A tense silence enveloped Narcissa as she stared at the priceless ring she held. The air was so palpable, throbbing with her very emotions. Without even looking at the man behind her, a wizard she hardly knew, she slowly enclosed the ring into her hand. “I should go,” she stated simply.
Her words hung in the air, but Alexius did not answer. “My mother will wonder what’s become of me.” She slowly unfurled her long fingers and looked at the ring once more – an engagement ring. Her engagement ring. To Lucius.
“Bella will be, as well … though only because …”
Alexius heard her sharp intake of breath as she gazed down at the ring once more. She slowly turned toward him, and he noticed that there was a subtle change in her countenance. Her eyes, though dulled, were shining with a darkened brilliance while a tragic smile played on her lips.
“Bellatrix,” she whispered as her eyes met his. Bellatrix …
It almost seemed too simple, she thought to herself as she searched his gaze. She could have her revenge on her sister and Lucius merely by saying “yes.” She would wound her sister more than any man ever could, by purposefully taking away the one thing the older witch could never have. This action would be more painful than any of the Unforgivable Curses, a slow torture of another’s mind and soul that she would normally relish in.
And no one would ever suspect her. They would think her a woman in love with a dashing young wizard, a man of good repute who clearly adored and worshipped her. She would have all of society at her feet, more admirers than her sister could ever dream of, than she herself had ever hoped for.
And Lucius … what would she do to him? How miserable could she make his life? Should she pretend to love him before their marriage, and then on their wedding night reveal her cold and calculating mind to him while always keeping her body just out of his reach? Would she flirt with him in public, and in the silence of their home scorn him until he became so wild with passion that he would try anything? And when he did … would she remain cool … would she even dare to curse him in their bed?
Would that be enough to drive a man mad? Even Lucius Malfoy?
But, her traitorous mind whispered, would you be able to do it?
“No,” she sighed despite herself. She wanted him too much, needed him to love her too badly. She loved him far too desperately to hurt him in that way.
She felt a gentle hand brush against her cheek and she started when she was drawn from her reverie. She looked once again into Alexius’s brown eyes which looked imploringly into hers.
“No?” he asked quietly as he held her gaze.
She lifted her eyebrows in confusion. “Pardon?” she whispered as she found herself lost in his gaze. “Did you say something? Forgive me, but I lost myself in my thoughts.”
“You whispered ‘no,’ good Lady,” he leaned toward her slightly. Would he lose her just after he had found her? Yes, he was young and she was even younger. But he loved her, desperately, although he knew naught about her but her name. He adored the way she moved gracefully, how her eyes appeared to laugh happily when she called him “Defender,” how her lips curved slightly, only hinting at the glorious smile that would brighten her features.
He loved her; he knew he did. And so did Lucius. Lucius, who could afford to buy her the most expensive and beautiful of rings, who could give her anything she ever desired. He was handsome, charming, and he loved her.
No, Lucius was obsessed with her. He wanted her and had hunted her, and now had proposed to her. But she had not yet answered in the affirmative; instead, she had merely whispered “no.” No – to Lucius. But not yet to himself. He could give her his heart, could love her purely yet passionately to the end of her days. She would never want for anything if she were his, the Lady of Everingham.
“Did I?” she questioned. “How odd, I usually don’t talk to myself – I think,” she amended as she drew away from him.
However, he did not let go of her hand that he had grasped. “It’s a beautiful ring,” he said hesitantly, wondering what she was thinking.
“It is,” she agreed as she opened her palm again and then held the thin piece of metal between her fingers.
His brow furrowed in confusion. She did not seem as surprised as she ought to have been. Such a gift was rare; he did not know of one single woman now living who possessed such an object. And yet it seemed as if she had known what it was before she had fully seen it, as if she had somehow known what it would be.
“This is not the first time I think, Narcissa, that you have seen this ring.”
She glanced hastily up at him and noticed the serious look on his face. She shook her head as she looked at the dragon platinum again. “I’ve seen it once before, when Mr. Malfoy and I first met,” she replied simply.
He lifted her chin slowly so that she would meet his gaze. He looked imploringly into her eyes, which seemed to harden at his affection touch.
“I am not helpless,” she echoed her earlier sentiment, her voice cold as she stared accusingly at him.
“I never thought you were,” he whispered kindly as she pulled away from him.
She turned away from him and reverently placed the ring back into its velvet box. “Yes, you have. You think me a victim of Lucius for whatever reason, though I cannot imagine what gave you that impression.” Her voice was tinged with fury, though he could sense the pain underneath it. “I do not need a Saint George to save me from a monstrous Dragon. I am quite capable of slaying such a vile creature myself.” She turned toward him again, holding the now closed box.
And then she laughed, suddenly and without warning. It was a cold laugh, one without mirth and beyond her sixteen years. “And I a mere flower.”
His heart broke when he heard that laugh. In it he could hear all of the broken remnants of her youth, all that Lucius had done to her. But what had his cousin done to her? He knew that something terrible had happened in her childhood, before she even turned eleven, although Junia had only hinted at it. He wanted to desperately hold this strong yet shattered woman, to protect her from the “dragon,” as Narcissa had dubbed Lucius.
“How can you say that about yourself?” he questioned.
She moved toward him, silently, and held out the small box to him. “Would you give this to Lucius, next time you see him?”
“And what should I tell him?” he inquired as he took the box from her hand.
She thought briefly to herself what message she should send. Should she tell him “yes” as she knew she would? Had she not foreseen her fate when she was but a girl? And could she change it?
No. She knew she could only grant his wish, that it was her only chance of peace and possible revenge. She felt empty without Lucius near her. Her finger felt empty without his ring placed upon it. And his message – “Ce n’etait pas un bel reve” – was her dream real? Did he truly love her? Had he really stayed with her the entire night?
But what exactly had he done? Had he merely undressed her out of consideration, and spent the night watching over her as she slept, as a guardian angel might have? It had been the first night she had spent without nightmares of him; and the absence was filled only by the most pleasant of dreams, which had perhaps been reality.
And she wanted it to last forever. She did not want to fear him any longer. She secretly wanted him to hold her and whisper her name in his dreams. She was tired of living within the darkness of her own mind, forever waiting for him to strike. But if she said “yes,” as she had the night before, he would no longer be like the venomous serpent she had once imagined him to be. Instead, he would be the kind and passionate lover he had partially revealed to her last night. And she knew he had not touched her, even in her sleeping innocence. He had merely been near her, a silent though haunting presence. And she had awakened only when he had most likely just left, for his imprint upon the covers had still been warm … and he had perhaps only gone to order her the ring that Alexius now held.
Alexius’s fingers lightly brushed hers and he could see the slight blush that rose on her cheeks, though he did not know that her memories evoked it.
“Tell him,” she whispered, “that my answer is the same as last night. And,” her lips curled into a treacherous smile, “next time he chooses to offer such a priceless gift to a witch, he should be present and on bended knee. It’s more romantic and then she will have the pleasure,” her voice darkened slightly, “of either hexing him for his impudence or showing her gratitude.”
She blushed despite herself again and Alexius imagined that she did so out of the idea of hexing a grown wizard. She certainly was capable of it, but she was only sixteen and most likely had little experience with such matters.
As for the latter option …
His brows furrowed once again, “he proposed last night?”
She nodded. “Et ce n’etait pas un reve.”
He sighed. “You thought it was a dream?”
“Wouldn’t you?” she questioned as she began to move past him. “But just tell him that my answer remains the same. And the advice about proper proposals.”
Alexius smiled despite himself. “Are you a romantic at heart, Narcissa?”
She glanced back at him. “Every witch is when it comes to proposals even,” she added despite herself, “when it comes to wizards she wishes had never asked for her hand in marriage.” And then, with a slight swish of her dress, she left the morning breakfast room.
Alexius stared down at the box he now held. She had refused Lucius, again it would seem. A smile crept upon his lips; he did have a chance after all and he had his sister’s blessing.
The owl that had remained perched on one of the chairs hooted and the young Lord looked up as his cousin apparated before him with a small “pop.” Lucius was impeccably dressed as always, his long hair tied back with a leather thong, a smirk clearly visible on his thin lips.
“Everingham,” he said lazily as he glanced at the owl he had sent and the green ribbon lying upon the floor. He bent down, reverently picking it up as well as the piece of parchment with his beloved’s name written upon it. “I see Miss Black has found my offering or,” he turned toward the younger man and noticed that his cousin was holding the small velvet box, “you have found it for her.
“And,” he added nonchalantly as he rose gracefully to his feet. “I see that neither of you have partaken of the breakfast the house elves have prepared for you.”
“Miss Black,” Alexius replied coolly, “seemed to have felt the sudden need to return home when she received your ‘offering,’ as you call it.” Slowly he held out the box toward the taller man. “’Tis a pity you shall have to return it or save it for someone other than Miss Black.”
“Return it?” Lucius drawled as he accepted the velvet box.
“Yes, well,” the lord answered, “you cannot have actually expected her to say ‘yes,’ especially after last night.”
Lucius’s head snapped up involuntarily and he stared daggers at his cousin. However, his voice was cool and collected as he spoke. “And what, pray tell, happened last night?”
“How should I know, Malfoy?” he responded though his voice wavered. “All I know is that you came back with her and she was wearing shoes and yet she had none this morning.”
Lucius scoffed at the remark.
“And,” the lord pressed, “she asked me in confidence if anyone had spent the night in the bedchamber she occupied other” – he paused for effect – “than herself.”
“What was your reply?” Lucius asked indifferently as he looked down at the box in his gloved hand. Last night, he thought to himself. Last night … he had done nothing but love her from a distance as she had slept. He had undressed her gently, tossing her dress aside for he had wished her to be comfortable in her dreams. He remembered how she had smiled to herself at the gentle touch of his fingers, had murmured “Lucius” as he had slid her bare form beneath the violet sheets. And he had not looked at her, respecting her even though he had known that she would have no knowledge of his actions. Instead, his eyes had never left her peaceful face.
He had lain awake, beside her, fully dressed and atop the covers all night, only leaving her side to write a letter to a renowned jeweler on the continent. He had known that only the best would do for his beloved, for Miss Black, for the future Madame Lucius Malfoy. For Anthos, his delicate yet cunning bloom.
And as he had watched her dreaming, he had feared that she would no longer love him in the day. How ironic, he had thought to himself as he had kissed her forehead goodbye in the early morning rays, that she should fear him in the day … in the light for which he had been named.
But he had not been able to leave, even as she had stirred as she had begun to awaken. He had glanced at the heap of clothes he had discarded on the floor the night before. He had wondered what she would miss the least for he had needed something to remember her by. After a few moments of deliberation, he had decided upon her shoes … the shoes that had shod her graceful feet. Surely she would miss her dress, he had reasoned, and a gentleman would never take a woman’s undergarments.
However, then she had sighed in her sleep and had whispered three words, which had made him smile to himself. “Madame Lucius Malfoy.” Had she been dreaming of him? he had wondered. Might she love him still? He had smirked to himself as she had shifted in her sleep, revealing a bare shoulder to him … Well, as she was to be the future Madame Malfoy, he had reasoned as he had hastily yet delicately picked up her undergarments … she wouldn’t necessarily mind.
Yet now she had refused him and rejected his love when she had promised to be his. However, Lucius kept his face impassive. He would never allow his cousin, who was obviously besotted with his dear Narcissa, to know what he truly felt. Although Narcissa evidently had …
Alexius cleared his throat. “That I knew nothing, though in truth I suspect a great deal,” he began. “And in regards to the ring you now hold,” he paused, “she beseeched me to tell you that her answer remains the same as LAST NIGHT.” His voice dripped with disdain. How emotional he is, Lucius thought as his eyes brightened, although the young lord in his passion did not notice. “And,” Alexius continued, “that next time you choose to propose to a witch you should be present and, in her words, ‘on bended knee.’”
“Was that all she said, Everingham?” Lucius asked as he turned away.
“No,” Alexius responded with unrestrained glee. “She bid me say that then the witch would have the pleasure of ‘hexing you for your impudence’ or showing her ‘gratitude.’”
“I see,” Lucius paused, a smile playing on his lips. “So it is to be that way, is it?”
“Malfoy,” his cousin began as Lucius turned toward him again, his face once again impassive. “What did you do?”
“When?” he replied cheekily and was glad to see the response he evoked in his cousin.
“You know when I mean,” Alexius replied. “Last night. At Hogwarts and here. Though I could ask you what happened the day you first met.”
Lucius’ eyes darkened slightly. “And what does anything have to do with the night we first met?” he snapped in his anger, though his voice remained hauntingly quiet though sinister. “What did Miss Black tell you?” His throat seemed to be closing with every slow breath he took, as if it were cutting off the very oxygen he breathed. Yes, she had reaffirmed her promise to marry him, to be his and no one else’s. And yet had she revealed something to his young cousin about that fateful night? The night when he had made the worst mistake of his life, although it had been the time he had first seen Narcissa, HIS beloved Narcissa.
“She told me nothing, though Junia hinted at some secret even she doesn’t know – except –” The young Lord was seething, his brown eyes aflame with passion. He loves her, Lucius thought to himself. Desperately.
“Well, your sister knows nothing and is only hypothesizing,” Lucius began. She couldn’t possibly know anything, he reasoned silently, nothing at all. “And except what?” he questioned quietly.
Alexius’ brow furrowed in confusion. “The ring, Malfoy,” he spat despite of himself.
“Pardon?” a hint of uncertainty crept into Lucius’s voice.
“The ring,” Alexius stated again. At Lucius’s look of unveiled consternation, the lord continued, “She said she had seen the ring once before, when you first met.”
“But ‘tis impossible,” Lucius whispered to himself. “I only just ordered it last night, and it is one in a million.” After a pause, he asked, “And Miss Black has returned back to her family, you said?”
He nodded in the affirmative.
“Well, then,” Lucius drawled, “I shall just have to pay her a visit.”
Alexius started. “But,” he began, “I don’t see if you recollecting about when she first saw the ring is of any importance, especially at the present moment.”
“It is not merely that,” his cousin began as he elegantly retrieved a steaming crumpet from a basket on the table. “But I do need to properly propose; no less is due to Miss Black or expected by her, as she informed me through you, her faithful messenger.”
Alexius gaped at Lucius as the latter started to butter his crumpet nonchalantly. “But she has refused you,” the lord started. “Twice.”
Lucius glanced at him as he daintily took a bite of his now prepared breakfast. He hadn’t eaten much at the dinner party last night and was positively ravenous. “Pardon?” he inquired.
“She refused you twice,” Alexius stated again.
“No, I believe you misunderstood my fiancée when she spoke to you this morning,” he answered as he finished his crumpet without dropping a single crumb. He couldn’t help smirking to himself as he noticed the shade of green his cousin’s face turned instantly at his simple statement.
Alexius said nothing at first and just stared at Lucius. Was his cousin delusional? he wondered to himself. “Your fiancée?”
“Yes, Everingham,” Lucius said calmly as he started to feed the still present owl one of the remaining crumpets. The bird was in fact his own, and he had quite a fondness for the bird of prey. I wonder if Anthos has an owl of her own, he wondered to himself as he petted the owl. If not he would certainly have to get her one.
“As you have just informed me,” Lucius explained as he continued to attend his bird, “Miss Black’s answer is the same as it was last night and as she agreed to marry me then, I can only assume that she still means to wed me.
“And I trust, Everingham, as I have not formally asked her father’s permission or, as it seems, properly proposed, that you will speak of our engagement to no one at present.” He turned to the younger wizard whose mouth was agape.
The blond wizard turned to leave, his owl now perched regally on his arm, when Alexius whispered, “She does not love you.”
Lucius paused at his cousin’s words. “Really?” he inquired, not bothering to face the titled wizard.
“You can see it in her eyes, in the way she walks and her face hardens whenever your name is mentioned. She despises and perhaps even fears you,” Alexius began. Lucius unintentionally stiffened. How DARE Alexius call his fiancée, whom he hardly knew, by her given name. And how DARE he presume to know her so well. Alexius noticed his cousin’s reaction. “Narcissa,” he continued, his voice harsh, “furthermore, likened you to a dragon she intended to slay.”
“And yet, Everingham,” Lucius calmly responded as his heart broke at Alexius’ words that he knew secretly to be true, “she would not have you be her Saint George.”