(WL03) Part the Third

“As far as I’m concerned, You’re just another picture to burn.”

“Picture to Burn,” Taylor Swift

Imbolc knew the house elves could do it.  Of course, she did.  However, she felt calmed among the Abraxans.  She was wearing a leather robe that was a season old and, thus, couldn’t be seen in society, and was just brushing her favorite Pegasus, Britannia.

“Immy,” Draco’s familiar voice sounded from outside the stall, but she ignored him.  Instead, she kept on brushing Britannia.  “Immy, don’t do this,” he begged, opening the stall door and coming in.  He petted Britannia’s neck and tried to peak over her at Imbolc.  He sighed when she didn’t turn toward him and instead ducked to brush her lower body.  “I won’t apologize,” he said quietly, but not quiet enough for her not to hear him.  “I’ll never apologize for loving you.”

“Then why did you do it?” she asked, her voice just as soft.

“I shouldn’t tell you this, but the Dark Lord has plans to break out his Death Eaters from Azkaban.  Father and I couldn’t bear for you to be given as a prize to one of them.  They go insane in there, Immy.  You know that.  Your father’s not all there.  I’ve heard him call you ‘Lux’ and Potter ‘James.’”

She sighed.  It was true, after all.  Standing, she looked over at Draco.  “Then what are we to do?”

“We continue as we are,” he stated solemnly.  “You know we’re unusually close, Imbolc.”  She made to speak, but he cut her off.  “Don’t deny it.  Don’t deny what we have.  And we can keep it that way, going at the pace you want.  I would never hurt you, Immy.”

“No one else calls me that,” she laughed.  “Not even little Io.”

“I might have threatened everyone when I was about six,” he admitted.

“Oh really, Heir Draco?” she laughed.  “How terribly petulant of you.”

“It was worth it.”  He smirked at her.  “Now Mother wants to take us to Diagon Alley tomorrow.  She says you need your Fall wardrobe.  Apparently Cousin Sirius is demanding that he fund it.  I don’t think he realizes the price of robes or the number Malfoy women require.”

Imbolc glared at him.  “Really, Draco.  I know you like to show off the womenfolk of your household to the best advantage.”

“Never said that I didn’t,” he declared.  “Oh, I just thought of a wonderful angle this puts on everything.”

“The courtship?” She was now exiting the stall and he held the door open for her.  He took her hand and raised it to just beneath his lips and they smiled at each other.

“Parkinson.  I can tell her she can never be my future bride as I’ve already chosen one.”  The same smirk was on his face and Imbolc laughed.

“I can’t believe you took her to the Yule Ball.”

“You wouldn’t come with me,” he said petulantly.  “You had to go with that French wizard.  Whoever he was.”

“Armand,” she supplied.  “You’ll also remember that I spent half the night ignoring him and dancing with you.”

“Our first of many dancing occasions,” he promised.  They were now walking across the lawns, white peacocks everywhere.

She paused.  “Draco,” she began.  “I’m not saying I’m going to marry you, but if I do, I don’t want the Dark Mark on your arm.  Aunt Narcissa said it’s attractive as it shows how powerful Uncle Lucius is, but I’d rather you not…”

“You realize I may not have a choice,” he told her, taking her into his arms.  She was looking down at her hands, which she was wringing.

“I know,” she whispered, “but if you can help it, I’d rather you didn’t.”

He kissed the top of her head and drew her against him until her head was resting against his clavicle.  “I promise you, Immy.  I’ll try not to.”

“That’s all I can ask,” she murmured before she closed her eyes and breathed in his scent.  It was a heady combination of Abraxan and summer sunlight. 

This time she found herself in Sirius’s office.  He was holding up a piece of parchment.  “Harry received this Tuesday,” he declared.

Imbolc just looked at him blankly.  “You’re going to have to tell me what it says, Father.  I’m not privy to Harry Potter’s correspondence.”

“It’s from your uncle,” he said, slamming it down.  “It informs Harry that his second request to take you walking along the edge of the Black Lake is denied because you are currently engaged in another courtship.  I thought you said that you and the Malfoy whelp were not courting.”

“We weren’t,” she said truthfully.  “It happened quite suddenly.”

He stared at her.

“I can’t live without him,” she answered truthfully.  “I’m sure you know what that feels like.  However, it’s the truth.  He’s my second half.  Why deny a courtship when we’re constantly breaking propriety when we’re together?”  She took a deep breath.  That was a difficult speech to give, even though she realized she hadn’t lied at all.

“Breaking how?  Do I have to kill him?”  Sirius’s voice was as black as his name.

She laughed.  “We’ll be outside on the grounds and I’ll fall asleep in his arms.  When we got our prefect badges, I kissed him.  You must notice we always hold hands, which is certainly suspect.”

Sirius sighed.  “Well, you come by consanguinuity honestly,” he stated.  “At least you’re first cousins once removed.  That helps.  You won’t need a magical dispensation.  You’re certainly a handsome couple, handsomer than Lucius and Narcissa.”

“If you talk about children, I warn you that I’ll walk out of this room.  I’m too young for such discussions.”

He looked at her.  “Well, at least you weren’t brought up to be a goddamn society breeder.”  He sighed.  “I don’t like this.  I don’t like this at all.”

“I know,” she responded quietly.  “However, it is what it is.  Just accept it, Father, and try to be happy for us.  Please.—How was Harry Potter’s trial?  I forgot to ask last time.”

“Full pardon,” Sirius said happily.  “That’s my boy!”

“Yes,” she said carefully.  Imbolc didn’t like the closeness between her own father and his godson.  He’d known he was an innocent man and had been in contact with him for a full year before Sirius had arrived at Malfoy Manor.

Draco was waiting for her and she accepted his arm.  “Unhappy?”

“Harry Potter sent another petition and it was denied on the grounds of our courtship,” she explained as they headed to the drawing room.  “Thank the old gods, he doesn’t have the political capital he did this time last year, otherwise it would be a public relations nightmare if it got out.  Being the son of Lord Malfoy and the Black heiress would barely save us.”

“Well, at least they didn’t have to go into the other reasons,” Draco pointed out and they both laughed quietly.  “I have something for you.”  They opened the door and found the motley crew cleaning for some reason.  “Oh good, witnesses.”

“What?” she asked, but he was clapping his hands and having everyone form a circle around them.

“Now,” he stated, “for those around you who aren’t accustomed with pureblood traditions, when a wizard enters a courtship, he gives his lady a ring to symbolize the forming union.”  From his breast pocket he took a silver ring that was in the form of a crown.  “For the royal status of our two houses,” he whispered before he slipped it onto her left middle finger.

She looked at him in awe before glancing down at the ring.  It nestled perfectly.  Raising her hand to admire it, Imbolc smiled before launching herself in Draco’s arms.  She kissed him chastely, her hands holding his head while his came around her waist.  “It’s perfect,” she declared as she pulled away.  Turning toward a confused looking Hermione and Ginny, she showed off her ring.

Draco looked on happily.

Imbolc turned in surprise when she heard something thump to the floor.  She saw Harry standing over Draco, who was clutching his nose.  “How dare you!” she whispered.  “Behaving like a common Muggle in the House of Black—and punching my courted!  This is a time of celebration!”

Harry, however, did something completely unexpected.  He grabbed her by the upper shoulders and kissed her.  She stood rigid until he was suddenly gone.  It appeared Draco had tackled him.

“I’m Apparating home,” she announced.  “I don’t care if it’s only two-thirty!”  She stepped on Harry’s hand, he was still struggling with Draco, and they instantly stopped.  “Draco, do you require medical assistance from St. Mungo’s?”

“Where?” Hermione asked, but Imbolc didn’t pay attention to her.

“No.  I think Mother can fix me up.”

Imbolc produced a handkerchief from her sleeve and handed it to him.  She turned to Harry and stated angrily, “If you’ve done anything to his handsome profile, you’ll have the Black heiress to answer to.”

Draco stood up beside her and took the crook of her arm with his free hand.  They swept out of the room.

Sirius was just coming up and he startled at Draco’s appearance.  “Blame Harry Potter,” Imbolc told him.  “He kissed me after Draco gave me the courtship ring.”

“By the old gods,” he murmured and rushed past them.

Imbolc sighed.  “I think he prefers the blood traitor to me.  I’ve been nothing but polite and congenial.”

“Let him have his precious Potter.  He’s not in succession for the title or for your fortune.  He also didn’t have a mother who was willing to cast an Unforgivable curse to save him.”

“True,” she murmured as they walked out the door toward a nearby alley.  “I’ll Apparate.  I’m less likely to splinch us.”

“He what?” Uncle Lucius demanded when he saw the two of them not half an hour later. 

“He kissed me.  It wasn’t pleasant.  Isn’t it supposed to be pleasant?” she asked.

“And Lord Black just let you leave, without any concern to your well-being?”  Lucius looked murderous.

“He was more concerned with Potter,” Draco confided.  “I was just glad to get out of there.  I’ve never been attacked by someone acting like a common Muggle.  I cannot bear the insult to me or my lady.”

“I’ll have Severus deliver a letter,” Lucius stated.  “Go see your mother, Draco.  And I’m sorry your moment was ruined, Imbolc, darling.  I’m sure the girls will be happy to see your ring.”

Imbolc smiled at him weakly.

They didn’t go back to Grimmauld Place.  According to Uncle Lucius, it was due to gross negligence on the part of Sirius Black.  Imbolc couldn’t really argue with that.

However, she was surprised to receive an owl from Harry Potter the night before she went to Hogwarts.  Minxie, the house elf she shared with Lacerta, had packed her trunk and she was sitting in her nightgown petting her cat Valentinus.  It was a silly name for a cat, especially a calico one, but it seemed to suit.

She looked at the snowy white owl and took the package from it.  Opening it up, she found a beautiful white leather diary with her name imprinted on it: Imbolc Luciana Black: 1995-1996.  A little card fell out of it.  “My deepest apologies—HP.”

Glancing at the owl, who was waiting, she wasn’t quite sure what to do.  Harry Potter technically hadn’t broken any rules by sending her the gift.  She found her blue and purple oriental dressing gown and put her hair down in a loose bun.  There was only one place to find Uncle Lucius at this time of night and she was loath to bother him, but she needed advice.  Also, the owl wasn’t going away.

She knocked on her aunt and uncle’s bedroom door and waited.  Narcissa was the first to appear, dressed in what Imbolc assumed was a negligee, and she put a hand on Imbolc’s shoulder.  “Is everything all right?”

“I got this owl—from Harry Potter.  I don’t know what to do.  The owl won’t go away.”  She gave a weak smile.

“Go to the drawing room.  Your uncle will meet you there.”

Imbolc only had a few minutes to wait before her uncle appeared in a set of pajamas and a dark blue dressing gown.  His hair was down about his shoulders.  She handed him the journal and the note.  “What do I do?”

He read the note for several long moments.  “Do you accept his apology?”

“It’s rather elegant,” she admitted.  “He must have seen me in class, too, because I favor this exact type of journal for my class notes.”

“Do you have one for this year?”

“Of course,” she replied.  “Sometimes I need two, though.”

“And he just gave you a second,” Uncle Lucius mused.  “Does this make up for his insult to you?”

“You mean to the House of Malfoy.”

“Forget that.  We’re talking about you personally and Harry Potter.”  He looked at her with steely blue eyes.

She hesitated.  “No.  It helps, but no.”

He nodded.  “I would accept the gift but write him a note about how this does little to make amends.  Make him understand how grossly he insulted you according to pureblood protocol.  Are you awake enough to write it tonight?”

Imbolc nodded.

“Very well then.”  He kissed the top of her hair.  “Be seen to be using this exact book, so that he can see that you do accept it.  If Draco asks about it, you can simply tell him it was an apology unless you fully wish to explain.  It’s for you to decide, my dear.”

She smiled at him.  “Thank you, Uncle Lucius.”

“That’s what I’m here for, my little flame,” he said, giving her a hug.  “Now, go write that letter.  I’m sure the whelp’s waiting for it.”

When Imbolc got back to her room, she opened up her trunk and placed the journal on top.  She traced her name and wondered at it.  Going to her desk, she took out a piece of monogrammed paper and began her letter.  It was finished by eleven, and he should get it by two in the morning, if he were waiting up for it.  If not, he would be able to read it in the morning.

She had the journal open on her desk.  Imbolc favored peacock feathers, which created an interesting contrast with the white leather.

“Miss Black,” Professor Umbridge called, and Imbolc immediately stood.

“Yes, Professor.”

“Tell us about You-Know-Who.”

She looked around her at the whispering students.  “I beg your pardon, but I’m not certain as to what you mean.”

“Your father is a well-known Death Eater at large.  Surely, he must have told you whether You-Know-Who is back.”

Umbridge looked maliciously at Harry.

“I’m sorry to disappoint but my father was put in Azkaban when I was about a year old, and he hasn’t owled me about anything, including the Dark Lord, since he escaped.”

“I find that surprising,” Umbridge said.  “He got a special dispensation to marry your mother.  He supposedly loved her and you, by extension.  You would have been a bastard, otherwise.”

Harry’s hand shot up.

“Yes, Mr. Potter.”

He carefully stood up.  “I would like to remind you that Lady Imbolc is the adopted daughter of Lord Malfoy, who I believe is a close friend of the Minister of Magic.”  He then sat down again.  He peeked a look at her but she resolutely stared ahead.

The woman looked flustered.  “That will be enough, Miss Black.  I have no more questions.”

When they were outside of class, Draco was waiting for her.  “You look white as a ghost,” he said, pressing a hand to her forehead.

“She—she practically called me a bastard—“

Draco’s jaw clenched.  “I’ll write Father.  We’ll have this sorted.”

“It was only Harry Potter who made her stop.  He reminded her of how close I was to the Malfoys and how Uncle’s good friends with Fudge.  By the old gods.”  Tears started leaking out of her eyes, and Draco drew her to him. 

“I’m here,” he comforted, as she clenched his robe in her hands.  “I’m here.  I’m always here.”

“Hem. Hem.”

Draco and Imbolc pulled away only to see a flash of pink in the form of the Defense Professor.

“Just who I wanted to see.  Miss Black.  Mr. Malfoy.  If you could join me.”

They looked at each other before Draco beckoned for her to enter first.  Umbridge settled behind her desk and then looked between the two of them.  “I hope—Hem. Hem.—that there has been no misunderstanding.  I apologize for inquiring into whether or not Miss Black knew of You-Know-Who’s return because her father is an escaped Death Eater.”

“And the bit where you suggested she was a bastard?” Draco stated boldly.

Umbridge looked a little lost.  “Another unfortunate turn of phrase.  Hem. Hem.”

Imbolc just stared at her.

“The Minister values Lord Malfoy and his family,” Umbridge stated, “including the two of you.”

“Immy?” Draco asked.

“You decide,” she said quietly.

“You will forgive us if we seek counsel from my father,” Draco said politely.  “Lady Imbolc is very dear to him.”

Umbridge pursed her lips.  “If you must.”  She waved them away.

Draco offered his arm and Imbolc took it thankfully.  “Charms?” he offered.  “You know how much you like Flitwick.”

“True,” she answered.  “Thank you for being my dragon.”

He smirked down at her.  “What else am I for?” he asked her rhetorically.  “My heart is as black as a Black’s.”

She paused and looked at him.  “Are you saying?”

His gray eyes looked at her earnestly.

“I see,” she murmured before they continued on their journey.

She found him during her rounds.  He was sitting on a moving staircase, looking at his hand.  Imbolc came toward him and smiled.  “You’re a prefect.  You should know not to be out after curfew.”

“Detention with Umbridge,” he offered with no hint of a smile.  “I’m sorry for what she did to you.”

“She tried to back pedal,” she answered smoothly.  “I let Draco decide what to do and he told her he was writing Uncle Lucius.”

“Hopefully she’ll leave.”  He looked down at his hand.

“By the old gods!” she shouted before taking his hand in hers.  “That’s a blood quill!”  On his hand were written the words: I must not tell lies.  “At least it’s not a command, otherwise you actually wouldn’t be able to tell lies.—Come with me.”

They wandered down the halls toward the basement.  “Where exactly are we going?”

“To see my favorite professor,” she answered, as if that explained everything.  “Thank you for the journal, by the way.  I’ve never had white before.”

“I didn’t think you had,” Harry answered.

She nodded until she came to a set of doors and she knocked.  There was a rustle of robes and then they were opened to reveal Snape.  She smiled.  “We have a blood quill problem.”

He looked down at her in shock.

“Yes, of course I’m going to write Uncle Lucius.  I’m not Draco who delights in seeing his enemies falter in the battle of life.”  She ushered Harry forward.  “Can you help him?”

“The hand,” Severus intoned and Harry held it out.  “I understand you broke pureblood protocol and kissed a maiden who was already courting.”

“I—how—“  He looked back at Imbolc accusingly.

“Lord Malfoy was very irate.  I doubt there are many in his circle of associates who don’t know of the detail in some form or another.—I am surprised at you, Imbolc, for helping Potter of all people given your history.”

“He helped me against Umbridge,” she admitted.

“Another story, I am sure, for a later time.  Perhaps you and the two Malfoys can come for sherry?”  He took out a purple salve and rubbed it into the skin.  “If this happens again, have Lady Imbolc bring you down.  I suppose I may help you if you come alone.”

“Right,” Harry said, accepting back his hand.  “Thanks, professor.”

Severus was gone with a whirl of his robes.

“Now I’m in your debt again,” Harry said as they made their way up towards the towers.  Imbolc supposed that the Gryffindors must live in a tower like the Ravenclaws did.  “I was so trying to make up for everything.”

“Did Father lecture you?” she asked seriously.

“He explained the sanctity of courtships.  Here’s the thing, though.”  He stopped and looked at her.  “I know I’m not a pureblood and I was brought up with Muggles.  I also happen to hate Draco Malfoy.  However, I’m almost certain you don’t want to court him, and that I might actually have a shot with you.”

“You tread dangerously, Mr. Potter,” she warned, but he put up a finger and placed it on her lips.

“I’ll woo you,” he promised.  “It’s how my dad got my mum.”

“I am an heiress, not a Muggleborn.”

“You’re human,” he countered.  “Whatever word you want to put on it, we’re all ultimately the same.”

She took a deep breath.  “My mother was shot before my eyes when I was five by a filthy Muggle.  We’re not all the same.  How dare you presume—?”

But then he’d reached forward, his good hand behind her neck, and his lips barely whispered over hers.  It felt—pleasant—and Imbolc hated herself for it.  For a moment, she kept her hands out to her side until suddenly she slapped him.

He jerked away in shock.

“How many times must you be told?” she demanded.  “I am a pureblood lady who’s engaged in a courtship.  Since Father can’t make you see sense, I’ll be reporting you to Professor Snape.  You’ll have to listen to him.”

“Imbolc,” he began, holding his hand to his cheek.

“We may have been on familiar terms this summer because you are my father’s godson, but here we’re at school.  I am ‘Miss Black’ in class, and simply ‘Black’ or ‘Lady Imbolc’ outside of it.  Do I make myself clear?”

His eyes hardened.  “I’m not giving up on you.”

“Well, you certainly have a lot to apologize for.  Now I’ll have to decide whether or not to keep the journal given the second insult to my person.”

“Imbolc,” he paused, “Lady Imbolc, it’s not like I’m trying to force myself on you.”  His black hair parted to show his angry scar and she wondered, when the Killing Curse hit it, if it had glowed green.  She wondered if she could ask the Dark Lord, or if that really would be a little too impertinent.

She deflated.  “Can’t you see that’s exactly what you’re doing?  A courtship is like an engagement that lasts several years before an official engagement is announced.  You’re dishonoring me and my future husband, and I don’t care how much you hate Malfoy.  You should at least have respect for me as Sirius’s daughter.”

He took her hand.  “Please,” he said.  “Give me a chance.”

“You know I can’t,” she murmured, before withdrawing her hand and heading up the stairs, patrol forgotten.

The white owl came for her again, and she was utterly startled.  It was carrying a thin package, which had a simple note: Some pictures of your father—HP.

She tore the envelope open and, indeed, found pictures of Sirius.  However, he was at the Potter’s wedding, or holding an infant Harry.  She did not feature in any of these pictures.  Nor did her mother.

Not thinking of the consequences, she slipped out of the tower and made her way back to the dungeons, pictures in hand.  It took her awhile to get into the Slytherin common room, but she managed it after twenty minutes and she looked around for Draco.  She couldn’t see him anywhere.

“You,” she called to a young boy.  “Fifth year boys dorm.”

He looked at her, a little afraid.

She brandished her prefect’s badge and he pointed at a staircase that spiraled downward.  Looking at the plaques on the door, she found the one for fifth years.  She knocked on it three times.  “Lady entering!” she called, before opening the door and waltzing in.

Looking around, she found some boys in their pajamas, others in uniform, others in a strange combination.

“Oh, Draco,” she murmured, rushing over to him and throwing her arms around his neck.  “He’s horrible.  He kissed me again after I helped him with something, doesn’t matter what, and then sent these as an apology.”

Draco looked at her in confusion.  It was the first time she’d seen him in his silk pajamas that she knew he owned, since she was there when he picked them out, and a dressing gown she’d never seen before.  His hair was gorgeously mussed.  “Immy,” he greeted, picking up the photographs and going through them one by one.  “They’re of Lord Black.”

“But where’s Mother?” she demanded.  “He sent me pictures that don’t have my shameful and incestuous mother!”  Imbolc was back in his arms again and he stroked her hair as she cried.

“We’ll make him pay,” he swore to her.  “We won’t let this stand.”

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