Hosting the Dark Lord for an extended visit is not just fun and games, as Narcissa discovers. Fortunately, there are certain compensations...
“I do not, as a rule, consider reptiles suitable companions at the dinner table.” Narcissa allowed her eyelids to drift downwards and breathed in. The heavenly fragrance of longjing tea, followed by a restorative sip, went some way towards persuading her that life as she had known it wasn't quite over.
“Keeping familiars is one of our finest traditions. Most of them are less than twelve feet long, however.” It was a relief that Severus was willing to indulge her complaining; Narcissa had heard quite enough about what an honour it was for the Dark Lord to have chosen her home as his abode.
Tucked in safely beneath many layers of deflection hid her private reflection that if Lord Voldemort wanted to live in Malfoy Manor he had to marry a Malfoy, just like everybody else. She certainly hadn't married Lucius just for his pretty hair.
“A reflection of his great power, I am sure. Certainly not a reflection of a need to compensate for a lack of size... elsewhere,” she replied.
Narcissa's mother had taught her well. She didn't even let her mouth quiver as Severus lost his famous composure and spit out a whole mouthful of tea. Once the damp patches had been dried and Severus fortified with a top-up fresh from the kettle, the conversation resumed.
“The present circumstances, however gratifying, must place some strain on the smooth running of the household.” Severus instantly redeemed himself from his temporary lapse by his ready understanding.
“I should say so! The house-elves are kept so busy they barely have time to do the bare minimum.” Narcissa looked critically at the West Wing, visible through the drawing room window. “I don't think the roof panels have been polished for weeks.”
“The roof panels? On the roof?” Severus seemed susprised for some reason, and Narcissa remembered his mother had been cast off by the Princes following her disastrous marriage – house-elves had probably been scarce during Severus' upbringing.
“They do look so dull otherwise – I can tell the difference immediately. Instead, they're kept busy constantly: “Wash away the blood there! Clean up these rodent skeletons here!” Is it really so hard to practice the Dark Arts in a tidy manner?”
“One certainly wonders. Although, if the state of his trunk at school was any indication, Avery is unlikely to be overly fastidious about any wreckage left in his wake.”
“Can you believe it, Rowle actually scorched the wall in the Pink Saloon yesterday? I have summoned as many demons as anyone, and I've always managed not to char the walls in the process.” Narcissa inspected Severus' neat black robes with approval. “I see not all wizards are incapable of keeping their person clean.”
“These are Potions Guild issue – charmed to repel any stains. Not that I would permitted to wear them with Death Eater regalia: oh, no. Only the official robes are allowed – for sale at an extortionate amount at select tailors. As soon as they get as much as a drop of rain on them, they start creasing.”
“I seem to recall Selwyn being awfully smug about some business venture a few years ago – doesn't he have connections with Madam Malkin's?”
“If by 'connections' you mean he has been having illicit thrusts with her husband as soon as the Madam's back is turned, yes. Horny and avaricious: such an attractive combination.”
Severus' nose really was extraordinarily long, Narcissa decided. She wondered if what they said about men with big noses was true. “At least your masks look rather fetching,” she offered.
“Look,” Severus said darkly. “Real silver doesn't tarnish. I spent half an hour last Sunday trying to charm the shine back – apparently it's not good enough unless you can see your own reflection in it. Which rather begs the question who is supposed to be looking – the wearers of identical masks, or our victims? If we rely on added visual aids to inspire suitable levels of fear, I rather think the point has been missed somewhere.”
“Whereas if you took you mask off, you could reduce anyone you've taught to a gibbering wreck only by raising your eyebrow.”
“I always thought I would make a rather capable Death Eater,” Narcissa mumbled. “If only the Dark Mark were a bit more discreet – long-sleeved evening robes make one look so stuffy.”
Narcissa contemplated the appealing vision of herself carrying out important missions, far from the Manor and the dozen of hangers-on who expected four square meals a day and constant entertainment while awaiting their Lord's pleasure.
“Should the present tide continue, we may soon find ourselves in a position where Marks may be proudly displayed rather than hidden away,” Severus said with the same indifference he would use to announce the demise of a Flobberworm.
“I'm sure we're all looking forward to that day,” Narcissa said with a creditable display of enthusiasm. “I may even get a dining room that isn't also the feeding place for a giant reptile, which I'm sure would be a huge improvement. But I'm sure you didn't come here to listen to my grievances. What errand brought you?
“I was rather hoping to see Lucius.” Severus tone did not betray much enthusiasm at the prospect.
“He has gone off to attend some fences or other with the groundskeeper. The Winged Horses cannot abide Nagini, so they try to break out constantly. Ever since he lost his wand, Lucius jumps on any excuse to get out of the house – as if I were the one who issued an open invitation to the Dark Lord! But Lucius never stops to consider the practicalities.” Narcissa pursed her lips, considering offences spanning leaving his slippers where the house-elves couldn't find them to imperilling their only son and heir.
“Having chosen a witch who is his superior in most aspect, he does seem to be content to sit back and leave the considerations of everyday life for others to manage.”
Narcissa recalled the time the monthly Death Eater Steering Committee meeting had been convened at the Manor, Lucius conveniently having forgotten to ask her to cancel her bookclub meeting first. Despite some deft wandwork on her behalf, the Enchanted Encounters-themed cupcakes had perhaps given the game away despite her insistence that she had been expecting them.
“While insisting on making any big decisions on his own, of course. Despite having picked the wrong option every single time over the last few decades, Lucius still cannot be brought to reason. He becoming just as pigheaded as his father ever was,” said Lucius' devoted wife.
Severus diplomatically refrained from commenting. “Do you expect him to return soon?” he asked instead.
“I'll be lucky if he's back before midnight – once he is with his horses, luring him back into the house is like convincing a dragon it has enough skulls to play with already.” Narcissa contemplated yet another evening spent listening to Their Great Leader panegyrising himself. It was marginally more bearable when her sister did the eulogising, but only by a fraction. At least Bella had to stop for breath.
“I see,” Severus said, and somehow the capped syllables became pregnant with meaning.
Fortunately, Narcissa's upbringing had equipped her to take advantage of opportunities like the present one, rather than tying herself into knots figuring out how to gracefully go from A to B (with B preferably occurring on a moderately comfortable surface).
“I'm feeling rather faint all of a sudden,” she murmured, touching her forehead delicately with her long fingers. “Could you help me get onto the ottoman – “ A surprisingly strong arm wound its way around her waist, and they found their way onto the divan in a mess of tangled limbs. It was testament to Severus' experience in such matters that no one's arm got stuck and no ancles got twisted.
On her way down Narcissa made a circular movement with her wand, to ensure the doors were firmly locked to all intruders but one. If Lucius should happen to recall the fact that he had a wife waiting for him at the Manor, he would find no difficulty crossing the threshold.
One never quite knew how he would react: he was as likely to take off with a pet as deciding to join them. Narcissa approved of both options; the former may teach him a useful lesson about not neglecting his spouse, while the latter could end up in all manners of exquisite combinations...
“Stop thinking about getting the better of Lucius and pay attention,” a silky voice whispered in her ear, and Narcissa abruptly ceased all rational thinking.