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Chapter 27: Loyalty
As I rode towards the stone fence, muscular horse galloping away underneath me, I considered it. I considered it every single time I rode this way, traveling on a solo assignment that was safe enough to bring along my son. The remnants of the Dark Lord’s last words to me before he left to go abroad pulsed in my temples, made my blood run cold and fast.
“He looks just like Lucius,” Bellatrix remarked with a frown, examining the boy as if he were something nasty, like a slug.
The Dark Lord nodded in stiff agreement. “And someday soon he will be just as useful.” He turned to affix me with a smirk, his hairline so receded that I was too short to see any of the black thatch on his crown. “Another loyal dog in my kennel.”
How could I have forgotten my promise? Upon being branded with his mark, I’d devoted my firstborn to the Dark Lord’s purposes, free for him to shape. I’d somehow forgotten this on one of the rare nights when Lucius and I scrapped together some semblance of privacy, doing our best to forget everything but each other. I hadn’t even remembered it when I shared the news of my pregnancy with Lucius (and by extension, a group of ill-groomed men eating all the food in my kitchen).
It didn’t strike me until May, a month before I delivered our baby, when he placed his hand on my ballooned stomach. He directed an ear to it, listening, and smiled sadly. “I don’t ever want to give you up.”
“Well, that’s stupid,” I’d told him. “Why on earth would we have to give the baby up?”
Lucius had looked up at me then, pity coloring his eyes, and said, “I had to give you up.”
And then I remembered how I didn’t belong to myself or to Lucius anymore, how I belonged to Him. And so did the unfortunate child I was going to bring into the world, right on the brink of a war I tried very hard to pretend wasn’t happening.
But all of that was neither here nor there. Another May had passed since then and it was nearly Draco’s first birthday. With every assignment that put me on horseback, prowling around the woods for signs of a powerful, highly-reputed Order member named Benjy Fenwick, I considered jumping the stone fence and leaving everything behind. The thought of handing Draco over to the Dark Lord, another sword in his arsenal, made my stomach churn. Two years ago I would not have cared. Two years ago I didn’t truly know what love was.
This was my favorite kind of day, to be honest. I loved the buttery sunshine soaking through my skin, and the smell of Draco’s shampoo since I carried him in a woven sling cradled to my chest. My hands were free but I had him with me – the center of my universe – and the only thing that prevented me from running away forever was the knowledge that Lucius would be immediately punished for it; and later, at an unknown but inevitable date, I would be punished as well.
All I wanted was for the three of us to be a real family together, without a cluster of hooded witches and wizards breathing down our necks day and night. Lately there had been word about a prophecy, though no one but the Dark Lord’s must trusted knew about it (I only knew because Lucius let it slip one day), involving the son of James and Lily Potter. Just a little boy. He was Draco’s age, would have been in Draco’s year if his future wasn’t ready to be wiped out. His days were numbered and his parents didn’t even know it yet.
I bent forward, breathing in the floral scent of Draco’s bath soap. Good luck, little Harry Potter.
“All right,” I said out loud a moment later, whistling under my breath. “Let’s go.” Draco was fast asleep, lavender eyelids fluttering. “Dreaming about Daddy?” I sighed, urging the horse to canter off toward the tree line. I would have to do a final scour of the forest before heading back, just to clear it. My orders were to find Benjy Fenwick and kill him on sight. “Me, too, my sweet little dragon. Me, too.”
I tucked one cheek to Draco’s as we entered the forest, protecting him from rogue tree branches that aimed to scratch his delicate skin. The horse’s pace slowed to a trot, hoof beats masked by thick foliage. At a bend in the path, a man in his early thirties was leaning against a tree trunk. He tossed a crimson apple back and forth from one hand to the other, eyes dancing as my horse stopped right in front of him.
“Narcissa,” he greeted, trying to downplay his grin, and tipped his hat.
“Fenwick,” I replied, returning his smile with thinned lips and a curt nod.
His eyes widened, blinking. “Fenwick? Oh, am I Fenwick now? That’s interesting.” He began to walk, taking a bite out of his apple, and I noticed that there were fewer arrows in his quiver than usual. His arrows weren’t the ordinary stock; Benjy was used to operating on a vigilante mindset. The Order still wasn’t wholly convinced he was tame enough to send him out on missions, given his habit of using wands confiscated from his targets to make into special arrows that shot spells right into people’s hearts. I was wary of his supply of weapons, knowing very well how quick he could draw one into his bow and shoot it.
He raised one sunburned hand to rub at his messy brown curls, smiling mischievously at me. “Honey, you can call me whatever you want and I’ll answer to it.”
“Shut up.” I hopped down from my horse, accidentally jarring Draco from his sleep. Benjy swooped in to examine him, patting his head affectionately.
“Oh, yes. Looks just like old Lucy.”
My thin smile got even thinner, and I turned away to shield Draco from his fingers, browned from the sun and sprinkled with juice from his apple. “Don’t call Lucius ‘Lucy’. He would behead you with a broomstick if he knew you’d said that.”
“If he knew you were talking to me and never beheaded me yourself, I’m sure his concern wouldn’t be anywhere near nicknames,” Benjy replied, waggling his eyebrows.
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t have time for this, Benjy.”
“So I’m Benjy again? What’d I say? I’ll have to make a mental note to do it again. Stay in your good graces.” He flashed another grin, doing a little dance to close the distance between us.
I held out a hand to keep him at bay. “How is she?”
“Aw, Narcissa. You’re beginning to make me think that you’re not here just to see my gorgeous smile.” He smiled wider, showing off his bright white teeth that I was confident he had gotten Charmed. “Business straight off in the conversation? You offend me.”
“Benjy.” I sighed, frustrated. Normally I enjoyed his playful banter, and even let him hug me once or twice just so that I could pick his pockets, but today I wasn’t in the mood to stay long. “Tell me how she is or I’ll do what I was supposed to have done six months ago and curse you right between the eyes.”
He backed away, hands up in surrender. “Fine, fine. You can talk about my smile another time.” He took a breath, and this time his grin was genuine. “She’s great, Narcissa. Really. You should see her.”
I felt my mouth twinge. “Gotten her hands on her mum’s wand yet?”
“Are you kidding?” He tilted his head back and laughed. “I was over there just the other day and she was shooting blue sparks at the cat just to see him run. She’s learned how to make her beans disappear, too, and she can’t stop showing off for the guests. Andromeda’s worried about this school year. If it’s anything like the last, they reckon they’ll have to keep her at home even though Ted wants her to have a Muggle education before going off to Hogwarts.”
“She turned her teacher’s pencil into a snake,” I said, nodding. “I remember you telling me that.”
He laughed. “Amazing, that one. She’s been wearing her hair red lately…I think it’s got something to do with those Weasleys. She won’t shut up about one of them…name’s Charlie, I think.” He frowned, trying to remember something, and said, “Did you bring a picture?”
“Oh! Yes.” I dug around in my pocket, withdrawing a creased but still-lovely photograph of Draco propped on top of a piano I bought for Lucius last year, with Lucius and I seated on the bench in front of him. Lucius wouldn’t play the thing during the day when we played host to the Dark Lord’s minions, but I caught him playing at least two nights each week when he thought I was asleep and couldn’t hear.
“There you are.” I pressed it into his palm, wincing at the state of his hand. “If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were wearing leather gloves.”
“If I didn’t know any better, I would think that you only say things like that because you like to deny your irresistible attraction to me.”
“Make sure Andromeda gets that,” I said in a deadpan voice, climbing back onto my horse. “Don’t hide it under your pillow so you can stare at me in the middle of your lonely nights.”
He winked. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. Any picture with Lucy in it is safe from my ogling eyes. Judging by your hairstyles, I can hardly tell the two of you apart. I don’t want to accidentally dream about him.” He shuddered.
“I want a picture, too,” I told him, wiggling a bit to make myself comfortable on the horse’s back. “Andromeda and Nymphadora. Make it plain in the least-rudest way you know how that I would prefer Ted wasn’t in it.”
He frowned. “Ted’s a nice man, you know. He takes care of your sister. He’s a brilliant father, too.”
I jerked my head just a fraction, getting rid of an invisible mosquito. “I don’t care what he is. I don’t want him dirtying my photo albums.”
“Like you’ll put that in an album, anyway,” he scoffed. “I give you two weeks before you become paranoid about someone finding it and rip it up. Had to replace the one of Nymphadora as a newborn…what? Three times?” He shook his head, eyes kind, and smiled gently. “You’re a proud woman, Mrs. Malfoy. But don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with –”
There was a noiseless blast that rent his face apart; Benjy Fenwick’s body exploded into the air in a rainfall that spread twenty feet, his voice snatched away mid-sentence. I screamed and screamed, my brain struggling to comprehend the shock of seeing someone explode right in front of my eyes. I screamed so loud that I couldn’t hear Draco screaming, too. His tiny wails shook against my chest, little shoulders heaving. I felt a warmth on my forehead and cheeks and peered fearfully out of the corner of my eyes at a trickle of blood that didn’t belong to me.
“There,” said a harsh voice. I turned, sobbing and convulsing, to see Lucius standing behind me with his wand outstretched. He was wearing soft-soled boots that disguised his footsteps, and while I couldn’t read the expression in his eyes, there was no mistaking the sneering curve of his lips. “It’s done.”
I glanced back at Benjy – or rather, the place where Benjy had been – and heard a thin cry escape my throat. I looked from the shattered man to Lucius and back again, disbelieving. His blood was spattered all over the tree, the horse, my waist. I ripped the air with more screams when I saw the streak of red on Draco’s forehead, not realizing that it was only a shred of peel from Benjy’s apple.
I stared at my husband, trying to penetrate his hard gaze. I thought I could imagine the stream of thoughts running through his mind, and felt the brunt of his accusation. Why were you speaking with him as though you knew him well? Why didn’t you kill him on sight like you were ordered to? How long has this acquaintance been going on and to what extent?
I was shaking down to my very blood, more terrified of him than I had ever been. But there was nothing but love in his eyes when he softly said, “Now you won’t have to do it yourself.”
He led me home, horse following the tip of his wand on an invisible hook. He didn’t speak and I was frozen, not even responding to Draco’s cries. All I could think about was Benjy’s infectious grin and the apple he had been tossing, bits of it still threaded in my infant son’s hair. And I thought about the fact that Lucius hadn’t used a simpler, cleaner spell like the Killing Curse. It would have been more humane. He had not killed Benjy, he had destroyed him. Obliterated him. That action spoke volumes in the thick silence.
When we reached the house, I was thankful to find it empty except for the herd of elves who were eternally underfoot, especially a pesky one named Dobby I especially didn’t like because of his penchant for eavesdropping on conversations.
Lucius wrapped a black wool cloak around my shoulders, trying to ease my shock. “You will take credit for Fenwick’s death,” he instructed in a low murmur. “You never spoke to him, you gave him no warning.”
I glared at him, tears welling up in my eyes as he roughly straightened my cloak. His face was close to mine but his thoughts and intentions so distant. “You could have used Avada Kedavra.” I tried to keep my voice even but choked on the last word.
Lucius closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. When he opened them again, he pressed a light kiss to my cheek. “You could have, too.”
He pulled away and took Draco with him, humming his way to the sink to rinse the fruit from our son’s hair. I sat there in a slump, feeling his cloak gradually fall away to the floor. I didn’t feel cold, anyway. My blood was too frozen for my skin to know the difference. I thought of the photograph of Lucius, Draco, and I that would never reach my sister. What would she think when she heard the news?
It had taken so much just to get her to agree to this exchange that I was certain she wouldn’t dole out the energy to do it again. It had taken lies on my part. It had taken her trust, even though she didn’t trust me at all. It had taken a lot of sneaking around, a lot of gambling, and one selfless third party to function as the go-between – the man who trusted too easily. He never even brought out his wand during our meetings.
Lucius sang quietly to Draco, carrying him high on his shoulders into the next room. I was still sitting at the kitchen table when the piano notes drifted through the doorway, sad and somber at first but then quicker, with more heart.
It was the song he wrote for me.
I felt fresh tears slip down my cheeks, mouth turning up into a smile I couldn’t completely feel yet. Draco babbled along with the melody, mimicking his father. My gaze ran over my Dark Mark and it hit me with a jolt that I’d grown used to it, that I couldn’t feel its never-ending tingle.
“This is how I made your mother fall in love with me,” Lucius confided, low enough to make it sound like a secret but loud enough so that he knew I would overhear.
And in the hollow kitchen, stripped of hooded figures and maps and a man with gleaming red eyes, I felt my muscles relax. I leaned forward and lowered my forehead onto the cool wooden table, closing my sore eyes. My stringy white hair was still plastered to my neck, glued there from alternating hot and cold sweats. The heavy diamond on my finger had spun around to the opposite side, trailing up and down the table’s surface in tap, tap, taps that matched the music.
I listened to Lucius's beautiful music and remembered what it was like to fall in love. It was a place I could revisit whenever he played that song, and he knew what its effect always was. He knew that it made me love him again. No matter how loudly we had been arguing or how distant and cold he was or how many times I tore him apart with pretending not to love him, all it took was Lucius at the piano bench to make it all melt away.
I smiled slightly. Everything was going to be all right.
“And that’s it?”
Narcissa smoothed back Draco’s blond hair, laughing at his incredulity. “And that’s it.”
“That’s really how you met Dad?” When his mother nodded, he squinted at her in suspicion. “My nanny said you met him in school. She said that Dad threatened to jump off the Hogwarts Express if you wouldn’t let him sit in your compartment.”
“Mrs. Macnair beat me to this story, did she?” Narcissa scooted closer to him, tucking the folds of his quilt more tightly around his body. He squirmed, wriggling out of the blanket. “I tell you what. Which story sounds more interesting to you? Mummy and Daddy meeting at Hogwarts or Mummy and Daddy meeting in a great big, scary house?”
He wriggled back under his covers, shuddering slightly. “That’s this house. You said it was Malfoy Manor."
“Yes, I did.” Narcissa nodded wisely, blowing out one of three candles sitting on his bedside table. “Before you were born, we had giants and ghosts roaming the corridors.”
"Ghosts and giants?" Draco looked terrified. "In the house I have to live in? Just wait until my daddy hears about this."
"Daddy banished them already, sweetheart. Your daddy is strong and brave. He can do anything."
“And Mrs. Macnair was evil,” he cut in. "Was Mrs. Macnair really so horrid?"
“Yes, but let’s not repeat that.” His mother glanced at the adjoining room where Draco’s nanny lived, lowering her voice. “She’s a bit senile, so she wouldn’t remember any of it.” She kissed Draco on the forehead and stood up, stretching. “My, it’s been two hours! You sure know how to prolong your bedtime.”
“Wait!” Draco scrambled upright, desperate to stall a little longer. “I want to hear more! You stopped right at the good part.”
“Good part?” She searched her mind, trying to figure out why Draco had found Narcissa sitting by herself at a kitchen table at all interesting.
“A man exploded!”
“Ahh, I see.” She shook her head, ruffling his hair. “No more exploding men for tonight.”
“What about wolves?”
“No wolves.” She blew out the last of his candles, making her way over to the door. “Good night, little dragon.”
“Night, Mum.” He settled back into bed, staring at the black ceiling. “Wait! Wait! Mum!”
Narcissa, who had been about to close the door behind her, stopped. “Yes?”
“But what about the man with red eyes?” His voice was high, panicked. “He said he was going to take me when I was older. You promised you would give me to him.”
“It’s just a story,” she assured him. “No one is taking you. Good night, Draco.”
“Night, Mum,” he mumbled again, and she shut the door.
Lucius was waiting for her, leaning against the hallway wall and smirking. “Eavesdropping?” his wife questioned, tired but amused to see him standing there.
“Exaggerated our history a bit,” he replied, stepping forward. “You made me blind?”
“As good as,” she remarked. “It took you two years to notice my existence before you suddenly ‘discovered’ me.”
He shrugged. “It took you two years to agree to date me, so I suppose we’re even.” He lifted up her left arm and pressed his lips to the pure white flesh, untainted by the Dark Mark from her story. “My burden, not yours,” he said quietly. “I can’t imagine you belonging to him, to any other man.”
“I tweaked a few parts of the story,” she told him, twirling a lock of his hair around her finger. “I didn’t know how to explain to him that I had let you go through that alone.”
“I wouldn’t have had it any other way.” He rested his foot against the baseboard, and the two of them took a silent moment to recall the piles and piles of Dark objects hidden far below their feet under the drawing room floor. Buried secrets. “I was surprised that you told him about the Unbreakable Vow you made, although the actual circumstances were different…seeing as how the Healers had told you that you couldn’t bear children.”
Narcissa swallowed and opened the door just a crack. She could trace Draco’s peaceful profile in the moonlight, and was oddly comforted by the way he could fall asleep in an instant. He would not stay awake for hours mulling over the wolves and the man with red eyes. “But our happily ever after is a reality now, a luxury I didn’t think we would ever be able to call our own. The Unbreakable Vow I made that night broke when the Dark Lord was vanquished by Harry Potter.”
Lucius wrapped an arm around her. “Thank God he is gone.”