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Chapter 4 : Indiscretion
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Lilith’s face was pink from alcohol, but she still downed the next shot of Firewhisky as soon as Hortense—the grisled, stink-eyed bartender—had plunked it down on the counter. When she was through, she wrapped Narcissa into a headlock and squealed for about the twentieth time that night.
“ENGAGED. I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe how romantic the whole thing was!”
Narcissa was glowing, her blue eyes brimming with joy. She had never looked more beautiful than tonight, and that was quite a feat. Even in the midst of the dark, musty, crowded interior of Hog’s Head Inn, she looked like an angel. Andromeda was happy for her little sister. Lucius had proposed to her the night before, and even Andromeda had to admit it was a very romantic setup.The scheme had involved roses and poems and protestations of love and the first snowfall of the school year. Afterward, she and Narcissa had spent the whole night giggling under the covers and taking turns marveling at the enormous diamond ring Lucius had placed on her finger.
Andromeda was overjoyed for Narcissa. She really was. But after Narcissa had drifted off to sleep that night, she had been left alone and awake, staring at the four-poster canopy as a foreign wave of sadness washed over her. She was sad. Why was she sad?
Was it just jealousy? Perhaps she was a little jealous of Lucius, who was stealing away her sister and confidant. There would be no more lazy summer days at Onyx House, just her and Narcissa. Her sister would live with Lucius at Malfoy Manor now, or at his London penthouse, far from Andromeda.
Was it impatience? Narcissa was a full year younger than her, after all, and she was engaged first. What was taking Rabastan so long? Did he want to leave Andromeda the only Black sister without a ring on her finger? She could understand Lucius’ motives: he was a seventh year, and he would want a commitment from Narcissa before they were forced to part for a full year as Narcissa finished her education. But didn’t Rabastan have even more incentive to propose? It was already November, and it only made sense that he and Andromeda should plan for a springtime wedding, just after graduation, to make for the most natural transition into married life. So why was Narcissa wearing a diamond ring before she was?
The greatest trouble of all was that Andromeda didn’t have any real desire for a wedding. A gorgeous dress, certainly. A diamond ring, of course. But when she thought of kissing Rabastan in front of dozens of guests, of leaving Onyx House for good and taking up residence in the Lestrange’s labyrinthine country house, she felt nothing but dull dread. Narcissa must have been right: it was just second thoughts. But why had Andromeda been having second thoughts for two months straight now? And why wouldn’t those nightmares leave her alone?
Today, it was Lilith’s turn to squeal over Narcissa’s engagement, and since today happened to be a Hogsmeade visit day, Lilith could think of no better place to celebrate than the Hog’s Head Inn. Andromeda could think of much classier, cleaner, and safer places, and it was clear that prim Narcissa felt uncomfortable in the dirty bar. However, once Lilith set her mind to something, she stubbornly saw it through, no matter how poor her judgement was. An engagement like this called for some wild living, she claimed. She was taking the Black sisters to Hog’s Head, so help her, and she was going to buy them three whole rounds of Firewhisky shots.
Andromeda had watched in amusement as Narcissa discreetly got rid of each of her shots by tossing the them into a nearby potted snapdragon. Andromeda, however, didn’t have any qualms with the liquor, and she downed each round alongside Lilith. Then a fourth round. And as she thew back her fifth, she began to forget why she still felt a pang of sadness in the midst of the celebration. Alcohol didn’t affect Andromeda much. At least, she didn’t think so. That was why she was so surprised when, as she slipped down from her barstool to make her way to the toilet, she lost her footing and would’ve wiped out completely had Lilith not steadied her by the shoulder, giggling wildly.
“Watchershelf!” Lilith laughed. “Don’t take a tumble!”
Without knowing why, Andromeda found herself giggling, too. A pleasant warmth was spreading from her gut to her chest. Tonight was a fine night. She was with friends, and Narcissa was engaged to Lucius Malfoy, and all was right in the world. Except for that sliver of icky feeling in her stomach…
Andromeda pushed through the crowded bar, growing warmer and more nauseated as she went. She really did need to get to a toilet. She felt terrifically unwell. At last, she broke through the crowded bodies, only to find that she’d run into a booth table, where a group of Hogwarts boys sat eating supper. The smell of food tickled up Andromeda’s nostrils, and her stomach turned a full flip. And then, without any further ado, Andromeda vomited the contents of the day's lunch on the table.
A collective shout of disgust rose from the booth.
“Oi! Someone get this retcher away from our table, eh?”
“That is foul.”
Andromeda clung to the table’s splintered edge, her head spinning, heart pounding, her mouth filled with the taste of sick. How utterly mortifying. Her mother would never forgive Andromeda if she saw what a spectacle she’d just made of herself, let alone in such a disreputable establishment as this. And just when Andromeda thought things couldn’t get any worse, she opened her eyes to find one of the boys staring straight back at her.
It was none other than Ted Tonks. A fresh pile of vomit was heaped on his plate in place of fish and chips.
“Oh no,” Andromeda whimpered, stumbling back and losing her balance.
But instead of hitting the hard bar floor, she felt herself caught up in a firm grasp. Ted had rushed out of his seat to catch her.
“Hang in there,” he said against her ear, voice low and calm. “Let’s get you to the loo, eh?”
She thought about protesting as he lifted her up into his arms. She thought about smacking him in the face, telling him to get his filthy Mudblood hands off of her as he pressed through the crowd with unyielding urgency. But she didn’t do any of those things. Instead, she rested her head against his firm shoulder, hoping he’d make it to the toilet in time, because she felt another wave of nausea coming on, and she would've really preferred not to spew all over him.
They passed into a colder, darker space, where the shouts of the bar patrons faded, only to be replaced by the echoed, claustrophobic sound of her ragged breathing.
“I’m going to set you down now,” came Ted’s voice, and she felt herself lowered from his arms, her feet touching back on solid ground. “Come on, kneel down with me. That’s it. You’re all right."
Andromeda knelt down and felt Ted’s hands on hers, guiding her to something cold and hard. She’d never been so happy to set her hands on a toilet in her whole life. She didn't even have the presence of mind to consider how dirty this stall was, or how the floor was covered in an unidentifiable sticky substance. She heaved, and she was only vaguely aware of calloused fingers pulling back her hair from her face as she emptied the remaining contents of her stomach into the toilet. Then she slumped back into a dark, confused state for what felt like hours.
“It’s okay,” the warm voice repeated, rubbing her back in slow circles. “It happens to everyone at some point. Nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Andromeda nodded blindly against the warmth pressed to her cheek. Ted wore an awfully soft shirt. She clung to it with steely resolve, worried that at any moment, the urge to vomit would return. She could be humiliated about this later. She could rail against Lilith for having convinced her and Narcissa to walk off the beaten path and into this miserable excuse for a bar. Right now, however, all she could think about was feeling better.
She felt the warmth shift beneath her, and she gave a mewl of protest, gripping harder at his shirt. “D-d-don’t leave me!”
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was aware of how desperate and stupid she sounded. But she couldn’t help it. She just wanted safety and sanity again, and Ted seemed to be doing a pretty good job of providing it.
“I’m not leaving you,” he said gently. “I’m just fetching you some water, okay? I’ll lock the door so no one bothers you. You need to hydrate. I’ll be back in thirty seconds flat. You can time me if you'd like.”
Andromeda fell back against the wall of the restroom stall, her head still spinning. She felt cold, so much colder than she had when Ted had been there. November wind was whistling through the slats in the wooden walls, sending chills through her body. Thirty seconds. He said he’d only be thirty seconds.
And true to his word, Ted returned, kneeling back at Andromeda’s side a moment later. Though her vision had begun to clear, her thoughts were still murky, and she fought hard to form words.
“Why’re you hup—helping me?” she groaned, taking the cold glass of water that he placed in her hands.
“Drink the water,” Ted said, tipping the glass to her lips.
With an irritated sigh, Andromeda did as he requested. Something had begun tickling at the back of her mind—a worry, a disquiet. Narcissa. Lilith. They must have noticed her long absence by now. They were probably worried about her. Looking for her. Andromeda shoved the glass back at Ted and struggled to get to her feet.
“Whoa! What do you think you’re doing?”
“My seeser. Lilaaath. They’re gonna worry.”
Ted caught her just as she slipped and went careening toward the ground again. “Your sister? She’s here?” Then, in an aside she was pretty sure Ted only meant for himself, he muttered, “Well of course they are, you idiot. She wouldn’t come into a bar by herself.”
“I need to fine ‘em!”
“Okay. We’ll find them, but I’ll help. You don’t seem to be able to stay upright for more than a second at a time.”
“I’m really, really happy for my sister,” Andromeda confided in Ted, patting his chest as he helped her up to her feet. “She’s engaged, y’know. To Malfoy. Nice fellow. Very, very nice fellow. I’m gonna be engaged soon, too. Rabashtan has already picked out a ring. But I dunno if it’ll be as big a diamond as Cissy’s.”
“That’s fascinating,” said Ted. “But why don’t we spend a little more time walking and a little less talking?”
Andromeda nodded doggedly and followed his lead as he brought her out of the bathroom and led her into the bar again. Through the blur of bodies, Andromeda caught a glimpse of platinum blonde locks.
“Cissy,” she mumbled, gripping Ted harder and nodding toward her sister. “That’s Cissy there.”
Ted nodded back and led Andromeda through the crowd, toward the beacon of blonde hair. Finally, they arrived back at the bar proper, where Narcissa was looking around frantically, tears rimming her eyes. When she spotted Ted and a slumped Andromeda, she shrieked and came running toward them, arms outstretched for her sister.
“Darling, there you are! I was so worried. Lilith is positively sloshed, and then I couldn’t find you, and then I was so scared. I don’t like being alone in this place, and—Andie? Goodness, you smell foul.”
For the first time, Narcissa glanced up, acknowledging Ted’s presence. “What’s wrong? What did you do to her?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Ted said. “She’s drunk.”
Narcissa narrowed her eyes. “Ladies of the House of Black do not get drunk.”
“Okay, whatever. She’s inexorably tipsy. Whatever you want to call it. She just puked out a veritable cauldron’s worth of food, though, so I suggest you get her someplace warm and safe where she can rest, huh?”
Narcissa’s eyes widened. She took Andromeda into her arms and nodded.
“Of course. I’d like nothing better than to get out of this filthy establishment.”
Andromeda now stooped on her shoulder, Narcissa began the attempt to make her way toward the door. She was having very limited success. Ted stepped in front of her and, with a sudden flourish, he pulled out his wand and shot a burst of scarlet sparks into the air.
“Get out of her way!”
Heads turned. Bodies shuffled. Narcissa glanced back at Ted with a curious expression. Then she led her sister toward the door.
“Cissy?” Andromeda moaned hoarsely. “Cissy, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a disgrace.”
“Nonsense,” said Narcissa. “It was Lilith who shouldn’t have taken us here in the first place. It's an absolute hovel. Hogsmeade really needs to invest in higher quality restaurants.”
“But I shouldn’t have drunk so much,” Andromeda groaned. “And of all the people to—wait. Where did Tonksh go?”
“Tonksh? Who’s Tonksh?”
“He left me?”
Both girls crossed the threshold of the inn and stepped out into the darkened, winding road that led up the deserted hill to Hog's Head. A soft snow had begun to fall, and Narcissa frowned at Andromeda in the lamplight.
“Who are you talking about? You mean the man back there?”
Andromeda nodded weakly. “The Muh—Mudblood.”
Narcissa gaped. “Is he really? And he was touching you like that. Merlin, the presumption. Darling, if you knew he was a Mudblood, why would you let him—“
But Narcissa was interrupted when Andromeda bent over and hurled a final round of vomit into a nearby shrubbery.
“That’s it,” said Narcissa, arching her chin angrily. “That is the last time I allow Lilith to determine our agenda for girls night out.”
The front door of the inn flew open. Ted Tonks emerged, looking flushed.
“Thank Merlin,” he panted. “Here. She dropped this.”
He held out a jade colored scarf—a present that Narcissa had given Andromeda for her fifteenth birthday.
Narcissa eyed Ted with haughty distaste, like he was a cockroach to be squished. Then, as though it were a great efort, she yanked the scarf from him.
“Do not come near my sister again,” she said icily. “Filth like you shouldn’t even presume to look at someone like Andromeda, let alone touch her.”
Ted stared. “You’ve got to be joking.”
“Do I look like I’m joking? Just stay away, or I’ll tell Lucius and Rabastan precisely what sort of liberties you took with my sister tonight, and I promise you, they won’t leave you looking the way they found you. Now leave us alone.”
Ted glanced at Andromeda. “I just wanted to be sure she was all right.”
“LEAVE US ALONE!”
Andromeda stirred against Narcissa’s shoulder, fighting for some semblance of conscious thought.
“What’s going on?” she murmured.
“Nothing,” Narcissa said tightly, holding her sister close. “There was a nuisance, but he’s been taken care of for good."
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