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The stars twinkled high above the shadows of neat hedges and the dark spread of neat-trimmed lawns. A peacock cried somewhere in the distance.
Cissy sighed. ‘That’s probably the last one of them being eaten by that awful snake.’
Bella cocked her head. ‘Nagini?’ She shrugged. ‘If the peacock doesn’t want to be eaten, it should put up more of a fight. They’re pretty, useless creatures.’
A soft sniffle came from behind her. ‘Aren’t we all,’ Cissy whispered. ‘Aren’t we all.’
Bella huffed. ‘Come on itty bitty baby Cissy.’ She swivelled and prodded her sister in the stomach. ‘We’re going to go find Andi. Don’t be so miserable.’ She grabbed Cissy’s arm, pictured the handsome, wooden lodge with its country lawns and hunting grounds, then apparated them across the country.
An old, collapsed pile of timbers sprawled before long, tangled grass fields and gnarled woods.
‘Well, Andi’s not here,’ Bella muttered. ‘What happened to this place, it’s so messy!’
Cissy stepped alongside her, the hem of her dark blue dress rippling in the faint breeze. ‘How much do you remember, Bella?’
Good question, Bell. She clawed her way into the fog, into flashes of faces, white masks, silver masks, bright colours, burning flesh, screams, shouts, cries, and cackles. Not much, Bella. But that’s fine. We don’t need to remember all the games we’ve played to enjoy the next one.
‘Not much,’ Cissy muttered. ‘Do you remember what happened before all the fighting?’
‘Of course.’ Bella bobbed her head. Snatches of stone walls, suits of armour, paintings, lessons and children’s faces flitted through her thoughts. Her two sisters hung at the centre of them all, smiling and laughing. ‘There was us three and some school stuff.’
Cissy’s frown lines deepened. ‘Yes. And after that?’
Bella strained into the fog. ‘I’m not sure.’ She shrugged and bounced from foot to foot. ‘Does it matter?’
‘It does if you want to find Andi.’ Cissy swept her long, straight blonde hair off her face. ‘What are you going to do if we find her, Bella?’
‘Bring her back, of course.’
‘She might be happier where she is…’
‘Nuh uh.’ Bella shook her head and stamped her foot. ‘Andi’s our sister. She’ll be happiest with us.’
Cissy sighed. ‘Well, I don’t think Andi will agree with that.’
‘She’s being silly.’ Bella blinked. ‘What happened to make her so silly?’
‘What happened?’ Cissy choked. ‘We grew up. Well, the two of us did. Nobody’s sure about you.’
Bella huffed. ‘Don’t be mean.’
Cissy pulled her wand out and righted the rusted iron bench, conjuring a thick blanket to cover it. ‘Sit down, Bella.’ She took a seat and patted the remaining space. ‘I think I need to tell you about everything that happened.’
What does it matter, Bella? We’re still going to get her back. Bella squirmed on the spot, tugging at the silk sleeve of her purple dress. But she’s our sister, Bell. We should listen to her.
She plopped down on the other half of the blanket. ‘Go on then.’
Cissy tucked her wand away. ‘You were never the same after your accident, Bella. I think Andi wanted to get away, especially when you were so involved in the Dark Lord’s fighting. She hated it. And she hated herself for being the reason.’
‘That’s silly.’ Bella frowned. ‘I’m just the same as I was. Nothing’s happened to me.’
Not quite true, Bella. In her mind’s eye, threads of purple magic drifted from her limbs like loose spider web. We’re a little bit mad, remember?
‘You shouldn’t be the same.’ Cissy grabbed her shoulder. ‘Everyone else changed, but you, you’re still just like the little girl you were, only you’re not a little girl and you don’t stick to little girl’s games.’
Bella scrunched her face up. ‘Just tell me what happened, Cissy.’
‘A lot of Andi’s friends and family died, Bella.’
‘So did ours!’ Bella folded her arms. ‘That’s what happens! That’s how it works! You win and you live, or you lose and you die.’
I don’t want to die. Dark, polished marble flashed before Bella’s eyes and a shudder rippled down her spine. Nobody wants to die, Bella.
Cissy pinched the bridge of her nose. ‘Well, Andi didn’t like it. She didn’t like that we were on the other side. She’d already cut off all contact and got thrown out of the family, but she disappeared. Her daughter works at the Ministry, but she won’t speak a word to me.’ Cissy dabbed at her eyes. ‘Our own niece… I wanted her and Draco to be friends. He doesn’t have many real friends, just that pair of thick boys and Pansy Parkinson. She’s nice enough, but not very bright or very pretty.’
‘Cousins.’ Bella shook her head. ‘Do you know Sirius complained about my singing for the whole time we were stuck in Azkaban? He never talked to me nicely, either.’ She pouted. ‘And then he left me behind. Again.’
A strained laugh slipped through Cissy’s lips. ‘Yes, well. He wasn’t on our side, either.’
Bella screwed her face up. ‘Then why was he in there?’
‘He got blamed for the Potters’ deaths. Their other friend, the little ugly one, he was the real culprit.’
A little warmth spread through Bella’s chest. ‘Oh, that’s good. It’s just part of the game, then. I thought he didn’t like me.’
Cissy stared at her with big, blue eyes; the starlight turned her skin as pale as porcelain around them. ‘The Potter boy would’ve made a good friend for Draco, too, but Dumbledore’s lot got to him and he turned Draco away. Poor Draco, I often told him how nice it would be for him and his cousin to be together at school before his first day. I think he was very upset it didn’t work out.’
Potter… Potter… The word stirred something in the fog. The boy who brought down the Dark Lord, Bella.
‘What’s he like? The Potter boy?’
Cissy shrugged. ‘Depends who you ask. Draco says he’s good at quidditch, but otherwise very average.’ She glanced around. ‘The Dark Lord said that Lily Potter did something that caused his near death, not the boy.’
‘I don’t remember her.’ Bella bounced on the bench and kicked her feet. ‘What about Andi? And her daughter?’ She paused. ‘Wait. Daughter. Who did she marry? Was it Nott in the end?’
Cissy frowned and wrinkled her slim nose. ‘It was never going to be Nott. No, she married the muggleborn. Ted Tonks.’
Boiling heat bubbled in Bella’s veins. Magic ripped out of her, slicing through the long grass like a scythe. Cissy closed her eyes and clenched her fists.
‘A muggle,’ Bella hissed. ‘She married one of those dull creatures?! She’s our sister! She deserves whoever the best is! Why didn’t you stop it, Cissy!’
‘A muggleborn not a muggle. And how could I have?’ Cissy dabbed at her eyes. ‘Our niece is a good witch, at least. Nymphodora’s her name. A good Black name.’
‘A halfblood.’ Bella spat the word out. ‘She’s probably got barely any magic. She’ll be a rubbish player. Helpless. A disgrace.’
Cissy shook her head. ‘No. By all accounts she’s a formidable auror for her age.’
Bella slumped. ‘Oh. Well, she must take after Andi, then. That’s good. I hope I can meet her.’
‘She’s an auror, Bella. And you’re an escaped convict…’
‘But still family.’ Bella pouted. ‘We can talk nicely before we start playing!’
‘We should go back.’ Cissy shivered. ‘Andi’s not here. I don’t know where she is. I need to go home. You’re not meant to be out here, either.’
Bella giggled. ‘The Dark Lord will only care if we’re caught.’
‘And what if we are caught?’
‘The only one who can beat me is the Dark Lord.’ Bella swung her feet. ‘I’ll just beat all the others.’ She cocked her head. ‘I want to see Andi, baby Cissy. How can we find her?’
Cissy sighed. ‘Any way I can think of, I’ve already tried. I think she lives somewhere in the muggle world, where we can’t reach her.’
Bella scowled. ‘That’s sneaky. I can’t think like a stupid muggle.’
‘Exactly.’ Cissy stood up. ‘Now, let’s go back, Bella. It’s too late for us all to be sisters again.’
But we don’t need to think like a muggle, Bella. We can get a muggle to do that. Bella bobbed her head and jumped to her feet. We just need to find one and make them search, Bell.
‘Ok, Cissy.’ She patted her sister on the head. ‘I’ll try and find you some new pretty pets first. Ones that can put up more fight than a peacock.’
Cissy stared at her, then shook her head and vanished with a loud crack.
Bella shrugged and twirled on the spot. ‘Let’s go find a muggle, Bell.’ She closed her eyes and apparated to the top of the hill. ‘It can’t be hard. They’re everywhere, like rats.’
A cluster of harsh, bright lights shone at the far end of the valley.
There we go, Bella.
She apparated her way down a few fields at a time, then followed the dark, hard road into the middle of a muggle town.
‘Urgh.’ Bella peered around. ‘There’s no magic at all. It’s such a boring, dead place.’
A man lurched round the corner and stopped dead. ‘Woah, lady!’ He staggered toward her with his hand raised. ‘Ain’t smart for you to be about here looking all posh and rich by yourself. Can’t trust everyone to be decent folk.’
Bella cocked her head and danced toward him. ‘Hello muggle.’
‘You drunk, love?’ He scratched his face and fumbled through his clothes. ‘Let me call you a taxi or something. Get you back home safe, yeah. Your boyfriend or husband’s probably worried sick.’
She slid her wand out of her dress. ‘Imperio.’
His eyes glazed and he went still.
‘I need to find Andi.’ Bella pouted. ‘She’s hiding in your muggle world and I don’t know how to find her. You’re looking for…’ She clawed through the fog the name Cissy’d given her. ‘Ted Tonks.’ She stuck her tongue out. ‘Urgh, it even tastes boring.’
‘Ted Tonks.’ The muggle swayed on his feet. ‘Find Ted Tonks.’
‘Oh.’ Bella pressed the tip of her wand to his neck. ‘And so I know what you do.’ An ink raven spread its dark wings beneath his skin and faded out of sight. ‘Now, let’s get baby Cissy a present to cheer her up.’