Crocus by Equinox Chick
Summary: Four years after the Battle of Hogwarts, Andromeda Tonks exists only for her grandson. Like an unearthed bulb, through an ever-long winter she waits not to bloom, but to decompose to mulch.

But when Kingsley Shacklebolt approaches her with a proposition, she realises that perhaps there is more to life than the necessity of living only for another.

This is Equinox Chick and this is my second entry in the Third Great Hall Cotillion.

I am not JK Rowling. Sorry.
Categories: Post-Hogwarts Characters: None
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 5 Completed: Yes Word count: 14911 Read: 12545 Published: 04/08/14 Updated: 04/12/14

1. Chapter 1 by Equinox Chick

2. Chapter 2 by Equinox Chick

3. Chapter 3 by Equinox Chick

4. Chapter 4 by Equinox Chick

5. Chapter 5 by Equinox Chick

Chapter 1 by Equinox Chick
For a long while, it was as if she were buried underground. Not too deep, and not enclosed in a hard wooden box or encased in marble, but below the surface, shrouded from light and the warmth of the sun. Like a forgotten bulb, she remained unearthed, unmoving but waiting through an ever-long winter. There were the odd glimmers of light, when the surface soil shifted (his laugh, his smile, so reminiscent of another, left her gasping for fresh air and not the dank atmosphere she inhabited). But far too often, there was nothing except the mundane, and the necessity of living because otherwise he’d have no one.

A bulb that would not flower again but decompose to mulch.

‘Rise and shine, my love.’

Andromeda Tonks was drinking her second cup of tea of the morning when the owl arrived. Beside her, Teddy’s face lit up and he could barely contain his excitement when it landed on the windowsill, pecking at the glass to be let in.

–Hawwy, Hawwy, Hawwy!” he shrieked.

But Andromeda shook her head, explaining as she opened the window, –That’s not Harry’s owl, darling. This one looks far too officious.”

–Fishes?”

She half smiled at his bewilderment. –No, Teddy, ‘officious’. I think this owl has come from an important person.”

–Nimportant,” Teddy muttered, trying out the word. –Hawwy’s nimportant?”

This time she did smile, and reached across to ruffle his hair.

–Yes. Harry is very ‘nimportant’,” she assured him. –But this isn’t his owl.”

Losing interest, Teddy returned to his milk and colouring book, giving a centaur a pink tail as Andromeda read the owl’s message. A short letter, but one she felt sure had been composed with great thought. Its sender was not one who acted lightly, and would have considered the consequences.

‘Madam Tonks,
As you may be aware from Harry, I have recently moved to the Law Department at the Ministry. In this capacity, I would be grateful if I could meet with you to discuss a matter of some importance and delicacy. If you are unable to make it to the Ministry, then please may I call on you?
Regards,
Hermione Granger.’


The owl gave a soft hoot and started to clack its beak together. Taking the hint, Andromeda fed it an owl treat, whilst she composed her reply. Hermione’s letter, coupled with its formality, intrigued her because although it said very little, it was a break in Andromeda’s usual routine. A routine based entirely around her grandson. She could invite Hermione here; it wouldn’t take long to tidy up and she wouldn’t need to find someone to mind Teddy, but as she gazed out of the window and the grey clouds smothering all the blue out of the sky, she felt a sudden urge to escape.

‘Hermione
I will be in London on Thursday and can meet you at eleven, if that is convenient.
Andromeda Tonks’


***


Hermione Granger was at her exceptionally tidy desk when Andromeda was shown into the legal department. With her hair tied at the nape of her neck, and wearing a severe set of robes in navy, she looked very much the owner of an ‘officious’ owl. Only the ring she sported on the third finger of her left hand, which she kept fiddling with, suggested her mind wasn’t completely on her work.

–I take it congratulations are in order?” Andromeda said as she took the proffered seat.

–Oh... yes, this. Ron proposed at the weekend. I’m just not -”

–Not used to the ring. Yes, I remember that,” Andromeda replied. Then seeing Hermione flush uncomfortably, she smiled a little. –I don’t expect you wished to see me to discuss engagement rings, though.”

–Uh ... no, not at all. Quite the reverse in fact.”

–In what way?” Andromeda asked.

Hermione heaved a sigh, and reached for a file on top of her in tray. Getting to her feet, she gestured towards the door. –I’m afraid the quiet chat I wanted with you about this case has developed its own voice. And although I was the one that unearthed the details, as a junior member of the department, it has been deemed too important for me to deal with alone.”

–Where are we going, then?” Andromeda asked, realising she didn’t even know who was in charge of the Legal Department.

–To see my boss, Hilaria Gamp,” Hermione replied, adding in a warmer tone, –and Kingsley Shacklebolt.”

–Kingsley?” Andromeda stopped in her tracks. –You mean the Minister for Magic is involved.”

–Mmm,” Hermione said, and grimaced. –Sorry, Madam Tonks, I would bring you up to speed, but there’s really no time. The Minister is on a very tight schedule but insisted he be present for this meeting.”

–Stop!” Andromeda ordered, surprising herself with the vehemence in her tone. Hermione stopped. –That’s better. Hermione, I am here at your request, but I will not be ambushed in a meeting the subject of which I know nothing about.”

–I’ve been told to say-”

–Hermione!”

The younger witch turned and faced Andromeda. –Sorry, I realise this is very unfair on you. I’m not sure why Madam Gamp wants this kept under wraps, as that wasn’t my intention at all, but-–

–The only reason I can see is that she does not want to give me time to consider my options,” Andromeda replied wintrily, and stared straight into Hermione’s eyes. –What she clearly does not know about me is that I will not be pressured into anything. I am stubborn, Miss Granger. And I mull things over. You clearly think this affair is important, and you want me on your side, so start talking.”

There was a silence, a matter of seconds, then Hermione blinked. –Rabastan Lestrange is dying,” she whispered.

Sucking in her breath, Andromeda felt her heart stop in her chest, and then the beats became erratic. Her palms, usually so dry, began to sweat as the old familiar hatred churned inside of her.

–Good,” she muttered, and took a step back. –This has nothing to do with me.”

–It does because-” Hermione started to explain, but her words were cut short when a door opened and a severe looking witch walked out.

–Miss Granger, I told you to bring our guest to my office immediately. There is no time for idle chit-chat, not when Minister Shacklebolt has kindly graced us with his presence.”

Arching an eyebrow, Andromeda perused Hilaria Gamp, her first observation being that the woman was badly named. The expression on her face, together with the carefully coiffured blonde hair, and square-rimmed glasses, utterly belied any hilarity.

–Miss Granger was doing me the courtesy of answering my questions, which were not idle or otherwise,” Andromeda replied haughtily. –And as much as I am ‘honoured’ that the Minister has been able to squeeze in a meeting with me, I have all the time in the world, Madam Gamp, and will adhere to my own schedule.”

Hilaria Gamp lowered her gaze first and stepped to the side, allowing Andromeda and Hermione to enter her office. It was spacious, with an overlarge desk that looked as if it belonged elsewhere. Andromeda smiled to herself, remembering something Ted had once told her about under-endowed wizards preferring large broomsticks. Perhaps Hilaria had a similar need, stating her worth in oak. Andromeda’s attention drifted to the walls, plastered with photographs of Hilaria at various functions, before she spotted the figure standing in the far corner, looking out of the window.

–Minister,” she began.

He raised his hand. –No need to be formal, Andromeda.”

–Isn’t this a formal occasion?” she asked.

He smiled, a little sadly. –The subject matter is serious enough, but titles are unnecessary.” Stepping towards her, he gestured at the chairs. –It’s good to see you again, but I am sorry it is under these circumstances.”

–Rabastan Lestrange is dying,” Andromeda said, quelling Hilaria’s protest before she could begin. –I don’t see how these circumstances are any concern of mine, unless you want me to despatch him.”

There, she’d said it. She’d wanted him dead a long time ago. Natural causes seemed an unjust way for his life to end, not after everything that had happened.

–Please, Andromeda, will you take a seat?” Kingsley asked, again gesturing towards the chair.

She sat, taking her time, for despite the seriousness of the occasion, she was enjoying Hilaria’s grimace when she wouldn’t do exactly as she was told. –Why am I here?” she said, turning to Hermione.

–Uh ...” Hermione cleared her throat and after a quick nod from Kingsley continued. –Rabastan Lestrange hasn’t made a will. He is incapable now and is expected to die before the night is through.”

–I am not a Lestrange,” Andromeda said softly. –Again, this is not my concern.”

–But you are a Rosier,” Kingsley stated. He sat on a chair, edging closer to her. –As I understand it from Hermione, Rabastan’s grandmother was your mother’s aunt, which made you second cousins.”

She shook her head. –You are forgetting, Minister, that I was disinherited. Madam Malfoy is the heir.

–From the Black family, yes, you were disinherited,” Hermione informed her, –but not the Rosier -”

–Madam Tonks,” interrupted Hilaria briskly. –Rabastan Lestrange was his brother’s heir. The contents of your sister and brother-in-law’s vault were transferred to him before we could stop it. He acted like lightning in a matter of hours after the Battle, and we haven’t been able to gain permission to enter his vault. But he’s dying, and with a new heir, we can finally gain access. There will be money for you, and who knows what other secrets your sister was hid-–

–No!” Andromeda spoke calmly, but her voice carried a ring of authority.

–You’re refusing to help the Ministry?” Hilaria questioned, disapproval quivering from her lower lip.

–Do not refer to that woman as my sister,” Andromeda countered. –I was blasted out of the Black family over thirty years ago. I have no sisters. A sister would not have murdered her niece. Just as a cousin, second or otherwise, would not have murdered my husband.”

–We don’t know that’s the case,” Hermione said. –It’s never been confirmed where Rabastan Lestrange was the night Ted, Dirk Cresswell and Gornuk were killed.”

–Rabastan Lestrange was in charge of the Snatchers,” Andromeda stated. –I hold him responsible for Ted’s death. He should have been tried for murder, but he was not.”

Kingsley coughed. –The outcome would have been the same. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.”

–It wasn’t enough,” Andromeda snapped. Then, feeling a sharp pain in her stomach, where the knot of tension continued to twist, she got to her feet. –I do not want Lestrange’s money. Give it to ...” She closed her eyes, a sudden flush and light-headedness taking hold of her. Gripping the back of the chair, she tried to steady herself before leaving, but her head was spinning.

–Miss Granger, fetch help!” Hilaria called as Andromeda sank towards the floor, her fall only broken when Kingsley caught her.

She was out maybe a few seconds, hearing the flustered squawks of Hilaria, and then Kingsley’s slow lilt.

–I’ve got this,” he was saying. –Hermione, fetch some tea and biscuits. Hilaria, there is no need to use ‘Ennervate’, just give Madam Tonks some space. In fact, leave us alone for a while. There must be other things you need to attend to.”

Hearing two pairs of footsteps and the door open then close, Andromeda slowly opened her eyes. Kingsley was lowering her onto some newly Summoned cushions, placing a several under her feet. –They’ve gone,” he murmured. –You can wake up now.”

–I wasn’t pretending,” she retorted.

–I know. You went incredibly pale and gave us all a shock.”

–Gave you a shock!” She laughed bitterly. –Wasn’t that the idea of this meeting? To browbeat me into agreeing a course of action I would never want to follow.”

He pressed his lips together. –I believe that was Madam Gamp’s idea. She thought the money would appeal to you. Hermione wasn’t altogether happy with it, which was why she approached me.”

–But you want my help?”

Sitting on the floor next to her, Kingsley nodded. –We would like access to his vault. Before he was captured, Rabastan cast several curses, which have meant there could be no access until his death. And even then, it is only a blood relative who can enter.” He smiled grimly. –I very much doubt that Narcissa Malfoy will cooperate.”

A faint tap at the door distracted Andromeda from her thoughts. As Hermione re-entered the room bearing a tray of tea and biscuits, Andromeda forced herself to sit up, despite Kingsley urging her to stay where she was.

–Stop fussing,” she muttered, and pulled herself onto a chair. –I picked at breakfast, that’s all. Getting Teddy to eat something other than Chocolate Frogs rather takes it out of me.” She glanced at Hermione, who was hovering beside them. –Can you tell me why you wanted to see me? Is it just because you want access to the Lestrange secrets? I’m not sure there’s much more you could learn about Bellatrix.”

Setting the tray on the desk, Hermione poured three cups, and pushed the plate of biscuits towards Andromeda. –I want justice, Madam Tonks.”

–In what way?”

–The Lestranges were not an especially wealthy family,” Hermione said, –and neither were the Blacks. At least, there was very little inheritedwealth at the time of their deaths. But your sister’s - sorry, I mean the Lestranges’ vault was full of gold and treasure.” She stopped speaking, a furious blush spreading on her cheeks.

Kingsley took over. –Hermione believes that the Lestranges confiscated the possessions from Muggle-borns. She would like to see them returned.”

‘Justice, Dromeda, that girl’s an idealist.’

–Didn’t Bellatrix leave a will?” Andromeda asked. –If the contents of the vault were that valuable, then she wouldn’t have wanted those of impure blood to benefit.”

Hermione grimaced. –I’m not sure Bellatrix knew exactly what was in the vault. Money was secondary to serving Voldemort, and anything associated with ‘Mudbloods’ she’d have wanted destroyed. But ... Rodolphus and Rabastan may not have been so... um... scrupulous. They served time in Azkaban for him, but Rabastan fled the Battle as soon as he could.”

Andromeda sipped her tea, and crunched through a biscuit, feeling its sweetness revive her. There was something else, too. Rabastan was dying and the Ministry needed her. It needed her heritage to put something right.

‘Careful, my love. I’d hate you to get dragged back.’

But there were downsides. The Daily Prophet’s interest in her would peak again. She’d been intensely private throughout her marriage; the blood tie with Bellatrix had led to so much spite railed at her, and later Dora. After the Battle, the paper had fallen over itself in a bid to make amends, but by then it was too late. She wouldn’t play along with the role they wanted to assign of the wronged heroine, struggling day-to-day to bring up her grandson. And she refused to talk about her other family - those long dead ghosts who’d marred her existence.

But if she didn’t help the Ministry, then everything would go to Narcissa.

–Andromeda, if you are at all unhappy, then we will say no more about it,” Kingsley said.

She watched as he signalled to Hermione to clear the tray and leave, and then he stood up, and offered her his arm.

–I’m in two minds,” she admitted. –I know Ted would want me to help. I can practically hear his voice, but he’d also urge caution. So I’d like to know more about the vault and what is expected of me before I agree.”

–Certainly,” Kingsley replied. He smiled. –Time is a rather precious commodity in this case, though, so if you don’t have to rush off to collect Teddy, then maybe we could discuss it over lunch?”

Her eyes widened, but the automatic refusal died on her lips. Lunch - that was all - and this was important. –Teddy is with Molly Weasley, who is no doubt having more success in getting him to eat his vegetables than I do,” she replied, and smiled tentatively back. –She told me to take the whole day off, if I wished. But aren’t you incredibly busy, Minister Shacklebolt?”

–I have to eat,” he replied, and winked. –But I’m with Teddy, and much prefer Chocolate Frogs to broccoli!”
End Notes:
This story is going to get updated pretty sharpish. Hold on to your hats.
Chapter 2 by Equinox Chick
Kingsley knew a restaurant away from the hurly-burly of Diagon Alley. Called The Copper Cauldron, it was small, homely, and run by a buxom, dark- haired witch, who greeted him enthusiastically with a kiss on each cheek, before showing them to a table in the corner.

–Fabienne is an old friend,” he informed Andromeda as he pulled out a chair for her.

–She looks familiar,” Andromeda replied, watching as Fabienne meandered through the tables, smiling at all her patrons, refilling glasses, and taking orders.

Kingsley didn’t elaborate, instead pointing out certain things on the menu that were good. –I’m not drinking, but would you like a glass of wine?” he asked.

Looking up from the menu, Andromeda shook her head, saying she’d prefer a Gillywater. Kingsley nodded, and raised his hand towards Fabienne. She bustled across, all smiles and purpose, and took their order. It was whilst Kingsley was talking to her, that Andromeda allowed herself to look at him properly. He hadn’t changed that much since their last meeting a year ... no ... nearly two years ago, but he looked far more relaxed now. The gold hoop earring that he’d discarded when he’d first become Minister, had made its way back and glinted in his ear. Of course, she’d last seen him at the Memorial, which was hardly a casual occasion, and she’d still been in the very depths of grief, barely able to talk to a soul. But Kingsley, despite his relative informality, still exuded authority and calm.

–A Knut for your thoughts,” Kingsley murmured.

–Oh.” She laughed a little. –Not worth that much, I’m afraid.” A pause. –Can you tell me what you expect from Lestrange’s vault?”

He raised one eyebrow, but looked unsurprised at her directness. –We know Bellatrix and Rodolphus protected their vault with Geminio and Flagrante curses. Rabastan has probably done the same.” He shrugged. –An experienced Curse-Breaker can deal with them easily enough, but a blood charm would be harder to dismantle.” He stopped speaking as Fabienne approached with their drinks, picking up only when she’d gone. –This is where we need you. Hermione believes that, as you were never disinherited from the Rosier line your blood will be enough to get us into the vault. You would still need your wand, but a Curse-Breaker will be on hand to deal with any other jinxes.”

–Who do you have in mind?” she asked, sipping her Gillywater.

He pressed his lips together. –I wanted to ask Bill. He does have the most experience of any Gringotts Curse-Breaker, plus we can trust him. However, he is currently in Egypt and as Lestrange is unlikely to last much longer, we won’t be able to get hold of him in time.” Leaning across the table, Kingsley whispered, –My fear is that if we leave it too long and Narcissa or Draco enter the vault, then nothing of value will remain.”

–But if I’m the equal heir, then they can’t -”

–Would you really trust Narcissa not to cheat you, Andromeda? You said yourself that you no longer have a sister.”

She leant back in her chair, taking a deep breath as she considered her options. Kingsley’s dark eyes, full of sincerity and compassion, bored into her. She didn’t want compassion, or pity, and feeling suddenly irritated, she snapped out her reply.

–I don’t want his money, Minister. I have enough, and even if I didn’t, I’d rather starve than live off Lestrange’s spoils of war.”

–I phrased that badly,” he replied calmly, and then licked his lips. –Perhaps I should have said ... Would you really want Narcissa to win?”

Despite herself, she felt her lips curve into a smile, and he grinned back. A deliciously wide smile, displaying very white, even teeth.

‘Merlin, Dromeda, what did you see in an old snaggletooth like me?’

–Anyway,” Kingsley continued. –As Bill is unavailable, then I shall volunteer my services.”

–You!” She blinked, then realised her astonishment must sound rude.

‘Ha ha. Don’t sound so surprised, Mum!’

He appeared not to be offended. –Before training to be an Auror, I was a Curse-Breaker.”

–Oh... what made you change? I would have thought being a Curse-Breaker was possibly the most glamorous profession you could have had at that time,” she said. –I believe Bill Weasley has done very well out of it.”

Taking a slow sip of his drink, Kingsley prevaricated with his reply. –It was after the First War. I never quite believed the story that Voldemort had gone, or that so many of his followers had been under the Imperius Curse.”

–Dora never wanted to be anything else,” Andromeda murmured. –I tried so hard to dissuade her because I knew our - my - name would go against her. I was even pleased when she failed that set of exams and prayed another year would bring her to her senses, and she’d decide I was right, but ...” Her throat constricted, but seeing her glass was empty, she instead took a heaving gulp of air. –But it was the only thing she wanted to do with her life. So, how could I stand in the way of all that purpose?”

‘You couldn’t.’

His hand was on hers, his long fingers curling over her palm. –She was wonderful, Andromeda. A credit to you and Ted. I’d never met someone so determined, and I still haven’t.”

–Not even Harry?” she asked.

–He’s an amateur compared with Nymphadora.”

–She’d have hexed you for calling her that,” Andromeda reprimanded. And then she began to laugh, a small bubbling sound from her belly, releasing the strictures in her throat as she recalled her little firebrand of a girl spitting fury at her hated name. Kingsley released her hand and sat back in his chair, an amused glint in his eyes.

–Sea bass with blackened butter and capers,” Fabienne announced, placing the dish before Andromeda. –And steak for you, Kingsley. Well done, just as you like it, with a little twist of pepper.”

–I come here a lot,” Kingsley explained, –but am unadventurous with my food. Fabienne despairs of me.”

Swallowing a sliver of the fish and savouring its moist flavour, Andromeda nodded. –I can see why you come here. The food is very good.”

–Mmm.” Kingsley cut into his steak. –She’s discreet as well”

–You have need for discretion?” Andromeda queried. Then she blushed. For a moment, she’d forgotten she was with the Minister of Magic, treating him merely as an old friend with whom she could reminisce.

–I don’t want the world and The Prophet to know exactly how unadventurous I am,” he replied, adding after a while, –Although having lunch with a beautiful woman would improve my standing no end.”

She snorted at the line and looked away.

‘Why can’t you ever take a compliment, Dromeda?’

Kingsley cleared his throat. –So, back to the vault. I can accompany you, if that’s agreeable. But ... please, Andromeda, I don’t want you to feel ambushed, or browbeaten or at all pressured into thinking that you have to do this. Yes, it would help the Death Eaters’ victims, but -”

–Florean Fortescue!” she said suddenly. He jumped and she turned to stare at Fabienne. –That’s his wife, isn’t it?”

–Yes.” He met her gaze. –I won’t lie. This is the other reason I brought you here. Rabastan dragged Florean away, and very probably murdered him. Many of the Fortescues’ possessions were stolen and haven’t been recovered.”

She fell silent, thoughtful as she picked the fish off its bone and mopped up the rest of the butter sauce. Kingsley didn’t speak, but continued to cut up his steak, although she noticed he didn’t eat much more, instead pushing it around the plate.

–I didn’t intend to deceive you,” he said at last.

–You have a job to do,” she replied, and clenched her hand into a ball to stop it trembling.

–You’re angry.”

‘Mum, come on, he’s a good bloke!’

She drained her glass and set it carefully back on its coaster. –I’ll need to sort out childcare for Teddy, but as soon as you need me, let me know.”

***


–He’s sleeping,” Molly said as she showed Andromeda into the lounge. –Would you like a cuppa?”

–Yes, thank you.” She sat down on one of the armchairs and waited for Molly to reappear, no doubt with a tray of cakes and biscuits as well as the tea. –How did you manage to get him to take a nap?”

–Arthur’s been teaching them how to de-gnome the garden,” Molly called from the kitchen, and popped her head back through the door. –We have Victoire as well. Bless her, not quite two but keen to do anything Teddy can.” She bustled into the lounge and set a tray down on a small table by Andromeda’s side. –I didn’t expect you back so soon.”

Andromeda sipped her tea. It wasn’t that lunch had finished abruptly. After she’d agreed to help, Kingsley had ordered them coffee, and asked if she’d like a dessert. But as tempting as Fabienne’s iced sorbets were, she’d refused. Coffee consumed, Kingsley had settled the bill, and then offered to escort her back to the Ministry to answer any further questions she might have. She’d declined the offer, declaring herself satisfied with the plan and reiterating her intention to help.

–It’s good of you to help,” Molly said, when Andromeda had told the story. –Those cursed vaults can be dangerous, so Bill’s told me.”

–Oh come on, it’s the very least I could do,” she replied. –Besides Kingsley will be there.”

–Really?” Molly stirred a spoonful of sugar into her tea. –And he took you to lunch, you say?”

–To talk me through the procedures for opening the vault, yes,” Andromeda replied, knowing exactly what Molly was hinting at. –It was lunchtime. He had to eat, and as I’d practically fainted in that Gamp woman’s office.”

Molly pressed her lips together, as if she were smothering a giggle, and cut Andromeda a generous slice of lemon cake. –Hermione could have bought you a sandwich.”

Shooting her a look, which she hoped would stop Molly’s speculation, Andromeda said nothing more, but bit into the cake. It was still warm, and crumbled slightly in her mouth. –This is delicious, Molly.”

–You didn’t have dessert then?” Molly inquired innocently.

–Sea bass followed by coffee,” she rapped. –He had steak, well done and with a twist of pepper. We both drank Gillywater. I listened to what he said and agreed to help. And then the Minister had to get back to work.”

Taking the hint, Molly changed the subject, filling Andromeda in on the latest news, which mainly concerned Ron and Hermione’s engagement, and her daughter-in-law, Audrey’s second pregnancy. Andromeda listened with one ear (a skill she’d acquired growing up in the Black household) but allowed her thoughts to drift.

In the natural order of things, she wouldn’t have been friends with Molly Weasley. She’d known of her at Hogwarts (everyone knew the brash Prewett girl), and she’d met her a few times over the years, largely because Dora had struck up a friendship with Charlie. But they’d never been on taking tea together terms. She’d barely thought of Molly, except to wonder how on earth she coped with seven children.

All that had changed in the aftermath of the Battle. Dora’s death, following hard on Ted’s, had left Andromeda so deeply wounded that it had been a miracle she’d been able to function. A miracle in the form of Molly Weasley’s persistent digging, which had forced Andromeda to the surface. Both women were grieving for a child, and that stark fact cemented their bond.

–It will be all right if I bring Teddy over, won’t it?” Andromeda asked when there was a lull in Molly’s chatter. –It might be in the middle of the night.”

–Mmm, but why not leave him here?”Molly replied. –Victoire’s staying while Bill’s in Egypt and they get on so well together.”

–Molly, if I didn’t know any better, I would swear you’re matchmaking the pair of them.”

Molly finished her tea, and tried to assume a dignified expression, but couldn’t stop a glimmer of a smile. –Nonsense! They are far too young,” she said.

–It was lunch,” Andromeda insisted, through pinched lips.

–With a man who barely has time for a sandwich at his desk, but drinks gallons of coffee instead, so Percy’s always telling us,” Molly replied and frowned. –Not that that’s a good example to set. A man needs a good square meal in the middle of the day.”

‘I used to like your pack lunches, Dromeda. You even cut off the crusts for me’.

–Lunch because he needed to talk to me.”

–Pfft.” Molly waved her hand in the air. –Just don’t be surprised if he asks you again.”

Trying not to snap back, Andromeda inhaled slowly, and then when she felt calm enough, replied, –I’m too old for him.”

–Five years, it’s nothing. Arthur’s younger than me.”

This time she did snap, barking out her response. –Well, I’m too old. Full stop. And I have Ted - I mean Teddy to think of.”

Before Molly could reply - and she’d opened her mouth to give her opinion - Arthur wandered in from the garden. Wearing old patched robes, with mud encrusted on the sleeves, it was clear he’d been gardening.

–Afternoon, Andromeda. Have you come to pick up the scamp already?”

–Teddy’s going to stay overnight, –Molly said, eyeing him with some disapproval. –Arthur, you’re tramping mud all over the carpet. Take your shoes off and wash your hands!”

–Rightio,” he replied cheerfully and backed out the room. –Make sure you save me some of that cake.”

Once he couldn’t see, Molly’s frown disappeared to be replaced with an indulgent smile. She cut a slice of cake, and poured him a cup of tea, then shifted up the couch to leave room for him.

Were we like that? Andromeda wondered.

‘Wasn’t our style, my love.’

***



There seemed very little point in getting ready for bed, not when she might be heading to Gringotts in a matter of hours. Instead, Andromeda changed out of the robes she’d been wearing and into an older, more comfortable set. A headache was brewing, so she untied her hair from its bun and sipped a glass of water. And then, because she couldn’t concentrate on her book and didn’t want the noise from the radio, she set about dusting her living room.

She’d never been one for knick-knacks and ornaments. There’d been only two photographs on her mantelpiece before that last year: one of her and Ted, just after they’d eloped, and the other of Dora when she’d qualified as an Auror. These days, there were far more photographs, for Teddy’s sake, she told herself, because she didn’t need pictures to jog her memory.

–Andromeda! Are you there?”

She blinked. Someone was knocking on her door. Not someone - Kingsley. Hurrying to let him in, she stopped only to Banish the duster she was holding in her hand.

–Is he dead?”

If he was surprised at the question with no preliminaries, Kingsley didn’t show it. –Yes. I came straight away to give you time to make arrangements for Teddy.”

–Oh, he’s with Molly,” she replied, then smoothed down her robes. –Shall we go?”

–Er...” He paused, and placed his hand on her arm. –Andromeda, I’ve reconsidered. You don’t have to do this. There’s no telling what will be in Rabastan’s vault, and I’m not prepared to put you at any risk simply to enhance the Ministry’s reputation.”

–Is that what this is for?”

He stepped over the threshold, deftly closing the door behind them. –It certainly won’t do us any harm if Muggle-borns are seen to have attained some form of justice.”

–Kingsley, what’s happened? Why have you changed your mind?”

–I should have known I couldn’t fool you, Andromeda.” He glanced towards the living room. –May I sit?”

–Mmm, of course,” she replied, and led him through. –Would you like a drink?”

Kingsley hesitated before choosing the sofa to sit on and not the large armchair by the fire. –I don’t really have time. I still intend going to Gringotts because I believe Narcissa will be there soon.”

–So why don’t you want me there?” she asked. –What’s changed?”

–The Daily Prophet,” he said succinctly. –They know Rabastan’s dead and are already writing their headlines. Skeeter’s contacted me to ask what I intend to do with the contents of his vault. She plans to run a poll in the paper asking the readers to vote on various options, and asked me to contribute some ideas.”

–What did you tell her?”

–’No comment’,” Kingsley replied, wryly. –Sadly my position as Minister often restricts my vocabulary. Andromeda, they’ll have someone stationed at Gringotts, and Narcissa will know by now. You loathe publicity, and a Black family reunion would be just the story they’d love to splash on the front page, so I’m releasing you from any obligation you may have felt to help.”

He was wearing the same robes he’d worn at lunch. She could see a small smear of lipstick on his cheek where Fabienne had greeted him. Fabienne Fortescue, who had started all over again, without her husband and nothing of value except her own determination.

‘Up to you, love.’

–Accio Cloak!”

–Andromeda?”

–Come on, Minister, we have a vault to open. I’m not letting Rita Skeeter or Madam Malfoy get in the way of that!”

With a grin and a glint in his eyes, Kingsley pulled out a silver inkpot, and muttered, –Portus!”

She grasped it the same time as he did, gave him a conspiratorial wink, and then the pair of them whooshed away in the night.
Chapter 3 by Equinox Chick
Andromeda had always preferred Apparition to Portkeys. There was something about taking charge of one’s own destination, which forced her to concentrate. In her mind, Portkeys were less reliable because she couldn’t know exactly where she’d land. Howver she felt safe with Kingsley, and as they landed in an alleyway to the side of Gringotts, she felt his hand on her arm, steadying her in case she stumbled.

–Damn, Skeeter’s there with that reptilian photographer,” he muttered, peering around the corner.

–Can we use a side entrance?” she whispered.

–Not advisable,” he said grimly. –The goblins have strict Security Charms surrounding the bank, and if we attempt entry other than at the correct entrance, then a Caterwauling Charm will rouse the whole of Diagon Alley, and half of Knockturn, too.” He chewed the side of his mouth and glanced at her. –Disillusion Charms will disappear as soon as we approach, as will any Transfigured disguise. Sorry, Andromeda, I thought we had a little more time.”

–Come on,” she said stoutly, and stepped out into the main street. –I can say ‘no comment’ as well as the next person. And at least the Malfoys aren’t here yet.”

Rita Skeeter didn’t look surprised when she saw Kingsley, but her eyes widened when she realised just who he was accompanying.

–Andromeda Tonks, what brings you here so late at night with the Minister?” she asked, deftly removing her quill from behind her ear.

A flashlight went off, just after Kingsley raised his hand to ward off the photograph.

–Madam Tonks does not need your questions, Rita,” he began. –If you have anything-”

–No comment,” Andromeda replied, and tilted her face away from the camera.

–Come to open your cousin’s vault?” Rita persisted. –Only shouldn’t you wait for your sister?”

–No comment,” Andromeda said, still not looking up. Kingsley ushered her up the steps, but even with his looming presence, Rita skipped up the steps in front of them.

–What will you do with the money, Andromeda? Do you have a message for our readers? Can’t be easy for you these days.”

–No comment.”

–The Lestranges lived off the treasure of others,” Rita yelled. –Your sister stole treasure from Muggle-borns to keep You-Know-Who happy.”

Andromeda kept her face straight, knowing any attempt at a smile, sardonic or otherwise, would be distorted by The Daily Prophet to show her in the worst possible light. –No comment.”

–Still, it must be tough looking after a kid at your time of life,” Rita said, sounding friendly. She leant in, her face close to Andromeda’s and hissed, –How is the little cub?”

Andromeda flinched, the camera bulb flashed, but this time Kingsley wasn’t quick enough to prevent the photograph, because he’d moved sideways. Now he was physically moving Rita away from Andromeda, carrying her down the steps, much to the amusement of the photographer.

–I’ll have you for this, Minister!” she yelled, her fists pounding on his back.

–Silencio!” he boomed as he deposited her on the pavement. He bent over, speaking slowly and clearly to the furious journalist. –If you’re a good witch, Rita, then I might have a statement for you later. But you are NOT to harass Madam Tonks, or I will ensure the Auror Department investigate you very thoroughly. Do you understand?”

–Kingsley,” Andromeda called.

–It’s all right, Andromeda, Miss Skeeter’s not going to bother you now.”

–It’s not that,” she said. –The Malfoys have arrived. I can see them at the Floo point outside Flourish and Blotts.”

Quicker on his feet than she’d thought possible for such a heftily built man, Kingsley loped to the top of the steps, and hammered one fist on the door. –This is Minister Shacklebolt. I have an important meeting with Gorrick!”

Almost immediately, the doors creaked open. In the distance, Andromeda could see Narcissa, Lucius and a third figure she assumed to be Draco, striding towards the bank. Kingsley slipped through the doors, then pulled her through, before slamming them shut.

–Gorrick,” he said, inclining his head respectfully, and pulling out a sheaf of papers. –This is Rabastan Lestrange’s heir, Andromeda Tonks. I have the proof here.”

–Blood will tell,” Gorrick replied, and walked forward to study Andromeda. He was short, wizened as all goblins were, with a disdainful expression on his face. Andromeda wasn’t sure she’d met him before, her account whilst not deprived of money, certainly didn’t hold any treasures that would interest the Head Goblin. But there was a glimmer of interest in his shrewd eyes as he surveyed her.

–Madam Tonks,” he rasped. –If you are not a true Rosier, then you will not be able to enter the vault. And imposters will be dealt with severely.”

She arched her eyebrows. –Oh, I am a Rosier - that is not in any doubt.”

He bowed low. –Then come this way. There is a cart waiting and Bedrug will take you both down to the depths.”

–There’s one more thing,” Kingsley said, turning back to Gorrick. –Madam Malfoy is about to arrive. I suspect that’s her knocking now. If there is a way to-–

Gorrick stared at him. –As she also is an heir, I cannot prevent her from examining the Lestrange vault,” he replied. –However, she has made no appointment with me, and there will be preliminaries to get through before I will allow her access.”

Kingsley grinned, and if Andromeda hadn’t known this was a goblin in front of them, she’d have sworn he gave them both a wink.

Bedrug gave no wink. Bedrug was a grim faced goblin who gave nothing more than a grunt in acknowledgement that they were in his cart. Setting off with a jolt, before they’d properly settled into the cramped cart, Andromeda stumbled, falling into Kingsley. Then as she righted herself, the cart jolted again and she staggered backwards.

His hand grabbed her cloak, reeling her towards him, his arm around her waist as he sat her down.

–Careful with the cart!” he rapped to the goblin. –Madam Tonks nearly fell.”

–I’m fine,” Andromeda assured him, –and we don’t want to slow down, do we? Narcissa could be right behind us.”

–True, but I’d rather we got there alive and uninjured,” Kingsley replied.

–I never realised you were so cautious, Kingsley,” she said, half mocking. –What happened to the fearless Auror?”

–I’m not reckless with other people’s lives,” he said, and turned back to Begrud.

She felt rebuked. It hadn’t been her intention to belittle him, but that’s clearly what he’d perceived. Caution was something she’d always advocated, time and time again with Dora.

‘You weren’t cautious with me, Dromeda.’

–I was younger then,” she muttered softly so Kingsley couldn’t hear. –And you were worth any risk.”

They travelled in silence for a few more minutes, Kingsley unspeaking. But his hand was clutching the side of the cart so hard she could see the whites of his knuckles.

–Vault 830,” announced the goblin, braking suddenly. He half turned towards Andromeda. –There’s a Blood Charm on the door. It’ll only open for you.”

Accepting Kingsley’s arm, she got out of the cart and stood outside the vault. Hers and Ted’s vault was much higher up, where the air was clearer and the light brighter. Here it was dank, dingy, and the smell of musty soil and fusty breath pervaded the air.

–What do I do?” she asked Begrud.

–Place your palm flat on the door,” he muttered, his lip curling scornfully.

–Wait a minute!” Kingsley stepped in front of her stopping her before she’d even flexed her hand. –What would happen if Madam Tonks had been disinherited?”

Begrud shrugged. –She’ll get hurt.”

–Andromeda, if Hermione is wrong, then-–

But she didn’t listen. All she could hear, in fact, was the whirr and clank and furious shouts of another cart, as someone far above them urged the goblin to drive faster.

–That’s Narcissa,” she said, and stepped up to the door. There was a palm print, bigger than her hand, embedded in the granite. The realisation that the last person who’d used it had been Lestrange at that moment hit her, and she shuddered. But despite the impending fear that threatened to engulf her, she raised her hand and placed it on the impression.

The door to the vault scraped open, metal against hewn rock, the sound setting her teeth on edge. Kingsley stepped in front of Andromeda, his wand raised, but didn’t enter.

–Narcissa is getting closer,” she whispered.

–Preliminaries, first,” Kingsley muttered, and waved his wand at the heap of gold Galleons in the front corner.

They shimmered and several coins spilt onto the floor, one landing just by Andromeda’s foot. She bent down, but Kingsley tugged on her arm. –I should examine it first.”

–I’m the one with the blood tie, Kingsley,” she replied, but instead of picking it up, she poked at the Galleon with her wand, flipping it over until it landed on her shoe. Kingsley’s hand clenched on hers, but nothing happened, except they heard a faint ‘chink’ as it clicked against her shoe buckle.

–It’s just a Galleon. Rabastan was a treasure hoarder, after all.” she said, and started to laugh as she held it in her hand. She peered inside, but didn’t walk in. As well as Galleons, Rabastan had accumulated a stack of possessions. There were one or two she recognised - her mother’s portrait in a silver frame and a set of jewel encrusted goblets that her father had used for mead - but the rest were either Lestrange relics, or possessions they’d stolen.–Begrud, we need to go inside to make an inventory, but I don’t want the Malfoys to disturb us. Is it possible to keep them away?”

–The door will close after you,” he muttered, his eyes glinting malevolently. Then he paused. –The Malfoys, you say.”

–Yes, Madam Malfoy has rights to the vault.”

The goblin hurried over. –There is another impression inside the vault,” Begrud explained. –It will open, when you wish to leave. As for the Malfoys ...” He trailed off, almost smiling. –Gedlunk is not as experienced as I am with the deeper vaults and their history.”

Emboldened, especially as the sound from the Malfoys ‘ cart was getting louder, the both stepped over the threshold. The door slid shut behind them, and they could hear nothing from the outside.

–Do you trust that goblin?” Kingsley asked as he conjured a sphere of light to illuminate the contents.

–Now you ask me!” she reproved, but turning to him, she smiled. –Oddly enough, I do. He certainly appeared to be on our side, don’t you think?”

–Mmm, he did,” replied Kingsley. He began to cast a variety of counter-curses. –What do you think that is over there?”

Andromeda peered at the object. It had a square and covered with a ragged blanket, standing out in a room filled with so much treasure. Peeping out from the cover, she spied a wooden foot with claws. –I think it’s my grandmother’s cabinet,” she murmured, –I remember getting trapped inside it once, but it had a ... a ...” She gestured with her hands, not sure how to explain. –Like a back board, you know in an arch shape. That’s been removed.”

Kingsley frowned. –Perhaps there’s something valuable inside it,” he said, and with one flick of his wand, he levitated the blanket into the air.

It was the wrong thing to do. Before the blanket had even landed, the doors to the cabinet swung open. The light from the sphere dulled to nothing as the vault was encased in darkness. And then the blackness swirled in front of Andromeda, solidifying into a smaller shape. Her eyes misted over, tears welling.

–Teddy,” she cried, and ran forwards as the little boy lay on his back, his eyes glassy and unseeing, a rivulet of blood streaming from his mouth.

–NO!” Kingsley leapt forwards, shoving Andromeda behind him. She screamed as the little boy disintegrated into a mass of dust, leaving her hollow and helpless.

–What have you done? What have you done?” she shrieked and pummelled on Kingsley’s back.

–It’s not real, Andromeda. Lestrange has planted some kind of Boggart in the cupboard. Watch... it’s changing.”

The mass of dust reformed around Kingsley, settling into another solid figure. Another Kingsley, one chained and writhing as earth and rubble crushed him. In an almost bored voice, Kingsley shot a spell at his Boggart self, and the chains became feathers, causing it to sneeze so loudly the rubble blasted away. He laughed loudly, Andromeda tried to join in, but after all this time, summoning up a happy thought was beyond her.

–Sorry,” she mumbled, furiously rubbing at her eyes. –I’m not much use here if I can’t even deal with a Boggart.”

–That wasn’t the normal type of Boggart,” Kingsley replied. –It fed not only on your greatest fear, but your deepest despair.” He ran his hand over his face. –I had some experience of these in Egypt in the pyramids. Because they live undisturbed in enclosed places surrounded by Dark Magic, they assume a more sinister aspect.”

Trying to recover some of her usual cool, she bent down by the cabinet. –It is my grandmother’s,” she said. –I was locked inside it once. But there’s not much more I recognise.”

Gingerly, Kingsley began to explore the stack of paintings, frowning at some, uninterested in others, until he pulled one out. With a grim expression, he showed her the portrait.

–Isn’t that...” She flinched. –Merlin, that is them, isn’t it?”

–Frank and Alice Longbottom, yes,” he replied. –The Lestranges liked their trophies, it seems.”

Aware the Malfoys would be close, they worked quickly, Kingsley pulling out items, whilst Andromeda noted down any possible provenance. He emptied a tea chest full of china cups and a large silver teapot.

–I’ve seen that,” Andromeda muttered.

–Your mother’s?” he asked.

–No. Dirk Cresswell’s. I was friendly with his wife for a while. It’s Muggle made, I’m sure.”

He turned it over, examined the small symbols stamped on the bottom and grimaced. –I think you’re right,” he replied. He stretched, flexing his shoulders. –Andromeda, this could take all night and all tomorrow. Are you sure you want to continue?”

–And have Narcissa benefit? No chance.”

–I can cast other spells,” he said, and stifled a yawn. –It should be easy enough. We might have to compromise with the Malfoys, as Narcissa is of Rosier blood, but it would stop them coming in and just taking what they want.”

She found herself yawning with him, and nodded her head in agreement. As Kingsley began to cast a range of Shield Charms, imbuing them with his own brand of authority, Andromeda examined the Cresswells’ teapot. It was dented and tarnished, not that valuable to a wizard, or even to Muggles in this state. Dirk’s widow might appreciate its return, but only for sentimental value. It was a trophy, as Kingsley had said, something for Rabastan to gloat over.

–Just this last corner,” Kingsley called. –And then you can open the - Ow!”

Alarmed, she looked around. Kingsley was smiling ruefully and he held up his hand. –Just a scratch. There’s a tapestry here depicting the Lestrange family tree. I’ve seen something similar in Grimmauld Place.” He stood back, waved his wand again, and pronounced himself satisfied.

–Right, shall we face the Malfoys?” she asked, and tried to repress an insane urge to giggle. Because however hard she tried to pretend that this was all to help those abused by the Lestranges, there was a part of her that only wanted to thwart Narcissa. As Kingsley nodded, she fixed a serious expression on her face and opened the vault door.

–What are you doing in there?” Lucius’s furious voice reached her before Narcissa could react.

–Begrud, thank you,” Andromeda said. –We’ll be leaving now.”

Lucius grabbed her arm, his fingers biting into her arm. –You will not leave without telling us why you are here!”

Mildly surprised that Kingsley hadn’t intervened, she looked Lucius up and down. –I would have thought that was obvious, even for you,” she said coolly. –My mother was a Rosier.”

–You were disinherited!” spat Narcissa.

–Apparently not.” She stared at Lucius’s hand on her arm, then glanced at his son. –Your son must be very proud of you, manhandling a woman simply to get your own way,” she whispered.

It did the trick. Lucius released her and stepped to one side. Now free, Andromeda looked over her shoulder to where Kingsley was leaning against the vault door. Narcissa eyed him warily, clearly respecting the power of the man, who was after all the Minister of Magic. The Malfoys may have disliked Kingsley Shacklebolt, but they understood the importance of staying on his right side.

She waited for Kingsley to step forward, to explain the procedures for opening the vault, and what they had discovered, but then he shot her a look, and his eyes betrayed something else. She returned to his side. Up close, sweat was beading on his forehead, and his eyes were glazing over.

–What’s the matter?” she said in undertone.

–My hand. I don’t know if something was on that tapestry needle, but I can’t move it.”

Pressing her lips together, Andromeda fixed a tight smile on her face and shielded him as she faced Narcissa. –We are making an inventory of what the vault contains. Rabastan appears to have treasures that belonged to Muggle-borns and other victims from both wars. I’m sure the Malfoys would not want to be associated with that sort of prize,” she said, and her gaze flickered to Draco. They locked looks, and then he turned away.

–There’s a portrait of Mother,” Andromeda continued. –And Father’s goblets. There’s also that cabinet of Grandmother’s, but it’s been hacked down.”

–I want to see for myself,” Narcissa said. –It is my right, and Draco’s.”

–Yes, I agree. Draco should understand exactly how vile his relations were,” Andromeda replied. –Narcissa, I will fight you if the confiscated possessions are not returned to their rightful owners. It’s late now. The Minister has placed the vault under many protective spells, which you will find hard to dismantle.”

–Undo them, Shacklebolt!” Lucius said coldly. –You have no right to keep my wife from her inheritance.”

Kingsley cleared his throat. To Andromeda it appeared every movement was painful for him, but he stepped up to Lucius, eyeing him coldly, radiating power and authority. –Your wife will not be cheated out of anything that is rightfully hers,” he said slowly. –And neither will Madam Tonks. We shall return here another time. The goblins can take a proper inventory for us all, and then the contents can be redistributed.” He took a breath. –Do not fight me, Malfoy. You cannot win.”

–If my wife loses her inheritance...” Lucius persisted.

–Who would care?” Andromeda replied, and laughed because she knew it would infuriate him. –Lucius, your standing in the magical community is still so very low. Protestations that a war hero and a war widow have robbed you, will fall on excessively deaf ears.” She turned back to Kingsley, not betraying the concern she felt when she looked into his eyes.

–Begrud, would you drive us back, please?”

Linking arms, she ushered Kingsley into the cart, praying he wouldn’t stumble, or show any sign of weakness in front of Lucius. Begrud drove off, fast but smoothly, not jolting the cart as he had on his way down.

–Shall I take you to St Mungo’s?”

–Not unless you have to,” he muttered. –It will appear in the Prophet.” His good hand clutched hers. –Andromeda, the Portkey is in my pocket. It will get us to your house, and then you can call a Healer.”

–I might be able to treat you myself,” she said. –I think it likely that the tapestry was impregnated with a Doxycide. I know Walburga used it to stop the Doxies attacking her tapestry. It’s entirely possible she got the idea from my mother.”

–The Minister of Magic felled by a common household Potion,” he said, and started to laugh feebly. –I’ll never live that down.”

She smiled, feeling immense relief that he could joke, despite the pain, and squeezed his good hand.

–Madam Tonks,” Begrud said a while later. –We’re approaching the entrance to Gringotts. The Malfoys are following. Would you like me to take you to a side door?”

She nodded. –That would be perfect, Begrud.”

He grunted something, then eased up by a small aisle. –Go through there, and it will lead you to the goblin entrance.”

–You’ve been very helpful,” Andromeda said as she helped Kingsley out of the cart. –Thank you!”

–I do not need your thanks,” he growled. –Rabastan Lestrange was complicit in the murder of my father, Gornuk. The Malfoys housed him. I can’t forget that.”

Supporting Kingsley, Andromeda staggered through the passageway. Clearly suffering now, he leant heavily against her, and his head flopped forwards. Flinging open the door, she pushed him into the fresh air, heartened when he gulped greedily at the air.

–Portkey,” he muttered, pulling out the inkpot from his robe. –Andromeda, activate this and get us home.”
Chapter 4 by Equinox Chick
Kingsley didn’t wince when she examined his hand, and this worried her. He’d said he couldn’t move his fingers, but she hadn’t realised that meant he couldn’t feel anything.

–Good job it’s not my wand hand.” The joke belied the fear in his eyes. It may not have been the hand he favoured, but if the loss of sensation spread ...

Rummaging through her medicine cupboard, Andromeda sorted through the herbs, pulling out the several she needed. Her fingers touched something small and hard.

–Take this,” she said, handing him a Bezoar. –It’s more effective with ingested poisons, but it will keep the Doxycide at bay, at least until I can mix a suitable paste to draw out the poison.”

–You know what you’re talking about,” he muttered.

–My Black legacy,” she said blithely.

–You sound ashamed of that.” he said and swallowed the Bezoar.

Surprised, she burst into laughter. –Ashamed of being related to pure-blood maniacs. Merlin forfend!”

–I knew five members of the Black family,” Kingsley replied quietly. –Only one would I consider to have been truly evil. Another is ignorant. But three ...” He touched her arm with one finger. –Sirius was one of the finest men I ever knew. Regulus came good in the end, and you, Andromeda...”

–I did nothing,” she retorted, pulling away.

–You were there when it mattered to stop spreading all that hate and raising an outstanding daughter. Sirius’s rebellion may have been louder, but yours, Andromeda, left a more important legacy.”

She didn’t speak, instead turning to her herbs and oils, pounding them into a pale green paste that she hoped would do the trick.

‘He’s not wrong there, Dromeda.’

With a blank expression, she sat down next to Kingsley and cleaned his hand. –This will hurt. I don’t mean a sting - it will burn. Doxycide works by paralysing the nerves. In small doses, we’d feel nothing, but I’m guessing that Rabastan deliberately laced the tapestry with a stronger solution. The antidote I’ve mixed works by neutralising the poison, but while it drains from your system, it will be painful.”

–How long for?” he asked.

–Four, maybe five hours,” she replied. –You can stay here. In fact, you’ll have to because I need to make sure it’s applied every hour. Or I can take you now to St Mungo’s.”

He considered, but only for the briefest of moments. –I suppose a Firewhisky’s out of the question to take away the pain.”

Her mouth quivered into a smile. –I might have a bottle somewhere. Ted and Remus used to enjoy the occasional glass,” she said levelly.

Kingsley braced himself for the paste, grimacing as she began to apply it onto the minuscule wound. –I seem to remember Tonks wasn’t averse to a drop herself.”

‘Don’t listen to him, Mum!’

Oh, hush, Nymphadora. I knew you liked a drink.


Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister for Magic, was a success because he was fair, strong and got things done. He was also tough, his years as an Auror and the Second War had made him that way. It was this toughness, this stoicism, that brought him through the first hour of pain. Andromeda had been preparing herself for his anguish and anger, but after his initial shout as the first wave of antidote met the poison, he managed to keep a lid on his cries. It was when she applied the paste for the second time that his strength began to wane.

She’d led him by then to the living room, ensuring he was comfortable on the sofa, whilst she sat opposite.

–How much longer?” he said, through gritted teeth.

–Two, maybe three hours.” She nudged the glass towards him. –Have some Firewhisky.”

He was perspiring again, and she started to wonder if she’d have to send for a Healer after all, but the one thing he was insistent upon, was that he be left alone.

–This can’t reach the papers,” he rasped. –I can’t be weak.”

–You’re not,” she pleaded. –You’re in pain. Let me find a Healer, or Poppy Pomfrey, perhaps. I’ll be gone a matter of minutes, Kingsley.”

He shook his head, then growled at the effort it cost him. –Stay here and distract me instead.”

–How? Shall I read to you? Will the radio help?”

–Talk to me about Teddy,” he gasped.

So, after Summoning the photographs she had of him, and settling them on the coffee table, Andromeda began to talk about her grandson. Small things: the way he woke up with brown hair after a peaceful night, but red if he’d been restless. How he currently hated the colour green (‘although that’s probably because he loathes broccoli’) so used blue for grass.

Kingsley listened to her tales, his face contorting as he grimaced through the pain, before finally rasping, –Is he like Tonks?”

–Dora,” she automatically corrected, then sighed. –In some ways, yes. Obviously he’s a Metamorphmagus, so everyone assumes he’s the same as his mother, but when he’s not changing his features, he resembles Remus and ...” She swallowed. –There’s a look of Ted about him. Not much of me.”

Wincing, Kingsley grappled for the most recent photograph: Teddy grinning as Harry chased him around the garden. –He has your eyes, Andromeda. And your smile, although-” He stopped speaking shifted his position and downed more Firewhisky. –You don’t smile enough, which is a shame because you have a beautiful smile.”

She let the remark slide, knowing he was the worse the wear for alcohol and in pain. –He has her determination,” she continued. –And -”

‘He’s complimenting you again, you know. And he’s not that drunk.’

–Oh hush, you!”

–Sorry?”

–Nothing,” she said, and sought for something else to say. –Harry’s very good with Teddy. I was a little perplexed when Dora and Remus declared he’d be the godfather, but they were right. Teddy adores him.”

–He had a shit childhood,” Kingsley muttered. –I suspect it helps him, too.”

They relaxed back into silence, Kingsley’s eyes drooped, but she stayed awake and watched for any signs that he was improving. She was sure enough of her skill not to doubt the diagnosis, but the problem was that the strength of the Doxycide was unknown. She sat and brooded, her eyes flickering from his face and back to his arm, yet as far as she could tell nothing had changed.

He shifted on the sofa and the movement woke him. –This is starting to feel better,” Kingsley muttered, and flexed his fingers. –You should have been a Healer.”

A wave of nostalgia hit her. –I thought about it,” she said. –Potions was always my best subject, but ... well ... I was rather distracted in my seventh year and completely messed up the exam.”

–Was this distraction Ted?”

Her mouth moved into a rueful smile. –Mmm. We eloped shortly after. I could have retaken the exam - Ted certainly wanted me to - but I had other priorities.”

–Like what?”

–Like keeping my head down and hiding from my father,” she said wryly.

–Shame to have wasted your talent,” he replied.

–It wasn’t wasted!” she retorted, a sudden rush of irritation disturbing her usual composure. –I worked for an Apothecary after we married and at St Mungo’s once Dora had gone to school. Besides, I didn’t have the right temperament for a Healer. Not enough patience and my bedside manner was - and still is - shocking!”

Although he laughed, he looked weary. –I think your lack of fuss is exactly what I need. And it’s nice to see some of that fire again, Andromeda.”

Faintly annoyed that she’d so easily risen to the bait, Andromeda rose from her seat, telling him she was going to mix more paste. She took her time, not nearly as worried about Kingsley as she had been the few hours before, lingering to make up a plate of sandwiches and some cocoa.

–You certainly look much better,” she said on her return. –Your eyes are brighter, and your skin isn’t as clammy.”

–Have I avoided a visit to St Mungo’s?” he asked.

She sat on the edge of the sofa and examined his hand. There was still an angry looking puncture mark where the needle had penetrated, and the skin surrounding it had developed a purplish hue, but as she slid her fingers up his forearm, she noted with relief, that his skin was no longer hot to the touch.

–I think so,” she said. –Drink the cocoa, its sweetness will help.”

–Yes, ma’am,” he said, but he wasn’t mocking her; she could see that from his eyes which held only gratitude. –I owe you for this.”

Sipping her cocoa, she eyed him with scepticism. –I strongly suspect, Minister, that the reason you don’t wish to visit St Mungo’s has far more to do with my hatred of the press than yours.”

He wouldn’t quite meet her gaze, helping himself to a sandwich before answering. –An injury could make me look weak.”

–Nonsense! It makes you look as if you’re still willing to put yourself at risk.”

–Foolhardy and reckless, that’s what Rita Skeeter would say.”

–Brave and courteous,” she countered. –You didn’t have to accompany me, Kingsley.”

–You make me sound like a Gryffindor.”

Shaking her head, she placed her mug carefully on the table, and picked up the bowl of paste. –You weren’t at all reckless, but quick-witted and clear thinking. It was your lack of knowledge regarding the tapestry that caused the injury.”

–I should have talked to you before I touched it,” he said ruefully, examining his hand. –Thinking I have the answers has always been my problem.”

–Worrying that I don’t has always been mine,” she said wryly. There was a small silence. She bit into a sandwich, and searched for something to say, but she’d exhausted the subject of Teddy, and she couldn’t face discussing Dora, who was the only other person they had in common.

–The vault didn’t only hold stolen treasure, you know,” Kingsley said. He’d resumed drinking his Firewhisky, small sips and not the gulps from earlier. –There should be a sizeable amount left for you, even after Narcissa’s taken her share.”

–I have enough,” she said. –And I’m sure Rabastan didn’t mean me to have anything. He would have thought I’d been disinherited.”

–Mmm, curious that,” he murmured.

–What’s curious?”

–Well, the Black family felt so strongly about you, that you were blasted off the family tree. I remember Tonks not able to get Kreacher to obey her, because the blood tie had been severed. So, you would have thought ...”

–Thought what?” she demanded, a frown creasing her forehead.

–That your mother would have done the same to protect the Rosier inheritance. But she didn’t.”

–That means nothing!”

He leant forward. –You said you were scared of your father. Perhaps your mother would have been more sympathetic.”

–I was hexed so badly when Narcissa informed my father that she’d seen me with a ‘Mudblood’, that I couldn’t leave my bed for a week. My mother may not have cast those curses, but she didn’t protect me, either.” She swallowed then, Summoning a glass, poured herself a shot of Firewhisky. –As a mother, the most important thing you do is to protect your child from everything.. So ... yes, Druella may well have been sympathetic, but she did nothing to help me. She never even saw Dora. What type of woman doesn’t want to see her own grandchild!”

–The money’s still there,” Kingsley said softly, when there was a lull between words. –And whilst it won’t set you up for life, it would certainly make a difference to Teddy.”

–He doesn’t want for anything!” she snapped.

–But spending it on his future is surely better than leaving it to moulder in a vault.”

–So practical!”

–Not a bad quality, surely.” He drained his glass. –Just think about it, Andromeda. That’s all I’m saying.”

–I have,” she replied, adding in a more measured tone. –But I will think again.”

She applied more paste. This time an indrawn breath was the only acknowledgement she had from Kingsley that the medicine stung. The skin on his forearm had returned to its normal colour: dark treacle with a hint of burnished gold. Smooth and warm, dark satin, velvety soft ...

Gods, what has got into me!

‘Ha, ha, ha, Mum, you like him!’

***


Telling herself that she needed to watch over Kingsley, Andromeda insisted he stay the night. They talked a little more, then she found blankets and settled him on the sofa, whilst she sat by the fire and watched the flames dwindle to embers.

–You can leave me here,” he murmured, now very drowsy. –I’ll call if I feel bad.”

–I’ll stay,” she replied. –I catnap at the best of times, and the nights I’ve spent in this chair are too many to count.”

–You’re a good woman, Madam Tonks.” He yawned, his eyelids drooping. –You must allow me to buy you lunch again ... or dinner.”

–There’s no need,” she said, but Kingsley was already asleep.

She cleared the photographs from the table, arranging them back on their shelves. The last one, the photograph of Teddy with Harry, she placed next to Dora’s wedding photo - a hurried snapshot, but no one could deny how happy they looked.

–I was vile to you, Remus,” she said, tracing her son-in-law’s face with her finger. –I was wrong, I know that, but I hope you know it was only to protect my girl.”

‘He knows, Mum.’

Managing four hours of sleep, Andromeda awoke when she heard a small cough. Kingsley was awake, standing in front of her with a tray of tea, looking brighter and far more composed than he had last night.

–Forgive me for waking you, Andromeda, but I should leave,” he said, and smiled. –Rita will have a field day if I’m late for work, especially if I’m still wearing the same clothes as yesterday.”

Getting to her feet, Andromeda was about to offer him a proper breakfast, when a loud hammering on the door startled them both.

–Madam Tonks,” screeched Rita Skeeter. –Your sister tells me you wouldn’t let her in the vault, and that you left with the Minister. Any comment?”

–Hell!” Kingsley flattened himself against the wall, peering out of the sitting room to the front door. –She’s got a photographer with her as well. Look, I can deal with this. I can force her to leave, but then she’ll know I’ve been here.”

She didn’t need to think. –Go,” she ordered. –I can handle Rita.”

He pulled out his Portkey, tapping it with his wand until it began to glow. Then, darting away from the wall, he bent his head forwards to peck her cheek.

At least that’s what she’d thought he meant to do, but at the same time he moved, she twisted her face around. Their lips met. She should have pulled away. She could still hear Rita screeching on her doorstep, but no other voices invaded her brain. Time slowed, and all she could feel was Kingsley’s mouth on hers, and then his arms around her waist, pulling her close.

–Come on, Andromeda!” cried Rita. –What have you got to hide?”

–You need to go,” Andromeda mumbled, and pulled away.

Kingsley gazed at her, his hand reached towards her face, but then he checked himself. –I do have to go. But we will speak. Over dinner, perhaps?”

–Not tonight,” she said. –Teddy will be back.”

–Any evening you choose,” he replied. –But we should talk, Andromeda.”

She swallowed, and raising her hand to her mouth, she traced the place where his lips had been. –Yes, we will.”
Chapter 5 by Equinox Chick
–He won’t be long,” said the rosy-cheeked witch. –Would you like a cup of tea? Or maybe this young wizard would like a drink?” She crouched down to Teddy. –Would you like some pumpkin juice?”

Teddy scowled and shook his head. –S’nasty.”

–Teddy!” Andromeda reproved. She grimaced at the witch. –I’m sorry; my grandson has taken a peculiar aversion to the colour orange today. I would like some tea, unless he’ll be back very soon.”

The witch smiled and tucked a strand of her wispy brown hair behind her ear. –He’s in a meeting with the Minister. Merlin knows how long that will take, but Harry does know you’re waiting.”

–Then tea would be wonderful,” she murmured, trying not to let the mention of Kingsley disturb her composure.

It was a week later and she hadn’t seen Kingsley since he’d left her house. A combination of Teddy developing a strange rash (which she couldn’t be at all sure wasn’t for attention) Rita Skeeter door-stepping her for quotes, and Kingsley’s workload which took him to Belgium for two days, had meant they’d not had a chance to speak. He’d sent some flowers with a small note repeating the offer of dinner, to which she’d responded with a hurried thank you. But she’d been unable to reply with a firm date for dinner because, despite knowing Molly would be happy to babysit, she didn’t want the questions before and after. However, an opportunity had presented itself this morning when an owl had arrived at her kitchen window. An owl that had excited Teddy into a frenzy.

Harry bowled into the room. –Aghh, Andromeda. So sorry I’m late. Kingsley summoned me for a meeting about Thicknesse’s appeal. It was apparently very important, but then he spent most of the time staring out the window.” He looked round the room. –Where’s Teddy?”

–He’s ...” Andromeda stifled a laugh, and with the minutest gesture of her head, indicated Harry’s chair behind the desk. –I have no idea, Harry. Teddy must have gone on an important mission.”

–Oh, I see,” Harry said slowly, and crept around his desk. –Then who is this hiding in my chair?”

–Hawwy!” Teddy leapt from the chair, catapulting himself into Harry’s arms with glee.

There was no mistaking the happiness on Harry’s face. His smile beamed across the room, even as Teddy reached up and knocked his glasses askew.

–Ready for our adventure?”

–Teddy’s been ready all day,” Andromeda replied. –The question is, Harry, are you?”

–Got the tent. Molly’s packed enough food to last us a week rather than the weekend, and Ron’s bought lots of Chocolate Frogs.”

–I think you’re looking forward to this more than Teddy,” Andromeda laughed.

–Yeah, well, I never had the chance when I was a kid,” he muttered.

A rotten childhood, Kingsley had said. Andromeda didn’t know the specifics, but Remus had once told her that Harry’s home was Hogwarts. She realised now that they’d shared that connection, all three of them. Remus had been ostracised from everywhere but school, Harry mistreated by those who should have cared for him, and she ... Andromeda had been a misfit, a quiet rebel, only finding happiness in her seventh year with Ted.

–We’ll take good care of him,” Harry assured her.

–I know,” she replied as she lifted Teddy from him for a cuddle. –You be a good boy. Not too much chocolate, and no playing with Harry’s wand.”

He accepted her kiss without saying yuck, then wriggled to be set free, but Andromeda wasn’t finished yet. Sitting him on Harry’s desk, she wiped his face, straightened his shirt and then ruffled his hair. It turned pink - bubblegum pink.

‘My baby!’

Struggling with tears, desperate not to show any emotion in front of Teddy, Andromeda sat back on her chair, and busied herself with tying his laces.

There was a knock on the door, the man entering before Harry answered. –Harry, I meant to ask - Oh!”

–Kingsley, can it wait?” Harry muttered. –Only, I’ve got plans with Teddy.”

–I didn’t know you had company,” Kingsley said, and gave Andromeda a small bow.

Teddy looked up at him, his mouth open and his eyes wide. Andromeda could see why. In stiff purple robes and a gold trimmed hat, Kingsley exuded majesty. –Are you nimportant like Hawwy?” he asked, awestruck.

Removing his hat, Kingsley grinned at him. –Not really. Your godfather catches baddies. I sit behind a desk and drink a lot of coffee. Harry, it was... um... a budget issue and can wait.”

–Great. Come on, Teddy. Let’s go and meet Ron.”

–Won!” Teddy exclaimed, giggling again. –Won-Won.”

Harry smirked. –Yeah, keep calling him that.”He kissed Andromeda on the cheek, grabbed Teddy’s hand and his bag, and made for the door. –See you Sunday, Andromeda.”

–Bye, Gwandma.”

She watched them leave, waving Teddy off all the way until they’d disappeared from the office and into the corridor, his pink hair now changing to black like Harry’s. Beside her, Kingsley said nothing, but she knew he was giving her sidelong glances. It was as if a veil had descended between them. The easy air of informality that had evolved after last week’s adventure had dissipated to be replaced with an uncertain mist.

–How is the hand?” she asked formally. –Any side effects?”

–None. You’ve managed Rita Skeeter well, I notice. If she has been bothering you, though, I can talk to the Editor,” he said politely.

–And get everyone talking?” She shook her head. –I told Rita I’d give her an exclusive interview when I’ve made a decision about the money, as long as she left me alone.”

–And have you?”

–Not yet. I’d like to talk it over with someone first.” She took a breath and tilted her face up to his. –With you?” she asked. –Harry has Teddy, so I’m free... for dinner, if the offer’s still open.”


No matter how discreet Fabienne’s restaurant was, the distinction between lunch with a friend and a dinner for two was a distinction both Andromeda and Kingsley knew Rita Skeeter (not to mention Molly Weasley) would exploit. Instead, Kingsley invited her round to his house at eight that evening, promising only that he wouldn’t serve cheese on toast. She agreed, because not only did she want to pick his brains regarding the idea that had been germinating in her mind, but because, she admitted to herself, she wanted to see Kingsley again. Their kiss had disrupted her thoughts, no matter how often she tried to suppress it.

–I’m too old for this!” she exclaimed, even as she smoothed out the creases in her green velvet robes.

But there was no reply. No dissenting voices, no matter how hard she listened, and no advice from moving pictures, however long she studied them. Ted laughed and Dora waved, but they were silent. She picked up a photograph on the edge of the mantelpiece. Remus gazed at her, a tentative smile because he hadn’t been used to happiness. It was the only one she had of him alone, taken from Dora’s bedroom when they’d gone. Andromeda touched his face then placed him beside Dora, whose Lumos-like smile beamed across the room.

–Ugh!” She caught sight of herself in the mirror, scrubbed off the majority of the blusher and toned down the lipstick. –Now I look like a bloody ghost!” she cried, exasperated. –And this dress is too much. It’s just dinner!”

Applying a little more blusher and a sliver of lipstick, she stared back at the woman in the mirror. Nearly fifty years old, and only a few grey strands stippled her dark hair. It wasn’t that she’d taken particular care of herself, after the Battle she’d become painfully thin, but a certain rigid pride in looking her best had never quite deserted her, even after she’d lost her world. It was ten to eight, and as much as she knew she could be fashionably late, if she hesitated much longer, she wouldn’t leave at all.

–I can’t go. What am I thinking?” she told herself. –I’ll tell Kingsley I have a headache.”

‘You have to grab your chances, Andromeda, however much they terrify you. If I hadn’t, then you wouldn’t have Teddy.’

A sharp intake of breath. She twisted around. –Remus!”

But there was no one there.

***


Kingsley greeted her with a smile and a slight widening of the eyes. Whether he was pleased with what he saw, or was surprised, she wasn’t sure. He was wearing - well, not old robes, but certainly nothing too smart. He looked informal, and that made her want to turn tail and Disapparate. Convinced she’d misjudged his invitation, she sorely regretted both the make up and the dress. It was too much, far too much, for a supper at home. With a friend.

–Aperitif?” he offered, taking her cloak as he ushered her into his brightly lit lounge.

–Wine, thank you,” she said.

Refusing the sofa piled with plump cushions, Andromeda perused the room on foot. There was smell in the room, like burning, but not unpleasant. It was as if he’d lit candles, then snuffed them out. Kingsley had good taste- at least the room was decorated to her taste if she could have lived alone. Minimalistic, there were no ornaments, save for a photograph of the last Order of the Phoenix. Dora and Sirius laughing together, Remus watching the pair of them, whilst Kingsley stared straight at the camera, as if aware of the momentousness of the tasks ahead.

–Dinner will be about half an hour. I’m afraid I had trouble with the paté, which is a little ... runny,” Kingsley said as he approached with a drink.

–You cooked?”

–Yes. I like cooking, I just don’t get much chance. As this was rather a last minute invitation, I’m afraid I’ve fallen back on old favourites.”

–Steak with a twist of pepper?” she teased.

–No, I decided on swordfish, which meant mussels for the first course were a bad idea.” Taking a sip of his own wine, Kingsley ushered her to the sofa. –So you wished to discuss something with me.”

Ah, we’ll do that now, then. She cleared her throat. –Yes, I had this idea, but I’m not sure how it would work in practise.”

–Fire away. I am, after all, very practical.”

–As I told you, I don’t need the money. Teddy doesn’t want for anything.” She swallowed. –Except parents. And my fear is that as much as I try to keep them alive and cherished in his mind, he is going to encounter so many horrible prejudices about his father.”

–Yes, sadly he won’t escape from that,” Kingsley murmured.

–With that in my mind, I’ve decided that the bulk of the money will go to Lycanthropy research. I want to change perceptions as well as find, if not a cure, then other ways of easing the condition.” Pausing, she took a breath, and her eyes dwelled on Kingsley’s photograph. –I was horrible to Remus, as ignorant as a troll. I judged him only on his condition and not what he actually was. Sometimes when I look at Teddy, I wonder how I can live with myself.”

–Remus understood,” Kingsley said.

–I know, but it changes nothing. Anyway, that’s just part of it,” she said, briskly changing the subject. –The thing is, I don’t want Teddy’s definition of his father to be only that he was a werewolf - however brave. I want him to have other things to remember, and revere.” She wetted her lips. –Harry tells me Remus was the best Defence teacher he ever had. It was certainly a time in his life when he was happy. So, I will need to speak to Minerva, but I’ve decided to donate some money to Hogwarts to fund a prize for the best Defence student, or most improved, perhaps. I think Remus would prefer the latter.”

Kingsley was silent. His attention wandered from her face, to the photograph, and then back to her. –I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

–Oh, good. I was worried it was mawkish, or impractical, but it also seemed fitting.”

–I will look into Ministry funding for Lycanthropic research, too,” he mused. –At the moment, we’re trying to subsidise Wolfsbane, but getting that past the Wizengamot is proving harder than I hoped. We could match your donation, though.”

There, they’d discussed the subject. Kingsley thought it was a good idea, and she would press forward with her plans. And suddenly the tension descended on them both. There was another reason he’d suggested dinner, and it wasn’t only to thank her, but because they’d kissed.

–I ...” He trailed off. –Andromeda, I didn’t invite - Merlin, this is ridiculous. I want to apologise -”

–Apologise!” Oh dear Merlin, she had got it wrong. He was regretting the kiss, the invitation, and everything that implied.

–For the flowers,” he said, tripping over his words. –They were too much. I can see that, and inappropriate. If Skeeter had seen, then I can only imagine the intrusion in yours and Teddy’s lives. I’m a high profile figure, and her constant scrutiny comes with the job. I’m used to it, but it makes me careless of others’ feelings.”

–Oh...” she gasped. –The flowers were beautiful, Kingsley. It was a lovely gesture.”

He sighed, and rubbed his temple. –It was supposed to be more than a gesture, but I realise how crass it was now. And kissing you at that time, when you were tired and vulnerable. It only makes me wonder at my actions.” He took another gulp of drink, not looking at her face.

–Was it that awful?” she said softly.

He looked up at her, shocked. –No, no, not at all. It was ... it felt right, Andromeda, but I have a feeling it was only right for me, and not-”

He stopped speaking. He stopped because Andromeda had inched closer.

You have to take chances, Remus had told her. So this was Andromeda taking a chance, prepared for a fall, because sometimes that was the only way to live.

–It felt right to me, too, Kingsley,” she whispered. –I think that’s why, as terrified as I am of getting things wrong, I’m here.”

He took her hands, raising both to his lips. –I don’t want to get it wrong, either,” he said. –I know this sounds horridly sentimental, but sometimes I think you just know, don’t you?”

She’d known with Ted. Maybe not the first time she’d clapped eyes on him, but once they’d kissed (a mismatch of lips that caused them both to giggle) she knew he was too important to lose.

Their mouths met. Her lips parted first. Ted had always been an eager kisser, his hands roving up and down her back, and she’d loved his enthusiasm. Kingsley was still as if he wanted to prolong every moment, to cherish each sensation in his head. And then, as his thumbs traced the planes of her face, his hands cupping her chin, Andromeda stopped thinking about Ted.

She’d been underground for four long years. A bulb with no prospect of ever seeing light. But Kingsley had found her, and now she could bloom again.
End Notes:
Because of the word count for the Cotillion challenge, I left out a whole chunk and two extra strand to this story. I might just write them another time. I hope you liked this. Romance between 'older' characters is so often ignored, but teenagers didn't invent romance and sex, so I wanted to redress the balance..
This story archived at http://www.mugglenetfanfiction.com/viewstory.php?sid=93234