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the heart is hard to translate

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The eldest sister wears black lace and she weds in the winter.

Cissy, who is fourteen, flutters around behind Bella as she secures her wild hair with silver pins. "But what's he like?" she asks, yet again.

Bella shrugs, not bothering to catch her sister's eye in the mirror. "Tall."

"I know that." Cissy had surely seen him countless times during the years when they were in school together, but it had never gone beyond that. He and the others hadn't liked having younger students hanging about, even other Slytherins, and Bella had gone along with it; somehow she hadn't wanted to bring them into her world before they really understood what it was. She and the others, they knew what they were and what they were planning to be, but it was something that had to be chosen, not commanded. Her sisters would have to decide for themselves. And she wasn't entirely sure she had anything to say about him. She saw no reason to mention it when, in the sixth year, Rodolphus had seized her as they left Herbology and taken her behind the greenhouse, where he had kissed her roughly and muttered in her ear that he wanted her. She liked his dark eyes and the way he said fuck, and so she had let him open her clothes and touch her with his broad hands, and it had been all right, really.

"Think we ought to get married, then?" he'd asked one night at the very end of their seventh year, rebuttoning his trousers in an empty classroom, and she'd brushed hair from her eyes and replied "All right." Her parents nodded their approval of her choice when she told them at the dinner table over the summer and then began debating just how much gold his family might have these days, and Dromeda had frowned at her plate and said nothing at all, but Cissy had burst with questions, asking about his moods, his kisses, his favorite lessons, whether he laughed, whether he sang, and Bella had stared at her across the table and wondered why the hell any of that would matter.

"I mean, what's he like with you?" Cissy asks now, toying with the woven silver bracelets lying on the dressing table. "Is he--romantic?"

Dromeda glances up from where she kneels on the floor, adjusting the hem of Bella's gown with her wand. "Is he?" she asks, when Bella says nothing. "What, does he bring you bouquets of belladonna sometimes? Surely you like something about him other than his surname."

Bella rolls her eyes at them both. "You're both fools," she says. "I don't care about that nonsense. Those sorts of things won't matter so much when you're older. You'll see."

"I just think you ought to like him, if you're getting married," Cissy murmurs, now examining the hairbrush with the pointed handle. "Since it's supposed to be forever."

"I never said I didn't," Bella retorts, although she has to take a moment to remember if she had, or if she’d ever mentioned him at all before that night at dinner. She’d known he was one of the all right ones since the very start, but he has never been special. Dromeda stands and comes around behind her to fuss with the ribbons on the back of her dress.

"Then what does matter about him?" she asks, and Bella can't help but glance into her face in the mirror over her shoulder. Bella hates it when she looks at her that way, like she's the oldest and she doesn't approve. She leans forward, pulling away from Dromeda's hands, and reaches for the onyx jewelry box with the emerald set into the lid.

"He...he's a very skilled wizard," she says, and she retrieves her bird-skull necklace from where it lays against dark velvet inside the box. "He's quite good at dueling." She is silent as she fixes the pendant around her throat, but after a moment she realizes that they are waiting for more, Cissy's face curious and Dromeda's skeptical. "For God's sake, don’t be naïve," Bella exclaims, slamming the box closed. She stands quickly and sweeps across the room, fabric whispering against the cold wood floor. "It's a smart match. His family's one of the last pure-bloods in Britain, and he's...he's..." She has never bothered to give words to him. "He cares about the same things that I do. That's what I like best. Does that satisfy you?"

Cissy looks disappointed and Dromeda looks--unsurprised, maybe. She points her wand at the delicate silver net that is to hold back the rest of Bella's wild mane, and it soars from the dressing table and fixes itself into her hair, the jewels set into it glinting dully in the dimly-lit room. "Well, as long as you're happy," she says, in a voice heavy with doubt. "I suppose it doesn't matter what we think."

"Not very much, no," Bella says shortly, but what she wants to say is why don't you care about those things? No lines have been drawn just yet, and somehow she already knows that neither of them will ever see things her way, neither of them will ever love him the way she does. Sometimes, like now, when she is with the two of them, she feels as though she is alone in the room. A lot of the time she feels like an only child, and sometimes she hates them both for not choosing to be like her, with her, beside her.

She knows what the others would say, what he would say: they're not worth your time, then; they'll only hold you back, you can't waste time on those that don't have the proper priorities. It's weakness to allow family to let you forget your true allegiances. But sometimes she doesn't understand why she can't have both; why she can't be both soldier and sister.

Later that night, she realizes that it wasn't true anyway. Rodolphus understands, he loves the same darkness that she does and craves the same blood, but that is not what she likes best. When his fingers dig into her and his teeth find her neck, she murmurs yes, Tom, and what she likes is that he doesn't even seem to notice.




The second sister wears blue cotton and she weds in the summer.

Cissy's blue eyes are shining with panic as she watches Dromeda pack her things. "But you just can't," she begs. "They'll never forgive you."

"I don't expect them to," Dromeda tells her gently. She is far beyond that now; the choice is already made. Now it's just a matter of declaring it aloud. "I've thought about this for a long while now, and it's time for me to go."

"But for him?" Dromeda can hear the disgust in her tone, and it's like something sharp twists in her heart at the sound. She hates the sound of her parents' voices, of Bella's, in her little sister's words. It wasn't always there, but she hears it more and more often lately. It's one of the things tht made her realize that it was time. "You're going to give up everything for one of them?"

"It's not just Ted," she replies, and she hears the snap in her own voice. She never had a chance, she reminds herself. It's not wholly her fault. It's this house. "It's everything. It's for me. I can't stay here anymore, I just don't believe in..." She sighs and turns the books over in her hands a few times as she tries to decide what it is, or isn't anymore. "In this family," she finishes. "I'm sorry, but I don't belong here."

"It isn't right," Cissy protests, her voice going shrill, as Dromeda aims her wand under her bed, checking for anything lost. "You can't marry him. We're not meant to be with them, you know that. They don't understand anything about--about us. Don't you care about your family?" she demands, following Dromeda as she crosses the room to check in her closet one final time. She isn't taking much; she doesn't want to carry much over from this chapter of her life. "Don't you care about our honor? Don't you care about--?"

She doesn't have to say the final word. Dromeda turns and looks into her furious face, sees the tears in her eyes, blue as an angry winter sky. She sets her wand on the dresser and reaches out, taking one of Cissy's hands in hers. She looks down at their joined fingers and seems too startled to move away.

"Do you really believe all that?" she asks quietly. "Or is it just because you're used to hearing it?"

"What are you talking about?" Cissy demands; her tone is cold but her warm hand trembles very slightly in hers. Dromeda wants to put her arms around her, for the first time in years, wants to hold her sharp, pale sister close to her and protect her from what she's already becoming.

"You don't have to stay here either," she tells her. "You don't just have to accept everything they tell you. You can choose to--"

Cissy yanks her hand away as if frightened. "I'm not like you," she says, her voice a harsh bite. "Just because you're throwing everything away for some Mudblood doesn't mean I've forgotten where I'm supposed to be."

Dromeda feels one of the old cracks inside of her shudder and break open anew. She has lost count of how many times her sisters have broken her heart, and yet she can't help inviting them in, again and again, still holding onto hope. She picks up her wand again and turns back to her bed, busying herself with her bag, which is nearly full. She keeps her back to her sister so she doesn't have to read the reply in her face when she says "It's not about 'supposed to,' Cissy, it's about what feels right and what you want."

Cissy is silent, and after a long moment Dromeda makes herself turn around. Her expression hovers somewhere between haughty and uncertain, as though struggling and failing not to let her words in. After another minute in which Dromeda shoulders her bag, places an silver envelope on the bed and glances around the room for the last time, Cissy says haltingly "When--will I see you again?"

"When you want to, I suppose," Dromeda says with half a shrug. "Ted says he might've found a place for us in Durham, so you can write to me there if you like." She gives her a sad smile. "I won't write to you, though. I know that wouldn't go over too well."

She moves to the window--she'll Apparate beyond the front gates; the old enchantments on the house are too strong--and she has raised it halfway when Cissy speaks again, still standing in the middle of the room, still in that stumbling voice: "I won't say anything. I mean--I expect they'll find your letter soon, but I won't...I won't tell them I saw you go. That'll give you more time."

Dromeda watches her sister, trying to memorize her, trying to remember every inch of this shining, not-quite-finished-yet girl whom she is not sure she will ever see again. "Thank you," she replies. There is so much more she wants to tell her, so much more she wishes she could fix for her. "I wish I could keep you, if nothing else," she says.

Cissy's eyes flare blue fire at that, and after one last look she turns on her heel and leaves the room. Dromeda blinks back hot tears and waves her wand, and a ladder appears at the window, slithering down the ivy-covered side of the house. She climbs down and heads silently across the twilit grounds for the gate. Within ten minutes, Ted is smiling at her, and within thirty, stars are falling over their joined hands.

When Dora arrives eight months later, Ted cries for joy and tells her that he hadn't known, but it wouldn't have changed anything. A few weeks later a bright silver rattle arrives in the mail without a note. Ted laughs that it's worth more than half of their belongings put together and wonders who would've sent such a thing. Dromeda just shrugs and says that sometimes people can surprise you.


The youngest sister wears white silk and she weds in the spring.

Narcissa dresses alone in her bedroom, arranging pink pearls in her hair with a wave of her wand. She turns her head this way and that to admire the effect. An evening breeze filters in, nudging the curtains with a lazy hand. She still can't help but look up every time she hears wings outside the window, still waiting for a letter she knows will never come. She's not even sure she wants it to anymore, but still, she looks. She remembers waiting for her letter when she was eleven, knowing for sure it would come and yet nervous all the same, excited to be chosen, accepted. This feels like the reverse, somehow.

Druella knocks lightly on the half-open door and enters. "Oh, you're a vision," she says with a sighing smile, looking at her daughter. "You're going to take his breath away." She crosses the room to where Narcissa stands and flicks her wand so that the bodice on her gown tightens even further. She tries not to gasp, a hand flying to her ribs. "There, that's better," Druella smiles, turning her around and giving her a coy smile. "We want him to see just how lucky he is, don't we?"

"Yes," Narcissa says, after a moment, when she realizes that she is supposed to answer. They'd had the dress ordered special from Twilfitt and Tatting's, and Druella had sent it back three times before she'd declared it perfect. Lucius had laughed outright when she'd told him of the trouble a month ago. "I'd marry you today wearing an old bedsheet, if that's what it took," he told her, his fingers tracing the back of her hand in lazy circles.

"I just wish your sister could be here," she sighs, now fussing with Narcissa's sleeves as she turns back to look in the mirror. "But...well, under the circumstances..." Narcissa catches the meaningful look on her face behind her in the mirror and looks away. Your sister. She had never slipped once, never used the plural again after that evening, when they had found the letter on Dromeda's bed. Narcissa had stayed in her room, curled on her bed, holding her pillow close to her as she listened to the shouts, the arguing, and then the bitter smell of burning fabric. They'd never asked, and she'd never said a word. She'd never heard her name again under that roof, except when she murmured it to herself, just to make sure she'd really ever been there.

"I suppose Bella has more important things to do," Narcissa says, trying to smile, reaching for her lipstick on the small table. Druella makes a tsk sound behind her.

"You know she'd be here if she could," she says softly, both hands on her daughter's shoulders. "But if the Dark Lord has need of her, then that comes before all else. It's an honor to be called to serve him."

"Yes, Mother, I know." Bella would never admit it, but Narcissa is sure it is yet another test to see how much she, Bella, will give, the depths of her devotion. He needn't have bothered, she thinks, now dabbing night jasmine on her wrists and throat. She has always been his, above anyone else.

"I have something for you," her mother says, and from a pocket she pulls a delicate silver necklace--not heavy like Bella's pendant, but light, a familiar crest woven together from thin, bright strands. "It was your great-great-grandmother's. Your father wants you to have it," she tells her, lifting it over her head and laying it around her throat. Narcissa can't look away. When her mother fixes the clasp and lets go, Narcissa's hand drifts to it.

"It's beautiful," she says automatically. Perhaps it was a spell that made it catch the light so. It's nearly weightless, and yet it feels tight around her neck.

"She said that Salazar himself made it by hand for his wife," Druella adds, the old pride shining through her voice. Narcissa has to smile; she doesn't quite believe this, but like with everything else they did, she had known the ceremony would boast some relic of their past somewhere, a reminder to everyone present. Look how lucky he is. Somehow she is never just herself, especially in that home; she is everything that has come before her, trailing ghosts and old stories behind her like a lacy train. It's not the same with Lucius, though. He had smiled at her that very first night in the Great Hall before he ever knew her name.

When Narcissa says nothing else, Druella turns her around again. "And you, Cissy?" she asks in a measured tone that makes Narcissa sure that she has been working up to this part. "You and Lucius, you intend to honor the Dark Lord as well, I'm sure?" She takes both of Narcissa's hands in hers. "You'll make us proud like your sister, won't you? You'll do right by the family?"

For a moment she doesn't reply. They have already decided, yes, they will join him any day now; once they are married they will pledge their full allegiance and Narcissa will sit beside her sister once again, where she has so long wanted to be. Lucius' gray eyes go dark, nearly black with excitement when he talks about it. But it's nothing like the way he looks at her when they're alone. Then they're light, and sometimes she thinks she sees blue.

Yes, she thinks, yes, we'll join him, we'll honor him, we'll be everything you've wanted. But it's not to him that I will say my vows tonight. And he will never come first.

"Yes," she says. "Of course we will." Druella embraces her, then pulls quickly away, briskly wiping her eyes with one hand and needlessly straightening her dress with the other.

"Well. I'll just leave you to...finish off, then," she says. "The guests have nearly all arrived, I'm sure." She hurries out of the room and closes the door behind her. Cissy takes one last, long look into the mirror, twirling on the spot, watching herself. She closes her eyes and opens them again, wondering how it will feel when she too leaves the Black family, when she slips into the skin of a Malfoy. She wonders if she will like this new version of herself as much as he will.

"You look beautiful," he whispers when she joins him under the archway. He doesn't look at the shimmering necklace or at her three-times-perfect gown; his gray eyes never leave her face, and his hands are tight in hers the entire time. Nervous wings flap in her stomach until he kisses her, but then they vanish and stay gone. Every day she forgets a little longer, and soon she stops looking for owls that never come.