Andromeda stepped out of the whooshing green flames onto the hearthrug, Vanishing the dirt from her robes as she did so. Her eyes immediately alighted on Teddy, who was lying on his back on the floor, staring in utter fascination at a balloon that Nymphadora was levitating over him. Every so often he reached up a hand to bat at it, squeaking with delight.
Nymphadora was smiling at her son, but her face became icy when she raised her eyes to her mother's. "You were out a long time," she said, without any other greeting. "Cozy little chat, was it?"
Internally, Andromeda winced, but didn't let the expression show on her face. "Nymphadora… I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I kept intending to, but somehow I kept putting it off."
"Because you know how messed up it is?" Nymphadora said waspishly. She let the balloon drop beside Teddy, who turned his head to stare at it, reaching out a hand in its direction.
A thousand words flashed in the forefront of Andromeda's mind: she's my sister, I've missed her; I've lost every other member of my birth family; yes, you're right, it's wrong, the things she's done…; you're my daughter, if you want me to stop speaking with her then of course I will… but she couldn't say any of them – she couldn't choose which she felt. Instead, she asked: "is your father back yet?"
"No. Your husband, the one that supposed sister of yours thinks is worthless scum, is still trying to sort out the shop her friends burned to the ground and carved 'Mudblood' all over. How can you do this to him?"
"He said he doesn't mind," Andromeda said quietly. "He told me he's happy for me."
"That's because he's a soft touch who doesn't stand up for himself anywhere near enough. She'd have happily seen him murdered."
"You know that's not true," Andromeda murmured. "You've seen the papers." Since the Malfoys' trials, Narcissa's flimsy bit of protection of her brother-in-law had become open knowledge. She was certain Ted must know, too, but he'd not said anything to her, perhaps unsure whether she wanted to talk about it. He wasn't wrong: the idea of speaking with him about how close he'd come to being tortured and murdered by Bellatrix made her feel physically ill.
"Come off it, Mum, all she did was hint to them not to tell Bellatrix. She might have done that for the Snatchers' safety more than Dad's! Or just for her own reputation, that's more likely, then she could tell Voldemort her family tree was cleaner now! You don't owe her anything."
"Of course I don't. She should have done far more, for everyone in danger, not just your father. That's not why I'm doing this."
Nymphadora shrugged, getting to her feet and Levitating Teddy into her arms. He squealed with delight at the sensation. "Whatever. I don't want to talk about it with you. I clearly can't make you see sense." Nymphadora turned, striding towards the door in what was clearly meant to be a dramatic exit, marred by her whacking the hip that Teddy wasn't on against the doorframe on her way out. She didn't pause, though, stamping her way upstairs without looking back at her mother.
Andromeda sighed, collapsing into her favourite armchair with a view out of the window to the colourful garden beyond. Nymphadora's coldness hurt, but so would severing contact with her sister again. Andromeda loathed herself for it, but she couldn't deny the joy that had sparked in her when Narcissa had asked to speak with her. She'd missed her little sister hugely. She buried her face in her hands, her mask disappearing now she was alone with her thoughts.
The memories were bubbling up in her mind again, as they had every so often over the last twenty-seven years, increasingly so since the war. Memories of Cissy, running up to Andromeda with flowers she'd picked herself. Cissy, plaiting Andromeda's hair, the strands magically straightening as she did so. Cissy, fussing in the mirror before a ball, finding non-existent flaws in her appearance for so long that they were always late however early they'd begun to get ready. It had always driven Bella mad, but she indulged Narcissa's vanity nevertheless, buying her the best dresses and jewellery, often for no occasion at all, complimenting her constantly.
"No," Andromeda murmured to herself, unable to stop the memories of Bella, now, laughing as she swung dangerously high on the swing in the gnarled oak, launching herself into the air at the apex and sailing down gently, supported by her own magic. Bella, reassuring Andromeda before her first day at Hogwarts, assuring her she would make sure she was popular, that she would easily manage the work, an intelligent witch like her. Then, abruptly, Bellatrix's deranged, cackling face as she tortured Nymphadora would swim into her mind, obscuring everything with pain. Suddenly, Nymphadora's face morphed into Hermione's, Narcissa standing, impassive, unconcerned, as Bellatrix tormented the young girl.
Andromeda gasped, realising her eyes were wet with tears. How could she justify seeing Narcissa at all, after what her sister had done? She remembered the pain of looking at her sister's wedding photographs in the Daily Prophet's society pages, noticing how beautiful, how happy she looked, without Andromeda to share the day with her. Remembered how Narcissa had looked through her at the Ministry balls. Although Andromeda had caught her a few times when she thought their backs were turned, watching them concernedly, glaring at Ted with icy eyes when he spoke with any other witch, as though she thought he might wander off with a random woman and abandon Andromeda at any moment. That, Andromeda knew, was exactly what her little sister had expected to happen, what she'd tried to warn against in the letter she'd sent when Andromeda had run away.
Andromeda smiled slightly: Narcissa was eating those words now, especially after Ted's intervention today. Narcissa had barely touched her seat before she'd glanced back in the direction Ted had gone and murmured: "he really loves you, doesn't he?". Admittedly, it had been in a half-whisper, and Narcissa had glanced around as though terrified some influential pureblood might hear, but it was progress.
As though summoned by her thoughts, green flames roared in the fireplace again, soon disgorging the sooty figure of her husband, whose eyes immediately turned to her.
"'Dromeda." His smile of greeting froze when his eyes met hers. "Love, what's wrong? What happened?"
Andromeda took a breath, willing herself to calm down. Ted could be very perceptive when he wanted to be, and she didn't want to worry him. "Nothing. Nymphadora's still a little angry, that's all."
Ted's face hardened. "Don't tell me she's yelled at you again."
"No," Andromeda said hastily. "Nothing like that. She's just made it very clear she's angry, and she has a right to be, doesn't she, I…" she dropped her head, feeling a wave of sadness again. "I was in the wrong. I shouldn't see Cissy again."
"Oh, 'Dromeda," Ted said gently, crossing the room to wrap his arm around her shoulders. "Mind if I ask why you say that?"
"Isn't it obvious?" she asked, leaning her head against his arm. "The things she's done… the things she's been part of… it's wrong."
"How is it wrong? Who's being hurt, 'Dromeda?" He kissed the top of her head. "I've seen how happy it makes you, love."
"It shouldn't make me happy," Andromeda said harshly. "She cut me out of her life for so many years. She befriended people who wanted to kill you. To kill our Nymphadora."
"I can't imagine Narcissa hurting Dora," Ted said quietly. "She's got her own child she was desperate to protect, she knows how much that would hurt you."
"Bellatrix tried to kill Nymphadora," Andromeda said flatly. "I was there, Ted, I saw…"
"Oh, love," he murmured, squeezing her to him. "Oh, my darling, I'm so sorry."
She turned her head against his shoulder, finally giving in to her tears. She wasn't sure how long she stayed there, cradled in her husband's warm arms. When her sobs finally slowed and she raised her head, he was watching her carefully, gentle brown eyes fixed on hers.
"You know, 'Dromeda, Narcissa's not Bellatrix."
"Narcissa is almost as bad," Andromeda scoffed. "Possibly worse in some ways. Narcissa will do whatever gives her most power, no matter who gets hurt. At least Bellatrix picked a side."
"I'm not sure picking the wrong side is better than fence-sitting. Either way, though, you don't have to agree with someone to love them."
Andromeda's face tightened, and she raised her chin haughtily. "I don't-"
"Yes you do. You love her. You love both of them, you always have, I know you have. It must have been awful for you, everything with Bellatrix especially. You're so strong, love, and you've been through so much. Don't put yourself through more. Dora will come around."
"I shouldn't be hurting my own daughter for the sake of Narcissa," Andromeda spat. "The woman who ignored me for twenty-seven years…."
"For someone who was ignoring you she certainly watched us a lot," Ted commented mildly. "I reckon she was worried about you, although you know her a lot better than I do."
"It's not enough," Andromeda snarled. "If she was that worried she could have spoken to me, like Allena did."
"And I'm sure you're making that very clear to her, love." He smiled gently at her. "I can't imagine you're just accepting her back without her making amends for how she's treated you. That wouldn't be my 'Dromeda."
"You're not making it clear to her," Andromeda muttered, her face tensing. "You could stand up for yourself a bit more, you know. You didn't need to buy her a drink."
He looked uncertainly at her. "I'm sorry. I thought it might help, that if I showed I was willing to be civil Dora and the others might follow suit. It was a bit of a risk… was Narcissa angry?"
"What? Ted, no, of course not. Even if she was she wouldn't dare show it, but she looked grudgingly impressed to me. No, I'm talking about you. You shouldn't feel you have to do that after the way she's treated you."
"I didn't feel I had to. I wanted to. I want things to work out for you, love."
Andromeda looked at him, a surge of affection filling her. "I know. I love you so much, Ted. I've not said that to you often enough."
"I love you too. And the same, darling." He smiled, his eyes practically glowing with warmth as he looked at her. "I don't think it's possible to say it enough, though, I wouldn't be able to breathe in between."
She smiled back, letting her eyes take him in. There was still a part of her that struggled to believe he was truly here, that expected to wake up soon, to return to a world where he really was dead. He watched her, too, love filling his eyes, and she felt some of her muscles begin to relax a little.
"I'm going to ask again, love," he said softly, after a few minutes. "Who is it you're hurting, by talking to Narcissa? And annoying Dora isn't really hurting her. It's not you she's angry at, really, anyway."
"What if her friends abandon her over this? Mr Potter, Miss Granger, the Weasleys… all of them have good reason to-"
"I doubt they'd abandon her over our decisions, 'Dromeda. They've got too much sense for that. Besides, what right have they to be angry about you just speaking with someone?"
"Narcissa let Bellatrix torture Miss Granger in her own house, Ted. I'd say that's a quite significant reason to be angry. And I'm sure they have others."
He winced, glancing away from her for the first time. "When did you find that out?"
"Today. Nymphadora said it, when she was telling Narcissa off. I got Narcissa to apologise, but that's hardly enough, is it?"
His eyes swung back to hers, widening as they did so. "You what? She said sorry? To a Muggle-born?!"
"Grudgingly. She tried to wriggle out of giving a proper apology, of course, but I made her in the end."
"Wow, 'Dromeda. How did you manage that?"
"I knew she wouldn't dare cross me, especially in that situation. She was terrified I'd refuse to see her again. She's right to be, I'm still seriously considering it."
"Ah, but then who's going to make her apologise to all the other Muggleborns she's hurt?" Ted said quickly. "Don't refuse to see her, love, it'd just upset you both."
"Merely being upset pales in comparison to what others have suffered. How can I justify prioritising my own happiness over that?"
Her husband was silent for a few minutes, a small line creasing between his eyes as he thought. Eventually, he murmured: "you know, 'Dromeda, I think you talking to your sister is making any more suffering less likely, not more. She's learning. You're making her learn, making her acknowledge she's been in the wrong."
"She's pretending to learn," Andromeda shot back, her body tensing again. "You can't imagine she actually meant that apology?"
"Maybe not, love. You know her best, it's just… she spoke to me. She never used to even look at me. That's progress, isn't it?"
Andromeda sighed. "You're being too optimistic again. That's hardly enough progress, is it, that she grudgingly spoke to you because she wants to impress me? She ought to treat you like a brother, Ted!"
"Ah, but if it starts with a grudging acknowledgement I exist, that gives me an opportunity to masterfully charm her with my witty conversation and amazing sense of humour," Ted grinned at her.
"You missed out how generally wonderful you are," she murmured, softening a little at his smile, although she could not quite manage to return one of her own. "But you shouldn't have to prove yourself to her like that. She should care about you instinctively, because I love you, because you're her brother-in-law, you're family."
"Exactly like you feel about Lucius, then?" Ted teased.
"That's completely different," Andromeda said haughtily.
"Hate to break it to you, love, but he is your brother-in-law. Has been for quite a while, I think."
"Ted, if you seriously cannot see how that is utterly incomparable to how Narcissa has treated you…" she trailed off, glaring. "I hate Lucius because he is an arrogant, judgemental, idiotic little man who has brought my sister and nephew into quite considerable danger because of his power-seeking. I don't hate him because his parents happen to be non-magical. There's quite a considerable difference."
"I know," Ted soothed. "I'm not sure your sister appreciates that difference, though, not yet. But maybe now she might get there. Don't stop seeing her, 'Dromeda, or I reckon Lucius'll be just about the only person she sees, with the disgrace they're in right now. And that'd drive anyone insane."
"It's her fault, she married the idiot," Andromeda muttered, but less forcefully. Ted's persistent reassurances that what she was doing was okay, even right, were beginning to take effect. "Maybe you're right, I… I'll think about it. It's just Dora, really, I – the last thing I want to do is hurt her."
"I'll talk to Dora, love. Leave that to me."