When she packed to go back to school after Easter, Andromeda ended up packing the letter with her own things. Perhaps it wasn't the wisest thing to do, but the choice fell between that, leaving it in her own room to be discovered, or facing the boggart again in order to return it.
She could have destroyed it of course, but somehow that seemed more wrong than just taking it had been. It wasn't hers to destroy. She would just have to hang onto it until she had a chance to put it back or something.
The summer term always seemed to be the shortest one. In winter and spring the year seemed to stretch out forever in front of you, but after Easter the weeks seemed to just gallop towards the long summer holidays. It wasn't that she deliberately avoided talking to Ted about the wedding as she had intended to, but there were classes, and catching up with friends, and enjoying the first proper sun of the year, and more classes, and somehow three weeks passed by without her even realising it, time slipping away between her fingers.
Not until she came down to breakfast one morning to find the entire school in a state of excitement over the morning's Quibbler did she think of it again.
"There's been a murder!" Octavia Pritchard greeted her with the words before she had even sat down, sliding a copy of the newspaper of the table to her.
"Not necessarily a murder – they don't know that yet!" someone else protested. "It could be an accident.
Octavia rolled her eyes. "Branwyn, there was a massive skull shape with a snake coming out of it over the body. Unless Holthgar was practicing really weird illusion spells, I doubt it was an accident."
Mind whirling at the news, Andromeda looked at the paper her friends had pushed in front of her. The photographer had managed to get a good picture of the skull – a green shape outlined clearly in the sky, serpent curling out of its mouth like a stuck-out tongue.
It was terrifying.
"Holthgar," she repeated, trying the name out loud to try to work out why it sounded so familiar.
"Godwin Holthgar," Octavia qualified, and sighed impatiently when Andromeda looked blank. "You know. Works in the Ministry?"
"She won't know," Achilla Nestes interrupted. "We're not all as obsessed with politics as you are, Octavia." She smiled at Andromeda, clarifying quickly. "Works in the Muggle Rights Department – keeps on making speeches about how we should be working on slowly reconciling them to the fact that we exist rather than deceiving them all the time. Sound familiar at all?"
"Oh… yes," Andromeda nodded, because that did ring a bell. "I think my father's ranted about him over dinner a few times."
Apparently that was a familiar sentiment from the number of nods around the table at that statement.
"My father says he ought to lose his job after that last speech."
"My mother reckons he only got the job anyway because he went to school with the Minister."
"Yeah well, my Dad says the whole Department's a waste of money and ought to be abolished."
"He was pretty much asking for it, in any case," a boy drawled. That voice was familiar, and Andromeda glanced up quickly to catch Lucius Malfoy's gaze. He smiled at her coolly, and went on. "Someone was bound to shut him up sooner or later. It was only a matter of time if he kept running his mouth off like that."
Achilla had already turned to page 5, and was studying the smaller print that outlined the finer details of the story. "Gruesomely killed, it says here. They say his face looked so awful they didn't want to photograph him. They reckon someone had to have used the Crucio curse on him to make him look like he was in that much pain. Murder by Unforgivable they're saying!"
"Still reckon it was an accident, Branwyn?" Octavia asked teasingly.
The other girl reddened. "Well, it could have been a spell that went very painfully wrong," she said defensively. "I'm just saying that we shouldn't judge until we know all the facts, that's all."
"What's to know?" Lucius asked calmly. "He was a stupid man who wasn't sacked for far too long, and he managed to upset the wrong person. Seems simple enough to me."
"Ministry's probably secretly glad they don't have to deal with him any more," Octavia agreed. "He's been an awful embarrassment to them over the last few months. Bet you it gets investigated for about two days and then quietly dropped."
"I don't think they'll be able to deal with it quite that quickly." Achilla was reading still. "Says here they've got the Aurors involved. You know what they're like once they've got hold of something – they won't let it drop until they've worked out who's responsible."
"Shouldn't be too hard, anyway," Augustina Hamwell spoke up now. "Not with that great big skull-thing over the body. That's someone wanting people to know they killed him, that is. They might as well just leave a note saying "Hi, it was me" and sign it. Whoever it is isn't really trying to go for subtle."
"They've got to be pretty confident, whoever they are," Achilla said. "Unforgivable Curses – that's life in Azkaban. Not the sort of thing you mess around with unless you know you can get away with it.
Azkaban. Andromeda felt herself go cold at the word. Every child knew of the nightmare island, populated by Dementors who stole away your happiest memories, leaving nothing behind but coldness, bitterness, misery and madness. Dementors could take your very soul.
Across the table, Branwyn had gone pale, pushing away what was left of her breakfast. "I don't think we need to talk about that until we know what happened," she said quietly. "We don't really know anything at the minute anyway."
"Oh, come on, Bran, don't be stupid," Octavia started to chide a little. "It's obvious…"
"Just shut up!" The words were snarled, and Branwyn pushed her chair roughly away from the table. "Shut up, all of you, about it. You don't know anything!"
Branwyn was usually a quiet girl, and this rather surprising display of temper quieted the table for a minute or two. Andromeda was the first to speak, standing to try and place a calming hand on the other girl's arm. "Bran…"
But Branwyn jerked her arm away as though Andromeda's hand might burn her. "Leave me alone. You especially leave me alone!" She glared at Andromeda with a startling intensity and then turned on her heel, storming back towards the Slytherin dormitory.
"Well, that's certainly told us," Octavia noted after a moment's stunned silence. "Make note, girls – in future none of us are to discuss anything unless we have the depth of knowledge usually granted to Aurors. Clearly casual conversation fouls the air beyond Branwyn's tolerance or something."
"Maybe I should go after her, see what's wrong," Andromeda stood awkwardly, glancing after the departed girl, unsure just what she had done to stir as much anger as she had seen in Branwyn's eyes.
"Best not to," Achilla advised, glancing up from the paper. "She'll work out whatever it is she's annoyed about soon enough, and come back with her tail between her legs. Better to let her get it out of her system on her own."
"Maybe," Andromeda agreed uncertainly. She looked over again to the photo on the newspaper's front page, and shook her head. "Maybe I'll just skip breakfast and get some homework done. Not really all that hungry anymore."
Between the story and the scene from Branwyn, her appetite seemed to have vanished somehow. More than that, she couldn't seem to get rid of the vague nagging feeling that she'd seen that snake and skull symbol somewhere before.
Perhaps it would be better to get away from her friends, just to where she could think quietly for a bit.
Branwyn didn't share many subjects with Andromeda, and it wasn't until lunchtime that Andromeda got the chance to see her again. The girl slunk into the Dining Hall behind the others ("Embarrassment," Octavia said knowingly. "Wouldn't you be embarrassed after throwing a fit like that?") and took a seat further down the Slytherin table than usual. Andromeda glanced over every few minutes, trying to catch her eye, but every time she did the other girl avoided her gaze, staring down at her plate and picking at her food.
It was odd, but Andromeda had a suspicion what it might mean. As soon as Branwyn stood up to leave the table, Andromeda was up too, following closely behind, determined not to let her get away without speaking to her.
Certainly, Branwyn noticed. She walked faster, moving quickly down the corridor, then turned and glared when her attempts to outpace Andromeda failed.
"What do you want?"
"It's okay," Andromeda said, feeling the need to give that reassurance somehow. It was something in the way the other girl looked – pale-faced and vulnerable still, a little pink around the eyes. It stirred her big sister instincts, got round her the same way Narcissa did when she cried. "I just wanted to talk to you."
Branwyn folded her arms across her chest. "I don't particularly want to talk to you," she said sharply. "You may have noticed."
"Well, yes but – come on, Branwyn," Andromeda tried to coax, softening her voice. "What's got you so angry? Was it something I said?"
"If you don't know already, I'm not going to explain it!" Apparently Andromeda was expected to know already whatever it was she had done wrong. Branwyn stared at her expectantly, gaze fierce.
And Andromeda did know – or thought she did. "Did you know the guy who died? Is that it?"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake!" Apparently, from the way Branwyn scowled at her, she was wrong. "Sure it is. In all my free time away from school, I just love to spend my time hanging around some radical politician who won't shut up about Muggle rights. I'm just sure my parents would love that."
It was true, when Andromeda paused to think about it. The Jugson family was scarcely the sort to associate with someone like that – indeed they were more likely to get on with Aunt Walburga than they were Godwin Holthgar.
"What is it then?" she asked, honestly mystified.
"You can't really not know?" That seemed to stun Branwyn. "Oh, come off it, Andromeda, you have to know. Don't be so dense."
"Branwyn, I really have no idea what's upsetting you." Andromeda shook her head helplessly. "And unless you tell me, there's nothing I can do to fix it, is there?"
"This isn't something you can just fix!" Branwyn said sharply. "And you can stop pretending to be so innocent. We were all at that wedding of your sister's. We know what she said."
"Bella's wedding?" Andromeda shook her head, putting aside for a moment the thoughts of the letters she had found in her sister's room. "She was just talking – and she wasn't really talking about anything like this. She just meant political stuff, not murder."
It was a moment before Branwyn started to laugh, helpless laughter with an edge that said it could descend into tears at any moment. "Oh, Merlin, you actually believe that, don't you?"
"She's my sister, Branwyn," Andromeda said sharply. "I grew up with her. I think I'd know if she… if she were capable of something like that."
"So, it's been some other Bellatrix that keeps sending letters to our house then?" Branwyn demanded. "Since just after Christmas, my Dad says – well before the wedding even."
"Oh, well," Andromeda's answer was a little more uneasy now. The memory of the letters burnt brightly in her brain. "If it's just letters. People say all sorts of things they don't mean in letters!"
"Yeah?" Branwyn's voice held no humour now. "Well, I wish someone had told my brother that before your sister convinced him to go join the Deatheaters."
"Deatheaters?" The term sounded familiar, as though it were one Andromeda had overheard in conversation somewhere and yet couldn't quite put a meaning to.
"Merlin, Andromeda, do you live under a rock?" Branwyn demanded. "Yes, Deatheaters. The private little army the Dark Lord is so busy drumming up to go kill people he doesn't like. And your Bellatrix is right in the thick of it, talking it up, telling guys like my brother he's going to be a hero."
"Oh, I don't think that could be Bella," Andromeda said quickly, her heart denying it even as her stomach dropped. "He's got to have… misunderstood or something. Or maybe it was Rodolphus. It could have been Rodolphus."
Branwyn looked at her, gaze almost pitying now. "Andromeda, I read the letters. Your sister wrote them. I'm sorry."
The words hit Andromeda like a blow, and she had to reach out a hand to steady herself against the wall as nausea swept over her. Bella couldn't – Bella wouldn't!
Bella, it seemed, could and would.
Branwyn was still talking, her voice quiet. "And it's not as if I give two figs about Holthgar – Lucius is right, he was asking for it. But if Toclan was involved, and they catch him, they'll send him to Azkaban and he can't go there. He's just a big lunk who got pulled along, and he… the Dementors…" she bit her lip quickly, and shook her head. "I just can't bear to think of that!"
"You're sure of this?" Andromeda asked weakly, still not quite wanting to believe. "It couldn't just be that Rodolphus wrote the letters and Bella signed them or something?" Though that didn't sound like something Bellatrix would allow either. She was hardly the type to allow herself to be bullied.
Branwyn hesitated, looking as though she regretted her words a little. "I'm sure," she admitted, after a moment. "I'm sorry, Andromeda – but surely, you have to have noticed something!"
Noticed? Certainly she had – the letters, the rush to get the wedding over quickly for some mysterious reason Bellatrix refused to talk about. She'd noticed – but she hadn't believed it was that.
She hadn't wanted to believe it was that.
"I need to – I'm just going to.." she mumbled the words, and Branwyn didn't try to stop her as she stumbled away, heading blindly for the girl's bathroom where the lunch she had just eaten made a reappearance.
Not even the ghosts were in there to disturb her today, and she sat down on the floor, still leaning over the toilet as she tried to think, tried to calm her thoughts.
What did you do if you found out your sister might be a murderer?
What could you do?
It was a while before she managed to coax shaky legs into standing up, and she made her way back to the Slytherin dormitories. Dinner would be over by now of course, and she was vaguely aware that there would be explanations needed later for why she had not attended her lessons, but that didn't seem so important just now. Other things were more important.
Digging out the letter she had kept so safely stashed away, for instance. That was ranking fairly highly just now.
Perhaps it would have been easier to use a spell to get it out – Accio might have done just nicely – but then what damage could hands trembling too much to even sort through folded clothes neatly have done while wielding a wand? It was better not to risk it, and so Andromeda scrabbled through her belongings, making as much of a mess as Sirius ever had as she tried to locate it.
She reread it slowly, word by word, as though doing so might change its meaning. Perhaps she had misunderstood before, perhaps she had exaggerated in her own mind, encouraged by Sirius' mischievous presence. Perhaps she had been wrong.
The letter read just the same as it had before, the mentions of "removing corruptive influences" seeming darker and more frightening with the day's events to put them into context. Andromeda was shivering before she had finished reading it, her imagination dancing suddenly with pictures of shadowy killers and their sweet Bellatrix among them.
And there at the end, by Rodolphus' signature was a quick sketch in ink. It had smudged, but even blurry and indistinct Andromeda could make it out. Her heart sank as she looked at the picture – a drawing she had overlooked the first time but could now see clearly was the shape of a skull with a snake for its tongue.
She had to do something. Paper and a quill were easy to locate, but once she had them in front of her she found herself hesitating. Certainly, she could have poured her heart into the letter, poured out all the questions and confusions, but then what? Owls weren't so secure. What if someone tempted Kettle out of the sky – food, fake owl-calls, people had done such things before – and read the note? Could her note be used as evidence to send her own sister to Azkaban?
In the end she scribbled only a line, daring not to put in any details.
I need to talk to you. Can you firetalk? It's urgent. A.
She called Kettle, and the owl came, sitting obligingly still as the message was strapped to his leg. She sent him off with a pat and a gentle word and watched out the window until he had vanished out of sight.
Then she left the dormitory, unsure where she was going but knowing she didn't still want to be there once the others came back. She would try to think up an excuse later for why she had skipped her lesson, but for now she needed to clear her head.
She couldn't have said why she let her feet take her to the Arithmancy classrooms. It was a bad idea – it was a silly idea. There wasn't even any guarantee Ted would be having a lesson there right now, and if he was what would she say to him? There was no plan behind it, no idea of what she wanted exactly, and a Slytherin should always know what it was she wanted.
But Andromeda didn't know where else to go. Not to Narcissa – how could she explain to the younger girl that their sister might be a murderer? And not to her friends, because half of her was afraid that if they were to find out they might do something – tell a teacher, report it to the Aurors.
The other half of her was afraid they might just approve of it.
Ted was someone else, someone solid, someone calming, and she needed calming right now. The classes weren't finished when she arrived, but she perched on a spare desk outside the classroom doors and waited, hoping desperately Ted was inside one of the rooms.
When classes ended, the doors were flung open and students came spilling out – Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Gryffindor, all of them jumbled together and chattering as they came out. Some of them stopped in surprise to stare at Andromeda. She had expected that – it wasn't as though she took Arithmancy after all, and there were students who would always take note of something not quite where it should be.
What she hadn't expected was the outright hostility in some of their faces.
It started as a crowd pushing to get towards the doors. A few heads turned, and then a few more, and then the crowd shifted until a circle had formed around Andromeda. She stood slowly, glancing about, meeting unfriendly eyes rather than ducking her head.
"Unusual to see you down in the Arithmancy department, Miss Black." It didn't take long for someone to speak up – a tall gangly boy with a Ravenclaw tie. "I do hope that you aren't feeling too tainted in the presence of us all. I'm afraid most of us can't claim to be quite so pure of blood."
Andromeda wouldn't have been a Black if she couldn't summon up a haughty look, even under such pressure, fixing the boy with a steady glare. Think of something – what would Bellatrix do? Okay, what would Bellatrix do if she didn't want to put the unlucky boy in the Hospital wing for a week or two?
"The blood I can tolerate," she said, tone dropping towards icy. "The fact you don't appear to have bathed for a week is a little more of a concern."
That got a laugh from the Slytherins in the crowd at least, but others were looking less happy.
"Yeah, I bet you can tolerate the blood – your lot certainly have no problem spilling it, do you?"
"Run out of Muggles in your own classes now, Black – have to come looking for some in ours, do you?"
A teacher would come out in a minute. A teacher had to come out in a minute, Andromeda promised herself silently. This was Hogwarts, this was school, this was a civilized school. Mobs didn't just form in corridors without someone coming to discover them and hand out detentions all round. Bad things couldn't happen here.
Her hand twitched towards her wand before she could really think about it. Unfortunately, it was a movement caught by the students closest to her.
"Watch it – watch out, folks. She's going for her wand!" one declared, his tone mocking.
"Going to show us what sort of dark magic you know, are you, Black? Going to curse us?" Another boy – this one in Hufflepuff uniform. He stepped forward, out of the crowd, wand already out. "You know, they send you to Azkaban for the sort of magic I've heard your lot use. But we all know you're going there anyway, so why not get it over with now, in front of witnesses? Save yourself a bit of time."
Bellatrix would, a little voice noted in Andromeda's head. Bellatrix would, and leave him curled in a little whimpering heap for even thinking of speaking to her like that, and just walk away without looking back…
Bellatrix would, and Andromeda could if she chose to. Certainly, she knew the words – it hadn't been knowledge ever much hidden in the Black household.
Slowly, she reached down and tugged her wand free, holding her challenger's eyes. He was bluffing – he had to be bluffing – he would back down any minute now, he…
"All right – move over folks, let me through. Ian, put that wand away before you hurt yourself with it…"
The crowd gave a sigh that was almost a groan, and Andromeda's heart leapt in relief at the sight of the tall blonde figure pushing his way through the crowd towards her.
The boy facing her looked unhappy. "She's one of them, Ted," he protested, wand still in his hand. "You know everyone says they're up to their necks in it. What's she doing here, that's what I'd like to know. Not like she takes Arithmancy."
"Unless Dumbledore has started allowing leave from school to go murder people, I sincerely doubt Andromeda's up to her neck in anything," Ted said calmly. The crowd had moved aside now, and he walked through them until he was standing beside Andromeda. "She's been here, just as you've been here, and if one of the teachers gets up here and catches you waving your wand about like that you're in for detentions for the rest of the year. Put it away."
"Everyone knows what her sister said at that wedding!" The shout came from somebody near the back, and it brought an unhappy murmur from those gathered.
Andromeda went cold. Somehow, unnerved as she'd been by the wedding speech, she hadn't really thought of it as something that might affect her here. What was said at the wedding was said only to the wedding guests – pure-bloods, and carefully picked ones at that unless Bellatrix had had a complete loss of judgement. People who wouldn't object or argue – at least not loudly.
But it only took one person to tell another, and that one to tell yet another, and somehow it spread until it was here with a crowd of unhappy students she hadn't been at all prepared to face.
Ted, on the other hand, did seem prepared. He glanced at Andromeda, his gaze seeming almost apologetic before he slipped an arm around her waist. It was a statement that allied him firmly with her – whether Andromeda had wished it or not.
"But she is not her sister," he pointed out, not raising his voice beyond its usual steady tone, "she's just one of us. Just a student, like everyone else here. If we're going to start fighting over silly things our families have said we're going to be here all night. Unless anyone here has heard Andromeda herself say anything, I don't think you're going to get anywhere with that argument.
Andromeda stood stiffly, conscious of Ted's hand brushing lightly against her hip, and she held onto her wand tightly. She could have shifted closer to him, she could have stepped away. Either action would have sent its own message, its own signal to those watching about how to react to her, and yet she seemed frozen to the spot.
Her challenger – Ian – still seemed unhappy with the situation. "She got her wand out first, Ted," he insisted, glaring at Andromeda.
"And she's going to be the first to put it away, aren't you, Andromeda?" There was a note in Ted's voice that made that suggestion sound close to an order
She glanced at Ian, and then at Ted, reluctant to do as he said. Certainly, he meant well but if this went wrong there were an awful lot of angry people and in general, being able to defend herself felt better.
"Now, Andromeda," Ted prompted. "Before a teacher does turn up and we all have to explain just what we're doing here." Seeing her hesitate, he met her eyes for a moment and added more softly, "please?"
She felt him breathe out in quiet relief as she finally moved to do as she was told, tucking the wand out of sight.
"Now you, Ian," he suggested, turning back to the other boy. "Come on, man. You wouldn't use it anyway, would you? Not on an unarmed girl. You're not the sort."
"I've heard stories the Blacks can do wandless magic," Ian muttered, still edgy despite Andromeda's actions.
"Yeah, and I've heard rumours they can shoot fire out of their eyes. Come on," Ted said, his voice becoming a little impatient. "Either you believe she's horrifically powerful, or you don't – and if you really did I doubt any of you would have been so quick to pick a fight with her. Put it away, and get out of here. You don't get any prizes for "person who managed to posture longest and most threateningly with a wand"."
Reluctantly, Ian lowered his wand. "She still shouldn't have been in the Arithmancy area," he complained.
"If it helps, I very much doubt she'll be hurrying back after the fine reception you've given her," Ted said dryly. "And you don't need to worry about her being here now, because we are going."
His arm tightened just the slightest amount around Andromeda's waist, and she decided that perhaps now would be a really good idea to do as he suggested and just get out of there. She turned meekly, letting him lead her away.
She didn't know whether to feel disappointed or relieved that his arm dropped from her waist the moment they were out of sight of the others.
"Are you all right?" His voice was gentle, and he looked at Andromeda as though afraid she might burst into tears at any moment.
"Fine." Ironically that same gentleness prickled her pride, made Andromeda fight back the urge to cry and shake and be upset. She was a Black girl! She wasn't going to get upset just because of a bunch of over-aggressive idiots. "I could have fought him, you know," she added defensively, "if I had to."
"Right," Ted looked at her a little oddly but shrugged, slipping his hands into his pockets. "But you didn't have to."
"I know. I'm just saying… I could have cursed him. If he hadn't stopped, I could have. I had my wand ready!"
"I know. I saw that," Ted agreed calmly, letting her work through to wherever this was going.
"I wasn't scared of them. I just… didn't want to fight them right then."
"Which, as it happens, was precisely the right choice," Ted said mildly. "Well done."
"Right. I'm just saying, I can look after myself."
Ted looked at her for a moment, eyebrows raised a little, then sighed. "You don't believe me, do you? That you did the right thing?"
Andromeda flushed. "I just don't want you to think I'm helpless or anything." Bellatrix would have fought them, and won, and left them regretting it, that much she knew. Merlin, even Narcissa would have left a few of them feeling sorry for themselves. Neither of them would just have frozen like that.
"Look, you want to know what would have happened if you fought?" Ted asked, turning to face her fully. "If you fought Ian, then yeah, you probably would have won. You don't have to convince me. I've heard the stories of your family just as much as everyone else. Just because I happen to like you doesn't mean I'm deaf or entirely stupid."
Andromeda swallowed, trying to ignore the fluttering in her stomach that last sentence stirred. "So you didn't have to defend me," she said.
"Except that then, after you'd won, they'd say they'd been proven right," Ted contradicted her. "They'd have every reason then to say. "Look, there's that Black girl – look what curses she knew! She must have been evil after all to know all that". This way, you don't justify them. This way, you don't justify them. You leave them helpless because if they attack you, especially if you don't even have your wand out, they're turning you into the victim which they don't want to do."
"You know, with thinking like that, you could almost make it into Slytherin," Andromeda commented. She let herself relax a little, not quite so sharply defensive. It wasn't someone who thought she was some helpless little girl who needed defended, just someone who wanted to help. Her pride could cope with that.
"I'm not quite sure whether to take that as a compliment or not!" But Ted grinned at her, his expression turning merry for a moment before he sobered up again. "You probably shouldn't go near the Arithmancy classrooms again for a bit, at least not until all this fuss has calmed down."
"I've got just as much right to go there as anyone else in this school!" And there was her pride again, flashing up just when she thought she had it under control.
"Of course you do," Ted agreed carefully. "I'm not saying that you don't. It's just… Arithmancy has quite a lot of students with one or two Muggle parents. It's one of those things where the magic we learn taps into the normal Muggle stuff before we come here, yeah? And parents like it because they think it sounds like a proper subject. So there's a lot of people with Muggle parents, a lot of scared people with the headlines today, and you put them together and you tend to get mobs. Safer to avoid those."
"You're not scared though," Andromeda noted, glancing at him.
Ted shook his head. "Worried, yeah, but scared? No. Politics is a long way away from school, and one death doesn't make up a killing spree all on its own however the Quibbler would like to phrase it. It's the same at home – newspapers always like to make things seem bigger than they are…"
He stopped speaking suddenly, and Andromeda could feel him studying her expression, taking in for the first time the sore eyes from her earlier crying fit, her paleness.
"Unless," he suggested very carefully, keeping his voice steady and even, "you've any reason to think differently?"
She could tell him. It would be the perfect opportunity now, when he'd asked her. She could tell him everything – the letters which she wasn't even supposed to have read, the wedding, what Branwyn had said. She could tell him and then he could say calm, soothing and comforting things and she would feel better.
And then, a treacherous little voice in her head warned, he would go straight to Dumbledore or one of the other teachers. He would have to, wouldn't he, if it was murder? And the teachers would tell the Aurors, and the Aurors would come asking questions, and the family would be so ashamed, and Bellatrix… Bellatrix would go to Azkaban.
Her mouth felt dry suddenly. Ted was looking at her, his blue eyes concerned as he reached to touch her shoulder.
"Andromeda? Are you all right? Do you know anything about what happened to that guy in the paper?"
Andromeda swallowed, and shook her head. "No," she made herself lie firmly. "Nothing at all."
After all, she thought guiltily, Holthgar had really been sort of asking for it.
"Oh," Ted seemed a little disappointed by that answer somehow, but he accepted it, dropping his hand from her shoulder. "Fair enough then."
Andromeda looked away, unable to quite meet his eyes. "It wouldn't hurt to be careful though," she added quietly.
He paused for a minute, mentally processing that. "Careful in a general "it doesn't hurt people to be careful" way, or careful in a "specifically, I, Ted Tonks, should be careful" way?"
"Uh," Andromeda bit her lip, thoughts straying back to letters with threatening notes that she might have to be "dealt with" if she showed signs of not behaving properly. And here she was, talking to Ted again, having just been rescued by him in front of… Merlin, how many people? "Both?"
"Ah, I see." Andromeda wasn't sure whether it was her imagination that made her think his tone had turned a little chilly suddenly. "I don't suppose you can tell me what it is I should be careful of, should you?"
Of me, Andromeda's brain responded silently. You should be careful of me, Ted, because I have a sister who's watching me and keeps receiving scary letters, and she'd be angry with me if she knew we were having this conversation, but I don't dare think of what she'd do to you.
But she had come looking for him not the other way around, and that was hardly something she could explain to him. She shook her head instead silently, lips tightly pressed together as though the words might try to escape of their own accord.
"Or how you know? Or…" Ted stopped, sighing as she shook her head again. "Of course not. Forget it. Silly of me to have asked."
"I'm sorry." It was inadequate, she knew, in a situation like this but they were the only words she had. Tears that hadn't materialised after the Arithmancy scene were threatening now, and Andromeda stared hard at the ground.
"No, really. I mean, it's only my safety you're not telling me about after all. It's not like someone died yesterday… oh wait."
Andromeda flinched at the sarcasm, and after a moment of staring at her Ted sighed and seemed to relent a little, reaching to pat her shoulder roughly. "I'd better get off in any case," he said, not bothering to even provide an excuse for walking away from the conversation. "I'll see you around… or something like that. Take care of yourself, Andromeda. Remember, stay away from the Arithmancy classrooms, and if someone tries to start something, keep your wand away."
She nodded, keeping her eyes on the floor until he'd turned away and started walking. Only then did she move, heading back towards the dormitories. She would already be in trouble for missing lessons after all. It wasn't as though she could be in more trouble if she missed another and went to hide in there a little longer.
"Andromeda!" Narcissa didn't bother to knock, her voice shrill as she burst into the dormitory.
Andromeda tried not to groan. It wasn't that she hadn't been expecting it – if anyone was aware of school gossip it was Narcissa, and she'd never been shy about giving her own opinion. After today though, a lecture from her younger sister was the last thing she wanted to face. "I'm doing homework," she lied quickly, reaching to grab the nearest book.
"No, you're not," Narcissa informed her calmly. "You go to the library for that. And even if you were you could make time for this." She perched on the end of the bed, ignoring Andromeda's frown. "What's going on?"
Even that simple question was enough to make Andromeda flush guiltily. "I don't know what you mean."
"Come off it, Dromeda, I don't live under a rock," Narcissa said, her tone taking a slight scolding tone. "Everyone's saying you skipped out on today's lessons – which is not like you – and half the Hufflepuffs are bragging that that Tonks boy told you to put your wand away, and you did." She propped her chin on her hand, studying her older sister closely. "I was going to ask you if you'd lost your mind, but I didn't expect you to look so awful. You don't look happy enough to be having a secret love affair or anything like that."
"I'm not having a secret love affair. Merlin, is that what people are saying?" Andromeda sat up quickly, setting her book to one side.
"After you messed around with him before, what do you expect people to think when you don't turn up for lessons and half the school apparently sees you with him?" Narcissa asked impatiently. "Andromeda, come on. I'm not mad, and I swear I won't tell Aunt Walburga this time. I just want to know what's going on."
"Nothing's going on!" Andromeda denied it fiercely. "I got caught in… a situation, and Ted helped me out. That's all."
"A situation that made you look like that, and miss lessons? And that you needed help with?" Narcissa frowned, looking hard at Andromeda. "That's nothing good. You don't usually miss lessons unless your leg's about to fall off or something."
"It was just a few people getting upset about something." Andromeda shook her head, trying to downplay the incident's seriousness. "Nothing big."
"Andromeda," Narcissa's voice softened, and she shifted closer to her sister. "Come on. I know you and Bella think I'm oblivious to stuff most of the time, but I'm not really. Who upset you? Did someone hurt you?"
"No-one hurt me." Andromeda shook his head. "They just… they were a bit angry, was all." She looked at Narcissa, hesitating for a moment. "Cissy, do you know anything about what Bella's been doing with Rodolphus?"
She didn't expect her younger sister to giggle, and colour a little at the question. "Well, I assume they're doing… you know, what boys and girls do. They're married now."
"I wasn't talking about that!" Andromeda swatted her lightly. "I was talking about… you know, politics and stuff."
"Oh. Boring stuff." Narcissa grimaced, looking rather less interested in this subject. "I don't know – they were all set on fixing the world at the wedding, weren't they? They're probably getting on with that."
Andromeda hesitated, trying to phrase it in a way that wouldn't alarm her sister. "Have you heard anything about… about them forming an army? Anything like that?" she asked, careful to keep her voice down. Certainly the dormitory was empty, but it was a Slytherin dormitory after all. Most people weren't above planting an eavesdropping charm here and there if they thought it might benefit them.
"Oh, probably," Narcissa agreed vaguely, picking at a loose thread on Andromeda's sheet. "Lucius said she's been writing to him and his father."
Again, Andromeda felt that sickening coldness in her stomach. Too many letters, too many pieces that fit together into a picture she really didn't want to see at all. "Writing to Lucius?" she asked. "Whatever about?"
"Oh, I don't know," Narcissa shrugged. "I was jealous at first, but then he said it wasn't those sort of letters and I stopped listening at some point after that. Something about politics and the Dark Lord. He's into all that stuff, and you know what Bella's like."
She had thought she did know what Bella was like, but today Andromeda was rapidly growing less sure of that. "Cissy, listen, this is important. Can you ask Lucius to tell you what she's been writing about?"
"I guess so. It's dreadfully boring though," Narcissa agreed, and looked at Andromeda curiously. "Surely this can't be what's been getting you so upset?"
Andromeda bit her lip, unsure exactly how much she should confide in her younger sister. "I think maybe Bella might be involved in something that might get her into trouble," she said carefully. "This political stuff she and Lucius and the others are playing with – I think it's dangerous, Cissy. And I'm worried about her."
Narcissa eyed her, studying her. "What does all of this have to do with that Hufflepuff boy?" she asked after a moment.
"Nothing!" Andromeda denied it hastily. "But some other folk have heard about the stuff Bella's involved in too. I got into some trouble and he helped me get out of it. That's all."
"What sort of trouble?"
"An argument." Andromeda tried to downplay it, not wanting to scare Narcissa too much. "They were angry about it, which was all."
Narcissa continued to look at her hard. "An argument isn't something you'd normally have your wand out for," she said slowly. "That's Bella, not you. It's hard to make you lose your temper."
It was sometimes too easy to dismiss Narcissa as stupid, and remember that there was a sharp Black brain hiding under the vanity when she chose to use it. Andromeda shifted a little, uncomfortably. "Yes, well…"
"And if you had lost your temper, you wouldn't even put your wand away if I told you to, let alone some Hufflepuff," Narcissa went on, following that thought. "which means something happened that made you think you needed it out."
"Maybe a little more than an argument," Andromeda said reluctantly. "The point is, he helped me."
Narcissa was sitting up straight now, eying Andromeda with some concern. "You should tell Father," she said, "or a teacher."
"You don't even know what happened!"
"I know that it was bad if you had your wand out!" Narcissa retorted sharply. "Why didn't you just tell me someone tried to hurt you, rather than going on for ages about some stupid political stuff? You tell Father, he'll make sure they're removed, and it won't happen again. Whoever it was, they had no right…"
Cygnus Black certainly did have the power to make life uncomfortable for anyone who bothered his daughters at school, even if he couldn't actually have them thrown out entirely. Still, Andromeda shook his head. "Father's busy enough without having more stuff to worry about right now," she said, remembering how tired her father had seemed when he did venture out of his study over Easter. "Besides, it's over now. It's just this politics…"
"If the people Bella's upsetting are people who would attack you over it, she's probably doing exactly the right thing," Narcissa said decisively. "They can't be good people if they would do that."
"I don't think it's as simple as that." It would have been an easy answer to accept, but Andromeda had to shake her head reluctantly, remembering the letter she had stashed away. "Just ask Lucius, see what he says, will you?"
"I will." Narcissa looked at her sister doubtfully though, still studying her. "But Andromeda? Are you sure you're not just worried about the politics because this Hufflepuff Mudblood guy's been messing up your head?"
"I'm sure," Andromeda said firmly. "This is just something I have to work out. Nothing to do with Ted."
"If you say so," Narcissa seemed anxious despite her reassurance. "Just be careful, Andromeda. If you start playing about with him again…"
"I'm not playing about!" Andromeda insisted. "I needed help, he gave it. That's all!"
"And yet when he told you to put your wand away, you did," Narcissa noted. "And everyone saw it. That's not a small thing."
"I was panicking a bit at the time. I wasn't thinking." Wasn't thinking enough, at least, to consider the implications of that action. Yet if she had, would she have done anything different?
"So it would seem." Narcissa sighed, and stood up, smoothing down her skirt. "Well, I'll see what I can find out. I'm sure it's nothing though." She reached to pat Andromeda's shoulder awkwardly. "You be careful though. If anyone bothers you again, you must tell Father. Or tell me. I'll deal with them for you."
Touched, Andromeda managed a smile. The idea of her younger sister fiercely taking on anyone who upset her was both amusing and entirely realistic. "I'll do that," she promised, getting to her feet. "And now I probably have to go apologise to some teachers."
It could be an advantage at times to be known as someone who usually behaved yourself in class, and one of those times was when you had not bothered to turn up for classes. Andromeda's apology for not turning up was accepted, as was her excuse that she'd had a headache and gone to lie down until breakfast was over, and accidentally gone back to sleep.
She had thought that excuse might be questioned, especially as most of the student body of Hogwarts seemed to know about the confrontation outside the Arithmency rooms. Luckily for her however, the afternoon's lessons had been due to be History of Magic ones. Professor Binns was only vaguely in touch with the events of the last decade, and noticing things that had only happened a day or so ago was far beyond him.
Missing the morning's Defence Against The Dark Arts lessons was not viewed quite still lightly, but Andromeda still managed to escape with a lecture on the importance of reliability, an essay on the same subject, and a promise that house-points would be lost should it happen again. Dark wizards, Professor Fiori told her sternly, would not hang about to see if she had a headache before they decided whether to commence with their plans of great destruction. Andromeda agreed meekly, took the essay, and escaped, grateful to have got off so lightly.
There were plenty of students curious about just where she had been when she vanished from lessons, and Andromeda had to deal with more questions about just what she'd been doing with Ted than she knew what to do with. She tried to stay polite, repeating again and again that no, she wasn't seeing Ted Tonks and he had just been helping her out.
When that became too much, and her patience came close to snapping, Narcissa decided that was the point where she should step in. She had never much bothered with even attempting to be polite with those who annoyed her, and she threw a fine tantrum at the Slytherin tables, stating that of course, her sister would never let herself be sullied by some stupid Mudblood, and she'd curse anyone who said otherwise. She added a warning that anyone who wasn't convinced by that could try asking her father or aunt and see what they thought of the matter, and the questions stopped abruptly. The Black family's reputation was well-known and no-one was foolish enough to take up the question of family honour with Walburga Black.
The wording was enough to make Andromeda cringe a little, and she did hope word didn't get back to Ted about what exactly had been said. Still, Narcissa had effectively managed to make people stop bothering her – even if Hufflepuff and Slytherin students alike kept staring whenever she walked past – and that was enough to stop her mentioning it to her sister at all. It would have seemed ungracious to complain.
It was almost a week before she heard back from Bella. Almost a week growing more and more anxious as she wondered what her sister was up to. Finally, at breakfast, an owl dropped a letter into her hand before fluttering quickly away.
The letter – more of a note really – was short and a little irate in tone.
It's very hard to firetalk you if you never light a fire. Speak to you tonight if it's still urgent. Don't forget!
It was a simple oversight, but a silly enough one that Andromeda nearly laughed out loud as she folded the note. The weather of early May had been warm enough that they simply hadn't bothered to light any of the school fires over the last few weeks. She hadn't stopped to think just how she expected her older sister to get in touch with her with none of them lit.
Getting privacy to light one meant missing dinner. Andromeda slipped away before anyone could ask where she was going, back to the Slytherin common room, hastily building a small fire. She just hoped Bellatrix would try and firetalk at the right time – too early or too late and they could easily miss each other.
The fire sputtered and spat sparks before shaping itself, forming within a few minutes into the shape of Bellatrix's face.
"Finally!" she said, tone exasperated. "Really, Andromeda, you can be a bit of an idiot at times. What did you think I would do – floo in to have a heart to heart talk with you? I've been trying all week to get through!"
"Sorry," Andromeda apologised, feeling sheepish. "It's been getting warm, and you know how scorching it gets in summer with the fire lit. I just didn't think about it."
"So I gathered," Bellatrix said dryly. "Well, what is it that has you so upset that a letter won't do? Is Lucius Malfoy upsetting Cissy again? Or has that Mudblood you were encouraging before Christmas before Christmas become a problem? I told you he would, you know."
"Neither," Andromeda sat down on the floor, finding it easier to look into the fire that way. "Bella, some of the girls here at school have been talking about things they think you're up to."
"You sent me a note saying to contact you urgently because you wanted to talk about gossip? Merlin, you're getting as bad as Cissy," Bellatrix complained. "Fine, what is it?"
"There's been a couple of people saying you've been sending letters to their families. And some people think you had something to do with that politician guy dying." It sounded ridiculous to Andromeda, even as she said it. She wanted it to be ridiculous, for Bellatrix to stare, and laugh at the very idea.
Bellatrix did laugh, but it wasn't the disbelieving sound Andromeda had wanted. The sharp scornful noise made her stomach ache again. "Causing a bit of an uproar, is it?"
"Yes." Andromeda remembered again the crowd that had accosted her outside the Arithmency classrooms. It wasn't something she could manage to see any humour in somehow. "Bella, what's going on? Are you involved in all this?"
"Just what I told everyone at the wedding. We're restoring the natural order of the world. I wondered when people would start to talk about it," Bellatrix said placidly.
"That man died, Bella! It made the front page of the paper – people were hardly going to fail to notice!" Andromeda felt her voice start to shake a little. Even with all the evidence in front of her, she had still hoped that this could somehow be some horrendous mistake or misunderstanding.
"You're not going to be a baby about this, are you?" In the flames Bellatrix frowned. "Come on, Andromeda, I thought you were old enough to handle this kind of thing by now."
"Did you really kill someone?" Andromeda asked miserably, feeling her eyes sting with more than the strain of looking directly into the fire for so long.
Bellatrix was silent for a long moment. "Yes," she admitted finally. "but he deserved it. We had to, Andromeda! You never pay enough attention to politics to understand, but believe me; someone like Holthgar can cause damage just by being allowed to speak in public. He had to be dealt with."
Dealt with. Andromeda was coming to loathe that phrasing, the way it was used to refer to a life casually discarded. "And will other people need to be… dealt with?"
"Yes. Probably," Bellatrix said honestly. "Andromeda, try to be an adult about this, will you? It's not all about black and white. Sometimes certain people are standing in the way of the greater good, and you have to get them out of the way in order to progress.
"By killing them?" Andromeda's voice rose without her intending it to, and she slapped her hand over her mouth, glancing behind herself to check the Common Room was still empty.
"If necessary." Bellatrix gave the answer crisply. "The Dark Lord says…"
"Never mind him!" Andromeda lowered her voice down to a hiss. "Bella, if you get caught, you know what they'll do to you."
"We're not going to get caught," Bellatrix shrugged the idea away. "Oh sure, there's rumours, but do you really think anyone's going to be able to go after our family without solid proof?"
Something in the phrasing of that set ice trickling down Andromeda's spine. "Our family?" she asked slowly. "Who else is involved in this?"
Bellatrix laughed, but didn't answer the question. "We'll talk about it when you get home."
"No – Bella!" Andromeda protested, afraid her sister could vanish from the flames before she could ask anything more. "How come I didn't know about any of this?"
"Because you show as much interest when I talk about it as you do when the kids talk about Quidditch – which is to say none at all?"
"That's not true! I'm sure I would have listened if you'd mentioned killing people or anything," Andromeda insisted. She bit her lips, half-afraid to ask her next question. "Don't you trust me?"
Bellatrix groaned. "Oh Merlin, you are going to act like a left-out five-year-old about this, aren't you? It wasn't about that – don't be an idiot, Andromeda. Yes, I was worried you might freak out a little – as you just have – but mostly it was the fact that if I told you, I would also have to tell Cissy. And frankly, our dear little sister would last under questioning for as long as it took for someone to threaten her with a curse to make her gain weight or have an outbreak of acne. It's best she doesn't know anything she can give away."
"She's not that bad!" Andromeda protested, but relaxed a little nevertheless. Perhaps her sister hadn't taken her and Ted as the warning sign suggested in the letters.
"She's very close sometimes," Bellatrix said dryly. "Don't tell her all of this, okay? She's a little young to handle it."
Andromeda thought guiltily of the conversation she had already had with Narcissa, but nodded. "Okay. But Bella – I still don't like any of this."
"All will become clear. Just trust me," Bellatrix said, and grinned, an easy smile that seemed entirely at odds with the subject they had been discussing.
"I'll… I'll try," Andromeda promised uncomfortably, trying to swallow her misgivings. This wasn't some stranger who had suddenly started murdering people after all. This was her sister. Certainly, Bella had always had a temper but if she was doing something like this, surely there had to be good reason. "You will explain though? Over summer?"
"Of course I will, if you really want to know," Bellatrix promised easily. "Don't worry so much."
"Okay. I'll see you in summer," Andromeda said, and hesitated. "Love you." It felt as though the statement should be said, as though if she did it could somehow keep things okay. If she loved Bella hard enough, she couldn't be truly bad, could she?
"Love you." But Bellatrix said it more quickly, impatiently, as though in a hurry to get away. The fire crackled and leapt up and when the flames settled again the face was gone.
Andromeda sighed, and put out the fire before any of her fellow Slytherins came to ask why it was so warm in there. What else was there to be done?
After that, Andromeda tried to focus on school-work, and forget about what she knew. Perhaps if she waited, and got an explanation out of Bellatrix over the summer holidays, it really would all work out. Better to try and put it to the back of her mind, and concentrate on getting to class on time. Summer would be there before she knew it, and then all this could be straightened out.
For a while, she continued to read the daily papers anxiously, dreading the day they announced the Aurors had suspects for Holthgar's murder. They seemed, however, to be getting nowhere. Three weeks after the man's death there was another murder – this time a woman Andromeda didn't recognise, but who the papers said had performed sterling work in encouraging employers to consider Muggle-born wizards rather than discriminating and going straight for those from the better families. Again, there was the snake sign glowing over her body, and again, Andromeda was conscious of what felt like the entire school looking at her.
She stopped reading the papers after that. Perhaps it was easier not to know.
She managed to avoid Ted too. All things considered, it seemed safer for him – safer for her too – if she did. Better to just avoid him, to hope that Narcissa managed to keep quiet this time, and her family need never know.
It wasn't as though there wasn't plenty to keep her busy. Narcissa seemed to have a different minor trauma every day – one day there would be tears over how she would never pass Potions, the next she would be sulking because Lucius had been cold to her. Andromeda soothed, comforted, fantasised about cursing Lucius bald and wondered to herself whether Narcissa wasn't meant to have friends in her own year to get her through this stuff. She suspected that they might just have the wisdom to vanish when her sister went into one of her tempers, reappearing only when the storm had passed.
The weeks flew by. Avoiding news, forcing herself not to think about what she knew about her older sister, Andromeda started to feel almost normal again. Summer was on the horizon, and she looked forward to it, ready for her free time. A slight dread prickled every now and then at the thought of the talk she had to have with Bellatrix, but even that could be put to the far corner of her mind.
There were only two days left to go of the term the morning Ted got up calmly from the Hufflepuff table at breakfast, walked over to the Slytherin table, and stood by her chair.
The first Andromeda knew of it was when she caught sight of Narcissa scowling warningly in her direction. She blinked back at her younger sister, confused as to what she might have done to earn such a grimace, and then turned as she noticed the presence behind her.
"Hi," Ted smiled down at her. "I was wondering if I might have a private word, Miss Black?"
"Uh..." Andromeda stared at him, conscious of a mouth-full of half-chewed toast. Not wanting to speak with her mouth full, or spit the toast out she swallowed hastily. Across the table she saw Narcissa lean across to murmur something to Lucius.
Ted waited patiently until she had emptied her mouth, ignoring the giggles and whispers around the table. Already, Andromeda could feel herself blushing, conscious of the attention on her. If Aunt Walburga or Bellatrix found out about this…
It was that thought that made her straighten her back, meeting Ted's friendly gaze with a cool stare. "I'm afraid we are a little busy at the minute," she answered him, intentionally keeping her voice cold for the sake of those watching. "It is breakfast time, after all."
The cheerful look faded a little, but Ted didn't move away. "Perhaps later then?"
"The lady said she wasn't interested." Prompted by Narcissa's frantic urgings, Lucius had apparently decided to take a hand in things, getting to his feet.
"The lady is, I believe, perfectly able to answer on her own." Ted retorted sharply.
"The lady did and is now being harassed, despite that answer." Lucius took a step forward, hand rest on his wand warningly. Comments such as those Ted had made at Christmas weren't lightly forgotten, and he looked quite hopeful that he might just be handed the excuse for the fight he had been waiting for.
Catching the look, Andromeda stood up hastily, abruptly changing her mind. If she didn't act, there was every chance the pair of them might just decide to duel right there in front of the Slytherin table, and never mind the teachers present. Merlin only knew how much trouble that could cause.
"Be quiet, Lucius," she ordered firmly. "I've never needed anyone to speak for me before, and I don't need anyone now." She looked up at Ted, making herself meet his eyes. A Black girl staring at the floor rather than look a Muggle-born in the eye would not do.
He looked back at her calmly, not quite so merry now but still waiting patiently. "Well?"
Andromeda took a deep breath. "Five minutes then," she allowed him reluctantly. "I can't spare more than that."
"Glad you could find time to fit me into your busy schedule," Ted said mildly. He offered her his arm, unable to resist glancing back at Lucius. "Good to see you again, Malfoy. Hope your parents are doing well," he offered with a sweetness that made Lucius grimace.
Declining his arm seemed as though it might start another sniping contest between the two of them, so Andromeda rested her hand on it lightly, trying to hurry as they made their way out of the dining room. Better to get this over quickly, so it could be forgotten just as soon as possible.
"If I'm not back within five minutes, my sister will be sending out search parties to check I'm not being ravished," she warned as they paused in a hall way.
"Ravished?" Ted raised his eyebrows. "I take it in pure-blood families you have to reserve six minutes in your schedules for that then? I'll bear it in mind."
Despite herself, Andromeda felt her lips turn into a smile. "Look, seriously, if I don't get back the gossip will be going insane. Is there a reason you felt the urge to approach me as publicly as possible?"
"Other than the fact that you been hurrying in the other direction every time I so much as glanced at you for the past few weeks, and we've only two days left in turn?" Ted asked. "No, none at all."
The smile wavered, and faded. "I've been busy."
"I see." He didn't question it, didn't call it a lie, and somehow that made it worse. If he'd argued with her, she would have had a hundred excuses and defences, but he didn't.
"There's been homework, and Cissy's had her exams – I've been helping her revise – and Lucius keeps making her cry…" Andromeda stumbled on, wondering why she even felt the need to excuse herself at all. It wasn't as though she owed him anything.
"He does seem like the type to," Ted agreed. "Is there a reason she lets him?"
"Oh, she's besotted," Andromeda sighed heavily, finding this subject easier to discuss. "And he takes that for granted. It's not even that he's mean to her so much as that he ignores her whenever it's convenient for him. I keep wanting to set his hair on fire."
"It's terrible when people ignore people who care for them," Ted agreed dryly, and Andromeda found herself blushing again, looking away. He moved on though, seeming uninterested in making her any more uncomfortable. "How well do you know him?"
"Lucius?" Andromeda blinked, unsettled by the sudden change of subjects. "Well, I've always sort of known him – purebloods always have to turn up to each other's weddings, that kind of thing. Never really noticed him until Cissy started following him around though." She glanced up, a sudden thought occurring to her. "Not jealous are you?"
"For your sister, or for you?" Ted snorted at the idea, but didn't laugh. "Look, I've been hearing some things is all. You might want to be careful."
"This from the person who just almost started a duel with him in front of the entire dining room?" Andromeda asked incredulously. "Do you ever take your own advice?"
"I'm not talking about fights. I'm talking about…" Ted broke off, seeming to bite back words, and started again. "I wanted to tell you to be careful not to let anyone pull you in to anything you… didn't want to be pulled into. That's all."
"That's all?" Andromeda repeated. "That's what you dragged me out of breakfast for?"
"More or less, yes." It was Ted's turn to look uncomfortable now. He shifted from foot to foot. "I just wanted to tell you before we all left for summer. You're a good person, and there are things going on that you… probably don't need to be involved in."
"But I won't be seeing him over summer!" Andromeda said, confused and surprised now. "Well, I suppose Cissy might invite him over now and then, but it'll probably be my aunt or mother chaperoning if she does, not me."
"Ah, right. Well. Silly of me to worry then, hey?" There was a strained, stressed note in Ted's voice that didn't leave when he said that, though he smiled at Andromeda. "No need to be concerned if you won't be seeing him at all. Sorry to bother you about it."
"I'll warn Cissy to be careful?" Andromeda offered, feeling that somehow something more was expected of her.
"You do that," Ted agreed. He looked at her, his eyes seeming slightly sad despite his smile, and reached for her suddenly. Andromeda froze, not knowing if he were intending to hug her, or kiss her, but he settled for a rough awkward sort of pat on her shoulder. "You better get back before your sister misses you. Have a good summer."
"I will," Andromeda nodded, still a little bewildered.
"Good. And… be careful. I'll see you again after summer," he said, and patted her again, as though she were a dog who needed petting in order to know everything was going to be all right. "I'm sorry if I caused you any trouble with the other Slytherins."
"I can handle Cissy," Andromeda reassured him, already thinking how best to keep her younger sister quiet about the incident. "Don't worry about it." She bit her lip, conscious of the warmth of his hand on her shoulder, wanting to keep him talking but knowing she should get back. "Have a good summer."
"I will." One last pat, and Ted too looked as though he would like to say more. It was a long moment before he turned to walk away.
Andromeda watched him go, readying herself to walk back to the dining room, where she would inevitably have to fend off the questions of the other girls all over again, and where Narcissa would inevitably be in yet another sulk about her being rude to Lucius.
Not something she enjoyed dealing with, but it had to be dealt with. Reluctantly she turned to head back, already readying the answers to the questions in her head. Dealing with curious friends could be so exhausting at times.
At least summer would be more peaceful.