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Chapter 10 : Discovery
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“So then Jones pops out of the rubbish bin, the Stratus 500 goes flying, and Vanderpool tears out of the locker rooms, screeching like the Furies are on his heels.”
Andromeda had been giggling for a minute straight. She covered her mouth now, shoulders still quivering from laughter as Ted wrapped up his masterful retelling of the latest Hufflepuff Quidditch team prank.
“Ow,” she moaned, once she’d recovered enough to produce words. “I’ve got a stitch in my side, you bastard.”
Ted just smiled placidly, arms folded behind his head. He was sprawled out on the stone bench across from Andromeda, a box of chocolate-covered grapes resting on his stomach.
“I’m glad you think it’s funny,” he said. “It was really disruptive to practice. There’s no way we’re going to be in shape to take the house cup by spring if they keep on in this undisciplined way. You’d think they were a bunch of first years, the way they carry on….”
Andromeda shook her head. “You may sound like a perfect stick in the mud, Ted, but I know that you think it’s just as funny.”
The edge of Ted’s lip quirked, ever so slightly. “Maybe a little.”
For the past couple of weeks, “cavorting” with Ted had entailed more than just swapping Quidditch stats for study tips. Andromeda had practically made a gift of the Synop to Ted. She didn’t have too much need for it unless she was assigned two simultaneously difficult essays or exams, and if that occasion ever arose, she was sure that Ted would give the Synop back to her in a heartbeat. She trusted him.
She trusted a Muggleborn. Abstractly, Andromeda knew how ridiculous that was. But in practice, when it was just her and Ted, it didn’t seem ridiculous at all. She knew Ted to be true to his word. She knew that he would always be kind to her, even when she was less than kind to him. Andromeda wasn’t sure she could say as much about any other human being in her life, including her family.
That’s why cutting things off would be so hard: she would miss him. Andromeda never craved Rabastan’s company. She never lay awake thinking of all the things she had to remember to tell him the next time they spoke. She felt that about Narcissa, and about Lilith, too—friends who meant a good deal to her. But now she felt it about Ted, of all people. She wished that she could simply plunk herself down beside him in the Great Hall and chat like friends. She had come to genuinely care about his opinions. So why didn’t she feel that way about Rabastan? And why was she preparing to cut things off with Ted for Rabastan’s sake?
Because that's what needs to be done, whispered the voice of reason.
She and Ted couldn’t go on meeting like this forever. Secrets always got found out sooner or later in a place like Hogwarts. It wasn’t that Andromeda felt guilty about her meetings with Ted. This had always been about payback, about proving to herself that Rabastan didn’t control her life. But now she’d proved that to herself, and now Rabastan was acting so much nicer and more attentive. He was probably on the verge of a Christmastime proposal. Andromeda couldn’t go on meeting with Ted in good faith. Any relationship with a boy like him had no place in her world. It had to end.
So why couldn’t she find the words to end it?
“Dromeda?” Ted said slowly, tilting his head back to get a better look at her.
She had never corrected him. Each time he said Dromeda, the word sounded so intentional, so carefully handled. Not even her father could lend her name that much magic. So why would she ask Ted to stop doing something so pleasant?
“You okay?” he asked. “You’ve been quiet tonight. Not that I mind, considering you’re usually harping on how completely irrational Quidditch is or how I’m the scum of the earth, so—“
“I never said that!”
Ted just gave Andromeda a look that said “good as.”
She knew he was right.
“I’ve just been thinking,” Andromeda murmured. “We leave for the holidays tomorrow—“
“Whoa! Really?” Ted sat up in mock alarm, his hair a laughable mess of blonde sticking up in every direction. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Just shut up and let me finish,” Andromeda growled.
Ted shut up and stared wide-eyed at Andromeda like an obedient puppy. He was adorable. Andromeda didn’t even try to deny that anymore. But acknowledging Ted’s sheer adorableness was not helping her in the slightest.
“What I was saying before you so rudely interrupted,” she said, “is that we leave for the holidays tomorrow, and—and—and—“
And you and I can’t ever see each other again.
Why was that so hard to say?
Ted, meantime, had gone from looking adorable to looking petrified.
“Dromeda,” he said, “are you, like, having some kind of fit? Is there a remedial potion that I need to administer? Do I need to find a trusted adult?!”
“NO!” she yelled. “Dammit, Tonks, you’re ruining everything!”
“Oh.” Ted frowned.
“I just wanted to say that—that—that I bought you a fucking Christmas present, okay?”
Where had that come from?
Ted was staring at her. Just staring.
Andromeda shoved a strand of hair behind her ear and wished that she could sink into the ground right then and there, in a puddle of gloop. Could she have deviated any further from the script if she’d tried? She never bought Christmas presents for any of her friends at Hogwarts, including Lilith, and she certainly would never buy one for Ted Tonks.
“Um,” said Ted, scratching at the bridge of his nose. “Um.”
“It’s nothing,” Andromeda said quickly. “Just a very little something. Miniscule! I don’t even have it with me, so I don’t know why on earth I told you, but I just wanted to show you that I’m not always the bitchy aristo-posh that you think I am, and I do appreciate the fact that you’ve taught me so much about Quidditch, and just because I say nasty things to you all the time doesn’t mean that I don’t—“
Andromeda reeled to a stop. Her hands, she realized, were trembling. She clasped them in her lap.
Ted was leaning toward her, across the divide between their benches.
“Thanks,” he said. “I’m sure that, whatever it is, whenever I get it, I’ll really like it. And I’m sure it’ll probably be worth more money than I’ll make in my entire lifetime, so I’ll promptly sell it on the black market for hard cash.”
That remark would’ve earned Ted a derisive glare a month ago. Now, Andromeda laughed, in spite of herself.
“I just feel bad,” said Ted, “’cos I didn’t get you anything.”
“But you don’t have to. I wouldn’t expect it from you. You’re poor.”
Ted gave her the look. It had taken Andromeda a few meetings to catch on, but she soon realized that Ted always gave her the same look whenever she said something that he found, for whatever reason, offensive. It was that look like he was waiting for the punch line of a bad joke.
“We poor folk give gifts too, you know.”
“Of course,” said Andromeda, blushing. “I’m sorry, of course you do.”
A month ago, Andromeda would never have apologized either.
What was happening to her?
“I should go,” said Ted, gathering his things. “Still haven’t packed an inch of my trunk for the trip home.”
That didn’t come as a surprise to Andromeda, but it still amazed her. She really didn’t see how anyone could live that way, so last minute. Her own trunk had been packed for the past three days.
“Goodbye, Ted,” she said. “Happy Christmas.”
Ted nodded. “Happy Christmas, Dromeda.”
He disappeared from the threshold and down the dark, spiraling stairwell.
Andromeda remained in the tower long after he’d left, silently berating herself for her startling inability to properly finish a sentence.
“I thought this day would never come,” Narcissa sighed, pressing her fingertips to the train carriage’s frosted window. “Two whole weeks without schoolwork and filled instead with you.”
Narcissa was, of course, gushing to Lucius. Andromeda just really wished she didn’t have to do so in front of an audience. At this point, she couldn’t tell if Narcissa was sitting on Lucius’ lap or if they were both just in a very long embrace, but the long and short of it was that it was getting increasingly difficult these days to tell where Narcissa began and Lucius ended. As they leaned in to kiss, Andromeda gave a consternated yelp.
“I draw the line at snogging, you two.”
Narcissa blushed. Lucius backed sheepishly away. Miracle of miracles, the two actually took their own seats, side by side, and resigned themselves to holding hands.
It was official: Narcissa was going to spend the entire first week and a half of the holiday with Lucius and his family at Malfoy Manor. The remaining few days she would spend at Onyx House. Andromeda, however, faced a crueler fate. She would be spending the beginning of her holiday with all the extended relatives at Aunt Walburga and Uncle Orion’s place in London.
Andromeda wasn’t fond of 12 Grimmauld Place. It was in a fashionable part of London, no doubt, and Andromeda really did like London itself. Perhaps it wasn’t Grimmauld Place she disliked so much as all the relatives who would be staying inside of it. She felt as though she always had to be on her best behavior, as though she were constantly being judged and found wanting. And this Christmas in particular, what would everyone say about the fact that Narcissa was engaged while Rabastan was still dragging his feet?
Andromeda's only solace was that Sirius would be there, and now that he was old enough to carry on a snarky conversation, the two of them could escape to the attic every so often and make laughing remarks about how much makeup Aunt Walburga had caked on her face and what a complete killjoy the house elf Kreacher was.
Shock jolted through Andromeda when she found a pair of lips on her ears, nipping ever so slightly at her skin.
“Rabastan, really,” she said, tilting her head away.
But he kept his lips close. “I hope you know how much I’ll miss you,” he whispered. “Owl me, hm?”
Andromeda laughed. “You act as though we’re about to be separated by the span of years. It’s only two weeks, not even that.”
Rabastan had promised to visit Onyx House the day before Andromeda headed back to school. Narcissa had wagered that this was the day Rabastan intended to propose.
“It’s perfect,” she had said, “because your loving family will be there to celebrate!”
That was one way to think about it. Andromeda preferred not to think about it at all. She didn’t like that fact that every time she imagined Rabastan down on one knee, her heart filled not with undying love but with queasy dread.
“Still,” Rabastan was whispering in her ear, “it’ll seem like an eternity to me.”
A minute later, he’d left the carriage for the toilet, and Andromeda was able to relax her posture and concentrate more fully on her Potions textbook.
“Andie, honestly,” whined Narcissa. “N.E.W.T.s aren’t for a while yet. Why spoil your holiday by studying?”
Andromeda sighed and shut the book. “I’m just nervous.”
“I wouldn’t worry quite so much as you do,” Lucius said. “You wouldn’t be in Slughorn’s club if he didn’t consider you an excellent student.”
“Take a cue from Lilith, darling,” said Narcissa. “She’s spending her entire two weeks at Hogwarts snogging Xavier Eddleton. Now that’s how one ought to spend one’s holidays. It’s the season of love!”
That comment alone made Andromeda sick to her stomach. She got to her feet.
“Don’t leave, darling!” Narcissa cried. “I promise, Lucius and I will behave.”
“No, it’s not that. I think I just need to walk about for a bit. Stretch my legs.”
“But we’re nearly to London now—“
“Cissa,” Lucius interrupted, squeezing her elbow. “If Andromeda wants to go, let her go.”
Andromeda saw the wordless exchange between the two, and she immediately wished she hadn’t.
“I’ll be back in ten minutes or so,” she said, hoping they’d take the hint and that she wouldn’t find them making out upon her return.
The chilled winter air was more noticeable in the passageways of the Hogwarts Express. Harsh December wind blew hard against the windows, sending a shuddery, creaking sound through the train. Outside, a bleak and frosty cityscape bled past. Andromeda guessed that they would be at King’s Cross in less than a half hour; all the same, she couldn’t stand to be stuck in that stifled carriage for a minute longer.
Every so often, as she strolled down the length of the train, she snuck a glance into the carriage windows. She saw a pair of first year Hufflepuffs playing a game of wizard's chess, their mouths smeared with chocolate from the snack trolley. She saw a group of sixth year Slytherins that she knew all sleeping soundly, their heads lolling back against headrests or on each other's shoulders. She didn’t ever catch a glimpse of Ted Tonks, though she knew he was somewhere on this train. Not that she was looking for Ted Tonks....
Up ahead, a group of younger boys were gathered together, exchanging low whispers and snickers. It wasn’t until Andromeda came closer that she realized they were eavesdropping on someone in one of the toilets. She rolled her eyes and pushed past them with a look of disapproval.
“Sick,” whispered one of them before descending into a snort-filled laugh.
“Hey,” another hissed frantically. “Let’s get out of here, they’re coming out!”
The boys followed Andromeda, shoving past her and tripping over themselves to get past her and into the next train compartment. She didn’t know why she decided to pause, why she chose to turn around and see what it was that the boys had been whispering about. Afterward, she would wonder if maybe she’d suspected it all along. She knew that something was off, that something sordid had been happening here. She should’ve just turned heel and continued on her stroll. But she didn’t. She remained strangely rooted in the passageway, staring at the toilet door as the lock slid open and the occupants emerged.
Occupants, because there had been two people in the stall. The first was a tall, leggy brunette that Andromeda recognized: it was that seventh year Ravenclaw, Georgiana Harper, who had garnered a reputation for sleeping her way around the castle. Georgiana glanced cautiously around, first to her left and then directly at Andromeda. She froze, the unmistakable look of panic marring her pretty features. Quickly, she turned back around as though to escape right back into the toilet stall from whence she’d come. But it was too late, because the second occupant had already stepped out behind her, still in the process of tucking his shirt back into his jeans.
It was Rabastan.
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