Chapter One by underlucius
Chapter Two by gehayi
Severe though Mrs. Malfoy’s disappointment may have been in her lot, she was not accustomed by blood or marriage to accept the cruel machinations of Fate with anything resembling resignation.
Grace is bred and inculcated into every pure-blooded witch and wizard as the sine qua non of class – indeed, the sharper-tongued among us may well whisper behind their fans that the motivations for the war were as much, if not more, aesthetic as they were ideological, though we shall pass by such parlour-chatter as not suited to the story we are set to relate to you.
Grace in accepting defeat, however, has proved a striking omission on that most noble pure-blooded lesson-plan. Who among us, indeed, could claim to have forgotten some of the more salacious details of the end of the war, or even of the early stages of the trials?
Were it not that we hope to attract a mixed readership we would pause here to elaborate in defence of our thesis; but such topics are best left to gentlemen to discuss over their fire-whiskey once the ladies have retired for the evening.
But hush! While we have been thus distracted by idle gossip, the indomitable lady has left her sister in the company of their mother’s portrait for a heated discussion on something not immediately clear, and set off through the streets of London.
Let us follow as she goes past the husk of Flourish & Blotts, once an establishment like any other and now most famous as the site of the St. Crispin’s Day Attacks, in which the flower of Ravenclaw fell – past the fountain vulgarly known as Creevey’s folly, begun with the proceeds from the sale of his now-famous photographs and dedicated to the memory of Luna Lovegood, and ended when said sale proved to be less lucrative than first expected, leaving poor Miss Lovegood half-completed and intermittently spouting water and the occasional startled goldfish – and on down the street to the elaborate Georgian manse where one of Wizarding Society’s most notorious gentleman, dare we even to name a man who turned from the noble poverty of educating youth to the shameful wealth of procuring intoxicating potions “gentleman,” hangs his hat.
No words of greeting, nay, nor even an acknowledgment did Narcissa Malfoy give the house-elf who opened the door to her. Instead she held out her calling-card imperiously and bade the wretched creature bear it to its master. The calling-card’s recipient took it in his long fingers and watched as upon the heavy cream paper the black outline of a narcissus flower unfurled and beneath it the three initials N B M echoing the blossom’s folds for intricacy. Severus Snape remembered the old card, which had said NARCISSA MALFOY in stately Roman letters as different from these as could be imagined. The only thing that was the same was the paper, heavy and smooth, and the scent, night-blooming pale flowers. Some things change, thought the erstwhile Potions Master, and some things never do. “Show her in,” he told the house-elf.
Narcissa walked into the study, her skirts twitching behind her, and the satin was fine, fine enough that the candle-light dove into its folds happily like dogs in surf, but beneath the scent of night-blooming flowers the keen nose of Severus Snape detected, he’d warrant, the faintest hint of moth-balls.
The lady did not bother to look at him to note the faintest of smiles that curled his ascetic lips, choosing instead to make a circuit round the room, admiring the old mahogany wainscoting, the damasked chairs, the cut-crystal glasses and decanters that posed neatly on a silver charger protecting the veneer of the table on which they sat. At last her examination did pass over Snape himself, the fine velvet of his coat, the way the stiff tall collar elongated rather unfortunately the line of his excessively Roman nose, the faintest scent of expensive sandalwood pomade (which one imagines he must have hardly needed ample quantities of.)
Aware of her scrutiny and amused by it, he merely arched one eyebrow at her as she sat down, skirts rustling with the commingled scents of organza and tuberose. “Wealth becomes you, Severus,” said she with that tone of effortless condescension with which no amount of adversity could induce her to part.
“Yes, Mrs. Malfoy,” replied the gentleman. “Quite extraordinary, is it not, how the addition – or subtraction – of a few galleons can do so much to affect one’s outlook and one’s presentation?” He offered her a waspish smile and a tea sandwich, crusts neatly removed. “But certainly you did not come all this way merely to flatter me, dear lady…” he said, tone curling up into a question.
“Hardly,” said she, putting aside the offered sandwiches with a wave of her hand. “I should protest that it were a social call merely, but you and I are past such artifice, are we not? No, rather, there is something that I need, something which I feel very certain that you and you alone can provide me with.”
“And here I thought I knew you, Narcissa!” began Snape, abandoning the pretense of formality as his eyes narrowed with pleasure. “Can it be that your distress is so acute that you have come to me to seek out stronger palliatives than those which the bosom of your family can…”
“Poison, Severus,” Narcissa interrupted. “What I need from you is poison. Rather, shall we say, a variety of poisons. Preferably slow, preferably subtle, certainly painful.” She leaned back against the sofa, her pallor against the dark green damask making her look lovely and misleadingly delicate.
“Ah,” said he simply. “Loath though I am to disappoint you, my dear lady, I confess myself disinclined to entangle myself in politics any longer; I have quite had my fill.”
It was the mark of the nouveaux riches, thought Narcissa to herself, that as soon as they found themselves in possession of a small sum of money they felt themselves quite capable of biting those hands which had fed them for all the years of their impoverishment. It was frightfully gauche – and rather inconvenient. With deft fingers she began to unfasten the buttons on her kidskin gloves, whose palest ivory still seemed veritably dusky against her skin. “Why,” said she. “I cannot believe my ears. If Lucius were around to hear you speak thus…”
With an effort Snape lifted his eyes from the blue tracery of her veins along the hollow of her wrists. “If,” said he simply, the faintest sneer on his face.
“I shall waste no more time here to-day,” she said, rising to her feet. If the former Potions-Master’s barb had landed true at all, why, gentle reader, that is a suggestion that you and I may entertain, though no such indication crossed her serene face. “The Parkinsons’ ball is in one week’s time, at which point we shall see each other again, you and I. I am quite certain you shall have something for me then. Why,” and here she gave a smile eerily reminiscent of her husband’s, a smile that for all its sweetness could not help but summon up the memory of a thousand moments Severus Snape would fain have forgotten, “I do not doubt it at all. I never believed you to be a man of faith, Severus; yet no less did I ever believe you to be a man of recklessness. I am quite certain you shall not prove me wrong.”
Snape’s eyes glittered as he rose to meet her. “I suppose time shall tell, then,” said he sharply, sketching out a brief bow. “Oh, Narcissa,” he called as she turned to leave. “For your sister,” he said, slipping a small vial into her one ungloved hand. “I understand she has not been quite well of late.” Laudanum, read the spidery handwriting on the vial. “No charge,” he drawled.
Had her grip tightened any more, the glass would quite have shattered, but Narcissa kept the anger from her eyes as she nodded in acknowledgment and swept from the room. Why, such coarse insults from the over-controlled potioner meant that she had succeeded in her first task: to unsettle him. As for the rest, there was plenty of time. Plenty of time indeed.
Sirius Black strode through the door of Twelve Grimmauld Place, tossing his hat from him and causing a house-elf into a rather acrobatic leap to catch the dove-grey hat before it fell to the ground. His passage into the study was intercepted by a young lady with her hands quite rudely on her hips.
“Mr. Black,” said Ginny Weasley sharply. “Why, I hope you know that your behaviour the other night was the source of all manner of discontent. Harry and Remus were quite distraught the other evening, I think you ought to know.”
Sirius Black had never been known for his discretion, and indeed it was quite ordinary for such statements to be followed by an expression of rather canine abashedness and an eagerness to make amends. But there was nothing endearing in his expression to-day. Instead his eyes took in Ginny Weasley and her new dress, the stubborn lift to her chin, and came to rest somewhere above her left shoulder, as though he hardly found her worth the effort of focusing his gaze.
“Miss Weasley,” said he. “I am not accustomed to being chastised in my own home, still less by someone who hopes to improve her lot thanks in part to my largesse. I shall thank you in future to refrain from sharing your thoughts with me; I assure you I find them of no consequence whatsoever. I bid you good-day.”
Leaving the young debutante fairly trembling in his wake, Black made his way into the study and headed straight for a decanter, when he saw that he was not alone.
“Why, hello, Remus,” said he, and smiled.