Disclaimer: I do not own.

Note: in my head, Bellatrix has always been the middle sister - that's just the way she makes sense to me. I know it's not canon, but it's a small alteration to make Andromeda the oldest... and my story wouldn't work otherwise. don't let it bother you :)

Enjoy!

-x-

Andromeda Black, the new Head Girl, woke on her first day of classes with a feeling of dread in her stomach.

She had had a nightmare – she woke in a panic, threw off her comforter, and sat bolt upright. It took her a minute to recognize where she was: her new bedroom, the Head Girl's room. Just for her. She was alone.

Sighing deeply, she sank back into her pillows. This was not a good way to start the year. She fumbled around on her nightstand for her watch, which was new to her but had been handed down through generations of Blacks. She hadn't really wanted it – it was more than a little ancient and it had a penchant for yelling at its owners. But it had been a birthday gift, and she couldn't really say no. The tarnished silver façade was too hard to read in the dim light. "What time is it?" she asked, bracing herself. She was sure the thing hadn't been oiled in years.

"Six thirty in the morning," it screeched.

"Thank you," Andromeda said politely, but it continued anyway. "Dawn will be in 3 minutes," it shrieked tinnily. "You are to be woken at 7:45. Your first appointment is at –"

"THANK YOU!" Andromeda yelled and it shut up. She moaned and rolled back under her comforter.

Despite her exhaustion, her heart was still beating fast from her nightmare. What had it been about? She couldn't remember now. Her sisters had been there, and her mother. Something bad had been about to happen. Well, she considered, something bad has already happened. Her memories of the night before began to filter back in, despite the fact that she'd much rather not think about it.

Sirius had always been a troublemaker. He had that grin, you know? That smirky little face. She loved the kid – he was her favorite cousin and always had been. Poor Evan Rosier just didn't stand a chance against him. Andromeda had been looking forward to having him at Hogwarts with her – though she had nearly changed her mind about that when she found out she was Head Girl. Her mother, glowing proudly at the news, had raced to Floo her sister about it. Aunt Walburga, ever the cynic, had said simply, "Dumbledore must know she's the only one who can keep Sirius in line."

Her mother had looked crestfallen, but Andromeda had only laughed. "It might true, Mother." Druella had smiled then. "Between your sister and your cousin, you'll have your hands full."

It was true. Sirius worshipped his oldest cousin, though that didn't stop him from putting real cockroaches in her Cockroach Clusters or jumping on her or "accidentally" turning her nose green. It mostly just meant that Andromeda had a better chance than the rest of them at getting him to stop. Bellatrix also only listened to her older sister some of the time and Andromeda, as a prefect, wasn't allowed to hex her at school anymore. She did her best to keep her in line, but it could be tricky.

This year, however, she had already failed. Both of them. She had watched Sirius trot up to the Sorting Hat, beaming with pride at her little cousin. As the Hat took its sweet time, she had started to worry – and then it had roared out "GRYFFINDOR!"

Bellatrix shot her a deadly look from across the table. Narcissa, sitting next to her oldest sister, had turned to her. "What? That can't be right! It must be wrong. Meda, you have to fix it!" She grabbed her sister's hands imploringly. "You have to fix it!"

Andromeda glanced over to the Gryffindor table, where her cousin was being joined by a "Lupin, Remus." Sirius caught her eye, grinning like the cat that ate the pixies. Andromeda gave her best reproving glare, but she didn't have the heart to be really cruel to him.

"Andromeda!" Bella hissed. She turned back. "I'll see what I can do," she promised. "I'll talk to Dumbledore at the Head Meeting tomorrow."

"You better find out what happened," Bella said belligerently. Andromeda glared at her. "I said would, didn't I?"

Bella had stormed out of the Hall as soon as the dinner was over and spent the night fuming in the common room. Cissy, on the other hand, had spent the evening gossiping with her best friend and cousin on the other side, Amanda Rosier. Amanda's little brother Evan had been sorted in Slytherin, of course. His oldest brother, Lucas, had come up to Andromeda in the common room after the Feast. "Looks like some family is truer than the rest, eh?"

"Shut it, Lucas," she told him. "It's a mistake. Sirius just wants the attention."

"Whatever you say, Head Girl," he replied, and flashed her a mocking grin before he walked away. No one else was brave enough to approach her about it – she was no Bellatrix, but Andromeda was still a Black. Honor ran deep in their family, and Andromeda had never been known to back away from a fight. Fed up with all the sideways glances, Andromeda had retreated to her new bedroom early and spent the rest of the night trying to read herself to sleep.

And now she was awake again. Though she had calmed down from the nightmare, she was still far from calm. The stress of her family problems was a whole different cauldron of flobberworms; there was no way she could get back to sleep now. Sighing again, she got out of bed and turned up the lamps.

The Head Girl's room was small, certainly, but having her own space at Hogwarts was a luxury. After six years, Andromeda had still not quite gotten used to living with four other girls all the time. She would still have to share the bathrooms – though she had her own door – and she didn't have a fireplace, but she did have her own little desk, a window seat, and lovely bed. Her trunk was at the foot of the bed, still neatly packed. She had barely opened it last night.

She pulled out her uniform robes and set them on the bed, then began to take out her books and school supplies. She arranged them neatly on the desk, putting rolls of parchment into drawers and lining the books up in alphabetical order on the shelves. Her inkpot went in an indent in the corner; her new ornamented quill stand went next to it, and her razor for sharpening them was laid carefully on top. Item by item, she put everything in its proper spot.

The ritual was soothing. As soon as everything was arranged, she donned her robes and shut her trunk again. From her nightstand, she grabbed her Head Girl badge and her obnoxious watch. It was only 7:15.

Proper breakfast didn't start until 7:30, but she knew there would be toast and jam and coffee laid out for the early risers. She stuffed her Arithmancy and Potions textbooks into her bag with some rolls of parchment and a quill. For all the care she took her with desk, her bookbag was a different story – it just got jumbled up anyway, why even bother?

She turned out the lamps again and headed up to the common room. It was empty, though a low fire still crackled in the grate. Other than that, the room was dark. The sun wasn't high enough for any light to filter through the lake.

As dim and solemn as the common room could be, Andromeda had always felt at home there. She felt that under its pretense or grandeur, the common room really just wanted to be loved. Maybe that was foolish, as properly speaking a room couldn't want anything. She chose not to care, and loved the place anyway.

She pushed the door open and made her way towards the Great Hall.

x

According to her watch, she got there at 7:25. The watch wasn't very good at exact times, and the minute hand skipped directly from one numeral to the next in increments of five minutes. Andromeda could have seven minutes or three minutes to wait until hot breakfast appeared.

She decided to chance it and wait. As she sat down at the Slytherin table, she pulled out her Ancient Runes book. It was her first class, and she hadn't reviewed it much over the summer. Though N.E.W.T.s were coming up, Andromeda wasn't quite dedicated enough to her studies to spend her summer working.

She flipped idly through the pages, make lazy mental notes of chapters to review. Fortunately, breakfast appeared before she could get too involved in her studying. Setting aside the book, she helped herself to a big plate of eggs and bacon.

Other students began to filter in as she ate. Some first-year Slytherins appeared and sat down the table from her, casting the older girl nervous glances. Andromeda was thoroughly fed up with it and was about to introduce herself as the nicest Black (whether or not it was strictly true) when her watch went off. "Time to wake up!" it squealed. "Seven forty five, wake up!"

"Thank you," Andromeda hissed, sounding almost exactly like her sister had the night before. She would have to ask her mother if there was anyway to make the damned thing shut up.

She looked away from her watch to see Doug MacMillan laughing at her from across the hall. Had it been anyone else, there was a good chance Andromeda would have hexed him right then and there – but Doug was a decent guy, and the Head Boy besides. He believed he was laughing with her, she was sure.

Proving her point, he walked across the hall towards her table. "Mind if I sit?" he asked, still smiling.

It was such a well-natured smile that she couldn't frown at him. "A Hufflepuff at the Slytherin table? Are you sure?"

"Fair enough." He sat down on the bench at the neighboring Ravenclaw table. "I see you got an heirloom watch, too," he said and raised his right arm to show an ancient, dilapidated gold watch. "At least mine doesn't make that godawful noise."

Starting to relax a little, Andromeda laughed. "I was hoping you weren't laughing at me from over there. I don't need to start the year by hexing my Head Boy into the Hospital Wing."

"Laugh at you? Never."

"So what's wrong with yours?" she asked, gesturing to his wrist.

"Mine? It plays a little tune every hour. A little bagpipe tune." Doug looked pained. The MacMillans were an old pureblood family, but an even older Scottish one.

"Is it that bad? Really?" Andromeda would trade her Black watch for his Scottish one any day.

"Every hour," he repeated. "All night."

She tried to look sympathetic, but Andromeda couldn't help but laugh a little bit. "Curse of the old families, isn't it?"

He nodded with a yawn. "I'm off to get some food and coffee. Head meeting's at nine?"

"Yep. In the room next to the Staff office." The Hufflepuff departed with a wave. Andromeda picked up her fork, still giggling to herself. She didn't get very far into her scrambled eggs before her breakfast was interrupted again.

"Andie?" Her cousin's voice. She looked up and he was standing beside her.

"Sirius," she said, smiling warmly. "How are you?" The question on her tongue was about what happened at the Sorting – but they'd get to that. First things first.

The eleven-year-old looked more serious than she'd ever seen him before. "I want to be in Gryffindor," he told her. Straight to the point, yes, that was her cousin. "I don't like Slytherin." He paused, gathering his thoughts. "You've never said anything good about them."

"And when have I talked to you about Slytherin?"

He looks abashed for about half a second. "Well, never. But Bellatrix and Narcissa and all the cousins talk about Slytherin and you never do."

That was true. Andromeda was in Slytherin mostly because she was a Black. She didn't like very many of her housemates, and their absolute conviction in the Slytherin's supremacy rubbed her the wrong way. That being said, she was smart, and ambitious, and not above lying to get what she wanted. On one hand, she was almost proud of Sirius for standing up for what he thought he wanted. On the other, this would be as much her fault as Sirius', and no one would ever forgive them.

Except maybe Alphard, but he was another story. "Sirius," she said slowly, "Being in Slytherin is about being a Black. Being family. We might not always like each other, but we have to stick together."

"Like purebloods have to stick together?" he asked, derisively.

"No," she answered flatly. "You know I don't believe in that pureblood nonsense. It's about more than that – your mother has raised you and fed you and cared for you for eleven years. You know she wanted you to be in Slytherin. It's the least you can do for her. Besides, you don't know anybody in Gryffindor. Our whole family is in Slytherin."

"I don't like our family. They're mean," he muttered, looking at the ground. Andromeda knew her cousin well enough to recognize the rebellion in his expression – she had no chance at winning this argument now.

"They can be," she told him. "But they're still family. We have a duty."

With frightening perception, he snapped his eyes to her face. "You don't really believe that, do you?"

She couldn't lie to him when he called her out like that. "Not every day."

"Then why are you trying to convince me to believe it?"

Andromeda fixed him with a serious stare. "I know you think your mom and your aunt are mean. But I've fought with my mother – and with Walburga – and it's not worth it, Sirius. You've got to keep your head down when you can if you want to stay safe."

Her thoughts flashed to the scar down her back. She wasn't ready to have this conversation with Sirius. Not yet. Eventually, she would have to tell him – but for now, all she wanted was to keep him safe. Ignorant, yes, but safe.

He looked at her curiously, rebellion still burning in his eyes. "Maybe. But I'm still in Gryffindor." He started to walk away.

"Sirius?" Andromeda couldn't let him leave like that. He turned around. "And I still love you." He grinned at her, and she grinned back. He was her favorite cousin.

-x-

Please let me know what you think! I know this chapter was a little slow, but it's setting up the characters. & the secrets...

also, I'm not a huge fan of the current title, if anyone has ideas please throw them my way :)