A/N: Love to reviewers and Countess Black.
Part two in 'Love like...'.
Silence-verse. This is an interlude between chapters twenty two and twenty three, two nights before the ritual.
'Thicking' of blood is a reference to 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' by Coleridge.
Andromeda Tonks, brow furrowed, found herself standing in front of Bellatrix's door. It was dark. She tugged her dressing gown round herself and knocked. 'Come in."
Bellatrix was sitting on the rug, watching the door with a sort of dark good cheer. She seemed unsurprised to see Andromeda standing there, hair braided for sleep, feet bare. The room was blazing, every candle lit.
'Hello, Meddie. Bad dreams?"
"I-yes." Andromeda sat down on the dressing table bench unbidden, arms about herself. The room was warm, almost too warm, but she felt a terrible chill sweep over her, thicking her blood with cold she couldn't explain. Bellatrix stood up, shook her head briskly, and tugged the corner of the eiderdown back, wriggling under and lying near the wall.
"I didn't realise you meant to go to bed. I'm sorry to have disturbed you."
Bellatrix made an inarticulate noise of annoyance and waved Andromeda's objection away. "Honestly, Meddie.' She motioned at the bed, which could easily hold four or five adults.
"Well? Get in."
"Andromeda, get in bed." Bellatrix glowered, and it was such a familiar look, such a Trixie look, that Andromeda silently climbed into the bed, wondering what she sought with her sister.
Bellatrix ordered the lights extinguished, and they lay in darkness for some time without speaking. 'Meddie?"
"Was it very bad? Your dream?"
"Yes." She didn't really want to talk about it, and Bellatrix, with her instinctive grasp of what hurt others, knew it. She tugged the covers higher and cleared her throat impatiently. 'Well?"
"I can wait longer than you can."
"Meddie, Daddy doesn't like it when you do this." Bellatrix frowned into the darkness and moved closer to her sister. She wouldn't let Meddie wriggle out of this; for her own good, she'd sick it all up.
"Dora. I dreamt of Dora."
"Oh. What about her?"
"She was hurt. She needed me but I couldn't go to her."
Bellatrix nodded. 'So then what happened?"
"That was it."
Andromeda shivered harder. Why was she so cold? She pushed herself deeper into the bed and wished desperately for another blanket. Bellatrix moved closer and, huffing, ordered 'Have the elf cast a warming charm, Meddie. I don't mind."
She did. "Better?"
Andromeda nodded. 'How did you know?"
"How did you know I..."
"Daddy? How do you mean?"
"He told me." Bellatrix said it as though Cygnus had only stepped out for a moment, as though he'd return any moment to tuck them in. Andromeda, who'd adored her father, blinked tears.
"Daddy...talks to you?"
"Of course he does. Have you spent too long with mudblood lovers, Meddie? The dead can speak to the living, if the living listen to them."
"Well, yes, I remember, but Bellatrix..."
"I meant what I said, though. This not eating is going to stop."
"What? Crumbs? Perhaps a thimble of tea once in a while?"
Andromeda rolled on her side. Bellatrix, who'd always known how to get under her sister's skin, rolled as well, and pressed an arm to her belly. 'You can pout all you'd like, you know I'm right."
"Aren't. This is silly."
"Are. I agree. Eat your meals before Daddy has to scold you."
"Daddy wouldn't talk to me, Trixie. You know that."
"Do I? He doesn't seem to think so."
"He loves you, Meddie. All of us."
"He disowned me."
"That was Mother's doing and you know it."
"He didn't say no."
"How could he? You knew what you did. He thought you'd come back, eventually. But then he..." Bellatrix blinked and swallowed silently. She had loved her father more than almost anyone, and his death had devastated her for months.
"You did it, too."
"Why? You were married, you didn't have to-"
"Because you knew better, Andromeda. He was a mudblood."
"He was a good man, Bellatrix. He was kind to me."
"Daddy wouldn't have chosen anyone who wasn't, Meddie. You knew that."
Andromeda sighed. 'Did it make you happy, Bellatrix? You and Rodolphus?"
"No. He's not a bad sort, Rodolphus, but..." Bellatrix shrugged. Andromeda thought that Rodolphus was, in fact, a deeply bad sort, but she wondered what her sister would say as commentary on him.
"Ted made me happy." Andromeda smiled slightly, in memory and longing. Bellatrix huffed again. 'More to life than that, Andromeda."
Bellatrix shook her head. 'Have they brought the braziers yet? For the mudblood?"
Andromeda didn't say anything. She tugged her knees up and Bellatrix touched her arm lightly. 'Your stomach bothering you?"
"No. Just wanted to stretch my legs."
"Hmph." Bellatrix didn't believe it for a moment. She rested against her sister and wondered how she might get Andromeda to tell her more.
In the normal course of things, she would have simply hexed her a few times. Nothing fatal, of course-just something that would help her understand why she needed to confide in her older sister. And Bellatrix would give her a pain potion after, of course, and then stroke her hair to get her to sleep.
But Daddy wouldn't like that. He'd told her she needed to be sensitive to Andromeda, and help her to see reason when it came to taking care of herself. It was her job, after all.
"Have you been taking your nutrient potions?"
Andromeda jerked with surprise and uttered a single shocked word. "How did you-"
"Andromeda! Language, Meddie." Bellatrix gave her a poke. She'd definitely recommend that Daddy's chat with Andromeda involve a mouth soaping spell. She'd picked up so many nasty mudblood habits from that man.
"I am an adult, you know."
"I'm older than you are, and you've never heard me using language like that." The irony of a convicted Death Eater being offended by a mild curse word struck Andromeda as simply too funny; she snorted helplessly, and a second later she was laughing, hard, and Bellatrix joined her.
"How did you know, though? I thought no one knew."
"Daddy does. He wants you to up your dosage. And stop sulking about it, if you won't eat your food properly, this is the consequences."
Andromeda made a face. 'Really, I've not-"
"I shan't argue with you."
"Does Daddy...does he come to you as you sleep?" Could this be some sort of delusion? Andromeda frowned deeply, worried that Bellatrix's mind was fracturing. Bellatrix snorted.
"How else, you goose?"
"I'm only asking."
"Of course he does. He'd come to you, too, if you'd let him."
"Opened yourself to him. I'm aware."
"No, I mean, I've never stopped him."
"My eye. You've not exactly made it easy, have you? You're too busy pretending to be all right, aren't you?"
"I'm not pretending."
"Are. Not to mention outright lying about it."
"Let's not fight, Trixie, please?"
"Never said I wanted to. Anyway, it's late. Go to sleep."
"You're telling me?"
"I'm two years older than you. I can stay up later. And you've a meeting tomorrow, haven't you?"
Andromeda's blood felt like lead. No one knew that. Not Cissy, not the elves, no one. 'I didn't tell anyone."
"Didn't have to. Wear a cloak, it'll be cold."
Andromeda nodded numbly. "All right." She closed her eyes and thought she'd never sleep. But she did. And went to her meeting, and made herself eat some toast before she went.
The next evening, Narcissa came into her rooms and sat down heavily. 'It's time, Meddie."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Hermione can't hold on much longer. It's now or never."
"I'll cut my hair tomorrow, then."
"Would you? That would be lovely."
Narcissa called an elf, who brought them steaming cups of astringent cleansing herbs. They drank them and Narcissa departed in silence, per the ritual.
It all went off without a hitch. Andromeda, showered, laid down and slept at once, falling through the layers of sleep like a stone through clouds. It took her a moment to realise where she was.
The study. She was in the study of the house she grew up in. And not alone.
She spun. 'D-daddy?"
He looked as he had when she was small, all long limbs and smiling eyes. He stood and opened his arms. 'Come here, my darling. Everything is just fine."
Andromeda stood still. 'Daddy, I..."
Abruptly, Cygnus frowned. 'What's this I hear about coarse language, by the way?"
That did it. Andromeda flew towards him and flung herself against his broad chest, burying her face in his shoulder.
Cygnus put his arms round her and sat against his desk, sighing. 'Shh. Shhh, all right. We've all the time we need."
"You weren't ready, love. You weren't."
The tears started, finally. She didn't say anything else. She couldn't.
Hours later, Bellatrix was still asleep. Heavily drugged, she snored softly, rolling on her side.
"Did you see her, Daddy?"
Cygnus nodded. "I did. She does look a little thin."
"Told her so."
"Be nice, Bellatrix."
"Don't know why everyone's always telling me that."
Cygnus looked at his daughter. One found today. One lost, still. He couldn't make her change. Bellatrix frowned. 'I think I'm waking up."
"I'm always here when you need me, precious."
Did she? Did any of them? Cygnus Black quietly returned from whence he'd come. Rose was waiting for him. "How did it go?"
"Andromeda's better. She still won't eat like she should, but it's a start."
Rose gave him a pat. 'It's something, at least."
He nodded. "But Pixie...where did I go wrong, Rose?"
"We can't live for them, Cygnus."
"I know. If I weren't dead, this would have killed me."
"Lucky you are, then. Come and have some tea."
He followed her, smiling a little despite the terrible weight of what was happening. Love, like spring, can bloom anywhere, and it has a habit of returning just when we think all is lost. He hoped this would be the case, and sometimes, hope is all we have.