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“Took you long enough. I’ve been rotting in here, surrounded by cobwebs and dust mites! Look at the state of this place!  Why  do I have to suffer through the indignity of being locked away in here like an animal?”  

Narcissa wanted to smile, but she didn’t quite have it in her. The attic of the abandoned Black Manor was indeed riddled with cobwebs—it was also rather dank, smelling quite strongly of mould. It was a far sight from what it used to be; the whole house was.  

“Hello to you too, Bella.”  

Bellatrix stood tall before her, dressed all in black as had been her custom long before Azkaban, long before Riddle and his gang of thugs ever got into her head, long before everything. She wore an expression that betrayed great displeasure and an even greater disinterest at the same time. Her hair was still wild as always, and her black gaze was so deep and penetrating it was like those deranged eyes pulled Narcissa into a dark, dangerous well.   

For a portrait, she was still rather intimidating.   

“What took you so long, Cissy? I’ve missed our little chats.” She now pouted just like a child would, just like she used to before some of her crazed tantrums.   

“My apologies,” Narcissa said, not sure what she was apologizing for just yet, not sure if Bella truly deserved an apology. “I’ve been rather busy with work.”  

“A working woman,” Bellatrix quipped, her tone dripping with derision. “Who would have thought?” She hissed and gestured angrily at the emptiness of her gilded frame. Her finger pointed almost comically at Narcissa, lacking the dimension to be threatening but having enough energy to be accusatory. “This is  beneath  you, Cissy. If you were that unhappy with Lucius you could have done what everyone else did and gotten someone on the side. But  no,  you had to  divorce  him and get a job instead. Unbelievable. You’re almost as bad as Andromeda.”  

Narcissa nodded absent-mindedly as she took a seat on the dusty armchair she had placed there just for these chats with Bella. This was not the first time she was entertained by this particular little rant—oh no, Bellatrix was always adamantly eager to point out just how deplorable she was for choosing to leave her marriage and take a job at the Ministry.   

She always humoured her sister, even if her reason for doing so became less logical every day.   

At first it was due to a twisted sense of nostalgia. The Bellatrix of the portrait had never killed anyone. She had never  Crucioed  anyone to the point of madness; she had never gone to Azkaban. She had never tortured a young girl in Narcissa’s own home.   

Upon discovering the old portrait in the decrepit ruins of her grandparents’ old home, Narcissa longed for an opportunity to reconnect with a sister she had lost long before Bellatrix was taken by madness.   

At first, it worked. After all, this Bellatrix had never witnessed a Wizarding war. She had never seen the rise and fall of Tom Riddle, and for a while, Narcissa thought that would be enough. Who could blame her for wanting just a little more time with her sister, the one who hadn’t committed any crimes, the one who could be funny and caustic at the same time, the one who helped her braid her hair before bed every night when they were children?  

Very soon, however, it became clear that  Narcissa’s  grasp of that nostalgic enjoyment was tenuous at best. While this Bellatrix knew nothing of the atrocities she would go on to commit, she was already too far gone to be the Bella of Narcissa’s childhood. She had already been devoted to the Dark Lord’s cause; she was already drunk with the promises of power and glory.  

And yet, Narcissa came, every week, for a visit. To sit and listen to this nearly-mad version of Bellatrix spout all the old adages of Tom Riddle’s cause, her hatred for Mud-Bloods and her grand plans for the future—a future she often asked Narcissa about, noticing her sister’s age and the lines on her features. Narcissa always kept her answers as vague as she could.   

Today, however, there would be more answers than questions. And then she would never speak to Bellatrix again.   

“You’re unusually quiet today, Cissy,” Bella prodded with a questioning arch of her brow. “Cat’s got your tongue?”  

Narcissa leaned back, settling deeply into the dusty armchair. She expected to feel some anxiety, perhaps even some fear in breaking the news. Instead, she felt blissfully free, as if she had dropped a heavy weight from her shoulders.   

“Sorry, I was just thinking. I actually had a bit of news I wanted to share with you.”  

The quirk of Bellatrix’s brow became more pronounced. “Oh?” she queried, unable to mask her interest even when she was merely a portrait.   

Narcissa took a deep breath, then took the plunge. “I’ve been seeing someone.”  

“Oh!” her sister exclaimed, eyes widening slightly—not quite in surprise, but in cautious intrigue. “Well. Hm. Good for you, I suppose. I won’t say I didn’t suspect it. Whoever this wizard is, I hope he’s worth this entire divorce mess.”  

Narcissa smiled, thinking about just how  worth  it was, this new phase in her life. “Oh yes,” she murmured playfully. “Worth every second of it.”  

Her mind wavered to the moments she had been collecting over the past two years. Moments filled with a tenderness and devotion she never thought she deserved; moments that washed away the pain and the terror of so many years spent believing the wrong things and vouching for the wrong people.   

Bellatrix was one of those people.   

“Well?” her sister hissed impatiently. “Don’t stop there. Who is this wizard, and what makes him so worthy of your time?” Her tone was haughty. “He must be quite something to earn a Black’s admiration and respect.”  

“Indeed,” Narcissa confirmed, thinking about how worthy they were. How worthy Hermione Granger was.  

This was why she was here. Today, she would finally cut the  chord  tethering her to the last remnants of her old life, and she would do so gladly. Even if Bellatrix’s mere portrait still intimidated her, even if part of her would mourn the loss of her sister all over again, she knew it must come to this.  

“In fact,” she continued, moving to stand right in front of Bellatrix’s full-length portrait so that they were effectively eye to eye. “I am the one who may not be worthy of  her.”  

The reaction was immediate. Bellatrix bristled; her face contorted into a grotesque frown of deep disdain and confusion. Her lips curled into a silent snarl.   

“Cissy!” She barked, her voice raising a whole octave. “You’re seeing a  witch!?”  She shook her head violently, and her hands balled into fists at her sides. “How  dare  you sully our family’s reputation like that!  You, one of the most  respectable  witches in Britain, of good breeding and education, running along with a--”  

“I’m not done.” Narcissa interrupted, an oh, how satisfying it was to stun Bellatrix, to take the wind out of her sails. She had never had the pleasure of standing up to her sister when she was living, but this posthumous defiance was nearly as  good.  “This witch I am seeing. She is a Mud-Blood.”  

Saying the word stung now, especially since she saw it nearly every day, carved on Hermione’s arm by the deranged sister she now spoke to. It was worth the sting, however, to see Bellatrix’s eyes widen with utter disgust, to see her jaw muscles twitch in unhinged fury. It was utterly cathartic.  

“How  dare  you bring filth into this family!” Bellatrix bellowed madly, her eyes shining like burning coals in her rage. “How  dare  you sully your good name, to dishonour our ancient and noble House! How  dare...”  

That’s not all.” Narcissa cut her off, unable to stop her lips from tugging into a wide smile. “This witch is a Gryffindor, a warrior who helped destroy everything you ever worked for. She helped kill the Dark Lord; she hunts down Death Eaters for a living... Her name is Hermione Granger. And even after suffering by your hand and mine, she still sees my better qualities. She loves me.”  

“No!” Bellatrix hissed, and if Narcissa didn’t know any better, she would have expected her to jump out of her frame and into existence by the sheer power of her anger alone. “Think of the  shame,  think of that blood traitor Androme--”  

“I’ve reconnected with Andy,” Narcissa interjected gleefully, enjoying this newfound freedom, this catharsis of finally, finally standing up to Bellatrix. “She has a grandson now. Teddy—he is the most precious boy in the world. Drommie made me his godmother.”  

“No! Stop it! Stop this nonsense right this minute!”  

Drommie  and I are practically neighbours,” Narcissa continued, ignoring Bellatrix’s wails of rage with a lightness of spirit she had never truly felt before. “And Hermione and I live together as well; I thought I should mention that. We take long walks in the  park,  we watch Muggle television together. She often cooks for me—she is a wonderful cook. Oh,” she added as an afterthought, smiling broadly, “she’s also Draco’s age.”  

Seeing Narcissa’s sincere smile clearly incensed Bellatrix further; she looked positively murderous.   

“I cannot  believe  you!” she yelped furiously. “You’re enjoying this! It brings you enjoyment to corrupt and  debase  your good name, you--”  

You  corrupted it. With your madness, with the crimes you’ve committed against Wizardkind, with the poisonous hatred Tom Riddle preached--”  

“Do not  dare  call him anything but the Dark Lord! His vision for this world is the only thing--”  

“Your Dark Lord is  dead!”  Narcissa bellowed, feeling her voice strain in her throat and relishing in the opportunity to say it, to scream it at Bellatrix and to feel it reverberating off the walls of that decrepit attic. It felt  good  to say it. “Dead. So are his putrid ideals, and so are you!”  

Bellatrix looked absolutely befuddled, and Narcissa panted with the strength of her shout, with the intensity of her own rage at a past that held so much pain and heartbreak. “You’re nothing more than a memory, Bellatrix. A memory we’d all like to forget.”  

Her sister’s eyes narrowed and her jaw clenched. “But you won’t,” she declared, still sounding menacing and intimidating despite everything. “You will  never  forget me.”  

Narcissa did not let the threatening tone get to her—if anything, it only strengthened her conviction that she was doing the right thing.  

“Maybe I won’t,” she conceded, unsheathing her wand form her robes. The whites of Bellatrix’s eyes now did not betray only rage, but a tinge of fear. “But I’m sure the world will eventually.”  

Bellatrix’s portrait looked at once fearful and even more furious. Her mouth was contorted in an angry scowl. “You wouldn’t dare.”  

“Are you sure?” Narcissa bit back, pointing her wand towards the portrait with a tremulous hand. This was it—the end. But also, the beginning. “I’ve dared to go on living my life. I dared to find love with someone I would have hated had I followed in your footsteps. I dared to live out of your shadow. Out of our family’s shadow.”  

Her gaze narrowed as Bellatrix’s widened. Her wand hand stopped shaking.