Title from Let It Go, Frozen.
Andromeda stops. The knuckles of her hands are white with how tightly she's gripping her trunk. Her throat is burning. Her cheeks are wet. She is trying not to shake.
She's taller than almost all the other first years, even the boys, and she spends the year with her head down. She slumps in chairs and tries not to make unnecessary eye contact. Her robes are always clean and wrinkle-free, her shoes shine. She excels in Charms and hovers above average in every other class except Herbology, but she doesn't much care for Herbology anyway. She doesn't like getting her hands dirty. She doesn't like drawing attention to herself.
Bella, three years older and beautiful already, sits on the best armchair in the common room as if it is a throne. Students crowd around her, laugh at her frequent jokes, flinch sometimes. Andromeda watches, hears the laughter, sees the flinches, and is proud. She is proud of her beautiful, clever, fierce sister.
Thirty-three years later she will kneel before her sister's grave. It will be slashed with curses, hateful words carved into it, and Andromeda will not know if she's guiltier because she was once proud or because she sees the hate and is glad.
Someone has started pushing her in the corridors. Andromeda doesn't know who for a long time, but then a group of boys in her year start mimicking her in class. Quietly mouthing along when she speaks, their noses held comically high. They flick bits of parchment her way, knock into her desk when they pass. She blushes and swallows back tears, starts sitting at the back of classrooms so she can escape quickly. She doesn't really have any friends, so she tells Bella.
The next day the boys are not in class. Nobody can find them. Andromeda's stomach twists with fear, with guilt, with hope.
The day after that, they're back. They tell the teachers they got lost in the Forbidden Forest and are given detention every weekend for the rest of term. They don't bother Andromeda again.
"Come sit with me, Andy," Bella calls that evening in the common room, patting the chair next to her.
The boy sitting in it, lanky with dark circles under his eyes, stands immediately and shoves someone else out the way for another seat.
Andromeda sits, uncomfortably aware of the eyes upon her. Bella leans back in her chair, surveying the scene in front of her.
"This is my sister," she says, like a dare. Nobody says anything, and Andromeda sits up straight.
Things go back to normal when they go home for the holidays. Bella ignores her, spending most days and half the nights out with her friends. When she is home, she hides at the top of the stairs and jumps out at Andromeda, laughing at her screams. She does it to Cissy too, who comes crying to Andromeda. The two of them spend their days holed up together in the library, Narcissa reading textbooks and Andromeda reading fiction. She likes the stories where the heroine slays the dragon and the hero watches on amazed.
The next year, Cissy starts Hogwarts. She doesn't rule like Bella, but she doesn't hide like Andromeda either. She holds her head up and walks down the corridors like she belongs. At first she sits with Andromeda in the common room, but soon she has three friends she sits with instead. Andromeda starts spending more time in the library. When the weather gets warmer and the library fills with O.W.L students, she moves to the Quidditch pitch.
She watches the Slytherin practices, and sees that one of the chasers doesn't get along with the other two. She notes down their names, watches how Felicity and Ruth don't pass to Hannah unless they can't help it. Eventually the captain notices her and sometime later the team start calling her their mascot. She grins and holds her head high.
Bella pulls her roughly aside one day. She says a lot of things, but what it comes down to is you are nobody's mascot.
In her third year Andromeda goes to Quidditch try-outs and finds out the captain has left, leaving a beater position open. Andromeda doesn't play beater. Felicity has gotten the badge, and Andromeda talks quietly to her about team dynamics and her rights as captain. Hannah is kicked off the team and ten minutes later Andromeda is sweeping through the sky.
She is nobody's mascot.
They're doing a term-long project in Herbology and must work in pairs. Andromeda has friends now, mostly ones who like Quidditch, but they all know how she is about Herbology and she's left standing alone.
"Want to pair up?" a boy asks from the next bench over.
They've never spoken before, so Andromeda doesn't know who he is (what he is), only that he's near the top of the class. She starts to measure out soil, but he stops her with warm fingers on her wrist.
"No, I'll do it. I can do all the practical stuff and you can write it all up."
There's barely anything to write up and Andromeda is not that naive.
"No, really," he insists. "I hate working in groups. I'm not much of a team player, that's why I picked you."
She thinks about how he doesn't really talk to anyone when they're working and she thinks about how her parents will react if she fails this class.
"Ok," she says, sitting down and getting out her book. "Go ahead."
His name is Ted Tonks and he's a Mudblood.
She finds out three weeks into the project and thinks about it for a long time. She watches him work. She sees the crease between his eyebrows when he's concentrating. She sees the way he never remembers to roll up his sleeves, so they're always covered in dirt by the end of the lesson.
One day he looks up and catches her staring. "Admiring the view?" he asks cheekily.
She laughs and he grins before getting back to work. He's bright pink and sweating with the effort of... something. She doesn't really understand the project, but he doesn't seem to mind.
She watches him and wonders, what makes you so different from me?
She does not come up with an answer.
He sits next to her in the library one day.
"What'cha reading?" he asks, kicking her chair legs. The sleeves of his robes are muddy and he has ink on his cheek.
"It's about two twins who are separated at birth," she says.
"I always wanted a twin," he says. "Or just a brother or sister."
Andromeda feels sorry for him, thinking of Bella daring people to make fun of her and Cissy jabbering on about history or the Dark Arts or whatever her latest obsession is.
"I'd hate to be an only child."
"Do you have siblings then?"
Everyone knows the Black family, everyone knows there's three of them. But, come to think of it, she's not sure she's ever told him her last name.
"I have two sisters, Cissy and Bella. Cissy is the year below us, Bella's in her sixth year."
His eyes widen. "Bella as in Bellatrix Black?" he asks, trying for casual and landing at dislike.
Andromeda remembers the flinches and feels her stomach drop. "Yeah. Why?" she says.
Ted shrugs and kicks her chair again.
"Tell me," Andromeda says.
Ted shrugs again. "She tried to hex me a few times. Practice, she called it. She called me Mudblood."
You are a Mudblood is Andromeda's first thought. I will kill her is her second. No, I won't. I won't do anything is her third.
"You look a lot like her, actually. I can't believe I didn't see it before. You're nothing like her though," Ted says with a certainty that makes Andromeda's face flame.
They start trading books. All his are written by muggles, but once Andromeda gets past the lack of magic, they're pretty good. She keeps them hidden at the bottom of her bag, enchanted to look like her favourite wizarding series, just in case.
That summer Andromeda's mother starts talking about private tutoring to prepare for her O. , sending Andromeda into a spiral of anxiety. Bella got nine Os and two Es, and Andromeda is certain she can't live up to that. She hunts Cissy down and asks if she wants to hang out, but Cissy is busy writing a letter to someone. Andromeda holes up in her room and reads one of Ted's books instead. She's never dared to get them out at home before, but now she wonders why, since nobody comes to find her all afternoon.
That evening Bella jumps out as she and Cissy reach the top of the stairs. Andromeda shrieks and claps a hand to her chest, shaking. Cissy jumps, then sniffs and stalks away with her nose in the air.
Bella watches her go with a hint of admiration, then she smirks at Andromeda and disappears down the stairs.
Before she goes to bed Andromeda writes a letter to Ted. She tells him to make sure he addresses the reply to her bedroom rather than the family address.
It rains for what feels like the entirety of Autumn that year, then overnight the rain seems to freeze and the air becomes sharp as a knife. Quidditch practices are brutal and Andromeda finds herself trailing behind in class, struggling to keep her eyes open. She studies in the library late into the night to try and make up for it, and that's where Ted finds her.
"You look exhausted," he says. "I know what will help, come with me."
He takes her down a corridor she's never been to before and stops in front of a painting of a fruit bowl.
"You just tickle the pear," he says, gesturing for her to go ahead.
"Are you kidding?" she asks coolly.
"Would I do that?"
No, he wouldn't. She wants to hug him very tight. She doesn't, because she's fifteen and she's got a date with a Slytherin (pure-blood) next week and if she does she thinks she'll cry. She tickles the pear instead. A few minutes later she's sitting in front of a fire with a mug of hot chocolate and a plate of scones, listening to Ted patiently explain their most recent Herbology lesson.
"See, it's simple," he says.
"Only when you explain it. Thank you."
"No problem. You could repay me by helping me out with Charms."
And suddenly they're spending almost every evening together, elbows knocking in the library or sharing scones in the kitchens.
It doesn't work out with the Slytherin (pure-blood) boy, and Andromeda tells herself it's not because he said Mudblood so casually on their third date.
(The word is starting to taste sour in her mouth.)
They always have family over for Christmas, which means Andromeda gets to see Sirius. He's too old for her to race around with on her back anymore, so instead they go flying.
"Are you excited about starting Hogwarts next year?" she asks him when they're alone.
"Hogwarts better be excited about having me," he says with a grin, only half joking.
Bella has a friend round for dinner, lanky with dark circles under his eyes. He's mostly quiet, except when Lord Voldemort comes up, as he is wont to do these days. Then he and Andromeda's father get into an intense discussion about the importance of blood purity and young people being politically active. Andromeda feels something like hate rise in her throat, begging to be spilled into their polite conversation. She thinks of Ted and the crease between his eyebrows. His Muggle books. His dirty sleeves. The way he hates working with other people. His patience. She thinks and feels and says nothing.
(She catches Sirius' eye across the table and reads her own thoughts in them. She is so proud.)
Fifth year is O.W.L year and Andromeda is no longer alone in the library. On top of that she's also been made Quidditch captain, and she's determined to be at least as dedicated as the last captain. When it all gets too much, Ted takes her to kitchens and tells her Muggle knock-knock jokes that make her laugh so hard she almost chokes on her scone.
After they lose the first Quidditch match of the season, Andromeda goes down to the kitchens and finds Ted waiting for her. He kisses her and she forgets why winning was so important anyway.
(They win the next match, but she lets him kiss her again anyway.)
He wants to go to Hogsmeade with her, but Andromeda says Hogsmeade is boring and she needs to study.
She sees Sirius walking around proudly in his Gryffindor robes, best friends with a blood traitor, and feels sick at herself.
But then she's Slytherin. She's never been brave. All she's ever been is not enough.
The summer between her fifth and sixth year is long and empty and painful. Andromeda wonders if her family have always said Mudblood this often or if she's only just started listening.
Cissy tries to get her to talk. "What's wrong with you? What's happened?" she says, over and over. "Please, Andy, you can tell me. I can help."
Andromeda locks herself in her room and reads a car magazine Ted gave her. She likes cars, likes learning how all the parts fit together. When Sirius' family comes over she gets him alone and shows him.
"Remus' family has one of these," he tells her, pouring over the pages.
"Remus? That blonde kid you hang around with sometimes?"
"Yeah, the tall one not the short one. The short one's Peter, but he doesn't have a car."
"Is Remus Muggle-born?"
Sirius glances up at her curiously. "You've never said that before," he says.
"I should have."
Sirius puts the magazine down and looks at her closely, waiting. He's twelve years old. Andromeda remembers being twelve and believing everything Bella said.
"It's not right to call them anything else," she tells him. "They're no different from us really."
Salazar Slytherin valued ambition. Andromeda thinks ambition is just wanting to be better than you are. That summer, Andromeda wants.
At school Ted asks her to go to Hogsmeade with him again, a little hopelessly like he doesn't expect anything. She's scared, but her voice doesn't shake when she says yes.
She holds his hand in the corridors and kisses him after Quidditch matches in full view of everyone. In view of Cissy. In view of Sirius.
Andromeda shakes. But she doesn't break.
She walks out of her house and meets Ted at the bus stop. She kisses him, her cheeks wet with tears. They get on the bus together.