Ted never understands. Andromeda has told him so many times, or tried, but he never understands. He was raised by his father, has no siblings; he had to spend a lot of time alone and seems to even thrive on it when he's the only one on shift at work. All of that is getting in the way. Really, the truth is, he probably can't understand.

Andromeda has the newspaper folded out in front of her, the photo moving and shifting as she watches it.

It's almost like she's there.

No one is in the room. She wilts against the table. She can ignore the brothers in the picture. Bellatrix's eyes are different, but not so different as she might tell the others. She was never like this before, she might lie to some. She's gone completely mad. But all that's happened is that, until last night, Bellatrix was as free as she had ever been.

Ted enters the room behind her, passes by, stops, and looks. "All right?" he checks.

Andromeda's eyes close. "Yes."

He persists. "Do you want the wireless on?"

That sometimes helps. But this is different. "Yes, fine."

"Drom - "

Her eyes flick open. She glances back. Ted strokes a hand over his face, plainly troubled. "You're using the Good Old Pureblood voice on me," he says. "I'm worried."

Her mouth scrunches, then she gathers up the newspaper.

"Andromeda," he tries, and catches her shoulder as she stands. "Wait. Sit with me. Please, tell me."

"I need to go be alone," she says, and it's the furthest thing from the truth. But it'll get her away from what feels like his judgment, or what would be his judgment if he knew.

She goes to the bedroom, shuts the door, and hopes he knows better than to interrupt.

"I'm sorry, Bella."

They both know that Bella goes to Hogwarts this year, but that doesn't change the way everything ratchets up in the weeks leading up to her departure.

Andromeda is eight years old. She is a well-behaved child. She doesn't start rows, and she doesn't sulk. But when Father demands that Bella stop sneaking into Andromeda's room to sleep with her, she throws a fit and is barred from listening to the wireless for a week.

The first night is terrifying. It feels like she's alone on a raft in the middle of the ocean, that she could drift away and no one would ever be able to find her. She can't sleep. She sneaks to Bella, who says nothing and wraps her arms around her, keeping her warm and safe.

They're both punished in the morning. Bella shouts at Father this time. He threatens to not give her spending money for Hogwarts, but everyone knows he's bluffing. The fight fizzles out, but Andromeda knows she can't sneak out again. She hates the shouting more than she hates being alone.

But that's not strictly true. She cries for an hour and a half, and wets the bed.

Mother doesn't know what to do, so she ignores it. Andromeda barely sleeps, cries all of the time, and can barely focus on lessons or helping with Narcissa. The night before Bella goes to Hogwarts, Andromeda dares to climb into her bed.

"I don't know what I'm going to do when you're gone," she sniffs at Bella. "You're always here. You take care of me."

"I know," Bella says, and strokes her hair; Andromeda closes her eyes. "I'll owl you. You can always owl me. And in a few years you'll be at Hogwarts with me, in Slytherin, and everything will be all right."

"You sound like them," Andromeda says, only slightly accusing in tone.

"I have to go. I'll meet my husband when I'm there." Bella sounds bored. "We have obligations, Drom. That's what comes from being from one of the Twenty-Eight. But my first obligation is always to you, to my blood. And yours will be the same. Right?"

"Right," Andromeda agrees, her eyes half-open in relaxation. "I still don't want you to go."

Bella presses a kiss to her forehead. "I would take you with me in my trunk if I didn't need to have something to wear."

"At least find a nice husband," Andromeda says blearily; she's starting to get sleepy, and it's such a relief after the nightmare of the last few weeks. "You're too pretty to not."

"Husbands," Bella dismisses, and it's the last Andromeda hears before she falls asleep.

Narcissa won't be a good little sister, not like Andromeda is to Bella, and Andromeda is starting to hate her for it. Andromeda is either with the tutor or alone, and Narcissa spends all of her time reading or with Mother.

Andromeda still hasn't completely forgiven Mother for everything, even though she now fully understands why Bella had to leave. Mother's been trying to pry them apart, even though before then no one seemed to care how close they were. Mother had even commented on how sweet it was before she suddenly turned on them.

The point is that Andromeda now has far too much time to herself, by herself, and she hates it.

She starts to leave the house and wander London. When she starts her adventures, originally, Mother and Father take great issue with her going off on her own. Then they realize that when they let her, she actually doesn't throw fits or sulk, and they limit her to a certain amount of time, demand to know where she'll be wandering, and give her a small amount of money to spend.

It's a compromise that works for years, when Bella's not around. Bella develops friendships at Hogwarts, and Andromeda is shoved at two girls who are from appropriate families to do the same. It's something to do, Andromeda figures. She doesn't care for them very much. She's very good at pretending like she does, though.

(They're still as close as ever. They still sleep together at night. Their parents don't check anymore.)

It's a week before she goes to Hogwarts, Bella has a tea party engagement of some kind that she rolled her eyes about going to, and it's easily time for an adventure. Andromeda runs down the way to Diagon Alley, and headlong into a boy.

"Ow," he complains. "You stepped on my foot!"

"Sorry!" She rolls her eyes at him. "You were in my way."

"You were running, you're not supposed to run unless something's chasing you," the boy says. He looks past her. "Is something chasing you?"

"Don't be stupid," she says archly, then looks at the bag he carries. "Why were you at Flourish?"

"School books? Like anyone?" he points out.

Andromeda crosses her arms over her chest. "I was trying to be nice."

"You don't sound nice," he says.

"Fine, I won't talk to you then," she retorts, and turns around.

"Wait," he says hastily. "Wait! I just meant you're not - well anyway do you want to walk with me? Maybe?"

She pauses, then looks back at him. "What?"

The tips of his ears are turning pink. "I dunno, just maybe it wouldn't be so bad."

"Are you with your parents?" she asks, a little pointedly.

"My, erm, my dad," he says, faltering, "no, he's not here. Actually. Would you want to shop with me? It's kind of terrible being alone for this."

That strikes a chord. Andromeda exhales, nods, and turns back around. "Did you get things from the apothecary yet? Oh, I'm Andromeda Black, who are you?"

He grins and sticks out his hand. "Ted Tonks. Cheers."

"Cheers," she echoes back, a little uncomfortably, but walks ahead when he leads the way. "No! No, the apothecary's this way! Honestly, have you ever been in Diagon? You can't miss it!"

Ted's in the Sorting line with her - of course. He was probably on the train, but she wouldn't have known that because she spent her entire time with Bella curled up against her side reading some of the dark magic books that are Bella's new hobby.

Ted's in her classes. He's very keen on talking to her, because he's friendly, maybe because of something else. Andromeda doesn't really know what to think.

Someone leans over her parchment as she sits in the library. She looks up. She smiles, not visibly forced. "Hello, Lucius!"

"Hello, Andromeda," he greets her. "I just wanted to know if the rumours were true and you're actually revising Charms with a Mudblood. Is this true?"

"I don't think it's your position to chide me," is immediately what leaps to her tongue, "but no, I don't think I am."

"He has this ridiculous name. Tocks?" he wonders. "Well, either way. I hope not. There's discussion that you might attend events with me when we're of age. I'd like that." He just tosses that off like it's nothing, though it stuns her, enough that she forgets for a moment the point of the discussion. "Watch what you're doing, Andromeda."

"Thank you, Lucius," she says, doing her best to put on Bella's best dismissive tone, and looks back down at her homework.

That's when it all sinks in.

Later that night, she greets Ted with a "You're a Mudblood?"

It completely blindsides him. "Erm," he says, then he takes a step back. "My parents are Muggles. Yeah."

"But." Andromeda stares at him. "You can't be."

"Well, I am, so," Ted says, hesitant. "Look - maybe I should - "

"Maybe you should," she says, and bites her tongue before she says anything to take it back. Lucius Malfoy.

He doesn't say anything else; he just flees. She goes once she's sure he's gone, and finds Bella in the Slytherin common room, dragging her upstairs to Bella's dorm.

"He's a Mudblood," she hisses in horror. "And he was - oh, Bella! I should have known better. Like you said. No one else really matters. Just find a husband and - and - Lucius Malfoy says he might be one day? Did I say that? He might be my - "

"Oh, please," Bella says, rolling her eyes. "That prat. He wants to be. I don't know if Mother or Father will stand for it. The Malfoys are so ridiculous. As for the rest of it?" She reaches over and flips open a book that's on her bed; a tortured face is visible on the page. "There's ways to deal with that."

Andromeda hesitates. "That's unnecessary. I just won't talk to him anymore."

"But he may talk to you. People may talk about our allegiances to such 'people.' We need to make things clear." Bella sighs, apparently happily. "The tide is turning. We're going to change everything. Andromeda, this summer I'm going to teach you so much. We're going to be a part of something."

"Part of what?" Andromeda asks, wide-eyed.

"Change," Bella says. "Wiping those Mudbloods off the face of the earth." She smiles broadly. "Don't you want to help me?"

Andromeda shifts forward. "Erm - " There's a split second where she really doesn't know, where she even thinks, maybe, Ted, but then: "Of course!"

Bella laughs, and wraps her arms around Andromeda, kissing her on both cheeks. "Just wait. You're going to have so much fun!"

The one thing that no one ever says about the dark arts, not even those in the old families who are known to dabble in them, is just how unquestionably good it feels in the moment to successfully do them. It's not that torturing the house-elf that Andromeda's grown up with makes her happy; it's that the actual casting of the curse just feels good.

"Good, good," Bella cheers, and hugs her around the middle, once they've allowed the house-elf to limp away in pain. "Oh, that was wonderful. You have real talent."

"I'm a little young to be doing this," Andromeda half-asks her.

Bella stops. "Well... not really? Everyone should. We need an army. Too many disagree with us, after all. But I'm not expecting you to be perfect right away, I promise."

Andromeda hesitates. "Bella?"

Bella's face darkens a bit; that's how Andromeda knows she's accidentally let her concern show too much. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know what to do about Lucius. He wants me to visit with him tomorrow."

"Sod him," Bella says instantly. "Stay with me."

"But - you've said - "

"No." Bella turns Andromeda around and touches her face. "Stay with me."

Andromeda releases a slow breath. "...All right," she agrees, looking up into her face.

There's no one she trusts more.

The next year, Bella has to start going to events with a boy. His name is Rodolphus Lestrange. Andromeda hates him. He's smug and boring, and even if he shares an interest in the dark arts with Bella, that doesn't mean he should be allowed to marry her.

"I'm concerned about how close the two of you are," Mother says to Andromeda when she explains this.

"You've always said that," Andromeda says primly. "I don't care. We're sisters, we're blood. That's important."

"It's important that the two of you don't undermine your prospects because you're - " Mother presses a hand to her forehand. "You're giving me a headache, dear. Do you see what you're doing to me?"

Andromeda rolls her eyes. "And I expect you'll want me to prance around with Lucius Malfoy soon?"

"Yes," Mother says without hesitation. "You have two things you're required to do, Andromeda. Find a man and have his children. The rest is up to you. You understand?"

"I understand," Andromeda says, trying not to seethe a bit. "What if you don't like the man I find?"

"Then that's not the right man," Mother says, looking sharply at her. "Propriety, dear."

"Yes, yes," Andromeda says, annoyed, and sweeps off to Bella's room, ignoring anything her mother might say as she goes. "Bella! We need to do something today! I need to get out of here."

Bella turns around, and there's a strange look on her face; she looks upset. Andromeda freezes. "Bella?"

"I hate him," Bella says, her voice strained.

Andromeda can only hope. "Rodolphus?" she guesses.

"He tried to kiss me," Bella says, and looks away from Andromeda quickly. "I want nothing to do with him, with that. I should find someone else." She looks finished talking, so Andromeda opens her mouth but then she starts talking again: "I don't know if there's anyone else. None of them matter to me."

Andromeda releases a shaky breath. "I... I hope you can find one. It's the only thing we have to do, Bella - "

"I know! I'm the one who told you that," Bella snaps at her, and Andromeda backs off instantly. Bella stops, then, startled. "...Andromeda," she says, "I don't know what to do. I know what I'm meant to do. It's just so..."

Andromeda jumps on the silence. "Is it the kissing part?" she asks carefully. "Is that the problem?"

Bella instantly looks stricken, but covers that up a second later. "No," she says.

Andromeda eyes her. "Well. If..."

"If?" Bella asks.

Andromeda sighs. "If you don't know how - "

Bella cuts her off. "You don't know how to either."

So she doesn't have to say it out loud. "We could learn together."

There's silence, then Bella sighs, tensed. "Yes," she says.

There's a strange sort of leap in Andromeda's chest. "Yes?"

Bella moves closer to Andromeda, and there's a tense moment where they're both more scared than anything, but the closeness of Bella has always meant more than anything to her. That translates to now, when Bella leans in and presses her mouth to Andromeda's. She blushes, then Bella pulls backs from that and kisses her again and it's different and she can actually react this time, tilting up into it.

"Good," Bella murmurs after that, and Andromeda desperately hopes it's not over, but for then it is; Bella decides they're going to practice wand movements for dark arts, even though all Andromeda is thinking about is her sister's mouth now as she mouths the words.

It may not be what their mother wants, but they'll do what their mother wants someday.

Bella curls up with Andromeda in her bed the night after her first proper ball as a proper young woman, and they giggle like the teenage girls they are. "Lucius," Andromeda informs her, "has to be a better kisser than Rodolphus. He practices on so many of the girls! I bet Rodolphus doesn't."

"He doesn't," Bella says dryly. "But they're not supposed to be practicing on anyone but us, you know."

"We're practicing with each other," Andromeda whispers to her. "Why can't they?"

"With each other?" Bella repeats, scandalized, and the two of them burst out laughing again. Andromeda leans in to kiss her, excited, and Bella kisses her first.

They're just about snogging when Mother walks in.

"BELLATRIX," Mother shouts, and they instantly break apart.

"Mother please don't," Andromeda says in a rush.

"Bellatrix, come with me, now," Mother says icily, completely ignoring her.

"Mother!" Andromeda shouts.

"Forget it, Andromeda," Bella says in the same icy tone, and stalks after their mother, leaving Andromeda alone.

She sits there, numbly, alone, alone, and she wants everything to go back just one minute, two minutes, to a time when things were better and had Bella in them.

She cries; she goes to Narcissa, who barely puts up with her.

She goes to owl Lucius but finds something else on the table, marked for her, in a handwriting she doesn't recognize.

She opens it.


I know we haven't talked in years. But I wanted you to know I think about you, and I think about how you deserve better than the bloke you've been set up with, or at least who I hope you've been set up with and didn't choose yourself. I'm not saying the right bloke is me, I know that I don't stand a chance with someone with the last name Black. But I want you to know that you're special, that I've always known that from the first day I met you, and you deserve someone who knows how special you are.

Thinking of you,

She stands there, stunned, tears in her eyes again. Then she holds it out, away from her, and throws it in the fire.

When Andromeda isn't thinking, sometimes she's doing the wand movements from the dark arts that Bella used to teach her.

Bella has mostly abandoned her, or at least that's how it feels. It's probably not what she wants to do - probably - but it's what she's doing. There are no more lessons, no more kisses, and the time they spend together always feels like they're standing in opposite corners of a room. Whatever Mother said to her, it did what Mother always wanted. It broke them apart.

Getting back to Hogwarts is the best thing. There are other people, there are her roommates, there's homework to take her mind off of things. There's Lucius, but he's not the worst thing. She has always liked Lucius more than Bella likes Rodolphus.

Lucius gets up after their revision session, and Andromeda waves him off; she's not going back to Slytherin yet. Right before he leaves, she sees Ted pass by, heading into the stacks, and in a split second decision she grabs her books and parchment, quickly cramming them into her bag.

She finds him easily; he's not trying to hide at all, with a pile of books on the floor next to where he's looking at Herbology texts. She watches him for a moment before he actually notices her, and immediately drops the book he's tipping into his hands from above his head. "Oh - bollocks!"

She grins despite herself. "Hi," she says.

"What the hell are you doing, you scared the - well," he says hastily, "don't think I'm complaining, please. You're allowed to talk to me?"

She rolls her eyes to dismiss it. "So, your letter."

"You got that?" He seems surprised. "I thought your family would burn it."

"They don't open my post, you silly thing." She sighs. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." He's just looking at her now, this amazing expression on his face of admiration, and she feels like she should probably be leaving, but she's not. "Erm. Did you... finish that Herbology essay?"

She nods. "Two days ago."

"What, Ravenclaw," he says, "where'd you get that tie? Honestly."

She screws up her face jokingly. "Slytherins do their work too."

"I do work! Hufflepuffs do work," he says, "it's sort of part of the whole thing."

"House stereotypes are stupid," she dismisses.

"Yeah," he says; he's grinning now. "Any way I can convince you to help me? Or will the big bad Pureblood Conspiracy snatch you away from me again?"

Andromeda tries to remember all about what Bella's said about them, about how they steal wands and use magic, how they'll pass along all the secrets if they're allowed to read books and use cauldrons. Then she realizes that this is the first time that she's felt better than just "all right" since that night with Bella.

She tilts her head up, all imperious, and he looks really concerned that she's going to be awful before she speaks. "We'll sneak. Get your books, we'll find an empty classroom."

He looks totally stunned, then he beams. "Yeah, all right," he says agreeably, as though he's just sort of all right with this, and gathers up his things.

They work on the essay. After he finishes up, she leans across the desk to take a look at something (she can read upside down, so easy enough) and he stops her and kisses her.

It's terrifying, because of who it is. But other than that, it's so much better than Lucius.

"Well," she says, sitting back, breathless. "We'll have to be careful, Ted. But - "

"But what are you saying," he interrupts.

"I'm saying I have to put up with Lucius Malfoy but it doesn't mean I want to date him," she says.

"Jesus Christ," he says, astounded, "my best mate said it was stupid to write that letter."

"Your best mate doesn't know girls, clearly." Andromeda touches his hand, a little hesitant, and he takes it in his. He's a Mudblood, he's just using you, he's just trying - Her fingers could so easily twist in the wand movement needed for this curse or that, in the way she was trained, to do what she was trained to do. He'd be disgusted.

But she doesn't feel alone.

Everything is fine, for a full year and a half, until the day of Bella's wedding, when Lucius decides it's worthwhile to tell her family that she's dating someone improper behind his back.

"WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT," Andromeda hisses between her teeth in order to not scream in the corridor.

"Because I hate your sister and you're clearly not worth your surname, at least at the moment?" Lucius shrugs. "You would make a good wife, given a few changes, but now - "

She could smack him. "How long have you known?"

"Andromeda," Bella says, tone cool, "come here."

Andromeda doesn't want to go. But she goes.

Bella looks beautiful. She looks so beautiful that Andromeda's chest aches just staring at her. The thing that's missing is a smile, or a laugh. Bella doesn't smile, or laugh, anymore.

Thinking about it makes her want to cry. So much about Bella makes her want to cry. "Oh, Bella - " she bursts out with.

"I want you to torture him," Bella interrupts her. "I want you to torture him, and give me the memory for my Pensieve. I won't speak to you until I have proof that you're not attached to that thing Lucius is talking about."

"But - " Andromeda stammers.

"I know you're capable of it - I taught you how to do it. You can do this, I believe in you, you're capable of far better than this. Do it." Her eyes flash in anger. "Or I won't speak to you again."

"Bella," Andromeda tries, "I'm, I'm just, I, you weren't talking to me, I needed someone, I was just stuck with Lucius, and you know how stupid most of the girls are, and - "

"And THAT'S NO EXCUSE to do what you did," Bella shouts at her, then smooths her dress and turns around. "I've said what I need to say."

Andromeda's face is wet; she's crying without realizing it. Tears for Bella, all over again. "I, I, Bella, please, please - "

Nothing. It's like she isn't even there. It's like there's no one in the room, no warmth, just drifting, aimless, on a dark ocean -

Andromeda runs. She leaves the building, she finds a public Floo, she runs home and fills her Hogwarts trunk with as much clothing and belongings as she can find, and runs, to Ted.

Ted opens the door and stares at her, all cried-through makeup in dress robes with a trunk behind her. "Is everything all right?" he checks.

She starts to cry again, and flings herself at him.

"I can't stay there anymore," she murmurs into his neck.

His grip tightens on her.

"So you won't."