Disclaimer: The characters and setting in this story are not mine; the story and interpretation are. Thanks you to J.K. Rowling, for creating such a wonderful world and letting us play in it, and to my beta Yolanda for her suggestions.
By Olive Hornby
The dirt floor was well compacted, and Andromeda winced as her hip and shoulder struck it hard, but she refused to make a sound. The heavy wooden door slammed shut behind her, and she was left in near-total darkness.
She scrambled to a half-slump against the damp stone wall, rubbing her injured shoulder. She squinted, scanning the room as best she could. Her eyes refused to adjust, so she leaned forward and began to grope around the floor, hoping for a tool, a light, a door, anything she could use to escape. She crept along the wall, one hand on the wall and one hand searching the floor.
Her hand brushed against cool flesh.
She recoiled with a gasp, but to her shock a throaty laugh sounded from a few feet ahead of her.
“Welcome to the pit,” a sardonic female voice said.
“I beg your pardon?” was Andromeda’s knee-jerk response.
“Like the lion pits of ancient Rome,” the woman explained, “only I’d imagine that starving lions would be much easier to reason with than our illustrious captors.”
An image of the faceless white masks worn by the three individuals who had captured her flashed into her mind, and just as suddenly and image of a face she suspected was behind one of the masks replaced it. She shuddered.
“Quite possibly,” she said softly.
“How’d you end up here?” the woman asked.
“I was in Diagon Alley, just shopping,” Andromeda replied. “It was like they came out of nowhere.”
Or they knew where you liked to shop and were waiting for you, a tiny voice in her head said.
She ruthlessly squelched the thought.
“You?” she said as neutrally as she could.
“I was going to meet my sister,” the other woman said, and Andromeda could hear the sudden tension in her voice. “I sent her a message... I don’t know if she got it, or if she did whether she would show up or not. I heard she’d had a baby. I just wanted to meet the baby. Maybe... I don’t know...” the woman trailed off. She sighed heavily.
Andromeda knew that sigh well, and immediately felt an inexplicable kinship with a woman she couldn’t even see.
“Maybe start over?” she whispered hoarsely.
The other woman didn’t say anything, but the sharp, shuddered intake of breath said it all.
“One of my sisters had a baby recently, too,” Andromeda continued softly. “I’ve never seen him, either. Neither of my sisters has seen my little girl, and she’s five now.”
“That’s a shame,” the woman said quietly.
“I wish my sisters saw it that way,” Andromeda said.
“My sister hasn’t seen my son, either,” the woman continued. “I thought maybe if I made the first gesture, that maybe... I don’t know.”
Andromeda snorted bitterly. “I’ve made first gestures. I’ve made second, third, fourth, twentieth, thirtieth gestures. They never answer my letters. Their Floos won’t accept me. Their house-elves turn me away from their doorsteps.”
“House-elves?” Andromeda could practically hear the woman raising her eyebrows.
“My family is quite wealthy,” Andromeda explained briskly. “They, ah, they turned me out.”
The sudden swelling in her chest wasn’t really physical, but Andromeda folded her arms tightly around herself anyway. She thought it would get easier with time, but it hadn’t.
Damn them all to hell, it hadn’t.
“I married someone they didn’t approve of,” she said tightly.
The woman was silent for several moments.
“Are you Sirius’s cousin?” she finally said.
Andromeda blinked against the oppressive darkness. “Do I know you?”
“No,” the woman replied, laughing softly. “But I certainly know of you. You’re about the only member of Sirius’s family whose name he can mention without pitching a fit.”
Andromeda laughed in spite of herself. “That sounds like him.”
“He’s my son’s godfather,” the woman continued.
“Sirius? Sirius is someone’s godfather? My cousin Sirius? The man who got kicked off the Knight Bus for exploding dung bombs all over it? The man who mooned the Slytherin girls’ dormitory at least twice? The man who rigged up a flying motorcycle?” Andromeda sputtered incredulously. She shook her head. “You’re either very brave or dangerously insane.”
The woman laughed. “A bit of both perhaps, but James wouldn’t even consider anyone else. I try to think of it as Harry and Sirius growing up together.”
Andromeda grinned. “James. James Potter? I remember him. You must be that Mud-- I mean--”
She stopped cold and slapped her hand over her mouth.
“Yes, I’m that Mudblood he married,” the woman said stiffly.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Andromeda insisted. “It’s just an old habit. My family...”
“Yes, I know all about your family,” the woman said.
Andromeda sighed. “My husband is a Muggle-born,” she said, stressing the word. “That’s why my family won’t speak with me. I... it was an honest mistake.”
“Do you hate them?”
“Muggle-borns,” the woman said.
“Of course not!” Andromeda said, almost automatically.
“Hmm. Odd,” the woman replied after a moment.
“Just how is that odd?” Andromeda demanded. “Why would I marry someone I hate?”
“You tell me.”
“Listen here, you,” Andromeda snapped. “You haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about. I sacrificed a lot for my husband and my daughter. I had money, I had parents, I had sisters, I...”
She blinked back tears and stopped speaking before her voice failed her.
“I had a sister once, too,” the woman said quietly. “She doesn’t think much of wizardry, though.”
Andromeda suddenly understood.
“You’re wrong, though. I don’t hate Muggle-borns. I hate...” she paused and thought exactly how to word what she meant. “I hate what the division has done to my family.”
“Yes,” the woman whispered back. “Exactly. I feel the same about wizards sometimes.”
Andromeda bit her lip and leaned back against the wall. She had never thought of her situation in reverse, what it was like for Muggle-borns who married pure-blooded wizards and witches.
Were there members of Ted’s family who refused to speak to him? Did Nymphadora have Muggle aunts and uncles and cousins she had never heard of and never would?
Did Ted ever resent her for it?
“It’s not fair,” Andromeda croaked.
“Agreed,” whispered the woman.
They sat in silence for several minutes, and Andromeda could almost feel the time ticking away.
“This is absurd,” the other woman said finally. “Here were are, locked in a disgusting cellar, about to die, and we’re mooning on about our sisters who couldn’t care less about us.”
“We might escape yet,” Andromeda said.
“My husband and I have both eluded Voldemort--”
“Don’t say his name!” Andromeda blurted, wincing at both her words and the other woman’s. It was irrational, she knew, especially at this point, but she had been so careful around her daughter, careful not to frighten her and careful not to do anything that might conjure the Dark Lord, that it had become habit.
“Right,” the other woman said hesitantly. “As I was saying, my husband and I have eluded him three times already. I imagine my luck has run out.”
“Well, I certainly hope mine hasn’t,” Andromeda said obstinately.
“I hope you’re right,” said the woman.
“So do I,” Andromeda said wryly.
“Would you change it?” the woman asked abruptly.
“If you could, would you change what you did and not break with your family?”
Andromeda blinked. She had avoided asking herself that question for years now.
Her father was cold and distant. Her mother was reserved and inattentive, either too tired or too apathetic to care for three daughters. Bellatrix was a firebrand, devoted and passionate, but to all the wrong things. Narcissa was like their father, cold, calculating, and at times frighteningly clever.
Father’s rare nod of approval was the greatest treasure she and her sisters had vied for. Mother’s laughter left them all in good moods for a week.
It was Bellatrix and Narcissa she missed the most, though. Bellatrix had once picked a fight with six boys, all at least four years older than her, who had dared to insult Andromeda. Narcissa could tell sly, terrible, wonderful, obscene jokes that both baffled her and left her in stitches.
Ted’s goofy grin when he smeared a piece of wedding cake on her bewildered face. Nymphadora learning to tie her shoes after years of Andromeda battling squirming little girl feet.
The late rent. The constant struggle to keep from being buried beneath Ted and Nymphadora’s clutter. The returned letters.
Nymphadora’s first word, spoken clearly and flawlessly: “Mummy!”
Ted had never asked her that question.
Maybe he was afraid of the answer.
“No...” Andromeda said slowly.
Are you sure?
“I would try to make them understand while they were still willing to listen to me,” she continued, “but I couldn’t trade my husband and daughter for my sisters. I just want my daughter to know her family. I know you must think they are all quite horrible, listening to Sirius, but they aren’t. Just... proud. Proud and dead stubborn.”
“It’s their loss,” the woman said firmly.
“I know,” Andromeda said hoarsely, “but it doesn’t feel that way.”
“I know,” was the whispered reply.
“Would you change it?” Andromeda asked.
The woman sighed. “I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done, no. I hoped I could change the future by talking to Petunia, but it seems I’ve run out time.”
“There’s still time,” Andromeda said.
“I imagine that changing the past is a lot easier than changing people’s minds,” the woman said.
They will never change.
“I was always taught that family was the most important thing,” Andromeda said bitterly. “I never expected to have to choose between two.”
The woman snorted. “Tell me abou--”
A loud thump from somewhere upstairs silenced the woman, and they both stopped and listened.
“Look, there are two of us,” Andromeda said rapidly. “If each of us gets on one side of the door...”
The other woman was already moving. Andromeda staggered toward where she knew the door was, arms outstretched and flailing in front of her. She slammed hard into the other woman, and they quickly pushed apart.
“I’ll stand on the side that opens and grab him, then you hit him as hard as you can while I have him distracted. Go for the eyes, the crotch, the throat...” the woman instructed.
Andromeda swallowed hard and balled her already sweating fists, lowering herself into a fighting stance. “Right.”
The door swung open and the flare of intense light haloing a solitary figure blinded Andromeda. The woman bellowed a fierce war cry and the figure was suddenly right in front of her. She caught a glimpse of red-gold and a shock of black hair--
It’s not her. She wouldn’t.
--and the woman shouted, “Now! Now!”
Andromeda leaped at the figure, fists flying. She felt what had to be the person’s nose crunch under her knuckles and something that felt like glasses (glasses? she doesn’t wear glasses) twisting under her blows. A painful yowl rang in her ears as she swiftly brought the ball of her foot smashing against the person’s kneecap.
“Stop, stop,” the man pleaded.
A man. It’s not her.
Relief flooded through her.
She found the man’s face and clutched the sides of his head, positioning her thumbs over his eyes.
“Stop!” the woman shouted.
Andromeda suddenly found herself being hauled bodily away from the man.
“What are you doing?” she roared at the woman, flailing against her grip. Her eyes were beginning to adjust, and she saw that the pitifully battered man in front of her wasn’t wearing the robe or mask that her captors had been. She twisted to face the woman, whose shock of tangled red hair did little to obscure the concern on her face.
“That’s my husband!” the woman blurted. She dropped Andromeda hard on the dirt floor and practically leaped over her to kneel at the man’s side. “James! Are you alright? I didn’t know it was you! Are there Aurors with you?”
“Ow, uh know, ud yes,” James muttered. With his head down and one hand clutching his nose, his voice was muffled enough that Andromeda could barely understand him. He looked up at Andromeda and his eyes widened.
“Andwomeda Back?” he mumbled incredulously.
You’ll always be a Black. They can get rid of you but you'll never be rid of them.
“Tonks,” she corrected him, more stiffly than she intended.
“Wight,” he said, cocking his head slightly.
Another, much older man suddenly appeared in the doorway, and Andromeda fought not to gasp as one of his eyes rolled downward and the other focused sharply first on the other woman, then on her.
The man raised an eyebrow at James. “Nice rescue, Potter,” he said.
James Potter scowled at the other man as best he could with half his face covered, and struggled to his feet. “Id’s not by vault...”
“Let’s get out of here,” the woman said quickly, clutching James’s arm supportively.
“Agreed,” the older man said. He looked at Andromeda. “You come with me.”
The woman placed a reassuring hand on Andromeda’s shoulder. “It’ll be alright,” she said.
Andromeda nodded. The older man began walking away, as the woman helped James limp up the shallow cellar steps. On a whim, Andromeda grabbed the woman’s free hand.
“I’m Andromeda,” she said. “I hope you work things out with your sister.”
The woman stopped and squeezed her hand. “Lily. And I hope you do too.”
“Hurry up!” the older man roared from down the hallway.
“I hope to meet you again, Lily.”
“You too, Andromeda,” Lily said with a smile. Andromeda released her hand and hurried down the hall after the older man.
When she reached the end of the hall she looked back, but the other woman was already gone.