You know why Shakespeare ended R&J the way he did? There's no other way to do it that isn't anti-climactic.
This is the last chapter of this fic…not the end of my fanfiction writing…but the end of this part of the story, so I just wanted to thank everyone who reviewed. You all gave me a lot of confidence in writing, and that is no small thing. As for future fanfic projects, I'm not sure now, but the livejournal will probably be where I obsess about it.
Chapter 31 - Epic
A thin mist seemed to be everywhere, making the darkness and the sounds of a fight somehow insubstantial. Detached, not really there, I saw Bella, cloaked in black but unmasked, raise her wand. I heard the Avada Kedavra, and couldn't do anything to stop her, couldn't move or make a sound….
I sat up suddenly, shaking, heart racing, breathing fast, with the vague feeling that I had to stop her, followed by the realization that I couldn't. Not only because she was simply too far gone, but because it had been, this time anyway, just a dream.
I was even more confused at Ted's voice, at his hand falling blindly on my leg in the darkness. Finally it occurred to him to say "lumos" and in the faint glow of his wand confusion receded. Surrounded by rich blue, we were in his bed, and though that sounds terribly exciting, it really wasn't as we hadn't actually done anything but study the previous night, and had apparently fallen asleep after nothing more scandalous than transfiguration notes. One really had to wonder if the powers that be at Hogwarts realized the possibilities of those curtained beds, especially with a student population that had the skills to seal and silence the curtains. Unfortunately, whatever visions he might have had of a seduction when convincing me it was a good study location were wasted on me, since we were only days away from exams and I really wasn't in a frame of mind to be distracted, even by him.
"Damn," he said simply, glancing around at books, wrinkled parchment, and a rather large ink stain on his sleeve where he'd let a quill fall.
"What time is it?"
He glanced at his watch. "Half past two. Are you all right?"
"Yes, I just had a nightmare. I'm fine."
He brushed the parchment and books aside. "You sure?"
"I'm okay…just a dream. I should get back to Slytherin while everyone is asleep."
"You've got a few hours," he said quietly, pulling me into him.
"I can't stay," I protested, without much conviction, still half asleep myself, then, "Oh maybe just a moment…but we'll get in trouble…"
I didn't really want to go back to Slytherin, not when he kissed me, his hand curved over my rib cage, slid my shirt off my shoulders, we seemed to fit together so perfectly. He trailed his hands up my arms, linked our fingers, and I forgot to think, forgot to worry about anyone else, almost forgot to breathe, caught in the weight and smell and presence of him.
It sounds dramatic to say I knew that night that something momentous had happened, but in reality I wouldn't realize until nearly a month later. I thought only as I slipped back to Slytherin in the thin darkness of very early morning, as I slipped past my sleeping roommates, that I was for the moment released from the nightmares. The images of Death Eaters and killing curses and chains replaced by whispers of "you're so beautiful" and a flutter of kisses tickling across my stomach and the feeling of melting from within, and I smiled to myself as I climbed into bed behind the familiar green curtains. I didn't realize how irrevocably our lives changed that night.
"C'mon…tell me. C'mon Ted, you're easier to break than Andy, I'll get it out of you."
Ted shook his head, looking amused, as we walked out of potions. "I don't know what you're talking about, Marlene."
"Something's going on. You've got a secret. I can always tell when Andy has a secret, and there's something you're not telling me."
I just shrugged, and she looked to Sirius, who copied the shrug. "Something's up. I can tell Andy. You will tell me, you know. You're good at keeping secrets, but I know you, you'll cave to me eventually. Come on Andy…what have you got planned?"
"You know Marlene, given that we have life-deciding exams starting tomorrow, I should think you'd have something better to think about than making up conspiracy theories about me."
"Actually, no. It might be only a theory now, my dear, but just you wait, I'll find out your little secret. I have ways, you know…"
"Like talking mercilessly about your little theory until I make something up just to shut you up?"
"Convincing, Andy, but just not convincing enough…"
With her badgering me, I didn't actually hear what was said, and I still don't know to this day, Ted has never told me. One moment he was walking behind Marlene and I and rolling his eyes at her questioning me, the next moment he dropped his bag and turned, saying "Right, that's enough…"
Rabastan looked momentarily surprised, then smirked. "Is there a problem, mudblood?"
"I've ignored you for almost seven years Lestrange, and I'm rather tired of it."
"And you're under the impression I care what you think?"
Pureblood boys had always played rough, and I had seen him in enough fights to know Rabastan was a good dueler, and he was fast, but careless, and the last thing he seemed to expect was for Ted to attack him. In all honestly, I didn't expect it either and I didn't realize what he meant to do until a split second before. I moved, I meant to stop him, but Sirius caught me by the shoulders and pulled me back as spells ricocheted off the walls.
All I saw then was blood, and I may have screamed, but I couldn't move, as Sirius still had his arm across my shoulders, and then another spell sent Rabastan flying back into the wall, hitting his head with an audible crack.
"Stop it this instant!" shouted Professor McGonagall, pushing past watching students. She knelt by Rabastan for a moment, and then sighed and rose, levitating him gently. "Mr. Tonks, hospital wing. The rest of you, to class."
"Let go of me Sirius, I swear I'll hex you! What are you doing, I could have-"
"Andy, sometimes you just have to let him fight. Ted can look after himself. That one has been coming for awhile. Ted let the snide comments go a lot longer than I would have. And frankly Andy, that was brilliant. I've been wanting to slam Lestrange into a wall for about five years."
I stared at him for a moment, wanting to slam him into a wall, and then turned.
"Andy, we have class, where are you going?"
I hesitated outside the hospital wing, hearing voices inside.
"Mr. Lestrange says that Mr. Tonks attacked him for no reason, but given both of their behavior over the last seven years I imagine there was a reason," McGonagall said a little acidly.
"And what does Mr. Tonks say?" Dumbledore's voice responded, quietly, almost resignedly.
"Nothing, he merely says it was just a fight, but I could hazard a guess…"
"No use in that," Dumbledore cut her off, although I got the idea he knew exactly what she meant. A moment later he stepped into the hall before I could hide. He didn't look at all surprised to see me either. He merely nodded at me gravely. "Miss Black. I presume you are here to check on Mr. Tonks?"
"Yes, Sir, may I?"
He nodded. "Yes, I believe Madam Pomfrey has patched him up. I will warn you though Miss Black, you would be wise to mind her instructions."
I slipped past a curtained bed where I could hear Madam Pomfrey saying "It's no use arguing Mr. Lestrange…" and to the next screened space. A number of thoughts passed through my mind when I saw Ted, but the one that finally won was relief- he looked fine, sitting up on the edge of the bed. The curse had not hit him straight on, but caught him in the side, cutting across his shoulder and arm, which were bound up neatly with white bandages that he was tugging at irritably.
"Don't fuss at that," I warned, and he looked up warily.
"Are you mad at me?"
"Yes," I snapped. "Stupid boys and your stupid fights! You could have gotten hurt."
"I'm fine, except this thing itches," he said, picking at it again. I walked over and slapped his hands away, patting the edge of the bandages ineffectively, since I knew nothing about healing, I just wanted to assure myself he really was fine, feel skin under my hands.
"I told you not to fuss at that. What could he have possibly said that we haven't heard a million times? Rabastan isn't smart enough to come up with anything new, so why now?"
He didn't meet my eyes. "It doesn't matter what he said, it was just one too many comments about you."
"Ted, I don't care if people make comments about me. You scared me. There was a lot of blood."
He caught my chin with his uninjured hand, forcing me to look at him. "Andy, I'm fine."
He released my chin and pulled me against him, and I didn't resist, glad for the particular smell of his skin. It was just another fight at Hogwarts, they happened all the time and usually without any serious results, but for just a few seconds I thought he might be really hurt, and I couldn't imagine the world without him.
"Andy, listen…I don't like fighting, and I don't start fights. But there is a limit to what I'll ignore. The way things are, I can't always walk away from guys like Lestrange. There are going to be fights I can't walk away from. I know you understand that, I've seen you fight back when you needed to. It's going to happen sometimes."
"Ted, if anything happened to you…"
"Andy, love, I'm fine," he said softly against my hair.
"Miss Black!" Madam Pomfrey's voice cut through shrilly. "What are you doing in here? You're not allowed in here!"
"Out, out, out, Miss Black."
Remembering Dumbledore's advice, I decided it was in my best interest to go, while she fussed over him. I was nearly at the door when Rabastan's voice stopped me. "Black?"
I turned back, and for a moment was frightened by the look he gave me- pure hate.
"You and your boyfriend have made dangerous enemies. Remember that."
The whole incident might have made my life in Slytherin much more difficult, except that exams started the next day, and people were too wrapped up in their own studying to even glance my way. Shannon spent that evening drilling me on potions, which she barely needed to look at the book to confirm, she knew it off by heart. I knew really that if I didn't know it by that point it was pretty much a lost cause, but I had to feel like I was doing something, and we went to bed early without much conversation.
Breakfast was a rather subdued affair, and I ate as quickly as possible, and then wandered over to where Marlene was trying desperately to do some last minute studying, and Ted was telling her that with thirty minutes until the exam, it wasn't going to make much difference. Sirius said boldly that he didn't really care, exams didn't mean anything in the real world, and she smacked him with her charms book.
I felt strangely relaxed about it all, agreeing with Ted that it was too late to worry, and also pretty confident that I would be fine, and so when we finally sat down and McGonagall told us to begin, I gave Ted a slight smile, and turned over the paper.
The practical examination seemed to go rather well, and Sirius was quite convinced they would have to invent a new grade beyond 'O' to accommodate his brilliance. Lily helpfully suggested 'B' for "big head."
The next day we had Transfiguration, and after lunch Defense Against the Dark Arts. Arithmancy was the day after that, and as I was most worried about that, I spent the previous evening studying with Ted, and actually studying, not the version of it that was Sirius's favorite euphemism.
"I can't believe we'll be finished Monday…" he said vaguely, as it was getting late.
"I know. Hand me that paper there by your arm…no the other one."
He did. "You know all of this, you know. You're going to ace it, no problem."
I wrinkled my nose. "It's my worst class."
"Most people would be thrilled to have your grades in your worst class."
"I know." He gave me a charming smile. "The reason I mention we're going to be finished on Monday is…then the term ends Friday."
I glanced up from my Arithmancy book, and then seeing the serious expression on his face, closed it firmly. "Ted, listen…we don't have to do this now. If you're not ready, I understand…"
He blinked at me. "That's not what I meant. I want this Andy." He took my hand, running his thumb gently over the inside of my wrist where my pulse beat. It was an innocent but unmistakably intimate touch. "Don't you realize how much I love you? I just…I love how you look when you're trying to be mad and can't. I love waking up because you're sleeping on my chest and your hair is tickling me. I love the way you smile when I know it's entirely for me. I love the way your perfume or your voice can still make my heart skip. But we need to talk about this…there are details…"
I would never be as good as he was at such romantic speeches…such sentimentality was entirely against my nature, but I needed him to know that I loved him as much.
"The details don't matter to me Ted. It's so simple, I love you."
And really it hardly mattered that I never really found romantic words to put to it, he knew anyway, read my mind without Legilimency.
We spent most of that might talking about it, drifting from the realities of getting out of Hogwarts with no one noticing and where we would go, to the brilliant fantasies of our future, of seeing the world, of our own house, our own life, one that I chose.
I felt that I did as well as I could have expected on the Arithmancy exam the next day, and was fairly sure that I had managed at least a passing grade. We had the next day off, and then had herbology, which I was quite sure I'd aced. The only thing we had on Monday was potions, but a general feeling of dread hung over us during the week-end, and the rest of the school was also wrapped up in exams, so there was no enjoying ourselves. The week-end seemed to drag by and I barely saw Ted, because Shannon suddenly lost all confidence in her unnatural knowledge of potions and insisted I keep quizzing her on ingredients and possible reactions. Although she knew all of it, she kept insisting that the book could be wrong and what if it was and she had learned everything wrong? My dismissing that as stupid didn't help as she wailed "I am stupid, oh I'm going to fail!"
Naturally, she finished before anyone else and did brilliantly, and I came out of potions feeling as though I'd done fairly well for myself. Sirius and James caused a disturbance by jumping up and shouting as soon as they finished, despite the fact that time was not up, because they were officially finished with school. Potions was the last exam for seventh years and when the time was up we all sort of looked at each other blankly, not entirely able to grasp that we were officially finished with school. The term would last through Friday and the younger students were still in exams, but we were technically done with our education at Hogwarts.
Sirius and James kicked off the feeling of a party despite McGonagall threatening them with detention (they knew she wouldn't follow through). Sirius flung an arm around Marlene's neck and then one around me and hugged us both wildly, swinging around. "Ladies, we are finished with our education, and now…we're going to drink like they're gonna stop making it!"
Ted caught me up, hugging me so hard he lifted me off the ground, and drew me back away from Sirius and James and their shouts about how much alcohol they planned to consume, and said quietly in my ear, "finished?"
I turned, and smiled at him. "Finished."
He drew me into a doorway, and kissed me lightly. "Well, now that we're done with exams, and we have all this free time, what will we do with ourselves?"
"Well, I just don't know…"
"Because I was thinking, if you don't have any other plans, you might want to marry me tonight?"
I giggled. "Careful, someone will hear you. Listen, I have a few things I have to do, okay? I'll see you at dinner."
He kissed me once and then released me. "Okay."
My room was blessedly empty when I returned, my roommates as caught up in the heady freedom as everyone else, they were probably outside and enjoying the lovely early summer day. I sat at my desk, and tried to think about what I needed to do. I thought briefly maybe I should write to my parents, but what would I say? I couldn't say I loved them, because I barely knew them. I couldn't say I was sorry, because I hardly regretted any inconvenience I would cause them. Instead, I wrote only three letters.
I'm sorry for doing this to you, for leaving you with the fallout, but they won't blame you, not really.
Darling, I know you hoped I'd change my mind. I know you tried to convince me, but I love him, and Cissy, I really think you, of all people, understand what it means to love someone so much that they become everything in your world. I have to be with him, I can't see my life any other way.
I have to leave for my own happiness, but it's not you I need to leave, never that. I can't be what Mother and Father want me to, I can't live the life they expect from me. I didn't expect this from my life but I also never knew it would be like this to fall in love.
I want nothing but happiness for you, Narcissa, and I wish you a lifetime with Lucius if that's what will bring you happiness. But know that I will always be here for you if you need me, I love you and I'll never stop loving you.
Reggie, I know how angry I've made you just now, I know you think I've made that role you took, that role of Black heir, even harder by making people wonder about the family's honor, by showing myself as a blood traitor. What I hope for you is that someday you'll fall in love, and maybe you'll understand.
You have so much potential. You're so much more than just blood. You're a brilliant and beautiful man Reg, aside from blood, aside from legacy, aside from your brother. I hope someday you realize that.
I'm sorry if I've made things harder for you, but know that I still love you, and you can always come to me, no matter what.
All my love,
I don't know that you'll ever read this. I know it's as likely as not you'll throw it into the fire as soon as you get it. Don't think I have any illusions about how much you'll hate me when you find out what I've done.
I don't expect your forgiveness, or your understanding. I don't expect you to be able to think past the fact that's he's muggle-born, but if you could you would realize he makes me happy. You used to love anyone who made me happy, anyone who could make me laugh. I never meant to fall in love with him, I tried not to, but somehow it happened anyway. I love him with all my heart, I'll give my heart to him, but you will always have a part of my soul.
You were the center of my world, my universe, for so long, and yet I lost you, and you lost me. In a way, I think, I know how you feel. I hate him for taking you away. I hate what has happened to us. Maybe it happens, maybe it's just because we grew up, maybe it's just a part of life, but I love you.
Remember that, but also know that your fight is with me. I take responsibility for my own choices. If you come after him, if you come after our children, I'll do whatever I have to. You know me better than anyone, you won't underestimate me.
I'll always love you, I'll always be your sister, whether you want me to or not.
We had assumed most of Hogwarts would go to bed early, but the seventh years were in expansive moods and the younger students, still buried in exams, would study late, so we had planned to meet at one, guessing the best time to get out of Hogwarts was the dead of night. I had packed my trunk earlier while my roommates were gone, leaving only enough things lying around so that it didn't look as though I was planning to leave immediately. Our room was in such disarray that one could hardly tell what was mine, and once everyone else was asleep (or gone, Adrienne was nowhere to be found, apparently spending that night in someone else's bed), I put the remaining few items in my trunk, and then shrunk it enough to put in my pocket.
As I did, someone said gently, "Andromeda?" and I turned and found Shannon sitting up in bed, wide awake and watching me. I froze, trying wildly to think of a good reason for my strange behavior, but she only smiled at me.
"Keep in touch, won't you?"
I followed the curving stairs down only a few steps, and stopped in front of the next girls' dormitory. Hesitantly, I opened the door, and was met with only darkness and silence. Moonlight was filtering through the window, cutting across the room, and falling across her bed. In sleep, Narcissa was breathtakingly lovely. I put two of the letters, hers and the one for Reg, on the pillow next to her. Then, not wanting to wake her but not able to leave without doing so, I smoothed her hair back and kissed her forehead gently. She stirred and sighed, but didn't wake.
I slipped out, and though there were two people on the couch in the Slytherin common room, they were clearly only interested in each other and not in a situation to notice a natural disaster, much less someone who slipped past softly in the shadows. I did spare a moment and a sentimental glance around the place that had been my home for seven years. I had not been unhappy in Slytherin, it really was where I belonged despite everything.
The halls of Hogwarts were dark and deserted, and I headed for Gryffindor. I hadn't given any thought to how I meant to get into their common room, but as luck would have it fate, in the form of the romance of James Potter and Lily Evans, came to my aid. As I pondered the fat woman in the portrait that I knew was their door, I heard a muffled giggle behind me, and dropped back into the shadows, as the giggle, punctuated by muffled whispers, came closer. Finally, my suspicions were confirmed as an invisibility cloak belonging to one James Potter swirled away, revealing him and Lily, sneaking back to the common room. I had always suspected Sirius borrowed one from someone, he was too good at getting around.
I stepped out of the shadow of a suit of armor. "James?"
They both whipped around, eyes wide, and then James relaxed a bit when he saw it was me. "Andromeda, hey. You scared us. What's up? What are you doing here?"
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you, I just wanted to talk to Sirius for a minute. Could you maybe grab him, I don't want to freak out the rest of you guys by appearing in your room."
He grinned. "Sure thing, but come on in the common room, you don't want to talk out here."
I followed he and Lily into the common room, all scarlet and velvet and warmth, and so different from Slytherin that I stared for a moment, before Lily wished me goodnight and slipped up one of the staircases. James waved to a cushy armchair.
"I'll grab Sirius," he said, and then paused for a moment, taking in my traveling cloak, and then nodded, "and good luck, Andromeda."
He winked and disappeared up another staircase. I sat in one of the armchairs and looked into the dying fire. I had not thought about what I would say to Sirius, but I also knew that with him it wasn't a good-bye, I would see him again. I just couldn't go without telling him.
He came downstairs shirtless (I was living the fantasy of many Hogwarts girls) bleary-eyed, and with his hair sticking up almost as much as James's did regularly.
"Andy? Hey, Prongs said you needed…" his eyes swept over me, taking in the traveling cloak. He frowned, and then understanding lit in his eyes. "You're leaving?"
"Yes. We're getting married." I couldn't help it, a smile crept onto my face, slightly embarrassed, a little nervous, but a smile. He impulsively dropped all his seventeen-year-old male bravado and hugged me.
"I'm happy for you Andy. Ted is a great guy, best thing that ever happened to you. It's rather epic, you know? You'll be happy with him."
"Of course you do, you're the clever girl stealing away in the middle of the night with him."
I shrugged. "Narcissa said something, it made me think my Father might try to stop me, that's why we're leaving before the term is over…"
"No, you're smart, once you're married they can't stop you, don't give them a chance to," he stood back and studied me, hands on my shoulders. "So, wedding night, do we need to have that talk about the birds and the bees now? Ow!"
"Kiss Marlene for me, please? She'll be angry we didn't tell her, but we didn't tell anyone."
"Of course Darling, I expect she'll forgive you. She loves you both, she'll be happy for you."
"I'll owl you soon."
"I know you will, but don't worry about me. Enjoy Ted for a little while, take some time for the two of you."
"We will. You're a good man, Sirius."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, Darling." He smiled and kissed my cheek, a blessing. "Be good Andy."
"Shouldn't I tell you that?"
"What makes you think I'd listen?" He grinned crookedly and gave me a little push. "Go on Andy, the love of your life is waiting."
I kissed his cheek. "I love you, Sirius."
"Well, I imagine you just can't help it," he said, but as I stepped out of the portrait door of the room, he added, "I love you too, coz."
I went to the owlery and posted the letter I'd written to Bella. I thought about having Narcissa give it to her, but I wanted to know she got it, and I didn't want to force Cissy to endure that particular storm. That finished, feeling like I had finished everything I needed, I released the owl, and went down to meet Ted.
Despite being June, the night was cool. It felt surreal, in the moonlight of the Hogwarts courtyard- I was scared, excited, entirely uncertain exactly what would happen and yet completely certain that it was the right thing to do. I had come too far for anything else, the world I had come from seemed too cold, too dark, too colorless to survive in, and while my future with Ted was uncertain, it felt like light and color and happiness that came so easily. I was not good at throwing aside logic, but against all rational thought, this was right.
Then he was there, coming up behind me and laying a hand against my back, his touch so certain that nervousness vanished, replaced by a kind of thrill at the unknown.
I nodded. "Let's go."
"We just need to get beyond the grounds."
He kissed me, for luck, or for reassurance, or both.
"And then, the world is ours…"