Chapter 3 : C is for Clearing
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Carefully levitating the last box down on top of another one, she sighs. It’s only twenty past eight in the morning, but she feels that she has to do something and, with Teddy at Harry and Ginny’s, it seems like a good time to clear things out from the loft. Looking at the huge pile of boxes in front of her, she concludes that it is undoubtedly a symptom of all lofts to get crowded up with clutter you never knew you owned or thought you threw out years ago, things which you put up there for ‘safe-keeping’ and never got down again, things that you had nowhere else to put.
She conjures herself a cushion to sit on, pulling the first box towards herself. A twist of her wrist, her wand moving sharply through the air, and the brown tape peels itself off, coiling up on the carpet. Opening the box she sees a pile of Nymphadora’s baby clothes, all of them pink and white and yellow. Andromeda hesitates as she looks at them, memories of a chubby, pink-haired baby flooding through her mind.
She was sitting on the sofa, just back from St. Mungo’s with her beautiful baby. Nymphadora was asleep, her tiny eyes closed to the world, her hair bright pink. As she continues to sleep, it faded back to black, the curls becoming looser, resembling Andromeda’s own.
Ted came in, a mug of tea in each hand, a smile on his face. He hadn’t stopped smiling since Nymphadora was born, and she couldn’t do anything other than smile back at him. Sitting down next to her, he put the mugs on the coffee table, leaning in to press a kiss to her cheek.
“She’s beautiful,” he whispered, slipping his arm around her shoulders. It was the second time he’d done that that evening alone, but she let him. His mother had assured her most confidently that the novelty of having a baby would soon wear off. For the time being, she just wanted to enjoy being a mother.
Her hand wavers.
Making a snap decision, she flicks her wand briskly, sending the baby clothes flying out of the box and into a black bin bag that is waiting to one side. Nymphadora never was one for mementos, she remembers fondly, so she would appreciate her old things going to help orphans. Children affected by the war they’ll barely remember. Children like her son, like Teddy.
The box is levitated over to one side, useless now it’s emptied of all it’s contents.
Giving a sigh, Andromeda pulls the next box towards her, and the next one, and the next one. They all reveal similar, heart-tugging, mundane objects: Nymphadora’s schoolbooks and robes (the black-and-yellow tie makes her smile), some of Ted’s old records (she has no idea what to do with these and decides to ask Hermione Granger at the next Weasley dinner), a selection of well-thumbed baby books which she lays aside to pass down to Teddy when he’s old enough, more baby clothes, an entire dolls house and dolls, and some of Ted’s books which he’d grown bored of reading years ago.
She’s tired now, the combination of waking up early and sorting through so many boxes is starting to get to her. Standing up, her knees complaining at the strain, Andromeda walks through into the kitchen, immediately putting the kettle on to boil. While she waits for it, she chooses a biscuit from the tin, laying it beside her mug.
Six minutes and forty-eight seconds later, she’s back in the living room, sipping contentedly at her tea, the biscuit already gone. She’s always been rather fond of biscuits, prone to eating them continuously until someone takes them away from her. A weakness, perhaps.
Surveying the room, Andromeda eyes the last few unopened boxes warily. While they look the same as all the others, she can guess at what they contain. She’s been through everything of Nymphadora’s - they were the boxes to the right in the loft - and Ted’s - in the centre - but the last ones, she knows, are hers. On the left of the loft, ever since they moved into the house. The things that only ever came out of the box to go into another box. The things that were never anywhere else in the house.
She swallows, gathering what little courage she can find, and quickly rips the brown parcel tape off the nearest box. For some reason, she feels much more confident now, much more relaxed. Reaching inside, she pulls out a stack of books: all of them romance novels. Inside each one, she knows, will be her name, written in neat calligraphy, the green ink slightly smudged as always. The pages of one of the books are bent, the crease in them still visible after so many years.
They are much easier things to deal with than she expected and she goes through that box quickly, packing them all back in and tucking them away, directing the brown parcel tape into the bin with a sweep of her wand.
When she opens the next box, however, the smile vanishes from her face, retreating. Delicately, she lifts out a black leather case - a jewellery case. She knows what’s in there, she knows the pieces like the back of her hand. What she doesn’t know is why she kept them, these reminders of an impossible future; of a path she abandoned long ago.
Nevertheless, almost without thinking, she opens the lid, the hinges smooth and silent. The sapphires, a deep, endless blue, stare up at her, reflecting the light. She smiles; a ghost of a smile she wore a long time ago.
She sat at her dressing table in her room, keeping her head perfectly still as the house-elf finished pinning her hair in place, adding a solid silver clip to hold it all together. The sound of rustling chiffon made her roll her eyes.
“Cissy, would you stop playing with it? You’re starting to annoy me.”
Narcissa sighed, dropping the skirt of the blue dress on the bed, smoothing it down so it was pristine once more.
“I know, I just wish I was going as well,” she muttered, swishing her blonde hair over one shoulder. Andromeda knew what was coming next: she’d already heard it fourteen times and counting. “It was alright when it was only Bella who went - you and I could sit at the top of the stairs together and giggle over what everyone was wearing or hide in here and wonder who Bella was going to offend this evening - but now you’re going as well and I’m going to be all on my own. I don’t want to have to wait another two years to be able to go. If Bella can manage it, so can I!”
Dismissing the house-elf, Andromeda swung round on the stool to face her younger sister, giving her a pitying smile.
“I know you want to go, but you know the rules: Bella couldn’t go until she was fifteen, neither could I, so you can’t either,” she declined to comment on Bella’s comportment, although she knew full well that it was true.
At her first ball, she had slapped Antonin Dolohov for ‘looking at her bottom’, not that those were the words she had used when explaining the incident. Their parents had been furious and grounded her for the rest of the holidays. She had whined and moaned and complained relentlessly until their mother snapped and locked her in her room for twenty-four straight hours, to ‘teach her some manners’.
It hadn’t worked yet.
“I’d be far better than Bella,” Narcissa huffed irritably, running her fingers over Andromeda’s bed covers. “I’d even be better than you - mother knows that. It’s not fair.”
“Stop whining, Narcissa,” Bellatrix’s voice snapped from the doorway as she flounced into the room in a river of blood red. “Everyone’s sick of hearing you complain about how unfair it is - we know it’s unfair, now go away and shut up.”
Andromeda bit her lip, holding back the retort she desperately wanted to give on Narcissa’s behalf, but, instead, she watched as Cissa swept out of the room, her blue eyes swimming with tears. She wouldn’t cry in front of them - never Bella - she’d sob into her pillow on her own, left behind as the rest of them mingled at the ball, rubbing shoulders with the cream of society.
Shutting the door behind her, Bellatrix sat down on Andromeda’s bed.
“Finally,” she drawled, before rolling her eyes at the look Andy gave her. “Don’t look at me like that - she’s been like this for weeks. Someone had to shut her up before she drove us all mad.”
“It was unnecessary to be quite so harsh on her, Bella,” Andromeda told her, her hands running over each other nervously. “She’s only thirteen, after all - I’m sure we were that excited to go when we were that young.”
“Were you?” Bella just raised a single eyebrow.
“No, but -”
“Then don’t make excuses for her,” Bellatrix ordered. She seemed restless, Andromeda noted, more so than normal.
“Are you alright?” she asked curiously, as Bella practically threw her dress at her, telling her their mother was coming. “You seem nervous.”
Bellatrix looked at her for a minute, silent, her dark eyes blank and veiled. “I’m fine. Anyway,” she continued, changing the subject. “Are you looking forward to your gift from father?”
“I didn’t think I would be, but now - now I’m just hoping it’s as beautiful as yours,” she responded, keeping her real thoughts to herself. Normally she would have felt guilty about this, but she didn’t this time, quite certain her sister was keeping secrets of her own.
Bellatrix gave a slight laugh, reaching up and brushing the ruby and gold clasped around her neck. “It will be, mother has excellent taste in jewellery, if nothing else.”
A light sigh escapes her; how had she not seen it? With hindsight, it was obvious: the barbed ‘if nothing else’ comment referring, indirectly, to the suitor already chosen for Bellatrix: Lucius Malfoy.
She had been so oblivious, so lost in the fear and the excitement and the worry of her first ball, her first dance and her first chance to impress, that she had passed it off as a light, meaningless comment, another arrow in the war between Druella and Bellatrix. Even when Lucius insisted on having three dances with Bellatrix and scowled at those she deigned to talk to, Andromeda had simply meandered along, laughing with Rabastan and Evan and Henrietta Zabini.
Admiring the delicate silver links of the necklace, she remembers how Bellatrix’s had been identical, down to the little engraved ‘toujours pur’ on the clasp, only far more spectacular, far more obvious and bold and daring. She wonders if Narcissa’s is the same, only with a different jewel and, undoubtedly, platinum settings. Had she stayed, she knew, she would have worn the jewels at her wedding, the colour complimenting the lilies in her hands as her father gave her away. She wonders if they wore theirs at their weddings. She wasn’t there to see.
Later on that evening, she sits on the sofa in front of the old tele-visio, with Teddy sleeping in her arms, his hair a dark brown, close to her own shade. All the boxes are gone from the living room, everything re-sorted, re-packaged and replaced back in the loft, labelled neatly in black ink as to what they contained. There’s even a system to where things are placed and it makes her feel organised: memorabilia of Nymphadora and Ted on the left, bits and bobs she may need in the future for Teddy in the centre, memorabilia for herself on the right.
She hasn’t put the leather case away. There’s a space assigned for it, left in the cardboard box nearest the entrance into the loft, a perfect fit (she knows, she tested it to make sure), but she took it out as soon as she put it in. It’s sitting on the coffee table in front of her, closed. The black leather shines.
Teddy shifts in her arms, a tiny, stubby arm waving through the air. Rocking him slightly, she smiles down at him.
When she looks up again, she is struck by a sudden thought that grips her tightly. She’s alone. Completely alone. Her family disowned her, left her, and now Ted’s dead, Nymphadora’s dead, Remus is dead, Sirius is dead… Bella’s dead.
For the first time since hearing of her sister’s death, she feels tears prick at her eyes. It takes all her strength not to cry, not to let them fall out and down onto Teddy, onto her dress, onto the cushion. She never considered that her sister - that Bella - was dead. It was always Bellatrix. Bellatrix tortured the Longbottoms, Bellatrix killed Sirius, Bellatrix attacked Nymphadora. Bellatrix is dead.
But, and she scolds herself for not realising it sooner, if Bellatrix is dead - if the murderer is gone - then so is Bella. They were one and the same, two people in one, two different parts of her life.
It resonates in her head, over and over again, filling her up with grief she didn’t realise she had. She hadn’t thought she’d cry, not for her; when Minerva McGonagall told her, when Molly Weasley confessed, she had simply nodded, said ‘I see’ and gone on her way.
Now, though, she sits there, holding a sleeping Teddy, and cries, everything falling to pieces again because Bella’s dead.
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