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Chapter 2: Far Cry from Home
Who turned on the lights? Tonks scrunched up her face in attempt to shield her eyes – she hadn't even opened them, but the bright yellow-white light was already painfully to look at, even with her lids firmly. Everything else on her person felt too heavy to move – like someone had tied her arms and legs and torso down with lead weights. Her chest ached, and that damned light felt hot against her skin and made her head throb with white-hot pain she hadn't experience since she'd taken a header down the stone steps of the Hogwarts entrance hall during her sixth year.
Where was she? Wasn't there something she was supposed to be doing? Something important...
“Huhnn...” She managed to groan – good, her throat was still in clear working order. Now if she could only get the griffin off her chest before it managed to crush her ribcage, she'd be golden. The ground beneath her was soft and squishy and cool – her bed? - compared to the beaming light it felt very nice. She could get use to it. Why did she have to get up again? Surely she could beg another five minutes out of her mother. Especially if she was sick – and she certainly felt sick.
She heard rustling somewhere – dammit, had Barmy climbed up on her desk to chew on her ficus again?! There was seriously something mentally wrong with that cat – and what could have been footsteps of her mother walking down the hall. Though, it all sounded strangely muted compared to the usual hard clicks of her heels on the hardwood floor.
“Fiv'mer'minoots...” She lisped through clumsy lips words that sounded vaguely intelligible. “Fiv'mer'minoots n'll gerrup...”
“I think I heard something.” Someone whispered, and it took Tonks a few seconds to recognize that there was something off about the voice. Something other than not being able to turn up the volume on the speaker. “Yeah over here – I found her!”
More footsteps, more rustling – too much noise to be just her mother or a crazy orange tabby with a plant-eating fetish. Voices melded together, spoke over each other – she had enough consciousness of mind to recognize that a great deal of them were male.
“Oh, Tonks! You poor duck – spendin' a nigh' out here in the fores' with God knows what lurkin' around!” This newest muted voice was definitely female, and Tonks got the feeling that whoever it was was leaning down over her, as the blinding light was thankfully blotted out by what she assumed to be a cool shadow. Most likely, it was the same person who was placing the palm of their hand comfortably against her forehead. “She's absolutely freezin'! Quick, one of you give'er your cloak!”
“m'fine re'ly...” Tonks shuddered, as she grew steadily more conscious, the faster her brain rushed to try and puzzle together where she was and who these people were. They were quiet, but familiar – but not family, familiar, so they should definitely not be around her at home, when she was feeling so sick and stiff. And as she struggled to the surface of being awake, one thought rose with it.
You were supposed to be doing something. Something important.
“'Course you are, Tonks – you're fine! We'll get you back home and soon enough you'll be righ' as rain!”
Why do I know that voice!?
“One of you is goin' to have to carry her!”
No. No carrying, I can walk, really! Tonks struggled to get up, but found whoever hovering over her pushing her back gently. Her body felt so weak that a butterfly would have probably been able to pin her.
“We've go' you, Tonks – you're alrigh'! You're with friends!”
Struggling against the betrayal of her own physicality, she battle for a moment with opening her eyes. Eventually, she succeeded; and five faces swam into focus – all of them looking down at her, with various worried expressions. They were all familiar and – just like she'd been promised – they were all friends.
Problem was – they were the wrong friends.
There were loads of case studies done where people had suffered some sort of magical accident that conked them out for a while, until they landed in the future. Some bloke who overdid it a bit on a dreamless sleep potion. Completely catatonic witches who had tried to charm a hundred years worth of frown lines and wrinkles off their faces and messing up their pronunciation. Muggles had even heard about the famous Van Winkle case – although they attributed it to him falling asleep in something called a 'fairy ring', and did realize he had simply been charmed unconscious so his neighbour could 'covet' the poor bloke's wife without him being the wiser.
But there was no way that you could fall asleep and end up in the past. Even magic had it's limitations.
Then how the hell did she explain this?
“Is everythin' alrigh', Tonks?” Pushing aside the door to the room, came a young woman, her arms piled high with warm, cottony blankets. She was short, and the way she had fastened her brown hair away from her face in two long pigtails had the effect of helping her to look even younger. Margie Cunningham – a member of her graduating class, and a fellow Hufflepuff – had always been a caring sort of girl; looking out for everyone in her house from first year up. Problem was, Tonks knew that Margie right now was supposed to be caring for three adorable little boys with her husband Julian in their cottage in Bristol – but she had seen neither husband nor three brown-haired, tousled little toddlers running about anywhere.
Still, if Margie was a hallucination – she was a solid one. “You look like you've seen a ghos'...”
If I knew you weren’t supposed to be dead, I'd swear I had.
“No, no Margie, I'm fine.” She said instead. “A little shaken still, I guess.”
“I see. Ah well, that's to be expected after wha' you've been through.” Margie nodded in sympathy, before bouncing back into her earlier bustling about, dropping her load of blankets over Tonk's knees as she bustled around doing other things in the room, such and straightening a picture of flowers on the wall and unfolding a corner of the carpeting, before circling back over to Tonks' bed in an attempt to fluff her pillows for the eight hundredth time since she had regain full consciousness.
“You know we were all so worried abou' you, Tonks.” Her former housemate continued, oblivious to how Tonks winced, or how the troubled expression on her face hadn't disappeared in the slightest. “I told you no' to go ou' with Claude and the boys, tha' they were goin' huntin' – bu' I though' you'd be okay if you were with Chauncey. Bu' then when they came back, and said tha' they'd los' sigh' of you by mid afternoon – oh, Tonks – I started thinkin' the wors'!”
Claude. Chauncey – two other former house and year mates – both whom she knew well -and that they were supposed to be anywhere but here too. Wherever hear was. And she had seen Claude with her own eyes – Chauncey, apparently, being too distraught over her going 'missing' the day before to join in the search and rescue party. More familiar faces had filled in for him, though. Sean Jarvis – who wasn't even living in the magical world anymore, as far as she remembered. Rebekah Johnston – she was supposed to be playing psychic in the muggle world. Roderick Alford – that prat whom she'd vowed to never let near her again had been the one who carried her back slung over his shoulder like a limp sack of potatoes. They were all here, but they weren’t supposed to be.
And she still didn't know where here was, anyways. But she was definitely going to find out.
She has scrambled out from underneath Margie's pile of blankets and had slung one leg over the side of her bed when she was caught. “And jus' where do you think you're goin'?”
“I need some air – can't I go for a walk or something?” Had her dorm mate always been stifling? The answer was yes, but it had been kind of endearing when they were all seventeen – now when they were all fully adult, and Tonks really needed to figure out what was going on, having an overprotective witch on her back was seriously annoying. “You know, it may help me get stronger, faster. Then, you know, I'll be out of your hair.”
“Oh, Tonks!” Margie chirpy laughter grated on what little nerves she had left. “You must be feelin' at leas' a bi' better if you're up to jokin' – why would you be in my hair when you're hear in your own house!?”
“We are?” Tonks question, looking around at the one-roomed flat that looked more like a bunker than an actual establishment. She sure as hell didn't recognize it – and besides that she still lived with her parents; a little embarrassing, maybe, for a twenty-two year old with a steady job – but she wasn't exactly the best cook, and if she'd moved out after seventeen she would have probably starved.
Margie gave her a puzzled look, and she realized that she'd said the wrong thing. She needed to just play along if she was going to be getting anywhere. “Oh, yes, of course – my place! Silly me! Can I get up now!?”
“Are you sure you're alrigh', Tonks?” Margie grilled again. Desperate to prove that she was fine, Tonks plastered a big, phoney smile across her face and nodded, consciously morphing a little extra color into her cheeks so that she looked positively glowing with health. With a sigh, Margie gave in. “Well, alrigh'; bu' you're not goin' anywhere withou' an escor'.” Before Tonks could argue any further, she had strode to the door, calling out to someone just out of sight.
“Well, she wants to go for a walk – so you can take her and catch up – and mind you don' go losin' track of her again, Chauncey!”
“'Course I will, Margie.” Tonks flushed as yet another familiar voice answered her, and within seconds the familiar curly-haired head of one of her oldest mates peeked his head in the door. “Fancy a bit of a stroll then, Tonks? Glad to see you're up and about again.”
“Oh yeah.” Tonks answered automatically, unconsciously gripping the mattress beneath her until her knuckles turned white. “I'm a hundred percent back on top.”
“So, you don't remember running into anything beastly in the forest?”
“No...well...not really...I don't think I did.” As much as she had argued her way into letting her caretaker think that everything was fine, she was hardly fifty feet away from the dingy little house that she apparently owned, and she felt utterly exhausted. She had to lean on the stalky boy at her side for support. He didn't make a big deal out of it – in fact he had no problem putting an arm around her shoulders to help hold her upright and steady her as the toured what was, apparently, their mutual home.
Tonks had never seen the place in her life – though she supposed if she had to describe it, she could easily compare it to one of those archaic villages that Binns was harping about being attacked by hordes of Goblins. Small off-white cottages, mostly made out of wood and stone, were built partway into a soft and silty ground. They all seemed to be single person dwellings, and all of their occupants were decked out in outfits that she could only call 'feudal' – lots of browns, and greys, and easy to not-wash colours. For Tonks, who had always livid surrounded by vibrancy, it was thoroughly depressing.
“Too bad – we all know you could probably take on anything you came across.” Nudging her playfully, he was taken aback when she winced. “Everything alright?”
“Question of the month; is 'everything alright' with Tonks?” She grumbled, but tried to shrug it off , knowing that her escort, like everyone else, was just genuinely worried about her. “Ah, just a little sore still. I feel like I've been hit by the Hogwarts Express, is all.”
“What?” Chauncey glanced at her, eyes filled with confusion.
“Um...figure of speech, of course.”
“Okay...” They trudged on in silence for a few minutes, Tonks taking in the new scenery around them – as well as the new look of her oldest friend. She puzzled through questions that were nagging at the back of her mind, and how she could ask them without sounding like a total idiot.
“Chauncey...Margie said something about us being out in the forest...”
“What were we doing?”
“Hunting.” He replied simply, giving her that same strange look, as if he suspicious as to why she didn't know what they'd been up to.
“Do you remember what I was doing? Before I disappeared?”
“Well we started off walking through the brush...and around when we got to the bog, you found that frog that you tried to catch so that you could drop it down Rodrick's shirt...”
That certainly sounded like something she'd do.
“...Then you tripped on that tree root and fell flat on your face. I think you may have squished the frog...”
“...then we stopped for lunch – shortly after we started up again, you disappeared and we had no idea where you went.”
“That's all you remember?”
“Until Rodrick came back here the next morning with you slung over his shoulders, yeah. We were all worried sick about you!”
The thought of being anywhere near that pig of a man without her wand made her feel disgusted, but as soon as that thought crossed her mind, it was like she'd been zapped. She knew there was something she was missing – something big.
“Did they bring it back with me? I don't think I - ” Although she wobbled precariously, she released her hold on her friend to try and pat herself down, searching for a wand that wasn't there – discovering at the same time that she wasn't wearing any outfit recognizable from her regular closet.
“Tonks, what are you talking about?!”
“My wand, you daft prat! You know,” She had to catch herself on his shoulder, overcome by dizziness – but with her free hand she flourished an invisible stick in the air, drawing forms in the air with an extended pointer finger. “Wingardium Leviosa! Expecto Patronum! Magic!”
“Shh! Tonks – you can't talk like that!” For a moment, she swore Chauncey actually looked terrified. “Maybe you hit your head or something, out in the woods. Maybe you're thinking up strange things but
you have to stop talking like this! Everyone'll think you've gone mad.”
“Like what – I need to find my wand, and you're acting like I'm talking about some great big taboo! You and Margie and Claude and even that idiot Rodrick know - ”
“Tonks!” Chauncey had gripped her by the shoulders now, trying to get her to meet his eyes, trying to get her to understand that whatever it was he had to say – it was very, very important. And even as he spoke, realization seemed to wash over her, and it chilled her to the bone.
“I don't know what's gotten into you – but you need to stop! You can't just go running around talking about magic things that don't exist! People will begin to think you're possessed!”
What the hell had she gotten herself into?
Tonks had never gone a day in her life when magic hadn't been apart of her life – everyday simple tasks seemed impossible unless she could wave her wand in make things happen. Without her wand, she felt naked in a way that she had never, ever thought she could feel. It was horrible, dreadful – and she didn't know how muggles could stand it.
It was ten times worse, probably, knowing what she did. She was an Auror; psychos and creeps could wait around any bend, but with her wand, she barely gave them a worry. She could tackle any situation with a quickly uttered charm and be perfectly fine. Every shadow could be something deadly; because her old friends swear all they liked that there was no such thing as magic, but at least she knew that it was all too real.
Chauncey had brought her back to 'her' house after that, whispering something to Margie when they'd arrived at the door. She had blanched, and hustled her back into bed, cocooning her firmly in blankets and making her swear up and down that she would not get up until she actually was feeling like herself again. The way she kept on glancing at her, she knew that Chauncey must have told her – and now Margie clearly thought she had gone temporarily insane.
It had been hours since Margie had left her to 'rest a while'. Tonks hadn't so much as closed her eyes – instead counting cracks in the ceiling above the mattress stuffed with straw that served as her bed. A spider was meandering it's way across the ceiling, slowly, and her eyes followed it.
This was not possible. She had to be dreaming.
Honestly, had she not felt so overwhelmed, so drained – she may very well had burst out crying like a ten year old – like she had the first night she had arrived at Hogwarts, forced into a room with strangers who seemed nice enough – but not nearly as nice as her mum or dad. She had cried herself to sleep for a week, until she had gotten used to the routine, had made friends with Margie and Chauncey, and had become one of the more popular girls in school because of tricks that she could perform because...
“Oh Merlin how could I be so stupid!” Tonks struggled to free herself from her blankets – succeeding only after she had tumbled to the ground in a mass of knotted bedclothes. If there was really no magic, then she wouldn't be able to morph – but she had morphed, she was sure of it! And she could still morph, because it didn't require the use of her wand at all!
She stumbled to her feet, searching for the pail of water that Margie had came and left 'for her use'. It had grown dark outside, but there was a lantern hanging outside the door – the flickering light just enough so that she could see the slightly rippling reflection of her own face on the water's surface. She looked pale and washed out – her hair the natural mousey-brown mop it reverted too whenever she couldn't keep up the effort.
Concentrating, she scrunched up her face, willing herself to feel the familiar, slightly static tingle of change.
Once she opened her eyes, she was staring at her same heart shaped face – this time framed with hair that hung in drooping spirals the color of snow.
“Oh, thank you...”
Of course, she couldn't stay morphed – nothing major at least – but knowing that she still could, that she wasn't completely devoid of the ability and power that had been within her since birth, was enough to raise her spirits. Knowing that her morph was still working gave her hope that, if she did find her wand, she could probably still use it. It was enough that, by next morning, when a worried Margie had come in to check on her, she found a Tonks who was in greatly raised spirits, and who – even better – was up to lying convincingly enough that they believed her when she said she had no idea where this notion of magic had come from.
And of course they believed her – she had been lost alone in the forest for an entire night. She had had the right to be a little stir-crazy; so long as it didn't seem a lasting occurrence.
By the end of the week, Tonks had slipped back into society as if nothing had happened. Save for one thing.
“Do you think that I could come out hunting with you again, Chauncey, when you boys go out again?”
The curly-haired man stopped what he was doing, - a bucket of water half-hoisted out of a deep-bottomed well, to stare at her. “Are you nuts, Tonks? You came with us last time and went missing, you could have died – and you want to go into the forest again?”
“Well...I didn't exactly get to help you bring down something, did I?” She continued unabashed. Truthfully, Tonks wanted nothing to do with killing an animal – but going into the forest on a hunting trip was a perfect cover for surreptitiously looking for a dropped wand. Not to mention an excuse to look for clues as to how she had ended up here in the first place. But people didn't just go wandering into the woods alone – particularly not a girl who had just been rescued from them a week ago.
“No, you didn't.” Her friend – or not-friend – admitted. “But still, it's not exactly the best idea – not so soon, at least.”
“Oh, come on, Chauncey.” She pleaded, her actually desperation tying in perfectly with her eagerness to join them again. “Just for a little bit. I promise I'll be a good girl and stay by your side and do everything you say and not try to frog Rodrick once!” Biting hard on her lower lip, playing up to the advantage she had being a comparatively small woman next to his bigger frame, she waited, knowing that the her Chauncey would eventual cave.
“Alright...” He finally wavered, and Tonks had to stop herself from jumping for joy, or allowing her hair to flash out in a rainbow of colours. “But not on a hunting trip...not yet. We'll go one on one – I have to check some snares, and you can come with me then. No distractions – so I can keep an eye on you.”
Damn. Slipping away from one person sounded a lot harder to do than slipping away amongst a group of men – especially for someone who had nearly failed the stealth course. But she was desperate enough to attempt it. Someway or another, she had to piece together what was going on.
“Sounds like a date.”