Tonks struggled feverishly against the ties that held her. The conjured bonds were too strong to be broken by sheer strength alone but she refused to give up her fight even if it meant rubbing her skin raw and bloody.

Death Eaters were near, she did not know how many had gathered together because an odd buzzing had filled her head and deafened her to their voices, but she knew they had not abandoned her to solitude. They would show themselves soon enough. A cold chill spread up her spine and froze the blood in her veins. It would only take one to perform an Unforgivable Curse and kill her, she wanted desperately to know how many would be required to torture her into giving up the Order's membership – surely, considering their ways, no more than a single Death Eater would be needed. She did not think she could handle a room full of mortal enemies with quite the aplomb she would like.

She had been captured by her own aunt. How many family members, Tonks wondered, did Bellatrix intend to personally murder? One, two, a dozen? Was Sirius' death not fulfilling enough for her appetite that she felt compelled to destroy her niece as well? Would her sister Andromeda, Tonks' own mother, be next to find herself on the wrong end of Bellatrix' wand?

As if she could read her thoughts, the door on the far wall of the dungeon opened and Bellatrix entered the chamber – her eyes sparkling with anticipation and an evil smile twitching on her lips.

"Nymphadora, my dear niece," she crooned in mock sweetness. "How do you fare?"

Tonks clamped her jaw tightly shut lest her tongue betray her and she glared stonily at the vile woman. Images of Bellatrix' past victims tripped unbidden through her head – Sirius, the Longbottoms, the others who had been tortured and murdered. She squeezed her jaw tighter against the rising bile in the back of her throat.

Bellatrix' eyes nearly glowed in her eagerness. "So the clumsy little mouse has discovered she has a spine. This should prove to be a delightful challenge. Tell me, Nymphadora, just how low has the Ministry sunk that they have allowed someone such as yourself to be an auror?"

Tonks let the taunt slide and kept her eyes locked on her aunt. She had already tried a good dozen hexes and curses during the woman's greeting but Tonks doubted they would have had any effect even had she been able to utter them aloud. She had been unable to successfully perform an accio charm on a stick of straw, something she generally hardly had to concentrate to do, prior to Bellatrix' entrance.

"No answer, hmm… Perhaps we should have a go at loosening your uncommonly silent tongue." She smiled as she withdrew her wand from her robes.

Tonks closed her eyes and deafened her ears to Bellatrix' words. She had no desire to know which dark curse her aunt might choose. Instead, she forced her thoughts to pinpoint on Remus – the last time she saw him. Remus' gentle smile when she opened her eyes from dream-filled sleep, his fine slender fingers as they laced with her own, his soft voice against her hair as he held her close. She could almost feel his touch, his soft breath, when her nerves exploded into white-hot agony.

It might have lasted a millennium for all Tonks was able to comprehend – the excruciating pain that defined her existence. When it ended, just as suddenly as it had begun, she struggled to draw a haggard breath before the pain returned. And begin anew it did. Bellatrix allowed her no mercies, tormenting her endlessly and without any sense of rhythm. The pauses between pain were sometimes mere seconds, sometimes long stretches that allowed Tonks' breathing to slow and her tears to begin to dry. The pacing was based on Bellatrix' own wavering humor.

"You'll kill her before she can be of any use to you."

Tonks recognized the voice, the icy tone, but she could not lift her head or even pry open an eye to see who else had entered the dungeon. She only hoped whoever it was would complete the task Bellatrix was dragging out interminably.

"Not kill," Bellatrix hummed lazily.

"Torment to insanity, then. It will be just as useless."

Tonks let the words sift through her head. She was certain they had meanings, meanings she once understood. But now, just sounds. Familiar sounds. Cold sounds. It hurt her head to try to understand and so she allowed the sounds to slide away.

"Now, now, dearie," Bellatrix crooned. "None of that. Mustn't leave the party before the cake's served."

Tonks felt a tingling sensation dancing along her skin and braced for a new method of torment. Rather than the lancing pain she was almost becoming accustomed to, the tingle seemed to ease her pains. She panicked. This was impossible – nothing in her aurors' training had prepared her for a tormentor who tortured her only to heal her so that, presumably, they could begin the tortures anew.

"Nymphadora, open your eyes and see who else has come to play."

Tonks squeezed her eyes shut even more tightly. She did not want to know who had raised her aunt's spirits even higher than they had already been.

"Do you really want me to make you open those eyes, Nymphadora?"

Cold fingers gripped her hand and slowly extended her index finger, pulling it back further and further until Tonks willed her eyes to open lest the digit snap. Her acquiescence seemed to pass Bellatrix' notice however and she heard the pop of tendons and bone echo in the room. She struggled to contain the gasp of shock as pain radiated up the length of her arm.

Just beyond Bellatrix in the dim room stood another, a man. His robes were black and made him seem huge to Tonks from her crouched position on the floor. He was silent but there was something familiar about him. His stance niggled at the edges of her mind that were not rebelling against the pain in her hand.

"Enough, Bellatrix," he commanded coldly.

Her hand fell lifelessly to the floor with a dull thud and Tonks' eyes widened in recognition. Severus Snape sneered down at her along the expanse of his nose, a scornful twist to his thin lips. She wondered fleetingly if she had changed so much through her aunt's ministrations that he did not recognize her. She knew her previously short pink hair was long and lank, most likely the mousy brown that she so despised. It hung over her face in damp locks and stuck uncomfortably to her cheeks.

Perhaps he had not caught Bellatrix' use of her given name. Surely he would find some method of rescue for her, a fellow member of the Order. Hope faded with the further understanding that Snape was a spy, he could not threaten his position just to save her. He was far too important an asset.

"Go ahead then, worm your way into her brain, Severus. You always were quite good with leglimens. But leave her body for me," Bellatrix cooed. "I've a great deal of interest in testing the endurance of a metamorphmagus." She glided past him to the door before calling sweetly over her shoulder, "I'll return for you soon, my dear niece."

"Your appetite will wait until the Dark Lord has his answers, Bellatrix. No matter how long that might take."

Tonks shrank back from Snape's icy promise although she valiantly tried to keep her fear quelled. She shivered involuntarily at the sound of the slamming door as Bellatrix departed angrily. The trembling would not stop as Snape stalked toward her with a chill glint in his eyes.

/to be continued…/