Nymphadora Tonks was twenty-two years old when she came to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. She did not hate anyone, except perhaps in a very abstracted sort of way, which was of course to be remedied by her continued work for the Order of the Phoenix: its chief purpose was to cleanse and galvanise its members into becoming something like steel, giving them the power of hatred where they had none and taking away the illusions that let normal people live their day-to-day lives.
She had already become introduced to the Order, through a letter much like her Hogwarts letter. Its heavy parchment was comforting, somehow, and she did not think that the emerald ink that Headmaster Dumbledore used could be easily reproduced. It lent verisimilitude to what otherwise would have been a pipe-dream of a tale. She was reminded of someone Muggle, in a Muggle novel, who had been seduced by letters and eventually murdered. It had been a mystery story she'd taken along with her on a stake-out in Auror training, back when reading Muggle novels was still overlooked as an eccentricity.
But the letter did not seduce her to her death; she isn't a total twit, she thought firmly, looking up the street at the gap-toothed houses with their windows lit or not lit in a crazy hodge-podge pattern. If there was one person in the world she trusted, it was Dumbledore - and for no better reason than that he allowed her to change freely in his presence, let her take on her natural face or his own visage or once, most memorably, no face at all. It wasn't much reason to trust him. Then again, she wasn't a Slytherin either, to be wary of everyone, and her crazy cousin Sirius had actually been all right when he showed up through the Floo network.
Grimmauld Place was enough to make anyone believe they were going crazy. She stood between houses Eleven and Thirteen and thought very hard about Twelve, counting dozens of eggs in her mind, pretending that the brass numbers by the door of Thirteen were morphing into the right one. Then, like a Venus Flytrap opening its jaws, Number Twelve made itself be known.
The house spoke and in fact still speaks to her sometimes when she thinks she's awake but really isn't. Then she puts her foot on the steps to mount to the second and third floors, even up to the fourth and the fifth where there shouldn't rightly be any and the magic is beginning to wear. They creak crazily under her, and she knows she's waking up Ginny and Hermione just by moving forward.
A shiver runs through her. There's a draught on the stair, though nobody can figure out where it comes from. It makes her turn back, untangling her nightgown from where it has mysteriously got caught up in the banister. Her sleep-addled mind thinks that perhaps she will go back upstairs tomorrow, up to the very tip-top of the house where Buckbeak sleeps in Mrs. Black's old bed, up to the roof where she can slip slide on the slates and look out over London. But then again, perhaps she won't. She does have a job to hold down. She is only an Auror as long as she stays on Cornelius Fudge's good side.
"Mum, I want to!" wailed Ginny when she found out that she was to be left out of the Order's planning. Tonks stood in the background and turned her face to the plainest, most unassuming mask she could and schooled it, carefully, not to give anything away.
"NO!" Mrs. Weasley's voice had a resounding quality that could be heard for miles away. Tonks imagined it vibrating up into the dusty rooms of the house above, shaking old fingernail clippings off someone's old dresser. She imagined the sound waves the way her grandfather drew them for her once, her father's father, like little arcs radiating outwards, pushing dust up and out and into little clouds in the air.
But what she thought was: Don't do it; insist on your right to be let in on the secrets; once they have trapped you into being little and ignorant, you will only hear of it again when they decide they want you, most cold-bloodedly. And they will want you, because you were possessed.
She only felt like that because she had just made rather a fool of herself to Harry, trying to over-compensate for nearly getting them seen by Muggles on the way in, trying to be cool and composed and interesting. She knew she shouldn't, knew that she had been tapped for the Order because of her Metamorphmagus powers, and because she was related to Sirius Black, and that if she could be a little less juvenile perhaps she'd become a truly worthwhile member of the team. If she'd fall in line she might eventually be good or strong or smart enough to be let in on all the privy councils, but as it was
The portraits were screaming, first one and then the others in cacophony: Ginny had left, and before Tonks could absent herself too Lupin went to close the drapes and end the row. Don't do it, she thought again, but this time she was referring to herself. If she was a little better at not absenting herself, perhaps she'd be let in on more privy councils.
After all, she consoled herself, Hermione will tell Ginny everything when they go to sleep tonight; Hermione will, or I will. And it's not as though anyone else is gaining much of an advantage over her, really.
But her mind roamed crazily back and forth that night, between Andromeda Tonks and Narcissa Black and Bellatrix the insane, up to Regulus who'd died and Sirius and her Great-Aunt and all the other names that had been carefully boxed up until that letter from Dumbledore came, the one with emerald ink but without the Hogwarts seal. And it roamed up and down, from the rooftops to the basement of the house where everything was a little wrong.
That's when it began to go wrong, she thinks, sometimes. That's when you began to think of the house as yours, this house that Muggles can't see. That's when you began to say, Grimmauld Place and everything in it belongs to me.
That's when the dust began to fill you up and pile in a pyramid on the floor around you, like sand. That's when you went the opposite route from Galatea. That's when the goddess of old houses came, and saw you were made in her image, and turned you to stone.
With the young ones gone the house was eerily quiet, except for the thumpings in the night, which might have been Kreacher or might have been something else. They had not looked at the family rooms yet: old offices, yes, where Boggarts lived, and old wardrobes filled with furs and dresses, and curio cabinets filled with strange artifacts. But not the family rooms.
"And so the house has just been sitting here?" Tonks asked, when she had a day off work and Sirius was feeling lonely. "Nothing in it touched, nothing used, nothing here wanted by anyone?"
"Not by anyone," he said. "Not since the old bitch died."
So she left him alone, since that seemed to be what he wanted, alone to the relics he'd made a great deal of noise about clearing away but never actually had. There was one more floor left, one more that hadn't been cleaned: the very top, where Buckbeak was kept, with his stable-smells and his strange noises.
But there were other rooms there than just the old master bedroom, which made the impromptu pen, and Tonks had never been in any of them. Their heavy old doors slammed shut automatically, she knew that much, even without magic; or perhaps the magic was inherent in this house, making it cold and silent even when all the Weasleys in the world were in residence.
So she stood on the landing and chose, at random, the one nearest the stair. Nothing was stenciled on its door. She didn't really expect that there would be, though surely somewhere in the house there had to be children's rooms, because as horrible as the thought was children had grown up in the halls of house-elf heads and snake-shaped accoutrements.
Lo! She thought. Ask and ye shall re-ceive. There, she was doing it again - trying to add that edge, that tinge of coolness to even her unarticulated thoughts, when really her mind whirled with surprise and shock and she knew not what else. Light came in from vast windows, but they were covered with under-curtains, gauzy moth-eaten things that made the brightness discerning, alighting on one spot and not another. It was choosy, almost, about where it would land.
The light was the first thing she noticed, but then she looked at where it hit the walls, the dull and brown-grey walls. Something shone dimly, like tarnished silver. She crossed the ratty carpet to see. Yes, it was silver paint; when she had come closer she could see the faded outline of a fish, a Ramora, swimming along the blue-green border around the middle of the walls. Next to it was an Abraxan, its wings forever frozen outstretched.
"Hey, cool, a nursery!" she said aloud, pulling open the curtains and letting light in. Moths fluttered out of them, angry at being disturbed, and the dirt on the windows was obvious, but it was much easier to see.
There were almost no toys and few furnishings. If Sirius had already been there he had not mentioned it, but he must have; even after years and years children leave more evidence than what remained. There was no place for a Boggart or a hive of Doxies to hide, anyway, nothing to be flushed out of its hiding place except the musty air. The words she was going to utter, the sort of words that one does utter when the world suddenly seems like that paperback Muggle novel, all ink and pulp, turned to ash in her mouth. There was the ratty carpet. There were five chairs, stiff, facing the wall. There were two small broomsticks, inert and clunkily wooden, leaning up against one of the chairs. There was a bookshelf and a desk.
That was all.
Tonks cannot see out to the Muggle streets from her window, even though she should. She doesn't share a room with anyone, since she's a technical tenant of Headmaster Dumbledore's, exchanging her guard duty and information about the inner workings of the Ministry for a window and a bed and food when she wants it and a fireplace that's off the Floo network.
She's gleeful every time she tells someone that they can't reach her by Floo. "See, it's a sort of experimental thing!" she says, bubbling over with excitement, in her smallest and most childlike form. "No distractions, no worries, see? So I can be the best Auror, the absolute best."
If that doesn't work, she says something about Metamorphmagi, something obscure; that stops their mouths. But it does not make Floo powder work in her fireplace, and so she has won.
Sometimes it makes the room feel smaller, but it also makes the flames burn unabashedly red and yellow and white at all times, carmine more often than not. That's a blessing, she supposes, in this house of eerie green with its stained silver wallpaper that mirrors your own face back at you. She hasn't been able to get the wallpaper off, hasn't been able to replace it with the cheery florals that typify her parent's house. But then, Andromeda Tonks and her decorating style don't belong here. That's a blessing, too.
Later that day, the day she had found the nursery, Tonks clattered down the stairs even more loudly than usual. "I found it in the library," she said breathlessly. "I swear I found it in the library."
Sirius wasn't around - he was closeted with the Headmaster in the basement, and they had charmed the door so violently that he would never hear anything anyone said up above.
"Incredible!" Arthur Weasley pronounced, with his usual good humor.
"Look," Tonks said. She set the great book on the table and turned to the title page, careful of the cracked leather binding. "It was made by hand Ð look, the title's been lettered in ink: MEMORIES, for ANDROMEDA ARTEMISIA BLACK, NARCISSA FAUSTA BLACK, and BELLATRIX ELLADORA BLACK, A Legacy For Their Education and Enlightenment During Their Lifetimes From Their Affectionate and Devoted Grandparents, MR. AND MRS. ALGOL TACITUS BLACK; Twenty-first June, 1959.
They pressed around the table, Molly and Arthur and Bill, while Tonks lifted and turned the first page of the book.
"What is it - that thing - it surely wasn't meant for a child?" Molly said, a rhetorical question.
"Now here is a Goya etching," Bill said. "It must have been cut out of another book somewhere. See where it's glued in?" He leaned over it to examine the page more closely, almost touching his nose to the paper. "Look, Mum, it wasn't even glue, it had to be a Permanent Sticking Charm -"
His hair, which had been plaited in a neat queue down his back, fell over his shoulder and onto the book's open face. Tonks did not even have time to warn him as a cloud of smoke that suddenly plumed from the page. Bill staggered back, covered in grey smudges, as it formed itself into words.
"So they charmed it to say: "Do not defile books; do not defile yourself with Muggles and Mudbloods; do not defile the Ancient and Noble House of Black. Tojours pur," Tonks read.
There was silence, apart from the incessant creaking that scrupulous parents tell their children is only "the house settling" - but if it was possible for the House of Black to settle it would have done so long ago by now. Perhaps it was Kreacher, she thought; yes. Kreacher.
"It's from what's on the page. Dirty, dirty, dirty-minded people!" Molly Weasley said. "They gave it to their children. They gave it to their children and made them read it!"
"That's usually what a book's for, Mum, reading," Bill said from behind his handkerchief, where he was trying to wipe off the soot. It was very stubborn. "But don't try to burn it. There's always more where the first volley comes from, and I bet it's really tough to get rid of."
"Yeah, I don't want to be next. Maybe it'll send purple paint at me or something," Tonks said back, her tone as lighthearted as she could manage. "Can't shape-shift your way out of that." And she turned her nose into a Snape-like beak to underscore the point.
But then she took it back upstairs, mounting them one by one by one with her tiny child's feet fitting into the pattern of the runner, finding the place where the dip in the well-worn wood was most pronounced and putting her weight just there. It grew heavier, somehow. On the first landing she opened it to a random page and peeked within, then shut it again. Inside was a photograph of someone in pain, someone screaming horribly. She had closed it too quickly to read the inscription, written in spidery copperplate, but she caught the words transgressor, and Cruciatus, and exquisite.
Suddenly, without warning, she imagined little hands on the pages, her mother's and her aunts', their hair falling in ringlets that bounced just above the lettering. She imagined them sitting in the straight-backed chairs in the nursery and staring at the Erumpents romping on the wall and occasionally turning their faces back down to the book, trying to remember its contents.
Then there would have to be a cloud of smoke. Did one of them push at the pictures, moving ever-so-slowly, with a pudgy small hand? She could see it almost: Bellatrix, the youngest, making it go up in smoke, but Andromeda or Narcissa would have been holding the book, and so she'd be the one covered in grey.
Did they use the belt?
That was too horrible a thought even to contemplate, even with the barbarous thing she held; so Tonks ran up the stairs again, her nose in its traitorous beak, and dropped the book where its outline showed clean on the dusty desk in the nursery.
She was almost out of the room, almost ready to let the door fall shut behind her and lock away that place which should hold distant memories of little girls' giggling but didn't, when she saw a black splash on the animals that bordered the room.
A Lethifold. Of course.
Buckbeak's room is extraordinarily grimy, but nothing that a good Scourging Spell won't fix. It cleans the windows too, because Tonks has become very good at this sort of thing, cleaning with spells and cooking with charms. She knocks things over when she tries to do it the Muggle way, and makes a bigger mess than she started with.
It's odd. The windows don't look out onto a street. They look out onto rolling hills with green pastures, an orchard in the far distance, cows grazing on a hill. It's a pastoral scene and it's beautiful, beautiful, sunlight baking it all golden against all good sense. It's slushy winter in the Muggles' world, dirty snow overlaying the dirty ground until it's trampled into oblivion.
Hot air rises, and even without central heating the room is warm enough to be happily livable. Buckbeak snorts in his sleep Ð he's learned to not pay attention to his human visitors. Tonks doesn't put out the candles when she goes, even though she's supposed to. There's something difficult about the darkness of the room in comparison to its cheery false window. There's no point in emphasizing it even more.
They said it was Kreacher. They said it was the horrible little old house-elf and that he wasn't up to any good and that he probably meant to give everyone a turn.
But how could it be Kreacher? He couldn't do something so directly to a Black, Tonks thought; never to a Black. He even obeyed Sirius, sometimes, however unhappily. If he would obey Sirius the blood-traitor, surely he couldn't, surely he wouldn't -
This is what happened: it was a regular morning. Tonks was on her way downstairs, plaiting her long red hair like Bill's, when Arthur Weasley said "What's this now?" rather too loudly. The screaming began. Even from above she could hear it, so she clattered down to push the drapes closed over her grandmother's gaunt image. Even when they had been silenced the words echoed in her ears. She'd taken such care designing those ears, meant to be uncovered by the plait, little creamy shells with freckles on their tips. Now she didn't think of them at all. BLOOD TRAITOR! came the echo of Mrs. Black's scream. DEFILER! I HAVE NO SON!
She didn't mention anything about having no grand-niece. Tonks had been taken for a Weasley, which she supposed was a good thing; but it was also disturbing, in a way.
So they were going back down to the basement, where no portraits screamed; back to the cold, damp basement, to warm it up with bodies and good food cooking. "Look, Tonks," Sirius said. "If that was your idea of a joke -"
"What?" she asked, confused. Then she turned.
All of them stood in silence for a moment and looked at HELP DORA COME HOME DORA written in shaky white letters, meandering across the wall, some above paintings and some on their faces and the final word on the draperies that covered Mrs. Black's portrait.
"What in hell?" she said, stressing her far-from-plummy accent unconsciously so it came out wot 'n 'ell.
"That's in very bad taste, Nymphadora. You know better," Mrs. Weasley said sternly. "If you wanted to go home you could just tell us, you know, nobody expects new Aurors to handle the stress very well."
But that wasn't it, that wasn't it at all. "There's no stress! I mean, I didn't write that. Unless you think my mum slipped in to try and get me to move back in?"
Mrs. Weasley looked as though she had a great deal more to say on the subject. "No - she couldn't have," Remus said. He had come from somewhere, quite unexpectedly. "You know how the portraits scream, Molly. Nobody could have written in chalk on those draperies without waking them up."
"Kreacher could have," Sirius said with a sudden anger. He was often angry. "That slimy little bastard. If he's done anything else -"
"It's fine. I don't blame you for suspecting me," Tonks said, with as much equanimity as she could muster. But she knew that when she had come down the steps earlier, her feet clomping just as they always had before in their big combat boots, she had thought she was perfectly calm. Yet she had been afraid, just as much as she ever had on Auror duty, and for no reason either.
But when she was afraid, she could see perfectly the sensible, beautiful not-afraid side of the world. She could see the door and the multitude of locks and even the picture-frames staying the same, not affected in the least, and the weave of the draperies not moving even though it was so close to horrible Mrs. Black. She was no longer in relation to those things, because they couldn't be afraid. She was simply able to do what was necessary, through her fear. She couldn't feel it the way people were supposed to. Perhaps, she thought, it was because she could always change, taking a new face, and thus hide from fear -?
It was too early in the morning for philosophical discussions, even only with oneself. "What I want to know is what it means," Remus said mildly. "It says 'Dora.' Nobody calls Tonks that, but she's the only one it can refer to."
"I'll ask Kreacher," Sirius replied. "If I can ever get my hands on him, oh, I'll ask Kreacher." And they trailed downstairs, leaving Tonks alone in the entrance hall. The smell of eggs and bacon together in a pan already wafted up the stairwell.
She stood in front of the portrait of Mrs. Black and considered the letters written in chalk across its velvet draperies. D O R A. Only a fraction of her name; but then, she knew that the house only needed a fraction of her, that fraction with pure blood that came down through Andromeda and then through the pristine, perfect male line. Strange, in a house named for men, that women ruled.
With a quick, convulsive motion, she pulled the draperies apart. For one crystalline, perfect moment, she stared at her great-aunt, looked at her sloe-eyes which once had to have been beautiful. Against all good reason, she screwed up her face and turned her eyes to match.
"I always thought blood would flow thicker than water," Mrs. Black said in a stage whisper. Before she had a chance to scream again, Tonks shut her away and ran down to join the others.
The basement was like the Weasley house, really, when Christmas had long ago come and gone and yet everyone remained there, happily co-existing. On New Year's Eve they sat together at the big table and counted down and somehow, even though Sirius was still having his fits of the sullens and Harry was taciturn and grumpy, it was all right.
But there was an edge to it, too: how the twins' spells nearly took people's heads off, there, and how the knives hung on the walls, glinting on the fire. There was always an edge to Grimmauld Place, cold and quiet, but for little footsteps down the halls with nobody around to make them.
It didn't bother the cats, of course, or Harry or Hermione or Ron or Ginny Ð it didn't bother anybody much that they were shut up in that evil-looking, evil-smelling house. Sometimes, though, Tonks thought of Sirius mounting the stairs to Buckbeak's room, angry with the world, his face twisted into a mask of unhappiness; then she imagined the doors on either side of the hall shutting one by one, the nursery the last, and realised that he felt the discomfort too.
Almost every night, now, there is a disturbance in the halls. No one can hear it but Tonks. They look at her as though she is even stranger than normal. She checks her ears, her eyes: no, she is all of a piece today, she has not forgotten anything. "But I heard it. Didn't you?" she says. "Footsteps - heavy ones - and a knock on my door. I was going to open it and scream WOTCHER!' really loudly, completely scare 'em off, but then I thought that maybe other people wouldn't want to get woken up..."
In truth she had no such plan, not when the feet sound heavy and hollow on the floor and the hands begin to knock at her door, quietly at first and then louder, scrabbling at the knob with little fingernails, worrying at the hinges. No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality, Tonks knows. When she was younger she played with the fairies that lived in her mother's garden; could this be an extension of that, a replay of all the things that go bump in the night, a child's fantasy grown larger and more sinister?
But then comes the night when she hears the hands work at the door, just as usual, knocking and banging and foot-stomping. She curls up under the blankets and hides her head and pretends that nobody's there, but then she hears the cry.
It's a little child's voice. It's a child crying, but there are no children in the house any longer. There haven't been for years: one can hardly say a big fifteen-year old who's grown up in a house of brothers, like Ginny, is a baby. In fact, there may not have been since Bellatrix Black grew up and moved away and took the name Lestrange.
And so it's unsurprising that, as she clutches her flannel quilt about her, Tonks thinks that this child might be baby Bella, wandering about the cold old house with its rickety stairways and threadbare carpet. With all the gas-lamps out in the lower floors it would be dark and dreary, and she'd cry and cry
The cries change to screams, to howls. Something is hurting the child. Though she has all manner of Gryffindor courage, it's a struggle for her to get up and stand in front of the door, which is shaking on its hinges. She can barely grip its knob, ice-cold to the touch, and wrench it open, holding her wand up and ready to confront whatever's there, whatever's hurting baby Bella. It simply cannot be allowed.
The hall is empty and Tonks thinks she might be going mad.
"I feel so sorry for the poor little children who had to grow up here," Molly Weasley said. "Everyone - your mum, Tonks, and Sirius, and I'll even say Regulus Black and Narcissa Malfoy. And even Bellatrix Lestrange. I daresay in a good home she wouldn't have -"
She was trying to put a good face on things. Her thoughts must have run to the effect of, at least my own children aren't hurt. But beneath the motherly kindness there had to be something, some spark of anger. She was putting a good face on things, not telling the truth.
"I don't feel sorry for them," Tonks said, taking one of the cookies Mrs. Weasley had just pulled out of the oven. To distract herself, she ate it quickly, licking the chocolate off her fingers even as she morphed them into longer, slimmer things than she should have rightfully possessed. "I feel angry. Maybe. No kid should grow up with that."
It was easier to make ambiguous statements that might be construed as agreement than to contradict Mrs. Weasley outright. She didn't agree, though, not at all. Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place was evil, but not innately. People had made it so. Bellatrix's haunting laugh was as much the reason for Grimmauld's cold insanity as vice versa.
There should be bright golden light coming into the nursery, and there is. But it shouldn't be dappled, like it is, with a tree's leaves: the street outside is cheerless, broken occasionally by the shouts of a Muggle child, then immediately silent again.
Tonks does not know why she finds herself drawn to this room which, like a black hole, sucks everything happy up and spits it out. If not for the Lethifold on the border, perhaps it wouldn't be so severe; perhaps it might actually pass for a room in which a stern but fair governess ruled. It's the sort of place Professor McGonagall might think fit for the raising of children, she imagines. It's Victorian, sort of. But then, with McGonagall's maudlin streak, perhaps it wouldn't be after all.
The fact remains that the Lethifold is there, and that the room is still and stiff and evil-feeling. She moves to the window, pushing her fringe out of her eyes (it's long, stiff and yellow today, like so much straw), and looks out.
The only thing her experience can be compared to is a Pensieve. She is sucked in, first simply by her eyes, and then with her other senses as well. There are the rolling hills and the cow that she'd seen from Buckbeak's window, but also a cheery and rollicking back garden, filled with all sorts of country flora and fauna. A toad hops through the gate in the white picket fence as she watches. And then two little children skip into view. One has dark hair and the other light hair. They both are extraordinarily beautiful little girls, Tonks knows, without even seeing their faces.
Amid the huge lavender bushes and twining wild roses a little table is set for tea, with hot crumpets and éclairs and a child-size teapot just right for tiny hands. Carefully, almost too carefully, the little girls take off their cardigans and set them on the chairs. One of them, clutching a package, relinquishes it to the safety of the grass. Then they sieze hands again, and Tonks can hear them singing. She knows the words. "Go walking through the valley," she hums along tunelessly, "go walking through the valley, go walking through the valley as we have done before - go in and out the windows, go in and out the windows. Now turn and face your lover..."
Perhaps out of some muscle-memory ground into her, perhaps simply because it seems the thing to do, she turns around on her heel, almost expecting carrot-top Charlie Weasley to be facing her, as vivacious and childlike as he had been when he taught her the game. Instead she sees red, but not the red of Weasley hair.
She smells it next. It's metallic and warm, but also rotten, like meat left out too long on a summer's day. Then it registers that the redness on the walls is blood, like the chicken's blood when little Ginny opened the Chamber of Secrets. There is so much of it that it could hardly have been brought up without killing something. There, on the desk, would have been where whoever-it-was butchered the animal.
It's not worth thinking about, she tells herself. It's not worth thinking about. It could be Transfigured, it could be anything. It does not matter if it's pure or Muggle or even mud blood.
She hates herself, for a moment, for even thinking the word "mudblood," but there is no other way to say it, and it's certainly the way that whoever put it there would think.
It takes five attempts to say Scourgify" without losing concentration or mispronouncing it, and during those five attempts, Tonks has plenty of time to read what is written there, in the same half-scrawled copperplate that had written in chalk on the portraits. TOUJOURS PUR. Kreacher's long gone; it couldn't be Kreacher.
She puts away her wand and breathes a sigh of relief that the smell is finally gone. That's what strikes her the most: the smell. She cannot help herself but peek outside again. The children had to be disturbed by it. There is nothing in the world that should be the same, now. Grimmauld Place is not only dirty, it has sullied itself, whoever's blood it was.
The golden-haired girl is Narcissa and the dark-haired is Bellatrix. They are sitting at their tea party. Narcissa has taken up her package again, and the spells on the window make it magically clear that it's MEMORIES, a Legacy, her grandparents' book. She reads from it, haltingly: "And respect thine father and thine mother; And do not give in to the temptations of the Muggles, for they are animals, and anything they do is as animals, to - to - Ann! What's this word?"
"I don't know. I can't read it," comes another voice almost directly underneath Tonks. "Go away."
She leans out the window, her hands clutching the sill for dear life, and looks down. A girl with hair like Bellatrix's lies face-down on the manicured grass below, her head resting on a flowerbed of sweet alyssum. It would be a beautiful picture if blood was not beginning to seep through the back of her white dress, first at the shoulder blades, then down in two long parallel lines to her waist. She's been whipped, Tonks thinks, whipped and just let go, not healed at all.
For no discernable reason, Bellatrix comes over and sits down on the small of Ann's back. Ann screams, but cannot seem to get up. She struggles. Narcissa watches, disinterested, from across the garden, daintily eating an éclair.
Bellatrix looks up as though she can see Tonks hanging open-mouthed above. In her eyes is malice beyond anything a five-year-old should be able to feel, anything at all. Her mouth is, inexplicably, covered in blood.
Suddenly sickened, Tonks runs away. She cannot think of anything else to do. So she goes, across the room, jerking the door open and letting it slam behind her. But when she reaches the entrance hall and sets the portraits screaming, when she tries to tell everyone what has happened to disturb her so, all the evidence is gone. Her Scourging Spell has washed the walls cleaner than she has ever seen them, and the window simply shows the grimy, ugly street.
The sun beat down on London, hot, stifling summer sun, making the cheap asphalt of Grimmauld Place feel almost sticky. Tonks stopped in front of Number Eleven, hands in her pockets. She'd gone for a walk after they delivered Harry to the Dursleys, having felt the need to shake some cobwebs out of her skull. She'd successfully argued her case to Moody. She was the only one allowed outside in the neighborhood for any length of time.
A Muggle was having a fag outside Eleven's door. "Wotcher," she said, just to be polite.
"New here?" he asked in reply. "Haven't seen you around."
"Yeah. Visiting a friend, actually."
He shook his head. He was hidden in the shadows, fortunately. From the deep cragginess of his voice, Tonks was not sure she wanted to see his face. He could have been anywhere from twenty to eighty years old. "People leave this street. They don't come here," he said. "You won't be staying too long."
It will be too difficult to get into the house, Tonks thought. The Muggle-repelling spells will keep it from appearing, because this stupid man chose just now to have his cigarette, and I'll be trapped out here. Panic rose in her throat and began to choke her, startling and strong. "No," she whispered. "No. I think I'm going to be staying for a very long time."
Unbidden the house's image appeared in her mind. Then it appeared in front of her, pushing the Muggle out of the way. He didn't notice as she knocked at the front door and entered Number Twelve, didn't notice that the man who opened it had one magically turning glass eye. But he did laugh, as craggily as he had spoken, and that sound followed her into the house.
She went upstairs immediately. It was not a good time for her, to talk or to do anything. That morning, Mrs. Weasley had tried to talk to her about Grimmauld Place, had tried to talk to her about the fear that Sirius's death would mean they'd be forced out. Mrs. Weasley didn't understand what tied Tonks so tightly to the place. She never could. She wasn't, even by some tiny degree of blood, a Black.
I am learning the pathways of the heart, Tonks thought. She had read it in a book of poetry and thought it apropos. The pathways of the heart, where Black blood runs pure and dark.
Up in the nursery, she refrained from looking out the window. There was no blood on the door, but the pastel walls had another story to tell, the Erumpents and the unicorns as well as the Lethifold. She stayed there and looked at them, and she was not sure whether it was horror of what she had felt in that very spot or fear at the thought of being forced to leave this odd ancestral seat or both mixed together that made her blood run hot and her stomach flip over and over.
It is a year to the day from when Tonks first entered Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. She is outside in the Muggle street, Disillusioned, looking back on its dark unhappy exterior. She feels nothing at all.
The house is almost exactly as it was that first day she entered it, if a little cleaner, a little less gloomy. There is still that underlying stiffness to it, of course, without which its individuality would disappear entirely. Headmaster Dumbledore thinks the house has been cowed, thinks that whatever demons live there have long ago been exorcised. Otherwise he would never have allowed the Ministry's orders to go through. The orders were: Sirius Black was one of the Death Eaters killed in the attack on the Department of Mysteries, and therefore his possessions are to go to his next of kin, Narcissa Malfoy, née Black.
Tonks wonders how he could have been so mistaken. She does not understand. He should know better, although he is not a Black; he has Phineas Nigellus's portrait hanging on his wall, and Phineas should have told him about the things that lurk at Number Twelve, deeper and darker than ghosts or simple magic. Now the little tow-headed girl is to own it. She shall never eat éclairs in its ephemeral garden again. She shall lock it up and throw away the key - for now she's the mistress of a great estate in Wiltshire, and has no need for such houses, in the unfashionable section of London.
"It's time to go, love," Molly Weasley says, sitting on her old family broomstick. "Upsa-daisy, that's it. I know you loved the old place, but now we're leaving, and that's not something you can change, is it now?"
Reluctantly, Tonks pushes off, her eyes never leaving the empty windows. There: she thinks she can see the nursery, now that she's off the ground. She can see the animals, dancing in their wild bacchanal, and there the chairs.
"I won't go," she says, in a voice not quite her own. "I won't go, and the Ancient and Noble House of Black is my heritage. This house belongs to me."
Then she is a passenger along for the ride as her body leans forward of its own accord, leaning and leaning into the wind, trying to get closer to Number Twelve as it shrinks behind the façade of the Muggle houses.
Why am I doing this? she thinks. Why am I doing this? Why don't they stop me?
Then the crash, and nothing.