Autumn was soon to be replaced by winter, as the chilly winds swept by the castle’s grounds and brought with it the leaves, which barely hung on a thread upon the tree’s many branches. The afternoon sun was slowly descending, casting red and pink rays of light over the grounds and lake; above, the sky was darkening, a sign that made Andromeda set off towards the castle after her stroll around the lake.
She had, for the time being, a lot to ponder about, so a walk around the grounds by herself always helped her to deal with her troubles, and luckily, she enjoyed walking in the fresh November air.
When she at last reached the castle, she was not surprised to find a troubled Alice sitting on a nearby bench. She seemed to be lost in thought, since she hadn’t called out for Andromeda or burst into as silent sobs she could muster, as she recently had a tendency to do. Andromeda knew that the reason for all this was that Alice had at the moment problems with her boyfriend Frank Longbottom, a fellow Gryffindor of hers.
Andromeda headed towards her friend, still unnoticed, and sat beside her. Only then did Alice notice her presence.
“’Lo,” said Andromeda in a soothing manner and received a tentative smile from Alice as an answer.
Andromeda reluctantly ignored the urge to ask the question that would have answered her, because she knew Alice would not want to hear it. When she felt the time was right to speak of her troubles, she would come to her.
She still had a suspicion of what had happened and she hugged her friend. Alice burst into tears and buried her face into Andromeda’s shoulder.
After several minutes, Alice’s sobs subsided and she stopped crying; her eyes were swollen and her little nose had a shade of pink.
“Want to tell me what happened?” Andromeda could not resist it.
Alice just sighed, not in an irritated way, but in a way that spoke of her exhaustion.
“Just another big row with Frank about nothing in particular,” she answered with a shrug.
“You’ve been through worse, haven’t you?” asked Andromeda and looked at Alice, whose big eyes were glazed with unshed tears.
Andromeda hated seeing Alice in such a state; it was not anything common either, since Alice made everybody around her smile just by her presence.
Alice didn’t answer her, but Andromeda hadn’t expected an answer.
After another fifteen minutes, when the sky already had darkened into a deep colour of blue, they headed towards the oak doors.
Once inside they parted with a hug and Andromeda descended the stairs that led towards the Slytherin common room.
It was almost empty, which surprised Andromeda, since it usually was full at five p.m. She noticed second and third years bent over thick, leather-bound books. She remembered well her own time as a second year and the contents of those early years replayed themselves inside her head.
She decided to finish her own homework instead of postponing them as she had a tendency to do these days.
So, she fetched her books from the dormitory and sat down in front of the fire, and began concentrating on her long potions essay she had ahead of her.
As she exited the Charms classroom two days later, she caught a glimpse of a young boy with wavy dark hair and intense grey eyes. Her eleven-year old cousin stood by a suit of armour, accompanied by a skinny boy with glasses and untidy hair. They seemed to be waiting for somebody.
With a smile, she fought through the crowd of students, until she finally made it.
“Hello Sirius,” said Andromeda in a merry voice; it startled her younger cousin, who had his back turned against her.
He turned and a smile lit his face. “Andromeda!” he cried happily, grey eyes glinting.
She chuckled cheerfully and hugged him.
After the Sorting Ceremony, three months ago – a ceremony which had startled the whole school – Sirius had isolated himself and refused to look his cousins in the eyes or make contact with his housemates. But as the days had gone by, he began getting used to being a Gryffindor and he had no problems finding friends.
Andromeda hadn’t expected it, but she found it very interesting. Her heart ached as she remembered the Howler her aunt had sent Sirius.
The previous weeks Andromeda had seen Sirius in company of three other boys, but mostly the one before her. She knew who he was; it was James Potter, son of two rather well-known Aurors.
“Haven’t you got classes to attend to?” she said jokingly and Sirius shook his head.
“It’s been cancelled actually. Professor Sprout had no idea it would be impossible to walk to the greenhouses without freezing into ice-statues. You can barely see through the downpour of snowflakes. So, my friends and I thought we’d look around the school.”
Sirius was right; the grounds surrounding the castle were covered in snow and it was impossible to see through the downpour beyond the high windows.
“Well, I guess I’ll just have to believe you then,” she said and the boys smiled mischievously.
“Andromeda, may I have a word?”
Startled by the sudden addressing, she turned and saw Ted in front of her. “I need to discuss our Potions homework,” he added and Andromeda smiled. He was cautious and she was glad he was.
“Of course, just let me say goodbye,” she said and he nodded.
Sirius was looking at Ted and when she turned her attention to him he said, “I’ve seen him in my Common Room. Do you know him?”
“Yes, he is actually a very good friend of mine. Well, I’ll be seeing you. Keep out of trouble, alright?” said Andromeda and winked. The boys just nodded their heads and kept grinning.
She turned towards Ted and both headed off to another corridor, leaving the crowded one behind.
They ascended some staircases and at last, they found a deserted corridor. Ted grabbed her hand discreetly and smiled at her.
“I’m sorry for disturbing you, but I had to be with you, if only for a few seconds,” he apologized.
“Not a problem. I can talk to Sirius whenever I want… We, on the other hand, can’t always have a private conversation,” she said.
“What’s your next lesson?” Ted asked and Andromeda answered, “Defense against the Dark Arts. I think Professor Rudolph promised us we would begin with practical Patronus lessons. Our homework for today was an essay about the spell and how it worked, so I figure we’ll continue with the practical part.”
“That’ll be interesting. We have Charms now and I’ve no idea about what we’ll do today, but Charms is always fun,” said Ted.
“You’ll do something instructive, as always,” she said and added as an afterthought, “I love Charms.”
“I know you do,” said Ted with a grin.
The bell rang suddenly and their stroll along the corridor had an abrupt ending; Andromeda kissed Ted briefly and then descended the many staircases.
She arrived three minutes late, but Professor Rudolph just waved away her apologizes and didn’t let her disturbance come in the way of his teaching. He was telling them to concentrate on a very happy memory and added that that was the most difficult part of the whole procedure. In no time, he told them to find a partner and practice together.
It took Andromeda a whole hour to even manage to conjure a light at the tip of her wand. It disappeared only second afterwards.
She had paired herself with Edith Fawcett, a merry Hufflepuff with curly dark hair.
Edith had also managed to conjure some silvery mist and it too, disappeared within seconds. At first they just smiled apologetically, but at the end they wore huge grins on their faces, having a great time trying and trying to conjure a Patronus.
They never managed it (and because of that, both received extra home-work to master it), but Andromeda left the classroom in high spirits, talking animatedly with Edith, both of whom were laughing at their poor results.
“We’ll manage next time,” said Edith and Andromeda made a skeptical face, causing Edith to laugh some more.
They parted by the Great Hall, both heading off to two different tables. Present at the Slytherin table, she saw, was her younger sister, and she felt for a moment happy. But looking more closely upon her, Narcissa looked sour, and Andromeda couldn't help but wonder why. The two sisters had not spoken often these days, since both were occupied by their separate homework or had other things to deal with.
She reached Narcissa at last, who had just begun eating her food, and sat down.
“Hello Cissy,” she said kindly, but Narcissa didn’t respond. Surprised by her silence, she added promptly, “Is everything alright?”
Narcissa kept on eating, all the while ignoring her sister’s presence.
It bewildered Andromeda; her sister and she had always gotten along well and she noticed that something was wrong. But she stopped right there trying to make a conversation, because it wouldn’t be easy to converse with her sister if she wasn’t interested in doing so.
She filled her plate with boiled potatoes and chicken, along with different kinds of vegetables and began eating.
After several minutes, she was happy to see her sister turn her attention towards her, but never did she expect such a question. “Why were you talking to that Hufflepuff?”
It came so sudden, Andromeda choked upon her food. When she recovered, she said in a strained voice, “Because she’s nice and I like her and we worked together in our Defence class. It didn’t go so well for us, so we had something to laugh about.”
“But she’s a Hufflepuff!” Narcissa said indignantly.
“That’s not a reason not to talk to her! Cissy, you know I don’t have stupid prejudices! Why can’t you, or anybody else for that matter, accept that?”
Andromeda had slightly raised her voice and their conversation draw the attention of their fellow Slytherins.
“It’s just wrong! You’re a Slytherin. Why can’t you befriend Slytherins instead of Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors?”
Narcissa lowered her voice now, not wanting their conversation being overheard by their housemates.
“Being in Slytherin does not mean I have to isolate myself from everybody else and sit locked up in the common-room. It doesn’t say anywhere that I should only be with the ones from my own house! I do not befriend people for which house they belong to or their bloodline, but for their personalities and for their being! Nobody can help when being placed into one of the houses, but there is a reason for it too, I know that!"
Here she paused for mere seconds, letting the words to sink in.
"You should try you know, to make friends with others, to not shut up in your own Slytherin world and try to give people a chance! It won’t hurt you,” Andromeda finished and with that statement, she rose from her seat, grabbed her bag and exited the Great Hall, leaving Narcissa speechless.
It was nearing midnight, but it was impossible for Andromeda to sleep. The meeting and the conversation with her sister earlier that day was unwillingly replaying itself inside her head.
Her fellow Slytherins were sleeping profoundly, each ignorant of her feelings. All that really mattered to them was to marry nice pureblood princes and have children to spoil.
Andromeda let out an exasperated sigh and jumped out of bed. Her feet touched the cold marble floor, sending a shiver through her body. She could not see a thing in the penetrating darkness, but she still knew where everything was. It wasn’t hard for her to find her slippers.
She grabbed her dressing gown and put it on and slipped out of her dormitory.
When she reached the Common Room, which was still warm and pleasant thanks to the sparkling fire, she was surprised to see her fifteen year-old sister sitting in one of the armchairs.
Narcissa sat curled by the hearth, holding her legs tightly against her body.
Andromeda said nothing, but joined Narcissa, who didn’t even flick an eyelash as recognition of Andromeda’s sudden appearance.
The fire was flicking happily and both sisters concentrated on looking at it instead of speaking.
“I couldn’t sleep,” said Narcissa in a hoarse whisper unexpectedly.
“Me neither,” Andromeda answered in a firmer voice.
“I was thinking about our conversation during dinner,” Narcissa carried on and Andromeda nodded, without looking at her.
“Me too,” she simply said.
“I’ve thought about it… And it bewildered me, the fact that you have those friends. But still, I can’t expect anything else from you. Nor can our family.”
Andromeda said nothing, just allowed Narcissa to continue.
“I wish I could be more like you, sister,” she said and for the first time that evening, she caught Andromeda’s gaze. Her pale blue eyes almost scared Andromeda; her sister seemed to be so fragile, so vulnerable.
“I… I don’t know what to say,” she said sincerely.
“Just nod,” said Narcissa and turned her gaze towards the fire once again.
Another silence fell upon them. It wasn’t anything common, to have absolutely nothing to say. Andromeda was afraid her sister would end up like Bellatrix and meddle with the Dark Arts; but she couldn’t let that happen. She wouldn’t.
So she made a silent vow to herself to be there for her little sister and never let her get hurt.
It came as a shock when she looked upon the face of Narcissa and saw tears pour out of her eyes, down her smooth, pale cheeks. Andromeda felt a heavy lump build inside her chest and she did the only thing she could think of: she hugged her sister, who buried her face in Andromeda’s shoulder.
“It’ll be alright,” said Andromeda. “Everything will be alright,” she repeated over and over again.
She figured that if she kept uttering those words, they would eventually convince her too.
A/N: Hope you liked this chapter. Constructive critism is always appreciated! Thanks for the reviews so far, I love 'em.
And thanks to the zerbiac for beta'ing!
Chapter title and lyrics in chapter summary by Fall Out Boy.