The Sugar Quill
Author: Rhetor (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Minding the Baby  Chapter: Default
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Minding the Baby

The angry green flames seem to consume Kingsley as they take him. When he’s gone, the hole he leaves in the air feels bigger than he was.

What an important constituent I’ve become, thinks Andromeda dully, staring at the fireplace. The new Minister of Magic himself. One death, and they send an Auror to tell you. Two, and they send a Department Head. Three…

Three.

Three.

The murderous sister she hasn’t seen in a generation. The gentle, scholarly, sad, haunted man who entered their lives so recently and changed them so completely. And Dora…

Dora. Andromeda puts her knuckle in her mouth.

Dora, my little Nymphadora... Dora, who hated her name. Dora, who dressed so badly and spoke so sloppily. Dora, who never paid attention to her own feet – so many bruises to heal over so many years. Dora, who chose the most dangerous job in the world, as if a mother doesn’t worry enough. Dora, who rushed out the door like a mad thing, chasing the husband who’d left to fight.

Dora, in the past tense.  Ted will be devastated when he hears.

Ted. Andromeda’s teeth begin to gnaw on the knuckle.

Four, not three. She’d forgotten. For just a moment, while Kingsley was giving her the worst news of her life, she’d forgotten the other worst news of her life. She sits down heavily in the armchair; her teeth scrape hard against the bone of her finger.

She’s empty; she’s alone. They’ve gone and left her behind. She bites her knuckle in earnest. Ted would have shared the pain of losing Dora, halved it. Ted would have held her while she cried and let her hold him. Ted would have found a way to let the light into the soul of a Black. Ted would have. Ted would. Ted…

She bites harder. Her teeth are sharp; it hurts like fire. But it doesn’t hurt enough. She bites harder still, willing her jaws together. A spurt of metallic salt against her tongue as her knuckle shrieks at her.

Blood. Blood, Remus? You used to bite yourself, you said. Was it like this? Did it hurt enough to make you forget everything else? Because this isn’t working, Remus; I still remember you…

She takes her hand out of her mouth and screams wordlessly at the ceiling, like an animal, letting the blood drip from her finger onto the floor.

And there is an answering cry from the next room. Teddy in his cot is fussing and whining, waking up sooner than he should. Teddy in his cot. Teddy.

For perhaps five minutes longer she sits unmoving, staring straight ahead, not seeing anything, but unable to shut out the sound of Teddy’s distress. He won’t sleep now, she knows; he’s on the way to wakefulness, to awareness, to knowing. He has demands, he has needs, some of which now will never be fulfilled. She wonders what will happen if she never moves again, wonders how long Teddy would cry if she did nothing at all, wonders how long it would take them to find her, find him. If she set out to join Ted, went to find Dora and Remus, left to give Bella a piece of her mind, surely someone would come looking soon enough for Teddy.  Surely someone would take over for her. Surely.

Teddy fusses more loudly, insistently. Andromeda cannot ignore it, cannot sit here. Some primitive part of her cannot remain unmoving while an infant sobs; it’s physically impossible. Ted always told her that she rushed to the cot too soon, picked Dora up when she would have been better left to cry a bit more.

Ted. Dora. Crying.

Andromeda rises shakily, stumbles through the door and approaches the cot. She sees her blood continue to drip on the floor, and she takes out her wand almost without thinking.  “Episkey,” she tells her knuckle.  “Scourgify,” she tells the floor. Dora knew the first spell better than Andromeda, but couldn’t perform the second one to save her life. Her life…

Her grandson kicks and flails, his face red. His hair is now green on one side and black on the other; when he went to sleep it was orange. Andromeda reaches down and picks him up, puts him against her shoulder. But hers isn’t the shoulder he was expecting, and he continues to cry, arching away from her so that she has to block him from throwing himself backwards onto the floor. He’s probably hungry; Dora left some expressed milk, but he never likes it as well.

“She’s gone, Teddy,” Andromeda tells the child. “I’m sorry, I should have stopped her. I’m so sorry – ” And at last she is unable to dam the torrent of agony, and her own wails chorus with his.

The baby cries for his mother as the mother cries for her baby.

***

There are more people here than Andromeda expected. All of the Order, including Kingsley himself, which means something different now. Most of the surviving members of the Auror Office; the majority of the faculty of Hogwarts School, who worked with Remus and who remember Dora. A tribe of Weasleys, and that gang of teenagers that still calls itself Dumbledore’s Army.

Harry Potter is here, the Hero of Britain, tears streaming down his face when she can see it; most of the time it’s buried in the shoulder of the Weasley daughter, who also is sobbing like a child. It would be quite a spectacle if they were the only ones; but they aren’t, not by far.

Andromeda’s own eyes are dry. It’s taken days to prepare this funeral, and in those days she’s cried till her throat hurt, cried till she couldn’t see, cried till the baby stopped crying, cried herself into a stupor. She sits motionless in her seat, the Chief Mourner’s Chair, the place of honor, detached from everything around her, as if she’s watching the whole thing from a hundred feet above. The details roll past: the eulogies, the ritual, the graves, the expressions of sympathy. What a lot of interesting things all those people are doing down there.

Then something does yank her back to herself. The Boy Who Lived is standing in front of her, and he’s much more polite than when last they met. Probably it’s grief.

“Mrs. Tonks,” he’s saying, “I hope you know how much I loved Remus and Nymphadora; they were very important to me.” His eyes are still streaming, and he wipes them impatiently.

“Yes, thank you, Harry. They cared a great deal about you, too.”

“Yes, ma’am, I know they did.”

“I think Dora thought of you as a little brother.”

“Oh? Wow.” He stares at his feet for a moment.

She continues, “I wanted to thank you for sending the house-elf over to watch the baby today; Teddy wouldn’t have done well here. Kreacher seemed amused at the idea of taking care of a little one, but I gather he’s done it before.”

“To tell you the truth, Mrs. Tonks, I think there’s not much that Kreacher hasn’t done.”

“I suppose not.” It’s helpful to talk; so long as she talks, she doesn’t have actually to participate in this dreadful event, doesn’t have to think about the ugly, bloody gash that is now her life.

He clears his throat. “I think you know that Remus and, um, Dora named me godfather to Teddy. My own godfather, Sirius, offered to let me live with him, and I’m more than happy to make the same offer to Teddy.”

Andromeda has the strongest, most genuine rush of feeling she’s had all day; it’s shock and outrage.

“Take Teddy?” she cries in disbelief. “Take Teddy?  But he’s all I have left! ” This is the first time she’s put it into words, the first time she’s allowed herself even to think it. She’s been pretending that being responsible for Teddy is a burden, that it’s unfair to ask a woman in middle age to take on this task. But the truth, she sees and she admits to herself in a gasp, is that she needs Teddy, needs to care for him, needs to raise him – needs to fill the hole in her heart left by Ted and Dora and, yes, Remus, the hole that was started a quarter-century ago, when her parents and her sisters decided that she was no longer alive.

Harry has stepped back, abashed and humiliated. She sees that she’s hurt him, and catches herself. “Oh, but thank you for the offer, Harry; I know you meant it kindly.”

He nods, looking like he’s going to cry again. She’s embarrassed, but it’s a more welcome feeling than she had before. Andromeda notices for the first time that young Ginny Weasley has come up behind him, her hand on his shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly. “Could I – ” He clears his throat again; his voice is thick. “Could I at least help you look after him?” It’s a plea. This is something he needs, too.

She’s able to smile. “Of course, Harry. I’m sure I can use all the help I can get.”

“Thank you,” he says, his gratitude so palpable that Andromeda doesn’t know what to reply. She watches as the red-headed girl takes the black-haired boy’s hand and leads him away from her.

As soon as her gaze shifts away from them, she sees not black or red hair, but yellow. Pale yellow, almost white, and one head golden.

The Malfoys are here.

Somehow, thank Merlin, she didn’t notice them before, but now they’ve just risen from their seats. Lucius and Draco and Narcissa. Narcissa. Andromeda cannot believe her eyes. They walk over to her slowly, the two men looking worried, the woman looking terrified. Andromeda’s vision clouds, and she feels hot; she would turn and leave, if there was a way to do it with any semblance of decorum or dignity.

When they reach her, she speaks first, her voice brittle. “I once had a sister who looked like you,” she tells Narcissa. “But she was much younger, at least twenty-five years younger. I think she must have died; one of us did, anyway.”

Cissy’s eyes widen and Andromeda can see the pain; something inside her relishes that pain, as if shoving it down her sister’s throat will somehow lessen the taste in her own.

Mastering her quivering mouth, Narcissa tries to begin, “Dromma, I – ”

“How dare you show your faces here?” Andromeda interrupts. “What are you, the representatives of the killer? Here to rub my face in it?” Lucius has gone even paler than usual; he looks like chalk. Draco looks like he might be sick. Narcissa –

“Bella’s dead,” moans Cissy.

Yes, ” snarls Andromeda, “and about an hour too late. Too late – too late for Dora – ” She cannot bring herself to continue, but she won’t let them see her cry.

To her astonishment, the proud, haughty Madam Malfoy drops to her knees before her.

“I’m so sorry, Dromma.” She speaks to Andromeda’s feet. “I can’t tell you how sorry. I – I was wrong. Terribly wrong. I won’t make excuses. I came because I almost lost my husband and my son. I can only imagine what this must be like, but it was almost me instead of you. I – I know we can’t make up the difference, but I wanted to remind you that you still have family. If you’ll have us. Please.”

Narcissa begins to weep, and Andromeda is torn down the middle. Part of her wants to scream and roar, banishing these people, this woman, this sister who betrayed her so terribly. And part of her remembers Cissy, remembers three little girls making bracelets together, remembers what it was like before they were ripped to shreds.

Then her teeth clench and she turns on her heel, walking away from the woman who was once her sister as quickly as the occasion will allow.

***

Andromeda watches as Harry finishes putting a new nappy on Teddy, Vanishing the old one when he gets a free hand. He’s begun wearing a witch’s “mother’s apron” that has a pocket for a wand well out of the baby’s reach. Then he blows on Teddy’s belly, making the loudest noise he can, just to hear the child laugh before he picks him up again.

She’s impressed by how quickly Harry’s learned. She’d expected a seventeen-year-old boy – no, eighteen now, she reminds herself – to be completely uninformed about infants, and she was right. The first time he’d tried putting fresh clothes on Teddy, it had taken him twenty minutes before he called for help. But in just a few weeks, he’s picked up all the moves, and can change, dress, feed, bathe and comfort his godson as expertly as any young father.

More surprising was the fact that the Weasley girl was equally clueless at the start. Andromeda would have expected Molly Weasley, of all people, to have taught her daughter something about babies, but apparently not. Harry comes three or four times a week, and most of those days Ginny is with him, and when they began they were well matched in their ham-handedness. They have learned together, the way new parents do – as Dora and Remus did, as Andromeda and Ted did. (Andromeda pushes that thought from her.) Ginny, normally so quick-handed, seems to have started out uncharacteristically clumsy where Teddy is concerned. It makes Andromeda wonder.

Harry holds Teddy to his shoulder, swaying back and forth and crooning something ridiculous. Ginny, across the room from him, gazes at godfather and godson with soft eyes. Andromeda’s seen that look before, the look that says, He’d be a good father to my children.  That thought is an aphrodisiac to some women.

Not that Ginny Weasley seems to need much of an aphrodisiac where Harry Potter is concerned. Andromeda’s nearly sure that they’re not sleeping together – she flatters herself that she can smell such things, and besides, she doubts that any of Molly’s children is capable of so disregarding her feelings under her own roof, where Harry is still living. But that doesn’t stop them from grooming and nuzzling each other like a pair of young unicorns at practically every moment when Teddy leaves them free hands. If she’s any judge of anything, Andromeda knows where this is going.

“Now give him to me,” says Ginny, grinning. All three adults know the game she’s initiating. Harry lifts Teddy off his shoulder with as much ceremony as he can muster, making a fanfare sound, and hands him to Ginny. Teddy chortles, knowing the game too. Up until this moment he’s been sporting black hair, neatly drawn black circles around his eyes, and a sloppy maroon mark on his forehead; at the instant he touches Ginny’s hands, he begins to change, his hair turning ginger, his nose shrinking, his skin now covered with light brown splotches that are probably his idea of what Ginny’s freckles look like. He blows a raspberry at her, and she returns the compliment. Andromeda sees Harry giving Ginny that same soft look, the she’ll-be-a-good-mother look, a rarer thing to see, in a man. Oh yes, Andromeda knows where this is going. Molly must already be making guest lists.

“Hey, he did the nose this time!” Ginny gasps.

“He’s becoming more observant,” Andromeda informs them. “By the time he’s a year old, he’ll be copying our faces exactly. At two, he’ll be mimicking our whole bodies.”

“Whole bodies?” asks Harry. “Where does he get the extra mass?”

“Transfigures it from the air, I suppose,” she shrugs. “It will get trickier when he turns four or five and begins to realize that he can do something we can’t. Then he’ll use it when he’s acting out, he’ll imitate whoever he’s angry at, or he’ll start trying to look like animals or inanimate objects when he’s feeling sulky. Of course, he can’t do non-humans; he’s only a Metamorphmagus, so those attempts are pretty ridiculous, but it’ll be important not to laugh at him. I once spent an afternoon doing my best not to notice that Dora was stomping around the house with skin that matched the hounds-tooth pattern on the sofa.”

At the word laugh, Teddy screeches and grabs a fistful of Ginny’s hair. Ginny squawks but starts to laugh herself, and Harry is laughing, and Andromeda can’t stop herself, she’s laughing too. It’s the first time she’s laughed in months, and she has a fleeting vision of Nymphadora, pink-haired and sassy, giving her mother a thumbs-up.

She looks at the three of them fondly. “You know, I’m going to miss you when you go back to Hogwarts.”

“Actually,” Harry answers slowly, “you won’t have much opportunity to miss me.”

“Really? How so?”

“Well, I’ve spoken with the Headmistress, and I’ll be permitted to come back here three times a week to help with Teddy.”

Andromeda’s eyebrows shoot up. “Harry! Of course that’s wonderful, but really, Professor McGonagall doesn’t need to bend the rules so much just for me!”

Harry looks a bit sheepish, but he continues, “You see, his parents were both heroes of the war. And, well, in my case – ” He trails off.

Ginny finishes for him, wearing a mischievous grin. “— certain allowances are made for Harry. He’s done the nation a small service or two, recently.”

Harry’s skin has gone pink. Andromeda nods. Then she realizes that she didn’t feel like crying when he mentioned Remus and Dora so casually. How strange.

Aloud, she says, “I see, yes, it’s only fitting.  Then I know I’ll be missing you, anyway, Ginny dear.”

“Welllll – ” Ginny begins, rolling her eyes.

“You too?”

“Certain allowances are made for Harry,” she repeats simply. Andromeda doesn’t know what to say to that, but begins to re-evaluate her earlier assessment of Molly Weasley’s wishes.

After Teddy is settled for his nap and the young couple leaves, Andromeda turns to the stove and thinks about an early tea. She’s considering biscuit choices when there’s a knock at the door.

She pulls the door open and there stands Draco.

He’s nervous; his eyes shift from side to side. Then he looks her in the face, and starts to speak. Then he stops and looks at his feet. Then he looks up at her again, swallowing.

“Yes, Draco?” says Andromeda, less coldly than she’d intended.

“I’ve come – ”  He starts, but then stops again. This is costing him something, but Andromeda can’t figure out why. Suddenly she realizes that he was waiting for Harry to leave before he approached the house. She’s wary.

“Give me your wand,” she says.

Without a word, he reaches into his robes and hands the wand to her, handle first.

She backs away from the doorway, leaving space for her nephew. He looks up at her again.

“I’ve come to babysit the cub,” he says, and crosses the threshold.

***

Author’s Note:

Thanks to Sherylyn for acting as beta. Thanks to Girlyswot for telling me the difference between a crib, a cot and a camp bed. I am drawn, as many seem to be, to Andromeda as the real victim of DH. I wrote a drabble about Andromeda during the Phoenix Rising conference in May, and in it I can now clearly see the roots of this story. When I read it now, I shiver at how prescient it now seems. I also was interested in what happens to Draco, and how it happens – that “curt nod” in the DH Epilogue spoke volumes, because it was so comparatively civil.  His actions at the end of this story are my way of beginning to explain the change, but reasonable people can disagree on Draco’s character at this point. The H-G fluff and the baby games kind of snuck in there by themselves, but I’m glad they did.

//
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