Author's Note I'm well aware that I've fallen off schedule, but worry not, friends! I have enough chapters written to last well into June. I'm also well aware that this is significantly longer than the rest. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the section! (And review. That would be nice.)
All guests were supposed to be at the Yaxley house by six. The Blacks arrived at five thirty, for Walburga knew that being fashionably early is much more socially viable that arriving late. Malvina Yaxley knew it too, even though she pretended to be flustered and unprepared to allow guests in this early.
For all the elders’ talk of her being incapable of playing the game, Andromeda could see through the politics of it well enough. The elder sisters chaperoning the younger, for both Druella and Cissa were not to be left alone in social situations. Andromeda wasn’t even sure why her sister was here at all. She hadn’t known Alec as anything more than a flirt and a decent boy. She hadn’t gone to the funeral, and she hadn’t wanted to. She wondered whose idea it was to leave Bella alone with the boys, and wondered how many fires would erupt in the night. They were tricky little devils, those boys. Andromeda didn’t like it.
The Yaxley parlour was generally a calm, collected space, a room for social twittering, that inspired envy in all of the elite housewives. This evening it was draped in white with stark black accents. The throw pillow on the sofa, the fringe on the carpet, the curtains framing the windows. Blacker than night. These weren’t Alec’s colours, she couldn’t help but notice. Alec was orange, bright and garish and Andromeda’s least favourite colour. But still it was missed.
The two girls were alone this early on in the evening, for the matrons of the fashionable houses were gathered along at one end of the parlour and talking about the everyday little nothings that so delighted them. Cissa hovered nearby, unable to do much else, while her sister distanced herself from the chitchat. She wasn’t a good small talker. Her talk was always big, larger than life in some ways.
She occupied herself by sitting primly in one of the more distant chairs, a hard-backed cushioned thing, and examining the room. There was a small round table next to her chair, with an antique, bronze-furnished lamp balancing on it. On the little shelf beneath the tabletop were a few books. All of these were obscure titles, clearly chosen for aesthetic and not intellectual reasons. Nonetheless, Andromeda discreetly bent (very aware of the low neck of her dress) and took one of the volumes in her soft hands.
“I wouldn’t touch those if I were you.”
She looked up with a jolt to find Rodolphus Lestrange staring at her. His gaze was intense, as usual. Andromeda thought she didn’t have the strength to match up to it, as Bella could.
“No?” Rodolphus’s hands were in his pockets. He did not usually take so passive a stance. “Why not?”
He shrugged his broad shoulders. Andromeda knew what Bella saw in him. Someone who could keep up with her, who could wear her down, but he couldn’t stop her. She wouldn’t want that in a lover. Then he nodded. He wasn’t a wordy fellow.
Andromeda glanced around, noting with dull surprise that the Lestranges had arrived without her notice. Rosemarie was kissing Walburga’s cheeks sans affection. She hoped the old matron would ignore her; the rest liked to indulge in the practice too. Rabastan was also nearby, though Cissa had wrangled him into some sort of verbal exchange. This was no surprise.
“Bella’s at home,” she said suddenly. “Not here. She’s watching the kids.”
He knew the kids in question. They called him an ape behind his back, but he didn’t know that. “Oh? That’s fine.” It most certainly wasn’t. Andromeda didn’t feel bad about telling him. “And it seems Rabastan has his company for the night.”
What company. “They’ll be fine.”
“So will we, I should think. I like you.”
No one else was listening. Rodolphus had apparently made his rounds already, and Andromeda was much too far for the rest of them to watch. Their eyes were failing them, their minds following suit. It wouldn’t be long now until Rodolphus ruled the world.
“No you don’t.”
“I’m sorry?” His manners extended this far, no more.
“No. No, you don’t like me. You’ve never liked me.” There was a silver chain looped around her throat, and she clutched it protectively. Its pendant had gone missing years ago, when she was fourteen or fifteen. She pretended that she could still feel it hanging there, dropping below her collarbone, a cold weight against her ribcage. “But let’s pretend, shall we?”
He pursed his lips. They were suspiciously ape-like. She found it funny, how Sirius always said the things they always thought. Regulus somehow agreed. And yet his profile was strong, handsome, even. “I don’t want to pretend,” he said flatly. “I wanted to be polite.”
So he wanted something. They always did.
“But you don’t like me,” she insisted. “You lied to me. That’s not polite.”
“White lie. Harmless.”
“I don’t think so. I’ll never like you now, because of this.”
“Dromeda, I have no idea where this is coming from.” His eyes were on her hand now, the one curled around the chain. If she jerked it any tighter, she might have been strangled herself. He was getting the strange vibe that she was trying to. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. I’m perfectly lovely.”
This too was a lie, but it didn’t bother Rodolphus. He understood these things. Hypocrisy he understood, too.
Together, the liars stood, wrapped in the idle chatter and the stark room and the shadows falling in around them. Where had this come from? They had no idea. She, for one, had come to this stupid dinner for her mother’s sake, and where was her mother? Socialising. Because that was what mothers did, even the odd ones. Where was her ingénue sister? There. Flirting with little Rabastan, who didn’t look so little any more.
“I want to marry Bellatrix,” Rodolphus said at last. He was very quiet when he did. No sense in letting the mothers know yet.
This was a surprise. An actual surprise. The ghost of the pendant pressed into her palm, and she involuntarily took a step back. “No you don’t.”
He watched her, quietly. There was hysteria in her eyes, but she hid it. Not well enough.
“No you don’t,” she repeated, a bit more of a laugh in her words. “Do you even know what–”
“I didn’t ask her yet,” he interrupted, shocking the girl into silence. “I wanted to. Tonight. Then this came up, and I didn’t want to be–”
Rodolphus nodded. “I still want to.”
She had tried, really she had. But this game was beyond her. Marriage. Rodolphus. Wanted to marry. Bella. Her Bella. Was this what happened when you waltzed into the game with no cares, no ideas, no strategies? Was this the responsibility she had been forced into?
“Bella?” she repeated. “Bella… you want to marry Bella.”
“Is that so hard to believe?”
“You’re her sister. It’s hard for you to imagine.”
Imagine what? She tried not to snort at the idea. Bella in the garb of a virgin, pure white. No, no. A red sash would be slung across her hips, rubies at her throat, something to break up that snowdrift settling in on her skin. Bella cowering behind a veil, hooded eyes averted from all but her beloved. Cygnus walking her down the aisle, if he could be persuaded to do so. Druella crying into her rosemary pomander. Cissa beaming as a bridesmaid, blowing silent kisses to Rabastan Lestrange. And she, Andromeda? Where would she be? At a place of honour, at the head of the wedding party, her legs melting under the skirts of her dress robes, clutching a pendant that wasn’t there.
She had to ask it. It would be wrong to not ask it. She could not give her blessing–if that was what he wanted–if she didn’t ask. “Why do you want to marry her?”
“Two years, Dromeda, is a long time,” he said gently, almost more so than she could have spoken herself about such a topic. “I like Bella. There’s no one else for me.”
It’s the polite thing to do.
“Oh.” She swallowed, and felt Rodolphus’ gaze. It was not pleasant. He wants to marry her. And she would say yes, she could feel it in her bones. Bella would say yes in a heartbeat. Because really, what else was she to do? “Okay.”
He smiled, and there was no joy in the gesture. Triumph, relief, exasperation, but no joy. She felt awfully lightheaded, but there was nothing to be done about it now. She sat back down, and he joined her on the armrest.
The rest of the evening passed peaceably enough. No mention was made of their earlier conversation and all it entailed. Rodolphus saw Andromeda’s hysteria and said nothing. Andromeda saw nothing at all and said everything. It was all she could do, and she didn’t let up even when Narcissa, Rabastan, and other miscellaneous young folk drifted over to their corner. She was the life of the party for death. Walburga, watching carefully, was proud of her odd little niece. She was full in the game now.
It wasn’t until they returned home that Andromeda remembered to ask her sister’s intended fiancé about love. But by that point, it was much too late.