Without further ado...
DATE BEGUN: March 4, 2004
DATE FINISHED: October 30th, 2004
"Every young woman must pass through this gate. Was it possible that it was now my turn?"
- from "Yige Dongtiande Tonghua" (A Winter's Fairytale) by Yu Luojin
Through the Gates 1/1
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
She only stops plotting to kill him long enough to say her wedding vows.
Or, at least, this is what she tells herself, years later, pressing her lips delicately to a glass of amberberry wine. She'll laugh a little, telling herself this constructed, anti-fairy tale of her life, wiping her hands fretfully on the fine satin of her robes. But that night is a long way off, out of her sight and no comfort to her now, as she kneels to be bonded.
Lucius Malfoy begins to bind her hands with the red cord, and she watches from behind the battlements of the bride's traditional, velveteen mask. Her hands are small and white, and his are large and white; they are a concert in ivory, pale cream and platinum gold, heads bent to ease the task. He drops the cord now, two tails hanging from an intricate knot, settling back onto his stool. Her part is harder-- she must tie the cord to his one of hands with both of hers bound. She swallows her laughter like the most bitter of apples, because of course this act of hers is flawless and filled with grace. Hours of practice in front of the bedpost and her mother's watchful eye, saw to that. And who did Lucius practice on? A sister, a servant, or some inanimate object?
(He probably can't tell the difference, now!)
It's still hard to make the knot with one hand-- two, three, four wraps, just as she was taught-- but it will always be harder for her, than it is for him. 'It's easy,' the willowy, cold-stone whispers of the family matrons advised, 'just lie back, and wait for it to be over.'
("Lie back and think of England!" Lily says with righteous, sorrowful anger. Something from Muggle history. And later, still; "There's an old joke-- 'what's wrong, dear?' asks the husband."
Narcissa inclines her head only fractionally, fingers curled daintily around a tea cup, the line of her lips saying that she regally accepts her friend's attempt to amuse. Tonelessly, because otherwise she might scream, "And?"
"'Nothing,' says the wife," Lily leans in, commiserating, but also because this is the last time they will ever see each other. Or rather, the last time that Narcissa will see Lily, because Lily won't be able to see her-- the real her-- under Mother Black's watchful eye. A whisper, " "I was just worried,' says the husband, 'You moved'.")
Ha ha! Narcissa thinks, but it's not at all funny, and Lily knew that. The punch line was not a giggle or a snort, but a sort of shaken understanding, a mirror of sorrow in those gem green eyes.
( 'Ain't that the truth,' Bellatrix said, last night as she helped Narcissa pack her trousseau. Eyes dark, already married and more than a little crazy, Narcissa's sister lit a cigarette made of crystalline weed and offered the lighter girl a drag. 'Lying there isn't going to do you any good, let me tell you,' she waved one ring-encrusted hand. 'It's like when the first year boys poked us at school. The less you react, the more they poke.' She made a crude gesture, 'Poke, poke, poke!' Her laughter was rakish, and very ugly on the ears. )
Narcissa holds herself very still, because the hall of the Wizard's Court is hushed and silent all the way to it's high-walled ceilings-- she must be still, or all these things inside of her will just out, and everyone knows that good pureblood girls don't make a lot of noise.
"Is there anyone," Narcissa's father drolly intones, "that might object to this great union?" It's something of a joke-- because, who would dare?-- and the wives all twitter helpfully, having been where Narcissa is now. Kneeling, masked, cleaned and washed and ready for the slaughter.
("Run away," Lily suggested, more than once, "Run away, now!")
You stupid girl, Narcissa thinks, ears roaring with silence, you just shut up. There is silence, of course; this day has existed, lain in wait, since she was two years old, but she can't help but look up-- not with her face, but with her eyes-- despite herself. Way down the aisle, miles and miles, Narcissa can see the threshold leading out into the rest of the world. Why isn't Lily there, blazing in Gryffindor reds and golds, a beautiful female warrior with her sword raised high? She should be there, green eyes as hard as the emeralds they mimic, shouting, "Enough with this, free her, or I shall run you all through!"
(Well of course, you silly, pale little thing-- Lily won't come, she won't come at all! How could she, when you never told her what date, what time or where-- when you never even permitted yourself the chance of rescue? Now your neck is really on the line.)
She wants to imagine Lily, stealth and light, quicksilver as the hope she bares, creeping behind Lucius on hunter's feet. Lily would be quiet, and all the congregation, all the prime and pompous liars here to witness this union, well— they would all be so shocked, so unsettled by the presence of a Muggle-born Gryffindor that they would be beyond saying anything at all. Beneath her mask, Narcissa would smile, and Lucius wouldn't know, he'd never even guess, until the blade of Lily's dagger was piercing from behind, through the hollow cavern of his heart, and all his blood was staining his bride's gown like the finest, most expensive dye.
Except that's not the sort of thing Lily would do— loyal, do-gooding lion-heart that she is. She'd lay down her own life and never take anyone else's; but, really, she was raised by Muggles, who bother themselves with religion and complex ethics and don't know anything at all.
"Wizards," said Bellatrix once, real wizards don't have time for right or wrong. "They only have time to ask the question— do I want to live? Well, then; you'll do what you have to do."
Now Lord Black and Lord Malfoy lift the hands of their children, so that all can see the red cord that binds. A cheer goes up, "Keep the blood pure, keep the blood pure!", loud as a thousand people screaming in Narcissa's ear. The binding is cut, falls away like all symbolism in the end, but she knows she's still stuck, irrevocably visible, as Lucius peels away the velvet mask. And though she has seen her intended before, all through schooling, he's never looked like this. From a distance, from the safe segregation of 'boys dorm' and 'girls dorm', he seemed offhandedly dashing, an entirely proper suitor. She could be proud of him, distantly, as if he was a race horse— she could smile and nod at the other girls' envy, she could lift up his memory when Lily's sweet kisses made her shatter and she could say to her, to the one she really cared about, 'See, I don't need you.'
And at night, when the engagement ring that encircled her finger since infanthood, that had grown with her all of her years, got so heavy she thought she might drown— she could always imagine Lucius Malfoy peacefully, deliciously dead.
Except that she does need Lily, now that Lucius' pale, apathetic gaze is really trained on her, and she knows that she's a brood mare to his prize stallion. Should that make her feel sympathy?-- really, it only makes her want to kill him all the more. He has all the power and she has none. She'd be blind if she didn't know about his tumbles with pretty, younger Slytherins, so many of them boys. As long as she brings her virginity to the altar, then no one really cares; they don't suspect that she has loved, or they don't concern themselves with it. He's the heir, he can have whatever he wants; he's the boy, and marriage to her will not change much for him. Not much at all.
"You may kiss the bride," says Lord Malfoy, a command wrapped in steel. They must have been staring at each other a little too long— Lucius leans in dutifully, across the gap between the stools, and tilts his head since Narcissa isn't moving at all. His lips are hard, and his breath smells like dark things, like things underwater. She ought to bite him, really she should— wouldn't Bellatrix laugh then, with the Malfoy heir howling and bleeding, and crimson red dripping from Narcissa's coral lips like the cat who got the cream?
"I don't want you to do this," whispered Lily, once upon a time. "You don't have to."
"I don't have a choice," said Narcissa, who was fourteen then and knew very well the fear of her father's lash. "I have to, for my family. What else am I going to do?" She paused, before sneering, "Marry _you_? You're a Muggle! You're a girl! Lucius is rich— all I have do is provide a hostess and an heir. It's not like it's that hard a job."
"'Lie back and think of England'," Lily said then, in one of her few, truly angry moments. "I'll never know."
"Know why you're doing this. Why you're going to marry Lucius, why you bother with me, if I'm so dirty, so beneath you. Do you scrub yourself hard in the showers afterwards, Narcissa? Are you afraid I won't wash off of you?" Red with anger, blue with hurt— black like the bruises that would linger; that was Lily's voice. Narcissa raised her hand, Lily turned her cheek, calming accepting the blow, the slap of flesh against flesh and even the little cut, engraved by the blond girl's ring.
"Say it's over," Lily pleaded, "say it! Say you'll never speak to me again."
"_You_ say it!" the Slytherin shot back, already trembling, already blinking away tears as she brushed a gentle thumb over Lily's new wound.
"I can't," Lily was sobbing, in that strange way she did, without turning away. She kept her eyes, precious underwater jade, level with those of her lover and the tears just poured down anyway. "You have to do it. You have all the power— you're not in love."
The words were out, they pried her clenched teeth open and jumped into the air, "Who said that!?"
"I know it." Lily breathed out, like the stir of air in a coffin, "We have little choice in who we love. We have no control. That's why it's so dangerous, that's why they say _fall_. "
Narcissa drew Lily in, close— too close. Cradled the redhead with terrible, cruel tenderness, licking away tears and kissing at that cut on the otherwise peach-pink, unmarred cheek. "I'll never say it."
"So I'll never really be free." Lily nodded into the kiss that was born between their parted lips, as if this is what she had expected all along.
"You and me both, baby," Narcissa's nails cut into flesh. "You and me both."
Later, Narcissa remembers the terrible, angry look turned on her by one Severus Snape. Those eyes were so black, holes into the underworld, and she knew he'd seen the evidence, etched like damning words on Lily's cheek. Oh, Potter would be angry, too— but his anger would have no target, no direction or force. His claim on Lily was tenuous and hopeful— little gifts and self-assured glances he gave her. More often than not, she turned them away, made uncomfortable by such blatantly carnivorous, if kind, attention. It was Snape whom Lily trusted, Snape who's height sheltered her, like a brother boldly demanding a declaration of intention— it was Snape who knew. If he was capable, anywhere in that potions-rotted heart of his, of loving anybody, then love Lily he did.
"Why," he remarked acidly, hovering over Narcissa like some hopelessly off-kilter knight, sure his Lady had been wronged. It wasn't like that— not really— Snape wasn't that noble. Lily didn't have the blood to be a Lady. "Why she puts up with you, I'll never know."
And that, thinks Narcissa, makes two of us.
The moment passes-- unseized, slipping through Narcissa's fingers-- and it is only now that she realizes just how much she lacks. There's a profound hatred inside her as Lord Malfoy cuts the red ribbon binding her to Lucius. It swells, poisons, overwhelms until she feels that she will ever be rotted inside because of it. She rises at her husband's side; they bow amidst cheers, amidst a snow of sliver flowers and green ivy, house colors. Don't the Muggles have a saying about snakes, and grass? Or maybe it's garden, or an apple-- heaven knows she never really paid attention when Lily babbled on.
('Snake in the grass'-- she remembers perfectly, really she does, because Lily's cheek was pillowed on Narcissa's own breast, and each word was born in the flesh of breath across her cooling skin. Lily always talked, hushed; in her sleep, while she labored over homework, as she moved against Narcissa, punctuating with kisses.
'It means,' Lily had explained in response to her drowsy questioning, 'a strike, an attack from the direction you least expect'.)
It seems t0 Narcissa now, that she has just this one last chance-- she could kill them all, now, in an endless flash of Lily-eyed 'Avada Kedavra'. But where would she go, and what would she do, when all her life she had been reared for this? To be a gracious hostess, a dutiful daughter, an obedient wife? There is no hope for her-- the aisle leading down to the threshold, to the gates of the Wizard's Court, and the carriage beyond is an empty wasteland, timeless, linear.
(She can see herself, now-- that young bride, so jaded and still so unaware of all the pain to come. Of all the myriad ways the heart could rend and tear and heal only to be torn again. And she can see, too, the older woman in blood stained robes, drinking amberberry wine. This woman, this snake in the grass who has at last had her time to strike, and now awaits those who will make her pay for using the most unutterable of curses. Bride and Widow; eyes meet. )
Bellatrix steps towards her, offering the one ritual common between Wizards and Muggles. Utterly without feeling, Narcissa grips the bouquet, looking without compassion upon the faces of unmarried pureblood girls who will soon come to know her fate. The flowers are white; babies' breath, carnations, roses and...
Lily, she thinks with one last twist of despair.
Her throw is anything but ladylike.
(She can wait, over twenty years. Years that harden, clotting like blood in her throat. Lily's obituary in the Prophet; a brief glance of the Potter child and his ghostly eyes; her own son, dying in a rictus of pain in the name of a monster.
She will be patient, and lie low.
Through the gates, in the grass.)
*just raises her eyebrow at Leigh* You were saying, darling...? ^_~