Narcissa had planned her wedding on a piece of parchment one warm summer's day when she was nine.
She had sat under the ancient tree in the grounds of the Black country manor, head bowed over an all-important piece of parchment resting on an old book for support. Her arm moved rapidly upon and across it, drawing bold angles that came together to form a magnificent old castle with detailed tapestries and chandelier lighting. The tapestries, she decided with immediate enthusiasm, would be out of the medieval era, depicting riveting romantic scenes of knights and ladies and forbidden love and the vows they made each other. She then progressed, smoothly rolling the finished product as she voyaged further down the parchment. She sketched an outline of a dress she would like to wear, all lace and elegant glamour, with light airy sleeves. She built upon the drawing of the dress, sketching herself in it. She felt strange drawing what she hoped her adult body would look like, as if she were a soothsayer predicting the mysterious shifts in hair texture or skin tone that belonged to a supernatural realm. The drawing of herself, as a result, seemed more bare lines and shapes than a true person.
Finished with herself, she sketched her sisters, one on either side. She tried to capture the exhilaration with which Bella viewed life, and the pure way Andromeda let the world seep into her skin, but her fingers felt clumsy then. Sighing, she accepted the fact that she would never be able to accurately portray her sisters. She outlined them as she had done herself, in rough lines with almost driplike qualities. She then attempted to fix her attention on what appeared to be an even more daunting difficult task: the groom. She outlined a handsome suit, well-cut and classic, but her fingers stalled as her mind tried to image a face. She thought of a model who advertised for a clothing store in Diagon Alley, and tentatively tried to put onto parchment his chiselled features and strong jaw.
Not entirely satisfied with her effort, she returned to the parchment she had previously rolled, adding grounds to the castle, pencilling in rows of hedges and magnificent stone creatures outside the building to herald in guests. She created a bouquet and then with a lurch of guilt realised she had forgotten to add her parents. She quickly did so, their outlines seeming hazy and hollow, whatever she did to fill them in. They stood an awkward distance from herself and her sisters, too close to be a separate drawing but too far to be part of the picture.
The sunlight had gone, the red of the sunset beginning to darken into night. Overall, Narcissa was pleased with her effort, and ran inside to show it to her sisters.
Narcissa thought of that day and that parchment ten years later, when the idea of her wedding had taken on considerable more significance, no longer simply a whimsical fancy but something deliberate and real. She remembered it with a jolt when lying in bed at around midnight, and rushed to her feet. She scurried to the cellar, where most of her childhood drawings were kept, without bothering to take a lantern. Slippers padding on the hard floors of the manor, she reached her destination, dimly lit by torches on the staircase, casting long, stretched shadows. In the bare light, she searched through box after box until her fingers closed upon a roll of parchment that bore a date approximately ten years prior. Upon unfurling a portion of it, she knew it was the right one. With a sense of victory, she raced back to her room with it.
She lit her bedside lantern herself, not wanting to call a house-elf. Being reacquainted with her nine-year-old self seemed strangely personal, as if she had entered another world that no one else knew the password to. She unrolled the parchment that she had pored over as a child with a sense of trepidation.
In the years intervening, Narcissa had become what some might call an artist, though she would hesitate to use the term. She had taken lessons from a master in Paris for several succeeding summers, and had perfected her technique and focused on subject matter that was considered proper by those in her acquaintance. It was no use telling her parents that she gravitated toward the modern, bare-boned style of art; they had no use for the kind of art that they termed 'drips and dribbles and haphazard lines'. To Narcissa, the paintings she created under the tutelage of the classicists had technical mastery but little soul. Most people assumed it was for feigned modesty that she denied accolades for what they described as 'magnificent art', but Narcissa knew better. It was because she had let her own concept of art fall prey to the direction and moulding of others, and in doing so, she had forfeited her right to call herself an artist.
There were some who appreciated the work that, in the dead of night, might strike her in the form of a vision. It almost always occurred in the hours just before morning, when instincts overrode training and she let herself go, drawing or painting in an almost wild fashion, not knowing the full picture until, hours later, she stepped back to consider it. Sometimes the finished product would disgust her and she would vow never to let her vision take hold of her again; other times, a very few times, she would take in the full intensity of her work and almost be moved to tears and vow never to let her vision take hold of her again.
She never kept that vow. Several days or a week or a month or several months from then, another midnight would come, and with it, another vision.
The work she prized she could not bear to let herself throw away, so she would give it to those who, too, saw something in it. This select circle was decreasing in number. In fact, if current patterns persisted, Lucius would be its only member. Bella, who used to stare at Narcissa's paintings for what seemed like hours, found less and less she loved in them. Narcissa knew that she had found a new kind of art, and therefore had less use for the old. Narcissa used to use bolder colours in her paintings and more reckless, thicker brushstrokes, because she knew Bella liked them. Now her painting-world was more measured and controlled. It was safer, but in some ways, she regretted the loss of it.
A few months ago, she had pinpointed the reason for it. There used to be a time when she was Bella who was Andromeda who was herself, Narcissa; this era had recently come to a crashing halt and Narcissa's paintings reflected it. It was all her now, not her sisters, and somehow this seemed deeply tragic. Narcissa liked looking at her paintings and detecting Bellatrix or Andromeda in them.
As for Andromeda, for all Narcissa knew, she might still appreciate them, but Narcissa had cut that thread herself.
Having let her thoughts wander, she focused her eyes on the parchment. She saw the soul there that would later inhabit her midnight art, as she called it – the earnestness, the desire to draw everything just as it appeared in her mind. She also saw the traces of a simpler world, the promises that childhood made and then withdrew, the fantasies that would eventually evaporate and vanish once one began to hear words like 'practical' and 'responsibility' more often. She felt her chest ache and she put the parchment away.
She was getting married tomorrow, and the wedding by all accounts would be as close to her fantasy as reality would permit. She knew that really, she shouldn't be complaining. It was to take place in a beautiful old palace, rented out by impoverished aristocracy for momentous occasions just such as this, and she was going what was quite possibly the most lovely dress she had ever seen, with lace patterned almost eerily similar to that of her childhood fantasy. Lucius was not a model, but he was infinitely superior to the shadowy man that had been half-imagined on parchment years before. It was none of that which caused her to ache.
No, it was the figures of her sisters around her, the figures closest to her in the drawing.
Narcissa would not have bridesmaids at this wedding. She made that choice knowing it would snub many of her friends from Hogwarts, and many in her social circle, but at this she drew the line. Often she felt that she gave much of herself away in the name of social graces, but there was a limit and this demarcated it. She could only give a finite amount of herself to others: more than that and she would simply be gone. If her sisters could not be there beside her, there would be nobody. She had made herself that vow a long time ago, when she had first imagined her wedding, and even if she could not be loyal to her sisters in reality, she could be loyal to the ideas of them that she still maintained.
Their absence made the entire event seem wrong and mutated, like a cat without a tail: close enough in skeleton, perhaps, but not in essence. Narcissa reminded herself that Bellatrix would be there, but it was a gloomy reminder that was only half true. Over the past year, she had come to terms with the fact that she was scared of the person her sister had become when she was wilfully not looking. The Bella that had taken delight in braiding Narcissa's hair as a child, that had taught her how to use a wand, had stayed up with her for hours in the night with no subject forbidden – that Bella was gone, and it was the Bella Narcissa had loved.
And Andromeda...well. Narcissa did not like to feel guilt, so she did not like to think of Andromeda. She did not like to think of Andromeda's face as she read the announcement of Narcissa's wedding to Lucius Malfoy in the Daily Prophet. Because Narcissa was human, however, she did think of it; she could picture the look of fresh hurt that enveloped her sister's face infinitesimally before she would put aside the paper with a forced look of ease and mention nothing about it to anyone.
It wasn't that Narcissa hadn't tried: she had spent days trying to draft a letter to her, but every attempt had ended in a trash bin. It was beginning the letter that was the difficult part: it had to bridge betrayal and several years of silence, and Narcissa was not sure that simple words could do that, or if she even wanted to risk more of her heart in the attempt. After all, she told herself with more than a hint of bitterness, it was Andromeda who had left.
She looked at the parchment for a long time, biting her lip as the inevitable question came to her mind.
Did she want to be married? There it was, in all its frigid brutality. Narcissa forced herself to have the courage to consider it.
She loved Lucius. She could say that without a single reservation or caveat. She loved the way he looked at her and touched her, the silky feel of his hair under her fingers, his muscled arms and his intelligent gray eyes. She loved how when she was speaking he would concentrate them on her, taking in everything she was saying and everything that she was feeling that she was not saying. Her heart still pounded a little quicker when she would see him enter a room and look at her. If there was one thing that was right in her life, it was Lucius Malfoy. He was a blessing and she often found herself hardly deserving, and because of that she loved him all the more. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, and even that was not enough.
She thought about whether she was ready to be married. She thought she was, given her feelings for Lucius. She knew from Bella's marriage that the state of matrimony was by no means a prison anymore, the way it had been even for the previous generation: one could still live with all the characteristic passion and spontaneity of one's single years. Narcissa knew that marriage would not mean losing sight of her youth; the storm clouds of war was keeping the entire generation both perpetually young and old beyond their years, suspended in limbo. She would continue to draw and paint in her marriage; she would not have to give up her passion. Marriage was not a surrender to her, nor a compromise, but a promise for the future. Yes, she decided, she was ready to be married.
So it was only the question of her sisters. Were her sisters truly so important that they could ruin this day for her? The thought seemed silly when put into words, given that the two things were mostly unrelated, yet the absence of her sisters was all she could focus on. She looked again at the piece of parchment, at her childlike attempt to capture the beloved essences of both her sisters, their psyches and emotions, and she felt like crying.
Narcissa wished, not for the first time, that she hadn't been so careful when living her life: that she had been the one to burn the bridges instead of stand meekly on the other side, watching the flames greedily devour the wood. It must feel better to have left than to do the leaving, because nothing could feel worse than this.
Allowing the despair to fully claim her, the despair that she had suppressed for years, on the eve of what should be her greatest happiness, Narcissa realised she did not know the answer to that painful, grinding question she had put to herself, and perhaps that was her answer.
She ripped the parchment into shreds and finally let tears fall when she released the pieces.
That morning, Bella came. Narcissa had begun to draw a distinction between Bella and Bellatrix; Bella was her sister and Bellatrix was the Death Eater. It made her memories clearer when she did not have to come to terms with the horrifying idea that the sister of her childhood was the same person as the fanatical – Narcissa could not bring herself to say mad – follower of the Dark Lord who delighted in sadism. To think that would be to rewrite her childhood, and Narcissa refused to do so. It was all she had left.
In later years, when Bella was completely gone, Narcissa would continue to call her that to enable her to remember their shared childhood.
Still, this morning, it was Bella. Narcissa had not seen her for years. There was that old smile on her sister's face; it was never anything that could be called sweet, but Narcissa thought it was extremely tender. It had none of the sedentary qualities often associated with the word, but it was simple and genuine in its affection.
"I just can't believe you're getting married, Cissy," she said in a voice ringing with emotion, the way Bella used to speak. She shook her head, leaning back against a wall. "I had a dream last night that none of it was real, and when I woke up I started doubting it, and I came here to be sure. It seems like a normal morning – not the morning of the day when my little sister becomes a married woman."
As always when Bella spoke, Narcissa could not help but smile. She was like an enchantress in a fairy tale, and acting the part of the bewitched, Narcissa would bend and quiver to her implicit commands and whims. "I'll always be your little sister."
Bella embraced her, her fingers gently massaging the top of Narcissa's head. As always, she felt warm, as if even when physically standing still, her spirit never stopped moving. "I hate him for taking you away from me," she murmured, "but I'll forgive him if he makes you happy."
They were extricating themselves from the embrace when the owl came. Tawny and regal, it alighted through the open window into the dining room where a house-elf had set out breakfast. Narcissa's parents were at the mansion, ensuring that everything was in order. Narcissa had resigned herself to eating breakfast alone; seeing Bella, however, was a welcome surprise. Narcissa almost resented the owl for intruding on what she inwardly understood to be her last time spent with her sister Bella before she was gone forever. She did not want anything as mundane as advertisements or congratulations from a distant acquaintance to take one second of her time when Bella was here.
However, she dutifully took the owl's letter after it pecked her hand in its quest for attention. It was sobering to remember that to the owl, the fact that she was of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black and soon to be a Malfoy – though always a Black first, she knew – was of little significance.
She opened it and her hand stilled upon seeing that too-familiar script.
Dearest, dearest, dearest Cissy (I hope someone at least still calls you that),
I heard the fantastic news that I can scarcely believe a few weeks ago, and have been mustering up the courage to write to you since then – it hasn't been easy to figure out exactly what to say. I'm delighted for you and know that you must be happy with him, but I'm not sure how I feel about my baby sister getting married! The immature older sister in me would like you to wait for years and have a prince come and sweep you off your feet – but the mature older sister is elated for the years of joy awaiting you.
Congratulations, Narcissa. I know that you will be beautiful and elegant during the ceremony and put all previous brides to shame in terms of loveliness and grace, so you don't need to hear my wishes for any of that (though if you would like them, perhaps you will be comforted to know that I will be only thinking about you during the entire length of the ceremony). You are about to embark on a new stage of your life and I wish I could see the excitement in your eyes as you ponder the promising future that lies ahead. You will always, always have my support, belief, and love.
P.S. I've been redecorating – here's a photograph of the sitting room! I hope you like it.
Enclosed was, as promised, an image of the sitting room of Andromeda's flat. Narcissa drew a deep breath at it. She saw it covered with Narcissa's paintings, the fates of whom she had often idly wondered about. Narcissa could imagine Andromeda tentatively placing the photograph in the envelope and then taking it out, then, with determined resolve, putting it in again.
In years to come, when Narcissa would glance at the photograph and re-read the letter, the careful way Andromeda tiptoed upon eggshells would cause her guilt to multiply. She would always be touched, as she was now, by Andromeda facing those paintings every day when having tea or reading a book, but later she would think with shame of how she avoided all of Andromeda's possessions at all costs, even going so far as to hardly venture into the library because it was Andromeda's old haunt. In this instant, however, she was only euphoric. She thought for a dizzying moment that Andromeda must have traces of angelic blood that the rest of them did not have, and she thanked the stars for it.
The look on her face must have betrayed the identity of the sender, but because it was Bella and not Bellatrix, Bella said nothing. Even Bellatrix found it difficult to mention Andromeda. It was one of the few links binding the two identities together; blood was deeper than either Andromeda or Bellatrix wanted to believe. When Narcissa looked at her, she was buttering a croissant and casually sipping tea. Her face asked no questions and betrayed no curiosity, yet carried a solemnity that it had not before; this was the Bella who could still be hurt by the betrayal of her sister.
Narcissa felt both full and light. She leaned back against the chair to steady and orient herself, glancing from the letter to Bella and back again. She had the strangest sensation of puzzle pieces fitting into place. She smiled, and it was one of pure happiness. She glanced to the window to see sun pouring in, hitting the table with full force.
She settled into an easy conversation with Bella, ignoring the presence of the letter entirely, over the course of breakfast. They talked of mutual friends and other aspects of their everyday world, as if the past years had vanished into a cauldron. Narcissa thought of Bella sitting across from her and the letter resting upon the table, and thought that no wedding gift she received could ever rival that which had been given to her already.
When Bella left, bidding her congratulations and kissing her cheek with a solemn intensity, she had a few minutes before taking the Portkey to the palace where she would then get dressed and prepared for her wedding. As soon as Bella was gone, Narcissa rushed back to her room and gathered together the shreds of parchment she had torn up the evening before. She fit them together as best she could.
Narcissa looked at the reconstituted parchment, considering. The one intact image was of herself surrounded by her two sisters; her hands had unknowingly betrayed her intentions, preserving that which she most wanted out of sight. Narcissa thought of, as a child, how she had been so focused upon showing her sisters' vivacity and lust for life, rather than her own. She thought of the things she loved about life: painting, the way paint would smear on canvas in drips and lines; the intoxicating aroma emanating from rained-upon grass; misty mornings; dancing; Lucius.
It was harder to watch bridges burn than to burn them. She knew that. Closure, however, had given her an unexpected gift: a new perspective. Perhaps the distinction between activity and passivity was based upon a false dichotomy; there was also the possibility of building new bridges and moving on from that which was now ash and cinder. Mourn, and progress. In some ways, that was the hardest option of all, but also the most rewarding.
She thought of Lucius, and then of the question she had asked herself last night.
She knew the answer.
The day after the wedding, she sat at her easel and made a painting. It was daylight, and she revelled in it.