Author's Notes: Okay. So. I'm doing it. I'm writing a chaptered story. And it's Harry Potter—of all things.
I will try with everything in me to finish this. It probably won't be too too long, certainly no more than twenty chapters. I just feel like it's time. I'm bored with one shots, and anyway, the sheer amount of stories I have written is absolutely absurd.
Anyway, this will span Andromeda's seventh year at Hogwarts. For reference, I'm trying to stick as close to cannon as possible—which means that Bellatrix is the oldest, Narcissa the youngest. I'm not sure of everyone's exact dates, but I've put Bella and Meda a year apart and Cissy three years younger then Meda, the same age as Sirius.
Deep breath, and…
Ancient, and Most Noble
i used to rule the world
"It'll be a laugh, you'll see," Bellatrix whispered into her ear, her breath sweet and thick from wine. They were curled in the cool grass, tangled in the layers upon layers of lace and satin that were their dress robes; it had taken them an hour to get them on right and just ten minutes to unsettle them. Andromeda's head was spinning: from the liquor, from the heat, from far too much dancing. "It'll all be just like this," Bella was murmuring, her lips brushing against her ear. Stars whirled by overhead, maybe close enough to touch. Close enough to try.
"Always just like this."
Andromeda swore as she stepped off the train. From inside the nicely cool travel car, summer had looked so charming, green and bright and gloriously school-free. But the stagnant heat that engulfed Kings Cross was anything but appealing—from beneath her heavy robes Andromeda could feel sweat trickling down the back of her neck.
Bellatrix pulled her hat down over her eyes. "Bloody hell, it's hot," she muttered, fanning herself with her free hand.
"It'll cool down," Narcissa said with confidence as she tied her blonde hair back in a ribbon. "And anyway, if it doesn't we can make Uncle Alphard put a cooling charm on the backyard. He'll do it if Drommie asks."
"He'll do anything if Drommie asks," Bella agreed dryly. She shaded her eyes with her hand, eyes scanning the station. Andromeda winced at the nickname; she'd never lived down her childhood misnomer. "Oh, look. Cygnus sent the carriage." She pointed. The carriage was waiting patiently by one of the brick columns, a house-elf perched in the driver's seat. Bella had developed a habit of calling their parents by their first names when they were out of earshot; she claimed it was a symbol of affection, but really it was just one of the hundred little rebellions Bella had collected over the years.
As it always was when school let out, Kings Cross swelled with the packed bodies of returning students and their families. The heat made it difficult to breathe as they struggled through the crowd towards their transportation; Andromeda felt a faint panic creeping up her spine as claustrophobia began to set in. She let Cissy's little hands wrap themselves in her robes, pushing her forward even as she secured them together.
The carriage itself was charcoal-colored, lined with silver. It was roomy and comfortable inside the coach; the quarter lights blocked the heat, and Bella quickly charmed the hood to keep the temperature cool. As soon as the three girls were settled, they began to shed their layers of robes—first off were the cloaks, then the sweaters, and at last the long knee-socks required at school. Andromeda stretched her legs and wiggled her toes, happy to be free of the confines of the wool and the bustling station.
Cissy, who loved the attention that the carriages drew, was always sure to have a window seat. As they moved through the station and took off, rising above the heads of the other students, Cissy kept her eyes straight ahead and made sure she didn't once look out the windows.
The lesson had been drilled into them since birth: the best way to garner attention is to pretend you were above it. Andromeda could clearly recall her mother, sitting with one finger looped lazily through the handle of her teacup, barely looking at her daughters as she spoke. Druella Black's Guide to Womanhood, step one: always appear disinterested.
"So when are you and Rodolphus announcing the engagement?" Cissy asked after a moment of silence. She breathed gently on the window and drew her name in the mist.
Bella shrugged, examining her fingernails. "Probably in the next couple of weeks. Druella wanted to do it at my birthday party, but I haven't decided if I'll let her. It's one less ball if I do."
"If you hold off on the announcement until August then Cissy will be able to come," Andromeda pointed out, leaning her head on Bella's shoulder as she released a loud yawn. Train rides always drained her, leaving her limp and sleepy on the carriage trip home. "And you know she wants to."
Cissy crossed her arms over her chest. "Stop talking about me like I'm not here," she demanded. "I don't care if I go to your stupid engagement party or not."
Bella laughed. "Well, if it's of such little consequence to you, I guess I will combine them," she decided, shooting Cissy a condescending smile as the younger girl's face fell. "Of course, that means it'll be in June, so you'll still be stuck with the other children upstairs."
Cissy scowled, flinching at the word 'children'. Since she could walk, she had longed to attend their parents parties and social functions; it seemed that she was born for the world of swirling dresses and stuffy small-talk. But, at fourteen, she was just shy of the age limit, a rule which would be immaterial by August but painfully enforced until then.
Andromeda sent her a sympathetic smile. She remembered how awful she had felt at fourteen, when Bella was allowed to go downstairs and she was stuck babysitting the youngest children of the guests. She used to watch from the upstairs balcony, trying to pick out people she knew--but they all blended together from above, swallowed in the swirling mass of colorful robes and dim lighting. The dresses had all seemed so alive, as if they were dancing and the wearer was only secondary.
"Be nice, Bella," she scolded lightly as the carriage touched down in front of Black Manor. A house-elf was waiting, and hurried to open the door for them as soon as the wheels touched the earth. One by one, he helped them out of the coach and then crawled inside to gather their clothing.
They didn't see their parents until dinner. It was possible that Cygnus and Druella had been in the house the whole time, but the girls had been taught since childhood never to shout and none of them were particularly inclined to use the energy to search every room in the estate for what would have been a brief reunion.
Their father was working at the table, as always, and their mother twirled her pasta around on her fork but never actually ate a bite of it. "I've sent out invitations for your birthday party, Bellatrix," she said after a few moments of silence, in which Bella, Andromeda, and Cissy had each counted how many times she spun her fork before giving up and setting it to the side. "The date is set for the twenty-fifth."
"My birthday's the twenty-third," Bella said, sounding bored. "But the twenty-fifth is fine. It'll give me some time to shop."
Though she'd been sullen since the disagreement in the carriage, Cissy's eyes lit at the mention of shopping. Andromeda suppressed a smile--her younger sister was incapable of holding grudges. Unlike herself, whose anger slow but long, or Bella, whose temper was legendary and quick, Cissy sulked for an hour or two and then promptly forgot whatever had been upsetting her.
"We can go next week," Andromeda proposed, before taking a bite of her pasta. She had been hoping for an excuse to go to Diagon, anyway--she was in desperate needs of some quills and (more importantly) books. Not to mention that it would be best all around if she and Bella bought their dress robes without their mother present; the prospect of spending hours locked in a small dress shop with Druella Black hardly seemed appealing. "I've run out of parchment, anyway."
Her mother arched her eyebrows in a vaguely disapproving expression that all three girls had inherited. "Don't be so attentive with your men," she scolded as she reached for her wineglass. She gave the liquid a light swirl before she touched the glass to her lips. "You've only just left school. If you start writing every day boys will tire of you. A talkative woman is an unattractive woman, Andromeda."
Something grated underneath Andromeda's skin. She forced a smile at her mother; to her left, Bella simply smirked. Cissy seemed to soak up the words and her silence shifted from lazy to intentional, as if she was practicing already how to disappear when she wasn't being spoken to.
Afterwards, on their way up to bed, Bella murmured, "Oh yes, I'm sure being quiet is how she trapped Cygnus. She was so silent he thought she was mildly handicapped and took pity."
Andromeda laughed. "'Don't be so attentive to your men,'" she mimicked with a toss of her hair. "That woman couldn't magic herself out of a Zonko's bag if she had an instruction manual with her."
Cissy remained silent. She had always disapproved of their constant mocking of their mother; unlike her older sisters, she held in highest regard the rules and customs of high society. Being prim and proper mattered to Cissy, in a way that it never had to her older sisters. She liked tea parties, thrived on the world of social chess. Seating arrangements, the order in which you sent out invitations, what clothing you wore--these things seemed important to her, despite the teasing it wrought.
Bella flaunted the rules, wore wildly inappropriate clothing and drank gin instead of wine; she smoked and swore and threw rowdy parties that never failed to spark gossip. Scandal amused her, and more than that danger amused her--she'd been sleeping with Rodolphus since she was fourteen, despite the impropriety of it all, despite their mother's warnings that "if you let him drink the blood for free, he'll never buy the whole unicorn". It was like she had been born without a drop of fear in her, born with abandon that couldn't be bridled or harnessed by anyone's will but her own.
On the other hand, Andromeda found high society too restrictive, boring--petty. She simply had no interest in playing the social game, had never quite fit in there. Since she was old enough to walk, Andromeda had been slightly on the outside of the Pureblood society; somehow, it just never quite fit her the way it did her sisters. Oh, Bella mocked it and flaunted it, but still she thrived in it, used it to her own advantage. It kept her entertained in direct to proportion to how it bored the middle Black sister.
Often, Andromeda felt that if it weren't for her sisters, she'd have gone mad long ago. She was always the quietest one, the least likely to draw attention to herself; middle child syndrome, perhaps. And yet she never felt overshadowed by her sisters--how could she? Cissy had been as much her baby as her mother's, had been Andromeda's little charge since birth. And Bella…
Sometimes Andromeda wasn't sure that she was her own person, just an extension of her sister's soul. They were opposites in nearly everything, but instead of causing tension they were a perfect balance.
It was tradition that the first night of summer was spent on the floor of Bella's room. It had begun the night Bella had returned from her first year and simply never stopped; although never mentioned or technically planned, both Andromeda and Cissy always showed up around midnight, pillows and blankets in hand.
Bella was releasing an owl from her window when they entered. "Who's that for?" Cissy asked curiously as she settled in, her linking her hands underneath her pillow and resting her chin on top. "Rodolphus?"
Since she was the baby, Cissy had been given the "clean" version of the Bellatrix-Rodolphus love story; the one in which they'd met when she was fourteen and had waited, like well-groomed young Purebloods, until her sixteenth birthday to begin their courtship. She thought it was romantic; Andromeda thought it was boring. The real story, of quick liaisons against the barn, dirty letters written in invisible ink, and sneaking out at all hours of the morning fascinated her much more, and she found it--despite all appearances--far more romantic than the stilted, dry suit in Cissy's mind.
"Of course," Bella answered smoothly. "Just letting him know the date of the announcement."
At the mention of the party, Cissy's expression darkened; she cast her eyes downward and pursed her lips. Bella, apparently sorry for having teased her before, lay down beside her and rested her dark head against her sister's pale one. "Don't worry," she soothed, running her fingers through Cissy's hair, "you'll be fifteen in August and then all the parties in the world will open for you." She pressed a kiss just above her ear and earned a smile.
Andromeda flopped down onto her mass of blankets and pillows and ruffled Cissy's hair, even though she knew the younger girl hated it. They were coming on a time when she'd be too old for such handling, and the thought made Andromeda inexpressibly sad. "I remember my first party," she recalled with a giggle. "I accidentally spilled wine all over Desdemona Rookwood."
Bella shrugged. "I set Aunt Walburga's robes on fire."
Cissy sighed dreamily. She rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling, which was charmed to look like the night sky. "Everything will be perfect at mine," she murmured confidently. Then she set her chin. "I'll be perfect."
"Of course you will be," Andromeda agreed. She wrinkled her nose. "You already are."
"We both hate you for it, you know," Bella added.
Cissy's answering smile was smug and undisturbed.
Sometime in the middle of the night, Andromeda woke. She knew instantly that Bella was missing from the room from the way that her right side had grown cold. For a moment, she simply lay in darkness, gazing up at the pretend sky above her, counting the constellations. Bellatrix, Andromeda, Sirius, Regulus. All lined up neatly, almost tangled together as they sprawled across the ceiling.
She turned to look at Cissy. Not a star. Not even really a Black, with her coloring--she was the shade of a Rosier, from her soft features to her light hair and blue eyes.
As quietly as she could, Andromeda disentangled herself from her sheets and the arms of her sleeping sister and crept downstairs. "Bella?"
Faint voices could be heard from the living room downstairs; Andromeda crept as silently as she could, feeling somehow out of place, as it if was she doing something wrong.
Bella's voice was unmistakable, but the one that answered her Andromeda could not identify.
"…my birthday," her sister was saying. "I want to do it then."
She poked her head into the living room as Bella climbed to her feet, brushing ash off of her knees. The fireplace was still smoldering, burning a the soft orange of a recently ended floo-call. "What's going on?"
Bella spun, startled, her hand automatically flying to her stashed wand. It took her a few moments, blinking into the darkness, to recognize her sister; when she did, she visibly relaxed. "Oh," she laughed, waving her hand vaguely as if to brush the question away, "Nothing. Just going over some details of the party with Rolph."
"It's only midnight in Argentina."
Andromeda frowned. Her hand went automatically to her chest, pressing against the spot on her sternum that always ached when she was confronted with a lie, or even a half-truth. Ironically, this "honesty meter" was the one secret she had never shared with anyone, not even her sisters, not even Bella.
She hesitated a moment too long. Bella flashed an easy smile and looped her arm through Andromeda's, giving it a light squeeze as she guided her sister back upstairs. "You're right about one thing," she said through a yawn. "It's late as all hell. I'm ready to sleep off my N.E.W.T.s and forget Hogwarts ever existed."
Andromeda's stomach clenched at her sisters words, as she thought of the long nine months that lay ahead. Nine months of school without Bella, nine months of being stuck in the time capsule of Hogwarts while her sister's life plowed ahead--into marriage, of all things. The real world.
She was moving forward and Andromeda was stuck, left behind for the first time. She felt a stab of pity for Cissy, who was surely used to the feeling; it was foreign and painful and unwelcome in her stomach.
"Stop worrying, Meda," Bella murmured as they slipped back beneath the blankets. Cissy, seeking companions even in sleep, automatically rolled over and set her head against Andromeda's shoulder. "You always worry too much."
Despite the ache in her stomach and her chest, she fell asleep to the sound of her sisters' gentle breathing--the three of them, tangled on the floor in an echo of the stars on the ceiling.