Nothing, Nothing at All
The chatter around the dinner table dissipated, and soon Narcissa found herself being addressed by her brother-to-be. “So,” he began coolly as he began his second course, “was it indeed my brother?” He was, of course, alluding to his fiancée’s former claim that the blond must have been writing to a secret beau. His eyes seemed to twinkle at the thought, but Narcissa ignored him.
“No, it appears not to be the case,” Lucius interjected as he was reawakened from his reverie. “And I fear I can get nothing out of Miss Black, and I doubt you will either.”
Lucius’ friend smiled. “Oh, really? But come, Narcissa,” he wheedled as he turned his attention away from Lucius, “there are rarely any secrets between family.”
“Are there not?” she replied smoothly. “Bella,” she said, catching the gaze of her elder sister, “do you suppose that to be true? Are there really, as Rodolphus would have us suppose, few secrets among family?” her green eyes seemed to dazzle in the faint light. They were haunting, Lucius thought, so haunting – no, he nearly gasped, haunted would be more accurate.
The young girl turned to the man beside her, who had just been considering her eyes, before once again looking at her sister. “But then again, it depends on the importance of such secrets. Do you think, Bellatrix, that the secrets kept are important or would you consider them trivial?” Her sister, throughout her speech, had tensed. Yes, she thought, there are secrets – but how much did her younger sister know? How much did she truly understand?
Easiness seemed to evaporate around the table. Narcissa was still staring intently at Bellatrix who seemed uneasy. The best man as well, Madame Black thought, seemed slightly perturbed by the unspoken insinuations that Madame Black did not understand.
“Well?” Narcissa’s sweet voice mocked, never allowing her gaze to leave her sister.
Bellatrix serenely picked up her fork and poised it above her untouched place, all the while looking at her sister. “Well what?” she said almost uneasily. Narcissa, as well as Lucius, could see in her eyes her surprise at her sister’s insinuations and a glimmer of fear. However, to everyone else present, they noticed only a serene bride-to-be who feared nothing.
However, Rodolphus noticed with some unease, the two sisters continued to stare at each other, malice clearly springing from their eyes. Narcissa obviously knows something, he thought, that Bellatrix is less than willing to state openly.
“Or perhaps,” Bellatrix mused allowed. “You have some,” she sighed, “personal injury to complain of?” Her perfectly mascaraed eyebrow arched delicately and threateningly. She glanced meaningfully toward the best man. “How foolish of me not to have guessed earlier.”
At first Narcissa did not respond. “A personal injury?” she mocked after she gathered her thoughts and had allowed the tension to grow. “I – a personal injury. How hilarious, Bellatrix, I did not think even you had such a misinformed sense of humor. No, sister, I have no personal injury of that kind; but I can recall a day when I was very young.”
“Really?” Bellatrix said as she began to eat the food before her once again. “Is your memory thus intact to be able to remember just one day? How extraordinary.”
“This day,” the blond continued as she ignored her elder sister, “was about a year before I went to Hogwarts. You were, say, in your sixth year, as were you, Mr. Malfoy,” she added as she turned to the man sitting quietly yet apprehensively to her right. “I remember that I had been out in the garden, singing, as was a childish habit of mine” – Madame Black, remembering the years before her youngest became reflective and silent, smiled silently to herself – “But I soon grew out of it. And do you know why, dear sister?”
Bellatrix only inclined her head slightly.
“Well, then,” Narcissa continued. “Allow me to enlighten you.”
She paused and looked meaningfully at her sister. Lestrange shifted in his seat uncomfortably, while Mr. Black sighed. “Really, Narcissa,” her father began, “is this really necessary? I know you and your sister haven’t gotten on since you went to Hogwarts, but this type of behavior is unpardonable.”
“What type of behavior, father?” the girl asked, in seeming modesty. “I am merely reminding Bellatrix of one of my most distinct memories.”
“Yes, but –” her father began.
“I think I remember it, vaguely,” Bellatrix interjected as she took a sip of her wine. It caused her darkened lips to sparkle seductively, which Lestrange noticed longingly. “Perhaps you envy me, dear sister, that memory.”
Narcissa glanced at her, slightly confused. “Why would I envy you such a memory?” she asked smoothly.
“Oh – I think we can both assume why,” she looked pointedly at Lucius as she addressed her remarks to the younger girl.
“I think we cannot, for, if I recollect correctly,” she purred maliciously, although with a hint of sadness in her voice, “you have envied me ever since.”
How had Narcissa known? Lucius thought. He had made a mockery of his affection for her in public, had portrayed only the slightest and most Slytherin-like interest in his old lover’s younger sister. And yet she had known. She had guessed that after he had first laid eyes on her, everything with Bellatrix had fallen apart. It had not been the same, tried as he might to ignore the delectable child and her cunning. But he couldn’t. He knew he could never ignore her, knew even now as she skipped about the secret so coyly, only dropping hints to Lestrange and her parents, that he had to have her – that she had to be his one day.
He had always known. And he hated himself for it. How could he be consumed for six years with a child? How could he want her so passionately? Why was it that he could not breathe whenever she was in the room, that he could not think when her pale eyes looked at him? And yet it was more than that. So much more. His soul would have soared above the highest clouds if she had just smiled – genuinely smiled – at him just once, if her eyes had not accused him of his youthful folly with her sister every time she looked at him, if she did not imperceptibly flinch every time he touched her.
You have envied me ever since. Yes, Bellatrix had envied her little sister. She had seen the way his dull grey eyes would shine when he looked at her, how passionately he had kissed her that day by the lake –
Bellatrix at first gave no answer. She knew that what her sister said was true, but now she was engaged to Lucius’ best friend. She had learned to live with the knowledge that Lucius did not care for her.
“But,” Narcissa whispered as she rose elegantly from her chair, “I would gladly give it all back if I could – for I have never desired it.” Bellatrix, as she heard her sister’s silent declaration, looked at the younger woman’s paling face. She has grown so much, she thought to herself, and I am responsible for it. But she did not care.
Her eyes hardened and she growled, “Really, thief?”
Their mother gasped at the dreadful accusation her “eldest” had just uttered. Her husband looked horrified, as did Rodolphus Lestrange. Only Lucius kept his calm. He had never had two women fight over him in public before and he almost found it amusing. Almost. If it had not been for Narcissa’s declaration that she had never desired his affections, he would have been elated. But she did not care for him, she never had. Well, he would soon have to change that. If he could …
“Thief, am I?” Narcissa questioned. Her eyes seemed almost a greenish bronze as they shone with fury.
“Yes, we both know it to be true. And,” she concluded as an afterthought, “you will pay for this transgression.”
“Will I? I will pay for once being an innocent child? For staying in the garden too long when it began to rain that night? For being happy despite the cold and wishing to tell my beloved sister all about it? Really, are any of these circumstances transgressions, Bellatrix?” Her voice had been slowly rising in tenure yet still remained poised and lady-like. “Should you not be the one to suffer because of your transgressions? All I did was open up a door in innocence, and I have had to pay for such a folly ever since.”
“And I have not had to suffer?” Bellatrix nearly screamed as she rose from her chair.
“Not from my hands, though you have punished me a thousand times over for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Really? You who have taken everything from me, thief.” The accusation resounded once again about the room. Narcissa didn’t even flinch.
“I have taken nothing,” she stated. “But who is to say that I will not in the future?” And then she was gone. Lucius was looking at her one moment and the next she was no longer there. He did not hear her leave, oddly. She was just gone, away, most likely to plot her revenge on her sister.
Bellatrix was still steaming. Her eyes reflected her surprise at her younger sister’s exit for she, too, could not figure out what had happened.
“Not again,” Madame Black groaned into the silence. Both Lucius and Bellatrix looked at her, expecting an explanation to her youngest’s disappearance. Seeing that such an explanation was expected, Madame Black merely stated in resignation, “she has a tendency to do that, ever since she was about ten. It’s quite extraordinary really, for we have yet to find a magical specialist who actually knows what exactly she is doing.”
Changing the subject, Madame Black turned to her only remaining daughter. “What has she stolen, Bellatrix?”
“Yes, what?” her fiancé echoed. “It’s obviously very important to you.”
Bellatrix merely sat down.
“Miss Narcissa Black has stolen nothing,” Lucius stated without ceremony as he looked at his best friend. “Nothing at all.”
Narcissa banged on the massive wooden doors in front of her. After such an exchange with her sister, she knew that questions would be asked and she would most likely be found in the wrong. She had, of course, been called a thief in the presence of Lucius Malfoy, a man completely unconnected to the family. Action would have to be taken against her to secure his silence in the outside world. But would he not refute such accusations? No, she thought hastily, he would not. She had always been a plaything to him, and he would not want his own name sullied with his best friend. Of course, Lucius Malfoy knew all of the particulars of the situation, as he was what Bellatrix had always wanted so badly but could never have. But he would never admit his own part in the situation, even if it were to clear her own name.
As Narcissa lifted her fist in impatience to knock on the door again, it opened to reveal not the house elf she had expected, but a wizard. In her shock, Narcissa forgot to lower her hand and merely looked at the man she had heard so much about, but had never actually met.
“Yes?” he asked in curiosity. He had been tediously going through a pile of “very important” documents and had been glad when the knocking at his door had offered a welcomed interruption. He had expected it to be some steward who had lost his key to the back door or someone hand-delivering a package he was most likely expecting but had clearly forgotten about. Instead, however, he had been met with a surprise. There before him stood a beautiful young woman, dressed in elegant black silk, with her golden hair placed exquisitely on her head for what he imagined was a dinner party. She was obviously shocked to see him there, and, he noticed, was not wearing a traveling cloak.
“I beg your pardon,” she began smoothly, though perhaps rethinking her intended address. She had lowered her hand and was now inspecting the man before her. He was tall and lean with an intriguing, though not expressly handsome, face. His hair was dark, like her sister’s, though slightly curly which surprised her. However, despite this, she could easily see the family resemblance. “I am Narcissa Black, a friend of June.”
“Ah,” he said as he half recognized the name. Most likely June had written of her in one of her many letters. “I’m afraid June is still at Hogwarts and is not expected back until the New Year,” he stated though a little unhappily as he did not want the vision before him to disappear. “However,” he added hastily, “if you would like to owl her …”
“No,” she began, “you misunderstand me.” She sighed as if considering her options. “I am a friend of hers from Hogwarts, and visited here last summer. I –” she was not accustomed to requesting anything “– I just needed a place to perhaps stay the night and was hoping one of the house elves would recognize me. But as you are obviously in residence, Lord Everingham,” here she curtsied to the man before her, “I would not presume to invade you privacy.”
“You – you know who I am?” the young man asked in confusion.
“Yes, my lord, I can see the family resemblance, although June’s hair does not curl though she has always wanted it to.”
As she turned to go, however, Lord Everingham said, “And you call her June, how extraordinary. You know, she’s always hated her first name – Junia.”
“Yes, she has. I’ve always rather liked it myself, though,” she laughed despite of herself.
“Narcissa, did you say your name was?”
“Narcissa Black. I am home for a fortnight for my sister’s wedding to Rodolphus Lestrange, but find that the house is far too busy with the preparations. But it is no matter,” she added as an afterthought. “I shall merely go impose on my aunt.”
“Rodolphus? Do you perhaps know Lucius Malfoy, his best man?”
“Yes, we went to school together.”
“Was there not supposed to be a dinner at your house tonight to discuss the finer points of the ceremony or some such nonsense?”
“How did you know that?” the blond inquired, shivering because of the cold Autumn air despite herself.
“Here, allow me,” June’s brother said as he led her into the house and to a warm fire. “Yes, Lucius is a friend of mine and was here earlier. He was, I must confess, complaining about how boring the topics of conversation were likely to be. But he seemed strangely anxious to go, for whatever reason.” He sat down next to his guest.
“Really? Well, I can assure you the conversation was far from boring, my Lord.”
“Please, Miss Black,” he began. “If memory recollects correctly,” for now he had remembered some of the particulars of his sister’s letters, “you are June’s best friend. Please, let’s not stand on ceremony. Call me ‘Alexius.’”
“Alexius of Everingham,” the girl repeated as he smiled. “Then I suppose you must call me by my Christian name as well. But tell me,” she began before he could add words to his smile, “how do you know Mr. Malfoy?”
“He is a distant cousin of my mother,” he replied simply.
“Odd,” Narcissa pondered. “June never mentioned it.”
“It’s not as peculiar as you would think, Narcissa,” a look of elation passed across his face as he said her name. Here he was, sitting next to a beautiful young woman, and calling her by her name after knowing her for only a few minutes. And, if he asked correctly, she would most likely spend the night as she had originally intended. “Although we are brother and sister, we have different mothers, so June is not in fact related to Lucius.”
“So, did you attend Hogwarts, Defender?” A look of confusion passed over Alexius’s face at the title Narcissa had bestowed upon him. “Forgive me,” she began, “but I am a student of words. And, if I am not mistaken,” she said with seeming modesty, “Alexius, from the Greek, means ‘Defender.’”
“You are full of surprises,” he answered simply. He wondered, briefly, if his sister would mind if he were to date the intelligent and beautiful young Miss Black. Probably, he answered himself. And yet, there was the wedding. As a member of the wizard nobility Alexius, as well as his sister, had been invited to the upcoming nuptials of Bellatrix Black and Rodolphus Lestrange, although Alexius knew neither of them.
“And you haven’t answered my question.” She locked eyes with the wizard before her, thankful that someone could help her forget her troubles at home.
A hollow knock sounded against the door. Lord Everingham glanced in its direction and was satisfied when he saw a house elf approaching it. He sighed, it was probably the Muggle post from the village. As a member of the English nobility, Alexius had duties that, unfortunately, included the muggle populace. He often had to attend official functions, went to the local muggle church, and sat in the House of Lords despite his young age.
“No,” he answered her as he watched the door open to admit someone that on any other occasion he would have been happy to see. Narcissa, however, did not notice. She had kept her eyes upon his young face trying to guess his age as, surprisingly, June had never told her.
“Everingham?” a voice called to her surprise. She knew that she had heard it somewhere and as she looked up, she froze. The figure handed his cloak and cane to the waiting house elf, not looking in their direction.
“Yes,” the young lord answered.
Still not looking, his companion replied. “You cannot believe what happened. One moment we’re all having a pleasant dinner, and the next Bellatrix was accusing her younger sister of being a thief for no apparent reason whatsoever. Very forcefully, I might add.”
Alexius glanced at Narcissa and, rising, walked toward his guest who was none other than Lucius Malfoy. Narcissa inwardly groaned. Of all of the wizards that could have walked in the door, he was the last person she had wanted to see.
“Really?” Alexius questioned.
Lucius, still not noticing Narcissa by the fire, turned to his friend. “Yes, it was quite out of order and ridiculous. And,” he added as an afterthought, “I don’t like being spoken about as an object.”
“Sorry?” Alexius asked. His eyebrows tensed in confusion. Was the girl sitting by his fire a thief? What had she stolen? Was it Lucius? Was she, though his friend had never mentioned it before, his girlfriend? Good lord, I hope not, he thought.
“Oh, Bellatrix has this absurd idea that when I broke up with her in our sixth year, it was because her ten-year-old sister, Narcissa, had ‘stolen’ my heart with the malicious intention of –” and then he stopped mid-sentence as he looked over Alexius’s shoulder. There she was, the one woman he would want to see at any other moment but this one, as he had just been talking about her. But she was here, with his friend. What did that mean? How did they know each other? Had she actually been writing him before dinner, although she later claimed that she was not writing a letter at all?
Narcissa locked eyes with Lucius. Alexius, noticing his friend’s gaze, turned to look at Narcissa. She is even more beautiful than before, he thought. I really must write Junia immediately to ask her permission, unless Lucius …
“Lucius,” Alexius struggled, “I believe you know my sister’s best friend, Narcissa Black.”
Lucius glanced at him. “Yes, but I had no idea you did.” Looking once again at the young woman by the fire, “Narcissa, a pleasure as always.”
“Am I to be disinherited?” she asked simply. “And how is my dear sister?”
“Most likely trying to explain to Rodolphus what exactly you have stolen,” he stated as he sat down next to her. Alexius followed suit. “And as Bella has yet to explain either to him or to your parents what makes you a ‘thief,’ if I may be so bold as to quote her, then I doubt it.”
And then she had heard it, it was almost imperceptible, but it was as clear as a small bell ringing in her ear. “Anthos.” She gazed at Lucius, horrorstruck, to the surprise of Alexius. He had heard nothing, and had only seen her reaction.
Lucius, on the other hand, had whispered his secret name for her in an attempt to restrain himself. He wanted to hold her, kiss her delicate hair, caress her cheek. Yet she had been here when he had arrived, with his friend. Although neither had said anything regarding their relationship, he could see the truth in his friend’s eyes. He adored her with his very being. And her swift exit from dinner explained this rendez-vous that he had interrupted. She had been writing to him before dinner, before she had even known Lucius would be at the dinner, and had left Lucius’s side to be with Alexius. So he whispered her name in desperation, to convince himself that he still had some hope of recovering the woman before him.
For she now was a woman, and no longer the girl that he had coveted. She was intelligent, cunning, witty when she chose to be. She was his equal. He wished, in that instant, that she really had maliciously stolen his heart because of her own desires, as Bellatrix had insinuated. Then she would have wanted him at some time in his life, and then he would have a chance with her.
Anthos. He had whispered her name and she had remembered. Her head had snapped up and she had glared at the blond beside her in horror. How much did she know? And yet, her hurt eyes betrayed nothing. In their depths he could not see any hint of a remembrance of that day by the woods, of his passionate kisses, of her sobs.
“I should go,” she said as she turned to Alexius. “As you two are old friends, you most likely have a great deal to discuss. And a third party would only be a vexation.”
And then the young lord had blinked and she was gone. He turned to his friend who groaned, though in awe, “Not again.”