The day after Andromeda's world ended, she woke to a house full of life.
She rolled out of bed in soft pajamas, bare feet. One pillow was mussed and crumpled. The other was untouched, plumped just the way Ted liked it. She leaned against the headboard, pale fingers gone paler from squeezing the wood.
Her knees were creaking, her joints aching. She was forty three and she felt like she had at least a century brittling her bones. Morning light, grey and dim, dropped through the crack in the curtains, shattered to the floor. There was a sniffle. There was a crescendo of an infant's cry. Andromeda wrapped an old blanket around her shoulders and went to her grandson.
If she had picked up the newspaper on her front step (she wouldn't) she would have seen the garbled headlines first trying to make sense of the smoldering remains of the Battle of Hogwarts. THE END OF OUR TERROR? the Prophet screamed.
When Andromeda went out into the rest of the house with Teddy nestled into her shoulder, she had to step cautiously over sleeping bodies. In one corner, a boy with disheveled hair and crooked glasses was passed out on her living room floor, wrapped around a lithe redhead. Harry had insisted on coming to tell her about Nymphadora and Remus in person. The rest of the snorers on her floor had insisted on coming with him. Andromeda had insisted that if they tried to leave again in that state, exhausted and unfed, they'd end up passed out in a ditch somewhere and not just because she'd send a curse after them.
She didn't know them yet. She didn't know Harry would spend hours on all fours when Teddy was learning to crawl, demonstrating proper form, while Ginny laughed and cheered them both on with Lee Jordan-style commentary. She didn't know Molly Weasley would fold herself bossily, comfortably, into Andromeda's Saturday afternoons with teacakes and preserves, her mending and her sharpest gossip, kindest words.
She didn't know that the bushy haired girl curled up on the couch would teach Teddy to read, buy him Muggle science books and help him make a potato battery for a lightbulb, that the lanky redhead bent like a long-limbed question mark at the foot of the couch would become Andromeda's newest, brightest chess arch nemesis.
Little Teddy on one shoulder, Andromeda went barefoot into the kitchen to get down her daughter's favorite mug and fill it full of steaming tea. Andromeda let it overbrew, watching sleeping chests, backs, ribs, stomachs rise and fall, breathe, shake. When she finally rolled the bitter liquid over her tongue, she clung to the mug, didn't let it break the silence.
Mrs. Black, who preferred to be called Ms. Black, held little tea parties in the playroom for her three daughters. They used real porcelain tea cups and hot black tea. Mother would invite Minister of Magic Teddy Bear and Blood Traitor Stuffed Frog to their teas, set them up with their own little cups and then instruct—this is how you charm, coddle, insinuate—this is how you snub, strike, and smile.
That was the thing about Bella. She thought they were having tea. Annie, eleven, watched her mother come to the decision that Bella was someone you pointed at people.
By the time Andromeda's mother met Tom Riddle, it was after the last time Annie would ever see her. But she knew—Andromeda could see it, her mother smiling slowly, touching her pearls, thinking now here is someone who knows how to aim.
Annie and Cissa would sneak out of their rooms some nights and crawl into Bella's big bed, burrow in the covers. "She gave me the prettiest tea cup today," said Bella, who thought porcelain tea cups and hot tea meant they were grown up, were trusted, were real. At the time, the main thing Annie thought about the tea parties was that she didn't care for the taste of tea.
Years later, curled up in the Hufflepuff Common Room with Ted, staring at the jagged pieces of a dropped mug—she would remember her mother's delicate hands and realize: the point of porcelain is that it shatters.
She gave them something that would break, would fracture into shards of porcelain, would scald little legs red and smarting. "Such a big, brave girl," her mother had cooed, handing Cissa a brimming cup. "Take a sip now, just like I showed you."
The tea was always overbrewed. They poured sugar into it, stirred it with tiny hands, and kept those bitter daggers on their tongues until dinnertime.
Her mother was a beauty and a blade in the night, her lips shaped precisely, cheekbones sharpened with shadow and light, claws masquerading as painted nails. Cissa was the smallest, always, the youngest and the highest pitched. She was the last of them to come to life, so she could watch her sisters' old footprints, their stumbles.
She was fair hair and big, wide eyes—wide-eyed means naive so often, means young, innocent. Cissa was wide-eyed—she saw it all, the disappointment in Mother's eye, the disdain, poise, violence, the way the servants flinched. Cissa looked out with big eyes and learned to smile. She learned to lift her chin, put her nose in the air, smirk so that people on the street would stop to compare her profile to her mother's.
They would watch their parents get ready for dinner parties, galas, operas that their children were not invited to. Powder on her mother's nose. Dangling earrings that screamed expense, but quietly. Cissa lapped it all up, eyes hungry. Bella drowned in their dismissive dialogue, tearing apart each guest before they saw them.
Annie watched her father come in from lunches with the Minister. He put his hat on the rack by the door (mahogany). He was all sharp lines and plush fabrics. Her mother tried to put her in sundresses but that was what Annie wanted—something with shoulders, wide shoulders that looked like they could hold up the entire world.
See, look, with shoulders like these you know you can trust me, just give me the world, c'mon, hand it over, let me lift it high—
"Did you sharpen that wand?" Annie demanded, age twelve, in her second year of Hogwarts and feeling quite knowledgeable. The core of it seemed grey, dull, metallic. The wood was weird, cheap and painted yellow. "Merlin's beard, who are they letting into Hogwarts these days?"
"This," said the boy, "is a pencil." Ted Tonks, Hufflepuff, was a serious kid, round faced and steady eyed. He watched her for a moment, taking in the curiosity smushed between her clamped lips, and then his face broke into a grin. "A wand is almost as cool, though."
When Annie came back from summer vacation her fourth year looking dashingly thin and determinedly miserable, Ted snuck her into the kitchens. He offered her tea and when she hesitated, he promised, "I make great tea," and scampered around the warm hearth.
When he pressed thick ceramic into her hands, she was still, digesting the care with which he had timed steepings and ladled in honey. Chamomile melted over her tongue and warmed her all the way through her chest.
Ted brought her Muggle books, took her out by the lake at night to look up at the stars and tell her all the Muggle constellation stories, to point out satellites and talk about the race to the moon, about people who strapped themselves to tin cans with explosions at their backs and looked up.
Andromeda did not tell her sisters. She snuck back into Slytherin House at odd hours, practiced her invisibility and befriended the Bloody Baron, who was really only looking for a patient ear.
She read Little Women in her fourth year—a story about four sisters in an attic dreaming dreams. The youngest was vain, a bit flighty, marries well—Andromeda smiled to see Narcissa on the pages. The eldest, eager, fierce and possessive and so very good at falling in love—it was easy to imagine Meg with Bella's strong-boned face.
Andromeda assumed that made her Jo March, the second eldest, restless and romantic, the one who left. She flipped through the pages, hid it under her pillow, and was glad, so glad, that she didn't have a Beth. What would be, to have a sister who was your most important person, and then to lose her? It wouldn't be worth it, she decided.
Her family found out about Ted in her fifth year. It wasn't the discovery that did it, or even the lying, which shouldn't have surprised Andromeda. "Everyone has little dalliances," said her mother. "We all have our moments of—"
"Slumming it?" said Bella, retching a little.
"Bellatrix, you will not use such language. Annie, love, we'll discuss this further when your father gets home."
Annie had let a boy with yellow on his robes hold her hand under the library table. She had let a boy with Muggle blood flowing through him kiss her behind the greenhouses. The thing that drove her mother to burn her middle daughter off the family tree was not that she had touched a Mudblood boy but that when her father came home and the Blacks cornered Andromeda in the sitting room she refused to stop seeing him.
Her mother was wailing why and how could you and the things you owe your family. Annie felt like spitting at her mother, "Did you know tea could be a comfort and not a poison?"
She watched the way her father drew himself up, let just enough of his bottled rage show so that fear would squeeze the back of her neck. He settled those broad shoulders and went cold—she watched close for how he did it, the twisted lip, the hooded eyes, the way those shoulders shifted, tilted. Those shoulders that held up the world, they twisted, contemptuously, as though they were letting Annie's whole life fall and shatter at her feet.
"You are not my daughter."
And Andromeda drew herself up. Her mother was shrilling something sharp, and Bella was still stuck somewhere between horror and disgust. Cissa was wringing her hands somewhere in the background.
Andromeda drew herself up and didn't let him see any of her bottled rage. He wouldn't fear it, so he did not deserve it. She drew herself up and let his words, his rage, his disdain shatter on all the ways she let herself go cold. She shifted her shoulders like she was letting his blow slide off and shatter on the floor.
When she got off the Hogwarts Express that year, everything she owned in the trunk she was dragging behind her, Ted Tonks was waiting with a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils.
Back at Hogwarts, Andromeda would arrive at the Slytherin Common Room as late as she could, hoping even the studious would be asleep. The Common Room was empty, except for a first year who was half-crouched near the couch, stuck under a Petrificus Totalus.
Andromeda sighed and put her bag down, looking at him. He was scrawny and small, a pure blood. She couldn't remember his name. She pulled out her wand and undid the spell.
He collapsed onto the couch, gasping, and then pulled himself up and thrust a hand at her. "Thank you. Kingsley Shacklebolt."
"Andromeda Black," she said, picking up her bag. When he didn't yank his hand back at her name, she reached out and took it as firmly as she'd seen her father do at parties. "Why'd they Petrify you?"
"They were bullying this Muggle-born, and I asked them—politely—to stop."
She had been turning toward the girls' dorm, dreading the hush that would fill the room when she stepped inside, but she stopped. "Did you pull your wand first?"
"They were going to pull theirs!" He pulled his legs up to sit cross-legged and she sat down next to him. Kingsley said, "I'm not stupid enough to go into a fight unarmed."
"Don't pull your wand. Not here. It's not—If you pull first you're a brawler. If you pull second, you bat your eyes for Madame Pomfrey and she heals you up a little cleaner."
"I'm not going to not defend myself just so I'll look better to the teachers."
"If the consequences aren't likely to be permanent? I'd consider it. But that wasn't what I was suggesting. Don't pull your wand. Just learn wandless magic."
"I'm eleven," he said.
"As good a time as any," she said. "Welcome to Slytherin, kid. The House of ambition, kiddo. Consider what you want to be, and be it."
Kingsley found her in the library the next day, sorting and shelving books for Madame Pince. The Hogwarts staff kept giving her odd jobs and paying her for them, without ever bringing up why. She had a shoebox of Knuts and Sickles under her bed.
"They're terrified of you, when they're not pretending to be contemptuous."
"It's my shoulders," she said. "And my curses—but mostly my shoulders."
Andromeda looked at him, her chin level, jaw firm, where Narcissa's would have been lifted, sharp—but Narcissa wanted to look beautiful, like she could cut you open, and Andromeda wanted to look like you would crumble before her, like she could lift you up.
"The expression helps, too, I think," Kingsley said, leaning his chin on one hand. "Like a rather tired lioness who's wondering why you're intruding on her well deserved rest, and who might kill you, but only if she feels like it." He pulled a book from her stack, ruffling through it. After a Auror's work, an undercover war, and appointment to Minister of Magic over the next few decades, Kingsley would learn how to sit still, but he hadn't learned it yet. "How do you do it?" he said.
"Be better than them," she said. "Be better than all of them. Be untouchable."
She spent her summers with the Tonks's, who made their future daughter in law part of the family a long time before she became legally one of their own.
When she first stepped through the doors of their little London apartment, she thought ah—
They were a cluttered bunch, not loud but constantly moving, teasing, wry. Both his parents sketched, left charcoal drawings tacked to the walls and went to their 9-5 Muggle jobs with graphite stains under their white sleeve cuffs.
They fought—squabbles over chores and wording and the color of Ted's father's tie. It was nothing like the chilly impasses of Andromeda's house. Nothing went shattering to the floor, but she kept waiting, waiting, until she got used to the silence.
Andromeda fell deeply and truly in love with this family the day Mrs. Tonks found her almost in tears over a suit jacket. "It won't fit right," Annie told her. "I just want—I just want to look like my own kind of power sometimes, that's all."
"Well then," Mrs. Tonks said, and taught her how to tailor her own suits.
"Do you think wizards have heard of proper hygiene?" Mrs. Tonks would ask at table, over Ted's blushing head, after a long day of listening to Annie bother him about the socks scattering around his bedroom floor.
"No, no, think of those nose warts, dear," said Mr. Tonks, with a friendly wink at Andromeda, who was holding back giggles.
"And after all, those—"
"FINE I WILL CLEAN MY ROOM," said Ted and Andromeda clutched her stomach with laughter.
"Have some juice, dear, there you go," said Mrs. Tonks, handing her a glass. "Now, how was your day?"
When Andromeda got married, it was in a dress that was silver, not white. The guests called her luminescent, but her cousin Sirius, who spun her with comical and affectionate abandon across the dance floor later that night, smiled, and said, "You thought green would be too obvious?"
"A snake changes it's skin, but it's still—"
"I'm not going to pretend I'm anything I'm not, cuz," she said.
Sirius grinned and she saw his eyes catch on Ted, dancing with the six year old flower girl with a seriousness that was almost a laugh unto itself. "He better love that about you."
Ted glanced up over the curly head of the flower girl and his concentrated solemnity broke for a split second. "He does."
You build your life around the things you want to be. Narcissa wanted to be safe. Andromeda wanted to be her own. Bella wanted a lot of things, but one of them was to be valuable.
When Andromeda got pregnant, a few weeks before the wedding, Mrs. Tonks looked at Mr. Tonks and Annie braced herself for a disappointed chill.
"You'd think wizards would be better than us at protection," Mr. Tonks observed to Mrs. Tonks. Mr. Tonks made a high pitched little giggle and Mrs. Tonks asked her if she had names picked out. Andromeda turned a bright, startled red and relaxed into the threadbare couch.
"Annie's family gives them long names, lots of syllables," Ted told them solemnly. "It's tradition."
No owls came from her parents during the pregnancy or the years after, to ask after their first grandchild. Annie did not expect them. No letters came from Bella or Cissa either, and Annie, after tamping down her initial dismay, realized that she had expected those even less. Nymphadora Tonks was born, healthy and bawling, at seven and a half pounds. Ted fainted in the delivery room and Andromeda teased him about it for the rest of his life.
Andromeda was so very proud of her daughter. Nymphadora was a shapeshifter. Tonks was a transformation, a skin-changer. She left snake skins behind her, lion's hides and scattered feathers. Her heart was warmth, was hard toil and steady fairness, the kind of heart Andromeda had fallen for once, but Nymphadora had her mother's mirrored eyes and steel skin. When they tried to bully her at school, this girl with yellow on the hems of her robes, she laughed and laughed.
When Nymphadora joined up with Aurors, she was Mad-Eye Moody's object lesson in the first week and then his favorite within the year. It made an odd kind of truce between this Dark wizard hunter and the estranged daughter of House Black, but it worked. Moody still went through Andromeda's mail and looked at her funny, but he knocked before he came in and he wiped his feet on the door mat.
There was something almost relaxing about the way Moody stood, wary, in her presence. Everyone else seemed to think falling in love had dulled her edges.
Even after she graduated, she'd have lunch with Kingsley Shacklebolt, who was growing up very nicely.
"That's the question to ask yourself, isn't it?" she said. "What do you want to be? What do you want to seem to be?"
"Those aren't the same thing."
She smiled at him.
He sighed. "I can't tell if you're going to say 'duh' or 'are you sure?'"
Let's look at their names: Narcissa, Narcissus's doomed self-love. But vain was never the word for Cissa, not her carefully tended white-gold hair, her smoothed skin, her precise figure. The heart of vanity is power and the heart of Cissa's power was always fear.
And then Andromeda, the maiden on the rock, left by her family for the sea serpents to devour. But Annie had not been left. She had left them, left them stranded there on the rocks while serpents circled, spat, ate them whole.
Some nights she felt guilty.
Some nights she curled closer to Ted's side and thought that if they had wanted they could have tried swimming to shore, too.
Andromeda had been left. She had—she had. She was allowed to be angry about this. They had left her, doomed her, burned her name off their tapestries—but she was still not a princess tied out on a rock. No Perseus had saved her. She owed Ted better than to name him a hero. She owed herself better.
The war came.
The day Ted died, Annie got a letter from him—he sent her letters every day he was on the run. He was on the move, this runaway Muggle-born, so she couldn't send them back, but she wrote back, every time, hid them under his pillow.
The day he died, she got his latest letter by tawny owl. and she laughed so hard at his turns of phrase that she cried. She still had tears of laughter on her face when they came to tell her the news.
It took three weeks for her to cry again.
When Andromeda Tonks was forty-three years old, she buried her husband. Six months later, she buried her daughter and her son-in-law.
Andromeda's world shattered. When she woke up the next morning, her house was full of life and she stood in the kitchen, watching them breathe. She wasn't sure she was breathing, so she watched their chests rise and fall, rolled bitter liquid over her tongue.
Someone buried her eldest sister too, but Andromeda did not deign to watch her child's murderer drop into the earth.
The first time Teddy turned his hair bright pink, he was four. Andromeda wept, scrubbed her cheeks, and bought him some bugglegum. The boy had Ted's name. Tonks's noses would show up on his face, and his hair would streak and writhe the same way hers had in tantrums. But his smile was his own. Teddy smeared chocolate and jam on his rounding cheeks and she taught him how to wipe it off, how to aim better next time.
On late nights, with Teddy asleep in his room and his godparents sipping firewhiskey in Andromeda's living room, Harry would tell stories. He had a lot of them.
Harry told them about the Triwizard Tournament, about the magical roadtrip of his seventh year, about growing up with the Dursleys. Even Andromeda didn't envy him that. He told them about the veiled archway in the Department of Mysteries, the whispers that laid beyond, the promises of the people who had slipped beyond us.
Andromeda woke at night, her pajamas sweated through, aching. She dreamed of whispers and whispering cloth, of Ted's grin and Tonks's laugh and Sirius's gangly grace, at eighteen, dancing at her wedding, all within her reach, if she only stepped forward—
Andromeda got up and did all the dishes in the sink, then scrubbed the counters, the stove, the floor. Teddy came down in feeted pajamas after the sun had risen, looking for some orange juice, and then climbed into her lap to drink it.
You are right here, Andromeda told herself. You are right here.
Andromeda spent three months at the Tonks's apartment, after the Battle of Hogwarts. Teddy took his first steps there, toddling from Andromeda's knees to Mr. Tonks's. He fell onto the threadbare carpet often. When he cried he turned abnormally funny colors, even for a bawling child, but he didn't cry often. He was a stubborn kid and his scowly face and little growls of discontent suggested he felt the floor was maliciously to blame.
Andromeda vacuumed with their noisy machine, rather than her wand, and did the dishes by hand. She let her fingers prune and then she left Teddy poke at them with his little chubby ones. Mr. and Mrs. Tonks had orange juice every morning, in the bright light of their little kitchen window. They talked as much as always, jousted, teased, and it felt brittle, desperate.
Andromeda hadn't planned to come stay with them. She had protested, hating to be where she wasn't wanted, but Mrs. Tonks had shaken her head and taken her hand. "Ted was our only son, but he gave us a daughter, do you understand? We're not asking you for Teddy and we're not asking you for Ted. You are our family too, and we will not leave you alone to grieve. We need you, too."
If Andromeda got up very early, before the sun trickled through, before the orange juice had been poured, she would find Mr. and Mrs. Tonks in the unlit kitchen and there would be no words at all. Mrs. Tonks leaned against his shoulder and he wrapped a hand in the terrycloth of her bathrobe and they both held on tight.
Ted's hair had been brown, a little wiry, had slipped kindly through Andromeda's fingers when she wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his neck. He wore wizard robes, but he tended to wear jeans under them, and she had found she liked to slip her fingers through the belt loops and hold on tight.
Molly Weasley kept showing up at her doorstep with fruitcake, or inviting her over for scones. After awhile, Andromeda snapped. She was tired of kindnesses, and she was even more tired of pity, and she told Mrs. Weasley so.
"I don't know everything you're going through," said Molly, twisting the ring on her finger, "but I know some of it better than almost anyone."
Andromeda blanched. "I'm so sorry, Molly. I forgot."
"A lot of people do," said Molly with pleasant grimness. "Because I have so many, I think."
Molly had lived to see her boggart come true. Andromeda had not. Part of Andromeda's boggart was this: her beautiful daughter on the floor, her warm half-Muggle blood spilled on the floor. But this was the rest: she was the one holding the wand.
After they had caught Ron in Malfoy Manor, after Molly and Arthur had fled, while Andromeda sat at home with her pregnant daughter and locked the doors and prepared her curses, Death Eaters had gone out and burned the Burrow down to its stone foundations.
With Teddy in a pack on Andromeda's back, she helped them rebuild the Burrow. After, Teddy toddled through those crooked hallways that were already collecting clutter.
They hauled away burnt timbers and shoveled away the ash, disarmed charms and household spells that had gone awry in the heat, until all that was left was a squat stone room. Molly cleaned her wand on her robes. "We lived here, once," she said. "Just that one room, Arthur and Bill and I. Used to be a pigsty, you know? They certainly said things about that in the village, but it was all we could afford." Molly ran her hand over the ashy stone. "We built the first room onto it when I got pregnant with Charlie."
Charlie was hauling timbers, flicking his wand, in the distance, tan and healthy and grinning at Percy. Something coiled in Andromeda's gut and she pretended it wasn't jealousy.
They conjured wood, stone, concrete, and set about raising foundations, building walls. Andromeda put together the kitchen hearth stone by stone by stone.
The air was loud with crashes and the pops of conjuring, Molly shouting, "I was thinking that window could be a little wider," and Arthur humming agreement while he played with the power drill Harry had been silly enough to allow within a hundred feet of him, and Hermione shouting back something uncertain about structural integrity.
"Are you a witch or not?" Ron called.
"There's no wood!" Hermione shrieked back and she and Harry cracked up with laughter while everyone else looked uncertainly at each other.
They were meant to have brunch one Thursday morning, Andromeda and Molly, but the Weasley's ragged old owl flapped through Andromeda's kitchen window. "I can't make it," it said, and in shaky, apologetic script, "I can't get out of bed."
So Andromeda changed into a fresh set of flannel pajamas and got Teddy in some play clothes, and fed, and Apparated over to the rebuilt Burrow. She sat at the foot of Molly's bed and told Teddy stories with funny faces until he giggled that throaty little toddler laugh of his.
Molly sat up and reached out. "Here, chickadee, I've got some toys for you around here somewhere."
She and Molly went on strolls around the fens of the Burrow sometimes, or sometimes Andromeda would break down and scrub things and fold socks and and sort blankets in the Weasley living room.
Molly pressed up against Andromeda's shoulder one night and said, "They were so brave. My Fred, your girl. I'm so proud," Molly said, and Andromeda could tell she was trying so hard to mean it, and she did. "They made choices. They did—they must have been choices, they meant it, meant all of it."
Andromeda clung to her hand and scrubbed her own cheeks. She said, "They were themselves, to the end," and remembered walking out of her parents' house for the last time, not looking back.
Andromeda put her life together stone by stone by stone. This breath and the next one. What are we eating for breakfast? (We are eating something for breakfast). What's for the afternoon? Tomorrow? Next week? She set herself tasks—clean this, sort that, plant a row of tomatoes under the windowsill. Teddy took up most of her time and it was a blessing, though she had to remind herself the point of this little boy was not to be her blessing. It would be unfair to make him her Patronus.
She listened to his burbles, then his words, taught him how to fly a little toy broomstick. She let Harry and Ginny, let Weasleys and Grangers and Longbottoms invade her house, even when she felt like pretending her whole world only had two breathing people in it. When Teddy said, "Mesopotamia," solemnly, a few days after Hermione's latest babysitting, and wore Weasley freckles for a week, Andromeda felt like perhaps she'd done something right.
"We could change the world," said Kingsley. "What do you think?"
They were still having lunches. He was a Minister and she was a widow, and they were sitting in the same old cafe, eating ham sandwiches.
"Why?" she said.
"Because it's ours," he said. "Why have we always been fighting? It's ours to fight for."
Andromeda poured him some more tea. "Why me?"
"Don't try to pretend you haven't been watching every development up at the Ministry with bated breath and muttered criticisms," said Kingsley. "But besides that—you're one of the last scions of House Black. Your name means something. But you're a Tonks, too, and people know it. People will listen to you who would never listen to me—who should never listen to me. I've been fighting for them all, for years, but you've been listening to them."
"Why not ask Hermione Granger? She actually is Muggle-born."
"I have asked her, and she's doing wonderful work. But this isn't just for the Muggle-borns. The Slytherins will listen to you, too, the ones who we could use."
"Because I'm one of them? So are you."
"Because you don't hate them, and they don't understand why."
"I hate them a little."
"You hate Death Eaters, and you, of all people, know there's a difference." He leaned forward and for a moment he was eleven again, the kind of kid who would get Petrified in his own Common Room for standing up to a bully. "This House is about a lot of things, but one of them is power. You have it, Dromeda. What are you going to do about it?"
Molly and Andromeda shared brunches and long walks. Teddy was her grandson, but Molly's daughter was his godmother, and somehow that made them family. It made them family, too, the way Molly kept showing up again and again, the way Andromeda kept coming back, the way the looks in each of their eyes were never pity.
For Christmas, Molly had George make Andromeda a box of pencils that would record anything she wanted, verbatim. Andromeda had a necklace made for Molly, a silver chain hung with a beautiful piece of alabaster crafted into the shape of a toilet seat.
Andromeda and Mrs. Tonks went out shopping on most Sunday afternoons, while Mr. Tonks read the paper in the peace of the empty apartment. They got dahlias and fresh oranges and Andromeda bought herself a pair of blue jeans. She slipped her thumbs through the belt loops and held on tight to herself.
Draco Malfoy showed up on her doorstep one morning and asked her out to lunch.
She had been paying careful attention to her nephew's very quiet climb through Ministry bureaucracy. But they didn't talk politics, that evening, though that would become a staple of their argumentative and lifelong friendship. They passed small talk back and forth, both looking for ground to stand and meet each other on, and after a small dessert Andromeda asked him to her house for tea that Saturday.
They brushed up against some politics talk over Andromeda's tiny, dry scones, but stumbled into a discussion of Draco's mother, whom had Andromeda had not seen in over twenty years.
"She's lost everything!"
"No," Andromeda said, "she has not."
Her nephew flushed. "Sorry, I—"
"But neither have I," Andromeda said, and poured him some more tea.
Draco sipped it, cautious. He relaxed, slightly, when he didn't get Transfigured into anything funny.
"I regret never knowing my cousin," he said.
"Do you?" Andromeda considered him for a moment then stood and came back with armfuls of photo albums, Tonks waving from the glossy prints. "Would you like to?"
She got through the books, stopping to breathe shakily and wipe her eyes only twice. The first time, Draco looked away, unsure. The second, he summoned her a handkerchief.
Andromeda started going to social events, shook hands. She started getting asked to speak at luncheons, and then dinners, and then at committees. She told stories about Nymphadora, the way she came home after her first year at Hogwarts and told them some kids at school had called her a snake in sheep's clothing, that another gang of kids, in green, had hexed the first and said no tainted blood traitor could ever be a Slytherin at heart.
"She was eleven," said Andromeda. "My friends, our children deserve better."
("What did she do?" someone asked after one of her speeches. "About the bullies?"
Andromeda smiled, because thinking about Nymphadora would always hurt some, but sometimes the hurt came from being so proud she could burst. "She learned her own hexes. She got that stubbornness from both sides of her family.")
She told stories about Ted, all the places they had found common ground, this badger and his snake, this pureblood and the Muggle-born with the slyest grin she'd ever met. She gave speeches at Ministry events, talked about her daughter, talked about her husband, talked about her loss.
"On the eve of some of our darkest years, the Sorting Hat of Hogwarts chose to sing a song not just about our differences, but about the students as a whole. It told us that our world was in danger, that if we do not unite inside her, we will crumble from within.
"We need each other, all of us. The Hat was speaking to the students, but children have always been what our future is written in.
"I am a Slytherin. I am a Black. I am not ashamed of those things, but I am deeply ashamed that so many of my brothers and sisters have decided that protecting your own means hating everyone else, that cunning means cruelty, and that ambition means stepping on the weakest. I ask my fellow Slytherins to come out of the darkness."
There were hoots and cheers.
"And I want to ask the rest of you to let us," she said, and the cheering stopped. Andromeda looked out over the suddenly uneasy crowd. "I am a Slytherin. I am not reformed, fixed, or better, and the next person who insinuates that I am an exception to my House because of my decency will not like what he has coming.
"Perseverance. Adaptability. Loyalty. Ambition. These are not evils—not even ambition. Who was it who taught you that there is something wrong with wanting things? With dreaming, and fighting, and striving for them? With trying to build something great out of your life, trying to make things more than you are.
"These are the tenets of my House. Yes, they have been turned to evils lately, but, god, do you know the things I could do with bravery? with cleverness? with fairness, good lord, the things you can do in the name of fairness.
"Let us step into the light, but let us do it as ourselves. We will not hide behind other people's strengths and let our own selves wither. We should not have to.
"Daring, tolerance, intelligence, and flexibility: the world needs all of us. We are crumbling. My friends, I beg you, open your hearts, open your hands. Do not let us shatter."
She got through her days breath by breath, meeting by meeting. She built her life stone by stone until she could feel herself standing on something like steady ground again. Life is a shattered thing. Life is shattering. But she would stand, breath by breath by breath, in its rubble.
Kingsley came over for lunches to talk politics, but sometimes they talked about Hogwarts nostalgia, about Teddy or Kingsley's socialite little sister. She teased him about sleeping too little, with very real worry. She held his hand, on an early morning brunch in her back garden, and felt guilty and dirty for three days. She walked out to Ted's grave with a bunch of daisies and sat there for an afternoon, reading aloud and knowing exactly what her husband would say. The next time Kingsley, shy, stepped through her front door, she kissed him on one clean shaven cheek.
She joined volunteer committees and citizens' forums. She was elected to a small post in the Ministry, Office of Citizen Affairs. Her office was eight times smaller than Kingsley's, but twice the size of Harry Potter's, who kept refusing promotions and spending all his free time training rookies.
It was a small office, Ms. Andromeda Tonks's, but well frequented. Andromeda brought in a little collapsible playpen for Teddy on days Molly couldn't take him, or when she wanted to make old men uncomfortable. She held court, spoke soft, little, and sharply, and Teddy made his nose flare at men in fine suits.
Andromeda's suits were not as fine, but she wore them better.
Andromeda went out to Bellatrix's grave a few months after Teddy's fourteenth birthday. It was blocky and expensive. She wondered who had paid for it. It was pockmarked with curses and paint, magical writing and deep gouges, things earned from decades of spewing horror from her fingertips.
"You took my daughter from me," she told the stone. Someone had sprayed a very nasty word across the two Ls. "I am not ever going to forgive you."
Annie had spilled tea on Bella's favorite doll, once, a little thing with thick curls and uneven glass eyes. Bella had shrieked about vendetta and then run off crying. Annie had snuck into her room that night with armfuls of all her softest toys and they had fallen asleep mid-giggle, little bodies curled around blankets and stuffed animals and each other.
"You called her dirty, lesser, for her father's mundane blood, her husband's scars. Yes, her grandparents are Muggles. And they are good, Bella—witty and kind and brave—and they taught her so many things about what life and love should look like. Yes, she married a werewolf, and he was skittish and stupidly noble and I miss him. Her son has his eyes six days out of ten, which is more often than Teddy keeps any other feature.
"I married a Mudblood, and my daughter married a werewolf, and my grandson is beautiful. And you would have killed him, too, if you had had the chance. I bet Mother's bones sat up and applauded when you burnt that blood traitor filth from the family tree—
"Do you know what she was, Bella? What she was that we weren't? She was loved." Andromeda swallowed hard. "And I loved you once, Bella, but I didn't know how to do it. And maybe I should have saved you then, but I was busy saving myself."
Andromeda grew a garden over Bella's grave, blooming narcissus, nightshade and belladonna. She made the stems thick, the vines hoary and tough and lasting, the flowers brilliant and unfurled. Bella had once been beautiful.
Andromeda left the graffiti on the headstone. She rubbed a thumb through one of the gouges in stone like the residue of that rage might still be there. Then she spat on it and walked away.
Her mother had burnt her off the Black family tree. Andromeda's daughter had gone by nothing but Tonks. No drop of inheritance or favor would come down this family line, but Andromeda walked home through dry grass and smiled.
You burned us off the family records, Mother, but this is it, don't you see? I am a Black. Nymphadora was a Black and she was mine. We are your legacy.
And don't you see? We are loved. I was and am loved, love that I have earned and fought for and never, ever had to buy. You choose the people who choose you.
You tried to curse me and cast me out, but I left, don't you see? I am loved, and my grandson will grow up loved. His world will be a better place than yours ever was.
When there was a quiet knock on Andromeda's door not immediately followed by the door opening, she assumed it had to be Percy or a salesman, because few of her house guests understood the patience of waiting for a door to be opened.
She opened the door in a pair of worn, too-big blue jeans cinched tight at her waist—they had been Ted's—and a "Daily Prophet: Nearly as Accurate as Muggle WeatherMen" t-shirt that Harry had gotten her.
Narcissa Malfoy stood on her front step, chin high, the nails on her clasped hands as painted and sharp as their mother's had ever been. "May I come in?"
"We're neither of us Blacks now," said Andromeda once she'd settled them into the little table by the kitchen window and brewed some good earl grey.
"That's not what you say in your speeches." Narcissa flicked a glance up at the tea paused halfway to Andromeda's lips. "Of course I read your speeches, Andromeda, goodness."
"Forgive me for expecting less than basic decency from my sisters," said Andromeda. "I have no idea whatsoever where I got that expectation."
Narcissa turned her tea cup slowly in the saucer, the porcelain clattering delicately. "Draco said he's been coming to visit you."
"He's a good kid, when his head isn't in his ass."
"Not softening your blows, are you?"
"Only with family. More tea?"
Narcissa shook her head and Andromeda let her hands fall from the tea pot.
"He's trying," said Andromeda. "That matters a lot. The place I came from wasn't much different than what he came from, and I had so many generous souls to help me along the way."
"I'm not Mother," said Narcissa stiffly.
"Are you sure? When we were small, you wanted to be, so badly. Did he get tea parties too?"
"I love my son," said Narcissa. "You do not understand what I have done for Draco."
"Mother loved us," said Andromeda dismissively, "as best she knew how. It was still ugly, Cissa, cold and mean. We still deserved better."
"I gave Draco better," Narcissa said. "Mother would have sold us away at the first sniff of power—she did sell Bella and you weren't there to—"
"There was nothing I could have done," Andromeda said. "Mother was ruthless but Bella made her choices. When she swore herself to Tom Riddle, she wasn't a child. When she killed—"
"I have dreams sometimes," said Narcissa into the shaking silence that followed, "where it was my Draco. I don't know how you're still standing."
"I have my days," said Andromeda. "I don't want your pity, Cissa. You lost your right to that a long time ago."
"I'm not trying to give you pity," she said. "I've been reading all your speeches, all the things they write about your Ted, your Nymphadora. Friends' testimonials and Alastor Moody's reports, pranks and projects, her abominable stealth scores in Auror training. They quote her and I read them and I don't know what her voice sounded like. Annie, what about my regrets? Will you have those? I think about my Draco, how you're only meeting him now, all the stories I want to tell you. And I will never meet her, your child; I will never know her. You had a life and a love and a family that I was too blind and selfish to see. I want your stories about her, but I hate that that's all I'll ever get and I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."
Tears were rolling down Narcissa's cheeks and into Andromeda's shirt. She didn't remember moving her chair, but Cissa was gathered up in Andromeda's arms, which were more tired than Annie's had ever been, but they were also bigger, stronger, wrapped around Narcissa's shaking shoulders and holding her tight.
"I never got to know her," Cissa said.
Andromeda wrapped her in her arms. "I did," she said. "I did," she said and ached with it, glowed with it, because she had gotten twenty-five years of Nymphadora's beautiful life.
Once, her house had been filled with clutter. Ted and Nymphadora had driven her up the wall, leaving toys here and paperwork there, stains on the walls and dirty clothes on the floor. She had shrieked and cajoled, picked up and rolled her eyes. She had managed to cram a cleaning spell or two into Nymphadora's head, but her daughter's socks had never quite managed to fold themselves.
Andromeda stepped through the door of her house. Ron's chocolate frog wrappers had just missed the trash can, left after his last chess game on the porch. Scattered books followed Hermione everywhere, stacked on dressers and stools. Kingsley's notes and careful piles of memos, had been shipped here by magical flying paper airplane. Frogs' eyes and gillyweed were discarded on the kitchen table, where Teddy had been studying for his Potions NEWT with a battered old book Harry had dragged out of storage.
"We eat on this table," Andromeda called up the stairs.
"I'll clean it up before dinner, sorry Gran!"
Andromeda hung up her cloak, picked up some trash, straightened a few piles. She had always dreamed of a clean house. She sat down at her desk, piled high and neat with memos, invites to galas, invites to speak at galas, questions and political connections.
Kingsley had plans. He invited her over for tea, or invited himself over if he heard Teddy was making his famous fudge, and they talked about factions, generational gaps, ideals and contingency plans. He also brought her flowers, though never pencils, and traced the lines of her palm like he might find a future there. She curled the fingers of her free hand through the belt loops of his robe.
Hermione was winning legal battles with the golden glow of a war hero backed up with the vicious intelligence of a smart young woman. Andromeda was talking to old families, to the children of old families, and dropping by Hogwarts every now and then to bring cookies, tell war stories, teach kids how to fold socks, and look deeply unimpressed every time Mudblood passed any student's lips.
A girl had stopped Andromeda as she left, the last time, in an empty part of the castle. "A boy on the train said he'd drop out if they gave him Slytherin," the girl had said, fingering the green on the hem of her robes. "And my family's been Gryffindor for four generations, ma'am. But the Hat offered and I said yes."
"Did your parents..."
She'd grinned. "They said it was a certain type of brave, and sent me a box of candy to share with my roommates." She'd hitched her bag on her shoulder and said, "I want to be like you when I grow up."
Andromeda had suggested Hermione Granger, who had saved the world, or Auror Patil, or lovely Luna Lovegood. "I'm just an old woman poking her nose places it doesn't belong. I'm sneaky, and sometimes I'm mean. I'm no hero."
The girl had shaken her head. "But I want to be me, don't you get it? I'm a Slytherin. And you're the first person I've ever met who made it look like being me was an ok thing to be. I can't be anyone else. I've tried."
Andromeda had remembered putting on kindnesses for Ted, trying to let sweetness live on her tongue, tamping down the way she wanted to grab his back belt loop in crowds and hold on, to let people know he was hers.
"I've tried," the girl had said, "and I can't. But I've seen you and I've read about you. I went to hear you speak at the Ministry— I skipped Care of Magical Creatures, got detention for a week. You're what I want to be. I want to change the world, all of it, and you make me think that just maybe I can, and just maybe I can do it good."
Andromeda had let her shoulders settle, like they were carrying everything they ever wanted, and tucked her thumbs through her belt loops. "Don't be me," she'd said. "You are going to do amazing things, dear, and they're going to be yours." The girl's face had split into a gap-toothed grin.
In her little house with its folded socks and cluttered corners, Andromeda Tonks lifted a letter off the first pile. That was how she would do this: page by page by page.