Author's Notes: Written for the heroinebigbang on Livejournal – a collaborative project between authors and artists in which authors write long fics (in this case, a minimum of 15K centring around female characters), and artists create art to accompany them. I will at some point provide some method of viewing the art – this website has made it very difficult by not allowing anything resembling a URL in a story.
Warnings (for the entirety of the story): Contains dark subject matter, namely child abuse, incest, non-consensual sex between an adult and a minor and evidence of some forms of some mental disorders.
Narcissa could hear Bellatrix crying.
Bellatrix always made a careful effort not to cry when her little sisters were around, no matter what happened, but she was easy to hear. Quiet sobs interspersed with furious, indecipherable whispers carried far in the halls of Black Manor.
Bellatrix didn't know that her sisters could hear her from their bedroom when she hid in the attic and cried, and neither Andromeda nor Narcissa had the heart to wound her pride by telling her. So they sat stayed in bed and when they saw their eldest sister again in the mornings, they acted as though nothing had happened.
On these nights, when Bellatrix was in the attic, Andromeda could asleep easily enough, but Narcissa lay awake. She could not sleep at home without her eldest sister in the room.
One particular night in January, when frost made spidery webs upon the windows and the moon shone bright and clear and cold over Black Manor, Narcissa was curled in bed, trying to lull herself to sleep, listening to Bellatrix's quiet sobbing, and trying to recall the events of the night.
Cygnus and Druella had thrown one of their usual parties, an even duller affair than the ordinary ones because so few people had attended. But they had put their best efforts into making it seem important, because it was to celebrate their daughters' return to Hogwarts, which, Narcissa supposed, was something that required a party.
Narcissa was being kept home a few extra days – she was ill, and her parents said that it was better for her to recuperate at home than go off to school and strain herself. She was such a delicate thing, after all. But Bellatrix and Andromeda would be going – Bellatrix, for her very last term at the school – and so there had been a celebration.
Despite Narcissa's illness and frailty, she had been required to attend. She had begged her parents to let her go up to bed, but they told her it was only a few hours, and then she could go and sleep. So she stayed downstairs.
Andromeda had disappeared somewhere – perhaps to the library to bury herself in a book, or to a broom cupboard with some boy. Rabastan Lestrange sat at the edge of the party in his usual state of brooding angst, fidgeting and only occasionally looking up to glance around with something like suspicion, and Bellatrix was dancing with Rodolphus Lestrange, leaving Narcissa to sit at the edge of the room and listen to hushed discussion of boring matters between her father and other men.
"…All just politics," Abraxas Malfoy was saying. "It won't ever come to anything."
"Won't it, though?" Joseph Lestrange asked darkly. "You do not understand what can happen, Abraxas…"
"We have worn this subject to the ground," Cygnus put in, rather sharply, as he always sounded when he spoke to Abraxas. "Surely we can discuss something else."
"What else is there to discuss, Cygnus?" Abraxas asked, with a light little laugh. "If you have something clever or intelligent to say, do be sure to tell…"
Cygnus bristled, and Narcissa winced, staring at them and unable to tear her eyes from the scene. This shall not end well.
"Let us discuss morals, Abraxas," he snapped. "Surely that is a good matter for men such as ourselves to discuss – much to say, is there not? Much to say about… for example… the sin of adultery…"
"What are you implying?" demanded Abraxas.
"I said nothing…"
"You two disgust me," Joseph said, taking a sip of his drink. "Must you fight every time we speak?"
"If Cygnus insists upon insulting my honour–"
"Your honour deserves to be insulted!" said Cygnus, his voice rising. Narcissa ducked her head and shrunk back against the wall. That tone in her father's voice was dangerous – she knew better than anyone. Well, anyone save perhaps Bellatrix. "The lowest circle of Hell is reserved for liars and adulterers!"
"I have been led to believe that it is reserved for traitors, actually," Joseph corrected. "And once more, you both disgust me. Let us speak of another matter – neither politics nor honour. Those two topics cannot help but lead to fighting."
There was a brief silence, in which Narcissa felt palpable foreboding. Finally, Cygnus spoke.
"Go to the parlour, my friends," he said, his voice going falsely sweet. "I'll bring Bellatrix in a minute… for your pleasure." He added the last part in a soft, almost predatory voice.
Narcissa bit her tongue, and did not speak. She could have warned Bellatrix as the men filtered out and Cygnus approached his eldest daughter, but she did not. She watched, numb and silent, when Cygnus took Bellatrix's arm, pulling her away from Rodolphus.
Rodolphus looked after her as she was taken away, and Narcissa did as well, but neither of them spoke up. Bellatrix disappeared into the sitting room with the rest of the men and did not reappear.
Narcissa had waited nervously, her mind concocting vivid and vile images of what could be happening to her eldest sister at that very moment, while she balked uselessly in the ballroom. What kind of sister was she, then, if she was allowing this to happen?
But what if it was all innocent? she reasoned with herself. There was no reason for her to think that anything bad was happening to Bellatrix, not really. For all she knew, they were all still discussing politics, and having Bellatrix act as some sort of mediator, and if they were, Narcissa would only be making a fool of herself if she told someone that…
Perhaps she ought to go check. Just to make sure that Bellatrix was all right. Just to be very sure that everything was all right – she was sure that it was, but she just needed to be positive. She'd just peek into the sitting room, and if everything was fine, no one need ever know. And if everything wasn't fine, then… well, if everything wasn't fine, then Narcissa wasn't quite sure what she would do. But she'd do something.
She stood up, smoothing her skirt and smiling cordially at Rabastan, who was watching her absently. He inclined his head a little, but seemed to be looking straight through her and not noticing her in the slightest, which suited Narcissa quite well. If he didn't really notice her leaving, then no one would be able to ask her what she was doing.
Black Manor was quite silent out of the ballroom. Narcissa hesitated, listening carefully. She could hear her mother arguing with Maria Lestrange upstairs and winced slightly at the sound. There was a shrillness in their voices that meant that too many glasses of champagne vodka had been downed, but that was inconsequential. Even if Druella were drunk quite out of her mind – which she clearly wasn't if she still had the stubbornness to argue with Maria – she still was not the threat.
Narcissa tiptoed to the door of the sitting room and pressed her ear to the door. Silence was all she heard, but that meant little – even she knew how to cast effective silencing spells. Bellatrix could have been screaming madly behind that door and no one would hear.
No, Bellatrix wasn't screaming behind the door, Narcissa told herself. That was nonsense.
But she would just make sure…
She gently turned the doorknob, and her heart raced when it did not turn fully. The room was locked, then. So whatever was happening inside…
Narcissa's heart began to beat faster. She tried the knob again, rattling it, then, heart pounding, she lowered herself to her hands and knees and peered beneath the crack of the door. Her eyes had just landed on her father's feet, some ways inside, when the door swung open…
"What's wrong, Cissy?" Andromeda asked when she returned to the party. "You don't look very well."
"I'm fine," Narcissa said, and it wasn't exactly untrue. She didn't feel bad, just… hazy. She felt hazy, as though the whole world was not quite real.
"Where did you go? I've been looking for you."
Narcissa stared blankly and rubbed her eyes. "Pardon?"
"You left the ballroom hours ago. Where were you? Oh, wait a moment…" Andromeda's eyes lit up and she leaned close with a conspiratorial smile. "Were you with Malfoy?"
"Oh…" Narcissa shook her head slowly. She blinked and rubbed her eyes again as spots burst before them. "No. I wasn't… anywhere… I don't remember. I think I went into the parlour and fell asleep. I'm so tired… and…" She twisted her neck back and forth. "Yes, that's it, I fell asleep. My neck's all cramped up." Badly cramped up too – like she had been hit across the base of it. There was a pain in her chest too, probably from lying curled up in some odd position. Funny that she couldn't remember…
"Oh." Andromeda looked disappointed. "That's a pity. I was hoping you two were together… you and Lucius would make a nice couple, you know, and one that Mother and Father would approve of."
"No, we wouldn't," Narcissa said immediately. "We wouldn't make a nice couple at all. I don't want Lucius Malfoy. I don't want to get married."
"Well, not yet. You wouldn't have to be a couple for a while, obviously. But you'll have to get married to someone, someday, you know."
"I don't want to." Narcissa's voice rose a little, and tears stung the backs of her eyes, though she couldn't have said exactly why. "I don't want a husband."
"All right, all right." Andromeda put her hand on Narcissa's shoulder to soothe her. "Calm down. It isn't as if you need to get married right this minute. I only thought that Lucius…"
"I feel ill," Narcissa interrupted. "I want to go to bed."
Andromeda looked concerned, but touched her forehead, feeling for a fever. Narcissa closed her eyes and felt herself relax a little. Her sister's touch felt more like a mother's than Druella's did.
"Right, of course…" Andromeda whispered.
She took her little sister's arm, leading her out of the party and up the sweeping stairs of Black Manor to her bedroom. Narcissa leaned her head on Andromeda's shoulder, barely able to keep up. Her legs felt weak.
Andromeda opened the bedroom door – oh, it was so wonderfully cool and dark inside – and stepped inside with Narcissa. She was the perfect picture of maternal concern – far more so than Druella had ever been.
"Hold out your arms, Cissy. I'll get your dress off."
Narcissa complied, turning around and putting her arms out so that Andromeda could undo the sash and the minute rows of buttons. She tugged the starched white lace off, letting it pool around Narcissa's feet, and then murmured, "Oh, that's it…"
"What is it?" Narcissa asked.
Andromeda said nothing, and Narcissa looked down.
There was a stain of blood upon her petticoat, and more of it on her formerly pristinely white knickers, and the very sight of it made Narcissa shudder. She loathed the sight of blood, especially her own blood, and she had become all too well acquainted with it over the years. She was familiar with coughing it up when she was ill, and with the way it pooled on little cuts on her arms and legs, turning them into tiny strings of rubies until she washed them off. But never before – never – had Narcissa seen blood there.
"Andi…" she whispered, horrified, "I'm dying…"
"No, you aren't," Andromeda said with a soft, resigned sigh. "You're menstruating, that's all. And that's why you feel all weak and sick, I expect – hasn't it happened to you before?"
"Do you know what it is?"
She shook her head nervously.
Andromeda sat down on the bed, and took Narcissa's hands, pulling her gently down to sit beside her. "It's nothing to worry about, Cissy, it's just what happens to women. It's to have babies… do you know how babies are made?"
"Right…" Andromeda sighed. "All right. Well… I don't know how to explain it exactly," she said a little helplessly. "But you have all this blood and tissue inside you to protect the baby when you get pregnant, but if you're not pregnant, then your body doesn't need it, so it… it pushes it all out… I don't know if I'm explaining this very well," she added, with just the faintest note of distress in her voice. "It's complicated. But it's all right – you're not dying. It just happens once a month, and you put a little bit of cloth in your knickers to soak up the blood, and no one ever needs to know…"
Narcissa nodded slowly, and Andromeda kissed her gently on her forehead.
"Don't tell anyone," Narcissa whispered suddenly.
"I won't…" Andromeda assured her.
"Not even Mum, please, Andi…"
"If you don't want her to know, then I won't tell her," she said soothingly. "It's private… or, it's private until you're married, at any rate – which won't be for a long time yet," she added quickly. "Now give me a moment and I'll fetch a cloth, and then we can clean your dress…"
Narcissa sat silently as Andromeda hurried out of the room and returned a moment later with a piece of folded fabric. She took a fresh pair of knickers from Narcissa's drawer and laid the cloth inside them, then handed them to her. "Put them on."
Narcissa blushed as she shimmied out of her knickers, keeping her head bowed. She could feel Andromeda's eyes on her, and her cheeks burned with embarrassment. What was Andromeda thinking when she looked at her.
Andromeda picked up her wand from their bedside table and waved it, the crimson stains slowly fading to nothing on Narcissa's white dress and knickers. Andromeda smiled gently.
"Go to bed now, Cissy," she said. "I'm going back down to the party. If you need anything, you can come down…"
"Mm," Narcissa murmured, pulling on her nightdress and crawling beneath the covers, then sat up, and whispered, "Is it supposed to hurt?"
"When I… menstruate… is it supposed to hurt?"
"Your stomach, yes," said Andromeda, nodding. "Is it your stomach that's hurting?"
Narcissa hesitated, her hand moving slowly over her belly, between her legs, then back to her belly.
"I think so," she said at last. "Mostly."
"That's all right, then." Andromeda stepped back, and Narcissa lowered her eyelids and watched through her lashes as she left the room, turning off the lights and shutting the door behind her.
The room was silent, and the sounds of the party did not carry up to Narcissa's bedroom, but she could hear the familiar sound of Bellatrix crying. She was in the attic, where she disappeared all too often and cried.
Bellatrix's tears frightened Narcissa profoundly.
She hated to think of what could make her brave big sister cry.
She lay in bed and pondered it until she was in tears from terror.