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Kill Your Darlings by LavenderBlue
Chapter 19 : Sisterly Care
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6

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Andromeda had never known a more welcome sight than her little sister standing in George Vanderpool’s library. She had been so far removed from everything familiar, from family, from comfort. Narcissa was all of those things, and Andromeda hadn’t realized until this moment how much she’d missed her.

She had risen from the settee as though in a dream, still not entirely trusting her senses. Then she had crossed the room and thrown her arms around Narcissa in a tight embrace.

“You’re here!” she cried. “I didn’t expect for you to—how did you find me?”

Narcissa pushed back from the embrace. It looked as though she had been crying, and she wasn’t even looking at Andromeda. She was still staring past her, at a figure sitting slumped on the settee: Ted.

Andromeda glanced back in alarm. Ted was sitting upright, but his head was propped back against the wall for support. His hair and his half-lidded eyes were both still a shocking shade of silver. Even if the fit had passed, he still didn’t look well.

“Who is that?” Narcissa whispered, staring at Ted as though he were a feral animal. “Andie, what’s going on?”

“He’s no one,” Andromeda said quickly. “Nothing! The trouble is that he’s very sick, and I’m the only one home to tend to him. I’m going to see that he can lie down somewhere, and then I promise I’ll be back. I’ll come right back here, and then we can talk and—and we can leave. Together. Promise.”

Narcissa shook her head in bewilderment. “I don’t understand. Who—“

Please,” Andromeda begged. “Give me five minutes, and I swear I’ll be back.”

She was already crossing back to Ted. She knelt beside him and took his clammy hand in hers.

“Can you walk?” she asked in a threadbare undertone. “We need to get you to bed.”

Ted nodded weakly. He made no comment, no argument whatsoever. He pushed off of the settee to his feet, but his balance wavered, and Andromeda quickly slipped an arm around his back, steadying him. Ted, in turn, clutched a hand around her shoulder. He was wincing from some sort of pain—something residual, she guessed, from the debilitating fit that had attacked his system just a minute earlier.

Together, they walked to the library door. Andromeda caught Narcissa’s gaze in her periphery. She looked confused. No. More than confused, she looked horrified. Andromeda tried not to think of what convoluted explanation she would have to give Narcissa when she came back down these stairs. For now, she just focused on getting Ted up them, and into George’s bedroom.

Ted leaned very little of his weight on her shoulder, but he did stumble up every other step on the way to the third floor, and he gripped Andromeda’s arm more tightly on the landing, bracing himself against the wall and heaving out one long, labored breath. At last, they made it to George’s room, and Andromeda helped Ted over to the bed, where he promptly sank into the pillows with a relieved sigh.

“Is it going to happen again?” Andromeda whispered. “The paralysis?”

Ted shook his head weakly. “I dunno. I’ve never had two fits so close together.” He pointed to the beside table. “My wand. Could you?”

Andromeda grabbed Ted’s wand and handed it over to him. He held it upright and murmured a low, long incantation under his breath. Andromeda didn’t recognize the spell.

The end of the wand glowed a faint blue. It pulsed for a few seconds, and then the light faded altogether. Ted set the wand down on the bed with an exhausted sigh.

“What was that?”

“George’s wand and mine—they’re bound. We cast the binding years back. It’s a way of letting each other know when the other’s in trouble. He’ll be back soon.” For the first time since the fit had passed, Ted’s eyes met hers. “You don’t need to stay. You shouldn’t. Your sister will think—“

“I won’t leave you until George shows up,” she said firmly. “What happened back there—I feel responsible. I’m not going to just leave you here alone. What if the fit hasn’t passed completely? You said this hasn’t happened before.”

“I’ll be fine,” Ted said, pushing himself up against the pillows, though Andromeda could tell that the movement was paining him. “I don’t need you here. Your sister’s waiting. She’ll start assuming things if you stay up here. I know you don’t want that.”

“But it’s my fault that—“

“It’s not your fault,” Ted interrupted. “George will be here any minute. Just go.”

Tears stung Andromeda’s eyes. “Ted, if I leave now, I probably won’t ever speak to you again. You know that, right?"

Ted shifted his head away from her, turning toward Medusa’s birdcage. The sleek little owl had perched back in her cage and was roosting pleasantly, oblivious to the scene at George’s bedside.

“Do what you need to do.”

“What you said earlier?” she whispered. “If things had been different—“

“No. You were right. That doesn’t change things.” Ted’s voice was limp. “Please, just go before I do something else to make a complete ass of myself.”

“I really think I should—“

Ted turned back toward her, his silver eyes blazing. “Just. Go.”

Andromeda stared. Then, quietly, she rose from the side of the bed to her feet.

“Fine,” she whispered. “If that’s how you want it.”

He turned his back to her again, curling on his side, his expression unreadable.

“Goodbye, Dromeda.”

As she left the room, a bitter, taunting voice surfaced in her mind.

You’ll never be called Dromeda again.

“Cissy, please, say something.”

They were at Malfoy Manor, alone in Narcissa’s bedroom. Once Andromeda had returned to the Vanderpool library, Narcissa had apparated them in quiet, concentrated silence. She had said nothing since, but instead was pacing the length of her tapestry-lined bedroom. With one hand, she convulsively turned the diamond bracelet hanging from her opposite wrist. Andromeda had never seen the bracelet before; it must have been a Christmas gift from Lucius.

“I’m sorry,” Andromeda tried again, stepping from where she stood to intercept Narcissa’s path. She caught her sister’s hand. “Whatever explanation you want, whatever questions you have—I’ll answer them all truthfully. Anything you want to know. Just talk to me, Cissa.”

Narcissa released a feathery sigh. Tears beaded her eyelashes, and the sight of them filled Andromeda with guilt. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t intended to upset her sister. She’d done it all the same.

“I’m afraid,” Narcissa said at last. “I’m afraid to ask you my questions, because I cannot imagine how the answers will be comforting.”

Andromeda pressed her hand. “Ask me.”

“Andie, you disappeared. For days! Don’t you know how worried I’ve been? How worried the entire family has been about your safety? And then to receive a letter like the one you sent! And of course Lucius helped me to perform a locating charm on it, and of course he was there to see that you were at some strange address, in a stranger’s house, doing who knows what with your time. How could you be so selfish? You positively ruined our holiday, and you’ve thrown your reputation into jeopardy. Why would you do that? What sort of disagreement with Mummy could possibly—“

“They’re forcing me to marry Rabastan.”

Narcissa stopped short, her long lashes fluttering, her nose wrinkling delicately in confusion.


“Did Mum tell you that?” Andromeda asked, anger steeling her words. “How she and Aunt Walburga are forcing me to reconcile with Rabastan, to agree to marry him despite everything?”

“Oh dear. No, she didn’t say that.”

Narcissa looked very pink in the cheeks. She gave a troubled sigh and sunk down to the edge of her canopy bed. Even when she was distressed, Narcissa was a picture of beauty. Not like Andromeda, who turned into a red-faced, puffy-eyed monster when she was even the least bit irritated.

“I won’t let them force me into a marriage,” Andromeda said. “Not after what he did to me. I don’t love him, Cissa. How could I? How can I ever love him after what he did?”

Narcissa touched her fingertips to her forehead, brow creased in thought.

“Perhaps that was selfish of me,” Andromeda whispered, “but I don’t regret it. I won’t let them dictate my future.”

“Oh dear,” Narcissa repeated. “It’s all that wretched Rabastan’s fault! I don’t know what he could’ve possibly seen in another girl when he had you.”

“I wasn’t giving him what he wanted,” Andromeda said, surprised by her own frankness. “I wasn’t keeping him satisfied.”

The pink in Narcissa’s cheeks turned crimson.

“That isn’t your fault, though,” she said softly.

“Mum said it was. Aunt Walburga, too. And there Father was, going on about upholding my duty to the family, and Bellatrix was her usual pleasant self. Cissy, it was awful. I wanted you there. I missed you so badly.”

Narcissa’s tears brimmed over her eyes. She pulled Andromeda into a hug.

“Darling,” she said between sniffles. “Oh, my poor darling. I had no idea.”

“I didn’t mean to make you worry,” Andromeda whispered, tucking her head into Narcissa’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean to ruin your holiday with Lucius. I know how special this was to you.”

Narcissa sighed and shook her head, wiping her eyes with the back of her wrist. “Mummy only told me yesterday. They’ve been trying to keep the whole matter hush-hush. Lucius and I had no idea until then. So if it puts you more at ease, you didn’t ruin our holiday entirely. I just wish you had written to me from Grimmauld Place instead of—did you really climb out the window?”

Andromeda nodded, and as she did she felt a surge of unexpected pride. She would never admit it to Narcissa, but the remembrance of that night filled her with much more excitement and self-satisfaction than it ought to have.

“But whose house were you in? It isn’t anyone that we know.”

By this, Narcissa meant that the Vanderpool house didn’t belong to anyone worth knowing—anyone within their tightknit, pureblooded circle.

“You wouldn’t know them,” Andromeda said. “The family's halfblood. His mother's a Muggle." 

Narcissa looked ill. She held her hand to her mouth.

Now was not the time to tell Narcissa that she had spent the majority of her time in the house of a Mudblood. Or spent time socializing with Muggles.

“So, the boy with the strange hair—the one who looked like death incarnate when I arrived—he’s a halfblood?”

Andromeda steeled herself. “N-no. That was someone different. The halfblood’s friend. He’s—he’s—“

Don’t be such a coward, Andromeda. Say the word.

Narcissa gasped. “I remember him now! He was that foul boy from Hog’s Head Inn, wasn't he? The one who was touching you. You said he was a Mudblood.”

“He’s Muggleborn, yes,” Andromeda whispered. “Cissy, don’t look at me that way! I was desperate. I wasn’t thinking properly. I needed somewhere to stay, and I had to go someplace where Mum and Dad couldn’t find me. I couldn’t just traipse up to one of our family friends’ doorsteps and ask them to harbor me while I ran away from home.”

“But a Mudblood.” Narcissa appeared to be gagging on the word. “I had no idea things were that bad. That you were so desperate.”

Something ruffled within Andromeda. She wanted to tell Narcissa to stop using the word ‘Mudblood’ in reference to Ted Tonks. But she couldn’t make a request like that now, not when she was attempting to convince Narcissa that she’d been entirely unaffected by her stay with two blood inferiors.

“I was fine,” she said. “Anyway, it’s all over now, and that’s what matters. I’m here with you.”

Narcissa shook her head. “But when I first arrived, you were—you were touching him.”

“I told you,” Andromeda said, “he was sick. He has this condition. I was just helping him. It would’ve been cruel to let him suffer. Inhumane. The same as it would’ve to let a wounded dog suffer without tending to its wound. It was common decency.”

“A condition?!” Narcissa looked queasy. “It isn’t contagious, is it? I’m sure it’s something he inherited from his parents. Muggles have the most unthinkable diseases.”

“No!” Andromeda cried, genuinely annoyed with Narcissa now. “No, it isn’t contagious. It’s magical, not Muggle. It’s not important what it is. The point is that I was just helping him.”

“How else did you help him? And his friend? Why on earth did they even let you stay with them?“

“He fancies me!” Andromeda blurted out.

Narcissa looked even queasier. “He what?”

“The Muggleborn, he’s got a thing for me. I knew that, and I used it to my advantage, that’s all.”

“Did you flirt with him?”

“God no, Cissy!” Andromeda tried to look equally disgusted by the suggestion. “Of course not. I only had to bat my lashes for him to hand me the moon and stars. It was pathetic, really.”

And when you say pathetic, you mean the most selfless, beautiful act that anyone’s ever performed for you, Andromeda Black.

“Then you didn’t—“ Narcissa shuddered. “I mean, he didn’t—I mean, both of you together, that didn’t—“

Andromeda shook her head hastily. “Don’t be so vulgar. I can’t believe you’d even suggest that I’d seduce a Mudblood just for a place to live. I’m a Lady of the House of Black, not a common whore.”

Narcissa gasped at the word.

“Well, that was the implication, wasn’t it?” Andromeda demanded. “For your information, I can make my way in the real world without begging and, heaven forbid, selling my body.”

“Really, Andie!” Narcissa sniffed. “You’ve clearly been in horrendous company to be speaking so crassly. I wasn’t accusing you of any impropriety. I know you’re far above it. But two boys like that most certainly are not.”

Andromeda let out a short laugh. The very thought of Ted Tonks ever trying to take the slightest advantage of her was so absurd, so completely unthinkable—

Pain burst behind Andromeda’s chest, sudden and unexpected. Ted. Ted, who had kissed her so sweetly, who’d just told her that he was falling in love with her.

She wasn’t ever going to speak to him again.

“Well,” said Narcissa, “if you’re quite sure you’re all right. Still, I do wish you had written to me immediately. If it had really bothered you so much, I wouldn’t have told Mummy and Daddy. You could’ve stayed here for Christmas. Lucius is such an angel, I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded.”

“Lucius.” Andromeda sighed. “He must have the worst opinion of me. It’s very good of him to let me stay, even now. You must thank him for—“

Narcissa interrupted her with a tutting sound. “None of that nonsense,” she said. “You’ll be able to thank him in person. And his father. We’ll all have dinner tonight, and that will set everyone more at ease. Then you and I shall sort things out, and we’ll go to Onyx House in the morning, as I’d already planned.”

The fear boiling in Andromeda’s gut must have shown on her face, because Narcissa reached over and squeezed her hand with a reassuring smile.

“We’ll set everything aright again,” she said. “Now, don’t take this wrong way, Andie dear, but you look positively dreadful.” Her nose crinkled. “And you smell it, too. I’ll have Knobbly draw you a nice hot bubble bath, hm? Wash all the dirtiness off. And then you can change into one of my prettiest dresses for dinner.”

Andromeda wanted nothing more than to hug Narcissa again. Her sister knew precisely what she needed. But Andromeda’s dress was still caked with dried blood and, as Narcissa had just pointed out, she smelled rank. The best way of showing her gratitude would be to promptly depart to the tub, and that is just what Andromeda did.

She soaked for far longer than necessary, until her fingers and toes had thoroughly pruned. For the first time in nearly a week, she took her time casting beauty and hair spells until she was somewhat satisfied with her reflection in the vanity mirror. Then she dressed in Narcissa’s velvet blue evening gown, and though the dress cinched a little too tightly in the waist, she managed to pull it off with the customary Black finesse.

If only Ted could see me like this, not all frumpy and disheveled and red-faced like before.

Andromeda’s eyes widened. Where had that thought come from? Why would she think something like that? Even if Ted could see her like this, what good would it do? Would she only want to torture him further, remind him of what he couldn’t have? She shouldn’t even have been thinking about Ted, period. So why was she?

Because you still like him. You still want him. You admitted it to him, can’t you admit it to yourself?

“Andie! Lucius says—“ Narcissa stopped short in the doorway. “Darling! Why ever are you crying?”

Andromeda wiped hastily at her eyes with the back of her wrist. “It’s nothing,” she snuffled, turning her face away. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”

“Are you not feeling up to supper, then?” Narcissa didn’t sound too pleased, but Andromeda could tell that she was still trying hard to be nice. “If you’re feeling that poorly, I can always have—“

“No, no! I’m quite all right.” Andromeda cast a quick charm on her face to reverse the damage done by her running mascara. “I don’t want the Malfoys thinking I’m rude.”

She got to her feet, smoothed out her dress, and cast Narcissa a bright, charming smile that she reserved only for special occasions when smiling was the last thing she wanted to do.

“Now then,” she said, “let’s not keep the gentlemen waiting.”

“Nasty bit of weather we’ve been having.”

They had been at the table for nearly half an hour now, and Lucius hadn’t breathed a word about the fact that Andromeda had run away. She was certain that Narcissa had told him not to, and for that she was grateful. All the same, it was uncomfortable to sit across from Lucius when he knew that she had been in a tiff with her family, had run away, and had spent the past several days in a strange residence. She imagined that, despite his polite exterior and his talk about the weather, Lucius was judging her. If she were in his position, she would have judged herself, too.

The only person present who was completely oblivious to Andromeda’s predicament was Mr. Abraxas Malfoy, who sat at the head of the lavishly laid table, sawing his steak knife into a particularly succulent cut of roast beef. Mr. Malfoy possessed an alarmingly commanding presence. He was a broad-shouldered man with a sharp jawline and pure white hair. Like his son, Abraxas kept his hair long and swept back behind his shoulders. Andromeda wondered if that had always been the Malfoy way. Very few men could pull of the look, she thought, but both Malfoy men most certainly could. It was clear that Lucius had inherited most of his features from his handsome father. Andromeda had no way of knowing what he had inherited from his mother; she had died many years back.

Andromeda had heard things about Abraxas Malfoy—whispers and rumors circulated around her pureblood circles. He was widely believed to have been instrumental in a plot to oust Nobby Leach from his position as Minister of Magic. The whole affair had happened several years back, when Andromeda had been a fourth year at Hogwarts, but she could still remember the Daily Prophet headlines about pureblood riots and marches for Squib Rights and the minister’s eventual resignation. He had been a Muggleborn and therefore entirely unsuited for the position. Andromeda’s own parents had been outraged at his appointment and only too happy to see the man removed from the Ministry altogether. As had Andromeda, of course. She hadn’t even questioned the ethics of Mr. Malfoy’s tactics until this very evening, as she sat across from him, cutting her own roast beef into tiny pieces.

Mr. Malfoy hadn’t spoken a word the entire dinner, not even to acknowledge Andromeda’s presence. He was instead intently focused on a roll of parchment clipped beside his place setting with two golden clamps. Only now did he glance up from his reading, fix Andromeda in his sights, and speak.

“Your father, Miss Black, does he still play wizarding chess?”

“U-u-uh.” The question was so wholly unexpected that Andromeda first looked to Narcissa and Lucius, though for what she wasn’t sure—permission to speak, perhaps? Affirmation that Mr. Malfoy was, in fact, speaking to her?

She recovered soon enough, however, and assumed a more graceful and eloquent air than before.

“He does, sir, when time allows. I’m afraid that his work has kept him quite busy of late, but I know he still enjoys it as a pastime.”

“Unbeatable during our Hogwarts years,” Mr. Malfoy grunted, returning his attention to his scroll. “I challenged him several times. Never once won. Keen eye for detail, Cygnus. It is a shame that he had no son to inherit his better qualities.”

Andromeda’s knuckles whitened around her knife and fork. She was used to such comments, of course. She had heard more than one family friend sympathize with her parents’ inability to produce a male heir, and she heard disparaging remarks made about her gender nearly every day. But for some reason, Mr. Malfoy’s careless remark irritated her more than usual.

If Ted were sitting at this table, he would speak up right now and inform Abraxas Malfoy that you’re at the top of your class.

But Ted wasn’t sitting at the table. Lucius and Narcissa were, and they said nothing in response to Mr. Malfoy’s comment, only went on chewing their food.

It was only later, after more dull pleasantries were exchanged and after Lucius and Narcissa had whispered and giggled a dozen sweet nothings into each other’s ears, that Lucius addressed his father.

“I’ll be leaving with Narcissa for Onyx House in the morning, as planned. I should be back by dusk.”

Mr. Malfoy nodded lazily, then returned his gaze to his parchment.

“Give my best to Cygnus and Druella,” he said through a yawn.

Lucius nodded stiffly. Then the three of them left the dining room together.

They came to a stop outside of Narcissa’s room. Lucius’ hand had been threaded through Narcissa’s the entire walk up the stairs, and even now he seemed loath to let it go. He looked into her pale blue eyes in a way that turned Andromeda’s stomach and filled her with a terrible, aching longing for someone else’s eyes to be looking at her like that.

Ted had looked at her that way the night before.

“I take it you two have important matters to discuss.”

Andromeda looked up in time to find that Lucius was finally ripping himself from Narcissa’s side.

“Sorry, sweet thing,” Narcissa murmured, placing a kiss against Lucius’ shoulder and twirling a strand of his hair around her forefinger. “I’m afraid we do.”

“Then I’ll leave you to it. Goodnight, Andromeda.”

Lucius gave her a polite nod, as polite and noncommittal as all of his remarks at the dinner table. Then, he turned to Narcissa and swept her into a deep kiss, his hands framing her cheekbones. Narcissa made a giddy little squeaking noise in return, and Andromeda averted her eyes as the happy couple proceeded to make out far longer than was comfortable for a third party. At last, they parted, and Lucius walked down the hallway with swift strides.

Narcissa turned to Andromeda with a flushed, guilty expression. All the same, she couldn’t keep the smile off of her face, and Andromeda couldn’t blame her for that. Narcissa was happy. She was in love and engaged, and her parents approved entirely of both those facts. Andromeda wasn’t going to begrudge her sister that happiness. She was just grateful that Narcissa wasn’t incapable of sympathizing with her own unhappiness.

“Oh Andie,” Narcissa sighed, flopping onto the bed in the most graceful flop Andromeda had ever witnessed, “we’ve so much to talk about.”

Andromeda climbed onto the bed next to her sister and laid out on her stomach in an exhausted, much less elegant sprawl.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” she said. “I think I have a decent plan. Everyone knows that you’re Mum’s favorite. I’m sure that if you told her very sweetly that I was scared when I ran away and that you think Rabastan is deplorable and would never suit as a husband—I think she might actually listen to you.”

Narcissa’s brow furrowed. “You want me to say all of that to Mummy?”

Andromeda looked over with a desperate expression in her eyes. “Could you please? I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’m so afraid that they won’t have changed their minds at all. But you—you’re a breath of fresh air, Cissy. I think they’d listen to you. Mum wouldn’t want to upset you by upsetting me.”

“No,” said Narcissa, “that’s very true. Mummy never likes to see me upset. But oh dear, it’s such a complicated matter! Do you really think they’ll just forget about the match altogether?”

“I only know that if anything will change their mind, it’s you.”

It was possible. Druella had always had a soft spot in her heart where Narcissa was concerned. But Andromeda’s real concern wasn’t her mother, or even her father. It was Aunt Walburga.

She didn’t know why she hadn’t just told Narcissa about the unforgiveable that Aunt Walburga had performed on her. Something about it had been so unthinkable, so dreadful, that she wasn’t sure she could ever bring herself to talk about it again. Saying it out loud would make it more real somehow. And how could she tell Narcissa, of all people? It was next to impossible to tell her sister that the woman who’d tucked her into bed over summer holidays had cast an Imperius curse.

Then why was it so easy to tell Ted?

“Whatever happens,” Narcissa said, tugging the pearl hair clasps out of her soft hair, “we’ll sort through it together, hm?”

Andromeda couldn’t count the number of times she’d looked at Narcissa today and wanted to weep. This was what she needed: someone to just listen to her, to sympathize, to promise that things would be better. She’d needed her sister so badly. When Narcissa reassured her, Andromeda really did believe that everything would be okay again. It would be like she had never run away.

Except that you did, and Ted Tonks saved you, and the two of you had a snogging session, and you both admitted that you’ve got a thing for each other, and then you left him, even while he was recovering from one of those awful fits. You don’t even know if he’s okay. You don’t know if George showed up after you left and made sure that Ted wasn’t dead or paralyzed from the neck down or—

“Andie? You look ill.”

Andromeda glanced up to find Narcissa stooped over her, her pretty face distorted with concern.

“I’m fine,” said Andromeda, propping herself up on her elbows. “Nervous about tomorrow, that’s all. It’s your responsibility to distract me.”

Narcissa giggled at that. “Well. I do have a topic of conversation that would prove quite distracting. It’s just—what with your own to-do, I didn’t want to seem insensitive.”

Andromeda pushed herself up into a sit, her eyes huge. She knew the voice that Narcissa was using. It was breathy and twittery and particularly soprano. It was the voice that she always used when she was talking about Lucius.

“Cissy,” Andromeda said slowly, “tell me.”

Narcissa bit her lip and giggled again. “Well. Well. Lucius and I—um. We—we—“

Andromeda gasped. “Cissa, you didn't! When?”

“Christmas Eve,” Narcissa said, going giggly again. “Oh, is that too cliché?”

Andromeda shook her head. “N-n-no. No, it isn’t cliché, I just can’t believe—“

“We didn’t plan on it,” Narcissa said, fiddling with the lace sash of her gown, her cheeks flaming. “It just happened, really.”

Then, impishly, she raised her eyes and added, “Several, several times.”

“Oh. My. God.”

“I know!” Narcissa burst into giggles again and rolled over onto her stomach. “I know, I know!”

Then, at Andromeda’s silence, Narcissa lifted her head from the duvet. “You’re not angry are you? You don’t think I’m some uncouth, graceless slag?”

“Of course not,” Andromeda said quickly, running her hand along Narcissa’s back. “Dearest, you are the furthest thing from a slag. But—but you were safe, weren’t you?”

Narcissa blushed even more. “I’m not stupid. Of course we were safe. I know that contraception spells are only 98% effective, too, so I took a birth control potion just to be sure. You should be very proud of me.”

“Birth control potion?” Andromeda said, quirking an eyebrow. “You said you weren’t planning on it.”

Narcissa tittered. “Well. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”

Andromeda collapsed beside her on the bed with a wondering laugh. “Good heavens. Little Cissa, all grown up.”

“Mm. More grown up than youuu.”

Narcissa shot a tickling hand against Andromeda’s side, and Andromeda promptly ducked away from it, tickling Narcissa back until they were both breathless with laughter.

After all, it was far better to be laughing about it than crying in a corner because her baby sister had lost her virginity before she had.

When the tickling match had calmed down, Andromeda fixed Narcissa with a more serious face.

“Did it—“ She hesitated, and then decided to go through with her whispered inquiry. “Did it hurt very much?”

Narcissa nodded. “A bit, yes. Do you know, though? Not nearly so bad as I thought it would. Mummy made it sound like such an absolute terror. Like it was something as unpleasant and blasé as sorting laundry. But I think it’s different when he loves you.”

Neither sister would ever admit it, but this was the first time that either of them had come close to admitting out loud that their parents did not love each other.

Druella and Cygnus respected and supported each other. Andromeda never doubted that. But it was the little things that had begun to clue her in, once she was old enough to know what the little things meant: how her father failed to kiss her mother goodnight, how they never held hands when they went out for an afternoon stroll, how they came home separately from parties—her father always much later than her mother.

“Lucius was divine,” Narcissa sighed. “He was so attentive and so gentle. Though, I must say, the act is a good deal less—refined than I imagined it. A rather messy business. I thought—“

Narcissa’s next words were muffled. Andromeda had slapped her hand over her sister’s mouth with a wicked smirk.

“Cissy, I’m very happy for you,” she said, “but that is the most detail I ever want to hear about your sex life.”

Narcissa giggled again and shrugged like an innocent. “I only thought you’d like to know for future reference.”

Andromeda only shook her head. She stared up at the gauzy canopy drooped above Narcissa’s bed and sighed. Future reference. When might that be, exactly? If there was one thing she knew for certain, it was that she was never, ever going to share a bed with Rabastan Lestrange. And if not Rabastan, then what other possible qualified suitor was there? She wasn’t so naïve to think that if her parents agreed to let her break things off with Rabastan they would magically forget about marrying her off to some wealthy pureblood heir.

There was Evan Rosier. He was a few years younger, but he was decent enough to look at, and he and Andromeda had actually carried on some halfway decent conversations. Lilith had a brother, Declan. He was a sixth year Ravenclaw, brilliant, and very fit. Lilith only whined about what a know-it-all prat Declan was, but Andromeda had crushed on him when they were younger. But that was a silly line of thought, because the Starkers were technically halfblood. Only very technically—a halfblood had married into the family centuries back. All the same, it had tainted their blood status, and while Lilith was suitable friend material, Declan wouldn’t be suitable husband material.

Still. Better material than Ted Tonks, who you’ve been thinking about this entire time.

Andromeda’s breathing slowed. She looked askance at Narcissa, irrationally afraid that her sister could somehow hear her thoughts.

Come on, Andromeda. You’re thinking about it still. You’re wondering what it would be like with a Mudblood. You’re wondering if it would’ve been just like last night—if it would feel just as wondrously right.

“It’s rather stuffy in here, isn’t it?” Narcissa let out a languid sigh. “Best get dressed for bed.”

She tapped Andromeda’s nose with an affectionate smile.

“Don’t wear that worried expression. Everything will be better soon. I can just feel it.”

Tomorrow. Onyx House. Her parents. Rabastan Lestrange. It all came rushing back, and Andromeda wondered how on earth she could’ve been distracted by the thought of Ted Tonks’ hands on her skin. Something was wrong with her mind. It was very possible that Ted had passed on some type of Muggle communicable disease after all. One that affected the brain.

She shook her head, concentrating on the real issue at hand: getting back into her family’s good graces. By this time tomorrow, all of her worries and fears would come to an end. She could only hope that it would be the end that she wanted.

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