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Chapter 21 : Adjustment
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Lilith had been waiting for her two roommates like an anxious puppy. She came bounding into the front courtyard of the castle with merry eyes, slung her arms around the shoulders of both sisters, and walked them up to their dormitory, where she descended into a deluge of gossip about the students who had remained for the holidays. She and Xavier had been passionately in love, had a memorable fling, and then broken up in a hair-raising spat. Xavier was now deemed Public Enemy Number One by Lilith, and she commissioned Narcissa and Andromeda to help her burn all photographs and mementos of the boy in a ceremonial fire in their bedroom.
Andromeda did not say a single word about running away from home. Both sisters recounted their holidays as though everything had transpired just as it should have. And of course, there was the matter of Rabastan’s proposal. Lilith had gawked and cooed and fawned over the engagement ring, and Andromeda had patiently endured it all before explaining to Lilith just what she had explained to Narciss about her plan.
“You’re mad,” had been Lilith’s prompt reply. “I was being all happy for you when I thought that you’d actually forgiven Rabastan and loved him again. But this? You've finally cracked, Andie. This is madness. I won't allow it!”
“I’m not asking for your permission or for your blessing,” Andromeda had snapped. “I only thought that as one of my best friends, you deserved an honest explanation. Now let’s not discuss it any further.”
Lilith had glared at Andromeda. Andromeda had glared back at Lilith. And since that exchange, they had both been on uneasy terms with each other.
Classes resumed, and Andromeda channeled all of her attention into preparation for her N.E.W.T.s. The examinations loomed before her, dark and onerous things, dragons to be slayed. She would make top marks on every one of them. That, too, was part of the plan.
When she walked into DADA the first day back, she noted Ted Tonks’ absence. Not that she was actively thinking about Ted Tonks. Of course she wasn’t. And of course she hadn’t fought an urge every day during the remainder of her holiday back at Onyx House to send an owl to George and ascertain if Ted had fully recovered from his latest attack. Of course she didn't go into temporary shock at the sight of every golden-haired boy to cross her path as she walked through the Hogwarts corridors.
Of course not.
It wasn’t until the third day that Ted hadn’t shown in class that Andromeda admitted it to herself: she was, most certainly, thinking about Ted Tonks. And it was more than a passing thought. She was worried.
She stayed after class to speak with Professor Whitechapel. Ostensibly, she wanted to clarify the instructions for an assignment on dementor protocol at Azkaban. It was only after Professor Whitechapel unnecessarily explained the essay parameters again that Andromeda asked the question.
“Is Ted Tonks ill? I only ask since he hasn’t been in class since Monday.”
Professor Whitechapel blinked in surprise. “Not that I know of. No, Ted dropped the class. I thought you knew. Since you were his tutor, I imagined he had told you.”
Andromeda felt as though a punch had been delivered to her lower intestine. She grasped at the edge of Professor Whitechapel’s podium to steady herself.
“N-no. No, he didn’t tell me.”
Professor Whitechapel glanced up from a ream of paperwork and lowered his spectacles. “Well, it was all very recent. He let me know first day classes resumed. It’s a shame. Such a promising student, and he was doing so well under your tutelage. He’ll be missed.”
Andromeda nodded wordlessly. Then she walked straight back to her empty dormitory, locked herself inside, and cried for a half hour straight.
This is a good thing. In fact, it’s excellent luck. You would’ve had to pass by him awkwardly every day in class. Merlin forbid, you could’ve been paired with him for a group project. It’s better to not have any contact whatsoever.
The rational thoughts had kicked in after the tears had dried. Andromeda had tried to convince herself to listen to them. She was still trying to convince herself weeks later on her way from classes back to the dormitories.
It doesn’t matter what he said over the holidays. It doesn’t matter what you admitted. Nothing can come of it. You made your decision. You’re following through with your plan. A Mudblood has no place in your future.
Andromeda clung fiercely at the sleeves of her robes, pulling them more tightly against the February wind roaring through the courtyard. It was a bad day to be outdoors, but cutting outside was the quickest way back to the Slytherin corner of the dungeons.
“Don’t call him that,” she whispered to her rational thoughts. “He isn’t a Mudblood.”
“Talking to yourself?”
Andromeda started. A boy had fallen in step without her noticing. On instinct, she whipped out her wand and jabbed it into his chest.
“Whoa, shit! Whoa, whoa! It’s just me.”
George Vanderpool was a portrait of terror. His hands were raised in a clumsy attempt at self-defense. The wind whipped his floppy auburn hair in comical new hairstyles every other second.
Andromeda lowered her wand. She glanced around the courtyard in a panic. There was no one else around. Still, Andromeda grabbed George at the wrist and dragged him behind the nearest granite statue of an old, wizened headmaster from the nineteenth century.
“Why are you speaking to me?” she hissed.
“Nice to see you, too,” George replied, unaffected. “Lovely weather we’ve been having. Ooh yes, I had a marvelous rest of my holiday. You’re so sweet to ask.”
“What do you want?”
George dropped the blithe demeanor. He rolled his eyes, removed something from his coat pocket, and plopped it into Andromeda’s hand.
It was her Synop.
“Ted wanted me to give it back. Said you wouldn’t want to see him again. But just let me make it as clear to you as I did to him: this is the last time I play errand boy. It’s—“ he made a face “—demeaning.”
Andromeda blurted her next words out before the rational voice in her head could stop her.
“Is he all right?”
George rubbed at his cold-reddened nose. “Huh? What, Ted? Yeah, I mean, considering you royally screwed him over, I’d say he’s doing pretty peachy. By the way, thanks a lot for leaving me a half-dead best mate to come home to that afternoon. Real sweet. In fact, I should be severely angry with you right now. Duel-worthy angry. I would be if Ted wasn’t doing so well.”
“What do you mean?”
George shrugged. “He’s in the best form I’ve ever seen him. I dunno what psychotic mumbo jumbo you fed him when you left him for dead, but it shook him up. He’s been nothing but charisma and game plans in the locker room. He’s working our asses off out there on the pitch, but we’re playing our best game yet, and the team can feel it. It’s been fantastic for Quidditch morale. And all he can talk about now is agents and landing a good recruitment and decimating Slytherin for the house cup. All sappy inspirational shit, but he’s on his game. Definitely an improvement.”
“Oh.” Andromeda shivered. “That’s—that’s very good to hear.”
“Not that you care,” George snorted. “God, you’re heartless, aren’t you? That rock attached to your hand is blinding me.”
Andromeda shoved her hands deep into the folds of her robe and pocketed the Synop, effectively hiding her engagement ring. She assumed her haughtiest expression. “Don’t talk about things you know nothing about.”
“All I’m saying is that you would’ve felt my wrath for what you did to him if it didn’t end up—well, helping him.”
“I meant what I said earlier. I never meant to hurt him.”
“Well, he’s fine. Except for that night he got sloshed and rang me up to say that his sheets smelled like you and he’d never met any girl like Andromeda Black and his heart felt like it was bleeding out, blah, blah. But I’m being really generous and marking that up to the booze. I like to think that Ted is above getting hung up on girls who aren’t worth his spit.”
Andromeda had lost all feeling in her arms. “H-he said that?”
“He was wasted. I’m pretending it didn’t happen, for your sake. Because if it did, it’d mean you messed Ted up big time and I’d be obligated to hex your ass.”
“George, you couldn’t hex my ass if you tried.”
“Whatever. Just stay away from him. He’s doing really well, like I said. So don’t you dare prance back onto the scene and screw him up again, all right?”
“Don’t worry,” she said, “I won’t. It’s in neither of our best interests to ever speak again.”
“Don’t be melodramatic,” said George. “You aristos have a penchant for it.”
Andromeda narrowed her eyes. “You’re an aristo.”
“That’s how I know,” George said smugly. But then his expression turned more solemn, and he took a step closer. “Is it true what Ted said? Did you really coach him through that fit of his?”
Andromeda flinched. She’d been trying desperately for the past month to rid that memory from her mind. Her forehead pressed to Ted’s chest, the silvery, drowning look in his eyes as he’d fought away the pain….
“I’m not sure ‘coach’ is the best word,” she said. “But yes, I was there with him. Why?”
George looked just the slightest bit impressed. “It’s never happened before, that’s all. He’s always needed the medicine to recover. He’s gone through hour-long fits before, even with the medicine’s help. But he said that with you, the fit was over in just a few minutes. He said you saved his life.”
“Now you’re the one being melodramatic.”
“Ted was the one who said it, not me.” George toed the snowy cobblestone at their feet. “It just seems a shame, that’s all. Don’t get me wrong, I still think you’re a stuck-up, entitled toff, but I was actually beginning to like you two together. Kept things interesting.”
Heat rushed through Andromeda’s limbs. “Well, that’s it then,” she said airily, brushing past George. “You’ve delivered what belongs to me, and now we can be done with it.”
George followed her. “Are you really that ashamed to be seen with a halfblood?”
Andromeda kept walking. “No. I’m just cold.”
“You like him. Admit it. He’s good for you, Black, same as he’s good for me. You’re just too proud to admit it.”
Andromeda whipped around. “If I liked him, then why, pray tell, would I be engaged to another man?”
George shrugged. “That’s what makes the whole thing so tragic. Telling you, flair for the melodramatic, our lot.”
“If you speak to me in public again—“
“Right, right, whatever.” George simpered and backed away toward the corridors, in the opposite direction. “Don’t worry, princess, I haven’t a reason in the world to ever speak to you again. Just stay away from him, huh?”
Andromeda said nothing in reply. She was already halfway across the courtyard.
The south wing turret was damper than Andromeda remembered. It was colder, too. When she reached the top of the narrow, winding stairs, she found drifts of snow clumped against the edge of the wall. Rivulets of water trickled winding paths through the stonework underfoot.
She tugged her coat closer and sat on the dry edge of a bench—her customary bench when she and Ted had held their tutoring sessions here.
She didn’t know why she had detoured from her route to the dormitories. Perhaps it was just that she didn’t want to fall into conversation with the girls. She didn’t want to hear the latest divine act of love Lucius had performed for Narcissa, and she didn’t want to hear about Lilith’s most recent conquest—the Ravenclaw’s star seeker, Ferdinand Barrow.
Though she and Lilith had patched things up a few weeks back, there was still an uneasy air between the two of them. Lilith had been extremely vocal about how idiotic she thought Andromeda’s plan to marry Rabastan Lestrange was, but she had come to terms with the fact that Andromeda wasn’t budging in her resolve. The plan was, even Lilith finally admitted, the only option.
“Though it’s still moronic,” Lilith had said, “that you’re wearing the ring of a guy you found screwing Georgiana Harper in a lavatory.”
Andromeda still hadn’t entirely forgiven Lilith for talking as though marrying Rabastan was something she wanted.
Since the day of his proposal, Rabastan had been surprisingly compliant with all of Andromeda’s stipulations. She had first attributed his obedience to his shock that Andromeda would ever give him a command. But the weeks had worn on at Hogwarts, and Rabastan had continued to play by her rules, just as she’d requested. He never initiated a conversation with Andromeda, never so much as placed a hand on her elbow. They ate across from each other most nights in the great hall, where they would carry on the semblance of polite conversation. Some nights, they would sit side by side on one of the common room sofas, in front of the fire, and Andromeda would ask Rabastan to recount current Quidditch stats and predictions. They smiled when they were together. They exchanged loving glances. And when they were through with their charade, they went on with the parts of their lives that mattered.
Rabastan was a convincing actor. But of course he would be. He had been acting long before Andromeda had ever caught him with Georgiana. It was only in February, when Andromeda found him in one of the darker cellar corridors with some fifth year Slytherin floozy that she realized the more obvious reason for Rabastan’s compliance: he benefited from her plan. It was an excellent arrangement for him, really. Andromeda had promised Rabastan the status and the wealth that he needed, all for the meager price of his deference. He no longer had to put on an act that he loved her or perform the attentive duties of a boyfriend. So long as he didn’t touch her, he could touch any other girl that he wanted. So long as he didn’t lecture her on who she associated with, she would pay him the same courtesy. It really was a mutually beneficial exchange.
Andromeda had just never thought that “mutually beneficial exchange” would be the three words to define her marriage.
There are things more important than marital bliss, Andromeda. Remember that. There’s Cissa. There’s your social circle. There’s your inheritance. There’s—
Andromeda’s thoughts were interrupted by the sudden shock of a finger tapping on her back.
Her stomach lurched. Irrational delirium shot through her.
She whipped around, her voice betraying far too much hope.
It wasn’t Ted.
What it was made her shriek and nearly topple off of the bench.
Andromeda had seen her fair share of ghosts during her time at Hogwarts. House ghosts frequently floated here and there during dinners in the great hall, regaling wide-eyed first years with tales of medieval conquest and high adventure and scandalous betrayals. She was accustomed to the pallor and the insubstantiality of specters, and to the cold aura that accompanied them. But she had never been so close to one before. And in all her time spent wandering these halls, she had never encountered this ghost in particular.
Her eyes were blue, but unlike Narcissa’s pale, ethereal irises, these were dark—nearly black. She looked to be no older than eighteen, and she wore a school robe lined in Ravenclaw blue and bronze. Across her pale throat was a clean, long slice, bloody but not bleeding. Andromeda knew who the girl was. Ted had told her this ghost’s story. She was the Ravenclaw who had taken her own life to be with the boy ghost that she loved.
“Winifred,” Andromeda whispered, now that she had regained her composure and her grip on the bench.
Winifred smiled a grim, lippy smile. “Not who you were expecting?” she asked.
Her voice was tinny. Andromeda winced at the sound of it.
“I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
“Are you sure?” Winifred tilted her head, showing off more of the red, half-transparent slash across her throat. “Aren’t you waiting for that boy? The one you like so much?”
“I was his tutor,” Andromeda said, “and we’ve finished our tutoring sessions for good. Anyway, didn’t anyone ever teach you that it’s rude to eavesdrop?”
“I wasn’t eavesdropping,” Winifred retorted. “You were trespassing.”
“Well, don’t worry. I won’t be trespassing anymore.”
Winifred’s eyes flickered, just briefly, in and out of visibility. She looked unhappy, though Andromeda didn’t know if that was always how Winifred looked. If she were a ghost, Andromeda reasoned, she would be unhappy all the time.
“You were better company, at least,” said Winifred, “than the most recent intruders. I don’t like them at all. If the professors knew the sorts of things they talked about up here! Terrible boys, going on about all sorts of foul spells and dark arts, comparing their imbecilic tattoos….”
Andromeda could tell that Winifred was purposefully baiting her. She wanted her to ask questions. Andromeda didn’t particularly want to carry on a conversation with a ghost, but she was too curious to resist.
“What sort of boys?”
“Oh, I should’ve thought you knew,” said Winifred, batting her long, ghostly eyelashes. “They’re Slytherins, the lot of them. They call themselves the Knights of Walpurgis.”
Andromeda frowned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m sure they’re not any Slytherins I know, and it isn’t my fault that they’re up here bothering you. I never told them about the south wing turret.”
In fact, Andromeda felt suddenly vulnerable knowing that this secret spot of hers did not belong solely to her and Ted and their tutoring sessions. She was grateful, at least, that the two of them had never had a run in with these Slytherin delinquents; that would’ve made for some awkward explanations.
“All the same,” said Winifred, floating lazily off of the bench and into mid-air, “you could tell those nasty boys to conduct their nasty meetings elsewhere.”
“What makes you think that I know them? Just because they’re in Slytherin doesn’t mean—“
“Because one of them is your fiancé, silly!”
Andromeda went deadly still. “What?”
“Mmhm. Just last night they were up here, and the tallest one was going on about what a nice match he’d made with Andromeda Black. And then he and his lot went into some vulgar details I won’t recount here. Do you think I want to listen to that sort of yammering when Reginald and I are trying to sleep?”
Andromeda didn’t know which topic of bewilderment to address first: that Winifred’s ghostly lover was named Reginald, that ghosts were capable of sleeping, or that Rabastan Lestrange was somehow mixed up in some form of the dark arts.
It was no secret that the Lestrange name had long been tied to dark magic. The very same rumors circulating the corridors about the Blacks were applicable to the Lestrange Family as well. Until now, Andromeda had always assumed that, like the rumors about her family, those accusations had been false. Rabastan never talked about the dark arts around her, and he certainly never mentioned a secret society called the Knights of Walpurgis.
“What else did they talk about?” she demanded of Winifred, but the ghost was floating upward, away from Andromeda, an unconcerned look on her face.
“Doesn’t matter,” Winifred said in a feather-light voice. “What matters is that they were bothering me, and I thought you could tell them off. But if you won’t, then you’re of no use to me. I’m going back to Reginald.”
“Wait!” Andromeda cried. “Wait, please just tell me—“
But it was too late. Winifred’s ghost had disappeared entirely from view, into the shadows of the turret. This time, Andromeda really was alone.
Author's Note: Popping in to say hey, heyyy! Thank you all for the ongoing reads and reviews. It's hokey to say, but they really do keep me inspired and chiseling away at Tedromeda's story. I know that Ted has had a noticeable absence these past couple chapters, but he may or may not make an appearance in the near-ish future. :]
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