Chapter 5 : Stranger in a Strange Land
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The Black Mansion was crowded with people of all ages. Old couples were dancing, and middle-aged men were in the middle of discussions, while the children were playing around and chasing each other among the furniture. They received the glances from the couples of young, rather frivolous women that stood by a window, discussing the available handsome young men spread throughout the manor.
Andromeda walked past everyone in a ghostly fashion, avoiding contact with her guests, because she had no wish to be engaged in a conversation of magical creatures or something similar and boring. There were always something to be said about them – whether they were too dangerous or not dangerous enough, or complaints about the Ministry’s overreactions when it came to give the House-Elves rights. It was so tiring in her ears; the mere thought of it drenched her with drowsiness.
She caught sight of Bellatrix in company of her future husband, Rudolphus, talking animatedly and laughing maliciously at something that apparently had been very amusing. By another corner, on two high-backed chairs, sat Narcissa, engaged in a conversation with Lucius Malfoy, who was a year older than Andromeda. His white-blonde hair shimmered in the light of the many candles that adorned the room and Andromeda could not deny the fact that he was very handsome. But despite that, she had never liked him because of his arrogance and for his proud and pompous manner. And even though he had shown interest in her sister, she hoped they didn’t end up marrying or anything of the like, because Narcissa could not possibly turn out to be happy with him by her side for the rest of their lives. And Cissy really deserved her happiness.
Andromeda continued with her pacing amongst the running and laughing children and all the other guests, ignored by them all and feeling happy because of it.
But, by the grand hearth, sitting in another high-backed armchair, she noticed Sirius, looking so bored Andromeda couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Thinking they might as well be bored together, she headed towards him, her silky black dress billowing behind her.
In mere seconds, she was by his side and knelt beside the armchair.
“Sirius?” she said in a soothing, yet firm voice as she faced him. The fire crackling in the fireplace reflected itself in his grey eyes (those of which reminded Andromeda of a rather ravaging storm) and his slouched form gave Andromeda the urge to embrace him.
“Hello, Andromeda,” he greeted, without meeting her gaze. Andromeda had a hint as to why he behaved this way; she was sure it had something to do with his little brother, Regulus, and that it had involved a fight. Their fights always made Sirius gloomy and a bit bitter. They were brothers after all.
“Why are you sitting here, moping?” she said, in a completely different tone this time – she said it teasingly and her lips curved into a small smile.
He ignored the question for several seconds and when he responded, he said a bit too grimly, “I’m not moping,” putting the emphasis on not.
Andromeda sighed, a bit exaggeratedly. This made him look up and gaze at her with wide and curious eyes.
“This is a very sophisticated party, Sirius. You’re suppose to dance and laugh – not to sit in this armchair by the fire, being angry with your family.”
“But I don’t dance!” he cried desperately as her words sunk in and Andromeda chortled. “Of course you do,” she said, “Come, dance with me!” It was not a question, perhaps something similar to a request, but to be completely honest, it sounded more like a demand.
She grabbed his hand firmly and dragged him away from the warmth the fire provided. Even though he kept holding back and tried to wriggle his way out of her grasp, the spark had returned to his pale eyes and happiness spread throughout Andromeda’s body when she noticed it.
When arriving at the Dining Hall, where the many couples were dancing, Andromeda asked amusingly, “May I have this dance, fine sir?”
He did nothing but chuckle and said, “You may,” cheeks turning slightly red. Sirius bowed and Andromeda answered in a curtsey. She grabbed his hand and led him toward the dance floor.
Sirius had no idea of what he was doing, constantly looking at Andromeda’s feet and allowing her to lead. They laughed heartily and received many looks from the other guests – some looked amused, others reproachful for all the laughter. Andromeda could not care less of those looks. As long as she was enjoying herself, she was satisfied.
They danced throughout two songs and then went for drinks, both having their throats dry from the laughter and the energy they had consumed for dancing. Or rather, in Andromeda’s case, she was thirsty and tired from leading Sirius, who had focused the entire time to imitate Andromeda’s steps. Once in a while, he’d step on her feet too.
“Well, that went rather well, don’t you agree?” she asked as she grabbed a goblet with pumpkin juice. Sirius only sent her a look that told her everything she had to know – it spoke of amusement, as well as frustration and indignation.
“Oh, alright. So you’ve got to work on your steps and you’ve got to learn how to lead your partner. You fix that, Sirius, and the girls will chase you, I promise. You know, girls like boys who can dance and treat them right,” she said in matter-of-factly, chuckling at his indignant look.
“What makes you think I care?” he said indifferently and took a sip from his goblet.
“Ah, you do care, Sirius. I know you do,” Andromeda responded and winked, a smirk plastered across her face.
Just when Sirius was about to retort, they were interrupted by the presence of another person, who was the last person on earth she had expected to acknowledge her. “I’m sorry to bother you during this, ah, conversation, but I was wondering if I could have this dance with Andromeda,” said the young man before her, whom she recognized very well.
Andromeda turned her gaze toward Sirius, whose grey eyes held no emotion as he looked upon the man before him. He met her gaze, gave a curt nod and at this she turned and came face to face with Rodulphus Lestrange, Bellatrix’s fiancé.
“What a surprise,” she couldn’t help to utter. He smiled; a smile that did not reach his cerulean eyes.
“I find it most appropriate to dance with my future spouse’s sister. May I?” he said and held out his arm for her to grab. She didn’t know if she was supposed to smile or not, being shocked at his unexpected appearance, but in the end she did, and allowed him to escort her.
They danced under complete silence several minutes and eventually, Andromeda’s curiosity took the better of her and she asked politely, “As to why did I have the honours for this dance?”
Rodulphus eyes were glinting and she noticed that they were scanning the room. “It’s your sister. We decided to find ourselves different partners since we’ve been dancing together all night. Didn’t want to tire ourselves by our constant presence. And when I saw you were available, I decided to ask you. It’s a chance for me to know you as well, is it not?”
Andromeda only smiled as an answer. She didn’t know what else to do, because she didn’t want to admit to him that he was doing a poor job in getting to know her.
Another song ended and this time, Andromeda faked a yawn. She covered her mouth with her hand and said groggily, “I’m so sorry, Rodulphus, but I’m awfully tired.” He surveyed her with his intense gaze and spoke after several seconds of silence, “Of course. You are excused.” He gave her a curt nod of the head and she returned the gesture.
Andromeda exited the Dining Hall and went looking for Sirius, to bid goodnight and steal a hug (lately, he had a tendency to avoid being hugged by Andromeda, which she thought was amusing). Her cousin was nowhere to be seen however, so without another encounter with him, she ascended the stairs, longing for her well-earned sleep.
The next morning Andromeda woke early to her immense surprise. Although she was extremely tired, she decided to get out of bed and begin her day early, to enjoy it fully. Outside her window, snow was falling heavily and she couldn’t help to shudder at the sudden cold that seemed to engulf her dormitory.
Immediately she put on her slippers and grabbed her dressing gown from the end of her bed. She reached her door, opened it carefully and closed it behind her. Then, she passed the other bedrooms hurriedly and descended the stairs. As soon as she landed by the Entrance Hall, she headed for the door beneath the stairs, that guarded the kitchen. Not sure if the elves were asleep or not, she knocked silently on the door and called out in something similar to a whisper, “Mimsy?”
At once, she heard the sound of barely audible steps of something very light and three seconds afterwards, the heavy door flung open.
“Miss Andromeda!” Mimsy the house-elf cried in delight. Her ragged pillowcase was incredibly filthy and her amber eyes, which were of the size of two golden snitches put together, scrutinized her. Andromeda never felt at ease when Mimsy looked upon her like that. Mimsy seemed to be very old – her skin had wrinkles all over it – but still, for being as old as Mimsy, she possessed a lot of energy.
“Did I wake you? I just wanted to see if you were up,” said Andromeda apologetically and Mimsy shook her head. “Not at all, Miss! But why is Miss up so early?” she asked and headed down the stairs, Andromeda following her example.
“I couldn’t sleep much longer. Besides, I’m thinking on going to Diagon Alley today, just for the fun of it,” she said and sat down by the grand, yet old table. Andromeda looked around while Mimsy began fixing breakfast – there were no windows to light up the kitchen, which always looked gloomy and dark. She never spent her time in the kitchen when she was at home, but not because she didn’t want to, but – because of her mother’s silly rules.
Andromeda actually enjoyed being in the company of the house-elves and especially with Mimsy, because she’d known her since she was a toddler. Their generosity was immense, but Andromeda never took advantage of that. She just liked to change the environment once in a while, mainly to avoid her family.
After a while, Andromeda received her breakfast on a silver tray and refused Mimsy to charge it for her. The house-elf smiled a sincere smiled and returned to her obligations as soon as Andromeda had bid her goodbye.
When she returned to her dorm, she sat down upon her bed and began eating hungrily her pieces of toasts, along with the eggs and bacon. Then she drank her tea, while reading a copy of the Daily Prophet.
“Nothing interesting,” she said to herself and put it down. She decided to shower and then pay her sister a visit.
When Andromeda was ready for her little trip, she exited her dorm and reached Narcissa’s room. She knocked upon the door twice, but did not receive an answer. She had no intentions on waking her up, so instead, she went downstairs again, and grabbed a handful of glittery powder when she arrived by the immense hearth. When the green fire blazed in the fireplace, she walked inside and yelled clearly, “Diagon Alley!”
The whirls of indistinguishable colours made her extremely dizzy. Travelling by Floo powder was indeed her least favourite way of travelling. Minutes later, her world became once again clear and she ended up in The Leaky Cauldron. The bar was almost deserted since it was still a very early hour in the morning – Andromeda noticed a witch sitting in the far end of the room with a goblet containing Merlin-knows-what, and covered in all imaginable cloths. In the other end sat several goblins discussing something in their own rough language and a couple of warlocks were seated in the middle, eating an early breakfast.
“Hello Miss! Care for something to drink?”
It was Tom, the bar-keeper, looking at her with wide eyes, a toothless grin upon his aged and lined face.
“Oh, not now, no. I’m off shopping,” she answered him politely, “thanks.” He nodded his head as an answer and Andromeda sped off to the brick-wall, where she tapped a stone with her wand, as she’d seen her mother do several times. Immediately, the wall began to tremble and the brickstones formed an archway before her. She was surprised by the sight that met her eyes; people roaming the streets, walking in and out of the stores, some squealing delightedly when meeting friends.
Andromeda could not help to smile at the sight. She had missed the view of other people, people who had no idea of who she was. And here, she could not help but taste the savour of pure freedom. It lifted her spirits in such a wonderful way; she wanted to feel like that for all eternity.
For several hours, Andromeda strolled down the street in Diagon Alley, taking the opportunity to really explore it. She found several items worth buying in different stores; presents to her family members, as well gifts for Alice and Ted. She also found it most appropriate to spoil herself and bought a book containing the most useful Healing spells and potions.
Happy at last by her purchases, she returned to The Leaky Cauldron, where she ordered a butterbeer. As she entered the green fire and yelled her destination, she noticed the barkeeper’s happy face. What it meant, she didn’t know and would probably never know.
When Andromeda arrived home earlier that afternoon, it was as quiet as it had been when she’d left it. Slightly bewildered, she returned to her dormitory, and sat down by her desk, having the intention to write to Ted. Barely four days had passed since they last had seen each other, but to her, it felt like forever.
She wrote him a letter telling him about the past events, also mentioning her eve with Sirius. At long last, she sealed the letter and went for their family owl, Ciél, to carry the letter to his house in a Muggle suburb, miles from where she was.
It wasn’t until hours later when she received an answer. Luckily for her, Ciél had somehow come to understand that she was supposed to return directly to Andromeda after sending a letter, and understood how important it was to not be intercepted by other family members.
Andromeda showed her appreciation to her family’s devoted owl by having food and water ready to be eaten and drunk upon her desk. Ciél hooted merrily and bit affectionately Andromeda’s fingers before letting her stroke her.
When the owl was busily eating, Andromeda opened the letter and a wave of longing surged through her body at the sight of Ted’s handwriting. The feeling was a bit silly, and she couldn’t help but chuckle at her own stupidity.
I’m glad your evening wasn’t all awful and boring. It’s great that you had the chance to spend some of your time with your family, no matter how mean they may be. They are your family after all.
So far, my days have been uneventful and boring as well. I met Marius, Edward, and Frank just yesterday and we had a good time.
If you have the opportunity to meet me, let me know. If not, I’ll try to survive.
Miss you dearly and Merry Christmas!
I’ll be seeing you soon again,
Andromeda was not surprised it was such a short letter, considering the fact that she too hadn’t written much. But just the sight of his words made her all warm and fuzzy, and the overwhelming feelings surprised her. She rose from her seat and went to retrieve the key to the nightstand, which was safely hidden in her wardrobe.
Having the key in hand, she opened the drawer and put the letter inside it. She was just about to grab an old picture when the door suddenly creaked open.
“Dromeda? Are you decent?”
In a rush, Andromeda locked the drawer and hid the key under her pillow. “Yes, yes, come in!” she said, her voice a bit flustered. Narcissa entered the dormitory, lightning the whole dorm with her beauty, as she always managed to do. Andromeda admired that ability of hers. She looked very tired when looking closely upon her and Andromeda assumed she must have stayed up until late.
“Merry Christmas, my dear sister. Where have you been?” she asked merrily and closed the door behind her. She reached the edge of the bed and sat down beside Andromeda.
“Oh... I went to Diagon Alley. Some last minute shopping,” she answered her a bit indifferently, trying to hide her nervousness. ‘Sound casual for Merlin’s sake, Andromeda!’ she burst inside her head.
“Oh, alright. I was looking for Ciél – I assumed she was here. To whom did you owl?”
At this, Andromeda’s black eyes locked themselves with her sister’s pale blue eyes. She studied her face under several seconds, but Narcissa didn’t show anything in her features. Perhaps it was an innocent question and perhaps Andromeda was being paranoid. Or she did know something.
But all of the sudden, another feeling gnawed inside Andromeda’s chest. It was similar to a bad conscience, and at the same time an urge to do something impulsive and say something reckless.
She heard herself say it, unaware of the fact that his name had been upon the tip of her tongue the entire time. She let out a gasp and unwillingly put a hand upon her mouth.
‘What have I done?’
Narcissa seemed as surprised as her sister, because clearly, she hadn’t expected a boy’s name to pop up in their conversation. But Andromeda couldn’t help to notice traces of realization upon Cissy’s face.
“And who is that?” she asked teasingly and made Andromeda panic.
“I... I mean, Teodora – yeah, we call her Ted. Nicer than Teo,” she tried but failed.
“Andromeda,” Narcissa began exasperatedly, “I’m younger, yes, but not dumb.”
And Andromeda glanced into her sister’s eyes – she noticed how Narcissa’s face lit up in a renewable glow, which was similar to the moon - and in just that moment, Andromeda forgot about the flaws in Narcissa’s shattered soul and told her the whole story, all the while convincing herself that she could trust her younger sister.
A/N: Chapter title and lyrics in chapter summary by U2.
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