Chapter 6 : S is for Staring
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She just stares. Frozen.
“Where are you going?”
This scene, this picture - standing face-to-face, staring at each other across empty space - seems to familiar, so similar. Too similar.
“Nowhere,” Andromeda replied, hastily throwing a plush faux-fur blanket over her trunk in an attempt to hide its contents from her sister.
Narcissa simply gave her a contemptuous look, although she didn’t move from her position in the doorway - like a sentinel, Andromeda mused.
The bag in her right hand feels light, almost faint, as though it’s not really there. Perhaps she dropped it? She’s not sure, but she can’t move, can’t look down to check.
“Don’t lie, Andy,” Narcissa told her, her voice quiet and reproachful - the silence, though, allowed the dark-haired sister to hear the faint tremble in the younger girl’s voice. She felt a wave of guilt.
Should she really be doing this? Is it really fair? Her family - her parents and sisters - the ones who had always looked after her, who had raised her and loved her, who had always been there for her - is it really right for her to just run away from it all for no reason?
There is a reason, she thought, and it’s Ted. It’s Ted and the promise of the life they’d have together. The beautiful children they could have, the homely little house they could share, the career she could pursue, the simple troubles she could stay up late into the night fretting over, the menial tasks she’d have to perform every week to keep their house clean and in proper order. Most of all, though, she loved him. She loved him and wanted him and that mattered.
She supposed, perhaps it mattered more.
It’s too soon, this half-meeting, far too soon. Too close to her chance meeting with her mother not to hurt, not to bring back so many memories and feelings and thoughts and hopes she’d thought were long dead.
From the look on Narcissa’s face it’s too soon for her, too. That thought comforts Andromeda a little, even as a knife twists within her ribs. Doesn’t Narcissa want to see her? Haven’t they both lost enough already? Can’t she, even after everything, unbend her pride at least a little to say something? Can’t she see that she’s all Andromeda has left - her and Teddy and her mother?
“Where are you going?” Narcissa asked again, looking pale and thin in the dim light. Her hair glimmered like starlight.
“I told you - I’m not going anywhere,” Andromeda snapped, her heart hammering in her chest. She’d be caught, no doubt about. Narcissa would tell her parents and Bella - oh Merlin, she’d tell Bella - and then everything would be over. Ted would be taken away from her, she’d be brought back in disgrace. Everything would be ruined beyond all repair.
“Then why is your trunk full of clothes and books?” Narcissa wanted to know, a note in her voice letting Andromeda know she’d been caught out. “You’re going somewhere, Andy, don’t try and talk your way out of this. It’s that mudblood boy, isn’t it?”
“It’s not - don’t call him that!” she shot back, aware as soon as the words left her lips that she’d effectively sealed her own fate. “He’s a wizard, just like you and me!”
“No, he’s not,” Narcissa told her simply, giving her an odd look, before shaking her head, a light sigh running throughout her body. “So, this is it, then? You’re just going to up and leave… for him?”
“Narcissa… Cissy, it’s not… it’s not like that,” she tried, not sure what she was trying to say. What could she really say to make this situation any better? I’m sorry?
Blue eyes bored into her own with a surprising amount of force. Instead of their usual faint warmth, they were hard, spitting cerulean fire.
“It is like that,” Cissy retorted, folding her arms over her chest. “You’re leaving to go and live with him - I know you are. What about us? Mother? Father? Bella? Me? Did you even think about us? Do you have any idea what it will be like for us?”
“Of course I did - how can you think that I -” she began, before Narcissa cut her off ruthlessly.
“Stop it. I don’t want to hear your excuses,” she shook her head, strands of blonde hair escaping from the neat bun on the top of her head. “If you’re going to go, just go. At least that way I’ll be less of a liar when I tell mother and father that I didn’t know what you were planning and couldn’t stop you.”
The look she gave Andromeda was bitter, hurt and shimmering with tears. Blinking back sudden tears herself, her anger at Narcissa for calling Ted a mudblood having abated somewhat, Andromeda nodded jerkily.
“Right,” she breathed. “I’ll just… I’ll just go, then.”
For a moment, as the two of them stood there, facing each other, Andromeda thought Narcissa was going to say something - don’t go? Stay? I’ll miss you? - but then the younger girl shook her head roughly and turned around, stalking away from the door, leaving her all on her own, staring after her sister.
Andromeda felt a wave of defiance sweep through her. Narcissa had told her to ‘just leave’ - and so she would.
So many years later, that single incident, their last conversation, seems like only yesterday. Andromeda’s aware that the way they’re standing now is a mocking parallel of the time then, the street creating a gulf between the two, some impossible No Man’s Land that neither of them is willing to breach.
Eventually, Narcissa finds her voice and, with a respectful, polite nod, says,
The single word, her name, drops into the silence like a stone into a pond. Before the ripples run away, she replies,
Her mind feels sluggish, heavy, soft. Desperately, she casts around for a topic to talk about - something, anything to discuss. Inwardly, she can’t help but lament the fact that she, when finally seeing her sister again after so long, can’t find anything to say to her.
“Mother said she saw you the other day,” Narcissa breaks the silence again - her tone is abrupt, clipped, but with a hint, a strain underneath it all the coldness, that hints at something deeper, something sadder. “At Bella’s,” she swallows, obviously finding it difficult, but Andromeda waits patiently for her to force the word out of her mouth. “Grave.”
“She did,” Andromeda nods, still standing frozen, ignoring the odd looks the two of them are receiving from the other shoppers hurrying past down the Alley. “Did she… did she say anything else?”
She isn’t sure what she expects to hear - that her mother had spoken about her, had shared the details of their brief conversation with Narcissa, that their mother had said nothing other than a single remark casually thrown into the talk. Nevertheless, she wants to know, for a reason she can’t name.
“She said you talked briefly,” Narcissa gives a slight, delicate shrug, pulling her sky-blue cloak tighter around her thin shoulders, holding her head up when a passer-by gives her a dirty look, ushering her children away from the blonde woman. “Nothing more.”
Andromeda feels her stomach twist gently. Whatever she had been expecting Narcissa to say - whatever she had expected her mother to have said about - she hadn’t thought it would have been that little. Druella Black had always been one for gossip, soaking up every word of what was going on at Hogwarts whenever the girls came home for the holidays and telling them in detail exactly what had happened while they had been away. It was odd, therefore, that she had opted, this once, to stay silent.
“Right,” she nods once, again. “I see.” Andromeda is well aware that her responses are short, succinct and hardly conducive to an actual conversation, but she can’t for the life of her think of anything to talk about. The weather, perhaps, is the only thing inoffensive she can come up with to discuss and the idea of sinking that low, of stooping to that level, to simply chat to her sister is ridiculous.
“How… how are you?” she adds, feeling that really it’s the only question she can really ask, all others (How are things? How’s Draco? How’s Lucius? Do you miss Bella too?) being far too sensitive to dare to touch. Perhaps in time, but not now.
“I haven’t been too bad,” Narcissa responds, their eye contact broken briefly by a man in a long, yellow cape sweeping between them. “Things have been easier recently. How about you? And your grandson?”
For a moment, Andromeda is startled that Narcissa even knows of Teddy’s existence. She never sent a letter to either of her sisters letting them know he was born, or even expected - she barely even mentioned him in passing to her mother, and called him ‘Teddy’, rather than ‘my grandson’, so his identity wouldn’t have automatically been obvious. A slight prickle of fear washes over her before vanishing. Narcissa is her sister, after all - she wouldn’t put Teddy in danger.
Something cold seems to run down her back. She’d thought the same about Bellatrix. That she’d never really hurt her daughter or her husband or her, that she’d never lose her mind that much, that she’d never dare to go that far. She’d been wrong on that occasion.
Narcissa is not Bellatrix, though, and that thought is oddly comforting.
“I’m fine,” she nods once. “And my grandson - Teddy - he’s fine. He’s with Harry today. I’m picking him up once I’m finished here.”
Another wizard strolls past, face buried in a copy of the Daily Prophet, his glasses sliding down his nose as he reads avidly.
Narcissa nods, tucking a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear. She licks her lips nervously, eyes darting from side to side even as she holds herself up proudly.
“Andromeda… look, I just wanted to say that… well, I’m sorry,” she stumbles a little over the words, looking at Andromeda with eyes of blue steel. Behind the steel, though, there is a faint flicker of fear. Fear that her sister won’t accept the apology, that Andromeda will react badly, fear that it won’t be enough.
“Th-thank you,” Andromeda chokes on her reply, staring at her sister. She never expected those words to come out of her sister’s mouth - not here, not now, not after everything that had happened.
In her chest, a small glowing coal bursts into flames. Maybe there’s hope for the remaining two sisters, she thinks, maybe they can be friends and siblings again. Despite it all, she finds herself giving a small smile, a smile of hope.
Narcissa takes a couple of steps away, beginning to move off down the street. Before she can get any further away, Andromeda stops her.
“Narcissa,” she calls out, attracting the attention of a couple of witches by a stall selling handmade potions (Dreamless Sleep available in lavender, orange and parsnip varieties) outside Ollivander’s. “Would you… like to meet up some time?”
There’s a moment where, looking at her sister, she thinks Narcissa’s going to flee down the road to get away from the staring faces, but then Narcissa nods and smiles ever-so-slightly.
“I will send you an owl.”
As Andromeda picks up her bag from where she dropped it on the ground, she decides that she has never been quite so glad to hear those words in her life. This day has turned out excellently. When she passes the stall outside the wandmaker’s, she makes a point of smiling brightly at the women standing there. They eye her nervously, no doubt wondering what she was doing associating with Narcissa Malfoy, of all people.
“Lovely day, isn’t it?”