Every time she glanced at the high table, Andromeda's appetite decreased a little more. The first of April was never a happy day for Slytherin House, but the trouble usually came from the Prewetts at the Gryffindor table, not the outwardly benign figure who was twinkling down at the entire hall.
“Finally dieting, Head Girl, dearest?” Lucius Malfoy inquired sweetly.
“Look at him,” Andromeda hissed back, ignoring the jibe. “He's up to something.”
Malfoy yawned, but turned his head to see where she was looking. “The old coot probably has wind.”
“He's twinkling,” Andromeda muttered back. “And his beard's quivering. We're fucked.”
Lucius' spoonful of porridge stopped halfway to his mouth as he regarded her incredulously. “How much thought have you put into this, Andromeda?”
“Wouldn't you, in my shoes?” Andromeda muttered, shooting another glance at Dumbledore.
Lucius' lips thinned and he put his spoon down with a decisive click. “I would not presume to speculate on the concerns of our marvellous leaders, dear Andromeda.” He slid off his seat with an elegant flick of his robes and stalked along the table to deposit himself beside Andromeda's younger sister.
Andromeda rolled her eyes. Did the man never forgive a grudge?
“Which snit was that?” Ianthe Greengrass asked, leaning forward.
“Head boy one,” Andromeda answered with a sigh.
“Can't really blame him for that,” Ianthe said with a sniff. “I mean, really!”
“Tonks is moderately competent for a Gryffindor,” Andromeda said mildly and began to cut her sausages into slightly smaller pieces in the hope of making them look more appetising.
She had managed to finish them by the time Dumbledore tapped his fork against the side of the milk jug. The hall fell silent as everyone turned to look at him in anticipation.
“Good morning,” he said, beaming down on them, “and Happy New Month to each and every one of you. As many of you may be aware, today is the Feast of All Fools, so it struck me as appropriate to announce our plans for the last two weeks of this term. For the next fortnight we shall be celebrating the ancient custom of the Feast of Fools. All shall be made equal. All house common rooms have been made open to all students-”
“-you may attend any lessons you desire, or none at all-”
That got a cheer from the Gryffindor table and a collective twitch from the Ravenclaws.
“-all school rules have been suspended, though I am sorry to tell you Mr Filch has taken a period of leave, so he is unable to share in your general delight. I only ask that you not break any of the laws of the land-”
Andromeda stared along her table of juvenile potion-brewers and hex-hurlers in horror. She sought Lucius' eye and was glad to see he looked as terrified as she felt. He mouthed an apology at her.
“-and of course your new dormitory arrangements are to be found on the lists at the back of the hall!”
That provoked a storm of shouting, particularly from the older students. Andromeda shot to her feet, grabbing at the edge of the table for balance.
Dumbledore waited for the clamour to die down, still twinkling. When at last silence fell, only one other person was left standing.
Ted Tonks glanced at Andromeda, and she shrugged slightly. She was still trying to phrase her protests. Ted nodded and turned towards the high table.
“Sir, he said politely. “This is an April Fool's joke, isn't it?”
Dumbledore smiled down at him. “Not at all, Mr Tonks. A mere day of misrule is not enough at all.”
“But why?” Andromeda blurted out and then scolded herself. There were more eloquent ways to appeal for mercy.
“Because, Miss Black,” Dumbledore said gently, “a joke is a very serious thing. Now, I believe it is time for a change!” He tapped his wand against the milk jug, and Andromeda, along with everyone else, found herself walking away from her seat. In the scrum, it was all she could do not to get squashed, although she managed to bare her teeth at her cousin Sirius as he trotted past and shouted, “No lessons! This is the best day ever!”
Minutes later, she found herself sitting at the Ravenclaw table, missing her hair ribbon and feeling distinctly battered. Someone else's abandoned breakfast sat in front of her, smeared with strawberry jam.
Ted Tonks backed into the bench opposite with a yelp, flailing as his legs turned him round and sat him down firmly. His elbow landed in the butter dish and he dropped his head after it with a heartfelt groan.
“I hardly think that's going to help,” Andromeda snapped and dug out her wand to spell the plate clean. Now the worst had happened she was beginning to feel hungry.
He lifted his head to glare at her. “Black. Wonderful.”
“I'm not happy about it, either,” Andromeda snapped. It was bad enough that she had to work with him. Having to watch him eat was beyond all fairness.
“Dumbledore has finally gone completely and utterly bonkers, hasn't he?” Tonks said, wiping his buttery elbow on his robes.
“For the first and possibly only time in my life,” Andromeda said, pouring herself some pumpkin juice, “I find myself in complete agreement with you.”
“Bloody hell,” Tonks muttered, reaching for a piece of toast. “The world really has turned upside down.”
Over at the Hufflepuff table, Dumbledore clapped his hands in the air, making the little Pettigrew boy at his side jump inches off the bench.
“Take your time over breakfast everyone! For myself, I think I'm going to enjoy a quick game of Quidditch this morning, should anyone care to join me. I was quite the Keeper in my day, you know.”
Andromeda covered her eyes and hoped desperately that this was all a terrible dream.
Given the choice, Andromeda would have preferred not to have started her morning by walking smack into Ted Tonks in his pyjamas. It didn't help that he yelped like a girl and jumped backwards into the low doorway behind him.
Andromeda crossed her arms over her breasts, suddenly afraid that the thick cotton wasn't modest enough for decency. “Look where you're going, Tonks!”
He glared at her, rubbing the back of his head gingerly. “You're the one who just tried to walk into the boys' dorm.”
Andromeda stared at him in dismay for a moment, before leaning round to look past him. Sure enough, the little round room beyond was full of beds. Lionel Lovegood waved at her cheerfully and then turned back to his book. A large lump in the other bed was probably Goyle.
“I was looking for the bathroom,” she said, tipping her head back to glare at Tonks. Why was he so abominably tall? Couldn't he step back a little?
“You didn't find it.”
“It's not my fault all the doors in here look the same!” she snapped, glaring around the Hufflepuff common room. It was certainly cosy enough, with its low ceiling and scattered armchairs, and it would have been convenient to have all the dorms and bathrooms open off the circular common room had every door not been an identical five foot wide circle. It lacked in atmosphere, though, and abundance of humorously shaped cushions was undignified.
“It's not my fault I'm now living in a beehive.”
Tonks grinned quickly. “Hobbit hole.”
“A what?” she asked blankly.
His smile vanished. “You wouldn't have read it, Black. You people don't approve of Muggle Literature, do you?”
That had damn well better not be pity in his eyes. Merlin knew that she was as liberal as anyone, but how dare he? “I wasn't aware that Muggles had literature, Tonks.”
He leant forward, scowling. “I'm well aware of your prejudices, Black.”
She felt her fists curl. “You have no idea-”
There was crash behind them, and one of the doors crashed opening, hinges squealing, in time for a knot of shrieking, battling first year boys to roll out onto the floor.
“Shit!” Tonks said and shoved past her to dive at them.
Andromeda, startled by the sudden warm collision, hesitated a moment before she went after him. By then she'd recognised at least one of the combatants, so she went straight for him, grabbing his shoulders and lugging him backwards.
“Lemme go!” her cousin Sirius yelled, flailing wildly. “I'm going to kill him! Where's my wand! Lemme go!”
“Stop that!” Andromeda snapped, dragging him away from the fray. He might only come up to her elbow, but he was all muscle and violence. He'd make a hell of beater after his growth spurt.
He stilled, staring up at her in shock. “Meda! You're here too!”
All the dorms were open now and people were crashing out in disarray, a frantic muddle of all four houses, trying hard not to bump elbows with each other.
“Cor,” a pleased voice said by Andromeda's elbow. “Did you give him that shiner, squirt?”
Sirius smirked. Andromeda dug her nails into his shoulder warningly and looked over to where Tonks and Lionel were still trying to separate James Potter, Severus Snape, Simon Jones and Theodosius Fawcett. She winced and scowled down at the boy crouched beside her. “You won't be laughing when I take points off Gryffindor, Mr Prewett.”
“Snape started it!” Sirius yelped, starting to struggle again. “He hexed me first!”
The Prewett grinned up at her gleefully. “You can't take points, Black. Gid and I checked yesterday – all the counters are stuck at full. There's no rules to be broken. It's beautiful.”
“Oh, Merlin,” Andromeda said faintly. Sirius' eyes had gone wide with awe and he stilled, a slow smile spreading across his face.
“Oy, Potter!” he yelled shrilly. “Did you hear that?”
The Potter kid, without his glasses and with his pyjamas smouldering gently at the hems, allowed himself to be dragged away by Alice Royston, one of the Gryffindor prefects. “Hear what?”
“Nobody can take any points, you blind bedbug! We're free!”
“I can still write to your-” Andromeda started, but was cut off by a shriek from the other side of the common room. Through an open door she could see a small redhead with her arms over her head as the water from the tap behind her ran upwards. Someone had found the bathrooms.
“Ah,” the Prewett said dreamily, “there goes the Anti-Gravity Mist.”
“Someday, somehow,” Andromeda hissed at him as she started to fight her way to the rescue, “you are going to pay for this!”
Now I'm rolling ^_^
The only people in Andromeda's Advanced Potions class on Wednesday morning were Ted Tonks, Frank Longbottom, Alice Royston and a small, scowling Severus Snape. He glanced up at her warily as she walked in, but she decided to ignore him. Let Dumbledore take the blame if he poisoned anyone.
“Where's Slughorn?” she asked, putting her books down a little too hard. Not only had she had a letter she didn't want to think about and no breakfast, but she'd also just spent half an hour undoing an elegant and complex hex which had set one Prewett to burping tulips and the other daffodils. She just wanted this damn feast of fools to be over.
“Napping,” Tonks said, drumming his fingers against the rim of the cauldron as he shook diced mallow root into it.
“Napping,” she repeated, and found herself staring at his hands. They were such restless hands, long-fingered and strong. She couldn't imagine what it would be like to have such hands.
“Asleep,” he said, fingers still tapping. “Snoozing. Snoring, even. We're working from the textbook.”
“Right,” Andromeda said and reached for her textbook. It seemed ungainly in her hands and she stared down at it.
Frank turned round and opened the book for her. “Doxycide. It's on the syllabus and some of the Ravenclaw third years got creative with their summoning charms.” Then, more softly, “Is something wrong, Andromeda?”
She gave him a thin smile and shook her head. He was one of the few friends she had outside her house and he might understand, for all that old Augusta wasn't half the traditionalist her parents were, but she wasn't going to discuss this in Potions, in front of Gryffindors and children.
She began to chop her own roots, her hands automatically moving to keep her cuts crisp and precise. Looking at the neat piles, she wondered why she bothered. She had no need to succeed; no career depending upon her results.
“Good lord,” Alice said, her voice sharp with amusement. “Did you lose a fight with a chimney sweep, Malfoy?”
Andromeda looked up, her heart sinking. Lucius Malfoy stood in the doorway, his usual sly smile replaced by a scowl and his pale hair coated with soot. His robes, usually immaculate, were smeared and blackened.
“If,” he started icily, “the Gryffindor prefects cannot control the members of their house, I suggest altogether too much trust has been placed in them.”
“If you think you can do better,” Tonks said, without looking up, “I'm sure Dumbledore will let us transfer the twins to Slytherin for a week or two.”
Lucius stalked past him without an answer, dropping his bag on the bench beside Andromeda.
“Doxycide,” she said quietly, not wanting to look at him.
He swept off again without a word, pausing on the way to collect his ingredients to murmur advice to little Snape and to switch the wireless on.
“You could ask,” Alice snapped.
“Do you object, Royston?” he asked, picking over the remaining roots.
“No, but you're still an arrogant-”
“Leave it, Alice,” Tonks said.
Lucius came back to the bench and set to work. It was not until the others had settled back to work and the wireless was pumping out the Gillygirls' latest, that he said softly, “I saw your owl arrive this morning.”
“So they've told you too?” Andromeda murmured back.
“They have.” He hesitated, pulling apart mushrooms slowly. “I have no wish to injure your feelings, Andromeda, but I cannot pretend the news is in any way welcome to me.”
Well, that was one weight off her shoulders. “I am in complete agreement with you.” She looked up from her work, managing to twist a smile onto her face. “So, any suggestions?”
He lifted one shoulder in a slow shrug. “Stall, if possible. I am as loyal to the blood as any, but I admit I had hoped for a different alliance.”
“Is it an acceptable counterproposal?” Andromeda asked, biting back a quiver of hope.
His hands stilled on the bench. Then he said, “The lady will not be of age until the autumn.”
“Oh, hell,” Andromeda said, a little too loudly. Frank turned around again, mouthing a query. Tonks was staring at them, tapping a slow, thoughtful beat against the bench.
They went back to working in silence. When Tonks finally looked away, Andromeda said softly, “My father wishes to regain control of the Ministry. For him, the need for alliance is urgent.”
“Then we may have no choice,” Lucius said heavily. “We have a duty to our bloodlines.”
Andromeda could not answer. She had known for years that she would marry at her family's command, yet with each passing year a greater part of her began to see her blood as less of a defence than a prison.
Lucius waited. Andromeda shook her head a little and began to shake the powdered asphodel into her cauldron. “We are Slytherin,” she said at last. “We survive.”
“Your house has the right of it.”
“Toujours Pur,” she said bitterly and watched as the asphodel turned her potion black.
Just after the Hufflepuff cuckoo clocks had cooed the notes of midnight, Andromeda gave up trying to sleep and slipped out of bed. She dragged her school robes over her nightdress and walked out quietly, not wanting to wake any of the other girls in the dorm. She was the only Slytherin, and the only member of an old family, who had ended up here and she couldn't face the task of explaining the situation to these halfbloods and muggleborns. She missed Ianthe and the other girls in her house, who would understand, even if they had little sympathy.
She might go in search of them, once she'd had a chance to sit in the silence and think. The house elves should still at work, so she could go to the kitchens and get some hot chocolate or milk to soothe her nerves.
When she stepped out into the common room, however, the first person she spotted was her cousin Sirius, sitting cross-legged in front of the fire. He was still in his robes and was grinning to himself, so she bit back a sigh and went to investigate.
“Expecting a Floo?” she inquired.
He jumped. “Meda!”
“What are you up to?”
“Nothing!” he said quickly, shuffling his wand up his sleeve and turning his head away. “I just don't particularly feel like sleeping in a bed tonight.”
Andromeda knelt down beside him and grabbed his chin, turning his face towards her. Across his forehead a line of neat red pimples read Nose picker. She rolled her eyes. “Severus again? Who started it?”
“Me,” Sirius admitted, scowling and squirming. “I had to hex him, though, Meda, honest I did.”
“Of course,” Andromeda said drily.
“I had to!”
“Hush,” she said, and dug out her wand. “I've got some lotion which should heal these.”
“Really?” asked Sirius, expression brightening. “Remus was going to make me one of those scarf things, like pirates wear, but Pete said it might fall off which would be rubbish.”
She summoned the lotion silently and set to work on his face. “What started it this time?”
“He said you were going to marry Lucius Malfoy!”
“Ah,” Andromeda said and busied herself with screwing the lid back on the jar.
“Meda?” he whispered. “You're not?”
“It's a family decision,” she said quietly. Let him understand this now, before his turn came.
“But I don't like him. He took points off us just for existing. I don't want you to marry him.”
She laughed, despite the cold feeling in her stomach. “Oh, Sirius. It's not that easy.”
“Well, it should be,” Sirius asserted, twisting his robes in his fists. “You don't want to marry him, do you?”
That made her laugh again, a little more freely. “It's duty, darling. I'll do what the family needs.”
“Well, you shouldn't!” he burst out. “It's not fair.”
She reached out to ruffle his hair. “Gryffindor.”
“Well, it's not,” he said mutinously.
“Go to bed, Sirius,” she said, feeling a generation away from him. “And apologise to Severus in the morning.”
He shot a quick glance at the fireplace. “I think I might just sit out here a little longer, actually.”
“Really?” she said and moved onto the nearest sofa. “What a nice idea. I think I might join you.”
“Oh, you don't have to,” he assured her, grey eyes wide and guileless. “I'm just going to think, y'know, apologising thoughts.”
“You do that,” Andromeda said and curled up on the end of the sofa, tucking her feet in.
“Which absolutely have to be done alone,” Sirius tried. “In case I, um, get confused and hit him by mistake.”
“How do you hit someone by mistake?”
He sighed heavily. “With Snape, it's easy. I just see him and it happens. Pow. Ted says I've got poor control of my impulses.”
“Does he?” Andromeda murmured.
“Yeah.” He looked into the fire dreamily. “But I think it's just 'cause I like hitting Snape.”
He shot her a sly look. “See, you've already distracted me.”
“Nice try, chicken,” an amused voice said behind them. “But none of us were born yesterday.”
Andromeda jumped, glancing round to see Alice strolling towards them. The Gryffindor prefect dropped into the chair opposite and grinned at them. “We must stop meeting like this, my poppet.”
“How do you always know?” Sirius demanded, shoulders sagging.
“Years of experience,” another voice said and Ted Tonks flopped onto the sofa beside Andromeda. “Where's your partner in crime?”
“My what?” Sirius said, blinking at them. “I can't think who you're talking about, Ted. I've never-”
Andromeda raised an eyebrow. “Potter, I presume.”
“Oh, you mean James,” Sirius said. “That would be James Potter, my good friend James-”
“Who is also missing from his bed,” Ted said over him.
“Really,” Sirius said, shuffling towards the fireplace. “How extraordinary. Now, it's funny you should say that because just the other day-”
The fire suddenly flared. Andromeda, making a wild guess, grabbed Sirius and pressed her hand over his mouth.
“Hrumph,” he said just as a small, soot-coated boy shot out of the fireplace, swiftly followed by two others, who went crashing into the floor and the nearest pile of cushions.
“It works!” the first proclaimed, rubbing at his blackened glasses with his pyjama sleeve. “The Prewetts were right-”
“-and we can go anywhere!” The round one squeaked, from where he had landed spread-eagled on the carpet.
“-Snape's never going to know what hit him,” came a muffled voice from where a skinny pair of legs stuck out of the cushion pile.
“Mmmmuph!” Sirius tried.
“-the staffroom, the kitchens, the Slytherin common room-”
“Hogwarts is ours, boys! All ours!” Potter shoved his glasses back on and then trailed off. “All... Oh, not again.”
“Nice to see you, too,” Alice said, grinning. Sirius struggled a bit harder and Andromeda let him go before he took her arms off.
“I tried to warn you!” he burst out.
“I think,” Pettigrew said gloomily, “that when it comes to warnings, trying isn't enough. S'like sponge puddings.”
The Lupin boy finally untangled himself from the cushions and looked around warily. Andromeda, who had always had the vague impression that he was well-behaved, regarded him in astonishment.
“Perhaps one of you would be kind enough to explain precisely why you are gallivanting around the fireplaces in the middle of the night?” Tonks suggested.
“Ah,” the Potter boy said, running his sooty hands through his hair until it stood on end. “It was like this-”
Lupin cleared his throat and said, rather apologetically, “Er, Ted, I don't think we were actually breaking any rules. Seeing as, well, there aren't any these days.”
The other three turned to look at him. Then, as one, grins spread over their faces and they turned back towards Tonks.
“In fact, you could say,” Lupin continued, scuffing his foot against the carpet, “that as Dumbledore unlocked the internal Floo network, he was actually encouraging-”
“Bed!” Tonks growled.
Sirius and Potter exchanged triumphant glances.
“But not,” Andromeda put in, “until you've emptied your hands and your pockets.”
Four sets of shoulders slumped. Andromeda watched in mild amazement as they produced a sizable pile of contraband, including a pot of Floo powder, a pink wig, a bell jar full of doxies and a slumbering baby mandrake root with plugs in its ears.
“Good lord,” Alice said faintly. “Right, I'll deal with this haul.”
“I'll supervise here,” Andromeda said, “if Tonks doesn't mind returning these young gentlemen to their respective dormitories.”
“I'll glue them to their sheets while I'm at it,” muttered Tonks.
“You can't do that!” Potter protested. “What if the school burns down and-”
Under the glare of Head Boy, Head Girl and a Gryffindor prefect, he shut up fast.
Tonks plucked the pot of Floo powder out of the pile and seized Lupin first. “Right. Where have they stashed you?”
“Ravenclaw,” Lupin said wistfully, allowing himself to be dragged back towards the fireplace.
Alice scooped up the most dangerous items of contraband and started towards the portrait hole.
Sirius glanced at Andromeda hopefully. He began to sidle towards the pile.
“You know,” she said mildly, turning her wand over in her hands, “with no school rules, there's nothing to stop me from hexing someone until their toenails start singing opera.”
Sirius skidded back to Potter's side.
Half an hour later, all four miscreants were back in their beds and their plunder had been locked away safely. Alice had beaten Tonks back by mere minutes and they had all crashed down in front of the fire again.
“Forgive me for asking,” Andromeda said, watching the fire dance. “But how did you know they were out of bed?”
Tonks and Alice shared an amused look. “Magic,” Tonks said, leaning back into the sofa with a smirk.
“After the great points disaster last term,” Alice said wryly, “we charmed the lot of them so we'd be woken up every time they were out of bed without permission.”
“They'll figure out the counterspell eventually,” Tonks said, turning to look at Andromeda. “Until then, it reduces the damage.”
Andromeda relaxed. Damn it, why couldn't he be this easygoing all the time? There was no need to take blood differences so personally. “I'm surprised you're getting any sleep,” she said lightly.
“Not much,” he said and raised an eyebrow at her. “Not condemning our ethics?”
She smiled at him and felt some of the tension slip out of her spine and shoulders. “I may yet, but not until you've taught me the charm. I can think of some of our little beauties who could do with watching.”
She expected him to comment, but he simply stared at her, looking pleased. She frowned back, uneasy. What had she said?
After a while, Alice cleared her throat and said, “On the subject of sleep, my ducks, I think I prefer my bed to this chair, so I'm off.”
Andromeda climbed to her feet, not quite sure why she felt so reluctant to move. At least she was sleepy now. “Good idea. Until the morning, then.”
She was almost back to the door of the dorm when he said softly, “Andromeda.”
She spun, startled. She'd been working with him for months and he'd never used her name. “What?”
He smiled quickly, his whole face suddenly bright and open. “Goodnight.”
“Oh,” she said, puzzled. “Goodnight.”
He smiled again and then strode off to his own room, leaving her standing in doorway, feeling as if a large part of the conversation had been missing.
“Bloody Dumbledore,” Alice muttered, stumbling towards her bed. “He had to send the whole school bonkers as well, didn't he?”
Chapter 5: A Feast of Fools (5/14)
I finally gave in and accepted the official birthdates for the Black sisters. As a result, this contradicts other things I've written in the Rising Storm universe. So, er, bifurcated trousers of time, etc.
At noon, every fireplace in the castle began to sing, in swelling operatic tones. The flames swirled up, turning into flaming hawks which swooped around the ceilings, dripping sparks in their wake.
Andromeda, who was hiding in the Slytherin common room, took refuge under a table with her sister Narcissa, who was beating out the sparks in her pale pigtails.
“Are you okay?” Andromeda asked.
Narcissa sucked the end of her finger, nodding firmly. She had abandoned school robes in favour of a Harpies strip, though she had at least pinned them shut with her Quidditch Captain badge. After a moment she said, “No damage done. I hope they disappear before one. I've booked the pitch.”
“Halfway through the school day?” Andromeda protested. “You're supposed to be preparing for your OWLs!”
Narcissa gave her a blank stare, blue eyes wide and disbelieving. “But the Hufflepuff match is coming up, Meda, and Longbottom's better than people think. If we take this one, we don't have to rely on Ravenclaw thrashing Gryffindor next term. Don't you want to win again?”
“I want you to pass some exams too,” Andromeda snapped and stuck her head out. A whoosh of flame roared past and she ducked in again with a squeak.
Narcissa sniffed. “Really, Meda, I don't need OWLs to play professionally for a few years.”
“Odd as it may sound,” Andromeda said, eyeing her abandoned essay across the common room, “there is more to life than Quidditch.”
“Well, there is,” she muttered as she heard the portrait hole click open.
“Where is everyone?” she heard Lucius say. “Fuck!”
“Down here!” Narcissa shouted, leaning out for a second.
Lucius came barrelling in, his robes smoking and his hair in disarray. Narcissa patted at his arms helpfully as he drew his legs up to fit safely under the desk. “What happened in here?”
“Someone's enchanted the fireplaces, one presumes,” Andromeda said.
“Have you tried to end the spell?”
She didn't even grace that with an answer.
“It's coming from beyond the fires,” Narcissa told him eagerly. “With the Floo network open-”
“Elegantly deduced,” he purred, smiling at her. “Can we speculate on the source?”
“Ravenclaw,” Andromeda said. “No one else would bother making the fires sing in harmony.”
“And they're probably trying to sabotage our chances against Hufflepuff!” Narcissa said frantically.
“What by stopping an illicit extra prac-” Andromeda started.
Lucius put his hand on Narcissa's shoulder, leaning forward to say, “Never fear. We will not be defeated by such underhand tactics. Get your team out and your sister and I will cover your retreat.”
“What?” Andromeda said.
Narcissa's face lit up. “Oh, thank you. At least somebody supports the team!”
Andromeda shut her mouth before she said something Bella-ish.
“On three, then,” Lucius murmured. “Cold water, I believe, Andromeda dear.”
For a moment she was tempted to leave him to it, but it wasn't quite worth the family spat. Sighing, she gripped her wand in readiness.
“One, two, and three!”
“Everybody out!” Narcissa shrieked, hurling herself up. “Quidditch team first!”
A firehawk came at her and Andromeda took aim, knocking it back with the force of the water shooting out of her wand. On the other side of the table, Lucius was using an overstuffed sofa for cover, grinning as he took aim. Andromeda dropped into a crouch of her own, aiming over the heads of her fleeing housemates.
By the time the last squealing firstie had tumbled out of the portrait hole, the flames were all out and the ceiling was dripping. Andromeda picked her way across the room to her abandoned essay, only to discover that it was both singed and sodden. Even Binns would object if she tried to hand it in now.
Irritated, she turned back to face Lucius, folding her arms. He was leaning against the wall beside the portrait hole, fussing with his hair.
“My younger sister,” she said mildly.
Lucius lifted an eyebrow at her and went back to brushing ashes off his sleeve.
“Who will be seventeen in November,” Andromeda added.
“Will she?” Lucius said, not meeting her eye.
“Lucius,” she said softly. “This could resolve our dilemma. All our parents desire is to mix our bloodlines. They can have no objection.”
He looked up sharply, and she saw the flicker as he abandoned his pretence. “What does your sister dream of doing after Hogwarts.”
“Seeker for the Holyhead Harpies,” Andromeda said, flicking her hand dismissively.
“Until the end of my second year,” Lucius said, still looking at the air above her head, “I wanted nothing more to be a curse breaker for Gringotts. Let Narcissa keep her dream a little longer.”
“You risk too much. If you marry me, that will end it. Narcissa is ferocious in her loyalties.”
His smile twisted up, distorting his face. “I know. Andromeda, I cannot risk offending your family. If you wish to end this quickly, the scandal must be entirely of your own making. Otherwise, give me time.”
“How long?” she asked, feeling her fists tighten behind her robes. She loved her sisters, despite every slight and quarrel. Narcissa, though she would deny it, was still little more than a child, innocent of the cold politics her family played. If the price for her own freedom was her sister's dreams, she did not know if she would be able to choose.
“Until Narcissa looks at me and sees more than her Reserve Keeper.”
Andromeda closed her eyes. All she had ever anticipated was a few more months of freedom. She had long since put aside any wilder dreams. She could not change the blood in her veins. She would always be a Black, whatever befell her, and she would not wish for anything that would shame her name.
So, for her family, she would put her dreams aside.
A few moments later, she felt the brush of a chaste kiss against her cheek, and Lucius murmured, “Thank you.”
Even after the portrait hole clicked shut behind him, Andromeda did not open her eyes.
Now spring had slipped out of the shadow of winter, the evenings were stretching out again, hinting at summer. Andromeda looked up from her books for a moment to look out of the window at the long shadows stretching towards the forest. The greenhouse roofs gleamed and she could see the breeze running over the forest, lifting the spring-bright boughs in a slow rise and fall.
She had cracked the window open earlier and she could still hear distant shouts from outside. She ignored them. With the younger years running wild, she had abandoned most of her own lessons and was trying to fit private study around keeping order.
The Gryffindor and Ravenclaw prefects were on patrol at the moment, so she had locked herself into the study beside the Prefects' room that she shared with Tonks. Although the stone floors were cold, she had put the fire out and transfigured some of Tonks' quills into slippers. She was sick of Floo-orientated mischief.
The breeze was getting cold, so she rose to close the window. The view was a little dimmer through glass, and she found herself fighting off the urge to press her forehead against the window and just watch the evening fade. Shrugging it off, she turned back towards her desk in time to see the portraits around the door burst into chaos.
Portly old wizards and stern young witches in wimples went scrambling to the sides of their portraits as a knight in full armour charged through their pictures, bellowing, “An attack! A cowardly attack! To arms!”
“Sir Cadogan?” Andromeda said. “Sir Cadogan?”
The door rattled as someone tried to open it from the other side.
“Who's there?” Andromeda called, picking up her wand. “Tonks?”
“It's Alice! Let us in!”
She unlocked the door quickly and gasped as Alice and Tonks stumbled in. Both were bloodied and he was leaning on her shoulder, his face pale.
“What happened?” Andromeda gasped, darting over to help them.
“Jinx,” Alice snapped. Her eyes were wide with worry and her hair had slipped out of its clip to straggle around her face. “Ted took the worst of it.”
“Get a fire lit,” Andromeda said, wrapping her arm around Tonks' waist and pulling him towards the couch. Alice relinquished him to stagger towards the fireplace and Andromeda swayed for balance as she took his full weight.
“I can walk,” he gasped.
“Course you can,” Andromeda said, towing him sideways. “Get the Floo up, Alice.”
“I'm fine,” he insisted, trying to pull away. “I- fuck!” He grabbed at his arm, curling around it with a cry as his fist clenched into her robes.
Andromeda flung her other arm around him and backed them both into the couch. A push had him dropping down, still shuddering. His fist was still knotted into her sleeve so she was dragged down with him to kneel beside the couch.
“What's wrong?” she said, twisting round to look at his arm. His hands were bleeding, but the blood was crusted on his wrists, thick and black. When she touched it, it crumbled into dust.
“Tonks,” she said, her shock turning cold and hard. “You're bleeding mud.”
“What?” Alice said on a breath, spinning away from the fire.
“Get that lit!” Andromeda snapped, flicking out her wand. “Finite Incantatem.”
Tonks flinched again, biting back more swearwords. “Didn't, fuck, work.”
“Who hit you?” she asked, looking down. His fingers looked grey. If his blood was really turning into mud-
“Never saw them. Behind us.”
Alice hissed in triumph as the fire flared up. “Floo powder, Black?”
“On the mantelpiece. Did they miss you?”
Alice shook her head, scrabbling the lid off the jar. “Blasted us both in the back. Winded me, but they sent Ted into that old suit of armour on the corner.” She got the lid off and hurled powder into the Floo. “Hospital wing!”
“You cut your hand on something?” Andromeda asked sharply.
“Yes. Fuck. Can't feel my fingers. Wouldn't put a cursed statue in the corridor.”
“Oh, he would,” Andromeda said, not pushing at the puzzle too hard because if she did she'd lose the solution. Instead she busied herself with pulling his outer robes off. Pomfrey would need to get at his arm.
“I could get the wrong id- shit.”
She patted his shoulder absently and felt the answer click into place. It was the work of a moment to grab his shoulders hard enough to roll him so his arm dangled off the couch, though she wasn't expecting his whole weight to come crashing into her shoulder. She shoved his legs back as he yelped something incoherent into her neck.
His ear was by her mouth so she lowered her voice to say, “Shut up. I think you've been poisoned. Now get out of my way so I can get to my wand.”
He lifted his head, eyes narrowing. “What?”
“Constringe! she murmured and smiled as his arm frosted over.
“Bloody hell! Frostbite!”
“New arms are easy,” she told him, tipping him away gently. “If your heart turns to mud, that's it. Stay still.” She didn't know a spell to make bandages, so she tugged the broad ribbon out of her hair .
“Tourniquet?” Tonks asked. “Won't your spell work?”
“A back up never hurt,” she said, trying to shake her loose hair out of her way.
She jumped when a warm hand slid around her cheek to scoop it back. “What makes you think it's poison?”
“Logical deduction,” she said, tightening the ribbon around his upper arm. “An alien concept to a Gryffindor, I'm sure.”
“About as alien as explanations are to Slytherins,” he said mildly.
She snorted, eyeing her work dubiously. He'd stopped convulsing, so she'd done something right. If they were lucky it would hold. “You were both hit by the same hex, but you cut yourself open. The spell seems to be centred on that cut. Most cursed objects would work on all your extremities in order to reduce the chance of you casting a counterspell, and if you make one slur on my bloodline I'll poison you properly, Ted Tonks, so stop looking at me like that.”
“I wasn't going to say a word,” he assured her, and the ripple of amusement in his voice made her look away.
“In addition, poison is a cautious weapon, and as I imagine most of your enemies are-”
“Devious Slytherins who'd gladly see a muggleborn dead?” he suggested.
She wished she could argue with him, but she knew better. Blood mattered and there were always young fools in the world who would try to turn that knowledge into action. She would have to watch her house carefully over the next few days, until she could identify the perpetrators and take appropriate action. If it was one of the younger ones, it should be enough to make them realise the end of their nastiness could have been murder. If it was one of the older ones...
...she hoped it wasn't.
The hand in her hair shifted to cup her cheek. “Andromeda?”
“I apologise on their behalf,” she said quietly. “We are not uncivilised.”
“Unless you did it, it's not your responsibility to apologise.”
That made her laugh. “The actions of one reflect on us all.”
“Slytherins,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Gryffindors,” she said back in the same tone.
Behind them the fire flared up. Andromeda untangled herself and went to help Madam Pomfrey.
It was not until she was alone again that she let herself sit down. Now, ridiculously, her hands began to shake and she closed her eyes to gather strength.
And tried not to take comfort in the faint ghost of his touch on her cheek.
“...so McGonagall's spitting kittens and we're all to keep our ears and eyes open,” Tonks finished. “Andromeda and I have been discussing what else we can do, but I'm afraid the main burden is going to fall on you folks.”
Andromeda cleared her throat, aware that some of the other prefects were eyeing her thoughtfully. She and Tonks divided their duties efficiently, but they didn't generally work together. She tapped her wand on the pile of paper in front of her and watched the pages fly out around the table to settle before each of the others.
“The staff have agreed to take over evening and late patrols,” she said. “In return, they've requested that we patrol during school hours. They'll be encouraging students to attend more lessons.”
“But we miss all of ours?” Dearborn, one of the Ravenclaw prefects, yelped. “Can't Dumbledore just reinstate the rules?”
“You'd think so,” Tonks said sourly. His arm was still bandaged. “He refuses.”
“Why?” wailed Daffyd Powell. “Does he want us all to get murdered in the corridors!”
“One suspects he is making a point,” murmured Lucius, scanning his schedule. “In his usual charmless style.”
“And you won't get murdered,” Andromeda said firmly, shooting Lucius a quelling glare. “Carry Floo powder. Getting Tonks up to the infirmary fast made all the difference last night.”
“That and the fact Black here kept her head,” Alice broke in.
“Ah, the pack are loyal to their leader,” Lucius breathed. Andromeda glared at him again and stretched out carefully until she could kick him hard in the shin. She shook back the twitch of discomfort at the way everyone was staring at her and said, “Right. Any other business?”
“Quidditch!” Narcissa said, shooting to her feet. “Quidditch!”
Andromeda blinked at her. That was taking the family tendency towards obsession a little far. “Quidditch?” she echoed.
Dearborn cleared his throat. “Dumbledore's postponed the Slytherin-Ravenclaw match. He's also, ah, suggested that no more than three members of any house may use the pitch at any one time.”
“Suggested?” Tonks asked, propping his bandaged arm on the table with a faint wince.
“The fourth person rapidly finds themselves flying away from the pitch,” Dearborn said. “It's a disaster, Ted. We can't practice at all.”
“He's gone insane!” Narcissa hissed. “Doesn't he understand how important this is!”
“More important than people trying to murder the Head Boy?” Andromeda asked before she could stop herself.
Narcissa turned a tragic face towards her. “You don't understand.”
“Charming,” Tonks said with a chuckle. “Can't you practice three at a time?”
“No!” Narcissa and Dearborn said in chorus and then eyed each other warily.
“Scratch teams?” Alice suggested. “Mix and match. Put together a mini tournament this week and at least everyone will have had some proper practice.”
“No!” Narcissa said, but Dearborn was frowning thoughtfully.
“Actually,” he said, “that's not such a bad idea.”
“It's a terrible idea!”
He smirked faintly. “You turning down the chance to see some other team's players in action?”
Narcissa hesitated. Then she smiled slowly.
Lucius cleared his throat. “A suggestion?”
“Go ahead,” Andromeda told him.
“Why restrict yourself to four teams? Bring in some of your reserves and next year's hopefuls. A match situation has to be better than the usual trials.”
Narcissa's eyes widened. “Oh. You're wonderful.”
For a second, Lucius' smile was honest. Then it curled into a smirk and he sat back, murmuring, “Of course.”
“Right,” Andromeda said, before anyone could start speculating. “Anything else? No. In that case, the meeting is closed and we have patrols to make.”
The younger prefects left in a rush, babbling about Quidditch and patrols. Frank and Alice went to speak to Tonks. Andromeda took a moment to lean in towards Lucius and murmur, “If you keep flirting with my sister in public, we'll never manage this.”
He arched an eyebrow at her. “Forgive me. I was under the impression you were setting that useful scandal in motion.”
“What?” she asked blankly.
He tipped his head towards Tonks.
“Are you out of your mind!” she snapped and didn't realise that her voice had risen until the others swung to stare at her. She turned her back on them and said more softly, “A good deed is a good deed. No more.”
Lucius rose to his feet with an amused smile. “I wasn't talking about your deeds, my dear.” He dipped his head to the others and swept out.
Andromeda stared after him, baffled.
“Lover's spat?” Tonks asked mildly.
“No!” she said, jerking round to face him.
“So you're not engaged to him?”
She shrugged. “That's not personal. Great Merlin, is it round the whole school?”
“Pretty much,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “How is a marriage not personal?”
She looked around for help, but Alice was already pulling Frank out the door. Frank shrugged at her apologetically, but didn't hesitate. Andromeda sighed and perched on the desk beside Tonks.
“There were Muggle rulers called the Hapsburgs. They employed a great many wizards,” she started.
“Holy Roman Empire,” he said. “Married into every royal family in Europe.”
She hadn't really expected him to know that. “A Gryffindor who reads?”
He grinned at her. “Read? Why would I want to do that when I could just run around and blow things up? One of my sisters is reading History. She's up at Newnham.”
The note of pride in his voice sidetracked her. “You have sisters?”
“Four of them. I'm the youngest.” He grinned at her. “Only wizard in the set as well.”
She shook her head wonderingly. “That must be strange.”
“Denise has her books and I've got spells. We get by.”
“Right,” she said. “Did your sister ever mention Charles II of Spain?”
“Bloke who was too inbred to close his mouth?”
“That's the one,” she said drily. “Nothing a good mediwizard couldn't fix, but inbreeding brings other problems.”
“I have met your older sister.”
She shot him her coldest, cruellest stare. He laughed.
“Blood is magic,” she said coolly. “The oldest sort of magic. We arrange marriages firstly to preserve the blood without creating monsters and secondly for the good of our society. It isn't personal.”
“And love plays no part?”
“Sentimental,” she said. “There are too few of us left to have romantic notions.”
He caught her hand. “You're worth more than a breeding mare, Andromeda.”
Oh, hell. Maybe Lucius had had a point. She should cut this off now, before Tonks got any idiotic notions.
Instead she turned and looked out of the window. The wind was strong, pressing fat clouds over the lake like sailing barges. She would miss this view so much when she was gone. The view from Malfoy Manor was pretty, she was sure, but she would miss the gravity of the mountains.
Tonks' hand tightened on hers. “Andromeda. What about your own dreams?”
She tore herself away from the view and shook her head. “I'd be a fool to have any.”
“A fool not to,” he said. “And don't say a word about house differences. You have a right to make your own choices.”
She sighed and pulled her hand away. “And I will choose to do my duty. On your feet, Tonks. Our patrols won't wait.”