All of these characters belong to J.K. Rowling, and she's a great sport for letting us play with them. Thanks to my beta Yolanda for her suggestions and corrections.
What’s In A Name
By Olive Hornby
The door whipped open almost as soon as Sirius’s knuckles struck it, and in a whirl of dark hair and robes, the woman who had opened it stormed deeper into the house, not even bothering to look at him.
“Look, Regulus,” the woman’s irritated voice echoed down the short, dimly-lit hallway, “I’ve already told you, I’m not going back. It’s too late and I...”
She whirled back around and blinked, her tirade drawing to a sudden halt. Sirius dimly realized that he must look terribly stupid standing in the rain, goggling slack-jawed in at his cousin, but he couldn’t think of anything to say in his surprise at his reception.
Andromeda recovered first. “Oh. Sirius. It’s you,” she said.
“You were expecting Regulus?” Sirius said, his voice rising with each word.
She winced visibly and pressed one hand over her eyes. She looked much older than she had the last time he’d seen her, over two years ago. “Sirius... just...” she looked up at him and one side of her mouth twitched upward. “Come inside, you dolt. You’re soaked.”
Sirius stepped through the doorway and shut the door behind him, a small puddle forming at his feet. Andromeda briskly yanked her wand out of her pocket and with a quick gesture and a well-chosen word, a sudden sensation of warmth rushed through Sirius and he was immediately dry. Andromeda turned again and beckoned him to follow, and they walked in silence to Andromeda’s kitchen.
The kitchen was a small room, painted a vile shade of olive green, and was just as dimly lit as the hallway. A flimsy table dominated the space, and with the three chairs crowded around it and some large Muggle things that Sirius didn’t recognize, the room felt even tinier than it was. Though it was clear that someone kept the room meticulously clean, no amount of cleaning could disguise both the age and the cheapness of the small flat Andromeda lived in, and she stood against a white Muggle appliance, her arms folded and her chin held high, staring at Sirius as if daring him to criticize.
“It’s, ah... it’s cozy,” he stammered, pulling out one of the chairs to sit down and trying unsuccessfully to avoid her gaze.
“I mean,” he began, before heaving a deep sigh. “Dammit, Andromeda. Don’t look at me like that. I came here to see you and your baby, not to make fun of your flat.”
Andromeda’s eyes widened. “You heard? Regulus told you?”
“Regulus? Hell, no. Gretchen Weasley told Fabian Prewett, who told Alice Longbottom, who told Mae Weatherbee, who told Bertha Jorkins, who told just about everyone including James’s mother, who told James, who told me,” he said. He chewed his lip thoughtfully. “I think. Something like that.”
Andromeda groaned and banged the back of her head against the Muggle appliance she was leaning on.
“How did Regulus know?” he demanded.
“He didn’t,” she said quickly. “He found out when he came here asking me to go back. He said they needed me.”
Sirius raised an eyebrow and Andromeda shrugged.
“He didn’t say why, only that things were happening--I know things are happening, of course--and that they needed help.”
“They? You mean our family? If something bad is happening there, then they deserve it!”
“Sirius!” she scolded. “I think he really meant that he needed help, but of course he would never ask. He was talking in circles and not making much sense. He’s probably gotten in some kind of trouble and wanting me to bail him out.”
Sirius scowled. “That sounds like him. Idiot. He can’t keep a story straight or tell the truth to save his life--that’s probably what got him in trouble in the first place. What did you tell him?”
“I told him that if he couldn’t be clear about what he wanted not to waste my time. He left, but he came back a couple more times. In any case, he saw the baby when he came.” She sighed. “I wasn’t expecting him of all people, or I would have hidden her things and left her with Ted’s mother.”
“Her?” Sirius immediately said.
Andromeda’s mouth turned up in her characteristic half-smile again. “Yes, her. My baby girl.”
“What’s her name?”
“Nymphadora Antoinette To--”
“Nymphadora?” Sirius exploded. “What kind of a name is Nymphadora?”
Andromeda looked affronted. “What kind of a name is Sirius?” she huffed.
“It’s a stuck-up, pretentious pureblood name, just like Nymphadora sounds! I didn’t name myself, you know. I thought you didn’t want to be part of all that, and then you go and name your daughter Nymphadora...” he trailed off.
Andromeda was staring at the floor, her face stony.
“I mean...” he backtracked quickly. “That’s a, uh, interesting choice for a name. Where’d you come up with it?”
Andromeda muttered something to the floor, and Sirius leaned forward in his chair and asked her to repeat it.
“I said, that was my great-grandmother’s name,” she said between clenched teeth.
Sirius remembered Andromeda’s great-grandmother, but he had never known her name. She was Andromeda’s mother’s grandmother, and as such was not very closely related to him as far as he could tell, but she was always there at family functions, sitting stone-still in a chair, glowering at the children and barking viciously at anyone who dared draw too close. Sirius and Regulus would giggle behind her back--years and years ago, when they still got along--and run away when she heard them and tried to chase them, brandishing her snake-head walking cane over her head and calling them much worse things than they had called her.
“Why on Earth would you name your kid after her?” he burst out. “She was horrible!”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you!” she snapped viciously.
Sirius recoiled as if he’d been slapped.
She looked away. “How’s school?” she asked.
“Don’t change the subject,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back in the chair.
She pulled her robes tightly around herself. “I happen to like the name,” she said stiffly.
“Since when? You made fun of her almost as much as Regulus and I did!” Even Bellatrix and Narcissa had mocked her--Bellatrix smarting off to the old woman’s face, and Narcissa smoothly veiling insults behind seemingly innocuous words. Sirius seldom saw eye-to-eye on anything with his brother and all three of his cousins, but none of them had liked the old woman.
Andromeda clenched her teeth, and Sirius felt his frustration rising.
“It’s not that difficult a question,” he persisted. “Was it supposed to be some kind of peace offering with the family or something...”
Andromeda’s features shifted, and suddenly she looked younger again. Fear and guilt battled for dominance on her face as she chewed her lip and studied the too-busy pattern on the floor, and it abruptly dawned on Sirius.
“That’s your way out,” he said softly. It wasn’t a question. “If something happens and you try to go back, they might accept you more easily if they think you’ve still respected most of their stupid traditions.”
Andromeda said nothing.
“Well?” Sirius demanded.
“They’d cover up the fact that she’s not pureblood,” she mumbled reluctantly. “They’ve done it before.”
This was news to Sirius, but it wasn’t what he was interested in at the moment.
“You were ranting not ten minutes ago how you weren’t going to ever go back!”
“I prefer to keep my options as open as possible,” she said tersely.
“Is it Ted? Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing is wrong!” she snapped, stamping one foot and lifting her head to glare irritably at him. “It’s just... if something ever does happen, even after leaving I’ve shown some respect to them.”
“Yes,” she sighed, shoulders slumping in relief that he’d finally understood, and they were both was silent for several moments.
“That’s stupid, Andromeda,” Sirius finally said.
She immediately tensed again and scowled at him. “I beg your pardon?” she hissed.
“If you’re going to leave, leave. To hell with them or what they think,” he said.
She shook her head impatiently. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“I’m not going to appease them. I’m never going back. Ever,” he said firmly. “And I’m definitely not going to pay them little homages so that they might accept me if I ever change my mind.”
Andromeda cocked her head and regarded him suspiciously. “What do you mean?”
It was Sirius’s turn to look away. “I ran away. I’m staying with the Potters right now.” He steeled his voice and looked up. “And I’m never going back.”
Andromeda blinked, clearly taken aback. “What happened?”
He waved dismissively and shook his head.
“Sirius...” she growled.
“A lot of things, all right?”
“Your mother? Your father? Regulus?”
She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Which one, Sirius?”
“All of them! They’re awful! You know that!”
“It’s a lot of things. I don’t want to talk about it,” he mumbled to the floor.
“Fine,” she replied sharply.
They both looked around the small kitchen at everything except each other. Andromeda stepped away from the Muggle device she was leaning against and grabbed two glasses out of a cupboard and pulled one of the handles of the thing. A blast of cold air emerged and Sirius tried to peer around her as she reached inside.
“What’s that?” he asked.
Her hand emerged with a glass pint of milk. “It’s milk,” she said with a smirk.
“Not the milk! I know what that is! I mean the thing you got it out of!” he retorted. He stuck his tongue out at her.
She grinned. “It’s a refrigerator. Muggles use them to keep food cold.”
“But why don’t they just use freezing charms--” he realized this was a stupid question as soon as it came out of his mouth and winced.
She laughed. “They’re Muggles, Sirius. Muggles can’t use magic, or they wouldn’t be Muggles, would they?”
He stuck his tongue out at her again.
“We want to get a house, somewhere we can practice magic a little more openly without alarming anyone. Ted insists that we not use magic here because some distant cousins of his who don’t know he’s a wizard own this building--we’re getting a great deal on it from what I understand, Muggle money still confuses me--and they’ve been known to pop in and out whenever they want to without asking,” she explained. She gave him one of her half-smiles. “Not that I strictly follow that, but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
She handed him a glass only one-quarter filled with milk and glanced around quickly, then drew her wand and muttered a few words, and the milk thinned and changed color to a dark amber. He sniffed it carefully and she winked at him as she performed the same spell on her glass.
“Only the best,” she said. She took a large gulp of hers and and made a face.
Sirius stared down into his and sighed. He set it on the table without drinking any, and Andromeda slumped her shoulders and cringed. “Right. Sorry. I forgot about your mother’s--”
“Forget it,” he said sharply.
“Right,” she said. She set her glass on the counter and looked at him guiltily. She opened her mouth to speak, but an ear-piercing wail interrupted her. Sirius jumped out of his chair and drew his wand, looking around wildly. Andromeda stared at him for a moment then started laughing.
“It’s all right,” she said. “It’s just the baby.”
“Oh...” Sirius said, feeling more than a little foolish. He put his wand away and followed Andromeda down the hall to a room that he would have mistaken for a closet. Inside was a small crib, a rocking chair, and a large dresser stacked with baby toys. He couldn’t see past Andromeda to the crib as she leaned over it to pick up the wailing baby.
She turned around and Sirius saw his cousin’s daughter for the first time. The little girl’s bawling gradually subsided as Andromeda comforted her and checked her nappy. Her face was wrinkled and red from crying, and the small amount of fine brown hair she had stuck out in every direction. She squirmed in Andromeda’s arms, her unhappy whimpers fading but not stopping entirely.
“Hold her for a minute,” Andromeda said.
“I, ah...” Sirius stammered before Andromeda thrust the baby forward into his arms. “Oh.”
Andromeda turned away and began rooting through the things stacked atop the dresser. “Her nappy needs to be changed... the clean ones are here somewhere...”
Sirius made a face as he caught a whiff of an offensive odor, and he scowled down at little Nymphadora Tonks.
He’d never held a baby before, and he felt terribly awkward trying to position his arms comfortably without upsetting her. He hesitantly grinned down at her, and she stared wide-eyed up at him, completely silent.
“Andromeda, I think she likes me...” he began.
Suddenly the baby’s face blurred and warped out of shape and she screamed again, much louder than before.
Startled, Sirius dropped her.
He tried to catch her, but he was so flustered that he didn’t even manage to slow or break her fall. She hit the thickly carpeted floor, screamed again and began crying even as Andromeda whirled around, her eyes flashing with something Sirius didn’t recognize and had certainly never seen in her before.
He reached to pick up the baby again, but Andromeda roughly shoved him away and scooped her up, cooing comforting words and stroking Nymphadora’s head protectively. Her eyes shot daggers at Sirius, and he wilted under her furious glare.
“I didn’t mean...” he said weakly.
“Dammit, you could have hurt her, Sirius!” Andromeda snapped. “Why are you always so damned careless?”
“Just go, Sirius,” Andromeda growled through clenched teeth. She inspected her daughter for injury, her accusatory gaze darting to Sirius only occasionally.
“Just go,” she snapped. She must have taken in his stricken expression, because she sighed heavily and said, “Please go. You can come back later, just... please just go.”
“All right,” Sirius said shakily. He hastily backed out of the room and practically ran to the front door. When he was outside he slumped against the door and buried his head in his hands.
Andromeda was the last member of his family he had any true desire to speak with, and she’d just kicked him out.
He banged his head on the door and rose to his feet again. Somehow, nothing ever went right where his family was concerned.
At least he had the Potters. They weren’t his, and despite constant reassurance that he was more than welcome he often felt out of place, but at least he still had something.
The Potters were better family than the Blacks had ever been, anyway. He didn’t need the Blacks.
Any of them.
He trudged back out into the rain, alone.