Chapter 23 : Emergency
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Andromeda sat in a mound of silk throw pillows on Narcissa’s bed, facing her sister with concern. The trouble was, Narcissa seemed at a loss as to why concern was necessary.
“Lucius belongs to plenty of clubs,” said Narcissa, “including your Slug Club. I can’t keep up with them all. I think that it’s a sign that he’s well respected amongst his peers and involved in civil affairs. I hardly see why I should be distressed.”
“But they’re practicing the dark arts, Cissa,” Andromeda said. “Rabastan admitted it to me.”
Narcissa shrugged lightly. “They’re teenage boys, Andie. They’re bound to experiment.”
Andromeda blinked in astonishment. She had purposefully caught Narcissa and dragged her into their dormitory that Saturday afternoon for the express purpose of sharing what Rabastan had confessed the night before: that both he and Lucius Malfoy were involved in a group called the Knights of Walpurgis. She’d expected for Narcissa to be shocked, to be upset. However deranged the rest of her family was, Andromeda had always assumed that Narcissa at least shared her low opinion of the dark arts.
“Rabastan said it has something to do with blood purity,” Andromeda went on. “It just doesn’t sit well with me. There’s no use for the dark arts if you’re not after one of two things: personal gain or harming others.”
“Dearest,” said Narcissa, “you mustn’t take things like this so seriously. I don’t see anything wrong with a little bit of darker magic. Even you have to admit that Hogwarts is rather prudish about the matter.”
“But you don’t know the dark arts like I do,” Andromeda insisted, her voice rising. “I’ve studied them inside and out. There’s no good that comes out of dark sorcery. It always comes at a price, and it always ends up hurting far more people than you intended. That’s historically proven.”
Narcissa sighed lightly and picked at a stray thread on her duvet. “You’ve studied them, dear. You haven’t practiced them. How could you know precisely what they entail? I don’t think there’s any harm in it, and that’s that.”
“Honestly, I’m a little miffed that you assumed Lucius hadn’t told me. As though it were some great big secret that he was keeping from me! He received his tattoo over the holidays, you know. It’s nothing but a very faint pink, hardly noticeable. He never tried to hide it. He wouldn’t ever keep a secret from me.”
Andromeda’s gaze shifted to her lap. “No, of course he wouldn’t. I should’ve thought. Just because Rabastan didn’t tell me anything doesn’t mean that your fiancé didn’t tell you.”
“Oh.” Narcissa made a hemming sound. “I didn’t think—that is, I didn’t mean to imply that—“
“No need to tiptoe around it,” Andromeda sighed. “You and Lucius love each other. Rabastan and I don’t. That’s the difference. I just thought that he was being honest with me for once.”
Andromeda fell back into the mound of pillows. She was so tired of maintaining this continual, uncomfortable tension with her sister. For now, she could push aside her disquiet that Narcissa was unnervingly tolerant of her fiancé’s involvement in the dark arts. She didn’t believe that Narcissa really approved of the dark arts; she was just—blinded by love, surely?
Whatever the case, Andromeda didn’t want this conversation to turn into another one of their mounting disagreements. Right now, she just wanted her sister. And as she’d hoped, she soon felt Narcissa’s hand sweeping aside her hair and rubbing soothing circles into her back.
“Does this mean you’re going to call things off?” Narcissa asked in a feathery whisper. “Because he lied to you again? Or because you don’t approve of his involvement?”
Andromeda shook her head.
No. She wouldn’t break the engagement. Rabastan had been right: there was nothing about her discovery that would be a legitimate excuse for calling things off. In fact, her parents would be proud to know that their future son-in-law was involved in a group that held to the strictest blood purity ideals and that employed dark magic.
Rabastan had been right, and Andromeda hated him for it. Her threats only carried so much weight.
There was a knock at the bedroom door. Before either sister could address it, the door burst open, and a wild-eyed fifth year named Cassandra stuck her frizzy head in. Andromeda recognized her only because Cassandra was one of Slytherin’s newly appointed prefects.
“I’m so, so sorry to intrude!” the girl squawked. “It’s just, I’ve told this idiotic Hufflepuff to go away for five minutes straight, but he insists on speaking to Andromeda. He says it’s an ‘absolute and utter emergency,’ whatever that means. And I would’ve told him to go away, but then he vowed to do some very dreadful things, using very foul language, and I simply couldn’t stand his abuse any longer, and I thought that perhaps, Andromeda, if you don’t mind too terribly, since you apparently know this fellow, you could ask him to—“
Andromeda was already on her feet.
“I’ll take care of it,” she said.
Then she barreled out, leaving a flustered Cassandra and Narcissa behind.
Andromeda knew precisely who was at the door to the Slytherin common room. What she wanted to know was why he’d gone to all the trouble of venturing down here only to get his nose punched. Because that is precisely what Andromeda planned to do with George Vanderpool. It was bad enough when he spoke to her in abandoned courtyards where no one else was listening. But for him to do this….
Andromeda stomped down the stone hallway in her bare feet. She reached the deserted entryway to the common room and then flung open the heavy wooden door.
“I’m giving you five seconds exactly,” she said, “before I do you serious bodily harm. I swear, Vanderpool, there is no emergency on earth that warrants—“
She stopped short. George was white-faced, except for the deep red blotches surrounding his eyes.
He was crying.
Then he said the only two words that could have possibly made Andromeda forget her threats and follow him without question:
They hurried down dark corridors, and all the while Andromeda gritted through the discomfort of uneven stones beneath her bare feet. It would’ve been wise to grab some shoes from her dormitory, but she hadn’t been thinking. She’d only seen the urgency in George’s eyes and known that she had to follow, that every second must’ve counted.
It was only now that she began to consider the full implication of what he’d said.
“How?” she whispered. “He can’t really be—“
“Quidditch practice today,” George puffed, never once slowing his pace. “Passed out. Fell from his broom. Pollard caught him, but he’s been unconscious ever since.”
“Is it his condition?”
George nodded doggedly, then turned a corner toward a winding back staircase. They were taking the shortest route to the hospital wing. When they arrived, Andromeda found the entirety of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, reserve players included, huddled around the closed doors of the infirmary, speaking in low voices.
Heat prickled through her body. All of those Hufflepuffs would see her. They would know that she was somehow associated with Ted Tonks. This could get out so easily and turn into a vicious rumor.
Andromeda scraped the panicked thought from her mind. That didn’t matter. What mattered was Ted Tonks’ continued existence.
“Move it,” George barked, though the order was hardly necessary. His teammates were already making way for him.
Andromeda felt the curious stares on her back, but she ignored them and followed George past the towering oak doors and into the infirmary. There were no other patients tonight, none but a prone, limp body in the hospital bed nearest the doors. Madame Bellevue was hunched over Ted, her wand in hand. She appeared to be casting a complicated diagnostic spell that Andromeda did not recognize.
“What—“ began Andromeda, but Madame Bellevue hushed her harshly and waved both her and George off.
George took Andromeda by the elbow and pulled her a few paces away from the bed.
“She’s taking this very badly,” George muttered in her ear. “The medicine he usually takes, the one she prescribed him? She’s given him two full injections, and it’s done nothing to help. His breathing is slowing, his temperature is falling, and—and we can’t find out why. W-we can’t find out how to fix him this time.”
George turned away, though not in time to hide a new stream of tears. He rubbed his arm roughly across his face. Andromeda knew that she should’ve turned away and given George the chance to recover, to save some pride—but she couldn’t take her eyes off of him. She had never imagined that she would ever see George like this. He was the sort of boy she’d thought incapable of crying.
And it was so much easier to focus on the oddness of George Vanderpool’s tears than to think about his words.
Ted couldn’t be dying. This was just another scare, and she’d seen him pull through two of them so far. Ted would be fine. He had to be.
But unlike those other times, he was now unconscious, and Andromeda couldn’t even make out the rise and fall of his chest. His hair wasn’t silver, it was coal black, and his skin had turned to a sickly white pallor so transparent that she could make out the webbings of veins from his wrists up his arms.
Something was very, very wrong.
Andromeda broke into a loud, heaving sob.
She felt an arm around her. She turned into it and wrapped her own arms around a solid back. And unlike Andromeda would have expected, George Vanderpool turned out to be an exceptional hugger.
“Damn, princess,” George said in a threadbare whisper. “You do care.”
Madame Bellevue rose from Ted’s bedside. She eyed both George and Andromeda with a leery, careworn expression.
“I’ve done all I can,” she said, voice crackling around her words, "and I can't call in the specialist from St. Mungo’s. The Tonkses refused that sort of attention years ago; it's a private specialist, and they’re unable to pay the fee.”
Then words flowed from Andromeda, straight from thought into existence.
“I’ll pay,” she said, her voice evening back out as she extracted herself from George’s embrace. “Do what you need to, Madame Bellevue. I’ll cover any expenses he incurs.”
Madame Bellevue shook her head. “Even if I signal for her now, she won’t be able to apparate into the castle itself. She’ll have to first apparate to Hogsmeade, and by the time she makes it up to the castle, Ted could be—“
“Then stop wasting time!” Andromeda shrieked. “Just do it.”
Madame Bellevue staggered back. “I thought,” she said, turning to George, "that you said she would be of use, not howl at me as though she were somehow more qualified in the healing profession.”
“Be of what kind of use?” Andromeda asked. “George, what is she talking about?”
George gave a sheepish look. “I told Madame Bellevue about what happened last time, about how you were able to help Ted pass his fit without the medicine. It’s—it’s why I got you. I thought that maybe you could, um, you know, try to heal him again?”
“I didn’t heal....“ Andromeda trailed off.
Of course. George hadn’t fetched Andromeda just so that she could cry by Ted’s death bed; he’d wanted something from her. He thought that she could help.
“What did you do last time,” said Madame Bellevue, “that was so effective?”
“Nothing,” Andromeda stammered. “I didn’t do anything special. I just made him sit down, and I—I—“
“You what?” pressed George.
Andromeda couldn’t help the surge of hot scarlet blooming in her cheeks.
“I held him,” she said quietly.
“Well, then, hold him again now,” George ordered, shoving her toward the bed. “Do it.”
“But I hardly see how that can help! Before, he was conscious. It was probably only a coincidence that he got better, and—“
“Fucking do it, Andromeda!” George shouted.
“Fine!” she cried. But first, she turned toward Madame Bellevue. “I don’t care how long it will take. Request that specialist from St. Mungo’s. I don’t care if it’s a matter of expenses, either. I’m a Black. I’m good for my word and my money.”
She didn’t wait for Madame Bellevue’s response. She crossed to the bed in long strides, then came to a sudden stop. How exactly she was supposed to recreate the events of two months ago, when she had calmed Ted in the Vanderpool library?
“What are you waiting for?” George asked in a taut whisper. “Hold him, or whatever the hell you did before.”
Before, Ted had been slumped against a wall, and Andromeda had circled her arms around him. Hadn’t she? She’d rested her head against his chest until he’d begun to breathe again.
Only now, Ted wasn’t sitting; he unconscious in a hospital cot.
It was so trivial, the thought of George watching her climb into a bed with Ted Tonks, but still uneasiness flitted through Andromeda. She was doing so much that couldn’t be undone. This was precisely how rumors started, how reputations were ruined. But George wouldn’t tell a soul, and even if he did, Andromeda was beyond caring. She was trying to save Ted’s life.
She climbed onto the cot, took one steadying breath, and then laid herself out beside Ted’s motionless body. Like before, she rested her head against his chest. Unlike before, she curled the rest of her frame into the curve of his, winding her bare feet across his ankles and threading her fingers into his icy ones.
Every part of him was frigid. She had not been touching him for more than ten seconds before a violent shiver shook through her. This close to his body, she could hear his breath—a shuddering, insubstantial rasp struggling in and out of his lungs. She shut her eyes.
“Ted,” she whispered. “Please, please fight it. Whatever it is that’s pulling you under, fight back.”
She touched her cheek against his sternum, turning away from George. She couldn’t look at anyone while she did this, couldn’t even picture having an audience. This was so suddenly, so bizarrely personal.
“You’re not allowed to die,” she said. "You simply can’t, not in this senseless way, all because of some ridiculous genetic defect. You’re too good for that.”
She lifted her head and supported all of her weight on one side, using a hand to sweep back Ted’s thick, jet-black hair from his closed eyes. She thought she saw, for the most fleeting moment, a twitch of his lip.
“There are lots of people who need you,” she went on, “and you can’t just leave them. Think about George. You can’t abandon your best mate like this. Or Nelson. Or Roisin and Brennan and William. Or—or all the other people in your life that I was too self-absorbed to ever ask about. They would be devastated.”
She lowered her head back down, resting it gently on his shoulder, still listening intently for each of his staggered breaths.
“I would be devastated,” she whispered. “You’re the most decent person I’ve ever met, Ted. I think I’d lose faith in the world if you died. I’d lose faith in a place where something as unfair as that could happen.”
Andromeda snapped back toward George with a vicious glare. “What? I told you this is an idiotic idea, but if you’re going to make try this, then at least have the decency to—“
“No.” George shook his head. “Andromeda, look.”
He was pointing. She turned back around to find that Ted’s head full of black hair was turning to silver. The color leeched through at an alarming rate, and it had barely turned to silver before another, more golden hue began shooting through.
How had she not noticed until now that his skin was warming under her touch?
Andromeda pushed herself up into a sit alongside Ted. Her eyes roved his body with urgency, desperate to catch some additional sign that he was emerging from his coma-like state.
His chest. She could actually see its rise and fall. And when she ducked in closer, she heard his breathing—stronger now, and fuller, steadying to a calm pace.
George swore a hearty string of expletives. He was shaking his head in wonder.
“Madame Bellevue!” he called. “You’re gonna want to look at this!”
Madame Bellevue, who had been in the far corner of the infirmary, crouched by the fireplace, now hurried back to them. Andromeda paid no mind to the healer’s gasp or mutterings. She just went on gripping Ted’s hand and watching as a rosy hue bloomed back into his pale face.
And then his eyes opened, and they were their normal shade of dark cocoa, and Andromeda released a strangled, high-pitched sound that she wasn’t entirely sure belonged to her but that sounded a good deal like Ted’s name.
His gaze was unfocused for a moment. Then it settled directly on her. Andromeda attempted a smile, but she only ended up bursting into a new batch of tears. She felt Madame Bellevue’s sturdy hands on her shoulders, pulling her off of the cot.
“No!” she shouted. “No, no, he may still need me!”
“I have to assess the situation, child. Calm down. I can’t take any readings if you’re plastered against his body.”
Her bare feet hit cold ground, and she found herself leaning against George, who held her upright but was entirely distracted by the spellwork that Madame Bellevue was performing on Ted.
Andromeda heard only muffled snatches of words from Madame Bellevue as she flourished her wand in hurried spells across Ted’s body:
“Impossible—never seen—it couldn’t have been as simple as—“
At last, Madame Bellevue stepped back from Ted and shook her head.
“I can’t explain it,” she whispered. “He’s perfectly fine.”
Then she turned, very slowly, toward Andromeda, and fixed her with a look that was somewhere between suspicion and fear.
“You and Ted,” she said, “you aren’t related in any way, are you? No third cousins, or distant relatives, or—“
“Of course we aren’t related,” said Andromeda, instinctual repulsion tingeing her voice without her permission. “He’s a Muggleborn. I’m a Black. There’s no possible way we could have any family in common.”
“Why?” George asked eagerly. “Do you know why she was able to do that? Is there some sort of explanation for it?”
Madame Bellevue opened her mouth, but the words that came next were not her own.
“George?” Ted wheezed, “is that you?”
George bounded toward the bed, Andromeda in tow.
“Yeah, mate, it’s me.” Andromeda never thought she would see George cry, but even less expected was that he could ever sound so unironically full of joy. “You little fucker, you scared us all out of our wits. Your metamorphing around is getting out of control. I won’t stand for much more.”
Ted wobbled out a smile. “Working on it. W-what even happened? How long was I out?”
“You fell off your broom during practice about an hour ago,” said George. “The whole team is outside holding a vigil or some shit. I was the only one allowed into your sacred healing chamber. Well, me, and—“
George motioned over at Andromeda. For the first time, Ted’s gaze shifted from his friend to Andromeda. Then it darkened. His smile fell. It was as though he hadn’t seen her the first time and was only now aware of her presence in the room—and it wasn’t a welcome presence.
“Uh, Ted?” said George, poking at his shoulder. “Everything okay?”
“Why is she here?” Ted whispered, staring back at George.
“Yeah, funny story that,” said George. “You’re never going to believe what just—“
“That’s quite enough, all of you!” piped Madame Bellevue, plowing through George and Andromeda and practically throwing herself in front of Ted. “We have no idea how stable his condition is, and I won’t have you two overtiring him before the specialist arrives.”
“Then you got a hold of him?” said George. “The bloke from St. Mungo’s is coming right now?”
“She’s coming,” Madame Bellevue corrected crisply. “The woman from St. Mungo’s. Yes, right now. And I imagine that she’ll want to speak to you, Miss Black.”
Andromeda started. She had still been looking over at Ted, who was looking anywhere else but at her.
“Me?” she squeaked. “Why me?”
“Wait outside,” said Madame Bellevue. “The two of you. I want you both on hand for inquiries once Madame Finley arrives.”
The large, red-faced woman glowered them both down in a way that banished all room for argument. George and Andromeda exited the hospital wing, and Madame Bellevue heaved the doors shut behind them.
Four members of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team were still waiting outside, sitting in a cross-legged circle. One of them, a tall, freckled girl, rose to her feet upon seeing George.
“Well?” she asked, eyes swimming with anxious tears. “How is he?”
“I think he’s going to be okay,” said George, and there was a collective sigh amongst the teammates. “Bellevue’s still calling in a specialist, though. I imagine they’ll want to keep him under close watch the next few days.”
“I knew he had health problems,” said a stocky boy that Andromeda recognized as Hufflepuff’s other beater. “I just didn’t know they were this serious.”
The freckled girl was once-overing Andromeda. “I’m sorry, but who are you?”
Andromeda felt a surge of strange emotions, all slopped together at once—apprehension, indignation, but most of all, jealousy.
Why on earth did she feel jealous? That was the most unhelpful and unwarranted feeling to have right now.
“I’m Andromeda Black,” she said stiffly, not bothering to offer the girl her hand like she would a fellow pureblood. “Of the House of Black. I’m sure you've heard of me. But I’m afraid I’ve no idea who you are.”
“Eisley Abbott,” the girl replied, her brow arched. “I’ve played with Ted for six years. But he’s never once mentioned you. I don’t see why you were allowed in the infirmary while the rest of us had to—“
“Because she’s special, Abbott,” said George, rolling his eyes, “that’s why. Now stop snotting on her just because she’s gorgeous and you feel threatened and shit.”
“I do not feel threatened,” Eisley said angrily. “I just don’t see why some Slytherin blueblood gets in to see Ted and we don’t.”
“Them be the rules, love,” said George, ushering Eisley back to the other three teammates, who were now standing and readying to leave. “I don’t make them. And anyway, you and Ted had a go at it fifth year. Don’t bring out the claws just because you couldn’t keep him.”
“Shove it, Vanderpool,” Eisley snapped, contorting her decent features into a gruesome scowl.
“You’ll let us know when he can take visitors?” the stocky boy asked George. “We’ll get together a card and flowers in the meantime. I’m sure the whole house will want to chip in.”
Despite everything, Andromeda found a smile lilting on her face. The whole house would chip in for a card and flowers? In Slytherin, if their Quidditch captain fell ill, the entire house would probably be threatening to depose him from his position.
When she surfaced from her reflection, she found that the Quidditch team was fast disappearing down the corridor and that George had taken a seat on the stone bench outside the infirmary doors. Andromeda joined him, folding her hands in her lap.
“They’re shaking,” George said, nodding to her hands. “You doing okay?”
Andromeda looked down. Her hands were shaking. She swallowed hard.
“Fine,” she whispered. “Just shock, I suppose.”
George grunted. He glanced at the closed doors, then leaned in closer. “Thank you. Really. For what you did in there? I know you didn’t have to come, so it means a lot.”
“It wasn’t a favor for you,” Andromeda said. “And I don’t even know what I did back there. Honestly, George, it’s as much of a mystery to me as it is to you.”
“You just touched him,” said George, shaking his head. “That’s all it took? You weren’t whispering some fancy voodoo?”
Andromeda shook her head.
“Well,” George said, “once is coincidence. Twice…? Ever thought of getting clinically tested?”
“What was Madame Bellevue after, asking whether or not I was related to Ted?”
“I’ve no earthly idea, but you may be getting some answers from this specialist of hers. You know, the woman specialist.”
Andromeda felt George’s eyes on her. “What?” she asked, uneasy.
“Did you mean what you said? About footing the bill for Ted?”
“Of course I did. He’s sick. He needs good medical attention. I have money. Why wouldn’t I pay?”
“He’s not going to let you,” said George. “When he finds out, he’s going to be pissed and never talk to you agai—wait. Wait, I suppose that’s already happening, isn’t it?”
“You’ve tried to help him out before,” Andromeda guessed.
“He’s stubborn. And until now, he hasn’t exactly needed topnotch medical attention. I mean, I’m sure it would’ve helped, but not in a life or death kind of way.”
“Well,” she said, “this is the perfect solution, isn’t it? I can pay for him, and he can hate me all he wants for it.”
“So, what,” said George, “you get to dip into your trust fund at the tender age of seventeen?”
“No,” she said. “I’m going to lie. I’ll say I need money for wedding preparations. Mother won’t bat a lash at that.”
“That’s fucked up. You know that, right?”
“It’s just a lie, and it’s for a good cause.”
George let out a short laugh. “Why are you doing this?”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Why do you want to pay for Ted? Why did you even come with me in the first place? Aren’t you worried this will get out?”
Andromeda took a long moment before answering.
“Yes,” she said at last. “I’m worried about that. But I’m more worried about Ted.”
George smirked. “So you do like him.”
“I didn’t say that,” said Andromeda. “I said I’m worried about him. I think it’s only natural to be concerned when a perfectly nice boy is suffering from life-threatening fits. Any decent person would want to help.”
“But you’re not a decent person,” said George. “You’re a Black. You think people like Ted are scum. You’ve got a severe superiority complex, and you equate compassion with weakness.”
“God, George. How well you know me.”
“No, I don’t know you,” George said. “I’m just trying to prove how royally screwed up it is that you’re engaged to Rabastan Lestrange and you’re going to use your ‘wedding fund’ to save the life of the guy that you actually—“
“Please stop talking.”
George shrugged. “That’s as good as a confession.”
Andromeda sighed. She sunk her face down into her hands. “I really thought he was going to die. Why is it that whenever I’m around him, he’s constantly dying?”
“Eh,” said George, “technically, we’re all constantly dying.”
“What a stupid thing to say.”
“It’s what my brother used to say. You know, before he died.”
Andromeda sunk her face even lower, her nose nearly touching her knees. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to get the universe to say that for the past few years. Hasn’t worked so far.”
Slowly, Andromeda straightened back up. “You’re not going to lose him, too,” she whispered. “I won’t let that happen.”
“You and your money and your freaky healing touch, right? That’s some promise. You can’t just forbid death, Andromeda. Shit happens. It happens to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. I don’t have any illusions about that. So if this specialist comes in and gives Ted a death sentence, I’m going to be prepared. You should, too.”
She watched as George ran his knuckles along the scar on his cheekbone. He said nothing more. She said nothing in return. Silence enveloped them both again until the corridor echoed with the business-like clack of heels on stone. A woman appeared, short and well-dressed and carrying an extra large carpet bag. She came to a stop just outside the hospital wing doors.
“Madame Finley. I came as quickly as I could. You, girl, come with me. I’ll need you soon enough.”
“Why?” asked Andromeda.
“Tell me,” Madame Finley said, “do you faint at the sight of blood?”
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