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[personal profile] fiery_flamingo
Title: In This Valley of Dying Stars
Characters: Andromeda Tonks, Narcissa Malfoy, various Black family members
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 2,037
Summary: It seems like the Blacks only gather for their dead.
Warnings: Character death(s), angst
Author/Artist's notes: This was written for the 2011 round of [livejournal.com profile] hp_darkfest. I’d like to thank my betas, [livejournal.com profile] leigh_adams and [livejournal.com profile] elle_blessing, for being fabulously patient and making sure this fic isn’t a hot mess. So, this was fun to write because I got to untangle the death timeline that is the Black family tree. I am such a nerd.





0.

Five children, arranged like stair steps, dressed all in black. They fidget, tugging at lace trim and scuffing their fine shoes as the sun shines down and the vicar drones on and on and on into eternity. Summer days are fading fast and there are a dozen different things they’d rather do than stand around staring at Great Aunt Lycoris pretending to nap. Not that she was doing a very good job of it; everyone knew Aunt Lycoris snored louder than a Swedish Short Snout.

This, the children suppose, is what death looks like. It is as good an introduction as any, if rather anti-climatic. Just a cold old woman, resting stiff on satin. The older of them think they’ve already seen worse.

The rest of the House of Black stands around the gravesite, eyes downcast but not particularly attentive. There are no other mourners. No in-laws, no friends. Mad and a spinster, the grief of Lycoris’ passing is far out-weighed by the relief of the family that supported her. The Blacks are clannish, like many of the old families, believing that the rise of one raised them all. But the opposite also holds true and even Orion, Lycoris’ favorite nephew, feels a new lightness, as if a stone holding him down has been lifted.

Her funeral is the finest event ever held in Lycoris’ honor.

In a flash of what she then believes is hubris, a twelve-year old Andromeda thinks that more than blood purity or honor this is what her family is: a collection of people obligated to stand over your grave when the time comes, no matter how repulsive or unloved you were in life. They care only by pact, a mutual treaty of mourning. They cry at each others' funerals because no one else will.

She wonders who she would mourn truly. Cissy, for sure. Bellatrix, maybe. Her parents, hardly. It was too early to tell with bright-eyed Sirius and little solemn Reggie. It’s a short list in a large family.

Then she wonders who would mourn her and the answers become more complicated, filled with if. If she is obedient, if she marries well, if she has children, if she has a son. If she can avoid all the pitfalls that can ruin a Black woman only then will she avoid Lycoris’ fate. In that wide slopping field of precisely spaced marble, walls begins to close in around her, blacking out the shining sun and threatening to suffocate.

And so it’s here, at Aunt Lycoris’ charade of a funeral, that Andromeda begins to make a decision, one that she won’t understand for years to come. On either side, unbeknownst to her, so do her sisters. This will not be them.

They hope.


1.

A shadow shifts behind an old oak tree. Andromeda tries to count how many promises to herself her presence breaks. It's all of them, but it’s hard to care when your cousin is dead.

1979 is a bad year to be a Black. Andromeda knows because The Daily Prophet can’t shut up about it. Or maybe she’s been looking for it, tracking obituaries, marriage banns, and birth announcements with a false casualness that Ted has learned not to comment on. For nine years, it’s been enough, spotting names and tracing the degrees of separation on her mental family tree. There are no tears for Charis Crouch or Dorea Potter. Only a twinge for Uncle Alphard, a half-remembered face, kindly and bearing contraband sweets. These deaths are only trivia, small curiosities of a former life.

But 1979 has changed that. Her father and uncle’s names bring a conflict of emotions: dark satisfaction that would terrify her husband if he knew, and a hollow grief that surprises her. Still, she never considers attending a funeral service until she sees the announcement of Regulus’ memorial.

Now, she stands apart and hidden, ignoring the old feelings of indignity that she, a Black daughter, should sink so low, and tries desperately not to shift the autumn leaves around her feet. Andromeda has no illusions as to what would be done to her if she were to be discovered. The only good blood traitor is a dead blood traitor according to Bellatrix, so she listens in secret while the rest of the family surrounds the grave like crows over carrion.

Her sisters are in there, somewhere, tucked into their husbands' sides, veils drawn to hide the redness in their eyes, or lack thereof. The twelve-year-old in Andromeda wants to find them, stand between them as she did at Aunt Lycoris' funeral and grieve for real this time. She imagines Narcissa would greet her, give her one sad smile of understanding before Bellatrix ended her. What a stellar family reunion it would be.

Disturbingly, the vicar is describing someone she doesn't know, nor does she wish to. A proud man from a proud family, a warrior that gave himself to protect an ancient way of life. A Death Eater.

So she ignores him. In her mind there is only the sweet nine-year-old shadow of his brother, shy to speak up but eager to please. A boy that loved stories about the stars. That’s the boy she puts in their empty coffin and watches it lowered into the ground.

Of all the words that come out of the mouths of the supposedly bereaved, Andromeda agrees with only one oft-repeated statement: the boy had died much too young. They simply differ on who to blame, or when, exactly, Regulus had died.

When the service ends, the crowd begins to disperse. Andromeda, not wanting to her join her cousin in the afterlife, turns to Apparate away but stops. Her mind can't process what she's seeing at first, can't fathom why Sirius's disembodied head is floating behind another grave marker.

He's gone before she can think to draw his attention and, after he slides from her vision, it's hard to believe he was there at all.

But it's a comfort to know that she's not the only one to ignore the old ways, that there's someone else that thinks family is more than a tapestry.



2.

Another empty grave for a son of the House of Black, but none of the familiar faces.

Andromeda is the only one present to have ever borne the name Black, a fault that the others graciously ignore. Still, she waits toward the back, letting those that knew the real Sirius have the place of honor.

It's a small gathering but she can recognize the quality of the company over the quantity of the alternative. Minerva McGonagall weeps all over her tartan sash while Hagrid awkwardly pats her shoulder. Arthur and Molly Weasley stand at the center of their fidgeting pack of red-headed offspring, restless even in their loss. Remus Lupin stands quietly at the forefront, her uncharacteristically recognizable daughter beside him. The careful space they keep between themselves speaks volumes.

Sirius would have approved.

At least, she thinks he would have. It's a hard realization that she’d been wrong, that the knot of betrayal she'd carried with her since hearing the news of the Potters and Peter Pettigrew had been unfounded. That she'd been wrong, not for trusting Sirius, but for not trusting him enough.

It's hard not to overcompensate for her guilt. Not to stand next to Remus, wailing and pounding on the earth to prove that Sirius had been her family, one of the few worth having. But she knows she hasn't earned the spectacle and thus fades into the background.

Scanning the trees and statuary of the cemetery, she wonders if Bellatrix or Narcissa would do as she had done--lurk and listen to pay their respects. Narcissa never, simultaneously too proud and too meek. Bellatrix, well, showing up at the funeral of the man she killed would be just her sort of poor taste. But would a blood traitor be worth it in her eyes? It's hard to tell.

In the end though, it's a daydream; the funerals Andromeda had skulked around the edges of fell just short of state affairs. Sirius hadn’t even been given an obituary in the Prophet. This ceremony is invitation only. Andromeda bears witness: there is no longer a male heir to the Black fortune. Their brightest star faded away, forgotten and unredeemed to the public. Just one more Black tragedy.

Seventeen years separate Sirus and Regulus' deaths but Andromeda notes that the sentiment is disturbingly similar: how brave he was, how young, how terrible.



3.

A grandmother holds her grandchild with one arm while sprinkling grave dirt with the other.

No one is ever prepared to bury their child. A parent, a sibling, a spouse, yes--and Merlin, she’s laid all of those to rest before she’s turned fifty--but never a child. And yet here she sits at the side of her daughter’s grave. Her sweet, brave, funny girl that brought home every stray that crossed her path, culminating in her very own werewolf, is going into the ground, and knowing that grinds Andromeda’s already shattered heart into dust.

She thought that nothing would hurt more than burying Ted. The universe is out to prove her wrong.

The service is short for a variety of reasons. For one, Andromeda hates the hollow words the vicar recites; they remind her too much of her childhood and Great Aunt Lycoris. Another is that there is no one to watch the baby resting in Andromeda’s arms. Everyone that she would trust with him is here, paying their respects. The last, and most pragmatic, reason is that everyone has other funerals to attend that day, with more coming that week. Everyone has lost someone. Nymphadora and Remus are just another two in hundreds. She can see another solemn crowd in the distance, putting some loved one to rest.

Later, an ancient-eyed Harry Potter chooses the epitaph. She’s never felt so old as when she sits next to him, discussing arrangements with the funeral director; her for Nymphadora, him for Remus. When asked for something other than names and dates to go on the shared headstone, Andromeda’s mind goes blank, incapable of condensing her daughter into a sentence. So, Harry writes and crosses off a dozen phrases before settling on Devoted friends, loving parents, heroes.

Looking at him, she knows he agrees that it isn’t enough. But it will have to do.


4.

Two sisters bury the third, relief and shame leaving a bitter taste in their mouths. They’d survived.

The last of the House of Black stands around the grave. There are no other mourners; no friends, no in-laws. Mad and a murderer, Bellatrix’s passing is a bright spot for the many that are tired of mourning their dead. There’s no vicar, just grave diggers on the other side of a hill, waiting impatiently to put an honest-to-Merlin witch to earth.

Narcissa and Andromeda stand opposite of the other, silent. There’s no tearful reunion, no soft words. They’re two Blacks brought together by death, fulfilling their pact. No one else will stand to witness this and so it falls to them.

Andromeda could try to do what she did for Regulus, try to remember the good times with her sister. But she buried her baby only two days prior and her husband just months before that. Bellatrix hadn’t mourned them; instead, she’d celebrated. She’d been the cause of Nymphadora’s death and the cause of so many others.

This time Andromeda can’t compartmentalize, can’t forget the wrongs done to her. She’s not here to mourn her sister.

She drops the rose she’d brought and follows it with spit. Narcissa, in her black mourning lace, flinches back as if she herself had been hit. It’s not lady-like, it’s nothing that a Black would do, but Andromeda hasn’t been a Black in years, none of them have.

The House of Black is empty. All that’s left are graves.


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