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In Die Illa Tremenda (Libera Me)

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1954. November.

It sometimes appeared to Druella Black that, with every year passing, the nights would grow darker and the winters colder. The cold had never bothered her and she had always loved the darkness, yet tonight it frightened her, more than she liked to admit. This night was no ordinary night; there was something in the wind, something ominous and terrifying.

If only…

Ridiculous. Druella would have laughed; instead she only shook her head in disdain over her folly. She was hardly herself during pregnancy, should have understood by now that there was no greater madness than to listen to her own thoughts in the times she was with child.

It would be another girl, she knew, and at this point there was hardly any doubt that she could be mistaken. Another girl, a third girl, and no sons…

She would name her Narcissa. It had been her husband’s suggestion and she would follow it; the thought made her smile. Perhaps it had a purpose, she thought, and perhaps one day she would understand.

How tired she was. It was long past midnight, and still Druella found herself looking out of the window, forcing herself to stay awake, her eyes firmly focusing on the heavy iron gate in the silent hope for Cygnus to return before sleep came to take her.

He had left three days ago.

She worried for him; of course she worried, how could she not? How could she deny any longer that they were at war when not a week would pass without another battle? Rumours were no longer rumours, whispers no longer whispers; he who vaunted himself as the Dark Lord had ascended to power, and his army would never cease to grow. She wouldn’t dishonour her husband or herself by begging him to stay, not in these moments of pride, and yet she quietly fretted. She feared for his life, feared for her daughters to be forced to grow up without their father, and for herself to fall apart in the moment she lost the rock her life was built upon.

It was a sign of weakness to be afraid, Druella knew. Hadn’t she sworn to herself long ago to banish that foolish weakness from her life, once and for all? Hadn’t she once sworn to herself never to be afraid again? And wouldn’t it be an honour, if he died now, fighting to accomplish what they all so desperately longed for?

What a fool she was...

The door swung open, putting an end to her thoughts at once. Quickly, Druella turned around…

For a moment, she seemed paralysed.

Blood billowed from a wound in his stomach, covered the floor in deep red stains as he stumbled forward, further into their bedroom and right into her arms, his entire body trembling.

Druella struggled beneath his weight yet held him, helped him to their bed, pressing her left hand firmly against his stomach as though she had strength enough to make a difference. Finally, she seemed to realise, quickly reached out for her wand…

Only when the bleeding slowly staunched would she allow herself to breathe, to look deeply into his eyes for a moment and finally fling her arms around his neck, closer and closer, biting her tongue in order to suppress a sob.

Countless times Druella had fought against her emotions, and yet it had never been so hard. She dared not speak; dared not spend a single thought on… No. Not tonight. He wouldn’t leave her, not tonight, not so soon. She had healed his wound, and it was all right… Everything was all right… He would not yet make her a widow… So why then was she so afraid?

It was as though Cygnus had read her mind.

”You needn’t worry about me, Ella,” he whispered against her ear, carefully touching her swollen belly with his palm as their lips found each other. She hardly noticed his wince as her hand gently brushed his back. “It will all be over soon.”

His kiss tasted like good-bye.

*****


1973. June.

Bellatrix had been fighting with Mother again. Even if she now refused to speak, Narcissa would only have to look at her to know that it was true. She had to be blind not to see the tears of anger glisten in her sister’s eyes, not to notice the shaking of her hands. It was the silence that answered her unspoken question: Don’t you dare think of his name.

It was only a matter of time until Bellatrix’s relationship with Rodolphus Lestrange would be discovered, Narcissa knew. She had sworn to her sister never to utter a word about what she had seen when she caught them in her room, not even to Andromeda. And she had kept her vow. She would never betray her. Never.

How much Narcissa wanted her to be happy, yet how impossible it seemed…

Countless men, sons of wealthy families, had already come to ask her hand in marriage, none of them good enough for Druella Black. So why would Rodolphus Lestrange be an exception? He, too, would be refused and not even her daughter’s desperate pleas would soften her heart.

“I love him!” Narcissa heard Bellatrix cry within her mind, could see her mother’s face right before her, her eyes cold and expressionless. It was foolish to love, she’d say, a foolish thing to even think about, and she had not raised her daughters to be fools.

“She will never see me again,” her sister whispered, causing Narcissa to wince. She opened her mouth to respond, to ask a question to which she long knew the answer, but Bellatrix had already closed the door behind her back when Narcissa raised her voice at last. All of a sudden, she was afraid.

When on the next morning she came to wake her, Bellatrix was gone.

“She shall never give him any children,” Druella said as she slowly tore the piece of parchment apart that Bellatrix had left behind on her bed, her voice cold as ice and menacingly quiet. “The name of his family will dry out in the moment his blood runs cold.”

For a moment, Narcissa believed she spotted a hint of sadness within her mother’s piercing green eyes.

***


August.

Sometimes Narcissa wanted nothing more than to break away, to follow her sister and be free, whatever the cost. Sometimes she wanted to defy her mother, wanted to scream and lose her composure, once, just once… But she remained silent. Always. Would cry silent tears only for Andromeda to see and look into her mother’s eyes, holding her gaze as though her cruelty had left her unaffected, as though she had become numb.

“She’s not cruel,” her sister whispered when holding Narcissa in her arms, softly stroking over her hair to comfort her. How gentle she was, and how safe Narcissa felt within her presence, yet at times she seemed so foolish. “She’s not cruel, Cissy, she…”

Andromeda would never finish her sentence.

It had been two months since Bellatrix left, two months that changed everything. An eerie silence now filled the house, silence that sometimes seemed to crush Narcissa. She had not left the property for weeks, was never granted the chance to go out, to escape from her life, even if only for an hour. What others called home was nothing but a cage to her.

She dared not talk to her mother when their paths crossed, would never allow herself to show any signs of weakness within her presence, to show her how much she feared her. She feared her and yet sometimes needed her – needed her mother more than anything else at times. Andromeda was only her sister, incapable of helping her. Andromeda, who looked so much like Mother, yet whose features were so soft, so tender, whose smile would always brighten the room… Sometimes she, too, was helpless, sometimes Narcissa wished for nothing more than for her mother to hold her, to console her, to at least give her a sign that she cared.

Mother had never been there, had never come to comfort her, but only looked at her with such disdain…

“Compose yourself, Narcissa,” she’d say, turning away to leave her behind alone. Narcissa would always obey.

Sometimes she longed for nothing more than to return to school. Only school had protected her from her mother’s burning gaze, only school had at times allowed her to be a girl. Only school had showed her what it meant to be happy.

Sometimes Narcissa asked herself how long this would still go on. How long would Mother still refuse their request to leave the house? How long would she still silence them, deny them any contact to other people, hide them as though she were ashamed of them; how long would she rule their lives as though they were hers to control? Only a gaze was enough to make Narcissa’s blood run cold, to frighten her beyond belief, more than she dared to admit even to herself. Druella would never speak to her unless to discipline her for what she believed to be weakness, seemed to be disgusted more and more by what became of her daughter.

Too soon Narcissa realised that she was worthless to her. So why… Why wouldn’t she let her go?

How she missed Bellatrix. How she envied her, how she wished to possess even a part of her sister’s courage, enough to break free, enough to make a new beginning, enough to leave her old life behind and never look back. Narcissa, too, had come to love a man, had entrusted her secret to nobody, not even her sisters. It sometimes seemed like a dream to her, like an illusion her mind had showed her to give her hope, but it was real; countless times had she held his hand in hers, gently squeezing it, unwilling to ever let go. Countless times they had sought shelter within school’s corridors… Her desire for him seemed to grow with every passing minute, yet now it seemed as though she would never see him again.

One night he would come to save her, Lucius Malfoy had promised, and night by night she had waited for him, always in vain. Perhaps he had long forgotten her; perhaps it was her fate to be alone, alone until death would come to take her from this world.

Narcissa nearly screamed when she felt a hand on her back, quickly turned around… And there he was, smiling, reaching out his arm for her, his wide grey eyes resting on her as though they wanted to tell her that it was finally time to come with him. Next to him stood Andromeda.

*****


1979. October.

“Mother is on her deathbed.”

The letter fell from Narcissa’s hands; she would have stumbled had her husband not wrapped his arms around her waist from behind to give her balance. Even when she repeated the words, speaking them out loud again and again until her own voice became strange to her, she couldn’t understand their meaning.

Her mother was dying.

She had recognised Andromeda’s handwriting on the parchment, crooked and blurred as though she had cried during… No. Impossible. It couldn’t possibly be true, how…

“She must be mistaken,” Narcissa whispered, more to herself than to Lucius who still held her, silently tightening his grip around her waist. “There has to be a mistake… She’s so young still… Andy… Mother… She can’t…”

Her mother was dying.

For a moment, the very thought seemed to take her breath away. But soon she regained her composure, releasing a deep sigh. It had been years since she had last seen her, years since they had last spoken and yet she still thought about her, still dreamed of her, unable to forget no matter how desperately she tried, no matter how many times she would tell herself that it was over, that she was free now, finally free.

Was she really free? Or was it only in her mind, only her imagination; was she still her mother’s puppet, even now, years after she had escaped? Had she ever been truly free?

“I have to see her,” she heard herself say, gasped for breath in surprise at her own words. Wasn’t she her mother after all? Hadn’t she given birth to her, raised her… Hadn’t she once loved her?

“Cissy…”

Of course Narcissa heard the worry in his voice; again she sighed, closing her eyes only to open them again a second later. Slowly, she turned around in his arms, burying her face in his chest. She had told herself in the night she escaped she would never allow herself to weep again, would never let her mother hurt her again, yet now tears came flowing from her eyes, moistening her cheeks and the fabric of her husband’s cloak. She couldn’t understand why, felt as helpless as she had at eighteen…

Lucius took a breath, opened his mouth to speak, but Narcissa shook her head. You don’t have to go back, he wanted to say, she knew. But how could he understand? How could he possibly understand if he had never…

“I have to,” she muttered. “I… She’s dying, Lucius… I have no choice…”

She had no choice. Perhaps it would be a mistake. Perhaps she would fall apart, but it was her duty to go, to pay her last respects to her mother, no matter what had happened in the past, no matter what she had done to her. And even if she were afraid, even if it meant breaking the promise she had once made to herself, she had no choice. She had never had a choice.

Her mother was dying. Perhaps they both would find peace.

***


November.

Andromeda had never resembled Mother more. She was only twenty-six years old, yet there was now a hard expression in her tear-stained eyes, banishing any juvenility from her face. How tired she looked, how sad. Narcissa wondered when she had last slept, wondered when she had last eaten…

“Welcome home, Cissy,” she whispered as she pulled her into her arms for a firm yet gentle embrace. Even her voice had changed.

“How is she?” Narcissa asked quietly, biting her lip as soon as she had spoken the words. Did she worry more about her mother than she liked to admit after all? Had it been more than simply her sense of duty causing her to return to her childhood home? How many times had she sworn herself never to look back, how many times had she prayed, sending silent thanks to heaven for granting her the chance to break free? She had never wanted to come back, yet now she was here once more, barely six years later, and time seemed to stand still.

Andromeda let go of her at last and sighed, slowly shaking her head as she sank down to sit upon the stairs, her eyes still resting on Narcissa, yet they seemed to find emptiness.

“Weak,” she said after a while, sighing once more. “The fever is taking away the last of her strength, but there is no way to reduce it. No potions, no spells… Nothing. The Healers don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do…”

“Can I–“

“No. Not tonight. She’s finally fallen asleep, only a few minutes before you arrived and… She’s dying, Cissy…”

Her words caused Narcissa to wince. Even now they seemed so unreal to her, almost like a dream, and even now a part of her refused to believe them to be true. How many times had she spoken them out, repeated them, over and over again? How many times had she read Andromeda’s letter, her eyes flying over the words until they were burnt into her brain? And how many times had she shaken her head as though she had gone into a trance until her husband had taken away the parchment from her hands?

What happened to her, what had her mother done to her, even now, what… Enough.

Now it was Narcissa who shook herself from these thoughts. She composed herself and sat beside her sister. Again she winced as Andromeda carefully touched her wrist. She sighed and took her hand, gently kissing her knuckles.

“I’ve missed you, Andy,” she whispered. She wanted to smile at her, but instead she frowned as she caught a glimpse of her sister’s forearm.

“Andromeda… Are you all right? What’s wrong with your arm?”

Andromeda’s face hardened. She turned away, tried to pull back her arm, but Narcissa was faster; she tightened her grip around her hand, slowly rolled back her sleeve…

Her eyes widened with fright.

*

Druella Black was a mere shadow of herself. She was fast asleep when Narcissa entered the room – slowly, quietly – in order not to wake her. She sat down on the chair that Andromeda had placed at the bedside. Even if her sister had asked her to be patient, at least until the morrow, she couldn’t have waited any longer, needed to see her, to see her now. She’d assured herself a thousand times that Andromeda had gone to sleep before crossing the corridor and carefully laying a hand on the bedroom door that had been locked to her, as long as she could remember.

How thin Mother had become, Narcissa thought, how pale, her body shaken by the fever. Yet, how beautiful she was still. Thick locks of her black hair stuck to her face. Narcissa carefully brushed them away, wincing as she touched her blazing hot forehead.

This could hardly be her mother…

In this moment, everything was forgotten. In this moment, Narcissa’s heart seemed to break apart as she saw her lying there, barely breathing – so weak and fragile. In this moment all the love she had ever felt for her returned, never to leave her again.

Hesitantly, she took her mother’s hand into hers, squeezing it gently, trying to remember when she had last dared to touch her. How cold it was, as though… Narcissa bit her lip in order to suppress a quiet sob.

“Compose yourself, Narcissa,” she murmured to herself, not realising that Druella had woken, that she would look at her now, just silently look at her. When their gazes finally met, she smiled. For the first time in her life, Narcissa saw her mother smile, and even her eyes had lost their hardness. How much she had changed…

Neither of them would speak a word; silence filled the room, but this time it was a soothing silence, a silence that seemed to comfort them both in the face of death.

“You look so much like your father, Cissy,” Druella whispered finally, her voice breaking. A single tear came rolling down her cheek.

A scream woke Narcissa from her sleep. She opened her eyes, sitting up in her bed, dizzy at first. She held her breath to listen… Nothing. Had she been mistaken? Had it been a dream?

A dream. Narcissa raised her hand, only to look at it for a moment. How much it was trembling… She brushed over her face with her palm, still feeling the tracks of tears on her cheeks, shook her head in disbelief. A dream…

It had felt so real, so incredibly real. Hadn’t she felt her mother’s skin against hers, hadn’t she held her hand until she’d fallen asleep again, hadn’t she quietly talked to her until…

A dream. Of course it had been a dream. As if she’d ever be able to forget what her mother had done to her, as if she’d ever be able to forgive her, even now, even if she wanted… What a fool she was to have come here, what a fool she was to worry. And what a fool she was to allow her mother to hurt her once more, perhaps more than ever.

Again, a scream. It was woman’s scream, shrill and full of despair, echoing within Narcissa’s ears, and there was no doubt that she could be mistaken.

Andromeda… Mother… Mother.

No. No!

Narcissa had no memory of getting up from her bed, of having left the room, yet now she found herself kneeling on the floor, hysterically rattling at her mother’s door, refusing to accept that it was locked. Locked… Why was it locked? Why had Andromeda… She wouldn’t notice her sister standing right behind her, wouldn’t notice anything…

“Narcissa!” Andromeda hissed sharply into her ear, and now it was Narcissa to scream, to turn around and look into her sister’s eyes that were firmly resting on her, showing no sign of warmth. “Have you lost your mind? What do you think you’re doing, do you even know how late it is? Why are you not in bed? Merlin, if you woke her…”

It was, as though Mother spoke through Andromeda’s lips.

“The scream…” Narcissa muttered, desperately attempting to control her breathing. “The scream, Andy, didn’t you hear… Mother, I thought she…”

Andromeda frowned. For a moment she looked at her, only look at her for what seemed to be hours and then finally her face softened. She gave a quiet sigh, briefly stroking her forehead.

“You’re tired,” she said, much softer now, slowly pulling Narcissa to her feet. “And it’s hard to tell the difference between reality and imagination sometimes. Don’t let a nightmare frighten you, sweetheart.”

Narcissa opened her mouth to speak, wanted to protest, but her sister silenced her by merely raising her hand. “Cissy, listen… I know you’re afraid, even though you don’t want to be. You don’t want it to be true, but it is and you’re afraid, just as much as I am. Believe me, I understand. All this… I know that all this isn’t easy for you and I can only imagine how it must be for you to be back. I know that you have questions that cannot yet be answered… But this does not give you the right to behave like a madwoman in the middle of the night and tear the house apart! I told you Mother needed rest more than anything!”

“But… The scream… It wasn’t a nightmare; it was real… I heard it, Andy, I heard it! It wasn’t a dream! I–“

“Narcissa, I’m serious.”

“What if it was Mother?” Narcissa asked, barely audible. “What if she needs help, what if you didn’t hear her, what if she…”

She broke off for a moment, frowned as she realised…

“Why did you lock her door? Andromeda, why–”

“Enough now! I will discuss this no further with you, Narcissa; by all means, ask me your questions tomorrow, but tonight we both would do well to rest. Go to sleep now and leave it be, but for God’s sake, please be quiet!”

By her tone Narcissa understood Andromeda would hear nothing more.

*

Dawn had long broken when sleep finally took Narcissa, and with it came nothing but nightmares. She saw Andromeda, cradling their dead mother in her arms, heard her scream – scream at the top of her lungs until she lost the strength to go on. She saw the wounds on her arms, never ceasing to bleed; saw her eyes, piercing green and cold as ice, looking at her with such disdain, so full of disgust…

When she awoke, her nightgown stuck to her body like a second skin. Narcissa blinked away the sleep, took a deep breath as she glanced at the clock in the corner. It was only seven in the morning; she’d barely slept an hour, yet it had felt much longer. How tired she was… And still, she rose.

Andromeda greeted her with a smile as she reached the drawing room. She, too, looked tired, pale, as though she had not had any rest during the night. She had pushed her plate away without having touched any of her breakfast. Narcissa wondered when she had last eaten.

She sat down next to her sister, eyes narrowed as she watched her struggle to write a letter with her left hand, spilling ink all over her skin. Her right hand was resting on the table, covered in a thick, dirty white bandage, her fingers oddly stiff and swollen.

For a moment, Narcissa considered asking, yet decided against it, knowing that she would receive no response.

“I stumbled and sprained my wrist last night,” Andromeda said quickly as she noticed Narcissa’s gaze still resting on her arm, her words causing her to frown even more. “It’s nothing serious.”

Andromeda had always been a lousy liar; Narcissa could clearly see there were blood stains on the fabric, clearly noticed the uncontrollable tremor in her hand. Besides, hadn’t she always been skilled at healing spells? It would have taken nothing but a flick of her wand to…

“Do not take me for a fool, Andromeda,” Narcissa replied harshly, still looking at her as though she could finally read the expression on her face, as though she could finally see beneath her mask. “Whatever this is, it’s not a sprain.”

Silence. Andromeda would only shake her head, turning away from her, and Narcissa was in no mood to inquire further. Yet, she couldn’t suppress a quiet sigh. She worried for her sister, of course she worried, would never forget the marks that she had seen on her arms, spread all over her skin, countless cuts and bruises, shallow, yet blazing red and dirty.

Andromeda had refused to respond. She silently hid her arms beneath her sleeves, releasing Narcissa, attempting not to allow the pain to mark her face as her fingers accidentally brushed over the wounds.

Narcissa rose from her chair and began to pace the room only to sink back down a second later, unable to distract herself from the terrible feeling of unease that had overtaken her in the moment she returned.

Whatever had happened in this house after her escape, whatever had been done to her, it changed Andromeda. She was barely herself anymore, had grown cold and unapproachable when once she had been so gentle, so loving.

Perhaps it was her only way of protecting herself. Perhaps she, too, would have long ago fallen apart, perhaps she, too, would have been broken… Perhaps, Narcissa thought, she shouldn’t have left her alone with their mother. But Andromeda had always been the strongest of them all, had always seemed to be strangely connected to her, speaking up in her defence as though she could, in a certain way, understand. She’d always been the strongest of them all…

And yet, Narcissa had left her behind. How selfish she had been… Had she ever thought about her sister? Had she ever been there for Andromeda like she’d been there for her? Had she ever realised that with her escape she’d sentenced her sister to a life in captivity, with no one to turn to, no one to hold her up?

No. No, it wasn’t her fault; none of this was her fault. Quickly Narcissa shook her head as though she could banish the thought from her mind. How could Mother’s illness be her fault? How could it be her fault that Andromeda…

Ridiculous. She would have perished had she not broken free; what other choice had she had? What could she have done, what…

Enough, she told herself, massaging her temples with her fingertips. There were other things to worry about, other things to focus on. Narcissa had not yet forgotten last night; how could she, if the screams still resounded in her ears? How could she, if Andromeda’s harsh and dismissive words were burned into her memory? She had not been dreaming, refused to believe that her sister had not heard what she’d heard, refused to believe that it had been a nightmare…

By all means, ask me your questions tomorrow, Andromeda had told her sharply, and yet Narcissa knew that there would be no point in trying. She knew that her sister would only evade her questions under any circumstances.

Still, she longed for answers…

“How is Mother?” Narcissa asked eventually, finally breaking the silence and causing Andromeda to wince. For a brief moment, no longer than a split second, her eyes widened, as though with fright… But soon she regained her composure, sighing quietly, once more shaking her head.

“Unchanged,” she said, her tone of voice inscrutable. “She was still asleep when I looked after her this morning, so perhaps she will get to rest at last. But…”

She wouldn’t finish her sentence.

*

Again, the screams. Again, so full of agony, so full of despair, again they’d resound within the entire house’s walls, again they’d resound within her ears as though they were never going to stop, taking her breath away, not allowing her to sleep…

Firmly, Narcissa pressed her hands against her ears in a desperate attempt to silence or at least to dampen them. Her hands began to uncontrollably tremble. How could her sister still deny to hear them? How could she still pretend that everything was all right? It wasn’t a nightmare… She wasn’t dreaming, couldn’t possibly be dreaming…

What if she was? What if it was only in her mind, what…

Impossible.

“What is happening here?” she whispered to herself, her voice shaking as much as her body. “What is happening to me?”

Why wouldn’t they fall silent; why wouldn’t the screams finally fall silent; why wouldn’t she be granted rest at last? Narcissa wanted nothing more than to put this to an end, wanted nothing more than to take Andromeda by the shoulders, to shake her until she realised… Yet she found herself kneeling on the floor inside her room, her back against the door, heavily breathing.

Suddenly, there was silence. Finally silence. She closed her eyes, listening as footsteps restlessly paced up and down the corridor. She heard her sister’s muffled voice quietly talking to herself. And she heard her mother, heard her speak out Andromeda’s name, her voice weak and yet so clear…

One step. She was only a step away from her, one step and… Narcissa dared not move, merely closed her eyes…

“Mother…” Andromeda breathed, and something about her voice deeply terrified Narcissa. “Get back to bed… Please, get back to bed, you need rest more than anything…”

How worried she sounded. How worried, and how afraid. Never before had she felt so close and yet so distant.

So much had changed over the years, and yet so much had remained the same. Everything seemed to be different now, everything and nothing at all. How much Narcissa still needed her sister… And how desperately she wanted to help her, but how could she? How could she do anything if…

She was unable even to finish her thought. Suddenly, exhaustion would overwhelm her and with exhaustion came sleep, brief and haunted by the echoes of pained and desperate cries. When she awoke, she found herself lying in her bed and from far away, only Andromeda’s quiet, powerless sobs were to be heard.

*

She still had not seen Mother. Nearly a week had passed and Andromeda still denied Narcissa what she had returned for, would still barely speak of their mother, as though she had…

It was, as though she had long ago given up.

It was the same every day. Every day she would find a new excuse; every day she’d feed her with hopes of tomorrow, and every day the door to her mother’s bedroom would remain locked. How could she say good-bye to her if her sister wouldn’t allow her to see her? How could she…

“What am I here for, Andromeda?” Narcissa would sometimes ask her, and she would always receive the same response.

“You said you wanted to help.”

“Then let me help you.”

Silence, as always. Silence.

Andromeda had always been strong, perhaps the strongest of them all, would still go on when others had long before given up. Even now, now that she seemed to be in pain much more severe than she allowed herself to admit, Narcissa was forced only to look at her, to see how desperately she pretended that everything was all right, helpless. But when she watched her sister’s wand fall from her shaking hand for the third time, she rose from her chair at last, sighing quietly.

“All right, that’s enough,” she said, taking a step forward until she stood right before her, firmly taking her uninjured wrist into her hand before she had a chance to pull it back. “Sit down.”

Andromeda frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me. I will not watch this any longer. Sit down.”

For once it was Narcissa who would not allow dissent. With soft power she pushed her sister down to the couch, looking deeply into her eyes for a moment. Andromeda held her gaze. How sad she looked, Narcissa thought, how weary. Carefully she took her right hand, resting it against her palm as she removed the dressing. What lay beneath caused her to bite her lip, suppressing a gasp.

The swelling had only worsened; large, black bruises were covering her hand and fingers; long, deep cuts that looked nothing like those on her arms festered and were inflamed. Andromeda winced in pain as she attempted to move her fingers, yet she didn’t refuse as Narcissa slowly applied ointment to her wounds and traced her wand over her skin, whispering quiet healing spells.

There was no improvement.

Narcissa frowned. She shook her head in surprise still looking down at her sister’s hand and she repeated her words, again and again, reaching for the small phial on the table, but Andromeda held her back.

“The curse is too strong,” she said, resignation in her voice. “I’ve tried everything to make it stop, to at least reduce the swelling… But it won’t get better...”

“Only worse,” Narcissa whispered to herself, shivering at the fear she had heard in her sister’s voice.

Andromeda bit her lip as though to suppress a scream as Narcissa wrapped her arm in a fresh bandage as slowly and gently as possible, yet the pain still caused her to wince once more. If only she could help her. If only there was a way to ease whatever tormented her, if only she’d talk to her…

“What is happening here?” Narcissa asked eventually, quietly, still holding her hand as though to protect it from further damage, carefully in order not to hurt her sister even more. “Andy, what is happening to you? You’re frightening me…”

“I…”

She broke off for a moment, turned her head and sighed. Narcissa wondered how many times she had sighed since Mother had fallen ill. Who hurt you like this? she wanted to ask her, who did this to you, who cursed you? Instead, she remained silent, silent as so many times before.

It was as though Andromeda had read her mind; she wouldn’t speak, wouldn’t say a word, only silently looked at her. For a moment she seemed like a girl again, sad and fragile. For a moment, she did not look at all like Mother.

“It’s not her fault,” she whispered after a while, barely audible, her voice breaking. Finally, Narcissa understood. Her eyes widened with fright, for a moment she seemed to have lost her ability to speak, opened her mouth, yet no sound would escape from her lips.

“No…”

“It’s not her fault!” Andromeda repeated desperately, no longer capable of holding back her tears. “Her illness, the fever… The loneliness, it… She just goes a little mad sometimes… But don’t we all go a little mad sometimes? Don’t we, Cissy? She can’t help it, she… It’s not her fault… She doesn’t mean to hurt me, not like this…”

For the first time, it was Narcissa who wrapped her arms around her sister’s body, who held her, gently cradling her until her sobs died away. Were those the screams she’d heard at night? Were they Andromeda’s cries of agony? Was this the reason why Mother’s bedroom remained locked by magic, for no spell to break it open?

“I need to see her,” she heard herself say, felt her sister’s body immediately tighten in her arms.

“No!” Andromeda cried out, panic in her voice. “Cissy, no… Please… You can’t see her, not yet! You don’t know what she’s…”

“Shh…Andy, shh… It’s all right…”

Narcissa pulled her even closer to her chest, gently stroking her hair to calm her down, but Andromeda’s sobs wouldn’t fall silent, not even hours later. How long had she forced herself to hold back, Narcissa asked herself. How long had she silently endured what had been done to her; how long would she still be able to go on like this until she broke?

“I should never have left you alone,” she muttered against her ear, but Andromeda couldn’t hear her. She’d fallen asleep, her body still softly shaking.

*

“Andromeda, it can’t go on like this,” Narcissa said, causing her sister to look up in surprise. Her eyes were still resting on the fresh cuts on her wrist that were now slowly fading. “I refuse to watch her do this to you any longer.”

“You don’t understand.”

“I understand very well. I know her, Andy, she…”

Narcissa broke off, frowned. She felt how anger seemed to build up inside of her, how it assumed control over her entire body, though never longer than a minute… What had she done to them? What had their mother done to them all when they were girls… And now… Now? Now, should Andromeda…

“How dare she!” she cried out. Tears filled her her eyes, flowing down her cheeks, slowly at first, then unstoppably. She wasn’t herself in this moment; her composure came crumbling down on her, slowly, yet for once it didn’t matter. For once, she couldn’t care less… “How dare she, how... She doesn’t have the right to…”

“Enough now!”

The sound of Andromeda’s voice, the sudden coldness that filled the room caused her to gasp for breath; to look at her in surprise, unable to suppress a wince as she noticed the hatred in her sister’s eyes…

“Enough of all this, Narcissa,” she said, quietly now, yet her voice was sharp and cruel. “All your life you have blamed Mother for your misfortune; all your life you have spat on her, and I will not allow you to go like this on any longer. It’s not her fault that you cannot handle living with yourself. Whatever injustice you believe has been done to you was supposed to be a matter of the past as soon as you stepped out of the door. Instead you continue to wallow in self-pity while your life slips away from you. You have nobody but yourself to blame.”

Narcissa opened her mouth to speak, to defend herself, yet closed it again as their eyes met. She did not know whether it was anger or fright that overtook her now, that caused her to lose her balance and stumble backward until she found her back pressed tightly against the wall.

This wasn’t her sister speaking, she silently told herself, over and over again until she started to believe it was true. This wasn’t her Andy. Those couldn’t possibly Andromeda’s words; it had to be her mother… Mother…

Perhaps she was right, she thought suddenly.

For a moment, Andromeda’s face softened; for a moment, worry seemed to flare up in her eyes.

“Did you ever consider it worth a thought of what life must have been like for her?” she asked, reaching out her arm to briefly, nearly gently touch her shoulder. “A widow at twenty-four, left alone to raise three infant daughters in war times? She could have very well drowned herself in the river, taking us with her to die, and yet she went on. Think about it, Cissy. Think about what she’s gone through, all by herself.”

“You know what she did to me, Andromeda. How can you…”

Narcissa would have rather bitten off her tongue than to utter the words, yet they came from her lips and could not be taken back. They caused her to cover her mouth in shame, to force herself into silence. What a fool she was, what a damned fool!

Andromeda’s eyes narrowed, yet the anger didn’t return to her face. Instead she only shook her head, slowly and sadly.

“Do you really think this is about you?” she asked, the disappointment in her voice unmistakable. “Do you think any of this is about you, any of this at all? You are mistaken, Narcissa. I know what she did to you, believe me, I do. I know how much she hurt you, I know how afraid you are, I can still see it in your eyes. I… I know it’s hard, but…”

Andromeda broke off for a moment, once more shaking her head, quickly brushing away the tears glistening in her eyes as though she were ashamed of them.

“I know it’s hard,” she repeated eventually, back in full control of herself. “But it’s hard for us all! Or do you think all this is easy for me? That it doesn’t break my heart, seeing her in a state like this? To watch her fall apart with my hands tied behind my back; do you think it’s easy for me to be helpless? You seem to forget that she’s my mother, too, Narcissa.”

“Andy…”

“No.”

Narcissa reached for her sister, but she turned away from her, ready to leave, ready to shut the door behind her back and put an end to this conversation at last. Yet, Andromeda stayed.

“She hurt me, too, you know,” she muttered, rather to herself than to Narcissa it seemed. “And most of all, she hurt herself. How dare you judge her when you know nothing about her? You weren’t the only one to grieve, nor to be afraid. You might have lost a sister the night Bellatrix killed herself, but Mother lost a child.”

For a moment, it felt as though Narcissa’s heart stood still. For a moment, she believed to have misheard, yet the expression on Andromeda’s face proved her wrong. But how could she… How could she speak these words as if they were true when they were nothing but lies, cruel and desperate lies? How could she…

“She didn’t…”

Andromeda wouldn’t allow her to finish her sentence.

“Narcissa, stop this farce, I beg you! You’re no longer a girl; we have played this game long enough, it’s time for you to finally face the truth, even if it hurts.”

Bella… Dead…

“I don’t understand,” Narcissa whispered, closing her eyes only to open them a second later, desperately trying to get her thoughts in order. Bella, dead… It was impossible… Hadn’t she run away? Hadn’t she, too, escaped, barely two months before…

Andromeda sighed, sinking down to a chair in the corner of the room. “You understand very well,” she replied harshly. “Don’t make it even harder for us both by still denying the truth. Bellatrix never ran away; it was impossible to run away, even for her, and she knew it. But she must have been desperate enough to find another way to escape. She cut her wrists in the bathroom at night for Mother to find her in the morning, dead on the floor. You saw her, Narcissa, you held her in your arms! And you screamed… Screamed until you broke down over her body… When you woke you refused to believe that she was dead. And one day Mother would no longer try to convince you otherwise.”

Dead…

Finally, Narcissa seemed to remember. Finally, the memory of that day returned to her, and for a moment it took her breath away. It was true. Of course it was true, every word of it was true! She had seen the sadness in her mother’s eyes. She’d heard the huskiness in her voice as she spoke… And she had seen her sister, had smeared her blood all over her face, had shaken her body, begging her to wake up…

“Mother conjured a Silencing Charm over her bedroom ever since that day so we wouldn’t hear her cry,” Andromeda continued, the sound of her voice interrupting Narcissa’s thoughts. “But one night she forgot. I sat by her door for hours, listening to her sobs, yet her door was locked… I’ve never felt so helpless before, I...”

Again she broke off, again she sighed…

“Are you still naïve enough to believe she didn’t know about your escape? She was very well aware of it, of course she was… And yet she allowed it to happen, fearing she’d find you lying in a pool of your own blood, just like...”

Narcissa seemed paralysed. She wanted to speak, yet no sound would escape from her lips, wanted to move, yet found herself incapable of even raising her arm… Bellatrix had married Rodolphus Lestrange that night, had confronted Mother with the ring on her finger as though she believed it would make a difference, as though she believed her wedding vows had bought her freedom… How terribly they had fought. How angry Mother had been, how desperate…

Dead.

“I have to see her. Now.”

Finally, Narcissa regained control over her movements. She quickly glanced at her sister and then began to run, rushed out of the room before Andromeda had the chance to hold her back. She raced up the stairs, ready to invade her mother’s bedroom, to finally see her, to finally talk to her...

But as though as she had gone into a trance, Narcissa headed for her own room, barred the door behind her and sank down to the floor. Her body shook with uncontainable sobs. She knew that Andromeda had followed her.

*

They had barely spoken for days, had barely looked at one another. No matter how desperately Narcissa wanted to touch her sister, no matter how desperately she talked to her, she’d always hold back, would hold back her questions. How different she was, she thought… How afraid she seemed, and yet how cold she was sometimes, when all of a sudden, Narcissa recognised the sister she had once known so well…

What happened here? What happened in this house? What was it that changed Andromeda, changed her so much; what was it that caused her so much fear?

“Mother,” Narcissa heard Andromeda whisper one night, as softly as she had once whispered to her in moments of great despair. “Mother, I’m here… I’m here; it’s all right… Everything’s all right…”

She had left the door to Mother’s bedroom open. Narcissa knew that it was wrong to follow her, knew that it was wrong to watch her in such an intimate moment, and yet she stayed, stayed right there in the doorframe, unnoticed. She was her mother, too, she told herself in silence, biting her lip as though the pain could help her keep the tears moistening her eyes from falling. She was her mother, she thought, her mother! She had a right to see her after all these years, had a right to forget about her foolish vow and to say good-bye to her…

Andromeda slowly sat at Mother’s bedside, still talking to her in a voice so hushed that Narcissa couldn’t understand her words, and smiling a tender yet unbelievably sad smile as she carefully dabbed her forehead, placing a gentle kiss on her hairline. She, too, seemed to secretly fight against her tears. Druella only briefly lifted her eyes to look at her, then took a deep breath as though to speak…

With a quiet sob, Narcissa woke from her dream.

A sudden determination seemed to have overcome her in her sleep, a determination to no longer dream of her mother but to go to her, to speak to her, to swallow down her fears and memories and to nurse her as well as she could, lifting as much weight off Andromeda’s shoulders as possible.

“I want to see her,” she said as she joined her sister in the drawing room barely thirty minutes later. Andromeda rose from her chair, shaking her head, as so many times before.

“She’s too weak.”

What if she never regains her strength? What if she dies?

“I want to see her,” Narcissa repeated, quickly reaching out her hand for her sister’s left arm to hold her back as she turned around in order to leave the room without a further word, desperately attempting to keep control over her thoughts. What if she... “Andromeda, I’m serious…”

“So am I,” her sister said coldly, clumsily stumbling backwards in an attempt to free herself from her grip. “You can’t see her, Narcissa. Let go of me.”

“Not until you unlock the door to Mother’s bedroom,” Narcissa replied, only tightening her grip around Andromeda’s wrist. “It’s been three weeks now. Three weeks since I’ve returned, three weeks since I’ve last seen my husband, three weeks of endless begging and hoping, three weeks of fearing… Three weeks in which I have watched my life fall apart before my eyes! I’ve come to pay my last respects to my dying mother, Andromeda, and you will not refuse me any longer! Let me see her. Now.”

For a moment, it seemed as though Andromeda had turned to stone. She would no longer put up resistance. Where she had once looked at Narcissa in disdain, now her eyes were wide with fright, now she shook her head, over and over again…

“You can’t,” she breathed, no longer capable of concealing the fear in her voice. “Narcissa, you… You don’t know what you’re asking… Please…”

Her face contorted with pain at a sudden movement in her right shoulder, causing Narcissa to immediately let go of her, to quickly take a step forward and carefully wrap her arm around her sister’s waist to hold her up as she stumbled once more.

“Andy…” she whispered, and at once her anger seemed forgotten, with nothing but worry taking its place. Slowly she led her to the couch, helping her sit down as she took her chin into her hand, looking deeply into her eyes. “Andy, what happened to you? What frightens you so much that you cannot talk about it, even to me? What… What did she do to you?”

“It… It’s not her fault…” Andromeda muttered absently, her eyes still resting on Narcissa, yet it seemed as though she were looking right through her. “She… It’s like seizures… They come upon her so suddenly… They overwhelm her, and she’s in such pain, she doesn’t know what’s happening… When she comes to, she has no memory of what she did to me, no memory at all. I try to cover the wounds, but of course she notices, of course she asks… Looks at me, so worried and so horrified… I tell her that I fell, tell her that a spell went wrong, because how could I tell her the truth? How, Narcissa? I don’t have the heart to…”

She wouldn’t finish her sentence. She closed her eyes for a moment, slowly shaking her head…

“It’s not her fault,” she whispered again, her voice breaking. “It’s not her fault…”

“You shouldn’t have to go through all this alone, Andromeda.”

“But I have to… I… I have no choice… She’s my mother… She… She’s dying, she… She’s my mother… Our mother… If I, too, had escaped, whom would she have? Who would take care of her? And even if I had wanted to escape, how could I? How could I have run away before she fell ill, how could I have possibly had any secrets, how could I have defended myself when she broke into my mind, over and over again? When she began to take control over everything, even my thoughts… You don’t understand, Narcissa! Everything about me belongs to her! Everything I do, everything I am… It is hers… I am hers… You don’t know what she was like after you left; you have no idea! She changed… And she’s changed me. I wanted to protect you, Cissy, I… You haven’t seen her, you don’t… What this illness does to her… If she sees you…”

“Andy…”

Andromeda only shook her head.

“I… I need to look after her…” she whispered after a while, awkwardly rising and leaving the room. Only now Narcissa noticed that she walked with a slight limp, favouring her left leg as inconspicuously as possible as though to hide her injury under any circumstances. Narcissa bit her tongue in order to prevent the words, the questions, from bursting out of her, refused to spend a single thought on what…

She could no longer hide, could no longer suppress her concern for her sister, and yet felt so helpless… How could she help her if she refused? How could she protect her if she would constantly insist she was all right? She wasn’t all right, of course she wasn’t…

The bruises would fade; the cuts, no matter how deep, would heal, yet her right arm was now cradled in a black sling lest it loosely hang down her body, useless as though it was no longer a part of her. It still caused her pain, more than she would ever allow herself to admit. And now, has the same curse have affected her leg as well? The stiffness, the clumsiness in her movements… How long should this go on? How long would Andromeda be able to endure everything she was put through? How long would it take until she, too…

“I will not allow her to hurt you anymore,” Narcissa wanted to tell her, wanted to wrap her arms around her sister again and hold her, just hold her and never let go again, protecting her from any harm. If only she would allow her to help…

It’s not her fault, she still heard Andromeda’s words echoing within her ears, and still they terrified her. She just goes a little mad sometimes…

Mad. Mad… Why would she still defend her; why would she still attempt to justify whatever she did to her; why would she take all this upon herself? She was no longer alone, would never be alone again...

She just goes a little mad sometimes.

A scream broke the oppressing silence, sharply interrupting Narcissa’s thoughts, causing her blood to freeze within her veins. It felt as though it would resound within her ears forever... She jumped up from her seat, storming out of the room, just in time to reach out to catch her sister who rushed down the stairs in such panic that she would have fallen.

“She’s dead!” Andromeda cried, collapsing into her arms, causing her to stumble backward, yet she wouldn’t fall. “She’s dead… Cissy, she… She’s dead!”

Narcissa felt, as though she were going to faint. She could barely breathe, could barely believe Andromeda’s words, barely realised what...

Dead. Her mother, dead…

All of a sudden, Narcissa lost her balance, sank down on her knees, still holding Andromeda in her arms. She struggled for air as though an invisible hand were choking her and soon her gasps turned into sobs, dry and suffocating sobs. Dead... Mother was dead. And she’d not had a chance to say good-bye.

How angry she would have been. How incredibly angry she would have been at her sister, were she not a picture of misery, desperately clinging to her, barely able to breathe.

“I only left her alone for an hour…” she whispered, again and again, her voice hoarse and strange to Narcissa. Her body was shaking with sobs; tears came streaming down her face incessantly… “It was only an hour… She… She’d fallen asleep, I… An hour, only an hour…”

“Don’t blame yourself, Andy,” Narcissa muttered, pressing her face tightly against Andromeda’s chest, burying it in the fabric of her cloak. Soon it was soaked by her tears, tears that wouldn’t cease to flow. “Please… Please, darling, don’t blame yourself, you did everything that was in your power to do, you… You couldn’t have…”

She broke off. Did not know what to say, did not know what to think. Her mother was dead. It seemed like a dream to her, seemed like one of her nightmares, and yet it was terribly real.

She needed to see her. Needed to see her, now, needed to hold her, at least once in her life…

Quickly, Narcissa rose, storming up the stairs, blinded by tears, yet from the corner of her eye she could see Andromeda pushing herself up from the floor as well, saw how she followed her, as fast as her injured leg would allow. She wouldn’t hold her back any longer, even if she’d only meant to protect her, wouldn’t hinder her from seeing her mother, not now, now that it was too late.

She hesitated as she reached the door, hesitated for only a split second, closing her eyes before finally pushing down the handle…

The bedroom was empty.

*

She found her sister kneeling beside her as she opened her eyes, found her holding her hand and looking at her, her expression full of worry.

“Careful,” Andromeda whispered, gently pushing her back and leaning her against the wall as Narcissa clumsily attempted to sit up, the throbbing pain in her head causing her to gasp for breath. Had she been dreaming? Had her mind once more fooled her, had it once more been a dream, nothing but a dream? Had she lost her mind at last? How dizzy she was…

Only slowly she realised that she was still in Mother’s bedroom, only slowly she realised that they were alone, that the bed was empty…

Narcissa wanted to scream. Wanted to jump up and run away, far away and never look back, wanted nothing more than to bury herself within her husband’s arms and forget what had happened in this house, forget that she had ever returned. And yet she wanted to understand. Yet she wouldn’t move, found herself unable to control the trembling of her body, unable to look at her sister, only staring straight ahead, looking at nothing.

“Cissy…” Andromeda hesitantly took her hand as though she did not know what frightened her, as though to comfort her, but Narcissa pulled back her arm, wincing at the coldness of her skin.

“Don’t touch me…”

Had it all been a lie? Her mother’s illness, her death, Andromeda’s injuries… Had it been a lie, nothing but a cruel game played to break her? To punish her for what she had done?

Impossible. It couldn’t possibly have been a lie… She had seen her, had seen the look in her sister’s eyes, had tended to her wounds, wounds that were real, so terribly real... She’d heard Mother’s voice at night, had heard the screams! She’d heard them speak, had heard her sister sob, faintly, quietly, in moments she’d been unseen and unheard… It wasn’t a lie; it had to be true…

“Narcissa, please…” Andromeda whispered, again taking her hand, this time firmly, unwilling to let go of her again. How she looked at her… As though she, too, had only begun to realise, as though she had only now woken up from a trance-like state, as though she, too, were frightened. “I know what you think, but it’s not true… It’s not a lie… Please, Cissy, please… I never lied to you! I… I couldn’t have… It’s not a lie…”

How desperate she was, Narcissa thought. How incredibly desperate… And how sincere she looked, how sad... How afraid.

“What is happening here?” she heard herself ask, would have firmly bitten on her tongue in order to silence herself, but it was too late. Perhaps now, her sister would finally tell her the truth.

Andromeda sighed, a deep and quiet sigh, tightened the grip around Narcissa’s wrist and she would allow it. Slowly she helped her rise, and for the first time in so many years held her, supported her, ensuring that she wouldn’t fall as she lead her to a chair, carefully sitting her down. The worry was still written on her face.

“She’s dead,” she said eventually, sounding strangely hoarse, strangely quiet. “Was dead already before you arrived.”

The words passed her lips, yet it seemed as though Andromeda refused to accept, refused to believe them, as though something inside of her would fiercely fight against the truth. It seemed as though she still believed…

“It is true what I told you, every word of it. She was ill, terribly ill, bed-ridden for weeks and weeks. The attacks, the… the seizures… They were more terrible than anything you could ever imagine, weakening her, frightening her beyond belief… Frightening me… You don’t know how much…”

Again she sighed, turning away from Narcissa as though to once more hide her tears from her. She had not wanted to listen to her words, had not wanted to believe her, and yet she did. Found herself speechless like so many times before in these past weeks.

“We both knew that she wouldn’t recover,” Andromeda continued at last, her voice no louder than a whisper. “That this... That this meant the end. Whatever illness had taken her, I’d never seen anything so cruel, so merciless… Mother was unaware that I had written to you, had she known I am sure she would have forbidden it, wouldn’t have wanted you to see her in a state like this, wouldn’t have wanted you to grieve if... She lost more strength and will with every day, and every day I prayed that you would return. But you didn’t. Not until it was too late…”

She broke off for a moment, clenching her body in order to suppress the shaking, but it only appeared to become worse with every breath she took.

“On the anniversary of Father’s death, she…”

Now it seemed impossible for Andromeda to keep her composure any longer, seemed impossible for her to hold back, no matter how much she wanted to hold back. The sobs came bursting out of her, so desperate, so piteous that Narcissa would overcome her reservation, perhaps even overcome her reason and rise, wrapping her arms closely around her sister’s body, pulling her into a firm yet gentle embrace.

“I only left her for an hour…” Andromeda muttered against her shoulder, over and over again, just like barely an hour before. How much her words terrified Narcissa… “An hour… No longer than an hour, to find something to relieve her pain… And when I returned to her room, the bed was empty… I… I found her in the bathroom, lying on the floor, blood billowing from her wrists… Like Bella… So much like Bella… I will never forget the expression in her eyes, I… I shouldn’t have left her alone, I should never have left the room; I could have saved her! It’s my fault… I could have saved her…”

The stinging pain in Narcissa’s chest seemed to crush her, seemed to take her breath away, seemed to suffocate her…

It’s not your fault, she wanted to whisper into her sister’s ear, wanted to hold her, to comfort her… And yet once more it seemed as though she had lost control over her speech. There was so much she didn’t understand, so much still unsaid…

“I heard her,” she breathed, pulling her even closer into her arms. “I… I heard her, I heard her voice, I heard her speak to you… You… What she did to you, the wounds, your… your arm… She can’t…”

For a moment it seemed, as though Andromeda’s heart had stopped to beat.

“She never left this house, Narcissa… She never left me…”

Again, Narcissa wanted nothing more than to scream, to cry out her despair, her fear… Again, only silence would escape from her mouth. She let go of her sister, stumbled backward to look at her, to look deeply into her eyes, to see no one but…

Had she done all this to herself? Had she so severely injured herself in the belief that it was Mother, that she was… Had she truly believed, did she still… Of course she did. It was written on her face that she did.

Out. Narcissa could no longer stay here, needed to get out, needed to leave the room that her mother would still haunt, needed to get away… Out! What had she done… Even in death, what had she done to Andromeda, what had she done to her?

Everything seemed to be spinning around her and yet she left the room, rushing towards the stairs to get away, just away, away from everything… She did not notice how closely Andromeda followed her.

“Narcissa, wait! Please!” she shouted, causing her to turn around in fright, to instinctively take a step backward… A step into nothing.

Narcissa lost her balance, stumbled, desperately grasped for support where there was none to be found…

“No!” Andromeda cried out in horror, would have thrown herself down the stairs as well as she reached out her arms to catch her… But it was too late.

The pain that ran down her body as her head hit the ground was indescribable, would for a moment take away her senses. Only faintly she could hear her sister’s hysterical sobs; only blurredly she saw her fall to her knees, her hands shaking so uncontrollably that she was hardly capable of holding her wand. Narcissa could barely feel her touch as Andromeda lifted her body into her arms, holding her, cradling her like a child as though to calm her down.

How tired she was… How exhausted…

“Stay with me, Cissy,” Andromeda whispered, over and over again, carefully supporting her head with her right arm as though for a moment she had forgotten about any of her own soreness. “Please… Stay with me, please…Don’t close your eyes… It’ll be over soon, I promise! It’ll be all right… Just stay with me...”

The tears burned Narcissa’s skin like fire. In this moment it would cause her pain even to breathe; her eyelids became heavier and heavier with every second, impossible to keep open any longer. She wanted to speak, yet no sound would escape her lips. Was this the end? Was this what it felt like to die?

Again her sister screamed, covering her mouth with her left hand, smearing blood all over her skin. None of her quiet, desperate healing spells would work, none would relieve her agony, none would staunch the bleeding… But the pain wouldn’t bother Narcissa any longer, soon her sister’s cries fell silent to her. One last time their gazes met; one last time she looked into Andromeda’s eyes, blazing red and swollen, full of despair, full of grief…

She looked so much like Mother.

***


1980. January.

Midnight had come fast. The darkness had long covered the world in its eerie shadow, had once more made Andromeda lose herself within her thoughts, forgetting about anything, even the passing of time. She was tired, had barely slept during the past several nights and did not expect tonight to be different. It seemed like years ago that she had had any rest.

She had already put on her nightgown, found herself absently pacing the corridor before she stopped at the door to her sister’s bedroom, her fingertips carefully touching the handle. Only for a moment she hesitated…

It was her birthday, Andromeda thought, quickly choking down her tears. She had to remain strong. She owed it to her to remain strong… Finally, she raised her hand to knock.

“Come in,” her sister’s hoarse voice commanded and she pushed the door open at last. Andromeda entered the room without a word, only silently sat on the corner of Narcissa’s bed, smiling at her as their gazes met. She was as beautiful as always. Her wide eyes were resting on her, shining in a clear blue, her long, blonde hair falling down her shoulders in tight waves. She was as beautiful as always, looked almost like a doll with her skin so fair that it would sometimes seem nearly transparent, yet something was different. Her face had lost any expression.

“How are you feeling?” Andromeda asked quietly, receiving a mere sigh in response. It broke her heart to see her like this.

Two months. Two months and barely anything had changed. The bruises on her skin, the bones she’d broken had long healed, yet what had remained from her terrible fall would remain forever. The scar on her back, the uncontrollable tremor in her hands, the full immobility of her legs…

The Healers had saved what they had been capable of saving, they said she was lucky to…

She was unable to finish her thought. Unable, unwilling to imagine what could have happened, that she could have lost her…

Narcissa was only a shadow of her former self. It sometimes seemed as though the pain would drive her close to madness despite the potions to soothe it, to make her sleep, despite the spells Andromeda silently cast over her night after night in the hope that they would grant her the chance to rest, at least for a while.

She had refused to allow her husband to see her, had refused to even respond to his letters. It felt as though she had given up long ago. As though she loathed herself, loathed what she had become.

“Useless,” she’d sometimes whisper, her voice full of hatred, full of disgust. “Weak…”

She wasn’t weak. Narcissa wasn’t weak, had never been weak, not before the accident and not now. She wasn’t useless…

“It’s your birthday, Cissy,” Andromeda said quietly, in order to finally break the silence, to finally distract herself from her thoughts.

“It’s nothing,” Narcissa replied coldly, reaching out her trembling arm for the phial on her bedside table, making it clear that she wanted to hear no more of it. Now it was Andromeda to sigh, to carefully take her wrist in order to stabilise her sister’s hand as she wordlessly guided the tiny flask to her lips. She’d not spoken more than the bare minimum to her for so long… Refused to leave the room, even with Andromeda’s assistance, refused to accept any assistance at all…

“I don’t need your help!” she’d once cried, barely a week after she had finally woken from unconsciousness, briefly losing her composure. “I don’t need you, I don’t need your mercy!”

Mercy. It felt as though a dagger had stabbed Andromeda’s heart as her sister spoke the word; it felt as though it would burst into a thousand pieces. Mercy… She would have risen, would have left the room at once, not to return to her until the morrow, had she not seen the tears streaming down Narcissa’s cheeks, had she not seen the despair in her eyes.

Mercy…

She had slept in her room that night, like when they had still been girls. She’d held her, had silently held her as she cried against her shoulder until, hours later, they both had drifted off to sleep at last.

She would always love her. Always, no matter what had happened in the past, no matter what was still to come. She’d always be there, would always take care of her, gladly, as long as she lived.

“Invalid…” she’d heard Narcissa mutter to herself, had barely been able to suppress a wince. “Dependent on care… Forever… Useless… Useless…”

She was still the same to her. No matter whether she could walk or not, no matter whether she had become dependent on her care, her injuries were not a sign of weakness, she’d never been weak… Never. She wasn’t useless, was still the same to her, would always be... Would always be her Cissy.

Andromeda would hold her hand until she had fallen asleep, placed a soft kiss on her knuckles and then rose, quickly blinking away her tears as she left the room. She had to remain strong, strong for Narcissa, strong for…

And yet, she was so afraid.

She found her sitting in the armchair as she entered the second bedroom, strongly supported by large cushions, looking out of the window, out into the darkness. Minutes passed, and Andromeda would only watch her, silently, until she noticed that her entire body was shivering with cold.

“Mother…” she whispered, taking a step forward, helping her to rise, slowly, carefully leading her back to bed. “You’re freezing… Go back to sleep, you need rest…”

A quiet gasp escaped from Andromeda’s lips as she looked at her, as she saw her black hair messily stick to her face, as she saw the expression in her eyes change, suddenly become empty...

No… Not tonight…

“Mother…” she breathed again, her eyes widening with fright. “No… Please…”

Andromeda screamed in pain as her mother took her right arm, burying her nails deeper and deeper into her flesh.

 

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