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Chapter 28 : Hogsmeade
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All the same, as Andromeda slipped her clothes back onto her frigid, goosebumped body, she cursed herself for her slip of the tongue. She had just slept with Rabastan, her fiancé, not Muggleborn Ted Tonks. If Rabastan had been awake, Merlin only knew what he would’ve done. Andromeda had become all too familiar with the dark magic Rabastan now dabbled in on a daily basis.
Andromeda smoothed out her skirt as best she could with a tidying spell. She combed through her hair with her bare fingers, then cast a rudimentary beautifying spell, using the night-darkened dormitory window to check her reflection. She cast one more glance at a sleeping Rabastan before heading to the door.
She undid the lock, and as she did, she wondered if Rabastan and his roommates had some sort of code to signify to one another when a girl was in the room. Then, unwillingly, she wondered if Rabastan had brought other girls to this room. To his bed. Girls like Georgiana. Her stomach clenched and, suddenly queasy, Andromeda pushed open the door, desperate to get out.
“Leaving so soon?”
She froze, then slowly turned around to find Rabastan propped up in bed.
“How rude," he said, tilting up a cocky smirk.
“I’m just tired,” Andromeda said softly, “and I’m sure your roommates will want the use of their dormitory before it gets much later.”
Rabastan nodded archly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, though? We could head down to Hogsmeade together and have lunch, just the two of us.”
“Lovely,” said Andromeda, trying to keep her voice even. “That sounds lovely.”
Without another word, she hurried out and slammed the door shut behind her. The corridor was empty. Andromeda padded down it, keeping an eye out to her left and right. The last thing she wanted right now was to run into some Slytherin oaf in the boys’ corridor. She’d heard other Slytherin girls about taking the walk of shame back from this hallway to their own, warmer, better lit nook of Slytherin living quarters. She just never imagined that she would be one of those girls.
Strange aches had begun to settle over Andromeda's body as she walked. It hadn’t been nearly as painful as Andromeda thought her first time would be, but it hadn’t been particularly easy either. Andromeda had always thought that, when the time came, she’d be hyper aware of every little detail, of every sensation. But in actuality, sex with Rabastan had been a jumble of sound and touch and blurred sight. It had been fumbling and uncertainty and want, want, want. She had wanted Rabastan. She had wanted everything that followed.
So why did it feel so wrong now?
Why didn’t she want it now like she had then?
A dry, stinging sensation crackled in Andromeda’s throat. She held her chilled arms closer, trying not to panic over a single thought: We didn’t use protection.
And after that thought came the most blisteringly painful thought of all, a staccato syllable that tore through her mind: Ted.
You’ve no reason to panic, she insisted to herself. It was just once. Rabastan couldn’t have possibly gotten you pregnant. Anyway, he’s your fiancé. He’s the one you’re supposed to be sleeping with, not Ted Tonks.
Andromeda started up the stairs that led out of the boys’ dormitories, her eyes filling with unshed tears. She didn’t see someone coming down the stairs until it was too late and she had knocked into the girl’s shoulder.
“Oof. It’s a two-way stairway, bitc—“ Lilith cut off her scathing remark, her eyes widening at the sight of Andromeda. “Whooa. Oh my god, Andie? What are you doing down here?”
Hastily, Andromeda blotted at the tears hanging on her lashes. Lilith came down a step, placing a gentle hand on Andromeda’s arm.
“Were you here with—with Rabastan?” Lilith’s voice had lowered to a dramatic whisper.
Andromeda considered pushing past Lilith. She considered telling her friend to leave her alone, that this was none of her business. But she was too tired for that. She was too worn and too confused and too upset. Upset with Rabastan, with Ted, and most of all with herself. She threw her arms around Lilith’s neck and began to cry.
“Okay,” said Lilith, her voice muffled by Andromeda’s thick hair. “Okay, okay. Let’s get you back to our place, huh?”
Lilith hooked one arm around Andromeda’s waist and the other under her shoulder. Then, slowly, she turned back around and began to lead Andromeda up the dormitory steps.
“It’s all right,” she whispered soothingly, despite Andromeda’s snot-filled, convulsive sobs. “Shhh. It’s all right, darling. Nothing a good cup of cider and a girl chat with your bestie can’t fix, hm? FUCK OFF, GOYLE. STOP STARING.”
Footsteps scurried away, down the stairs. Andromeda just pressed her face deeper against Lilith’s shoulder, humiliated at the thought of fellow Slytherins seeing her this way—even stupid, sniveling fourth years like Quintus Goyle. She let Lilith guide her steps until, much sooner than Andromeda had expected, they set foot inside the dry warmth of her bedroom.
Lilith led Andromeda over to her bed and settled down with her on the edge of the velvet duvet. She pushed back Andromeda’s matted hair from her face, and Andromeda blinked at the unwelcome intrusion of light.
A fire was crackling in the corner fireplace, and Lilith busied herself with casting a lighting spell on the room’s lamps. She then grabbed a quilt from her own bed and wrapped it snugly around a sniffling Andromeda’s shoulders.
“I—I’m sorry,” Andromeda said. “I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I didn’t meant to come apart like that, I just—“
“Oh, hush,” Lilith said, waving Andromeda into silence. “Don’t you dare apologize, Andie. You’re one the most low maintenance girls in this entire house. You’ve been a peach of a friend to me and listened to me whine for ages and ages about boys. The least I can do is let you cry on my shoulder this once.”
Andromeda wiped away an unsightly trail of snot from above her upper lip. Next thing she knew, Lilith was handing her a handkerchief and, after that, a pewter mug of piping hot apple cider.
“There now,” she said. “That should help.”
Lilith crawled up on the bed next to Andromeda and fluffed the pillows behind her back. Finally satisfied with her work, she snuggled by Andromeda’s side.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she murmured.
A tear dripped off of Andromeda’s chin and landed in the cider with a plop.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” she whispered.
“Andie,” Lilith said, straightening up a bit, “please don’t be angry at me, but I need to ask it, just once: Rabastan didn’t—didn’t force himself on you, did he? Because I swear, if he did, I will personally cut off his—“
“No!” Andromeda interrupted, going bright scarlet. “No, no, it wasn’t anything like that. It was—I don’t know, I suppose ultimately it was all my idea. I don’t remember how it began, really. I was just so upset, and then we were kissing, and I suddenly didn’t want to stop this time. I just wanted to forget.”
“Forget what?” Lilith asked softly.
Andromeda shook her head. “No one. Never mind.”
“So you wanted to forget a person.”
“Lili, I said never mind,” Andromeda choked out.
Lilith grew very quiet. She placed a hand on Andromeda’s back and began to rub circles against her spine.
“I’m sorry,” Lilith whispered. “I feel like I haven’t really been there for you. I mean, I can guilt you as much as I want about girl time, but half the nights I’m out with one of those boys, and the truth is that they're never worth the effort. And I’ve felt you pulling away these past months. I’ve felt it, and I’ve known there was something you weren’t telling me, but I never asked you what it I was.”
“I probably wouldn’t have told you,” Andromeda whispered, “even if you did ask.”
Lilith went silent again. Then she shifted so that she was looking Andromeda in the eyes.
“Is this about that Muggleborn? The Hufflepuff you went to see in the hospital wing?”
Andromeda sniffed. “You knew about that?”
“Cissa told me.”
Narcissa. Andromeda knew that her sister must have suspected something, too.
“I care for him,” Andromeda murmured, barely loud enough to hear herself. “I care for him a very great deal.”
Lilith whistled lowly. She placed her hand to her forehead. “Sweet Salazar.”
“You can’t tell anyone,” Andromeda said vehemently. “It doesn’t matter what I feel. I’m not stupid enough to think anything could work out between the two of us. I’m engaged to Rabastan. I should be focusing on my future, on the marriage. That’s what I was trying to do tonight.”
“You were focusing on your future—by having sex with Rabastan?”
Andromeda glared at Lilith. “You’re one to point the finger.”
“I’m not pointing the finger!” Lilith yelped. “No judgment. I just thought you despised Rabastan after what he did to you. Any girl would. The last thing I was expecting was that you’d sleep with him, that’s all.”
“I wasn’t expecting it either,” Andromeda whispered. “It just—it happened so quickly. I didn’t ever think it would be that way. I thought I would know it was coming, weeks in advance. That it’d be something special.”
“Did he hurt you?” Lilith asked lowly. “Really, Andie. Don’t be afraid to tell me.”
She shook her head. “No, that’s just it. He was surprisingly—good about the whole thing. But then afterward, I couldn’t stay there. He fell asleep, and I just—left.”
“And then you ran into me.”
Lilith released a long sigh. “You did all that just to forget that Muggleborn?”
“I don’t know.” Andromeda ducked her head. “I was so upset with Ted. I was so angry and just confused. And on top of all of that, there was this business about the Knights and Hogsmeade—“
“Whoa, whoa. Back up. What Knights? What about Hogsmeade?”
“Rabastan is part of this group,” she whispered.
“The Knights of Walpurgis?” Lilith guessed. “Yeah, it’s become quite a talking point lately. Not so much of a secret society anymore.”
“Did you know what they’re planning to do at Hogsmeade this weekend?” she asked. “They’re going to torture innocent students. They’re planning on practicing unforgivables.”
Lilith’s brow knitted. “Who told you that? Rabastan?”
“No. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Rabastan confessed it to me on his own. I’m sure he would be proud about it. That’s why I was talking to him tonight in the first place. I thought I could get information out of him about which students they were going to target.”
“Sooo,” said Lilith, “you slept with him for information?”
“I didn’t mean to,” Andromeda said. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen!”
She collapsed against her pillows, clanging her now emptied cider glass on the bedside table. She threw her arms over her face and let out a visceral groan.
Lilith said nothing. When Andromeda looked up again, she saw only her friend’s silhouette against the lamplight.
“Do you love him?” Lilith whispered. “The Muggleborn?”
Andromeda’s breath hitched. She considered, then reconsidered her reply.
“He has a name,” she finally said. “It’s Ted.”
Lilith whipped back her head to face Andromeda. “Do you love him?”
“Merlin, Lili,” Andromeda said, laughing uneasily. “I thought you didn’t even believe in love.”
“I don’t believe that I will ever fall in love,” Lilith corrected. “But I had hopes that you would. I just always assumed it’d be with some dishy Slytherin aristo.”
“I’m engaged to Rabastan.”
“That doesn’t mean you love him. In fact, I was under the impression that you barely even liked Rabastan after what he’d done to you. That this engagement was completely against your will. So answer me straight, Andie: do you love the Muggleborn named Ted?”
Andromeda buried herself back in the pillows. Then the words poured out. “Of course I love him. I—I think I’ve loved him for months now. And I think he loves me. Or at least he used to, before I ruined everything. But it’s too late now, so don’t worry, I’m not going to let you and Cissa down by—“
She was cut off by a sudden pressure on her chest. Lilith had thrown herself onto Andromeda and now clutched her by the shoulders.
“Thank God!” Lilith cried. “If you’d been spending all this time gallivanting behind our backs with that boy and didn’t even have the decency to fall in love, I’d disown you as a friend, right here and now.”
Andromeda blinked in wordless surprise. “W-w-what are you talking about?”
“Do you know how lucky you are?” Lilith demanded. “To find someone you love that much? To spend an entire holiday with him and cover it up around your girlfriends? To go sneaking off every Friday night to visit him in the hospital wing? To be willing to lie to your best friend just to keep your forbidden love a secret?”
“Lilith,” said Andromeda, “you’re frightening me. I can’t tell if you’re happy or angry with me.”
“I suppose it’s a bit of both,” Lilith said. “Honestly, did you really think I was so dense that I didn’t follow you one of those Friday nights? Here I’ve been, trying to find some grandiose love story of my own with every seventh year imaginable, and you’re the one with the most bizarre love story of all.”
“This isn’t something to be remotely jealous about!” Andromeda said. “Lilith, do you understand the position I’m in? I’m engaged to Rabastan. I just slept with Rabastan. Ted doesn’t have a trace of pureblood and, more than that, he’s a metamorphmagus freak. My family would disown me if I chose Ted. They wouldn’t think twice. And disownment would be the kindest of all possible choices. If Rabastan found out, he could very well murder Ted on the spot.”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” said Lilith. “Rabastan hasn’t got the balls to do something like that."
“Lilith, this is serious. How can you be so insensitive? You’re a pureblood. You know the expectations. You should be livid with me. You should tell me that Ted Tonks is scum, that I need to wise up and devote myself to Rabastan.”
“Um, devote yourself to a sleazy asshat?” Lilith snorted. “Rabastan deserves to die a slow death after what he did to you. He’s a cheater, and I consider it sweet revenge that his perfect fiancé shares his bed, then turns around and elopes with a Mudblood. It’s too perfect.”
“Don’t call him that,” Andromeda snapped.
“What?” Lilith blinked rapidly, bewildered. “Mudblood? Goodness, you have got it bad for this Ted fellow, haven’t you?”
Andromeda began to cry again.
"Oh, darling!" Lilith wrapped her arms around Andromeda’s middle. “I didn’t mean to set you off again. It’s just, you’ve been so bloody miserable lately. You’ve worked so hard for your grades, for your future. It’s just been, I dunno, painful to watch you throw it all away. I want you to be happy, that’s all. And if it’s with a Mud—errrr—Muggleborn, then why not? You don’t really believe that they have five hundred venereal diseases and are a blight on human civilization, do you? I’ve dated my share of halfbloods, and they’re perfectly nice.”
“Lili, why didn’t you ever tell me that?” Andromeda asked. “I thought you and Cissa would kill me if you knew about Ted. I thought you’d disapprove. I thought you’d never talk to me again.”
Lilith shrugged. “I can’t speak for Cissa. But as for me, I say screw purism. Your happiness is way more important than your pedigree.”
“Is it?” Andromeda whispered. “If I break off the engagement with Rabastan, I lose everything. My family made it clear that they’ll cut all ties with me.”
“So, what,” said Lilith, “you love your preening old mum more than Ted the Muggleborn? And your decrepit old grandfather? That deranged aunt of yours?”
“I love Cissa.” Andromeda’s voice cracked on the name. “And she won’t accept this like you. She’ll hate me, Lili. She’ll despise me.”
“But you owe her the truth,” Lilith argued. “She knows something’s up with you, Andie, same as I've known. You’re a terrible liar. Don’t you think it’s better to just tell her what’s going on than keep driving a rift between the two of you? We all used to be able to tell each other everything.”
“I can’t tell Cissa this,” said Andromeda. “She’ll think I’m a blood traitor. I won’t lose her like that.”
“Yes, but mayhaps you've underestimated Cissa. She’s stronger than you think, Andie. Perhaps she loves you more than she loves the Black family tree. Did you ever consider that?”
Andromeda wiped at her eyes. “So what? You’re telling me to just risk it?”
Lilith shrugged. “I can’t tell you what to do. But what I can do is draw a piping hot bath for you, hm? I think one is most certainly in order. And afterward, we’ll get you snug in bed, and we won’t talk about your romantic drama any further. We’ll move on to a different topic.”
Lilith grinned conspiratorially. “Showing up those bastards at Hogsmeade.”
After Andromeda’s bath, the girls reconvened on Lilith’s bed, the curtains drawn. Of the five boys Lilith had dated in the past year, two of them had been members of the newly named Death Eaters. One of them, the most recent, had been Achilles Yaxley.
“I didn’t even know you two were together,” Andromeda said.
“Just physically,” said Lilith, waving dismissively. “But I heard him mention plans for Hogsmeade. He got really drunk sometimes before we, well, you know. He says that their leader—they’re calling him the Dark Lord?—ordered for them to practice on some students, just like your mysterious source reported. Now, I’m all for a healthy helping of the Dark Arts. Honestly, I don’t see the harm in some darker spells now and again, and Hogwarts has a reputation for being unreasonably uptight about that sort of thing. But what Achilles mentioned made me feel uncomfortable.”
“But you weren’t going to do anything about it?” Andromeda asked.
“What was I supposed to do?” Lilith demanded. “Tattle to a professor? Stalk Achilles and the rest of them the entire Hogsmeade visit? I reasoned it wasn’t any of my business. But now that you know about it, too, we might be able to swing something. A little payback for Rabastan and Achilles. Ruin their perfect little plan.”
It was now that Andromeda understood: Lilith wasn’t doing this to save innocent students. She was doing it for revenge. That realization was, at least, more in keeping with the Lilith that Andromeda thought she knew. She was still trying to reconcile herself with the idea of a Lilith who actually encouraged her to end up with Ted Tonks. And she was trying desperately not to think about the fact that she’d admitted, out loud, for the very first time, a most inconvenient truth: she loved Ted.
Hogsmeade was a welcome distraction to the missteps and conflicted emotions of the past twenty-four hours.
“What exactly did Achilles do to you to make you break up?” Andromeda asked Lilith.
Lilith sighed. “Nothing really. He jut got too clingy. He’s such a sap, and he's convinced he has the Sight. He was always predicting bright and happy shit for my future. He treated me like a princess.”
Andromeda blinked. “I thought most girls liked that.”
“I am not a princess,” said Lilith. “I’m a badass, and if a man can’t treat me like that, he isn’t worth my time.”
Andromeda didn’t argue the matter further. She refocused on their plan for the next day.
“We have to come up with a way to keep tabs on them without being conspicuous,” said Andromeda. “I think Rabastan may know that I’m onto him.”
“Well,” said Lilith, “now that you and Rabastan are all kissy-kissy, can’t you use that to your advantage? Say you want some fiancé time with him.”
“He already invited me on a lunch date,” she said.
“Perfect. Then when he inevitably excuses himself to hang out with the fellows, you’ll know that’s when they’re going to conduct their little experiments. You can get the signal to me, and then I can follow Rabastan to where the other Death Eaters are meeting.”
“And when we do find them?” said Andromeda. “What then?”
“The moment we see them perform an illegal spell, we get word to one of the professor chaperones. We should be able to get an adult to the scene in five minutes, tops. Then they’ll be busted, but we’ll remain anonymous. It’s perfect.”
“But that means that at least one of those students will have to suffer for five minutes, Lilith. What if they perform a cruciatus? Some innocent will still have to endure mortal agony."
Lilith sighed. “Well, it’s better than nothing. It’s the only plan I can come up with that won’t reveal us as the snitches. Have you got something better?”
“No,” Andromeda admitted. “I don’t. But I do know a way to make the plan more secure."
“I’ll work on it tomorrow morning.”
There was the sound of a faint click. The dormitory door was opening. Lilith ripped back a bed curtain to reveal Narcissa, dressed in one of her silk, burgundy gowns, her hair perfectly arranged in a curly bun. She was back from one of her dates with Lucius.
“What are you two doing?” Narcissa asked, her brow slightly crinkled.
Lilith turned back to Andromeda, expectant. She mouthed the words “You should tell her.”
But Andromeda shook her head.
“Nothing important,” she piped up. “Just talking about Lilith’s new crush.”
Andromeda rose early, before dawn, and readied herself for the day. She bundled up in warm clothes, all hues of lavender and rose. She spent a full hour on her hair and beauty charms. Then, just as Narcissa and Lilith were stirring, she left the dormitory and headed to the corridor outside the Hufflepuff common room. Any and all Hufflepuffs headed to the Great Hall for a pre-Hogsmeade breakfast would have to pass that way.
Andromeda hoped for two things: that George was a breakfast eater, and that he wouldn’t be hanging around Ted this morning.
Both of her wishes were granted.
After half an hour of waiting, spent avoiding the curious stares of some of the passersby, Andromeda spotted George walking on his own. She hurried after him. George looked askance at her and kept walking.
“Black,” he acknowledged.
“George,” she said, “I don’t know what Ted’s told you, but—“
“What is Ted supposed to have told me?”
“Um,” Andromeda shook her head. “Nothing.”
“He said the transfusions were going all right,” George said, his voice beginning to strain with concern. “Did something go wrong last night?”
“What? No! No, not at all. Everything’s fine.”
Half-truths, it seemed, had become Andromeda’s native tongue.
“This actually isn’t about Ted,” she amended. “I was rather hoping that I’d find you alone.”
“Mm,” said George. “Words I want to hear from a lady, but not from you.”
“Well, you got your wish. Ted and I were supposed to head to breakfast together, but he stood me up. I haven’t seen him since yesterday afternoon. He’s been moping around lately because of Quidditch, so I just figured I’d give him some space.”
Andromeda nodded. “He told me he was thinking of landscaping?”
“He’s a fucking idiot,” George observed calmly. “Even with his ‘condition,’ he's still one of the best chasers out there. He’s given up.”
“And he won’t listen to your advice,” Andromeda guessed.
George shrugged. “Ted will be Ted. So, er, why exactly were you stalking me?”
Andromeda glanced around the crowded corridor. She motioned George toward a nearby alcove.
“Can I talk to you in private?”
George raised his eyebrows, but he followed Andromeda to the alcove. Once they had gained some semblance of privacy, Andromeda explained everything that she knew about Hogsmeade, including her and Lilith’s plan. As she’d expected, George had been leery at first. Then he’d cussed a lot.
And at last, he looked her in the eye and asked, “Why are you telling me this? Aren’t you, like, on the side of those assholes?”
Andromeda shook her head vehemently. “No, that’s just it. Lili and I want to get them caught. I don’t want innocent students hurt any more than you do. Neither does Lilith. But we can’t very well just catch them in the act and challenge them to a duel. Lilith and I still have to keep up our rep—“
“Reputation,” George cut in. “Yeah, I get it. So, what, you want me to be the snitch? Do you know what that lot would do to me the moment I came on the scene? They’d obliterate me. I’m not a particularly skilled wizard, Andromeda. You know that. How am I supposed to bust a bunch of dark-wizards-in-training?"
“I’m not asking you to bust them,” said Andromeda. “I just want you to join me and Lilith. It will be completely anonymous, I swear. They won’t find out that you were involved. It’s just that having a third person would really help. We need a lookout, someone who can tell if the boys are onto us, who can keep an eye out for the nearest proessor or responsible adult.”
George rubbed his forehead. “This is, without a doubt, the strangest request I’ve ever heard.”
“Please, George,” Andromeda pleaded. “I know you’re not big on altruism or whatever, but you’re the only one I could think of to ask. All the rest of my friends are Slytherin purists. They would want something like this to happen. But I don’t. Please believe me, George.”
“Yeah, all right,” said George, “whatever. But you have to swear that my name stays out of this. I haven’t made it through almost seven years of Hogwarts just to get murdered before graduation by a bunch of those Death Eaters.”
“I swear,” said Andromeda, “it’ll be completely confidential.”
“Fine,” George said gruffly. “But keep your distance until then, okay? It won’t do anyone any good if we’re seen around each other.”
Andromeda nodded. “I’ll be with Rabastan at the Three Broomsticks. Lilith is going to trail us. She’ll meet you at Honeydukes at noon, on the dot, okay?”
“What does this Lilith look like?”
“Short. Thin. Cropped black hair. Dark eyes.”
“Yes, George. Very hot.”
George grinned. “Right then.”
“Don’t worry,” Andromeda assured him. “You’ll be in excellent company. And—George? Could you not mention any of this to Ted?”
“Probably won’t even have the chance to. My guess is that he’ll be sulking in his dormitory all day.”
“Come on. Tell me it isn’t everything you hoped for as a little girl dreaming about her wedding. A beachside ceremony, just before sunset. How can you say no to that?”
Andromeda looked across the booth table at Rabastan and chewed her beef pasty contemplatively. He had been nothing but attentive that morning and afternoon. He’d met her in the Great Hall, where he’d offered her the last of his pumpkin juice. He’d twined his fingers through hers as they made the journey down to Hogsmeade, stopping every so often to whisper some bit of nonsense in her ear. Once, he made a reference to the night before that sent Andromeda into a severe blush. Rabastan hadn’t been this attentive since December, when Andromeda had discovered him with Georgiana. That frightened her, though she wasn’t entirely sure why.
Still, she laughed at Rabastan's jokes and smiled at his compliments and carried on a conversation with him about Quidditch and the upcoming N.E.W.T. examinations and, most prominent of all, their upcoming nuptials. A chill had begun to settle over Andromeda as she realized that this was, and would be, her life. In less than a year, she would be bound to Rabastan by law.
But now, as she looked at Rabastan in the pale sunlight streaming into the Three Broomsticks, she didn’t see the boy she’d fallen for in fifth year. She saw a younger version of her father, another branch on a family tree, a man who, later that day, intended to perform a set of unforgivables on unsuspecting students. She swallowed her pasty and prayed she could keep it down.
“I don’t want a beachside wedding,” Andromeda said smilingly, omitting the fact that she’d never been a girl to dream about her future wedding. “Sand would get everywhere, and it would force everyone to travel, and besides, it seems like such an unnecessary expense.”
“Mm, but your parents could afford it,” said Rabastan. “They can pull all the stops out for their precious little girl. I hope you take full advantage of that.”
It wasn’t until after they had finished their lunch and the creaky grandfather clock in the pub corner struck two o’clock that Rabastan rose from his chair and excused himself.
“I wish I could be with you all day,” he said, voice honeyed, “but I promised the boys I’d meet up with them. Don’t want them to think I’m entirely whipped.”
Andromeda smiled indulgently. “Of course, darling,” she said. “Not to worry. I’ll find Lilith and Cissa.”
He left the Three Broomsticks. For one agonizing moment, Andromeda stayed where she was, finishing off her butterbeer. Then, when the minute had past, she rose and, as though she were in no hurry, she made her way to the door. George stood waiting for her, hands shoved in his pockets, squinting out toward the horizon.
“Well?” she whispered, coming to a stop just beside him.
“Lilith’s following him. She said she’ll report back here straightaway when she finds out where they are.”
“Professor Whitechapel is inside the pub,” Andromeda said, “meeting with a friend. The moment Lilith gets back, we’ll go in and alert him. I have no doubt he’ll do the right thing.”
George nodded stiffly, and Andromeda took a seat on the wrought iron bench beside him. She pulled one of her thinner History of Magic readers from her satchel and began to re-read the same sentence over and over again. She couldn’t keep her mind steady, keep her thoughts from scattering this way and that.
Though only minutes passed, Andromeda felt stretched thin with waiting, and by the time she saw Lilith’s lithe form running toward them, she felt weak from sheer anticipation. She jumped to her feet, and both she and George ran to meet Lilith in the middle of the cobblestone street.
Lilith panted, shaking her head from the effort to regain her breath. “G-George,” she stammered, “get Professor Whitechapel. They have three students. Can’t be older than third years. T-t-they’re being kept in the old bookshop. You know, the one that closed two years back, on the edge of the pine forest.”
George nodded and raced back toward the Three Broomsticks.
“Lilith, thank you,” Andromeda whispered, throwing her arms around her friend’s neck. “Thank you.”
But Lilith was shaking her head frantically. She shoved out of Andromeda’s embrace.
“That’s not everything,” she wheezed. “I lost track of Rabastan.”
Andromeda frowned. “What do you mean? You were following him the whole time.”
“I was,” said Lilith, “but then the crowd got thick, and I lost sight of him. It was just by luck that I saw Lucius walking past. I followed him instead. When I got to the bookshop, Rabastan wasn’t there. The others were talking about it. I overheard them. They said Rabastan was on some sort of special business. Personal business.”
Andromeda felt the sensation of one hundred fists to the gut, all at once. She found that she couldn’t swallow. Her eyes began to burn.
“Where, Lilith?" she whispered. "Did they say where Rabastan was going?”
“Andie, I don’t think it’s a good idea to—“
“Tell me where. Now.”
“At the old train station. But Andie—“
Andromeda didn’t listen to another word. She pushed blindly past Lilith, despite her friend’s shrieks to stop, and ran, her legs pumping as fast as they could down the curving slope of Hogsmeade's High Street. She ran past the stretch of cozy shops and warm windows. She ran past the abandoned bookshop where George and Lilith would soon lead Professor Whitechapel. She kept running, on and on, past the pine forest, over the weed-pocked cobblestone, toward the old train station.
Now abandoned, the old station used to be the original stop for the incoming Hogwarts Express. Years ago, back in the 1910s, the school raised enough money to construct a more direct track, and the old train platform had been left to disuse and decay. Andromeda has passed it before, on her walks through Hogsmeade. She’d always thought there was something sinister about the place. Now she knew, without a doubt, that something evil was taking place there.
“Rabastan!” she screamed as she reached the moss-covered stairs that led up to the platform. “Rabastan, don’t! Stop!”
She stumbled up the stairs, tripped on a loose stone, and fell to her knees. Pain shot through her body, but she pulled herself up again and limped up the remaining steps. Now in full sight of the platform, she saw him.
Rabastan stood beneath the station overhang, his wand outstretched. Beside him stood a Slytherin that Andromeda only vaguely recognized—a sixth year lackey that hung around Rabastan and the other seventh years in the Slytherin common room. But it was the third figure that stopped Andromeda in her tracks.
Pinned against the overhang’s stone wall, his arms limp, his clothing bloodied and tattered, was Ted Tonks.
Author's Note: Lovely, lovely readers, I cannot thank you enough for all of the support and kind reviews! I know that I've left you with an absolutely horrible ending here, but I was forced to cut things off for the sake of chapter length. The good news is that the next chapter is almost entirely written and ready to go into the queue! So please don't hate me forever and always? D: Thanks again for all of the encouragement. You guys rock my world.
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