The Road to Hell
Chapter 11: Sisyphus
Silver silk slid through slender fingers and shimmered a dozen different colours when held under the light. The dress appeared blue a heartbeat later — a dark shade of blue wrought with straight white streaks that could have passed for sea foam at midnight — before turning the colour of healthy summer leaves.
Narcissa let out a relieved sigh and began refolding the dress. It had been a gaudy thing even before the enchantments, eager to flare and adorned with far too much lace, but now her distaste had transcended the purview of simple words.
It’s hardly surprising. The commissioner of that dress — a Vietnamese noblewoman who had plans of attending an annual ball thrown in Mazrim Zheng’s honour — had been knife-thin and possessed a girlish face.
Narcissa hummed, adding the dress to the stack of clothing she had enchanted that day.
If only they weren’t all so dull.
There had been a man two weeks back who had asked for her to enchant his cloak so that the hood would whisper in his ear if someone was coming up behind him, and three weeks before that, an old woman had requested a collar for her cat that would alert her any time it needed food.
She wrinkled her nose at that last memory. The woman’s stench had been unbearable. Narcissa had bathed for more than an hour and had still felt tainted that next day, but at least the request had been stimulating.
A pity there are so few like that. Enchanting was an escape from daily monotonies, or so she had hoped. It was the reason she had pursued her current path. The world had been her oyster; Narcissa could have selected any path she so desired.
Any not tied too tightly to the empire. She had accepted that unwritten rule and considered herself lucky. Most of those jobs were dull and repetitious — their burden a fate worthy of Sisyphus.
Not that this drab is much better.
She swept a stack of gold-ringed coins into her purse with a long, suffering sigh. The pay was small consolation for the long, bored hours spent indulging uninspired fancies.
Twirling a stray lock of silver hair around her forefinger, Narcissa looked up into the mirror. Her ponytail had fallen forward and now trailed down the outside of her chest.
She flicked it back over her shoulder, then waved her wand. A long blue dress the colour of her eyes floated to her from the dresser, shimmering the same silver as her hair when it passed beneath the magical sphere of light she had been using as she worked.
Perfect. She allowed herself a soft smile as she seized the dress. It was possible for something to have flash and not become a grotesque depiction of gaudy tastelessness. Some people would just never understand that.
Narcissa stepped into the dress and undid her ponytail, then stared into the mirror. Her blonde hair fountained down her back like a silver waterfall, shining against the dress that so tightly hugged her.
Another smile teased her lips. See? she thought with the noblewoman in mind. You’re supposed to wear a dress, not compensate with one.
Next up came a silver necklace, its pendant blacker than the slim, heeled shoes she slipped into. Shaped like a raven with its wings outstretched, the figurine swayed back and forth as Narcissa rose up to her feet.
Standing elicited a subtle wince. I should have enchanted these. They were hardly the shoes she would have chosen after standing for so long that morning, but her parents would demand she looked her best.
Still studying her reflection in the full length mirror, Narcissa watched her nostrils flare. I could look my worst and it would still be good enough.
Fingering the midnight pendant, she schooled her face. “Toujours Pur.”
Stone ravens perched atop jutting plinths ringed the long, dark hall she was transported to. Moving between pillars that held aloft the vaulted ceiling, Narcissa’s heels clicked against the granite floor.
The dining room proved brighter. Flickering candles lit the long, dark table, around which lounged the bulk of her close relatives.
Lord Arcturus Black sat at the table’s head, stern and stoic with a hard face that had once been handsome. Withered, white-haired Pollux and his broad, square-faced wife sat nearest him.
Narcissa’s father, Cygnus, sniffed when she lowered herself into the chair beside him. “I’m glad to see that one of my daughters can be punctual.”
Narcissa picked up the nearest glass of wine. “I’m sure they’ll be here shortly.”
Her father’s own glass clinked when he placed it back down on the table. “We’ll see.”
“How have you been, my love?” her mother asked. “I heard old Elenor Travers raving about your work last week, but she complained how hard it was to get in with you. Have you been that busy?”
“The business has taken off faster than I expected,” Narcissa admitted. “I just wish everyone wasn’t so dull.”
“Dull?” her mother asked. “What about them is dull?”
Narcissa waved a hand. “They all want the most meaningless things you can imagine. A dress that shines all sorts of gaudy colours, glasses I could have enchanted when I was fourteen — they all just bore me.”
Her father frowned at her. “But they pay well, don’t they?”
“Of course they pay well. I would never see them otherwise.”
“It doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot to complain about, then.”
Narcissa pursed her lips and peered further down the table. Her father was sweet but simple.
Three of the empty chairs belonged to Sirius, Regulus, and the Potter brat, all of whom were still at Hogwarts. She resisted the urge to wrinkle her nose at the sight of Orion tossing back a glass of firewhiskey. That man outdrank most taverns.
The only others missing were Cassiopeia, whom she had not seen in years, and Narcissa’s sisters. And their husbands, if they come along. She hoped they would remain behind.
“I’m sure things will get more interesting,” her mother was saying. “Your reputation is already spreading. Once people hear what you can do, I’m sure they’ll get a bit bolder in what they ask for.”
Narcissa sighed. “I hope so. Most of these orders make my work feel low and common.”
Near the table’s head, Pollux was ranting about how the goblins looked down their noses at him each time he entered Gringotts and was explaining the things he would do to them and ‘the rest of their sorry lot’ if only he was young and whole. His wife listened dutifully along, but Charlus commanded most others’ attention.
“The aurors had a right time getting the thing down,” the Lord Governor was saying. “They had never seen anything like it.”
“And they have no idea what sort of spell caused it?” Arcturus asked. It was strange, seeing them so close together.
“None,” the Lord Potter admitted. “It resisted basic counter-charms and wouldn’t come down until about a dozen aurors cast at once.”
Her grandfather massaged his head of steel-grey hair. “An illusion?”
“I think it must have been,” said Charlus. “The winds never moved it, it’s just odd how tightly it hung on.”
Great Aunt Dorea stroked her husband’s arm. “I’m personally more interested in whoever was behind the terrorism. Now is no time for things like that.”
Arcturus sipped his wine. “I take it there were no leads?”
“None, but that’s not surprising.” A grim shadow hung in the Lord Governor’s expression. “This wasn’t your usual bit of muggle hunting.”
That, at last, let Narcissa know what they were discussing. That attack on Samhain.
Walburga sniffed. “I would have thought that mark in the sky gave that away.”
Charlus took a pull from his glass before answering. Good that he did; the most patient of them often required sustenance when humouring Walburga, and he was far from that. “Not really. The attack did look like some drunken idiots muggle hunting when officials first arrived. Gruesome enough to be suspicious, but sloppy.”
Arcturus appraised his brother by marriage. “What gave it away then?”
Walburga gasped and Orion looked up from his firewhiskey — even Pollux cut short his ramblings.
Walburga recovered first. “That must be a mistake. Why would anyone waste so much energy on a group of muggles?”
Pollux appeared less hunched all of a sudden and Narcissa’s heartstrings twinged. One could almost forget his ruined leg and bitter self if they saw him look like that. “The same reason they cast that mark into the sky,” he said. “They wanted attention.”
“That’s what we think,” Charlus agreed. “I doubt it was ever about the muggles. Whoever killed them wanted to stir up trouble and make people nervous. It’s not unusual for things like this to happen across the pond.”
“I would think the Fiendfyre, at least, is unusual.”
Riddle’s face was impassive as he spoke, stepping into the dining room with Andromeda hanging off his arm, trailed by Bellatrix and her husband, Rudolphus.
Narcissa could not help but notice the way her eldest sister appraised Riddle. Often it was unnerving; sometimes it looked like Bellatrix was deciding how best to skin Andromeda and take her husband from her.
So much strife over a single man. It was unbecoming. There was no lack of rich or handsome men around. Rarer it was to find one with wits worth half their weight in gold — something Bellatrix had learned the hard way. Not that lusting after her sister’s husband is any way to handle her poor choice.
“I’ll give you that.” Charlus looked like he would rather give Riddle nothing but a cold, hard glare; the pair of them had never got along. “You take my point though.”
“I do.” Riddle held out a chair for his wife as he answered, then took one for himself, right across from Narcissa.
“Is the investigation still ongoing?” Rudolphus asked.
Old, bitter feelings swam up to the surface. I can’t believe Father encouraged that marriage.
“No,” said Charlus. “It closed about a week ago. There’s no point in following a trail that cold when it’s leading nowhere urgent.”
Rudolphus wiped his mouth with a black handkerchief. Probably to hide a smile, the sick fuck. “Least of all for muggles.”
“I can’t say this talk of murders and muggles is nurturing my appetite,” said Riddle. “Shall we move onto more pleasant things?” Those dark eyes of his pinned Narcissa to her chair. “How have you been, my dear? Andromeda hasn’t mentioned any owls from you lately.”
Narcissa swallowed down a bitter lump and forced herself to smile. It had been a long time since Andromeda’s replies had been reliable. “I’ve been well, thank you.”
“My friends tell me your business is succeeding,” Riddle said. “Miss Travers offers her compliments. She’s quite fond of those glasses you enchanted.”
Had everyone been talking to that simpleton? She had been worse than the Vietnamese noblewoman — a horrible combination of Cassiopeia and Rabastan.
“I’m glad she enjoys them, it was actually dull work.”
Riddle’s smile could have charmed a stone, but its only effect on her was the prickling of hairs. “I’m unsurprised. Talents like yours are wasted on simple things like glasses.”
My own father shrugs off my concerns, but Riddle understands? “Thank you,” she got out. “I’m sure things will become more interesting.”
Narcissa exhaled when Riddle turned away from her. She had spent years wondering why he unsettled her, but it had grown obvious some time ago.
She cast a swift glance towards her sister. What did he do to her? Remembering what Andromeda had once been carved deep into her heart.
Averting her eyes, she suppressed the urge to shiver. Why is he talking to me, all of a sudden?
Glancing up towards the clock, Narcissa bit back a dozen foul curses. It would be at least two hours until she could politely be excused.
“Yea and I beheld Sisyphus in strong torment, grasping a monstrous stone with both his hands. He was pressing thereat with hands and feet, and trying to roll the stone upward toward the brow of the hill. But oft as he was about to hurl it over the top, the weight would drive him back, so once again to the plain rolled the stone, the shameless thing. And he once more kept heaving and straining, and the sweat the while was pouring down his limbs, and the dust rose upwards from his head.”
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