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Chapter 10 : An Early Visitor
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One month earlier
Andromeda has risen long before the sun, legs clutched to her chest as she stares into a dying fire. The embers cannot warm her shivering body, they cannot melt the hardness in her heart and the icy thoughts forming in her mind refuse to leave her. She has once again slipped into the dark depths of her mind and the days seem equally bleak.
She finds it impossible to sleep. Her innocent husband sleeps deep and no longer notices her absence from their bed, his light snores undisturbed by the soft padding of bare feet on the floorboards. Her daughter has always been a quiet sleeper and her snuffling does not pass the closed bedroom door. Andromeda is free to wander the house in solitude and explore her own company. She is repeatedly drawn to the one source of light in the house at this hour, the only warmth left. She watches the flickering glow of the spent coal with disinterest, thought abandoned and the ashes of her energy focused on watching the embers fade and the heat die. She will soon be left to stare at grey ash and charred wood, the sad debris of a once thriving fire. Nothing good lasts.
A sigh escapes dry lips and tears wet dry eyes and it takes her more than a moment to remember why she feels such sorrow; all the good is gone from her life. Ted spends less and less time in the house, his work consuming his thoughts and energy and she has concluded that he has given up hope of ever capturing her in the same way. Once the fire is dead, it is nigh on impossible to coax the flames back to life.
Perhaps if she wants it enough, things will return to the way they used to be. Responsibility creeps up on her like dreaded moments sneak upon the worriers and she wants to hide from the person she has become. She and Gideon used to be free from worries, now he has become the source of them. She lingers on false hope she has built herself, his return a faint blotch on her calendar. But she needs to hope; what else has she to live for?
Her eyes droop as she fights sleep, her thoughts so jumbled that they stop her from drifting off completely. She is bundled against an old sofa, the first one that she and Ted bought as a married couple. It brought her no comfort now.
There’s a tiny tap on the windowpane in the hall and it shakes her from her stupour. The sun has not yet risen and she cannot see from her position who might be calling at this hour. Relaxing her joints, she allows the feeling to return and slowly stands. As she turns from the glow from the fire, her face falls into darkness, shadows hiding the ghostly hollows of her cheeks and her pale complexion. She shuffles into the hall, wand drawn. Life on the other side of the window is shrouded in night and she warily opens the door, peering into the darkness to identify the visitor.
“Andromeda?” The voice is gruff and low, barely a whisper but the night’s silence is so intense that it carries easily.
“Lumos,” she mutters, pointing her wand into the night. The wandlight casts disfiguring shadows on the man’s face, strange shapes distorting his features. The resemblance, nonetheless, is striking and she can barely believe her eyes as she examines her visitor. She would recognise those eyes anywhere.
“Fabian?” She hovers on the doorstep, eyeing him warily. “What are you doing here?”
“May I come in?”
She stands back, struggling to find the phrase to convey the anxiety that is slowly beginning to cause her heart to throb in her delicate chest. “What’s the matter? Has something happened?”
“Not exactly.” He has never been a man of many words, but every word he speaks delivers a poignant impact and Andromeda cannot shake her nerves.
“Forgive me for my confusion,” she begins slowly, “but I wasn’t expecting to see you again. I was under the impression that we had no more to say to each other.”
With a sigh, he observes her wary features. “Last time we spoke, I believed you would break my brother’s heart. Now I see that he is the one breaking yours.”
Her breathing constricts, her heart thumps timidly in her chest and her lips are dry. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t deny it,” he says evenly, eyes on hers and she cannot avoid his gaze. His eyes are so familiar, he holds her in a moment as she tries to remember herself. “He cannot bring you happiness. Do not throw away everything you have for him.”
She closes her eyes, wishing that she can block his words out as well as the world around her. She is fed up of hearing it, she has no interest in proving her love for Gideon. Her sisters scorned their love, Fabian has never supported their affair and she wants to proclaim her feelings until they believe her, until they understand that this is what she wants.
“I can’t stay here, Fabian,” she says sadly. “I’m driven to insanity by loneliness. My future here is bleak and he is my last chance at freedom. Don’t you understand that I have to do this?”
“You don’t have to do anything,” he says softly, brushing copper hair from his forehead. Rain has plastered it to him, his clothes are drenched. “Leave him while you still can, it’s for the best.”
“I can’t,” she mutters. “He tells me he’ll be back soon, back for good. No more waiting, we can be together as we were always meant to be. I’m not throwing that chance away.”
She raises her eyes to his and she realises that he has known all along what her reply would be. He came with no hope, no expectation, nothing except the intent of trying. Perhaps he, too, realises that her and Gideon’s paths are so tightly interlinked that nothing can prevent them crossing. Years of secrecy and deception cannot be erased and some habits never die. He is a habit, a sin, an addiction. Fabian knows as well as she does that his brother is special to her. She will not let him forget it.
Fabian sighs, running a hand through hair dimly lit by the smouldering fire. “What has he told you this time?”
She observes him, watches as eyes so familiar bore into her. She struggles to remember exactly what Gideon told her, she is sure he had a plan, a life here with her. But she cannot remember it and so she hesitates, eventually mumbling, “he’s coming home.”
A wry smile creeps onto his lips. “Andromeda, we both know he won’t stay. He is a law unto himself, he refuses to be tied down.”
“He told me he won’t travel anymore,” she says with a cracked voice, lips dry. “He says he’s finished.”
Fabian opens his mouth to speak, but she will not listen. She turns away from him, finding herself propelled towards the dark window. Is he out there somewhere? She imagines he is winding his way to her, fighting the traffic and the darkness to be with her again. She has always romanticised him, idealised him, succumbed to him; her hopes are a weary sneak-o-scope. Perhaps, one day, she will function again. He is her remedy.
The silence is broken by an awkward cough. How alike the brothers are, Fabian echoing mannerisms of memories past. How different they are; Fabian does not tell her the truth as she wishes to hear it, so she cannot accept it. She tries in vain to block him out.
“There’s a war brewing,” he says carefully. “I wouldn’t believe he’ll be hanging around for very long if I were you.”
“No,” she says gruffly into the window. Something inside her snaps, long since buried emotions surfacing. “He promised me he wasn’t involved in that sort of thing. He’s travelling, he has been for years.”
So strong is her denial that she finally banishes all doubt and worry, she is fiercely protective of her world. If Fabian tears it down now, she will not be able to carry on. The knowledge that Gideon would finally be returning to her, finally returning her normality has stoked dying passions. She forgets what it is to feel alive in his arms, for him to hold her hopes and fears close to him. Nostalgia burns like a new-born fire.
It takes three words for Fabian to douse the flames of her deluded fantasies. “He’s an Auror.”
She thinks it impossible to feel more shock, for her confused life to become any more tangled, but he has managed it. He has done the deed he came to do, he is the bringer of bad news. Does she dare believe him? It makes no sense in her head; Gideon is a traveller, he has always travelled and always returned. War is not on his list of things to experience.
“He can’t be,” she croaks, legs wobbling. Fear worries at her aching heart before denial took over. “He would have told me, he would have confided in me. You’re lying.”
“I’m not,” he says gently, softly brushing her shoulder as some kind of comfort.
She slaps his hand away, angrily turning to face him. “Don’t touch me!” she hisses, glaring into those hateful, hurtful eyes. She loathes him for reminding her of Gideon and the pain he causes her. She wants to throw him out of her house but she needs to hear the truth, she needs to know. “You can’t just turn up here uninvited at the break of dawn and try and ruin everything.”
“I’m not trying to ruin anything, I’m trying to give you some advice,” he says exasperatedly. “You need to listen to me: Gideon is not good for you. Leave him whilst you still have another option.”
She refuses to accept that she can do anything other than wait for Gideon. She made a promise, she will keep it.
“I won’t change my mind,” she mutters eventually, lowering her gaze to the dying fire. “I can’t give up on everything we’ve fought for.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Fabian turn his head towards the fireplace, watching the same embers fading. “I know my brother. He will not stop until he gets what he wants. Don’t fall for him; you have so much to live for.”
Andromeda narrows her eyes, shadows falling across her face as the sun sneaks above the horizon. “It’s too late,” she snaps bitterly. “I can’t change who I am. I also know your brother, Fabian. I know him and I love him, nothing you say will change that.”
She will not look at him as he turns to leave, boots clipping the stone floor as he crosses the hall. His pace is measured, his steps even, a familiar rhythm.
His hand on the doorknob, he pauses, waiting for her to join him. His gaze pulls her towards him and she moves as though asleep, drifting closer. When she finally lifts her head to look at him, she has tears in her eyes.
“You’re in love with the idea of him, Andromeda,” he whispers as he opens the door. Long fingers of cool air crawl around the open door and tickle her wet cheeks. “He is no longer the man you fell in love with.”
He is gone, leaving behind him a cool draught and watery eyes. She bundles his words together and tries to bury them deep inside her where they cannot hurt, but she fails. Her attempts to resist the truth are futile and she replays his words in her mind over and over, leaning her head against the door in exhaustion.
Gideon’s disappearance has shaken her, once again. It surprises her that she can still feel shock after he has done this so many times, but she truly believed he had changed his ways this time. She wants to believe in him and all that they used to be, but Fabian’s words strike a familiar chord within her, fragments of memories piecing together like an unfinished jigsaw.
Somewhere among the disbelief she finds anger, an indignant wave of contempt towards herself and Gideon. She is foolish, everyone could see it and now she can too. Hope is a dangerous thing in those that wish to believe at all costs. She lost her reason to her belief in him. He cannot be who he used to be and with that realisation, a tiny piece of hope is removed from the jigsaw. The picture remains incomplete.
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