Chapter 1 : Miracle
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The first time you die, you are merely minutes old.
I am sitting with my back straight, my chubby feet dangling several inches above the ground. Bellatrix and I watch you silently, sucking our thumbs. Our dark hair is bound into strict braids, stretching back the skin from our hairlines. She swings her legs impatiently. Everyone has forgotten us.
A soft fuzz of white covers your round head, slightly indented on the top as if you would be soft to the touch. Your face is pale, too pale for a little person like yourself: your whiteness, softness frightens me. Bella and I are dark, bold: how will you survive in a world where one must be dark and strong? The only thing moving are your blue eyes, pale like the sky on winter mornings, pale like the color has been drained from them, leaving only a shell.
And then you die. The empty blue eyes drift up into your head, your little thin hands go slack, your thin ribs, like those of a fish, cease to rise. The healers call for help, a midwife runs to cover the standardized hospital mirror and a nurse darts in with a harried smile and mother claws at her like an enraged cat, spitting that no mudblood will touch her child.
But your child is dying, the woman seems to cry out, the words echoing across the decades, growing more weary as the memories float on the edges of a consciousness. But with a ghastly shudder your spirit returns to us, filling the contours of your small body, and everyone is thrilled and shocked and eventually they place you in motherís arms, where she beckons Bella and I forward to meet our new sister, her thin face tired and petulant.
When Bella asks the midwife why she covered the mirror, she says that is what one must do when a life is about to depart, to keep the spirit from becoming trapped in the mirror.
I never wanted this for you, Narcissa.
The second time, youíre only five years old, and weíre playing at Grimmauld Place. This time it lasts a little longer. Your body shudders to a stop, your porcelain fingers letting Bellaís favorite doll tumble to the floor and land in a broken heap, her empty neck a lonely stub. You choke: your eyes bug out. Little Sirius starts to howl with fear, Bellatrix floats to your side with keen interest. She puts a hand on your cheek.
Your pale eyes, already drained of pigment, lose their life like a bleeding flower, your face the color of pale parchment. In your head, you are seeing the three women who weave.
What are you doing, Andromeda? Bellatrix calls in a sing-song voice. Fire flashes beneath her dark lashes. Go and get help. Get mother. Bella isnít the kind to ask for help, and I know sheís frightened though she hides it well. But I have done the only thing I can think of: I have run to cover the large, richly gilded golden mirror with my body.
It does not last long. Your episodes never do.
With careful grace you return to life, your heart stirring within your chest. You flex your stiff fingers. I expect to see hysterics, fear. But you are calm. You sit up like a mechanical doll and pat me on the arm, and bare your teeth in the semblance of a smile.
Can we keep playing? you ask. Yes Bella, you may tell mother if you wish. Andromeda, stop looking at me like Iím a freak. Youíre being rude.
In my dreams I see you tumbling through mirrors like they were lakes, unraveling from a shroud of woven spider webs. I see your nails grow long for years in a dark coffin, your toenails scraping the edge as you grow old beneath the earth, your pale blue eyes glinting in the darkness of the grave.
The third time, your death is nobodyís fault. A slip is all, your fingers slipping from mine like water through rocks. And then you are lying in the crowded street, and someone is screaming, and a trickle of blood weaves through your ivory flesh, hardening with death.
Father picks you up like you are nothing, a fallen kite on a windless day, and your hair tumbles over his arm in a shower of liquid silver.
Just go, father says. Youíre going to be late, girls. Mother and I will take care of Cissy. His face passes through my memory, stern and rocky in a train of people who have touched my life and yours, hair thinning at his temples. I see his hard eyes in the mirrors on the Muggle automobiles, in the reflection from the shop.
In your head, the three women examine a string. The third woman, the shrouded one, attempts to cut it with a large, wicked knife. But the thread knits itself together again. The thread is the same drained blue as your eyes.
If you are enchanted in mirrors then I am a Greek maiden tied to a rock, thrashing in the sea. In our way, we both are sacrifices.
A rope hangs above a chair in the common room, draped about your neck like a necklace. By the time I get in from the library itís too late: youíre standing daintily like an ancient Greek goddess statue, marble and white. But you are smiling, beautiful and excited.
I find Bellatrix and dig my fingernails into her arm. My eyes ask the question.
Stop fretting, darling, Bella drawls. It is simply a spectacle. Come, Andromeda, we Blacks love a good show. Her eyes gleam with pride and something heavier, which frightens me. I draw away and go to call out to you, to end the foolishness but before I can speak your name and put an end to the show two patent slippers are dangling above a carpet lit by misty underground light.
As the terrified gasps turn to squeals of delight, as you are passed between arms which touch your cheeks and marvel at their warmth, ask for bits of your hair as a souvenir or good-luck charm, I see some of the older boys whispering amongst themselves. One, a thin, white-haired specter, keeps his eyes fixed on your sparkling smile, your miraculous twirl.
Donít look so outraged, Bella scolds me. Dying is an art, like everything else. I frown at her, my darkling sister, her eyes gleaming from beneath heavy brows. Everything Bellatrix does is an art, from her careful, precise walk, to her graceful wand movements and the curses she creates and practices. Narcissa dies exceptionally well. Someone crowns you with a wreath of laurels, like a poet of old. Or perhaps they are the thorns of the crucifix, turning your gift to something holy and good.
I run from it all. That night, furious and lonely, I run into him for the first time, and he is warm and strong and lovely, and alive. You have been the one dying all these years, Narcissa, but I never realized I was dying along with you, until I knew what it was to live too.
As we sit at the edge of the lake I ask you where you go during those times when your heartbeat pauses and rests against the frozen muscles in your chest, when your skin turns to grainy ice, your eyes rolling back to stare at the inside of your skull.
Oh, I donít know, you say, touching your hair with careful vanity. I suppose I go to the crossing-place, yet I do not follow them. I stay a while, and they marvel at me. The weavers stare at me with their eyes, and they cut the thread. Last time, one lady wept when she saw me. But I always come back. You smile at me. Living is my gift.
Dying is your gift, I correct, as big sisters do. You stiffen, so like the strict realignment of bones of a corpse. I wonder you are all sharp, unbending bones bound in a dressing of blood and knit together by skin. Something makes me recoil from you: the sense that your skin does not bear the same smell, that the veins which pump blood from your heart are empty passages in which darkness dwells. I do not see my sister in you: I see a creature of animation, a puppet with threads bound to her limbs.
You lower your eyes. Your eyes are dead and empty: I donít want them to look upon me.
You examine yourself in the reflection from the still lake. I long to stir its surface with a stick, to keep you from recognizing the dullness of your reflection, when all I can imagine is that your reflection is the dull stare of a drowned creature floating beneath the surface, fingers gnawed off by starving grindylows.
How does it feel? I ask. You wait, drowning in your thoughts, my voice a precarious candle waiting on the shore.
Like hell, you say finally, and I neglect to ask whether it is dying or living which is your hell.
Very well, you say to my silence, and you move, catlike, from your perch at my side. But later that night I find the winnings from your last performance under my pillow. It was a private party, and not everyone was a student, but I do not ask further. The pouch of coins is your last gift to me. My stomach twists at the idea of them taking turns to examine you, poke at your taut skin with your wands, examine their own reflections in the silver pools of your eyes while you wait in that other place.
You have a skill that we want, they tell you, and you do not bother to tell them that drinking unicorn blood, or drinking your blood, will not help them. Your art comes from your fingertips, where the blood never seems to quite circulate, leaving them clumsy and cold to the touch. You do not tell them that you dream there are worms in your stomach, like glistening jewels, twisting and constricting.
I take the money and run. I donít look back, I press my hand to his beating heart. I leave you to die as you wish, to live as you would.
If we were both sacrifices, then I am claiming my reward.
Stories of burnings litter the bonfires of history. Witches burning, screams and eyes raised to am empty heaven, a painful end no devil or lover could rescue one from. In Germany, treasure-hunters pawed through furnaces for gold teeth, greedy mouths sick from smoke and ash. They poured the ash into the rivers until they ran gray with mourning. In Poland, mourners make pilgrimages to rooms full of hair.
Your hair burns red and you do not shriek. They wonder how you will succeed this time, if your body will reform and regenerate from the ashes like a phoenix, flesh finding knotted bone to form a smiling woman, reaching with blackened hands for air. I dream of you again, of your hair red and ablaze, and when I wake I crawl into my daughterís bed and stifle my sobs in the smell of her hair. She wakes and squeezes my hand: she understands. She helps me cover the mirrors in the house.
The white-haired man watches cautiously. He ensures no sparks land on his rich robes. He decides he will marry you, should you survive this.
The next time you die you are grown and a mother yourself, and I am alone as I have never been. You have no husband to protect you, no son to comfort you, for those who valued your art of dying have passed on themselves, manipulated their souls.
A journalist asks how you knew the boy wasnít dead, how you sensed that he lived, as he always lived. You think to yourself that those who die and live again and again always recognize a similar spirit. You wonder if he went to the same crossing-place, if he saw the weavers: the woman who weeps, the woman who snips.
I run my fingers over your picture in the paper. Your skin has lost the little colour it had in the black and white of the Prophet. Your eyes have lost their luster, and your hands hang at your sides like clumsy dead birds.
It happens in Diagon Alley, when I am buying my grandson a graduation gift and you are taking yours to buy his school books. We know one another straight away: your hair turned to silver and thinned with age, your skin dry as parchment when, impulsively, I press my lips to your cheek. You smell the same, like dampness.
It must have been the shock of our reunion. I hold you when you collapse upon the cobblestones, your weight light in my arms like the skeleton of a bird. Hollow bones dwell inside of you. The puppet strings are wearing thin. When you return you are empty and shaking. I wonder if you saw him there, his light head glinting in the shadows behind the women who weave: the husband who protected you despite his ambitions, who died cold and lonely, whose thread broke on the first touch of the knife. I wonder if he was one of the ones who drank your blood all those years ago, in hopes of a chance at immortality.
I smile hesitantly at your grandson, who is crying unashamedly. I remind myself that he has my blood too, that our boys are cousins. Sometimes, in my grandson I see Bellatrixís cool control, and mourn the girl she killed within herself to become the monster whom I curse in the darkest of my nightmares. I wonder if you see the mischievous tilt of my daughterís head, her clumsy charm in this eager blond child.
ďCome to tea Sunday,Ē I say impulsively, cradling your head in my arms as father once held you so delicately all those years ago. Wizards are staring, witches hiding their childrenís eyes from the sight of the woman who rose from the dead. The words unlock the flood of tears and suddenly we are laughing and sobbing into each othersí hair. I catch a glimpse in the reflection from a shop and there we kneel, two fussy, lonely old women in a busy street drawing a scene, as Bellatrix always encouraged you to do. Kneeling in the gutter, I bury my face in your hair. You donít smell of burning, or of the damp. You smell like an old woman and I tell you so.
Like a cat, the ninth time is the last and the longest. I bring you soothing potions and stroke the hair back from your face. Your skin is dry and deathly, peeling off your face should I touch it too hard. You cannot keep anything down: you can only swallow air.
And to pass the time I tell you our story, of death and rebirth, of women who weave and weep. The ghosts pass us in their relentless train: fatherís rocky, stern face, mother screaming at the nurse not to touch her child, not to curse her child. Bellatrixís nest of curls flounces between us: I catch a glimpse of her dark eyes watching from the full-length mirror.
Others cling to the lives of their loved ones. Brothers weep over brothers, throwing themselves across their bodies. Sisters trap their sisters in mirrors, staring at them through the glass. But I never wanted that for you, Narcissa.
So when you die, your eyes tipped shut in gentle slumber, your hands unclenched, your sturdy heart thudding to a ninth and final stop, I am the woman weeping. I cover the mirror with my body like I did when we were children and feel your spirit depart at last. And somewhere from the depths of my own heart I hear the tiny snap of a string being broken at last.
AN: This story was inspired by the poem ĎLady Lazarusí by Sylvia Plath. Three of the lines in the story were adapted from the quote from the poem of ĎDying/Is an art, like everything else./ I do it exceptionally well.í I had a lot of strife writing this and will probably be back to edit but I hope you enjoy the weirdness that is my mind, and please feel free to leave a review if you can spare the time, Iíd love to know any thoughts and reactions, even if itís just to tell me how twisted my mind is. ☺ Thank you to Maia (milominderbinder) for the challenge!
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