center b The Last Parting /b /center

She had known leaving would be hard, yet nothing could have prepared her for the emotion she felt the last time she saw her sisters.

It would be the last time, of that she was sure – they would never be allowed to speak to her again after her departure, the most she could hope for was chance encounters on the streets, surrounded by strangers, where they would both have to conceal their emotions – Purebloods never showed what they really felt to the vulgar crowd.

Purebloods never showed what they really felt to one another either – or at least the Slytherin did not. And not one member of family belonged to another house, so she had to pretend she was not planning to leave after this last meal in her parents' house.

They would take her wand and lock her in her own room for days otherwise – they had certainly not hesitated to do so before.

So she kept an appropriate warm face, and listened and participated to the conversation, while every mouthful brought her closer to the very last moment, to the unsaid goodbye.

It was a pity, really. She and her sisters were so good together – red, and black, and blond; smart, and ruthless, and charming. They had always been a team, from their childhood in the forbidding mansion to their years in Hogwarts. And she, as the eldest, had always done her best to protect her siblings.

She would miss them both, but even that did not compare to the guilt she felt at abandoning them. She would not be there to reign Bellatrix's passions, to calm down Narcissa's fears. And there would be no one to serve as an in-between for them and their parents. No one to take the blame, to fight for more freedom.

On the other hand, if she did stay, they would break her. The endless chatter about the Ancient and Noble House of Black, and Pureblood prerogatives, and Slytherin purity, had all been well and fine when they were all children and young enough not to listen. It had been bearable from Hogwarts, when the old mansion only meant holidays and time free from textbooks.

But she had finished Hogwarts three weeks ago, and it had been made clear to her that she would not be allowed out of this house until she was safely married. To a Pureblooded wizard, that went without saying. She was expected to follow the life her mother, her grandmother and all witches in the old family tree had assumed before her. A path of honour, leading to positions to be envied, that was certain.

And yet Andromeda Black was not meant to follow the path of others. She made her own, paths that led only to places she wanted to be in. Even if it meant saying a silent goodbye to everything she had ever known, and leaving her sisters behind her.

That is why she dapped the linen cloth against her lips after their meal, that evening, and followed everyone to the living-room for the usual nightcaps. A last good-night kiss to each sister, a half curtsy to her parents, and a last agonising hour spent waiting in her room, hand on her wand, her bundle hidden under the bed, for the house itself, for even the Elves retire.

Then she stole down the steps, through the corridor. She passed the study, the grandfather clock ticking along to her muted footsteps until she heard the reassuring sound no more – she had arrived to the last threshold.

The door closed behind her in the silence of the night. The air was fresh, the night clear, and her guilt and grief did not resist long to the exhilaration of being free at last.

Her life stood open to her, shining as bright as all the night stars who now illuminated her way; Andromeda stepped right into it without further ado.