She crossed her arms over her chest, clinging to the little heat her body still retained in the frigid cold air. Glancing around, she wondered what was holding Lucius up. Granted, by her watch he still had four minutes to go, but even so . . . lateness was not fashionable for Lucius Malfoy.

Perhaps he is being held up due to his master, she thought bitterly, but shoved the notion away, turning her attention instead to the deserted streets.

A muffled cry suddenly captured her attention, coming from down an alley a short ways away. She swallowed and looked around warily, but her eyes glimpsed nothing. From the same direction came a quiet but firm thud of something falling on the paved ground.

Andromeda knew it was foolish to go wandering around dark alleys at night, but it sounded as though someone was hurt, and so her Hufflepuff tendencies kicked into overdrive: She padded lightly towards where the sounds had come from, and turned down the street corner.

A man in deep black robes had a young woman pushed up against the rough wall of the building. The girl's face was marked with both tears and bruises, but it appeared she had been silenced, for though she whimpered she made no sound as the man continued his cruel abuse.

Andromeda reacted instinctively. Drawing her wand she trained it on the man and blasted a spell from its tip: the man was thrown backwards off the girl and landed with his rear on the ground. He turned his face towards her to see who had ruined his pursuits, and she felt a jolt inside her: he was wearing a Death Eater mask. She knew it was not Lucius, she would have recognized his strong figure anywhere, masked or not, but the fact that this was one of her fiancé's – dare she think it – comrades – did not please her.

Does he try to abuse and rape females during his 'duty time' too?

She crushed that thought as she ran towards the young woman who had crumpled to the ground, keeping her wand arm still extended towards the man. "Are you all right?" Andromeda breathed, taking one of the girl's cold, shaking hands in her own. The girl gave an almost imperceptible nod, tremoring all over.

"She deserves what she gets," came the rough voice of the male. Andromeda's eyes flew towards him, narrowing in a glare. "Filthy Mudblood." He spat at the ground. "I was gonna kill her eventually, just thought I'd have a bit of fun first." He grinned, leering; Andromeda felt the young woman's hand tremble within hers.

"You're disgusting," Andromeda spat at him. "All of you who serve You-Know-Who – it's vile, what you do to achieve your goals, all this torture and murder and cruelty."

His grin widened, revealing yellow and dirty teeth. "An opinionated one, aren't we?"

"Just keep away from her," Andromeda warned firmly, and she helped the girl to her feet and ushered her away. She turned to leave herself, not wanting anything more to do with this man, but suddenly felt her wand fly out of her hand. She'd been caught unaware, and had been disarmed.

She whirled around to lung for her wand, but already the Death Eater had gotten to his feet and strode to her, gripping her wrists tightly.

"Let go of me," she said, turning her head to the side so she would not have smell his putrid breath.

"I don't think so," he said, and she could hear the horrible sneer in his voice. He shoved her backwards, pushing her spine against the wall.

"I'm a pureblood," she said with a fierce edge to her tone, trying to sound intimidating, "I'm a Black – you do not want me as your enemy."

"You're right, I don't," he murmured. He released one of her wrists, and trailed his free hand down her side. She shuddered and tried to squirm around him, but he was stronger, and wouldn't let go. "But anyone who defies me defies the Dark Lord – and we can't have that, now, can we? You spurn me, you spurn him – and those who spurn my master are punished."

"You will be punished if you do anything else to me," she said, sounding stronger than she felt.

"I don't think so. For if you are really a Black – which I doubt – you wouldn't have let that silly girl go. You would agree with the ideas that filth should be terminated from our world." His wandering hand glided upward against, his rough fingers caressing the exposed skin of her neck; and she knew he could feel her pounding heartbeat, for he sneered again. Throwing caution to the wind, she fought back against him wildly, trying to kick, punch, slap, hit; but his body pressed up harder against her, blocking all means of escape. He slapped her across the face, and she let out an involuntary gasp.

"Nice try," the Death Eater rasped, his hand lingering on her cheek. "But you're not going anywhere until I'm done with you – "

"Excuse me."

The Death Eater turned his head towards a figure whom she could not see. But she knew that voice instantly, his voice; and she felt herself quake again, though this time with relief: for there was no one she wanted, needed, more right now.

His thoughts were jumbled and disjointed; in fact a part of him wondered if he even still had a brain to produce thoughts, for thinking was very difficult as he stared at the masked face of MacNair. Nearly all he could see was a haze of red, angry red, splotchy and blotchy and quite crazed.

"Could I have a moment, Lucius?" the other Death Eater asked, annoyed. "I'm a bit busy – "

"Get away from her."

"C'mon now, there are plenty of other lasses for you, if that's what you're upset over – "

But the Death Eater did not get to finish his sentence, for next second the newcomer jerked his wand: there was a resounding bang, and the other man was thrown backwards, landing on his rear. The caster of the spell towered over the fallen man, incensed.

"What the bloody hell was that for?" MacNair asked, getting to his feet and glaring at the blonde man before him.

"My question to you exactly," Lucius snarled at him, the normally impassive gray orbs scalding with fire.

"I was – "

Lucius' fury was beyond his grasp: he slashed his wand through the air again; MacNair cried out and clapped a hand over his shoulder, where a deep gash of blood had appeared.

"You take your wand away from me, Malfoy!" the masked man ejaculated. "You have no right – "

"It is you who has no right, MacNair."

"I was just showing that woman what happens to those who defy the Dark Lord – surely you, Lucius, have no objections to that – I told you to put that away, I've done nothing to you!" he shouted, as the other man (who was barely listening to his fellow) took a wide step towards him and jabbed his wand under the masked man's chin. "What the hell – "

"In the future, MacNair, I would advise you to keep your hands away from things that do not concern you, do I make myself plain?"

"Don't concern me? That bitch – !"

"That's – my – fiancée," Lucius growled, his teeth bared.

The Death Eater looked from Andromeda to Lucius, as though expecting one of them to contradict this. "Your – fiancée?" Instantly he backed away, holding up his hands in apology. "I had no idea – I would've never, Lucius, if I'd known – so she is a pureblood – a Black – I didn't – "

Lucius was surprised that his mouth was still able to form coherent words as he told the bastard, "It's time for you to go."

"Certainly," said MacNair with a half-bow, his eyes never leaving Lucius' wand. "But I do wonder, Lucius, if your dear fiancée knows of the work that you do?"

"The level of our intimacy is not something I feel the need to share with scum like you. Now leave." He jabbed his wand forward slightly to emphasize his point.

MacNair looked as though he might try to hex the man who was still pointing his wand at his chin, but thought better of it, and Disapparated. Lucius whirled around to face Andromeda, and his rage instantly crumbled as he saw her leaning weakly against the wall; right now was not the time to be furious, she needed him to be there for her. He rushed towards her and pulled her into his arms. Unable to keep herself upright any longer, she went limp in his grasp and let him support her weight.

"Andy – Andy – " he whispered in broken tones, feeling her body tremble against his own quivering form. "I'm so sorry – Andy – I didn't think – did he – ?"

"N-no," she spluttered. "He didn't do much to me – you came just in time – I'm fine – "

"Don't be foolish, of course you're not fine." When she didn't answer, he pulled her face up to look at his, his hand on her chin. His fingers grazed over a red patch on her cheek, that in the shape of a hand, and she winced slightly at the contact with the swollen skin. "Oh, Andy."

"I'm all right," she whispered determinedly, attempting to pull away from him but stumbling.

He gripped her tighter. "I'm taking you back to Malfoy Manor."

"Lucius – we can't – our parents will never – approve – and we have – dinner – reservations – "

"Damn the reservations, Andy, and damn what our parents think – you need rest and quiet right now, and I'm not about to leave you like this."

Andromeda mumbled something into his robes: he could not tell if it was agreement or not, but decided it did not matter. Stooping, he picked up the wand that must have been hers lying on the ground, then Apparated them both to the Manor doorstep. He pushed the door open and tried to pick Andromeda up – but being the independent female that she was, she protested.

"I can walk, Lucius," she muttered, when he attempted this act.

"Andromeda, stop being stubborn – "

Her stubbornness was one of the many things that endeared her to him, actually; and he hoped she understood that he did not mean to lose the trait forever, just for the moment.

"I can walk," she said again with surprising firmness, and, as usual, strolled confidently away from him into his house, though her knees did tremble rather fierce.

"No one else is here, are they?" she murmured, as he caught up to her, placing a guiding hand on the small of her back. To his relief, she did not shake him off.

"Just us," he assured her, "and, of course, Dobby. Dobby!" he called in louder tones as he settled her down on the sofa, sitting himself next to her.

The house-elf tottered in. "Master Malfoy called for Dobby?"

"Yes, I did. Bring us some ice, wrapped in a towel, and then make us dinner."

"As young Master wishes," the elf squeaked, and scurried out.

"When we're married," Andromeda said quietly, placing her head against his chest, "we're freeing that elf. It's terrible, the way he's forced to do your every bidding."

"Your family has a house-elf too, Andromeda."

"Yes, and I don't approve of that either. They're creatures too, they deserve to be treated fairly."

"They are inferior to us."

"Only because we have enslaved them and made them into mindless servants, which they are not."

"Oh, darling, was it these sort of sharp-tongued and adamant remarks that provoked MacNair into attacking you in the first place?"

"Yes," said Andromeda, her eyes hard.

Lucius sighed. "Andy, you should really be more careful whom you express . . . strong . . . opinions to."

"I thought him harmless to me. MacNair is one of your associates, isn't he?"

"He also works for the Dark Lord, yes, although he is certainly not as charming as I am," he replied, with a poor attempt at humor.

"Yes, I noticed," she muttered.

"What exactly did you say that got him riled?" he questioned. "On what were you expressing opinions on?"

"Oh, this and that, nothing of real importance," she replied uncaringly, though she was suddenly not meeting his eyes. Dobby hurried back in at that moment before he could press the matter, a lumpy cloth in hand.

"Thank you, Dobby," said Andromeda courteously, as Lucius took the ice wrapped in a towel.

"You're welcome, Miss Black," said Dobby, bowing low, already backing out of the room. "Dinner for Master Malfoy and Miss Black will be ready soon." He disappeared around the doorway.

"What did you want ice for, anyway?" she asked him.

"For you, of course," he said, reaching over to her; but she pulled back, shaking her head.

"Lucius, that isn't necessary – "

"Andromeda, stop this, that mark is only going to swell more – "

"I can use magic on it, then!"

"Magic will take away the marking, but it won't take away the pain," he said quietly. He beckoned her back towards him. Reluctantly, she scooted nearer to him, and he placed one hand on her knee, the one holding the ice he put against her cheek. She flinched at the cold, but then relaxed, sinking her head into the cushions of the sofa and closing her eyes. Seeing her so helpless stirred his anger up again.

"That bastard," he hissed.

Andromeda opened her eyes and looked at him, but said nothing.

"Next time I see him," Lucius seethed, "I'm going to draw my wand and cut off his – "

"Don't finish that thought, please, I don't think I want the details," said Andromeda, with a hesitant giggle, and his eyes weakened as he smiled at her softly.

Dobby tottered into the room, supporting over his head a large tray mounted with various dishes.

"Here is Master and Miss' food," he said, drawing a small table closer and setting the tray on top, pushing it towards the sofa where the couple sat.

"Thank you, Dobby," Andromeda murmured again, though she was looking at the other male in the room. Dobby bowed himself out and left them.

Lucius removed the ice from his fiancée's cheek and leaned over the tray, taking one of the dishes and lifting its cover. "Shepard's pie?" he offered to her, taking a fork and scooping a bite onto it.

"Please," she said, reaching for the fork. Smiling rather sinfully, he shook his head.

"No, no, Andromeda – come closer."

She merely stared at him, dubious. "Surely you jest: you cannot possibly think that you are going to fork-feed me like some child."

"Oh, but that's precisely what I think," Lucius replied arrogantly. "Now, come here."

"Lucius – " she said warningly.

"There is no one to see, if that is what you are worried about."

"I don't know what sort of game you're playing – "

He lifted the fork higher, a waft of steam issuing from the food morsel. She eyed it longingly. "This was supposed to be a dinner date, if you will recall," he told her. "So why not make it such? Just done in a slightly different style than usual."

Looking wary, she tipped her head closer and opened her mouth. He slipped the fork inside, and she sucked it clean before he drew it away.

"How is it?" he inquired in a murmur.

"Wonderful," she sighed, turning her body around halfway and leaning against him, her back to his chest. He took his arm and wrapped it around her waist, pressing her closer, as his other reached over to their dinner and offered her another taste, before giving one to himself. It was in this manner (a manner that was rather undignified for purebloods such as themselves) that they finished the shepard's pie, salad, and pasta. It felt nice having her so close to him, and not just in the physical sense. For the past few months he had felt as though they had been having a relationship through walls, and he didn't understand why. Perhaps, at last, she had decided to crush the walls and be his again without any barricades.

"Only dessert left now," he whispered in her ear as he pulled their final course nearer.

She felt her shiver against him, and he smirked slightly. "And what is it that has been prepared?" she asked levelly.

He uncovered the dish. "Truffles." He selected one and held it out to her. She took it and chewed slowly, obviously savoring the flavor, then carefully licked all remaining traces of the food from his fingers. His heart quickened. Merlin, did the woman have any idea what sort of affect this had on him? She turned a smirking face up to his. Yes, she knew exactly what she was doing, and was enjoying it on top of that. Sometimes he thought she would have done very well in Slytherin.

Andromeda reached over and took one of the chocolates, holding it in front of his mouth. His turn. He bit into it slowly, skimming her fingertips with his teeth as he did so and causing her to shudder a little again. He was just reaching over to give her another truffle when Dobby came bobbing back in.

"Does Master need Dobby to do anything else?"

"No," said Lucius tightly.

"Does Master need Dobby to fetch anything else?"

"No, you are not needed right now in any way, shape, or form. Leave us be," said Lucius coolly, and the elf scuttled off.

Andromeda sighed against him. "There is no need to be so rude to him, Lucius. He does have feelings, you know."

"Unimportant feelings, perhaps," Lucius sneered, but she did not reply. "Oh, Andy, I don't know why you're so bothered by this. We'll free the bloody elf once we're married if it's that important to you. But that doesn't change the fact that house-elves are inferior to us."

"Everyone is inferior to you, Lucius," she said softly, avoiding his eyes.

"Not everyone," he joked, "you are one of the few exceptions." She didn't smile, or even look at him, and just like that he felt her walls mounting high again. Or perhaps she had never dispelled the walls in the first place. Neither thought cheered him.

"Andromeda, what's wrong?" he asked, the arm he had secured around her waist tightening.


"Tell me."

"I'm fine, Lucius."

He pulled her face around to look at him. "You've been distant from me for weeks, Andy, and you always avoid the inquiries about it. Please, tell me what is going on."

"I'm tired, that's all. I'm sorry."

He didn't believe her, but relented, releasing her chin and running his fingers through her hair. She relaxed against him again momentarily, before murmuring drowsily, "I should be going home."

He voiced his agreement, and they both got to their feet and Apparated to the Black mansion front steps.

"Well," she said, "good-night, Lucius."

"Good-night, Andy," he said, pulling her in for an embrace, hiding himself in her arms for a few moments; pretending just for those moments that he did not see the angry red of his anger towards MacNair, or the raw red of his Andy's hurt; pretending just for those moments the only color that existed was the mousy brown of her hair, safe, caring. But then she drew away and went inside, and he was forced to return his impassive mask and armor, for that was the only way he could pretend without her.