Chapter 23 : Second Chance
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This is not what I wanted. I would rather be blind than subject her to any more of this.
He pressed his hands to his face, his fingertips like cold marble. Sinking against the wall, the events of yesterday began to trample through his mind and he thought, once again, of the woman sitting in a sea of blood and bodies. Haughty she may be, but murderer she most certainly was not. And now her conscience was soiled, her illusions of a quiet ending, a quiet life shattered. It was with shaking hands and the desire to free herself from those haunting, lifeless faces that she’d wrapped her arms around him. And it was while she was vulnerable that he’d allowed her to do so.
Lucius watched Narcissa untangle herself from the nest of sheets, the jagged edges of her hair swinging over her face to conceal her eyes. From this corner angle with a wide-open window to the right, the stains of sunrise – the rubies and gold smearing her cheekbones – made her look like she was burning. Quite soon, she would notice his presence. Quite soon, he would be able to breathe again. He hated not knowing what her reaction might be when she remembered.
Despite what had happened between them the previous night, he couldn’t help but fear that today, seeing him in the morning light, she would decide she wanted nothing more to do with him. Feeling slightly guilty for viewing her in her current state of undress, Lucius turned to face the wall. Blood rushed to the surface of his face as he thought quickly about how he might be able to leave the room without her noticing. She wouldn’t want to see him there, of course. He would be like the bad aftertaste following a night of heavy drinking, the persistent migraine to serve as a reminder.
She sounded confused. He didn’t meet her eyes, instead choosing to gaze at the floor out of respect – or perhaps shame.
“Are you all right?”
He finally looked up, still blushing and ridden with guilt. As if he’d taken advantage of her; as if she’d already asked him to leave and he’d already taken too long to obey, hoping she would change her mind before he stepped out the door. She didn’t seem the least bit disturbed that he remained in the bedroom, nor did she give any indication that he was unwanted. She must not have been too bothered by what had occurred after he carried her into bed at three in the morning. Lucius had expected disgust, even revulsion that he had somehow tricked her. He had not anticipated the arched eyebrow as she sat up, casting her weight onto one arm as she said with accusation in her voice, “Are you trying to leave?”
He blinked, staring. She slid back under the covers, expecting him to immediately heed her unspoken warning, declaring without saying so that it wasn’t quite morning yet and he wasn’t permitted to go anywhere. With a very small, stupefied smile on his face, Lucius made his way over to the side of his bed. Perhaps it would take another sunrise for Narcissa to remember that she didn’t want him, that no one wanted him.
She smiled slyly, her pupils so constricted in the light that they looked wholly blue. Her lips parted and she might have said something – he couldn’t hear her over the sound of his frantic heartbeat. Her arm unrolled at the elbow and her hand landed on his pillow, the fingers curling to bring him closer. Beckoning.
Perhaps she would never quite awaken from the spell.
I could hardly believe my situation. On the one hand, Circe appeared to be gone. Lucius’s sight was restored, we were relinquished from Malfoy Manor’s clutches, and the house had even rebuilt itself into the shape of a normal home. No more unfeeling, deep arches in the ceiling and distant lights in towers spread far apart. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, we’d exchanged our unwilling servitude to Circe to a man I was beginning to call “the Dark Lord” even inside my head.
I was wandering on a late evening walk, trying to clear my mind of images in the Daily Prophet condemning the grisly murders of the McKinnons’; I couldn’t stop thinking of the smoky green skull and snake bobbing over the monochrome house, the Dark Mark that Lucius himself had cast. I was torn between horror of what I’d done, Lucius subsequently sealing the seams I’d left in my wake with a wave of his wand, and the awe that he seemed so gifted with darkness, that he was so well-suited for that particular of branch of magic and never even realized it. He still didn’t quite realize it.
The spells I struggled to perform, forming words into jets of light, were perfectly easy to him. I often sat on a tree stump in the back garden and looked on, head tilted to the side, as he practiced. It was on the Dark Lord’s orders, of course, that he be required to perfect these sorts of spells he’d never even heard of during his incarceration. It was second-nature to Lucius.
The greens and reds and blues would ignite the planes of his face, illuminating his hair with vivid heliotrope. His eyes sparked, too, mirroring the magic within. I could only sit with my hands folded in my lap, impressed with how inarguably good at it he was. It was slightly terrifying, but I couldn’t deny that it strengthened my attraction to him tenfold. I imagined all of the ways he now knew how to protect me. There were things we’d thrust ourselves into that we could not even dream to run from now, to hide from; but still, if push came to shove, he knew the magic that could blast a shield out of the ground between us and the rest of the world. I knew that Lucius was learning these spells with this thought in mind.
“The Ministry of Magic,” I’d said not too long ago, steel on my tongue as another issue of the Evening Prophet found its way onto our dinner table, the Dark Mark once again curling in and out of the McKinnons’ broken windows on its front page. “They’re going to find out.”
“They won’t,” he’d responded, sipping his goblet with a faraway look in his eyes. Dead eyes. He’d already gone to great lengths to protect the house from intruders, the paranoia at what we had done making everyone else, Death Eaters and those who opposed them, a tremendous enemy. Not so much as a butterfly could get through the boundaries and charms Lucius had placed around the property, obscuring it from view and traveling feet.
Days passed, and then weeks, and then a sort of disquiet settled over me in the form of ease. We had both expected Aurors to come tearing through the place at any moment, ripping us out of bed in the middle of the night amid my screaming and Lucius’s shouting. I’d endured nightmares of wandlight peeking its way around the corners of the house, shining against the windows. They would yank out drawers and cabinets, taking our wands from us as they shackled our wrists together.
These nightmares were frequently interrupted with a spitting hiss from the fireplace or the groans of floorboards in the living room as Lucius moved aimlessly around, waiting for the same thing. We were both on the brink of insomnia, always waiting; either for the Dark Lord to make us do more horrible things, or waiting to be punished for it. Caught between the push and pull, with nothing to cling to but each other.
But the Ministry never came. They failed to connect the dots, which amazed me. What sort of incompetent fools were running the government? I was certain that if I’d been an Auror, I would have seen the signs, would have been able to piece the true story together amongst the wreckage that lay around Marlene McKinnon’s graveyard of a house. It was nothing short of incredible that we’d gotten away with it; and what was more, that Andromeda had obviously said nothing to anyone.
I’d kept my nose to the newspapers and an ear to Bellatrix’s beloved circle of witches and wizards, scared that Travers might come back for my sister. He either didn’t remember her being at Marlene’s, however, or he decided he didn’t care that she escaped. Last I knew, she and her husband moved to a new place out in the country. It was probably very well-protected from people like me, or how she imagined I would be. Little did she know that it wasn’t me she should have been worried about, with my ineptitude when it came to powerful spells and lack of confidence when carrying out orders. It was people like Lucius she should fear – who could flick a switch and turn off his emotions, enabling him to do whatever he needed to do without batting an eye.
When it came to me, I was the only thing, the only person he didn’t close off his emotions to. He could be volatile in this way. He would come home from a meeting with the Dark Lord and his band of followers, refusing to state what they’d discussed or if he’d gone anywhere with them. “I’m not a child,” I would respond, slamming things just as hard as he did – harder, even, and louder. I rose as tall as I possibly could, shoulders squared. “You will tell me where you have been, Lucius Malfoy, or you will go straight back out there.” I pointed to the front door, my tendons on edge, blood boiling. “You will not keep secrets from me.”
“It’s nothing you want to know. Your nightmares are awful enough as it is.” He waved one arm wildly, sloshing his drink. “I have nightmares about your nightmares. I hear you screaming in my sleep, Cissa. Please don’t put me in a position where the only things I can say to satisfy you will hurt you in the end.”
So I gave up trying to shake answers out of him.
I filled the gaps in my knowledge with articles from the Prophet, trying to make sense out of whispers Lucius uttered in his sleep, his hand unconsciously reaching out and clutching my wrist. He broke out in cold sweats, tossing back and forth, murmuring frenetically. Rather than console him, wiping the perspiration from his forehead, I bent with my lips at his ear and urged him on, asking for names. Asking what he had done, and what he was sorry about doing. I knew his grief and guilt would slip away as soon as he woke up, and that he would be able to turn against it just in time to hold out a hand, asking me to please stop.
Dreams provided our punishments, never the escape we wanted them to be. As a last resort, we started brewing potions to give us dreamless sleep. They always left us with a fuzzy feeling in the morning, and I got the impression that they fiddled with our memories, but we had little other choice. I willingly drank it every night before bed. I never wanted to see Marlene’s father’s face ever again.
But it was on my walk, trying to clear my head of all of it, that Lucius appeared from behind. He did not have the look he acquired when he wanted nothing more than to avoid negative discussions, retreating into himself. On the contrary, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen him more exposed. He was pale and his eyes were soft, absorbing me. I lifted right up into him, the tips of one hand tracing the length of his throat, but he held me at bay. “One moment,” he said. He reached into the pocket of his cloak and pulled out a small ornate box. It cracked open, a thin circle encrusted with gems glinting from a bed of satin.
Right there, fitted on top with tiny metal prongs wrapping around it like a spider’s legs, was the pearl Gaspard had given me in Doorturn. A myriad of thoughts flew out from behind locked doors – the elves, still down in those mines; and Margaret, and Gaspard’s livid face when he placed the pearl in my palm, his sanity splintering under delusions. Was he still alive? Was it possible that he would ever find me? Was he even looking?
I felt like I’d been slapped.
“Narcissa?” Lucius snapped the box shut instantly, eyes wide and terrified. “What did I do wrong?” He opened the box again, quickly turning it toward himself, examining its contents. His mouth fell open, eyes wandering off to the side as he soaked up the stinging rejection. He swallowed, the hand with the box in it falling limp to his side.
“No,” I told him lightly, placing my hand over the box. “That’s not why I…panicked. It isn’t the ring, Lucius, it’s the pearl.”
He looked confused. “The pearl? Yes, I found it in your bureau. I thought it might have been your mother’s?”
My silence answered his question. Breathing shallowly, he threw the jewelry box behind him, out into a lake of weeds and cattails that bordered the far recesses of the garden. “Right. Well, you don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to.”
I stared at the place where the ring had disappeared to, hazy in the darkness. I folded my arms across my chest, eyes misting over with hot tears. Lucius was looking at the ground, jaw taut. I lifted his chin with my hand, forcing him to look at me. I gently took his face in my hands, bringing his forehead down to rest on mine. “I want to wear your ring, Lucius, so long as it isn’t that one.” I trailed my thumb over his lips and he closed his eyes. I could feel him inhaling and exhaling against my skin, the way he gave in entirely to me. I loved nothing more than seeing the stony, self-assured Lucius who spoke in clipped tones to the Death Eaters, melt under my touch. It was a satisfying thing, to know that I had the power to take his mind off of the horrible things ravaging his heart.
“Are you sure you want to wear someone like me on your finger?” he asked weakly. “I know that you deserve much better…”
I froze for a moment, and then abruptly threw my head back, laughing. Lucius probably thought I was hysterical. “Oh, thank you,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I really needed that laugh.”
He frowned, puzzled. “I don’t understand.”
“Good.” I kissed him for a few fleeting seconds before pulling away to smile at him. He reflected my smile, incredulous but pleased. “Good. I hope you never do understand. Go on thinking that I’m above you, and I’ll go on knowing how lucky I am, and we’ll never have a problem loving each other.”
He still didn’t know what I was going on about; or maybe he did, but wanted me to think he didn’t, just to flatter me more. Lucius led me back to the house and to our bedroom, where he shed all of his previous hesitancy, insecurities, and fear. I can remember falling back against the pillows with astonishment coloring my palette, knocked completely off-guard. It was my turn to blush as he crept toward me, expression intense. His lips smiled, his eyes were narrowed; very suddenly, he lurched forward and slid his arms under my waist, effectively flipping us around so that he was on his back and I was directly above him. It was exhilarating and unsettling all at once, and it marked the date in our relationship when he decided to go for exactly what he wanted without holding back.
The following morning was memorable, too. I was laughing about something – something I’d heard on the wireless, maybe? If it wasn’t that, then perhaps I was just making conversation with myself, rambling to the trees beyond my window. But it didn’t matter because soon I wasn’t laughing anymore.
It was all a blur of heartbeats and shrill voices; I realized Lucius wasn’t in the bedroom. I padded out into the kitchen, tentative, and my grin immediately vanished. The threat of Aurors had all but left my mind, as we’d successfully eluded being traced to any of the crimes we committed. I’d gotten desensitized, complacent. We’d gotten away with it and we would be all right, just as long as neither of us ever did anything that risky ever again. Someone else, however, had decided to break their silence.
It was Bellatrix in my kitchen, speaking to Lucius instead of to me, conversing in low tones. Andromeda had finally told the Ministry about what I had done.
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