---------------------------------------------------------

For the Calender Challenge. 1: January; new; "I'm used to being lonely. It's the only thing I can rely on these days."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Nineteenth Year

Chapter One: The Freedom of Being Frozen

----------------------------

"Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories."

~From the movie An Affair to Remember

"All my life, I always wanted to be somebody. Now I see that I should have been more specific."

~Jane Wagner

--------------------------------------------------------------------

"Grandromeda!" my grandson yelled from upstairs. "I can't find my new Weasley sweater!"

"Did you try accio?" I called back. I was in the kitchen, cleaning and putting away the dishes from breakfast. Sunlight streamed in. I love having big windows. They're good for my Fanged Geraniums (pretty, but with a bite to them), Flitterbroom (I only have the one because pure Flitterbroom is hard to get; it almost always crossbreeds with Devil's Snare, and just a whiff of a spore of the more dangerous plant is enough to contaminate the Flitterbroom seeds), and invisible dusk-blooming chokevines (a personal favorite). There's something reassuring about plants.

My grandson, Teddy, raced down the stairs, tripped over the last few, caught himself on the banister (worn smooth by two generations of clumsy children using it as a prop), and slumped into a chair, scowling. "I did try accio," he complained. "It didn't work."

"Well," I said reasonably, "your sweater's probably at Harry's, or Ron and Hermione's, or Bill's, then." Honestly, the poor thing was only getting worked up because he was about to start his last semester at Hogwarts, and he's still not sure what he wants to do, career wise. I try to stay out of it as much as I can.

Teddy looks like me—same Black high, sharp cheekbones, alarmingly pale (sometimes referred to as alabaster) skin, and straight, classic nose—but he has Harry's mouth, warm Weasley brown eyes, an athlete's body (he's been on the Gryffindor Quidditch team since he was thirteen), a teenager's appetite, his father's love of books, his mother's clumsiness, and his own hair. That hair used to really annoy me. Turquoise! I mean, really! The color was bad enough, but then when he decided to grow it out in his fifth year…Let's just say neither he nor I had any previous inkling that my voice could get that shrill.

Not that he looks bad with long hair, of course. It just…threw me a little.

Sometimes I wish he didn't remind me so damn much of Nymphadora…and others I'm more grateful than I can say that he's so like her.

"I guess," he said, in a patently unenthused response to my practical suggestion. Absently, he summoned a cereal box (his favorite brand is NEW!4-Dimensional Fruit Loops, Twists, and Knots!) and dug in.

"I don't know how you can eat that stuff," I said, for the 12,534th time.

He rolled his eyes in that way teenagers have that makes one feel like an obsolete idiot. "Whatever, Grandromeda," he said, forgetting to be nervous for a minute.

I let him eat several mouthfuls before I reminded him (unnecessarily, perhaps), "It's nearly time to go. You don't want to be late."

"It doesn't matter. I'm going to Apparate in, I've got at least another six minutes," my grandson said casually.

"You're Head Boy," I reminded him (again, perhaps unnecessarily).

He rolled his eyes frustratedly. "I know, Grandromeda," he said forcefully.

I got the hint and backed off. I busied myself with straightening the tablecloth, cleaning the counter (honestly, it's surprising how far a good Scourgify will go), and pushing in the chairs we'd left out from breakfast.

"Stop hovering over me," Teddy complained. "I'll go when I'm ready. I've got plenty of time."

"Four minutes," I told him, in the interests of accuracy.

"Grandromeda?" he asked. I couldn't figure out why his voice had gone all high and nervous.

"Yes?"

"What if…what if you like someone," he said in a rush, "and you're not sure—I mean, maybe they don't—and then, will it seem really, I don't know, indecorous and awkward, if you ask them t—or do you reckon—not that I—I mean, she—"

I took pity on him at that point. "So you like a girl," I said encouragingly, pulling out one of the chairs I'd just pushed in and sitting across from him. "And you don't know if you should tell her, or ask her out, or what?"

"Well," Teddy blushed, "yeah."

"Just for clarity's sake, this young lady is Miss Victoire Weasley, yes?" I asked.

Teddy blushed some more, nodded, and stared at his shoes (untied, again—honestly, he'll trip over some extra-short first year one of these days and break his leg).

"Well," I said carefully, "I think the best thing to do would be to tell her how you feel."

"But what if she—I mean, I'm not sure she—"

"When your grandfather and I first met—well, not actually when we first met—that consisted of him insulting my intelligence and me insulting his heritage—" I reminisced. "Anyway, not too long into our friendship, we were working in an obscure corner of the library, and he turned to me and said, "Hey, Andy. I like you—I mean, really like you. Would you go to Hogsmeade with me next weekend?"

"And what did you say?" Teddy asked, when I didn't speak for a moment.

I smiled mysteriously. Some things about those days I'd rather keep to myself. They don't reflect well upon my character. "That's another story. But it all worked out in the end—we eloped the day after graduation."

Teddy, thank Godric, refrained from pointing out that "all worked out" was hardly an accurate summary of the past forty-four years since my late husband and I were married.

"So you think I should tell her?" he asked, taking a deep, brave breath.

I nodded.

"Well—I'll think about it," he said, rather lamely.

With an effort, I restrained myself from pursuing the matter further. I looked down at my watch and shrieked. "Look at the time! You have to go!" I leapt out of my chair and began to pace.

With a sigh, Teddy got up, set the cereal flying toward the cupboard, reached up a hand and ruffled his hair, and turned to me.

Automatically, I smoothed down his hair and fixed his collar.

Teddy towers over me—and I've always been tall. It used to make me feel awkward, when I was a girl. Now I've found it comes in handy when I'm babysitting for the Potter-Weasley brood. There are so many of them.

Teddy gave me an awkward hug, and I breathed him in. He smells just as good to me as he did when he was a baby. Like the last real thing in the world.

"I love you, Grandromeda," he said, serious for once.

"And I love you, Teddy," I replied. My eyes felt a little prickly. I straightened my spine and opted for the practical approach. I usually do.

I let him go, patted him bracingly on the back, and said, "Be good. Remember, the younger children look up to you. With great power comes great responsibility."

"Godric, Grandromeda, I'm Head Boy, not Minister for Magic," Teddy said, rolling his eyes again. I hope he doesn't strain his poor eyes, rolling them all the time.

"Now go, before you're any later. I can't believe Neville lets you waltz in whenever you please," I told him sternly. Neville recently got appointed Deputy Headmaster of Hogwarts. He's also Head of Gryffindor House.

"Yes, Grandromeda," he sighed, for once not rolling his eyes, picked up his trunk, and Disapparated.

--

Being alone in the house used to scare me—usually because I thought Bellatrix or Ministry Tax representatives might suddenly arrive on my doorstep—but now I find it rather soothing.

I have my plants, after all—and there's something to be said for this house. It's seen a lot of laughter, love, and happiness. I keep thinking maybe some of the excess will rub off on me.

Stranger things have happened.

It's nothing like the house I grew up in, which was huge, cold, and cavernous. My sisters and I, my first cousins, my second and third cousins, my mother's side of the family (whom we hardly ever so much as saw), and my parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great-aunts could have fit easily in Black Manor. Well, when I say easily…I have to admit the tantrums and fights and staring contests and curses might get a little intense.

Black Manor stands empty now—as the second daughter, it went to me when Bellatrix died. I never did anything with it. Too many memories.

I think Narcissa still has the Black Estate (our ancestors weren't exactly creative when it came to naming their property). There's also 12 Grimmauld Place—Harry lives there.

This house, though…this is a home.

Ted and I raised one kid here, and I raised another—not completely on my own, of course; he's always been welcome at Harry's, or Ron and Hermione's, or Bill and Fleur's, or Draco and Astoria's, or Molly and Arthur's, or George and Angelina's, or even Percy and Audrey's. But he's my responsibility more than he is any of theirs.

He's the only reason I've made it this far.

--

Not long after Teddy'd gone, I was watering my plants when there was a knock on the door.

Hoping it wasn't Rita Skeeter ferreting around for interviews concerning my childhood with Bellatrix again, I walked in the front hall and opened it.

I don't know who I was expecting—Harry, maybe, complaining about having to send his son back to school, or Hermione wanting my input on another House-Elf Liberation Act (maybe a Goblin Liberation Act?), or Draco inviting me to spend yet another incredibly difficult evening with him, his wife, who's not that bad, surprisingly, my polite and studious great nephew Scorpius, my great nieces, Altaira and Vulpecula (sweethearts both), Narcissa, and her good-for-nothing husband (Lucius; I really hate that guy)—but it wasn't any of them. It was someone I hadn't seen in years.

"Septima!" I exclaimed, if not exactly cheerfully, at least as friendly as a classmate with whom I hadn't spoken in years had any right to expect.

She looked well; hair short and grey and firmly in place, eyes twinkling, back ramrod straight (there's something about that pureblood aristocracy training you never forget), robes and cloak forest green and neat as a pin—almost as though, in the past forty-odd years, she hadn't really changed.

"Come on in," I said belatedly, and she swept inside, bringing the cold January air with her.

"I was in the neighborhood, and I felt like I hadn't seen you in forever," she said breezily, as I led her back into the kitchen.

"Tea?" I asked reflexively.

"That would be lovely, thanks." She sat, took off her cloak, and stared around avidly. "So this is it, eh? The old family home?"

I was tempted to say that the old family home used to house Dark artifacts and still contains Aunt Walburga's portrait, that it used to be the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix and now famous Harry Potter raises his kids there—but I refrained.

I hadn't seen Septima Vector since the flurry of funerals after the Battle of Hogwarts, and Godric knows that was a painful time for me. I doubt I said a single civil word to her—or anyone.

"Yes," I said shortly, in response to her earlier query. Honestly, I don't know why she had to be so nosy about it. This house looks as good—if not better—now as it did the day Ted and I moved in, after we got that loan from his parents. Who still write me, asking how Teddy is and whether I'm doing all right working for Obscurus Books, in Diagon Alley (they call it Obscure Books, Diagonal Alley—which isn't as inaccurate as it sounds).

Septima raised her eyebrows at me. "So…" she said, obviously trying to think of a way to change the subject, while still not asking the canonical 'How've you been?' I waited. Septima may not have a lot of tact, but she's got a good heart. "How's Teddy?" she settled on at last.

"Good; he's just gone back to Hogwarts for the spring term. He's Head Boy, you know," I said, fixing the tea.

Septima laughed. "I know. I'm afraid poor Hestia Wentworth—she's Head Girl, you know; Hufflepuff—just can't keep up. Headmistress Beaumont probably ought not to have paired those two together. Hestia's terrified of everything, and Teddy's—well, you know."

I did know—Teddy is a dear, sweet boy, with a soft heart and keen insight into other people's feelings, but he is quite impatient. Also, he loves to take risks. I tell him, over and over, not to be so reckless, but it doesn't seem to do any good. He's just like his parents.

The tea was ready just then, and I poured and Septima and I had a good chat about Hogwarts and kids these days and politics (she admires Kingsley, but I really think the time has come for him to step down; he's been Minister for Magic for a good eighteen years now, and I think we can all agree he's slipping a bit, if that scandal last fall is anything to judge by), and it was just like old times. It's shocking how well Septima and I get along, considering the fact that I absolutely loathe Arithmancy (the subject she teaches). I never could get the hang of it in school, and I only took it because she persuaded me into it. I thought it would be hard. I was wrong. It was incomprehensible.

"Andromeda?" Septima asked hesitantly, long after we were done with the tea. I hadn't cleared the cups away immediately like I usually do, and they were sitting on the table looking companionable. It's nice, having two teacups together. If I were the artistic type, I'd say they filled out the picture more—played off one another.

I should have realized something was up then—Septima never sounds hesitant. Back when we were at school together, that forthrightness was the first thing that drew me to her—and she was my first friend not expressly picked out and approved by my mother.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to criticize…" Septima went on. I waited, eyebrows raised. "But, well…living here, all alone during the school year…don't you ever get…lonely?"

I blinked, startled for a moment. Then I laughed. I don't know what Septima was expecting—a denial, probably—but I couldn't lie, not then. "I'm used to being lonely," I said thoughtfully. "It's the only thing I can rely on, these days."

Which is true, in a sort of twisted way. Honestly, though—no matter how much I try to deny it—I'm a Black, and Blacks are twisted. I've been lonely for so long, I sort of like it. It's reassuring, like an old cloak you keep wearing even though it hasn't been fashionable in years and it's patched in several places. It's familiar. I'm Andromeda, and I'm a lonely old lady who lives in a lion's den…well, if you make Teddy the lion, anyway.

Septima was looking at me shrewdly. "You know, Andromeda," she told me, "you really need to get out more."

I shrugged. I really couldn't care less about the outside world. It's never done anything for me.

"I know!" Septima exclaimed. "How would you like a blind date? I know this wizard who would be perfect for you! He's smart, and funny—he plays guitar, and he's really very good—Kirley's such a sweet man, and just what you need!"

I frowned. The name sounded familiar, but the last thing I wanted was a blind date.

"Are you crazy, Septima?" I protested, half-laughing in horror. "I do not want to start dating again!"

She pouted. "Why not? You're an attractive, single witch in her early sixties. Your grandson is already seventeen and of age, you have a pretty laid-back job and a gorgeous house…what's to stop you?"

"Everything," I moaned, slumping in my chair and leaning my head in my hands. I ignored my mother's voice in the back of my thoughts, saying, pureblood ladies do NOT slouch, Andromeda.

"Why?" Septima asked again. She seemed genuinely not to understand.

"I'm just…not ready," I said lamely. Godric, but I felt like an idiot. I'm turning sixty-three this year, Ted's been gone since…for almost eighteen years. That's how long Teddy's been alive. And I still can't imagine sharing my life, myself with anyone else. Ted was my one and only.

Septima looked unconvinced. "It's not betraying Ted to start seeing someone else," she told me gently. Honestly, I don't even know how she can talk—she's never been married. According to her, it's hopelessly difficult to get into the dating scene when you're a Hogwarts professor. About your only options are the other professors, and relationships there are, at best, one-sided (like poor Auriga Sinistra's infatuation with Snape, back when he was teaching. Nymphadora always claimed Snape only tolerated her because he was plotting revenge on Dumbledore, Hogwarts, the world as we know it, Remus Lupin, rainbows, sunlight, and pure driven snow, and he thought she might prove useful as an unwitting pawn in his evil schemes. Nymphadora always had a lively imagination). Anyway, Septima almost got married right after we graduated, but Amos Diggory dumped her and left for Greece the next week—pompous bastard.

"Why bother?" I asked. "It's never going to work out."

"Sure it will—Kirley's a great guy. Or if not him, someone else. There's more than one person out there for you, Andromeda."

I rolled my eyes, reminding myself irresistibly of Teddy. "Fine," I growled, giving up resistance as a bad job. "I'll think about it. Happy?"

Septima grinned unrepentantly at me. "Of course."

--

She left not that long after that—something about preparing for classes the next day—and I had leisure to think about what I'd just let myself in for.

I hate dating. I don't even know this "Curly" person. And what kind of a name is that, anyway?

How is it, I asked myself, that friends, even after you haven't seen them in years and your lives are completely different, can still make you forget about your own priorities and opinions and drag you into making promises you never would have considered without their cheerful manipulation?

Still, I realized later that day, once I'd reminded myself that I hadn't actually promised to date the guy, just to think about it—I wouldn't have Septima any other way.

If only she weren't one of the few friends I have who actually survived the war.

Not to be morbid, or anything—there's always Harry, and the Weasleys, and Neville (such a sweet boy), and my own dear sister Narcissa, and her arrogant, difficult family—it's only Lucius I resent. Everything would be so much simpler if they'd thrown him in Azkaban and forgotten the unlocking spell—still, Cissy claims to love him. Incomprehensible, I call it.

Well—at least I still have my plants.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

'Kirley' is Kirley McCormack (stage name, Kirley Duke), lead guitarist for the Weird Sisters. Andromeda doesn't know this.