There's fire rumbling in the fireplace, green and whispery and flickery and quite dramatic, really.
It used to be very impressive, but Ted's in his seventh year, and the Slytherin love for theatrics has been a way of life for a while now. He can still appreciate the show, aesthetically speaking, but once the novelty's worn off all that matters is how effective the fire warms the place up.
Hint: the Slytherin common room is half under the lake. Ted thinks himself lucky that he's not sensitive to cold.
To be fair, one has to admit that in the dead of the night, the common room is bound to be colder than during the day or the evening. Something to do with the fact that midnight is only a memory and everyone's gone to bed a good long while ago, so now there's only Andromeda and he left down here.
They should go to bed too. Ted has Herbology first thing in the morning, NEWTs in three months, and he doesn't quite fancy getting eaten by some carnivorous plant because he didn't get enough sleep. Of course, even if he goes to bed right now, he still won't get enough sleep. It's probably closer to two than to midnight, and he's reached this stage of exhausted trance where he's staring at the flames and can't even begin to gather the energy to get up.
Andromeda, sprawled over the couch with her feet on his lap, isn't providing much help. Her head is thrown back, her eyes closed.
"Dromeda, you asleep?" he mumbles.
If she doesn't answer, that'll be the sign that he's got to do something. It wouldn't look good to be found sleeping on the same sofa as his best, female friend.
There's nothing between Andromeda and he, but that's just the sort of situation that begs to be misinterpreted. They've had to work hard enough to dispel the gossip since that cousin of Andromeda's took to singing "Andromeda and Tonks, sitting in a tree" a couple of years ago.
Between the Black sisters and the prefects, they'd quickly got Sirius to quit teasing, but it was an uncomfortable year all the same, because they needed to divert the school's attention from the rumours, and, more important than Hogwarts, Slytherin.
Ted's not the only Muggle-born in Slytherin; there have been several he's noticed, over the years, and probably more he never talked to enough to see through their masks, and they are the best-kept secret in Slytherin.
You see, their House doesn't know they are there.
They pretend to be half-bloods with a witch for a mother and they never talk about their family, and since the half-bloods are a secret as well, though one Slytherin House keeps willingly against the rest of the school, they are accepted well enough. So long as the half-bloods are quiet about their Muggle heritage, it's no trouble; the Muggle-borns just have to do the same.
Andromeda knows, though. She's known since their third-year, how his father died in a car crash; how he couldn't be saved in time because he didn't get to St.Mungo's, and how he didn't get to St.Mungo's because he was a Muggle and his wife was a Muggle and neither had any claim to a wizarding hospital.
Ted has never been able to think of that conversation as even remotely reckless on his part. They were already best friends by that time; if Ted couldn't trust her, then he would never trust anyone.
By third year he's already realized how fortunate it was that he was quiet, during the feast after the Sorting. How fortunate, that he was dazzled and hungry; hungered more for the magic promised by this new world than for the food that appeared on the table. How fortunate, that he only wanted to soak up his new housemates' tales, tales of goblins guarding vaults of gold and holidays spent amongst dragons and brand-new brooms with names like shooting stars.
But Andromeda and he still have to be careful. It's one thing for her to have a half-blood best friend, and another entirely to have sex with him. So it's best that there's no prattle about them, really.
"Just thinking," Andromeda finally answers, in a pensive if drowsy tone.
It takes him a moment to remember the question. Maybe, in spite of his open eyes, he's getting sleepier than her.
"Hrn," he acknowledges non-committally, to let her know he's listening.
"My parents want me to get married." Her tone is very matter-of-fact.
He nods, then realizes that she can't see him. "Yeah, I know. So they've chosen someone?"
It feels odd, to be down in the common room with his seventeen-year-old best friend telling him her parents are arranging her marriage, now that it's finally happening.
They've been expecting it for years, of course, but the thought of Andromeda being some wizard's wife is just so strange that he doesn't think his brain is up to wrapping itself around that concept. Best to drop it, really, and focus on what she's going to say next. Andromeda wouldn't tell him that for no reason.
"I think they're thinking about Lucius, but they'd be okay if there's someone else I prefer."
"That won't be too difficult to find, then. Ouch," he states when her heel starts digging into his thigh, but doesn't otherwise attempt to remove her. She doesn't have enough energy to make it hurt.
"Stop that," she commands without opening her eyes. "I can hear you smirking."
"Okay, okay." He doesn't wipe the smile away. She must still be able to hear the amusement in his voice; the frown stays firmly attached to her brow. "You were saying you were thinking."
"Yeah," she says slowly. "I've been thinking I don't really want to be married."
Colour me unsurprised, but that's not gonna help, so he doesn't say it. The only earth-shattering element to this revelation is that she's admitting it. Andromeda's hardly the type of girl to fret to death or have soul-searching, overly-drawn cerebrations. There's a reason she's telling him.
He mulls over the issue for a few minutes. The flames in the fireplace never stop flickering, and Ted wonders when Andromeda reached her decision.
"I don't suppose you mean you want a few more years before you become Missus Whatever, do you."
She'd just have to tell her parents; Bellatrix only got married during the Christmas hols, and she was the one who rushed the whole thing, according to Andromeda. Mr and Mrs Black are not bad parents, they're not actively trying to ruin their daughters' lives. They're merely bad persons.
A fleeting smile flashes across her lips.
"Yeah, you're right." She looks like she wants to add something, but she doesn't.
"You have a plan?" He keeps his voice as even as he can.
"I was thinking they couldn't marry me off if I was already married."
She speaks the words perfectly calmly.
"Yeah, I suppose," he pronounces with some care, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"I was thinking of you."
One of the logs in the fireplace breaks and crumbles in a burst of sparkles.
"Are you proposing me?" Ted can't help the incredulous accent sneaking into his tone.
But really, what did she expect? That's one hell of a stupid joke, that's what it is. It's only because he's gaping at the mind-boggingness of it that he doesn't flat-out tell her so. He's used to her sense of humour, just not so much when he's the butt of it.
For a long time he stares at her and she doesn't say anything, doesn't open her eyes to look at him, doesn't react in any way. She's not kidding.
Ted's breath hitches.
"Are you proposing me?"
This time he speaks more slowly, each word meaningful.
They've learned how to cast their voices in the silence of the hollow common room over the years so that it won't reverberate against the walls around them. And today his words are teetering on the edge of a silence so deep and so great that it could swallow them whole; Ted, Andromeda, and the strange words and stranger thoughts she's weaving in the night.
"I guess I am," she says. "You could be my ticket out."
That startles a short chortle out of him.
"Yeah, very... Dromeda, you can't marry me." He can't believe that he has to argue the point. "I'm a one-way ticket; you take it, and it's not just the marriage proposals that are going to be over. Two minutes of research on my case and they'll find out I'm Muggle-born. You'd lose it all."
Her feet shift on his lap.
Under her pretence at nonchalance, he can see she's on tenterhooks. She never likes it when people know what she cares about, Andromeda.
Sometimes – rarely – she flies off the handle, but most of the time people know she's displeased because of the haughtiness she turns on them. Disdain, even anger, they're better than hurt and vulnerability and leaving oneself open.
Ted could respect that, he's a private person himself. But there's a tinge of survival in there for her.
He's noticed that with time; he's not sure how much of her discomfort at displaying emotions is innate and how much is ingrained, or even how much of her aloofness exists because she wants it or because she needs it. People from other Houses and other years are constantly comparing the Black girls, but they don't realise how much more secretive than her sisters Andromeda is.
She'll look like she's calm, peaceful, relaxed, and underneath she'll never stop feeling, questioning, judging with all her might. He's received letters during the holidays, where she told him a family dinner, and she tore into everyone, with precise, funny, falsely casual words.
He's never had to look very hard for her sarcasms. It helps that they bonded over common causticness. Bellatrix and Narcissa, from what Ted's been able to see, are dreadfully lacking in satire.
"And I'm okay with that. I don't want that life. You know that Phineas Nigellus is the only Black to have held a profession over the last three hundred years? I don't want that. If I marry you, I'll be able to do something with myself, instead of going from one ball to another and ranting about the latest laws."
"A life of idleness and wealth, what a dreadful task," he comments.
He doesn't insist because Muggle women have often had to struggle before being able to work, but he doesn't exactly try to wring his heart for sincerity in the face of her ordeal, because working for a living has never been a choice for anyone in his family, including his mother, and his grandmothers, and his great-grandmothers and probably every other one of his ancestors as well.
"Ted." She opens her eyes and fixes her steel-grey gaze upon him. "I want out."
And she sounds and looks confident and determined and ready, but it's something else that makes Ted Tonks fall silent.
It's the most open he has ever seen her, like for once she can't keep it all bottled up inside and it's piercing through the shield she's built all around herself. Who can pride themselves on having Andromeda Black plead them?
October has barely brushed Hogwarts with its golden wing and Sirius is already making a name for himself.
If Andromeda were to be honest – which she's more and more inclined to, even without Veritaserum being involved, simply to goad Bella into one of her rants and laugh at her – she'd admit that perhaps having Sirius at Hogwarts is not such a disaster after all. Having Sirius here, with his shouts and his mischief, makes her feel like it's still the holidays.
When she sees him on the other side of the Great Hall during mealtimes, whispering to the brown-haired boy next to him and glaring daggers at the Potter boy, the corners of her lips quirk up.
The school has almost become the Blacks' real home after all; now there's only Regulus still missing, and Regulus is still so much of a child, it'd almost be stranger to have him here. For as long as she's known him, Regulus has been the quiet one, the envious one, the one who wishes with fervent breaths that he wants to go to Hogwarts too this year; if he does come to Hogwarts already, well, it won't be really Regulus any more.
It's her state of perpetual good mood where Sirius is concerned that make her stop walking when she hears him calling her name loudly, his race in the hallway an elephantine thumping to get to her.
"You're lucky I'm only on my way to Potions," are the words she greets him with.
Sirius, of course, is unflustered. The brown-haired kid that always accompanies him looks appropriately baleful.
"Sirius, we're going to be late too," he mutters. He's never going to achieve to anything where Sirius is concerned if he doesn't learn to put his foot down, Andromeda thinks.
"Andy, Andy, there's a boy—"
"You're not introducing your friend to me, Sirius?" Andromeda cuts through the chatter.
After all, if she's going to have to report Sirius to the prefects one day or another, she'll need the name of his accomplice too. Same thing if she wants to protect him from the prefects.
She likes pranks, when she's not the victim. And it's just fun, to know things others don't, and be able to laugh away Bellatrix' anger. That's the true reason she and Sirius get on so well, because they've always liked a laugh, and Andromeda has always been the mocking one.
Sirius scrunches up his nose, the brown-haired kid turns red, and Andromeda wonders when Hogwarts started shrinking down the first-years. She'd swear they've never been so tiny before this year, even if Sirius makes up for it by being insufferable.
"Yeah, yeah, that's Remus. His mum works for the Quibbler," Sirius adds, the way they've all been taught.
There are more ways to classify people than their blood, though Bellatrix has never remembered that lesson; and the tone one uses is as important as the words. Sirius' is dismissive, as usual, but he rocks on the balls of his feet at the same time as he announces the name of the newspaper.
Andromeda cannot repress a smile and gives the other boy a second, interested glance.
He avoids her gaze, and Andromeda gets the idea that he's more aware of the consensus regarding the Quibbler than Sirius, who is evidently in complete awe before the job of his new friend's mother. She can just imagine the conversation if Sirius told his mother about that scrawny, insignificant little gnome with his working-for-the-Quibbler mum. She finds it hilarious.
That Remus may not be quite such a bad sidekick for Sirius to hang around after all.
Andromeda, of course, has nothing but contempt for the Quibbler, its stories, its dubious origins, and its employees, but the situation is amusing, and there's not the slightest risk that someone as meek as that Remus could possibly influence someone as headstrong as Sirius Black. She'll indulge Sirius his friendship with this one, because Sirius is her favourite. Andromeda is not above playing favourites, and that's one of the many, many reasons why there's no silver badge pinned to her robe.
"So yeah, anyway Andy, there's a boy who's asking after you."
Sirius' down-to-business voice, like his solemn expression, are both copied after his father's. Andromeda doubts he's aware of it.
Her eyebrows raise.
"A boy?" she echoes. "It's not that I don't appreciate talking to you, Sirius, but half the students in Hogwarts are boys, and half the Gryffindors hate me on principle. You've got to be more precise than that. If it's that Potter boy who's got a grudge against us," she warns, "I don't want to know."
She generally doesn't bother with learning the first years' names, but the Blacks and that annoying little Bundimun crossed paths on the Express, and, how to put it? Sirius and he had taken an immediate dislike at each other.
He looks offended at the suggestion. "Potter's my business, Andy, I'd never involve you!"
He could go on, but the Remus tugs on his sleeve.
"Professor Flitwick, Sirius," he insists. Too soft; he'll never wear Sirius down.
They're on the first floor and she still has to go all the way down to the dungeons; it's fair to say that she's definitely going to be late. A blessing that she's got old Sluggie eating out of her hand.
The fabric is snatched from Remus' loose grip with Sirius' impatient hand gesture.
"He'll wait," he throws without looking at his friend. "A boy – fifth-year, I asked him – he asked me things about you. Tonks, he said his name was, something like that." The almost-sniff, here, is pure Walburga.
She frowns. She was having such a good day too.
Tonks. Ted Tonks. Gryffindor, Muggle-born, fifth-year. A mop of dirty blond hair, a slouch, and always that damnable smile tugging at the corner of his lips. He's the one who makes others cackle when he just looks on, amused, when Andromeda purses her lips and reminds herself that she's above it, when she's wishing Lucius bloody Malfoy was just a little less easy to trigger off.
Tonks is the reason why Gryffindors chant loudly Muggle lyrics at each other when Slytherins walk by.
Vinyls are swapped with Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs because of him, too, though they're less blatantly obnoxious about it. Hufflepuffs sing at each other too, but that's because they like the music and not to purposely get to the Slytherins. Ravenclaws have so far been quieter, but chances are they're trying to spell more Muggle technology to work at Hogwarts.
If she's honest with herself, she hates it mostly because she's kept out of it. She has no chance of knowing the songs, and she hates that whenever she walks past Tonks in the hallways and he hums some fragment of Muggle gibberish under his breath, she won't get it. If she gives in and she demands that he tells her what he's singing, she loses.
It should be noted at this point that losing gracefully has never been part of the manners imparted to the little Blacks. They are Blacks and therefore they do not lose.
But when she walks past him, she doesn't need to look at him to know he's smiling.
They have Potions together. Potions started two minutes ago, now it's just Sirius and her and Sirius' minion in the hallway. Her feet are rooted to the ground.
"Tonks asked you about me? What did he want to know?"
She can hardly recognise her voice. But... Tonks?
Tonks is asking after her?
Great Medea, why?
Sirius shrugs. "Dunno. Stuff. He wanted to know what you're like during the summer, and if you support a team, and if you talked about him at home – stuff like that. I had to warn you. He's a Mud-- a Muggle-born, you know. I think he likes you," Sirius concludes.
He glances at his friend as he bites back the insult, and lowers his head in his shoulders as if he was afraid Andromeda might lash at him for almost using that word. She's never liked it. People such as the Blacks don't need that sort of words to put upstarts back in their places.
This time, she lets it pass.
"I'm late for Potions," is her only reply.
Dazedly, she walks down the stairs and the hallways that separates her from the Potions classroom. She thinks that Nearly-Headless Nick tuts at her at one point.
Tonks? Like her? Can't be.
By the time Slughorn half-heartedly lectures her for being late, she's managed to get a grip on herself again. It's obvious, so obvious she's ashamed she fell for it: Sirius is a prankster. So he thought it'd be funny to get at her a little.
Well, she's going to-- no, he's right. It is pretty funny. Tonks having a crush on her. And better yet, Sirius letting her know about it, as if it would matter to her! Crazy, but funny. Good one, all in all.
And why would she care even if he did? Which he doesn't.
But as she goes to her seat, she catches a glimpse of his smile, out of the corner of her eye.
She can't drive the smile out of her mind for the rest of the hour.
It's the Gryffindors who are the brave ones. It's in the Sorting Song every year.
Hufflepuffs are the boring ones, the ones who have to work harder than any other House for whatever they get. They're the ones who blend in a crowd; if you listen to how the other Houses talk about them, they're the ones who make the crowd. Hufflepuffs are the constant ones.
Even when you try to paint them in a positive light, when you dig for their good qualities, it's difficult to make them glamorous.
Even when you distort the truth a little, the way all Houses do to make themselves glorious and attractive and more (than hearsay) (than first glance) (than the others), it's difficult to make them as glorious and attractive as the others.
Forever doesn't make as much good drama when it's muted in quietness, and when you're eleven, quietness is only ever good for the handful of precocious romantic girls who dream of forbidden romances and a kid who dreams of conquering the world before people notice. And they all go Slytherin, because really, what sort of quietness is it that bids its time until it bursts into a revelation.
Hufflepuff quiet isn't waiting to be shed like serpent skin; Hufflepuff quiet is life.
It begins with a flower that owl post drops in your glass at breakfast. There's no letter attached, and the owl doesn't stop to deliver its wordless message before flying away. You frown and you remove it, crinkling your nose when orange juice trickles from the stem.
"Who's that from?" Bellatrix leans toward you, suspicious and demanding.
"I have no idea," you answer, bemused.
A circular glance around the table tells you that no-one is acting as if they had anything to do at all with the mysterious present. Lucius Malfoy doesn't wink at you and the boys aren't avoiding your gaze either. No-one is blushing.
It's strange, but after a few moments you spend twirling the rose between your fingers, you shrug and push it out of your mind.
Someone probably wanted to get a gift for their girlfriend and gave a confusing description to the school owl. You leave the flower on the table when it's time for you to go to class.
And then nothing and you forget about it.
You remember when there's a flower waiting for you at your seat in Transfiguration.
The flower – a carnation – is laying vibrantly white against the dark wood of the desk. It can't have been simply forgotten there. You let your eyes drift around the classroom, McGonagall is reprimanding a Hufflepuff boy who's lingering with his Ravenclaw girlfriend outside the room.
This is your seat, it's been yours since first year, no-one sits here but you. Could it still be a mistake?
You catch Ted Tonks' eye, on the other side of the room, and you automatically cock your head and arch an eyebrow. He's playing with a quill, all his stuff is already on his desk.
Tonks is the only one who gives you a run for your money in Transfiguration. You always end a step in front of him, though; let it never be said that a Black was bested in Transfiguration.
But sometimes it's only the two of you who get what McGonagall is talking about, and you exchange a glance across the room, and you wonder how it's going to be two years from now, when you'll be the only ones in her NEWTs class.
He doesn't stop smiling; you pick up the flower between your thumb and your forefinger and you show it to him discreetly, arching your eyebrows as much as you can in a silent interrogation, taking him as a neutral witness of your befuddlement. His smile widens, but that might just be --
"Miss Black, class is starting," McGonagall's sharp voice calls you back.
You immediately let go of the flower. "I'm sorry, Professor," you say as you try to pin her to the board with your eyes.
You try to hide the incriminating evidence under the flowing sleeves of your robe as she strides toward you, but too late; the student hasn't been born who can fool Minerva McGonagall.
Across the room, Tonks' pile of books topples spectacularly onto the glass globe next to his desk. The globe contains a skeleton of some creature whose bones are used for the exercises of the second-years and is spelled not to shatter, but the ringing is enough to make McGonagall dart a warning glare toward Tonks.
"Mr Tonks, please be careful with school furniture. And do stop rocking on that chair."
You can feel the petals under your fingers. With your left hand, you quickly remove your wand from your pocket, and you press your lips together as you concentrate on the spell. You need to make it into something small, something you can slip away without her noticing...
"S-sorry, Professor," he says as his chair scrapes against the floor when he leans to right up the glass case and his books.
Wordless magic isn't all that's cracked up to be, you've been practising for years, come on, you can do it, though you wonder why you're making the effort, why you don't just tell McGonagall that you found that on your desk and you didn't know where it comes from, and you're intrigued. But you want to keep this a secret.
If she sees the flower, she'll take it away, and it's yours. You don't like people getting involved with your things.
She stifles a sigh – Tonks crashing into things is hardly a rare occurrence, and there's always a look on her face, half resignation half exasperation when it happens and she turns around to look for the culprit, that says she should have expected it.
When she turns back to measure you up, glasses sternly perched on her nose, all that remains of the flower is a copper button warming the palm of your hand.
"Your book, Miss Black. Your parchment, your quill."
You dive into your satchel. You don't think you've deceived her, but you're not going to complain that she's letting you off the hook. McGonagall isn't the kind of teacher who grills her students on tiny slips of discipline so long as they're not disturbing class. The Transfiguration syllabus, she repeats every September, is busy and arduous, and doesn't allow for wasted time.
At the end of the period you shoo your housemates away. You have things to say to Tonks that you'd rather not have an audience for. You wait for him outside the room, a few feet away from the door.
And you wait.
"Mr Tonks," you hear McGonagall's lassitude, "your next class is about to start."
He mumbles something that sounds like an apology, drowned in the noise he makes as he puts his things away.
You wonder how he manages to spend so much time and make so much noise when you are always the first out of the room. After just one class, the desk he's working on is covered in sheets and scrolls and his ink pot is somewhere in there and it falls on the ground about once a period when he doesn't knock it over his notes, and that's not counting the Muggle rubbish that completes the picture.
It's amazing how he sprawls all over, and it's rather fascinating in the way seeing Muggle-borns swarming over Hogwarts is fascinating. An apt metaphor.
And at the end of the hour he has to put it all away, of course, though you cannot for your life guess how he goes at it. The din he makes implies it's very energy-consuming, at any rate.
You notice with some annoyance that you too are going to be late, if he keeps it up. Unfortunately, you owe him, and Blacks do not shy away from their more unpleasant duties. ...Well, they don't when there's anyone left to testify.
You're really trying to convince yourself, aren't you.
Finally, he exits the classroom. McGonagall must be grading essays; she doesn't come out behind him. His hair is his eye and his bag slings unevenly over his shoulder. His robe looks like it hasn't seen a house-elf's touch for a month. And it's too short for him.
"Thanks." There, you should be done, just one classmate acknowledging the other's help, but from your lips it sounds like sarcasm, so you end up having to explain. "For covering for me."
"That was nothing. Hey, Andromeda," he continues as you stiffly nod and grab your satchel, "I've got something for you."
"I have class," you retort as you walk past him.
He falls in behind you. Doesn't he have somewhere else to be – in the opposite direction? You don't want him here.
It wouldn't have happened if you'd been quicker to hide that flower.
"Here," and he's holding another carnation in front of you.
You almost trip over – you get your balance back before you embarrass yourself completely, but not before he tries to catch your arm – luckily he doesn't manage, since he has his carnation in one hand and his wand in the other. Is Muggle-born clumsiness contagious or what?
"You –what—Tonks, what is that?"
"'T's a flower," he grins. "You know, the things we never see in Herbology? Come on, don't tell me you pureblood types don't have those. Your sister's named after one."
"Of course I know what a flower is," you flares. "And my sister is named after a narcissus. Which this isn't." Your chin jabs toward the offending plant.
"And that's good, because I'm not giving you a flower that's really about your sister."
You ignore the interruption.
"What I mean is why would you give me a flower."
He hasn't taken it away, though you've made no move to accept it. He has his arm extended in front of you, the flower bobbing as you walk.
"Because I thought you might like it? It doesn't bite, you know," he laughs a little when your hands stay firmly clamped around the handle of your satchel.
For the first time since a very long time, excepting some conversations with Sirius, you find yourself searching for words.
"Look, Tonks... I don't hate you."
It's hard, saying that.
You're struggling against more than words, it's your whole education trying to shut you up. It's the first time you say that aloud, without games and without loopholes. You've known for a long time that you don't feel as strongly on the Muggle-born issue as Bellatrix, but until today you never admitted it to yourself, not in such a clear-cut manner.
"But I can't take it."
The protrusions of the stone have suddenly become very interesting.
"It's just a flower," Tonks says softly.
It's still in front of you. Just a flower. Not even one with a particularly heavy symbolism.
"I could make it levitate if you're afraid of cooties."
"Don't be silly," you snap as you wrench the flower from between his fingers before starting again on your way.
Blacks have never put much stock in rules anyway. Rules are for other people.
He laughs, delighted.
Maybe the flower holds its own little Cheering Charm; you wave the flower over your head, and you call without turning to look at him.
"This isn't over, Tonks!"
The promise rings between the two of you.
And it's not; you're a Black and he's a Hufflepuff, not giving up is what you are.
But that's how it begins.
"Be care—watch out!"
In the friendly din of the Three Broomsticks, the warning went unheeded. Narcissa's robes were now sporting a large stain in the front. For a minute, everyone sat frozen at the table, watching the liquid bloat on the table, overflowing and dripping down her lap.
"Damn," Tonks muttered. His right hand, still holding the now half-empty glass, was also covered in the sticky liquid, but he didn't seem overly concerned. "Sorry 'bout that."
"Sorry?" Narcissa hissed. "Sorry? Look what you've done!"
He grimaced. "Sorry."
Narcissa sprang to her feet, her hair jumping in a similar movement.
Slumping against the window, nursing her own Butterbeer, Andromeda couldn't help but think that her sister should definitely count herself lucky not to have received a Butterbeer shampoo as well. Wisely, she kept her opinion for herself.
"Sorry doesn't begin to cover it!" She snarled like a spitting cat. "This--" she pinched the collar of her robe with jerky fingers "--is pure cashmere! And you're a Prefect, I can't believe it, can't you be a little more careful!"
Somewhere under the mass of his hair, Andromeda glimpsed at Tonks' eyebrows flying up.
"Oh," he intoned knowingly.
Narcissa looked vindictively pleased, her blue eyes sparking with an anger that was only just getting started. Narcissa, of course, loved few things as much as making a scene.
Sometimes, Andromeda pondered if dramatics weren't the true motivation behind her sister's passion for Quidditch. Being the Slytherin Quidditch Captain certainly had perks when it came to the attention people pay you, though naturally Andromeda wasn't foolish enough as to risk being shrieked at by saying it. Especially not when Narcissa was working herself into a huff.
"Yes, 'oh'! You cannot spell cashmere clean! Though obviously," Narcissa sniffed, "you can't be expected to know that."
Andromeda closed her eyes and took a sip from her drink. There went the fun afternoon in Hogsmeade with her baby sister.
"Oh, I am ever so sorry," Tonks drawled in the poshest voice he could achieve. The mirror mockery of Lucius Malfoy was almost perfect, his mangled vowels still not accented the right way, but there was no denying the resemblance. "How can I possibly make it up to you?"
Narcissa sputtered. One of the boys let out a growl, which Andromeda wasn't sure was articulate enough to be a grammatical sentence. She drowned her sigh in another sip, eyelids closed. Here was to hoping Narcissa didn't whip her wand out...
Chances of Narcissa retaining even a modicum of common sense were usually so scarce she started when Narcissa didn't, in fact, attempt to hex a Prefect, selecting instead to storm off.
"Narcissa, wait!" The boys scrambled after her, haphazardly grabbing her cloak, the gloves she forgot on the bench, her bag. "Andromeda--" one of them, probably Rosier, hesitated.
With a flick of the hand, she gestured at him that he didn't need to mind her.
"Go on," Andromeda told him against the cool brim of her glass. "I'll catch up to you later. And you," she added for Tonks' benefit once Rosier had scrambled away, "don't you just stand there like a big log."
He set his glass on the table with a clink. Her eyes batted open in surprise.
"You're going to sit here?"
"Yeah," he replied as he half slipped half crawled down on the bench in front of her.
It involved vague, large gestures with his gangly arms, and pulling on parts of his robes that got caught on angles of the bench and the table or were uncomfortably pressed between him and the seat, and twisting in several different directions. All the while, his lips were stretched in a curve that was sometimes an self-conscious smile and sometimes twisted into a grimace.
The consideration that it was no wonder Tonks bumped into things all the time crossed Andromeda's mind.
"You're going to hit someone," she observed as his right hand barely missed a younger girl's loose hair.
"Yeah, well, I did say I was sorry 'bout that..."
Shaking her head, she watched him sending his hand back toward the outer end of the bench, dragging his school bag closer to him.
"You brought that with you?" she interjected, pointing her forefinger at the school bag.
She had heard the gossip about 'the Hufflepuff of Ravenclaw Tower', but she didn't think it went that far. Even Bellatrix, when she was still a student, had known how to call it a day when it was a Hogsmeade week-end.
Then again,crazy work ethics were probably what made Tonks the undisputed top of the year and the most likely candidate for Head Boy next year. He didn't have it as easy as Blacks did, he had to compensate somehow.
He compensated all right. He compensated her into the ground. He compensated so well she could only hope to get better grades than him in Runes, and once every blue moon in Transfiguration. Not that she was jealous of his title as Mister Know-It-All – thank you, she had a life – but being regularly beaten at her own favourite subjects was bloody annoying. His being a Muggle-born was only salt to the wound.
"Hm," he nodded distractedly, his eyebrows locked as he noisily fumbled in his bag. "I have an proposition for you..."
With a grunt, he retrieved a stack of Muggle squared sheets from his bag and proceeded to thump them down on the wooden surface. It was all Andromeda could do to grab her wand and Scourgify the pool of Butterbeer away before he put his things right on top of it.
He blinked. "Oh, thanks."
Andromeda bit her lip. "Think nothing of it."
Tonks nodded happily and began to spread the sheets in front of him. From the recesses of his bag, he also pulled two Muggle pens and pushed one toward her.
"Okay, so you see—" he pointed at one mildly illegible scribble on a sheet he'd extracted from somewhere among the stack that may well be the middle.
"Tonks, what are you doing? You said you had a proposition, I'm waiting."
The interruption didn't seem to throw him. Andromeda felt slightly resentful that it might be because he'd grown used to it. Not that her obvious contempt ever had much of an effect on him, not even when it was much more forced than nowadays.
"McGonagall said we could do next essay in a group, and I was thinking about doing an analysis of Gamp's Law as regards to human transfiguration. Half of his theory relies heavily on Runes," he looked up from his hieroglyphs to stare straight at her. "I was thinking you might be interested."
"You want us to work together?" She didn't try to keep the scepticism out of her voice.
His easy-going air disappeared, replaced with a seriousness Andromeda wasn't sure she'd ever had directed at her. He looked like he was piercing through her, and she shifted uneasily. Chances that a Muggle-born would know Legilimency were ridiculously low, there was no reason for her so start ruffling through her Occlumency mantras...
"I know we haven't always been on the same page, Black, but I think this could really be good. You're better than I am at Runes, anyway."
Silently, she contemplated his words. "We rank the same at Runes," she remarked finally, her tone mild.
"Sure, we got the same marks, but you know more than I do. C'm'on, Black, don't pretend to play humble now," he said impatiently, "you've been waiting for three years for me to admit that. You're better at Runes, I admit it, now if your competitive streak is sated can you please help me?"
He looked frustrated. Which was just as well, because she was frustrated too.
On the one hand, if she agreed, frustration would suddenly feature prominently in her schedule, coinciding exactly with every study session with him.
On the other, if she was honest with herself... She'd love to research that topic.
She almost wished she'd had the idea herself, but she also knew that she wouldn't have been able to do it all alone. It was too vast a question, and there were parts she wouldn't be able to read. She hadn't taken Arithmancy in her third year because it was a difficult class, picking Divination for the easy pass everyone said it was.
Now, three years later, she was blocked in magical theory due to her lack of Arithmancy basics and she'd failed her Divination OWL with a dismal T.
Tonks had dropped Care of Magical Creatures after his OWLs, but he was still going strong in both Arithmancy and Ancient Runes.
She realised she was glaring at him when he started returning her glare.
"I'm not working on Hogsmeade week-ends," she bit out sharply.
"Okay," he retorted in a similar tone.
They kept on staring at each other harshly while Tonks fumbled to put all of his things away, crumpling his papers but refusing to look down all the same.
"Do you want to drink something," he offered in a stilted tone.
"And have you spill it again? I think no, thank you."
His shoulders tensed.
"I said I was sorry."
Andromeda hummed pensively, running her finger against the brim of her glass. She still had a very clear picture of Narcissa's face when Tonks had mimicked Malfoy at her.
"Well, it couldn't hurt her," she decreed, conveniently forgetting how she would have reacted if her favourite robe had received the same treatment. She grinned wickedly. "And it was fun."
Slowly, the corners of Tonks' lips curved up.
"I'll drink to that."
Slowly, without taking his eyes away from hers, he lifted his glass to his lips.
"Let's," Andromeda agreed, her mouth suddenly dry. She gulped down the rest of her beer.