Round 10 of the QLFC this week! :) My team has a bye for Round 11, so probably no new story for a few weeks unless I'm so inspired that I feel like writing a non-competition piece. We'll see! ;) Anyway, I'm a bit close to my word limit this week (to my judge: if you need to check the word count, tell me please because FF is weird about word counts when I put the section breaks in!)
This round's prompts were:
1. no using the word 'forbidden'
2. line of dialogue: "What do you want from me?"
3. the myth that carrots help you see in the dark
3 November 1972
Andromeda tugged her cloak more snugly about herself, shivering in the biting cold of the early November day. No flakes of snow drifted down from the iron-gray sky above Diagon Alley, but a needle-sharp wind whistled down the main road, forcing nearly everyone on the street indoors.
Perhaps she ought to go home after all, she thought, although the very idea caused the knot of frustration and misery in her stomach to tighten painfully. It had been four months since her graduation—four months since she'd moved back into her parents' home, and had been introduced to Rabastan Lestrange as something other than a boulder-like presence in the Slytherin common room—four months since she had left Hogwarts, and all the happiness she had had there.
The time was starting to weigh on her more and more. She was nearly nineteen years old, and yet her parents were more determined than ever to ensure that she was their perfect, well-behaved second-born, following dutifully in Bellatrix's footsteps, securing the bonds of the family among the 'right kind of people'.
And when she had expressed her disinterest in Rabastan?
"I don't know why you do this, Andromeda. After all we've done,"her mother had said, sinking into a wingback chair in the parlor.
"Do you enjoy disappointing your mother?" Father had demanded. "You understand how hard our family has worked to maintain our status in wizarding society—the one that allows you to walk down the street with your head high, and that proud look on your face—don't glare at me like that, Andromeda. We won't have this discussion again, so you had better get over whatever cold feet you may think you have."
Andromeda pushed her hair back from her raw, stinging face and looked up and down the alley, trying to decide what to do; she felt like she'd stolen this bit of freedom, but between the deserted shopping street and her grim mood, she was wondering if she might be better off at her parents' house.
"I'm sorry, I didn't see you—"
Andromeda got herself up and faced the man who had just knocked her off the curb. "T-Ted?"
His blue eyes widened in shock. "Hi."
They stared at each other. For a split second, Andromeda had a mad desire to bolt and never look back, so that she couldn't see the hurt she'd caused him, which seemed to radiate from him the longer they held each other's gazes.
"I—er—saw your news," he said, shifting uncomfortably. "Congratulations."
Andromeda's heart sank; of course Ted, who was working for the Daily Prophet in the financial column entry position he had coveted for years, would have seen her engagement announcement last week.
"Oh. Yes," she said, looking down. She realized that her stockings had been torn when she'd fallen, and a shallow cut on her knee was trickling blood down her leg. She noticed then that her palms stung, too, from breaking her fall.
"If you want, you can come in and clean up. I live upstairs," Ted told her, pointing at the building across the road. "Your mum probably wouldn't like it if she saw that."
The pang of familiarity made Andromeda look up into his eyes, but he had raised his guard again—Ted was simply being his kind self, and her heart gave a sharp ache. She nodded, and moments later, she was being shown up an outdoor staircase to a cramped but cozy little flat with a view of the rooftops of Diagon Alley.
Andromeda looked around at all the things Ted had on odd shelves and tables and stuck to the walls. Hufflepuff Quidditch pennants, photographs (wizarding and Muggle), books on finance and goblin liaisons, a few stacks of dishes and cups, and a great many pieces of clothing were cast pell-mell about the room, draped over furniture and piled on the floor.
"Oh, er—sorry," Ted said, taking a stack of papers and moving them off the sofa so that Andromeda could sit down. "I wasn't expecting company." Blushing bright red, he yanked a sock off a lampshade and hurried into the next room.
"Beatrice!" Andromeda gasped, as the small gray-black cat came scurrying towards her from what must have been the bedroom beyond. She bent and scooped up Ted's cat. "Hello, sweetheart—oh, I missed you." Beatrice pushed her head up against Andromeda's chin, purring audibly and snuggling against her chest.
"Looks like she missed you too," Ted said, coming back with a first aid kit. He set to work mending Andromeda's knee while she scratched Beatrice's neck. She stared down at the top of his blonde head, even though he seemed to be carefully avoiding meeting her eye again.
"Thank you," Andromeda said, when he'd finished.
Ted nodded. "You're still my friend. Sort of." His tone was brittle as he got up to put the kit away.
Andromeda closed her eyes. "I…I want to be, Ted…"
"But you can't," he finished for her, "I know. I remember. I haven't stopped thinking about it, actually."
Andromeda looked down at the cat curled in her lap. "Neither have I. I'm sorry, Ted, truly."
He sighed and leaned against the wall, finally raising his eyes to meet hers. "D'you want a drink? Butterbeer? I've got firewhisky."
Ted could read her far too easily, she thought, as his expression fell. "Oh. You've got plans."
"I'd stay if I could."
"With him? His family?"
The look of injury in Ted's face was almost too much for Andromeda to bear. "Ted, I wanted to tell you about the engagement in a letter, so it wouldn't be a shock," she said, staring down at Beatrice, who was curled in her lap. "But I couldn't find the words, and it's not as if it would change—I mean, we couldn't—"
"We couldn't?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"That's not funny," she said hoarsely.
"What do you want from me?" he asked. "I've got to say something, and right now, being serious about this is just…" he broke off and sighed. "I shouldn't have asked you up here. We should've just left this where it was."
Andromeda closed her eyes for a moment. "I wish we could go back. Things would be so much easier."
Ted gave another heavy sigh and nodded. "Yeah, they would."
Suddenly, their eyes met again, and this time, Andromeda found she couldn't look away. Dimly, she was aware of Beatrice losing interest in her and slinking off her lap. Then, a second later, Andromeda was in Ted's arms, and all she could care about was the way his lips felt against hers…
"You really are an appalling housekeeper, Teddy," Andromeda informed him, half-asleep as they lay next to each other in his bed.
"Yeah, well," Ted said, "At least I can cook without setting the house on fire."
"Potions accidents have no reflection on my ability to cook," she informed him, smiling and sitting up. Then she caught sight of her watch. "Oh, bloody—I have to go," she said, sliding out of bed to find her robes.
She gave him a frantic, apologetic look as she dashed about the room, dressing rapidly; the reality of what had just happened was sinking in. "Ted, we can't do this—this was a mistake."
"A mistake?" he repeated incredulously.
"Yes. This can't ever happen again, it's not fair to you." She straightened up and met his eyes. "I'm so sorry."
"Oh, are you?" he asked, yanking on a pair of pajama trousers and standing up. "Because I'll tell you, Andromeda, I'm really not sorry at all. I know we both wanted this—we both want it still, obviously!"
"No, Ted, it can't be this way anymore. I've told you that, it's nothing but trouble for you, and I won't do it. I can't do this—I can't ruin your life, it isn't fair," she said.
"Ruin?" he asked. "What is there to ruin, Andromeda? My life means nothing without you in it, do you understand that?"
"Don't, don't say that," she begged, tears coming to her eyes.
"It's the truth," said Ted fiercely. "I've never loved anyone but you, and I don't think I can. Don't go, please. Stay with me—for a little while, at least talk this out—"
He broke off, and the silence hung between them for a long minute, stretching farther and farther until—
"Teddy, I can't." Andromeda ran from the room, seizing her cloak as she fled the apartment.
Six Weeks Later...
With a jolt of terror, Andromeda sat bolt upright in bed and gasped, "What?"
"Oh, for the love of Merlin," Mother snapped, "What on earth do you think you're doing? Your sister is here. Are you still ill?" she asked, peering down into her face. "You look dreadful—but you don't have a fever."
Andromeda held a hand to her forehead and got her bearings; she felt clammy and sick, but she knew she wouldn't be excused from lunch with Bellatrix and the Lestrange brothers just because she still didn't feel well after almost a week in bed with the flu. "I'm fine, Mother, I'm sorry—I just wanted to take a nap," she mumbled, starting to get out of bed. Her stomach gave a horrible lurch.
"Here," Mother replied, bringing a fresh set of robes over to Andromeda's vanity. "Change, and put on a bit of makeup. You just need to eat something." She patted Andromeda's back and then left the room.
Given how absolutely horrible she felt, it was truly impressive that Andromeda managed to make it downstairs (looking somewhat less like death warmed over) in under twenty minutes.
"Ah, she graces us with her presence at last," drawled Bellatrix from her place at the table. She sat beside Rodolphus, who was sipping coffee; Andromeda's parents sat at the ends of the table, and Rabastan's hulking figure was crammed into the chair opposite his brother's. Bellatrix arched a dark eyebrow and smiled at Andromeda. "How are you, princess?"
"Fine, thank you," Andromeda replied evenly. "Good afternoon. I'm sorry I'm late."
"That's quite all right, Hetty has been keeping the food warm," Father said, kissing Andromeda's cheek as she greeted him. "Hetty, you may serve, now."
With a crack, the house elf appeared beside the head of the table, bearing a platter. Andromeda shut her eyes as the scent of the roast hit her.
"Andromeda? Are you going to greet your guest?" Mother asked pointedly.
"Of course," Andromeda said faintly, turning to Rabastan. "Good afternoon, Rabastan."
"Afternoon, Miss Black," he said, giving her a nod.
"You look like you came off worse in a fight, look at those bags under her eyes," Bellatrix commented. Andromeda ignored her.
"Andromeda has been under the weather," Mother said diplomatically to Rabastan. "I was quite as ill last week—but we'll have her looking her most beautiful for your wedding photographs this afternoon."
"Yes, ma'am," he agreed.
"She's still thin, too," Mother said appraisingly, "but we'll soon put that right. More potatoes for Miss Andromeda, please, Hetty."
Andromeda's stomach gave another threatening heave as Hetty put another heaping spoonful on her plate. "No, thank you—"
No one seemed to hear her; they had all been served and were now chatting about the wedding, which was set for February. There was talk of a Lestrange-Black nogtail hunting trip sometime after the New Year, and Andromeda found that, as Rabastan was barely a part of this conversation, she too could get away with letting her mind wander.
"…Weren't you, Andy?"
Andromeda was just sipping some water when Bellatrix's words caught her ear. "Hm—what, Bella?"
"At Hogwarts. We were just discussing Cissy getting a poor mark from the Mudblood who teaches the Defense class this year," Bellatrix snorted.
"Language, Bellatrix, what must Rodolphus think of a mouth like that?" Mother chided, smiling beatifically at her.
Rodolphus smirked at Bellatrix, but she had her eyes on Andromeda, her face alight with the expression Andromeda had come to dread.
"Oh, he doesn't care, Mother," she said. "So, Andy?"
"What does Narcissa's teacher have to do with me?"
Bellatrix smiled more widely. "I was just saying that out of everyone here, you might be able to tell us what's going on in a Mudblood's mind. After all, you were friends with a few, weren't you?"
Bile—or maybe some of the lunch she'd just eaten—rose in the back of Andromeda's throat. "Of course I wasn't," she murmured, just as her parents chimed in emphatically.
"What a thing to say, Bellatrix," Father said, chuckling. "Your poor sister doesn't need a remark like that from you, darling. She's more than made it clear who her true friends and family are."
Mother laughed as well, interrupting Bellatrix's response. "I shouldn't think they were really friends in any case—more like acquaintances, and she hasn't heard from them in months," she assured the Lestrange brothers.
"Not to worry, Mrs. Black. Our family is certainly sympathetic when it comes to the weakening of the old lines," Rodolphus said.
Rabastan gave a grunt of agreement. "It's impossible to make it through Hogwarts without running across some of that sort. And it's not like Dumbledore's making an effort to keep the filth out. I've heard about Mudblood Slytherins, even."
"Think of it," said Mother, shaking her head. "There have been far too many lapses at Hogwarts, lately. Do you know, I heard from a friend that the average O.W.L. scores have dropped so low…"
Andromeda lowered her gaze to her plate, trying to look calmly detached from the conversation, but in reality, her mind was racing, because a very real fear was taking root in her chest, freezing her from the inside out. She began counting frantically in her head. How many weeks since she'd run into Ted? And how many since…? No, surely…
"Hetty, we're ready for the cake, now," Mother said. "This is a recipe for spiced carrot cake I've been absolutely dying to have Hetty try," she told the table, as Hetty appeared and presented everyone with a slice of cake.
This time, the smell of the freshly baked cake hit Andromeda like a tidal wave. She clapped a hand over her mouth, and everyone's eyes snapped around to stare at her.
"Andromeda?" Mother asked.
Before she could even hope to get away from the table, Andromeda doubled over and vomited directly in Rabastan's lap.
"Please, please," Andromeda muttered, pressing the doorbell frantically. "Teddy, please be home…"
"…Bloody hell'r you doin'…Sunday morning…some of us want a lie-in."
Her heart jumped into her throat as she heard Ted banging and grumbling his way down the hall to his front door; he opened it at last and blinked at her in a bleary way. "'Dromeda?" he said, sounding astonished. "What're you—what's that?"
She was trembling head to toe, and at her feet lay her Hogwarts trunk, which was crammed with everything she owned
"Are you all right?" Ted asked, getting over his initial shock. "What's happened? You said—"
"I know what I said," she interrupted him. "And I'm hoping that you're willing to accept that sometimes—probably most of the time, actually—I'm a complete bloody idiot."
Ted stared at her. "All…all right."
Andromeda swallowed. "Good. That's the easy part," she said, taking a deep breath.
"What's the hard part?" he asked slowly, once again eyeing her trunk.
"I'm pregnant, Ted."
He stared at her.
"You're…pregnant," he repeated, frowning in consternation, like he thought that repeating it would make it easier to understand. "Pregnant. With a baby."
"One hopes," Andromeda replied faintly, tears starting to fill her eyes.
Ted stared at her. "Erm…and…is it…?"
"Of course it's yours, you fool!" she gasped, actually laughing in spite of herself. "What, you think I could've done that with Rabastan Lestrange and not ended up crushed to death? He's three feet taller than I am!"
Ted gave a shocked laugh and wrapped Andromeda tightly in his arms. "You're pregnant!" he cried.
"Not so loud," she said as she drew back.
"And…you ran away," Ted said, seeming to put together a few more pieces of the puzzle as he looked down at the trunk between them. "'Dromeda…"
"Well, I was trying to figure out what to do, and then I realized that there was only one thing I could do." She stared at him. "I know it won't be easy to figure all this out—but…well, if anybody can do it…"
Ted touched the side of her face, as though he couldn't believe that she was really there. "You're pregnant," he said again, and she nodded. "And we're…"
"Together," she agreed. "If you want to be. I love you, Teddy."
"I love you, too," he said softly.
She laughed, and he pulled her into his arms, holding her close as they kissed. Finally, after several minutes, they separated.
"We have a lot to talk about," he told her, although he was smiling.
Andromeda nodded. "But, erm…it's snowing," she said, reaching up and brushing a few flakes from his hair. "And it's freezing out here, so can we talk inside?"
"Oh, right—are you hungry?" Ted asked. "I can make us something."
"Anything but carrots," she told him. He stared at her. "I threw up on Rabastan at lunch last week. Carrot cake."
Ted roared with laughter. "But they're so good for you!"
"I will puke on you, do you understand me?" she told him. "No bloody carrots."
"They make you see in the dark, too," he told her.
"Are you mad?"
"My mum always said it when we were kids." He bent and picked up her trunk, wrapping his other arm securely around her waist. "But fine. Far be it from me to point out how you're depriving the baby of spectacular night vision."
"You're in real trouble if this baby doesn't inherit your sense of humor."
"Don't I know it?"