Fandom: Harry Potter
Warnings: Mild swearing
Prompt: 33) It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. -- Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), English novelist and essayist
Summary: "Her mother talks as if Regulus has gone somewhere on holiday, but fear feels like an icy hand on the back of her neck." Set during the first war.
Author's Notes: J.K. Rowling once stated in an interview that Regulus and Draco were very similar in that they both got in over their heads with the Death Eaters. Also, thank you to S. for the beta :)
It all starts with Bellatrix, which Narcissa will find impossible to believe, looking back. These days, her sister is a woman possessed and notices only what she chooses to. On a good day, Bella exudes hatred and love in equal measures. She speaks of the Dark Lord in a caressing, reverent voice and scornfully criticizes the world around them. On a bad day, she scowls and sits in sullen silence. Today is the latter sort of day, but Narcissa has spent a lifetime dealing with her sister's moods and continues to sip her tea. Outside, the rain beats an unending tattoo on the diamond-paned windows.
Bellatrix flicks ash from her cigarette onto the pristine white tablecloth and looks up, startled out of reverie. "Cissy. Have you seen Regulus lately?"
And this is how it starts.
"Will you teach me, Cissa? Andie's busy and Bella said no. And Sirius said no."
"I don't know... I'm not very good at chess. Andie's a lot better. And aren't you a little young?"
"I'm not a baby. I'm six and a quarter. If I'm bad we can stop."
(She wishes she had said yes.)
Lucius does not understand. Narcissa loves him more than anyone in the world--so much it makes her heart ache--but this is a part of her that he will never understand. The Blacks are a complicated web of honor and deception and pain. It is far easier to have the singular drive and clear-cut morals of a Malfoy, but despite the ring on her finger, Narcissa can't escape the Blacks. It's either a blessing or a curse, and she sometimes wonders if the baby will have it too.
Lucius does not understand, and when Narcissa tells him that Regulus is missing, he raises his glass in a mocking toast and makes a quip about how clever Regulus must have been to evade Walburga.
"You don't know Regulus like I do," she says.
"Of course, Narcissa," he replies, voice overly patient. "I will make some inquiries tomorrow, but I don't think you need to create an emergency where there is none."
This is an emergency, Narcissa wants to scream. This is war. Father is dead, Uncle Orion is dead, Uncle Alphard is dead, Andie and Sirius are as good as dead. Where my family is concerned, it is always an emergency.
"Can I talk to you?"
"Of course, Reg. You know, I was just writing to Papa about how well you're adjusting and how lovely it is that Professor Slughorn has--"
"I think Sirius has replaced me."
"I thought it would be like home, even if we were in different Houses. But he only wants to be with Potter--you know, the one with glasses? He likes him better than me. And I saw him talking to a mudblood girl yesterday, Cissa. A mudblood!"
(She wishes she had said something reassuring, instead of brushing away the concern and rejoining her friends by the fire.)
Despite Lucius' promise, she goes to Severus and Barty herself. Severus smells bitter and medicinal, like an apothecary. The wind whistles through the cracks in his flat and he gives her a glass of terrible wine. Barty is caring for his mother (again) and consequently looks like an underfed scarecrow. Despite the fire, the room feels cold and he gives her a cup of bitter chamomile tea. Neither of them have seen Regulus. Both promise to look. Both are worried and unsuccessfully try to hide it from Narcissa.
Her mother talks as if Regulus has gone somewhere on holiday, but fear feels like an icy hand on the back of her neck.
"I brought you a cup of tea. You shouldn't be in here alone, you know. There's no need to dwell."
"Thanks. Look, the tapestry is still smoking."
"Yes. Why don't you join the others in the library? They're almost finished with the will. Apparently it's far easier than last time."
"Do you ever wonder if they actually loved us? I think they always secretly didn't and were just waiting to get away. You know, he's living with James Potter. I knew it would happen, Cissa. I knew since first year, but that doesn't mean I know how to be the heir. Sometimes, I hate him and Andie for doing this to us."
(She wishes she had said that hatred was too strong, instead of confessing that she sometimes hated them too.)
Sirius shows up at St. Mungo's to intercept her after a committee meeting, and her heart stops because he looks like Regulus from a distance. She waits until they're outside in the snowy air to slap him across the face.
"The hell, Cis?" They've never really brought out the best in each other. For a moment, he looks angry enough to hit her back. She's torn between daring him to do it and bursting into tears. Instead, they stand in the cold, glaring at each other.
"Where is he?"
"I don't know! It's your mudblood-loving vigilante friends that have taken him!"
Sirius is astonished. "How thick are you? They know he's my brother and they wouldn't touch a hair on his stupid little head. Your lot killed him, didn't they?"
"Don't be ridiculous!" She's stammering with anger. How could he possibly think that? "You really think that Bella or someone... he's the last hope for our family, for Merlin's sake."
"Alright, did he kill himself, then?"
Sirius brushes snow off his coat, suddenly looking weary. "Right, well, if you hear anything, let me know. He's still my kid brother. You don't have to tell your poncey husband."
Narcissa looks at him, almost pleading. "Do you think he'll come back?"
There's an odd expression on his face now; almost pity. "I think you need to find a new godfather for the baby, Cis."
"Well? Aren't you pleased? Of course I spoke with Mother and Father first, but then it had to be you."
"Yes. Extremely proud. Congratulations."
"You look apprehensive, Cissa."
"I'm just worried that... well, you did not want to wait until you were seventeen? Even Lucius and Bella did."
"Sixteen is nearly the same. Besides, think of what an honor this is."
(She wishes she had begged him to reconsider.)
Rodolphus sets down his wine glass. "It has been suggested that Regulus engaged in treachery to our Lord," he says in his blunt way. "You are all aware what the consequences would have been."
Apart from the clattering of Narcissa's fork as it falls, the table is silent. There's a cold mist wrapping around the Manor that evening and she suddenly feels it creeping in. Her head pounds and Rodolphus' face blurs under the glittering chandelier. It would be a blessing to faint and forget, but Blacks are made of sterner stuff.
Lucius is white with anger. "I do not think," he says coldly, "that Narcissa needs to hear--"
"She and Bellatrix will hear the rumour at some point. It ought to be sooner rather than later."
For some reason, she is vindictively pleased to see that Bellatrix looks thunderstruck as well, despite all her much-proclaimed closeness to the Dark Lord.
"Lucius?" When she finds her voice, it's a beseeching whisper. "If it's rumour, there might be some mistake, right?"
"It's possible," he says, but he doesn't meet her eyes.
"Is something the matter? You look unwell, dearest."
"Wh-? No, not at all, Cissa. Congratulations, again. You and Lucius must be so pleased."
"Are you sure you don't want some some Pepperup Potion?"
(She wishes she had asked what was wrong, instead of chattering on about nurseries and names.)
When they finally tell Walburga the news, she throws her head back and laughs like a madwoman. The whole house echoes as the portraits take up a keening wail, as if they too understand that the family is over and the line is done. When Walburga refuses to stop laughing, Kreacher has to bring some calming draughts. Even Bellatrix looks unnerved.
"But where is he?" Walburga keeps asking. "Where is my son?"
"He's dead," Bellatrix says (again), and Narcissa shudders (again). Eventually, they have to leave her there, screaming on the chaise lounge. The stupid elf is crying too, but Narcissa barely notices in her hurry to get out the door.
Lucius doesn't understand. "Walburga will be fine eventually," he says, and Narcissa can't convey how she knows that something in her aunt will never be fixed. The Blacks were always broken, anyway.
"After all," he murmurs, stroking her hair, "There's nothing else you could have done for Regulus."
(She wishes she could believe it.)