"Good-night, Annona," Andromeda said quietly, as she brushed the girl's blonde hair out of her eyes.
Annona looked up at her mother hopefully, piercing her with those gray eyes just as her father always did. "Aren't you going to read me a story?"
"It's late, Ann, and – "
"You read a story to Dante," Annona pointed out, rather slyly for a six-year-old girl.
"Dante is only four, Annona, and he also goes to bed when is asked, therefore I am more willing to do as he requests," Andromeda replied evenly. Her daughter had certainly inherited her father's Slytherin tendencies. Not that Andromeda minded, of course, she did happen to love Slytherin tendencies. She just hoped that the girl hadn't inherited some of her father's – other qualities.
"Oh, just a short one, Mum," Annona pleaded, her eyes going wide, for she knew her eyes provided one of the weaknesses in her dear mother. And after some more begging, this had the desired affect: Andromeda relented and read her daughter a short story, tucked her in, and left the room to her own spacious quarters.
Andromeda changed into her nightgown, cleaned up a bit, and then crawled into her bed, trying to fall asleep. But the cold, empty space beside her prevented sleep from coming to her. This vacant spot beside her was not unusual in the slightest – but a small part of her, even now, still could not become used to it completely. For once again, her husband was gone. At 'work', she knew, but that did not ease her at all. For it was work that she did not understand, that she loathed – but it was what he thrived on.
She didn't know how it was possible for her to love who he was so thoroughly, yet detest what he'd made himself so completely. She didn't know who she hated more sometimes: him, for serving Lord Voldemort, or herself, for not having the strength to make her husband turn away from the twisted man. But every time she had ever broached the subject, it only led to clashes and quarrels. So she had stopped discussing it, and merely tried to accept it.
Yet as the years had gone by, this indifference had somehow become harder and harder to maintain; for as the years went by, he had only become more distant from her, had only become closer to the man he called master. She did wonder occasionally who he loved more: his wife, or his lord? Many days she began to believe it was the latter, for if he cared for her more, wouldn't he have listened to her all those years ago and not joined Voldemort in the first place?
Though, perhaps it was her fault. Her fault, for not making more of an effort to stop him, prevent him. But she had not: her love for him was too strong, and she had not wanted to sacrifice it.
Love. Her parents had never believed in the concept. Her older sister had scoffed at her for thinking such a thing existed. She did not marry for love, she had been told time and time again, she married for blood, for purity. Yet in the end she had married for love, because it so happened she had fallen head over heals for the suitor her parents had chosen. The sensation had overjoyed her, yet in the same breath it had terrified her; for it, ultimately, had been the start of her destruction, their destruction: because it had prevented her from trying harder to change his mind about Voldemort.
There were days when she loathed herself for still being with Lucius: for being able to stare into his eyes and have that weightless sensation of falling in love again, yet at the same time knowing that these were the eyes of a murderer; for being able to let his hands roam across her body, when she knew they were the same hands that committed countless acts of murder and torture. So in the same instant, how could she still love the sensation of his fingers journeying the familiar paths along her skin? She disgusted herself.
She had become even more chilled with her cold thoughts, and now wrapped herself in a hug to keep out the frigid air, squeezing her eyes shut and willing sleep, the dratted thing, to present itself to her. She tucked into herself, wondering vaguely why she was not tucked into him, why he was not there to comfort her. But he never was these days, even when physically present, so why should she start such wishful thinking again now?
Soft padding footsteps and a gentle creak of the door told her someone had entered the room. She lifted her eyelids only a fraction to watch as her husband, clad in robes of the darkest black, his mask still in his hand, walked nimbly and swiftly across the floor. He disappeared into the bathroom for a few minutes, then reemerged in pajama pants and climbed into bed beside her, his eyes watching her. Slowly she opened her eyes to meet his unexpressive gaze.
"Not sleeping?" he asked in a murmur.
She shook her head in the affirmative, but didn't speak.
He nodded slightly against the pillow, then sighed leadenly and pressed his head deeper into the stuffed material.
"Are you all right?" she inquired. It was a brainless question on her part, she knew, but she was obligated to do brainless things on occasion to fulfill her duty as wife.
"Yes," he replied quietly. "Just . . . weary."
"Close your eyes and sleep, then." Perhaps her words sounded harsh, but they were not meant to be, they were merely truth. This was what their relationship had dwindled to, this dead and passionless thing, this was nothing new between them. "I will leave you be," she added, and turned over to her other side so she would not face him.
She felt cool fingers glaze her waist, and a shiver ran through her at his touch even through the material of her nightgown. They drifted downward, past her hips and upper thighs, and when they neared her knees they slipped under the fabric and met her bare skin, sending a wintry thrill across her body. She closed her eyes, showing no signs of this sudden desire to her companion. But his other hand gently took her shoulder and rolled her back over to face him, guiding her closer; and, relenting, she curled up against him, kissing the exposed skin of his chest lightly before resting her head there.
He pulled the hand he had lingering below the bedcovers upward, placing the arm across her waist as his other secured her shoulders. She closed her eyes as a quiet moan of both affection and contentment escaped her lips, and she snuggled closer, savoring him. This sort of intimacy was just as routine to them as their conversation earlier. He seemed to need her in these ways after coming home from his master, and she would always comply willingly; for it was one way for her to pretend that there was still something to their relationship, that he would not have just settled to embrace any warm body. That he did still love her.
"You will 'leave me be'?" he mumbled seductively. "Why on earth would you do an idiotic thing such as that?"
"I don't know," she whispered back, and the arm she had draped loosely over his waist tightened with emotion.
He fell silent, drawing light circles on her uncovered shoulder for a few moments, before his hand stilled and his breathing became slow and even; he was asleep. She peered at him through drowsy yet alert lids, taking in his shadowed form. Her eyes wandered to the arm he had lying on her waist, naked, bare, revealing for all to see a tattoo of a snake and skull entwined. A chill pierced through her heart. He was so cavalier about it during his hours of sleep, during his few precious hours when vigilance was not required, yet at the same time he was still so guarded, always.
She closed her eyes so she would not have to stare into the bottomless eyes of the skull. She hated it, hated all it represented, but yet she knew that she could never leave him. The body entwined with hers may have been that of a murderer, but she knew there was at least one thing he had not yet killed: her heart. For she had given it to him truly and completely years ago, and though he had trampled on it many times, he had never destroyed it. Thus, she would always be his.