"You look lovely, Andy," said Rachel, beaming as she combed out her friend's long brown waves.

Andromeda smiled into the mirror she was seated in front of. "Thanks, Rachel."

Rachel Abbott was not lying. Andromeda did look lovely. She did not, of course, usually look anything less, being a Black. But her beauty was emphasized greatly today by the elegant, white silk wedding dress that fitted smoothly across her body and dripped down to the floor in a magnificent train. Her skin glowed; her face was made up carefully with light, natural make-up; her jewels were exquisite; the fancy up-do her friend was crafting was stunning. The only part of her that truly did not radiate of grace and joy was, in fact, her eyes – for they are, of course, the most difficult part of any person to ever 'do up' or 'make over'. Though that's not to say that Andromeda wasn't trying.

"Nervous?" Rachel asked knowingly.

Terrified, Andromeda thought. "A bit," she responded out loud. "But I know it will all be wonderful in the end."

"Yes, it will," said Rachel warmly. "I was anxious the day of my wedding too. But you and Ted are perfect together. He's a fine man."

"And speaking of Ted the fine man . . ." came a new, deeper voice from the doorway, rich with amusement.

Both Andromeda and Rachel looked around at the new arrival.

"Ted Tonks!" said Rachel reproachfully. "You're not supposed to be in here! It's bad luck to see the bride before she walks down the aisle on your wedding day!"

"I'll risk it," Ted replied with a crooked grin, and strode across the room towards his fiancée. Andromeda rose to her feet, and met him half-way. Ted placed his large hands on her shoulders and kissed her cheek gently.

"Make-up smears!" Rachel called warningly.

He ignored her. "How're you doing, 'Dromeda?"

'Dromeda. It was Ted's own personal nick-name for her. No one else called her that. This made it easier to forget about the ones who used to call her by another shortened name, at least.

"I'm all right," she said, "but what are you doing here?"

"Just wanted to check in. Make sure you're not . . . regretting this." He looked her over carefully.

She swallowed, but said in a firm tone of voice, "I love you, Ted, and I am not going to regret marrying you. If my family can't – can't understand this, then fine. I – I have to do what is best for all of us, and I think this is it."

He pressed his lips to the top of her head. "Good to hear," he murmured against her hair, then pulled away, once again smiling widely. It amazed her how easily she was able to wipe away his fears, how quickly he could relax and think that nothing was wrong with her. Or maybe he was as good an actor as she, and had learned how to put on his different masks rapidly and without pause.

"Well, I should be off," he told her cheerfully, backing towards the door. "Love you, 'Dromeda, and I'm glad you're not upset – because we're going to be happy together, forever and always."

Her heart slammed up against her rib-cage painfully, her guilt threatening to overwhelm her. "Forever and always," she echoed, smiling bravely and giving him a little wave. He blew her a kiss and left the room.

Even with him out of the room, the guilt lingered, the guilt that was always looming around her soul ever since she had agreed to marry Ted Tonks. It wasn't truly fair to him, that she was marrying him. She loved him, but not in the way she should have as his future wife, and not the way he loved her. But on the other hand, wasn't she being kind this way? Wasn't it good of her to give him what he wanted, to be his wife? Because she did love him, she did, deeply and sincerely. But she could never be in love with him, not in that way, for – no matter how she wished she hadn't – she had already fallen in love with another man . . . one who could never be replaced.

"Will Master be needing anything else?" Dobby asked, as he continued shinning the shoes of his master.

"Yes, I'll be needing your assistance with this wretched tie," said Lucius with a bark to his voice, as he stood in front of the mirror, glaring at his reflection as he tried yet again without success to knot his bow-tie.

He watched Severus' reflection step behind him in the mirror. "May I?" Severus asked lazily, and after receiving a curt nod from Lucius, flicked his wand in the blonde man's direction. Instantly the bow-tie knotted itself neatly around Lucius' neck.

Lucius sighed as he turned around to face his friend. "You need to teach me that spell sometime or another. Actually, forget I said that – I don't want to ever hear about that spell again. Anything that reminds me of this terrible situation . . ."

"The 'situation' has not even started, Lucius," said Severus with a slight sneer. "You're not even married yet."

"No, no, that part will be fine," said Lucius, waving an impatient hand at Dobby to hurry up, which the elf quickly did, promptly moving on to his master's other shoe. "The actual marriage will be fine, I mean – if we ever get there, that is. It's all this preparation that is growing tiresome, I do not think I have had a spare moment in months – "

"Because you always used to fill your time with such valuable activities," said Severus, with a sly note in his tone.

"Just as valuable as yours, Severus," Lucius returned meaningful, and Severus inclined his head in acknowledgement.

"Leave, Dobby," Lucius then ordered, accompanying this sharp request with a kick to the elf's mid-section.

The house-elf squeaked in pain as he bowed himself out. "As Master Malfoy wishes," he piped before taking the final step out the door. Lucius shook his head in mild disdain, then sat down on one of the chairs in the vicinity.

"I must ask," said Severus with a slight hesitation, sitting down across from the other male. "Why did you feel the need to choose me, of all people, as your best man for this wedding?"

Lucius raised his eyebrows. "Are you complaining?"

"No, I am merely wondering. I'm only sixteen, not even of age, and I know you have many more – 'competent' – associates – "

"'More competent associates'?" Lucius echoed, with an icy laugh. "Severus, you are probably one of the most – if not the most competent person I know, and you could out-do most of us in terms of skill and power both."

"Why don't you save your petty flattery for your future wife, Lucius?" Severus suggested, smirking. "Your efforts would be put to much better use with her than with I."

Lucius sighed impatiently, then glanced at his watch. "We still have fifteen minutes before we are required out there," he noted, more to himself than to Severus. Though outwardly he appeared calm about it, a part of him was still grappling with the fact that within under an hour, he would be married. Having been engaged for nearly three years, it was certainly a hard concept to come to terms with. Of course, he had not been engaged to the same person the entire time . . . but that was another matter.

"Fifteen more minutes of being a bachelor," Severus agreed mildly. "And how do you plan to spend them?"

Lucius pretended to consider, then said, "Sit on my ass and enjoy every second left." He chuckled then, though it sounded forced even to his own ears, and from Severus' slightly narrowed eyes, it was safe to assume that he had noticed too. Lucius cleared his throat, just for something to do, got to his feet, then turned to face the mirror again, vainly occupying himself with flattening the creases in his dress robes.

"She's not coming, I take it?" Severus asked expressionlessly, from behind him.

"Who?" said Lucius brusquely, patting down the fabric on his shoulders.

"Don't play daft, Lucius, it doesn't suit you. I meant your former fiancée, of course."

"Not that it is any of your business, but no, I doubt she would come. She wasn't extended an invitation, since she was disowned by her family some months back, so she probably does not even know the date of the wedding." His fingers fumbled slightly as he brushed imaginary dust off his arm. "She probably doesn't even know there is going to be a wedding."

Severus was watching Lucius' reflection; Lucius could see the black eyes gazing intently at him in the mirror.

"It's a good thing she won't be here, anyway," said Lucius tersely, feeling the need to say something. "If she were, it would only bring ridicule upon her from her family."

"Mmm," said Severus, uncommitingly.

"You disagree?"

"I said nothing of the sort."

"Then stop looking so superior, like you know something that I don't." Lucius turned around to face him. "What is it that you are so bursting to say?"

"I am not 'bursting' to say anything, and I am not the type of man to ever do something of that sort regardless."

"What, then, are you thinking?"

Severus was silent for a long moment. "I think you're not as happy as you're pretending to be about all this."

"I'm fine," said Lucius in monotone.

Severus only continued to look at him. Lucius hunched his shoulders slightly, trying not to let himself be uncomfortable by what Severus had said, what he was implying . . . what was true.

"What's done is done," said Lucius finally, solemnly, "and I will do what is expected, regardless of – " He stopped himself.

Severus raised his eyebrows. "Of?" He was not about to let his friend get away with that sort of hanging sentence.

"Regardless of . . . anything else," he concluded in a mutter, turning his back on Severus bitterly as he stared at himself in the mirror again. 'Anyone else' would have been the more precise wordings, of course, but he was not about to say this aloud.

She wondered what he was doing. She wondered where he was. She wondered what his life was like. She wondered if he had moved on, was seeing another woman. She wondered if he had forgotten her. She didn't want to wonder any of these things, but she did, always, now more so than ever, on her wedding day to another man.

It would not have worked had she married him. She would have never been happy on the arm of a Death Eater, and he would have never been happy with a wife who did not support him. Once upon a time she had believed she would get her fairy tale ending with the man she loved beyond belief, beyond reason that they were meant to be; they would wed, they would have children, and grow old together, and share each other's lives. But reality had sunk in, and she had realized that he loved his good name and family reputation too much to break away from all that just for her. So she had snapped things off between them, and had ran into the open arms of Ted Tonks.

She hadn't been able to tell him why she had left. She didn't want to. She couldn't. She couldn't bring herself to share how she felt about You-Know-Who and his ideas, and admit that they could not be together because of this. She had never agreed with 'Lord Voldemort's' ideals and goals, had never understood why those of 'lesser blood' were any 'less' than she, and had finally realized that she would never be happy surrounded by this the rest of her life . . . and he wouldn't have been happy with a wife who was always silent, always obedient, always reacted by pure instinct, but never came alive. So she had ended their engagement, she had done what was best for both of them. She hoped. She thought. Her heart still cried a different tune, but she would ignore it: she was stronger than it.

"There's something troubling you, isn't there?" Rachel asked, as she combed out her own hair and twisted it into a bun.

"No, don't be silly," said Andromeda, smiling at her.

Rachel moved towards her, taking Andromeda's hands in her own. "I'm sure it hurts," she intoned softly, "not having your family here on your special day."

"I-it does," Andromeda admitted.

Rachel pulled her closer and squeezed her tightly. Andromeda closed her eyes. "It's not always easy, doing what you know is best. Oh, but Andy, you're going to be fine. And maybe someday your family will see that marrying Ted was the most perfect decision ever for you."

"Maybe," Andromeda whispered.

"Would you please stop looking at me like that?" Lucius demanded.

Severus shrugged, unbothered. "Sorry," he offered, though it didn't sound sincere, it was more just a word to fill the space.

"All right," Lucius sighed, "just spit out whatever else you are thinking."

"It doesn't matter what I think: as you said, what's done is done."

"What's done is done." He absently reached down to tie his shoe, realized he had no laces to tie, and straightened back up, glaring at his reflection as though it were the reflection's fault for making him do such an idiotic move, as though it were the reflection's fault he was here today about to be married to Narcissa Black, and not . . . not her.

"But what does it matter? She chose the Mudblood Tonks over me and ran off, it doesn't matter how I feel about the issue."

Lucius had not realized he'd spoken aloud until the words echoed dimly off the walls of the dressing room. When he comprehended that he had, he cleared his throat awkwardly, and glanced to his side, where Severus stood.

"It still hurts," was all Severus offered, toneless but solemn, as though he truly knew.

"What?" Lucius asked gruffly, ashamed that he had revealed so much of himself in such an instant of weakness, but also curious as to what his best man had to say. "What does?"

"Watching her chose someone else," said Severus simply. "Knowing she loves them more than she loves you, even though you love her more than the other bastard ever could."

"You seem to speak from experience," Lucius commented, as his chest tightened painfully with the truth of Severus' words.

Severus shrugged uncommitingly. "Perhaps, perhaps not, but do not change the subject on me, Lucius. We're talking about you, not I."

"What is there to talk about? We were engaged, I thought we were in l – I thought we liked each other, she became fond of the Mudblood, she left. That's it."

"Unfortunately, the feelings don't disappear that quickly."

Aggrieved, he ran a hand through his hair, before realizing he was messing it up right before his own wedding, and quickly charmed it back into place before muttering, "I don't know why I – feel this way about her, really. She isn't the sort I would have expected to find myself charmed by. I wish I hadn't fallen for her now."

"There isn't much of a choice in the matter," said Severus bitterly. He glanced over at the wall clock. "We'd better go out now, the wedding will be starting soon." He moved for the door, Lucius following, barely noticing where he was walking.

He stood outside the chapel doors with the rest of the people involved in the wedding. No, not the wedding, his wedding. Yes, right. He swallowed and hastily turned his gaze towards the doors, and when at last they were thrown open and music flooded from them, he walked calmly up to the front, where he then stood beside the celebrant.

The others slowly filed in beside him, all the other members of the wedding party, except for his bride, who would of course make a traditional, grand entrance. A new song began in preparation for her entrance, and he found himself almost absent-mindedly waiting for Andromeda to step through the doors instead of her younger sister, before reminding himself that would not be. Would never be.

"Hurry up, dears!" said Mrs. Tonks, as she poked her head in the room. "They'll be starting any minute!"

"Coming, coming," Rachel said, bustling towards the door. "Oh, Andy, isn't it exciting," she whispered, taking Andromeda's hand and tugging her along. Andromeda smiled but didn't think she'd be able to talk, so did not try to reply, and merely let herself be led along by Rachel until they reached the chapel hallway.

The other people in the wedding – the bridesmaids, the groomsmen, the flower girl, and ring bearer – were already there, waiting in a line. Rachel took her place beside her husband, Kenneth Abbott, who would be escorting her inside. Andromeda moved to stand beside Mr. Tonks, who would be leading her down the aisle. It was tradition, of course, for the bride to be led down the aisle by her father, but as her own father had disowned her, this position had fallen to Ted's dad. He was more than happy to do it, being a kind man, and Andromeda liked him very much, but her insides still jolted as she moved next to him and linked arms.

Several minutes later, she heard music from within the church's main room, and the procession began to walk: first the bridesmaids and groomsmen; next the best man and maid of honor; then the ring-bearer and flower girl. And then it was her turn.

The familiar chords of 'Here Comes the Bride' were struck, and Ted's father guided her forward into the chapel.

She was certainly a beauty, an absolute vision in the white dress. She walked slowly up the aisle, but with an undeniable purpose; her perfectly chiseled chin tilted level, head erect; her eyes firm enough to show she meant business, but soft enough not to be taken for being rude; a bouquet of flowers held gently in her slender palms. She was beautiful, completely gorgeous. Any man would have probably groveled to have her as his bride. Any man but him, for as much as he wanted and tried to deny it, he had already had his heart stolen by another.

Faces beamed at Andromeda from every pew as she strolled, most of them faces she did not recognize: for, of course, none of her family or old family friends were present. She had extended invites to her close friends from Hogwarts – Rachel, Alice, Katherine, and Tabitha, all of whom had showed – but beyond that, it was mostly invites of the Tonks who were present. Still, she smiled at each of them, extending tiny bobs of the head to those whom she vaguely recognized.

When at last her walk was complete she stood up at the front of the room, her bridesmaids behind her, Ted standing opposite, smiling crookedly with incontestable love and adoration written in every faint line of his face. She smiled back at him, but it felt as though the smile would crack in two at any moment. Oh, Ted, how I wish I could love you the way you do me.

"We are gathered here today to celebrate the joining of these two individuals . . ."

Lucius found himself only able to hear snatches of the bonder's words; a faint murmuring in his ears was distracting him. This is wrong, this is wrong, the little murmur taunted him over and over. What are you doing, Malfoy, why are you doing this?

Because he had to. He now looked hard at his fiancée, the woman who would be his wife in mere minutes. He had to, for her, for their families, for everyone here . . . everyone here but him. But Lucius had always done what was required of him.

Coward, just letting her go.

She didn't want him though. So what would have been the point anyway? Yes, better to continue on with what he was doing: go on living his life, doing what he needed to, what he must. Eventually he would forget about her.

His heart gave a funny twinge and lurch at the last thought.

". . . in holy matrimony . . ."

She was trying to pay attention, she really was – it was, after all, her wedding day, and how would it seem afterwards if she could not remember a single detail of it? Still, she found it very hard to focus as she stared into the gentle hazel optics of Ted Tonks, wishing despite herself that she was currently gazing into the sharper gray orbs of Lucius Malfoy.

". . . such a relationship should not be entered lightly, but should be entered reverently, and in the fear of God, after much consideration . . ."

Well, she had certainly given it a fair amount of consideration, and reached what she believed to be the right decision, but that didn't make the ordeal – now that it was truly time to go through with her decision – any easier.

And – 'in the fear of God'? Ted's parents must have had more influence over the wedding than she'd realized. They were Muggles, after all, as were most of Ted's relatives and acquaintances, so the entire wedding was being done in the traditional Muggle style: Muggle church, Muggle clothes, Muggle procession, the whole ordeal. Still, she had not realized there would be a religious overtone. Andromeda was not opposed to religion, but she had never been particularly religious. In her household, the ideas of purity of blood and the worth of family names were much more important than any gods, or prayers to 'higher beings'.

". . . and we gather to witness their deep affection for one another, and to bind them together as one couple before they leave here today . . ."

One couple. One unit. One soul. She clutched the flowers in her hands tighter, the stems digging into her palms and cutting into her skin, cutting into her deep pain and sorrow, becoming another small piece of it.

". . . you commit yourselves today to one another, to your future . . ."

He was certainly committed, that was for certain. He always had been a faithful pureblood, he would not disappoint now. He would be loyal to his bride, thereby being loyal to all else involved, and he would go on with the future, their future.

". . . may the love in which your hearts are joined today never weaken . . ."

Narcissa's eyes sought out his gaze at the word of 'love', and their eyes locked. Though she was an adult woman of nineteen now, in her eyes he suddenly saw a glimmer of the girl she had left behind not too long ago – a girl who was uncertain about what she was about to do, who was wary of her future.

A girl who had no idea what this 'love' the officiant spoke of was, and longed to know what it truly meant.

But within the space of a second, the moment was over, and she was the golden, perfect young woman again, looking steadily and calmly at her surroundings.

Which would be better? he wondered to himself vaguely. To not know what falling in love is, and never be able to find out – or to have experienced it, and know what you are missing the rest of your long life?

Somehow, he found himself wishing he was the former, that he was in her shoes.

". . . and now we come to our vows . . ."

Already? The marriage vows so soon? Had she really been paying that little attention? Or perhaps wedding ceremonies were always very short?

". . . the groom shall go first, and if he may repeat after me . . ."

Ted's face was like the sun as she looked over at him; so bright and light and joyous that it was almost painful to look at, yet you still had difficultly turning your eyes away once they had turned to it.

"I, Theodore Tonks," began the minister.

"I, Theodore Tonks," Ted repeated back.

"Take you, Andromeda Black."

"Take you, Andromeda Black," said Ted dutifully.

"To have and to hold from this day forward," the priest continued.

"To have and to hold from this day forward," Lucius echoed.

"For better or worse," the officiant said.

"For better or worse," said Lucius.

"For richer, for poorer."

"For richer, for poorer."

Honestly, who came up with these vows? They were complete and utter hogwash (especially the 'richer or poorer' bit – as if either a Black or Malfoy would ever be poor). Lucius had to repress a scoff at the nit-wit words that meant nothing whatsoever. What did a bunch of words really mean? Anyone could say them. Harder to duplicate was the feelings. Sure, the words were supposed to represent the feelings, but really, if you had to make the feelings public by use of words, then chances are you were utterly pathetic and only need to be reassured of your worth through such petty methods.

"In sickness and in health," the bonder went on.

"In sickness and in health," Ted replied.

"To love and to cherish."

"To love and to cherish."

"From this day forward."

"From this day forward."

"'Til death do us part."

"'Til death do us part."

The priest then had Andromeda repeat the words back to Ted, which she did, somehow growing simultaneously colder and warmer as she did so, her whole body tight as the priest withdrew the wedding rings from the ring-bearer's cushion.

"The exchanging of rings in a marriage is a long standing custom," the minister said, as he cupped the rings in his hand. "The ring itself is not of great value, but the symbol behind them, how they curve in a never ending circle just as your love for each other does, that is what matters. If the groom could please place the ring on his wife's finger."

Ted took her hand, plucked the ring from the minister's palm, and carefully slipped the ring securely onto her finger, where it sat, snug and firm; an everlasting reminder of what she had made her life, what she had sacrificed and gained and, most immensely, what she had felt.

He took Narcissa delicate, long-fingered hand in his own, and gently pushed the ring onto her smooth skin. He looked up to greet her gaze as he did this, but her eyes were focused on her new ring.

"And now if the bride could do the same for the groom," said the officiant.

Narcissa guided the ring onto his own finger. It fit well, and glimmered a pure gold as it caught the loose sun rays that filtered through the windows.

"In as much as you have sealed your vows in the presence of those gathered here by the giving of these rings, and have consented together to live in marriage, it gives me great pleasure to pronounce that you are now husband and wife."

"You may kiss now," he added, smiling slightly.

Beaming as though the sun really was inside of him, Ted leaned towards her, and held one of her cheeks lightly as he pressed his lips to hers in a brief, sweet motion.

And then it was over, and people all around them were rising to their feet, clapping and smiling, several with moist eyes. And Ted was nudging her to throw her bouquet, which she did, tossing it high over head and watching the last traces of her old life fly by as she did so. Which was, really, the whole point of a wedding: to start a new, united life with someone. So why did it feel so wrong? Why did she not feel the elation she had expected, had believed, would come at this point? Why were the tears coming down her face, the tears that Ted was wiping with his gentle fingers as he murmured tender loving words in her ear, why were these tears not for the wonderful man she had just gained, but for the one she had lost?

"I now present you, with great joy, Mr. and Mrs. Lucius Malfoy," the officiant proclaimed, as they drew apart from their first kiss as husband and wife.

Mr. and Mrs. Lucius Malfoy he thought, vaguely. How very sexist.

Immediately after having this thought, he felt like laughing. Since when did he, Lucius Abraxas Malfoy, have such a just mind that he cared about what things in the world were sexist? He could still remember the days when he himself had made jokes and comments degrading females. But then she had come, and changed that. She had changed so much of him.

Suddenly the urge to laugh was gone, replaced with that of one to cry.

But there was no time to laugh or cry, for all around him everything was moving on: people were getting to their feet, applauding lightly in their dignified pureblood manner, and Narcissa was linking her arm through his. Oh, yes. They were supposed to walk through the aisle now, and then travel together to Malfoy Manor, where the reception party was being held.

So arm in arm with his new wife, he strolled across the floor and out the doors, where he then Apparated them both to his home. Their home, actually, as it now happened to be. Through the gates, up the gravel walkway, inside the house, down to the spacious room on the lowest level, with a wide dance floor and many tables. They were the first to arrive, but the others would be pouring in soon, once they all got their bearings and Disapparated.

He slide a sideways look towards the blonde woman, who was still holding on lightly to his arm. She took in the room slowly, her eyes traversing every corner and section with care. She had been here before, on other formal pureblood gatherings, so he was not quire sure why she was doing this. Perhaps she had new eyes, knowing it was now hers.

As she cross-examined her new surroundings, he watched her idly out of the sides of his eyes, and could have sworn he suddenly saw a glimmer of water near the point where her soft eyelids met. But then she blinked it back, and it was gone. No, not gone . . . it was merely hidden from sight, locked away under careful guard, only to be opened up at those rare dark secluded hours. But in-between those moments, she – and he as well – would put on their brave fronts, their glittering smiles and charms, and they would pass through their lives, dancing and twirling together in their falsities, learning to find the happiness . . . or at least the will to pretend.