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Chapter 1: Magic
Your eyes are large and shining in your gaunt face, your splintered hair matted and clinging to your dirty skin. You stare hungrily at me for an incomprehensible moment, and then you withdraw into the dark corners of your cell. The last of you to disappear is your hands, and I am struck by them.
White, clean. The fingernails like pearly half-moons.
Fifteen years until the hearing, until we have a chance to cry that we have reformed. That we were wrong, and evil, and will never act so horrendously again.
Crimes against humanity, they have screamed and will scream again. People will queue in herds, angrily shouting at us. The murder of innocent people. Murder and attempted murder. Murder and attempted murder of children.
You are enveloped in the shadows of your cell, and I am still gazing intently through the gloom as though I can see you. Your hands are still branded in my mind, searing there like the heat from a fire. Something inside my heart drops, and I imagine again the shame that you must feel, for me to see you in this deteriorated state. Once, both of us were haughty people. Proud people. We had a name and it meant something, and we lorded over the world like Power itself. The streets of London floated below us in a gray stream of ink, bleeding from the newspapers that fed our rank. A distant reality tugged on our ankles, trying to anchor us, but we refused to immerse ourselves in the world of those we considered inferior.
I do not live in that world anymore – not here. But I see your impeccably clean hands and I wonder how they can possibly still be so beautiful. And I know that you are still living in that world of comfort and delusion. I pity you and then I am guilty and ashamed, for pitying my wife.
My eyes close and I lean against the wintry, wet wall. Moisture trickles onto my neck like a breathing thing that’s alive, staining my skin with gooseflesh and the smell of rot. I rest one arm on my wasted knee, raising the other hand to massage my lined forehead. I could look up, like it was yesterday, and see you.
You leaned out your window in that grand old house, your blonde hair painting the brick siding as you cocked your head and smiled at me. I worried for a moment that I might frighten you, startle you, for appearing below your window in the dead of night. But the moonlight was gentle and forgiving on my form, and the world was serenely asleep, and you reached out with one delicate hand and beckoned.
I had shaken my head, eyes alert and questioning, and quickly left.
The following night, I waited an extra hour before setting out. I halfway wished that your shutters would be drawn, and that you would be resting in the bed opposite your sister, and I would be isolated from you. But you were there again; I couldn’t figure out how you were able to expect me. You smiled familiarly, with your lips like Cupid’s bow, and the lacy sleeves of your dressing gown extended through the chill and your fingers curled, urging me forward again.
I had lowered my eyes and retreated swiftly, walking backwards through the dead leaves and the shallow puddles of dirty water. I followed the silvery fog down the street, my cheeks burning while something deep inside me accused myself of being a coward. I wanted to turn around, right then, and make sense of everything. To shake your shoulders and demand to know whether or not you loved me, and to hear your voice filter through the air as your blue eyes rested on mine. Whenever your eyes found mine, it was like magic. You were magic.
And you are magic still.
You may not know it, not with the dirt on your robes and the dampness in your hair. Not with the great, shrouded creatures hovering over us and sucking out the last of our hopes. This memory I retain of us will be lost by morning, inhaled by one of them for sustenance. I hold it to my heart, desperately chaining it there, in efforts to resist them. I crawl shakily forward on my hands and knees, my long nails raking the chipped concrete. “Cissa,” I whisper.
The blonde of your hair emerges, followed by the thin face and those white wrists that wrap around the bars of your cell. The eyes I love are somber and empty as they rove over my face. I know that you loathe how my sight pierces you without the jewels and perfume and new robes – cut from the finest velvet, the richest Oriental silks. Your hair, which had been your pride and joy, has not been brushed in two years. You run your fingers through the strands until it falls out in clumps onto the floor, like unraveled yarn. This prison will devour your beauty as a tree devours sunlight. You will see it fading and I will not; to me, you will always be the girl at the window.
At my window. You were at my window.
You came to me because I was too embarrassed to go to you, too nervous and unsure. Your arms folded on the sill and you watched me raptly, completely unabashed. The flower of youth. I smiled slightly and went to you, raised my hand to where the glass should be. It had melted away, by magic, under your fingertips; and my hand met the skin of yours instead. You returned the smile, and I could see the wonder in your thoughts. I knew, right then, that I would marry you. Being one step ahead of me, you had already known this for a month. I had finally caught up to you. I told you that I would protect you, and never leave your side, and that we would grow together like the hedges that swallowed up my father’s manor.
Everything we did, we did together. Joining the Dark Lord. Raising our son. Fighting for our son so that he could have a proper life. Losing the great battle alongside each other. And then, after everything we had built together had ceased to matter – ceased to exist – we ran. We left our son in the care of your sister, even though we still considered her an enemy. We left him with a woman he did not know and did not respect, in a foreign house, because at least there he would be safe. So we fled, but they came after us. They converged on all sides with their wands aloft and their faces triumphant, expectant. Our oldest, most trusted friends gave them tips in exchange for mercy, begging pitifully somewhere behind us in the crumbling world we had attempted to escape.
By the time they swarmed to our hiding place, we were too exhausted to run any further. And the Boy Who Lived – The Chosen One – walked steadily to where we stood, hand in hand. It was useless to fight anymore. Wordlessly, we allowed him to take us away. To trial. To prison. To our frigid, cavernous, God-forsaken cells that sit directly across from each other so that we may watch each other rot for twenty years. And we can watch all we like, but we can never touch. It has been five years and I have forgotten the blaze of your palm on my cheek, of your lips at my throat.
There’s nowhere we can run to anymore.
The windows here have slanted iron bars instead of glass. I think often about how your hand could surely still melt them away, and then you might be able to crawl out and be free. Free to tumble through space into the violent, ravenous ocean, its frothing waves reaching up like the greedy mouths of monsters. Magic is crystallized in your bones, in your very blood, and I know that you would survive it. You have survived and repelled and carried on through storms worse than the ones brewing in your mind now, and you, above all others, could endure.
But these windows are small and triangular – nothing like the wide, sweeping gouges of architecture at the home where you grew up. Where you hovered like a hummingbird, waiting for me, with your white dressing gown and your hair a curtain of silk. You will not tumble through space and you will not escape. There are more than dementors guarding the wizard prison now, and there isn’t the smallest chance we might get out. But still, somehow, you will endure.
You endured me. After everything I dragged you through - after being spat upon by those we cursed and frightened and stepped on. They laughed at us, pelted us with stones. I wanted so badly to shield your lovely face from them, to cradle you close to me in a world far from their reach and ridicule. You jutted your chin out, expression stoic, and you took them on with silence. We received the brunt of their anger – even from those we never personally touched – because there were not many of us left for them to take their anger out on. Our punishment represented the punishment of Bellatrix, and Rookwood, and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, along with so many others who did not live to go to trial. We carried their names over our heads as we moved down the cobbled street to our hearing. Somewhere far away, our son listened to it all on the wireless. The exploding cheers of thousands, celebrating the day we were damned.
I damned you the moment I met you; and for that, I will never forgive myself.
Presently, I close my eyes and wash away deep within a memory that might not even be real. I reflect on your face, bright in the sunrise, as we collected seashells together during our last day in hiding. It was the last sunrise either of us have seen since, as Azkaban is shrouded in such mist and heavy clouds that there is no sun at all. We live in the shadows now, breathing in the fear and exhaling the last recesses of our thin hopes. The dementors drain it all away, even though they would not have dared to step so close to me at the height of my power. My name meant something then, and it heralded respect. The dementors knew who I was. Now, the only thing my name represents is a curse to my son, my future grandchildren, and any descendents I may ever have.
I can hear your arms moving, your fingers combing relentlessly through your stringy hair. My eyes well up with moisture, wishing that I could sacrifice my life three times over to spare you your dignity. You are safe in your delusions of royalty and grandeur, as though you still retain some sort of status. I don’t have the heart to tell you that everything is gone. By the time our sentences are over, we will be forgotten blots in history. Draco will have moved on. The world will have rebuilt itself, sealing us out like a disease in quarantine. Perhaps we will rediscover the pebbly cove with iridescent pink shells, the abalone gleaming brilliantly.
We could stay there with our half-souls and our blackened surname, walking up and down the coast; pretending the violent days from long ago never happened and that we had somehow stumbled into existence as a world-wearied old couple. The dream of it spurs my flame to life, and I hasten to swallow it up before it is cruelly stolen from me.
The chill creeps up my arms and my skin acknowledges their presence before my mind has the chance to grasp it. The creatures like hell incarnate appear at my cell, constricting my lungs and freezing my marrow to ice. I gasp, clutching at my ribcage to keep breathing, to keep them away. I see the minister’s face. I see Harry Potter. I see you, my lovely Narcissa, as you hold your head high and watch Draco sitting in the stands, his pale face terrified. I see abalone shells glittering like the sea for the fleetest of moments – before it is forcefully sucked out of my mind forever, flitting through the air in molecular residue of faint happiness. Into the belly of the beast.
I see your slim wrist, your pallid hand as white as swan feathers. I see how you preen yourself, care for yourself, much like a swan does. The ocean swims in my mind as I hear waves crash against jagged rocks, the mist spraying and hissing. It reminds me of a time by the sea…and something much more peaceful. A flash of iridescent pink.
Your hand withdraws, and with it, the flash of pink and something peaceful. Whatever it was that I had before, I do not retain any longer. I cannot recall the memories telling me why I should hold out and why I should hold on. I don’t have anything to hold onto. But I do not need memories to keep my heart beating in this valley of death.
The dementors can seize my memories. And they do, in torrents. And they can siphon away my hope and my sanity and my ability to formulate coherent thoughts. But they cannot take away my magic or my love.
And you are magic, my perpetually beautiful Narcissa. You are love. And as long as you continue to exist, so will I.
The line “There’s nowhere we can run to anymore” is from the song "Invincible", in the movie The Legend of Billie Jean.