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Chapter 5 : Damage Control
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Just a dream.
Onyx house was not on fire, and the walls had not been coated in blood. No masked man had been chasing her, and there was not a grotesque tattoo imprinted on Bellatrix’s inner left arm. Narcissa had not been cold and motionless. And the gold-tufted linnet had not been hit by a killing curse; his small and lifeless body had not fallen from the willow tree and into Andromeda’s cupped hands. None of those things had happened. She was safe in her bedroom in Slytherin House, and all was well and as it should be.
Andromeda hadn’t forgotten what had happened the night before, and even though her head was still pounding as though an ice pick were chipping away at her skull, something had to be done.
That afternoon, she caught Ted in the corridor as they were both leaving DADA.
“We need to talk,” she said, tugging him back into the empty classroom and closing the door behind her.
Startled, Ted turned to face her, his brown eyes wide.
“Er, talk about what? If this is about the assignment, I appreciate an offer to help, but like you said, it’s really just a matter of me studying m—“
“No, of course this isn’t about the assignment!” Andromeda snapped. She cast her eyes down, suddenly filled with a strange nervousness. “It’s about last night.”
Ted raised a brow. A smirk notched up his face, and his voice deepened. “About last night?”
He said the words like they were deliciously sensuous, filled with innuendo—and in no way at all how Andromeda meant them.
“You think this is a joke?” she demanded.
Ted shrugged. “Honestly? I didn’t think you’d remember anything that happened last night. You were pretty damn blitzed.”
“Ladies of the House of Black don’t get . . . blitzed.” Andromeda frowned. She wasn’t entirely sure what “blitzed” meant, but it sounded uncouth and therefore definitely didn’t apply to her.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. Look, a simple ‘thank you’ will suffice, okay? No need to make this unduly awkward.”
“Mhm.” Ted hitched up a seat on the edge of one of the desks, swinging his legs easily. “Thank you. Have you heard of it? It’s an acknowledgement that someone else has done you a kindness.”
Andromeda felt her face heating. “What kindness? You utterly humiliated me!”
“No offense, but I think you did that all on your own.”
“So I was a little tipsy. That didn’t give you any right to go carting me around by force. Maybe I didn’t want to go in that stall with a Mudblood. Did you ever think of that? Did you think about what a story like that would do to my reputation? For all I know, people might already be spreading rumors!”
“Merlin forbid your precious reputation be damaged,” Ted said pleasantly.
Andromeda hadn’t meant to. It had been a sudden urge—violent and unexpected. She slapped him across the face, hard.
Ted didn’t respond. He only touched his fingers to the red welt forming on his cheek and raised his eyes back to Andromeda.
Dry panic rose in her throat. “I—I didn’t mean to—“ Pride gripped her before she could go further. Yes, you damn well did mean to, Andromeda Lyra Black. He deserves it! “Well, it’s your fault! You act as if you don’t understand how wrong your behavior was.”
“My behavior,” Ted repeated slowly. “You mean I should’ve let you pass out on the floor in a pile of your own sick? Fine. I’ll keep that in mind for future reference.”
“You are so dense,” Andromeda said, shaking her head. “You don’t realize what a high status I have to maintain in this school. Or you do, and you’re just purposefully acting daft. I can’t be seen with you, Tonks. The way you behaved at the Hog’s Head made it look like we were . . . involved somehow. That we somehow knew one another.That isn’t acceptable."
"Sorry," said Ted, "but if you're so dead set on maintaining a good reputation, you shouldn't be visiting a place like the Hog's Head in the first place."
"I'm well aware of that now. But this is about your behavior. You need to—to cease and desist!”
“Fine,” Ted said. “So long as you cease and desist the practice of spewing all over my supper. How’s that?”
Andromeda gritted her teeth. “Fine. Just leave me the hell alone.”
Ted swung his legs off of the table, landing on his feet and reshouldering his satchel. For the first time, Andromeda noticed the black ink tendriling out from the collar of his shirt and running over his exposed collarbone. A Hufflepuff with a tattoo? Would wonders never cease? She found herself wondering what shape it formed beneath the fabric of his button-up. Then she silently cursed herself for wondering.
“I’m going to say one last thing,” said Ted, and Andromeda realized in a shock of fright that he wasn’t leaving the room, but walking toward her. He only stopped when they were mere inches apart. She could hear him breathing, see flecks of blue in his brown eyes. “Sometimes people are altruistic. Sometimes they don’t do things for ulterior motives, or to try to ruin reputations or start rumors. Sometimes, they’re just trying to do the decent thing. So for the love of all things good, Andromeda Black, stop thinking that everything I do is about sodding you.”
Andromeda caught her balance on a chair as he left, and she sank down, releasing a shuddery breath. With sudden clarity, a thought pierced through her brain:
Ted Tonks thinks I’m an arrogant little harpy.
And most startling of all, for some reason, the thought bothered her.
“Andie! Yoo hoo!”
For five long years at Hogwarts, Andromeda had made it a point to never make eye contact with any other occupants of the Great Hall that did not belong to Slytherin House. She especially never cast a glance over at the Gryffindor tables. All of that had changed when Sirius Black, her favorite cousin, had been sorted into Gryffindor. Sirius was nearly five years younger than Andromeda, but that didn’t mean that he wasn't extraordinarily sharp.
Andromeda wouldn’t exactly call him mature for his age; he and his Gryffindor mates were already notorious for their pranks, even though they were just second years, and Sirius had the sense of humor of a five-year-old. But Sirius was intelligent; he saw through people, he understood situations—even messy and complicated ones involving family drama at Black family reunions. He picked up on social cues, he had insight sharper than a dagger. And because of that, he and Andromeda got along like old friends and equals.
More than one disapproving word had been passed around the family circles when Sirius had been sorted into Gryffindor. Aunt Walburga and Uncle Orion descended from a long tradition of pureblooded Slytherins. But then, it wasn’t exactly Sirius fault that the sorting hat had placed him in a lesser house. Unfortunate, but not completely disastrous. His best mate—a bespectacled trouble maker named James—came from a good pureblooded family, so that was something at least.
Still, Andromeda could see something in Sirius’ eyes, could hear it sometimes in the timbre of his voice when he talked about the family: he was glad to be sorted in Gryffindor. He hated life at Grimmauld Place. He didn’t approve of all the things that his mother and father said. Andromeda had begun to worry in the past year that, if Sirius kept it up, he’d find himself in serious trouble. Still, she tried not to think about that too much, and she certainly wasn’t thinking about it now when a grinning Sirius waved at her from across the dining hall.
He didn’t wait for Andromeda to come to him. Instead, he jumped off of his bench, knocking over a full goblet of pumpkin juice onto his straggly, quiet friend—Remus, Andromeda thought the boy's name was. Sirius came traipsing up to Andromeda with a wicked glint in his eye. Then he motioned for her to lean in for a secret. Laughing, Andromeda did so.
“If I were you,” whispered Sirius, “I wouldn’t eat the stuffed mushrooms tonight. There might be some mysterious stuffing in ‘em.”
He pulled back with a conspiratorial wiggle of his eyebrows and then took off again in a sprint toward his mates. Andromeda giggled quietly to herself and shook her head. What a nutter. If Andromeda was being completely honest, she’d admit that Sirius’ pranks were obnoxious and juvenile. Perhaps Andromeda wouldn’t like him quite so much if he didn't warn her when there was impending danger.
She straightened up and turned her attention to the Slytherin table, where Lilith and Narcissa were already busy drinking mulled cider. As usual, they had saved a seat for her. Years earlier, when Bellatrix had been at school, she had been the one to save seats for her younger sisters. Bella had held impressive sway over her classmates, and when she wanted something—even if it meant seats at the head of table for her first and second year sisters—she got it. The favor didn’t come without a price, though. Those first few years, Andromeda had been forced to endure Bella’s endless diatribe on the stupidity of her classmates and how Hogwarts had gone to the dogs since the days her parents had attended.
As if you would know, Andromeda had thought in irritation. Bella may have been older, but that didn’t make her all-knowing or all-powerful—which is always how Bella acted. Andromeda would never admit it to anyone, but she had been secretly happy when Bellatrix had graduated, married Rodolphus Lestrange, and left her and Narcissa to their own devices. The dining table had had a distinctly more pleasant air since Bella had left.
That is, it had a more pleasant air when Lilith and Narcissa weren’t quarreling, which they currently were. Narcissa still hadn’t forgiven Lilith for taking them to Hog’s Head Inn the night before.
“It was dangerous,” Narcissa was saying when Andromeda took her seat. “It was reckless. And above all, it smelled like bad cheese in there. I can’t believe you would subjugate me and Andie to that sort of lowlife behavior. People are nasty when they’re drunk.”
Lilith was rolling her eyes and blowing bubbles in her cider. “Come off it, Narcissa,” she said, coming up for air. “If you didn’t have a prudish stick shoved so far up your ass, you might learn to have a little fun. You and Andie are just the same, too afraid to get your hands dirty.”
Lilith had a point, of course. Andromeda was a neat freak; dirt or messes of any kind had no place in her life. The Black girls had been raised to be neat, prim, and meticulous, and they’d been bred to expect a certain refinery in society. There was no crime in that. The real trouble was that Lilith was an absolute slob who didn’t mind frequenting unsavory bars.
“I’m not a prude!” Narcissa insisted, stabbing her knife into the table, just inches away from Lilith’s thumb.
Lilith started, her eyes darting up to Narcissa’s as if the girl had finally snapped and taken on the violent persona of her eldest sister. But Narcissa’s upper lip just quivered, as though she were on the verge of crying.
“I just can’t believe you would take us into a place that serves lowlifes. Father said that the inn was a reputable establishment when he was our age. Now it’s turned sour, and you knew that when you took us.”
A reputable establishment. What Narcissa really meant was that the place had once only allowed purebloods in its doors.
“I hate to break up this scintillating argument,” said Andromeda. “But I’ve been warned by a reliable source to stay away from the stuffed mushrooms.”
As if on cue, a burst of raucous laughter came from Sirius’ end of the Gryffindor table. Narcissa looked up at the sound and narrowed her eyes. She turned up her nose as if she’d just caught a whiff of sulfur.
“Sometimes I can’t believe he’s family. Aunt Walburga must’ve dropped him on his head when he was a baby.”
Andromeda wouldn’t be surprised to find that her Aunt Walburga had done just that; she wasn’t exactly the motherly type. Even if she had, though, Sirius was still nice to be around; Narcissa and Bellatrix had just never shared Andromeda’s fondness for her little cousin.
“Aw,” giggled Lilith. “I think he’s cute. If he’d only been a few years older…” She trailed off and licked her custard spoon slowly. “It’s clear he’s going to be a heartbreaker.”
Narcissa looked so close to spewing that Andromeda feared for a split-second that she had already eaten one of the tainted mushrooms after all.
“Don’t ever talk about him that way again,” Narcissa ordered Lilith. “It makes me ill. He’s our cousin.”
Lilith just smirked over her half-finished custard. “I thought it was customary for Blacks to fall in love with their cousins. That’s how you’ve stayed so ancient and noble for so long, isn’t it?”
Narcissa shot daggers at Lilith. “Shut up, bitch.”
Lilith gave a mock gasp and went right on smirking and shoveling custard into her mouth.
Andromeda had nothing to contribute to the conversation. She despised quarrels, and she endured enough of them back home without having to listen to her two closest friends claw each other’s throats out. Anyway, what Lilith said was true: it was common knowledge that Blacks intermarried. Sirius’ own parents had been second cousins. It happened more often than not in pureblooded circles. That was simply the way of it.
Tears were hanging in Narcissa’s eyes, however desperately she was trying to conceal the fact that she was upset. Andromeda was pretty sure she knew why: this little fight was stealing the spotlight away form more important thing things—namely, Narcissa’s engagement. Andromeda eyed the flashing diamond ring in her periphery. She’d barely had time to process the news, really process it. Narcissa had sent an owl to her parents the night before, and she’d received an enthusiastic reply that morning, complete with a giant box of chocolates. Mrs. Black was overwhelmingly proud of her youngest daughter, though Andromeda could feel the unspoken accusation in her reply: why wasn’t Andromeda wearing a ring yet? Acquiring an engagement ring was, after all, her most important duty while at Hogwarts.
Instinctively, Andromeda glanced down the table, where Rabastan, Lucius, and their typical gaggle of guys sat eating and downing drinks. The girls didn’t usually segregate themselves from the guys, but there was a big Quidditch match the next day—Slytherin versus Gryffindor—and all that the guys could talk about was Quidditch. Neither Lilith nor the Black sisters took any interest in the sport. Andromeda thought it an absolute waste of time. There wasn’t any reason for them to willingly subject themselves to chatter about statistics and projections, so it had become an unspoken rule that they have their separate dinners on nights before game days.
Even now, Andromeda could see a light in Lucius' usually cold eyes. He could be a frigid asshole to his other acquaintances—and he usually was. But there was a tenderness that existed between him and Narcissa that was almost—dare Andromeda think it?—magical. She could see the way it touched him even now, in the light in his eyes and the upward tug of his mouth. He was lucky to be marrying her sister; infinitely lucky.
“He loves you very much, doesn’t he?” Andromeda’s soft question had interrupted yet another squabble between Narcissa and Lilith.
Narcissa started for a moment, then crimsoned pleasantly. “Yes,” she said, her voice cracking. “Yes, I really think he does. I feel like a silly little schoolgirl, but he makes me feel like a princess. The only terrible part of this whole arrangement is that I’ll have to wait so long to really marry him. But I plan on talking to Mummy over Christmas break, and I’m sure she’ll see reason. There’s no reason for me to finish school when—“
Andromeda dropped her fork, and it clattered loudly on her pewter plate. “What do you mean? That you’d skip seventh year entirely?”
Narcissa said nothing, but she didn’t need to. Andromeda could see the determination in her eyes.
“But Cissy, education is important. . . .”
“Maybe to you it is,” Narcissa said with an airy wave of dismissal. “But darling Andie, some of us have different priorities.”
There was no point in arguing. Andromeda knew that. Still, she ached inside in an entirely new way. Narcissa would give up even a completed education, all for love. Andromeda would never do something like that for Rabastan. In fact, she couldn’t think of much of anything she would give up for him.
Andromeda reclaimed her fork and mustered a feeble nod. “You’re right. I suppose we do. I’m only happy that you love him very much.”
Narcissa knew what Andromeda had left unsaid. Both sisters could feel the unspoken words between them: unlike Bellatrix. It had been clear from the start that Bellatrix had no real love for Rodolphus Lestrange. It had been her duty to marry him, and so she had. Sometimes Andromeda felt sorry for Rodolphus; he obviously felt more for Bella than she did for him. But then, Rodolphus was also a borderline sociopathic who had enjoyed terrorizing students at Hogwarts as a pastime, so Andromeda’s sympathy didn’t extend too far. Her greatest worry was that she might repeat the same exact scenario with Rodolphus’ younger brother.
What’s wrong with you, Andromeda? Your mind has been completely out of sorts this school year. Rodolphus is different. He cares about you, and you care about him, too. Soon, he’ll propose and all your stupid fears will be gone. Mother will stop breathing down your neck about marriage, and all will be as it should be.
Except. . .
The words came back to her unbidden. She hadn’t spoken or thought them since that night in the library with Ted Tonks.
I don’t want kids.
“Andie. Have you been listening to a word I’ve been saying?”
Without quite knowing when or how they’d moved, Andromeda looked up to find Lilith and Narcissa looking down at her.
“Um,” she said stupidly.
“Narcissa and I are going back to the common room,” said Lilith. “Are you coming or not?”
Andromeda nodded and hurried to collect her things. They would pass the boys on their way out, and Andromeda could always warn Rabastan and Lucius not to touch the stuffed mushrooms. But then again, she could always not warn them... A wicked glint touched Andromeda’s eye.
After all, what was the use of a prank if there weren’t any unsuspecting victims?
Author's Note: Popping in for another hello! Since I've already written half of this novella, I'm uploading a chapter into the queue just as soon as the previous one has been validated. That makes for a rather quick pace at present, which is to make up for an inevitable slow drag once validating catches up with my writing...and of course, that will probably be right in the thickest bit of the drama. >:] All my thanks and happy thoughts to those who've read and reviewed! You rock my world.
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