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Hermione could not find the words to articulate the sheer force of the awe she felt once the Pensieve came into view. Her eyes could not focus on singular details alone; they flitted about from the silver bowl of the Pensieve to the wall of bottled memories, only to circle back to Narcissa's worried expression and start all over again.   

She had seen her fair share of Pensieves--Dumbledore's, for a start, and a few others at a glance during her time working at the Ministry. However, her memory research at the ministry had been mostly theoretical in nature, and even during the years she spent trying to restore her parents’ memories, she had neither the occasion nor the need to avail herself of a Pensieve.   

The fact that it was a collection of Narcissa's memories she was about to see... well, it was enough to tie her stomach into knots; enough to make a small part of herself second-guess this endeavour. But Hermione trusted Narcissa—trusted her so implicitly, in a way she had never thought possible for someone so diametrically opposite to her very existence.   

There would be no backing out of this.   

Despite the small space, Narcissa was careful to keep a few paces between them—a gulf of a respectful distance, farther than Hermione had grown accustomed too. The witch's eyes seemed fixated on the intricate engravings adorning the rim of the bowl; her glance avoided Hermione's altogether. When she spoke, her voice was barely enough to break the silence.   

“That document details the proceedings of an investigation of my family—of me, more specifically—that took place from late 1980 to early 1984, give or take.” Narcissa spoke firmly but softly, in a monotone shrouded in practiced nonchalance. It contrasted horribly to the clear worry in her gaze.  

“However, I do believe it would be... beneficial for us to go a little further back, if only so that you may perhaps understand it all a bit more clearly.”  

Hermione nodded, watching intently as Narcissa perused the numerous phials neatly arranged on the wall with a pained expression. “Whatever you think is best.”  

Narcissa took a long time to select a memory—she hesitated between several, running her fingers over the phials and making them rattle faintly as she murmured to herself under her breath. Once she finally settled on one, her eyes seemed to glaze over as she read the label. Hermione couldn't read it from where she stood, and before she could try, Narcissa's palm closed over the phial in a white-knuckled grip.   

Her gaze was icy when it met Hermione's.   

“I will warn you one last time,” she said sombrely as she uncorked the phial, pouring the silvery smoke of her memories down into the ethereal swirls of the Pensieve. “You will learn awful things. You'll witness awful things, and you'll wish—” her voice broke— "you'll wish I had never showed you.”  

Hermione met her gaze head on, refusing to falter. “I'll make up my own mind—but thank you. For warning me.”  

Blue eyes narrowed and Narcissa's arm stretched over the Pensieve—her hand was cold to the touch once Hermione took it, and her words were lost to the swirls of the memories below.  

“Very well, then.”  

They were pulled through the fog, and it was an indescribably strange feeling—Hermione expected to feel a pull at her navel, not unlike that of a Port-Key, but instead she merely felt as though they were slowly sinking through a thick cloud—almost like walking through a foggy London street.  

It was a descent of sorts, as if they floated down from a great height. Hermione could not feel any ground beneath her feet for quite some time, until she suddenly did—with no jolt or any surprise in landing, as it were.   

Narcissa released her hand before Hermione could make out where they were. The thick fog began to dissipate, and Hermione blinked its fuzziness away as a large room slowly came into view. Gradually, she began to make out the shapes of pieces of furniture, the soft glow of lights on wall sconces, and the outlines of paintings and tapestries.   

They were at Malfoy Manor. Hermione didn't exactly know how she knew, but it was as if she could feel it in her bones—even if the place looked entirely unfamiliar to her eyes.   

It was... beautiful would certainly be a word for it—though it lacked vibrancy, life. It barely looked as if people lived there at all. It vaguely reminded Hermione of a museum after hours—dark, empty, housing a collection of artifacts from another life.   

She was still mesmerized by her surroundings, vaguely aware of Narcissa's stiff presence at her side. She wanted speak, to ask where exactly they were, what year this was supposed to be, and what she should expect—but a sudden clatter a few paces behind nearly made her scream.  

Hermione turned quickly on her heel, almost forgetting, for a moment, that she and Narcissa were mere spectators to this memory. She remembered that fact the very moment she came to face a decades-younger Narcissa, clearly in pain, grasping at the walls for support as she stumbled—a fallen sconce clattered and spun a few metres away.  

Hermione's blood ran cold as she registered the matted locks of blonde hair sticking to the sheen of sweat of Narcissa's unusually pallid face. Her glassy blue eyes stared straight through Hermione, one hand grasping weakly at a tapestry on the wall and the other resting protectively over her slight but visible curve of her abdomen.   

Hermione tried to say something, anything at all, to at least ask Narcissa for confirmation of what she was seeing, but her words were stuck in her throat. At her side, Narcissa stood in complete silence as they watched her counterpart struggle in a miserable shuffle over the marble floors.   

The younger Narcissa collapsed onto a rug, gasping as she tried to get back on her feet—it was a struggle to not run towards her to help, an endeavour Hermione's mind struggled to see as futile in this memory.   

Hermione's heart ached. Young Narcissa looked... well. Young. So desperately young. Practically a child not a day out of Hogwarts. Despite the gauntness of her face and the dark circles under her eyes, the softness of her features was that of a woman barely out of adolescence. Hermione felt an uncomfortable tug at her gut as her eyes processed the scene before her.   

This Narcissa's hair was about as long as Hermione knew it in the present, but it lacked its lustre and glow—it was dull, lifeless, and matted to sweaty temples. Despite the roundness of pregnancy, she seemed to be skin and bone—Hermione could make out the purpling veins of her hands, raised with the strain of trying to lift her frail body into an upright position.   

She looked... pitiful, really—there was no other word to describe it. The whole sight made Hermione clench her jaw, almost subconsciously.   

“This is late August, 1979,” Narcissa—the older—spoke suddenly. Hermione turned to meet her eyes and found a cold, glassy stare looking straight through the whimpering woman on the carpet. “Shortly before Draco was born.”  

Hermione nodded, unsure of why this particular event was important. A shrill voice she recognized—from a chance encounter with an unpleasant portrait—rang through the air, slashing through the silence like a razor blade.  

“You pitiful fool, what exactly do you think you're doing out of bed?”  

Hermione's hairs stood on end as the imposing figure of Druella Black approached, walking imperiously through the corridor, regarding her daughter on the floor with nothing but open derision.   

Druella's portrait did not do the woman justice—not even remotely. The woman was tall, standing ramrod straight, with a bun wound so tight in her greying hair it pulled her brows upwards on her forehead. Her thin lips etched her face into a deep scowl. She seemed to be oddly overdressed, with elegantly embroidered robes flowing in dark purple and jewels glittering on her neck, ears, and fingers.  

She was terrifying.  

Druella approached the young Narcissa—Hermione felt the older shiver next to her—coming to a stop with a sharp grimace as she looked over her suffering daughter as if she were a nuisance.   

The matriarch's ornate embroidered slipper nudged impatiently at Narcissa's shoulder—the simple action disturbed Hermione to her core.   

Where is that pathetic little elf of yours, Narcissa?”  

Young Narcissa stammered a reply Hermione could not make out—possibly something completely unintelligible to begin with. She grimaced in clear pain as she recoiled from her mother's careless prodding, and Druella rolled her eyes, gathering her robes and bending down gracefully to the floor, looking greatly inconvenienced.   

“Speak up, you wretch. Enunciate. Now—where is your elf?” she spat, one hand snapping to grasp at Narcissa's chin and almost violently thrust the young woman's head to face her. “Well!?”  

“L-lucius,” Narcissa whispered through tears, so low Hermione strained to hear. “The b-baby—it's time, the ba—”  

“Don't talk such nonsense, Narcissa,” Druella snapped, shaking her head as if she had just heard something insurmountably stupid. “It is far too early for the baby, as you know full well—now be a good girl, get on up and go back to your chambers immediately .”  

“Lucius... Lucius, c-call Lucius—”  

“There is absolutely no need to bother your husband,” Druella hissed, squeezing Narcissa's cheeks, nails digging into pale skin. “Even that simpleton has better things to attend to than his wife's hysterics. Back to bed with you, now.”  

Druella made to grab at her daughter's arms and pull her up, but the blonde weakly batted them away. The action incensed the older witch, who snapped like a viper on the attack, taking hold of Narcissa's wrists with a vice grip. Narcissa cried out, trembling.  

“S-stop! Hurts—the b-baby--”  

“You listen to me, ingrate, and listen well—” Druella spat, shaking her daughter as if that would help drive her point home “—it is not time, do you understand me? It is not time for the baby!”  

She ran a hand through Narcissa's matter blonde locks in a gesture that might have even been tender, perhaps even maternal were it not for its inherent violence—the caress ended with fist pulling at the hair at the base of Narcissa's skull, tilting her head upwards.   

“Pull yourself together—” the older witch drawled, her voice lowering to a harsh whisper. “Or do you want your son to die? Dead babies don't make for very good heirs, my darling. They’re little worse than daughters.”  

Hermione felt her hands balling into fists, her fury on the brink of boiling over. Remembering they were merely witnesses to what had already happened became more difficult to stomach by the second—she would give anything, anything just to be able to deck Druella Black across the face. Just once.   

The old witch's eyes reflected only disgust, a pitiful disdain that had no place in a mother's gaze. "Shh, darling,” she cooed, her tone making Hermione's stomach churn. “Go back to bed now; you need your rest.”  

Young Narcissa dissolved into weak, hiccoughing sobs, crumbling into herself with a heart-breaking cry. She would have crumbled into a heap once more, were it not for Druella doing something utterly inexplicable: as Narcissa collapsed, her mother lunged forward, holding her up in an embrace. The action was so unexpected Hermione gasped, audibly, at the sudden, clear tenderness the monster of a woman seemed to display as if a switch had been flipped.   

“Narcissa,” Druella's voice still carried a sternness it perhaps could never shed—but it also carried fear, genuine worry. It was flooring.   

“Pull yourself together, my darling,” Druella whispered. Young Narcissa's eyes were wide and terrified, red-rimmed and misty with tears. The hand that had previously pulled at her hair now ran through the matted golden strands with gentleness and care. “You are the only one who can do this, Narcissa.”  

Hermione's puzzlement lasted until the very moment the switch was flipped back. “Don't let this child die because you are too weak to carry him.”  

She felt Druella's words like a punch in the gut—the Narcissa standing beside her visibly shuddered, drawing her arms around herself in an instinctive gesture. Before Hermione had the time to process the old witch's words or Narcissa's reaction, the unmistakable forceful crack of an Apparition thundered in the room, echoing violently off the walls and making the torches’ flames flicker with the sudden fust of wind.   

“What in Merlin's name are you doing to her?!”  

The strident voice, already coloured by a tinge of madness, was enough to turn Hermione's blood to ice in her veins. She froze where she stood, hairs raised as she flinched—she never thought she would hear that voice again outside of her nightmares.   

And yet there stood Bellatrix Lestrange, regal and imposingly beautiful, more than Hermione had ever seen her and looking even more terrifying for it, with wild dark curls and a black flinty gaze that seemed to pierce through her very soul.   

“Bellatrix,” drawled Druella, releasing her grip on the younger Narcissa and letting her crumple to the floor without a second glance. “How kind of you to join us.”  

“Step away from her, mother, before I Stupefy you into the bloody wall,” Bellatrix hissed. Her tone set Hermione's teeth on edge, but also threw her for yet another loop. She didn't think Bellatrix—even being Bellatrix—would ever speak to Druella that way. She was thrown by the sheer defensive ferocity contained in the witch's gaze, and how it was plainly directed at her mother.   

Bellatrix strode purposefully, if frantically, towards her fallen sister, walking directly past Hermione and the older Narcissa. Hermione could not feel the breeze of her quick movement past them, but the proximity still made her swallow dryly and shiver, as if she had been caught in a sudden draft. The cold fear she felt at the woman's presence shook her to her very core.  

She had not felt this way for quite some time—talking about Bellatrix or seeing her in pictures had never affected her so badly. But this was not a mere photograph or a trauma-induced dream. For all intents and purposes, this was a living, breathing Bellatrix, moving and speaking and scowling in a way that made her all too real.   

Bellatrix knelt by the crying Narcissa on the floor, scowling deeply at her mother, who for her part looked relieved to step away.   

“She's burning up,” Bellatrix scoffed as she put a hand to Narcissa's sweat-slicked forehead. The look she shot her mother was positively vicious, but Druella seemed entirely unperturbed. “Why didn't you call for a bloody Healer?!”  

“Because she does not need one,” Druella said simply, not sparing either daughter another glance. “She seems to be under the delusional impression that the baby is coming immediately. I suggest you disabuse her of that preposterous notion before she hurts herself o r the child.”  

Bellatrix suddenly looked terrified—the sight of which was something Hermione could not quite process. The emotion looked out of place upon that particular witch's face.   

“It's too early, far too early,” Bellatrix whispered through a renewed wave of Narcissa's whimpers. “We need to get Healer Fauntleroy here i mmediately!”  

“By all means, call in the good Healer. It would only be what, the eighth time in only a month? That would not be excessive in the slightest.” Druella suddenly retorted, her expression contorting into a deep scowl. “And yet another visit in which her dear husband, the Lord of this Manor, is absent, with no one to look after his wife and supposed heir besides that pathetic excuse for an elf. I'm sure that will do wonders for the rumours.”  

Bellatrix's eyes turned to sharp obsidian glass. “There are no rumours. Or there won't be, I assure you.”  

Druella laughed, openly, mockingly. “I know you'll have great difficulty attempting it, but don't be stupid, Bellatrix. You and your little friends are far from discreet. Tell me, Bella, how long has it been since the Lord of this Manor has stepped foot into his home? How long since he has even seen his wife—just long enough to sire an heir, one would hope. How long since he has been seen in the Ministry, where he is ostensibly employed, huh?”  

Bellatrix opened her mouth to retort, but Druella gave her no quarter, pointing an imperious finger right at her fallen daughter. “Use your brain, girl! Do you really think this house is not being watched? You know they are looking for Lucius, you blithering idiot!”  

Whatever response Bellatrix surely had in store was cut short by a weak cry.   

“L-lucius—” came Narcissa's whimper, her voice hoarse, weak, and fading fast.   

“Lucius is away on an important mission for the Dark Lord,” Bellatrix whispered through clenched teeth. Hermione could not tell whether she said it for her sister's or her mother's benefit.   

Druella gave no quarter. “And you aren't?” she drawled through a mocking grin.   

She pushed the right button. Bellatrix snarled at her mother—for a moment Hermione legitimately thought the witch would pounce Druella like a panther upon its prey—but her attention was swiftly diverted by another of Narcissa's whimpers.  

“Fuck,” Bellatrix muttered as her writhing sister clutched weakly at her skirts. Druella almost looked offended by her language, of all things, but Bellatrix began bellowing orders into the empty corridor before her mother could say another word.   

“Dobby!” she called, only once, and the House Elf materialized instantly with a puff of smoke. For the first time possibly ever, Hermione witnessed a completely silent Dobby.  

“Dobby, get Severus—get him here immediately, no matter what!”  

The Elf disappeared without a word, the only evidence of his brief presence the lingering swirls of smoke from his hasty disapparition.   

Hermione heard Bellatrix murmur a feather-weight charm, and in the next moment, the eldest Black sister had Narcissa in her arms, rushing past Druella with nothing but a glare to spare in her mother's direction.  

A cold hand suddenly grasped at Hermione's, and she had to suppress a jump of alarm. Narcissa held her hand tightly, her expression nearly unreadable save for her lips, drawn to a taut line of displeasure. She squeezed back Narcissa's hand, letting herself be led forward as they followed Bellatrix and a begrudging Druella.  

They walked only a few steps behind, for only a few moments, but suddenly their surroundings changed, as if they had walked through a hazy portal. They found themselves in a lavishly decorated bedroom with an imposing four-poster bed and heavy curtains drawn completely shut. Hermione could only assume Narcissa's memory had 'fast-forwarded' them somehow.   

She was a little thrown by the change in scenery and a bit distracted by the lavish furnishings of the room, and so it took her some time to notice the two new figures that had joined the memory, standing sombrely beside Bellatrix and Druella at Narcissa's bedside.   

The first Hermione recognized almost immediately as her first-year Potions Professor—Several Snape, albeit several years younger and with fewer lines marring his perpetually scowling features. He was still gaunt, broody, and still wore what she could swear was the same set of robes that made him so... vulture-like in her youth.   

The other man by Narcissa's bed was far less recognizable, and his presence far more surprising. Hermione was certain she would not have been able to identify Regulus Black were it not for Narcissa and the forays they shared by the fireside into the witch's family photos.  

He stood nervously at the foot of the bed, clean shaven and fresh-faced, looking so terribly young, pacing like a caged animal, biting at his fingernails.  

“She's stable for now,” Snap said in that dull drawl Hermione had been subjected to for years. He corked a phial as Bellatrix busied herself tucking the blankets a little tighter around her sleeping sister. Snape gave a grim look.  

“This was a close call, Bella—too close. She cannot go through any more undue stress—she is incredibly frail already, and another episode like this could kill her and her child.”  

Bellatrix nodded; eyes fixated on Narcissa. From the corner of the room, perched regally on a luxurious settee, Druella barked out a laugh.  

“No undue stress, ha! Much easier said than done with this one, Severus. She's rather prone to dramatics.”  

Bellatrix turned a furious glance at her mother. "Don't you have a dying husband to care for, you wretch?” she spat.  

Druella raised a brow, looking amused at the outburst. That one little gesture made Hermione see quite plainly—however unwillingly—how much Narcissa actually took after her mother. “Pruning a dead tree,” she scoffed spitefully, motioning with her chin towards the hand Bellatrix rested protectively over Narcissa's abdomen. “It's the new roots that need tending to.”  

Bellatrix looked ready to return her mother's spite, but Regulus was the one to speak up, visibly angry and not trying to hide it in the slightest.  

“Tending to?” He barked, red in the face. “How are you tending to your daughter, exactly? Letting her writhe on the floor in agony instead of calling for help? If Cissy hadn't sent Dobby for Lucius, Bella would have never gotten here in time! She could have died!”  

Bellatrix and Snape looked absolutely stunned at the outburst—Hermione could definitely relate to that reaction. Druella, however, looked vicious.  

“Oh, Reggie ,” she wielded the nickname with the sting of an insult, eyes narrowing dangerously. “Is that what your special friend Mr. Rosier calls you? I have to say, you were far more tolerable while you were away at Hogwarts, foolish boy.”  

Regulus blanched, frozen to the spot. Hermione was sure she had audibly gasped. Druella stood, imperious and commanding at her full height, making Regulus shrink into himself despite being a full head taller than the witch. Her voice was full of venom.  

“I would never let my daughter die, R eggie. Not when she single-handedly carries the burden of keeping this bloodline alive, thanks to Bella's rotten womb and your... rather unfortunate proclivities.”  

“You—”  

“Narcissa is weak, Regulus,” Druella silenced him with a hiss. She barely spared a glance to her bed-ridden daughter. “You think a few episodes of hysterics are bad, do you?”   

Her disapproving gaze fell to Bellatrix, who for the first time looked away. “I went through the same torture three times over—and what have I got to show for it? A barren lunatic—” Bellatrix flinched "— a blood traitor, and a spoiled weakling.” She walked through the room, stopping at the threshold for only a moment to glare at its occupants one last time.   

No one cares for this bloodline more than I.”  

Regulus stuttered and stammered for long seconds after Druella had made her exit, looking more incensed than ever. He finally released his frustration to the swift kick to an Ottoman, letting out a yelp of either pain or absolute rage—Hermione could not be sure which.  

“Fuck!” he practically roared. “Can you believe the gall of that monstrous fucking wretch of a woman, I swear—”  

"May I please remind you of the sick, pregnant witch in the room?” Severus hissed, cutting the wizard short. “The one who must avoid unnecessary stress?”        

“Hah,” Regulus scoffed, eyes to the ceiling and hands at his waist, though he lowered his tone to a hoarse whisper. “That is the one thing my dear aunt has got right,” he said, looking pained. “That's easier said than done.  Especially here. Especially now.”  

“I fail to see what is so bloody hard about it,” Snape snapped. “She needs rest, and to avoid potential upset—that is all.”  

“Avoid potential upset?” Regulus hissed, incredulous. “Her husband is missing, Severus! For all we know, Lucius could be dead face-down in a gutter somewhere, yet we let her go on believing—”  

“Lucius is not dead!” Bellatrix whisper-shouted. “If he were, we would have heard of it by now.”  

Regulus did not look entirely convinced. “Bella,” he began again, eyes narrowed into slits. “It's been six weeks. Maybe the McKinnons got the best of him. Maybe—”  

“May I again remind you that Narcissa is merely sedated, not asleep?? I thought it might be wise to do so, before we continue a conversation that will most definitely cause her undue upset?!” Snape interjected hotly, snapping his Potions case shut with an air of finality.   

Regulus ignored him, eyes fixed on Bellatrix, and his expression grim. “Bella,” he began again, sounding miserable and exhausted. “How much does she know?”  

“She knows what she needs to know,” Bellatrix spat, not looking at her cousin.   

“I see,” Regulus quipped with a roll of his eyes. His voice lowered even further, to a desperate murmur. “Does she have any idea of the task Lucius was given? Huh? Is she aware her husband has been tasked with murder? Does she know why he has not been at work or at home? Does she know that if he fails,” he choked on his own words, sounding pained, “if he fails, his own life is forfeit?”  

Bellatrix gave him no reply, though it seemed Regulus deemed her silence sufficient. “Of course she doesn't,” he chuckled, hysterically. He pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. “Of course she has no fucking idea just what the Dark Lord has asked of Lucius!”  

"As much as this pains me to admit,” Bellatrix finally drawled, her scowl deepening into a grimace that did not quite fully conceal her doubt. “We must have faith in Lucius. He will see his task through to the end.”  

Regulus did not look convinced in the slightest. “For Narcissa's sake, I hope he does, and before his son is born. As much as it pains me to admit, your mother's right. There have been rumours about Lucius, and about the likelihood—of lack thereof—that he has actually fathered a son.”  

“See that you put an end to those rumours, then,” Bellatrix commanded. “I will not have my sister besmirched by lies.” Her tone brokered no argument. Regulus simply nodded.  

There was a sudden change in the room—a moment where all three Death Eaters flinched, with Regulus and Snape reflexively reaching for their arms. Bellatrix remained stock-still, watching over her sister. Regulus held at his wrist, his eyes going nearly vacant as the Dark Mark swirled its brand on his skin.  

“He calls,” Snape said grimly. “We must go.” Regulus acknowledged him with a nod and a grimace, then turned to his cousin. Bellatrix did not turn to look at him. “You two go,” she said tightly. Tell him I will be on my way shortly.”  

“Bella,” Regulus called, hesitating as Snape Apparated away. “Does she know about y our t ask?”  

Bellatrix did not blink, and her lips barely moved to form the words of her whisper.  

“She knows what she needs to know.”