Chapter 61

Narcissa arranged herself on a sofa in the receiving room at Potter House. They had decided on a neutral territory to meet with Andromeda for the first time in more than two decades. She had purposefully arrived early, wanting to be ready for Andromeda''s arrival. While she waited she couldn't help but reminisce about her sisters.

Bellatrix had always frightened her to some extent, even if she hadn't understood why as a young child. She had believed it was because Bellatrix was several years older than her, so much more self-assured, especially when it came to her magic. And perhaps that was true. Perhaps she hadn't become truly frightening until she was older. But Narcissa remembered seeing something in Bellatrix even when she was very young. It was one of the biggest factors in her questioning her gift, because certainly her older sister couldn't look so wrong?

Andromeda had been a playmate and confidante- or so she'd thought. She was a bright and encouraging spirit in Narcissa's life for their entire childhood. She never imagined that would fade away once they entered Hogwarts. Especially when they were both sorted into Slytherin only one year apart.

Looking back, she had seen the fractures in their sibling relationships as she began to understand her gift. Their magic reflected that they wanted different things. However, she never imagined that they'd become so broken. She hoped she could still get Andromeda back, Bellatrix was long since lost.

She sighed.

Sirius, who was standing near the fireplace, waiting to greet Andromeda, eyed her with- dare she say- concern?

"It'll be fine, Cissy," he said.

She averted her gaze, she didn't like how easily he was reading her mood. "You can't possibly know that. I haven't spoken to her in 25 years, and there was no goodbye, Sirius. She was just gone."

He pursed his lips. "Are you angry with her, or with yourself?"

Narcissa took a few deep breaths, considering his words, as if she hadn't already considered the situation a thousand times before, and turned her head back towards him. "Both. I suppose. Looking back, I admire her for following her heart. But I resent her for leaving me without a word, she must have known how vulnerable I was. Some warning would have been nice, at least."

Sirius frowned and this time he was the one to break eye contact. "Would she have been able to trust you with that secret?"

Narcissa paused again, biting her lip in an attempt to buy time. It was a habit she hadn't indulged in for decades, a moment of weakness she couldn't afford to display in her social circles. "I don't know," she eventually answered, "I wish I could say yes, but I just don't know. My opinions on muggle borns have changed since Hermione came into our lives, as you know, but as a teenager…"

"Then can you blame her for not taking that chance?"

"Probably not," she admitted, and when she looked at him again there was a surprising lack of judgment on his face. "But she's my sister- my elder sister- and it hurts," she admitted quietly. "I loved Bella but I could never depend on her. I thought I could depend on Andromeda."

In an unusually sympathetic maneuver, Sirius didn't comment, and just nodded. "We're just speculating, Cissy. I think this is a conversation you need to have with her. Unless you'd prefer to rehearse your side with me," his tone, too, was unusually sympathetic.

"How would you have responded to Regulus? If he had come to you looking for forgiveness before he died?"

He rubbed his eyes before looking back up at her. "Truthfully? Probably not well. I was very angry with our whole family, especially Reg. I felt that he, of all people, should have been on my side, at one time we were so close. I wanted to toss out all things House Black. But now I wish I'd had the opportunity to really speak with him when we weren't still kids. But then again he never made it to adulthood."

"You were sixteen when you left home," Narcissa commented softly.


"I was about that age when Andromeda left."

"Yes," Sirius answered slowly. "What's your point?"

She crossed the room and covered his hand with hers "That we were children. And our parents allowed terrible things to happen to us to save their reputations. Yours let you go and mine let Andromeda go."

"I'm still not seeing your point," he snapped.

"I think we've tried, but Helen has shared with me a muggle phrase: 'The path to hell is paved with good intentions.' Have we done something terrible to Draco, Hermione, and Harry as well? They're still children too, just as you and I were, aren't they? Draco and Harry are still sixteen. Have we pushed them into impossible situations?"

Sirius bent over, rubbing his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Yes. But I think it would have been worse to leave them unprepared. Our families, Cissy, they tried to brainwash us. We at least spared our children that horror. They are making their own decisions now, and they have help. And these kids, all the gods help us, would have come running back to Britain if we'd simply sent them away. It's just not in them to walk away."

There was a long pause.

"I miss my sister," Narcissa eventually said as she met her cousin's grey eyes. They were so familiar and they brought both comfort and despair. They were the same color as both of her sisters'.

Sirius chuckled, but there was no real humor in it. "I know how you feel. A few years ago you gave me an amazing opportunity, I know it was for Kitten's sake, but it doesn't matter, I'm grateful. So now I'll give you all the advice I have: tell Andromeda the truth. I think she already knows it, but don't hold back, give it to her in your own words. I think she misses you too. I would give anything for this chance with Regulus."

Narcissa dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and attempted a smile. "We have to stop having conversations like this."

He checked his watch and smiled. "Chin up Cousin, despite your every effort to prove otherwise by marrying that prat, you're actually great, and Andromeda will see that too."

Narcissa coughed back a laugh and flew up off of the sofa. She was hugging Sirius when Andromeda flooed into the house.

Sirius extricated himself and bowed in an overly grandiose manner before backing out of the room. "I'll just leave you ladies to it then."

"Thank you, Sirius," said Narcissa softly as she watched him retreat. "Hello Andromeda." Her sister had aged, as she knew she would have, but she still possessed that regality of the Black family that Narcissa had always envied.

"Hello Narcissa."

She was no longer shorter than Andromeda but Narcissa almost gave into the adolescent urge to fidget under her pointed gaze. But then she remembered that she was Lady Malfoy, she was proud, and at the very least she was going to speak her piece. "I've missed you."

"Have you?" Andromeda stood tall, looking at her with her head held high, every inch a Black heiress right down to her robes.


"And yet I haven't heard from you in more than 20 years?"

Narcissa felt something in her snap, apparently they weren't going to ease into this discussion. "What would you have had me do?" She hissed.

"Support me!"

"To what end, so that I could lose the man that I love?"

Andromeda scoffed.

"I know that you despise him, but I love him," Narcissa continued. "You should know something about people not understanding your choices."

"It's not the same thing, Cissy."

"Perhaps not. But it was a struggle for us after Bellatrix's behavior. And then you ran off without a word. I've learned in recent years that things are rarely simple. Between us I'm trying to find some understanding."

"And how is Mother?"

"LIving off of Lucius' charity and disrespecting him at every turn. He forbade her from staying in the Manor several years ago over Yule for asking the Dowager Lady Malfoy why she was in attendance and then picking a fight over dinner."

Narcissa had the pleasure of watching Andromeda briefly lose her composure.

"She asked her why she was in Malfoy Manor?"


"That is…hilarious."

"It is, in retrospect. She has no idea of the ways of the world these days."

"Or that your husband wouldn't prioritize her over his own mother."

Narcissa snorted. "That's a whole other story. But you are correct."

Andromeda took a deep breath. "Then perhaps we should sit down and have a real discussion."

Narcissa tried to stop herself from licking her lips as a nervous reaction- it was another terrible habit she'd been taught to overcome in her adolescence- but then again she had rarely been so anxious about something since then. She covertly bit the inside of her bottom lip instead.

"Thank you," she said quietly as Andromeda settled herself on a settee.

"You abandoned me."

"You abandoned me," Narcissa shot right back. "I was younger. I had less prospects. What else was I to do?"

Andromeda held herself very rigid.

"I don't know Cissy, I guess I just thought…"

"That I would forgo my own happiness to support yours?"

That seemed to bring Andromeda up short and she paused before asking: "Lucius makes you happy? I know you said that you love him, but truly?"

Narcissa bristled. "Of course he does. And Draco is the light of my life. Have you not seen enough evidence of that? Lucius changed his views about muggle borns because I asked him to. He's become a spy at great risk to himself, and he continues despite being injured on more than one occasion."

"I don't know Narcissa. The Malfoys are known to be manipulators."

"So are the Blacks." Narcissa bit out as her anger grew. "Didn't it occur to you that I would also feel abandoned? That I, as the third daughter, had been basically hung out to dry? If Lucius hadn't wanted me, hadn't loved me, who knows what would have become of me. No warning, nothing Meda!"

"I didn't know-"

"We were raised in the same house. You knew," Narcissa snapped.

Andromeda seemed to consider this. "Yes, but our parents doted on you, I supposed you would be safe."

Narcissa took a deep breath. "They doted on my appearance. 'The fair Black child' don't tell me you didn't realize that."

"Perhaps. But I thought you relished it. I thought you enjoyed being the favorite."

"I suppose I thought our relationship was something that it wasn't." She took a deep breath. "If you couldn't trust me. I understand. It hurts but I understand because even I can admit that I don't know how I would have reacted at the time. But that was then, and this is now."

Andromeda pursed her lips and Narcissa was almost certain that she was also biting her lip as she contemplated her response.

"Please don't let this be a forever rift Meda. Bella is lost to us. I've been wanting to reconnect with you for years."

"Yes. So, why now? Why reach out now? It seems awfully convenient now that you apparently need my help, to what, assist in you being accepted by the Order? Please tell me you're not using that poor girl. We are not tools to be used because you decided to switch sides."

"That girl is our salvation and I love her as fiercely as any babe born from my womb. I'll let the absolute insult of that comment slide as I know that there is an ocean of issues between us.

"Carry on."

"You knew something of my abilities as a child, so let me explain. Do you remember that of which I speak?" She tapped her temple demonstratively.

Andromeda sat back, looking more unimpressed than ever, but she nodded. "I do, I never knew what to make of it, to be honest. But you certainly saw things differently than the rest of us."

Narcissa nodded. "I realized when I was still fairly young that it wasn't something I should speak of openly, please allow me to explain now."

"Please do."

It both pleased and pained Narcissa to tell the story of the witch she'd met in a share something so special with someone who was so sceptical. Of how she'd come to love her. How proud she and Lucius were to call her their own. How she was Draco's raison d'etre.

It felt like sharing her soul and it was both cleansing and terrifying. She wished Andromeda had been present for it all, that she had been by her side to help the Grangers acclimate to the magical world. That their children had grown up together and Hermione had met Andromeda's daughter not as Tonks, but at Draco's cousin Dora. But it could not be undone.

Narcissa had initially hoped to contact Andromeda once Abraxas was dead. That hope had initially been quashed by the news of the Dark Lord's continuing existence. But she did hope to do all that was possible to make up for lost time, and she expressed as much to Andromeda.

It seemed like an eternity to Narcissa, but it was probably only twenty minutes before she stopped speaking and dared to look at Andromeda again. She wasn't ashamed of anything she's done since she'd brought Hermione into their lives, but she realized that she desperately wanted her sister to approve of her life.

"May I meet him?" Andromeda eventually asked, "I'd very much like to meet my nephew."

Narcissa suppressed a sigh of relief. "He's upstairs with Harry and Sirius. I would be concerned that they've destroyed something, but thankfully this isn't my house. He's been waiting to meet you as well."

And a smile that Narcissa hadn't seen for twenty five years bloomed on Andromeda's face.

Narcissa called one of the Potter elves: Mopsy, who she knew was especially fond of Draco and asked her to fetch him.

Draco appeared in the doorway a few minutes later, Narcissa could see Harry hovering behind him, clearly worried about his friend, especially in Hermione's absence.

"Hello, Aunt," he said as he entered the room. It would not have been obvious to anybody who didn't know him, but Narcissa could detect the reticence both in his posture and his voice and for a moment she regretted agreeing to Hermione's insistence that Draco meet his aunt on his own. That it be all about them.

But then Andromeda smiled and reached towards him. "Hello, Nephew." Draco rolled his shoulders and strode into the room, holding his hand out for his aunt to take. She ignored it and instead pulled him into her arms. Narcissa didn't miss the flash of surprise and then the smile on Draco's face.

And a part of her heart that Narcissa hadn't known she was missing fell back into place.


A few days later Narcissa awaited a visit from her other sister with a different kind of dread. Reuniting with Andromeda had been wonderful, but it had also opened the wound that was her broken relationship with Bellatrix. One that she knew was too far gone to be repaired.

"Hello Cissy Dear!" Bellatrix greeted Narcissa when she entered the parlour for their planned tea, something she had to do to maintain appearances.

And to continue poisoning her own sister. It was something she didn't exactly feel sorry for, that had gone out the window the moment she had raised her wand towards Draco. But it was difficult to see Bellatrix continually growing sicker, knowing that she was contributing to it. It was impossible to do away with the dichotomy between the sister she'd known as a little girl who she badly wanted to pay attention to her, and the grown witch who disgusted her.

Narcissa had been bracing herself for the arrival, but she couldn't quite get over how far Bellatrix had deteriorated. Especially after seeing Andromeda. They had resembled each other so much as children, and those superficial likenesses now seemed highlighted by how fundamentally different they were in character.

There was also an amount of guilt that Narcissa felt as she wasn't certain if Bellatrix's behavior was the poison, the insanity, or Bellatrix's own hyperbolic personality. Was there a time that she could have helped her sister?

However, she knew now that it was far too late,and her behavior grated on Narcissa's nerves. And whatever it was, she refused to feel guilty. Whatever sympathy Narcissa had once had for her, now Bella had made her it required substantial mental strength to continue to host her and behave as if all was well.

"Hello Bella," she greeted softly, leaning in to kiss the woman's cheeks while suppressing a wince at the stench of her breath. "How are you?"

"Oh very well. The Dark Lord is very pleased with me."

Narcissa kept herself from shuddering and wondered if Bellatrix was so unfamiliar with real relationships that she hadn't considered that Lucius confided in her, because it was apparently no secret amongst the Death Eaters that Bellatrix was ill. And that the Dark Lord was not, in fact, pleased with the situation.

Narcissa considered how to play this. "Always an honour for a member of our family to be helpful to our lord," she ventured.

Bellatrix snickered. "So much more helpful than your Lucius."

"Lucius has done his part."

"Lucius lived in luxury while those of us who were most loyal suffered for Him!"

"And what did that gain you, Bella?" Narcissa sneered.

Bellatrix's smile was nasty. " A place in his kingdom. A place that you will never know the likes of, no matter how your pathetic husband bows and scrapes. Not only will our son one day rule when his father is ready to step down," she rubbed her belly, "but he's left one of his most precious treasures in my possession. Lucius- your family-" she hissed vehemently- "will never know what it is to truly be amongst his most exalted."

Something niggled at Narcissa's brain and she seized on the opportunity while Bellatrix was in the middle of her rant. "Oh? A treasure, I suppose I should congratulate you," she pretended to demure- she was very good at that.

And her own sister bought the act: hook, line, and sinker.

"One guarded with my life, the other by the goblins!" Bellatrix cackled.

Narcissa contained her reaction at this part of Bellatrix's confession. "And am I to understand that congratulations are in order?" Narcissa glanced at Bellatrix's abdomen warily. She had been certain their plan would work.

"No," Bellatrix pouted, "but it's only a matter of time! Mother had three children after-all."

"Three girls," Narcissa could help but remind her.

"Yes, but the Dark Lord and I will do better."

Narcissa's breath caught in her throat. She knew what it felt like to be a disappointment. But she also knew that Bellatrix had borne the brunt of that disappointment, merely for being a girl. Her reunification with Andfromena had reopened that wound. She wished she could have an opportunity to reconnect with Bellatrix, but it was painfully clear that was long past, if it had ever existed at all.

"I'm certain that it is," Narcissa demurred, gazing over the top of her teacup at the woman who had once been a beloved- if scary-, older sister. As much as she knew that she'd lost her, as furious as she was about how she had willfully marched into her home and tortured Draco, she somehow still felt a little dismayed as she lied through her teeth. "He must be so pleased with you Bella. I'm proud to be your sister."

But then there was also a moment of satisfaction. Bellatrix had finally shown her hand when she bragged that she was keeping something for the Dark Lord in an impenetrable place, and in mentioning the Goblins.

Suddenly it all made sense.

The reason they had been unable to locate the last horcrux was not a malfunction of their map, nor was it because the horcrux was behind heavy wards like the ones on Grimmauld Place. It was because it was ensconced in wards that weren't erected by wizards at all, and that were specifically designed to prevent theft.

It was in Gringotts.


Narcissa gathered herself and walked into Lucius' study a couple of hours later, before he would have sought her out for dinner, and seated herself on the sofa with a little huff. He raised his eyebrows.

"Cissa? Did tea not go well?"

"What an asinine question. I haven't killed her yet, if that's what you're asking."

Lucius seemed to realize his mistake and remained silent.

"I've discovered why we haven't been able to locate the last…thing." Narcissa knew that her temper was misplaced, but she still couldn't bring herself to utter the word 'horcrux' unless absolutely necessary.

He cocked his head.

"It is inside Gringotts, as we hypothesized given the inaccuracy of the map with this one. Goblin wards are different than ours, are they not? Would it make it more difficult to locate than even something hidden within a Fidelius Charm?"

Wards were not at all her area of expertise. In upper echelon pureblood society it was traditionally a skill passed from Lord to Scion as a means of keeping their property safe.

Lucius nodded. "That does stand to reason, the locators have been pinging all around London."

"I believe it's in the Lestrange ancestral vault, Bellatrix all but confessed to me. I don't think they have any idea of what it is. In fact, I think only Bellatrix knows that it's significant to the Dark Lord"

"Rodolphus allowed her to store it there without question?"

"That was my understanding. Does that not make sense if she said that it was at the Dark Lord's behest? And he didn't allow her to keep a vault after their marriage, he would have considered anything stored in their vault to be a boon. Correct?"

"Of course. Sometimes it's painful for me to remember that some men don't value their wives for anything other than what they can bring into the marriage."

Narcissa rounded the desk and pulled her husband to his feet. "Fortunately for me, you're not one of those wizards."

He let out a long breath and then placed his forehead against hers. She worked her hand up his spine and into his hair until he relaxed.

"You do realize that this is good news? We know where the last one is!"

"No, I'm always happy to have more information about a situation. But you must also realize that this makes it infinitely more difficult to access- and then we have to trust that Bellatrix knows what she's talking about."

"Of course, you're correct."

"Also, I'll give the goblins their due, they're good at their jobs. And the Lestranges will have one of the most heavily protected vaults."

She shrugged against his chest, like what she was about to say was no big deal. "Luckily I'm familiar with the highly protected vaults, I have a sister who knows one of the signatories on the vault well, and we have access to the hair of the signatory in question as well as her wand."

Lucius gaped at her. "You expect Andromeda to break into Gringotts with you…disguised as Bellatrix?"

"Lucius if it had taken you any longer to come to that conclusion I would have been severely disappointed."

"How do you plan to pull this heist? How do you even know what you're looking for?"

"The map should work once we've cleared the wards, it'll lead me right towards what I'm looking for."

"If it exists."

"If it exists," she admitted.

"If you're caught, this will alert the Dark Lord."

"I'm aware, I was planning to wait until the last possible moment."

"And Bellatrix? How do you plan to keep her quiet and not involved?"

"I thought, perhaps, my sister might need to convalesce under my expert care," she batted her eyelashes at him.

"And you believe that Andromeda will agree to this?"

"All I can do is ask."


"Yes," Andromeda said immediately.

This time Narcissa had asked to meet Andromeda in her own house, as she wanted her to feel completely comfortable as she made the request. She was pleased to see she lived in a lovely appointed home. It was nothing like the Manor but it was tastefully decorated, spacious, and Narcissa was happy to see that one look around at the art on the walls and the photographs arranged in various places told the story of a well lived life.

"You realize this is dangerous you-"

"Don't insult me Cissy! I understand what you're asking."

Narcissa shut her mouth immediately.

"Nymphadora joined the Order despite my feeling that it was a mistake of the worst kind. However noble their mission is, they are under trained and ill prepared. But she's an idealist. I'm not. I followed her because I didn't think that I had a better option. I'll protect my daughter like you're protecting your son, so I'll do what I must to give them a leg up."

"And Bellatrix?"

"I haven't believed that there was any saving her for a long time."

"This is the endgame, Meda. Once we put this in place there's no going back. He will know that somebody knows about his horcruxes. And Bella-"

They shared a look of commiseration and Narcissa reached forward to wrap her sister into an awkward hug. Hermione had taught her many things, but this kind of physical affection still didn't come naturally to her.

"We'll have to time it perfectly, so that she won't be missed until it's too late," she murmured.

"I am at your disposal," Andromeda cracked a sardonic smile at this pronouncement, "Lady Malfoy," the grin grew wider, but was clearly sarcastic at the use of her title.

Narcissa snorted, at her sister's use of the title Narcissa had once been so proud of, and now would gladly sacrifice for her family's safety, and then sobbed into Andromeda's neck. "I keep telling myself we lost her a long time ago."

"We did," Andromeda responded, and Narcissa realized that the tears running down her neck were not only her own.

"It shouldn't still hurt."

"But it does."

"I love you."

"And I love you too." Andromeda cradled Narcissa's head as she spoke and it startled Narcissa to realize that at some point during their estrangement, she'd grown taller than her sister. "I'll always love Bellatrix, or at least I love the girl that I used to know. But this needs to end. We both know it."

Narcissa thought of her children, her husband, her ridiculous cousin, along with so many others. And then there was the woman who stood before her and extended understanding after all these years: "Yes. I'm just relieved that you'll be with me until it does."