Chapter 7 : Until the End of the World
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As the last days of spring came and went, the wind rarely swept by the grounds with its usual force. The sun burned the skin and filled the classrooms with its warmth. The final revising week for the NEWTs and OWLs had arrived at last, unwelcome, sweeping the students into oblivion to their surroundings. The only things that swam through their heads, that disturbed their dreams and waking hours, were potion ingredients, charms, and dates of Goblin wars.
Madam Rosehill and her young apprentice, Miss Pomfrey, were occupied up to their heels with overly stressed students. Some would occasionally faint from all the pressure; others would have breakdowns in the middle of lessons. It was simply too much.
Andromeda felt it down into her very marrow – the anxiety and the stress. But it wasn’t only the coming exams that weighed heavily upon her shoulders. No, surely, it had little to do with it. She was worried about her graduation. Soon she would be out in wide world with no Hogwarts walls to protect her. And her coming marriage... What would her family say? How far would they go to prevent it? Was she even ready for such a commitment?
Yes, yes I am, she thought fiercely on a particularly hot June day.
Thoughts of the future kept disturbing her and breaking her concentration. She was sitting in the Great Hall eating a late lunch with her Potions, Transfiguration, and Charms books spread out before her. Her nose was buried in the largest of the books, muttering ingredients of the many potions that were essential for the exam. The coming morning, she would (reluctantly) review Arithmancy and Ancient Runes as well as Defence Against the Dark Arts, not having the energy to cover so many chapters in one day. Andromeda had organized her studies into the slightest and had even written a timetable on a piece of parchment, knowing that without it, she’d go mad.
Nowadays, she rarely met Ted and Alice, which pained her because she knew that, in their presence, she could deal with her studies. However, life was too hectic amidst the revising weeks with the exams looming ever closer, and there was no time. For the coming weeks, Andromeda dedicated herself to studying, isolating herself more or less, and it hadn’t taken long before dark bags appeared under her already dark eyes. She could no longer sleep, having dreams about human transformations or numbers and runes, blended with visions of her family and Ted. She hated to remember the wicked expression her mother had in her dreams when she awoke.
The weeks in which the exams would take place arrived before anyone knew it, and once again, the fifth and seventh year students were stuck in a most boring routine, where one ate and studied at the same time. After each exam took place in the Great Hall, the routine began all over again.
Painful, Andromeda thought, as she found herself in the Infirmary, drinking a solution to calm her blasted nerves. She was close to tears (when was the last time I truly cried?) and had been almost every day. It irritated her. Her hand shook as she grabbed the goblet with the potion, but the Madam Rosehill came to her aid before she spilled it all.
“Don’t worry dear. Soon this week’ll pass, and you’ll be alright,” said Madam Rosehill, an aging woman with wrinkles all over her face and white, crispy hair, tied in a knot. Her eyes were a piercing blue, and they soothed Andromeda. She smiled at the woman’s kindness and received a smile in return.
For the seventh years, the exams began with the theoretical portion of the test each morning, followed in the afternoon by the practicals, which Andromeda preferred. The wand techniques and the way one uttered the spell were essential, and she found it to be much easier than having to remember the details of an entire Goblin war, with all the dates and names.
And then, as fast as they came, the exams were over, and the weight on the students’ shoulders disappeared into thin air. Andromeda slept better, and rarely did one see her without a smile on her lips, her eyes wide and filled with happiness. She spent every waking hour with Ted, Alice, and their fellow Gryffindors outside in the vast grounds that surrounded Hogwarts. They were always up to something – joking or fooling around, laughing their heads off. Andromeda would smile to herself and think that in the future, she would remember her final days at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as the best in her life, with the sincerest of all smiles.
The graduation ceremony was in full motion on a particular breezy day in the middle of June. The professors had spoken, telling the many relatives what lovely young students they had had the fortune to meet (even though more than half of the entire seventh years had been in detention at least twice). The Head Girl, Lorea Crouch, gave her speech, telling everyone how honoured she felt to have been selected for such a high position amongst the students. Then, after some time, the Head Boy, Cyril Boot, spoke his part as well.
“It’s been an honour for me to have been selected for the position of Head Boy,” he began. “It has meant a lot of responsibility but also challenges and fun. Lorea and I, of course, had moments of utmost disagreement, but in the end, we always found a way to combine our...”
Andromeda blocked out his babble, not wanting to listen to the pompous and quite irritating Cyril Boot, with his dark hair and fine features. She had never liked him because, as she recalled, in their early years, he had poured a smelly, slimy potion over her head and sworn it was an accident. As if, Adromeda reflected.
The seventh year students and their respective relatives were sitting in rows by the lake, amidst their fellow housemates. Andromeda was surrounded by the Warrington brothers (twins and very dull), Phyrill Parkinson, Evan Travers, Adelaide Cattleburn, Isis Tennyson and lastly, Olivia Flint.
Being very bored, she turned in her seat to catch a glimpse of her parents and sisters a few rows away. Her parents looked very dignified, with an air of superiourity and importance about them. She sighed as she watched Narcissa, who was also looking at Cyril, a faraway expression on her face.
When she glanced at Bellatrix, their eyes met. Their resemblance to each other was sometimes scary, and Andromeda had felt more than once that she was looking into a mirror. But her eyes... they were one of the many things that set them apart. For one brief moment, a smile – a sincere one – lit Bellatrix’s sharp features. Andromeda smiled back, surprised, but trying not to show it. When was the last time she had smiled at her? Then Bellatrix averted her gaze and looked back up at the babbling Head Boy.
Andromeda turned in her seat, uncertain of what to believe of her elder sister. She loved her, yes, but at the same time, she despised her. She despised the cruelity that she could so often see etched on her face.
The ceremony moved on lazily, but half an hour later it was finally over. By that time, students were shedding their tears and clinging to their friends or relatives, silently bidding farewell to their old lives. Andromeda avoided reaching her parents and scowled at the crowd of students. Her parents had no patience, and she did not want them to wait for her. When she finally stood in front of them, the scowl was replaced by a small smile that played at the corner of her lips. She received hugs from both Narcissa and Bellatrix as well as her parents, Druella and Cygnus. She could not supress the shock and happiness at the display of affection.
“Congratulations, ‘Dromeda,” said her mother with a smile that did not reach her dark eyes.
What could Andromeda do but smile back?
“We are very proud of you. It won’t be easy now. I might as well tell you,” her father said suddenly and placed a heavy hand on her shoulder. The gesture surprised her, but she was happy nonetheless. These were moments that would not return, and she seized the opportunity to really enjoy them.
“You’re right, Father. They won’t,” she said with a certain and sad tone. Tears threatened to pour out of her eyes, but she forced them back. The gigantic knot in her throat was almost unbearable, but she would not cry in front of them. The thought that the four people in front of her would soon hate her more than anyone kept lurking in the back of her head. She hated to look into their eyes, but she was determined to marry Ted. She had made a promise she would keep, no matter what.
The many families that had attended the ceremony left the castle and grounds in due course, heading for Hogsmeade to apparate home. The seventh year students were to stay a final night in the immense castle with its many towers and secrets. Tomorrow, she’d be closing an era of her life.
After having lunch with her fellow Slytherins, she joined the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff party, which were seated by the lake. She spent the whole afternoon and evening with Ted and Alice, along with Frank, Marsden, Edgar and Belwyn, as well as the Hufflepuffs, Edith and Nora, and several others. In time they were joined by the Ravenclaws Dawlish, Chang, Davis and his Slytherin girlfriend, Cattleburn and the rest of her gang.
Andromeda had never actually spoken, as in had a real conversation, with the Ravenclaw boys before, but that night everybody ignored the fact that some barely knew each other. The magically conjured fire sparkled in the twilight, warming them pleasantly. The day was not cold; on the contary, it had been a hot day. But the feeling was warming and they enjoyed the company of the fire. They talked about the future, laughed about the past, enjoying each other’s company. Tomorrow they would all head their different ways, so they had nothing to lose and much to gain.
Eventually, to everybody’s dismay, Hagrid came and reluctantly chased them away, holding onto a pink umbrella. Disappointed at the ubrupt ending to the evening, the group returned to the castle, but nobody was disheartened. On the journey back, they all talked and joked animatedly.
Ted and Andromeda squeezed hands as a goodbye, but Alice enclosed Andromeda in a tight embrace, tears in her eyes. It was difficult for Andromeda to hold back her tears this time, since the knot which had disturbed her at noon, had forced its way back and was plastered to her throat. She cried silently and let her tears fall freely.
After their goodbyes, she and the three Slytherin girls walked off together to the dungeons. The other girls resumed their conversations and talked happily, engaging Andromeda as well. She was somewhat surprised by this. She had never spoken properly to them before. In fact, it had been many years since Andromeda had spent time with Adelaide, Isis, and Olivia. They were not outright rude to her, but she didn’t consider them to be overly friendly, either.
When they returned to the dungeons, the three girls chose to accompany the boys, who sat in the far corner of the common room playing Exploding Snap, gloomy expressions on their faces. One of the Warrington twins looked gloomier than the other, and Andromeda understood he had lost the previous game. She managed to hide her grin. Having never gotten along with the Slytherin boys.
She returned to the dorm and to resume packing her trunk. In that instant, she preferred the peace, quiet, and solitude of her dorm. When she had packed everything, she changed into her pyjamas and lay down in her warm four-poster for a final time. No dreams disturbed her that night.
She woke the next morning at dawn, feeling as though she had slept barely five minutes. She dressed silently in her school robes, packed her final belongings into the trunk and then exited the dormitory, leaving her snoring classmates to themselves.
The common room was empty and dark, and she hurried out of it, wanting to see the sun rise. As she entered the dungeon corridor, she slowed her pace, allowing herself to breathe in the chilly air that only existed in that part of the grand castle. She walked and walked, slowly, as though she was walking in a dream, struggling to keep going, to take everything in.
She reached the Great Hall far too soon, but continued until she reached the Entrance Hall. Here, she stopped and looked around at the many portraits, the marble staricases, the torches and the suit of armours. Then, she headed towards the majestic entrance’s oak doors and pushed them open.
The glow of the sun obscured her vision, and she squinted. Eventually, her eyes adjusted to the light, and her vision cleared. She walked down the steps, then crossed the grounds and headed directly toward the ancient beech tree by the lake, which reflected the rising sun.
As so many mornings before, she took her seat beneath it and leaned toward it. She didn’t know for how long she sat there, thoughts swirling inside her head. Undisturbed, she dealt with them, gave herself the time to do so. Birds chirped in a nearby tree, a breeze stirred the lake and the smell of earth filled her nostrils. There was no better place than Hogwarts.
The time came when the thoughts of food appeared in her mind, and her stomach rumbled. She opened her eyes, glanced at her surroundings, then stood up reluctantly, wiping her face with the back of her hand.
When the students had had their breakfast, they filled the carriages that were drawn by the invisible horses, Thestrals. She stood at the entrance, Alice beside her.
“So this is it?” whispered Alice, and despite the loud noises that surrounded them, she heard her perfectly. They were both glancing around at the familiar castle with blurry eyes.
“This is it.” Andromeda smiled to herself through her pain and exited the castle for the last time.
“How I’ll miss it,” continued Alice a while later, when they had reached and entered a carriage.
Andromeda agreed. “Yes, I will too. It feels strange to leave Hogwarts after so many years,” she answered and Alice nodded absentmindely.
“D’you remember that time in third year when we first spoke?” asked Alice casually and smirked.
Andromeda chuckled. “How can I forget? Merlin, you shocked me,” she added, and then it was Alice’s turn to chuckle.
“Well, I surprised myself, but Slughorn was unfair. He never is, usually, but he was that time. And just because he had had a bad day, he took it out on you. What could I say really? I felt stupid for thinking he adored you,” she confessed and Andromeda chortled.
“Slughorn adores Bellatrix’s cheek and Narcissa’s calm demenaour. Bella may be mean as a person, but she is still a prodigy,” she added and smiled a little sadly.
“Yes, I guess she is... How is the relationship between the two of you? It’s been forever since I’ve heard anything,” Alice asked in a bemused tone.
Andromeda permitted the question to hang in the air while she pondered it. Did she even have a relationship with her sister? To be honest, and it hurt her to be honest with herself, she barely knew her sister nowadays. They had grown apart.
“We don’t share anything, really. Anymore,” she added as an afterthought, as the pictures of her and Bella borrowing each other’s dresses and robes for all the balls in entered her mind. They always borrowed from each other, having been the same size when they were younger. Andromeda smiled at the vague and happy memories.
Alice smile benignly at her friend. They were different in many ways, but it had never really mattered. They embarked the scarlet Hogwarts Express when they, at long last, reached Hogsmeade. They kept an eye out for Ted and Frank and joined their party when they caught sight of them.
And so, their seven years at Hogwarts had now passed them by, were now nothing but memories, as they headed straight into the unknown future.
Andromeda’s parents were not present when she arrived at Platform 9 ¾ in London. This fact didn’t make her miserable; on the contrary, she could bid her goodbyes without hiding behind an exeedingly large crowd. A smile tugged at the corner of her lips as she held firmly onto her trunk. Ted and the rest of their friends followed her closely, all waving at people. It was terribly crowded – as usual – at the platform, but before Ted and Alice the rest of her friends set off to find their families, they bid her goodbye.
With a sad smile upon her lips, she said goodbye to the young men before her, who she had recently befriended and grown accustomed to. Edith and Nora stood, as well, to say their goodbyes, and Andromeda was suddenly overwhelmed. It felt odd to stand before them to say goodbye after the previous months, when she had gotten to know them. Her heart wrenched inside her chest, and her eyes burned.
“You’re a great person, Andromeda,” said Edith sincerely and with tears in her eyes. She looked serene, her dark curls framing her relaxed features. They hugged.
“You too,” she quivered. “I really enjoyed our Patronus lessons... We were awful,” she chukled and, silently, tears found their way down her cheek.
“Yes, me too... We’ll keep in touch, yeah?”
“We will,” confirmed Andromeda and let go of Edith.
Nora was equally sad, and they embraced before saying goodbye. Nora’s brown eyes were glazed by unshed tears. “We’ll see each other again,” she said and then left.
Frank, Marsden, Edgar, and Belwyn had left, too, meaning that before her stood Alice and Ted. Another wave of sorrow soared through her body as she saw that Alice was wearing the saddest of smiles. They refrained from uttering reassuring words to each other and embraced. There wasn’t anything relevant to say at that particular moment – they had now reached such a point where no words had to be shared because they understood each other perfectly without them.
“We’ll owl, and soon we will see each other again,” said Andromeda in a soothing voice, and Alice nodded her head vigorously, her face screwed up, tears leaking out of her deep blue eyes. The knot inside Andromeda’s throat was suffocating her.
After a very long while, they pulled back, and Alice went looking for Frank and her family.
Now, at last, Andromeda stood before Ted, his pale, yet vividly blue eyes glazing. He looked as handsome as ever, with his sharp features, fair hair and blue eyes, wearing a genuine smile upon his lips. She would never tire of looking at him.
“So...” he said, and Andromeda imitated him and mumbled, “So.”
“I’ll miss you,” he stated in a mild tone, yet slightly rushed. They were both beginning to feel a bit uneasy. They had said goodbye every year for seven years at that very platform, but everything was different now. When would they see each other again? When would they marry? What awaited them in the future? Both pondered the questions silently, not having discussed this earlier.
I guess time will tell, Andromeda thought.
The next events happened so fast, Andromeda never had the opportunity to really capture them when she later on would think of them. She found herself enclosed in a tight hug, Ted’s strong arms around her, protective and reassuring. He had buried his head in her brown locks, breathing in her scent. Andromeda had done the same, her eyes then perfectly dry. Soon, very soon, they would find each other tightly enclosed in a smiliar embrace. Before pulling apart, they kissed deeply and then, the next minute, he was gone.
She sighed heavily, wondering when she would see him again. In some ways, fear seemed to mupltiply trice. She felt suddenly lonely. How, in the name of Merlin, was she supposed to make it alone?
“Dromeda? Ready to go home?”
The tentative voice of Cissy spoke nearby and, without looking at her, Andromeda nodded. “Yes, let us,” she said and smiled.
Her younger sister returned the smile, but Andromeda couldn’t help but notice that Narcissa was avoding eye-contact. She shook off the feeling that something wasn’t right.
Narcissa grabbed Andromeda’s arm tightly. She was concentrating with all her might on the little spot just outside the white-painted fence, which encircled her house. The sensation of being stuck in a small rubber tube appeared, but luckily for Andromeda, she had grown accustomed to it. They now stood in the middle of familiar surroundings. The Black Manor loomed graciously in front of them, the colour of the gardens giving the entire place such life. She was surprised to find that a tiny bit within her had missed the grand manor.
They headed up the pathway, heavy trunks in tow. In no time, she stood before the thick oak door and did not hesitate to open it. They stood in the Entrance Hall, Toujours Pur visible on the wall opposite them. Andromeda absentmindely gritted her teeth.
“Mother? Father? Bella?” No voice returned her inquires, but she heard steps from the drawing room, heading toward them.
Druella Black appeared in the Entrance Hall, looking more intimidating than ever. Still, her eyes were red and puffy as though she’d been crying. Never before had Andromeda felt more bewildered.
Andromeda and Narcissa stood there in silence, their mother looking at them with a piercing stare. A stare that frightened Andromeda. Then, Druella strode toward her two daughters and out of nowhere, slapped Andromeda across the face.
The silence was unbearable. Andromeda had her head turned sideways, and she lifted her hand slowly and touched the spot where her mother’s hand had contacted her cheek. Her skull was throbbing, her heart beating soundly. Beside her, Narcissa stood paralyzed.
“You...” her mother began, resembling a madwoman.
Andromeda said nothing, but glanced at her, eyes watering. She was sure her cheek was crimson. It hurt.
“How could you?” said her mother, and then Andromeda understood.
They knew the truth.
Author's note: The seventh chapter of Faded Constellation and the longest one yet. Let me know what you think; concrit is very much appreciated. One little thing; I know their Graduation is the day before they leave the school - and I'm honestly not sure if that's even possible. If it isn't, then I have just bent the rules. Hope it doesn't bug you =p
Thanks to JLHufflepuff for beta'ing! Chapter title and lyrics in chapter summary by Coldplay.
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