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Kill Your Darlings by LavenderBlue

Format: Novel
Chapters: 37
Word Count: 160,104
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Romance
Characters: Andromeda, Sirius, Ted, Bellatrix, Lucius, Narcissa, R. Lestrange
Pairings: Other Pairing, Lucius/Narcissa

First Published: 01/03/2014
Last Chapter: 01/13/2015
Last Updated: 12/26/2015

Summary:


Marvelous banner by weaslette @ TDA. Gorgeous book cover by Kirjava @ TDA.

Andromeda Black has a perfectly crafted future: marriage to a respected pureblood, a comfortable socialite life, and top marks at school. But the Slytherin ambition that has brought Andromeda this far is about to take a turn for a most unexpected goal.

Dobby Award Winner 2015 - Best Novel


Chapter 1: Ambition
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Author's Note 10/5/15: Hello, hello! I can't believe it's been nearly two years since I began this story. Kill Your Darlings started as the fulfillment of my New Year's resolution to write about my favorite Harry Potter pairing, Andromeda Black and Ted Tonks. I only intended to write a brief novella, but then Ted and Dromeda took over, and here we are 160,000 words later! Haha.

Today, Kill Your Darlings was awarded the 2015 Dobby for Best Novel, and I just had to come back here and say THANK YOU to every single reader and reviewer! You made this experience twice as fun, and I'm so grateful to everyone who stuck out this story with me, because heaven knows I was long-winded.

This month, I intend to finish some much needed final proofreading so that this story is in the most tip-top shape it can be for future readers. And if you're just now starting the story, I hope you enjoy the read! As always, the world of Harry Potter belongs to the magnificent J.K. Rowling, who introduced me to my OTP. : ) 

xo LavenderBlue



Snow covered the stone courtyard, crisp and untouched. It was late, far too late for Andromeda to be out of doors, but she sat beneath the frozen willow tree that her grandfather had planted upon purchasing Onyx House. This tree, this stone bench—they had always been Andromeda’s refuge. But tonight, her refuge was strangely devoid of comfort. The tree’s reeds were bowed under snow, and ice drops hung from their ends like frozen tears. Wind shuddered through the courtyard, biting through Andromeda’s thick wolfskin coat.

She was crying, but she didn’t know why. Something unthinkable, something devastating had occurred, but now she couldn’t remember what it had been. All she knew for certain was the agonizing ache that bloomed in her stomach and spread through her veins.

Then she heard it: a solitary chirp. She looked up. Perched on the willow branch above her was a linnet, colored the shade of brass. Atop its head was a strange, golden-colored tuft. She had never seen a bird like this in the family gardens. The linnet chirped again, then tilted its head curiously down at Andromeda. Its chest rose and fell rapidly.

He must be so cold, she thought. And without knowing why, she raised her hand out to the linnet. The bird chirped again. There was a fluttering of wings. Then nothing. Darkness. Only darkness. And in the darkness, she heard—

“Andie!”

Warmth flooded back into Andromeda’s limbs. She gasped, her eyes fluttering open. The unidentifiable ache was gone. The snow-covered courtyard had vanished, replaced by the amber glow of a train carriage.

Narcissa had leaned over from her seat, her cold hand on Andromeda’s and her pale blue eyes wide with concern.

Andromeda swallowed hard.

“I’m fine,” she said, slipping her hand out from Narcissa’s.

“Merlin, Andromeda. They make potions for that.”

Andromeda’s gaze flicked up to Lucius Malfoy, who sat beside her sister, arms crossed, expression dispassionate. Her eyes narrowed at his comment.

“Potions for what?” Her voice was clouded with phlegm from disuse. She coughed once, then straightened her posture, fixing Lucius with a haughty stare that all the Black sisters were known for. “It was only a nightmare.”

“Yeah, but Narcissa said that you’ve been—“

Lucius’ words were cut short by a swift kick to his shin, courtesy of Narcissa. She cast him a venomous glare.

Andromeda had cast a similar glare to Narcissa. She didn’t know why she was surprised anymore. Narcissa told everything to Lucius these days. Loyalty to the Family Black was not of much value, it seemed, when Narcissa was so set on becoming a Malfoy. It wasn’t that Andromeda disliked Lucius. He was arrogant, yes, but he had the money and privilege to justify his pride. He had a reputation in school for being a prick, but what mattered to Andromeda was how he treated her sister, and in that he was faultless.

Lucius was kind and attentive to Narcissa; Andromeda had never doubted that his affection was genuine. His union with Narcissa would be a smart match, of course, and both the Blacks and the Malfoys approved. That he and Narcissa actually loved each other was a rare and welcome happenstance, and Andromeda wasn’t about to begrudge them that happiness. All the same, she would have preferred if Narcissa wouldn’t go blabbering every detail of the Blacks’ private lives to her boyfriend—especially Andromeda’s recent bout with insomnia.

“I’m only worried about you, Andie,” Narcissa said. “You haven’t slept well all summer holiday. I’ve heard you at night. I’ve heard you screaming.”

Cissy,” Andromeda hissed. “It’s not your concern, and it’s certainly not his.”

Lucius merely shrugged and picked up his folded copy of The Daily Prophet. He didn’t look particularly pleased to have been drawn into a fight. He studied the paper intently, clearly set on leaving the sisters to it.

“What if it’s a curse?” Narcissa pressed. “If you would only tell Mummy and Daddy about it, they could—“

“It’s none of their business either. So I’ve been having nightmares. It undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that I’ve got a deluge of wizarding exams to worry about this year. It’s seventh year stress, that’s all. You’ll understand next year.”

Narcissa sniffed. “Only I won’t be bothering with N.E.W.T.s.”

Andromeda was well aware of this fact. It was a sore sport between the sisters. Narcissa didn’t see the point in taking N.E.W.T. classes or exams when she already knew that her future was as a wife and mother. In fact, the entire Black family was of the opinion that N.E.W.T.s were useless to its female members. Bellatrix hadn’t troubled herself with them and neither had their mother Druella, nor Aunt Walburga, nor any Black woman that had preceded them. Not only were wizarding exams pointless for women whose sole job was to marry and procreate, they entailed a certain vulgar display of earnestness and work ethic that was unbecoming to any pureblooded aristocrat. Andromeda had heard the lectures ad nauseam from her mother, her sisters, and her aunt. But she had never heard it from her father.

“Listen to me, Andromeda,” Cygnus Black had told his daughter on a December night eight years earlier.

She had been sitting in his study, on the chaise lounge in the corner, reading a worn copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Andromeda loved her father’s study, all aged books and mahogany shelves and flickering firelight. She especially loved peeking up from her book and watching him work at his desk. He wrote with studied flourish, covering reams of parchment with green ink. On this particular night, he had set down his quill and called Andromeda to his side.

“Listen to me,” he said. “You’re smarter by far than your sisters.”

Andromeda’s eyes had widened in shock. “Me? But Bella is so very—“

“So very clever?” Cygnus supplied slowly. “Yes. Your older sister is extremely cunning. She is ambitious and she is sharp-tongued, as any good Slytherin ought to be. But she is single-minded, too, and she possesses a propensity for cruelty that blinds her to the better part of knowledge. In her haste to gain personal satisfaction, she misses the wisdom and the beauty of things. Your younger sister, too, is endowed with excellent qualities. She is observant, and unlike Bella, she is good-tempered.”

“And,” said nine-year-old Andromeda, “she’s so pretty.”

“She will have no trouble making a good match,” Cygnus conceded. “She will most certainly become a beauty, just like your mother. However, neither her beauty nor Bella’s cunning are a substitute for a mind like yours.”

“What’s so special about my mind?” Andromeda whispered, blinking steadily up at her father.

“You see the details, Andromeda. You see the beauty. That is an extraordinarily rare quality. I want you to make use of it. I especially want you to make use of it at Hogwarts. Do you understand me? Apply yourself. You are capable of great things. Do not waste that capability. Make me proud.”

Her father had never told Andromeda in so many words that she ought to study hard, to ask questions in class, to turn in extra credit, to meet with her professors outside of class—all actions that earned Andromeda stink eyes and teasing giggles from the other Slytherins. He had never explicitly told her to earn Os and Es on her O.W.L.s or to attend N.E.W.T.-level classes. But he had never told her not to do so. Unlike the rest of her family, he had never once reprimanded Andromeda for her desire to take the wizarding exams, never once demanded she shut up when she talked about potential careers other than homemaker and socialite. He never spoke to her again on the subject, not after that winter night in his study. But every so often, she would catch him looking at her with a calm, steady gaze that she knew was pride. Her father was proud of her. Druella could chastise her for being unladylike in her academic achievement. Bellatrix could call her a brown-nosing goody-goody. Narcissa could giggle and call her study sessions in the library “cute.” But none of that mattered if her father was proud and, more importantly, she was proud of herself.

Andromeda didn’t care about her mother’s opinion, nor Bellatrix’s. But sometimes she wished she could change Narcissa’s mind, explain to her the value of an education. Her heart stung slightly at Narcissa’s comment. No, her little sister would never bother with upper-level coursework. She would squeak by in her classes, she would marry, and she would produce perfect little pureblooded children. Perhaps this was exactly what Narcissa wanted, but Andromeda couldn’t help but feel like her sister deserved something more.

“I’m sorry I snapped,” Andromeda said, her gaze softening. “I know you mean well, Cissy.”

Narcissa sighed. “Lucius only suggested that you try some sleep potion, is all. He thought it might be helpful.”

“That’s very kind,” Andromeda said, turning her gaze to Lucius, “but I’ve heard that sleep potions can be extremely addictive.”

“They can be,” Lucius said, setting down his paper. “But you forget that I’m an expert potions maker. I could concoct a mild batch that should knock out your nightmares without turning you into a junkie—if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Slowly, Andromeda nodded. “I suppose that wouldn’t hurt. If you don’t mind, that is.”

“Not at all,” Lucius said. “Anything for my Narcissa’s favorite sister.”

Narcissa beamed at her boyfriend, then winked blithely at Andromeda. “Isn’t he the best? He’s just marvelous.”

Narcissa snuggled against Lucius’ shoulder, her blonde locks cascading across his prefect badge. If Andromeda hadn’t been Narcissa’s sister, she would’ve grown violently ill at just how sickeningly sweet this little tableau was; as things stood, she was only queasy.

Outside, the blurred countryside grew more definable. The train was slowing, and already Andromeda could hear students clattering about in the hall, hauling their trunks along so they could be the first ones off the train. Andromeda didn’t have to worry on that score. Rabastan had promised to meet her at the platform and carry her belongings like a proper and attentive boyfriend. He had arrived at school early, as he and his father had taken a hunting trip up to Scotland a week before. It had been a full month since they had seen each other, and Andromeda had begun to worry that his absence had not affected her in the least. She hadn’t missed Rabastan; in fact, she’d felt a certain sort of relief that she didn’t have to dress up and do her hair a certain way each and every morning. But of course she would be overjoyed once she saw him. Surely.

Andromeda stood up and slid back the carriage door.

“Where are you going?” Narcissa asked, alarmed. “You aren’t just going to run off with Rabastan and leave me all alone?”

“All alone?” Andromeda paused in the threshold, smirking. “Don’t be silly, Cissy. You’ve got Lucius. I’m the one who hasn’t seen my boyfriend in weeks.”

“Go let her and Lestrange have their fun,” Lucius said, pulling Narcissa even closer against him, “and we’ll have ours.”

Andromeda made a face at Lucius and stuck her tongue out at Narcissa. “Bye, lovelies. See you on the other side.”

The train had rolled to a complete stop, and Andromeda watched out the corridor window as dozens of eager first and second years poured out of the foremost carriages, shouting and gaping like newborn puppies. They were so little, so innocent; Andromeda could hardly believe she’d really been that tiny when she’d first arrived at Hogwarts.

“Poor little lad looks like he’s on the verge of a panic attack.”

A finger came into Andromeda’s view, pointing against the glass toward a small ginger boy with over-large glasses who did, in fact, look like he was about to start hyperventilating. She froze at the voice. She didn’t recognize it; it was warm and low, and distinctly lower class in accent. Its edges lilted up, as thought its owner was perpetually on the verge of laughing. In short, it wasn’t a voice that belonged to any of her Slytherin classmates.

Slowly, Andromeda turned around to face the speaker. He was barely taller than her, and he was uncomfortably close. Still, Andromeda could clearly make out his features. Dirty golden hair, mud brown eyes, freckles, and day-old stubble; broad shoulders, pale skin, and a goldenrod t-shirt. Andromeda recognized him. He was a seventh year, like her, and he was Hufflepuff’s star chaser. A Hufflepuff. And Sweet Salazar, he was smiling at her.

Andromeda stared blankly back. The best thing to do in this situation was to say nothing and calmly evade any further contact. She tilted her chin up and then pushed past him, down the corridor.

“Oi!” the warm voice shouted behind her. Even now, he sounded like he was going to burst out laughing. “Classy, Black. I haven’t got the dragon pox, you know.”

Andromeda should have kept walking. She knew that. Rabastan was waiting for her at the platform. But for some insanely stupid and inexplicable reason, she turned back around. The boy was leaning easily against the train window, arms crossed, still smiling serenely at her. What was his problem?

“Fuck off,” she said crisply.

“Okay,” the boy said, shrugging.

Now she remembered his name from Quidditch commentary: Tonks. Something Tonks. Terrence? Todd? Ted? It didn’t really matter. What mattered was that he was a Hufflepuff stupid enough to talk to her. She wanted to walk back there and slap that idiotic smile off of his face. What was so funny?

“Talk to me again,” she growled, “and I will hex your ass to kingdom come. Got that, Tonks?”

“Is that a promise?” His smile only grew.

Of all the mudblooded gall. . . . Andromeda gaped and reached in her robe for her wand. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but she wasn’t about to let—

“There you are.”

Andromeda gasped as a heavy weight suddenly pressed against her stomach and a hot breath tickled against her ear. Rabastan. He had boarded the train and wrapped his arms about her from behind. His lips descended on her neck, hot and dry. She closed her eyes. “Don’t ever leave me alone again that long. I was on the verge of madness without you.”

Andromeda squirmed against the tickle of his breath. “Rabastan, quit it,” she said. “We’re in public.”

“Mhm,” Rabastan agreed. “So just imagine what my welcome’s gonna be like behind closed doors.”

Andromeda opened her eyes. This was not a display of affection she wanted anyone witnessing, especially not that imbecilic Hufflepuff boy. But when Andromeda looked back down the corridor, she saw nothing but the boy’s back as he walked soundlessly away.

Rabastan released his grip and turned Andromeda to face him. “Now then,” he said, tilting up her chin. “Let’s fetch your things and be on our way. I hear they’re serving roast lamb tonight. Excellent start to a new year." 


Chapter 2: Dark Arts & Doubts
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“Adams, Edwin.”

“Present.”

“Black, Andromeda.”

“Present.”

Andromeda meticulously aligned her quill with a fresh roll of parchment on her desk. There was nothing in the realm of academia that she loved so much as the first day of school. New quills, new pots of ink, fresh and untainted parchment, an unopened textbook, and all the anticipation of the year to come. Nothing was better than first days, especially when she had worked six long years to arrive at this first day in particular. She had finally made it to her second year of N.E.W.T.-level Defense Against the Dark Arts.This was where things got very difficult. And very interesting.

She watched keenly as Professor Whitechapel paced the floor. His stride was firm and determined as he called off each name from the roll; Andromeda like the confidence he exuded. He was not an old man, like Professor Flavius had been before him, but somewhere between forty and fifty. His eyes were a strange, bright shade of violet, and it was rumored that his mother had been a direct descendent of Merlin himself.

Ferdinand Whitechapel was, without a doubt, the most talked about professor this year. But then, that had been true of every Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for Andromeda’s past six years at Hogwarts. It was rumored that the position had been cursed, and that no professor could hold the post for longer than a year. So far, that curse had proved most effective. Professor Whitechapel was a brave wizard, said the whispers around Hogwarts. Everyone was watching, waiting to see what it would be to knock him from his post. A terrible bout of dragon pox, perhaps? An unfortunate run-in with the whomping willow? Only time would tell. In the meantime, Andromeda meant to glean as much knowledge from the wizard as she could.

“Scamander, George.”

“Present.”

Andromeda had worked so hard to get here. She had always excelled in Transfiguration, Ancient Runes, and Charms, but DADA had been her crowning achievement. She’d received nothing but glowing marks from each of her professors, and she had studied with a calm intensity that earned her a reputation as a sort of dark arts genius. Some of the nastier Gryffindors claimed that she only excelled because her own family dabbled in the dark arts themselves. But none of those snide-mouth idiots were currently sitting in a selective top-level class like Andromeda, now were they?

“Tonks, Edward.”

Andromeda’s pleasant reverie was suddenly broken at the sound of those two words. She grew very still. She had always sat at the front of the class, and until now she considered that to be a very great advantage. She’d never thought that it would put her at a disadvantage of knowing just whose company she was in. Without thinking, she whipped around to face the rest of the classroom. There, sitting three seats behind and one row over, sat Edward Tonks in the flesh. His dirty golden hair was ruffled as though he’d just rolled out of his bed, his white shirt wrinkled, his black and yellow tie sticking out over his robe.

His eyes caught Andromeda’s just as he said, “Present. Though I prefer Ted, sir.”

“Ah! Ted. Duly noted.”

Andromeda quickly turned back around. How had she not noticed Ted's presence in DADA last year? Was it simply because he was a Hufflepuff and therefore so. . .unnoticeable? How on earth did a Hufflepuff make it to seventh year DADA, anyway? Had he cheated? Had he bribed a professor?

Andromeda had been looking forward to a year of studying with only the elite, the cream of the crop. And now it looked like they let just anybody in. She tried to swallow down the bile as Professor Whitechapel finished the roll call with Zabini, Hector, and then, without hesitation, launched into their first lecture: Identifying and Warding Off Succubi.

Soon, Andromeda’s disgust at the discovery of Ted Tonks in her classroom gave way to pure concentration as she scribbled down extensive notes, raised her hand at least half a dozen times, and quickly wormed her way into the affection of Professor Whitechapel. She was always the teacher’s pet in DADA. Always.

Later that night, she gushed her excitement about the coming school year to Narcissa and to their rooomate, Lilith Starker.

“God, Andie, you’re such a little dork,” Lilith said affectionately, winding back more of Andie’s long, brunette hair into a perfectly crafted French braid. “Though I don’t see why succubi are so important for a girl to learn about. I mean, they seduce men, don’t they? So there’s nothing for you to worry about.”

“Anything dark or dangerous deserves study,” Andromeda said. “Anyway, just because it’s not immediately applicable doesn’t mean it isn’t still fascinating.”

“Fascinating to you,” Lilith muttered. “What’s far more fascinating to me is Xavier Eddleton’s backside. Yum.”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that,” said Narcissa, wrinkling up her nose as she finished up the topcoat to her cherry-colored toenails. “Xavier is dishy, admittedly, but you could do much better.”

“I admit he isn’t mind-blowingly wealthy,” said Lilith, “but I’ve got enough of an inheritance on my own. And when money’s taken care of, you can be picky about the more important things, like. . .sex appeal.”

Lilith giggled wickedly, Narcissa gasped, and Andromeda just rolled her eyes.

“Don’t give me that high and mighty look, Andie!” Lilith said, addressing Andromeda’s reflection in the girl’s bedroom mirror. “Haven’t you and Rabastan done the dirty by now?”

Narcissa gasped louder and smacked Lilith with a pillow.

“What?” Lilith raised her hands innocently, letting Andromeda’s hair fall back to her shoulders. “I’m just calling it the way I see it. And I’ve seen the way he looks at you, Andie. Like he wants it.”

“Maybe he does,” Andromeda said, picking at a hangnail, “but he knows he won’t get it until after we’re married.”

“SO YOU’RE ENGAGED?!”

“Calm down, Lilith! Of course I’m not. Don’t you think you two would be the first to know if I was engaged? Or if I’d fooled around with him?”

Lilith tapped her nose suspiciously. “I dunno. You can be so quiet. Sometimes I don’t know what’s going on in that mind of yours. It's frightening." 

Andromeda sighed. “I think it’s going to happen soon. I overheard him in the common room, talking to the boys. He—he’s bought a ring.”

There were two instantaneous squeals.

“What?” demanded Narcissa, grabbing Andromeda’s hands. “When do you think he’s going to do it?”

“How should I know?" 

Lilith snorted. “For a girl about to be betrothed to her true love, you don’t sound too enthusiastic.”

Andromeda remained silent. After a long moment, she said, “Maybe it’s because he isn’t my true love.”

Narcissa’s eyes widened. “W-what? But Andie, you two make such a precious couple. I assumed—“

“You’re perfect for each other!” squawked Lilith. “How can he not be the love of your life?”

“I just. . . .“ Andromeda gestured ineffectively with her hands, trying to grasp at words just out of reach. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s not like I hate him or anything, but—but I don’t miss him when we’re apart. I don’t particularly enjoy his company. He’s nice and attentive, and Merlin knows he’s a good kisser. He can just be so dull at times. Sometimes I think we want different things. Very different things. Like last night. He—he—“

Narcissa’s eyes were nearly entirely made up of pupils. Her voice dropped to a scandalized whisper. “Did he force you to—?”

Andromeda made a choking noise. “What? No! I mean, yes, he wanted to take things a little further than I did, but I told him no, and he always stops. That’s normal. It isn’t that. It’s just, we were talking about the future, and he made it very clear that his career is going to take precedence. That he wants to start having children right away.”

Lilith blinked at Andromeda, nonplussed.

“Sooo,” said Lilith, “what’s wrong with that?”

Narcissa cut in before Andromeda could reply. “Andie doesn’t want children right away. She has this silly notion of wanting her own career first. I've tried to reason with her. Once you have children, Andie, you won't feel that way. Everyone says so." 

“Yes,” said Lilith. "Think about it. Anyone can get a career. What’s a real feat is landing a pureblood husband like Rabastan. Do you know how many girls are gaga for him? He’s a catch. Far and away the better Lestrange brother.”

Andromeda thought unwillingly of Rodolphus Lestrange, her sister Bellatrix’s husband. Like his younger brother, Rodolphus was undeniably handsome. But he was also cruel and—Andromeda thought—borderline psychotic. A perfect match for her older sister, perhaps, but she didn’t particularly like reminding herself of how closely bound she would be to the man should she marry his brother.

Andromeda sighed. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. Just forget it.”

“It’s normal to have doubts,” Narcissa said softly. “To have second thoughts. Perhaps that’s all it is.”

“Yes. Perhaps.”

“Just wait and see,” said Lilith, who had regained her usual gutsy tone. “In a few weeks’ time you’ll be back to being madly in love with him. The moment he pulls out that ring, I guarantee you won’t have any doubts then.”



“Miss Black, may I speak with you for a moment?”

Andromeda stopped mid-roll of her parchment and looked up to find Professor Whitechapel looking down at her from his podium. His demeanor was calm, as it always was, his violet eyes intent.

“Of course,” she said with a respectful nod, rolling the last of her notes for the day and placing them gingerly into her satchel. She folded her well-manicured hands and looked up at Professor Whitechapel in anticipation.

This could only be good news. She’d been hard at work in class for two months straight now and had proven herself to be an exceptional pupil. Andromeda considered this to be an even more admirable feat considering she was still struggling with the occasional insomnia. Lucius’ homemade sleeping draught helped her nightmares, but Andromeda was too afraid to take it regularly for fear she’d become too reliant on the potion. Still, in spite of her disrupted sleep pattern, she’d received nothing but top grades from Professor Whitechapel on all of her assignments up until now. So surely he was taking some time after class to congratulate her on her hard work.

“You’ve proven to be a marvelous addition to this classroom, Miss Black,” Professor Whitechapel began. “I’m sure you know by now that I'm extraordinarily pleased with your work. I consider you to be one of the finest students I’ve ever had the honor of instructing.”

Andromeda beamed. She couldn’t help it. This sort of praise was what she lived for. It was what made all the teasing and taunts worth it.

“Thank you, Professor Whitechapel,” she said.

What was he going to do now? Pin a ribbon on her? Offer a letter of recommendation? Inform her that he had written her father about how proud he was?

“That is why,” Professor Whitechapel continued, stepping down from his podium so that he and Andromeda were on closer eye-level,“I’m presuming to ask a rather significant favor of you.”

Andromeda’s hopeful expression faltered only a fraction. “A—a favor, sir?”

“Yes. You see, I’m afraid not everyone in this classroom has quite the same aptitude as you. One student in particular has been struggling with the more recent assignments, and he approached me last week about earning extra credit or even, perhaps, receiving some form of tutelage.”

“Tutelage.” Andromeda knew she was annoyingly parroting Professor Whitechapel, but she still didn't understnad what he was trying to communicate.

“What I’m asking, Miss Black, is if you’d be willing tutor Mr. Tonks throughout these coming months.”

Still, Andromeda didn’t register the words. “I beg your pardon?”

“I’m telling you this in the strictest confidence, mind. I don’t make it a regular habit to discuss the progress of my students with their peers. However, I believe Mr. Tonks is a very talented wizard, and I would hate to fail him out of this class before Christmas simply because his performance is not quite up to par. As I understand it, his busy schedule on the Quidditch pitch has led to his less than satisfactory academic work.”

“Ted Tonks,” Andromeda said dumbly. “You want me to tutor Ted Tonks?”

Professor Whitechapel removed his glasses from his nose. He squinted down at Andromeda with a quizzical expression.

“Is that a problem, Miss Black? You seem distressed.”

“No!” Andromeda nearly shouted. She swallowed, and then with more calm continued. “No, I’m not distressed. It’s just an. . .unexpected request.”

“Ah,” said Professor Whitechapel. “Admittedly so. Though it’s certainly not unheard of, and I think that your insight would greatly benefit the boy. I wouldn’t ask you this favor if I did not think you were entirely qualified.”

“Yes,” said Andromeda, “but surely someone else would be better suited for the job? Couldn’t you tutor him, sir?”

Professor Whitechapel narrowed his eyes. “I am afraid you underestimate the myriad duties and busy schedule of a professor, Miss Black. Would that I could, but I’m thinly stretched as it is. As for his fellow classmates, I can think of no one so well qualified as you.”

“Right. Me.”

Why couldn’t her brain think? Why now, of all possible times, had it shut down so entirely? Surely there had to be a way out of this. She had to come up with some sort of excuse. Tutor Ted Tonks? Spend time with a Mudblood and a Hufflepuff? Surely Professor Whitechapel didn't understand what an obscene request that was. He must not have subscribed to pureblooded supremacy, or he would never have asked this of her. But now he had, and Andromeda could think of no way to refuse the favor that would not lower her in her professor’s estimation. And she couldn’t let him think that she was rude or unhelpful or lazy. So she spoke the words that would seal her fate.

“Of course, sir. I’d be happy to help.”



Author's Note: Hello, hello! I thought I ought to pop my nose in and give a word or two. More than anything, I wanted to thank the lovely readers and reviewers who have already given me and my ickle baby story so much encouragement. Thank you for the helpful words!

I've had a long, slightly unhealthy obsession with the Black Household, and Ted and Andromeda are one of my favorite couples ever; I've wanted to write a fanfic about them for ages. Guess what one of my New Year's Resolutions was? :) I hope that you all continue to enjoy the story. I'm sitting on a backlog of chapters here, so I can't wait until they're all out in your hands. Enjoy! Your reviews make me infinitely happy.


Chapter 3: Impressions
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“I hate you.”

They were the first words out of Andromeda’s mouth as she slammed down her satchel on the library table. Ted, who’d been oblivious to her approach, jumped a good inch out of his chair, dropping his copy of Advanced Defense Techniques to the floor.

“Shit,” he said, stooping to pick up the book. “Was that necessary?”

“None of this is necessary,” Andromeda snapped back in a vicious whisper. “I can’t believe you had the nerve to beg Whitechapel for me to tutor you. I don’t know what sort of sick game you’re playing, but—"

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Ted raised his hands like an innocent. “What are you talking about? I never asked Whitechapel for you as a tutor.”

Andromeda narrowed her eyes suspicously. “Yes, you did. You purposefully contrived to get me alone with you!”

“Why the hell would I do that?”

“Because you fancy me, of course! Why else would you be stupid enough to talk to me on the train?”

Ted’s brow furrowed, as though he were trying to conjure up a long-lost memory. “Oh. Oh, that was you, wasn’t it? That dare was months ago….”

Her breath caught. “Dare?”

“Yeah,” he said easily. “My Quidditch mates and I dared each other to go rile up a Slytherin on the train. The one who came back with the least battle scars won a month’s supply of chocolate frogs, courtesy of the losers.” He leaned in closer, patting his stomach. “Guess who won?”

Andromeda gaped. “You made a dare about me?”

Ted looked at Andromeda as though she’d grown a third eye. “Merlin, Black, you’ve got an ego the size of the giant squid. It wasn’t about you. None of this is.”

Andromeda faltered. Since yesterday afternoon, when Professor Whitechapel had asked his “favor,” she’d just assumed that Ted Tonks had been behind it. It was obvious from their encounter on the Hogwarts Express that he was attracted to her. Why wouldn’t he be? She was smart, pretty, pureblooded, wealthy, and an aristocrat—all the things he wasn’t. Well, okay, he wasn’t half bad to look at, she’d grant him that. But she’d never doubted for a moment that Ted was responsible for forcing her into tutoring him, just so he could attempt to make a move on her.

“You mean, you didn’t ask Whitechapel for me specifically?”

“This may come as a shock,” said Ted, returning his gaze to his book, “but you’re not irresistible.”

It was there again, in his voice—that tension, like he was laughing. Maybe he was laughing at her.

“Then why did you—?”

“Look,” Ted said, without looking up, “I just so happen to want to make good marks in Whitechapel’s class. I asked if he would recommend a tutor. I didn’t expect him to ask you, or I would’ve kept my mouth shut.”

Andromeda deflated. She supposed she should be happy about this revelation, but if Ted hadn’t schemed to get her here, did he really not like her after all? Did Ted Tonks, a bloody Hufflepuff, not find her sexually attractive? He had to be gay.

Slowly, she sank into the chair opposite Ted. His eyes flickered up to hers from over the top of his book. He was laughing at her.

“I still hate you,” she said.

“Yeah, I think we’ve established that. Why don’t we move on to new territory. Like how to expel a ghoul from a house, hm? That’s the paper I had the most trouble with.”

Ted ducked under the table and emerged a few seconds later with a wrinkled, bent roll of parchment. “Here’s my essay. Whitechapel slaughtered it. I know I could’ve done better, but the Ravenclaw game was Saturday, and I didn’t have time to—“

“Are you gay?”

Ted stopped short. Slowly, he said, “I am monumentally straight, Andromeda Black.”

Andromeda just stared. Ted produced a nervous smile. He rubbed the back of his neck uneasily.

“Why? Do I give off a metrosexual vibe or something?”

“No,” Andromeda admitted. “You don’t dress nearly nice enough for that.”

“Uh-huh. Look, no offense here, but I don’t want either of us wasting our time. Do you think we could actually do some tutoring?”

“Sure,” said Andromeda, taking the parchment from him and unrolling it for perusal. She had barely gotten a few lines into the sloppily written essay when she glanced up again. Ted had gone back to reading his book. How could he not care who she was? That she was sitting across from him? This was probably the closest he would ever get to a member of the House of Black.

“You know who I am, don’t you?” she asked.

“You’re Andromeda Black.” He turned a page of his book. “You’re a seventh year, and you’re top of your entire class. You’re a pureblood, a Slytherin, and you come from an insanely wealthy family. You’ve got two sisters, one of whom I hear is a real psycho. You’re going to marry that Lestrange asshole and pop out a dozen or so perfect little pureblood kids. It’s a shame, since you’re so smart and talented, but that’s the way with you Blacks.”

He lifted his eyes up for a split second. “Sound about right?”

Andromeda had lost her voice. She stared mutely back at him.

At last, she regained the power of speech. And when she did, she said something without thinking, something that she would instantly regret.

“I don’t want kids.”

It was as though a weight, heavy and unforgiving, had been tied to Andromeda’s ribs. And now, suddenly, the weight had come loose and smashed into the ground, leaving her hollow inside. Hollow, but somehow free. She had just told the truth to a perfect stranger.

Ted didn’t answer. He was looking at his book so intently that Andromeda began to think he hadn't heard her after all. But then, slowly, he met her gaze.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“I don’t want your pity.”

I don’t want kids. Merlin, why the hell had she told him that?

“You’re seventeen,” Ted said. “Who wants kids at seventeen?”

“Plenty of people. All my friends. My sister. Most Slytherin girls. You’d be surprised. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.”

Ted frowned. “Doesn’t it?”

“No. What matters is cleaning up your abysmal essay on ghouls so that you can at least score halfway decently on next week’s exam.”

“Wow. So we’re finally doing the tutoring thing.”

“I suppose we are.”

With that, Andromeda delved into her work. She read closely over Ted’s essay, which had already been heavily critiqued by Professor Whitechapel. Ted had command over the language. He had good rhetoric. What he was missing was the textbook knowledge. He clearly hadn’t done his reading, and she guessed that Quidditch was to blame.

“Quidditch keeps you busy?” she asked nearly a half hour later, setting down her quill from a set of separate notes she’d made for him.

Ted dog-eared his book and tucked it back into his satchel. “It’s a priority,” he said.

Andromeda nodded. “Well, schoolwork is going to have to become more of a priority. The skill you need, you have. You’re a good writer, despite the absymal penmanship. You just require the actual book knowledge, and that means studying. You don’t need me to explain these concepts to you. You just need to read them for yourself.”

“You mean I’ve got to do all the work by myself? What kind of a tutor are you?”

Andromeda opened her mouth in indignation and was about to give Ted a scathing retort when she realized he was laughing at her again. Idiot.

“You’re impossible,” she said. Then, as an afterthought, “You’re a Mudblood, aren’t you?”

Ted’s laughter stopped. A look crossed his face that Andromeda couldn’t identify. It was some sort of mix between disappointment and pride.

“I have Muggle parents,” Ted said evenly, “if that’s what you mean.”

Andromeda gave a stiff nod. “I suspected. A good deal of Hufflepuffs are, after all. Mudbloods, that is.”

“A good deal of Slytherins are bigots,” Ted replied. “Looks like we both just proved the rule.”

Andromeda flushed. “I’m not a bigot.”

“Purist, then. Does that suit your delicate vocabulary? Most Slytherins are purists. I thought you people were proud of both terms.”

Andromeda felt a wave of confusion wash over her. She had never spent this much time with a Muggleborn, and she had certainly never heard one bring up the topic of purism. She had always been taught that they were too dense to even understand the concept.

“I come from a noble lineage,” she said stiffly. “There’s no reason to not be proud of that.”

Ted studied her for an uncomfortably long silence, as though he were waiting for the punch line of a joke. At last, he shook his head. “You’re dead serious, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am.”

“Huh.” He stood up. “Well, this has been a real treat, Miss Black. Thank you for condescending to help a peon like myself. I’d say I’d love to do it again sometime, but. . .I really wouldn’t.”

He slung his satchel over his shoulder and made to leave, but as he passed her side of the table, Andromeda caught him by the forearm.

Merlin, he was fit. His arm was taut under her grip, and Andromeda could feel the rise of veins and muscle just underneath his warm skin. Of course he was fit. He was a star Quidditch player. As captain and chaser, he’d been almost single-handedly responsible for leading the Hufflepuffs to victory over Slytherin for the past three years in a row. Andromeda shook that fact from her mind when she found Ted looking down at her with a startled expression.

“That’s it?” she said. “You’re just going to leave?”

The surprise didn’t leave Ted’s face. He looked at her like she’d just spoken to him in Ancient Runes.

“I thought we were done here. Unless you charge a fee or something. Though I warn you, all I’ve got is"—Ted rummaged around in his jacket pocket—"a sickle, by the feel of it. There may be chewing gum attached to it. . .”

Andromeda curled her lip in disgust. “No, I don’t want your money. Don’t be so utterly crude. I just. . .I mean, it’s just that. . ."

She realized that she was still holding his arm. Quickly, she let go.

“Just that what?”

“I’ve never really talked to someone like you,” Andromeda spat out.

What was she saying? Of course she’d never talked to someone like Ted Tonks. Blacks made it a point not to talk to anyone out of their social circle, and certainly not out of their blood pool.

“Someone like me,” Ted repeated, looking unenlightened.

“You know. A—a—"

“A Mudblood?” Ted supplied.

Andromeda had no idea why, but the sound of "Mudblood" rolling off of Ted Tonks’ tongue was terrifically unpleasant. It made her insides jolt in discomfort. She tucked a strand of her long, thick chestnut hair behind her ear—a nervous tick she’d had since she was a child.

“Yes,” she said. “That.”

“What, do you like talking to me?”

“Of course not!” Andromeda said quickly. “You’re just not what I expected. I thought all Mudbloods were stupid as rocks.”

“Who said I’m not? You are tutoring me, after all.”

She shook her head. “No. I read your work. You’re a good thinker. Brilliant, even. You wouldn’t be in a N.E.W.T.-level with me if you weren’t smart. And the way you talk—your accent’s lower class, but your grammar isn’t. You think things out. You express them well. Better than any of the boys in my year.”

“I’m in your year.”

“Yes, but I mean Slytherins. People like you don’t count.”

Ted laughed again. It was a short, breath-packed laugh, and he turned away from her as he released it.

“God,” he said. “Just listen to yourself.”

“What?”

“Right,” he said, leaning his weight against the table. “Much as I’d love to be your token Muggleborn lapdog, I’ve actually got a life to get back to. I’m sure you’ll forget about what a fascinating conversation you had with a Mudblood as soon as your head hits the pillow, and you’ll go right back to thinking of me as a mindless, walking piece of filth. ‘Til then, have a nice night.”

And with that, Ted was gone for good. Andromeda watched him as he left, his book bag jostling against his side, his jeans—Salazar, he had a nice backside. She could finally understand what Lilith meant when she talked about Xavier.

Whoa. Calm down, Andromeda. If there’s any boy’s backside you should be thinking about, it’s your boyfriend’s. Rabastan Lestrange. Remember him? Focus.

She collected her things and stuffed them back into her satchel, willing herself to think about other topics: her Charms exam tomorrow morning, the upcoming Hogsmeade visit, Lilith’s new gossip, Rabastan’s lips on hers. Nothing was really doing the trick. Ted’s voice kept ringing in her ears, a loop of words played over and over again:

It’s a shame, since you’re so smart and talented, but that’s the way with you Blacks.



“Mummy! Mummy, Cissy used your perfume!”

“Andromeda, lower your voice. At that decibel, you’ll wake the dead. Honestly, where is your decorum today?”

Seven-year-old Andromeda hung her head, fiddling her fingers together over her pinafore. Her dress was unbearably itchy—all starch and tight buttons and stiff seams. To make matters worse, Mrs. Black had placed an unwrinklable charm on the dress, which made it quite difficult to move about and impossible to run. Running indoors was not a ladylike activity.

“Tattletale!” Narcissa shrieked, running into the room and bringing with her a nauseating onslaught of gardenia scent.

“Even without your sister’s tattling, Narcissa, I would have been able to smell you from acres away.” Mrs. Black touched her fingers to her forehead in a delicate way, as though she were enduring a headache. “I simply don’t have the patience for you girls today.”

With the gait of a martyr being led to her execution, Mrs. Black walked toward the three Black girls, taking them by the shoulders, one by one, and positioning them around a velvet divan with a too-tight grip.

“I do apologize, Cassius. I had meant to position them earlier.”

Cassius, the family portrait painter, simply peeked out from behind his canvas and harrumphed. Then he went back to scratching at his silver-bearded chin as he waited for Mrs. Black to finish her arranging.

“There,” Mrs. Black said at last, surveying the girls with pride. “Yes, that will do very well. Paint away, Cassius. I’ll be in to check on you in an hour’s time. Ring for Mathilde if you need anything at all.” She turned on heel and fixed the girls with a hawk-eyed stare. “And you. Behave. Especially you, Andromeda. Child, do stop fidgeting so!”

Andromeda stopped fidgeting. At least, she did until Mrs. Black left the room. It wasn’t fair that she had to stand, while Bellatrix and Narcissa sat side by side on the divan.

“Stop your sniveling, Andie,” Bellatrix said in a bored drawl. “You’re already going to look ugly enough on canvas as it is. Better not ruin it by scrunching up your face in that unattractive way.”

Andromeda stuck out her tongue, but this time she stopped fidgeting for good. What if Bella was right and she ended up looking like a miniature monster on canvas? That wouldn’t do. She grew still, focusing her energies instead on the two sisters sitting in front of her.

They were both beauties. Bellatrix, just recently turned ten, had a mane of wild black curls, thick and glossy. Her eyes were perpetually half-drooped, as though she were in a constant state of boredom—which she usually was. Her skin was snow white, her cheekbones high and pronounced. She had the stark, patrician beauty of the House of Black, but there was something sinister, too, about the angles of her jaw and her heavy-lidded eyes. Perhaps a stranger wouldn’t have been able to put their thumb on it, but Andromeda knew what that sinister something was: Bellatrix was cruel, and that cruelty occasionally shone through in the glint of her eye or the tilt of her chin. It was a harsh beauty that Bellatrix possessed.

Narcissa, on the other hand, bore little resemblance to her eldest sister. Though her features were still well-defined, they were not nearly so sharp. Baby fat still hung about six-year-old Narcissa, making her pleasantly plump and turning her cheeks a rosy red. Her eyes were the shade of an ice-covered lake—frosty blue. And her hair, much to the surprise of her relatives, was a startling soft blonde. She was the picture of an angel.

That left Andromeda, the unremarkable middle child. Friends and relatives said that Andromeda shared much of her looks in common with Bellatrix, but she lacked the heavy eyelids and the wild hair that made her older sister so striking. Her own eyes were too large for her face. Her hair was a plain brown, though by no means mousy. There was nothing about her that was necessarily lacking, and she certainly wasn’t ugly, whatever Bellatrix said. She was just—acceptable. Fairly pretty. Nothing more.

“I only wanted to smell like Mummy,” Narcissa said in a breathy soprano, looking up mournfully at Andromeda. “Why did you tattle?”

Andromeda felt a pang of guilt. She really shouldn’t have gotten her younger sister in trouble. She was very fond of Cissy most days, but the two had gotten into a fight that morning when Andromeda had discovered one of her porcelain dolls missing an arm. Narcissa had confessed, but Andromeda hadn’t quite forgiven her. Not until now.

“I shouldn’t have,” Andromeda whispered. “You smell lovely, Cissy. Just like a princess.”

“I am a princess,” Narcissa said with a girlish giggle. “And when I grow up, I’m going to be just like Mummy.”

“I certainly hope not,” muttered Bellatrix. “When I grow up, I’m going to be far more beautiful and powerful than our mother ever was.”

Andromeda said nothing. She was only seven, and growing up seemed like such a long and difficult thing to do. How could she possibly know what she would be years in the future? She didn’t particularly want to be powerful or beautiful or even a princess. The only thing that Andromeda really knew for certain was that she didn’t want to always be known as the unremarkable Black sister. She wanted to be something more.

It’s a shame, since you’re so smart and talented, but that’s the way with you Blacks.

Yes, that was the way with the ladies of the House of Black: no matter what they wished for their futures, they would all grow up to walk the same paths their mothers had walked before them, and their mothers before that. Wishing and wanting accomplished nothing—not at seven, and not even at seventeen.


Chapter 4: Indiscretion
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“Another round, Hortense, please and thanks!”

Lilith’s face was pink from alcohol, but she still downed the next shot of Firewhisky as soon as Hortense—the grisled, stink-eyed bartender—had plunked it down on the counter. When she was through, she wrapped Narcissa into a headlock and squealed for about the twentieth time that night.

“ENGAGED. I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe how romantic the whole thing was!”

Narcissa was glowing, her blue eyes brimming with joy. She had never looked more beautiful than tonight, and that was quite a feat. Even in the midst of the dark, musty, crowded interior of Hog’s Head Inn, she looked like an angel. Andromeda was happy for her little sister. Lucius had proposed to her the night before, and even Andromeda had to admit it was a very romantic setup.The scheme had involved roses and poems and protestations of love and the first snowfall of the school year. Afterward, she and Narcissa had spent the whole night giggling under the covers and taking turns marveling at the enormous diamond ring Lucius had placed on her finger.

Andromeda was overjoyed for Narcissa. She really was. But after Narcissa had drifted off to sleep that night, she had been left alone and awake, staring at the four-poster canopy as a foreign wave of sadness washed over her. She was sad. Why was she sad?

Was it just jealousy? Perhaps she was a little jealous of Lucius, who was stealing away her sister and confidant. There would be no more lazy summer days at Onyx House, just her and Narcissa. Her sister would live with Lucius at Malfoy Manor now, or at his London penthouse, far from Andromeda.

Was it impatience? Narcissa was a full year younger than her, after all, and she was engaged first. What was taking Rabastan so long? Did he want to leave Andromeda the only Black sister without a ring on her finger? She could understand Lucius’ motives: he was a seventh year, and he would want a commitment from Narcissa before they were forced to part for a full year as Narcissa finished her education. But didn’t Rabastan have even more incentive to propose? It was already November, and it only made sense that he and Andromeda should plan for a springtime wedding, just after graduation, to make for the most natural transition into married life. So why was Narcissa wearing a diamond ring before she was?

The greatest trouble of all was that Andromeda didn’t have any real desire for a wedding. A gorgeous dress, certainly. A diamond ring, of course. But when she thought of kissing Rabastan in front of dozens of guests, of leaving Onyx House for good and taking up residence in the Lestrange’s labyrinthine country house, she felt nothing but dull dread. Narcissa must have been right: it was just second thoughts. But why had Andromeda been having second thoughts for two months straight now? And why wouldn’t those nightmares leave her alone?

Today, it was Lilith’s turn to squeal over Narcissa’s engagement, and since today happened to be a Hogsmeade visit day, Lilith could think of no better place to celebrate than the Hog’s Head Inn. Andromeda could think of much classier, cleaner, and safer places, and it was clear that prim Narcissa felt uncomfortable in the dirty bar. However, once Lilith set her mind to something, she stubbornly saw it through, no matter how poor her judgement was. An engagement like this called for some wild living, she claimed. She was taking the Black sisters to Hog’s Head, so help her, and she was going to buy them three whole rounds of Firewhisky shots.

Andromeda had watched in amusement as Narcissa discreetly got rid of each of her shots by tossing the them into a nearby potted snapdragon. Andromeda, however, didn’t have any qualms with the liquor, and she downed each round alongside Lilith. Then a fourth round. And as she thew back her fifth, she began to forget why she still felt a pang of sadness in the midst of the celebration. Alcohol didn’t affect Andromeda much. At least, she didn’t think so. That was why she was so surprised when, as she slipped down from her barstool to make her way to the toilet, she lost her footing and would’ve wiped out completely had Lilith not steadied her by the shoulder, giggling wildly.

“Watchershelf!” Lilith laughed. “Don’t take a tumble!”

Without knowing why, Andromeda found herself giggling, too. A pleasant warmth was spreading from her gut to her chest. Tonight was a fine night. She was with friends, and Narcissa was engaged to Lucius Malfoy, and all was right in the world. Except for that sliver of icky feeling in her stomach…

Andromeda pushed through the crowded bar, growing warmer and more nauseated as she went. She really did need to get to a toilet. She felt terrifically unwell. At last, she broke through the crowded bodies, only to find that she’d run into a booth table, where a group of Hogwarts boys sat eating supper. The smell of food tickled up Andromeda’s nostrils, and her stomach turned a full flip. And then, without any further ado, Andromeda vomited the contents of the day's lunch on the table.

A collective shout of disgust rose from the booth.

“Oi! Someone get this retcher away from our table, eh?”

“That is foul.”

Andromeda clung to the table’s splintered edge, her head spinning, heart pounding, her mouth filled with the taste of sick. How utterly mortifying. Her mother would never forgive Andromeda if she saw what a spectacle she’d just made of herself, let alone in such a disreputable establishment as this. And just when Andromeda thought things couldn’t get any worse, she opened her eyes to find one of the boys staring straight back at her.

It was none other than Ted Tonks. A fresh pile of vomit was heaped on his plate in place of fish and chips.

“Oh no,” Andromeda whimpered, stumbling back and losing her balance.

But instead of hitting the hard bar floor, she felt herself caught up in a firm grasp. Ted had rushed out of his seat to catch her.

“Hang in there,” he said against her ear, voice low and calm. “Let’s get you to the loo, eh?”

She thought about protesting as he lifted her up into his arms. She thought about smacking him in the face, telling him to get his filthy Mudblood hands off of her as he pressed through the crowd with unyielding urgency. But she didn’t do any of those things. Instead, she rested her head against his firm shoulder, hoping he’d make it to the toilet in time, because she felt another wave of nausea coming on, and she would've really preferred not to spew all over him.

They passed into a colder, darker space, where the shouts of the bar patrons faded, only to be replaced by the echoed, claustrophobic sound of her ragged breathing.

“I’m going to set you down now,” came Ted’s voice, and she felt herself lowered from his arms, her feet touching back on solid ground. “Come on, kneel down with me. That’s it. You’re all right."

Andromeda knelt down and felt Ted’s hands on hers, guiding her to something cold and hard. She’d never been so happy to set her hands on a toilet in her whole life. She didn't even have the presence of mind to consider how dirty this stall was, or how the floor was covered in an unidentifiable sticky substance. She heaved, and she was only vaguely aware of calloused fingers pulling back her hair from her face as she emptied the remaining contents of her stomach into the toilet. Then she slumped back into a dark, confused state for what felt like hours.

“It’s okay,” the warm voice repeated, rubbing her back in slow circles. “It happens to everyone at some point. Nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Andromeda nodded blindly against the warmth pressed to her cheek. Ted wore an awfully soft shirt. She clung to it with steely resolve, worried that at any moment, the urge to vomit would return. She could be humiliated about this later. She could rail against Lilith for  having convinced her and Narcissa to walk off the beaten path and into this miserable excuse for a bar. Right now, however, all she could think about was feeling better.

She felt the warmth shift beneath her, and she gave a mewl of protest, gripping harder at his shirt. “D-d-don’t leave me!”

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was aware of how desperate and stupid she sounded. But she couldn’t help it. She just wanted safety and sanity again, and Ted seemed to be doing a pretty good job of providing it.

“I’m not leaving you,” he said gently. “I’m just fetching you some water, okay? I’ll lock the door so no one bothers you. You need to hydrate. I’ll be back in thirty seconds flat. You can time me if you'd like.”

Andromeda fell back against the wall of the restroom stall, her head still spinning. She felt cold, so much colder than she had when Ted had been there. November wind was whistling through the slats in the wooden walls, sending chills through her body. Thirty seconds. He said he’d only be thirty seconds.

And true to his word, Ted returned, kneeling back at Andromeda’s side a moment later. Though her vision had begun to clear, her thoughts were still murky, and she fought hard to form words.

“Why’re you hup—helping me?” she groaned, taking the cold glass of water that he placed in her hands.

“Drink the water,” Ted said, tipping the glass to her lips.

With an irritated sigh, Andromeda did as he requested. Something had begun tickling at the back of her mind—a worry, a disquiet. Narcissa. Lilith. They must have noticed her long absence by now. They were probably worried about her. Looking for her. Andromeda shoved the glass back at Ted and struggled to get to her feet.

“Whoa! What do you think you’re doing?”

“My seeser. Lilaaath. They’re gonna worry.”

Ted caught her just as she slipped and went careening toward the ground again. “Your sister? She’s here?” Then, in an aside she was pretty sure Ted only meant for himself, he muttered, “Well of course they are, you idiot. She wouldn’t come into a bar by herself.”

“I need to fine ‘em!”

“Okay. We’ll find them, but I’ll help. You don’t seem to be able to stay upright for more than a second at a time.”

“I’m really, really happy for my sister,” Andromeda confided in Ted, patting his chest as he helped her up to her feet. “She’s engaged, y’know. To Malfoy. Nice fellow. Very, very nice fellow. I’m gonna be engaged soon, too. Rabashtan has already picked out a ring. But I dunno if it’ll be as big a diamond as Cissy’s.”

“That’s fascinating,” said Ted. “But why don’t we spend a little more time walking and a little less talking?”

Andromeda nodded doggedly and followed his lead as he brought her out of the bathroom and led her into the bar again. Through the blur of bodies, Andromeda caught a glimpse of platinum blonde locks.

“Cissy,” she mumbled, gripping Ted harder and nodding toward her sister. “That’s Cissy there.”

Ted nodded back and led Andromeda through the crowd, toward the beacon of blonde hair. Finally, they arrived back at the bar proper, where Narcissa was looking around frantically, tears rimming her eyes. When she spotted Ted and a slumped Andromeda, she shrieked and came running toward them, arms outstretched for her sister.

“Darling, there you are! I was so worried. Lilith is positively sloshed, and then I couldn’t find you, and then I was so scared. I don’t like being alone in this place, and—Andie? Goodness, you smell foul.”

For the first time, Narcissa glanced up, acknowledging Ted’s presence. “What’s wrong? What did you do to her?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Ted said. “She’s drunk.”

Narcissa narrowed her eyes. “Ladies of the House of Black do not get drunk.”

“Okay, whatever. She’s inexorably tipsy. Whatever you want to call it. She just puked out a veritable cauldron’s worth of food, though, so I suggest you get her someplace warm and safe where she can rest, huh?”

Narcissa’s eyes widened. She took Andromeda into her arms and nodded.

“Of course. I’d like nothing better than to get out of this filthy establishment.”

Andromeda now stooped on her shoulder, Narcissa began the attempt to make her way toward the door. She was having very limited success. Ted stepped in front of her and, with a sudden flourish, he pulled out his wand and shot a burst of scarlet sparks into the air.

“Get out of her way!”

Heads turned. Bodies shuffled. Narcissa glanced back at Ted with a curious expression. Then she led her sister toward the door.

“Cissy?” Andromeda moaned hoarsely. “Cissy, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a disgrace.”

“Nonsense,” said Narcissa. “It was Lilith who shouldn’t have taken us here in the first place. It's an absolute hovel. Hogsmeade really needs to invest in higher quality restaurants.”

“But I shouldn’t have drunk so much,” Andromeda groaned. “And of all the people to—wait. Where did Tonksh go?”

“Tonksh? Who’s Tonksh?”

“He left me?”

Both girls crossed the threshold of the inn and stepped out into the darkened, winding road that led up the deserted hill to Hog's Head. A soft snow had begun to fall, and Narcissa frowned at Andromeda in the lamplight.

“Who are you talking about? You mean the man back there?”

Andromeda nodded weakly. “The Muh—Mudblood.”

Narcissa gaped. “Is he really? And he was touching you like that. Merlin, the presumption. Darling, if you knew he was a Mudblood, why would you let him—“

But Narcissa was interrupted when Andromeda bent over and hurled a final round of vomit into a nearby shrubbery.

“That’s it,” said Narcissa, arching her chin angrily. “That is the last time I allow Lilith to determine our agenda for girls night out.”

The front door of the inn flew open. Ted Tonks emerged, looking flushed.

“Thank Merlin,” he panted. “Here. She dropped this.”

He held out a jade colored scarf—a present that Narcissa had given Andromeda for her fifteenth birthday.

Narcissa eyed Ted with haughty distaste, like he was a cockroach to be squished. Then, as though it were a great efort, she yanked the scarf from him.

“Do not come near my sister again,” she said icily. “Filth like you shouldn’t even presume to look at someone like Andromeda, let alone touch her.”

Ted stared. “You’ve got to be joking.”

“Do I look like I’m joking? Just stay away, or I’ll tell Lucius and Rabastan precisely what sort of liberties you took with my sister tonight, and I promise you, they won’t leave you looking the way they found you. Now leave us alone.”

Ted glanced at Andromeda. “I just wanted to be sure she was all right.”

“LEAVE US ALONE!”

Andromeda stirred against Narcissa’s shoulder, fighting for some semblance of conscious thought.

“What’s going on?” she murmured.

“Nothing,” Narcissa said tightly, holding her sister close. “There was a nuisance, but he’s been taken care of for good."


Chapter 5: Damage Control
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Andromeda woke in a cold sweat, her breath coming out in short and uneven hitches. She wiped the perspiration from her forehead and slowed her exhalations in an attempt to calm herself down.

Just a dream.

Onyx house was not on fire, and the walls had not been coated in blood. No masked man had been chasing her, and there was not a grotesque tattoo imprinted on Bellatrix’s inner left arm. Narcissa had not been cold and motionless. And the gold-tufted linnet had not been hit by a killing curse; his small and lifeless body had not fallen from the willow tree and into Andromeda’s cupped hands. None of those things had happened. She was safe in her bedroom in Slytherin House, and all was well and as it should be.

Almost.

Andromeda hadn’t forgotten what had happened the night before, and even though her head was still pounding as though an ice pick were chipping away at her skull, something had to be done.

That afternoon, she caught Ted in the corridor as they were both leaving DADA.

“We need to talk,” she said, tugging him back into the empty classroom and closing the door behind her.

Startled, Ted turned to face her, his brown eyes wide.

“Er, talk about what? If this is about the assignment, I appreciate an offer to help, but like you said, it’s really just a matter of me studying m—“

“No, of course this isn’t about the assignment!” Andromeda snapped. She cast her eyes down, suddenly filled with a strange nervousness. “It’s about last night.”

Ted raised a brow. A smirk notched up his face, and his voice deepened. “About last night?”

He said the words like they were deliciously sensuous, filled with innuendo—and in no way at all how Andromeda meant them.

“You think this is a joke?” she demanded.

Ted shrugged. “Honestly? I didn’t think you’d remember anything that happened last night. You were pretty damn blitzed.”

“Ladies of the House of Black don’t get . . . blitzed.” Andromeda frowned. She wasn’t entirely sure what “blitzed” meant, but it sounded uncouth and therefore definitely didn’t apply to her.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. Look, a simple ‘thank you’ will suffice, okay? No need to make this unduly awkward.”

“Thank you?”

“Mhm.” Ted hitched up a seat on the edge of one of the desks, swinging his legs easily. “Thank you. Have you heard of it? It’s an acknowledgement that someone else has done you a kindness.”

Andromeda felt her face heating. “What kindness? You utterly humiliated me!”

“No offense, but I think you did that all on your own.”

“So I was a little tipsy. That didn’t give you any right to go carting me around by force. Maybe I didn’t want to go in that stall with a Mudblood. Did you ever think of that? Did you think about what a story like that would do to my reputation? For all I know, people might already be spreading rumors!”

“Merlin forbid your precious reputation be damaged,” Ted said pleasantly.

Andromeda hadn’t meant to. It had been a sudden urge—violent and unexpected. She slapped him across the face, hard.

Ted didn’t respond. He only touched his fingers to the red welt forming on his cheek and raised his eyes back to Andromeda.

Dry panic rose in her throat. “I—I didn’t mean to—“ Pride gripped her before she could go further. Yes, you damn well did mean to, Andromeda Lyra Black. He deserves it! “Well, it’s your fault! You act as if you don’t understand how wrong your behavior was.”

“My behavior,” Ted repeated slowly. “You mean I should’ve let you pass out on the floor in a pile of your own sick? Fine. I’ll keep that in mind for future reference.”

“You are so dense,” Andromeda said, shaking her head. “You don’t realize what a high status I have to maintain in this school. Or you do, and you’re just purposefully acting daft. I can’t be seen with you, Tonks. The way you behaved at the Hog’s Head made it look like we were . . . involved somehow. That we somehow knew one another.That isn’t acceptable."

"Sorry," said Ted, "but if you're so dead set on maintaining a good reputation, you shouldn't be visiting a place like the Hog's Head in the first place."

"I'm well aware of that now. But this is about your behavior. You need to—to cease and desist!”

“Fine,” Ted said. “So long as you cease and desist the practice of spewing all over my supper. How’s that?”

Andromeda gritted her teeth. “Fine. Just leave me the hell alone.”

Ted swung his legs off of the table, landing on his feet and reshouldering his satchel. For the first time, Andromeda noticed the black ink tendriling out from the collar of his shirt and running over his exposed collarbone. A Hufflepuff with a tattoo? Would wonders never cease? She found herself wondering what shape it formed beneath the fabric of his button-up. Then she silently cursed herself for wondering.

“I’m going to say one last thing,” said Ted, and Andromeda realized in a shock of fright that he wasn’t leaving the room, but walking toward her. He only stopped when they were mere inches apart. She could hear him breathing, see flecks of blue in his brown eyes. “Sometimes people are altruistic. Sometimes they don’t do things for ulterior motives, or to try to ruin reputations or start rumors. Sometimes, they’re just trying to do the decent thing. So for the love of all things good, Andromeda Black, stop thinking that everything I do is about sodding you.”

Andromeda caught her balance on a chair as he left, and she sank down, releasing a shuddery breath. With sudden clarity, a thought pierced through her brain:

Ted Tonks thinks I’m an arrogant little harpy.

And most startling of all, for some reason, the thought bothered her.



“Andie! Yoo hoo!”

For five long years at Hogwarts, Andromeda had made it a point to never make eye contact with any other occupants of the Great Hall that did not belong to Slytherin House. She especially never cast a glance over at the Gryffindor tables. All of that had changed when Sirius Black, her favorite cousin, had been sorted into Gryffindor. Sirius was nearly five years younger than Andromeda, but that didn’t mean that he wasn't extraordinarily sharp.

Andromeda wouldn’t exactly call him mature for his age; he and his Gryffindor mates were already notorious for their pranks, even though they were just second years, and Sirius had the sense of humor of a five-year-old. But Sirius was intelligent; he saw through people, he understood situations—even messy and complicated ones involving family drama at Black family reunions. He picked up on social cues, he had insight sharper than a dagger. And because of that, he and Andromeda got along like old friends and equals.

More than one disapproving word had been passed around the family circles when Sirius had been sorted into Gryffindor. Aunt Walburga and Uncle Orion descended from a long tradition of pureblooded Slytherins. But then, it wasn’t exactly Sirius fault that the sorting hat had placed him in a lesser house. Unfortunate, but not completely disastrous. His best mate—a bespectacled trouble maker named James—came from a good pureblooded family, so that was something at least.

Still, Andromeda could see something in Sirius’ eyes, could hear it sometimes in the timbre of his voice when he talked about the family: he was glad to be sorted in Gryffindor. He hated life at Grimmauld Place. He didn’t approve of all the things that his mother and father said. Andromeda had begun to worry in the past year that, if Sirius kept it up, he’d find himself in serious trouble. Still, she tried not to think about that too much, and she certainly wasn’t thinking about it now when a grinning Sirius waved at her from across the dining hall.

He didn’t wait for Andromeda to come to him. Instead, he jumped off of his bench, knocking over a full goblet of pumpkin juice onto his straggly, quiet friend—Remus, Andromeda thought the boy's name was. Sirius came traipsing up to Andromeda with a wicked glint in his eye. Then he motioned for her to lean in for a secret. Laughing, Andromeda did so.

“If I were you,” whispered Sirius, “I wouldn’t eat the stuffed mushrooms tonight. There might be some mysterious stuffing in ‘em.”

He pulled back with a conspiratorial wiggle of his eyebrows and then took off again in a sprint toward his mates. Andromeda giggled quietly to herself and shook her head. What a nutter. If Andromeda was being completely honest, she’d admit that Sirius’ pranks were obnoxious and juvenile. Perhaps Andromeda wouldn’t like him quite so much if he didn't warn her when there was impending danger.

She straightened up and turned her attention to the Slytherin table, where Lilith and Narcissa were already busy drinking mulled cider. As usual, they had saved a seat for her. Years earlier, when Bellatrix had been at school, she had been the one to save seats for her younger sisters. Bella had held impressive sway over her classmates, and when she wanted something—even if it meant seats at the head of table for her first and second year sisters—she got it. The favor didn’t come without a price, though. Those first few years, Andromeda had been forced to endure Bella’s endless diatribe on the stupidity of her classmates and how Hogwarts had gone to the dogs since the days her parents had attended.

As if you would know, Andromeda had thought in irritation. Bella may have been older, but that didn’t make her all-knowing or all-powerful—which is always how Bella acted. Andromeda would never admit it to anyone, but she had been secretly happy when Bellatrix had graduated, married Rodolphus Lestrange, and left her and Narcissa to their own devices. The dining table had had a distinctly more pleasant air since Bella had left.

That is, it had a more pleasant air when Lilith and Narcissa weren’t quarreling, which they currently were. Narcissa still hadn’t forgiven Lilith for taking them to Hog’s Head Inn the night before.

“It was dangerous,” Narcissa was saying when Andromeda took her seat. “It was reckless. And above all, it smelled like bad cheese in there. I can’t believe you would subjugate me and Andie to that sort of lowlife behavior. People are nasty when they’re drunk.”

Lilith was rolling her eyes and blowing bubbles in her cider. “Come off it, Narcissa,” she said, coming up for air. “If you didn’t have a prudish stick shoved so far up your ass, you might learn to have a little fun. You and Andie are just the same, too afraid to get your hands dirty.”

Lilith had a point, of course. Andromeda was a neat freak; dirt or messes of any kind had no place in her life. The Black girls had been raised to be neat, prim, and meticulous, and they’d been bred to expect a certain refinery in society. There was no crime in that. The real trouble was that Lilith was an absolute slob who didn’t mind frequenting unsavory bars.

“I’m not a prude!” Narcissa insisted, stabbing her knife into the table, just inches away from Lilith’s thumb.

Lilith started, her eyes darting up to Narcissa’s as if the girl had finally snapped and taken on the violent persona of her eldest sister. But Narcissa’s upper lip just quivered, as though she were on the verge of crying.

“I just can’t believe you would take us into a place that serves lowlifes. Father said that the inn was a reputable establishment when he was our age. Now it’s turned sour, and you knew that when you took us.”

A reputable establishment. What Narcissa really meant was that the place had once only allowed purebloods in its doors.

“I hate to break up this scintillating argument,” said Andromeda. “But I’ve been warned by a reliable source to stay away from the stuffed mushrooms.”

As if on cue, a burst of raucous laughter came from Sirius’ end of the Gryffindor table. Narcissa looked up at the sound and narrowed her eyes. She turned up her nose as if she’d just caught a whiff of sulfur.

“Sometimes I can’t believe he’s family. Aunt Walburga must’ve dropped him on his head when he was a baby.”

Andromeda wouldn’t be surprised to find that her Aunt Walburga had done just that; she wasn’t exactly the motherly type. Even if she had, though, Sirius was still nice to be around; Narcissa and Bellatrix had just never shared Andromeda’s fondness for her little cousin.

“Aw,” giggled Lilith. “I think he’s cute. If he’d only been a few years older…” She trailed off and licked her custard spoon slowly. “It’s clear he’s going to be a heartbreaker.”

Narcissa looked so close to spewing that Andromeda feared for a split-second that she had already eaten one of the tainted mushrooms after all.

“Don’t ever talk about him that way again,” Narcissa ordered Lilith. “It makes me ill. He’s our cousin.”

Lilith just smirked over her half-finished custard. “I thought it was customary for Blacks to fall in love with their cousins. That’s how you’ve stayed so ancient and noble for so long, isn’t it?”

Narcissa shot daggers at Lilith. “Shut up, bitch.”

Lilith gave a mock gasp and went right on smirking and shoveling custard into her mouth.

Andromeda had nothing to contribute to the conversation. She despised quarrels, and she endured enough of them back home without having to listen to her two closest friends claw each other’s throats out. Anyway, what Lilith said was true: it was common knowledge that Blacks intermarried. Sirius’ own parents had been second cousins. It happened more often than not in pureblooded circles. That was simply the way of it.

Tears were hanging in Narcissa’s eyes, however desperately she was trying to conceal the fact that she was upset. Andromeda was pretty sure she knew why: this little fight was stealing the spotlight away form more important thing things—namely, Narcissa’s engagement. Andromeda eyed the flashing diamond ring in her periphery. She’d barely had time to process the news, really process it. Narcissa had sent an owl to her parents the night before, and she’d received an enthusiastic reply that morning, complete with a giant box of chocolates. Mrs. Black was overwhelmingly proud of her youngest daughter, though Andromeda could feel the unspoken accusation in her reply: why wasn’t Andromeda wearing a ring yet? Acquiring an engagement ring was, after all, her most important duty while at Hogwarts.

Instinctively, Andromeda glanced down the table, where Rabastan, Lucius, and their typical gaggle of guys sat eating and downing drinks. The girls didn’t usually segregate themselves from the guys, but there was a big Quidditch match the next day—Slytherin versus Gryffindor—and all that the guys could talk about was Quidditch. Neither Lilith nor the Black sisters took any interest in the sport. Andromeda thought it an absolute waste of time. There wasn’t any reason for them to willingly subject themselves to chatter about statistics and projections, so it had become an unspoken rule that they have their separate dinners on nights before game days.

Even now, Andromeda could see a light in Lucius' usually cold eyes. He could be a frigid asshole to his other acquaintances—and he usually was. But there was a tenderness that existed between him and Narcissa that was almost—dare Andromeda think it?—magical. She could see the way it touched him even now, in the light in his eyes and the upward tug of his mouth. He was lucky to be marrying her sister; infinitely lucky.

“He loves you very much, doesn’t he?” Andromeda’s soft question had interrupted yet another squabble between Narcissa and Lilith.

Narcissa started for a moment, then crimsoned pleasantly. “Yes,” she said, her voice cracking. “Yes, I really think he does. I feel like a silly little schoolgirl, but he makes me feel like a princess. The only terrible part of this whole arrangement is that I’ll have to wait so long to really marry him. But I plan on talking to Mummy over Christmas break, and I’m sure she’ll see reason. There’s no reason for me to finish school when—“

Andromeda dropped her fork, and it clattered loudly on her pewter plate. “What do you mean? That you’d skip seventh year entirely?”

Narcissa said nothing, but she didn’t need to. Andromeda could see the determination in her eyes.

“But Cissy, education is important. . . .”

“Maybe to you it is,” Narcissa said with an airy wave of dismissal. “But darling Andie, some of us have different priorities.”

There was no point in arguing. Andromeda knew that. Still, she ached inside in an entirely new way. Narcissa would give up even a completed education, all for love. Andromeda would never do something like that for Rabastan. In fact, she couldn’t think of much of anything she would give up for him.

Andromeda reclaimed her fork and mustered a feeble nod. “You’re right. I suppose we do. I’m only happy that you love him very much.”

Narcissa knew what Andromeda had left unsaid. Both sisters could feel the unspoken words between them: unlike Bellatrix. It had been clear from the start that Bellatrix had no real love for Rodolphus Lestrange. It had been her duty to marry him, and so she had. Sometimes Andromeda felt sorry for Rodolphus; he obviously felt more for Bella than she did for him. But then, Rodolphus was also a borderline sociopathic who had enjoyed terrorizing students at Hogwarts as a pastime, so Andromeda’s sympathy didn’t extend too far. Her greatest worry was that she might repeat the same exact scenario with Rodolphus’ younger brother.

What’s wrong with you, Andromeda? Your mind has been completely out of sorts this school year. Rodolphus is different. He cares about you, and you care about him, too. Soon, he’ll propose and all your stupid fears will be gone. Mother will stop breathing down your neck about marriage, and all will be as it should be.

Except. . .

The words came back to her unbidden. She hadn’t spoken or thought them since that night in the library with Ted Tonks.

I don’t want kids.

“Andie. Have you been listening to a word I’ve been saying?”

Without quite knowing when or how they’d moved, Andromeda looked up to find Lilith and Narcissa looking down at her.

“Um,” she said stupidly.

“Narcissa and I are going back to the common room,” said Lilith. “Are you coming or not?”

Andromeda nodded and hurried to collect her things. They would pass the boys on their way out, and Andromeda could always warn Rabastan and Lucius not to touch the stuffed mushrooms. But then again, she could always not warn them... A wicked glint touched Andromeda’s eye.

After all, what was the use of a prank if there weren’t any unsuspecting victims?



Author's Note: Popping in for another hello! Since I've already written half of this novella, I'm uploading a chapter into the queue just as soon as the previous one has been validated. That makes for a rather quick pace at present, which is to make up for an inevitable slow drag once validating catches up with my writing...and of course, that will probably be right in the thickest bit of the drama. >:] All my thanks and happy thoughts to those who've read and reviewed! You rock my world.


Chapter 6: Slug Club
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“I still don’t see what makes you so much more special than us.” Lilith sat cross-legged in front of the vanity mirror, brushing her deep auburn hair. “Slughorn should base club membership on looks. Narcissa and I would be shoe-ins.”

“I’ll be sure to mention that to him,” Andromeda said, spritzing her neck and wrists in amber perfume, then checking her makeup once more in the mirror.

“Why do you have to be so fancy?” Narcissa drawled from the bed, where she lay on her back, devouring her latest romance novel. “Not that I disapprove, of course. Every day is a new chance to overdress.”

“It’s his annual Christmas party. He always holds it in November, before things get too crazy in December. Most of us are academics or athletes, and he doesn't want to interfere with any big pre-holiday exams." 

“Slug Club,” snorted Lilith. “What a stupid name.”

“It wouldn’t be stupid if you were part of it,” pointed out Narcissa, who was still throwing the occasional barb at Lilith, even though their spat had officially ended a few days ago. “Then again, Lucius says the meetings can get rather tedious.”

“I don’t think so,” Andromeda said, smoothing out the lines of her satin emerald dress. “Slughorn may be a bit nepotistic, but he’s plenty interesting, and so are the other members. The ones that aren’t too conceited to see past their own noses, that is.”

Narcissa scooted to the edge of the bed, eyes sparkling as she looked over Andromeda. “You look pretty, Andie. The color really suits your eyes.”

Andromeda blushed. “Think so?”

Narcissa nodded earnestly, and Lilith just gave a depreciating snort.

“Better watch yourself,” she said. “Those highly talented club boys will be salivating all over you, and then there’ll be a duel involving Lestrange.”

“Don’t go too wild,” Narcissa warned, rolling back onto the cover and returning to the steamy pages of Rodmilla’s Forbidden Secret. “Wouldn’t do to lose your propriety again.”

Lilith rolled her eyes. “Don’t listen to her. Have fun for the two of us with your fancy friends, hm?”

Andromeda just gave Lilith a wink and slipped out of their bedroom. She was running a little behind, but she was sure that Professor Slughorn wouldn't mind. Even though Potions wasn’t her best subject—she’d only earned an Exceed Expectations on her O.W.L.s—Slughorn was well aware of Andromeda’s academic prowess. She’d been a member of the club since her fourth year. Lucius, too, was an esteemed member, as were a handful of Slytherins, Ravenclaws, Gryffindors, and a solitary Hufflepuff with important parents who worked in the Ministry.

Most of those members had already gathered in Slughorn’s office by the time Andromeda arrived. A warm, cinnamon scent wafted around her as she entered the warm room. A few of the club members turned their heads and gave her delicate nods. Lucius caught her eyes from the corner of the room, where he was chatting with two fellow Slytherins, and gave her a polite smile. In another corner, standing by himself, was a very young boy with oily black hair and a sallow complexion. He couldn’t be past his third year, thought Andromeda, which must’ve meant that Slughorn saw exceptional talent in him. Well, that was nothing too surprising. There were always new additions to the Slug Club.

“Ah! Andromeda, dear! There you are. I was beginning to despair. I thought you might have had better plans.”

Professor Slughorn came barreling toward Andromeda with hands outstretched from his expensive velvet robes. He beamed proudly at her over his spectacles. Though he still had a full head of straw blonde hair, it had begun to thin and streak through with white. Andromeda smiled affectionately back at him, taking his outstretched hands in hers.

“What better plans could I possibly have?” she said cheerily. “You know it’s always an honor, professor.”

Professor Slughorn laughed appreciatively; this was clearly just the answer he’d anticipated.

“You may notice that we have some new additions to our little party,” he said, nodding first to the small black-haired boy in the corner that Andromeda had noted earlier. “Over there is Severus Snape. Positively brilliant knack for potions. A veritable prodigy! And then, of course, you may be familiar with the chap there, by the fireplace. In your year.”

Andromeda’s eyes followed Slughorn’s pointed finger toward the fireplace. She instantly wished she hadn’t. Their eyes locked, and Andromeda felt as though she’d been run through with any icy blade. It was like some sort of cruel cosmic joke. Would he keep showing up in every single crevice of her life?

Ted Tonks ripped his eyes away first, turning them instead to the punch in his hand. He murmured a monosyllabic reply to his conversation partner—a pretty Ravenclaw named Georgiana Harper who was rumored to be a complete minx. And she was living up to her reputation, chatting up Ted as though it were her profession.

Slag, Andromeda thought angrily, not entirely sure of where the anger had come from. What did she care if some floozy was flirting with Ted Tonks? More importantly, why was Ted Tonks even here?

As though he could hear her thoughts, Slughorn supplied the answer.

“Phenomenal Quidditch player, that one. I hear he’s received offers from some of the best professional teams out there, including the Kenmare Kestrals. Offers so early in his seventh year! I’ve been hankering after an exceptional athlete. I only regret it took me this long to discover the lad.”

Andromeda nodded distractedly. “Mm, of course.”

“My, my. You look positively famished, my dear! Why not help yourself to some punch and hors d’oeuvres? Only the best the house elves had to offer. We’ll just be mingling about. Make yourself at home.”

With that, Slughorn moved on to greet Jacob Nash, a third cousin to the Minister of Magic. Andromeda could think of no more reasonable course of action than to make her way to the refreshments table and load up a silver plate with finger foods. Lucius met up with her by the punch bowl, offering to pour her a cup. Andromeda gratefully accepted the offer, her eyes drifting back again toward the fireplace, where a pretty raven-haired Gryffindor had joined the conversation with Georgiana and Ted. "Conversation" was a very polite word for it. They were practically throwing themselves on him. And why? He wasn’t well shaven, his hair looked like it had been blown back by a typhoon before he showed up, and his dress robes were clearly cheap and wrinkled.

Because he’s still damned gorgeous underneath the muss. Admit it. Andromeda gulped, her hand shaking as Lucius gave her a punch cup. Observant, he turned to see the cause for Andromeda’s distraction.

“Foul, isn’t it?” he said in his low, upper-class drawl. “It’s clear that Slughorn prioritizes certain qualities over blood status, but I hardly think that the ability to hit a ball through the air should be one of them.”

Andromeda nodded, and from a distant place she felt herself hoarsely repeat, “Foul.”

“I’m only glad it’s a mingling party,” he said, “and not a roundtable dinner. Merlin forbid if we’d been sat next to the scum. Look at the fellow. Doesn’t even know how to properly dress himself. I wager his parents are peasants. Grind rocks for living, no doubt.”

Andromeda downed her punch in one go. She really wished it were spiked.

“Cissy says she may go home with you for the holidays,” Andromeda said, grappling for a subject change. “I’m terribly jealous, you know. You can’t take her away like that when you’ll have her for the rest of your life.”

Andromeda spoke with a light, joking lilt to her voice, but she was completely earnest. She was jealous of Lucius. Soon, Narcissa would love him more than she loved her. It was a plain but painful fact. Perhaps it had already happened. Narcissa was, after all, intent on spending Christmas with him. 

Lucius studied his punch. “Is it too much of a crime to want the rest of my life to start now?”

“Of course it’s not,” she said softly. “It’s very sweet. It’s just that I miss her company when she’s not at Onyx House. I—I sleep better when she’s around.”

That was something of a dirty move, but it was true.

“Are you still having the bad dreams?” Lucius asked in surprise. “I thought my potions had helped.”

“They have,” Andromeda said quickly. “A little, anyway. But I still get the nightmares at least once a week.”

Lucius’ brow furrowed. “Perhaps Narcissa is right: it could be some sort of curse.”

“No. No, it isn’t that. Believe me, Lucius, I know the Dark Arts well. I would be able to tell if it was a curse.”

“Then it’s the stress.”

“Must be. Except…”

“Except what?”

Andromeda thought better of it. She shook her head.

“Nothing.”

Except that the dreams are the same. Except that a most curious golden-tufted linnet bird makes an appearance in every one of them.

Lucius grunted in reply. Then he waved at another Slytherin seventh year across the room.

“Would you excuse me?” he said, though he didn’t wait for Andromeda to respond. He was halfway across the room before she could open her mouth.

Andromeda’s gaze drifted around the room. All other members were engaged in conversation, twittering and laughing and swapping stories. She could join any one of them if she wanted, she supposed, but she’d suddenly lost the stomach for it. She eyed Slughorn’s balcony, where a gentle snowfall had begun to tap against the window. She eyed the room one last time before slipping behind a tapestry of a dancing faun and opening the balcony door.

Cold wind rushed about her, but Andromeda didn’t mind the cold. She preferred winter to summer, chill to warmth. Her mother had told her once that this trait came from the Rosier side of the family, along with the heavy-lidded eyes passed down to Bellatrix but, luckily, not to her. Goose flesh pricked up Andromeda’s arms as she slid the balcony door shut and crossed to the stone railing.

Stars shone bright overhead, allowed their full radiance during the new moon. Andromeda had always found comfort in looking overhead at night. To her, the Black Family seemed inextricably tied to the heavens. The Blacks had always paid special reverence to the stars and constellations when naming their descendants. As for Andromeda, she’d been named after an entire galaxy. Her father had told her long ago, when she’d been a very small girl, that Blacks long dead and gone now lived up amongst those constellations, looking down on them. Andromeda wasn’t silly enough to believe that anymore, but it didn’t mean she didn't still find comfort in looking heavenward on moonless nights like this one.

Suddenly, the thick silence that had settled over Andromeda was rudely interrupted. The balcony door swung open, and the tall silhouette of a man appeared. The door slammed behind him. Andromeda squinted to make out his features, but it was clear that he’d made out hers first.

“Shit. Of course it’s you.” Ted ran his hand back through his impossibly messy hair. “Right. Before you hex my ass into oblivion or whatever, just calm down. I’ll leave.”

And just as he said he would, Ted turned back around.

“Wait.”

His hand stilled on the door handle, and Ted glanced back over his shoulder. Andromeda could still barely make out his face in the darkness. She didn’t know why she was suddenly feeling in such a generous mood.

“You don’t have to leave,” she said. “It isn’t like I own the balcony.”

“You sure about that?” Ted turned to face her fully. “I hear that the Blacks own Hogwarts.”

Andromeda flushed. “I’m not a complete bitch, you know.”

Ted scratched at his cheek, and Andromeda noted with mortification that it was the same one she had slapped only a few days ago.

“Or maybe I am,” she muttered, sinking down to the solitary stone bench on the balcony. “Not that it matters around you.”

“Mmm. Yes. I don’t count.”

Andromeda studied Ted’s dark features carefully. “What were you coming out here for, anyway?”

“Escape.” Ted puffed out a long breath. “I feel a little violated. It’s impressive how those two girls have mastered the art of eye shagging.”

Andromeda felt herself smiling, quite against her will. “I noticed. Found yourself a date for tonight, then?”

Ted crossed to the railing and leaned his forearms across it in a lazy sort of way. “Not my type.”

Andromeda had never thought of Muggleborns having types before. Didn’t they just have to accept what came at them? The leftovers that no one else wanted?

A long silence passed between them, minute turning into minute. Andromeda studied the rings on her fingers—one jade, one emerald, both heirlooms from her great-grandmother. She knew she should go back inside. The others would begin to wonder where she’d been. But everything within her rebelled against subjecting herself to small talk tonight, even if her company out here was none other than the odious Ted Tonks.

“Little underdressed, aren’t you?”

Andromeda glanced down at her thin-strapped dress and her bare shoulders. She shrugged.

“I like the cold.”

“I bet you do.”

It was back in his voice—that laughing undertone. Ted straightened back up and backed away toward the door.

“Well, it’s been a pleasure as always, but as I’m sure you’d prefer I plummet to my death below to remaining out here with you, I’ll make my exit.”

“Tonks.”

Ted froze. “Yeah?”

“I—I think I’m sorry.”

“You think you’re sorry?” Ted folded his arms, still standing on the threshold. “For what?”

“For slapping you.”

What are you doing, Andromeda? screamed a tightly coiled part of her brain. He doesn’t deserve an apology. He’s nothing but filth, scum, a dirty Mudbl—

Andromeda shut the voice up.

“Yes,” she said, with more certainty. “I’m sorry that I slapped you. It was very unladylike of me and completely unprovoked. I should have behaved with more decorum.”

“Uh. All right. Cheers.”

Ted made for the door again, but Andromeda let out an impatient, squeaking sort of sound. Ted stopped, this time with an impatient sigh.

“What exactly do you want, Black? I forgive you for your psycho outburst, okay? Does that assuage your guilty conscience?”

Andromeda bit her lip, frustrated. What was wrong with her? Why didn’t she want Ted to leave? Didn’t she want to be alone? Didn’t she want to never set eyes on the stupid boy again?

“Not really.”

“Then what do you want? Do you want me to give you a reason to slap me?”

“I don’t know,” Andromeda said, rising to her feet. “Perhaps I do.”

She hadn’t known what she’d meant when she said it. Or maybe she had. Maybe she’d known deep down what she meant by those words. Maybe she’d known that they were an invitation. Just maybe…

It happened in an instant. One moment, she was standing by the bench and he at the door. The next, he was crossing the balcony in long strides until there was quite suddenly an alarming lack of air between the two of them. And then his hands were on her bare shoulders, and she could smell the scent of fresh ink and of musk.

Andromeda was having trouble breathing. Probably just because idiotic Ted Tonks was sucking in all the surrounding oxygen supply.

“So, something like this? Is that enough to warrant a slap?” Ted inched his pinky across a portion of her cold-puckered shoulder, sending a tremor through Andromeda’s arm. Though really, of course, it was only the cold that had made her tremor...

“I hear nasty things happen when Muggleborns touch purebloods,” Ted went on. “Allergic reactions. Rashes. Fits. In extreme cases, sudden death. I’m exposing you to the most acute danger right now.”

Andromeda gritted her teeth. “You’re mocking me.”

“How forbearing you are to even remain in the same vicinity! I’m surprised that you and your friends haven’t started a little club to have all of us Muggleborns rounded up and thrown in the dungeons. Or would you like for us to work alongside the house elves? No, probably not even the kitchens would be good enough for us. Wouldn’t want to risk food contamination.”

“Don’t be so utterly ridiculous,” said Andromeda. “I’m not afraid of you touching me. The only real danger comes from—“

She faltered.

Ted’s gaze probed hers—deep brown and curious. Despite the chill, his hands were warm on her shoulders, just as they had been that night at the Hog’s Head Inn. They were rough, too, no doubt from handling a broom for years on end. Narcissa and Bellatrix would be traumatized if they saw Andromeda like this, so close to a boy like him. So why wasn’t she moving?

“From what? If you say from snogging, Andromeda Black, I’m going to laugh for an hour straight.”

Anger flashed through Andromeda. “You think it’s all a big joke, don’t you? That’s your problem, Tonks. You’ve no reverence for tradition, for bloodlines, for a right or proper way of doing things. Don’t you see it? The fundamental difference between you and me? Or are you just willfully arrogant?”

The wind picked up, swirling up flecks of fresh snow. Ted smiled the smallest of smiles. He brushed a forefinger just above Andromeda’s eye.

“Snowflake,” he explained, “in your eyelash. And please, explain to me this fundamental difference. I’m afraid I’ve never been up close and personal enough to a purist to hear a proper dissertation on the subject.”

“I was born a witch.” The words came easily to Andromeda, as natural as a recitation of her full name or the mailing address of Onyx House. They were just as practiced, and just as factual. “Generations of witches and wizards preceded me, and their blood runs through my veins. But you’re a mutation. Only a genetic fluke. You’ve no history, no valor, no nobility to claim for you own. Really, you’re just a mistake.”

“So,” Ted said softly, “you think it’d be better if I’d never existed.”

Andromeda rolled her eyes. “It sounds crude when you put it that way, but yes. Yes, I suppose it would have been better had you not been born.”

Ted stepped back, away from her, and a sudden cold rushed over Andromeda. She hadn’t realized how warm his hands had been keeping her shoulders until now.

“It’s just pure and simple fact,” Andromeda said. “I don’t say it to hurt you. I daresay I’m not so bad as you think I am.”

“No,” said Ted. “You really do believe it. I can see that now.”

“Of course I believe it,” said Andromeda. “I’m not a sophist. I wouldn’t support ideals that I didn’t believe. Though there are some difficulties…”

Ted arched a brow. “Difficulties?”

“Well, you, for one. I’ve always understood that Muggleborns had subpar levels of intelligence, but I’ve seen your work. You’re smart. And I know that Muggleborns should have inferior ability to perform magic, but I’ve seen you ride a broom at Quidditch matches. No one else on the pitch can control a broom like you can. It can be…difficult to reconcile those facts with what I know to be true.”

“How difficult, indeed.” Ted was smiling at her in a very particular way. Unlike most of his smiles, this one had no humor in it. “Meanwhile, you’re your own little paradox. You’re just as bigoted as you are brilliant.”

Andromeda started. “You—you think I’m brilliant?”

No one Andromeda’s own age had ever called her brilliant. Narcissa called her a silly workaholic and Lilith warned her that one should always choose looks over books. And once, the year before, Rabastan had informed Andromeda that intelligence was not an attractive quality in a female. They had quarreled over the remark, and though they had later made amends, Andromeda knew that Rabastan had not changed his opinion.

“Brilliant, egotistical, gorgeous, prejudiced, independent,” Ted counted the adjectives off, finger by finger. “I think all apply.”

Andromeda didn’t know how to respond. She wanted to slap Ted a couple more times for calling her egotistical. But gorgeous? No one called her that either. Narcissa was the gorgeous one, all flowing blonde locks and porcelain skin and stark blue eyes. Bellatrix was sensually beautiful—thick black hair and bedroom eyes and a perpetual sultry smile. Andromeda had always been the passably pretty one. Just like her sisters, she’d inherited a patrician profile, all aristocratic swoops and angles. But her face never seemed to swoop and angle quite enough to qualify as beautiful, let alone gorgeous.

Suddenly, something occurred to Andromeda.

“You’re flirting with me.”

Ted smiled serenely. “That’s a definite possibility.”

“You can’t.”

Ted squinted. “I think I just did.”

“No. You simply can’t.”

“Why can’t I? It isn’t like Lestrange owns you.”

“Of course he doesn’t! But even if he and I weren’t perfectly happy, you still couldn’t talk to me that way. It’s so utterly preposterous…”

Andromeda broke into a strangled laugh. Then she realized in a sudden grip of panic that she sounded just like Bellatrix in one of her moods—those times when something sad or bad or simply wrong, like a wounded puppy hobbling outside, would send her into a peal of giggles.

“I like preposterous,” Ted said. “Preposterous is fun.”

Andromeda could feel herself going scarlet. “No, it isn’t. I don’t know why I’m even still talking to you.”

Ted shrugged. “I don’t know why either. Perhaps you think it’s fun, too.”

“God, you’re impossible,” Andromeda groaned. “I’m going back inside.”

That was when reality hit her again, like an unforgiving slab of iron. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? There was no possible way that she and Ted could walk back inside now without raising suspicions. It had been just the two of them on the balcony. People would talk. How could she have been so stupid as to let him stay out here with her this long?

“No,” Andromeda groaned. “Oh, no, no, no. Oh fuck.”

Ted stared uncomfortably at her, scratching behind his ear with his wand. “Something wrong?”

Andromeda touched her fingers to the eyelid Ted had brushed just moments earlier. She grimaced, as though she’d just ingested a frog whole.

Ted shifted his weight, looking more uncomfortable than ever. “Um. I don’t have any communicable Mudblood diseases, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

He laughed a short laugh, but it was unsteady and frayed. Was it possible? He sounded—nervous. He even sounded sad.

“I’m screwed,” Andromeda moaned, pounding her fist to her forehead. “I am so screwed. Don’t you get it?”

She gestured helplessly toward the doors. “We’ve been gone for, like, hours! They’re bound to have noticed.”

“Oh. The reputation thing. You think someone will notice we were out here.” He quirked an eyebrow. “Together.”

“Of course that’s what I think. That’s what everyone will think!”

“For fifteen minutes.”

“What?”

“We haven’t been out here for more than fifteen minutes. What kind of damage will people think we’ve done in a quarter of an hour?”

Andromeda flushed. “Plenty of damage! Ten minutes is enough for anything to happen. Enough to snog, enough to—shag even!”

Ted made a face. “Merlin, what an uncomfortable place to shag.”

Andromeda fumed. How could he be so utterly unconcerned? He wasn’t doing anything to help the situation. He was just fiddling with his wand.

“What’re you doing?” she growled. “Haven’t you been listening to me? This is a real problem!”

“Look,” said Ted. “I doubt much of anyone was paying attention when either of us left. People can assume I left the party for good. You, meanwhile, have been out on the balcony for some stargazing. Alone.”

Andromeda felt something hard and narrow in her hand, and she realized that Ted handing over his wand.

“The only catch is that you return this to me tonight, after the party’s over. Meet me outside Hufflepuff common room?”

“What the—?”

“My clothes I can transform, my belongings I can’t. Idiotic rules, but I don’t make them.”

“W-w-what rules?” Andromeda sputtered.

Ted just smiled at her. Then he was gone.

Andromeda shrieked.

He had just vanished. He couldn’t have apparated. It was impossible to apparate on school property. Had he drunk an invisibility potion? No. No, that was impossible, too. She’d been watching him the whole time.

“Miss Black?”

Andromeda staggered back as the balcony doors flew open, and Professor Slughorn emerged with a handful of students behind him.

“Heavens!” Slughorn cried, clutching at his necktie. “That was a ghastly shriek. Are you quite alright? Or is Peeves playing tricks again? He’s particularly rowdy around the holidays.”

Andromeda shook her head. “N-n-no.” Then she thought better of it. How else was she going to explain the shriek? “I mean yes. Yes, it was just Peeves. He gave me a terrible fright, but I’m perfectly fine now.”

Lucius stepped out from behind Slughorn, offering Andromeda his arm. She accepted it distractedly; her mind was still a whirl, wondering how Ted Tonks could’ve possibly vanished into thin air. It wasn’t humanly possible. It wasn’t wizardly possible. Then again, she wouldn’t have thought it would be possible that she, Andromeda Black of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black, would ever let a no-name Mudblood brush a snowflake from her eyelash. Impossible things did happen.




“Surprisingly keen second year, Severus Snape, once you get past the surplus of grease. Did you have a chance to speak to him?”

Andromeda had attempted to finish out Slughorn’s party with as carefree an attitude as she could muster, which even Andromeda knew wasn’t particularly convincing. She had never had a knack for theatrics like her older sister Bellatrix. Whenever something had gone missing or broken at Onyx House, Andromeda had nearly always taken the blame. It wasn’t that Andromeda was a saint or had any moral scruples against lying. She would’ve told as convincing lies as Bella and Narcissa if she could. But the reality was that Andromeda simply wasn’t a good actress or a good liar.

She was grateful when, even before the last of the students left Slughorn’s office, Lucius offered to escort her back to the Slytherin common room. She had an excuse to bid farewell to Slughorn without appearing too rude. And now, Lucius was drawling on about the night’s events, while Andromeda nodded and smiled occasionally and supplied answers when they were absolutely necessary. It was moments like these that she wished Narcissa were around so that Lucius could dote on her instead. Right now, the attention felt stifling. She didn’t want to talk about a second year potions prodigy; she wanted to dive under the covers of her four-poster and try to sort out just exactly what had passed between her and Ted Tonks tonight and how on earth he had vanished before her eyes.

“Andromeda.”

“Hm?”

Andromeda looked up to find that they were inside the Slytherin common room, though she had no memory of how they had arrived. Lucius looked slightly irritated.

“Sorry,” she said. “I’m afraid I simply haven’t been all there tonight. A lot on my mind.”

Lucius nodded, but considering he already looked bored with Andromeda’s apology, she didn’t take the trouble of elaborating.

“I’ll let Cissy know you’re back,” she said before disappearing down the tapestry-lined hallway that led to the girls’ bedchambers.

“Lucius is waiting for you.”

Narcissa leapt off her bed the moment Andromeda made the announcement, casting her romance novel aside as though it were little more than scrap parchment. She gave Andromeda a brief peck on the cheek before flying out the door and down the hall. Lilith chortled and returned to filing her nails.

“Have fun with the slugs?” she asked in a singsong voice.

“Ever so much,” Andromeda muttered. “I’m tired. Going to bed early.”

Within ten minutes, she had settled under the covers of her bed and drawn the bed curtains shut so that she could better think. Ted had asked her to meet him after the party, in front of the Hufflepuff common room. Too bad. She wasn’t about to be caught dead near that place. In fact, though it was rumored to be near the kitchens, she wasn’t even entirely sure of the Hufflepuff common room’s precise location. That would be the excuse she gave Ted tomorrow in DADA: she simply couldn’t find it. She wouldn’t add that she really couldn’t care less about whether or not he got his wand back overnight. He could do without. What she couldn’t do without was sorting through what precisely had transpired on the balcony.

Ted Tonks had called her gorgeous. He had called her brilliant, independent. He had called her all those things even after she’d vomited right in front of him, after he’d held back her hair in a toilet stall, after she’d chewed him out and threatened him with hexes on multiple occasions. Warmth flooded through Andromeda at the remembrance of the way he’d said the words….

…in that atrociously uncouth accent. He hadn’t had an upper class upbringing, whoever his Muggle parents were. It was clear that he was from somewhere northern—Yorkshire, most likely, by the sounds of it. His vowels were rough around the edges, not rounded and well-formed like a proper aristocrat’s. The way he had said “independent” made it sound so commonplace, so prosaic, so—

Sexy.

Andromeda shot up in bed, her long, thick hair straggling into her eyes. She brushed it back impatiently, shaking her head as though mere force could rid her head of the word it had just formed.

Whatever he was, Ted Tonks was not sexy.

Oh, come off it, Andie, said the taunting voice in her head. You can at least grant him that. Pretending you didn’t notice how well built his arms are, or the way his abs peeked through his stupidly unbuttoned shirt, back in that DADA class in September. What about the tattoo of his? You wonder what the rest of it looks like. You wonder how many more he has covering his body, in all the places you’re not allowed to look. You won’t even admit that his eyes are the color of cocoa. You know how much you love cocoa…

“No,” Andromeda hissed. “His eyes are the color of dirt!”

“Talking in your sleep, Andie, sweet?” called Lilith.

“Mind your own business,” Andromeda snapped, falling back against her pillow, wiping fiercely at her eyes.

What was wrong with her? How could a stupid boy like Ted Tonks affect her so much? He’d probably just been toying with her for fun, and here she was, obsessing over him like a schoolgirl when she had a boyfriend.

Rabastan.

Yes. Yes! Rabastan, think about him. Remember him? Your boyfriend of three years? The one you’re going to marry? The one that’s already bought a ring?

The one who’s taking ages to propose? The one who doesn’t want me to have a future outside of his country estate? Who thinks my brains are my least attractive feature?

She really had to stop thinking like this. What she needed to do was spend more time with Rabastan. Yes, that was the solution. She needed to remind herself why she was very happy with Rabastan, and why Ted Tonks was some weird, temporary hormonal fixation. She would return him his wand in class tomorrow, Rabastan would propose soon, and that would be the end of it.

Thoughts finally sorted, Andromeda let out a sigh of determination and closed her eyes. That night, for the first time in a full a week, the nightmares returned.


Chapter 7: Secrets & Stipulations
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Author's Note: LOVELY PEOPLE. The gravy train is finally chugging to a slower pace. Just one more chapter, and I'll be caught up to my current writing pace. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, from constructive critcism to ramblings to a single emoticon. Your reviews really do keep me inspired to write more! Hugs from me to you.



The next morning, Ted wasn’t in class. Andromeda had glanced behind her at least three times throughout Professor Whitechapel’s rather bleak lecture on the cruciatus curse, expecting each time that Ted would finally have taken his seat, looking as insufferably unkempt as always. It wasn’t unusual for him to arrive late to class—a trait Andromeda found exceedingly obnoxious—so she hadn’t been bothered at first. It was only when Professor Whitechapel assigned their next big paper and dismissed class that Andromeda began to worry.

No. Worry was the wrong word. She wasn’t worried about Ted Tonks. She just wanted to be rid of his wand, and he was making the task far more difficult than need be by not showing up for class. At lunchtime, on her way to the Great Hall, she could feel the outline of the cherry wood wand against her side, as though it were burning a veritable hole through her satchel. She’d taken time that morning to exam it: thirteen inches, cherry, and by using a quick spell from her own wand she’d discovered a core of dragon heartstring. Andromeda’s own wand had a heartstring core, too, but where hers was extremely brittle, Ted’s was pliable enough to bend into a u-shape without breaking. Not that she’d been curious or tried bending it. Certainly not.

All the same, it was dreadfully inconvenient to be carrying around something that wasn’t hers and, Merlin forbid, if anyone found it on her, the questions they would ask….

“Black.”

A heavy hand landed on her shoulder, and Andromeda yelped as she was drawn into a dimly lit alcove. Her heart sped up, her throat tightened. Was it Ted? Sweet Salazar, how did her hair look?

It wasn’t him. Andromeda looked up at a face she didn’t even recognize. Blunt features, curly red hair, a scar running up his cheek. He was a tall, burly boy, and she would’ve guessed he was a sixth year at least. What on earth did he want with her?

“Tonks said you had his wand.”

Andromeda must have taken too long in answering, because the boy snorted in impatience and held out his hand.

“His wand?" he pressed. "I said I’d get it back for him. Believe me, I don’t want to be talking to you any more than you do with me. So just hand over the wand, and we’ll be done with this little transaction.”

“I don’t even know who you are,” Andromeda said stiffly. “I hardly hand over items to a person to whom I’ve not even been properly introduced.”

“Seriously, princess?”

Andromeda narrowed her eyes.

“Fine. George Vanderpool, beater for Hufflepuff. Make you happy, Miss Priss?”

“Not really,” said Andromeda, crossing her arms. “I don’t understand why I’m supposed to hand the wand over to you. Why doesn’t Tonks come get it for himself?”

George frowned in confusion. Slowly, a light of realization crossed his features. “You don’t know, then?”

“Know what?”

“That Tonks is in the hospital wing.”

Andromeda felt a dull thud in her heart. “W-what? Whatever for?”

George snorted. “You really are clueless. Look, it doesn’t matter what for. What matters is giving me the—“

“Excuse me,” Andromeda interrupted, “but it certainly does matter. I don’t ever make transactions with middlemen, thank you very much. I’ll go return this to Tonks myself. He’s not unconscious, is he?”

“Well, no, but—“

“Then I see no reason why you are here, wasting my time with your stupid face and your stupider words.”

Andromeda turned briskly out of the alcove and back into the corridor, but not before she heard George call after her, in mocking tones, “Don’t forget to take him some flowers!”

In the hospital wing? What idiotic behavior had landed Ted Tonks in the infirmary? Whatever it was, Andromeda was going to find out. She wasn’t about to let him slip by her without giving an explanation for his literal disappearance the night before.



Pale winter sunlight streamed through the arched windows of the infirmary, illuminating a gentle drift of dust in the air. The wing was quiet, save for the occasional clink of Madame Bellevue’s mortar and pestle as she worked on stock herbal antidotes. Only two patients occupied the wing this evening: a sleeping first year with a broken arm and, at the very far end of the room, Ted Tonks.

“He’s in a weak way,” Madame Bellevue had warned Andromeda after leading her to his bedside. “I wouldn’t talk too long for fear of tiring him out. What he needs is rest.”

Andromeda had nodded dismissively and then taken a seat by Tonks’ bedside, in an uncomfortable hardback chair. His eyes were closed, and Andromeda knew she’d been told to wait until he woke, but she didn’t have the bloody patience for all that. She cleared her throat. Loudly.

His eyes fluttered open and cleared from a sleepy haze. A crooked smile followed.

“Did you bring me chocolates?” Ted asked hoarsely. “I adore chocolates. Especially chocolate-covered grapes.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Andromeda said, eyes combing over his blanket-covered body. “I don’t even see anything wrong with you.”

Though she did notice something slightly different about him—a little streak of silver hair, just at his temple, that she had not ever seen before.

“I can’t walk,” Ted said nonchalantly. “It’s only temporary. Should wear off by late tonight, tomorrow at the latest.”

“You can’t walk? What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing I haven’t handled my whole life,” said Ted. “I’m sure you’d find the details exceedingly boring. And anyway, you didn’t come to talk about me. You came to give me back my wand, since you were unavoidably detained last night.”

“I simply couldn’t make it,” she said unapologetically. She unzipped her satchel and removed something other than his wand—a thick roll of parchment. “I don’t think it was very fair of you to give me a meeting place a split second before you vanished into thin air. I never said I would come.”

“Fair enough,” said Ted, though his face suddenly screwed up in a wince.

Andromeda’s eyes widened. “Are you in pain?”

“Nothing unbearable. Now what’s this parchment about?”

“Oh.” Andromeda rested the roll on his bedside table, just behind his glass of water and a small vase of yellow carnations. “Whitechapel assigned us a hefty essay today. It was a dense lecture, and I thought you’d be completely lost if you didn’t have the notes.”

Ted looked at her steadily, a strange expression on his face. “That was thoughtful.”

“It was nothing,” she said quickly. “A simple copying charm. It took me all of two minutes. I only thought, you know, since I’m technically still your tutor….”

“Thoughtful,” said Ted, “but rather a wasted effort. I’ve decided to drop the class.”

“What?!” Andromeda’s raised voice echoed on the high stone ceilings. “What do you mean, you’re dropping?”

“I’m not cut out for it. I know when I’ve put too much on my plate. Like you said, it’s really just a matter of me making time to read the extra material, but that’s impossible with the current Quidditch schedule.”

“But you must be taking the class for a reason,” Andromeda pressed. “For a career?”

Ted shook his head slowly. “I’m in N.E.W.T.-level with you because Defense Against the Dark Arts is the only subject I’m halfway decent in. I had to beg Whitechapel to let me in with an Exceeds Expectations. The rest of my results were abysmal. I got a Troll on my History of Magic exam. A Troll. Who gets a Troll but a troll?”

Andromeda stifled a laugh. “That is pretty bad,” she admitted. “I didn’t realize it was like that.”

“I was never cut out for timed tests and graded papers. I’m all right with that. I just thought that Whitechapel’s class would be a chance to, I dunno, excel. Prove myself worthy.”

“To whom?”

Ted gave her a funny look. “Well, to myself of course. Who else?”

Who else, indeed. Ted must not have had demanding relatives back home.

“It just seems a shame for you to drop,” she said. “At least you’ve got a career in Quidditch. Slughorn said you’ve already received offers.”

“There is that.” Ted dug his elbows into the mattress, pushing himself up against his pillow. “But I’ve reeled you into small talk. How you must despise me. I’ll just take my wand, and we’ll be done with it, shall we?”

Andromeda, however, had grown distracted. Ted was wearing nothing but a white, loose-fitting hospital gown, and she could now see more of the tattoo lining his collarbone. It swooped downward, its line thickening as it disappeared into his chest and under the low cut collar. Ted noticed the source of Andromeda’s distraction.

“Like what you see?” he asked, smirking.

“Yes. I mean, no! I mean—well, I just didn’t think Hufflepuffs were the sort to have tattoos, that’s all. Anyway, that’s beside the point. What I meant to say was that I will give you back your wand under one stipulation: I want to know how you vanished into thin air. It was a very disconcerting experience, and I think I deserve an explanation.”

“I suppose you do,” Ted said slowly. “Very well, here it is: I didn’t vanish. I was there the whole time. I was there until you went back inside Slughorn’s office, and then I returned to my bedchamber. It was as simple as that.”

“But that’s still enigmatic!” said Andromeda. “What I want to know is the how. What sort of spell could you have possibly used?”

“It wasn’t a spell,” said Ted. “It’s a condition. Always has been. Simply that.”

Andromeda had finally put two and two together.

“You mean, it’s what landed you here in the hospital wing.”

Ted shrugged. “Sometimes it takes a physical toll. It’s usually worth it, though. After all, you maintained a sterling reputation, didn’t you? So it was worth it.”

“How can you say that?” Andromeda demanded. “You can’t walk! You’re stuck in the infirmary for a full day at least, and you think that my reputation was worth it?”

You thought your reputation was worth it. That was enough for me. I felt guilty, you know, about Hog’s Head. Thought I should make it up to you.”

Andromeda sunk back against the uncomfortable chair. “You won’t tell me the details, will you? Of your—condition?”

“What do you think?”

Andromeda pulled out Ted’s wand from her satchel. Gingerly, she placed it on the very edge of the nightstand.

“There it is,” she said. “And don’t think I feel sorry for you. Or that I’m going to apologize that you’re in that hospital bed when it’s really all your fault.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

She nodded curtly and rose to her feet. Everything had been said that needed to be said. Granted, Andromeda still wasn’t particularly satisfied with Ted’s explanation for last night, but there was no point in pulling teeth, especially when he appeared to still be in pain. There was nothing left to do but leave.

“Dromeda.”

Andromeda, already halfway across the room, grew deathly still. She turned back to Ted’s shadowy outline. No one called her Dromeda. No one but her father. She was going to tell Ted just that, but the words caught in her throat.

“We’ll probably never speak to each other again,” said Ted, “so I thought I ought to tell you that, as far as aristos go, you’re not half bad.”

From an unidentifiable place inside, Andromeda felt the overwhelming need to laugh. What a ridiculous comment to make at a time like this.

“I suppose,” she said, “that as far as Mudbloods go, you’re not half bad either.”

Ted closed his eyes. “Sweet Merlin, now I can die in peace.”

He was laughing at her again. She knew he was. But this time Andromeda didn’t snap or reprimand him. After all, it was the last time they would speak to each other. She merely tiptoed out of the hospital wing and into the corridors.



That evening, Andromeda found Rabastan in the Slytherin common room, surrounded by a gaggle of sixth and seventh year boys who had elevated their fireside conversation to rowdy shouts and raucous laughter. They were talking about Quidditch. They were always, it seemed, talking about Quidditch: stats, scores, the latest predictions. Slytherin had beaten Gryffindor this year, and they were favored to win the Ravenclaw match in February. After that, only one obstacle remained between them and the house cup: their unlikely rival, Hufflepuff.

Under normal circumstances, Hufflepuff was a given win. That’s what the generation before theirs had claimed: no one knew how to lose a game quite so monumentally like a badger. But since Andromeda’s early years at Hogwarts, Hufflepuff had enjoyed an unprecedented season of success. For three years straight, they had won the house cup. For five years straight, they had beat out Slytherin. It was an impressive record, and even the Slytherin fans begrudgingly admitted that a good deal of it was due to the talent of the Hufflepuff’s excellent seeker, Anna Barrow, and their star chaser and now captain, Ted Tonks.

The boys were engrossed in a conversation about the most recent Quidditch match and Hufflepuff’s victory over Ravenclaw.

“Emmett is legally blind by the looks of it,” a stout, black-haired boy was saying. “Did you see that move Tonks pulled on him toward the end? A double ringer through the hoops, and Emmett looked like he was out for a leisurely putter. Ravenclaw’s never had such a worthless keeper.”

Andromeda cleared her throat once. Then again, louder, when another boy broke into a loud chortle. Chairs creaked as the boys turned to look up in her direction. She smiled tentatively at Rabastan in the flickering firelight.

“So sorry to interrupt,” she said, “but I wondered if I might steal away my boyfriend?”

It had been a full week since she and Rabastan had had a proper date or even a chat, and Andromeda was as determined now as she had been the night before to spend more time with him.

Rabastan, however, looked irritated by the request. He made no effort to move out of his deep-cushioned armchair, but rather crossed his feet on the ottoman before him.

“I’m busy, love,” he said. “The fellows and I are catching up. Quidditch talk. I’m sure you’d find it dreadfully boring.”

Heat burned in Andromeda’s cheeks. Was he really going to blow her off? What was wrong with Rabastan lately? He had spent little time with her in these past months, and even the time they did share together seemed forced and stilted. Hadn’t he bought a ring? Didn’t he want to marry her? And now for him to purposefully refuse her in front of his friends….

“Then perhaps I could join you?” Andromeda offered, still maintaining a pleasant face.

Rabastan chuckled. “Oh, come on. Like you could contribute one coherent remark. You’d be lost like a floundering fish. I know that the only thing you’re really thinking about during Quidditch is if the breeze is messing up your hair.”

What the fuck? How dare he talk about her that way, as though she were just one of the brainless, giggling skanks that lounged about the Slytherin common room after hours, dead set on getting a snogging session in a broom closet. She was his girlfriend, and he was humiliating her in public.

“I think nothing of the snort,” Andromeda snapped. “You seem to forget that I have a working brain above the shoulders.”

The other boys let out a long “ooooooh,” then turned their amused gazes back on Rabastan, who had gone purple in the face.

Oh no.

No, this was not good.

“Fine,” Rabastan said through gritted teeth. “You’re right, sweetheart, we really are long overdue a private chat, aren’t we?”

Andromeda’s stomach sank straight into her ankles as Rabastan rose to his feet and circled around the ottoman to where she stood. He grabbed her at the elbow, his grip uncomfortably tight, and proceeded to march her away from the fireplace. She could hear his mates cackling behind him and dropping choice vulgarities as he jostled her out of the main common room and into one of the dim, drafty stone hallways.

“You are way out of line,” he hissed, releasing her with a vicious jolt. Andromeda stumbled back a few steps, then righted herself with a proud arch of her brow.

“Am I?” she retorted. “How else was I supposed to get your attention? Don’t pretend that you haven’t been practically ignoring me all week.”

“I’ve been busy. You have, too. Anyway, I didn’t take you for the needy type.”

“I don’t consider wanting to chat with one’s boyfriend after seven days to be ‘needy.’ Don’t act like I’m crazy, Rabastan. You’ve been distant lately. Admit it.”

But Rabastan was laughing. There was something in his green eyes that unsettled her; something that reminded her of another set eyes…. Rodolphus’ eyes. It was the look Rodolphus got in his eyes when at a family dinner with Bellatrix, whenever he or Bella got off on a tangent about the scourge of Muggles in England and how each one of them deserved to be blasted off the island.

“God, Andromeda, you’re so paranoid. You think I’m cheating, don’t you?”

Andromeda’s throat went dry. She hadn’t once considered that Rabastan would be cheating on her. Not until now.

“No,” she said. “Of course not. I just want to spend time with you. You’re my boyfriend. That’s what boyfriends do. They hang out with their girlfriends. They don’t make fun of them in public.”

Rabastan had stopped laughing. The frightening glint in his eyes had vanished. He looked thoughtful, remorseful even. At last, he spoke.

“You’re right,” he said. “No, of course you’re right. I have been neglectful.”

Hope spread in Andromeda’s chest, coating over her ribs like slow-poured honey. He did understand. All it had taken was an unpleasant confrontation for him to see that—

“But that’s no excuse for you to contradict me.”

The warm sensation in Andromeda’s chest snuffed out in an instant. “W-what?”

“You contradicted me,” said Rabastan, “in front of my peers. That sort of behavior is not acceptable. Really, didn’t your mother teach you better? You seem to have recently taken this idea into your head that you can do whatever you want around me—even without me, with absolutely no ramifications. But that’s not how this works, Andromeda. Especially if you and I are to be married one day.”

She looked up in shock. Why now, of all possible times, was he talking about marriage?

“Do you know what the duties of a wife are?” Rabastan asked, his voice soft and sibilant. “To honor. To respect. To obey. I’ve been understanding. I’ve allowed you your little flirtations with schoolwork—“

“You’ve allowed me? Rabastan, what is this about?”

“Who was he?” Rabastan hissed. “The Mudblood who had his filthy paws all over you in Hogsmeade. Who was he?”

Andromeda stared, dumbfounded. She hadn't thought that anyone had known about Hog's Head Inn, that anyone had found out. Only Narcissa had seen, and she would never tell a soul. Andromeda had thought that she’d been lucky….

“Why does it matter who it was? He was just some stupid boy who thought he was being noble. I didn’t want him around me. I was—“

“Drunk,” finished Rabastan. “How do you think I like that? When I have to hear from one of my mates that my girlfriend got piss drunk and then manhandled by a filthy Muggleborn?”

“I didn’t k-know,” Andromeda stammered. “We were celebrating Narcissa’s engagement. I got carried away. And you were busy hanging out with your mates instead of me.”

“This isn’t my fault,” Rabastan growled. “How do you think I felt, cleaning up those nasty rumors about you? Justifying your behavior? How do you think it felt to hear about your indiscretion from someone else? You can’t behave that way. Not as my girlfriend.”

A hot tear scorched down Andromeda’s cheek. “I didn’t mean for you to have to deal with it. I didn’t know you’d been angry at me all this time. Why didn’t you just tell me?”

“I’m telling you now, aren’t I?” The anger had left Rabastan’s voice, but the indignation hadn’t. He stepped in closer, wrapping a hand around her wrist. “Listen to me. If you are going to be with me, I cannot have you acting out of line. No drinking. No making a spectacle of yourself. No disrespecting me in front of others. And no cavorting with people that I don’t deem appropriate.”

The tears that had been so freely falling moments before suddenly dried up. Andromeda wiped away the last of them with a trembling hand.

“Excuse me?” she whispered.

“You heard me. I know it may be unpleasant to hear, but someone has to rein you in. Believe me when I say that it’s for your own good. Now wash up your face. No one looks attractive after a cry like you’ve had.”

He didn’t wait for her to reply. He swiftly turned his back and left her alone in the candlelit hallway. Andromeda stared after him with red eyes and a hollow chest.

How dare he.

She wanted to spit in his face. She wanted to hex him. She wanted to run after him, drag him in front of his mates, and break up with him then and there. How was that for disrespecting him in front of his peers?

But Andromeda didn’t do any of those things. Already, cool rationality had crept back into her mind. She couldn’t break up with Rabastan Lestrange. Not now, just when Narcissa had delighted the family with her big news. Her mother would despise Andromeda forever if she were to call things off, especially when Rabastan seemed on the verge of making her final unclaimed daughter an offer. What would all of Druella Black’s society friends say? She couldn’t bring that sort of disgrace on her family. Not now.

But she wasn’t going to sit silently by and abide by Rabastan’s controlling rules. Obey him? The arrogant prick. A lot of nerve he had to talk about obedience when he and Andromeda hadn’t even made out in a full month. She would show him. She could do anything she wanted, go anywhere she wanted, be with whomever she wanted—and his stipulations would be given no consideration whatsoever. She was a free witch.

And she could think of no better way to prove her freedom than to storm out of the Slytherin chambers and head straight for the hospital wing.

She slammed open the doors, ignoring Madame Bellevue’s fervid instructions that she keep quiet, and crossed to Ted’s sick bed in long, determined strides.

“Ted Tonks,” she said, “you and I are going to cavort.”


Chapter 8: Rebellion, Within Reason
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“Cavort?”

Ted Tonks was not in the state Andromeda had expected to find him in. For one thing, he was standing. When she had left him earlier that evening, he’d been flat on his back, unable to walk due to his bizarre “condition.” It would appear that he had made a recovery.

For another thing, Ted wasn’t wearing a shirt. He had stripped from his hospital gown, which lay rumpled on equally rumpled sheets. His trousers hung loose on his hips, and his shirt was nowhere on his body but rather clenched in Ted’s hand.

Oh, sweet Merlin.

Andromeda had been meaning to take him by surprise. She was going to be the one who stunned Ted into silence with her wild demand and her even wilder plan. But now demands and plans alike flew out of Andromeda’s mind. Ted Tonks was standing in front of her, half-naked, and she could finally see the whole of his tattoo.

The tendrils of ink on his collarbone had only been the beginning. Lines swooped downward and upward, too, from his navel, sideways from his ribcage. All lines converged at his heart, where there was engraved the black outline of a small, lithe bird. A bird. Of all the things to have tattooed above your heart! And yet somehow, despite the prosaic nature of the drawing, it looked incredibly enticing on Ted’s chest. Perhaps because Ted’s chest was marvelously fit. Stupid chest. Stupid Quidditch workouts. Stupid Ted.

What had she come here for again?

Ted repeated it a second time: “Cavort?”

He was looking at Andromeda now as though she had lost her mind. It was a definite possibility. She ripped her eyes away from Ted’s bare skin and shook her head, trying to regain her thoughts. Rabastan. Yes, that was why she was here. She was absolutely livid at Rabastan, and she was going to make him pay by explicitly disobeying one of his “orders.”

“I’m not allowed to cavort with you,” Andromeda said. “So I’m going to cavort with you.”

Ted was silent for a long time. He used the time to resume what he had been doing before Andromeda had interrupted him: putting on his shirt. When he was through, his hair was an unspeakably mussed mess, but he himself looked a little more enlightened than he had before. He even looked a little—amused.

“You keep using that word,” he said. “I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Andromeda crossed her arms. “Of course I know what it means. It means to spend time with someone else. To fraternize.”

“I mean,” said Ted, “I’m not sure you’re aware of the sexual implications.”

Andromeda’s eyes grew wide. “Wha—no. No! I didn’t mean anything like that. It’s just what Rabastan said when—“

Ted’s eyebrows shot up. “So this is about your boyfriend.”

Damn. She hadn’t meant to let on that much.

“No,” she said. “It’s about me.”

“Oh. Like everything else.”

“Shut up!” Andromeda growled, stamping her foot. “Are you going to cavort with me, or not?”

Ted smiled at her—a slow, assessing smile. “You’re flirting with me.”

“Ladies of the House of Black don’t—“

“Oh, but they do. They do flirt. They get drunk, too. And they use pawns to get back at their boyfriends.”

Andromeda didn’t know what to say. How could she possibly reply to that?

Ted shook his head, gathering an overstuffed satchel from the bedside and slinging it across his chest. “Because that’s what I am to you, isn’t it? A pawn. A Mudblood for you to toy around with. I bet you didn’t even consider the possibility that I don’t want to play your high-browed games.”

She hadn’t. There was never any question in Andromeda’s mind that if she asked Ted Tonks to spend time with her, he would. She was better than him in every way—in rank, in wealth, in blood, in talent. Why wouldn’t he want to do what she asked?

“If you want to turn rebel without a cause,” Ted said, “good for you. You want to teach your boyfriend a lesson? Fine. Just do it on your own time.”

He pushed past her, leaving Andromeda in stunned silence. But not for long. She turned heel and hurried after him, incurring an exasperated whisper from Madame Bellevue to keep quiet. She didn’t catch up with Ted until he was well out into the dark corridors.

“Wait!” she ordered. “Wait, you insufferable—please. Please, wait?”

Ted stopped. Slowly, he turned to face a huffing, puffing Andromeda. Why was it that he always managed to see her at her most undignified? She swallowed once, hard, and again, harder still, in an attempt to regain her voice.

“I shouldn’t have asked it that way,” she whispered. “That was presumptuous of me.”

“You think?”

“It’s just that I don’t quite know how to behave around people like you. There are no set rules, there’s no protocol to follow.”

Ted stepped closer to her, under the light of one of the corridor’s flickering torches. “I’ll give you a starter tip. Treat us like equals.”

“But, you’re not—“

“I said,” Ted interrupted, “treat me like an equal. It doesn’t matter if you think I am or not. Talk to me like one of your society friends. Go ahead.”

Andromeda sighed. Just how badly did she want to make Rabastan suffer? Was it worth this?

“Fine,” she said. “Ted, I’d very much like to spend time with you.”

“Why?”

Andromeda bit her lip. There wasn’t much point in lying, was there?

“Because Rabastan says I can’t, and I want to prove to him that I can do whatever the hell I want.”

“Thought so,” said Ted. “And if I were to agree to—what was that word you used?”

“Cavort,” Andromeda muttered.

“Right. So what exactly does your definition of ‘cavort’ entail?”

“I have thought this through,” Andromeda said proudly. “I wouldn’t be simply using you. It could be a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

“Mutually beneficial, how?”

“I’d like to know more about Quidditch. The rules, that statistics, that sort of thing. Rabastan thinks that I’m too dense to understand it, and I’m going to prove him wrong. In return, you’ll receive my help.”

“Your help?” Ted looked genuinely surprised. “Why would I need your help?”

“I think you’re giving up too easily. You worked very hard to get into Whitechapel’s class, and I don’t think you should drop it just yet. So, if you promise to teach me about Quidditch, I promise to get you top marks on your next exam.”

“I won’t cheat,” Ted said, his voice unusually harsh.

“I didn’t say you’d be cheating,” said Andromeda. “But if you can’t be disciplined enough to do the required eading, I can still help you out. Provide some insights I wouldn’t share merely as your tutor.”

“How selfish of you.”

“Perhaps,” said Andromeda. “All the same, that’s my offer. I don’t know why I’ve made it, though, since you seem so dead set on refusing me anyway.”

Ted shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other. “Why me? Why do you want to, uh, ‘cavort’ with me, of all people?”

“Rabastan heard about Hog’s Head. He didn’t just tell me not to hang around your sort. He told me not to hang around you.”

Ted nodded slowly. “And that’s the only reason?”

Andromeda frowned. “Well, of course that’s the only reason.”

It took her a long moment to realize that Ted had extended his hand toward her, as though he expected her to shake it.

“Then it’s a deal,” he said. “I’ll cavort with you in return for a passing grade on Whitechapel’s next exam.”

“Deal.” She shook his hand, then promptly extracted her fingers and wiped them on her skirt. She caught Ted watching her.

“What?”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

“You look better,” she observed.

“I feel better.”

“I suppose this means you’ll be in class tomorrow morning?”

“I suppose it does.”

“I’ll give you a note then,” she said, “about our—arrangement. But don’t expect me to speak to you in public.”

“Certainly not.” Why was he grinning? “Sweet dreams, Andromeda.”

He set off down the corridor, whistling a slow, bittersweet melody. Curiously, Andromeda watched him go, but she made no attempt this time to stop him.



South Wing Turret, 7 o'clock tonight.

Andromeda had placed the carefully folded note on Ted’s desk, just under the slat of splintered wood at the desk’s edge. She had not looked back once during Professor Whitechapel’s lecture on how to defend oneself against lethal respiratory curses. She could only hope that Ted would see the slip of paper and that he would read it.

She hadn’t known anything for certain until after class, as she and the other students bustled out into the corridors, bottlenecking at the doorway. It was normal to bump shoulders on the way out, and today proved no exception. Only today, Andromeda felt the distinct pressure of a hand against hers. There was a flash of golden hair in her periphery. Then she became aware that she was holding a slip of paper—the same slip that she had snuck Ted.

He had written a response on the opposite side of the paper:

7:30

He would request a later time. 7:30 then. She was going to meet up with Ted Tonks at 7:30 that evening. In secret. She was meeting with a Mudblood in secret, in a dirty, drafty, abandoned turret of the castle. And instead of that thought making her nauseous or exceedingly uncomfortable, it only sent her heart racing.

What was the matter with her? She couldn’t actually fancy Ted Tonks, could she? The only reason why she felt this way was because Rabastan had been acting like such a bastard recently. In a few weeks, she’d impress him with her Quidditch knowledge and convince him that she was not the sort of girl who needed reining in. In the meantime, she would have her fun breaking his rules—and that included meeting up with a Mudblood. A Mudblood who she most certainly did not fancy.



“Guess who?”

Andromeda had sneaked up on him from behind, and she now covered Sirius’ eyes with a dramatic flourish. She smirked across the table at his chubby, pre-pubescent friend—a boy with ratty blonde hair, who was sitting next to Sirius' best mate, James Potter. Both boys looked up at her with huge eyes and gaping mouths. It wasn’t customary for many Slytherins to pay visits to the Gryffindor dining table, and it certainly wasn’t customary for a pretty seventh year girl to speak to lowly second year boys. She flattered herself that she was the highlight of the poor little boys’ week.

“Hmm,” pondered Sirius, tapping his chin, entirely unflustered by the fact that a strange pair of hands had rendered him blind. “Cold hands. Is it the ghost of Lady Jane Grey?”

“Excellent guess,” Andromeda said, “but miserably wrong.”

She removed her hands and tousled Sirius’ hair, only to straighten it back up again far better than it had been before the tousling. Her younger cousin craned back his neck and grinned at her.

Andromeda winked. “Here,” she said, slipping a wax-papered lump the size of a tangerine into his hand. “Mum made toffee for the holidays. She sent Cissy and me a whole parcel’s worth. I know they’re your favorite.”

Sirius’ face lit up with unbridled joy. “Andie, you’re the best. No, seriously the best!” He lowered his voice confidentially. “You know you’re my favorite, right? No contest.”

Andromeda only smiled and tapped the end of his nose. “You deserve it, cutie. Just stay out of trouble every so often, hm?”

Sirius nodded, though the guilty look on his face told Andromeda that he was already in or about to be in trouble. She straightened back up and walked crisply away from the table, only to hear James Potter say, “Your cousin is divine,” and Sirius’ quick rejoinder, “Want your nose hexed off your face, Potter?”

She had to leave the dining hall before the others arrived. She had told Narcissa and Lilith that she hadn’t been feeling well, and that she was going to visit Professor Vince’s office. Professor Vince was the herbology instructor, and she was known for her exceptional remedial teas. It wasn’t too far-fetched of an excuse for her absence. 

Andromeda grabbed a dinner roll from Slytherin’s table on her way out. It would be a scant supper tonight. When she returned later that evening from the turret, she would explain to Narcissa and Lilith that she and Professor Vince had gotten carried away in conversation. That wasn’t a stretch either; Andromeda was on good terms with every professor in the school.

She had planned all of this perfectly. She wondered if that was the right way to go about it, since “cavorting” was such a sloppy, spontaneous verb. But just because Andromeda was rebelling didn’t mean she had to be sloppy about it, surely. Just like her future, this specific evening had a set plan and set parameters. The only real variable was Ted Tonks.



Author's Note: It's a short chapter, I know, but the next will more than make up for it! Muaha. Well, I hope so, anyway...

Ted's unintentional Princess Bride quote belongs to the brilliant mind of William Goldman . <3


Chapter 9: Cavorting
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“Wait. Robbins is Slytherin’s beater, right?”

“Slytherin’s best beater. Her partner, Flint? That bloke is as dumb as the bludgers he handles. They put him on the broom because he’s stock, all brawn. He’s downright terrifying to meet in the corridors—could knock any guy down just by slapping him too hard on the back. But you can’t put your stock in a beater merely based on physique. A beater has to be clever, has to know when to strike and when to hold back. Robbins knows that. The trouble is that Flint always manages to sabotage her best moves.”

“So, you think that’s Slytherin’s greatest weakness? Flint?”

Ted nodded and took a slow sip of cider. “Without a doubt.”

As Andromeda had anticipated, Ted had been late, even for his own requested time change. What she hadn’t anticipated was that he would arrive with two freshly brewed, piping hot mugs of cider.

“Drafty up here,” he’d explained, taking a seat on the frigid stone bench across from her. “Thought I’d do my part to keep us warm. One of the perks of living next door to the kitchens.”

The south wing turret certainly wasn’t the most comfortable place for a clandestine meeting, but it was very—well, clandestine. No one came up here during the wintertime. The warmth of the castle’s fires and grates did not reach up here, making it very inhospitable. Andromeda had dressed accordingly in her thickest fur coat and her fine, elbow-length leather gloves.

Still, she was grateful for Ted’s thoughtful gesture, and she set to drinking her cider so eagerly that she burnt her tongue in the process. Meantime, as previously agreed upon, Ted had launched into a detailed explanation of Quidditch basics, beginning with the current team line-ups within Hogwarts. Andromeda had listened attentively, asking for clarification and elaboration when necessary and sipping her cider at intervals. Ted was a patient, thorough instructor, she discovered. The way he explained things was engaging, but it wasn’t so weighed down with Quidditch jargon that Andromeda felt like a fool for asking questions.

She also discovered that she officially liked the way that Ted talked. That lower class lilt that had once grated on her nerves, the way he said his vowels all wrong—it had somehow become endearing. And his eyes, she decided, weren’t the color of dirt after all. They really were the color of cocoa. And she did like cocoa very much….

“Andromeda?”

“Hm?” She looked up, startled, and realized to her embarrassment that she hadn’t heard a word Ted had said for the past minute straight.

He quirked a smile at her, and she noticed for the first time how much his freckles stood out against his pale skin, just over the bridge of his nose.

“I'm boring you,” he said.

“What? No! No, not at all. It’s been fascinating, really. My mind just drifted away for a moment.”

“All the same,” Ted said, “I’ll take it as a sign to shut up. Enough Quidditch talk for the night, eh?”

To Andromeda’s horror, Ted got to his feet. No! He had practically just showed up. This couldn’t possibly count as proper cavorting!

“Hang on!" she said, allowing far too much panic in her voice. “What about my end of the deal?”

Ted frowned down at her. “Sorry, but I really don’t feel much in the mood for studying. I didn’t bring any of my books or parchment, either. We could just meet up another time, when—“

“No,” Andromeda cut in. “Now is the perfect time. It doesn’t require books or parchments or even in your brain. I told you I had an insight that would help you do better in class. Though perhaps ‘insight’ wasn’t the best word for it....”

That caught his interest. With a curious expression, Ted sat back down. Only this time he didn’t take the bench across from her. He sat right beside Andromeda. She tensed as she felt his coat sleeve brush against hers.

“It’s really more of a tool,” Andromeda continued, stooping to unfasten her satchel. From the inside pocket, she carefully removed a heavy, transparent stone. She nudged Ted’s elbow, motioning for him to open his hand. When he did so, she deposited the stone into his keeping. “It’s extremely rare. I saved up quite a bit of allowance to buy mine at a bookshop in Canterbury.”

She chewed her lip, watching him closely. “Do you know what it is?” The look on Ted’s face already told her that he didn’t, so she went on. “It’s a Synop. Novels, essays, anthologies—you place the Synop atop whatever it is you’d like to have summarized. It only takes a few moments. Then when you open the book back up, all the important bits—the main points, the notable names and dates, that sort of thing—are highlighted in lavender ink. It’s a marvelous invention, really. I bought it during sixth year, and it’s been a lifesaver. Helped me to cram for loads of exams. It isn’t cheating; it’s just a study aid. But considering your particular dilemma—you know, how little time you have to do the reading—I thought it could come in handy. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to study anymore, but it will make studying much less time consuming.”

Andromeda realized that she had been talking a mile a minute. She’d descended into little more than a ramble. Promptly, she shut up. She had told Ted all he needed to know, really. There was no need to wax eloquent.

“Thank you.”

She looked up in alarm. His voice—the voice she’d come to like so much, that seemed constantly on the verge of laughter—was now hoarse. She noticed, to even more alarm, that his face was bright red. Had she done something to embarrass him? Or embarrass herself? She tried to think back on what she had said. Why, oh why, had she rambled?

“Thank you,” he said again, closing his fingers over the Synop. “That was really thoughtful of you. It’s exactly the sort of thing I could use.”

Andromeda nodded briskly, glad to see that some of the color was fading from Ted’s cheeks. “I thought so.”

“Don’t you need it, though?”

Andromeda tilted her chin in a careless, dismissive way. “It’s helpful, but not essential. You’re welcome to use it to study for Whitechapel’s exam, but I’ll want it back by next week.”

“Deal.” Ted gingerly pocketed the stone in his jacket. “You okay? You’re breathing kind of, erm, oddly.”

Andromeda realized that she was, in fact, breathing much more rapidly than usual, in short, staggered gasps. What was wrong with her? Was it just because she was sitting so close to him? Ted Tonks could not be making her literally lose her breath.

“Quite all right,” Andromeda said easily, patting at her chest. “The air’s just a bit thin up here, isn’t it?”

“Mm. Mhm.” Ted glanced up at the stone-cut, arched windows high above their heads, completely open to the elements. It was snowing again, and every so often a gust of wintry wind blew a puff of snowflakes into the turret.

He leaned in closer to her. She could feel the warmth radiating off his cheek, just inches from her black velvet earmuffs.

“You know why no one comes up here, don’t you?” he asked, voice lowered to a dramatic whisper.

“Because it’s so cold, of course.”

Solemnly, Ted shook his head. “You haven’t heard the stories, then.”

“What stories?”

Andromeda knew that she was taking the bait, but she was too curious to care. Also, she wanted an excuse to keep Ted closer to her for a little while. Just a little while longer….

“They say,” Ted whispered, “that it all began when she was only fifteen. She was a Ravenclaw, and her name was Winifred Hopp. She had hair the color of—“ he wrinkled his nose in realization “—well, like yours I suppose, and lips as red as blood. She was a solitary girl. She had no friends to speak of, kept to herself. But there were some students who watched her sneak up to the south wing turret, time and time again. Some said she went up there to cry out of loneliness, others that she simply went there to think. But the truth is, on the days she went up to the turret, she was never alone.”

A chill rustled through the windows, sending in a fresh spray of snowflakes. Andromeda clutched her coat closer.

“She was meeting someone,” said Ted, voice even lower and darker than before. “She was meeting a boy, and no ordinary boy, either. This particular boy had died twenty years earlier…”

“What?”

Ted nodded dramatically. “A ghost. She fell in love with the ghost of the south wing turret. The two of them were madly, passionately lost in adoration for each other. But of course, their love could never be consummated. As for the boy, he could never leave the turret, the place where he had jumped to his death twenty years before. Young Winifred drove herself mad over her inability to be with the one she loved. She lived in pure misery. That is, until the day two first years were goofing off, exploring the castle, and discovered her lying in a pool of her own blood.”

What?!

“She had killed herself, they said. But had she? No one really knows for sure if it was Winifred who slashed her own throat, or if it was her lover, the boy ghost, who had contrived a way for them to be together forever. That much remains a mystery. But what people know for certain is that sometimes, in the very dead of night, you can hear the voices of them both—Winifred and her ghost lover—crying out in the south wing. No one knows if it’s from pain or pleasure. They even say you can conjure their spirits up if you come up to the south wing turret and say her name.”

Andromeda realized far too late that, without knowing how or when, she had gripped Ted’s arm. And she was still gripping it. Hard. Flustered, she let go, just as Ted leaned in, placed his lips to her ears, and whispered, “Winifred.”

She shrieked. Ted burst out laughing, pulling away with a wicked grin.

“YOU!” she shouted, smacking him across the shoulder. “You little—what a terrible story to tell!”

Ted kept laughing so hard that tears formed in his eyes and began to run down his flushed cheeks.

“God, Dromeda,” he snorted. “If you could see your face right now.”

“I hate you!” she said, shoving at his chest.

His hands caught at hers, stilling them against his collarbones. His laughter stopped. Their eyes met, his still shining from merriment, but now darkening with something else, something Andromeda couldn’t place. She really did need to tell him not to call her Dromeda.... 

“Ted,” she whispered, but that was all.

He leaned in closer. She held her breath. She closed her eyes….

And then he pulled away, dropping her hands from his. Andromeda’s eyes fluttered open only in time to see Ted shake his head with a rueful smile.

“Better get back in time to kiss your boyfriend goodnight.”

Andromeda’s cheeks flushed a violent red. “Yes. Yes, I’d better.”

She cleared her throat and gathered her things, willing her heart to please, please slow down and wishing for some clarity of mind. She and Ted parted ways at the bottom of the stairwell, and she hurried back to her dormitory, ready to tell the girls her airtight lie.

It was only after lights were out and curtains drawn, when Andromeda stared at her canopy and listened to the delicate snores of Lilith, that she allowed herself to think about it.

What had happened tonight? Had Ted Tonks been about to kiss her? More importantly, had she been ready to let Ted Tonks kiss her? Surely not. It was only the winter chill and Ted’s silly ghost story that had made her temporarily lose her head. These secret meetings were meant to prove a point, not to satisfy her curiosity about any part of Ted’s anatomy, including his lips.

All the same, she decided that she ought to set some boundaries for the next time they met. For one thing, she wouldn’t sit so close to him again.

Yes. That ought to help tremendously.

But she had to meet with him again. It wouldn’t count as proper cavorting if they only met once.

So they met again in south wing turret, later that weekend, during the day. The next week, Ted scored the fourth highest mark in the Whitechapel’s class on the exam. In return for an extended loan on the Synop, Andromeda requested more Quidditch informational sessions. It was a perfectly symbiotic relationship that stretched on from one week to the next, well into December. But it was more than just a symbiotic relationship, and it was more than just an attempt to get back at Rabastan; Andromeda began to genuinely enjoy her time with Ted.

It was impossible, though, wasn’t it? To enjoy spending any time in close proximity to a Muggleborn? Nothing about it matched up with what Andromeda had believed for her entire life. Was this the punishment for cavorting? Perhaps Ted did have a disease, and Andromeda had caught it, and the symptoms included laughing at Ted’s jokes and allowing her eye to wander when he wasn’t looking and discovering that she, too, enjoyed the chocolate-covered grapes that he occasionally snuck up to the south wing turret, along with the customary mugs of cider.

She knew that she would have to cut things off soon. Since her and Rabastan’s blow out, the two of them had made up in the way that they typically made things up: Rabastan hadn’t apologized, and neither had Andromeda. They had just met in an empty corridor and snogged for the first time in five weeks, and Rabastan had told her that her eyes looked lovely in torchlight.

Andromeda was still angry with him. She still didn’t like the fact that he’d given her a list of commands, as though she were a wild animal to be tamed. But everyone had their flaws, and though Rabastan was conceited and high-handed, she could be a pill, too, when she wanted. She owed it to her family to marry a well-off pureblood, and she wasn’t a beauty like Bella or Narcissa; she couldn’t afford to be picky. More than that, she really did like Rabastan when he wasn’t being a domineering idiot.

Tonight, during dinner in the Great Hall, Rabastan had been a complete gentleman. He was attentive, asking Andromeda questions and nodding at her answers in rapt attention, just like the Rabastan she had known when they had first started dating her fifth year. He stole the last of the lemon drop cookies for her. He discussed holiday plans—he would be going home to the Lestrange’s country estate, while Andromeda spent most of her holiday with the extended Black family at Grimmauld Place—and commiserated with her when she confided that she would much rather be going back to Onyx House.

When dinner was over, he escorted her back to the common room, his arm draped possessively across her shoulder. All the while, Andromeda tried to remind herself why she was upset with Rabastan. Was this all his attempt to make up for his bad behavior a month ago? If so, maybe they should’ve fought more often.

They came to a lingering stop outside the common room door, and Rabastan leaned in for a customary goodnight kiss. But tonight, when their lips met, Andromeda gave a sudden, instinctual shiver.

Rabastan pulled back with a frown. “Something wrong?”

“No! Not at all.” Andromeda fiercely shook her head. “Just a draft. Goodnight, Rabastan.”

She fled to the safety of her bedroom and proceeded to be sulky and short-tempered with the girls, despite the fact that both Lilith and Narcissa were in the best of spirits. Or perhaps it was because the girls were in such good spirits that Andromeda felt so irritated.

“You two didn’t fight again, did you?” Narcissa asked.

“No,” Andromeda muttered. “No, everything should be perfect. It just isn’t.”

“I think you’re just impatient,” Narcissa said, eyes twinkling. “He bought that ring at the beginning of autumn! Silly boy, putting you through all this anxiety. It’s only nerves.”

“Oh, stop moping on about boyfriend troubles,” groaned Lilith. “Lestrange isn’t ever going to let you go, Andie. He knows what a catch you are.”

Lilith jumped onto the bed and then sprawled out lazily, her hand draped over Andromeda’s back. The girl really had no sense of personal space.

“A real topic of interest is that Xavier and I got lost in the corridors today. And no, that is not a euphemism. Your stupid cousin Sirius is behind it.”

This piqued Andromeda’s interest.

“I don’t know what he and his ratty mates were up to,” Lilith went on, “but they did something to change all the tapestries in the halls, and I swear there were turns and doorways that weren’t where they were supposed to be. If you think about it, it was a masterfully executed practical joke.”

“How do you know it was Sirius?” Narcissa asked, though it was clear from her tone that she would rather not be discussing the unsavory topic of her cousin.

“Because that was the name Pringle was screaming at the top of his lungs when he went running past me and Xavier.” Lilith wrinkled up her face and put on her best impression of Apollyon Pringle, Hogwarts' half-deranged caretaker: “’Sirius Black, you set it right! You set it back to how it was, or so help me I’ll tan your hide! Don’t think you can outrun me, boy! Mrfphrpgrr!’”

Lilith burst into a round of uncontrollable giggles. “It was marvelous entertainment for the evening. Though I do feel for your cousin, girls. He’s bound to spend most of his Hogwarts years in detention.”

“At least he has good company,” Andromeda murmured.

“You call those boys who hang around him good company?” sniffed Narcissa. “They’re a motley assortment if I ever saw one.”

“Yes," said Andromeda, "but they’re very good friends. You can tell by the way they walk together, the way they talk. They’re inseparable. That’s rare.”

“He could’ve had inseparable friends had he been sorted into the right house,” Narcissa said. “Ones he wouldn’t have to be ashamed of.”

“I don’t think he’s ashamed of his friends,” snorted Lilith.

“Well, he should be.”

Lilith shrugged and prodded at Andromeda’s back. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, dear heart, but you look like death. I think someone needs her beauty sleep.”

Lilith was right. Andromeda knew that she must have looked miserable, and she felt even more miserable for being miserable for no apparent reason.

Something had to be done.


Chapter 10: Discovery
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Author's Note: Hello, hello! It's another chapter. One more, and I will be entirely caught up to my current writing status and also the end of my winter break. So yes, that means that I will soon start updating like a normal human being with a normal human existence. For realzies! I keep warning that, and then I keep binge writing. But it's true this time. Probably. Unless I do a bad job of prioritizing this weekend and devote way too much time to Ted and Dromeda than I should, which is a distinct possibility. I CAN'T HELP MYSELF. I LOVE THEM SO MUCH. Thank you lovelies for the continuing reads and reviews!



“So then Jones pops out of the rubbish bin, the Stratus 500 goes flying, and Vanderpool tears out of the locker rooms, screeching like the Furies are on his heels.”

Andromeda had been giggling for a minute straight. She covered her mouth now, shoulders still quivering from laughter as Ted wrapped up his masterful retelling of the latest Hufflepuff Quidditch team prank.

“Ow,” she moaned, once she’d recovered enough to produce words. “I’ve got a stitch in my side, you bastard.”

Ted just smiled placidly, arms folded behind his head. He was sprawled out on the stone bench across from Andromeda, a box of chocolate-covered grapes resting on his stomach.

“I’m glad you think it’s funny,” he said. “It was really disruptive to practice. There’s no way we’re going to be in shape to take the house cup by spring if they keep on in this undisciplined way. You’d think they were a bunch of first years, the way they carry on….”

Andromeda shook her head. “You may sound like a perfect stick in the mud, Ted, but I know that you think it’s just as funny.”

The edge of Ted’s lip quirked, ever so slightly. “Maybe a little.”

For the past couple of weeks, “cavorting” with Ted had entailed more than just swapping Quidditch stats for study tips. Andromeda had practically made a gift of the Synop to Ted. She didn’t have too much need for it unless she was assigned two simultaneously difficult essays or exams, and if that occasion ever arose, she was sure that Ted would give the Synop back to her in a heartbeat. She trusted him.

She trusted a Muggleborn. Abstractly, Andromeda knew how ridiculous that was. But in practice, when it was just her and Ted, it didn’t seem ridiculous at all. She knew Ted to be true to his word. She knew that he would always be kind to her, even when she was less than kind to him. Andromeda wasn’t sure she could say as much about any other human being in her life, including her family.

That’s why cutting things off would be so hard: she would miss him. Andromeda never craved Rabastan’s company. She never lay awake thinking of all the things she had to remember to tell him the next time they spoke. She felt that about Narcissa, and about Lilith, too—friends who meant a good deal to her. But now she felt it about Ted, of all people. She wished that she could simply plunk herself down beside him in the Great Hall and chat like friends. She had come to genuinely care about his opinions. So why didn’t she feel that way about Rabastan? And why was she preparing to cut things off with Ted for Rabastan’s sake?

Because that's what needs to be done, whispered the voice of reason.

She and Ted couldn’t go on meeting like this forever. Secrets always got found out sooner or later in a place like Hogwarts. It wasn’t that Andromeda felt guilty about her meetings with Ted. This had always been about payback, about proving to herself that Rabastan didn’t control her life. But now she’d proved that to herself, and now Rabastan was acting so much nicer and more attentive. He was probably on the verge of a Christmastime proposal. Andromeda couldn’t go on meeting with Ted in good faith. Any relationship with a boy like him had no place in her world. It had to end.

So why couldn’t she find the words to end it?

“Dromeda?” Ted said slowly, tilting his head back to get a better look at her.

She had never corrected him. Each time he said Dromeda, the word sounded so intentional, so carefully handled. Not even her father could lend her name that much magic. So why would she ask Ted to stop doing something so pleasant?

“You okay?” he asked. “You’ve been quiet tonight. Not that I mind, considering you’re usually harping on how completely irrational Quidditch is or how I’m the scum of the earth, so—“

“I never said that!”

Ted just gave Andromeda a look that said “good as.”

She knew he was right.

“I’ve just been thinking,” Andromeda murmured. “We leave for the holidays tomorrow—“

“Whoa! Really?” Ted sat up in mock alarm, his hair a laughable mess of blonde sticking up in every direction. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“Just shut up and let me finish,” Andromeda growled.

Ted shut up and stared wide-eyed at Andromeda like an obedient puppy. He was adorable. Andromeda didn’t even try to deny that anymore. But acknowledging Ted’s sheer adorableness was not helping her in the slightest.

“What I was saying before you so rudely interrupted,” she said, “is that we leave for the holidays tomorrow, and—and—and—“

And you and I can’t ever see each other again.

Why was that so hard to say?

Ted, meantime, had gone from looking adorable to looking petrified.

“Dromeda,” he said, “are you, like, having some kind of fit? Is there a remedial potion that I need to administer? Do I need to find a trusted adult?!”

“NO!” she yelled. “Dammit, Tonks, you’re ruining everything!”

“Oh.” Ted frowned.

“I just wanted to say that—that—that I bought you a fucking Christmas present, okay?”

Where had that come from?

Ted was staring at her. Just staring.

Andromeda shoved a strand of hair behind her ear and wished that she could sink into the ground right then and there, in a puddle of gloop. Could she have deviated any further from the script if she’d tried? She never bought Christmas presents for any of her friends at Hogwarts, including Lilith, and she certainly would never buy one for Ted Tonks.

“Um,” said Ted, scratching at the bridge of his nose. “Um.”

“It’s nothing,” Andromeda said quickly. “Just a very little something. Miniscule! I don’t even have it with me, so I don’t know why on earth I told you, but I just wanted to show you that I’m not always the bitchy aristo-posh that you think I am, and I do appreciate the fact that you’ve taught me so much about Quidditch, and just because I say nasty things to you all the time doesn’t mean that I don’t—“

“Hey.”

Andromeda reeled to a stop. Her hands, she realized, were trembling. She clasped them in her lap.

Ted was leaning toward her, across the divide between their benches.

“Thanks,” he said. “I’m sure that, whatever it is, whenever I get it, I’ll really like it. And I’m sure it’ll probably be worth more money than I’ll make in my entire lifetime, so I’ll promptly sell it on the black market for hard cash.”

That remark would’ve earned Ted a derisive glare a month ago. Now, Andromeda laughed, in spite of herself.

“I just feel bad,” said Ted, “’cos I didn’t get you anything.”

“But you don’t have to. I wouldn’t expect it from you. You’re poor.”

Ted gave her the look. It had taken Andromeda a few meetings to catch on, but she soon realized that Ted always gave her the same look whenever she said something that he found, for whatever reason, offensive. It was that look like he was waiting for the punch line of a bad joke.

“We poor folk give gifts too, you know.”

“Of course,” said Andromeda, blushing. “I’m sorry, of course you do.”

A month ago, Andromeda would never have apologized either.

What was happening to her?

“I should go,” said Ted, gathering his things. “Still haven’t packed an inch of my trunk for the trip home.”

That didn’t come as a surprise to Andromeda, but it still amazed her. She really didn’t see how anyone could live that way, so last minute. Her own trunk had been packed for the past three days.

“Goodbye, Ted,” she said. “Happy Christmas.”

Ted nodded. “Happy Christmas, Dromeda.”

He disappeared from the threshold and down the dark, spiraling stairwell.

Andromeda remained in the tower long after he’d left, silently berating herself for her startling inability to properly finish a sentence.



“I thought this day would never come,” Narcissa sighed, pressing her fingertips to the train carriage’s frosted window. “Two whole weeks without schoolwork and filled instead with you.”

Narcissa was, of course, gushing to Lucius. Andromeda just really wished she didn’t have to do so in front of an audience. At this point, she couldn’t tell if Narcissa was sitting on Lucius’ lap or if they were both just in a very long embrace, but the long and short of it was that it was getting increasingly difficult these days to tell where Narcissa began and Lucius ended. As they leaned in to kiss, Andromeda gave a consternated yelp.

“I draw the line at snogging, you two.”

Narcissa blushed. Lucius backed sheepishly away. Miracle of miracles, the two actually took their own seats, side by side, and resigned themselves to holding hands.

It was official: Narcissa was going to spend the entire first week and a half of the holiday with Lucius and his family at Malfoy Manor. The remaining few days she would spend at Onyx House. Andromeda, however, faced a crueler fate. She would be spending the beginning of her holiday with all the extended relatives at Aunt Walburga and Uncle Orion’s place in London.

Andromeda wasn’t fond of 12 Grimmauld Place. It was in a fashionable part of London, no doubt, and Andromeda really did like London itself. Perhaps it wasn’t Grimmauld Place she disliked so much as all the relatives who would be staying inside of it. She felt as though she always had to be on her best behavior, as though she were constantly being judged and found wanting. And this Christmas in particular, what would everyone say about the fact that Narcissa was engaged while Rabastan was still dragging his feet?

Andromeda's only solace was that Sirius would be there, and now that he was old enough to carry on a snarky conversation, the two of them could escape to the attic every so often and make laughing remarks about how much makeup Aunt Walburga had caked on her face and what a complete killjoy the house elf Kreacher was.

Shock jolted through Andromeda when she found a pair of lips on her ears, nipping ever so slightly at her skin.

“Rabastan, really,” she said, tilting her head away.

But he kept his lips close. “I hope you know how much I’ll miss you,” he whispered. “Owl me, hm?”

Andromeda laughed. “You act as though we’re about to be separated by the span of years. It’s only two weeks, not even that.”

Rabastan had promised to visit Onyx House the day before Andromeda headed back to school. Narcissa had wagered that this was the day Rabastan intended to propose.

“It’s perfect,” she had said, “because your loving family will be there to celebrate!”

That was one way to think about it. Andromeda preferred not to think about it at all. She didn’t like that fact that every time she imagined Rabastan down on one knee, her heart filled not with undying love but with queasy dread.

“Still,” Rabastan was whispering in her ear, “it’ll seem like an eternity to me.”

A minute later, he’d left the carriage for the toilet, and Andromeda was able to relax her posture and concentrate more fully on her Potions textbook.

“Andie, honestly,” whined Narcissa. “N.E.W.T.s aren’t for a while yet. Why spoil your holiday by studying?”

Andromeda sighed and shut the book. “I’m just nervous.”

“I wouldn’t worry quite so much as you do,” Lucius said. “You wouldn’t be in Slughorn’s club if he didn’t consider you an excellent student.”

“Take a cue from Lilith, darling,” said Narcissa. “She’s spending her entire two weeks at Hogwarts snogging Xavier Eddleton. Now that’s how one ought to spend one’s holidays. It’s the season of love!”

That comment alone made Andromeda sick to her stomach. She got to her feet.

“Don’t leave, darling!” Narcissa cried. “I promise, Lucius and I will behave.”

“No, it’s not that. I think I just need to walk about for a bit. Stretch my legs.”

“But we’re nearly to London now—“

“Cissa,” Lucius interrupted, squeezing her elbow. “If Andromeda wants to go, let her go.”

Andromeda saw the wordless exchange between the two, and she immediately wished she hadn’t.

“I’ll be back in ten minutes or so,” she said, hoping they’d take the hint and that she wouldn’t find them making out upon her return.

The chilled winter air was more noticeable in the passageways of the Hogwarts Express. Harsh December wind blew hard against the windows, sending a shuddery, creaking sound through the train. Outside, a bleak and frosty cityscape bled past. Andromeda guessed that they would be at King’s Cross in less than a half hour; all the same, she couldn’t stand to be stuck in that stifled carriage for a minute longer.

Every so often, as she strolled down the length of the train, she snuck a glance into the carriage windows. She saw a pair of first year Hufflepuffs playing a game of wizard's chess, their mouths smeared with chocolate from the snack trolley. She saw a group of sixth year Slytherins that she knew all sleeping soundly, their heads lolling back against headrests or on each other's shoulders. She didn’t ever catch a glimpse of Ted Tonks, though she knew he was somewhere on this train. Not that she was looking for Ted Tonks....

Up ahead, a group of younger boys were gathered together, exchanging low whispers and snickers. It wasn’t until Andromeda came closer that she realized they were eavesdropping on someone in one of the toilets. She rolled her eyes and pushed past them with a look of disapproval.

“Sick,” whispered one of them before descending into a snort-filled laugh.

“Hey,” another hissed frantically. “Let’s get out of here, they’re coming out!”

The boys followed Andromeda, shoving past her and tripping over themselves to get past her and into the next train compartment. She didn’t know why she decided to pause, why she chose to turn around and see what it was that the boys had been whispering about. Afterward, she would wonder if maybe she’d suspected it all along. She knew that something was off, that something sordid had been happening here. She should’ve just turned heel and continued on her stroll. But she didn’t. She remained strangely rooted in the passageway, staring at the toilet door as the lock slid open and the occupants emerged.

Occupants, because there had been two people in the stall. The first was a tall, leggy brunette that Andromeda recognized: it was that seventh year Ravenclaw, Georgiana Harper, who had garnered a reputation for sleeping her way around the castle. Georgiana glanced cautiously around, first to her left and then directly at Andromeda. She froze, the unmistakable look of panic marring her pretty features. Quickly, she turned back around as though to escape right back into the toilet stall from whence she’d come. But it was too late, because the second occupant had already stepped out behind her, still in the process of tucking his shirt back into his jeans.

It was Rabastan.


Chapter 11: Confrontation & Contraband
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“Andromeda Lyra Black, do you hear me? Don’t presume that you can entreat Kreacher to sneak food from the kitchen once we’ve all gone to bed. Supper now, or no supper at all.”

Silence.

Then, “Andromeda, have you heard a word I’ve said?”

In response, Andromeda threw a wizarding encyclopedia at her locked guestroom door. She heard her mother’s huff of exasperation on the other side, then the click-clack of heels as Druella Black made her way back downstairs to join the rest of the House of Black for supper.

Under normal circumstances, Andromeda knew that her mother would not stand for this type of behavior. She would’ve marched into that bedroom and dragged Andromeda downstairs screaming, if need be, to save face with the extended relatives. But her mother knew. Everyone in this house knew. In all likelihood, ever single passenger on the Hogwarts Express knew. It had ended in a shouting match, after all.



“Don’t ever touch me again, you bastard!”

“Andromeda, love, if you’d only let me explain

“What is there to explain? What other possible explanation can you give? I saw it with my own eyes.”

Rabastan burst into a frenzied laugh. “You think that I care about Georgiana Harper? That what happens between us means anything? She’s not the one I want to marry!”

Andromeda’s blood had chilled at that. “What happens between you? You mean you’ve two have done this before. You’ve been doing it.”

“Andie—“

He reached out his hand in another failed attempt to catch her by the wrist. Andromeda shirked away, her eyes blazing.

They had attracted an audience. Georgiana Harper had slipped away the moment the first shouts had been exchanged, leaving Rabastan and Andromeda alone to argue. But not for long. The passageway soon filled with students readying to disembark and who had become distracted by the live drama playing out before their eyes. Others had opened their compartment doors to peer out with nosy interest.

“You’re overacting,” Rabastan said. “Men have physical needs, Andromeda. That doesn’t mean that I’m not completely devoted to you in my heart.”

“Shut up,” she whispered.

“Please—“

Andromeda gripped her hands into fists, though the rest of her body was trembling. “It’s over, Rabastan. Give your ring to some girl who’s willing to obey your commands while you whore around. I’m not.”

There had been boos and catcalls, then, from the more uncouth onlookers. Andromeda knew that the ugly stares and remarks were all directed at Rabastan, the clear wrongdoer in this scenario, but that didn’t help ease the mortification she felt rising from the pit of her stomach. She felt limp and empty. She had just broken things off with Rabastan Lestrange, and she had managed to do it in front of everyone.



Andromeda gripped her legs to her chest and rested her chin atop her knees, staring out her window at the snow-covered streets of London. From downstairs, she could hear the faint clink of silverware and the murmur of polite familial conversation.

How could she show her face down there? Bellatrix was at the table, and worse still, Rodolphus Lestrange himself. How could she look Rabastan’s own brother in the eye after she had publicly called things off?

She supposed that she would starve to death. There were worse fates….

Why had Narcissa chosen to go to Malfoy Manor this holiday, of all holidays? Now was the time that Andromeda needed her sister the most. Instead, all Narcissa has been able to offer was a startled expression and a flood of worried questions when Andromeda had returned to their train carriage sobbing. They had arrived at Platform 9 ¾ only minutes after her argument with Rabastan had ended, and she had been forced to exchange a rushed goodbye with Narcissa and Lucius.

By the time Druella had found her daughter in the crowd, she had already managed to hear the news. Scandal traveled quickly amongst a crowded train of teenagers, and it had spread even more rapidly once they had all dispersed on the platform.

Her mother hadn’t spoken a single word to Andromeda on the way to Grimmauld Place. When they had arrived, Andromeda hadn’t even bothered to greet her Aunt Walburga and Uncle Orion. She’d run up the stairs to her customary guest bedroom, cast a powerful sealing spell on the door, and had a good cry on the bed. Then, she had refused all outside contact with stalwart resolve, including her mother’s most recent attempt to entice her to supper.

No, it was decided. She would starve to death before showing her face to them. She had never been so humiliated, so ashamed in her entire life. Narcissa had snagged a wealthy, noble, and exceedingly respectable man for a husband. And Andromeda? She’d dated a cheater, and she’d broken up with him in the most public, indecorous way possible.

She had never felt so worthless in her entire life.

There was another knock.

“I said GO AWAY.” She hurled another heavy book at the door, which hit with an impressive thunk.

This time, however, it wasn’t her mother’s voice on the other side.

“Andie, it’s me.”

Sirius. In the midst of the disastrous past twelve hours, Andromeda had forgotten—Sirius was home for the holidays, too. Uncle Orion had personally come to school to fetch his son  after Sirius had sent an owl threatening to stay at Hogwarts with his best mate James Potter. Andromeda could only imagine the chastisement that Sirius must have received upon his return home. If anyone in this family wouldn’t make Andromeda feel like a failure, it would be Sirius.

With a flick of her wand, she dismantled the sealing spell and swung open the door for Sirius to pass through. He entered with his hands raised.

“I come bearing peace offerings.”

With melodramatic flourish, Sirius tiptoed into the room and creaked the door shut behind him. He joined Andromeda where she sat on the edge of her king-sized bed.

Andromeda despised her customary guest room at Grimmauld Place. The walls were painted blood red, and the drapes were made of heavy, black velvet. Even on the sunniest days, there was always a heavy, oppressive grip on the room. The portraits of humorless, hollow-eyed ancestors didn’t help the mood, either. Narcissa usually shared this room with her, and the two girls would giggle together at the sour expressions of the moving portraits; but now, there was nothing to giggle about. If anything, Andromeda would have trouble sleeping tonight, knowing that all of those haughty ancestors were watching her—and judging her just as harshly as the live relatives downstairs.

Sirius’ “peace offerings” turned out to be edible. He placed a napkin’s worth of dates, almonds, and grilled pheasant on Andromeda’s lap. It was undignified, and Andromeda preferred her food not to touch, but it was far better than going hungry through the night. She gave Sirius a grateful hug.

He made a honking sort of noise and inched out of her embrace, his cheeks red.

“It’s not a big deal,” he muttered.

“How did you manage to get away?”

Sirius shrugged. “Reg and I still aren’t allowed to sit with the adults. You know, that whole ‘seen and not heard’ business. It was pretty easy to slip away without them noticing.”

“Thank you. Really, Sirius. It means a lot to me.” She primly wrapped up the contents of the napkin and set it on her nightstand. “I’ll be sure to ration it wisely.”

“Come on, don’t be like that. You can’t stay locked in here all holiday. Just because you broke up with that Lestrange bloke doesn’t mean—“

“Does everyone know?” Andromeda moaned, sinking her head into her hands. “It’s my personal love life. It’s not anyone else’s business!”

Sirius looked uncomfortable. “Uh, yeah. Look, I don’t wanna hear about your love life. All I mean to say is, if you broke up with your boyfriend, I’m sure you had a really good reason. The family can’t stay mad at you forever.” He tapped his chin. “Well, I guess technically they could….”

“They won’t understand,” Andromeda said. “Especially not Bella and Rodolphus. He’s going to take it as a personal affront to his family. I can already tell that Mum is upset. I’ve let her down. I tried so hard not to, and I still ended up fucking up everything.”

Sirius’ eyes widened, and Andromeda realized that she’d just sworn in front of her little cousin.

“Don’t repeat that word,” she said. “You didn’t hear me say it.”

But Sirius looked more awed than scandalized.

“Who needs them?” he challenged. “Any of them? They’re just being a bunch of narrow-minded bullies, that’s all. Don’t let those bastards get you down.”

It was a rare talent that Sirius possessed: the ability to make Andromeda laugh when she most felt like crying. She was tempted to hug him again but feared that she would somehow insult the poor thirteen-year-old's dignity. Instead, she just smiled appreciatively and squeezed his hand.

“Thank you.”

Sirius peeked up at her from under the fringe of his long, wispy black hair. He smiled cautiously.

“You just have to promise to put in a good word for me with Mum,” he said. “She and Dad won’t buy me a motorcycle for Christmas.”

Andromeda raised an eyebrow. “A what?”

“You know,” said Sirius. “A mo-tor-cy-cle. All the really badass Muggles drive them.”

“No, I know what one is,” she said. “But Sirius, I think you’re a little too young to—“

“UGH, that is just what Mum says.”

Andromeda pondered her next words. At last, she said, “I’m not sure why you would want a motorcycle when there are much more efficient methods of wizarding transportation—“

Here, Sirius tried to interrupt her with an impassioned rebuttal. She talked over him.

“—but, if that’s what you really want, then you should go after it. My only word of advice would be to save up and buy one yourself. If your mum and dad buy it for you, they can also take it away. But if you buy one all on your own, then it’s yours forever. Not to mention, you’ll have the satisfaction of having invested your allowance into something you really want.”

Sirius stared at Andromeda with big eyes. “Huh. I’d never thought of that. It'd take a long time to save up for, though."

“But it'd be worth it,” she said, tapping Sirius’ nose. "To have something all your own." 

“I’m glad you’re here, Andie.”

“I’m glad you’re here, too. Sometimes I think that the others….”

She trailed off, but the look on Sirius’ face told her that he knew what she meant.

“Uncle Alphard is pretty okay,” he said. “He let me snuggle with his pet viper.”

Andromeda’s eyes widened. “He brought Serpens into the house?”

“Oh, so you’ve met!” Sirius smirked. “Why d’you look so scared, Andie? I thought all you Slytherins were supposed to love snakes.”

“In theory. Not exactly up close.” She sighed. “What I meant to say is that I think you and I might be the only sane ones in this family.”

“Or the only crazy ones,” Sirius suggested. “I think I like that better.”

He slipped off the bed and treaded quietly to her door. “Better get back down there,” he said, “or Reg will tattle. He’s become an insufferable goody two-shoes.”

Andromeda nodded and bid Sirius goodnight. She was filled with a surge of warm gratitude. Here she had been, moping about, and he had managed to take her mind off of herself—even if only for a few minutes.

Ted was right, she thought miserably. I really am self-centered. All I can ever think about is myself, my problems.

Ted.

He had been aboard the Hogwarts Express. She hoped against hope that he hadn’t heard the gossip. What would he think of her? Making such a spectacle of herself in public, breaking up with her boyfriend of three years for the world to see in such a maudlin melodrama. She’d been so unrefined, so completely devoid of class or composure….

But Ted wouldn’t care.

The thought pierced through Andromeda’s mind, silencing all other frenzied worries.

No. Ted wouldn’t care if she’d made a spectacle of herself. He wouldn’t care if she hadn’t retained her pristine reputation, wouldn’t care what the onlookers would say behind her back. All he would’ve cared about was if she was okay.

And she wasn’t okay.

She really just wanted to escape to the south wing turret, so she could distract herself by listening to Ted ramble on energetically about Quidditch Word Cup stats and the best new broom on the market. She wanted a warm mug of cider and a box of chocolate grapes and Ted telling her stupid ghost stories and giving her the occasional lopsided smile.

He wouldn’t care that she’d just tainted the Black family name. She could imagine exactly what he’d say; he’d smile placidly at her, like nothing in the world was really that big of a deal, and say, “No one will remember it after a week.” He would be kind to her. Stupid kindness. Stupid Ted.

Andromeda groaned, sinking her face into her hands. How messed up could she get? She’d just found out her boyfriend was cheating on her, just publically broken up with a guy who was practically her fiancé, just alienated herself from her entire family, and all she could think about was a Mudblood? Could her priorities be more out of line?

She fell asleep in her clothes, and when she woke up three hours later, she winced against the flickering lights of her room, still turned on. A trail of unsightly drool had dribbled and caked on her cheek, and she hastily scrubbed it away. Her neck was sore from having slept on it funnily, but with a good deal of concerted effort, she managed to pick herself up off the bed and change out of her dirty traveling clothes.

Slowly, she creaked open her bedroom door, listening hard for any signs of life downstairs. There were no more voices coming from the parlor or the dining room. The hallway candelabras had been snuffed out. It would seem that everyone had retired for the evening. Andromeda snuck out and carefully slipped into the washroom, where she finished readying for bed.

She paused before turning back into the guestroom, her hand lingering on the bannister. Then, with a definite change of mind, she crept toward the stairs.

Lumos,” she whispered to her outstretched wand, and a soft glow of light shone from its tip, lighting her way down the stairs and into the parlor.

This was her least favorite room in all of Grimmauld Place. The lifeless eyes of dozens upon dozens of members of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black stared down at her from all directions. It was in this room that the Blacks had hung their family tree. The tapestry was centuries old, but Aunt Walburga had kept it in pristine condition since it had come into her care.

In the corner of the room, near the door through which Andromeda had entered, there was a cluster of familiar names and face: her father, her sisters, and Andromeda herself. Her mother was a Rosier by blood and so was not pictured, but her name unfurled in careful script, attached to her father’s portrait by a spindling vine. Andromeda paused for a moment to study her sisters’ faces. Another vine already connected Bellatrix to the name of Rodolphus Lestrange. Soon, yet another vine would tie Narcissa to Lucius Malfoy. And that would leave Andromeda, middle child, ugly duckling, and—potential old maid? She sighed, turning away from the tapestry. She really did loathe this room.

But she wasn’t here to admire an ancient tapestry. She padded toward the bookshelf in the far corner, her eyes scanning the spines of each book, beginning at the top shelf and making her way down. It was here. It had to be here. She’d read it multiple times as a child, while visiting for the summer holidays. Aunt Walburga had even read it to her and her sisters many nights in place of a bedtime story.

At last, she spotted it on the second to lowest bookshelf. It was done up in green binding, and the title was embossed in gold.

The Silent Scourge: On the Dangers and Depravity of Muggles and Muggleborns.

Andromeda's forefinger had just touched the edge of the spine when a voice spoke her name.

Andromeda cried out and whipped around, raising her wand high and at the ready. The light of her Lumos spell spilled onto a sharply angled jaw, hollowed cheekbones, and bored, heavy-lidded eyes.

Bellatrix.

She emerged from the shadows of the parlor, smirking triumphantly down at Andromeda as though she had just won an argument.

“Won’t even hug your sissy hello?” Bella said in a high-pitched, mocking voice that had made Andromeda’s blood curdle since they were girls. “How very rude. I know you were raised better.”

Andromeda remained where she was. She couldn’t tell what Bellatrix’s mood was, and she didn’t want to find out the hard way. Bellatrix had been temperamental as a girl, and her sudden mood swings had resulted in more than a few bruises, cuts, and broken bones over the years.

“I wasn’t feeling well earlier,” Andromeda said cautiously. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, I can only imagine how badly you've been feeling. What an ordeal you had to endure on that train! Poor baby." 

Andromeda didn’t move an inch, didn’t say a word. Bellatrix was leading up to something; she could hear it in the rising, brittle timbre of her voice.

“Rodolphus got quite a laugh out of the whole account. He says that his fool of a little brother deserves some rough handling every now and then. I’m so glad that he could find the humor in your little fiasco.”

Suddenly, Bellatrix’s wand was pressed into Andromeda’s throat, the nails of her fingers pinched tightly into her shoulder.

“But I don’t find the humor,” Bellatrix said through clenched teeth. “Was this your Christmas present to us? To draw shame on the House of Black?”

Andromeda wheezed in a raspy breath, but Bellatrix’s wand was doing a good job of prohibiting most of her access to air.

“It wasn’t my shame,” Andromeda managed. “Rabastan was the one who—“

Bellatrix stared dispassionately at Andromeda from under her drooping eyelids. She lowered her wand, and Andromeda reeled in a rasping gulp of air.

“You’re that naïve,” said Bellatrix, her blood red lips forming a slow smile of realization. “Poor ickle Andie. She still believes in true love.”

“I don’t believe in anything of the sor—“

Silencio!”

Something coiled at the top of Andromeda's throat—a physical, cottony presence that rendered her mute. She glared at Bellatrix. This was not the first time that her older sister had used spells against her, and she was sure that it would not be the last.

“This isn’t the reunion I wanted for us,” Bellatrix pouted, “but someone has got to talk some sense into you before Aunt Walburga gets you alone. Believe me, Andie sweet, she and Mum won’t be nearly so nice as I’m being. Better for you to accept it now.”

Bellatrix stepped closer, then patted Andromeda affectionately on the cheek. “I think you already know what it is you need to do to set things right.”

With a wave of her wand, she removed the silencing charm. Andromeda’s mouth felt dry and papery, and she swallowed several times before trying to speak again.

“If anyone s-s-should be setting things right, it’s him. He’s the one who—“

Bellatrix waved her hand as though already bored with Andromeda reply. To further prove her point, she released a long yawn.

“Oh dear. I see that Mum and Auntie are going to need to have the talk with you after all. What a shame. I was trying to spare you suffering. I really was. I see now that it can’t be helped.”

Andromeda could do nothing but stare as Bellatrix slunk gracefully out of the room, her posture flawless, her chin held high.

“Nightie night, darling,” she called back in a whisper. “Ever so glad to see you again.”


Chapter 12: No Place Like Home
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Author's Note: So, obviously someone spent more time writing over the weekend than she intended. I REGRET NOTHING.

A note about Cygnus Black's age: I hadn't realized before doing research on the subject that there is some contention regarding the birthdates of several Black family members. According to J.K. Rowling's original Black family tree, Cygnus was born in 1938, which would've made him thirteen at the time of Bellatrix's birth. Like, dude. Whoa. Some believe that this date was an error, and revised family trees have suggested a more palatable 1929 birthdate, which is what I've chosen to use for my story. Just in case mathematics is your thing or you've been closely following the Black lineage.

Ted has a notable absence in this chapter, but I promise he'll be back with bells and whistles on. Thank you so, so much for the ongoing encouragement!



“To what shall we compare the Muggle? Their species would be far better categorized amongst the apes or arachnids than amongst rational wizardkind. Extensive and conclusive research on the topic has led the foremost wizarding scholars to agree that Muggles are of base intelligence, given wholly to animalistic impulse. Their purpose on earth is no better than that of a bovine’s: to eat, to reproduce, and to die.”

-The Silent Scourge: On the Dangers and Depravity of Muggles and Muggleborns

Andromeda woke to harsh, pale sunlight. She had forgotten to draw her curtains the night before, too distracted by her chilling exchange with Bellatrix.

What had Bella meant? She’d spoken as though their mother and Aunt Walburga had some sort of dastardly plan in store for Andromeda. But why? Surely they weren’t going to punish her for breaking things off with a cad. Rabastan was the one who had behaved badly. So why did she get the distinct impression from everyone else in this family that she was the one at fault?

Andromeda threw off her thick, velvet duvet and immediately regretted the decision. Winter chill seized at her skin and leeched down into her bones, sending a shiver of cold through her body. Kreacher had failed to light her fireplace, and Andromeda had a sneaking suspicion that he had “forgotten” due to an express order.

The uncles and aunts were probably taking bets on whether Andromeda would starve or freeze first. She didn’t intend to do either. No, this morning Andromeda had given up her scheme of locking herself inside her room for the duration of the Christmas holiday. She knew she would have to face the relatives eventually, and besides, the scent of fresh bacon wafting under the crack of her door was too much for her already flimsy resolve. Better to get it over with now in return for a hot breakfast.

She hastily slipped into one of her more casual dresses, then invested the minimal amount of time and spellwork required to make her hair and face presentable. As she was primping, she noticed the embossed book she had brought up from downstairs the night before.

The Silent Scourge. It was a Black family staple, and she had spent some of her troubled night flipping through its contents. She had meant to remind herself why she believed what she did about Muggleborns, and therefore why it was so silly to be thinking about Ted Tonks the way she had the past few days. The only trouble was that none of the book’s passages even remotely resembled the person she knew Ted Tonks to be. She eyed it now with mild distaste, slammed shut its cover, and tossed it under her bed. Then she headed out.

When she arrived in the dining room, ready to play nice with the family, she was surprised to find only one figure at the table. He was reading a copy of The Daily Prophet, but he held the paper so low that Andromeda could still recognize his features. He was dark haired and dark eyed, and his face was an exemplar of the Black patrician beauty. He was quite young for a father of three grown daughters. Any stranger would not have guessed him over the age of forty-five, and they would be right. Cygnus and Druella had married young. It was commonplace in the House of Black.

Andromeda cleared her throat, and her father looked up from his paper.

“Dromeda,” he said in his deep, clear way.

“Father.”

She couldn’t read his expression. He didn’t look angry, but he didn’t look particularly pleased to see her, either. She steeled herself and drew nearer, sinking into a seat across from him at the table.

“You’ve risen with the sun, I see,” he said. “I asked Kreacher to fix me a plate before I left. I have business this morning, in the city.”

Oh. It made sense now, why the dining room was so deserted. Andromeda had not checked her bedroom clock, but she realized that it must have been very early, just past dawn, and that the rest of the family had not yet woken.

Anxiety gripped hard at Andromeda’s gut, and she forced out the words before she could lose the courage:

“Are you angry with me, Father?”

Cygnus Black raised his eyebrows just a fraction of an inch. “I find that anger is a most inefficient emotion. It upsets one’s digestion, circulation, and mental health—all to no productive end. So no, I have not indulged myself in anger against you, Dromeda.”

He folded his paper in a perfect half and set it aside, next to his plate of yet untouched bacon and pumpernickel toast.

“I do not bother myself with anger,” he continued, “because I have faith that you will make the right decision. Mistakes can be righted. You will right yours, and matters will carry on as they always have done.”

Andromeda gripped hard into the armrests of her mahogany chair. “What mistake am I expected to right?”

Cygnus’ eyes narrowed. “Your public altercation with Rabastan Lestrange, of course. That was poor judgment on your part, but what is past is past. You will send him an owl this afternoon explaining the error of your ways and begging for his forgiveness. If we act quickly, I believe a real crisis can be averted. Lestranges aren’t known for having nearly as much pride as we Blacks, and that boy knows that he’s incapable of making a match better than you.”

Andromeda stared at her father in mute horror. She had not experienced them for nearly a full month now, but perhaps her nightmares were back. If so, this was the worst of her dreams by far. Andromeda pinched her wrist hard under the table. Nothing. She was horrifically awake.

“Father—“ she began, her voice weak.

“I really must be going,” Cygnus said, rising to his feet. “I fear I’ve lost my appetite. Do ring for Kreacher to take my plate away.”

“But you told me I was different!”

Andromeda’s shout drowned against the thickly papered dining room walls. Cygnus turned heel to face her.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You told me,” said Andromeda, “that I wasn’t like Bella or Cissy. That I saw things, really saw them, and that I could make something of myself. So I have. I’ve made top marks. I’m at the head of my class. Talk to any of my professors; I’m their favorite. I could find a real career with my scores—an excellent career, one at the Ministry. Isn’t that what you wanted? Perhaps it’s different for the others, but I hardly see why I need to marry Lestrange in order to support myself. I did what you asked. I worked hard. Shouldn’t that make you proud?”

Andromeda had never once mentioned the conversation that she and her father had in his study when she was only nine, never let on how deeply his words had affected her. Now she had blurted it all out in the most mangled, unceremonious way imaginable.

“Dromeda,” Cygnus began, but he stopped short and fell into a long silence. At last, he spoke again. “Your efforts at Hogwarts have not gone unnoticed. You have made good use of your natural talents. But you mustn’t delude yourself into thinking that you are an exception to this family’s expectations. Your duty to us, first and foremost, is to marry well and to carry on the bloodline. It always has been. I trust you will act accordingly.”

He left before she could answer, closing the room’s double doors behind him with a heavy clank. Even if he had lingered, Andromeda wouldn’t have been able to form an intelligible reply. She felt as though she had been physically slapped across the face. Her breathing shallowed out.

He had been the one who understood her best.

No one else in this family had realized how much Andromeda’s studies meant to her, how deeply she wanted to make something of her mind and not just her womb. She thought that her father had supported her, had known what mattered most to her. But in one reply, he had dismissed all of those hopes. She could never have imagined such a horrific holiday as this.

And that was before her mother and Aunt Walburga got her alone.



“Occasionally, a Muggle will exhibit some weak and corrupted traits resembling, to the untrained eye, the behavior of a witch or wizard. These traits are, without question, only genetic flaws, and should be promptly trampled out. Should such mutations be allowed to flourish or, far worse, to procreate, an entirely new, corrupted breed of Muggle will soon mingle amongst our people, masquerading as witches and wizards when they are, in fact, abominations deserving of the strongest contempt.”

-The Silent Scourge: On the Dangers and Depravity of Muggles and Muggleborns


“Do you see how simple Walburga and I have made it? All it requires is a simple bit of copying in your own hand. Then we can send it out and put this misstep behind us.”

Andromeda sat trapped between Walburga and Druella Black on a particularly uncomfortable sofa in Aunt Walburga’s dressing room. Upon discovering that Andromeda had voluntarily left her room that morning, the women had swooped down on her like birds of prey and dragged her upstairs. Now Andromeda held in her hands a letter, written in her mother’s own precise penmanship.

Dearest Rabastan,

I cannot begin to express my deep regret over what passed between us yesterday afternoon. I behaved poorly, and it pains me to think of the shame I brought on both our families’ names by attempting to end our relationship in a public setting. I write to you with a distressed and remorseful heart, and I beg that you will forgive my hastily spoken words. Our love is not a bond to be so easily broken by one misunderstanding. Please, my love, forgive me. Please write that you will.

All my heart,
Andromeda


Despite the cold chill in her gut and the unshakeable feeling that she was still trapped inside a nightmare, Andromeda felt the urge to laugh out loud at the sheer imbecility of the letter. She felt the heavy weight of the older women’s gazes on her, awaiting a compliant response.

“For one thing,” Andromeda said crisply, “Rabastan would never believe that this letter was from me, even in my own handwriting. I’ve never seen so many silly embellishments since cousin Poppy’s debutante gown.”

“If that isn’t how you write,” sniffed Druella, “then it’s how you should write. A proper lady must be deferential.”

“For another thing,” said Andromeda, “I simply won’t write it.”

At that, Walburga made a high, particularly unpleasant sound of outrage.

“Do you hear the way she addresses you, Druella?” she cried, fixing an irate glare on her niece. “Such disrespect. Such willful disobedience. I warned you that you were too lenient raising your girls. Now see what has come of it? Of all the cheek!”

Druella turned a bright scarlet. “You’ve already made one colossal mistake,” she hissed at Andromeda. “Don’t you dare make it worse.”

“What mistake?” Andromeda shouted, rising to her feet and turning on her aunts with a vehement glare. “He’s the one in the wrong. Why can’t anyone concede that? He was cheating on me. If that is not grounds for ending a relationship, then what is?”

“Oh, don’t be so hopelessly naïve,” Walburga sneered. “Did you really expect for your future husband to be faithful?”

Andromeda stared at her aunt. “That—that is the very essence of marriage. That is why vows are exchanged, for fidelity.”

Walburga snorted. Then she burst into outright laughter. Druella had gone very pale; she looked at Andromeda with tired eyes.

“Honestly, child, you try my patience,” laughed Walburga. “Do you think my husband has been completely faithful? Do you think that I have been faithful to him? Or your own father! Do you think he’s only warmed your mother’s bed?”

“Walburga—“ Druella began in a taut, quiet voice.

“No, she’s old enough to hear it!” shouted Walburga before turning back on Andromeda with a dark, almost wild stare. “What a warped little idea of fidelity you have, child, to expect that your future husband will want your body, and yours only, for the rest of his life. Such an expectation isn’t even natural. What is natural, and what must be expected, is that you and your husband will remain married, that you will produce heirs, and that you will always, always protect each other’s honor.”

Andromeda was too horror-stricken to think properly. She sputtered out words, unable to control the direction they took.

“But—but how can there ever be honor if there isn’t—how can you say—but this isn’t my fault!”

She was sobbing now. Walburga looked on with a look of mild disgust, entirely unsympathetic.

“Copy the damn owl, Andromeda,” she said, holding out the fresh sheet of parchment and the self-inking quill that had been laid out before Andromeda on the table. “Copy it now.”

“No!” Andromeda said, backing away. “No, I won’t. I won’t apologize to him. I won’t grovel. I won’t beg him to take me back. Can’t you see how wrong that is? Why aren’t you taking my side?” Tears blinded Andromeda as she turned toward her mother. “Mummy, why aren’t you taking my side?”

“Walburga, I can’t—“

“Oh, shut up, Druella!” snapped Walburga. “It’s clear that you can’t maintain even a semblance of discipline. You’re far too soft with her, and that’s what caused this problem in the first place.”

Andromeda wiped furiously at her eyes. “What do you expect me to do? You want me to marry him? You want me to have his children while he takes mistresses to our bed? How can you want that for me, Mum? How can you?”

“You are the stupidest girl!” Walburga shouted, grabbing hold of Andromeda’s elbow. “Don’t you understand your situation? No other prospective suitor will want you after this. What man wants a wife he cannot control, who will slander him in public? More than that, you and Lestrange were as good as engaged, and there is no doubt you’ve slept together. You’re damaged goods.”

“But I haven’t—!”

Walburga’s nails pinched into Andromeda’s elbow so hard that she broke off in a cry of pain.

“You. Will. Marry. Him. You will copy that letter. You will beg for forgiveness. You will marry that man, and you will make it your highest priority to satisfy his needs. If you do a good job of it, perhaps he won’t find it so very necessary to take a mistress. Whatever the case, you will bear and raise his children, and you will be a good and obedient wife, and you will never again bring shame on this family’s name!”

Andromeda stared through her tears at her mother, who had remained so silent and still. She willed her to say anything, do anything.

“Mum, you can’t want this,” she whispered. “Why would you do this to me? Why?”

Druella did not meet her gaze. “We all have a duty to perform, Andromeda. This is yours. Do not disgrace me by refusing.”

Andromeda shook her head in slow, dizzying disbelief. She was immobile for only a moment more. Then the resolve shot through her. She shrugged violently out of her aunt’s grip.

“I won’t,” she said thickly. “You can’t make me.”

“Oh can’t I?” said Walburga, her smile eerily calm. Andromeda only realized what her aunt was doing a horrifying split second before it happened.

Imperio.”



“In the face of the ‘modern’ and increasingly popular idea that Muggleborns or Halfbloods deserve equal treatment or rights, a true wizard will do his part to fight valiantly, in word and deed, against the corruption of the magical world and will continue to maintain a pure, untarnished bloodline. True witches, too, are invaluable to the cause of bearing and training heirs to follow in the right and proper ways of magic. Witches and wizards who fail to comply with this mandate should be regarded as traitors and cast out to live as the base Muggles themselves.”

-The Silent Scourge: On the Dangers and Depravity of Muggles and Muggleborns


She woke in a pleasant haze. Slowly, Andromeda became aware of the oaky smell of firewood and of the warm duvet wrapped about her shoulders. She yawned and pushed herself up to rest against the thick, goose down pillows on the guest bed. She hadn’t slept so well or so sweetly in ages. She knew that she had woken from a wonderful dream, but the details now escaped her. She smiled lazily and rubbed at her eyes.

And then it all came back.

No. Merlin, no. Surely, it had just been one of her terrible dreams. Aunt Walburga could be harsh, demanding, and judgmental; she could even be cruel when she wanted, but she couldn’t have done what Andromeda distinctly remembered her doing.

She couldn’t have cast an unforgivable curse.

She couldn’t have cast it upon her own niece.

Andromeda looked down at her left elbow, the one that the Aunt Walburga from her memories had gripped so relentlessly. What she saw shot ice through her veins.

Five small, greenish-brown bruises marked her skin.

“No,” Andromeda whispered out loud. “She couldn’t have. Mum wouldn’t have let her.”

She scrambled out of bed and to the bedroom door. She turned the knob, but the door remained closed. It had been locked from the outside.

“No, no, no.”

Andromeda stumbled away from the door and to her bedside table. She wrenched open the top drawer, afraid that she would find it empty. But no, it was still there; they at least hadn’t confiscated her wand. She took it up with trembling fingers and turned back toward the door. She raised the wand, ready to cast an unlocking spell.

And then she stopped herself.

That was a bad plan. Even if she did make it out of her room, what did she intend to do? Was she going to stomp into Aunt Walburga’s room and demand that she recall the owl that she had forced Andromeda to write to Rabastan? Was she going to go plead with her mother, who clearly had done nothing to prevent her own daughter from enduring an illegal curse? Was she going to try to find comfort from her father, who thought that Andromeda’s marriage status was of more importance than her general wellbeing?

Andromeda dropped the wand. She sunk to the floor with a single, agonized sob. She had learned all about the Imperius curse in DADA—its effects, its origin, and the exact date that it had been ruled unforgiveable. What she had never learned was what to do when a trusted relative used it on you and then proceeded to lock you in your bedroom.

If only Narcissa were here. Andromeda should’ve begged harder for her little sister to come to Grimmauld Place. If Narcissa had been here, none of this would have happened. Mother had always liked Cissy best. Narcissa would never have blamed Andromeda for her fight with Rabastan; she would have stood up for her, would have suggested another solution.

But Narcissa wasn’t here. She was far away from London, safe at Malfoy Manor with her beloved fiancé, like a good daughter. And Lilith was up at Hogwarts with her dishy new boyfriend, Xavier. Neither of them knew what Andromeda was going through. Neither of them might ever find out.

There was only one clear thought in Andromeda’s mind, one that pierced through all of the confusing, terrifying mess of the past 48 hours: 

I have to get out.

Andromeda’s body began to move, though she had not willed it to. For one terrifying moment, she thought that she still might be under the curse, but she grew more reassured when she realized that she was packing her satchel with clothes and and with the remaining food that Sirius had brought her the night before. Surely Aunt Walburga wouldn’t be forcing Andromeda to run away from home; her muddled mind must have merely been suffering from the aftereffects of the curse itself.

I have to get out. The thought rattled in Andromeda’s mind, repeating itself over and over again. She had no plan, no set course of action, and that terrified her. She always had a plan. Now she just had an imperative.

Leave, leave, leave.

She tried the latch of her window. It opened unexpectedly, and a gust of bone-chilling wind shot through the room, sending Andromeda staggering back.

They had been so careless about locking her up. They had probably never considered that Andromeda would even think about leaving. She could just hear Aunt Walburga’s rationale in her mind:

“She’ll wake up and realize what a fool she’s been. Trust me, Druella, she will come out of that room of her own volition and thank us for showing her the error of her ways.”

That was just what Aunt Walburga would say, and everyone—her mother and father and Bellatrix included—would believe her.

How little they knew her.


Chapter 13: Refuge
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Author's Note: Second and final installement of WEEKEND MADNESS. Here is more Ted. Hug and enjoy. <3 Your reviews are sunshine on a cloudy day.



“Two scoops, or three?”

The vendor gave Andromeda a toothless smile, his brass shovel held high above the vat of steaming, sugary almonds.

“Just two, please,” she said, tucking her hands deep into her coat pockets.

She had forgotten gloves. Andromeda supposed that such a misfortune was bound to happen when you packed and ran away from home all in the course of five minutes. She was aware now that she really hadn’t been thinking clearly when she left; her mind had remained addled from Aunt Walburga’s curse for at least an hour after she'd woken.

By then, Andromeda had found herself in Diagon Alley, checked into a tiny, rented room in an inn situated above Obscurus Books. At least she’d had the presence of mind to not rent a room at the Leaky Cauldron. That would be the far more obvious choice, and once the family realized that she was gone and began looking for her, she was certain that they would eventually end up searching there. She had even had the presence of mind to tell the innkeeper that her name was Louisa Kirke. She just hadn’t had the presence of mind to pack gloves.

But gloves weren’t a necessity. She’d only had a total of three galleons, eight sickles in her change purse when she left Grimmauld Place. Andromeda had never been responsible for paying for anything in her life, excepting the occasional butterbeer or sack of candy from Hogsmeade. She hadn’t anticipated one night’s stay at an inn to cost almost all the money in her possession. Roasted almonds weren’t Andromeda’s top choice in cuisine this morning; they were just all that she could afford with the remaining sickles in her coat pocket.

The vendor finished shoveling the second scoopful of almonds into a thick paper bag, and he handed it over to Andromeda with a wink. She gave a stiff nod back and then quickly disappeared back into the crowded street.

Christmas was only two days away, and Diagon Alley was bustling with customers, all intent on buying last minute gifts. Andromeda was thankful for the chaos. It allowed her to slip through the crowd without quite so much paranoia as she would have felt were her face more readily visible and identifiable. It had almost been a full day since she had escaped her locked bedroom. They had to be looking for her by now. The sooner she could escape from a public street—no matter how crowded—and into her rented room, the better.

At least, that had been Andromeda’s mindset when she finally emerged from the crowd and onto the front doorstep of Obscurus Books. Then she had caught a glimpse of a vaguely familiar face behind the window display. She frowned, trying to place the burly, auburn-haired boy. A faint scar ran along his cheek.

She remembered. It was George Vanderpool, one of Hufflepuff’s beaters. He was the boy who had called her a Slytherin Princess several weeks back—the one who’d told Andromeda that Ted was in the hospital wing.

Ted.

A sudden memory burst into Andromeda’s mind, and with it came an irrepressible instinct. She hurried up the steps and, rather than carry on up the stairwell to the second-story inn, she went inside the bookshop itself.

George was still standing near the window display, squinting at a dusty, pocket-sized book. He was so intent on reading that he didn’t notice Andromeda’s approach until she took the book out of his hand, turned it over to look at its cover—Quidditch Through The Ages: A Condensation—and handed it back to him with an expectant look.

“What do you want?” said George. He looked irritated, but also a little scared.

“You know who I am, don’t you?”

“Sure. You’re Andromeda Black. We’ve talked bef—“

“I’m aware,” she interrupted. “Look, Ted lives in London, doesn’t he?”

Ted had told her once, at their fourth or fifth meeting, that he had moved to London from York when he was eight years old. Andromeda had never cared enough to ask where he lived currently, but that single piece of information now seemed like the most important fact in the wide world.

“Uh,” said George, “yeah? I was at his place yesterd—“

He broke off with a sudden look of suspicion.

“Wait. Why do you care?”

“Where in London?” Andromeda pressed. “Where does he live?”

George guffawed. “Merlin, you must think I’m dense. Why would I tell you where Ted Tonks lives?”

Andromeda crossed her arms. “Why wouldn’t you?”

“Are you serious? What would compel me to tell Andromeda Black the street address of a Muggleborn that she is widely known to loathe? I know your sort. You screw around with people like us for fun, think we’re punching bags for curses and hexes. Well, I’m not about to facilitate you and yours going all Dark Arts on Tonks’ ass. Why would I?”

Mere days ago, Andromeda would’ve had a vehement retort for George Vanderpool. She would’ve laughed in his face, would’ve defended the family name from any accusation or even hint that they dabbled in the Dark Arts. She would’ve done all of that, at least, before her own aunt had performed an unforgiveable on her. Now, she remained silent, blinking at George with a dead feeling in her chest. He was right, wasn’t he? He had every right to distrust Andromeda and her kind.

Unless.

Unless Andromeda said the one thing that it was unthinkable for her kind to say.

“Because he’s my friend.”

A blank stare.

“Uh. Come again?”

“Or at least, I’m his friend,” Andromeda mumbled, sinking her chin into her scarf. “I know you don’t have any reason to think so, but I actually care about Ted’s wellbeing. I would never want him to come to harm. I swear it.”

George looked at a loss for words. “Why exactly are you telling me this?”

“Because I need to talk to him,” Andromeda said, embarrassed by the desperate tone her voice had taken but in too deep to really care anymore. “Do you think that I’d be making a fool of myself in front of you if I wasn’t serious?”

George’s brow creased. “I dunno. You could just be a really good liar. Anyway, if you’re his friend, why don’t you know where he lives?”

Andromeda lowered her eyes. “Because I’m selfish, and I never ask Ted questions about himself.”

George smirked. “Now there’s the first thing you’ve said that I don’t doubt. All right, come on.”

“What?” Andromeda’s heart sped up in anticipation. “Really? You’ll take me there?”

George gave her an ugly look. “No, I’m not going to take you there. You could still be a complete psycho dead set on burning Tonks alive in his own bed. But I am going to do something really generous, so you should probably start thanking me now. Come on, we’re gonna go do some Muggle business.”



Andromeda stood on the busy street corner, watching George’s every move and casting furtive, cautious glances around. They were in Muggle London. Andromeda made it a point not to walk these streets. Now that she was seventeen and had earned her apparating license, she could apparate wherever she pleased, from one magical nook of London to the next. But now she stood helplessly by in a swarming Muggle crowd, her arms folded in a protective gesture. She felt vulnerable and overwhelmed, and she really wished that George would just hurry up whatever it was he was doing inside of that red box.

George had explained to Andromeda on their way out of Diagon Alley that he intended to ring Ted’s telephone and allow Andromeda to talk to him over the phone. If Ted really wanted to see her, George said, then Ted could give her his address himself. Andromeda was impatient with George, but she really couldn’t fault him. She supposed that, from his perspective, the plan made perfect sense.

The only hitch was that Andromeda had never used the Muggle contraption known as a telephone in her entire life. She had watched with guarded interested as George crammed himself into the phone booth, plunked some strange Muggle money into the machine, and placed the telephone to his ear. It seemed that one end was made for the ear, one for the mouth. That made sense, at least. If Muggles could do it, surely it couldn’t be that difficult.

She watched George with baited breath as he waited for someone to pick up the other line. Then he began to talk, and she tried desperately to lip-read through the glass door.

What if Ted didn’t want to talk to her? The thought hadn’t even occurred to Andromeda until now. But really, what possible motivation would Ted Tonks have to talk to her on the telephone? To invite her into his house? What had she been thinking? Had Aunt Walburga’s Imperius curse permanently damaged her brain? What would she even say to Ted, if he did speak to her?

Oh, I know I’ve been a complete bitch to you, but I’m all out of money and have run away from home, so would you mind putting me up in your Muggle house for a couple weeks?

This was bad. This was so very bad. This was all because she didn’t have a plan in place. Now she was just floundering about, confused and upset and making really stupid judgment calls.

George had turned his back to Andromeda. He had his hand cupped over the receiver as though he was engaged in an immensely private, serious conversation.

She should just walk away now. She should leave it be. Or she should open that telephone booth and tell George to forget about it, she hadn’t been thinking. Yes, she’d just open that door and—

The door swung open and George leaned out, motioning her forward with a crooked finger.

“Switch places,” he said, offering the phone to her. “Miracle of miracles, he actually wants to talk to you.”

Cautiously, Andromeda approached him. She took the phone, then skirted past George to slip inside the booth. He closed the door behind her and folded his arms, staring at her. He mouthed the words I’m watching you.

Creep.

Then Andromeda remembered that Ted was waiting on the other line. She held up the phone to her face, mimicking the posture that George had assumed earlier.

“Hello?” she said. “Hello?”

She heard nothing.

“Hello?” she said again, louder this time.

Then she heard it—very faint, but unmistakably a voice calling “hello” back.

She frowned. The voice wasn’t coming from the end of the phone she had pressed to her ear. It was coming from—

Oh. From the other end. Andromeda quickly spun the phone around to the proper position, but a quick glance outside at George’s laughing face told her that her mistake had not gone unnoticed. She gave George a dirty look and turned around so that her back was facing him. Two could play this game.

“Hello?” she tried again, and this time Ted’s voice came through, loud and clear.

“Dromeda?”

That word. That single word sent a shiver through Andromeda’s body and tightened her throat. She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the cold windowpane of the phone booth.

“Ted.”

“Are you okay? George said you were, um, acting really odd.”

Talking to a Hufflepuff of her own volition. Asking for the address of a Mudblood. Calling such said Mudblood her friend. Yes, yes that was extremely odd behavior for Andromeda Black.

“It's just that I—I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know why I’m talking to you, or why I spoke to George in the first place, or why I thought that any of this was a good idea. I’m just—I’m not in a very good place right now, and Narcissa and Lilith aren’t here, and even if I owled them, they would just tell me to go back home, or worse still they would tell Mum and Dad where I am. And it’s the most ridiculous thing on earth, but all I’ve been able to think about for the past few days is—I mean, I just kept thinking about you—isn’t that ridiculous?—and I thought—I thought—“

“Okay, don't hyperventilate. Just let me get this straight: did you just run away from home?”

Andromeda sniffed. “Well, that’s a very childish way of putting it, but yes. Yes, I suppose I did.”

“Bloody hell.”

“It isn’t funny!”

“I didn’t say it was funny.”

“But your voice was doing the thing. You know, that thing where it sounds like you’re laughing at me.”

“I’m not aware of the thing,” Ted said slowly, “but I promise I’m not laughing at you. Look, do you have any money? A place to stay?”

Andromeda stared nervously at the telephone. She tapped her finger against the metal change flap. “I have roasted almonds,” she whimpered.

Ted was silent on the other line for a long moment. “Do you want to stay with me, Dromeda?”

A shiver passed through her again. “I—I don’t really know.”

“I think,” said Ted, “that may be why you called. Unless you know of another reason?”

Andromeda closed her eyes. A single tear leaked out.

“No,” she said hoarsely. “I can’t think of one.”

“Could you put George back on?”

“What? W-w-why?”

“Because,” said Ted, “I need to ask him a really big favor.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“And Dromeda?”

She closed her eyes again. “Yes?”

“It’s all going to be okay. Promise.”

“You can’t promise that.”

She motioned for George through the glass.

He opened the door and, without bothering to switch out again with Andromeda, merely pulled the phone out by its cord. He cradled it against his ear as he finished lighting a cigarette already poised in his mouth.

“Yeah, mate? So, psycho? Should I drop—?”

He went silent. Then his eyes flitted up to Andromeda. His voice lowered.

“Are you high? You know who you just talked to, right? What? What?! Are you fucking kidding me, Tonks? You couldn’t pay me enough galleons to—wait, how much? Would I get that from you in writing?” He glanced up again at Andromeda, as though he were weighing a solemn decision. “Yeah, yeah, no, I hear you. I’ll take care of it. Sure. What? No. Why the fuck would I tell the mates about this? Makes you look like a deranged bleeding heart. Of course I won’t tell them. Uh huh. You too.”

He hung up the phone with a harsh clack. Then he took a long drag from his cigarette and shook his head at Andromeda.

“Looks like your sweet-talking paid off, princess,” he said. “Come on. You’ve got yourself a personal escort to Tonks’ place.”



The venture had required a trip back to Diagon Alley. Andromeda checked out with the innkeeper and gathered the few things that she had packed into her satchel the night before. Then she followed George back out, through the Leaky Cauldron and into Muggle London. It was only when George came to a stop in a deserted brick alcove that she began to get nervous.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Side-apparition?”

Andromeda balked. “No. No, you’re not. Neither one of us is qualified enough for that. I am not in the mood to get splinched today, on top of everything else. If you’d just give me the address, I could go myself—“

“No,” said George. “I don’t trust you with it.”

They proceeded to glare at each other. Then George sauntered to the edge of the sidewalk and hailed the Knight Bus.

Andromeda had never ridden on the Knight Bus before, and she had no intention of ever riding it again. The interior was abysmally ratty, and the patrons all looked most unsavory. There was a reason that people like the Blacks never used public transportation.

All the same, the bus took them where they needed to go, which was London’s East End. Andromeda stared out the window as they passed by dirtied storefronts and sooty brick facades. Spray-painted murals and bare-branched trees bordered less than pristine looking shops. This certainly wasn’t Grimmauld Place.

At last, the bus came to a grinding, balance-upsetting halt outside of a stretch of brick townhomes. There was nothing remarkable about the neighborhood. In fact, it struck Andromeda as particularly drab.

George motioned for her to follow him off of the bus. It was flurrying outside, and snow collected on Andromeda’s coat before warming and beading into drops of water. She pulled up the hood of her coat to shield her hair from the damage. Not that it would do much good; she was well aware that she looked exceedingly homely and sleep-deprived. Maybe once Ted got a good look at her, he would change her mind and send her away….

“It’s that one,” said George, motioning to a townhouse with a green door. “Ted told me to let you go alone, but I’ll be watching.”

Andromeda nodded. “Okay.”

George narrowed his eyes. “What, I don’t get a 'thank you'?”

“He’s paying you to help me, isn’t he?” said Andromeda, though it really wasn’t a question. She had heard George’s end of the conversation; she knew what Ted must have done to convince him. “Why should I thank a hired hand?”

George gaped at her. “Well, aren’t you a fucking piece of work? Ted was right; you really are a self-serving, arrogant little posh.”

A chill settled in Andromeda’s chest. She closed her eyes.

“He called me that?” she asked weakly.

“Yeah,” said George, “and he wasn’t far off the mark.”

“No.” Andromeda folded her arms and stared down at her boots. “He wasn’t.”

This was clearly not the response that George had been expecting. He took a step closer to Andromeda.

“Listen to me,” he said, voice flinty around the edges. “You curse him, mess with him, you do anything to get him hurt, and I will end you. Got it?”

She looked up in surprise. That hadn’t been the response she’d been expecting, either. It was a stupid threat for someone like George Vanderpool to make, since Andromeda was certain that she could take him out in a duel. All the same, it was clear that he meant what he’d threatened.

“Got it,” she muttered.

Then she left George behind and climbed the front porch to Ted’s house. The green paint on the front door was peeling, and the flower boxes were filled with dead, brown ivy. She steeled herself and rapped loudly on the door.

When it opened, she found herself looking up at a young, square-jawed man with golden hair and deep brown eyes. She stared. Then she stammered. He looked so much like Ted.

The man gave Andromeda a quick once-over and then leaned back to shout, “Oi, Ted! Strippogram for you!”

There was a loud clatter from somewhere upstairs, and then the rapid, thundering sound of footsteps taking the stairs three at a time. Ted appeared behind the taller version of himself, scarlet-faced and out of breath.

“I told you to let me get it, you prat,” said Ted, shoving at the other boy.

That must be his brother, Andromeda thought. I didn’t know he had a brother.

In fact, Andromeda realized with sudden mortification that she knew absolutely nothing about Ted’s family.

“Sorry about that,” Ted said. “Nelson enjoys being an asshole every so often.”

Nelson grinned at the accusation. He looked immensely proud of himself.

Andromeda nodded mutely, her eyes wide. Ted’s expression changed, and he reached out a hand, as though to steady Andromeda. Did she look faint? He must’ve really taken a good look at her by now and been horrified at what he saw. This was the moment of truth: whether or not Ted really wanted her in his house.

“You look freezing,” said Ted, motioning for her to come inside. “C’mon. I’ve put some cider on the stove.”

Relief poured over Andromeda like a bath of piping hot water. She managed a smile and followed Ted inside, glancing over her shoulder in time to see George Vanderpool edging away from the front steps.

The front door opened immediately into a small sitting room, outfitted with mismatched furniture. Andromeda followed Ted and Nelson deeper in, keeping her hands shoved in her coat pockets. It was barely warmer in here than it had been outdoors.

“I’m sorry to be a imposition,” Andromeda stammered. “I really haven’t been thinking properly, and I didn’t consider how inconvenient…I mean, are you sure your parents are all right with this?”

There was a taut silence after the question. Andromeda saw Ted and Nelson exchange a glance over her head.

“Dromeda,” Ted said slowly, “my parents are dead.”

Andromeda sunk down onto the couch. She could feel her cheeks burning. Ted’s parents were dead? How could she have not known that? She’d always just assumed that he had two normal, if poor and uncultured, Muggle parents. She’d never thought to ask if they were alive. She really didn’t know anything about his family.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Ted shrugged. “It’s okay. You didn’t know. Our Mum died having me. I never knew her. And Dad passed away three years ago. Accident at the factory. Luckily, Nelson was old enough then to take care of me. We’ve been living together ever since.”

Nelson smirked over at Ted. “I keep him in line,” he said. “Little freak.”

Ted smirked back. “Muggle.”

Andromeda shifted uncomfortably. This was clearly a normal exchange for the brothers, but she felt like she was witnessing something private and not meant for her.

“Do you have any other siblings, then?” Andromeda asked. “Anyone else who lives with you?”

“Just the two of us,” said Ted. “Cider, yeah?”

“I’ll get it,” said Nelson. He pointed at Ted. “You, entertain your guest or whatever.”

Nelson sauntered out of the sitting room and through a narrow doorway that Andromeda assumed led to the kitchen. Ted took a seat in an armchair across from her. Andromeda noticed that the upholstery had been ripped away on the left arm of the chair, and stuffing was spilling out. In place of a table, there was a stacked set of wooden pallets, covered in a thin film of dust. Boxes, knick-knacks, books, and papers were scattered about the room.

Ted followed Andromeda’s gaze, and a new shade of red bloomed in his cheeks.

“I’m sorry about the mess,” he said. “If I had known you were coming, I would’ve—I just mean, you know, two guys living alone, it’s bound to get a little—what I mean is that I’m absolute rot at cleaning spells, and I just don’t want you to think that—“

“I’ve been horrible to you,” Andromeda interrupted. ”Then I ask to stay over at your place because I’m out of my mind and have nowhere else to go, and you're apologizing to me that your house is messy?”

Ted folded his arms. “Yeah, well, if you put it that way, you kind of sound like a bitch.”

“I suppose so.”

Ted stared at her with wide eyes. “George was right. Something is wrong with you.”

At that, the tears started flowing freely.

“Whoa!” Ted stood up, panicked. “Whoa, I didn’t mean to—“

Andromeda just waved him away and rubbed under her eyes with the backs of her wrists. “I am so fucked, Ted,” she sobbed. “I am so monumentally fucked. And you are the only human being on the planet who I knew would just—just listen to me and be nice to me.”

“I’m not really that—“

She shook her head violently. “No! You are. Like that time at Hog’s Head Inn. I’d been so mean to you, and I puked on your supper. And you held my hair back in the toilet so I could puke some more. Not even Narcissa would’ve done that, and you barely knew me, and—and I’d called you really terrible things.”

Cautiously, Ted took a seat beside Andromeda. “I don’t take insults personally,” he said. “That’s all.”

“But they were personal!” Andromeda nearly shrieked. “I was awful!”

At that moment, Nelson walked into the room with two cups of hot cider in hand. He took one look at the tableau, set the cups down on the pallet-table, and backed off.

“Uh, I’ll just leave you two to it then,” he muttered before dashing up the stairs.

Andromeda was blubbering too hard to care. With one snotty sob, she buried her face into Ted’s shoulder. At first, he felt stiff underneath her. Then, slowly, his shoulder relaxed, and she felt strong, warm arms wrap around her back.

“Dromeda,” he said softly, “I think you need some rest.”

She sniffled. “Why? Because I wouldn’t normally say these things if I was in my right mind?”

“Well…yeah, actually.”

“I’m not crazy.”

“I know you’re not,” Ted said reassuringly. “But it sounds like you’re sleep deprived and that you’ve been through hell the past few days. I think the best thing you can do for yourself is rest.”

“Ted?”

“Yes?”

Andromeda pushed herself up so that she could actually get a good look at his eyes.

“I missed you,” she whispered. She let out a broken, snot-ridden laugh. “Isn’t that silly? It’s only been a few days since I saw you at Hogwarts, but I really missed you.”

Ted’s expression was unreadable, but his eyes seemed so much darker than Andromeda remembered them.

“I think,” he said, “that you really need to get to bed."


Chapter 14: Wensleydale Cheese
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Like the rest of the house, Ted’s room was small and cramped. A single bed was pressed against one wall, and a chest of drawers was wedged right beside it. There was little space for anything else. In fact, Andromeda was fairly certain that her walk-in closet at Onyx House was bigger than Ted’s bedroom.

Ted had showed her in with the same red-faced, abashed expression that he had worn when he'd apologized for the messiness of the sitting room. It was an expression Andromeda wasn’t used to seeing him wear; he seemed almost—nervous. Did she really make him feel that uncomfortable?

Ted had made up his bed using two thick quilts and a stiff pillow. He’d quickly explained the layout of the house: the top floor consisted of two bedrooms—his and his brother’s—and a bathroom. The lower floor was nothing more than the sitting room and the kitchen. Andromeda hadn’t realized that the house was that small.

Ted had given her a glass for water and a clean, poorly folded towel. He had then proceeded to ramble for about a minute. The gist of the ramble, it seemed, was that she should make herself at home and call him if she needed anything. Then, red-faced as ever, Ted had made a quick exit from the room.

Even though she had convinced herself that she wasn’t tired in the slightest, Andromeda had promptly fallen asleep.

When she woke, peach-colored rays of sun were pouring through the windowpane. Groggily, she pushed herself up out of her nest of quilts and looked around the room. Was it dusk already? She made a clumsy claw at Ted’s alarm clock.

Not dusk. Dawn. Her eyes widened. Ted, it would seem, had been right: she really had needed the rest. He and his brother must’ve thought that she was some sort of sloth, sleeping nearly a whole day away. She pushed back the quilts and immediately regretted her decision. Of course there wasn’t a fireplace in this closet of a room, but surely Muggles had some way of heating their houses better than this. She might as well have fallen into a snowdrift for the amount of chill settling in her bones.

Andromeda tugged out a dress from her satchel and set to work casting an unwrinkling spell on the outfit before turning the wand on herself. There wasn’t a mirror in Ted’s room to double-check her appearance, but Andromeda trusted that she looked presentable. At least seven years of routine beauty spellwork had lent her some finesse.

As Andromeda packed her things neatly back into her bag, she looked around Ted’s room. It was sparse, certainly, so far as furniture went, but the walls were decorated with the warm colors of a Hufflepuff banner, two posters of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, and tacked-up photographs of Ted with grinning friends. On the wall opposite his bed was a messy montage of Muggle rock band posters.

She studied them in quiet bemusement, mouthing the names of each one: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night.

Andromeda, of course, did not recognize a single name. Even if her mother had allowed her to listen to wizarding music, she wouldn’t have allowed Andromeda to tack posters on her wall. Mother. A pang stabbed through Andromeda’s chest, and she quickly thought of something else.

Food. That was a good topic. She was phenomenally hungry. She had eaten all of her paltry supply of roasted almonds. What was she supposed to do—poke her head out and call for Ted to come and wait on her like a common house elf? That wouldn’t do. There had to be food in the kitchen, surely, and Ted had told her to treat his house like her own. The trouble was that Andromeda didn't even frequent her own kitchen at Onyx House. She'd never had to trouble herself with cooking her own meals that’s what the house elves were for. But perhaps she could scavenge something that didn’t require preparation, like—an apple?

Andromeda opened her bedroom door and peered out. No one in the hallway. She crept down the stairs to the first floor. No one in the sitting room. She folded her arms against the draft leaking through the sooty windows and walked on, toward the kitchen. She had just set her hand on the swinging door when it swung out toward her, sending her reeling back with a surprised yelp.

Nelson stood on the other side. It looked like he was suppressing a snicker.

“G’morning, sunshine,” he said pleasantly.

Andromeda nodded mutely.

“I knew you’d have to emerge sooner or later,” he said, motioning her into the kitchen. “Girl’s gotta eat, right? Even if she is a witch.”

Andromeda said nothing in reply. She just followed Nelson into the kitchen and watched as he opened the icebox and pulled out a plate covered in wax paper.

“Ted left you something before he went out,” he said, eyeing the plate in distaste. “Who the fuck knows what. Apparently it’s my responsibility to feed his pets now.”

Andromeda tipped her chin up regally. “I am most certainly not his—“

But her words were drowned by Nelson’s chortling. He set the plate down at two-seater table, shaking his head in amusement.

“That was a joke,” he said. “Sorry. Ted always says my jokes aren’t in good taste.”

He smiled at her. She gave him a dirty look back. Then she remembered that this was Nelson’s house, too—and probably more so than Ted’s. It was in her best interest to be nice to him.

“Go on,” he said, motioning toward the chair closest to her. “Take a seat. Tuck in. What’ll you have to drink? Milk’s turned, but we’ve a bit of juice left. Orange, I think. That, or magnificently old pear juice...."

“Just water, please,” said Andromeda, trying to sound more polite than she’d looked just a moment before.

She took the chair Nelson had offered her. Then, carefully, she peeled off the wax paper from the cold plate to reveal a hardboiled egg and a wedge of cheese.

“Gave you the last of the Wensleydale,” Nelson observed. “Impressive. Must hold you in high esteem to forego that from his own dinner. He mentioned you might fancy some toast?”

Without waiting for Andromeda to respond, Nelson set to work fixing such said toast over the stovetop.

“I’ve already eaten,” said Nelson. “Bad timing. All the same, I’ll keep you company ‘til the work bell rings, as it were.”

Andromeda was still staring at her plate. “Do you have—cutlery?”

Nelson looked dumbly over at her. “Oh. Erm. Yeahhh?”

He tried at one of the kitchen drawers. Then another. And a third. At last, on the fourth try, his face lit up in satisfaction; he grabbed a fork and knife and slid them across the table to Andromeda. They were spotted with rust, but Andromeda tried to kindly ignore that fact and use them to the best of her ability.

Egg and cheese. It was an odd breakfast, but it was food, and she had begun to get the sneaking suspicion that it was the best that the Tonks brothers had to offer. She ate without complaint.

“Where is Ted, then?" she asked. "Christmas shopping?”

Nelson glanced over his shoulder from where he stood by the stove. He laughed a low, private sort of laugh.

“Not quite,” he said. “Night shift.”

Andromeda blinked. Had Nelson just spoken a foreign language? Did Muggle qualify as a foreign language?

Nelson caught on soon enough to the silence.

“Ted works,” he elaborated “during the holidays. Full-time in the summer, but he picks up some extra shifts around Christmas to help out. Bills get steeper this time of year. You don’t have to look so mournful, though. He’ll be back soon.”

Andromeda’s fork still hung halfway between her plate and her mouth. “He works?”

“Yeah, he works. At the spring factory five blocks down. It’s something of a family trade. The boss is a bit indebted to us after our father's accident, you know. Pays extra well these days.”

“Oh,” Andromeda said distantly. “Of course.”

Ted spent his summer holidays working in a spring factory? How many countless summer days had Andromeda complained of having nothing to do at Onyx House but read and sew and go on walks?

“Hope you like your toast on the toasty side.” Without warning Nelson flipped a piece of thoroughly burnt toast across the kitchen. It landed squarely on Andromeda’s plate, and Nelson let out a whoop of victory.

“Did you see that? Now you know where Ted gets his athletic coordination and prowess.”

He sent the second piece of toast flying. It had a less kind fate and landed on the floor, at Andromeda’s feet.

“Meh,” said Nelson, scooping it up. “Sorry.”

Then he bit down on the toast and munched happily away.

“Waste not, want not,” he said, taking the seat across from Andromeda.

She tried not to feel to ill. Muggles weren’t taught proper etiquette as she had been taught, she reminded herself.

“Dressed awful early for the party, aren’t we?” said Nelson, nodding at Andromeda’s dress.

“Oh!” she said, flustering. “Oh no, this isn’t for—“ she stopped short. “Beg your pardon, but party?”

“Ted didn’t tell you?" Nelson snorted. "Typical. Well, it's a get-together, more like. A few friends coming over, Christmas Eve tradition.”

“You’re holding a party here?”

The words were out before Andromeda realized how haughty they sounded. Nelson just smiled a little wider.

“Don’t ask me how we all fit. Every year, it’s a true Christmas miracle.”

A clock chimed from the sitting room in a thin, tinselly succession of seven clangs.

“That’s my cue,” said Nelson, leaping up from his chair. “Best be off. Well, make yourself at home and all that. What’s ours is yours, et cetera. See you for the party—uh, Anastasia?”

“Andromeda.”

“Right. You lot have the funniest names.”

With that, Nelson clambered out of the kitchen. A moment later, Andromeda heard the front door slam shut.

It had been, without a doubt, the most curious breakfast she had ever experienced. Then Nelson had just left her. Alone. Did he and Ted really trust her enough to leave her there, to her own devices? She could go snooping about, poking through their things and casting all sorts of dark magic this way and that! Not that she would, of course, but still—they had welcomed her into their home without the least bit of hesitation. Nelson had fixed her breakfast without once inquiring why she was imposing upon them. Even Ted hadn’t asked Andromeda for an explanation. She wondered if such guileless hospitability was true of all Muggles, or if it was peculiars to the Tonkses.

In any case, even if her toast was burnt, she did appreciate the gesture. Nelson, like Ted, had been kind to her. Just kind, no questions asked, despite the inconvenience she had caused.

She sat at the kitchen table for several minutes more, finishing her egg and cheese. The crusts of the toast were salvageable, and she discreetly tucked the rest of the blackened bread beneath an empty egg carton in the rubbish bin. Even as she did so, she felt a sting of guilt, remembering Nelson’s words: waste not, want not.

At Hogwarts, she had suspected that Ted was poor. His robes always looked threadbare and pre-used, his shoes outdated and scuffed. There were a dozen little tells about a person that clued you in immediately to their income and status; Andromeda’s mother had taught her that. A first impression of Ted Tonks left little to the imagination. Ill-bred and poor. Those were the words that had popped into Andromeda’s mind all those months ago, when Ted had spoken to her on the Hogwarts Express.

She had just never taken the time to imagine what poor really looked like. Poor was a single hardboiled egg for breakfast. Poor was a bedroom the size of a king-sized bed. It was drafty windows and chilly mornings. It was awful. How had Ted lived like this for seventeen years? Why would he ever want to come home for the holidays?

Because he loves his brother, whispered a gentle voice in Andromeda’s brain, just like you love Narcissa.

Narcissa. What must Narcissa think of her? Surely by now the family had sent word to her younger sister about Andromeda’s disappearance. She would be worried, and Andromeda hated herself for that. She’d never wanted to worry Narcissa or upset her perfect holiday with Lucius. But if Narcissa had seen how Aunt Walburga had behaved, surely she would understand why Andromeda had run away. Andromeda just needed a chance to explain herself, that was all.

Still, the anxiety that had plagued her yesterday plagued her still. If she sent an owl to Narcissa, then she had no doubt that her sister would track it and come find her—or worse yet, tell their parents where Andromeda was. She would only do it because she thought it was for the best, but she would do it all the same. And Andromeda didn’t want to be found. She couldn’t be found. Not yet, anyway, before she’d devised a plan to escape the horror she had left behind at Grimmauld Place. She just didn’t want to devise a plan now. It was too painful, too fresh a thing to think about. Even now, the prospect had Andromeda stooped over at the kitchen sink, heaving in dry sobs.

She couldn’t think about it now. She couldn’t think about the horrible look on Aunt Walburga’s face right before she cast the Imperius curse, couldn’t think of the way her mother had stood idly by. She couldn’t think of Bellatrix’s wand pressed against her neck, couldn’t think of her father’s unreasonable expectations.

Not now.

Instead, she made her way back up to Ted’s bedroom and tugged her seventh year Potions textbook from her satchel. She may have forgotten gloves in her haste to leave home, but she hadn’t forgotten the cause of her greatest scholastic anxiety. Of all her N.E.W.T. exams, Potions made her most nervous. Andromeda wasn’t weak in any of her subjects, really, but Potions was certainly the weakest of her strengths.

So she attempted to study. She did a poor job of it. Words blended and mushed in her mind, a meaningless jumble no matter how many times she read and reread the dense, tedious passages. Two hours in, she gave up completely and tossed the book to the floor.

She couldn’t concentrate. Every time she tried to focus on the most prosaic of sentences, her mind wrenched her far away from the topic at hand and flung her back into memories from the past two days.

Andromeda laced up her boots and bundled into her coat. She was cold enough as it was, so she reasoned that she might as well benefit from some fresh air. Also, considering she was in a particularly unsophisticated part of Muggle London, she felt far less paranoid than she had in Diagon Alley. Maybe all she needed was a good, long walk to clear her head.

She clattered down the rickety staircase and prepared to sink her hands deep into her pockets against the harsh winter wind. What she hadn’t prepared for when she opened the front door was for Ted to be on the other side of it.

“Merlin!” she yelped. “What, is it a family talent to—?”

She stopped short. Ted stood on the front stoop with a wet, sudsy sponge in his hand and a look of mild surprise on his face.

“What on earth are you doing?” Andromeda said. She stomped out onto the porch and grabbed the sponge from his hand. “Are you cleaning by hand? Yourfingers are liable to freeze off. Anyway, I told you that I don’t care about the cleanliness of—oh.”

During her tirade, she had turned around to face the front door.

Over the cheery green paint, a word was scrawled in bright, blood-red paint:

Mudblood.

“It’s nothing,” said Ted, grabbing the sponge back. “I told you, though, I’m rot at cleaning spells. Better at conjuring. So by hand is the preferable method.”

“Who did this?” she whispered.

Ted shrugged. “There’s no need to look so scandalized. Babbins does it every year. He lives in town. He and his mates think it’s hilarious.”

“Babbins,” said Andromeda. “Captain of Slytherin’s Quidditch team Babbins?”

“The very same,” said Ted, pulling the door closed and setting his sponge to the dripping words. He glanced back as he scrubbed, giving Andromeda a once-over. “Were you headed somewhere?”

Andromeda ignored the question. “He does this every year?”

“Bit of a sore loser,” said Ted. “I suppose he thought of it as a scare tactic the first year. Nowadays, it’s tradition. Just a bit of friendly rivalry, that’s all.”

“Friendly rivalry?” Andromeda pressed. “It’s vandalism. It’s unruly, unsophisticated behavior.”

Ted just scrubbed harder. “It’s Quidditch, Dromeda. We’re not exactly the height of sophistication. Anyway, I don’t know why you, of all people, sound offended. Isn’t this your term of endearment for me?”

Ted turned back around with an impish smile. “Well? Aren’t I your favorite Mudblood?”

“Stop that!”

Andromeda wrenched the sponge back from Ted and threw it down the front steps. For once, he looked genuinely startled.

“Don’t use that word,” she said, tugging her wand out from her dress pocket. “It sounds all wrong when you say it. Now step aside.”

Ted looked confused, but he took an obedient step away from the door. Andromeda glanced down one end of the street, then one down the other. Not a Muggle in sight. With a quick, harsh flick of her wand, she cast a bleaching spell on the door. Instantly, the ugly red epithet bled away. However, so did the green paint. Within ten seconds, the door had turned a pure, ashy white. Andromeda tipped her nose in satisfaction.

“Nelson isn’t going to like that,” muttered Ted. “He’s partial to green.”

“It think it’s an improvement,” said Andromeda.

She gave her handiwork one last lookover. Then she wrenched the door open. Once they were both back inside, without losing a beat, Andromeda grabbed Ted’s wet, cold hand—the one that had been holding the sponge—and cast a quick drying spell on it.

“Cleaning it off by hand,” she sniffed, “in this weather. Of all the stupid notions. Please don’t tell me that, too, has become a tradition.”

When Ted didn’t reply, she looked up and found him staring down at her with a strange expression. She realized that she was still holding his hand. Quickly, as though bitten, she let go.

“What?”

Ted said nothing. He scratched at the back of his messy hair, his eyes flitting past her to focus intently on the sitting room’s mantelpiece.

“Why’re you acting so strange?” she demanded.

“Am I acting strange?”

Andromeda narrowed her eyes. “Yes, you are. Ever since I arrived. You’ve been acting—different around me. It’s rude.”

Ted smirked. “You’re sounding more like your old self.”

Andromeda bit her lip. Why couldn’t she keep her mouth shut for once? She’d just done a marvelous job of insulting a boy who, without any good reason whatsoever, had let her sleep under his roof.

“I didn’t mean that,” she said, reddening.

Ted slumped onto the sitting room couch and began to untie his brown work boots. “I think you meant it more than anything you said yesterday.”

Andromeda crinkled her nose. What had she said yesterday? Oh. Oh, yes. The sobbing. The hysterical cries. She’d apologized to him, hadn’t she? And she had—Merlin, she had told him that she’d missed him. She went warm at the thought.

Cautiously, she took a seat on the opposite edge of the couch. “I was a little bit—distraught.”

Ted tugged off one boot and started on the next, his fingers working deftly at the laces. “Yeah. I noticed.”

“You know,” said Andromeda. “About everything that had happened?”

“I imagine so.”

She glared over at him in frustration. Was he purposefully being dense?

“Well?” she said impatiently. “Don’t you want to know why I ran away? You still haven’t asked me once why I’m here.”

Ted tugged off the other boot and sat upright. “It’s not really my business is it?” he said. “You don’t owe me an explanation.”

“Yes, I do!” she insisted. “I’m sleeping in your bed, for Merlin’s sake.”

Ted looked up sharply. “I’m very well aware of that fact.”

Andromeda didn’t know why, but she found herself blushing fiercely.

“Still,” said Ted, “it doesn’t mean you owe me anything.”

“W-w-well,” she stammered. “I want to tell you. I got some sleep, like you asked me to. Now I want to talk.”

“And you always get what you want, don’t you?”

“Not always.”

Silence filled the room, and Andromeda studied her knees. She could hear Ted’s breaths coming in and out. They weren’t even.

“I just need to tell someone,” she whispered. “Someone who will actually listen. I need someone to tell me that I’m not crazy.”

Ted hesitated. Then, slowly, he said, “Okay.”

Andromeda opened her mouth to speak, but before any words came out, Ted cut back in.

“If this is about Lestrange, I—I heard what happened.”

Andromeda’s skin prickled. “You did?”

“It was sort of all over the train,” he said lowly. “About him and Georgiana. About you breaking up with him.”

"Apparently," said Andromeda, "it’s common knowledge that all boyfriends cheat on their girlfriends. That they’re just sexual creatures with needs, you know? And if a girl wants to get married, she can’t be picky.”

She looked up. Ted’s eyes were burning, his jaw set. His hands were clenched into the couch upholstery.

“I think we both know that’s bullshit.”

“Is it?” Andromeda laughed weakly. “Not according to my family. I was the one who’d done something wrong. I was the one who’d brought shame on our name. My aunt performed an unforgiveable on me, Ted. They care more about my bloody marital status than they do about me.”

There. It was out. She had said the horrific truth out loud, to another person. She had practically condemned Aunt Walburga, her own flesh and blood, and she’d condemned him to a Muggleborn.

And she felt the most tremendous freedom.

The room had gone very still. Andromeda chanced another look up at Ted, but to her shock her was no longer sitting on the edge of the couch where he had been.

“Te—?”

She didn’t finish. She had been enveloped by warmth. It was all around her, seeping into her skin and through her hair and down to her toes. Ted was holding her. He was embracing her entirely, his arms wound around her back, his face lowered into the crook of her neck.

She said nothing. He said nothing. They stayed that way for a full thirty seconds at least, in pure silence. Then, Andromeda felt something hot and liquid trickle down her collarbone. She froze.

“Ted,” she whispered. “Are you—?”

She pushed out of their embrace and caught him by the chin, despite Ted’s efforts to turn his head away.

“Your hair got in my eyes,” he said hoarsely. “I must be allergic to your shampoo.”

Andromeda gave him an incredulous look.

Fine,” he said. “I’m upset. I’m bloody angry that your family can’t see how fucking incredible you are.”

Her eyes widened. “Ted, I’m not—“

“You’re not crazy,” he said, wiping roughly at his eyes. “They’re sadistic bullies. You’re independent, and you’re strong, and they hate that, because it means they can’t control you. That’s all it’s about, Dromeda: control. I think you know that. I think you’ve known that for a long time.”

Andromeda couldn’t think straight. She wasn’t even sure if her circulation was circulating properly. Had Ted really been crying? Crying about her?

“Ted—“

“You’re not wrong. You’re not insane. Don’t let them convince you otherwise. I know I’m not a reliable source when it comes to Lestrange, that I’m entirely biased, but—“

“Ted, just shut up for a minute!”

Ted shut up.

“What do you mean, you’re biased?”

Ted blinked once. His eyes had looked so dark a moment before. Now, as though by magic, that had lightened to an unimpressive brown.

“What? Nothing. I just meant Lestrange is a bastard, that’s all.”

“Oh.”

“Look, you don’t need me to tell you that you’re right,” he said. “That’s what’s so marvelous about you. You don’t need anyone else to coddle you or to pamper or reassure you. You just believe what you believe. You know that you’re right, even if you’re wrong.”

“Like you,” Andromeda said softly.

Ted stopped short. A look of confusion flitted across his face. “What?”

“Like you,” she said, more forcefully. “I thought I was right about you, but I’m beginning to think that….”

She trailed off, unsure of what conclusion she was trying to come to. Ted cleared his throat once. Then, he rose from the couch.

“I’m sorry I hugged you,” he muttered. “I didn’t mean to, you know, contaminate you or whatever. It just looked like you’d had plenty of good cries and absolutely no good hugs.”

Andromeda looked up in surprise. “You—I mean, I—“

"Have you even eaten? I told Nelson to leave you a note if he didn’t—“

“He took care of everything,” she said quickly. “Thank you for the, um, cheese.”

Ted nodded distractedly. “Oh! Shit. I completely forgot to tell you—“

“About tonight? Nelson let me know.”

“It’s just a few close friends,” he said. “But if you don’t—you know, feel comfortable….”

Ted motioned at Andromeda as though she knew what he was trying to say. She didn’t.

“You know,” he tried again. “I don’t know how you feel about being around Muggles. Like, whatever your code is? If it’s beneath your dignity, or—“

Andromeda’s eyes widened in realization. He thought that she considered herself too good for his guests. And was he wrong? His guests would be Muggles, and Andromeda had made it a point her entire life to never associate with Muggles. She’d never had a full conversation with one until this morning’s breakfast with Nelson.

I’ve already run away from home,
she thought bleakly. What’s breaking a few more rules?

“It’s fine,” she said. “Really. They’re your friends, so I’m sure they’re very nice.”

Ted didn’t look entirely convinced. “Well, uh, good. I mean, it’s not going to be an actual party. No fancy chandeliers or caviar or live harpists or whatever it is you’re used to, so apologies ahead of time.”

“Ted. It’s fine.”

“Right. Well, I should probably shower and try to get some shuteye beforehand, so I hope you don’t mind if I just….“

Ted had backed away toward the staircase as he spoke. Then, with a broken sentence and a smile that looked forced, he bounded up the stairs and out of sight, leaving a bewildered Andromeda behind.

What had just happened? She’d broken down and told Ted everything, and he’d hugged her, and then he’d apologized for it immediately afterward. Andromeda grimaced. Did he really think of himself as a contamination? Is that all he thought he was to her?

All Andromeda knew for certain was that she’d asked Ted to listen, and he had. She’d asked for reassurance that she wasn’t crazy, and he’d given it to her. More than given it to her, he’d called her incredible. So if the act of Muggleborn Ted Tonks enfolding her in a safe, warm embrace was an act of contamination, then it was the sweetest contamination that Andromeda Black had ever known.


Chapter 15: Christmas Party
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“You mean Ted hasn’t told you about the time he cut his own hair?”

“I think I’ve got a photograph of it somewhere….”

“Tufts, Andromeda. It was in tufts! And there was this one long, straggly bit of a rat’s tail that he missed in the back. Brennan and I convinced him to play beauty shop afterward, but he still looked terrible.”

Andromeda was surrounded by so much laughter that she couldn't help but giggle along. She sat across from three of the Tonks brothers’ Christmas Eve guests, each of them pink in the face from snickering too hard at embarrassing stories—most of which had been about Ted.

Roisin and Brennan were sisters, both somewhere in their mid-twenties. Brennan lived with her husband, William, the third guest present, in a townhouse down the street. Roisin was currently dating Nelson. All three guests were childhood friends of the Tonks brothers, and they were currently dredging out an impressive amount of dirt from the boys’ childhoods.

Nelson sauntered back into the sitting room from the kitchen, two mismatched mugs of punch in hand. He handed one to Roisin before placing an affectionate kiss on her head. She swatted him with a playful grin and motioned for him to take a seat by her feet.

“Just in time,” she said. “We’re doing impressive damage to Ted’s reputation.”

“Excellent!” said Nelson, crossing his legs with the enthusiasm of a toddler. “That means I get to tell the story about the paper clips.”

Andromeda’s eyes drifted from the present company to Ted, who was in the corner talking to an older, gray-bearded man. She had been introduced to him at the start of the get-together as Mr. Harris, a friend of the late Mr. Tonks. After his introduction, he’d pulled Ted aside to the corner of the sitting room and had been talking in hushed murmurs ever since. Not that Andromeda had been paying too much attention. The rest of the Christmas guests had kept her more than occupied.

Nelson had been right: it really was a small, informal get-together. Only four guests total, and the refreshments had consisted of punch, a small fig and chocolate cake, and a bowl of almonds. Brennan and William had brought with them a small, sickly evergreen tree that they seemed to think was a hilarious joke. They’d placed it in the center of the sitting room and announced that it was The Best Tonks Tree In the History of Tonks Trees!, which was met by a resounding cheer from Nelson, Ted, and Roisin.

Andromeda had watched all of this with reserved curiosity, hanging back by the fireplace. For the first time since she’d arrived, a fire was actually lit—though with only one log to feed it, Andromeda imagined that its life would be tragically short.

Then Roisin had spotted Andromeda, and it had all been over. Roisin was a tall, lithe girl with a smattering of freckles and blindingly red hair. She was also, Andromeda realized at once, a veritable force of nature. She had come sprinting toward Andromeda with a high-pitched squeal. As soon as she’d reached Andromeda, she’d grabbed her hands and swung them merrily as though the two of them were lifelong friends.

“Oh my god, you are a vision,” Roisin had cooed. “Ted tells me you’re his friend from school?”

Roisin had said “friend” more like it meant “steamy, forbidden lover.” Andromeda hadn’t known quite how to answer. Luckily, Roisin hadn’t seemed to require a response. She’d just dragged Andromeda down into an armchair, plunked herself on the couch opposite, and proceeded to gush for a minute straight about how gorgeous Andromeda’s dress was. Andromeda didn’t have the heart to tell the other girl that it was not, in fact, a party dress, but one of the oldest and most sensible dresses in her entire wardrobe, worn only on days when she wasn’t meeting anyone special.

Brennan and William had then joined Roisin on the couch and made a much calmer introduction of themselves. Brennan was Roisin’s older sister, but there the similarities ended. She was plump and dark-haired, and she spoke in a calm, alto register. She was, Andromeda learned, a nurse at a local hospital, and William—her curly-haired, bespectacled husband—worked as a librarian. They had been married only a month earlier and, according to Roisin, acted like sick lovebirds all the time. Brennan and William had been too busy whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears to notice Roisin perched on the arm of the couch, making faces at them.

Andromeda had felt a jab of pain at that. She was reminded, however unwillingly, of Narcissa and Lucius. She wondered how they were spending their Christmas Eve. She hoped that none of Narcissa’s time was wasted worrying about her.

“So then,” Nelson had been saying, “Ted comes downstairs and says, all serious-like, ‘Pop. I believe I’ve got ten paper clips in my nose that won’t seem to come out.’”

Roisin burst into a delighted round of snorts. “Ugh,” she said. “that kid. So calm under pressure.”

William’s eyes were watering from laughing so hard. He turned to Brennan with his finger on his nose, imitating Nelson’s rather gruesome account of a six-year-old Ted’s plight. Andromeda added a polite giggle or two. She didn’t see why Ted getting paper clips stuck in his nose was such an ordeal. It would have taken a simple spell to fix that problem, but Nelson was elaborating melodramatically on their trip to the Muggle hospital.

“I can’t leave you alone for a minute.”

Andromeda turned to see that Ted had finally emerged from the corner, a cautious smile notching up his lip as he interrupted Nelson’s story.

“Oh, it’s only good things, Teddy,” said Roisin. “Just about what an adorable little kid you were.” She turned to Andromeda with a wicked wink. “I’m sure he’s an adorable man, too, though I wouldn’t have firsthand experience of that like Andr—ow!”

Brennan had given her sister a firm kick in the shin. Then she cast Andromeda an apologetic look. Andromeda just kept her eyes fixed on her mug of punch, willing her face to cool back down again. Roisin really did need to learn not to talk so much. It was one thing for her to make her silly comments about Ted while he was absent, but now she was making things awkward.

Nelson looked around and frowned. “Did you frighten off Harris?”

“He had a train to catch,” said Ted. “Visiting his grandchildren in Richmond.”

“He’s the cutest old man,” sighed Roisin. “If I had a grandfather, I’d want him to look just like that.”

“Roisin,” said Brennan, “we do have a grandfather.”

Roisin made a face. “Yes, but he’s bald and smells like vodka and tuna.”

“Glad that isn’t a family trait,” said Nelson, tilting his head to up to kiss Roisin’s knee. She winked down at him and patted his messy blonde hair.

Andromeda couldn’t help but reflect that she was surrounded by some rather affectionate couples. Between the honeymooners and the gooey-eyed Roisin and Nelson, she had begun to feel like she might be trapped in one of Narcissa’s romance novels. She smiled over at Ted, and he smiled weakly back, shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “What can you do?”

Ted took a seat on the floor, beside his brother, and the six of them fell into conversation, punctuated by trips to the kitchen and shouts to look outside at a fresh snowfall and, as the night progressed, increasingly slurred anecdotes and overloud giggling due to the spiked punch.

At some point during the conversation, the focus turned to Andromeda.

“Are you in lots of classes with Ted, then?” asked Brennan.

“Yeah,” said William, “what’s Ted like up there? We were sad to lose him to that hoity-toity school, but a scholarship’s a scholarship.”

Andromeda cast a sidelong glance at the Tonks brothers. So that was the story they’d concocted for their Muggle friends: Ted was attending a boarding school on scholarship. She wondered what it must’ve been like to have friends you couldn’t tell the whole truth to, who couldn’t know about your magical abilities. Andromeda had never had a single friend who didn’t know about magic.

“Ted and I are in one class together,” said Andromeda. “We didn’t see much of each other until this year. We were in different houses, so—“

“Mm, yeah,” said Roisin. “Ted said they’ve got a weird way of splitting you guys up and stuff. Sounds complicated.”

“More than you know,” Andromeda murmured under her breath.

“So what’re you doing here, exactly?” asked Roisin. “You and Ted must be really good friends for you to be staying over for the holidays. None of his school friends have stayed here before. Usually he’s over in Kensington with that posh friend of his, George Vander-Something.”

“Vanderpool,” Ted corrected. “And Roisin, really, stop asking her so many questions.”

“What?” demanded Roisin. “I’m just curious!”

“It’s all right,” Andromeda said, waving off a clearly irritated Ted. “I don’t mind. I just needed some space from my family, that’s all, and Ted was kind enough to let me stay over.”

Roisin grimaced. “I’m sorry. I know how that goes. Mum and Dad split when Brennan and I were around your age. It was hell. I would’ve given anything to be out of the house during one of their rows.”

“Roisin,” Brennan chided in a low voice. “Honestly. I think you’ve had too much punch.”

Roisin just shrugged. “Enough about unpleasant stuff,” she said. “Let’s talk politics!”

It wasn’t until much later into the conversation, when the clock on the mantelpiece struck one in the morning, that Brennan roused herself from the couch, dragging William up with her.

“C’mon, love,” she said. “We’ve overstayed our welcome.”

Despite Nelson’s impassioned plea that they stay, the husband and wife tugged on their coats and scarves and made for the front door.

“You make a convincing case,” William said, clapping Nelson on the shoulder, “but you can’t argue us out of heading home. We live right next door, remember.”

“Pfrsh!” Nelson snorted. “Five doors down. You know what could happen in the course of five doors?! You could slip and break your neck! You could fall into a snow bank! No! Roisin, tell them—!”

Roisin just giggled and buttoned up her coat. “Sorry, love,” she said. “You and I both know that the beds are comfier at their place. I’ll see you tomorrow, hm?”

Then Roisin had turned to Andromeda and wrapped her in a sudden, unexpected hug.

“It was soooo nice meeting you,” she said in a warm, liquor-laced drawl.

Brennan and William, too, said their goodbyes to Andromeda, though not in quite so close a manner. Then they’d headed for the door, Nelson trailing them like a whining puppy.

Andromeda collected her empty punch mug from the makeshift coffee table and walked it back to the kitchen, where Ted had already set to work filling the sink with warm, sudsy water.

“Nelson finally lost the argument,” she informed him, placing her mug in the sink. “They’re leaving.”

“That’s a record,” said Ted. “It usually takes at least another hour until they even think about getting off the couch.”

He turned off the tap and hastily wiped his wet hands on his jeans. Then he and Andromeda both headed back toward the sitting room to make their last goodbyes. That was the intention, at least, until Roisin’s scream stopped them both dead in their tracks, under the kitchen doorway.

“Look who’s under the mistletoe!” Roisin cooed, pointing.

Andromeda’s stomach dropped. She looked up, though she already knew exactly what she would see: a sprig of fresh, red-ribboned mistletoe hung over the kitchen lintel.

Roisin giggled guiltily, thus solving the mystery of who was responsible for this sudden addition to the Christmas décor.

Nelson hooted. “Oi, bro. You gotta kiss her now.”

“It’s tradition!” chirped Brennan.

“I’m—I’m sure that’s not necessary,” mumbled Andromeda, her face burning.

“C’mon, mate,” said William. “Kiss her!”

“Look,” squealed Roisin. “They’re both blushing. It’s meant to beee!”

Andromeda finally worked up the courage to glance at Ted. It was tradition. Surely it wouldn’t be so bad. All it would take was just a quick peck, and then the others would stop badgering them to—

Her thoughts crashed to a halt. Ted’s gaze met hers, and the look in his eyes was unmistakable: it was pure horror.

Nelson gave another impatient yell. “Edward Tonks, I swear, if you don’t snog her right now—“

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

Everyone quieted immediately, startled into silence. Ted turned from Andromeda to face them, his jaw clenched. “All of you, just shut up. Don’t be so utterly ridiculous.”

He barreled across the sitting room, pushed roughly past the others, and threw open the front door. Without bothering to don coat or a scarf, he walked out into the night.

Andromeda wasn’t quite sure of what happened next. She only knew that Roisin was hugging her neck and Brennan, too, was at her side.

“I’m sorry,” Roisin snuffled. “That was cruel of me. I didn’t think it’d be so uncomfortable. I mean, I just assumed you two—”

“Come on, Roisin,” Brennan said in a low voice. “We should go. Everyone’s tired.”

Roisin nodded doggedly and followed Brennan to the door, where Nelson and William were doing a fine job of not making eye contact with anyone else. Quiet goodbyes were exchanged, and Nelson closed the door on the others with a soft click. Finally, he turned toward her.

“Don’t worry about him,” he said. “He’ll be back, the stupid prick.”

Andromeda nodded mutely and hugged her elbows closer to her chest. Now that the company was gone and the fire had burned out, a harsh chill had settled back into the house. She didn’t want to talk to Nelson. She just wanted to retreat to the bedroom and lock the door and wrap herself deep in quilts. And that’s precisely what Andromeda proceeded to do.



What had just happened down there? Everything had been fine. More than fine. Andromeda had met three exceptionally nice, friendly Muggles who weren’t anything like the bumbling Neanderthals she’d been taught to expect that all Muggles were. They had jobs. They had family they cared about, and lovers too. They lived normal lives. She’d spent a night laughing and drinking punch and eating cake; she had, however temporarily, forgotten about the greater troubles in life—namely that she’d estranged herself from her entire family and had nowhere to stay but the house of a no-name Muggleborn. She had been having a surprisingly, miraculously pleasant evening.

How had a little sprig of mistletoe turned everything sour?

There was a knock at her door. Andromeda started and gripped her quilt close to her body, staring wildly at her closed door.

Please don’t be Ted. Please don’t be Ted. But please—do.

“Andromeda?”

It was Nelson.

“Y-yes?” she said hoarsely.

“Just me,” came the voice from the other side of the door. “Turning in for the night. You, uh—you all right?”

Andromeda nodded, even though Nelson clearly couldn’t see her.

“Fine, thanks,” she called back.

Footsteps clomped away from her door and down the hallway.

What had Ted meant by treating her like that? Had he really been so repelled by the thought of kissing her that he’d considered it better to humiliate her in front of everyone else? Andromeda rubbed away a pool of tears collecting on her nose.

Why was she so upset? Clearly she hadn’t wanted to kiss Ted. The thought alone was so completely preposterous! To kiss a Muggleborn…. There were all sorts of rumors about what happened to good pureblooded girls who went kissing boys like Ted Tonks. You could contract a nasty case of spattergroit, you could go blind, your forehead could be branded overnight with the word Blood Traitor.

How can you believe that nonsense anymore?
hissed that incessant voice from the back of Andromeda's mind. You know those are all just a bunch of hateful lies meant to frighten little first-years from ever talking to a Muggleborn. Anyway, you’re not upset because he almost kissed you. You’re upset because he didn’t.

“So what if I am?” Andromeda mumbled out loud. “I saw the way he looked at me. He looked horrified, like—like he’d been asked to kiss a toad. He thought the whole idea was ridiculous. He said so.”

Fine, said the voice. Go ahead and feel sorry for yourself. Spend another night moping and deflecting instead of doing something. You’ve always been the girl with a plan, Andromeda. What’s your plan?

Andromeda clutched at her pillow. What sort of plan could she formulate now? Go back to Grimmauld Place? She didn’t even want to think about what sort of retribution awaited her there. She had a feeling that her parents were less worried about her than they were angry.

Over a few days, however, perhaps their anger would die down and they would be the ones to realize that they had erred. It was possible, wasn’t it? Because in the end, she simply had to reconcile with her family. Without them, she had no home, no name, no reputation, no inheritance. Why couldn’t she just have those things without being Rabastan Lestrange’s wife?

She thought back to that blank look on her mother’s face as Aunt Walburga had yelled at her. How could her parents let this happen to her? Why did they make her choose between freedom and comfort? Weren’t her parents supposed to provide her both?

Andromeda wasn’t sure how long she had been lost in her thoughts before she heard the front door creak open. She stiffened underneath the quilts, her ears straining to pick up more sounds.

The door closing.

The latch clicking shut.

Footsteps.

Then silence.

Her breath hitched. If she didn’t do it now, she would lose all nerve.

Andromeda pushed out of her haven of quilts. She grabbed her velvet jacket as a shield against the cold before padding down the hallway and downstairs to the sitting room.

There was no sign of Ted. Or at least, there was no immediate sign of Ted. But as Andromeda walked farther into the dimly lit room, she saw a dark outline stretched against the sofa.

He was sleeping on the couch. Why hadn’t Andromeda realized that before? Of course, where else could Ted possibly be sleeping? He’d given his own bed to her.

“Ted,” she whispered.

The figure on the couch stirred. Then Ted sat up completely, and the moonlit spilling through the window caught in his hair. She stared. Just over his right ear was a shock of silver-colored hair.

“What do you want?”

His voice was clipped and hard. Andromeda had never heard Ted speak that way before.

“What do you think I want?” she said, defensive. “I’d like an explanation for what happened earlier.”

Ted made a strange, gurgled noise that sounded something like a laugh.

“God, it really is only about you.”

Anger, red-hot and violent, flashed through Andromeda’s veins. She crossed over to the couch and reached for the first thing she could grip—which happened to be Ted’s shoulder.

“Why did you humiliate me like that?” she demanded.

She could see Ted’s eyes in the dim light, now that she had drawn closer. They were a strange shade—no longer brown, but a dull, grayish sort of color. Or maybe that was only a trick of the light….

“I thought,” he said, “that I was doing you a favor.”

She blinked uncomprehendingly. “What are you talking about?”

Ted shook her hand off of him. “Oh, come on, Dromeda. I know what you think of me. I’m a mutant. A fluke, right?”

Andromeda’s throat went papery. “I—I—”

“To you, I’m nothing short of a plague rat. I get it. Believe me, I didn’t know Roisin was going to try anything like that, or I would’ve stopped her. I was trying to spare you the horror of swapping spit with a filthy Mudblood, but now it looks like I can’t win for losing, because I’ve inadvertently—what was it? Humiliated you. Fuck’s sake, Dromeda, cut me some slack.”

She stared at him wordlessly. Ted’s eyes shone up at her, angry and wet and that strange hue of gray. He hadn’t been trying to hurt her. He’d been trying to save her from—contamination.

“I didn’t—“ she stammered. “I didn’t think about that.”

“Really.” Ted’s voice was flat. “I would’ve thought that was all you could think about.”

“Stop it!” she cried suddenly, her voice echoing against the bare walls of the room. “Stop talking like that. You don’t sound like yourself at all, and you’re making me feel terrible.”

“I’m only repeating your own words,” countered Ted. “What’s so terrible about that?”

“You’re making me sound like some vicious monster, and I’m not! You make it sound like I think you’re the scum of the earth, some sort of inhuman thing—and I don’t think that, either.”

“You still didn’t want to kiss me.”

“Perhaps I did!”

Thick silence seized the room. Ted was staring at Andromeda as though she were liable to burst into flames at any moment. And maybe she was; she felt like it.

“Perhaps I did,” Andromeda repeated in a threadbare whisper, backing away from the couch. “It doesn’t matter now. You ruined everything.”

“Dromeda.”

His voice was low. She couldn’t look at him when he said her name that way. She could barely stay upright. She took another step backward and tripped over a loose floorboard, stumbling back onto the makeshift coffee table.

“It doesn’t matter,” she whispered, but when she felt the heat of his hand on her arm, she didn’t shrink away.

She felt the graze of his thumb against her forearm, sending a thrill of goosebumps up her skin. Still, she didn’t move. She felt his fingers curl gently into the crook of her elbow, and her eyes fluttered shut. She didn’t move, didn’t dare.

Then, she felt his hand tugging her closer, gently, softly, so slowly, and this time she did move—toward him, toward the warmth of his touch, toward his staggered breaths.

“Please—“ Ted began, but then his voice tightened. His hand grew stiff and cold. His breaths stopped entirely.

Andromeda’s eyes shot back open in time to see Ted’s own go wide with panic. Then, slowly, he slumped away from her, back against the couch. His hand clutched at his side, his face went ashen, and he released a low, ragged whimper.

“Ted?” she whispered. “What’s wrong?”

He shook his head and tried to push away from the couch, onto his feet. His knees buckled, and Ted stumbled to the floor with a strangled cry.

Andromeda dropped to his side, her eyes searching his body for some sign of blood, of injury, anything at all. “Ted, what is it? Are you hurt?”

She placed her hand on his shoulder, then retracted it immediately. He was cold, but his shirt was drenched through with sweat. Andromeda’s heart rate picked up. Merlin, what was wrong with him? This wasn't a commonplace injury. She knew magic when she touched it.

“I can’t—can’t—“ Ted heaved in a phlegm-edged breath and shook his head. Then he tried again. “Cabinet. T-t-top drawer.”

His arm trembled violently, and Andromeda realized that he was pointing to something behind her—a small, pinewood cabinet.

“Top drawer,” she repeated, nodding.

Quickly, she got to her feet. She followed his orders and tugged open the top drawer of the cabinet. It stuck on its tracking, and she gave it another forceful tug. The drawer screeched open to reveal a small, pewter box. Frantically, Andromeda flipped open the box lid. She inhaled sharply.

Syringes. It was full of them—a dozen at least. They were short and narrow and filled with a glowing amber liquid. Instinct took over; Andromeda grabbed a single syringe and hurried back to Ted’s side.

“What do I do?” she asked, though she was terrified that she already knew the answer.

“H-h-here,” Ted stammered, clumsily pressing his hand slightly left of his sternum.

What?”

Ted couldn’t be asking her to stab a syringe into his heart.

“Ted,” she began, her voice wavering, “I c-c-c-can’t. I don’t think I can—“

Ted let out one shrill, agonized scream. He doubled over and clutched at Andromeda’s knee, his touch deathly cold.

“Oh god,” Andromeda cried. “Oh god, Ted, I’m sorry! Okay, just hang on—“

“What in the blazing daylights is going on down here?”

Harsh, fluorescent light flooded the room. Nelson stood on the steps, disheveled and groggy-eyed.

“I swear, if you two are in the throes of makeup sex, I’m gonna—“

Nelson’s words caught in a choked sound of realization. Suddenly, Andromeda felt rough, strong hands at her shoulders, pulling her away from Ted.

“What happened?” Nelson’s voice had changed in an instant from blithe to urgent. He noticed the syringe clutched in her hand. “Give me that. Then go upstairs.”

Andromeda released her hold on the syringe, but her eyes stayed fixed on Ted. He was so pale. His eyes had taken on an unnatural, silvery sheen, and sweat dripped from the messy fringe of his hair. He looked so vulnerable, so mortal.

“Andromeda!” Nelson shouted, startling her back to attention. “I said, get out of here. Now. You’ll only be a distraction to him.”

“But I can’t leave him like—“

“Dromeda,” Ted wheezed, and for just a moment, his glazed eyes met hers. “Please. Leave.”

Andromeda swallowed hard. “Fine,” she whispered.

She turned her head away just as she saw Nelson poise the syringe above Ted’s heart, and she hurried back up the stairs, but not in time to escaped Ted’s strangled screams. At the top step, she tripped, and pain sliced into the arch of her foot. She stumbled back to her feet, limped to her bedroom, and slammed the door shut against the terrible sounds from downstairs, but the thin and chinked door did little to drown them out. Andromeda slunk against the door, tears spilling down her cheeks.

“Just be okay,” she whispered out loud, not entirely sure of what she was saying. “Please, just be okay.”

She fumbled into the folds of her dress and removed her wand. She had been so utterly useless down there. She couldn’t think straight enough to even cast a soothing spell. Ted could be dying of some bizarre, horrific malady, and she hadn’t even had the courage to pierce a needle through his skin.

Carefully, she eased up the underside of her left foot and cast a hasty spell to remove the splinter lodged there. Her wand hand was shaking. She botched the spell. The splinter came out, but with it came a gush of blood. Andromeda cried out and hurriedly cast another stitching spell. She reversed most of the damage, but she was only crying harder. Perhaps that was because, for the first time in a very long time, she wasn’t thinking about herself.



Author's Note: Why, hello there! I feel a little obligated to check in at this point and say that I am working on the next chapter, so please don't kill me for that borderline sadistic cliffhanger I just threw you. :] I can't tell you guys how much I appreciate the ongoing reviews and encouragement and general wonderfulness on your part. It means so much to me! TEDROMEDA FOREVAH.


Chapter 16: Answers
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Andromeda woke in an icy chill. She had fallen asleep with her back to the bedroom door, her bare feet and arms exposed to brutal cold. At first, her fingers were too stiff to even curl into a fist. Her neck ached from having been propped so unnaturally against the hard wall. Morning sunlight tickled into her vision.

Then the memories rushed back in.

Ted.

She was racing down the stairs in an instant, though her stiff legs made clumsy work of it. She lost her balance on the second to last step and stumbled into the sitting room, promptly colliding with a floor lamp. She cursed under her breath and hobbled away from the sight of her collision, toward the sofa where she had last seen Ted.

“Steady on, Andromeda!” cried a bright voice. “Can’t have you turning invalid, too.”

Ted and Nelson were staring at her. Ted was propped against a pillow on the sofa. Nelson sat in the ratty armchair across from him. He’d pulled the chair close to Ted’s side, and from the state of his wrinkled clothes, Andromeda guessed that he’d spent some of the night sleeping there.

Nelson offered her a cautious smile to back up his greeting, but Andromeda’s gaze was fixed solely on Ted. He was all right. He just looked awful. His eyes were bloodshot and bleary, his skin unnaturally pale, his hair a complete disaster.

His hair. The silver above his ear was no longer just a streak. His hair, all of it, was completely silver. This wasn’t the silver of old age; it was an unnatural shade that bespoke magic and only magic.

Stop staring, hissed the voice in her mind. His hair could be any color under the sun, and it wouldn’t matter. What matters is that he’s alive.

“You’re alive,” Andromeda said idiotically.

Ted blinked back at her. The strange glaze she had seen in his eyes last night was gone. His irises had returned to their normal brown hue.

“Sorry about the scare,” Nelson piped in. “I thought you knew about Ted’s—um, condition.”

“No,” said Andromeda, voice threadbare. She hadn’t taken her eyes off of Ted. “No, I don’t know anything about it.”

“Hm.” Nelson swallowed and looked from Ted to Andromeda and back to Ted again. “Well, that makes things awkward.”

“Yes.”

Andromeda said nothing more. Her mind was still caught in a circular loop around the one thought: Ted is all right.

“Um. OH! Happy Christmas!” Nelson’s face brightened. “Did you see the snow outside? Still hasn’t stopped. At this rate, we’ll all be iced up to our necks. You’ll never be able to get back to your family.”

Andromeda attempted to smile. She was sure that Nelson was trying to make her feel better, however botched the execution.

“Happy Christmas,” she said. “Will you be spending the day with Roisin, then?”

Nelson cast a nervous glance between her and Ted again. “Uh,” he said. “Well, yes, that was the plan. Ted was invited to join, of course, but now—well, he really shouldn’t move.”

“I’m fine,” Ted muttered. “Really.”

“That’s not what Madame Bon Bon said!”

“Madame Bellevue.”

“Bellevue. Whatever.”

“Madame Bellevue?” Andromeda repeated, looking eagerly to Nelson. “What did she say?”

She could feel Ted shift his gaze to her, his eyes burning. She calmly ignored him. If Ted wasn’t going to speak to her, wasn’t going to offer so much as a peep about what had happened last night, then she would pry information out of Nelson instead.

“Ted shouldn’t stir for at least a day after one of his fits. She says it’s very bad for his nervous system. He’s supposed to stay put until all the side effects subside.” Nelson pointed accusatorily at Ted’s head of silver hair. “And that, mate, is a definite side effect that has not subsided. So is the fact that, oh!, you can’t walk.”

“I’ve had worse,” said Ted. “I’m fine, Nelson. You needn’t sit by my bedside like I’m dying of consumption.”

Nelson tsked. “Ungrateful wretch. You scared us shitless last night. I think I’ve a right to play Mother Hen.” He turned back to Andromeda. “Anyway, you and Ted were both invited to join us for Christmas festivities, only Roisin and the others can’t see Ted like this. They don’t know anything about the magic.”

Andromeda nodded. “Of course.”

Slowly, rational thought was leaking back into Andromeda’s mind. She spoke up again.

“You can still go to Roisin’s,” she said. “Why don’t you let me stay here with Ted?”

She felt Ted’s stare on her again, but still Andromeda didn’t meet it. She folded her arms with quiet resolve.

“Really?” Nelson said, hopeful. “That’d be brilliant. Roisin’s already pissed at me for working late the past week. It’d be nice if we could actually, you know, spend Christmas together.”

“Then it’s settled,” said Andromeda. “Please, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the least I can do to repay you two for putting me up.”

Ted cleared his throat. “Erm, I’m sitting right here. Don’t I get some say in my holiday plans? You’re both talking as though I were glued to this cushion.”

Nelson smirked. “You are. Possibly even literally. Oh, the things I could’ve done while you slumbered….”

He got to his feet and pinched Ted’s cheek. “Do whatever you want, Teddykins. But if you want Andromeda here to play nurse, you’ve got to teach her the rules. Capice?”

Nelson didn’t give his brother a chance to answer. He made for the stairs in long strides. “I’m going to get dapper. You two, sort it out.”

He left Ted and Andromeda alone in thick silence. At last, their eyes met. Ted spoke first.

“I’m sorry that I scared you,” he murmured. “If I did scare you.”

“Of course you scared me,” Andromeda said indignantly. “Merlin, Ted, I thought you were dying.”

She sunk into the armchair that Nelson had vacated. Ted looked so uncomfortable on the sofa. He was far too tall to sleep comfortably here, and his legs peeked out from under the quilt from the shins down, limp and motionless.

“I didn’t want to assume,” said Ted. “I dunno, I thought you might be happy." 

Andromeda balked. “Excuse me?”

Ted shrugged. “You said it would’ve been better if I’d never been born. It’s not like it would’ve been a huge loss to you. But in any event, I’m not dead, so it’s not worth talking about, is it?”

Andromeda stared in disbelief. But why are you surprised? You did tell him that, didn’t you? That he was a mutant, a fluke. That it would be better for him to never have been born. What else would Ted expect from you?

She sputtered out a few incoherent syllables, but Ted was already speaking again, in earnest.

“Really,” he said. “I'm sorry you had to see that. I never wanted you to—it’s nothing, really.”

“It’s nothing?” Andromeda shook her head. “It’s nothing? Ted, you were screaming in agony just a few hours ago. You couldn’t move, couldn’t speak properly. Your hair is the color of a sickle, and you can’t walk. It’s obviously something.”

Ted had begun to look increasingly ill at ease. “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“This is what landed you in the hospital wing,” she said. “It’s why you disappeared on Slughorn’s balcony. I asked for an answer once. I want you to actually give me one this time. Tell me what’s wrong.”

Ted shrugged. “Indigestion.”

A vicious glare burned from Andromeda’s eyes, and Ted immediately lost his smile.

“Did it ever occur to you,” he said, “that I don’t want to tell you? That it’s none of your business? You act like you’re entitled to some sort of explanation. You’re not. And you would be the worst person to tell.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Ted scoffed. He looked ready to give a quick rejoinder, but he stopped, considering something. He sighed and, wincing, he leaned forward to grab the edge of his quilt. He offered it to Andromeda.

“I know you like the cold,” he said, “but you're shivering.”

Andromeda shook her head stubbornly and pushed the quilt back into his keeping, just under the crook of his knee.

“Stop trying to change the subject,” she said. “Why would I be the worst person to tell about your—your condition? I thought we could tell each other things. You know, in the south wing tur—“

“Yeah, I know,” Ted broke in, his voice unnaturally harsh. “We could talk there. That doesn’t mean anything had changed for you, that you thought about me any differently. You already think I’m a freak. I know you do. So why would I tell you something that would just confirm all of your accusations? That I’m a mutant, all wrong inside?”

“I didn’t—I mean, I don’t—“

“You do. I’m not blind, Dromeda. I see the way you look at me.”

Andromeda sputtered. “How do I look at you?”

“Like I’m less than human.”

Andromeda remained quiet. She stared hard at the shivering hands in her lap. Less than human. Wasn’t that what she’d been taught to believe her whole life? She’d been so sure of how right she was before. Ted was ruining all of that.

“Though,” Ted went on, “when I put it like that, I suppose there’s nothing to lose by telling you the truth. It’s not like your opinion of me could sink any lower.”

Andromeda wanted to speak. She wanted to tell Ted that he was wrong, that she had changed, and that above all else, she was confused. But Ted seemed so close to giving her an explanation, and she didn’t want him to stop.

He didn’t stop.

“I’m the reason my mum died, you know,” he said softly, his eyes fixed on the dirty living room rug. “It was a complicated pregnancy. I was premature. And when I was I born? My hair was this color. This color, exactly. The doctors didn’t know what to make of it. They thought it was some sort of mutation.” Here, he smirked at Andromeda. “But then, a couple days later, it changed to jet black. And a few days after that, it seemed to settle on blond. Lucky me, eh?”

Andromeda remained silent.

“Of course, Dad had too much to deal with. He was grieving Mum’s death, he was working overtime at the factory to make ends meet, and all the while he had a four-year-old and an infant to take of. Sounds like the plot of a Dickens novel, doesn't it?”

Andromeda had no idea who “Dickens” was, but still she didn’t say a word.

“My gram came to live with us. She raised us, really. Meantime, my changing hair color wasn’t really a priority on the family’s to-do list. We were busy just trying to make rent. It scared me as a kid. I knew I was different from the start. Then the magic started happening when I was seven, eight. The happiest day of my life was when I got the letter from Hogwarts. It was like I suddenly wasn’t so different after all. I finally belonged somewhere.”

And then, thought Andromeda, you met people like me, who called you ‘mutant’ and ‘freak.’

“I just assumed that all witches and wizards dealt with changing hair color, different eye shades. It wasn’t until I arrived that Professor Whitman—you know, our first year DADA prof?—pulled me aside and explained what I was. He said that metamorphmagi were extremely rare, and that I was a particularly strange case. I couldn’t control the changes I went through. Normally, a metamorphmagus can change at will. He thought that I just didn’t rein in the energy soon enough as a kid. I’d never tried to, never known that I could. Perhaps it would be different if I were raised in a magical family. I don't know.”

“It wasn’t until I was at school that things got worse. Whenever I got emotional, I changed. Little things, like strands of hair, an extra freckle or two. Then I started getting symptoms—chest pains, paralysis. It was a pretty brutal second year. By then, Professor Whitman was gone, but Madame Bellevue was really helpful. Dad couldn’t afford to send me to St. Mungo’s, and of course no Muggle doctor could help me. Madame Bellevue understood that. Who knows how long she spent researching my condition. She had a cousin in Germany, a doctor, whose wife had a similar problem. He’d never discovered a purely magical cure, but he’d developed a sort of serum to keep the condition under control.”

The box of syringes. The glowing amber liquid. Andromeda understood now.

Ted shrugged. “At least now I can change at will, if I want. I taught myself how at Hogwarts. But there are other times I can’t control it—flare ups, I guess you’d call them. Like now. It’s no use willing my hair to be blond again. I’m too tired.“

“That night,” whispered Andromeda, “on Slughorn’s balcony?”

“It had something to do with this, yeah.”

“But you knew it was going to hurt. You knew there would be side effects. You were paralyzed afterward, Ted.”

He shrugged. “Madame Bellevue took care of me like she always does. Anyway, I told you it was worth it. So there you have it: confirmation that I am, in fact, a mutant. And yes, it would’ve been better if I’d never been born. Then Dad would’ve had a wife and Nelson would’ve had a mum, and neither of them would have had to put up with a freakish, magical kid like me.”

Andromeda stared at her knees, trying to make sense of things. She shivered, but she still didn’t claim Ted’s quilt.

“This isn’t me wallowing in self-pity,” Ted added. “Seriously. I’m used to it. It’s just the truth. You couldn’t have known when you said that stuff on the balcony, but it struck a nerve. I was afraid for a moment that you were some kind of clairvoyant. You’d seen straight through me.”

“I was just whining about my precious reputation,” whispered Andromeda. “I said all those horrible things to you, and you made yourself practically lame for me.”

“That sounds heroic,” said Ted. “You’re making me sound like a bloody Gryffindor.”

“It was heroic,” Andromeda said, a little more vehemently than she’d intended. “I just want to know how. You didn’t just get an extra freckle, you disappeared. How did you do that?”

“I told you,” Ted said, “I didn’t disappear. I was there with you the whole time.”

“So,” Andromeda said, thinking, “you changed. You changed into something invisible?”

Ted shook his head.

Fine. If he was going to be enigmatic, she would play his guessing game. She was going to win this time.

“Something small, then,” she said. “You changed into something so small that I couldn’t see you anymore. You were there, I just didn’t notice.”

Ted had stopped shaking his head. So she was right.

“An animal?” Andromeda whispered.

Ted nodded.

She swallowed. Then she did something that, a month ago, she would’ve considered outlandish, unthinkable, absolutely impossible. She leaned forward, her eyes never leaving his, and she placed her hand at the hem of Ted’s t-shirt. He started at her touch, surprised, but he didn’t stop her. Slowly, she tugged up the fabric until she saw the beginnings of the black ink tendrils. She raised the shirt higher, past his navel and up to his chest, where the profile of a small bird peaked out from just over his heart. Then her hand jerked away, as though she’d suddenly been burned.

“You’re the linnet,” she said, her voice embarrassingly unstable. “I’ve dreamt about you.”

“You’ve dreamt about me?” Despite everything, a smile was tugging at Ted’s lips.

“I mean,” Andromeda stammered, “I’ve had dreams with you in them. Nightmares, really.”

Ted’s eyes darkened. “Nightmares?”

“They weren’t nightmares because of you. In fact, you were usually the only nice thing about them. At least, the bird was. The linnet? That’s what you have tattooed there, on your heart, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. A linnet.”

“And its feathers were the color of….” Andromeda trailed off, shaking her head. “I don’t know why I didn’t see it earlier. I never would’ve thought that you would have anything to do with my dreams.”

“Fair enough. I wouldn’t think so, either.”

“So, what does that mean?” Andromeda pressed. “Does that make you an animagus, too? I thought it was nearly impossible to become one of those.”

Ted shrugged slightly. “It’s a lot easier for metamorphmagi to do. We’ve already got the—um, inclination, as it were. It was Prof Whitman who first suggested it to me. He thought that learning a new, fresh way to transform myself might help me hone the abilities I already had, just couldn’t control. And he was right. Partly, anyway.”

“But you still get—side effects.”

“Yeah,” said Ted. “I just never know how bad they’re going to be. Sometimes, it gets really bad. Sometimes I’ll have a fit, like last night.”

“Hence the supply of magical injections.”

“Yeah.”

Andromeda sighed. “Ted, you know how risky that is, don’t you? Transforming on a whim? What could happen to you, what happened last night, was—“ she shook her head “—Merlin, it was horrible.”

“I told you,” said Ted, “sometimes I can control it, sometimes I can’t. Sometimes the side effects are bad, sometimes they’re minimal. So it’s a risk. That doesn’t mean I should live my life in fear, that I shouldn’t take advantage of what I’ve got.”

Andromeda, however, was too busy thinking of something else to pay attention to Ted’s speech.

“You said there were triggers. You said that when you get emotional, things get worse?”

Ted frowned. “Sometimes.”

“So, last night. When you and I….”

How did she finish that? When you and I were quite possibly on the verge of making out? When you and I were turning into a pool of hormonal goo?

Luckily, she didn’t have to finish. Ted understood her meaning. She knew because he’d gone a weird pinkish color in the face, and she was fairly certain that the tint had nothing to do with the fact that he was a metamorphmagus.

“What?” he said. “No. No, of course that wasn’t it. When I stormed out of the house, I transformed. I spent a couple hours flying around the city. When I’m in my animagus form, things are—simpler. It's hard to explain, but I have less worries, less anxiety. I needed to clear my head. I just paid the price a little later. It wasn’t anything you did.”

“Okay, good,” Andromeda mumbled, feeling supremely awkward.

“Good gosh,” snorted Ted. “If I had a fit every time I wanted to—“

“What?”

Ted sniffed. A blank look crossed his face, as though he’d completely forgotten his train of thought. “Hm?”

“What—what were you going to say?”

“HAPPY CHRISTMAS, BABY.”

Nelson stood at the top of the stairs, beaming. He was wearing a blindingly colorful Christmas sweater, all golds and reds and greens. Andromeda had a feeling that Roisin probably loved the thing. Or had knitted it herself.

Nelson nodded at Ted, then at Andromeda. Then he squinted.

“Did I interrupt something?”

Andromeda shook her head.

Nelson looked between Ted and Andromeda. He squinted again.

“Uh huh,” was all he said. Then, turning to Ted, “My gift to you this year is keeping you alive. You’re welcome.”

Ted snorted.

Nelson turned to Andromeda with the air of an injured party. “Are you listening to this asshole? You witnessed my phenomenal paramedic skills last night. Shouldn’t he be grateful?”

“Yes,” said Andromeda, glancing at Ted. “Yes, he should.”

She couldn’t understand how Ted and Nelson could possibly be making light of the fact that, just a few hours ago, Ted’s life seemed to be hanging in the balance. They were acting like this happened all the time.

Maybe it does. Andromeda wondered who of Ted’s Hogwarts friends knew his secret, who gave him his shots back at school. George Vanderpool, perhaps? If so, no wonder he had been so extra-protective of Ted….

“Right-o,” Nelson said, clomping down the stairs. “So, what’s the situation? You two going to hole up here, or do I need to hire a nanny?”

“We’ll be fine,” Andromeda said firmly. “I’ll be sure he’s taken care of until he can walk again.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” Nelson sighed. “He gets moody after his fits. I don’t like leaving him alone when he’s like this.”

“I’m fine,” Ted muttered. “Give my best to the others, huh?”

“Sure.” Nelson headed to the door, a set of poorly wrapped presents tucked under his arm. “As you were, kiddoes.”

Then he was gone.

Andromeda folded her hands in her lap. Unfolded them. Exhaled. Her eyes flickered up to Ted’s.

“So,” she said.

“So.”

“Have you had breakfast?”

“Not yet.”

“Well,” said Andromeda, grasping at that vital piece of information. “Um. Um. Well, then I’ll whip something up, shall I?”

She rose to her feet. Ted laughed softly.

“What?” she demanded. “What’s funny?”

Ted shook his head. “Dromeda, have you ever ‘whipped something up’ in your entire life?”

Scarlet heat rose to Andromeda's cheeks. She glared down at him.

“I’m not helpless,” she spat. “I know how to do—things.”

“God, I know you’re not helpless,” Ted said. “I just mean, I wouldn’t think you’re accustomed to slaving away in the kitchen.”

Andromeda crossed her arms. She towed the threadbare living room rug.

“That’s something Vivi does. Our house elf? So no. I’m not exactly—accustomed to cooking. But I’m not stupid.”

“I didn’t say you were stupid,” Ted said placidly. “I’m well aware that you’re, like, ten times starter than I am. But I’m afraid that even if you were a master chef, you wouldn’t have much luck in our kitchen. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re a little low on groceries.”

Andromeda remembered. The single egg. The wedge of cheese that Ted had set aside just for her. Their kitchen really was bare.

“That’s—that’s all right,” she said. “What do you have?”

“Uh. Leftover cake from the party?”

Andromeda waited for Ted to list off other items. He didn’t. She breathed deeply and nodded.

“Very well,” she said. “Then we’ll have leftover cake from the party. And tea. You have tea, don’t you?”

Ted rolled his eyes. “Of course we have tea. We’re not that poor.”

“Right. Just wait here, then, okay?”

Andromeda strode swiftly out of the room and into the kitchen. She spied the plate of fig and chocolate cake, wrapped tightly in a dishtowel. She uncovered it and eyed the remaining slice warily. She took out a knife and carefully sliced a sliver of the cake off. This, she set on one small, chipped china plate. She placed the larger piece on another, mismatched plate. She found the teakettle resting on the stovetop, and she filled it to the top with water from the tap. Then she tugged out her wand and cast a levitating spell on the plates and the teakettle, sending them ahead of her into the sitting room. She eyed their trajectory from the kitchen, then whipped them to a gentle landing on the makeshift coffee table, in front of Ted.

She opened a cabinet. Bare. Then another. This one bare, too. A third. And here she found a small, dented cardboard box marked English Breakfast. She removed two tea bags. Then she scavenged out two mugs and traipsed back into the sitting room with her findings in hand.

“There!” she said triumphantly, setting the mugs down on the coffee table.

She slipped out her wand again and set a heating charm on the teakettle before turning her attention to the plates of cake. To her surprise, Ted had already taken a plate. And it wasn’t the right one.

“What are you doing?” she cried, grabbing the plate away from him.

Ted stared at her, mid-chew. “Ummm.”

She stared disapprovingly down at the half-eaten sliver of cake. She set it in her lap, picked up the plate with the decent slice of cake, and shoved it at Ted.

“This one, you idiot,” she said. “You’re the one who’s sick.”

Ted stared at the cake. Then at Andromeda. “I’m not technically si—“

“Merlin, just shut up and eat the cake!” Andromeda said with surprising ferocity. She winced, her stomach turning. For a moment, she’d sounded just like Bellatrix.

Ted, chastised into submission, said nothing in reply and proceeded to nibble off a piece of the cold, somewhat hard cake in silence.

The teakettle whistled. Andromeda turned her attention to the teacups.

“I don’t suppose you have any cream?” she asked. “Or sugar?”

Ted shook his head. “Sorry.”

Andromeda refrained from making a face. What was the point of taking tea without cream and sugar? She should’ve thought of that before. But it was too late now. The water had boiled and was in need of pouring. She finished the task. Then she set her steaming mug aside. Perhaps Ted wouldn’t notice if she didn’t drink any.

“You don’t have to do this, you know.”

Andromeda glanced up. Ted was looking at her strangely, the same strange way she’d caught him looking at her the past few days.

She shook her head. “I want to. I meant what I said to Nelson: this can be my way of paying you back. For letting me stay.”

“Oh.” The look in Ted’s eyes faded. “Right. So this is your equivalent of paying rent. It’s, what, a business transaction?"

“What? Wha—no!” The plate on her lap wobbled, and Andromeda hastily set it aside on the table. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. I want to do it because you’re hurt and because I—I care that you’re hurt.”

He frowned silently at her. Andromeda felt a tight, desperate feeling winding in her gut. She rambled on.

“And I feel awful. I feel so absolutely guilty about all those things I said to you. The way I treated you. Those things that I said were so messed up, and you’re right: I did think of you as less than human. I was so cruel to you.”

Ted’s frown had only deepened. “So, you’re doing it because you feel…guilty?”

Andromeda gave an irritated groan. “No. I mean, yes, perhaps a little, but I also—“ she shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Last night, I was so completely useless to you. I couldn’t even give you your medicine. I just fell apart. And you could have died.”

“That’s pure conjecture,” said Ted. “It’s never happened before.”

Andromeda shot him a burning glare. “Dammit, Tonks! You’re impossible.”

She got to her feet, arms crossed, hands shaking. She paced away from the sofa to the fireplace and glared at the dead, black embers.

“Last night,” she whispered, unsure of where her words were leading her. “Last night was—the things I said, they were—“

“Yeah, I know.”

Andromeda whipped around to face Ted. He looked so small from where he sat, propped up on the sofa.

“You—you do?” she stammered.

“You were tired,” said Ted. “We were both exhausted. We weren’t thinking properly. We said stupid things. I know. It’s fine. Just forget it, okay?”

Andromeda opened her mouth. She squeezed her hands into fists. Then she relaxed them. Closed her mouth. Searched for something to say. But she didn’t get the chance.

There was a sharp cracking sound, just feet away from her.

George Vanderpool stood in the middle of the living room, freshly apparated.

He stared at Andromeda, big-eyed. Then he turned around. Ted looked genuinely terrified.

“George,” he  said, “listen, mate, I—“

“No, YOU listen, mate.” George stalked across the room, closing in on Ted. “What the fuckity fuck is this?”

George hurled a folded piece of parchment into Ted’s lap. Then he went right on yelling.

“You know for a fact that you are the only good thing that happens to me all holiday. The only thing that makes things even semi-endurable. And you can’t come tonight because you’re—what was it?—indisposed?”

Ted motioned down the length of his quilt-covered body. “I am indisposed. I had another—“

“WHY?”

“Look, sometimes it’s just—“

“YOU DID IT AGAIN.”

“So what? It’s my choice!”

“You are so selfish,” George growled. “You are so unbelievably selfish, you know that?”

“I wasn’t planning on having a f—“

“YOU TRANSFORMED,” shouted George. “That’s generally what happens when you transform.”

“Not always.”

“Oh my god.” George put his hands to his face. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you right now.”

Suddenly, George’s back tensed, and he turned back toward Andromeda, flinging out an accusatory finger.

“YOU. You’re behind this, aren’t you? Have you been messing with him? What did you say to him?”

Andromeda stared mutely at George. She had been watching his conversation with Ted so anxiously, so intently, that she couldn’t even comprehend what he was asking her.

“Leave her alone, George,” said Ted. “She has nothing to do with it.”

“Uh, she has something to do with it, clearly,” said George, casting Andromeda a nasty look. “She’s here. With you. In your house. You’re spending your Christmas with her? And you send me a stupid owl saying that you’re indisposed? Since when did I become chopped liver?”

“I don’t understand.” At last, Andromeda found her voice. She drew nearer to the boys, hugging her shoulders to her chest. “What’s this all about?”

George said nothing. He merely glared out the window, tapping his foot.

Ted sighed. “I usually go over to George’s Christmas night,” he said. “Stay at his place for a few days while his relatives are in town. I owled this morning that I couldn’t make it. You know, considering that I'm paralyzed from the waist down.”

“That’s your own damn fault, isn’t it?” said George. “I seriously can’t believe you did this. You promised. You swore a fucking blood oath to me that you wouldn’t.”

“It wasn't a blood oath,” Ted said, rubbing tiredly at his eyes.

“Good as,” said George. “Well, tough luck, sweetcakes. You made me a promise, and now you’re gonna follow through.”

Slowly, Ted lowered his hand from his eyes. He looked at George warily.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” said George, “that I am dragging you to my place whether you like it or not."



Author's Note: Oh HI there. Things are getting tense, guys. TENSE. I hope this chapter wasn't too much of a flurry of crazy. Looking back over the chapter now, there are a lot of caps and yelling and feels. Mehhh. In any event, thanks ever so much for reading, and thanks a BUNCH to everyone who has left such lovely reviews this past week. They make me happy and motivated and lots of good things. Until next chapter! 


Chapter 17: Mistake
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“You shouldn’t have moved him. Nelson said that Madame Bellevue—“

“Honestly, princess, could you just stop talking for a half second? God, you’re, like, The Thing That Wouldn’t Shut Up.”

Andromeda glared indignantly at George Vanderpool. How on earth could someone as kind and good as Ted Tonks be friends with an uncouth, blabbering asshole?

More importantly, how could that uncouth, blabbering asshole be as unthinkably wealthy as George Vanderpool? Because he was, without a doubt, wealthy. Andromeda had been born and bred into privilege. She could smell money from miles away.

George Vanderpool’s house reeked of it.

His bedroom was on the third floor of a five-story townhouse in West Kensington—a pristine, white-columned beauty with perfectly manicured shrubberies and a freshly-polished house number. George’s bedroom may have been an unkempt disaster of discarded comic books, band posters, crumb-filled plates, and dirty clothes, but underneath the rubbish Andromeda could still tell. She noticed the expensive crown moldings, the mahogany doors, the polished silver grating around a marble fireplace. A chandelier hung over his bed, more majecstic than the chandelier that graced the dining room of Onyx House.

George Vanderpool wasn’t just rich; Andromeda had begun to suspect that he might be richer than she was.

But of course, she would never have heard the Vanderpool surname so much as whispered in her social circles. George's father was a halfblood, his mother a Muggle, and no amount of wealth could make up for that.

Andromeda watched as George propped Ted up against his bed. She had to give George credit that, unlike she'd anticipated, he was actually very capable of side-apparition. He hadn’t splinched so much as a fingernail off of her or Ted on the way to his house. She was, she supposed, willing to concede that George wasn’t as untalented of a wizard as she’d initially thought.

Still, it didn’t mean that she was happy with him for apparating a bedridden Ted.

“Ted?” she whispered, kneeling at the bedside. “How are you feeling?”

George shot her a strange look. She ignored it.

Ted blinked blearily up at her, then at George. The effort of apparating had clearly taken a toll on him. He seemed to be fighting hard against the enticing pull of sleep.

“You two have to play nice,” he said hoarsely. “I don’t want to wake up and find one of you dead.”

His eyes fluttered shut. George gave an exasperated sigh.

“It’s his own fucking fault,” he muttered. “He can be such an idiot. Come on, let’s give him some space.”

Andromeda rose from the bedside, turning on George with a vicious glare. She said nothing until they were in a tall-ceilinged, wood-paneled hallway and George had shut the bedroom door behind them.

“What kind of friend are you?” she hissed. “I still can’t believe you just whipped him out of his own house like that. He was recovering.”

“He’s fine,” said George, pushing past Andromeda and heading down the hallway. “He’s dealt with worse shit than this. And he made me a promise. Also, I don’t think you have the right to be making judgment calls about my friendship with Ted. You’ve known him, like, what, a month? You should be thanking me that I even let you come along, princess.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“What?” George stopped, turned around. “Princess?”

Andromeda glared. Seriously, how could Ted stand this guy?

The hallway had widened up into the massive landing of a spiral staircase. Just ahead was a balcony that looked down three stories into the atrium below. Begrudgingly, Andromeda had to admit to herself that it was a beautifully constructed house. She was still having a hard time believing that George—sloppily dressed and nose-pieced and lacking in all social graces—belonged in it.

“He hasn’t been eating well, has he?” George asked, starting down the stairs.

Quickly, Andromeda followed. “Well, no. He and his brother don’t seem to have much food around. Is that normal?”

George nodded, his eyes dimming. “He’s so damn stubborn. He would literally starve before asking for a little help." 

In that moment, something struck Andromeda. George looked—upset. Concerned. She wondered for the first time if his little apparition stunt was as selfish as he’d made it out to be.

“But he’ll eat well while he’s staying with you, won't he?” she guessed.

George stopped, mid-step down the stairs. He turned slowly toward Andromeda.

“Yeah,” he said. “He’ll recover quicker, too. He knows that, the little twerp. He's just so damn stubborn. If you’ve got loaded friends, you should juice them for what they're worth, right? Of course, he wouldn’t be Ted if he did.”

George started back down the stairs, and Andromeda was fairly certain that she heard him mutter the words "so damn stubborn" again.

“Where are we going?” she called after him.

George didn’t answer. He just kept shuffling down the winding staircase, and Andromeda had no choice but to follow.

The atrium of the house was a towering, circular room of finely wallpapered walls and checkered marble floors. Expensive vases hosted even more expensive, exotic plants. Under normal circumstances, Andromeda was at ease around luxury. Here, however, she felt in danger of knocking over something valuable if she breathed just a little too hard.

She and George had just passed out of the atrium and into another hallway when a woman's voice stopped them in their tracks.

“George, darling! You had me so worried. The snow is picking up out there, and you left without so much as a—"

The voice stopped short as Andromeda turned toward it. A woman stood at a doorway in the hallway. She was tall and tan, and she wore a long, silk dressing gown. In one hand, she held a dangling cigarette. Her hair was done up in curlers and a paisley scarf, and she clearly was not wearing a dab of makeup. Even so, she was absolutely stunning.

“Hullo, Mum.” George sounded exceedingly bored.

Mrs. Vanderpool, however, was no longer paying attention to her son. Her eyes had fixed on Andromeda, and they now bulged in surprise.

“George, who is this?” she demanded. “Is this your new girlfriend? Oh, she’s adorable.”

Andromeda stared blankly at Mrs. Vanderpool.

“I’m not—“ she stammered. “I’m not his—"

George cut in. “She’s one of Ted’s friends, Mum.”

Mrs. Vanderpool’s eyes bulged even wider. “EDWARD IS HERE?”

“Yeah, but he’s sleeping,” George said. “He’s not feeling all that peachy. You know, the condition.”

“Oh, that poor, precious child.” Mrs. Vanderpool looked close to weeping. “So then, this is Edward Tonks’ girl?"

Andromeda cheeks were scalding. “I—"

Suddenly, she found herself wrapped in Mrs. Vanderpool’s tight, silken embrace. “Don’t ever let that boy go. He is a treasure. I love him to pieces.”

Andromeda gasped for air as Mrs. Vanderpool released her and turned her attention back to her son.

“But Georgie, darling, I thought you said Edward wasn’t going to make it?”

“Yeah,” said George. “Well, I got him to change his mind.”

“Excellent,” said Mrs. Vanderpool, clapping her hands. “Yes, excellent. I’ll get Florrie to cook up something delicious for him. Have it delivered straight to bed. Oh, and how about you, dear? How do you feel about duck?”

It took Andromeda startled moment to realize that Mrs. Vanderpool was talking to her again.

“Oh! Um, yes?”

“Marvelous. George, I can’t say how happy you’ve made me. What a Christmas treat!” Mrs. Vanderpool turned confidentially to Andromeda. “Edward is my favorite. My absolute favorite. Such a doll. Face worthy of a magazine. And look at you, sweetheart. No wonder he fancies you, you little charmer.”

George looked as though he was fighting the urge to vomit.

“Mum,” he said, “this means I’ll have to miss the big family dinner tonight. You know, I’ll be busy nursing Ted back to health.”

Mrs. Vanderpool blinked. “Oh. Oh! Yes of course, dear. Of course. Anything you need to do to help our Edward get in fighting form again. Mm. Well then, I’d love to stay and chat, especially to this little peach of a girl, but Maurice is only halfway done with my facial, and I’ve a luncheon in less than an hour. It promises to be a dreadfully boring affair, but it’s for charity, so what can one do? All the same, I’ll pass along the word to Florrie before I leave, and you can expect some piping hot food with in the hour, hm?”

Then, in as flurried of a frenzy as she had appeared on the scene, Mrs. Vanderpool now disappeared, slamming her door shut with gusto.

Andromeda turned back to George, who looked as though he had just endured a waking nightmare. He dragged a hand across his poorly shaven jaw. Then he narrowed his eyes at Andromeda.

“I’m only related to her by blood.”

Andromeda's head was still reeling from Mrs. Vanderpool’s deluge of adjectives and exclamations. She had spoken in a dripping, upper class drawl that sounded perpetually lazy around the edges. Clearly, at least one of George’s parents had been born into their privileged lifestyle.

At the end of the hallway, George pushed open a set of tall French doors and stepped out onto a stone patio. Andromeda, chilled as she was by the winter wind, followed him out. Her feet sunk into crisp, packed snow. It was snowing, still, and flakes caught on her thin velvet jacket. She watched as George fumbled out a cigarette from one pocket and a lighter from the other. Leaning against one of the patio’s columns, he lit up.

Andromeda wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Wait. Did you come all the way down here just to smoke?”

George took a long drag before smirking over at her. “I didn’t ask you to follow me, did I?”

“Smoking is a nasty habit.”

“Tell that to my mother.”

Andromeda glanced back inside. “She seems rather, um, fond of Ted.”

“You mean Edward?” George said in an uncanny impersonation of his mother’s husky, melodramatic tone. “You mean, infatuated? Yeah, she’s taken him on as a charity project ever since the two of us were kids. Fancies him as our personal Oliver Twist. It’s pretty messed up, but socialites need something to keep them busy, right? And considering Ted gets me out of all unpleasant social obligations ever, I’m not complaining.”

Andromeda crossed the snow-laden patio to where George stood, calmly inhaling and exhaling his smoke.

“Christmas dinner is a ‘social obligation’?” she asked.

George snorted. “You have no idea. For some reason, she and Father think it’s an excellent idea to get both sides of the family together. Muggles and wizards and witches, all crammed together at one table. Completely different politics. Loud-mouths. Imbeciles. It’s a nightmare every year. And of course, Mum’s side keeps telling me I need to go into law like my grandfather, and Dad’s side keep ragging on me to get a good Ministry position. I swear, I’d chop a limb off before expose myself to that sort of torture again.”

“So, Ted is your out?”

George shrugged. “Maybe that does make me a terrible friend. But yeah, he is. Even if he wasn’t feeling poorly, I’d pretend he was just to avoid dinner.”

Andromeda remained quiet for a long moment. “I think,” she whispered, “that I understand. If I could have an out back home, I’d take it, too.”

George’s gaze flickered up.

“Oh yeah?” he said. “You got Daddy issues or something?”

“I ran away from home.”

It sounded so wrong, so ugly when she put it that way. But that was exactly what she had done, wasn’t it? And for some odd reason, it felt good to have confessed as much to a stranger.

George was staring at her. “Shit, princess. Seriously?”

Andromeda nodded.

“What, did they disown you or something?”

“I—I don’t even know,” she whispered. “I haven’t heard anything from them since. I haven’t really had much of a chance to think about it.”

I haven’t let myself think about it.

“So that’s what the whole, ‘I gotta talk to Ted, cos it’s super secret and urgent’ shit was about?”

How was it that George made everything sound more uncouth than it really was?

“Yes,” she said tightly. “That’s what it was about.”

George nodded slowly. He tossed his cigarette to the ground and squashed it under his shoe, burying it in the snow. He squinted out at the winking streetlights in the distance, beyond another row of pristine white houses.

“He must like you a whole fucking lot,” he muttered.

“What—what do you mean?”

“It’s just, Ted’s really focused, you know? On Quidditch? Getting a career and shit and helping out his brother. And then, what with his condition—I just mean, he doesn’t really do the whole romance thing. He blows off girls like they’re exhaust fumes. All nice-like, of course, ‘cos he’s Ted. But still. I’ve never seen him go weak in the knees before.”

Andromeda was having difficulty breathing. She really wasn’t dressed for this sort of weather. She backed away toward the French doors.

“What?” George called, following her back to the house. “Did I make that awkward? You know he fancies you, right?”

Andromeda choked in a staggered breath. Her chest felt tight and coiled, like something had gone all wrong beneath her ribcage. She stumbled into the warmth of the hallway. George Vanderpool was not the person she wanted to be talking to at this moment.

"He doesn't like me that way,” she said, watching in horror as George closed up the doors, close on her heels. “Why would you think that?”

George snorted. “Uhh. Well, let’s see. First, ‘cos he let you sleep over at his house, and it took him a good four years before he ever let me visit. Second, he insisted that I bring your stupid ass along today. Third, have you seen the way he looks at you?”

Andromeda bristled. “He doesn’t look at me in any particular way. He just looks at me like—like he’s Ted and—and I’m Andromeda.”

“Uh huh. Okay. And if by that you mean like he wants to rip all your clothes off and make little halfblooded spawn with you, then sure.”

“You’re absolutely disgusting. I don’t know what Ted sees in you.”

“The feeling’s mutual, princess." George took a step closer. "Just listen. It’s not my business who Ted moons over. It’s not my business if you fancy him back. But that threat of mine? It still stands. You hurt him, and I will make you rue the day you waltzed into his life. We clear on that?”

Andromeda studied George’s face. His cheeks were red from the cold, his eyes watery but intent. She didn’t know how, but she saw something there that she recognized. That she admired. George really did care about Ted.

“I don’t want to hurt him,” she said, tipping her chin up. “Just so we’re both clear.”

George took a long moment to process this. He nodded. “Right. Well, before you can insult me further, thus irking me out of my unnaturally good mood, I’m going to show you to your own bedroom and feed you, like a proper host. So try to be semi-grateful, huh?”

Andromeda couldn’t think of a reply to that. She didn’t want to be trapped in George Vanderpool’s fancy house, but she was still technically a guest here, and she wasn’t exactly observing the best etiquette by insulting her host to his face. She sighed a longsuffering sigh. Then, silently, she nodded.

George led her back upstairs.



Florrie, the Vanderpool’s cook, brought up food to Andromeda’s bedroom. Quite unlike Andromeda had expected, Florrie wasn’t a house elf, but a plump, middle-aged Muggle. She had greeted Andromeda with a warm smile and placed a silver service tray on her king-sized bed. As Mrs. Vanderpool had promised, the entrée was a roasted duck, served with scalloped potatoes and a vinaigrette salad.

Andromeda had waited patiently until Florrie had left the room. Then she had proceeded to devour the meal in what was the most unmannerly, unladylike fashion in which she had ever indulged herself. She hadn’t realized until that very moment how hungry she had been ever since she’d run away from Grimmauld Place. She had missed food—good, proper food.

Andromeda’s guest bedroom was somewhat smaller than George’s, but it was every bit as well decked and much, much cleaner. Floor-length windows looked out onto the main street. The afternoon sun was already setting outside, and the snow was falling more rapidly than ever, collecting fast on the streets below. She heard the happy shrieks of children and spied a snowball fight a few doors down.

She wondered if Ted had woken. She wondered if he felt any better or if his abrupt departure from home had set back his recovery. And though she wasn’t ungrateful that George had been considerate enough to provide a separate bedroom for the evening, she wished that she could be in George’s room now, just to check in on Ted’s current state.

Even after a full meal and, afer that, a long nap, Andromeda woke in a cold sweat. Her stomach knotted as George’s words from earlier came rushing back into her memory.

You know he fancies you, right?

Have you seen the way he looks at you?


Angrily, Andromeda tried to brush the questions from her mind. George had only been playing with her. He’d been trying to confuse her, to embarrass her, to throw her off kilter.

Hadn’t he?

But last night, back at Ted’s house, when she had confessed that she’d wanted him to kiss her…. He’d been so gentle. The way he’d touched her arm, the way he’d drawn her closer to him, the way he’d said her name….

“Dromeda.”

A chill passed over her. Andromeda shook her head and pushed herself off of the bed, wiping at her eyes as though the motion alone would bring her some kind of clarity.

How could she be so distracted right now, thinking of Ted and his voice and his touch and his stupid, stupid mouth? She was supposed to be planning. She was supposed to be concocting a way to stay out of her family’s control but to somehow see Narcissa again and explain everything to her. Narcissa would understand. And then she would help Andromeda to plan some possible way to say “no” to Rabastan without losing her family forever.

Ted Tonks most certainly did not fall anywhere into that plan.

Andromeda creaked open her door. The hallway was dark now, lit only by the flicker of a distant chandelier in the stairwell. George’s room was two doors down, and the door was slightly ajar. From one end of the hallway, she could hear laughing and shouting. George’s relatives must’ve been in the midst of their dreaded Christmas dinner.

She crept out of her room and padded down the hallway to George’s room. She knocked softly before pushing the door open. She didn’t know what she’d expected to see, but it certainly wasn’t Ted and George laughing in front of a roaring fireplace. Ted was sitting, legs crossed, his complexion rosy in the firelight. His hair was back to its normal golden color. Andromeda closed her eyes in relief.

“Oi! Are you in or are you out, Black? Shut the door!”

She opened her eyes on George, who was brandishing a bottle of liquor at her as though it were a dangerous weapon. Andromeda shut the door behind her and approached the boys, her eyes scanning about the fireplace for some sort of chair.

George caught on. “Too hoity toity to join the men on the floor?”

“No,” Andromeda said proudly. “Just weighing my options.”

She whipped the skirt of her dress with a flourish and took a seat on the oriental rug just across from the two of them. George leaned back and retrieved an empty glass tumbler from the fireside. He filled it a fourth full of the clear liquor in his possession and handed it over to Andromeda.

She eyed the beverage suspiciously. “What is it?”

“Vodka,” said George. “Muggle stuff. Excellent.”

“You don’t have to drink it,” Ted said softly, “if you don’t want.”

Andromeda looked up quickly. She wondered if Ted was thinking about a certain fiasco in Hogsmeade, when a little too much alcohol had led her to puke all over his fish and chips. He had been so kind to her, even then….

“I think I could rather use it, actually.”

She then proceeded to down the tumbler's contents in one go.

Her throat burned, and though Andromeda was acutely aware of the vodka making its way down her digestive tract, she only smiled pleasantly at the boys and set the glass down with a triumphant clink.

George raised his eyebrows. “Not bad, princess.”

“You’re feeling better?” Andromeda asked, turning to Ted. "You look much better." 

She was blushing. Oh Merlin, no. Why was she blushing? Maybe he couldn’t tell in the firelight. Maybe he’d only attribute it to the vodka. Maybe—

“Much,” said Ted. He stretched out his leg and shook his bare foot in her direction, the slightest smile playing on his lip. “Just like new. George always does a good job of patching me up again.”

A thought occurred to Andromeda. “And Nelson? He won’t be worried?”

Ted’s smile only grew. “I’m sure he and Roisin are very well occupied. Even if not, he’s used to George kidnapping me at a moment’s notice. He’ll be fine.”

“Yeah,” said George. “Why you worried ‘bout Nelson? It’s Ted and me here who are the lonely bastards this cold Christmas eve-uh-ning.”

Andromeda blinked at George. Then she looked at Ted, who looked like he was laughing at some unspoken, inside joke.

“He’s—blitzed, isn’t he?” she whispered.

Ted sighed. “George gets touchy around the holidays. I just try to make sure he doesn’t break stuff in the drunken stupor." 

“I am NOT gonna breaky-breaky stuff!” George cried indignantly, flailing an arm in Ted’s direction. “I’m feeling, like, really warm and fuzzy, actually.”

As though to prove his point, George proceeded to curl into the fetal position, his messy head of hair tucked against his knees. If Andromeda hadn’t known better, she would’ve thought it was a little bit adorable. As it was, she just stifled a laugh.

“Right,” said Ted. “I think that’s enough for one night, huh?”

Ted tugged out his wand from under a throw pillow. Then, with concentrated effort, he cast a levitating spell on George, lifting him up from his mound on the floor—a ball of limp limbs and drool—and onto his bed. Andromeda watched in rapt attention as Ted skirted around the bed and rearranged George’s limbs to a more comfortable position, wrapping his duvet around him to keep warm. He nudged George’s drooling mouth toward the edge of the bed, where he’d positioned an empty rubbish bin.

“Night, mate,” he said, rumpling up George’s already disastrous hair. "Take it easy, huh?" 

George just made a half-hearted swat in reply and mumbled something incoherent.

It was only now that Andromeda realized how inconvenient a time she’d chosen to arrive. George was out cold, and she’d just thrown back more than two shots’ worth of some Muggle alcohol she knew nothing about. And Ted was—oh Merlin, oh Merlin—he was looking straight at her from across the room.

Was this the look that George had been talking about? She felt frozen in place. Her throat felt warm, her limbs useless.

Calm down, Andromeda. He’s just looking at you. Just a normal, completely blasé look. George has made you completely paranoid.

But last night, whispered a sibilant voice in her mind. Last night, last night, last—

“So!” Andromeda said, far louder and cheerier than she’d intended. She stumbled up to her feet. “I should probably leave you alone, then. You know. To—to undress?”

Oh heavens, what was she even saying.

Ted raised a brow.

“I mean! I mean, I mean—you know, to get to bed. Get ready for bed. And—get—to—it. Bed. That is.”

“Mm, yes. Bed.” Ted nodded. He looked amused, which only made Andromeda more flustered.

“Great,” she said, backing away from the fire and toward the bedroom door. “I—I really shouldn’t have interrupted. That is, I didn’t know you and George were—I mean, I didn’t know that he was so close to—you know, turning in for the night? And you've just recovered. You should be resting." 

Ted was laughing at her. Not out loud, but she could see it in his eyes. She could see it in the slight shake of his shoulders. He was laughing at her, dammit.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” she said vehemently.

But all she could think about were stupid George’s stupid words.

Have you seen the way he looks at you?

“So, good night, then!” Andromeda flung open the door and scurried out into the hallway.

Which bedroom door was hers? Think, Andromeda. Two doors down. On the left. That’s your door. Now, just open it. Quickly.

Andromeda’s hand slipped on the door handle. When had her palms begun to sweat?

“Erm, need some help?”

Ted was peeking out from the threshold of George’s room, watching her.

“No.”

He crossed the hallway, and Andromeda tried and failed to keep breathing normally.

“I fucking know how to open a door, Tonks!” she said, but her voice wavered on his name as he came to a stop only inches away from her.

His hand wound around her waist.

“W-w-what are you doing?” she asked, though it sounded more like a hiccup than anything else.

Then she realized precisely what he had been doing: opening the door. He’d just reached around her to open the door. Nothing out of the ordinary. Entirely prosaic. So why was she nearly hyperventilating?

Ted had noticed. Suddenly, the laughter disappeared from his eyes.

“Dromeda?” he said, concern thickening his voice. “Really, are you all right?"

She nodded mutely. She was staring at his mouth. Why was she staring at his mouth? Where should she be staring? At his eyes! His eyes, his—

But she wasn’t looking at his eyes. She wasn’t looking anymore. She was on her toes, and she was grabbing his shirt collar, and....

She was kissing Ted Tonks.

His mouth was soft. So surprisingly soft. But his lips remained stiil and motionless, as though they’d been turned to stone. Panic sparked in the back of Andromeda’s mind. He wasn’t kissing her back. She pulled away with a soft, embarrassing cry.

Bad move, Andromeda. Very, very bad move.

She stumbled, her back knocking against the open bedroom door. She couldn’t help herself. Despite the building terror in her gut, she lifted her eyes to Ted’s.

His pupils were wide, his cheeks drained of color. He stood very still. Then, he cleared his throat.

“Um. Did you—did you mean to do that?”

Andromeda swallowed.

What sort of question was that? How could she have possibly meant to do anything else?

She felt like she was burning, slowly, from the inside out. Surely her whole face had to be a splotchy mess of red by now. She must’ve looked frightful. Her eyes stung suddenly, and her vision blurred.

Oh no. No. She was not going to cry in front of Ted Tonks. She should be focusing her energies elsewhere—like on planning how to murder George for ever planting the idea in her brain that Ted wanted this.

“What do you think?” she said, her voice trembling with anger. “Yes, you moronic bastard, I meant it. And if you didn’t like it, then you can just—“

Her voice stoppered up, cut off by something wholly unexpected. Ted had crossed the space she’d put between them in an instant, and, Sweet Salazar, he was kissing her. His lips, so still before, now pressed against hers with heated urgency. She didn’t know if she had wrapped her arms around his neck first, or if he been the one to first wind his arms around her waist. She didn’t know how they’d ended up tumbling deeper into her dark bedroom, or how the door had closed, or how her back had ended up pressed against it. All she knew was that they were kissing, and she didn’t want to stop, not for all the air in the world.

Hers were shaky, tentative movements at first, as though just startled into life after long disuse. Then she heard a low, hoarse sound emit from the back of Ted’s throat, and her mind was suddenly plunged into a swirling haze. Her lips were searching, pleading, though for what Andromeda hadn’t a clue.

She was vaguely aware that she was moving, but it wasn’t until her back was pressed against a cushion of pillows and quilts that she realized in what direction. Warm hands had moved away from her shoulders—one down to the waist of her dress, the other clenching into a knot of hair bunched at her neck. Her own hands had found new resting places as well, against the creased fabric of Ted's shirt.

His lips left hers, only to press down, hot and quick, along her neck. Then his nose was buried against her throat, his breathing shallow, his hands stilling in her hair and against her stomach. Andromeda shook her head, dissatisfied.

“Don’t,” she whispered. “Don’t stop.”

There was a pregnant pause. Then Ted's lips crashed against hers, this time more urgent and more familiar than before. Her fingers dug into his shirt, scraping against the hard muscles beneath the fabric. A musky, inky smell surrounded her, and all was heat and limbs and mouth on mouth. Andromeda heard herself whimper—a low, fragile sound—and then—

Nothing.

Air. Cold air.

She reached up, but her hands caught at nothing substantial. Her lips were left needy. Her eyes fluttered open. Ted was staring down at her, his eyes wide, anxious.

“Are you okay?” he whispered. “I mean—I mean, you want this?”

Hazily, Andromeda nodded. Why was he talking at a time like this? Didn’t he realize that what was of utmost importance right now was placing his lips back on hers, his hands back on her skin?

She hadn’t known it could be like this. She hadn’t known that she could literally ache for a touch, to feel a dull burn inside that she was certain only one person could cure. Rabastan had never made her feel this way. His kisses hadn’t always been unwelcome, but it was always Rabastan and Rabastan alone who had wanted more, who had pressed for it, asked for it, desired it.

But this, this was what the desire felt like—a thick, burning fire licking through her veins and sending her heart into a frenzied flutter, clouding her brain and pushing words heedlessly from her tongue.

“I just didn’t think—“ she shook her head, hitching in an uneven breath. “I didn’t know it could be so—so right. With a Muggleborn….“

She shook her head again, words hazing and jumbling, losing all meaning. Why couldn’t he just touch her again?

But she realized in a sudden panic that Ted wasn’t on the bed anymore. He stood stooped over by the fireplace, his back to her. Andromeda pulled in a ragged breath, pushing herself up onto her knees.

“What?” she whispered. “Ted, what’s wrong?”

“With a Muggleborn?”

She blinked in confusion, looking down at her lap. She was suddenly acutely aware of how wrinkled her dress was and how the loose fabric hung so unceremoniously along her waist, exposing her bare legs in the moonlight. Nervously, she tugged the fabric down to cover her thighs.

Ted turned around. “What, am I like—like an experiment to you?”

Andromeda still couldn’t understand. She stared at Ted, uncomprehending. Her shoulders began to shake.

“N-no,” she said. “No, of course you’re not. It’s just, everyone says that Muggleborns can’t—I mean, that they aren’t nearly as—they’re just idiotic rumors, that’s all.”

“Rumors?” Ted repeated. “What, rumors that a mutant like me couldn’t even kiss you properly? So, what, you wanted to try it out, just to see if I could?”

“No!” Andromeda shouted, cheeks reddening. She couldn’t stand the way he was looking at her. He looked so uncertain. So angry.

So unlike Ted.

“I didn’t mean anything by it. I wasn’t thinking. I just wanted you. I swear, I wasn’t thinking about your—your blood status. That doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t!”

Ted laughed. It was an awful, low, humorless laugh. He held his hand to his face, shielding his eyes from her. Andromeda felt ill watching him.

How had something so lovely gone wrong so fast?

“Merlin,” he whispered. “Well, I’m so grateful that you chose to ignore my blood status out of the goodness of your heart while we were making out. Heaven forbid we’d taken it further, right? I mean, that would’ve taken some inhuman amount of forbearance to stomach the fact that I’m—”

Stop it!” Andromeda shouted, surprising even herself with the force of her words. “Just stop! I am so sick of you throwing that back in my face. I know I said some terrible things to you before, but—but people can change. I’m not constantly thinking about the fact that you’re poor or Muggleborn or that we’re not in the same social circles. That isn’t the only thing that runs through my brain on a daily basis, Ted Tonks.”

“Really?” Ted spat back. “Because it sounds pretty fresh in your mind right now.”

“Get out.”

Andromeda pointed her trembling finger at the door. Her voice had gone cold, lifeless, hard. It was a tone that generations of Ladies of the House of Black had perfected before her. “Get out of this room.”

Ted shook his head in disbelief. “What, then? Is this how you dismiss all of your inferiors? Did I not perform well enough for you?" 

Get the hell out.”

She didn’t need to say it again. Ted was already gone. The bedroom door slammed behind him with a thud of finality, and the cold Black demeanor that Andromeda had held onto for this long now broke with a single anguished sob.



Author's Note: Don't hate me forever? :] As always, I love-love-love and appreciate your reads and reviews. Thank you to everyone who's been sticking with Tedromeda this far. Hiccups and drama aside, THEIR LOVE WILL PREVAIL.


Chapter 18: According to Plan
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Dear Cissy,

I know that by now you must’ve heard about what happened, and I hope you aren’t worried. The last thing I wanted to do when I ran away was upset you. I can’t explain everything in a letter, but I promise there’s a reasonable explanation for what I did. I know that if I tell you, you’ll understand. Will you let me explain it to you, please? I miss you. I need my sister. I want to visit you at Malfoy Manor and talk everything through, but I’ve been afraid that you’ll tell Mum and Dad, and I don’t want that. Please, don’t tell them where I am. Not yet. Just write back and let me know if I can visit you and Lucius. If you’re there to help me see straight, I know that we can sort things out.

All my love,
Andie


Andromeda sat staring at the piece of parchment on her lap. She had written half a dozen drafts now, and still this one did not sit well with her. It seemed so desperate, so melodramatic. She wished that she could just summon Narcissa here, into this room, and tell her everything in person. She just wanted to hug Narcissa, cry snotty, stupid tears into her shoulder, and ask for her advice. Narcissa was in love with Lucius. She knew what it was to be in love, and she wouldn’t want anything less for Andromeda. She would never insist that she marry Rabastan.

Would she?

How can you expect for Cissy to sympathize with your matters of the heart when you can’t even figure them out for yourself?

“Shut up,” Andromeda whispered aloud.

She folded her letter in a tight, perfect crease and slipped it beneath her pillow, trying desperately to ignore the hollow feeling that had been worming around her all night.

You won’t marry Rabastan because he’s a cheater. Very well. But why on earth would you throw yourself at a Muggleborn? Have you really stooped that low, Andromeda?

“Stop,” she whispered louder, pressing her hands to her ears.

But it was too late. That slithery voice had dredged up the memories that Andromeda was fighting so hard to keep down.

Ted’s mouth on hers, his hand grazing down her waist, his fingers winding up in her hair—all so tender and warm and right.

No. Wrong. It was so very wrong. A mistake. She shouldn’t have let it happen. What had she been thinking? Hadn’t she decided that Ted didn’t fit into her plan? Just because Andromeda had run away from home didn’t mean she was cut off from her family, from her name, from her reputation—not forever. Just because she refused to marry Rabastan Lestrange didn’t mean that she had to go out and prove her independence by snogging a Muggleborn of all people.

“For a Muggleborn?”

“Did I not perform well enough?”

Andromeda shut her eyes, tears stinging her skin. She was so confused. She couldn’t think straight. She had stayed up all night crying, arguing with herself, and writing letter after letter to Narcissa.

Only as the first rays of dawn crept into the room did she slump onto her pillow and fall fast asleep.



She woke to the sound of shouts. Outside, a gaggle of boys and girls were conducting yet another snowball fight. The roads were cleared, but icicles clung to the branches outside her bedroom window, and Andromeda watched as passersby tread with caution on the icy sidewalks.

It was the day after Christmas. Today, families would be celebrating together and children playing with new toys and shoppers bustling in and out of stores in search of holiday sales. Today, by rights, Andromeda should have been back at Onyx House. She should have been sleeping in her own canopy bed tonight, waited on by the house elf Hettie. She should have been drinking hot cocoa and reading for pleasure or perhaps trying on one of her new Christmas dresses. She should have been anticipating Rabastan Lestrange’s proposal.

How far removed she was from that reality now—estranged from her family, dependent entirely on strangers, left to her own devices.

She was so tired of it.

She wasn’t ashamed to admit it to herself anymore: she missed the comforts of home. She wanted to be back at Onyx House.

So Andromeda had finally devised a plan.

She would have to face Ted. She would have to explain to him how last night had just been a matter of jumbled emotions and poor judgment and hormones. She would explain that she'd decided to leave for Malfoy Manor, and she would sort out her future there, with her sister’s help. There was no reason to involve Ted Tonks in any of that process. She shouldn’t have involved him in the first place. What a stupid decision that had been. It would've been better for her to go hungry in that drafty room above Obscurus Books rather than ever speak a word to George Vanderpool.

Stop holding a pity party, Andromeda. Stop acting like a scared little girl. You made an adult decision, and now you’ve got to deal with the consequences. Pull yourself together.

Do something.

Andromeda opened her bedroom door. She edged around a silver tray resting on the floor, stocked with a plate of bacon, beans, toast, a half grapefruit, and a fancy fluted glass of yogurt. She knelt and brushed her knuckles against the small teapot. Cold. Florrie had probably left the tray hours ago.

Down the hall, George’s door was cracked open. Andromeda swallowed hard. She had performed some essential beauty and scent spells, but she was acutely aware that her hair still looked straggly and her eyes watery from lack of sleep. She had been wearing the same dress since the Christmas party. What had she come to in the past few days?

Andromeda creaked open the door.

“Hello?”

“Afternoon, princess.”

George sat on the bed, hands behind his head, feet crossed atop a throw pillow. Propped on his knees was a glossy copy of Quidditch Monthly. His eyes were bloodshot, but he looked like he was in a surprisingly pleasant mood.

“Erm. Afternoon.”

Andromeda glanced around the room. Where was Ted?

“Taking a shower,” George supplied, eyeing Andromeda with a knowing smirk.

“Who? Oh.” Andromeda shrugged nonchalantly. “Well, that doesn’t matter. It’s you I wanted to talk to.”

Now that Andromeda had drawn nearer to George’s massive bed, she noticed that he was dressed up. He wore a pair of nice slacks, a button-up shirt, and a yellow tie.

Once again, George anticipated her next question. “I’m going out today. Ted can’t save me from all obligations. Some big to-do at The Savoy, and Mum’s insisted that I show my face to the dreaded relatives at least once this holiday season. It’s gonna be an even bigger crowd than last night’s. Uncle Horace will be there, and apparently he’s set on leaving me a shitload of an inheritance, so I’ve gotta convince him that I’m respons—why the hell am I telling you this?”

“I’ve no idea.”

“Huh.” George made a face and returned his gaze to the centerfold of his magazine—a moving team portrait of the Kenmare Kestrals.

“I have a favor to ask,” said Andromeda, “I wondered if I might use one of your family owls?”

George turned the page of his magazine. “Is that a trick question?”

“No. I just have a letter to send.”

“Who to?”

Andromeda crossed her arms. “I don’t see how it’s your business.”

“It’s my owl. So yeah, it’s my business.”

“Fine. It’s to my sister, Narcissa.”

“Her name is Narcissa?“

“Oh, honestly!” snapped Andromeda, grabbing the magazine from George and hurling it on the floor. “Will you let me use an owl or not?”

“Well. Since you asked so nicely….”

George motioned toward the corner of the room. A tall, brass cage sat atop a marble pedestal, and inside the cage perched the prim figure of a pure black owl. It appeared to be sleeping.

“Just warning you,” George said, "wake her at your own risk. Medusa can be persnickety.”

Andromeda rolled her eyes and crossed the room. George would name his owl Medusa. From her dress pocket, she tugged out the folded letter addressed to Narcissa. She still wasn’t happy with its contents, but the sooner she sent it, the sooner she would be able to carry out her plan.

She opened the birdcage door and tipped the very edge of her letter inside.

“Medusa,” she said in a soft, sweet alto that she reserved for her own owl back home. “Come here, sweet thing. I’ve a little errand for you.”

Medusa opened her yellow eyes. She stared at Andromeda for a long moment. Then she gave a resigned hoot and nipped the letter from Andromeda’s grasp.

“Good girl.”

Andromeda unlatched George’s bedroom window, bracing herself against the cold wind that blew in. Medusa rustled her feathers once, then swept out of her cage and through the open window. Andromeda latched the window shut and turned to George in triumph.

“Persnickety, hm?”

George was staring at her with unreserved surprise. “Uh. Yeah. Usually.”

Andromeda plucked her wand out and cast a quick levitation spell, returning George’s magazine to his lap.

“Perhaps,” she said, making her way to the door, “you just don’t know how to handle her.”

“Whatever.”

She stopped at the threshold. “Are there any wards on your house that I should be aware of?”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m apparating back to Ted’s house to collect my things,” she said. “You may remember how yesterday you most unceremoniously ripped us away without giving me the chance to fetch my belongings." 

George made a face. "You won’t have any trouble apparating back here, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Good,” said Andromeda. “Then you should know that once all of my things are gathered and I hear back from my sister, I intend to leave.”

“Wait. What?”

“I think I’ve intruded on your family’s hospitality long enough. And you’ve made it very clear that you don’t want me here, so I thought that my departure would be agreeable.”

“Riiight.” George scratched at his nose. “Does Ted know about this?”

“Why would that matter?”

“I dunno,” George said slowly. “I just thought that your departure might not be so, uh, agreeable to him.”

“Don’t worry, it will be.” Andromeda’s voice had turned brittle.

"Wait a second." George's eyes brightened in realization. "Did you two have a fight or something? Damn. I can’t believe I missed it! I knew I shouldn’t have started drinking so early.”

Andromeda felt herself growing weak in the stomach, weak in the legs. She backed away from the door, but George called out again.

“Hey! Hey, reconsider, would you? If you leave, he’s gonna think I scared you off or something.”

“That’s not what he’ll think,” Andromeda said. “He’ll understand. He’ll be happy I’m gone.”



She splinched herself on the way there. She appeared in Ted’s bedroom with an unsteady crack!, and she felt the immediate burn of her right hand, the hot trickle of blood down her fingers. She’d managed to slice off all the flesh from her knuckles.

Andromeda staggered to the bed, clutching her hand to her stomach and fumbling for her wand.

Of course she knew better than to apparate when she was emotionally distraught. But she thought she’d had a handle on things. She had a plan, didn’t she? She had a plan, and she was seeing it through. So why was she currently a bloodied-up mess?

“Ted? Is that you?”

Ted’s door swung open, and Andromeda found herself staring up at a wide-eyed Nelson.

“Oi!” he cried. “What happened to you? Where’s Ted?”

She shook her head, trying to swallow down the pain and actually form words, but without success.

“Just sit tight,” said Nelson. “I’ll be right back.”

She heard footsteps clatter back down the hallway, heard a distant rummaging sound. She was losing blood. It seeped from her hand into the silk waist of her dress, staining the emerald fabric in a sinister blot. Andromeda’s hand trembled as she tried to regain a good grasp on her wand. But it was slick with blood, and it was her wand hand that was injured. She wouldn’t be able to fix this splinch on her own.

Nelson came clambering back into the room, carrying a small brown bottle and a handful of gauze. He took a seat next to Andromeda on the bed, and the bedframe groaned warningly under his weight.

“All right, let’s see the damage here, shall we? This might hurt, but we’ll get you all patched up.”

Despite the pain ripping through her nerves, Andromeda handed her bloodied hand over to Nelson and watched in muted fixation as he poured the rust-colored contents of the bottle over Andromeda’s knuckles, then wiped away both liquid and blood with a bunched-up piece of gauze. Then, with calm precision, he wound the remaining gauze around her knuckles, binding them so tight that Andromeda let out a pained cry.

“I’m sorry,” Nelson said. “I’m really sorry, but the worst of it’s over, see? We’ve got you all bound up and slathered in iodine. That was Dad’s sure-fire cure for all the scrapes around here.”

“Though,” Nelson said after a pause, carefully turning over her hand. “I think you’re going to need more than a Muggle cure for that to heal entirely. Nasty business, squelches. I remember Ted nicking himself all the time when he was practicing for his apparating license. Squelches. That’s what they’re called, right?”

“Splinches,” Andromeda corrected in a hoarse whisper. Then, “Thank you.”

Nelson shrugged. “Sure thing. Let me just wash up, huh? Then you can explain to me why you’re sitting on Ted’s bed bleeding and looking generally miserable.”

Andromeda nodded weakly. In the time it took Nelson to wash up, she managed to regain some of her composure. Her satchel was tucked under Ted’s bed, just where she’d left it. At least she had what she’d come here for.

When Nelson returned, he rejoined her on the edge of the bed, hands clasped, his eyes watching her intently as though she were some wild animal capable of darting away at any moment.

His eyes reminded her of someone.

Of course, you idiot. They remind you of Ted.


“So, did Vanderpool scare you away?” Nelson asked. “He can be a pill.”

"You knew it was him, then? Ted said you would." 

“Of course. George kidnaps him every year. Well, every year since his brother died.”

Andromeda stiffened. "What?" 

“You know he had an older brother? Went to your school. He died in some sort of freak magical accident three or four Christmases back. Apparently, the kid was the family favorite—golden boy, and all that. The family didn’t take it well. George has a rough time of it around the holidays.”

Andromeda felt cold. “I didn’t know that,” she whispered.

No wonder. No wonder George didn’t want to be alone during the holidays but also didn’t want to be around his family. Andromeda couldn’t imagine spending two weeks at home in Onyx House if she had lost someone as precious to her as Narcissa.

And you called him a terrible friend. Bravo, Andromeda.


“Don’t get me wrong,” said Nelson, “he’s still a little prick. I just give him some leeway. I think he and Ted are good for each other.”

Andromeda nodded but said nothing.

Nelson poked at the satchel in her lap. “So what, you moving out?”

“Yes,” she said, straightening up. “I’m going to stay with family for the rest of the holidays. But I can’t say how much I appreciate you letting me stay here. Really. It—it meant a good deal to me.”

A year ago, Andromeda would never have imagined herself here, in this position, sitting in a drafty bedroom and thanking a Muggle for his hospitality. And she certainly would’ve never imagined a Muggle telling her what Nelson was now.

“I hope you visit again.”

Andromeda gave him a disbelieving look. “I completely upset your entire holiday. I turned things topsy turvy and ate your food and imposed upon—“

“Doesn’t matter. That was half the fun.” Nelson smiled a warm smile.

Why did he have to look so terribly, uncannily like his brother?

Andromeda got to her feet. She slung her satchel across her shoulder. “Would you give my best to Roisin?” she said. “Brennan and William, too. They were—lovely.”

Surprisingly lovely for Muggles, she had meant to say. But before she had, she’d envisioned that look that Ted always gave her when she said something apparently offensive, and she thought better of it.

“Of course,” said Nelson. “You tell Ted not to get too wild over in Posh Town, eh?” He eyed Andromeda. “By the way, are you sure you want to just pop on out like this? I mean, that’s what got you squelched in the first place, right?”

“I’m fine,” Andromeda said. “I’m in better control now.”

And with one last parting smile, she apparated away.



She had to talk to Ted. She knew that. She had to face him for the first time since last night, look him in the eye, and tell him everything that she had planned to say:

It was a mistake. We shouldn’t have kissed. I’ve written Narcissa. When she writes back, I’ll leave.

She’d repeated the trail of words in her mind, again and again, until they were deeply rooted into her memory and could roll off of her tongue in an even, measured cadence.

But just because she could say the words didn’t mean that she wanted to. It didn’t mean that she wanted to creep down the halls of the Vanderpool House in search of Ted. He hadn’t been in George’s bedroom. Neither had George, who Andromeda assumed was currently out and about with the dreaded relatives. She’d tried the handles of other rooms in the hallway. All locked.

So she’d crept down the stairs and through the grand atrium again, keeping on the lookout for some sign of movement. Dusk was already creeping through the windows, casting strange shadows on Andromeda as she made her way down the first floor hallway. She shivered and tugged her velvet jacket closer. She buttoned the jacket up as she walked on, better sealing herself in warmth and covering the bloodstain on the stomach of her dress. She would have to cast a fierce stain spell on the fabric later, but her wand hand still wasn't in any shape to be performing proper spells.

Then she stopped walking. She heard something. It was faint, but distinguishable—the sound of music. It was coming from behind two closed doors, just past the atrium. She backtracked to their threshold, pressed her ear to the crack in the wood, and listened.

It was a melody that she did not recognize, but that did not lessen its beauty. It was soft, minor, and lilting. An oboe carried it first, buoyed up by a swell of cellos. Then mournful interlude of French horns cut through the melody, parceling it into soft echoes and variations. It made Andromeda’s chest tighten in a terrible but somehow pleasant way.

She creaked open the door. The room was a library, its walls stacked with shelf upon shelf of books. At the center of the room, the figure of a golden-headed boy stood stooped over a wooden table. On the table sat a box—a Muggle contraption of some sort, upon which a thin black disc spun around and around. That was where the music was coming from.

Andromeda leaned in closer to get a better view. Her clutch on the door handle slipped, and she stumbled forward, the hinges creaking after her. The music stopped abruptly, followed only by a thin, humming sound. Then, slowly, the boy at the table turned to face her.

“Dromeda.”

“Ted.”

This was going to be so much worse than she’d anticipated.

A long, staticky pause stretched out between the two of them. Andromeda shoved both hands into her dress pockets. If Ted couldn’t see them, then he wouldn’t know how badly they were trembling.

“I think,” she said, “that we need to talk.”

Ted wetted his lips. He turned back toward the contraption on the table and lifted a strange, black sort of lever. The humming sound stopped. Then he turned fully back around.

“I thought that you’d left.”

His voice was paper-thin. Andromeda took a few steps closer, straining her ears to hear his words.

“I thought,” he said, running a hand across his forehead, “I mean, after what George told me, I thought you’d left to see your sister and just—just—“

Andromeda frowned. “You thought I’d left without telling you?”

“Well…” Ted squinted at her. He leaned back against the table, shaking his head. “Yeah. I did.”

Something within Andromeda stung at the thought.

“You thought I wouldn’t have the decency to thank you for your hospitality? To even say goodbye? You have that low an opinion of me?”

“Can’t be as low as your opinion of me, I’m sure.”

He was looking at her all wrong—his eyes hard, his jaw set. Like she was something foreign to him. He’d never looked at her that way before, not even on that day aboard the Hogwarts Express, when he’d tried to make polite conversation with her and she’d done nothing but tell him off.

He’d always been the one to smile at her, to shrug off her insults. Did there come a time when even someone like Ted Tonks lost his forbearance? Had she tested him just one time too many?

That doesn’t matter anymore, Andromeda. He isn’t part of the plan. He can’t be. Now say what you’ve been practicing all this time. Say what you came to say.

“It was a mistake,” she whispered. “We shouldn’t have kissed.”

Ted nodded. “All right.”

That wasn’t the reply that Andromeda had been expecting.

What had she been expecting?

“All right?” she repeated. “You think it was a mistake, too?”

“Obviously. I mean, it ended in a veritable shouting match. I thought you were going to throw a vase at me or something. We shouldn’t have kissed. We’d both had a little bit to drink, and we were alone in a dark bedroom, hormones raging. It happens.”

Andromeda gaped.

What’s wrong with that? He agreed with you. So move on. Tell him the rest of what you planned to say.

But she was taking an uncomfortably long time to say anything at all. Ted began to look uneasy.

“For the record,” he muttered, “you kissed me first.”

Heat rushed through Andromeda.

“Only technically,” she snapped. “You were the one looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“You know exactly how. Stupid—stupid bedroom eyes!”

Bedroom eyes?”

“I was not just a tipsy girl suffering from some uncontrollable biological urge, Tonks. We’re not animals.”

Ted hesitated. “Well, technically—“

She shot him a vicious glare. “You know what I mean. It may have been a mistake, but that doesn’t mean it was some sort of primal, dirty thing to be ashamed of.”

“I never said it was primal or dirty,” said Ted. “I thought it was pretty bloody won—“

“I wrote to Narcissa,” Andromeda spat out. “The moment I hear back from her, I’ll be leaving.”

“Oh. Okay.” His voice was flat. He gave a thin-lipped smile. “So that’s that.”

“Look, Ted, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. Letting me stay at your place, feeding me, listening to me. All of that was far more than I would expect from anyone in your position.”

“Anyone in my position?” Ted made a frustrated noise. “What do you—“

“You’re not a part of the plan!”

“What are you talking about?”

“You,” Andromeda said, motioning lifelessly at Ted. “This. It isn’t part of the plan. I need to set things straight. I need my sister. I need my family. I’ve thought this through, and I can’t just live in a world without them. They’re my world, Ted. My friends, my home, my way of life—that’s all I’ve got. And I’m going to find a way to set things right again without—without—“

“Without marrying Lestrange.” Ted was looking at the floor. He gave a single, short laugh. “Right. Got it.”

“It’s been several days. I think my family will see reason if I sit down and talk to them.”

“Yeah, ‘cos that worked so well last time, what with your aunt casting an unforgiveable—“

It happened on instinct. Andromeda had him backed against the wall, his back rammed against a bookshelf, her wand pointed at his throat. It was terrifying how natural the action had been.

“You don’t ever speak of that again,” she hissed. “Not to another soul.”

Ted hadn’t so much as lost his composure. Carefully, he set his fingers on Andromeda’s trembling wand hand. He pushed it back down to her side. All the while, his eyes never left hers.

“I wouldn’t do that,” he said evenly.

Andromeda backed away. Her head was swimming.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I don’t know why I—of course you wouldn’t.”

What had possessed her to do something like that? This wasn’t how she behaved. This wasn’t her. She was acting like—

Like Bellatrix.

“I understand,” Ted said softly, “You want to set things right at home. And it’s selfish of me, wanting you to stick around even though I know you’re on bad terms with your family. I dunno. I just thought that if you’d run away, it meant that you—“

Andromeda’s gaze flickered back to his, but Ted didn’t finish his thought. Her eyes fell to her lowered hands, and she picked mindlessly at the gauze wrapped around her knuckles.

“So, look,” he said. “Just suppose that I’d been born a pureblood…”

“Ted. Don’t.”

“I mean it. Suppose I were a pureblood. You know, a Rosier or a Yaxley. And I wasn’t born with a wildly unattractive genetic defect. And I was filthy rich. And suppose you and I moved in the same circles, and I’d been sorted into a decent house, like Ravenclaw. Would I have been in the plan then?”

“Don’t talk like that,” Andromeda whispered. “It isn’t fair.”

“Just tell me.”

“I can’t answer something like that. It’s complete nonsense. If you’d been all those things, you wouldn’t be Ted anymore.”

“Sure I would,” said Ted. “I’d just be rich and attractive, and you’d be, you know, allowed to want me.”

”But you are poor!” Andromeda cried, exasperated. “You’re poor and you’re Muggleborn and you’re a metamorphmagus. Those are all parts of you. You wouldn’t be the Ted I wanted without them.”

No. Oh no.

Ted had gone completely still.

It was happening again: that uncomfortable phenomenon when Andromeda started inhaling a little too little and exhaling much too much.

She stumbled back over the library rug.

“I need to check George’s room,” she wheezed feebly. “His owl could be back. There could be a reply—“

“You want me?”

“I didn’t say—“

“You did.” Ted took a step forward, countering her own step back. “You said that you wanted me.”

“Why does that even matter?” Andromeda nearly shrieked. She was teetering on the edge of something—a sob or a laugh or quite possibly a panic attack. “God, Ted, you’ve the thickest skull imaginable. It doesn’t change anything. My family—“

“Doesn’t it matter that I want you back?”

“Stop.“

“I can’t.”

Ted’s eyes had gone a strange hue, and cool dread seized Andromeda.

They were turning silver.

“That’s the real trouble of it,” he said. “I can’t stop. I’m probably certifiable. How else could I let myself fancy someone who treats me like the scum of the earth?”

“Ted—“

“I mean, it’s terrifically unhealthy if you think about it. Do you know when I think it started? When you puked all over my fish and chips at Hog’s Head. How demented is that?”

It was happening right in front of her this time. A shoot of hair just above his ear was fading from dusty gold to silver. Still, Ted went on.

“And I told myself, ‘It’s going to hurt like hell if you let yourself do it.’ You know? In what universe does me falling for Andromeda Black end well? Who does that? I should be committed.”

“Ted, calm down,” Andromeda said, grabbing his arm. “You’re—you’re changing.”

Ted’s arm tensed under her hand. His silver eyes widened. Slowly, he touched his hand to his hair.

“I—I am?”

She nodded, trying not to look as terrified as she felt.

Please don’t have a fit. Not now.

“Are you okay?” she whispered. “Do you need to sit down?”

He shook his head, jerking away from her. “No. No, I’m fine.”

But even as he said the words, he doubled over with a sharp, pained gasp.

“Oh my god. Oh god, where’s your medicine?”

“It isn’t—“ Ted shook his head. “I didn’t bring any with—“

What?” Andromeda glanced around frantically, then spotted a settee in the corner of the room. She grabbed Ted’s arm and dragged him toward it, then sat, tugging him down with her. “Okay. It’s okay. Just breathe, all right? Breathe.”

It was all she could think to say. He was heaving in short, erratic gasps now, and his face had blanched to a terrifying shade of white.

“It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.” She pressed her palm flat against his chest. He was ice cold, but she could feel sweat wicking through his shirt.

She was not going to choke, not like last time when she’d been paralyzed with fear. She was the top of her class at Hogwarts. Wasn’t that good for something?

A soothing spell. Cast a soothing spell, Andromeda. Calm him down.

She tugged out her wand, wincing as her bandaged knuckles brushed her skirt pocket. This would be hard, almost impossible work with her wand hand injured.

“Stay still,” she ordered Ted, meeting his eyes. They were wet and dilated, and the silver of his irises had only intensified in the past minute.

Andromeda closed her eyes. She concentrated. Then she placed the tip of her wand at Ted’s sternum and whispered a soothing spell with careful precision. When she was through, she snapped her eyes back open, searching Ted’s features for some kind of change. But nothing had changed. If anything, he looked paler.

Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Think, Andromeda. Try something else. Another plan.

“I’m going to apparate back to your place,” she said. “Okay? I’m going to apparate there and get your medicine, and I’ll bring it back.”

“No!” Ted slumped forward, his hand digging into the fabric of her jacket. “Don’t—don’t leave me alone. Dromeda. Don’t.”

He was shivering. His shoulders shook convulsively, sending tremors through Andromeda’s own body as she wrapped her arms tightly around his back. She couldn’t leave now. What if she left and, when she came back, she found him...dead?

“You need to breathe,” she said, pressing her forehead to his shoulder. “Ted, breathe. I’m right here, with you. Breathe with me. Please. Please.”

Her movements had become blurs, disjointed entirely from her thoughts. She was rubbing her hand in circles on his back, she was breathing in deep, over-large breaths, clinging to the dogged hope that he’d do the same.

He couldn’t die. Ted Tonks wasn’t going to die like this, not locked in her arms on Christmas holiday, right after he’d just told her that he was falling for her. Whatever happened next, he was not going to die.

His breaths were growing more and more ragged. He felt cold, so cold under her hands.

Then, suddenly, everything stilled. She couldn’t hear his heart. She couldn’t hear his breaths. A deathly silence flooded her ears.

It lingered for a full five seconds.

And then Ted's chest bloomed with warmth.

He choked in one long, labored gasp, as though he were surfacing from deep water. Andromeda pulled away, placing her hands on either side of Ted’s jaw. She forced his bleary eyes to meet hers. The color was returning to his cheeks.

It had passed.

The fit had passed.

“O-w-w,” rasped Ted. “That hurt.”

Andromeda burst into tears. She flung her arms back around Ted, burying her face against his chest.

“I hate you. Ted Tonks, I hate you so much. I thought—I thought—“

Ted released a hoarse, labored cough. “Y-y-eah. I kind of thought so, too.”

She pulled back again to look him in the eyes. With shaking hands, she swept back the damp tendrils of silver hair that clung his forehead.

She opened her mouth to speak. But she stopped short. Her gaze had caught sight of something behind Ted. The tall, elegant figure of a woman stood silhouetted in the library’s threshold.

“Andie,” whispered Narcissa. “What on earth are you doing here?”



Author's Note: I keep doing that cliffhanger thing. Sorry. I swear, this is the last one in a while. I think I've written more than a fair share of DRAMA(!!!) in these past few chapters, so you can expect things to get a little more muted and back-to-normal in coming installments. Relatively speaking. Maybe. As always, I love hearing your thoughts/critique/suggestions. Thanks for sticking with me this far! 


Chapter 19: Sisterly Care
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“Cissy.”

Andromeda had never known a more welcome sight than her little sister standing in George Vanderpool’s library. She had been so far removed from everything familiar, from family, from comfort. Narcissa was all of those things, and Andromeda hadn’t realized until this moment how much she’d missed her.

She had risen from the settee as though in a dream, still not entirely trusting her senses. Then she had crossed the room and thrown her arms around Narcissa in a tight embrace.

“You’re here!” she cried. “I didn’t expect for you to—how did you find me?”

Narcissa pushed back from the embrace. It looked as though she had been crying, and she wasn’t even looking at Andromeda. She was still staring past her, at a figure sitting slumped on the settee: Ted.

Andromeda glanced back in alarm. Ted was sitting upright, but his head was propped back against the wall for support. His hair and his half-lidded eyes were both still a shocking shade of silver. Even if the fit had passed, he still didn’t look well.

“Who is that?” Narcissa whispered, staring at Ted as though he were a feral animal. “Andie, what’s going on?”

“He’s no one,” Andromeda said quickly. “Nothing! The trouble is that he’s very sick, and I’m the only one home to tend to him. I’m going to see that he can lie down somewhere, and then I promise I’ll be back. I’ll come right back here, and then we can talk and—and we can leave. Together. Promise.”

Narcissa shook her head in bewilderment. “I don’t understand. Who—“

Please,” Andromeda begged. “Give me five minutes, and I swear I’ll be back.”

She was already crossing back to Ted. She knelt beside him and took his clammy hand in hers.

“Can you walk?” she asked in a threadbare undertone. “We need to get you to bed.”

Ted nodded weakly. He made no comment, no argument whatsoever. He pushed off of the settee to his feet, but his balance wavered, and Andromeda quickly slipped an arm around his back, steadying him. Ted, in turn, clutched a hand around her shoulder. He was wincing from some sort of pain—something residual, she guessed, from the debilitating fit that had attacked his system just a minute earlier.

Together, they walked to the library door. Andromeda caught Narcissa’s gaze in her periphery. She looked confused. No. More than confused, she looked horrified. Andromeda tried not to think of what convoluted explanation she would have to give Narcissa when she came back down these stairs. For now, she just focused on getting Ted up them, and into George’s bedroom.

Ted leaned very little of his weight on her shoulder, but he did stumble up every other step on the way to the third floor, and he gripped Andromeda’s arm more tightly on the landing, bracing himself against the wall and heaving out one long, labored breath. At last, they made it to George’s room, and Andromeda helped Ted over to the bed, where he promptly sank into the pillows with a relieved sigh.

“Is it going to happen again?” Andromeda whispered. “The paralysis?”

Ted shook his head weakly. “I dunno. I’ve never had two fits so close together.” He pointed to the beside table. “My wand. Could you?”

Andromeda grabbed Ted’s wand and handed it over to him. He held it upright and murmured a low, long incantation under his breath. Andromeda didn’t recognize the spell.

The end of the wand glowed a faint blue. It pulsed for a few seconds, and then the light faded altogether. Ted set the wand down on the bed with an exhausted sigh.

“What was that?”

“George’s wand and mine—they’re bound. We cast the binding years back. It’s a way of letting each other know when the other’s in trouble. He’ll be back soon.” For the first time since the fit had passed, Ted’s eyes met hers. “You don’t need to stay. You shouldn’t. Your sister will think—“

“I won’t leave you until George shows up,” she said firmly. “What happened back there—I feel responsible. I’m not going to just leave you here alone. What if the fit hasn’t passed completely? You said this hasn’t happened before.”

“I’ll be fine,” Ted said, pushing himself up against the pillows, though Andromeda could tell that the movement was paining him. “I don’t need you here. Your sister’s waiting. She’ll start assuming things if you stay up here. I know you don’t want that.”

“But it’s my fault that—“

“It’s not your fault,” Ted interrupted. “George will be here any minute. Just go.”

Tears stung Andromeda’s eyes. “Ted, if I leave now, I probably won’t ever speak to you again. You know that, right?"

Ted shifted his head away from her, turning toward Medusa’s birdcage. The sleek little owl had perched back in her cage and was roosting pleasantly, oblivious to the scene at George’s bedside.

“Do what you need to do.”

“What you said earlier?” she whispered. “If things had been different—“

“No. You were right. That doesn’t change things.” Ted’s voice was limp. “Please, just go before I do something else to make a complete ass of myself.”

“I really think I should—“

Ted turned back toward her, his silver eyes blazing. “Just. Go.”

Andromeda stared. Then, quietly, she rose from the side of the bed to her feet.

“Fine,” she whispered. “If that’s how you want it.”

He turned his back to her again, curling on his side, his expression unreadable.

“Goodbye, Dromeda.”

As she left the room, a bitter, taunting voice surfaced in her mind.

You’ll never be called Dromeda again.



“Cissy, please, say something.”

They were at Malfoy Manor, alone in Narcissa’s bedroom. Once Andromeda had returned to the Vanderpool library, Narcissa had apparated them in quiet, concentrated silence. She had said nothing since, but instead was pacing the length of her tapestry-lined bedroom. With one hand, she convulsively turned the diamond bracelet hanging from her opposite wrist. Andromeda had never seen the bracelet before; it must have been a Christmas gift from Lucius.

“I’m sorry,” Andromeda tried again, stepping from where she stood to intercept Narcissa’s path. She caught her sister’s hand. “Whatever explanation you want, whatever questions you have—I’ll answer them all truthfully. Anything you want to know. Just talk to me, Cissa.”

Narcissa released a feathery sigh. Tears beaded her eyelashes, and the sight of them filled Andromeda with guilt. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t intended to upset her sister. She’d done it all the same.

“I’m afraid,” Narcissa said at last. “I’m afraid to ask you my questions, because I cannot imagine how the answers will be comforting.”

Andromeda pressed her hand. “Ask me.”

“Andie, you disappeared. For days! Don’t you know how worried I’ve been? How worried the entire family has been about your safety? And then to receive a letter like the one you sent! And of course Lucius helped me to perform a locating charm on it, and of course he was there to see that you were at some strange address, in a stranger’s house, doing who knows what with your time. How could you be so selfish? You positively ruined our holiday, and you’ve thrown your reputation into jeopardy. Why would you do that? What sort of disagreement with Mummy could possibly—“

“They’re forcing me to marry Rabastan.”

Narcissa stopped short, her long lashes fluttering, her nose wrinkling delicately in confusion.

“What?”

“Did Mum tell you that?” Andromeda asked, anger steeling her words. “How she and Aunt Walburga are forcing me to reconcile with Rabastan, to agree to marry him despite everything?”

“Oh dear. No, she didn’t say that.”

Narcissa looked very pink in the cheeks. She gave a troubled sigh and sunk down to the edge of her canopy bed. Even when she was distressed, Narcissa was a picture of beauty. Not like Andromeda, who turned into a red-faced, puffy-eyed monster when she was even the least bit irritated.

“I won’t let them force me into a marriage,” Andromeda said. “Not after what he did to me. I don’t love him, Cissa. How could I? How can I ever love him after what he did?”

Narcissa touched her fingertips to her forehead, brow creased in thought.

“Perhaps that was selfish of me,” Andromeda whispered, “but I don’t regret it. I won’t let them dictate my future.”

“Oh dear,” Narcissa repeated. “It’s all that wretched Rabastan’s fault! I don’t know what he could’ve possibly seen in another girl when he had you.”

“I wasn’t giving him what he wanted,” Andromeda said, surprised by her own frankness. “I wasn’t keeping him satisfied.”

The pink in Narcissa’s cheeks turned crimson.

“That isn’t your fault, though,” she said softly.

“Mum said it was. Aunt Walburga, too. And there Father was, going on about upholding my duty to the family, and Bellatrix was her usual pleasant self. Cissy, it was awful. I wanted you there. I missed you so badly.”

Narcissa’s tears brimmed over her eyes. She pulled Andromeda into a hug.

“Darling,” she said between sniffles. “Oh, my poor darling. I had no idea.”

“I didn’t mean to make you worry,” Andromeda whispered, tucking her head into Narcissa’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean to ruin your holiday with Lucius. I know how special this was to you.”

Narcissa sighed and shook her head, wiping her eyes with the back of her wrist. “Mummy only told me yesterday. They’ve been trying to keep the whole matter hush-hush. Lucius and I had no idea until then. So if it puts you more at ease, you didn’t ruin our holiday entirely. I just wish you had written to me from Grimmauld Place instead of—did you really climb out the window?”

Andromeda nodded, and as she did she felt a surge of unexpected pride. She would never admit it to Narcissa, but the remembrance of that night filled her with much more excitement and self-satisfaction than it ought to have.

“But whose house were you in? It isn’t anyone that we know.”

By this, Narcissa meant that the Vanderpool house didn’t belong to anyone worth knowing—anyone within their tightknit, pureblooded circle.

“You wouldn’t know them,” Andromeda said. “The family's halfblood. His mother's a Muggle." 

Narcissa looked ill. She held her hand to her mouth.

Now was not the time to tell Narcissa that she had spent the majority of her time in the house of a Mudblood. Or spent time socializing with Muggles.

“So, the boy with the strange hair—the one who looked like death incarnate when I arrived—he’s a halfblood?”

Andromeda steeled herself. “N-no. That was someone different. The halfblood’s friend. He’s—he’s—“

Don’t be such a coward, Andromeda. Say the word.

Narcissa gasped. “I remember him now! He was that foul boy from Hog’s Head Inn, wasn't he? The one who was touching you. You said he was a Mudblood.”

“He’s Muggleborn, yes,” Andromeda whispered. “Cissy, don’t look at me that way! I was desperate. I wasn’t thinking properly. I needed somewhere to stay, and I had to go someplace where Mum and Dad couldn’t find me. I couldn’t just traipse up to one of our family friends’ doorsteps and ask them to harbor me while I ran away from home.”

“But a Mudblood.” Narcissa appeared to be gagging on the word. “I had no idea things were that bad. That you were so desperate.”

Something ruffled within Andromeda. She wanted to tell Narcissa to stop using the word ‘Mudblood’ in reference to Ted Tonks. But she couldn’t make a request like that now, not when she was attempting to convince Narcissa that she’d been entirely unaffected by her stay with two blood inferiors.

“I was fine,” she said. “Anyway, it’s all over now, and that’s what matters. I’m here with you.”

Narcissa shook her head. “But when I first arrived, you were—you were touching him.”

“I told you,” Andromeda said, “he was sick. He has this condition. I was just helping him. It would’ve been cruel to let him suffer. Inhumane. The same as it would’ve to let a wounded dog suffer without tending to its wound. It was common decency.”

“A condition?!” Narcissa looked queasy. “It isn’t contagious, is it? I’m sure it’s something he inherited from his parents. Muggles have the most unthinkable diseases.”

“No!” Andromeda cried, genuinely annoyed with Narcissa now. “No, it isn’t contagious. It’s magical, not Muggle. It’s not important what it is. The point is that I was just helping him.”

“How else did you help him? And his friend? Why on earth did they even let you stay with them?“

“He fancies me!” Andromeda blurted out.

Narcissa looked even queasier. “He what?”

“The Muggleborn, he’s got a thing for me. I knew that, and I used it to my advantage, that’s all.”

“Did you flirt with him?”

“God no, Cissy!” Andromeda tried to look equally disgusted by the suggestion. “Of course not. I only had to bat my lashes for him to hand me the moon and stars. It was pathetic, really.”

And when you say pathetic, you mean the most selfless, beautiful act that anyone’s ever performed for you, Andromeda Black.

“Then you didn’t—“ Narcissa shuddered. “I mean, he didn’t—I mean, both of you together, that didn’t—“

Andromeda shook her head hastily. “Don’t be so vulgar. I can’t believe you’d even suggest that I’d seduce a Mudblood just for a place to live. I’m a Lady of the House of Black, not a common whore.”

Narcissa gasped at the word.

“Well, that was the implication, wasn’t it?” Andromeda demanded. “For your information, I can make my way in the real world without begging and, heaven forbid, selling my body.”

“Really, Andie!” Narcissa sniffed. “You’ve clearly been in horrendous company to be speaking so crassly. I wasn’t accusing you of any impropriety. I know you’re far above it. But two boys like that most certainly are not.”

Andromeda let out a short laugh. The very thought of Ted Tonks ever trying to take the slightest advantage of her was so absurd, so completely unthinkable—

Pain burst behind Andromeda’s chest, sudden and unexpected. Ted. Ted, who had kissed her so sweetly, who’d just told her that he was falling in love with her.

She wasn’t ever going to speak to him again.

“Well,” said Narcissa, “if you’re quite sure you’re all right. Still, I do wish you had written to me immediately. If it had really bothered you so much, I wouldn’t have told Mummy and Daddy. You could’ve stayed here for Christmas. Lucius is such an angel, I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded.”

“Lucius.” Andromeda sighed. “He must have the worst opinion of me. It’s very good of him to let me stay, even now. You must thank him for—“

Narcissa interrupted her with a tutting sound. “None of that nonsense,” she said. “You’ll be able to thank him in person. And his father. We’ll all have dinner tonight, and that will set everyone more at ease. Then you and I shall sort things out, and we’ll go to Onyx House in the morning, as I’d already planned.”

The fear boiling in Andromeda’s gut must have shown on her face, because Narcissa reached over and squeezed her hand with a reassuring smile.

“We’ll set everything aright again,” she said. “Now, don’t take this wrong way, Andie dear, but you look positively dreadful.” Her nose crinkled. “And you smell it, too. I’ll have Knobbly draw you a nice hot bubble bath, hm? Wash all the dirtiness off. And then you can change into one of my prettiest dresses for dinner.”

Andromeda wanted nothing more than to hug Narcissa again. Her sister knew precisely what she needed. But Andromeda’s dress was still caked with dried blood and, as Narcissa had just pointed out, she smelled rank. The best way of showing her gratitude would be to promptly depart to the tub, and that is just what Andromeda did.

She soaked for far longer than necessary, until her fingers and toes had thoroughly pruned. For the first time in nearly a week, she took her time casting beauty and hair spells until she was somewhat satisfied with her reflection in the vanity mirror. Then she dressed in Narcissa’s velvet blue evening gown, and though the dress cinched a little too tightly in the waist, she managed to pull it off with the customary Black finesse.

If only Ted could see me like this, not all frumpy and disheveled and red-faced like before.

Andromeda’s eyes widened. Where had that thought come from? Why would she think something like that? Even if Ted could see her like this, what good would it do? Would she only want to torture him further, remind him of what he couldn’t have? She shouldn’t even have been thinking about Ted, period. So why was she?

Because you still like him. You still want him. You admitted it to him, can’t you admit it to yourself?

“Andie! Lucius says—“ Narcissa stopped short in the doorway. “Darling! Why ever are you crying?”

Andromeda wiped hastily at her eyes with the back of her wrist. “It’s nothing,” she snuffled, turning her face away. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”

“Are you not feeling up to supper, then?” Narcissa didn’t sound too pleased, but Andromeda could tell that she was still trying hard to be nice. “If you’re feeling that poorly, I can always have—“

“No, no! I’m quite all right.” Andromeda cast a quick charm on her face to reverse the damage done by her running mascara. “I don’t want the Malfoys thinking I’m rude.”

She got to her feet, smoothed out her dress, and cast Narcissa a bright, charming smile that she reserved only for special occasions when smiling was the last thing she wanted to do.

“Now then,” she said, “let’s not keep the gentlemen waiting.”



“Nasty bit of weather we’ve been having.”

They had been at the table for nearly half an hour now, and Lucius hadn’t breathed a word about the fact that Andromeda had run away. She was certain that Narcissa had told him not to, and for that she was grateful. All the same, it was uncomfortable to sit across from Lucius when he knew that she had been in a tiff with her family, had run away, and had spent the past several days in a strange residence. She imagined that, despite his polite exterior and his talk about the weather, Lucius was judging her. If she were in his position, she would have judged herself, too.

The only person present who was completely oblivious to Andromeda’s predicament was Mr. Abraxas Malfoy, who sat at the head of the lavishly laid table, sawing his steak knife into a particularly succulent cut of roast beef. Mr. Malfoy possessed an alarmingly commanding presence. He was a broad-shouldered man with a sharp jawline and pure white hair. Like his son, Abraxas kept his hair long and swept back behind his shoulders. Andromeda wondered if that had always been the Malfoy way. Very few men could pull of the look, she thought, but both Malfoy men most certainly could. It was clear that Lucius had inherited most of his features from his handsome father. Andromeda had no way of knowing what he had inherited from his mother; she had died many years back.

Andromeda had heard things about Abraxas Malfoy—whispers and rumors circulated around her pureblood circles. He was widely believed to have been instrumental in a plot to oust Nobby Leach from his position as Minister of Magic. The whole affair had happened several years back, when Andromeda had been a fourth year at Hogwarts, but she could still remember the Daily Prophet headlines about pureblood riots and marches for Squib Rights and the minister’s eventual resignation. He had been a Muggleborn and therefore entirely unsuited for the position. Andromeda’s own parents had been outraged at his appointment and only too happy to see the man removed from the Ministry altogether. As had Andromeda, of course. She hadn’t even questioned the ethics of Mr. Malfoy’s tactics until this very evening, as she sat across from him, cutting her own roast beef into tiny pieces.

Mr. Malfoy hadn’t spoken a word the entire dinner, not even to acknowledge Andromeda’s presence. He was instead intently focused on a roll of parchment clipped beside his place setting with two golden clamps. Only now did he glance up from his reading, fix Andromeda in his sights, and speak.

“Your father, Miss Black, does he still play wizarding chess?”

“U-u-uh.” The question was so wholly unexpected that Andromeda first looked to Narcissa and Lucius, though for what she wasn’t sure—permission to speak, perhaps? Affirmation that Mr. Malfoy was, in fact, speaking to her?

She recovered soon enough, however, and assumed a more graceful and eloquent air than before.

“He does, sir, when time allows. I’m afraid that his work has kept him quite busy of late, but I know he still enjoys it as a pastime.”

“Unbeatable during our Hogwarts years,” Mr. Malfoy grunted, returning his attention to his scroll. “I challenged him several times. Never once won. Keen eye for detail, Cygnus. It is a shame that he had no son to inherit his better qualities.”

Andromeda’s knuckles whitened around her knife and fork. She was used to such comments, of course. She had heard more than one family friend sympathize with her parents’ inability to produce a male heir, and she heard disparaging remarks made about her gender nearly every day. But for some reason, Mr. Malfoy’s careless remark irritated her more than usual.

If Ted were sitting at this table, he would speak up right now and inform Abraxas Malfoy that you’re at the top of your class.


But Ted wasn’t sitting at the table. Lucius and Narcissa were, and they said nothing in response to Mr. Malfoy’s comment, only went on chewing their food.

It was only later, after more dull pleasantries were exchanged and after Lucius and Narcissa had whispered and giggled a dozen sweet nothings into each other’s ears, that Lucius addressed his father.

“I’ll be leaving with Narcissa for Onyx House in the morning, as planned. I should be back by dusk.”

Mr. Malfoy nodded lazily, then returned his gaze to his parchment.

“Give my best to Cygnus and Druella,” he said through a yawn.

Lucius nodded stiffly. Then the three of them left the dining room together.

They came to a stop outside of Narcissa’s room. Lucius’ hand had been threaded through Narcissa’s the entire walk up the stairs, and even now he seemed loath to let it go. He looked into her pale blue eyes in a way that turned Andromeda’s stomach and filled her with a terrible, aching longing for someone else’s eyes to be looking at her like that.

Ted had looked at her that way the night before.

“I take it you two have important matters to discuss.”

Andromeda looked up in time to find that Lucius was finally ripping himself from Narcissa’s side.

“Sorry, sweet thing,” Narcissa murmured, placing a kiss against Lucius’ shoulder and twirling a strand of his hair around her forefinger. “I’m afraid we do.”

“Then I’ll leave you to it. Goodnight, Andromeda.”

Lucius gave her a polite nod, as polite and noncommittal as all of his remarks at the dinner table. Then, he turned to Narcissa and swept her into a deep kiss, his hands framing her cheekbones. Narcissa made a giddy little squeaking noise in return, and Andromeda averted her eyes as the happy couple proceeded to make out far longer than was comfortable for a third party. At last, they parted, and Lucius walked down the hallway with swift strides.

Narcissa turned to Andromeda with a flushed, guilty expression. All the same, she couldn’t keep the smile off of her face, and Andromeda couldn’t blame her for that. Narcissa was happy. She was in love and engaged, and her parents approved entirely of both those facts. Andromeda wasn’t going to begrudge her sister that happiness. She was just grateful that Narcissa wasn’t incapable of sympathizing with her own unhappiness.

“Oh Andie,” Narcissa sighed, flopping onto the bed in the most graceful flop Andromeda had ever witnessed, “we’ve so much to talk about.”

Andromeda climbed onto the bed next to her sister and laid out on her stomach in an exhausted, much less elegant sprawl.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” she said. “I think I have a decent plan. Everyone knows that you’re Mum’s favorite. I’m sure that if you told her very sweetly that I was scared when I ran away and that you think Rabastan is deplorable and would never suit as a husband—I think she might actually listen to you.”

Narcissa’s brow furrowed. “You want me to say all of that to Mummy?”

Andromeda looked over with a desperate expression in her eyes. “Could you please? I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’m so afraid that they won’t have changed their minds at all. But you—you’re a breath of fresh air, Cissy. I think they’d listen to you. Mum wouldn’t want to upset you by upsetting me.”

“No,” said Narcissa, “that’s very true. Mummy never likes to see me upset. But oh dear, it’s such a complicated matter! Do you really think they’ll just forget about the match altogether?”

“I only know that if anything will change their mind, it’s you.”

It was possible. Druella had always had a soft spot in her heart where Narcissa was concerned. But Andromeda’s real concern wasn’t her mother, or even her father. It was Aunt Walburga.

She didn’t know why she hadn’t just told Narcissa about the unforgiveable that Aunt Walburga had performed on her. Something about it had been so unthinkable, so dreadful, that she wasn’t sure she could ever bring herself to talk about it again. Saying it out loud would make it more real somehow. And how could she tell Narcissa, of all people? It was next to impossible to tell her sister that the woman who’d tucked her into bed over summer holidays had cast an Imperius curse.

Then why was it so easy to tell Ted?


“Whatever happens,” Narcissa said, tugging the pearl hair clasps out of her soft hair, “we’ll sort through it together, hm?”

Andromeda couldn’t count the number of times she’d looked at Narcissa today and wanted to weep. This was what she needed: someone to just listen to her, to sympathize, to promise that things would be better. She’d needed her sister so badly. When Narcissa reassured her, Andromeda really did believe that everything would be okay again. It would be like she had never run away.

Except that you did, and Ted Tonks saved you, and the two of you had a snogging session, and you both admitted that you’ve got a thing for each other, and then you left him, even while he was recovering from one of those awful fits. You don’t even know if he’s okay. You don’t know if George showed up after you left and made sure that Ted wasn’t dead or paralyzed from the neck down or—

“Andie? You look ill.”

Andromeda glanced up to find Narcissa stooped over her, her pretty face distorted with concern.

“I’m fine,” said Andromeda, propping herself up on her elbows. “Nervous about tomorrow, that’s all. It’s your responsibility to distract me.”

Narcissa giggled at that. “Well. I do have a topic of conversation that would prove quite distracting. It’s just—what with your own to-do, I didn’t want to seem insensitive.”

Andromeda pushed herself up into a sit, her eyes huge. She knew the voice that Narcissa was using. It was breathy and twittery and particularly soprano. It was the voice that she always used when she was talking about Lucius.

“Cissy,” Andromeda said slowly, “tell me.”

Narcissa bit her lip and giggled again. “Well. Well. Lucius and I—um. We—we—“

Andromeda gasped. “Cissa, you didn't! When?”

“Christmas Eve,” Narcissa said, going giggly again. “Oh, is that too cliché?”

Andromeda shook her head. “N-n-no. No, it isn’t cliché, I just can’t believe—“

“We didn’t plan on it,” Narcissa said, fiddling with the lace sash of her gown, her cheeks flaming. “It just happened, really.”

Then, impishly, she raised her eyes and added, “Several, several times.”

“Oh. My. God.”

“I know!” Narcissa burst into giggles again and rolled over onto her stomach. “I know, I know!”

Then, at Andromeda’s silence, Narcissa lifted her head from the duvet. “You’re not angry are you? You don’t think I’m some uncouth, graceless slag?”

“Of course not,” Andromeda said quickly, running her hand along Narcissa’s back. “Dearest, you are the furthest thing from a slag. But—but you were safe, weren’t you?”

Narcissa blushed even more. “I’m not stupid. Of course we were safe. I know that contraception spells are only 98% effective, too, so I took a birth control potion just to be sure. You should be very proud of me.”

“Birth control potion?” Andromeda said, quirking an eyebrow. “You said you weren’t planning on it.”

Narcissa tittered. “Well. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”

Andromeda collapsed beside her on the bed with a wondering laugh. “Good heavens. Little Cissa, all grown up.”

“Mm. More grown up than youuu.”

Narcissa shot a tickling hand against Andromeda’s side, and Andromeda promptly ducked away from it, tickling Narcissa back until they were both breathless with laughter.

After all, it was far better to be laughing about it than crying in a corner because her baby sister had lost her virginity before she had.

When the tickling match had calmed down, Andromeda fixed Narcissa with a more serious face.

“Did it—“ She hesitated, and then decided to go through with her whispered inquiry. “Did it hurt very much?”

Narcissa nodded. “A bit, yes. Do you know, though? Not nearly so bad as I thought it would. Mummy made it sound like such an absolute terror. Like it was something as unpleasant and blasé as sorting laundry. But I think it’s different when he loves you.”

Neither sister would ever admit it, but this was the first time that either of them had come close to admitting out loud that their parents did not love each other.

Druella and Cygnus respected and supported each other. Andromeda never doubted that. But it was the little things that had begun to clue her in, once she was old enough to know what the little things meant: how her father failed to kiss her mother goodnight, how they never held hands when they went out for an afternoon stroll, how they came home separately from parties—her father always much later than her mother.

“Lucius was divine,” Narcissa sighed. “He was so attentive and so gentle. Though, I must say, the act is a good deal less—refined than I imagined it. A rather messy business. I thought—“

Narcissa’s next words were muffled. Andromeda had slapped her hand over her sister’s mouth with a wicked smirk.

“Cissy, I’m very happy for you,” she said, “but that is the most detail I ever want to hear about your sex life.”

Narcissa giggled again and shrugged like an innocent. “I only thought you’d like to know for future reference.”

Andromeda only shook her head. She stared up at the gauzy canopy drooped above Narcissa’s bed and sighed. Future reference. When might that be, exactly? If there was one thing she knew for certain, it was that she was never, ever going to share a bed with Rabastan Lestrange. And if not Rabastan, then what other possible qualified suitor was there? She wasn’t so naïve to think that if her parents agreed to let her break things off with Rabastan they would magically forget about marrying her off to some wealthy pureblood heir.

There was Evan Rosier. He was a few years younger, but he was decent enough to look at, and he and Andromeda had actually carried on some halfway decent conversations. Lilith had a brother, Declan. He was a sixth year Ravenclaw, brilliant, and very fit. Lilith only whined about what a know-it-all prat Declan was, but Andromeda had crushed on him when they were younger. But that was a silly line of thought, because the Starkers were technically halfblood. Only very technically—a halfblood had married into the family centuries back. All the same, it had tainted their blood status, and while Lilith was suitable friend material, Declan wouldn’t be suitable husband material.

Still. Better material than Ted Tonks, who you’ve been thinking about this entire time.

Andromeda’s breathing slowed. She looked askance at Narcissa, irrationally afraid that her sister could somehow hear her thoughts.

Come on, Andromeda. You’re thinking about it still. You’re wondering what it would be like with a Mudblood. You’re wondering if it would’ve been just like last night—if it would feel just as wondrously right.


“It’s rather stuffy in here, isn’t it?” Narcissa let out a languid sigh. “Best get dressed for bed.”

She tapped Andromeda’s nose with an affectionate smile.

“Don’t wear that worried expression. Everything will be better soon. I can just feel it.”

Tomorrow. Onyx House. Her parents. Rabastan Lestrange. It all came rushing back, and Andromeda wondered how on earth she could’ve been distracted by the thought of Ted Tonks’ hands on her skin. Something was wrong with her mind. It was very possible that Ted had passed on some type of Muggle communicable disease after all. One that affected the brain.

She shook her head, concentrating on the real issue at hand: getting back into her family’s good graces. By this time tomorrow, all of her worries and fears would come to an end. She could only hope that it would be the end that she wanted.


Chapter 20: Proposal
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Andromeda sat cross-legged on the floor, in the very middle of the wood-paneled study of Onyx House. The room was dark, lit only by a flickering gas lamp in the far corner. She did not move. She could not. Though her mind screamed commands to her limbs, they did not obey. They did not even listen.

Snow was falling around her in a soundless flurry. But that was wrong. That was all wrong. It couldn’t be snowing here, inside these walls. She looked up, desperate to find the source of the snowfall, but all she could see above her head was a yawning, black abyss.

She tried to cry out, but her tongue, like her body, remained heedless to her wishes. She felt her heart beating wildly beneath her ribs, a damp thudding sound, alarming in its incessancy.

Then she caught sight of it: just a flutter of golden wings from out of the corner of her eye. The linnet. It swooped into sight again, and then, gracefully, the small bird circled downward and downward until it landed in her lap.

It looked up at her, its black eyes intent. Then it gave a low, quivering chirp. Like Andromeda, the linnet was frightened. She wanted so desperately to reach out. She wanted to stroke its downy feathers, to whisper words of reassurance. She could do nothing. She was frozen and helpless. The linnet began to tremble.

Then the snow turned blood red.



She woke screaming, her body drenched in sweat, her hands gripped into the satin sheets of Narcissa’s bed.

The lights were flicked on, and Narcissa was awake and by her side.

Andromeda looked up at her sister in a daze, then rubbed at her eyes, willing them to focus. Her head throbbed, her heart pattered wildly. She felt weak and sore in the deep places of her bones. Even now, she struggled to think properly, to convince herself that she was safe, that there was no linnet, that there was no bloodstained snow.

“Andie,” Narcissa whispered. “I thought the nightmares had stopped.”

Andromeda sunk back against her pillow, sweat-sopped curls of hair sticking to her cheekbones.

I thought so, too.



They were traveling by Floo. Narcissa stood beside Andromeda at the edge of the great marble fireplace in the Malfoy’s drawing room. She clutched a massive satchel in one hand, and Lucius was in the process of tugging a full-sized trunk toward the fireplace. Narcissa had never been a particularly light packer.

“I’ll go on ahead of you ladies, then,” said Lucius, straightening up under the mantelpiece and clutching at his handful of Floo powder.

Lucius cast only one nervous glance at Narcissa before throwing the powder onto the flames and saying aloud, with perfect enunciation, “Onyx House.”

The flames turned a blinding green. Lucius stepped into them with Narcissa's trunk and vanished. The green tint flickered away, and the flames diminished into tiny tongues of fire circling a single wooden log. Andromeda was rather impressed that Lucius had offered to go first, knowing he’d be greeted on the other end by his fiancée’s parents.

Of course Cygnus and Druella were overjoyed by the match between Lucius and Narcissa—even more than they had been by Bellatrix’s marriage to Rodolphus Lestrange. It had never been any secret that, out of all the intended suitors for the Black sisters, Lucius was the best pick of the lot. Still, this would be the first time for Lucius to see the Black family after his proposal to Narcissa, and Andromeda imagined that there would be a deluge of questions waiting for him, courtesy of her mother.

That is, until Andromeda appeared on the scene. Narcissa hadn’t warned her parents that she would be bringing along her runaway sister this morning. Andromeda had a feeling that her appearance would overshadow Lucius’ visit. Perhaps that had been what Lucius was banking on. And perhaps that meant that Lucius wasn’t so very brave after all….

Narcissa squeezed Andromeda’s hand. She hadn’t realized until now that it had been shaking.

“I’ll be there,” said Narcissa. “Don’t worry.”

Narcissa threw an extra large fistful of Floo powder onto the flames and pronounced the name of her family home with perfect clarity. Then she and Andromeda clasped hands and stepped into the flames…

…and out of them, into the dimly lit great room of Onyx House.

Lucius was just shaking Cygnus Black’s hand when the sisters arrived. For a moment, all was quiet. Then Druella let out an astonished gasp, and Cygnus dropped Lucius’ hand as though he’d been stung. Both of Andromeda’s parents stared at her as though she were a specter—and an unwelcome specter at that.

“Andromeda,” said her mother in a wildly unstable voice. Then her gaze shifted to Narcissa. “How long has she been with you?”

“Just since last night,” Narcissa said quickly, her smile appeasing. “Far too late for us to contact you. We were afraid you’d be asleep. But isn’t it wonderful, Mummy? She’s safe and sound, and we’ve brought her home!”

Druella said nothing. She and her husband still stood transfixed, and neither of them wore a particularly nice expression. Andromeda felt small. She wanted nothing more than to back away, into the fireplace, and Floo herself back into safety at Malfoy Manor.

But that wouldn’t do. She didn’t make plans just to give them up so easily. She wasn’t going to run away a second time. This time around, she was going to stand her ground.

She slipped her hand out of Narcissa’s.

“Mum, Dad.” Andromeda nodded at both of her parents. “I apologize for causing you undue worry and for any shame I may have brought upon the family name. Running away was a rash decision, and I am willing to accept the full consequences for my actions.”

She had rehearsed the lines so often for the past day. She knew every syllable, every practiced rise and fall of intonation. But as she finally spoke them, they tasted like ash in her mouth.

Still, her parents said nothing. Andromeda had not been expecting a warm or loving reception. But this—this silence….She wasn't prepared for this.

“You mustn’t blame her!” Narcissa cried, crossing the room in a graceful stride and taking her mother’s hands in hers. “Andromeda wasn’t thinking clearly. She explained it all perfectly to me. I’m sure if you just spoke to her, if you heard what she has to say, you would understand. She doesn’t love him, Mummy. It isn’t right. You should marry the one you love, shouldn’t you?”

“Narcissa.” It was Cygnus who spoke, his voice deep and strained. “This matter does not concern you. You’ll kindly take Lucius into the dining room. The house elves will wait on you there. Your mother and I will speak to your sister in private.”

Narcissa wavered for a moment. Then, her crystalline blue eyes clouded over. Andromeda had seen this look countless times before, since Narcissa had been old enough to toddle. It was an inevitably each and every time Narcissa didn't get precisely she wanted—whether it was the prettiest porcelain doll in the nursery or the most expensive gown in the shop. For a brief moment, Narcissa lost her composure entirely. She shoved her mother’s hands away and stomped her foot angrily.

“This matter does concern me! Andie is my sister, and if she’s not happy, then I’m not happy.”

Andromeda saw her mother’s lower lip wobble, as it always did when Narcissa threw one of her tantrums.

“Cygnus—“ Druella began, but Cygnus gave a sharp wave of his hand, and she went silent.

“Cissa, my sweet.” Lucius placed a hand on Narcissa’s waist, his lips at her ear. “Perhaps it would be best if we left them alone.”

Not so brave at all, Andromeda thought derisively. Though she really couldn’t blame Lucius. Of course he didn’t want to be embroiled in family drama that had nothing to do with him.

Narcissa glanced back uncertainly at Andromeda. If she asked, she knew that her sister would stay by her side. She had promised. But it was selfish to put Lucius and Narcissa in this position. She had been the one to run away, to cause a rift. It was her responsibility and hers alone.

“I’ll be all right, Cissy,” she said, pleased with the steady way she managed the words. Her parents couldn’t possibly know the fear that was seizing Andromeda. She was terrified to be left alone with her parents.

Narcissa still look unsatisfied, but Lucius leaned back in and whispered something inaudible that cleared the clouds from her eyes.

“Very well,” she murmured, slipping her hand around Lucius’ proffered elbow. “We’ll wait in the dining room.”

Together, the two left the great room through black wooden doors that heaved shut behind them. Even as they closed, Andromeda saw Narcissa cast back one last anxious glance. Then they were both gone, and Andromeda was sealed up in the dark room with her grim-faced parents.

“Take a seat,” said Cygnus.

It was a command that left no room for discussion. Andromeda took a seat in the worn leather armchair nearest the fireplace. Her parents remained standing.

No words were exchanged for one full, excruciating minute. Andromeda could feel her father’s dark gaze bearing down on her. She saw her mother wring her hands against her tafetta afternoon gown. She waited. She knew that her father wished to be the first to speak. This silence was part of his speech. It was part of her punishment.

“You have disgraced us.”

Andromeda lowered her eyes to her lap. She couldn’t look at him.

“You have disgraced me, your mother, your sisters—the entire name of the House of Black. Did you even think, when you pulled that reckless stunt, of the worry, the trouble, the embarrassment that you would cause your family?”

“No,” she whispered truthfully. “No, I wasn’t thinking at all.”

“Do you know how difficult it was to conduct a search for our missing daughter while simultaneously keeping the shame of your actions from reaching the general public? What our acquaintances would say if they discovered that our daughter had willfully disobeyed her parents and run away from home to God knows what hovel in London?”

“I wasn’t in a hovel—“

“It is of no concern to me where you were!” Cygnus slammed his hand down on the mantelpiece, whipping around toward Andromeda with a visceral glare she had never before seen him wear. “Your mother and I do not wish to hear what you did, who you saw, or what other sins you committed abroad. All you need know is that your flirtation with rebellion is over. I will not be made a public figure of shame because I cannot control my own daughter.”

“Bella and Cissa play the marionettes very well,” Andromeda said icily. “Isn’t that good enough for you?”

“How dare you speak to your father that way!” cried Druella. “I don’t know where you’ve picked up this insolence, Andromeda Lyra Brlack, but it has no place in this house.”

“Insolence doesn’t, but the Dark Arts do?”

Druella made a choking noise. She and Cygnus exchanged a troubled look, and Andromeda knew that she had struck a deep, sensitive nerve.

“It’s true, then,” said Andromeda, the reputation we’ve earned. Don’t think I haven’t heard my classmates whisper about how the Blacks dabble in Dark Arts, how we’re a lineage of black-hearted witches and wizards. I bore those stupid whispers with pride before. But it’s true, isn’t it? What Aunt Walburga did to me wasn’t an isolated instance, was it? You see nothing wrong with what she did."

“Walburga’s method of discipline was unwise,” Cygnus said coolly. “It was out of line. But for you to so flippantly dismiss the use of the Dark Arts demonstrates just what a naïve perspective—“

“Naïve?” Andromeda flung the word back. “I'm not naïve. I know the Dark Arts inside and out, Father. I’ve made careful study of them, made top marks in all of my classes. But we're trained to defend ourselves from dark magic, not to practice it on others. That’s as it should be.”

“Sweet Salazar, listen to your daughter lecture,” Cygnus laughed to Druella. “It would’ve been better for you to have given me sons. Better, then, to have sent them to Durmstrang, where none of this nonsense had been chiseled into her weak, impressionable mind. She's been taught to abhor the Dark Arts on principle. I suppose, Andromeda, that it’s all very black and white in the classroom, isn’t it?”

“It is black and white,” Andromeda shot back. “There's a reason that certain curses are considered unforgiveable.”

“And who do you suppose deemed them so?” her father demanded. “Laws are made by the weak—by the weak who are too afraid of the powerful. Dammit, girl, you’re smarter than this. Do you honestly believe all the drivel they feed you in that school? Do you think that a couple of essays make you a qualified judge of the Dark Arts? You presume to disparage this family with your schoolgirl code of morality!”

Andromeda shook her head in disbelief. “I can’t believe you’re defending her. What she did was wrong. The Dark Arts should never be tampered with. Witches and wizards have believed that for centuries, and yet when I say so you treat me like I’m nothing more than a child!”

“You are a child!” roared Cygnus. “You are my child, and you live under my roof, and so long as you intend to carry on my family name and fortune, there are certain behaviors that are absolutely unacceptable. One of those behaviors is running away. Another is refusing marriage to a man that your mother and I have deemed to be the most appropriate match.”

Andromeda crossed her arms tightly. “He isn’t an appropriate match. He isn’t appropriate at all! Do you want for your child to be the laughing stock of Slytherin? Everyone knows now that he’s a cheater. I’ll be marrying an unfaithful man. You want for me to have that reputation?”

“You speak,” said Druella, “as though you still had a reputation to salvage. Your aunt was right before: no other prospective suitor will want you if you turn down Rabastan. The two of you have been courting for far too long. They will assume you have already lost your virginity to Lestrange, and no boy wants a spoiled bride. And they will assume—rightly so—that you are unable to contain your temper, that you are incapable of honoring and obeying your husband. Tell me, Andromeda, please, what suitor wants that?”

Andromeda blurted out the first name that came to mind. “Evan Rosier.”

Druella scoffed. “Your second cousin? Believe me, dear heart, I know his mother only too well. She would never agree to a match like that. She has a strong prejudice against your father’s line. An inferiority complex that the Rosiers have always suffered from. Believe me, as a Rosier, I would know.”

“You will marry Lestrange,” said Cygnus. “Your mother informs me that you’ve already sent him an apology, and he’s sent his own reply, offering his forgiveness. He expressed a wish to visit Onyx House. Your mother and I anticipate a proposal during this visit. You will accept.”

Andromeda sat up taller in her chair. “And if I don’t?”

Cygnus walked from the mantelpiece to where she sat. He stooped to her eye-level, the way he had before when she had been a little and he had knelt to answer one of her questions. Unlike those times, though, there was no warmth in her father’s eyes, no smile on his lips.

“If you don’t,” he said, “then I will no longer call you my daughter. You will no longer be welcomed into this home. Your inheritance will be split evenly between your other two sisters. Do you understand what I am saying, Andromeda?”

Andromeda understood very well. She nodded, just once. Cold determination had gripped her.

“Now then. What are you going to do?”

She spoke without hesitation. “I’m going to accept Rabastan Lestrange’s proposal of marriage.”



She sat in the conservatory, on a wrought-iron bench beside her mother’s prized collection of geraniums. She was wearing her best dress—a black, floor-length gown lined with silk fringe and diamond teardrops that unabashedly showed off the curves of her hips. Andromeda wanted to look her best. This was a special day, after all.

There was a light tapping at the conservatory’s glass door. Andromeda did not turn to face it. She heard the slide of a latch, the creak of the door, and swift footsteps against the tile flooring. Still she did not turn. She waited until Rabastan had circled around her bench and had kneeled at her feet before she bestowed a glance upon him.

He took her hands in his. He pressed a long, profuse kiss against her knuckles. His lips were hot and dry, just as she remembered them.

“Andie, I swear, what happened before—I’m never going to make that mistake again. I swear it to you. I love you.”

Andromeda watched Rabastan closely, her mouth sealed shut. His dark hair was cropped close along his ears, his jaw line as sharp as she had remembered it. He was handsome, there was no denying it. He had a spotless pedigree. He was well liked by his peers. He did tolerably well in school and, regardless of his marks, he would land an excellent job. All the same, he was a Lestrange, not a Black. His family’s name did not have near the reputation that Andromeda’s did. His father was close to bankrupt. His inheritance was not even a tenth of what Andromeda’s would be.

Andromeda smiled down at him. Only she would need to know that it was a contemptuous smile. She removed her hands from his.

“Of course you do,” she said.

Rabastan nodded passionately. “Yes,” he said, “of course I do. That’s why—“ he fumbled at the inner pocket of his dress robe, produced a green velvet box, “—that’s why I’m asking you to be my wife.”

He opened the box. The diamond was stunning. It was, Andromeda noted with satisfaction, larger than both Bellatrix’s and Narcissa’s engagement diamonds. The stone was offset by a circlet of emeralds set in pure silver. It was decidedly in Andromeda’s taste.

She extended her left hand, curling her delicate fingers ever so slightly in Rabastan’s direction. He looked up at her with a cautious expression. Andromeda arched an eyebrow.

“Is that a yes then?” he asked.

“It’s a yes.”

A relieved smile broke across Rabastan’s face.

He had such a disarming smile.

He took her hand in his and gingerly slipped the ring onto Andromeda’s finger. It fit snugly, perfectly. Andromeda was still smiling when she suddenly gripped his hand, her nails pinching into the soft skin of his palm.

He looked up in alarm.

“Andie—?“ he began.

She shook her head, placed her forefinger against his lips.

“I want you to listen to me, Rabastan,” she said. “Listen carefully. I’ve accepted your proposal. Now I’m going to tell you my terms. You need me. I know that. I’m the best you can do. When you and I tie the knot, you’ll have the benefit of my social standing and of my wealth. You need that from me, just as much as Rodolphus did from Bella. You think you’ll be as lucky as him, and perhaps you will be. But on my terms.”

She tightened her grip into Rabastan’s palm. He did not move. His eyes were wide, locked on hers. Andromeda knew that she was doing it again: she was behaving just like Bellatrix. And this time, she didn’t fight the inclination; she welcomed it, reveled in the cold and emotionless power it gave her.

“You’re a bastard,” she said crisply. “I don’t know how long you were cheating on me before, but I know you’ll do it again. You’re probably doing it even now.”

Rabastan tried to speak, but Andromeda only pressed her finger more firmly against his mouth, only tightened her grip.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I don’t love you. In fact, I’m not sure I ever have. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I hold the trump card, don’t I? If I refused to marry you, you’d be a shame to your parents. You’d have no chance of lifting yourself up in society, of the dowry that you’re after, would you? You’re powerless without me, so you’ll do as I say. No more giving the orders. No more telling me who I can and can’t cavort with, when I can talk, what I can talk about. And no more touching me. No kissing, no slipping your filthy hand around my waist. I don’t want any of that. And if you dare to so much as rest a finger on me, Rabastan Lestrange, I swear I’ll make you suffer for it.”

Andromeda removed her finger from Rabastan’s lips. She wasn’t done talking yet, but she knew that she had petrified him into silence by now. He was staring at her like she was some unearthly creature that had sprouted wings and horns and breathed out fire.

“You’re in no place to judge me, to give me orders. And you know that, don’t you? You’ve known it all along.”

Andromeda smirked. She released Rabastan’s hand entirely. “Get up off of your knees. Kiss my hand, and then go back into the hallway to be congratulated by my father. You’ll then make your excuses. You have pressing matters at home and won’t be able to stay for dinner. Then you’ll leave. I don’t want to receive any owls from you. I don’t want to see you aboard the Hogwarts Express. You and I will sit together in the dining hall and the common room on occasion, to retain the façade that we’re happily engaged. Otherwise, I don’t want your vile presence anywhere near me. Understood?”

Rabastan rose to his feet. He shook his head wonderingly.

“I underestimated you.”

His words were cool and unaffected, but Andromeda could see his hands shaking. Good. He was right where she wanted him. She leaned back against the iron bench. She cross her legs in a slow, deliberate manner, well aware that it showed off the curves of her body to their best advantage. She crossed her hands primly in her lap. Let him stare at what he couldn’t have.

“I’m sure,” she said, “that you won’t make that mistake again.”



“I just don’t understand.”

Andromeda sat in her childhood bedroom, at her marble vanity, dressed in her nightshift. Narcissa was making careful work of unthreading the plaits Andromeda had wound her hair up into for dinner that night. Her fingers worked with adroit precision, even as her words faltered. Her composure was clearly rattled by the events of the day.

Narcissa had been shock-faced when Andromeda had emerged from the library and announced her intention to accept Rabastan Lestrange’s proposal after all. Andromeda had politely ignored her questions all day, both after the events of the conservatory and throughout dinner. Narcissa was distraught, and it pained Andromeda beyond measure to see her that way. But she couldn’t let her guard down in front of her parents, and not even in front of Lucius. She remained placid and smiling and had gently told Narcissa that she had merely “changed her mind on the matter.”

But tonight, after dinner, when both girls were left alone in the bedroom, Andromeda finally allowed herself to drop the icy exterior she’d assumed that day. She didn’t realize how exhausting the act had been until she sat at the vanity and let out one low, cleansing breath. Her cheeks ached from smiling, her body was weak from straining at good posture the entire day through. And in her chest, she felt a small but discernable hollowness. She winced and rubbed at her sternum in an attempt to relieve herself of the unpleasant sensation.

“Andie?”

She glanced up at the reflection of her sister in the mirror. Narcissa looked concerned; she also looked angry.

“Andie, why are you acting like this?”

Andromeda sighed. She reached up and clasped Narcissa’s hand in hers.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I’m so sorry, Cissa. I’m afraid I wasn’t entirely truthful with you before.”

“What do you mean?” Narcissa stopped her work with Andromeda's hair and took a seat on an ottoman by her side. “What haven’t you been truthful about?”

“My plan.”

“What plan?”

“My plan to make things right again,” said Andromeda. “I never really thought that Mum and Dad would let me refuse Rabastan. There was the hope—and I think perhaps Mum really would have given in if it weren’t for Father and Aunt Walburga.”

“Aunt Walburga? What does she have to do with—“

Andromeda shook her head tiredly. “I suppose deep down I wanted you to be able to convince Mum otherwise, but I only had to be in that room with them for thirty seconds to know where things stood. I could never convince them, and neither could you or anyone in this family. I think I’ve known that ever since I left Grimmauld Place. I just kept hoping…. Well, hope is a very silly thing, isn’t it?”

Narcissa’s eyes were tearing up. “Darling, don’t talk like this. You’re frightening me. The way you’ve been acting all day, like you’re perfectly happy to wear Rabastan’s ring when I know it isn’t what you want. You’re not happy.”

“There are more important things than being happy,” Andromeda whispered. “Family is one of them. And I don’t mean Mum and Dad. I mean you, Cissy. If they were to cut me off, we wouldn’t be able to see each other again."

Narcissa shook her head. “Mummy and Daddy would never—“

“Yes, they would,” Andromeda cut in. “A year ago, I wouldn't think them capable of it. But I’ve seen Father look at me in horrible ways today, ways he’s never looked at me before. I understand now: they value the family honor more than they value me.”

Narcissa looked ready to refute the statement. Then she paused, shook her head, said nothing.

“You know that’s true,” said Andromeda. “I need you in my life. I need a future, too, and I don’t have that if I don’t have any money. I don’t come into any part of my inheritance until my eighteenth birthday. If they cut me off now, I’d be destitute. I can have the best marks and the best incentive in the whole of the wizarding world, and I still wouldn’t be able to get off my feet, not without some sort of financial support at the outset. I’ve thought it through, and it’s impossible. I care more about family and a future than I do about marital happiness. It’s as simple as that.”

“But it isn’t simple at all!” Narcissa cried. “You shouldn’t have to decide between the two."

“Perhaps I shouldn’t. But I must. And if I must, then I’m going to at least do it my way. I’m still going to remain independent. I have the upper hand, and Rabastan knows it. We’re going to play by my rules from now on. He won’t control me. And to me, that’s what’s most important.”

“But it’s so very wrong.”

“It’s unfair, yes.” Andromeda smiled without feeling. “But you at least are lucky enough to have both a future and a happy marriage before you. Think on that instead, Cissy.”

“I can’t think on something like that when you’re so unhappy!” Narcissa rose to her feet, a sort of wild energy animating her limbs. “I see what you’re doing. Don’t think that I’m blind. I’m your sister, Andie. I know you. You’re acting like her. You’re putting on Bella’s little Ice Queen routine, acting like nothing bothers you, like you’re untouchable. But you’re not her. You’re not that. You aren’t cold and calculating, Andromeda. You weren’t made for a loveless life. It’s going to kill you.”

Andromeda shrugged, threading her fingers through the remaining kinks of her long, chestnut hair. “Then I die young. You know I never wanted to outlive my beauty, anyway.”

Narcissa wiped away the tears trickling down her cheeks. “It isn’t right,” she whispered again, sinking back against the bed.

But Andromeda could see the truth settling over Narcissa, could see realization darkening her eyes. It wasn’t right, but it was the way things would have to be. Andromeda felt tired, not just with the events of the day, but with an aged sort of weariness. She felt as though she had grown decades. Her father had called her naïve that morning. She refused to be called naïve again.

This had been her plan all along, and nothing would throw her off course.

It wasn’t until after the lights were off and she lay alone in her childhood bed that she allowed herself to shed a solitary tear.


Chapter 21: Adjustment
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Rabastan obeyed Andromeda’s orders. He did not sit with her onboard the Hogwarts Express. She never even saw his face. She locked herself in a compartment with Lucius and Narcissa, complained of a headache, and promptly fell asleep for the duration of the ride northward.

Lilith had been waiting for her two roommates like an anxious puppy. She came bounding into the front courtyard of the castle with merry eyes, slung her arms around the shoulders of both sisters, and walked them up to their dormitory, where she descended into a deluge of gossip about the students who had remained for the holidays. She and Xavier had been passionately in love, had a memorable fling, and then broken up in a hair-raising spat. Xavier was now deemed Public Enemy Number One by Lilith, and she commissioned Narcissa and Andromeda to help her burn all photographs and mementos of the boy in a ceremonial fire in their bedroom.

Andromeda did not say a single word about running away from home. Both sisters recounted their holidays as though everything had transpired just as it should have. And of course, there was the matter of Rabastan’s proposal. Lilith had gawked and cooed and fawned over the engagement ring, and Andromeda had patiently endured it all before explaining to Lilith just what she had explained to Narciss about her plan. 

“You’re mad,” had been Lilith’s prompt reply. “I was being all happy for you when I thought that you’d actually forgiven Rabastan and loved him again. But this? You've finally cracked, Andie. This is madness. I won't allow it!”

“I’m not asking for your permission or for your blessing,” Andromeda had snapped. “I only thought that as one of my best friends, you deserved an honest explanation. Now let’s not discuss it any further.”

Lilith had glared at Andromeda. Andromeda had glared back at Lilith. And since that exchange, they had both been on uneasy terms with each other.

Classes resumed, and Andromeda channeled all of her attention into preparation for her N.E.W.T.s. The examinations loomed before her, dark and onerous things, dragons to be slayed. She would make top marks on every one of them. That, too, was part of the plan.

When she walked into DADA the first day back, she noted Ted Tonks’ absence. Not that she was actively thinking about Ted Tonks. Of course she wasn’t. And of course she hadn’t fought an urge every day during the remainder of her holiday back at Onyx House to send an owl to George and ascertain if Ted had fully recovered from his latest attack. Of course she didn't go into temporary shock at the sight of every golden-haired boy to cross her path as she walked through the Hogwarts corridors.

Of course not.

It wasn’t until the third day that Ted hadn’t shown in class that Andromeda admitted it to herself: she was, most certainly, thinking about Ted Tonks. And it was more than a passing thought. She was worried.

She stayed after class to speak with Professor Whitechapel. Ostensibly, she wanted to clarify the instructions for an assignment on dementor protocol at Azkaban. It was only after Professor Whitechapel unnecessarily explained the essay parameters again that Andromeda asked the question.

“Is Ted Tonks ill? I only ask since he hasn’t been in class since Monday.”

Professor Whitechapel blinked in surprise. “Not that I know of. No, Ted dropped the class. I thought you knew. Since you were his tutor, I imagined he had told you.”

Andromeda felt as though a punch had been delivered to her lower intestine. She grasped at the edge of Professor Whitechapel’s podium to steady herself.

“N-no. No, he didn’t tell me.”

Professor Whitechapel glanced up from a ream of paperwork and lowered his spectacles. “Well, it was all very recent. He let me know first day classes resumed. It’s a shame. Such a promising student, and he was doing so well under your tutelage. He’ll be missed.”

Andromeda nodded wordlessly. Then she walked straight back to her empty dormitory, locked herself inside, and cried for a half hour straight.



This is a good thing. In fact, it’s excellent luck. You would’ve had to pass by him awkwardly every day in class. Merlin forbid, you could’ve been paired with him for a group project. It’s better to not have any contact whatsoever.

The rational thoughts had kicked in after the tears had dried. Andromeda had tried to convince herself to listen to them. She was still trying to convince herself weeks later on her way from classes back to the dormitories.

It doesn’t matter what he said over the holidays. It doesn’t matter what you admitted. Nothing can come of it. You made your decision. You’re following through with your plan. A Mudblood has no place in your future.

Andromeda clung fiercely at the sleeves of her robes, pulling them more tightly against the February wind roaring through the courtyard. It was a bad day to be outdoors, but cutting outside was the quickest way back to the Slytherin corner of the dungeons.

“Don’t call him that,” she whispered to her rational thoughts. “He isn’t a Mudblood.”

“Talking to yourself?”

Andromeda started. A boy had fallen in step without her noticing. On instinct, she whipped out her wand and jabbed it into his chest.

“Whoa, shit! Whoa, whoa! It’s just me.”

“George?”

George Vanderpool was a portrait of terror. His hands were raised in a clumsy attempt at self-defense. The wind whipped his floppy auburn hair in comical new hairstyles every other second.

Andromeda lowered her wand. She glanced around the courtyard in a panic. There was no one else around. Still, Andromeda grabbed George at the wrist and dragged him behind the nearest granite statue of an old, wizened headmaster from the nineteenth century.

“Why are you speaking to me?” she hissed.

“Nice to see you, too,” George replied, unaffected. “Lovely weather we’ve been having. Ooh yes, I had a marvelous rest of my holiday. You’re so sweet to ask.”

“What do you want?”

George dropped the blithe demeanor. He rolled his eyes, removed something from his coat pocket, and plopped it into Andromeda’s hand.

It was her Synop.

“Ted wanted me to give it back. Said you wouldn’t want to see him again. But just let me make it as clear to you as I did to him: this is the last time I play errand boy. It’s—“ he made a face “—demeaning.”

Andromeda blurted her next words out before the rational voice in her head could stop her.

“Is he all right?”

George rubbed at his cold-reddened nose. “Huh? What, Ted? Yeah, I mean, considering you royally screwed him over, I’d say he’s doing pretty peachy. By the way, thanks a lot for leaving me a half-dead best mate to come home to that afternoon. Real sweet. In fact, I should be severely angry with you right now. Duel-worthy angry. I would be if Ted wasn’t doing so well.”

“What do you mean?”

George shrugged. “He’s in the best form I’ve ever seen him. I dunno what psychotic mumbo jumbo you fed him when you left him for dead, but it shook him up. He’s been nothing but charisma and game plans in the locker room. He’s working our asses off out there on the pitch, but we’re playing our best game yet, and the team can feel it. It’s been fantastic for Quidditch morale. And all he can talk about now is agents and landing a good recruitment and decimating Slytherin for the house cup. All sappy inspirational shit, but he’s on his game. Definitely an improvement.”

“Oh.” Andromeda shivered. “That’s—that’s very good to hear.”

“Not that you care,” George snorted. “God, you’re heartless, aren’t you? That rock attached to your hand is blinding me.”

Andromeda shoved her hands deep into the folds of her robe and pocketed the Synop, effectively hiding her engagement ring. She assumed her haughtiest expression. “Don’t talk about things you know nothing about.”

“All I’m saying is that you would’ve felt my wrath for what you did to him if it didn’t end up—well, helping him.”

“I meant what I said earlier. I never meant to hurt him.”

“Well, he’s fine. Except for that night he got sloshed and rang me up to say that his sheets smelled like you and he’d never met any girl like Andromeda Black and his heart felt like it was bleeding out, blah, blah. But I’m being really generous and marking that up to the booze. I like to think that Ted is above getting hung up on girls who aren’t worth his spit.”

Andromeda had lost all feeling in her arms. “H-he said that?”

“He was wasted. I’m pretending it didn’t happen, for your sake. Because if it did, it’d mean you messed Ted up big time and I’d be obligated to hex your ass.”

“George, you couldn’t hex my ass if you tried.”

“Whatever. Just stay away from him. He’s doing really well, like I said. So don’t you dare prance back onto the scene and screw him up again, all right?”

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I won’t. It’s in neither of our best interests to ever speak again.”

“Don’t be melodramatic,” said George. “You aristos have a penchant for it.”

Andromeda narrowed her eyes. “You’re an aristo.”

“That’s how I know,” George said smugly. But then his expression turned more solemn, and he took a step closer. “Is it true what Ted said? Did you really coach him through that fit of his?”

Andromeda flinched. She’d been trying desperately for the past month to rid that memory from her mind. Her forehead pressed to Ted’s chest, the silvery, drowning look in his eyes as he’d fought away the pain….

“I’m not sure ‘coach’ is the best word,” she said. “But yes, I was there with him. Why?”

George looked just the slightest bit impressed. “It’s never happened before, that’s all. He’s always needed the medicine to recover. He’s gone through hour-long fits before, even with the medicine’s help. But he said that with you, the fit was over in just a few minutes. He said you saved his life.”

“Now you’re the one being melodramatic.”

“Ted was the one who said it, not me.” George toed the snowy cobblestone at their feet. “It just seems a shame, that’s all. Don’t get me wrong, I still think you’re a stuck-up, entitled toff, but I was actually beginning to like you two together. Kept things interesting.”

Heat rushed through Andromeda’s limbs. “Well, that’s it then,” she said airily, brushing past George. “You’ve delivered what belongs to me, and now we can be done with it.”

George followed her. “Are you really that ashamed to be seen with a halfblood?”

Andromeda kept walking. “No. I’m just cold.”

“You like him. Admit it. He’s good for you, Black, same as he’s good for me. You’re just too proud to admit it.”

Andromeda whipped around. “If I liked him, then why, pray tell, would I be engaged to another man?”

George shrugged. “That’s what makes the whole thing so tragic. Telling you, flair for the melodramatic, our lot.”

“If you speak to me in public again—“

“Right, right, whatever.” George simpered and backed away toward the corridors, in the opposite direction. “Don’t worry, princess, I haven’t a reason in the world to ever speak to you again. Just stay away from him, huh?”

Andromeda said nothing in reply. She was already halfway across the courtyard.



The south wing turret was damper than Andromeda remembered. It was colder, too. When she reached the top of the narrow, winding stairs, she found drifts of snow clumped against the edge of the wall. Rivulets of water trickled winding paths through the stonework underfoot.

She tugged her coat closer and sat on the dry edge of a bench—her customary bench when she and Ted had held their tutoring sessions here.

She didn’t know why she had detoured from her route to the dormitories. Perhaps it was just that she didn’t want to fall into conversation with the girls. She didn’t want to hear the latest divine act of love Lucius had performed for Narcissa, and she didn’t want to hear about Lilith’s most recent conquest—the Ravenclaw’s star seeker, Ferdinand Barrow.

Though she and Lilith had patched things up a few weeks back, there was still an uneasy air between the two of them. Lilith had been extremely vocal about how idiotic she thought Andromeda’s plan to marry Rabastan Lestrange was, but she had come to terms with the fact that Andromeda wasn’t budging in her resolve. The plan was, even Lilith finally admitted, the only option.

“Though it’s still moronic,” Lilith had said, “that you’re wearing the ring of a guy you found screwing Georgiana Harper in a lavatory.”

Andromeda still hadn’t entirely forgiven Lilith for talking as though marrying Rabastan was something she wanted.

Since the day of his proposal, Rabastan had been surprisingly compliant with all of Andromeda’s stipulations. She had first attributed his obedience to his shock that Andromeda would ever give him a command. But the weeks had worn on at Hogwarts, and Rabastan had continued to play by her rules, just as she’d requested. He never initiated a conversation with Andromeda, never so much as placed a hand on her elbow. They ate across from each other most nights in the great hall, where they would carry on the semblance of polite conversation. Some nights, they would sit side by side on one of the common room sofas, in front of the fire, and Andromeda would ask Rabastan to recount current Quidditch stats and predictions. They smiled when they were together. They exchanged loving glances. And when they were through with their charade, they went on with the parts of their lives that mattered.

Rabastan was a convincing actor. But of course he would be. He had been acting long before Andromeda had ever caught him with Georgiana. It was only in February, when Andromeda found him in one of the darker cellar corridors with some fifth year Slytherin floozy that she realized the more obvious reason for Rabastan’s compliance: he benefited from her plan. It was an excellent arrangement for him, really. Andromeda had promised Rabastan the status and the wealth that he needed, all for the meager price of his deference. He no longer had to put on an act that he loved her or perform the attentive duties of a boyfriend. So long as he didn’t touch her, he could touch any other girl that he wanted. So long as he didn’t lecture her on who she associated with, she would pay him the same courtesy. It really was a mutually beneficial exchange.

Andromeda had just never thought that “mutually beneficial exchange” would be the three words to define her marriage.

There are things more important than marital bliss, Andromeda. Remember that. There’s Cissa. There’s your social circle. There’s your inheritance. There’s—

Andromeda’s thoughts were interrupted by the sudden shock of a finger tapping on her back.

Her stomach lurched. Irrational delirium shot through her.

“Ted?”

She whipped around, her voice betraying far too much hope.

It wasn’t Ted.

What it was made her shriek and nearly topple off of the bench.

Andromeda had seen her fair share of ghosts during her time at Hogwarts. House ghosts frequently floated here and there during dinners in the great hall, regaling wide-eyed first years with tales of medieval conquest and high adventure and scandalous betrayals. She was accustomed to the pallor and the insubstantiality of specters, and to the cold aura that accompanied them. But she had never been so close to one before. And in all her time spent wandering these halls, she had never encountered this ghost in particular.

Her eyes were blue, but unlike Narcissa’s pale, ethereal irises, these were dark—nearly black. She looked to be no older than eighteen, and she wore a school robe lined in Ravenclaw blue and bronze. Across her pale throat was a clean, long slice, bloody but not bleeding. Andromeda knew who the girl was. Ted had told her this ghost’s story. She was the Ravenclaw who had taken her own life to be with the boy ghost that she loved.

“Winifred,” Andromeda whispered, now that she had regained her composure and her grip on the bench.

Winifred smiled a grim, lippy smile. “Not who you were expecting?” she asked.

Her voice was tinny. Andromeda winced at the sound of it.

“I wasn’t expecting anyone.”

“Are you sure?” Winifred tilted her head, showing off more of the red, half-transparent slash across her throat. “Aren’t you waiting for that boy? The one you like so much?”

“I was his tutor,” Andromeda said, “and we’ve finished our tutoring sessions for good. Anyway, didn’t anyone ever teach you that it’s rude to eavesdrop?”

I wasn’t eavesdropping,” Winifred retorted. “You were trespassing.”

“Well, don’t worry. I won’t be trespassing anymore.”

Winifred’s eyes flickered, just briefly, in and out of visibility. She looked unhappy, though Andromeda didn’t know if that was always how Winifred looked. If she were a ghost, Andromeda reasoned, she would be unhappy all the time.

“You were better company, at least,” said Winifred, “than the most recent intruders. I don’t like them at all. If the professors knew the sorts of things they talked about up here! Terrible boys, going on about all sorts of foul spells and dark arts, comparing their imbecilic tattoos….”

Andromeda could tell that Winifred was purposefully baiting her. She wanted her to ask questions. Andromeda didn’t particularly want to carry on a conversation with a ghost, but she was too curious to resist.

“What sort of boys?”

“Oh, I should’ve thought you knew,” said Winifred, batting her long, ghostly eyelashes. “They’re Slytherins, the lot of them. They call themselves the Knights of Walpurgis.”

Andromeda frowned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m sure they’re not any Slytherins I know, and it isn’t my fault that they’re up here bothering you. I never told them about the south wing turret.”

In fact, Andromeda felt suddenly vulnerable knowing that this secret spot of hers did not belong solely to her and Ted and their tutoring sessions. She was grateful, at least, that the two of them had never had a run in with these Slytherin delinquents; that would’ve made for some awkward explanations.

“All the same,” said Winifred, floating lazily off of the bench and into mid-air, “you could tell those nasty boys to conduct their nasty meetings elsewhere.”

“What makes you think that I know them? Just because they’re in Slytherin doesn’t mean—“

“Because one of them is your fiancé, silly!”

Andromeda went deadly still. “What?”

“Mmhm. Just last night they were up here, and the tallest one was going on about what a nice match he’d made with Andromeda Black. And then he and his lot went into some vulgar details I won’t recount here. Do you think I want to listen to that sort of yammering when Reginald and I are trying to sleep?”

Andromeda didn’t know which topic of bewilderment to address first: that Winifred’s ghostly lover was named Reginald, that ghosts were capable of sleeping, or that Rabastan Lestrange was somehow mixed up in some form of the dark arts.

It was no secret that the Lestrange name had long been tied to dark magic. The very same rumors circulating the corridors about the Blacks were applicable to the Lestrange Family as well. Until now, Andromeda had always assumed that, like the rumors about her family, those accusations had been false. Rabastan never talked about the dark arts around her, and he certainly never mentioned a secret society called the Knights of Walpurgis.

“What else did they talk about?” she demanded of Winifred, but the ghost was floating upward, away from Andromeda, an unconcerned look on her face.

“Doesn’t matter,” Winifred said in a feather-light voice. “What matters is that they were bothering me, and I thought you could tell them off. But if you won’t, then you’re of no use to me. I’m going back to Reginald.”

“Wait!” Andromeda cried. “Wait, please just tell me—“

But it was too late. Winifred’s ghost had disappeared entirely from view, into the shadows of the turret. This time, Andromeda really was alone.



Author's Note: Popping in to say hey, heyyy! Thank you all for the ongoing reads and reviews. It's hokey to say, but they really do keep me inspired and chiseling away at Tedromeda's story. I know that Ted has had a noticeable absence these past couple chapters, but he may or may not make an appearance in the near-ish future. :]


Chapter 22: Meetings
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“You were talking in your sleep again.”

Andromeda placidly ignored the fact that Lilith’s eyes were trained on her every movement as she got ready for school that morning. She calmly did the clasp of her pearl and emerald necklace, then checked her reflection in the mirror.

“You were talking about blood," Lilith went on. "Blood and tattoos. Also birds. I didn't know your subconscious was so morbid. Or bizarre."

Narcissa looked up from the corner of the dormitory, where she was tugging on her heeled boots.

“Do I need to ask Lucius for some more potion, darling? I thought that he’d given you enough for at least a month.”

“No,” Andromeda said, trying to remain detached. “No, I just forgot to take the potion last night, that’s all.”

And also because I don’t want to turn into a potion addict or acknowledge that I have a major insomnia problem. Because I don’t want to be sent to Madame Bellevue frothing at the mouth. Because I still have a shred of hope that the nightmares will go away.

When she looked away from the mirror, Andromeda found Lilith and Narcissa exchanging an uneasy glance.

“I’m fine,” she insisted for the benefit of them both. “Really. I’m sorry that I woke you up last night. I won’t be so forgetful in the future.”

“Perhaps,” Narcissa began, “you should see—“

“NO.” Andromeda slammed down her silver-plated hairbrush on the vanity. “No, I’m not going to see anyone about it. I’m perfectly healthy, and it is not a curse.”

“Cissa’s just worried about you,” Lilith said. “We both are. Calm down, crazy.”

Andromeda shot Lilith an irritated glare. She hated this. She hated feeling constantly at odds with her two best friends, but ever since she had returned to Hogwarts after the holidays, things had changed between her and the girls. Narcissa was more cautious and morose around her. Lilith, who already enjoyed stirring up trouble, now seemed to doubly delight in pushing all of Andromeda’s buttons.

It was stifling, living in a room with them. It shouldn’t have been that way. And though Andromeda didn’t want to admit it, she knew that much of the change was owing to her loveless engagement to Rabastan. Neither of the girls approved. But neither of them could understand how vital the engagement was.

Andromeda was alone in her thinking, and she had begun to fear recently that she was alone in other regards, too. She couldn’t confide in Narcissa and Lilith the way she once had. They had lost a certain amount of faith in her, and she had lost faith in them. The worst of it was, she didn’t know how either faith could ever be regained.

She didn’t like to think about it. Recently, she hadn’t. Her brain had been too crammed full of equations for her upcoming Arithmancy exam—and also with the words of a certain ghost in the south wing turret.

Terrible boys, going on about all sorts of foul spells and dark arts, comparing their imbecilic tattoos….

For nearly a week, Andromeda had tortured herself with the words, with speculation, with anxiety that Winifred was telling the truth and that her own fiancé was involved with a group of dark wizards. Tonight was the night that she asked Rabastan about it, point blank.

It was one thing when one’s fiancé was a confirmed cheater. It was another thing entirely when he was involved in crimes that could get him locked up in Azkaban.



“Oi! Padfoot! What’s the meaning of this? Why’re you even—? Oh! Oooh.”

Two straggly-haired second years skidded to a stop in the doorway of the empty Charms classroom. Andromeda sat across from Sirius at Professor Flitwick’s desk, hands primly folded as he pored over the corrections she had made to his Potions essay.

Since Sirius’ first year at Hogwarts, on the night that he had come to Andromeda in tears over the abysmal grade he’d received in Potions, she had sworn to impart her expertise to her little cousin. Potions may have been Andromeda’s weakest subject, but she was far stronger at it than Sirius was, and monthly tutoring was the only way she’d been able to assuage Sirius’ fear that his parents would get a hold of his end of the year report and unleash certain doom upon him.

Andromeda, of course, had thought then that Sirius was only being dramatic. He was a brilliant boy, and all of his other subjects came naturally to him. When Sirius actually tried, he could easily ace his exams—in everything, that is, but Potions. The subject was his Achilles' heel, and he was hyper-sensitive about the fact that there was one lone subject in the world at which he didn’t excel. All this talk of his parents’ grave displeasure had been sheer silliness.

That is what Andromeda had thought. Now it wasn’t so hard to associate words like “grave displeasure” and “doom” with a person like Aunt Walburga.

Since Andromeda was, naturally, one of Professor Flitwick’s favorite pupils, he had been more than happy to let Andromeda use his classroom after school hours. Since they had struck that arrangement more than a year back, Andromeda had always met on the last Friday of every month to go over Sirius’ essays, assignments, and general concerns.

Sometimes, Andromeda may have helped Sirius a little too much. Sometimes, she may have changed things about his paper that he really ought to have been marked down on, or given him a shortcut that wasn’t strictly in keeping with the rules in his textbook. But Sirius deserved a special exemption, didn’t he? Andromeda really did hate to see him do poorly. It was so rare for Sirius to fail at anything, and when he did, he got so very out of sorts, so very—un-Sirius. Andromeda couldn’t stand to see him that way. Hence their tutoring sessions.

This month’s particular tutoring session had been unceremoniously interrupted, however, by a couple of young Gryffindors—two of Sirius' three friends that seemed joined at the hip whenever Andromeda saw them together in the corridors or the great hall.

One of them, James Potter, had been the one to interrupt Sirius’ concentration with his yelling. He stood now in the doorway, adjusting his glasses and patting down his multiple cowlicks. He was attempting to look contrite but not really succeeding. The boy beside him, Remus Lupin, was a paler and far quieter boy with thick brown hair and intent green eyes. Puberty had hit the poor boy early, and he was already a head taller than both James and Sirius. He was hopelessly gangly, too; even now, he seemed at a loss as to what to do with his limbs. He stared at Andromeda. She smiled softly back at him.

Remus blushed. As though by instinct, he touched his hand to his face, and Andromeda only now noticed the deep gash that cut along his face, running parallel to his cheekbone.

“We’re terribly sorry to interrupt,” he said. “We didn’t know that Sirius was—“

“We just thought he was up to his usual tricks,” James cut in, leaning against the doorframe with far more ease and arrogance than any twelve-year-old ought to have possessed. “We can wait until you’re finished. What exactly are you doing anyway, Sirius?”

Sirius was red in the face. He looked to Andromeda in a panic and, ever so slightly, he shook his head. It had only just occurred to Andromeda that Sirius wouldn’t have told his friends about the tutoring. Of course not. He was too proud—a family trait that she knew all too well.

“He’s reading me one of his papers,” Andromeda piped up before Sirius had a chance to answer James’ questions. “I’m doing advanced research on the topic of sleeping draughts, you see, and when I asked Professor Slughorn for further references, do you know what he told me? To look at the most recent essay of my little cousin here.”

She reached over and pinched Sirius’ cheek with a wicked smirk. If she was going to lie for him, she was at least going to make him suffer at little for it.

“Slughorn,” she continued, “called his work absolutely outstanding! So Sirius has been kind enough to let me look over it. Very informative.”

Remus raised a brow. “Really? Well done, Sirius.”

“Uhhh, yeah.” Sirius hesitated for a beat. Then the usual cocky grin was plastered back on his face. “Yeeaahh, well, what can I say? I’m a genius.”

“Remus,” said Andromeda, generously ignoring Sirius’ stupidity, “are you quite all right? You’ve got a nasty scar just there, don’t you? I know of an excellent salve that’s particularly useful for—“

“No, no!” Remus yipped, interrupting her. “Erm, no, sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I hope you won’t think I’m—it’s just, I’m very well, thanks. I don’t need a balm. Salve? What did you call it?”

“Good Godric, Lupin, you need some work,” sighed James, patting Remus on the head like he might a dog. “C’mon, let’s leave them alone. See you back in the you-know-where, eh Black?”

Sirius exchanged a conspiratorial wink with James, then watched with unreserved fondness as his two friends straggled out of sight. He turned back to Andromeda with a gusty sigh.

“Thanks for covering for me,” he said.

Andromeda nodded. Neither of them needed to explain why. Sirius looked back at his marked essay, but no sooner had he glanced down than he started to snicker.

“Poor Remus,” he said. “He’s got it really bad for you, you know?”

Andromeda’s heart broke just a little. “Does he?”

Sirius glanced up, biting on a hangnail. He nodded. Then a horrified look crossed his face and he added, “Don’t tell him I said that! I think I just betrayed his trust or something. Damn.”

“It’s only a serious matter if you betray someone’s trust about something important,” Andromeda reassured him, “and I’m sure you never would.”

Sirius shook his head solemnly. “Never.”

“Though I’m afraid I’m a little too old for your friend,” she said, smiling.

“Uh, and you’re also engaged,” Sirius pointed out, waving at the massive ring on Andromeda's left hand.

“Oh.” She laughed uneasily. “Yes, that too. All I mean to say is that I’m sure Remus will forget about me soon enough. Most likely within the next week. One day he’ll find a lovely girl that’s much better suited to his age.”

“Ugh.” Sirius looked close to the shade of green. “You know how revolting it is to think of one’s best mates in love, don’t you?”

“One day,” she said, “the lot of you might not find love so revolting as you do now. It’s something very precious that not everyone gets to experience. You’ll realize that one day.”

“That’ll be the day I die.” Sirius glanced back at his essay. “It’s no use. I can’t concentrate anymore.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” she said, reaching over to bop his nose. “Just look over those notes, and if you have any questions, you know where to find me.”

Sirius nodded and shoved the essay back into his satchel without even trying to roll it back up. Andromeda winced at the sound of parchment crinkling.

“Hey Andie?” Sirius asked as they both to got to their feet. “Um, so look, I haven’t asked you about it, and you don’t have to answer or anything. But I was just wondering…why did you run away?”

It was true: Sirius hadn’t breathed a word about Andromeda’s sudden disappearance from Grimmauld Place, even though he’d had ample opportunity since school had started back up. She certainly hadn’t been willing to bring up the topic, given the fact that she had no good excuse.

That is, Andromeda had a perfectly good excuse, but it involved telling Sirius that his mother was severely demented. And while Andromeda was sure that Sirius agreed with that assessment of his mother, it wouldn’t do to tell a twelve-year-old boy about an Imperius curse or the messiness of her relationship with Rabastan Lestrange.

She thought that she had been in the clear for the past month. But now Sirius stood in the doorway of the classroom, looking up at her with his smart, piercing gray eyes, waiting for a reply.

“It’s complicated,” she said at last.

She hated herself for the answer. She knew it was just the sort of thing Sirius didn’t want to hear.

“In any case,” she added, “it was very selfish of me. I shouldn’t have done it.”

“What?” Sirius shook his head. “Are you kidding? It’s the most badass thing you’ve ever done! Really, the most badass thing that any Black ever has done. Mum and Aunt Druella were freaking out. It was bloody fantastic.”

“Sirius, really—“

Sirius waved his hands in irritation. “Sure, sure. It was selfish and you made a lot of people worry. Blah, blah. I see now that you’re not going to give me a real answer.”

“Then what sort of answer am I giving you?”

Sirius quirked a knowing brow up at Andromeda. “An adult answer. You don’t think I’m old enough to hear the truth.”

Andromeda considered arguing with Sirius, but she really didn’t have the energy or the stomach to fight when she knew he was right. Of course she wouldn’t tell Sirius the whole truth about her disappearance. She could only tell him what he deserved to know.

She knelt to eye level with Sirius, even though she knew he’d probably be insulted by the gesture. She needed to be eye-to-eye with him for this.

“I’m sorry that I left you there, all alone with the rest of them,” she said. “I deserted you, and that wasn’t right. I was only thinking of myself.”

“Ugh.” Sirius wriggled and made a grotesque face. “I didn’t want you to apologize. I just thought you’d have some juicy material from your escape. But you won’t tell me, and that’s fine. Don’t get gooey eyed, please.”

Andromeda straightened back up. “Right. No more gooey eyes.”

“Cheers. See you around then, Andie. Thanks again for the help.”

She watched as he took off down the hallway, careening too quickly around the corner toward a secret end destination where his friends would be waiting. Sirius had a happy existence here. He was popular, he had loyal friends, and he had so little concept of what went on behind closed doors at Grimmauld Place. Andromeda had no right to shatter the illusion for her little cousin. She had a feeling that he would shatter it for himself soon enough.



Rabastan was waiting for her in the common room, on the loveseat nearest the fire. She had told him that she wanted to talk to him tonight. She hadn’t mentioned what she wanted to talk about—namely that she suspected him of being involved with an illegal dark arts group.

Tonight, the Slytherin common room was sparser than usual. A pair of first year boys sat in the corner, playing a particularly violent match of wizard’s chess. In another corner, poorly hidden by a banner of green, a giggly couple was making out. Rabastan had been reading a book with half-hearted interest when Andromeda arrived. He cast it aside when he caught sight of her.

“Andromeda.”

He rose to his feet in greeting, a perfect gentleman. They sat down together, and, as they did, Rabastan produced a slow, self-indulgent smile. He’d worn the smile ever since his proposal and Andromeda’s counter-proposal. Andromeda wasn’t fond of it.

“You’re late.” It was an observation, not an accusation. He yawned and added, “That isn’t like you.”

“Tutoring took longer than usual,” she said stiffly, noting how very close their knees were to touching. “And Sirius likes to get off topic whenever possible.”

Rabastan snorted. Andromeda noted that he must have cut his hair recently. The dark, curly hair that typically flopped into his eyes had been cut back to a respectable distance on his forehead. The curls had been trimmed back behind his ears, too, drawing more attention to the sharply cut angles of his aristocratic profile. For not the first time, Andromeda consoled herself with the fact that, even if she was consigned to a loveless marriage, her partner wasn’t unpleasant to look at.

“Your cousin has an affinity for trouble," said Rabastan. "It’s a wonder he hasn’t been expelled by now.”

“Family status can work wonders,” said Andromeda, “as you well know.”

Rabastan laughed softly. He propped his well-polished shoes on the table across from them and tucked his hands behind his head.

“I thought for a moment,” he said, “that you may have found yourself a lover. Since you have threatened, and since we are playing by your rules.”

“There would be nothing wrong if I had,” Andromeda replied. “But I have much finer taste than this school could possibly offer.”

“What, then, no more of that Mudblood plaything of yours?”

“I’m sure I don’t know who you mean.”

"Yes, you do. That bloke from earlier in the school year. Tonks. Hufflepuff captain. My boys have seen him and his team practicing out on the field, you know. He’s been working them into the ground, but it shows. Near-perfect form, every one of them. At this rate, there’s little chance for Slytherin to pull out a win. I’ve quite a few mates that would pay you top dollar to muss that fellow’s sheets if it’d distract him from his prize.”

Andromeda remained stoic. “How flattering.”

“Sometimes, dear heart, I fear that you may be completely asexual.”

Andromeda smirked. “The issue isn’t lack of desire, but lack of adequate objects of desire.”

“Myself included?”

“Clearly.”

Rabastan made a wounded noise, then broke into another low laugh. “I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve never wanted you more than I do now.”

Andromeda stiffened. She turned toward Rabastan, who was staring dispassionately back at her. “Of course,” she said. “You want what you can’t have.”

Rabastan shrugged. “It’s only natural.”

Andromeda was amazed by the moment they were sharing. Since the proposal, she and Rabastan had been more honest with each other than they ever had during the years they had dated. It could be a raw, ugly honesty, but at least Andromeda knew that it was real. She almost found their conversations enjoyable. Almost.

What bothered her now was that, despite the newfound bluntness between her and her fiancé, Andromeda still suspected that Rabastan was hiding something from her.

“I need you to be serious for a moment,” she said.

Rabastan raised a brow. “I’m sorry. Were we not being serious before?”

Andromeda went on, undeterred. “Do you have a tattoo?”

Rabastan raised his brow even higher. “If you want to take my clothes off, love, there are better ways of ask—“

“I said, I need you to be serious.”

Rabastan sighed. “Why the hell would I mar my perfect skin?”

“This isn’t about your skin,” Andromeda said. “It’s about something much bigger than you. About a group you belong to, and about the sorts of things that you do with that group. Things that could get you expelled, even jailed. As your future wife, these are all things that concern me. I think I’m entitled to an honest answer.”

“I don’t know where you’re getting any of this non—“

“Do you belong to the Knights of Walpurgis?”

It was only a flicker, but Andromeda saw fear in Rabastan’s eyes. His gaze shot over to the two boys playing chess in the corner, then back at Andromeda.

“Lower your voice," he said.

“I wouldn’t need to lower my voice,” said Andromeda, “if it were nothing to be ashamed of.”

“It isn’t anything to be ashamed of,” Rabastan hissed. “I’m not ashamed.”

“Then you admit it,” she pressed, not quite sure if she should be excited or repulsed by the revelation. “You’re part of some group that practices the dark arts?”

Rabastan’s lip curled back. “I am part of a tradition. You cannot even begin to comprehend its importance. So don’t talk about what you don’t know.”

Andromeda flushed with anger. “The reason I know nothing about it is because you never told me about it. I deserve to know if you’re dabbling in—“

Dabbling?” Rabastan laughed. “That’s what you think it is? Dabbling? You’ve no idea the history of what I’m a part of. The worth. My own father died for the sake of the cause.”

“What cause?” Andromeda shook her head in confusion. “What are you even talking about?”

Rabastan said nothing in reply. He stared darkly at the sputtering flames of the common room fire.

“You have to talk to me,” Andromeda insisted. “You’re my fiancé. I deserve to know what you’re getting involved in. Once we’re married, what you do will affect me, my reputation—“

“Your reputation isn’t in any sort of danger,” Rabastan said, still staring at the fireplace and not at her. “In fact, in a few years’ time, you’ll be proud to have taken on the name Lestrange. Do you know how rare a gift it is to be part of this circle? There are only four of us here at school. Only four of us have been marked. One day you’ll realize what an honor that is and why my father had to work so hard for me and Rodolphus to be a part of this.”

“Rodolphus is—?“

“Your sister, too.” Rabastan lifted his gaze to hers. “I imagine that’s where you heard about this? I hardly see why you’re concerned about your good name when your own sister is in our ranks.”

Andromeda felt chilled. During her time at Hogwarts, Bellatrix had been involved with the most unpleasant members of Slytherin—the ones who spoke of black magic and dark deeds as though they were pleasantries and not merely topics in DADA. She didn't have any difficulty believing that Bellatrix would be mixed up in a group like this. But Rabastan....

“You believe in the cause of blood purity, don’t you?”

Andromeda felt pinned under Rabastan’s stare. She struggled to find syllables to construct into a reply.

“I—yes, of course I believe in blood purity.”

It was the answer she’d been trained to give since she could speak.

She pushed the thought of Ted and of George from her mind.

“Then there’s nothing you need to worry about,” said Rabastan, “if you believe in our cause. Your parents would be nothing but pleased by our agenda.”

“Whatever your cause is,” said Andromeda, “that doesn’t justify the means. Dark arts—“

“Are readily taught and practiced abroad,” Rabastan finished. “You do know that, don’t you? Please tell me you aren’t so naïve as to think that a few prudish rules from Hogwarts and the Ministry should govern the behavior of talented witches and wizards.”

“Then you think,” Andromeda whispered heatedly, “that it’s perfectly acceptable for a witch to place a torture curse on an innocent victim just because she’s talented enough?”

“Not just for the hell of it,” Rabastan conceded. “That would be sadism. But if it were for a good cause—well, everyone needs to make sacrifices. God, Andie, you’ve such a narrow view of things. I thought that as a Black you’d be more open-minded.”

“You’re talking about torture.”

“I’m talking about a lot of things,” Rabastan said, shrugging. “Any and everything that will help to achieve a safer, cleaner, purer society. Sometimes you must make sacrifices for the sake of the greater good.”

Andromeda gripped the edge of the loveseat. She shook her head. "You're wrong. And I don’t think you should be a part of this group. I—I—“

“You what?” Rabastan smiled. “You’ll break off the engagement? You can only juice that one for so long, love. You won’t do anything. Your reputation isn’t at stake. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the upper echelon who wouldn’t approve of my involvement—who wouldn’t, in fact, be jealous. And anyway, I’m in good company.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Andromeda frowned. Rabastan’s smiled widened.

“Why,” he said, “surely Narcissa’s told you. Surely she knows. Lucius is in the club, too.”



Author's Note: Ted returns next chapter. >:] Thank you for the ongoing reads & reviews!


Chapter 23: Emergency
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“I don’t understand. Why should I be worried?”

Andromeda sat in a mound of silk throw pillows on Narcissa’s bed, facing her sister with concern. The trouble was, Narcissa seemed at a loss as to why concern was necessary.

“Lucius belongs to plenty of clubs,” said Narcissa, “including your Slug Club. I can’t keep up with them all. I think that it’s a sign that he’s well respected amongst his peers and involved in civil affairs. I hardly see why I should be distressed.”

“But they’re practicing the dark arts, Cissa,” Andromeda said. “Rabastan admitted it to me.”

Narcissa shrugged lightly. “They’re teenage boys, Andie. They’re bound to experiment.”

Andromeda blinked in astonishment. She had purposefully caught Narcissa and dragged her into their dormitory that Saturday afternoon for the express purpose of sharing what Rabastan had confessed the night before: that both he and Lucius Malfoy were involved in a group called the Knights of Walpurgis. She’d expected for Narcissa to be shocked, to be upset. However deranged the rest of her family was, Andromeda had always assumed that Narcissa at least shared her low opinion of the dark arts.

“Rabastan said it has something to do with blood purity,” Andromeda went on. “It just doesn’t sit well with me. There’s no use for the dark arts if you’re not after one of two things: personal gain or harming others.”

“Dearest,” said Narcissa, “you mustn’t take things like this so seriously. I don’t see anything wrong with a little bit of darker magic. Even you have to admit that Hogwarts is rather prudish about the matter.”

“But you don’t know the dark arts like I do,” Andromeda insisted, her voice rising. “I’ve studied them inside and out. There’s no good that comes out of dark sorcery. It always comes at a price, and it always ends up hurting far more people than you intended. That’s historically proven.”

Narcissa sighed lightly and picked at a stray thread on her duvet. “You’ve studied them, dear. You haven’t practiced them. How could you know precisely what they entail? I don’t think there’s any harm in it, and that’s that.”

“But—“

“Honestly, I’m a little miffed that you assumed Lucius hadn’t told me. As though it were some great big secret that he was keeping from me! He received his tattoo over the holidays, you know. It’s nothing but a very faint pink, hardly noticeable. He never tried to hide it. He wouldn’t ever keep a secret from me.”

Andromeda’s gaze shifted to her lap. “No, of course he wouldn’t. I should’ve thought. Just because Rabastan didn’t tell me anything doesn’t mean that your fiancé didn’t tell you.”

“Oh.” Narcissa made a hemming sound. “I didn’t think—that is, I didn’t mean to imply that—“

“No need to tiptoe around it,” Andromeda sighed. “You and Lucius love each other. Rabastan and I don’t. That’s the difference. I just thought that he was being honest with me for once.”

Andromeda fell back into the mound of pillows. She was so tired of maintaining this continual, uncomfortable tension with her sister. For now, she could push aside her disquiet that Narcissa was unnervingly tolerant of her fiancé’s involvement in the dark arts. She didn’t believe that Narcissa really approved of the dark arts; she was just—blinded by love, surely?

Whatever the case, Andromeda didn’t want this conversation to turn into another one of their mounting disagreements. Right now, she just wanted her sister. And as she’d hoped, she soon felt Narcissa’s hand sweeping aside her hair and rubbing soothing circles into her back.

“Does this mean you’re going to call things off?” Narcissa asked in a feathery whisper. “Because he lied to you again? Or because you don’t approve of his involvement?”

Andromeda shook her head.

No. She wouldn’t break the engagement. Rabastan had been right: there was nothing about her discovery that would be a legitimate excuse for calling things off. In fact, her parents would be proud to know that their future son-in-law was involved in a group that held to the strictest blood purity ideals and that employed dark magic.

Rabastan had been right, and Andromeda hated him for it. Her threats only carried so much weight.

There was a knock at the bedroom door. Before either sister could address it, the door burst open, and a wild-eyed fifth year named Cassandra stuck her frizzy head in. Andromeda recognized her only because Cassandra was one of Slytherin’s newly appointed prefects.

“I’m so, so sorry to intrude!” the girl squawked. “It’s just, I’ve told this idiotic Hufflepuff to go away for five minutes straight, but he insists on speaking to Andromeda. He says it’s an ‘absolute and utter emergency,’ whatever that means. And I would’ve told him to go away, but then he vowed to do some very dreadful things, using very foul language, and I simply couldn’t stand his abuse any longer, and I thought that perhaps, Andromeda, if you don’t mind too terribly, since you apparently know this fellow, you could ask him to—“

Andromeda was already on her feet.

“I’ll take care of it,” she said.

Then she barreled out, leaving a flustered Cassandra and Narcissa behind.

Andromeda knew precisely who was at the door to the Slytherin common room. What she wanted to know was why he’d gone to all the trouble of venturing down here only to get his nose punched. Because that is precisely what Andromeda planned to do with George Vanderpool. It was bad enough when he spoke to her in abandoned courtyards where no one else was listening. But for him to do this….

Andromeda stomped down the stone hallway in her bare feet. She reached the deserted entryway to the common room and then flung open the heavy wooden door.

“I’m giving you five seconds exactly,” she said, “before I do you serious bodily harm. I swear, Vanderpool, there is no emergency on earth that warrants—“

She stopped short. George was white-faced, except for the deep red blotches surrounding his eyes.

He was crying.

Then he said the only two words that could have possibly made Andromeda forget her threats and follow him without question:

“Ted’s dying.”



They hurried down dark corridors, and all the while Andromeda gritted through the discomfort of uneven stones beneath her bare feet. It would’ve been wise to grab some shoes from her dormitory, but she hadn’t been thinking. She’d only seen the urgency in George’s eyes and known that she had to follow, that every second must’ve counted.

It was only now that she began to consider the full implication of what he’d said.

“How?” she whispered. “He can’t really be—“

“Quidditch practice today,” George puffed, never once slowing his pace. “Passed out. Fell from his broom. Pollard caught him, but he’s been unconscious ever since.”

“Is it his condition?”

George nodded doggedly, then turned a corner toward a winding back staircase. They were taking the shortest route to the hospital wing. When they arrived, Andromeda found the entirety of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, reserve players included, huddled around the closed doors of the infirmary, speaking in low voices.

Heat prickled through her body. All of those Hufflepuffs would see her. They would know that she was somehow associated with Ted Tonks. This could get out so easily and turn into a vicious rumor.

Andromeda scraped the panicked thought from her mind. That didn’t matter. What mattered was Ted Tonks’ continued existence.

“Move it,” George barked, though the order was hardly necessary. His teammates were already making way for him.

Andromeda felt the curious stares on her back, but she ignored them and followed George past the towering oak doors and into the infirmary. There were no other patients tonight, none but a prone, limp body in the hospital bed nearest the doors. Madame Bellevue was hunched over Ted, her wand in hand. She appeared to be casting a complicated diagnostic spell that Andromeda did not recognize.

“What—“ began Andromeda, but Madame Bellevue hushed her harshly and waved both her and George off.

George took Andromeda by the elbow and pulled her a few paces away from the bed.

“She’s taking this very badly,” George muttered in her ear. “The medicine he usually takes, the one she prescribed him? She’s given him two full injections, and it’s done nothing to help. His breathing is slowing, his temperature is falling, and—and we can’t find out why. W-we can’t find out how to fix him this time.”

George turned away, though not in time to hide a new stream of tears. He rubbed his arm roughly across his face. Andromeda knew that she should’ve turned away and given George the chance to recover, to save some pride—but she couldn’t take her eyes off of him. She had never imagined that she would ever see George like this. He was the sort of boy she’d thought incapable of crying.

And it was so much easier to focus on the oddness of George Vanderpool’s tears than to think about his words.

Ted couldn’t be dying. This was just another scare, and she’d seen him pull through two of them so far. Ted would be fine. He had to be.

But unlike those other times, he was now unconscious, and Andromeda couldn’t even make out the rise and fall of his chest. His hair wasn’t silver, it was coal black, and his skin had turned to a sickly white pallor so transparent that she could make out the webbings of veins from his wrists up his arms.

Something was very, very wrong.

Andromeda broke into a loud, heaving sob.

She felt an arm around her. She turned into it and wrapped her own arms around a solid back. And unlike Andromeda would have expected, George Vanderpool turned out to be an exceptional hugger.

“Damn, princess,” George said in a threadbare whisper. “You do care.”

Madame Bellevue rose from Ted’s bedside. She eyed both George and Andromeda with a leery, careworn expression.

“I’ve done all I can,” she said, voice crackling around her words, "and I can't call in the specialist from St. Mungo’s. The Tonkses refused that sort of attention years ago; it's a private specialist, and they’re unable to pay the fee.”

Then words flowed from Andromeda, straight from thought into existence.

“I’ll pay,” she said, her voice evening back out as she extracted herself from George’s embrace. “Do what you need to, Madame Bellevue. I’ll cover any expenses he incurs.”

Madame Bellevue shook her head. “Even if I signal for her now, she won’t be able to apparate into the castle itself. She’ll have to first apparate to Hogsmeade, and by the time she makes it up to the castle, Ted could be—“

“Then stop wasting time!” Andromeda shrieked. “Just do it.”

Madame Bellevue staggered back. “I thought,” she said, turning to George, "that you said she would be of use, not howl at me as though she were somehow more qualified in the healing profession.”

“Be of what kind of use?” Andromeda asked. “George, what is she talking about?”

George gave a sheepish look. “I told Madame Bellevue about what happened last time, about how you were able to help Ted pass his fit without the medicine. It’s—it’s why I got you. I thought that maybe you could, um, you know, try to heal him again?”

“I didn’t heal....“ Andromeda trailed off.

Of course. George hadn’t fetched Andromeda just so that she could cry by Ted’s death bed; he’d wanted something from her. He thought that she could help.

“What did you do last time,” said Madame Bellevue, “that was so effective?”

“Nothing,” Andromeda stammered. “I didn’t do anything special. I just made him sit down, and I—I—“

“You what?” pressed George.

Andromeda couldn’t help the surge of hot scarlet blooming in her cheeks.

“I held him,” she said quietly.

“Well, then, hold him again now,” George ordered, shoving her toward the bed. “Do it.”

“But I hardly see how that can help! Before, he was conscious. It was probably only a coincidence that he got better, and—“

“Fucking do it, Andromeda!” George shouted.

“Fine!” she cried. But first, she turned toward Madame Bellevue. “I don’t care how long it will take. Request that specialist from St. Mungo’s. I don’t care if it’s a matter of expenses, either. I’m a Black. I’m good for my word and my money.”

She didn’t wait for Madame Bellevue’s response. She crossed to the bed in long strides, then came to a sudden stop. How exactly she was supposed to recreate the events of two months ago, when she had calmed Ted in the Vanderpool library?

“What are you waiting for?” George asked in a taut whisper. “Hold him, or whatever the hell you did before.”

Before, Ted had been slumped against a wall, and Andromeda had circled her arms around him. Hadn’t she? She’d rested her head against his chest until he’d begun to breathe again.

Only now, Ted wasn’t sitting; he unconscious in a hospital cot.

It was so trivial, the thought of George watching her climb into a bed with Ted Tonks, but still uneasiness flitted through Andromeda. She was doing so much that couldn’t be undone. This was precisely how rumors started, how reputations were ruined. But George wouldn’t tell a soul, and even if he did, Andromeda was beyond caring. She was trying to save Ted’s life.

She climbed onto the cot, took one steadying breath, and then laid herself out beside Ted’s motionless body. Like before, she rested her head against his chest. Unlike before, she curled the rest of her frame into the curve of his, winding her bare feet across his ankles and threading her fingers into his icy ones.

Every part of him was frigid. She had not been touching him for more than ten seconds before a violent shiver shook through her. This close to his body, she could hear his breath—a shuddering, insubstantial rasp struggling in and out of his lungs. She shut her eyes.

“Ted,” she whispered. “Please, please fight it. Whatever it is that’s pulling you under, fight back.”

She touched her cheek against his sternum, turning away from George. She couldn’t look at anyone while she did this, couldn’t even picture having an audience. This was so suddenly, so bizarrely personal.

“You’re not allowed to die,” she said. "You simply can’t, not in this senseless way, all because of some ridiculous genetic defect. You’re too good for that.”

She lifted her head and supported all of her weight on one side, using a hand to sweep back Ted’s thick, jet-black hair from his closed eyes. She thought she saw, for the most fleeting moment, a twitch of his lip.

“There are lots of people who need you,” she went on, “and you can’t just leave them. Think about George. You can’t abandon your best mate like this. Or Nelson. Or Roisin and Brennan and William. Or—or all the other people in your life that I was too self-absorbed to ever ask about. They would be devastated.”

She lowered her head back down, resting it gently on his shoulder, still listening intently for each of his staggered breaths.

I would be devastated,” she whispered. “You’re the most decent person I’ve ever met, Ted. I think I’d lose faith in the world if you died. I’d lose faith in a place where something as unfair as that could happen.”

“Andromeda?”

Andromeda snapped back toward George with a vicious glare. “What? I told you this is an idiotic idea, but if you’re going to make try this, then at least have the decency to—“

“No.” George shook his head. “Andromeda, look.”

He was pointing. She turned back around to find that Ted’s head full of black hair was turning to silver. The color leeched through at an alarming rate, and it had barely turned to silver before another, more golden hue began shooting through.

How had she not noticed until now that his skin was warming under her touch?

Andromeda pushed herself up into a sit alongside Ted. Her eyes roved his body with urgency, desperate to catch some additional sign that he was emerging from his coma-like state.

His chest. She could actually see its rise and fall. And when she ducked in closer, she heard his breathing—stronger now, and fuller, steadying to a calm pace.

George swore a hearty string of expletives. He was shaking his head in wonder.

“Madame Bellevue!” he called. “You’re gonna want to look at this!”

Madame Bellevue, who had been in the far corner of the infirmary, crouched by the fireplace, now hurried back to them. Andromeda paid no mind to the healer’s gasp or mutterings. She just went on gripping Ted’s hand and watching as a rosy hue bloomed back into his pale face.

And then his eyes opened, and they were their normal shade of dark cocoa, and Andromeda released a strangled, high-pitched sound that she wasn’t entirely sure belonged to her but that sounded a good deal like Ted’s name.

His gaze was unfocused for a moment. Then it settled directly on her. Andromeda attempted a smile, but she only ended up bursting into a new batch of tears. She felt Madame Bellevue’s sturdy hands on her shoulders, pulling her off of the cot.

“No!” she shouted. “No, no, he may still need me!”

“I have to assess the situation, child. Calm down. I can’t take any readings if you’re plastered against his body.”

Her bare feet hit cold ground, and she found herself leaning against George, who held her upright but was entirely distracted by the spellwork that Madame Bellevue was performing on Ted.

Andromeda heard only muffled snatches of words from Madame Bellevue as she flourished her wand in hurried spells across Ted’s body:

“Impossible—never seen—it couldn’t have been as simple as—“

At last, Madame Bellevue stepped back from Ted and shook her head.

“I can’t explain it,” she whispered. “He’s perfectly fine.”

Then she turned, very slowly, toward Andromeda, and fixed her with a look that was somewhere between suspicion and fear.

“You and Ted,” she said, “you aren’t related in any way, are you? No third cousins, or distant relatives, or—“

“Of course we aren’t related,” said Andromeda, instinctual repulsion tingeing her voice without her permission. “He’s a Muggleborn. I’m a Black. There’s no possible way we could have any family in common.”

“Why?” George asked eagerly. “Do you know why she was able to do that? Is there some sort of explanation for it?”

Madame Bellevue opened her mouth, but the words that came next were not her own.

“George?” Ted wheezed, “is that you?”

George bounded toward the bed, Andromeda in tow.

“Yeah, mate, it’s me.” Andromeda never thought she would see George cry, but even less expected was that he could ever sound so unironically full of joy. “You little fucker, you scared us all out of our wits. Your metamorphing around is getting out of control. I won’t stand for much more.”

Ted wobbled out a smile. “Working on it. W-what even happened? How long was I out?”

“You fell off your broom during practice about an hour ago,” said George. “The whole team is outside holding a vigil or some shit. I was the only one allowed into your sacred healing chamber. Well, me, and—“

George motioned over at Andromeda. For the first time, Ted’s gaze shifted from his friend to Andromeda. Then it darkened. His smile fell. It was as though he hadn’t seen her the first time and was only now aware of her presence in the room—and it wasn’t a welcome presence.

“Uh, Ted?” said George, poking at his shoulder. “Everything okay?”

“Why is she here?” Ted whispered, staring back at George.

“Yeah, funny story that,” said George. “You’re never going to believe what just—“

“That’s quite enough, all of you!” piped Madame Bellevue, plowing through George and Andromeda and practically throwing herself in front of Ted. “We have no idea how stable his condition is, and I won’t have you two overtiring him before the specialist arrives.”

“Then you got a hold of him?” said George. “The bloke from St. Mungo’s is coming right now?”

She’s coming,” Madame Bellevue corrected crisply. “The woman from St. Mungo’s. Yes, right now. And I imagine that she’ll want to speak to you, Miss Black.”

Andromeda started. She had still been looking over at Ted, who was looking anywhere else but at her.

“Me?” she squeaked. “Why me?”

“Wait outside,” said Madame Bellevue. “The two of you. I want you both on hand for inquiries once Madame Finley arrives.”

The large, red-faced woman glowered them both down in a way that banished all room for argument. George and Andromeda exited the hospital wing, and Madame Bellevue heaved the doors shut behind them.

Four members of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team were still waiting outside, sitting in a cross-legged circle. One of them, a tall, freckled girl, rose to her feet upon seeing George.

“Well?” she asked, eyes swimming with anxious tears. “How is he?”

“I think he’s going to be okay,” said George, and there was a collective sigh amongst the teammates. “Bellevue’s still calling in a specialist, though. I imagine they’ll want to keep him under close watch the next few days.”

“I knew he had health problems,” said a stocky boy that Andromeda recognized as Hufflepuff’s other beater. “I just didn’t know they were this serious.”

The freckled girl was once-overing Andromeda. “I’m sorry, but who are you?”

Andromeda felt a surge of strange emotions, all slopped together at once—apprehension, indignation, but most of all, jealousy.

Why on earth did she feel jealous? That was the most unhelpful and unwarranted feeling to have right now.

“I’m Andromeda Black,” she said stiffly, not bothering to offer the girl her hand like she would a fellow pureblood. “Of the House of Black. I’m sure you've heard of me. But I’m afraid I’ve no idea who you are.”

“Eisley Abbott,” the girl replied, her brow arched. “I’ve played with Ted for six years. But he’s never once mentioned you. I don’t see why you were allowed in the infirmary while the rest of us had to—“

“Because she’s special, Abbott,” said George, rolling his eyes, “that’s why. Now stop snotting on her just because she’s gorgeous and you feel threatened and shit.”

“I do not feel threatened,” Eisley said angrily. “I just don’t see why some Slytherin blueblood gets in to see Ted and we don’t.”

“Them be the rules, love,” said George, ushering Eisley back to the other three teammates, who were now standing and readying to leave. “I don’t make them. And anyway, you and Ted had a go at it fifth year. Don’t bring out the claws just because you couldn’t keep him.”

“Shove it, Vanderpool,” Eisley snapped, contorting her decent features into a gruesome scowl.

“You’ll let us know when he can take visitors?” the stocky boy asked George. “We’ll get together a card and flowers in the meantime. I’m sure the whole house will want to chip in.”

Despite everything, Andromeda found a smile lilting on her face. The whole house would chip in for a card and flowers? In Slytherin, if their Quidditch captain fell ill, the entire house would probably be threatening to depose him from his position.

When she surfaced from her reflection, she found that the Quidditch team was fast disappearing down the corridor and that George had taken a seat on the stone bench outside the infirmary doors. Andromeda joined him, folding her hands in her lap.

“They’re shaking,” George said, nodding to her hands. “You doing okay?”

Andromeda looked down. Her hands were shaking. She swallowed hard.

“Fine,” she whispered. “Just shock, I suppose.”

George grunted. He glanced at the closed doors, then leaned in closer. “Thank you. Really. For what you did in there? I know you didn’t have to come, so it means a lot.”

“It wasn’t a favor for you,” Andromeda said. “And I don’t even know what I did back there. Honestly, George, it’s as much of a mystery to me as it is to you.”

“You just touched him,” said George, shaking his head. “That’s all it took? You weren’t whispering some fancy voodoo?”

Andromeda shook her head.

“Well,” George said, “once is coincidence. Twice…? Ever thought of getting clinically tested?”

“What was Madame Bellevue after, asking whether or not I was related to Ted?”

“I’ve no earthly idea, but you may be getting some answers from this specialist of hers. You know, the woman specialist.”

Andromeda felt George’s eyes on her. “What?” she asked, uneasy.

“Did you mean what you said? About footing the bill for Ted?”

“Of course I did. He’s sick. He needs good medical attention. I have money. Why wouldn’t I pay?”

“He’s not going to let you,” said George. “When he finds out, he’s going to be pissed and never talk to you agai—wait. Wait, I suppose that’s already happening, isn’t it?”

“You’ve tried to help him out before,” Andromeda guessed.

“He’s stubborn. And until now, he hasn’t exactly needed topnotch medical attention. I mean, I’m sure it would’ve helped, but not in a life or death kind of way.”

“Well,” she said, “this is the perfect solution, isn’t it? I can pay for him, and he can hate me all he wants for it.”

“So, what,” said George, “you get to dip into your trust fund at the tender age of seventeen?”

“No,” she said. “I’m going to lie. I’ll say I need money for wedding preparations. Mother won’t bat a lash at that.”

“That’s fucked up. You know that, right?”

“It’s just a lie, and it’s for a good cause.”

George let out a short laugh. “Why are you doing this?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Why do you want to pay for Ted? Why did you even come with me in the first place? Aren’t you worried this will get out?”

Andromeda took a long moment before answering.

“Yes,” she said at last. “I’m worried about that. But I’m more worried about Ted.”

George smirked. “So you do like him.”

“I didn’t say that,” said Andromeda. “I said I’m worried about him. I think it’s only natural to be concerned when a perfectly nice boy is suffering from life-threatening fits. Any decent person would want to help.”

“But you’re not a decent person,” said George. “You’re a Black. You think people like Ted are scum. You’ve got a severe superiority complex, and you equate compassion with weakness.”

“God, George. How well you know me.”

“No, I don’t know you,” George said. “I’m just trying to prove how royally screwed up it is that you’re engaged to Rabastan Lestrange and you’re going to use your ‘wedding fund’ to save the life of the guy that you actually—“

“Please stop talking.”

George shrugged. “That’s as good as a confession.”

Andromeda sighed. She sunk her face down into her hands. “I really thought he was going to die. Why is it that whenever I’m around him, he’s constantly dying?”

“Eh,” said George, “technically, we’re all constantly dying.”

“What a stupid thing to say.”

“It’s what my brother used to say. You know, before he died.”

Andromeda sunk her face even lower, her nose nearly touching her knees. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to get the universe to say that for the past few years. Hasn’t worked so far.”

Slowly, Andromeda straightened back up. “You’re not going to lose him, too,” she whispered. “I won’t let that happen.”

“You and your money and your freaky healing touch, right? That’s some promise. You can’t just forbid death, Andromeda. Shit happens. It happens to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. I don’t have any illusions about that. So if this specialist comes in and gives Ted a death sentence, I’m going to be prepared. You should, too.”

She watched as George ran his knuckles along the scar on his cheekbone. He said nothing more. She said nothing in return. Silence enveloped them both again until the corridor echoed with the business-like clack of heels on stone. A woman appeared, short and well-dressed and carrying an extra large carpet bag. She came to a stop just outside the hospital wing doors.

“Madame Finley. I came as quickly as I could. You, girl, come with me. I’ll need you soon enough.”

“Why?” asked Andromeda.

“Tell me,” Madame Finley said, “do you faint at the sight of blood?”


Chapter 24: Blood Bond
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“I’ll need three vials’ worth, and then you’re free to go. I suggest drinking plenty of fluids afterward. An extraction spell can be taxing.”

Andromeda sat just within the doors of the hospital wing, facing Madame Bellevue and Madame Finely. Both women were stooped intently over her, Madame Bellevue furiously scribbling onto a roll of parchment and Madame Finley arranging three tall glass vials on a nearby table.

A few paces over, Ted lay in bed, asleep. Madame Bellevue had, she explained, given him a sedative once she’d assessed all of his vitals.

Currently, Andromeda appeared to be the sole object of the healers' attention, for reasons completely unknown to her.

“What are these for?” she asked. “Why do you need so much blood?”

“You're not required to give it,” Madame Finley said stiffly, tugging out her wand from her dress pocket. “No one’s forcing you. But given what both you and Madame Bellevue have told me about today’s events, I believe that these blood tests will help to either confirm or dispel some theories.”

“What theories?” Andromeda pressed. “There can’t be any logical explanation for why Ted got better. It was just a coincidence that he healed while I was here with him.”

Madame Finley sighed testily. “Are you going to comply or not?”

Andromeda peeled back the sleeve of her silk shirt. She looked up at Madame Finley expectantly.

“Do what you need to do,” she said.

The healer nodded, raised her wand, and perfectly articulated the incantation “Sangrio.”

With a circular flourish, she aimed the tip of her wand at the underside of Andromeda’s arm, just below her elbow. Andromeda felt a sharp bite in her skin. Then she watched as the wand siphoned out a thin stream of blood from her veins. The stream swirled through the air in a figure eight pattern before funneling perfectly into the first glass vial. Madame Finley repeated the process two more times, and Madame Bellevue made careful notes on her parchment throughout the process.

“There,” said Madame Finley, pocketing her wand and motioning for Madame Bellevue to step in and wrap Andromeda’s arm in a single band of gauze. “Simple as that. You’re free to leave now, dear. It’s high time I turned my full attention to the patient.”

Andromeda didn’t move. She felt more than a little faint, but she was too proud to admit to Madame Finley that her vision was filling with small black spots.

“You still haven’t told me what this is for,” Andromeda said.

“We won’t know if it’s of any worth until tomorrow morning at least,” said Madame Finley. “Until then, you’re free to go about your usual business. I’m sure Madame Bellevue here will inform you when you’re of use again. And you can tell Mr. Vanderpool that he’s free to leave as well. He’s told me all that I needed to hear.”

“I’m sure,” said Andromeda, “that he’ll want to stay here with Ted.”

“That’s an impossibility,” said Madame Finley. “Ted is not to have any disturbances whatsoever for the next twelve hours. You two are of better use away from here.”

“But what if—“

“Miss Black,” said Madame Bellevue, placing a hand on her shoulder, “if anything goes wrong, we will let you know. Now please, leave us. Madame Finley has important work to perform, and if you do value Mr. Tonks’ wellbeing, you’ll let her alone to perform it.”

Andromeda could not argue with that phrasing. With an unappreciative glare in Madame Bellevue’s direction, she begrudgingly did as she was told. She found George pacing outside the infirmary doors.

“They’ve shooed us away,” she informed him, “until further notice.”

The anxious lines in George’s face tightened. “What’s that mean?”

“Madame Finley says they won’t have any results until the morning.”

“She’s a specialist, dammit,” said George. “She’s supposed to work instantaneous miracles, isn’t she?”

“Apparently not.”

“Well, if you’re the one hefting out the galleons for this,” said George, “you should demand faster results.”

“Unlike you,” said Andromeda, “I don’t have completely unrealistic expectations. It’s only if Madame Finley doesn’t have satisfcatory answers by the morning that I’ll start to gripe. She drew far more blood than anyone ought to be allowed to draw, and there'd better be a good reason for it." 

As a direct testament to her words, Andromeda’s vision suddenly splotched, and she misstepped. George jolted toward her, offering a balancing hand.

“Whoa. Steady on.”

“I’m fine,” said Andromeda, though she took his hand. “Just a bit lightheaded.”

George nodded, but he didn’t let go. “Should you sit down?”

“I’m fine,” she repeated, but a matter of seconds later, she sunk down onto the bench. “Oh god, however am I going to explain all of this to Cissa and Lilith?”

Warily, George took a seat beside her. “Yeah, I imagine my showing up at the common room didn’t help.”

“It’s difficult to explain away a wayward Hufflepuff,” Andromeda agreed. “I never told Lilith anything about you or Ted. Not even about running away. But Cissa will suspect—oh, who even knows what she’ll suspect. And she knows when I’m lying. She’ll see straight through any stupid excuse I give.”

“Sorry,” said George, “but is there something wrong with telling her the truth?”

Andromeda regarded George as she would a complete imbecile. “Oh! That I threw myself in the bed of an unconscious Muggleborn? Nothing wrong with that. She already suspects that some odd business passed between me and Ted. I told her that he fancies me.”

“Uh huh.” George smirked. “That he fancies you. Sure.”

Andromeda socked a well-aimed punch into George’s shoulder. He smirked wider, unaffected.

“But I did tell her about Ted's condition, so I could always—“

“Wait, what? You told her? Merlin, Andromeda! Ted doesn’t tell anyone about the ‘m’ word, and you go blabbing to your badly-named sister?”

“Narcissa is a perfectly regal name!” Andromeda said. “I did not go blabbing, and Cissa won’t either. She’s trustworthy, and anyway, the disease of some no-name Muggleborn is hardly noteworthy. Who would she tell about it?”

“You still shouldn’t have blabbed,” George muttered.

“Too late now,” said Andromeda. “Anyway, I’m still trying to sort out how to craft a decent excuse.”

“Hmm. And I couldn’t care less,” said George. “So if you’re not going to faint dead anymore, I’ll be on my way.”

“A perfect gentleman.”

“I try to give satisfaction.” George made a mock bow. “I suppose we’ll be crossing paths again tomorrow morning. Until then, have fun making up lies. Sounds like exhausting work. Wouldn’t it be much easier to admit that you’ve got the hots for a Muggleborn?”

“Goodbye, George.”



It was dinnertime in the Great Hall, and Andromeda decided to take her chances by walking straight to her customary place at the Slytherin table. She could only hope that Narcissa wouldn’t bring up her mysterious disappearance earlier in the afternoon. Surely she wouldn’t. Not in front of Lilith, and especially not in front of Lucius or Rabastan.

“Hello, dears,” Andromeda said, sliding in beside Narcissa and promptly filling her chalice with pumpkin juice. “Sorry I’m a bit late.”

Even as she set about filling her plate, she cast cautious looks around the table, trying to gauge if there was any suspicion at large. No one, however, seemed to be that ruffled by her tardy arrival.

“So glad you could join us,” Narcissa said softly.

Andromeda tensed and smiled anxiously over at her little sister. She owed an explanation for earlier, and she only hoped that Narcissa wasn’t thinking awful thoughts about her in the meantime.

“Studying late again?” asked Rabastan. “Really, darling, there is such a thing a studying too hard.”

Andromeda smiled tightly at Rabastan. “I’m not sure you’re the best authority on that topic.”

Lucius snorted and took a stab at his roast beef. “Nasty weather coming in tonight,” he said, nodding toward the window.

Snow and sleet were pelting against the stained glass windows, and wind juddered along the walls, pushing through crevices and filling the Great Hall with an unshakeable draft. Overhead, the hovering dining candles took turns flickering.

“Doesn’t bode well for Hogsmeade,” Lucius went on, reaching across the table to take Narcissa’s hand. “But we won’t let that spoil our anniversary.”

Narcissa gazed lovingly back. “Nothing could spoil that.”

“Get a room,” Lilith said, reaching across the table to steal a bowl full of cream puffs.

“Hogsmeade isn’t for three full days,” Andromeda said helpfully. “I’m sure the weather will have cleared by then, you two.”

“Not according to Yaxley,” said Lucius. “He foresees the worst winter storm yet blowing in. And Yaxley’s never wrong about the weather.”

“Oh honestly,” laughed Lilith. “You can’t really believe that boy is a psychic.”

“He has the gift,” Lucius said stiffly.

“Divination is utter rot as a class, of course,” Rabastan said. “It isn’t a thing that can be taught. But there are certain privileged lines that give rise to talents like Yaxley’s, and that’s nothing to laugh about.”

Lilith went right on chortling. “Right, boys. Well, the next time Achilles Yaxley can predict my entire wardrobe for the coming week, I will be a true believer. Until then, forgive me if I’m a wee bit skeptical that there’s an All-Seeing Eye in our midst.”

Andromeda found that she’d been staring too long at Rabastan and Lucius. Quickly, she returned her attention to her food.

Achilles Yaxley. He’s probably part of their little club, too. It would make sense, given how protective they both are of him.

“Everything all right, Andromeda?” Rabastan asked in a lazy drawl. He smirked at her over the rim of his chalice.

“Perfectly fine.”

I doubt that divination is Yaxley’s only unorthodox talent…

“Actually,” said Lilith, jabbing her fork in Rabastan’s direction, “she’s been having the worst insomnia. As a concerned fiancé, I thought you would know.”

Lilith didn’t even try to suppress the acid in her tone. Even though she may not have been on the best terms with Andromeda, she was even less friendly with Rabastan.

“Someone needs to treat him like shit for what he did to you,” she’d said weeks ago. “And if you won’t, then I will.”

“Is that true, Andromeda?” Lucius cut in. “Has the insomnia returned? You know that I can whip up some more of the sleeping draught if you need—“

“No! No, that’s not it.” Andromeda shot Lilith a dirty look. “Lili is overdramatizing. It’s only because I’ve forgotten to take the potion a few times. Otherwise, it works very well.”

“The real worry,” said Narcissa, “is why she keeps having such consistent nightmares in the first place. I keep telling her that she ought to get checked out, but she refuses—“

“Fine then!” Andromeda said. She suddenly saw her chance, and she grabbed it. “I’ll go to the hospital wing first thing tomorrow morning. How’s that? I’ll have Madame Bellevue cast some diagnostic spells, just to prove to you that nothing is wrong and that I’m most certainly not under a curse.”

“Well, it doesn’t hurt to be safe, darling,” said Rabastan, aiming a lurid wink in her direction. “A curse could be serious. You know how dangerous the dark arts can be.”



“Where were you, really?”

Andromeda opened her eyes. It had been minutes since the girls turned out the lights of their dormitory. Lilith was still in the common room, flirting with her most recent obsession. Narcissa had said nothing about the earlier events of the day, and Andromeda had thought that perhaps she meant to drop it altogether.

But now, Narcissa had tugged back the sheer drapes of Andromeda’s four-poster. She sat on the edge of the bed, perched delicately, hands folded in her lap. Andromeda rubbed at her eyes and sat up against he headboard.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” she whispered.

Narcissa’s lips tightened into a purse. “Andie, don’t keep things from me. What was this afternoon about? I know who that Hufflepuff boy must’ve been. He was one of those two Muggleborns from Christmas break, wasn’t he?”

Slowly, Andromeda nodded. “But I promise, it’s nothing.”

“It most certainly is something if the boy is bothering one of our own prefects,” Narcissa said. “Things like that can get out, Andie dear. Now please, tell me what is going on.”

Andromeda told the truth. There was nothing more that she really could do. It pained her to keep things from Narcissa, and she honestly wanted to be able to tell someone about the day’s stressful events. Anyway, none of it really implicated her, and she conveniently left out bits like whispering into Ted’s ear or sobbing at the sight of him in the hospital wing.

“It’s the Tonks boy,” she said. “He’s sick again, and they thought I could help him. For some reason, he—he gets better when I’m around.”

Narcissa frowned. “He gets better when you’re around?”

“I can’t explain it,” said Andromeda, shrugging helplessly. “But I couldn’t very well refuse, could I? He was in serious condition, and it would’ve been cruel of me not to help.”

Narcissa, however, did not look so convinced. “He didn’t need you. He had all the medical attention he needed, I’m sure. It isn’t like you’re a healer. And anyway, you must consider the implications of visiting a boy like that. Andie, think.”

Andromeda’s face flushed. “I am perfectly capable of rational thought, thanks very much. I was just concerned.”

“But why?” Narcissa pressed. “I thought those boys didn’t mean anything to you. You said that you just used them for a place to stay.”

“And that’s all they were to me,” Andromeda said. “But they were kind to me, and you’re supposed to repay a kindness.”

“They’re Mudbloods. We don’t owe them any sort of kindness! You aren’t in their debt. And if you continue to associate with them, then—well, there is a word for that. I don’t want that word to ever be tied to your name.”

Andromeda knew the word very well: Blood Traitor.

“Don’t be so absolutely ridiculous, Cissa!” she cried, forcing out an airy laugh.

“It isn’t ridiculous. You said you were concerned about a Mudblood. That isn’t like you, Andromeda.”

Andromeda stared at her knuckles, trying to think of a good response. She’d misspoken. Why had she said that she was concerned?

Because you were. You were scared to death that you would lose him.

Narcissa spoke up again. “You said that one of those boys fancied you. You don’t—“ she swallowed, making an effort to produce words as though the act alone was distasteful “—you don’t reciprocate those feelings in any way, do you?”

“That,” said Andromeda, “is the most absurd speculation I've ever heard." 

“And tomorrow morning, you’re going to see about your nightmares, aren’t you? It has nothing to do with this Tonks fellow?”

Andromeda closed her eyes. She’d wanted so badly to speak in half-truths, not in lies. But it couldn’t be helped.

“No. It has nothing to do with him.”



A visit to the hospital wing was just the sort of excuse that Andromeda needed to be allowed an absence from her morning classes. She asked one of her most trusted classmates, a sharp Ravenclaw girl by the name of Vivian, to copy notes for her; Andromeda had done the favor for Vivian plenty of times before.

As far as Lilith and her other classmates knew, Andromeda was going to the infirmary to see about her nightmares. Only Narcissa suspected a different reason for the visit. Andromeda swept that uneasy thought from her mind as she rounded the corridor corner and arrived at the open doors of the hospital wing.

George was standing just inside, speaking to Madame Bellevue. Andromeda hurried up to join them.

“How is he?” she asked, even as her eyes scanned around the room.

She saw no patients in the visible beds. At the far end of the room, however, there was a stretched, sheer curtain; Andromeda suspected that she could find both Ted and Madame Finley behind it.

“His condition hasn’t changed,” said Madame Bellevue. “He's well and stable, but Madame Finely has advised that we not move him for another day. He’s currently undergoing an experimental treatment.”

“What kind of treatment?” Andromeda demanded. “Are there risks? Has she even tried it on other patients before?”

Madame Bellevue ignored Andromeda entirely and addressed her words to George instead. “Madame Finely will be out in just a moment to address any concerns. She especially wishes to speak to Miss Black. Now, if the two of you will take a seat, I have my own patient to attend to.”

Andromeda just now noticed the sniffling first year that stood right behind Madame Bellevue. An unsightly, giant green wart protruded from the girl’s left cheek. Andromeda smiled sympathetically at the girl. The girl proceeded to burst into tears.

“Good job, Black,” said George, motioning her over to a pair of rickety chairs. “Making little children cry.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Andromeda said, glancing back with contrition only to see Madame Bellevue shooting her a hateful glare.

So much for actually asking the woman about her nightmares.... Andromeda had a feeling that the healer wasn't in the mood to do her any favors.

George flung himself into his chair and began drumming his fingers impatiently along the edges. Dark circles rimmed his eyes, and Andromeda guessed that he, like her, hadn’t slept well the night before.

They waited in an uncomfortable silence of a half hour before a click-clacking finally sounded at the end of the room. Madame Finley appeared from behind the screen and approached them wearing a placid, businesslike expression.

“Good morning,” she greeted them.

George nodded. Andromeda straightened her posture.

“I trust,” said Madame Finely, “that you were informed of Mr. Tonks’ stable condition. Throughout the course of the evening, I was able to run several diagnostic tests on him. They confirmed my suspicions: while Ted is a certifiable metamorphmagus, he has little control over his abilities due to insufficient training at a young age.”

“Bravo, Sherlock,” said George. “I could’ve told you all that.”

Madame Finley ignored George’s snark and went on. “Madame Bellevue tells me that she personally advised Ted to pursue animagus status in order to better control his metamorphing. He submitted his name to the animagi register last year. This is quite a feat, attaining animagus status at sixteen. It takes incredible strength of will to do so. However, I’m afraid that it had quite the opposite effect than the one Madame Bellevue intended. If she’d only consulted a metamorphing specialist like myself, I could’ve told her that the energy Ted expended on his animagus activities would only exacerbate the less desirable side effects of his uncontrollable metamorphing.”

“You’re using a lot of words,” said George, “but I’m still waiting for the good stuff. When are you going to tell us what’s actually wrong with him?”

“Ted’s condition is deteriorating at an alarmingly rapid rate,” said Madame Finley. “These so-called ‘side effects’ of his are no longer tied directly to the act of transforming. They have, I understand, begun to strike him at random. Moreover, he is no longer responding to his usual medicine—which, I might add, was a good move on Madame Bellevue’s part. Such medicine is the best our field currently has to offer for rare conditions like Ted’s.”

“So, what?” whispered Andromeda. “He’s only going to get worse? There’s nothing you can do to help him?”

Madame Finley raised a brow. “Actually, there is something that you can do to help him, according to last night’s tests.”

“This has to do with my blood,” Andromeda guessed.

“Have you heard, Miss Black, of a phenomenon known as a blood bond?”

Andromeda shook her head.

“I’m not surprised,” replied Madame Finley. “It’s extremely rare. It’s a natural phenomenon that occurs only amongst magicfolk. To put it simply, it’s a deep tie between two individuals. This tie manifests itself in different ways. Some report a sort of telepathic connection, others a shared dream state. But invariably, the tie serves a profound medical purpose: the blood of these tied individuals can act as a healing agent, each to the other.”

“Uh,” said George. “Hold up. You lost me at ‘telepathic.’”

Andromeda had the sudden feeling of weightlessness. “You mean to tell me,” she said, “that you think Ted and I share this—this tie? That we’re linked somehow?”

“A commonly used analogy,” said Madame Finley, “is that of wand cores. You know, of course, that certain wands made of the same core share a special bond? In the same way, certain witches and wizards physically share a common magical core. Even the top research healers have no way of explaining it, but it’s a condition as old as Merlin himself. Through the years, it has been known by many names. Nowadays, the most colloquial term for it is—“

“Blood bond,” Andromeda finished.

“Whaaa,” said George, staring at Andromeda with bug-eyes. “But how is that even possible? Andromeda is, like, the most pureblooded that a witch can possibly get. No one’s got a pedigree as fucking perfect as hers. Ted’s ancestors are nothing but Muggles.”

“It has nothing to do with bloodlines,” said Madame Finley. “It’s something much deeper, more personal than that. It’s found in the very core of a person that makes them magical. That core manifest itself in the blood and, consequently, the entirety of the body. So, Miss Black, when you embraced Ted during one of his fits, your nearness allowed for a restoration of sorts to take place.”

“Then you mean,” said Andromeda slowly, “that my blood acts as a cure-all medicine for Ted?”

“And vice versa,” Madame Finley said, nodding. “Any ailment that you suffered could be eased by his presence."

“Oh. My. God.” George shook his head. “This is too fucking bizarre. I’m trying to wrap my brain around it and it’s, like, imploding from the effort.”

Madame Finley heaved a long sigh, the first sign of irritability she’d shown the entire conversation.

“If you’re struggling, Mr. Vanderpool,” she said, “then Miss Black and I will discuss the finer points of this elsewhere.”

She motioned for Andromeda to get to her feet and follow her. Andromeda did so, her motions strangely fluid and dreamlike. She was trying so hard to make sense of everything Madame Finley had told her. She was trying and failing.

“This isn’t possible, though” she whispered, following Madame Finley as she paced leisurely down the length of the hospital wing. “It simply isn’t. Ted and I have nothing in common.”

“Perhaps not,” Madame Finley said, “but you do have this. There is no denying it, dear. You’ve reportedly saved the boy twice now, simply due to your presence. Last night, I took samples of Ted’s blood, as well as yours. I performed all the necessary spells on both. It was like drawing blood from one and the same person. Even now, your blood is running through his veins. A transfusion is part of a more long-term experiment. You see, I theorize that, if given regular transfusions, Ted may no longer suffer from these debilitating fits of his. The restorative power of your blood might be able to completely stabilize his metamorphing. It’s a very exciting possibility.”

“Yes,” Andromeda said in a naked voice. “Yes, very exciting.”

“Now, blood bonding usually occurs amongst relatives—siblings, twins, cousins. It’s rare, though not unheard of, to occur amongst non-relatives. It’s said that these individuals are sometimes naturally drawn to each other. And in Ted’s case, it seems that he was very lucky he met you when he did, just as his condition began to take a plunge for the worst.”

“Very lucky,” Andromeda whispered. Then her eyes suddenly lightened, and she whipped toward Madame Finley. “Wait. You said something about dreams, didn’t you? That the blood-bonded sometimes have shared dream states?”

Madame Finley looked mildly interested. “Have you experienced them?”

Andromeda shook her head. “Not exactly. But—but I’ve been having these nightmares for some time now, and Ted is always in them. Well, Ted in his animagus state, that is. I began having them before I even properly met him, before I knew anything about him being an animagus.”

“Fascinating,” was the healer’s reply.

“Does that mean something?”

“Only further confirmation of what I’ve already told you: the two of you are blood bound.”

“But it doesn’t mean anything else?” Andromeda pressed. “You don’t think that those sorts of dreams can be—prophetic, do you?”

Madame Finley considered this. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it isn’t possible.”

“I don’t want it to be possible.”

“I imagine not, if your dreams are nightmares.”

Madame Finley came to a stop, and Andromeda realized that they were standing in front of the screen that separated the rest of the room from what she assumed was Ted’s sickbed. Her stomach gave a sudden lurch, and her throat went tight and achy. She wanted so badly just to push past Madame Finley and see him, see how he was, ask him a dozen questions, beg him to look at her like he hadn’t the day before. Instead, she remained perfectly still.

“These regular transfusions you’ve suggested,” she said quietly, “I’ll do them. If that’s what it takes to get Ted better, I’ll give however much blood he needs.”

“Well, that’s all good and well, but I’m afraid it’s for nothing if he stays in his current mindset.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve explained all of this to Ted, of course,” said Madame Finley.

"So it's all been settled," said Andromeda. "We’ll do the transfusions.”

“That's the trouble. He’s refused them."



Author's Note: OH HI THERE. Oodles of thanks to everyone who's stuck with Tedromeda this far and for all of the much-appreciated reviews. You guys rock it to the moon and back. Madddd stuff going down, right? It's taken me some time to craft a magical condition that I thought would be believable, and I really hope that the result—blood bonding—suits. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. :]


Chapter 25: Persuasion
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When Madame Finley finally allowed Andromeda behind the curtained partition, Ted was still sleeping. Andromeda took a seat by his bedside and waved away the plump, pinched-faced healer, insisting that she would remain there until Ted woke and promising for the fourth time that she wouldn’t attempt to wake him.

“He’s in a fragile state,” Madame Finley warned, “and Madame Bellevue informs me that you’ve a nasty habit of disturbing him.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” George snorted, appearing at Madame Finley's shoulder and causing the woman to yelp in shock.

Her wrath now fixed upon George, Madame Finley shooed the boy off, hissing that Ted could not possibly entertain more than one guest at a time and that he could wait his turn, thank him very much, the impertinent little snot.

Andromeda thought that both Healers could’ve done with a better bedside manner. But for now, at least, she had what she wanted: a place at Ted’s side. When he woke, she would convince him of the other thing that she wanted: the chance to make him better.

Andromeda hadn’t taken the time to look at Ted, really look at him, since her departure from the Vanderpool house. The night before was a blur of panic and shadowy outlines that her memory had brushed over and bleached out. She could only remember seeing a very sick person, pressing her body against that very sick person, receiving an unwelcoming look from that very sick person—and knowing vaguely through it all that the very sick person was Ted.

Now, he was much more recognizable. Color had returned to his skin, flushing out the jaundiced hue of last night to a far more natural shade. He inhaled and exhaled at a strong, steady rhythm. For long minutes, Andromeda watched his chest, and her own filled with a strange, warm comfort. She thought of the image of the linnet inked on the skin above his heart, of the black tendrils spiraling out from the fragile but persistent bird. So much of what made Ted Tonks exist lay just beneath those inked tendrils—a heart and lungs that were just as fragile and persistent. Andromeda had never known that the wellbeing of one set of lungs and a heart could cause her so much terror.

And somehow those organs and the blood pumping through them—somehow they shared a connection to Andromeda's own.

Andromeda still had difficulty believing it.

Blood bound to Ted Tonks. Blood bound to a Muggleborn she'd come to care for more than she cared about most purebloods in her life. Was it coincidence? Or was it the bond that had brought them together? She’d had the dreams of Ted before they had ever crossed paths. Was all of that only coincidence? Or was she meant to find him? Meant to uncover this unthinkable phenomenon just in time to save his life?

“Not that I can save your life,” Andromeda whispered aloud, “if you won’t let me. George was right: you’re so infuriatingly stubborn.”

In an impulsive move that carried none of the sting of her words, Andromeda leaned forward and skimmed her knuckles, just barely, against his forehead.

Ted stirred.

Andromeda yanked back her hand, suddenly awash with guilt. She felt certain that Madame Finley would come crashing in at any second, spurred by a sixth sense, aware that Andromeda had, once again, disturbed Ted. But Madame Finley did not come crashing in, despite the fact that Ted blinked opened his eyes and turned toward Andromeda in bleary confusion.

Please, please don’t look at me that way again. Like I’m nothing to you but an unwanted eyesore.

But Ted didn’t look at Andromeda in any particular way. He turned his head back up and stared at the ceiling, still blinking the sleep out of his eyes.

Andromeda stuttered, then gargled out, “H-how are you feeling?”

“There’s nothing for us to talk about.”

Ted’s voice was hoarse, but the words were clear. He stared intently at the flying buttresses overhead.

“There is something we need to talk about,” said Andromeda. “Something important. You know there is.”

“It’s my health. It’s my condition. So it’s my business, not yours.“

Andromeda gripped the arms of her chair. She stared hard at Ted’s profile. She wished she could slap him back into reality, yell at him until he acknowledged her, shake him until he looked her in the eyes. But all of those behaviors would get her promptly booted from the hospital wing. So she remained still, and her voice remained low.

“It’s about my condition, too, you know,” said Andromeda. “This is something we share, this—this bond of ours. Doesn’t that mean I get some say?”

“You have say in your own life,” said Ted, “not mine. Just because we apparently share some nonsensical medical condition doesn’t mean we’re bound to each other in any other way.”

“It isn’t nonsensical,” Andromeda insisted. “It’s confusing, yes, and heaven knows I’m still trying to make sense of it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. There’s empirical evidence: I’ve helped make you better twice now. I can keep on helping you.”

“I don’t want your help.”

“Ted, you’re dying.”

“That’s just speculation. They say my condition is worsening, but they don’t really know. It could’ve just been a bad spell these past few months. I’ve been fine for seventeen years, so I hardly think I need—“

“Bullshit.”

Ted’s jaw clenched. He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he stared harder than ever at the ceiling.

“These past few fits of yours,” said Andromeda, “they’ve had nothing to do with metamorphing or your animagus state. I know for a fact that your medicine didn’t work this last time, either. Madame Finley thinks you’ve grown immune to it. You’re getting worse. You need a change in medical attention. Why would you refuse that?”

At last, Ted jerked his head toward her. His eyes stared straight at hers in a burning, terrifying stare.

“The perfect opportunity for what, exactly? For you to condescend to a lowly Mudblood? For you to prove, once and for all, that you’re so superior to me that I can’t even go on living without your pure, refined blood from your pure, refined veins?”

Andromeda turned white. “Ted, what are you—?”

“I don’t want your condescension!”

There was a rustle of movement from the far end of the infirmary. The telltale click-clack of Madame Finley’s heels hurried toward them. She peeked her head around the corner of the partition.

Ted, with some effort, propped himself up against his pillows. He shook his head contritely in Madame Finley’s direction.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Everything’s fine.”

“Don’t exert yourself so much,” Madame Finley chided. “If I hear a raised voice again, I’ll have Miss Black dismissed.”

“Sorry,” Ted repeated, looking properly abashed.

He waited a long moment after Madame Finley had disappeared. Then he turned back toward Andromeda, his voice softer but just as angry as before.

“I’m not a problem for you to fix,” he said, “I’m not a charity case. I’m not a pathetic lowlife for you to take mercy on. I won’t be just another confirmation of your superiority complex. I won’t give you that satisfaction, and if that means dying young, then so help me, Andromeda Black, I’m going to die young.”

Silence fell. Andromeda stared at Ted. She was wordless. She was thoughtless. Then, a deluge of realization washed through her, and she realized that her hands were trembling. She didn’t make an effort to still them.

“That’s your opinion of me?” she whispered. “You think that the only reason I’m here is to feed a sick superiority complex?”

“Do you have another reason? I mean, I’ve been wracking my brain, and I can’t come up with one.”

“So it didn’t even cross your mind that I could genuinely care about you? That I could be worried sick at the thought of your life in danger? That the thought of you dying is unbearable to me?”

Ted started at the sound of Andromeda gasping for air. She was crying, and she’d given way to that inconvenient practice of not breathing properly. His expression changed, just slightly.

“You left,” he whispered.

Andromeda swallowed. More tears coursed down her cheeks. “I know I did.”

“You told me that you wanted me,” he said, “and then you left. You told me you refused to marry Lestrange. Then you got engaged. What was I supposed to think?”

“You were supposed to think horrible things about me,” she said, wiping an embarassing trail of snot from her nose, “and then you were supposed to forget all about me.”

“That’s not as easy as it sounds, you know. I thought dropping Defense Against the Dark Arts would help.”

“I never meant for you to do that.”

“I know,” he said, “and it isn’t your fault. It was my own decision. We both had to make the decisions we thought best for ourselves. I get that. I really do. I get that you have to play nice for your family and that being a Black means throwing away your life to Lestrange. I even get why you left me at George’s and never tried to contact me again. You made the decisions that were best for you. But just because I get it doesn’t mean I forgot you instantaneously. You were lodged in my mind. Merlin, in my dreams, even. And now, for you to just waltz back in, and all this business of blood bonds—“

“But George said you were fine! He said he’d never seen you so well.”

“You think that I was going to gripe about this to anyone?” Ted asked, pushing himself up further against his pillow. “I was trying to focus on anything else, everything that would get you out of my system.”

Andromeda caught hold of something she hadn’t processed before. “You had a dream about me?”

Ted heaved a long sigh. “I’ve dreamt about you for years, Andromeda.”

For the second time that morning, Andromeda’s mind went white with shock.

“Why,” she whispered, “didn’t you ever tell me that?”

Ted let out a strangled laugh. “Um. I dunno. Because that it isn’t the sort of thing you just strut up and tell a girl who thinks you’re no better than a splinter?”

“I never called you a splinter.”

“Right. Because you never talked to me. And then when you did, it was all about why I shouldn’t have been born.”

Andromeda flinched as though struck. “All right. I see why you didn’t tell me. But Madame Finley says that dreams like that are a sign of blood bonding. Didn’t you think it was odd? Having dreams about a girl you didn’t even know?”

“Not particularly. I’d seen you about school before. I just thought they were the normal types of dreams that blokes my age get.”

“What sort of normal dreams that—?” Andromeda stopped short. Her eyes widened. “Oh.”

“Yes. Oh.”

“You mean, you dreamt about us…?” Andromeda flopped her hands vaguely, a poor attempt at elocution.

The renewed flush of Ted’s cheeks grew deeper than before.

“Look,” he said, “it’s not like I really had control over it. I didn’t even like you back then. The dreams just happened, all right?”

“Of course,” Andromeda said quickly. “No, of course. I understand. It’s not like I can control mine either.”

Ted raised an eyebrow.

“They’re not about that, though! They’re just about—about—“

“About what?”

“About you dying.”

“Oh.” Ted remained stoic. “I suppose I got the better end of the deal then, didn’t I?”

“Ted. Please. Please let me help. Take the transfusions.”

“I can’t.”

Andromeda shook her head fiercely. “You mean you won’t.”

“Fine,” said Ted. “I won’t. I have the right to refuse. You’re not the only one who gets to make big, important decisions for yourself. You chose your engagement. I’m choosing my peace of mind.”

“Peace of mind?” Andromeda spat back. “You’ll feel peaceful about the fact that your next fit might kill you?”

“No. About the fact that I won’t have to walk into this hospital wing every week and sit across from a girl that I’ve stupidly fallen for and can’t get over and who only thinks of me as a pity project. That instead, I’ll give myself a fighting chance to let that wound heal.”

“What,” whispered Andromeda, “w-what did you just say?”

“Right then. Clear out, you.”

Madame Bellevue ripped back the partition, wand in hand. She pushed past Andromeda, took Ted’s wrist, and began casting a flurried series of medical spells.

“I need to check the patient’s vitals,” Madame Bellevue went on, “and Finley says he’s spent far too much time already exerting his energy.”

“He’s just talking,” Andromeda said angrily, convinced that Madame Bellevue was trying to get rid of her out of spite.

“I’m sorry,” said Madame Bellevue, “but which of us has a Healer’s license, hm?”

“Andromeda,” said Ted, “just go.”

Andromeda looked helplessly between a worn Ted and a sneer-lipped Madame Bellevue. Defeated, she rose to her feet.

“I’ll be back tonight,” she said, not sure if she meant for it to sound like a promise or a threat.



“You stole my spot.”

George had caught Andromeda on her way out of the hospital wing, and he now blocked her path with a petulant pout.

“He’s my best mate. Don’t you think I was supposed to get dibs? Now Madame Bellevue is squawking on about how he’s going to die of fatigue or whatever and I can't talk to him for hours.”

“I’m sorry,” said Andromeda, and she meant it. “I didn’t think. It’s just, he’s refused the transfusions.”

“Yeah, the ladies filled me in,” said George, nodding. “Predictable. Told you, he's a stubborn little bastard. Just think what he’d do if he found out you were paying Finley.”

Andromeda narrowed her eyes. “He isn’t going to find out about that.”

“Sure.” George shrugged. “So, let me guess, he shot you down.”

“I’m going to convince him. I just have to find the right angle. When you get to talk to him, you should play the guilt card. You know, remind him how he owes it to Nelson and all his friends to get better." 

“I like the way your mind works,” said George, “but he’s still going to say no. You’ve obviously never tried to convince Ted of something before. That idiot will go to his grave, guns still blazing. You won’t win.”

“Yes, well, either we win, or he dies.”

“Easy, love. It’s too early in the day to be so morbid. I haven’t even had a proper breakfast.”

Andromeda skirted around George. “Just try to convince him at least. I’ll be back tonight." 

“Uh huh. If you did that thing where you, like, crawl right next to him and wrap your body around his? It might be more effective.”

On her way out, with the smallest of smirks, Andromeda cast a well-aimed itching hex at George’s backside.



“Blood bonds?”

Mr. Quince, the librarian, stared quizzically up at Andromeda. He was clearly unacquainted with the term she’d just given him.

“I know it’s uncommon,” Andromeda said, “but surely there has to be at least one source that contains information on the topic. Even just a few lines in a reference book?”

Mr. Quince didn’t look so hopeful. “I suppose,” he said, getting up from his chair and fetching his wand from a nearby shelf. “I’ll rummage about. There may be a book or two in the Restricted Section, but that will require a note from your professor—“

“I’m over seventeen,” Andromeda said testily. “I could jump that partition right now and look myself. But if you insist....”

She removed a slip of parchment from her pocket and handed it over. She hadn’t needed to forge Professor Whitechapel’s signature. After her visit to the hospital wing, she’d made it to the day’s DADA class and afterward briefly explained her interest in the rare phenomenon of blood bonds. There had been no need to explain the business about Ted. Professor Whitechapel, equal parts intrigued and impressed by Andromeda’s sheer curiosity, had been more than happy to write up a note for his favorite student.

Mr. Quince took the paper from Andromeda, cast an anti-forgery spell on its ink, and almost seemed disappointed by the result.

“It’s for Defense Against the Dark Arts,” said Andromeda. “And your ‘rummaging about’ may well be the difference between an Outstanding and an Exceeds Expectations on my N.E.W.T.s.”

Mr. Quince harrumphed. Then he shuffled off toward the Restricted Section.

Andromeda glanced nervously around the library and hoped that she wouldn’t run into anyone she knew. She just wanted to find a spare corner of the library to sit down with whatever resources on blood bonds she could find. And she wanted to think. She needed to think. Too much had happened over the past week, and far too quickly.

First, there was this business of the Knights of Walpurgis, of Rabastan’s and Lucius’ involvement and of Narcissa’s startlingly easy acceptance of the Dark Arts. And now this—Ted’s fit and the staggering revelation that she was, somehow, inextricably connected to a Muggleborn. All the while, Andromeda’s mind kept playing back this morning’s conversation with Ted.

He’d been the coldest she’d ever seen him. He’d been angry with her. Andromeda knew that Ted had every right to think the worst of her; she’d treated him poorly from the very beginning of their acquaintance up until now. And until now, Ted had always treated her kindly in spite of everything. He’d given her the benefit of the doubt, turned the other cheek, returned her slaps with kindness. She realized now that she’d been right in her assumption: Ted did have a breaking point, and they were now well past it. For once, he was finally treating her how she deserved.

But then...

But then, he had said that he’d fallen for her.

He said that he’d fallen for her, and he couldn’t get over her.

That meant he couldn’t hate her completely, surely. There had to be some remaining chance that he would cave, that he would accept her help.

There was the chance of something else, too, Andromeda knew, but she kept that possibility neatly locked away and far from the rest of her conscious thoughts.

“Miss Black?”

She glanced up to see Mr. Quince returning to the circulation desk. He carried a single book, thin and dust-caked. It was perched delicately in his hands, as though he were afraid that by holding it too hard, he might crush its contents.

“You’re in luck,” he said, placing the book on the desk between them. “It’s an old source, mind, so you’ll need to place some protective charms on your hands in order to handle the pages. And you’ll need to keep it here, at this desk, where I can see you.”

So much for finding a quiet, hidden corner of the library. Still, Andromeda understood the need for the rules. She was just happy to have found an actual source—not just a few uninformative lines, but an entire book dedicated to the topic of blood bonds. She thanked Mr. Quince for his help, and he responded with a monosyllabic grunt of an answer. She set to work charming her hands, and when that work was complete, she pulled out fresh parchment and a self-inking quill from her satchel.

Then Andromeda read.

Some historians speculate that blood bonding traces back as far as the bond between Morgan le Fay and Merlin himself. However, blood bonds usually occur in close family circles—most commonly between siblings or cousins. The first undisputed case was between siblings Hector and Bryn of the House of Prewett in 950 A.D.

Manifestations of blood bonding vary from bond to bond. Some bound individuals experience shared dreams, others shared pain and sensory perception. In rare cases, such as the 1613 case of cousins Mathilde Burke and James Gaunt, there have been reports of bound individuals dying within a day of each other.

The blood bound exhibit no remarkable predisposition toward a healing career, nor does their blood possess any special restorative properties that affect the wizarding community at large. However, their blood can cure any malady of their bound partner. Due to this rare phenomenon, scholars once speculated that the blood bound could potentially be immortal.

Blood bonds appear to occur most frequently within pureblooded lines.

For two hours straight, Andromeda copied lines and passages. She found nothing that elaborated far beyond what Madame Finley had already told her. Blood bonds were rare. They appeared to be linked back to one’s magical core. The blood bound could heal one another. The contents didn’t satiate her curiosity, but neither did they snuff it out. Andromeda closed the book, only more vehemently convinced of what she had to do.

Only this time, she knew how to do it.



“Miss Black, you can’t just barge in here at any hour of the day! I insist that you—“

“Insist away, Bellevue. I’m going to talk to him.”

Andromeda took advantage of Madame Bellevue’s gape-mouthed shock and shoved past the indignant Healer toward the partition. Ted was awake, propped up against three layers of fluffed pillows. At Andromeda’s appearance, he dropped a copy of The Daily Prophet into his lap.

“What’s going—?”

Andromeda cut him off.

“I don’t think you’re a splinter. I don’t think of you as scum. I don’t think of you as a problem to be fixed or as my inferior. You are my equal. God, Ted, you’re my superior in more ways than I can count. You are kinder than me and braver than me and better than me in every way that a human being should be.”

“That isn’t—“

Andromeda didn’t give way to Ted’s attempted interruption. She pressed on, raising her voice over his.

“Do you know that I get physically ill at the thought of even associating you with the word Mudblood? I know I said unforgiveable things to you in the past. I don’t blame you for thinking the worst of me, because until I met you, you wouldn’t be wrong. I thought Muggleborns were second-rate, that they were deformed, unworthy aberrations. That’s all I knew, Ted. That’s all I knew because I didn’t know you."

“What are you doing?” Ted asked.

Andromeda had pulled out her wand and pointed it directly at Ted’s open hand. She said nothing as she cast a silent incision spell that cut open the skin of his palm, just along the stitching that ran from his wrist to his index finger.

Ted let out a soft, startled cry, but Andromeda ignored him and cast the tip of the wand at her own hand, splicing her skin and bringing a long line of blood to peak at the seam. In a quick, precise movement, she grabbed Ted’s bloody hand in hers before he could pull away. Ted’s eyes met hers in a sharp panic. Andromeda stared calmly back. She pressed their palms closer together. A few stray beads of blood dripped from their hands onto Ted’s bedsheet.

Andromeda leaned forward, her eyes never leaving his.

“There,” she said. “What purist would do that?”

Ted’s eyes remained wide and caught on hers. Andromeda’s hand trembled violently, but she kept her voice tranquil.

“Something like this,” she said, “should ruin me. According to everything I’ve ever been taught, I’m going to catch all sorts of nasty diseases from you. You're ruining me. Your blood’s contaminating mine.”

“You’re afraid,” whispered Ted. “You’re trembling.”

“Yes,” Andromeda admitted. “But I’m not letting go.”

“Andromeda—“

“I’m very afraid. I’m terrified. I don’t know why you and I are blood bound, or everything that being blood bound entails. But if it means I could make you better, I want to do it. I want to because I care for you. Don’t refuse that. Please.”

There was a thick, staticky silence. Andromeda squeezed her fingers more tightly around Ted’s palm. Drops of blood trickled down their wrists now, beading to the tilted edge of their skin and dripping onto the sheets. Andromeda had no way of knowing if the blood was Ted’s or her own or both commingled.

At last, Ted spoke.

“All right.”

“All right?”

Ted nodded slowly. “All right.”

Andromeda slipped her hand from his. She set her wand to work on healing his cut first, then her own. A simple cleaning spell removed all trace of blood.

All the while, she felt Ted’s eyes on her. She had won the fight. Yet all the while, she was keenly aware of one fact: Ted wasn’t calling her Dromeda anymore.


Chapter 26: Blizzard
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“Winifred? Would you come out?”

Andromeda had been in the south wing turret for a good fifteen minutes, hugging her mink stole close to her chilled collarbone. February had been unseasonably frigid, and a blizzard had begun to blow in from the north that evening.

Achilles Yaxley had been right: there would be no visit to Hogsmeade this weekend. Even the surrounding school grounds were off limits for fear that students would go traipsing off into the snow, only to be found days later as human popsicles.

The entirety of the school population was trapped inside the castle, and a nervous energy jittered through its corridors. As a consolation prize for the canceled Hogsmeade trip, the Great Hall was filled with hot cocoa, cider, and freshly baked cookies. The fireplaces roared with enchanted fires, and friends shared blankets and giggles and warmth.

Andromeda had excused herself from the festivities early. Narcissa had been asleep, her nose snuggled into the crook of Lucius’ shoulder. Lilith had been busy trying to appease two prospective suitors at the far end of the Slytherin table. Rabastan had been talking Quidditch with his usual gang—a gang that Andromeda now knew dabbled in more than just sports statistics.

Unable to shake the disquiet at watching Rabastan laughing loudly with his pearly-teethed, well-bred friends, Andromeda had slipped out of the Great Hall, her departure unnoticed.

Now, shivering against a snowy draft, Andromeda again called for the ghost who haunted this dark part of the castle.

“I just want to talk to you. Please, Winifred? I know you’re there.”

“Now that’s just a cruel sense of humor.”

Andromeda shrieked in fright. There was a cold presence at her back, and she turned to find Winifred floating in a slow circle, a dull expression on her face.

“Everyone knows that a ghost can’t leave the place of her death,” Winifred went on. “Of course I’m here. That doesn’t make me your slave.”

“I didn’t mean any disrespect,” Andromeda said cautiously, afraid to upset Winifred further. There was something she needed from the ghostly girl, and it wouldn’t do to go insulting her or scaring her off.

“You most certainly did,” retorted Winifred. “No one respects ghosts. It’s prejudice, that’s what it is.”

Andromeda didn’t exactly know how to respond to that. She just smiled tentatively and took a step closer to Winifred’s insubstantial frame.

Winifred sniffed. “What do you want?”

“Have they met here again?”

“Who?”

“The Knights of Walpurgis,” said Andromeda. “My fiancé and his friends. Have they met here since we spoke last?”

Winifred blinked. Then she laughed. It was a cackling, ear stabbing laugh. Andromeda tried not to wince. She was, after all, still trying to stay on Winifred’s good side.

When Winifred had finally finished her bout of laughter, she drew her mouth into a simper and said, “What, am I your spy?”

“No! No, I just wondered if you’d seen them around here. If you’d heard what they were talking about, perhaps?”

Winifred fluttered down to a seat on one of the snow-covered benches. She arranged her skirt primly around her knees.

“For your information, I do have more important things to do than just lollygag about all day, eavesdropping on anyone who comes up into the turret.”

Andromeda had a difficult time believing this. What else was there for a ghost to do up here? Did she spend it all talking to Reginald and staring into his ghostly eyes?

“By the way,” said Winifred. “Reginald doesn’t like you coming up here. It makes him uncomfortable. He’s a very shy person, you know.”

“Um. Well, I’m sorry to intrude on Reginald’s territory.”

“No, you’re not. The living never respect the dead’s personal space. Anyway, if you’re so curious about your fiancé’s little club, why don’t you ask him yourself?”

“I can’t just talk to Rabastan about it," said Andromeda. "He and I aren’t—well, we aren’t like you and Reginald. We don’t love each other. We don’t talk about things that matter. Not things like that.”

Winifred grew very quiet. Her eyes began to water with shadowy tears.

“But that’s terrible,” she whispered. “If you don’t love each other, why on earth are you marrying him?”

“It’s complicated,” Andromeda said, her gut turning stony. This was not the sort of conversation she had intended to have with Winifred.

“No, it isn’t,” said Winifred. “If you don’t love someone, you don’t promise to spend the rest of your life with them. That isn’t the least bit complicated.”

Andromeda had played nice, all for the sake of finding out just what it was that Rabastan and his friends were planning—if they were planning anything at all. She had been doing so well. But now, Winifred’s words had twisted something fragile and deep set within her.

“It isn’t complicated for you,” she said. “You and your fucking undead boyfriend have it made, don’t you? You don’t have parents to please or a reputation to keep spotless or a legacy to uphold. You killed yourself for your love, no looking back. Well, that’s bloody marvelous, isn’t it? Fucking three cheers for Winifred and Reginald! But don’t you dare lecture me on my love life. Don’t act like you have the moral high ground, just because you ended up with a fairy tale ending.”

Winifred, quite unaffected by Andromeda’s rabid speech, simply laughed as she had before. She shook her head at Andromeda like she would at a poorly trained puppy.

“I fell in love with a ghost,” she said. “I had to kill myself to be together with my Reggie. How is that a fairy tale ending?”

“But you ended up with the one you wanted, didn’t you?” Andromeda countered. “You had that choice.”

Winifred smiled in a knowing way that made Andromeda want to punch her in the face. She really might have, if the effort would have done any good.

“Who do you really love then, hmm?” Winifred coaxed. “Why can’t you be with Ted? It’s clear he’s crazy for you, so it isn’t a matter of unrequited desperation. What’s keeping you apart?”

Andromeda backed away from the ghost with a hollow laugh. “No. No, I am not doing this.”

“Doing what?”

“Taking relational advice from a bloody ghost.”

Winifred harrumphed. “Clearly you’re not taking my advice, because you’re still engaged to that creep-o and not making sweet, sweet love to Ted Tonks.”

Andromeda stomped toward the staircase, her face a painfully burning scarlet. This had been a mistake. Why did she think she could trust a ghost?

She had just reached the bottom of the stairs when a grayish wisp of a ghost appeared before her, blocking the corridor doorway. It wasn’t Winifred. It was the form of a tall, lithe boy with too-wide eyes and perpetual dimples.

“Er. Reginald?”

“Winnie can be a little bit intrusive,” the boy said in a sibilant whisper, “but she means well.”

“Says the ghost blinded with love,” Andromeda sighed. “Now, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to leave, and I’d rather not cause either of us a spell of unpleasantness by reaching through your lower intestine.”

“I’ll move,” Reginald said calmly. “But before I do, I thought you should know: I did hear the group of blokes last time they were up here. Foul-minded, the lot of them.”

Andromeda tensed with interest. “And?”

“They’ve got plans,” said Reginald, “for the upcoming Hogsmeade visit. That is, the rescheduled visit, what with this nasty blizzard that’s blown in. Seems they’re carrying out orders for the leader of their little band.”

Andromeda frowned. “Who’s the leader?”

Reginald shook his head. “Dunno. Not a student here at Hogwarts. Someone older, someone talented. They all seem to be deathly afraid of him. In any event, this leader ordered that they begin practicing their dark magic on, erm, subjects. So, once they’re in Hogsmeade and out from the watchful eyes of the professors, they’re supposed to nab a couple of unsuspecting students and—well, practice.”

Reginald did not need to elaborate. Andromeda knew precisely the sort of dark magic that required a subject for practicing. Simple hexes and curses could be developed and perfected without a second party present.

“They’re going to cast Unforgivables,” she whispered.

“I thought you should know,” said Reginald. “Winnie isn’t aware just how serious a matter it is.”

Andromeda felt weak. Her mind flipped frantically through a catalogue of possible refutations.

“What about the Trace?” she said. “It’s placed back on students when they leave for Hogsmeade. Surely the Ministry would know that they’re performing dark magic.”

“You don’t have the Trace, do you?” said Reginald. “You’re seventeen. Like all the other members of their charming club.”

“But what's to prevent those students from telling afterward? They'll remember what happened and who did it to them. It's not like the boys will cast killing curses on them." 

Reginald stayed quiet.

“They wouldn't dare,” Andromeda said, this time with conviction. “Merlin knows I don’t have a high opinion of Rabastan, but he and Lucius and the rest of their lot aren’t going to murder innocent students."

Reginald shrugged. “Perhaps not,” he said, “but you should hear the stories they tell. I’m not sure they’re above anything. Anyway, you’re not thinking properly. Don’t you think they’d obliviate whatever ‘innocent victims’ they used? They won’t get caught unless someone catches them in the act. That’s why I’m telling you. If you’re not smart, at least be grateful.”

“I’m plenty smart, thank you very much," Andromeda said heatedly. "And you’re plenty rude.”

“I’ve been nothing but helpful,” said Reginald with an offended sniff. “You’re the rude one, intruding on me and Winifred in such a presumptuous way.”

Andromeda bit back the urge to hurl another scathing retort. It wouldn’t do to get into two separate arguments with two separate ghosts, all in one day. Reginald had been helpful, and he didn’t deserve Andromeda's ire just because he’d given her disturbing news.

“I won’t bother the two of you anymore,” she said. “And I am grateful for the information. I just don’t know what to do with it yet.”

“If it makes you feel better,” said Reginald, “you’ve got one significant advantage when it comes to formulating a solution.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re alive.”



Andromeda arrived at the hospital wing promptly at eight o’clock that Sunday evening. Her alibi was airtight. Should Narcissa or Lilith or any other acquaintances inquire, she would tell them that she’d been in the hospital wing, undergoing a long-term sleep study with Madame Bellevue in an attempt to discover the source of her nightmares.

It was a half-truth, and half-truths were far safer than outright lies.

“Remember what I told both of you,” said Madame Finley, fixing a stony stare on Ted, then Andromeda, then Ted again. “No big or jerky movements, or you’ll both be in for excruciating pain. This is a slow and delicate process. I’m a Healer, not a Miracle Worker. This first transfusion will take no more than an hour.”

Andromeda ventured a glance at Ted, who sat in the straight-back wooden chair across from her. Madame Finley had set up the two of them in the far corner of the hospital wing, beneath a particularly dirty pane of glass and behind the same cloth partition that had shielded Ted’s sickbed earlier that week.

“It’s an unsightly procedure,” Madame Bellevue had explained, “and I don’t want any other patients to be distressed by the sight of it.”

Andromeda was grateful, at least, for the fireplace in this corner of the room. Madame Finley had lit the log earlier with a single flick of her wand, and a comforting orange glow now danced on Ted’s face, dipping shadows into odd crooks of his nose and ears, and the dip of his lip.

“Something wrong?”

Andromeda started, suddenly aware that what had begun as a mere glance had turned into an open stare. A blush exploded beneath her cheeks, and she turned her head down into the shadows cast by the fire.

“Why would something be wrong?”

She winced at her tone. She sounded annoyed, impatient. She wasn’t. She was just scared.

“You’re about to trade in a pint of your blood for a pint of mine,” Ted said, his own voice as warm and steady as it usually was. “If you’re having second thoughts, then—“

“I’m not a coward.”

“I didn’t say you were.”

“I’m not having second thoughts.”

“Okay. Just checking.”

“Right. Well, you’ve checked.”

“So I have.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

“AHEM.”

Ted and Andromeda both jumped at the sound of Madame Finley’s throat clearing. She stared between the two of them with mild disgust, hands fisted against her waist in irritation.

“This is a serious procedure,” she said. “If the two of you cannot exhibit more decorum than a couple of first years, then I can expend my much-coveted energies elsewhere.”

“No!” Andromeda half-rose from her chair. Then, checking herself, she lowered her voice and sat back down. “I mean, no, please, Madame Finley. We’re perfectly capable of behaving ourselves. We won’t impede the procedure any further.”

Madame Finley looked doubtful, but after a stretch of silence, she lifted her wand.

“Assume the posture,” she instructed.

As she’d been taught just minutes earlier, Andromeda rested her left wrist, veins upward, on the arm of her chair. Ted did the same, but with his right arm. Madame Finley cleared her throat one more time. Then, with a flourish of movement and words that Andromeda could not follow, she set the transfusion spell in place.

Madame Finley had explained to both of them how the procedure would work: she would create a seamless blood exchange between Ted and Andromeda. Ted would receive Andromeda’s blood, and with it the healing properties attributed to their blood bond. Meanwhile, Ted’s own blood would circle back into Andromeda’s veins. It was not diseased blood, after all, only a surplus that would replenish Andromeda’s system and prevent the typical lightheadedness associated with such a large donation as Andromeda was giving.

What Madame Finley had not properly explained to Andromeda was just how badly the procedure would hurt. The pain was too sharp, too sudden a jolt for her to hold in an instinctual scream.

She cried out again, a poor attempt at catharsis, as she watched a stream of blood prick from her arm and float into midair, then shoot downward again to Ted’s exposed vein. A stream of his own blood rose and shot into her upturned arm. Together, their blood formed a strange, encircled flow in the air—a figure eight between their two bodies.

It would be an oddly beautiful sight, Andromeda thought, if the pain wasn’t so acute. It was only a few moments in that she realized Ted was staring at her, wide-eyed with concern. Ted hadn’t screamed. He didn’t even look the least bit affected by the spell.

“What’s wrong with her?” Ted asked Madame Finley, who appeared utterly unruffled by Andromeda’s anguish. “Why is it hurting her?”

“The procedure affects witches and wizards in different ways,” she said. “Some studies hypothesize that purebloods have a rougher time of it, but those reports are inconclusive.”

Andromeda swallowed her next urge to cry out. Instead, tears pricked her eyes and began coursing down her face.

“I don’t care about hypotheses, dammit,” Ted said. “If she’s in pain, we should stop.”

“Well, Miss Black?” Madame Finley said. “Is the pain too much for you? Should we terminate the procedure?”

Vehemently, Andromeda shook her head. A moment later, she found her voice. It was strained and shaky, but it was usable.

“Don’t stop. I’ll be f-f-fine.” With some effort, she turned to Ted, who looked entirely unconvinced. “I’m fine. Don’t stop.”

“Very well,” said Madame Finley, shrugging. “So long as there is consent from both patients, I see nothing wrong with continuing as planned. Now then, I’ll give you two some privacy and be back once you’ve reached the allotted time. Should you need me, call for me. I’ll be looking over some documents at Madame Bellevue’s desk.”

With that, Madame Finley disappeared behind the cloth partition, and Ted and Andromeda were left alone—an uncomfortable tableaux of firelight and tears and blood.

Andromeda closed her eyes against the pain searing through her arm. It felt as though a pair of sewing shears had been lodged beneath her skin and were now cutting their way out with harsh, unforgiving slashes.

“Are you really all right?”

She forced her eyes back open, her vision blurring and then refocusing on Ted. He was sitting remarkably still in his chair, as Madame Finley had instructed, but his brown eyes were wide with—with what? Distress? Worry? Compassion? Andromeda couldn’t place the emotion, but she felt gratification at the sight of it. And immediately after, she felt guilt for feeling gratification. She was making Ted worry. That was nothing to be pleased about.

But it meant that Ted was worried. That he still cared about her, no matter how harsh or hardheaded he’d been over the past few days.

She nodded in response to his question, gasping in a strengthening breath. The pain hadn’t gone away, but it had lessened in its intensity, enough so that Andromeda could muster words again.

“Distract me?”

Ted nodded. “All right. Though I’m confined to this chair, you know, so I can’t do a tap dance or acrobatics or a dramatic recitation of Shakespeare. That severely limits my options, I’m afraid.”

Despite herself, despite everything, Andromeda laughed. Immediately afterward, she wished she hadn’t. A new stinging sensation coursed through her body, and she inhaled sharply, gritting her teeth against the pain.

“Oh god,” said Ted. “Bad idea. Sorry. Sorry! I won’t make you laugh. Um. Shit. I’m abysmal at this.”

Andromeda shook her head. “You’re better at it than I am, at least. Every time I’ve tried to make you better has been a disaster.”

She expected Ted to snicker at that. Instead, she saw that he was looking at her in an odd, quiet way.

“I wouldn’t call it a disaster,” he said. “You saved my life all those times, didn’t you?”

“I suppose. I dunno. I’m sure you would’ve pulled through without me interfering.”

“George told me,” said Ted, his eyes drifting toward the twined, slow moving swirls of blood connecting their arms. “About what you did the other night. About what you said.”

Andromeda’s mouth went dry. George, that little prat. She’d been hoping that Ted wouldn’t remember a thing about that night.

“You know George,” she said uneasily. “Melodramatic. Always trying to get a rise of you. I’m sure whatever he said was a gross exaggeration of what really happened.”

“Oh.” Ted nodded stiffly. “So you didn’t climb into bed with me and tell me that I had to keep living?”

“Well... Yes. I did do that.”

“Then I’m sorry,” Ted said. “I’m sure it was the last thing you wanted to do.”

His eyes dropped from their airborne blood to Andromeda upturned arm. But not her arm, really. More like her hand. The hand on which she wore Rabastan’s gaudy, over-large diamond ring.

“So,” said Ted, “I’m not sure I ever offered you congratulations on your engagement. I suppose you’ll be married by graduation and producing a male heir a year from now.”

Andromeda made a strangled noise. She shook her head.

“I’m not having children,” she said.

“Oh.” Ted nodded.

Andromeda shot him a glare. “Oh, what?”

“Nothing.”

“Fuck it, Ted, why are you looking at me like that?”

“It’s just—you do know where babies come from, don’t you?”

“Oh my god. We’re not having this conversation.”

“Okay.”

“Why would you even bring that up?”

“I thought we weren’t having this conversation.”

“There are plenty of ways to prevent a pregnancy from happening, you know. Spells. Potions.”

“Absolutely.”

“He’s very well-built, in case you weren't aware. And handsome, too. Handsomer than you.”

Ted smiled. “Oh, hands down.”

“It’s not like it’ll be an unpleasant experience, if that’s what you’re insinuating. I’m sure he’s very skilled.”

“Undoubtedly. He’s had lots of practice.”

Andromeda’s face burned. “I don’t care if he wants heirs. I don’t, and I have the upper hand in our relationship. Or at least I do until we get married, and after that—“

Andromeda stopped short. Her heart seemed to stop alongside her words.

She hadn’t thought that far.

Oh Merlin, she hadn’t thought that far.

Ted was watching her, his features completely placid, brown eyes calm and attentive.

She hated him.

“Rabastan doesn’t have to know what p-potions I take,” Andromeda faltered, tipping her chin back up. “So it isn’t an issue. There won’t be children. And I don’t want to have this conversation.”

“Me neither.”

“Birth control potions are ninety-eight percent effective. And, I mean, considering it should only happen, what, once a month? It’s an absolutely miniscule chance. Miniscule.”

Ted said nothing, but his face was a sight to behold. It looked like the most unpleasant mixture between amusement and horror.

“What?” Andromeda demanded.

“Once a month? You honestly think Rabastan—“

“Yes,” she interrupted haughtily. “My mother told me, once a month. Or are you the one who doesn’t know about the birds and the bees?”

Ted had dipped his head into his hand. He was muttering something under his breath that Andromeda couldn’t decipher.

“I’m not a child,” she said angrily. “I know what’s to be expected of me as a wife. I know what I’m getting myself into.”

When Ted lifted his head back up, the amusement had bled away from his expression, leaving only horror is its wake.

“I really, really don’t want to have this conversation,” he said hoarsely.

Andromeda nodded curtly. Then she looked straight ahead at the partition, wondering how much of an hour had passed. Why had things turned so awkward so quickly? It was stupid Ted's fault for prolonging the conversation. Now she would be stuck with him for long, excruciating minutes more, without any hope of escape.

The only solution was to attempt to diffuse the weird, unidentifiable tension that had settled between them.

“How is Quidditch?” she asked. “I’m sure the team has missed you.”

“I’ve made George captain in my stead,” Ted said. “One of our reserves is in as chaser. Madame Finley tells me that I won’t be well enough to play for another two months at least.”

Andromeda frowned. “But you can practice, can’t you? You have to. The Slytherin game is in April.”

Ted smiled without feeling.

“You’re going to get to play, aren’t you?” Andromeda pressed. “You told me, Quidditch is what you want to do. All the talent agents will be there. You have to play that game.”

“Doesn’t look hopeful.”

“So, what, you’re just going to give up on going professional? That isn’t like you.”

“And how the hell you know what’s like me and what isn’t?" Ted snapped. "What makes you think you know what I’m like?”

Andromeda shrank back at the bitter edge of Ted’s question.

He closed his eyes. Opened them. Sighed.

“I’m sorry," he muttered. "That was uncalled for.”

“No,” Andromeda said. “You’re right. I don’t know you that well. Just because you let me stay at your house over the holidays doesn’t mean I know you. Just because I tutored you doesn’t mean that I know what you’re like. I shouldn’t presume that I understand you just because you held back my hair while I was puking my guts out at Hog’s Head.”

“I didn’t think you remembered that,” he said softly.

“I remember every good thing you did for me, Ted. Just because I act like a bitch doesn’t mean I have a faulty memory. It doesn’t mean I’m incapable of seeing what a decent human being you are.”

Ted looked away, toward the snowstorm that was still flurrying outside the hospital wing windows.

“Why don’t you call me Dromeda anymore?”

Ted blinked. “What?”

“You haven't since I left you in London. It’s like you’re punishing me.”

“Right. So, as usual, this is about you.”

“Well, if it wasn’t intentional, then call me Dromeda now.”

“Excuse me?”

“Call me Dromeda. If it’s not about me, you won’t mind. Surely.”

“That’s ridiculous. I’m not following your orders. Get over yourself.”

“Then it is about me.”

Ted didn’t reply. He didn’t speak again for a full half hour, and neither did Andromeda, who felt as though she had somehow both won and lost the last argument. Neither of them so much as looked at each other until another excruciating jab of pain shot through Andromeda’s arm, and the blood flowing between them swirled in a final flourish and broke off entirely.

Madame Finley arrived just in time to wrap a tight wad of gauze around each of their arms.

“That concludes the first transfusion,” she announced, click-clacking to the fire, where she doused the flames. “Mr. Tonks, you know to come in tomorrow morning for tests. Miss Black, expect to arrive next week for the second round. Same time and location. Any questions? No? Then be on your way.”

Madame Finley shooed them both out into the hallway, even though Andromeda was still biting back tears from the most recent wash of pain. She even felt a little dizzy, though she knew she shouldn’t have been. But then, she reasoned, it wasn’t exactly natural to be swapping out blood with another person. It would be more alarming if she didn’t feel a little off after the transfusion.

Ted didn’t linger outside the hospital wing. He shouldered on a jacket, shoved his hands into the pockets, and turned to Andromeda without looking at her.

“I’ll see you next Sunday, then.”

Andromeda watched, open-mouthed, as he hurried past her.

“So, what? Not even a ‘thank you’?”

Ted stopped. He turned back around. “What? Am I supposed to kneel and kiss your feet, conveying my sincerest gratitude? I thought you didn’t want that.”

“I don’t. It’s not about that. It’s about whatever the fuck is wrong with you. You’re egging me on moment and then giving me the silent treatment the next. I know this is a hard time for you, but you can’t behave that way. If this is going to work in the future, we need to come to some sort of understanding."

"Fine," said Ted. "Why don't we come to the understanding that I'm not a decent human being?"

"What—what's that supposed to mean?" 

“You keep calling me that. Decent. Better. As though I’m some sort of superhuman. But I’m not a decent human being, Andromeda. I’m petty and selfish and jealous, same as the next seventeen-year-old. I’m angry with you for leaving me at George’s. I’m angry that you chose Lestrange because it makes your family happy and not because it’s what you want. And I can’t stand to hear you talk about your future like it’s an inevitable drudgery and nothing more. I can’t stand you making polite conversation with me inside those doors when I know you won’t even acknowledge my presence outside them. I know I’m playing a game I’ve already lost, and the moment I make up my mind to walk away, you speak. You say something, and I’m lost again, and I hate myself for it, and it’s self-destructive, and it has to stop. So here's a solution. One: You accept the fact that I'm a fucked up person that you don't really understand. Two: In the future, we don't talk during these things." 

Andromed stared stupidly at the lettering on Ted's shirt: Hufflepuff Quidditch, '68.

"I didn't realize," she whispered.

"Now you do," said Ted. "And it isn't to say that I'm not bloody grateful to you. You're probably saving my life, and I know I won't be able to pay you back for that. But when I said yes to this, I didn't say yes to making small talk. And I certainly didn't say yes to you putting me into a box and lecturing on what is and isn't like me. You don't know me."

"No," said Andromeda. "No, I don't. You're right. But if we don't talk, how am I supposed to get to know you?"

Ted shook his head limply. "You and I both know that's not something you want."

"And how do you know what I want?" Andromeda demanded.

Ted seemed about to say something. He reconsidered, shook his head.

"I don't."

"Very well," said Andromeda. "I won't put you in a box, and you won't put me in a box. Agreed. But we still talk. I'm not going to sit in that stale infirmary for one painful hour, just watching our blood switch places."

"Then we'll talk. Deal."

He didn't wait for her response. He turned and strode down the corridor at an impressive pace. A moment later, a pair of giggling Ravenclaw girls turned the corner.

The laughter of one girl stopped up at the sight of Andromeda. She cast a nervous glance over at her friend, and both girls lowered their voices, hurrying past Andromeda with quick, twin steps.

Andromeda was used to the reaction. The entirety of the school could identify her as one of the infamous Black Sisters. Fair or not, Bellatrix had left a reputation in her wake, and any out-of-housers knew not cross the path of Bella’s younger sisters. Before, Andromeda had always taken a certain quiet pleasure and comfort in that thought. Now, for the first time, the idea saddened her.

She waited until the girls were out of earshot before she followed them toward the main corridor. Her heart was beating so loudly that Andromeda felt sure the sound was echoing against the stone walls, a sure betrayal of the agreement she’d made just minutes before.

Outside, the wind howled, and the blizzard raged on.


Chapter 27: Touch
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Dearest Mother,

I hope that this missive finds you well at Onyx House. As you predicted, time has aided me in the realization that, of course, you and Aunt Walburga had my best interests at heart. Rabastan has been nothing but attentive during our time back at Hogwarts, and I’m giddy with anticipation of our union.

I’ve been speaking to Cassandra Selwyn—you know, Fiona Selwyn’s charming little sister? Her third cousin crafts some of the most divine dresses. I’ve heard that the Minister of Magic’s wife wore one of her pieces during a gala just last month. She’s just the seamstress I’d like to work on my own dress and the bridesmaid dresses for Cissa, Bella, and Lilith. I wonder if you might send along the money for some proposed sketches and materials? I’ve included the estimates on the enclosed parchment. You’d be an absolute dear if you said yes, Mummy.

All my love,
A


Andromeda surveyed her perfectly penned letter with mild contempt. It was petty, frivolous, and shamelessly pandering. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have been able to set down the first word without ripping the letter up and tossing it into the dormitory’s raging fireplace.

But these were not normal circumstances.

Andromeda’s eyes fluttered shut against the shadowplay of the fire. She allowed herself to picture him, just for a fleeting moment. She allowed her mind’s ear to replay his voice. It was a memory from months ago, when she had barely known him, and they had stood on the balcony, shut off from the Slug Club festivities inside.

“Egotistical, prejudiced, gorgeous, independent.”

Even now, his calm brown eyes caught her throat in a thick, unyielding hold.

“I think all apply.”

It was dangerous to think of him this way, she knew. Every time that she did, she thought just a little too long on the simultaneously infuriating and endearing lilt of his working class accent. She focused just a little too keenly on the way his nose crinkled and his lips twitched downward when he gave her the look—that constant reminder that she was always finding new ways to offend him.

Worst of all were the times when, even when she didn’t allow herself to think of Ted, her memory would dredge up slivers of that night at George Vanderpool’s. His hand tangled in her hair. His mouth on her neck. The way he’d said her name, as though it were finely spun gossamer, capable of slipping from his hands and into a passing wind.

“Dromeda.”

“Andromeda.”

“An-drom-eh-dah, are you even listening to a word we’re saying?”

Her eyes snapped open. Lilith was giggling, shaking her head at Andromeda in wonderment.

“Were you in a trance?” she said. “Your powers of concentration are stunning. Teach me. I need all the help I can get for the N.E.W.T.s.”

Andromeda straightened up in her chair and returned to the task at hand: folding the letter to her mother into perfect thirds and sealing it with green wax and the miniature Black family seal that she kept on her vanity table.

Narcissa, who sat beside Lilith on her giant canopy bed, was less amused by Andromeda’s lack of attention. Her brow knitted in concern as she picked listlessly at a loose thread on her dress sleeve.

“It’s those tests you’ve been doing with Madame Bellevue,” she sighed. “You’ve been so odd ever since you started up the treatment"

“It’s working, though," said Andromeda. "I haven’t had a nightmare since we started.”

This was a half-truth. Lately, Andromeda had gotten in the habit of telling them. The reason that she was visiting the hospital wing every Friday night was to participate in yet another blood transfusion with Ted Tonks, not to seek assistance for her nightmares. But ever since the transfusions had started up, Andromeda hadn’t experienced a single bad dream. She had begun to wonder if there might be some connection between time spent with Ted in the waking world and a lack of the nightmarish dreams in which he appeared. Then she’d been frightened by her wonderings and stopped wondering altogether.

Andromeda set aside the Black family seal and produced a pleasant smile for her roommates.

“Sorry. What were you two talking about?”

“Wedding details, of course,” said Lilith.

Andromeda’s stomach dropped.

“For Lucius and Narcissa,” Lilith added. “Cissa says the bridesmaids dresses will be coral. I’m trying to dissuade her. Ocean foam is a much more flattering color for all skin types. Don’t you agree, Andie?”

Andromeda shrugged apologetically. “I’m not an expert on skin tones. Anyway, it’s Cissa’s choice. You’ll get your own one day, Lil.”

“Maybe,” said Lilith. “Or maybe not. I’m beginning to think I’d rather just take my Daddy’s money and elope. Go on a mind-blowing honeymoon instead. Somewhere exotic. The Caribbean. Chile. Nepal.”

“Nepal?” Narcissa scrunched up her face in disgust. “Why would you want to go there? It’d be freezing and uncomfortable and you’d be far away from all decent types of civilization.”

Lilith frowned. “Wait. Is Nepal not in the Bahamas? Never mind. I thought—Andromedaaa! Why are you heading for the door? Don’t leave us! Surely it won’t hurt to just skip one of those stupid visits. Friday nights were meant for girl talk, not for sleep therapy.”

“Sorry,” said Andromeda, trying to really sound sorry. She lingered in the threshold.“I wish I could stay, but it was the only time that Madame Fin—I mean Madame Bellevue could fit me in.”

Lilith produced a long, pained, demonstrative groan. Narcissa just studied her perfectly manicured nails.

Guilt stung Andromeda. She really did hate that she was lying to her two closest friends. But she couldn’t tell them the truth. She couldn’t tell them about Ted. They wouldn’t understand.

“Tomorrow night?” she suggested. “Let’s make plans for tomorrow night, okay? Girl talk and junk food and bridal magazines. All stops out!”

Lilith stopped groaning. She sniffed.

“Okay,” she conceded. “I suppose that will suffice. But you’re still a complete and utter loser for bailing on us tonight.”

“I’m not bailing,” Andromeda argued. “This was a scheduled appointment, and I—“

Andromeda stopped short. Lilith was just baiting her.

“You two have fun,” she said. “Don’t wait up for me.”

From the Slytherin Common Room, she made a detour to the Owlery, where she sent out the letter to her mother. She should have sent it weeks ago, when the treatment first started up. But Madame Finley had told her to expect a bill at the end of the month, and Andromeda had used this as an excuse to procrastinate. It wasn’t that Andromeda was too worried about her mother’s response: anything request concerning her upcoming nuptials almost guaranteed an automatic ‘yes.’ She’d just been putting off the blow to her pride.

It was too late to rip the letter up now. It was safely in the beak of one of the school owls and on its way to Onyx House. Andromeda tried to push the thought of its contents from her mind. She’d gotten in the habit of pushing lots of things from her mind lately.

Like how, during the last transfusion, Ted’s hand had brushed hers once, briefly, by accident.

Or how the last time they’d spoken, he’d smiled so wide that she thought his face would split into two perfect halves.

Or how he still wasn’t calling her Dromeda.

That shouldn’t have bothered her so much. She didn’t think that Ted was trying to be cruel. It was just that things had been different, before, when he’d called her by that name. Before, she hadn't abandoned him. She hadn’t been engaged. Now he wasn’t in a place to say it anymore. And it was that fact that made it more painful to Andromeda than if Ted had meant to be cruel.

At least they hadn’t argued since that first night. After the first transfusion, they’d steered clear of any talk about their futures. They’d chosen, instead, to talk about classes, about books, about likes and dislikes and cities they wanted to visit and personalities they found to be insufferable and also about things Ted called “movies” and “records.” They just talked.

It was the just talking that made Andromeda look forward to Friday nights more than any other time in the entire rest of her week.

Tonight, her leg jittered as she watched the usual flow of blood begin to wind between her veins and Ted’s. Madame Finley hadn’t found any cure for the excruciating pain that Andromeda endured every time the process began, but Andromeda had found that focusing her energies on another part of her body helped manage the pain.

“Anxious?” Ted asked, nodding to her leg.

He had been watching her carefully, as he always did when the transfusion first started up. Andromeda had learned not to scream anymore, but tears always came to her eyes, no matter how hard she fought them. Ted looked at her that way, she knew, as a way of reassuring her—of telling her that all she needed to do was stay “stop,” and he’d demand that Madame Finley stop the transfusion.

She hated that look. That’s why she never returned it.

“Why would I be anxious?” Andromeda asked. “This is old hat.”

“No,” said Ted. “I meant, anxious to be somewhere else. You seem a bit distracted. I thought perhaps you had plans afterward.”

“Oh.” Andromeda slowed the jittering of her leg. “Oh. No. This just, um—it helps with the pain.”

Ted was right about one thing: she had been distracted, thinking again about the contents of the letter she’d sent and about the mountain of lies and half-truths she’d told Narcissa and Lilith over the past month.

“Is it worse tonight?”

Andromeda closed her eyes. There was something so wrong about deriving so much pleasure from the sound of panicked concern in Ted’s voice.

“It’s fine,” she reassured him. “The usual.”

“If you’re sure.”

Andromeda nodded. She opened her eyes again. “Madame Finley told me that your reports were even stronger on Monday. It really seems like it’s working, doesn’t it? You’ve been fit free for almost a month. No signs of rogue metamorphing. Not even a spell of shortness of breath.”

“None,” Ted said. “But then again, I’m playing it safe. Not allowed to so much as touch a quaffle. Not allowed to transform. It’s been a pretty dull existence.”

Ted’s tone was light, but the words were heavy. They betrayed him. These transfusions may have been painful for Andromeda, but it was daily life that was painful for Ted.

“Only a month more,” she said encouragingly. “Then there will be conclusive results.”

“Whatever that means.”

“Then you can play Quidditch again.”

Ted smiled stiffly. He looked toward the window, where a light snowfall was coating the castle grounds. It had been a long and brutal winter that had pushed its unrelenting grasp well into March.

“You will play again,” Andromeda pressed.

She knew she was entering dangerous territory, but she couldn’t stop herself. To her surprise, Ted’s next words weren’t angry, but subdued.

“I’ve been looking into other options,” he said. “Back up plans. My grades aren’t stellar, so a Ministry job is next to impossible. But I’ve got pretty good marks in Herbology. I’m pretty sure I could land a decent job as a landscaper. Grounds worker. That sort of thing.”

Andromeda waited for Ted to laugh. She waited for him to say that he was only joking. He didn’t.

“Ted,” she said. “What are you even talking about? You’re a fantastic Quidditch player. You’ll get in the pros. Agents aren’t going to just write you off because you had to take some downtime.”

Ted ran his hand through his hair. “No offense, but you don’t know this game like I do. I had a lot riding on that Hufflepuff versus Slytherin game. But it’s not just that. Think about it: this is just a diagnostic period. Once it’s over, it doesn’t mean I’m magically cured of my fits. It’s a chronic condition. It might affect every aspect of my life, and that includes my career. If I’m not fit enough to play on a regular basis, then no team is going to want me. Not even the Chudley Cannons.”

“You don’t know that,” Andromeda insisted.

“Yeah, Andromeda. I do.”

A surge of fresh pain shot through Andromeda’s arm. She winced and looked away, biting back tears.

“There’s no shame in being a grounds worker, you know,” said Ted. “It’s perfectly respectable, working with your hands. My Dad lived by a manual trade, and so does Nelson. In a way, I suppose you could say it’s in my blood.”

Andromeda didn’t reply. She didn’t trust herself to against the pain. Her voice would crack, or she would burst into tears, and that would ruin the entire transfusion.

Ted misinterpreted the silence.

“Look,” he said. “I know that things are different in your social circle, but there’s no shame to me in working for my money. Getting dirty. Doing grunt work. It’s satisfying. I like it. I think I’d be good at it. Of course, I might lose the Quidditch physique.” He snorted. “By the time I’m in my forties I’ll probably have a potbelly and be round at the jaw.”

Andromeda reeled in a gasp, trying hard to push through the aftershocks of the pain.

“Terrifying, I know,” Ted said, misinterpreting the gasp, too. “I pity the future Mrs. Tonks. If I were a good man, I suppose I just wouldn’t marry at all. I wouldn’t want to wish a future, potbellied Ted on anyone.”

At last, Andromeda could risk speech again. Her eyes had dried. She turned back to face Ted.

“You are going to marry, though,” she said. “You’re the marrying type.”

Ted made an odd sort of half-snort, half-cough. “Am I really? And what does that mean?”

“You’re a Hufflepuff for starters,” Andromeda said. “You’re very good looking, but not vain enough to turn girls off. You’re a good listener, which is essential. You’re patient. You put up with an inordinate amount of shit. You value honesty and integrity and commitment. You seem like the kind of fellow who’d do great with kids. Your very essence screams wholesome.”

Ted smirked. “Wholesome, eh?”

Andromeda cursed herself for blushing. But since she was already blushing, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to go ahead and add, “And you’re a good kisser.”

Ted’s smirk disappeared. “Really.”

Andromeda bit her lip. This blush was lasting longer than she’d intended. What in Merlin’s name was she even doing? Was she flirting with him? She was engaged. She was the furthest thing from available, and she knew every reason inside and out for why she shouldn’t even be speaking to Ted Tonks, let along flirting with him. So what was she doing?

Apparently, she was still talking.

“I just mean,” she said, “that you handle that—that sort of thing very well. It isn’t just about the kissing, it’s—you know, it’s the way you touch when you do it. The things you say. The way you make sure everything’s all right. It seems like the sort of thing every girl would want in a husband.”

Oh sweet Salazar, why hadn’t she shut up? Why wasn’t she buried deep within the ground where she would never see the light of day again? Why was she still talking?

“And, I mean, I’m sure I’m not the only who would say that,” Andromeda fumbled on, attempting some form of damage control. “I imagine that your girlfriends all felt the same.”

“Other girlfriends?”

Ted hadn’t stopped staring at her. His expression was unreadable.

Andromeda shrugged. “You know. Like that girl from your Quidditch team. Eisley?”

Ted raised an eyebrow. “How do you know Eisley?”

“I met her that night when you had the really bad attack. She was out there with the rest of the team, and George made it sound like the two of you—“

“It wasn’t good for the team dynamics.”

“Oh.”

“Of course, now that I’m essentially off the team…”

Ted looked contemplative. Andromeda felt an unaccountable panic rise up in her throat.

“If that’s your type,” she muttered.

“If what’s my type?”

“She seemed like a bitch to me.”

Ted smiled. “I didn’t say she wasn’t.”

“So that is your type.”

“I don’t think of ‘bitch’ as a bad thing,” he said. “Most people use that word when they’re really just describing some girl who’s smart and independent and who doesn’t take shit from anyone. And yes. That is my type.”

“Oh.” Andromeda forced a nod. “Then Eisley must be pretty great.”

Ted gave Andromeda a long, hard stare. Her stomach turned to purée.

“I’m not talking about Eisley.”

A new shock of pain burned through Andromeda’s arm. She lurched forward with a violent hiss.

“Andromeda?”

She waved him off, trying desperately to ride out the stinging sensation sweeping from her arm to her chest.

“Madame Finley!” Ted shouted.

A hurried click-clacking approached them. Madame Finley pushed back the partition.

“What is it?”

“Merlin, can’t you see for yourself?” Ted’s voice was strained. “She’s suffering. It shouldn’t hurt her like this.”

Madame Finley sighed. “I’ve told you this a dozen times, Mr. Tonks, the procedure works on different subjects in different ways. It’s nearly over. Just a little more time, and we’ll—there. See?”

The encircled threads of blood had completed their paths and disappeared entirely into Ted's and Andromeda' veins. Madame Finley set about wrapping their arms with gauze in crisp, efficient movements.

“How’re we feeling, Miss Black?” she asked.

Andromeda nodded weakly. “It’s fine. I’m better now.”

Ted crossed his arms sulkily. “There has to be a better way than this. Isn’t there some spell or potion that can ease the pain?”

“They would interfere with the procedure,” Madame Finley said, showing no real sign of concern.

Finished with her work, the Healer straightened and picked up a thin, tightly wound scroll from a nearby table. She handed it over to Andromeda.

“You’ll find all of the expenses itemized within,” she said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a long list of patients to get back to at St. Mungo’s.”

She didn’t stay to watch Andromeda’s face flush bright red. She just click-clacked away, leaving Andromeda and Ted in silence.

Andromeda could feel Ted’s gaze burning into the side of her face. She tried to remain unaffected. She got to her feet and slipped the scroll inside her school satchel. Internally, she was seething. She had told the Madame Finley specifically, more than once, that the billing was private, that she didn’t wanted Ted to know about it. The woman may have been partially responsible for saving Ted’s life, but that didn’t mean that Andromeda didn’t despise her.

She smoothed out her pleated green skirt and turned to Ted with a pleasant smile.

“I suppose we’ll see each other next Friday, then.”

Ted hadn’t moved from his chair. He was still staring at her, his gaze hard, his body tense.

“What expenses?”

Andromeda shrugged. “It’s something I asked her to do for me, that’s all. A little sleep study of my own. It’s nothing to do with you, Ted.”

“A sleep study?” Ted got to his feet.  “Madame Finley doesn’t specialize in sleep studies. She specializes in rare transformative disorders.”

"I really need to go,” she whispered, turning heel.

With determined steps, Andromeda strode down the hospital wing. She heard Ted behind her, but she didn’t look back or slow her pace. He hurried to keep up with her all the way through the hospital doors and into the corridor.

“Andromeda, wait.”

Ted reached out, fingers grazing her arm. Instinctually, Andromeda thought of Rabastan. She thought of the way he’d gripped her wrist before in the Slytherin corridors. She shirked away violently.

“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, spinning around to face him.

Startled, Ted stepped back. His eyes were wide with confusion. “Are you still in pain?”

“Of course I am!”

“You shouldn’t be. We should call back Madame Finley and have her look at—“

Andromeda's laugh was shrill and strangled. She shook her head, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyelids.

“God, you don’t get it. You don’t. It’s not from the procedure. It’s everywhere. It’s all the time.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m not asking you to. Just leave me alone, all right?”

She tried to take a step away, but Ted still followed.

“What expenses, Andromeda?” he pressed. “What sort of money are you paying Madame Finley?”

“It’s nothing I can’t handle,” Andromeda said, giving up her attempt to escape and crossing her arms petulantly. “It’s none of your concern.”

“You seem to be paying for my medical treatment,” Ted said. “So yeah, it is my concern. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You know why. You wouldn’t have been able to afford it, Ted, and you wouldn’t have accepted money from me or from George. You would’ve refused treatment, and I couldn’t let that happen. I asked you to let me help you, and you said I could.”

“Because I thought you were just talking about the transfusions.”

“This isn’t much different.”

“It’s completely different!” Ted shouted. “Your blood is unique. I couldn’t get that treatment anywhere else. But I can earn my own money.”

“Where? At that factory, where your brother works? It would take you years and years to pay this bill off.”

“But it’d be my own money,” Ted argued. “I could’ve set up a payment plan with Madame Finley. I would’ve worked something out. Instead, you go behind my back and try to pick up the cost like I’m a charity case.”

“We’ve been over this before. You know I don’t think of you that way.”

“Then how do you think of me?”

“I don’t know!”

“Am I a project? An investment? Some kind of novelty?”

“No!” Anger burned in her chest. Ted wasn’t being fair. “No, you’re not any of those things.”

“Then what am I to you? What makes you think you can pay for me without my knowledge? What gives you that right?”

Andromeda didn’t know what it was that propelled her forward, or what semblance of rational thought could’ve possibly been flitting through her brain. But she stepped forward. She grabbed Ted by his shirt. She kissed him. And he kissed her back.

The warmth that had been building in Andromeda’s chest now burst into spiraling heat, and she wondered how she could’ve forgotten what this felt like, to be kissed by Ted Tonks. It was right. Resolve to a series of discordant chords. That first touch between a wand and its proper owner. A solution after hours spent agonizing over an Arithmancy problem. Right in every way.

And then, abruptly, the kiss was over. It took Andromeda a hazy moment to realize that Ted had pulled away.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. He took another step back. “No. You can’t do this to me. I’m not snogging you in drafty corridors while you’re wearing his ring. I’m not going to be that bloke, you understand?”

“Ted, I—“

“What’s the point, Andromeda? You aren’t going to leave him. So what, is he just not adequate with his tongue?”

“No!” Andromeda cried. “I—I mean, no, that doesn’t have anything to do with this.”

Ted laughed hoarsely. “It has everything to do with this. I’m trying to get over you here, Andromeda. I get that these transfusions are necessary, but don’t be a complete sadist and kiss me like that. Don’t rub it in my face.”

“I wasn’t trying to rub—“

“Then what were you trying to do?” Ted countered. “We both know that you will never choose to be with me. I’m not part of your plan. So what the hell were you trying accomplish just now?”

“I wasn’t thinking, all right? It just happened. It just seemed—it seemed right.” Tears pricked her eyes, which only made Andromeda angrier. “It always seems right when it’s you.”

Ted laughed again. “So, what, you’re just used to doing whatever feels right? You’ve grown up getting everything you want, and now I’m on that list—just something on the side of your rocky relationship to Lestrange. What were you planning? Turning me into your manslave while Lestrange has his mistresses?”

“Oh, don’t be so common,” Andromeda snapped.

In the long stretch of silence that followed, Andromeda realized just what an awful word choice that had been. Ted formed a tight smile. He shrugged.

“Yeah, well, surprise for you: I’m as common they come.”

“I didn’t meant it that way,” she whispered, reaching out to him.

This time, it was Ted who shirked away.

“You know what? I’ve tried so damn hard to fall out of love with you. I’ve reminded myself of every foul thing you ever did to me, ever said. I’ve pictured you as your older sister. But then transfusion day comes, and it doesn’t matter how much I’ve taught myself to hate you, I can never end up doing it. I just fall harder than before. And then. Then you have the fucking nerve to kiss me. Like you didn’t know how it would affect me. What it would do to me.”

“I told you," Andromeda pleaded, "I just wasn’t thinking.”

“No, you weren’t,” he said. “You never will think about me, will you? You have your priorities. It’s your precious grades and your engagement and your reputation. And if you had to choose between me and any of those, you’d choose the others every single time.”

“That isn’t fair,” Andromeda insisted. “It isn’t just a simple choice between you and Lestrange! This is my family.”

“So tell me you choose Lestrange and your family. Tell me, and I’ll never bring it up again. I’ll try to ignore everything else that’s tying us together, that draws us to each other over and over. I won’t think about that night in London again, and I’ll just stick it out, unrequited. But if you don’t tell me, I am going to fight for you. I’m going to fight fucking hard for you.”

Andromeda took a step back, her back going flush with the corridor wall. A tear slipped down her cheek. Then another.

Andromeda summoned all the will power that she could. She wiped away the tears from her face.

“Don’t,” she whispered. “Don’t fight for me.”

She saw her reply settle on Ted’s features, a cold and unwelcome thing.

“Right then,” he said.

He turned and walked away.

“Ted!” Andromeda called. “That doesn’t mean you’re calling off the procedure, does it? Ted?”

He didn’t reply. He walked on until the dark of the corridor swallowed him up.



Andromeda found Rabastan in the Slytherin common room with his usual mates—Yaxley, Flint, and Malfoy. As seventh years, they had full reign over Slytherin territory, and tonight they had commandeered the best sofa nearest the fire. They were taking sips out of engraved goblets that Andromeda knew contained contraband Firewhisky. There wasn’t a prefect in the entire house that would turn them in. Lucius, after all, was the most senior prefect of them all.

She approached the boys softly, trying hard to make out their conversation before they became aware of her. A day hadn’t passed that Andromeda hadn’t thought about Reginald’s words to her in the south wing turret. The Hogsmeade trip had been postponed until the first week of April. That was now only one week away, and until now Andromeda still hadn’t figured out what she could possibly do with information that the Knights of Walpurgis intended to harm innocent students.

She hadn’t known what to do until one day ago, when she’d concocted her plan. She couldn’t let what had passed between her and Ted affect that. If she didn’t try out her plan now, she never would.

“…much more potent if you combine it with bay leaf and nightshade,” Lucius was saying, just before he caught sight of Andromeda.

His words tapered off into a stiff, polite smile, and he nodded over to Rabastan. “It would seem your fiancée wants a word, Lestrange.”

Rabastan, who had his back to Andromeda, now turned around. He looked only mildly surprised.

“Andromeda, dear,” he said. “Are you well? I thought you were conducting your sleep sessions with Madame Bellevue.”

“We finished early,” Andromeda said hurriedly. “Rabastan, can I speak to you? In—in private?”

Flint and Yaxley glanced at each other. Flint snickered. Lucius, who looked exceedingly bored by recent developments, just poked at the fire with an iron rod.

Rabastan gave a short sigh. “Is it really that important, or can it wait until morning?”

“It’s really that important,” Andromeda insisted, though the voice she used was soft and pliant, not curt like it had been since the engagement.

Perhaps it was the tone that caught Rabastan’s attention. Or perhaps he was simply bored enough with his companions. Whatever the case, Rabastan rose from the couch and followed Andromeda through the common room, into one of the deserted stairwells that led down to the boys’ dormitories.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she said quickly. “Nothing is wrong. In fact—the thing is that I’ve been thinking about—about conversations we’ve had? About your involvement with the Knights of Walpurgis?”

“Haven’t I told you?” Rabastan asked. “Our leader has chosen a different name for his followers now. He calls us Death Eaters. It has a marvelous ring to it, doesn’t it?”

Andromeda tried not to wince. “It does, rather,” she agreed instead. “Anyway, I realized that I’ve been unduly harsh with you about the whole thing. I haven’t been supportive of you.”

Rabastan snorted. “What then? Are we playacting at being supportive now?”

“Rabastan, we’re going to be married. I think it’s clear that neither of us is particularly enthused with the prospect, but I’ve been giving it more thought, and—and I really do think that if we want any chance at future success than we both need to learn to be a little more supportive and respecting of each other.”

Rabastan’s expression was unreadable.

“What’s brought about this change of heart?”

Andromeda shook her head. “I don’t know. I suppose I was just thinking of the way things used to be between us. I really did like you. I thought I was so lucky to have found a man my parents hadn’t handpicked for me back then.”

“But that changed.”

“You were cheating on me,” she whispered. “It had to change.”

“I told you then, none of those other girls meant anything to me. None of them had your pedigree, your elegance. If they had, I’d be dating them. Doesn't that  count for something?”

Andromeda was trembling. She pressed her hand to her forehead, trying to sweep aside thoughts of Ted. Why was he intruding into her mind at the most inconvenient time? Right now, she was supposed to be focusing on playing nice with Rabastan, on coaxing information from him.

She realized that Rabastan had taken a step closer to her. He reached out now to touch her elbow, and Andromeda was startled by how tender the motion was. She swallowed hard.

“Aren’t you tired of your power play, Andie?” Rabastan asked. “Merlin knows I am. You and I might actually stand a chance of being happy if we started fresh, on the same footing.”

Andromeda felt lightheaded as she looked up into Rabastan’s harsh green eyes. Torchlight suited his already handsome features. She remembered now, for the first time in ages, the way he’d sent her heart pattering in their fifth year, the way one of his self-assured smiles had filled her chest with longing. There had been a time when this felt so sure and certain, where she thought she had what Lucius and Narcissa now had.

And then, unwelcome, Ted’s voice creeped into her mind: A girl that I’ve stupidly fallen for and can’t get over.

She shook the voice away. That wasn’t possible. What was standing in front of her was.

She took the next step, closer to Rabastan, her eyes fixed steadily on his.

“Kiss me,” she requested.

A smile that she hadn’t seen touch Rabastan’s face for months now resurfaced.

“With pleasure,” he whispered, and he closed the distance left between them.

It was like a memory. It was a memory of all their kisses before this one, of all the nights out on the bleachers of the Quidditch pitch and the whispers they’d shared in a corner of the common room and the time he’d sent her pot of azaleas just because she’d mentioned offhand that she liked their color.

It was a kiss that she was allowed to have. Allowed to give. That was fully approved and sanctioned and that would make her family happy. And it was a good kiss. It was soft and not at all demanding. And when it was over, Andromeda pulled Rabastan back for another. And another. Their breaths grew shorter, and an unprecedented feeling through Andromeda’s veins, and for the first time with Rabastan, she was the one who wanted more.

“No one will bother us,” Rabastan reassured her as he’d ghosted them down the spiraling stairs. “They know not to. We’re the ones who make the rules now. We’re seventh years. We’ve earned it.”

Behind a locked dormitory door, their hands explored places that they hadn’t permitted themselves to in the stairwell. It was all silent and hurried, frenetic in its pace and startling in its brevity. And when it was over, Rabastan actually held her—the last thing that Andromeda had been expecting. He stroked her bare shoulder, and he kissed her ear, and he’d told her that nothing compared to her.

Andromeda closed her eyes and tried to imagine this scene a year and five years from now, as a wife and as a mother. And she could picture it all. She could picture it so well, feel it so clearly, like a living taste on her mouth. She could sense the presence beside her. In the dim, breathless afterglow, she’d opened her mouth and spoken his name.

Only the name wasn’t Rabastan’s.



Author's Note: Hello, lovely readers! Thanks to each and every one of you who's stuck with the story this far. You may have noticed that updates are coming at a slower (aka normal :]) rate, but never fear, I'm still fully devoted to Tedromeda's story! As always, I love and appreciate your reviews.


Chapter 28: Hogsmeade
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Andromeda slipped from the satin sheets and began gathering her strewn clothes from the floor. Rabastan had drifted to sleep minutes before. After she’d so foolishly whispered Ted’s name in the darkness, she’d turned to Rabastan in a panic. But his eyes had been shut, his jaw slack, and Andromeda had exhaled in relief. He hadn’t heard.

All the same, as Andromeda slipped her clothes back onto her frigid, goosebumped body, she cursed herself for her slip of the tongue. She had just slept with Rabastan, her fiancé, not Muggleborn Ted Tonks. If Rabastan had been awake, Merlin only knew what he would’ve done. Andromeda had become all too familiar with the dark magic Rabastan now dabbled in on a daily basis.

Andromeda smoothed out her skirt as best she could with a tidying spell. She combed through her hair with her bare fingers, then cast a rudimentary beautifying spell, using the night-darkened dormitory window to check her reflection. She cast one more glance at a sleeping Rabastan before heading to the door.

She undid the lock, and as she did, she wondered if Rabastan and his roommates had some sort of code to signify to one another when a girl was in the room. Then, unwillingly, she wondered if Rabastan had brought other girls to this room. To his bed. Girls like Georgiana. Her stomach clenched and, suddenly queasy, Andromeda pushed open the door, desperate to get out.

“Leaving so soon?”

She froze, then slowly turned around to find Rabastan propped up in bed.

“How rude," he said, tilting up a cocky smirk.

“I’m just tired,” Andromeda said softly, “and I’m sure your roommates will want the use of their dormitory before it gets much later.”

Rabastan nodded archly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, though? We could head down to Hogsmeade together and have lunch, just the two of us.”

“Lovely,” said Andromeda, trying to keep her voice even. “That sounds lovely.”

Without another word, she hurried out and slammed the door shut behind her. The corridor was empty. Andromeda padded down it, keeping an eye out to her left and right. The last thing she wanted right now was to run into some Slytherin oaf in the boys’ corridor. She’d heard other Slytherin girls about taking the walk of shame back from this hallway to their own, warmer, better lit nook of Slytherin living quarters. She just never imagined that she would be one of those girls.

Strange aches had begun to settle over Andromeda's body as she walked. It hadn’t been nearly as painful as Andromeda thought her first time would be, but it hadn’t been particularly easy either. Andromeda had always thought that, when the time came, she’d be hyper aware of every little detail, of every sensation. But in actuality, sex with Rabastan had been a jumble of sound and touch and blurred sight. It had been fumbling and uncertainty and want, want, want. She had wanted Rabastan. She had wanted everything that followed.

So why did it feel so wrong now?

Why didn’t she want it now like she had then?

A dry, stinging sensation crackled in Andromeda’s throat. She held her chilled arms closer, trying not to panic over a single thought: We didn’t use protection.

And after that thought came the most blisteringly painful thought of all, a staccato syllable that tore through her mind: Ted.

You’ve no reason to panic, she insisted to herself. It was just once. Rabastan couldn’t have possibly gotten you pregnant. Anyway, he’s your fiancé. He’s the one you’re supposed to be sleeping with, not Ted Tonks.

Not Ted.

Ted.

Andromeda started up the stairs that led out of the boys’ dormitories, her eyes filling with unshed tears. She didn’t see someone coming down the stairs until it was too late and she had knocked into the girl’s shoulder.

Oof. It’s a two-way stairway, bitc—“ Lilith cut off her scathing remark, her eyes widening at the sight of Andromeda. “Whooa. Oh my god, Andie? What are you doing down here?”

Hastily, Andromeda blotted at the tears hanging on her lashes. Lilith came down a step, placing a gentle hand on Andromeda’s arm.

“Were you here with—with Rabastan?” Lilith’s voice had lowered to a dramatic whisper.

Andromeda considered pushing past Lilith. She considered telling her friend to leave her alone, that this was none of her business. But she was too tired for that. She was too worn and too confused and too upset. Upset with Rabastan, with Ted, and most of all with herself. She threw her arms around Lilith’s neck and began to cry.

“Okay,” said Lilith, her voice muffled by Andromeda’s thick hair. “Okay, okay. Let’s get you back to our place, huh?”

Lilith hooked one arm around Andromeda’s waist and the other under her shoulder. Then, slowly, she turned back around and began to lead Andromeda up the dormitory steps.

“It’s all right,” she whispered soothingly, despite Andromeda’s snot-filled, convulsive sobs. “Shhh. It’s all right, darling. Nothing a good cup of cider and a girl chat with your bestie can’t fix, hm? FUCK OFF, GOYLE. STOP STARING.”

Footsteps scurried away, down the stairs. Andromeda just pressed her face deeper against Lilith’s shoulder, humiliated at the thought of fellow Slytherins seeing her this way—even stupid, sniveling fourth years like Quintus Goyle. She let Lilith guide her steps until, much sooner than Andromeda had expected, they set foot inside the dry warmth of her bedroom.

Lilith led Andromeda over to her bed and settled down with her on the edge of the velvet duvet. She pushed back Andromeda’s matted hair from her face, and Andromeda blinked at the unwelcome intrusion of light.

A fire was crackling in the corner fireplace, and Lilith busied herself with casting a lighting spell on the room’s lamps. She then grabbed a quilt from her own bed and wrapped it snugly around a sniffling Andromeda’s shoulders.

“I—I’m sorry,” Andromeda said. “I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I didn’t meant to come apart like that, I just—“

“Oh, hush,” Lilith said, waving Andromeda into silence. “Don’t you dare apologize, Andie. You’re one the most low maintenance girls in this entire house. You’ve been a peach of a friend to me and listened to me whine for ages and ages about boys. The least I can do is let you cry on my shoulder this once.”

Andromeda wiped away an unsightly trail of snot from above her upper lip. Next thing she knew, Lilith was handing her a handkerchief and, after that, a pewter mug of piping hot apple cider.

“There now,” she said. “That should help.”

Lilith crawled up on the bed next to Andromeda and fluffed the pillows behind her back. Finally satisfied with her work, she snuggled by Andromeda’s side.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she murmured.

A tear dripped off of Andromeda’s chin and landed in the cider with a plop.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” she whispered.

“Andie,” Lilith said, straightening up a bit, “please don’t be angry at me, but I need to ask it, just once: Rabastan didn’t—didn’t force himself on you, did he? Because I swear, if he did, I will personally cut off his—“

“No!” Andromeda interrupted, going bright scarlet. “No, no, it wasn’t anything like that. It was—I don’t know, I suppose ultimately it was all my idea. I don’t remember how it began, really. I was just so upset, and then we were kissing, and I suddenly didn’t want to stop this time. I just wanted to forget.”

“Forget what?” Lilith asked softly.

Andromeda shook her head. “No one. Never mind.”

“So you wanted to forget a person.”

“Lili, I said never mind,” Andromeda choked out.

Lilith grew very quiet. She placed a hand on Andromeda’s back and began to rub circles against her spine.

“I’m sorry,” Lilith whispered. “I feel like I haven’t really been there for you. I mean, I can guilt you as much as I want about girl time, but half the nights I’m out with one of those boys, and the truth is that they're never worth the effort. And I’ve felt you pulling away these past months. I’ve felt it, and I’ve known there was something you weren’t telling me, but I never asked you what it I was.”

“I probably wouldn’t have told you,” Andromeda whispered, “even if you did ask.”

Lilith went silent again. Then she shifted so that she was looking Andromeda in the eyes.

“Is this about that Muggleborn? The Hufflepuff you went to see in the hospital wing?”

Andromeda sniffed. “You knew about that?”

“Cissa told me.”

Narcissa. Andromeda knew that her sister must have suspected something, too.

“I care for him,” Andromeda murmured, barely loud enough to hear herself. “I care for him a very great deal.”

Lilith whistled lowly. She placed her hand to her forehead. “Sweet Salazar.”

“You can’t tell anyone,” Andromeda said vehemently. “It doesn’t matter what I feel. I’m not stupid enough to think anything could work out between the two of us. I’m engaged to Rabastan. I should be focusing on my future, on the marriage. That’s what I was trying to do tonight.”

“You were focusing on your future—by having sex with Rabastan?”

Andromeda glared at Lilith. “You’re one to point the finger.”

“I’m not pointing the finger!” Lilith yelped. “No judgment. I just thought you despised Rabastan after what he did to you. Any girl would. The last thing I was expecting was that you’d sleep with him, that’s all.”

“I wasn’t expecting it either,” Andromeda whispered. “It just—it happened so quickly. I didn’t ever think it would be that way. I thought I would know it was coming, weeks in advance. That it’d be something special.”

“Did he hurt you?” Lilith asked lowly. “Really, Andie. Don’t be afraid to tell me.”

She shook her head. “No, that’s just it. He was surprisingly—good about the whole thing. But then afterward, I couldn’t stay there. He fell asleep, and I just—left.”

“And then you ran into me.”

Andromeda nodded.

Lilith released a long sigh. “You did all that just to forget that Muggleborn?”

“I don’t know.” Andromeda ducked her head. “I was so upset with Ted. I was so angry and just confused. And on top of all of that, there was this business about the Knights and Hogsmeade—“

“Whoa, whoa. Back up. What Knights? What about Hogsmeade?”

“Rabastan is part of this group,” she whispered.

“The Knights of Walpurgis?” Lilith guessed. “Yeah, it’s become quite a talking point lately. Not so much of a secret society anymore.”

“Did you know what they’re planning to do at Hogsmeade this weekend?” she asked. “They’re going to torture innocent students. They’re planning on practicing unforgivables.”

Lilith’s brow knitted. “Who told you that? Rabastan?”

“No. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Rabastan confessed it to me on his own. I’m sure he would be proud about it. That’s why I was talking to him tonight in the first place. I thought I could get information out of him about which students they were going to target.”

“Sooo,” said Lilith, “you slept with him for information?”

“I didn’t mean to,” Andromeda said. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen!”

She collapsed against her pillows, clanging her now emptied cider glass on the bedside table. She threw her arms over her face and let out a visceral groan.

Lilith said nothing. When Andromeda looked up again, she saw only her friend’s silhouette against the lamplight.

“Do you love him?” Lilith whispered. “The Muggleborn?”

Andromeda’s breath hitched. She considered, then reconsidered her reply.

“He has a name,” she finally said. “It’s Ted.”

Lilith whipped back her head to face Andromeda. “Do you love him?”

“Merlin, Lili,” Andromeda said, laughing uneasily. “I thought you didn’t even believe in love.”

“I don’t believe that I will ever fall in love,” Lilith corrected. “But I had hopes that you would. I just always assumed it’d be with some dishy Slytherin aristo.”

“I’m engaged to Rabastan.”

“That doesn’t mean you love him. In fact, I was under the impression that you barely even liked Rabastan after what he’d done to you. That this engagement was completely against your will. So answer me straight, Andie: do you love the Muggleborn named Ted?”

Andromeda buried herself back in the pillows. Then the words poured out. “Of course I love him. I—I think I’ve loved him for months now. And I think he loves me. Or at least he used to, before I ruined everything. But it’s too late now, so don’t worry, I’m not going to let you and Cissa down by—“

She was cut off by a sudden pressure on her chest. Lilith had thrown herself onto Andromeda and now clutched her by the shoulders.

“Thank God!” Lilith cried. “If you’d been spending all this time gallivanting behind our backs with that boy and didn’t even have the decency to fall in love, I’d disown you as a friend, right here and now.”

Andromeda blinked in wordless surprise. “W-w-what are you talking about?”

“Do you know how lucky you are?” Lilith demanded. “To find someone you love that much? To spend an entire holiday with him and cover it up around your girlfriends? To go sneaking off every Friday night to visit him in the hospital wing? To be willing to lie to your best friend just to keep your forbidden love a secret?”

“Lilith,” said Andromeda, “you’re frightening me. I can’t tell if you’re happy or angry with me.”

“I suppose it’s a bit of both,” Lilith said. “Honestly, did you really think I was so dense that I didn’t follow you one of those Friday nights? Here I’ve been, trying to find some grandiose love story of my own with every seventh year imaginable, and you’re the one with the most bizarre love story of all.”

“This isn’t something to be remotely jealous about!” Andromeda said. “Lilith, do you understand the position I’m in? I’m engaged to Rabastan. I just slept with Rabastan. Ted doesn’t have a trace of pureblood and, more than that, he’s a metamorphmagus freak. My family would disown me if I chose Ted. They wouldn’t think twice. And disownment would be the kindest of all possible choices. If Rabastan found out, he could very well murder Ted on the spot.”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” said Lilith. “Rabastan hasn’t got the balls to do something like that."

“Lilith, this is serious. How can you be so insensitive? You’re a pureblood. You know the expectations. You should be livid with me. You should tell me that Ted Tonks is scum, that I need to wise up and devote myself to Rabastan.”

“Um, devote yourself to a sleazy asshat?” Lilith snorted. “Rabastan deserves to die a slow death after what he did to you. He’s a cheater, and I consider it sweet revenge that his perfect fiancé shares his bed, then turns around and elopes with a Mudblood. It’s too perfect.”

“Don’t call him that,” Andromeda snapped.

“What?” Lilith blinked rapidly, bewildered. “Mudblood? Goodness, you have got it bad for this Ted fellow, haven’t you?”

Andromeda began to cry again.

"Oh, darling!" Lilith wrapped her arms around Andromeda’s middle. “I didn’t mean to set you off again. It’s just, you’ve been so bloody miserable lately. You’ve worked so hard for your grades, for your future. It’s just been, I dunno, painful to watch you throw it all away. I want you to be happy, that’s all. And if it’s with a Mud—errrr—Muggleborn, then why not? You don’t really believe that they have five hundred venereal diseases and are a blight on human civilization, do you? I’ve dated my share of halfbloods, and they’re perfectly nice.”

“Lili, why didn’t you ever tell me that?” Andromeda asked. “I thought you and Cissa would kill me if you knew about Ted. I thought you’d disapprove. I thought you’d never talk to me again.”

Lilith shrugged. “I can’t speak for Cissa. But as for me, I say screw purism. Your happiness is way more important than your pedigree.”

“Is it?” Andromeda whispered. “If I break off the engagement with Rabastan, I lose everything. My family made it clear that they’ll cut all ties with me.”

“So, what,” said Lilith, “you love your preening old mum more than Ted the Muggleborn? And your decrepit old grandfather? That deranged aunt of yours?”

“I love Cissa.” Andromeda’s voice cracked on the name. “And she won’t accept this like you. She’ll hate me, Lili. She’ll despise me.”

“But you owe her the truth,” Lilith argued. “She knows something’s up with you, Andie, same as I've known. You’re a terrible liar. Don’t you think it’s better to just tell her what’s going on than keep driving a rift between the two of you? We all used to be able to tell each other everything.”

“I can’t tell Cissa this,” said Andromeda. “She’ll think I’m a blood traitor. I won’t lose her like that.”

“Yes, but mayhaps you've underestimated Cissa. She’s stronger than you think, Andie. Perhaps she loves you more than she loves the Black family tree. Did you ever consider that?”

Andromeda wiped at her eyes. “So what? You’re telling me to just risk it?”

Lilith shrugged. “I can’t tell you what to do. But what I can do is draw a piping hot bath for you, hm? I think one is most certainly in order. And afterward, we’ll get you snug in bed, and we won’t talk about your romantic drama any further. We’ll move on to a different topic.”

“What’s that?”

Lilith grinned conspiratorially. “Showing up those bastards at Hogsmeade.”



After Andromeda’s bath, the girls reconvened on Lilith’s bed, the curtains drawn. Of the five boys Lilith had dated in the past year, two of them had been members of the newly named Death Eaters. One of them, the most recent, had been Achilles Yaxley.

“I didn’t even know you two were together,” Andromeda said.

“Just physically,” said Lilith, waving dismissively. “But I heard him mention plans for Hogsmeade. He got really drunk sometimes before we, well, you know. He says that their leader—they’re calling him the Dark Lord?—ordered for them to practice on some students, just like your mysterious source reported. Now, I’m all for a healthy helping of the Dark Arts. Honestly, I don’t see the harm in some darker spells now and again, and Hogwarts has a reputation for being unreasonably uptight about that sort of thing. But what Achilles mentioned made me feel uncomfortable.”

“But you weren’t going to do anything about it?” Andromeda asked.

“What was I supposed to do?” Lilith demanded. “Tattle to a professor? Stalk Achilles and the rest of them the entire Hogsmeade visit? I reasoned it wasn’t any of my business. But now that you know about it, too, we might be able to swing something. A little payback for Rabastan and Achilles. Ruin their perfect little plan.”

It was now that Andromeda understood: Lilith wasn’t doing this to save innocent students. She was doing it for revenge. That realization was, at least, more in keeping with the Lilith that Andromeda thought she knew. She was still trying to reconcile herself with the idea of a Lilith who actually encouraged her to end up with Ted Tonks. And she was trying desperately not to think about the fact that she’d admitted, out loud, for the very first time, a most inconvenient truth: she loved Ted.

Hogsmeade was a welcome distraction to the missteps and conflicted emotions of the past twenty-four hours.

“What exactly did Achilles do to you to make you break up?” Andromeda asked Lilith.

Lilith sighed. “Nothing really. He jut got too clingy. He’s such a sap, and he's convinced he has the Sight. He was always predicting bright and happy shit for my future. He treated me like a princess.”

Andromeda blinked. “I thought most girls liked that.”

“I am not a princess,” said Lilith. “I’m a badass, and if a man can’t treat me like that, he isn’t worth my time.”

Andromeda didn’t argue the matter further. She refocused on their plan for the next day.

“We have to come up with a way to keep tabs on them without being conspicuous,” said Andromeda. “I think Rabastan may know that I’m onto him.”

“Well,” said Lilith, “now that you and Rabastan are all kissy-kissy, can’t you use that to your advantage? Say you want some fiancé time with him.”

“He already invited me on a lunch date,” she said.

“Perfect. Then when he inevitably excuses himself to hang out with the fellows, you’ll know that’s when they’re going to conduct their little experiments. You can get the signal to me, and then I can follow Rabastan to where the other Death Eaters are meeting.”

“And when we do find them?” said Andromeda. “What then?”

“The moment we see them perform an illegal spell, we get word to one of the professor chaperones. We should be able to get an adult to the scene in five minutes, tops. Then they’ll be busted, but we’ll remain anonymous. It’s perfect.”

“But that means that at least one of those students will have to suffer for five minutes, Lilith. What if they perform a cruciatus? Some innocent will still have to endure mortal agony."

Lilith sighed. “Well, it’s better than nothing. It’s the only plan I can come up with that won’t reveal us as the snitches. Have you got something better?”

“No,” Andromeda admitted. “I don’t. But I do know a way to make the plan more secure." 

“How?”

“I’ll work on it tomorrow morning.”

There was the sound of a faint click. The dormitory door was opening. Lilith ripped back a bed curtain to reveal Narcissa, dressed in one of her silk, burgundy gowns, her hair perfectly arranged in a curly bun. She was back from one of her dates with Lucius.

“What are you two doing?” Narcissa asked, her brow slightly crinkled.

Lilith turned back to Andromeda, expectant. She mouthed the words “You should tell her.”

But Andromeda shook her head.

“Nothing important,” she piped up. “Just talking about Lilith’s new crush.”



Andromeda rose early, before dawn, and readied herself for the day. She bundled up in warm clothes, all hues of lavender and rose. She spent a full hour on her hair and beauty charms. Then, just as Narcissa and Lilith were stirring, she left the dormitory and headed to the corridor outside the Hufflepuff common room. Any and all Hufflepuffs headed to the Great Hall for a pre-Hogsmeade breakfast would have to pass that way.

Andromeda hoped for two things: that George was a breakfast eater, and that he wouldn’t be hanging around Ted this morning.

Both of her wishes were granted.

After half an hour of waiting, spent avoiding the curious stares of some of the passersby, Andromeda spotted George walking on his own. She hurried after him. George looked askance at her and kept walking.

“Black,” he acknowledged.

“George,” she said, “I don’t know what Ted’s told you, but—“

“What is Ted supposed to have told me?”

“Um,” Andromeda shook her head. “Nothing.”

“He said the transfusions were going all right,” George said, his voice beginning to strain with concern. “Did something go wrong last night?”

“What? No! No, not at all. Everything’s fine.”

Half-truths, it seemed, had become Andromeda’s native tongue.

“This actually isn’t about Ted,” she amended. “I was rather hoping that I’d find you alone.”

“Mm,” said George. “Words I want to hear from a lady, but not from you.”

“George.”

“Well, you got your wish. Ted and I were supposed to head to breakfast together, but he stood me up. I haven’t seen him since yesterday afternoon. He’s been moping around lately because of Quidditch, so I just figured I’d give him some space.”

Andromeda nodded. “He told me he was thinking of landscaping?”

“He’s a fucking idiot,” George observed calmly. “Even with his ‘condition,’ he's still one of the best chasers out there. He’s given up.”

“And he won’t listen to your advice,” Andromeda guessed.

George shrugged. “Ted will be Ted. So, er, why exactly were you stalking me?”

Andromeda glanced around the crowded corridor. She motioned George toward a nearby alcove.

“Can I talk to you in private?”

George raised his eyebrows, but he followed Andromeda to the alcove. Once they had gained some semblance of privacy, Andromeda explained everything that she knew about Hogsmeade, including her and Lilith’s plan. As she’d expected, George had been leery at first. Then he’d cussed a lot.

And at last, he looked her in the eye and asked, “Why are you telling me this? Aren’t you, like, on the side of those assholes?”

Andromeda shook her head vehemently. “No, that’s just it. Lili and I want to get them caught. I don’t want innocent students hurt any more than you do. Neither does Lilith. But we can’t very well just catch them in the act and challenge them to a duel. Lilith and I still have to keep up our rep—“

Reputation,” George cut in. “Yeah, I get it. So, what, you want me to be the snitch? Do you know what that lot would do to me the moment I came on the scene? They’d obliterate me. I’m not a particularly skilled wizard, Andromeda. You know that. How am I supposed to bust a bunch of dark-wizards-in-training?" 

“I’m not asking you to bust them,” said Andromeda. “I just want you to join me and Lilith. It will be completely anonymous, I swear. They won’t find out that you were involved. It’s just that having a third person would really help. We need a lookout, someone who can tell if the boys are onto us, who can keep an eye out for the nearest proessor or responsible adult.”

George rubbed his forehead. “This is, without a doubt, the strangest request I’ve ever heard.”

“Please, George,” Andromeda pleaded. “I know you’re not big on altruism or whatever, but you’re the only one I could think of to ask. All the rest of my friends are Slytherin purists. They would want something like this to happen. But I don’t. Please believe me, George.”

“Yeah, all right,” said George, “whatever. But you have to swear that my name stays out of this. I haven’t made it through almost seven years of Hogwarts just to get murdered before graduation by a bunch of those Death Eaters.”

“I swear,” said Andromeda, “it’ll be completely confidential.”

“Fine,” George said gruffly. “But keep your distance until then, okay? It won’t do anyone any good if we’re seen around each other.”

Andromeda nodded. “I’ll be with Rabastan at the Three Broomsticks. Lilith is going to trail us. She’ll meet you at Honeydukes at noon, on the dot, okay?”

“What does this Lilith look like?”

“Short. Thin. Cropped black hair. Dark eyes.”

“Hot?”

“Yes, George. Very hot.”

George grinned. “Right then.”

“Don’t worry,” Andromeda assured him. “You’ll be in excellent company. And—George? Could you not mention any of this to Ted?”

“Probably won’t even have the chance to. My guess is that he’ll be sulking in his dormitory all day.”



“Come on. Tell me it isn’t everything you hoped for as a little girl dreaming about her wedding. A beachside ceremony, just before sunset. How can you say no to that?”

Andromeda looked across the booth table at Rabastan and chewed her beef pasty contemplatively. He had been nothing but attentive that morning and afternoon. He’d met her in the Great Hall, where he’d offered her the last of his pumpkin juice. He’d twined his fingers through hers as they made the journey down to Hogsmeade, stopping every so often to whisper some bit of nonsense in her ear. Once, he made a reference to the night before that sent Andromeda into a severe blush. Rabastan hadn’t been this attentive since December, when Andromeda had discovered him with Georgiana. That frightened her, though she wasn’t entirely sure why.

Still, she laughed at Rabastan's jokes and smiled at his compliments and carried on a conversation with him about Quidditch and the upcoming N.E.W.T. examinations and, most prominent of all, their upcoming nuptials. A chill had begun to settle over Andromeda as she realized that this was, and would be, her life. In less than a year, she would be bound to Rabastan by law.

But now, as she looked at Rabastan in the pale sunlight streaming into the Three Broomsticks, she didn’t see the boy she’d fallen for in fifth year. She saw a younger version of her father, another branch on a family tree, a man who, later that day, intended to perform a set of unforgivables on unsuspecting students. She swallowed her pasty and prayed she could keep it down.

“I don’t want a beachside wedding,” Andromeda said smilingly, omitting the fact that she’d never been a girl to dream about her future wedding. “Sand would get everywhere, and it would force everyone to travel, and besides, it seems like such an unnecessary expense.”

“Mm, but your parents could afford it,” said Rabastan. “They can pull all the stops out for their precious little girl. I hope you take full advantage of that.”

It wasn’t until after they had finished their lunch and the creaky grandfather clock in the pub corner struck two o’clock that Rabastan rose from his chair and excused himself.

“I wish I could be with you all day,” he said, voice honeyed, “but I promised the boys I’d meet up with them. Don’t want them to think I’m entirely whipped.”

Andromeda smiled indulgently. “Of course, darling,” she said. “Not to worry. I’ll find Lilith and Cissa.”

He left the Three Broomsticks. For one agonizing moment, Andromeda stayed where she was, finishing off her butterbeer. Then, when the minute had past, she rose and, as though she were in no hurry, she made her way to the door. George stood waiting for her, hands shoved in his pockets, squinting out toward the horizon.

“Well?” she whispered, coming to a stop just beside him.

“Lilith’s following him. She said she’ll report back here straightaway when she finds out where they are.”

“Professor Whitechapel is inside the pub,” Andromeda said, “meeting with a friend. The moment Lilith gets back, we’ll go in and alert him. I have no doubt he’ll do the right thing.”

George nodded stiffly, and Andromeda took a seat on the wrought iron bench beside him. She pulled one of her thinner History of Magic readers from her satchel and began to re-read the same sentence over and over again. She couldn’t keep her mind steady, keep her thoughts from scattering this way and that.

Though only minutes passed, Andromeda felt stretched thin with waiting, and by the time she saw Lilith’s lithe form running toward them, she felt weak from sheer anticipation. She jumped to her feet, and both she and George ran to meet Lilith in the middle of the cobblestone street.

Lilith panted, shaking her head from the effort to regain her breath. “G-George,” she stammered, “get Professor Whitechapel. They have three students. Can’t be older than third years. T-t-they’re being kept in the old bookshop. You know, the one that closed two years back, on the edge of the pine forest.”

George nodded and raced back toward the Three Broomsticks.

“Lilith, thank you,” Andromeda whispered, throwing her arms around her friend’s neck. “Thank you.”

But Lilith was shaking her head frantically. She shoved out of Andromeda’s embrace.

“That’s not everything,” she wheezed. “I lost track of Rabastan.”

Andromeda frowned. “What do you mean? You were following him the whole time.”

“I was,” said Lilith, “but then the crowd got thick, and I lost sight of him. It was just by luck that I saw Lucius walking past. I followed him instead. When I got to the bookshop, Rabastan wasn’t there. The others were talking about it. I overheard them. They said Rabastan was on some sort of special business. Personal business.”

Andromeda felt the sensation of one hundred fists to the gut, all at once. She found that she couldn’t swallow. Her eyes began to burn.

“Where, Lilith?" she whispered. "Did they say where Rabastan was going?”

“Andie, I don’t think it’s a good idea to—“

“Tell me where. Now.”

“At the old train station. But Andie—“

Andromeda didn’t listen to another word. She pushed blindly past Lilith, despite her friend’s shrieks to stop, and ran, her legs pumping as fast as they could down the curving slope of Hogsmeade's High Street. She ran past the stretch of cozy shops and warm windows. She ran past the abandoned bookshop where George and Lilith would soon lead Professor Whitechapel. She kept running, on and on, past the pine forest, over the weed-pocked cobblestone, toward the old train station.

Now abandoned, the old station used to be the original stop for the incoming Hogwarts Express. Years ago, back in the 1910s, the school raised enough money to construct a more direct track, and the old train platform had been left to disuse and decay. Andromeda has passed it before, on her walks through Hogsmeade. She’d always thought there was something sinister about the place. Now she knew, without a doubt, that something evil was taking place there.

“Rabastan!” she screamed as she reached the moss-covered stairs that led up to the platform. “Rabastan, don’t! Stop!”

She stumbled up the stairs, tripped on a loose stone, and fell to her knees. Pain shot through her body, but she pulled herself up again and limped up the remaining steps. Now in full sight of the platform, she saw him.

Rabastan stood beneath the station overhang, his wand outstretched. Beside him stood a Slytherin that Andromeda only vaguely recognized—a sixth year lackey that hung around Rabastan and the other seventh years in the Slytherin common room. But it was the third figure that stopped Andromeda in her tracks.

Pinned against the overhang’s stone wall, his arms limp, his clothing bloodied and tattered, was Ted Tonks.



Author's Note: Lovely, lovely readers, I cannot thank you enough for all of the support and kind reviews! I know that I've left you with an absolutely horrible ending here, but I was forced to cut things off for the sake of chapter length. The good news is that the next chapter is almost entirely written and ready to go into the queue! So please don't hate me forever and always? D: Thanks again for all of the encouragement. You guys rock my world.


Chapter 29: Hurt
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“NO!” Andromeda shrieked.

She ran toward Rabastan, wrenching her wand out of her coat pocket.

Expelliarmus!”

Rabastan’s wand flew from his hand and clattered to the ground several yards away. He regarded Andromeda with genuine shock. The surprise flitted across his face for only a moment. Then, it was gone, replaced by a hardened expression. He turned to the sixth year boy with him.

“Gregor, keep him where he is.”

Andromeda realized now that Gregor had been the one responsible for pinning Ted to the wall. She turned her wand on him instead.

Stupefy!”

Gregor didn’t even register the spell in time to attempt a block. His body went slack from insensibility, and he slumped, first to his knees, then face first on the ground. Ted, too, fell from where he’d been hoisted against the wall, leaving an awful trail of blood behind him.

Andromeda ran to him.

“Ted.” She reached his crumpled form and propped his back against the wall, her hands bloodying from the effort. “What did he do to you? What spells did he use? Where’s your wand?”

Ted was still conscious. He choked out something incoherent, then shook his head frantically and pointed past Andromeda. She whipped around just in time to see that Rabastan had reclaimed his wand and was aiming it at her. Andromeda began conjuring a shield charm, but her wand had gone slack in her hand from the blood, and she lost her grip.

Silently, Rabastan cast a spell on her. The breath rushed out of Andromeda’s lungs, and her arms and legs seized up, freezing her into a full body bind.

“I didn’t want you to be here, Andromeda,” Rabastan said, approaching her and Ted. His voice was remarkably calm. “This isn’t something you should have to witness.”

He flicked his wand. Another silent hex. Andromeda felt her senses return to her limbs, but no sooner was she capable of movement than another switch of Rabastan’s wand jetted out a harsh blue light. Her wrists bound behind her back with a sudden, irresistible force, and her body was thrown back against the wall.

Rennervate,” Rabastan said, casting his wand at Gregor.

The Slytherin boy became sensible again and struggled to his feet.

“Change of plans,” Rabastan informed him. “I want you to keep the girl in one place while I tend to him.”

Gregor nodded like an automaton. He cast his wand at Andromeda, taking over for Rabastan, and kept her jolted back to the wall.

“Darling," said Rabastan, "it really would’ve been better if you hadn’t interfered. I had the situation nicely in hand.”

“Don’t hurt him,” Andromeda choked out. “He’s done nothing to you.”

“I played by your rules,” said Rabastan. “I kept up the façade. I gave you a ring. I didn’t touch you until you let me touch you. And the reward I get for all that is to hear you say his name in my bed?”

“That still isn’t his fault!” Andromeda cried.

“I’ll admit,” Rabastan said, ignoring her, “that is was painful to hear at first. But then I realized something: this Ted is nothing more than a distraction in your life. A memory. He doesn’t belong in our future together. It’s my job to be sure he never troubles you again.”

Andromeda allowed herself to look, really look, at Ted. He was breathing in shallow, ragged breaths, and his head was tilted back, his eyes squeezed shut in pain. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth.

“You’ve hurt him enough, Rabastan,” she whispered. “He isn’t a part of my life anymore. Just let him go.”

“He isn’t part of your life?” Rabastan smiled humorlessly. “Is that why you’ve run to his rescue?”

Ted opened his eyes. His gaze shifted weakly over to Andromeda.

“Don’t look at her!” Rabastan barked, stepping between their sightline.

“You don’t own her.” As weak as Ted’s voice was, it was still steeped in anger.

Rabastan’s face was hidden from Andromeda, but she heard an angered hiss. He rammed his wand against Ted’s chest.

Crucio.”

Red light burst from Rabastan’s wand, making contact with Ted’s skin, and Andromeda watched in horror as his body convulsed, limbs contorting in jerky, unnatural movements. It was his scream that was the worst—an ear-splitting, agonized, inhuman cry.

“STOP!” Andromeda screamed. “Rabastan, stop it!”

Rabastan whirled around, as though surprised to find that Andromeda was still there.

“I told you that you shouldn’t have showed up,” he said. “I don’t want to have to obliviate you. But there can’t be any witnesses, you see, when they find Tonks out here in pieces.”

With his eyes still fixed on Andromeda’s, Rabastan pointed his wand back to Ted.

Crucio,” he said, this time coolly, smugly.

Ted writhed in a renewed round of pain, his screams becoming hoarse and fractured with agony.

Andromeda’s stomach turned over a dozen times as she saw Ted’s hair begin to flicker with the beginnings of a new color: silver.

“Rabastan,” she whispered. “Rabastan, please stop. I’ll do anything you ask. Just stop hurting him.”

“Anything?” Rabastan seemed to consider this. With a casual flick of his wand, he released Andromeda from her bind. “Very well. Gregor, let her down.”

Gregor did as he was told, and Andromeda fell to the ground. Rabastan wrenched her back to her feet by the wrist, his fingers pinching hard into her flesh. He dragged Andromeda closer to Ted. The metallic scent of blood filled her nostrils. Ted’s eyes met hers again. His irises were a sheeny silver.

“I think we need to make it clear to this Mudblood,” said Rabastan, “where your priorities lie. It wouldn’t do to get it in his head that he somehow had precedent over me.”

Rabastan shoved Andromeda back down to her knees, so that she was on level with Ted. The stench of blood was overwhelming here—abrasive and heady. She noticed for the first time the slick, glaring white object sticking out of Ted’s t-shirt. Bone. A rib. The realization clenched Andromeda’s body with nausea. Rabastan must have indulged himself in an assortment of sadistic physical hexes before she arrived on the scene.

“He’s losing blood, Rabastan,” she whispered, trying to beat back the panic in her chest, trying desperately to kick her mind back into gear, to form some kind of plan. “He’s going die.”

“Perhaps he won’t,” said Rabastan, “if you play your cards right.”

He placed something thin and hard into Andromeda’s hand. Her wand.

“Before you get any bright ideas,” he warned, “remember that I have Gregor trained on you. Now, here’s how we’re going to show Tonks his place: you’re going to cruciate him yourself. If you don’t, I’ll dispose of him on the spot.”

Andromeda’s blood went frigid. She stared up at Rabastan as though he’d lost his mind. And she realized, with a new terror and a sudden vivid memory of Rodolphus and Bella during family dinners, that maybe Rabastan really had lost his mind. Maybe he was no better than his older brother.

“Rabastan—”

“You know how this game works,” he said. “It’s all about who has the upper hand. And right now, I do.”

“The cruciatus doesn’t work that way,” Andromeda argued. “It’s not just a matter of talent or spellwork. You have to genuinely wish to cause the victim pain. You have to be a sadist.”

Andromeda knew immediately that she’d chosen the wrong words.

Rabastan kneeled beside her. He tipped his wand under her chin.

“And don’t you wish to cause this Mudblood pain? For coming between us? Between our engagement? Doesn’t he deserve to suffer? I thought he didn’t mean anything to you. If he doesn’t mean a thing, then why can’t you do it? Why can’t you cruciate him?”

Andromeda didn’t cry. She was beyond crying. She looked again at Ted, who had shut his eyes against the pain and inhaled sharply. A new trickle of blood coursed down his face, its source somewhere beneath his matted, silvery hair.

This couldn’t happen. Not one of his fits. Not here, in the midst of everything else he’d endured. Ted couldn’t possibly survive it.

Without another thought, Andromeda cast an incision spell on Ted’s arm, then a sloppy and painful one on her palm. She grabbed Ted’s open wound with her own and squeezed hard. She willed for her blood to reach him, to restore him somehow.

“What are you doing?” Rabastan asked with disgust. “I told you to cruciate him, not dissect him.”

“And I told you I can’t!” Andromeda yelled raggedly.

“Do it,” Rabastan ordered. “Do it, or I swear I’ll kill him right here. I’m no coward. The Dark Lord would be pleased at a kill from one of his youngest followers. Don’t think I’m afraid to do it.”

“I can’t!” Andromeda shrieked. “I won’t. And you won’t either. You’re not him, Rabastan. You’re not your brother. You’re not a psychotic monster.”

Rabastan’s lips pulled back in a disdainful sneer. He held his wand aloft, though his hand was shaking violently.

Avada Ked—“

Crucio!”

Red light shot out from Andromeda’s wand and knocked Rabastan back in an explosive blast. He fell to his back with a sickening crack and writhed, his shrieks echoing against the deserted station walls.

Andromeda staggered to her feet, her wand now trained on Gregor, who was staring at Rabastan’s convulsing body, frozen in shock.

Expelliarmus!”

Gregor’s wand flew from his hand.

“D-d-don’t do anything to me,” he stammered. “I didn’t want to come out here anyway!”

Andromeda didn’t stop walking toward the unarmed boy until she was only a foot from him. She raised her wand to his head. He cowered. She concentrated hard. For all her research, including an entire term paper on the topic, she'd never actually cast the spell before.

Obliviate.”

Instantly, a glazed look came over Gregor’s eyes. He stumbled back, his balance unsteady, and shook his head. When he blinked his eyes open again, he looked up at Andromeda in utter confusion.

“You’re just outside Hogsmeade,” she told him. “Run left out of here, into town, to the old bookshop. Get Professor Whitechapel, get any capable adult, and tell them to come out here immediately.”

“I don’t—“ Gregor began.

Andromeda rammed her wand against his chest. “Do it now. There’s at least one life dependent upon you, do you understand? Someone could die.”

Gregor nodded doggedly. Andromeda released him, and he went running down the platform steps, casting fearful glances behind him all the way.

Andromeda turned back to find Rabastan weakly dragging himself to the notch of stone where his wand had fallen. Andromeda beat him to it. She trapped the wand under the toe of her boot. Then, with vehemence, she sent it scattering off the platform and onto the train tracks.

Rabastan stared up at her with wide, fearful eyes.

“Please,” he whispered, “don’t—“

Crucio,” Andromeda said, casting the spell straight at his chest and watching with unflinching attention.

She cast it again. And again. Blind hatred stung her eyes and filled her mind with nothing but white anger. The torture spell emanated from her body as though a natural outpouring, each casting stronger and more vicious than the last. All the while, she tuned out Rabastan’s screams for her to stop. 

Then there was another voice altogether—one so weak that she wondered how she’d heard it over the ruckus that Rabastan was making.

Dromeda. Dromeda, stop.”

Ted. How could she have forgotten him, even for a moment? Inflicting pain on Rabastan had been her only, all-consuming thought, as though she herself had been under some spell. She shook her head, clearing her mind, and turned back to Rabastan, casting him into a full body bind. Then she rushed back to Ted’s side.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so, so sorry. Tell me where you’re hurt the worst. We’ll start there. I’ve sent for help. Are you well enough to move?”

Ted shook his head, gasping in for air. His mouth was coated with blood.

“Ted,” Andromeda said, panicked, “Ted, stay with me.”

She cut again into her palm, deeper than before, causing a renewed gush of blood to pour out, and she placed her hand back against the incision on Ted’s arm.

“I’ll make you better,” she whispered. “Just stay with me.”

She drew closer to him, her jacket soaking through with blood from his arm and from his chest. She pressed her lips against Ted’s cheek, against his forehead. She pushed back his hair, now returned to its golden brown color, and tried to find the source of blood. She discovered a cut just above his temple. Fumbling with her wand, she shakily placed it on the wound and cast a feeble healing spell.

“I—I don’t know where to start,” she said, trembling. “I don’t know how to start making you better. You have to tell me where you hurt the most.”

She could feel herself going frantic. She was shaking hard now, her mind speeding, her fears surfacing one after the other. What if Gregor didn’t fetch anyone? What if no one was coming? She would have to move Ted somehow. But there was so much blood, and she had no idea how much he’d already lost.

A hand wrapped around her wand wrist. Andromeda looked down at Ted’s knuckles, bloodied and cracked.

“Dromeda,” he said, eyes shut, head thrown back against the wall for support. “I love you.”

“Dammit, Ted!” she cried. “Don’t you dare tell me that. You are not going to die this time out of all times.”

Ted flinched against some unseen pain, and Andromeda set back to searching his body for other wounds. She knew that his broken rib was bad, but she didn’t have anywhere near the kind of healing knowledge necessary to fix it.

“There. There! That’s them. Come on, George. You are the most fucking slow runner. How the hell did you make Quid—oh my god, Andie?”

Andromeda turned to see George and Lilith running toward her, Professor Whitechapel close behind.

“What happened?” George demanded, sliding to his knees by Ted’s side. “Why is there so much blood? Andromeda, what happened?”

She pointed shakily over at Rabastan. “I tried to stop him. We need to get Ted to hospital. Now."

Professor Whitechapel reached them, his wand at the ready.

“Clear away from him,” he said. “Let me get a good look. We need to staunch any lacerations before moving him. This is going to require St. Mungo’s attention.”

“But none of us are that good at appara—“ Lilith cut off. “Oh. Well, I suppose you are, professor, aren’t you?”

Professor Whitechapel grimly acknowledged the comment as he cast quick, silent spellwork on Ted. He noted the protruding rib without so much as flinching, then cast a sealant spell on his skin, stopping the flow of blood.

“And you, Miss Black?” he asked, turning to look Andromeda over. “Are you hurt?”

Andromeda shook her head. “I’m perfectly fine. Just get Ted better.”

“All the same, I think it best that a Healer look you over.“ Professor Whitechapel cast a glance back at Rabastan. “And Mr. Lestrange, as well.”

Anger burned in Andromeda’s veins. “But he’s the one who—”

“I understand that you’re distressed right now, Miss Black," Professor Whitechapel cut in. "But even if Mr. Lestrange perpetrated this crime, I cannot show preference to one boy over the other. I will apparate them both with me. I expect you, Mr. Vanderpool, and Miss Starker to remain where you are until arrangements can be made.”

“What arrangements?” Andromeda asked.

“I’ll give word to the Emergency Mediwizards to apparate you to St. Mungo’s,” he said. “Even if you’re in perfectly good health, I'll still need statements from all three of you on today's disturbance." 

With no small amount of difficulty, Professor Whitechapel hoisted a barely conscious Ted to his feet. He walked him over toward Rabastan’s limp form and, stooping to place a firm grip on both boy’s shoulders, he apparated away, wrenching all three of bodies out of sight with a sharp crack.

Lilith ran to Andromeda and threw her arms around her friend’s neck.

“Are you suicidal?!” she snuffled. “How could you just run off like that, knowing that I was freaking out as it was?”

George was shaking his head, his face a pasty white. “She saved Ted,” he croaked. “She’s always saving Ted.” He looked at Andromeda. “How did you know that Rabastan would be messing with him?”

“It—it was just a sixth sense,” she said. “Rabastan has never liked Ted very much. Not since the start of this year.”

“I have to see him,” said George. “How serious were his injuries? Did you see? How bad is it? Be honest.”

“I don’t know,” Andromeda whispered, sinking to a rotting bench, her heart pounding in her chest. “But I should be there. We’re blood bound. He might need me, need a transfusion. He might—“

“What’s she talking about?” Lilith asked George. “What does she mean, ‘blood bound’?”

“Long story," said George. "I don't even understand half of it."

A crack echoed in the station, followed by another soon after. Two Mediwizards, a woman and a man, neither of whom looked much older than Andromeda, approached them.

“You two, come with me,” said the woman, grabbing Lilith by the arm and pulling Andromeda up to her feet. “Hold tight, and keep still.”

The last thing Andromeda saw was the male Healer grabbing hold of a contemptuous George’s elbow.

“Oi, mate,” he yelped. “Easy on the—“

And then everything cracked out of sight. Andromeda felt a piercing sensation deep in her navel, as though she were being tugged out like taffy. Then, suddenly, the world materialized around her again, and she was standing in a high-ceilinged room with sterile white walls and marble floor.

A tall counter lined one of the walls, and behind it a row of seven receptionists were scribbling with quills and releasing  fluttering interhosptial notes.

The woman who had apparated Andromeda and Lilith kept a firm hold on their elbows and marched them over to one of the receptionists, a middle-age man with a graying beard.

He held up a hand to signify that the he was busy finishing a piece of paperwork. Then he set down his quill, adjusted his spectacles, and peered over the edge of the counter.

“Name and affliction?”

“They were involved in the Hogsmeade incident, Paul.”

Paul seemed very put out by this. He heaved a long sigh and rubbed at the tip of his nose.

“How many more are there? This is absolutely preposterous. Wait ‘til the Prophet gets its hands on—“

“The Prophet isn’t going to get its hands on anything,” said the woman. “Hogwarts has a prestigious history of covering up incidents like this. All I need from you, Paul, is for you to take down these girls’ names and direct us to an open examination room. They don’t appear to have sustained any injuries, but we’ll need to run some diagnostic spell to be sure there’s no other magically-induced damage.”

Paul’s head bobbed in acknowledgement of the woman’s request. “Very well, very well. Names?”

“Lilith Vale Starker,” said Lilith, without missing a beat. “And I’m fine.”

Her eyes were scanning the room, and they suddenly lighted on something of intense interest.

“Be right back,” she said, slipping from the woman Healer’s grip.

Andromeda watched as she hurried over to George and his Healer companion and began waving her hands animatedly.

“Your name, miss?”

Andromeda returned her attention to the receptionist. “Andromeda Lyra Black,” she said. “I need to see Edward Tonks immediately. If he’s in critical condition, I can be of help. We’re blood bound.”

The Healer laughed. “Blood bound?” she said. “Don’t be silly. No one’s been blood bound since the eighteenth century. Do you even know what the term means? For one thing, you must be related to the other party by blood.”

Andromeda glared angrily at the woman. “Clearly you’ve been misinformed. Where’s Madame Finley? She works here. She’ll confirm it. Honestly, why on earth would I make up something like that?”

“Madame Prudence Finley is on holiday, I’m afraid,” said Paul.

“Listen, dear,” said the Healer, which only further irked Andromeda. She couldn’t be past her mid-twenties, and she had no right to call Andromeda dear. “I realize that you might fancy this fellow, but making up a ridiculous story isn’t going to get you to him any sooner. The only parties allowed to see him are family.”

Nelson,” Andromeda whispered out loud, the realization sweeping over her. “He has an older brother, Nelson. Has he been notified?”

“I’m sure he has, if he’s listed as an emergency contact,” said the Healer, her patience clearly fraying. “Now where on earth has that other girl gone off—“

She stalked off toward Lilith, who was still talking to George and casting glances down the medical hallway off to the side, as though contemplating making a run for it.

Andromeda whipped back around to Paul the receptionist. “Please,” she begged. “Please, can’t you just tell me where he is?”

But Paul had returned to scribbling away at a piece of parchment.

Andromeda slammed her hand down on the counter. “Please.”

Paul’s quill splattered ink on the page, ruining his line of text. He looked up at Andromeda in irritation.

“If you want to see the boy that badly, you’ll just have to conjure up a relationship to him out of thin air. And if you can’t, I suggest you leave me to my very important work.”

“I’m engaged to him,” Andromeda blurted out. “Is that good enough for you?”

She shoved her left hand across the table, displaying Rabastan’s gargantuan ring. This Paul fellow clearly wasn’t a pureblood of note; she knew all of those types, and none of them would be consigned to the demanding job of receptionist. So she bet on her chances that a man like this would have no concept of her high profile engagement to Rabastan Lestrange.

Paul stared at the ring. He stared back at Andromeda. He gave another long-suffering sigh.

“Mara!” he shouted across the lobby.

The woman Healer, who’d been in the process of dragging Lilith off, now turned around.

“She’s his bloody fiancée,” he called. “You'd best take her back.”

Even from where she stood, Andromeda saw the looks of confusion flit across Lilith’s and George’s face. Then George started smiling goofily.

Mara looked disgusted by this recent turn in events.

“Very well,” she shouted back, motioning to Andromeda. “Both of you, come with me.”

This time, Lilith obliged, though not before saying something out of earshot to George. He snickered at whatever it was she’d shared, and began to follow the male Healer lead toward the reception counter for his own check-in. As he passed by Andromeda, though, a wicked glint touched his eye, and he murmured, “Well played, princess.”

“I don’t know why you didn’t just mentioned that before,” Mara said, dragging her and Lilith relentlessly toward the hallway. “It’s very possible that you still might not be able to see him. If they’re in the middle of the procedure, or—“

“Just tell me where he is,” Andromeda cut in sharply.

“Here,” Mara said, grinding to a halt outside a green door marked 1J on a frosted panel of glass. “I’ve had enough of surprise apparating trips and babysitting for one day. Be someone else’s problem.”

Mara rapped on the door and stuck her nose in.

“Lennox? Is he stable?”

An indecipherable voice spoke from inside.

“I’ve got a girl out here from the scene. She’s claiming to be his fiancée? Andromeda?” Mara cast an impatient glance at Andromeda. “That’s your name, isn’t it?”

The door opened further, and a red-cheeked man with a shock of white hair appeared. Andromeda nearly leapt forward, straining to get a look inside, desperate for any sign of Ted.

“There, there, child,” said the man, closing the door behind him and standing in the threshold. “There are some things that I’d best discuss with you beforehand.”

“I’ll take that as my cue,” said Mara, hauling Lilith after her.

Lilith cast a glance back at Andromeda.

“Meet back in the lobby?” she called.

“Doubtful,” said Mara. “Once we’re through with your examinations, we’ve been instructed to send you off to the Hogwarts professor for questioning.”

Andromeda felt her attention tear in two directions as Lilith disappeared down a turn in the hallway, and the wizened Healer stood towering over her.

She chose to direct her attention back to the older man.

“I’m Healer Lennox,” he said, “and I’m terribly sorry we’re not meeting under better conditions.”

“What is it that you have to tell me?” Andromeda asked. “What do I have to know before I see him? Please, just go ahead and tell me.”

“The boy is in a fragile condition,” Healer Lennox said. “We’ve managed to tend to his bodily injuries, but it seems that Mr. Tonks also possesses metamorphmagus qualities that are rather—erratic.”

“Yes, yes, I know,” Andromeda nearly shouted. “I know all about his condition. Madame Finley has been working with us for over a month now. Ted and I are blood bound, and we’ve been doing transfusions to help stabilize him and prevent further fits.”

Healer Lennox’s eyes widened. “Good heavens. That didn’t show anywhere in his paperwork.”

“I heard that Madame Finley is on holiday,” said Andromeda, “but isn’t there anything you can do? Can’t you fetch her back?”

“I’ll need to speak an authority that’s higher up than myself,” said Healer Lennox, more to himself than Andromeda. “Good gracious, this is an entirely unanticipated development. Well, where was I?”

“He’s in a fragile condition,” Andromeda said. “I understand. I’ll be very quiet and I won’t upset him, only please just let me see him.”

Healer Lennox nodded distractedly. “I’ll station one of my undermedics outside, should you need any assistance whatsoever. Meantime, I must bring up this new information to my superiors. You’ll excuse me, won’t you?”

Andromeda was only too happy to watch Healer Lennox step out of the path between her and Ted’s door, though she did stop for just a moment to watch him go, wondering who on earth could be the superior of a Healer who was already so old himself.

Shaking the thought from her mind, Andromeda pushed open the door. She found Ted lying in a wide hospital cot, far more cushioned and equipped than any of those from the hospital wing at Hogwarts. A blue haze emanated from his right hand and ran a stringy path of equally blue light to a silver-stringed apparatus floating in midair, near the bed. Andromeda didn’t know the use of the equipment. She didn’t care. She could only stare at Ted, who was, contrary to her expectations, wide awake and staring straight back at her.

He moved his lips. He was trying to speak, but no words came. Andromeda shook her head rapidly, hurrying up to his bedside.

“It’s all right,” she whispered. “Don’t try to speak. It’s all right.”

She sunk into the hard wooden chair by his bedside and grabbed his hand—the one that wasn’t hooked up to the odd blue-stringed contraption.

“It’s the soothing spell,” she said. “I heard that it sometimes momentarily impairs your ability to speak.”

Ted tried to move his lips again, let out a frustrated groan, and nodded.

“Ted,” Andromeda said, and her voice broke. “I’ve been worried out of my mind. But they’ve patched you up, haven’t they? I’ll be here as long as you need me. Whatever they deem necessary to make you all better: more blood, or—or just my touch. Anything. I’m not leaving, I promise. Not until you’re well again.”

Ted tried to speak again. A single tear formed in his eyes and wound down his cheek.

“You don’t have to talk.” She squeezed his hand. “Don’t put yourself out. You’re not to overexert yourself. Just rest. I’ll be here until Professor Whitechapel forcibly extracts me for questioning.”

She smiled, trying to make a joke of it. Another tear trickled down Ted’s face. And another. This time, when he moved his lips, words came out—though threadbare and only just audible.

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“This is exactly where I should be,” she said firmly.

“Your family,” Ted wheezed. “Rabastan. You can’t be seen with me here.”

“I’m not leaving,” Andromeda insisted, her throat going tight and prickly. “As for Rabastan, I won’t look on his face again. I refuse. When you’re well enough to tell the proper authorities what he did to you, you mustn’t leave out a single detail. I want them to try him as an adult.”

“Andromeda.” Ted closed his eyes and took in a long breath. The thin blue cord of light attached to his arm quivered. His voice was coming back to its normal timbre, slowly but surely. “I can’t tell them about the unforgivables.”

“Why not?” Andromeda demanded. “What he did to you was unforgiveable. He’s a monster. He deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law.”

Ted shook his head weakly. “But you performed an unforgiveable, too.”

Andromeda went deathly still. Her blood seemed to stop in its place and congeal, ice cold, in her veins.

Ted had seen. He remembered. The memory now came flooding back to Andromeda in all its grisly detail.

She had placed the cruciatus on Rabastan, not once, but four separate times, each more vicious than the time before. And she’d enjoyed it. She had wanted to cause Rabastan pain, excruciating pain, and she wouldn’t have stopped causing him pain if it weren’t for Ted.

Ted, who now looked at her with a solemn face and wide eyes.

She had called Rabastan a monster. Didn’t that make her a monster, too?

She had committed a crime that sent grown men and women to Azkaban.

She had enjoyed it.

She had told Rabastan that only a sadist could cast the cruciatus curse.

Didn’t that make her a sadist, too?

Rabastan had proved himself to be just as sick a Lestrange as his older brother. 

And she—how was she any better than Bellatrix?

She shared the same blood as her sister. She shared her looks. Why wouldn’t she also share in her cruelty?

Andromeda dropped her head into her hands.

“So you think I’m disgusting,” she said flatly. “You think I’m a monster, too.”

What?” said Ted. “Merlin, no, Dromeda. That’s not what I meant.”

“But it logically follows, doesn’t it?” Andromeda said, her voice trembling. “You saw what I was capable of. Only a truly dark witch could do what I did to him. Someone twisted inside.”

“You were angry. You were afraid. Rabastan was about to murder me, Andromeda. He would’ve, too, if you didn’t knock him off his feet with the cruciatus.”

“Yes, but I kept doing it.” Andromeda released his hand. She stood, unable to remain still any longer. “I kept hurting him, and I liked hurting him.”

Ted remained quiet.

After a long while, he whispered, “You’re not a monster.”

“But I could be so easily. I see them inside of me. Little flashes of Bellatrix. Of my Aunt Walburga. Sometimes only glimmers. But they’re there. I could be just like them.”

“Capacity is different from action. It’s completely different. The only reason I even brought it up was because I can’t possibly tell the authorities about Rabastan’s unforgivables. Do you remember, just a few years back, when everyone was certain the Muggles would blow each other off the face of the earth with their weapons?”

Andromeda nodded. Even in her pureblooded circles, she’d been well aware of the nuclear tensions in the Muggle world. It was just another example of the supreme folly of Muggles left to their own devices.

“Mutually assured destruction,” said Ted. “That’s why they say neither side has fired so much as a whistle of a bomb. Because both sides know they’re capable of destroying each other, should one side make the first move.”

“So, what, you won’t expose Rabastan because of some idiotic Muggle philosophy?”

“I won’t expose him,” he said evenly, “because doing so would expose you. Rabastan knows that if he utters a word about your unforgivables, I’ll testify to his own. But the opposite is also true.”

Andromeda sunk back into the chair. “He was going to kill you.”

“But he didn’t,” Ted said. “You were there. And now that you’ve seen for yourself that I’m well, you should go.”

“I told you, I’m not leaving.”

“If you stay,” Ted said, “your family will find out.”

“They’re already going to find out,” she said. “Rabastan will never marry me after this.”

“Is that why you’re telling the Mediwizards that his ring is mine?”

Andromeda stilled. On instinct, she looked to her left hand. She blushed deeply.

“It was the only way they’d let me see you.”

“Well, I’m not your fiancé,” said Ted. “You’re not beholden to me in any way. I think you should leave before you do any further damage to your reputation.”

“I don’t think you understand, Ted,” she whispered. “I’m not leaving you. Not this time. Not like I did back in London. I know what it means to stay, and I’m staying right here until you order me away.”

Ted looked at her, through a blackened eye and over a swollen cheek. Just looked.

“Well?” Andromeda tried and failed to hide the nervous tremor in her voice. “Are you ordering me away?”

Ted kept looking. Slowly, he shook his head.

“No. No, I’m not.”



Author's Note: Lovely people! I can't say how overjoyed I've been to read each and every review of these past few chapters. Thank you so much for the encouraging words. They've definitely fished me out of some writer's block and serious plot quandaries. And thanks for bearing with me as I update unfairly cliffhanged chapters. :) 


Chapter 30: Aftermath
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She fell asleep by his bedside, long after Ted himself had drifted off. When she woke, a throbbing crick had formed in her neck, and her joints felt stiff and brittle. A young, female Healer stood across from her, checking Ted’s vitals with wandwork. Andromeda felt a slight pressure at her shoulder. She looked up to find Nelson standing over her.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” he whispered, “but—oh, fuck it, I did mean to wake you.”

“Nelson.” Relief burned through Andromeda’s veins. She got to her feet, despite the fact that her muscles were screaming, and wrapped Nelson in a hug.

It wasn’t until they were mid-embrace that Andromeda realized how instinctual the motion had been, how she hadn’t even hesitated to touch a Muggle in so intimate a way. She would never have dreamed of doing something as preposterous as this a year ago. But now? Now, it was the only way.

Only when she pulled back did Andromeda notice that Nelson’s face was tearstained.

“It’s all right,” she said. “He’s fine now. Just recovering.”

“Yeah,” said Nelson. “Yeah, I know. The doctors told me everything. But I needed to see him. I just—“

Nelson’s voice pitched and tapered. He looked away, one hand pressed to his forehead. Andromeda saw a fresh tear roll down his cheek.

“He’s all I have,” he whispered. “When I got the hospital owl, I thought—“

Nelson didn’t finish the sentence. He shook his head violently.

“Here,” said Andromeda. “Take my seat. Please.”

She glanced back at Ted’s sleeping form. He looked younger with his eyes closed and his features slack. He looked peaceful, too. There was the slightest tinge of pink cresting his cheekbones. Andromeda’s stomach gave an incoherent lurch at the sight.

Nelson took the seat by Ted’s bedside and looked questioningly over at the Healer, who until now had remained silent and efficient.

“Am I allowed to wake him?” he asked.

The Healer gave a slight shake of her head. “I would highly discourage it. The best thing for the patient right now is rest and recovery. Healer Lennox recommended that we let the patient establish his own sleep patterns. He should wake on his own, without interference from us.”

Nelson swore lowly, clearly not happy with the answer. Both he and Andromeda watched the Healer finish her work and leave the room. Though Nelson obeyed the Healer’s orders, he still took hold of his brother’s hand, rubbing a slow circle across Ted’s knuckles.

“So,” said Nelson, after a long and thick silence, “I was informed by the good folks up front that you’re ickle Edward’s fiancée.” Here, he shifted in his seat and squinted up at Andromeda. “What’s that about, eh?”

Heat seared Andromeda’s face. She swallowed with difficulty.

“I lied,” she said, studying the stone floor. “It was the only way they would let me see him.”

“You’re wearing a ring,” Nelson said, nodding to the grotesquely large diamond attached to her left hand.

“It isn’t Ted’s.”

“Damn straight it isn't.” Nelson snorted. “I’d wager that piece of hardware is worth more than our flat.”

Andromeda didn’t know what to say to that. She felt Nelson’s eyes remain on her.

“I know it isn’t any of my business,” he said, “all the complicated happenings going on here. But I’m just wondering what it is that you’ve got going on with my brother. First you come to our house, all desperate-like and completely incapable of cooking for yourself. Then you splinch yourself coming back for your belongings, all in a tizzy about something. And then the next thing I know, you’ve abandoned my brother in London with his worst attack yet, which sends him into a fit of melancholia. I don’t mind telling you, Andromeda, I don’t have the best opinion of you at the moment.”

Nelson’s face was tight and creased as he looked at her. Andromeda shrunk under his stare.

“You shouldn’t have the best opinion of me,” she whispered. “Not even a half-decent one.”

“What I’m confused about,” said Nelson, “is why the hell you’re suddenly here, sleeping at his bedside and claiming to be his fiancée. Beg pardon, but something doesn’t add up.”

“No, I realize that. I know it all seems highly irrational.”

“Well, why?”

Andromeda shrugged helplessly, her voice coming out in a panicked burst. “I suppose love can be a highly irrational thing, that’s all!”

The creases in Nelson’s face creased more.

“What, then?” he said slowly. “You telling me you love my little brother?”

Andromeda passed her hand over her face. She was, she realized, trembling quite badly.

“I’ve never felt for anyone what I feel for Ted,” she whispered. “Not even close.”

“Well, damn,” said Nelson, and he whistled lowly. “I thought you weren’t allowed to do that.”

Andromeda faltered. “What do you mean?”

“Wasn’t that the reason you ditched him over winter holiday? Why you tore him all up? Something about bloodlines or familial obligations or some other complicated wizarding poppycock?"

Ted had told Nelson, then, about what happened in London. Of course he had. Andromeda should have expected that.

“He was torn up?" she asked. "In December?”

“Bloody catastrophe,” Nelson amended, "that’s what he was. You really did a number on him. George came over more than a few times to sort him out, and you know it’s bad when George Vanderpool has to be called upon to sober you up.”

A sharp and spindly guilt expanded within Andromeda. She’d told herself in December that she had no choice but to leave Ted in the Vanderpool house and go back home with Narcissa. She’d told herself there was no other option. But there had always been another option.

“That isn’t going to happen again,” she said. “The reasons I hurt him before—they aren’t reasons anymore.”

Nelson’s lip tilted in a grim smile. “Well. You’re here with my brother when he most needs you, and I suppose that’s what counts.”

“It must be a family trait then,” she said softly.

“What?”

“Forgiving others. Not expecting a thing from them. Giving them the benefit of the doubt.”

“That would be entirely from Mum’s side of the family,” Nelson said, his smile widening.

“Your parents sound like they were lovely people.”

“Oh, they had faults enough,” said Nelson. “It’s just that everyone gets glamorized post-mortem. They would’ve had a field day with you, I’m sure. Dad would’ve hated you at first. Called you a pretentious little posh. But I think he would’ve warmed up to you eventually. Mum, too.”

“You were very welcoming,” said Andromeda, “from the start, and at a time when I needed it. I don’t think I ever thanked you properly for that.”

Nelson chortled. “None of that. It was common human decency. Ted told me that you had nowhere else to go. Well, that and he had a wildly impossible crush on you.”

Andromeda started, surprised. “He told you that?”

But she reminded herself that she shouldn’t have been surprised. Ted had told her once that he’d first begun falling for her the day she’d vomited all over his fish and chips. Andromeda hadn’t quite taken him seriously before, but now—now.

At the train station, he had called her Dromeda. He had told her that he loved her. But maybe it had only been a panicked delirium. Perhaps it had only been because he thought he was dying.

The screech of a door echoed in the room. Andromeda turned to find the bent-back Healer Lennox entering. He smiled thinly at Andromeda.

“Hello, my dear,” he said. “Still keeping vigil, I see.”

“This is Ted’s brother,” Andromeda said, introducing the older man to Nelson.

Healer Lennox nodded. “Yes. We've already met. I explained Ted’s condition thoroughly, including this remarkable phenomenon between you and the boy.”

Andromeda blinked stupidly. “W-what phenomenon?”

Healer Lennox raised his eyebrows. “Why, the blood bond of course, my dear. There hasn’t been another recorded case of a blood bond since 1913. I had heard rumors of it, of course, from Madame Finley’s department, but I must admit I had my doubts.”

Andromeda, who felt unaccountably warm and somewhat stupid, nodded quickly.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “The blood bond. Well, I can certainly testify to its validity.”

“I’m afraid,” said Healer Lennox, “that you’ll have to testify to far more than that. I’ve been sent to retrieve you—that is, if you’re feeling up to it. Some members of the Hogwarts faculty are here at St. Mungo’s. They’re conducting a thorough questioning concerning the events at Hogsmeade, and you are, as I’m sure you realize, a key witness.”

Andromeda’s limbs went cold and weak. She managed to nod.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, of course.”

Better to get it over with, she told herself. She would face whatever questions they gave her and answer them truthfully—to a certain extent, at least. But she had promised both Lilith and George that she wouldn’t get their names mixed up in outing the Death Eaters. She would have to be careful about how she worded her story. She would have to lie, at least a little.

“They’re conducting the interviews in one of our consulting rooms,” said Healer Lennox, showing Andromeda to the door and pointing her out. “Just down this hallway. Take your first left. The room is on the right. Number 13.”

Andromeda nodded. She murmured a soft goodbye to Nelson, then to the Healer, who shut the door after her. The last sight she saw was Ted’s limp figure, still sleeping peacefully on the hospital bed.



She reached a black wooden door. The number 13 was painted across its frosted glass pane in dull golden paint. Behind the murky glass, she could see faceless, blurry figures moving about. She imagined that George and Lilith would be inside. She prayed that Rabastan wouldn’t. Surely he was still in too poor shape to be right side up and giving a testimony. Surely he was too injured for that.

Injured by wounds that you inflicted.

Andromeda rapped sharply on the door. There was a dull commotion inside before a silhouette approached the frosted pane, and the door opened.

Professor Whitechapel stood in the threshold. Deep purple crescents hung beneath his eyes, and he looked far older and far more somber than Andromeda remembered him from the classroom.

“Miss Black,” he said. He motioned her inside the room.

The room, like all the others of St. Mungo’s, was stone walled and stone floored, and this one in particular was well lit by hanging metal lamps. At a cherry wood table sat a tall, trim, elegantly featured witch that Andromeda recognized immediately as Professor Minerva McGonagall. Professor McGonagall taught Transfiguration and was one of Andromeda’s favorite teachers; Andromeda, in turn, was of course one of McGonagall’s prized star students.

Andromeda gave the woman a cautious smile. Professor McGonagall nodded grimly in reply. Her hands were folded over a thick stack of papers, and she wasn’t looking quite at Andromeda but at two figures that sat across the table from her.

“George,” said Andromeda. “Lilith.”

Both turned at the sounds of their names. George looked worn. Lilith looked antsy.

“Please, Miss Black,” said Professor McGonagall, “take a seat. Though we’ve been at the questioning for some time now, I’m afraid that Professor Whitechapel and I are not much the wiser. Perhaps you are more equipped to tell us what happened in Hogsmeade than your friends. It would seem that they’ve been affected with a peculiar case of amnesia.”

“Now see here,” George piped up, “that isn’t fair in the slightest. I think Lilith and I have been most forthcoming with you. I told you, you can pump us with veritaserum if you’d like. Go right ahead. We shan’t even flinch. We’re telling the truth, and I can’t bloody well help it if it isn’t what you want to hear.”

“Enough, Vanderpool,” said Professor Whitechapel, rounding the table to take a seat beside Professor McGonagall. “We’re going to listen to Miss Black’s side of things now, and with no assistance from either you or Miss Starker.”

Andromeda glanced quickly over at George and Lilith as she took her seat. She realized now what was going on: Professors Whitechapel and McGonagall were testing her, to see if her story matched up with that of the others. She would have to choose her words carefully if she meant to maintain credibility but not implicate either of her friends in the days’ happenings.

“Miss Black,” said McGonagall, leaning forward. Her Scottish accent was crisp and hard around the consonants. “Please recount to us precisely what happened earlier today, at Hogsmeade. Do not leave out a single detail.”

Andromeda glanced nervously over at Professor Whitechapel, who held a quill at the ready, prepared to jot down every word that fell from her lips. She gripped her nails into the wooden armrests of her chair. She didn’t allow herself to look at George and Lilith again, though she felt their stares on her.

“I had a suspicion,” she said slowly, “before the day began. Well, no, not a suspicion, but a feeling. You see, I’m engaged to Rabastan Lestrange, and I could tell that he was acting a bit off.”

“How do you mean, a bit off?” Professor McGonagall pressed. Her eyes were hard and inquisitive.

“Well, it’s just the sort of thing that a girlfriend notices,” Andromeda said, wincing at the girlish timbre of her voice. “He seemed distracted, distant. He was spending more and more time with his mates. And he confided in me before that they were planning on doing something at the Hogsmeade visit. That there was some sort of plan. He never elaborated on what. I thought it might be nothing more than a silly prank. But all the same, it left me feeling uneasy.”

“If you were so uneasy,” said McGonagall, “then why didn’t you report your concerns to one of the professors?”

“But what would I report?” Andromeda said, trying not to sound defensive. “A hunch? It was just an off feeling, that’s all. Well, and so I resolved to keep an eye on Rabastan throughout the day, just to be sure that he and his mates wouldn’t get into any real trouble. I spent the early afternoon at the Three Broomsticks with Rabastan. Then, when he left to join his mates, I secretly followed him, just to see what they were up to. When I arrived at the old bookshop and saw what was happening, I was naturally very upset. I was too afraid to try to intervene on my own, but I saw Lilith and George passing separately. I knew them both, so I called to them and begged them to find a professor immediately and tell them what was happening.”

“And why didn’t you attempt to fetch a professor yourself?” asked McGonagall, the candlelight flashing and shadowing over her sharp nose.

“Because,” said Andromeda, “of something I overheard while I was peering into the bookshop. The boys said that Rabastan was going out to the old train station to teach Ted Tonks a lesson. I followed him out there to stop him. But by the time I caught up, he had already gravely injured Ted.”

“Miss Black,” said Professor McGonagall, “if you were too afraid to intervene at the bookshop, what gave you the courage to attempt an intervention at the train station? Wouldn’t it have been wiser to fetch a professor for that predicament, too?”

“Perhaps,” said Andromeda, keeping her eyes fixed on the table. “Yes, I imagine it would’ve been. But I wasn’t thinking properly, you see. I had a rather personal interested vested into the—situation.”

“You mean,” said McGonagall, “because Mr. Lestrange is your betrothed.”

“Well, yes. But also—“ Andromeda hesitated. She raised her eyes to meet the older woman’s.

“But also?”

“But—but also because I’m in love with the boy he meant to hurt.”

The room went thick and muggy with silence. Andromeda felt all eyes in the room driving deep into her skin. She had only confessed her love for Ted once before, to Lilith, one of her very closest friends. More than anything, she didn’t want to say anything about it now, to her professers of all people, in a cold consultation room at St. Mungo’s. But Andromeda had thought this through. She knew that she had to leak out some semblance of truth—something big enough to cover up all the omissions in her story.

For the first time in all the years she’d had Professor McGonagall as a teacher, Andromeda saw that the usually austere witch was genuinely unsettled.

“You mean," she said, "with Ted Tonks?”

Andromeda nodded.

“You mean to say, you are in love with Ted Tonks?”

“Yes,” Andromeda whispered, “I am.”

“Oh, good god,” said George, breaking into a strange, jagged sort of laugh.

“Is something amusing, Mr. Vanderpool?” Professor Whitechapel snapped.

“No,” said George, though his body was still shaking with laughter. “No, sir. It’s all terrifically fucking serious.”

Professor Whitechapel narrowed his eyes. “One more word out of you, and I will—“

“Understood,” said George, looking properly chastised. “Yes sir. Yep. Understood.”

“Miss Black,” McGonagall continued, unperturbed by George’s behavior, “let me see if I have understood quite correctly. You are engaged to be married to Rabastan Lestrange, yet you are in love with Ted Tonks.”

“Yes, professor,” Andromeda said evenly.

“And may I safely assume that the two gentlemen in question knew about the part that the other played in your life?”

“Only very recently,” Andromeda said. “That is, Rabastan only knew very recently about my feelings toward Ted.”

“And for this reason,” said McGonagall, “you ran after them both, anticipating something like a—well, like a lovers’ duel?”

“Yes, professor,” whispered Andromeda. “That exactly.”

“Good heavens,” said Professor McGonagall, touching her forehead, “this is most extraordinary. Like something out of a penny dreadful.”

Andromeda winced internally, not at all fond of the way Professor McGonagall was talking—as though she and Ted Tonks were characters from some sordid romance novel. And yet, this was just what Andromeda had hoped for: that both professors would become so distracted by Andromeda’s illicit behavior that they would pay less attention to the greater matters at hand.

“When I arrived,” she said, quick to finish her story, “I found that Ted and Rabastan were already in the throes of a duel. Ted had just managed to knock down Rabastan with a stunning spell, but as you know, they were both in very poor condition—Ted worst of all. I went to his aid immediately, worried that his wounds might be fatal. Only a little after that, George and Lilith appeared with you, Professor Whitechapel. I had told Lilith where I was headed earlier, and I can only assume that she was worried about me.”

“Indeed,” Professor Whitechapel said. “That is precisely what Miss Starker told me. And Mr. Vanderpool, too.”

Andromeda stared between both professors, her heart tight within her chest. Their story, it would seem, checked out.

“So then,” said Andromeda, “you see, Miss Starker and Mr. Vanderpool were absolutely innocent bystanders, and I feel quite horrid for having involved them in any of this when all they were doing was helping a friend. I would so hate for them to be mixed up in any more of this, or for anyone to think that they’d intentionally conspired against those Slytherin boys, which is, of course, ridiculous.”

Andromeda realized, the moment that deluge of words was out of her mouth, that she might have taken it too far. But if she had, the professors made not outward sign of suspicion.

“I see,” said Professor Whitechapel, scratching his chin. “You are concerned that these boys—these Death Eaters as they call themselves—might seek some sort of petty vengeance on your friends here.”

Slowly, Andromeda nodded. “Which is ridiculous, because they’re not at fault. They’re not the snitches. If anyone is to be the object of petty vengeance, it’s me.”

“Good gracious, child,” said Professor McGonagall, “it is our hope that no one will be the object of petty vengeance. We intend to deal swiftly with this issue. Headmaster Dumbledore has already expelled both Mr. Goyle and Mr. Yaxley from the school.”

Andromeda frowned slightly. “Why only Goyle and Yaxley?”

“We performed charms on each of these so-called Death Eaters’ wands to assess the last spells used,” said Professor Whitechapel. “Those were the only two boys who had used illegal curses at the time of their apprehension." 

Andromeda hitched in a relieved breath. Lucius hadn’t been convicted, then. She could not and did not want to imagine what state Narcissa would’ve been in if he had.

“Misguided boys,” said Professor McGonagall, shaking her head. “Led on by who knows what kind of corrupted delusion. Goyle and Yaxley will both stand trial, but as they are sixteen and underage, they will do so in a juvenile court. Still, it shan’t be an easy road for either boy. The Dark Arts carries with it severe consequences, which I am afraid they have discovered the hard way. It is the entire faculty’s hope that this punishment will serve as a deterrent to any other student who attempts to follow in such dangerous footsteps.”

“In addition,” said Professor Whitechapel, “the remaining Slytherin boys have received a full month of detention and severe demerits on their record. I hope that all three of you are well aware how low a tolerance Hogwarts has for the practice of the Dark Arts.”

Andromeda nodded stiffly. Professor Whitechapel had turned to look at her alone.

“Miss Black,” he said, “there is one last piece of information that we must ask of you. When you arrived on the scene at the train station, did you witness the use of any illegal or dark activity?”

This was it. This was her chance to tell Professor Whitechapel everything about Rabastan’s sadistic behavior, about the cruciatus, about the attempted killing curse. Unlike Yaxley and Goyle, Rabastan was a legal adult and could be tried as one. He could be sent to Azkaban for the pain he’d inflicted on Ted. Andromeda could still report it all. Even if Rabastan did claim that Andromeda had tortured him, whom would Professor Whitechapel and the rest of the faculty believe: a bigoted, violent boy, or their favorite star student?

But Ted’s words still rang in Andromeda’s mind: Mutually assured destruction. Could she be sure that she herself would not be convicted of the same crimes as Rabastan? Could she risk it?

“No, sir,” she whispered. “No, I didn’t witness any illegal activity.”

Slowly, Professor Whitechapel nodded. He finished a frantic scribble on the parchment and looked over to Professor McGonagall, who was shaking her head as though mystified.

“Positively extraordinary,” she whispered. “The entire matter.”

“But it’s true,” Andromeda pressed.

“Yes,” said Professor McGonagall. “I daresay it is, dear. Why on earth would you wish to fabricate a tale like that?”

Andromeda couldn’t pretend that she didn’t understand McGonagall. It was no secret that the Family Black married purebloods and only purebloods. It was no secret that Ted Tonks was most certainly not a pureblood and that Andromeda had as good as admitted infidelity with a Muggleborn. Strangely, the thought barely bothered her. If the news got out this way, then so be it. She had told Ted earlier, her reputation was already ruined beyond repair.

“That will be all for now,” said Professor Whitechapel. “Thank you all for your cooperation. At this time, we’ll ask that you accompany us back to Hogwarts, where you will be returned to your dormitories and Professor McGonagall and I will consult with Headmaster Dumbledore about any further required action. We may require any one of you to give us additional information or clarification over the course of the next few weeks.”

Andromeda’s chest spasmed at that, but what more could she do? She had spun her tale as best she could and to the benefit of everyone she cared about—everyone, that is, but Ted. Rabastan deserved so much more for what he’d done to Ted than a mere rap on the knuckles. The Hogwarts faculty could kid themselves all they wanted that people like Rabastan Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy would be deterred by a few detentions and demerits, but Andromeda knew better. The boys who called themselves Death Eaters were under direct orders from someone far more powerful, and those orders were not going to let up because of a little disciplinary action.

Everyone in the room rose to their feet, including Andromeda, but she was in the midst of formulating a plan.

“Professor Whitechapel,” she said, “if you please, I really can’t go back to Hogwarts at the moment. I think it’s absolutely necessary that I stay here with Ted. We’re blood bound, you see, and I think that the Healers may need me once they decide on a course of action for Ted's medical treatment.”

Professor Whitechapel stared dumbly at Andromeda for a moment. Then a light of realization crossed his eyes.

“Blood bonds,” he said. “All those weeks ago, when you came to my office asking for a library permission slip. I assumed you were only curious, not that—“

“I didn’t know what to think back then,” said Andromeda. “But it’s very sure and certain now. Ted and I are blood bound, and it’s only fitting that I stay here while he recovers. I’m sure Healer Lennox would agree with me.”

Actually, Andromeda wasn’t at all sure that Healer Lennox would agree with her, but she had a feeling that Professor Whitechapel wouldn’t call her bluff.

“Well,” he said, “this is a delicate situation…”

“We can grant you permission to stay, Miss Black,” cut in Professor McGonagall, “and since you are of age, you need no parent or guardian’s consent to do so. However, it is school policy to inform your family as to the reason why have departed the school’s premises.”

“I understand,” said Andromeda.

Professor McGonagall fixed her with a dark, incisive look. “Do you, my dear? Fully?”

“I understand,” Andromeda repeated, this time with no room for questioning. “I understand exactly what I’m doing, Professor McGonagall. I thank you for your concern.”

A hand caught around Andromeda’s wrist. It was Lilith; her brown eyes were large with worry.

“Darling,” she whispered, “there are better ways to do this. Don’t you think you should come back to school with us and sort things out there?”

Andromeda shook her head. “This is the only way to do it. I’m sorry, dear.”

Tears pricked Lilith’s eyes. Suddenly, she threw herself on Andromeda, wrapping her arms around her in a suffocating hug.

George, who had been watching the whole exchange, now caught eyes with Andromeda. He gave her the slightest of nods.

“Don’t let Ted misbehave too badly,” he said.

There was nothing left to do after that. The professors herded them out of the consultation room and down the hallway. Four of them headed in one direction, toward the lobby of St. Mungo’s, and Andromeda headed in the other, toward Ted’s room.

She glanced back, and then again—a double-take to confirm a sight that she hadn’t expected in the slightest. As George and Lilith walked into the growing darkness of the corridor, their hands touched, joined together at the index finger, one wrapped tightly around the other.



Author's Note: MAH LOVELY READERS. I hope that you will accept this humble offering as penance for the rather unprecedent delay. Now that summer has rolled around, these chapters might be coming out at a more sluggish pace, but rest assured that they are still being written with tender, loving care. Thank you so much for your ongoing reads & reviews! 


Chapter 31: Fumbling
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When Andromeda got back to Ted’s hospital room, she found him awake and sitting up. Nelson and Healer Lennox were discussing something with him. Everyone appeared rather confidential.

“I’m sorry,” she said, shuffling backward through the treshold. “If it’s a private family matter, then I—“

“No, no,” said Nelson, “get in here, you loon. This concerns you as much as it does any of us.”

Andromeda was still uncertain. Slowly, she walked back inside.

“We’ve been able to reach Madame Finley,” explained Healer Lennox. “Now that we have Ted back in stable condition, her presence isn’t an immediate necessity. However, she and I both agreed that she should look over Ted as soon as she returns from holiday. That’s in four days' time. She would like to assess his blood and metamorphmagus condition, as she fears that a disturbance like this one may have thrown off your most recent blood binding transfusions.”

“I see,” said Andromeda, nodding. She wasn’t particularly happy to hear that her most recent painful transfusion may have been pointless, but the positive side of things, she had to remind herself, was that Ted had survived Rabastan’s attack in the first place.

Healer Lennox continued. “Madame Finley has requested that, if at all possible, you stay close to Ted, Miss Black, should he have a sudden episode or should complications arise in his recovery.”

“Stay close?”

“I’m taking Ted home tonight,” said Nelson. “You’re more than welcome to stay with us, Andromeda. In fact, um, I’m kind of begging you to. Not that I think of you as a walking human first aid kit or anything, but—well, I kind of do.”

“You mean,” said Andromeda, “you want me to be next door in case anything should happen.”

“I told you both, it’s not necessary,” said Ted.

He was, Andromeda just now noticed, eating a pudding cup. The ridge of his upper lip was chocolate-stained, and that fact combined with his petulant tone made him look like a little boy. Andromeda fought down a smile.

“She has a life,” Ted went on. “She can’t just give up everything to come and stay with us, Nelson, as though she were some bloody houseguest on holiday. N.E.W.T. examinations are only weeks away. She’s got enough on her—“

“Ted,” Andromeda cut in, gentle but firm. “It’s not your decision. And it’s not a negotiable. This is your health we’re talking about. Of course I’m going to stay with you. At least until Madame Finley shows up and puts some fears to rest. That’s what the Healers recommend. Isn’t it, Healer Lennox?”

“It would certainly be in the patient’s best interest.”

“See?” Andromeda said, turning to Ted in triumph. “It’s in your best interest.”

Ted was looking at her in a sad, pleading way—in a way she was sure he meant for only her to see and understand.

“Andromeda,” he said quietly, “please. Think of what you’re doing.”

Suddenly, the childish look about Ted was gone.

“I am thinking,” she told him. “I’m thinking very clearly, and I’m going home with you and Nelson.”



Ted had been brought in with four broken ribs, a fractured wrist, a broken ankle, and “magic-induced complaints”—residual after effects, Andromeda was sure, of Rabastan’s torture curses. Rabastan, too, had been checked in under those “magic-induced complaints,” though for all their skill the Healers wouldn’t be able to identify, just from the symptoms, that either boy had suffered from illegal curses and not simply a bad bout of hexes.

The Mediwizards had done their magic. They had healed Ted’s ribs, his wrist, and his ankle, and Ted was now expected to take things easy and exert minimal effort so that the results of the healing magic could solidify. He was ordered on bed rest for the next three weeks at least. 

Andromeda hoped that Rabastan was still suffering. She hoped he was still in pain, though she knew that pain couldn’t rival what he’d done to Ted. As two assistant Healers levitated Ted out on a gurney to a waiting ambulance, Andromeda momentarily parted company with Nelson to catch the attention of a passing medic.

“Excuse me,” she said, stopping the woman in her tracks. She held up a large diamond ring. Her ring. “This belongs to one of your patients, Rabastan Lestrange. I found it one of the corridors, and I believe it must’ve fallen off him when he was being rushed in for treatment. Will you see that he gets it?”

The Healer hesitated, but Andromeda shoved the ring into her open hand.

“He’ll recognize it,” she said, “I’m positive. And if not, I’m sure you can place it in the lost and found, can’t you? Thanks ever so much!”

Not, she ran off to join Nelson, who stood at the far end of the corridor, holding open an exterior door for Andromeda to pass through.

“What was that about?” he asked.

“Unfinished business,” she said, and they boarded the ambulance.

The St. Mungo's ambulance, which was as quick and as unseen to Muggles as the Knight Bus, sped through the busy London streets. There were no sirens blaring, no wild commotion. This was only a courtesy house stop from St. Mungo’s to the Tonks residence, since Ted wasn’t in good enough condition for apparating or floo travel, and since Nelson owned no Muggle vehicle with which to transport them.

The Mediwizards helped levitate Ted up to his bedroom, entering the house through the back door and out of sight of the neighbors. After Ted was settled in bed, the Mediwizards gave both Nelson and Andromeda instructions on when to give Ted his pain potions. Then they were gone, and it was just Andromeda and the Tonks brothers left in the cramped, threadbare apartment.

“This calls for tea,” Nelson said, rubbing at his cheek. “I’ll put the kettle on, yeah?”

Andromeda nodded, then hesitantly added, “Would it be all right if I sat up with Ted? I think it would help his recovery if I were, you know, near him.”

Andromeda didn’t doubt the truth of her words; it was a proven fact that her close physical proximity to Ted had saved him in many medical emergencies. She just wasn’t telling Nelson the whole truth—namely that Ted had only been out of her sight for a couple of minutes and she was already anxious and uneasy, that she felt a deep and unshakeable need to be close to him right now.

“You’re the one who knows what all this newfangled blood bond insanity means,” said Nelson. “Do whatever you need to do.”



“I’m not an invalid, you know. No need to check on me every five minutes just to be sure I’m—“

Ted’s words hitched when he turned around and saw Andromeda at the threshold.

“I thought you were Nelson,” he said. “Sorry.”

He was in his creaky single bed, the same bed that Andromeda had slept in during her impromptu visit over the Christmas holidays. For some reason, the bed looked much smaller with Ted inside of it. His back was propped against the metal headboard, the sheets crumpled around his waist. Andromeda had been too wildly worried about Ted’s well being before now to realize that he was shirtless.

Ted noticed Andromeda’s wandering eyes.

“It’s warm,” he said, “and we haven’t got anything in the way of cooling.”

“I can open the window, at least,” she said, crossing the room to the dust-caked window and fiddling with the latch longer than necessary so that her blush had time to subside. She pushed the window open, allowing a temperate April breeze to blow inside.

“Was that an attempt to get me to put my shirt back on?”

Andromeda turned back around to face a smirking Ted.

“No,” she said instinctively. “Certainly not.”

This time, she freely let her eyes trace the black inked tendrils and the outline of the linnet on his skin. This was skin that, less than a day ago, had been broken and bloodied in terrible ways. Now, the skin was smooth and clean, marked only by a single white scar across his sternum—the sole sign of magical intervention.

Andromeda sunk down to Ted’s desk chair. The room was so tiny that she could still reach out and touch the bed if she wanted. Not that she would. She wouldn’t. Unless Ted needed her. Unless he asked.

“Ted,” she said, and already she felt her voice faltering. “I’m so sorry. I’m so desperately sorry that he did that to you. You have no idea how sorry.”

“Don’t apologize for him,” said Ted. “It isn’t your apology to make.”

“But it is,” Andromeda whispered. “He didn’t consider you to be worth his time until—until—“

Ted blinked. “Until what? You called out my name in bed? That’s a bit cliché, Andromeda, really.”

Andromeda’s chest clenched. “That isn’t what happened,” she said, her face flushing again. “We were in bed, yes, but it was after—I mean, it wasn’t at all some vulgar sort of—“

She gave up. She sunk her head into her hands. She didn’t want Ted to see her get upset. Not about this, of all things.

“I’m sorry,” said Ted. “I’m sorry, that was ungenerous. It isn’t my business.”

“No, it isn’t. He was my fiancé, not you.”

“I’m aware, thanks.”

“You had no right to kiss me like that, when you knew I was engaged.”

“You were the one who—“

“So why didn’t I feel guilty about it?” Andromeda demanded, wrenching her head up. “How could I not feel guilty about kissing you, but feel miserable after I slept with him? Why did I feel like I was in the wrong bed entirely? Why, Ted, if it’s none of your business?”

“Andromeda—“

“And why are you calling me that again? Why can’t you just call me by my real name?”

“Andromeda is your real name.”

“Not when it’s you. Never when it’s you. You withhold it from me like some form of punishment.”

“I never meant—“ Ted gave a helpless sigh. “It seemed like taking liberties. You were fucking engaged to Lestrange, and we still had to see each other every week. How would calling you that make things any easier?”

“I should leave.” She rose, wiping at her eyes and stumbling her way around the chair toward the door. “I shouldn’t have brought any of this up. You should be recovering, and I’m upsetting you.”

“Andromeda.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll just tell Nelson to bring up the tea and let you rest on your own.”

Ted caught her wrist as she passed by the bed.

It was her left wrist.

He was quiet for overlong, but Andromeda didn’t try to move.

“Where’s your ring?” he whispered.

All it took was a look, shared between them. It was an impossible look—infinitely careful and reckless, all at once. No words were necessary.

Silence spread out from them, a thick and pooling thing.

Andromeda found herself sitting down, on the edge of the bed, tears rolling down her cheeks. She had cried so much lately—such an inordinate amount.

Ted leaned forward. He placed his hand behind her ear, his thumb on her cheek. It was so strangely, so unexpectedly intimate a thing. Andromeda felt exposed and frightened and thrilled at once.

The tears were still coming. Ted didn’t try to wipe them away, but his thumb remained on her cheek, a gentle pressure. The bed creaked loudly as he leaned forward. Andromeda’s body trilled out a shiver, panicked by the proximity.

She knew that she should say the words before it they became too terrifying a prospect, before she lost the nerve, before the moment could slip away. She had told others. He deserved to know that she loved him.

But he was so close, so close, and she couldn’t think straight, couldn’t form any word but his name.

“Ted."

She was lost in his arms, not knowing if he’d drawn her there or if she’d thrown herself there, or if it was a little of both. Her cheek was pressed close to his warm chest, her limbs lost in a hazy mess with his.

He kissed her. It was careful, slow, deliberate. His hands wound through her hair, hers into the sheets.

“Ted,” Andromeda managed, hiccupping out a breath against his cheek. “This isn’t such a good idea. You’re recovering.”

Ted’s hand returned to her face, his knuckles brushing back the errant hairs across her cheek. He looked so very serious.

“You’re my recovery.”

Heat burst through Andromeda’s veins. She threw herself back into their kiss, this time with far less caution than Ted had used. She let her hands trail down his chest, ghosting over a map of muscle and skin.

His hands were on her waist, fingertips brushing the skin beneath the hemline of her shirt. And suddenly, Andromeda found the idea of a shirt to be so fantastically silly, so wildly cumbersome. She pulled back, only to peel the blouse up over her head and drop it on the desk chair. The look she found in Ted’s eyes was more than reward for the effort.

“Like what you see?” she asked, a smirk hitching up her face.

She hadn’t forgotten Ted’s question, months ago, when she’d first seen him shirtless.

Ted grinned in response, tugging Andromeda back down toward him. “I’ve always liked what I’ve seen,” he murmured.

Her nose brushed his. His ankle knocked against hers. Their knees met and then parted, and for a moment her stomach lay flat against his, and Andromeda knew, suddenly and surely, just where this was heading.

Her fingers trailed back over Ted’s chest, but this time they continued lower than they had before, notching on the waistline of his jeans.

Ted jolted his head back in a sharp inhalation. “Dromeda—“

“What?” she asked, panicked. “What, does it hurt? Am I hurting you? Is it your ribs?”

Ted shook his head hurriedly. “No, no. I mean, it hurts a bit, but it’s fine. I just don’t want you to—“

Andromeda’s eyes widened. She pushed herself back up, suddenly feeling bare, exposed. “You don’t want to do this with me?”

“Wha—no!” Ted shouted, reaching a hand out. It landed on her waist, warm against her cooler skin. “Merlin, no. It’s just, you know what you’re doing, right? With me? Ted. Muggleborn.”

Guilt bloomed in Andromeda’s chest.He looked so young suddenly, so vulnerable—a delicate thing placed in Andromeda’s hands that she could break in two if she wanted. Something she could break, or that she could love.

She placed one hand on his chest, covering the thin, white scar left from the medical procedure. Ted closed his eyes.

“Does that hurt?” she asked.

“Only at first,” he said. “It—it’s okay. You being close, it makes it better.”

“I know what I’m doing,” Andromeda whispered. “I know what I want. I want every part of you.”

Ted nodded, cautiously. He drew her back down. Their lips met, and just as Andromeda placed her hands back on Ted’s bare skin, the bedroom door flew open.

“Right, then, I’ve got chamomile and lemo—holy fuck.”

Andromeda yelped in surprise, wrenching herself off of Ted’s body. She lost her balance, pawed at the bed sheets, but still fell off of the bed and hard onto her backside. Wide-eyed, she immediately crossed one arm over her midsection, one over her bra.

“Nelson, what the hell?” Ted demanded.

Nelson was already halfway out the door, a tea tray raised in front of his face like some kind of shield.

“I might ask the same question,” he said, keeping his eyes fixed on Ted and expressly not on Andromeda. “Are you insane?! You just survived a near-fatal hocus pocus attack and you’re hooking up with her? The doctor said REST. The doctor said NO EXCITEMENT.”

“It isn’t any of your busin—“

“Oh, it is absolutely my business,” said Nelson. “I’m responsible for you, you little turd. You are not sexing it up in here on my watch. You’re on fucking pain meds, for crying out loud. You wouldn’t even, you know, perform well.”

“Oh my god.” Ted had gone red in the face.

“Honestly, Andromeda,” said Nelson, who was still politely keeping his gaze averted while Andromeda scrambled to put her blouse back on. “I thought you wanted him to get better.”

“I do get better when she’s around,” Ted cut in. “You don’t get it, Nelson. When she’s close to me, I heal faster, better.”

“That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Come on, Andromeda. Get out of the invalid’s room. I swear, the two of you are like rabbits. I’m not letting you near each other again until—“

“You can’t make her leave,” Ted said heatedly. “I want her to stay here, with me. You don’t understand blood bonds, Nelson.”

“Whoa. Was that some kind of non-magical put down?”

“Just. Leave.”

Nelson stood quietly for a moment, his knuckles white as he gripped the tea tray.

“Fine,” he said. “Go ahead and fool around with an engaged girl, Ted. Excellent. Don’t call for help when you shag your way into a re-fractured rib.”

He left the room, slamming shut the bedroom door behind him.

Silent, invisible debris settled in his wake. Andromeda remained on the floor, her knees hugged to her chest. She breathed out a shaky sigh.

“What were we thinking?” she asked.

Ted shifted his weight on the bed, and it gave a loud groan from the effort. He dipped his face into his hand.

“I don’t think we were,” he said, his voice muffled by his palm.

“That—“ Andromeda struggled for words. “That would’ve been a mistake.”

Ted grew still. Slowly, he lifted his head back up. His eyes had turned hazy and bloodshot.

“Nelson’s right,” Andromeda went on. “You should be getting rest. We would’ve probably ended up completely reverting all the good those Healers did you."

“Right,” said Ted. “It would’ve been a mistake. You would’ve regretted it.”

Andromeda hesitated. “I didn’t say I would regret it.”

“You would’ve, though. Just like you’re going to regret all of this.”

Andromeda stared up at Ted. He looked serious—a horrible kind of serious that set her skin prickling.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Saving me,” said Ted, tipping his head back to stare at a poster tacked above his bed. The lettering read, Led Zeppelin. “Giving Lestrange back his ring. Coming home with me. You’re going to regret it. I wish you hadn’t done any of it.”

Andromeda struggled to her feet. She didn’t like her vantage point anymore—lower than Ted, and far from him. She sat back on the bed’s edge, arms crossed.

“You wish I hadn’t saved your life? You wish I’d let Rabastan torture you to death? Is that it? That’s real gratitude. Marvelous to know, Tonks.”

“I wish,” said Ted, “that you hadn’t put yourself in jeopardy with your family.”

Andromeda choked out a laugh. “Excuse me? Is that what’s this about? Ted, they’re my family. They’re mine to worry about.”

“Well, aren’t you worried about them?” Ted demanded. He was suddenly preoccupied with finding something under the sheets—a yellow t-shirt, it turned out. He balled it in his fist. “Aren’t you worried about what they’re going to do to you? This is serious, and you’re not even acting like—“

“I know it’s serious!” Andromeda shouted, frightening herself with the force of her words, though she didn’t attempt to tone them down. “Don’t you think I know? Perhaps for once, just once, I don’t want to think about my family’s expectations and their inevitable disappointment and all the other royally screwed up things they taught me since I was a little girl. Perhaps I didn’t want to think immediately about what I’ve just done to myself.”

“Do you even know what you’ve done?” Ted whispered.

Andromeda nodded vehemently. “I’ve made myself a stranger to them. They’ll disown me. Aunt Walburga will blast my face off of the family tapestry. I’ll never be welcome into my home again. My relatives will rescind all contact and support. I’ll be penniless. Yes, Ted, I believe I can grasp the basic concept of what I’ve done.”

“You just don’t act like you—“

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Andromeda said, releasing a caustic laugh. “Did you want me to sit here, wailing and gnashing my teeth? Did you want me to tell you about how I just gave up everything I’ve ever known? Did you want me to become an incoherent mess of grief?”

“Of course not—“

“I’m still trying to process what I’ve done,” she said. “If I tried to do that immediately, all at once, I would break down.”

“So, what?” said Ted. “I’m just a distraction in the meantime?”

Andromeda’s gaze hardened. “No, Tonks. You’re the reason for the breakdown.”

Ted’s face faltered, fissures forming, revealing a sudden uncertainty.

“I don’t want to be the reason.”

“Well, too late,” she snapped. “You are.”

“You do regret this,” he said. “You regret it already. That’s why I didn’t want any of this. It doesn’t matter what you feel about me now. You’ll just end up resenting me when reality sets in.”

“That’s what you think? You think that once my father cuts me off from my inheritance, I’m going to hate you because of it?”

Ted didn’t reply. He stared at the t-shirt clutched in his hand. Andromeda laughed in disbelief. She rose from the bed.

“You think I’m that shallow. That I’m a coward. That I’m too stupid to think through the ramifications of my decision.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t need to.” She backed away from the bed, shaking her head. “I changed, you know. I changed those prejudices, those poisonous ideas I had before I met you. But you? You will never have faith that I could be as fucking good as you, will you?”

Ted didn’t reply. That, or she simply didn’t give him the time to, because she left the room, slamming the door behind her. She only made it halfway down the stairs before she melted onto the splintered wood, a pool of tears.

Minutes later, Nelson found her there. He said nothing for a while, just took a seat on the stair below her and scratched the back of his ear.

“Was he really that bad in bed?" he finally ventured.‘"Cos you know, painkillers can be—“

“God, no, Nelson,” Andromeda said, blotting at the moisture on her face. “We didn’t do anything like that.”

“So, should I leave you alone? Nelson ventured. “Is this, erm, a monthly thing?”

Despite everything, Andromeda laughed. She blotted at her eyes again and shook her head. “You were right: I am selfish. I’m terrifically selfish. He’s supposed to be resting after that awful ordeal, and I treated him like he’s perfectly healthy, like he’s invincible, like he owes me his attention.”

“You’re making yourself sound pretty bad,” said Nelson.

“I suppose I am pretty bad.”

“You know,” said Nelson, “from what I hear, you went through a pretty awful ordeal yourself. Don’t you think the both of you could just do with some rest?”

Andromeda snuffled. “I have a feeling that the real awful ordeal is still to come.”

“What do you mean?”

Andromeda said nothing. She shook her head, silent tears coursing down her face. Nelson cleared his throat. 

“Andromeda,” he said. “Is this about what happened over Christmas holiday? About your family?”

“I’m not sure I have a family anymore,” she whispered.

Nelson was quiet for a long moment. Then he asked, “Are you in some sort of trouble?”

Andromeda wiped away the remainder of her tears. She sat up straighter and cleared away the hoarseness left in her voice.

“You’re right,” she said. “Ted and I both need rest. I think we also need time apart. And I shouldn’t be encroaching on the two of you after the attack.”

“Andromeda, you’re not encr—“

“I am,” Andromeda insisted. “I shouldn’t be staying here. It’s crowded as is. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

She rose to her feet, and Nelson quickly followed after her as she trotted down the steps.

“There are things I should do while I’m here in London,” she said. “People I ought to see. I can take care of my own accommodation. When Ted feels up to it, I can visit at any time, should he need my blood or presence for anything. And when Madame Finley finally arrives, of course I’ll be here to do whatever needs to be done.”

“Of course,” Nelson said. He was looking at Andromeda as though she were something volatile, about to burst.

They reached the front door, and Andromeda came to a standstill.

“I just—I don’t want him to think I’m abandoning him,” she said quietly, her eyes on her shoes. “I don’t want him to think that I’ve deserted him, the way I did before, at George’s. You’ll make sure he knows that, won’t you? I’m here. If he needs me, that is. I’m just an owl away. I’ll be renting a room in Diagon Alley, in the inn just above Obscurus Books. He’ll know it.”

Nelson nodded, but he still looked uncertain. “Andromeda, you really don’t have to leave. I'm sure Ted wouldn't want you to.”

“Yes, I do.” Andromeda felt tears scratching at her eyes, felt her throat turning brittle. She couldn’t stay here any longer. “It’s for the best. I have business I need to attend.”

“If you’re sure—“

“I’m sure,” she said, wrenching open the front door. She shot Nelson a tight smile, then hurried out the door before she had the chance to burst into tears. She didn’t look back, not even after she heard the door shut behind her.

What she had told Nelson was true: she did have business to attend to. Family business.



Author's Note: NOTHER CHAPTER. And quicker this time, so rah, rah, rah! :) Thank you all for the ongoing reviews. They are better than candy. Family business to come, wot.


Chapter 32: Confession
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The cold dank of the rented room clung to Andromeda’s clothes. Even with the window open, Andromeda couldn’t shake the chill. She wiped at her nose and tried, not for the first time, to refocus on the letter she was composing.

Cissa –

I know you must be hearing all sorts of things. Don’t believe them, please. I can explain everything. Just wait until we can talk. I’ll be back at Hogwarts in a week’s time. Please let me explain then.

There was no good way to phrase it, no clear path, no clean answer. She wanted more than anything to be in the dormitory with Narcissa, tucked under the covers and giggling away her fears—a reverently observed ritual that she and her sister had observed since they were little girls. If she could just talk to Narcissa, surely she could make her understand. Lilith had understood. Narcissa would, too.

Wouldn’t she?

But even if she understood, what was to be done about it? Andromeda knew full well what she had done the day before, in the hospital. She had committed an irrevocable crime against her family: she had chosen the welfare of a Mudblood over the good of her own kin. There could be no forgiveness, no redemption for that. She was going to be cut off. It was only a matter of how and when.

Andromeda meant to take control of the when. The next day, at sunrise, she would arrive at the doorstep of Onyx House. She would request an audience with her parents. She wasn’t even sure if they would grant it to her.

But until then, she had to focus on the tasks at hand, the tasks she had set for herself. She had to send an owl to Narcissa, and after that, she had to make a visit to Gringotts Bank. After the irreversible decisions she’d made at Hogsmeade and then at St. Mungo’s, she knew that she didn’t have much time before her family got wind of things. She had to act quickly.

Spring wind tugged on Andromeda’s long hair as she walked down the cobblestone street. She’d paid a visit to the public owlery first and, before she could lose the nerve, she'd ordered an express owl to deliver her letter straight to Hogwarts. Then she blocked the thought of Narcissa from her mind. If she let her mind dwell there any longer, she felt sure that tears would stop her in her tracks and she would turn to hot, melting wax, right there in the middle of Diagon Alley. And she couldn’t afford to have a breakdown right now. She had to be calm, controlled, cunning—a true lady of the House of Black.

By the time she stepped through the imposing doors of Gringotts Bank, she was a picture of confidence. She strode down the marble atrium with brisk, calculated steps. Her posture was perfect, her chin tilted up, lips pulled back in mild disdain at those who brushed too close. It all came to her as naturally as breathing. After all, this was who she was raised to be; it was in her blood. Her body hummed with the electricity that came with this type of power—the power to not just be in command of herself, but of an entire room, should she choose.

Andromeda would need all the command she could muster at a time like this. Her charm might work on slobbering, hormonally charged Slytherin boys, but she would be dealing with goblins here, who paid little heed to beauty or niceties. 

She came to a stop at the first of the tellers—a particularly wizened goblin with a shock of white hair and a nose that seemed to be broken in several places.

“Andromeda Lyra Black,” she announced, her consonants crisp, her vowels lush and round. “Of the House of Black. But of course you knew that.”

She did not smile. She did not preen. Goblins valued business, commerce, above all else. The best approach, Andromeda knew, was to be straight and to the point.

“I’m here to withdraw a rather significant sum from my account,” she said.

The goblin raised one of his thick, white brows. “Yes, Miss Black. Let me just take a look at our records.”

“Very good,” Andromeda said, sounding slightly bored and entirely condescending. “Do make quick work of it. I have an appointment in a half hour’s time.”

The goblin only grunted and shuffled off to retrieve a dusty tome from the shelf behind him. As he opened the book and began his search, Andromeda allowed herself a furtive glance around the room. No one that she recognized, no one who would recognize her. She could only hope that it would remain that way.

The goblin returned to counter, his brow creased and his raisiny lips bunched up.

“You are aware, Miss Black, that your fund is inaccessible until your twenty-first birthday?”

“Oh, I’m well aware,” Andromeda said, beating down the squall of panic in her stomach. “But this is a special fund that my mother set aside for my wedding to Rabastan Lestrange. Surely that is in your records?”

The goblin scowled and adjusted his glasses. He looked back in the book, using his yellow-nailed forefinger as a guide across the paper.

“Ah,” he said. “Yes. I do see that addendum now. An allotment in the amount of two thousand galleons, yes?”

Andromeda kept all expression from her face. She nodded stiffly. “Yes, yes, of course. I’m withdrawing it. All of it.”

“Very good,” said the goblin, without so much as looking up. “I’ll just need your wand as confirmation.”

As directed, Andromeda placed her brittle yew wand upon the counter. The goblin picked it up, inspecting it carefully. Then he scribbled away its specifications in a ledger.

“Do you care to visit the vault yourself?” asked the goblin.

“No, thank you. I’ll wait here.”

“Very good, ma’am. I’ll return shortly.”

Andromeda watched the goblin leave for the vaults, and she allowed herself the smallest of slouches and the shallowest of breaths. She was nearly done. She’d almost pulled it off.

Two thousand galleons. Comparative to the fortune she knew her parents had set aside for her, the money with nothing—mere pennies. It wasn’t much to live on long-term, but it could set Andromeda up as she found a way to support herself on her own. That was all she needed.

When the goblin finally returned, he had a rickety cart in tow. Atop it sat two heavy bronze chests, filled to the brim with two thousand galleon coins. 

“Excellent,” said Andromeda. “I’d like these delivered to this address.”

Andromeda slid the sheet of parchment across the counter and into the goblin’s keeping. It was the home address of none other than George Vanderpool. Narcissa's hadn't been the only letter Andromeda sent off earlier. She'd written George, too.

“You’re to place this message inside the first of the chests,” she added, sliding over yet another piece of parchment—this one folded and sealed.

It was a message for Mrs. Vanderpool, explaining Andromeda’s predicament and request for temporary storage. She only hoped that George’s mother was as trustworthy as she was enthusiastic. Andromeda had been forced to her wits' end trying to find a way to send so much money without leaving a trail that would lead directly to Ted. This was the best plan that she'd been able to come up with.

“Will that be all, Miss Black?” asked the goblin, taking both pieces of parchment into his keeping and then proceeding to scribble some more in his ledger.

Andromeda hesitated, just for the briefest of moments. She hadn’t realized it would be so—easy. She’d expected an inquisition, hostility, potential catastrophe. But now her work here was done. She’d carried out her plan, and without a hitch. She felt like weeping with relief. Instead, she only straightened up taller and tilted her chin higher.

“Yes, yes,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “That’s all. I expect the trunks to be delivered by ten o’clock this evening at the latest. Understood?”

She did not wait for the goblin’s response. She strode off regally, down the atrium and back out into the bustle of Diagon Alley. The sun had begun to set, and gas lights were flickering on. People bustled in the fast-falling shadows, eager to get back to home and family and supper. Andromeda had none of those things to come home to. Still, she’d done what she’d set out to do, and her heart was pounding giddily from the thrill of it.

Her blood was still thrumming with adrenaline when she opened the door of her inn room and nearly cried out from shock. There, sitting stooped on her bed, was Ted—his hair a solid shade of silver.



He looked up immediately, eyes wide and face pale. Andromeda noticed that his irises weren’t silver; they were their normal shade of brown. And Ted didn’t seem to be short of breath, or in much pain at all. Aside from the pallor of his skin and the sheen of his hair, he looked well.

Which Andromeda knew couldn’t be possible. When she’d left Ted the day before, he had been bedridden, convalescing. What sort of shape could he possible be in now?

She slammed the door shut behind her and nearly threw herself on him, sitting down hard on the bed. Her hands landed on his chest, as though to prove to herself that he was there.

“Ted, what were you thinking? How did you even get here?”

“You left,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper. The look in his eyes sent Andromeda’s body into a cold alarm.

“Ted, I—“

“I transformed,” he interrupted, ducking his head down in a sheepish shrug. “And you can yell at me all you want, but considering I haven’t indulged even a sliver of metamorphosing since my treatment began, you can hardly blame me.”

“You mean you flew here?” Andromeda asked. “As a linnet? Ted. You’re recovering from severe injuries as it is!”

“No, no, but I’m getting better,” Ted said with a sudden vehemence. “I’m healing quickly. And even after transforming, I didn’t have so much as an attack. I’m getting better because of you, Dromeda. I think it’s because of the transfusions.”

“But your hair—“ she began, ghosting her fingers just above his ear. Even as she did, she saw that the silvery color was fading back into Ted’s usual blond.

“Oh.”

“See?” he said, excitement glinting his eyes. “I’m getting better. I can get better on my own, with your blood in my veins. That’s good news, isn’t it?”

“But you didn’t know that when you metamorphosed. You could’ve been—“ she shook her head, not willing to follow that train of thought “—why are you even here?”

Ted studied his hands. “When Nelson told me you were gone, I thought you’d left for good. I thought you’d given up on me.”

“You were high on pain potion,” Andromeda said, a wry tremor at the corner of her lips. Then, turning more serious, she leaned in. “I would never do that again. I made a promise to you.”

“I was afraid I’d lost you.”

“I told Nelson that I was just an owl away.”

“I don’t mean like that.”

Cautiously, Andromeda placed her hand on the crook of Ted’s arm. She studied the worn, lint-pocked fabric of his shirt. She turned over words in her head, trying to decide how to voice them. But before she could, Ted spoke up again.

“Do you remember the first time we met?”

“I—“ Andromeda frowned. “I told you to fuck off, didn’t I?”

A smile tinged Ted’s lips, but he shook his head. “No, I don’t mean last year. I mean when we first met. When we were first years. You probably don’t even remember, do you?”

Guilt stabbed at Andromeda. “No,” she admitted.

“We were on the Hogwarts Express, and you were walking, just walking down the corridors. I came out of my compartment and ran into you, and I dropped my carton of Bertie Bott’s. You knelt down right there in the corridor and helped me pick them up. And then Bellatrix came up just behind you and told you to quit helping a Mudblood. You must’ve not known before, because the way you reacted…. You threw the candies back to the floor like they’d burned you. And the look you gave me?“ Ted let out a low laugh, shaking his head. “God. It was pure hatred.”

“Ted,” Andromeda whispered. “Ted, I didn’t—“

“You didn’t know any better,” he interrupted, lifting his eyes to hers. “No, I know that now. We were only eleven. But it stayed with me all the same. I thought of you as a girl filled with hate. Beautiful, intelligent, yes, but positively hateful. And so it didn’t faze me when we met again and you treated me like shit. I just thought to myself, ‘Well, no surprise there, that’s just how she is.’ It’s only when you started to change that I—I had difficulty adjusting. I’d thought of you as some bigoted aristo for so long that I found I couldn’t shake it. I assumed the worst about you, always.”

“Ted. There’s no need for you to—“

“There’s plenty need,” Ted said heatedly. “You were right: I haven’t had any faith in you. I haven’t been willing to accept that you’ve changed. And I realize now how monumentally awful I must’ve been making you feel—throwing what you said back in your face all the time. It’s been petty and condescending and wrong.”

Andromeda had begun to cry. She pressed the backs of her hands to her eyes and dragged in a steadying breath.

“I didn’t think you’d ever change your mind,” Ted whispered. “I didn’t think it was possible.”

You changed my mind,” Andromeda said. “I’m irreparably damaged because of you.”

Ted looked on the verge of a reply, but Andromeda cut him off.

“And no, that doesn’t mean I regret meeting you, or knowing you, or anything about you. You have to stop thinking that way, Ted, in that self-deprecating way. I’m the one who chooses what I regret and whom I resent, and that isn’t you. It could never be you.”

Stiltedly, Ted nodded. “All right.”

“Do you believe me?” Andromeda pressed. “You still don’t believe me, do you?”

Ted breathed out a jagged puff. Andromeda nudged her knee gently against his and studied him, waiting for a reply.

“You say that now,” he said, “but later, you’ll—“

Andromeda gripped her fingers hard into his arm. Startled, Ted looked up.

“You aren’t going to lose me,” she said. “I love you.”

She felt his arm tense under her touch. She heard his breathing take a pause.

There. It was done now.

“Are you—“ Ted’s voice went foggy, distorted. He began again. “Do you mean that?”

She stared straight at him, unblinking. “I love you, Ted Tonks. I’m not going to change my mind.”

He kissed her. And for the first time, there was no confusion, no uncertainty. It was simple kiss, and it was honest, and it filled Andromeda with a rush of calm.

When Ted pulled away, he rested his forehead against hers.

“I love you so much it terrifies me," he said. 

Andromeda smiled. “That’s a comfort to know. I think we’ve been circling around the matter for some time now.”

Ted let out a hoarse laugh. “We’re idiots.”

“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Andromeda admitted lowly. “I didn’t know it was even happening until I was too deep in it anyway, and I’ve made such of mess of things in the meantime. I botched it all up.”

“We’ve both been fumbling around,” he said. “It’s my fault as much as yours. Yesterday—“

“We should’ve talked things through,” Andromeda finished.

Ted pushed back the loose strands of hair hanging in her eyes. He leaned in and placed a kiss on her forehead.

“So we’ll talk them through,” he said.

Andromeda curled against his side in exhausted relief, careful to steer clear of his healing ribs. She slipped an arm around his back as he slipped one around her shoulder. Nestled close, their backs to the wall, they talked.

Andromeda told Ted her plans. She told him about the trip to Gringotts and the delivery of the galleons to the Vanderpool house. She told him about the letter to Narcissa and about her intention to travel to Onyx House in the morning.

“I’m scared,” she admitted. “I used to think that my family wanted only the best for me, even if their definition of ‘best’ didn’t always match mine. But now, after what Aunt Walburga did to me, after all of this—I don’t trust them.”

“Don’t go.” Ted whispered against her neck. “Dromeda, please don’t. I have a horrible feeling about it. You don’t know that they won’t hurt you. You don’t know if they’ll curse you or coerce you. Why can’t you just tell them the way things are in a letter?”

She looked at him for a long moment. “If you'd had the say goodbye to your Mum and your Dad in person, would you have taken it?”

Ted didn’t answer, but the look was written on his face.

“They’re still my family,” she said. “They’ve been everything to me, my whole world. I’m not going to write that off with a letter. They deserve to hear my reasons to their faces. And I want to be the one to initiate that, to set the record straight. Even if they despise me, even if they threaten me, even if they burn my name from every record book—they deserve to know the truth.”

“What is the truth?”

She released a long sigh. “That I’m not the Andromeda that they raised anymore. That I refuse to be trapped in a loveless marriage. That I refuse for my academic goals to be dismissed. That I want my own future. That someone taught me how inane my purist ideas were, and that I fell in love with that someone.”

Ted’s soft smile was short-lived. He shook his head, an awful thought clouding his features. “If they hurt you, Dromeda, I swear to God—“

“I’ll be fine,” Andromeda said, rubbing her hand soothingly along his spine. “And when it’s all over, I’ll come back to you. I promise.”



They fell asleep that way, dressed in their day clothes, arms wrapped around each other, slumped against the wall. When dawn woke her, Andromeda slipped off the bed, trying not to rouse Ted, but that had proved impossible.

He watched her intently as she readied to leave.

“You’ll be back tonight?” he asked. “At the latest?”

Andromeda laughed softly. “Merlin, Ted. You sound so anxious.”

“I am,” he said, and Andromeda began to laugh again, but when she looked back up, she realized that he was completely serious.

“I just need to know,” he said, “when I should start to worry.”

“I don’t want you to worry at all,” Andromeda said.

“I’m afraid that’s an inevitable side effect of being desperately in love with you.”

Andromeda placed the flat of her palm to his cheek. Gingerly, she brushed her thumb across his skin, just under the outline of his blackened eye. She felt suddenly shy, exposed. Ted had never looked at her this way before, as though she were more precious than the two thousand galleons she’d shipped off to the Vanderpool’s.

“You need to get back home,” she murmured. “Nelson is probably worried sick.”

“I charmed my bedroom to snore,” Ted said, “and I left a note for when he finally got savvy.”

“Go home,” Andromeda instructed. “I'll meet you there tonight." 

Ted nodded, but just as Andromeda was turning away, he tugged her back in to a kiss, long and deep. She pulled away grinning, he pulled away somber.

“Stop that,” she said, brushing his nose. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

And with that, she apparated away to Onyx House.



Vivi, the house elf, opened the door—and that was when Andromeda should have known that something was off. It wasn’t that Vivi didn’t normally open the door for guests, but when Andromeda was the guest, Vivi was invariably full of happy squeals and giggles. Andromeda was Vivi’s favorite of the masters at Onyx House, which may have had something to do with the fact that she snuck the little house elf candies and soda pops when no one else was watching.

But today, Vivi’s usual cheer was replaced by a startled, jittery demeanor.

“Oh, Mistress Black,” she squeaked, her eyes watery and wide as she opened the door. “D-d-do come in.”

Andromeda followed Vivi inside the dim entryway, rubbing her hands across her arms against the chill. There was no fire burning in the atrium fireplace, which was highly unusual. The Blacks spared no expense in keeping their estate warm during long winters and cold spring mornings like this one.

“Are my parents in?” Andromeda asked, her eyes slipping about the room in search of movement.

“Yes, mistress,” Vivi replied, her voice tremulous. “Oh yes, they have both been waiting for Mistress Andromeda to arrive.”

“I see,” Andromeda said, trying to ignore the fear rising in her gut.

Vivi led her down the dim hallway and through two gilded gold doors, into the library. There, a fire had been lit, and around it sat four figures known very well to Andromeda. Her mother and father sat on one side of the flames, Bellatrix and Aunt Walburga on the other.

“Mistress Andromeda,” rasped Vivi, before giving a hurried curtsey and fleeing the room. As she left, the door swung behind her in a slam, then locked shut with a definitive click.

Aunt Walburga put away her wand with a simper, her eyes fixed on Andromeda.

“Well, my dear girl,” she said. “What to do with you?"



Author's Note: Hi all! Thank you, thank you for your patience as I continue Tedromeda's story. It's been a hectic summer, but I've been eager to finish and upload this chapter for a while now! Many thanks for the ongoing, encouraging reviews, and I hope you continue to enjoy the read. :]


Chapter 33: Curse
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Author's Note: Hello, wonderful readers! Thank you as always for bearing with my slow pace. Please note that the following chapter does include depictions of both verbal and physical abuse, so please tread with caution should these be particularly sensitive topics for you. I hope you enjoy the update, and I hope to send more your way soon! Please, oh, please review? Your comments put a spring in my step. :)



She knew now. She knew what a mistake this had been. But she had wanted to see her parents one last time. She had wanted to tell them her reasons. She’d wanted to take the higher road, to clear her conscience.

But she knew now, as she looked into the cold, unforgiving eyes of her family, as she watched her mother turn her face away, watched Aunt Walburga simper—she knew that she had wanted so many impossible things.

This wouldn’t end well.

“I came here to explain—”

Andromeda’s words were cut off by Walburga’s shrieking laugh. 

“Oh, you’ve come to explain,” she said. “Do you hear that Druella? Cygnus? I told you that she’d been brainwashed. She thinks there’s a logical explanation to her actions.”

Druella Black still had her head turned away, her hand shielding her eyes from Andromeda. She was trembling.

“Mother,” Andromeda tried, her voice pleading as she took a step forward.

“Do not address her.”

It was her father who spoke now. He looked at Andromeda with vacant eyes, as though he were seeing through her, as though she were little more in his field of vision than a tapestry or an urn.

“You’ve put your mother through enough,” said Cygnus Black. “You have dishonored her, and you have shamed me, and we wash our hands of you.”

“Please,” Andromeda whispered. “Father, please, if you would only listen—“

But her father raised his hand in a jagged movement. “I don’t wish to hear anymore. You’ve shamed us. You're dead to us. It pains me to even hear your voice."

Andromeda had promised herself that she would not cry. She’d known that her parents would have no choice but to disown her. She'd known that, and she had prepared herself for the inevitable. So what would be the point in tears? Yet the tears came, fast and hot and silent. She stared at her parents, still willing her mother to look at her.

“Walburga has been kind enough to assume responsibility of this matter from here on out,” Cygnus continued. “She will deal with you.”

“W-what?” Andromeda shifted her gaze to Walburga.

Her aunt’s simper had turned into a scowl of annoyance.

“Well, really, Andromeda, dear,” she said. “Surely you can’t have come here intending to let loose a barrage of abuse on your poor parents. They don’t want to hear your vulgar excuses.”

“Then—then there’s nothing left to be said.” Andromeda glanced frantically back at the library doors. “I’ll just be on my way. You can burn me from your memory.”

“But that isn’t how things are settled in the House of Black,” said Walburga, folding her fingers in her lap. “You know that.”

“Mother,” Andromeda whispered again. “Father, please, you don’t have to--“

“I can’t do this. Cygnus, I can’t.”

Druella’s voice was broken, weary. Her whole body shuddered as Cygnus rose to his feet and helped her to do the same. He guided her toward the single paneled door that led from the library to his study. Not once did either of them look back at her. Neither spoke another word. Andromeda watched in a blanched stupor as her parents disappeared behind the mahogany door.

It had been as simple as that. They had cut her out of their lives forever, and they hadn't looked back.

Andromeda was left standing before Aunt Walburga—and Bellatrix. Her sister had remained conspicuously quiet until now, though Andromeda had felt her incisive eyes on her at all times. She had always known where Bellatrix’s feelings would fall on this matter. She had been prepared for that. But she hadn’t expected Bellatrix to be here at Onyx House. She hadn’t expected that she would ever see her again.

“At last,” said Walburga. “Just us girls. I do hope that you don’t mind my inviting your sister to watch, dear, but she was curious to know what the protocol was for disownment of a blood traitor.”

Andromeda took a step back toward the double doors of the library. Then another step.

“Hasn’t it already been done?” she asked. “I’ve been cast out. What more is there to it? I’ll just leave.”

She turned heel and headed for the doors, but when she reached them and tugged on their handles, they didn’t budge. She pulled out her wand, but Walburga spoke up.

“That won’t do any good, love. Not in this house. Not with me.”

It happened in an instant. Andromeda went cold. It felt as though her blood had turned to an icy sludge. Her limbs went limp, and her back slammed hard against the doors. This was no mere body bind. This was dark magic.

Walburga had risen from her chair, wand aloft, that same simper stitched across her face. She walked toward Andromeda in slow, long strides while Bellatrix looked on, eyes wide. Bella didn’t look scared, though; she looked fascinated.

“Do you know how very seriously we take treachery in this household?” Walburga came to a halt just feet from where she held Andromeda paralyzed. “Did you think that you’d be able to come in here, spew that filth at your family, and be done with us? There is a final punishment that must be exacted in cases such as these. Your parents hadn’t the heart for it, but I have no scruples about such matters.”

“You heard my father,” Andromeda whispered, straining hard to make her voice audible. “He no longer considers me a Black. So you have no right to inflict whatever sadistic familial chastisement you have in mind. Just let me go, and you'll never see me again.”

“Oh, I know I won't,” Aunt Walburga said, running her fingertips along the edge of her wand. “That’s why we’ve got to make this last meeting of ours special. Memorable. I want to give you something to remember us by, darling. Reminders you’ll carry for the rest of your life.”

Dread, pure and despairing, came over Andromeda. How, she wondered, could she have been so stupid? How could she have thought that her parents would do nothing more than cast her out? She had prepared herself for that. What she hadn’t planned on was staring down Aunt Walburga under the relentless hold of dark magic.

Aunt Walburga inhaled, and her face was suddenly overcome by disgust.

“I can smell him on you,” she hissed. “Filthy Mudblooded stench. You reek of it. You’re drenched in it.”

“Good,” Andromeda said. “Better than the stench of a pureblooded bigot.”

Aunt Walburga’s eyes narrowed. She was quiet for a long moment. Then her lips broke up in a smile. She grabbed Andromeda’s right arm, limp from the paralysis curse. She turned it over, tsking loudly.

“It’s very unfortunate,” she said, “that skin as lovely as yours should ever be tainted. But then, we must keep in mind that it has already been tainted by a Mudblood. How did he do it then, hm? How did he seduce a Lady of the House of Black? How wanton must you have been to stoop so low? Just how many Mudbloods have you whored yourself out to?”

Andromeda trembled, but she could do nothing to calm her body or to move its muscles.. All she could do was stare Walburga straight in the eye and say, with cool vehemence, “I’m not a whore. I love him.”

Walburga laughed—a short, shrill burst. “That’s as good as saying that you’re in love with a cockroach, or a common beetle.”

“You can say what you like,” said Andromeda. “I don’t believe those lies. I know better, because I know him, and he is nothing like what you taught me to believe. He’s compassionate and intelligent and talented and good—something you will never comprehend.”

“Good?” Walburga laughed again. “The definition of 'good' depends entirely on whose eyes you’re looking through. For instance, what I’m about to do might be frowned upon by certain members of magical society. But to us Blacks, it is the highest form of kindness. Remember that, Andromeda. I’m doing this for your own good.”

She set the tip of her wand to the underside of Andromeda’s forearm. Andromeda, powerless to do anything, found herself locking eyes with Bellatrix. She didn’t try to plead with Bella, try to gain her sympathy. She knew the reason Bella hadn’t said a word to her this entire time: Andromeda was already dead to her, the same as she was dead to her parents, to all the Blacks.

That’s when Andromeda thought of it—a technicality that hadn’t crossed her mind until now. Sirius. Dear Merlin, how was she ever going to explain this to Sirius? Was she even going to get the chance?

“Bellatrix,” said Walburga, shaking Andromeda from her thoughts. “Are you watching, Bella? Watch closely. This is what we do to traitors.”

Pain screamed through Andromeda's veins, white and hot.



She didn’t want to be here, on his doorstep. It was cruel to him, and crueler to herself.

But she had promised.

And she was still his cure.

And there was nowhere else for her to go.

So Andromeda found herself standing before the cheery green door of the Tonks residence, convincing herself to knock. She’d been convincing herself for five full minutes but instead just spent the time tugging on the sleeve of her right arm and telling her chest to calm down, calm down. Still, her heart kept racing, her throat kept tightening, and she had to swallow down hard to keep away the tears.

Unbidden, the memory of Aunt Walburga jolted into her brain.

“See if he wants you now, Mudblood whore.”

The green door swung open. All breath left Andromeda’s system. She stared at Ted, and he stared back. He gave her a brief once over, and then relief slackened his worried face.

“You’re okay,” he said, reaching out his arms.

But Andromeda backed away as though Ted had threatened her with a blow. She shook her head vehemently.

“Don’t touch me,” she whispered.

As though he hadn’t heard, Ted took another step forward, arms still outstretched, the worry back in his eyes.

“Dromeda, what’s wrong?”

“She 's cursed me,” Andromeda said. “Aunt Walburga, she— “

“What did she do to you?” Ted’s voice raised the hairs on Andromeda’s arms. “Merlin, Dromeda, what did she—“

“You just can’t touch me,” Andromeda whispered. “Okay? Not—not right now. Not until we sort things out. Please, just—can I please just come in?”

Ted remained still for a moment, his breathing hard. Then he shook his head, as though he had just been thrown back into the land of the living.

“Of course,” he said. “Of course you can.”

Andromeda followed him inside, and a sudden rush of calm came over her. This place. This dirty, threadbare, ill-kept place. It felt familiar. It felt safe. She closed her eyes and breathed in.

“You shouldn’t be up and about,” she said weakly. “You should be resting.”

“No one else is in,” said Ted. “Nelson had to go in to the factory. And anyway, you look like you could use far more rest than I could.”

He sunk down on the parlor couch and motioned for Andromeda to do the same. She did hesitantly, as far from him as she could manage. She wrapped her arms around her middle and bowed her head. Her right arm still stung terribly.

“They’ve disowned me,” she said. The words dropped off her tongue like heavy stones. “They cast me out, just like I thought they would. Before they let me leave, Aunt Walburga cursed me.”

“What kind of curse?” Ted reached out as thought to touch her arm, caught himself, and cursed under his breath. “What did she do to you?”

Andromeda had a strange and awful urge to burst out laughing. She found herself smiling out of the sheer lack of another proper physical way to express the jagged emotions inside.

“It’s terrifbly appropriate,” she said, staring at her folded hands. “Magnificently clever, really. She has a sick sense of humor.”

“What did she do?” Ted pressed, anger crisping the edges of his word.

“There’s an old rumor amongst purebloods, you know, that if a Muggleborn touches you, your skin will burn to the bone.”

Ted waited for a long while, eyes searching hers. Andromeda knew he expected her to go on, but when she didn’t, the realization crept into his face.

“That’s dark magic," Ted said lowly. “A curse like that is—it’s illegal, Dromeda. You have to report her. You have to—“

“No!” Tears sprang to Andromeda’s eyes. “I can’t do that. She’s my family.”

“She’s no family of yours,” spat Ted, jumping to his feet. “She doesn’t love you. She doesn’t care one jot that you’re family. She’s disowned you, hasn’t she? What loyalty do you have to any of them? We’ll march straight to the Ministry today and—“

“And what?” Andromeda asked, her voice breaking. “File a formal complaint? Then stand as a witness before the Wizengamot, under the stares of my entire family, and spout off damning evidence against my own flesh and blood? To make accusations and—and talk about personal details in front of a whole court while Cissa looks on? I won’t. You’ve no idea what you’re asking me to do.”

“So what, then?” said Ted. “That’s it? You let her win. I can never touch you again. We can never be together because of some sadistic curse. And I’m curious—just who can’t touch you? Is it anyone and everyone?”

“The curse only applies to Muggleborns,” Andromeda said. “She intended it for you.”

Ted closed his eyes. He sunk back to the couch, jaw taut and locked. He was shaking.

“I shouldn’t have let you go. What was I thinking? I shouldn’t have—I knew….”

The words broke into a low sob.

“Ted,” Andromeda whispered, but her hands lay limp in her lap, useless to comfort him. “Reporting it wouldn’t do any good. It would only hurt the family I still do care about, and—and it’s not as though anyone else can reverse the curse for me. To do so would mean using dark magic again, and the Ministry wouldn’t allow it.”

Ted had grown very still. His cheeks were red and raw, his eyes bloodshot.

“What’s the caveat, then?”

“W-what?”

Andromeda tried to act like she didn’t understand, like she hadn’t heard him properly. But Andromeda had heard Ted clearly, and she understood exactly what he was asking.

“The caveat,” said Ted. “Every dark curse has one. It’s the only way such dark magic is allowed to take root—if there is one caveat, no matter how awful, that reverses the curse. It’s been that way time out of mind. I wrote a whole paper on it for Whitechapel’s class. You know. You proofread it for me.”

“I know,” Andromeda whispered.

“Then what is it?”

Andromeda shut her eyes. “Ted—“

What is it?”

“That you marry me.”

Ted stared.

“Sorry, what?”

Andromeda let out a phlegm-coated laugh. “That’s what will break the curse. You can only touch me again if you marry me, and if you never break that vow.”

Ted’s face was creased with confusion. “But--but that doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t that the very opposite of what your family wants?”

“My aunt is clever,” said Andromeda, “but she thinks the worst of Muggles, Ted. She thinks that I’m your whore. That you’ve used me only for my body, and that I’ve stupidly fallen in love. And she thinks that the moment you find out—“

Ted interrupted. “The moment I can’t touch you, I’ll abandon you. That’s what she thinks, isn’t it? She thinks she’s teaching you a lesson. And that the idea I’d want to marry you like a decent human is so inconceivable, so ludicrous, she made it the one cure to her curse.”

Andromeda let out another broken laugh. “Well, it is ludicrous, isn’t it?” she said. “The thought of us marrying.”

Ted blinked. “What’s ludicrous about it? I love you. And you love me, too. Isn't that the necessary qualification for getting married?”

Andromeda stared up at him. “Ted. We’re seventeen.”

“We’re seventeen,” Ted agreed, “and I’m in love with you.”

Andromeda sat up straight, incredulous. “Do you even hear yourself? We’re seventeen. We haven’t even taken our N.E.W.T.s. We haven’t found careers for ourselves; we don’t even know what we’re doing with our lives, where our money is going to come from.”

“That doesn’t matter if—“

“I don’t even want children!”

She’d spat the words out as though they were bitter liquid. An awful silence wrapped around the two of them.

It was so absolutely preposterous that they were having this conversation. Andromeda had only just admitted her feelings to Ted, and even though those feelings were overwhelming and altogether terrifying, that didn’t meant that marriage had been anywhere on her radar.

She hadn’t even thought of marriage in any context save as a pureblood institution, as the partnership she’d entered into with Rabastan Lestrange. She’d never once thought of how the fact that she didn’t want children would affect Ted Tonks, of all people.

Now that she’d let herself think of it, just for this slip of a moment, it was painfully clear:

Of course Ted Tonks would want children.

“We might love each other very much,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean we’re meant to be together. Does it?”

“Dromeda—”

“You shouldn’t feel obligated,” Andromeda cut back in. “I didn’t leave my family for you. I—I mean, I did technically, but it wasn’t some big romantic gesture. It’s not as though I’m in need of saving now that I’m on my own. I’m perfectly capable. I’ve got the money from Gringotts, and I don’t need you to take pity on me or feel as though you have to do anything for—“

“Dromeda, I swear to God, if I could touch you right now, I’d be snogging you so hard.”

Andromeda beat down on the couch in frustration. “But I don’t want you to snog me! Don’t you see? I don’t want to make you do something you regret. I don’t want to marry you!”

Ted was looking at her so sharply that it frightened her.

“Well, it’s a good thing I haven’t asked you, isn’t it?”

“I—“ Andromeda shook her head, turning red. “No, of course. You’re right. You haven’t.”

“I seem to remember,” said Ted, “a certain someone telling me that I couldn’t make her decisions for her. That I couldn’t protect her from herself. That if she wanted to take a risk, it was hers to take.”

“Look, I know where you’re going with this, and I—“

“This isn’t just some teenage fling, Dromeda. You and I both know that it’s more than that. It’s something neither of us can even fully understand. You know.”

“I know,” Andromeda said lowly.

“I can’t imagine a life without you in it,” said Ted. “Not anymore. If that makes me pathetic, then I’m pathetic. But if it’s a matter of marrying you or never touching you again, of living in fear if you and I ever get too close—Dromeda, we were made to be close. We’ve got our blood in each other’s veins, for Merlin’s sake.”

“But there are other things to consider! Intimate things.”

Ted raised a brow. “Are you talking about sex?”

Andromeda’s stomach fluttered. “I—I’m talking about everything having to do with it.”

Ted sighed. He scratched at his ear. Then he scratched at his nose.

“So yeah,” he said, “one day I’d like to be a dad. I think I’d be pretty good at it, you know? But I don’t want that anytime soon, and if it’s the one thing that stands in the way of us being together, then I don’t want it at all.”

“But—“

“Give me an alternative.”

Andromeda balked. “W-what?”

“If we don’t break this curse,” said Ted, “tell me what will happen.”

“I can’t say,” said Andromeda weakly.

“Your Aunt Walburga is an idiot,” said Ted. “She can’t understand altruism, can’t understand love. She can’t possibly comprehend what you and I have. Don’t you think we ought to prove her wrong?”

The resolve came on, strong and sudden. Andromeda straightened tall, her face set in hard determination.

“I don’t want you to ask me,” she said.

Ted's eyes darkened.

“Right,” he said, getting up from the couch. “Right. Well, you should be resting. I should be fetching you tea or shipping you off to St. Mungo’s to get looked over, or—“

“No, I’m fine.” Heat washed over Andromeda, and with it piping serving of shame. “You’re the one who’s still injured. You should be resting. I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine,” Ted said. He sounded angry. “Neither of us is. You’ve been cursed, and I’ve been ripped up, and all I want to do is fucking hold you, and it’s the one thing I can’t do.”

Andromeda twisted her hands together. “I wish you could hold me, too,” she whispered.

“I hate your family.”

Ted was livid—Andromeda had no doubt of it now. He was angrier than she’d ever seen him.

“I don’t mind saying it now,” Ted went on. “I despise them. They’re soulless, calloused, bigoted monsters.”

“That isn’t true!” cried Andromeda. “Whatever they’ve done, they’re still my family. And Cissa and Sirius, they’re—“

Cissa. Sirius. Would she even get the chance to see them again, back at Hogwarts?

“They’re not all monsters,” she concluded. “You don’t think I’m a monster, do you?”

“No,” said Ted quickly, turning to face her. “Of course I don’t think that.”

“Because I’ve used dark magic, too. So I suppose that doesn’t make me much different from—“

“You know it’s not like that. I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Why on earth would you want to marry into that, Ted? You’re not thinking it through. You would be—be binding yourself to that.”

“I don’t need to think it through. To me, it’s black and white. I would do anything to be with you, even if it was scary and sudden and not entirely wise.”

Andromeda said nothing in reply, but the weight of the words she’d spoken before still hung in the room, clinging to the air like stale smoke.

I don’t want you to ask.

“Madame Finley comes tomorrow morning,” said Ted. “She’ll look me over, make a prognosis. Then you can stop by the Vanderpool’s for your money and catch an afternoon train.”

“You, too,” said Andromeda. “You’re coming back to Hogwarts with me. We still have school to finish. We still have our N.E.W.T.s.”

Ted smiled grimly. A terrible suspicion crept over Andromeda.

“Ted,” she said. “You’re going back to Hogwarts, aren’t you?”

Ted toed a splintered floorboard, and Andromeda noticed for the first time just how worn and weathered his shoes were.

“I’ve received a job offer,” he said. “I got an owl a week back from Quidditch Monthly. One of the editors there came to a match. He said he’d heard about my medical problems and thought it a real shame that I wouldn’t get picked up professionally, but that he thought I’d make a good addition to their staff.”

“How would he know that?" asked Andromeda.

“Erm.” Ted dragged his hand along his neck. “I may have been sending in some pieces every so often—you know, just anonymous work, letters to the editor, that sort of thing.”

“They offered you a job?”

“Here in London,” said Ted, “which is perfect, you know. It means I can stay here with Nelson. George is all gung-ho for some Ministry job, so he’d be around, too. It doesn’t make much sense to loll around school for months when I’ve got a steady form of employment already waiting for me.”

“But your degree,” said Andromeda. “Surely that counts for something. It would be such a waste to spend seven years of study only to—“

“Look, I’m not like you, Dromeda, all right? I don’t need top marks or some fancy certificate for affirmation. I need money and I need some type of stability, and this is my best offer.”

“You could still play—“

“No, I can’t. I know myself, and I know the game. I won’t ever be playing professionally. I’m too fucked up.”

“So what?” said Andromeda. “You’re just going to stay here and take the job? That’s it? No more Hogwarts, no more classes? You’re not even going to say goodbye to your friends?”

“I don’t have any incentive to go back there,” said Ted. “The friends I care about, I’ll see again in my own time. And if I’m perfectly honest, I don’t want to go back there and burn under the eyes of everyone who’s heard about what happened in Hogsmeade. And believe me, everyone will have heard about it.”

Hogsmeade. Andromeda hadn’t even thought of what it would be like when she returned to Hogwarts. What horrible aftermath awaited her there? Would Rabastan be returning as well? Would she be allowed back into the Slytherin dormitories, blood traitor that she was? Would Narcissa even acknowledge her existence?

Suddenly, the thought of Hogwarts was no longer a warm light that Andromeda could look forward to at the end of all this pain. The ramifications of what she’d done at Hogsmeade would reach her, even there. Especially there. 

“If that’s what you want,” Andromeda said softly, “then I’m very happy for you. It seems you’ve more of a future than I do.”

Ted looked at her strangely, but he said nothing.

“You should be resting,” she said. “You should be back in your room. I’ll just sleep on the sofa, if it’s quite all right with you and Nelson. What time will Madame Finley be arriving in the morning?”

“Eight o’clock, if that suits.”

“Suits just fine,” Andromeda said, busying herself with an attempt to fluff the one pillow on the couch—a ratty, limp thing that defied fluffing.

“You’re sure you’re not in any pain?” Ted asked lowly. “She didn’t do anything else to you?”

Instinctively, Andromeda felt at her right forearm, still hidden by her sleeve. The broken, puckered skin stung at her touch, but she didn’t wince, didn’t give any indication of the pain.

“No, I’m fine,” she whispered. “It’s you who’s worse off, I told you.”

Slowly, Ted nodded. He lingered by the couch, as though he were debating whether or not to say something.

Andromeda tugged her legs up to her chest, careful not to look at him.

“I’m tired,” she said. “I’d like to sleep now, if you don't mind." 

“All right.”

Ted padded over to the staircase. Then he stopped, turned, and said the thing he must’ve been debating until now.

“I love you, Dromeda.”

Pain welled in Andromeda’s chest, sharp and acidic. She nodded mutely and could do nothing but watch as Ted walked up the stairs, the slightest limp in his step.

I love you, too.

But it’s not enough.


Chapter 34: Oil & Water
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Andromeda fell asleep on the couch. The events of the past few days had finally caught up with her, winding weariness around her bones and sending her into a dreamless place where colors blurred and sounds were sluggish. She woke to the sound of a voice.

“…sure we shouldn’t wake her?”

Andromeda’s eyes fluttered open. Though she’d drifted off midday, the room was now pitch black, and her joints were sore, her nose and fingers cold. She didn’t move, but instead listened to the hushed voices at the stairwell.

“She needs rest,” whispered a voice—unmistakably Ted’s. “She’s been through an ordeal, and she has to wake early tomorrow for Madame Finley’s visit.”

“Well, so maybe this Madame Foo Foo can sort out how to fix her, too,” said Nelson. “C’mon. She can’t touch you? There’s got to be a magical way to fix it.”

“There is. But the only magical way is dark magic. Only her aunt can rescind the curse. That, or—“

“Or tie the knot, yes, yes,” said Nelson. “You do realize how ridiculous this all sounds, don’t you? Like some demented fairy tale.”

“It’s that way with magic,” said Ted.

“Yeah, well, thank God I’m a Muggle,” muttered Nelson. Then, “She really won’t marry you?”

Andromeda tensed. She swallowed down a stinging barb in her throat, straining her ears to better hear Ted’s reply.

“There’s no reason for her to.”

“What d’you mean, no reason? She just got herself bloody disowned for you!”

“It wasn’t for me.” Ted’s voice was unsteady. “Not in the end. I thought it might’ve been, but—“

“I warned you not to get involved with some engaged girl.”

“It’s not that,” said Ted. “It’s not her fiancé, it’s her future. She’s brilliant, Nel. She can really make something of herself, and she’s not going to do that if she’s bound to me. She knows that. It used to be about me being a Muggleborn, but it’s not that anymore. I’m just not good enough for her as a man, period.”

“That’s utter rot, and you know it.” Nelson’s whisper had turned to a hiss. “You’re a fucking exceptional bloke, and that’s me talking—your brother, who has a clear bias against you.”

“I’ll be at a desk job, paid a median wage,” said Ted. “I’m not even going to finish school. That’s not what she wants. And she doesn’t want to marry this early; she just got out of a shitty engagement. She wants different things than I’ve got to offer. I can’t blame her for that. We’re seventeen. Who gets married at seventeen, save idiots and pregnant types?”

“You’re throwing in the towel, then. Is that it?”

Ted’s answer was a long time in coming.

“I’d fight her more if I loved her less,” he said.

Nelson let out a long, ragged sigh. “Aren’t you a right little martyr.”

The stairs creaked with the weight of the brothers climbing upward, their voices now lost in the distance, indiscernible whispers.

Andromeda found that she was crying—a hard, silent cry. Tears poured from her eyes in alarming volume, and her chest convulsed in a sharp spasm. She forced herself into a sit, wiping back at tears, only for them to be replaced seconds later. She breathed out, then in, her chest aching from the effort.

Why? hissed a steady, judgmental voice. She recognized it all too well: it was the voice that had once mocked her for finding Ted Tonks’ very voice to be attractive. It was the voice that told her still how great a mistake she’d made by leaving her family.

Why are you sad, when what he says is the truth? You couldn’t have put it better yourself, could you? You don’t want to marry. You don’t want a proper family. You don’t want to be bound to a man in a mediocre profession. Do you? You only just got free of Rabastan; don’t make yourself another man’s trinket.

“I’m not his trinket,” Dromeda whispered aloud. “It’s not that way with Ted.”

His words from that morning feathered along her memory: Dromeda, we were made to be close.

“He loves me,” she said, and because she didn’t believe it the first time, she said out loud again: “He loves me.”

That doesn’t change your situation. It doesn’t change a thing. And think of Narcissa.

Narcissa. Andromeda still clung to the fragile hope that her sister would still hear her out once she returned to Hogwarts. Surely she would understand how Andromeda had no choice but to save innocent students from torture. How could Cissa fault her for that?

But if she were to do something so ridiculous, so very preposterous as to marry Ted Tonks? No. There would be no forgiveness for that.

She and Narcissa had planned their weddings together since they were girls. Narcissa’s plans had always been elaborate—pink chiffon streamers, five layer cakes, and an overabundance of pearls. Andromeda’s had been simple and loosely sketched out. Truth be told, she only joined in the mutual planning to make Narcissa happy. But one thing remained constant for both sisters: they would be each other’s chief bridesmaids. There had been no question about it; they’d sworn it to each other. In just two months, Andromeda was supposed to be Narcissa’s.

That wasn’t a possibility now. And if Andromeda were to add to that grave injury the blow of marrying a Muggleborn? Becoming a blood traitor? 

Blood traitor.

At the very thought of the words, Andromeda gasped in pain. Gingerly, she peeled back her right sleeve and ran her thumb along the scarred, puckered skin there. She couldn’t see the letters in the dark, but she felt them sting against her touch, engraved deeply, permanently into her skin, courtesy of the hand of Aunt Walburga.

Blood Traitor.

She could never, would never let Ted Tonks see this second punishment. She’d sworn that to herself.

It really wouldn’t be too hard to keep that promise, if Ted never touched her again. And if Ted couldn’t so much as risk sitting close to her, there wasn’t much of a chance for their future, was there?

It wasn’t the voice in her mind whispering those thoughts now. All of Andromeda knew it to be true.



When she woke the second time, sunlight was slanting through the sitting room’s slatted windows. Andromeda pulled herself up, ten times sorer now than when she’d woken during the night. She tried to stretch out her back, to ease the tension in her neck, to rub away at the sleep that had collected in her eyes. She was sure that she looked wretched, but she didn’t care.

The Andromeda Black of a year ago would shudder to see her now. That Andromeda wouldn’t have shown her face to anyone without putting it through at least a half dozen different beauty charms. But Ted wasn’t just anyone, was he? He’d seen her at her worst.

It was only as Andromeda rose, adjusting her clothes, that she heard the sound of clattering in the kitchen. She smelled something savory in the air, and when she peeked into the kitchen, her suspicions proved corrected: bacon.

Nelson was busy at the stove, one hand on a panhandle and the other on a spatula. Upon Andromeda’s entrance, her gave her a quick nod, then kept on with the cooking.

“I’m impressed,” said Andromeda, taking a cautious seat at the table. “I didn’t think you could cook.”

“Toast, no,” said Nelson. “But bacon? Every self-respecting man knows how to make bacon.”

Andromeda grinned at that, all troubles on her mind momentarily forgotten. And then Ted walked into the room. Her smile fell.

It wasn’t that she was unhappy to see Ted, but his entrance had sent her heart thrumming and her adrenaline speeding, and she felt like a stupid schoolgirl for smiling at a solemn time like this.

“Nelson showing off, is he?” he asked, grabbing a ratty dishtowel and thwapping it hard against Nelson’s backside. The brothers engaged in a little tussle as Andromeda looked on, shocked.

They were acting like nothing was wrong, like she wasn’t cursed and Madame Finley wasn’t coming to assess Ted’s health condition and all was right in the world.But then, Andromeda reflected, how else could they possibly act? It wasn’t like it did anyone good to stay solemn-faced this morning. No one would be the better for it.

“It’s not a fair fight,” said Nelson. “You’re bloody wounded. I can’t hit hard.”

Ted just laughed and gave Nelson a final side punch before sliding into the chair across from Andromeda.

“Sure,” he said, smirking. “I’m wounded. That’s why.”

When he turned back around, he gave Andromeda a far more cautious look than before.

“How’re you feeling?” he asked.

Andromeda swallowed. She’d been staring, she realized, at the slope of Ted’s collarbone, peeking out from his white t-shirt. Her cheeks bloomed with heat.

“I—I’m all right,” she stammered.

“You sure?” said Ted, who didn’t look at all convinced. “You’re looking flushed.”

“You’re the one whose health is in question this morning.”

“No fits,” said Ted. “No attacks. Not even after my little, um, escapade. I think I’m on the mend permanently. Really. Madame Finley is going to go slack-jawed. What? Why’re you looking at me that way?”

Andromeda was going red again, but this time it wasn’t due to embarrassment but to a sudden, awful realization.

What if Ted’s optimism was misplaced? What if he was wrong, and he wasn’t getting better? And what if he hadn’t been so lucky and actually had a fit last night? Under Walburga’s curse, she would’ve been helpless to make him better. Healing him would mean touching him, and that would mean torturing herself.

How could she have not thought of that before? She’d been so busy thinking of herself, of her own future, of her curse. She hadn’t once thought of the implications concerning Ted’s health. She healed him by being close. If her blood wasn’t enough, then what was left for him?

“Dromeda?” Ted ventured, his face carved with worry.

“I’m fine,” Andromeda whispered. “It’s fine. What time is it?”

“Madame Finley comes in half an hour,” said Ted.

“Right,” said Andromeda.

“Who’s ready for some fine meat, then?” Nelson had turned around, pan in hand, with a look of magnificent pride on his face.

“The two of you,” Andromeda said quickly. “It’s the two of you who should eat that. I can just fix some toast. It’s all I really want.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Andromeda,” said Nelson. “You share in our bounty.”

Nelson insisted, and soon enough they each sat before a plate of two strips of bacon and two buttered pieces of toasts. By Tonks standards, Andromeda knew this was precious fare.

Nelson dragged a wonky-legged stool over to make a third place at the table. Both he and Ted ate slowly, and Andromeda wondered if they were just trying to savor the food. At Onyx House, she and her sisters had often gorged themselves to their fill on their favorite dishes, overworking the poor house elves to suit their whims until, many nights, they made themselves sick on too much. It was that memory, such a stark contrast to this morning’s breakfast, that now made Andromeda feel sick to her stomach.



Madame Finley arrived early. Her hard, unapologetic knock sounded through the house while Andromeda was finishing off the last of her toast. She and Ted exchanged a panicked look, but before either of them could move, Nelson was already halfway across the kitchen.

“I’ll get it,” he called. “I’d like to meet this Madame Foo Foo for myself, anyhow. Part of me thinks she doesn’t exist.”

Nelson found out soon enough that Madame Finley did, in fact, exist, and he showed her into the sitting room, where Ted and Andromeda awaited her. Then, looking quite out of his element, he hurried up to the stairs and out of sight.

“There’s been a flurry of events in my absence,” said Madame Finley, setting a thick carpetbag on the armchair and opening it up. “Or so I’m told. A body gets one week for a holiday, only to—well, no matter.”

Madame Finley unloaded the contents of the bag one at a time—a glass vial, her wand, and a silver instrument that resembled a penknife.

“Ted transformed again,” Andromeda blurted.

Ted cast her a sharp look, but Andromeda ignored it. She knew that Ted wouldn’t dare tell Madame Finley something like that, but she needed to hear it if she was going to conduct a proper assessment.

Madame Finley raised a brow, then her wand.

“Did he, indeed?” she asked. “And no fit followed?”

“Nothing,” said Ted, unmistakable pride in his voice. “I recovered just fine. No shortness of breath, no chest pains—nothing like the previous symptoms. And I think it’s because Andromeda’s blood really is working.”

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Madame Finley said.

Andromeda wished the woman would show even a morsel of emotion; it was impossible to read her. But then, she supposed that was a trait that most healers had perfected.

Madame Finley stooped beside where Ted sat on the sofa, wand still raised, the glass vial in her other hand.

“I’m going to take a sample,” she said, “just of your blood. I’ll run some tests on it, assess what the current state of affairs is.”

She began the process immediately. Blood began to siphon out of Ted’s upward facing arm, spiraling outward and cleanly past the lip of the glass vial, filling it to the brim.

Once finished, Madame Finley pressed a bit of gauze to Ted’s arm and turned her attention to the vial. She cast a series of low, indiscernible spells in the corner of the sitting room, while Andromeda and Ted looked on.

Andromeda tried to catch Ted’s eye, and she felt certain he knew she was doing so, but he didn’t once turn her way. Was he mad at her for telling Madame Finley about his transformation? He knew as well as she did that it was for the best.

Or was he mad about something else entirely?

I don’t want you to ask me.

The memory of the words was stale now, but it still hung in the room.

Andromeda wanted to be able to reach over and take his hand in hers. She wanted to wrap Ted in her arms, wanted to feel his own sure and steady arms pressed comfortingly against her back. She wanted to kiss him the way they’d kissed in the inn above Obscurus Books.

No.

She wanted to kiss much more deeply and much longer than that.

But none of that could happen now.

Andromeda wondered if Aunt Walburga had known just how much her curse had wounded her errant niece.

The minutes dragged on as Madame Finley did her work. Ted didn’t speak, so neither did Andromeda. The silence was broken only when Madame Finley crossed back and took a seat in the armchair opposite them. Gently, she set the vial aside on the rickety side table, her wand after it.

“This is,” she began, “a far better outcome than I could’ve hoped for.”

Andromeda tensed. “What?” she asked. “What’s the outcome?”

“Your system has stabilized entirely, Ted,” said Madame Finley. “There isn’t a sign of the irregularities that were plaguing you a few months back. It would seem that miss Black’s blood has eradicated them completely. Her blood was a perfect match for yours. I’ve never seen nor heard of such a blood bond as this.”

Ted’s words came rushing back, enveloping Dromeda, drowning her:

We were made to be close. We’ve got each other’s blood in each other’s veins, for Merlin’s sake.

“Gone?” Ted pressed. “Completely gone? All the fits and the bad reactions and—“

“Gone,” Madame Finley confirmed. “It’s incredible. And believe you me, I don’t call many a thing incredible.”

“So, what does that mean?” asked Andromeda. “The blood transfers won’t continue?”

“No need,” said Madame Finley. “Of course, I’ll want to check in periodically on Mr. Tonks’ vitals to be sure that all remains as is, but at this point there’s no indication of a relapse.” She turned her full attention to Ted. “Now, Ted, you must understand—you’ll be able to access your animagus ability same as before, since it’s a taught skill. But as for transformations—unwilling or otherwise—those, too have been eradicated with your propensity for those fits. The disease and the ability were intrinsically tied together.”

“I don’t care,” said Ted, who sounded breathless. “It doesn’t matter. I never wanted to change my hair color or whatever anyway.”

“You never needed to,” Andromeda said softly.

She could say that now, couldn’t she? She was free to speak her mind, her heart, even if nothing would ever come of it.

“You’re perfect as it is,” Andromeda went on, staring at the floor. “Metamorphmagism was a complete waste on you.”

Madame Finley cleared her throat, calling attention back to her instructions. “I would, of course, wish to keep you on call, Miss Black, should any irregularities arise. But I think it safe to say that your work here is done, and that Mr. Tonks is a very lucky young man to have found his match.”

She meant blood match. She meant the bond. Andromeda knew that. But it didn’t stop the surge of acid from washing up her throat. She bit hard into her lower lip.

“I hardly know what to say,” said Ted.

“Nothing more to say,” said Madame Finley, rising from her chair. She collected the vial, the wand.

“No need for this after all,” she said, nodding to the object that looked like a penknife. Andromeda didn’t want to imagine what it would’ve been for. “All that’s left is for you to continue to rest, Mr. Tonks. You might be healed, but you’re not invincible, and those wounds of yours run deep. Don’t be a fool, do you hear? The healing process can’t be rushed. Bed rest. None of this transforming and walking about for the next several days at least.”

“There is something else, Madame Finley,” said Ted. “It’s about Andromeda. She’s been—“

“Just fine, thank you!” Andromeda near-shouted, cutting Ted off and jumping to her feet. She shook her head vehemently at him. “I’ve been perfectly fine.”

Madame Finley frowned. “Well, I should hope so.”

“Yes,” Ted said slowly. “She’s been quite fine, but I wanted to inquire about the future.”

“What about it?” Madame Finley was growing more impatient by the second.

“I mean,” said Ted, “if Andromeda were to be injured or fall ill or—or I don’t know, fall under some sort of curse. Any malady like that. Would the same hold true for her? What I mean to say is, would my blood cure her?”

Madame Finley let out a bristled sigh. “I thought I’d already explained this. It would depend on the circumstance and severity, of course, but given your own remarkable recovery, all evidence indicates that yes, you’d be just as capable of healing her as she has you. In fact, given that you both received equal amounts of blood from each other during the transfusions, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already been inoculated against future harm.”

Andromeda felt Ted’s eyes burning into her, but she didn’t meet his gaze.

“I see,” said Ted. “Thank you. That’s good to know.”

“Very good,” said Madame Finley. She looked Ted over, then Andromeda. She shook her head. “A remarkable case, the two of you. I imagine some medical writer will be knocking down your door one day. As for your records, I think you’ll be pleased to know that they’ll greatly contribute to research in this area.”

“Glad to hear it,” said Ted, showing her to the door.

“Ah!” Madame Finley whirled around, just as her hand reached the brass knob. “As to the matter of billing, Miss Black, we’ll be sending—“

“The bill to me,” Ted cut in.

Madame Finley raised a brow.

“I’ll be paying for this visit,” Ted said. Now he was the one to ignore Andromeda’s stare. “This and any future appointments. Thanks very much.”

Madame Finley gave a slight shrug, as though to say it was all the same with her. A moment later, she was gone, the front door shut tight behind her.

“What did you mean by that?” Andromeda hissed, crossing the room to where Ted stood.

“You’re living on your own now, Dromeda. You’ve got precious little money as is.”

“Well, you’ve got far less. You’re basically a—a pauper.”

Ted cast her a sharp look. “Thanks a lot.”

“You know I mean,” Andromeda said. “Ted, you’re not in a position to—“

“No, you’re not in a position,” Ted said. “It’s my health, Dromeda, and it’s my bill. And I know you might not think that my new job is respectable, but it does pay well. I’ll be in fine shape in no time.”

Andromeda blinked as though she’d been slapped, hard, across the face. “What do you mean, I don’t think it’s respectable? I never said that.”

“You didn’t have to,” said Ted, skirting around her and making for the kitchen.

Andromeda wasn’t about to let Ted get away that easily. She stormed after him, into the kitchen.

“I never said it wasn’t respectable,” she said. “I don’t think that. I think it’s marvelous you’ve got a job here in London, and with a publication as well-known as Quidditch Monthly.”

“But it’s not professional Quidditch,” Ted said, turning on the tap and filling the basin with sudsy water. He rolled back his sleeves, readying to wash the dirty dishes lying nearby. “And I haven’t even taken my N.E.W.T. examinations. That’s what you’re thinking.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about what I’m thinking,” said Andromeda, crossing her arms. “Am I saddened that you won't try out for a professional team? Yes, I am—for your sake. I know how much that dream meant to you. And do I wish you’d finish your studies at Hogwarts? Of course. But I’m not standing here judging you for finding a job, and—and how dare you assume that about me. God, Ted, you promised you wouldn’t be this way anymore.”

Ted cut off the tap. He gripped the edge of the sink, head bowed, back tensed. Slowly, he turned to face her. He looked tired, so tired in the eyes.

“You’re right,” he said. “I promised. That wasn’t fair of me.”

“I’m happy for you,” Andromeda whispered. “Can’t you see that? What Madame Finley’s just told us—that’s incredible news. It’s absolutely marvelous. You’re cured. We should be jumping up and down for joy. Why aren’t we?”

Ted fixed her with a grim stare. “Because you’ve decided to leave me.”

Andromeda’s heart stopped up.

“Well,” he said. “Haven’t you?”

He knew. Of course he knew. It was Ted. He’d seen straight through her since the moment they’d met onboard the Hogwarts Express.

“I know what you were up to,” she whispered, “asking Madame Finley those questions. I know you think we can work past this, but—“

“Just touch me, Dromeda.”

Andromeda stumbled back. “What?”

“The briefest touch,” Ted said. “Just to see if the curse really holds up. Because you know what I think? Even if your Aunt Walburga was able to conjure that curse on you, I think you’re immune. You’ve got my blood in your veins. How could a touch from me possibly hurt you now?”

Andromeda shook her head. “I’m not going to take that risk. I don’t believe Madame Finley’s theories like you do.”

“Perhaps you don’t. Or perhaps some part of you has been looking for an excuse.”

Andromeda frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“An excuse to not be with me,” said Ted. “This is it. It’s your perfect chance. You don’t have to admit you’re afraid. You don’t have to worry about the future we might have together. You can just split and run, all because of some dark magic.”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Tell me you’re not afraid,” said Ted. “Tell me the thought of us together doesn’t frighten the hell out of you. Because I know it does.”

Tears began to spill from Andromeda’s eyes and course down her cheeks. She hated him. She hated him so much, because he was right.

“So you won’t try,” said Ted. “You won’t risk it, and you certainly won’t marry me. Where does that leave us?”

“You know exactly where it leaves us,” Andromeda whispered.

“Then that’s it,” said Ted. “None of it meant anything. Your promise to stay with me was absolutely worthless."

Andromeda tried stopping up the tears with her wrists, but it did no good. She was crying too hard.

“Don’t you get it?” she said. “We might love each other, Ted. We might be willing to die for each other. But when it comes down to it, we’re oil and water. We just can’t live together. We can’t exist in the same plane. It doesn’t work; it’s like the very rules of the universe are against it.”

“I don’t believe that,” whispered Ted.

“Well that’s always been the difference between you and me,” said Andromeda. “Just another thing that pulls us apart. You’re an optimist. I’m not. I see this for what it is.”

“Which is what?”

Andromeda shrank under Ted’s stare. “Impossible.”

“Dromeda, there are other—“

“I don’t want to—“

“If we love each other then—“

“Oh, stop it, would you?” Andromeda shrieked. “You keep throwing that word around like it’s going to magically save us. But sometimes love can’t save you. I mean, look at your parents; they loved each other, and their story didn’t turn out very happily, did it?”

Ted’s face turned a rabid red. “You know nothing about that.”

“I know that if we really love each other we’ll just—we’ll let each other go.”

“That’s absurd, Dromeda. Just stop and listen to yourself—“

“I can’t talk about it,” Andromeda said, throwing her hands up. “I can’t. I won’t. There’s nothing left to say. The best thing I can do now is just leave.”

Ted shook his head. “Unbelievable. You’re doing precisely what your Aunt Walburga predicted you’d do. Is that what you want? You want her to win?”

Andromeda swept past him to the front door, staunching what tears she could with her coat sleeve. Ted hurried after, but he stopped short when he saw her hand on the door. It was as though he hadn’t believed her threat to leave—not really—until now.

“Dromeda,” he said, his voice cracking.

Andromeda swung open the door.

“You don’t know what I want,” she said.

And then she was outside, walking quickly for the next block and the next and the next—anything to get her away from that awful stare of his. The stare that turned her heart to hot liquid, that made her feet want to turn heel and go running back into his arms, curse be damned.

But what would be the use in that? Oil and water—that’s what they were, and no amount of love and affection would change that.



Andromeda stared listlessly at the rain drizzling down her window. She sat atop a thin-blanketed bed, knees tucked beneath her chin, jostled every so often by a sudden stop or turn of the Knight Bus. She’d already been traveling three hours, and Harold Harvelle, the bus conductor, informed her that there would still be another half hour to go after an unexpected stop in York.

Andromeda didn’t mind. A small part of her was eager to get back to school, to see Lilith and Narcissa again and to be in the comfort of her dormitory. But a far larger part of Andromeda feared if those friends actually considered her worth their attention anymore. She could only imagine what kind of rumors were circulating Hogwarts after the events at Hogsmeade. What had people said about Rabastan? What had they said about Ted? What were they saying about her?

Would Rabastan have returned to Hogwarts, or was he still in London, recovering at St. Mungo’s? Did Lilith think this entire fiasco was quite so romantic now, or had she grown tired of Andromeda’s recent penchant for disaster? Would Narcissa have received her letter, or would she believe lies from home?

Cissa.

Andromeda tried hard to swallow the bitter taste on her tongue. She was hoping against hope that Narcissa would listen to her. Her own parents may have disowned her, but Narcissa knew her. No one was as close or as dear to her as her little sister. She would hear her out. That’s what sisters did.

“Of course I don’t mind, dear heart, but surely there’s family you’d want to store these things with?”

Andromeda closed her eyes on the recent memory of Mrs. Vanderpool’s question. Even now, she could see the golden urns, smell the scent of gardenias in the lavish parlor of the Vanderpool’s West Kensington townhouse. Andromeda had gone there straight after leaving the Tonkses, her face still damp and red from crying. It wasn’t that she wished to partake in the awkward conversation, but she had sent her entire life savings to the Vanderpool’s, and it was necessary that she come up with some sort of plan concerning the money.

“It wouldn’t be for long,” Andromeda reassured Mrs. Vanderpool. “And I know it’s a lot to ask and that you barely know me, but I simply couldn’t think of a safer place to have it delivered. And swear I’ll have it out of here come summer, once I’ve graduated and secured a job and—“

“Good heavens, darling, don’t put yourself out,” said Mrs. Vanderpool, waving indulgently at her with a lazy smile. “Of course I’d be happy to help. Anything for a friend of my George’s. He has so few friends, you know. I do worry about that boy. If he’d gone to a Muggle school, he’d be so much better off. But his father insisted, and now look where it’s gotten him. Ah, well.”

It was somewhat difficult to take Mrs. Vanderpool seriously while she was dressed in a hot pink, silk dressing gown and sporting a peacock feather in her hair. But Andromeda did at least believe that the woman wouldn’t let vagrants scurry off with Andromeda’s trunk full of galleons.

“I really do appreciate it,” said Andromeda.

“Yes, well, you’re an absolute doll, sweetheart. And I expect to see you visit here once the flurry of school is over and you’ve taken your—Dukes? Pukes? What are they called again?”

“N.E.W.T.s,” said Andromeda, biting down a smile.

“Yes. Those. I expect you to come over and spend another fabulous weekend here with the boys. I know you’d like that, wouldn’t you? A little extra time with Edward Tonks?” She wobbled her eyebrows. “I adore that boy. And now George tells me he’s in hospital for something or other, poor darling! I’ve been meaning to send flowers or some such thing.”

They had now ventured into a conversation that Andromeda was most certainly not comfortable with. She felt awkward enough leaving her money with a woman she barely knew, but she felt extra guilty that this woman tied her directly back to Ted, whom she had—what had Andromeda just done? Broken up with Ted?

“Um, yes,” she managed. “Perhaps one weekend in the summer we’ll all come to stay.”

Though she knew, of course, that was a lie.

“Hogsmeade!” barked a voice, jolting Andromeda from the memory.

The rain was pouring harder than ever, and Andromeda was ill prepared for the walk from Hogsmeade all the way up to Hogwarts. She managed to conjure an umbrella spell over her head, but her feet were still chilled with damp and cold. Night was coming on fast, and she willed her legs up the winding hill that led to the castle. If she wasted any time at all, she would risk getting locked out for the night.

She made it in time. The gates stood unlocked, and when Andromeda stepped inside the familiar courtyard, and after it the grand, arching entrance of the castle, she felt a rush of affection fill her heart. She was going to sorely miss this place. How did anyone expect students to spend seven years in these revered halls and then leave, so abruptly, into the big, bad, adult world? Never before had Andromeda been so strongly hit by the sadness of it, the loss.

She shook the dreariness off as best she could. It wouldn’t do her any good, fixating on something as useless as nostalgia, when there were far more important matters to attend to—the most important of which was to find her sister.

It was past suppertime, and only a few stragglers remained in the Great Hall.

Andromeda knew that Narcissa wouldn’t be amongst them. She would be in the Slytherin Common Room, most likely holed up somewhere with Lucius. Andromeda hastened her steps in that direction.

Giselle Lundergrinne, a fellow Slytherin seventh year, brushed shoulders with her.

“Watch where you’re—oh! Andromeda.”

Giselle stared at her as though she were beholding a ghastly apparition. She stuttered for a moment, then regained her composure.

“I just didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Where else would I be?” said Andromeda. “N.E.W.T.s begin in three days.”

“Yes,” said Giselle, “but I only thought—um. Well, never mind. It’s, um—good to see you.”

Giselle smiled tightly at Andromeda and pushed past her. Andromeda frowned, but she didn’t have time to worry about Giselle’s odd behavior. She’d known that rumors about Hogsmeade would circulate, and anyway, she’d always suspected that Giselle was jealous of her. She couldn’t do anything about her bad attitude. She had more pressing concerns.

The dank of the cellars seemed especially thick tonight. Andromeda rubbed at her goose-fleshed arms as she walked briskly down the halls. The smell of tomato soup wafted out of the kitchens and deep into Andromeda’s senses. Her stomach rumbled. Then she passed the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room, and her stomach bottomed out entirely. She was hit with a sharp thrust; an invisible knife carved out her insides as she tried to push away memories of Ted’s insufferable simper, of the scent of fresh ink, of the way he said her stupid, stupid nickname.

You’re just getting it out of your system, she told herself. It’ll be hard at first, but the memories will go away. Just keep walking.

Still, she couldn’t help wondering if George Vanderpool was in there right now, chatting with his mates or worried sick about Ted. If the Hufflepuffs had been so concerned after Ted’s Quidditch accident, they were probably holding a weeklong vigil after what had happened at Hogsmeade.

Andromeda quickened her pace, ignoring the dankness, ignoring her memories, ignoring her thoughts. Once she was back in the comfort of her dormitory, all would be well again. She just had to make it there.

And make it there she did. Her heart was filled with a rush of surety as she gave the password and slipped inside to the familiar glow of the Slytherin common room. A fire crackled in the hearth, and a group of fifth years sat chatting around its blaze. One of them, the frizzy-haired prefect named Cassandra, went sheet white at the sight of Andromeda. The chatter fell silent, and all fifth years turned toward Andromeda with wide eyes and parted lips.

Fear stirred inside Andromeda, but old habit kicked in, and she quickly turned it into haughty anger.

“Well, what are you all staring at?” she snapped. “Didn’t your precious mothers teach you any manners?”

Cassandra, who still looked petrified, wet her lips and spoke up. “No one thought you’d really come back.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” asked Andromeda, reminded of Giselle’s question and all the more irritated by the repetition of it.

“After what you did,” said another fifth year, a mousy boy that Andromeda was pretty sure was one of those idiotic Goyle boys. “Turning in all those seventh years.”

“She’s got a lot of nerve,” said another voice. “What a traitor.”

Andromeda bristled. No one—no one called her names, especially not a bunch of pimply, insignificant fifth years.

“Excuse me?” she demanded, assuming her most vicious growl, a perfect imitation of Bellatrix on a good day.

“Didn’t she get disowned?” whispered another scandalized voice.

“Um,” said Cassandra, the only one brave enough now to meet Andromeda’s eyes. “Um—um. It’s just, everyone’s been saying that you betrayed all those seventh year boys and that you’d run away with a Mudblood. But that’s not true, is it?”

Cassandra looked almost pleading, as though she were begging Andromeda to contradict her story.

Andromeda’s blood froze. “What?” she whispered. “Who, may I ask, has been spreading those rumors?”

Cassandra wriggled under Andromeda’s murderous glare.

“Um,” she said. “Um.”

“Andie?”

Andromeda looked up. Lilith stood in the threshold that led to the girls’ dormitories. She didn’t look horrified, but she did still look surprised.

“Lilith,” said Andromeda, heaving a sigh of relief. She hurried to her friend and wrapped her arms around her neck. “Merlin, it’s good to see you.”

“You too,” said Lilith, but her voice was taut and bare.

Andromeda pulled back. “What’s wrong?”

Lilith shook her head. “I didn’t think you were coming back. None of us did. If you’d told me, I could’ve warned you—”

“Warned me what?” Andromeda asked, though a horrible sensation in her gut already told her what was coming next.

“Andie, you can’t stay in our room. Narcissa—she’s refused to see you."


Chapter 35: Breakdown
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All the warmth left Andromeda’s body. It leaked out through the soles of her feet into the cold stone floor as she stood staring at Lilith, trying to make sense of the words she’d just heard.

“Refused to see me? But I sent her an owl. I told her there was an explanation for everything. You know there’s an explanation for—“

“I know,” Lilith said quickly, “but you’ve got to believe me. I’ve done everything I can to try to convince her, but—“

“No,” said Andromeda, shoving past Lilith and down the hallway. “No, she’s going to see me. She’s going to listen, and she’s going to understand.”

“Andie, that’s not a good idea!”

Lilith ran after her, but Andromeda ran faster. She wound down the familiar stone passageway until she reached the dormitory door. She flung it open.

Narcissa had been sitting at her vanity, back turned. She whirled around at Andromeda’s entrance. The sisters’ eyes met. Narcissa’s face went ashen.

“W-what are you doing here?” she stammered. Then, seeing Lilith at the threshold, “What is she doing here? I told you if she came back, she—“

“Lilith, leave us alone,” Andromeda ordered.

“Andie, I think—“

“Leave.” She turned on Lilith with red-faced vehemence.

Lilith wavered for a moment, then nodded and ducked out of the room. Andromeda slammed the door after her. She turned to face Narcissa, who looked less angry now and more afraid—more uncertain.

“You’re my sister,” Andromeda said lowly. “You’re my best friend. And you’re going to hear me out. You have to, Cissy.”

“I don’t have to do any such thing,” said Narcissa, gripping the silver hairbrush in her lap. “I know all about what you did. Mother wrote.”

I wrote! I told you I could explain—“

“What’s there to explain?” Narcissa asked in a near-shriek. “You’ve been lying to me for months now. You never once told me about that Tonks boy, about any of it. How long have you been seeing him, Andromeda? How long have you been—been—“

Andromeda’s eyes narrowed. “Been what?”

“Well, everyone in this entire school seems to know that the two of you have been tumbling in the sheets. Everyone but me.”

Andromeda reddened, both from embarrassment and anger. “I can’t believe you would assume that. I can’t believe you’d even listen to those rumors.”

“So you’re not involved with the Mudblood?”

Andromeda shrunk back, as though slapped. “Don’t call him that.”

Narcissa’s lips parted, her eyes widening in horror. She shook her head. “Well. That’s all the answer I need, isn’t it?”

“It doesn’t even matter,” Andromeda said, desperate. She could see that look in Narcissa’s eyes; she knew she was losing her. “He and I aren’t together anymore.”

“It still matters,” Narcissa spat. “It matters what you did at Hogsmeade. Everyone knows now that you reported those boys. You reported Lucius.”

Cold realization hit Andromeda.

Lucius.

How could she have been so stupid? How could she not have sorted this out before? Of course Narcissa would be livid at her. Andromeda had forgotten that Lucius was wrapped up entirely in the scheme at Hogsmeade.

“I didn’t mean—“ she began faintly.

“And all for what?” Narcissa barreled on. “Some low class Mudblood who bedded you and grew tired of you? Andromeda, what were you thinking? You weren’t thinking of the family. You weren’t thinking of your reputation. You certainly weren’t thinking of me. What you did was more than careless. It was hateful, and it was selfish, and it was—it was unforgivable.”

Andromeda had stopped trying to argue. She sank limply onto the edge of her bed, her heart aching, her eyes strained with tears.

“Please don’t say that,” she whispered. “I know I royally fucked things up, but that doesn’t mean—“

“Do you know the disciplinary action Dumbledore threatened him with?” said Narcissa. “Threatened all those fine boys with? There was even talk of stripping Lucius of his prefecture.”

“I didn’t know, Cissa. I didn’t think—“

“Your head was turned by a novelty. And because of that, Lucius was the one who suffer. I’ve been the one to suffer.”

Andromeda felt instinctively at her wrist, where the carved words Blood Traitor still burned against her skin. But she didn’t argue. Narcissa was right: she hadn’t thought this through. She hadn’t thought of all the consequences of her actions. She hadn’t thought of how they would affect her little sister.

“And then you disappear,” said Narcissa. “You ran off with him, didn’t you? And then he dropped you, and you have the audacity to come back here. I thought I would never see you again. Don’t you know what that did to me?”

“But I told you I was coming back,” Andromeda said. “I told you I’d explain.”

“Well, what is it, then?” Narcissa said wildly. “What sort of explanation can you possibly give?”

“I thought I loved him. I—I do love him,” Andromeda amended, her heart shrieking in pain as she did so. “And if you knew him, Cissa, really knew him, you’d understand.”

Narcissa shook her head, disgust marring her beautiful face. “That’s it? That’s your grand explanation? What sort of spell could he possibly have cast on you? I can’t believe you let him touch you.” She looked ready to retch. “You know boys like that are scum. And they’re only after one thing. They’re not like us, Andromeda. They’re driven by pure animal instinct. And still you chose—“

“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” Andromeda cut in, her voice gone dark, cold. “Whatever else he is, Ted Tonks is good. He’s good and compassionate and intelligent, and he—he loves me.”

“Then where is he?” Narcissa demanded. “If he’s so very grand, why aren’t you hanging off his arm?”

Andromeda stammered, but no coherent words came out.

“That’s what I thought,” said Narcissa. Tears sprung to her eyes. “You threw away your entire life for him, Andie. And all without even once talking to me. You were lying to me the entire time.”

“I never lied—“

“You never told me the truth.”

“If I had, you wouldn’t have—“

“I would’ve listened!” Narcissa shouted. “And then I would’ve given you the advice you needed. I could’ve helped you. I could’ve prevented what’s happened here. But you had to wait until now, after you’ve broken off the engagement to Lestrange, after you’ve been disowned. Now you want to explain? Now you want to set thing right? It’s too late for that.”

“It’s only too late if you say it is,” Andromeda whispered.

Narcissa rose to her feet. Her shoulders were shaking uncontrollably. Tears streamed down her face, mirroring Andromeda’s own.

“It’s too late,” she said. “You’re not even family anymore.”

She made for the door, but Andromeda grabbed her by the elbow.

“You’re my sister, Cissa. We love each other. That’s stronger than anything else.”

She saw it then—the momentary flicker of uncertainty back in Narcissa’s eyes, and with it, pain. But it passed just as quickly as it came, and Narcissa wrenched out of Andromeda’s grip.

“Not anymore,” she whispered.

She slammed the door behind her.



Narcissa didn’t return to the dormitory, but later that night a fifth year named Phoebe showed up, looking frightened and skittish.

“Um,” she said. “Narcissa sent me here to fetch some things?”

Lilith stared at the frazzled girl, then at Andromeda.

“Make it quick,” she muttered, returning her attention to a crumpled piece of parchment in her lap.

Both she and Andromeda had been making an attempt at studying for their N.E.W.T.s, though Andromeda found the entire situation laughable. Lilith’s study habits involved rummaging through random scraps of notes she had taken over the past year, looking them over with a bored expression, then crumpling them up and throwing them in the waste bin. And though Andromeda stared hard at her Arithmancy book, trying to drill herself on formulas and rusty equations, how on earth could she expect herself to retain a thing? Her mind and heart weren’t here. They were with her little sister, who was apparently so repulsed by Andromeda’s presence that she now sent fifth year minions to do her dirty work.

“Where are you taking those things?” asked Andromeda, watching Phoebe collect items from Narcissa’s vanity and dresser and plunk them into a carpetbag.

“Um,” said Phoebe, keeping her eyes averted. “Um. Well, Narcissa is going to be sharing a room with Jane and Frances now. They said she could, since they have a spare bed.”

Andromeda’s mouth went dry. She had been hoping that Narcissa would come back, that she would realize how cruel she’d been, that she’d eventually have to return to the dormitory, where she and Andromeda would talk things through properly. But she hadn’t imagined something like this.

Lilith caught Andromeda’s gaze. She smiled sadly but shook her head, as though to say, Don’t fight. It isn’t poor Phoebe’s fault.

So Andromeda watched in silence as Phoebe packed up clothes and perfumes, referring all the while to a list Narcissa must have hand-written for her. Then Phoebe left quietly, keeping her eyes on the floor. Andromeda closed her eyes. She lay back on her bed and clenched her fists, trying to breathe properly.

This couldn’t be happening. This was a sour nightmare that she’d fallen into, and any moment she would wake up, wake up.

“Andie? Andie, don’t cry. Please.”

But the tears wouldn’t stop. They fell fast and silent and hot, soaking Andromeda’s duvet with two salty puddles. She felt the bed shift under her, and she opened her eyes to find Lilith sitting by her side.

“You had to suspect this might happen,” Lilith said softly. “Didn’t you think Cissa would be upset?”

Andromeda rubbed at her wet cheeks. “I knew she’d be upset. I just didn’t think…. The thing is, I think she really means it, Lilith. She doesn’t want to see me again. She’s disowned me the same as Mother and Father and all the rest of them. And I know she’s upset about Lucius, but she’s my sister. That’s supposed to mean more. It’s supposed to mean that—that we hear each other out.”

“Maybe,” said Lilith, “she just needs time. She’s been so upset, Andie. You don’t even know. She’s done little more than pout and sob and try to dig into me for what information I could give her about St. Mungo’s and what happened there.”

Andromeda’s eyes widened. She hadn’t even been thinking of what Lilith had to go through all this time. She’d done such a spectacular job of thinking about only herself.

“I’m sorry you had to do that,” she whispered. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you.”

Lilith shrugged lightly. “You had bigger problems to deal with. You know, like throwing Rabastan Lestrange’s ring back in his face.”

“Is he…um, is he back here?”

Lilith shook her head. “His parents were very upset about the whole ordeal. They insisted he be taken to their country house to recover. They’ve made some exception for him concerning N.E.W.T.s. A make-up date of some sort in the summertime.”

“Oh,” Andromeda said lifelessly. Then, “Everyone here thinks I’m a traitorous whore, don’t they?”

“Why should you care what everyone says?”

Andromeda gave Lilith a look.

“Fine,” Lilith sighed. “So, yes, lots of people think that. Especially the ones here in Slytherin.” Lilith found Andromeda’s hand. She squeezed it hard. “But I don’t. And. Um. Um, George doesn’t. And plenty of others too, I’m sure. I know the truth, Andie. I think you were kind of a hero.”

Andromeda scowled. “Don’t call me that. I’m no one’s hero.” After a moment’s silence, though, her scowl ticked to the smallest of smiles. “So. George?”

Lilith grinned, even as her cheeks bloomed with color. “Mmm-hmm. George. You wanna know all the dirty details?”

“God, Lilith, no,” Andromeda laughed, pushing playfully at her friend.

“I’ve got to say, that Edward Tonks certainly does have good taste in the company he keeps.”

At the mention of Ted, all laughter was punched from Andromeda’s system. Lilith must have seen the change, because she quickly added, “I mean, well, not that it matters anymore.”

“Lil, it’s fine,” Andromeda mumbled, still rubbing away the tears.

Lilith’s brown knitted. Cautiously, she said, “Andie? Can I ask what happened exactly? I’ll be honest, I thought you were going to run away and elope with him, and never come back.”

“It didn’t work out,” Andromeda said simply.

Buuut,” Lilith said, eyeing her, “but you two are wildly in love with each other. Don’t even try to deny it, because it’s stupid how obvious it is. I saw it. George did, too. I mean, you fucking saved his life.”

“Maybe. But it still didn’t work. It just—it didn’t.” Andromeda met Lilith’s gaze. She softened her expression a bit. “And I wouldn’t just elope, Lilith. I’d want one of my very best friends to be there, you know.”

Lilith nodded slowly. “Well, all right. Thanks. I think. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. Just, um—well, I’m here for you, if you need me?”

“It’s just nice to know that you still want to share the room with me.”

“Well,” said Lilith, “your feet do kind of stink, but I wasn’t going to say anything.”

And for the second time on an otherwise horrible night, Lilith managed to make Andromeda smile.



The days that followed were torturous.

Andromeda had expected there to be whispers in the hallways. She’d expected a rough transition as she finished out her last two weeks at Hogwarts. She’d expected to be behind in some readings, and she’d expected the stress of the N.E.W.T.s to be immense.

But her expectations hadn’t prepared her for this.

Walking through the Slytherin common room felt like staking her way through frozen tundra. She held her chin high and did not acknowledge the withering stares, the snickers, the vulgar things they said behind her back. But Andromeda saw and heard them all, and she wanted nothing more than to run back to her dormitory each morning, curl up in bed, and sob.

But there were more important things to do. She had come back here to finish her education, not to win a popularity contest, not to make friends. If she could just keep her chin up for two more weeks….

Narcissa refused to look at her, speak to her, even acknowledge her. Andromeda rarely saw her in the common room, and when she did catch a glimpse of Narcissa’s telltale golden locks in the corridors or the Great Hall, they soon vanished again. Narcissa was avoiding her. Andromeda’s blood boiled with sadness and anger, but she tried to remember what Lilith had said. Narcissa was angry now, and she was being unfair, but she might change her mind when she’d calmed down. Andromeda had to keep hoping she would.

In the meantime, she ate her meals with Lilith and George at the far end of the Slytherin table. Andromeda refused to join any of George’s friends at the Hufflepuff table, which Lilith seemed secretly grateful about; Lilith was rather open-minded about the boys she chose to date, but after all, she confided in Andromeda, everyone had their limits.

One night, however, she was joined by a very different dinner guest. Sirius had caught her in the corridor and insisted on sitting down with her.

“Your mother wouldn’t be happy with this,” Andromeda warned him, feeling instinctively at the words burned into her forearm. She tugged down her sleeve over the scar and took a long pull of pumpkin juice.

“Right, right,” said Sirius, flipping his hair carelessly. “You’re an evil, ungrateful snip, and we’re supposed to have disowned you or whatever. Old news.”

The words were flippant enough, but Sirius was watching Andromeda with sad, searching eyes. The expression made him look much older than usually did, which made Andromeda feel uncomfortable. Still, she said nothing.

“I don’t believe them, you know,” Sirius pressed. “I still think you’re brilliant. You’ve always been good to me. I don’t think you’re a traitor. And, well, even if you were, I’m sure it was for a good reason. I mean, I think what you did at Hogsmeade was bloody fantastic. We’d give you a medal of commendation or something if you’d been in Gryffindor.”

“Well I’m not, am I?” Andromeda asked a little tersely.

Sirius was undaunted. “I guess they’re giving you a pretty hard time, huh?”

Andromeda sank her face into her hand. The last person who needed to hear her worries over her academic, social, and love life was her little cousin, Sirius Black.

“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes, it’s been a hard time.” She peeked out at him, bleary-eyed. “Disownment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Sirius. So don’t start romanticizing it.”

“What?” said Sirius. “What do you—”

“I know you,” Andromeda said, giving him a look. “It might seem bloody fantastic now, but it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience.”

“I never said it was. I suppose all I mean is, well, I think it was rather brave what you did. What people are saying you did, anyway. And I think you’re the best person in our whole entire family. And I just wanted you to know that, um, even if no one else plans on talking to you for the rest of eternity, I will. I mean, I’m already a Gryffindor, so how much more could I possibly disappoint Mum and the Old Man?”

Andromeda couldn’t stop the affectionate grin from crawling up her face.

“I’m here for you, too, Sirius. Anything you ever need. Even once I’m gone from Hogwarts. You know that, right?”

Sirius shrugged. “Yeah, I know. Well. Well, right, no offence, but this is getting a wee bit sappy. Think I’d better leave.”

Andromeda was still grinning long after Sirius had left the table and joined his three mates on the other side of the Great Hall. Sirius hadn’t said much, and it had been so very, well, Sirius of him, but all the same it put Andromeda in an unusually cheerful mood.



The mood was promptly crushed the next day.

They had finally arrived. It was the first day of N.E.W.T. examinations.

Andromeda didn’t eat breakfast. She knew she wouldn’t be able to hold anything down. Her nerves were bundled in tight coils, and all of her vital organs felt mismatched and out of place. This morning, she would be taking the written portion of her Transfiguration exam. Andromeda tried to remind herself that this was one of her best classes, that she felt completely at ease with the subject matter and was more than prepared. But that didn’t keep her hands from shaking as she settled into her desk in the large, open-aired classroom. She looked around at the dozens of students around her, all of whom she of course recognized from Professor McGonagall’s N.E.W.T.-level class.

“You can do this,” she whispered to herself, setting out her quill and ink with still-trembling hands. “Just nerves. Only nerves.”

“Oi, Black,” hissed a voice at her back. “I hear that Mudblood passed along all sorts of diseases. Was insanity one?”

Andromeda went very still. She gripped her hands into the table's edge to stop the shaking. She didn’t turn around. She knew who it was: Evan Rosier, her second cousin and one of the Knights of Walpurgis she’d turned in at Hogsmeade. No good would come from replying.

Relief swept through her when, at that moment, Professor McGonagall entered the room. She strode swiftly to the desk at the room’s front, then turned around and fixed a hard stare on them all.

“Well, this is it. The moment you’ve all been waiting for, I’m sure.” With an efficient flick of her wand, Professor McGonagall sent a stack of examinations flying to each individual desk.

“Remember, you’ve three hours in which to complete your examination. Be as thorough as possible. I will be here, at this desk, should any questions or concerns arise. Work quickly, do your best, and bear in mind that no wizard has succeeded in cheating on these exams since 1858, and you are not the exception. I expect honesty and quality from my students. Understood? Well then. Pick up your quills.”

The room went aflutter with the sound of dozens of students picking up dozens of quills.

“And begin.”

Andromeda flipped open the first page of her examination. She read the first question.

Give a detailed account of the history of the Incarcifors spell and its significant popularity amongst the wizarding community during the Elizabethan Era. Then, discuss modern scholastic thought on why the Incarcifors spell should not be taught to students under the age of seventeen.

Perfect. Andromeda knew how to answer this. She knew the most convincing line of thought, the cleanest rhetoric possible to convey her point of view.

She inked her quill. She poised it over the paper.

Her hand began to shake again.

Andromeda swallowed hard, gripped the quill harder, pressed the nib to parchment. The ink splattered, and Andromeda cursed out loud. Behind her, Evan Rosier snickered. Andromeda gripped the quill even harder, tried again. The ink splattered again. Now it was not just Andromeda’s hand trembling, but her whole arm. She set the quill down. She dropped her head into her hands, trying to take measured breaths.

Something pressed against her back. Andromeda shot up, whirling toward the pressure, ready to tell off Rosier. It wasn’t Rosier. It was Professor McGonagall, and she had rested her hand on Andromeda’s back, concern shining in her dark eyes. Andromeda slowly became aware of how many eyes were on her, how many quills hanging in midair. She was causing a scene. She’d been louder and more anxiety-ridden than she’d thought.

“I—” She gulped, attempting to choke out words. “I—I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—“

“Why don’t you come with me, Miss Black?” said Professor McGonagall.

Her whisper was kind, but it also shot panic through Andromeda’s system.

“But the exam,” she whispered. “I’m sorry. I’m just a bit nervous. If you just let me—“

Now, Miss Black.”

The kindness was still there in McGonagall's words, but so was a firmness that left no room for disagreement.

Andromeda nodded weakly. She abandoned her quill and e