The Sugar Quill
Author: Thessaly  Story: A Model of Decorum and Tranquility  Chapter: Where is Fancy Bred?
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Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred

Longbottom talked a lot, Narcissa very little, but the running commentary, fresh with a wry, amused self-depreciation, soon brought her out to chatting as well.  They spoke first about simple things they both knew, like Hogwarts and the teachers, but then wandered into other topics: the Ministry, Diagon Alley, Quidditch.  It was a far different feeling from talking to Lucius or Evan Rosier or any of the other Slytherin boys her parents brought over; conversations with them were always delicately edged.  There was a purpose buried under the chat, usually to request and convey information which was not for all ears. Hers was a world where the tilt of a teacup had special significance, and where the act of nodding to someone entering the room meant disgrace.  Talking to Longbottom, Narcissa found herself surprised into laughter in a conversation which meandered with no particular point and no particular undercurrent.  For the first time in her life, she could see down to the bottom, and nothing unpleasant looked back at her.  She was surprised when Longbottom looked at his watch and said, with a laugh, “It’s nearly five.  Shall I order some dinner and we just stay here?  Or, oh my goodness, I never asked her if she had plans.  Please don’t tell me you’ve been listening to me jabber out of politeness all afternoon and really been panting to go elsewhere.  Well, no, that’s not right either – I bet you’ve never panted in your life.”


“Well, I suppose I really had better be going,” Narcissa said.  What was this feeling creeping into her mind?  Disappointment?  Surely not… She made her farewells, and was halfway to the Leaky Cauldron when the owl caught up with her.  It was one of the grey ones raised on the manor for the specific use of the Malfoy family; Merlin knew she’d received enough of them in the past.  She paused in the purple twilight and took the proferred letter.

Dear Narcissa and Andromeda: Something of a most unexpected nature has occurred here, the repercussions of which may particularly effect Narcissa.  Do be aware that the issue is being handled expeditiously.  Your mother, however,  feels it best that you remain in London for the time being.  We will arrange for your return at the earliest possible moment.

Narcissa stopped reading.  She felt ill.  There was more about where they should stay and how they should comport themselves.  At the bottom it was signed, Abraxas Malfoy.  No doubt written at her mother’s command.  But what could have gone wrong at Malfoy manner?  Throughout her childhood it had always been untouchable.  But this was an incident dangerous to such an extent that she, Narcissa, might be injured by rumors.  Usually the Malfoys considered themselves above such things as rumors.  The thought shocked her.  I can’t go home. 


            Without being precisely aware that she had made a choice, she folded the letter and tossed the owl back to the skies, then turned and hurried back to the small restaurant.  Yes, Longbottom was still there.  She let out her breath again.   


He looked up from his book as she approached the table.  “Goodness me.  Now, what has happened to her?”


“I’m terribly sorry, Longbottom, but it seems that I won’t - ” she paused and got control of herself.  “I won’t be leaving just yet.  Are you still willing to offer me dinner?”

“Of course,” he said, all good humour.  “It’s not bad news, I hope?  On the other hand, it's not like you’ll say that it is, even if your best friend has died a horrible and painful death.”


She sat down, folding her hands neatly.  “No, nothing of that sort has happened, I trust.  Unless your coffee cup suggests misfortune? I’ve been granted a few more days here, that’s all.”  She smiled.


 “She wants to have dinner with me,” Longbottom commented to the invisible third party.  “Excellent.  I’m liking this more and more.  Conversation and dinner with a pretty girl.  Makes you glad to be a grown-up.”  He smiled back.  “What would you like?  Stew?  Salad?  Sardine side-dish?”


“Have you got anything that doesn’t begin with ‘s’?” Narcissa asked.  Longbottom laughed and ordered all three, out of, as he emphasized, spite.  As they were waiting to be served, a voice, mirthful and perhaps a little drunk, hailed them from the door. 


“Oi, is that Longbottom?”


“Yes it is, you twit,” someone else said.


“Well I can’t tell – too much smoke.  Heya, Longbottom.”  A tall boy with brownish-yellow hair pushed his way through the crowd to join the table.  He had grey eyes and, at the moment, very pink cheeks.  He was laughing.  There was a girl with him as well, a cheerful brunette with a sharp nose and a ready smile. 


“Costos, stop being stupid,” she said merrily.  “How are you, Francis?”


“Well enough.  Don’t call me that,” said Longbottom without rancour. “I’m not as happy as Costos, though.  What have you been giving him to drink?”  He indicated Narcissa.  “Remember Narcissa Black?  She’s staying in London for a few days.  Miss Black, that unfortunate specimen is my friend, Constantine Fitzgerald, and the lady is his cousin Helen.”  He made a face.  “She always calls my by my full name.  She is also my colleague and, Merlin help me, my new boss.  Say hello, children.”


Narcissa nodded to Helen, and then to Fitzgerald, whom she had met before.  Since the meeting had involved a few stray curses, she couldn’t resist a delicate prod of sarcasm.  “Fitzgerald, I think I remember last seeing you after the Quidditch match last June.  You looked very much the same.”


Costos Fitzgerald, drunk enough to be vivacious, but still in perfect command of his faculties, fixed Narcissa with a long, bright-eyed stare.  “Francis Alexander Neville Longbottom, what the hell are you doing with Miss bloody Slytherin Black?”


Narcissa’s eyes flicked to Longbottom to see how he would deal with this, then moved back to Fitzgerald, and rested, coolly, on his face.  She was not particularly worried; being in Slytherin for six years taught you how to deal with the aggressive Fitzgeralds of the world.  Longbottom rolled his eyes.  “Costos, you prat, don’t be rude.  Miss Black is not a Slytherin, she is my guest.  And besides, you’ve graduated; you shouldn’t be paying attention to house identities any more anyway.  Hasn’t anyone ever told him that it’s rude to be inebriated in the presence of a lady?”  He gave Narcissa an appealing look.  “She’s probably going to run off because my friends are so stupid.  Excuse me a moment?”  Longbottom stood and, catching Fitzgerald by the arm, pulled him sideways into the shadows, where the two young men had a short, hushed conversation. 


Helen looked at them, slightly worried, then turned resolutely back to Narcissa.  “So, why are you in London, again?”  she asked, fidgeting with Longbottom’s napkin.  She sounded more uncomfortable than rude.  Narcissa, who had been brought up to preserve and manipulate socially awkward situations, answered, “Just this afternoon.  I have some shopping to be done,” coolly.  The boys returned, Longbottom unaccountably severe and Fitzgerald somewhat diminished.  Narcissa hadn’t thought Longbottom had it in him to be reproving. 


The experience of eating dinner with the three of them rather like that of talking to Longbottom, only louder and faster.  But the conversation was as lucid and wandering as before, and Narcissa stayed quiet, absorbing and adapting – observe and change, that was the way to get through life with the minimum amount of worry, and she prided herself on being good at it.  She spoke only when asked for an opinion.  Longbottom and Helen had nominated her as the sensible one, and laughingly tried to draw her into the conversation, and she tried, gracefully, to decline.  But Gryffindors are surprisingly persevering creatures, and after a while she surrendered and even tried to make a joke here and there.  Fitzgerald was quieter than his ebullient friends, but produced, on occasion, evidence of a sharp mind.  It wasn’t that he was particularly clever, Naricssa thought, mildly frustrated.  Just that he was aware and suspicious.  She knew of the family, or course: the Fitzgeralds were numerous and common, like Weasleys or Prewitts, but it did not necessarily follow that all of them were stupid.  After dinner they attempted to take her along to Helen’s flat, where they were meeting some other friends.  She demurred, smiling.  Longbottom shrugged.  “She’s mysterious, that one.  I’m surprised you put up with us as long as you did, Miss Black.”


Fitzgerald said, dryly, “Yes, but does she want to stay?  And why?”


Helen slapped Fitzgerald lightly on the shoulder.  Outgoing herself, she appeared to have taken a liking to the composed Narcissa.  “Oh, come on,” she said, taking hold of Narcissa’s arm with a surprisingly firm grip.  “I am going to feel horrible leaving you alone in London, all by yourself in some gloomy hotel room.  The least we can do is give you a drink, or something.” 


“Helen,” Fitzgerald started.  “You shouldn’t - ”


She looked at him.  “Costos, it won’t do any harm.  And it’s my house.  And she’s coming.”  And Narcissa could not argue with her.


As they walked through the streets that twisted off behind Diagon Alley, still laughing, Costos Fitzgerald fell into step beside her.  “Miss – oh, hell, what do I call you?  I always hated etiquette.  Right.  Narcissa.  Are you wondering why they’re being so nice to you?”


Narcissa was surprised – she was used to her blunt objects being literal, not figurative.  “Gryffindors are known for their house pride.  So are Slytherins.”


“You are cryptic, aren’t you?” Fitzgerald whistled.  “I guess that’s something else you learn as a member of one of those families.  Just say what you mean.”  He shrugged.  “Formal manners…silly practice, like those gloves.”


Narcissa looked down at her hands.  “They are, I believe, customary.”


“Don’t be silly – how many people do you really think wear gloves just because some stupid old law says they’re supposed to?”  Narcissa raised an eyebrow, a little unsure how to react.  “But I never answered my own question, did I?” Fitzgerald continued, looking down at her.  “Why they’re being nice to you, against reason, sense and house dignity.”  Narcissa made a sound of assent, curious in spite of herself.  “They all want to be all friendly and humane – let everybody in: no barriers, everything’s all right, and we’re all friends.  Neither,” he added, “safe nor practical.”


“No, indeed,” said Narcissa.  She had noted his emphasis on the pronoun. “You, I take it, are not in agreement with your friends?”


“No,” he answered simply.  “I find you amusing, when you wish to be; intelligent, which you should be given your education; open-minded, which is surprising considering your upbringing; attractive, which is no doubt your aim; and entirely untrustworthy, which is entirely due to your parentage and house affiliations.”  He raised both eyebrows and dared her to challenge.  “Family counts for us too, you see.”


 “I quite understand,” she answered calmly.  He did not deserve the satisfaction a response.  “I must say that in the same position I would be more of your mindset.”


“Merlin, you even talk formally.  Weren’t you listening?  Say what you mean.”  He stopped and turned to look down at her.  “Do you ever relax?  Let go, you know?  Have you ever had fun, Narcissa Black?”  His eyes looked unnaturally dark in the shadows of his face, and Narcissa was startled.  She was back at the gate she had discovered earlier today, when watching Drama and then when talking to Longbottom.  Fun was not a word in the Black house.  Amusement, or diversion, but never fun.  Fun was something sticky and oddly shaped and probably filthy.  It was, in fact, something Drama and Sirius were far better acquainted with than Narcissa.


“What do you think I’m doing now, if not taking a risk?” she asked, meeting his gaze directly.  Then added tartly, “And that’s Miss Black to you, Mr. Fitzgerald.”


            Helen’s flat was already inhabited by people when they arrived.  Just enough, Helen said cheerfully, for a really good party.  The names drifted past Narcissa’s ears: Cameron MacIntyre and his younger sister Alice, a year below Narcissa, who made Longbottom go bright pink and even more clumsy than usual.  Greg Starrett, whose younger sister was in Sirius’s year.  Edmund and Aethelred Adler, brothers who would debate with anyone who stood still long enough to make a concrete statement.  It took approximately five seconds for Fitzgerald and Aethelred to get into an argument and their cheerful voices underscored the rest of the conversation.  There were more too, people whom she had seen or heard of at Hogwarts, but had never spoken to.  Most of them had been Gryffindors and a few years ahead of her.


Not all of them, she noticed, were of Longbottom’s friendly nature, and there was a distinct coldness from a few.  Hovering on the edges of the main crowd, she found herself drawn into the debate, which had grown to include both Adlers and Kit Harvey, a Ravenclaw whom Narcissa vaguely knew.  And then she found herself talking, arguing, glaring at a united front of Harvey and Fitzgerald, who were determined that all order must be abolished to create a new society.  “I thought you were a communist, not an anarchist,” said Cameron Adler sourly to Fitzgerald.


            “I think you’ll find that the line between the two is somewhat thin,” said Narcissa, voicing opinions she’d never before dared to articulate.  “The oppressed become the oppressors – it’s a demonstrable fact of nature, so whether your communists or anarchists take power, you’ll end up with a system much worse than the one you’ve got now.”


            “But anarchists don’t take power,” said Harvey, his face tinged with a delicate pink.


            “I beg your pardon.  What do they do with it?” Narcissa raised an eyebrow at the young man and watched him quell, slightly.  Clearly he had never been exposed to the Black drawing room on a Thursday when the neighbors came calling.


            “Well, they overturn it, of course,” said Aethelred Adler, unintimidated.


            “And then what?  Someone takes power and the result is a dictatorship; look at what’s happening in Russia.  I’ll stick to what we have now, thank you.”


            “You only say that because you’re privileged under the present system,” Fitzgerald snapped back. 


            Narcissa shrugged delicately.  “Of course I do; I am a realist, Mr. Fitzgerald,” she answered.  “Find me someone in my position who will say they are unhappy.”  An image of Sirius, silenced and desperately trying not to cry, flashed through her head and was quickly replaced by that of an older Sirius, standing in a street, laughing, his face and voice full of bitterness that had much the same effect.  Fitzgerald opened his mouth to say something, then shut it, looking confused. 


            Helen, with a guitar in her hand, intervened.  “Come now, you lot, stop being anti-social.  There’s to be no more politics here.  Besides, Kit is going to play his guitar for us.”


            “I am?” Harvey looked petrified at the very thought. 


            “You are,” said Helen firmly, and handed over the instrument.  Harvey took his time tuning it, and finally began to play.  When he had worked up the courage, he also sang, in a slightly wobbly voice.  Fitzgerald, laughter glinting in his eyes, took pity on his friend and picked up the melody in a rich, chocolaty baritone.  He was joined by both MacIntyres, singing a cheeky harmony in thirds.  They played through three verses, by which point Narcissa had picked up the melody, if not the words.  Comfortable among the cushions, she added a descant, almost out of habit, which surprised her as much as anyone else: she’d been surrounded by music for years, but had never really thought about enjoying it.  Music was an Accomplishment – it was something everyone did.  The non-singing members of the audience applauded, and Narcissa flushed.  For once being the centre of attention was immodest; wrong, somehow.  She dropped out, and the others did a number of songs then, mostly witty, fast ones with clever innuendos built into the lyrics.  Those that watched shy Alice, uninhibited by music, giggled at her facial expressions, while the sly quirk of her brother’s eyebrow set Helen choking on her drink.  Even Narcissa laughed a little, confused and conscious of being out of her element.


            “Let me see that,” Fitzgerald, bright-eyed and still laughing, took the guitar from Harvey.  “Go get a drink, Kit.  You deserve one after that.  And for these philistines, too.”  He grinned at the audience.  Then he struck a few chords and began to sing softly, a dimple peeking from his left cheek, “When and I was a little tiny boy, with a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain.”  And once again, the lyrics rendered them all senseless with laughing.  Then he sang a drinking song – “for tonight we’ll merry, merry be; tomorrow we’ll be sober” – and they all pounded on the closest hard surface, intoxicated by music and good company.  It was late, Narcissa noticed.  The room, warm with laughter and fraternity, swirled around her and the mood blended with the music.  She rested her elbow on the arm of the sofa and allowed herself, for once, to stop paying attention.


She supposed she must have fallen asleep for some of it, and she opened her eyes again on the love songs, the soft lilt that finishes every evening of music. “And the trees are sweetly blooming, all around the blooming heather.  Will you go, lassie, go?” sang Greg Starrett in his silky tenor.  “Come and kiss me, sweet and twenty, youth’s a stuff will not endure” added Kit’s high, reedy voice.  “I don’t know why I can’t think of anything I would rather do, than be wasting my time on mountains with you” answered the intertwined voices of Alice MacIntyre and Francis Longbottom.  Narcissa leaned her head on her hand and watched the quicksilver Fitzgerald bend over the guitar again, then look up, straight at her.  “Tell me, where is fancy bred?  In the heart or in the head?” It was as if he were asking her the question, and Narcissa found she could not conceive of an answer.  “Let us all ring fancy’s knell.  I’ll begin it, ding dong bell.”


            Her mind heavy, her body limpid and saturated with the music, Narcissa was convinced to stay the night – it was too late to find a room anywhere else anyway – and found herself curled up in a nest of blankets on the living room sofa, her head resting on someone else’s robes.  All her tired mind was able to think before she fell deeply and truly asleep was that this was possibly the most surreal night she had ever spent anywhere in her life.


(A/N) First off, thank you to my wonderful reviewers who tell me wonderful things, or point out things I should have noticed.  Elarra Greensleeves and Anya, hang on for many more Chess references - I picked my title for a reason!  Kressel, you are a wonderful person - it is extremely flattering to be compared to Austin.  Jo Wickaninnish, I’m not sure you should kick Lucius, although I bet he’d be glad he’d provoked a reaction.  Points to you for catching the Icarus reference.  Please keep reading, all of you. 

Secondly, there are several references in this chapter to things that I certainly did not make up.  Half of me is tempted to credit them so I don’t get sued; the other half likes to leave it to you to find them yourselves.  Well, the songs are either traditional or Shakespeare; the duet is from (again) Chess.  Oh, and I’m changing the format.  Is this easier to read?   

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