And now, for Quotathon repost no. 1!
The Hardest Part
Andromeda/Ted, the Black family
PG, 1700 words
Summary: Andromeda's got a choice to make, she needs to make it soon.
Notes: Originally written for allie_meril at hp_quotathon.
Andromeda tugged at her dress awkwardly, frowning at herself in the mirror. She felt like a china doll, and didn't like it at all.
"Oh, stop that pouting," came Bellatrix's impatient voice behind her. "Come on, you don't want to be late."
"No," Andromeda replied tonelessly, "wouldn't want to miss out on the fun." She turned to face her sister. "How on earth do you stand it? All this prancing around talking to boring old men, we've had far too many of these parties this year."
"Because," Bellatrix replied loftily, "I, unlike you, know how to take opportunities when they come." She looked Andromeda up and down, then patted her on the cheek. "It's not all bad - and you never know, sometimes there are some interesting young men there too." She smiled knowingly.
Andromeda shrugged. "Well, you can have fun with that, then."
Bellatrix narrowed her eyes. "Not still pining after that Tonks boy, are you? We've discussed this, Andromeda - do you want me to tell our parents about that little indiscretion after all?"
Andromeda's expression hardened. "No, Bella, it's over. Don't ask me again."
Bellatrix continued to look Andromeda over for a moment, then smiled, tight-lipped. "That's my girl." She walked over the door, yelling up the stairs, "Cissy, are you coming or not?"
"Just a second!" came an answering yelp, before Narcissa clattered down the stairs. "How do I look?" she asked, anxiously turning from side to side.
"Pretty as a picture, dear," Bellatrix answered, her smile warmer this time. Then she strode out of the room, the others forced to hurry along after her.
They reached the top of the stairs, where in unison they straightened up, and began to walk slowly down, smiling and nodding at the great and the good that were milling below them.
"What visions!" Cygnus rushed over to meet them, kissing each daughter on the cheek, with praise for all three in turn. "How on earth did I manage such beautiful girls?" he asked fondly.
Bellatrix curtseyed. "Aren't you going to introduce us, father?" she asked, peering into the next room. "Is that the Minister I see over there?"
"Yes, yes of course - I hear he quite wants to make your acquaintance, Bella!"
The two of them swept off, and Andromeda glanced over at Narcissa, who laughed. "She'll have him eating out of her hand in five minutes, you watch."
"Narcissa," came a low voice from behind them, and Andromeda whirled around to see Lucius Malfoy bowing extravagantly before sweeping Narcissa's hand up to his lips. Andromeda had to look away quickly before she burst out laughing at his pompousness.
Narcissa, however, blushed prettily at the attention, and quite happily walked off with Lucius into the next room. Left alone, Andromeda sighed. Still, she might as well make the best of things, and so started circulating the ground floor, exchanging pleasantries with distant relations and friends of her parents as she passed. She saw Sirius in one corner being lectured by his mother, and caught his eye for a moment to exchange sympathetic grimaces.
It was strange how times changed, she thought as she took a glass of wine from a passing waitress. These social events had been a regular fixture of her life since birth, and once they'd been a source of excitement, full of late night whisperings with her sisters beforehand about what they were each going to wear, and who was going to be there. They'd spent all the evening together back then, giggling at the waiters as they attempted to flirt with Bella - something that never ended well.
But now Andromeda felt nothing but a brooding dislike of the whole set up, unable to see anything around her but a thin veneer over a hypocritical and somehow faintly horrifying group of people. She heard women's piercing laughter from somewhere, then made a swift exit from the room. As she did so, she felt a hand brush against hers, and saw one of the waiters hurrying off towards the kitchens.
Really smiling for the first time that night, Andromeda abandoned her drink on the side and followed after him, doing her best not to seem in a hurry. Soon enough she'd left most people behind, and caught up with the waiter, grabbing his arm and fumbling open the door to a conveniently empty side pantry before dragging him inside.
"Fancy seeing you here," said Ted with a wink.
"You're a prat, do you know that?" Andromeda replied, but she was beaming.
Ted laughed at her, before running a hand down her shoulder and kissing her.
"You really-- shouldn't--" she tried to say between kisses, but Ted kept distracting her, covering her mouth with his own and driving the ability to form sentences clean out of her head.
"I most definitely should," he murmured against her cheek.
"Potter! Where the hell have you got to?" yelled a voice from outside, and Ted slowly drew back.
"My alias for the night," he explained, laughing. "I'm sure that James kid wouldn't mind. I'll see you in a bit, must attend to some of these charming guests first! Chin up, love."
He kissed her again then hurried away, and Andromeda leaned against a shelf, heart racing, still a little disbelieving he'd really managed to pull it off, and half guilty that she'd talked him into this risky charade at all. She took a moment to gather herself, before slipping back into the party, which now seemed a bit more bearable. She nodded and simpered and smiled and said all the right things, to approving nods from her parents. Looking around the room, she could see that Bellatrix still had the Minister cornered, who was looking a little intimidated. Narcissa and Lucius seemed to have disappeared completely, and Andromeda made a note to interrogate her sister later.
And every now and then Ted would sidle up alongside her, bearing a tray of food or another glass of wine, and he'd bow and she'd thank him kindly, then shove him hastily out of the way if Bellatrix so happened to be looking in her direction. After an hour or so, he hovered next to her, and whispered, "I'm taking a half an hour break in about ten minutes."
"You know where my room is," she muttered back, before going to make small talk with her uncle Orion, who was holding forth to anyone who'd listen about the recent Swiss innovations in security charms.
It was a very long ten minutes, but eventually she effected her escape, then ran up the stairs, listening carefully for anyone who might be about. She thought she heard voices coming from Narcissa's room, but decided it was unlikely in the extreme her sister was paying attention to anything else at all.
She softly opened her door, where she saw a flood of welcoming candles lit, and Ted perched on her windowsill, looking very pleased with himself.
"You think you're really clever, don't you?" Andromeda asked, walking over to them. "Infiltrating a high society event, having a secret identity, stealing the hosts' daughter's heart…"
Ted leaned back, laughing. "Yeah, I'd say I'm pretty good."
"Mmm," she replied, taking his hands. "And the danger, too! What if Bella had seen you?"
Ted scoffed. "Bellatrix? What's she going to do, dock points? We're adults now, I don't have to answer to anybody."
She sighed. "Easy enough for you. You don't have a mad family."
"Oh, I don't know, my Uncle Wilfred has some funny turns." But then Ted squeezed her hands a little tighter, and his voice got more serious. "I know it's difficult for you. But you don't have to be anything you don't want to be, and don't let your family make you feel that you do."
Andromeda hoisted herself up onto the window ledge next to him, resting her head on his shoulder. "I used to think all of this was what I wanted, you know," she began. "Pretty dresses and dancing with nice respectable boys. I thought I'd go into politics or something, keep the old traditions alive." She shook her head. "I suppose that's just what everyone else wanted for me. Now I've no idea what I want. All those people downstairs, they have so much opportunity, so much power, and they just waste it all on petty prejudice and nonsense."
Ted put an arm around her, drawing her in closer. "So change it. You're smart, come from a good family - people respect you, you could do anything you wanted!"
"And lose you?" She shifted over to look at him, searching his face.
"You say that like you're so sure, but maybe if you just talked to your parents, tried to reason it out--"
"Ted." She cut him off. "We've talked about this before. There's nothing I can do to change their minds, and you know it."
Ted said nothing, and Andromeda leaned into him, gratefully for his comfortable warmth against her, the rise and fall of his breathing. The decision she had to make loomed large before her, and a part of her wanted to run, and put it off, and evade it. But that wasn't fair, not to Ted, and certainly not to her family. And he was right, anyway; they were adults now.
"I love them, I really do," she said. "And I love you, too. I still can't quite believe I have to choose one or the other."
She fell back into silence, grateful that Ted knew her well enough not to try and say anything else. Instead, he pressed his hands to her back, moving them over her shoulders in slow circles. As Andromeda let out a low sigh, she was aware of all her love, thrumming deep in her chest. It seemed that her heart might have decided for her, whether she liked it or not.
"How much longer have you got?" she asked finally.
"However long you want me," he answered with a smile, and she curled up beside him in that window seat of her childhood home, content to let the worries of her life drift away, just for one night.