The Doll Army
London. November, 1978.
Dora Tonks stopped, bent over with her backside to the door, one hand resting on her teddy bear and the other in a pile of little doll clothes. She felt her face moving around, like it always did when she got in trouble.
"Turn around, Nymphadora."
She picked her teddy up and put her arms around it, then stood up and turned around. Mummy was standing in the open door. It was raining outside, and water was dripping off her black purse onto the floor. It smelled leathery.
Dora tried a smile. "Hi, Mummy."
"You and Daddy said you would pick up in here while I was gone."
"We did! It was all clean. Then Daddy said I could play."
Mummy just shook her head. "You've done all this in less than two hours? How? Every doll you own is out." She started to wade into the play area, pointing her wand at one thing then another like she couldn't even decide where to start.
Dora shuffled her feet. She wanted to like playing with her dolls, since Granny Tonks had given most of them to her and Granny Tonks was wonderful, but all she could really do with them was change their clothes, and that was boring. And she did like the dolls themselves, with their bitty faces and big eyes and so on. So she'd kept trying, though, and now all the dolls and all the clothes really were all over the place. She shrugged, and made her face turn into a doll's face, with painted eyelashes and big surprised eyes. She had practiced this one.
Mummy bit her lip and tried not to laugh, but a funny little sound--kreflumph--came out of her nose. "Put your face back, Nymphadora," she said. "Then you can start in on the dolls." She put her wand decisively in her purse. "And you can do it the old fashioned way."
"If I'm good, can I play outside later, when the rain stops?"
Mummy frowned. "No, Nymphadora. I think it's best if you play inside for awhile. It's wet and cold and miserable out there anyway. Not to mention that it's going to be dark soon."
Dora thought about kicking one of her dolls, but decided not to. Mummy didn't like it when she did that. Mummy hadn't let her play outside since they'd gone shopping in Diagon Alley and a mean lady had called Dora a "half-blood freak." Mummy wouldn't talk about it, but that was the last time Dora had been outside. She'd tried to ask about it, but Mummy just said that she didn't need to worry. She'd had a nightmare about it, and Mummy and Daddy had both said she didn't need to worry. It scared her a little, being told not to worry when Mummy and Daddy were both scared.
"Ha!" someone said behind Mummy. A big shadow came in from the rain, water pouring off of it. "Now this is a room I could live in."
Dora forgot all about not being allowed to go outside. She ran to him and jumped up even before his arms had finished opening. "Sirius!"
He swept her up and hugged her. His hair and his black robes were wet and when he squeezed her, it soaked into her dress. He gave her great big kiss on the cheek, then tugged one of her pigtails and mussed the top of her hair. "How's my favorite morph?"
Dora kissed his nose. It tasted salty. "I didn't know you were coming today!"
"It's a surprise. I saw your mum and I said to myself, 'Sirius, you haven't had a kiss from your cousin Dora for almost two whole months! That's not right!'" He turned around, and Dora caught sight of two other men who had come into the hall. Sirius pointed at them. "Do you remember my friends Remus and Peter?"
Dora wasn't sure, but she nodded anyway.
One of the other men smiled, a nice smile like Dora thought Father Christmas might have when he wasn't wearing his old man face, even though he was very skinny. "It's all right, Nymphadora," he said. Dora liked his voice, which sounded like his smile. "No one expects you to remember everyone. My name is Remus Lupin." He pointed to the other man. "This is Peter Pettigrew."
Mummy tapped Dora's head. "That's Mr. Lupin, and Mr. Pettigrew." She looked at Sirius's friends, who were starting to say no, and said, "I'm sorry, but we're having a bit of trouble remembering about grown-ups."
"Who's a grown-up?" Sirius asked, dropping to the floor in the middle of the hall and starting to pick up Dora's dolls to look at. He tossed them into a pile when he finished.
"Clearly, you don't qualify." Mummy shook her head and rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. Sirius was her favorite cousin. Dora didn't know why that made her yell at him all the time. "But Nymphadora's father's boss does, if you will please allow the teaching moment."
Sirius made a funny face that only Dora could see, and she laughed.
Mummy looked away from Sirius and at his friends. "Will you two gentlemen consent to being a lesson in how to talk to grown-ups, or should I give up entirely?"
Mr. Pettigrew nodded quickly. Mr. Lupin, who had bent over to look at the dolls Sirius was tossing aside, stood up. "I think I could be a grown-up," he said. "Just for the afternoon, mind."
Sirius leaned to Dora and whispered, loudly enough for everyone to hear, "He's been a grown-up since he was eleven."
"Six," Mr. Lupin said. He was still smiling, but Dora thought his voice sounded sad.
"I'm six," she said. "Well, almost. I had my five-and-a-halfth birthday two weeks ago. But I'm not a grown-up yet."
"Five and a halfth?" Sirius asked.
"It's her Daddy's favorite holiday. Half-birthdays. Half a cake, half candles, and presents cut in half." Mummy smiled.
Dora nodded. "I have to find both halves, then Daddy puts them together with magic."
"Did someone invoke my name?"
Dora looked up. Daddy was at the top of the stairs, in a pretty good humor. Mummy was sad a lot lately, but Daddy always cheered everyone up. "What's this sorry lot you brought home, Andromeda? Do they expect us to feed them?"
"No," Sirius said. "We brought food to cover you old beggars." He pointed at some satchels beside the door.
Daddy came downstairs, waving his hand and pretending to count Sirius's friends. "I only see three," he said. "I thought the four of you were like a car... couldn't move without all four wheels."
"James went home with some pretty redhead," Sirius said. "I'm pretty sure I've seen her around before." His face looked like he was joking but his voice didn't sound funny.
Mummy nodded and took Daddy's hand. "Lily was u-p-s-e-t after the f-u-n-e-r-a-l." Dora read enough to know 'upset,' but she didn't know the other word yet. She would have to look it up in Daddy's dictionary later. Mummy kissed Daddy's cheek. "Ann Millington was a friend of hers from her year. Another Mug--" She stopped herself. "M-u-g-g-l-e-b-o-r-n. James took her home right away. So I picked up the strays here." She smiled again, but even Dora could see it was a fake. "I wanted to come home fairly quickly myself."
Daddy put his arms around her. "We're all right here," he said. His voice was quieter than usual.
Dora looked at Sirius and his friends. Mr. Lupin looked somber and Mr. Pettigrew looked like he wanted to hide someplace. Sirius was very carefully not looking at anyone. He was still picking up dolls and tossing them aside, but his mouth was tight.
Dora frowned. "What's a... funn... foon... "
"Nothing you need to know about," Sirius said, and made his mouth smile again. "Hey, look, Peter!" He picked up Steffi Sunshine and held her up by her blonde hair, grinning. "It's a little naked woman. 'Bout your speed, too, mate."
Mr. Pettigrew turned all red, and Mr. Lupin tried not to smile and didn't quite make it; Mummy looked like reckoned she ought to be mad, and Daddy just looked relieved. Everyone's fake faces went away.
Dora offered some of Steffi's clothes to Sirius. "Do you want to play dolls with me?"
"Sure," Sirius said. "I like this doll."
"That's Steffi. Granny Tonks brought her to me all the way from New York City. She has a Mr. Steffi, too. His name is Steve."
"A Yank doll," Sirius said. "Keen." He swung Steffi by her hair like a yo-yo on a short string.
"That's not how you play."
"Really? What are the rules?"
"I don't know. You make believe is all. She could be a Mummy, or a teacher, or a Healer, or anything you like."
"Oh." Sirius put Steffi down on her bare feet and made her march, prodding her with her wand to make her jointed knees go up and down. "How's that, Dora?" he asked.
Dora heard a sniff, and turned to see Mummy rolling her eyes. Mummy sighed. "Nymphadora, would you help Mr. Lupin and Mr. Pettigrew keep an eye on your cousin Sirius while Daddy and I talk in the kitchen for a bit?"
"Good." Mummy bent down and kissed Dora's face, very gently. It left a wet mark and Dora wiped at it as soon as Mummy and Daddy were gone.
"Mummy spit," she explained when the men looked at her. "Yuck."
"I don't know, Dora," Sirius said, pushing Steffi so that she was now marching in a little circle around the others. "Mummy spit is a pretty powerful substance. Controlled by the Ministry, I think. It can cure all sorts of cuts and scrapes. You're lucky. My mummy was very short on spit and I never had any at all. You might be wiping away a fortune, there, Cos." He picked up two other dolls (both Barbies, though Mummy had used magic to flatten their feet and make them be shaped "like real girls," whatever that meant), and made them start to march in formation, too. He reached for another and tossed it to Mr. Pettigrew. "C'mon, Peter," he said. "I can't have a war with just me, and Remus would just go and win. Get down here."
Dora bit her lip. "Mummy doesn't like me to play war. She says war isn't for playing."
"Hmmm." Sirius frowned, and the dolls paused.
"I think there's a real war," Dora confided. "Mummy won't tell me when I ask, though. She says I don't need to worry."
"But she got mad when I was playing war."
Sirius bit his lip, and pointed his wand at all the dolls. They lined up, marching in place. He found a bunch of boy dolls, most of which had clothes on (though one was wearing Barbie's long blue dress, which didn't fasten in the back because he was the wrong shape). He sent them in to march, looking a bit happier. "Then it won't be a war. We'll just have... a drill, right Peter? Just a drill. A practice, where everyone is one the same side and no one gets hurt. A drill would be all right, wouldn't it?"
"I guess..." Dora looked over her shoulder at the kitchen door. Mummy and Daddy were talking quietly at the table around the corner. Dora could see their shadows on the wall. Neither of them was looking. "I guess a drill is all right."
"Good, then. We'll drill. Get down here, Peter. You can't have a doll drill while you're sitting on the stairs. That's against the rules."
Mr. Pettigrew came down and settled on the floor with Sirius, and the two of them started the dolls marching at each other, and waving their arms like they had little wands. It looked a lot like a war, but if Sirius said it was a drill, then that's what it was. Dora was happy just to watch. She'd never played dolls like this, with magic to make them move by themselves. Mummy said it was good to use her imagination instead, but she liked it a lot more like this. She thought the dolls looked happier, too. She backed up a little to give them room, and ended up bumping into Mr. Lupin, who was sitting on the bottom stair now. He smiled at her. He seemed very tired. "Is this really all right with you, Nymphadora?"
She nodded. Usually she hated her full name, but Mr. Lupin said it so it sounded sort of pretty, so she didn't make a face. "I don't know how to play drill," she said. "But Sirius is very funny."
"Sometimes he is." Mr. Lupin watched the doll drill for a minute. "I don't know many little girls," he said. "Is this the sort of thing that little girls like? These dolls, I mean, not the drill."
"They're all right. They don't do much, though. I just change their clothes. They can't even change their faces."
"How very dull."
"Can I sit with you?"
Mr. Lupin looked surprised, but he said, "Of course you can."
"Thanks." Dora climbed up onto his lap. He smelled like wool and fur in the rain.
When she looked at him again, he looked even more surprised. "Er," he said, "I thought you meant on the stairs."
"Oh. Is this all right?"
"Er... well, all right."
That settled, Dora got herself comfortable to watch the game. Mr. Lupin didn't hold onto her like Mummy or Sirius would, but he did put his chin on top of her head after awhile, so when he talked, it felt like it was coming through her skull.
"Would you like a doll that changes its face like you do?" he asked.
Dora shrugged. "I think I would. But Mummy said they don't make such things. Not enough medda... er... metha..." She stomped her feet. She knew the word for what she was a big word. That was why Sirius always just called her a morph. "Morph" was in there someplace.
"'Metamorphmagus'," Mr. Lupin said kindly. "For what you're saying, you'd be talking about a lot, so it would be 'metamorphmagi.' Do you want to try it?"
Dora did want to try it, but she didn't want to get it wrong, so she shook her head. "Anyway, there aren't enough of us, so no one makes morph dolls."
"Hmmm," Mr. Lupin said. He pointed at the dolls, who were now shooting bits of light at each other. "Which one is your favorite?" he asked.
"I like Steffi Sunshine," Dora said. "Her knees bend better than the others. All the Barbies have stiff knees and they don't bend all the way. Steffi can kick Jenny and Steve in the shins." She demonstrated this with her own leg, kicking out from her knee like it was on a hinge.
Mr. Lupin looked up, lifting his chin from the top of Dora's head. "Hey, Sirius! Toss me the one with the bendy legs. Steffi."
"She's occupying a key position," Sirius said, but just then one of Mr. Pettigrew's dolls shot light at her and she flew back.
Dora gasped, then remembered that it was just a drill, so Steffi wasn't hurt.
"You cheater," Sirius said. "I was distracted!"
Mr. Pettigrew waggled his eyebrows.
"Oh, all right, then," Sirius said. He said something and flicked his wand, and Steffi flew over to Mr. Lupin, her legs still marching in thin air.
Mr. Lupin caught her and touched her with his wand to make her stop marching, then looked away from her quickly. "Which are her clothes?" he asked. Dora pointed to the black dress with flowers--she hated it, but it was the only one that fit Steffi--and Mr. Lupin summoned it over and put it carefully on the doll. "That's better," he said. "Why don't you go play drill with Mr. Pettigrew and Sirius for awhile, Nymphadora?"
Dora turned to look at him, frowning. "What did you want with Steffi?"
"Oh, I've never really looked at a Muggle doll," he said, not looking at her. "Thought I'd have a look at the one you thought was best, if it's all right with you."
He looked over Dora's head and winked for some reason... like she couldn't see him do it, too. Then Sirius got up and came over. He plucked Dora up off Mr. Lupin's lap and swung her through the air. "I'm jealous," he said. "Remus can't have my Dora." He held her up over his head and blew a raspberry against her stomach, which tickled so much that Dora had to laugh, then he'd swung her down on the other side of the drill and was making all her dolls wave to her, and Dora forgot all about Mr. Lupin and Steffi, sitting quietly on the stairs together.
Sirius made all dolls get up again and march in place together. He looked at Mr. Pettigrew. "I say we start over. Dora's on my team now! I bet we can win together. Cousins united!"
"Which are our dolls?" Dora asked.
Six dolls broke off from the formation and marched over to Sirius, among them the boy doll in the long dress.
"These are ours," Sirius said. "The snappy dresser is the squad leader." He waved his wand and said, "Vestio," and little blue armbands appeared on all of them. "Pick your colors, Peter."
Mr. Pettigrew thought about it, then waved his wand and made red armbands for the other dolls. He held up a boy doll. "Does this one have a name?" he asked.
"He's from a Muggle film," Dora said. "I don't remember his name. Granny Tonks promised to take me to see a film just as soon as I can learn to keep my face the same for four hours at a time."
"Well, there's something to shoot for, then," Mr. Pettigrew said. "How exciting. Anyway, he'll be my squad leader. He's got a little sword and everything."
"Mr. Pettigrew's a bit insecure about his little sword," Sirius whispered loudly.
Dora didn't know what that meant, so she just squatted down on the floor and looked at the marching dolls. "Now what do we do?"
"Well, our team and Peter's team are part of the same army, and they're practicing for the war. For a war, I mean, not any particular war that your Mummy would get upset about. So we're going to pretend to be on different sides. Then we shoot spells at each other. It's more like a dueling club, actually."
"Mummy doesn't like dueling. She says we should all just love each other."
"Well, then it's not like dueling. It's like practicing for dueling. Which of course you're never going to do."
"Oh. That's all right, then."
"So, you tell me which one should fight with which one, and we'll send them in for bat... er, practice."
Dora examined her dolls. Without Steffi, she didn't really have a favorite. Finally, she picked the Mr. Steffi doll, Steve. He had the same knees, and he marched best. She pointed at him. "That one," she said.
Sirius pointed his wand at his squad leader, who moved his arms in Steve Sunshine's direction. Steve obediently marched forward, his head held high above his maroon turtleneck.
"Who's he taking on?" Sirius asked.
Mr. Pettigrew, who had been inspecting his troops, made all his dolls turn around and face Dora.
She scanned them. They were all boring. But there was one, an old one that had belonged to Daddy's sister, whose legs didn't bend at all. She was just walking on her scissor-legs instead of marching. She had kind of hooded eyes, and her hair was long and dark. She didn't have a name. Dora had never liked her enough to give her one.
"That one," she said. "She's the bad witch. We're the good one."
Mr. Pettigrew prodded her forward. "What bad witch is that, Dora?" he asked.
"A mean one from Diagon Alley," Dora said. "I was looking in the window of the potion shop and she came up behind me. She told me, 'Watch your back, you little half-blood freak.' She said she was going to come and get me, and my Daddy. Then Mummy found me and yelled something and took me home."
The dolls stopped marching, and Sirius pulled on Dora's shoulder to make her turn around. "Is that something that really happened, or are you pretending?"
"It happened. Mummy cried after. That's how come I can't play outside."
"This is important, Dora," Sirius said. "Can you show me the bad witch's face?"
Dora thought about it carefully, trying to remember everything. She concentrated really hard and finally she felt her face move. It moved around by itself when she was nervous or sad, but trying to make it do something was hard work. She didn't know if it was right or not, but she thought it was. She looked up at Sirius.
His mouth was tight again and his jaw was moving like he was trying not to let something out. Finally, he said, "Take off her face, Dora. Don't wear that one again."
Dora let go of the face and made her nose go back to the shape it went into when she was resting. Her eyes took a little longer, and they still ached a little, so she wasn't sure that she had her whole face back, but Sirius was looking at her again, so she guessed she did all right.
"We won't let anyone come for you," he said. "Right, Peter? Remus?"
Mr. Lupin looked up from Steffi (he was pulling her hair up at her neck for some reason). "We'll take care of you and your Mum and Dad," he said. "Don't you worry."
Mr. Pettigrew nodded solemnly. "No one comes for you, Dora," he said. His voice was stronger than it had been before. "You have my promise on that."
Everyone was so serious; Dora was starting to be frightened. She nodded.
Sirius seemed to catch on. "And of course, Peter here can make them go away all by himself," he said, his voice starting to sound like a joke again. "All the bad witches are scared of him."
Mr. Pettigrew laughed. "Right," he said. "That's just so. So if the bad witch comes back, you just wag your finger at her and say, 'Wormtail says no.'"
"Let's hear you say it."
Dora waggled her finger and said, "Wormtail says no."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Right, Peter. That'll scare Bella right off."
Mr. Pettigrew shrugged and grinned. "Well, maybe it will confuse her for a minute. Long enough for Dora to turn herself into a butterfly and fly away." He fluttered his hands, more like a bird than a butterfly, and anyway, Dora couldn't make herself look like a butterfly, let alone fly like one. She'd tried for almost a whole hour once--well, nearly half an hour anyway, and it had been a pretty green bird from the pet shop and not a butterfly--but couldn't make it work. And it took all day to make her hair change back from feathers. But it was nice of Mr. Pettigrew to give her a pretty idea. Maybe it would work in a dream, if the bad dream came back.
She fluttered her hands back at him, and jumped a little, like she could fly.
Mr. Pettigrew smiled like he never saw such a good trick, and for the first time since he came in, he didn't look nervous or anything. He just looked sort of happy. He smiled and waved.
Sirius looked down at the dolls. "So, Little Miss Tonks... what shall our boy do to the bad witch?"
Dora thought about it. "Make her not be able to talk!" she said.
Sirius whispered something at the Steve doll, and the Steve doll raised its invisible wand. A jet of light shot out, and the bad witch doll's painted mouth disappeared.
Dora clapped, delighted. How she wished Steve had been there in Diagon Alley! "Oo! Make her bald, Sirius!"
"Ugly, too," Sirius agreed. He raised his wand at the doll, not bothering with Steve or the squad-leader doll, then--
The dolls all fell over, even the mouthless bad witch.
Mummy was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, her hands in fists on her hips, her face all white except for two red spots on her cheeks. "Talk," she said, chopping off the word like she had a hatchet in her mouth. "Kitchen. Now."
"You know the rules of this house, Nymphadora."
"It's not her fault, Andromeda, it's mine."
"Trust me, Sirius, I'm quite aware of that. I should've known when you started her marching."
Daddy appeared from around the corner and looked at the wreckage. "What's happening?"
"War games," Mummy said.
"Oh." Daddy picked Dora up. "You know you're not supposed to play at that, Dora." He sighed. "Let's get your dolls cleaned up while Mummy talks to Sirius. Perhaps Mr. Pettigrew and Mr. Lupin would be kind enough to help?"
The four of them set to picking up Dora's front hall play room, the grownups using magic quietly to send dolls and toy brooms back to their nooks in the cupboard while Dora carefully folded all the doll cloths and put them in the little box that Mummy had made to look like a school trunk. Mummy always got them to fold just right, but Dora never could do it and they were already crooked and starting to unfold even before she finished the next bitty dress and--
"Shhh." Daddy picked her up. "Mummy's upset, but you're all right, Dora. Let your face back."
Dora reached up and touched her face. It had moved again while she was packing, and she hadn't noticed. The nose was longer and her eyebrows had arched up, and her lips were big and soft. She'd put on Mummy's face, and it was crying.
Daddy sat down in a chair beside the kitchen door and tucked Dora onto his lap. Mr. Lupin and Mr. Pettigrew kept picking up. Daddy didn't talk to make Dora feel better. He just let her sit there and smell his good smell and feel him being there. She relaxed, and felt her face move back where it belonged.
When she felt more herself, she noticed that she could hear Mummy's voice in the kitchen. She glanced up at Daddy--he hadn't noticed that she was all right again, so she sort of cuddled in closer so that he wouldn't move.
"...Sirius, I know you don't mean any harm, but I don't want Nymphadora to grow up seeing violence everywhere. I watched both my sisters play those horrid games--"
"You watched me play them, too, Andromeda."
"--and clap when they hurt one another's dolls. Make her bald, indeed. And ugly. Make her scream next. Then make her die. I watched that game a lot. When I was eight and Narcissa was five, she took all my dolls and wished them dead. They turned... it was awful. They were rotting. She laid them out in my room. Bella cheered and took her out for ice cream the next day. You don't understand about girls and dolls."
Sirius didn't say anything right away, and when he did, he sounded very grown up, not like Sirius at all. "You didn't tell me that you'd seen Bella. That Dora had seen Bella."
"I'm hardly the only person in the world to see Bellatrix lately. She's not exactly hiding, Sirius."
"Dora said she made a threat against her, and against Ted."
"Bella makes threats the way normal people make conversation," Mummy said shortly. "It's all just another wretched game."
"But you're still not letting Dora play outside."
"I doubt Bella really meant anything by it," Mummy said. "Except to cause trouble and scare us. I know my sister." (In the hallway, Dora bit her lip to keep from making a noise. Mummy's sister?) "But I'm not taking chances with my daughter's life. My job as a mother is to not take chances with that."
"If you want a shock, I think you're right. I think Dumbledore would say the same. Perhaps her own back yard, but..." Sirius paused. "But Andromeda, she's scared. She needs a game that will make her feel strong. She has nightmares. She needs to feel like she can fight."
"I don't want her growing up thinking that throwing curses around is all a lark, just something to do to 'feel strong.' I don't want her fighting. And I don't want her thinking about... about Bella. About what Bella said. I want her to put it out of her mind."
"That's not going to happen."
"Hear me out. I understand what you mean. But there's a war on, Andromeda. It's not fair, and if I could make it go away, I would. I know you would, too. But it's not going away, and it's not going to matter whether or not you ever let Dora play war with her dolls. Voldemort isn't going to stop because Andromeda Tonks wants everyone to love everyone, even if you ask him very nicely. And Bella certainly isn't, either."
"Dora knows that something is going on. Let her feel strong. Let her--"
Dora noticed that she had started to kind of lean around the kitchen door. Daddy was frowning down at her. "Are you listening in on your Mummy?" he asked. "That's not quite nice."
She looked around. Mr. Pettigrew and Mr. Lupin were done picking up. Mr. Pettigrew was standing nervously in the middle of the hall, fidgeting with the sleeves of his robe. He kept looking over at the kitchen door like a monster was going to jump out of it. Mr. Lupin had sat back down on the stairs, and was playing with Steffi Sunshine again. He wasn't listening in.
After awhile, Mummy came out and got the sacks of food Sirius and his friends had brought for supper, and they all went into the kitchen to eat. No one talked about the fight. Mummy talked about her job at St. Mungo's--she talked to people who had scars and such and tried to make them feel better--and Daddy asked Sirius about a lot of people whose names Dora didn't know. Mr. Lupin and Mr. Pettigrew knew lot of them, too, and Dora was happy to just let the grown-ups talk. She didn't really know anyone to tell them about. And all of Sirius's friends sounded very funny. He told about someone named Alice who loved to dance and sing, and someone named James who played funny tricks on people.
Mummy served a pudding of whipped cream and strawberries when they'd finished. She usually liked strawberries best--she grew them all year in the basement, with magic--but she didn't eat any of hers. She just tapped at her bowl with the side of her spoon. "Nymphadora," she said, "you know why I don't like the game you were playing with Sirius, don't you?"
"War isn't for fun," Dora said. It was what Mummy had told her last time she'd gotten in trouble.
"Right." Mummy rubbed a spot on her forehead, then looked at Sirius for a long time. "Did you think it was fun, hurting your dolly like that?" Sirius started to say something, but Mummy held up her hand and said, "Let Nymphadora tell me, Sirius. What did it feel like?"
Dora didn't know what Mummy wanted, exactly. She just said, "She was the bad witch. I was making it so she couldn't come and take Daddy and me."
"Well, I feel safer," Daddy said. "We've our own little defender right in the house, Andromeda."
Mummy nodded, but didn't quite smile. "You know that it's never good for grown-ups to point wands at each other, right? That you only do that when you have to?"
Dora was a little lost. She nodded.
"And you know that hurting people isn't something to laugh about? Even bad people."
Mummy bit her lip and looked down at her strawberries. "All right, Nymphadora. You can have your doll army."
Dora felt like the sun came out, even though the ran was still coming down against the windows and it was after sunset anyway. "Really?"
"I'm going to regret this, but yes." She pointed at Sirius. "Sirius said he'll leave them charmed for you. Though I'm not sure exactly how you'll make them stop."
"I think we can work something out," Mr. Lupin said suddenly. He pulled Steffi out of a pocket in his robes, and handed her to Dora. "I want you to say something, Nymphadora."
"Say what?" she asked.
"Say, 'I'm Nymphadora, and I'm in charge.'" She started to say it, but he held up his hand. "Not to me. To Steffi."
Dora frowned, but picked up Steffi, whose round, clean face looked up at her with its permanent friendly smile. "I'm Nymphadora," she said, "and I'm in charge."
Dora gasped. "You charmed her, Mr. Lupin! She heard me."
"She did. You can tell her what to do, and she'll be able to tell the other dolls. You can get them to stop marching for the night, or if you want to pack them somewhere. Or you can have your army. Just tell Steffi what you need, and she'll get them going."
Dora clapped, being careful not to hit Steffi too hard, for fear of hurting her.
"Nice charm, Remus!" Sirius said. "You could sell that to Zonko's."
"Oh, no, this is purely a Nymphadora doll. And there's one more thing."
"Mm-hmm. Pinch her head."
"That will hurt!"
"Oh, Steffi assured me that it won't hurt at all. Just do it."
Dora wasn't sure about it, but Steffi was nodding again, so she gave it a try. She pinched her head so that it squeezed out of shape, and then she let out a squeal as it bounced back. Steffi's face had changed into Mummy's!
"Try it again."
She did. It became Daddy next, then Sirius, then Mr. Pettigrew, then it became Dora's own self, with pigtails and a funny nose. The next squeeze made it Steffi again.
"You need to say thank you to Mr. Lupin," Mummy said. "That's a very special present."
Mr. Lupin blushed. "It's really not that difficult a Charm," he said quickly, waving his hand a little. "Really, I--"
Dora stood up on her chair and kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Mr. Lupin!"
He looked surprised again, but he smiled. "You're very welcome, Nymphadora. It was fun."
"How come she doesn't have a Mr. Lupin face, though?"
Mr. Pettigrew, who was beside Dora, grinned a little bit. Sirius laughed out loud, though Dora didn't really know what was funny about asking why there wasn't a face for Mr. Lupin. He had a very nice face. "Really, Remus," Sirius said, "what's a shape-shifting doll without a Mr. Lupin face? What were you thinking?"
Mr. Lupin was all red, but he held out his hand, and Dora gave Steffi back to him to charm his own face into.
Sirius picked Dora up and swung her into a hug. "We're going to have to go soon, and it's almost your bedtime, so why don't we get your army set up in your bedroom, so they can look out for you while you sleep?"
"Oh, Mummy," Dora said, "can I please have them in my room instead of just my play spot?"
Mummy sighed and nodded.
Sirius carried Dora out into the hall, swinging her back and forth like a sack. She laughed. She wished Sirius and his friends lived here always.
"Hop to it, Peter," Sirius said to Mr. Pettigrew, who was behind them. "Bring along the troops!"
The cupboard popped open and Mr. Pettigrew floated all the dolls upstairs after Sirius and Dora. He didn't talk to them, but he did make them do cartwheels in the air whenever he caught Dora looking over Sirius's shoulder.
Sirius cleared off the play table in front of Dora's window, dumping all her crayons and watercolors onto the floor. "Deploy," he said to Mr. Pettigrew.
Mr. Pettigrew lined up the dolls and they flew over to the table, going down to it from their height like they were coming down invisible stairs. They marched in place as soon as they touched down.
Sirius put Dora down just as Mr. Lupin came in with Steffi. "It's added," he said. "Now, all you have to do is say, 'Steffi, tell them...' and she'll get the other dolls to do what you say, as long it doesn't hurt anyone. I promised your mum about that."
Dora took Steffi and squeezed her head until the new Mr. Lupin face came up. She kissed it for thank you, then made the doll switch to her own face. "Steffi, tell them to watch the window."
Steffi waved her little arms and the dolls on the table started marching back and forth in front of Dora's windowsill. Sirius's squad leader climbed up onto the sill itself and stood in the middle of the frame, his eyes right against the glass to watch the street.
Dora clapped. "Steffi, tell them to wake me up if the bad witch comes. I can get Mummy and Daddy and we can all fly away, just like Mr. Pettigrew said."
Steffi waved her arms again, but since the bad witch wasn't there, nothing happened. Dora put Steffi down on the nightstand, sitting her on top of a box of hair ties. She swung her feet happily and watched the room with her big blue eyes that never blinked.
Sirius set about moving the doll army around a little, to guard the closet and the space under the bed (Dora had Steffi give those orders, too), and Mr. Lupin picked up the spilled crayons and watercolors, stopping to look at Dora's drawing of Granny Tonks on a boat with Merlin. Mr. Pettigrew was watching them both. He pulled his wand out of his robes and backed up to the window. There was a little flash of red and green light.
Dora went over to him. "What was that spell?" she asked.
"Oh, I... " He looked around nervously. Mr. Lupin was looking up now. Mr. Pettigrew shrugged and shook his head. "I thought I'd see if I could make your dollies fly, but I'm not as good at this as Sirius and Mr. Lupin. It didn't work."
"Oh. That's all right, Mr. Pettigrew. I like them marching. I can pretend they fly."
The three of them left a few minutes later, and Mummy got Dora ready for bed. She didn't like the marching dolls (and liked them even less when Dora had Steffi tell them to follow her around and guard her), but she talked to them nicely and let them set their watches at the window. She drew a magic shade, so that Dora could see out but no passing Muggles could see in. Dora told Steffi to leave the boy doll on watch with some others on the table, while the rest could march around the bed to watch for anything that was underneath it.
Dora went to bed that night with Steffi in her hand. She squeezed Steffi's face so it would keep changing, and made her own change to go along with it. It was fun. After a long time of this, they both got tired, and decided to go to sleep. The little clicking sounds from where the others were marching on the play table were drowned out by the pounding rain.
Just past midnight.
The doll standing watch on Dora's windowsill couldn't really see through his painted eyes, but Sirius had charmed him to pick up on any unwanted magical visitors so a message would flash across a certain mirror he carried, and as the rain finally wound down, his plastic head cocked in the starlight. Dora was snoring behind him, feeling safe and protected by the army that marched on her play table and around her bed.
The magical visitor was too far away for the charm to pick up all the way, and after awhile, he stood down his alert. No message was sent.
From an alleyway across the street, a pair of dark, hooded eyes peered toward the house. She could see the charms around the second floor bedroom window, and she could see through them to the unprotected people inside. It should have been tonight. Andromeda would watch as her unworthy mate and monstrous child were burned away from the world just as Andromeda herself had been burned from the family records.
But instead, Bellatrix was stopped cold.
There was a certain sign, a shimmering of greenish red darting across the same window in a zigzagging pattern that could be seen only by those who bore the Dark Lord's mark. The sign was a solemn thing, a sacred thing--it marked the house as forbidden, under protection from another Death Eater. It was a privilege they extended to one another, at least within reason.
These, who belonged to Bellatrix by all right of blood, had been claimed by another, put under shelter.
Was there a doubt? Who else would make it so clumsily, so shoddily? It flickered, and its lines were a childish scrawl of light.
The nervous little sycophant who had come only recently... he was among the Dark Lord's favored ones, though no one knew precisely why.
Bellatrix would respect his sign. She had vowed to live by the Dark Lord's codes.
But Wormtail would pay for his cheek tonight. He would pay dearly for it.
She slipped away into the night, consoling herself with creative ideas of how to extract that payment, and the street was empty again.
Inside, Dora slept soundly, dreaming of flying and of standing straight and tall to fight, as her doll army marched around her in quiet circles.