I wish that you knew when I said two sugars, actually, I meant three.
Narcissa had never betrayed herself to Lucius so easily. She’d learned, from her mother, a complex and wildly intricate plan of courtship, of maintaining a distance as far as the abyss between earth and the nearest star, whilst giving the warmest of smiles and keeping that signature glacial intrigue and mystery. It was as complicated in real life as it was on paper. Merlin, it was difficult
Narcissa was a simple girl. A simple girl with a sweet tooth that demanded five sugars in her tea. A simple girl who was beginning to tire of acting the glacier and of telling people that no, she most certainly did not want sugar in her tea, because she had a figure to keep and anyway it rotted your teeth something awful.
Oh, the lies she told. It was like trying to live with a pushy, domineering identical twin. Narcissa always felt as if she was going to gag when she drank those bitter, unsweetened cups of tea, steam rising from them in curls and clouding her glasses. Glasses she wasn’t supposed to wear in public, because it simply was not
fashionable to be short-sighted. She wore them anyway, guessing that is was even more unfashionable to blank people who smiled at her from across the room because she couldn’t see their faces.
These secrets were proving hard to keep. Her love of books…not that that in itself was an outrage, but it was more the type of books. Scandalous satire, political commentaries long banned and censored in other countries. Illicit, violent spews of ink against ministries worldwide. An outrage! A girl – a girl of the Black family at that – interested in politics! Narcissa guessed that even Bella would be shocked, even though she had her own suspicions about Bella’s carefully worded opinions on war and politics. She supposed that, if the two of them dared to talk about their secret, guarded thoughts, they could even have started a revolution against their mother. But it was not to be. Instead, literary conversations centred around the latest bodice-rippers, usually ones with pink covers and characters with names like Scarlet
Truth be told, Narcissa loathed her mother sometimes. Loathed her with the intense, feiry passion that girl likes Scarlet and Ruby felt for their respective handsome/charming love interests. It was bitter. She had to admit it, though; she complied with every one of her mother’s requests like a dumb animal. Like a lamb to the slaughter. She didn’t complain, not once, not even the time when her mother used Narcissa as a weapon, a sort of living, breathing artillery shell in the constant war between her and her husband. An argument? She would send Narcissa in to cry and babble at her father, to win him over with those wide, glistening, slate-grey eyes, the soft, muted blonde hair that fell in demure waves. She was the baby of the family. Her father always cracked and gave in under the weight of her tears, her spouted propaganda, fed to her by her mother. It was only when Narcissa left for Hogwarts that the pressure finally drove them apart and the split was final. A divorce. In the Black family. How scandalous.
The books were one thing. Music was another. Oh, Merlin, those endless folk dances and classical minuets she was forced to trundle through at the piano everyday (or, as her mother called it, the pianoforte). She hungered for nimble, loose-limbed jazz, or even just some real, proper classical pieces for a change. Some heavy Beethoven. Liszt. Chopin. She knew the pieces by heart (or, rather, by ear and hand) but was permitted only to practice them in the sanctity of her own time at Hogwarts. At home they were always met with an accompaniment of tutting from her mother; tiny, clucking noises of disgust that rose and rose in a sharp crescendo until they wove and danced with the music, and then overcame it completely until she stopped playing, usually to the curved, slur-like satisfied smile of her mother.
She didn’t even want to get started
on the ridiculous dresses.
It had all become quite enough. Especially lying to Lucius.
It couldn’t be put any more simply. She loved him. Ever since third year (his fourth), she’d nursed a fond affection for him, from his tousled, sleek blonde hair to the ruthless shine of his shoes. That prefect badge. The way he held his quill. Glacial superiority always went out of her mind when she peered at him over the top of a textbook in a common room.
But, like all things in her life, her relationship with Lucius was carved out in stone by her mother. Distances, haughty smiles and glaciers. Being a glacier. Playing the part of the ice woman. Don’t let him see who you are in case he doesn’t like you. Don’t be yourself. Be mysterious. Treat him mean, keep him keen.
How tedious. How utterly tedious. How were you supposed to treat someone you loved badly? How were you supposed to lie to them about how many sugars you took in your tea if you wanted to spent the rest of your life with them?
Today was little different. Relaxing after a school day, Narcissa curled up in one of the high-backed chairs, glasses firmly perched upon the bridge of her noise, contemplating the pile of books before her. The common room door opened and Lucius entered, yawning, fingers dragging through his hair. A shiver prickled at the nape of Narcissa’s neck, and she hugged her arms around herself in her chair, trying to stifle it.
Lucius glanced over at her. A smile flashed across his lips. She felt her face instantly flush with colour, bright with heat, and grabbed a book to hide behind. She had to be a glacier. A blush like that would melt her for sure.
A few minutes later and he was standing over her. She steeled herself, removing her glasses and slowly, laboriously, sliding them into her pocket, as if to show them off. The cool ice-woman smile twisted at her lips.
‘Tea?’ he offered. Then, as if he couldn’t resist it: ‘How many sugars?’
She fumbled for a response, so sick of lying...
‘Oh,’ he said, when she didn’t answer. ‘that’s right, you’re watching your figure-’
‘Two.’ she blurted out. ‘Two sugars.’
Actually, three. Or five.
Five. Five sugars.
But she couldn’t bring herself to say it. He moved away and she sunk back behind her book, only realising, with a jolt, that it was one of her taboo political novels. Upside down. Banned in the Soviet Union in the early twentieth century and the Author murdered for his views, and she was holding it upside down.
Carefully, she placed it in her lap, title facing up. Lucius must have seen it already. She felt her fingers shake slightly with the tiny rush of adrenaline that came with breaking three of her mother’s rules at once. Glasses, sugar and books. Oh, she felt so daring all of a sudden.
Lucius returned with the tea and set it down before her. His eyebrows shot up at the sight of her book. Ignoring him, Narcissa mumbled and indistinct thanks and took a sip; sweeter than usual, but still some way to go.
Lucius lifted the book from her lap (how she shivered again when his fingers brushed, ever so slightly, against her knee) and turned it over to read the blurb.
‘Politics, Narcissa?’ he said, with a distinct air of disbelief.
She nodded. ‘It’s very interesting.’
Her mother’s voice screamed in her ear. Men don’t like women with opinions!
‘I read this last year, I thought the account of his time in prison was very poignant, although his constant discourses on education of blood purity were rather dry.’ he said, with a confident, self-assured air. As if he was trying to catch her out.
Narcissa nodded again, mouth dry. The familiar heat was rising in her face again. ‘He had some very intriguing theories about blood status and the inheritance of magical power, in particular, the theory of power through a dominant magical gene rather than recessive, which, in practice, eliminates the possibilities of power randomly appearing in muggles and…’
‘…therefore suggests theft of power in the case of muggle-borns. I know. Good book.’
‘Fantastic.’ Narcissa agreed, breathless. You’ll be a spinster forever!
her mother’s voice screamed.
‘I wasn’t sure anyone else had read it.’
Her heart was thudding desperately. She was sure that this was all so obvious to him; the telltale breathlessness, the deep blush in her cheeks. It was like a curse, she was certain that he’d either be amused, embarrassed, or even repulsed...
Narcissa broke eye contact, staring at the floor. The adrenaline rush of her rule-breaking and her self-consciousness was dizzying. Over in the corner of the common room, the clock chimed eight. Narcissa rose from her chair.
‘Sorry, I’ve got to go and do my piano practice...’
‘I’ll come,’ he said, abruptly, standing alongside her. ‘I hear you’re good, it’d be nice to see for myself...if that’s alright...’ he added, in an almost apologetic tone.
‘That’s fine,’ she said. ‘More than fine.’
She tried to hold eye contact this time – was it obvious? Lucius broke the stare, an amused smile curling at his lips. Narcissa turned on her heel and lead the way out of the common room.
It was by a matter of good fortune and family ties that the music room had been opened up for her. A long disused, dusty classroom in the dungeons, it was host to an ancient upright piano with yellowing ivory keys and wood the colour of milky tea. It played well; magic ensured that. The walls were lined with cupboards. Most of these were locked, but after some careful rummaging and a bent hairpin from Narcissa, she found a stash of old violins, harmonicas, trumpets – hundreds of instruments that Hogwarts had forgotten and left to rot. When she tired of practising, she was in the habit of lifting out an old violin – her particular favourite, with no strings, no bridge, but exquisite orange-brown wood and an elegant curved scroll – and letting her fingers fall, loose, over the fingerboard, imagining what it might be like to play. Nevermind that it was broken. Magic could fix broken things. The music classroom was hers and hers alone. She didn’t know whether long-ago students of Hogwarts had enjoyed music lessons, or whether it was a room built simply for the sake of having one, but it was her that owned one of two existing keys, her that had special permission to play the piano within. Her mother hadn’t exactly had trouble convincing Professor Dippet to allow it. Oh, Professor, she’s such a talented pianist. If you allow her to practice, she might one day make a career in the concert halls.
The translation Narcissa was fed: Oh, Narcissa, being able to play the pianoforte makes you much more eligible for a husband.
The piano was simply another feature of her mother’s great plan that Narcissa had become strangely attached to, unlike the sugarless teas and sleazy romance books.
Five minutes’ walk from the common room took them to the door. Narcissa entered, using the moment as a reasonable excuse to grab Lucius by the wrist and pull him after her. Once the door had swung shut, however, she let go, as if suddenly aware of the silence that the room possessed. It was heavy, oppressive, the silence of sleeping music. It was also highly improper to be alone with him, but who cared? No one knew they’d come here. She tried to tell herself that nothing would happen anyway, but that horribly strong desire – no, desire put her in the place of those romance books – that need, that necessity to show him who she was, what she was like. Political literature and Beethoven sonatas. Five sugars in her tea. The fact that she loved him, and two more years of acting the glacier wasn’t really an exciting prospect. According to her mother, they shouldn’t even kiss before the end of school...
To hell with her mother. She was nearly sixteen. Girls her age got up to even worse things sometimes...not her friends, of course, but she heard
things, and anyway, no one waited that long anymore, that was just stupid
Mouth still dry, she took her usual place at the piano stool, foot in its usual place, lightly resting against the sustain pedal. Her fingers fell absently on the keys, soundless, and then lifted again as she rifled through the stack of sheet music atop the upright’s lid. Lucius drew up a chair next to her, sitting too far away for her to see him, but close enough so that she could hear his breath...
‘I don’t know what to play.’ She told him.
‘Play what you want. I don’t really know classical music.’
Finally, she pulled a sheaf of parchment from the pile and placed it on the music stand, spreading the sheets apart to get the full view of all four pages of the Nocturne she’d chosen. She took a deep breath and gently, carefully (the piece called for an expressive, soft beginning) let her fingers move across the keys in the rolling, arching chord of the left hand, and then the slow, waltzing melody of the right. Nimble. Loose-limbed. It wasn’t the jazz she so craved, but a Chopin Nocturne she considered herself good enough to play in company, hard enough to be admired for playing, and still sweetly pleasant for even the most hardened of critics to warm to. Narcissa was smiling, although the smile was hidden by her fallen curtain of hair. She took the piece into a crescendo, and then, gently, brought it away, the notes falling back almost to silence. She was in control for a change.
Another crescendo. She’d reached the third page by now, and even though she felt like she’d been playing for mere seconds, she supposed it must have been a while for Lucius. There were still a full forty bars left, but she let the piece die out, let the notes reverberate softly around the room. Her fingers lifted from the keys. She turned to Lucius, the heat rising in her face again. Head cocked to one side, he was staring at the keys with an expression of deep interest and solid concentration. As if her playing had been a political novel.
‘I’m sorry, that was awful...’ she blurted out. He looked up, broken from his reverie, and shook his head.
‘It was actually very good. You didn’t finish.’
‘I thought it’d gone on too long...’
There was a pause. A pause that lasted a minim and a quaver; Narcissa had a musician’s habit of keeping time.
‘Would you finish it?’ he asked.
Her hands had started shaking again. Wordlessly, she jerked her head from side to side, thinking that if she tried to finish the piece now, it’d be a disaster.
‘Please,’ he said. ‘It was lovely.’
Numbly, she shook her head again. He smiled.
‘You’re an odd one,’ he told her. ‘Playing perfectly one minute and then point-blank refusing the next. Well, I’d
like to hear it.’
Without warning, he leaned over and curled his hands around hers, lifting them from her lap and placing them, tenderly, upon the keys. Unprepared for the sudden contact, Narcissa felt her heart shoot past Allegro and into Prestissimo, thumping as if it was about to break through her ribcage and take flight.
Lucius didn’t let go.
‘I can’t play if you’re holding my hands.’ She said, in a high, quiet voice that didn’t sound like hers. Lucius was still smiling.
‘I don’t think I want to let go, though.’ He told her. Boldly, Narcissa tried eye contact again, and this time it worked. Lucius’ eyes – slate grey, like her own, but with flecks of blue that looked like shards of ice – didn’t leave hers. Her hands grew warm in his, and she knew she shouldn’t, because her mother would kill her, but she moved just that little bit closer, the tiniest, infinitesimal distance...
It seemed to be enough though. Breaking, for the fifth time, her mother’s rules, she let Lucius kiss her. It was a kiss she’d been waiting nearly two years for; his lips were soft, rather like the flesh on the inside of her arm, she thought, bizarrely, but strangely cool, like a draught of cold water. She lifted her hand away from where he still held it over the piano keys and drew him closer – there was her mother’s voice in her head again, screeching and bawling about indecency and morals. For the first time, she willed her mother to shut up.
Lucius broke away from her, as if realising what he was doing. He didn’t let go of her hands, however, but left them entwined at the piano, as if they were ready to play a duet together. She searched for something to say, but couldn’t quite find the words; her face burned bright red again.
‘Would you play again?’ he asked, still holding eye contact. He seemed unaffected compared to her. ‘For me?’
She opened her mouth to respond, but was silence by the sudden, growing sound of running feet outside. They sprang apart; Lucius jumped to his feet and Narcissa let her hands fall to her sides, composing herself. The door opened, and Andromeda came rushing in, face crumpled with abject misery, Bellatrix close behind her.
‘Cissy-’ Andromeda began, but Bella shouted across her.
‘Don’t even try and talk to her, Andromeda!’
Lucius was gone before Narcissa realised; she saw him disappear through the shadows towards the door, sensing the family crisis. Narcissa pushed back the piano stool and stood to face her sisters.
‘What’s happening?’ she asked, perplexed. Tears were streaming down Andromeda’s face, and she gulped for air, but Bellatrix spoke.
‘We are going to be in so much trouble,’ she spat in Andromeda’s direction. ‘All because of you, mother’s going to be furious-’
‘What’s she done?’
‘Your sister,’ Bellatrix said, crisply, ‘is seeing a mudblood-’
‘Shut up, Bella, shut up!’ Andromeda wailed, but Bellatrix grabbed hold of her arm and shook her.
‘Don’t you tell me to shut up! It’s your fault! We’ll all get in trouble! Me especially, because I’m the oldest and I’m supposed to look after you-’
‘Please, stop it!’ Andromeda pleaded. Narcissa felt the blood rush to her head all at once, making her dizzy, and she was suddenly aware of the way her breath was coming in short, sharp little gasps, and her lungs were painfully constricting, squeezing out the air...
‘Andromeda?’ she asked, voice barely audible. ‘How could you?’
‘Cissy, please! I’ve done nothing-’
‘You’re scum,’ Bella told her through gritted teeth, voice low, unforgiving. ‘You’re tainting the family name, you shameful, spiteful little whore-’
‘Stop it, stop it!’ Andromeda cried, pitifully.
‘Andromeda...’ Narcissa tried to speak, but Bellatrix wheeled around to face her, still dragging Andromeda with her.
‘You can shut up too!’ she seethed. ‘Holed up in here with that Malfoy boy, Merlin knows what the hell
you think you’re doing, but you’re not even supposed to speak
to him, and I’ll get the blame for this, as usual
‘Bella!’ Narcissa choked out, tears welling in her eyes. ‘I haven’t done anything!’
‘Oh, shut up, shut up, shut up!’ Bellatrix seethed. ‘You’re so careless, leaving all those books lying around, sneaking about behind our backs, and I’ll
get into trouble for it!’
Narcissa was panicking. Her legs felt as if they were made of lead and water all at once, and her lungs felt like pincushions, full of tiny slivers of pain that were slowly, surely letting the air out, twisting what was left into a hard knot until she felt it choke her throat, and her vision was swimming; she had a potion for this, but it was in the dormitory. Merlin, she’d even seen people about this in the past, and they’d taught her things to help manage it...what where they? They’d slipped from her mind, and, oh Merlin, the fact that her eyes were slowly unfocusing meant that – oh, for Salazar’s sake - she was going to faint...
‘You’re pathetic, you are,’ Bellatrix’s voice was low. ‘Can’t even control yourself, for pity’s sake, why don’t you have your stupid potion with you?’
Narcissa tried to tell her that it was in the dormitory, but her voice wouldn’t work.
Swearing under her breath, Bellatrix pushed Andromeda away and crossed over to Narcissa, gripping her shoulders hard.
‘Breathe in, Cissy, seven seconds...’ she said, in a bored voice.
Narcissa could only manage three before her lungs felt fit to burst, but Bellatrix shook her – gently, unlike the way she’d shaken Andromeda.
‘Come on, Cissy. Seven seconds.’
Behind her, Narcissa saw Andromeda slinking away into the darkness. Bellatrix looked ready to complain, but she only swore again before turning back to Narcissa.
‘Alright. Breathe out for eleven.’
It was only on the fourth attempt at the prescribed breathing exercise that Narcissa finally succeeded it. Breath coming in quavering, drawn-out gasps, she raised a shaking hand to her face to thumb the tears from her eyes.
‘Get lost, why don’t you?’ Bellatrix shot over her shoulder to Andromeda.
Andromeda scurried out of the room, her sobs echoing down the hall. Bellatrix gently pushed Narcissa back down onto the piano stool.
‘Look, I’m going to have to write to mother about Andromeda. I don’t care if you’re taking her side, or whatever, but mother has to know.’
‘How could she?’ Narcissa finally mumbled. ‘She’s supposed to...she’s supposed to...’
‘Mother’s going to murder her.’
There was a silence. Narcissa laced her fingers together and twisted them around in knots, her anxious, nail-bitten fingers threading through each other into loops and whorls until the pain in her knuckles stopped her. She bit her lip.
‘You won’t...you won’t tell mother about my books? And tonight?’
‘It’s not worth it.’
‘I wasn’t doing anything.’
‘I know, Cissy, I know.’ Bellatrix said, heavily. ‘Stick with me, right? Don’t talk to Andromeda. Not a word.’
Narcissa glanced up at her, but Bellatrix shook her head.
‘Look, I’ll just leave you here to calm down,’ she said, lifting her hands away. ‘You’re alright now, aren’t you? Get back to your piano practice or something, I’ll go and send an owl to Mother.’
Bellatrix turned and left the room, confidence regained. Narcissa watched her go, still sweeping teardrops from her face, remembering how Bellatrix had always been in control.
She hardly noticed Lucius step forward out of the shadows, hands held loosely in front of him as if he didn’t know what to do with them. At the sound of a creaking floorboard, Narcissa looked up, jumped, and then promptly ducked her head back down again, letting her hair fall back over her face in a shield.
‘So.’ Lucius said, with the vaguest trace of his usual arrogant superiority present. He stood over Narcissa as she stared determinedly at the floor, biting her top lip to make sure she wouldn’t cry again.
After a few moments, she looked up.
Lucius shrugged, staring off towards the old, dilapidated row of cabinets. One door stood ajar, and Narcissa could just see the dusty scroll of a violin poking out from within. He sighed, heavily.
‘You’re not quite who I thought you were.’ He said.
‘I didn’t want you to see that.’
‘Oh, no, it’s alright...’ he stared down at her. ‘You have a potion for something?’
‘Anxiety,’ she breathed, twisting her fingers together into a snarl of shaking bone and flesh again. ‘I’ve got problems...’
‘Yes, that’s quite obvious.’ He told her, bluntly. She blinked; the comment had felt like a slap to her. Often, people took her babbled explanations about nervous dispositions and panic attacks in a calm, kind way. Lucius looked mildly disgusted.
‘Have you seen anyone about it?’ he seemed to be resisting the urge to look at her.
‘Do we have to talk about it?’
‘I just want to know if it’s an issue, or whether you’ve got it under control...’
‘It’s fine,’ she snapped. ‘It isn’t a problem, and it’s not something I’m particularly inclined to talk about.’
He arched an eyebrow at her.
‘Fine. As for your sister, though...’
‘She isn’t my sister right now.’
Lucius looked at her as if demanding an explanation.
‘I mean, if she’s seeing a...a mudblood, then that’s an insult to the family, and I can’t...I cannot...’
He waved her away. ‘I understand.’
They remained in silence for a moment more. Then, slowly, Narcissa pulled her fingers apart and stared at them.
‘Please could we forget this evening? The family stuff, and the...incident, and all. I need to get back to practising...’
She swung her legs around to face the piano again, fingers rifling through the pile of sheet music to find another piece.
‘You can go now.’ Narcissa said, but instead, Lucius pulled up the chair he’d sat in earlier and perched on the edge, contemplating the pile of music.
‘I wouldn’t want to forget...’ he said, then added, quickly, ‘well, the bit before the family drama, anyway.’
‘No,’ she shook her head. ‘No, that didn’t happen, my mother will kill me if she finds out...’
He looked perplexed. ‘And why would she kill you? It was only a-’
‘I’m not,’ Narcissa told him through clenched teeth, ‘supposed to do anything like that until I’m married.’
‘Really? We’re only talking about a simple kiss
‘I’m not,’ she repeated, ‘supposed to do anything
He reached over to the stack of sheet music and pulled out a particularly dog-eared piece of parchment that stuck out at an angle. He handed it over to Narcissa.
‘Your mother doesn’t have to know. Play this one.’
It was Lizst’s Liebestraum No.3
. She shook her head.
‘My mother knows everything. And this is very difficult.’
‘Well, don’t tell anyone, then. And if it’s so difficult, why do you keep a copy of it here?’ he placed the parchment on the music stand, smoothing it out, covering the Chopin Nocturne. Narcissa sighed.
‘I don’t want to mess it up in front of you.’ She told him.
He smirked. ‘Ah, but you can make up for that. Go on.’
‘My hands are still shaking, look.’ She said, holding her fingers up for him to see. Her voice quivered with nerves again.
‘Fine.’ He shrugged, and deftly lifted the pile of music into his arms, sorting through them again. ‘I’ll choose something else.’
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata
was placed on the music stand before her. She allowed the briefest smile to pass across her lips before, once again, placing her fingers on the keys.
‘This is better.’ She told him, and began to play.
The sonata had been a favourite of hers. A chameleon of a piece, it switched between simple repetitions and complex, deceptive passages that had stalled her at first, but, with time, she’d begun to master. The notes were smooth, almost muted by the sustain pedal, but she held on to them, savouring each from the beginning peal of the note to the soft reverberation that followed. She let the playing calm her shaking fingers, like it was a lullaby – for a moment, she forgot Lucius was even watching; she was so absorbed. But the end came, as ends must, and Narcissa let the piece die away quietly, before turning back to face him with that all-too familiar blush back in place.
Lucius looked slightly lost for words.
‘Who are you?’ he asked, finally. ‘You’re...different. Acting different. All the time.’
Narcissa smiled again, through the blush, the trembling, the way the tears had dried on her cheeks and left footprints behind of tight skin. Through Andromeda’s betrayal. The rule-breaking.
‘I’m not myself tonight.’ she finally told him.
As you might have guessed, the challenge here was to take a given canon character and write them as myself. Five sugars, political, short-sighted, piano-playing and of the sort of nervous disposition that makes me incapable of handling any sort of anxious situation. Happily, however, I'm not racist as Narcissa and Lucius are (but, come on, she has to agree with him, they ended up married) and my mother is in fact a very lovely woman who is actually rather fond of my rendition of Chopin's Nocturne in Eb Minor.
Everything you recognise belong to JKR, and the italicised quote that begins the piece is from the Kate Nash song 'nicest thing'.