Sirius hesitated on the stairwell landing, glancing down at the rooms below him. Even he was forced to admit that his mother and the servants had done an amazing job on the house. It was overdone, certainly, but that, in itself, was classic Black style. The balusters were wrapped in fresh evergreens and holly, perfectly formed red velvet ribbons intertwined with it. Clusters of mistletoe hovered inches from the ceilings and shimmering fairy dust reflected off the soft candles that lined the walls. Descending the stairs, he drank in the smells of Christmas - pine needles, pie, toasted nuts, and sweets mingling with spilt champagne and perfume... and wished he was anywhere else.
The crowd seemed intoxicated by the fanfare gala. Their expensive gowns and tailored tuxedoes that had, undoubtedly, been created just for this one night would have been out of place in the normal macabre setting that was Grimmauld but, tonight at least, they seemed to belong. They were dancing and laughing, many already wobbling in their steps due to imbibing in too much Christmas cheer. As he wove his way in and out of shaking hands and making mind-numbing chit-chat, he reminded himself why he was here, trying to savor the sound of the ignored orchestra.
As a string of party favors showered the guests from somewhere high in the ceiling, Sirius finally caught sight of her. Standing off to the side of the dance floor, Narcissa was laughing and giggling like a little kid. He tilted his head as he watched her closely, wondering exactly how much she had had to drink already. It would never do for her to be drunk when he talked to her…she was a devil to be around on normal occasions but when she was drinking she could be positively ghastly. He saw her hand touch another man’s gently, letting it rest invitingly on his forearm. He recognized the look in her eyes immediately and, had he not know she was betrothed to someone else, he would’ve thought them in love.
He couldn’t help but think it looked like a photo.
"Sirius -" His mother's voice broke him from his reverie, cold as always. "You will behave like a proper Black this evening," she hissed, waving her wand at a lagging tray of hors d'oeuvres.
He grimaced…he had missed her coming his direction. Yes, it only looked like a photo. He nodded and waited for her to continue but, luckily, a guest appeared beside him and her condescension vanished in an instant as she welcomed them. He hurried away, making sure to watch where his mother went this time so that he could avoid her as he moved to intercept Narcissa.
Sirius slid his hand into the small of her back, determined to get her alone. The smell of thickly sweet floral perfume and the bitterness of red wine drifted to his senses as he bent close to her ear. “Cissy, may I have a moment?” he asked quietly.
“Oh, Sirius! You did decide to join us, I knew you wouldn’t let me down!” She enveloped him in a warm hug. “Will you dance with me?”
“The belle of the ball? How could I possibly refuse?” Sirius slid his hand into hers and pulled her to the dance floor. His arms wrapped around her lightly, theirs steps matching each others with practiced ease. He judged her sobriety as they danced…afraid he had waited too long and she’d imbibed in too much Christmas cheer already. But her steps were strong, her laughter barely tinged with alcohol. He’d forgotten how good a dancer Narcissa was.
Although Andromeda was his favorite cousin, Sirius had to admit Narcissa was undoubtedly the better dancer. As children, they had suffered through innumerable dance lessons at the hands of their parents. Because of his larger size, he had often been partnered with Narcissa and, even after all these years, their steps were still in perfect synch. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“You do remember those horrid lessons, then?” She laughed. “I wondered if you would. You always wanted to be out in the sunshine doing something else.”
“Can you blame me?”
“No, not really.” She giggled again and he couldn’t help but smile. “Those were good times weren’t they, Sirius?”
He nodded, unwilling to give in to the memories of his childhood for too long. He opened his mouth to speak but she tugged him into a fast swirl to distract him.
“You have that look. That dark dangerous one that turns all the girls heads at Hogwarts.” She explained. “I always hated when you gave me that look. It meant you were going from the fun loving Sirius to the lecturing one.”
“I don’t lecture.”
“No, you just think the world is out to get you,” she returned smiling then stopped dancing and let her hand go limp in his. The uncertainty in her eyes was obvious. “You know, don’t you?”
“I do.” He nodded, his gaze locked with hers but only momentarily. He knew she couldn’t afford to be too friendly toward him without suffering the wrath of their parents. Dancing was one thing…civilized conversation was entirely another.
She nodded and linked her arm with his. “I could use some air, how about you?”
Sirius didn’t respond but let her led him out to the gardens. The noise of holiday carols died away as they slipped further away from the house. Without the lights of Grimmauld, the paths had fallen into almost complete darkness and he grabbed her arm as she stumbled over the gravel path. She paused to remove her shoes, slinging them over her shoulder as they continued on. He slid his arm back around her waist, still uncertain about how much she had had to drink.
“You do know how to be a gentleman, Sirius.” She smiled. “And you’ve become quite the popular boy at school. Even the girls my age seem intrigued by you. Odd how that works to my advantage. When I told them I knew what you looked like without your skivvies on they crowded around me in droves. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them you were only two at the time.”
“Should I be flattered that you remember or flattered that you thought enough of me to mention it?”
“You truly are as egotistical as I am, aren’t you? Too bad you got put in Gryffindor. That house will wreck havoc with your social standing.” She laughed softly. “Although you do seem to be holding your own, Gryffindor or no.”
“To some the house doesn’t matter much.”
“And to some it means everything,” she countered. “Look, Sirius, I know this is hard on you. You’ve grown up so much in the past year….you’re taller than me, for goodness sakes’.”
“Yes, well you always were rather puny.” He laughed and sidestepped her as she attempted to slug him.
“I can learn to love him, Sirius. I know I can.” She said quietly.
“I understand why you are doing it. Don’t take this wrong but you’ve always enjoyed the finer things…the good looking boys; the fancy gifts; the best wardrobes and jewels.”
“And he can provide that,” she argued. “Besides, we’ll make gorgeous little babies, won’t we?”
“Or the self absorbed brat from hell,” he mumbled with a small grin. “Why do you have to decide now? You still have two more years of school left, Cissy.”
“I’m not getting married tomorrow, for goodness sakes. Things just work this way. With Lucius graduating this year he either had to get married or be planning to get married. Besides, as you said, I still have two years at school to do whatever I want.”
Sirius smiled inwardly. Although he disagreed with almost everything Narcissa said, it felt good to know he wasn’t the only one with a rebellious streak. Engaged or not, it seemed she was planning to make the most of the last years of freedom she had. Vaguely, he wondered if she had any idea about the night of his sorting and Lucius’ involvement. He gazed at her from downcast eyes, trying to judge her mindset but she merely primed her hair then began to situate her dress more to her liking. He assumed she didn’t know- Narcissa rarely wasted time on things that didn’t involve her directly.
“He’s an ass, you know that, right?”
She tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. “I know. And I appreciate you worrying but this isn’t the bad thing you seem to think it is. He’s rich, good looking, a pure-blood, and he’s a damn fine kisser.”
“At some point, there are things you shouldn’t share even with me.”
“Sit with me, will you?” She didn’t wait for an answer and pulled him to sit beside her on one of the stone benches that lined the garden path. She adjusted her dress carefully, making sure to keep the bottom from dragging into the fresh dirt. “I love it here, don’t you? You’re so lucky to have been brought up in such a beautiful home. And the gardens…” she stopped suddenly, her voice growing softer. “But you don’t see it that way, do you?”
“Stop acting as if I’m ungrateful, will you? You know as well as I do that sorting hat will put you wherever it wants.”
“I don’t care about the hat, Sirius. No one, except maybe your mother, cares about that. It’s you we’re worried about…what you are turning in to.”
Sirius chuckled and leaned back against the bench, letting his arm rest along the back edge. “Worried? The only person in this house worried about me is Regulus and that’s simply because he’s terrified the same thing might happen to him next year.”
“Why is it so hard for you to understand that being a pureblood means everything? It means the best things in the world are yours for the taking. Look at Lucius. The power he has, the abilities he has, you don’t see any half-breeds with talent like that. Even you-do you think you’d be able to do non-verbal magic or pass through Hogwarts with such ease if you weren’t a pureblood? Lesser people struggle through school and take years to master non-verbal magic. You are fooling yourself. You want the gifts of being a pureblood but not the responsibility.”
He wanted to be angry with her...he wanted to slap his cousin even if she was a girl. But, he knew better than to think this was Narcissa that was talking to him. “Are you finished?” he asked quietly.
She dropped her eyes and nodded.
“You have never cared about anyone other yourself, Cissy. It’s one of the traits I love most about you. Well, the only trait if truth be told.” He grinned and squeezed her shoulder. “For whoever put you up to such a stunt as this, I apologize. I’m sure it’s put quite the damper on your evening. I’ll make certain to let them know you did your duty. Okay?”
She glanced at him tentatively, as if unsure of his honesty. But he gave her a reassuring grin and she breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank goodness. I’ve even got grass stains on my dress because of this stupid conversation.”
“You really are a self absorbed brat, aren’t you?”
“As if you aren’t,” she answered indignantly. “Are you finished lecturing me about Lucius or can I go back to the party now?”
“Do whatever you wish, Narcissa.”
She had hopped up but the sound of her full first name caught her off guard and she hesitated. “Sirius, this changes things, doesn’t it? Between us, I mean.”
“I’d imagine so.” He nodded, his eyes watching her closely. She didn’t have to say it…he could tell she was scared and wasn’t sure what she was doing was right. She wanted him to affirm it for her, to tell her everything would be okay just as he had when they were little and they’d gotten caught skiving dance practices together to go swimming with Andromeda. But his feelings for Lucius cut too deep and he couldn’t bring himself to lie to her…even for old time’s sake.
She dropped to her knees at his feet, ignoring the cloud of dust that circled around them. “I’m not as strong as you, Sirius.”
“Yes, you are. You just pick your battles with more finesse than I do.” He grinned and winked to ease her mind. “Just don’t count on me being at the wedding.”
“As if I’d invite you,” she whispered, tears rimming her eyes as she stood up and brushed off her dress.
“Now, that’s the spirit!” Sirius laughed as he watched her hurry away. ** He continued to laugh as he shifted in his seat, turning slightly to face the trees behind him. “You can come out now, Cat.”
“How did you know?” she stepped out of the shadows and sank down beside him. “I was quiet and not a soul saw me leave the party.”
“Rosemary and mint…you always smell like rosemary and mint.” He explained easily and grinned. “Had too much fun at the party, did you?”
“So that’s the future Mrs. Malfoy?” she nodded toward where Narcissa had departed. “She seems nice.”
He threw his head back in laughter. “Surely, you’re a better judge of character than that, aren’t you?”
“You seemed to like her so I was trying to be nice.”
“It doesn’t suit you.” Sirius shook his head as he stood up and straightened his suit, brushing out the wrinkles his talk with Narcissa had caused. He glanced to Cat, whose cheeks had begun to redden against the wintry wind. How long she had been following him, he could only guess. He offered her his hand but she refused it.
She folded her arms across her chest. “What on earth has gotten in to you?”
“I’m just generally disagreeable tonight. Forgive me, Cat.” Sirius took her hand in his and kissed it lightly, pulling her to walk with him in the darkened shelter of the trees. “The mere mention of Lucius does that to me.”
“He’s horrid. He was cornering everyone under the mistletoe earlier. Foul mouthed pig.”
Sirius hesitated and his smile dissolved in an instant. “Everyone?”
“Yes, everyone.” Cat broke loose from his grasp. “Just because you may not think I’m worth kissing doesn’t mean he feels the same way.”
He stopped cold, his breath caught in his throat. “W-what?”
“Where’s that mature Sirius Black , now?” she asked hotly. “How dare you act like you own me and –"
“I have never-"
“Stupid idiotic prat…he thinks he has a right to anything he wants and with all his little friends just standing there laughing as he kissed everyone one right after the other.”
Sirius took hold of her arm before she could get away. “We’ll discuss this later, understood? Right now, I need your help with something.” His eyes glinted dangerously causing Cat to pause.
“What do you mean?”
“Ever heard of a nargle?” He grinned mischievously. “Come on, we don’t have much time.”
Sirius leaned casually against the wall, watching Lucius and his friends crowd under the mistletoe across the room. Cat was right…Lucius seemed determined to kiss every girl in the room before the night was over. Sirius slid one hand into his pocket as he tried to suppress a grin then reached for a pumpkin pasty off the buffet table next to him. Mere paces away, still within whispering distance, Cat was attempting to look busy rearranging the food as she stole glances at Lucius.
“How long will this take?” she asked under her breath as she moved a step closer to him.
“Not much longer…they don’t like to be woken up.”
“And what will they do again?”
Sirius grinned mischievously without glancing her direction. “You have to wait and see.”
“They won’t hurt him, will they?” she asked quietly, moving the pumpkin pasty tray out of his reach.
He grimaced and moved the tray back to the edge of the table by him. “Only his pride. Why do you care so much, anyway?”
“Sh...” Cat cut him off and nodded toward the corner where Lucius was standing. “The mistletoe’s moving.”
Sirius lifted his eyes to watch, unable to hide the grin on his face. A slight movement caught his eye, though, and he turned. “Oh, shit.”
He dropped the pastry to the floor and hurried to the other side of the room, attempting to intercept Narcissa. She had apparently finally caught Lucius and his friends kissing the girls and she was headed straight for them. Just as she reached the corner, Sirius slipped his arm around her waist.
“Not now!” she hissed and tried to brush him away.
“Lucius, you don’t mind if I dance with my cousin, do you?” Sirius pulled her away without waiting for a response. She tried to struggle free as he led her to the nearby dance floor. Holding her roughly in his arms, Sirius breathed a sigh of relief and buried his head in her shoulder to hide his laughter.
“What the hell is the matter with you—" she began but was immediately cut off as deafening noises filled the ballroom.
Loud screeches were immediately followed by screams from Lucius and his friends. Thousands of tiny nargles had been rudely awoken and were now looking for payback. Hopping off the ball of mistletoe, they had dropped down on the shoulders of those standing below. Their tiny singsong voices were repeating comments Lucius had made to the girls as he kissed them, causing the majority of the girls in the room to rush for cover in embarrassment. Lucius tried to shake off the small fluffy creatures but they retaliated by making sloppy kissing noises, critiquing his kissing ability for all the room to hear and then sending spurts of bright purple liquid all over the group. Lucius’ blonde hair was streaked with hues of violet, his fine clothes covered in a deluge of sticky mess.
“This was you!” Narcissa spat. “How could you?” She yanked her dress into her hand, determined to run to her future husband’s aid but Sirius pulled her back.
“You really don’t want to get near them right now, Cissy. You’ll ruin your dress.”
As he’d expected, she hesitated. “You’re such a prat.”
“He deserved it,” he grinned and stepped away from her, “and you know it.”
Keeping his face as calm as possible, he took in the chaotic scene. His parents had rushed to Lucius’ aid and Narcissa, her face red with anger, stood paces away out of reach of the nargles but close enough to still be lecturing Lucius for kissing the girls in the first place. Sirius eyes lit up as he caught Cat trying to stifle her laughter behind her apron.
He tilted his head toward the door and she nodded, her face pink from holding the laughter in. Her face darkened temporarily and Sirius turned to see what had caused the change. Standing in the doorway, his uncle was beckoning him over.
“Is this your doing?” he asked quietly when Sirius had moved beside him. He hesitated and his uncle shook his head. “The truth, Sirius.”
His uncle drapped an arm around him, his mouth close to Sirius’ ear. “Excellent job, Sirius. Excellent. Seems those Gryffindors are teaching you to lighten up just as I’d hoped.”
“You won’t tell-"
“Are you kidding?” he chuckled. “I’m going to grab a whiskey and get a front row seat for the show. Have you ever tried to get nargles off someone? It’s going to take them hours to sort this out.” He stepped away then hesitated. “Did you and Cat work things out?”
“No. We haven’t had a chance to talk since I got back.”
“Make sure you do that, all right?”
“Yes, sir.” He nodded, his eyes drifting to where Cat was waiting patiently for direction from him. He smiled as she stepped away and he knew she’d be waiting for him upstairs. “Dinner tomorrow?”
“That’s my line,” his uncle chuckled. “I’ll come get you for lunch. Have Cat ready, too. I think I can manage to sneak her out for a holiday too.”
“Just have her ready to go.” He smiled with a mischievous grin that matched Sirius’. “Between the two of us, I have no doubt we can smuggle her out of Grimmauld.”
Author's Note: I just wanted to take a minute to thank everyone who came to my aid. I was so desperate with this story and all of you that stepped up and offered to help me out and come back and give me your thoughts on it are the reason I keep going. You guys are amazing and I really can't express enough how grateful I am to you for everything you've done.