For the Something Old, Something New challenge on HPFC.
Also for Caesar's Palace Shipping Week with prompt illness.
It has been no less than fourteen years since you saw her last. You wish you could positively open up your heart to Bellatrix and tell her all about everything that has occurred in her absence, but you know she has been away from Azkaban for all of two hours. She is still fragile, and you must keep your words inside for now.
You exchange I-missed-yous and it's-been-too-longs, but you can't help but notice how distant she seems now. Where you once had a close and open relationship, Bellatrix now seems to fear getting too close to you, as she's barely moved from the doorway she entered through. This is further reinforced when you try to hug her and she flinches away. Give her time, you tell yourself. All she needs is time.
On that note, you suggest Bellatrix has a bath. Perhaps being clean for the first time in years will help. When she obliges and allows you to scrub the dirt from under her fingernails, you sigh in relief. There's no need to worry about her.
After the sun slips away for the night, Bellatrix decides to retire. You observe that the bath seemed to make her a little less uneasy, and you're sure she'll be fine after a good night's sleep. You bid her goodnight and head to bed yourself, but you find yourself awoken in the middle of the night by piercing screams.
Lucius is lying next to you and Draco is away at school, so the sound can only be coming from Bellatrix. You sit by her bedside and try to comfort her, but it's a while before you can get any coherent words out of her. When at last Bellatrix's screams subside, she gasps out, "I…" "I…"
You know your sister well enough to know that whatever she was about to say is no longer going to happen. You sit with her until her breathing returns to normal. It's all you can do right now.
The night's events have you a little concerned, but this is just one incident and one night. Even Bellatrix, the strongest person you know, has her moments of weakness.
In the morning, when you head down for breakfast, Bellatrix is already sitting at the table. She extends her warmest, "Good morning," but you can tell she's barely slept. Under ordinary circumstances, you would send her right back to bed, but you know Bellatrix has been on many all-night missions for the Dark Lord and been fine all day. In addition, last night was her first night in years without unwanted visits from the dementors. She's probably just used to being forced awake for their nighttime feedings.
Leaving it at that, you have a house-elf bring you some breakfast. When Bellatrix manages to clear her plate, you can't help but smile slightly, even though she hasn't done anything too spectacular. She may be having trouble adjusting, but at least she isn't abstaining from food.
That would have been a definite warning sign.
Before Bellatrix went to Azkaban, she had a favorite dress. You never understood what was so special about it-it was black, just like nearly everything else she owned, and it wasn't anything particularly stunning, in your opinion-but when you'd asked her, she had said that it was practical in that it could be worn for both a torture session and a nice dinner. After Bellatrix had been imprisoned, you kept it nice and safe in the back of your closet, more as a way to remind yourself that she would be back than anything else. Now that she's here, you deposit it in her room and wait to see how she reacts.
You wait a few minutes. You conjure a few flowers and place them around the house to brighten things up a bit. You get yourself dressed. You get out some stationery, reminding yourself to write to Draco at school later. Finally, you make your way to Bellatrix's room.
She has the dress on, and she's facing the mirror, but Bellatrix doesn't seem to be looking at her reflection. She doesn't seem to be looking at anything. It's as if she's left her body behind to go somewhere else.
Did I do something?, you wonder. Did I manage to trigger something? Did I make her feel bad about being away for so long?
Bellatrix jumps a little, but continues her deadpan stare at nothing. You take her hand in yours and rub the skin gently with your thumb. It feels rough. Bellatrix needs some lotion. She stiffens a bit at the contact, but eventually relaxes.
"Bellatrix, are you okay?" you ask her. You dislike the way it comes out. You have adopted a voice that sounds like you're talking to someone in the hospital.
At first Bellatrix remains silent, which you're a bit ashamed of yourself for half-expecting. Finally she whispers, "The…the dementors."
It sounds a bit random, but you understand perfectly. The fabric of the dress feels to you how a dementor's cloak might, and coupled with the color…
You head to your room and bring her a red one instead.
Days come and go. You wake up several more times to find Bellatrix waiting for you at the table, and you spend several more nights at her side. In spite of this, you feel like things are going better now. Of course, her vacant stares and sudden fear of closeness are still there, but just as you thought, Bellatrix is more like herself now.
She even asks for her wand.
You knew this was coming, but not how you would respond when it did. You know it might help to let Bellatrix have her wand, but at the same time, she's still so…unpredictable. Everything might turn out fine, but it's still possible she might blow up the house or wind up killing you and Lucius.
On the other hand, Bellatrix has been doing better over the last couple of days. Last night, she asked you to tell her about something that happened during her absence, which was a good sign. Today, she seems almost peaceful, which is a first in a long time. Now that you think about it, what would it hurt?
You give the wand back to her on the grounds that it remains with you at night. When she tries to negotiate with you, you decide you were right about her needing time after all.
Giving Bellatrix her wand certainly helped, but you still feel that something else will need to happen before she can truly heal. You think you've known for a while what it is.
Talking about Azkaban will be hard for her. It will probably be hard to listen to as well. But you know that Bellatrix is carrying a lot around, and these thoughts are eating her up inside. You need her to let them go.
More importantly, Bellatrix needs to allow herself to let them go.
It takes you a while to initiate the conversation, but one day everything just falls into place. Your conversation morphs into one about Draco when he was younger. While the subject is that time in your lives, you ask, "So, Bellatrix, do you want to talk about it? I'm here if you do."
"Talk about what?" she asks.
"About Azkaban, Bella."
The effect these words have is unlike anything you were expecting. Through all the time you've known her, you've never seen Bellatrix explode like this. For several moments, or half an hour, or maybe even a full hour, she alternates between screaming, crying, and trying to tell you something you can't quite make out. After Bellatrix finally calms down, you're not quite sure what to say other than, "Do you feel better now, Bella?"
"I'm not sure." she answers.
You understand perfectly.
Like Bellatrix, you're not quite sure if she's been doing better or worse since her explosion. It seems to be a little of both.
You can't help but wonder if she'll want to talk about it someday, and what she might describe if she does, but you do notice that she's been just a bit more relaxed since then. You feel like you have, too.
What you're sure of is that it's unreasonable to keep comparing Bellatrix to the way she was before all of this. You knew Bellatrix would be different when she returned from Azkaban. Given the amount of time she was gone, how could she not be? You just weren't expecting this.
But then again, what were you expecting?
You don't know if you'll get snippets of the old Bellatrix, or if there will be a new Bellatrix you have to get used to, but it doesn't matter. When you were growing up, Bellatrix was always there for you, no matter what. It's time to repay the favor.
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