Chapter Rating: R
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: Wherein Narcissa tells a story, Knockturn Alley is useful for once, there is a book that would not change, Zabini's mother is mildly amused, and somehow Draco is only half surprised to find himself backed against a.... door.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 21 - The Palest Ink
When his mother didn't respond, Draco felt anger rising -- a tinny, indignant voice somewhere deep, shouting she had no right.
Except she did have a right -- she was in her home and she'd been looking inside a Pensieve that belonged to her first and to Draco second. Or maybe it no longer belonged to Draco at all. He searched Narcissa's face for any hint of what she was feeling, but there was nothing but a cold, blank stare that went through Draco and focussed past him. As if he did not exist.
Narcissa backed away from the Pensieve and sat, straight-backed, in the chair on the other side. Her eyes did not move. Everything seemed as though Draco were looking through dimmed Omnioculars set to slow-motion. He wanted to do something dramatic, like fall to his knees and beg his mother's forgiveness, but such things only worked in storybooks. Instead, he sat, frozen as his mother's eyes, and waited. His mind conjured up lie after lie after elaborate lie, but Draco refused to insult his mother's intelligence.
When Narcissa finally spoke, she looked down into her lap, where her hands lay folded, very pale against the dark fabric of her robes. "When I was in my sixth year at Hogwarts," she said, "There was a boy in our year, a Slytherin boy. His name was Alistair, Alistair Liddell. He was tall and handsome, with beautiful dark eyes, and all the girls wanted him to notice them. Even the Hufflepuffs."
She fell silent and turned her head to look out the window. Thin shadows moved outside in the near-pitch darkness, and a distant wind howled somewhere, a muted reminder of the season. Draco eased his grip on the armrests and breathed, not daring to interject.
Narcissa sighed. "He was always very courteous and proper, but didn't seem to notice us. Bertha Jorkins put it about that he was promised to some American cousin or another, but of course that didn't stop anyone's interest."
She stopped talking again and watched the moving shadows for a time before speaking again. "Back then, the Bloody Baron used to guard the dungeon after hours, to make sure none sneaked away to the kitchens or off the castle grounds. Sometimes he would not be there, and we would sneak to the kitchens just to prove we could. Faustina Merryweather was a fine one for that, and one night she led a group of us out for some hot cocoa. We took the short cut through the dungeon, and then Faustina stopped and gaped at something. I peeked around the corner to see, and I saw Alistair standing there, his profile sharp in torchlight. He was arguing with a Ravenclaw boy -- I don't recall his name. It was strange to see him like that; he never raised his voice at anyone. But now, they were very nearly shouting, so engrossed in their argument that they did not even notice the four of us standing there. Then the Ravenclaw boy -- Tom? Trevor? -- took Alistair by the wrists and I thought they were going to fight, but instead they kissed."
Draco looked away from her. He should have known something like this was coming. Now she was going to tell him how disgusting it was, and how disappointed she was that her only son had grown up to be just like this poncy Alistair.
"Penelope Baird took my hand and pulled me away from there. We ran until we reached the common room, and there we swore that we would never tell anyone what we had seen. Alistair had never done anyone any wrong, and he was discreet enough about his... preferences. It was nasty, of course, but he was so very handsome. Penelope and I agreed that it would be a shame if he were disowned and poor."
Draco felt his eyebrows rise a fraction. Women had the strangest reasons for doing things.
A shadow passed across Narcissa's face. "We were even able to convince Evelyn Stokeworth, the third girl, to side with us. Faustina had other ideas. She wrote a letter to Alistair's parents, informing them that they were to break his engagement to the American cousin and make him marry her instead, after seventh year."
Sounds like Pansy, thought Draco, without any heat. There was nothing objectionable about using information to your advantage if someone was foolish enough to divulge said information.
Narcissa drew a hand across her forehead. "This was right before the end of the year, maybe two weeks or so before summer holidays. When we came back for our seventh year, Alistair was not there at the Welcoming Feast. Faustina was pale and silent, but none of us dared ask. It was plain that something was very wrong." She looked straight at Draco then, with undisguised pain in her eyes. "We later learned that Alistair's parents accepted Faustina's terms for her silence -- though it turned out that there was never an American cousin -- but his father made Alistair's life unbearable over the summer, with taunts and curses and threats and Merlin knows what else."
My father would never do that, thought Draco. Would he? One way or another, taunts from his father would be better than having no father at all.
His mother didn't take her eyes off him. "The only trouble was, Alistair Liddell loved his father, idolised him. Mrs Liddell found her son's body in front of a mirror just a day before the school year was to begin. The poor boy had come to hate himself enough to use a Killing Curse."
Draco felt a chill travel down his back. He hated himself for his weakness, certainly, but not that much.
Narcissa looked down at her hands again, her voice strained. "Kyra Liddell was a very young woman, much younger than her husband -- she may have had Alistair before she was even of age. I think it was the only reason Ashton Liddell married her, to be honest. She was from a lesser family -- the Pidwells, I believe. She stood off to the side at the funeral, alone, as if her grief created an invisible barrier that none dared cross."
Draco could see it very clearly in his mind: a woman all in black, transparent veil fluttering in a breeze, standing over a fresh grave, alone. She had his mother's face.
"Ashton Liddell died very shortly after that," said Narcissa. "Something to do with a faulty braking charm on a brand new broomstick. Two years later, his widow married Augusto Zabini. I believe you know their son."
Draco stared at her. Zabini's mother? Zabini had had a half-brother? Forgetting himself, he spoke. "But she's been married--"
"Poor Augusto had an unfortunate accident after he ordered little Blaise beaten for stealing some rare flower from his garden." It was impossible, but his mother had a thin smile on her face, grim and frightening.
"Zabini hates flowers," Draco put in, remembering an incident in second year.
Narcissa didn't seem to hear. "Few remember that Kyra had a son before Blaise, now. Few remember how she lost him. But I remember looking in her eyes on the day of the funeral and seeing nothing but vast emptiness, a void so black it made me sick. I could feel what she felt, the loss of my firstborn. I swore to myself it would not happen to me. I never wanted to know such pain."
Instantly, Draco's mind wheeled away from Zabini, his mother, and his dead brother. He sat very still. Narcissa was looking through him again. "I still don't," she said, and then she was quiet. The silence stretched and stretched, magnified by the darkness, until it roared in Draco's head.
"I'm sorry," he heard himself say. The words tasted foreign.
"Leave me," said Narcissa.
Draco did, almost at a run, wondering if she meant for him to leave forever. It was not until he reached his bedroom that he realised the memories were still inside the Pensieve.
In the morning, Narcissa acted as though nothing had happened the night before, though she spoke very little and ate even less. Draco did not know how to approach her, what to say to her, and so he dug his Gringotts vault key from its hiding place beneath his bed and Apparated to Diagon Alley, which brimmed with cheerful witches and wizards buying Christmas gifts, street peddlers crying their wares over the hubbub of voices and tinkling shop door bells.
He spent half the day at the Apothecary, digging through the back shelves for the ingredients he needed. The list seemed burned into his mind; he saw it in front of him constantly. It would save him -- from himself and from his mother's bitter disappointment. By late afternoon, Draco realised that he would not find everything here, and he headed to Knockturn Alley. He remembered a tiny shop with grime-stained walls, where anything was available if you knew what to ask for. He had not hoped to find everything he'd needed here, but he did, though the gimlet-eyed proprietor seemed reluctant to part with his last jar of Spikenard root juice, squeezed at midnight.
And after he had spent a small fortune, he realised he feared returning home. It was a sick, twisting feeling in his gut, and wholly unfamiliar. His home had always been a sanctuary, where he felt safe no matter what befell him elsewhere, and now he feared going back there, feared looking into his mother's eyes.
She was not home when he returned, and Draco spent most of the evening carefully stowing his purchases in his school trunk. He would start the potion when he returned to Hogwarts -- he wanted to start right away, but he didn't think he could transport the cauldron safely, and he couldn't leave it here unattended. He was half-asleep by the time he heard his bedroom door open. Draco tensed, knowing that his mother stood in the doorway, probably watching him. The door clicked shut and he was alone again, with nothing but his thoughts and his mother's receding footsteps in his ears.
Christmas passed quietly. Draco found his new Pensieve standing next to his bed in the morning, and he packed it away in his trunk right away. He was tempted to put his memories from his father's Pensieve into his own, but that would require putting them back in his head first, and Draco was troubled enough by his mother's quiet disappointment without needing the emotional turmoil those memories held. As he sat across from his mother at dinner, he realised he'd barely thought of Potter since he'd left Hogwarts.
After dinner, Draco presented his mother with a bound history of the house of Black, its gilded cover polished to a soft gleam. He had found it on his trip to Knockturn Alley, and the glyphs on the inside cover marked it as a possession of the Blacks. Narcissa held the massive book in her lap and turned the pages with quiet reverence, then gasped when she got to the end.
"What is it?" Draco asked, grateful for some reason to talk to her.
Narcissa didn't respond, just kept reading, first with a smile on her face, then with a darkening frown. "I know this book," she said. "My aunt threw it out when it wouldn't change."
"What do you mean?" Mrs Black had been quite mad by the end of her days, but why would she find grievance in a book that would not change? Books were not supposed to change.
Narcissa handed him the book, open near the middle. Draco peered at the page and saw his own name written there in bold black ink. Beneath his name stood the date of his birth, and then followed a synoptic account of his life, from birth until... now.
Deeply ashamed of his unnatural proclivities, he scoured the Hogwarts library for any information that might help him. Just before Christmas in his seventh year, he found a possible solution -- a potion that would turn a Pensieve into a Dreamcatcher, enabling him to rid himself of the memories in such a way that no one would be the wiser. Heartened, he travelled back to Malfoy Manor, where he unloaded his memories into his father's Pensieve to rid himself of their emotional impact for a time.
His mother (see: NARCISSA, IV) accidentally discovered the Pensieve and told him the story of Alistair Liddell, a boy from her adolescence who had killed himself after being discovered by his family. The story bolstered Draco's resolve to make the Dreamcatcher even more, and he spent the next day buying ingredients for the potion he'd discovered. During this time he also bought this History back from a Knockturn Alley curiosities peddler, who was illiterate and had no idea of the book's true value.
The paragraph ended, and Draco's eyes bulged as he watched a sentence appear beneath it.
After Draco presented his mother with this History at Christmas, she learned of his plan to make a Dreamcatcher, and then handed the book to him so he may learn of its magic.
Draco glanced up at Narcissa. "It knows... everything?"
She nodded. "About anyone with half or more Black blood. Mother had been furious with her sister for throwing it out when it wouldn't erase Sirius at her command."
"It only tells the truth," said Draco, running his thumb along the edge of the cover.
"Unadorned," she answered, unsmiling. "Are you sure this Dreamcatcher scheme is safe?"
Draco felt like he would weep with relief. He had thought about telling her, but he dared not broach the subject of his deviance, not with the disappointment so raw in her still. "Yes," he said. "I might need to forget some of my lessons for Auror training, but I think it's a small sacrifice to make."
She smiled at him then, and Draco vowed that he would never disappoint her again.
The morning before the journey back to Hogwarts dawned white and silent. Draco stood in his father's study and put the hated memories back into his mind, wishing that he could leave them there forever. He couldn't, though. It was not his Pensieve, and even if he'd been using his own Pensieve, it was only a stop-gap, not a real solution. He wanted to forget utterly. Luckily, now he knew a way to do it.
It didn't hit him until he saw Potter on the platform -- the longing need in the pit of his belly, the hollow place in his chest. Potter looked at him and grinned, and the hollow place filled with something light and warm. He suppressed it. He would not subject his mother to watching him make a fool of himself around Potter. She'd already seen too much in his memories; he couldn't do that to her.
"If I didn't know any better, I would say he's actually happy to see you," Narcissa said quietly.
Draco flushed at that, and mumbled something he hoped sounded appropriately derisive.
"What was that?" asked Narcissa, her eyes still on Potter, who had in the meantime turned to the fat Weasley woman.
"I said that was nonsense," said Draco. "We don't even like each other."
"Malfoy," drawled Zabini's voice in his ear. "You're going to make us late."
Draco looked up at him, at the slim, dark woman behind him, and remembered Alistair Liddell. "Good morning, Mrs Zabini," he said politely, with a pointed emphasis on the surname.
She showed him a neat row of white teeth. "Good morning -- Draco, is it? I'm afraid you've been misinformed. I've Mrs Atkinson for two years now."
Zabini laughed with undisguised adoration in his eyes.
Draco murmured an apology for his ignorance, and left his mother standing there with Kyra Atkinson, who had once been Kyra Zabini, and before that, Kyra Liddell. He wondered if Narcissa would turn to the older woman for advice -- it was the sort of thing women did -- but somehow he doubted it. His mother was nothing if not self-sufficient, and besides, Narcissa Malfoy was not going to have to be ashamed of her son for much longer.
He half-listened to Zabini talking excitedly about the round-the-world trip his mother was planning, for just the two of them, after he had passed all his NEWTs. Draco intended to pass all his NEWTs, too, but the thought seemed distant, as if it were something that already happened, something he didn't need to worry about overmuch. Timing would be critical -- he would need to sit his NEWTs before he used the Dreamcatcher, as his memory would need to be intact. These ridiculous mixed classes meant that Draco had had inappropriate fantasies in the midst of Potions, and he could not fail his Potions NEWT.
After Zabini was done and when Pansy launched into a detailed explanation of the rare fabric her father had gifted her with, Draco excused himself and went to take a piss. Before taking two steps, he was thrown into an empty compartment, and found a pair of green eyes, large and bright behind glasses, boring into his.
"What is the meaning of this, Potter, I--"
Potter's mouth stopped his words, and for a while, Draco forgot about Dreamcatchers and Pensieves and NEWTs. Something as unnatural and disgusting as a man kissing another man was not supposed to feel this good, he thought dimly, even as he kissed Potter back with a hunger that was close to desperate. He hadn't realised how much he'd wanted this since seeing Potter on the platform. The memories seemed to flood his mind again, and Draco found his hands undoing Potter's belt clip. He always wore the same belt; couldn't he afford to buy a different one? Maybe Draco could give him a late Christmas present.
That his mind had the audacity to come up with something like that shocked Draco into stillness.
"What is it?" asked Potter, pulling back. He had Draco's robes hitched all the way up to his waist by then, and Draco's legs felt cold.
I was just thinking about getting you a Christmas present. Like you're family. Well, you're not. Draco cast about for a more appropriate excuse. "We shouldn't do this here. Someone could walk by, or see us leaving together. What were you thinking?"
"I knew you were going to say that," said Potter, then grinned mischievously. "We'll be quiet?"
The train's smooth, almost silent glide gave him the lie, and Draco grimaced. "Even if so, we still might be seen."
"We might be seen one way or another," said Potter. He slid a hand up Draco's inner thigh, and Draco shivered. "But there are no Eyelets here." His fingers brushed Draco's cock through his pants, and Draco wanted nothing but to let him take it out and just. Just. Something, anything.
"I've missed you," Potter breathed, and Draco kissed him to shut him up before he said anything even more inane and perfectly gut-wrenching.