Narcissa was sitting quietly in her room. Bellatrix knocked at the door but she paid no attention.
“Cissy…it’s Bella. Are you there?”
Bellatrix knocked again.
“Please open the door, Cissy,” she said softly.
Narcissa dabbed her eyes with her sleeve and slowly opened the door a fraction.
“What do you want, Bella?” she whispered.
Bellatrix looked worn, tired and worried. Her usually perfect hair was messy and the makeup that Druella had forced on her was a little smudged. Bellatrix put a hand on Narcissa’s shoulder.
“Cissy, you haven’t eaten for two days,” she said. “Come and have some breakfast. “You’re too skinny already and if you don’t eat something mother might mistake you for a house elf and throw you out.”
Bellatrix vain attempt to cheer her sister up did not work.
“I’m not hungry,” said Narcissa.
“Narcissa, no one is going to marry you if they can’t see anything but a twig,” said Bellatrix. “Cissy…Reggie, would die if he saw you like this.”
“That doesn’t matter,” snapped Narcissa. “He already is dead.”
Bellatrix’s eyes glazed over but she fought back her tears.
“Cissy…please, just eat something…please,” she begged.
The sight of her sister so upset made Narcissa squirm with guilt but it was how she felt. She didn’t care about herself anymore. She looked once more at Bellatrix, who usually never resorted to begging, and changed her mind.
“Okay,” she whispered.
The smell of the house elves cooking eggs on toast wafted towards Narcissa and Bellatrix as they descended. Cygnus Black usually hid away in his study like Orion did so he was not there. However, Andromeda and Druella were already at the table. Andromeda smiled at Narcissa but it was not returned. Narcissa did not feel like smiling again. They said little as they ate until Druella turned the topic to a rather uncomfortable subject.
“First that boy ran off and then Regulus shamed the family even more,” tutted Druella. “There is no one left who holds the name of Black to serve the Dark Lord.”
Andromeda attacked her toast with the butter knife with unwarranted venom and Bellatrix spilled her tea on her robes. Narcissa said nothing. Her face was impassive but her shaking hands gave away her anger to her sisters. Druella didn’t notice. She had mistakenly taken her daughter’s silence for detachment so she decided to put her plans into full steam. Narcissa had finished her sixth year at Hogwarts and had turned of age. Unfortunately, this meant she would have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of courting pure-blood Death Eaters, middle aged heirs and… if she was very lucky… both. Bellatrix and Andromeda were no strangers to their mother’s deceiving ways and the pressures of ‘continuing the line’ but it made the experience no more enjoyable.
“Be sure to dress well tonight girls,” said Druella. “There will be many gentlemen at dear Lucius’ birthday.”
Narcissa winced, Bellatrix stifled a groan and Andromeda looked heavenward and prayed for a miracle. They had all forgotten about ‘dearest Lucy longhair’s’, as Sirius liked to call him, birthday.
“Andromeda, Rabastan has been paying you his fullest attention for many weeks now,” continued their mother. “I trust that you will finally show him you’re appreciation.”
Andromeda cast one more heavenward glance and looked pleadingly at Druella.
“Mother…please…he stalks me. Surely we can afford to forget this particular suitor?” begged Andromeda.
Druella cast her daughter a stern glance.
“He is merely showing his interest,” said Druella. “He’s a respectable pureblood and I see no fault in him.”
Bellatrix cast a sympathetic look at her younger sister who stabbed her toast again.
“Now off you go,” said Mrs. Black. “Hurry up!”
Malfoy Manor was huge and beautiful yet none of the Black sisters could hide an apprehensive shiver. They were all beautiful that night. Bellatrix observed that Andromeda, despite her ‘stalker’, had tried hard to make herself presentable in pretty navy robes that put her own black ones in the dark. Narcissa possessed the gift that her sisters did not have. She looked like an angel with no effort on her part. The flowing white dress robes were more than enough to make the doorman gape shamelessly when he left them in. Druella practically ran in with very little grace but the sisters stood just in the doorway. The sound of couples dancing to a rather boring song filled their years.
“Did either of you bring a clove of garlic?” asked Andromeda under her breath.
“No,” said Narcissa. “If you find some, let me know.”
“Don’t believe this…” whispered Bellatrix bitterly. “Our own parents are selling us off to the highest bidder. I swear, sometimes I wish I had left with Sirius.”
“Shhhh!” hissed Andromeda suddenly.
Lucius Malfoy, the reason for their distress, headed towards them.
“Happy Birthday, Mr. Malfoy,” said Narcissa with forced politeness. “It is a pleasure to see you again.”
Lucius smile unpleasantly.
“The pleasure is all mine,” said Lucius. “Perhaps you can do me the honour of calling me Lucius, Narcissa.”
It’s Miss. Black to you, you long-haired prat, thought Narcissa. Someone kill me now…
It was quite evident that Lucius was no Occlumens. If he ever saw half the things that were going through her head then Narcissa would find herself in deep trouble. Bellatrix and Andromeda mumbled a quick ‘happy birthday’ and tried to slip away. Bellatrix found a temporary safe haven with a group of her old Slytherin friends but Rabastan found Andromeda quickly. He was two inches shorter than even delicate Narcissa and his eyes darted around the room constantly as though he was expecting the Aurors to gatecrash the party.
“Andromeda!” he cried. “How have you been?”
“I was fine until now…” she muttered.
“Erm…I’m fine, yourself?”
Rabastan offered his arm and Andromeda, after a brief moments hesitation, took it. To her absolute horror, Rabastan was taking her to a part of the manor where there were no guests in sight. He turned to her and, without further ado, got straight to the point.
“Andromeda, will you marry me?”
Andromeda stood in front of Rabastan dumfounded. It took her a few moments to gather her wits and say something. Her disgust was misread by Rabastan for shook and he waited patiently.
“Err…this is so …sudden, Rabastan,” she mumbled. “I do not know what to say.”
“Say ‘yes’, Andromeda,” he sneered as if the entire affair was a joke.
Andromeda tried to think of an excuse.
“I will…er…need time to think about this,” she mumbled. “Excuse me. I am in need of some…fresh air.”
Rabastan bought Andromeda’s bluff and allowed her to leave through the front door.
Andromeda gasped as the cold wind blew onto her face. She made sure no one was watching her and she set off towards the nearby muggle street. She stopped at the corner of Narellan Drive and looked around as if waiting for someone. She was waiting for someone and he definitely wasn’t one of Lucius’ guests either.
“Ted!” she hissed.
A young man, about her age, tapped her on the shoulder from behind. She gave a squeal of delight and threw her arms around him.
“Hello Andy,” he said.
Theodore Tonks spun Andromeda around a little and kissed her.
“How was Malfoy’s party?” asked Ted. “Is your dear Rabastan still stalking you?”
“I was there all of five minutes and Lestrange proposed,” said Andromeda with disgust.
Ted froze. His grip on Andromeda loosened.
“Lestrange proposed?” he repeated numbly.
“Don’t worry,” said Andromeda. “I’m saying no.”
Ted shook his head.
“But your family…you said they…had arranged marriages and…that you wouldn’t have much say in the matter.”
Andromeda grimaced. It was too true.
“I could pass you for a pure blood…”
“Andy, I don’t want to pretend.”
“Do we have a choice?” asked Andromeda bitterly.
Ted nodded and Andromeda looked at him inquiringly.
Andromeda put her hand to her mouth. She was speechless for the second time in an hour.
“But…Teddy, my sisters…I couldn’t…”
Andromeda shook her head.
“But Bellatrix and Narcissa…”
“Andromeda, you can’t just sit in that house and marry some Death Eater! Your sisters love you and they will understand.”
Andromeda began to cry. The thought of leaving her sisters was heart wrenching but somewhere deep inside, she knew that she couldn’t stay. She was not the complacent daughter anymore. She couldn’t stay in that mansion thinking about what it might be like if she lived her own life for herself. The sorting hat had spoken true. Ted wrapped his arms around her and whispered in her ear.
“I love you Andromeda Black,” said Ted. “Will you do me the honour of being my wife?”
At Ted’s words, any doubts evaporated. Ted loved her and she loved him. She knew that Bellatrix and Narcissa could understand that. Andromeda smiled and kissed Ted before answering.
Andromeda skipped back into the manor and found her sisters and her mother.
“I’m feeling unwell,” said Andromeda mechanically. “I must go home.”
Narcissa, who had escaped Lucius with methods with questioning legality, and Bellatrix exchanged glances. They knew Andromeda and she looked exactly the opposite of unwell. She looked elated. Andromeda’s cheeks were bright red and a muscle twitched in her mouth as if she was hiding a smile. Mrs. Black checked her daughter’s forehead and had Kreacher escort her home.
“Is your sister well?” said a voice behind Bellatrix quietly.
Bellatrix turned. Behind her was Rabastan’s brother, Rodolphus. He was a lot bigger than his younger brother. He was at least a head taller than Bellatrix. Though his words seemed kind, something about him wanted to make Bellatrix find a small place to hide in. She remembered him from Hogwarts. He kept to himself but when you made him angry, you regretted it immensely.
“She’s fine,” whispered Bellatrix. “She’s just a little under the weather.”
“Would you care for a dance?” he asked tonelessly, his blank eyes boring into Bellatrix’s heavily-lidded ones.
“I…I do not care for the music,” she said, struggling to keep her voice under control.
“One does not dance for music alone,” he whispered back.
Narcissa was starting to feel that this was not the sort of conversation she wanted to take part in. Bellatrix had never felt frightened by any of the self-confessed Death Eaters at these social gatherings but Rodolphus was different. For one, he looked like he could break her arm in one twist with or without a wand and for another; no one had shown any particular interest in her. It was always Narcissa, the pretty one or Andromeda the quiet and complacent one (only when everyone was watching). Rodolphus didn’t react at all when he saw Narcissa and his concern for Andromeda was short lived.
“I will,” Bellatrix answered softly.
For someone who was built like a small troll (though definitely more handsome), Rudolphus definitely knew what he was doing. Bellatrix was out of breath at the end of the dance but she stopped breathing altogether when Rodolphus leant in and kissed her on the cheek.
Bellatrix and Narcissa arrived at home after the party. Bellatrix was even paler than Narcissa. Druella murmured something about magical flu and left the sisters alone. They both went to see Andromeda. Narcissa knew something was wrong and frowned at her sister.
“What happened to you?” asked Narcissa.
Bellatrix bit her lip.
“Rodolphus…” she said after a brief pause.
Narcissa’s frown deepened.
“What about him?” she asked.
“What Bella?” asked Narcissa impatiently.
“He asked me to dinner,” she mumbled.
Narcissa pursed her lips and started to walk up to Andromeda’s room.
“You mean he asked the family to dinner,” she said somewhat coldly.
“No…I mean he asked me to come for dinner. Alone.”
Narcissa stopped a few feet from Andromeda’s room.
“Mother will never allow you to go alone,” she snapped. “It’s not proper and you know it.”
Bellatrix suddenly had a very nasty look on her face.
“Evidently mother decided to overlook that because she’s threatened to blast me off the tapestry if I don’t go,” snarled Bellatrix.
Narcissa opened and closed her mouth a few times.
“Bella…” she began. “You know he’s a Death Eater, don’t you?”
Bellatrix didn’t answer. She shoved past Narcissa and opened the door of Andromeda’s bedroom. It took all her self-restraint not to scream. Andromeda had one leg out the window. She bewitched a small trunk to follow her.
“Andromeda, where are you going?” hissed Bellatrix.
There was no point in lying so Andromeda climbed back inside and faced her sisters.
“I’m running away,” Andromeda mumbled.
Bellatrix crossed her arms impatiently.
“I gathered as much but why in Slytherin’s name do you feel the need to run away?”
Andromeda took a breath and answered Bellatrix.
“I’m in love with a mudblood…”
“WHAT?” roared Bellatrix.
Narcissa abandoned her usual lady-like manner and swore loudly.
“Bella, Cissy, keep your voices down!” hissed Andromeda.
“Andy, have you gone completely mad?” snarled Bellatrix. “The Dark Lord…killed Regulus! What do you think he’ll do to you?”
“You-Know-Who can shove his wand up his You-Know-What for all I care!” declared Andromeda. “I am not going to be told what to do by some bloody megalomaniac!”
“Andromeda!” shouted Narcissa.
Bellatrix was in a state of shock. Her sister was insane...nobody would run off with a mudblood and insult the Dark Lord. Andromeda, desperate to convince her sisters, caught Bellatrix by her collar. Her elder sister’s face was impassive.
“Don’t you see, Bella?” she cried. “I love Ted!”
Andromeda's words struck home. Bellatrix shook her head but she smiled. Andromeda was starting to remind her of a seven year old who dared to venture into the muggle world. The seven-year-old had long since grown up…but at heart she was still a marauder and not even a husband or a mark on her forearm could change that. If one of her sister's was marrying for love, it was good enough for Bellatrix...mudblood or not.
“Good luck Andy,” said Bellatrix. “If that mud…don’t look at me like that Andy…muggle-born hurts you then send me an owl and I’ll jinx him for you.”
Andromeda gave a sigh of relief.
“They’ll be no need for that,” said Andromeda with a laugh. “But please write to me.”
“I’ll miss you, Andy,” whispered Narcissa. “Be careful…please.”
Never had Andromeda smiled as much as she did then. She kissed both her sisters on the cheek and climbed out the window.
The two sisters stood in front of the window for some time. Narcissa opened her mouth to say something then closed it. Druella’s shrill voice broke the uneasy silence that followed.
“Andromeda!” called Mrs. Black. “Rabastan’s here! He wants to make sure you’re feeling alright!
Narcissa steeled herself.
“Andromeda’s not here!” she called back. “She took some Health potion and said something about…”
Narcissa looked at Bellatrix for help as she tried to think of an excuse. Bellatrix mimed the first thing that came into her head.
“Erm…looking at wedding dresses,” finished Narcissa, following Bellatrix’s instructions.
Narcissa could just imagine Rabastan’s smug face when he heard these words. He thought he was Slytherin’s gift to witches. He was in for a rude awakening. Andromeda rather marry a mudblood than him so his pride was about to take quite a beating.
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