The Sugar Quill
Author: IsabelA113 (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Embroidery  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Author’s Note: Much thanks to Zsenya, to whom I am indebted not only for the beta but also for the idea of enchanted embroidery

Author’s Note: Much thanks to Zsenya, to whom I am indebted not only for the beta but also for the idea of enchanted embroidery.



Narcissa Black Malfoy had always had a gift for magical embroidery. She had the perfect hands for it, or so her mother said. Andromeda’s hands were too clumsy.  Andromeda was different from her two sisters, even in build. Their aunt uncharitably called her “hearty,” but Narcissa always thought of her as normal. She looked like the children they saw in Diagon Alley, rough and ready, as though she was brought up on kidney pie and fresh air. Bellatrix’s hands were too restless. Long-fingered and agile they flew along the keys of the Broadwood, but could not be slowed to the pace of delicate needlework. Narcissa’s hands were smaller than her sisters’, slim, capable, and above all, patient. Perfectly suited to the painstaking task of coaxing the enchanted threads into animate works of art. When she was a child, her father would kiss her pink fingertips and smile. “A lady’s hands,” he would say.


In the days after Lucius had gone, Narcissa found that without him, she no longer knew what to do with her hands. There were no strong shoulders over which to smooth robes, no neat queues awaiting the tying of a ribbon, no tantalizing bits of skin to stroke. The house seemed to echo with his absence and for the first time in her life she felt truly lonely. She tried to occupy herself with the running of the Manor- feeling the linens for wear, paging through ledgers- but she was a skillful manager and there was little to do. She took to writing letters, but most of what ended up on parchment was entirely inappropriate to send to anyone and went straight into the fire. Eventually, without much conscious thought on the matter, the embroidery hoop became her companion. Hour after hour she sat creating elaborate designs with enchanted silk.


            One morning the solicitor brought a packet, along with the news that Lucius would not be released before his Wizengamot hearing. When the solicitor had left, she tore into the envelope. There were two letters inside, closed with black wax and the unmistakable M of Lucius’ signet ring. A quick pass over it with a letter opener revealed the presence of an enchantment. She wondered idly how he had managed a blood seal in Azkaban. But then, Lucius had always been resourceful. The other letter was addressed to her in his familiar, precise hand. She read it, then stared, and read it again. The missive was mostly instructional. The sealed letter was, apparently, to be given to Draco along with the family chronicle. There were directions to safely retrieving it from his study. He also suggested collecting a number of documents relevant to the estate. She tamped down her irritation at the impersonal words and fetched the book. The papers she left; Lucius would be back.


            But Lucius did not come back. Narcissa kept on as normally as she could. She went to tea at the Parkinsons’, Iris smiling a sickly sweet grin and alluding frequently to the “unfortunate situation.” When Narcissa returned to the Manor, she used the Reductor curse on the hideous knickknacks they had received from the Parkinsons every Christmas. Judith Nott had shown up on her doorstep one morning, babbling hysterically about warrants, and Aurors in the house. Narcissa had slapped her soundly, scolded her for failing in her duty to her family, and sent her back. When the Aurors came to Malfoy Manor, Narcissa sat in the parlor, quietly embroidering monograms with slithering serpents on to the new silk handkerchiefs Lucius had ordered the month before.


            She took a trip to Diagon Alley to break the monotony of her days. Whispers followed her from shop to shop. People no longer bothered to hide their stares. She wanted to scream, to demand respect, but for once neither her bloodline, nor her husband’s name meant anything. Narcissa did not scream; she shopped. With her head held high she walked among the whisperers. She made a thorough tour of Diagon Alley buying the latest in practice Snitches for Draco, and some new books, a basket of silk threads for herself, and sundry household items. Every time she made a purchase she smiled icily at the clerk, her eyes telling them that they knew their dirty secret. They called her husband a monster, were suspicious of her, yet they took the money all the same. Hypocrites all. And though she felt a cruel satisfaction as the recipients of her gaze lowered their eyes in shame, she couldn’t erase the unfamiliar sting of having been judged and found wanting. She did not venture out again until it was time to pick up Draco from King’s Cross.


            The other parents at the station gave Narcissa a wide berth. She waited as the train pulled up to the platform and students piled out, stomach sinking as the minutes ticked by. Then at last a fair head appeared from a doorway near the end of the train, followed by two hulking figures. They all moved gingerly through the crowd, the two shadows slinking away, and then Draco was standing before her. He had hex marks again this year, which she ignored; people were bound to be watching. Instead she smiled wanly and offered her cheek for a kiss. He seemed relieved that she didn’t fuss over him. Every inch his father’s son, Draco took control of the trolley and escorted her through the crowds. He slept the entire way back to the Manor; or pretended to.


            It wasn’t until Draco had disappeared behind his bedroom door that Narcissa remembered Lucius’ letter. She retrieved it, slipping it between the pages of the book, and went down the corridor to Draco’s room. For a moment, she stood outside. What was she going to say to him? If Lucius was as vague in Draco’s letter as he had been in hers, the boy was bound to have questions. And if Lucius wasn’t…but of course he would have been. Would he confide in a sixteen-year-old boy, and not his wife? She looked down at the book in her hands and felt bitterness rise within her. Even in Azkaban Lucius had plans, and they did not include her. She opened the door.


“Your father wishes for you to read this.”


Draco reached for the book and his fingers closed over hers. Narcissa looked into the face of her beautiful boy, all angles and indignation. He was growing up so fast, and he needed his father. She wanted so much to tell him how much she loved him, to tell him that everything would be fine. Her hands very nearly trembled with the desire to pull him into her arms and stroke his hair. It had been so many years since he had allowed her that. Draco, her little man. But the time was past for such things. Without a word, she dropped her hand and hurried from the room.


            Dinner that night was nearly unbearable, and Narcissa found that she was relieved when Draco retired to his room afterwards. She felt wrung out with the effort of trying to act normally, make polite conversation. In the master suite, she peeled off her clothes, went into the bathroom and flicked her wand at the taps of the enormous bathtub. She slipped on a silk dressing gown and sat at the vanity to remove her jewelry and pull the pins from her hair. The face illuminated by the sconces was strangely unfamiliar; the pallor, the faint creases around the mouth and across the forehead. Even her eyes, the celebrated Black eyes were blank and dull. She stood and ran her hands down the planes of her stomach and over her hips, noticing the gauntness for the first time. Her body was in mourning for him.


            She was suddenly, consumingly angry. No man did this to Narcissa Black. Not even Lucius bloody Malfoy. She seized his ivory handled shaving brush and hurled it at the mirror. It almost seemed as though the mirror’s screams came instead from her ghostly reflection as it shattered into a thousand pieces. She stalked into the bedroom, throwing open the doors of the mahogany wardrobe and pulling out a crisp white dress shirt. She grasped either side of the collar and tugged, grunting in satisfaction as threads broke and buttons flew off. A pair of charcoal gray trousers was next; Narcissa pulling at the front until the seam gave and split them down the crotch. The items from his bedside table were swept off in one motion, a small inkpot upending and bleeding onto the carpet.


            She glared at the bed, chest heaving. It hadn’t been changed in an indecently long time. Unable to allow the scent of him to be washed away, Narcissa had forbidden the linens to be touched and had instead charmed her side of the bed clean. Now she tore at the sheets, hating the traces of his musky cologne, hating her own sentimentality. She tossed them into the fireplace with a growl. As the sheets caught fire Narcissa could feel the sobs welling up inside her, tears that she had not shed since Lucius’ arrest. She willed them to break free, needing the release of weeping, and yet none came. Howling with rage and grief she cast about the room, destroying things, clawing at her skin, until exhausted and gasping she curled up on the floor in front of the fireplace.


            When she woke some time later, her head was throbbing dully. The house-elf must have come while she was sleeping, as the room was set to rights. There were fresh linens on the bed, and a nightgown laid out for her. On her bedside table was a tea service. Narcissa put on the nightdress, brought a headache potion from the bathroom and poured it into her cup of tea. She sat on the bed and sipped, staring into the fire. The quiet chime of the clock down in the foyer broke her reverie. Midnight. Feeling maudlin, and slightly fuzzy from the potion, Narcissa pulled on her dressing gown and padded out the door, intent on her most secret indulgence.


            When Draco was five years old, there had been a problem with the Malfoy holdings in France. For more than a year Lucius had traveled back and forth, and was gone for at least a week at a time. In his father’s absence Draco had started having nightmares. Narcissa had taken to sitting by his bed at night, so that she would be there when he woke, frightened and crying. She whiled away the long hours embroidering, her fingers working deftly in the dim firelight until she was lulled to sleep by the soft, snuffling sounds Draco made. Those nights she kept secret, even from her husband. There was something sacred about them, something so primal about shielding her child from the shadows that she couldn’t bear to share it with anyone.


            The door to Draco’s room was ajar. Narcissa stood in the corridor listening for any sign of wakefulness. All was quiet, and so she crept through the door. Draco wasn’t in bed, or anywhere else in the room. Narcissa was just turning to leave when something caught her eye. Completely out of place in the scrupulously clean room was a piece of paper on the floor at the foot of the bed. It was Draco’s letter from Lucius; her husband’s handwriting was unmistakable. She stooped to pick it up, ethics had never been of much interest to her, and began to read. When she was done, she dropped it carelessly back to the floor and sat on the bed, rubbing at her temples.


            So Lucius thought Draco was ready to become a man. He wanted Draco to choose a side. She let out a small bitter laugh. What choice was there, really? He would be as his father was. If Draco had harbored any doubts, the family chronicle would snuff them out. The Malfoys were a proud line, their history was compelling, inspiring; it would fire the imagination of an impressionable boy. She would lose him as she lost his father. He wasn’t ready to make this choice. Draco was still a child in so many ways- impetuous, quick to anger, certain of his own privilege and infallibility. He hadn’t yet learned his father’s reserve nor gained his uncanny gift for self-preservation. He would not find the Dark Lord’s service as easy to navigate as Lucius had.


            Narcissa lay back. The canopy was deep blue. When Draco was a child Lucius used to charm stars across it, and Draco’s eyes would go wide. A tear slipped across Narcissa’s temple and into her hair. Draco never stopped looking at his father as though he set the planets spinning in the heavens. Another tear made its way across the side of her face, and then another. Her breath began to hitch, and then she was sobbing quietly, her whole body shaking. She curled up onto her side in the softness of her son’s bed and wept out her pain, and her sorrow, and when the tears subsided she smiled. She felt…real, human, alive for the first time in too long. Narcissa rose from the bed and hurried back to the master suite. She went to the closet and picked through the purchases from her last Diagon Alley visit until she found what she was looking for, then she crossed to the bell pull and summoned the house-elf.


            The elf was only too happy to answer Narcissa’s question, and when it had gone, she took the small wooden box in her hand and went down to Lucius’ study. The door was closed, and she knocked softly. There was no answer. She knocked again, and then pushed the door open slowly. Draco was slumped over Lucius’ desk, facedown in the open family chronicle. His features were slack and his hair shone golden in the firelight. Narcissa crossed the room silently, grabbing a blanket from the back of a chair, and stood over Draco’s shoulder. She set the blanket and the little box on the desk and ever so gently lifted his head, pushing it back until he was upright again, temple resting in the corner of the wingback chair. Then she spread the blanket over his body, tucking it up under his chin. Draco’s eyes fluttered open.




            Narcissa reached out and brushed the hair out of his eyes. “You fell asleep.” Draco sniffed and pushed off the blanket. “I bought you something.” She put the small wooden box into his hands.


            He sat up and looked from her, to the box, and back. “It’s not…” he undid the catch and the box sprang open, and there was the soft flutter of tiny wings. The Snitch rose a few inches from its resting place drifted from side to side as though it were considering its next move, then accelerated. Draco was on his feet in a second, his right hand shooting out and pulling the struggling golden ball out of the air. He whooped in triumph and turned a brilliant smile towards Narcissa.


            “I thought you might like it. I thought, maybe, I could strengthen the concealment charms by the West gate and you could practice.”


“Thanks Mum.” Draco kissed Narcissa’s cheek. He unfurled his fingers, letting the Snitch hover for a moment before grasping it tight once more.


“But perhaps now you ought to go to bed.”


Draco looked longingly at his closed fist before picking up the wooden case and placing the Snitch inside. “Goodnight Mother,” he said, and kissed her again before leaving.


Narcissa waited for the door to close, and a few seconds more to be sure he wasn’t coming back, then she sat at the desk. Draco had got as far as the French Revolution. Julian Malfoy had staged a daring rescue of his cousins and secured their property and assets, forever cementing the bond between the English and French branches of the family. It had been Lucius’ favorite story as a young man. Narcissa sighed, pulled a length of black ribbon from the right hand drawer to mark the page, closed the book, and left.


            Back in the master suite, she peeled of her clothing and took a warm shower, letting the water wash away the tension in her body. She dressed and plaited her hair. The bed did not seem particularly inviting. After a moment’s consideration, she picked up her embroidery hoop and basket of silks, and tucked her wand into the belt of her dressing gown.


            The corridor outside Draco’s room was dark and quiet. Narcissa opened the door silently and slipped inside. He was asleep, wrapped in blankets up to the neck. Moonlight shone through the open windows, making a halo of his white-blond hair. With a swish of her wand she conjured a chair by the window and sat, facing out into the darkness. She took up the hoop, hands moving in familiar patterns as she listened to the soft sound of her son’s breathing.

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