Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Note: I started writing this story before HBP came out, and being set well in the past, it does contain any major spoilers from the book (namely, who dies or the identity of the Half-Blood Prince), but I have finished the book, so small adjustments may have been made to accommodate details found in it.

Chapter 1

When I look back on my early childhood, the years seem short in my memory, flying past in days that were warm and golden and magical. Before we were torn apart by the world. Before we were changed by life, by men, by politics. By the rules society made for us and the choices we made for ourselves. When I speak of it, rarely, Ted gives me an indulgent smile and says nothing. I know he thinks I view those times through rose-colored lenses, that I forget all the bad memories in favor of the good. He's wrong though- I remember the dark, cold halls of the manor house, the scowling house elves who were charged with minding us, and the blatant indifference of our parents. Ted, with his huge and close-knit family, can't imagine the worlds that isolated children will create for themselves.

We ran wild in the gardens and grounds of the manor house, escaped from our tutors and the house elves, and lost in our imaginary games. We were brave warriors and princesses, adventurers and pirates. In our own gardens we saved the wizarding world and explored uncharted territories.

The wizarding world was changing quickly in those times, but we were safe in our isolation, unaware of the coming turmoil, of the slow, steady rise of the man who would bring terror down on the world. We knew only that our family was wealthy and powerful, and we were secure in the knowledge that Blacks were above the dangers that faced common witches and wizards. We were young and we felt invincible.

We were close in age, one year apart like steps- Bella, me, and Narcissa- and we were close, back then. Father was gone in London nearly all the time, and Mother rarely saw us. We played often with our cousins, sometimes with the children of our parents' friends, but most often we were with each other. That was how we liked it best, we didn't need anyone else. They were extensions of me, we were three parts of a whole and not different people at all.

Bella was my wild side, the devil on my shoulder. Brash, outspoken, every bit as insolent as our father claimed she was, there was nothing Bella would not do, and telling her she could not do something only made her more determined. The world was hers for the taking, she drew people to her by the sheer force of her personality. Though I did not see it as such then, hers was a brilliant mind that could easily be drawn into darkness by that need to go farther, that need to find the next thrill.

I was the balance to Bella's wildness, though more often than not she could shout down all my good instincts and intentions. I was by no means a bookworm, but a sort of natural curiosity made me the least likely to give our tutors fits. I could argue Bella into the ground, but of course then she would just laugh that wild laugh and throw her arms around me.

Narcissa was our parents' favorite. She knew it, and it was not arrogance to admit it, since we were all something of a disappointment, having been born girls, and they did not particularly like children in any case. Among us, she caused the least trouble. She didn't ask strange questions as I did, and she had none of Bella's brash restlessness. She was breathtakingly lovely, even from a very young age, and could be counted on to be polite and well-bred and elegant in company. It was only Bella and I who knew the real Narcissa.

If I think about it, I can pinpoint the moment it started, the moment the cracks between us began, those cracks that would widen into an abyss. For me, it was in my first arithmancy class, when an overly-confident, brown-eyed, muggle-born boy actually dared to talk back to a Black girl. He threw me a contemptuous look, saying loudly enough for all to hear "Well Black, seems that you're clever enough despite all the inbreeding."

For Narcissa, it was the moment a golden boy with an utterly confident face smiled at her with a strange flash of knowledge in his gray eyes. I believe Lucius has always known that she would be his wife and whatever else might be between them, there is love.

For Bellatrix, it was when a handsome man with an indescribably cold face looked into her defiant eyes and drew a long, white, finger down her cheek, with the soft murmur of "what an enchanting child" that sounded more a threat than a compliment.

It was inevitable that we would grow apart as we grew up. I realized that the first time Bella left us for Hogwarts.

When I think back on the year before I went to Hogwarts, the first year with Bella gone, it feels surreal, as though I didn't really live it, but rather existed in limbo. We grew closer to our cousins, since they were deemed appropriate playmates. Sirius was my age and Regulus a year younger than Narcissa, but much of the magic that had been a part of our make-believe had disappeared with Bella. We wandered around the manor house aimlessly, frequently slipping away from the house elves and spending long hours outdoors, wandering around the gardens and grounds we had played in.

We wrote to her nearly every day, sometimes together, but more often individually, and she wrote back as often. Her letters told us little about what she did at Hogwarts, but were instead an insight into her mind, full of jumbled, half-finished thoughts and passionate opinions, embellished throughout with exclamation points and underlining. The names of her friends were familiar, because they were also the name of our parents' friends- Nott, Malfoy, Lestrange, Rosier, Wilkes- but I had no idea as I read these names in her letters how closely tied to our future they would become. I foolishly believed that no one could come between us.

Narcissa and I lived for the holidays.

Summer came, and with it Bella, making our world complete again. She must have changed, perhaps she had, but not to us. Aside from adopting an occasionally superior attitude and dropping tantalizing hints about what I could expect the next year at school, it was as though she had never gone.

My sisters and I all had our own rooms, but I do not remember a single night that I slept alone, despite the best efforts of the house elves who minded us. When Bella had gone to school, I found myself waiting for the sound of creeping bare feet and the soft brush of her cotton nightgown as she climbed into my bed, even though I knew she was hundreds of miles away. Without saying a word I knew Narcissa felt the same, and we clung to each other. I had grown used to it, no longer lying awake at night aching for her, but the first night of the holidays, I could have cried with happiness when I heard the creaking of floorboards along the hallway, the door to my room open, and Bella's tentative whisper "Andy? Cissy? You awake?"


Bella ran and jumped on my bed, landing on me with an "oof" while Narcissa scooted over to rest her head on Bella's shoulder.

"I'm so glad you'll be at Hogwarts too!" she whispered, as she described her first year, about the girls and boys and the intrigues of the Slytherin common room. The things she had not said in front of Mother and Father in their perfunctory inquiries about her grades and ascertaining that she was only mixing with the right people.

"I don't know what I'll do when you're both gone," said Narcissa plaintively. "I'll die, I'll just simply die!"

"Don't be silly Cissy, it will be gone in a flash, and then you'll be there too!" Bella hugged her hard. "Everything will be better when we're all together again."

My Mother would never consider getting to King's Cross through muggle London, and so we took a portkey directly to the platform.

"Oh honestly Andromeda, do be careful!" Mother said impatiently as I stumbled a bit as we arrived. "Such clumsiness is not becoming a lady."

"Sorry Mother," I said meekly, not terribly perturbed by the common reprimand. I was trying to look bored, copying Bella's disinterest, but in truth I felt nearly sick with nerves. I was excited to be going into a larger world, but it was also suddenly a bit terrifying. Narcissa just looked pleased to have been allowed to come along to the station.

My Father would not take time off work to come to the station with us, but he had called me into his study that morning before leaving. I was in awe of him, since I could count on one hand the number of times during my childhood he had addressed me directly and alone. He didn't mince words.

"The house of Black has a long and noble history, and I expect you to uphold that tradition and behave in a manner that is fitting to someone of your status. Do you understand?" He glared at me, daring me to answer him, and the portraits of Black ancestors on the walls around us seemed to do the same.

"Yes, Father," I said meekly, hoping my voice did not tremble.

"The standards for acceptance into Hogwarts have declined shamefully," he went on. "But the standards to be sorted into Slytherin have not. Your sister was sorted into Slytherin, and I expect nothing less from you." This was emphasized by a particularly venomous glare and I knew what he was thinking. Bellatrix had explained that some of the weaker lines, the blood traitors and muggle lovers might go into Gryffindor, but any true pureblood family with any pride belonged in Slytherin. "Be careful who you associate with. I will not have you mixing with mudbloods."

"Yes, Father."

"Good girl. You may go."

And that was my send-off from my Father. Now, Mother strode briskly down the platform, cutting through the crowd with the three of us trailing in her wake. My hands were free, the house elves would see to all my luggage, and I felt Narcissa's hand slip into mine and squeezed it.

"Mrs. Black!" A rich voice, full of patently false warmth spoke from behind us, and Mother actually deigned to stop and turn around to acknowledge the tall, fair man who had spoken. I recognized him as Abraxas Malfoy, he came often to our house to speak to father. They were considered quite as prominent as our family, and of course were related to us, distantly.

"My daughters, Bellatrix, Narcissa, and Andromeda, who begins her first year today," mother explained, giving me a light push forward, forcing me to let go of Narcissa's hand. Mr. Malfoy's gaze on me was like all the other adults in my life- assessing.

"Lovely," he murmured after a moment, without giving the slightest indication of having seen me. "Lucius begins his fifth year, Slytherin prefect," he added. He did not sound proud exactly, more simply satisfied.

"Ah, Mrs. Black, I thought I recalled you had another daughter the age to begin school," said a voice, and we turned to see a shockingly lovely woman who I recognized as Mrs. Wilkes. Her daughter, who looked like a first year as well, had unfortunately not inherited her mother's looks, she was skinny and plain.

"Yes, Andromeda is beginning her first year."

"So is Annabelle." At a sharp poke from her mother, Annabelle mumbled hello, though she did not raise her eyes from the platform.

Steam was beginning to billow from the train and parents were hustling their children on board, and I felt a sudden flash of terror. It was real, I was going. I looked at Narcissa and saw her blinking very fast, knowing it would never do to cry in public. I wanted to grab her and cling to her, as if that could hold her in my life, but I knew Mother would never allow such an untoward display of emotion in public. I felt frozen, and Bella grabbed my hand, and grabbed Sirius by the collar as well, because he was too busy looking around avidly and promising Reg lots of owls to notice that the train might leave without him.

"We have to go Andy, it will be okay, come on," she said gently, pulling me toward the train. Once the train started to move and mother was no longer watching, she put her arm around my shoulders and hugged me hard. "I felt like I was going to die when I left you both last year, and I got through it, and so will you and so will Cissy. Next year, next year we'll all be back together."

I looked out the window for as long as I could, watching Narcissa standing forlornly on the platform. Despite knowing I would be with Bella now, I already missed my little sister more than anything.

I stayed with Bella on the train and she did not seem to mind her younger sister tagging along. Quite the opposite, she introduced me all around to her friends. There were familiar faces, the children of my parents' friends. Bella only had to speak my name and I was instantly accepted, even admired. I was surprised and a little amused to find there was a certain amount of mystery surrounding me and my sisters. We had been so isolated, so sheltered by the family name that curiosity had been sparked in those we had never met.

Bella was a natural leader, I saw, immediately claiming a train compartment in which to hold court. When she was with Narcissa and I, she didn't censor herself, but talked in a rambling stream-of-consciousness, thinking out loud and allowing us to know all her thoughts. Now, among others, she remained silent and enigmatic, looking as though she knew a secret no on else could ever imagine, so that when she did speak, everyone took notice. Even the much older students, the prefect Lucius Malfoy and sixth-year Rodolphus Lestrange, more men than boys, took notice of her, a mere second year. Sirius wandered in halfway through the train ride and announced that the other first years didn't seem much fun, and someone immediately made a place for him to sit. It was quickly becoming clear to me that in the right circles at Hogwarts, being a Black meant something.

I had seen pictures of Hogwarts, and I was no stranger to grand castles and ancient manors, but it still took my breath away as I got my first view of Hogwarts from the boats. Even Rabastan Lestrange, who had been professing his boredom for the whole train ride, who knew everything about Hogwarts from his older brother, gave a gasp and stared in open-mouthed wonder.

I was among the first to be sorted, and I heard whispers as the other students heard the name "Black." I looked over at the Slytherin table and the last thing I saw before the hat fell over my eyes was Bella watching, biting her lip nervously.

"Another Black, eh?" said the little voice, seemingly in my head. "I know what you expect, but I've learned not to jump to conclusions! You've got a good mind, and respect knowledge for the journey, not just as a means to and end. You'd do well in Ravenclaw." A wave of panic welled up in me and I thought desperately Slytherin, it must be Slytherin, I had to be with Bella. "Slytherin, eh? Well you're ambitious in your own way, but there are those you wouldn't betray for your own ends. But there is subtlety there, and pride, yes indeed. Well, if you're sure it's what you want, better be…SLYTHERIN!"

I gave a carefully concealed sigh of relief as the last word rang through the Great Hall and the Slytherin table cheered. I had expected no less, naturally, but I did not like to imagine my family's reaction if I had been sorted into any other house. At the Slytherin table two students moved aside to give me a place next to Bellatrix. The prefect, his gold badge winking in the candlelight, leaned over to shake my hand.

"Another Black? Bella's sister?" he asked.

I nodded, trying to look nonchalant, but I could not help a bit of pride.

"Excellent," he murmured, almost more to himself than to me. He gave me a smile that I would eventually learn, in Lucius, passed for warm. "Welcome to Hogwarts, Andromeda Black, and welcome to Slytherin."

I felt a warm glow of acceptance. I was finally there, at Hogwarts. I had been sorted into the house I belonged in. I was welcomed and admired by my peers, and I was well on my way to make my family proud.

Later that night, as I lay in my bed listening to Annabelle's snores, I still felt that warm glow. Bella was only a few steps away in the second year girls' dorm, and I curled up and fell asleep smiling, thinking that the next day, and my entire career at Hogwarts, was going to be brilliant.