Chapter 1: better make it whiskey, lady
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Muggle London is utterly impossible to navigate. If Andromeda had anywhere to be, she’s quite sure that she would never make it there; but she doesn’t, and so she remains content to wind her way through the dark twisting streets with her elbows folded tightly into her ribs and her gaze downcast so as to avoid eye contact with other pedestrians. It’s her second time in the city – in the Muggle city – proper, though she’s lived in it all her life, because two nights ago Mother had sat down at dinner and announced her plans for her unremarkable middle daughter without so much as consulting her.
This is a disproportionate reaction, Andromeda knows. It is one which is simultaneously insignificant and all-encompassing: all she’s doing is walking, but she’s walking in Muggle London. She’s not sure she knows anyone who wouldn’t have a conniption, if she told them. Perhaps that’s why she does it.
She finds the bar mostly by accident, by letting the tell-tale throb of music echoing across the streets sway her into a new course. It’s a tiny, underground thing, packed to capacity and so small that the music seems deafening inside, the shouted conversations between people an unwelcome counterpoint that is somehow even worse to listen to. She lets herself be shoved against the bar by the crowd, tips her head back and closes her eyes: this is exactly the way she likes her music, she decides, loud enough to split her head the morning after. Her heart swells with it, throbbing in time even as her brain stops paying attention to anything but the way the noise travels through her, trembling up her body from her toes.
A few particularly exuberant dancers bump up against her, but she doesn’t react and they don’t apologise; or maybe they do, but the noise of it is drowned out by the music, the drunken singing, the shouted conversations. It’s the solid clunk of a glass which finally has her opening her eyes, blinking hazily at the cobwebs that spin across the ceiling. A throat clears and she turns towards the sound: the bartender, his hand around a glass of something that’s a concerning shade of green and vaguely viscous.
“I didn’t ask for anything,” Andromeda says, her voice half a shout to be heard, and the guy raises an eyebrow at her, gives her a scraping sort of up-and-down look that has her suppressing a blush.
“I know.” She sees more than hears him say it; what she hears is the squeak of the glass as it’s pushed against the sticky wood. She takes it, a little abashed, refusing to show it. His eyes stick on the way that her hands curve around the slick sides of the class. For a moment it looks like he’s going to say more, but a round of shouts from the other side of the bar serves as an effective stopper, and just as abruptly as she’d been disturbed Andromeda is left alone again. She takes a breath, as deep as she can in the cramped space. A girl stumbles off the dance floor and leans against her for a second, giggling, slurring so badly that she’s incomprehensible. She’s close, uncomfortably so, warm and sweaty from dancing, and her breath smells like cheap beer. So many striking, visceral sensations, but despite them all Andromeda feels entirely detached from the scene, like she’s watching from somewhere else entirely as she puts out a cursorily steadying hand. There’s no part of her that can relate to getting drunk and dancing in public, even after two other occasions of tentative, quasi-rebellious cruising through different Muggle venues. A second girl peels out of the mass and hauls her friend back onto her feet, towards another stool and a guy waiting for them both with an indulgent half-smile on his face. She nods at Andromeda, and Andromeda nods back.
They sway away, the three of them, heads bent together and hands curled protectively around each other, and Andromeda keeps watching them because she doesn’t have anything better to do. The crowd in the middle of the room seems almost frightening in its remoteness, the passionate outflung movements of their dancing strange enough to be almost alien. Andromeda has only ever waltzed in strictly comforting three-four time, and that kind of dancing is worlds away from what she sees here.
She loses the trio in the crowd soon enough, and then she’s left staring at the utter incomprehensibility of the many-limbed beast on the dance floor, nursing the strange green drink. It’s thick and cool in her mouth, a little bitter but pleasant enough even if she can’t identify the flavour. Another man sidles up to her and attempts to start a conversation, but his efforts are severely hampered by the rest of the noise and he gives up quickly, seemingly content to lean passively against the bar. Andromeda returns to scanning the floor, already bored.
It’s almost a shock when she meets someone else’s eyes, in the chaos. The guy lounging against the far wall is the picture of careless grace, limbs draped every which way and a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, and his eyes are burning so brightly blue that for a moment she doesn’t even notice the anger in them. She blinks; he stares harder; and then he pushes off the wall and plunges into the crowd, dark blond hair catching the low light and reflecting it like a beacon. Probably the smart thing to do would be to make her escape now; the low-banked fury in those eyes wasn’t exactly something she would’ve imagined. Andromeda stays put, curls her ankles around the barstool, a little curious, a little more present, her heart beating faster.
The guy extricates himself from the crowd directly in front of her, still glaring, and Andromeda doesn’t know him, she doesn’t know him at all, but the way that he looks at her – he knows her. His hand’s in his pocket, curled in a fist around what can only be a wand. She should have realised it, when nobody in this bar should recognise her.
It’s too late to leave now, though, even if she wanted to. She puts her mostly-full glass down on the bar and coaxes her creaky stool into turning. He watches her, and she watches him, and then he steps close and closer, somehow at once reluctant and determined. Andromeda’s heart sings fast and faster with every step, waiting to see what he’ll do. Nothing, logically; they’re in far too crowded a place for that. But she’s not quite sure of that, and the thrill of it keeps her glued to her seat, her hands up where he can see them.
“What the fuck are you doing here, Andromeda Black?” His tone is hard and he leans in horrifically close to ask, his body an unforgiving line of heat against Andromeda’s side, his breath warm against her ear, her exposed neck. Her neck is so exposed, tilted so that she can hear him better. She wonders if he can see the fluttering caged-bird beat of her heart under her skin. The sudden closeness is probably meant to elicit some reaction from her, to disgust her, so she blinks up at him as limpidly as she knows how, lets her spine soften fluidly to lean against the sharp edge of the bar.
“You have me at a disadvantage,” she calls back. Her lips come agonisingly close to his skin when she turns to say the next words into his ears. “What do I call you?”
The look that gets her is as sharp as the previous glare. One hand lands hard on her knee, squeezing. Warning. Her thigh twitches. “I asked first,”
Andromeda raises an eyebrow, tilts her head at the bar behind her. “What does it look like I’m doing here?”
The man looks from her to her drink in a quick, furtive motion, like he doesn’t trust her not to attack while his back is turned. His eyes never lose their hard, sharp look, and then he’s turning back to her, his free hand moving past her to rest on the bar so that she’s caged in on her seat.
“It looks,” he says, and maybe he’s cast some spell or maybe the music has quietened or maybe it’s just him, some strange effect he has on her, making her senses sharpen, but suddenly she can hear him as clear as day over the noise of everything else, “like you’re sitting here watching Muggles like you’re in a zoo. Anthropological. Do you think we’re animals, Andromeda Black?”
A Muggle-born, then, and sensitive about it. But, well – who isn’t, these days? She stays silent because she doesn’t have an answer, and his hand tightens further, somehow. She wouldn’t be surprised if a bruise blooms there tomorrow, and the thought is not as abhorrent as it should be. “Why,” he repeats, and it’s almost a snarl, “are you here.”
In that instant, he gives too much away. The fear behind his eyes is as cold and sharp as his anger. Andromeda’s lips twitch upwards; his eyes flicker downwards and stay there, maybe to make sure he sees whatever she has to say, maybe because he likes the shape of them. She bets it’s more the second than the first. She bets he’s angry about it. “Are you important enough to be such a target, then?”
He yanks her off her seat before she can blink, and it’s not as though she’d expected it but she hadn’t not expected it, either. She doesn’t lose her footing, following him through the room, though the pace he sets through the crowd is punishing and he drops her hand as soon as they’re out of the thick of it.
The cool dark quiet of the back alley is a shock when the door slams behind them and cuts the music off, but Andromeda doesn’t have time to let herself adjust. Her senses are singing, her skin tight and fizzy. “You never told me your name,” is what she says instead, looking up.
The jaw in front of her clenches magnificently. “I’m not telling you anything.”
Andromeda hums. “Careful, or I’ll have to pick a name. You don’t strike me as someone who’d like the sound of Perseus.”
“Don’t you dare.” Perseus’ voice is – as she’d expected – low and vehement. “You haven’t answered my question, either.”
“So I haven’t.” Andromeda turns away, suddenly restless. “I don’t owe you any answers, either,” The whole reason that she’d come out was so she wouldn’t have to think. She reaches into her pocket for cigarettes and Perseus grabs her arm, his fingers bruising. Her heart speeds up again, sudden. “They’re just cigarettes,” Andromeda says, and somehow her voice stays steady. Her wand has never felt so heavy in her pocket. She leaves it where it is, extracts the packet of cigarettes with one hand, and Perseus’ grip doesn’t let up in the slightest.
“So you’re – what,” he says, as she uses her teeth as delicately as she knows how to pull a cigarette out of the package. It lights up as soon as she closes her lips around it, magical convenience. “The vanguard? The scouting party?”
“Please,” Andromeda murmurs. “Do I look like a scouting party?”
“You look like you’re evading the question.” Perseus pulls her around to face him, tips her chin up. His fingers curl around her neck, thumb pressing into the yielding flesh under her chin, and Andromeda blows smoke to hide the way she shivers at it. The still air between them shifts from red to purple to blue before clearing again.
“No,” she says when his scowling face comes back into view, surprising even herself. “I’m not a vanguard, or a scouting party, or here on Death Eater business at all.”
“You’re just here to sightsee, I suppose,” Perseus says, pressing forward. He’s still holding her elbow. For the second time tonight she yields, letting herself be pushed against the crumbling brick at her back.
“What of it, if I am?”
“I don’t trust you,” he informs her.
“Why ask, then?” Andromeda arches a little, against the wall, and bites her lip against a smile when Perseus’ eyes drop downwards. “Why, Perseus,” she says, drawing out the name, honey-slow and infuriating. “I do believe you wanted me alone.”
Perseus’ eyes are no less bright looming over her in the dimness of the back alley. Something in his gaze shifts and changes, and Andromeda feels it like a spark on her skin, a stinging burn that drags like agony. “Is that what you’re here for?” he asks, voice dropped low. He moves forward and without even thinking she shifts to accommodate him, legs falling apart. The fabric of her Muggle skirt pulls taut across her thighs when his leg slides between hers. “You had that bartender ready to eat out of your hand.”
“He was just being nice,” Andromeda demurs, tangling the words between a glance up through her lashes because she thinks it’ll annoy him. It does: he makes a sudden noise low in his throat, shoves his leg forward again, the gritty slide of fabric just rough enough to make Andromeda’s hard-fought control finally slip, to have her gasping and trying to squirm where she’s pinned so thoroughly in place. She only succeeds in pushing herself further up, until her toes are barely touching the ground. If Perseus moves any further forward he’s going to push the two of them clear through the wall, but that doesn’t stop him and she doesn’t do anything about it. She glories in it, the helplessness, the rough brick scraping her back.
“What about this?” he asks, and his fingers find the gap between shirt and skirt to skim along her waistband. It’s so unfamiliar that it’s almost dizzying, the feeling of his fingertips dipping downwards teasingly only to return to her waist, her ribs. No young wizard would ever have taken such liberties with Andromeda, not least because her strictly traditional robes made the venture far more awkward. “Is this just being nice?”
“I’m sure I would have noticed if the bartender was doing – what you’re currently doing,” Andromeda says, and there’s no chance of hiding the breathlessness in her voice but she doesn’t care. It sends sparking thrills down her spine to hear herself, to wait on tenterhooks to see what Perseus is going to do next. He doesn’t disappoint; in the next moment his fingers pinch the tender skin next to the small of her back so that she gasps again, hips jerking in a futile escape attempt, and – and after she’s done it once it’s hard to stop. His thigh between hers is imperiously solid and the friction it provides is as horribly good as it is undignified. She fists her hands in his shirt in an attempt to anchor herself, but it’s futile; the only thing she can hear is the filthy noise of fabric between their bodies and the thrum of blood in her ears, heating up.
Perseus smiles down at her and it’s not kind at all, a flash of self-satisfied teeth, the kind of expression Andromeda instantly wants to drag off his face. “You like that?” he asks, and this time he lets his nails scrape over her skin and she can’t hide the way she gasps, the way she rocks harder against him. His grin grows even more insufferable, hands moving across her back, guiding her, and to return the favour she leans forward and bites him right above the fluttering pulse point in his neck, hard enough to make him groan, to make his hands tighten convulsively.
“I fuckin’ knew you lot were fucking vampires,” he says, satisfyingly breathless, and she bites harder, wondering for one wild moment whether she really is going to break skin, to taste red coppery wetness.
She doesn’t, but she worries the skin hard enough that it warms underneath her tongue, blood drawn up and bright under the surface. He’ll have a hickey tomorrow if he doesn’t do something about it. She’ll have bruises: her knee, her elbow, her waist. The thought makes her shiver. She already knows she’s not going to magic them away, when they show up.
Perseus’ hand slips below her skirt, finally, finally with intent, splayed awkwardly between their bodies but no less certain for it. His fingers are just as unkind as that brief lamplit smile he’d shot her, rough enough to tear a high noise from her throat that is only a little muffled by his neck, not rough enough to stop her grinding down for more. She jerks backwards, manages to put a whole fraction of space between them before she hits the wall and has to scrabble for purchase against the unforgiving shape of him. She doesn’t find it, certainly not enough to feel steady, and she sort of loves how that makes her feel, desperate and debauched. She can’t imagine how she looks.
Perseus has wand calluses on his fingers and a slightly better position with her leaning back, mostly lifted off his thigh, and he knows how to use both of those things to his full advantage, the bastard. The second, third time that he tries to scrape her open from the inside she feels herself clench around him, feels her legs start to tremble, tries to turn her head to one side. Can’t, when he puts his free hand in her hair and pulls her back, almost gentle but certainly inescapable. Inexorable.
“No,” he says simply, and it punches a moan out of her that’s thready with lack of oxygen. Her eyes drop closed and he uses the grip he has in her hair to shake her, still paradoxically gentle. “No,” he says again, and all she can do is obey the unspoken command, open her eyes again. His gaze is bright and savage, face half-lit in gold by some distant streetlight. “Look at me.”
He doesn’t leave her anywhere to hide, eyes trained on her as her breathing grows shakier, the movement of her hips more erratic. He compensates for it effortlessly, wrist moving fluidly between them. Her knuckles are white with how tight she’s holding onto his shirt but all she manages to do with it is tug ineffectively on the fabric, and that only has him smiling wider, leaning forward teasingly, close but never close enough. Every time Andromeda opens her mouth with some half-smart remark ready his fingers grind harder into her and she loses every shred of coherency she’d managed to muster in the first place.
His hand tightens in her hair slowly, firmly. When her gasping inhales grows too raggedly loud he tips her head backwards so that it’s harder to breathe, and it sends bright heat coursing through her, somehow, the cool steady control in the gesture. She makes a pleading noise she’s not sure she’s ever made before and Perseus just grins at her, eyes so sharp on her face it’s like a physical sensation. There’s something so humiliating about being seen this way that it tips right over into the erotic, burns her up from the inside out.
“Yeah,” Perseus murmurs, eyes on her, always on her. She gasps again, and he grinds his fingers up so deep she swears she can feel it in her throat. Andromeda’s vision whites out when she comes, held helplessly in place as she shudders and crashes and burns. He works her through it mercilessly, all fingers and teeth and fierceness, and when she starts squirming with the sensitivity of it he only redoubles his efforts, leaning in to suck a mark pointedly high on her neck; it makes everything worse, better, his teeth another wild wash of sensation she can barely make sense of. She doesn’t even realise the noises she’s making until he brings his hand around to cover her mouth, and then it’s all she can do to listen to herself, the hurt-animal sounds he’s catching that spill too honestly out of her chest.
He pulls back in time to watch her again as her second peak builds and crests, the weight of his eyes unbearable. This orgasm feels dragged out of her, fire licking down her spine so fiercely that she feels hollowed out by the end of it. He’s still watching her, and the look in his eyes makes her feel flayed open and raw. She bites down on his fingers because she can, because it makes him laugh darkly and move a thumb to press down on the new-forming hickey on her neck. He pulls his other hand free of her in an easy motion, and Andromeda gasps from the oversensitivity as much as from the sudden, unbearable emptiness he leaves behind. Her legs are trembling so badly she’s sure she’ll fall if he tries to extricate himself.
The low light catches on his fingers and gleams, unmistakable, as he fumbles with his trousers. Andromeda wants to cover her face against the proof of what she’s done. Does the next best thing and reaches out for his cock, distracting. He covers her shaky hand with his own and sets a punishing pace, as rough with himself as he’d been with her, his breath echoing harshly between the two of them. It’s not long at all until he groans tellingly, the kind of noise that’s pulled up from deep inside a body, and with one fumbling hand he yanks her shirt upwards and comes over her stomach, warm and wet. It’s not so much a gesture of consideration for her clothes as it is just carnal, utterly filthy. He drags a lazy finger through the mess, rubbing it slowly into her skin, and something about that hits her like a train, enough to knock the legs out from under her.
His teeth shine when she slumps against the wall. It’s only a small comfort to see that he’s distinctly unsteady, too. But he manages to step back and button himself up, looking at worst mildly mussed, and it’s all Andromeda can do to hold herself upright. Her clothes are askew and her breathing is shaky, her hair is probably a mess, and the slightest touch to her oversensitive skin sends bright little sparks of sensation shivering through her. Perseus is still watching her with those clever eyes of his, and when she meets his gaze in the gloom he tilts his head, a little challenging. She nods as crisply as she can manage, trying her best to school her expression into something resembling composedness, or at least guiding it away from post-orgasmic haziness. It seems to work; or at least it has the desired effect. Perseus nods back and moves away, retracing his steps to the back door of the bar. He doesn’t turn back but he does hesitate once, briefly, when he’s got one hand on the door. Andromeda waits with her breath caught and tangled up in her chest and lets it all out at once when he twists his wrist decisively. A brief burst of music thumps through the alley, and then it’s comprehensively shut off by the solid door again.
She doesn’t even last a moment before giving in, sliding down the wall to sit on the ground, her elbows on her knees and her skirt puddled undignifiedly around her. She aches from the inside out, can still feel the rough thrusts of fingers up into her, the impossible solidity of an unfamiliar body against hers. If she had enough light to check she’s sure that she would see bruises starting to show up where he’d gripped her. Her thighs ache and her back is dreadfully sore, protesting its rough treatment at the hands of unfinished brick.
Andromeda turns her head, hides a wild, reckless smile into her wrist. She’s never felt so wholly, gloriously alive.
Chapter 2: your move, old-timer
That strange wild feeling follows her home after she finally manage to scrape herself off the ground, and when she wakes up the next morning she is beautifully sore, a deep sweet ache that seems to emanate down into her bones. She stretches just to feel the burn of it, finds herself burying her face in her pillow. Her expression probably wouldn’t count as a smile, but it’s as close as she gets, these days.
The full-length mirror in her room had always felt like an unnecessary indulgence, especially before she’d figured out how to make it shut up about her figure every time she looked in it – but its presence sends a shiver down her spine this morning, looming in the corner of her vision as she peels herself out of bed and hesitates on the neutral ground between it and her bathroom.
In the end temptation wins out; of course it does. She slides across the room in increments, a heady mixture of fear and excitement tumbling through her veins as she wrestles her nightgown over her shoulders and abandons it somewhere on the floor.
It’s a shock to face herself, both better and worse than she thinks it’s going to be. Most of what she’s feeling hasn’t shown up on her skin, but Merlin, what did get there – clean dark lines where he’d held her arm, paler matching lines across her knee. A blotchy mess of red and purple on her waist, a bright hickey so high up on her neck that there’s no hope of hiding it. She presses a careful finger into it, shivers at the deep-seated ache that throbs through her.
Andromeda stands there a long time, looking at herself, at the marks on her body. It’s the same body she’s always had, but it seems so different with the cold morning light acknowledging the bruises on it. When she finally tears her attention away from her waist she meets her own gaze in the reflection, and there’s something in her eyes that she doesn’t know how to describe. Doesn’t know how to put a name to. That realisation is what has her turning away from herself, slotting back into the familiar cycle of her morning ablutions.
The last thing she does before she leaves the room is tap Perseus’ hickey on her throat with her wand, one-handed and reluctant but successful all the same in getting rid of it; she’d tried her highest-collared robes, but even as she’d dug them out from the back of the closet she’d known they wouldn’t cover it up properly, and indeed they had not. He’d left her no choice, it seemed. At least, that had seemed to be intent; he had seemed quite deliberate. She catches herself wondering why, as she goes down to breakfast, though it is beneath her to wonder about such things. He had likely healed whatever pale marks she left on him before they even showed up, but why would he care about hers?
The question shakes entirely out of her mind when she turns into the dining room to see Antares Selwyn at the table. At Father’s right side. It’s an abrupt reminder of the sharp turn her life had taken only a few nights ago. The news of Mother’s negotiations with the Selwyn family; the engagement that has been looming over her for so long becoming rapidly more concrete; the restless, dull horror that had driven her out of the house and sent her trawling through Muggle streets at hours that weren’t quite safe. Selwyn barely acknowledges her but Mother does enough for two, glaring reproachfully when her face is safely pointed away from Selwyn and smiling when it isn’t, in both instances jerking her head to the conspicuously empty seat – next to Selwyn, naturally.
Andromeda takes it. Sitting down makes her want to squirm almost at once, an impulse she has to tamp down on ruthlessly. “Lovely morning,” she says quietly.
“It was raining when I arrived,” Selwyn says, and that’s that, likely for the best. Andromeda subsides and pecks at her toast, appetite suddenly gone. The ache in her legs seems horribly uncomfortable, now, and still Andromeda finds herself clenching the muscles to feel it. She doesn’t taste her breakfast.
Selwyn takes his leave of them immediately after the plates have been cleared away, and Andromeda walks him to the Apparition point in the foyer. “Good-bye,” she says; “Good-bye,” he replies, and then he is gone. The weight on Andromeda’s shoulders subsides a little.
Then her mother’s voice comes from the doorway, acidic, and all the weight returns redoubled. “A scintillating conversation, to be sure.”
“I –” Andromeda starts, but she has nothing to say, mind utterly blank. She’d thought she’d have a few more days to make her arguments; Mother takes her out to lunch every Sunday, and it’s the only time in the week that they talk. She thought she’d had longer to think of some way to – it doesn’t matter. Mother lifts her hand, and a ring gleams in her grip. Andromeda knows what it is without having to take a closer look. She thinks she is going to be violently ill.
“Young Master Selwyn gave me this, before you came down. I was positively ashamed, Andromeda, to see that he thought me the more receptive of us. To see that he was right.” She steps closer, and Andromeda’s feet are glued to the ground. Mother’s eyes are almost tender when she reaches up and puts a hand on Andromeda’s cheek. Andromeda wants to cry, feeling it. She can’t remember how long it’s been. “I don’t understand why you insist on being so recalcitrant. Surely you know that graciousness on your part now is a wise investment. I know that you listen to me, so I know you’ve heard me tell you that pleasantness now will be returned to you threefold in the future. I know you know that this marriage has been planned for a long time.”
“Yes, I know.” Andromeda’s lips are numb, her voice barely audible.
“And you know that your marriage will bind the Selwyns closer to us, and to the Dark Lord.”
“And that any children you have will strengthen the cause in the next generation?”
“Oh, Mama, please.” The words nearly burst out of her, the thought of raising little soldiers to a war finally enough to pry her mouth open. “I know it. I do. But when you hate something to distraction I don’t see how it can do any good. Even for the cause, surely –”
Mother steps away, takes her hand away, hardening again, and Andromeda’s stupid mouth clicks shut. “I didn’t think I’d raised a selfish daughter,” Mother says, and her voice is like ice, like cold metal. It cuts through everything: Andromeda’s skin, her soul.
“Please,” Andromeda says helplessly, and something in her chest shrivels up at how pathetic she sounds.
“Naturally, I have no means of coercing you,” Mother says, and it seems impossible to believe that her eyes had been gentle only a few moments ago, that her hand had rested on Andromeda’s cheek. Her back is straight and her eyes are utterly unyielding. “I will never hold against you how gravely you have disappointed me this morning. All that remains for me is to give you every chance to show your better nature. Take the ring.”
“Take it, darling, not wear it,” Mother says, the endearment like an indulgent insult, and somehow Andromeda’s clumsy fingers find themselves wrapped around a circle of metal that seems to burn into her hand. “I shall see you at dinner. And I hope I shall also see that you have obeyed your mother.”
She turns neatly on one heel and walks back into the dining room, steady like the world isn’t pitching around her. Behind the doorway, Andromeda sees Father’s eyes drop surreptitiously to his paper; there is no change in his expression. She’d thought he would help her, once, when he’d proposed to recruit her to work under him – but Mother had promptly recruited Aunt Walburga in response, locked the three of them up in the study for the better part of a day, and the topic had not been broached again.
When the sudden-onset seasickness roiling through her stomach abates, Andromeda turns and walks out as well. Her vision is white; she lets her feet move of their own volition and sits down blindly, and it is only because of the sickly smell of magically-grown roses that she knows she’s in the garden.
She’s held the ring long enough that it should have warmed by now, but it still feels frozen against her flesh. Mother’s right, as she always is; this was inevitable, it always had been. It was utterly unreasonable of her to be so firmly against it.
The ring is a beautiful, tasteful thing. The size of the diamond probably tips over into gaudiness, but it’s settled so prettily amongst the smaller stones that it seems elegant instead. Mother would have been delighted to receive such a ring.
It fits perfectly on her finger; of course it does. It makes her feel like a doll, hollowed out. Andromeda walks compulsively around the rose garden as the sun reaches its zenith and begins to recede, trying all the while to get used to the feeling of the metal. No doubt she will, soon enough.
When she finally makes her way back into the house for dinner Mother catches her in the corridor and smiles one of those rare soft smiles that tuck fine lines into the corners of her eyes. “Darling,” she says, hand around Andromeda’s wrist. “I’m so happy for you. Let me be the first to congratulate you.”
“Thank you, Mother,” Andromeda says. Her voice is a little pale, no doubt because she hasn’t spoken to a soul all day, but Mother frowns a little, looks at her critically.
“You look ill, my dear.”
“I – I feel a little –”
“Why, you’re trembling.”
“Oh.” Andromeda hadn’t realised it. She still doesn’t; she sees her hand shake as though from very far away.
“You’re not frightened?”
“No,” Mother says, and clutches Andromeda’s hand with both her own. “You can’t be frightened, can you? Love and duty will have cast it out.”
“Yes,” Andromeda whispers, and wishes desperately that it could be true. “Yes. Of course.”
Mother’s smile is radiant. When she smiles like so, it is astonishingly easy to see the great beauty she had once been acclaimed for. “The ring suits you marvellously.”
“Thank you, Mother.”
They go into dinner together, arm in arm, and Father says, “Congratulations, Andromeda,” as soon as they walk into the room, before his eyes have even had the chance to glance down to Andromeda’s hand.
“Thank you, Father,” Andromeda says. He nods at her once.
“The notices are arranged for tomorrow,” he says to Mother, and that is all the conversation that the three of them manage to muster for the rest of the evening. They eat in silence, and Mother fills the intervals between dishes with harmless, mindless gossip, seemingly unperturbed at the lack of reaction it receives. As well she ought to be; she has won a great victory for herself tonight, having bargained off her recalcitrant, unremarkable middle daughter. Andromeda’s chest feels empty, and the ring on her finger catches the light every time she moves.
Even in the utter darkness of her bedroom – blinds drawn, light off – it continues to sparkle, catching non-existent light. She sits on her bed for a long time, just staring at the way it shines on her finger. After enough contemplation her hand starts to feel as though it belongs to someone else, some other body, the lines and shapes of it alien and unrecognisable.
She ought to go to bed. Hide her hand underneath one of her many pillows and close her eyes and wait for morning. It’s the same thought she’d had last night, save perhaps for the special consideration of her hand. And last night – for the first time that evening, that day, she feels warmth shoot through her, tentative and shy but undeniable. She takes the ring off, digs under the bed for the only set of Muggle clothes she owns, and Apparates.
The night starts off well enough – it’s late enough that most people still out are a little drunk at least, a little hazy. Andromeda lets a boy with curly hair and brown eyes buy her a drink and talk her up, and probably something is wrong with her because she’s bored by the third inoffensive line. Her mind keeps going back, infuriatingly, to Perseus: the fire in his eyes, the drape of his body, his low fierce voice. The way he’d pushed and absorbed her pushes back.
It burned, to be thinking about him so fixedly. She’d met him once, for a very short time. She’d no right to go back to thoughts of him when there was another prospect in front of her. Her brain doesn’t seem to get the message, and she can’t deny that it’s mostly directionless spite that has her leaning forward to kiss the boy in front of her. As if Perseus would have any idea. As if he would care. The idea was absurd, and yet – here she was.
Kissing turns out to be a mistake, mostly because it means she closes her eyes and her brain takes it as an invitation to conjure up Perseus’ face, shadowy and cast in gold. The boy in front of her invites her back to his place shyly, which is very sweet, and Andromeda does consider it, but she already knows that it’s not going to be good and – she draws a line at sleeping with one person to spite the fictional version of another who only exists in her head. The line is somewhere between kissing and sex. She says, “No thank you,” very politely, and then she goes home and flings herself into bed, unsated and too angry about it to try and remedy the situation by herself.
The dismal affair is enough to convince her to Vanish her Muggle outfit as soon as she takes it off. Venturing out tonight had been the impulsive, emotional move of a girl, not a young woman of her status. She was going to marry Antares Selwyn; it had been made abundantly clear to her that there was nothing she could do to avoid it. Mother’s plans had won out firmly against Andromeda’s girlish reluctance, which was probably for the best. She was going to marry Antares Selwyn, and she would make the best of it.
The notices arrive the next morning; owls of all shapes and sizes congregate at the breakfast table, one from what seems like each newspaper company in England and some from France as well. Father pays the owls, Mother flips to the engagement notices, and Andromeda is given the job of cutting them out. Her hands shake all through the task; she has to lean her elbow heavily on the table in order to keep the lines straight. By the end of breakfast she has a veritable pile of engagement notices, and her eyes are swimming from reading and rereading the string of words on them until they don’t seem real anymore: Cygnus Black III and Druella Rosier-Black, of the Black family, are delighted to announce the engagement of their daughter, Andromeda Black, to Antares Selwyn, son of Cecil Selwyn and Anthea Avery-Selwyn, of the Selwyn family. The wedding will take place later this year. It is February; she doesn’t know whether the fact is a comfort or not.
“What do you think?” Mother asks from across the table. Utterly dignified in her inquiry, of course, but all the same – there’s clearly an answer that she wants. Andromeda dredges a smile up from somewhere and aims it outwards.
“They’re beautiful,” she says, and she’s telling the truth – the typeset, the format, the wording of the engagement notice are all beautiful, elegant things, and make for an engagement notice that is aesthetically lovely. The announcement is a good thing. There’s no reason for Andromeda to feel like there’s a stone sitting in the pit of her stomach. “Thank you for posting them.”
Goscelin’s Tea Room is not busy this week; Mother sweeps in imperiously to take their usual table and order their usual beverages, and Andromeda trails behind her like a wayward pet. There is plenty to discuss, although none of it is what Andromeda had wanted to be discussing. It seemed like years ago, that she had ever been so naïve as to think she could convince Mother out of this arrangement. It was always going to have turned out like this, she thinks, and hates herself a little for ever thinking – hoping – otherwise.
Mother has brought two carefully bound notebooks: the one in which she had planned most of Bellatrix’s wedding, and the empty one which is clearly for Andromeda’s.
“I thought we’d start simply, darling,” Mother says, businesslike, opening Bellatrix’s book. Their drinks float over to them, and Mother plucks her tea out of the air to drink. “Naturally, much of this will remain the same; the Selwyn estate is rather smaller than our own, so we shall host the ceremony and the celebration, immediately afterwards. I –”
“When – sorry,” Andromeda says, abashed, when Mother levels an unimpressed look at her. “But – when is the wedding happening? The notice only said –”
“I know what the notice said,” Mother sighs, and mutters something about Father that is no doubt uncomplimentary. “April is the conventional choice. Narcissa will be able to be home that week, and so will Antares’ siblings.” Andromeda nods, and Mother nods back, seemingly satisfied. “Now, to business. Which flowers did you want?”
The sudden start ought not to be so shocking. “I – I don’t know,” Andromeda says feebly, shocked despite it all. Mother puts down her quill and gives her a sharp look.
“Well, you’d best get an idea, and fast, because I can all but guarantee that Anthea Selwyn will have her own opinions and I cannot negotiate against her without propositions of my own.” It is evident from her resolute tone that her numerous clashes with Florence Lestrange still smart, for all that they’d been some years ago.
“I like roses,” Andromeda offers feebly. She doesn’t; she detests them, and she detests particularly the horrendously fake roses in the gardens of Black Manor, with their overpowering scents, their petals papery with how long they’ve been kept alive with the use of magic. She’s not sure what possesses her to say such a thing. Mother frowns.
“Andromeda, you have remarked to me on multiple occasions that the rose garden should be replanted.”
“Not so strongly as all that, surely,” Andromeda says. “I simply thought – they’re so convenient. In our own garden.”
“Convenient!” Mother says the word with great horror, attracting some stares from the other customers in the shop. Andromeda shrinks downwards. “My dear, we would never stoop so low as to use flowers from our own garden for your wedding!”
“But Father was so strict about releasing the house-elves,” Andromeda says weakly, “and you yourself said that times were changing –”
“Certainly not,” Mother says decisively. “What would the Selwyns think? No. We shall buy your flowers as we bought Bellatrix’s, and as we will buy Narcissa’s. I think purple will look nice against your colouring; orchids, perhaps, or lavender.”
“Lavender, then,” Andromeda says, though she doesn’t have particularly strong feelings about either flower. “Please.”
Mother nods, makes a note of it. And so it goes: they talk through the colour scheme, briefly map out table arrangements, try to construct some semblance of a menu. Talking about it gets easier as the conversation goes on; Andromeda is able to think about the wedding objectively, as though it is happening to somebody else.
Halfway through a discussion about wine which has become somewhat one-sided – Mother has strong opinions about spirits, and enjoys airing them out from time to time – Andromeda hears the bell over the door ring lightly as a new customer comes in. This is not such an unusual occurrence in and of itself, even during the quieter mid-afternoon hours when most people are at work; certainly the café is one of the more popular ones in Martslock, particularly among the idle rich Pureblood population.
What is unusual is the figure who comes through the door. Andromeda recognises him instantly: it would be impossible not to, looking at that long figure, the self-assured stride. Those bright eyes, staring right at her. She inhales so fast that she chokes on her own breath, and Perseus’ lips curve upwards into a smirk, directed unmistakably at her. Martslock is not the most Pureblood-friendly high street in wizarding London, but it’s certainly one of them; the fact that Mother deigns to come here at all is enough to prove that.
“Andromeda, dear,” Mother says, frowning at her, sitting up like she’s about to look over her shoulder, and Andromeda makes a frantic grab for her tea.
“I’m fine!” she says, in a voice that is far too high. She coughs again, harder this time in a scatterbrained attempt to keep Mother’s attention on her. “Really, I’m fine. I’m sorry. Do go on.” Perseus sits down at one of the tables near the door, stretches out redolently, as safely out of sight as it is possible to get from Mother when they are both in the same tea room. The way he looks at Andromeda is – it’s slow and heated and deliberate. He must have sought her out. He came into the shop looking for her. Andromeda’s heart beats faster. She tries to take a sip of tea to hide her face and finds that her hands are shaking, fine tremors that sets her tea to sloshing around her cup, a self-contained hurricane.
She doesn’t know how she makes it through the next agonising minutes of conversation alive. She has to keep her eyes on her cup, on her hands, because if she tries to look at Mother she knows for a fact that her gaze will slide sideways, and somehow the last thing that she wants is for Mother to turn and look at Perseus – though goodness only knows that he would deserve it, taking such a risk as this one.
“Mother,” she says suddenly, when her stomach feels like it is entirely knots, “I’m not feeling very well. Please –”
“You look rather pale,” Mother agrees. “Do you want to go home?”
“No, I – I thought I might walk around Martslock,” Andromeda says. “The fresh air. And perhaps – perhaps gain a better idea of what we can buy in the shops. The – the look of things.”
“Well, that’s not a bad idea,” Mother says. Hesitates. Andromeda knows what’s about to come next and hasn’t the slightest idea how to prevent it. “Perhaps I should come with you.”
“I’ll be fine,” Andromeda says, trying desperately not to look as wild as she feels, casting about for some inspiration. “I – I should like very much if you started to talk to Mrs. Selwyn about her ideas. I would so appreciate your – your assessment of her.”
“Well, you’re right that it needs to be done,” Mother says, eyes narrowed. She checks her watch and squares her shoulders as though going off to war. “And soon, before she has the time to formulate opinions. I think we have done enough to facilitate a productive discussion on that count. Wish me luck, dear.”
“Good luck,” Andromeda mumbles faintly, almost unable to believe her own good fortune. Mother drops their bill into the tray at the side of the table and picks up the change that appears as promptly as ever, and then she Apparates away with a crack, just like that. Andromeda stays where she is as though bolted to her seat, almost anticipating a sudden return. Of course, there is no such return; when Mother makes up her mind to go somewhere, she goes and stays gone.
Perseus meets her eyes and smiles, a slow smug thing. Andromeda has to try very hard not to clench her fists on the table. He finishes his tea in a move that is supremely inelegant, tipping the cup up to the point of ridiculousness; but Andromeda cannot take her eyes off the column of his neck. Her own cup is down to its dregs when he gets up and pays, collects his change from the tray and saunters outside. In another moment he turns the corner and appears in the shop window next to Andromeda; when he passes by her window seat they are close enough that they could reach for each other, if not for the glass between them. His eyes meet hers for a moment, infuriatingly insouciant, distinctly taunting, and then he’s moved past her and she doesn’t dare turn to watch his progress. Suddenly she feels hyperaware of every other oblivious customer in the room, the low buzz of chatter around her, how occupied everyone is at their tables. She wonders if they could see what she was thinking, if they looked up. It is impossible, of course, but her thoughts feel loud enough to be unmissable.
She could, if she wanted to, stay here. She could finish her tea and Apparate directly home. There are any number of things she could do, most of which do not involve Perseus in any capacity. It is her obligation to take any of those safe paths, but perhaps she’s tired of obligation. Perhaps she’s tired of Perseus, as well, tired of having him in her head. She doesn’t know what he’d hoped to achieve by coming here today; the way he’d looked at her, it spoke of a certain motivation, but she’s not foolish enough to believe for a moment that he’d risk himself for a shag. If it had been a ploy to grab her attention, it had worked, but there were surely less risky ways to go about it; and even so, she’s not sure why he would want her attention in the first place. The whole situation was unfathomable. The only thing for her to do was avoid it entirely; and so naturally, what she does is take another desultory sip, wait for the chime over the door to fade into silence, and rise to follow him.
Chapter 3: you're always making mistakes
The path that Ted had taken leads into a small side street of ramshackle shops – the ones who couldn’t afford rent on the high street proper, which meant that they didn’t get foot traffic, which fed right back into the cycle and kept them out of everybody’s sight. The shops look so run-down as to be a hazard; several are closed and abandoned, though it’s mid-afternoon yet. Perseus is waiting for her, smoking again, in front of a closed store whose windows are full of increasingly bizarre rubbish bins. He’s opened his robes to reveal a striped jumper, tight dark pants, distinctly Muggle attire. His eyes are closed; Andromeda does not doubt for a moment that he knows she’s there.
“It was foolish of you to come here,” she says, though it’s not a very alluring conversation starter. “What if you’d been spotted?”
“Spotted making eyes at you, you mean,” Perseus says, without moving. Andromeda doesn’t reply for a beat, far too long, and he turns his head to look at her. “Did you know that Selwyn was going to propose?”
Andromeda hesitates again and this time Perseus stands through the silence, watching her in that shrewd way that leaves her nowhere to hide. “Why do you want to know?”
“Who cares why I want to know?” Perseus raises one eyebrow, calling her bluff. Andromeda purses her lips. She still doesn’t know what he wants out of this, how he feels about her; the fact bites into her mind, a stone stuck underfoot. She doubts that his feelings are particularly positive, not with the way that he’s looking at her, but that begs the question of why he would seek her out.
“Why did you come here?”
Perseus smirks. “You’re not so difficult to track down, you know. Those little Sunday lunches of yours are as regular as clockwork.” He clicks his tongue. “Might not be safe in these times.” The smirk that stretches over his face is slick and mocking when she looks at him, just dancing on the edge of hostile.
“That’s not what I asked and you know it,” Andromeda says. She should leave, but her feet stay firmly where they are, rebellious and caught fast in the middle of the pavement. Perseus just hums, tips her a wink, infuriating.
“We could get stuck in there forever. I know you know I know.” His demeanour sobers suddenly and he steps closer to her, eyes hard, shoulders all sharp angles. “You tell me why you were at the club, I’ll tell you why I came to the tea room.”
He must have some sort of expectation of her but she doesn’t know what it is. She can’t tell whether he’s trying to trade meaningless information for something valuable or whether he’s hinging on the fact she won’t take him up on it. He smirks at her, and she feels sure that he can tell what she’s thinking.
“Have it your way,” he says finally, when she doesn’t say anything. “I could also ask you why you followed me down here, you know.”
“There are all manner of things we could ask each other,” she mutters, not as stinging as she means to be. “I suppose we’re at an impasse.”
He grins at her. “Oh, I don’t know. There’s plenty yet to do.” The way that he drags his eyes over her, the way that his lip curls; it’s unmistakeable what he means. It’s unmistakeable how she starts to respond, flushing warm. Andromeda’s feet finally move, though it’s only to skirt around him so that she’s leaning against the shop opposite him.
“Tell me you didn’t follow me into the tea room for a shag,” Andromeda says, even as she knows he didn’t.
“Tell me you didn’t follow me down here for a shag,” Perseus replies, oblique, in a tone that might be teasing if it wasn’t laden with prickles. When he steps forward Andromeda realises belatedly that she’s already put herself against a wall for him, some strange leftover association from last time, maybe. He takes hold of her wand wrist and coaxes it behind her back until her shoulder is on the edge of protesting. She doesn’t try to stop him, watches something like a smirk bloom through his eyes. “You’ve some joints, you know that?”
“Everybody has joints,” Andromeda says irritably, and he only grins, shakes his head.
“Not like this.” This close, she can see a little past the edge of his robes, can see the fading red mark of a hickey where she’d left it. The sight makes her heart throb once, almost painful, against her confining ribcage. Perseus just hums, rubs a hand over the curve of her shoulder where her skin is taut and stretched, the bunched flesh behind it. It’s embarrassing to admit that her breath is coming faster, heartbeat quickening. He’s just holding her arm; but even as she thinks it she knows that it’s not true. He’s holding her arm impossibly twisted back, the kind of position that could spell dislocation or tearing or some other catastrophe in an instant, if only he applied a fraction more force. She’s letting him.
“I thought I might’ve gotten you wrong,” Perseus says. Serious, suddenly, like stepping into deep water. “Maybe dreamed the whole thing up.”
“Is that why you came here today?” His free hand reaches into her hair, gathering it up into a neat handful for him to tug sideways. She lets him, again, her sense of reality blurring around the edges, her neck moving without resistance.
He grins at her like he’s just won something she doesn’t know about. “Nah. Maybe a little.” It takes her an embarrassingly long second to remember what he’d been saying; her mind seemed to be emptying.
“Still making up my mind. What about you?”
“Oh, I never doubted your existence,” Andromeda says archly to the empty alleyway she’s looking at, thanks to his grip in her hair. “All those bruises were pretty good reminders.”
“You’d never know it,” Ted says, and out of the corner of her eye Andromeda can see him gazing meaningfully at her exposed neck.
“Well, that is the point of healing spells. You did leave it rather high, you know.”
“Oh, I know,” Perseus says. The look in his eyes makes her even more intensely aware of her position against him, pinned in place. It’s that same bright look from outside the club, a smile that isn’t friendly. “That was rather the point.” He lets go of her hair suddenly, hand coming down to her free wrist so that he can twist it behind her too, sudden and sharp. “But I suppose you couldn’t let young master Selwyn see it.”
“Naturally not,” Andromeda murmurs.
“I’m not sure I like being used as a simple diversion, sweets.”
“Because you were being so very benevolent about it all. You’re going to have to come up with a better pretext for following me around, dear.” Perseus laughs, honest-to-Merlin laughs, and the sound is rattlingly familiar, darkly amused as it is.
“Would you believe it if I really did come here because I wanted to shack up with you in a Martslock alleyway?”
“No,” Andromeda says. “But you can pretend I do, if it satisfies you.”
“I can’t think of anything that’d satisfy me less.”
“Can’t you?” Andromeda thinks this is a fair question; it makes Perseus laugh again. He takes both his hands off her and pushes her back so that it’s the weight of her own body pinning her wrists in place. The rough stone scrapes against her knuckles. She could push back and she does not. He takes his hands away, and she stays where he put her; it seems important that she does so. His smile is thin and not particularly friendly, and he reaches out again to touch her neck.
“What’d you do if I left another?”
“Heal it again,” Andromeda says. “What else could I do?”
“What else indeed,” Perseus mutters. His eyes grow colder, somehow, but the pressure of his hand does not change. “Can’t risk rocking the boat, now can we?” His gaze is intense, suddenly, icy fire. Andromeda thinks again about pushing him away and again she does not.
“Not this boat,” she says instead. There’s a flash of something in Perseus’ eyes, there and gone before she can discern what it is, and then a smile curves his lips, utterly without warmth.
“I should’ve known,” he says. “I didn’t get you wrong at all, Andromeda Black.”
Andromeda snorts. “Well. That’s just wonderful for you, isn’t it.” He watches her, and she watches him, and neither of them move for an agonisingly long second. Andromeda’s about to turn away, to Disapparate, she swears she is, except she can see the look in his eyes as he judges her, can see his derision, and she wants to make him choke on it.
She lunges up to kiss him so suddenly that she almost surprises herself, biting and prickly, and he laughs against her lips and hoists her upwards, biting right back into her tender lower lip, either ignorant or uncaring of the way his movements drag her knuckles against the stone behind her. It’s a feat in the cumbersome dress robes she’s wearing but there’s a trick to bunching the fabric up and fuck if she doesn’t manage to get her legs around his waist, cinching her thighs tight so that he’s what’s keeping her upright. He’s got one hand on her back and another wrapped around the back of her neck, breathtakingly expansive over the vulnerable area. Andromeda hides her shiver by returning the favour, putting her hand in his hair and pulling until he tips his head back, laughs at the sky. When she bites the infuriating line of his jaw she can feel the vibrations of his laughter turn into something more like a groan, feel the way his hands bunch the fabric at her back when he clenches them into fists. Grins at the reaction, and when he feels her smile he bends his head down to pull her into another vicious kiss.
There’s no tenderness in it and some low base part of Andromeda delights in that. Her blood sings hot through her veins when he unclenches his fists just to dig his fingers into the quiet spaces between her ribs. She kisses him back just as ruthlessly, clutches with all her fingernails, and when she tastes bloody metal she isn’t sure which of them is bleeding.
“These bloody dress robes,” Perseus says, the fifth time he’s tried and failed to slip his hand between a division at her waistband that doesn’t exist. “Better than a goddamn chaperone.”
“What, you’re going to let a bit of fabric stop you from having a good time?” Andromeda puts one leg down so that she’s kind of standing, teeters on her toes as she feels him take two handfuls of fabric. “Don’t you dare tear these!”
“What, you couldn’t fix them?”
“Of course I could,” Andromeda snaps, even though these are tailor-made and have magic woven into its seams and she likely couldn’t mend it, at least not properly. “I’d merely be disappointed in you. What a pedestrian solution to a delicate problem –”
“Pedestrian,” Perseus repeats disgustedly, but he finds the buttons that are neatly hidden down the side of the robe, so that’s probably a victory for her. Maybe; it seems less so with each button he opens, each graze of his knuckles against her overheated, oversensitive skin.
She distracts herself from the sudden thumping beat of her heart by shoving his pants down, getting a hand around his cock and squeezing, not particularly kind. His fingers stutter as he grinds forward, ribs shifting convulsively around a breath.
“Pain in my fucking neck,” he mutters in a voice that isn’t entirely steady, shoving the cumbersome fabric of her robes to the side. Andromeda takes the words as a suggestion, and a good one at that, bites down where he won’t be able to hide it with high collars.
He groans, his rough movements gaining new urgency. Even she’s not entirely sure how he manages it, but it seems a bare instant before he’s pushing up her skirt, his hand infuriatingly confident as it navigates her body, a sudden vivid reminder that he’s done this before. His first two fingers slip inside her without hesitation, the third curls and follows, and Andromeda yanks Perseus forward to avoid crumbling entirely, digs her heels into the small of his back.
“Someone’s impatient,” he murmurs, far too gloating.
“I want to know who wouldn’t be, the pace you’re taking –” She chokes around her own sentence when he pushes her hand to one side and moves, finally, an inexorable, gritty slide forward. Her head tips back, uncontrollable, and her faint scraping gasps are as embarrassing as they are unavoidable. She’d thought his fingers went deep; she can’t breathe around this onslaught, like he’s imposing a new order in her body.
“Andromeda Black, speechless,” Perseus says smugly, tangling fingers in her hair and pulling; for no other reason, it seems, than to pull, because her head is already as far back as it will go, her crown pressed against solid rock. “Never thought I’d manage it.”
She feels her face pull into a snarl, grits out a painful “Shut up.” When she kicks him with one heel it only drives him endlessly deeper inside her, setting a rhythm that he takes up with a grim sort of smile. She gives as good as she gets, twisting her hips and clenching around him until his concentration cracks and breaks, until his movements stutter and his hands grow crueller, pinching and twisting at her skin. She still arches into every touch, revelling in the sudden sting, the warmth as blood rises to her skin and takes its sweet time sinking back down to her veins. When those clever hands of his find her breasts she makes a shocked, pleading noise into the air before she can stop herself; Perseus clamps one hand over her mouth faster than she can draw in her next breath. His fingers slip against her teeth, and the way that he looks at her he’s expecting her to try and bite them; she sucks instead, hollowing her cheeks around his knuckles, meeting his eyes from under her lashes until he groans and looks away.
He takes his hand away to twist it between them with the same determination that he has shown in every other gesture towards her, seeking out the most sensitive part of her, where she’s slick and stretched out around him. His thumb presses up and strokes, the final push Andromeda needs to tip over that now-familiar edge, coming apart at the seams as she shakes through a desperate orgasm. It leaves her wrung out and trembling, achingly sensitive and still pushing into the increased urgency of Perseus’ thrusts. When she clenches deep around him it’s as though the feeling comes through someone else. He turns his face into her neck and shudders through his own crest, grinding so deep into her she swears she can feel him in her throat.
They lean against each other for a long moment, panting; and then it seems that they both remember to be quieter in the same second, and silence falls abruptly between them. Perseus pulls out suddenly enough that it makes Andromeda gasp, makes her clench involuntarily around him as he slips free. Like her body doesn’t want him to leave. She avoids his eyes, getting her feet back under her and twisting to button up her robe. She’s steadier this time around, forces herself to be, even manages to get all her buttons done right.
“So tell me, Andromeda Black,” Ted says when she straightens, hooking a casual hand under Andromeda’s jaws to tilt her head to one side, rubbing a thumb over the stinging skin where a hickey must be forming. “What’re you going to do with this?”
He wants a particular answer; that much is clear. Andromeda can’t give it to him; that much is also clear. What surprises her is how much she wants to. There’s some strange satisfaction that goes bone-deep at the idea of keeping his marks on her. Of flaunting them. Perseus gives her a thin, flinty sort of smile, and Andromeda jerks backwards out of his grip, scowls at him as her shoulders smack solidly against the wall behind her.
“They’ll just be healed by someone else if I leave them there,” she says, which is not entirely wrong. “And they might raise an awful lot of inconvenient questions for you.”
“Oh, don’t be so magnanimous,” Perseus drawls, seemingly unconcerned. “I think the questions would be rather more uncomfortable for you.”
He’s right, is the galling thing; she has everything to lose and he has nothing, not with who’s doing the taking in this scenario. He resettles his grip on her neck and she has to hide the way her knees grow weak. She’s desperately aware of the gentle pressure; the way that it could so quickly grow deadly, but doesn’t.
“Which is why I’ll be healing that, if you please.” Perseus gives her another narrow, considering look, but at least this time there’s less outright scorn in it. Andromeda doesn’t know why that matters. Finally he steps back, takes his hand away. Changes the subject, and she takes that as tacit approval.
“You ought to come to mine next time,” Perseus says casually, watching her with evaluating eyes. “Bed’s more comfortable than a wall.”
It’s not so much an invitation as a test, the same as every other word in this conversation. Andromeda can see in the way that he watches her that he’s expecting her to turn him down, to insist that there isn’t going to be a next time. It’s what she should do; but she’s not had the best track record, recently, of doing what she’s supposed to.
“Fine,” she says, and has the pleasure of watching surprise flare in his eyes for a brief instant before he snuffs it out, all tight control. Satisfaction coils deep in her chest, makes it hard for her to feel the trepidation or the regret she probably ought to be feeling. “Give me your address.”
Perseus watches her for a moment; then he lets go, steps, back, smiles quick and sudden and untrustworthy.
“Nah,” he says. “Clever girl like you. You’ll find me.”
He Apparates away before she can finish her sentence, before she can realise what he’s doing. Possibly that’s a good thing; she doesn’t know what she would’ve said, what she would’ve done. Her hands clench into angry, frustrated fists by her side.
She almost forgets about the hickey on her neck before she stalks out of the alley; after a few moments of internal conflict, she conjures up a scarf. Wraps it around her neck a little tighter than necessary, so that every time she draws breath inwards she’s reminded of its presence. Of what it’s covering. She’ll have to heal it later, there’s no doubt about it; but for now, she can keep it.
The first thing that Andromeda does when she gets back home is march into Father’s study and ask to look at the profiles of everyone on the Death Eater watchlist. Perseus hadn’t confirmed anything, but the way he’d reacted when he’d first seen her, that fear; those were the actions of a man who thought himself a target. Father raises an eyebrow, and Andromeda’s explanation comes out more stumblingly than she would have hoped – she’d rehearsed it to herself all through her mindless walk through Martslock, but one was never as suave in person as they were in their minds. She thinks it convinces him. At any rate, she’d chosen only true things to make it up: it was true that Mother was going to be busy with wedding preparation, and it was true that she and Andromeda were going to go shopping far more frequently. And in such public places, it was true that Order members and other targets could be seen. Really, it is only her own motivation which Andromeda is lying about.
She seems to pass muster, anyway, because Father only shrugs and hands over a duplicate roll of documents from one of his myriad drawers with a desultory warning not to put herself in danger. It is difficult to tell how much of the roll’s imposing heaviness is her own imagination. Andromeda takes it and flees, afraid that he’s going to read her thoughts on her face if she lingers.
There are so many pictures in the roll; soon they cover her bed, scattered over the covers and moving every time she does despite her best attempts to keep them in order. It doesn’t matter, in the end; she recognises her Perseus as soon as she sees the picture of his face, even the blurry, off-centre image somehow insouciant and defiant. The sparse print underneath the picture reads Ted Tonks, Muggleborn. Known member of the Order of the Phoenix. She runs a finger over the font, her nail flicking upwards off the serif tails.
Ted Tonks. She has a name, now. A name and an affiliation. The information slots into her chest, feels correct sitting there. She takes a breath around it and traces over that name again, rolls the shape of it around in her mouth. Ted Tonks.
Chapter 4: up to here in a hot fire
His name, of course, is the easy part. Tonks’ habits, his home, that was going to be a little more difficult. She starts at the bar where they’d met; it’s an awful time trying to find the thing again, but she manages it, and she asks the bartender – a tall, imposing woman, tonight – whether she knows a Ted Tonks, tall guy, blond hair, blue eyes. The bartender shrugs neutrally, and Andromeda resigns herself to having lost her best lead; but just as she’s sat down morosely on the nearest chair and begin to trace unhappy patterns into the table, the bartender swings around again to say, quite unexpectedly, “I know who you meant. He’s a regular here.” Andromeda sits up, suddenly hopeful, but the lady doesn’t know where Tonks lives, doesn’t know his routine; all she knows that he comes in here on the regular. It’s not much, but it’s enough to work with. Andromeda sets up a couple of routine surveillance spells on the building, ones that’ll alert her if another wizard enters the grounds.
It’s not even two days before she gets results: the next night her alarms trip and she carefully Disillusions herself, creeps into the club so disguised. In the lively crowd the touches of an invisible body don’t even register; Andromeda can bump into as many people as she wants in her quest.
She finds him leaning against the bar, chatting with another guy, friendly enough that they must be friends. Or, possibly, that they are both rather drunk; Andromeda somehow doubts this possibility. She inches closer to them as carefully as she knows how, casts a quick tracking spell, and then settles against the wall to wait. She has no doubt that Order headquarters would have counter-measures against standard tracking and monitoring spells, but Tonks also looks casual enough that she thinks – hopes – this is a night out for him. That he’ll go straight back to his apartment; then again, it’s possible that his apartment would have similar counter-measures. Andromeda hesitates, wonders if she could grab ahold of him before he Apparates. Decides that she probably couldn’t without being caught.
The occasion to find out never arises, though, because after he’s drained his glass Ted sets it down, settles his tab, and then ducks out the back door again with a wave to the bartender. Andromeda follows as fast as she can, only just slipping out behind him before the door can slam into her.
Tonks walks disgustingly confidently, for a man being tailed; he has a long, loping stride that doesn’t seem to change for anything in his way, raising his cigarette to his mouth every few yards. He seems utterly comfortable in these streets, utterly sure of where he is going and how: hands in pockets, whistling as he walks. Andromeda follows, arms folded, though what she’s so displeased with she’s not sure.
Finally, they reach a little apartment building on the corner of two streets that Andromeda has not bothered to figure out the names of, squeezed so tightly between its neighbours that Andromeda suspects at once it is magically concealed from Muggles. She stops walking carefully as Tonks heads inside, holds the door open after him. “Well?” he asks, turning, eyes fixed unerringly on Andromeda’s edges. “You might as well come in.”
There’s no point in pretending; Andromeda’s been caught, fair and square. She sighs, reappears in the middle of the street and can’t quite bring herself to care as she pushes inside. “How long?”
“Since you cast those monitoring spells,” Tonks says, the corners of his lips tipped upwards. “I already had my own in place, you see.” His cigarette emits a faint trail of smoke in the air, a vague semicircle that disappears almost before it is actualised. The smile he sends her could almost be called warm. “I was glad to hear from you.”
“How did you know it was me?” Andromeda demands, and the smirk blossoms into a full grin.
“I ought to know your magic by now, Andromeda Black. Lucky for me I didn’t have to depend on that; Sarah’s trialling a CCTV system ‘round the bar. She let me have a peek. Just to make sure, mind.”
“A peek.” Tonks’ grin makes it perfectly clear he knows that is not what she’d been asking. He stubs his cigarette out in the doorway and flicks the ashes at her.
“I know what a peek is, Tonks,” Andromeda snaps.
She hesitates before trying to ask after the unfamiliar word again, which proves to be her downfall: Tonks jumps in at once with an irreverent movement of his eyebrows to say, “Figured out my name, huh?”
“Wasn’t that hard.”
“What’d you do, look me up in the yellow pages?”
Andromeda doesn’t know what yellow pages have anything to do with this, and scowls at the smug little tilt of Tonks’ mouth. It must be a Muggle thing; that alone means it isn’t worth knowing. But still, it’s – annoying, to say the least, for him to know more than she. Even in the realm of Muggle things.
“No,” she says, weighing her words carefully. “I looked through our list of wanteds.”
“I thought it might be something like that,” Tonks says, exasperatingly unperturbed. “Was the likeness a good one, at least?”
“They photographed you on your best side,” Andromeda says. “Not that that’s saying much.”
Tonks winks at her, and there’s an unfamiliar frisson of warmth in the expression before it is subsumed once again in familiar prickly teasing. “Got you here, didn’t it?” He starts up the dark little stairwell and Andromeda scowls again, follows behind.
“You live here alone?” she asks, as the wood creaks under each upwards step. Truly, all that she’s thinking about is whether anyone will see her here, but as soon as she says the words she hears the other meaning in them.
Tonks’ eyes shine through the darkness when he turns around, cold blue cutting through the gloom. “Yes. I’ve some decency left in me, at least.” It’s wiped the smile off his face, settled grimness deep in his eyes, but Andromeda doesn’t feel any satisfaction at it. Tonks turns, starts up the steps again. “You must have noticed that the house’s hidden, anyway.”
“I did,” Andromeda admits. Hesitates, and then says, “I assumed it was secured, too,” in the tone of a question.
Tonks turns to her when he reaches the top of the stairs, puts out a hand to help her up the last few steps. “Oh, it’s secure,” he says, teasing. “Why do you ask, Miss Black?”
“I’ve sadly underestimated you, if you don’t know by now,” Andromeda says into the dimness, to the bright flash of his amused teeth.
“Maybe I just want to hear you say it, ever think of that?”
“Maybe I don’t want to say it,” Andromeda parrots, “ever think of that?”
“And why ever not?” Tonks asks, pressing closer. Twisting his fingers into her hair and tugging. “Afraid it’ll make this more real?”
He has a way of cutting right down to the bone of things; he’s right, as much as she hates to admit it, and he makes it sound dreadfully silly, saying it that way. There’s nothing that could make this less real. In weaker moments Andromeda has caught herself thinking that the encounters she’d had with him were the most real things in her life. She doesn’t say a word, and Tonks smiles at her like he’s won something. Maybe he has.
He keeps a proprietary grip in her hair as he unlocks the door, fumbling a little with the keys in his left hand. Andromeda lets the touch guide her, moving when he signals her, feels a tranquil sort of contentment settle into her bones.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” Tonks says, flicking a switch and kicking the door closed behind them. The small room lights up yellow at once, warm even against the spartan setup. There is nothing on the walls, nothing on the fastidiously clean tables; this is a room that has not been lived in, Andromeda can tell. “And now I’ve shown you my place, you can show me something of yours.”
“What?” Andromeda asks warily. She has a feeling he does not necessarily mean her apartment, or even her body. The grim smile he gives her doesn’t reassure her in the slightest.
“Your thoughts, Black. What are you playing at?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You’re getting married,” Tonks says, his tone patient in the way that one would be patient with a small child. “Or had you forgotten?”
“It’s not a thing that a girl’s likely to forget,” Andromeda says primly. Tonks tugs at her hair, a little cruel in just the way they have found that Andromeda likes. She grits her teeth, tries – probably fails – not to react.
“So what are you doing with a Mudblood in his Muggle flat, hm?”
“It’s an arranged marriage.”
“That doesn’t explain half as much as you want it to.”
“No, but it’s twice as much as you deserve.”
“Someone,” Tonks says, sing-song, “thinks she’s clever.” He kisses her before she can respond, and she winds her hands into his clothes and kisses back, violent to push him to violence. A little relieved when he obliges, biting at her lower lip; this is something she knows how to deal with, much more easily than probing questions and sharp eyes.
She hadn’t come out intending to be caught out, to spend the night out, and probably she should say that and make her excuses, because someone’s probably going to notice her absence and then Mother will get involved and raise a lot of fuss over what is arguably not nothing, but Ted Tonks kisses her and it’s as though he sweeps all her worries away, everything about him crashing waves and unpredictable tides. Andromeda is caught and dragged out to sea and she doesn’t mind in the least. She doesn’t even have the good sense to be frightened.
The two of them don’t make it to the bed, which would be funnier if she had the mental capacity to stop and think about it; but Ted promises to make her shriek, and just as she’s resolved not to oblige him he pins her down and bites the inside of her thigh and makes her gasp, loud, too loud. He shoots her a smug grin from between her legs and presses his lips to the space between them, an altogether different kind of kiss, and mental capacity is no longer any sort of option. Andromeda bites the inside of her cheek nearly bloody under this new onslaught, lips and tongue and the occasional thrilling scrape of teeth, the glorious stinging press of Ted’s fingers into her waist to keep her still when she tries to writhe away. Every noise she makes only seems to encourage him; he stays between her trembling thighs until she feels delirious with the sensations he’s driving through her, until her whole body feels like one raw nerve ending. Until she curls desperately into herself and comes with a noise she’s never made before, and she thinks that surely that’ll be the end of it, except he makes no move to extricate himself, keeps licking into her until the sensitivity pushes towards the razorblade edge of painful and she has to pull him up to her or lose her mind entirely.
The grin stretched out on his face looks almost wild, his mouth glistening with the evidence of her pleasure. He kisses her and she tastes herself in his mouth, salty and strange.
When he looks at her, there’s something in his eyes that she doesn’t know how to label. That same almost-warmth she thought she’d caught once before. It frightens her, the enormity of what that could mean. She wriggles out from under him, busies herself returning the favour. She doesn’t expect to like it as much as she does, heat in her mouth and over her tongue, her jaw starting to ache, the way his hands grasp at her. And if it means she doesn’t have to watch his face when he fists a hand in her hair and comes, so much the better. Or so she tells herself.
She ought to have known better, though. There is no escaping a difficult subject. When she stretches out beside Tonks as luxuriously as one can stretch on a tiny couch, he settles a hand easily on her shoulder to draw her onto him and from there rubs the same hand along her side, up and down in smooth motions across her skin. When she tips her head up to smile at him he catches her eye and says, “What are we doing, Andromeda Black?”
It’s not a question that can be answered; it’s not a question that can be run away from. Andromeda feels the smile freeze on her face, and something like disappointment settles across Tonks’ features like a fine mist.
“You tell me,” she says warily.
“I’m not the one getting married this year,” Tonks rejoins, unimpressed. Andromeda feels her mouth twist, sits up abruptly to get away from him and the gentle motions of his hand.
“An arranged marriage,” she says, the second time that night. Still just as useless. She hears the rustle of Tonks sitting up behind her and doesn’t turn around to look at him. What is she doing, here, with him? What does she plan to do? She’s not sure that even she could answer those questions. That’s not a good thing. She stands rather than dwell further on the subject, pads naked towards the closed door at the other side of the room. “Why?” she asks the doorknob in front of her, pressing her fingers into the cool metal. “You want me to leave? You did promise me a bed, you know.”
“You’re insatiable,” Ted hums behind her, and the floorboards creak as he follows her across the room. A bare moment later he’s pressed against her, reaching around to open the door, pressing a kiss to her neck as he does.
His bedroom is just as bare and unlived-in as the living room, the unmade bed the only sign that someone lives here. Andromeda can’t stand the gentle way he’s pressed against her, so she says, “And here I was thinking you were tidy. I suppose your living room is only that clean because you don’t spend time there.” Not her best cutting remark, but she thinks she can be excused with her faculties in the state they are; she sinks into the familiar heat of it when Ted’s kiss becomes a stinging bite, when he pinches her side.
“I am sorry, Your Highness,” he says sarcastically, flicking his wand at the bed so that it makes itself messily, “I didn’t know we had to start off tidy.”
“Half the pleasure is in the process of dishevelment,” Andromeda tells him as severely as she can, hardly aware of what’s coming out of her mouth at this point, all her brain focused on the places he’s touching her. “Surely you ought to know this best of all.” She can almost feel the way he rolls his eyes behind her, definitely feels the way he drags her over to the bed. They do end up mussing the sheets with great enthusiasm; Andromeda’s not sure who wins, in that case. She supposes it doesn’t matter.
It’s not as though either of them are complaining, after all. Ted is gloriously rough when she goads him, his touch enough to drive Andromeda out of her own head for a few precious hours; enough to make her forget how she hates that nobody else has done this to her, with her, that she’s increasingly doubtful anyone ever will. His eyes go dark and possessive every time she yields to him, every time she lets him suck another mark onto her skin, and the sight sparks responding heat dancing through the insides of her veins.
She’s utterly lost track of the time when they disengage from each other, when he bites down on her shoulder in a movement that is oddly final, a signing off as his teeth find a final place for themselves in her skin. “Where to now?” he asks, and almost sounds as though he doesn’t care at all.
The first, foolish part of Andromeda wants to say, here, and see how he answers to that. She sits up instead, silent and unresponsive. Drifting over to the closet in the corner and grabbing one of the many hanging robes inside. There’s a rustle as Tonks sits up behind her.
“Hey,” he says, and doesn’t seem to know how to continue. Andromeda wraps herself in his robe and it puddles around her feet, too much fabric.
“You’ve got more,” she says, and Disapparates, abandons her own robes to their rumpled fate in the living room.
The wedding plans take on a queer, ethereal significance to Andromeda after that. It’s not that they don’t seem real – they’re very real, and she knows that perfectly well – but somehow they seem less important. Minimised. Perhaps as though they are going to take place far into the future, or to some other unlucky soul. Andromeda watches with detached eyes as things start to come together, as Mother drags her into shop after shop, as her notebook fills increasingly with neat, curved handwriting. There’s not much else she can do, barred as she is from participating in the wedding planning herself.
She likes to think that she still would have felt this way on her own, without outside interference – but she also can’t deny the way that Ted Tonks has pushed into the forefront of her mind, recently. She sees him every time she closes her eyes; she keeps a running catalogue of the marks he’d left on her, hickeys and bruises, their various rates of healing. Sometimes she presses her fingers into the marks his had made, and the resulting ache always makes her shiver.
These are not things that a good Pureblood daughter should be feeling. She should be positively frothing at the mouth to help prepare her own wedding; she should be writing all her friends about it, corresponding with her sisters to pass on every update; she should be meeting and greeting her in-laws to-be, her husband to be.
Instead she primarily occupies herself by cataloguing Mother’s time, her habits. The impending wedding has kicked her into high gear, but she doesn’t need Andromeda for much, in truth, not after those few perfunctory aesthetic questions had been settled and the thought of taking Andromeda seriously had been firmly put aside. It’s positively easy for her to sneak away; she tests the household on one occasion by Apparating to Martslock and wandering through the deserted back alleys where nobody will see her. Neither Mother nor Father mention her little outing, that day or the day after.
When she Apparates into Tonks’ flat directly for the first time the afternoon light through the window makes the place a stranger to her. He’s not here, and so all the small details that had gone unnoticed in yesterday’s frantic encounter now reveal themselves to her: cracks on the wall, the precise warm brown of the floor, the cabinet on the far side of the room, tightly shut. She reacquaints herself with the place leisurely, opening each door to survey the limits of his territory, sharply cataloguing the faults in the old house, its utter lack of personality or personal items. She wonders if he simply lives like this or whether his personal items are somewhere else; she pushes the thought out of her head.
The only place the holds any interest for her is the cabinet in the corner of the living room, which stings her hand as soon as she touches it. She makes a few halfhearted efforts to get around the magic on the old piece of furniture, but it doesn’t budge, which is about what she’d expected. If Tonks had given this address to her he certainly wouldn’t have left anything even vaguely valuable inside it; she would take offence, but he’s not wrong to do it. For lack of anything better to do – and because it will certainly annoy him – she keeps trying anyway.
If he’d had monitoring spells on a club he went to, she was sure that he’d be monitoring his own flat. Sure enough, not twenty minutes after she’d Apparated in there’s another telling crack in the air behind her.
“You really think you’re going to have any luck in there?” Tonks asks dryly, and she tosses a careless, teasing look over one shoulder, batting her eyelashes at him.
“Who knows what you’d be dumb enough to leave lying around?”
His mouth quirks up on one side as he strolls closer. “It’s not best practice to insult the guy you want to get into bed, you know that?”
“Like you’re already not a sure thing.” He reaches her and she smiles, a rare wide thing that she can’t wipe off her face even when he tilts her head back to kiss her.
She doesn’t find out what’s in the cabinet, that visit. She takes another one of his robes on her way out and doesn’t mind.
Things would be almost perfect if it wasn’t for the impending wedding looming ever closer. Andromeda resolves not to pay any attention to it and mostly fails; it is always there, always present, in the newly clean house or the visits of Mrs. Selwyn or Mother’s perfunctory questions about decorations. Everywhere she turns is a new incarnation of wedding talk, or a new question, or a new orchestrated accidental encounter with Antares Selwyn, who remains as stoically silent as ever.
“Do you want to get married?” Andromeda asks him once, and is rewarded with a blank stare and an uncomfortably long silence.
“Of course,” he says, after far too long, and then he returns his attention to his hands. He doesn’t even return the question, doesn’t seem to so much as wonder why she’d asked.
It’s almost terrifyingly easy to sneak away. The first time the opportunity arises, Andromeda doesn’t let herself take it; somehow it seems unwise. It is still important for her to remember that this doesn’t – can’t – mean anything to her. Tonks is still a Muggleborn, after all. For a few strange days she considers not going back to his flat. For a few strange days she considers telling Father where it is; it’s what a good Pureblood daughter would do, though the point is rather rendered moot because a good Pureblood daughter would never have gotten herself into this situation in the first place. Despite herself, she shudders to think what would happen to Tonks if she betrayed him, and does not raise the possibility again even in the privacy of her own mind.
She does see him again. Of course she does; it had felt, still feels, bizarre to so much as consider the possibility that she wouldn’t. Tonks is in the house when she Apparates in this time, maybe because it’s evening or maybe just because his schedule is unpredictable. He grins to see her, an expression that lights up the dim little room, and then he crowds her against the closest wall and has her riding his fingers until she’s crying, small quiet tears that cling to her eyelashes and squeeze out of the corners of her eyes when she closes them, panting raggedly.
It is, conceptually, the perfect encounter. They barely say a word to each other throughout, but to say that would not be quite true; the illicit rendezvous is full of communication, from the movements of their bodies to the way he hands her one of his robes at the end, pointed, as though to say something cutting about having to buy new ones. She takes it, adds it to the slow-growing collection at the back of her closet. They all smell like him, an indefinable scent that makes Andromeda think of warmth, the dancing sunlight at the seaside. He’d smiled at her as she left and she’d smiled back, for an instant, before she could think better of it. Instinctive, and unwise for it.
Selwyn doesn’t touch her the way that Tonks does. He barely touches her at all; a hand on her waist around their mothers, perhaps, which is dropped once they are alone. Andromeda might devote more time to being insulted by this if she cared.
The next time that she Apparates into Tonks’ flat he makes her wait nearly an hour before he Apparates in. When she turns around he’s dishevelled, rumpled, his hair every which way and his wand still dancing between his fingers. His eyes are sharp on her when she stands in a silent greeting. She wants to know what had happened to him with an intensity that shocks her. She knows he won’t tell her.
“Are you –” she starts hesitantly. His mouth curls mockingly, almost cruelly.
“Am I? I don’t know, sweets, you tell me.”
“What happened?” she asks, throwing caution to the wind. If he’s going to snap at her anyway –
He doesn’t snap, though. Just stares at her for a moment, something strange and disbelieving on his face, and then he throws his head back and laughs without a trace of humour. “You’re good,” he says, and it’s distinctly not a compliment. “God, you’re good.”
“Ask your father,” Tonks says, flat and unforgiving. “He’d know, wouldn’t he?” Andromeda purses her lips, doesn’t say anything. She can’t; she doesn’t have a defence. “Better still,” Tonks continues, ruthless, “ask your boyfriend. He was there.”
“Antares?” Andromeda blinks. It dawns on her that she doesn’t have the slightest idea of what Antares Selwyn’s role in the Death Eater organisation is; but that was foolish, wasn’t it? Every Death Eater’s role is a fighting one, even when it wasn’t. “What happened?” she asks again, quiet. Tonks shrugs.
“You wouldn’t be so upset about a fight,” Andromeda says, because she knows enough to know that. Tonks light a cigarette with hands that shake.
“Fine,” he says. “Fine. You want to know what’s wrong? Glad’s in the hospital. Wandered into a spell meant for me and –” He throws the cigarette across the room rather than finish, sending a nonverbal spell after it so that it explodes in midair, sparks scattering across the room. One lands on Andromeda ankle and burns for a bare second before fizzling out.
“That’s not your fault.” It’s not the worst thing to say, but she knows for a fact that she’s the worst person to say it. She knows it even before he turns on her, hands clenched into fists, eyes a hundred times brighter than the shower of sparks a moment ago.
“What the hell,” he says, enunciating very carefully, “would you know?”
“I know you,” Andromeda says, even though she doesn’t, not really, she doesn’t know him in the ways that don’t matter, and everything she says, every moment she stays here is just digging her deeper into this strange dark hole. “I know fighting. I –”
“Shut up,” Ted snarls, and in an instant he’s across the room and his hand’s slapped over her mouth so hard her teeth cut into her lips. The little spots of pain help ground her, as she stares up into his face that is a lot angry and a little terrified, behind that, aching. She hates to see that hurt in his eyes, all that pent-up emotion that is raging with nowhere to go.
So she gives it somewhere to go: she drags her jaw open and bites his hand, hard, her teeth digging in even when he swears and tries to rear back.
“Come on,” she says, grabbing his wrist and dragging a nail across it, deliberate and rasping. The thin skin goes bright white in the wake of it, and then flushes pink and sweet for her. “Come on. I know you want to.”
“Fuck – fuck.” Ted groans, and slaps her hand away from him far harder than is necessary. She slaps back because she understands what he needs, one broken thing recognising another in a way that is soul-deep and unmistakeable, aiming right for his face with her nails curved to break skin.
He grabs her wrist before it makes contact, twists it backwards until she yelps and flails out with her other hand. He grabs that one too, which is maybe what she’d intended, and he bundles them both behind her back and then bears down on her until the two of them land on his pathetic sofa all twisted up and into each other. In that moment the two of them are barely human, just a pile of sharp joints and sharp bones digging into any pieces of soft flesh they’ve been stupid enough to leave uncovered, biting and scratching and pulling at one another. It’s so good, it’s glorious, all of it a blur until tiny moments crystallise in Andromeda’s mind: the exquisite pleasure-pain when he bites down on a nipple, the way his skin warms under her nails, the snarl on his face when he pushes brutally into her and she way her throat aches when she keens, high and loud.
She feels it when he gasps and bites her shoulder and comes inside her, feels the sudden warm wetness like a brand carved into the deepest, tenderest parts of her. He slumps and she takes advantage of the momentary weakness to push him, to pin him between her thighs and flip them over. She can’t keep her eyes off his face as she rides him mercilessly from softness to oversensitivity and he’s so fucked out that he can’t do anything more than print the impressions of his fingers on her hips and say her name over and over like it’s being dragged out of him. The way his voice hitches and drags over the vowels in her name is what echoes in her ears when she finally comes, the orgasm shaking through her like an earthquake, bone-shattering.
It actually feels like she goes a little out of it, after, because when she next blinks she’s cradled on Ted’s chest and his hands are running over her shoulders with all the gentleness that’d been lacking a few minutes ago. She blinks and time clings to the movement, soft and slow and making the whole world shimmer. He’s humming tunelessly in a way that makes his chest vibrate under her ear, and for a moment this is her whole world.
Surely there are a hundred things Andromeda could say – should say – now, but none of them come to mind. She’s absurdly alright with that; absurdly comfortable to just lie here, warm, feeling like all her edges have been scraped down to something smooth.
Ted is the one to break the silence, finally. “Back with me?” he asks, and she hums in response. He goes quiet, his touches even gentler, feather-light. “You didn’t have to do that,” he says finally. “Not that – I mean –” He pauses and swallows through his words. It is so unusual to hear him stumble. “Are you okay?” he asks finally, and his voice is so soft.
Andromeda hums again, rubs her cheek against his chest to feel the scrape of hair against her skin. “Yes,” she says, voice blurry. “Yes.”
“I shouldn’t have –”
“I wanted to.”
That quiets him, as it should. Andromeda had known perfectly well what she was doing. Ted tips the two of them over so that she’s pressed between the couch cushions and his body, so that he can lean down and kiss her soft and deep, trying to press everything neither of them can articulate into the non-existent space between their bodies.
It’s growing darker outside. Soon she’ll only be able to see his outlines in the reflected glow of the streetlights. “I should go,” she says, feels the movement of his hand stutter. His fingers press close to her skin.
“Don’t,” he says. “Stay.”
It’s not even really a choice, for her. She nods into his skin and lets him gather her up, lets him carry her to bed and pull a cold blanket over the two of them. It warms quickly, but she still presses her toes into his calves and her nose to his neck. Smiles when she feels his lips against the crown of her head, his arms around her waist. They don’t speak, either of them, but their quiet close breaths say enough. Andromeda’s sleep is dark and dreamless and comfortable.
She had expected to be woken by Ted, by her own instincts, even by the sun, but in the end it is none of these things which rouse her and she is worse off for it. The rude loud crack of somebody’s careless Apparition yanks her from her sleep, and in the space of a moment it feels as though her entire body has been overtaken by sheer horror. Ted sits up beside her, lets a gust of cold air underneath the blanket. Adrenaline rushes through her at the thought of somebody else in the flat – someone who might recognise her, expose her, ruin her, and the worst thing is that it would all be her own stupid fault –
Ted pushes her shoulder and she curses her own slow reactions as she heaves herself onto her stomach, buries her face in the closest pillow. “Tonks!” an unfamiliar voice calls. Ted’s hand settles low on the back of her neck in a move that is maybe supposed to be reassuring as she hears the door bursts open. “Tonks, I – oh.”
“Yeah, oh,” Ted bites out. “I nearly jinxed your head off, you fucking tosser. The hell are you after?”
“I’d like to’ve seen you try,” the unfamiliar voice says, closer now. Andromeda closes her eyes and tries not to expire on the spot. It’s harder than she’d thought. “I just thought you’d like to know Glad’s been cleared by the docs.”
“Oh –” Ted says, and his hand shakes a little on Andromeda’s neck. “I thought they said they couldn’t tell.”
“Unlike someone I could mention, they’ve been working through the night. It’ll take her a few months to stop feeling the effects of the curse, but yeah. Clean bill of health.”
“Thank God,” Ted says. “Thank God.”
“Yeah,” the other man says. “Yeah.” There’s a long pause. Andromeda is vividly aware of the cold morning air skimming against her bare back, and she knows she should be glad for Ted – is, somewhere deep down – but she wishes fervently that she could be glad more privately, with no-one else around.
“Thanks,” Ted says finally. “For dropping by. You want breakfast?”
“I want an introduction, is what I want,” Ted’s friend says, and Andromeda thinks she’s going to die.
“She’s shy,” Ted says, voice admirably steady. “And asleep. Go away, Tosh.”
“Fine,” the man – Tosh? – says, put-upon. “Keep your secrets.” Andromeda can’t hear what he does next, only knows that he must still be in the room from the telling silence, and it feels like the tensest moment of her life, keeping still and hidden. The pillow in front of her is damp with how she’s breathed into it, open-mouthed and anxious. Finally, finally, there’s the pop of Apparition and they’re alone. Andromeda lets out a shaking breath and turns over. Her lungs expand around unfiltered air. She’s safe again, but for how long? It was stupid of her to assume this was a secure location.
“I’m sorry about that,” Ted says, looking down at her, and she can tell he means it but what fucking good does that do her? “No-one comes to visit me here.”
“Clearly someone does,” Andromeda bites out, rolling to her feet and grabbing another robe of his, her movements sharp and angry. “I ought never to have come here.”
“But you did,” Ted says, simple and undeniable, his eyes heavy on her even as she covers herself up.
“And look what that may have cost me.”
Ted’s breath rushes out of his nose, not quite a scoff but not entirely sympathetic, either. “What would’ve happened, then? Your marriage might be called off? Your family might reject you? You’d be better for it, Andromeda.”
Andromeda is so angry that she can barely speak. Her voice shakes when she finally drags, “You have no idea,” out of her chest. “Tonks, you have no idea.”
“Enlighten me, then.”
The silence between them grows unbearable before Andromeda finally breaks it. “You wouldn’t understand,” she says flatly. “I know they’re terrible.” The knowledge has been dancing around the edge of her skull for a long time, she thinks, but – this is the first time she’s said it, out loud or to herself. “But they’re my family. I can’t –”
“You can,” Tonks says, and maybe it would be easier to stand if his voice was hard and flat, if he was as closed-off as he’d been the first time they met, but he’s not. The lines of him are soft as the window behind him starts to lighten into pale ashy grey, and his eyes are bleeding sincerity. He has no idea what it would mean for her: to be cast out of her family, to be branded a blood traitor. To be burned off the family tree like she was something to be ashamed of. He has no idea what it means when he says, “Andromeda, you should.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Andromeda hisses. Anger is easy to feel, easy to grasp, and it warms her from the inside out. “You have no idea –”
“Don’t speak to me,” she snaps. “Don’t.” She means Don’t say my name like that. “I shouldn’t be here. You should never have –”
“But I did, and so did you. You can’t say you didn’t. All you can say is – why.” Ted’s eyes are bright against the grey dawn, a whole world of colour. “Tell me what you’re doing here.”
“Fine,” Andromeda bites out. “Fine. I’m here for sex. I wanted to shag you. Is that what you’ve been wanting to hear?”
“I don’t know,” Tonks says. Andromeda can’t read his expression. “Is that what you’ve been wanting to say?”
“You’re talking in riddles,” she hisses. Throws a hanger at the bed because she can, watches it bounce harmlessly against his leg.
“You know what I want,” he says, looking up at her. And she does; she knows exactly what he wants. She knows it’s impossible for her to give.
“This was only ever an arrangement of convenience, Tonks.”
Ted looks infuriatingly unaffected, about a second away from rolling his eyes at her. “I don’t believe you. This is convenience? Sleeping with a Mudblood? Risking your reputation and your future on the fact that nobody comes visit me at home?”
“It was the safest risk I could take,” Andromeda hisses, resisting the temptation to throw another hanger and aim higher this time. “You think I could do this with anyone of my own station and have it kept quiet?”
That makes him go still, expression deathly grave. Reacting, finally, and it doesn’t feel as satisfying as it should. “Your own station,” he repeats, flat. “Which is where, exactly?”
“I – that’s not –”
“Oh, I think that’s exactly what you meant,” The smile he gives her is thin and knifelike. “That’s on me. I should’ve known better than to think someone like you might change.” He gets up, dragging the blanket with him. “You’d better go. Don’t bother trying to come back.” He pauses; then he smiles again, dangerous. “Better yet, try. You’ll only need to once.”
He leaves before she can respond, stalks out and slams the door after him. Andromeda stares at the expressionless wood and wonders why she wants to go after him. She’d gotten out of that bed intending to call this off; this is what she’d wanted. She has no right to be feeling as though someone’s carved emptiness into her chest.
She wraps Ted’s robe tighter around herself, cold comfort. Then she straightens, takes a breath, Apparates back into her own bedroom. Her own bed stares out at her from the middle of the room, the cold still air all that’s here to welcome her. This is where she belongs; this is where she’d belonged all her life. That wasn’t something she could change.
> most pressing question for those of you made it down here “is ted’s friend really named tosh” WELL that’s up to you to decide but I do firmly believe there are parents that mean out there. personally I think tosh is a hilarious name and nickname, so there’s no losing here
> so SO so many thanks to the glorious people of the discord server who helped me brainstorm and discussed the intricacies of the british class divide with me!! you guys made ted and andromeda’s fight extremely better by which I mean worse and I thank you for it
Whatever it was that Andromeda had with Ted Tonks – whatever it was, in practical terms, its comprehensive breakage couldn’t have happened at a better time for her. The wedding grows ever closer and Mother, in turn, grows exponentially more frenzied about having everything be perfect. She calls on Andromeda more than ever before; to double-check seating placements against the guest list, to taste-test the food and drinks which are going to be available, to find somewhere to store fifty centrepieces when they find out a scheduling mix-up has the flowers arriving a week early.
Andromeda wouldn’t mind, necessarily, because it’s as good a way as any to keep busy enough that she doesn’t feel the nerves, except – no matter how busy she is, she can’t stop thinking about Ted Tonks. Like those first days after their first encounter, the marks he’d left on her linger; every flashing throb of pain is a reminder of what they’d done together, and everything around Andromeda, it seems, is a reminder of him. She keeps returning to thoughts of his laugh, his languid movements, his self-assured stride. The way that his expression had flattened when they’d fought.
She’d been raised on casual cruelty, on stiff upper lips and grudges and gossip. She’s not so sure that it’s a good thing, to learn that that’s what she falls back on when she’s angry.
Because that’s what she’d been, she’d been furious, and she’d even managed to stay furious for a few days, at the suggestion of leaving her family, everything she’d ever known, of being branded a blood traitor and burned off the family tree. But anger can only sustain a body for so long, and somewhere in between plate settings and napkin arrangements, in between Mother’s incessant poisonous remarks about their guests – Andromeda feels the bitterness seep right out of her. And all that leaves her with, then, is the cold knowledge that she’d been wrong.
She’d been wrong. It is the easiest thing in the world to admit and the hardest to acknowledge. It might be easy to admit she was wrong to say what she had, to imply what she had, when Ted was anything but below her, and it might even be easy enough to admit that her family were not good people, but the knock-on effects of those admissions were far-reaching and disconcerting. She’d been wrong: and so, now what?
She doesn’t know. It frightens her.
The flowers arrive en masse, basketfuls of table arrangements delivered to the door of Black Manor a week in advance, as promised. Andromeda stares at the piles and piles of lavender with an impossible certainty that they’re not real. They can’t be real; but then she steps forward and touches one and, yes, real. She’s getting married in a week.
She spends a long time carting the flowers from the front room to the sunroom at the top of the house: they may be magically immune to wilting or decaying, but the crushing pressure of Apparition has never had positive effects on botanical ingredients. With each trip up and down the stairs, her impending nuptials seem to solidify in her mind. She feels the world around her almost helplessly, reluctantly: the scent of lavender filling her head, the smooth porcelain between her hands, the purpose of these flowers. Everything grows increasingly real.
The marriage she’d spent so long railing against now seems like the easiest thing in the world. If she goes through with it she keeps her family, keeps her lifestyle, keeps her status and her reputation intact. And what does she give up? It’s more than not wanting to be married. To marry Antares Selwyn is to comply, silent, with her parents and with the Dark Lord. It means a lifetime of compliance. But if she doesn’t want to marry – she doesn’t even have Ted, not anymore. Not after –
The piles upon piles of lavender seem to mock her. She’d burned that bridge. There was nothing to tell her to go and everything to have if she stayed, and yet. And yet.
“Andromeda.” Mother’s disapproving voice sounds from behind her, and Andromeda can’t bring herself to turn around. “There’s work to be done.” A pause, and then, angrier – “Andromeda!”
“No,” Andromeda says. Leans down and picks a bloom of lavender off the floor; it must have dropped in the move.
“What do you mean, no? Of course there is – Andromeda, pull yourself together and come downstairs this instant.”
“I mean no,” Andromeda says, and turns around. Her fingers clutch at the stem of lavender so tightly that it shreds to pieces in her hands. “There’s no work to be done. There’s no wedding to work for.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I know perfectly well what I’m saying. I’ve never been more aware in my life. I’m not going to marry Antares Selwyn, Mother.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Mother is utterly pale, save for two bright blotches of pink on her cheeks that are deepening into an angry red even as Andromeda watches. “Of course you’re going to – what on Earth do you think you’re doing, throwing away all my work, your best opportunity –”
“I’m not going to marry Antares Selwyn,” Andromeda repeats, gaining momentum with each word, “and I’m not going to raise a house of little soldiers. I won’t be part of your war effort, Mother.”
“My war effort!” Mother repeats, aghast, and then something in her face seems to go slack and soft. She steps forward slowly, as though approaching a spooked animal, touches Andromeda’s shoulder with a gentle hand. “Andromeda, darling, what are you talking about?”
“Don’t worry,” Mother says, before Andromeda can say anything at all. “I’m your mother; I won’t breathe a word. It’s normal for brides to feel those wedding jitters. I’m not angry, darling, only concerned – where did you get these ideas?”
“A better place than this.” It’s as much a jibe as the truth. Andromeda can see the way Mother’s softness slips, and it kills her, to see the façade.
“Darling,” she says, very quietly. “I think you’d better go lie down.”
A thousand words push up through Andromeda’s throat. There are so many things she could say that would break the fragile, flickering bond between them entirely, but perhaps she is a coward or perhaps she is too idealistic, because she wants so badly to say only the right thing.
“I don’t want to lie down,” she whispers. “I’ve been lying down all my life.”
The way that Mother looks at her, at that, is frightening. It’s as though she’s never seen Andromeda before. “Perhaps we’d better speak to Father.”
“Perhaps we had,” Andromeda agrees. Mother refuses to turn her back; she takes Andromeda’s hand very gently and leads her through the corridors, the two of them carefully parallel.
“Cygnus,” Mother says, barging into Father’s study without knocking. “We have – a complication.”
Father looks up, unusually jovial. “Wedding jitters?”
Mother’s huff is a relieved one. “Yes. Andromeda –”
“No,” Andromeda says. “It’s more than that. I’m not going to marry Antares Selwyn.”
“Young lady –”
“Have you never thought that you were wrong?” the words burst out of Andromeda’s chest, and she doesn’t mind as much as she’d thought she would. “Have you never thought that the Dark Lord might –”
“Andromeda!” The screech of Father’s chair as he stands drowns out the rest of her words.
“I don’t know where she got these ideas,” Mother says damply, wringing her hands. Her eyes are shimmering bright and sharp like glass. “Where did we go so wrong, sweetheart?”
There’s no answer to that, and a thousand. Father’s scowl darkens the whole room. “Go to your room, Andromeda.”
Andromeda’s stomach sinks. She doesn’t know whether they are refusing to take her seriously or simply pretending at it, but the effect, she knows, will be the same: the week spent trying and failing to get through to them, the marriage conducted hastily, and the trap utterly, successfully sprung around her.
So: “No,” she says again. “I’m leaving.”
Mother’s mouth opens, but whatever she intends to say remains a mystery: Andromeda Disapparates before she can speak. She locks the door to her room before anyone can think to follow her and drags her school trunk out of the depths of her closet, trying to be calm about throwing necessities inside and not quite succeeding. She’s breathing hard by the time it’s full, clothes and books and her duvet all mixed up and haphazard. Her room is as cold and expansive as ever, but Andromeda has never felt its emptiness as hard as she does when everything she holds dear is in her trunk.
Someone knocks on the door. Andromeda Disillusions her trunk, grasps at the invisible lines of it, and Disapparates again.
It’s a surprise to her as much as everyone else when she materialises in Diagon Alley, staggering a little on the stoop of Flourish & Blotts. A customer exits the shop with a smile and loses it as soon as he sees her.
“Excuse me,” he says very quietly, and gathers his little daughter to his side as they pass by. Andromeda watches them go and can’t name the feeling that creeps over her heart, to see the two of them pressed together and afraid of her.
She drags her trunk into one of the back alleys and sits on it, puts her face in her hands. Already, the gaping flaws in her grand gesture are revealing themselves. She’s nowhere to go, now, no money, no job, no plan. She hasn’t the faintest idea what her family is thinking. They hadn’t seemed to take her seriously at all; they may take her absence more seriously. Her family might very well try to hunt her down. There’s only one person in the world who might be glad about what she’s done, and he doesn’t want anything to do with her. For a moment she wants to call his bluff; to Apparate into his apartment and brave whatever curse he’s used as security. How bad could it be?
That’s not the important question, though. She might be able to survive his magic, but it wouldn’t change their fight, certainly wouldn’t help her take back what she’d said. And his inevitable rejection would just leave her back where she is now.
She needs a place to hide, first and foremost. A place to hide, a place to stay, a job. Some way of surviving outside of everything she’s ever known. Everything points towards the one man who has the power and the motivation to offer her all those things. Andromeda sighs into her palms, and even she can’t be sure whether she’s relieved or disappointed at the clear path forward.
Slowly, as though she has a great weight on her shoulders, Andromeda gets up and goes to talk to Albus Dumbledore.
“Miss Black,” Dumbledore says, leaning back in his chair and looking for all the world as though he’d expected her. She’s sure he had, though not for as long as he might want her to believe; likely only since she’d breached the edge of the school grounds, a few minutes ago. Then again, perhaps Ted had said something to him; his gargoyles had sprung aside at her appearance, though she didn’t know the password to his office.
“Headmaster Dumbledore,” Andromeda says stiffly, and has to remember to be pleasant. “I’ve – I’m here to ask your help.”
Dumbledore gestures magnanimously towards the spindly chair opposite his desk. Slowly, Andromeda sits down. It is, impressively, even more uncomfortable than it looks.
“Tell me,” he says, the very moment she’s opened her mouth to do just that.
She takes a breath, suppresses a glare. “I’ve run away from home.” It sounds so shallow, saying it like that, so strange when she might be the only party involved who thinks of it that way; but how else could she say it? She soldiers on. “I’m afraid they’ll be looking for me. I – would appreciate any help you can offer.” She lowers her eyes, deliberately subservient. Prostrate.
The silence spins out between them for a long, long time. A device on Dumbledore’s desk lets out a dinging noise. Something else chimes. Finally, he says, “Why did you run away, Miss Black?”
She’d expected the question. It doesn’t make it easier to answer. “I found my beliefs…at odds with theirs. The arrangement of my marriage precipitated it,” she says honestly, because he won’t believe her if she doesn’t reveal some selfish motivation behind everything; he’d be right not to. “The expectation that I would promptly have children and indoctrinate them felt abhorrent to me. And, slowly –” She makes a helpless gesture. He smiles at her gently.
“You came to realise that there was much more abhorrence around you.”
“Yes,” Andromeda whispers. It is hard to hear, harder to admit, but that was precisely the point: that he’d been right. That she could hear it, and admit it. “Yes.”
Dumbledore steeples his fingers and looks at her with a sharpness in his eyes that is only somewhat mitigated by his half-moon glasses. “Miss Black, I believe I can help you.”
She has to stop herself from slumping where she is. “How?” she asks, and he smiles almost indulgently.
“Professor Slughorn has a very high opinion of you, did you know?”
“He does me great honour,” Andromeda says warily, unable to trace the thread of the conversation and all the more unsettled for it.
“Is he wrong to?”
“No,” Andromeda says, before she can think better. Not that her answer is wrong; she’d gotten an O in her NEWTs. But it is possible that it was humility Dumbledore was looking for.
“No? How are your potioneering skills, Miss Black?”
“A little rusty, I suspect,” Andromeda says cautiously. “But not irreparably so.”
“Ah,” Dumbledore says, and smiles, or seems to – his beard makes it difficult to tell. Andromeda has to fend off the scowl that wants to creep across her face, but maybe she’s not as successful as she would like, because Dumbledore says, “Allow me to explain. You, a reasonably skilful potioneer, need a place to hide. And I –” He spreads his hands, and Andromeda relaxes as she understands.
“You need a reasonably skilled potioneer.” The relief is more than Andromeda can describe. These are terms she understands. She’d not hoped to be this lucky when she started here.
His smile is nothing more than polite. It doesn’t give anything away, doesn’t even hint at his reasons, though she knows them and knows he must know that, in turn, perfectly well. “Quite.”
“I – thank you,” Andromeda says, and is almost surprised to find that she means it.
“It will be difficult,” Dumbledore says, good humour – not quite gone, but pulled down. Andromeda wonders how much of it was real. “I can provide a small flat; a potions supply; and a small stipend. That is all.”
“That is enough,” Andromeda promises. It was more than she’d dreamed of; she only has a handful of change in her trunk, in her hurry to depart.
“I hope you’re right, Miss Black.” Dumbledore regards her a moment longer – and then he stands, suddenly full of energy. “Come. I believe if we hurry I may yet return by dinnertime.”
As it turns out, things happen remarkably quickly when Albus Dumbledore is the one directing them. Andromeda has no doubt that the man has various hideaways squirrelled all through London, through England and Scotland, but it’s still vaguely shocking that all the walking she has to do is to get back onto the path to Hogsmeade: from there, Dumbledore holds out one hand, and in the next instant the two of them are where they need to be.
The flat is small at first glance and tiny the second; it seems to have skipped dull and bypassed drab entirely to arrive somewhere in the realm of utterly dismal. There aren’t any overhead lights and half of the already-cramped room is taken up by an almost ostentatiously large set of shelves. The damp smell of mould is almost overwhelming.
“Here we are,” Dumbledore says, with every outward appearance of cheerfulness. “Not much to look at, I know, but quite good for the price in the area. And quite, quite secure.” He constructs the security spells in front of her, talking her through a handful and leaving the rest a mystery. It grates, but she doesn’t protest; he is leaving her with enough information to know how to get in and out of the flat, how to let other people in or out. It’s all she needs; she wouldn’t trust her, either.
“Can I leave?” she asks, with some trepidation. She fears for her state of mind if she is confined to these four walls, whether it’s for her own security or not.
“Oh, yes,” Dumbledore says, much to her relief. “I would recommend that you avoid wizarding hubs, naturally. But you must still go shopping and such; that’s what the stipend is for.”
“What is the stipend?” she ventures, and he smiles at her in such a grandfatherly manner that it takes her entirely and unjustifiably off guard when he says, “Ten pounds a week.” Andromeda opens her mouth and then snaps it closed. She swears that Dumbledore’s smile widens, though once again the beard makes it hard to tell. “Yes, this is a Muggle city. It seemed safest so; there are spells in place to prevent the landlord from seeing your activities, if he has reason to visit you. Problem, Miss Black?”
“No,” Andromeda says resolutely. “No problem.”
“Feel free to contact me if there is,” he says, handing her a card. Andromeda takes it, resolving at once never to use it. “Simply burn this as you need. I ought to be getting back; the supplies will be sent along to you shortly. I do hope you’ll be able to settle in.”
“I’m sure I will,” Andromeda says, and then adds, “Thank you, again. For – all that you’re doing.”
“My pleasure, Miss Black,” Dumbledore says, eyes twinkling through and over the various accoutrements that he’s evidently decided belong on his face. “My pleasure.” Then, in a flash, he’s gone; and Andromeda is left alone in her new quarters and with a growing feeling that she is in over her head.
There are so many things she ought to do. She ought to – write her family, perhaps. Try to build some kind of bridge. She ought to write Narcissa and Bellatrix, surely, explain herself before her little sister is forced to hear from the gossip mill that Andromeda has run away from home. The thought of her little sister sends a pang through her chest. They’d grown so distant after Andromeda graduated Hogwarts and they couldn’t see each other every day. She doesn’t know what she would say to her own sisters. The fact that she hasn’t thought of them more than fleetingly before this point says – enough, about their relationship. The strain that it had succumbed to, with the three of them in different places. Andromeda takes out her quill and conjures some parchment, but she cannot think of a single thing to write.
After enough fruitless, empty time has passed Andromeda throws herself into cleaning the flat because she’s afraid of what she will do if she doesn’t keep herself busy. It’s an unfamiliar task to her, one that she hadn’t had any use for at home, and some of these spells are being pulled out of the depths of her schooltime memories, but Andromeda is still of the opinion that her efforts ought to have been met with more success. The smell of mould and mildew is pervasive: after an hour of scouring the walls and skirting boards it doesn’t seem to have faded in the least. Or perhaps that is simply her; perhaps the smell is burnt into her nostrils now. It’s not a pleasant thought. She turns to cleaning the tables.
She knows, logically, that the apartment is entirely taken over by countertops and shelves and worktables because that’s what she’ll need to prepare ingredients and brew them; she also knows they’re horribly awkward to manoeuvre around, that they take up all the miserable free space the apartment had to offer, that the shelves actually block out the windows so that she’s left with only her own spellwork to see by. She knows that they deprive her of any real living space beyond her tiny bed.
She cleans the stupid countertops until they’re spotless and then she cleans them until they’re shining. It doesn’t really help. There are a couple of pots and pans in the space beneath the sink, and she cleans those, too, and then she’s left with nothing to do but sit down on the uncomfortable workstation stool and put her face in her hands. She’s miserable here. She hates the miserly little flat more with every minute she spends in it, and she’s more upset at that than she is at the flat itself; a vicious cycle. Was an afternoon really all she could stand? Dumbledore had been right to doubt her. She was doubting herself. Her hands slide into her hair, tug cruelly at her roots.
Perhaps Dumbledore’s delegates have a spectacular sense of dramatic timing, or perhaps Andromeda stays in that position for longer than she knows. Either way, the effect is the same: potions equipment begins to materialise around her elbows, and when she leans back several boxes of clearly labelled ingredients join the pile. She unpacks because it’s a thing to do, setting up her equipment and sorting ingredients into appropriate shelves. At the bottom of the pile is a page of clear, brief instructions: she’s to brew a cauldron each of the Draught of Peace and Pepperup Potion and then write on an enclosed card to notify for collection. And as she pulls out the calling card to examine it more closely – another, smaller piece of paper flutters to the floor.
Ten pounds, as it turns out, is not a lot. It looks a pittance, actually; a thin, flimsy sort of note so small that Andromeda nearly loses it between the work table and the counter. She picks it up with some effort, examines the TEN POUNDS written in curling script and the face of the solemn young woman staring out at her. She doesn’t move; this seems unnatural. Andromeda finds it hard to believe that this simple piece of paper could have any sort of value to anyone, and valiantly tries to withhold judgement on the fact. Possibly, she reasons with herself, Muggles would find gold coins just as odd. Gold is gold is gold, Mother scornful voice echoes through her head. Andromeda shakes it away, unnerved.
The window is utterly obscured by the shelves on the far side of the room, but her unhappy stomach informs her that it is dinnertime. She considers venturing outside and the very thought sends a frisson of bone-deep tiredness through her. She goes to bed instead, curls up and stares blankly at the wall until sleep takes her.
By the time she wakes up – the light leaking out from around the edges of the shelves inform her that it is at least morning – food is an increasingly urgent necessity. She’s not particularly happy about this development.
The potion ingredients on the other side of the room – and still perfectly within her field of vision – seem to call to her. She definitely has enough ingredients to whip up some kind of dieting potion, something that’ll suppress her appetite for a bit, but the Order isn’t stupid; they’ve sent her what she needs and not much more. Andromeda sighs and digs through her trunk for something she can Transfigure into a Muggle outfit, and then sighs again when she opens the front door and discovers that she’s on the fourth floor of the building. The Muggle building, in which Apparition would be strongly discouraged. It’s not a promising start to the day.
It turns out that Muggle London isn’t unique; all Muggle cities are impossible to navigate. Andromeda spends half an hour walking in circles to try and orient herself and still somehow failing. Every street corner looks the same; it is only with a quiet Point me that Andromeda is able to find her building again at all. And then, having re-established her base, she still doesn’t know where the nearest grocery store is.
Finally she finds a Tesco three blocks away, its sign worn and faded with age. By this point her feet are aching and she is quite sure that nothing in the shop makes any sense at all, certainly none of the prices –
She takes a deep breath. Her ten-pound note feels, for all its insubstantiality, comforting in her pocket, clutched between her fingers. It’s galling to see that some of the items around her cost ten pounds in and of themselves.
In the end she only buys a single loaf of bread. She can always come back, she reasons; and her magic will take care of the rest well enough. She watches her fellow customers carefully, somewhat relieved to see that they all seem to have a standardised method of paying and departing. When she feels confident enough, Andromeda bears down on the counter with a smile tacked firmly onto her mouth and doesn’t say a word as the woman does some strange Muggle thing to her bread. It’s probably fine. The bread appears to be unharmed; and for her note Andromeda is exchanged a veritable pile of coins she can inspect when she gets back to the flat, which might make the whole endeavour a little more worthwhile. Coins, at least, are something she understands.
The bread on its own is a very unsatisfactory meal. Andromeda tries to toast it and ends up with blackened edges; but at least the crunch is somewhat gratifying. She studies the coins she’d gotten back as she eats, absently brushing crumbs away from the tiny pieces of metal. None of it makes any sense, anyway: the coins have neat little labels, which she appreciates, but one penny and ten pence make next to no sense. And then she has several small pound coins, but a five-pound note – she wishes Muggle would decide which medium they wanted to deal in. She wishes there was somebody here she could ask those questions – and then her thoughts turn to Ted, naturally, and she can feel her heart sink in her chest. She misses him. There’s nothing to be gained by denying it.
She sighs a new avalanche of crumbs onto the table, forlorn. Perhaps there’s a library nearby she can visit.
> this chapter title is a little lopped: for brevity, because the lopped version fits thematically, and because i'm pretentious and i like hidden meanings. the full line is "home is where you come when you run out of places"
> dumbledore’s maths? according to sources on the internet (reliable, i know!) the average weekly wage in britain in the 1970s was just over 30 pounds a week; since he’s providing rent and utilities for free (and wants her to suffer a bit, ha ha) i divided by three. it’s probably fine? if anyone thinks she’s struggling way too much for her budget, my excuse is that she’s rich and clueless. if anyone thinks she’s not struggling enough, uh, my excuse is magic. very convenient, eh
> andromeda only JUST missed the era of the pound sterling; england decimalised in 1971. alas!
Chapter 7: those blue, blue eyes
The potioneering work, at least, is easy. It’s such a relief to have one thing in her life be easy; and Andromeda hadn’t lied when she’d said she was good. She was, still is, and she barely even needs to look at the instructions that Dumbledore’s delegate had sent her alongside the ingredients. She whips both potions up over the course of a single afternoon and writes done on the calling card expectantly.
The woman who comes to collect the potions is stocky and silent, her face covered by a scarf the weather does not demand. She doesn’t even introduce herself, simply goes over to the workstation and tests the potions: first for spells and then to see if they’re brewed correctly. Andromeda can feel her chin jerk higher at the implications. Valid ones, she knows, but still –
“Good,” the woman says, and with a wave of her wand the potions are displaced from the cauldron to a few large glass bottles. There’s a distinctly Scottish burr to her voice. “Next ones.” Andromeda takes the papers she’s offered, flicks through them: instructions for brewing Skele-Gro. More complicated, but still nothing she can’t handle. She says so, when the Scottish woman seems to be waiting for a response. “Good,” the woman says again. “We’ll send the stuff by shortly.” Then she places another calling card on the table and Disapparates, and Andromeda is left blinking. She’d forgotten to ask how pounds and pence work. That’s probably fine; she doesn’t want it getting back to Dumbledore, anyway.
Her next batch of ingredients and instructions arrive not even a few hours later. Andromeda starts on them right away.
Slowly, over the next few days, she finds herself settling into her new place. She buys more bread and studies her change, her receipt. She figures out pence and pounds and learns to apologise for holding up the line when she counts out her change, which inevitably takes a while until she figures out she can count it out beforehand. And, having learned about the money, she starts to branch out in what she buys: more bread, butter. Tea. Pork chops, because they were on special; and then she realises she hasn’t the faintest idea of how to cook a pork chop and trudges back out to the store to see whether they can help her with that. They can, as it turns out; there’s a little magazine rack, and some of the magazines are dedicated entirely to recipes. She finds an appropriate one and buys the other ingredients and then tackles the thing as she would a potion: reading and rereading the instructions, annotating, doing small-scale tests. She overreaches her budget for the day and burns herself on the pan – she blames the unfamiliar flat shape of it – but the dish turns out well. Edible, at least, and she can duplicate it, so she might get bored but she won’t starve. And though it surely can’t compare to the meals she’d had at home, she’s not sure she’s ever tasted anything as satisfying.
She settles in, but it doesn’t feel like home. And once she’s marginally comfortable she cannot use the excuse of scoping out her new surroundings to distract her from everything she’d done, everything she hadn’t. She still hasn’t written to Narcissa. She still hasn’t apologised to Ted.
A thousand and one pieces of crumpled-up parchment linger on the floor, getting underfoot. Andromeda can’t quite bring herself to throw any of her clumsily-worded apologies away. Not yet, at least.
Her sisters’ letters are easier to write, in the end. A quick greeting – a polite inquiry after their welfare – a vague explanation that she’s no longer living at home, having not wanted to marry Antares Selwyn. The letter in its final form is devoid of much sincerity or genuine emotion, but that seems to be the price for being able to send it at all. The wedding date is only a few days away, now. Andromeda wonders what will happen on that fateful day, and decides that it is not her problem any longer. She Transfigures her features briefly to go into Diagon Alley and send the letters, uses the last of her Wizarding change to buy a postal box for a month to hold any replies.
She doesn’t write to Ted. A thousand and one half-started sentences and she still doesn’t know what to say, how to say it. I miss you would surely not be welcome; I’ve changed is too desperate, too much pressure on him to respond; I’m sorry the best thing she can say, but even that seems limp and pathetic on paper. The shape of what she wants to tell him is far too large for a letter, possibly far too large to be said at all. Besides which she doesn’t know his street address; the postal owls would never find him. She takes to wearing his stolen robes around the house; they’re bigger than her dress robes, and more comfortable. That’s not the only reason she wears them. She can admit that to herself, if nothing else.
The potions she’s told to brew grow rapidly more complex in quantity and in quality. Andromeda relishes it. There’s something deeply satisfying about mapping out all her ingredients, everything that she’s going to do, and then setting out to do it, throwing herself into the work. Her potions are perfect because she makes them that way. She sends the off to the Order with pride sitting high in her chest. It occurs to her that this is the closest she may be able to get to Ted, to helping him. The idea makes everything else feel worthwhile.
Bellatrix doesn’t respond to her letter, but Narcissa does, two days later. Her reply is a cold little thing, handwriting carefully perfect – which is no more than Andromeda deserves, for all that it might grieve her. Apparently, her wedding has been postponed; Andromeda has come down with a nasty case of Dragon Pox, or perhaps Cerebrumous Spattergroit, and either way cannot be seen. Narcissa urges her to cease this silliness and return home in sentences that are a direct echo of Mother’s.
Andromeda doesn’t reply. What would she say? A week passes, and then another. She has never had reason to wonder what it’s like, being Muggle. Being poor. Ten pounds a week is not a lot, as it turns out. A single-room Muggle flat means less space to occupy than she’d once had in her bedroom, than her closet. It means constantly fending off mould and dust, means draughts cutting through the walls and water that never runs hotter than lukewarm no matter what frustrated charms she puts on the showerhead. Ten pounds a week means single pieces of toast for breakfast and the same meal for lunches and dinner for days in a row, until she physically cannot duplicate the food any further.
The flat does not grow any less mouldy or cramped or cold, but Andromeda begins to get used to it. She can feel herself changing, slowly: getting better at household spells, at budgeting, at managing herself. At first she thinks she’s being ground down, but the effects of this new lifestyle go deeper than that. She adapts. She’s proud of herself, for that.
Three weeks and five days after she’d left them, her parents send her a letter. Or rather, she sees, someone deigns to pass the letter along. It arrives in the pile of her potions ingredients, deceptively innocent; she picks it up and then registers the neat cursive on the envelope and drops it again. It stays on the floor for a long time: she doesn’t know what to make of this development at all. Perhaps it’s a kind gesture on the part of the Order; perhaps it’s a test. Having gone through them, though, it would be safe. They would have removed any spells from the envelope, maybe even read the contents of the letter. This is the thought which has Andromeda leaning down to finally pick up the envelope and open it: if some nameless, faceless Order member had read her letter then she is certainly able to.
She’s braced for the worst and so naturally she doesn’t know what to do with what she gets. Mother’s tone, in the letter – it’s utterly unlike her. She’s gentle, conciliatory, pleading. There is no mention of the delayed wedding, of Antares Selwyn. She apologises for pushing, promises that she has only Andromeda’s best interests at her. She promises to listen.
She’d signed off with I love you.
The delicate curves of her signature blur and shift. Andromeda puts a finger to the parchment and feels wetness.
She gives the matter more thought than it deserves, probably. Everything about living here becomes a reminder of what she’d once had, what she could have again, if only at the cost of her pride and her freedom. It’s humiliating, to be so fixated on this when she knows she wouldn’t even consider going back, otherwise. She keeps reading and rereading Mother’s letter. She knows very well that she won’t be able to change them the way that she had been changed, but there’s still – unexpectedly, there’s a part of her which believes she can make them understand the change in her. To make sense of an unfathomable situation.
Perhaps it’s not such a surprise that she goes back to see them.
The foyer is empty when she Apparates in. It’s too grand; she feels uncomfortable at once, utterly out of place. Mother appears at the top of the staircase and emits a little shriek.
She rushes down the stairs, making enough teary commotion to rouse Father and draw him out of his study. Andromeda has never seen her so.
“Mother,” she says weakly. “It’s – it’s good to see you, too.”
“Andromeda,” Father says from the top of the staircase. “You’ve come to apologise, no doubt.”
“Cygnus!” Mother hisses. Squeezes Andromeda’s shoulder, gives her a smile. “I should be the one to apologise. I pushed you too far and didn’t include you enough.”
This is not in the least what Andromeda had expected. She says, “No, I – that’s not. Why you should – that’s not why I’m here.”
“Why are you here, then?” Mother asks, her smile bright and nailed on.
“I wanted to explain,” Andromeda says. Mother tilts her head inquisitively, like a bird. “Why I left.”
Mother waves her away, clasps one of Andromeda’s hands between her own. “Darling, it doesn’t matter. You’re back, aren’t you? We forgive you entirely.”
“No,” Andromeda says, taking her hand away.
Mother’s smile falters. “What?”
“I moved out,” Andromeda says. “I meant it. I have a flat. I have a job.”
“Where? What? Andromeda, think of your position –”
“I have. I have. Merlin, Mother, I could barely do anything else for days after I left. I wish you could understand.” Andromeda suspects there is humour in the situation; she knows Mother will not find it.
“Tell me, then,” Mother says, almost desperate, and Andromeda, more fool her, tries.
“I can’t – live with you, Mother. Not the way you are. I don’t want to be part of your war.”
The look that gets her is almost pitying. “The war has come for us all.”
“Let me rephrase,” Andromeda says. “When I involve myself in the war, it will not be for the madman who calls himself the Dark Lord.”
That does it. That’s enough, finally; the façade breaks. Mother’s eyes go wide, and she grabs Andromeda wrist with a bony, sharp hand. “That’s treason, Andromeda,” she says lowly. “I don’t know where you got your nonsensical ideas, but you’d do well to put them out of your head at once.” She tries to soften again, doesn’t entirely succeed. “Don’t worry. I won’t breathe a word.” It’s bitterly disappointing to hear, though Andromeda cannot put her finger on why. Perhaps because she still isn’t being taken seriously: Mother is treating her like an unruly child who can be quieted with enough sweet promises.
“What you do is your own affair,” Andromeda says, stepping back. Mother follows, grasping still.
“Andromeda, I don’t understand.”
“I’ve been trying to explain,” Andromeda says. There are some things there are no coming back from. She says one of them now. “I work for the Order now, Mama. I brew for them.”
Mother gapes for a few long moments, unmoving, and then her mouth snaps shut. “I assume,” she says, voice shaking, “you thought you knew what you were doing.”
“I didn’t,” Andromeda says. “I didn’t. I did it anyway. I don’t regret it.”
“You shame us,” Mother says, and her voice is strange, as though she herself doesn’t believe the words she is saying. “You’re dishonouring the family.”
“We’ll disown you for this.” There’s a queer relief in the hearing of the words. Perhaps this is what she’d come for, after all. “We will burn you off the family tree. It will be as though you never existed.”
“I know,” Andromeda says, low. Mother turns away from her, and disgust is plain on her face.
“And do you know that this is unspeakably selfish of you?”
“Don’t try to deny it. It is. Have you spared so much as a thought for what this will do to your Father? To me?”
“Have you thought about what your fanaticism has done to me?” Andromeda asks wearily, and Mother scowls, dark.
“This is no time to be glib, Andromeda.”
“No,” Andromeda agrees. Surprises herself when she reaches forward to clasp Mother’s hand. “I hope you do understand, one day.”
This time it’s Mother who takes her hands away, even as she meets Andromeda’s gaze squarely. There is none of that previous warmth in her eyes, none of that promised empathy. “I could never hope,” she says, “to understand a blood traitor. Get out of my house.”
Her voice is unutterably final, like cauterising an open wound. Andromeda takes her hands back, and nods, and Dispparates. And – well. That’s that.
Dumbledore drops by the next morning. He’s sitting next peacefully at the workstation when Andromeda wakes up, regarding her slowly simmering potion with a perfectly insufferable expression of great serenity.
“I would appreciate,” Andromeda says crabbily, “not being snuck in on while I’m asleep.”
“Ah,” Dumbledore says. “I apologise, of course. Unfortunately, this is my only spare moment all day.”
She’s only just woken up; suppressing glares is an activity far beyond her. When she pulls herself together enough to stare expectantly rather than accusatorily, he puts his hands together and regards her carefully.
“The Entropic Elixir seems to be coming along particularly well,” he says, gesturing at the second cauldron.
“So far,” Andromeda acknowledges. “There’s some brewing to go yet.”
Dumbledore smiles. “I underestimated you, Miss Black.”
Andromeda feels her chin rise stubbornly. “Yes.”
To his credit, Dumbledore doesn’t seem fazed by this. “I’m glad for it. Now it is I who is here for a favour.” He explains before Andromeda has a chance to feel confused: he wants to publicise Andromeda’s break from her family, have her give an interview in the Prophet or the Times and Tides. She should have known he would be keeping track of her, but it’s still a chilling thing to have confirmed.
“I don’t –” she says, and stops. She understands the propagandistic value of it even as she shies desperately away from the idea. Airing all her dirty laundry with her family, out in public – it seems horribly revealing, horribly vulgar. But the effect would not be the same, she knows, if she denounced them anonymously and impersonally. Everybody and their dogs are already doing that.
Dumbledore smiles, somehow gentle. “You needn’t decide right away,” he tells her, and stands, as though to demonstrate his goodwill. “But I’d appreciate your consideration. You still have my calling card?”
“Yes,” Andromeda murmurs. He nods at her, and then he Disapparates.
If Andromeda had given the matter of visiting her parents too much thought, then she gives the idea of denouncing them far too little. Dumbledore is not the kind of man who would like to be kept waiting, Andromeda knows, but – she would rather do just about anything than give this issue serious consideration. Possibly because she would rather do just about anything than give the interview being asked of her.
She does think about it, though. Goes so far, even, as to point at the most garish tabloid she sees next to the Tesco checkout and ask the lady behind the counter, “What do you think of that? The people who give those kinds of interviews, I mean.”
The lady shrugs, her badly contained flyaways wobbling with the motion. “Bit sad. Interesting, though. That’s four ninety-five.”
Andromeda turns this over the entire three blocks back to her flat. It’s not particularly enlightening, but it does take up enough of her attention that she doesn’t realise there’s a man pacing in front of her door until she’s nowhere to hide.
She recognises Ted at once. Her heart throbs in her chest, almost painful. She wonders if she could make it back to the stairs before he spots her, but her feet won’t move.
Ted raises his hand and lowers it again. Turns on his heel very aggravatedly, and freezes mid-motion when their eyes meet.
Andromeda forces her lungs to work. “Hello,” she says. It seems as good a way to break the silence as any.
“Hello,” he replies. Gestures to her door, awkwardly. “I was about to knock. That is, I was going to. Maybe.”
He looks the same. A little more haggard, maybe. Dark shadows under his eyes and a few days’ worth of stubble on his chin. But he looks the same. Captivating, no matter how Andromeda looks at him.
“I’m glad you didn’t,” she says stupidly. “I mean, because I wouldn’t have answered. Because I wasn’t home.” She lifts her shopping bags. They rustle in her hands, as is their wont.
“And then,” Andromeda forces herself to take a breath, “you might have left.”
“I might have,” Ted says. Wrings his hands together. “And you wouldn’t – want that?”
“No,” Andromeda says, almost a whisper. “I’m glad – it’s good to see you, Tonks.” She almost says Ted. Wants to, but it feels too hopefully familiar. He smiles at her, a little tremulous.
“You too. I, um. Dumbledore told me you were here.” Andromeda nods. She’d assumed as much. They stare at each other for a moment that extends out endlessly inside itself.
“Oh, I – do you want to come in?” Andromeda is not often flustered, but now she takes the chance of opening the door to hide her face for a moment. “It’s not really – much –”
“Neither was my apartment,” Ted says, which is a better response than all the polite denials Andromeda’s upbringing taught her to expect. She hears him follow her into the room; she swings her bags around the door and onto the bed; she hears his footsteps stutter and stop. “Andromeda,” Ted says, and then is silent. “Andromeda.”
Andromeda lets herself look at him. Lets herself say, “Ted,” and the word feels like a treasure in her mouth. His smile is a bright golden thing.
“I almost didn’t believe it,” he says. “I wouldn’t’ve, if it’d been anyone but Dumbledore doing the telling. Your place’s worse than mine, even,”
“It was an adjustment,” Andromeda admits. Her heart feels a few thousand kilograms lighter. “But I prevailed.”
Ted’s grin is a wild glad thing. “Yes,” he says. “You did. I’m so glad.”
They reach out for each other at the same time; or Andromeda can’t tell who reaches first, which is the same thing, effectively. His hands are so warm around hers.
“I owe you an apology,” she says. It’s so easy to say, looking at him. “I should never have said what I did. It was cruel to fall back on – on talk of stations. I’ve been trying not to be cruel, anymore.”
“I owe you an apology, too,” Ted says, and brings one hand up to touch her forehead when she frowns. “No, I do. I reacted badly. I’ve stayed calmer in the face of a lot worse. It’s only that – I had such high hopes.”
“I don’t think that’s something to apologise for,” Andromeda says.
“I’ll accept yours if you’ll accept mine?” His eyes dance. Andromeda’s responding smile makes her cheeks ache.
“Yes. Yes. I can make that deal.”
Ted steps forward, enough that she can feel the heat off his body. “I’d like to kiss you,” he says. There is more bravado in his voice than his face, than his searching eyes. Andromeda lets her hands fall to his waist, fingertips sliding under his jumper as though drawn there.
“I’d like that.”
He’s smiling too much to kiss her properly, almost. Andromeda can’t bring herself to mind: she’s the same way, and the sureness in his hands when he cups her neck, the warmth of his body, the sweet intimate nearness of him, it’s more than enough. More than she thought she could have again.
“God,” he says finally, pulling away, cupping her face in his hands. She stares achingly up at him, too sweetly kissed to be self-conscious. “God. I missed you. I didn’t want to, but I did. It was awful.”
“I missed you,” she says, and curls her hands around his wrists. “The flat’s terribly small, but I always felt like something about it was empty.”
“Andromeda,” he says, as though agonised, and kisses her again. She melts into it, into him, gladness singing in her veins. She hadn’t let herself admit how much she’d missed him, but oh, how she had. It crashes over her, through her. She clutches him a little more tightly.
The alcove that the bed is tucked into only just manages to accommodate Andromeda of a nighttime; Ted is rather uncomfortably too tall for it, but the groceries still end up on the floor. Neither of them has the foresight to take their clothes off before they lie down to neck like teenagers, and neither of them are willing to get up to do it, either. It’s a good start; they laugh as they help each other, hands and elbows in the way of two bodies pressed too close together, and that’s better. Andromeda’s not laughed during sex before. She’d not heard Ted’s laugh, either, not like this, warm and sweet and unexpected. She kisses it off his lips, hinders their self-inflicted mission even more. The way he pulls her to him, he doesn’t mind too much.
“You’re gorgeous,” he says fondly when he’s finally got her naked, when he’s skimming his hands down her sides, and she can’t bear the unbridled warmth in his gaze.
“You,” Andromeda says incoherently, and sets her teeth briefly into his shoulder to hide her face. He laughs again, kisses the top of her head. Pinches the curve of her hip, comfortably familiar with the shape of her body.
“That’s what gets you shy? Really?” She doesn’t reply because she’s not sure she’s able to, and he takes both her wrists, puts them behind her. “Stay like that,” he tells her, waits for her nod before his hands move again. It’s such a small thing, but it expands with an all-encompassing dizziness in Andromeda’s mind, a shining bright anchor for her to grasp when he slides into her and she surrenders to the inexorable ocean tide of him. It feels like the most important thing in the world, that she stay how he’d shaped her, that he look down at her with that warm expression in his eyes and tell her how well she’s doing –
The world comes apart when Andromeda does, splintering into shining iridescence. Ted kisses her through her orgasm and his own like he can’t not. Andromeda drifts, vaguely aware of Ted rearranging the two of them, content to let him pull her close and rub her hands out of their position, easy and gentle. Everything seems to shimmer euphorically when she blinks, light catching in her eyelashes. Slowly, the ache of her shoulders and the deep sweet ache between her legs grows a little more real, a little more present. She presses a kiss to the collarbone in front of her, feels the light rumble of amusement work its way through Ted’s chest.
“You’re so sweet,” he murmurs, and Andromeda closes her eyes, lets his words drip through her like honey.
“Only for you.” He combs his fingers through her hair when she curls closer to him, gentle. They stay like that for a long time. Andromeda breathes in the scent of him, draws courage from his nearness.
“Dumbledore wants me to do an interview,” she says, and he makes a face.
“Don’t talk about Dumbledore in bed, please.” She has to hide a grin into his shoulder. “What interview?”
“About leaving my family. Publicising it.”
“Seems risky,” Ted says, admirably neutral.
“Oh.” Andromeda considers the fact that she had not even registered a risk. “I don’t know that there’s much I could do to make them actively hunt me. They wouldn’t want to kill me if they didn’t have to. No, I – it just seemed so vulgar. So I wanted your opinion.”
“Vulgar,” Ted repeats on a sigh. Andromeda barely has enough time to wonder if she’s put her foot in it before Ted says, “No, you’re probably right, the Prophet would have a field day.”
Ted shrugs with some difficulty. “I can see how it might have an effect. If the message gets through.” It’s not a new revelation, but it’s one that’s good to hear from another person. He smiles at her. “Nobody would blame you for not wanting to.”
Lying close and warm with him, Andromeda can feel herself rethinking, her world subtly reframing. This is what’s important. This, and him, and the chance to further a cause that has become hers, too. She leans up, kisses him. Says, “You give me strength,” and warms from the inside out as he smiles understanding down at her.