Chapter 1 : Ambition
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She was crying, but she didn’t know why. Something unthinkable, something devastating had occurred, but now she couldn’t remember what it had been. All she knew for certain was the agonizing ache that bloomed in her stomach and spread through her veins.
Then she heard it: a solitary chirp. She looked up. Perched on the willow branch above her was a linnet, colored the shade of brass. Atop its head was a strange, golden-colored tuft. She had never seen a bird like this in the family gardens. The linnet chirped again, then tilted its head curiously down at Andromeda. Its chest rose and fell rapidly.
He must be so cold, she thought. And without knowing why, she raised her hand out to the linnet. The bird chirped again. There was a fluttering of wings. Then nothing. Darkness. Only darkness. And in the darkness, she heard—
Warmth flooded back into Andromeda’s limbs. She gasped, her eyes fluttering open. The unidentifiable ache was gone. The snow-covered courtyard had vanished, replaced by the amber glow of a train carriage.
Narcissa had leaned over from her seat, her cold hand on Andromeda’s and her pale blue eyes wide with concern.
Andromeda swallowed hard.
“I’m fine,” she said, slipping her hand out from Narcissa’s.
“Merlin, Andromeda. They make potions for that.”
Andromeda’s gaze flicked up to Lucius Malfoy, who sat beside her sister, arms crossed, expression dispassionate. Her eyes narrowed at his comment.
“Potions for what?” Her voice was clouded with phlegm from disuse. She coughed once, then straightened her back, fixing him with a haughty stare that all the Black sisters were known for. “It was only a nightmare.”
“Yeah, but Narcissa said that you’ve been—“
Lucius’ words were cut short by a swift kick to his shin, courtesy of Narcissa. She fixed him with a venomous glare.
Andromeda had fixed a similar glare on Narcissa. She didn’t know why she was surprised anymore. Narcissa told everything to Lucius these days. Loyalty to the Family Black was not of much value, it seemed, when Narcissa was so set on becoming a Malfoy. It wasn’t that Andromeda disliked Lucius. He was arrogant, certainly, but he had the money and privilege to justify his pride. He had a reputation in school for being a prick, but what mattered to Andromeda was how he treated her sister, and in that he was faultless.
Lucius was kind and attentive to Narcissa; Andromeda had never doubted that his affection was genuine. His union with Narcissa would be smart match, of course, and both the Blacks and the Malfoys approved. That he and Narcissa actually loved each other was a rare and welcome happenstance, and Andromeda wasn’t about to begrudge them that happiness. All the same, she would have preferred if Narcissa wouldn’t go blabbering every detail of the Blacks’ private lives to her boyfriend—especially Andromeda’s recent bout with insomnia.
“I’m only worried about you, Andie,” Narcissa said. “You haven’t slept well all summer holiday. I’ve heard you at night. I’ve heard you screaming.”
“Cissy,” Andromeda hissed. “It’s not your concern, and it’s certainly not his.”
Lucius merely shrugged and picked up his folded copy of The Daily Prophet. He didn’t look particularly pleased to have been drawn into a fight. He studied the paper intently, clearly set on leaving the sisters to it.
“What if it’s a curse?” Narcissa pressed. “If you would only tell Mummy and Daddy about it, they could—“
“It’s none of their business either. So I’ve been having nightmares. It undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that I’ve got a deluge wizarding exams to worry about this year. It’s seventh year stress, that’s all. You’ll understand next year.”
Narcissa sniffed. “Only I won’t be bothering with N.E.W.T.s.”
Andromeda was well aware of this fact. It was a sore sport between the sisters. Narcissa didn’t see the point in taking N.E.W.T. classes or exams when she already knew that her future was as a wife and mother. In fact, the entire Black family was of the opinion that N.E.W.T.s were useless to its female members. Bellatrix hadn’t troubled herself with them and neither had their mother Druella, nor Aunt Walburga, nor any Black woman that had preceded them. Not only were wizarding exams pointless for women whose sole job was to marry and procreate, they entailed a certain vulgar display of earnestness and work ethic that was unbecoming to any pureblooded aristocrat. Andromeda had heard the lectures ad nauseam from her mother, her sisters, and her aunt. But she had never heard it from her father.
“Listen to me, Dromeda,” Cygnus Black had told his daughter on a December night eight years earlier.
She had been sitting in his study, on the chaise lounge in the corner, reading a worn copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Andromeda loved her father’s study, all aged books and mahogany shelves and flickering firelight. She especially loved peeking up from her book and watching him work at his desk. He wrote with studied flourish, covering reams of parchment with green ink. On this particular night, he had set down his quill and called Andromeda to his side.
“Listen to me, Dromeda,” he said. “You’re smarter by far than your sisters.”
Andromeda’s eyes had widened in shock. “Me? But Bella is so very—“
“So very clever?” Cygnus supplied slowly. “Yes. Your older sister is extremely cunning. She is ambitious and she is sharp-tongued, as any good Slytherin ought to be. But she is single-minded, too, and she possesses a propensity for cruelty that blinds her to the better part of knowledge. In her haste to gain personal satisfaction, she misses the wisdom and the beauty of things. Your younger sister, too, is endowed with excellent qualities. She is observant, and unlike Bella, she is good-tempered.”
“And,” said nine-year-old Andromeda, “she’s so pretty.”
“She will have no trouble making a good match,” Cygnus conceded. “She will most certainly become a beauty, just like your mother. However, neither her beauty nor Bella’s cunning are a substitute for your mind, my dear.”
“What’s so special about my mind?” Andromeda whispered, blinking steadily up at her father.
“You see the details, Dromeda. You see the beauty. That is an extraordinarily rare quality. I want you to make use of it. I especially want you to make use of it at Hogwarts. Do you understand me? Apply yourself. You are capable of great things. Do not waste that capability. Make me proud.”
Her father had never told Andromeda in so many words that she ought to study hard, to ask questions in class, to turn in extra credit, to meet with her professors outside of class—all actions that earned Andromeda stink eyes and teasing giggles from the other Slytherins. He had never explicitly told her to earn Os and Es on her O.W.L.s or to attend N.E.W.T.-level classes. But he had never told her not to do so. Unlike the rest of her family, he had never once reprimanded Andromeda for her desire to take the wizarding exams, never once demanded she shut up when she talked about potential careers other than homemaker and socialite. He never spoke to her again on the subject, not after that winter night in his study. But every so often, she would catch him looking at her with a calm, steady gaze that she knew was pride. Her father was proud of her. Druella could chastise her for being unladylike in her academic achievement. Bellatrix could call her a brown-nosing goody-goody. Narcissa could giggle and call her study sessions in the library “cute.” But none of that mattered if her father was proud and, more importantly, she was proud of herself.
Andromeda didn’t care about her mother’s opinion, nor Bellatrix’s. But sometimes she wished she could change Narcissa’s mind, explain to her the value of an education. Her heart panged slightly at Narcissa’s comment. No, her little sister would never bother with upper-level coursework. She would squeak by in her classes, she would marry, and she would produce perfect little pureblooded children. Perhaps this was exactly what Narcissa wanted, but Andromeda couldn’t help but feel like her sister deserved something more.
“I’m sorry I snapped,” Andromeda said, her gaze softening. “I know you mean well, Cissy.”
Narcissa sighed. “Lucius only suggested that you try some sleep potion, is all. He thought it might be helpful.”
“That’s very kind,” Andromeda said, turning her gaze to Lucius, “but I’ve heard that sleep potions can be extremely addictive.”
“They can be,” Lucius said, setting down his paper. “But you forget that I’m an expert potions maker. I could make you a mild batch that should knock out your nightmares without turning you into a junkie—if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Slowly, Andromeda nodded. “I suppose that wouldn’t hurt. If you don’t mind, that is.”
“Not at all,” Lucius said. “Anything for my Narcissa’s favorite sister.”
Narcissa beamed at her boyfriend, then winked blithely at Andromeda. “Isn’t he the best? He’s just marvelous.”
Narcissa snuggled against Lucius’ shoulder, her blonde locks cascading across his prefect badge. If Andromeda hadn’t been Narcissa’s sister, she would’ve grown violently ill at just how sickeningly sweet this little tableau was; as things stood, she was only a little queasy.
Outside, the blurred countryside grew more definable. The train was slowing, and already Andromeda could hear students clattering about in the hall, hauling their trunks along so that they could be the first ones off the train. Andromeda didn’t have to worry on that score. Rabastan had promised to meet her at the platform and carry her belongings like a proper and attentive boyfriend. He had arrived at school early, as he and his father had taken a hunting trip up to Scotland a week before. It had been a full month since they had seen each other, and Andromeda had begun to worry that his absence had not affected her in the least. She hadn’t missed Rabastan; in fact, she’d felt a certain sort of relief that she didn’t have to dress up and do her hair a certain way each and every morning. But of course she would be overjoyed once she saw him. Surely.
Andromeda stood up and slid back the carriage door.
“Where are you going?” Narcissa asked, alarmed. “You aren’t just going to run off with Rabastan and leave me all alone?”
“All alone?” Andromeda paused in the threshold, smirking. “Don’t be silly, Cissy. You’ve got Lucius. I’m the one who hasn’t seen my boyfriend in weeks.”
“Go let her and Lestrange have their fun,” Lucius said, pulling Narcissa even closer against him, “and we’ll have ours.”
Andromeda made a face at Lucius and stuck her tongue out at Narcissa. “Bye, lovelies. See you on the other side.”
The train had rolled to a complete stop, and Andromeda watched out the corridor window as dozens of eager first and second years poured out of the foremost carriages, shouting and gaping like newborn puppies. They were so little, so innocent; Andromeda could hardly believe she’d really been that tiny when she’d first arrived at Hogwarts.
“Poor little lad looks like he’s on the verge of a panic attack.”
A finger came into Andromeda’s view, pointing against the glass toward a small ginger boy with over-large glasses who did, in fact, look like he was about to start hyperventilating. She froze at the voice. She didn’t recognize it; it was warm and low, and distinctly lower class in accent. Its edges lilted up, as thought its owner was perpetually on the verge of laughing. In short, it wasn’t a voice that belonged to any of her Slytherin classmates.
Slowly, Andromeda turned around to face the speaker. He was barely taller than her, and he was uncomfortably close. Still, Andromeda could clearly make out his features. Dirty golden hair, mud brown eyes, freckles, and day-old stubble; broad shoulders, pale skin, and a goldenrod t-shirt. Andromeda recognized him. He was a seventh year, like her, and he was Hufflepuff’s star chaser. A Hufflepuff. And Sweet Salazar, he was smiling at her.
Andromeda stared blankly back. The best thing to do in this situation was to say nothing and calmly evade any further contact. She tilted her chin up and then pushed past him, down the corridor.
“Oi!” the warm voice shouted behind her. Even now, he sounded like he was going to burst out laughing. “Classy, Black. I haven’t got the dragon pox, you know.”
Andromeda should have kept walking. She knew that. Rabastan was waiting for her at the platform. But for some insanely stupid and inexplicable reason, she turned back around. The boy was leaning easily against the train window, arms crossed, still smiling serenely at her. What was his problem?
“Fuck off,” she said crisply.
“Okay,” the boy said, shrugging.
Now she remembered his name from Quidditch commentary: Tonks. Something Tonks. Terrence? Todd? Ted? It didn’t really matter. What mattered was that he was a Hufflepuff stupid enough to talk to her. She wanted to walk back there and slap that idiotic smile off of his face. What was so funny?
“Talk to me again,” she growled, “and I will hex your ass to kingdom come. Got that, Tonks?”
“Is that a promise?” His smile only grew.
Of all the mudblooded gall… Andromeda gaped and reached in her robe for her wand. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but she wasn’t about to let—
“There you are.”
Andromeda gasped as a heavy weight suddenly pressed against her stomach and a hot breath tickled against her ear. Rabastan. He had boarded the train and wrapped his arms about her from behind. His lips descended on her neck, hot and dry. She closed her eyes. “Don’t ever leave me alone again that long. I was on the verge of madness without you.”
Andromeda squirmed against the tickle of his breath. “Rabastan, quit it,” she said. “We’re in public.”
“Mhm,” Rabastan agreed. “So just imagine what my welcome’s gonna be like behind closed doors.”
Andromeda opened her eyes. This was not a display that she wanted anyone witnessing, especially not that imbecilic Hufflepuff boy. But when Andromeda looked back down the corridor, she saw nothing but the boy’s back as he walked soundlessly away.
Rabastan released his grip and turned Andromeda to face him. “Now then,” he said, tilting up her chin. “Let’s fetch your things and be on our way. I hear they’re serving roast lamb tonight. Excellent start to a new year."
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