Author's Notes: To tell you the truth, I don't really like this all that much. But I felt like something had to be said about the subject!
Honest feedback appreciated.
For Andromeda Tonks
Because J.K. Rowling took away her parents,
Her husband, her daughter, her son-in-law,
And one of her sisters,
But maybe she gave her back a sister, too.
A slight knock: she looks up, startled for only a moment before returning to her paper. It is nearly midnight; whoever decided that 11:57 P.M. was a decent hour to call on a home with an infant needs to very seriously consider resetting their internal clock.
She sits in peace for a solid three minutes until it comes again, this time with more force. She sighs, pushing away from the table and carefully folding her shaking hands into the pockets of her apron-- they started at the funeral and she hasn't been able to calm them since.
Cross, mouth already halfway through putting the intruder in his or place, she gives a little twist of her wrist and pulls the door inward. "Do you have any idea what time . . ."
Her voice tapers off, grip on the door handle tightening of its own accord.
The woman's hair is hidden beneath her cloak, eyes fastened to the floor; but the unmistakable pale hue of her face leaves little doubt as to the visitor's identity, and all traces of uncertainty vanish as she whispers into the silence, "May I come in, Andromeda?"
The question hangs between them, tremulous and as close to meek as Narcissa Malfoy has ever come.
Andromeda struggles; her logical mind coldly demands that she slam the door in her traitorous, weak sister's face. She can't help the onslaught of envious dislike that creeps along the corners of her heart, the childish it's-not-fair instinct that flares once her tired, overwrought mind considers what her sister gets to go home to.
But she can't push away the curiosity that scratches at her, either, wondering what dire circumstance could drag her proud, estranged sister onto her front porch at midnight on a Thursday.
She steps aside. "All right," she acquiesces.
Narcissa does not smile; in fact, her expression does not change. But the air between them is suddenly clearer and much easier to breathe. "Thank-you."
Andromeda leads the blonde woman through the front hall and lets her take a seat in the guest chair at the kitchen table. "Would you like some tea?" She asks stiffly. "Perhaps a biscuit?"
The two women sit in uncomfortable silence, Andromeda fingering the lace on her placemats and Narcissa idly picking at the polish over her fingernails. Finally she takes a deep breath and says, "I know that I am . . . unexpected, and perhaps unwelcome . . .?"
The last word ends as a question that Andromeda declines to answer, simply taking a calm sip of her tea.
"But I felt it was my duty, to come and talk-- well, try to talk-- a few things over."
That is curious. Andromeda allows her expression to shift, if only slightly, to show the mildest in intrigue. "Did you?" She asks neutrally. "How very. . . thoughtful." A slight sneer mars the compliment and Narcissa visibly winces. "Dare I ask why you felt midnight was an appropriate hour for this discussion?"
The answer is shameless and blunt: "I didn't want my husband to know I was here."
The word lashes at her: a familiar sting in Andromeda's stomach. She has almost become used to its bite now; the sensation hardly distracts her anymore. "Of course."
Narcissa's tone is more gentle as she adds, "Andromeda, surely you've been reading the paper. Lucius and I made foolish mistakes, during the War, chose the wrong side-- I was blinded, we both were, by Voldemort's many promises . . . but we-- "
"Survived," Andromeda interrupts, clasping her hands together to cease their violent shaking. Her stomach is knotted and her throat closes around the word. Cramps dig into her legs from tension, spreading through her body until she's sure that grief has never been emotional at all, just this physical agony that starts somewhere in her chest.
Narcissa doesn't reply, making no excuse for the brutality of the truth, for the unfair twist that destiny has braided into both of their lives. "Not all of us," she says softly. "You may not have considered Bellatrix family any longer, but I most certainly did."
Andromeda raises her eyebrows, rising wordlessly to retrieve a small box from the mantel. She fusses with the lock as she returns to her seat and then, expressionlessly, she teases the lid open and pivots the object in her hand. One by one, bits of parchment float magically from the depths of the box, lining up one by one. "Letters," she explains to Narcissa's questioning gaze. "All written in the years following my disownment, before Bella went mad. So yes, I still considered her family." She waves her wand, and they fly back into their place.
Andromeda shuts the box.
Her sister cannot stifle her gasp. "You two-- kept in touch?" She ask incredulously. "But-- but Bella was the most furious, she was even the one that-- burned your name . . . she used to tell me that if she ever caught me talking to you she would-- how could she-- ?"
"We both thought it was better for you," Andromeda interrupts smoothly, pointedly unimpressed by the outburst. "Your marriage to Lucius Malfoy was being discussed and we were confident the betrothal would unfold in your favor. If our parents-- or worse, his-- had discovered you kept in contact with me, it would have been disastrous."
Narcissa glowers. "And you didn't think to ask my opinion on the matter?" She snaps. "You two always took control of my life without thinking about what I wanted-- "
"Yes, and all of our decisions have led to what's become a very comfortable life for you." She follows with a challenge: "As you can see, you've been more blessed than the both of us, so count yourself lucky we were able to raise you above our misfortunes."
"I've suffered, too, Andromeda!" Narcissa's voice is bitter. "You don't know what it was like!" Her eyes are worried and distant as she speaks. "You don't know what it's like to watch your son be forced to-- to-- "
Andromeda rolls her eyes. When she speaks, it is with the tone of one scolding a child. "This is not a competition to see who has suffered the most, Narcissa. Although you'll excuse me if I don't pity you, since the choice to attend those meetings and allow your son to join the Death Eaters was, in fact, your own."
Narcissa's perfectly manicured hands clench in her lap. "It's not like I knew when I Lucius first-- "
"Nevertheless, you weighed your options and chose to support a murderer, Narcissa. No matter what other factors may have been involved."
"I was a newlywed! Lucius seemed so passionate, I just wanted to please him!"
She meets her sister's eyes desperately, expression one of a woman drowning. But there is no sympathy, none of the familiar affectionate exasperation she has always found there. Andromeda's face is stone and her gaze cold. "Don't try to blame Lucius, Narcissa. Take some responsibility for yourself! You knew what you were doing."
"No, I didn't." Narcissa's voice is close to breaking. "No one did, not back then. We thought . . . we thought it was going to be something of a laugh, you know. Bella and I, we both assumed the whole ordeal was going to be like a-- a club, or something. Just pestering the half-breeds or Mudbloods. You know, like we used to at school. Not . . . what it became."
"You are not to use that word in my house." Andromeda stands up, hands shaking in an unavoidable manner. She places them on her own hips, more for steadiness then a utilization of body language. Then she sighs, sagging slightly as a few tears poke out from underneath Narcissa's eyelashes. "Oh, for Merlin's sake, Cissy. You're a grown woman now. Pull yourself together."
The name spills out of her mouth before she can check herself; both women start at its sound on her tongue. Narcissa straightens as the nickname falls into her lap; she collects herself wordlessly until her elder sister looks satisfied. Then she asks, in a much more controlled voice, "Is my grand-nephew asleep?"
Andromeda struggles with herself, face twitching slightly as her gaze roves across Narcissa's face. Finally she manages a watered-down smile. "Teddy hasn't made a sound since dinner."
"A well-behaved child. Good. He is worthy of his bloodline." Narcissa's nose is twisted into the air, haughty words tumbling across her pinched mouth.
Andromeda's red lips twitch slightly, tucking upwards into the lines that hang there. "Certainly. Merlin knows where he gets his behavior from. Probably Remus."
Her words stomp on the fingers of reality, and it crashes down on both of them from its precarious suspension. Narcissa sneers slightly at the mention of the werewolf and Andromeda stiffens, readying herself for a fight. She arches a challenging eyebrow.
"Is Teddy . . . infected?" Her sister spits the question with severe distaste.
A curt nod. "Excellent. Then he shan't be a danger to Draco's children."
Andromeda furrows her brow, taking a long-overdue sip of her cold tea. "I beg your pardon?"
Narcissa becomes flustered, eyes dropping suddenly to her hands. She fidgets with the hem of her cloak and tucks her hair behind her ear multiple times. She inhales deeply, raising her gaze to meet that of her older sister and offers timidly, "When Teddy is older, and we are in need of a-- a child-sitter. If he wouldn't mind," she adds after a pause.
There is a stunned silence. Andromeda's quick mind betrays her, offering only an empty space for her to grope in, searching for a response. Her mouth hangs slightly open, eyes wide as she stares at her sister's hopeful face.
Narcissa seems to take her silence as anger and hastens to explain, "We're the only ones that made it, Andie. We're the only Black survivors. All that's left of our family."
Half of her wants to reach across and press her fingertips against Cissy's own, to smile and nod and forget the years of estrangement and the churning water under burning bridges. But the other half struggles fiercely, rejecting the idea of 'Black' being family. She wants to remind her sister that her marriage to Ted expelled her from that family a long time ago.
She comes to a decision and nods once, not trusting her voice to speak.
Narcissa echoes the motion, a trembling smile creeping its way onto her mouth. She stands, pulling the dark hood over her head once more. She moves towards the door in silence, Andromeda following. As the fair woman steps into the darkness, Andromeda gasps, "Cissy! Wait."
The turn is so quick and eager that Narcissa nearly loses her footing. Andromeda reaches out instinctively, clasping her sister's hand to stabilize her.
In the seconds following, two pairs of eyes are glued to the point of contact. Skin which has not met in twenty-four years strings upon reunion, rejoicing in its long-forgot familiarity. Andromeda murmurs, "Would-- would you like to have lunch this weekend? Teddy is spending Saturday with his godfather."
Narcissa's eyes widen. "I'd . . . I'd love to," she manages. "Send me a post with the details." The older woman smiles slightly, some of the tension suddenly relaxing from her shoulders. Then suddenly, Andromeda feels Narcissa's fingers tighten around her own. The gesture is fleeting, and sheepish, and Narcissa's voice is carefully detached as she offers timidly, "Take care, Andromeda."
With that, Narcissa spins on her heel and hurries down the walk.