The Stone Queen

The sword swung at Ron's head and he easily blocked it with his shield, then stabbed the stone pawn in the chest with his own sword. Playing as the black bishop, he was now in position to take the queen. "Too easy," he said, as a knight for the house's force took an ineffectual position on the other side of the board.

"Too easy," he said again with a little disgust, when he approached the queen. Rather than swing at him to defend her king, the stone queen seemed to smile, as she dropped her head and knelt in supplication. She glided off the board, touching his arm as she went.

Ron shook his red head in disbelief. This was the strangest game of Wizard's Chess he'd ever played. Now he stood next to the king, who could take him, but that would put the monarch in check from Ron's rook, at the far end of the board.

"Too easy," he said for a third time, as the king brought his blade down weakly. Ron jumped off the board to avoid it, and the queen sidled over to him, as his rook accepted the sword of the vanquished ruler.

"Harry!" Ron yelled to his roommate, who walked into the room adjusting the sleeves of his robe. "Did you change the difficulty level on the chess game?"

Harry shrugged. "I might have. I was getting tired of hearing your rants when you lost. Thought your ego could use a boost."

"Why?" Ron asked with bitter irony. "Just because the girl I've loved for years dumped me for the vilest git we know? You think winning a simple chess match is going to make me feel better about myself after that?"

Harry puffed his cheeks and exhaled dramatically. He raised his green eyes to his taller friend's face. "No, but you're not doing anything else to make yourself better. So get dressed. We have to be at the Ministry in twenty minutes."

Ron rolled his eyes and huffed, crossing his arms, as if he'd rebel. "Why were we assigned as their security anyway? I hated them already, but now..."

"Do you want to explain all that to the Auror-in-Chief?" Harry asked, beginning to lose his patience.

Ron lowered his arms, as defeated as the white stone king. "No. I'll be ready in a few," he conceded, heading for the staircase.

He reappeared in minutes in his dress blue auror robes. It was his and Harry's turn for the security detail at a Ministry reception. Minister Shacklebolt was expecting a larger than normal turnout, as the keynote address on overcoming prejudices was to be delivered by a well-known former Death Eater.

Ron and Harry received their instructions, then waited for the speaker and his wife. They were surprised at Lucius Malfoy's appearance when he arrived. He seemed thinner and drawn. His complexion was sallow, rather than pale, and the eyes were red-rimmed. His silvery-blond hair was also thinner and lay dull and flat on his shoulders.

From the set of her mouth, the anxious darting of her eyes and her rigid posture, Draco Malfoy's mother just looked very stressed.

"Mr. Malfoy," Harry said without preamble, "I'm to escort you to the auditorium. Weasley will stay here with your wife until it's time for her to join you, just before you begin speaking. During the reception, we will remain close to the two of you, while you mingle."

Lucius managed a tight, pursed smile in acknowledgement. Shacklebolt and Cissy had told him earlier that it would be good for his image to be seen with Potter and Weasley, so he would tolerate it. At least the Mudblood wasn't with them.

He left with Harry. Ron moved to stand in the doorway, vigilant, despite his distaste for the assignment.

Cissy nervously paced around the conference table and chairs in the silent meeting room. Ron glanced at her. At Hogwarts he'd learned to accurately assess the shape beneath a witch's robe. He could tell that Malfoy's mum had long, toned legs, rounded hips and a dramatic curve at her waist.

She turned around and caught his scrutiny. Her dove-grey eyes frankly met and challenged his and he shifted his gaze back to the corridor.

"We both know I'm literally old enough to be your mother, Ronald," she said with a voice that was much more pleasant than he'd ever realized.

"You know my name," he remarked with surprise, turning his head to her again.

"Of course, I know your name."

"No," he shook his head, watching outside the door for potential threats as he elaborated, "You don't just know I'm a Weasley with red hair, you know who I am."

She snickered. "One of the two boys who escaped from my home after the crash of an irreplaceable magical chandelier, the ginger third of "Hogwarts' Heroes," and, most recently, the person who humiliated my son in a Wizard's Duel. Yes, I know who you are."

Ron couldn't keep a smirk from creeping over his face, before it returned to its now habitual frown. "Humiliation was mutual."

Narcissa tittered. "Do you mean his stealing the lady fair away from you?"

His head swiveled her way again. She took a step back in the face of his intense, stony glare. Her chest lifted and lowered with her heightened breathing.

Ron's eyes dropped to observe her palpitations and estimate the contours of her breasts beneath her robe.

Before he could respond though, there was a sudden flash, as a young, black-haired man appeared from under an Invisibility Cloak. "Death to all traitors!" he exclaimed. "Avada..."

"Expelliarmus!" shouted Ron, lunging at the man and bringing him to the ground. The bigger man grunted and tried to summon his wand, but it wouldn't respond to him. Ron did a quick body-bind spell on the assailant and called for back-up.

Narcissa was shocked by the would-be assassin's appearance. She took a residual hit from the thwarted hex that propelled her slight frame across the room, to crash against the wall and knock her unconscious.

She came to with Ron leaning over her. She blinked at the bright red hair and sky-blue eyes, squinted with concern in a strong, open face.

"Alright there?" he asked, scanning her for blood or obvious injuries.

She nodded and tried to rise. Ron put his arms around her to help her up. He stretched his hand in the direction of the expelled wand and it flew to him. He turned it over to the other aurors who entered the room and gave them a quick assessment of what had happened. They commended him on his quick action, and removed the Fallen Lord's loyal follower, leaving Ron and Narcissa alone again.

He helped the shaken woman to a chair and produced a glass of water for her.

"Thank you," she said weakly.

He sat next to her in a chair at the long table, sensing that she needed someone near her to feel safe.

They were quiet until he received word that Lucius was about to speak and he led her to the venue.

During the reception in the Ministry rotunda, Ron and Harry stayed close to their charges, as Malfoy held court among the large number of admirers, who approached to thank him for his inspiring words.

Ron watched Narcissa, marveling at her smile and elegant pose. One would never have guessed that she'd just faced an assassination attempt.

He was called away to report to his supervisor, Paul Lees, and replaced by another auror. The new man was larger and more experienced than Ron, but Narcissa didn't feel that same security that she had with him. She glanced around the room anxiously for sight of the ginger.

He was in conference on the far side of the room with Lees and Shacklebolt. "He must have had inside help," Shacklebolt, a former auror himself, said, crossing his arms over his massive chest. "There's no other way he could have gotten in here with an Invisibility Cloak."

"Of course, Minister," said Lees. "We'll begin a thorough investigation tomorrow.

"Gentlemen," Narcissa began with a smile, interrupting the conversation. "I assume you're speaking about the altercation earlier this evening involving this brave, young man. While I would certainly agree that he deserves a commendation, I don't believe that making the details of the incident public would be a good idea. I know how Death Eaters think. They would view it simply as one Blood Traitor helping another against them. It would have a negative effect on your unity efforts, Minister," she concluded, placing her hand on his arm.

The Minister rubbed his chin in contemplation. "I believe you're right, Mrs. Malfoy. We'll keep it in house."

She nodded. "Also, I would like for my husband to be kept 'out of the loop,' so to speak. He is, after all, still in the process of reform. We wouldn't want to set him back, would we?"

"I bow to your wisdom and grace, Madam," said the minister. He bent slightly at the waist, a gesture copied by Lees.

"Thank you," she sighed with a subconscious dip of her long, golden eyelashes. "Now, if you're finished with my gendarme, I'd like to reclaim him. His replacement is totally inadequate, as you can see," she said, indicating the larger, more experienced man on the other side of the room, who was ogling a server with a tray of canapes.

"Certainly. Good work, Weasley," Shacklebolt said, clapping Ron on the back, as Narcissa took his arm and led him away.

"Thanks for that," he said to Narcissa, weaving through the crowd to the drinks table.

"Thanks for saving my life," she countered.

Ron shrugged. "Just doin' my job."

She looked at him while ladling herself a cup of pumpkin juice. "Well, I take it personally."

Lucius appeared at her elbow, Harry on his heels. "So, Cissy, I've charmed every woman here but you." He grinned wickedly. "Now, it's your turn. Let's go home."

Ron twisted with revulsion, telling himself that it was his general loathing of Malfoy, not the thought of the despicable man with his willowy, blonde wife, that caused his stomach to turn.

Narcissa smiled sweetly. "Of course, Lucius. You should thank Mr. Potter first for assuring your safety."

"Oh, right," her husband stammered. "Er, thanks, Potter."

Ron nearly burst out laughing, imagining the man's own stomach turning at having to observe pleasantries with someone he despised.

"And thank you, Mr. Weasley," Narcissa said, demonstrating the proper method of showing gratitude, with her hand held out for him.

He took it and she surreptitiously scratched the inside of his wrist with her fingernails.

He startled, then caught the gleam in her eye.

One Pureblood to another, he understood. She would use his blood and skin under her nails to open a floo portal for him in the fireplace of her choice. She was extending an invitation.

"You're welcome," Ron said with a grin and gleam of his own. He was accepting.

Back at home, Narcissa put Lucius to bed, with yet another excuse for why she couldn't join him, then hurried to her sitting room.

She smashed the vial into which she'd placed the traces of Ron in the fireplace, then recited a quick incantation over it.

She'd changed the room since Thomas Granger had been there, with most of the dark objects sent to Borgin and Burkes, and those that held sentimental value (gifts over the years from well-meaning but twisted friends and relatives) stored away under a locking charm.

She summoned refreshments from the kitchen, put silencing charms over the room, and waited for the young redhead, who surprisingly had her heart beating faster.

"You're Malfoy's mum," Ron said, standing uncomfortably in front of the hearth, following their shy greeting and her assurance to him that she was fine.

"I'm Cissy," she responded, walking toward him with a small glass of firewhiskey, "and you're the strong, young auror, who made me feel safer tonight than I have in a very long time."

He stared in her eyes, thinking about the auror training and what he and his fellow rookies had learned about Voldemort's depraved revels with his followers. "Men have hurt you, haven't they?"

She dropped her head.

"And your husband let them," Ron added, his voice taking on a harsh note, as he continued to watch her.

"It's..." she hesitated. "It's the price I pay for flirting with the Dark Arts." She slid her fingertips over her high cheekbone, as if brushing away a tear.

"My dad's always told us dark magic takes more from you than it could ever give you," Ron said in a grave tone.

Narcissa raised her head to reveal a sad smile. "He's a smart man. What would he think of your being here?" she asked, sitting down on the daybed, just to the right of where Ron stood.

He gave a nervous laugh. "Well, he wouldn't approve, but he's seen you. I think he'd understand, at least a little."

"More so than your mother," she said, smiling ruefully.

"Yeah," he conceded with a grin.

She looked down. "Draco would be horrified. I can see where it would be tempting, given your history with him, to tell...but you wouldn't, would you?" She raised her eyes and gave him an imploring, compelling look. He couldn't turn away from her.

He swallowed what he hoped was the last of his nervousness. "No. I'll never tell anyone."

He pulled his wand from his back pocket and sat next to her. "Hold your wand against mine," he instructed. She brought it forward and they held them straight up. There was an audible click, as they adhered to each other.

"I swear to never say a word to any soul, living or dead, about our time together," Ron intoned.

Cissy repeated the vow and the rigid sticks somehow twined around each other and shot red and silver sparks toward the ceiling, then dropped from their hands onto the bed. The oath sealed, the wands now separated.

"Now, all we can get from this is what we give each other," Ron said with effort, as he felt as though his tongue were growing and would soon overwhelm his mouth.

"Your vigor, honor and warmth," Narcissa said, laying the wands on a table next to the lounge and touching her fingertips to the top of his hand.

"Your experience, longing for me, and beauty." He lifted strands of her shiny, soft hair, as he leaned toward her.

Narcissa whispered, "I want your arms around me again."

"And I want you in them," Ron responded, joining her in an embrace and kiss. His heart raced wildly, as she responded, clutching him like a lifeline.

Never had he felt such passion. Never before had he had such a clear sense of someone's desire for him. Never had he felt so...essential.

He lay over her, shielding Malfoy's mum from the world that had hurt her.

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