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Kill Your Darlings by LavenderBlue
Chapter 27 : Touch
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 15


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Dearest Mother,

I hope that this missive finds you well at Onyx House. As you predicted, time has aided me in the realization that, of course, you and Aunt Walburga had my best interests at heart. Rabastan has been nothing but attentive during our time back at Hogwarts, and I’m giddy with anticipation of our union.

I’ve been speaking to Cassandra Selwyn—you know, Fiona Selwyn’s charming little sister? Her third cousin crafts some of the most divine dresses. I’ve heard that the Minister of Magic’s wife wore one of her pieces during a gala just last month. She’s just the seamstress I’d like to work on my own dress and the bridesmaid dresses for Cissa, Bella, and Lilith. I wonder if you might send along the money for some proposed sketches and materials? I’ve included the estimates on the enclosed parchment. You’d be an absolute dear if you said yes, Mummy.

All my love,
A


Andromeda surveyed her perfectly penned letter with mild contempt. It was petty, frivolous, and shamelessly pandering. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have been able to set down the first word without ripping the letter up and tossing it into the dormitory’s raging fireplace.

But these were not normal circumstances.

Andromeda’s eyes fluttered shut against the shadowplay of the fire. She allowed herself to picture him, just for a fleeting moment. She allowed her mind’s ear to replay his voice. It was a memory from months ago, when she had barely known him, and they had stood on the balcony, shut off from the Slug Club festivities inside.

“Egotistical, prejudiced, gorgeous, independent.”

Even now, his calm brown eyes caught her throat in a thick, unyielding hold.

“I think all apply.”

It was dangerous to think of him this way, she knew. Every time that she did, she thought just a little too long on the simultaneously infuriating and endearing lilt of his working class accent. She focused just a little too keenly on the way his nose crinkled and his lips twitched downward when he gave her the look—that constant reminder that she was always finding new ways to offend him.

Worst of all were the times when, even when she didn’t allow herself to think of Ted, her memory would dredge up slivers of that night at George Vanderpool’s. His hand tangled in her hair. His mouth on her neck. The way he’d said her name, as though it were finely spun gossamer, capable of slipping from his hands and into a passing wind.

“Dromeda.”

“Andromeda.”

“An-drom-eh-dah, are you even listening to a word we’re saying?”

Her eyes snapped open. Lilith was giggling, shaking her head at Andromeda in wonderment.

“Were you in a trance?” she said. “Your powers of concentration are stunning. Teach me. I need all the help I can get for the N.E.W.T.s.”

Andromeda straightened up in her chair and returned to the task at hand: folding the letter to her mother into perfect thirds and sealing it with green wax and the miniature Black family seal that she kept on her vanity table.

Narcissa, who sat beside Lilith on her giant canopy bed, was less amused by Andromeda’s lack of attention. Her brow knitted in concern as she picked listlessly at a loose thread on her dress sleeve.

“It’s those tests you’ve been doing with Madame Bellevue,” she sighed. “You’ve been so odd ever since you started up the treatment"

“It’s working, though," said Andromeda. "I haven’t had a nightmare since we started.”

This was a half-truth. Lately, Andromeda had gotten in the habit of telling them. The reason that she was visiting the hospital wing every Friday night was to participate in yet another blood transfusion with Ted Tonks, not to seek assistance for her nightmares. But ever since the transfusions had started up, Andromeda hadn’t experienced a single bad dream. She had begun to wonder if there might be some connection between time spent with Ted in the waking world and a lack of the nightmarish dreams in which he appeared. Then she’d been frightened by her wonderings and stopped wondering altogether.

Andromeda set aside the Black family seal and produced a pleasant smile for her roommates.

“Sorry. What were you two talking about?”

“Wedding details, of course,” said Lilith.

Andromeda’s stomach dropped.

“For Lucius and Narcissa,” Lilith added. “Cissa says the bridesmaids dresses will be coral. I’m trying to dissuade her. Ocean foam is a much more flattering color for all skin types. Don’t you agree, Andie?”

Andromeda shrugged apologetically. “I’m not an expert on skin tones. Anyway, it’s Cissa’s choice. You’ll get your own one day, Lil.”

“Maybe,” said Lilith. “Or maybe not. I’m beginning to think I’d rather just take my Daddy’s money and elope. Go on a mind-blowing honeymoon instead. Somewhere exotic. The Caribbean. Chile. Nepal.”

“Nepal?” Narcissa scrunched up her face in disgust. “Why would you want to go there? It’d be freezing and uncomfortable and you’d be far away from all decent types of civilization.”

Lilith frowned. “Wait. Is Nepal not in the Bahamas? Never mind. I thought—Andromedaaa! Why are you heading for the door? Don’t leave us! Surely it won’t hurt to just skip one of those stupid visits. Friday nights were meant for girl talk, not for sleep therapy.”

“Sorry,” said Andromeda, trying to really sound sorry. She lingered in the threshold.“I wish I could stay, but it was the only time that Madame Fin—I mean Madame Bellevue could fit me in.”

Lilith produced a long, pained, demonstrative groan. Narcissa just studied her perfectly manicured nails.

Guilt stung Andromeda. She really did hate that she was lying to her two closest friends. But she couldn’t tell them the truth. She couldn’t tell them about Ted. They wouldn’t understand.

“Tomorrow night?” she suggested. “Let’s make plans for tomorrow night, okay? Girl talk and junk food and bridal magazines. All stops out!”

Lilith stopped groaning. She sniffed.

“Okay,” she conceded. “I suppose that will suffice. But you’re still a complete and utter loser for bailing on us tonight.”

“I’m not bailing,” Andromeda argued. “This was a scheduled appointment, and I—“

Andromeda stopped short. Lilith was just baiting her.

“You two have fun,” she said. “Don’t wait up for me.”

From the Slytherin Common Room, she made a detour to the Owlery, where she sent out the letter to her mother. She should have sent it weeks ago, when the treatment first started up. But Madame Finley had told her to expect a bill at the end of the month, and Andromeda had used this as an excuse to procrastinate. It wasn’t that Andromeda was too worried about her mother’s response: anything request concerning her upcoming nuptials almost guaranteed an automatic ‘yes.’ She’d just been putting off the blow to her pride.

It was too late to rip the letter up now. It was safely in the beak of one of the school owls and on its way to Onyx House. Andromeda tried to push the thought of its contents from her mind. She’d gotten in the habit of pushing lots of things from her mind lately.

Like how, during the last transfusion, Ted’s hand had brushed hers once, briefly, by accident.

Or how the last time they’d spoken, he’d smiled so wide that she thought his face would split into two perfect halves.

Or how he still wasn’t calling her Dromeda.

That shouldn’t have bothered her so much. She didn’t think that Ted was trying to be cruel. It was just that things had been different, before, when he’d called her by that name. Before, she hadn't abandoned him. She hadn’t been engaged. Now he wasn’t in a place to say it anymore. And it was that fact that made it more painful to Andromeda than if Ted had meant to be cruel.

At least they hadn’t argued since that first night. After the first transfusion, they’d steered clear of any talk about their futures. They’d chosen, instead, to talk about classes, about books, about likes and dislikes and cities they wanted to visit and personalities they found to be insufferable and also about things Ted called “movies” and “records.” They just talked.

It was the just talking that made Andromeda look forward to Friday nights more than any other time in the entire rest of her week.

Tonight, her leg jittered as she watched the usual flow of blood begin to wind between her veins and Ted’s. Madame Finley hadn’t found any cure for the excruciating pain that Andromeda endured every time the process began, but Andromeda had found that focusing her energies on another part of her body helped manage the pain.

“Anxious?” Ted asked, nodding to her leg.

He had been watching her carefully, as he always did when the transfusion first started up. Andromeda had learned not to scream anymore, but tears always came to her eyes, no matter how hard she fought them. Ted looked at her that way, she knew, as a way of reassuring her—of telling her that all she needed to do was stay “stop,” and he’d demand that Madame Finley stop the transfusion.

She hated that look. That’s why she never returned it.

“Why would I be anxious?” Andromeda asked. “This is old hat.”

“No,” said Ted. “I meant, anxious to be somewhere else. You seem a bit distracted. I thought perhaps you had plans afterward.”

“Oh.” Andromeda slowed the jittering of her leg. “Oh. No. This just, um—it helps with the pain.”

Ted was right about one thing: she had been distracted, thinking again about the contents of the letter she’d sent and about the mountain of lies and half-truths she’d told Narcissa and Lilith over the past month.

“Is it worse tonight?”

Andromeda closed her eyes. There was something so wrong about deriving so much pleasure from the sound of panicked concern in Ted’s voice.

“It’s fine,” she reassured him. “The usual.”

“If you’re sure.”

Andromeda nodded. She opened her eyes again. “Madame Finley told me that your reports were even stronger on Monday. It really seems like it’s working, doesn’t it? You’ve been fit free for almost a month. No signs of rogue metamorphing. Not even a spell of shortness of breath.”

“None,” Ted said. “But then again, I’m playing it safe. Not allowed to so much as touch a quaffle. Not allowed to transform. It’s been a pretty dull existence.”

Ted’s tone was light, but the words were heavy. They betrayed him. These transfusions may have been painful for Andromeda, but it was daily life that was painful for Ted.

“Only a month more,” she said encouragingly. “Then there will be conclusive results.”

“Whatever that means.”

“Then you can play Quidditch again.”

Ted smiled stiffly. He looked toward the window, where a light snowfall was coating the castle grounds. It had been a long and brutal winter that had pushed its unrelenting grasp well into March.

“You will play again,” Andromeda pressed.

She knew she was entering dangerous territory, but she couldn’t stop herself. To her surprise, Ted’s next words weren’t angry, but subdued.

“I’ve been looking into other options,” he said. “Back up plans. My grades aren’t stellar, so a Ministry job is next to impossible. But I’ve got pretty good marks in Herbology. I’m pretty sure I could land a decent job as a landscaper. Grounds worker. That sort of thing.”

Andromeda waited for Ted to laugh. She waited for him to say that he was only joking. He didn’t.

“Ted,” she said. “What are you even talking about? You’re a fantastic Quidditch player. You’ll get in the pros. Agents aren’t going to just write you off because you had to take some downtime.”

Ted ran his hand through his hair. “No offense, but you don’t know this game like I do. I had a lot riding on that Hufflepuff versus Slytherin game. But it’s not just that. Think about it: this is just a diagnostic period. Once it’s over, it doesn’t mean I’m magically cured of my fits. It’s a chronic condition. It might affect every aspect of my life, and that includes my career. If I’m not fit enough to play on a regular basis, then no team is going to want me. Not even the Chudley Cannons.”

“You don’t know that,” Andromeda insisted.

“Yeah, Andromeda. I do.”

A surge of fresh pain shot through Andromeda’s arm. She winced and looked away, biting back tears.

“There’s no shame in being a grounds worker, you know,” said Ted. “It’s perfectly respectable, working with your hands. My Dad lived by a manual trade, and so does Nelson. In a way, I suppose you could say it’s in my blood.”

Andromeda didn’t reply. She didn’t trust herself to against the pain. Her voice would crack, or she would burst into tears, and that would ruin the entire transfusion.

Ted misinterpreted the silence.

“Look,” he said. “I know that things are different in your social circle, but there’s no shame to me in working for my money. Getting dirty. Doing grunt work. It’s satisfying. I like it. I think I’d be good at it. Of course, I might lose the Quidditch physique.” He snorted. “By the time I’m in my forties I’ll probably have a potbelly and be round at the jaw.”

Andromeda reeled in a gasp, trying hard to push through the aftershocks of the pain.

“Terrifying, I know,” Ted said, misinterpreting the gasp, too. “I pity the future Mrs. Tonks. If I were a good man, I suppose I just wouldn’t marry at all. I wouldn’t want to wish a future, potbellied Ted on anyone.”

At last, Andromeda could risk speech again. Her eyes had dried. She turned back to face Ted.

“You are going to marry, though,” she said. “You’re the marrying type.”

Ted made an odd sort of half-snort, half-cough. “Am I really? And what does that mean?”

“You’re a Hufflepuff for starters,” Andromeda said. “You’re very good looking, but not vain enough to turn girls off. You’re a good listener, which is essential. You’re patient. You put up with an inordinate amount of shit. You value honesty and integrity and commitment. You seem like the kind of fellow who’d do great with kids. Your very essence screams wholesome.”

Ted smirked. “Wholesome, eh?”

Andromeda cursed herself for blushing. But since she was already blushing, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to go ahead and add, “And you’re a good kisser.”

Ted’s smirk disappeared. “Really.”

Andromeda bit her lip. This blush was lasting longer than she’d intended. What in Merlin’s name was she even doing? Was she flirting with him? She was engaged. She was the furthest thing from available, and she knew every reason inside and out for why she shouldn’t even be speaking to Ted Tonks, let along flirting with him. So what was she doing?

Apparently, she was still talking.

“I just mean,” she said, “that you handle that—that sort of thing very well. It isn’t just about the kissing, it’s—you know, it’s the way you touch when you do it. The things you say. The way you make sure everything’s all right. It seems like the sort of thing every girl would want in a husband.”

Oh sweet Salazar, why hadn’t she shut up? Why wasn’t she buried deep within the ground where she would never see the light of day again? Why was she still talking?

“And, I mean, I’m sure I’m not the only who would say that,” Andromeda fumbled on, attempting some form of damage control. “I imagine that your girlfriends all felt the same.”

“Other girlfriends?”

Ted hadn’t stopped staring at her. His expression was unreadable.

Andromeda shrugged. “You know. Like that girl from your Quidditch team. Eisley?”

Ted raised an eyebrow. “How do you know Eisley?”

“I met her that night when you had the really bad attack. She was out there with the rest of the team, and George made it sound like the two of you—“

“It wasn’t good for the team dynamics.”

“Oh.”

“Of course, now that I’m essentially off the team…”

Ted looked contemplative. Andromeda felt an unaccountable panic rise up in her throat.

“If that’s your type,” she muttered.

“If what’s my type?”

“She seemed like a bitch to me.”

Ted smiled. “I didn’t say she wasn’t.”

“So that is your type.”

“I don’t think of ‘bitch’ as a bad thing,” he said. “Most people use that word when they’re really just describing some girl who’s smart and independent and who doesn’t take shit from anyone. And yes. That is my type.”

“Oh.” Andromeda forced a nod. “Then Eisley must be pretty great.”

Ted gave Andromeda a long, hard stare. Her stomach turned to purée.

“I’m not talking about Eisley.”

A new shock of pain burned through Andromeda’s arm. She lurched forward with a violent hiss.

“Andromeda?”

She waved him off, trying desperately to ride out the stinging sensation sweeping from her arm to her chest.

“Madame Finley!” Ted shouted.

A hurried click-clacking approached them. Madame Finley pushed back the partition.

“What is it?”

“Merlin, can’t you see for yourself?” Ted’s voice was strained. “She’s suffering. It shouldn’t hurt her like this.”

Madame Finley sighed. “I’ve told you this a dozen times, Mr. Tonks, the procedure works on different subjects in different ways. It’s nearly over. Just a little more time, and we’ll—there. See?”

The encircled threads of blood had completed their paths and disappeared entirely into Ted's and Andromeda' veins. Madame Finley set about wrapping their arms with gauze in crisp, efficient movements.

“How’re we feeling, Miss Black?” she asked.

Andromeda nodded weakly. “It’s fine. I’m better now.”

Ted crossed his arms sulkily. “There has to be a better way than this. Isn’t there some spell or potion that can ease the pain?”

“They would interfere with the procedure,” Madame Finley said, showing no real sign of concern.

Finished with her work, the Healer straightened and picked up a thin, tightly wound scroll from a nearby table. She handed it over to Andromeda.

“You’ll find all of the expenses itemized within,” she said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a long list of patients to get back to at St. Mungo’s.”

She didn’t stay to watch Andromeda’s face flush bright red. She just click-clacked away, leaving Andromeda and Ted in silence.

Andromeda could feel Ted’s gaze burning into the side of her face. She tried to remain unaffected. She got to her feet and slipped the scroll inside her school satchel. Internally, she was seething. She had told the Madame Finley specifically, more than once, that the billing was private, that she didn’t wanted Ted to know about it. The woman may have been partially responsible for saving Ted’s life, but that didn’t mean that Andromeda didn’t despise her.

She smoothed out her pleated green skirt and turned to Ted with a pleasant smile.

“I suppose we’ll see each other next Friday, then.”

Ted hadn’t moved from his chair. He was still staring at her, his gaze hard, his body tense.

“What expenses?”

Andromeda shrugged. “It’s something I asked her to do for me, that’s all. A little sleep study of my own. It’s nothing to do with you, Ted.”

“A sleep study?” Ted got to his feet.  “Madame Finley doesn’t specialize in sleep studies. She specializes in rare transformative disorders.”

"I really need to go,” she whispered, turning heel.

With determined steps, Andromeda strode down the hospital wing. She heard Ted behind her, but she didn’t look back or slow her pace. He hurried to keep up with her all the way through the hospital doors and into the corridor.

“Andromeda, wait.”

Ted reached out, fingers grazing her arm. Instinctually, Andromeda thought of Rabastan. She thought of the way he’d gripped her wrist before in the Slytherin corridors. She shirked away violently.

“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, spinning around to face him.

Startled, Ted stepped back. His eyes were wide with confusion. “Are you still in pain?”

“Of course I am!”

“You shouldn’t be. We should call back Madame Finley and have her look at—“

Andromeda's laugh was shrill and strangled. She shook her head, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyelids.

“God, you don’t get it. You don’t. It’s not from the procedure. It’s everywhere. It’s all the time.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m not asking you to. Just leave me alone, all right?”

She tried to take a step away, but Ted still followed.

“What expenses, Andromeda?” he pressed. “What sort of money are you paying Madame Finley?”

“It’s nothing I can’t handle,” Andromeda said, giving up her attempt to escape and crossing her arms petulantly. “It’s none of your concern.”

“You seem to be paying for my medical treatment,” Ted said. “So yeah, it is my concern. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You know why. You wouldn’t have been able to afford it, Ted, and you wouldn’t have accepted money from me or from George. You would’ve refused treatment, and I couldn’t let that happen. I asked you to let me help you, and you said I could.”

“Because I thought you were just talking about the transfusions.”

“This isn’t much different.”

“It’s completely different!” Ted shouted. “Your blood is unique. I couldn’t get that treatment anywhere else. But I can earn my own money.”

“Where? At that factory, where your brother works? It would take you years and years to pay this bill off.”

“But it’d be my own money,” Ted argued. “I could’ve set up a payment plan with Madame Finley. I would’ve worked something out. Instead, you go behind my back and try to pick up the cost like I’m a charity case.”

“We’ve been over this before. You know I don’t think of you that way.”

“Then how do you think of me?”

“I don’t know!”

“Am I a project? An investment? Some kind of novelty?”

“No!” Anger burned in her chest. Ted wasn’t being fair. “No, you’re not any of those things.”

“Then what am I to you? What makes you think you can pay for me without my knowledge? What gives you that right?”

Andromeda didn’t know what it was that propelled her forward, or what semblance of rational thought could’ve possibly been flitting through her brain. But she stepped forward. She grabbed Ted by his shirt. She kissed him. And he kissed her back.

The warmth that had been building in Andromeda’s chest now burst into spiraling heat, and she wondered how she could’ve forgotten what this felt like, to be kissed by Ted Tonks. It was right. Resolve to a series of discordant chords. That first touch between a wand and its proper owner. A solution after hours spent agonizing over an Arithmancy problem. Right in every way.

And then, abruptly, the kiss was over. It took Andromeda a hazy moment to realize that Ted had pulled away.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. He took another step back. “No. You can’t do this to me. I’m not snogging you in drafty corridors while you’re wearing his ring. I’m not going to be that bloke, you understand?”

“Ted, I—“

“What’s the point, Andromeda? You aren’t going to leave him. So what, is he just not adequate with his tongue?”

“No!” Andromeda cried. “I—I mean, no, that doesn’t have anything to do with this.”

Ted laughed hoarsely. “It has everything to do with this. I’m trying to get over you here, Andromeda. I get that these transfusions are necessary, but don’t be a complete sadist and kiss me like that. Don’t rub it in my face.”

“I wasn’t trying to rub—“

“Then what were you trying to do?” Ted countered. “We both know that you will never choose to be with me. I’m not part of your plan. So what the hell were you trying accomplish just now?”

“I wasn’t thinking, all right? It just happened. It just seemed—it seemed right.” Tears pricked her eyes, which only made Andromeda angrier. “It always seems right when it’s you.”

Ted laughed again. “So, what, you’re just used to doing whatever feels right? You’ve grown up getting everything you want, and now I’m on that list—just something on the side of your rocky relationship to Lestrange. What were you planning? Turning me into your manslave while Lestrange has his mistresses?”

“Oh, don’t be so common,” Andromeda snapped.

In the long stretch of silence that followed, Andromeda realized just what an awful word choice that had been. Ted formed a tight smile. He shrugged.

“Yeah, well, surprise for you: I’m as common they come.”

“I didn’t meant it that way,” she whispered, reaching out to him.

This time, it was Ted who shirked away.

“You know what? I’ve tried so damn hard to fall out of love with you. I’ve reminded myself of every foul thing you ever did to me, ever said. I’ve pictured you as your older sister. But then transfusion day comes, and it doesn’t matter how much I’ve taught myself to hate you, I can never end up doing it. I just fall harder than before. And then. Then you have the fucking nerve to kiss me. Like you didn’t know how it would affect me. What it would do to me.”

“I told you," Andromeda pleaded, "I just wasn’t thinking.”

“No, you weren’t,” he said. “You never will think about me, will you? You have your priorities. It’s your precious grades and your engagement and your reputation. And if you had to choose between me and any of those, you’d choose the others every single time.”

“That isn’t fair,” Andromeda insisted. “It isn’t just a simple choice between you and Lestrange! This is my family.”

“So tell me you choose Lestrange and your family. Tell me, and I’ll never bring it up again. I’ll try to ignore everything else that’s tying us together, that draws us to each other over and over. I won’t think about that night in London again, and I’ll just stick it out, unrequited. But if you don’t tell me, I am going to fight for you. I’m going to fight fucking hard for you.”

Andromeda took a step back, her back going flush with the corridor wall. A tear slipped down her cheek. Then another.

Andromeda summoned all the will power that she could. She wiped away the tears from her face.

“Don’t,” she whispered. “Don’t fight for me.”

She saw her reply settle on Ted’s features, a cold and unwelcome thing.

“Right then,” he said.

He turned and walked away.

“Ted!” Andromeda called. “That doesn’t mean you’re calling off the procedure, does it? Ted?”

He didn’t reply. He walked on until the dark of the corridor swallowed him up.



Andromeda found Rabastan in the Slytherin common room with his usual mates—Yaxley, Flint, and Malfoy. As seventh years, they had full reign over Slytherin territory, and tonight they had commandeered the best sofa nearest the fire. They were taking sips out of engraved goblets that Andromeda knew contained contraband Firewhisky. There wasn’t a prefect in the entire house that would turn them in. Lucius, after all, was the most senior prefect of them all.

She approached the boys softly, trying hard to make out their conversation before they became aware of her. A day hadn’t passed that Andromeda hadn’t thought about Reginald’s words to her in the south wing turret. The Hogsmeade trip had been postponed until the first week of April. That was now only one week away, and until now Andromeda still hadn’t figured out what she could possibly do with information that the Knights of Walpurgis intended to harm innocent students.

She hadn’t known what to do until one day ago, when she’d concocted her plan. She couldn’t let what had passed between her and Ted affect that. If she didn’t try out her plan now, she never would.

“…much more potent if you combine it with bay leaf and nightshade,” Lucius was saying, just before he caught sight of Andromeda.

His words tapered off into a stiff, polite smile, and he nodded over to Rabastan. “It would seem your fiancée wants a word, Lestrange.”

Rabastan, who had his back to Andromeda, now turned around. He looked only mildly surprised.

“Andromeda, dear,” he said. “Are you well? I thought you were conducting your sleep sessions with Madame Bellevue.”

“We finished early,” Andromeda said hurriedly. “Rabastan, can I speak to you? In—in private?”

Flint and Yaxley glanced at each other. Flint snickered. Lucius, who looked exceedingly bored by recent developments, just poked at the fire with an iron rod.

Rabastan gave a short sigh. “Is it really that important, or can it wait until morning?”

“It’s really that important,” Andromeda insisted, though the voice she used was soft and pliant, not curt like it had been since the engagement.

Perhaps it was the tone that caught Rabastan’s attention. Or perhaps he was simply bored enough with his companions. Whatever the case, Rabastan rose from the couch and followed Andromeda through the common room, into one of the deserted stairwells that led down to the boys’ dormitories.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she said quickly. “Nothing is wrong. In fact—the thing is that I’ve been thinking about—about conversations we’ve had? About your involvement with the Knights of Walpurgis?”

“Haven’t I told you?” Rabastan asked. “Our leader has chosen a different name for his followers now. He calls us Death Eaters. It has a marvelous ring to it, doesn’t it?”

Andromeda tried not to wince. “It does, rather,” she agreed instead. “Anyway, I realized that I’ve been unduly harsh with you about the whole thing. I haven’t been supportive of you.”

Rabastan snorted. “What then? Are we playacting at being supportive now?”

“Rabastan, we’re going to be married. I think it’s clear that neither of us is particularly enthused with the prospect, but I’ve been giving it more thought, and—and I really do think that if we want any chance at future success than we both need to learn to be a little more supportive and respecting of each other.”

Rabastan’s expression was unreadable.

“What’s brought about this change of heart?”

Andromeda shook her head. “I don’t know. I suppose I was just thinking of the way things used to be between us. I really did like you. I thought I was so lucky to have found a man my parents hadn’t handpicked for me back then.”

“But that changed.”

“You were cheating on me,” she whispered. “It had to change.”

“I told you then, none of those other girls meant anything to me. None of them had your pedigree, your elegance. If they had, I’d be dating them. Doesn't that  count for something?”

Andromeda was trembling. She pressed her hand to her forehead, trying to sweep aside thoughts of Ted. Why was he intruding into her mind at the most inconvenient time? Right now, she was supposed to be focusing on playing nice with Rabastan, on coaxing information from him.

She realized that Rabastan had taken a step closer to her. He reached out now to touch her elbow, and Andromeda was startled by how tender the motion was. She swallowed hard.

“Aren’t you tired of your power play, Andie?” Rabastan asked. “Merlin knows I am. You and I might actually stand a chance of being happy if we started fresh, on the same footing.”

Andromeda felt lightheaded as she looked up into Rabastan’s harsh green eyes. Torchlight suited his already handsome features. She remembered now, for the first time in ages, the way he’d sent her heart pattering in their fifth year, the way one of his self-assured smiles had filled her chest with longing. There had been a time when this felt so sure and certain, where she thought she had what Lucius and Narcissa now had.

And then, unwelcome, Ted’s voice creeped into her mind: A girl that I’ve stupidly fallen for and can’t get over.

She shook the voice away. That wasn’t possible. What was standing in front of her was.

She took the next step, closer to Rabastan, her eyes fixed steadily on his.

“Kiss me,” she requested.

A smile that she hadn’t seen touch Rabastan’s face for months now resurfaced.

“With pleasure,” he whispered, and he closed the distance left between them.

It was like a memory. It was a memory of all their kisses before this one, of all the nights out on the bleachers of the Quidditch pitch and the whispers they’d shared in a corner of the common room and the time he’d sent her pot of azaleas just because she’d mentioned offhand that she liked their color.

It was a kiss that she was allowed to have. Allowed to give. That was fully approved and sanctioned and that would make her family happy. And it was a good kiss. It was soft and not at all demanding. And when it was over, Andromeda pulled Rabastan back for another. And another. Their breaths grew shorter, and an unprecedented feeling through Andromeda’s veins, and for the first time with Rabastan, she was the one who wanted more.

“No one will bother us,” Rabastan reassured her as he’d ghosted them down the spiraling stairs. “They know not to. We’re the ones who make the rules now. We’re seventh years. We’ve earned it.”

Behind a locked dormitory door, their hands explored places that they hadn’t permitted themselves to in the stairwell. It was all silent and hurried, frenetic in its pace and startling in its brevity. And when it was over, Rabastan actually held her—the last thing that Andromeda had been expecting. He stroked her bare shoulder, and he kissed her ear, and he’d told her that nothing compared to her.

Andromeda closed her eyes and tried to imagine this scene a year and five years from now, as a wife and as a mother. And she could picture it all. She could picture it so well, feel it so clearly, like a living taste on her mouth. She could sense the presence beside her. In the dim, breathless afterglow, she’d opened her mouth and spoken his name.

Only the name wasn’t Rabastan’s.



Author's Note: Hello, lovely readers! Thanks to each and every one of you who's stuck with the story this far. You may have noticed that updates are coming at a slower (aka normal :]) rate, but never fear, I'm still fully devoted to Tedromeda's story! As always, I love and appreciate your reviews.


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