Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Sons of July
Deslea R. Judd
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters/Keywords: Severus/Narcissa, Lucius/Tonks, Lucius/Narcissa Friendship
Spoilers/Timeframe: First and second war, alt-universe from the Battle of Astronomy Tower.
Summary: Narcissa and Lucius found friendship in their arranged marriage, and love outside it with Severus and Tonks - spies with divided loyalties, both. Their secret loves and loyalties would, quite by accident, add the final layer to the force that might bring down the Dark Lord once and for all. Canon compliant-ish to Astronomy Tower (liberties taken, especially with dates). Told in three acts:
Act 1: The Hidden Third. Narcissa's pregnancy leads to soul searching - about the dilution of a Pureblood family, the extinction of the Houses of Malfoy and Black, and the triple defiance of the three in concealing their child's nature from their own Dark master. |Act One|
Act 2: Maîtresse-en-titre. After years of indulging Narcissa and Severus, oblivious to the mastery of romantic love, Lucius learns first-hand about the craziness and folly of loving the wrong person. This one is Nymphadora Tonks, the spy sent to betray him. |Act 2|
Act 3: The Sons Of July. Severus hears a new prophecy, and learns of a fourth Son of July. In the final battle, Nymphadora, Lucius, Severus and Narcissa are reunited - but none have the full picture, and sacrifices will be needed along the way. |Act 3|
Length: Novella length (35,000).
Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
More fic: http://fiction.deslea.com
Feedback: Please. deslea at deslea dot com.
The Hidden Third
A man of light and features dark
And Lady Black, his counterpart
Form a bloc with her spouse
Alliance within the Dark Lord's house
To hide a Son of July
-- Sybill Trelawney, 30 July 1997
[MARCH 1980: LUCIUS]
"Our parents want us to marry."
Lucius said this casually over dinner one night. It was not a lover-like declaration; they were not lovers.
Narcissa swallowed hard, and that was his first clue that all was not right with her. They had been friends for a very long time, it was true, but Narcissa was the perfect young society lady – not a lady, but a Lady – and it was not in her to betray her emotions. They had shared much over the years, but their hurts emerged as cynical commentary and disparaging remarks, not as softness and tears.
Narcissa was now demonstrating both.
Lucius put down his fork and looked at her intently. "Narcissa?"
She averted her gaze hurriedly, reaching for her wine and gulping it down.
He sat back in his high-backed chair, regarding her with a high degree of curiosity. "I had thought, Narcissa, that you would not be displeased by this turn of events. We're most agreeable companions. We could make a pleasant household. Merlin knows, Cygnus and Druella could easily have chosen someone less so for you. I assume you had no designs on Evan Rosier, for instance."
"Oh, shut up, you stupid man," she said impatiently. "You're more likely to have designs on Evan than I am."
"Please, darling, I would never stoop so low. Slum it with Sirius Black before he completely lost his mind, yes, but Evan has not even the appeal of good looks. And must I be tarred with that brush forever? When all is said and done, I prefer the company of women."
She cocked an eyebrow at that. "Really, dear? I had no idea."
"Because I've never had designs on you? You're most lovely, dear, but you're like a sister to me."
Narcissa was suddenly solemn. "And you, a brother to me. That's very much the problem."
"Surely you had no thought of finding someone you love to marry, Narcissa. Dear friends is usually as fortuitous as one gets. We have, after all, a responsibility to our bloodline. Regrettable, but we have the sexual revolution and our wretched parents' laissez-faire breeding habits to thank for that." This was a well-worn complaint among his contemporaries, and having aired it, he dropped it. Mentally, he ticked quickly through their social circle. Nott, Crabbe, Rosier. "I really can't see a candidate amongst us for a love match at all." It was true enough; there was no one anywhere near good enough for Narcissa.
Narcissa was very pale, and then, suddenly, he knew.
"No," he said suddenly, "that isn't it. I'm an idiot. There's someone you love already. Is that it?"
She nodded. Looked away.
"Well, come on, girl, out with it. What is it? He's older? Married? Doesn't love you? Come on, spit it out."
"He's younger, not married, and he does love me."
"Then marry him. Why on earth would you not? Unless – oh, darling, he's not a blood traitor, is he? Or a Mudblood?"
"Good God no. Nothing like that. I have some standards. It's just – he's poor. And half-blood. A noble mother who married a Muggle. It all ended unhappily, of course. It almost always does. I told Andromeda that, but she just wouldn't listen. He's as much a Purist as any Pureblood, very acceptable in every other way, but you know my parents. They would consider his poverty a stain. Righteous punishment for his mother betraying our kind, that sort of thing. They'd never agree."
Quite right, Lucius thought, but didn't say so. There was nothing romantic about shared poverty, and if Andromeda had been looked down on rather than exiled totally, perhaps Narcissa would have learned that. A good woman like Narcissa deserved a man who could provide as well as love, but a woman in love would not appreciate the sentiment.
"No, I suppose they wouldn't. Am I allowed to ask who?" He added with his most endearing smile, "It will stay between me and thee."
She sighed. "I suppose. There's no one else on earth I'd tell. It's Severus, darling. Severus Snape."
He raised an eyebrow. She was right; Snape was acceptable in almost every other way. Brilliant, magically gifted, serious, and conscientious. A man likely to make much of himself. Lucius thought he himself could forgive Snape's blood status and means – maybe not for Narcissa, but at least for the youngest daughter of a large family, one where the bloodline was not at stake. "I thought he was carrying a torch for that ghastly Lily Evans. Quite aside from being a good three years your junior."
"Oh, he was. And I dare say he'll always have a soft spot for her. But I took it upon myself," she said mischievously, "to distract him. Just a bit of fun, really, get him out of his funk, that sort of thing. And he admired me in the most gratifying way. Men initiated by an older woman always do, I think."
"Indeed," Lucius smirked, an eyebrow raised. Narcissa had always played her exploits close to her chest; a lady had her reputation to protect. "I take it things have...progressed from that?"
"Yes," she nodded, suddenly serious. "He's quite as taken as I am. He isn't a social climber, Lucius; he admires nobility, but not money in its own right. And he hasn't asked. He knows we couldn't – could never –" and suddenly those lovely eyes of hers were full again.
"That's quite the problem," he said thoughtfully.
"You're a dear friend," she said hastily. "If it weren't for this, there's no one I'd rather marry. We've sort of fallen in together down the years, you and me, and I think it would be rather good to make it a permanent arrangement. But –"
"But there's Severus, and you would be unhappy?" he said gently.
She nodded, and then – there was no pretence about it – she burst into tears.
He watched her for a while, letting her tend to herself. She hated to be fussed over. He slid his handkerchief across the table to her, and took her hand a moment when she picked it up, but otherwise left her be.
"I do apologise," she said presently in a strangled voice.
"Hush," he said, waving his hand, as though at an insignificant disturbance. "Narcissa, if Severus can't marry you, and if you would enjoy being married to me, I really see no reason that we should not. I would, of course, ask that you be discreet."
Her tears dried up all at once. "You mean-"
"You know what I mean," he said imperiously.
Her voice fell to a whisper. "I couldn't cheat on you, Lucius. Some horrid stuffy old man my parents married me off to, perhaps, but not you."
He felt oddly touched.
"That's very sweet, dear, but it's hardly cheating if it's agreed to in advance. And I have no intention of giving up my amusements." He picked up his napkin ring from the table and Transfigured it down. "Now darling, would you do the honour of being my wife?"
Narcissa broke out in watery laughter. "A Transfigured ring? Oh, darling, you shouldn't have."
"I'll have you know that's one of our very best napkin rings," he huffed. "Great Uncle Hercules personally extracted it from a rock in Camelot when he was re-tracing the steps of King Arthur. Or some such rot."
"Gilderoy Lockhart could learn a thing or two from Hercules," she agreed. "Can you imagine the awful puffed-up books they'd write together? Look, it's stamped H&L. Messrs Horace and Lott, Fine Linen and Accoutrements, if I'm not mistaken."
"Picky, picky. Will you marry me, or do I have to ask that awful Parkinson woman?"
"Parkinson? Good God, darling, why didn't you say so. And here was me thinking your interest was completely altruistic."
Lucius choked. "Surely you jest."
"Yes, I know, I know. Very stupid of me. To save you from the jaws of hell, darling, I'll happily marry you." She slipped the ring onto her finger. "Happy?"
Lucius clucked in disapproval. "You mean you don't want the most expensive ring in all of Diagon Alley? You're slipping, my dear."
Narcissa lifted her imperial jaw. She said archly:
"I want that as well."
[JUNE 1980: SEVERUS]
"I was sorry to hear about your father."
A nerve in Lucius' cheek seemed to jump a little, but he said only, "Thank you, Severus. It was rather sudden." He was staring at the fire, but waved an idle hand towards the other chair.
Severus sat. "Were you close?" he asked. Merlin knew, had Tobias Snape had a sudden coronary, fatuous condolences would have been coldly received.
"Not particularly," Lucius said dryly. "I was pretty much raised by the elves. But then, most were, I suppose. Old bastard hung around long enough to drag me into this, damn him," he added, waving his forearm, "but that and my signet ring is about all I've got to show for it. Pretty damn tragic when you think about it."
Severus nodded. "You regret taking the Mark?" he asked with interest. Had they been anywhere else, he wouldn't have done that, but he'd spent enough time in the Malfoy home now to know its wards. They were not only Lucius' wards, but the wards of generations before him.
"I wouldn't say regret. I believe in the ideas, but I see problems with a relatively small army targeting a large population. It didn't work out so well for Grindelwald, if you recall. And I'm not in favour of costly battles with no point. The Dark Lord is strategic, but as you've noticed, the same cannot be said of all his soldiers."
Severus made a sound of agreement, curious to see where this went. Lucius was not the only one of the Dark Lord's followers to have ideas of his own, but most were simply power-hungry or vicious. Lucius, he had long thought, was different - he had chosen Voldemort much as you might choose an imperfect political party because it was the closest match available to his beliefs, the least unpalatable option of a sea of them. He was, by all appearances, a good soldier, but not a slavish one. It was not in someone like Lucius Malfoy to surrender his mind.
"He may get his way," Lucius went on. "He's strong, and at this point, he's the best chance we have. But if it was strictly up to me, I'd have chosen a more moderate path. Hedged my bets. At this point, we're probably better off targeting breeding practices of the Purebloods that remain, rather than trying to kill the entire great unwashed. Hell, someone needs to clean the streets and grow the herbs. I'm sure as hell not doing it."
Severus allowed himself a small smile. "Hedging your bets is the Lucius Malfoy we all know and love."
The corners of Lucius' mouth curled slightly. "Indeed."
They sat like that for a while, but presently, Severus said, "I don't mean to seem self-interested at a difficult time, but the question of an heir now becomes acute for you, doesn't it?"
"It always was," Lucius said complacently. "My father was unlikely to father any more children, no matter how many poor hapless young scraps of girls he dragged into his lair. He managed to kill three in childbed, and the babies too."
"And yet you've agreed to take a wife only in name." Haven't you? he wondered, but did not ask.
Lucius shrugged easily. "There must be an heir, of course. But Severus, there are things you don't know about the more private aspects of our society. It is not required that the heir be a direct descendant - only that the child be related, and of equal blood status and social rank. You must understand, as the stock of Pure blood has decreased, infertility and abnormalities have become an issue. I don't even know if I can father children. Many can't. Adoption and wardship are common. The child often has a place of honour in both families."
"But surely that's not your preference."
"At this point I have no preference. As the last of my line, it would be best for the gene pool if my heirs were of my blood. But even then, biologically, it would be better for me to find a mistress for that. Narcissa and I are quite closely related. In any event, I'm in no hurry." He stretched out and said, "But it remains to be seen, Severus, how enduring your relationship with her will be. Perhaps you will be part of our strange little family for the duration, perhaps not. If you're still together, you'll be consulted."
That rankled, but really, what could he say? It dawned on Severus that in the triangle that was their strange little family, he would always be the lowest point.
He wondered whether that was a family he could live in at all.
He thought about it later, after love, as Narcissa drifted off to sleep in his arms.
It was a peculiar state of affairs, conducting their liaison under Lucius' protection. The risk - while not gone - was very much reduced, and that had changed the dynamic of their relationship considerably.
The Narcissa who had seduced him a year and a half ago was a restrained creature. Controlled. She'd drawn out his climaxes and her own in silent movements, not outside her body but within it. He'd assumed it was a legacy of a family where virginity was up for barter.
But now, under Lucius' roof, they had a bed, and wards and protections. And still she was that quiet, minimalist woman with economic movements. She was a woman whose very orgasms were elegant and graceful. Narcissa coming was a beautiful thing, an exquisite thing. A thing the poets could write scrolls about.
But Severus' first love had been a woman quite unlike that. A girl who laughed too loud and ran and skipped and tripped and tumbled. A girl who had fallen out of a broom closet with her fiancé at their engagement party, or so he'd heard, all smiles and good humour as they straightened their clothes and their friends toasted their good form. Lily was earthy where Narcissa was ethereal.
Lily, he thought, was an unruly spray of marigolds. A woman who might, in a different world, have knelt before him and held his gaze with intense, hungry eyes as she...
Severus swallowed. Pressed his lips into Narcissa's hair.
If Lily was a marigold, Narcissa was a white English rose. Narcissa's love was anaemic. Narcissa was not hungry. Narcissa bestowed favours.
It dawned on Severus that he had thought she would change once the danger of discovery had passed. He was a little embarrassed at what he now realised to be naiveté.
Narcissa shifted. "I love you, Severus," she mumbled as she tucked herself deeper into the crook of his arm.
"Same," he murmured. She was almost asleep again.
He did love her, he thought. And even if he didn't, he was committed now. Narcissa's virginity was now in question through her betrothal to Lucius, and their affair meant she would have no claim on a settlement from him if he chose to break the engagement.
Lucius would not smear their reputations unnecessarily, Severus believed, but nor would he part with money he was not required to by law. And he did not underestimate Lucius' seemingly genuine protectiveness of Narcissa. If he let Narcissa down, it was possible that Lucius would ruin him by painting him as the scoundrel who had taken advantage of her, then make a show of forgiving her and marrying her anyway.
And if he was perfectly honest about it, there weren't a lot of other options, were there? He had worked doubly hard than the rest, and the Dark Lord liked him for it. He might - might - allow him to marry a Pureblood widow who had already had her children. But a lovely young woman who had chosen him, who loved him? No. Severus' credit with the Dark Lord extended to many things, but tainting already-endangered bloodlines was not one of them.
He wondered whether it was as simple as that, whether he'd latched onto her simply because she was the only woman who'd have him. It was an ugly thought. He liked to believe he was not an ugly person.
He'd shown his worth, after all. Committed himself to his kind. He'd fought alongside them, fought to protect them and their way of life. They had recognised his gifts and talents and worth, and accepted him, though he was half-blood, a blight on the things they held dear. Meanwhile, those who preached tolerance and freedom had excluded him for the far lesser sin of being awkward and serious.
He had repaid their acceptance with commitment and zeal. Had not walked away when some of his compatriots showed themselves to be cowardly and vicious. Had accepted that even right ideas could be wrongly executed - people were always the weakest link in an ideology - and had stayed true while others fell away.
There was Narcissa, of course. Technically, an offence. But that had been contained. She had still betrothed suitably. Sooner or later, Lucius would probably ask her for a child (if he did not ask her to raise a bastard gotten elsewhere). And while both of those things stung, Severus would not stand in the way. He knew his place. He was not Pure; he had no claim on her at all.
He knew that she loved him; he would accept her favours for as long as she chose to give them.
But sometimes, he thought of marigolds and a long-ago girl who hungered for life, and he thought of white roses and he wished Narcissa felt hunger, too.
[JULY 1980: NARCISSA]
"A lady keeps control of her emotions," Narcissa murmured to her reflection.
It had been her mother's refrain, and her grandmother's, and probably every bloody Black woman since the rule of Boadicea. She agreed with it and hated it in equal measure. Agreed with it, because one's emotions should not be inflicted on others. Hated it, because sometimes she didn't know where her self-discipline ended and her interior began.
She had received an owl that morning. You don't have to do this, Cissy, the note had said. There is always another way. Marriage is meant to be for love.
Narcissa had dropped the note in the fire before anyone could see it. It was unsigned, but who else but Andromeda would dream up such nonsense? Marriage was for ensuring the future. For blending property and blood. Did Andromeda envision her weeping into her handkerchief? She was marrying a dear friend who allowed her private passions with grace. Narcissa reflected that she was very lucky.
The note had still unsettled her, of course. She was not completely immune to the creeping cultural messages about the place of marriage. She noted, though, that those messages originated primarily in the Muggle world, where there was no need for concern for bloodlines. If Muggles were facing extinction, Narcissa thought they would become very utilitarian, very fast. It had taken less than a decade after the sexual revolution for that correction to occur in her own world. It had taken the loss of only a handful of families - the Potters being the newest - for the tide to turn.
Narcissa inspected her reflection again. No signs of turmoil, she thought. Good. And in truth, no real feeling of it either. The marriage was an arrangement, and the best available of a number of far worse options.
She would walk into the Circle to Lucius, her dear friend, and greet him with a smile.
Narcissa's smile broke halfway through the ceremony.
The Malfoys had been on this land for over a thousand years, and the magic embedded in the soil was continuous and connected and strong. Narcissa had never been to a Handfasting in such a place (in truth, few still existed) and had never seen a Blessing of Ancestors or a calling of the Four Spirits that actually meant anything at all.
Here, though, they meant something. She felt it in the calling of the Spirit of the East, spirit of creation and regeneration and conception. Felt the magic rise around her. Felt some inner knowledge inside her open up - this, this is what it's about - and felt something in her break when they called on their ancestors, their heritage, to bless them. Lucius' heritage was a special thing, but Severus had heritage too, things that had nourished him and grown him into the man he was. It was not right that his landscape was not here.
Her eyes stung as their hands were tied with ribbon for the rite.
"Narcissa, my dearest friend. I will guard you and the things you hold dear," Lucius said gently. "Will you do the same for me?"
Her eyes widened slightly at that. His eyes were grave, and she realised he had done this, had ensured that at least one of their vows would be truth.
She felt heady, swooning relief. Relief that he knew her, knew how this would hurt her before she did, and relief that he would hold her steady.
"I will," she whispered.
The rest of it washed over her. She could feel something about her, some certainty, draining out and away. Leaving her empty.
Leaving her hungry.
She clutched at Lucius convulsively when he planted a chaste kiss on her lips.
"Lucius," she whispered against him, "I need to-"
"I know," he said, tilting up to plant a kiss on her forehead. "Trust me."
When it was over, he turned to face their guests.
He said in a high, clear voice, "Thank you all for joining myself and my lovely wife for the ceremony. Please excuse us so we can freshen up. There are cocktails and canapés in the ballroom, and we'll be with you very shortly."
Their guests rose, some coming forward for a quick congratulations. Narcissa leaned into Lucius, feeling breathless and overwhelmed. He gripped her waist, supporting her.
"Going up for a quick deflowering, are we?" Bellatrix said with a smirk, and not at all quietly. "Lucius, just make sure you take your time with her. If you can."
Lucius' mouth wrinkled in distaste. "Neither a gentleman nor a lady kisses and tells, Bellatrix. Not that you'd know."
Narcissa forced a girlish smile onto her face, her most sisterly tone into her voice. "Bella, you and Lucius really must learn to play nicely together. After all, he's family now." She leaned in and said, sotto voce, "I'll tell you all about it later."
"Just be sure to make me well-endowed," Lucius muttered as Bellatrix left them. "Severus," he called in a normal voice. "Could you do me a favour, old chap?"
Severus made his way over. He looked white and ghastly.
"Seems there's been some sort of a disaster with the honeymoon arrangements. I don't trust those elves to fix it at all. Would you be good enough to Floo over to Diagon Alley for me? I'm sure it's just a matter of half an hour with someone with half a brain in their head to sort it out."
Severus gave a stilted bow. "Of course, Lucius, I'd be most happy to." His gaze slid over to Narcissa, meeting her eye, and trembling, she held out her hand. He kissed it. "Congratulations, Narcissa."
"Thank you, Severus," she whispered.
Lucius leaned in and shook his hand. "Narcissa's chamber," he said in a low voice. "Bellatrix might have done you a favour with her perfectly filthy insinuations. We can stretch it out to three quarters of an hour, no more. You Floo out then back in."
Something flickered in Severus' face, but he only nodded, and turned and walked away.
With autocratic nods and smiles, she and Lucius made their way up the stairs. Passed through the wards. Dropped their hold on each other.
"Can I count on you," he said as they walked companionably side-by-side, "to pull yourself together by the time we go back out there?" His voice was grave, but not unkind.
She nodded. Turned to face him as they reached the point where their corridors parted ways. "I will," she said. Then, stroking his cheek, she said meaningfully, "I will guard you and the things you hold dear as you have guarded me and mine."
He leaned in and kissed her cheek, and they left it at that.
[JULY 1980: SEVERUS]
She was already there when he landed from the Floo on the floor of her bedchamber.
She was sitting on the chair by her dressing table, and she launched herself across the room, landing on the floor beside him before he could get to his feet. She knelt before him in her dress, clasping his face between her palms, kissing him urgently.
Kissing him hungrily.
"It should have been us," she said wretchedly against him. He could taste tears on her lips, and his grip on her shoulders tightened. He'd never seen her weep before.
"I know," he rasped in a low, rumbling voice. Feeling something awakening in him, an old grief. Grief about all this, yes, but also grief that she hadn't seemed to grieve for it as he had.
But grieve she did. She did.
Her hands were trembling as she unbuttoned his collar. Her kiss was wide and deep, her jaw open for him. Desperate and needy.
Her eyes shone as she whispered, "I love you, Severus."
Something crashed over him then, not soft and sweet as the poets would tell it, but overwhelming and greedy and like something knocking him to the ground. Because this fire, this flame, this hunger was a language he spoke. He loved her for who she was, but he also loved her for coming undone for him.
He loved her for being his.
He kissed her, hard, and her head fell back. She gave a keening sound. Her throat bared before him.
He leaned down to kiss her there, sucked, hard enough to leave marks. He knew he should Vanish them but he wanted to see her like that, marked as his. She shivered beneath his mouth and the blood roared in his ears. Her hands were fumbling uselessly at his buttons, and with a sound of frustration, she charmed them open.
Gasping for breath, he rose up to claim her lips again, making clamouring declarations of love into her questing mouth. Found the ribbon at the bodice of her sleek, white wedding gown and began to unlace it.
She stayed him with her hand. He watched in confusion as she loosened it enough to bare the tops of her breasts, tips visible and peaking, but leaving the dress intact.
"Leave it on," she whispered. Eyes blazing with need. "I want you to take me wearing it."
He froze. Stared at her, his jaw hard and stiff. Like a death-mask. How could she even ask-
"It should have been us," she whispered. "All this. It should have been us. I want - this - to be ours."
He pressed his forehead to hers. Hard and sudden. "You don't know what you're asking."
"I do know," she whispered. "I'm yours. In it, out of it. Fuck me in it. Make it ours."
He gave a low, deep sound from the back of his throat, moan and protest and need in one. This irreverent, pleading Narcissa was all new to him, and he didn't know what on earth to say to her.
But he wanted to fuck her. In that fucking dress. Oh, yes.
"All yours," she coaxed. "Any way you want."
That pushed him right over the edge of any restraint he might have possessed. He pushed her down onto her back, rucking up her dress so he could get to her panties. Tugged them aside, finding her by feel. Descended onto her, into her, that pristine dress crumpled between them, ruined, dank with sweat and with him and with her.
She stretched her arms out above her head, whispering, "Severus," and he understood what she could not ask. Held her down by them, and was rewarded by her gasp and the way she ground her hips into his. Aching and crying out in total surrender.
"Mine," he growled. "Mine."
"Yes," she whispered. "All yours, Severus."
At the end of it, she may have surrendered, but he couldn't help thinking he'd been the one conquered after all.
[SEPTEMBER 1980: LUCIUS]
"I'd have thought you'd be with Narcissa. She's keen to see you."
Severus was standing on the terrace in the moonlight in front of him, his stance pensive. He didn't turn around, but said, "I was uncertain of the etiquette. It's your house. I've no wish to intrude."
Lucius came out onto the landing and leaned against the pillar opposite. Shrugged easily and sipped on his drink as Severus came into view. "Narcissa has her own chambers and her own Floo. Her comings and goings, and those of her guests, are her own affair. You're welcome to join us for meals and company, as any houseguest would, but if you prefer to come and go privately, that's fine too."
"Ever the good host," Severus said with a trace of irony.
"I do try."
Severus still wasn't looking at him. He was gazing out over the grounds like they held the answers to the bloody universe. "How was your honeymoon?"
"Pleasant. Too many Muggles. But no Blacks, so it all evened out."
Severus made a grudging sound of amusement, then fell silent.
Severus said presently, "Lucius, can I ask you something?"
He inclined his head.
"Did you seduce her?"
Lucius felt an obscure little thrill. So Severus saw him as a threat, even now, did he? How terribly amusing.
Severus had frozen. He'd probably noticed the little smirk that he could feel curling up the corners of his mouth. Lucius schooled his features. If it was anyone else, he'd have yanked their chain a bit, but Narcissa wouldn't take kindly to that.
He said only, "And what if I had, Severus? Would you think less of her?" Lucius was genuinely curious - and angry.
The breath seemed to come back into Severus' lungs. He breathed out in a rush.
"No," he said quietly. "I could not blame her for wanting a real, full marriage, or seeking to build one. But if you misled her about your intentions – before or after the marriage - I would think less of you."
Lucius felt his anger fall away. The predatory tone dropped out of his voice. "Fair enough. No, I didn't. I wouldn't." Severus raised an eyebrow at this, and he added dryly, "You don't believe me, then?"
"Lucius, I think in principle, you'd seduce anyone."
He laughed broadly at that. "My good fellow, must you know me so well?"
Severus mustered a wry laugh, too.
"You may find it difficult to believe, but this...arrangement...suits me very well. I don't want a wife who is besotted with me. You may have noticed that I have a very short attention span. If I had a wife who loved me – loved me like that – then I would hurt her, and I don't want that. I am not a cruel man, Severus."
"No," he said slowly. "I believe that, Lucius."
"So. I don't want to compromise this marriage, as I believe it would be compromised by any romantic dealings with Narcissa. And I don't believe she would be receptive, anyway." He went on curiously, "Severus, I understand why you would doubt me. My reputation precedes me, as they say. But did you really doubt her?"
Severus shook his head. Said reluctantly, "I suppose...I find it hard to believe that – that anyone would not love her as I do."
Lucius gave a loud bark of laughter at that. "Gods. You do have it badly for her, don't you?" Severus gave a rather grudging huff of agreement. He went on, "Go on up. She's waiting."
[SEPTEMBER 1980: NARCISSA]
He was waiting for her when she came out of her toileting antechamber.
"Severus?" she whispered as he rose from the chair beside her bed. Abruptly felt her jaw soften and tremble, and then there were sudden tears streaking down, wet on her face as she hurried into his arms. She clung to him as he made little shushing noises into her hair. Felt every part of her begin to unwind and relax under his touch.
"Narcissa? What is it? Did something happen?" There was a hard note in his voice.
She shook her head hastily, wiping her eyes with her hand. She'd been fine, that was the stupid part; but she'd missed him, craved him, and seeing him, her well-schooled reserve had fallen apart. "No. No, Severus," she assured him. "I had a lovely time. Really. Venice was beautiful. Lucius was sweet. It's just - oh, it's silly."
That taut note relaxed. "Tell me."
She tilted her head up to look at him. Said simply, "It should have been us. That's all."
That seemed to touch something in him, because suddenly his eyes were grey and sad. He leaned down to kiss her, and murmured against her lips, "I kept thinking - maybe I'd lose you - to him."
She shook her head violently. "Never," she hissed. "Every part of me is yours." She was reaching for him, unbuttoning his trousers. "Severus."
Had she thought she'd loved him before? she wondered as they fell back. Because looking back, it all seemed so lifeless. Just another restrained moment in the life of Narcissa Black. But this, begging him to consume her, to cover her and pin her...this was bright and colours and vibrance and stars crashing to earth around her as he eclipsed her completely.
She was his, and unknown to any of them, there in the walls of the castle that would send the Dark Lord to his final stand, the circle had begun.
[31 OCTOBER 1980: LUCIUS]
Narcissa and Severus were waiting in the front parlour when he got home.
It was the night of the Ministry Samhain Ball, and he had gone on his own, claiming that Narcissa was indisposed. It wasn't a lie. She'd been quietly, nondescriptly ill for weeks, and deathly pale and drawn for the last couple of days. He'd asked repeatedly if she would let him send for a Healer, and she'd consistently refused.
Narcissa was pacing before the hearth when he came into the room, and she looked up, her lovely slender neck jerking with a snap. "Lucius," she stammered, crossing the room towards him, "come and sit down. We need to talk to you."
Lucius darted his gaze back and forth from Narcissa to Severus, leaning against the mantle, drinking from a brandy balloon. His expression was grave.
"It's like that, is it?" he murmured. "A divorce already? Well, I'll miss you - both of you, oddly enough - but I shan't stand in your way." He sat down on the Chesterfield, looking up at them both, and stretched out. "I imagine you have some thoughts about a settlement." He doubted she would take him to the proverbial cleaners, but then, perhaps she had thoughts of escaping her family and the Dark Lord. She would want money for that. He would let her say her piece before deciding whether to fight her.
Narcissa let out a low, wretched laugh at that. "I'm not here to ask for a divorce. Though I imagine you'll want one when we're done."
Lucius cocked an eyebrow, and said ironically, "Were you, perhaps, about to confess to an affair? Because I have to tell you, Narcissa, that ship has sailed."
She sank down into the armchair by him and buried her head in her hands. "Fuck, you annoying man, will you shut up and listen?"
She sounded very near tears, and that made him frown and sit forward. Glancing up at Severus, he said, "I'm sorry, Narcissa. Tell me what's troubling you."
Narcissa shuddered a moment, then gave a shaking breath out as she recovered her composure. She looked up at him, her eyes filled with tears.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I never meant to shame you. We were careful. Honestly, we were. We used charms, and once we'd settled back home, potions, too. Just to be doubly sure."
It took him a moment. He stared at her uncomprehending at first, and then it fell into place. He darted his gaze back and forth, from Narcissa to Severus and back. "You're with child," he said. It wasn't a question.
She nodded, and then she broke out into wretched, shuddering sobs. Severus came and stood by her, resting his hand on her shoulder. It occurred to him that this was the closest thing he had ever seen to an intimate gesture between them, though Severus spent a good deal of his time at the house.
Lucius frowned. Thinking it over. He said slowly, "You thought I'd be angry."
Narcissa gulped. "Of course, Lucius! To share a home with me is one thing, but to dilute your estate - share it with a child that is not your own, as you would have to if you acknowledged it - or else to be publicly cuckolded - those things are unthinkable. I would never allow you to do such a thing on my account. Of course you must send me away."
Lucius looked up at Severus. "And you? What do you have to say about it?"
Severus looked very white, but he didn't look away. Lucius would have been surprised if he had. "I have no right to a say, Lucius. You've been very generous with us, and we've let you down. I will honour my responsibilities to Narcissa and the child however you see fit."
"If I tell you to take her away, you will do so?"
"If I tell you to go, and leave me and Narcissa to raise the child as our own, you would do that too?"
Severus swallowed hard at that, but he said in a low voice, "I will do whatever is required to mend this. If...if it means the child will - will live, will have a decent life, then yes."
Lucius blinked at that. "Will live?" he demanded, outraged. "You think I would ask her to take Pennyroyal? You think me that kind of a man?"
Severus put down his glass on the mantle with a clatter. "Think, will you? I'm a half-blood. Aside from all issues of legitimacy and inheritance, there is the Dark Lord to consider. Do you not see, Lucius, that if Narcissa has this child, one or all of us may one day be tasked with protecting it from our own Master. I want it - of course I do - but I myself do not know if it is a wise, or safe thing to do."
Narcissa got abruptly to her feet. "Stop it, damn you both! Lucius, you may send me away. Severus, you may allow your precious overlord to make you a eunuch. But if either of you think I will take any herb you have another think coming. If you're with me, wonderful. If you're not, I will leave you both in peace, and promise that no one will ever hear of me or the child again."
"That's not an option," Lucius said, standing too. "Bellatrix will hunt you to the ends of the earth. Andromeda was one thing - Bella didn't have the Mark then. Things are different now."
Narcissa stared at him, her mouth falling open a little. Eyes wide. Clearly this was a factor she had not considered.
Severus locked eyes on his. "Yes," he said gently, nodding. "She would."
Lucius gave a sound of frustration. "Sit down, both of you. We've got to be smart about this."
Narcissa and Severus both stared at him, but both complied. It didn't come naturally to Severus, Lucius thought, but he did it anyway. (So he bloody well should, Lucius thought with a touch of pique).
He leaned against the mantle and outlined the options as he saw them. "If you want this baby, Narcissa, your only realistic choices are to leave, and hope to Merlin you're never found - we could fake an accident, perhaps, although I'd really rather not be tried for your murder - or to hide in plain sight, raising the child as mine." He went on, "With the exception of blood status, the baby fits the requirements of an heir, I suppose. It's related to the Malfoys, distantly, through you."
Severus said, "But there's still blood status. There's nothing we can do about that. The child is one quarter Muggle." He went on more quietly, "I know how important Pure blood is to you, Lucius."
Lucius shot him a look (which hopefully conveyed the message, You could have thought of that before impregnating my wife), but said, "It's important to our kind more than me, personally. This child is three-quarters Pure, and its ancestry is well-established." He began to pace. "If it remains in our society, hopefully its children will be seven-eighths. Then fifteen-sixteenths. Arguably, it's in the population's best interests for the baby to remain in our society rather than leave it. Consider, Severus, that we don't even know if Pure blood as we know it is viable anymore. There are, what, a couple of dozen Pure families left in England? Our capacity to breed and recover might already have sunk beyond the point of no return."
Severus cocked an eyebrow at that. "So you favour the introduction of rogue Muggle genes?"
"No, but I recognise the potential for benefits. But it must be controlled. At most, a one-time thing into each line, just enough to add diversity and improve physical health, and then over the subsequent generations, we breed it out again. What we don't need is a society where people are diluting the line indiscriminately, without thought for the repercussions." Severus winced.
Narcissa said quietly, "So what are you saying, Lucius? Are you saying you would adopt it?"
This brought him up short. "I don't know," he said softly. "I need to think about this."
He held up a hand. "I need to think," he said again.
He was already gone before she could say whatever she was about to say.
St Teneu's Chapel, in the grounds of the Manor, was rarely used.
It had been used for their wedding, of course, and his father's funeral a month before that. Before that, he supposed it was his own welcoming rite, or possibly the funerals of the unfortunate mothers of his father's dead children.
It had been a Druid place of worship, and a neo-Christian one at times (the Great House of Boleyn had dabbled, to their cost, in Muggle religion and politics; in the end, Muggle-Queen Anne had gone to her execution rather than use magic to save herself, lest the rest of the family be similarly accused and hunted). Now, it was less a place of worship, and more a place of marking comings and goings. By the time the Boleyns had become the Malfoys, the family was thoroughly modern and secular.
It was an old, stone chapel, with open ceiling and windows, designed to receive the air, sun, wind and rain. Various later Christian influences were visible, mainly in the mosaics - Anne had been a devout Protestant - but the circle in the centre, the four pillars, were all much older.
He had never practiced Samhain with any seriousness, but he knew it, of course, and knew his faith well enough to know that the gravest things in life did not happen by accident. In his mind, learning of Narcissa's pregnancy this night was a clear indication that his ancestors wanted their say. And in truth, he wanted their say. What he was considering - and if it were not Narcissa, if they were not facing extinction within one or two generations, he would never have considered it - what he was considering was an enormous break from everything he had sought to defend. It was possible, he thought, that his House should become extinct, rather than pass into hands that were not Pure.
"Lumos," he said softly, lighting the candles at the west pillar. Then the Incendio, to light one bonfire, then a second, on either side of the circle.
He went to the table. It was a Christian altar of the Boleyn era, but its markings were a mix of Christian and Druid. Anne, too, had honoured the ancestors. Beneath the glass top was a collection of artefacts of some of their forefathers. A lock of red hair, said to belong to Anne's baby daughter; a dagger of unknown provenance; a wand; a stack of love letters. Other things, jewellery and books and trinkets, some unrecognisable, covered in moss or tarnished.
Working quickly, he arranged fruits and marigolds on the table. He had picked the fruit from the orchard by hand - they were required to be his own offerings - but he had used magic to levitate into reach. There was little time.
He stood between the bonfires, letting their warmth wash over him, and waited as the wind rose up around him.
"Lucius Malfoy," a female voice said presently, rich and velvety and silky with intelligence and authority. "I am Lady Anne. You have gathered us here to ask us a question."
Rather stupidly, he was relieved that the voice was not his father's. It occurred to him that it might be the Anne; he would never know, but he felt slightly awed at the thought.
He addressed them formally. He said succinctly, "Ancestors. You are aware, I'm sure, of the threat facing our line. My wife carries a child that is not my own. I want to know whether you would accept it as a fit heir. The child shares my bloodline, but distantly, and it is one quarter Muggle. The other lines are Prince and Black. All matrilineal lines are Pure."
Instantly, whispers rose up around him, clamouring in the wind. They were loud and argumentative, and he felt fear like a cold hand closing around his heart. This was uncontrolled. Far removed from the sedately symbolic death-festivals to which he was accustomed.
The babble went on for some minutes, and he could make out only one, cryptic statement, over and over again.
And Lady Black, his counterpart-
"Silence," Lady Anne said at last, and silence fell.
Lucius waited. Awaiting their response. But it was not what he expected. Anne's voice rang out, not with a ruling, but a command.
"You will welcome the child, and guard it even to the ends of your own life. You will shield its mother and its father as you would shield that which is most dear to you. You will tell no one, not even the one you love above all else. If you do not, Lucius Malfoy, more than one noble House will fall."
Lucius felt the blood drain from his face. Horror was rising, washing over him. Dread falling on him and pooling in his belly like molten lead.
He whispered, "What is this child?"
"Just a boy, nothing more," she replied. "But he is a lynchpin on which other things depend. Heed us, Lucius Malfoy. It is not for you to know. It is for you to obey."
Completely unravelled now, he stammered out, "All right. I will."
The voice softened. Suddenly kind, like a cool hand on a fevered brow. "You will find the courage when the time comes, Lucius, though you will not believe that you have it until that moment. You will look on eyes that are kind, and you will know the moment for what it is."
He felt something wash over him, dizzying relief and gratitude, thinly layered over the top of stone cold terror. "Thank you."
In the distance, he heard the Wiltshire town clock chime midnight, end of the Samhain, and the wind and the voices fell away.
He sank down on the stone floor in the sudden, deathly silence, and he sat there, shaking, for a very long time.
[DECEMBER 1980: SEVERUS]
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies-
Severus examined the overheard-snippet and his own folly in reporting it to the Dark Lord.
This was a well-worn form of torture, trudging its way along familiar tracks in his mind. It was not the first time. It wasn't even the first time that day.
Not that there was any truth to it, of course. Everyone knew Sybill Trelawney was stark raving mad, and even if she weren't, how could a mere child vanquish Voldemort himself?
And how was he to know he would get Narcissa with child within weeks of passing the prophecy on? Fate was a funny thing indeed.
Lucius' voice roused him from his reverie. "Sorry, I was distracted. What is it?"
"You must have been, old chap. It's not like you to let your guard down. Not even at home."
Severus shrugged. "I'm among friends." It was the highest compliment he could give, and Lucius apparently took it as such, because he smiled broadly over his glass.
"Even so. What's got you so thoughtful?"
In that moment, Severus made a split-second decision - one that he would live to regret. But for now, the wider ramifications of his decision remained unknown to him, and his deliberations lay closer to home.
"I was thinking that the baby is due in late July," he said slowly, moving away from his stance by the fire and sitting down on the Chesterfield.
"What of it?"
"I was thinking, perhaps, that we could say he was born in early June. You and Narcissa were Venice in August and September."
"Ah, yes, our purported honeymoon," Lucius smirked. "Quite a pleasant trip, actually, although more for me than for her. I'm afraid I deserted her for the gentlemen's clubs more than once. She said she didn't mind. I'm a terrible bore at museums and art galleries and such, apparently. I find my commentary much more amusing than she does."
Severus allowed himself a twitch of the corners of his lips. "I find that very hard to believe."
"Oh, please, Severus. I can't abide flattery." Lucius was smirking even wider, if that was possible.
"Lucius, you live for flattery," he said dryly.
"Must you know me so well? So your idea is that there should be no question at all about paternity, is that it?"
Severus nodded. "An extra layer of protection, if you will." Quite truthfully, he added, "I do not underestimate the danger you are putting yourself in to help us, Lucius."
Lucius' gaze flickered up to meet his, very quickly, all good humour gone. "There's no need to discuss that again," he said curtly. "The pregnancy has been announced. It's done."
"Very well. You know of my gratitude. Let's speak no further of it."
Lucius looked away, into the fire. "We can't say she gave birth and then fail to produce a baby. What do you propose we do for the last five or six weeks?"
"We can put it about in May that she's had trouble with the pregnancy and has gone into an early confinement to attempt to save it. Then, after the baby is really born, we can say it was born, small but alive in early June."
"And we didn't announce it until we were sure it would live," Lucius supplied. "Not as commonly done these days, but not unheard of. Hell, the welcoming rite still references the danger period. Not bad, Severus. Not bad at all."
"The Dark Lord won't question the absence of news?" Severus wondered. It was the only possible flaw in the plan he could see.
Lucius scoffed. "Come, Severus. Have you ever seen him concern himself with women's business? He would think it more odd if I mentioned it. Narcissa could have triplets and it wouldn't register on his mind."
Unless they were born at the end of July, Severus thought.
The old woman was crazy. Of course she was. There was no warrior-child, due end of July or not.
But his own child was due in the second half of July, and in concealing the truth of its paternity, all three of them had defied him once. That made three times in total. And when it came to Narcissa and the baby, Severus wasn't taking any chances.
But everything was under control. He had hedged his bets. Even if the baby arrived in the last days of the month, the Dark Lord would never learn of it. Their devotion to the cause was strong, but their devotion to their family was stronger, and it would protect their child.
Everything was going to be all right.
[31 JULY 1981: NARCISSA]
"A beautiful boy, darling."
The look on Lucius' face was taut as he leaned over her and kissed her forehead.
"Lucius?" she said in question.
He shook his head. "It's nothing, darling. We're just very glad you're all right. If labour had gone another night -" he seemed to pause here, as though terribly conflicted by the thought "- it might have been too much for you." He leaned past her and dipped her facecloth into water, and wiped her forehead. "I hope you don't mind - as soon as the baby came I sent Severus off to Hogwart's. It would look very odd if he missed his very first school meeting. At least it's holidays, so he's not expected to reside in. He'll be back soon."
She beamed a smile at him. "Very sensible of you, dear. Most likely I'll hold the little thing a while and then sleep, anyway."
He nodded. "Dobby's cleaning him up now. It won't be long."
"Birth's a messy business, isn't it? I can't imagine how families without elves do it." She added eagerly, "What does he look like, Lucius?"
"Dark," he said. "Severus' hair. Your nose, thank Merlin."
Narcissa laughed. "That's rather awful," she said without rancour. She added, "We've decided to make him blonde, you know. There are potions."
Lucius stared at her. "What?"
"You've looked after us. You should - get to feel like he's yours. I want us to make you proud. It's the least we can do."
Lucius swallowed and looked away. She'd touched him.
"I'm sure he'll grow up to - to do great things," he said in a strangled voice. Later, she would think that was a strange way of putting it.
Now, she said sleepily, "I like that. My Draco. Doing great things."
He planted another, gentle kiss on her forehead, and he left her.
[31 JULY 1981: SEVERUS]
"I hear there's a prophecy," Lucius said tightly, peering at him over his brandy balloon.
Severus took a sip from his own. Said mildly, "Indeed."
"A baby born yesterday or today," he added pointedly. "I also hear Lily Evans gave birth in the early hours of this morning. We wouldn't have known if she hadn't gone into labour in St Mungo's visiting the Longbottom baby. They kept her pregnancy quiet, didn't they?"
"I suppose people seeking to defy the Dark Lord would be rather - careful - about announcing a tactical weakness."
"You'd know all about that," Lucius said coldly. "Is that why we lied about Draco's birth? The prophecy? Is that why you've been quite suddenly hired just this day at Hogwart's?"
"No," Severus said. An outright lie twice over. "The former potions master was caught in flagrante with a student this morning. They had to replace him immediately, and they're quite difficult posts to fill - most potions experts have highly-paid positions with the hospitals or the apocetharies. Dumbledore approached me, assuming I would be impoverished and willing. The Dark Lord thought it would be an excellent opportunity." He knew he was giving too much detail - people like Lucius did not explain themselves unnecessarily, and did not trust others who did. It suggested subservience. But when it came to Draco, Severus was finding, the usual rules didn't seem to apply.
Lucius waved his explanation aside for the piece of flimsy it was. He said with a grim tone of warning, "Severus, in acknowledging Draco, I have committed myself to him. I don't know what game you're playing, but if you let this Lily Evans business shake your nerve, or you put Draco or Narcissa in danger, I swear I will kill you myself." He gave a few little, angry, huffing breaths until his face had levelled out into its usual placid expression. Added with a raised glass and only a touch of irony, "Congratulations."
Severus held his expression, one of mild curiosity, and inclined his head and raised his glass too.
In that moment, he was less afraid of the Dark Lord than he was of Lucius Malfoy.
[AUGUST 1981: SEVERUS]
In doing this, Severus thought, all three of us have defied him now.
He thought this at the welcoming ceremony held under cover of darkness in the chapel of St Teneu.
All three of them took elements, the earth, the water, the fire. All three of them added blood to the fire, and as the four of them breathed the smoke that danced around them, they became blood with one another and the baby with them all. But while it was truth for them, and true in a magical sense as well, it would never be true for the Dark Lord.
To the Dark Lord, this child would be another half-blood, and worse, the means of extinction of two Pureblood lines. None of them would have another child to compete with this one - that much had been agreed (and Lucius had suggested it, to Severus' astonishment). That left no one in the Malfoy line, and only Bellatrix among the Blacks. And Severus did not believe anything so deeply poisoned as Bellatrix could bring anything to birth at all.
He watched as Lucius cradled the child, mop of black hair clearly visible. He tried to imprint it on his memory; it was the only time he would see it so. He would take a back seat to Lucius in Draco's life; he had accepted that, and made peace with the idea of Lucius as his son's father. Lucius was not a nice man in any objective sense, but he was fanatical about family - and for whatever reason he had chosen Narcissa and Severus and Draco to be part of it. And the truth was, it was unlikely Severus would make any better a father himself. He hadn't had any role models for it, after all.
Severus wondered, not for the first time, at the complete equanimity of Lucius at the whole situation. Not that it was without precedent; arranged marriages coupled with arrangements happened all the time. But Lucius could be a hard and greedy man. It seemed odd that those traits could co-exist with his completely un-possessive attitude to Narcissa, who he seemed to honestly adore.
Maybe, Severus thought, he genuinely has never been in love.
This, at least, would make sense. The idea that Lucius might have been in love and thus sympathise with their plight was...ludicrous. Lucius was not an empathic man.
But the idea that he was completely oblivious to that whole range of emotion, that he could be genuinely committed to his dear friend and see no threat at all in the other, parallel commitment between them...that made a strange sort of sense. Love could be gentle and kind, he supposed - the poets certainly seemed to think so - but it was just as often urgent and desperate and greedy. Things Lucius seemed to know nothing about at all.
If that was so, Severus thought, it was a pity. But for Narcissa and Draco's sake, he supposed it was also just as well.
COMING IN ACT TWO: A FOLLY'D LOVE BEGUN WITH LIES