WARNING: This story revolves around a murder and includes a death.
The cup, an inheritance from her late grandmother and fashioned from the very finest goblin bone, slips from her fingers and spirals downwards to the floor, smashing into countless, irreparable pieces. And yet she does not hear the sound resounding around the empty dining room with an echo that sounds almost ethereal, as if her home knows that it does not house a family any longer – only a family that is now broken.
Her husband is gone. Her child is gone. The Battle of Hogwarts occurred over a year ago, and yet the hot July sun blazes through a window she has neglected to clean, illuminating photographs of those who are standing trial for fighting on the side that lost. The names resound in her mind, echoing with the knowledge that she knew these people, and yet their lives are about to be decided by prejudiced, angry witches and wizards seeking revenge for the people they loved and lost in the Second Wizarding War. Crabbe. Goyle. Umbridge. Nott. Dolohov. Lestrange. Malfoy.
But for the first time in the fourteen months that have passed since the day that Lord Voldemort was defeated, the names of his followers do not remain at the forefront of her mind. Instead, her attention is drawn to the parchment that she is clutching in her hand, or more specifically, the five words etched upon it.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID.
Narcissa's voice echoes loudly in the Forbidden Forest, her mirth impossible to conceal. Her long hair waves in the wind behind her as she runs, ignoring the sound of broken branches crunching underneath her snow boots.
“Doesn't it hurt, Narci?” a voice shouts from behind her, and Narcissa flinches at the blatant use of a nickname only reserved for her mother, Druella and her sisters, Bellatrix and Andromeda. But she knows that she must not reveal her true emotions – at least, not to an enemy masquerading as a friend – and plasters a false smile upon her face before turning at the other girl standing behind her.
Most witches, Narcissa knows, would be flattered to have an admirer such as Poppy Carlisle. Even though Poppy is in seventh year with Andromeda, and therefore is two years older than Narcissa, she still endeavours to be just like the fifteen-year-old. Narcissa thought that it was wonderful; even considered Poppy's devotion to be a sign of her own gracefulness and perfection, thinking that if other people want desperately to be just like her it surely must be a sign of the ultimate worship.
“No,” she answers with such gaiety that Poppy's expression turns uncertain. “It doesn't hurt that the Malfoys wish for Lucius to marry you.”
She does not understand the confusion on Poppy's face, but it does not matter. She understands the reason for the Malfoys' decision; they are searching for a blonde witch of noble and ancient blood, who possesses excellent societal manners and is intelligent enough to engage Lucius' friends in conversation, but dutiful enough to never dare forge a career of her own.
Once, Narcissa was the only woman who fitted Abraxas Malfoy's criteria, but with her imitation of Narcissa, Poppy became a contender in the battle of the betrothals. And Poppy won, solely because she does not possess a younger cousin shamefully Sorted into Gryffindor. But Narcissa does, and Narcissa has lost – not just a marriage into the richest, most distinguished family in modern wizarding society, but the man she loves.
It is why, in the early hours of New Year's Day, Narcissa Black is about to commit first degree murder.
She pushes her long cascading hair behind her ear, before bringing the parchment closer to her eyes so that she can study it more thoroughly. The thinness of the material and the imperfections that blemish it suggest the parchment is a low quality version most commonly used by Hogwarts students and impossible to trace due to the vast quantities it is manufactured in. Even the anonymous author's handwriting is impossible to decipher: whoever he or she is, they are intelligent enough to use their left hand to form crooked lines masquerading as capitalized letters usually seen in a schoolchild's beginner handwriting.
She knows that the letter - if a single sentence constitutes a letter - could refer to any occurrence that she has survived in her forty-something years. There are almost five decades of events to whom the anonymous author could be referring to, and yet she cannot help but feel that he or she has only one night in mind: one specific, terrible night that must never be spoken of again.
Re-reading the words again, she takes a deep breath in an attempt to steady her fraught nerves and slow her heart, which is beating violently against her ribcage with frightening speed. It is not simply the fact that there is somebody who knows her darkest secret; it is that if they managed to discover what she has spent the last thirty years hiding, what is to say that somebody else won't manage to do the same?
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID.
How can five simple words take a woman who is impossible to faze and reduce her to a quivering wreck who allows her imagination to run rampant, visualizing every terrible situation that could occur with the appearance of one single sentence? She does not know – it is not something that she can explain. But she is certain of one thing: whoever this anonymous person is, he or she must be silenced.
She will not hesitate. After all, it will not be the first time she has killed.
Lucius and Narcissa. It is the sound of a glorious melody; of a song that somebody forgot to sing. Whereas Lucius and Poppy sounds dysfunctional; it simply does not compute.
“I only meant if it hurt that Lucius ignored you at the New Year's Eve ball tonight,” Poppy says. “I know how much you love him, Narcissa.”
If you truly knew, Narcissa thinks, why did you impersonate me to such an extent that you would steal the attention that was meant for me? Why didn't you refuse to be betrothed to him? And although she knows the answer – knows that in a world dictated by rules and blood supremacy, you never disobey your family – it does not mean that she will accept it.
“Guess what Lucius gave me?” she asks, internally surprised at how easily lying comes to her, proferring a small black box in the outstretched palm of her hand. “Go on, Poppy. Put it on. It belongs to you now, anyway.”
Poppy hesitates, but complies with Narcissa's request and takes the small ring. When she opens it, she gasps softly: diamonds glitter from where they are set upon the small gold engagement band. Narcissa smiles, pleased at what the Black name and a bag of Galleons can buy. She should not be proud that the ring looks as if it truly has come from Lucius. She should not be proud that she made the right choice – that Poppy now stares at the ring, transfixed at its beauty. Quickly, Poppy glances up at Narcissa before taking the ring out of its box and slipping it onto her left ring finger daintily.
It is a decision that they will both regret.
She waits, here in the Forbidden Forest. She has ventured so deeply into the thick cluster of trees that the wind which is currently battering the wizards rebuilding Hogwarts has no effect upon her. Part of her is afraid, although she cannot explain why. She has come here to meet the anonymous author of the letter in the hope of identifying and silencing him or her, but she is early – all those years of being taught by her parents that proper Black etiquette dictates that she should never be late has never faded from her memory. A small part of her is whispering in the back of her mind that it is entirely possible that the anonymous author has brought Aurors with him or her, and that her presence here will confirm her guilt.
And yet it is a risk that she must take.
If she is honest with herself, she did consider the possibilities of who might dare to threaten her secret. She has gone through multiple possibilities in her mind, but as the anonymous author comes into view, she is transfixed by the sight of familiar long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, and a face that looks angelic but conceals a soul destroyed long ago by pride.
“Hello, Andromeda,” Narcissa smiles.
Poppy cries out in terror and pain, and Narcissa takes several steps back away from her competitor. The Ravenclaw is longer her friend; she stole Lucius and even if she is telling the truth when she says she did not mean to, it is an act that Narcissa cannot forgive.
“Help me,” Poppy whispers.
Narcissa is surprised then, not expecting Poppy to fail to realize what is happening. Evidently Poppy still trusts her, despite everything that has occurred, and Narcissa cannot help but laugh at Poppy's foolish faith. And when she sees her enemy's eyes widen with the shock of realization, Narcissa's laughter increases by yet more decibels.
That, she realizes now, is probably how Andromeda managed to trace their location and found them: Poppy, collapsed onto the floor as the curse upon the ring drains her soul, and Narcissa standing above Poppy, her hyena-like laughter filling the cold night air.
Andromeda takes a step back subconsciously, fearful of the burning hatred in Narcissa's eyes. But Narcissa only takes a step forward, following her sister with a determination that the middle Black daughter has not seen for years.
“You know that I have to do this, don't you, Medie?” Narcissa whispers, using a nickname that Andromeda has not heard since she was eighteen and fled the Black family. “I have to protect them – Lucius, Draco. They're in enough trouble as it is; it would be so much worse if the world discovered what happened that night.”
“I agree, Narci!” Andromeda shouts, causing her younger sister to flinch at the use of another long-forgotten nickname. “That's why I kept quiet all those years!”
“And yet you tried to save her life. You tried to save her, you wanted her to live – and if she had, she'd have testified against me and ensured that I was sent down for murder. And that, Medie, that is what I cannot forgive.”
Narcissa's voice is quiet and dangerously eerie, and there is a hint of malice upon her smirking lips. Her blue eyes are icier than ever, glinting with an emotion Andromeda has not seen her sister feel before.
Andromeda shouts out in horror, quickly falling down next to Poppy, checking for signs for life. But Narcissa knows that there will be none – the ring has never failed to claim its victims. It was passed to her by a shady friend of Lucius', who had explained that a mysterious man called the Dark Lord requested him to hide the ring in an abandoned Muggle shack, but he had been easily persuaded with a bag of Galleons to allow her to borrow it for one night.
The ring is dull now, reverting to its original state, scratches upon the top. Andromeda takes it from Poppy's finger, staring at it with a strange look upon her features. Narcissa snatches the ring from Andromeda's hand – it is harmless when it is not worn – and clutches it in hers, staring at her sister with an expressionless face.
And all she says is, “I had to.”
They stand at opposite ends of the clearing, Narcissa in glorious robes of the finest silk and Andromeda in a second-hand cloak covering up her Muggle clothing. If anyone had been passing by, they would never in a million years have thought that the two women were sisters.
“If Poppy had lived, I would have wiped her memory!” Andromeda lies. “I just didn't want you to be a murderer!”
“And yet I am, Medie, just like you are,” Narcissa says simply. “You killed in both wars, fighting for their side. And I killed Lucius' mistress, because it was a war – a war of love between Poppy Carlisle and I, both of us fighting for Lucius – and I was not going to let her win!”
Now that she has admitted the truth; has revisited the past, Narcissa's emotions have finally broken through the facade she usually maintains. She collapses to the dirty ground, not caring if mud stains her robes, and Andromeda automatically moves to comfort her sister but stops when she sees the dagger that Narcissa is clutching.
“Poppy,” she says, her voice barely audible. “I know what you did.”
They giggle, their laughter audible all over Ravenclaw Tower. Poppy Carlisle and Andromeda Black stand in their dormitory, both clutching onto the frame of their four-poster beds to support themselves.
“Did you see Rodney's face?” Andromeda giggles. “'You look like Andromeda but you kiss like Poppy'. I mean, did he not consider that he actually was kissing you?”
“Doubtful, Poppy answers, her expression of utter glee. “I mean, I'm his little princess, and for him to think that I had taken Polyjuice Potion would mean he'd have to consider that we stole it from Slughorn's supply, which in his mind is unfathomable. It's a good job we warned Ted about what we were doing, though; I caught him glaring at Rodney and he knew it was me. Imagine what he'd do if it really was you! The guy loves you to bits, Andie.”
“I know,” Andromeda answers with a smile. “He's special.”
Poppy nods, before glancing at the clock and noticing the time.
“Oooh, it's almost midnight. I have to go; I promised Rodney I'd give him a New Year's kiss. It's the last he'll ever get from me, now I'm betrothed to Lucius.”
“Don't forget you promised Narci that you'd meet her in the Forest for those mushrooms we need for our Potions project,” Andromeda adds, preparing to go to bed – she knows that her own kiss must wait until morning for the simple reason that her boyfriend is Muggle-born.
Poppy groans, having evidently forgotten what she had agreed to.
“I'll go,” Andromeda smiles. “I've been impersonating you all night; another hour won't hurt. Anyway, what harm could possibly come from me pretending to be you?”
Author's Note: This one-shot was written for fauxthefox's The Harry Potter Clue Challenge, where I had to write about Narcissa Black committing a murder in the Forbidden Forest with a cursed ring. I hope you like it, and I'd love it if you could drop a review - even one line would make my day! ♥
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