Chapter 13 : Refuge
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“Two scoops, or three?”
The vendor gave Andromeda a toothless smile, his brass shovel held high above the vat of steaming, sugary almonds.
“Just two, please,” she said, tucking her hands deep into her coat pockets.
She had forgotten gloves. Andromeda supposed that such a misfortune was bound to happen when you packed and ran away from home all in the course of five minutes. She was aware now that she really hadn’t been thinking clearly when she left; her mind had remained addled from Aunt Walburga’s curse for at least an hour after she'd woken.
By then, Andromeda had found herself in Diagon Alley, checked into a tiny, rented room in an inn situated above Obscurus Books. At least she’d had the presence of mind to not rent a room at the Leaky Cauldron. That would be the far more obvious choice, and once the family realized that she was gone and began looking for her, she was certain that they would eventually end up searching there. She had even had the presence of mind to tell the innkeeper that her name was Louisa Kirke. She just hadn’t had the presence of mind to pack gloves.
But gloves weren’t a necessity. She’d only had a total of three galleons, eight sickles in her change purse when she left Grimmauld Place. Andromeda had never been responsible for paying for anything in her life, excepting the occasional butterbeer or sack of candy from Hogsmeade. She hadn’t anticipated one night’s stay at an inn to cost almost all the money in her possession. Roasted almonds weren’t Andromeda’s top choice in cuisine this morning; they were just all that she could afford with the remaining sickles in her coat pocket.
The vendor finished shoveling the second scoopful of almonds into a thick paper bag, and he handed it over to Andromeda with a wink. She gave a stiff nod back and then quickly disappeared back into the crowded street.
Christmas was only two days away, and Diagon Alley was bustling with customers, all intent on buying last minute gifts. Andromeda was thankful for the chaos. It allowed her to slip through the crowd without quite so much paranoia as she would have felt were her face more readily visible and identifiable. It had almost been a full day since she had escaped her locked bedroom. They had to be looking for her by now. The sooner she could escape from a public street—no matter how crowded—and into her rented room, the better.
At least, that had been Andromeda’s mindset when she finally emerged from the crowd and onto the front doorstep of Obscurus Books. Then she had caught a glimpse of a vaguely familiar face behind the window display. She frowned, trying to place the burly, auburn-haired boy. A faint scar ran along his cheek.
She remembered. It was George Vanderpool, one of Hufflepuff’s beaters. He was the boy who had called her a Slytherin Princess several weeks back—the one who’d told Andromeda that Ted was in the hospital wing.
A sudden memory burst into Andromeda’s mind, and with it came an irrepressible instinct. She hurried up the steps and, rather than carry on up the stairwell to the second-story inn, she went inside the bookshop itself.
George was still standing near the window display, squinting at a dusty, pocket-sized book. He was so intent on reading that he didn’t notice Andromeda’s approach until she took the book out of his hand, turned it over to look at its cover—Quidditch Through The Ages: A Condensation—and handed it back to him with an expectant look.
“What do you want?” said George. He looked irritated, but also a little scared.
“You know who I am, don’t you?”
“Sure. You’re Andromeda Black. We’ve talked bef—“
“I’m aware,” she interrupted. “Look, Ted lives in London, doesn’t he?”
Ted had told her once, at their fourth or fifth meeting, that he had moved to London from York when he was eight years old. Andromeda had never cared enough to ask where he lived currently, but that single piece of information now seemed like the most important fact in the wide world.
“Uh,” said George, “yeah? I was at his place yesterd—“
He broke off with a sudden look of suspicion.
“Wait. Why do you care?”
“Where in London?” Andromeda pressed. “Where does he live?”
George guffawed. “Merlin, you must think I’m dense. Why would I tell you where Ted Tonks lives?”
Andromeda crossed her arms. “Why wouldn’t you?”
“Are you serious? What would compel me to tell Andromeda Black the street address of a Muggleborn that she is widely known to loathe? I know your sort. You screw around with people like us for fun, think we’re punching bags for curses and hexes. Well, I’m not about to facilitate you and yours going all Dark Arts on Tonks’ ass. Why would I?”
Mere days ago, Andromeda would’ve had a vehement retort for George Vanderpool. She would’ve laughed in his face, would’ve defended the family name from any accusation or even hint that they dabbled in the Dark Arts. She would’ve done all of that, at least, before her own aunt had performed an unforgiveable on her. Now, she remained silent, blinking at George with a dead feeling in her chest. He was right, wasn’t he? He had every right to distrust Andromeda and her kind.
Unless Andromeda said the one thing that it was unthinkable for her kind to say.
“Because he’s my friend.”
A blank stare.
“Uh. Come again?”
“Or at least, I’m his friend,” Andromeda mumbled, sinking her chin into her scarf. “I know you don’t have any reason to think so, but I actually care about Ted’s wellbeing. I would never want him to come to harm. I swear it.”
George looked at a loss for words. “Why exactly are you telling me this?”
“Because I need to talk to him,” Andromeda said, embarrassed by the desperate tone her voice had taken but in too deep to really care anymore. “Do you think that I’d be making a fool of myself in front of you if I wasn’t serious?”
George’s brow creased. “I dunno. You could just be a really good liar. Anyway, if you’re his friend, why don’t you know where he lives?”
Andromeda lowered her eyes. “Because I’m selfish, and I never ask Ted questions about himself.”
George smirked. “Now there’s the first thing you’ve said that I don’t doubt. All right, come on.”
“What?” Andromeda’s heart sped up in anticipation. “Really? You’ll take me there?”
George gave her an ugly look. “No, I’m not going to take you there. You could still be a complete psycho dead set on burning Tonks alive in his own bed. But I am going to do something really generous, so you should probably start thanking me now. Come on, we’re gonna go do some Muggle business.”
Andromeda stood on the busy street corner, watching George’s every move and casting furtive, cautious glances around. They were in Muggle London. Andromeda made it a point not to walk these streets. Now that she was seventeen and had earned her apparating license, she could apparate wherever she pleased, from one magical nook of London to the next. But now she stood helplessly by in a swarming Muggle crowd, her arms folded in a protective gesture. She felt vulnerable and overwhelmed, and she really wished that George would just hurry up whatever it was he was doing inside of that red box.
George had explained to Andromeda on their way out of Diagon Alley that he intended to ring Ted’s telephone and allow Andromeda to talk to him over the phone. If Ted really wanted to see her, George said, then Ted could give her his address himself. Andromeda was impatient with George, but she really couldn’t fault him. She supposed that, from his perspective, the plan made perfect sense.
The only hitch was that Andromeda had never used the Muggle contraption known as a telephone in her entire life. She had watched with guarded interested as George crammed himself into the phone booth, plunked some strange Muggle money into the machine, and placed the telephone to his ear. It seemed that one end was made for the ear, one for the mouth. That made sense, at least. If Muggles could do it, surely it couldn’t be that difficult.
She watched George with baited breath as he waited for someone to pick up the other line. Then he began to talk, and she tried desperately to lip-read through the glass door.
What if Ted didn’t want to talk to her? The thought hadn’t even occurred to Andromeda until now. But really, what possible motivation would Ted Tonks have to talk to her on the telephone? To invite her into his house? What had she been thinking? Had Aunt Walburga’s Imperius curse permanently damaged her brain? What would she even say to Ted, if he did speak to her?
Oh, I know I’ve been a complete bitch to you, but I’m all out of money and have run away from home, so would you mind putting me up in your Muggle house for a couple weeks?
This was bad. This was so very bad. This was all because she didn’t have a plan in place. Now she was just floundering about, confused and upset and making really stupid judgment calls.
George had turned his back to Andromeda. He had his hand cupped over the receiver as though he was engaged in an immensely private, serious conversation.
She should just walk away now. She should leave it be. Or she should open that telephone booth and tell George to forget about it, she hadn’t been thinking. Yes, she’d just open that door and—
The door swung open and George leaned out, motioning her forward with a crooked finger.
“Switch places,” he said, offering the phone to her. “Miracle of miracles, he actually wants to talk to you.”
Cautiously, Andromeda approached him. She took the phone, then skirted past George to slip inside the booth. He closed the door behind her and folded his arms, staring at her. He mouthed the words I’m watching you.
Then Andromeda remembered that Ted was waiting on the other line. She held up the phone to her face, mimicking the posture that George had assumed earlier.
“Hello?” she said. “Hello?”
She heard nothing.
“Hello?” she said again, louder this time.
Then she heard it—very faint, but unmistakably a voice calling “hello” back.
She frowned. The voice wasn’t coming from the end of the phone she had pressed to her ear. It was coming from—
Oh. From the other end. Andromeda quickly spun the phone around to the proper position, but a quick glance outside at George’s laughing face told her that her mistake had not gone unnoticed. She gave George a dirty look and turned around so that her back was facing him. Two could play this game.
“Hello?” she tried again, and this time Ted’s voice came through, loud and clear.
That word. That single word sent a shiver through Andromeda’s body and tightened her throat. She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the cold windowpane of the phone booth.
“Are you okay? George said you were, um, acting really odd.”
Talking to a Hufflepuff of her own volition. Asking for the address of a Mudblood. Calling such said Mudblood her friend. Yes, yes that was extremely odd behavior for Andromeda Black.
“It's just that I—I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know why I’m talking to you, or why I spoke to George in the first place, or why I thought that any of this was a good idea. I’m just—I’m not in a very good place right now, and Narcissa and Lilith aren’t here, and even if I owled them, they would just tell me to go back home, or worse still they would tell Mum and Dad where I am. And it’s the most ridiculous thing on earth, but all I’ve been able to think about for the past few days is—I mean, I just kept thinking about you—isn’t that ridiculous?—and I thought—I thought—“
“Okay, don't hyperventilate. Just let me get this straight: did you just run away from home?”
Andromeda sniffed. “Well, that’s a very childish way of putting it, but yes. Yes, I suppose I did.”
“It isn’t funny!”
“I didn’t say it was funny.”
“But your voice was doing the thing. You know, that thing where it sounds like you’re laughing at me.”
“I’m not aware of the thing,” Ted said slowly, “but I promise I’m not laughing at you. Look, do you have any money? A place to stay?”
Andromeda stared nervously at the telephone. She tapped her finger against the metal change flap. “I have roasted almonds,” she whimpered.
Ted was silent on the other line for a long moment. “Do you want to stay with me, Dromeda?”
A shiver passed through her again. “I—I don’t really know.”
“I think,” said Ted, “that may be why you called. Unless you know of another reason?”
Andromeda closed her eyes. A single tear leaked out.
“No,” she said hoarsely. “I can’t think of one.”
“Could you put George back on?”
“Because,” said Ted, “I need to ask him a really big favor.”
She closed her eyes again. “Yes?”
“It’s all going to be okay. Promise.”
“You can’t promise that.”
She motioned for George through the glass.
He opened the door and, without bothering to switch out again with Andromeda, merely pulled the phone out by its cord. He cradled it against his ear as he finished lighting a cigarette already poised in his mouth.
“Yeah, mate? So, psycho? Should I drop—?”
He went silent. Then his eyes flitted up to Andromeda. His voice lowered.
“Are you high? You know who you just talked to, right? What? What?! Are you fucking kidding me, Tonks? You couldn’t pay me enough galleons to—wait, how much? Would I get that from you in writing?” He glanced up again at Andromeda, as though he were weighing a solemn decision. “Yeah, yeah, no, I hear you. I’ll take care of it. Sure. What? No. Why the fuck would I tell the mates about this? Makes you look like a deranged bleeding heart. Of course I won’t tell them. Uh huh. You too.”
He hung up the phone with a harsh clack. Then he took a long drag from his cigarette and shook his head at Andromeda.
“Looks like your sweet-talking paid off, princess,” he said. “Come on. You’ve got yourself a personal escort to Tonks’ place.”
The venture had required a trip back to Diagon Alley. Andromeda checked out with the innkeeper and gathered the few things that she had packed into her satchel the night before. Then she followed George back out, through the Leaky Cauldron and into Muggle London. It was only when George came to a stop in a deserted brick alcove that she began to get nervous.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
Andromeda balked. “No. No, you’re not. Neither one of us is qualified enough for that. I am not in the mood to get splinched today, on top of everything else. If you’d just give me the address, I could go myself—“
“No,” said George. “I don’t trust you with it.”
They proceeded to glare at each other. Then George sauntered to the edge of the sidewalk and hailed the Knight Bus.
Andromeda had never ridden on the Knight Bus before, and she had no intention of ever riding it again. The interior was abysmally ratty, and the patrons all looked most unsavory. There was a reason that people like the Blacks never used public transportation.
All the same, the bus took them where they needed to go, which was London’s East End. Andromeda stared out the window as they passed by dirtied storefronts and sooty brick facades. Spray-painted murals and bare-branched trees bordered less than pristine looking shops. This certainly wasn’t Grimmauld Place.
At last, the bus came to a grinding, balance-upsetting halt outside of a stretch of brick townhomes. There was nothing remarkable about the neighborhood. In fact, it struck Andromeda as particularly drab.
George motioned for her to follow him off of the bus. It was flurrying outside, and snow collected on Andromeda’s coat before warming and beading into drops of water. She pulled up the hood of her coat to shield her hair from the damage. Not that it would do much good; she was well aware that she looked exceedingly homely and sleep-deprived. Maybe once Ted got a good look at her, he would change her mind and send her away….
“It’s that one,” said George, motioning to a townhouse with a green door. “Ted told me to let you go alone, but I’ll be watching.”
Andromeda nodded. “Okay.”
George narrowed his eyes. “What, I don’t get a 'thank you'?”
“He’s paying you to help me, isn’t he?” said Andromeda, though it really wasn’t a question. She had heard George’s end of the conversation; she knew what Ted must have done to convince him. “Why should I thank a hired hand?”
George gaped at her. “Well, aren’t you a fucking piece of work? Ted was right; you really are a self-serving, arrogant little posh.”
A chill settled in Andromeda’s chest. She closed her eyes.
“He called me that?” she asked weakly.
“Yeah,” said George, “and he wasn’t far off the mark.”
“No.” Andromeda folded her arms and stared down at her boots. “He wasn’t.”
This was clearly not the response that George had been expecting. He took a step closer to Andromeda.
“Listen to me,” he said, voice flinty around the edges. “You curse him, mess with him, you do anything to get him hurt, and I will end you. Got it?”
She looked up in surprise. That hadn’t been the response she’d been expecting, either. It was a stupid threat for someone like George Vanderpool to make, since Andromeda was certain that she could take him out in a duel. All the same, it was clear that he meant what he’d threatened.
“Got it,” she muttered.
Then she left George behind and climbed the front porch to Ted’s house. The green paint on the front door was peeling, and the flower boxes were filled with dead, brown ivy. She steeled herself and rapped loudly on the door.
When it opened, she found herself looking up at a young, square-jawed man with golden hair and deep brown eyes. She stared. Then she stammered. He looked so much like Ted.
The man gave Andromeda a quick once-over and then leaned back to shout, “Oi, Ted! Strippogram for you!”
There was a loud clatter from somewhere upstairs, and then the rapid, thundering sound of footsteps taking the stairs three at a time. Ted appeared behind the taller version of himself, scarlet-faced and out of breath.
“I told you to let me get it, you prat,” said Ted, shoving at the other boy.
That must be his brother, Andromeda thought. I didn’t know he had a brother.
In fact, Andromeda realized with sudden mortification that she knew absolutely nothing about Ted’s family.
“Sorry about that,” Ted said. “Nelson enjoys being an asshole every so often.”
Nelson grinned at the accusation. He looked immensely proud of himself.
Andromeda nodded mutely, her eyes wide. Ted’s expression changed, and he reached out a hand, as though to steady Andromeda. Did she look faint? He must’ve really taken a good look at her by now and been horrified at what he saw. This was the moment of truth: whether or not Ted really wanted her in his house.
“You look freezing,” said Ted, motioning for her to come inside. “C’mon. I’ve put some cider on the stove.”
Relief poured over Andromeda like a bath of piping hot water. She managed a smile and followed Ted inside, glancing over her shoulder in time to see George Vanderpool edging away from the front steps.
The front door opened immediately into a small sitting room, outfitted with mismatched furniture. Andromeda followed Ted and Nelson deeper in, keeping her hands shoved in her coat pockets. It was barely warmer in here than it had been outdoors.
“I’m sorry to be a imposition,” Andromeda stammered. “I really haven’t been thinking properly, and I didn’t consider how inconvenient…I mean, are you sure your parents are all right with this?”
There was a taut silence after the question. Andromeda saw Ted and Nelson exchange a glance over her head.
“Dromeda,” Ted said slowly, “my parents are dead.”
Andromeda sunk down onto the couch. She could feel her cheeks burning. Ted’s parents were dead? How could she have not known that? She’d always just assumed that he had two normal, if poor and uncultured, Muggle parents. She’d never thought to ask if they were alive. She really didn’t know anything about his family.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Ted shrugged. “It’s okay. You didn’t know. Our Mum died having me. I never knew her. And Dad passed away three years ago. Accident at the factory. Luckily, Nelson was old enough then to take care of me. We’ve been living together ever since.”
Nelson smirked over at Ted. “I keep him in line,” he said. “Little freak.”
Ted smirked back. “Muggle.”
Andromeda shifted uncomfortably. This was clearly a normal exchange for the brothers, but she felt like she was witnessing something private and not meant for her.
“Do you have any other siblings, then?” Andromeda asked. “Anyone else who lives with you?”
“Just the two of us,” said Ted. “Cider, yeah?”
“I’ll get it,” said Nelson. He pointed at Ted. “You, entertain your guest or whatever.”
Nelson sauntered out of the sitting room and through a narrow doorway that Andromeda assumed led to the kitchen. Ted took a seat in an armchair across from her. Andromeda noticed that the upholstery had been ripped away on the left arm of the chair, and stuffing was spilling out. In place of a table, there was a stacked set of wooden pallets, covered in a thin film of dust. Boxes, knick-knacks, books, and papers were scattered about the room.
Ted followed Andromeda’s gaze, and a new shade of red bloomed in his cheeks.
“I’m sorry about the mess,” he said. “If I had known you were coming, I would’ve—I just mean, you know, two guys living alone, it’s bound to get a little—what I mean is that I’m absolute rot at cleaning spells, and I just don’t want you to think that—“
“I’ve been horrible to you,” Andromeda interrupted. ”Then I ask to stay over at your place because I’m out of my mind and have nowhere else to go, and you're apologizing to me that your house is messy?”
Ted folded his arms. “Yeah, well, if you put it that way, you kind of sound like a bitch.”
“I suppose so.”
Ted stared at her with wide eyes. “George was right. Something is wrong with you.”
At that, the tears started flowing freely.
“Whoa!” Ted stood up, panicked. “Whoa, I didn’t mean to—“
Andromeda just waved him away and rubbed under her eyes with the backs of her wrists. “I am so fucked, Ted,” she sobbed. “I am so monumentally fucked. And you are the only human being on the planet who I knew would just—just listen to me and be nice to me.”
“I’m not really that—“
She shook her head violently. “No! You are. Like that time at Hog’s Head Inn. I’d been so mean to you, and I puked on your supper. And you held my hair back in the toilet so I could puke some more. Not even Narcissa would’ve done that, and you barely knew me, and—and I’d called you really terrible things.”
Cautiously, Ted took a seat beside Andromeda. “I don’t take insults personally,” he said. “That’s all.”
“But they were personal!” Andromeda nearly shrieked. “I was awful!”
At that moment, Nelson walked into the room with two cups of hot cider in hand. He took one look at the tableau, set the cups down on the pallet-table, and backed off.
“Uh, I’ll just leave you two to it then,” he muttered before dashing up the stairs.
Andromeda was blubbering too hard to care. With one snotty sob, she buried her face into Ted’s shoulder. At first, he felt stiff underneath her. Then, slowly, his shoulder relaxed, and she felt strong, warm arms wrap around her back.
“Dromeda,” he said softly, “I think you need some rest.”
She sniffled. “Why? Because I wouldn’t normally say these things if I was in my right mind?”
“I’m not crazy.”
“I know you’re not,” Ted said reassuringly. “But it sounds like you’re sleep deprived and that you’ve been through hell the past few days. I think the best thing you can do for yourself is rest.”
Andromeda pushed herself up so that she could actually get a good look at his eyes.
“I missed you,” she whispered. She let out a broken, snot-ridden laugh. “Isn’t that silly? It’s only been a few days since I saw you at Hogwarts, but I really missed you.”
Ted’s expression was unreadable, but his eyes seemed so much darker than Andromeda remembered them.
“I think,” he said, “that you really need to get to bed."
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