After Preston Greengrass drools on my dress robes (again), I give up on dancing for the night. By my count, Mother has only had three drinks so far; she’ll need at least another two before she transitions from unreasonably angry to unreasonably depressed and we can finally go home. Unfortunately, Bella is in one of her moods again, which means she won’t talk to me, so I’m forced to wander around the room by myself.
I fantasize about the future to pass the time. On my first lap around the room, I am wearing diamond-encrusted dress robes and I am the most radiant creature in existence. By my third lap, Lucius is begging me to kiss him but I am playing coy. We’re married on the ninth lap and we have three beautiful daughters by the twelfth.
Andromeda shows up on the thirteenth.
She appears next to Casper Parkinson with a small pop, very nearly knocking his drink right out of his hand. Scowling at her lack of Apparition etiquette, I drag her into an alcove before Mother sees her and causes a scene.
“Where have you been?” I hiss. “And why is there grass in your hair?”
Usually Andromeda is an expert at concealing her emotions but, tonight, my comment brings a blush to her face. She avoids my gaze and self-consciously tousles her hair, contributing even more to her already disheveled appearance. I watch with disapproval.
“Extra shift at the Hospital,” she answers, finally.
“Again?” I say, exasperated. Sometimes, I feel like I’m the oldest out of the three of us; I honestly don’t know where my sisters would be without my guidance. “Andromeda, you need to straighten out your priorities here. I know you think your Healing is important, but, if you don’t start actually searching for a husband soon, Mother will just pick one for you. Even Bella is trying harder than you.”
I nod towards our older sister, who is standing inappropriately close to Rodolphus Lestrange, apparently flirting. I smile approvingly; even if her methods aren’t exactly proper, at least she’s making an effort.
Andromeda stares mutely at Bella and Rodolphus. I can tell my words have hit her hard by the far-off look in her eyes and the resigned quirk to her mouth. Thank God she’s finally listening to me.
I’m about to suggest she takes a turn around the room with Preston to appease Mother, when Lucius finds us. After denying myself so much as a sly glance all night, looking straight at him feels like coming home. He’s dressed impeccably, as usual, and he has a devilish smirk on his face that sends delightful shivers up my spine.
But he doesn’t even look at me.
“So glad you decided to come tonight,” he says to Andromeda. “Would you care to dance?”
The shivers are gone and now I feel numb and my mind plays the same word on loop, over and over: what? Whatwhatwhatwhat? Andromeda reluctantly accepts his arm and smiles ironically at me; I feel nauseous. And then Lucius guides her across the room and they start to dance, their dress robes tracing endless circles on the floor.
They look wrong together - all clashing complexions and non-complementary colours. It is my sole comfort.