( breathe me )

part seven
breathe me

Nothing comes of Narcissa's threat - perhaps Andromeda did convince her that Ted wasn't a threat, or either tricked her or blackmailed her into leaving him alone - but it doesn't stop Ted from feeling a little hunted through most of his seventh year. It's not irrational - he is, after all, Muggle-born, and the rumors of war are escalating faster than even Dumbledore can control. The Slytherins mostly leave him alone, surprisingly, considering the way they treat everyone else.

Then it occurs to him that Andromeda has probably used her influence among her house to help him. It's a little strange to think about her going out of her way to keep him safe, and slightly emasculating, not that he would ever admit that.

Wesley, another Muggle-born, has much more difficulty, and it's all Morgan and Tucker can do to protect him (Lucas is a half-blood, and so isn't in much of a position to help. Morgan and Tucker aren't really Pureblood, but they're big and scary enough to shut up whoever bothers them.) Wesley hates having to rely on their wands and brute force, but there's nothing else for it. Ted also notices that little Sirius is catching hell among the school himself, caught between the Gryffindors he's chosen and the Slytherins he can't escape.

Ted doesn't envy Sirius, or the position he's trapped in. His housemates mistrust him for his family, while his family mistrusts him for his housemates. At least if Ted is ostracized, it's because of something he's done himself, or something he's long since gotten used to.

As the school year progresses, Andromeda becomes more and more worried about her upcoming wedding. Her mother sends her letters daily, explaining yet another detail or tradition she must not forget to fulfill, another law she must adhere to. Occasionally, Lucius sends her letters, but they're short and stagnant and she laughs gleefully when he sets fire to one on the Astronomy tower the night before Christmas holidays.

(Secretly, he thinks that she won't marry Lucius Malfoy at all. He can't imagine a world where she does.)

They both tend to skirt around the topic of the future, neither entirely sure what's going to happen. He's decided that he's going to pursue a career in Healing, even though his Potions score are beyond abysmal; he thinks his Charms work will more than make up for it. There's a hospital in Edinburgh he's been looking at, and has already made plans to visit over the holidays, a smaller institution than St. Mungo's, but it's not in London, and somehow that makes it seem a little safer.

What worries him is that she's staying in London almost for certain. He asks her, as the last cinders of Lucius Malfoy's letter die out, what she wants to do after school. She sobers, and sighs a bit.

"I don't know. It's against the laws of tradition for a Black woman to work, but I can't see myself pouring tea for annoying old ladies who hate me for the rest of my life." She looks up, and bites her lip. "Maybe I'll take a job at a school for young children. I've always liked children."

Something in her tone says she doesn't believe it will ever happen. He's overcome, once again, with the desire to hit one of her parents. Or Malfoy. Either one.

"What about you?" She asks suddenly. "What are you going to do?"

"I hope to become a Healer," He doesn't mention where, "if I can convince them that T really means, oh, I dunno, Terrific or something like that. I don't think Potions are that important anyway. As long as I know what not to give someone, it's okay, right?"

Andromeda shrugs. "You could work in a ward that doesn't require it. I'm sure some don't. You'll work at St. Mungo's, then?"

He hesitates. "Yeah, maybe."

She doesn't respond, but leans against him, eyes closed. Idly, he wraps his arms around her and looks up. It's a clear night, and all the stars are beautiful and sparkling and it's so pretty, and -

And it's so short, he knows, because this can't last, no matter how tight he holds on.

--

They take their NEWTs, and, halfway through the Charms written test, it occurs to Ted that his time at Hogwarts is really almost over, he's really about to graduate and leave here forever. He'll probably lose contact with his friends, make new ones in Edinburgh (which turned out to be a very good hospital that is perfectly willing to let him work in the Emergency/Trauma Wing, where there's little time for potions and spell work is crucial), and probably never speak to Andromeda again.

He finishes his test - which is easy, really, because it's Charms and Charms is painfully simple - much slower than he should. It's funny, he thinks, that the things he never could have imagined himself doing, he's fallen to accepting without question, but the things he always assumed he'd be able to handle...

He's having the hardest time dealing with. It's become routine to haunt Wesley's steps and keep his hand on his wand, to check the Daily Prophet for familiar names, but the thought of visiting London in ten years and meeting Andromeda Malfoy is enough to make him feel sick. He can see the scenario perfectly - he returns, calls on her as any old friend, and they sit and chat and she's back to being her frosty, hidden self, and then some little snotty blond kid comes into the room, and she tells him all about her son or daughter.

It burns somewhere in the back of his throat, the idea of Lucius Malfoy domineering over her. It's inevitable, he thinks, but that doesn't make it any less repulsive.

They sit on the edge of the lake, where there's a little drop before the water, not really speaking, watching clouds. He tells her on impulse that his dad used to always come up with ridiculous shapes in the clouds.

"Like what?" She asks, and he starts pointing out a mule in a very round, very non-mulish cloud. She looks thoughtfully at it for a moment, and then says, "You know, I think I see it. If you tilt your head just right and squint a bit."

"Pop's a carpenter. He's always tilting his head and squinting. I guess it makes a lot of sense now."

She rolls her eyes and pushes him, a little harder than she intended, and he careens into the lake. "I love you too, Andy," He says when he comes up again to see her laughing at him, "Give me a hand." She reaches out, and he takes her hand, grins at her, and then pulls as hard as he can.

She lets out a cry and then she's fallen in with him. "Hey! I was trying to help you!"

"Never trust someone you've just pushed into a lake. This water's cold."

"Serves you right!" She stumbles out of the water, sodden robe clinging to her skin and shudders on the bank. He simply treads water and grins at her while she tries to dry herself off using a complicated charm.

"There are towels for that, you know. And once you get used to the clawing, frigid, icy cold, it's not so bad."

"Oh, get out of there, before you catch your death."

"Wow, I would make an awful healer if I die from a stupid cold in the middle of June." She simply glares, and, smirking, he drags himself out of the water and flops on the bank.

It's warm and lovely and in one month, she'll be married to Lucius Malfoy. She doesn't wear the ring he gave her, an overpriced, over-sized diamond that looks completely ridiculous.

(He's biased. It's really a beautiful, dainty silver ring, prettier and more expensive than anything he could ever hope to give her.)

--

Three days after term ends, he sends her a letter to meet him at King's Cross at ten o'clock.

He's more nervous than he ever thought he'd be, but there's no changing his mind now, and there's no sense in being cautious. When she arrives, she's rushed and harried and immediately asks him what could be so important (her mother only let her go to London when she insisted she'd forgotten to buy a certain type of hairpin). For a moment, his throat is stuck and he can't speak through the lump.

"I'm leaving," he finally chokes. "For Edinburgh. There's a hospital there, a really good one, that's already offered me a job. I won't come back."

She freezes. For a long moment, she doesn't say anything at all, and then she whispers, "You're leaving? For good?"

He takes a deep breath. "Yeah, for good. I can't stay here. I've always hated London, and it's the center of all this Death Eater business. It's not safe here."

"It's no safer in Edinburgh!"

"But it is quieter." He watches her carefully. She looks shocked, and maybe teary? He can't tell. For all he's learned about her emotions, she's still an excellent actress.

"But..." She says slowly, "But you can't leave. You... You have to come to the wedding and mess up the cake or something stupid like that because you hate Malfoy, and that's the only thing I've been looking forward to because I know you'll do something completely insane and stupid and you're the only person I can trust to actually follow through with it." She falls quiet for a moment, and then continues, much lower, "I need you there to make me laugh that day."

He turns to the train for a moment, and then back to her. "What if you didn't?" She stares at him, and shakes her head. "I'm serious. What if, instead of buying a stupid hairpin to make your mother happy and marrying some awful jerk for no good reason, you got on that train with me and we went to Edinburgh?"

"I can't do that."

"Says who?" He reaches out a hand. "I won't make you pour tea for stuffy old ladies and you can have whatever flowers you want and you can work with the little kids at that hospital. They've got a great Children's Ward, and they're always looking for workers and volunteers. Here," He takes her hand and forces her to accept what he's holding, "I've got an extra ticket. You can come with me." Andromeda doesn't answer, but stares blindly at the ticket. "Andy? The train leaves in ten minutes. I can't wait forever."

"Ted, I..."

If he's perfectly honest with himself, he expected this reaction, even though he prayed for something different.

"I... I don't know, Ted, I can't just leave my family behind like that!"

"Andromeda, isn't it obvious?" He's almost shouting now, half-scared and a little more hurt than he wants to admit. "They don't give a damn about you. They want what they can get out of you, not what's best for you. I can't promise you eternal happiness, Andy, but at least I can try!"

She tries to look affronted, but they both know what he's said is true. "Ted... I can't."

(The thread is cut, the sword falls, pierces straight through at the weakest point - the heart. He didn't expect this to hurt so bad.)

He takes a deep breath and doesn't answer for a moment. "Right. Well, then." He puts his hand down and turns to face the train again. "I hope you're happy with Lucius Malfoy."

"Ted - "

"I have to go, Andy. The train's leaving."

"Don't - "

He walks away, throat burning, trying to control the tears threatening to fall. She doesn't call after him.

--

He sits in the compartment just after the train has begun moving, head in his hands, willing himself not to cry. It's just a stupid school-boy crush on a girl who was out of his league, after all. It's just that he fooled himself for too long and now he's had to face the facts. It's just -

The door opens and Andromeda's standing there, flushed and angry and crying. He stands, surprised and elated at the same time.

"You're completely impossible, you know that?"

In three steps, he reaches her and pulls her into his arms. Her fingers cling to his shirt tightly, and he thinks that he's never going to let her go, never in a thousand years.
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(A/N: Did I cheese that ending up or what? That's it, folks. Show's over. Review!)