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Chapter 34 : Oil & Water
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“…sure we shouldn’t wake her?”
Andromeda’s eyes fluttered open. Though she’d drifted off midday, the room was now pitch black, and her joints were sore, her nose and fingers cold. She didn’t move, but instead listened to the hushed voices at the stairwell.
“She needs rest,” whispered a voice—unmistakably Ted’s. “She’s been through an ordeal, and she has to wake early tomorrow for Madame Finley’s visit.”
“Well, so maybe this Madame Foo Foo can sort out how to fix her, too,” said Nelson. “C’mon. She can’t touch you? There’s got to be a magical way to fix it.”
“There is. But the only magical way is dark magic. Only her aunt can rescind the curse. That, or—“
“Or tie the knot, yes, yes,” said Nelson. “You do realize how ridiculous this all sounds, don’t you? Like some demented fairy tale.”
“It’s that way with magic,” said Ted.
“Yeah, well, thank God I’m a Muggle,” muttered Nelson. Then, “She really won’t marry you?”
Andromeda tensed. She swallowed down a stinging barb in her throat, straining her ears to better hear Ted’s reply.
“There’s no reason for her to.”
“What d’you mean, no reason? She just got herself bloody disowned for you!”
“It wasn’t for me.” Ted’s voice was unsteady. “Not in the end. I thought it might’ve been, but—“
“I warned you not to get involved with some engaged girl.”
“It’s not that,” said Ted. “It’s not her fiancé, it’s her future. She’s brilliant, Nel. She can really make something of herself, and she’s not going to do that if she’s bound to me. She knows that. It used to be about me being a Muggleborn, but it’s not that anymore. I’m just not good enough for her as a man, period.”
“That’s utter rot, and you know it.” Nelson’s whisper had turned to a hiss. “You’re a fucking exceptional bloke, and that’s me talking—your brother, who has a clear bias against you.”
“I’ll be at a desk job, paid a median wage,” said Ted. “I’m not even going to finish school. That’s not what she wants. And she doesn’t want to marry this early; she just got out of a shitty engagement. She wants different things than I’ve got to offer. I can’t blame her for that. We’re seventeen. Who gets married at seventeen, save idiots and pregnant types?”
“You’re throwing in the towel, then. Is that it?”
Ted’s answer was a long time in coming.
“I’d fight her more if I loved her less,” he said.
Nelson let out a long, ragged sigh. “Aren’t you a right little martyr.”
The stairs creaked with the weight of the brothers climbing upward, their voices now lost in the distance, indiscernible whispers.
Andromeda found that she was crying—a hard, silent cry. Tears poured from her eyes in alarming volume, and her chest convulsed in a sharp spasm. She forced herself into a sit, wiping back at tears, only for them to be replaced seconds later. She breathed out, then in, her chest aching from the effort.
Why? hissed a steady, judgmental voice. She recognized it all too well: it was the voice that had once mocked her for finding Ted Tonks’ very voice to be attractive. It was the voice that told her still how great a mistake she’d made by leaving her family.
Why are you sad, when what he says is the truth? You couldn’t have put it better yourself, could you? You don’t want to marry. You don’t want a proper family. You don’t want to be bound to a man in a mediocre profession. Do you? You only just got free of Rabastan; don’t make yourself another man’s trinket.
“I’m not his trinket,” Dromeda whispered aloud. “It’s not that way with Ted.”
His words from that morning feathered along her memory: Dromeda, we were made to be close.
“He loves me,” she said, and because she didn’t believe it the first time, she said out loud again: “He loves me.”
That doesn’t change your situation. It doesn’t change a thing. And think of Narcissa.
Narcissa. Andromeda still clung to the fragile hope that her sister would still hear her out once she returned to Hogwarts. Surely she would understand how Andromeda had no choice but to save innocent students from torture. How could Cissa fault her for that?
But if she were to do something so ridiculous, so very preposterous as to marry Ted Tonks? No. There would be no forgiveness for that.
She and Narcissa had planned their weddings together since they were girls. Narcissa’s plans had always been elaborate—pink chiffon streamers, five layer cakes, and an overabundance of pearls. Andromeda’s had been simple and loosely sketched out. Truth be told, she only joined in the mutual planning to make Narcissa happy. But one thing remained constant for both sisters: they would be each other’s chief bridesmaids. There had been no question about it; they’d sworn it to each other. In just two months, Andromeda was supposed to be Narcissa’s.
That wasn’t a possibility now. And if Andromeda were to add to that grave injury the blow of marrying a Muggleborn? Becoming a blood traitor?
At the very thought of the words, Andromeda gasped in pain. Gingerly, she peeled back her right sleeve and ran her thumb along the scarred, puckered skin there. She couldn’t see the letters in the dark, but she felt them sting against her touch, engraved deeply, permanently into her skin, courtesy of the hand of Aunt Walburga.
She could never, would never let Ted Tonks see this second punishment. She’d sworn that to herself.
It really wouldn’t be too hard to keep that promise, if Ted never touched her again. And if Ted couldn’t so much as risk sitting close to her, there wasn’t much of a chance for their future, was there?
It wasn’t the voice in her mind whispering those thoughts now. All of Andromeda knew it to be true.
When she woke the second time, sunlight was slanting through the sitting room’s slatted windows. Andromeda pulled herself up, ten times sorer now than when she’d woken during the night. She tried to stretch out her back, to ease the tension in her neck, to rub away at the sleep that had collected in her eyes. She was sure that she looked wretched, but she didn’t care.
The Andromeda Black of a year ago would shudder to see her now. That Andromeda wouldn’t have shown her face to anyone without putting it through at least a half dozen different beauty charms. But Ted wasn’t just anyone, was he? He’d seen her at her worst.
It was only as Andromeda rose, adjusting her clothes, that she heard the sound of clattering in the kitchen. She smelled something savory in the air, and when she peeked into the kitchen, her suspicions proved corrected: bacon.
Nelson was busy at the stove, one hand on a panhandle and the other on a spatula. Upon Andromeda’s entrance, her gave her a quick nod, then kept on with the cooking.
“I’m impressed,” said Andromeda, taking a cautious seat at the table. “I didn’t think you could cook.”
“Toast, no,” said Nelson. “But bacon? Every self-respecting man knows how to make bacon.”
Andromeda grinned at that, all troubles on her mind momentarily forgotten. And then Ted walked into the room. Her smile fell.
It wasn’t that she was unhappy to see Ted, but his entrance had sent her heart thrumming and her adrenaline speeding, and she felt like a stupid schoolgirl for smiling at a solemn time like this.
“Nelson showing off, is he?” he asked, grabbing a ratty dishtowel and thwapping it hard against Nelson’s backside. The brothers engaged in a little tussle as Andromeda looked on, shocked.
They were acting like nothing was wrong, like she wasn’t cursed and Madame Finley wasn’t coming to assess Ted’s health condition and all was right in the world.But then, Andromeda reflected, how else could they possibly act? It wasn’t like it did anyone good to stay solemn-faced this morning. No one would be the better for it.
“It’s not a fair fight,” said Nelson. “You’re bloody wounded. I can’t hit hard.”
Ted just laughed and gave Nelson a final side punch before sliding into the chair across from Andromeda.
“Sure,” he said, smirking. “I’m wounded. That’s why.”
When he turned back around, he gave Andromeda a far more cautious look than before.
“How’re you feeling?” he asked.
Andromeda swallowed. She’d been staring, she realized, at the slope of Ted’s collarbone, peeking out from his white t-shirt. Her cheeks bloomed with heat.
“I—I’m all right,” she stammered.
“You sure?” said Ted, who didn’t look at all convinced. “You’re looking flushed.”
“You’re the one whose health is in question this morning.”
“No fits,” said Ted. “No attacks. Not even after my little, um, escapade. I think I’m on the mend permanently. Really. Madame Finley is going to go slack-jawed. What? Why’re you looking at me that way?”
Andromeda was going red again, but this time it wasn’t due to embarrassment but to a sudden, awful realization.
What if Ted’s optimism was misplaced? What if he was wrong, and he wasn’t getting better? And what if he hadn’t been so lucky and actually had a fit last night? Under Walburga’s curse, she would’ve been helpless to make him better. Healing him would mean touching him, and that would mean torturing herself.
How could she have not thought of that before? She’d been so busy thinking of herself, of her own future, of her curse. She hadn’t once thought of the implications concerning Ted’s health. She healed him by being close. If her blood wasn’t enough, then what was left for him?
“Dromeda?” Ted ventured, his face carved with worry.
“I’m fine,” Andromeda whispered. “It’s fine. What time is it?”
“Madame Finley comes in half an hour,” said Ted.
“Right,” said Andromeda.
“Who’s ready for some fine meat, then?” Nelson had turned around, pan in hand, with a look of magnificent pride on his face.
“The two of you,” Andromeda said quickly. “It’s the two of you who should eat that. I can just fix some toast. It’s all I really want.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Andromeda,” said Nelson. “You share in our bounty.”
Nelson insisted, and soon enough they each sat before a plate of two strips of bacon and two buttered pieces of toasts. By Tonks standards, Andromeda knew this was precious fare.
Nelson dragged a wonky-legged stool over to make a third place at the table. Both he and Ted ate slowly, and Andromeda wondered if they were just trying to savor the food. At Onyx House, she and her sisters had often gorged themselves to their fill on their favorite dishes, overworking the poor house elves to suit their whims until, many nights, they made themselves sick on too much. It was that memory, such a stark contrast to this morning’s breakfast, that now made Andromeda feel sick to her stomach.
Madame Finley arrived early. Her hard, unapologetic knock sounded through the house while Andromeda was finishing off the last of her toast. She and Ted exchanged a panicked look, but before either of them could move, Nelson was already halfway across the kitchen.
“I’ll get it,” he called. “I’d like to meet this Madame Foo Foo for myself, anyhow. Part of me thinks she doesn’t exist.”
Nelson found out soon enough that Madame Finley did, in fact, exist, and he showed her into the sitting room, where Ted and Andromeda awaited her. Then, looking quite out of his element, he hurried up to the stairs and out of sight.
“There’s been a flurry of events in my absence,” said Madame Finley, setting a thick carpetbag on the armchair and opening it up. “Or so I’m told. A body gets one week for a holiday, only to—well, no matter.”
Madame Finley unloaded the contents of the bag one at a time—a glass vial, her wand, and a silver instrument that resembled a penknife.
“Ted transformed again,” Andromeda blurted.
Ted cast her a sharp look, but Andromeda ignored it. She knew that Ted wouldn’t dare tell Madame Finley something like that, but she needed to hear it if she was going to conduct a proper assessment.
Madame Finley raised a brow, then her wand.
“Did he, indeed?” she asked. “And no fit followed?”
“Nothing,” said Ted, unmistakable pride in his voice. “I recovered just fine. No shortness of breath, no chest pains—nothing like the previous symptoms. And I think it’s because Andromeda’s blood really is working.”
“We’ll find out soon enough,” Madame Finley said.
Andromeda wished the woman would show even a morsel of emotion; it was impossible to read her. But then, she supposed that was a trait that most healers had perfected.
Madame Finley stooped beside where Ted sat on the sofa, wand still raised, the glass vial in her other hand.
“I’m going to take a sample,” she said, “just of your blood. I’ll run some tests on it, assess what the current state of affairs is.”
She began the process immediately. Blood began to siphon out of Ted’s upward facing arm, spiraling outward and cleanly past the lip of the glass vial, filling it to the brim.
Once finished, Madame Finley pressed a bit of gauze to Ted’s arm and turned her attention to the vial. She cast a series of low, indiscernible spells in the corner of the sitting room, while Andromeda and Ted looked on.
Andromeda tried to catch Ted’s eye, and she felt certain he knew she was doing so, but he didn’t once turn her way. Was he mad at her for telling Madame Finley about his transformation? He knew as well as she did that it was for the best.
Or was he mad about something else entirely?
I don’t want you to ask me.
The memory of the words was stale now, but it still hung in the room.
Andromeda wanted to be able to reach over and take his hand in hers. She wanted to wrap Ted in her arms, wanted to feel his own sure and steady arms pressed comfortingly against her back. She wanted to kiss him the way they’d kissed in the inn above Obscurus Books.
She wanted to kiss much more deeply and much longer than that.
But none of that could happen now.
Andromeda wondered if Aunt Walburga had known just how much her curse had wounded her errant niece.
The minutes dragged on as Madame Finley did her work. Ted didn’t speak, so neither did Andromeda. The silence was broken only when Madame Finley crossed back and took a seat in the armchair opposite them. Gently, she set the vial aside on the rickety side table, her wand after it.
“This is,” she began, “a far better outcome than I could’ve hoped for.”
Andromeda tensed. “What?” she asked. “What’s the outcome?”
“Your system has stabilized entirely, Ted,” said Madame Finley. “There isn’t a sign of the irregularities that were plaguing you a few months back. It would seem that miss Black’s blood has eradicated them completely. Her blood was a perfect match for yours. I’ve never seen nor heard of such a blood bond as this.”
Ted’s words came rushing back, enveloping Dromeda, drowning her:
We were made to be close. We’ve got each other’s blood in each other’s veins, for Merlin’s sake.
“Gone?” Ted pressed. “Completely gone? All the fits and the bad reactions and—“
“Gone,” Madame Finley confirmed. “It’s incredible. And believe you me, I don’t call many a thing incredible.”
“So, what does that mean?” asked Andromeda. “The blood transfers won’t continue?”
“No need,” said Madame Finley. “Of course, I’ll want to check in periodically on Mr. Tonks’ vitals to be sure that all remains as is, but at this point there’s no indication of a relapse.” She turned her full attention to Ted. “Now, Ted, you must understand—you’ll be able to access your animagus ability same as before, since it’s a taught skill. But as for transformations—unwilling or otherwise—those, too have been eradicated with your propensity for those fits. The disease and the ability were intrinsically tied together.”
“I don’t care,” said Ted, who sounded breathless. “It doesn’t matter. I never wanted to change my hair color or whatever anyway.”
“You never needed to,” Andromeda said softly.
She could say that now, couldn’t she? She was free to speak her mind, her heart, even if nothing would ever come of it.
“You’re perfect as it is,” Andromeda went on, staring at the floor. “Metamorphmagism was a complete waste on you.”
Madame Finley cleared her throat, calling attention back to her instructions. “I would, of course, wish to keep you on call, Miss Black, should any irregularities arise. But I think it safe to say that your work here is done, and that Mr. Tonks is a very lucky young man to have found his match.”
She meant blood match. She meant the bond. Andromeda knew that. But it didn’t stop the surge of acid from washing up her throat. She bit hard into her lower lip.
“I hardly know what to say,” said Ted.
“Nothing more to say,” said Madame Finley, rising from her chair. She collected the vial, the wand.
“No need for this after all,” she said, nodding to the object that looked like a penknife. Andromeda didn’t want to imagine what it would’ve been for. “All that’s left is for you to continue to rest, Mr. Tonks. You might be healed, but you’re not invincible, and those wounds of yours run deep. Don’t be a fool, do you hear? The healing process can’t be rushed. Bed rest. None of this transforming and walking about for the next several days at least.”
“There is something else, Madame Finley,” said Ted. “It’s about Andromeda. She’s been—“
“Just fine, thank you!” Andromeda near-shouted, cutting Ted off and jumping to her feet. She shook her head vehemently at him. “I’ve been perfectly fine.”
Madame Finley frowned. “Well, I should hope so.”
“Yes,” Ted said slowly. “She’s been quite fine, but I wanted to inquire about the future.”
“What about it?” Madame Finley was growing more impatient by the second.
“I mean,” said Ted, “if Andromeda were to be injured or fall ill or—or I don’t know, fall under some sort of curse. Any malady like that. Would the same hold true for her? What I mean to say is, would my blood cure her?”
Madame Finley let out a bristled sigh. “I thought I’d already explained this. It would depend on the circumstance and severity, of course, but given your own remarkable recovery, all evidence indicates that yes, you’d be just as capable of healing her as she has you. In fact, given that you both received equal amounts of blood from each other during the transfusions, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already been inoculated against future harm.”
Andromeda felt Ted’s eyes burning into her, but she didn’t meet his gaze.
“I see,” said Ted. “Thank you. That’s good to know.”
“Very good,” said Madame Finley. She looked Ted over, then Andromeda. She shook her head. “A remarkable case, the two of you. I imagine some medical writer will be knocking down your door one day. As for your records, I think you’ll be pleased to know that they’ll greatly contribute to research in this area.”
“Glad to hear it,” said Ted, showing her to the door.
“Ah!” Madame Finley whirled around, just as her hand reached the brass knob. “As to the matter of billing, Miss Black, we’ll be sending—“
“The bill to me,” Ted cut in.
Madame Finley raised a brow.
“I’ll be paying for this visit,” Ted said. Now he was the one to ignore Andromeda’s stare. “This and any future appointments. Thanks very much.”
Madame Finley gave a slight shrug, as though to say it was all the same with her. A moment later, she was gone, the front door shut tight behind her.
“What did you mean by that?” Andromeda hissed, crossing the room to where Ted stood.
“You’re living on your own now, Dromeda. You’ve got precious little money as is.”
“Well, you’ve got far less. You’re basically a—a pauper.”
Ted cast her a sharp look. “Thanks a lot.”
“You know I mean,” Andromeda said. “Ted, you’re not in a position to—“
“No, you’re not in a position,” Ted said. “It’s my health, Dromeda, and it’s my bill. And I know you might not think that my new job is respectable, but it does pay well. I’ll be in fine shape in no time.”
Andromeda blinked as though she’d been slapped, hard, across the face. “What do you mean, I don’t think it’s respectable? I never said that.”
“You didn’t have to,” said Ted, skirting around her and making for the kitchen.
Andromeda wasn’t about to let Ted get away that easily. She stormed after him, into the kitchen.
“I never said it wasn’t respectable,” she said. “I don’t think that. I think it’s marvelous you’ve got a job here in London, and with a publication as well-known as Quidditch Monthly.”
“But it’s not professional Quidditch,” Ted said, turning on the tap and filling the basin with sudsy water. He rolled back his sleeves, readying to wash the dirty dishes lying nearby. “And I haven’t even taken my N.E.W.T. examinations. That’s what you’re thinking.”
“You seem to know an awful lot about what I’m thinking,” said Andromeda, crossing her arms. “Am I saddened that you won't try out for a professional team? Yes, I am—for your sake. I know how much that dream meant to you. And do I wish you’d finish your studies at Hogwarts? Of course. But I’m not standing here judging you for finding a job, and—and how dare you assume that about me. God, Ted, you promised you wouldn’t be this way anymore.”
Ted cut off the tap. He gripped the edge of the sink, head bowed, back tensed. Slowly, he turned to face her. He looked tired, so tired in the eyes.
“You’re right,” he said. “I promised. That wasn’t fair of me.”
“I’m happy for you,” Andromeda whispered. “Can’t you see that? What Madame Finley’s just told us—that’s incredible news. It’s absolutely marvelous. You’re cured. We should be jumping up and down for joy. Why aren’t we?”
Ted fixed her with a grim stare. “Because you’ve decided to leave me.”
Andromeda’s heart stopped up.
“Well,” he said. “Haven’t you?”
He knew. Of course he knew. It was Ted. He’d seen straight through her since the moment they’d met onboard the Hogwarts Express.
“I know what you were up to,” she whispered, “asking Madame Finley those questions. I know you think we can work past this, but—“
“Just touch me, Dromeda.”
Andromeda stumbled back. “What?”
“The briefest touch,” Ted said. “Just to see if the curse really holds up. Because you know what I think? Even if your Aunt Walburga was able to conjure that curse on you, I think you’re immune. You’ve got my blood in your veins. How could a touch from me possibly hurt you now?”
Andromeda shook her head. “I’m not going to take that risk. I don’t believe Madame Finley’s theories like you do.”
“Perhaps you don’t. Or perhaps some part of you has been looking for an excuse.”
Andromeda frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“An excuse to not be with me,” said Ted. “This is it. It’s your perfect chance. You don’t have to admit you’re afraid. You don’t have to worry about the future we might have together. You can just split and run, all because of some dark magic.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Tell me you’re not afraid,” said Ted. “Tell me the thought of us together doesn’t frighten the hell out of you. Because I know it does.”
Tears began to spill from Andromeda’s eyes and course down her cheeks. She hated him. She hated him so much, because he was right.
“So you won’t try,” said Ted. “You won’t risk it, and you certainly won’t marry me. Where does that leave us?”
“You know exactly where it leaves us,” Andromeda whispered.
“Then that’s it,” said Ted. “None of it meant anything. Your promise to stay with me was absolutely worthless."
Andromeda tried stopping up the tears with her wrists, but it did no good. She was crying too hard.
“Don’t you get it?” she said. “We might love each other, Ted. We might be willing to die for each other. But when it comes down to it, we’re oil and water. We just can’t live together. We can’t exist in the same plane. It doesn’t work; it’s like the very rules of the universe are against it.”
“I don’t believe that,” whispered Ted.
“Well that’s always been the difference between you and me,” said Andromeda. “Just another thing that pulls us apart. You’re an optimist. I’m not. I see this for what it is.”
“Which is what?”
Andromeda shrank under Ted’s stare. “Impossible.”
“Dromeda, there are other—“
“I don’t want to—“
“If we love each other then—“
“Oh, stop it, would you?” Andromeda shrieked. “You keep throwing that word around like it’s going to magically save us. But sometimes love can’t save you. I mean, look at your parents; they loved each other, and their story didn’t turn out very happily, did it?”
Ted’s face turned a rabid red. “You know nothing about that.”
“I know that if we really love each other we’ll just—we’ll let each other go.”
“That’s absurd, Dromeda. Just stop and listen to yourself—“
“I can’t talk about it,” Andromeda said, throwing her hands up. “I can’t. I won’t. There’s nothing left to say. The best thing I can do now is just leave.”
Ted shook his head. “Unbelievable. You’re doing precisely what your Aunt Walburga predicted you’d do. Is that what you want? You want her to win?”
Andromeda swept past him to the front door, staunching what tears she could with her coat sleeve. Ted hurried after, but he stopped short when he saw her hand on the door. It was as though he hadn’t believed her threat to leave—not really—until now.
“Dromeda,” he said, his voice cracking.
Andromeda swung open the door.
“You don’t know what I want,” she said.
And then she was outside, walking quickly for the next block and the next and the next—anything to get her away from that awful stare of his. The stare that turned her heart to hot liquid, that made her feet want to turn heel and go running back into his arms, curse be damned.
But what would be the use in that? Oil and water—that’s what they were, and no amount of love and affection would change that.
Andromeda stared listlessly at the rain drizzling down her window. She sat atop a thin-blanketed bed, knees tucked beneath her chin, jostled every so often by a sudden stop or turn of the Knight Bus. She’d already been traveling three hours, and Harold Harvelle, the bus conductor, informed her that there would still be another half hour to go after an unexpected stop in York.
Andromeda didn’t mind. A small part of her was eager to get back to school, to see Lilith and Narcissa again and to be in the comfort of her dormitory. But a far larger part of Andromeda feared if those friends actually considered her worth their attention anymore. She could only imagine what kind of rumors were circulating Hogwarts after the events at Hogsmeade. What had people said about Rabastan? What had they said about Ted? What were they saying about her?
Would Rabastan have returned to Hogwarts, or was he still in London, recovering at St. Mungo’s? Did Lilith think this entire fiasco was quite so romantic now, or had she grown tired of Andromeda’s recent penchant for disaster? Would Narcissa have received her letter, or would she believe lies from home?
Andromeda tried hard to swallow the bitter taste on her tongue. She was hoping against hope that Narcissa would listen to her. Her own parents may have disowned her, but Narcissa knew her. No one was as close or as dear to her as her little sister. She would hear her out. That’s what sisters did.
“Of course I don’t mind, dear heart, but surely there’s family you’d want to store these things with?”
Andromeda closed her eyes on the recent memory of Mrs. Vanderpool’s question. Even now, she could see the golden urns, smell the scent of gardenias in the lavish parlor of the Vanderpool’s West Kensington townhouse. Andromeda had gone there straight after leaving the Tonkses, her face still damp and red from crying. It wasn’t that she wished to partake in the awkward conversation, but she had sent her entire life savings to the Vanderpool’s, and it was necessary that she come up with some sort of plan concerning the money.
“It wouldn’t be for long,” Andromeda reassured Mrs. Vanderpool. “And I know it’s a lot to ask and that you barely know me, but I simply couldn’t think of a safer place to have it delivered. And swear I’ll have it out of here come summer, once I’ve graduated and secured a job and—“
“Good heavens, darling, don’t put yourself out,” said Mrs. Vanderpool, waving indulgently at her with a lazy smile. “Of course I’d be happy to help. Anything for a friend of my George’s. He has so few friends, you know. I do worry about that boy. If he’d gone to a Muggle school, he’d be so much better off. But his father insisted, and now look where it’s gotten him. Ah, well.”
It was somewhat difficult to take Mrs. Vanderpool seriously while she was dressed in a hot pink, silk dressing gown and sporting a peacock feather in her hair. But Andromeda did at least believe that the woman wouldn’t let vagrants scurry off with Andromeda’s trunk full of galleons.
“I really do appreciate it,” said Andromeda.
“Yes, well, you’re an absolute doll, sweetheart. And I expect to see you visit here once the flurry of school is over and you’ve taken your—Dukes? Pukes? What are they called again?”
“N.E.W.T.s,” said Andromeda, biting down a smile.
“Yes. Those. I expect you to come over and spend another fabulous weekend here with the boys. I know you’d like that, wouldn’t you? A little extra time with Edward Tonks?” She wobbled her eyebrows. “I adore that boy. And now George tells me he’s in hospital for something or other, poor darling! I’ve been meaning to send flowers or some such thing.”
They had now ventured into a conversation that Andromeda was most certainly not comfortable with. She felt awkward enough leaving her money with a woman she barely knew, but she felt extra guilty that this woman tied her directly back to Ted, whom she had—what had Andromeda just done? Broken up with Ted?
“Um, yes,” she managed. “Perhaps one weekend in the summer we’ll all come to stay.”
Though she knew, of course, that was a lie.
“Hogsmeade!” barked a voice, jolting Andromeda from the memory.
The rain was pouring harder than ever, and Andromeda was ill prepared for the walk from Hogsmeade all the way up to Hogwarts. She managed to conjure an umbrella spell over her head, but her feet were still chilled with damp and cold. Night was coming on fast, and she willed her legs up the winding hill that led to the castle. If she wasted any time at all, she would risk getting locked out for the night.
She made it in time. The gates stood unlocked, and when Andromeda stepped inside the familiar courtyard, and after it the grand, arching entrance of the castle, she felt a rush of affection fill her heart. She was going to sorely miss this place. How did anyone expect students to spend seven years in these revered halls and then leave, so abruptly, into the big, bad, adult world? Never before had Andromeda been so strongly hit by the sadness of it, the loss.
She shook the dreariness off as best she could. It wouldn’t do her any good, fixating on something as useless as nostalgia, when there were far more important matters to attend to—the most important of which was to find her sister.
It was past suppertime, and only a few stragglers remained in the Great Hall.
Andromeda knew that Narcissa wouldn’t be amongst them. She would be in the Slytherin Common Room, most likely holed up somewhere with Lucius. Andromeda hastened her steps in that direction.
Giselle Lundergrinne, a fellow Slytherin seventh year, brushed shoulders with her.
“Watch where you’re—oh! Andromeda.”
Giselle stared at her as though she were beholding a ghastly apparition. She stuttered for a moment, then regained her composure.
“I just didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Where else would I be?” said Andromeda. “N.E.W.T.s begin in three days.”
“Yes,” said Giselle, “but I only thought—um. Well, never mind. It’s, um—good to see you.”
Giselle smiled tightly at Andromeda and pushed past her. Andromeda frowned, but she didn’t have time to worry about Giselle’s odd behavior. She’d known that rumors about Hogsmeade would circulate, and anyway, she’d always suspected that Giselle was jealous of her. She couldn’t do anything about her bad attitude. She had more pressing concerns.
The dank of the cellars seemed especially thick tonight. Andromeda rubbed at her goose-fleshed arms as she walked briskly down the halls. The smell of tomato soup wafted out of the kitchens and deep into Andromeda’s senses. Her stomach rumbled. Then she passed the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room, and her stomach bottomed out entirely. She was hit with a sharp thrust; an invisible knife carved out her insides as she tried to push away memories of Ted’s insufferable simper, of the scent of fresh ink, of the way he said her stupid, stupid nickname.
You’re just getting it out of your system, she told herself. It’ll be hard at first, but the memories will go away. Just keep walking.
Still, she couldn’t help wondering if George Vanderpool was in there right now, chatting with his mates or worried sick about Ted. If the Hufflepuffs had been so concerned after Ted’s Quidditch accident, they were probably holding a weeklong vigil after what had happened at Hogsmeade.
Andromeda quickened her pace, ignoring the dankness, ignoring her memories, ignoring her thoughts. Once she was back in the comfort of her dormitory, all would be well again. She just had to make it there.
And make it there she did. Her heart was filled with a rush of surety as she gave the password and slipped inside to the familiar glow of the Slytherin common room. A fire crackled in the hearth, and a group of fifth years sat chatting around its blaze. One of them, the frizzy-haired prefect named Cassandra, went sheet white at the sight of Andromeda. The chatter fell silent, and all fifth years turned toward Andromeda with wide eyes and parted lips.
Fear stirred inside Andromeda, but old habit kicked in, and she quickly turned it into haughty anger.
“Well, what are you all staring at?” she snapped. “Didn’t your precious mothers teach you any manners?”
Cassandra, who still looked petrified, wet her lips and spoke up. “No one thought you’d really come back.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” asked Andromeda, reminded of Giselle’s question and all the more irritated by the repetition of it.
“After what you did,” said another fifth year, a mousy boy that Andromeda was pretty sure was one of those idiotic Goyle boys. “Turning in all those seventh years.”
“She’s got a lot of nerve,” said another voice. “What a traitor.”
Andromeda bristled. No one—no one called her names, especially not a bunch of pimply, insignificant fifth years.
“Excuse me?” she demanded, assuming her most vicious growl, a perfect imitation of Bellatrix on a good day.
“Didn’t she get disowned?” whispered another scandalized voice.
“Um,” said Cassandra, the only one brave enough now to meet Andromeda’s eyes. “Um—um. It’s just, everyone’s been saying that you betrayed all those seventh year boys and that you’d run away with a Mudblood. But that’s not true, is it?”
Cassandra looked almost pleading, as though she were begging Andromeda to contradict her story.
Andromeda’s blood froze. “What?” she whispered. “Who, may I ask, has been spreading those rumors?”
Cassandra wriggled under Andromeda’s murderous glare.
“Um,” she said. “Um.”
Andromeda looked up. Lilith stood in the threshold that led to the girls’ dormitories. She didn’t look horrified, but she did still look surprised.
“Lilith,” said Andromeda, heaving a sigh of relief. She hurried to her friend and wrapped her arms around her neck. “Merlin, it’s good to see you.”
“You too,” said Lilith, but her voice was taut and bare.
Andromeda pulled back. “What’s wrong?”
Lilith shook her head. “I didn’t think you were coming back. None of us did. If you’d told me, I could’ve warned you—”
“Warned me what?” Andromeda asked, though a horrible sensation in her gut already told her what was coming next.
“Andie, you can’t stay in our room. Narcissa—she’s refused to see you."
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