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Chapter 31 : Fumbling
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“I’m sorry,” she said, shuffling backward through the treshold. “If it’s a private family matter, then I—“
“No, no,” said Nelson, “get in here, you loon. This concerns you as much as it does any of us.”
Andromeda was still uncertain. Slowly, she walked back inside.
“We’ve been able to reach Madame Finley,” explained Healer Lennox. “Now that we have Ted back in stable condition, her presence isn’t an immediate necessity. However, she and I both agreed that she should look over Ted as soon as she returns from holiday. That’s in four days' time. She would like to assess his blood and metamorphmagus condition, as she fears that a disturbance like this one may have thrown off your most recent blood binding transfusions.”
“I see,” said Andromeda, nodding. She wasn’t particularly happy to hear that her most recent painful transfusion may have been pointless, but the positive side of things, she had to remind herself, was that Ted had survived Rabastan’s attack in the first place.
Healer Lennox continued. “Madame Finley has requested that, if at all possible, you stay close to Ted, Miss Black, should he have a sudden episode or should complications arise in his recovery.”
“I’m taking Ted home tonight,” said Nelson. “You’re more than welcome to stay with us, Andromeda. In fact, um, I’m kind of begging you to. Not that I think of you as a walking human first aid kit or anything, but—well, I kind of do.”
“You mean,” said Andromeda, “you want me to be next door in case anything should happen.”
“I told you both, it’s not necessary,” said Ted.
He was, Andromeda just now noticed, eating a pudding cup. The ridge of his upper lip was chocolate-stained, and that fact combined with his petulant tone made him look like a little boy. Andromeda fought down a smile.
“She has a life,” Ted went on. “She can’t just give up everything to come and stay with us, Nelson, as though she were some bloody houseguest on holiday. N.E.W.T. examinations are only weeks away. She’s got enough on her—“
“Ted,” Andromeda cut in, gentle but firm. “It’s not your decision. And it’s not a negotiable. This is your health we’re talking about. Of course I’m going to stay with you. At least until Madame Finley shows up and puts some fears to rest. That’s what the Healers recommend. Isn’t it, Healer Lennox?”
“It would certainly be in the patient’s best interest.”
“See?” Andromeda said, turning to Ted in triumph. “It’s in your best interest.”
Ted was looking at her in a sad, pleading way—in a way she was sure he meant for only her to see and understand.
“Andromeda,” he said quietly, “please. Think of what you’re doing.”
Suddenly, the childish look about Ted was gone.
“I am thinking,” she told him. “I’m thinking very clearly, and I’m going home with you and Nelson.”
Ted had been brought in with four broken ribs, a fractured wrist, a broken ankle, and “magic-induced complaints”—residual after effects, Andromeda was sure, of Rabastan’s torture curses. Rabastan, too, had been checked in under those “magic-induced complaints,” though for all their skill the Healers wouldn’t be able to identify, just from the symptoms, that either boy had suffered from illegal curses and not simply a bad bout of hexes.
The Mediwizards had done their magic. They had healed Ted’s ribs, his wrist, and his ankle, and Ted was now expected to take things easy and exert minimal effort so that the results of the healing magic could solidify. He was ordered on bed rest for the next three weeks at least.
Andromeda hoped that Rabastan was still suffering. She hoped he was still in pain, though she knew that pain couldn’t rival what he’d done to Ted. As two assistant Healers levitated Ted out on a gurney to a waiting ambulance, Andromeda momentarily parted company with Nelson to catch the attention of a passing medic.
“Excuse me,” she said, stopping the woman in her tracks. She held up a large diamond ring. Her ring. “This belongs to one of your patients, Rabastan Lestrange. I found it one of the corridors, and I believe it must’ve fallen off him when he was being rushed in for treatment. Will you see that he gets it?”
The Healer hesitated, but Andromeda shoved the ring into her open hand.
“He’ll recognize it,” she said, “I’m positive. And if not, I’m sure you can place it in the lost and found, can’t you? Thanks ever so much!”
Not, she ran off to join Nelson, who stood at the far end of the corridor, holding open an exterior door for Andromeda to pass through.
“What was that about?” he asked.
“Unfinished business,” she said, and they boarded the ambulance.
The St. Mungo's ambulance, which was as quick and as unseen to Muggles as the Knight Bus, sped through the busy London streets. There were no sirens blaring, no wild commotion. This was only a courtesy house stop from St. Mungo’s to the Tonks residence, since Ted wasn’t in good enough condition for apparating or floo travel, and since Nelson owned no Muggle vehicle with which to transport them.
The Mediwizards helped levitate Ted up to his bedroom, entering the house through the back door and out of sight of the neighbors. After Ted was settled in bed, the Mediwizards gave both Nelson and Andromeda instructions on when to give Ted his pain potions. Then they were gone, and it was just Andromeda and the Tonks brothers left in the cramped, threadbare apartment.
“This calls for tea,” Nelson said, rubbing at his cheek. “I’ll put the kettle on, yeah?”
Andromeda nodded, then hesitantly added, “Would it be all right if I sat up with Ted? I think it would help his recovery if I were, you know, near him.”
Andromeda didn’t doubt the truth of her words; it was a proven fact that her close physical proximity to Ted had saved him in many medical emergencies. She just wasn’t telling Nelson the whole truth—namely that Ted had only been out of her sight for a couple of minutes and she was already anxious and uneasy, that she felt a deep and unshakeable need to be close to him right now.
“You’re the one who knows what all this newfangled blood bond insanity means,” said Nelson. “Do whatever you need to do.”
“I’m not an invalid, you know. No need to check on me every five minutes just to be sure I’m—“
Ted’s words hitched when he turned around and saw Andromeda at the threshold.
“I thought you were Nelson,” he said. “Sorry.”
He was in his creaky single bed, the same bed that Andromeda had slept in during her impromptu visit over the Christmas holidays. For some reason, the bed looked much smaller with Ted inside of it. His back was propped against the metal headboard, the sheets crumpled around his waist. Andromeda had been too wildly worried about Ted’s well being before now to realize that he was shirtless.
Ted noticed Andromeda’s wandering eyes.
“It’s warm,” he said, “and we haven’t got anything in the way of cooling.”
“I can open the window, at least,” she said, crossing the room to the dust-caked window and fiddling with the latch longer than necessary so that her blush had time to subside. She pushed the window open, allowing a temperate April breeze to blow inside.
“Was that an attempt to get me to put my shirt back on?”
Andromeda turned back around to face a smirking Ted.
“No,” she said instinctively. “Certainly not.”
This time, she freely let her eyes trace the black inked tendrils and the outline of the linnet on his skin. This was skin that, less than a day ago, had been broken and bloodied in terrible ways. Now, the skin was smooth and clean, marked only by a single white scar across his sternum—the sole sign of magical intervention.
Andromeda sunk down to Ted’s desk chair. The room was so tiny that she could still reach out and touch the bed if she wanted. Not that she would. She wouldn’t. Unless Ted needed her. Unless he asked.
“Ted,” she said, and already she felt her voice faltering. “I’m so sorry. I’m so desperately sorry that he did that to you. You have no idea how sorry.”
“Don’t apologize for him,” said Ted. “It isn’t your apology to make.”
“But it is,” Andromeda whispered. “He didn’t consider you to be worth his time until—until—“
Ted blinked. “Until what? You called out my name in bed? That’s a bit cliché, Andromeda, really.”
Andromeda’s chest clenched. “That isn’t what happened,” she said, her face flushing again. “We were in bed, yes, but it was after—I mean, it wasn’t at all some vulgar sort of—“
She gave up. She sunk her head into her hands. She didn’t want Ted to see her get upset. Not about this, of all things.
“I’m sorry,” said Ted. “I’m sorry, that was ungenerous. It isn’t my business.”
“No, it isn’t. He was my fiancé, not you.”
“I’m aware, thanks.”
“You had no right to kiss me like that, when you knew I was engaged.”
“You were the one who—“
“So why didn’t I feel guilty about it?” Andromeda demanded, wrenching her head up. “How could I not feel guilty about kissing you, but feel miserable after I slept with him? Why did I feel like I was in the wrong bed entirely? Why, Ted, if it’s none of your business?”
“And why are you calling me that again? Why can’t you just call me by my real name?”
“Andromeda is your real name.”
“Not when it’s you. Never when it’s you. You withhold it from me like some form of punishment.”
“I never meant—“ Ted gave a helpless sigh. “It seemed like taking liberties. You were fucking engaged to Lestrange, and we still had to see each other every week. How would calling you that make things any easier?”
“I should leave.” She rose, wiping at her eyes and stumbling her way around the chair toward the door. “I shouldn’t have brought any of this up. You should be recovering, and I’m upsetting you.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll just tell Nelson to bring up the tea and let you rest on your own.”
Ted caught her wrist as she passed by the bed.
It was her left wrist.
He was quiet for overlong, but Andromeda didn’t try to move.
“Where’s your ring?” he whispered.
All it took was a look, shared between them. It was an impossible look—infinitely careful and reckless, all at once. No words were necessary.
Silence spread out from them, a thick and pooling thing.
Andromeda found herself sitting down, on the edge of the bed, tears rolling down her cheeks. She had cried so much lately—such an inordinate amount.
Ted leaned forward. He placed his hand behind her ear, his thumb on her cheek. It was so strangely, so unexpectedly intimate a thing. Andromeda felt exposed and frightened and thrilled at once.
The tears were still coming. Ted didn’t try to wipe them away, but his thumb remained on her cheek, a gentle pressure. The bed creaked loudly as he leaned forward. Andromeda’s body trilled out a shiver, panicked by the proximity.
She knew that she should say the words before it they became too terrifying a prospect, before she lost the nerve, before the moment could slip away. She had told others. He deserved to know that she loved him.
But he was so close, so close, and she couldn’t think straight, couldn’t form any word but his name.
She was lost in his arms, not knowing if he’d drawn her there or if she’d thrown herself there, or if it was a little of both. Her cheek was pressed close to his warm chest, her limbs lost in a hazy mess with his.
He kissed her. It was careful, slow, deliberate. His hands wound through her hair, hers into the sheets.
“Ted,” Andromeda managed, hiccupping out a breath against his cheek. “This isn’t such a good idea. You’re recovering.”
Ted’s hand returned to her face, his knuckles brushing back the errant hairs across her cheek. He looked so very serious.
“You’re my recovery.”
Heat burst through Andromeda’s veins. She threw herself back into their kiss, this time with far less caution than Ted had used. She let her hands trail down his chest, ghosting over a map of muscle and skin.
His hands were on her waist, fingertips brushing the skin beneath the hemline of her shirt. And suddenly, Andromeda found the idea of a shirt to be so fantastically silly, so wildly cumbersome. She pulled back, only to peel the blouse up over her head and drop it on the desk chair. The look she found in Ted’s eyes was more than reward for the effort.
“Like what you see?” she asked, a smirk hitching up her face.
She hadn’t forgotten Ted’s question, months ago, when she’d first seen him shirtless.
Ted grinned in response, tugging Andromeda back down toward him. “I’ve always liked what I’ve seen,” he murmured.
Her nose brushed his. His ankle knocked against hers. Their knees met and then parted, and for a moment her stomach lay flat against his, and Andromeda knew, suddenly and surely, just where this was heading.
Her fingers trailed back over Ted’s chest, but this time they continued lower than they had before, notching on the waistline of his jeans.
Ted jolted his head back in a sharp inhalation. “Dromeda—“
“What?” she asked, panicked. “What, does it hurt? Am I hurting you? Is it your ribs?”
Ted shook his head hurriedly. “No, no. I mean, it hurts a bit, but it’s fine. I just don’t want you to—“
Andromeda’s eyes widened. She pushed herself back up, suddenly feeling bare, exposed. “You don’t want to do this with me?”
“Wha—no!” Ted shouted, reaching a hand out. It landed on her waist, warm against her cooler skin. “Merlin, no. It’s just, you know what you’re doing, right? With me? Ted. Muggleborn.”
Guilt bloomed in Andromeda’s chest.He looked so young suddenly, so vulnerable—a delicate thing placed in Andromeda’s hands that she could break in two if she wanted. Something she could break, or that she could love.
She placed one hand on his chest, covering the thin, white scar left from the medical procedure. Ted closed his eyes.
“Does that hurt?” she asked.
“Only at first,” he said. “It—it’s okay. You being close, it makes it better.”
“I know what I’m doing,” Andromeda whispered. “I know what I want. I want every part of you.”
Ted nodded, cautiously. He drew her back down. Their lips met, and just as Andromeda placed her hands back on Ted’s bare skin, the bedroom door flew open.
“Right, then, I’ve got chamomile and lemo—holy fuck.”
Andromeda yelped in surprise, wrenching herself off of Ted’s body. She lost her balance, pawed at the bed sheets, but still fell off of the bed and hard onto her backside. Wide-eyed, she immediately crossed one arm over her midsection, one over her bra.
“Nelson, what the hell?” Ted demanded.
Nelson was already halfway out the door, a tea tray raised in front of his face like some kind of shield.
“I might ask the same question,” he said, keeping his eyes fixed on Ted and expressly not on Andromeda. “Are you insane?! You just survived a near-fatal hocus pocus attack and you’re hooking up with her? The doctor said REST. The doctor said NO EXCITEMENT.”
“It isn’t any of your busin—“
“Oh, it is absolutely my business,” said Nelson. “I’m responsible for you, you little turd. You are not sexing it up in here on my watch. You’re on fucking pain meds, for crying out loud. You wouldn’t even, you know, perform well.”
“Oh my god.” Ted had gone red in the face.
“Honestly, Andromeda,” said Nelson, who was still politely keeping his gaze averted while Andromeda scrambled to put her blouse back on. “I thought you wanted him to get better.”
“I do get better when she’s around,” Ted cut in. “You don’t get it, Nelson. When she’s close to me, I heal faster, better.”
“That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Come on, Andromeda. Get out of the invalid’s room. I swear, the two of you are like rabbits. I’m not letting you near each other again until—“
“You can’t make her leave,” Ted said heatedly. “I want her to stay here, with me. You don’t understand blood bonds, Nelson.”
“Whoa. Was that some kind of non-magical put down?”
Nelson stood quietly for a moment, his knuckles white as he gripped the tea tray.
“Fine,” he said. “Go ahead and fool around with an engaged girl, Ted. Excellent. Don’t call for help when you shag your way into a re-fractured rib.”
He left the room, slamming shut the bedroom door behind him.
Silent, invisible debris settled in his wake. Andromeda remained on the floor, her knees hugged to her chest. She breathed out a shaky sigh.
“What were we thinking?” she asked.
Ted shifted his weight on the bed, and it gave a loud groan from the effort. He dipped his face into his hand.
“I don’t think we were,” he said, his voice muffled by his palm.
“That—“ Andromeda struggled for words. “That would’ve been a mistake.”
Ted grew still. Slowly, he lifted his head back up. His eyes had turned hazy and bloodshot.
“Nelson’s right,” Andromeda went on. “You should be getting rest. We would’ve probably ended up completely reverting all the good those Healers did you."
“Right,” said Ted. “It would’ve been a mistake. You would’ve regretted it.”
Andromeda hesitated. “I didn’t say I would regret it.”
“You would’ve, though. Just like you’re going to regret all of this.”
Andromeda stared up at Ted. He looked serious—a horrible kind of serious that set her skin prickling.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Saving me,” said Ted, tipping his head back to stare at a poster tacked above his bed. The lettering read, Led Zeppelin. “Giving Lestrange back his ring. Coming home with me. You’re going to regret it. I wish you hadn’t done any of it.”
Andromeda struggled to her feet. She didn’t like her vantage point anymore—lower than Ted, and far from him. She sat back on the bed’s edge, arms crossed.
“You wish I hadn’t saved your life? You wish I’d let Rabastan torture you to death? Is that it? That’s real gratitude. Marvelous to know, Tonks.”
“I wish,” said Ted, “that you hadn’t put yourself in jeopardy with your family.”
Andromeda choked out a laugh. “Excuse me? Is that what’s this about? Ted, they’re my family. They’re mine to worry about.”
“Well, aren’t you worried about them?” Ted demanded. He was suddenly preoccupied with finding something under the sheets—a yellow t-shirt, it turned out. He balled it in his fist. “Aren’t you worried about what they’re going to do to you? This is serious, and you’re not even acting like—“
“I know it’s serious!” Andromeda shouted, frightening herself with the force of her words, though she didn’t attempt to tone them down. “Don’t you think I know? Perhaps for once, just once, I don’t want to think about my family’s expectations and their inevitable disappointment and all the other royally screwed up things they taught me since I was a little girl. Perhaps I didn’t want to think immediately about what I’ve just done to myself.”
“Do you even know what you’ve done?” Ted whispered.
Andromeda nodded vehemently. “I’ve made myself a stranger to them. They’ll disown me. Aunt Walburga will blast my face off of the family tapestry. I’ll never be welcome into my home again. My relatives will rescind all contact and support. I’ll be penniless. Yes, Ted, I believe I can grasp the basic concept of what I’ve done.”
“You just don’t act like you—“
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Andromeda said, releasing a caustic laugh. “Did you want me to sit here, wailing and gnashing my teeth? Did you want me to tell you about how I just gave up everything I’ve ever known? Did you want me to become an incoherent mess of grief?”
“Of course not—“
“I’m still trying to process what I’ve done,” she said. “If I tried to do that immediately, all at once, I would break down.”
“So, what?” said Ted. “I’m just a distraction in the meantime?”
Andromeda’s gaze hardened. “No, Tonks. You’re the reason for the breakdown.”
Ted’s face faltered, fissures forming, revealing a sudden uncertainty.
“I don’t want to be the reason.”
“Well, too late,” she snapped. “You are.”
“You do regret this,” he said. “You regret it already. That’s why I didn’t want any of this. It doesn’t matter what you feel about me now. You’ll just end up resenting me when reality sets in.”
“That’s what you think? You think that once my father cuts me off from my inheritance, I’m going to hate you because of it?”
Ted didn’t reply. He stared at the t-shirt clutched in his hand. Andromeda laughed in disbelief. She rose from the bed.
“You think I’m that shallow. That I’m a coward. That I’m too stupid to think through the ramifications of my decision.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t need to.” She backed away from the bed, shaking her head. “I changed, you know. I changed those prejudices, those poisonous ideas I had before I met you. But you? You will never have faith that I could be as fucking good as you, will you?”
Ted didn’t reply. That, or she simply didn’t give him the time to, because she left the room, slamming the door behind her. She only made it halfway down the stairs before she melted onto the splintered wood, a pool of tears.
Minutes later, Nelson found her there. He said nothing for a while, just took a seat on the stair below her and scratched the back of his ear.
“Was he really that bad in bed?" he finally ventured.‘"Cos you know, painkillers can be—“
“God, no, Nelson,” Andromeda said, blotting at the moisture on her face. “We didn’t do anything like that.”
“So, should I leave you alone? Nelson ventured. “Is this, erm, a monthly thing?”
Despite everything, Andromeda laughed. She blotted at her eyes again and shook her head. “You were right: I am selfish. I’m terrifically selfish. He’s supposed to be resting after that awful ordeal, and I treated him like he’s perfectly healthy, like he’s invincible, like he owes me his attention.”
“You’re making yourself sound pretty bad,” said Nelson.
“I suppose I am pretty bad.”
“You know,” said Nelson, “from what I hear, you went through a pretty awful ordeal yourself. Don’t you think the both of you could just do with some rest?”
Andromeda snuffled. “I have a feeling that the real awful ordeal is still to come.”
“What do you mean?”
Andromeda said nothing. She shook her head, silent tears coursing down her face. Nelson cleared his throat.
“Andromeda,” he said. “Is this about what happened over Christmas holiday? About your family?”
“I’m not sure I have a family anymore,” she whispered.
Nelson was quiet for a long moment. Then he asked, “Are you in some sort of trouble?”
Andromeda wiped away the remainder of her tears. She sat up straighter and cleared away the hoarseness left in her voice.
“You’re right,” she said. “Ted and I both need rest. I think we also need time apart. And I shouldn’t be encroaching on the two of you after the attack.”
“Andromeda, you’re not encr—“
“I am,” Andromeda insisted. “I shouldn’t be staying here. It’s crowded as is. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
She rose to her feet, and Nelson quickly followed after her as she trotted down the steps.
“There are things I should do while I’m here in London,” she said. “People I ought to see. I can take care of my own accommodation. When Ted feels up to it, I can visit at any time, should he need my blood or presence for anything. And when Madame Finley finally arrives, of course I’ll be here to do whatever needs to be done.”
“Of course,” Nelson said. He was looking at Andromeda as though she were something volatile, about to burst.
They reached the front door, and Andromeda came to a standstill.
“I just—I don’t want him to think I’m abandoning him,” she said quietly, her eyes on her shoes. “I don’t want him to think that I’ve deserted him, the way I did before, at George’s. You’ll make sure he knows that, won’t you? I’m here. If he needs me, that is. I’m just an owl away. I’ll be renting a room in Diagon Alley, in the inn just above Obscurus Books. He’ll know it.”
Nelson nodded, but he still looked uncertain. “Andromeda, you really don’t have to leave. I'm sure Ted wouldn't want you to.”
“Yes, I do.” Andromeda felt tears scratching at her eyes, felt her throat turning brittle. She couldn’t stay here any longer. “It’s for the best. I have business I need to attend.”
“If you’re sure—“
“I’m sure,” she said, wrenching open the front door. She shot Nelson a tight smile, then hurried out the door before she had the chance to burst into tears. She didn’t look back, not even after she heard the door shut behind her.
What she had told Nelson was true: she did have business to attend to. Family business.
Author's Note: NOTHER CHAPTER. And quicker this time, so rah, rah, rah! :) Thank you all for the ongoing reviews. They are better than candy. Family business to come, wot.
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