Andromeda takes a walk through the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, finding nostalgia and dust and a faded blue dress. And in the end, it all boils down to one question: Do you believe in gho...
Do you believe in ghosts?
The house is deathly silent. There's no Sirius to prowl around, viciously hating the lot of them. No Bellatrix to laugh almost sadistically, playing another prank. No Regulus to run, crying to his mother for something Bella or Sirius had done. No Narcissa to play dress-up with her in the attic.
Of course I believe in ghosts. They're everywhere, aren't they?
She walks the well-worn steps to the drawing room. She has to give the Tapestry one last look. She knows that she won't find her name on it, but it's an heirloom nevertheless. As she walks, she can see how badly the house has fallen into disrepair. There's dust all over the banisters and the floorboards creak ominously. There's a musty, stale scent on the air, and a faint breeze - there must be an open window in one of the rooms nearby - carries the smell of impending rain. She continues to walk.
Not like the Bloody Baron, 'Meda, like... I don't know. Ghosts. Real ones.
Thunder crashes outside as she eases open the drawing room door. It looks mostly empty now, dusty and decrepit. She takes a few tentative steps toward the tapestry, half-expecting something to pop out at her, screeching... You don't belong here! But nothing happens and she moves with a little more confidence to the tapestry, faded and threadbare now.
What do you mean, real ghosts? The Bloody Baron is a real ghost!
Tracing her fingers down the line, she reaches the more familiar names. Great-Aunt Cassiopeia, the one who used to wear stiletto heels until her dying day, she hears. She was buried in her favorite pair of Jimmy Choo's. She was forgiven for wearing a Muggle brand, only because they were so expensive. Uncle Orion, who cast Sirius out of the house and into the world without so much as a goodbye. Cousin Lucretia, who wasn't really her cousin but treated her just as badly. Names now.
I don't know. Different ghosts.
And then to the ones whose stories weren't quite over; though they'd probably be better off if they were. Bella, sadistic and evil, drawn to the dark corners and cold light of the Death Eaters. Narcissa, treading too lightly to ever make an impact on the lives of others. Callidora, miserable and half-senile, hating the mess out of her sister Cedrella, whose only mistake was to marry someone of ill repute. She smiles sardonically. How history repeats itself.
You mean like the Fat Friar or Nearly Headless Nick?
She walks out of the drawing room and back through the shadowed house, up toward the attic. It's time, she supposes, to put her past to rest. But she had to see it one more time. They used to play in the attic, long ago, and tell ghost stories back when they were younger. Bella had always told the best stories; they gave Narcissa nightmares until she stopped coming.
No... Ghosts like the ones in the stories Bella used to tell.
It starts to rain as she ascends higher in the house, up to the elusive fourth level, her footsteps faint and making prints in the dust on the floor. She feels eerily haunted as she makes her way through the halls and stairwells, as if there's something - or someone - at unrest here. It doesn't surprise her. She reaches the trapdoor at the end of the third floor landing.
Oh, don't be silly, Narcissa. Those ghosts aren't real. She only made them up to scare you and Regulus.
She opens the panel carefully; coughing slightly as the dust descends on her hair. She brushes it off and pulls down the ladder. It's rickety now, and it doesn't feel half as large as it did when she and Narcissa would sneak up here. She climbs it gingerly, not wanting it to break and send her crashing to the ground. Besides the pain it would cause, it just doesn't seem right to have so much noise.
They aren't? But Bella said -
The dust is even thicker here; the attic has been longer undisturbed than the rest of the house. The sound of the thunder and rain is so much more acute here. She takes a deep breath of the stale air and looks around. Ignoring the dust and misuse, everything looks just the way she remembers it. There's that old trunk - the one that grandmother took to Hogwarts - where they had gotten most of their dresses and fancy shoes. And there's that mirror, covered with a cloth. And that old wardrobe, that even when she was young had stank of mothballs and old perfume.
Forget what Bella said. She's just trying to scare you. Those ghosts don't exist; they're just thumps and bumps in the night.
And there, in the sloping corner, is the old table that they used to draw at. And in that corner, far from the trapdoor, is where they'd tell ghost stories, or Bella would tell about how much fun Hogwarts was when she got older. She walks to the old trunk and opens it, getting hit in the face with the smell of musk and cherries, reminiscent of Narcissa's used-to-be-favorite shampoo.
But I heard them! I heard something moving around in the attic, 'Meda, I swear I did!
She rummages around for what used to be her favorite dress. It had belonged to her cousin Charis, and it was beautiful, all blues and lace and elegance. Finally, down near the bottom, she finds it. It doesn't look the way she remembered it; the blues are faded and the lace has yellowed, leaving it looking ugly and forgotten.
How? You sleep on the second floor. You probably heard Bella rummaging around in her room for something.
She takes the dress anyway and pulls it on, just for nostalgia's sake, she says to herself. It feels much tighter than it used to and it no longer drags along the floor. /Like a princess/, her mother had said the first time she had seen Andromeda in it, /the Princess of the Blacks/. Then Narcissa had walked up in her adorable little communion dress and Druella had forgotten Princess Andromeda in lieu of Queen Narcissa.
It didn't sound like Bella.
She smoothes out the folds in the skirt and walks up to the full-length mirror, pulling the cloth off. She gasps. Like a princess, she thinks. The Princess of the Blacks. Lightning flashes and the thunder rages and the rain pounds on, but for a moment, she's in a castle, just like she used to pretend she was, and she's the monarch. The Princess of the Blacks. Only she isn't a Black anymore.
Well, you were probably having a nightmare. Really, Narcissa, what would mother think if she heard that? You're being such a baby.
Lightning flashes again, and she can almost see Narcissa beside her, glowering and asking to try on the pretty dress. She had never, ever let Narcissa try on her dress. She hadn't wanted to feel outshined. Everyone had adored Narcissa, never Andromeda. But in that dress, she had always felt gorgeous and she hadn't wanted to share that with her oh-so-perfect sister. Narcissa would pout and sniffle and then she'd put on her communion dress to feel prettier than Andromeda. It had been one of the major reasons that they had drifted apart. It seems so asinine now.
I'm not a baby! I'm not even afraid of them! I was just wondering... Do you believe in ghosts, 'Meda? The ones you can't explain?
Suddenly, the past twenty years catches up with her and she takes off the dress and puts back on her normal clothes and begins to fold it and put it back up. But she can't quite bring herself to. Putting up the dress is closing off the past and locking the door. And, even though she knows that she can't ever go back, she can't just shut it away like that. She takes the dress with her.
There's nothing you can't explain, Cissa.
Before she can stop to think about it, and therefore check herself, she puts the dress in the brown paper and scrawls a short note, sending it off with a random post owl into the rain and the thunder. The letter is simple. You can try it on if you like. Not much, but she hopes that the letter won't be discarded. Even more so, she hopes that the dress won't be discarded. There's not much else to do today, except go back home and wait.
I mean it, 'Meda! Do you believe in ghosts?
The package arrives again within two days time. She can see where Cissa's perfectly manicured nails opened the parcel and looked to see what was inside. The letter had been discarded, but she'd sent the dress back. She left no return letter, no condolences for Andromeda's recently deceased husband, no recognition that she had even acknowledged what it was. Save one thing.
Of course I believe in ghosts, Cissa. They're everywhere, aren't they?
She had forgotten to re-zip the back.