When dawn finally came, it was the most profound of reliefs to her to be able to get up, to dress and pack her last few things into her trunk. Narcissa was down in the common room before anyone else had even begun to stir, and it was a thousand times more pleasant to sit and wait for her sisters there than to lie in bed.
She had been curled on the couch, staring into the dying embers of the fire and running through a mental checklist of all the things that she had to have done before she left – ask Andromeda for my scarf back, thank Rabastan for helping me with potions homework, make sure that my books are packed at the bottom of my trunk so they won't wrinkle my clothes – when Rodolphus Lestrange strode downstairs and took a seat beside her.
"Hello," she said politely, looking up at him with a small smile.
Narcissa didn't know Rodolphus very well – she knew that he was going to be engaged to Bellatrix, knew that he was a dull sort of boy who was of very little interest to her in general, and knew – from whispers that she had overheard from her parents – that he was rumoured to be (as they said) too close to his brother, but she didn't know a thing about his personality, or what he cared about, besides money, his brother and Bellatrix.
"Hello, Narcissa," he said, in a rather warm voice, and she found her smile becoming more genuine. At least he was pleasant to her, and he had a bit of a way of talking that made her feel more at ease than she usually did when she had to talk to other people.
"You're up early," she said, then winced. God, but she sounded stupid. And childish, horrendously childish. Obviously he was up early. She had been up even earlier – what was she saying?
"I wanted to talk to you."
Narcissa frowned, stiffening a little. She wasn't even aware of it, but when he said that, she automatically shifted away from him.
"M- me?" she asked in a soft, stammering voice. "Wh- what- what do you w- w- want to talk to me for?"
"Bellatrix is worried about you."
"Sh- she is?" Narcissa's heart was beating so hard and so fast that she was sure that it must have been visibly shifting her clothing. "W- well- why is she worried about me? I'm fine…"
Always saying you're fine, Narcissa, always saying you're fine…
"Yes, she is," Rodolphus told her. He was staring at her hard, with a searching look that made Narcissa even more uncomfortable than she already felt. "She's very worried. She thinks that you're sick, you know, Narcissa."
"Sick?" she asked innocently. "Why- why would she ever think that? I'm not sick. I've- I've been healthier than ever," she added, a flush rising in her cheeks when she thought about meals that she had skipped and others that she had vomited back up. But Bellatrix couldn't know about those, and, in any case, that doesn't make me sick. It's just because I can't eat as much as other people, and that's only because I can be a bit delicate sometimes, she told herself. That's what Father says. That's what Father always says.
"I don't know why she thinks it," Rodolphus told her, and she could tell from the particularly stoic and impassive expression on his face that he was trying very hard not to snap at her or say anything that might upset her. At least, she hoped that that was what that expression meant. "All I know is that she does think it, and it must be rather bad if it upsets Bellatrix. You know what she's like."
"Of course I know what she's like," Narcissa said, not without a bit of a snap in her voice. "I'm her sister. I daresay that I know her quite a bit better than you do," she added, frowning. For all Rodolphus's pleasantness a few moments ago, there was a creeping sort of ache in Narcissa's throat now, and she was quite sure that it was entirely because of him.
"I'm sure that you do," Rodolphus said, sounding entirely unfazed. "But obviously, you don't know her quite as well as you'd like to think on this particular subject, because you're upsetting her, and I don't imagine that you want to do that… since, because you know her so well, you know what she's like when she's upset."
"Of course I don't want to upset her!"
"Good," Rodolphus said. "Then you'll listen to me, won't you? You'll listen to me, because I'm going to tell you how to stop her from being upset with you."
Narcissa nodded, twisting her hands together in her lap. "All right," she said quietly, though she was thinking how dare you try to tell me how to stop my sister from being upset? How dare you intrude on our relationship at all? You're nothing to do with me, you're only her boyfriend and her fiancé – that doesn't make you an expert on her and everything about her! But she kept that to herself and gave Rodolphus her most pleasant smile. "Do tell."
"Right," he said briskly. "Well, first off, you should stop fainting all over the place."
"Pardon me?" Narcissa bristled. "You act as though it's my fault! Do you think that I like – as you put it – fainting all over the place? It's not exactly fun to be walking along and suddenly not be able to see or to breathe and to fall over- do you really think that I'm just doing it to bother Bellatrix?"
"No, of course I don't think that," Rodolphus told her, rather irritably. "Now, perhaps you've managed to forget this, but I have a brother – actually, I don't imagine you could forget it, seeing as how you're always getting homework from him – and he has fainting spells too. Let me tell you, Narcissa, they are much worse than the ones you have. Sometimes they're bad enough to knock him unconscious for days. But do you know? He does things to stop them. He takes potions. From what Bellatrix has told me, you do not do this. Isn't that right?"
"I… well, yes, that's right. I don't take potions, at least- well, not at school. But–"
"All right," Rodolphus said, "so you're letting yourself go on fainting all over the place, so you're at fault for that."
"I am not!"
"And that's not the point in any case," Rodolphus continued, cutting across her. "The other thing you should do is… whatever it is that's been driving you mad all year – and don't even pretend that there isn't something, because I've seen it, Andromeda's seen it, Lucius has seen it, Rabastan's making himself half-insane over it, and Bellatrix is about ready to torture you until you tell her what it is – just tell someone. Now, I don't care who it is, and I certainly don't want it to be me," he added before Narcissa could say anything, "because, as you've made very clear, you aren't really any of my business, but you do need to tell someone. Believe me. You do."
"Don't tell me what I need to do!"
"For God's sake, Narcissa, it isn't me telling you," he snapped. "It's me telling you for Bellatrix's sake! Do you think I really give a fuck about your health? I care about Bellatrix! I mean it when I say that she's about ready to torture you over it, and it's just getting worse, and you can't expect any of the rest of us to be able to help unless you tell someone what it is!"
There were tears in Narcissa's eyes, and she dashed them away roughly with the backs of her hands. "You can't talk to me this way!"
"I will talk to you any damn way I please!" Rodolphus all but snarled at her, and Narcissa shrunk away from him. He could be quite frightening when he wanted to be, she thought, and then wondered why in the name of God Bellatrix would want to be with someone like that. "I know that Andromeda's been trying to get you to open up to her, and you won't bloody do it, and what you need right now is a good slap, and if I'm the only one who's willing to give it to you, then so be it!" He raised his hand threateningly and Narcissa screamed. She flung her arms up over her head and ducked down, tears filling her eyes.
"Don't!" she cried, a sob wrenching itself from her throat. "Don't, Rodolphus, please don't!"
She expected a blow, but none came, and slowly, she raised her head, looking up at him with wide and teary eyes. He was staring down at her with an expression that was too close to comprehension for her liking.
"Narcissa," he said very quietly, "has someone been hurting you?"
"What?" Her heart began to pound. "What do you mean, hurting me?"
"I mean, is there someone… anyone – and you don't have to tell me who," he added quickly, "who has… who has hit you or beaten you or… done anything to you?"
"I… don't know what you mean," Narcissa said in a tiny, shaking voice. "Of course not." She tried to force herself to laugh. "Who would do that to me?"
"Plenty of people." Rodolphus leaned a little closer to her and Narcissa shifted away, down the couch, trying to get as far away as possible from him. "You're a girl… you're small… easy to hurt… there are lots of people who would do things to you, you know."
"Well, no one is," she said, but she sounded more than a little hysterical, even to herself. "No one has hurt me. Never," she added, and with every time she repeated it, she thought that Rodolphus looked even more suspicious. "Why would you even think that?"
"Because if I went to slap Bellatrix," he said, "she'd slap me right back, and if I went to slap Andromeda, she might put up an arm to protect herself or get out of the way, but you…"
"What, I don't want to be slapped, so that means that someone's been hurting me?" Narcissa asked, scowling at him. "That doesn't make sense, Rodolphus, and I won't listen to you if that's the sort of thing you think!"
"I didn't say that," he told her calmly. "You ought not to put words in people's mouths. I never said that it necessarily meant that you were being hurt. I just think… based on some things… that I've noticed about you over time…"
"What sort of things?" she asked warily.
"Things like how you don't like people – other than your sisters – to even get close to you… like how you're moving away from me right now, and you have been for the entire time that we've been talking…"
"That's just stupid, Rodolphus," she told him, biting her tongue hard. She tasted a little blood in her mouth, and that only made her want to bite harder. Maybe, she thought, if she bit hard enough, she could chew right through her tongue, and then she'd never have to talk again. She wouldn't have to finish this conversation with Rodolphus and she'd never have to talk to her sisters, and she'd never ever have anyone say that she ought to tell them what was wrong with her, because she wouldn't be able to.
"No, it isn't," he said, "and, you know, Narcissa, the more you tell me that there's nothing wrong and that I'm being stupid to think that there is, the more I think that you're lying."
"Well, I'm not!"
She stood up, shaking her head. "No, I'm not," she told him, very aware of how close she was to crying, and how that probably made him think that she was hiding something even more than he already did. "I'm not lying, and I'll thank you to stop insinuating that I am!" She swallowed hard, biting back tears, then turned to flee from the common room. Rodolphus called something as she ran, but she only caught one word.
Get away now, Narcissa, get away…
She sprinted up the stairs, and only when she was far away from Rodolphus and quite sure that he was not following her did she drop to the ground and begin to cry.
I'm not hiding anything, I'm not!
Narcissa allowed herself only a few minutes of sobbing before she pulled herself together and stood up, wobbling a little as she went to the lavatory to splash some cold water on her face. She felt much better after that, and even managed to smile a little at herself in the mirror.
She would be all right if she just didn't think about what Rodolphus said.
It was all madness, in any case. No one had ever hurt Narcissa – not really, in any case. Perhaps she had gotten a slap or two for impertinence when she was little, but that wasn't anything. All Pureblood children underwent that sort of thing. If they didn't, how on earth would they ever grow up into proper ladies and gentlemen?
Has anyone hurt you?
She could hear Rodolphus's voice inside her head, no matter how hard she tried to block it out.
Has anyone hurt you?
"No one has hurt me!" she said out loud, glaring viciously at her reflection, as though it was the one that had made that insinuation. "No one!"
"Stop it," she said softly, rubbing her forehead and thanking God that she was alone – she must have been making such a spectacle of herself, talking like this. "Stop it, Narcissa. You're being stupid.
Has anyone hurt you?
"No one has hurt me," she whispered. "No one has hurt me at all."
Bellatrix is worried about you.
And why? If Narcissa was being hurt, why would Bellatrix care? Bellatrix paid little attention to what was happening in her younger sisters' lives, and that was exactly how Narcissa liked it. She didn't care for having other people involving themselves in her business.
Bellatrix is worried about you… Bellatrix is worried about you…
She wouldn't be worried if I got hurt, Narcissa told herself. She ran a hand slowly through her hair, tugging on it slightly and letting the sharp jabs of pain bring her to earth. Andromeda would, but not Bellatrix.
But then, maybe… well, maybe Bellatrix might be worried about her. Maybe if Bellatrix had been hurt first–
What are you thinking, Narcissa?
Bellatrix never got hurt. No one would dare to hurt her – and no one who did dare would live to tell the tale. Bellatrix was absolutely impossible to hurt, wasn't she?
Well… Father might have been able to hurt her if he tried very hard. But no one else. And why would Father want to hurt Bellatrix? She was his pet, his daughter who he pushed harder than anyone else because he wanted her to do well in the world, wasn't that right? That was why he took her into his study so often – to talk to her about her future, and make sure that she wouldn't marry below her station or waste her life. They spent hours in his study, talking…
They are talking, aren't they?
Of course they were talking. If he had been doing anything else – if Cygnus had done anything to hurt her – Narcissa would have known. Bellatrix would have told her, Andromeda, their mother, everyone. She wouldn't just let herself be hurt. But she had never shown anything…
She had never cried, had she?
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.
But everyone cried sometimes – it didn't mean anything. All it meant was that sometimes, Bellatrix had to express some sort of emotion…
Funny how she always did it after she had been alone with Father.
Funny how Narcissa couldn't sleep without her.
Funny how sometimes, when Bellatrix was up in the attic, Narcissa would hear heavy, plodding footsteps in the hall outside. She would bury her face in the pillow and lie just as still as she knew how to be, barely daring to breathe for fear of it being seen, and she would hear her door creak open, see a bit of lightness in the corner of her eyes, and then there would be footsteps – heavy, plodding footsteps towards her bed, and she would listen to them, and to the sound of ragged breathing…
He's just checking on you. There's nothing wrong with that!
"Narcissa," she would hear her father whisper, and she used to turn over, blink up at him.
But she'd learned not to do that, she had learned to pretend that she didn't hear him and lie very, very still and not move even a single muscle. She had learned to stop breathing after he'd whispered her name. Sometimes he would reach down and she would feel his hand on her shoulder, or upon one narrow hip, and it would be all that she could do not to go stiff…
But then he would let go, and there was nothing wrong with any of that. It didn't hurt her, and having her father's hand upon her shoulder…
Her hip, her thigh, her waist, her breast–
"No!" she said out loud, glaring at her reflection. "No! No, he doesn't!"
And then he leans close and you can smell roses and wine on his breath–
She clapped her hands over her ears, as though that would block out the sound. Of course it didn't – it only made it louder inside her head.
Roses from the cologne that Mother gives him because it disguises the smell of the wine, and the smell of the blood.
"There's no blood!"
And it's red wine, his favourite – probably from a bottle you had to fetch for him–
"No one hurts me," she said in a broken whisper, and then louder, shouting it at herself, "No one hurts me! No one has ever hurt me!"
Tears were oozing from the corners of her eyes, and now that she was staring into the mirror, looking at herself properly, she looked quite mad. Her hair was dishevelled from her running her fingers through it – all a mess, all over her, hanging down around her face in pale strings, even though she had washed it and combed out every tangle just yesterday. Just minutes ago – when she had first looked in the mirror – it had been perfectly smooth and satiny, and now it was a mess…
Father won't like it.
Father had seen her unkempt before, and he had always said that it was bad, Narcissa, bad. You can't be a proper lady when you look like that, you know. Now comb your hair and wash your face or I'll have to punish you.
With shaking hands, Narcissa managed to turn the faucet. Too far, and water spilled out over her. She swore, then clapped her hand over her mouth.
Ladies don't speak like that, Narcissa! she could hear her father saying, and tears stung her eyes.
I'm sorry, Daddy, I didn't mean to say it. I want to be a lady. I want to be a lady, Daddy.
My little lady, isn't that right, Cissy? You want to be my little rose, don't you? A pretty little flower, just for me?
That's right, Narcissa. And you know what ladies do when they make their fathers angry…
Yes, Daddy, but please don't make me–
My study, Narcissa. Now.
She let out a tiny, inarticulate shriek through her fingers.
He didn't hurt me! He never did!
"He hurt Bellatrix," Narcissa said out loud, still pressing her hand over her mouth so that the words came out slurred and muffled. She could feel hot tears on her cheeks now – red hot, burning hot, like his hands when they're on you– "He hurt Bellatrix, and she doesn't know I know, and I won't tell- but he never hurt me!"
She was glaring at her reflection now, but buried deep inside the harried, mad-looking girl that she could see in it, was another girl, one who didn't look the way Narcissa knew she did. This girl looked smug, a bit self-satisfied, and Narcissa knew–
That she knows I'm lying–
That she thought Narcissa was lying, and she could see her so much more clearly now than she could see crazy-girl Narcissa. She was so close – so close to her in the glass that Narcissa could have reached out and slapped that impertinent grin right off her face.
She drew back her hand and lashed out, trying to hit her.
But before she could reach that smirking face, her hand hit something hard and cold, and then the girl was obscured by a pale, glittering spider's web and a splash of red, like a great crimson rose blossoming out of the glass, and Narcissa fell back, shrieking and clutching her hand.
Blood ran down her wrist, and she stuck her whole arm under the water spraying from the tap, trying to wash it up, but it only turned the water crimson and made it sticky on her fingers.
Red on his fingers, like the first time–
So little, and he was so big–
Narcissa was sobbing hysterically, her whole body heaving with tears, and it was all she could do to draw breath. Her arm was burning up – her whole arm, from the fingertips right to the shoulder, and the rest of her too, all on fire. Her knuckles were swelling too, from where they'd hit the glass.
Where did you get those bruises, Cissy?
I don't have bruises.
Yes you do, all over your legs.
She could hear Andromeda's voice in her head, all sweet and polite concern, thinking she was doing the right thing by asking, but all she was doing was ripping Narcissa's heart out.
Oh… I just fell.
But the only time that she had ever fallen was after – when her legs were weak and hurting and in between them, deep inside her…
Don't cry, Narcissa. You're a big girl – you shouldn't be crying.
It hurts, Daddy. Please don't.
Don't cry, and I'll be gentler.
So Narcissa had silenced her tears and only closed her eyes and bitten the insides of her lips while he–
And when he let her go, she went to the loo to wash and there was blood on her teeth, blood on her thighs…
"Is someone in… Narcissa!"
It was Bella's voice, wasn't it? Narcissa could hear it, as though from a thousand miles away. She blinked twice, but all she could see was redness. And pain.
She never knew pain had a colour, but it did. Crimson that sparkled with gold that sparkled with black that sparked with crimson, and all over again. Narcissa tried to speak, tried to say yes, Bella, I'm here, but she was too busy watching the glittering pain that she was in.
She thought that she'd hurt before, but now she hurt inside, and she hurt where he'd done it, and her arm – her arm…
Warm arms, soft arms, thin arms, wrapping around her and lowering her to the ground.
Strong hands with long, scratching fingernails brushing the hair oh so tenderly from her face.
"It's going to be all right, Narcissa."
And Bella's voice.
"Bella…" Narcissa just managed to croak, but she felt a finger press over her lips and fell silent. It hurt to talk in any case. But then, so did everything. Everything hurt. Everything hurt so much.
She felt something cool and damp sponging at her arms, and then heard Bellatrix whispering something, and suddenly, her hand wasn't throbbing quite so much. It still hurt – oh, it hurt badly – but in a different way. In a duller, cleaner way.
"Everything's all right, Cissy."
And then the warm, wet thing was on Narcissa's eyes. Everything went dark for a moment and her body jolted automatically, lashing out for fear that she was going blind, but when she saw light again, the redness was gone, and she could almost see clearly.
Bellatrix was bending over her.
Her long, black hair fell in curtains about her face, which was white and drawn and all fear and anxiety.
"Cissy, can you hear me?"
There were tears shining in Bellatrix's eyes now. Bellatrix didn't let people see her cry – not ever, she simply didn't, except that one time that Narcissa had dared to go up into the attic.
She had been sitting in the corner, with her face buried in her hands, and when she looked up, there were tears in her eyes then. They hadn't fallen down her face. Just in her eyes, shining and giving them a glassy, glossy look, like the eyes of a doll…
And her legs had been spread apart, as though it hurt her to hold them close to each other, and there was blood again smearing her thighs as she sat, immobile, on the attic floor, the only movement the old rose-lace curtains fluttering over the attic's badly boarded up window.
Narcissa let out a strangled cry, and her arms shot up to wrap around her sister's neck. Bellatrix jolted automatically at her touch, and Narcissa could feel her stiffen, but she didn't let go. Her whole body was convulsing with sobs, and she buried her face in Bellatrix's shoulder to cry.
"Shh…" Bellatrix stroked her hair slightly, then stopped when Narcissa's tears came faster. "Narcissa, for the love of God, what's wrong?"
"How- did you- f- find me?"
"Rodolphus said he'd tried to talk to you and you went running – you're bleeding all over the floor, Narcissa! What happened to your arm? Did you hit the mirror? Are you mad, Cissy?
She nodded. "I- I think- I am…"
"Don't say that!"
"But I am, Bella!" Narcissa was hysterical, crying and shaking as her sister tried to hold her. "Bella- Bella, I–"
"Shh… breathe, Cissy…"
Narcissa took a deep gulp of air, then looked up at her sister with wide and anguished eyes.
"Bella," she whispered, "he hurt me."
"Who did?" Bellatrix asked, suddenly alert. Narcissa could feel her hands tighten into fists, bunching in Narcissa's clothes, and she knew. She knew.
"He did it to you too, Bella."
And that was when Narcissa saw it. It was the same expression that she had come to recognize in herself – the one that she had been wearing for most of the year, almost every day since she had come back to Hogwarts after the winter holidays.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Bellatrix said, and Narcissa recognized that too. She recognized the way Bellatrix was saying it, the stiff, too-innocent way. The same way that Narcissa had been saying I'm fine for so long…
"Daddy," she whispered.
Bellatrix jolted back from her little sister. Narcissa stared at her imploringly, begging her not to keep saying I'm fine, I don't know what you mean, I'm fine. Narcissa needed her sister to understand – needed her to know…
"Did he do it to you too?" she whispered.
Narcissa hesitated, too afraid to say it. She didn't want to say it, she didn't want it to be true. It couldn't be true, not really.
But it is.
She took a deep, shaking breath, and nodded.
Bellatrix's face crumpled. For a second, Narcissa was afraid that she was going to be angry, but then she reached out and grabbed her little sister close, pulling her against her and burying her face in her hair.
"Why didn't you tell me, Cissy?"
"I didn't know," she sobbed. "I didn't know… I didn't- I thought that- I don't know!"
Bellatrix was silent for a long moment, then whispered, "You know that he did it to me?"
Bellatrix swore softly, then hugged her little sister tight.
"I didn't know that he was doing it to you too," she whispered. "If he had, I would have stopped him…"
"You couldn't have," sniffed Narcissa.
"I could have tried…"
"It wouldn't have done any good."
Bellatrix stroked her little sister's hair slowly, thoughtfully, and more tenderly than Narcissa could remember being touched in a very long time. There was a pause, and then Bellatrix said, "At least… at least now, you have me…"
Narcissa looked up at her with an expression of slight confusion. Bellatrix managed the tiniest of tiny smiles.
"Even," she said softly, "even if I can't stop him… and I don't think that I can… when he does it, you can come to me, all right? I can… I can try… to help, to clean you up, to- to make it stop hurting…" Her voice cracked a little. "It's not much, but- but it's all I can do."
Narcissa nodded, still clinging to her.
It wasn't much. It wasn't much at all. If, Narcissa thought, the world had been anything like a fair place, Bellatrix would have been able to do something – tell someone who could help, teach Narcissa how to stop him, help her learn how to keep herself safe in some way. But Bellatrix couldn't even protect herself, much less her little sister. She couldn't keep their father from hurting her, so how was she meant to keep him from hurting Narcissa?
If the world was fair, Bellatrix could have helped.
But the world wasn't fair. The world was horrible and dark and evil, full of horrible, dark, evil people, and all that Narcissa could ever hope for – all that Narcissa could ever reasonably expect – was one person who cared.
And Bellatrix cared.
And that was all that she could do.