A Hazy Radiance
- Story Summary:
- One humid afternoon at Malfoy Manor, Narcissa sees something which triggers some powerful memories.
- Author's Note:
- To my netsister.
A HAZY RADIANCE
Late in the afternoon, Narcissa Malfoy carefully folded up her copy of the Daily Prophet then carelessly dropped it into the magazine rack next to her chair in the orangery.
There really was nothing of any note in the paper today, or any other day.
This time of day she often liked to wander through the rose garden and frequently she changed into a floaty, pale dress so that she would cut just the perfect image of a dreamy and vulnerable soul as she negotiated an erratic but elegant path among the blooms. Today's dress, she decided, would be positively diaphanous.
Lucius liked it when she wore a pale, diaphanous dress in the rose garden late in the afternoon. It eased his unease. It smoothed his conscience. It lessened the disappointments of his life.
Lucius was going to need soothing when this latest disappointment was brought to his attention.
I ought to let my hair fall over my shoulders, thought Narcissa. That would be a nice touch. Idly she wondered whether she ought to go poking around in the cellar for a truly special bottle for Lucius's arrival. But no. One or two of the domestics would surely be free for that. She needed to concentrate on her hair, and finding just the right dress.
The quickest way to her dressing room from the orangery was along the west gallery and up the servants' stairs behind the kitchens. But Narcissa instead turned east to the main hall and the principal staircase. She would not take the route via the back stairs again, not today anyway, not after what she had stumbled across earlier.
Many of the paintings sensed Narcissa's intent, and nodded knowingly at each other as she drifted up the main stairs.
"It's that time of day," murmured a portrait of Madame Isabelle de Malfoy to her dog. Lady Isabelle felt a small ache of nostalgia. There was a time when she herself had graced these stairs in floaty gowns.
"I think today might be a little different," grimaced an old painting of Charles Louis Malfoy, on horseback in a hunting scene. Several lifetimes of chasing pigment foxes across canvas fields had not yet dulled his perception. He had seen Draco enter the Manor earlier that day, nearly a week ahead of when he was expected. But Draco, he observed, had not had a problem catching his fox.
"I wish we could hear what Lucius will say," giggled pointy-faced Emilia, second daughter of Charles Louis, grotesquely painted in the scene in which she'd died, fated forever to consider the unicorn which had accidentally skewered her aged only thirteen.
"Hush, girl," scolded her father. "The boy's a Malfoy. Always did have his own mind."
As Narcissa reached her rooms, she toyed with the consolation that at least none of it was her fault.
Or was it? Could a mother's love have been the root of this?
She'd had no idea, of course, that Draco was even back at the Manor. He was supposed to be in London, staying with his ghastly cousin Orlando, in those half-dozen badly decorated rooms they called a townhouse. Orlando's influence had been thankfully avoided over the years. The son of Lucius's younger sister and a lunatic Italian, he had fortunately been educated far from Hogwarts, and he and Draco had met only infrequently at family parties. Draco, in fact, actually professed not to care for his unpredictable cousin. Yet Narcissa had thought nothing amiss when Draco informed her he would be spending some time with Orlando over the summer break.
Perhaps that had been her first error of judgement.
Or perhaps her first error of judgement had come many years before.
She recalled a day of similar season and humidity. Draco was five or six years old, picking the prized white roses merely so he could shower his mother in the petals as she strolled along the irregular path in a diaphanous dress in the heat of the late afternoon. She and Draco had laughed and laughed till there were no flowers left. She loved him so much. He was perfect. But Lucius had been incensed. He beat Draco for being thoughtless. He beat him for ruining the flowers, for not behaving like a Malfoy. He beat the sensitivity right out of him.
But, Narcissa reflected, as she riffled along a row of suitable gowns, Lucius hadn't beaten the sensitivity out of Draco at all, rather, he had beaten it further down into him. It had always been there, buried. Lying in wait. Dormant. Latent. She knew, because she'd seen it again today.
She should have guessed that story about Orlando had only been a cover. Draco had not in fact ever been very good at deceit, because he had quickly developed an arrogance that made deception redundant. Draco had never lied to Lucius, because if Lucius had asked, "Draco, did you break this vase?" Draco preferred to answer "yes!" with glee, with enjoyment, with even a touch of brinkmanship, rather than the easier "no".
"No" Lucius would have been able to cope with. "No" he understood. "No" he could work with; there was something to break. But "yes" foxed him. Draco knew this, even aged six. Her clever darling little Draco. The Draco with the sensitivity beaten out of him understood Lucius as well as she did. And now the sensitivity was back. She flushed slightly at the thought.
She would have to be the one to tell Lucius. Draco wouldn't lie to Lucius about this, either. But she would deliver the facts in a way far more pleasing to Lucius. And it involved just the right dress. Where was the one she was searching for?
It definitely wasn't her fault that she hadn't known Draco was at the Manor. As a pureblood male Malfoy heir, the fabric of the building and the estate permitted his free entry and exit without triggering any defences. Draco had always been free to do as he wanted, so she would never have known. Even Lucius could not plot his son's movements without relinquishing the same privilege himself.
So it had come as something of a surprise when she had gone up the back stairs earlier that day and heard noises as she passed Draco's rooms on her way to her own. It was far too early either for Draco to be back, or for the servants to be preparing for his arrival. Lucius she knew was also in London. She idly glanced round the door to see who it was.
Five minutes later she was still standing there, unable to take in all the consequences of what she was seeing.
Narcissa knew that her son had grown up. She knew that he was no longer the perfect thoughtful child of six whose white-blond hair quivered when he laughed. She knew that he had adolescent - even adult - needs and desires of his own, and like most mothers she had not bothered herself with the exact details of her son's private life. But to come face to face with proof of her own son's adulthood had caused her to stumble slightly.
As she found the dress she wanted, she nostalgically lifted it to her face and felt its silky nothingness against her cheek. How long ago was it, she sighed, since she had been loved as wonderfully as that? How long was it since Lucius had looked into her eyes the way Draco's partner had gazed adoringly at her son's face, as their naked bodies moved gracefully together in such intimate familiarity?
Too long, she decided. Far, far too long.
There had been a moment of shock as well. The sight of Draco's naked back - pale, flawless and slim yet muscly and undeniably masculine - and of the impossibly blond hair, had so sharply reminded her of a young Lucius that she had had to stifle a gasp. Draco's body even moved in the same way. She had watched him, again recalling the clear image of another warm afternoon at Malfoy Manor. She'd just been formally introduced to Lucius's daunting father. It was early June and the roses were at their best. Alphonse Malfoy had of course been aware of Narcissa for a long while, having identified her as the most suitable candidate for Lucius's wife before Narcissa had even heard of the Malfoys, but the formality of this occasion was obviously important as many elder and distant Malfoys were taking tea on the lawns that afternoon, in silent supervision of Alphonse's selection. After some time being quizzed on her background and breeding, and after her height, colouring, build, cheekbones and hips had all been ratified as of a suitable pedigree, Lucius had caught her eye. He was prone to sudden acts of romance back then, he was spontaneous and dashing, and almost impossibly good-looking. Narcissa smiled back, and somehow they slipped away from the crowd of aging purebloods up to Lucius's room. Lucius had made love to her with passion and with a charming and selfless attention to her needs, until, for the first time in her young life, she had lost herself in the adventure of pure carnality. She had been besotted after that, even though over the years Lucius's love-making had become infrequent and perfunctory. And the young Lucius, the dashing heir, the fun-lover and ladies' man, had nearly completely faded from her memory. Perhaps she would never have thought of him again, had she not seen Draco - his body as lithe and beautiful as Lucius's, his passion and selflessness just as obvious - making love with a dark haired, firmly muscled young man she easily identified as Harry Potter; making love, she reminded herself, in the same room and in the same bed as she had on that afternoon in June all those years before.
Narcissa slipped off her clothes and examined herself in front of the beautiful antique mirror. Acquired (purchased? won? stolen?) for her by Lucius from the palace of Versailles itself, it was the only non-magical mirror in the house. Narcissa had long learned not to trust the opinions of objects beholden to you for their continued existence. Instead she preferred her own critical eye to assess the ravages of time and to deduce the most positive way to preserve the beauty that remained. And to what end should she use this beauty today? To please Lucius? Or to please herself?
Draco had seemed like he was on another plane of existence. His eyes had fluttered in impossible ecstasy and his breathing was deep and rooted in satisfaction, in the rightness of straddling his lover's crotch and riding him slowly and luxuriously. Their hands joined in communion; their fingers, like their bodies and their eyes, interlocked in obvious belonging. Her initial instinct to shout and scream and break up this unthinkable alliance passed within seconds. Briefly she hoped her son was not in pain, as she regarded their passion with an anatomical curiosity. But Draco's face registered bliss, not pain, and again she recalled that distant afternoon. She saw Draco as any observer would have seen herself; blond hair glinting as the sun streamed in the west-facing windows, mind and body intent only on prolonging the exquisite pleasure of that beautiful, grinding connection until their togetherness was so finely tuned that the faintest breath could tip them into the abyss. She had felt like that, floating in the hazy radiance of that distant, illicit afternoon. And leaving the edge of the world and tumbling into the abyss with Lucius had been one of the most wonderful moments of her life. The memory of that climax was still embedded in her flesh, in her limbs, in her very blood, and she felt her muscles tighten at the reminiscence.
With a start she realised that the dress she was holding was the one she had worn for the first time that afternoon. The very first time Lucius had seen her amble through the roses, the scent rising to engulf her, he had seen her in this very dress. It had been a tasteful ivory silk when newly delivered from Paris, and was now slightly paler and delicately softened by two decades of sunny rose gardens and careful laundry. Its touch was both exotic and familiar. She held it up in front of her body and posed slightly. Oh yes, this was the one. Perhaps even Lucius would recognise it as the dress he had gently removed from her body that afternoon in the sunny bedroom.
She wondered whether it had been the same for Draco. Did he and Harry enjoy their pleasure at an elegant, unhurried pace? Had they smiled in private anticipation as they removed each other's clothes lovingly, slowly, deliciously delaying the moments to come? Or did they tear at each other in a frenzy, unable to tame their energies and urgencies?
Perhaps it was something of both. From what she had witnessed, Draco and Harry's love-making had had both intense desire and the familiarity born of a profound trust. The obvious voyeurism in her behaviour troubled her, and she wondered why she hadn't torn herself away instantly. But as she had watched, it had seemed increasingly like she was looking at a slow running film, a flickering piece of home cinema showing her and her sisters running through the garden chasing each other, a visual memory from so long ago that its main impression was one of nostalgia rather than invasion of privacy. The unreality of the situation was so pronounced that she felt like she could have walked up to them and examined them like a display in a museum, and that they, removed from her place in the world by years of experience and whole dimensions of existence, would simply not register her presence. It was only hearing Draco murmur to Harry that focussed her attention back in the here-and-now. "Harry," he had breathed sotto voce, in rhythm with their bodies, "I swear... there can be nobody else like you in the world..."
She held her breath with the acute irony of this. Draco certainly couldn't have chosen anybody less suitable to smuggle into his room, into his bed, into his life. It was just possible, thought Narcissa, that Draco had chosen Harry simply to cause the most possible pain to Lucius, and that Draco might still be paying Lucius back for that day so many years ago when Lucius had beaten the sensitivity from her son seemingly forever. But she knew that what she was seeing wasn't being faked, and it wasn't a casual moment of physicality. What she had seen that afternoon was far more revealing than watching her son make love. She had seen into his inner being, which had been hidden for years. And that part of him showed love and passion and tenderness - qualities which made her smile with pride; and which reminded her of herself years before, when all she wanted to concern herself with was the man she loved.
Despite the initial jolt of dismay and disgust that had shocked her on peering round the door, on reflection she knew that she couldn't and wouldn't deprive Draco of such profound joy. Though his inner qualities had only been revealed to her by accident, and, moreover, that Draco himself had chosen to share them only with - of all people - Harry Potter, she knew that her current choice of dress, the style of her hair and the scene which followed Lucius's discovery of her so attired later that day would be crucial in determining whether her son could have any future with his inexplicable choice of lover. Recalling the image of Draco and Harry again, she wondered if her own body could support such bliss again, such intimacy. She curled the dress around her face and shoulders, leaving her body naked and open to the scrutiny of the elegant mirror. The luxury of the fabric filled her nostrils and smoothed itself against her skin, and again she found herself transported back to that distant afternoon. In the mirror she saw her body as it had been on that day: firm, delicate, flawless. She allowed herself to fall effortlessly backwards onto the large bed, the memory of the strength of Lucius's arms and the depth of his kisses washing over her. As she gently rubbed the silk around her body, she recalled the moment when Lucius had revealed himself to her, beautiful and proud, and yet how he had then ignored his own desire to concentrate on her own enjoyment, on pleasure that she had never even imagined. How his lips and tongue and fingers had possessed her body and teased her to such heights of arousal that she had found herself moaning and begging for him not to stop, ever...
She'd seen that same height of arousal, only hours earlier. Draco had been plunged into that moment of indescribable inevitability when she had seen him writhing with Harry. The crystal clear image of how his blond hair had fallen over his flushed face as he had stared at his lover, his eyes begging him to let them crash into the climax together, had been so like Lucius, so like her, so like that afternoon, that it wouldn't leave her alone. It was like she had been looking at her own past or into her most private thoughts. And she'd watched Draco as his back had stiffened and his body had shuddered and gasped in ecstatic release, and watched how at that moment he and Harry had gripped each other's hands so tightly she thought their fingers might snap, and seen how their eyes gave away that however much they had felt forced to silence their voices at this moment, inwardly their bodies were singing in rapture, and that each could hear the other's song.
Thoughtful, she had left the room as silently as she had entered it, her conscience dictating that while it might be one thing to witness one's son make love, it was quite another to eavesdrop on loving whispers in the blissful togetherness of afterglow. She had wandered to the orangery, where she had sat for several hours, deep in thought, thinking of the dress she now clutched to her naked body as she saw her son and Harry again in her mind's eye, except instead of Draco she saw herself, and instead of Harry she saw Lucius, but they were the only adjustments this fantasy needed. Everything else was the same: the bed, the room, the light, the decadent sultry humidity, the passion and desire, the movement of their bodies and the clasped interlocked fingers, the desire of one to please the other, the disregard for what anybody else in the house might think, and binding it all together, a feeling of belonging and need that they would both later identify as love...
Narcissa gasped slightly as her consciousness cleared and she came to, naked on her own bed with a beautiful, diaphanous, ivory silk gown clasped against her breast. Allowing herself a relaxing smile and a couple of minutes to regain her composure, she stood again and once more regarded herself in the mirror, before slipping the dress on. At this juncture she often wished that this was indeed a magical mirror, and not some trophy pilfered from a Muggle palace. A magical mirror would have told her she looked quite sensational, the dress seeming to remove some of her years, the glow of womanhood obvious in her face and limbs, beauty still flourishing in her looks and demeanour. But the inner warmth given her by her thoughts of Draco and Harry did more than any magical mirror could, and she gently drifted downstairs to wait for her husband.
Ambling once more through the blooms in the rose garden, Narcissa was acutely aware of her image. She toyed with the tiniest of details, knowing that any moment he could be watching her from the terrace with his evening drink, admiring the wife he still saw as his greatest asset. Perhaps she would gently snip one of the stems and clutch it to her breast, savouring the scent. Oh yes, that would look good, particularly from a distance in the heat haze of the late afternoon. Lucius would like that. It would appeal to his ideal. Perhaps she would expertly dead-head some fading flowers, or even kneel down and pick up some tiny bloom shaded by more vigorous growth, revealing its beauty to the world. Oh yes, even better.
"Narcissa, darling," came an elegant voice from nearby.
Exactly on cue, she thought. "Oh, Lucius! Come let us sit in the shade. I have some wonderful news."