Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Two of a Kind
Deslea R. Judd
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters/Keywords: Lucius/Tonks (primary), Lucius/Narcissa, Remus/Tonks
Spoilers/Timeframe: War and postwar, goes alt-universe mid-battle.
Summary: The four stages of grief are shock, anger, denial and acceptance. Or: After the war, two unlikely widows find a way to keep standing. Novella length (35,000).
Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
More fic: http://fiction.deslea.com
Feedback: Please. deslea at deslea dot com.
|SHOCK| |ANGER| |DENIAL: LUCIUS| |DENIAL: TONKS| |ACCEPTANCE| |YULETIDE INTERLUDE|
"I want you to host a party for me."
Lucius made this stunning pronouncement quite nonchalantly over dinner one evening.
Tonks raised an eyebrow. "Do go on, darling," she said sweetly, looking up from her position next to Teddy's chair.
The corners of Draco's mouth twitched; clearly, he could see that Lucius was on dangerous ground even if Lucius could not. The darling should have alerted him, but he was preoccupied with his underlying agenda.
"It would serve a few purposes," Lucius was saying. "It would, of course, officially announce our new family configuration."
"You make it sound so romantic," Tonks said with a smirk. No one but Lucius would consider an announcement necessary. "What else, pray tell?"
"Secondly, it would be a reclaiming of this house. It has...lifted...with your presence," Lucius added (and Tonks thought he suddenly looked very vulnerable), "but it is still, to the outside world, the Dark Lord's headquarters, and the scene of a number of atrocities. I would like to begin to remove those associations, for Teddy, and later, for Draco's children. It may not be possible to forget, but at least we can begin to redeem. I don't want them tainted."
She nodded. She hadn't thought of that. He was quite right if the situation were not managed correctly, Teddy would arrive at Hogwarts, an adopted Malfoy, raised in a house of slaughter. She didn't want that for him.
"So you propose to begin to re-establish us in polite society, and the Manor in the process."
"Something like that. But there's another reason."
Tonks arched an eyebrow. Intrigued. "Yes?"
A smile played around the corners of Lucius' mouth. "It would help the Family Reunions project."
Two eyebrows. She said slowly, "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"
The humour fell out of his voice. "Malfoys don't fail, Nymphadora. The Ministry may have written me off by putting me on a dead-end project, but that doesn't mean I have to accept it as a foregone conclusion."
Tonks choked. "You're going to actively promote reunions among families divided by blood status."
"Bloody hell, Nymphadora," he said, "I'm all but married to a half-blood."
"Yes, but to quote you, I'm a powerful one. And a Black. I'm the exception." She was mostly teasing. Mostly.
Lucius said huffily, "I am nothing if not an accomplished public servant, Dora. I don't have to believe in something to manage its implementation. And anyway, I do believe in it. How many times have I told you, for Malfoys, family comes first?"
She hadn't expected him to be so vehement about it. She inclined her head. "That's true enough," she conceded, and was rewarded with a mollified look. "How are you going to do it?"
"Well, we can start with a guest list with a mix of blood status, plus a couple of sympathetic members of the press. I think if the invitation comes from the two of us, that alone will weed out those who are truly opposed to integration. Anyone who comes will at least be open enough to work on."
Tonks thought some might attend just to spit in one or both of their faces, but decided against saying so.
"The second thing is, there has to be some sort of reason people should attend something philanthropic but it can't look like I'm buying support. There needs to be more to it than money. I was thinking of handing over the front grounds the area before the gates as a public rose garden. It can be a memorial for those who died here."
She frowned. "It's risky. It draws attention to the fact."
The words had barely fallen from her lips before they repelled her. She wasn't a career strategist in the way that Lucius was, but she had her own personal brand of dissociation in Practical Dora, and the way she sometimes shut inconvenient Passionate Dora away. It was easy - frighteningly easy - to slip into cold hard strategy with him sometimes, and she didn't like what that said about her.
She was suddenly, forcefully struck by the fact that this place she and her son called home was a house of horrors, albeit with a new coat of paint in brighter colours. Charity Burbage had died on this table, just about on the spot where Teddy was now eating, and all the paint in the world couldn't change the fact. She felt a wave of revulsion that rocked her on her heels, and a wild impulse to snatch up her child and Apparate away and never come back.
Lucius was oblivious to her sudden unease. "It is, but probably less risky than not acknowledging it at all. And in a way, it shifts the associations outside the Manor itself."
Ruthlessly, she pushed her bone-chilling thoughts aside. "True," she agreed. "How will you get sympathetic press?"
"I'm a major shareholder in the Daily Prophet."
Lucius' mouth had formed a thin, predatory smile. It wasn't one she saw very often. This was Lucius the bureaucrat, manipulative and just a little mercenary.
This is how he survived the war.
The thought came with a strange flush of warmth, one that came from the utilitarian part of her being, the part that had kept her alive and in her right mind. She supposed it was strange to feel anything but revolted by this worst part of him, but he had spent years in the company of Voldemort and was still drawing breath and sane, and she couldn't begrudge him a few residual conniving tendencies. She had her own ruthlessly practical side, after all.
"That's good," she said mechanically, filing away her unease in a mental drawer along with any number of other disconcerting thoughts. They weren't all or even mostly about Lucius; Remus occupied a good part of that drawer, too.
"S'good," Teddy echoed approvingly, and it seemed to wake her from her introspection. He was clutching a toy wand and waving it in the air. Enchanted little swirls of colour trailed in its wake. His laughter chased the remnants of her disquiet away.
"So will you do it?" Lucius prompted, and she smiled at him - a real smile, filled with fond indulgence.
"Of course I'll do it. United front, and all that. Besides, I thought my cooperation was assumed."
"I asked, didn't I?"
"That was just for form's sake, wasn't it?"
Draco choked on his food, then gave a bark of laughter. "She's got you there, Dad."
Tonks laughed too. And she was Tonks again, her dual halves together, sitting there with her family, her own inner chasm bridged as quickly as it had formed.
But she never put Teddy into that particular chair again.
"How will you deal with blood prejudice?" Tonks asked later that evening. Her disquiet was long forgotten.
They were curled up on the Chesterfield by the fire. It was a year since the Battle of Hogwarts, almost summer, so the fire was low. Mostly just for atmosphere. Lucius had a fondness for aesthetic; he liked elegance and he liked to luxuriate in detail. The places he liked best in the house were an extension of him, as though his clothes and his hair and his jewels had been transfigured into furnishings and fabrics and trim. He liked romance, but of the dramatic and gothic kind - deep colours rather than pastels, touches that were demands, not requests.
His eyebrow was raised in query, so she went on, "I know you say family trumps blood, and I know you believe it, but that's not going to be enough to do the job. If anyone senses even one hint of bias against half-bloods and Muggle-borns on your part, your whole work will be undone."
Lucius stretched out, unfolding his body like a long, sleek cat. "My dear Nymphadora," he said lazily, "I'm much more adaptable than you give me credit for."
"Go on," she said, tucking her feet up under her, suppressing a smile. She knew that lazy tone. It usually came right before some terribly thought-out position that was tiresome and illuminating at the same time. Counterpoints, if any, were best made after he'd said his piece. Not because she couldn't argue with him - she could, and he rather enjoyed it when she did - but letting him talk his whole argument through gave a glimpse of a tantalisingly complicated mind.
"Well," he said, "between the wars, there was still lots of quiet prejudice floating around, you know. If your circle of friends was sufficiently self-selecting, you need never challenge your own way of thinking and operating."
Her brow wrinkled. "But the First War was ghastly, wasn't it?"
"The First War had an impact," he conceded, "but nowhere near the order of the Second. People react more to the destruction of institutions than people, I think. There was nothing like what happened to Hogwarts and the Ministry. Its mark on the collective psyche was nowhere near as large."
She prompted, "But now...?"
Lucius shrugged. "Now, it's a new world order. The sheer scale of the Second War broke through the apathy. It was really apathy that allowed the wars to happen in the first place, you know." Tonks nodded. She knew. "So now the half-bloods and Muggle-borns are a power base in their own right. I respect that - no, don't look at me like that, I do. They earned it. Paid for it in blood, with interest."
"You're not just being flippant, are you? You really mean that."
"I never joke about power," he said dryly. "I'm not being flippant and I do really mean it."
Tonks kneeled up, and took his face between her hands. Kissed him soundly.
He looked unaccountably pleased. "What was that for?"
She shone him a smile.
"It was for being more adaptable than I gave you credit for."
"I'm surprised you're so calm about this, Narcissa. Really, to have that unkempt girl and her abomination of a child running around this house as though they own the place "
The unknown, male voice drifted past her ears. Its origin was the hallway, just a little way behind her vantage point at the top of the stairs. There was a rustling sound as Narcissa drew herself up in her portrait. "My good man," she sniffed, "Nymphadora may not dress to my liking, but she is a Black. I would entrust Lucius and Draco with no one else."
Tonks smirked a little. United front, indeed. Mentally tipping her hat to Narcissa, she adjusted her appearance to include a blonde streak in appreciation.
She had once compared herself to a hostess at an insufferable Pureblood party. Back then, the thought had been hypothetical. As far as she could make out, hosting a Pureblood party - at least ones that were no longer Pureblood but still reasonably insufferable - consisted in the main of wandering around, saying things you didn't mean to people you didn't like, and letting the elves do the rest.
Still, she was pretty sure that Pureblood parties had never been quite like this.
For one thing, there were a large number of Squibs in attendance. They were mostly distant relatives of hers and Draco's, descendants of Marius Black. Interestingly to Tonks, a teenage girl named Violetta Bones-Black was a Metamorphagus, though she possessed no other magic.
The Pureblood population was somewhat more conventional. They were divided into three broad camps those who had repented of their prejudice, those who had enough sense to protect their reputations by pretending to do so, and those who had never been prejudiced at all, like her mother and Xenophilius Lovegood.
There were also Muggle-borns, and even a handful of full-fledged Muggles. Harry and Ginny sat to one side, talking to a big hulk of a Muggle boy named Dudley, and a pregnant girl who held his hand. She was looking nervously at Teddy, who had chosen today to turn his hair electric blue. He had changed several times today, including blonde while being held by Draco, purple with Andromeda, and now that he had escaped, all the colours of the rainbow in turn, and then some.
"Mamamamamama," Teddy said, climbing the stairs and darting past her. He was fast enough at it now that she had to fight to keep up.
"Come back here, Big Ted," she said, "don't disturb the portraits. Come with Mum, there's a good boy." Giggling, Teddy escaped her clutches.
Up ahead, Tonks heard Abraxas mutter, "That child is an undisciplined half-blood."
Narcissa snapped, "And the other half is Black, so put a sock in it, you miserable old man."
Tonks had formed the distinct impression that Narcissa and Abraxas enjoyed sparring, so she didn't bother to add any commentary as she passed them. She noted, though, that while Teddy's Black and Tonks blood had been acknowledged, his Lupin bloodline was swept aside entirely. Just for a moment, she hated them both for it, then the thought dissolved, forgotten.
He wasn't a baby now, really, she reflected, swooping him up and walking back out to the top of the stairs. Blue was shaping up to be his preferred colour, but his hair was sometimes blonde, especially if Tonks went blonde as well. On those days they looked like a conventional Pureblood family. Other days they looked like the motley crew they really were.
Today, she had compromised, settling on red-black hair (now with its blonde streak in salute of Narcissa's defence of all things Black) and a burgundy steampunk-formal dress, layers of fabric above the knee at the front tapering down to ankle-length at the back. It was an eccentric-elegant mix, just a shade more chic than her usual style, and she found to her surprise that she liked it. Lucius had liked it, too; he had pressed her up against the bedroom wall, touching her jaw with trembling fingers and whispering promises about what he would do to her when their guests went home.
So far, the day seemed like a success. The biggest test had been Chastity Abbott, née Burbage, Charity's twin. She had agreed to attend, but Lucius had no certainty whether it was to accept the overture or to repudiate it. But she had bowed her head at the commemoration of the new rose garden, and lingered there a while, before joining the attendees inside. Tonks had noticed her in deep conversation with Lucius, her expression severe but not completely unyielding. A muscle in his cheek had flickered and a flush of shame had risen up in his face. She touched his hand as she passed by.
Neville Longbottom had come, mostly as a sign of solidarity with Harry and Luna, but he had passed a good half hour with Draco and Astoria. Tonks sifted through what she knew of the family tree. Realised that Neville was distantly related, to Draco and to her. There was tension in the lines of both, but they were talking. Tonks thought that was at least half the battle won.
Ron and Hermione Weasley had made a token appearance at the rose garden, perhaps recognising the importance of their endorsement of any efforts at peace, but they refused to come into the Manor, as had all the Weasleys save Ginny. Tonks didn't blame them; Greyback had testified that Hermione had been tortured here, by Bellatrix, no less. The girl was lucky to be alive and in full possession of her faculties.
Lucius had watched that, she thought. Stood by and done nothing. Gods.
Oh, she'd known it before. She'd seen all manner of cowardly omissions in his mind, and she'd been one of his opponents in the Department of Mysteries. But she hadn't gotten there til just before the prophecy broke, and after that, all the fight went out of him. He'd defended and fled, desperate, she knew now, to get to Narcissa and Draco. And as for the rest of it, none of the victims had been anyone she really knew, except Hermione.
It had been easy to separate wartime-Lucius from her-Lucius when he was her friend. Now that he was hers - now that his home was hers - it suddenly seemed a whole lot harder. It seemed to her now that she was buying in to it all - not just forgiving, but absolving. And absolution was not hers to give. It was for Ron and Hermione and Ollivander, who could not, and Chastity and Harry and Luna, who could. And she could not judge any of them either way.
Looking down over her guests, she spotted Luna, standing with Xenophilius and Andromeda, and she felt her face grow hot with - with something. Shame, perhaps. Suddenly she wanted very badly to be near someone who had forgiven Lucius - who had forgiven her for loving him. She made her way down the stairs, her hand on the banister, and saw to her horror that it was trembling. With effort, she stilled it.
"Nana," Teddy said, and Tonks let him down, making her way between people and following him over. Teddy pushed himself self-importantly into the circle. Indulgently, Andromeda picked him up.
"Xeno, Luna," Tonks said, giving each a kiss on the cheek. Xenophilius embraced her warmly, but was clearly deep in conversation with Andromeda, so she found herself with Luna by default. She said conventionally, "It's good to see you."
She'd always liked what little she knew of Luna. She struck Tonks as a bit quirky and left-of-centre, like Tonks herself. She'd survived three months as a prisoner in the dungeon beneath their feet and still had a lightness about her that Tonks liked very much.
"Hello, Tonks," said Luna, peering at her with eyes that were lively and intelligent and sharp, at odds with her quirky dress and the wand tucked into her flyaway hair and her bare feet with daisy-chains around her ankles. Tonks was suddenly reminded of Bellatrix, that awful day at Hogwarts, dancing ahead of Voldemort like a demented sprite. Right now, Luna seemed like Bella's white-witch twin, light where Bella was dark, sane where Bella was mad, but with the same lively and indomitable nature. Bella's light had shone over-bright and charred everything it touched before turning back on its maker. Luna's light was warm and healed all around her.
She realised Luna had been speaking to her. "I'm sorry," she said, "I - uh - I lost track of-"
"Oh, don't be sorry. You must have been thinking of something very important," Luna said with disconcerting candour.
"I was, actually," Tonks said, a flush rising in her cheeks. "I was thinking about you."
"About me?" Luna said with evident surprise.
"All good things," Tonks reassured. "But what were you saying?"
"I was saying, I'd like to see downstairs, if you and Mr Malfoy wouldn't mind."
Tonks drew in her breath a little. "I, uh. Are you - sure -"
"Oh, yes," Luna said mildly. "But only if Mr Malfoy doesn't mind. I wouldn't like to upset him."
"You don't want to upset him?" Tonks echoed stupidly.
"I'm sure it was quite dreadful for him having all those people around and not being able to do anything about it. I'd much rather be in danger doing something than be safe doing nothing, wouldn't you?"
It upset her, hearing it like that, and she didn't know why. "I'm sure he wouldn't mind," she said quickly, swallowing hard. "Let's go."
As dungeons went, she thought as she reluctantly led Luna down the stairs, it wasn't really much of a dungeon at all. It was just a concealed room that happened to have bars on the door. Transfigured bars, actually - she could see the tell-tale signs of deterioration that accompanied the death of whoever cast them. At least that meant Lucius hadn't cast them, thank heavens for small mercies.
"This is it," she said unnecessarily, as though Luna might have confused it with some other dungeon.
Luna stepped inside. Looked around curiously.
Tonks watched her for some minutes. Luna was standing a little way before her, looking at some unseen memory. Unseen demons, she might have thought, but Luna's stance was so mildly inquisitive that she was forced to conclude the girl's ghosts were benign.
"I used to play down here as a boy," Lucius' voice came, hesitantly, from the stairs behind them. It sounded rusty from disuse. "It wasn't like this, of course. It was - warm. It was my favourite place in the world."
Luna turned. She nodded at him encouragingly, as though he was the guest and she, the hostess. "Show me," she said.
Tentatively, Lucius joined them, shooting Tonks a glance. It was a request; his borrowed wand had been confiscated on his arrest and buried with its owner. Ollivander, of course, would not sell to any of them. Lucius was limited to a small repertoire of wandless magic, and had never sought to rectify the situation.
She knew he had been waiting for her to ask why, but she hadn't. She knew why.
She held his gaze for a long moment, then nodded. Held out her wand. "Finite incantatem."
The room became lighter as windows were unshuttered. It became cleaner, and then there were furnishings and textiles. Warm furnishings, as Lucius had said, and suddenly Tonks thought she knew where Lucius had acquired his love of lavish surroundings. The room was the antithesis of Abraxas Malfoy, refuge for a boy with a hard father. The father Lucius himself would become.
"It still smells like a dungeon," Luna said mildly, and Lucius flinched.
Tonks couldn't smell it, but she could imagine it, and she could well imagine that Luna was sensitive to it. An elderly man and a teenager, stuck in a cell for three months or more? No showers, and probably only chamber pots? Even if Lucius had thought to send Leonie to care for them (please, God, let him have done that much), even then, oh dear God.
Luna was waving her wand - in an excessively elaborate gesture, she thought - but then the room was filled with fragrant flowers. Roses, jasmine, gardenias, all kinds of them. They were in pots on every surface, and even on the windowsills, so the breeze carried fragrance into the room.
Lucius' voice sounded very small. "I'm - thank you, Luna."
Luna said kindly, "That's much better, isn't it?" and all but skipped back up the stairs without waiting for a reply.
Tonks felt perilously close to tears.
Lucius suddenly looked beaten and old, and she went to him, drawing him hard against her, while a hateful part of her protested that he had no right looking for comfort when she and Remus had been out there fighting while he cowered in this death-place. The harder that part of her raged, the harder she held on, until they were both trembling and gripping hard enough to hurt.
"I'm sorry," he choked out into her shoulder. "I'm so fucking sorry."
Again she was aware of that chasm - that she forgave it, all of it, and equally that forgiveness was not hers to give. And she knew just as keenly that she was the only one he could ever ask. So she nodded, clutching at his hair and his shoulders, not trusting herself to speak.
"We should go back," she whispered at last.
He swallowed hard. Pulled away and nodded, not quite meeting her gaze.
"Do you love me?" he asked in a low voice. Hesitant.
She nodded. "I love you." It was something harsh from her throat, something dragged from her unwillingly.
God help her, despite all of it, she did.
It was the little things, Tonks reflected.
With Remus, it wasn't reproaches about the time he left her. Any of the times he left her.
It was where he put the spoons in the cutlery drawer, and the way he wouldn't cut his toenails and they scratched her shins in the night. It was baked-on egg and morning breath and the way he refused to throw out Snape's Wolfsbane when they all knew (or thought they knew) whose side Snape was really on. They'd fought bitterly about that. Remus knew Wolfsbane, and Snape's was the best, no matter what else he had or hadn't done.
With Lucius, it was the way he could be mean.
Not to her, or Draco, or Teddy, or Astoria. Nor Andromeda, unless Tonks did it first, and never with the razor-sharp edge he had with others.
No, it was everyone else. And the night of the commemoration of the rose garden, after their guests were gone, everyone was fair game.
It wasn't that she didn't understand it. She did. They were all filled with nervous tension, equal parts horror and humiliation and shame, and they were letting off steam as only the thoroughly incorrect Malfoys knew how.
She withstood the classist remarks about Harry's Muggle cousin, and the commentary on the Metamorphagus Violetta. (That had actually been kind of funny, and harmless enough, and Tonks had laughed along). She even stood for the comments about the eccentric Lovegoods, which were almost fond.
What pushed her over the edge was some mildly unkind remark about Chastity Abbott. (She never could recall exactly what it was later; looking back on it, she had the feeling it referenced her matronly bosom or something of that kind). In the scheme of things, it was no big deal. No big deal, that was, until you remembered that her sister had died on the table where they sat. No big deal until you remembered that she had entered this house and treated them with more grace than anyone could ever have expected of her.
At this, Tonks had risen from her chair and pushed back from the table with a clatter. She'd picked up the baby and stormed out of the room without a word.
She'd clattered up the stairs and gone to the nursery in long, angry strides. She'd put Teddy to bed and charmed the ceiling to show his favourite view, the night sky, and watched him until he located his toes, which were much more interesting to him than her. Then she came back out into the hallway.
Lucius was leaning against the wall opposite the nursery, waiting for her. He was still elegantly dressed from the day, but he looked worn out. His arms were folded and his eyes were grave.
"I've disappointed you," he said. It was neither a statement nor a question, but something in between.
"It's not about disappointment," she said. She felt tired and sore and wrung out.
"Well, it's about something."
She shrugged. "I'm just struggling with...with the war. In some ways, you lived through a completely different war to us, and I'm only just starting to really understand that." She looked away. "I know that's not fair when I knew how it was for you going in, but..."
The lines of his face grew hard. "I see," he said grimly.
There was something brittle and hurt in his voice that brought up kinder, softer things in her. "Lucius, no, you don't," she whispered.
"I think I do," he said, a chill falling over his voice. "Look, Nymphadora, I'm not a white knight like your sainted bloody Remus. You knew that. I'm snide and snarky and superior and I don't always do the right thing. But I love you like crazy and I'll always do the right thing by you. You have to decide once and for all whether that's enough for you, because I'm not going to compete with his memory."
She hadn't been consciously comparing Lucius with Remus at all. "Don't you talk to me about him," she sputtered, half wondering where on earth Remus had come from and the other half wondering how the hell he'd gotten her on the defensive. "You have no right."
"I have every right. Don't you think I know the way people change after they die? I feel Narcissa slipping away, every day that she becomes more perfect and less Narcissa in my mind. I'm afraid that one day I'm going to wake up and I won't even remember who she really was."
"That's not the same at all," she said through gritted teeth. Damn him, how did this stop being about them and start being about their dead?
"Yes, it is," he said, "but for whatever reason you don't want to deal with that. I think you like rose-coloured Remus better than the man he really was."
That hit her like a punch to the stomach. She felt something twisting the lines of her face. It was equal parts disgust and dull-edged anger.
"You're an arse, Lucius," she hissed. "That was low and you know it."
"Low?" he demanded. "Or just true?"
"You know what?" she snapped. "Just forget it. I'm going out. Don't wait up."
She clattered down the stairs, and she was out the door before he could see her red-hot tears.
She looked up. Startled. "Ginny," she said. A little disorientated.
Ginny Weasley came out onto the doorstep, looking up and down Grimmauld Place. It was dark; the street was empty except for the two of them. "What on earth are you doing out here?"
"I sorry," she said, sounding very flustered to her own ears. "I didn't mean to disturb you. How did you know I was here?"
Ginny nodded her head up towards the first floor. "I was getting drinks. The drinks cabinet is by the window. I saw you." She said again, "What are you doing here?"
Tonks shook her head a little. The truth was, she had come here on an instinct she hadn't understood. Groping for understanding, she said awkwardly, "Remus and I we fell in love here " she stopped. At a loss.
A fond, slightly sad look came over Ginny's features. "Oh. Well, for Merlin's sake, then, come inside, before you catch your death. It's bloody cold out here. You can angst just as easily indoors with a cup of tea. Or Firewhisky. Or both."
Tonks managed a wan laugh, and followed her into the house.
"He was a good man," she said softly into her drink.
Harry and Ginny nodded into theirs, but said nothing.
"I told Lucius that I loved him for that. Lucius said that was rubbish. He said good's got nothing to do with why people love. I suppose that's true, but he was good, just the same."
Harry shot her a look, but remained silent. Just let her talk.
"We had our first kiss here, you know. I surprised him. Snogged him in the kitchen when it was his turn to do the dishes. Kreacher was scandalised. That was half the fun. Especially when he ran off and told old Walburga's portrait that a Black was snogging a werewolf. It made being half-blood seem respectable by comparison."
Tonks and Ginny both mustered a sound of mirth, but Harry shifted uncomfortably. "Er - I get that you need to, er, talk, but if it's going to be girl talk, maybe I shouldn't be here."
Tonks snorted. "You needn't worry. I'm not going to tell you about our first shag."
"Any shag," he supplied.
"Any shag," she agreed. "Anyway, that's not the point. It's just...I feel like I left part of myself here. Just a little part, but I can't seem to move on without it, you know?"
Ginny was looking at her. Her expression was kind.
Harry frowned. Seemed to be grappling with something. Finally, he said awkwardly, "Tonks, I don't want to hurt you here, and I don't know if this is the right time to say it, but..." he stopped.
Her voice sounded very tired to her own ears. "Go ahead, Harry. Blunders are my middle name."
Harry gave a harsh breath out, as though steeling himself, and plunged in, "Remus was a good man, Tonks, but he wasn't perfect. Not by a long shot. He put you and Teddy through a lot."
Her mouth opened to protest, but then she shut it again. The stiffness in her body fell away as she considered his words.
Since Remus had died, no one, except her mother, had ever mentioned what he'd done. How he'd hurt her. It had become a taboo subject, tiptoed around like something vaguely obscene. Like she was the one who'd done something wrong.
She'd never even told Lucius.
She felt her eyes soften as she looked at Harry. Felt something inside her start to break apart.
"Tonks," Ginny said gently, "he broke your heart."
That did it. She felt her face working, and she bowed her head quickly. Her breaths came in harsh little rasps. She stared down into her glass, all blurry and amber through heat and tears.
Harry went on, "If Lucius " she gave a ragged sound, and he corrected hurriedly, "Hypothetically, if someone were to make you happy, that's not something you should be giving up."
Ginny got to her feet. Busied herself taking up their glasses. Let her hand linger casually on Tonks' hunched shoulder.
Tonks gave a little, shaking sigh, and dashed away her tears. "You're right," she said, sound of wry concession. "You're absolutely right."
Ginny was standing by the drinks cabinet beside the window, refilling Harry's glass.
"Oh, good," she said nonchalantly. "Because hypothetically, someone might be waiting for you outside."
Lucius was leaning on a lamp post, watching.
It was raining, just lightly. Not hard enough for her to see the water running off the shielding charm around him, but he must have cast one, because his hair was dry. With great warmth, she recognised the vanity of the man, and loved it because it was his.
Tonks made her way down the steps, her eyes never leaving his.
"Watch where you walk, darling," he said dryly. "You and stairs have never been on very good terms."
"Very droll, darling," she mocked as she approached, but she did it kindly. "How did you know I was here?"
He had the good grace to look embarrassed. "There's a trace on your necklace," he admitted. "Not for any special reason - just for if I ever needed to find you. It's virtually a family tradition."
"Never trust a Slytherin bearing gifts," she said without rancour. Minor acts of duplicity were part and parcel of loving a Malfoy, she'd learned. "I'd have agreed to it if you'd asked." She huddled closer to him, and told herself it was to get out of the rain.
"And where would the fun be in that?" He muttered a charm and widened his shield to cover her as well. Sobering, he said, "I didn't come to make you do anything you didn't want to do, Nymphadora. I just wanted to be sure you're all right." He looked up at Number Twelve. Harry must have removed the wards, she thought, because clearly he could see it. "What is this place?"
"Once upon a time, it was Order Headquarters, and before that, it was the Black ancestral home. It passed from Sirius to Harry. I'm surprised you didn't recognise it."
"We knew there was an ancestral home, but we were never invited there. Narcissa's father and her aunt Walburga didn't get along. I assume that's why Walburga left the house to Sirius rather than to our branch of the family."
"Or maybe she thought no one else would want it, now that Grimmauld Place was a Muggle neighbourhood," Tonks said thoughtfully.
"Maybe." Lucius fell silent. He was looking at her curiously.
"You're wondering why I came here," she said presently.
He nodded. "I assumed it had some significance to you and Remus."
She nodded too. Crossed her arms and hunched a little. Suddenly awkward. "We fell in love here."
With a pang, she recognised the flicker of pain that crossed his features. Diffidently, he said, "I can go."
She shot out her hand to grasp his elbow. "Don't." It was a plea.
His expression was wary, but he nodded. "All right."
"I'm sorry about before," she offered.
He nodded. "Same."
They stood there in the moonlight for a long moment. Gazes locked. At an impasse.
She could see the crossroads in her mind's eye, demanding and oppressive. One road led to Remus and death; the other to Lucius and life. The choice should be easy but it wasn't. Both roads had a toll paid in grief and guilt and loss.
"Did we do this too soon, Nymphadora?" he asked finally, withdrawing his arm and taking her hand in his. "Us, I mean?"
"No," she said quickly. Too quickly.
He cocked an eyebrow at her.
"Maybe," she corrected after a moment. "I'm not sure." She sighed and slid her hands up onto his shoulders. "I wouldn't change it, Lucius. I wanted it. I still do."
He bowed his forehead to hers. Said huskily, "Neither would I." His eyes were red and weatherbeaten when he pulled away, in that way he sometimes had when his hurts were sore and dry rather than salty and wet. She knew him enough by now to know the dry hurt was worse.
Softly, she admitted, "You were right about - about rose-coloured Remus. I mean - what I mean is -"
He shook his head. "Don't. You needn't explain. Not to me." He was smiling, but it was a sad sort of smile. He had never said much about his recent, short-lived crisis, but now she thought she knew what it was. Had he waged his own battle with rose-coloured Narcissa?
"Yes, I do. I don't want you thinking you're...less...because of the way you survived. I don't want you thinking you have to live up to Remus," she said in a low voice. Saying it, the truth of it hit her like a crushing blow, the way she'd been looking for fractures rather than the ways they could be bridged. In dawning realisation, she went on slowly, "That's the whole problem, you see. I'm - I'm rather afraid that you'll do exactly that."
Lucius frowned. "I don't understand."
"He left me," she whispered, and her face crumpled and the tears came freely. "More than once. The last time, I was pregnant with Teddy. I'd never felt so alone in my life." His face softened with great compassion. She'd never seen him like that. "And I think...I always thought, deep down, that in the end he'd leave me for good." She wiped her eyes, rubbing them with her hands like a little child. "In a way, I guess he did."
He shook his head. "No. No, Dora." He cradled her cheek, incredibly gently. She leaned into him, closing her eyes for a long moment. When he spoke, his voice was more kind than she'd ever heard from him before. "Whatever he did before, he was willing to die with you. That isn't someone looking for a way to leave."
She thought about it. Remus was such a quiet figure, and now that he was gone, with no one to speak for him, it had been easy to lose sight of who he was. Easy to deny the bad and overlook the oh-so-flawed good, in favour of black and white. Easy to forget the things about him that were complicated and decent and real. She'd forgotten the way he had fought beside her, fought alongside people who didn't accept him and people who would have oppressed him, people who didn't recognise him as a wizard with a stake in the war at all. He may have left her in life, but in the end, he had died at her side.
"Maybe that's true," she said at last. She felt the persistent ache inside her begin to loosen its grip. She didn't think it would ever leave her, but maybe it could become something that just niggled at her now and then. One day.
"I'm not looking to leave," he said, taking her face between his palms. "We Malfoys are remarkably persistent."
She felt her mouth curl up into a smile, almost against her will. He'd surprised it out of her, and she loved him for it. "I noticed."
"We're very hard to get rid of."
"Thank God for it," she said. She looked up at him, standing there in starlight filtered through rain, and asked, "Is there some reason you're not kissing me yet?"
He bent his head to hers, and kissed her soundly.
"I'm yours, Lucius," she whispered when he finally let her go. "Take me home."
So she spared Number Twelve a final bittersweet glance, and then he took her home.
GO TO PART 4: ACCEPTANCE