head Boy, I’m done now.  How I got to be Head Boy, I’ll never know.  You must think I’m completely dappy.”  He sighed.  “Look, shall I buy you an ice cream?”  He shook his head and grimaced for a moment.  “There I go again.  I’ve ruined your dress and your shoes and probably your afternoon, and then I go and offer you ice cream, and girls never eat ice cream.  Let me try that again.  Would you like a cup of tea?  Coffee?  Or shall I just go away and let you deal with your wardrobe difficulties away from my appalling clumsiness?”

Narcissa giggled.  Longbottom had been Head Boy last year, and had indeed had a reputation for gaucherie.  He was a year ahead of her, so she’d never had classes with him, but she’d heard he was brilliant at some things and very clever at everything else.  As a Slytherin, she had never really talked to him.  Now, though, she felt intoxicated by the first real freedom she’d ever experienced.  Even at Hogwarts where some, like Sirius, found liberty (although in the case of her cousin, it was probably a little too much liberty), Narcissa was surrounded by people who watched what she did and said.  It was like an extension of home, really.  But now, here, she was completely alone.  There was little chance she would see anybody connected with her life and her world.  And she remembered the look in Drama’s eyes as she was leaving, and the way that her walk eased into a fluid skimming motion, and the unfamiliar mellow note in her voice.  And of course, Longbottom was from a very old, well-established family.  So, with a feeling of doing something deeply wicked, Narcissa accepted his invitation to have ice cream and coffee.

 

(A/N) As I neglected to mention in the last chapter, I do not, in fact, own Harry Potter.  But I do own a three-room tent with a tower, which I have pitched in a corner of the series left intriguingly muzzy.  The title of the story is taken from the (obscure) Ulvaeus/Anderssen musical “Chess.”  Oh, and thank you to the reviewers; criticism means a lot to me, and we all need to know we have an audience.  Come on, admit it.

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