spock: logic is sexy

HP Fic: A Mercy Even as The Darkness Hardens (Narcissa Malfoy, gen)

Title: A Mercy Even as The Darkness Hardens
Characters: Narcissa Malfoy, Bellatrix Lestrange, Florian Fortescue, Severus Snape
Rating: PG-13 (brief references to torture and violence)
Summary: When Bellatrix witnesses Snape showing mercy to a prisoner, Narcissa must find a way to save him from the Dark Lord's fury.
Notes: for girlsavesboyfic. Thank you to downjune for the idea and the beta reading and mariole for plotting advice


The night Draco took the mark, Narcissa dreamed of killing the Dark Lord.

In the dream, she saw the fear in Draco's eyes and the terror in Lucius'. She saw her husband reach toward Draco as if to stop the Dark Lord burning his skin, but his hand dropped and the words caught in his throat, and then it was too late. So she leveled her wand and cast the curse, and the Dark Lord dropped to the ground, not so powerful after all.

Of course, in the dream there were no consequences.

She pushed back the heavy down comforter and rose from the bed. Lucius didn't stir; either he did not hear her get up, or he did not know what to say.

In the bathroom, she splashed cold water on her face.

“I wish him dead,” she said to the mirror, but even here, in the privacy of her home, she did not dare raise her voice.

She remembered Lily Evans and Alice Longbottom. They'd say she'd chosen wrongly, but she was the only one here to raise her son.

It was the last time she spoke the wish out loud.

***


The morning after Draco took the Mark, Bellatrix became a fixture at Malfoy Manor. Her presence irritated Narcissa as much as it frightened her. She sprawled inelegantly on the furniture and left plates of half-eaten biscuits in the middle of the floor. And she was watching, always watching. They were sisters, but Narcissa did not doubt that she would turn any one of them over to the Dark Lord at the slightest hint of disloyalty. But if she was family, and she might be able to help Draco; she had to be toelrated.

“You don't want me here, Cissy.” Bellatrix spoke it like a declaration, but when Narcissa turned to face her, her sister's face was plaintive. “Do you? Say that you do.”

“I do. Of course I do.” She knelt beside the divan where Bellatrix lay. “I need you.”

Need was better than love. Black women did not admit need lightly. Bellatrix smiled, predatory and childish all at once.

“For what, Cissy? Name it.”

“For Draco.” She paused, choosing her words carefully. “Draco loves the Dark Lord. He knows that or he would never have given him the Mark.”

He had given Draco the Mark to punish Lucius; they both knew that. But the pretense was no threat to Bella, so they could play at it for as long as it suited them.

“Draco is still a child. He hasn't learned to control his fear. If the Dark Lord should look into his mind, and misconstrue it...”

“The Dark Lord expects fear from his followers. He deserves it.”

“Yes. But Draco's fear makes him weak. The Dark Lord will not tolerate weakness in his followers. Teach him to shield his mind, please, Bella.”

They regarded each other quietly for a moment. They both knew that it was not a choice. Whatever Bellatrix had become, she had not broken the bonds of the Black family, at least not completely. And she had been disgraced in the disastrous raid on the Ministry too. However much she loathed her brother-in-law for implicating her in his failure, if she wished to regain the Dark Lord's trust, she would need Narcissa and Lucius and Draco. She had no other allies.

“Very well. We shall begin the Occlumency lessons tonight.”

“Thank you, sister.”

Narcissa tried to pretend she had not just placed her only son's mind at the mercy of a mad woman.

That night, she watched Draco emerge from his lesson with dead eyes and pale skin and swore she would find him a better protector.

***


When Narcissa rose the next morning, Bellatrix was sprawled on a settee in a darkened hallway. Narcissa tread lightly, not ready for a confrontation with her sister so early in the morning, but the floor was meant to creak, the better to protect the occupants of Malfoy Manor against intruders. Bella's hand shot out and wrapped around Narcissa's wrist, sharp fingernails pricking her skin.

“We'll win the Dark Lord's favor back, won't we, Cissy? You and Draco and me?”

Bella's eyes were wild and bloodshot, her voice pleading. Narcissa wondered if she had been drinking, though it was difficult to tell. Bella had always been moody, even before Azkaban, but now her instability had reached dizzying heights. She squeezed her sister's hand, willing back some of her old desire to protect her unstable sister.

“Of course we will, Bella. It's only a matter of time.”

She could not quite disguise her contempt at the sight of her sister sprawled inelegantly over the settee, a pathetic wretch yearning for the merest crumb of her master's esteem. Bella looked affronted for a moment, then she smiled, slow and predatory.

“Yes, Cissy, we will. I know how.”

“How, darling?” Narcissa asked.

Bella sank back into the settee, pulling Narcissa along with her.

“I saw someone.” Her eyes glowed in the dim light of the hallway. “I saw someone betray the Dark Lord.”

“Who?”

Narcissa's heart raced. True, the Dark Lord's favor was a dangerous blessing, but uncovering a traitor was a simple way to obtain it. The Dark Lord was practical; loyalty was always rewarded. And if the traitor were a person of consequence, she could ask for a favor. Perhaps, if she were careful, she might even ask that Draco be spared whatever task the Dark Lord had planned for him.

“Severus Snape,” Bellatrix announced with obvious glee.

Narcissa's heart sank.

“Not this again. Bella, please. The Dark Lord's faith in him is absolute, and you have no proof.”

“Oh, but I do, sister. Last night, I crept down to the dungeon. I was bored.” Bella gazed fondly at her wand, and Narcissa pretended she did not know what her sister did in the dungeons late at night. “And there was our friend Severus Snape, torturing Florian Fortescue.”

Narcissa's stomach clenched. She hadn't known that the old ice cream man was in her basement. But then, there was a reason she did not go there if she could avoid it.

“He didn't know anything of course. Just a stupid Mudblood who'd read a lot of history books. And I was going to ask Severus if he'd let me have him, you know, because Severus is boring and he only tortures people one way. But then, all the sudden, he just stopped. His fingers went all white around his wand, and he leaned back against the wall like he was going to faint. And he said, ever so softly, 'I can't.' Then he pulled his mask down over his face, pointed his wand at Fortescue, and obliviated him. And he opened the door and let him go.”

Narcissa licked her lips. It was better information than she had hoped for, but something uneasy tugged at the edges of her mind.

“It's not enough, Bella. The Dark Lord won't listen to you now, not about Snape. We need evidence. We have to find Fortescue.”

“I know, sister. I waited for you all night so we could find him together. Mummy taught me to share.”

She leaped off the settee, and Narcissa, without quite knowing what she was doing, pointed her wand at her sister's back and murmured an incantation that would make her sleep. She needed time to think.

***


The attic of Malfoy Manor had a turret, and no one had the key to the turret but Narcissa. Inside the turret were Draco's baby things. She had unpacked them herself, box by box, the night Lucius had been sent to Azkaban. Their long tenure in the attic had eroded the preservation charms, and the plush toys were dull-eyed and faded. Yet, they reminded her of her purpose: to keep her family safe, even while her husband fought a war. She came here often when she needed to think.

Draco's favorite blanket still smelled of dust, but she wound it around her shoulders anyway and settled into an old rocking chair to think. Was Severus Snape worth more to Draco alive or dead?

The answer came to her in images: Draco's new, proud swagger, not quite enough to hide his fear of the life that lay ahead of him. His eyes dead when the Dark Lord ordered him to torture and kill. His body limp and exhausted after training with Bella. Her own face in the bathroom mirror, wishing the Dark Lord dead.

There were other images too: Severus coming to tell her that Lucius had been taken. Flanked by two Death Eaters, he had sneered down his nose at her, his voice dripping with contempt. But only she had been able to see his eyes, and they had been kind. Later that night, she had tripped in the corridor outside her bedchamber. He had gripped her elbow hard enough to hurt, but he kept her from falling. “Strength, Narcissa,” he had whispered in her ear. “You will survive this.”

Two people in the Dark Lord's circle could protect Draco: Severus and Bellatrix. Bellatrix loved suffering and frequently caused it. Severus, apparently, could not bear to inflict it and would risk his life to spare someone from it. It was not a choice.

She could not obliviate her sister – Bella's mind was far too fragile for tampering – but she could lie to her, and she could keep evidence from her hands. She would simply have to find Florian Fortescue today, before Bella woke up, and eliminate him. She had never killed anyone before, but she could, if it would buy protection for Draco. And in the past year, she had learned a great deal about hiding bodies.

***


Narcissa was six when Florian Fortescue had opened the ice cream parlor. Wide-eyed, she had begged her father, who rarely denied her anything, to take her inside. He squeezed her hand tightly enough to hurt and hissed, “We don't eat Mudbloods' food. Don't ask again.”

She hadn't, but she always stared at the shop with large, sorrowful eyes when they walked past. Once her mother had cursed it – just a small curse, not the sort that would do any real damage – but a bouquet of singing daffodils appeared where the curse had struck. It was the first time Narcissa had ever seen her mother's magic fail. It made her long to explore the shop even more.

When she was eleven, she broke away from her governess in Diagon Alley and ran straight to the ice cream shop.

“I would like a tantalizing tongue-twisting toffee,” she had said with as much dignity and poise as she could muster.

“And would the lady care for a table?” Fortescue had asked without the slightest trace of irony.

Narcissa didn't see his wand move, but a golden chair scooted away from a mosaic-covered table. She stayed for hours, nibbling on ice cream cones and eating sundaes served in crystal goblets. In the beginning, she had tried to read the first chapter of A History of Magic -- she wanted to be prepared for Hogwarts – but it had been so terribly dull she had pushed it aside with sticky fingers.

“Rubbish,” Fortescue had proclaimed when he saw the book on her table. He said he could tell her the first three chapters like they were stories, the way history was meant to be told. They were the best stories she'd ever heard.

Her governess was furious when she found her, but Narcissa knew she was safe from punishment.

“If you tell my parents where I went, they'll sack you,” she said smugly.

She came back on her twelfth birthday, just before the new school term. Her new black school robes were shot through with tiny silver threads that sparkled in the sun. She wasn't meant to be wearing them yet, and she wasn't meant to be wandering Diagon Alley by herself, but her governess never had learned to control her.

That year, Florian told her about the Goblin Wars, and she had listened wide-eyed to tales of magical swords and mysterious spells that human wizards could not perform. Sometimes she wished he taught at Hogwarts, though she knew she wasn't supposed to want Mudbloods there.

“Why does a Mudblood know so much about wizarding history?” she asked, genuinely curious.

“That's too ugly a word to come out of your fine mouth, Miss Black.”

His voice was mild, but his lips were a thin, hard line.

“Are we meant to be polite to Mudbloods?” she asked. It was a real question. Mother had only told her to stay away from them, not how to act around them.

“Yes. We are meant to be polite to everyone,” he said, firmly but without rancor. He sounded like the really good teachers at Hogwarts, the kind you never thought twice about obeying.

“I don't really understand the difference – between Mud...muggle-borns and everyone else, I mean,” she confessed. Mother and Father never did like it when she asked questions.

“That's because there isn't one, Miss Black.”

She thought about the conversation many times on the train to Hogwarts, though she told no one about it. It thrilled her and shamed her at the same time. She had gone somewhere forbidden, and she liked that; no one in her family broke the rules. And Florian treated her like a real lady, not a girl who was just pretending, and he spoke to her like she was an adult who could understand things. But even though he knew who she was – who her family was -- he was not afraid to tell her when she was wrong. For she had been wrong; she knew that Mudblood was an unkind word, and she had used it anyway, savoring the forbidden feeling of it on her tongue. And he had gone right on being kind to her, even invited her back the next time she slipped away from her governess. People in her family were not nearly so forgiving.

She came back every summer until her twentieth birthday.

“Surprised to see you here, Miss, times being what they are,” he had said. There was a wariness in his eyes she hadn't seen before. “What'll it be?”

She followed his gaze to the diamond gleaming on her finger. The Daily Prophet lay open on the counter. Black heiress to wed last surviving Malfoy son, the headline read. Beneath her engagement picture was an article about mysterious disappearances and a brewing war. She knew suddenly that she would not be able to come here again. The time for illicit visits had passed.

Narcissa stared at the rainbow of ice cream arrayed on the counter.

“You choose for me,” she said.

He'd given her seven scoops, one of each of her favorites. They came in a paper cup this time, and he said, “You'd best take that to go. Times is changing. Not safe for a lady like you to be seen here, I'm afraid.”

She nodded and reached for her handbag, but Florian shook his head.

“On the house today, Miss.”

“You'll be alright? And the shop?”

“Don't you worry about me.” His smiled affably, but his eyes looked hard. Narcissa thought for the first time that he did not care to have her here. And why should he? She knew where she'd thrown her lot, and she'd done it long before she'd accepted a ring from Lucius. Fortescue knew it too. Perhaps she had been naïve when she believed herself welcome here. But a second later, the hardness in his eyes vanished, and he nodded at the rows of increasingly exotic flowers that covered the pavement in front of the shop.

“There's not a curse that can stick to this place,” he said. “Not a one.”

The ice cream was enchanted so that it did not melt. Narcissa left it on her night table and nibbled at it for three days, until the house elf threw it away. Giddy with plans for her wedding, she had not thought about Fortescue or his shop again. Until now, when she stood outside under cover of darkness. The sign creaked on rusty hinges above the doorway; half-dead flowers languished in the window boxes. Narcissa was sure that the shop would be imaginatively warded, but the door opened with a simple “alohomora.” The ice cream, weeks old, had never melted.

She hadn't expected to find him in the small flat above the shop; she had come looking for some trace of his whereabouts. But the door at the top of the stairs swung open easily, and there he was on the other side of it. Not close enough to touch, but close enough to see the fear and hopelessness in his eyes. He was shrunken from his time in the dungeon, stubble covered his chin, and he looked strangely vulnerable without a wand in his hand.

“You shouldn't have come back here,” Narcissa managed. She hadn't expected to kill this soon.

“Couldn't go far without a wand, could I?”

His voice was scratchy, from screaming in her dungeon, Narcissa realized. She tightened her fingers around her wand, remembering those childhood visits when he had been nice to her – sincerely nice – and not because he was afraid of her family. Her hand shook. She couldn't do it.

“Petrificus totalis,” she said instead. Fortescue fell to the floor. She pointed her wand again. Vines sprouted from the floor, binding his already immobile arms and legs. It was better this way, she thought. This she could show Severus, proof that he owed her something. He would not have negotiated with her if she killed the man he spared.

She crouched beside Fortescue and whispered, “Don't try to move. I'll be back in ten minutes.”

She might have worried. He was a talented wizard, even without his wand, he might have escaped her. But though she had never killed, she had tied and bound enough of Lucius' victims. So far as she knew, none had ever escaped.

Narcissa hardly knew what time it was. Late enough for Gringott's to be shut, certainly. But for a woman of her stature, the doors opened at any time, and she withdrew five thousand Galleons, which she threw on the floor in front of Fortescue's face.

“You will go,” she said, keeping her wand pointed at his heart. “I don't care where. Some place far. No place where anyone knows you. Change your name.” Her eyes dipped to the small velvet pouch on the floor. “It's enough to start again.”

Only his eyes could move. She saw hatred in them.

“Someone saw you escape. They will come for you, very soon, and you will be killed. The man who spared you will be killed, and I need him alive to protect my son.” Her grip tightened around her wand; her hands were steady now. “If you come back, I will kill you.”

Many years ago, she had found an incantation in one of her great-great-great grandmother's spellbooks that had the power to carry people far away, across continents and even oceans. She had thought to use it for Lucius and Draco if they ever had to run, but now she released Fortescue from his bonds and spoke it aloud. His fingers clenched around the money bag, and he vanished, leaving no trace behind.

Bella would be furious when they could not find him. But Narcissa was a good liar, and she was not afraid.

***


The night after the Dark Lord instructed Draco to kill Albus Dumbledore, Narcissa went to the home of Severus Snape. Her tears were genuine, but for a moment, it seemed that Severus would not be moved. Narcissa feared that she had made the wrong decision, but when he finally looked into her eyes, she did not attempt to shield her mind from his search. She showed him Bella, plotting to turn him into the Dark Lord, and his face grew still and expressionless. When she showed him her own hands, shaking on her wand because she could not kill, she knew that they understood each other. He would save her son's life.

“Swear it,” she said, and he did.
Kudos. Wonderful deepening of Narcissa, a story that makes you feel for her despite everything. Great characterization.

That night, she watched Draco emerge from his lesson with dead eyes and pale skin and swore she would find him a better protector.

This humanizes her so. And painted such a vivid image.
Wow, this is really good. You capture all of them so well, deepening them while keeping them recognizably their canon selves -- mad Bella with her unexpected vulnerabilities, mother Narcissa, whip-smart and fundamentally kind, yet implacable where her boy and her needs are concerned; she's both able and unable to step outside her upbringing. And heartbreaking, strong, appealing Florian is a triumph. I love the flower detail, and the notion of the unmeltable ice cream, and his thoughtfulness.

Other things I really liked: the great opening; the Narcissa, Severus moments (love the way he's able to comfort her even while remaining hard and unsentimental); details like Narcissa's tower and Draco's baby things (powerful because, like Severus, they aren't sentimentalized.)

Excellent job.
Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment! I confess, I wasn't totally sure about this story when I posted it - it means a lot that it worked so well for you!
This is a wonderful portrait of Narcissa - needing to harden to survive, but never losing her humanity. I love her relationship to Fortescue here - so rarely does Narcissa appear in fic acting outside the constraints of her upbringing.
Thank you! I'm glad the Fortescue story worked for you - I wasn't sure about it, but I liked the idea that when she was younger, she might have had a few chance encounters that caused her to question her beliefs.
What a compelling and original fic. I loved your Narcissa, and your Florian, and your Snape.
Thank you very much! I'm glad you liked Snape - it was my first stab at writing even a bit of him!
I love coincidences. Just today, I reread the beginning of HBP, remembered that I'd been meaning to read your Narcissa story - and then found that it's set in the lead-up to that exact chapter in HBP.

Anyway, this is excellent. Lovely, assured writing, and the backstory for Narcissa is beautifully realised. I love the idea of her letting Snape read her mind!

Thank you for the lovely comment, and for coming back to read! I had been a bit unsure about her backstory; I'm so glad to hear that it worked for you.
This is utterly gorgeous, I love everything about it, but most especially this line: She remembered Lily Evans and Alice Longbottom. They'd say she'd chosen wrongly, but she was the only one here to raise her son.. I love how that very neatly entrenches the reader in Narcissa's POV. That one line lets you see the entire canon in an entirely different way. I'm very much in awe.
Thank you so much! I was rather unsure about this story when I posted it; I'm really glad that you liked it!
This is an amazing fic. Confirming my suspicion that all of strength in the Malfoy family really comes from Narcissa. And bringing Fortescue into it. Just brilliant and chilling and satisfying.
Oh yes, I agree completely - Narcissa is the strong one. I have never been able to muster much respect for Lucius. I'm glad you liked Fortescue's role! I was a bit unsure about it, but I'd always wondered what caused his disappearance, so it was fun to explore a possible explanation.
This is incredible. Wow. I love your Narcissa and how clearly I can understand and even agree with some of her motivations. I liked how you portrayed her relationship with Bellatrix, how unhinged Bella is, how devoted to the Dark Lord, and yet how there's still a family bond there. And how Narcissa knows just how to play the game, how she can lie, how she can protect her family. The backstory with Fortescue is genius. I've never really given him much thought, but I love the idea of his once-charmed shop, his history story-telling, his patience and ability to teach major life lessons, his heart.

This is one of the loveliest things I've read in a while. I don't usually have a huge interest in Narcissa, but I should have learned by now that your version of her fascinates me. *memo to self*
I am always humbled by your kind, encouraging feedback. Thank you so much for this, and I'm glad you decided to give Narcissa a try. To tell the truth, I wasn't very interested in her (or any of the Malfoys, for that matter) until the last two films came out. Just the expressions on their faces gave them a depth and complexity that the books lacked, and they left me longing to learn more about Narcissa. I'm so glad that you liked Fortescue's story too. It seemed a bit random, and I worried about including it, but I've always been curious about his disappearance. It's such a random, throwaway thing in the book (as it probably should have been) but I've always thought about how he was a real person who must have been suffering somewhere.

Thank you again for your feedback, bb!