Chapter 4 : Collector's Doll
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Thank you for the flowers. My co-workers now believe I am the mistress of some wealthy wizard from the States (Ari has quite the wild imagination). I don’t have the heart to tell them the much less exciting truth, so you better acquire a massive fortune and an exaggerated amount of patriotism very quickly.
Meadow, six o’clock?
P.S. Have to talk to you about something Cissy said at the Lestranges. Bring your shoulder and your usual anti-Black-family tirade.
I tie the letter with my customary blue ribbon and send it off. Ever since Bella very nearly walked in on our Floo conversation, Ted and I have communicated solely through letters. It’s not as quick as the Floo Network, but I suppose maybe a tiny part of me might actually find it sort of romantic - just a little.
Alright, fine, I save every single letter he writes me.
I retrieve the worn box of letters from under a loose floorboard in my room, cradling it to my chest as I plop down on my bed. Even as I rifle through them aimlessly, I already know which one I’m searching for: that unforgettable April 16th, the first time he told me he loved me.
There’s a knock at the door before I find it.
I fumble awkwardly with the box, stuffing the letters back inside and snapping the lid shut. But the door is already swinging open and there’s no time to hide it back under the floorboard, so I place it beside me on the bed and attempt to look as innocent as possible.
Cissy walks inside - or, rather, glides inside; she is effortlessly graceful in a way that I can’t help but envy. She’s also annoyingly observant. Her eyes flit instantly to the box and one perfectly plucked eyebrow curves upwards: a question mark.
I stare coolly back at her, until she says, “Mother would like to see you.”
“I’ll be down in a minute.”
I wait until she leaves to stow my box back under the floorboard, then I hurry to the drawing room - or, as I like to privately call it, Mother’s torture chamber.
I’m expecting another scolding for my behavior at the Lestranges. I’m expecting Mother to be slouched over in her favourite armchair, the wrinkles on her face creased into that ever-familiar disapproval and a glass of brandy in her hand. Instead, she’s pacing in front of the fireplace. The brandy’s still there (of course) but, for the first time in a long time, she’s smiling.
“Andromeda.” She smiles at me, and this is how I know something’s wrong. My mother never smiles or greets me; most of the time, she tries not to even look at me.
I glance at Cissy, who’s standing by the door, but she looks as perplexed as I am by Mother’s cheeriness. Perhaps Uncle Alphard has died and left us all his money - that probably would make her smile.
“Mother,” I say cautiously, “are you alright?”
Her smile grows and my heart sinks. “Andromeda,” she repeats, in an alarmingly warm voice, “I am more than alright.” There’s a tortuous pause where she just stares at me, a vulture about to swoop in on her prey, and my hands start to sweat. And then she attacks. “I just had the most interesting visit from Lucius Malfoy...he has asked for your hand in marriage. I trust you will make him very happy.” She releases the words slowly, as if revelling in the taste of them.
But they don’t taste as sweet to me.
I meet her gaze in horrified disbelief; I feel ambushed, so wholly unprepared for this conversation that I’m at a loss for what to say. The entire room waits in terrible silence - silence so loud it physically hurts to hear. Then, behind me, Cissy makes a strangled noise, and the words suddenly come rushing back to me.
“What?” I hiss. “Is he bloody insane? Are you bloody insane? I am not going to marry that slimy git, and if you think - ”
“I beg your pardon?” Mother says. She swishes the brandy around in her glass and takes another sip, so calmly it’s infuriating. “With the way you go about, gallivanting around like a child and working, for God’s sake...you should be grateful that a Malfoy would even consider you an acceptable choice.” Cissy makes another small noise - bloody hell, is she crying? - but Mother’s voice cuts through it. “Andromeda, you will marry Lucius, or I will make you marry him.”
“No,” I say loudly, emphatically. And I’m so angry now that I can’t formulate a defense beyond that one word; I can barely think straight. All I know is that I don’t want to be in her torture chamber anymore, another porcelain doll in the Black family collection, locked in a glass case of expectations.
Without another word, I dart out of the house, past the Apparition wards. I can’t wait till six anymore; I need to see Ted now.
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