Chapter 15 : Christmas Party
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“I think I’ve got a photograph of it somewhere….”
“Tufts, Andromeda. It was in tufts! And there was this one long, straggly bit of a rat’s tail that he missed in the back. Brennan and I convinced him to play beauty shop afterward, but he still looked terrible.”
Andromeda was surrounded by so much laughter that she couldn't help but giggle along. She sat across from three of the Tonks brothers’ Christmas Eve guests, each of them pink in the face from snickering too hard at embarrassing stories—most of which had been about Ted.
Roisin and Brennan were sisters, both somewhere in their mid-twenties. Brennan lived with her husband, William, the third guest present, in a townhouse down the street. Roisin was currently dating Nelson. All three guests were childhood friends of the Tonks brothers, and they were currently dredging out an impressive amount of dirt from the boys’ childhoods.
Nelson sauntered back into the sitting room from the kitchen, two mismatched mugs of punch in hand. He handed one to Roisin before placing an affectionate kiss on her head. She swatted him with a playful grin and motioned for him to take a seat by her feet.
“Just in time,” she said. “We’re doing impressive damage to Ted’s reputation.”
“Excellent!” said Nelson, crossing his legs with the enthusiasm of a toddler. “That means I get to tell the story about the paper clips.”
Andromeda’s eyes drifted from the present company to Ted, who was in the corner talking to an older, gray-bearded man. She had been introduced to him at the start of the get-together as Mr. Harris, a friend of the late Mr. Tonks. After his introduction, he’d pulled Ted aside to the corner of the sitting room and had been talking in hushed murmurs ever since. Not that Andromeda had been paying too much attention. The rest of the Christmas guests had kept her more than occupied.
Nelson had been right: it really was a small, informal get-together. Only four guests total, and the refreshments had consisted of punch, a small fig and chocolate cake, and a bowl of almonds. Brennan and William had brought with them a small, sickly evergreen tree that they seemed to think was a hilarious joke. They’d placed it in the center of the sitting room and announced that it was The Best Tonks Tree In the History of Tonks Trees!, which was met by a resounding cheer from Nelson, Ted, and Roisin.
Andromeda had watched all of this with reserved curiosity, hanging back by the fireplace. For the first time since she’d arrived, a fire was actually lit—though with only one log to feed it, Andromeda imagined that its life would be tragically short.
Then Roisin had spotted Andromeda, and it had all been over. Roisin was a tall, lithe girl with a smattering of freckles and blindingly red hair. She was also, Andromeda realized at once, a veritable force of nature. She had come sprinting toward Andromeda with a high-pitched squeal. As soon as she’d reached Andromeda, she’d grabbed her hands and swung them merrily as though the two of them were lifelong friends.
“Oh my god, you are a vision,” Roisin had cooed. “Ted tells me you’re his friend from school?”
Roisin had said “friend” more like it meant “steamy, forbidden lover.” Andromeda hadn’t known quite how to answer. Luckily, Roisin hadn’t seemed to require a response. She’d just dragged Andromeda down into an armchair, plunked herself on the couch opposite, and proceeded to gush for a minute straight about how gorgeous Andromeda’s dress was. Andromeda didn’t have the heart to tell the other girl that it was not, in fact, a party dress, but one of the oldest and most sensible dresses in her entire wardrobe, worn only on days when she wasn’t meeting anyone special.
Brennan and William had then joined Roisin on the couch and made a much calmer introduction of themselves. Brennan was Roisin’s older sister, but there the similarities ended. She was plump and dark-haired, and she spoke in a calm, alto register. She was, Andromeda learned, a nurse at a local hospital, and William—her curly-haired, bespectacled husband—worked as a librarian. They had been married only a month earlier and, according to Roisin, acted like sick lovebirds all the time. Brennan and William had been too busy whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears to notice Roisin perched on the arm of the couch, making faces at them.
Andromeda had felt a jab of pain at that. She was reminded, however unwillingly, of Narcissa and Lucius. She wondered how they were spending their Christmas Eve. She hoped that none of Narcissa’s time was wasted worrying about her.
“So then,” Nelson had been saying, “Ted comes downstairs and says, all serious-like, ‘Pop. I believe I’ve got ten paper clips in my nose that won’t seem to come out.’”
Roisin burst into a delighted round of snorts. “Ugh,” she said. “that kid. So calm under pressure.”
William’s eyes were watering from laughing so hard. He turned to Brennan with his finger on his nose, imitating Nelson’s rather gruesome account of a six-year-old Ted’s plight. Andromeda added a polite giggle or two. She didn’t see why Ted getting paper clips stuck in his nose was such an ordeal. It would have taken a simple spell to fix that problem, but Nelson was elaborating melodramatically on their trip to the Muggle hospital.
“I can’t leave you alone for a minute.”
Andromeda turned to see that Ted had finally emerged from the corner, a cautious smile notching up his lip as he interrupted Nelson’s story.
“Oh, it’s only good things, Teddy,” said Roisin. “Just about what an adorable little kid you were.” She turned to Andromeda with a wicked wink. “I’m sure he’s an adorable man, too, though I wouldn’t have firsthand experience of that like Andr—ow!”
Brennan had given her sister a firm kick in the shin. Then she cast Andromeda an apologetic look. Andromeda just kept her eyes fixed on her mug of punch, willing her face to cool back down again. Roisin really did need to learn not to talk so much. It was one thing for her to make her silly comments about Ted while he was absent, but now she was making things awkward.
Nelson looked around and frowned. “Did you frighten off Harris?”
“He had a train to catch,” said Ted. “Visiting his grandchildren in Richmond.”
“He’s the cutest old man,” sighed Roisin. “If I had a grandfather, I’d want him to look just like that.”
“Roisin,” said Brennan, “we do have a grandfather.”
Roisin made a face. “Yes, but he’s bald and smells like vodka and tuna.”
“Glad that isn’t a family trait,” said Nelson, tilting his head to up to kiss Roisin’s knee. She winked down at him and patted his messy blonde hair.
Andromeda couldn’t help but reflect that she was surrounded by some rather affectionate couples. Between the honeymooners and the gooey-eyed Roisin and Nelson, she had begun to feel like she might be trapped in one of Narcissa’s romance novels. She smiled over at Ted, and he smiled weakly back, shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “What can you do?”
Ted took a seat on the floor, beside his brother, and the six of them fell into conversation, punctuated by trips to the kitchen and shouts to look outside at a fresh snowfall and, as the night progressed, increasingly slurred anecdotes and overloud giggling due to the spiked punch.
At some point during the conversation, the focus turned to Andromeda.
“Are you in lots of classes with Ted, then?” asked Brennan.
“Yeah,” said William, “what’s Ted like up there? We were sad to lose him to that hoity-toity school, but a scholarship’s a scholarship.”
Andromeda cast a sidelong glance at the Tonks brothers. So that was the story they’d concocted for their Muggle friends: Ted was attending a boarding school on scholarship. She wondered what it must’ve been like to have friends you couldn’t tell the whole truth to, who couldn’t know about your magical abilities. Andromeda had never had a single friend who didn’t know about magic.
“Ted and I are in one class together,” said Andromeda. “We didn’t see much of each other until this year. We were in different houses, so—“
“Mm, yeah,” said Roisin. “Ted said they’ve got a weird way of splitting you guys up and stuff. Sounds complicated.”
“More than you know,” Andromeda murmured under her breath.
“So what’re you doing here, exactly?” asked Roisin. “You and Ted must be really good friends for you to be staying over for the holidays. None of his school friends have stayed here before. Usually he’s over in Kensington with that posh friend of his, George Vander-Something.”
“Vanderpool,” Ted corrected. “And Roisin, really, stop asking her so many questions.”
“What?” demanded Roisin. “I’m just curious!”
“It’s all right,” Andromeda said, waving off a clearly irritated Ted. “I don’t mind. I just needed some space from my family, that’s all, and Ted was kind enough to let me stay over.”
Roisin grimaced. “I’m sorry. I know how that goes. Mum and Dad split when Brennan and I were around your age. It was hell. I would’ve given anything to be out of the house during one of their rows.”
“Roisin,” Brennan chided in a low voice. “Honestly. I think you’ve had too much punch.”
Roisin just shrugged. “Enough about unpleasant stuff,” she said. “Let’s talk politics!”
It wasn’t until much later into the conversation, when the clock on the mantelpiece struck one in the morning, that Brennan roused herself from the couch, dragging William up with her.
“C’mon, love,” she said. “We’ve overstayed our welcome.”
Despite Nelson’s impassioned plea that they stay, the husband and wife tugged on their coats and scarves and made for the front door.
“You make a convincing case,” William said, clapping Nelson on the shoulder, “but you can’t argue us out of heading home. We live right next door, remember.”
“Pfrsh!” Nelson snorted. “Five doors down. You know what could happen in the course of five doors?! You could slip and break your neck! You could fall into a snow bank! No! Roisin, tell them—!”
Roisin just giggled and buttoned up her coat. “Sorry, love,” she said. “You and I both know that the beds are comfier at their place. I’ll see you tomorrow, hm?”
Then Roisin had turned to Andromeda and wrapped her in a sudden, unexpected hug.
“It was soooo nice meeting you,” she said in a warm, liquor-laced drawl.
Brennan and William, too, said their goodbyes to Andromeda, though not in quite so close a manner. Then they’d headed for the door, Nelson trailing them like a whining puppy.
Andromeda collected her empty punch mug from the makeshift coffee table and walked it back to the kitchen, where Ted had already set to work filling the sink with warm, sudsy water.
“Nelson finally lost the argument,” she informed him, placing her mug in the sink. “They’re leaving.”
“That’s a record,” said Ted. “It usually takes at least another hour until they even think about getting off the couch.”
He turned off the tap and hastily wiped his wet hands on his jeans. Then he and Andromeda both headed back toward the sitting room to make their last goodbyes. That was the intention, at least, until Roisin’s scream stopped them both dead in their tracks, under the kitchen doorway.
“Look who’s under the mistletoe!” Roisin cooed, pointing.
Andromeda’s stomach dropped. She looked up, though she already knew exactly what she would see: a sprig of fresh, red-ribboned mistletoe hung over the kitchen lintel.
Roisin giggled guiltily, thus solving the mystery of who was responsible for this sudden addition to the Christmas décor.
Nelson hooted. “Oi, bro. You gotta kiss her now.”
“It’s tradition!” chirped Brennan.
“I’m—I’m sure that’s not necessary,” mumbled Andromeda, her face burning.
“C’mon, mate,” said William. “Kiss her!”
“Look,” squealed Roisin. “They’re both blushing. It’s meant to beee!”
Andromeda finally worked up the courage to glance at Ted. It was tradition. Surely it wouldn’t be so bad. All it would take was just a quick peck, and then the others would stop badgering them to—
Her thoughts crashed to a halt. Ted’s gaze met hers, and the look in his eyes was unmistakable: it was pure horror.
Nelson gave another impatient yell. “Edward Tonks, I swear, if you don’t snog her right now—“
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
Everyone quieted immediately, startled into silence. Ted turned from Andromeda to face them, his jaw clenched. “All of you, just shut up. Don’t be so utterly ridiculous.”
He barreled across the sitting room, pushed roughly past the others, and threw open the front door. Without bothering to don coat or a scarf, he walked out into the night.
Andromeda wasn’t quite sure of what happened next. She only knew that Roisin was hugging her neck and Brennan, too, was at her side.
“I’m sorry,” Roisin snuffled. “That was cruel of me. I didn’t think it’d be so uncomfortable. I mean, I just assumed you two—”
“Come on, Roisin,” Brennan said in a low voice. “We should go. Everyone’s tired.”
Roisin nodded doggedly and followed Brennan to the door, where Nelson and William were doing a fine job of not making eye contact with anyone else. Quiet goodbyes were exchanged, and Nelson closed the door on the others with a soft click. Finally, he turned toward her.
“Don’t worry about him,” he said. “He’ll be back, the stupid prick.”
Andromeda nodded mutely and hugged her elbows closer to her chest. Now that the company was gone and the fire had burned out, a harsh chill had settled back into the house. She didn’t want to talk to Nelson. She just wanted to retreat to the bedroom and lock the door and wrap herself deep in quilts. And that’s precisely what Andromeda proceeded to do.
What had just happened down there? Everything had been fine. More than fine. Andromeda had met three exceptionally nice, friendly Muggles who weren’t anything like the bumbling Neanderthals she’d been taught to expect that all Muggles were. They had jobs. They had family they cared about, and lovers too. They lived normal lives. She’d spent a night laughing and drinking punch and eating cake; she had, however temporarily, forgotten about the greater troubles in life—namely that she’d estranged herself from her entire family and had nowhere to stay but the house of a no-name Muggleborn. She had been having a surprisingly, miraculously pleasant evening.
How had a little sprig of mistletoe turned everything sour?
There was a knock at her door. Andromeda started and gripped her quilt close to her body, staring wildly at her closed door.
Please don’t be Ted. Please don’t be Ted. But please—do.
It was Nelson.
“Y-yes?” she said hoarsely.
“Just me,” came the voice from the other side of the door. “Turning in for the night. You, uh—you all right?”
Andromeda nodded, even though Nelson clearly couldn’t see her.
“Fine, thanks,” she called back.
Footsteps clomped away from her door and down the hallway.
What had Ted meant by treating her like that? Had he really been so repelled by the thought of kissing her that he’d considered it better to humiliate her in front of everyone else? Andromeda rubbed away a pool of tears collecting on her nose.
Why was she so upset? Clearly she hadn’t wanted to kiss Ted. The thought alone was so completely preposterous! To kiss a Muggleborn…. There were all sorts of rumors about what happened to good pureblooded girls who went kissing boys like Ted Tonks. You could contract a nasty case of spattergroit, you could go blind, your forehead could be branded overnight with the word Blood Traitor.
How can you believe that nonsense anymore? hissed that incessant voice from the back of Andromeda's mind. You know those are all just a bunch of hateful lies meant to frighten little first-years from ever talking to a Muggleborn. Anyway, you’re not upset because he almost kissed you. You’re upset because he didn’t.
“So what if I am?” Andromeda mumbled out loud. “I saw the way he looked at me. He looked horrified, like—like he’d been asked to kiss a toad. He thought the whole idea was ridiculous. He said so.”
Fine, said the voice. Go ahead and feel sorry for yourself. Spend another night moping and deflecting instead of doing something. You’ve always been the girl with a plan, Andromeda. What’s your plan?
Andromeda clutched at her pillow. What sort of plan could she formulate now? Go back to Grimmauld Place? She didn’t even want to think about what sort of retribution awaited her there. She had a feeling that her parents were less worried about her than they were angry.
Over a few days, however, perhaps their anger would die down and they would be the ones to realize that they had erred. It was possible, wasn’t it? Because in the end, she simply had to reconcile with her family. Without them, she had no home, no name, no reputation, no inheritance. Why couldn’t she just have those things without being Rabastan Lestrange’s wife?
She thought back to that blank look on her mother’s face as Aunt Walburga had yelled at her. How could her parents let this happen to her? Why did they make her choose between freedom and comfort? Weren’t her parents supposed to provide her both?
Andromeda wasn’t sure how long she had been lost in her thoughts before she heard the front door creak open. She stiffened underneath the quilts, her ears straining to pick up more sounds.
The door closing.
The latch clicking shut.
Her breath hitched. If she didn’t do it now, she would lose all nerve.
Andromeda pushed out of her haven of quilts. She grabbed her velvet jacket as a shield against the cold before padding down the hallway and downstairs to the sitting room.
There was no sign of Ted. Or at least, there was no immediate sign of Ted. But as Andromeda walked farther into the dimly lit room, she saw a dark outline stretched against the sofa.
He was sleeping on the couch. Why hadn’t Andromeda realized that before? Of course, where else could Ted possibly be sleeping? He’d given his own bed to her.
“Ted,” she whispered.
The figure on the couch stirred. Then Ted sat up completely, and the moonlit spilling through the window caught in his hair. She stared. Just over his right ear was a shock of silver-colored hair.
“What do you want?”
His voice was clipped and hard. Andromeda had never heard Ted speak that way before.
“What do you think I want?” she said, defensive. “I’d like an explanation for what happened earlier.”
Ted made a strange, gurgled noise that sounded something like a laugh.
“God, it really is only about you.”
Anger, red-hot and violent, flashed through Andromeda’s veins. She crossed over to the couch and reached for the first thing she could grip—which happened to be Ted’s shoulder.
“Why did you humiliate me like that?” she demanded.
She could see Ted’s eyes in the dim light, now that she had drawn closer. They were a strange shade—no longer brown, but a dull, grayish sort of color. Or maybe that was only a trick of the light….
“I thought,” he said, “that I was doing you a favor.”
She blinked uncomprehendingly. “What are you talking about?”
Ted shook her hand off of him. “Oh, come on, Dromeda. I know what you think of me. I’m a mutant. A fluke, right?”
Andromeda’s throat went papery. “I—I—”
“To you, I’m nothing short of a plague rat. I get it. Believe me, I didn’t know Roisin was going to try anything like that, or I would’ve stopped her. I was trying to spare you the horror of swapping spit with a filthy Mudblood, but now it looks like I can’t win for losing, because I’ve inadvertently—what was it? Humiliated you. Fuck’s sake, Dromeda, cut me some slack.”
She stared at him wordlessly. Ted’s eyes shone up at her, angry and wet and that strange hue of gray. He hadn’t been trying to hurt her. He’d been trying to save her from—contamination.
“I didn’t—“ she stammered. “I didn’t think about that.”
“Really.” Ted’s voice was flat. “I would’ve thought that was all you could think about.”
“Stop it!” she cried suddenly, her voice echoing against the bare walls of the room. “Stop talking like that. You don’t sound like yourself at all, and you’re making me feel terrible.”
“I’m only repeating your own words,” countered Ted. “What’s so terrible about that?”
“You’re making me sound like some vicious monster, and I’m not! You make it sound like I think you’re the scum of the earth, some sort of inhuman thing—and I don’t think that, either.”
“You still didn’t want to kiss me.”
“Perhaps I did!”
Thick silence seized the room. Ted was staring at Andromeda as though she were liable to burst into flames at any moment. And maybe she was; she felt like it.
“Perhaps I did,” Andromeda repeated in a threadbare whisper, backing away from the couch. “It doesn’t matter now. You ruined everything.”
His voice was low. She couldn’t look at him when he said her name that way. She could barely stay upright. She took another step backward and tripped over a loose floorboard, stumbling back onto the makeshift coffee table.
“It doesn’t matter,” she whispered, but when she felt the heat of his hand on her arm, she didn’t shrink away.
She felt the graze of his thumb against her forearm, sending a thrill of goosebumps up her skin. Still, she didn’t move. She felt his fingers curl gently into the crook of her elbow, and her eyes fluttered shut. She didn’t move, didn’t dare.
Then, she felt his hand tugging her closer, gently, softly, so slowly, and this time she did move—toward him, toward the warmth of his touch, toward his staggered breaths.
“Please—“ Ted began, but then his voice tightened. His hand grew stiff and cold. His breaths stopped entirely.
Andromeda’s eyes shot back open in time to see Ted’s own go wide with panic. Then, slowly, he slumped away from her, back against the couch. His hand clutched at his side, his face went ashen, and he released a low, ragged whimper.
“Ted?” she whispered. “What’s wrong?”
He shook his head and tried to push away from the couch, onto his feet. His knees buckled, and Ted stumbled to the floor with a strangled cry.
Andromeda dropped to his side, her eyes searching his body for some sign of blood, of injury, anything at all. “Ted, what is it? Are you hurt?”
She placed her hand on his shoulder, then retracted it immediately. He was cold, but his shirt was drenched through with sweat. Andromeda’s heart rate picked up. Merlin, what was wrong with him? This wasn't a commonplace injury. She knew magic when she touched it.
“I can’t—can’t—“ Ted heaved in a phlegm-edged breath and shook his head. Then he tried again. “Cabinet. T-t-top drawer.”
His arm trembled violently, and Andromeda realized that he was pointing to something behind her—a small, pinewood cabinet.
“Top drawer,” she repeated, nodding.
Quickly, she got to her feet. She followed his orders and tugged open the top drawer of the cabinet. It stuck on its tracking, and she gave it another forceful tug. The drawer screeched open to reveal a small, pewter box. Frantically, Andromeda flipped open the box lid. She inhaled sharply.
Syringes. It was full of them—a dozen at least. They were short and narrow and filled with a glowing amber liquid. Instinct took over; Andromeda grabbed a single syringe and hurried back to Ted’s side.
“What do I do?” she asked, though she was terrified that she already knew the answer.
“H-h-here,” Ted stammered, clumsily pressing his hand slightly left of his sternum.
Ted couldn’t be asking her to stab a syringe into his heart.
“Ted,” she began, her voice wavering, “I c-c-c-can’t. I don’t think I can—“
Ted let out one shrill, agonized scream. He doubled over and clutched at Andromeda’s knee, his touch deathly cold.
“Oh god,” Andromeda cried. “Oh god, Ted, I’m sorry! Okay, just hang on—“
“What in the blazing daylights is going on down here?”
Harsh, fluorescent light flooded the room. Nelson stood on the steps, disheveled and groggy-eyed.
“I swear, if you two are in the throes of makeup sex, I’m gonna—“
Nelson’s words caught in a choked sound of realization. Suddenly, Andromeda felt rough, strong hands at her shoulders, pulling her away from Ted.
“What happened?” Nelson’s voice had changed in an instant from blithe to urgent. He noticed the syringe clutched in her hand. “Give me that. Then go upstairs.”
Andromeda released her hold on the syringe, but her eyes stayed fixed on Ted. He was so pale. His eyes had taken on an unnatural, silvery sheen, and sweat dripped from the messy fringe of his hair. He looked so vulnerable, so mortal.
“Andromeda!” Nelson shouted, startling her back to attention. “I said, get out of here. Now. You’ll only be a distraction to him.”
“But I can’t leave him like—“
“Dromeda,” Ted wheezed, and for just a moment, his glazed eyes met hers. “Please. Leave.”
Andromeda swallowed hard. “Fine,” she whispered.
She turned her head away just as she saw Nelson poise the syringe above Ted’s heart, and she hurried back up the stairs, but not in time to escaped Ted’s strangled screams. At the top step, she tripped, and pain sliced into the arch of her foot. She stumbled back to her feet, limped to her bedroom, and slammed the door shut against the terrible sounds from downstairs, but the thin and chinked door did little to drown them out. Andromeda slunk against the door, tears spilling down her cheeks.
“Just be okay,” she whispered out loud, not entirely sure of what she was saying. “Please, just be okay.”
She fumbled into the folds of her dress and removed her wand. She had been so utterly useless down there. She couldn’t think straight enough to even cast a soothing spell. Ted could be dying of some bizarre, horrific malady, and she hadn’t even had the courage to pierce a needle through his skin.
Carefully, she eased up the underside of her left foot and cast a hasty spell to remove the splinter lodged there. Her wand hand was shaking. She botched the spell. The splinter came out, but with it came a gush of blood. Andromeda cried out and hurriedly cast another stitching spell. She reversed most of the damage, but she was only crying harder. Perhaps that was because, for the first time in a very long time, she wasn’t thinking about herself.
Author's Note: Why, hello there! I feel a little obligated to check in at this point and say that I am working on the next chapter, so please don't kill me for that borderline sadistic cliffhanger I just threw you. :] I can't tell you guys how much I appreciate the ongoing reviews and encouragement and general wonderfulness on your part. It means so much to me! TEDROMEDA FOREVAH.
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