It started with two vials.
She was a prisoner at Malfoy Manor. That didn't make her very special; many were, during the war. Arguably, including the Malfoys themselves.
Lucius Malfoy came to her one night, a couple of months into her "visit." He Apparated right into her cell.
He didn't approach her; only stood there in the shadows. He waved his wand and uttered a charm she couldn't hear, and she braced for harm, but then she felt heat and realised he'd warmed the floor beneath her.
Slowly, cautiously, she sat up on her bed of hay. "Lord Malfoy," she said tentatively. She had learned - rather painfully - to use formal titles with her captors, but she said it with no particular reverence.
"Miss Tonks," he said curtly, and she started at that. Usually she was called "blood traitor," "filth," or, occasionally, "beast," though Metamorphagi were not officially classed as beasts at all.
He said no more than that, and finally, she spoke. That was a risky move, but the silence was unbearable. She wondered, "What are you doing here?"
Awkwardly, Lucius dropped down on his haunches in front of her. Within reach, but not too close. It was strange to see him like that. She wondered why he didn't just Transfigure himself a chair.
He looked at her gravely for a long moment, but finally, he said, "In the morning, Miss Tonks, they mean for me to humiliate you. It will probably become a regular form of…of entertainment."
Humiliate her? she wondered. He'd already done that. No worse than anyone else, but-
"You're talking about rape," she said quietly.
She felt chills rippling over her flesh; a cold hand of dread close around her heart. She'd considered it, of course – most women prisoners of war did, she supposed – but she hadn't quite allowed herself to look at the possibility head-on. Now she realised that was a mistake; she was unprepared, unbraced, no tools to hold herself strong and endure. And now it was here.
Lucius averted his gaze. "You must understand, there is no possibility of my refusal. You may have noticed that I am not high in the Dark Lord's graces." She had; he was not much more than an indentured servant at this point. "They would kill me for it, and maybe my family too. And the task would fall to someone else."
Tonks flipped mentally over the potential alternative someones – Lestrange, Dolohov, McNair. Greyback, she thought with a shudder. Scabior, in a pinch; he wasn't senior, but his flair for violence tinged with hilarity might be considered to add entertainment value. The cold hand tightened.
Lucius was reaching into his robes. He produced two vials from his robes, one red, one blue. He held them both up for her inspection.
"I'm told," he said grimly, "that some women consider it a fate worse than death."
"Rape, or shagging you?" she shot back, then instantly regretted it. Wondered if he would strike her, or worse. But when had she ever said the right thing?
But Lucius mustered a rather grudging sideways grin. "Very funny."
Conventionally - insanely! - she said, "Sorry."
That seemed to soften things between them a little. He said quietly, "If you would rather...not...then the red vial is the only escape I can give you." He added more gently, "It won't hurt. Hemlock is the active ingredient, but there are other things to counter the more unpleasant side-effects. It's Severus' best preparation for the purpose. It's what Narcissa and Draco will use if...if it comes to it." He didn't mention himself, and Tonks was oddly touched to realise he was offering her his own potion. If she took it, he would find another way out for himself.
"What's in the blue vial?" she said at last.
"A blend of my own. A contraceptive, herbs to head off anxiety and depression, a relaxant, and a mild numbing agent. It was all I could get together on short notice."
Tonks frowned. Her gaze lingered over the vials.
"Why are you doing this?" she said finally.
Lucius looked away. "I'm not a rapist," he said. "Or I wasn't. If you choose...even like this...maybe I can believe that I'm still not."
Her fingers lingered lovingly over the red vial, but, reluctantly, she passed it by. Closed them around the blue one instead.
"I mean to live," she said in a low voice.
Lucius palmed the red vial away. "I hope you do."
She realised he didn't expect to live himself.
The first time wasn't the worst, but it was bad.
She was brought into the great dining room, and held down with magical bounds, splayed out on the table. Lucius made a show of unfastening his breeches. He did it with a certain theatrical swagger; she would come to know it as his signature move. It was classically Lucius arrogance, but inflicted nothing on her at all.
He stood over her and pointed his wand at her forehead. "Well, look at what we have here," he said silkily. "The vaunted Auror. Proud half-blood, cares more for her filthy Muggle blood than my wife's noble house. Is that it?" He leaned closer. "Legilimens."
He entered her mind before she could stop him, but he didn't search. He paused in the anterooms of her mind. "Gentle or hard?"
"What?" she said/thought.
"I can probably avoid hurting you physically, but there will be other humiliations in lieu. Or I can go hard and fast."
She weighed it up quickly. Gentle would be accompanied by some sort of psychological torture. But hard would likely leave her injured. If this was to become a regular thing, injury was something she couldn't afford.
"Gentle," she said.
"He won't let me stop til you're visibly humiliated," he warned. "Don't be too strong about it. And make sure to breathe. Narcissa was frightened when we first…you know. Breathing helped." And then he was gone.
She gasped as she came to herself. She was still sprawled out on the table. Voldemort was looking very satisfied.
"What say you, Lucius?"
Lucius was looking at her, head tilted thoughtfully to one side. "She doesn't fear pain. I'm sure we could still break her if we worked at it, but I have a better idea." At Voldemort's curious look, he went on, "It would be so much more entertaining to make her want it, don't you think?"
A smile curled around Voldemort's mouth. "Indeed."
"Never," she hissed. "I'll never want you. Pureblood slime."
Lucius walked around to the head of the table, near her head. Stroked himself through his half-open trousers. "Is that so?" he murmured. "Pretty little girl, gonna make you come for me," he said, stroking back her hair as she flinched away. "What you don't know, pet, since you've never had the pleasure, is that we're better than them. Whatever miserable excuse for a Mudblood cock you've had before, you don't know what it's like to be fucked by us."
Tonks stared up at him. Unwillingly impressed by the silky, sure delivery. Wondered if, deep down, that was what he truly thought.
"Fuck you," she spat.
"In time," he murmured, and began to work at her clothes.
He didn't undress her fully; she was thankful for that. He pulled fabric aside, exposed enough to prove he had followed instructions, nothing more. Small mercies, she thought. It dawned on her that her life was to become a series of thanks for small mercies.
She had imagined their audience might indulge in some sort of voyeuristic pleasure, but that was not the case. This was not an act of porn, but an act of war. Ritualised subjugation of the enemy. She would learn that Voldemort scorned sexual urges; considered them a sign of weakness. Lucius had been chosen for this task precisely because he was out of favour. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.
He touched her carefully, methodically. He knew women, she realised; knew exactly the spot inside her to touch, the one behind her pelvic bone, the one that would lubricate her efficiently with a minimum of intrusion. Strangely, he seemed to know how to do so without arousing her; either recognising that as impossible, or just trying to spare her that particular intimacy. A clinically detached part of her observed all of this and deduced that, under normal circumstances, he was probably a good lover.
But there was just no way it could be good, not for either of them. At best, he could get just enough – just enough – of her natural juices moving for it not to be pure agony. She faked a wretched, unwilling climax in response to his hands, wrung out of her under duress even as she warded him off with stiffened limbs, followed by tears and self-recrimination even as he continued to stroke into her. She closed her eyes and let the sobs overtake her. It wasn't all for show.
"Good girl," he crooned, rather wolfishly, she thought. "That's my good girl. That wasn't all bad, now, was it?"
"Bastard," she hissed. She meant it. It was crazy, like dealing with two Luciuses, the one that taunted her and the one that extended mercies. She felt like she was unravelling, crawling right out of her mind.
He was positioning himself over her, and she tried to breathe – she really tried. But she could feel herself seizing up and the tendons in her neck growing taut with fear and the tears in her throat.
A tiny flicker of disquiet passed over his features, and he said with a tone of mock-concern, "Such a pity you can't enjoy it without all that tiresome half-blood loyalty to worry about. But maybe we can do something about that." He leaned right down over her. "Imperio."
All at once, the fear, the will to resist, the conflict lifted. All sense of responsibility lifted, all the things she was already starting to do to herself in the confines of her tortured mind. With that came sudden clarity. The horrible overlap between the two Luciuses dissolved, and so did the sense of being ripped apart as she tried to reconcile the two. It dawned on her that he had done it to short-circuit the terror, and the recriminations later.
She gave herself up to sensation. It wasn't good, not even under the Imperius, but it wasn't really awful anymore either. It was rather like tedious sex in a dying relationship, perfunctory but without trauma. It was adrenaline flowing through her, easing her tired bones and her tight, aching muscles. It was his hands gripping hers, seemingly for leverage, but closing firmly around her, transmitting kindness. It was that someone besides herself was holding her steady, was looking out for her.
He leaned down to nip at her earlobe. Paused there, and breathed, "Their fault. Not yours."
It would be years before she believed it.
It wasn't always like that, of course.
The gentle times – relatively speaking – were interspersed with rough ones, and those were downright brutal. Those were Lucius glaring at her, his jaw fixed and his voice cruel, his fingertips biting hard into her flesh, leaving marks that would hurt for days. She'd have believed it was the real thing if the cruelty didn't slip now and then, when his hair fell over both their faces, masking them. If his eyes weren't withered and old those times, hurting palpably, making her feel the terrible grief she could never bring herself to feel on her own behalf.
As it was, she doubted him, and herself, all too often.
Thinking about it in the dead of night, she would wonder, sometimes, whether this was some elaborate torture of Voldemort's. It wasn't entertainment enough to rape her or humiliate her, perhaps. Perhaps the offer of a choice, perhaps forcing her into this messed-up sympathy-revilement with Lucius was all part of the plan.
Sometimes she believed it.
But then she would wake to sun streaming in through the tiny window of her cell, and she would shy away from that belief. Whether it was true or not, she couldn't afford to believe it. If she did, she would lose what was left of her mind.
He protected her as much as he could, she supposed, which wasn't very much. His elves brought her blue vials every day, and he snarled at Dolohov and others that she might be a filthy traitor, but she was his filthy traitor, and he didn't share, thank you very much. He was gentle when he could, made sure she was as covered as her clothes and their spectators' whims would allow. Her floor was always warm and she always had dittany and salve, and now and then it felt like payment for services rendered, but mostly she was too grateful to care. She saw too many of her friends' bodies carried out past her cell; resentment of her only benefactor was not a luxury she could afford.
It occurred to her that it was Lucius' guilt, more than anything, that was keeping her alive.
Voldemort might have scorned sexual urges, but his followers were perfectly happy to indulge when he wasn't there. For some of them, at least, it seemed that a willing partner was optional.
She woke one night to weight on her back, and fumbling with her dress. As she began to come up out of sleep, thoughts muffled by cotton wool, she thought that it was odd for Lucius to come to her cell while she slept, odd for him to come when Pettigrew was on guard, and that he was better coordinated than that, knew the fastenings on her dress better than that. She wondered vaguely whether he'd been drinking, even as she focused on her breathing and readied herself as best she could. She would hold on to sleep and relaxation for as long as she could; it would make things easier.
Then there was a head beside hers, nuzzling clumsily, oafishly at her ear, and heavy stale breath invading her nostrils. Oily hair on her cheek. He didn't feel like Lucius. Didn't smell like him. She dragged in her breath in horror and started to push back, push up with her arms. Scrambling beneath weight that was suddenly oppressive and claustrophobic.
She couldn't get her breath; it was taken by terror. The word came as a whining hiss of air from the tiny pinhole that had taken the place of her throat. She knew suddenly the folly of trusting in Lucius' protection. He couldn't keep her safe. Not even if he wanted to. Safe did not live in this deathplace.
There were big, rough hands on her forearms, shoving them down above her head, replaced by a single hand holding both her wrists together. Knees forced hers apart as his free hand dragged up her dress. Her breaths came in shallow, rapid little puffs of fear.
There was a sound of mild aggravation behind them. "Rodolphus," Lucius drawled chidingly, "if I wanted to dip my wick where you dip yours, I'd have banged your wife long ago."
"Shut up, Malfoy. Why should you get all the fun?"
"Because the Dark Lord gave her to me, and I don't care to share in whatever social diseases you carry. So unless you'd like to explain to him why I won't fuck her anymore…" he trailed off.
Tonks held her breath. This was his trump card, but it could turn against them, easily. Rodolphus could just go ahead and do it, and then she'd be given to someone else. Or maybe she'd just be murdered outright. She'd forgotten to breathe and she was half-swooning with terror.
Abruptly, the weight on her back lifted, and the hand on her wrists let go. She sobbed with relief as Rodolphus got off of her. "You're an arse, Malfoy."
"Quite," Lucius said mildly, walking towards them as she curled over onto herself in the hay. "Get the fuck out of my house, and don't come back til you've learned to keep your hands off things that don't belong to you." He stood over her as Rodolphus left, shooting death glares over his shoulder. "Speaking of which. Hello, pet."
"Fuck you," she forced out, but her heart wasn't in it. She was still sobbing, still gasping hysterically for breath.
He looked down at her for a long moment. Pensive. Glanced over his shoulder at Pettigrew, then back. Weighing it up, as she did. If he left without reclaiming his territory, she knew, it would look all wrong.
"Now, now," he said silkily. "I admit, my brother-in-law is one of the less desirable members of our cohort, but he is, at least, a Pureblood. He's still better than the motley crew of Mudbloods you've ever had."
"Fuck off," she wept. She had no emotional reserves for playacting, no wherewithal to trade barbs for Pettigrew's benefit.
"Such language," he chided. Knelt beside her. "I think you need to be taught a lesson." He ran his hand up over her thigh, up over the curve of her bottom, pulling up her skirt, baring it to Pettigrew's interested gaze. Pettigrew liked to watch.
She knew what he was doing, and why, but she sobbed out her horror anyway. Just barely keeping hysterics at bay.
He parted her buttocks with his hands. Slid into her without ceremony, and bent over her, his weight on her back, where Rodolphus had been. Encircled her with his arms from above; a single thrust, slow and deep, and held. It was oddly comforting. He let his hair fall over her face like a curtain, and said softly in her ear, "Shhh. You're safe. You're safe now. He's gone."
She wasn't. There was no safe. She knew that. But his voice was gentle and his hands were firm and laced with hers and she felt all the tension, all the terror leave her in a rush. It left her in gasps of relief, ripples of cold and warmth rushing over her in dizzying waves. She felt herself open to him, all tension letting go, and – to her horror – fluid rushing through her, warm and slick.
Oh, dear God, a mortified part of her thought, even as she clung to his hands and wept out her relief and shuddered out her climax silently beneath him.
"You're safe," he said again, and just the saying it brought her arousal up all over again. And that was when she understood. Though he'd been kind to her, it wasn't him she'd wanted.
It was to be safe.
The worst time was one of the times he didn't do it at all.
It was all because of Rookwood. Rookwood lacked passion. He obeyed, but lacked initiative.
Lucius was expected to avail himself regularly of his "pet," whether anyone felt like watching or not, and he almost always came to her at night when it was Rookwood's turn to guard. Rookwood liked his partners male and willing, so he never watched too closely. So long as the right noises were made, he kept his distance.
So their night-time visits took on a predictable rhythm. Lucius clattered briskly down the steps, unfastening his trousers; Tonks made sounds that were frightened, resigned, or both. He would push her down or against the wall, shoving up against her, and she would make a show of whimpers or tears and a well-timed sound of pain. He would whisper in her ear, words of strategy usually, or warnings of what to expect the following day. There was kindness, too, sometimes, but it was spare and understated. It will end one day, and, you're going to live.
Then one night, the script changed.
Lucius was coming down the stairs as usual, footsteps casually clattering. Breeches half-open. He passed Rookwood without acknowledging him. But then Rookwood spoke.
"Is it my imagination, Lucius, or do you have a soft spot for your little pet here?"
Lucius turned and stared at him. "What on earth are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the way your elves give her fresh hay, and dittany and salve, and change her chamberpot and her water and give her fresh food." The smirk playing on Rookwood's face was a rather slow one. The greater strategic importance of his words eluded him, but he understood that he had Lucius at a disadvantage.
"Of course they bloody well do," Lucius snapped. "If she gets dysentery, then so do I. I'm not dying just to fuck that, no matter what the Dark Lord thinks." He flipped his wand up and pressed it, gently but pointedly into Rookwood's chin. "So you're going to keep your mouth shut. Understood?"
Rookwood looked doubtful, but he gave a grudging nod, stepping away from Lucius' wand. Lucius only gave a curt little nod and passed on.
Tonks watched this unfold with gnawing worry, a leisurely growing fear in her stomach. To allay Rookwood's suspicions and ensure his silence, Lucius would have to be rough with her. But it would look all wrong if he did it unprompted.
So as Lucius approached her cell, she said, "Oh, God, no. I'm sore and I'm on the rag. Can't you just leave me for one fucking night?"
Lucius paused. Raised a single eyebrow at her. Said with feral calm, "Did I just hear you tell me what to do, traitor?"
Tonks backed away. Said in a panic, "No – no, I'm sorry, I didn't mean-" she broke off, scrambling backwards for the wall as Lucius opened her cell door and strode towards her.
He was on her almost before she got there, pinning her hard. Hurriedly, he grabbed her left hand and pressed it palm outwards to her right cheek, and gave it a slap that was loud and theatrically effective – far more so than her actual face would ever have been, short of beating her black and blue.
She would wonder later whether he did it that way for dramatic value, or because he couldn't bear to beat her, or because he couldn't bear to see her beaten. Or maybe all of the above. How much was to save her, and how much to save something of himself?
Whatever the case, it didn't matter that he'd gotten her hand and not her face; the very movement made her whip her head to one side on reflex, breath drawn in on a horrified gasp. Real tears rose in her eyes and streamed down her cheeks. "I'm sorry," she whimpered again, "I'm sorry, please, don't-"
"I think you just told me what to do again," Lucius said cruelly, and slapped her hand again. This time she was a little more prepared, a little more braced for just how loud and hard it was, but it still unravelled her.
He lifted her to the wall. Shoved against her hard; hard enough to hurt, though he wasn't inside her. She could feel him against her sex – her underwear had long since been destroyed – and his thrusts were bruising and hard against her pelvic bone, and the crease of her inner thigh ached from being stretched rudely beyond its comfortable limit. Her head banged against the wall and her back scraped and the relentless, rough movements left her sore and dazed.
"Collapse," he whispered just before he let her down, and she did. Slumped against him, and allowed herself to slip to the floor with a weeping moan when he let her go.
The wracking sobs that engulfed her as he left were completely and utterly real.
She lost track of time.
She pieced together later that this went on for five months, and she could never quite get her head around that. A hundred and fifty times, give or take, probably three-quarters of them real, a quarter simulated for Rookwood's benefit.
She wondered whether it would end with his death, or hers.
It was his death she feared the most. She had had a powerful object lesson from Rodolphus about what might happen without him there to protect her.
Somehow it never occurred to her that the war would end it first. Somehow she could never imagine the war ending with her alive, but not on the front lines.
But it did. It ended with Voldemort torching the place on the way to his downfall. She woke one night to flames and howling wind, and Lucius dragging her to her feet.
"Lucius –" she cried out over the din, grabbing onto his cloak, "what –"
"It's all gone to hell," he said, pressing a wand into her hand. It wasn't hers; she identified it later as Kingsley Shacklebolt's. He had died in the dungeons a week or two earlier. "The Dark Lord set fire to the house. They're fighting to the east; you go west." He thrust her out the door of her cell, towards the stairs. "Go."
Tonks turned away from the stairs, towards the rest of the cells. Hesitated. She could hear screams; the smoke was already beginning to sting her eyes. "The others-"
He strode after her. Grabbed her by the arms. "I became a monster for you," he hissed. His eyes were wild with something that might have been fury. "I did that so you could live."
He took her elbow; gripped it harder than he'd ever gripped her before. He dragged her up the stairs and out the patio doors, into the night air. Pushed her out the doors; she fell to the ground. She would later, reluctantly, concede that he had been right; by the time she hit the grass, her eyes were sealed closed against the smoke.
"GO!" he yelled at her over the sound of cracking beams.
She groped for him blindly. "Lucius," she cried out, struggling up onto her knees.
Movement as he knelt before her. Gentle hands drawing her up. She felt for him. Found his face with her palms.
He leant into them for a long moment. Her eyelids were beginning to open again; she could see the shadow of his face and the silver of his hair and the red-gold flames behind them.
"Go," he said gently. "I want you to live."
"I'm sorry," he said. "For all of it." He was rising. "Go now."
She lived. They both did.
Lucius did a few years in Azkaban. It was for his relatively few crimes during the Second War; his fall from grace had been a blessing in disguise. Harry testified that at least some, to his knowledge, had taken place under coercion. As Lucius had once been Voldemort's soldier voluntarily, however, this was seen as a mitigating factor and not a reason for full exoneration.
He was not charged with the assaults on Tonks. The few surviving Death Eaters were not keen to confess to being party to the serial rape of an Auror, and Tonks didn't raise it either. There was no way to incriminate those who had forced Lucius without incriminating Lucius himself. She wouldn't do that. Not when he'd done what he could for her.
She was also never completely sure in her own mind whether Lucius had raped her, they'd raped each other, or Voldemort had raped them both.
She met Remus Lupin at Lucius' sentencing.
She'd known him before, of course – they'd been in the Order together, before she was seized. He'd been there when it happened, and as it turned out, he'd felt pretty badly about it. Felt that he should have done more to save her, poor bloke, as if anyone could have stopped it at all.
She was called to testify as the sole surviving prisoner from the Manor, but said that she'd been confined to her cell, and seen little of the Death Eaters' activities – which, aside from the assaults on her, was actually the truth. Lucius had shot her a single, flickering look of agony before his face smoothed out into its stony exterior once more.
She'd otherwise avoided the proceedings, but she went for the sentencing. Mostly because there was a possibility that Lucius would be imprisoned for life, and she wanted to see him one last time if that occurred. She didn't even really have a clear idea of why. Muggles would call it closure, she supposed.
So she sat in the public gallery, and Remus dropped down beside her.
"Tonks," he greeted warmly, and gave her an impulsive kiss on the cheek. To her own surprise, she greeted him just as warmly. She had felt displaced after her ordeal, and often found it difficult to just slot back in with the people she had once known, but she found herself warming to him as they chatted. Found herself forgetting where she was, and why, perhaps for the very first time.
It all came flooding back when the Wizengamot called the chamber to order.
The sentence was handed down – life imprisonment, suspended after three years. Lucius would be freed in fairly short order, but he would spend the rest of his life with the threat of Azkaban over his head. Even the smallest offence, in theory, could send him back. It could have been worse, but it was bad enough.
Lucius was prompted for a statement before he was taken away.
His statement was rehearsed and correct; very typical of his social standing, though not at all typical in its humility. He accepted the court's ruling humbly, and looked forward to taking his place again as a respectable member of society once he had paid for his crimes.
He spoke in this vein for several minutes, stressing the business skills he hoped to bring once more to a society being rebuilt, and contribute directly to repairing the damage that he had helped to bring about. Tonks assumed, with no cynicism whatsoever, that he had one eye on his future career prospects. Most of the Malfoy estate had been seized for compensation to the Dark Lord's victims. The Manor itself was still theirs, protected by perpetual trust, but it needed costly restoration work after the fire.
"I also have a message for the victims of the criminal organisation in which I found myself entangled," he said presently. The delivery was awkward; not rehearsed like the rest of his speech. His gaze slid impersonally over the crowd, before settling, just for a moment, on hers. "It is simply to live. Do not be governed by what has gone before." He found her gaze again. Said insistently, "I want you to live."
Her eyes stung, just a little, and she gave him a single, tiny nod.
So when Remus asked her to join him for dinner, she said yes. When he was poised to enter her, she steadied her breathing as Lucius had once counselled her, and she said yes again. When he asked her to marry him, she said yes to that, as well.
She intended to live.
"Tell me something you've never told me before."
Remus said this one night when they were in the throes of building their family. Melissa – named for Molly – was nearly three, Harry and Ted were eighteen months, and she was three months gone with Caroline.
They had put Melissa and the twins to bed, and now they were curled up together in their little sitting room by the fire. It was the day before the full moon, and they made it a point to spend time together before he went off to Dartmoor to wait out his transition to werewolf and back.
It had been a good day, filled with baby laughter and songs. Remus was working for a decent wage at last – Ollivander had taken him on with the intention of grooming him as a successor – and some of the shadows had finally started to clear from under his eyes. At last, the insecurities that seemed to plague him were starting to lift.
And so, lulled into security by closeness and warmth, she told him:
"I was Lucius Malfoy's sex slave for the last five months of the war."
"Tell me." His voice seemed to come from far away.
Remus had let her go, all at once, when she'd said it, and gently disentangled himself from her. He stood with his back to her, leaning heavily on the mantle. His shoulder blades were stiff and protruded through the thin cotton of his shirt.
She stared up at him. Understanding, perhaps, that the acceptance she had taken for granted was not a foregone conclusion after all.
She swallowed hard. Suddenly she didn't want to tell him. She didn't want to tell him at all.
But she couldn't stop at what she'd already said. It sounded bad. It sounded like Lucius was the one who'd hurt her. It would only occur to her much later to wonder why it had been so important to her to defend him.
"He didn't want to," she said urgently. "Voldemort made him. He looked after me as much as he could."
There was something bitter in Remus' voice. "I just bet he did."
"He gave me a choice," she said hotly. "Two potions. One for an easy death. One to endure. I chose to endure."
"Chose?" he echoed, turning to face her. "As a prisoner of war, with only death as the alternative? How can you possibly call that a choice?"
She felt her heart growing tight in her chest. It would be decades before she could think of that question without that suffocating tightness. "I won't hear a word against him," she said, a tone of warning in her voice. "I survived seven months in that house. Most people only lived a month. And when Voldemort set it on fire, he risked his life to get me out."
He stared at her. Said in disbelief, "He raped you. I'm your husband. And you won't hear me speak against him? Are you even listening to yourself? Do you have any insight at all into how fucked up that is?"
Tonks protested, "Remus, please. He was facing death too. His family's as well. He was as powerless as I was."
"Even if that's true, you're under no obligation to see his point of view here. Really, Dora. Have you actually been going through life seeing yourself as a partner in a pact with him? You were a prisoner. He was a soldier. At the very best, you were a dog getting scraps, and you're acting like he did the right thing by you."
"Now you're being stupid, and insulting," she snapped. "Why are you so determined to lay this at Lucius' door and not Voldemort's?"
"Because you're making it sound like you were willing!" he shouted. "Why are you so determined to be his whore and not his victim?"
It hit her like a slap in the face. "Whore?" she echoed, tears springing to her eyes. Blinding her all at once. "Whore?"
Remus gave a heavy sigh. Understanding, perhaps, that he had crossed a line. "Tonks. Dora. I didn't mean it like that."
"I think you meant it exactly like that," she said coldly. "I think you think I chose to be his whore to survive. And what if I did, anyway? What if I fucking did? Why wouldn't I? Why shouldn't I?"
She got to her feet. She did it awkwardly; she was already carrying a little baby weight, not enough to show, but enough to throw her off-balance.
"Get out," she snapped. There were tears in her voice. "Go to the moors. I don't want you here tonight."
"Mum will look after them. Get out."
He regarded her for a long, long moment, but nodded. "All right. But I'm coming back," he warned. "That bastard has had enough pieces of you. He's not getting our family, too."
"Fine," she said through gritted teeth.
In that moment, she didn't care if he came back at all.
Lucius worked at the Ministry.
At the end of the day, he was one of the best businessmen in all of Wizarding Britain – and one of few to survive the war – and the Ministry needed his skills. So they shuffled the boards around, and Lucius was demoted to the Financial Governance Committee. It was a rather painful fall from grace, and Tonks imagined he would just as soon tell them to take their Committee and shove it. But the Malfoys needed an income, and Lucius gritted his teeth (she imagined) and went back to work.
She didn't wonder, walking down the glossy, black-tiled hallways of the Ministry that day, what had drawn her here. Wouldn't wonder for years to come. When she finally did wonder, the best and only explanation she could find was that he had been her imperfect place of safety when there was no safety left, and how she needed safety now.
She identified herself to his assistant as Nymphadora Tonks, unsure whether he was aware of her marriage. Wondered whether he would see her at all. She thought it likely he would make a polite excuse.
She needn't have worried. The little goblin came hurrying out of Lucius' office, almost before he'd finished walking in. "Of course Lord Malfoy will see you," he gushed, as though Tonks were the most senior officeholder in the Ministry, and she didn't even have to ask for permission to enter.
She wondered whether this was through a desire to see her, or just an overwhelming sense of debt. Whatever the case, Lucius met her with warmth, clasping her hands between his. There was, she thought, a shadow of grey in his eyes, a softening of his jaw, but he masked it well. "Nymphadora, dear, it's good to see you looking so well."
"Thank you, Lucius," she said, just as conventionally.
She took the opportunity to study him as he passed her, casting his wards over the door. He'd come out of Azkaban a wreck, she'd read, but he was well-recovered now. A few more lines; blonde hair turned silver (and just for a moment, she remembered his hair brushing her cheek as he laboured over her, remembered him using it to hide them both and let the hateful mask fall away, just for a second, just long enough to penetrate the anger and the fury and the chill in her bones and fill her with grief for them both).
He paused for a long moment at the door. Shoulders slumping. At last, though, he turned to face her.
"Well?" he said finally. He said it gently.
At this, all her steel left her. Her chin began to quaver. She said, "I told my husband. I told Remus."
A look of agony flitted over Lucius' features.
It was that agony, more than anything, that broke her. Her face crumpled. "He won't look at me. He thinks I was - was wrong. He didn't say so, but I think…I think he thinks I should have chosen red."
"He can't really believe that," he said, coming over to her. It was oddly comforting from him, because she knew Lucius, at least, genuinely believed it. Lucius would not give up. Not for anything. And when push came to shove, he'd expect the same of Draco and Narcissa. "Nymphadora, he's just in shock. It will blow over."
Tonks didn't believe that. "Remus isn't like us," she whispered, shaking her head wretchedly. "He wouldn't do...anything...to make it."
"Then more fool him," he snapped. "Nymphadora, do you even want to be with someone like that?"
She said urgently, "It isn't as simple as that. We have three children. A fourth on the way. One or two, I might be able to raise by myself - but not four. Not four, you understand?"
Lucius sighed. "Why on earth did you tell him at all? You should have told early, or not told ever."
She said abruptly, "I know. I'm an idiot. But I wasn't thinking about it like that. I never thought it would be a crisis. We'd put the children to bed, and we were just...sitting...and it was warm and domestic and sweet and I trusted him. And he said, 'Tell me something you've never told me before,' and I told him, and oh, Lucius." She broke out into sudden tears.
He came closer. He took her hands between his. They were cold; he clasped them gently. "I was wrong to make you choose," he said in a low voice. "I should have just done what they told me and let you hate me, no shades of grey. It would have been simpler for you. I let you in for this."
She shook her head, gulping down tears. "I would rather have hard choices than none. I'd rather have messed-up kindness than none. I don't think I could have lived through it without." A new thought occurred to her. "Did I do wrong by you?" she asked, almost childlike suddenly. "Choosing blue? Remember what you said, about becoming a monster so I could live? I never thought of it that way until that moment."
"God. No," he said heavily. "No. I was just trying to make you get out of there before it all went up in flames."
"I'm well aware of that," she said irritably. "But it's also true, isn't it?"
Lucius sighed, sound of defeat. Shook his head and looked away.
Impulsively, she reached for him. "Lucius," she whispered, sliding her arms around his shoulders. "I just don't think anyone's ever going to understand."
He gave a low, grieving sound, and gripped her tightly, heartbeat fluttering against her breast. His breaths shuddered against her neck. She pressed her cheek to his, kissing it tenderly, as their arms wrapped around one another.
Then he pulled back from her, just a little, just enough for their foreheads to meet. Just enough for her to search out his lips with hers. He tasted of salt and she grazed his jaw with her fingertips, drinking him in, urgent and tender like petals crumbling and falling apart.
He pulled away with a little gasp, like he'd been doused with water.
"This is crazy," he muttered.
"Crazier than anything we've already done?" she demanded with odd, hysterical hilarity.
"I'm your rapist!" he hissed.
"If I believed that, I'd have put you in Azkaban for it," she said implacably. "Voldemort raped us both."
He stared at her, his eyes searching hers, back and forth. As though trying to determine whether she was telling the truth as she saw it.
"Forgive me," he whispered at last. "For making you choose. For all of it."
She nodded. "Forgive me too."
"There's nothing to-"
She cut him off. "Please."
He could only manage a shuddering nod before she found his lips once more.
Later, she would remember only fragments. His hand pausing at her throat. Her fingers clasping his. Nodding. Saying yes, she wanted him to. Gentle, tentative movements, grazing over her breast and her thigh. Only advancing when she put her hands over his and led him. And oh – his utter reluctance to be on top of her.
Finally, she demanded, "What do you see? What do you see when you look at me?"
He didn't hesitate. "Strength," he said. "Survival."
Oh, God, that was like a pulse right through her body. Just that. His strength acknowledging hers. Something she'd never had from Remus. Not even before.
"Then stop acting like I'm weak," she said. "Make love to me, dammit."
That seemed to awaken something in him, and he made a little, involuntary sound in his throat. Reached for her, cradling the back of her head, and kissed her, firm and deep. She tugged him on top of her. Drew him inside her.
She would never tell him that just for a moment it all came flooding back. That his scent and his hair grazing her face transported her back to being hidden together behind his hair, her heart heavy as he turned his broken expression to face hers. That lurking behind those memories were others, awful, cruel ones, and she had to breathe out as he had once taught her to stop herself from seizing up and warding him off.
And then his mouth was on hers, warm, comforting, knowing her, seeing the best of her, and those memories dissolved. He sank down on her, close, knowing how important closeness was to her. His closeness had protected her, over and over, covered her when there was no dignity left, and she'd missed it. Every time Remus had pushed himself up on his arms she'd wondered why he wouldn't just hold her. Why he had to be away from her. It occurred to her now that she could have just asked him to cover her, but it was too late now. She and Remus would never be close like that again.
Their climax was a strained thing, unsure and streaked with hesitation. Taking comfort in him was one thing; pleasure quite another. He seemed to feel the same. But she achieved a quiet sort of release, and coaxed his from him with gentle words and the rhythm of her hips and her palms cradling his face.
Afterwards, he gathered her close and kissed her forehead. Bowed his head to her shoulder. She could feel his supplication, his unspoken, terrible sense of debt. And yet there was peace there, too. She recognised it because it mirrored her own.
"This was a bad idea," he murmured gently into her hair at last, as he cradled her on the bed she'd Transfigured. "It can't happen again."
She said mildly, "I didn't see you complaining."
"I don't mean it like that. Don't you see," he said, "that you only want me because he put us into hell together? Because he made you rely on me? You're married, Nymphadora. Don't you see he's doing it to you all over again?"
"I'm not married," she snapped. "Remus broke our contract the moment I told him my deepest secrets and he thought the worst of me and not the best."
Terrible sadness came over Lucius' face. "You don't really believe that."
"I do," she said implacably. "I'll stay with him, for the children, but I don't trust him. I'll never trust him again."
He stared at her. "You can forgive me for hurting you, a hundred times, but not him for a knee-jerk response?"
She said fiercely, "You owed me nothing. He owed me the benefit of the doubt. He promised to be on my side. And he let me down."
Lucius looked doubtful, but held his peace.
"But then, I suppose you're thinking of Narcissa," she went on. "Before, you had no choice. But this..."
"Narcissa would expect me to survive, at any cost, and she wouldn't expect or want me to share the ugly details," he said softly. "I've never felt...guilt...about that part of it."
A shadow passed over his features, and he glanced at his Dark Mark with sudden, passing dread - one of those details filed away mentally and retrieved much later. "But now I have demons to purge, I suppose." He shook his head suddenly, gaze sliding off her. "Promise me you'll ask me for help," he said abruptly, before she could ask what he'd meant. "If you and Remus don't make it, I mean."
"You can't do that," she protested. "If Remus leaves me, and you help me with the children, Narcissa will think they're yours."
"Then I'll tell her," he said valiantly, but his eyes were filled with horror at the thought. "I'll tell her he left because...because of what I did to you."
"I won't do that to you," she said firmly.
"Think," he insisted. "If you go home with no fallback, you'll plod along with him, because you have to. You won't be able to have the hard discussions. You won't be able to risk it. And it will never get better." It would be years - decades - before she really understood what he meant. That he had been right all along.
She thought of Remus. Thought of that look on his face. Thought of the way the word whore had fallen so easily from his lips. "It will never get better," she said darkly. "Never."
Compassion flooded his expression - more than she'd ever known he had. "Nymphadora," he whispered, and drew her close. "I'm so fucking sorry. For all of it."
She nodded. Thought of her suddenly, terrifyingly cold marriage and the baby inside her and everyone who was counting on her to hold it all together, and she shivered. "Make love to me, Lucius," she said. "Again. Please."
He didn't argue. Just kissed her hair and her neck and then he made her forget. Made her forget the then and the now and all the happiness she'd had in between, happiness that now felt like a mockery, like ash in her mouth.
He made her feel like someone was on her side. Despite everything.
It was a relief.
Remus, not her mother, was waiting with the children when she got home. He must have left the moors the minute the change had lifted.
His gaze flitted up to her hair; lingered for a long moment. She was only puzzled for a second before she caught a glimpse of herself in the big mirror over the mantle. Her hair was silver like his; she looked terribly wan, like a wrung-out, tormented wraith.
At last, he said softly, "Where have you been?"
Tonks didn't look at him. "It's better if we don't talk about it. Any of it."
Slowly, he nodded. "All right."
She would never be sure in her heart if he agreed, or he simply felt as trapped as her.
The next time she went to Lucius was six weeks after she'd had the baby.
"Go back to the Aurors," he urged. "As fast as you can. They make good money. You might need it one day." He didn't say If he leaves you. He didn't have to.
"I know. I will." She meant it.
He said gently, "What did you call her?"
"Caroline. For Remus' mother." She plastered a smile on her face, but it lasted only a second. She said bitterly, "God knows, he needs to be bonded to her. He's certainly not bonded to me anymore."
A shadow of sadness passed over his features. "I see."
Her hormones were still a great big mixed-up bowl of crazy, and she leaned on her hands over his desk, tears suddenly bubbling over.
He came to her. "Nympha-"
"Oh, shit," she hissed. "Fuck. I'm sorry. I'm a mess."
"Most postpartum women are, I'm told," he said dryly. Then, more gently, he asked, "What can I do?"
She knew where it would lead, but she said it anyway. "Hold me," she whispered.
He sighed, long and low and deep. Like he knew it too. But he didn't argue. Just slid his arms around her waist from behind. She grasped onto his forearm and leaned back against him. Turned her face to his. Kissed him over her shoulder, urgently.
"Forgive me," she whispered, and this time it was less for the past and more for the present; for Narcissa and the things he held dear. Her marriage was in tatters, but his was not. She had no right to turn to him. But he was all she had.
"Forgive me too," he said, nodding, his fingertips brushing her jaw. "Please."
She nodded. His plea and his offering welled up in her like pooling need in her belly. She bent forward, over his desk, tugging him down. Moving beneath him, gasping with need as she bent her head to his hand and kissed his palm. Taking shelter beneath him like the night he drove Rodolphus away.
So he took her there, his arms encircling her shoulders, their hands clasped and kneading. Hers over his. His weight comforted her as it had comforted her so long ago, and the way he stroked into her soothed her, strong and sure. She fell forward, resting her brow on their linked hands as waves of release came over her. Almost sobbed with relief when he spilled over inside her and came to rest on top of her, kissing her temple, his arms firm and secure around her.
"You always kept me safe when we were like this," she whispered as she leaned her temple against his cheek. "You never let them look at me. Not if you could help it."
"I should have done more," he said. Drawing her tighter. Pressing her to the desk. She gave herself up to it gratefully. All him. It was all him. Covering her. Keeping her safe.
"It was enough. And more than you had to spare." Every time, he'd taken his life in his hands. She knew that.
"Forgive me," he said again.
"Forgive me too," she whispered, though that time, there was nothing in particular she wanted him to forgive.
It had dawned on her that they said forgive in place of love.
They saw each other regularly after that.
It was never discussed; she would go to him, and though he never came to her, he never turned her away, either.
She wondered, sometimes, if he considered her an obligation. Like the mother of a bastard child, given a private but privileged place in the family, second to the wife but always welcomed, always given support and help. She thought she should care, but she didn't. As long as he was willing to give to her, she was willing to ask.
It was a few months later when they met for anything else, and it was by accident at St Mungo's. They all but walked into one another.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, all worry and hasty concern.
"I'm going in to be sterilised," she said in a low voice. Then, looking away, she added, "I can't risk having any more." She didn't add that she and Remus made love so rarely that another child would likely raise questions she couldn't answer.
The lines around his eyes softened as he looked around for…for someone. "Do you have anyone to be with you?"
She shook her head. "Remus doesn't know. I couldn't tell anyone," she whispered.
"Yes," she said. "Please."
So he was with her while she waited, and with her when she woke. It was only later, after he'd gone, that she wondered why he'd been there at all.
The news broke just a few days later.
The Black Cancer, they were calling it. They called it that because they were unwilling to say Morsmordre. It took hold as the Dark Mark faded. It had been fastest in those who abandoned the Dark Lord during the First War, but now there were Second War cases. They had detected it in all those tested.
"You knew," she whispered, chin quavering as he closed the door behind her. She had remembered him looking at the Mark that first time, when he spoke of his demons. Had finally understood what had driven him to her. It was guilt, yes, but also a need to wipe the slate before he died.
Reluctantly, he nodded. "Karkaroff got sick. That's how we caught him, in the end. We knew it was to do with the Mark, but we thought it was because he deserted." More quietly, he went on, "But then…a year ago…one of our own got sick. One who stayed to the end. That was when I knew."
"Oh, Lucius," she said gently.
"It's all right," he said with a rather strained sort of smile. "Really. I was with him til the end. They say I have twenty years or more. You can fit a good life into twenty years, you know." His gaze slid away from her. "It's more than most of my victims got."
She said gently, "Draco?" She had not forgotten the frightened boy in the Death Eaters' midst.
At this, Lucius' chin began to tremble. "He didn't have the Mark for long. They say – a year or two at most. They say-" and then he strode past her, turning his back on her and slumping into his chair. His shoulders were shaking.
She put it together then. Draco was the first to get sick.
"Lucius," she whispered. Came up behind him and slid her arms around his shoulders. "You can't-"
"Of course I can," he said in a low voice. "I got him into this. He'd never have-"
She came around him. Drew his head against her belly and laid her cheek on the top of his head. Her heart breaking for him. "Don't."
She knelt and kissed him, and they didn't make love that time, but he wept against her and begged her to forgive him. Begged her to forgive it all.
She had no right to forgive him for his son, but she did it anyway.
She doubted he had anyone else he could ask.
Remus put it together when Caroline was three.
She had, indeed, rejoined the Aurors, and she was recognised along with several others for a successful operation. Lucius was part of the official party bestowing medals and speeches. He was haggard; Draco had died only a month before. It wasn't the first time she'd seen him since then, but it still hurt to watch.
Conscious of Remus' mutinous look, Tonks made a point of avoiding Lucius. But as they made their way to the Floo to leave, they all but ran into him. Ignoring him was not an option.
Lucius leaned in and kissed her hand, courtly yet impersonal acknowledgement of a guest of honour. "Congratulations, Auror Lupin," he said formally.
She was just as removed, her body held separate from his. "Thank you."
He pulled away and left them without another word.
Remus was staring at her.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," she hissed. "Just don't." She turned away from him and Floo'd home.
She'd only just cast the Scourgify to clean herself of soot when Remus followed her out of the Floo. He grasped her arm. "How?" he demanded. "How can you feel for him?"
It was her turn to stare. "What are you talking about?"
He nodded towards the wall behind her. She turned. Glimpsed herself in the mirror over the mantle.
Her hair was silver.
"It's sick," he snapped. "He raped you."
"If he raped me, then I raped him too," she snapped. "Voldemort raped us. The only reason you don't get that is you couldn't have done what was necessary to live."
She regretted the words before they even finished falling from her lips. This was her secret, that Lucius was strong and Remus was weak and fundamentally, she didn't trust Remus to do the right thing by her anymore.
"Says who?" he demanded. "Him?"
She kicked off her shoes, irritably. "I'm going to bed. Come, or don't. I don't care anymore."
"If you think I'm coming to bed with you when your heart and your mind and your fucking hair are with him, you've got another think coming."
"Fine. You explain to the children why you're sleeping on the couch then. And don't forget the part where their mother's a dirty, sick whore because she had the temerity to survive." She stormed up the stairs in a fury.
He didn't come to bed that night, but he came the next morning, full of conciliatory words and tender fingers in her hair. He could do that, she supposed, because her hair was pink again and he didn't have to deal with that hated part of her, that part he couldn't live with, could never accept.
She didn't want him, but she knew he would never ask her again, if she said no. So she opened her arms and her thighs and made herself breathe the way he'd once told her, and drew him inside her.
When he was done, she felt as hollow and numb as any of the times Lucius had done it to her during the war. Only this time, she didn't have him to hold her up. She had only herself.
She was in a household of six, but she had never felt so alone in her life.
"Why do you go to him?"
Remus asked this when Caroline was in her final year at Hogwart's. Tonks had come home, as she did every so often, with silver hair and blue-grey eyes. She tried to change it, but it always seemed to stick a while.
Rather like Lucius.
So she usually tried to come home before him, or after he'd gone to bed, but sometimes, like today, he was there when she arrived.
She wondered why he had waited to ask until now. Wondered if it was so he could leave if he couldn't live with the answer.
"Because he's the only one who can look at me, and not look away."
Terrible, terrible hurt flashed on Remus' features, but it was gone again before she could comment on it. His face was studious and smooth and he looked like she had remarked on the weather.
"Do you fuck him?" he asked with that same, mildly curious expression.
Tonks said coldly, "Of all the things Lucius and I have done down the years, I wouldn't use the word fuck for any of them."
He didn't leave, but things were never the same after that. Or maybe they were exactly the same but they weren't lying about it anymore.
Lucius died in 2027.
They were lovers to the end. Infrequently, as he became ill, and as far as she could remember, they had not directly discussed the war in over a decade.
But they still needed each other, just now and then, a foothold for moments in time.
She and Remus had reached some sort of accord. Not a resolution, but something that they could live with, at least enough to stay together. She needed Lucius – needed him like life's breath – but the life and the family she and Remus had built, as troubled as it was, was something even Lucius couldn't touch. She sensed, somehow, that to let her family fall was to give Voldemort one last victory.
So they limped along, and a lot of the time, it was okay. They enjoyed outings and shared in-jokes. Supported one another through their daily frustrations. The bedroom was fraught, and there were walls, more and more things awkward and streaked and left unsaid between them, but they lived through it. Kept putting one foot in front of the other.
Still, Lucius was a sore subject.
The day she dragged in her breath and gasped out the verboten name, owl-missive still clenched in her hand, Remus started, then glared. Jaw stiff. Every one of his years showing in his face.
"Dora," he said with a sound of warning.
"He's dying," she whispered. Then, meeting his gaze – only slightly softer than before – she said, "I have to go."
The flat of his hand on the table was the last thing she heard.
"I want you to promise me something."
Lucius said this one day at St Mungo's. It wasn't the end - he would have two more stays there before Narcissa finally brought him home to die - but it was close.
There was no confrontation, no discussion. Narcissa had simply owled her when he was admitted the first time, introduced her to the staff as her niece and said matter-of-factly that she was free to come and go at will, and that was the end of it.
"What?" she wondered. There were beads of sweat on his brow; he was in a lot of pain these days, despite the potions. She took a flannel and dipped it in water. Gently wiped them off.
"I want you to talk to Remus."
She felt her face close up, all at once. "Lucius-"
"He stayed," he said implacably. "The children are grown, but he stayed. He may not be perfect, he may have reacted terribly, but he loves you. And I have to believe that you love him, or you wouldn't have stayed either."
Did she? Tonks wondered. Somewhere along the line, living with Remus had become a habit. Not necessarily a greatly desirable one, but a habit just the same. So she had stayed. She wondered with a pang if there was anything more to it than that.
"You forgave me for the most terrible thing a man can do to a woman. Why can't you forgive him?"
The answer came without hesitation. She'd railed at Remus in her mind, screamed at him in her heart for it a thousand times. "I never expected to be safe with you. But I thought I was safe with him. I never expected him to be weak."
"He's stronger than you give him credit for," Lucius countered. "All these years, he's known about us – hasn't he?"
Reluctantly, she nodded.
"It takes a strong man, not a weak one, to turn a blind eye to something like that."
She frowned. Considering this.
"I did the wrong thing by you, you know. Letting it happen. I should have turned you away. I should have set you free. Things might have been different for you and Remus if I had."
She wasn't sure that he was wrong.
"Why didn't you?"
Lucius closed his eyes for a long moment. "I'd just found out I was dying. And I needed something I could only ever have from you." He turned his face away, staring up at the ceiling. "I was selfish."
"Shh," she said, rising. Bending over him. Cradling his face, making him face her. "We both were." She kissed him gently. Tears rising and slipping down her face onto his.
He kissed her too. "Promise me," he said again.
"I promise to try," she whispered.
She Transfigured the bed wider, and crawled in beside him, and slowly, quietly, they made love for the final time.
"How long have you known?"
She said this as she lifted her gaze from Lucius' still form to the woman sitting across from her. Her tears were still wet on her cheeks.
Narcissa said grimly, "You don't really think the Dark Lord passed up the chance to taunt me about it, do you? The younger, prettier pet?" The corners of her lips curled in unconscious distaste. Then, reflectively, she went on, "I knew it wasn't like that, of course. I knew him. And the elves told me plenty."
She nodded. Digesting this. "And after?"
"The portraits gossip. At first, just enough to hurt. But then, when he told me he was sick…and when the portraits started to repeat things…I started to understand."
"He loved you," Tonks said urgently. "More than anything. It wasn't about that."
"I know that," Narcissa said dismissively.
"He was afraid you couldn't forgive him. Because Remus never forgave me, and because he could never forgive himself."
The older woman gave a stiff little shrug and looked away.
"I shan't attend the funeral," she said presently. "No one knew I knew him. It would raise questions." She said it like she meant it, like it wasn't ash in her mouth.
Narcissa softened. "Yes. But the family plot is in the grounds. I'll set the wards to let you pass. So you can visit."
Tonks felt her chin begin to quaver. "You've been awfully decent, Narcissa."
Narcissa shrugged. "In my world, we were taught to tolerate mistresses." She said reflectively, "My mother said that a powerful man was sometimes too great a burden for one woman to carry. Sometimes…a mistress…was a blessing. I never knew what that meant before." She looked away, blinking suddenly. "I don't think it was about my forgiveness at all. I think he needed yours."
Tonks didn't know what to say to that. Just stared at her. Stricken.
"Stay as long as you like," Narcissa said in a strangled voice, and fled.
She stared at him for a long time.
Was she looking at her lover? Her rapist? Her controller? Her saviour? For the first time ever, she allowed herself to wonder those things. Things she could never wonder while she needed him. During or after the war.
Slowly, she reached out. Closed her hands over his. They were still warm.
She inspected his fingers. They were neatly manicured. His fingertips were cool – not from death; they had been cool for months as the final stages of his illness had taken hold. She'd known the end was coming the day they were cool on her cheek.
God, those fingers. They'd been inside her, as an invader, and as her only solace. They'd touched her with violence and with gentleness. She'd gripped them to take support and give it, gripped them with passion.
She put them down again; folded them one over the other on his stomach. She did it gently.
She stood and leaned over him. Smoothed back his hair and straightened it neatly on his pillow. How many times had she plunged her fingers into his hair? How many times had the colour fallen from hers and changed to mirror his? How many times had his hair fallen on her, forming a curtain behind which he grieved for her, a wound and balm in equal measure?
She felt a terrible tightness rising in her chest. The question she was finally asking herself had no answers here.
She ran her hands over his face. Felt overwhelming grief wash over her as she brushed his lips and no air passed there. Her tears rose up, blurring her vision, and slipped down her cheeks as she laid her palms blindly on his cheeks, like she had the night of the fire.
I want you to live.
She didn't know what he was, or what they were to one another, but she knew he'd wanted her to survive it. She knew that, at least, without ambiguity, without doubt.
It was enough. Enough to push her qualms aside and remember him with kindness. And she wanted to remember him kindly. Rightly or wrongly, she'd clung to him, and he'd never let her fall.
Slowly, it dawned on her that she'd never had to survive without him before.
I want you to live.
"I'll live," she murmured. She bent and kissed those folded hands. Laid her cheek against them for a long moment. "I'm going to make it."
Rising, she dragged back her tears. Raked her hands through her hair. Raking it back out of the way. Wiped her hand over her face, over her mouth and nose.
"Be at peace, Lucius," she whispered, backing away. "Please."
One of them should be, she thought, at last.
When she came downstairs into the Malfoy reception room, Remus was waiting for her.
He was standing in the middle of the room – just about the spot where, twenty-nine years earlier, Lucius had forced himself on her, torment and guilt in the lines of his face and his hands gripping hers to give her strength and take it, even as he held her down.
She blinked. Blinked back tears, blinked back the vision. She wouldn't remember him like that. It was a lifetime ago. A lifetime of darkness and light and stumbling, fumbling understanding in between.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Remus said. Then, perhaps realising it had sounded forced, he added more gently, "Really, Dora. I am. I know he…mattered…to you."
She swallowed hard. Looked away. "Forgive me," she whispered. She didn't know if she meant for what she did during the war, or after it. She wasn't even sure if it mattered anymore.
"Haven't you looked for forgiveness for long enough?"
She stared at him. Surprised at how utterly he understood, after all. Trying not to let it show.
"I hurt you," she insisted at last. That much, at least, she knew.
"And I hurt you," he said. "Is it too late for us to forgive each other?"
She met his gaze. "I don't know." Realised she hadn't looked him right in the eye for decades. "We shouldn't talk here," she said abruptly, swallowing hard. "Narcissa's been kind. She shouldn't have to hear this."
"All right," he said. "But can I say one thing?"
She really wished he wouldn't. But she nodded.
"I know there are things you needed from me. Maybe…if I could have given them…well." He broke off. "I'm looking at you now, Dora. And I'm not going anywhere. I never will."
She realised with a pang that she didn't even know how to be kind to him anymore. "Remus – I don't – I can't –"
"Just come home with me. Just talk to me."
She closed her eyes for a long moment. Nodded. "All right."
For the first time in years, she took his hand as they Apparated away.
Remus placed a mug of tea on the coffee table in front of her. The steam rose off it with a faint whiff of Firewhiskey, and drifted away.
"Thank you," she said in a raw, low voice. Wrapped her hands around the mug as she hunched over it. Felt the warmth seep into her hands. She felt terribly, terribly cold.
He put a throw rug around her shoulders. She drew it closer around her, mechanically. Sipped on her tea gratefully.
He sat down in the chair opposite.
They stayed there, quietly, for a while. She pondered the picture she must make, grieving for her misbegotten lover, tended to by her disaffected, if temporarily attentive husband. It seemed to sum up the almighty mess she'd made of her life.
It was as good an opening as any. "I've botched things up royally."
Remus shrugged easily. "Well, I did it first."
"He made me promise to talk to you," she said presently. "He always thought I hadn't given you enough credit." Suddenly, she remembered saying of Remus, He thought the worst of me when he was supposed to give me the benefit of the doubt. It dawned on her that she had done the same to him.
He nodded slowly. Considering this. "No," he said without rancour. "You really didn't." He went on crisply, "I know I behaved abominably that day, but you were the one who left. And you never really came back."
"I suppose that's true." Her gaze slid away. "I couldn't talk to you about it. I couldn't risk it. I couldn't risk it getting any worse. We had four children at home, and I couldn't do it on my own."
"So you were content for us to be miserable?"
"Rather than destroy what was left? Yes!" she flared. "It's not like we were fighting all the time. The children never knew. Divorce would have made none of us any happier."
"And after the children were grown?"
She shrugged. "There was a lot of good by then, and we seemed to…to co-exist with the bad. I suppose I thought no one ever gets everything they want in a relationship. Why rock the boat?" That much was only half-true. The truth was, there were things she couldn't live without, things Remus couldn't give her – but she'd had them in Lucius instead. Remus hadn't had anyone else, at least so far as she knew.
Remus was looking at her, his head tilted to one side. He was smiling at her, strangely enough, but she thought the smile was rather sad.
"I happen to think we can do better than that," he said at last.
Tonks shrugged. Helpless. Hopeless. She didn't believe that was true.
"Tell me about him," he said gently. "Tell me why you loved him."
She stared up at him. Appalled. "Remus."
"That's how it all started, isn't it? You trying to tell me what he was to you? That he'd helped you, that you'd seen something of yourself in him? And I couldn't hear it. All I could see was him forcing himself on you and convincing you that you'd agreed to it. And I hated that you'd rather care for him, throw away what we had, than face that." He sat back, as though settling in for an interesting story over aperitifs. "So tell me now, and let's try and fix this. Let's try and fix us. Because without him here to give you whatever you couldn't get from me, we're not going to make it."
"Remus," she whispered. Stared at him askance. At a loss how to tell him about the messed-up, fragile thing she and Lucius had shared, their dark dance, rather sadly and macabrely beautiful, like black roses on a palette of grey. She had no idea how to begin.
He got to his feet and came and sat down beside her. Tucked her silver hair back behind her ear. He did it gently. More gently than she thought he'd touched her, ever.
"Tell me about his hair," he prompted.
"It was like a curtain," she whispered haltingly into her mug, clenched between her fingers. "We hid behind it. And he let me see that he hurt for me. He hurt for me when I couldn't afford to hurt for myself."
The words began to flow after that. First slow and awkward, then faster. Freer.
And Remus listened.