The weeks leading up to the three weddings of the Black sisters became increasingly active and frenzied, which was good for Andromeda – anything to stop her sister from bringing up that ill-fated night with Ted Tonks. As long as Andromeda could focus on other matters, she was all right. Druella would not stop harping at her daughters that they needed to lose weight (or, in Narcissa's case, to put it on) so that their wedding dresses would fit properly, there were near-constant fights over whether the sanctuaries should be decorated in red roses for love, as Bellatrix desired, or white roses for innocence, the way Narcissa wanted. The girls spent hours upon hours standing still until they saw stars while they were being fitted for their wedding dresses. Tensions ran high, and more than once, Bellatrix lashed out at Andromeda with a threat to tell their parents about her and Ted. Then the thoughts that Andromeda was trying so diligently to push away would come flooding back.
Ted Tonks – or, as Bellatrix was wont to call him, "that Mudblood" – was Andromeda's vice. He was her sin, the one thing that stained her name and her blood.
He had been something like a friend for years – the two of them had met when she had been playing alone on the moors, both had snuck out of their homes to go up and enjoy the outdoor freedom, and, when one is thirteen, there is a certain thrill to doing something wrong that can bind friends together for life.
But they were not thirteen anymore.
Really, it had only been a matter of time before they had slept together.
It had been a hot summer night, and Andromeda had slipped out of Black Manor for desperately needed fresh air. Ted, also taking a walk in an attempt to cure his insomnia, had met her out on the moors.
Sitting out, beneath the starry sky, hot breezes blowing around them, had been so lovely, and Andromeda had felt so free, that it was no surprise what had happened that night. Talking led to kissing, kissing led to gentle caresses, and when Andromeda was lying flat on her back in the grass, skirt around her knees and Ted atop her, she felt no surprise or shame or guilt at what she was doing.
It was a different matter when she returned home.
Bellatrix had caught her stumbling back inside as the sun was rising, grass in her hair and mud stains on her skin. Bellatrix had demanded to know what had happened. Bellatrix had been appalled when Andromeda told her.
Andromeda had been expecting congratulations from her sister on finally ridding herself of her maidenhead, but when Bellatrix had heard that she had been with a Mudblood, the first thing that she did was threaten to tell their parents. Andromeda begged and pleaded and bribed and finally managed to convince her sister not to, but the threat hung perpetually over her head. Bellatrix used it as a constant source of power, a way of controlling her sister.
Andromeda had been more careful after that.
She still saw Ted regularly, but Bellatrix didn't know, and she never would.
At least, Andromeda thought, while she stood in front of the mirror with her arms out, letting the dressmaker loosen the seams around the bust of her wedding dress, she would never know if Andromeda did go on to marry Rabastan.
What was she saying? Of course she was going to marry Rabastan.
She frowned a little at her reflection. It was a most peculiar thought, the idea of not marrying. Cold feet, she told herself. That's all this is. You're nervous.
I'm not, though.
She chewed on her lip, pondering. From a purely objective standpoint, what would happen if she didn't get married?
She would have to run away, of course. She couldn't break off the marriage – her parents would never allow it for the scandal it would cause.
And what would happen if she ran away?
She would hurt Rabastan's feelings. That inspired a painful flash of guilt for even entertaining the possibility. Rabastan was such a good man – why would she want to hurt him?
She didn't want to hurt him. But that didn't mean she wanted to marry him.
Stop thinking like that! Of course you want to marry him!
She shook herself. Even asking herself questions like this was insanity. There was no reason at all not to stay and get married. She loved Rabastan.
The morning of the wedding dawned cool and misty, much to Narcissa's distress. She woke both her sisters by complaining that it was bad luck to get married while it was raining.
"Well, what do you expect us to do about it, Cissy?" Bellatrix snapped. "We don't control the weather, and you can't very well ask Mother and Father to reschedule the wedding just because you're being all superstitious!"
Narcissa had looked hurt at that, but Andromeda was scarcely paying attention. There were hours yet before the ceremony, and already her heart was pounding in her ribcage for fear of what was going to happen.
"Are you all right?" she heard Narcissa say, her voice sounding very far away. "Are you feeling ill, Andromeda? You look pale…"
"What?" Andromeda physically jolted in surprise at being addressed. "Oh… no… I'm fine."
"Then for the love of Merlin, get up out of bed and help me get my damned corset tightened," Bellatrix said.
The morning was spent in a whirl of activity, of arguments and wild embraces from their mother and searching for the jewellery that Narcissa had misplaced, and when the clock finally struck noon and the three sisters were ushered out into the drizzling rain to hurry across the grounds of Black Manor to the chapel, Andromeda was sure it could not be more than eight o'clock in the morning.
They said time flew when you were having fun, but time flew even faster when you were dreading what came at the end of it.
The wedding ceremony was not big – just a few dozen people, enough to fill the pews of the Blacks' chapel, but few enough to give the ceremony an intensely claustrophobic air. Andromeda peered into the sanctuary, catching just a glimpse of Rabastan, Rodolphus and Lucius before her mother ushered her into the antechamber.
"Mother," Narcissa said suddenly, looking stricken, "Who is going to give us away? Is Father going to walk all of us down the aisle at the same time, or is he going to come back for us one at a time?"
"You're all going down the aisle at once," Druella said, distracted by pinning a loose lock of Bellatrix's hair up.
Narcissa's face fell. "I have to share?"
"Yes, of course, he's their father too!"
"But…" Narcissa's lip started to tremble, and Druella quickly rushed to her youngest daughter's side to comfort her.
"There, there, darling," she said, pulling a handkerchief out and dabbing at Narcissa's eyes. "Would you prefer Abraxas to give you away? Your husband's father? That way, you wouldn't have to share…"
Narcissa sniffed, and nodded, and Andromeda lost interest.
She, Andromeda, could hear blood pulsing in her ears. She felt a little dizzy and quite delirious as Druella left the antechamber, and the three sisters stood alone. They did not speak, and all that Andromeda could think of, standing there, minutes away from her wedding, was whether Ted Tonks could have slipped into the chapel for the ceremony.
She had told him about it. She had told him she was getting married, had invited him. The look on his face had been one of such ultimate hurt that it made Andromeda's heart ache to remember it.
Stop thinking about it!
Organ music sounded, and Andromeda felt as though she was about to be sick. Oh, please, don't get sick, whatever you do, don't get sick, she ordered her stomach.
"You don't look very well, Andromeda," Bellatrix commented.
She clutched her bouquet of roses, feeling thorns that had not been removed digging into her palms, her stomach cramping up, her breath coming short and fast in the confines of her corset. Organ music began to play and Narcissa drew herself up excitedly. Even Bellatrix was smiling a little bit.
Cygnus stepped into the antechamber and took the arms of his two eldest daughters without a word. Abraxas followed, and Narcissa rested her hand on his elbow. It was a better fit, really, Andromeda thought, looking at them. Narcissa would have looked out of place beside her dark-haired sisters and father.
She, Andromeda, was not aware of her legs moving when Cygnus began to lead her and Bellatrix up the aisle. The event felt like a dream, hazy and unreal, and all she could see was Rabastan's thin, handsome face, his lips curved into a smile for her. The organ music pulsed almost painfully in her ears. She desperately wanted to tell the organist to quiet down, but she couldn't.
Then she and her father and Abraxas and her two sisters were at the front of the chapel and the music fell silent.
"We are gathered here today," the priest began, his voice slightly gravelly, "in the face of this ceremony, to join Rodolphus Lestrange and Bellatrix Black, Rabastan Lestrange and Andromeda Black and Lucius Malfoy and Narcissa Black, in matrimony…"
He continued speaking, reciting dull, endless vows, and Andromeda felt her father's arm slip away from hers. She was grateful for the veil that obscured her face, because with it, she could scan those congregated in the church. Was that Ted there, in the corner? No, that was just Sirius. There, sitting beside Uncle Alphard? No, that boy had Malfoy hair. She searched the pews out of the corner of her eyes, but no, of course he wasn't there.
"Rodolphus Lestrange, do you take Bellatrix Black to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish until death do you part?"
"I do," was Rodolphus's immediate answer.
"And do you, Bellatrix Black, take Rodolphus Lestrange to be your…"
Andromeda gazed out of the stained-glass window just above Rabastan's shoulder. It was raining outside, and she wondered if she might be able to slip out after the wedding and before the reception and go up to the moors to say one last goodbye to Ted.
How long did these vows go on? Andromeda was desperate to get out of the chapel, feel cool rain on her skin, and perhaps have one last chance to see Ted Tonks.
"Rabastan Lestrange," the priest said, and Andromeda started. "Do you take Andromeda Black for your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish until death do you part?"
"I do," Rabastan said.
Andromeda's heart was beating fast. The full scale of her situation was dawning on her – she could never go back from this.
"And do you, Andromeda Black, take Rabastan Lestrange for your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish until death do you part?"
"I…" I don't. I don't want to do this. I'm not ready to get married, I'm not ready to give my whole life away!
"I do," Andromeda managed.
From the pocket of his robes, the priest produced a gold band.
"May this ring be blessed so he who gives it and she who wears it may abide in peace and continue in love until life's end," he said, handing it to Rabastan, who took Andromeda's hand.
"With this ring, I wed thee," he said softly, and everything about it was as perfect as their engagement had been. Everything, except that Andromeda wanted with all her heart to clench her hand into a fist, to run away and never come back. But she did not, and she forced herself to smile as Rabastan slipped it onto her finger, finishing his vows with, "Wear it as a symbol of our love and commitment."
Then he dropped her hand and the priest drew out another ring.
"May this ring be blessed so that she who gives it and he who wears it may abide in peace and continue in love until life's end."
He handed it to Andromeda, who stared in dismay for a moment, before reaching out for Rabastan's hand.
"With this ring," she said, her voice shaking more than she would have liked, more than could be explained away by nerves, "I wed thee."
And then she stopped. Because out the window, just visible through the stained glass, palms pressed against the panes, looking in was the most sadness she had ever seen on a human being's face, was Ted Tonks.
Andromeda froze. How could she do this? How could she make someone as sweet and good as Ted watch her marry another man? This was all wrong, and she didn't want to do it and she couldn't get out of it now. Her hand shook as she stared desperately, meeting Ted's eyes through the room and the glass and her veil, and she thought as hard as she could, I'm sorry.
"Wear it as a symbol of our love and commitment," she said at last, sliding the ring onto Rabastan's finger.
Then she could not speak another word. The priest began to talk again, but Andromeda was numb. She did not react even as Rabastan lifted her veil and kissed her, so gently and tenderly. She was watching the whole ceremony from outside herself, and they made such a perfect picture – beautiful bride and handsome groom, surrounded by family, the bride's sisters being happily married as well… everything was just perfect.
So if everything was so perfect, why did Andromeda want so badly to cry?