Andromeda stared in disbelief at the letter crumpled tightly in her mother’s clenched fist. She couldn’t quite hear what the woman was saying anymore, though she recognized the thinly-veiled anger in the low buzz and murmur left behind. The coherency of their conversation had halted at the sight of that hand of porcelain and talons snatching the papers away.
It wasn’t parchment. It wasn’t even written with quill and ink. Such Wizarding customs would have been far too difficult to explain to the members of a Muggle family. Just getting an owl to deliver it was hard enough. He had needlessly explained as much in his first letter and she had assured him that she understood. Her family, however, was unlikely to take it all so kindly, and she’d kept the correspondence as secret as possible for just that reason. But somehow Narcissa had known – known and told – the wicked little wretch.
Mother’s scowl burned up from where it lay perfectly reflected in the polished, black finish of the dinner table, and out of the corner of her eye Andromeda could see an even darker expression creeping across her father’s sharp features. The papers exchanged hands, moving slowly under her nose and yet past her so quickly that she could never have grabbed for them had she dared. Her eyes caught the flourish of the “A” that began her name at the top of the first, battered page, and she cursed the knowledge that her parents would both know what he had written but she would not. Four pages. He had written four pages and she would never see them.
You insufferable little brat, she thought as she caught a glimpse of her sister.
Narcissa would pay for this. Oh yes. She would pay.
“Andromeda!” The words finally took on some level of clarity as Mrs. Black snapped her daughter’s name. “Answer me, child! What is this?”
Following the line of the woman’s thin finger, Andromeda let her eyes rest upon her father’s rigid hands. She could almost make out what she knew was a “T” through the back of the paper. His signature was so simple, short. There was never half as much care put into it as there was put into writing her name.
“A letter,” she stated quite matter-of-factly, “from a friend.”
Adding that last part had possibly been rather stupid, but she honestly felt little like caring at the moment. She wanted them to be angry with her for her behaviour, not for the letter. In fact, she wanted them to forget about the letter all together. If it was merely a secondary concern compared to their daughter’s insolence, perhaps her father would stop reading and put it down and focus on her and never know anything of…
Andromeda barely managed not to cringe at the way her father spat the name.
“You have befriended a mudblood, Andromeda.”
She tried to keep herself calm, not looking directly at anyone, especially not the man by whom she had been addressed. “He is an upstanding wizard.”
“He is a mudblood.”
Merlin, but she wished he would actually lose his temper. She wished that he would shout and slam his fists down on the table, tear the letter to pieces, anything. All she wanted was an honest show of emotion. Temper tantrums she could handle. Anger she could manipulate. This cold feeling that verged disturbingly upon apathy, however, she couldn’t stand.
“He was a Ravenclaw prefect.” She persisted. “I can not recall him ever receiving any lower than an E on any assignments or exams, including both his OWLs and his NEWTs.”
“Then it is a shame that such ability was wasted upon someone of such a disgraceful bloodline.”
Part of her wanted to scream. That part, however, was irrational. Screaming would do no good, least of all while dealing with a man who wouldn’t hear reason. After all, to him this wasn’t an issue of whether or not Ted was a good man. This was an issue of blood.
“He is only a friend, Father.” Only a friend. It was true. Saying it that way sounded terrible, though, as if it were simply a fact that could be changed and discarded.
“This young man must know his place and I shall see to it that he does.”
But he left her no room for argument as he stood, letter still held in one hand, and left. It was a moment later that Mother followed, robes flying behind her, and Narcissa was soon gone as well. Andromeda, for her part, sat staring at her own reflection even as the house elves peaked out from tapestry-hidden passageways to be sure that the room was empty before they cleared the table.
Calm. Stay calm. She hadn’t realized how tightly her fists were clenched until there was nothing to focus upon save for herself, and her fingers snapped as she spread them over the polished surface. Her pale hands lie in stark contrast to the black of the wood – black as her name, black as her blood. Black.
She was a Black.
And no Black, least of all Andromeda, would be controlled so easily as this.
“Listen, Mum! If you’re really so determined to have me shave, you’ll have to stop shouting for me every time I—!”
“Your aunt Mae and I were wondering if you might watch Tabitha and Daniel while we’re out!”
With a groan, Ted let his forehead fall against the cold glass of the bathroom mirror and stared into his own reflected eyes. “Bloody hell, woman.”
“A respectable young wizard and a babysitting service all in one.” His father chuckled from beside him. The elder Tonks at least had managed to make some use of his razor. “I’ve never been so proud.”
“Oh shut up, Da.”
“Now, Ted. Where are those gentlemanly manners of yours?”
“I could simply throw the soap at you and—”
“I’ll be down in a second!”
And it was just another morning at Allan House.
It was difficult for Ted Tonks to remember a single year unpunctuated by his family using any excuse imaginable to bring everyone together. Holidays, birthdays, new jobs and weddings – anything and everything was free game. So long as they could gather there, in their collective safe haven, and keep the company that they held dear, the reasons never mattered. Their home was Allan House and Allan House was their home, whether they lived there year round or not.
The house had been in the family for generations, and it had kept its title even as Ted’s grandfather’s grandfather had taken the name to his grave. It was a safe place, Allan House. It was somewhere you could always be sure to be welcome, somewhere that people would take care of you, no questions asked. This was the place for absolutely everything and absolutely everyone to feel comfortable.
Perhaps that was why Ted hated it so much.
Well, it wasn’t that he hated it, really. In fact, he didn’t hate it at all. He simply resented it a little as of late. Why? It was hard to say. Part of him actually shied away from the overwhelmingly Muggle atmosphere, but that was normal. The transition from the world of wizards to that of Muggles was always difficult for him, and so was the reverse situation. Every time he actually started getting comfortable in one, he had to move back into the other. At least, that’s how it had been for the past seven years. Now, though, he suddenly had to find a balance between the two. Unfortunately, finding a balance is difficult when the two sides barely recognize each other as real and one or the other is always taking precedence. Right now, for example, his attention was being demanded by a house full of Muggles who didn’t even know that they were Muggles. Meanwhile, he would rather be spending his time elsewhere, perhaps on Diagon Alley enjoying an ice cream and an intelligent conversation, or even just in his own little corner of the bedroom writing a letter.
Either way, the activity would only be shared with one person.
Ted was fairly sure that he had written fewer letters to his parents in the past seven years than he had to Andromeda in the past seven days. Every morning he was awake in time to walk out to the home of the nearest wizard (Mr. Tellerbee, who had kindly agreed to owl any letters when he Flooed in to London each morning for work) and be back before the rest of the family woke up for breakfast. Gran thought that he was just waking up early to help her set the table and she picked at his cousins, going on about how Ted was the only one with any manners to speak of. It was the same complaint that they had heard for years now, though, so no one paid much mind. He was always the one going out of his way and going that extra mile, even if it was just because that mile would earn him a few minutes’ peace. Even the fact that he volunteered to check the post every day (and intercept any returning owls in the process) was just normal old Ted.
Well, that part had been “normal old Ted” until yesterday anyway. Now it was practically the talk of the town – Ted picking up the letters so that no one else would see the ones he received. It was all because he had been impatient and had allowed himself to open the envelope on the walk back. He should have known from the very beginning exactly how stupid of a mistake that would be. Little cousin Tabitha had been excited to show off her vastly improved reading skills and, with the help of her little brother, she had managed to steal Andromeda’s latest letter. Ted had gotten it back, of course, but not until after everyone had heard about exactly how horridly boring the Black family home currently was and how Narcissa was being the typical younger sibling and Mother and Father were being difficult about letting their middle daughter actually look for a job. Aunt Caroline had been impressed by the richness of the parchment and ink while Uncle Arthur had been more impressed by the fact that Ted had “obviously found himself an upper-class dame off at that fancy boarding school of his.” Gran, however, couldn’t care less what Andromeda wrote with or how wealthy her family might be. No, the old woman’s demand was quite clear: why had he never invited her to Allan House?
So what had he done? He had set out to write an invitation. It hadn’t been anything flowery – just a simple “you’re welcome to join us.” The likelihood of her accepting was all but nonexistent. Even if, for some unknown reason, she actually wanted to visit, her parents would never allow her to consort so freely with a “mudblood.” Of course, she was Andromeda. You never quite knew what she would do once she got it into her head to do something.
At the moment, though, he was honestly hoping that she would find no reason to do anything. In fact, he was almost hoping that he had written that invitation for nothing, that Mr. Tellerbee would come home and tell him in the morning that he’d lost it or that whatever owl had wound up carrying it would drop the letter while in flight and would have to turn back to retrieve a new one. There was little to no real chance of such things happening, of course – Mr. Tellerbee had never lost anything in his life and the owl would have likely arrived at the Black residence by now – but Ted could still pray, couldn’t he? If it had simply been the invitation, he wouldn’t have cared. Ted being Ted, however, he had had to write more, and that “more” was what made him feel like a fool – four pages worth of fool, to be exact.
But none of that mattered now, as he thumped his way down the stairs with his father close behind.
“I’m coming! Calm down! Patience is a bloody virtue.”
The older man laughed. “I’ve been trying to tell her that for years.”
“Well, thus far, she definitely hasn’t—”
“I’m standing in the doorway, Mum.”
It really would have been nice to have someone at Allan House with him aside from family. In fact, Ted was the only cousin over the age of sixteen who hadn’t brought anyone along. Thinking about it, he was the only cousin over the age of seven who had never brought anyone along. Apparently that's what made him the perfect candidate for a babysitter.
“We’ll only be gone for a bit,” his mother was saying as she opened the door. “We were going to ask Alice to watch them, but she went off on a walk with Elizabeth. I didn’t think you would mind too terribly much.” Then she smiled and he knew perfectly well what was coming next. “Perhaps you could write to your lady friend again.”
Mum was just too predictable.
Never once had Tabitha ever considered describing her cousin Ted as “boring,” even when Daniel or the big kids said that he was. They could think whatever they liked, but Tabitha would never call Ted anything less than “amazing.” He was Ted, after all, and that was especially interesting because Ted could do things that other people couldn’t. Now Tabitha wasn’t really sure what all of those things might be, but there must have been a lot and she did at least know one in particular. No one else knew and she liked it that way. It was her little secret. Ted didn’t know that she knew, either. That’s how good of a secret keeper she was. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that she knew that Ted was special. She knew that Ted was special because Ted talked to owls.
Her knowledge of this had come about four days ago, the same day that she had gotten into a great deal of trouble for hiding from her mother. She hadn’t really been hiding from her mother, of course. She had been hiding from Ted, who hadn’t know that he was being followed on his way out to check the post. Explaining this, however, would have required sharing her secret, so she just pretended that she had been right around the house the entire time.
Tabitha thought herself to be excellent at sneaking – an expert Sneaker, if you will. Now Ted had proven himself to be an expert Finder of Sneakers in the past (Uncle Theodore said it was because Ted had once been a very sneaky child himself) and so there was no better test of her skill than to see exactly how long she could follow him without being found. Everything had been going well until Ted had stopped along the path for apparently no reason at all. It had surprised her and she had nearly given herself away right then and there. Luckily, Ted hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. Instead, he simply stared up at the sky as if he were waiting for something.
And then it had happened. A great, feathered beast had come tearing down from the sky and landed gracefully upon the fallen part of a nearby tree. It had hooted at Ted as if it had known him well, and he had smiled and called it by some strange name that she couldn’t remember for the life of her. There had been something in its talons, too, which it had gladly dropped into Ted’s hand when he offered it some sort of treat from his pocket. This, Tabitha had realised, was the real reason why Ted always went out on his own. After all, what would everyone say if they knew that he was talking to a bird?
So Tabitha had learned his secret and had kept it, had kept it even from him.
Now, however, it was very difficult to keep. In fact, it was absolutely impossible to keep. She wouldn’t tell anyone else, of course – that would have been silly – but Ted would have to know. There was no way around it.
He was reading as she tugged on shirtsleeve, and he blinked at her over the top of his book.
“What is it, Tabby?”
She pursed her lips in determination, glancing about to make sure that Daniel wouldn’t hear her whisper, “Someone’s here to see you.”
Ted blinked again and smiled. “Who is it?”
And, with another look around, she pointed.
He kept smiling for a moment longer, the moment it took for him to see exactly what she was pointing to. When he saw the owl, though, his face fell, and he gave her a panicked look before standing. It was his turn to make sure that no one was watching and, when he came back, he was holding an envelope in his hand.
“Tabby…” He frowned. “How did you know that the owl was here to see me?”
She put a finger to her lips and shushed him. “I didn’t tell.”
The shock of discovering that Tabitha knew about the owl didn’t last long. In fact, it was replaced rather quickly by an entirely different form of shock, this time accompanied by the all too familiar feeling of dread. There really weren’t any other emotions left as his eyes ran over the short note for what was likely the hundredth time.
I am going to make this rather brief, as I have little in the way of time, but I felt that I should provide you with some warning, if at all possible.
My sister snuck into my room this morning and intercepted your latest owl. I believe she may have gone so far as to actually read your letter, but I can not be sure. What I can say for certain, however, is that both of my parents have read it while I have not. Currently it is in the possession of my father, who is threatening to write you, and I suspect he will have done so by tomorrow. Father is not the sort to waste time on anything.
I have attempted to convince one of the house-elves to sneak the letter out of the garbage, should my father discard it, but I doubt the effort will prove worthwhile. The house-elves all appear to have become rather hesitant to follow my orders as it seems that they often go against those of my parents. It is rather irritating.
My restlessness has nearly gotten the best of me, Ted. I am afraid that it might still defeat my better judgment. After this morning’s letter fiasco, in fact, I am almost certain that it will. I am merely half joking when I tell you to watch your doorstep for me. Perhaps not even half.
Whether or not my comments are made in jest, however, my father’s letter will not be. Watch for it and be particularly wary of anti-Muggle hexes. I would not put such lowly trickery above the man.
Well, perhaps there was one other emotion left to feel.
Some nameless variation of fear.