It takes her three weeks to get everything together for what she plans to do - a little longer than she would have liked, but she supposes that it makes sense. Three sisters, three weeks. Almost, she thinks, symbolic. Almost, but not quite.
Once again, she drops Teddy off with Molly - she hardly objects, particularly as Bill and Fleur have dropped Victoire off, in order to spend some time together, something they haven’t had for a while. Feeling much more like herself again, Andromeda even manages a proper smile before she leaves, declining the offer to stay for tea. Perhaps soon she’ll say yes - but now’s not the time. She has things to do.
With one last glance at Teddy, watching as he crawls towards Victoire, who’s studying one of her booted feet with great interest, Andromeda leaves the Burrow. Giving a quick, polite smile to Arthur Weasley when she passes him on the path, she disapparates at the end of the path, just off Weasley territory.
Andromeda adjusts the bag over her shoulder - Ted’s old navy blue rucksack that he’d taken with him every time he’d gone walking with his friends and that had reduced her to tears when she saw it, knowing he’d never use it again, that it would just sit in the cupboard and gather dust - and picks up her pace as she strides through the graveyard.
It’s a damp day in the graveyard in France. The sky is overcast, a gloomy grey, clouds hiding the brilliant summer sun. Nevertheless, it’s still warm, even in the shadow of the trees scattered around.
Drawing her wand, she takes a deep breath, reminding herself of the spells in her head. She wouldn’t want to get it wrong - she can’t get it wrong. Bella never made a mistake, after all - not with spells. Never with spells. Her spell-casting was always flawless and so it seems fitting to Andromeda that she perform the spells on her sister’s grave as perfectly as she can, trying once again to emulate her older sister. Only, this time Bella isn’t there to correct her when she goes wrong.
Andromeda aims her wand at the headstone, the beech wood shaking slightly as her arm wavers. Steadying her nerves, she utters the first spell, nearly stumbling over the Latin pronunciation; but it works, and that’s the main thing. Her confidence growing, she continues, barely pausing between each charm, the jets of light flowing out of her wand creating a beautiful kaleidoscope of colours, lighting up the dark grass and the grey of the tombstones all around her.
When she’s finished, the air is still, silent. Nothing moves, not even a leaf or an insect or a blade of grass. It’s as if the world is holding its breath, waiting patiently, terrified, to see the result.
The previously dusty grey stone now gleams, even in the gloomy atmosphere, winking at her, black and hard and so very beautiful. White veins run through it, pale and slender; the inscription cut into it is now golden, glittering like a miniature sun. At the bottom of the stone, on the grass, lies a bouquet of flowers - not ones she had brought - next to a simple bunch of carnations.
For a moment, Andromeda stares at the flowers, wondering who would bring flowers to Bella’s grave. Bella has no family left, after all, save for herself and Narcissa and Draco, no friends to speak of who aren’t dead or imprisoned or who deny all contact with her on principle.
A faint spiral of anger surges up through her chest as she considers that. Everyone Bella knew - all her friends, admirers, even those who barely knew her as anything other than ‘Bella Black’ and then ‘Bella Lestrange’ - have turned their backs on her. Pretending they didn’t know her, pretending they never associated with her, pretending they always knew she was a murderer, pretending her madness, the insanity, the sadistic obsession, was apparent from a young age. That they always knew she would turn out like that.
They’re only trying to kid themselves, to make themselves feel better, but it makes Andromeda almost furious. All of them are lying, all of them knew nothing, all of them claim to be loyal but know nothing of the meaning of the word. At least, she thinks, gazing down at the grave, at least Bella was always loyal. First to her family, then to herself, then Rodolphus, and then, in the end, the Dark Lord.
She can only imagine what Bella would say if she knew how her former friends had treated her after her death. Before Azkaban, she’d just have laughed and declared that it didn’t matter, that she didn’t care; after Azkaban… after Azkaban was something she didn’t want to think about. Not now. Not here.
Behind her, a twig cracks. Instantly, Andromeda tenses, her hand darting to the pocket in her cloak. Her heart sounds loud in her ears, but she doesn’t dare move. All the Death Eaters are captured and in Azkaban, she reminds herself. There is no more danger.
Nevertheless, she feels she has to look over her shoulder. Just a quick glance, one small peek, to make sure that there’s nothing there. It was, she tells herself, probably just a bird. A magpie or a sparrow.
Andromeda turns her head, the gesture as casual as she can possibly make it and stops dead, freezing in place, her body slowly moving round to face the same direction as her face.
A little way away, standing next to a huge, granite statue of a weeping angel, is a single figure. She is enveloped in a black cloak that brushes along the floor, her hands hidden by tiny, lace gloves. Underneath the hood, faint wisps of light, almost white hair can be seen. The figure seems frail, breakable, delicate. Andromeda feels her mouth go dry; she knows this figure, knows it well and never expected to see her again.
“Mother?” she whispers, even as she remembers, without meaning to, the last time she had seen this woman.
“… such a relief now that Bellatrix is married,” Druella was saying, lying quite comfortably on the veranda of the Blacks’ house, a parasol held over her head by a house-elf, shading her eyes from the sun. “She always was going to be the most difficult of the three of you,” Andromeda and Narcissa, sitting in bamboo chairs to one side, said nothing. What could they say? However much they wanted to defend Bella, they couldn’t - it was perfectly true, after all. “Now we just have to get Andromeda sorted, and then soon enough it’ll be Cissy’s turn.”
Beside Andromeda, Narcissa gave a slight twitch, her face moulded into a perfect, serene mask that she had never been able to manage herself. Andromeda knew why the issue of marriage is so touchy for her sister - she saw how Bella manipulated their parents into giving her what she wants and knew that she couldn’t do the same. Narcissa wanted desperately to emulate Bella, to be seen as something other than ‘Bella’s little sister’ , to no longer be left behind in the shadows of Bellatrix’s glory. She wanted to shine on her own - it was her nature. More than that, she wanted to be loved, to be adored.
Andromeda wasn’t too bothered by the thought of her parents selecting a bunch of boys for her to choose from. It was all really irrelevant at this point anyway. Her hands shifted in her lap, bunching a section of her dress in between her fingers.
The secret played on her mind. It had been for a while, but now it was stronger, even as a slight smile crept onto her face at the mere mention of marriage. In her mind’s eye, the ring - silver, adorned with a single, simple diamond - swam into view. For the hundredth time, she wondered if she had made the right choice. There was still time, after all.
“What are you smiling at?” Druella asked her, and her head snapped up to see both her mother and Narcissa looking at her oddly. “Is there someone? A boy? Andromeda?”
As she looked at her mother - her beautiful mother, her eyes creased with stress and age, begging her to say that there is - her marriage-minded mother, she felt her mouth go dry. She realised that, in fact, it was too late. She was in too deep.
“No,” she replied, fighting to keep her voice even despite the temptation to say ‘yes, yes there is’, to spill everything in a last-ditch attempt to keep both parts of her life. “No, there isn’t.”
“Well, you should pick someone or by the time you get round to it, all the best ones will be taken,” Druella advised her, adjusting the folds of her lilac dress delicately. “Even Bellatrix had chosen Rodolphus by the time she was your age, and Narcissa will choose someone soon enough.”
“Yes, mother,” she whispered in reply, lowering her gaze to her hands. She knew her mother only wanted the best for her - wanted her to be taken care of, wanted her future to be safe and secure from worry about money or other such material things - but ever since her engagement the idea had sounded more and more smothering, dictatorial.
That was why when, that evening, she flew shakily away from the window on her broomstick (a present from her father), she didn’t regret what she was doing at all.
Now, in the graveyard, she stares at her mother, finding herself feeling suddenly nostalgic, childish and completely at a loss of what to do or say. She hadn’t spoken to her mother since that fateful afternoon, hadn’t written a letter to her since the birth of Nymphadora, hadn’t seen her since a chance meeting in Diagon Alley where they had each refused to acknowledge the other.
“Andromeda,” Druella’s tone is clipped but not harsh - dulled with pain, tears, grief. It’s a tone she knows well, an edge she herself possesses in moments.
“Why… why are you here?” Andromeda asks, watching her closely. It seems a stupid question, in retrospect - what else would her mother really be doing in the graveyard where her sister is buried?
“Visiting Bella,” Druella replies simply. A slight breeze stirs the cloak around her ankles, making it sway with the grass. “Why are you here? I was under the impression you didn’t want anything to do with us.”
Her throat feels tight, closed. Breathing is hard; she has to breathe deeply to get enough air. At the back of her eyes, she can feel tears prickling, gathering. She knows, though, that what her mother says is true - that she did give that impression, particularly after Lucius’ acquittal and Bella’s trial - and that there is nothing she can say to defend herself.
“She was my sister,” she croaks, her fingers running restlessly over the wood of her wand, trying to find some comfort somewhere. She isn’t ready for this meeting - not ready at all. “Even after… everything, Bella was still my sister.”
Druella doesn’t seem to believe her, but says nothing. Her eyes slide past Andromeda, to the grave behind her, lingering there, a profound sadness welling up in her blue eyes.
“Did you do that?”
“I did,” Andromeda nods, swallowing a lump in her throat. “I… I thought she’d prefer it. She’d have hated the old one. At least this is a little better.”
She watched as her mother gave a single nod, her eyes still on the grave, and she wondered if she had even heard a word she’d said.
For a while, the two of them stood there, draped in silence, the wind playing gently with their hair and clothes in a desperate bid to get their attention. Andromeda’s eyes were on her mother, who’s eyes were on the grave. It was almost a circle - not quite complete, and it never would be again.
“Well, I…” she begins, attempting to sound something like her normal self. She’s not sure why but, even as a part of her just wants to sob her heart out to her mother, half of her is too proud, too scared, too reluctant to dare cry. “I should be going. I need to pick up Teddy.”
Moving away from the grave, past her brother-in-law’s and down through the rows of endless names, endless corpses, she thinks over the scene, over her last words and wonders why she mentioned Teddy.
Why was it that, even after so long without them, she still wanted her family back?