Disclaimer: as always
Sorry for the delay! I was on vacation, and then finals... hopefully I should be able to update pretty regularly now. so, without further ado, I present chapter 3.
Andromeda was rudely awakened at 7:45 (more or less) the next morning by the screeching of her watch. Mostly asleep, she knocked it off her nightstand in a panic before she remembered that wouldn't do anything – the thing was Imperviused. With a groan, she tossed off her covers and picked it up off the floor. "Wake up! Wake up!" it continued, until she hit it with her wand. "Thank you!"
The worst part, she reflected, was that she had to be gracious. She would have loved nothing better than to yell at it to shut the hell up, but that didn't work. She had tried.
Resigning herself to being awake, Andromeda pulled the covers back up onto her bed. "Rangeo," she murmured, waving her wand at her bed. The sheets straightened and the coverlet tucked itself in. Even the pillows seemed a little fluffier. Satisfied, she smiled – that charm had taken her a while to get good at, but it was so useful. Sure, she knew if she left her bed unmade the house elves would be through to make it for her and she didn't mind that at Hogwarts, but at home in the Manor doing her own chores had felt like a little rebellion. Every day she cleaned her own room, she was defying generations of Blacks who had never deigned to even pick up their own trash.
It may have been a spectacularly pointless rebellion, but Andromeda didn't care. It was comfortably subversive. Besides, she liked having a clean room and it cost so little effort to do it herself.
She got dressed at headed down to breakfast. She still hadn't seen Bella since the Entrance Feast – the younger girl hadn't shown up for dinner last night and Andromeda had spent the evening by the lake, talking to Lina and her other friends. She was avoiding the Common Room and sisters deliberately. Perhaps it was cowardly, but Andromeda just wanted one night away from their drama and neediness. She was only seventeen, after all.
As usual, she was one of the first people at breakfast. She had just started eating when Narcissa slid onto the bench across from her.
"Good morning," Andromeda said through a mouthful of food. Cissa, still bleary-eyed with sleep, gave her a look of reproach. "Don't talk with your mouth full," she reprimanded.
Grinning, Andromeda swallowed her food. "Not even a hello? Why are you up so early?"
Narcissa pointedly finished her mouthful of toast before replying, "I couldn't sleep. Bella spent the whole night pacing and waiting for you to come in, she wouldn't leave me alone."
Andromeda felt guilty for a moment. Maybe she should have been braver and gone back to talk to her sisters. She just hadn't wanted to fight on the first day of the term... but keeping an eye on Bella was her responsibility, she had made it her responsibility. And she was Head Girl now, she needed to face up to these uncomfortable situations.
Even if she didn't want to. "Sorry," she apologized. "I'll talk to Bella today."
Narcissa smiled gratefully and took a sip of her tea. "Thank you, Meda. She just doesn't respect me the way she respects you."
That was true, for the moment. "I know, Cissy. I'll tell her to lay off."
They ate in friendly, sleepy silence for a few minutes before the post arrived, and dropped an uncomfortable situation right onto Andromeda's plate.
Narcissa didn't even reprimand her for language; she was staring speechlessly at the brutally red Howler. Andromeda grabbed the envelope by a corner and sprinted out towards the Entrance Hall.
She realized as she hit the door that the Head Office was just as close and much more private, but six years of habit died hard. The thing was about to explode – biting her lip, she peeled it open gingerly.
"ANDROMEDA BLACK," her mother's voice boomed out, "HOW COULD YOU ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN? TEN GENERATIONS AND MORE OF BLACKS IN SLYTHERIN HOUSE –"
Students on their way to breakfast were stopping, open-mouthed, to stare at Andromeda and the letter she was holding. She felt her face flush as crimson as the envelope.
"– DISGRACE TO THE FAMILY NAME, SIRIUS IS TOO YOUNG TO KNOW WHAT HE'S DOING – YOU WERE TO KEEP HIM IN LINE, ANDROMEDA! NOT IN GRYFFINDOR –"
She slid down against the wall as her mother continued her tirade, which was starting to sound familiar.
"DO YOU REMEMBER THE LAST BLACK IN GRYFFINDOR? FOUR HUNDRED YEARS AGO! DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED? HE –"
There was a gaggle of first years at the foot of the stairs, looking nervously between her and the door to the Great Hall. She glared at them. They backed up in a rush and one of them tripped over the bottom step; Andromeda fought the urge to laugh.
"– AND TELL SIRIUS HE'S GETTING ONE TOO!" Her mother's voice suddenly dropped several decibels. "And give Bella and Cissy my love."
Andromeda snorted. "No love for me, then?" she asked the envelope. It burst into flames. "If you say so."
She stayed on the floor next to the ashes of the Howler. What had she just been saying about uncomfortable situations? She could still feel her cheeks burning – she couldn't go back in the Great Hall blushing like a Weasley. No, she would just wait out here until she was normal again. Just a little longer...
Another group of nervous first-years was coming down the stairs, but this gaggle of girls seemed more concerned about something behind them. Andromeda watched them curiously as they hurried down the steps, giggling and casting furtive glances over their shoulders.
"HAHA!" a boy shrieked, and the girls screamed and ran into the Great Hall. A pair of first-year boys came racing down the steps behind them, pet toads in hand.
Andromeda grinned despite herself. She knew this troublemaker.
"No running in the hallways!" she called, and the pair stopped short. Sirius, to his credit, looked slightly worried. She stood up and walked towards them.
"Gryffindor?" she asked the unknown boy. He nodded. Sirius whispered, "That's the Head Girl," in his ear and his blue eyes grew wide.
"We were just having fun, Andy," Sirius pleaded. "We weren't going to do anything, promise!" He had his best puppy-dog face on, and Andromeda had to fight the urge to smile at him and ruffle his hair. Though, she realized later, the embarrassment of that might have been more effective than taking away points.
Instead, she put her hands on her hips, stern. "What's your name?"
"James Potter," the other boy said. "I – we weren't going to do anything!"
She paused threateningly, then relaxed. "You're not in trouble this time," she informed him. "But treat your toad more nicely in the future. Off to breakfast, James."
He ran to the Great Hall without a second glance. Sirius made to follow him, but she caught him by the back of his robes. "Not so fast, coz."
He gulped. She laughed. "You're not in trouble from me, don't worry. But my mother sent me a letter, and I'm sure your mother has too."
"About me being in Gryffindor?"
She nodded. "So – what do you know about Howlers?"
Sirius handled his Howler with remarkable grace for an eleven-year-old. Following Andromeda's advice, he had also sprinted with it out of the hall – not that that really stopped anyone from hearing it, but at least they could pretend. Andromeda herself noticed more averted gazes than usual when she went back to her breakfast, but no one mentioned it. She kept her head high and proud as she finished her toast and headed to Charms. Besides Cissa's sympathetic look, the rest of her House treated her as though nothing had happened.
She knew them well enough to know they would start gossiping as soon as she was out of earshot, but she didn't really care. Sooner or later one of them would say it to her face, and she would deal with it then.
The rest of her classes passed normally. McGonagall pulled her and Doug aside after Advanced Transfiguration to tell them the spell and the password to enter the Head Offices; in Charms and in Ancient Runes a few of her classmates were unusually polite, and that was it.
At dinner things started to heat up. Bellatrix had finally shown up for a meal at the same time as her sisters; she nodded curtly to Andromeda as she made her way to her seat.
Andromeda nodded. "Whenever you want," she replied. Bella didn't smile, exactly, but her face was slightly less grim as she sat down with her fifth-year friends.
Lucas Rosier sat across from her. "Have a nice day, Andromeda?" he asked acidly.
Lucille Greengrass slid in beside her. "Leave her alone, Lucas," she said with a glare.
"It's fine, Lucille," Andromeda said. Lucille was her closest friend in her House, but Andromeda didn't need someone else fighting her battles. "Something you want to say, Rosier?"
"I was just wondering if the stress was getting to you. You know, of disappointing your family."
Arching an eyebrow, Andromeda said, "I didn't know I was."
Nonplussed but persistent, Rosier continued. "Oh, the Howler this morning was just a little goodbye note? I can't imagine what it would sound like if my aunt was truly mad at you."
"Just a little reminder of family history," she said calmly. "Some things can't be repeated too often. Mother just doesn't want us to forget how important Blacks have been to Hogwarts. How many Rosier Head Boys have there been, Lucas? Headmasters? I can't remember."
His acid grin slipped into anger. Andromeda gave her best cold smile. "There are none, are there?"
Lucas stood up with a scowl and stomped away; Lucille crowed beside her. "Well done, Andromeda."
She smiled half-heartedly. Lucas was a scoundrel and a fool and she was glad she had shut him up – but there would be more where that came from, and she wasn't looking forward to dealing with it.
The rest of the meal was uneventful; Lucille filled her in on the gossip that didn't involve her or her family. The Blacks weren't the only ones who had started following Lord Voldemort that summer – the Greengrasses weren't involved, but Lucille knew exactly who was. She pointed out names and faces from other pureblood families who had joined the cause. "I think it's all a bit ridiculous, myself," Lucille said. "The Knights of Walpurgis are just pageantry, really." She lowered her voice conspiratorially. "Though I do love a bit of pageantry myself."
Andromeda agreed absentmindedly. She didn't care about the pageantry. She wanted to know what was behind the show – what Bella had really gotten into. Lucille didn't seem to know; ridiculous or not, she was fascinated by the mystery and glamour that surrounded Knights. Pureblood scions meeting at the witching hour, dressed in their finest ancient robes; secret rituals conducted at dawn to ensure a new era of pureblood power.
"It all sounds a little... sixteenth century to me," Andromeda said. Lucille laughed. "Of course it is, Meda – isn't it wonderful?"
"It's a little weird," she said. "I mean, really? It's not like the old families are going anywhere."
Lucille groaned. "You're smart, Meda, so don't tell me you don't see what's happening – ever since the Grindelwald war, the Minister of Magic has been a Mudblood. We can't expect people like that to understand what's best for wizards! They just can't understand our world."
"I know that," Andromeda replied thoughtfully. "They don't know what wizarding families really need, obviously. But it's just a little moment – barely thirty years. That would be short for a Goblin war."
"The Knights just want to make sure it stays short," Lucille answered. The conversation turned back to lighter subjects as they finished their dinner. When the food disappeared, Andromeda glanced around for Bellatrix; the younger girl was already on her way out.
"'Scuse me, Luce, I've got to catch up with my sister," she said. With a nod of understanding, Lucille gestured for her to go ahead. Andromeda flashed her a quick smile, then started speedwalking towards the exit.
She got there just a little too late. Bella was standing over some poor first-year in the Entrance Hall, her wand out. Andromeda shoved her way through the crowd. "What are you doing, Bella?" she cried.
"He tried to trip me," her sister answered flatly.
"No, he didn't!" a familiar voice yelled from under Andromeda's elbow. Sirius stepped in front of his cousin. "You just hexed him," he insisted.
Andromeda looked from her cousin to her sister desperately. She didn't want to take points from Slytherin; she was sure Sirius was right but she hadn't actually seen anything. Before she could make up her mind, Bella decided it for her.
"I don't talk to traitors," she hissed, and her wand sparked; Sirius screamed and collapsed.
White-hot fury shot through Andromeda. "That is it, Bella," she snapped. "Fifty points from Slytherin and if you so much as touch your wand before I talk to you I will take off more, so help me Merlin. Leave!"
Andromeda turned away as Bella slunk off, angrier than she had ever been before. She grabbed her cousin's arm. "What are you all staring at?" she demanded of the crowd. "Sirius, are you okay?"
He was covered in purple-brown thorns, but he nodded gamely.
She pulled him up, ignoring the pain in her own hands, and turned to the other first year Bella had hexed. "What about you?"
He tried to answer, but he was having a hard time standing up – his legs kept giving out. Andromeda rattled off the countercharm to the Jelly-legs Jinx. "Thank you!" he said. He gave her an adoring look. It would have been funny if Andromeda wasn't already furious.
"Remus Lupin," he answered. She remembered the name vaguely from the Sorting
"Of course you're a Gryffindor," she muttered. "Remus, take Sirius to the Hospital Wing please. Have Madam Pomfrey take a look at you, too, while you're there. You know where it is?"
He hesitated. "I'll take them," someone volunteered – another Gryffindor. but one in her own year. "Thanks, Fabian. I'll check on you later, Sirius," she promised, and the three of them left.
The Head Girl surveyed the rest of the crowd. "What?" she asked. "You don't remember where your common rooms are?"
They scattered, and Andromeda went to face her sister.
Bellatrix was waiting in a chair by the fire. Everyone else in the room had found a spot as far away from her as they could. Andromeda was in no mood for sitting down.
"What was that, Bella?" she demanded.
"He tried to trip me," Bella repeated.
"If you go out looking for a fight then you're going to find one," Andromeda said. "You're telling me it was a coincidence the kid was a Gryffindor?"
Bella shrugged. Around the common room, low conversations ceased entirely
"Nothing wrong with fighting Gryffindors," Bella said mutinously.
"There is when it's your cousin."
"His choice, not mine. Sirius knows what he's done." Her sister shifted restlessly in the chair and straightened up, defiantly.
Andromeda wanted to scream, to shake Bella until she saw sense. Instead she held her ground. "Just because he's in a different House doesn't mean he's not still part of the family. It just means we have to make him more part of the family than ever, remind him that a Black is a Black no matter where he sleeps at night."
Bella grunted. "Says you."
"What does that mean?" she snapped, and saw the glint in Bella's eye a second too late. A fight was exactly what Bella wanted, and Andromeda had stepped right into it.
"You're the one who's best friends with a Ravenclaw," she spat. "You're the one spouting nonsense about House unity. You could be fighting for us, for the purebloods, but instead you're at Slughorn's parties talking to filth and Mudbloods – you care more about yourself than our family's honor."
She knew Bella was baiting her, and she rose to it anyway. "Our honor? The Black family honor? What about yourself, Bellatrix? You think hexing everyone who looks at you sideways does anything for your honor? That losing points daily because you don't care enough to show up to your classes reflects well on the family? That hexing eleven-year-olds in the Great Hall is honorable?"
She had been drawing closer to her sister with every accusation, and now she was standing in front of her. Dropping her voice to a haughty whisper she said, "Don't ever do this again, Bella. The Blacks are a family, and our business is our own."
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Bella reach for her wand. Quicker than she'd ever moved before, Andromeda grabbed her sister's arm.
"Don't touch me," Bella hissed and yanked her arm away.
"If you even think about hexing me," Andromeda promised, "I will put you in the Hospital Wing."
"You could try," Bellatrix retorted, but she let go of her wand. Without another word, she stalked off to her dorm.
As soon as Bella had disappeared, Andromeda collapsed into an armchair. Bella had always been the most violent of her family, but Andromeda had never actually been afraid of her. Until now. There had been such pure hatred in her sister's eyes for a moment that Andromeda had honestly thought Bella would curse her, right there in the common room.
She was almost sorry she'd threatened her like that. It was the kind of thing her father would say, or Walburga – a promise straight from her Black ancestors. Andromeda had never wanted to be like them, never wanted to be that cruel... and yet here she was, threatening her own sister.
Would she actually be able to do it? She didn't know. She wasn't sure. If her sister raised her wand against her, Andromeda thought there was chance she could curse Bella.
She didn't want to find out. With a deep sigh, she stood up again. It was her turn to go to the Hospital Wing this time – to check on Sirius. She swept out of the common room with all the grace she could muster, and went to learn the damage.