Three Black Birds
Three sisters stand, rigid spines erect under dark cloaks, toes pointed forward, eyes straight ahead. The oldest, her dark curls tamed by jade pins, turns her face a fraction of an inch until her eyes meet the youngest, who stands in timid fear of disappointing her sisters.
"Stand up straight, Narcissa!" The eldest hisses, the words escaping her crimson lips.
Narcissa, small and lanky, lacking her sisters' elegance and poise, struggles to align herself following the model of her sister. Her toes snag the end of her cloak and she topples to the floor.
"Jesus, Cissy!" The eldest snarls, nearly kicking out with the pointed toe of her boot but restraining herself at the last minute.
The second sister remains perfectly still, as if her bones have been silenced into place, but watches her older sister from the corner of her eye, keeping her own back as rigid as the wall behind her.
Narcissa, blinking back tears, gathers herself up, retuning to her rigid posture, looking less statuesque and more frozen. She longs for Bellatrix's confidence, her beauty. She admires Andromeda's effortless abandon. She has none of these things.
The man in front of the three girls mumbles some sort of direction, incoherent and disregarded, then snaps his camera, immortalizing the moment forever.
The picture is hung above the mantle and every time Bellatrix walks by, she comments on Narcissa's poor posture and large eyes blinking up at the camera in obvious fear. Narcissa spends hours staring at the painting wishing she were as dark and frightening as her sisters.
Three Hogwarts owls arrive at the Black Mansion for the first time. Narcissa is overjoyed to join her sisters at Hogwarts, a place that has been subject of her wistful fantasies and dreams for years. Bellatrix rolls her eyes at her younger sister's enthusiasm calling it foolish and silly. Andromeda smiles shyly at Narcissa and when the younger girl cannot sleep for her excitement, Andromeda stays up, stroking her younger sister's pale hair and telling her stories about ghosts, never ending staircases, and haunted corridors.
Three Slytherins for the Black house, a family legacy they all boast about. Narcissa notices that it is etched in everything she does. Her sister's make it impossible for her to forge her own path for she is frequently being judged by their standards.
The eldest Black sister is the subject of frequent discussion. Everyone is drawn to her, hypnotized by equal parts fear and admiration. Narcissa watches her sister; how she bats her dark eyelashes, talks slowly in her deep sonorous voice, even the way she moves is so regal and commanding. Andromeda never leaves Bellatrix's side, following her like a dark, silent shadow, her mirror in every way.
The youngest Black sister is light where her sisters are dark. She feels incompetent and small and it keeps her from making friends within her own house. But when she tells others her name, they shirk away in fear. Only one person is immune to this response and Narcissa is drawn to him. He is in Hufflepuff but he is her only friend.
Three glasses of wine on the table, the first time Narcissa is allowed to drink wine with dinner. The snowfall has already left heavy blankets covering every outside surface and the Black Mansion is the only house for miles not decorated in Christmas lights.
Bellatrix is talking incessantly about herself. No one objects, for Andromeda has learned to be silent and Narcissa is patiently waiting her turn. The Blacks' are pleased at their daughter's maturity, accomplishments, and abilities. She has top grades, scores of respectable pureblood friends, and is, in their eyes, worthy of the family name.
Andromeda is silent throughout dinner, neither speaking out of turn nor offering up any information about her own time at school.
Narcissa is eager to tell of her own scholastic triumphs; her near perfect grades, her growing group of friends, the large amount of house points she has contributed to Slytherin's almost secured House Cup victory.
But Bellatrix, as she always does, preludes Narcissa's achievements with her pernicious words, crisp and clear, diverting the Blacks' attention away from their youngest daughter.
"Narcissa has befriended a mudblood. A Hufflepuff! I told her he's just dirty swine but she won't listen to me."
Betrayal deafens the rest of dinner's conversation to Narcissa's ears. Her eyes are misty with angry tears, her fingers twisting the napkin in her lap into anxious knots. She can feel her parents snapping at her, sense Bellatrix's presumptuous victory, and is vaguely aware of Andromeda's cautious eyes, peering from underneath dark lashes, worried and afraid.
Three beautiful dresses hang in the closest, black with jade décor and silk lace-up corsets. Bellatrix instructs Narcissa to bring them upstairs because the house elves will only get them filthy. Eager to please her sister, Narcissa's enthusiasm makes her clumsy and her boots clip the top stair, sending her and her package sprawled across the floor. Bellatrix's anger is not manifested in words but in a hard slap. Her long fingernails leave thin red trails across Narcissa's face.
Narcissa has learned not to cry when she is upset but she is not accustomed to physical pain. Bellatrix is gone when Andromeda heals her younger sister's face and her fingers linger a little longer, trying to convey some feelings of comfort because she cannot find the words. And she's been looking for the words for so long, but even now they don't come.
Three fights, hidden from public view result in a power shift. Bellatrix's once effortless arrogant poise now has a forced edge to it, only identifiable by her youngest sister, who suspects the worse. The once infallible shadow of Andromeda, dependable, reliable, never failing, has been replaced by a rotating audience of eager Shlytherins desperate to gain favor in the eyes of the magnificent Bellatrix Black.
Andromeda, once inseparable from her sister's reputation, begins to earn a standing of her own. Her laugh, less harsh than her sister's cackle, now echoes throughout the halls and she is see holding hands with a yellow-haired boy who makes her smile like no one else can.
Three days in the hospital wing is what Bellatrix spends when Andromeda curses her. Revenge for an attack on Andromeda's Ted. Cornered by a group obsessed with blood purity status and mercilessly attacked until her own interference, Andromeda knows Bellatrix was the ringleader of Ted's assault.
Their shouts echo through the halls, all profanity and curses. Andromeda cries tears of white-hot fury and Bellatrix laughs in glee at her sister's misguided passion. Narcissa hides unseen behind a tapestry, fear rooting her to the spot. When Andromeda's curse hits Bellatrix square in the chest, she watches her sister walk away, not even bothering to find help.
Narcissa is the one who stays by Bellatrix's side and is rewarded by a rare show of emotion. Hurt by her sister's betrayal, Bellatrix fears how her sister will possibly end up, now that she has taken to "sleeping with dogs".
Narcissa doesn't say anything. She remains silent.
Three words shatter the faux reverie that the Black sisters have become accustom to. "You are dead."
She doesn't yell, because she doesn't need to. Bellatrix doesn't lie, she is brutally honest and she is manipulative. When she says something she means it. So when she stares directly into Andromeda's eyes and tells her she will never speak to her again, that she is no sister to her, Andromeda knows she means it.
This shattering of pretenses has broken down so many barriers. Narcissa has never heard Andromeda cry but now her sobs keep her awake at night. She remembers she sister being kind to her, and she feels like maybe she should do the same. But Bellatrix's vindictive glare is burned into the lids of her eyes and the fear of losing her sister's new found camaraderie keeps her in her place.
Three attempts at reconciling the bad blood between them is all the attempts Andromeda makes. She pleads with Narcissa, insisting that Bellatrix will only her hurt her. That she cares for no one but herself and she will manipulate, step on, and teardown even those close to her if she wants to.
She insists that there are more important things than family pride. That they have all been brain washed into believing false notions about status and worth based on someone's parentage.
She gets on her knees, clasping her younger sister's hands in her own, praying that she be kept from making the same misguided decisions the rest of their family has made. But as Narcissa pulls away, turning on her heels and leaving her sister kneeling in the hall, she thinks of Bellatrix and how her loyalty has come at a fine price.
Three sisters, and only one remains at Hogwarts. The youngest Black is everything a Black should be. She has grown into her once childish gracelessness, now an elegant young lady with flaxen hair and sharp cheekbones.
She is not as outspoken as her eldest sister, who has married into a respectable pureblood family and talks fervently about the fight for magic redemption and purity. Narcissa only smiles and agrees placidly, rarely sharing her own opinion, which not even she seems to know. She realizes that she has adopted the once familiar position of Andromeda, the silent dependable sister.
Andromeda's name is never mentioned. When it is, silence marred with furious betrayal and hatred is so palpable it burns into Narcissa's skin. She is ashamed of what her sister has done to her family's reputation. The scar on her family's once perfect record is raw with regret and shame.
When she cannot sleep at night, the youngest Black thinks of her sisters' words. How such conflicting opinions could be born of the same blood baffles her. She thinks of the mudblood friend she had in her first year, how harmless he had seemed. And she thinks of how those like him have tarnished all that magic was meant to be. It will become her duty then, as a Black, to make sure that magic remains as it was intended; pure, unspoiled, and pristine. Toujours pur; they will become her words to live by.