Chapter 6 : Bone Dry
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Nine Months Earlier
The sun is just rising, the droplets of water on the window panes slowly sinking towards the ground. The ticking of the clock on the wall opposite Andromeda is so loud that it drowns out the sound of her beating heart. Nerves flutter inside her stomach, her eyes flicking between the clock and the window as her fingers drum restlessly against the hard wood of the kitchen table. Ten minutes of edgy silence have passed and there is still no sign of her visitor. How can she help but worry? Her sister is never late.
The house is quite quiet, Ted having left for an Order meeting two hours previously and Nymphadora still tucked safely in her bed. But even though she can hear the silence ingrained into the sleepy house, the smallest sounds reach her ears and deafen her, her breathing echoing around the room, her head thudding in her ears and all the while the clock continues to tick. Burying her head in her hands, she attempts to block the noise out, to cover her ears so tightly that no sound will reach them.
She knows why she is edgy; she hates seeing her sister, even though their past differences appear to be resolved. It’s an admittance that she can’t cope, that she has given up and that she depends on the help of others even though she has previously shunned them. She has to admit that she has been wrong. Her pride shaken, she has lowered herself to grovelling at her sister’s feet. Oh, how her mother would be ashamed. But she sees no other option, all choices fading to dust as she hastily grasps onto them in vain. She has no choice; Gideon cannot reveal his location and with every day that passes, more rumours breed and poison her mind. What little information Ted gleams from the Order, she latches onto. Reports of deaths turn into a deadly growth in her mind, her own fear convincing herself of the worst. And as she repeats his name under her breath to the ticking of the clock, there’s a sharp rap at the door, making her start. Her eyes fly open and she shakily raises herself from her chair. The truth is waiting on the threshold.
Unbolting the door, she stands back to reveal a woman she knows so well, who understands her completely. Yet their lives have been torn apart by unfortunate circumstances and now the steely look in her sister’s eyes does not reflect the harsh neediness in her own. Where she blends into the wallpaper, her robes neutral, her sister positively radiates wealth and fortune, her robes tailored and well-cared for. They are worlds apart.
“Cissy,” Andromeda whispers, taking her sister’s hand and cradling it in her own. How cold Narcissa’s hands are, how cold her face is. All warmth has long left her proud features. “Thank you.”
Narcissa withdraws her hand from Andromeda’s clutches with a cool indifference, stepping forward and allowing the door to swing shut behind her. Looking around pointedly, she asks coolly, “is that man here?”
“Ted’s out,” she mumbles in reply, ushering her through to kitchen and ignoring her sister’s refusal to accept her husband. She counts herself lucky for her to even have accept her invitation, for her sister to step inside the house of a Mudblood. Though neither woman utters the word, it nonetheless is present in the air between them, pungent and obstreperous. Andromeda cannot break the eager observation of her sister’s face, as though should her eyes leave her pinched features she might miss the moment when the ice cracks, when her lips soften. Perhaps Narcissa is merely waiting for her sister to look away so she can relax. They put each other on edge, the past buried beneath the surface tension.
“Good,” Narcissa murmurs, her lips barely moving. She raises a groomed eyebrow and her eyes flick towards the kitchen door. “Shall we?”
She does not wait for a response, instead striding in front of Andromeda before she can say a word; they both know who is in control, who holds the cards but it doesn’t seem to make a difference to the broken woman fading into the hallway. She has lost too much to wear pride, her heart instead worn in plain sight. There is no use pretending she has any power over her sister. Instead, she follows her sister meekly into her own kitchen and joins her at the table.
“So?” Andromeda asks breathily, eyes scouring Cissy’s face for a reaction. “Do you have news?”
The intensity of her need stirs something within her sister, cracks break and before she can stop it tears form in her eyes. The indifference has shattered, if it was ever real. Andromeda knows her sister, understands why she is trying to remain calm. The news is not good. “I can’t tell you, Dromeda! It’s too dangerous. I came here to apologise, our arrangement can’t continue. I’m sorry.”
“What?” Her voice laced with disbelief, her fingers dig into her legs, deeper and deeper until she can hold herself together no longer. Narcissa’s lip is trembling under her scrutiny. “Cissy… you promised me…”
Drawing out a pristine white handkerchief, she dabs at the corners of her eyes and averts her gaze. “I know. I’m sorry.”
Andromeda’s hands release her legs and smother her face; under her breath she mutters to herself, her breathing erratic. Her sister cannot know how much this means to her, how her every breath has been depending on the news she refuses to bring.
“You don’t understand.” She stumbles over her words, her voice growing fainter. “You have to tell me, I have to know what has happened to him. You have to tell me!”
The desperation is pathetic, she can see it reflected in her sister’s cold eyes. But she doesn’t care anymore, nothing else matters apart from the knowledge that Gideon is safe, that he will return home, that he is alive. Her body trembles with panic, the fear bubbling inside and she no longer cares that it will spill out. She’ll do anything.
“I don’t know – I can’t!” Her sister’s voice is almost begging for her understanding, but Andromeda’s ears are deaf to her excuses. The heaviness in her heart prevents her from sympathy. Another broken promise. “I can’t find out anything else for you, Bella-”
“Bellatrix?” She repeats numbly. “Bellatrix stopped you?” Drawing another breath, she closes her eyes. “How much does she know?”
“I’m sorry, Andromeda, I really am,” she mumbles apologetically. “I didn’t mean to tell her, but she always has a way of finding out things, you know that. I – She knows about your marriage, she knows about the affair.”
A hollow laugh tumbles from Andromeda’s lips. “A double betrayal, marrying a Mudblood and loving a blood traitor. Mother must be so proud.” The guilty crease of her sister’s brow elicit a gentle groan. “Mother knows?”
“I’m sorry,” Narcissa repeats, defeated. “I tried to convince Bella to keep quiet but she wouldn’t, she was so pleased to finally be able to prove to Mother that she was right.” After a pause, she adds, “she was bound to find out one day.”
“I suppose so,” she mutters bitterly, standing up and approaching the sink, her eyes staring out of the misty window. “No doubt I have brought shame upon our family, even worse than before.”
“Mother was heartbroken when you left, Andromeda, you know that,” Narcissa responds heatedly, banging a fist on the table. “You were her favourite, it nearly destroyed her when you ran away. Don’t forget that you left a large hole in our family, she was devastated.”
The words sting, they are meant to, but Andromeda does not want to hear them. She knows how it must have looked to her sisters; one whispered argument and two packed bags later, she had left them.
Shaking her head, Andromeda turns to face her sister. “Yet she would still rather I left than live under her roof, friend of a Mudblood. You weren’t there that night, the night she threw me out of her house. I’ll never forget it, Cissy.” Pink cheeks and wild eyes, she dabs at the tears forming with her finger. “She hated me ever since she found out I had befriended Ted, you know that. She couldn’t bear the disloyalty. I was her favourite as long as I was upholding the family honour.”
Narcissa matches her height exactly, rising from her chair to face her sister. A delicate hand rests on Andromeda shoulder, brushing the dark hair that has fallen there carelessly. “She loved you and you turned your back on her. We all felt betrayed, Dromeda.”
Shrugging off Narcissa’s hand, she turns away, catching the tears with her palm before they can escape, before they are seen. “Then you know how it feels, how stupid it is to trust someone.”
Slowly, Narcissa withdraws her hand, clasping it to her chest, where white skin contrasts with dark robes. “I was trying to help.” Her voice catches in her throat, but when Andromeda turns to face her she finds her eyes are as dry as bone. She is close to tumbling, near to falling and Andromeda refuses to catch her.
Biting her lip, she observes the regret in her sister’s eyes, the soft curve of her lips as it trembles, the ice melting and until all that’s left is transparency. “I don’t need your help anymore,” she says eventually. “Please leave before you cause more pain.”
The silence echoes in her ears as the last of the ice melts and Cissy’s tears fall, the once proud woman succumbing to emotions of regret as she turns to leave. The door closing breaks the silence, a small sound loud enough to break Andromeda’s wall and before she can stop it she is crying, wanting to tear after her sister and beg her never to leave, to stay with her, to support her, but she can’t. She made her choice years ago, one more thing to regret and grieve for. And now she will regret this day all the more, knowing that one more tie to Gideon has been severed, another morsel of hope lost to circumstance. How many more times must she suffer at the hands of her own choices? Everything she has ever done to try and be closer to him has led to the distance between them growing, the bond between them being gradually weakened.
Her raised voice has awoken Dora, who stands on the bottom step of the stairs, brushing her tired eyes. Drying her eyes, Andromeda turns to face her daughter with a weak smile. “Good morning, sunshine.”
Dora’s response to her false cheeriness is to suck her thumb, her eyes wide with curiosity. Her innocence makes her feel like a fraud, a pathetic imitation of a mother and that thought is enough to make her smile quake. She knows she sets a bad example, clasping secrets to her chest like a childhood trinket. If there is one thing she can cling to, it is the hope that her daughter will grow up to be nothing like her, that she will learn from the tragic mistakes she once made. Her life, full of regret and bitterness, is not a life she wants her daughter to have. Looking into her daughter’s sleepy eyes, she sees Ted, his influence thankfully stronger than her own. Neither deserve the mess she has become, the destruction that follows in the path of her secrets. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way of leaving it.
When Ted arrives home after his meeting, the secrets will continue. She will have wiped away her tears once again, washed her sister’s fragrance from her and composed herself. Though perhaps she needn’t bother; she is no more miserable and lonely than usual. He will not know that she has contacted her sister again, nor that they are possibly in even more danger than before.
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by Eva Black