WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A BLACK

(Take Two)

In the end, it was Andromeda who spoke first.

"How'd you get this?" she asked, gazing in surprise at the gentle funeral plot, and the small gray stone reading simply, BELLATRIX VÍGDIS BLACK LESTRANGE in what she recognized as her blond sister's handwriting. Narcissa didn't turn, her arms wrapped around herself protectively.

"Asked," she said simply, almost tonelessly. "Just asked."

"And they agreed?" Andromeda was mildly incredulous. Probably mildly furious too, if she probed her feelings further. After what Bellatrix had done, she didn't deserve this quiet, neat grave. Much less the (almost) even quieter ceremony Andromeda had observed from the shadows, curious in spite of herself—a young and conscientious priest, Narcissa, Lucius, Draco, and two stiff, disapproving Aurors escorting a wandless, broken-hearted, broken-down Rodolphus Lestrange.

"They've been more polite than I expected—mostly," Narcissa commented, still in that light, expressionless tone. Andromeda sensed the depth of pain, humiliation, and fear behind that "mostly," but ignored it. Nothing Narcissa could have gone through could possibly compare to the pain of losing Nymphadora and Ted. Honestly, Andromeda thought she would forget to eat without little Teddy. Just waste away. He needed her, though. However grand a Savior, Harry Potter was just a boy—not ready to be a father. Not yet.

Andromeda studied Narcissa's profile—still flawless, still remote. "Will you have a trial?" she asked, unable to let the conversation die.

"I suppose so," Narcissa said, still not betraying an interest. "She never forgave you, you know," she continued, gesturing slightly toward the taciturn, cold stone. "For leaving."

Andromeda had no response to this.

"I don't suppose you'll ever forgive her, either—not that she would expect you to. I hope…someday, you can forgive me. I was wrong. I didn't understand. Now I do. There's nothing I wouldn't give for my family—for Lucius and Draco. The thought that something dreadful might happen to Draco…torments me still. These past three years have been hell. I don't expect you to just forget what we did to you, and I'm certainly not demanding anything of you…but I wanted to tell you. I—" Narcissa's voice broke on a sob, valiantly suppressed. "I'm sorry, Andromeda."

Andromeda knew a brief impulse to reach out and comfort her, as she would have done a much younger Narcissa. She suppressed it, reminding herself of what her sister had done. Yet she couldn't bring herself to leave. She stood like a statue, listening to Narcissa cry quietly, and staring sightlessly at Bellatrix's grave.

Gradually, Narcissa stopped sobbing, and dabbed at her wet cheeks delicately with a monogrammed handkerchief. When she had control of herself again, she looked at Andromeda, really looked at her, for the first time.

Andromeda waited in indifferent silence for platitudes about how much she'd changed, or snide remarks about the dark circles under her eyes and her tangled, soot-blackened hair (she knew it only emphasized her already pronounced resemblance to dead Bellatrix—people drew back from her in the streets, or cast curses at her, but no spell could harm her or Bellatrix now).

"I know why you came," said Narcissa, once she'd completed her visual analysis. Andromeda tried to recall if there had been a feather-light touch upon her mind, but could not. She gave it up as irrelevant.

"Why did I come?" she asked, as she might to humor a small child.

"Because she was the first person you couldn't save."

Andromeda shivered. Why was it, that after so many years of estrangement, Narcissa still didn't need Legilimency to read her like a book? She was the most observant person Andromeda knew.

"It doesn't matter now," she said, thinking that it did matter, it always mattered, and feeling a quite irrational anger that Molly Weasley had stolen a march on her. She owed Bellatrix pain, but her sister was forever out of her reach. The lingering, feeble worry that Narcissa was right gnawed at her. If only she could have saved Bellatrix, Ted and Nymphadora would still be alive. She'd always known she'd failed her family—not by choosing Ted, choosing love over hate, and Light over Dark—but by not dragging them, all unwilling, into the sunlight with her. What did it matter that she had escaped? They had not.

Except for Narcissa, Andromeda mused. She has survived with her family intact. An overpowering wave of jealousy swept over her.

"Of course it matters," said Narcissa. "All of it matters. I feel as though the three of us have been hurtling toward this point for years—but fate is better ignored than mourned over. I thought I had forgotten what it means to be a Black—my son is all a Malfoy—yet here we are."

"The sisters Black," said Andromeda venomously. "Together again."

"Still cursed. Do you know," said Narcissa, her eyes lightening with what Andromeda recognized as humor; she wondered what her sister could possibly find to amuse in this world—she would never laugh again. "Do you know what Bellatrix said to me the day after you left, when I begged that we might see you once more?"

Andromeda didn't reply to this; Narcissa had been in Slytherin, after all—surely the implication that she had been inconsolable upon her elder sister's departure was strategic.

"She said," continued Narcissa, her voice calm but her eyes dancing, "and I quote, 'you will see that ungrateful blood traitor again over my dead body!'"

Andromeda stared at Narcissa for a moment, whose control appeared to have left her; she was laughing hysterically. Then Andromeda's gaze followed hers to the cold, haughty headstone, and felt a jolt go through her—she could almost see the crack in the ice wall around her heart as she too burst out laughing.

Eventually, Andromeda realized she was laughing and crying at the same time, and tried desperately to collect herself—to reconstruct that icy wall beyond which nothing—not Cissy's tears, not Teddy's hair, not Bella's victims' curses—could reach her. But she could not, and before she was able to recapture her dignity, she was sobbing her heart out on Cissy's shoulder.

Cissy murmured soothingly to her, and Andromeda could not distinguish one word in ten. But it didn't signify—this was only the beginning.

Hours later, the two sisters left the graveyard, striding side by side. Andromeda knew Cissy would have been glad to walk with her arm in arm, but she wasn't quite ready for that. She wondered fleetingly if she should have followed her darker impulses, and shunned her remaining family as they had shunned her. But then, who knew when rich relatives anxious to atone might come in handy for Teddy. Andromeda Black had been in Slytherin, too.

As they left, Andromeda glanced back at the innocuous, quiet graveyard that housed her homicidal maniac sister, and thought how fitting it was that her and Cissy's reconciliation had occurred over Bella's grave.

The End—or, more properly, the beginning.