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Chapter 7 : Secrets & Stipulations
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The next morning, Ted wasn’t in class. Andromeda had glanced behind her at least three times throughout Professor Whitechapel’s rather bleak lecture on the cruciatus curse, expecting each time that Ted would finally have taken his seat, looking as insufferably unkempt as always. It wasn’t unusual for him to arrive late to class—a trait Andromeda found exceedingly obnoxious—so she hadn’t been bothered at first. It was only when Professor Whitechapel assigned their next big paper and dismissed class that Andromeda began to worry.
No. Worry was the wrong word. She wasn’t worried about Ted Tonks. She just wanted to be rid of his wand, and he was making the task far more difficult than need be by not showing up for class. At lunchtime, on her way to the Great Hall, she could feel the outline of the cherry wood wand against her side, as though it were burning a veritable hole through her satchel. She’d taken time that morning to exam it: thirteen inches, cherry, and by using a quick spell from her own wand she’d discovered a core of dragon heartstring. Andromeda’s own wand had a heartstring core, too, but where hers was extremely brittle, Ted’s was pliable enough to bend into a u-shape without breaking. Not that she’d been curious or tried bending it. Certainly not.
All the same, it was dreadfully inconvenient to be carrying around something that wasn’t hers and, Merlin forbid, if anyone found it on her, the questions they would ask….
A heavy hand landed on her shoulder, and Andromeda yelped as she was drawn into a dimly lit alcove. Her heart sped up, her throat tightened. Was it Ted? Sweet Salazar, how did her hair look?
It wasn’t him. Andromeda looked up at a face she didn’t even recognize. Blunt features, curly red hair, a scar running up his cheek. He was a tall, burly boy, and she would’ve guessed he was a sixth year at least. What on earth did he want with her?
“Tonks said you had his wand.”
Andromeda must have taken too long in answering, because the boy snorted in impatience and held out his hand.
“His wand?" he pressed. "I said I’d get it back for him. Believe me, I don’t want to be talking to you any more than you do with me. So just hand over the wand, and we’ll be done with this little transaction.”
“I don’t even know who you are,” Andromeda said stiffly. “I hardly hand over items to a person to whom I’ve not even been properly introduced.”
Andromeda narrowed her eyes.
“Fine. George Vanderpool, beater for Hufflepuff. Make you happy, Miss Priss?”
“Not really,” said Andromeda, crossing her arms. “I don’t understand why I’m supposed to hand the wand over to you. Why doesn’t Tonks come get it for himself?”
George frowned in confusion. Slowly, a light of realization crossed his features. “You don’t know, then?”
“That Tonks is in the hospital wing.”
Andromeda felt a dull thud in her heart. “W-what? Whatever for?”
George snorted. “You really are clueless. Look, it doesn’t matter what for. What matters is giving me the—“
“Excuse me,” Andromeda interrupted, “but it certainly does matter. I don’t ever make transactions with middlemen, thank you very much. I’ll go return this to Tonks myself. He’s not unconscious, is he?”
“Well, no, but—“
“Then I see no reason why you are here, wasting my time with your stupid face and your stupider words.”
Andromeda turned briskly out of the alcove and back into the corridor, but not before she heard George call after her, in mocking tones, “Don’t forget to take him some flowers!”
In the hospital wing? What idiotic behavior had landed Ted Tonks in the infirmary? Whatever it was, Andromeda was going to find out. She wasn’t about to let him slip by her without giving an explanation for his literal disappearance the night before.
Pale winter sunlight streamed through the arched windows of the infirmary, illuminating a gentle drift of dust in the air. The wing was quiet, save for the occasional clink of Madame Bellevue’s mortar and pestle as she worked on stock herbal antidotes. Only two patients occupied the wing this evening: a sleeping first year with a broken arm and, at the very far end of the room, Ted Tonks.
“He’s in a weak way,” Madame Bellevue had warned Andromeda after leading her to his bedside. “I wouldn’t talk too long for fear of tiring him out. What he needs is rest.”
Andromeda had nodded dismissively and then taken a seat by Tonks’ bedside, in an uncomfortable hardback chair. His eyes were closed, and Andromeda knew she’d been told to wait until he woke, but she didn’t have the bloody patience for all that. She cleared her throat. Loudly.
His eyes fluttered open and cleared from a sleepy haze. A crooked smile followed.
“Did you bring me chocolates?” Ted asked hoarsely. “I adore chocolates. Especially chocolate-covered grapes.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Andromeda said, eyes combing over his blanket-covered body. “I don’t even see anything wrong with you.”
Though she did notice something slightly different about him—a little streak of silver hair, just at his temple, that she had not ever seen before.
“I can’t walk,” Ted said nonchalantly. “It’s only temporary. Should wear off by late tonight, tomorrow at the latest.”
“You can’t walk? What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing I haven’t handled my whole life,” said Ted. “I’m sure you’d find the details exceedingly boring. And anyway, you didn’t come to talk about me. You came to give me back my wand, since you were unavoidably detained last night.”
“I simply couldn’t make it,” she said unapologetically. She unzipped her satchel and removed something other than his wand—a thick roll of parchment. “I don’t think it was very fair of you to give me a meeting place a split second before you vanished into thin air. I never said I would come.”
“Fair enough,” said Ted, though his face suddenly screwed up in a wince.
Andromeda’s eyes widened. “Are you in pain?”
“Nothing unbearable. Now what’s this parchment about?”
“Oh.” Andromeda rested the roll on his bedside table, just behind his glass of water and a small vase of yellow carnations. “Whitechapel assigned us a hefty essay today. It was a dense lecture, and I thought you’d be completely lost if you didn’t have the notes.”
Ted looked at her steadily, a strange expression on his face. “That was thoughtful.”
“It was nothing,” she said quickly. “A simple copying charm. It took me all of two minutes. I only thought, you know, since I’m technically still your tutor….”
“Thoughtful,” said Ted, “but rather a wasted effort. I’ve decided to drop the class.”
“What?!” Andromeda’s raised voice echoed on the high stone ceilings. “What do you mean, you’re dropping?”
“I’m not cut out for it. I know when I’ve put too much on my plate. Like you said, it’s really just a matter of me making time to read the extra material, but that’s impossible with the current Quidditch schedule.”
“But you must be taking the class for a reason,” Andromeda pressed. “For a career?”
Ted shook his head slowly. “I’m in N.E.W.T.-level with you because Defense Against the Dark Arts is the only subject I’m halfway decent in. I had to beg Whitechapel to let me in with an Exceeds Expectations. The rest of my results were abysmal. I got a Troll on my History of Magic exam. A Troll. Who gets a Troll but a troll?”
Andromeda stifled a laugh. “That is pretty bad,” she admitted. “I didn’t realize it was like that.”
“I was never cut out for timed tests and graded papers. I’m all right with that. I just thought that Whitechapel’s class would be a chance to, I dunno, excel. Prove myself worthy.”
Ted gave her a funny look. “Well, to myself of course. Who else?”
Who else, indeed. Ted must not have had demanding relatives back home.
“It just seems a shame for you to drop,” she said. “At least you’ve got a career in Quidditch. Slughorn said you’ve already received offers.”
“There is that.” Ted dug his elbows into the mattress, pushing himself up against his pillow. “But I’ve reeled you into small talk. How you must despise me. I’ll just take my wand, and we’ll be done with it, shall we?”
Andromeda, however, had grown distracted. Ted was wearing nothing but a white, loose-fitting hospital gown, and she could now see more of the tattoo lining his collarbone. It swooped downward, its line thickening as it disappeared into his chest and under the low cut collar. Ted noticed the source of Andromeda’s distraction.
“Like what you see?” he asked, smirking.
“Yes. I mean, no! I mean—well, I just didn’t think Hufflepuffs were the sort to have tattoos, that’s all. Anyway, that’s beside the point. What I meant to say was that I will give you back your wand under one stipulation: I want to know how you vanished into thin air. It was a very disconcerting experience, and I think I deserve an explanation.”
“I suppose you do,” Ted said slowly. “Very well, here it is: I didn’t vanish. I was there the whole time. I was there until you went back inside Slughorn’s office, and then I returned to my bedchamber. It was as simple as that.”
“But that’s still enigmatic!” said Andromeda. “What I want to know is the how. What sort of spell could you have possibly used?”
“It wasn’t a spell,” said Ted. “It’s a condition. Always has been. Simply that.”
Andromeda had finally put two and two together.
“You mean, it’s what landed you here in the hospital wing.”
Ted shrugged. “Sometimes it takes a physical toll. It’s usually worth it, though. After all, you maintained a sterling reputation, didn’t you? So it was worth it.”
“How can you say that?” Andromeda demanded. “You can’t walk! You’re stuck in the infirmary for a full day at least, and you think that my reputation was worth it?”
“You thought your reputation was worth it. That was enough for me. I felt guilty, you know, about Hog’s Head. Thought I should make it up to you.”
Andromeda sunk back against the uncomfortable chair. “You won’t tell me the details, will you? Of your—condition?”
“What do you think?”
Andromeda pulled out Ted’s wand from her satchel. Gingerly, she placed it on the very edge of the nightstand.
“There it is,” she said. “And don’t think I feel sorry for you. Or that I’m going to apologize that you’re in that hospital bed when it’s really all your fault.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
She nodded curtly and rose to her feet. Everything had been said that needed to be said. Granted, Andromeda still wasn’t particularly satisfied with Ted’s explanation for last night, but there was no point in pulling teeth, especially when he appeared to still be in pain. There was nothing left to do but leave.
Andromeda, already halfway across the room, grew deathly still. She turned back to Ted’s shadowy outline. No one called her Dromeda. No one but her father. She was going to tell Ted just that, but the words caught in her throat.
“We’ll probably never speak to each other again,” said Ted, “so I thought I ought to tell you that, as far as aristos go, you’re not half bad.”
From an unidentifiable place inside, Andromeda felt the overwhelming need to laugh. What a ridiculous comment to make at a time like this.
“I suppose,” she said, “that as far as Mudbloods go, you’re not half bad either.”
Ted closed his eyes. “Sweet Merlin, now I can die in peace.”
He was laughing at her again. She knew he was. But this time Andromeda didn’t snap or reprimand him. After all, it was the last time they would speak to each other. She merely tiptoed out of the hospital wing and into the corridors.
That evening, Andromeda found Rabastan in the Slytherin common room, surrounded by a gaggle of sixth and seventh year boys who had elevated their fireside conversation to rowdy shouts and raucous laughter. They were talking about Quidditch. They were always, it seemed, talking about Quidditch: stats, scores, the latest predictions. Slytherin had beaten Gryffindor this year, and they were favored to win the Ravenclaw match in February. After that, only one obstacle remained between them and the house cup: their unlikely rival, Hufflepuff.
Under normal circumstances, Hufflepuff was a given win. That’s what the generation before theirs had claimed: no one knew how to lose a game quite so monumentally like a badger. But since Andromeda’s early years at Hogwarts, Hufflepuff had enjoyed an unprecedented season of success. For three years straight, they had won the house cup. For five years straight, they had beat out Slytherin. It was an impressive record, and even the Slytherin fans begrudgingly admitted that a good deal of it was due to the talent of the Hufflepuff’s excellent seeker, Anna Barrow, and their star chaser and now captain, Ted Tonks.
The boys were engrossed in a conversation about the most recent Quidditch match and Hufflepuff’s victory over Ravenclaw.
“Emmett is legally blind by the looks of it,” a stout, black-haired boy was saying. “Did you see that move Tonks pulled on him toward the end? A double ringer through the hoops, and Emmett looked like he was out for a leisurely putter. Ravenclaw’s never had such a worthless keeper.”
Andromeda cleared her throat once. Then again, louder, when another boy broke into a loud chortle. Chairs creaked as the boys turned to look up in her direction. She smiled tentatively at Rabastan in the flickering firelight.
“So sorry to interrupt,” she said, “but I wondered if I might steal away my boyfriend?”
It had been a full week since she and Rabastan had had a proper date or even a chat, and Andromeda was as determined now as she had been the night before to spend more time with him.
Rabastan, however, looked irritated by the request. He made no effort to move out of his deep-cushioned armchair, but rather crossed his feet on the ottoman before him.
“I’m busy, love,” he said. “The fellows and I are catching up. Quidditch talk. I’m sure you’d find it dreadfully boring.”
Heat burned in Andromeda’s cheeks. Was he really going to blow her off? What was wrong with Rabastan lately? He had spent little time with her in these past months, and even the time they did share together seemed forced and stilted. Hadn’t he bought a ring? Didn’t he want to marry her? And now for him to purposefully refuse her in front of his friends….
“Then perhaps I could join you?” Andromeda offered, still maintaining a pleasant face.
Rabastan chuckled. “Oh, come on. Like you could contribute one coherent remark. You’d be lost like a floundering fish. I know that the only thing you’re really thinking about during Quidditch is if the breeze is messing up your hair.”
What the fuck? How dare he talk about her that way, as though she were just one of the brainless, giggling skanks that lounged about the Slytherin common room after hours, dead set on getting a snogging session in a broom closet. She was his girlfriend, and he was humiliating her in public.
“I think nothing of the snort,” Andromeda snapped. “You seem to forget that I have a working brain above the shoulders.”
The other boys let out a long “ooooooh,” then turned their amused gazes back on Rabastan, who had gone purple in the face.
No, this was not good.
“Fine,” Rabastan said through gritted teeth. “You’re right, sweetheart, we really are long overdue a private chat, aren’t we?”
Andromeda’s stomach sank straight into her ankles as Rabastan rose to his feet and circled around the ottoman to where she stood. He grabbed her at the elbow, his grip uncomfortably tight, and proceeded to march her away from the fireplace. She could hear his mates cackling behind him and dropping choice vulgarities as he jostled her out of the main common room and into one of the dim, drafty stone hallways.
“You are way out of line,” he hissed, releasing her with a vicious jolt. Andromeda stumbled back a few steps, then righted herself with a proud arch of her brow.
“Am I?” she retorted. “How else was I supposed to get your attention? Don’t pretend that you haven’t been practically ignoring me all week.”
“I’ve been busy. You have, too. Anyway, I didn’t take you for the needy type.”
“I don’t consider wanting to chat with one’s boyfriend after seven days to be ‘needy.’ Don’t act like I’m crazy, Rabastan. You’ve been distant lately. Admit it.”
But Rabastan was laughing. There was something in his green eyes that unsettled her; something that reminded her of another set eyes…. Rodolphus’ eyes. It was the look Rodolphus got in his eyes when at a family dinner with Bellatrix, whenever he or Bella got off on a tangent about the scourge of Muggles in England and how each one of them deserved to be blasted off the island.
“God, Andromeda, you’re so paranoid. You think I’m cheating, don’t you?”
Andromeda’s throat went dry. She hadn’t once considered that Rabastan would be cheating on her. Not until now.
“No,” she said. “Of course not. I just want to spend time with you. You’re my boyfriend. That’s what boyfriends do. They hang out with their girlfriends. They don’t make fun of them in public.”
Rabastan had stopped laughing. The frightening glint in his eyes had vanished. He looked thoughtful, remorseful even. At last, he spoke.
“You’re right,” he said. “No, of course you’re right. I have been neglectful.”
Hope spread in Andromeda’s chest, coating over her ribs like slow-poured honey. He did understand. All it had taken was an unpleasant confrontation for him to see that—
“But that’s no excuse for you to contradict me.”
The warm sensation in Andromeda’s chest snuffed out in an instant. “W-what?”
“You contradicted me,” said Rabastan, “in front of my peers. That sort of behavior is not acceptable. Really, didn’t your mother teach you better? You seem to have recently taken this idea into your head that you can do whatever you want around me—even without me, with absolutely no ramifications. But that’s not how this works, Andromeda. Especially if you and I are to be married one day.”
She looked up in shock. Why now, of all possible times, was he talking about marriage?
“Do you know what the duties of a wife are?” Rabastan asked, his voice soft and sibilant. “To honor. To respect. To obey. I’ve been understanding. I’ve allowed you your little flirtations with schoolwork—“
“You’ve allowed me? Rabastan, what is this about?”
“Who was he?” Rabastan hissed. “The Mudblood who had his filthy paws all over you in Hogsmeade. Who was he?”
Andromeda stared, dumbfounded. She hadn't thought that anyone had known about Hog's Head Inn, that anyone had found out. Only Narcissa had seen, and she would never tell a soul. Andromeda had thought that she’d been lucky….
“Why does it matter who it was? He was just some stupid boy who thought he was being noble. I didn’t want him around me. I was—“
“Drunk,” finished Rabastan. “How do you think I like that? When I have to hear from one of my mates that my girlfriend got piss drunk and then manhandled by a filthy Muggleborn?”
“I didn’t k-know,” Andromeda stammered. “We were celebrating Narcissa’s engagement. I got carried away. And you were busy hanging out with your mates instead of me.”
“This isn’t my fault,” Rabastan growled. “How do you think I felt, cleaning up those nasty rumors about you? Justifying your behavior? How do you think it felt to hear about your indiscretion from someone else? You can’t behave that way. Not as my girlfriend.”
A hot tear scorched down Andromeda’s cheek. “I didn’t mean for you to have to deal with it. I didn’t know you’d been angry at me all this time. Why didn’t you just tell me?”
“I’m telling you now, aren’t I?” The anger had left Rabastan’s voice, but the indignation hadn’t. He stepped in closer, wrapping a hand around her wrist. “Listen to me. If you are going to be with me, I cannot have you acting out of line. No drinking. No making a spectacle of yourself. No disrespecting me in front of others. And no cavorting with people that I don’t deem appropriate.”
The tears that had been so freely falling moments before suddenly dried up. Andromeda wiped away the last of them with a trembling hand.
“Excuse me?” she whispered.
“You heard me. I know it may be unpleasant to hear, but someone has to rein you in. Believe me when I say that it’s for your own good. Now wash up your face. No one looks attractive after a cry like you’ve had.”
He didn’t wait for her to reply. He swiftly turned his back and left her alone in the candlelit hallway. Andromeda stared after him with red eyes and a hollow chest.
How dare he.
She wanted to spit in his face. She wanted to hex him. She wanted to run after him, drag him in front of his mates, and break up with him then and there. How was that for disrespecting him in front of his peers?
But Andromeda didn’t do any of those things. Already, cool rationality had crept back into her mind. She couldn’t break up with Rabastan Lestrange. Not now, just when Narcissa had delighted the family with her big news. Her mother would despise Andromeda forever if she were to call things off, especially when Rabastan seemed on the verge of making her final unclaimed daughter an offer. What would all of Druella Black’s society friends say? She couldn’t bring that sort of disgrace on her family. Not now.
But she wasn’t going to sit silently by and abide by Rabastan’s controlling rules. Obey him? The arrogant prick. A lot of nerve he had to talk about obedience when he and Andromeda hadn’t even made out in a full month. She would show him. She could do anything she wanted, go anywhere she wanted, be with whomever she wanted—and his stipulations would be given no consideration whatsoever. She was a free witch.
And she could think of no better way to prove her freedom than to storm out of the Slytherin chambers and head straight for the hospital wing.
She slammed open the doors, ignoring Madame Bellevue’s fervid instructions that she keep quiet, and crossed to Ted’s sick bed in long, determined strides.
“Ted Tonks,” she said, “you and I are going to cavort.”
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