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At first she’d slept. At first she’d slept, had slept for days at a time, scarcely moving and scarcely breathing, as though Death were her constant companion, lingering within her room, merely waiting for her to surrender.
At first she’d slept, sunken deep into the pillows, had frightened Narcissa so beyond words as she sat down on her sister’s bed, gingerly taking the pale, bony hand into her own. She was afraid to touch her even now, after weeks had passed, afraid that she might break her as she had become so frail, so fragile. As she was barely herself, merely a shell of the woman she had once been.
At first she’d slept. Bellatrix had slept and Narcissa had allowed for it to happen, in the foolish belief that sleep could heal her wounds, had allowed for it to happen and merely woken her for minutes at a time, to gently spoon-feed her what little she could stomach, praying silently that starvation would not come to claim her after all.
It pained Narcissa to look at her sister, pained her so beyond belief to see what had become of her, what Azkaban had done to her, and at times she could not stand it, at times she felt disgust and shame battling within her, nearly tearing her apart.
She had believed her to be dead at first, had screamed as she found her in the entrance hall long after midnight, a crumpled bundle of rags upon the ground, spasming still and soaked with rain as a thunderstorm had been raging outside incessantly for hours and hours. Tears had blurred Narcissa’s sight before she had even come to realise, before she had been capable to fully process that it was truly her sister, right there before her, that it was truly Bellatrix… She had believed her to be dead at first, released from her suffering, had not noticed the trembling of her body until minutes later, until Bellatrix began to cough, until blood came billowing from her mouth as she was shaken so violently that for a moment Narcissa seemed paralysed, only capable of staring at her sister in nothing but blank horror, eyes wide open as only slowly...
Alive… She was alive. Bellatrix was alive, had survived what no one before her had survived, had done what no one before her had done, no one except… She was alive. Quickly Narcissa sunk to her knees, wrapping her arms around her sister’s body to steady her, carefully, as she was nothing but skin and bone, as it seemed as though she were to break even at the slightest touch… Narcissa cared not about the dirt, cared not about the blood or the illnesses that might come to linger upon her, too, cared not about anything as in this moment only her sister mattered, as only Bella was of importance.
It was so easy… It was so easy to help her rise, so easy to keep her steady even as she collapsed against Narcissa’s shoulders, it was so easy to take her to the bathroom, as though she weighed nothing, nothing at all…
The potion would quickly soothe the cough, the spells would cause the wounds to close and the bruises to fade, but still… Still Bellatrix winced in pain as Narcissa pulled the rags from her body, slowly, gingerly. Still she trembled as though with cold, long after the hot water had nearly fully begun to embrace her.
Narcissa worked as though she had gone into a trance, gently cleansing Bellatrix as though she were her child and not her elder sister, worked in silence as each word, no matter how quiet, seemed to cause her further agony. She would scarcely look at her, dared not to cross her gaze as she was too afraid of what she’d see within her eyes, too afraid of the emptiness that had taken her breath away so many times before, when she had come to visit her in Azkaban. She would scarcely look at her…
Hours had passed when there was no trace of the prison left upon Bellatrix’ body, when for a second she nearly looked like herself and yet so different, so strange, when exhaustion came to overwhelm them both. Narcissa could have broken down right there beside her sister, could have wept and screamed once more as still it seemed impossible for her to believe that she had escaped, that Bellatrix had truly escaped, that she was right there before her… That at last they were reunited.
But they weren’t. They weren’t reunited as there was scarcely anything left of her sister, scarcely anything left of her Bella. How much she had loved her… How much she had adored her, but now? Now, as she was no longer the same, as neither of them were the same… Now they were…
No. Narcissa dared not finish her thought, instinctively reached out for her sister’s hand and nearly winced in surprise as indeed their fingers intertwined, as they had so many times before… For a moment, no longer than a moment, she allowed herself to close her eyes, to see Bella right there before her in the way she’d once been, to see her smiling, her eyes glistening with fierce determination, to nearly feel the passion…
How much passion there had once been inside of her, inside of them both… How much… But now? Now, it felt as though she were dead inside, as though the fire within her had been quenched. Now, the haunted look upon her sister’s face frightened her.
But hadn’t she lost herself long before the Dementors had taken hold of her? Hadn’t she changed so beyond belief long before her imprisonment, long before… Hadn’t she frightened her before?
No… No! How dare she… How dare she even… Her sister… Bellatrix… She was her sister… And how much Narcissa loved her… How much she… Her sister… She was…
How tired she looked, as though she had not slept for days, weeks… Perhaps sleep would bring a part of her soul back to her, perhaps sleep would return her speech, would cause her to recognise her own sister, to realise… Perhaps sleep would heal what was left to be healed.
At first she’d slept.