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Chapter 1: Noticing
I'd give anything to be somewhere else right now.
The slow, annoyingly soothing music is doing an amazing job of lulling me to sleep, which cannot happen, and I'm stuck with my back to the wall to keep from getting in the way of the couples dancing. It doesn't look like a difficult waltz, but I know better than to try it, not with my sister Bella around. Besides I have no partner to waltz with.
I side-step out of the room, making sure I don't bump into the couple that are dangerously close to me, and leave the party. The manor is dark and old and I find myself watching the shadows in case one tries to attack me. Or the hosts' son chooses the moment to show up; he has a habit of coming from nowhere. Jerk.
No shadows attack and he doesn't show, I'm able to side-step a small number of guests, probably looking for a bathroom, and worm my way through the maze of halls and corridors until I find the front door and can step out into the night.
It's freezing, I seem slow to notice. I shouldn't have been; it's Christmas Eve, December, winter. I've come to that moment everyone has in their life where they take a good look at themselves, call themselves an idiot and kind of mean it, unlike the small incidents that you laugh at, shake your head and forget. I have many of those moments. My other sister has more.
The air runs through me, freezing me to the bone, but I can't bring myself turn back and get my cloak. Call it stubbornness or dumb pride, but I really do not want to go back in there. I'd rather have hyperthermia than risk being stuck alone in that room or, God forbid, listen to my father talk about marriage while my mother agrees wholeheartedly with everything he says.
So, I wrap my arms around my chest, as though that will help in getting warm, sit on the front step and stare out around the manor's estate, while wishing my Uncle Orion was here. He hates these parties as much as I do, we usually stand in the corner and he talks to me about me and school, how I am doing and what I want, then listens to us - Regulus, Sirius, Andromeda and I - talk about the guests and pretend to disapprove, though he really doesn't care. He's also the one who knows how to distract my father. But he's not here tonight, none of them are; Regulus has a fever, so Uncle Orion has stayed home - I doubt Regulus would have minded being an excuse, he would have wanted his father to stay - Sirius has a new friend, James Potter, and has gone there - the Potters don't come to these parties, even though they're Pureblood - and Andromeda... Well, she's not a part of our family anymore, not in my parents' or older sister's eyes anyway.
Thinking about my sister has me momentarily forgetting about the cold, wondering what's she's doing and how she's spending her Christmas with her fiancé. Ted, I think his name is. Then I shiver unexpectedly and almost violently. It stops just as quickly and I'm warmer than before. That brings me back to the real world completely and it takes me a moment to realize I've got a cloak wrapped around my shoulders. Not mine, I know that straight away, this one is thicker, bigger and smells masculine. In the aftershave sense.
I know this smell.
I know he's there before I turn to face him, but figuring out who the cloak belongs to gave me time process the fact that I'm no longer alone, so his random appearance doesn't cause me to jump like it normally would.
"Hello, Lucius." I smile politely at the Malfoy heir, because it's his parents' house and their party, and pull the cloak closer to me. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he answers quietly, shrugging at me like helping me was nothing and he's given girls his coat hundreds of times.
He probably has. I wouldn't be surprised.
"Why are you sat outside in the cold?" Malfoy asks suddenly. I shake off any and all thoughts of him and other girls.
"You know how I feel about these parties," I remind him without actually answering his question.
"I do," he nods and repeats, "But why are you sat outside in the cold? You've been here before; you know where the guest chambers are. You hid in one of the bedrooms last time. I had to wake you, remember?"
I feel my cheeks heat and hope that either my blush is so small it might as well not be there, or it's too dark for Lucius Malfoy to see. I do remember that night, very well; it had been a few summers ago, not long after we'd finished our third year of Hogwarts, and he'd wanted friends over. His parties are usually better than his parents', because they're not there, but I was too tired and left. I found the room by mistake and fell asleep in the bed. I'd slept for a few hours, when he'd come to wake me I'd found out it was late evening and everyone had left, except for his two closest friends who were staying at the manor.
His house elf, Dobby, had told him where I was and he came straight away to wake me, he said. When I woke, all I saw was a boy wearing nothing but cotton pajama pants and a smile, a rare and beautiful smile I couldn't remember ever seeing before. I remember asking him why he was smiling and he laughed, saying he'd never seen me so startled, and he didn't care when I asked him where his shirt was. But what boy does at fourteen? Or during any of their teenage years? Especially when they know there's a girl looking.
That was the night Lucius Malfoy decided he liked to startle me. It was also the night I started to notice him.
Like right now, I notice that he's looking at me weird. Because he's expecting an answer. "I remember," I clear my throat and try again to sound normal, stretching out a leg. "Do you expect me to climb up all of those stairs in these shoes and this dress?"
I half expect Lucius to be like other guys who've noticed me and at least look. I know he does, too. Though, unlike his 'friend' Crabbe, who is as obvious as he is repulsive when he stares at a girl's chest, Lucius is definitely a 'legs and ass man', as his real friend Leo Zabini put it. I've even seen him tilt his head and watch girls walk sometimes. But no, he doesn't even glance at me.
"No," he says, answering my question.
I shouldn't be surprised; like a lot of boys know, Lucius has a type - long-legged brunets like the woman who is always on the cover of Witch Weekly for some social event or another. Maybe I'm not surprised, more disappointed.
I change the subject away from depressing reasons as to why it's always the one you want who doesn't notice you and from wondering if dying my hair brown would help. "Why are you out in the cold?"
"I came to ask you that question," he says to me, with the briefest hesitant pause. I almost didn't notice it.
"Why are you out in the cold, Lucius?" I ask again.
Lucius actually turns around and checks that no one is listening to us. Either that or he's checking for one specific person. Then he moves in a little closer. "I'm hiding from my mother."
I was right; one person.
"And Jane," he adds after a pause.
No, two people. Two people would mean checking that no one was listening. So, I'm still right. Right?
"Why?" I ask.
"Probably for the same reason you hide from your father," he answers, no hesitation there whatsoever. I should stop telling the jerk things. "She wants us to try again and my mother agrees. But I don't want to be with her, you know? She drives me crazy, in a very bad way. My mother doesn't see that. Maybe if I found someone better than Jane, my mother would listen."
Wow. Once Lucius Malfoy starts talking he really can't stop. I wonder how much he's been drinking. I wish I could say I listened attentively and got every word of that, so if he asked me anything I could answer. But, honestly, all I heard was the crazy part and the finding someone better part.
I really hope he doesn't ask me anything.
"You're frowning. You do that quite often. Do you know that?"
"There's a good kind of crazy?" I say instead.
"Yes," he answers seriously, confusing me more. "There's the kind that makes a guy really think; does she like this, will she love that, does she think about me as much as do? You know, the happy stuff your friend likes to talk about. It drives you crazy, but you don't care. Then there's the bad kind where you wonder if one wrong word will get you killed. Jane is the bad kind."
I laugh when he talks about Elizabeth and the fact that he genuinely takes her romanticism seriously - she's a hopeless romantic - and it only gets louder when I realize he's a little afraid of his ex-girlfriend, even if he won't outright admit it. My laughter must be contagious, if only a little; Lucius laughs with me, but it's small and short. A chuckle really.
"Well," I start, standing up. I hand him back his jacket. "That was good enough to enable me to endure the rest of this party. Will you be joining me?"
He nods once and holds out a hand. "Ladies first."
There are no crowds to push past on my way back and when I get to the ballroom, it's a different waltz-type lullaby the band is playing. I move to take my previous place against the wall, where I know I'm in my parents line of sight but can still make a quick getaway, only rather than say good bye and let me go as I'd thought, Lucius takes my hand and points to the floor.
"Would you dance with me?"
A small part of me wonders if this is part of his ploy to find someone better and make his mother listen to him, which makes me wonder if he'd really consider me someone better for him. I say yes before I can change my mind and let him lead me to the dance floor. One quick look and I know I can dance to this; I know the song and I've danced this waltz before. Lucius, however, looks unsure.
"Can you do this, Lucius?"
He shrugs, now looking as unconcerned as he did when he gave me his coat. "I guess we'll see."
The music is slow and he picks the dance up quickly enough, with only a few small mishaps. It's very funny, I find myself not caring if Bella sees.
"Dance often?" I smirk.
Lucius spins me and it's near perfect, until I spin back and stand on his foot. "I think it's obvious I can't dance."
"But your mother boasts about the lessons she paid for you to go to all the time," I remind him, feigning shock.
"Yeah, actually showing up probably would have helped."
We laugh and smile and talk and I find myself finally having fun that doesn't involve cursing other guests, figuratively of course. When the song is over, Lucius' mother calls him away and when I find mine, I see my father is holding open my mother's coat for her. It's time to leave.
"I guess it's time to say good bye," I say, a little disappointed. "I'll see you after Christmas."
I hold out my hand for him to shake, like we've been doing since the day we met at age ten, but he surprises me by taking my hand and bringing it to his lips. The kiss is quick and soft and seems to leave my hand tingling. "Until then, Miss Black. Maybe at Hogwarts you can teach me how to dance."
"Personally, I think you're a lost cause, but maybe I'll try," I call to his retreating back.
Lucius turns and smiles that rare and beautiful smile. "Good bye, Narcissa."
And he's gone.
My parents wait for me at the door. "The Malfoy boy?" my father is quick to say; I knew he'd seen us. "I thought you weren't interested at all in relationships."
"He's the only exception, Father. Do you not approve?" My father nods and says nothing more, as I'd known he would have. He'll ignore my tone because he thinks I'm finally listening to him. And I am, a little. "Lucius is not the worst choice in the world," I say to no one in particular.
Maybe, sometimes, the one you want does notice after all.
A/N: For you, Ever, merry Christmas. I hope you enjoy this short story.
(Title is from The Only Exception by Paramore and is the inspiration for this story).