Narcissa smiled into the soft covers that enveloped her in her sleep. She felt so inexplicably content as she half-remembered a delectable dream she had had the night before. There had been arms wrapped lovingly around her, lips possessively though gently claiming hers, the words “I love you” hanging sweetly in the cold air. And yet it had not been like the other dreams she had had before. Instead she had been vindictive, intentionally causing harm to the voice that sweetly whispered her name as she tried to free herself from its tender and loving grasp. But she had not been able to. Instead, she had lost herself in its caresses, its promises raw with emotion although she secretly knew that they had been empty.
But he had said that he loved her, that he had always loved her, and she had consented to marry him.
Slowly, in her sleep ridden mind, Narcissa began to day dream as she smiled into a somewhat unfamiliar pillow. His arms would always hold her safely within them, he would love her as he had never loved another, and his tender lips would kiss away all of her unshed tears of the long agonizing years she had spent wanting him.
She would no longer be the youngest Miss Black, but instead would take his name. Malfoy. “Madame Lucius Malfoy,” she whispered sleepily to herself.
The sound of her quiet voice echoed through her mind. Instead of comforting her, however, it strangely struck a painful chord in her aching memory. Lucius Malfoy …
She jumped off the bed in her surprise and landed painfully on the floor beside it as she was jarred awake by the thought of his very name.
His name …
She groaned audibly as she lay tangled within sheets that somehow felt … alien to her. She hated mornings, she always had, and over the years she had developed a particular dislike for the early hours of the day when she wound up in a heap of sheets on the cold wooden floor of her room or the rough stone of the Slytherin dorms. She turned her head in her discomfort, her long hair flowing half-hazardously into her face. But what she felt against her cool cheek was neither wood nor stone. Instead it was a lush carpet that was completely foreign to her.
Her green eyes snapped quickly open and her breath caught in her throat at the strange sight that met her eyes. She was in a room she had never seen before, tangled in pale lilac sheets. As she glanced down at her legs, she realized that they were bare.
“Completely bare,” she stated in wonder. Her full right calf was revealed in her current position.
She sat up instantly as she clutched the pale sheets to her chest. She shuddered as the cool air from the open window played with her cascading hair and blew against her naked back.
As her eyes roved about the room she noticed that the gown that she had worn the night before had been flung unceremoniously onto the floor. That’s odd, she thought to herself as she tried not to panic.
She was in an unknown room, with no recollection of what had happened the night before except for meeting Junia’s elder brother and then going to Hogwarts. After that she could remember nothing except for her dream, her dream of Lucius.
How did that end? she wondered to herself. He had asked her to marry him, she had agreed, and then …
Not that it matters, Narcissa thought to herself. It had just been a dream after all.
Or had it? It had been so real, so tangible. When he had kissed her it had been more palpable than her memory of the afternoon by the lake. But it couldn’t have actually happened, though how else would she have gotten to this strange room, completely naked except for the lilac sheets that kissed her bare skin as he had?
A loud knock in the direction of what Narcissa assumed to be the door interrupted her confused thoughts.
“Who is it?” Narcissa asked as she rose shakily to her feet, clutching the sheets to herself. She surveyed the room quickly and noticed that the king sized four-poster bed was the centre of the elegant décor. As she inspected the bed more closely, however, she noticed that she had not been the only one to sleep in it the night before. She could clearly see the imprint of her small form against the mattress, which was to be expected. However, next to it was a much larger and – dare she think it? – decidedly masculine impression. It was facing toward where she had slept, as if its owner had been staring at her throughout the night. Creeping forward onto the bed she touched the smooth sheets where this unknown man had lain and gasped when she felt that it was still warm.
“Alexius,” the voice called suddenly. “May I come in?”
At the thought of Junia’s brother walking into the room while she was wearing nothing but a sheet, Narcissa nearly fell off the bed again.
“One moment,” she responded as she hastily picked up her dress from the floor. As she inspected it quickly before throwing it unceremoniously over her head, she noticed that it was no worse for wear. However, Narcissa oddly noticed that her undergarments were missing. As she quickly searched the spotless room for them, she tugged at her loose hair, hoping to make it somewhat presentable. Throwing the now discarded sheet back onto the four-poster and giving up her fruitless search for her unmentionables, Narcissa opened the door.
“Did you sleep in that?” the revealed nobleman asked as he drank in her form with his eyes. A small smile played on his lips as he saw her in all of her disheveled glory. She was even more beautiful when her hair cascaded wildly past her shoulders, her cheeks tinted rose with her embarrassment at being in such a state of disarray.
As his eyes travelled slowly down her long legs that the velvet dress tantalizingly accentuated, he noticed that in her hurry she had remained barefoot. Her feet were oddly slender and so attractively feminine that he found himself unconsciously stepping toward her, his head tilting to meet her eyes.
“Good morning,” he whispered near her ear.
He noticed with pleasure how a pale blush caressed the skin of her ear, barely noticeable even at his close proximity. He had never been so forward with a woman after such a short acquaintance, but he felt inexplicably drawn to the young Miss Black.
Her heavenly green eyes lighted onto his before they quickly looked away again. Alexius noticed how an inward question hung in her gaze, frightened yet oddly calculating. But he didn’t care. All he knew was that he was standing near her, breathing in her natural fragrance, close enough to touch her.
And he wanted to desperately. He wanted to oddly make her his and his alone. He wanted to possess her in every way possible, and to belong to her completely. He wanted to love her, just love her.
But he was afraid he would never get the chance. The night before, when he and Lucius had apparated to Hogsmeade, he had been surprised when his cousin had not directly gone to the castle with him. “Miss Black will not be there as of yet,” he had merely stated as he headed toward a dark forest on the perimeters of the castle grounds.
Then, after half an hour, he had appeared in the Sytherin Commons Room with a sleeping Narcissa in his arms. Alexius and his younger sister had gaped in astonishment. Only moments before, Junia had been assuring him that her dearest friend would never even consider smiling at Lucius let alone date the wizard.
“Are you certain, June?” he had ascertained.
“Yes,” his younger sister had answered. “She despises Lucius. Something happened, before she came to Hogwarts. I think it involved her sister.” She had remained silent for several moments, the firelight reflecting off her unearthly skin. “And –” she had begun hesitantly.
Alexius’s eyebrows had furrowed in confusion. His sister had been clearly lost in thought.
“And,” she had sighed as she had turned her face into the shadows, “he has hunted her cruelly ever since.”
Here, the lord had sat up in the cushioned chair he had been reclining in. “Hunted?” he had inquired.
However, she had not answered. Instead, a mischievous look had passed across her features. “Why do you want to know, anyway?” She had tossed a green velvet pillow at him playfully, effectively lightening the mood.
“No reason,” he had lied smoothly though Junia had noticed a definite twinkle in his eyes.
“Oh,” she had stated in mock surprise. “Then I don’t suppose you’ll want to know about any other – potential suitors.”
“Pardon?” he had laughed.
“Potential suitors,” she had continued seriously. “I am her closest friend and, naturally, keep a mental directory. Whenever a wizard asks about whether she prefers roses or chocolates, diamonds or sapphires, sonnets written in her honour or a classic ballad … I make a mental note.” Here she had sighed dramatically. “There are so many of them sometimes it is hard to keep track, but as you are not interested, then I have no reason to divulge the information.”
Alexius had stared open mouthed at his sister. “Someone has given her diamonds, already? But she’s only …”
“Sixteen,” his sister had replied. “And you’re nineteen,” she had supplied for no reason at all.
“Yes, thank you of reminding me of that fact.”
“And,” she had furthered, “Mr. Malfoy is twenty-two, I believe.”
Alexius’s eyes had brightened slightly. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well,” she had stated matter-of-factly. “You’re closer in age to Narcissa. And as she has always considered Lucius too old for her …” her voice had drifted off and a devilish grin had played on her lips. “Are you going to ask me or not?” she had inquired suddenly.
“Ask you what?” he had replied as his thoughts had been drifting toward Miss Black.
“Permission to court my friend.”
A faint blush had crept along his pale skin. “So, um, she’s currently – unattached?” he had tried to ask as casually as possible.
Junia had laughed. “Unattached?” she had giggled. “She’s never even looked at a wizard. It’s peculiar, really,” she had contemplated. “Whenever anyone asks her to Hogsmeade, she instantly refuses; she sends love letters back unopened; she returns all gifts including flowers.”
Here his sister had become silent. “I don’t know,” her eyes had scanned the empty Commons Room hastily. “I think it’s because of him.”
“Lucius?” he had asked, hoping that she would answer in the negative.
Instead, to his great disappointment, she had nodded softly. “She hasn’t even looked at her own reflection in years. She has all of the gilded mirrors in the dormitory covered with sheaths of black velvet, and curses anyone who dares to remove them. And I know it is because of him, because of whatever happened.
“And when she does catch a glimpse of herself, in the lake on the grounds or in a window pane, a look of fear always flickers across her face. Then her features will harden considerably, her voice become colder and more severe. I think he’s made her hate herself, her beauty. Merlin save his soul when she finally has her revenge.”
Her voice had trailed off into silence, and he had heard her whisper softly, “Circe, I would give anything to …”
But Alexius had never heard the rest of his sister’s thought for his cousin had entered the Common Room at that moment, holding a sleeping Narcissa in his arms. Her slim arms had been curled around his neck tightly and even in her sleep Alexius could tell that she would not let go of his friend, as if she would die if she were to. Her face had been peaceful, and Lucius had possessively looked down into it, his eyes never leaving her closed ones.
“I found her asleep by the forest,” had been all he had said by way of hello. “I think we should get her back before anyone else sees her.”
Junia’s face had considerably paled when she had seen Lucius enter with her friend in his arms. As Alexius had stood, once again wide-eyed at the scene before him, she had whispered, “Yes, Alexius, you have my permission.” Her voice had been dead, almost, with a tinge of what Alexius feared had been jealousy.
“My lady,” Lucius had bowed briefly to Junia before leaving with the sleeping Narcissa. However, his eyes had never left Miss Black. “‘Til we meet again.” Then he had swept out of the door, Alexius close on his heals.
When the two friends had apparated back to the Everingham estate, Lucius had carried the sleeping witch up to one of the spare bedchambers.
“Shall I wait up for you?” Alexius had asked tensely, breaking the silence between them. He had noticed how Narcissa’s arms had still been wrapped tightly around Lucius’s neck and how, although he had been holding her gently, Lucius had been carrying her possessively.
“No,” he had whispered silently. “I must away to London immediately.”
“Good morning,” Narcissa replied coolly as her blush faded. “So, I take it I’m in Everingham?” Her clear eyes looked straight into his. Although his close proximity made her uncomfortable, especially since she was still perplexed over the state of her undress and the mysterious form which had clearly spent the night beside her, she was never one to show weakness.
“Yes,” he stated simply though he was confused as to why she was not allowing him into the room. “May I come in?” he asked again.
She nodded, as she could not possibly refuse, and allowed him to enter.
Lord Everingham noticed, as he first entered the room, that the sheets of the bed were slightly disheveled. Before he could make any conclusions, however, Narcissa surprisingly spoke.
“My lord,” she began hesitantly as she took a seat in a plush chair, “may I ask a peculiar question?”
He glanced at her and noticed how she was caressing the ring finger of her right hand. She was obviously debating whether or not actually asking this unknown question was wise.
“Of course,” he responded as he took a seat across from her. “But,” he added, “did I not tell you to call me Alexius?”
She smiled at his suggestion and nodded in consent. “I trust, Alexius, that this question will remain confidential.”
His brows furrowed in confusion and he noticed how her eyes glanced hauntingly at the full length mirror behind him. “If you wish,” he stated.
“Who spent the night in this room other than myself?”
He blinked in astonishment. Narcissa was looking away from him, toward the bed. Who undressed me completely and slept beside me last night? her mind whispered.
I need to know, she thought desperately as she waited for a response. I just need to know.
“No one,” he answered her spoken question, “as far as I know.”
She looked back at him, her eyes assessing the truth in his countenance. Clearly he had not been her unknown companion. His every gesture spoke the virtue of his words, and he truly did not know anything to the contrary. “Thank you,” she merely said as she rose from her chair. “And I believe I must be returning back to the Manor before my parents start worrying about me.”
Alexius quickly rose from his seat as well, as her eyes hurriedly scanned the room. “Of course,” he said sullenly. “But may I perhaps entice you with a spot of breakfast first?”
Her green eyes immediately locked with his and she smiled. A look of elation, she noticed, passed swiftly across his face. How odd, she thought inwardly, that I would evoke such a response after such a short acquaintance.
“How could I refuse such a delightful offer?” she said happily. “But first, may I borrow a pair of shoes? I seem to have misplaced mine in my sleep.” Her eyes wandered toward the bed once more, Alexius noticed. He sensed that something had happened the night before to perplex Narcissa. Something he feared involved Lucius.
I knew I should have stayed with Lucius until he left, he berated himself. I knew Lucius might do something. His sister’s words from the night before had haunted him. “He has hunted her cruelly ever since” … And, he knew, Lucius was still hunting her now.
However, he quickly shook the thought from his mind, replacing a smile with his uneasiness. “Of course,” he responded as he crossed to the closet. Without ceremony, he opened its doors and removed a pair of fur slippers. “Will these do?” he inquired as he turned toward her.
“Of course,” she laughed, as she slipped them onto her bare feet. How odd, Narcissa thought, that I should enjoy myself for the first time in years. Truly enjoy myself; and in his presence.
Then, taking his offered arm, they headed out of the room.
“So,” she asked somewhat playfully, “how did I get here?” She glanced up at him and smiled to herself as she noticed how his curling locks fell into his eyes.
“Well,” he answered evasively as he smiled despite himself, “I believe you were initially intending to stay the night.”
“Yes, Defender, but I left you with your cousin.” Alexius glanced at his companion and noticed how her face darkened at the mere thought of Lucius.
“You did,” he stated coolly.
An awkward silence stretched between them.
“Is he still here?” she asked quietly as she pretended to admire a portrait on the wall.
Alexius sighed inwardly. What had Lucius done to this girl? What had truly happened the night before at the dinner? “Last night he expressed the need to go to Town.”
Narcissa did not answer at first. Finally, she asked quietly, “Did you see him go?”
He looked at her once more. A haunted sadness embraced her lovely features, and she seemed to grow more beautiful in her distress. Her blue eyes were cold and distant and her hair, although radiant, seemed to pale slightly, as if it were covered in frost. Tucking a stray lock behind her ear in a sign of intimacy, he answered, “No.”
Her head turned slightly toward his hand which still hovered above her ear. The unknown truth hung between them, each knowing little more than the other.
“How did you first meet Lucius?” he asked quietly as his hand stroked her hair.
He wondered at this gesture. Why did he care so much? Why did he want to love her completely, to be reassured that she did not care for Lucius? Why did it matter?
You’re falling for her, a voice whispered in his mind. You’re falling in love.
“I wouldn’t actually call it ‘meeting,’” she replied as she turned away from him again.
He sighed inwardly as he asked, hesitantly, “What did he do?”
Her eyes blazed with indignation as they lighted on him. How dare he ask her such a question! He hardly knew her, she didn’t know him. He knew nothing of her plight and she did not want his pity.
“I’m not helpless,” she stated rather firmly as she removed her arm from his and entered the breakfast room.
“I never thought you were,” he amended hastily as he noticed her sudden reaction to a simple question.
But she wasn’t listening. She had stopped dead as soon as her eyes had focused on the breakfast table. He stepped beside her, following her gaze.
An owl was perched on one of the two chairs, usually assigned to guests, and on the china plate in front of it sat a velvet box. It was small, obviously holding jewelry, and a green ribbon tied to it with a simple piece of parchment attached reading “Anthos.” It was Lucius’s handwriting, he noticed grimly.
“Anthos?” Alexius questioned. He gazed at Narcissa, but her face was unreadable.
Slowly, she picked up the box, and untied the ribbon. The piece of parchment fluttered to the floor, but Narcissa did not notice. She opened the box slowly, and as she did thus, light radiated from the object inside.
Her face darkened as she recognized the partially revealed object. It had been the engagement ring the young woman had worn in her vision so many years ago. She was the woman. She always had been. And strangely she had always known.
And she would say ‘yes.’ She had no choice, for when she was apart from him she felt as if her heart would bleed to death as it was at that moment. Except when she was with Alexius she could almost forget about her emotional pain …
Perhaps he really loves me, she thought dimly.
No, her mind countered to the desires of her heart, you know he never truly will.
As all of her painful memories from the past six years resurfaced, of how Lucius had stared at her with longing when she was ten, of how he had kissed her passionately by the lake, of how he had left a single bloom every year for her that she was drawn to inexplicably, she wanted to slam the box closed, to send the ring back to him, to melt it in the hottest of flames. But she could not. Instead, she was transfixed and she gasped despite herself when the ring was completely revealed. It was of a simple design, a single diamond set in a band of dragon platinum – the most precious of metals.
He loves her, Alexius thought sadly as she removed the ring from its box. And so do I. I always will.
As she held the ring in her hand, shining white words became inscribed on the inside of metal band. They were small and in the elegant hand of his cousin, Alexius noticed. They shone with an ancient magic, an expensive magic that Alexius knew would instantly deplete his overflowing bank account. How much had this one spell, let alone the ring itself, cost Lucius?
He glanced at the woman beside him and then back at the words which were slowly fading.
Ce n’etait pas un reve.
It was not a dream.
Yet, he thought, perhaps my hopes are not a dream as well.