A matching pair of names for a matching pair of tiny little witches. Say those names out loud and you can still hear the sound of their laughter floating through the warm summer evening.
Two cute girls, round-cheeked and big-eyed, still only four and seven years old. Two gossamer puffskein balls of dendrish fluff, tumbling, floating in the air, high on the breath of the land. And then – over the hill – here they come, the sisters themselves. Legs higgledy-piggledy and arms waving, running madly after the funny pink seedballs, laughing and jumping as high as they can manage. Their childish voices are excited; their joy wisps up into the sunlight.
After them follow their mother and father, holding hands, smiling on fondly.
Nymphadora. Nympharmonia. Such peaceful names. What a gentle start.
But then, the surname -
A sound like two little girls smashing each other’s toys, repeatedly, vigorously and with malice. “Crunnnnk! Tonk! Shtangk! Trink! Riiiiiip!” Straw is yanked from the tails of favourite toy broomsticks; they’ll never fly again. Shiny red glass baubles are ground underfoot. Doll’s heads innards spew out, the mechanical eyes blinking helplessly. Glued-on eyelashes are visible through jagged, gaping skull-cracks, from the inside of the fragile little heads.
A sound like the air in Nymphadora’s lungs rushing out all at once - painfully, terrifyingly, forcefully. Her little sister has flung her down the steep narrow stairs right at the heart of their house. Dora falls fast right through the dark unlit tunnel, landing every step of the way - thud, bang, bom, durk, and finally, bam! There she lies there on the shaggy doormat, terror and fury boiling in her seven year old eyes.
A sound like Harmony’s skull bouncing off solid wood. Dora has recovered quickly, grabbed her sister, and is slamming the tiny, blond-curled head between the door and its frame – “Thunk! Tonk! Pok! Pang!” She feels it now – that sense of elation - the power, the joy, the thrill of inflicting righteous pain on her smaller sister. Her gums are tingling, her fingertips are buzzing – the rush -
“Nooooo!” Their mother rushes over, grabbing Nymphadora back. There’s a telltale stain spreading fast across her daughter’s jawline, a bristling at the knuckles and a hardness like a invasive stain… she’s seen it before, she knows what it means… “No!” shouts their mother, in desperation, “no! Noooo!”
But it’s too late. All too late. Because in less than a year, Tonks will have killed her sister.
On the rare occasions Auror Nymphadora G Tonks stops to think about it, she figures it goes something like this: so what’s the point of having these magically rare and generally magnificently spiffy powers if you don’t use them?
Yeah? Who made the rule that she had to sit about all day, her shapechanging thumbs stuck safely up her bum, pretending that she was just the same as everyone else? Who the hell had decreed it had to be like that? Anyone at all? Any takers? You see? Nobody. Nobody at all.
Still, the way some people carried on, you’d think it was a crime or something. Just because she happened to wear a troll’s head once in a while, or sported a couple of animal parts here and there, or, I don’t know, flaunted herself a big blue bottom on the exact day the ‘Anti Blue Bottom Discrimation League’ came to town, with all the delegates happening to stream out just as she was waving her royal blueness in the street in front of The Drooling Dragon after she’d had a couple…
Oh, come on! They’d calmed down eventually, hadn’t they? There’d been no harm done. Actually, those blue-bottom folk sure could drink. The headache she’d had the morning after that one… No, the way Tonks saw it, for sure, she’d been given an amazing gift, but if she chose to use it almost entirely in the cause of mucking about - that was completely her business.
And so Tonks got a kick out of playing to the crowd, amusing them and herself in a barrelload of ridiculously silly ways. She grew herself a pig’s nose, and snuffled through drawers for chocolates. Another time, she sprouted a pair of irredescent billywig’s wings from her back and flew up into the air, headbutting the window like some halfwit bluebottle trapped on the wrong side of the glass on a sunny day - buzz-buzz-buzz let me outta here! Cue laughter all round.
Once in the office they’d a huge pile of paperwork to shred, and Tonks, ever-helpful, had transformed her hands into a great big pair of Mackled Malaclaw shears, a bit like a those of a mutant, spotted lobster. As she sat there, efficiently slicing through the folders, snickety-snick, she noticed something rather peculiar. Every man near her had had crossed his legs, or found a file, memo, a dangerous Dark Artefact even, anything at all to shelter his precious manhood behind. Tonks’ face twisted as she smirked her lop-sided grin – and then the implication hit, and she started to bubble with indignation.
What - did they think she was about to start slicing up all the male employees just because her hands were transformed? Like that was enough to turn her into a crazed rampaging slicer-beast? What did they think she was – a work colleague or Clawzilla the Mighty Castrator? Huh. Judging by the flinches, the latter.
So what if she happened to have claws for hands right now? Big deal! She was still the same person, doing the same job. All of them carried wands, all the time - they’d all been trained to kill if necessary, or even worse.
And Kingsley, for crying out loud! Why had he jumped back? Why that flash of alarm? And why the hell did she feel so betrayed by it? She wanted to run up to him, shake his teeth till they chattered and shout, “Hey Kingsley – it’s just me! These big lobster snippers – also me! How could you ever think I was ever going to maim your vitals?”
But Tonks had a shrewd suspicion it wasn’t a good idea to run up to a senior member of staff, grab them by the lapels and shout in their face that she wasn’t going to kill them. Yeah, on reflection - probably not the best idea. Hardly likely to end in sure-fire promotion.
So Tonks lowered her head and went on snapping, the old petty cash records flying away like confetti in a snowstorm, and all the while, a tiny suspicion was gnawing and growing, somewhere way down to the pit of her soul - Perhaps… perhaps they were right to be afraid.
“I hate her! I hate her! I wish she was dead!” Nymphadora Tonks stamps her little bare foot with passion.
Her mother winces at the thud, painful against the thinly carpeted floor. She reaches out to hold her daughter’s arm, “I know you don’t mean that.”
“I do! I do! And I hate you even more! I do! She started it! She pulled all the straw from my broom, and she jumped on my train and she broke it, broke it dead! But you’re always punishing me! You never take her pocket money! Never! Never!” Nymphadora wrenches free from Andromeda’s grip and runs upstairs, stomping viciously every step of the way. After a second her bedroom door slams shut. The whole house shudders.
Andromeda Tonks is left sitting at the foot of the staircase. She looks down at the heartless train-murdering criminal beside her, and only meets a pair of innocently guileless baby-blue eyes.
“Nimmadora was very naughty,” Harmony tells her, lisping adorably.
Andromeda sighs. “Well, never mind. No harm done. Mummy fixed you again.”
“Nimmadora used big teef. See’s not allowed to use big teef.”
“That’s enough, Harmony. It’s all done now. Come on over.” She holds her arms out wide.
Andromeda enfolds her soft-cheeked youngest daughter in her arms, thinking to herself, yes, it’s all over - for now, at least. But why can’t Nymphadora just control herself? She should know better; she’s the eldest. Why does she keep flying into these rages? Why can’t she understand that her sister’s still a baby? A toddler who can’t help breaking things? Why can’t she just understand?
And what damage will Nymphadora cause next time she gets angry, excited, or upset? Who will she take it out on? Andromeda’s arms tighten without thinking. She rocks the warm bundle she’s holding, smelling the sweetness of her daughter’s scalp, planting a kiss on the very top of the silky-smooth blondeness.
What about next time? What happens then? What happens if for whatever reason, just once, she reaches the both of them too late?
Oh, how much fun other people seemed to have when they hung around with a Metamorphmagus.
“Do that trick with your hair, Tonks!” “Hey, what shape’s your nose today?” “Will you come shopping with me, Tonks? I want to show the salesman exactly what colour of blue I mean – yes, that’s right! Just the shade of your skin! Thanks – wow, you’re so handy!”
What a joke. What a laugh. Oh yeah, just one great big party. But how many of them had seen her turn into a Lethifold? A dragon? A dementor? A basilisk? Had even stopped to think that she actually might be able to? That her shapechanging ability might extend past tinting her hair bubblegum pink or being a walking, talking colour chart?
Well, to be honest, that’s the way she wanted it. No - far better to dazzle the masses with spoof, far better to make light of the whole thing, in case the wizarding world ever stopped laughing together and started wondering. Because it was a thing of wonder, this Metamorph knack of hers. One she didn’t always waste, either.
A long time ago, for one breath-holding adventure of a day, Tonks had been a centaur.
She’d still been a kid, of course – centaurs didn’t let adult humans near them, and barely tolerated children. So Tonks had snuck up, already changed, to a herd of centaurs in the Forbidden Forest, her unfamiliar horsey knees wobbling like crazy every time she remembered the sheer recklessness of what she was doing. Early morning light was falling through the trees into the clearing. It glinted off the sharp metal tips of the centaur’s arrows, their tautly slung quivers and the rippling hair all down their strong, muscular shoulders. There was a rustle behind her, a sudden movement, she’d turned and…. once, just for one incredible, never-to-be-repeated day they’d let her run with their herd.
Later on, during her school lessons, Tonks had learnt that the Ministry of Magic classified centaurs as ”sub-human”. She’d thought this over many times. Everyone knew centaurs were at least as intelligent as Wizarding folk. They talked, they did magic, they lived peacefully in their own way - yet according to the Ministry, they were no better than beasts.
Who’s to say the Ministry of Magic wouldn’t one day decide that Metamorphmagi were non-human as well? That they were too different, too scary, too unlike what a witch or wizard should be? That they should deny them access to schooling, medicine and legal rights? It’s not like it hadn’t happened before - the banshees had lost status ages ago, and then the werewolves more recently. Tonks knew how these things worked.
On bad days, when Tonks was at her lowest ebb, she couldn’t help imagining how life would be if she became classified as sub-human – how she’d be thrown out of her job, her flat, her life. Perhaps it was only a matter of time.
She’s discovered the secret. Just around the corner – she’s running, running fast, faster – almost there – only a few more to go –
Nymphadora grabs onto her mother’s robe, and tugs hard, once, twice, three times - “Mummy? Mummy? – Muuuuuummy!”
“Yes?” Her mother scarcely spares a look down. “What is it?”
Nymphadora’s out of puff, her mouth wide open. “Mummy? Am I adapted?”
“Adapted? What?” A frown appears; Andromeda Tonks pauses. She’s hanging up laundry on the line outside their house. There’s a white cloth in her hand. “What are you talking about?”
“Is Harmony adapted? Is she not really my sister?”
Andromeda lays down the large sheet and looks closely at her daughter. “The word’s adopted. And no, neither of you are. Who’s been telling you otherwise?”
Nymphadora bumflops back onto the grass, still breathing loudly. For a moment, her thin little legs bounce up into the air, then they crash back down towards the earth. “You’re not my real family. You can’t be! I just worked it out!” Her face is small and serious, her chin up and challenging.
“Oh, is that all?” Laughing, Andromeda shakes her head and leans back towards the laundry basket.
“Don’t you believe me?”
“Well, I don’t know. I was pregnant for ages, Dora, and it hurts quite a lot when mummies have babies. You tend not to forget about that. I was in labour for thirteen hours before you decided to come out - I expect that makes me your mummy, whether you like it or not.”
Nymphadora’s legs are drawn up tight against her body. Her small brows crunch together and she sticks her bottom lip out angrily. “No! That’s not true! You can’t change shape like I can! If you were really my mummy, you’d be able to change!”
Andromeda shakes out a long, dark red robe. “Sorry,” she says thickly, her mouth full of pegs.
“You’re not, you’re not, you’re not!”
“Well, who’s your real mummy, then?”
“I don’t know. Someone… someone else! Someone not you!”
A tear starts to trickle down Nymphadora’s cheek. She drops her head between her knees, trying very hard not to cry in front of her not-mother, staring at the grass tickling her toes instead. Dora knows the rule - no changing, no changing at all, not except during lessons with Professor McGonagall. But Dora doesn’t care. She can feel it coming and she doesn’t care. She’s going to let it all out anyway.
First, half-hidden in the flapping sheet-shadow, the skin on her legs changes, melting to a deep bruised purple. Then Dora feels her scalp tingle. She digs her head even further between her knees as the rush of hair starts, urgent and pricklish, forcing out through the stained skin between her legs, spiralling down between the daisies.
In a minute, this woman who isn’t even really her mummy is going to notice, to see her changing, and she’ll be angry, and punish Dora, because she hates Dora for being a changer when she can’t do it. And Dora’s bad, bad, bad. And now Dora wants to cry even more, in rage and frustration and self-pity – but what’s the point? What can one little girl do against the might of a mother? Nothing, except sit and change into something she doesn’t even want to be anyway. And that’s being naughty, so she should run and hide away – but no! Something fierce and defiant, is telling her no! Let them see her change. Let them look. Let them see her badness exposed.
And so Dora grips the earth between her tainted toes, lets her hair spiral ever downwards and waits for the horribly inevitable.
Hairy. Exceedingly hairy.
On Tuesday morning, while waiting for the early briefing to begin, a pall of sleepy-headed boredom hung over the Auror Department like stale stink over unwashed socks. Slack, yawning faces stretched as far as the eye could see - even the usually efficient Dougan was lounging over his desk, half-heartedly fishing something out of his nostril with the end of his quill. All of a sudden, inspiration lit up over Tonks’ head - and just like that, with a twitch of her nose, she transformed.
All the skin on her face - completely gone - and in its place a wild, black forest of Acromantula hair. Even her brand new insect eyes, shiny and unblinking, were almost hidden in its ferocious undergrowth. So there she’d sat, and with every snicker and pout she’d rippled like coarse black grass blown by the wind, round and round and around her grinning lips. When she opened her mouth it shone out bright like a wet pink polyp in the sea of dark.
Tonks watched herself with satisfaction, at first in the glass bookcase opposite and then in the expressions around her. The first few jerks of surprise were giving way to a tinkle of amusement – any distraction was welcome in this early morning stupor - although ‘Vigilance’ Moody was glaring back, his magical eye bulging and swivelling away. Tonks paused for a moment, considering, and then turned her tongue vermilion with neon orange polka dots all over. She stuck it out and waved it around. There - even better. She winked at Ermentrude Smith and received a titter back in return.
And then, unexpectedly, Auror Proudfoot rushed in with an intelligence update, and in the whirl of new orders Tonks had completely forgotten about her excessive spidery beardage. A bunch of them had performed an emergency Apparation to Little Whatling to check out the lead, and all was fine and dandy and going to schedule till Proudfoot had turned around to whisper some last minute strategy, came face to face with Tonks and then - Arrrgh!
Proudfoot had leapt back with an absolute look of terror across his face, jumped about ten feet into the air, and tried to escape by scrabbling with his nails through the brick wall behind them. It was at that moment that Tonks remembered she was still sporting her crazy giant spider look.
Okay – so she hadn’t behaved quite so professionally that time. Apologies were in order, both to Proudfoot, and later to Kingsley, her immediate boss. On the whole, she’d rather not talk about that particular incident any more, thank you very much. Except unfortunately, that wasn’t really an option. By now, Lancelot ‘Laugh-a-Lot’ Simpson had told the story about a dozen times, at least three in her immediate presence, and who knows how many more out of it. At the first recital she’d caught herself blushing scarlet and crimson to the ends of her spiky new bob - she’d always hated when she did that, a sure fire giveaway. But she’d caught herself in time, stopped her runaway hair and joined in laughing with the rest of them, as if making fun of her cock-up and some guy’s spider phobia was the best joke ever. Well, you had to, didn’t you?
Later on, Kingsley called her into his office. “Shut the door behind you, Tonks.”
As the door closed with a click, Tonks realised with there was another person in the room - there, in the shadows sitting quietly in a chair, with his head down and his legs rigidly together.
“Proudfoot wanted to see you before he went on leave.”
Like a spiky alarm waiting to go off, awkwardness curled around Tonks’ innards.
“He’s got something to say to you.” Kingsley’s deep voice was very serious. “And this isn’t to go any further, you understand?”
Tonks looked from the one wizard to the other, waiting for them to go on, worried what she’d hear when they did.
Proudfoot was clenching his hands tightly until the knuckles pulled bone-white. His face, on the other hand, was puffy and red. “It’s my mother….” he whispered, forcing out the words. “Last Thursday…. an Acromantula… ate my mother.”
Tonks pulled a hand to her mouth.
“They still haven’t notified all the relatives.” Kingsley continued. “But in the meantime, no more changing into anything deadly, okay? And try to keep the office jokes to a minimum. Right?”
Tonks nodded quickly. “Yes, of course.” Guilt shot through her. She turned to Proudfoot. “I’m really sorry.” Even as she said the words she hated herself in a dozen different ways.
Proudfoot looked up for the first time since Tonks had entered the room. He stared her straight in the face, slowly, with a puzzled air. It was almost like he was searching for something.
“I’m so sorry,” repeated Tonks, and at the sound of her voice Proudfoot kicked backwards, tipping his chair and knocking it against a cabinet with a hollow thump. He let out an anguished cry.
“I think you’d better leave, Tonks.” Kingsley stood up and gestured towards the door.
As Tonks turned tail and fled, Kingsley’s accusatory phrase was running through her head, “Nothing deadly…nothing deadly…” No argument from her there; she couldn’t agree more. If this is what happened when she did, she’d never change into anything deadly, ever again.
Two pink girls. Two summer dresses, all clean and new, ready for a visit to their daddy’s mummy.
Two pink girls – each one holding a Flaming Fantasmic Frisbee.
It’s so exciting. You throw them high and big fluffy stars shoot out the back, trailing a rainbow archway of light. Each time you throw it’s a new and different colour, and when the stars land they tickle and sparkle all over your face. Right now these Frisbees are the girls’ absolute best favourite toys, ever. They can’t get enough of it, shooting plumes of colour everywhere they go – turquoise, scarlet, golden, emerald and pink.
But now there’s a problem. Dora threw hers in the garden, as far as she could – whoosh - so high in the air! A trail of amber streaked behind, curved and wobbledy and – no – stop! That’s the wrong way! Nooooo!
And so Dora’s precious Frisbee is now snarled in some grubby old undergrowth, under the hedge by the big oak tree.
Dora knows she’s not allowed to crawl about in the mud and get her good dress all dirty. Mummy was incredibly clear on this point before she’d even let them out to play, “Remember, girls – in ten minutes we’re heading of to see nanna in Barnstaple – so keep those dresses clean!” But Dora can see the Frisbee’s silver edge. It’s just that little bit too far to reach, calling out to her, tempting her in. Dora’s biting her lip. She keeps going to the hedge and nearly succumbing, then pulling back and checking over her shoulder. Dora knows that mummy’s often watching, even when Dora didn’t think she was anywhere near.
Dora doesn’t think she’ll risk it. She goes over to her sister and sticks out a demanding hand. “Gimme. I want a go on yours.”
“No.” Harmony widens her big blue eyes. She holds her Frisbee behind her back, tightening her strong, pudgy fingers. “S’mine. You got your own one.”
“But it’s under the heeeedge! I can’t reeeeeach it!” Dora hops from one foot to the other. “Pleaaaaaaase?”
Harmony thoughtfully brings out her Frisbee. She gives a few tantalising practice flourishes right in front of Dora, being very careful not to let go.
“Come ooooon! Pleeease?”
Harmony stops waving her Frisbee about. She’s had a sudden idea. “The gnomes will get yours!” She points down to the end of the garden, at the long grass and bushes that grow wild.
“When we go to Nanna’s – the gnomes will come and eat your Frisbee! Eat it all up!” Harmony’s little round cheeks beam in a self-satisfied smile.
Dora’s looking in the long grass too now, searching for the beady eyes and stripey hats of the cruel, Frisbee-eating garden gnomes. “Will really they eat my Frisbee? Will they? But how will they know it’s even there? You can hardly even see the edge sticking out!”
“I’ll tell them ‘bout it!”
“No! You can’t! You won’t be able to! You’ll be at nanna’s with me!”
“Tell them now! I will!” And Harmony starts to charge around the garden, shouting and waving her arms at the grass. “Gnomes! Gnomes!”
The race is now on. Harmony proves surprisingly elusive, even with those stumpy little legs of hers. Every time Dora catches up and jumps on top, Harmony wriggles, kicks and suddenly, she’s free and yelling to the gnomes again.
“Shut up! Stop it! Why won’t you just shut up!” Eventually, still panting, Dora gives up on the pursuit. Harmony is still shouting, inching closer and then dancing back every time it looks like her sister might be taking the bait. Determinedly, Dora turns away from the taunting cries. She’s shaking with the effort and her face clenches with fury – but she has to get her Frisbee back before they leave for nanna’s. Time’s running out. Hunkering down, she peers through the undergrowth. The Frisbee’s edge gleams out, a tiny silver light through the mud and twigs. Dora gives one last look over her shoulder, to check for mummy….
Then she closes her eyes, sticks out her arm, and makes a wish.
The sound of small, bendable ribs giving way. A dreadful, irreversible popping. The sound that will maim a family forever.
A second ago, Harmony had snuck up behind Dora. “I’m telling mummy on you! You made your arm all long! You changed! You did! Mummy says you’re not allowed!”
Dora’s fury is indescribable. “Don’t you dare!” she hisses. She pulls away from the bush and spins around, eyes narrowed.
Harmony’s mouth plummets open. She’s spotted the thing attached to Dora’s shoulder. Staggering, she falls backwards. Her eyes are transfixed to it – to whatever Dora’s arm has become.
Hair. A dense pelt of hair is bristling all the way from neck to knuckles, bursting through the pretty lace and ruffles which dangle uselessly, ripped apart. The sleeve of Dora’s dress has been laid entirely waste; it flaps in a lump to the side. Only hints of pink flesh show through the fur, but that’s enough to show the thick, swollen muscles where only seconds ago a young girl’s slender arm used to be. Harmony’s eyes catch a movement, and horrified, she follows it, down the arm muscles, down the fur, to the ends of the fingertips, where finally she sees five long, dirty and hooked talons – twitching and grasping thin air.
Harmony screams - or tries to. All that comes out is a gasp of panicked air. “Tellin… maaa…”
“Don’t you dare!” shouts Dora, and with the practice of many years of rivalry she jumps at her sister.
Tonks is the sound of only one. There’s no Nymphadora and Nympharmonia, just Tonks. Just one. Anything else was just a childish dream.
That’s what Dora’s parents have decided is best for their little girl - to blot out her hateful crime, to chase it from her head. To blot out the image of the two little girls in the garden, their little pink dresses dazzling red with blood, clotting through to the ground below, where the grass stained a dull, entrenched black.
No seven year old child deserves that.
So here lies Dora, obediently waiting under Professor McGonagall’s watchful eye. Time to administer the memory charm. The magical words are spoken; the wand is flicked. Nymphadora obediently looks up, and it catches square between her fine light brown eyebrows with a resonant, hollow sound.
The sound of -