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Deslea R. Judd
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters/Keywords: Lucius Malfoy/Narcissa Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy/Nymphadora Tonks, Severus Snape/Nymphadora Tonks
Spoilers/Timeframe: After Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
Summary: A desperate Lucius brokers a deal with the Order to get his family away from the war, allowing Tonks to infiltrate the Manor in Narcissa's place. Living as Narcissa leaves Tonks floundering to hang on to her own identity, and the ray of light she is beginning to find in Snape. Living with a constant reminder of the wife he may never see again leaves Lucius floundering, too. Goes AU immediately after the Battle of Astronomy Tower.
Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
More fic: http://fiction.deslea.com
Feedback: Please. deslea at deslea dot com.
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Severus asked this as he placed a steaming cup of tea on the table before her. He picked up a bottle of Firewhisky from the middle of the table, looked at it critically, and added a good-sized dollop for good measure. Tonks felt the corners of her mouth twitch into a little smile. He knew her too well.
They were in his tiny little kitchen in his tiny little house. The kitchen was like something out of the Muggle war era, white cupboards with yellow doors and retro Wislock handles, and rounded laminate benchtops with aluminium trim rails around the sides. It was comforting and warm, and totally un-Severus.
"He's okay. He got some nasty scars out of it, but he didn't turn. Greyback failed for once." She gave a wry smile up at him as he took his seat opposite. "He cursed you with every name under the sun. Naturally, he blames you for initiating the battle. Draco's part hasn't been mentioned. Harry, for whatever reason, appears to have kept that information to himself."
Severus leaned back in his chair. "Well, Nymphadora," he said - she didn't bother to scold him about the name anymore, although she made a token effort at flashing her hair red - "Bill can say what he likes. I've never required approval from all and sundry. You can't afford to, in my line of work."
She wondered whether he meant teaching, spying, or both. "Indeed."
"And Lupin?" he asked with assumed casualness.
Tonks snorted. "You needn't be so very delicate. Remus used the attack on Bill as an excuse for another oh-pity-me-I'm-dangerous routine. I'm done with him."
A sardonic little smile flitted over Severus' features. "I seem to recall you being all the more taken with him for that, not so long ago."
"It was appealing once. You know, the heroic selfless wounded thing. But sooner or later you have to get the fuck over yourself and take whatever good there is in this life. It's not like life hands out favours all the time."
Severus huffed, "I'm living proof."
"Oh, Merlin, not you, too. Although at least you have a little more justification. I'd take a couple of days a month miserable on Wolfsbane over being a hated triple-agent 24/7 anytime." Tonks took a long draw on her tea. The Firewhisky-to-tea ratio was satisfyingly high. "So why did you ask me here, Severus? Dumbledore was quite clear that we should never be in the same place. It's like that thing about how all the people who know the Coke recipe never take the same flight. So the secret isn't lost if the plane goes down."
"Really? I never knew that. But then, you followed Muggle culture more than I did."
She smirked at him. "You confiscated more than one Muggle magazine of mine. I half-thought you did it to read them yourself."
"Your potions were better for it," he said mildly. "And if I hadn't been a hard teacher, the students would have eaten me alive. I had senior students who had been at Hogwart's while I was still a student myself."
She held up a hand to forestall him. She'd heard this particular train of thought before; being the youngest professor at Hogwart's had inflicted wounds that were sore spots even now. Not for the first time, she thought that his protracted adolescence had been the price. Even now, just weeks after the death of his rather toxic father figure, she thought she could see a new maturity, a new calm – even if it was coated with a heavy layer of guilt.
Now, she said, "I was just teasing. And you haven't answered the question. Why risk it?"
Severus looked down at his own tea, sitting there untouched. His brow furrowed. "There have been some...rather delicate...negotiations. Concerning you and I."
Tonks sat up, instantly on the alert. "Negotiations? Who with?"
He looked decidedly discomforted, and that made her both intrigued and concerned. "There's been an approach from Lucius Malfoy," he said. "He was rather clever in how he went about it. He sought an interview with me at Hogwart's regarding Draco, which of course I gave. While he was there, he went down to the dungeons, ostensibly to see Draco, and approached the Bloody Baron. The Baron approached Dumbledore's portrait at his request, who in turn passed the message to me. Essentially, he made a roundabout overture that was designed only to reach me if, as he suspected, I was on the Order's side."
Tonks was alarmed. "Why would he think that? Severus, you're in terrible danger-"
"No more than usual. He knows nothing of my agreement with Dumbledore, or the overall plan. He does, however, know of my Vow to Narcissa. He knows that if I hadn't killed Dumbledore, I would have died myself. So to him, it seemed that I could have done it from self-preservation, rather than any loyalty to the Dark Lord. It didn't necessarily rule out me being on the Order's side."
She nodded, understanding. "But he would realise you aren't recognised by the Order anymore, surely."
Severus nodded. "Naturally. Having killed Dumbledore - assuming he was right in his suspicions - I would be in deep cover, helping the Order while being disavowed by most or all of its members. Which is, of course, exactly the case."
Tonks winced. "He really did leave you in a fix, didn't he?" she said sympathetically. "Manipulative old goat." She felt sudden, unexpected exhaustion.
"Quite," he said mirthlessly. "And please don't call him a goat again. Aberforth's Patronus is a goat, and you don't want to know the vile possibilities that opens up in my mind."
She choked. "Ugh. You've got a mind like a sink."
"I assume that's a Muggle expression, but I take your meaning. To which I can only say, consider the company I keep." Severus' expression was wrinkled with distaste.
"Old English slang. Think sewer trap."
"Fascinating," he said doubtfully. "In any event, Dumbledore and the Baron have conducted the negotiations to date. Lucius has a level of plausible deniability, as do I, should anything get back to the Dark Lord."
Tonks suspected this was a white lie for her benefit. If the Dark Lord learned Severus and Lucius were conspiring together, it was likely he would Avada Kedavra first and ask questions later.
Severus continued. "There have been various tests - Veritaserum with Lucius, as well as Legilimency and various signs of good faith. He's far more at risk than I am - which should itself tell you something." She nodded. "We are now at a point where everything that can be done to protect ourselves, has been done. It's time for us to sit down and bargain. I won't say it's safe, but it's as safe as we're going to get."
"We?" Tonks echoed. "What's my part in all this?"
"I don't know. However, you've been requested specifically. What I do know is, Lucius wants something that he's willing to risk his life for - and he's willing to offer something extremely valuable to get it."
They eyes locked for a long, tense moment. She could feel her lips pressed together into a grim line. That exhaustion was back, looming and heavier than ever.
"All right," she said finally. "When do we start?"
Lucius had finished speaking. His face was ashen.
Severus was pacing his study, looking from Tonks on one side of the room, to Lucius, Narcissa, and Draco on the other. The Bloody Baron drifted overhead, his chains gently clinking together. The sound was oddly soothing.
Tonks had kept her eyes on Severus throughout Lucius' recital. She trusted his judgment, and was more interested in his reactions than any truths she might find in the other man's face as he spoke.
It was this trust, she thought, that had sown the seeds of their peculiar friendship to begin with. Trust was a rare thing in Severus' world, but she had trusted him from the beginning. She'd had to. She was a clumsy girl – a girl who could have killed herself in his class a hundred times over – and she had intuited his worth and looked to him to keep her safe. She'd trusted him implicitly, followed every instruction to the letter (Tonks, who obeyed no one!) and he'd brought her through. She'd even gotten Exceeds Expectations for Potions for her NEWTs. She couldn't have gone on to Auror training without it.
As for Severus – an awkward, stern, but brilliant professor in his mid-twenties when they met, unattractive and reviled for it (Tonks, who could be beautiful at will, cared nothing for appearance) – he seemed to perceive her trust. He placed no undue importance on it, but he admired it, after a fashion. He told her, years later, that he'd liked her respect for the dangers of the subject and the way she looked for ways to make herself safe. He even unbent enough to say she would make a good Auror, at a time when everyone else said she was too reckless for it.
She'd trusted him through the good times, through the bad times, and now, through the war times. She trusted him more than ever now.
So having studied his reactions to their guest and found them to her satisfaction, Tonks turned her attention to Lucius Malfoy.
Lucius had aged dramatically since his imprisonment. His hair was unkempt (Tonks, unkempt herself, personally liked it better that way), and his face unshaven. His eyes were sunken into deep, dark-rimmed sockets. Narcissa stood there by his chair, the faithful consort, as elegantly-coiffed as her society page photos. But there was softness around her eyes, too, as she looked wretchedly from her husband to her son. Draco was perched on the edge of Severus' desk, his gaze cast down, wringing his hands. Tonks watched him with more than a twinge of pity. He looked very young.
Severus was speaking. "What you're asking for is dangerous, Lucius. For all of us, but most of all for Narcissa and Draco themselves."
Lucius said, "If all goes according to plan, the Dark Lord will never know they're gone. And the plan carries significant advantages for the Order."
Severus said quite truthfully, "I'm not in the Order. Dumbledore's death saw to that."
"I'm sure," Lucius said dryly. "But she is." He nodded in Tonks' direction.
Tonks spoke for the first time. "You've already alluded to some mutually beneficial plan," she said. "Explain yourself, or stop this nonsense and we'll Obliviate you and return you to your home."
Lucius exchanged worried glances with Narcissa, and Tonks realised that Narcissa was quite distraught. She hid it well, but it was there in the slight tremor of her hands, and in her eyes, glittering with unshed tears as she returned his gaze.
Finally, Lucius said, "I want Narcissa and Draco away from all this. I don't even want them in Europe. I want them in the New World, at least. Maybe the Antipodes."
Severus snorted. "I don't think they call Australia that anymore, Lucius."
Tonks, ignoring the aside, said, "Must be nice to start a war and then think you can just opt out."
Lucius said gravely, "I didn't start the war. I just kept my head down and tried to survive it."
Tonks was surprised into silence. She had expected him to ignore the reproach by replying to Severus instead. That he hadn't, conveyed his seriousness more than anything he'd said so far.
Severus said, "Lucius, aside from anything else, Narcissa and Draco have the Dark Trace, through your marriage." Tonks was not familiar with the Dark Trace – she presumed it was some finer detail of the operation of the Dark Mark – but Severus continued, presumably for her benefit, "Draco's personal Trace can be severed by his defection, but the familial one cannot as long as you serve him, reluctantly or not. The familial Trace is unrelated to their actions - it is a byproduct of yours. Should he choose, he can lay hands on them by simply seeing them in his mind's eye."
At this, Lucius seemed to lose his nerve a little. He looked up at Narcissa, his chin seeming to tremble. She held his gaze for a long moment, offering a sad little smile, and brushed his cheek with the backs of her fingers. The concave at the base of her throat flickered as she swallowed hard.
This seemed to give him the strength to go on with it. With the air of someone who has decided to simply stride into the middle of a battle, he turned his gaze back on Severus, and said, "You will Handpart us. Narcissa and Draco will leave through the Shrieking Shack and travel by Portkey to Salem, and from there to a place of safety of her choosing, which I myself will not know. As you know, Severus, the link between father and child is through his chosen binding to the mother, the only one who can be sure of a biological connection. By Handparting us and establishing a complete separation, the familial link will be severed, and the Dark Trace with it."
Lucius said all this in a monotone, as though he were reciting a potion formula. Only his eyes betrayed him; they were dark and haunted. Draco seemed to be shocked almost to the point of coma. Only Narcissa still looked like herself. Her eyes were moist, but his recitation hadn't broken her. She held them tethered to a world that seemingly had reduced them to their knees.
Tonks felt reluctant sympathy for them. The Malfoys were known for their fanatical commitment to kin. There could be no doubt that such a separation would be devastating to them all.
Finally, she broke the silence, saying, "You said the Dark Lord would never know they were gone."
Lucius said, "That's where you come in. You would transform into Narcissa's likeness and take her place at the Manor, thus providing a unique opportunity for infiltration. It will be a more complete infiltration even than Severus - and a contingency for him."
In case Severus is killed, she thought. None of them said it, and the tiny pause where they all thought it gave her just long enough to realise the prospect of losing Severus genuinely frightened her. In a completely unsentimental way, he was her truest friend, the one who knew her best and expected nothing of her.
At last, she protested, "I wouldn't have the Dark Trace. Wouldn't he know I was an imposter?"
Lucius hesitated. Narcissa laid a hand on his shoulder and answered for him. "Severus will Handfast you and Lucius. You'll have the Trace, as well as the practical benefits of marriage. The ability to pass through his wards, for instance, and the right to give binding instructions to the elves, who might be able to see through your Metamorphosis." She added, "There is, of course, nothing to prevent you from Handparting later."
Tonks stared at her. Felt the blood drain from her face.
"What about Draco?" she said at last, setting aside the completely awful idea of being married to Lucius and living in the same house as the Dark Lord himself. "How do you propose to explain his absence?"
At this, the Bloody Baron drifted down and came to stand by her chair. "That, my dear, is where I come in," he said, his deep, gravelly voice suffused with warmth.
Severus stared at the spectre, surprise written into his features. The Baron's warmth seemed uncharacteristic to him, she supposed; to her it was nothing new.
Tonks stared at the Baron - just for a moment. Then she clapped a hand over her mouth. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Oh!"
Severus looked back and forward between the two of them. "What?" he demanded. "What is it?"
She said with dawning realisation, "He's going to pose as Draco!" Her shock was subsiding. The genius of the plan was opening up in her mind - the incredible opportunities.
Severus was still staring, uncomprehending, and she felt a pulse of rather juvenile glee. Normally, they were neck-and-neck, each never quite outwitting the other. Dumbledore had said as much; he had insisted on her sharing in Severus' knowledge. Her unwavering trust in Severus might lead her to doggedly pursue proof of his innocence. Dumbledore believed she might stumble onto some part of the plan for herself, and unwittingly bring the whole thing undone.
The Baron apparently took pity on Severus, who had, after all, been for many years his respected Housemaster. He said, "You may not be aware of this, Headmaster, but in life, I was a Metamorphagus." To illustrate his point, he transformed into a floating, translucent version of Severus. It wasn't the first time Tonks had seen him take the form of a teacher (in fact, he had taken every one of them to amuse her as a girl), but now, with death so close to them all, she found it rather unsettling.
Severus said, slowly, "Do you mean to say that the Dark Lord will believe that Draco's dead?"
Lucius spoke up. "The story will be that Draco was killed here at the school. It can be implied that one of the students did it in retaliation for Dumbledore. Or, if you'd prefer it a little more removed from Hogwart's, perhaps he came to harm in the Forbidden Forest. You can vouch for there being a body, and when his ghost arrives at the Manor, it will seem to be confirmed."
Severus was frowning. "And how do we know that you won't just follow Narcissa and Draco the first chance you get? Even posing as Narcissa, Nymphadora would be killed in retaliation for your defection." There was a kind of low anger in his voice, as though he were outraged at the very thought.
Tonks was oddly touched.
"Think, Severus. If I were going to do that, why would I go through the considerable risk of exposure by attempting to make a deal with you? Wouldn't we just go?" Lucius was strangely virile now, his anaemic defeat forgotten. Just for a moment, Tonks caught a glimpse of the Lucius before Azkaban, the powerful and obnoxious presence skulking around the corridors in the Ministry. "I want them safe. We both know they won't be, if there is any suggestion that they're gone. The whole thing hinges on my continued presence, and Nymphadora and the Baron taking their place."
"Forgive me, Lucius, but even then, I'm afraid your word is insufficient."
Lucius' face seemed to crumple. Not a lot - just a little. Sagging like ill-fitting clothes.
"Unbreakable Vows," he said finally. It was clear he had not wanted to offer them. "I'll promise not to try to find them until the war is over. And I'll promise to protect Nymphadora to whatever extent is in my power."
Narcissa was pale, but she nodded her agreement. "Draco and I will also promise." She faltered, then went on in a rush, "Severus, perhaps you'd be good enough to include a clause allowing our return in response to summons from either of you. In case...in case Lucius is...hurt."
Tonks and Severus exchanged glances. Finally, Severus said, "It's up to Nymphadora. She's the one most at risk."
Tonks was aware of all eyes trained on her. The weight of their anticipation was heavy, but she took her time. Not allowing herself to be pressed.
She weighed it up. The danger, which was considerable. The marriage to Lucius, which would be challenging on all sorts of levels, irrespective of their intention to Handpart later. The very real possibility of being branded a traitor herself, with only Severus and Lucius to speak for her. The stress of living as a completely different person, day in and day out. The very mundane sacrifices - losing contact with her parents, for instance. It was the least of her concerns on any objective level, but it seemed to hurt the most.
But it was war. And it was a chance that might never come around again.
She looked up.
"Very well. Let's begin."
"You do understand, don't you, that there's more to impersonation than just appearance?"
Tonks, Lucius, and Narcissa were in the Headmaster's study. Draco, Severus, and the Baron - all of whom could move freely in the castle - had gone to the Potions classroom for their own briefing. The three of them had pulled the chairs closer in to speak. Dumbledore was there in his portrait, but having facilitated their meeting, seemed to take no further interest in the proceedings.
Narcissa nodded. "I understand that."
Tonks observed, not for the first time that evening, that while Lucius initiated, Narcissa's participation seemed to drive their actions. There was a clear distribution of labour at work. She filed it away in her mind.
Narcissa went on, "I have already taken the liberty of collecting memories from myself and Lucius. There are quite a lot of them. I thought it was better to have too much than too little."
Tonks nodded. "Quite. I'm going to have to effectively live inside your head for the duration. I'm not going to have the luxury of letting down my guard to think of myself as Tonks. Not living in the same house as the Dark Lord."
Lucius said, "Some of the memories are...rather intimate. I would have rathered not, but Narcissa felt..." he trailed off. His discomfort was written into his face and his posture.
"She was right," she said, feeling unwilling gratitude that Narcissa had already paved the way. "I sympathise, but there is no room for privacy in an undertaking of this kind. Understand, Lucius, I must be equipped to think of you as a wife thinks of her husband. The only way we could avoid that would be by contriving an estrangement."
Narcissa said sharply, "That's not an option. The Dark Lord distrusts women. With the exception of Bella, he considers all women dangerous unless they are controlled by a man." Her lip curled in unconscious distaste. "You would either be killed, or given to someone else. It's not uncommon for such women to be given to Rodolphus as a mistress. It's his reward for sharing Bella's affections."
Tonks nodded, careful to conceal her revulsion. She was painfully conscious that Narcissa was sizing her up. And why not? Any slipup of hers would see Lucius killed.
"Very well," she said at last. "I'll view the memories here, in Severus' Pensieve. I don't need you here for that." She looked back and forth between them, feeling reluctant compassion for them both. No matter who or what they were, the devotion between them was palpable, heavy with them in the room. She said, "Severus has rooms through that door. Why don't you take some time together?"
Narcissa's cool facade faltered then. Warmth and colour filled her features, and her eyes were suddenly filled with tears, and with warring gratitude and pain. "Oh," she said. Just that.
Lucius took her hand. Nodded at Tonks. "Thank you," he said quietly. Led Narcissa away. The door clicked behind them, heartbreaking sounds escaping even before it closed. Some of the muffled sobs were female, but not all of them. Not by a long shot.
Tonks cast an absent-minded Silencio, and then she got to work.
Tonks spent her wedding night grieving for the son she'd quite literally never had.
Before that, though, she had pleaded ill and retired to her bedchamber (their bedchamber) to get her bearings. It wasn't a lie. Seeing the Dark Lord up close had been horrifying. He hadn't actually done anything at all, but he'd looked at her. For one terrible moment she'd been sure he'd seen straight through her, but then his gaze had passed her by.
She was astonished to realise that the man was a genuinely powerful wizard. Somehow it had never occurred to her before. His terrible brilliance, which should have been self-evident, had been eclipsed by his evil in her mind. She had been rocked by her own reckless stupidity – maybe all of them, the whole Order – thinking they could take this monster on.
So she had pleaded ill, and now she was lying in Narcissa's bed in Narcissa's body, trying to wrap her head around her role and her life and her home. Trying not to wonder if she'd make it out alive.
Presently, Lucius joined her. He came in without knocking, and said without fanfare, "Are you going to be all right?"
She was oddly touched at his use of future tense. Touched that he understood she wasn't all right now.
She nodded. "I'll be fine. It was just a shock."
Lucius said mirthlessly, "He does have that effect at first. You get used to it."
Well, that made sense, she supposed; if one could get used to kings and celebrities and politicians, why not despots?
Lucius was unbuttoning his breeches absent-mindedly, but then, abruptly, he shot her a look and paused.
"It doesn't matter," she said. "Bodies aren't terribly sacrosanct to us, you know." It was true enough; she changed them like she changed her clothes. The link between physical form and identity, which so plagued her young female peers, was alien to her. "And I'm wearing Narcissa's, so you've seen mine before."
He nodded, frowning, and finished taking off his clothes. Slipped into bed beside her. Careful not to touch her body with his. It was a big bed; it wasn't difficult.
"Severus will be here soon," he said. "You'll need to be ready."
She nodded. "I know." Turned over on her side to look at him.
He was staring up at the ceiling, unknowing or uncaring of her scrutiny. He'd only been out of Azkaban a few weeks; his frame was thin, and his Adam's apple was pronounced. The prison number on his neck was dark and recent, ugly like a harsh call to the judgment that she supposed he deserved.
It occurred to her that this was her husband – her husband! – and she'd been one of the arresting party that put him there. She couldn't even remember it now – couldn't remember how he'd looked that day, whether he'd fought, whether he'd been angry or defeated – and that struck her as wrong, that she could share his bed and his chamber and his home yet not remember something like that.
She tried to see him through Narcissa's eyes. It was easier than she'd thought. Easy to look on his prison number with sadness and tenderness and want to touch it with her fingers. It was like stepping into a hot spring. Casting off the cool night air and slipping into a shroud of water. Casting off Tonks, as simple as that.
It wasn't him that touched her, she thought. It was her. Narcissa's memories had been bright and rich and Tonks could see him the way she saw him. Kinder and warmer and gentler than she thought the real Lucius could ever possibly be.
"What are you thinking?" he asked her. Turning his gaze on her suddenly.
She wondered whether she should tell him, then decided it could do no harm. Gingerly, she lifted her fingertips towards his neck. "May I?"
A frown flickered across his face, and he pulled away, just a fraction, but then he relented. Leaned in. Not a lot. Just enough.
She grazed the tattoo. "She was proud of this," she said thoughtfully. "She was proud of you for making it out. She wished she'd told you so."
Hurriedly, Lucius looked away.
"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," she said quickly, drawing her fingers away. Turning onto her back to look studiously at the ceiling.
"No," he said gruffly. Then, after a moment, "I mean, thank you. For telling me, I mean."
"Sure," she said. She was regretting saying anything at all.
Just then, there was a knock at the door. "Cissy? It's Bells."
Lucius made a show of dismantling the wards. Hurriedly, Tonks summoned a few warm memories of Narcissa and Bellatrix in girlhood. Tried to manufacture some warmth for Narcissa's psychotic sister. It was difficult; Narcissa had included harsher memories, too. But Bells was a childhood name. Clearly even Bellatrix could feel, or fake sympathy for loss. At least loss not caused by her own demented peers.
"Come in, Bells," Tonks said, using the girlhood name. It was easier to think of her as the once-loved sister that way. She climbed out of bed, tugging the sheet partway with her and grabbing her robe as Bella came in. Making clear through the convoluted production that she was naked with her husband. She and Lucius and Severus had contrived Draco's "death" for her first night in the Manor to explain any variation in her behaviour, but if anyone would know something was off-kilter, it was Bella.
She held no fear that open nudity was accepted between the sisters; Narcissa's memories made clear that she was protective of her modesty. By the time the Dark Lord and his snake had taken up residence, physical modesty was all Narcissa had felt she had left. She had been spared sexual violence so far, and it remained one of her greatest terrors. Tonks rather thought the very sparing was probably calculated. The Dark Lord could kill Lucius and Draco and still extract some cooperation from her even then, she thought, if Narcissa still had the sanctity of her body to lose.
"What is it?" Tonks asked, turning around to face her sister (her aunt) and belting her robe. "What's happened?"
Bellatrix was looking at her with a rather odd expression that, with difficulty, Tonks identified as kindness. So this was what kindness looked like when conveyed by a sociopath, she thought. It was both warming – warming that it was possible at all – and chilling too.
"Snape's here," Bellatrix said finally. "I think he should tell it." She turned away and went to Narcissa's wardrobe, and pulled out a tea gown. She handed it to Tonks, saying quietly, "Get dressed."
Tonks was grateful that it was a simple outfit. Lucius had already retired to the ensuite to dress; he was no help. She ducked behind Narcissa's screen and pulled it on.
Once dressed, she and Lucius followed Bella down to the dining room. Severus was standing by the table, closer to the stairs, warming himself by the fire; the Dark Lord and his minions were at the far end of the room. Tonks supposed grief support wasn't exactly their thing.
Lucius felt for her hand.
Mechanically, she closed her fingers around his. Brought forth memories of Draco when he was born. Resting in her arms. Nursing. She could feel the letdown of hormones as he suckled. Little boy running across the lawn, chasing flamingos. Merlin. She'd never felt anything like it.
(Was this what motherhood was like? She wondered parenthetically. It exhilarated and terrified her).
"Severus?" she said urgently. "What is it?" She looked for Bella, but Bella had withdrawn to her own kind.
Severus stepped forward. He told them.
It came over her in a wash. She heard it dimly, drowned out by cotton wool. Draco had been in the Forbidden Forest. No one knew why. The Acromantulas…apparently the web-burns were very distinctive. Like rope-burns. There wasn't…there wasn't much left.
She clasped her breast with a single, keening sound. "I can't – I can't breathe –" She turned and fled for the French doors.
Severus found her out there on the patio, leaning over almost double, her hands on her knees. Breathing in heavy, gasping breaths.
"Breathe out," he said.
"Don't you mean breathe in?" Tonks said accusingly. Still looking down at the ground.
"No, I mean breathe out. You're breathing shallow breaths. The air in the bottom of your lungs is stale. You're not getting enough oxygen." Severus frowned. "Are you all right?"
She turned her tear-streaked face to look on his. "No," she said in a low voice. "I could see it. I could see him as a little boy. And then…I could see…what you said. About his…his body."
He risked a whisper. "Dora, that didn't really happen."
She straightened and lashed out, "I know that!" Shook her head impatiently. "Merlin. What's happening to me?"
They were drawing attention. Bella was drifting towards the patio. Severus wrestled her close. "You're grieving. It's normal. But you have to get yourself together, Narcissa." He said meaningfully, "Your husband needs you." He released his grip on her shoulders.
Tonks wiped her face messily. Nodded. "Lucius," she gulped. "Poor Lucius. I didn't even think-" She turned away, absently, and went back indoors, leaving Severus standing there in the cold.
Lucius was sitting by the fire, staring into it. His shoulders were slumped in defeat. Tonks didn't think it was all for show. He had lost his wife and son this night.
She went and stood by him. Gently stroked his hair and drew his head against her belly.
Lucius crumpled. "My son," he whispered. "Narcissa. My son."
She leaned over him and kissed the top of his head, and his arms wound around her waist, and he wept.
Tonks sat pensively in the gazebo as the sun began to set.
She was doing needlepoint. It was one of Narcissa's pasttimes, and by using her memories as a guide to technique, Tonks had discovered that she had reasonably good fine motor skills – a contrast with the gross motor skills that saw her stumble her way through life even now.
But even this could be managed with Narcissa's memories. She could see the grand staircase through Narcissa's eyes and descend it gracefully, her outstretched fingers grazing the bannister as a fashion statement rather than gripping it for dear life.
As for the needlepoint – it was soothing, Narcissa was not in the habit of conversation while doing it, and watching it bored Bella to tears. Tonks had adopted it as her way of managing her "grief." The Baron often sat silently beside her, in character as Draco, his knee touching hers.
They had agreed that "Draco" would be apparently mute and unhearing, giving every appearance that this was some sort of limitation created by the nature of his connection with the world. Otherwise, it was possible Voldemort would seek to get information from Draco, using threats to his parents for leverage even now. Tonks persisted, as Narcissa would have, in speaking endearments to him even now; but everyone else had given up, dismissing him as yet another part of the magical furniture, along with the portraits and the elves.
Now, Tonks murmured, "The Dark Lord is sending Pius to the school to investigate your death, Draco darling. He likes to be very sure of things, you know. Of course, I'm sure Severus will be able to tell him everything he needs to know."
The Baron stretched out casually. Message received. He pointed to a dropped stitch.
"Thank you, dear," Tonks murmured.
The Baron drifted away.
She found Lucius, as she so often did, in the front parlour.
His book was turned down, open and abandoned, and he sat there staring into the empty hearth. This had been a different room once, she knew; a warm room filled with baby laughter, and then, sometimes, love on the floor when the baby had gone to bed.
He'd spotted the Baron earlier that day – that was how she'd known to go looking for him. Seeing his son as a ghost tended to turn Lucius pale and stricken.
She stood by him awkwardly. More Tonks than Narcissa, but feeling something. Slow, reluctant compassion. Tentatively, she put her hand on his shoulder.
Absently, he took it. Kissed her fingers. She could feel his grief in everything, his cool hand on hers, his crumbling lips on her knuckles.
Narcissa was rising in her, grieving for him and with him. She felt it in rising tightness in her chest and tears in the back of her throat. "Lucius," she whispered.
There was a sound behind them, footsteps coming to an abrupt halt. She turned.
She withdrew from Lucius and went to him. "Severus," she said, reaching for his hand. "It's good to see you."
"Narcissa," he said. There was a chill in his voice. He didn't squeeze her fingers as usual.
Tonks drew back. Hurt. She started to move away.
He caught her by her elbow. Glanced around quickly; there were no portraits in earshot.
"Don't lose sight of what he is," he hissed.
"I know what he is," she hissed back. "But even monsters grieve."
She jerked away her elbow, and stormed off in white-hot fury.
Perversely, perhaps, that night was the first night she thought of Severus in bed.
She had waited for Lucius to fall into a slumber, breaths levelling out beside her. Turned onto her back, and, stealthily, brought herself to a swift, silent orgasm, body held stiff so her shudders rippled deep inside her.
Lucius had either never noticed, or tactfully pretended not to notice. She didn't know where or when he attended to his own needs; the ensuite in the morning seemed most likely. She made it a practice to make a fair bit of noise before approaching the door, just in case.
There was a faceless man, of course. Not anonymous – he was a lover, not just a shag – but not someone known, either. Glimpses of stroking hands seen through fluttering eyelids. Looking down between them, glimpse of him poised to enter before he disappeared into her depths. Impressions, more than full visuals.
Then his mouth was on hers, insistent and just the right mix of soft and hard, and she tugged at hair that was thick and fell in waves to his shoulders, and that was when she opened her fantasy-eyes and saw that it was Severus.
She was riding the waves by then, and anyway, she'd had stranger fantasies than that. His unexpected appearance in her mind didn't draw her up and out. She shrugged mentally and kissed him back, arched and explored the planes of his back, surrendered to his lips and his hands and the way they were joined deep inside.
When she'd crested and rested and the ripples had died away, the rationalisations began. Of course she would think of Severus, she thought; it was only natural. He was the only link she had to Tonks, the once-familiar self who had been carefully put away. Like putting a winter coat into storage for the summer.
Nymphadora Tonks, she reflected. Young Auror full of promise, missing like so many others, presumed dead. Even her Patronus was gone. The Patronuses she sent to the Order with intelligence were Narcissa's, summoned with Narcissa's memories of happier days, breathless kisses in the sun. The Order had no clue who their informer was; only that the intel was flawless. It had taken months, but they had come to trust it, at least on a provisional basis.
She still had her flat. She'd insisted on having her home when it was all over. It wasn't grand, but it was hers, dammit. So Severus had gone to her landlord when she went missing, Polyjuiced as a young man. He had paid a year's rent, making insistent noises that she was coming back, he had to believe she was coming back, and she would want her place waiting for her.
The landlord had looked with sympathy on what was obviously an in-denial boyfriend, but he had still taken the money. Since the rent was paid, her wards held, and not even her parents could get in to clean it out.
It had seemed important then. Now, it didn't seem to matter. It didn't feel like hers.
Nothing much about that life did anymore.
It had been three months.
Three months of crazy, of co-existing with the Dark Lord and his revolting snake and his more revolting followers. Three months of bodies writhing in her sitting room, either under torture, or in celebration after the torture. Three months of watching with Lucius, leaning against the mantle with blood-red wine and curling smiles on her face, looking on indulgently as their intruders - no, guests - went about their excesses, while the two of them carried themselves as a picture of parental restraint.
They had been spared participation. It appeared, along with her modesty, that Narcissa had always scorned these orgies, and Lucius had been spared as an indulgence to her. So long as she watched and gave subtle indications of vicarious pleasure, and implied through whispers and touches that she and Lucius took that pleasure into their own private rooms, her prudery was treated as an idiosyncrasy. It was treated with vaguely contemptuous curiosity, nothing more.
It was possible, she thought, that if Voldemort had enough followers to go around, he would have ceased to indulge her. After all, Lucius was still disgraced, a fact that was frequently and humiliatingly pointed out. However, Severus had explained that a tactic of the Dark Lord's was to dole out a certain percentage of benevolence; unremitting punishment had a way of driving followers away. As long as there was a small element of mercy, staying remained more attractive than leaving. It appeared that this indulgence was their calculated measure of mercy.
It wasn't as if the Dark Lord had followers to spare. Fundamentally, most people were, in Tonks' opinion, either good or apathetic. Active evil required both dedication and an orientation towards darkness that she liked to think was not the norm. They were still a small army, considering their stated aim of conquering the whole of Wizarding Britain. And that was for starters.
For all that, she had adjusted easily to life at Lucius' side. She didn't particularly enjoy his company, she supposed, but really, the vast majority of the time she was deeply in character as Narcissa, and Narcissa adored his company.
Tonks was less and less present, more and more of a dim memory. Her immersion in Narcissa's mind, her very soul, was what made the whole thing work.
Well, what made it work for her.
She was soon to find the same was not true for him.
It was afternoon when she said this, a rare afternoon when the house was completely empty. The Dark Lord was off on some kind of attempted attack on Harry - at least, she hoped it was only attempted - and Lucius was not invited. It was proof of how completely they had fallen from grace.
She crossed the room to where he was half-sitting, half-leaning on the window ledge, looking out over the lawn. When he didn't reply, she said more gently, "Lucius."
He turned his face towards her. It was ablaze with something a little wild and desperate. She almost stepped back. It was only her well-schooled discipline that stopped her. An Auror didn't give way for anyone. Neither did Narcissa.
He reached out to her with a trembling hand. She watched him in confusion as he stroked back a stray lock of hair and tucked it behind her ear. "You're so much like her," he said in a ragged voice. Then, lower, "You're - this is driving me crazy."
The confusion broke, and realisation washed over her.
"Lucius," she began, but he cut her off with a low, growling sound of need. Crossed the couple of steps between them and kissed her. Hard.
She thought she was going to tell him to stop right up until she didn't. Even as her mind was formulating soothing words and instructing her feet to step away from him, her mouth was falling open with a sigh that was rasping and harsh. Her hands were balling up his cloak and tugging him hard against her. Then it was her making the advance, her tugging him backwards towards their bed. Her falling back, pulling him down with her, wanting him to cover her and consume her. The two parts of her were warring. Narcissa, who loved him, who had to have him, who missed him. Tonks, who was fighting to remain in existence, so little a part of her after all this time that she didn't even know what she really thought or felt about him at all.
And God, oh God, he was touching her, through her clothes, under her clothes, and Narcissa was arching and dragging her nails down his back in exquisite agony, and Tonks, the real Tonks, was just fading away. Narcissa burned bright in her as he filled her and heat rose up and broke out into waves of release. She felt her heart-bursting joy at their reunion, at him finding a home in her, at the sound of his voice as he said her name, Cissa ohgod NarcissaNarcissaNarcis-
He spilled over inside her, and her shudders fell away and she came to herself again. Drew him close and stroked his hair as he came to rest against her, his head bowed to her shoulder, wet with what might have been sweat but were more likely tears. He was heavy, but she didn't have the heart to tell him to move.
She felt tears of her own (were they her own? she didn't know anymore) and she thought:
Oh, God, you poor bastard.
"She said this might happen."
Lucius said this morosely as he sat up in their bed, leaning against the headboard. Tonks was sitting beside him, her knees drawn up to her chest.
Tonks just looked at him, but said nothing. Had no idea what to say.
"She said it was playing with fire. She wasn't angry. She just...wanted me to understand what might happen." She nodded, considering this. "I said it wouldn't. I believed it, too. Hell, we were engaged in Sixth Year. She was the only woman I'd ever had." He looked away. "I suppose that surprises you."
She shook her head. It didn't. The old families were either notoriously stitched-up, or lacking in limits at all. They didn't seem to do anything halfway.
"The Dark Lord...defers to such restraint," he said mirthlessly. "It has exempted me from any number of revolting deeds. It isn't that he sees any worth in marital fidelity, mind, but it pleases his aesthetic sensibilities. He associates it with self-discipline and the place in society to which he feels Purebloods are entitled."
She said tonelessly, "Stop it. You can't think like that. You can't talk like that. Like I'm..." she trailed off.
"Like you're not her?" he said hollowly. "I think we've established that isn't a problem."
"I am her," she snapped. "Anything else is death. And I'm not ready to die. Not for you, not so you can keep your bloody upstanding image of yourself in the middle of this Godforsaken deathplace. Not for anything. We're in this together, and we're going to do whatever we have to do to survive it. If you have to make some sort of deal with your conscience to do so, then so be it. It can't be the first time."
He was staring at her. There was no fight left in him, it seemed. He gave a tiny nod. "All right."
She wriggled down into the bed, under the covers. Turned on her side away from him. "Good night, Lucius."
The bed shifted as he moved down, too. "Good night," he muttered. Then, by way of concession, "Narcissa."
She could feel the tension in him, the way he held himself stiff and the bed stiff with him. She said, "You can hold me. If you want."
He did. One arm closing across her belly. Burying his face in her hair. His tears left cool tracks down the back of her neck.
Oh God, she thought again, you poor bastard.
Her hand tightened on his arm, drawing him closer, without her realising she'd done it.
"Why do you do it?"
Lucius asked this one day after another of their deeply dysfunctional shags. She knew it was a hundred kinds of fucked-up and she didn't know how to stop it.
She frowned. Not sure how to answer.
While she was still thinking about it, he persisted, "Do you think of him?"
Him, she thought. He meant Severus.
Well, she supposed, it was rather obvious. Severus had become sharp of late, especially to Lucius, and the lines knit between his brow were deep and suspicious sometimes. It wounded her, and that made her sharp back. It had gotten to the point where Lucius had intervened in their bickering, accusing Narcissa of blaming Severus unfairly for Draco's death. That had worked as an explanation for their behaviour, and he'd hissed at them both to knock it off.
Severus wanted her, and she could have wanted him, but it was all too late. And they all knew it.
"No," she said truthfully. "I think of her. I want what you had."
This broke Lucius a little. He leaned over her and kissed her. Hard. Bringing up her desire all over again.
He said, "Oh God, I do too."
The day they caught her father was the day that saw her worlds collide.
She and Lucius came down the grand central staircase, drawn by a commotion, to find Voldemort goading a man on the ground.
He'd just been dragged in - she knew that because Scabior and Fenrir were there, and they'd have scarpered as soon as they'd received a reward - and oddly for Voldemort, he seemed to be singling out the man for special treatment. It was not normal for Snatchers to bring a would-be victim to the house.
"Ted Tonks," Voldemort was saying, and Tonks flinched. Lucius closed his hand tightly around her arm and kept walking. In cold, dumb horror, she schooled her features and did the same. "I know you. A defiler of the great House of Black, I think?"
Her father spat at the Dark Lord's feet - the only part of him he could reach. "You defile it. You defile everything. Dromeda is the only Black to stay pure."
Oh God Dad don't say that he'll kill you please -
"Pure!" Voldemort said scornfully. "Pure! You don't even know what the word means! Muggle filth dares to speak to me of defilement!" He aimed his wand squarely at her father's head.
She raised her hand. Imperial. She commanded, "Stop."
Voldemort looked up in complete astonishment, as did all around them. Lucius was staring at her, panic in his eyes.
She directed her words to the Dark Lord, choosing her tone carefully. Her chin was lifted to just the right angle, she hoped. Too high and he would kill her. Too low and he would kill her father.
"My Lord," she said, "forgive me. However, this man stole my beloved sister. He brainwashed her and tainted her with his filth. Fathered an abominable half-blood on her. He owes me a debt. I have a prior claim. Let me deal with him. I assure you, he will know the full weight of your wrath, as well as my own."
For an awful, tense moment, Voldemort didn't respond. Didn't even move. Her father looked on her with terror even greater than his terror before, and that wounded her beyond measure. She stared him down, not as Tonks, but as Narcissa. Imagined nursing rage against him for nearly thirty years. Inside her, Tonks was splintering, crying out in pain.
The moment passed. Incredibly, Voldemort stood back, giving a little bow. "Dear Narcissa. I didn't think you had such admirable mettle in you. Far be it from me to take what is yours," he added sardonically, as though he had not taken her son and her house and most of her husband's spirit.
She bowed her head. "My Lord," she said, "I will not forget this kindness." She lifted her gaze to Lucius. "Darling, if you'd be so kind? The stables, I think. I wouldn't like to disturb the household with his screams. It is, after all, going to be a very long night." She dropped her gaze rather cruelly to Ted, and it seemed to her that he was really just another very remote figure from another life.
Voldemort spoke. "Certainly, you may play with your new toy to your heart's content later, Narcissa, but having deprived us of killing him, the very least you could do is let us watch a taste of it now."
She hesitated, and knew it for the mistake it was before she'd done it.
Lucius intervened. "Forgive my wife, my Lord. She has the most curious modesty, as you know. We have always appreciated your indulgence in allowing us to keep our pleasures...private."
Her mouth felt dry, but she found it in her, somehow, to speak. Failure could be the death of them all. "Yes, my Lord, I quite forgot myself. I certainly didn't mean to be selfish. It would be my pleasure to...to entertain you."
Voldemort gave a broad smirk, and clapped his hands. "Splendid, Narcissa. Since you insist in keeping your passions for your husband, you shall spare no passion in entertaining us tonight. Begin."
God, could she do this?
If she did not, it was death for them all. There was no other choice.
Severus was there, and she held him in her gaze as she raised her wand. He was looking at her with gentle eyes, all rancour forgotten. He had done this, and had it done to him, too. If he could survive it with his mind intact, then she and her father could, too.
Lucius was at her side. "My love," he said gently, "he hurt us all. Your pain is my pain. We will do this together." His arm slipped around her and held her wand with her. For a fleeting, cynical moment, she wondered if it was so she wouldn't lose her nerve, but his hand was gentle, not harsh. She nodded as he kissed her temple. "For Andromeda, darling, who was lost to us all. A terrible loss to the Blacks and the Malfoys alike."
She nodded. "For Dromeda."
Lucius said, "Crucio," and she said it with him, not knowing which of them had done it. In that moment, the part of her that was Tonks and nothing but Tonks loved him. Loved him for taking just a little of the horror and guilt from her shoulders.
Her father was screaming, she could see it, but she couldn't hear it. Suddenly realised that everything around her had gone silent. Only Lucius and his Crucio - their Crucio - could be heard. He must have cast a whispered Silencio for her when he kissed her temple.
At last, Lucius released her hand, and she dropped her arm. "That will do," she said grimly. "For now."
Voldemort clapped his hands once more. "Very nicely done, my dear. Enough to hurt, but restraint enough to keep him alive for more. You show a true gift, for one who has exercised it rarely."
She knew him well enough by now to know it was a compliment, not a threat. He considered women too weak in will and strength to share regularly in the excesses of their husbands. Always excluding Bellatrix, of course. "My Lord is too kind."
He bowed his head in mock politeness. "You may go." He was in an oddly jovial mood tonight, as close to good humour as she'd seen him; it had worked in their favour.
Lucius bowed his, too. "Thank you, my Lord." He cast the Petrificus, then levitated Ted's collapsed form before them, holding his arm out to her. "Come, my love. The night is young."
"Thank you, darling," she said, tucking her hand into his elbow.
They paraded out of the hall, her head held high, her bearing autocratic, her mind schooled into emptiness. Dimly, she heard Severus making his excuses. They descended silently into the grounds, along the path, like some insufferable Pureblood couple out on a courtly walk. Her chin wanted to tremble and she put everything she had into keeping it still.
When they reached the stables, Severus was already there, his cloak off, laying out dittany and salve. He must have Apparated to beat them there. Lucius lowered Ted onto the hay and hurriedly cast the wards. She only realised that she was still gripping his elbow for dear life when he gently prised her fingers off.
When he let go, cast her adrift, her control left her. She dropped down awkwardly onto a bale of hay, breaking out into braying sobs, folding her body over and rocking as though in physical pain. Ted was staring at her, eyes haunted and bewildered, and she covered her face. Couldn't face him. Not after what she'd done to him.
Lucius sat down beside her. Awkwardly rubbed her back in gentle circles. He said urgently, "Severus. There has to be a body. Even with torture as an explanation for the delay, he will expect our guest here to be dead by morning."
Severus was working methodically over Ted's wounds. He didn't look up. "There's a big Muggle hospital in Salisbury. It will have a morgue. Can you handle it?"
Lucius hesitated. "I'm not the best person for that. I don't know their world."
"You're not the best person at healing, either. I'm needed here. Just don't be seen. No theatrics."
Reluctantly, he nodded. Gave Dora's shoulders an awkward little squeeze, and let go.
She was still weeping, but the shudders were subsiding. She rubbed her eyes and wiped her face, all wet and cold. Caught Lucius' hand as he rose.
"Thank you," she whispered.
He held her hand for a moment, giving her a tight, grim little smile, and he left them.
She watched him go, then turned back to Severus. Ted was still laying there, prone but horribly aware. Hesitantly, she got on the floor beside him.
"Severus," she said tentatively, "can we-"
"No," he said peremptorily. "His wounds are deep. Lucius was right to cast the Petrificus. It's keeping his blood still along with everything else. If we don't seal them before we cast the Finite, he could bleed to death." She drew in a shaking breath, and he spared her a single, penetrating look. Resuming his work on Ted, he said, "You did the right thing. I hope you know that."
"The right thing?" she blurted with tears anew. "He's my father!"
Terrible, ghastly understanding flooded into Ted's eyes. He stared at her with some dreadful mix of confusion and horror. She stroked back his hair; he stared up at her hand as if she was a stranger.
Severus looked up. He said softly, "You've had a terrible shock, Dora." He produced a draught from his lined-up potions. "Drink."
She took it without question – she would only have done that for him – and she collapsed into a sudden, deep sleep before she could ask what it was.
When she woke, her father was asleep.
Severus was sitting there, smoking. She hadn't seen him smoke in years.
"Those things will kill you," she said weakly.
"I hardly think cigarettes are my biggest problem right now."
"How is he?"
"Better. He'll sleep til morning. I told him you were on the side of light, and that you'd been brave, and that you'd explain. I don't know if he understood. He seemed to, but it might have been just shock. We might have to explain all over again tomorrow."
She nodded sombrely. "Lucius?"
"Still gone. Salisbury isn't far, but he'll have to wait for shift change. There's a handover meeting. The morgue is empty then." Clearly, Severus had switched corpses before; she wondered how many people he had managed to spirit out of the Dark Lord's clutches. "It's just gone nine. Handover goes from ten til ten thirty. He shouldn't be long."
She nodded. Began to get to her feet, and stumbled.
Severus caught her. "I should have warned you. The Crucio can be rather debilitating. Voldemort and Bellatrix thrive on it - no one else."
She slid down to sit by him. Her gaze fell on the bundle that was her father; he was at the far end of the stables on fresh clean hay. He was facing away from them, snoring in a deep yet fitful slumber.
"How did you cope, Severus?" she wondered. "After Dumbledore, I mean?"
He looked away. "The two circumstances don't compare. I had his explicit instruction to do what I did. The man was dying anyway. And he wasn't my father."
"He was the closest thing you had," she retorted.
He blew out smoke, not answering. It was a herb, and the smell was mild and comforting, less jarring than Muggle cigarettes. It enveloped her and calmed her. Somehow, suddenly, it felt right to let the matter rest. To let him rest, and to rest with him. So she didn't press him. Just leaned her head against his arm.
He looked out, away from her, his gaze trailing out the window into the night.
They were silent for a while. Then, just as she was starting to drift off against him, he said hesitantly, "Dora. You and Lucius. Are you...?"
Reluctantly, she nodded.
He stiffened against her, just a fraction, and she felt the need to explain herself to him. His jealousy was one thing, but she couldn't have borne his disappointment. Not now. Not when he was all she had left.
"It's been so confusing," she said. "For both of us. Sometimes I'm so far in her head I lose sight of myself. And when I'm her, I want him. The way she did." She shook her head again, letting out a resigned sigh. "The stupid thing is, I don't think Dora even likes him. But sometimes she doesn't get a word in edgewise."
Severus jerked away from her, leaving her to catch herself before she could fall. Suddenly his hands were on her, gripping her shoulders hard. "Stop talking like that," he hissed, his voice harsh and brutal.
"Like what?" she said. Like a child. More bewildered than angry.
"Like you're not Dora. Like she's someone else." His grip was harder; he was almost shaking her. "Change back, dammit. I'm sick of seeing you that way."
She did. Felt her eyes grow dark and her cheekbones fall back and her flesh become younger. More supple. Felt her hair take on its natural texture and wave. Stared at him, her lips parted, breathing heavily. The anger, the indignation was there, but it was remote. She was too numb to feel it properly. Mostly she was just picking up on his tension. It wasn't really her own.
He stared at her for a long, long moment, his eyes searching hers, and then he was taking her face between his hands and kissing her. Firm and possessive. She sat there unyielding, not reacting. Not even really absorbing it. Like it was happening to someone else.
He pulled away. Dropped his hold on her shoulders, as though recognising suddenly what he had done. Put his hands up off her, holding them stupidly in the air.
It was his absence that did it, the abrupt feeling of warmth taken away. Suddenly she was herself - really herself - and the enormity of it was starting to sink in. What she'd done, what she'd become. The man she'd married and the man she was with now.
"Dora," Severus was saying, "I'm sorry-"
She grasped his shoulders and kissed him.
He was as unmoving as she had been, just for a moment, but then he was with her, feasting on her lips. A low growl of hunger rose up out of his throat, vibrating on her lips as it escaped him. He muttered between kisses, "Dora - are you - sure-"
She nodded, releasing him just enough to speak. "You know me," she whispered against him. "You know who I am."
He nodded. "Dora. You're Dora, you're my Dora," he breathed as their lips met once more. She closed her eyes, rocking back and forth a moment, like swooning. This was what it was like, to want something, to want it for herself. Not as someone else.
She tugged him down. Didn't question the impulse. It occurred to her that this might be a way to hang onto herself - to hang on to him. He pulled away from her long enough to blurt a Muffliato before capturing her into a deep, bruising kiss, his hand deep in her hair, firm and demanding. In a way it reminded her of Lucius, but in a way it was nothing like him.
"It goes both ways," he said softly as he laid her down. "You know me. You're the only one left who does."
As they joined in the dark, she wondered if love was just knowing another person, and not looking away.
When it was over and they were sitting together, sharing his cigarette, she said, "Severus?"
He looked at her. His expression was a question.
She said hesitantly, "I don't want Lucius to know." A shadow came over his expression, and she went on hurriedly, "Whatever this messed-up thing is between us, it seems to work. I don't want to put it at risk. All our lives could count on it."
He nodded slowly. His expression was grim, but he said, "All right."
She took his hand. It was hard and unyielding, and she forced his fingers to twine with hers. "I can't be Dora all the time. You of all people know that the face we give to the world isn't always our own."
He looked away. "I know that," he said impatiently. "But you're deliberately splintering yourself, Dora. It's dangerous. You have to keep the real Dora intact. It's the only way to hang onto yourself and what you're here for."
"I know what we're here for."
"You do now. But double agents have turned. I'm not the only one Dumbledore had, you know. But I'm the only one who stayed."
"What made you different?"
"I had a reason," he shrugged. "One that meant I could never, ever turn."
"What was it?" she said softly.
He breathed a long draw on the cigarette. With assumed casualness, he said, "Lily Evans. I had it rather badly for her, I'm afraid."
She wasn't fooled by his easy admission. Sadness filled her on his behalf. "Oh, Severus."
He shrugged. "I was an idiot. We were best friends. I could probably have had her if I'd been smarter about it. But I never thought with my head when it came to her."
"I'm sorry," she said gently.
"Don't be. I don't deserve it. I have my own share of blame in what happened to her. I didn't do it, but I passed on information that led to it." He looked at her head-on. "You were right before. I do know what it is to do it to someone you love. And I don't know how to live with it. I never really have. I've lived in spite of it."
"Maybe that's the how," she mused. "Just that."
They fell silent a while.
"Lucius is suffering, isn't he?" he said after a while.
"Yes," she agreed. "Living without them is like living without air for him, I think." Just for a moment, she remembered him, ravenous, his hands on her, calling her by another woman's name.
He nodded. "It shows. Fortunately they all think it's because of Draco. They don't understand it, but they accept it. I think they think it's quaint. Death Eaters never were much for family solidarity."
"No," she said grimly.
"He doesn't have to know," he said after a moment. "I trust your judgment."
She knew – thought she knew – something of what that cost him. "Thank you."
"I am curious, though, to know if your concern is about him being jealous, or something else." He said it formally, a little stilted, as though they were not discussing the man who shared her bed and her other life.
Tonks considered this. Said slowly, "It's more that I think it will unsettle whatever sort of peace he's made with losing Narcissa by having me there as a substitute."
He nodded. Frowning.
"It isn't about me for him, Severus. It isn't."
"And for you?"
She took his cigarette and drew on it. Breathed out slowly, watching the smoke dance and vanish. "It isn't about me for me, either."
He was looking at her, something indescribable in his face.
"Just stay whole, Dora. Not for me. For yourself."
She leaned in and kissed him. She did it gently.
It was easier than saying she didn't know what whole was.
Andromeda was trembling.
It could have been from being abducted unceremoniously from her home by Severus, or from being confronted with the sight of her very-much-alive daughter, or being made to sit on the couch at Tonks' abandoned flat while they explained.
It could also be from the news that her daughter - her daughter! - had married Lucius Malfoy.
There was an equally good chance it was from the news that Dora had used the Cruciatus on her husband.
Ted was sitting beside her, silent and withdrawn, staring watchfully at Tonks. He'd flinched when she'd tried to touch him that morning.
"The Dark Lord believes your husband is dead," Severus said, neatly sidestepping the many sources of her mother's horror. "He believes Narcissa killed him. He'll kill Nymphadora and Lucius if he finds out otherwise." He placed a money pouch on the coffee table before them; it was from Lucius' vault and bore the Malfoy coat of arms. "This will keep you quite well until the war is over. We suggest you go to Spain or Italy. France is too close."
Her father said bitterly, "I will not accept charity from the Malfoys."
Tonks said, "Then call it reparations for injury. It's money to which you're entitled. And that way, no spell in the world will call it any less than yours."
Her mother said, "You're not entitled to make that contract."
She drew herself up in her seat and said, "I am. I'm a Malfoy."
Her father said coldly, "So you are."
Severus spoke from his position by the mantle. "Mr Tonks, I understand that you've been through a lot - better than most. I've suffered the Crucio myself. But your daughter has done brave and dangerous things that might win us the war. You're being unfair."
Ted said scornfully, "Mr Snape, I would not expect you to understand. You've obviously been some kind of double agent for a long time. So long that you believe the compromises you make are acceptable, to the point where you killed your own dear friend for it. I blame Dumbledore for that, by the way. He talked a lot about the greater good. But we did not raise Dora to do the greater good. We raised her to do good. To marry a monster, to share a home with monsters, to torture people - these are not things we raised her to do." Heat and salt were rising in her face, gathering around her nose and spilling over her eyes as he spoke. Her chin quavered and she wept silently under her father's gaze.
A chill fell over Severus' voice. "Your daughter is worthy of respect. If you cannot give it to her, I have enough for the three of us. Will you take the gold and make your escape, or will she have endangered herself for naught?"
With a look of disgust, Andromeda snatched up the pouch. Ted began to protest, but she said firmly, "They're right. We have to go. The Dark Lord does not tolerate being thwarted. This money is our due, and we'll need it." She glared at Severus, then passed her gaze onto Tonks; softened slightly, but not much. "We'll leave you to your...endeavours. I won't wish you luck, Nymphadora, but I hope you live long enough to reflect and learn from the choices you've made." Her tone made plain that she held little hope; her mother had already written her off for dead. And why not? She'd done it to the Blacks before her.
Her father only nodded, silently, jerkily, and got to his feet. Her mother did the same.
Severus stepped aside from the hearth so they could go to the Floo. He motioned to two vials on the mantelpiece. "Polyjuice," he said. "The red one is for you, Andromeda, and the blue one for Ted. It will last long enough for you to get to the Dover Floo junction and change for a Portkey to Calais. Once you're in France, the risk of recognition will be minimal."
"Thank you," Andromeda said grimly. Ted said nothing, only took his, and drank. Transformed into a nondescript elderly wizard before their eyes, while Andromeda morphed into a rather elegant young witch who could have been his daughter.
They stepped towards the fireplace. Took a little Floo powder in their hands.
Tonks cried out in anguish, "Daddy."
Ted only turned and locked those Polyjuice-aged eyes on her, shook his head a little, and turned away.
Her knees seemed to buckle under her as they Floo'd away, and Severus was beside her, he was catching her, leading her to the couch as she wept. Tugging her against him and murmuring nonsense sounds into her hair. "Oh, Dora," he whispered. "I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry."
After her hysterics had subsided, he made love to her. He said that they were wrong, they didn't understand, but he did, and he was proud of her.
But she wasn't proud of what she'd become, and when it ended, she wanted nothing more than to be with Lucius, and be Narcissa for him, and leave Dora behind.
Lucius said it casually as they lay facing one another in bed. He was stroking her hair, tucking it back behind her ear. She wondered whether he had adored Narcissa this completely and continually before the switch, or whether it had been prompted by losing her.
She said carefully, "Dora and Severus have found each other. It has nothing to do with us." She wondered if that was true; wondered if the distinction meant anything to anyone but her.
He seemed to grasp what she meant. "All right," he said quietly. His eyes were grave.
She scooted over closer to him. Threaded her hands up in his hair, tangling it and drawing him in for a deep and urgent kiss. "I'm Narcissa," she whispered, "I'm your Narcissa."
He groaned into her mouth. "Oh - God. Narcissa. Fuck." Let her tug him on top of her. Found her warm and wet, and filled her, gasping out that name that wasn't hers, and she gave herself up to it gratefully. Submerged herself in the memories and deepest thoughts that were not her own.
She remembered a long-ago wedding night and the way he took her dutiful, unwanted virginity and the way he made love to her when they discovered she was expecting their son. Remembered the way her heart would seem to burst sometimes when he locked eyes with her. Could feel her heart bursting now, surrendering completely to her husband, the man she'd been promised to and quite unexpectedly loved her whole adult life. She couldn't seem to take him deep enough, couldn't seem to get close enough. He was her world and he was filling her completely and she still couldn't get enough of him.
Tonks, and what she had become, was mercifully far away.
She was glad.
It happened fast.
She would look back on it later and try to reconstruct it, but she never could. Even during her mercifully brief trial, even under threat of Azkaban, she couldn't. Her carefully-honed Auror's senses abandoned her. All there was for her in that final battle was fighting so hard she couldn't even see, and the stables going up in flames behind her, heat and wind pushing her forward, Severus guarding her back, Lucius out of reach. She didn't know where Voldemort was, and she hardly cared. There was no plan, no strategy, just ducking and weaving and praying to God to make it out alive.
It went on like that for hours, or so it seemed. (She would learn later that it was only forty minutes, and she could never quite reconcile that in her mind, even when she was an old, old woman). Her world narrowed to fight and flight and the man beside and the man behind.
And then, as flames parted, she saw him. Not in the fire, but behind it, hair spilled out around him on the ground.
"Lucius!" she screamed. "Lucius!"
And then Severus was with her, his hands were on her, around her waist, holding her back. "No," he hissed.
"No, I have to see him, I need to see him!" she blurted, fighting him ferociously.
"Yes, but be smart about it," he growled. Loosened his hold and took her by the hand. He said more gently, "I'll help you. Come on."
She dragged in her breath. Nodded. She gripped him tight enough to hurt.
She felt the familiar pull, and they Disapparated.
He was dying. She had seen enough death by now to know its approach.
He lay there, his hair spread out on the ground around him, alive, terribly aware, but with a huge wound spreading out at his belly. It wasn't a hex, but a dagger. Bella's dagger. It protruded from the sodden, crimson mess that was his stomach.
She dropped to her knees at his side.
"Lucius," she whispered helplessly. "Oh, Lucius."
"Nymphadora," he said. His eyes were closed. They fluttered, like he wanted to open them but it was all too much effort.
It wasn't so much a decision as a change of heart, a change of self, an utter metanoia. Wordlessly, instantly, she transfigured her clothes – different colour, different cut. "It's Narcissa, darling." Severus, kneeling beside her, looked up at her, startled.
Lucius opened his eyes. Just a little. "Cissa – how-"
"It doesn't matter how," she said gently, taking his hand. "Darling, you've been so brave. You've made us safe."
Silent tears slipped out over his cheeks, down into his hair. "Draco-?"
"A fine young man. He reminds me of you." She stroked back his hair. "You've fought so hard, my love. It's time to rest."
He reached up and cradled her face. "I missed you."
She could feel warmth and tears gathering around her nose, and those weren't Narcissa's. Not at all.
She whispered brokenly, "I know you did."
"Stay with me?"
Her throat was closing and her heart was tight and cold and barely beating in her chest. "Til the end."
Severus was staring at her still, his look mingling doubt and compassion, but he held his peace. Took her hand and held it gently.
They were still like that when he died.
"I loved him," she whispered.
They were sitting in the Malfoy drawing room. Lucius lay on the long, low coffee table before them in his finest clothes. His face was peaceful and his hair was brushed. There was a spray of white flowers on his chest. They had seen to his body together.
Now, Severus looked at her, his scrutiny intense yet oddly gentle. "I know."
"I love you, too," she said softly. "I don't know how those two things fit in the same...the same time. But they do. They do."
"I know," he said again. Leaned in and kissed her temple.
"Did I do the right thing?" she asked. "Lying to him like that?"
He nodded. "I think so. It was a kindness."
She nodded. Fell silent a while.
He broke the silence. Said softly, "I'm leaving, Nymphadora."
Her head jolted up. She grasped his arm on reflex.
"I have to," he went on. "I'm a war criminal. It doesn't matter what side I was on. I let people die."
"No," she said, fighting down panic. "Severus, please. Give them your memories. They'll have to find you innocent."
"I don't want them to find me innocent," he said quietly. "Evil rose up in our society because we allowed it. Because enough of us accepted that the end justified the means. I won't be part of rebuilding that belief all over again."
She stared at him. "Where will you go?"
"Ceuta," he said. "It's a little province in North Africa, occupied by Muggle Spain. There's a small Wizarding community there. Not many know of it. It's a good place to heal."
"I don't like to think of you hiding," she said softly. "It doesn't seem right."
"It's not hiding," he said. "Not really. It's just...resting in peace."
She shivered. "Don't say it like that," she said, her gaze falling on Lucius' repose.
"Come with me," he said urgently.
She shook her head. "I promised Lucius I would take care of Narcissa and Draco. I can only do that by staying here. I have to stake my claim to his estate as his wife."
"That means admitting you lived here as his wife, and asserting the validity of the marriage. There's no one to vouch for your allegiance, except me, and my word is worthless. You'll be tried."
"There's the Baron. And Lucius left memories. He knew what he was asking of me. He did what he could to protect me."
"It might not be enough. You're risking Azkaban."
She said simply, "I promised."
He nodded. His expression was grim.
"I'm not choosing him over you," she said urgently. "But I have to finish it. Please-"
He cut her off. "It's all right. I understand. Truly." He took her face between his hands. "You wouldn't be my Dora if you didn't." He was smiling, but she thought the smile was rather sad and hurting.
"I'll come to you when I can," she whispered. "I promise." They both knew the promise was almost meaningless; whether she could was a matter for the Wizengamot, not for her.
The shadows seemed to lift then, and his smile grew wider and softer. "I know. I know who you are."
"And I know you."
He kissed her, just once, deep and long and slow, and then he went to the Floo and left her.
Narcissa and Draco arrived in time to help her bury him.
They returned from the graveyard in the southern corner of the grounds, just in time to confront a raiding party. Tonks was unwillingly impressed. She had thought it would take at least a few days after Voldemort's downfall for the Ministry to get its act together for that. She had underestimated the desire for Death Eater blood.
Kingsley broke through the stunned Aurors and came to an abrupt halt. "Auror Tonks," he said in astonishment. "We thought you were-" he broke off.
"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," she said calmly. "And my name is Nymphadora Malfoy."
It was the first time she'd paired those two names together. It rolled off her tongue like glue, both foreign and familiar. She was Tonks and she was Narcissa, but Nymphadora Malfoy, the amalgamation of the two, was a stranger. A stranger who had committed a bizarre sort of adultery. A stranger who had tortured her father.
But she was a stranger who must be accepted and proclaimed. Nymphadora Malfoy was the spy who might – might¬ – have a defence against Azkaban. Nymphadora Malfoy was the widow with a claim on Lucius' estate.
Now, Kingsley's brow creased as his gaze flickered back and forth between Tonks, Narcissa, and Draco. "What?"
"Lucius Malfoy was my husband."
"But - Narcissa -"
"Lucius and Narcissa Handparted a year ago. The Parting, and his Handfasting to me, were performed by Severus Snape. The records are in his office."
"You've been here all this time? As Narcissa?"
"Yes," she said. "Lucius still cared for Narcissa and did not wish to see her endangered, as she would have been if Voldemort had known that she had left. And I had my own reasons for wishing to be close to the Dark Lord. It was my Patronus, Kingsley, that has been informing to you all this time."
Kingsley nodded slowly, mentally accommodating this new twist. "Very well. If you'll allow me to inventory Lucius' assets, I'll take your statement after that."
Tonks shook her head. Drew a breath. This was her trump card, and it was her promise, but it might be her downfall. "Oh, no, Kingsley. Lucius had no assets. They all passed to me on the marriage. It's with the Handfasting records, and I have copies. It was his dowry to me."
"Lucius knew I would be in a very poor position after the war. He knew I would be disgraced by association and would probably never make another marriage if he died. And as I am, I assume, accused of no crime, the Ministry has no claim."
"You committed no crime while infiltrating the Dark Lord's camp, then?"
"With one exception, nothing of a nature requiring reparations."
"And what exception was that?"
"My father, Ted Tonks, was tortured here. I participated in order to get control of him and get him out of the house. Severus and Lucius and I healed him and led the others to believe we had killed him. I made him and my mother a financial settlement for reparations when I sent them into hiding. They have no further claim." Her smile belied the terrible rift between them that might never be mended.
Kingsley's eyes narrowed. "I take it, Auror Tonks-"
"Madam Malfoy," she corrected sharply. Foreign or not, Nymphadora Malfoy was the means by which her promise to Lucius would be kept, and she would defend their strange union to all who would question it.
"Madam Malfoy," he corrected grimly, "I take it that this marriage was part of an arrangement between you and Lucius Malfoy? An exchange of benefit?"
"The gifting of a dowry is only binding for a valid marriage."
"It was a valid marriage. People marry by arrangement in our world all the time. What makes ours different?"
"Was it consummated?" he demanded, one eyebrow raised, his gaze half on her, half on Narcissa behind her.
Her breath caught in her throat. Consummation was normally an issue only if the couple themselves sought an annulment. Only Severus had believed the Ministry might make an issue of it, and both she and Lucius had privately thought he was being ridiculous. Of all the things that had driven them together, protection of the dowry had not been one of them.
She said tightly, "Yes, it was."
"You sound hesitant to admit it."
"Have some decency, Kingsley," she said, nodding her head in Narcissa's direction.
He drew his wand and pointed it at her head. "Show me."
She made a sound of resignation. "Do I have a choice?"
"Not really, unless you wish to forfeit the estate. I have people to answer to, you know." He added, "I'm not in the business of prying into people's bedrooms unnecessarily. You know that. It's in your own best interest."
Grudgingly, she nodded. Rifled through memories. Considered the implications.
"Fine," she said at last. "But I will choose the memory."
Kingsley paused at that. "Why would you choose one and not another?"
"Because you and I both know this will leak, and I would rather give Lucius and Narcissa whatever dignity I still can." She was staring straight ahead, not looking at Narcissa.
Narcissa spoke. "I would rather," she said tightly, "if you would do it by Pensieve, and allow me to accompany you."
Tonks turned to face her, head on. "Narcissa. No. Please."
"If everyone else will know, then so will I. And I would rather know the truth than whatever tawdry version eventually reaches my ears."
She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks, but she nodded. "Kingsley?"
"I have no objection."
Her heart pounding, she turned away and opened the cabinet by the fireplace. Lucius' Pensieve floated out. She raised her wand to her head and drew out the memory of that first time with Lucius, the time he said You're so much like her and this is driving me crazy and cried out Narcissa's name when he came. The time - one of the times - he wept into her hair when it was over. Emptied it into the Pensieve and stood aside.
Kingsley and Narcissa were only in there a few minutes (had it really been that quick?) before they emerged together. Narcissa's eyes were red and soft when they locked on hers, but they weren't angry.
Kingsley said reluctantly, "Well, it fits the letter of the law, if not exactly the spirit. I expect the Wizengamot will try to hang Lucius' crimes on you, but if you make it through trial, I will recommend the estate be protected from reparations."
Tonks felt the tightness in her chest let go. "Thank you."
"Don't go anywhere," he cautioned.
They watched as he turned away and instructed his subordinates to stand down. Watched as they left in bewilderment.
Narcissa was looking at her.
Tonks closed her eyes, bowing her head, and opened them so she could see only Narcissa's hands, twisting and turning and fidgeting.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "It was never once as me. It wasn't about me. Ever."
"I know," the older woman said softly. "I won't say it doesn't hurt, but...I know." Then, choosing her words carefully, she said, "I'm glad...he wasn't...alone."
Narcissa wept then, suddenly, brokenly, and Tonks went to her side and comforted her, because she knew this grief, knew it inside out. Knew her inside out.
And as though grasping this, Narcissa allowed herself to be comforted.
Her trial was brief.
It was an exercise in humiliation for the Malfoys, mostly. Narcissa and Draco could not be touched – Harry had never mentioned Draco's presence in Astronomy Tower the night of Dumbledore's death, and Narcissa had always stayed well out of her husband's less savoury affairs. Draco's only other crime was taking the Dark Mark, but none of the surviving Death Eaters thought to testify that this had ever occurred, apparently viewing the Malfoy boy a mere footnote to the war.
So they put Tonks on trial. Ostensibly it was to explore any crimes committed by Lucius while she lived as his wife, and whether she had participated or enabled them. Generally these were misdemeanours; Lucius had been little more than a punching bag by the time she had entered the picture. The torture of her father was excluded on the basis that it had been privately settled.
The question of Severus' involvement and current whereabouts was raised, but mostly as a curiosity. Dumbledore had left proof that his killing was pre-arranged, equal parts mercy killing and strategy, and had accepted a token sum from Severus in reparations before his death – another private settlement that removed his death from the scope of the Wizengamot. While this did not clear Severus of every crime to which he had been a witness or reluctant participant, it reduced the Wizengamot's interest in pursuing him to a trickle. As long as Severus intended to stay gone, it seemed, the Wizengamot was willing to let the matter rest.
No, the primary focus was in making Narcissa and Draco squirm. They were compelled to attend every day – ostensibly, in case they were required as rebuttal witnesses.
The humiliation was aimed at her, too. Sexual mores were loosening – had been for some time, and more so in the current post-war exuberance – but Tonks was viewed as a glorified Mata Hari, a wife for hire, and that was only one step up from streetwalker. The Ministry was battling to restore civil order, and Tonks was to be made an example of, that wartime compromises and vigilantism were not to be condoned or emulated in peacetime.
Was it true that she was paid a dowry as part of her arrangement with Lucius? Yes, she was. And their eventual Handparting was anticipated, so she would take sole ownership of his assets whether he lived or died? Yes, that was correct. Had she been intimate with Lucius? Yes, she had. So, she was his whore? If they called relations with her husband being his whore, then yes, she supposed. And on it went.
Narcissa sat there with her head held high every day, and made a point of sitting with her during the adjournments, talking unconcernedly as though nothing at all had occurred. In an odd way, Narcissa's forgiveness of what she and Lucius had done seemed to balance out her parents' fury about…well…all of it.
She felt the wound of her parents' dismissal and absence begin to close.
The headlines were ugly, and they triggered an editorial war with the Quibbler. Slut-shaming, Hermione Granger said – that was apparently the Muggle term for it – slut-shaming was a misogynistic practice that reflected on the shamer more than the shamed. But this post-war world was about adults re-taking control of their lives, and no one cared very much about the political ramblings of an opinionated girl – not even one to whom they owed their miserable necks.
She withstood it all, grimly, bitterly sometimes, but in the end, she rationalised, it was ephemeral. Her parents, so far as she knew, were still in Europe, too far away (and too estranged) to be shamed. She herself had no intention of remaining in Britain, if she got out of it with her freedom at all.
Finally, it was over.
She was released, cleared of all crimes, but dismissed with scathing looks from at least half the Wizengamot – some of them people she had admired and believed had admired her before her marriage to Lucius. She lifted her chin, holding it high, and made her way through the flashbulbs and the reporters, in a way that would have done Narcissa proud.
Draco and Narcissa were waiting.
By unspoken agreement, they Apparated back to the Manor. She handed over the house and the elves, divesting herself of them as their legal owner. They could no longer pass to Narcissa, thanks to the Handparting, but they could pass to Draco.
There were other things to hand over, too. A lock of Lucius' hair, which she snipped while preparing his body for burial. Memories for both of them. A memory of her own, too, of assuming Narcissa's form to comfort him as he died. Narcissa had wept watching it in the Pensieve, had grasped for Tonks' hand and squeezed it compulsively as she swallowed heaving, sighing breaths.
Their goodbyes were brief, and a little tearful. Vague promises to keep in touch, mostly for form's sake (though there was precious little protocol for their situation). Tonks didn't think they would, and found that she didn't mind. That chapter of her life was over. She was Tonks again, and it was right that she should leave Nymphadora Malfoy behind.
She didn't Floo or Apparate away from the Manor. She left on her own two feet. The Muggle village of Bradford-on-Avon was only a few miles away. And today, she needed to walk. It was raining, but she didn't mind. Not at all.
And after that? After that, there would be a Muggle airport, and a little after that, a ferry.
After that would be Ceuta.
With each step, she found herself feeling lighter. It was as though she was breathing out Narcissa and breathing in her own self. The world was beginning to right itself again.
She remembered Lucius touching her, remembered him loving her. Loving the person she had become for him, just for a little while. She found that it was a warm memory, as warm and as right as it had once seemed all wrong. It seemed that the end of the war had brought about an end to her own inner war, as well.
She and Lucius had been kind to each other, she realised now; she by letting him take comfort in her, he by accepting her relationship with Severus with grace. And Severus had been kind too, never pressing her, holding in the jealousy he must have felt as best he could.
Perhaps, she reflected, their kindness for one another had been the only thing to hold all of them tethered in a world that was splintering around them.
She could love the other she had been, and still be who she was. And she knew who she was. She was Nymphadora Tonks, an Auror, a half-blood, a Black, a Metamorphagus, a Hufflepuff. She loved Severus and she loved Lucius, two prickly conflicted Slytherin men, and they'd loved her back, in whatever ways the madness around them had allowed. She had made compromises, and she knew not whether her father was right, knew not whether she was wrong, but the compromises were hers and she could own them.
There were also other things, though the life they were from was not her own. She knew what it was to be loved by someone for all of his life, and to love equally in return, more so than she had ever known was possible. She knew what it was to stare evil in the face, and hold love in her heart, and let it give her the grace to endure. She knew now that surviving war was not only about drawing breath, but about finding a love, a life, that made survival worth the cost. These were things she had learned as Narcissa Malfoy - as Nymphadora Malfoy - and they were hers by right of the life she had taken on to help and to save.
She knew all of these things, was all of these things, but she also transcended them. She was more than the sum of her parts. She felt herself expanding, taking up her rightful space in the world once more.
She was Nymphadora Tonks, and she was whole.
She watched him from outside the café.
It was one of those Spanish bar-cafés (or café-bars) that didn't know quite what it wanted to be, but as long as it was elegant and open til the wee hours and there was alcohol in everything, no one seemed to mind.
He was dressed in Muggle clothing. She hadn't expected that, but it was a mixed community. Ceuta was small.
She'd seen him in regular clothes before, of course, but somehow the absence of his gentleman teacher's robes made her swallow hard. It felt to her like equal parts grief and joy. Grief that he'd left it all behind. Joy that…well…he'd left it all behind.
As for her, she wore her own face, with his dark hair. Visible and deliberate signal that the madness was over – that she was his.
Otherwise, she was a chameleon here, a European Muggle woman of leisure, outrageously attractive and stylish, elegance in every line of her, every gesture. She could carry it off quite well, now; some of Narcissa's gracefulness had stayed with her.
She wasn't trying to hide from him – she wanted to see him – but she wanted to watch him first.
Of course, he'd always known her, and this time was no different. It took a while – sign that he was healing – but once he'd folded up his paper, distraction put away, his jaw had tilted and he'd glanced around. Found her unerringly. Rose and came outside. Stood beside her on the promenade as the breeze rolled off the water.
She felt something catch in her throat, somehow. "You always did know who I was," she said lightly. Then, more softly, "Even when I didn't know myself."
Something flitted over his features, something hurting and sad, and then it was gone just as quickly. He stood beside her, looking out over the marina, half-facing her. Said gravely, "Don't. It was war. You're here. It's enough."
She shook her head. "No, it isn't. I need you to know I'm not here just by default. It isn't just because he died and you lived."
That hurting something was back, springing fully-formed on his face, and she knew then the price he had paid. That it was higher than hers – higher, in its way, even than Lucius and Narcissa. She and Lucius and Narcissa had all known they were loved, really loved. Severus had only her divided love, and he had accepted it. He'd accepted everything all the way through the war, every compromise, everything that was not enough but would have to do. He'd accepted it for her and for everyone. He'd accepted it for the world.
"Severus," she whispered. "I'm your Dora. Just Dora. And Dora was always yours."
His lips were suddenly pressed together into a line. She'd opened an old, old wound – nothing had ever been his, ever – but she knew, somehow, the wound had to open for him to let her in.
"It's over," she said. "The madness is over. It's just us." She drew closer. Took his face between her palms. "Severus."
The lines of his face were deep and soft. "Nymphadora," he said softly. Hesitantly, he leaned in. Kissed her tentatively. His eyes were grave; his fingertips brushed her cheek, feather-soft.
This wasn't her soldier, she realised; this was the man who was left when the days of being a soldier were gone. He was the man she knew but he was changed, too. They both were.
Perhaps that was best.
"It isn't just because I know you," she said. "It's because I want to know you. I always did."
He summoned a small smile at that. "You stumbled into my classroom and I thought you were going to kill yourself within the week. But you had a healthy respect for saving your own skin. I liked that."
"I had a healthy respect for you. I trusted you to keep me safe."
"And I trusted you to keep yourself safe." There was an odd note in his voice, and suddenly she understood why he'd let her into his heart without protest, against what she supposed was every one of his instincts.
He'd trusted her to get out of the war alive. He'd trusted her not to leave him. Despite everything. Despite Voldemort. Despite Lucius. Despite the madness of it all.
The realisation was like swooning.
"I hope I'm worth the wait, Severus," she said. Awkwardly. Totally unable to express her bittersweet gratitude at his faith in her. "I really do."
"You are," he said. "I know who you are."
She nodded. "I'm your Dora." Then, tentatively, "Kiss me?"
A smile lit on his features, and he kissed her there in the midday sun.
The plot twist about Lucius giving Tonks his estate as a dowry was inspired by my time in Northern Morocco, where a man gives a woman a dowry in recognition that she is unmarriageable once her virginity is lost. The dowry is quarantined from any future divorce settlement and from her family. It is for her to support herself if anything happens to him or if he leaves her. For the same reason, it is considered a sign of love for a man to shower his wife with extremely valuable gold jewellery throughout the marriage (it is similarly quarantined). It shows his commitment to her welfare and desire that she always be taken care of, no matter what happens between them. The medinas in Morocco have scores of highly-priced jewellery stores - far higher-priced than is normal in a Western shopping precinct - wedged between low-cost everything else. There are knock-on effects from this - it essentially means that poor men can't marry, creating a whole underclass of unmarried, unmarriageable men. However, it's quite a different social context for virginity, money, marriage, and the protection of women than we in the West sometimes associate with Islamic society. It was one of many things that intrigued me during my time there and I've played with it a couple of times in my writing since.
Oh - and another nod. Ceuta is a Spanish-held territory on mainland Morocco. (The Moroccans call it Sebta). Not a deliberate tie-in, just serendipity.
I hope Andromeda and Ted's reactions to Tonks don't seem too unfair here (in the characterisation sense, I mean – I think they were unfairly hard on Tonks). I think when you've severed ties with a toxic family, you acquire a certain self-preserving harshness that probably looks quite incomprehensible to people who've never had to do it. For Andromeda – and Ted by proxy – although they talked about the morality of Tonks' actions while undercover, I think what really pushed them over the edge was the way she'd returned to the Black world by posing as Narcissa. That's why they couldn't find any kindness for her, even when it was all over (although I'd like to think they stayed away in order to avoid complicating her trial rather than for any other reason). To them, she'd chosen a camp, and it was a camp Andromeda could not have anything to do with and survive, emotionally speaking.