Act III: Inhale
Knitting is for old people. You thought that when you were a child and you think it now, as your fingers move the needles in a steady rhythm. Knitting is for people who have finished with their lives, you amend. Or creative people, people who enjoy scratchy clothing in funny colours. You are not the second type of person, however much you would prefer it. No, you are knitting because there really is nothing else left for you to do.
The house is empty. Harry Potter came over earlier and asked if he could bring Teddy over to the Weasley's for someone's birthday. If anyone would know how to take care of a child, it is Molly Weasley, with her brood of hundreds. You didn't hesitate, even as your insides twisted and you tasted ashes. You let Harry Potter take your grandson.
The Malfoys have been gone a long time now. It takes you a moment, but you eventually conclude it has been six months. The trial ended a few weeks back—the punishment was harsh but not impossible and nowhere near what they deserved, nearly everyone agrees. You suspect that even the Ministry realized that the shame would do the Malfoys in, no matter what other punishment was handed out.
You have received no thank you card. You didn't expect one, not really, but it gives you a tiny bit of satisfaction to have this one last thing to lord over Narcissa's pretty, empty head.
In silence and loneliness you pick up the knitting needles. They were a gift, given so long ago you cannot remember whom exactly they are from, though you suspect Ted's mother. They are long, cool and a gleaming white, but their edges are dulled. Up and around they go, never stopping, never slowing, but not doing much else either. There is no joy in knitting.
Even the red woollen scarf that you are making gives you no pleasure. Teddy must be warm this winter you think practically, because that is the only way you can, so you make him a scarf. What joy could there be in something so plain, so ordinary and so simple?
The sun beats down as the needles move back and forth. You are protected by the shade, where you sit on a chair Ted built. The pain that accompanies this thought is sharp, but endurable. You are getting better at handling it. A deep breath helps you calm down and then the needles resume their clacking.
Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can remember the love as well as the pain. They are growing more frequent, those moments, but you are too scared to hope that one day you might forget the pain entirely. The nights are still bad. In the dark it is impossible to hide how lost, how in over your head, how hopeless you are as you reach for a man who is no longer there. At night, you have to forget you loved Ted or you would not survive. But here in the sunlight, you let the piercing pain come, glad to remember him once again. He deserves that much, at least.
The scarf grows long in your lap, but you do not watch it. You stare at nothing and everything but you think of neither. The only sound is the click-clack of the needles and it becomes your only thought as you breathe in and out on the sunny day that mocks your unhappiness.
The cracking of the air breaks the frozen moment and you focus your attention on the newly Apparated intruder. With a start, your back straightens as you greet your guest.
"Good afternoon, Draco. Is there something I can help you with?"
The boy blushes, a hand behind his back. There is a second, of course, where you hope he has come here to kill you, but you force the thought away. Ted wouldn't approve and you are trying so desperately to do right by him, even when you are not quite sure of anything anymore.
You never thought you would see Draco Malfoy again, except sometimes in Diagon Alley, in passing, where the two of you would carefully pretend not to know one another. To see him again on your property, and so soon too, throws your carefully rebuilt world off balance once more.
He fidgets as you regain control over yourself and sit back down on your chair. He looks better than the last time you saw him, well fed and well rested. Home has been good to Draco. You wonder, idly, if the same can be said about his parents. You hope not.
"They lifted house arrest yesterday," he begins. You are surprised, you thought the Ministry would hold out just a little longer. They must be shorter staffed than you thought. "Um...that's when I visited some of my friends. They seemed well."
"I'm glad to hear it," you say. Is it a lie? You don't have time to wonder or not. The social niceties will be preserved and you can focus more fully on the strange puzzle that Draco presents to you, stammering and blushing in your yard as he is.
"Mum and Dad don't know I'm here. I thought it best not to tell them—Dad's still under a lot of stress and Mum was rather nervous after we left here and I didn't want to remind her of anything..." he trails off, uncertain of what he means.
Luckily, you understand. This, at the very least, you understand. "You wanted to protect her."
"Yes," he nods. His eyes light up. "Yes, that's it. You upset her, but she was glad they didn't throw us in Azkaban for those two months and I thought, that is, they've always taught me to behave. Properly, I mean. And I just thought, er, they think it too, they just can't say it because of—I don't know why, not really, but I think you do and—"
He looks so confused that you find yourself attempting to reassure him. "Would you like something to drink first, Draco? It's rather hot, today."
"I'm fine. I can't stay long, anyway. Dad thinks someone might try something and they both worry when I'm not where I say I'll be. So I have to hurry back."
He seems tired of his own fumbling, for he finally just thrusts his arms out, something clutched tightly in his left hand.
"Here," he says. "When they sacked the Manor, they left all my old toys about. I found this, but I thought you might want it. Everyone needs one, but I didn't see one at your house."
You stare at the miniature broomstick in his hand, unsure at first. Unsure it really is what you see? It is clearly a broomstick, rather like the one you trained on when you were a child, before you went off to Hogwarts and played on much bigger and nicer brooms. Unsure what it means? Draco probably doesn't know himself and you cannot divine the truth from a muddled mind. Unsure that you should accept? But why shouldn't you? Your hospitality has earned you this, at the very least.
It comes to you, as you reach out and gently pull the broom into your own arms. As you caress the knotted wood you realize you knew the second you saw the tiny broom that you had lost your war. Taking it has merely sealed your fate.
You start to cry.
After all this time, there is no silent droplets of water, that leak out of the corners and drip quietly down your chin. The floodgates have opened and there is no more being decent and composed. When the tears come, they come like a hurricane, and you are helpless in their path.
Your eyes burn. Your throat stings. There is a heat in your ears and eyes and nose. Your face is wet, from water and mucus and you try and wipe it off, you try and stay composed, but there is no use. Your breath is ragged and then it is broken and all you can do is gasp for air.
The sounds coming from your throat cannot be from you, not Andromeda Tonks or Black or anything resembling a witch. They are from a wounded animal. It is humiliating and painful—it feels so bloody good.
The knitting falls away. Your hands are too busy shaking to hold it properly. Instead, you cling to the wooden toy and rock yourself back and forth, finally letting yourself acknowledge your pain. Losing Ted and Nymphadora, losing the life you had careful along with yourself—you can suddenly grieve for all that and more. So you let yourself, because you might not have this opportunity again. There is no hate or pride or any stubbornness left. There is only love.
You taught Nymphadora how to ride on a broom similar to the one in your hand as Ted watched from the porch, laughing. She was a natural, your girl, and you had smiled in pride, pride born of love and light and not the anchor that your family had placed around your neck. Your lips twist up, in a similar way now and you cry and smile because you had been so happy once upon a time and even if it hurts to remember, there are good things about remembering too.
Too caught up in your terrifying release, you don't hear Draco approach. Only the feel off the stiff hand on your back catches your attention. Voice low and unsure, he mumbles above you, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry too," you say. "I'm always so sorry."
The breath you take flutters, but you manage to inhale all the way. It helps calm you, just enough so you can glance up at the child through your tears. He is frightened but still patting you awkwardly on the back. He is used to being coddled but not comforting and you are glad to help with this small task.
"Thank you," you say, clutching tighter at the wood. "Thank you, Draco. Teddy doesn't have one—I didn't even think of it. Thank you."
You rise and he backs away, slightly, but not too much. He is learning to give in and yet hold his ground. Maybe one day there will be hope for Draco Malfoy. Leaving the broom in your chair, you take his delicate white hand in your own worn ones. Your hands are wet from tears but you hope he realizes it is not impoliteness, merely the only way you have to express your gratitude for what he has just so innocently done.
"Thank you," you whisper and he bows his head slightly.
When he looks up, you let go and nod—he should not linger here. He gives a cautious smile and you return it. You smile back. When he turns, you doubt you'll ever see him again, but when he reaches the bottom step he turns around one more time.
"Goodbye Mrs Tonks. Good luck."
"Draco—" He watches as you try and choose your words carefully. You don't want to promise him anything, because the only promises he needs are the ones he has to make to himself. But you want to give him hope, the way he gave it to you. With a true, full smile you say, "If you keep this up, maybe one day you'll be able to look in the mirror again."
"Maybe," he says as his face crumples into itself. He takes out his wand and Apparates away.
You sit down on the porch step. Your body lacks grace now that your heart is full with it. You can already picture Teddy on the broom, zooming across the fields as you run after him, laughing and begging him to stop, just so his little face will set itself and he will go just a little bit faster.
Nymphadora loved you. Before and after Remus, your daughter loved you. Ted loved you. There was something inside of you worth loving and you can find it and when you do you will give it to Teddy. You've done it before. You can do it again.
Maybe you could invite Harry Potter over for dinner on Friday. You should get to know the boy better, since it seems like he is as eager to raise your grandson as you are. Inviting the Weasley girl might be another good idea—you remember hearing that they are together. It might be more enjoyable for him that way. It wouldn't do to be rude.
The sun has dried your tears as you pick yourself up off the steps. You have lived and loved and lost, lost so much you didn't think it was possible to be whole once again. You do now. It won't be soon, the ache in your heart reassures you of that. But there is Teddy to love and you are sure you can love him now. You just needed a little reminder, that's all.
Once upon a time a girl with brown hair and dark eyes lost everything. And once upon a time the woman who emerged from her ashes lost everything again. The trials you have endured are numerous but as you stand in the sun and wait for your grandson to come home so you can kiss him and sing to him and tickle his chubby little belly, you know that it is not about enduring. It is not about winning or losing or triumphing at the end. It is something more.
You have survived, but more than that, you have lived. And one day, you promise yourself, one day soon, you will remember how to laugh again.