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Chapter 22 : Meetings
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Andromeda placidly ignored the fact that Lilith’s eyes were trained on her every movement as she got ready for school that morning. She calmly did the clasp of her pearl and emerald necklace, then checked her reflection in the mirror.
“You were talking about blood," Lilith went on. "Blood and tattoos. Also birds. I didn't know your subconscious was so morbid. Or bizarre."
Narcissa looked up from the corner of the dormitory, where she was tugging on her heeled boots.
“Do I need to ask Lucius for some more potion, darling? I thought that he’d given you enough for at least a month.”
“No,” Andromeda said, trying to remain detached. “No, I just forgot to take the potion last night, that’s all.”
And also because I don’t want to turn into a potion addict or acknowledge that I have a major insomnia problem. Because I don’t want to be sent to Madame Bellevue frothing at the mouth. Because I still have a shred of hope that the nightmares will go away.
When she looked away from the mirror, Andromeda found Lilith and Narcissa exchanging an uneasy glance.
“I’m fine,” she insisted for the benefit of them both. “Really. I’m sorry that I woke you up last night. I won’t be so forgetful in the future.”
“Perhaps,” Narcissa began, “you should see—“
“NO.” Andromeda slammed down her silver-plated hairbrush on the vanity. “No, I’m not going to see anyone about it. I’m perfectly healthy, and it is not a curse.”
“Cissa’s just worried about you,” Lilith said. “We both are. Calm down, crazy.”
Andromeda shot Lilith an irritated glare. She hated this. She hated feeling constantly at odds with her two best friends, but ever since she had returned to Hogwarts after the holidays, things had changed between her and the girls. Narcissa was more cautious and morose around her. Lilith, who already enjoyed stirring up trouble, now seemed to doubly delight in pushing all of Andromeda’s buttons.
It was stifling, living in a room with them. It shouldn’t have been that way. And though Andromeda didn’t want to admit it, she knew that much of the change was owing to her loveless engagement to Rabastan. Neither of the girls approved. But neither of them could understand how vital the engagement was.
Andromeda was alone in her thinking, and she had begun to fear recently that she was alone in other regards, too. She couldn’t confide in Narcissa and Lilith the way she once had. They had lost a certain amount of faith in her, and she had lost faith in them. The worst of it was, she didn’t know how either faith could ever be regained.
She didn’t like to think about it. Recently, she hadn’t. Her brain had been too crammed full of equations for her upcoming Arithmancy exam—and also with the words of a certain ghost in the south wing turret.
Terrible boys, going on about all sorts of foul spells and dark arts, comparing their imbecilic tattoos….
For nearly a week, Andromeda had tortured herself with the words, with speculation, with anxiety that Winifred was telling the truth and that her own fiancé was involved with a group of dark wizards. Tonight was the night that she asked Rabastan about it, point blank.
It was one thing when one’s fiancé was a confirmed cheater. It was another thing entirely when he was involved in crimes that could get him locked up in Azkaban.
“Oi! Padfoot! What’s the meaning of this? Why’re you even—? Oh! Oooh.”
Two straggly-haired second years skidded to a stop in the doorway of the empty Charms classroom. Andromeda sat across from Sirius at Professor Flitwick’s desk, hands primly folded as he pored over the corrections she had made to his Potions essay.
Since Sirius’ first year at Hogwarts, on the night that he had come to Andromeda in tears over the abysmal grade he’d received in Potions, she had sworn to impart her expertise to her little cousin. Potions may have been Andromeda’s weakest subject, but she was far stronger at it than Sirius was, and monthly tutoring was the only way she’d been able to assuage Sirius’ fear that his parents would get a hold of his end of the year report and unleash certain doom upon him.
Andromeda, of course, had thought then that Sirius was only being dramatic. He was a brilliant boy, and all of his other subjects came naturally to him. When Sirius actually tried, he could easily ace his exams—in everything, that is, but Potions. The subject was his Achilles' heel, and he was hyper-sensitive about the fact that there was one lone subject in the world at which he didn’t excel. All this talk of his parents’ grave displeasure had been sheer silliness.
That is what Andromeda had thought. Now it wasn’t so hard to associate words like “grave displeasure” and “doom” with a person like Aunt Walburga.
Since Andromeda was, naturally, one of Professor Flitwick’s favorite pupils, he had been more than happy to let Andromeda use his classroom after school hours. Since they had struck that arrangement more than a year back, Andromeda had always met on the last Friday of every month to go over Sirius’ essays, assignments, and general concerns.
Sometimes, Andromeda may have helped Sirius a little too much. Sometimes, she may have changed things about his paper that he really ought to have been marked down on, or given him a shortcut that wasn’t strictly in keeping with the rules in his textbook. But Sirius deserved a special exemption, didn’t he? Andromeda really did hate to see him do poorly. It was so rare for Sirius to fail at anything, and when he did, he got so very out of sorts, so very—un-Sirius. Andromeda couldn’t stand to see him that way. Hence their tutoring sessions.
This month’s particular tutoring session had been unceremoniously interrupted, however, by a couple of young Gryffindors—two of Sirius' three friends that seemed joined at the hip whenever Andromeda saw them together in the corridors or the great hall.
One of them, James Potter, had been the one to interrupt Sirius’ concentration with his yelling. He stood now in the doorway, adjusting his glasses and patting down his multiple cowlicks. He was attempting to look contrite but not really succeeding. The boy beside him, Remus Lupin, was a paler and far quieter boy with thick brown hair and intent green eyes. Puberty had hit the poor boy early, and he was already a head taller than both James and Sirius. He was hopelessly gangly, too; even now, he seemed at a loss as to what to do with his limbs. He stared at Andromeda. She smiled softly back at him.
Remus blushed. As though by instinct, he touched his hand to his face, and Andromeda only now noticed the deep gash that cut along his face, running parallel to his cheekbone.
“We’re terribly sorry to interrupt,” he said. “We didn’t know that Sirius was—“
“We just thought he was up to his usual tricks,” James cut in, leaning against the doorframe with far more ease and arrogance than any twelve-year-old ought to have possessed. “We can wait until you’re finished. What exactly are you doing anyway, Sirius?”
Sirius was red in the face. He looked to Andromeda in a panic and, ever so slightly, he shook his head. It had only just occurred to Andromeda that Sirius wouldn’t have told his friends about the tutoring. Of course not. He was too proud—a family trait that she knew all too well.
“He’s reading me one of his papers,” Andromeda piped up before Sirius had a chance to answer James’ questions. “I’m doing advanced research on the topic of sleeping draughts, you see, and when I asked Professor Slughorn for further references, do you know what he told me? To look at the most recent essay of my little cousin here.”
She reached over and pinched Sirius’ cheek with a wicked smirk. If she was going to lie for him, she was at least going to make him suffer at little for it.
“Slughorn,” she continued, “called his work absolutely outstanding! So Sirius has been kind enough to let me look over it. Very informative.”
Remus raised a brow. “Really? Well done, Sirius.”
“Uhhh, yeah.” Sirius hesitated for a beat. Then the usual cocky grin was plastered back on his face. “Yeeaahh, well, what can I say? I’m a genius.”
“Remus,” said Andromeda, generously ignoring Sirius’ stupidity, “are you quite all right? You’ve got a nasty scar just there, don’t you? I know of an excellent salve that’s particularly useful for—“
“No, no!” Remus yipped, interrupting her. “Erm, no, sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I hope you won’t think I’m—it’s just, I’m very well, thanks. I don’t need a balm. Salve? What did you call it?”
“Good Godric, Lupin, you need some work,” sighed James, patting Remus on the head like he might a dog. “C’mon, let’s leave them alone. See you back in the you-know-where, eh Black?”
Sirius exchanged a conspiratorial wink with James, then watched with unreserved fondness as his two friends straggled out of sight. He turned back to Andromeda with a gusty sigh.
“Thanks for covering for me,” he said.
Andromeda nodded. Neither of them needed to explain why. Sirius looked back at his marked essay, but no sooner had he glanced down than he started to snicker.
“Poor Remus,” he said. “He’s got it really bad for you, you know?”
Andromeda’s heart broke just a little. “Does he?”
Sirius glanced up, biting on a hangnail. He nodded. Then a horrified look crossed his face and he added, “Don’t tell him I said that! I think I just betrayed his trust or something. Damn.”
“It’s only a serious matter if you betray someone’s trust about something important,” Andromeda reassured him, “and I’m sure you never would.”
Sirius shook his head solemnly. “Never.”
“Though I’m afraid I’m a little too old for your friend,” she said, smiling.
“Uh, and you’re also engaged,” Sirius pointed out, waving at the massive ring on Andromeda's left hand.
“Oh.” She laughed uneasily. “Yes, that too. All I mean to say is that I’m sure Remus will forget about me soon enough. Most likely within the next week. One day he’ll find a lovely girl that’s much better suited to his age.”
“Ugh.” Sirius looked close to the shade of green. “You know how revolting it is to think of one’s best mates in love, don’t you?”
“One day,” she said, “the lot of you might not find love so revolting as you do now. It’s something very precious that not everyone gets to experience. You’ll realize that one day.”
“That’ll be the day I die.” Sirius glanced back at his essay. “It’s no use. I can’t concentrate anymore.”
“It’s perfectly fine,” she said, reaching over to bop his nose. “Just look over those notes, and if you have any questions, you know where to find me.”
Sirius nodded and shoved the essay back into his satchel without even trying to roll it back up. Andromeda winced at the sound of parchment crinkling.
“Hey Andie?” Sirius asked as they both to got to their feet. “Um, so look, I haven’t asked you about it, and you don’t have to answer or anything. But I was just wondering…why did you run away?”
It was true: Sirius hadn’t breathed a word about Andromeda’s sudden disappearance from Grimmauld Place, even though he’d had ample opportunity since school had started back up. She certainly hadn’t been willing to bring up the topic, given the fact that she had no good excuse.
That is, Andromeda had a perfectly good excuse, but it involved telling Sirius that his mother was severely demented. And while Andromeda was sure that Sirius agreed with that assessment of his mother, it wouldn’t do to tell a twelve-year-old boy about an Imperius curse or the messiness of her relationship with Rabastan Lestrange.
She thought that she had been in the clear for the past month. But now Sirius stood in the doorway of the classroom, looking up at her with his smart, piercing gray eyes, waiting for a reply.
“It’s complicated,” she said at last.
She hated herself for the answer. She knew it was just the sort of thing Sirius didn’t want to hear.
“In any case,” she added, “it was very selfish of me. I shouldn’t have done it.”
“What?” Sirius shook his head. “Are you kidding? It’s the most badass thing you’ve ever done! Really, the most badass thing that any Black ever has done. Mum and Aunt Druella were freaking out. It was bloody fantastic.”
Sirius waved his hands in irritation. “Sure, sure. It was selfish and you made a lot of people worry. Blah, blah. I see now that you’re not going to give me a real answer.”
“Then what sort of answer am I giving you?”
Sirius quirked a knowing brow up at Andromeda. “An adult answer. You don’t think I’m old enough to hear the truth.”
Andromeda considered arguing with Sirius, but she really didn’t have the energy or the stomach to fight when she knew he was right. Of course she wouldn’t tell Sirius the whole truth about her disappearance. She could only tell him what he deserved to know.
She knelt to eye level with Sirius, even though she knew he’d probably be insulted by the gesture. She needed to be eye-to-eye with him for this.
“I’m sorry that I left you there, all alone with the rest of them,” she said. “I deserted you, and that wasn’t right. I was only thinking of myself.”
“Ugh.” Sirius wriggled and made a grotesque face. “I didn’t want you to apologize. I just thought you’d have some juicy material from your escape. But you won’t tell me, and that’s fine. Don’t get gooey eyed, please.”
Andromeda straightened back up. “Right. No more gooey eyes.”
“Cheers. See you around then, Andie. Thanks again for the help.”
She watched as he took off down the hallway, careening too quickly around the corner toward a secret end destination where his friends would be waiting. Sirius had a happy existence here. He was popular, he had loyal friends, and he had so little concept of what went on behind closed doors at Grimmauld Place. Andromeda had no right to shatter the illusion for her little cousin. She had a feeling that he would shatter it for himself soon enough.
Rabastan was waiting for her in the common room, on the loveseat nearest the fire. She had told him that she wanted to talk to him tonight. She hadn’t mentioned what she wanted to talk about—namely that she suspected him of being involved with an illegal dark arts group.
Tonight, the Slytherin common room was sparser than usual. A pair of first year boys sat in the corner, playing a particularly violent match of wizard’s chess. In another corner, poorly hidden by a banner of green, a giggly couple was making out. Rabastan had been reading a book with half-hearted interest when Andromeda arrived. He cast it aside when he caught sight of her.
He rose to his feet in greeting, a perfect gentleman. They sat down together, and, as they did, Rabastan produced a slow, self-indulgent smile. He’d worn the smile ever since his proposal and Andromeda’s counter-proposal. Andromeda wasn’t fond of it.
“You’re late.” It was an observation, not an accusation. He yawned and added, “That isn’t like you.”
“Tutoring took longer than usual,” she said stiffly, noting how very close their knees were to touching. “And Sirius likes to get off topic whenever possible.”
Rabastan snorted. Andromeda noted that he must have cut his hair recently. The dark, curly hair that typically flopped into his eyes had been cut back to a respectable distance on his forehead. The curls had been trimmed back behind his ears, too, drawing more attention to the sharply cut angles of his aristocratic profile. For not the first time, Andromeda consoled herself with the fact that, even if she was consigned to a loveless marriage, her partner wasn’t unpleasant to look at.
“Your cousin has an affinity for trouble," said Rabastan. "It’s a wonder he hasn’t been expelled by now.”
“Family status can work wonders,” said Andromeda, “as you well know.”
Rabastan laughed softly. He propped his well-polished shoes on the table across from them and tucked his hands behind his head.
“I thought for a moment,” he said, “that you may have found yourself a lover. Since you have threatened, and since we are playing by your rules.”
“There would be nothing wrong if I had,” Andromeda replied. “But I have much finer taste than this school could possibly offer.”
“What, then, no more of that Mudblood plaything of yours?”
“I’m sure I don’t know who you mean.”
"Yes, you do. That bloke from earlier in the school year. Tonks. Hufflepuff captain. My boys have seen him and his team practicing out on the field, you know. He’s been working them into the ground, but it shows. Near-perfect form, every one of them. At this rate, there’s little chance for Slytherin to pull out a win. I’ve quite a few mates that would pay you top dollar to muss that fellow’s sheets if it’d distract him from his prize.”
Andromeda remained stoic. “How flattering.”
“Sometimes, dear heart, I fear that you may be completely asexual.”
Andromeda smirked. “The issue isn’t lack of desire, but lack of adequate objects of desire.”
Rabastan made a wounded noise, then broke into another low laugh. “I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve never wanted you more than I do now.”
Andromeda stiffened. She turned toward Rabastan, who was staring dispassionately back at her. “Of course,” she said. “You want what you can’t have.”
Rabastan shrugged. “It’s only natural.”
Andromeda was amazed by the moment they were sharing. Since the proposal, she and Rabastan had been more honest with each other than they ever had during the years they had dated. It could be a raw, ugly honesty, but at least Andromeda knew that it was real. She almost found their conversations enjoyable. Almost.
What bothered her now was that, despite the newfound bluntness between her and her fiancé, Andromeda still suspected that Rabastan was hiding something from her.
“I need you to be serious for a moment,” she said.
Rabastan raised a brow. “I’m sorry. Were we not being serious before?”
Andromeda went on, undeterred. “Do you have a tattoo?”
Rabastan raised his brow even higher. “If you want to take my clothes off, love, there are better ways of ask—“
“I said, I need you to be serious.”
Rabastan sighed. “Why the hell would I mar my perfect skin?”
“This isn’t about your skin,” Andromeda said. “It’s about something much bigger than you. About a group you belong to, and about the sorts of things that you do with that group. Things that could get you expelled, even jailed. As your future wife, these are all things that concern me. I think I’m entitled to an honest answer.”
“I don’t know where you’re getting any of this non—“
“Do you belong to the Knights of Walpurgis?”
It was only a flicker, but Andromeda saw fear in Rabastan’s eyes. His gaze shot over to the two boys playing chess in the corner, then back at Andromeda.
“Lower your voice," he said.
“I wouldn’t need to lower my voice,” said Andromeda, “if it were nothing to be ashamed of.”
“It isn’t anything to be ashamed of,” Rabastan hissed. “I’m not ashamed.”
“Then you admit it,” she pressed, not quite sure if she should be excited or repulsed by the revelation. “You’re part of some group that practices the dark arts?”
Rabastan’s lip curled back. “I am part of a tradition. You cannot even begin to comprehend its importance. So don’t talk about what you don’t know.”
Andromeda flushed with anger. “The reason I know nothing about it is because you never told me about it. I deserve to know if you’re dabbling in—“
“Dabbling?” Rabastan laughed. “That’s what you think it is? Dabbling? You’ve no idea the history of what I’m a part of. The worth. My own father died for the sake of the cause.”
“What cause?” Andromeda shook her head in confusion. “What are you even talking about?”
Rabastan said nothing in reply. He stared darkly at the sputtering flames of the common room fire.
“You have to talk to me,” Andromeda insisted. “You’re my fiancé. I deserve to know what you’re getting involved in. Once we’re married, what you do will affect me, my reputation—“
“Your reputation isn’t in any sort of danger,” Rabastan said, still staring at the fireplace and not at her. “In fact, in a few years’ time, you’ll be proud to have taken on the name Lestrange. Do you know how rare a gift it is to be part of this circle? There are only four of us here at school. Only four of us have been marked. One day you’ll realize what an honor that is and why my father had to work so hard for me and Rodolphus to be a part of this.”
“Your sister, too.” Rabastan lifted his gaze to hers. “I imagine that’s where you heard about this? I hardly see why you’re concerned about your good name when your own sister is in our ranks.”
Andromeda felt chilled. During her time at Hogwarts, Bellatrix had been involved with the most unpleasant members of Slytherin—the ones who spoke of black magic and dark deeds as though they were pleasantries and not merely topics in DADA. She didn't have any difficulty believing that Bellatrix would be mixed up in a group like this. But Rabastan....
“You believe in the cause of blood purity, don’t you?”
Andromeda felt pinned under Rabastan’s stare. She struggled to find syllables to construct into a reply.
“I—yes, of course I believe in blood purity.”
It was the answer she’d been trained to give since she could speak.
She pushed the thought of Ted and of George from her mind.
“Then there’s nothing you need to worry about,” said Rabastan, “if you believe in our cause. Your parents would be nothing but pleased by our agenda.”
“Whatever your cause is,” said Andromeda, “that doesn’t justify the means. Dark arts—“
“Are readily taught and practiced abroad,” Rabastan finished. “You do know that, don’t you? Please tell me you aren’t so naïve as to think that a few prudish rules from Hogwarts and the Ministry should govern the behavior of talented witches and wizards.”
“Then you think,” Andromeda whispered heatedly, “that it’s perfectly acceptable for a witch to place a torture curse on an innocent victim just because she’s talented enough?”
“Not just for the hell of it,” Rabastan conceded. “That would be sadism. But if it were for a good cause—well, everyone needs to make sacrifices. God, Andie, you’ve such a narrow view of things. I thought that as a Black you’d be more open-minded.”
“You’re talking about torture.”
“I’m talking about a lot of things,” Rabastan said, shrugging. “Any and everything that will help to achieve a safer, cleaner, purer society. Sometimes you must make sacrifices for the sake of the greater good.”
Andromeda gripped the edge of the loveseat. She shook her head. "You're wrong. And I don’t think you should be a part of this group. I—I—“
“You what?” Rabastan smiled. “You’ll break off the engagement? You can only juice that one for so long, love. You won’t do anything. Your reputation isn’t at stake. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the upper echelon who wouldn’t approve of my involvement—who wouldn’t, in fact, be jealous. And anyway, I’m in good company.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Andromeda frowned. Rabastan’s smiled widened.
“Why,” he said, “surely Narcissa’s told you. Surely she knows. Lucius is in the club, too.”
Author's Note: Ted returns next chapter. >:] Thank you for the ongoing reads & reviews!
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