Hermione stopped on the stairs of No. 12, Grimmauld Place, and stared down at Tonks, who stood in the hallway pulling off her cloak. There was something too precise about her movements. Hermione frowned.
Ron bumped into her. "Hey, you, your foot goes on the next one down. Try it a couple of times, you’ll figure it out."
She threw him a dirty look. "Something’s wrong," she said, and leaned over the railing. "Tonks?" she called out. "What’s wrong?"
Tonks looked up, with an effort, it seemed. "Morning," she said. Her hair was black today--not glossy, but a dull, light-sucking black, good for night work. Her skin was as dark as Kingsley’s, and once again so dull it didn’t reflect light. She’d been out the night before.
"Morning," Hermione said back, noting that Tonks hadn’t said good. Hmmm. "Everything all right? You look--" miserable. Sick. Scared. "--funny."
Tonks didn’t answer, but only looked down at her cloak as if she couldn’t figure out what it was doing in her hands.
The stairs behind Hermione squeaked, once, and Tonks looked up. "Remus," she said.
"What happened?" Lupin asked.
Without another word, Lupin edged past the three of them and went to her. He asked something, too low for Hermione to hear. Tonks nodded once, jerkily, and put her face against his shoulder a moment.
"Who’s dead?" Ron asked.
With just a touch on her back, Lupin guided her into the kitchen.
"Who’s dead?" Ron asked more sharply.
Hermione remembered that Ron’s mum had been out the night before too, and her stomach started to churn.
Harry said, "It’s not your mum, it can’t be, she would’ve--they--"
They all looked at each other. Then as one, they clattered down the rest of the stairs and charged through the door.
Tonks was heaped in a chair at the kitchen table, her face in her hands. "--and she fell down the stairs. She hit the bottom, and there was the most awful crunch."
He put a cup of tea in front of Tonks. "Drink."
She curled over it as if she were trying to thaw out her face and hands, although it was already hot out.
Ron babbled, "My mum, where’s my mum? Who’s dead? Who are you talking about? Who broke their neck? Is it my mum?"
"No!" Lupin broke in. "Ron. Listen. Your mum’s fine."
"There where is she?"
"Somewhere else. I promise you it’s not your mum."
"Then who’re you talking about?"
Tonks looked up. "Aunt Cissa."
"Who?" Hermione asked in confusion.
"Narcissa Malfoy," Lupin said.
"Malfoy’s mum?" Harry goggled.
"I killed her," Tonks said.
They stared at her.
Lupin broke the silence with a quiet, "Sweetheart. Drink."
Tonks drank, coughed once, and gulped the rest of it in one motion. By the smell, Hermione guessed that the tea had contained enough Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey to revive a car battery.
"I don’t understand," she said.