“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
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
“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,
“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
“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!
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.
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?”
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.