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Chapter 9 : Cavorting
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“Slytherin’s best beater. Her partner, Flint? That bloke is as dumb as the bludgers he handles. They put him on the broom because he’s stock, all brawn. He’s downright terrifying to meet in the corridors—could knock any guy down just by slapping him too hard on the back. But you can’t put your stock in a beater merely based on physique. A beater has to be clever, has to know when to strike and when to hold back. Robbins knows that. The trouble is that Flint always manages to sabotage her best moves.”
“So, you think that’s Slytherin’s greatest weakness? Flint?”
Ted nodded and took a slow sip of cider. “Without a doubt.”
As Andromeda had anticipated, Ted had been late, even for his own requested time change. What she hadn’t anticipated was that he would arrive with two freshly brewed, piping hot mugs of cider.
“Drafty up here,” he’d explained, taking a seat on the frigid stone bench across from her. “Thought I’d do my part to keep us warm. One of the perks of living next door to the kitchens.”
The south wing turret certainly wasn’t the most comfortable place for a clandestine meeting, but it was very—well, clandestine. No one came up here during the wintertime. The warmth of the castle’s fires and grates did not reach up here, making it very inhospitable. Andromeda had dressed accordingly in her thickest fur coat and her fine, elbow-length leather gloves.
Still, she was grateful for Ted’s thoughtful gesture, and she set to drinking her cider so eagerly that she burnt her tongue in the process. Meantime, as previously agreed upon, Ted had launched into a detailed explanation of Quidditch basics, beginning with the current team line-ups within Hogwarts. Andromeda had listened attentively, asking for clarification and elaboration when necessary and sipping her cider at intervals. Ted was a patient, thorough instructor, she discovered. The way he explained things was engaging, but it wasn’t so weighed down with Quidditch jargon that Andromeda felt like a fool for asking questions.
She also discovered that she officially liked the way that Ted talked. That lower class lilt that had once grated on her nerves, the way he said his vowels all wrong—it had somehow become endearing. And his eyes, she decided, weren’t the color of dirt after all. They really were the color of cocoa. And she did like cocoa very much….
“Hm?” She looked up, startled, and realized to her embarrassment that she hadn’t heard a word Ted had said for the past minute straight.
He quirked a smile at her, and she noticed for the first time how much his freckles stood out against his pale skin, just over the bridge of his nose.
“I'm boring you,” he said.
“What? No! No, not at all. It’s been fascinating, really. My mind just drifted away for a moment.”
“All the same,” Ted said, “I’ll take it as a sign to shut up. Enough Quidditch talk for the night, eh?”
To Andromeda’s horror, Ted got to his feet. No! He had practically just showed up. This couldn’t possibly count as proper cavorting!
“Hang on!" she said, allowing far too much panic in her voice. “What about my end of the deal?”
Ted frowned down at her. “Sorry, but I really don’t feel much in the mood for studying. I didn’t bring any of my books or parchment, either. We could just meet up another time, when—“
“No,” Andromeda cut in. “Now is the perfect time. It doesn’t require books or parchments or even in your brain. I told you I had an insight that would help you do better in class. Though perhaps ‘insight’ wasn’t the best word for it....”
That caught his interest. With a curious expression, Ted sat back down. Only this time he didn’t take the bench across from her. He sat right beside Andromeda. She tensed as she felt his coat sleeve brush against hers.
“It’s really more of a tool,” Andromeda continued, stooping to unfasten her satchel. From the inside pocket, she carefully removed a heavy, transparent stone. She nudged Ted’s elbow, motioning for him to open his hand. When he did so, she deposited the stone into his keeping. “It’s extremely rare. I saved up quite a bit of allowance to buy mine at a bookshop in Canterbury.”
She chewed her lip, watching him closely. “Do you know what it is?” The look on Ted’s face already told her that he didn’t, so she went on. “It’s a Synop. Novels, essays, anthologies—you place the Synop atop whatever it is you’d like to have summarized. It only takes a few moments. Then when you open the book back up, all the important bits—the main points, the notable names and dates, that sort of thing—are highlighted in lavender ink. It’s a marvelous invention, really. I bought it during sixth year, and it’s been a lifesaver. Helped me to cram for loads of exams. It isn’t cheating; it’s just a study aid. But considering your particular dilemma—you know, how little time you have to do the reading—I thought it could come in handy. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to study anymore, but it will make studying much less time consuming.”
Andromeda realized that she had been talking a mile a minute. She’d descended into little more than a ramble. Promptly, she shut up. She had told Ted all he needed to know, really. There was no need to wax eloquent.
She looked up in alarm. His voice—the voice she’d come to like so much, that seemed constantly on the verge of laughter—was now hoarse. She noticed, to even more alarm, that his face was bright red. Had she done something to embarrass him? Or embarrass herself? She tried to think back on what she had said. Why, oh why, had she rambled?
“Thank you,” he said again, closing his fingers over the Synop. “That was really thoughtful of you. It’s exactly the sort of thing I could use.”
Andromeda nodded briskly, glad to see that some of the color was fading from Ted’s cheeks. “I thought so.”
“Don’t you need it, though?”
Andromeda tilted her chin in a careless, dismissive way. “It’s helpful, but not essential. You’re welcome to use it to study for Whitechapel’s exam, but I’ll want it back by next week.”
“Deal.” Ted gingerly pocketed the stone in his jacket. “You okay? You’re breathing kind of, erm, oddly.”
Andromeda realized that she was, in fact, breathing much more rapidly than usual, in short, staggered gasps. What was wrong with her? Was it just because she was sitting so close to him? Ted Tonks could not be making her literally lose her breath.
“Quite all right,” Andromeda said easily, patting at her chest. “The air’s just a bit thin up here, isn’t it?”
“Mm. Mhm.” Ted glanced up at the stone-cut, arched windows high above their heads, completely open to the elements. It was snowing again, and every so often a gust of wintry wind blew a puff of snowflakes into the turret.
He leaned in closer to her. She could feel the warmth radiating off his cheek, just inches from her black velvet earmuffs.
“You know why no one comes up here, don’t you?” he asked, voice lowered to a dramatic whisper.
“Because it’s so cold, of course.”
Solemnly, Ted shook his head. “You haven’t heard the stories, then.”
Andromeda knew that she was taking the bait, but she was too curious to care. Also, she wanted an excuse to keep Ted closer to her for a little while. Just a little while longer….
“They say,” Ted whispered, “that it all began when she was only fifteen. She was a Ravenclaw, and her name was Winifred Hopp. She had hair the color of—“ he wrinkled his nose in realization “—well, like yours I suppose, and lips as red as blood. She was a solitary girl. She had no friends to speak of, kept to herself. But there were some students who watched her sneak up to the south wing turret, time and time again. Some said she went up there to cry out of loneliness, others that she simply went there to think. But the truth is, on the days she went up to the turret, she was never alone.”
A chill rustled through the windows, sending in a fresh spray of snowflakes. Andromeda clutched her coat closer.
“She was meeting someone,” said Ted, voice even lower and darker than before. “She was meeting a boy, and no ordinary boy, either. This particular boy had died twenty years earlier…”
Ted nodded dramatically. “A ghost. She fell in love with the ghost of the south wing turret. The two of them were madly, passionately lost in adoration for each other. But of course, their love could never be consummated. As for the boy, he could never leave the turret, the place where he had jumped to his death twenty years before. Young Winifred drove herself mad over her inability to be with the one she loved. She lived in pure misery. That is, until the day two first years were goofing off, exploring the castle, and discovered her lying in a pool of her own blood.”
“She had killed herself, they said. But had she? No one really knows for sure if it was Winifred who slashed her own throat, or if it was her lover, the boy ghost, who had contrived a way for them to be together forever. That much remains a mystery. But what people know for certain is that sometimes, in the very dead of night, you can hear the voices of them both—Winifred and her ghost lover—crying out in the south wing. No one knows if it’s from pain or pleasure. They even say you can conjure their spirits up if you come up to the south wing turret and say her name.”
Andromeda realized far too late that, without knowing how or when, she had gripped Ted’s arm. And she was still gripping it. Hard. Flustered, she let go, just as Ted leaned in, placed his lips to her ears, and whispered, “Winifred.”
She shrieked. Ted burst out laughing, pulling away with a wicked grin.
“YOU!” she shouted, smacking him across the shoulder. “You little—what a terrible story to tell!”
Ted kept laughing so hard that tears formed in his eyes and began to run down his flushed cheeks.
“God, Dromeda,” he snorted. “If you could see your face right now.”
“I hate you!” she said, shoving at his chest.
His hands caught at hers, stilling them against his collarbones. His laughter stopped. Their eyes met, his still shining from merriment, but now darkening with something else, something Andromeda couldn’t place. She really did need to tell him not to call her Dromeda....
“Ted,” she whispered, but that was all.
He leaned in closer. She held her breath. She closed her eyes….
And then he pulled away, dropping her hands from his. Andromeda’s eyes fluttered open only in time to see Ted shake his head with a rueful smile.
“Better get back in time to kiss your boyfriend goodnight.”
Andromeda’s cheeks flushed a violent red. “Yes. Yes, I’d better.”
She cleared her throat and gathered her things, willing her heart to please, please slow down and wishing for some clarity of mind. She and Ted parted ways at the bottom of the stairwell, and she hurried back to her dormitory, ready to tell the girls her airtight lie.
It was only after lights were out and curtains drawn, when Andromeda stared at her canopy and listened to the delicate snores of Lilith, that she allowed herself to think about it.
What had happened tonight? Had Ted Tonks been about to kiss her? More importantly, had she been ready to let Ted Tonks kiss her? Surely not. It was only the winter chill and Ted’s silly ghost story that had made her temporarily lose her head. These secret meetings were meant to prove a point, not to satisfy her curiosity about any part of Ted’s anatomy, including his lips.
All the same, she decided that she ought to set some boundaries for the next time they met. For one thing, she wouldn’t sit so close to him again.
Yes. That ought to help tremendously.
But she had to meet with him again. It wouldn’t count as proper cavorting if they only met once.
So they met again in south wing turret, later that weekend, during the day. The next week, Ted scored the fourth highest mark in the Whitechapel’s class on the exam. In return for an extended loan on the Synop, Andromeda requested more Quidditch informational sessions. It was a perfectly symbiotic relationship that stretched on from one week to the next, well into December. But it was more than just a symbiotic relationship, and it was more than just an attempt to get back at Rabastan; Andromeda began to genuinely enjoy her time with Ted.
It was impossible, though, wasn’t it? To enjoy spending any time in close proximity to a Muggleborn? Nothing about it matched up with what Andromeda had believed for her entire life. Was this the punishment for cavorting? Perhaps Ted did have a disease, and Andromeda had caught it, and the symptoms included laughing at Ted’s jokes and allowing her eye to wander when he wasn’t looking and discovering that she, too, enjoyed the chocolate-covered grapes that he occasionally snuck up to the south wing turret, along with the customary mugs of cider.
She knew that she would have to cut things off soon. Since her and Rabastan’s blow out, the two of them had made up in the way that they typically made things up: Rabastan hadn’t apologized, and neither had Andromeda. They had just met in an empty corridor and snogged for the first time in five weeks, and Rabastan had told her that her eyes looked lovely in torchlight.
Andromeda was still angry with him. She still didn’t like the fact that he’d given her a list of commands, as though she were a wild animal to be tamed. But everyone had their flaws, and though Rabastan was conceited and high-handed, she could be a pill, too, when she wanted. She owed it to her family to marry a well-off pureblood, and she wasn’t a beauty like Bella or Narcissa; she couldn’t afford to be picky. More than that, she really did like Rabastan when he wasn’t being a domineering idiot.
Tonight, during dinner in the Great Hall, Rabastan had been a complete gentleman. He was attentive, asking Andromeda questions and nodding at her answers in rapt attention, just like the Rabastan she had known when they had first started dating her fifth year. He stole the last of the lemon drop cookies for her. He discussed holiday plans—he would be going home to the Lestrange’s country estate, while Andromeda spent most of her holiday with the extended Black family at Grimmauld Place—and commiserated with her when she confided that she would much rather be going back to Onyx House.
When dinner was over, he escorted her back to the common room, his arm draped possessively across her shoulder. All the while, Andromeda tried to remind herself why she was upset with Rabastan. Was this all his attempt to make up for his bad behavior a month ago? If so, maybe they should’ve fought more often.
They came to a lingering stop outside the common room door, and Rabastan leaned in for a customary goodnight kiss. But tonight, when their lips met, Andromeda gave a sudden, instinctual shiver.
Rabastan pulled back with a frown. “Something wrong?”
“No! Not at all.” Andromeda fiercely shook her head. “Just a draft. Goodnight, Rabastan.”
She fled to the safety of her bedroom and proceeded to be sulky and short-tempered with the girls, despite the fact that both Lilith and Narcissa were in the best of spirits. Or perhaps it was because the girls were in such good spirits that Andromeda felt so irritated.
“You two didn’t fight again, did you?” Narcissa asked.
“No,” Andromeda muttered. “No, everything should be perfect. It just isn’t.”
“I think you’re just impatient,” Narcissa said, eyes twinkling. “He bought that ring at the beginning of autumn! Silly boy, putting you through all this anxiety. It’s only nerves.”
“Oh, stop moping on about boyfriend troubles,” groaned Lilith. “Lestrange isn’t ever going to let you go, Andie. He knows what a catch you are.”
Lilith jumped onto the bed and then sprawled out lazily, her hand draped over Andromeda’s back. The girl really had no sense of personal space.
“A real topic of interest is that Xavier and I got lost in the corridors today. And no, that is not a euphemism. Your stupid cousin Sirius is behind it.”
This piqued Andromeda’s interest.
“I don’t know what he and his ratty mates were up to,” Lilith went on, “but they did something to change all the tapestries in the halls, and I swear there were turns and doorways that weren’t where they were supposed to be. If you think about it, it was a masterfully executed practical joke.”
“How do you know it was Sirius?” Narcissa asked, though it was clear from her tone that she would rather not be discussing the unsavory topic of her cousin.
“Because that was the name Pringle was screaming at the top of his lungs when he went running past me and Xavier.” Lilith wrinkled up her face and put on her best impression of Apollyon Pringle, Hogwarts' half-deranged caretaker: “’Sirius Black, you set it right! You set it back to how it was, or so help me I’ll tan your hide! Don’t think you can outrun me, boy! Mrfphrpgrr!’”
Lilith burst into a round of uncontrollable giggles. “It was marvelous entertainment for the evening. Though I do feel for your cousin, girls. He’s bound to spend most of his Hogwarts years in detention.”
“At least he has good company,” Andromeda murmured.
“You call those boys who hang around him good company?” sniffed Narcissa. “They’re a motley assortment if I ever saw one.”
“Yes," said Andromeda, "but they’re very good friends. You can tell by the way they walk together, the way they talk. They’re inseparable. That’s rare.”
“He could’ve had inseparable friends had he been sorted into the right house,” Narcissa said. “Ones he wouldn’t have to be ashamed of.”
“I don’t think he’s ashamed of his friends,” snorted Lilith.
“Well, he should be.”
Lilith shrugged and prodded at Andromeda’s back. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, dear heart, but you look like death. I think someone needs her beauty sleep.”
Lilith was right. Andromeda knew that she must have looked miserable, and she felt even more miserable for being miserable for no apparent reason.
Something had to be done.
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