Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Sons of July
Deslea R. Judd
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters/Keywords: Severus/Narcissa, Lucius/Tonks, Lucius/Narcissa Friendship
Spoilers/Timeframe: First and second war, alt-universe from the Battle of Astronomy Tower.
Summary: Narcissa and Lucius found friendship in their arranged marriage, and love outside it with Severus and Tonks - spies with divided loyalties, both. Their secret loves and loyalties would, quite by accident, add the final layer to the force that might bring down the Dark Lord once and for all. Canon compliant-ish to Astronomy Tower (liberties taken, especially with dates). Told in three acts:
Act 1: The Hidden Third. Narcissa's pregnancy leads to soul searching - about the dilution of a Pureblood family, the extinction of the Houses of Malfoy and Black, and the triple defiance of the three in concealing their child's nature from their own Dark master. |Act One|
Act 2: Maîtresse-en-titre. After years of indulging Narcissa and Severus, oblivious to the mastery of romantic love, Lucius learns first-hand about the craziness and folly of loving the wrong person. This one is Nymphadora Tonks, the spy sent to betray him. |Act 2|
Act 3: The Sons Of July. Severus hears a new prophecy, and learns of a fourth Son of July. In the final battle, Nymphadora, Lucius, Severus and Narcissa are reunited - but none have the full picture, and sacrifices will be needed along the way. |Act 3|
Length: Novella length (35,000).
Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
More fic: http://fiction.deslea.com
Feedback: Please. deslea at deslea dot com.
A folly'd love begun with lies
Finds its truth in sacrifice
-- Sybill Trelawney, 30 July 1997
[SEPTEMBER 1995: NARCISSA]
"Lucius, darling, you look glorious this evening. I don't believe I've ever seen you so...so..."
"Radiant?" he suggested with a sideways smirk. "Glowing?"
Narcissa shot him a withering look and handed him his aperitif. "Vain will suffice for the moment. What's brought this on? You look like a cat who's eaten the proverbial canary."
That smirk broadened. "Our rather ghastly fundraiser just got interesting. You simply won't believe who's bought a ticket, and well outside her financial means at that. And she's expressed great interest in being seated beside me to discuss the Children's Dragon Pox Disfigurement Fund despite being, as far as I can tell, entirely disinterested in either medicine or fundraising. So I rather fancy she might have ulterior motives of a most enjoyable nature."
Narcissa cocked an eyebrow. "Do tell, darling. Who is it?"
"Your niece, of all people. Nymphadora Tonks."
Narcissa blinked a little; it occurred to him that she may have forgotten she had a niece. "The Auror?"
"Associate of the Order of the Phoenix."
Narcissa raised an eyebrow. Said shrewdly, "Trap?"
"Probably." He was still smirking.
"And what do you think you'll do?"
"I find myself both amused and intrigued. I think I shall let her seduce me. All in the name of finding out what she's up to, of course."
Narcissa burst out laughing. "Oh, Lucius, you really are incorrigible. Would you like me to see if Severus knows anything?"
"I think it's far more fun this way. Don't you?"
She wiped her eyes and sighed. Clinked her glass to his. "Have it your way."
He smirked even wider. Said archly:
"Well, I'll certainly try."
[SEPTEMBER 1995: LUCIUS]
Nymphadora Tonks was flirting outrageously.
An outrageous flirt himself, Lucius was not fooled, but he was highly amused.
She had the usual tricks down to a fine art, of course. The hair flicking, the licking of the lips, the leaning in when she laughed. The teasing foot stroking idly up his calf. (Oldest trick in the book, that one, but it got him deliciously in the groin every time). All the usual opening gambits had eventuated, right on schedule.
He was enjoying himself immensely.
Narcissa played her part just as well, shooting her society lady friends tight pained little smiles as they tried valiantly to distract her. She allowed her mouth to settle into a scowl now and then, when she appeared to think no one was looking. Oh, yes, Narcissa had been born to the role of the Long-Suffering Wife of a Scoundrel Husband. It was in her blood, like every miserable Black wife before her. Druella had taught her well.
Midway through the evening, Nymphadora excused herself to go to the powder room. (She called it the loo, which made several of Narcissa's society ladies wince visibly, and that only amused Lucius more). Narcissa shot Lucius a glowering look.
Lucius beamed her a beatific smile. Said warmly, "Oh, darling, don't be jealous. I'm just having a bit of fun." He leaned in and kissed her cheek and said in a low voice, "Don't hold back. She's half-blood. One of us has to disapprove."
Narcissa hissed waspishly, loud enough for her nearest neighbours to hear, "Lucius, if you want to play in the muck, that's your business, but if you bed that creature, don't think you'll be coming to my bedchamber any time soon."
He drew away, and said coldly, "I wouldn't dream of sullying your pristine bed, Narcissa, I assure you." Narcissa gave a little huff and a toss of her hair that would have done her godawful mother proud, and turned her back on him entirely.
Appearances so managed, he turned his attention completely to Nymphadora when she returned, looking both ridiculous and radiant with her neo-Victorian corset, absurdly short skirt, and shock of purple hair. "Hullo," she said. "What have I missed?"
"Nothing important, my dear," he said. "Would you like to dance?"
Nymphadora dropped down inelegantly on the chair beside him. "Oh, no. I'm awfully uncoordinated. I'd trip over my own bloody feet, and step on yours into the bargain."
Lucius felt an unexpected jolt, a frisson of interest from nowhere. Dancing was the logical next step in her seduction, and her varying from script suggested strongly that she was telling the truth. It was probably the first time all evening.
He felt like a curtain had been parted, giving a glimpse of something beyond. Like the shadow of a breast when a woman leaned just so. Just for a moment, he thought he had seen the woman they called Tonks, the woman known only from passing glimpses in corridors at the Ministry. The real woman, the one behind Nymphadora, who attended functions outside her pay grade and played footsie with an older man in front of his wife.
Fleetingly, he wondered what Tonks - not Nymphadora, but Tonks - would look like with her hair splayed out over a pillow, unguarded and spent.
"Well, it's up to you, my dear, but in my experience, all a lady needs is to be led with a firm hand." He smirked, letting the outrageous statement hang there a moment. "On the dance floor, of course."
Nymphadora smirked too. "Well, I'm game if you are, I suppose." She held out her hand. "Lead on, Lucius."
He did lead her, but before too much time had passed, he would reflect that he'd been following all along.
Neo-Victorian fashion had much to recommend it.
He thought this as his hand found the flesh at the top of her stockings beneath her angular skirt. She was leaning against the wall, wriggling against him with the most delightful little sounds, urging down to meet his hand. The stars winked above them and the muted sounds of the party drifted along the balcony on the breeze.
"If you think I'm going to let you take me right here against a wall like a common whore, you've got another think coming," she said in half-hearted and entirely conventional protest.
"Now, now. There's nothing wrong with whores," he protested with a wolfish smile. "I'm one myself."
She laughed at that, a real, sudden, throaty laugh, nothing like the flirty giggles of earlier in the evening. It tumbled from her lips like a spray of diamonds. He'd surprised it out of her, he was sure of it, and again he felt that thrill of a glimpse of something hidden.
"Randy little sod," she said without rancour.
"Not at all," he said mildly. "This one's all for you." She got as far as lifting one supremely surprised brow before he found her warm and wet, and she drew in her breath in a hiss. Suddenly shivering and staring down between them as he sank his fingers deep into her.
He took his time, shifting, finding where they fit. Knew it from her sounds, her pitch slipping from high tones of arousal, to rolling, bass notes of satisfaction. He stayed there, seated within her, pulsing minutely with his fingertips as she closed around him and rocked him, setting her own pace. He held her firm there, keeping her grounded as she gave way completely.
She reached for him with trembling hands, and he ached for her, but he stopped her.
"Next time," he whispered low into her ear. "Next time, I collect."
He stole one deep, slow kiss, and then he left her there in the crisp night air, shuddering and completely undone.
Narcissa was alone when he took his place at her side.
They didn't look at one another, perfect picture of chilly domestics, but her voice was low and warm. "Did you get what you wanted, darling?"
He allowed himself a smile out of the side of his mouth. "Let's say I made a downpayment."
"Oh, Lucius," she said, appalled. "I don't know how you do it, and with such an awful line, too."
"By the time they're at that point, my dear, the quality of my repartee is the last thing on their minds."
Narcissa snorted. "Don't look now, but she's just come in, suitably dishevelled. Lucius Malfoy leaves another satisfied witch in his wake."
He said smugly, "I do, don't I?"
"Don't be so full of yourself. Pride comes before a fall, Lucius."
He dismissed this with a wave. "Please. It's all in good fun."
There was a note of amusement in her voice. "One day, Lucius, someone's going to hit you like a ton of bricks, and you'll finally understand what all this love business is about. Then what will you do?"
"I shall be perfectly sensible about it. It's the only way."
At this, Narcissa broke out in real, gentle laughter.
"Oh, darling. Sometimes I think you know nothing at all."
[SEPTEMBER 1995: TONKS]
On the whole, Tonks thought as she cast aside the accoutrements of her costume (to call it an outfit was being too generous), the evening had gone well.
Lucius' sexual expertise had been a bonus, but not entirely unexpected. The man had been whoring around Europe for decades. And while good looks would have carried him into his early thirties, a man needed an edge to keep it up into his forties - especially with an anaemic but glowering wife right there beside him.
More interesting was the fact that he wasn't - well - vile, much as it pained her to admit it. He'd been a perfectly pleasant conversational companion, and she had not been prepared for that. At all.
It wasn't that he'd held back from his opinions. She'd have been surprised if he had. After all, chasing tail was one thing, but a man like Lucius Malfoy was arrogant enough to think his looks and expertise and - and voice (holy fuck, that voice) would get the women in the door anyway. If not under the table.
So he hadn't held back. He'd been forthright - and rational. That was, she thought, the most insidious thing about it. Of course Magical blood was precious. Of course it had to be protected. Of course, Muggles should be left alone - as long as they left the Magical community alone and untainted.
But if they did not? Well, they had to protect the things that were precious. Didn't they?
Tonks had asked archly what he made of her. He'd dismissed this with a wave of his hand. She had strong, incontestable magic in her veins (and through her mother's line, which he seemed to consider far more credible than the father's. She supposed in a society where infertility and adoption were common, paternity was a relative footnote - so long as the blood was still beyond reproach). It was diluted, and that was unfortunate, but generations of breeding with her kind would take care of that.
Tonks had almost choked on that, but held her peace.
The thing was, she understood how such mildly expressed opinions could seem mere points of political difference. In an ordinary world, a world without Voldemort, they might have been just that. Lucius without Voldemort viewed half-bloods - at least first-generation ones - as unfortunates who just needed the Muggle bred out of them. That was an ugly, bigoted thing, but no worse than she had heard from half the people she worked with in the Ministry itself.
Was this how it started in Muggle Germany, she wondered? Protectionism of one's own kind, separatism, ugly but no more than that? And then Grindelwald had spoken softly into a fanatic's ear, or so the legend went. Was that all it took? A breaking down of barriers in otherwise perfectly ordinary people? She supposed it had to be so; there just weren't enough sociopaths to go around.
She tried to reconcile this Lucius with the Lucius who had attended Voldemort's return in Little Hangleton. He'd responded quickly to the call of the Mark, Harry had said, but then, she supposed failure to do so was a one-way ticket to an early grave. Severus himself had paid dearly for his delay; he had a host of new scars to prove it. Even Sirius had shut the fuck up about Severus that night. It had taken her and Molly and Remus together to heal him.
Harder to reconcile was that Lucius, ordinary, surprisingly-charming Lucius, had sat by and watched Harry being fought by a madman, had stood by and watched the murder of Cedric Diggory.
"You forget, Nymphadora," Severus had said a week ago, "that he has a wife and child to think of. He couldn't have won. He could only have killed them all trying."
Tonks had snorted. "Evil happens when good people do nothing."
"You're not a parent," Severus said quietly. "You don't understand. With exceptions - Bella, mostly - it isn't hate that holds Death Eaters in service. It's love. He learns their weak spots and uses them. The sooner you understand that, the better placed you'll be."
Tonks suspected then that Severus knew of her mission, but he had never spoken of it to her. On the whole, she was glad.
Watching the Pureblood society microcosm up close had been an eye opener of its own, more mundane but no less revealing. While Narcissa was obviously displeased at Lucius' poor taste in flirting publicly, there'd been no sign of true jealousy. Tonks was glad; that had been her one qualm about the whole exercise. She felt female solidarity of sorts with Narcissa, and was relieved that her response appeared to be long-suffering aggravation and nothing deeper than that.
Carefully, she hung her clothes in the space she had made in her closet for what she would come to call her Lucius wardrobe. In time, she would linger over that space, touching clothes like relics that had awakened another side of her completely, but that was in the time to be.
Shrugging lightly, she made her way into her bathroom and ran the bath. She was a shower person mostly - baths were a bloody waste of time in her view; by the time you fiddled around running the thing you could have been cleaned and dressed. But she wanted a bath tonight.
It wasn't that she felt dirty. She supposed some women would have, but Tonks did not. She liked sex and she liked her work and she wasn't committed to anyone. As a bonus, Lucius showed all signs of becoming a perfectly enjoyable shag. If she had to compare herself to anyone, she thought it was probably the Muggle French Resistance girls in the forties, shrewd and detached and full of pluck, using their wiles without shame and damn the consequences. Only she supposed they were graceful like Fleur Delacour and didn't trip over their own damn feet.
So it wasn't any metaphorical need to scrub Lucius, or the evening, off her. It was just...she was wound up tight. Needing release.
It wasn't sexual release, or not exactly that. Not that he hadn't awakened her; he had, but he'd also satisfied her, rather more than she was used to from just kisses and hands. But she was unsettled at the part she had played, and unsettled at how much she had enjoyed it.
She sank down into the water, thinking it over. Tonks was not given to self-reflection - didn't have the bloody patience for it - but Dumbledore had warned her to remain self-aware at every turn. Failure would mean going back to square one at best, or potentially her own death at worst. And in either event, it was unlikely another would be allowed close again. She was the only young woman in the Order who was not too young; the only one with good enough blood credentials (however tainted) to possibly access that world.
There was Severus, of course, but Severus was a gentleman teacher and no more than that. He was respected as an intellectual, liked even, but there were places he could not go - not even as the purported right hand of Voldemort. There were fundraisers he could attend, and the private Death Eater revels were open to him too. But there were private parties - places where people let their hair down - that Severus was both too low-born and too high in the pecking order to attend. These were the places Tonks hoped to access. With tongues loosened by alcohol and privacy (and, in Lucius' case, a shagging he'd never forget), she hoped to identify who would stand by Voldemort to the end - and, more importantly, who would weaken and fall away.
So she reflected there, submerged in the water. Turning it over and trying to get a handle on what it meant. Reflected on what it was to be a Metamorphagus. To be other.
It wasn't the first time she'd done it, of course. She'd been old ladies and teenage boys and ducks and all sorts of things. It had been something she'd done for work, for fun, to amuse others, to amuse herself.
But this had been different somehow. She hadn't been so much other as another part of herself. And when Lucius had guided, she'd found that she liked to yield to him. Found it was like sinking into something decadent, drinking something intoxicating and sweet. Something she would never have thought in a million years about herself. It surprised her, and she didn't like that Lucius Malfoy had surprised her. She didn't like it at all.
It was, she thought, to do with mastery. That was the word. He'd played her like a bloody pianist. And oh, fuck, the double-entendre brought a flush to her throat and up into her cheeks as she remembered him exploring her, finding places no one had ever found before. Not the spot the Muggle magazines expounded on at length, but something else. A perfect join. Like a mortise and tendon.
It wasn't so much that he'd found it. It was that he knew to look. That he knew something about her and what she needed, that she would want to be held there, held steady there. That if he gave her those seconds to catch up to him, she would melt around him, every wall falling away.
It dawned on her that Lucius genuinely liked women, and liked to please them. Had devoted years to learning to decipher their cues, perhaps without even realising he was doing it. She thought with a chill that if he had anywhere near as much insight into women out of bed as in it, she might be in for more than she'd bargained for.
She would wonder later if that was the moment she should have turned back, or if even then it was already too late.
[NOVEMBER 1995: TONKS]
"Lucius, why did you want to do this?"
Tonks was laying before him in his bedchamber, stretched out, covered in a thin film of oil. It was, she thought, a scene from every bad Muggle chickflick she'd ever seen. It seemed ridiculously contrived, but it wasn't objectionable, so she'd humoured him.
Besides, a girl could get used to being pampered.
"Because," he said, stroking down her belly in sweeping motions, "I didn't think you'd let me."
She laughed at that. "You're perverse. Why didn't you think I'd let you?"
He paused then, letting his hands rest lightly on her hipbones, gentle yet possessive. Careful not to break contact. "Because. You know how to have fun with sex, and you know how to tackle your prey in the most gratifying way, but you don't know how to luxuriate in it. You don't know how to be adored."
"Is that a nice way of saying I'm shallow?" she smirked up at him.
"No, it's a nice way of saying you haven't found anyone worthy of you yet."
He had resumed his attentions, looking down at her hips as he stroked over them and back up her sides, so he couldn't see the way she suddenly closed her eyes tight. Mortified, she swallowed down hard, and arched her neck so he couldn't see her face. He'd hit a nerve she hadn't known she'd had.
He mistook the gesture. Stroked down her throat, slowly, and over her shoulders, then leaned over her to kiss her behind her ear. "Breathe through it," he said in a low voice. And suddenly her arousal was rising, just like he thought it was, just because he was near and he was hers.
She started to tense, just a little. Wanting him, wanting to close around him, and he wasn't there. She clutched blindly for his hand.
"Breathe," he said again. Gently stroked down over the tendon in her thigh. "All in good time." Urgently, she searched for his lips and found them. He kissed her, hard like she wanted but then slowing, easing her back onto the pillow. Knelt back up between her thighs and started to stroke her again.
She stared up at him. Totally unnerved at the effect he seemed to have on her sometimes. She said shakily, "Who taught you to do this?"
A lazy smirk crossed his face. "A courtesan in Venice. Narcissa and I went there on our honeymoon."
"Well, it wasn't a completely conventional marriage even then, obviously, but consider the families we came from. Wouldn't you take the excuse to get away for a couple of months?"
She gave a little sign of concession and nodded for him to continue.
"Anyway. She was at least twice my age, but old-school. The kind of courtesan who treats it as an art form rather than a job. That's what a lot of men who pay for sex are after, you know. Somewhere to let all the strictures fall away."
Her mouth twitched. "And sex."
"That, too," he agreed. "Not every wife can live with who her husband is in the bedroom, I suspect."
She asked, hesitantly, "Is that what happened with you and Narcissa?"
"Narcissa and I," Lucius said quietly, pausing his movements over her body, "want different things, and we don't want them from each other. But she's a good woman and a good friend. I won't hear her spoken badly of."
"I didn't mean it like that." She'd crossed a line.
He relented. "I know." Seemingly by way of explanation, he added, "Sorry. Narcissa says my Familiar should have been a wolf."
Tonks looked at him quizzically. "Explain."
"They're mercenary to outsiders, but devoted to and protective of the pack. That's me, I suppose." He held out his arm, Dark Mark visible. "I took it to follow my father, you know. It was never any more ideological than that."
She stared at it with dread fascination. Wondered if that was true, or something he'd said for her benefit. Suspected the truth was something in between.
She mustered a smile. "You're trying to tell me Muggle-baiting held no attraction for you, then, Lucius?"
He gave a broad grin at that. "I'd rather chase women than Muggles." Smirking, he skirted his fingertips across the tips of her breasts to emphasise the point, and she shivered. "Now come, Nymphadora, the idea of this is for you to let go. Stop talking and relax."
He leaned over her once more, and kissed her slowly on the lips. "Let me," he whispered between kisses, "adore you."
She felt suddenly breathless.
He went back to work on her, his touch maddeningly non-sexual. Oh, he stroked the sideswell of her breast, brushed gently past the tangle of hair at the top of her thighs, but more of his attention went to parts of her she'd never given the slightest thought to before.
It was when he got to her hand that she felt something start to break inside her. Perhaps it was something about his intent expression as he dipped his head to delicately kiss the heel of her palm. It wasn't what he was doing to her. It was what she was doing to him.
"Lucius," she whispered. Cupped his cheek with her hand. Levered herself up with her elbow to face him.
"No," she said softly. Gently, possessively, she threaded her hand further back, into his hair, cradling him behind his ear. "My turn."
Something in her expression must have quieted his protest, because he fell still. Watching her with grave eyes as she took a little oil in her hands.
Shivering lightly, she ran her hands up over his chest. Over his shoulders. Up the sides of his neck and down again, tracing tendons. Felt the ridges in her forehead deepen as she studied him. Felt muscles fluttering under her palms, felt the way he breathed and let them grow still.
She wondered from nowhere if this was how he kept his mettle around Voldemort.
Protectiveness flooded through her, and her pressure on his shoulders deepened. "Lucius," she whispered, suddenly urgent, and drew him to her in a tangle of demanding, desperate kisses.
When he was inside her, that breaking, splintering thing in herself shattered completely, like shards of glass showering over her as she cried out against his lips. Leaving her open and letting him in under her skin.
They stared wide-eyed at each other when it was over, knowing that something had changed radically between them.
Her only comfort was that he was as far in over his head as she.
[DECEMBER 1995: LUCIUS]
Nymphadora was sitting opposite him in a long filmy white robe, reading the paper, her cup of tea at her side.
It was a mild day, and Pinky had opened the French doors. Sunlight framed her like a halo. Her hair was silver today, and it gleamed around her. He felt his mouth go dry, and his breath catch, somehow.
He set down his knife and fork down on the table. They made a little clink.
She looked up. "Lucius," she said softly. "What-"
He got to his feet, pushing his chair aside with a clatter. Breathing hard. Strode around the table to face her, standing in her space. She rose, perhaps in bewilderment, perhaps in affront, but he tugged her hard against him, and kissed her. Deep and desperate and slow. Her hand pushed back at him on reflex, but she was gripping his shirt and falling open beneath him with a high-pitched sigh that brought him completely undone. He edged her back against the table, until she was half-perched on the edge, her bare toes just barely touching the floor.
"Lucius," she gasped out, "the breakfast-"
"Fuck breakfast," he growled, thrusting out his arm wordlessly, and her tea and plates and the candelabra were swept down the table as though by an unseen hand. He leaned over her, and she yielded, sinking back, her head resting on the flower centrepiece, all white and yellow around her. "I love you, you understand?" he demanded, his voice trembling with something that might have been fury. "I love you."
She drew in her breath, staring up at him. Breaths shallow. Eyes wide. "Lucius, I-"
"Don't," he said harshly. He didn't want to hear whatever Dumbledore had told her to say when this moment came. "God, don't. Just be with me."
She was terribly, terribly pale, and her eyes were soft and suddenly red as she lay there before him. She nodded. Whispered, "Love me, Lucius."
He straightened, his eyes never leaving her as she leaned up on her elbows before him. Unfastened his breeches, and his dress shirt, letting them fall open. He reached for her, untying the sash at her waist and pushing her robe apart, baring the velvety flesh of her breasts and her belly. Her thighs had fallen open around him, and she was framed by white silk and flowers and damask and silvery hair and he had to be inside her, had to submerge himself into whiteness and softness and warmth.
She tilted her jaw, baring her throat. Still staring up at him. "Lucius - please -"
He leaned forward, kissing her throat, his flesh lightly brushing hers. His shirt falling over her belly and her breasts rising and falling beneath his chest. She gave a longing sound that was almost a sob. Drew her knees up to press his thighs, to urge him into her, and he eased back and forth against her, bringing her alive beneath him until she was pushing back, hard and needy, trying to meet him and draw him inside her. She was wet already, like the same things that had flooded him had flooded her.
Finally, he relented, finding her opening and thrusting home, sinking down into her as she fell back, banging her head on the table, not caring, gasping and catching his mouth with hers. Her eyes were red and her lips tasted of tears and he knew, knew that he had touched her as she had touched him. Every fibre of her being was telling her not to love him, and she loved him anyway.
"Yes," he muttered, "you love me. Oh, yes."
"Lucius," she said desperately. Jerking to meet him every time he slid fully into her. Gripping him hard within her, as though by so doing she need never let him go. Her hands were twined deep into his hair but she wouldn't look at him.
"Yes," he insisted. "Tell me."
"Lucius," she whispered again. It was meant to be a protest and it came out as a caress. This time she was looking up at him, and a single tear streaked out of the corner of her eye, down into her hair.
"Tell me," he growled, stroking into her hard. He ached when she pushed back just as hard, as they ground into each other, the closest even this act would allow them to come.
"Yes," she choked out, sound of wretched defeat as he spilled over inside her. "Yes." And then she wept silently as he slowed, as he held her, as they lay there on the table still joined, connection slackened but not gone. Clung to him and desperately sought his mouth, moving with him as he came alive once more. "Please," she cried. "Please oh please yes-"
They joined twice more on the table that day, but really, the joining never ended at all.
[APRIL 1996: NARCISSA]
Lucius was whistling when she came down for morning tea.
"Lucius, darling," Narcissa said, ducking around him to steal a piece of his toast as she passed. "My ragamuffin niece is certainly good for your disposition. I don't think I've seen you this happy since-"
She broke off, toast poised in mid-air. Wrinkled her brow at him uncertainly. And then, slowly, her good humour fell away.
"Since when?" Lucius said, looking up from his paper. He took the remains of his toast back from her, and added as an aside, "Honestly, woman. I'm sure Severus doesn't let you steal his food."
"Never," she said softly with sudden dread. "I've never seen you like this. Ever."
Lucius looked back down at his paper. "Nonsense."
Impulsively, she drew her wand. "It's not nonsense," she snapped. "Legilimens!"
She'd caught him off-guard, and she was in his mind before he could hold her back. She strode through in furious strides. Nymphadora was everywhere, bathed in light and colour. A tinkling laugh here, a touch there. And - oh God - their table. The table where Lucius was sitting now. Wretched, tortured declarations of love as they rose and fell together. It coloured everything. It coloured his whole world.
Narcissa pushed through the clamouring, cloying images of Nymphadora and searched for Draco. Searched hard. Draco going off to Hogwart's for the first time. Genuine pride in the boy, fierce protectiveness, too. His first Quidditch game. His first tooth. And oh, Draco's hair. How he loved Draco's hair. How he loved the way the boy took after him. A cacophony of images and sounds, baby laughter, climbing up stairs, first steps - it flooded over her in a dizzying rush.
She felt the cold hand around her heart loosen, just a little. Whatever shambles his mind was in, his walls around Draco were strong. Even now.
Narcissa pulled out of Lucius' mind, as rudely and abruptly as she'd entered. Leaned over him, her palms on the table. He stared up at her, unnerved and outraged.
"He'll kill you both!" she shouted. "Don't you understand that? Guard your mind! Love her if you must, but dear God, guard your mind!" She pushed away from the table in fury. Made for the French doors in long, angry strides.
"I don't know how," he said softly.
She turned. "What?"
He closed his eyes, as if in admission of defeat. "I don't know how. I never knew, Narcissa. I never knew what this was like. And I don't know how to shut it down."
She let out a long, low sigh. Came back to the table and sat down beside him.
"You can't shut it down," she said gently. "It doesn't work like that. You decide to guard it. You decide it's too precious for anyone else to see. You decide you'd rather die than let anyone see it."
Lucius frowned. "Is that why you and Severus are never intimate? Not even in the safety of our home? Fifteen years, he's shared your chambers, and I've never seen him so much as hold your hand."
"I suppose. And neither of us are very demonstrative people at the best of times. Of course we're...intimate...but not in passing. Not like you and Nymphadora. I admit I'm a little jealous of the two of you for that. But it's also served us in good stead."
Lucius was nodding. She thought he looked very haunted. As well he should, she thought; if the Dark Lord took one look in his mind, Nymphadora would be a dead woman.
He said presently, "I've never told her, you know. Not about Draco, or Severus." He quoted softly, "I will guard you and the things you hold dear."
Narcissa felt great warmth for him in that moment.
"And I, yours," she said.
They would both be held to their promises sooner than they would have hoped.
[18 JUNE 1996: TONKS]
She was surprised it hadn't happened sooner.
They were in bed, spent, settling into their now-familiar routine of post-coital espionage. Tonks would probe Lucius about his Death Eater buddies, Lucius would probe Tonks about the Order, and neither would come away with anything much at all.
Dumbledore didn't seem to mind too much (although in absolute fairness, he was having Delores Umbridge-sized problems of his own). He seemed happy with the status quo as long as she was able to regularly provide something, and she overheard plenty at Lucius' parties. She was his constant companion at those, taking on a different character every few weeks, lest she be identified as someone of enduring importance to him and become a target. Lucius' idea, not hers, but it had served her ends as well, so she had embraced the idea with enthusiasm.
She'd turned up valuable intelligence at the social events. For instance, the Carrow twins were genuinely fond of each other, and they were treated as the uncouth poor cousins of the Pureblood world. That information might prove useful in the future - divide and conquer, as they say. She'd also learned of a tactically-significant location - a former Crouch vacation house - where some of the Azkaban escapees were thought to be hiding; the Order planned to destroy it, and hopefully capture the occupants into the bargain.
Lucius' mood had become strained in recent weeks, but she hadn't gotten much talk from him about what was troubling him. Like her, he had become quieter as their world grew darker, perhaps preferring silence to lies. He preferred to bask in the light with her, it seemed, and she didn't try too hard to change it because she needed that, too.
But it had to happen, she supposed, and finally, one summer afternoon, it did. His Dark Mark suddenly flashed jet-black against her, sending cold chills crawling over her flesh. He flinched, jerking his arm away from her with a hiss.
Her gaze flickered down to it, and up at his tense expression.
"So," she said gravely, without rancour. "That's how it is, then?"
He only looked on her, his face drawn and pinched and pale. "Nymphadora -"
"Don't go," she whispered impulsively. "Run with me."
Lucius' face broke out in a smile, but it was a rather horrible one, sad and bitter and hurting. He took her face between his palms, and said, "I'm not like you, my dear. I don't fight for ideas." Gently, he pressed his forehead to hers. "Stay safe tonight, all right?"
She kissed him. Hard. "You too. Promise me."
He got up from the bed, Summoning his clothes, and he left without promising at all.
She rose, worrying at her lip with her teeth, and dressed. Wondered whether she should stay or go. She could Floo out, but she couldn't move freely in the house. Not without him there. The wards wouldn't let her.
While she was still thinking about it, a Patronus bounded in through the window, a lynx, lean and bright, jerking her from her worry and her reverie. It stopped before her, looking at her unblinking.
"I'm alone," she said. "Speak."
Kingsley's voice answered. "Department of Mysteries. Now."
[18 JUNE 1996: LUCIUS]
He'd always managed to keep his hands clean.
Lucius thought this as he held his hand out for the prophecy, waiting for the Potter boy to provide it. Until now, he'd never committed a crime himself, besides membership of a criminal organisation. He'd stood by as others had committed them - and some had been awful - but he'd stayed removed enough to sleep at night.
He was not, after all, a monster.
And yet here he was, ordering his soldiers, mostly mad, to keep their hands off Potter until the prophecy was safe in his hands, and to kill anyone else if they deemed it necessary. Nice little qualification, that, but most of those present would consider it necessary (or desirable, or just plain fun) to kill them just on general principles.
And they were children. Children no older than Draco.
That hardened his resolve. His job was to protect Draco, to ensure he would do whatever it was he was meant to do. These children were not his fight.
But the prophecy, the thought nagged at him, what about the prophecy? Is the rest of it really about Potter at all? Could it be about Draco?
Might this be the moment that his life would be forfeit? he wondered. Suddenly, fervently, he wished he had told Severus and Narcissa about the prophecy of Lady Anne. And hoped, as she had foretold, that he would know the moment, and do what must be done.
Just then, light filled the room, as half a dozen members of the Order Apparated into the room. His hand was still stretched out to Potter when his eyes found Nymphadora's, just a split-second ahead of her Stupefy.
It occurred to him, as he fell backwards to the ground, that she might have saved his life.
[18 JUNE 1996: TONKS]
As aunts went, Tonks decided she liked Narcissa far better than Bellatrix.
She thought this as Bellatrix lashed out at her. Her fighting style was a bit like poking an animal in a cage, spells thrown out in short, sharp thrusts of her wand.
"Nice job on Lucius," Bella taunted. "Not so good in the sack, then? No restraint for old time's sake?"
Don't let her use you against each other, Tonks counselled herself. She made a face. "Good God, no. Narcissa can have him." She returned the hexes in kind. "I don't take mercy on child-killers. He wasn't even that good."
Bella laughed delightedly, clapping her hands as Tonks was hexed to the ground.
"That's what I like to see. A little spirit." Bella leaned forward and used her wand to tuck a bit of her hair back behind her ear; Tonks flinched away, looking up mutinously. "For that, pretty girl, I'll let you live. This time."
Tonks dragged in her breath and let it out, shaking, as Bellatrix skipped away. Knew she should get up, but the wind was still coming back into her lungs.
Quickly, she scanned the room.
Sirius fighting Bella. Well, she thought, Sirius was a big boy, and she thought she'd used up her luck with Bella today. Neville Longbottom was dancing, poor boy - Tarantallegra, she supposed - but didn't seem to be in any immediate danger. Lucius, though - Lucius was pursuing Harry, slowed by an Impediment jinx. His arm was outstretched to meet Harry's, still holding the prophecy. And in the slow motion of the Impedimentia, she saw Lucius tap Harry's hand, flicking the prophecy to Neville.
She blinked. The Impediment jinx made his motions slow and deliberate. Ergo, he had, unobserved by everyone, compromised the prophecy on purpose.
What was he playing at?
Neville was still dancing, and the prophecy, predictably, fell from his pocket and smashed to pieces.
Lucius nodded, his expression filled with a strange kind of satisfaction, and then he fled.
[18 JUNE 1996: LUCIUS]
Lucius burst through an unknown door and found himself in a chamber with a fountain in the centre. It smelled of white flowers and white hair and white damask.
"Lucius," Nymphadora said softly behind him, "where are we?"
Fleetingly, he wondered what it smelled like to her; whether, as for him, it smelled of that day on the table in the sun.
He turned to face her. Her wand was pointed at him; he knew it would be. "We're in the Love Chamber," he said. "How very fitting."
"It's supposed to be locked," she said. "Why were we allowed in?"
He thought - thought - it was because of the prophecy and what he had done. There were mysteries in this chamber besides romantic love. Self-sacrifice, for one thing. Something he thought he was going to find out far more about than he would like, once the Dark Lord got his hands on him.
"Damned if I know," he said. "Everything else went to hell, so why not that?"
Just then, Kingsley Shacklebolt burst in, wand drawn and all guns blazing, metaphorically speaking. "Tonks? Are you in here-" he broke off.
"Right here," Nymphadora said. Her eyes were locked on Lucius, and they were sad.
He knew the truth of it - truth be told, he'd known it all along. She would grieve for him, but she would still turn him over. He supposed he would do the same.
"It's best this way," he said softly. "Perhaps he'll think Azkaban punishment enough for my failure here. Perhaps he'll leave Narcissa and Draco alone." He held out his wand to her, silver handle pointed towards her, as you might hand over a pair of scissors or a Muggle pistol. "See that they get this?"
She took it. She did it gently. "I can do that, Lucius."
"Lucius Malfoy," Kingsley's voice boomed, but Nymphadora held up her hand.
"Lucius Malfoy," she said, his name like a prayer on her lips despite everything. "You are charged with criminal trespass with intent, with attempted larceny and wilful destruction of a protected object, with aggravated reckless endangerment of one or more minors, and with conspiracy with a criminal organisation."
Kingsley added, "And of being an accessory to the murder of Sirius Black by way of criminal activity in company." Sirius' death was news to him, and apparently to Nymphadora too, because she drew in her breath at that; Lucius remembered that Sirius was her cousin. He was sorry, and not only for her; it made his own position far more precarious.
Nymphadora went on. "You have the right under Section 30 of the Criminal Proceedings Act to be tried by the Wizengamot. You also have the right under Section 31 to request the minimum penalty for the gravest charge, and in so doing avoid trial, death, and the Dementor's Kiss, a request which the Minister may accept or reject. You have the right to representation by a lawyer or learned advocate, who will explain any additional rights available to you. Lucius," she said, her voice dropping a little, "do you understand these rights?"
"I do. I would like to exercise my Section 31 rights."
She nodded. "Very well. Hold out your hands and submit to be Bound."
He did, and as the magical ropes traced around his wrists, over and over, the lines of pain in her face etched deeper and deeper.
He thought that his was not the only self-sacrifice that day, after all.
Nymphadora looked more worried than he did.
Lucius, for his part, had no concerns. He had lined the Minister's pockets very well for many years. The insurance he had been squirreling away was about to be repaid. Fudge would, of course, make a point of deliberating at length, as though weighing up Lucius' extravagant contributions to the community and to the Ministry, against his apparent consorting with the Dark Lord himself. But Lucius had covered even this possibility, confiding once to Fudge over late night drinks that he feared, should the Dark Lord ever return, that he might be coerced into re-joining his cause. It was important, he had learned in life, to spoon-feed rationalisations to those he might one day resort to for help.
Eventually, the knock came.
Percy Weasley entered without awaiting a reply. He said tersely to Lucius, "The Minister has approved your request. You will be imprisoned in Azkaban for no less than ten years, the minimum term for accessory to murder. The Minister wishes to advise that no further clemency will be provided to you by his office."
Lucius met the Weasley boy's gaze, and understood the message, though Percy, he believed, did not. Fudge knew Lucius would probably not spend his full ten years in prison; he knew a shift in power was coming. And if it was ever again in his power, Fudge would go to all possible lengths against him. As far as Fudge was concerned, all debts to Lucius had been repaid.
"Very well. I thank the Minister for his kindness and ask only that my family, who are blameless, be spared any retribution. Official or otherwise."
Percy's eyelids flickered. "I believe, Mr Malfoy, that unofficial retribution is a technique of your associates, not the Minister's. However, I will be sure to pass the message on."
Lucius mentally cheered at that. Percy had always struck him as a little – well, weaselly. He hadn't thought the boy had it in him.
The room fell silent a moment after Percy departed. Nymphadora, standing and leaning against the wall, said awkwardly to Kingsley, "I would like to come with you to Azkaban."
"I would rather if you did not," Lucius said stiffly. "I'm sure an Auror such as yourself can handle it well enough, but nonetheless, I would prefer that no one attended that dreadful place unnecessarily on my account. I would appreciate it if you would convey that message to Narcissa and Draco, also."
She was very white, and her jaw clenched and tight, but she nodded. "As you wish."
Kingsley rose. He was darting his glance back and forth between them, clearly evaluating the odd little picture unfolding, and while Lucius had long believed Kingsley was part of the Order, he was not surprised to realise the other man was not aware of her mission. Kingsley was frowning, but he said only, "Well. Azkaban awaits."
Nymphadora nodded. Her expression pensive. She pushed herself off the wall and crossed the room, heading towards the door.
She made it all the way to the door before she stopped there, touching it with her hand. He really thought she was going to leave it at that until she turned and strode back to him, taking his face between her palms and pressing her lips to his.
It wasn't a romantic gesture, he thought as his lips yielded under hers. It wasn't even a desperate one. It was something about pride. About taking something back, some dignity, for both of them.
Well, he supposed, Kingsley was going to figure it out any minute anyway.
"I'm not sorry," she said resolutely as she pulled away. "I can't send the world to hell. I won't. Not even for you."
He thought that was it, everything that was messed up between them, in that one statement. Everything she was and he was not and it didn't matter who was right and who was wrong; what mattered was that they didn't fit in the same time and space. They never had.
"I'm not like you," he said in a low voice. "I don't fight for ideas. I just fight for the things I love. I never lied to you about that."
"No," she said, holding his gaze, and he suddenly realised how rarely they did that. How often the half-truths had torn his or her gaze away. "No, you never did."
"If he gets into power," he said urgently, "run. Go to ground. Don't look back, not for me, not for the Order, not for the greater bloody good. Just run."
She gave a wry sound, tinged with bitterness. "You know me better than that."
He sighed. Kissed her forehead. "I suppose I do. Stay safe as long as you can. Will you do that much?"
She nodded, her eyes holding his as he pulled back to face her. "You too," she whispered.
"You should go," he murmured, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Go on. Don't look back."
She kissed him, and then she turned away, and she didn't look back.
[19 JUNE 1996: TONKS]
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't tell Dumbledore."
Tonks was sitting patiently in Kingsley's office when he returned as the sun was rising in the sky, and he didn't even bother to sit before unleashing his fury. He leaned forward on his hands, staring at her over his desk, his normally placid brow wrinkled with anger.
"Who do you think sent me to seduce him in the first place?" she said calmly. She felt very tired and old.
That brought him up short. "Shit."
She just held his gaze solemnly. If she could picture what she felt right now, it would be something gray and shadowy in her very cells, clouding them, marking the deepest parts of her with something dull and beautiful and sad. It wasn't heartbreak or soulbreak or anything dramatic like that; it was just that somewhere along the line, he'd become written into her very bones, and now her bones were sore.
Kingsley sat down before her. "That wasn't an act back there, though." It was almost – not quite – a question.
"No, it wasn't." Tonks looked away. "The old codger's so busy moving people around like figures on a human chessboard that it never even occurred to him. Hell, it never occurred to me. I mean, he's Lucius Malfoy. Ugly blood purist, bureaucrat, eats elves for breakfast, all that. I thought it would just be a bit of a roll in the hay, and then maybe he'd be in a good mood and he'd tell me things and take me places to show me off, and I'd find things out. An extended one-night stand, you know?"
Kingsley nodded. There was something grave and rather sad in his eyes, she thought.
She said awkwardly, "You don't realise, when you're outside someone's life, how they can be horrible in some ways and loving and warm and loyal in others. It doesn't make sense that those things can exist in the one person, but they can. They can."
Kingsley made a noncommittal sound. "Well, Lucius always did strike me as the sanest of the lot of them. Does Narcissa know?"
"She knows. He says they have an arrangement, but then, he would say that. She might just be too much of a dignified society wife to make a scene. I've never really been sure how much is by agreement and how much is...you know...living with it because she doesn't have a choice."
Kingsley was frowning. He got to his feet and began to pace.
"I've never betrayed our side, Kingsley," she said, staring up at him. "I met my obligations as an Auror. I arrested him. And I met my obligations to the Order. I never withheld information, though I suspect Lucius rationed what he told me, as I did him. The only thing I betrayed was myself, and him. If you think I was wrong, tell who you like. I won't try to stop you."
Kingsley stopped by the window. Looking out. He looked thoughtful. Said presently, "I don't like this, Tonks. I don't like what he had you do, and I don't like what it's cost you. We're supposed to be the good guys."
"It's war," she said simply. "I'm not the first woman who's done it and I won't be the last. As for the cost, I'm not the first woman to have her heart broken. It's life. I don't think I would change it even if I could."
"Maybe." He looked fundamentally unsatisfied.
They were interrupted by a knock. Kingsley turned. "Enter."
Narcissa Malfoy swept in regally. Her eyes were red, but her bearing was the epitome of composure. "Mr Shacklebolt, Miss Tonks."
"Madam Malfoy," she said, rising, bowing her head deeply. It was a submissive gesture she had acquired while navigating Narcissa's world. Lucius would not countenance deceiving her as they deceived his party guests, so against her better judgment, she had taken what amounted to the role of official mistress. Maîtresse-en-titre, the French called it; a recognised role with its own etiquette and customs.
Narcissa returned the nod, then turned her attention to Kingsley. "Mr Shacklebolt. I understand I am entitled to one conjugal visit with my husband under Schedule C of the Prison Dealings Act. I was advised to seek an authorisation letter from you."
Tonks suppressed a pang. She didn't really think Lucius and Narcissa were lovers, but who knew? Narcissa might consider one final shag her wifely duty. And Lucius - Lucius would need comfort. It was totally understandable and it hit her like a good old-fashioned punch in the guts.
Kingsley cocked an eyebrow, but nodded. Sat down at his desk and wrote in neat, sloping script on a little card. "The Ministry only maintains one suite for the purpose. There's a waiting list, and a ballot. It can take a year or more. The Prisoner Liaison office will explain how it works."
Narcissa took the card wordlessly, and turned her attention to Tonks. She unbent a little. "Nymphadora," she said more quietly. "I collected my husband's belongings from the Registrar this morning. I'm told there is one item that remains in your possession."
Tonks drew Lucius' wand. "I promised I would see it into your hands, no one else's." She held it out like an offering.
Narcissa took it. The lines of her jaw seemed to soften a little as her fingers closed around it. "Thank you. I understand you were – there – when it happened?" She nodded, and Narcissa looked away. "Well, I'm sure you were as kind to him as your position allowed."
Tonks closed her eyes briefly. Narcissa had meant to be kind, she thought, but somehow that seemed to make it worse. Needing to get it all over with, she said quickly, "I also promised to pass along a message. He asked that you not visit him in Azkaban. I realise that you will probably go there regardless, but I did say I would pass the message along."
Narcissa drew herself up on her heels. "I would not abandon Lucius in his time of trouble. He should know better than that. But I appreciate your...diligence...in abiding by his request."
Tonks nodded. "Of course."
Narcissa shot a look at Kingsley, but apparently decided to advance their exchange. "I should appreciate it, however, Nymphadora, if you did not visit."
It hit her like a slap in the face, but she swallowed down the sting and the salt and said tightly, "I wouldn't dream of embarrassing you so, Narcissa."
Narcissa seemed to realise then how she had sounded. Her tone became almost conciliatory. "It has nothing at all to do with embarrassment, Nymphadora. The days for such concerns are gone. When a coup d'état is staged, you see, it is not only the king who is seized. The queen, the prince, the maîtresse-en-titre are all toppled with him." Tonks stared at her in growing understanding. Narcissa's tone dropped, and she said gravely, "You understand, don't you? The danger is real. Few knew of it, and to those who did, you were just a short-lived diversion. It must remain so. For your safety, and his."
Tonks swallowed. Narcissa reached for her, seemingly impulsively, but Tonks felt her pressing Kingsley's authorisation into her hand.
She thought of Lucius' exhortation to her. Thought of the danger Narcissa now faced. And so she repeated his words.
"Be safe, Narcissa," she said. "Please."
A dry, bitter laugh escaped her counterpart. "Safe? There is no safe anymore. You know it as well as I. But let us both agree to survive if we can. That, at least, is a promise we can keep." Amazingly, she turned her cheek to Tonks, like a queen bestowing a favour on her lady-in-waiting.
It was farcical, and yet it was an act of grace. She could acknowledge the ridiculousness and acknowledge her good intent at the same time. Tonks leaned in and kissed that white, delicate cheek. In that moment of shared danger and shared grief, she felt as close to her aunt as she had ever felt to her own mother.
"I promise," she whispered.
Narcissa touched her cheek with one slender finger. "You're a good girl, Nymphadora." With that, she turned and swept from the room.
[22 DECEMBER 1996: TONKS]
"My Patronus has changed," Tonks said softly, gazing out at the cornfields, steam rolling up off her tea and dancing before drifting away.
Molly only made a mild sound and pulled her cardigan more tightly around her. It was a cold evening and she supposed she should suggest they go in, but Molly had seemed happy enough for them to sit outside in the dark.
"It's a wolf," she went on sourly. "A beast of prey. How very bloody fitting." Lucius' wolf-like smile rose up in her mind, mischievous and flirty and predatory all at the same time. "It could only have been more cliché if it had been a sodding snake."
Molly shot her a look; Tonks saw it out the corner of her eye. She remembered the discussion about wolves and Familiars, and how she and Narcissa saw ferociousness and loyalty in Lucius. Wanted to tell Molly about it, but didn't.
Seemingly, Molly could reconcile her falling in love with Lucius. The heart could, after all, be irrational sometimes. But she could not accept any expression of perceived worth in him. It was just that final stretch too far, and Tonks understood that. Once upon a time she would not have accepted it herself. And Tonks needed someone, a mother figure - Andromeda could never have accepted any of it - and so she made compromises sometimes, telling some but not all.
"What about Remus?" the older woman wondered at last, perhaps by association of ideas. "Is he still pressing you?"
Tonks nodded. "Afraid so. I mean, he wasn't in love with me, thank Merlin. I told him there was someone before it got to that. But he's hell-bent on being a friend and convincing me to let go of whatever it is that's making me so miserable and all that. Poor bloke means well, but he just won't let the thing go."
Molly sighed into her mug. "Well, he has a point, dear. You aren't really ready to even try just yet. Are you?"
Automatically, Tonks felt for the authorisation card she kept on her person for when her number - Narcissa's number - was drawn.
"There's probably some truth in that," she said softly.
Molly said gently, "There's nothing to hang on for, dear. At the very best, he has over nine years of his sentence to serve, and he'll emerge as married as he went in. And at worst, the Dark Lord will free him sooner, and he'll be drawn even further in." And serve him right, Molly probably thought; but she didn't say it, had never said it, and Tonks blessed her for it.
Tonks felt for the card again. Rubbed it gently with her fingertip. Somehow it soothed her.
One last time, she thought. I'll let go after that. I will.
"I suppose you're right," she said mechanically.
She got to her feet and took up the cups, but she could feel Molly's eyes on her as she took them indoors.
[30 JULY 1997: LUCIUS]
He was a shadow of his former self.
Lucius thought this inspecting his reflection in the ensuite off the bedchamber used for conjugal visits.
The chamber was on Azkaban island, but a distance from the main prison. It was only offered monthly, and it was guarded by Ministry officials, not Dementors. The tradition of the conjugal visit originated with Pureblood society - it was originally an opportunity to try for an heir - and the Dementors were not conducive to conception.
He may have been a shadow of his former self, but after an hour away from the Dementors, he was feeling better already.
He looked better, too. Oh, his hair was unruly now - he couldn't seem to tame it - but it was cleaner than it had been in months. His hands were calloused now, but he'd gotten the worst of it off in the bath.
You could be forgiven for thinking that he'd just had a nasty illness, he thought. There was nothing in his reflection to hint how close to madness he'd really come.
Just then, the door of the elegant bedchamber swung open, and Narcissa swept in.
"Darling," he forced out as it closed behind her. Eyes pricking with salt and tears.
He crossed the room in a couple of strides and clutched hard at her shoulders. She folded her arms around him and stroked his back, rubbing it in little circles.
He said grimly into her hair, "I was...surprised...that you exercised your right to a conjugal visit. But then, I imagine that wasn't what you had in mind."
She nodded, but said nothing.
"If you came to guard your secret from my likely descent into madness, you needn't worry. The strongholds around you and Draco will be the last part of me to go. You can't Obliviate me in here, anyway. Magic in here is blocked."
A familiar voice whispered into his ear, "Not all magic, Lucius. Not all."
He jerked away, as if burned. Felt heat and chills rush over him. Felt every part of him come undone as Narcissa morphed into Nymphadora before his eyes. He was breathing hard, shivering, and he would have clasped her to him if she hadn't done it first.
"Lucius," she whispered as they clung to each other.
"How?" he demanded at last, releasing her. "And why didn't you tell me it was you?" He was ticking over what he'd said...your secret...Merlin. Had he mentioned Draco?
"Narcissa has taken the role of gracious wife in times of adversity."
"Ah, yes. How very well-bred of her," he said, half blessing her, half cursing her. Had she not foreseen the risk of having Nymphadora impersonate her?
But then, perhaps even Narcissa could not imagine how utterly unguarded he was right now.
"But then...you said darling...I thought you wanted to see her," she said awkwardly. "I didn't know what to do." There was no artifice in her voice.
For once, out of bed at least, Lucius believed her completely. It occurred to him that she probably didn't believe much of his story about their marriage, if she believed any of it at all. She probably thought Narcissa long-suffering, rather than a willing and equal player in their arrangement.
It made him want to show her she was wrong. That it was her, only her. Whatever the crazy folly of it. Whatever they did or would do to each other outside this room.
"Do you want to tell me how it's been?" she said hesitantly. She was stroking him down the front of his Ministry-issue robe. Like she couldn't stop touching him.
"No," he said curtly. She nodded, jerking her head like she was afraid to say anything else, and he softened. "There have been enough lies between us to last a lifetime. I won't lie to you here."
She nodded again. Biting her lip, worrying it with her teeth. "Then let's say nothing."
Seeing her like that suddenly brought it all home, and to his horror, he felt tears (tears!) welling up in his eyes. Mortified, he said clumsily, "Can you - would you just sit with me? Will you do that?"
She looked up again, her gaze meeting his, and she nodded. Awkward.
Then suddenly her eyes were full too, and she bridged the space between them and kissed him urgently. Sweeping him up in her need and her pain and mingling it with his own.
"Repello," she said brokenly against his lips, the charm uttered as a sob (he supposed she didn't take potions anymore), and some reckless, furious part of him protested. He didn't want her closed to him. He wanted to live in her, to take root in her. He didn't want her pregnant - good God, not like this! - but he wanted to be carried along with her, and that was something he could never do.
He stumbled backwards until he found the bed. Then he stumbled forwards until he found her warmth. Then they stumbled together into darkness, leaving it all behind.
For a while.
COMING IN ACT THREE: THE FOUR WILL RISE OR FALL TOGETHER