AUTHOR'S NOTES: I actually started this little misadventure over a year ago. I sort of meant for it to be a happy Christmas story, or at least a happy-ish one. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to have little to do with Christmas, and a lot to do with one of life's essential truths: love hurts. The pairing is Lily/Narcissa (yeah, I know, I know, no canon backing. whatever. canon can bite me.) and it _is_, in fact, a love story. It's just not a very nice love story. That said, I hope you'll read it anyway, and I hope it flows well enough so you can't tell where I left off and then picked up again. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to read it-- if I could trouble you a bit more to comment, I'd be ever in your debt.
"Do not wish to be rare like jade, nor common like stone."
-Lao Tzu, Sage of the Dao
Do Not Wish To Be Rare Like Jade 1/1
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
They stood with the toes of their shoes touching the edge of the street lamp's safe light-circle, watching the snowflakes fall and burn in the clouds of their breath. Hogsmeade; just before Christmas, with all the shops lighted and twinkling, twined with magic both elementary and complex. Across the street, in the threshold of the Three Broomsticks, James Potter and the rest of his faithful crew were laughing loudly, toasting their contraband glasses of firewhiskey in flagrant disregard for the rules. Narcissa watched them with narrowed eyes, hands clasped within the folds of her robes. Lily's presence beside her was like a flare in the night, a warmth she felt on her skin, implicit with the knowledge that she shouldn't stand too close.
"I have a present for you," said Lily, turning. The glitter enchanting the windows of Honeydukes seemed to have settled, instead, in her red-orange hair. Without meaning to, the blond girl breathed out a cool puff of relief, feeling the small package tucked into her pocket as if it were something forbidden-- which it was. So much easier to break the rules though, when there was someone to do it with you.
"Who says I want anything from you?" her lips were lax, because she could not even be bothered to sneer. "You're dirt poor."
"Not dirt poor," Lily smiled-- she almost always smiled, in spite of everything, as if she could deftly step around Narcissa's barbs. As if she was a mystic, walking on coals. "We have dirt-- we have plenty of dirt." She held out a bundle with barely contained energy, watching the other girl's face with a sort of unselfconsciousness that the Slytherin found disturbing. "I didn't know what to get you," Lily explained, "you have so many nice things. But then I thought..."
Narcissa didn't know if Lily's words just faded from her hearing, or trailed off all together-- she was focused on the parcel held between Lily's honest, blushing hands. The present itself was wrapped in wrinkled, metallic blue paper, as if it had been redone a few times, and Narcissa saw that it was held together by that odd Muggle convention Lily called "tape", and a thin silver ribbon. For all that, it somehow still gave the impression of being tidy, if obviously labored over. The Slytherin girl accepted it into her own elegant palms, which were soft and smelled of the gardenia lotion she applied so religiously. Muggle method or no, Lily had magicked the wrappings as well, so that the ribbon and paper obligingly parted as soon as Narcissa thought about opening it. She was vaguely aware of Lily catching the paper as it fluttered in the chill wind, but her own eyes were rooted on what Lily had gifted her with. A sick sort of wonder slithered underneath Narcissa's skin, absorbing down to her stomach, were it churned restlessly and began to taste like shame.
It was a doll-- a little one, flaxen-haired and small enough to fit in Narcissa's palm, dressed in a blue pinafore that defied any particular fashion or time period. When she tilted it, the blue eyes closed sleepily-- it was soft, made of some Muggle material (plastic?) and smelled like baby powder and love.
"It's not magic or anything." At last, a little sheepishness in the redhead's voice, "But I love dolls. I have so many at home-- do wizard girls play with dolls? You probably have much better things. Still... she looks like Alice. She looks like you, too."
"Who's Alice?" Narcissa asked, fingering the soft, straight locks of doll-hair.
"Oh, she fell down a rabbit hole," Lily said, and Narcissa could see then exactly why the muggle-born had become so quickly accustomed to wizarding life. "She met a smoking caterpillar, and a mad hatter and a march hare and a queen who wanted her head for some reason I've forgotten. It's a book." Narcissa could only 'hmm' softly, looking at the reflection of herself in Lily's dark pupils, twin moons of some distant, alien, Lily-world where things were shadowed and mysterious and so very beautiful. "Give her a name," the Griffindor encouraged.
"Brihde," Narcissa said, careful to illustrate the proper pronunciation, 'bry-deh', with her lips.
"How pretty! Do you like her?" Lily paused-- they both did-- distracted as, across the street, Sirius took up snow balls to pelt passing Slytherins. James Potter was doubled over laughing, hanging on Pettigrew, while Remus looked on with fondness and a very faint disapproval. Narcissa reached for Lily, touched air and had to reach again, catching hold of the girl's cloak as she whirled to rescue the first and second year victims.
"Don't bother," she shook her head, well aware that Potter's gaze had been attracted by the sudden, half-graceful movement.
"He's being an arse," Lily muttered, ducking just in time to miss an off-target shot. Following the line-of-sight, Narcissa saw a group of fourth year Slytherins, led by one Severus Snape, returning fire.
"See?" she said, not hiding her smile when her house-mate caught Black in the face, "Now it's mutual."
"Not again," the other girl bemoaned, shaking her head. "They'd get along so well-- James and Severus-- if only they weren't so silly about whatever started this whole thing!"
Narcissa coughed delicately and said, "Here," thrusting out a small box while Potter was still distracted and there was no one to see. Lily gripped the little green package with awe, and the blond added, "I do like it-- the doll, I mean. I don't have anything like her."
"Good," said Lily, smiling as if there wasn't any space between them, not even the air, and she and Narcissa were skin to skin on the street. So intimate, that smile-- Narcissa was sure that everyone was looking, that everyone knew and could see, the ring on her finger burning like an Unforgivable against her aching flesh. What the hell were they doing out here on the sidewalk? Lily was always so unplanned, like a sudden, wonderful realization that stopped you in your tracks. "Can I open it?"
"Of course, you twit," Narcissa muttered, annoyed, forcing herself not to watch the other girl's face for each ripple of rapt emotion. Instead, she fixed her gaze somewhere above the streetlight, as if she barely had the time. Somehow, she still saw Lily remove the lid with care, her mouth forming a delicious red-chapped circle.
"I love jade," she murmured, slipping the bangle onto her wrist. The blond simply nodded, reaching out to touch the apple-green Jade bracelet, eyeing the little hoops of like stone that graced Lily's ears. A gift from Severus, Narcissa knew, and imagined one of the earrings disappearing-- so unfortunate! --so that Lily would not wear them even if they did match her new gift. "Thank you," Lily breathed, leaning in, so foolish and reckless, to kiss the other girl on the cheek. And Narcissa stood still, ensnared for just a moment by Lily's unconscious charm, allowing the warm touch even though she heard her friends approaching. At the last minute, she turned swiftly, so that Lily almost lost her balance to the snow.
"Honestly," she tossed her hair, surreptitiously tucking the doll into her cloak's deep, magicked pockets. "You mud bloods have no class." Lily blinked, before catching sight of the other Slytherin girls, and Narcissa wondered who bandaged the feet of mystics, should they be burned.
Later, on the way back to the carriage, she spotted Potter hovering near Lily, having cornered his house mate under a sprig of mistletoe. He was determined, that Potter, in a way Narcissa found she couldn't completely chalk up to male pride. Four years of friendly but firm dismissal on Lily's part were etched on his bearing, but the red head turned her cheek so that the kiss landed with a chaste sort of harmlessness. The boy's eyes were closed, but hers, hers were open, and their green piercing Narcissa despite the distance, as if to say, "Don't worry-- I may not wish it, but I'm yours, I promise." Such a sad, voiceless tone-- but then, Lily would not say such a thing, because she didn't understand love as ownership, as a hand clutching around your heart.
Why then, does Narcissa remember once hearing, on the edge of a dream or in sleep itself, Lily saying regretfully, "Who's will I be, when there is no more Narcissa Black?"
Hogwarts on a December night; cloaked in endless white and the chill glow of stars, as impenetrable as the castle of Muggle fairy tale. The moon herself was gone, swallowed by the smoky, drifting clouds and winter's own, ever more encroaching darkness. Still, there seemed as if some faint, milky illumination were offered by the stairwell's few windows; a glowing non-light, or radiant shadow. It seemed to lap at Narcissa's heels even as she slowly, carefully climbed the stone stairs in her numb, stockinged feet. Below her lay the restlessly still Slytherin dungeons, draped in black and silver; above her waited only a dusty, disused corridor, and the entrance to an equally unfrequented bathroom. Of all the locations of their rendezvous, Narcissa loathed this one the most, despite its convenience. All along the twisting stairwell, she seemed to hear the echoes of her mother's disdainful voice, so mockingly bland, as if the facts themselves were embarrassment enough. A Daughter of House Black and her Muggle-born lover, having a tryst in the rickety stalls of Hufflepuff fourth floor-- the bare bones of it made Narcissa shudder, even as she felt herself drawn ever upwards. The stone felt infirm against her cold feet, as if it was tilting, taking her not upstairs, but sideways, into some other world where such actions were possible. Where she could pull Lily tightly against her, bracing against a wooden stall or lying on an old quilt, listening to the other girl's gasps as though they were whispers of some loved but forgotten mother language.
Down in the girls' dorm, Narcissa's lacquered cherrywood trunk lay with its mouth held dutifully open. She could imagine each item of her wardrobe folded in readiness on the window seat, her books stacked neatly, her shoes lined up like patient, stupid dogs. Tomorrow, she would fill it, she would lock the silver clasp of her velvet robe up close against her throat and climb aboard her family's carriage with Lucius' chivalrous, unnecessary hand to guide her. There would be parties in white marbled halls, high gilded ceilings that echoed polite laughter, the strains of music as she drifted delicately from hand to hand. And there would be Brihde, the little plastic Muggle doll, wrapped up in an old nightgown at the bottom of her trunk, never removed, but to precious to leave unattended on school grounds. Not for the first time, Narcissa found herself on the fourth floor landing, gasping, sick to herself for some reason she could not articulate. Away from Lily, all the lights and gorgeous satin colors of Pureblood high society would be able to retain their sheen. They would be the highlight of the season, not a coarse interruption, not as rough and indifferent as the occasional burst of Muggle advertising as it interfered with Wizarding Radio. It was this imperfect seam that bothered Narcissa, those times when she opened her eyes and the world was not wrapped in the hazy gauze of what was her Right By Birth.
"I'm not staying," she said as she crossed the restroom's threshold. She kept her eyes on the ceiling, so she wouldn't see Lily until her pronouncement was complete. "I'm not staying--" an unnecessary reiteration, "this is-- I should not have bothered to come at all." She gathered her pale green dressing gown about herself imperiously, comforted by the feel of its decadent embroidery as it rustled against the plain white shift all Hogwarts girls wore.
"It's cold," Lily's voice was quiet, musical-- not quite low dulcet, not high enough for soprano. The Griffindor girl was perched on one of the white sinks, bare feet dangling artlessly over the floor. She was shivering in her bright blue terrycloth bathrobe, picking at one of the endless runs in the comfortable old garment. Her auburn hair hung in her face as she looked away, and a hand came up to bat at it lightly. The gleam of Narcissa's jade bracelet rested naturally against her wrist, like a lover's possessive grasp. "I'm sorry you got out of your warm bed. Next time, just let me wait-- I don't get mad if you can't come."
"What if its not about "can't"?" Narcissa asked, stepping towards Lily despite the very raw intention in her bones. "What if it's that I don't want to come, if it's that I don't think you're worth it?" There was a sick, yellow feeling in Narcissa's lungs, not at all the feeling she got when spoiling for a fight with Bellatrix. Lily sighed, raising her head, but her gaze did not come to rest on her blond lover. Instead her strange eyes, so like jade in their shifting, unfathomable color, seemed locked in the mirror on the wall, as if she was speaking to herself.
"We keep doing this, don't we? It's a bad idea-- Severus keeps telling me its a bad idea, and I don't need his advice to know that's true, but--"
"Oh, what the hell does Snape know?" Narcissa asked, painfully aware that she was working against herself. "Last son of a near penniless estate-- the blood of his line is tainted, anyway."
Lily's gaze snapped away from the mirror, her mouth pursing in a line that, on anyone else, would indicate resentment. On her, it was merely an angry sort of sorrow; helpless agony at the way the world worked. "He's better off than I am, in your eyes, isn't he? What-- what's _wrong_ with me?" For just a moment, Narcissa opened her mouth to answer, ready to let her tongue spill forth with all the rhetoric she'd learned, but could never really believe when Lily was curled up against her chest, or delicately tracing patterns on her spine. Then, suddenly, it came to her that Lily's question was self-directed, the same internal quavering that sung, even now, along Narcissa's soul. In so many ways, the anguished query was surprising-- so often, Lily seemed unaffected by Narcissa's endless barbs. "Why can't I stop watching you?" the Griffindor asked, taking the skin of her palm between her teeth. "Why can't I love someone who loves me back?"
Lily Evans was not a passive vessel. She seemed so otherworldly, so untouched and determined against the ugliness around her that people often seem to think she was, but Narcissa knew better. Looking at her now, the Slytherin could not imagine how it was James Potter or anyone else could be fooled, why they could see the furious, molten heart at Lily's core. Why they can't feel it burn. Took four, five steps for her to cross to the bank of sinks; she took Lily's small, freckled hands and gripped them harshly in her own.
"I _do_ ," she said earnestly, spitting the words out as if they could not be borne. "I love you and I hate you and I... I can't bloody well stop this." That caught Lily's attention-- the unladylike lapse into common vernacular. Bring up a hand to capture the other girl's chin, Narcissa looked into Lily's now undreaming eyes, watching them blink away tears. "I don't worship you, like Potter does-- I want to drag you down with me. My feelings aren't brotherly, like Severus', or that of a grateful confidant, like that ratty Lupin. They're _my_ feelings, they're ugly, and they hurt you like they hurt me."
"We neither of us can stop this, can we?" Lily asked, allowing the blond to pull her gently from her perch. "It's always been a bad idea."
"The worst," Narcissa agrees, feeling Lily's nails rake half-tenderly under her gown. Her own fingers tangled in Lily's long hair, traced the shell of her ear, where Severus' jade earrings still hung. She felt her own jade gift catching in her platinum locks, and bent down, biting a choker of ruby to encircle her beloved's neck.
*whispers* The physicists are lying. Feedback makes the world go 'round.
Ps. Ra_Sar-- I know I still owe you an Obi-fic. Hopefully I'll be able to finish that bit next. I have about three paragraphs... ^__^