Chapter 14 : Wensleydale Cheese
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Ted had showed her in with the same red-faced, abashed expression that he had worn when he'd apologized for the messiness of the sitting room. It was an expression Andromeda wasn’t used to seeing him wear; he seemed almost—nervous. Did she really make him feel that uncomfortable?
Ted had made up his bed using two thick quilts and a stiff pillow. He’d quickly explained the layout of the house: the top floor consisted of two bedrooms—his and his brother’s—and a bathroom. The lower floor was nothing more than the sitting room and the kitchen. Andromeda hadn’t realized that the house was that small.
Ted had given her a glass for water and a clean, poorly folded towel. He had then proceeded to ramble for about a minute. The gist of the ramble, it seemed, was that she should make herself at home and call him if she needed anything. Then, red-faced as ever, Ted had made a quick exit from the room.
Even though she had convinced herself that she wasn’t tired in the slightest, Andromeda had promptly fallen asleep.
When she woke, peach-colored rays of sun were pouring through the windowpane. Groggily, she pushed herself up out of her nest of quilts and looked around the room. Was it dusk already? She made a clumsy claw at Ted’s alarm clock.
Not dusk. Dawn. Her eyes widened. Ted, it would seem, had been right: she really had needed the rest. He and his brother must’ve thought that she was some sort of sloth, sleeping nearly a whole day away. She pushed back the quilts and immediately regretted her decision. Of course there wasn’t a fireplace in this closet of a room, but surely Muggles had some way of heating their houses better than this. She might as well have fallen into a snowdrift for the amount of chill settling in her bones.
Andromeda tugged out a dress from her satchel and set to work casting an unwrinkling spell on the outfit before turning the wand on herself. There wasn’t a mirror in Ted’s room to double-check her appearance, but Andromeda trusted that she looked presentable. At least seven years of routine beauty spellwork had lent her some finesse.
As Andromeda packed her things neatly back into her bag, she looked around Ted’s room. It was sparse, certainly, so far as furniture went, but the walls were decorated with the warm colors of a Hufflepuff banner, two posters of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, and tacked-up photographs of Ted with grinning friends. On the wall opposite his bed was a messy montage of Muggle rock band posters.
She studied them in quiet bemusement, mouthing the names of each one: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night.
Andromeda, of course, did not recognize a single name. Even if her mother had allowed her to listen to wizarding music, she wouldn’t have allowed Andromeda to tack posters on her wall. Mother. A pang stabbed through Andromeda’s chest, and she quickly thought of something else.
Food. That was a good topic. She was phenomenally hungry. She had eaten all of her paltry supply of roasted almonds. What was she supposed to do—poke her head out and call for Ted to come and wait on her like a common house elf? That wouldn’t do. There had to be food in the kitchen, surely, and Ted had told her to treat his house like her own. The trouble was that Andromeda didn't even frequent her own kitchen at Onyx House. She'd never had to trouble herself with cooking her own meals that’s what the house elves were for. But perhaps she could scavenge something that didn’t require preparation, like—an apple?
Andromeda opened her bedroom door and peered out. No one in the hallway. She crept down the stairs to the first floor. No one in the sitting room. She folded her arms against the draft leaking through the sooty windows and walked on, toward the kitchen. She had just set her hand on the swinging door when it swung out toward her, sending her reeling back with a surprised yelp.
Nelson stood on the other side. It looked like he was suppressing a snicker.
“G’morning, sunshine,” he said pleasantly.
Andromeda nodded mutely.
“I knew you’d have to emerge sooner or later,” he said, motioning her into the kitchen. “Girl’s gotta eat, right? Even if she is a witch.”
Andromeda said nothing in reply. She just followed Nelson into the kitchen and watched as he opened the icebox and pulled out a plate covered in wax paper.
“Ted left you something before he went out,” he said, eyeing the plate in distaste. “Who the fuck knows what. Apparently it’s my responsibility to feed his pets now.”
Andromeda tipped her chin up regally. “I am most certainly not his—“
But her words were drowned by Nelson’s chortling. He set the plate down at two-seater table, shaking his head in amusement.
“That was a joke,” he said. “Sorry. Ted always says my jokes aren’t in good taste.”
He smiled at her. She gave him a dirty look back. Then she remembered that this was Nelson’s house, too—and probably more so than Ted’s. It was in her best interest to be nice to him.
“Go on,” he said, motioning toward the chair closest to her. “Take a seat. Tuck in. What’ll you have to drink? Milk’s turned, but we’ve a bit of juice left. Orange, I think. That, or magnificently old pear juice...."
“Just water, please,” said Andromeda, trying to sound more polite than she’d looked just a moment before.
She took the chair Nelson had offered her. Then, carefully, she peeled off the wax paper from the cold plate to reveal a hardboiled egg and a wedge of cheese.
“Gave you the last of the Wensleydale,” Nelson observed. “Impressive. Must hold you in high esteem to forego that from his own dinner. He mentioned you might fancy some toast?”
Without waiting for Andromeda to respond, Nelson set to work fixing such said toast over the stovetop.
“I’ve already eaten,” said Nelson. “Bad timing. All the same, I’ll keep you company ‘til the work bell rings, as it were.”
Andromeda was still staring at her plate. “Do you have—cutlery?”
Nelson looked dumbly over at her. “Oh. Erm. Yeahhh?”
He tried at one of the kitchen drawers. Then another. And a third. At last, on the fourth try, his face lit up in satisfaction; he grabbed a fork and knife and slid them across the table to Andromeda. They were spotted with rust, but Andromeda tried to kindly ignore that fact and use them to the best of her ability.
Egg and cheese. It was an odd breakfast, but it was food, and she had begun to get the sneaking suspicion that it was the best that the Tonks brothers had to offer. She ate without complaint.
“Where is Ted, then?" she asked. "Christmas shopping?”
Nelson glanced over his shoulder from where he stood by the stove. He laughed a low, private sort of laugh.
“Not quite,” he said. “Night shift.”
Andromeda blinked. Had Nelson just spoken a foreign language? Did Muggle qualify as a foreign language?
Nelson caught on soon enough to the silence.
“Ted works,” he elaborated “during the holidays. Full-time in the summer, but he picks up some extra shifts around Christmas to help out. Bills get steeper this time of year. You don’t have to look so mournful, though. He’ll be back soon.”
Andromeda’s fork still hung halfway between her plate and her mouth. “He works?”
“Yeah, he works. At the spring factory five blocks down. It’s something of a family trade. The boss is a bit indebted to us after our father's accident, you know. Pays extra well these days.”
“Oh,” Andromeda said distantly. “Of course.”
Ted spent his summer holidays working in a spring factory? How many countless summer days had Andromeda complained of having nothing to do at Onyx House but read and sew and go on walks?
“Hope you like your toast on the toasty side.” Without warning Nelson flipped a piece of thoroughly burnt toast across the kitchen. It landed squarely on Andromeda’s plate, and Nelson let out a whoop of victory.
“Did you see that? Now you know where Ted gets his athletic coordination and prowess.”
He sent the second piece of toast flying. It had a less kind fate and landed on the floor, at Andromeda’s feet.
“Meh,” said Nelson, scooping it up. “Sorry.”
Then he bit down on the toast and munched happily away.
“Waste not, want not,” he said, taking the seat across from Andromeda.
She tried not to feel to ill. Muggles weren’t taught proper etiquette as she had been taught, she reminded herself.
“Dressed awful early for the party, aren’t we?” said Nelson, nodding at Andromeda’s dress.
“Oh!” she said, flustering. “Oh no, this isn’t for—“ she stopped short. “Beg your pardon, but party?”
“Ted didn’t tell you?" Nelson snorted. "Typical. Well, it's a get-together, more like. A few friends coming over, Christmas Eve tradition.”
“You’re holding a party here?”
The words were out before Andromeda realized how haughty they sounded. Nelson just smiled a little wider.
“Don’t ask me how we all fit. Every year, it’s a true Christmas miracle.”
A clock chimed from the sitting room in a thin, tinselly succession of seven clangs.
“That’s my cue,” said Nelson, leaping up from his chair. “Best be off. Well, make yourself at home and all that. What’s ours is yours, et cetera. See you for the party—uh, Anastasia?”
“Right. You lot have the funniest names.”
With that, Nelson clambered out of the kitchen. A moment later, Andromeda heard the front door slam shut.
It had been, without a doubt, the most curious breakfast she had ever experienced. Then Nelson had just left her. Alone. Did he and Ted really trust her enough to leave her there, to her own devices? She could go snooping about, poking through their things and casting all sorts of dark magic this way and that! Not that she would, of course, but still—they had welcomed her into their home without the least bit of hesitation. Nelson had fixed her breakfast without once inquiring why she was imposing upon them. Even Ted hadn’t asked Andromeda for an explanation. She wondered if such guileless hospitability was true of all Muggles, or if it was peculiars to the Tonkses.
In any case, even if her toast was burnt, she did appreciate the gesture. Nelson, like Ted, had been kind to her. Just kind, no questions asked, despite the inconvenience she had caused.
She sat at the kitchen table for several minutes more, finishing her egg and cheese. The crusts of the toast were salvageable, and she discreetly tucked the rest of the blackened bread beneath an empty egg carton in the rubbish bin. Even as she did so, she felt a sting of guilt, remembering Nelson’s words: waste not, want not.
At Hogwarts, she had suspected that Ted was poor. His robes always looked threadbare and pre-used, his shoes outdated and scuffed. There were a dozen little tells about a person that clued you in immediately to their income and status; Andromeda’s mother had taught her that. A first impression of Ted Tonks left little to the imagination. Ill-bred and poor. Those were the words that had popped into Andromeda’s mind all those months ago, when Ted had spoken to her on the Hogwarts Express.
She had just never taken the time to imagine what poor really looked like. Poor was a single hardboiled egg for breakfast. Poor was a bedroom the size of a king-sized bed. It was drafty windows and chilly mornings. It was awful. How had Ted lived like this for seventeen years? Why would he ever want to come home for the holidays?
Because he loves his brother, whispered a gentle voice in Andromeda’s brain, just like you love Narcissa.
Narcissa. What must Narcissa think of her? Surely by now the family had sent word to her younger sister about Andromeda’s disappearance. She would be worried, and Andromeda hated herself for that. She’d never wanted to worry Narcissa or upset her perfect holiday with Lucius. But if Narcissa had seen how Aunt Walburga had behaved, surely she would understand why Andromeda had run away. Andromeda just needed a chance to explain herself, that was all.
Still, the anxiety that had plagued her yesterday plagued her still. If she sent an owl to Narcissa, then she had no doubt that her sister would track it and come find her—or worse yet, tell their parents where Andromeda was. She would only do it because she thought it was for the best, but she would do it all the same. And Andromeda didn’t want to be found. She couldn’t be found. Not yet, anyway, before she’d devised a plan to escape the horror she had left behind at Grimmauld Place. She just didn’t want to devise a plan now. It was too painful, too fresh a thing to think about. Even now, the prospect had Andromeda stooped over at the kitchen sink, heaving in dry sobs.
She couldn’t think about it now. She couldn’t think about the horrible look on Aunt Walburga’s face right before she cast the Imperius curse, couldn’t think of the way her mother had stood idly by. She couldn’t think of Bellatrix’s wand pressed against her neck, couldn’t think of her father’s unreasonable expectations.
Instead, she made her way back up to Ted’s bedroom and tugged her seventh year Potions textbook from her satchel. She may have forgotten gloves in her haste to leave home, but she hadn’t forgotten the cause of her greatest scholastic anxiety. Of all her N.E.W.T. exams, Potions made her most nervous. Andromeda wasn’t weak in any of her subjects, really, but Potions was certainly the weakest of her strengths.
So she attempted to study. She did a poor job of it. Words blended and mushed in her mind, a meaningless jumble no matter how many times she read and reread the dense, tedious passages. Two hours in, she gave up completely and tossed the book to the floor.
She couldn’t concentrate. Every time she tried to focus on the most prosaic of sentences, her mind wrenched her far away from the topic at hand and flung her back into memories from the past two days.
Andromeda laced up her boots and bundled into her coat. She was cold enough as it was, so she reasoned that she might as well benefit from some fresh air. Also, considering she was in a particularly unsophisticated part of Muggle London, she felt far less paranoid than she had in Diagon Alley. Maybe all she needed was a good, long walk to clear her head.
She clattered down the rickety staircase and prepared to sink her hands deep into her pockets against the harsh winter wind. What she hadn’t prepared for when she opened the front door was for Ted to be on the other side of it.
“Merlin!” she yelped. “What, is it a family talent to—?”
She stopped short. Ted stood on the front stoop with a wet, sudsy sponge in his hand and a look of mild surprise on his face.
“What on earth are you doing?” Andromeda said. She stomped out onto the porch and grabbed the sponge from his hand. “Are you cleaning by hand? Yourfingers are liable to freeze off. Anyway, I told you that I don’t care about the cleanliness of—oh.”
During her tirade, she had turned around to face the front door.
Over the cheery green paint, a word was scrawled in bright, blood-red paint:
“It’s nothing,” said Ted, grabbing the sponge back. “I told you, though, I’m rot at cleaning spells. Better at conjuring. So by hand is the preferable method.”
“Who did this?” she whispered.
Ted shrugged. “There’s no need to look so scandalized. Babbins does it every year. He lives in town. He and his mates think it’s hilarious.”
“Babbins,” said Andromeda. “Captain of Slytherin’s Quidditch team Babbins?”
“The very same,” said Ted, pulling the door closed and setting his sponge to the dripping words. He glanced back as he scrubbed, giving Andromeda a once-over. “Were you headed somewhere?”
Andromeda ignored the question. “He does this every year?”
“Bit of a sore loser,” said Ted. “I suppose he thought of it as a scare tactic the first year. Nowadays, it’s tradition. Just a bit of friendly rivalry, that’s all.”
“Friendly rivalry?” Andromeda pressed. “It’s vandalism. It’s unruly, unsophisticated behavior.”
Ted just scrubbed harder. “It’s Quidditch, Dromeda. We’re not exactly the height of sophistication. Anyway, I don’t know why you, of all people, sound offended. Isn’t this your term of endearment for me?”
Ted turned back around with an impish smile. “Well? Aren’t I your favorite Mudblood?”
Andromeda wrenched the sponge back from Ted and threw it down the front steps. For once, he looked genuinely startled.
“Don’t use that word,” she said, tugging her wand out from her dress pocket. “It sounds all wrong when you say it. Now step aside.”
Ted looked confused, but he took an obedient step away from the door. Andromeda glanced down one end of the street, then one down the other. Not a Muggle in sight. With a quick, harsh flick of her wand, she cast a bleaching spell on the door. Instantly, the ugly red epithet bled away. However, so did the green paint. Within ten seconds, the door had turned a pure, ashy white. Andromeda tipped her nose in satisfaction.
“Nelson isn’t going to like that,” muttered Ted. “He’s partial to green.”
“It think it’s an improvement,” said Andromeda.
She gave her handiwork one last lookover. Then she wrenched the door open. Once they were both back inside, without losing a beat, Andromeda grabbed Ted’s wet, cold hand—the one that had been holding the sponge—and cast a quick drying spell on it.
“Cleaning it off by hand,” she sniffed, “in this weather. Of all the stupid notions. Please don’t tell me that, too, has become a tradition.”
When Ted didn’t reply, she looked up and found him staring down at her with a strange expression. She realized that she was still holding his hand. Quickly, as though bitten, she let go.
Ted said nothing. He scratched at the back of his messy hair, his eyes flitting past her to focus intently on the sitting room’s mantelpiece.
“Why’re you acting so strange?” she demanded.
“Am I acting strange?”
Andromeda narrowed her eyes. “Yes, you are. Ever since I arrived. You’ve been acting—different around me. It’s rude.”
Ted smirked. “You’re sounding more like your old self.”
Andromeda bit her lip. Why couldn’t she keep her mouth shut for once? She’d just done a marvelous job of insulting a boy who, without any good reason whatsoever, had let her sleep under his roof.
“I didn’t mean that,” she said, reddening.
Ted slumped onto the sitting room couch and began to untie his brown work boots. “I think you meant it more than anything you said yesterday.”
Andromeda crinkled her nose. What had she said yesterday? Oh. Oh, yes. The sobbing. The hysterical cries. She’d apologized to him, hadn’t she? And she had—Merlin, she had told him that she’d missed him. She went warm at the thought.
Cautiously, she took a seat on the opposite edge of the couch. “I was a little bit—distraught.”
Ted tugged off one boot and started on the next, his fingers working deftly at the laces. “Yeah. I noticed.”
“You know,” said Andromeda. “About everything that had happened?”
“I imagine so.”
She glared over at him in frustration. Was he purposefully being dense?
“Well?” she said impatiently. “Don’t you want to know why I ran away? You still haven’t asked me once why I’m here.”
Ted tugged off the other boot and sat upright. “It’s not really my business is it?” he said. “You don’t owe me an explanation.”
“Yes, I do!” she insisted. “I’m sleeping in your bed, for Merlin’s sake.”
Ted looked up sharply. “I’m very well aware of that fact.”
Andromeda didn’t know why, but she found herself blushing fiercely.
“Still,” said Ted, “it doesn’t mean you owe me anything.”
“W-w-well,” she stammered. “I want to tell you. I got some sleep, like you asked me to. Now I want to talk.”
“And you always get what you want, don’t you?”
Silence filled the room, and Andromeda studied her knees. She could hear Ted’s breaths coming in and out. They weren’t even.
“I just need to tell someone,” she whispered. “Someone who will actually listen. I need someone to tell me that I’m not crazy.”
Ted hesitated. Then, slowly, he said, “Okay.”
Andromeda opened her mouth to speak, but before any words came out, Ted cut back in.
“If this is about Lestrange, I—I heard what happened.”
Andromeda’s skin prickled. “You did?”
“It was sort of all over the train,” he said lowly. “About him and Georgiana. About you breaking up with him.”
"Apparently," said Andromeda, "it’s common knowledge that all boyfriends cheat on their girlfriends. That they’re just sexual creatures with needs, you know? And if a girl wants to get married, she can’t be picky.”
She looked up. Ted’s eyes were burning, his jaw set. His hands were clenched into the couch upholstery.
“I think we both know that’s bullshit.”
“Is it?” Andromeda laughed weakly. “Not according to my family. I was the one who’d done something wrong. I was the one who’d brought shame on our name. My aunt performed an unforgiveable on me, Ted. They care more about my bloody marital status than they do about me.”
There. It was out. She had said the horrific truth out loud, to another person. She had practically condemned Aunt Walburga, her own flesh and blood, and she’d condemned him to a Muggleborn.
And she felt the most tremendous freedom.
The room had gone very still. Andromeda chanced another look up at Ted, but to her shock her was no longer sitting on the edge of the couch where he had been.
She didn’t finish. She had been enveloped by warmth. It was all around her, seeping into her skin and through her hair and down to her toes. Ted was holding her. He was embracing her entirely, his arms wound around her back, his face lowered into the crook of her neck.
She said nothing. He said nothing. They stayed that way for a full thirty seconds at least, in pure silence. Then, Andromeda felt something hot and liquid trickle down her collarbone. She froze.
“Ted,” she whispered. “Are you—?”
She pushed out of their embrace and caught him by the chin, despite Ted’s efforts to turn his head away.
“Your hair got in my eyes,” he said hoarsely. “I must be allergic to your shampoo.”
Andromeda gave him an incredulous look.
“Fine,” he said. “I’m upset. I’m bloody angry that your family can’t see how fucking incredible you are.”
Her eyes widened. “Ted, I’m not—“
“You’re not crazy,” he said, wiping roughly at his eyes. “They’re sadistic bullies. You’re independent, and you’re strong, and they hate that, because it means they can’t control you. That’s all it’s about, Dromeda: control. I think you know that. I think you’ve known that for a long time.”
Andromeda couldn’t think straight. She wasn’t even sure if her circulation was circulating properly. Had Ted really been crying? Crying about her?
“You’re not wrong. You’re not insane. Don’t let them convince you otherwise. I know I’m not a reliable source when it comes to Lestrange, that I’m entirely biased, but—“
“Ted, just shut up for a minute!”
Ted shut up.
“What do you mean, you’re biased?”
Ted blinked once. His eyes had looked so dark a moment before. Now, as though by magic, that had lightened to an unimpressive brown.
“What? Nothing. I just meant Lestrange is a bastard, that’s all.”
“Look, you don’t need me to tell you that you’re right,” he said. “That’s what’s so marvelous about you. You don’t need anyone else to coddle you or to pamper or reassure you. You just believe what you believe. You know that you’re right, even if you’re wrong.”
“Like you,” Andromeda said softly.
Ted stopped short. A look of confusion flitted across his face. “What?”
“Like you,” she said, more forcefully. “I thought I was right about you, but I’m beginning to think that….”
She trailed off, unsure of what conclusion she was trying to come to. Ted cleared his throat once. Then, he rose from the couch.
“I’m sorry I hugged you,” he muttered. “I didn’t mean to, you know, contaminate you or whatever. It just looked like you’d had plenty of good cries and absolutely no good hugs.”
Andromeda looked up in surprise. “You—I mean, I—“
"Have you even eaten? I told Nelson to leave you a note if he didn’t—“
“He took care of everything,” she said quickly. “Thank you for the, um, cheese.”
Ted nodded distractedly. “Oh! Shit. I completely forgot to tell you—“
“About tonight? Nelson let me know.”
“It’s just a few close friends,” he said. “But if you don’t—you know, feel comfortable….”
Ted motioned at Andromeda as though she knew what he was trying to say. She didn’t.
“You know,” he tried again. “I don’t know how you feel about being around Muggles. Like, whatever your code is? If it’s beneath your dignity, or—“
Andromeda’s eyes widened in realization. He thought that she considered herself too good for his guests. And was he wrong? His guests would be Muggles, and Andromeda had made it a point her entire life to never associate with Muggles. She’d never had a full conversation with one until this morning’s breakfast with Nelson.
I’ve already run away from home, she thought bleakly. What’s breaking a few more rules?
“It’s fine,” she said. “Really. They’re your friends, so I’m sure they’re very nice.”
Ted didn’t look entirely convinced. “Well, uh, good. I mean, it’s not going to be an actual party. No fancy chandeliers or caviar or live harpists or whatever it is you’re used to, so apologies ahead of time.”
“Ted. It’s fine.”
“Right. Well, I should probably shower and try to get some shuteye beforehand, so I hope you don’t mind if I just….“
Ted had backed away toward the staircase as he spoke. Then, with a broken sentence and a smile that looked forced, he bounded up the stairs and out of sight, leaving a bewildered Andromeda behind.
What had just happened? She’d broken down and told Ted everything, and he’d hugged her, and then he’d apologized for it immediately afterward. Andromeda grimaced. Did he really think of himself as a contamination? Is that all he thought he was to her?
All Andromeda knew for certain was that she’d asked Ted to listen, and he had. She’d asked for reassurance that she wasn’t crazy, and he’d given it to her. More than given it to her, he’d called incredible. So if the act of Muggleborn Ted Tonks enfolding her in a safe, warm embrace was an act of contamination, then it was the sweetest contamination that Andromeda Black had ever known.
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