As the sun's rays began to filter over the ground, it bathed its surroundings in a hazy half-glow. The castle was half-ruined with a wall caved in; blood was spattered like red rain drops on the ground.
A new figure was stumbling along in the rising sun towards the towering castle, slipping and sliding on feet unsteady from their worry. Her brown hair hung in a matted tangle around her face, her kind eyes sunken and dull. Despite her haggard appearance, she clutched a bundle to her chest with a fierce strength and toughness. Andromeda clenched her jaw and trundled on; she knew where she wanted to go, what she wanted to see . . .
She stopped roughly twenty yards away from the open doors of Hogwarts. Perhaps it would be better if she did not go inside the building. Perhaps she should allow the people inside to get their bearings. Yes, that was a good plan . . . she would wait for her daughter here. . . that is, if her daughter was coming. . . . She drew in a deep shaking breath to try and steady her nerves.
The battle must have ended, just as she had been alerted by Hagrid, for all seemed to be fairly quiet inside. She stroked the blanketed shape in her arms, waiting, loitering, worrying . . .
Andromeda leaned herself against a tree, trying not to think, but her thoughts swirled wildly regardless . . . the people inside Hogwarts, they were people who were warriors, who had fought . . . while she had remained in the safety of her home all this time. . . . She'd had to during this fight, yes (and she gripped the bundle tighter), but she hadn't always . . . she hadn't always needed to stay out of the midst of war. But what other choice did she have, really? Members of her family fought for both sides, and while she had never agreed with the position the Death Eaters took, she just couldn't see herself being able to fight against them, not when her sisters were on that side . . . along with the man she had once loved . . .
She did not know how long she stood there surrounded in her bleared thoughts; it must have at least been a short while considering the sun's angle in the sky was slightly higher than before. But suddenly she saw a figure emerge from the large wood doors, striding out to the open, a figure all too familiar . . .
She wasn't going to say anything, didn't think she would have been able to speak even if she wanted to, but he noticed her as he was passing, and he halted for a moment, pausing. He looked worse than she had ever seen him, probably looked worse than he had ever been in his whole life, yet this fact only hardened her emotions towards him.
But Lucius Malfoy only glanced her over for a second; then with an ice cold look in his eyes (one of which appeared rather swollen, as though having been punched) he muttered a low, "Good morning,", turned, and kept on careening through the grass.
"Bastard," she spat in a quiet, gravelly voice at his back.
He turned around slowly. "My blood is as pure as yours, Andromeda. Although, you chose to contaminate yours by associating, and then even having a child, with filth."
"That 'filth' is dead," she said, her voice quivering tremulously, "and I would really prefer if you left me alone, Lucius. I don't – I don't want to listen to your snide remarks right now. Just go back to your perfect pureblood wife and son."
"They are back inside," he informed her tonelessly. "I just came out here briefly to wash Draco's wand – " he held up a bloody and soiled wand for her inspection " – in the lake."
"Well, you shouldn't keep your family waiting by talking to one who 'contaminated herself with filth'," she said coolly, embracing the bundle in her arms tighter. "Go on, then, and leave me be."
"Very well." He bowed his head; she saw a dried trickle of blood in his hair as he did so, then he walked away from her, hobbling slightly. She hadn't expected him to comply so willingly, and was momentarily surprised.
Lucius did just as he'd told her he would: he went down to the lake and cleaned off the wand, then proceeding to cup water into his hands and splash it over his face, cleaning off the grime. His features, however, were still deathly pale and rather waxy looking, attributes of his body that Azkaban had doubtlessly done to him.
Slowly, he got to his feet again. Realizing she was staring, Andromeda averted her gaze back to the Hogwarts doors, watching for her daughter and son-in-law. She watched the doors as Lucius went back through them, watched as several other people came out through them, watched as the sun cast shadows over the highly polished wood of the doors . . . but still, her Nymphadora did not emerge.
Finally, Andromeda's worry had grown too big for her to contain: she secured the bundle more firmly in her arms and marched straight through the doors of the castle. It seemed that most people had already left; the hall was not very crowded. The figures still present were bruised and bloody; some were milling around the corridors, others were clustered at the House tables in no particular order. Andromeda scanned the faces for Nymphadora, hoping, praying, needing . . .
Her eyes landed and paused on a face she had not been looking for, but one that was familiar all the same. Their eyes locked. Andromeda hastily turned her gaze down, but out of the corner of her eye she saw, to her great astonishment, the figure rising from the table she was seated at and moving towards her.
Narcissa Malfoy paused several feet from the sister she had not seen in years, uncertain. Slowly the blonde inched forward, and parted her dry lips to speak.
"It's good to see you," she whispered.
Andromeda didn't answer, just embraced the bundle tighter to her.
"I'm sorry, Andy," Narcissa breathed. One of her feet shuffled a fraction, as though she were about to step closer, but then the foot stilled and Narcissa remained where she was. "I know I haven't spoken to you properly in nearly twenty-five years, and I wish I could make it all up to you, but – but I can't. All I can offer is to be your family again."
Andromeda wavered but remained with her feet planted, casting mistrusting blue orbs over the pale features facing her. "We're on different sides, Cissy," she said coolly.
"Sides don't matter anymore," said Narcissa, and her eyes glinted with a blaze that Andromeda had never seen before. "I don't – don't care about the Dark Lord anymore, and neither do my son or husband. What we do care about is all of us remaining together . . . and that includes you." She swallowed. "Please, believe me."
Andromeda shifted the shape in her arms. "Where is my daughter?" she asked in a grating, rasping voice.
Narcissa shook her head helplessly, her eyes welling up. "I – I don't know. I'm sorry." She held out her hand timidly. "C-come sit with my family. Come sit with our family. We d-don't know what we're going to do anymore, but we – we know we're doing it together." She looked at her sister in earnest. "We really don't care about our parting views anymore, Andy. It – it would be wonderful if you would come . . ."
"I-I need to find Dora," Andromeda croaked, and pivoted around to walk down the hallway before she could do anything else. A part of her wanted to run right to her sister and embrace her as tight as possible, she had missed her so – but another part of her just could not forgive all the years of silence, of turned-up noses when they passed, of her being blasted clean off the family tree . . . she wasn't ready to face all that.
So she continued on down the corridor, searching for their faces . . . she had to find them, had to know . . .
She did not have to go far. Lying next to each other, resting limply and in straight lines, were rows of bodies. Andromeda's eyes instantly flew to the young heart-shaped face, framed by short, bright pink locks of hair. Unbelievable pain attacked her from every angle, and she rushed towards her daughter, her only daughter, her own flesh-and-blood . . .
She halted abruptly as she reached her, staring down into her face . . . she looked so peaceful, so relaxed, it was hard to believe she was gone. . . . Remus lay right by her side. They had fallen together.
An odd sputtering noise emitted from Andromeda's throat, and she swayed on the spot. This couldn't be, it just couldn't . . . but it was, the evidence was all right there in front of her, much clearer than she would have liked it. Her eyes pricked with pain beyond belief as she stared at the broken figures in front of her, and she gave another lurch on her feet. She fell onto her knees by Nymphadora's feet, and let all of the sobs she had been holding in wrack her entire body, emotion pouring out of her soul as tears spilled without grace down her face and into her clothes.
So the war was over . . . so what? Her husband was dead, her daughter was dead, her son-in-law was dead, the grandson in her arms was now parentless . . . why had Nymphadora ever insisted on joining the war by becoming an Auror? Andromeda had tried to dissuade her, but the young girl's opinion had been set. If dear Dora had never become an Auror, had never wanted to fight . . . if Ted had not fled their home without her, insisting that she stay behind, that she would only be at risk with him around . . . if her two sisters had never supported Voldemort . . . if Lucius had never supported Voldemort . . .
And unbiddenly, absurdly, the old song floated in her mind . . .
If only, if only, the woodpecker cries . . .
Water continued leaking rapidly from her eyes; she still did not bother to try and hold back the water flow, merely becoming powerless under her own tears, just letting them continue to come, drop by drop by drop . . .
She sat for a long time. The precise time she was not certain, but now the sun was even higher in the sky; she could see it through the sky-panes high in the ceiling. Andromeda felt as though she had run out of tears; instead a terrible stiff and numb feeling had engulfed her, leaving her sitting there blankly, clinging the baby to her chest.
A distant shadow suddenly loomed from behind her. She watched as it drew closer to her, slowly and drawn out, until it was directly over her, looming over her huddled form and obscuring her own shadow.
"Go away," she whispered.
"No, I'm not going to this time," was his reply. She turned her head up to face him, squinting her red-rimmed eyes as she stared up at his form, posed rather tall from her kneeling position.
"And why's that?" she barely breathed.
"Narcissa sent me after you," Lucius replied blandly. "She's very concerned for you, and wanted me to come see where you were and what you were doing, and, well, I always listen to my wife."
"If she's so concerned, why didn't she come herself?" she spat in a hiss.
"An excellent question," he replied, lifting one eyebrow at her. "Perhaps she thinks after your encounter some minutes previous – " Andromeda flinched slightly at the memory " – that would not be the wisest decision. For whatever reason, she was adamant that it would I who would come find you, though."
This struck Andromeda as rather odd. Narcissa had known that Andromeda was once engaged to Lucius, it was true, but Narcissa had also known that Andromeda'd broken off the relationship . . . did the blonde woman honestly expect that anything between her husband and elder sister still existed?
Maybe those weren't her intentions, she thought. Maybe she was just busy, maybe she wasn't trying to rekindle anything between Lucius and me . . . she couldn't dream that I would want anything to do with him, even on a professional level. . . .
"Perhaps you should be leaving," Lucius suggested, snapping her out of her thoughts. "It might be for the best." He motioned to Nymphadora and Remus. "And you could take your – family with you, as well." At the word 'family' his lips twitched slightly, in what she could only assume was his final way of mocking her before she took flight.
And it angered her beyond anything. The chilling numbness was swept away by a hot, burning, pulsing anger, stabbing every inch of her injured soul.
She put Teddy Lupin on the ground next to his parents' legs, and leapt to her feet. All her sense had fled; she lunged at Lucius and half-slammed, half-collapsed into him. He staggered back a half-step from her impact, as she began beating his chest wildly and furiously with her hands.
"STOP IT, STOP IT!" she screamed as she pummeled his body; she realized with dim surprise that he was doing nothing to stop her from hitting him, but didn't let that thought trouble her as she continued to throw her rage against him. "I loved them, all right, I loved them, and I never gave a damn what sort of blood they had – why can't anyone let go of this prejudice, that's why we're all standing here, isn't it – just because you and all your people can't see past something as trivial as the blood type of a person, and what does it really matter, we're all human, damn it, we're all human – except for the scumbags like you and your pretty Death Eater pals, you're not anything like human, you're just these towering things that think you're better than everyone else – and if it weren't for you, we wouldn't be here, we would be at home with our families and we'd be – happy . . ."
Her voice broke; she continued pounding his chest desperately, although her blows were significantly weaker. At last he reached up and took her wrists lightly, prying them away from him, and, suddenly exhausted, she did not try to resist. She dug her nails deeply into her fists and pulled away from him a bit, swaying as she did so. She looked up into his face, but it was still infuriatingly blank and masked.
"I never said anything crude about your child, nor her chosen spouse," he told her calmly. "I was only telling you to leave this place."
"I think I've known you long enough, Lucius, to know when you are mocking me," she said bitterly.
"Clearly you haven't known me long enough," he told her in a surprisingly quiet and delicate voice, "because I wouldn't dream of mockery at a time like this. Andromeda, none of us have come out unscathed from this war. You have lost many of your family, and I'm sure you have bared much other hurt – I have suffered a year in Azkaban, as well as the other pain inflicted upon me – what exactly is there to mock?"
Her lip quivered, and she looked away from him.
"It's over now," he went on softly. "Loss is present, certainly, but there is no more Dark Lord. All of our purposes here – " he gestured to the dead bodies " – have been served. He's gone."
"I would rather have them back," she said in a warbly voice, staring into the still face of Nymphadora. She lurched dangerously, nearly falling on her face, but Lucius' arms caught her and pulled her back upright. Vaguely she realized that his arms seemed just as strong and sturdy as the last time they had held onto her . . .
He let go of her with one hand, keeping the other firmly on her upper arm. With his free hand he wiped some residue blood and grime off the front of his robes, his eyes trained on the simple movements. "I know," he murmured.
She decided not to press for details. Suddenly realizing she had left her grandson on the floor during her brief tantrum, she gave a half-shriek of alarm and lunged out of Lucius' grip and at the floor, scooping him back into her arms. Mercifully, Teddy was still asleep, and looked perfectly fine as he slept on peacefully.
Lucius' eyes flicked over the bundle. "Yours?" he asked simply.
"My daughter's," Andromeda replied shortly. "And don't you dare," she added warningly, "don't you dare make any nasty comments about his blood – half-blood or werewolf or otherwise – because I am just not in the mood, I'm just not – "
He reached out and lightly put his fingertips on her elbow. "Andy," he said delicately, "I wasn't going to."
Her eyes smarted; she looked down and twitched away from his touch.
"You have to believe me. It – I'm not going to pretend that I now approve of – Muggle and Muggleborn integration – because I don't," he whispered ruggedly, and she glanced back up at him as he shut his eyes, almost remorsefully. "I still prize pureblood, and look down on those who don't have it. I'm not proud of this prejudice, Andy, but it's who I am. But – but I do know, despite this still-present bias, that blood doesn't matter. What matters now is – my family." He opened his eyes now, his gray orbs meeting hers and piercing straight through her body. "That's all that I've prized for the past year, that's all that's mattered – I didn't care about the Dark Lord, or – or any of that." He heaved in a breath as he finished speaking.
She gazed at him silently, unsure what to make of this sudden moment of confession, of weakness. He looked back at her; his gaze that had been pleading just seconds before already hardening once more.
"You – you have to believe me," he said again, with only the slightest trace of despair in his voice.
Andromeda opened her mouth to speak – what she was going to say, she had not the faintest idea – but before she could utter a word, Teddy Lupin began to sniffle and wail. Teddy had awoken at Lucius' last words: Teddy, who had slept through everything else, had chosen this exact moment to wake up, when nearly all was quiet around him.
"Oh, Teddy, shh," she crooned, lifting him up so his head was on her shoulder, and bouncing him slightly. Lucius, his face completely apathetic once more, merely watched her. "Shh, shh, it's all right, it's okay . . . I've got you, you're all right . . . shh . . . "
She continued to lightly bounce and pat the baby, wondering slightly as she did this why Lucius was still standing across from her, why he had not left. But she tried not to think about it much, and instead focused on calming Teddy, though even after nearly five minutes he still had not stopped howling.
"May I?" Lucius asked finally, holding out his arms for the baby.
Andromeda jerked the child away automatically, her eyes sharpening as she looked at the blonde man. He raised one eyebrow at her.
"I might be able to help," he said.
"You, help," she said scornfully, with a sneer to rival one of his own. "Help with a half-blood child, no less."
"I am not going to harm him, Andromeda."
She continued to glare.
"I'm not," he insisted.
"As if you could handle a baby even if you weren't going to," she muttered darkly.
Lucius roared with laughter. The act surprised her, but she tried not to show this. "Is that what this is about?" he chortled. "Believe it or not, Andromeda, I once had a baby of my own – and I don't think I was a complete failure as a parent. I do know a few things about children."
She was not utterly convinced, but handed him the bawling baby anyhow. Lucius took the child carefully, then leaned the small body against his chest, swaying it back and forth gently. Teddy's shrieks continued on for another minute, then they slowly began to mellow, until he was completely silent.
Lucius smirked over Teddy's little head in her direction, looking very satisfied. "You see?" he intoned, a bit devilishly.
"You're never going to let me forget that, are you?" questioned Andromeda, with an eye roll.
"Never," he vowed, gray eyes gleaming.
She bit down hard on the inside of her lip to stop herself from smiling. The former engaged couple stared directly at each other for several long moments, then they both seemed to snap back to themselves and hurriedly turned their gazes away. Lucius mutely handed back Teddy to Andromeda, who wrapped her arms around the small body quickly, needing something to grip onto desperately in that moment.
"Would you like some help – moving them?" Lucius asked, braving to meet her eyes again and gesturing behind her to indicate Nymphadora and Remus. "If you were going to take the bodies, that is . . ."
"I think I'll – I think I'll leave them. Dora would want to be buried here, it would – would have been more meaningful to her to be buried at the place that she – that she fell." Andromeda stroked Teddy's once-again-sleeping head distantly. "I think I'll say good-bye first though," she added in a whisper, and dropped back to her knees in front of her daughter. She wanted fiercely to say something deeply meaningful to her Dora, but could think of nothing as she felt her throat close and eyes cloud again. She blinked furiously; she would not cry, not now, not again, not in front of him here like this . . .
Lucius lowered himself onto his knees beside her. She kept her foggy eyes steadily ahead on Nymphadora's form, not daring to meet his eyes. Despite her fervent efforts, she began to feel tears sliding down her face, speedily and helplessly. She pressed Teddy closer to her chest, her tears spilling onto his head as she sobbed silently.
There was a rustle beside her, then suddenly she felt a warm arm curl around her shoulders, a hand rubbing her shoulder lightly. Andromeda's body stiffened under his weight, and Lucius obviously felt this, for he said quietly, "Relax. I just want to help."
She remained tense, her insides coiling and stretching and flipping in complete turmoil.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Andy," he whispered.
She turned her head to the side to look at him. His face was entirely sincere, his eyes probing, caring, hoping.
"I know," she whispered back, because she suddenly comprehended that she did.
Their gaze on each other was intense, but not uncomfortable. Her shoulders were relaxing under his arm, her tears continuing to flow but perhaps at a slower pace. She realized as though from an outsider's angle that Lucius' face was leaning closer to her, yet barely realizing from any angle that she was moving closer to him as well, descending slowly into the soft gray . . .
Their faces barely a breadth away from each other, she finally became aware of what exactly she was doing, and at the last second she turned her head forward again. He realized this too late it seemed, for she felt his lips tantalizingly graze her cheek, before drawing back.
"Cissy," Andromeda breathed, still looking away from him.
"Yes," he murmured in a subdued tone. "I know."
"I can't do that to her – I can't just – and my husband – I know he's gone – but – "
"Yes, I understand," he said in the same repressed, quietly controlled voice. "You're right. I – I'm sorry."
His body was still close to hers, his arm still around her shoulders as though forgotten about; she felt rather than heard him swallow roughly, then he cleared this throat and let a silence stretch between them. At last he seemed to remember his neglected arm wrapped around her, and he pulled away rapidly, muttering something indistinguishable and clamoring to his feet. She did likewise, gazing into her grandson's face and smoothing back his small tuft of currently fuchsia hair.
"Narcissa and Draco will wonder where I've gone for so long," said Lucius tonelessly. "Can I escort you to join us?"
"I . . ." She hesitated, shifting her blue gaze towards him, then slowly shook her head. His face was immaculate and veiled again, but she thought she detected a flash of disappointment in his features.
"I would love to rejoin the family, Lucius," she whispered breathlessly. "But – but I don't think I can just now. I have to sort out my thoughts first."
He nodded. "I understand. Just do remember that not everyone who cared for you is dead: you still have people to turn to, who will welcome you back."
"I will," she promised, touched by his words. "I will come back to all of you. I promise. It would be wonderful to form a relationship again with my sister, as well as a new one with my nephew." She took a half-step towards him, lifting her chin to stare directly into the unexpressive eyes, and smiled slightly. "And I'm sure I could use your help in raising Teddy as well," she added.
Lucius smirked slyly, but the frosty gray orbs had melted into something less sharp and more warm. "You most definitely could use it," he replied smugly.