Dishes crashed against the cold steel of the kitchen sink, a great cacophony of cutlery clashed together as they were shoved in their drawers. Blinds were pulled down from their rails in haste while freshly starched ones were put up in their place. In the oven, the smell of fresh bread wafted through the air accompanied by the roast. Only the best could be provided for the new master and his wife, and only the best would be given.
Narcissa Black stood in the middle of it all with her hands resting on her hips. Every now and then, a quiet word fell upon a servant's ear, and his job somehow took on more meaning. After all, it would probably be the last set of orders taken from their kind mistress.
Her blond hair was pulled away from her face and into a knot at the back of her head though loose strands still stuck up at odd places. With a delicate hand, she wiped a sheen of sweat from her brow, and continued to oversee the preparations. Orion and his wife were coming up in the afternoon, and her mother needed time to prepare.
By the looks of things, anyone would think they handled this quite well - it wasn't every day that you lost your home. But it was common knowledge to the servants and house-elves, that the Mistress had taken to sniffing her salts more than usual, and had a penchant for swooning whenever her eyes fell upon her sitting room set. Miss Andromeda locked herself away in her room for long hours, and sat at the dinner table with a scowl. Young Bellatrix had hidden away from them all - plotting no doubt - there was something about her the servants could never put their fingers on, but of course, her mother excused it all as being 'spirited'. As for Miss Black - Narcissa - maybe, they thought, maybe she tried too hard to be as well put together for all of them.
She tapped her foot impatiently on the floor using the sound as a sort of lull. In her head she already made plans for which servants they might keep, and the ones they could let go - that was of course, when they found someplace to live. As much as Orion might insist, they could not possibly remain in this house, certainly not with her lording over all as mistress.
Nodding to her housekeeper, she swept from the kitchen, and climbed the backstairs to the family quarters. Her fingers traced lightly on the fading wallpaper and a ghost of a smile flickered across her face. She helped her Papa pick it out after Bellatrix was born - silver upon midnight blue, like the night sky and its stars, but now they grew dim.
Narcissa leaned against the wall and squeezed her eyes shut. Her heavy robes struck the wooden panel with a small 'thump'. Shaking her head, she pushed off, and walked on. It wasn't a large estate by any means, but in this part of Devonshire, it was large enough. Its three floors, and overwhelming breadth made it one of the largest estates in the village. She loved everything about it - from its shadowy corners, to its library with that one window which always stuck when opened - it was home. To see it in the grubby hands of someone else made the separation more painful.
She paused at a cream coloured door where her middle sister's name was etched onto a wooden plate. All was quiet for now, and maybe that was because Andromeda could always tell she was hovering at the door by the sight of her shadow creeping through the gap. Frowning, Narcissa walked slowly to the end of the corridor, bypassing the muffled sobs coming from the master bedroom.
As the lock to her door slid into place, she sank down on her bed with shaking hands and wept.
They stood lining the walls of the modest foyer. Narcissa stood between her mother and middle sister, Andromeda - both of whom stared without feeling at the adjacent wall. All the ladies still wore their customary mourning robes, but for this occasion, Narcissa had to admit they wanted to overdo things - she spent fifteen minutes persuading her mother not to wear the veil.
No one could deny that the Black family was anxious. The low ticking of the Grandfather clock in the corner resounded throughout their skulls. Every now and then, Narcissa caught her mother glancing at the door. Her hands were drawn tightly behind her back, and next to her Narcissa reached across to grip them in reassurance, of course, it was for her own benefit as well.
Orion sent his things down earlier in the morning, and the servants only finished clearing them all an hour before. He and his family were due to arrive at exactly seven, just in time for dinner. Narcissa tilted her head ever so slightly to catch a glimpse of the time. Every stroke the second hand made led closer to her doom.
Five, four, three, two...
The clock's chime sent her heart shooting up in her mouth; at the same time, the doorbell rang. The servants gathered in their best looked around nervously at each other. At last, one of the more senior servants received a discreet nod from Mrs. Black and strode to the door.
The new master and his wife wasted no time lingering in the doorway.
"Orion," Druella Black forced a smile, and gripped her stepson's hand, "How lovely to see you,"
The younger Mrs Black's eyes trailed along every inch of the foyer, her face masking over the scrutiny that certainly lived there. Her cool grey eyes landed on the girls, and she smirked. Narcissa felt Andromeda stiffen, and tried to calm her, but the younger girl wrenched herself away in an awkward manoeuvre.
"Druella, my dear," Livia Malfoy - Black cooed. "Hello girls,"
Andromeda's jaw snapped shut, Bellatrix crossed her arms over her chest in the utmost defiance while Mrs. Black tried to look apologetic.
Narcissa stepped forward with a small smile, "Good evening, Livia. I hope your trip went well,"
"Oh yes, quite well, thank you," she paused, her face was screwed up in concentration as if she was trying too hard to pull something from memory.
"Narcissa," Orion whispered in his wife's ear, loud enough for everyone else to hear. Both Livia and Narcissa blushed.
"Yes, of course," Livia continued as if there was no hesitation on her part, "Sirius was a little restless, I'm afraid he gave our young lady a bit of a hassle,"
She gestured behind her at the plainly dressed young woman behind her who Narcissa noticed for the first time since their arrival. She held a small, motionless boy in her arms with a mop of dark hair on his head. The young lady nodded to Narcissa who smiled back in sympathy.
A sudden movement behind the nanny made Narcissa's head shoot up, at the same time Andromeda shuffled closer and whispered in her ear.
"Who on earth is that?"
The who in question properly came into view flashing an apologetic smile. His white blond hair fell short to the back on his neck, and his eyes were remarkably similar to Livia's except that for a man in such a station, they were quite sad. She instantly remembered him from her father's funeral - he was Livia's brother. He met her gaze and bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement.
At this point everyone was aware of his arrival except for Livia who continued to natter on about her trip. Druella entertained this talk while shooting her eldest a panicked look. They did not prepare an extra seat at the table.
Squeezing her mother's hand, Narcissa nodded to the housekeeper, who gathered two more servants and disappeared. They would surely have to delay dinner now.
"Livia, I wasn't aware that you were bringing someone else," Druella prompted.
Livia whirled around, as if she suddenly remembered her brother's presence.
"Oh, I do hope you don't mind, Mrs. Black, but I invited my brother along with us," she gripped the young man's arm and pulled him over to the group.
"This is my brother, Mr. Lucius Malfoy - he's the middle child."
Lucius smiled, turning away from his sister to face Mrs. Black.
"Good evening, I apologise if I'm imposing. Livia only asked me this morning to join her, and I don't think she had enough time to send an owl,"
"Nonsense," replied Mrs. Black with a dismissive wave of her hand, "It won't take the servants long to organise a seat at the table for you. Will you be staying the night?"
"Yes," Livia cut in before her brother had a chance to respond, "Yes he will,"
Lucius looked at his sister in surprise, and from Narcissa's perspective, there was clearly a misunderstanding between the siblings.
"If he's anything like her, take me back to the cemetery and bury me with Papa!" Andromeda hissed in her sister's ear.
Narcissa bit back a smile, and looked on as her mother lead Lucius into the dining room. "I don't think he is."
Dinner was surprisingly uneventful, but very awkward. Andromeda spent the time glowering at Livia, and her husband, while Narcissa tried to conduct a very stilted conversation. For most of the night she spent the time talking to Lucius about the strange weather they were having. To do him credit, she suspected he tried to alleviate the awkwardness as well. Of course, she also spent the time tag-teaming with Andromeda as to who would defect Bella's attempts at using her wand. In the end, she gave up and stomped upstairs without asking to be excused.
"She's not feeling very well, you see." was their mother's excuse. "Not well, indeed."
The sun peeked out through the March gloom casting rays of light onto the declining Black family garden. Time had not been good to the small plot of land since the old Master took ill. Cygnus worked hard with the gardener to find ways to improve it, but they slowly came to the realisation that the garden would never return to its former glory. When the old master died, he took the soul of his beloved garden with it.
The leaves drooped, and the flowers half-heartedly looked up from their stalks. The vibrant blues and violets of the garden looked dull now, in spite of the poor weather. Narcissa sat on a ledge in a tiny gazebo in the centre of the once lively garden. Her long legs were covered, and tucked under her - she looked like a vision of comfort.
Shifting slightly, she adjusted her cloak over her shoulders, and glanced down at the sketch on the notebook in her lap. Glancing up at her subject again, she frowned - the angle wasn't right. With a loud sigh, she threw the sketch aside in dismay. She hadn't drawn anything in months - not since her father took ill, and today was the first day she attempted to make something of anything. She was afraid that the stress was getting to her far too much, and with the arrival of Orion and Livia, things only got worse.
Closing her eyes, Narcissa shuddered at the odd prickly feeling at the back of her neck - as if someone was watching her. She raised her head and looked around, only to find a familiar face gazing back at her a few feet away from the gazebo. She lifted a hand to beckon her guest closer. An amused smile played at her lips while watching his tentative approach.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Malfoy," she waved, gesturing to the ledge, "Hurry up and come in, it's a bit cold out there,"
"Miss Black," the young man nodded, increasing his stride. "I didn't mean to disturb you, I wanted to take a walk, to look around,"
"No need to apologise," she shrugged then added, "at least not to me anyway,"
"Of course," he muttered, as if he understood her meaning.
"How are you finding the house?" she asked after a beat. It was better than asking about the weather.
"I like it, your father has a good library,"
He recognised his mistake too late, releasing a frustrated sigh. "I'm sorry,"
Narcissa felt her chest constrict at the mention of her father and gave Lucius a tight smile.
"It's all right," her eyes fell to her hands in her lap, and played with the hem of her cloak.
She heard his feet scrape against the floor as she pushed off from the ledge and walked to the opposite side of the gazebo. With his hands stuck in his pockets, he looked out across the lawn wearing a frown. She found herself chuckling at the matter - maybe it was best if they stuck to the weather from now on.
Narcissa stared at him curiously. There wasn't much she remembered about him from their Hogwarts days. He was in fourth year when she started, made prefect in his fifth, but mostly kept to his own age group except for that one year he distanced himself from everyone. She remembered Orion speaking about their father in the past - Abraxas Malfoy, aged 53, died of dragon pox. The entire affair was preposterous. Even her own father couldn't believe it.
Lucius didn't look like most purebloods his age, nor did he appear to have an interest in anything outside of managing his estate. While Livia sang her brother's praises, and everyone at the table made their polite comments, Andromeda rolled her eyes. She thought he was rather dull and she said so after dinner in exasperation on Narcissa's bed. Narcissa wasn't too quick to judge after only meeting him properly at dinner, but he was nice enough. But then, she had been fooled before. They spent the rest of the night chatting about Orion's arrival with his family, but not once had her sister asked about where they might live.
She met Lucius on the landing before turning in for the night. There was something in his manner that made her look at him twice in their first meeting, and again after dinner. Why was he standing outside of the tomb, while his family sat by the gravesite? The rational voice in her head thought that maybe he didn't like crowds - he certainly seemed like the type. But that wasn't the answer - not for Narcissa Black, anyway. His shoulders were stooped in a way that she was sure would make his mother faint; he glanced briefly over his shoulder and met Narcissa's steady gaze. Something flickered in his grey orbs before rebuilding that neutral mask.
"Is something wrong, Miss Black?" he called to her, his face etched with concern.
"No, not at all," Narcissa walked over to where he stood, "and please, call me Narcissa - Miss Black sounds too formal,"
For the first time since his arrival, Lucius grinned, running a hand through his hair, "Brilliant, call me Lucius,"
Narcissa's smile grew, and she thought that maybe these next few weeks won't be so bad after all.
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