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A Deception by Aphoride
Chapter 1 : To Deceive
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 16

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A Deception

It is better to lose your pride with someone you love rather than to lose that someone you love with your useless pride – John Ruskin

She is never quite sure why she does it, in the end. Perhaps it is just to spite Bella and Cissy, perhaps it is for a sense of adventure she can never quite control completely, perhaps it is even because she loves him. There are a hundred thousand reasons swirling around in her head as she reaches his house at the corner of a street somewhere in a small, Dorset village, some more wild and fanciful than others. The only one which she knows for certain is true – indefatigably, undeniably true no matter how much she despises herself for it – is that she is here, at three in the morning, the bottom of her cloak stained with mud and her hair lank with grease and rainwater, because of pride.

There is a fire burning in her veins, birthed by pride and fuelled by anger, by the thought of losing to her family. Adrenaline makes her hand shake (she refuses to believe it’s fear, or nerves, because those are weaknesses and she is a Black right to the core) as she reaches up to rap the knocker smartly against the door. Even though there is a thrill in her heart at the adventure she has created for herself, and the idea of independence and singularity simultaneously makes her stomach churn and her eyes light up, she does not smile.

In front of her, the house is dark and silent, and she can see her own reflection staring back at her, pale and thin and dirty, in the glass windows in the front door. She wonders what Ted will make of it all, what his parents will make of her; she thinks of her own parents, sleeping soundly back in Kent, and imagining their reactions when they discover her gone, with only a note to explain her disappearance propped up on her pillow, straightens her spine and gives her a new resolve.

She is here for a reason, after all.

Thankfully, she doesn’t have to wait long before a tall, broad-shouldered man opens the door and blinks blearily at her, eyes raking over her appearance.

“Is Ted here? I need to see him,” she gets out quickly, before he can say anything.

“’s three in the mornin’,” he says, voice muffled by the remains of sleep, and she nods twice, smoothing down her cloak even as water drips onto her hands and shoulders.

“I know,” and she does, really, but this is important. “Please, can I see him?”

He looks at her once more, gaze turning pitying and understanding, and then nods. As he steps out of the way to let her inside, her muttered ‘thank you’ lost to the rain outside, he asks her,

“Are you that girlfriend he’s always talking about, then?”

Something about that makes her stomach curl and twist. It’s not that she doesn’t like being called Ted’s girlfriend – because she does, really, she does – but there’s something painful about hearing that he always talks about her, that he’s so happy with her. By rights, it should make her excited, happy, set off butterflies in her stomach and a blush on her face, but it doesn’t. Instead, she merely swallows, attempts a smile and confirms,

“Yes, that’s me.”

She doesn’t say any more as he leads her to a small, cosy sitting room, and mutters about fetching Ted for her. What should she say to him? Thank you seems appropriate, but the words won’t form on her tongue, and she has no idea what else to talk about. Still, he seems to understand she’s not really in the mood to talk and leaves quickly.

Ted is down far faster than she expected, his face worried, blond hair everywhere. He clutches a blanket in one hand, and settles it around her shoulders carefully, before sitting down beside her. The blanket is wool, so it scratches at her chin, pressed down by the weight of Ted’s arm around her, but it’s thick and warm and that’s enough.

“Did something happen?” Ted’s voice is hushed, but there’s a note of worry, of panic in it which rings loudly in her ears.

She should never have told him what her family are capable of. She should never have confided in him about the beauty and cruelty Bella possesses in equal measures, about the cold logic the family is run with. He has never really understood what it is to be a Black.

“No, nothing happened,” she shakes her head, sending droplets flying onto Ted’s t-shirt. “I… I just – I ran away.”

Even as a strange weight settles in her stomach and she bows her head to avoid him seeing the sudden pinch of fear that what if this turns out to be real, what will she do then, a frisson of delight and amazement trickles down her spine at the thought.

She has run away.

It is far more of an anti-climax than she had ever imagined.

As Ted hugs her tight and she buries her face in his shoulder, hearing him whisper ‘I’m sorry’ into her hair, she thinks to herself that really, this is all very exciting. Here she is, Andromeda Black, at three in the morning, in her muggleborn boyfriend’s house, defiant and proud and thrilled to the bone, with her entire family completely unaware of any of this long, secret story.

The stuff of romance novels, she tells herself as she sleeps in the Ted’s brother’s old room that night, tucked up in one of Ted’s old shirts and a baggy pair of shorts, her wet clothes hung in the dryer. And there is nothing to worry about, because the heroines always win.

What she doesn’t expect, though, is for her family to wait, to wait for her to return, to wait for her to see sense and give up her foolish ideas. But they do, and so she is forced to play the same game, going on long walks through fields and up hills with Ted, helping his mother with cooking, and staring out of the window for hours at a time for a letter which never comes and a visitor who never arrives.

She is so wrapped up in her own world, in her little private waiting game, that she doesn’t think anything of it when Ted announces one day that they’re going on a picnic in a bluebell-lined field they found the other day. It’s peaceful and quiet, and so familiar, that when he gets down on one knee, silver and diamond ring glittering in the sunlight, it’s almost natural to say ‘yes’.

That evening, while his family celebrates, she writes letters. One to Bella, one to her mother, and one to Rabastan. Her sister, her mother, her best friend – they are the people who she wants to tell. The only people, really, she wants to tell.

Before she seals Bella’s up and sends it off, she hesitates. A part of her, desperate for someone to understand, knowing Bella is loyal beyond anyone she has ever known and will understand, will fight for her, wants to add a note at the bottom, that she doesn’t know what she’s doing, that she’s lost and can someone please come and help her. Anything, just get me out of this mess, she writes in her mind.

She doesn’t write it though, and so, three months later, with three long, furious replies tucked in her pillowcase, she married Ted and becomes Andromeda Tonks. As he leads her back down the aisle, ring on her finger and her heart in chains, he murmurs to her,

“I’m so happy. I love you.”

Pulling on every ounce of her strength, she turns and smiles up at him, every inch the radiant, glowing bride, though she doesn’t respond. She’s not sure she has the words or the courage to say it back (I’m so happy, too. I love you, too), and, deep down, she knows it wouldn’t really be the truth.

Perhaps she loves him. She debates this with herself during twenty-seven years of sleepless nights, and can never quite come to a conclusion. Happiness is really the one thing which doesn’t factor into it at all, in the end, though she admits it to herself far too late to do anything about it.

And so her life starts anew. She gets new clothes, a new name, and a new house (but not quite a home, really, even though she chooses everything in it), but nothing really touches her as it should. Cold seeps in everywhere, like a layer over her life, and she moves through the motion from day to day with a strange sense of absence, of loss.

Ted, wrapped up in being young and in love and happy, doesn’t notice. His enthusiasm is unparalleled, and the affection he shows her is wonderful – kissing her cheek, hugging her, offering to do the dishes and buying her small boxes of chocolates and flowers randomly because he can. She loves all those little things he does, feeling like a schoolgirl whenever he produces another red rose from behind his back for her, but can’t help but feel that it’s not quite enough.

As she decorates the little house, arranging photos of her and Ted, and his family, on the mantelpiece, making sure the silver frames are sparkling, her mouth fills with a bitter tang, creeping up from her stomach. It makes her eyes water and her hands shake.

Dropping the feather duster, she sinks onto the sofa, crying, one hand resting on her stomach.

She doesn’t know quite when this all happened. She doesn’t know how to cope with this, with everything going on around her. Most of all, she doesn’t know what she’s doing, or where she is, or even really who she is.

Andromeda Tonks or Andromeda Black? Or neither, but somehow both at the same time?

Even if she doesn’t know who she is, she knows where she should be, where her place in this world is, and it’s not here. Not in this small, cramped house in a suburban street of identical buildings, with a blond-haired muggleborn husband who loves her, and a baby on the way – half-Black, half-nothing.

She belongs in high, vaulted hallways, surrounded by velvet drapes and china vases, with balls and parties, and long, clinging dresses. With jewelled necklaces for her birthday, and trips to France, and a whole different approach to ideals of honour and duty and obligations.

It is everything she has ever known, and, truthfully, not something she had ever really meant to give up, but somehow it’s happened.

Looking in the mirror – gold-edged and plain, a gift from Ted’s sister-in-law for their wedding – she imagines herself in a cage, surrounded by bars of steel and whispered sweet nothings and the potential of life.

Pride made solid, she thinks bitterly, and cries again for good measure.

When her daughter is born, less than four months later, early and pink and noisy, she insists on naming her ‘Nymphadora’. She refuses to explain when Ted asks why, muttering some excuse about it being a ‘nice name’ and ignoring the dubious look on his face.

It is her grandmother’s name, her mother’s middle name, and so her daughter will have too. Even then, she knows she will never tell Nymphadora, either, where it comes from, but it is the one link to her family she allows herself, the one link she has left.

When the war comes, she feels it like a thin blade slipping between her ribs and twisting, twisting round and round and round. The world is dark and bleak, all sense of romance and heroines long gone, and she thinks of her family, of Bella and Rab and little Reggie and Sirius, and dreams of going home, of waking up in her bed, in a sea of purple, home at last.

She stops working and stays at home instead, never leaving the house. She tells Ted – and he agrees readily, almost too easily – that it’s for safety, for Nymphadora’s safety and his, that she’s worried they might become targets. She never says anything to him, but she knows they are targets, and she knows that it’s not her they want, not her they’ll go after, but him.

Even though she knows all of this, she never asks him to stop working; she never asks him to stay at home, with her and Dora. Later on, when the second war is growing more hopeless by the hour and Ted is dead, she will wonder if she hoped he would die, that he would be caught and killed – an innocent victim in a war which has nothing much to do with him – so that she would be free once more to be Andromeda Black, and not Andromeda Tonks.

She will cry at the idea, and tell herself over and over again that she’s not cruel, that she would never have wished him dead because even if she didn’t love him he was her partner and a good friend, but she will never quite be sure.

Nymphadora, clever and bubbly, doesn’t seem to think anything of her moods, content to play with the train set Ted’s brother had given her for her fifth birthday, insisting on giving a piercing whistle and a loud ‘choo, choo!’ whenever the train successfully completes another lap of the track. Occasionally, Nymphadora comes and sits with her, by the window looking out into the street, pressing her hands and face to the cold, misted glass and staring outside. They will sit like that for an hour or so, scanning cars going up and down, and cats padding along the tops of walls and sitting on bins, before she pulls them both away, empty and disappointed.

No one is coming, she reminds herself when she is tucked up in bed at night, Ted’s arm around her waist, the suitcase she keeps packed for a quick getaway hidden at the back of the cupboard. No one is coming. She has betrayed them, has left them; they will not come to free her.

Still, she can’t help but sit at the window every day, watching, just in case someone does.

It’s Ted who brings her the news. She finds out later from Moody, once Nymphadora’s joined the Order, that he insisted he be the one to tell her. He wanted to, he says, felt that it was best she heard it from him, and she smiles a little and nods.

“He’s always thoughtful,” she murmurs, and when she kisses him that evening to say ‘thank you’, it tastes sweet for the first time since she said yes in that field so many years ago.

Ted leaves her in their bedroom not long after telling her. He breaks the news gently and sympathetically, his thumbs stroking over the back of her hands, and then quietly retreats, shutting the door behind him and taking an inquisitive Nymphadora downstairs for a cookie.

Bella has been captured, sentenced to Azkaban less than six hours later, blazing defiance and pride even as the jury delivered the verdict, even as they escorted her to her new home. Something – everything – about it seems strange and almost dreamlike. The idea that her older sister, the girl who always listened, who cursed boys for her, who calmed her down before her OWLs and NEWTs, who giggled over how dreamy Augustus Bones had been in his Ravenclaw Quidditch kit, was in prison and would never leave was, well, impossible to process.

Sitting on her bed, alone, she finds that she’s not sad, not upset, but painfully, bitterly jealous. Bella had stuck to her word, had kept her faith through everything. She had not wavered, had not been foolish, had not backed down or run away. In trying to win everything – favour, power, love, whatever – Bella had lost, but at least, she thinks, at least Bella had tried.

She wishes, hopelessly, that she could change what happened, could right the wrongs she created and caused. She wishes that she was stronger, more like Bella and her father, and feels green, acrid jealousy curl around her throat to choke her.

If her pride does not kill her, jealousy surely will.

There are no more chances now, she tells herself firmly. There are no rescues from here, no turning back. This is it. She is Andromeda Tonks, not Black, and it is time she accepted her lot in life.

Her mother dies, suddenly, in the autumn just after Nymphadora has started school, once the war is won and the shadows have retreated. She reads about it in the paper, and is not invited to the funeral. In truth, she didn’t expect an invitation.

At night, she tells herself it didn’t hurt when one didn’t arrive.

As she goes on, the lies build up and up and she wonders, every now and then, when they will all come tumbling down. She grows, if not comfortable in her life, then accepting of it, and finds herself more relaxed around Ted, starting to see him more as a companion, a life partner, than the man who took her away.

Sometimes, when she sees him looking at her out of the corner of her eye, an oddly calculating, wary expression on his face, she thinks he knows the truth of it all – that he knows she isn’t sure if she loves him or not, that she resents him and their life, that she wishes every day she had been a little less proud and a little more honest with herself.

Sometimes, she thinks she should talk to him. In the end, she never does, choosing to remain silent. What would she say, anyway?

So she simply carries on, the chains she has forged for herself clanking around her wrists and ankles as she goes. Invisible, they weigh her down, but it’s a burden she’s used to now, having carried it for so long. When she’s at home, talking with Ted or hearing one of Nymphadora’s ridiculous tales and struggling not to laugh, she feels them just lift a little, slackening their grip. Those are the moments she loves the most, when she gets to experience what it would be like to belong in this house, with these people.

Perhaps, in another time, this life would have made her happy.

They settle into a rhythm, her and Ted and Nymphadora, and she has to admit that as much as she likes the sense of routine, she misses the pop and the sparkle of living with Bella and the rest of her family. There, any sense of routine was lost amidst the festering dislike between various family factions, the tang of competition which hung in the air with a permanent hum, and the crackling, unpredictable power instilled in them all from birth.

She misses, she supposes, the idea of being somebody, of being known and noticed, and having her identity solved and discovered for her.

As time goes on, she is too busy being Andromeda Tonks, being busy and almost content, that she doesn’t notice the shadows lengthening, and the scent of fear creeping into the world once more. It comes slowly, like last time, but thicker and it tugs on her, hard, reaching up and yanking on her chains until she’s forced to her knees.

Ted is in danger, Nymphadora is in danger, and this time, it stirs something in her. A kind of fluttering in her stomach, a skip in her heart when she imagines hearing they’re hurt, and a faint echo of anger. It is nothing like how she used to feel when someone hexed Narcissa or insulted her family – that would scald her insides and turn her whole world scarlet – but it makes sparks fly from her wand and her fists clench.

She is possessive, for the first time this feels like something approaching a family – her family. Not a replacement family for the one she left, but a real, genuine one she’s found, somehow, along the way.

That evening, she tells Ted, ‘I love you’, and means it, feels it, coiling in the bottom of her stomach with a slow, tender burn. He smiles, and the warmth in his eyes envelopes them both as she pulls him close, resting her head on his shoulder, feeling his hand sift through her curls, one by one. It’s gentle and calming, and she feels herself unwinding, unfreezing, like the first thaw after a winter frost.

For the first time, as they sit on the sofa together in the evening, after Dora’s gone to bed, she finds herself talking to him – and really talking to him, not just reminding him to pick up milk or conspiring on a surprise party for Nymphadora.

“I’m scared,” she hears herself say, and looks determinedly at the floor because the idea of actually doing this with him is almost humiliating. “We’re targets in this war – all of us. You and Dora especially; they’ll want to hurt you to get to me, and I don’t know what I’d do if it happened. I keep wondering if… if somehow I could stop anything from happening before something does, but it just seems too unbelievable to ever work out that way.”

Beside her, she hears Ted sigh and feels him shift on the sofa, adjusting the arm draped around her.

“I know,” he replies simply. “I’m sorry.”

They don’t talk about it again much after that. She can’t work up the courage to do so again, and he doesn’t ask again – though she has no idea why and isn’t sure she wants to try and work it out. This time, though, the silence which permeates their conversations is tense, threatening to crack with every tick of the clock in the corner.

She feels restless almost constantly as the darkness grows stronger, the Ministry fails and Dumbledore falls. Nervous and thrilled and desperate all at the same time, she takes to pacing the living room in their small house, up and down and up and down for hours on end, trying to work out what she should do.

Just when she had felt so content, almost happy and sure that this was the type of life she would be comfortable to lead, something had to come back and remind her of everything she lost, of everyone she never saw again and the world she could have been part of, perhaps should have been part of even now. Bitterly, she leans against the wall next to the window overlooking the street, and wonders why her, why now?

She is Andromeda Tonks, but she is also Andromeda Black, and, if she is honest with herself for once, she is an absolute mess. Fear swirls inside her, whispering that she could save herself, save them all if she went back and apologised, begged for her old life back, to be herself again, but pride, damnable, irrepressible pride holds her back, refusing to let her. Even as she stands there, she feels the familiar shackles – the bitter, jealous, proud shackles – slipping around her wrists and squeezing. They squeeze and squeeze until she no longer remembers which one of the Andromedas she is, and which one she wants to be, and above it all the only thing she can hear is the falling of the rain on the pavement and the slowly, steady beat of the clock.

There, chained to the wall by her own self, she can only think that the clock sounds like a counter ticking down the days, hours, minutes, seconds until her life explodes and she loses everything again.

A/N: The quote at the top does not belong to me, but to John Ruskin. 

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