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
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
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,
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
“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
“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
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
“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.”
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.
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.”
anarchists don’t take power,” said Harvey, his face tinged with a delicate
“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
overturn it, of course,” said Aethelred Adler, unintimidated.
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.”
say that because you’re privileged under the present system,” Fitzgerald snapped
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.
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.”
Harvey looked petrified at the very thought.
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.”
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
(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
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?