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Extempore by BitterEpiphany
Chapter 1: One
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Thank you all for your Dobby votes! I hope this story serves it justice :)
"Please don't call me Nymphadora!"
Nymphadora Tonks sat plainly at the kitchen table, repeating a phrase she must have said a thousand times. Her fingers laced through her rainbow colored hair as a grimace slid across her face. Of all the many oddities Tonks embodied - the easy happiness, the total lack of grace - the way her features changed when she was angry was, by far, the most unnerving.
"Really, Mum! You know I hate it and yet you just won't --"
Glancing up to the slightly open door, she smiled and waved to you - beckoning you toward what was probably a sofa. Slowly - a little apprehensively even - you slid a mountain of robes, blankets and Muggle clothes out of the way.
Suspicions confirmed. It's a sofa.
The two of you were on assignment again, working just outside of Hogsmeade. Better said, you were on assignment. Tonks, it seemed, was on a mission of another sort, and she was wasting time. Impatiently, you tapped your feet.
Under different circumstances, her tardiness would not have troubled you. Astonishingly, it was usually her waiting at Grimmauld Place for her evening's running mate, tapping her feet impatiently.
The chink of cheap plastic colliding made the muscles in your neck jerk painfully. Automatically, you reached back to massage them, your eyes now directed at her.
"Sorry about the delay, Lupin." You cringed. She had developed the filthy habit of calling you by your surname when she was angry.
Since Sirius' death and your time among the werewolves, many Order members had taken to distancing themselves from you - not out of cruelty or fear but as a sign of respect. You had no doubt that, as the Order knew of your condition, they had probably known something of the intensity of your friendship. While Albus was a man with the utmost understanding of candor and discretion, he was not one to allow senseless abuse of any human being when an easy thing could be done to prevent it. He had always been one to stand for righteousness and, even to the death, maintained that character.
Abruptly, the tiny, puzzled face before you came into focus, as though someone was twisting the aerial. She had clearly asked you a question you had not heard. Surreptitiously, you glanced around the room for some hint of the missed discussion. Instead your eyes landed on a vase of pink daises and the card lying beside them.
An inexplicable knot formed in your abdomen.
"Are you going to stare at those flowers all day or are you going to answer my question about the schedule? We're working here."
"Not here," you replied, marveling at the amount of conviction you'd mustered, considering the excuse was still in the tadpole phase of life.
She looked at you, a quizzical expression in her slightly violet eyes but didn't press further. Fetching a cloak, she followed you out into the muggy air that fell heavy on your shoulders. You made a beeline for the local pub.
The air in the room was somehow heavier than the air outside. Stale cigar smoke and grease mingled with the ever-present mixture of vomit and alcohol. The scent would have made anyone nauseous, but Tonks didn't seem to bat an eyelash - vivid blue to match her hair.
A quick glance around the pub told you that you were quite likely to be overheard but the odds of your visit being remembered by anyone, patrons and staff alike, was highly improbable. Not even a woman with blue tresses and lavender irises could have caught the attention of the wizard splayed on the floor before you.
As you took a seat at the dusty table near the back of the…establishment, Tonks leaned over slightly, speaking from the side of her mouth. She was clearly attempting to be covert, but the yelp she let out after setting her hand on the unidentifiable and disgusting substance that covered the table flustered her so badly that she knocked over several surrounding chairs.
Gripping a sconce, she straightened herself out and smoothed her robes.
There was a chance, you registered, that she might have escaped this moment with some shred of dignity; that is, until a man who reeked so heavily of whiskey sours he caused even your eyes to water stepped over and helped to clean up the mess, deftly weaving between the mass of chair legs.
Red the color of maraschino cherries flooded her face as she thanked him stupidly and turned to glare at you. "Brilliant bloody idea, Lupin." Her tone was one of pure rage, but the sparkle of a grin still resided in her eyes. "Dragging me out of my perfectly good room and into some disgusting…” she wiped her hand dramatically on the sleeve of your cloak, "…pub in the middle of nowhere. Won't tell me what was so important that you needed to see me about it so early in the morning…."
"If you're quite finished…" A waitress cleared her throat. It was all you could do to stifle the chuckle.
Tonks shot daggers at her. "I don't believe we are quite finished and judging by the state of --"
"Coffee. Two very large cups of coffee." The waitress, her pen poised over the notepad, looked intently at you. "Oh, that will be all. Thank you," you added with a slight smirk.
There were a few long moments of total silence while you awaited the coffee - she was furious with you, after all. However, the mug of, well…it was coffee in the academic sense, you supposed (Grounds + Water = Coffee)… seemed to perk her up. In any case, she seemed more able to focus.
"Why did we have to come to this awful place?" she asked, adding generous quantities of sugar to her cup. She'd contemplated the cream for a moment but, upon sniffing it, elected to go without.
"We have no way of knowing who stayed in that room before or after you,” you lied. The Order knew perfectly well who all the inhabitants of that particular inn had been for the last six months. "There's no need to go risking it." She raised her eyebrows in a fashion that seemed to call your bluff. "This place is owned by a very old, very loyal friend of mine. I got him out of a rather rough patch when we were kids. A bit of underage magic involved, but the favors you do…” You trailed off as though your statement had been a proverb of some sort.
"Right then, I suppose we should set out to do a bit of investigation today. See if there is anything to be learned from the locals and then head off for the next town. That is, unless we find something, of course. Which we won't."
The entire Order had been scouring the countryside for months now. To be honest, you were grasping for straws but even straws seemed worthwhile now.
It seemed like only yesterday that Sirius passed and a few days more since Dumbledore’s death – since Harry evaded Voldemort and his Death Eaters yet again but now, as he neared the end of his safety at the Dursleys’ home in Little Whinging, it seemed clear that if he were ever to face Voldemort, he needed to do so immediately or risk losing any chance he had of survival. But, before Harry could face him – there is always a ‘but,’ isn’t there? – you needed to find the bastard.
"You're far from your usual chipper self, today." It had come out a bit more sharply thant you'd intended -, something of the way a teacher would have spoken to a skulking student.
"Yes, well." Her tone was apologetic and sad. "You heard the lovely exchange with my Mum and I'm…” She broke off abruptly, tears beginning to pool in her eyes. "Never mind, it's not important. Shall we get on with the fruitless search, then? Oy!"
You meant to intervene but she was already hailing the sickly looking waitress. It wasn't like Tonks to display emotion that way but you had also never experienced Tonks in this capacity before. She was sullen and despondent but still resilient in her duties for the Order and you’ve appreciated the reprieve from the conversation you’ve had so many times. Still, it bothered you to see her so depressed, doubly so knowing that you had caused it.
"Owner says not to worry about the tab. Just be on your way...” she paused, "…before you break anything."
The sun had begun to set before you abandoned your search. It seemed impossible, but you had questioned each and every villager and none of them had any recollection of odd travelers. You knew, of course, that Voldemort's followers weren't likely to check into a local inn but at some point they would need supplies - food. Their lines of communication were completely clogged and Moody was working closely with the new Minister. Every Auror in Britain was on the lookout for them. The Floo network was being monitored, Apparition points were guarded and Departments seemed to be taking turns raiding the old pureblood mansions once or twice a month.
A familiar feeling of frustration and defeat began to lap at the borders of your mind. You'd fought it off with increasing frequency in the last year. It seemed impossible that your side could be watching everything, and still coming up with nothing new - no new arrests, not even a new lead. Then, there weren't any new deaths either, you told yourself in a futile attempt to ward off the depression.
Tonks, it seemed, was experiencing a similar sentiment at the moment. She was bearing hers far more visibly, however. Watching the sad look in her face as she stared blankly at the gravel passing beneath her feet cost you something. It was people like Tonks and Harry who should never have been affected by Voldemort. You couldn't help feeling, in the dead of night and the depths of despair, that if you'd done the thing right the first time, none of this would be happening.
Useless, you reminded yourself, as Dumbledore had done on so many occasions. Harry's fate - Voldemort's rise - the Second War, it was all written in the heavens and there was nothing you or he could do to prevent it.
The rest of the walk continued in silence - Tonks returning to her room and going immediately to sleep. You hoped that the chink of light seeping under the door wouldn't disturb her - but there was nothing for that now. There was work to be done.
Work to be done, you reminded yourself when you opened your eyes. It seemed as though you had been sleeping for only an instant but outside your window, birds were chirping in an irritatingly cheerful manner. Groggily, you swung your feet over the side of the bed and forced your eyes to focus.
In your sleep sodden gaze, the clock face seemed to be spinning; you had just gone to sleep.
Once a vital morning person, too many nights spent worrying and poring over maps and charts had you powering your weary muscles by strength of will alone. In your school years, your tendency to rise early and study before breakfast had infuriated James, Peter and Sirius. You thought of those times more now.
A creaking bedspring in the other room reminded you why you were bothering to get up in the first place. Tonks had clearly heard Moody's call as well and, by the sounds of things, he was growing impatient. A high-pitched sort of squeal was rushing toward your ears without invitation.
"I'll kill him, I swear I will!" Tonks cursed, rushing into the sitting room, still pajama clad, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. "Bloody hell, Mad-Eye! What could you possibly want at this hour?"
Blearily, you noticed the trail of crashes behind her but couldn't muster the energy to rescue the unfortunate objects in her path from their fates. It seemed easier, at this moment, to fix them later and upending the contents of a glass over your head and shoulders, enjoy the way the water felt, rapidly evaporating in the excruciating heat.
"Where's Lupin?" the device hissed.
"How in the blasted world should I know? Probably sleeping like any sane person would be at six thirty in the morning on a Saturday!” she shouted back at him.
"Go get him then. I've got a question about this report he sent in last night."
"I will not! I reckon he'd kill me if I woke him at this hour. I'm liable to kill you. Call back late-"
"It's quite all right, Nymphadora. I wasn't really sleeping anyway," you said, trying desperately to keep the sleep out of your voice. You didn't know why, but it bothered you to need sleep. It seemed like something you didn't deserve and shouldn't have - like a weakness.
"You deal with him then," she grumbled, wrapping the blanket tighter around her shoulders and returning to her room. She slammed the door behind her and judging by the thud her headboard made against the thin wall, flopped down on the bed.
Were it not for Moody's watching eyes, you might have smiled.
"That was a bit theatrical," Mad-Eye grunted by way of apology.
"Not entirely. What was it you wanted to ask me?” Changing the subject seemed prudent. It also seemed to be the fastest way to get back to your own bed.
"Yes, that. It's a messy business, really. I wouldn't ask you to do it at all but I've seen it and it really ought to be taken care of."
If you didn't know better, you'd have thought that Mad-Eye Moody, acclaimed Auror and de facto leader of the Order after Dumbledore’s death, was nervously shuffling his feet. Alas, the view from inside the little glass ball was not going to give you that periphery of vision unless Mad-Eye dropped it, and if he did, he was liable to curse it into oblivion.
"There's a new recruit just a few hours away. He's slotted for Auror training - knows Harry from Hogwarts. Naturally, I can't go talking to him, being that he's up for training - the Ministry thinks it might… er... give him the wrong impression. Make him think he'd get something out of the deal, you know. He's young and he knew Harry fairly well. Played a fair bit of Quidditch against him, I gather. Ravenclaw, McGonagall said. He's a right smart lad but we're afraid we could lose him."
"I assume you've already set up a meeting time," you asked sagely. Moody smiled his twisted and unsettling grin.
"Yeah. 11 o'clock. There's a little pub in the town. You'll have to dress as Muggles. From what we know, there aren't many witches or wizards living in that area." You nodded and scribbled the information down with a nearby quill. "He's young, you know. Might, uh, take to Tonks, if you gather my meaning."
"You aren't suggesting -! He isn't suggesting!"
You stumbled slightly and fumbled your hands, trying desperately to regain control of the eons old Facsimile in your hands. "Tonks!" you and Moody shouted simultaneously.
"What?" she asked plainly.
"You make such a bloody loud racket coming out here the first time and then you sneak up on us like that!" Moody was frantically trying to hide his face, making a grand show of picking up papers. He'd taken a rather large liking to Tonks since she'd started her training. He claimed, once the proper amount of fire whiskey had been imbibed, that she reminded him a bit of his Hogwarts sweetheart. He did his best to assign her the best in partners and the safest of missions, taking her under his guard when possible, guiding her through the Ministry. Most Order members took this as carefully positioning her should the Ministry ever elect to back out of the deal, but in private conversations with Arthur you had revealed your suspicions that Moody fancied Tonks his protégé.
"Well, I rather knocked everything over on the way out here the first time," she replied, blushing even more profusely than you suspected Moody was, in her slippered feet and two-sizes-too-large Weird Sisters t-shirt.
Regaining himself, Moody set off again. "I am suggesting and you'll do it! We need this boy, and if that's all it's going to take, then someone has to do it. I'm sure Remus would volunteer but, from all accounts, it wouldn't be too much help!"
Catching a murderous glint in her eyes, you said a quick goodbye and pocketed the ball.
For the second time that morning, Tonks stormed into her room and slammed the door.
So much for 'ever the professional,' you mused.
She had complied with Moody's request to an entirely unnecessary extreme. On sight, you wondered if it had been, to some degree, for your benefit. Then, it was warm out. As you made your way down the path out of the village, the breeze ruffled her light summer skirt. Several passers by smiled at you in an over-warm fashion that you couldn't place. Their eyes seemed to be issuing a sort of friendly congratulations that, in an odd way, suited the sort of evening it was. As the sun began to set, the clamminess fell out of the air giving way to the comfortably warm breeze. The perfumes of many flowers mingled together and further clouded your vision. It was the perfect evening and, for just a moment, you forgot the circumstances and set your entire self to the time and place, determined to burn it in to memory. Never mind that the beautiful young woman at your side was a clumsy Auror in her early twenties. Never mind that your walk would end at the village gates. Never mind that you would return to an ambiguous and entirely anonymous inn to work well into the early hours and fall asleep just long enough to tease your mind into functioning for one more day. Never mind that you were a poor, unemployed werewolf. For just a few minutes, life was as you had always imagined it to be.
A particularly fragrant bunch of flowers caught your attention on the side of the path. Before your mind could stop you, your arm was outstretched, snapping the stem of a yellow daisy.
The motion was entirely instinctive and you'd managed it without dropping stride but now, nearing the Apparition safe point, you felt awkward and out of place with your daisy and the girl who wasn't yours. For what certainly wasn't the first time, you were reminded briefly of Lily. You had shared many such moments with her as a boy.
"I suspect Mad-Eye will want to hear the good news straight away," you said to break the silence.
"Probably," she said by way of reply, and added, "That and I have to get out of these shoes before I fall. I think the charm I put on them is starting to wear out."
You stifled the unintentional laughter. "I had rather wondered how you were managing."
She grimaced and disappeared with a quiet Pop!
Chapter 2: Two
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The sun was streaming violently through your window, dust particles dancing an intricate ballet. The daisy you’d picked last night sat completely still in the swirling vortex, a stark reminder of where you were.
The frequent pain in your shoulders returned, bringing with it a wave of nausea. It was always this way, just before everything got worse. That pleasant thought rattling in your cranium, you began the morning routine. There's work to be done.
"Meeting with Mad-Eye at nine,” Arthur reminded you when you ventured into the kitchen, showered and freshly shaved.
"How could we forget?" Tonks asked, giving you the slightest start. Contrary to everything you knew, you still hadn't expected her this morning. "He sent three owls and left a note on my damn dresser. I'm clumsy but I'm not losing my mind!"
Arthur chuckled and passed the pitcher of pumpkin juice. You nodded thanks and poured a glass but did not take it from the table. Molly had entered the room and nearly leapt out of her skin upon glimpsing your untouched dry toast. At the moment she was fussing about the stove. The smell of eggs and bacon soon filled the kitchen, the pan’s crackling failing dismally to cover her mutterings.
"Just back from a mission and does anyone offer the man breakfast? Dry toast! He's still looking peaky as ever, the poor thing..."
"Sorry, Remus," Arthur whispered after she'd gone.
It took you something to focus your attention on his words. Somewhere in Molly's mutterings, you turned your eyes to Tonks. She had a sort of pained expression on what parts of her face you could see.
"Not a problem at all, Arthur. Molly is quite right: I could do with a proper meal."
He smiled and carried on into discussion of the newest recruit, intent on holding your attention.
"...McGonagall seemed surprised when I delivered the message last night. She seemed to think that you and Tonks must have done a fair bit of fast talking to convince him."
"Something like that," you muttered, too low for him to hear.
"In any case, Elphias is coming by later, said he wanted to have a chat with you after your meeting with Mad-Eye."
At that, Tonks leapt up, crashing into a tottering stack of dishes.
The scene was slightly comical. Arthur on his feet, body twisted with the effort to right Tonks and the dishes simultaneously.
Tonks let out a series of mild obscenities before finally righting herself again. "Sorry about that, Arthur." He waved her off nonchalantly. "I should get ready for our meeting...," she said, awkwardly, and bolted for the stairs.
"She's an odd one, that girl," Arthur said sweetly, an almost paternal tone in his voice. You couldn't stop the smile from crossing your lips.
The notion that your living quarters needed serious attention occurred to you again when you crossed the threshold. For others, this thought would be followed with a movement of some kind. For you, this was part of your daily routine. (Wake. Rise. Curse surroundings. Bathe. Eat. Work. Eat. Curse surroundings. Sleep.) It had become a comfort of sorts, knowing that you could always count on your personal space to be just as deplorable as when you left it.
With half-hearted energy, you waved you wand to tidy up a bit. Several books leapt up from the floor, the desk, the chair.... Face it, Remus. You're an addict. Glancing about the room, you weren't entirely displeased. It might have been nice if the books had landed right-side up but, given your relative exhaustion ,exhaustion, you had put up a fine performance.
The prospect of finishing what you had started did occur to you, but the woozy need for only a few more minutes rest was already overpowering you.
Carefully removing your robes, you slid between the sheets of your creaking mattress. Someone had been in to change the bed-linen; the sheets were slightly itchy on your skin. Thrashing a little in your frustration, you turned to face the window.
Your slightly compulsive habits of preservation had not been changed upon dispensation of Sirius's estate, despite being left the vast majority of the Black fortune. It bothered you every night that the sheets on your bed were new. Your robes, neatly folded and gently laidlay out on the chair, seemed stiff when you wore them. Nothing you owned seemed properly broken in except this room.
In one of the most unexpected portions of Sirius's will, he had elected to leave the house to you. It was placed under your name and you were given free reign over it, with a few provisions. He had asked that at least ten rooms be made available to Order members at all times, that it remain open for use as the Headquarters as long as there was need, and that the door would never be closed on Harry. You remembered smiling over those provisions later. Somewhere in the recesses of Sirius's mind, he still thought you at least a tad untrustworthy. Years ago, it might have bothered you but, given the events of past months, you could muster no ill will toward him.
Sirius had, of course, left almost his entire estate to Harry. Though that was to be expected – relied upon, in fact – what surprised you, was the provision, scratched in minute scrawl at the very bottom of the worn parchment, which nominated you as the sole trustee until Harry came of age. Harry, of course, had long since turned seventeen but was far too deep in his manic pursuit of Voldemort for mundane tasks like finance. He’d asked – insisted, actually – that you continue to oversee the matter of Sirius’s estate.
A great portion of the finances were put under your management. Sirius had established three trusts: one for the Order, one for Harry, and one, possibly the most thoughtful, to care for children should their parents pass as result of their involvement with the Order. (Grinning, you recalled Molly's reaction – she seemed to take it as a personal insult, a reminder of the day when she had collapsed while combating the Bboggart from the writing desk.) While Sirius left most of what remained to you, he had made several other dispensations: S.P.E.W. was left with enough to keep Hermione’s collecting tin full for quite a while, and a contract was made with the Weasley twins to carry out stealth, secrecy and concealment aid research.
Vaguely, you recalled the summer house in York . York. It had been disused for the greater part of twenty years but, with a little planning, you had hopes of taking Harry there during the Easter holidays. Molly had advised you against it, of course, feeling that it was unwise to give a man soas young as Harry hopes of a life like that – a home and a family – but you felt strongly that the boy ought to know he had a place of his own. It was something you had longed for at his age – somewhere to go – and, unlike Molly, you rather thought a man needed something to hold on to during the darkest moments. No one could contend that Harry’s life would not be filled with them.
Your train of thought was broken by a clatter from the room across the hall and then the slamming of a door.
You were in your dressing gown and barreling down the hallway before you remembered that the portrait of Mrs. Black had come down.
Now that you were in the hall, however, it was impossible not to hear the hiccupping sobs in the room across from yours or notice the cloak swishing out the front door.
For what felt like an age, you waited in the hall, hoping that the tears would subside. When they didn't you waited still longer but it was strange, standing in the hall wearing only a dressing gown, and so you slipped as quietly as possible past her door and sank into your once overstuffed chair.
As the night dragged on it became increasingly apparent that you were nowhere near the elusive mind-set that true sleep required and, instead, you stared blankly at the ceiling, lost in memories.
It was noise from the lower floors that finally tore you from your musings. Molly was already fussing over breakfast. Each of the burners on the massive stove was occupied by heavy cast iron pans.
"I thought I'd do a bit of cleaning this morning. Why we haven't taken a look into the ballroom is beyond me. With Hermione, Ginny and Ron coming soon, having a more secluded place to meet would be lovely – I do hate locking the children out of the kitchen."
“They aren’t exactly children anymore, Molly,” you muttered.
“Oh, they certainly are. They may be of age but they’re still too young for this business.” Momentarily, you opened your mouth to protest, but elected not to; pointing out that she still thought Fred and George were too young would only have upset her. “In any case, Harry will be here later today as well and…”
The coffee you were pouring nearly spilled onto the countertop, rescued only by a sweeping movement of Molly's hand, replacing the full cup with an empty one. She had been a mother, even in her school days. From what you'd heard, she was forever scolding her classmates for breaking rules and not wearing scarves. She was maternal, even in her very tone – her voice always seemed rushed, slightly frantic, but never without its sense of concern.
“You knew perfectly well Harry was coming, Moody told you yesterday. We see him so rarely these days.” Her tone dropped dramatically, almost as though she was near tears, but when she straightened herself up again, she regained her usual firmness. “You might at least try to make yourself look presentable.” Abruptly, she slammed a plate of food in front of you.
Before you could thank her, she was gone, presumably already continuing her mission to release the rest of the house from its moldy captors.
The morning, you suspected, would be another morning among the many that you would be forced to fill with idle activity. Today you had a night mission, not your favorite of tasks, due to the overwhelming exposure to the moon.
The rest of the morning was spent in the library. Every day in this house was a new discovery. Last summer, Hermione had been looking for a quiet place to look over her new course books and discovered this room. It had taken weeks to sort out the texts that dealt with distasteful material but, now that the room was clean and overflowing with the carefully organized collection, it was quite pleasant.
In retrospect, it had been far too long since you had last spent time reading for pleasure but, like so many good things, it came to an abrupt and unfortunate end.
Mad-Eye Moody's gruff tones could penetrate even the thickest of walls without difficulty and, in moments like these, you wished he could be quieted, if only for a moment. "Lupin! Kitchen!" echoed off the walls and, if you weren't entirely mistaken, his shouts had caused a cascade of dust mites to fall from the stacks, clouding your lungs.
One of your favorite things about the kitchen was the way the sounds of the upper floors echoed off the walls, blending into a sort of deafening roar when you listened hard enough.
The table was full of papers and maps, a sure sign that Moody would be back. Taking a deep breath, you fetched a mug from the cupboard and began making a pot of coffee.
You had no idea when or why you had taken to drinking coffee but it seemed somehow fitting. Everything about you was slightly pedestrian in the eyes of others, and it certainly wasn't the pretentious coffees with French names that you'd taken to. Much like everything else in your life, it was the bitter and acidic kind, without cream or sugar, which took your fancy. The grounds themselves looked a bit like they tasted, slightly sour. It even smelled rancid.
"For Merlin's sake, Moody, I'm on my way," Tonks shouted from the pantry. When she emerged, pushing past your chair at top speed, she smiled weakly past bloodshot eyes. "Moody is's looking for you."
It was a moment caught in confusion before you realized where you were again. Tonks stopped at the cellar door and glanced impatiently at you, crinkling the bag of crisps in her hand.
"Come along then," she said, irritation ebbing on the edges of her voice.
Moody had called you all together to hand out the duty roster for the evening mission. You had hoped that he might have noticed her bloodshot eyes and the saddened tone in her usually chipper voice, but it seemed that it had gone unnoticed or, at the very least, unrecognized, as Tonks was paired up with VharliCharlie Weasley, for a tour just east of Surrey. Good, you thought. If there was one thing the Weasleys were known for, it was their sunny dispositions and overwhelming ability to spread cheer. Besides, tonight's missions were easy: simple surveillance - you were working with Hestia.
If asked to describe her in a single phrase you might have chosen competent or effective, but good company wouldn't have found itself on the list.
Night-time or not, there would be no risk taking. Apparition was noisy business and a crack like that would have been enough to drive anyone from their bed. Bother being sighted; it would be a risk for the Muggles in the village if there really were Death Eaters lurking near the outskirts. Yet again, you were walking silently down a pebble-strewn path. Conversation, as usual, was at a stand-still. Somehow, you found it almost impossible to talk, gossip, gab or chat with your fellow Order members, but it seemed to be what Hestia wanted (or, at least what she'd expected) as she stared hard around you, clearly still on her guard.
The mind works in the strangest fashions. It can tie together a series of memories that are seemingly disparate but share some thread of commonality. It's a beautiful thing, really, the system of tidy organization that runs every movement your body makes. It had always astonished you, the way that a mechanism so clearly linear could make a decision entirely based on emotional reactions . reactions. Though, if you recalled correctly from a book you'd once read on the subject, emotions are even more linear than thoughts – nothing more or less than a series of chemical reactions set in place by an action or word.
At the moment, you were struggling to understand why daisies had lodged themselves firmly at the forefront of your mind.
"Lovely night, then," Hestia said finally when you'd reached the safe point, jarring you from your thoughts.
"Yes, quite. I'll give Moody a briefing in the morning," she nodded and, with a pop, the only conversation exchanged in the four hours you'd been on duty ended.
One of the more unfortunate limitations of the mind was its inability to pick up where it left off. Faintly, you were aware that you'd been contemplating something, something that seemed important, when you left the little village but now, sitting on the ancient armchair, head in your hands, you couldn't have remembered what it was for all of the galleons in the world.
Shaking your head, you willed yourself to stay awake. Hestia would be sending word that she'd arrived home safely any moment now and then there would be time to sleep. Vaguely, you registered several extra voices echoing from the lower floors. Somewhere in the recesses of your mind, you knew that there would be extra guests that night and, for whatever unknown reason, this meant something to you on an emotional level. After a few minutes thought, you discarded the information and fell into your creaky bed and new-smelling sheets.
The window is open. Yyou told yourself, as your eyes drifted shut.
Over the course of many years, people had complained loudly and frequently about the "nasty" habit you had of falling asleep in your robes. Yesterday you might have endured their advice, even considered it. ("Your pores need oxygen! You'll completely destroy them! It disturbs your r.e.m. cycles!") Today, however, there would be no complaints. Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley were standing at the open door, squabbling over who would be the one to wake you up. Hushed words wafted over to your bed – “.....it’s too early…” and “.....he’s liable to hex you…” – before you rolled over and saved them the trouble of yet another bickering match.
Chapter 3: Three
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"And she hasn't been back yet?" You were crossing the entryway, still pulling your cloak on over your arms. Moody followed behind you, his wooden leg clunking rapidly on the wooden floor. He was shaking his head.
"We’re coming t…?" Harry and Ron were rushing in from behind the doorway, cloaks in hand.
"No!" It seemed that you and Moody were on a similar level at the moment as you snapped back at them simultaneously. With you, they might have argued, but no one argued when Moody yelled.
"Send word if you find her. Kingsley will be along as soon as I can reach him. And k…"
"Keep my nose down. I know."
The sound of the slamming door still echoed in your ears but now the wind stung at your face. This particular town seemed unusually desolate. The dirt paths were dusty, the grass was brown. It amazed you how many identical little villages scattered the English countryside and, even more so, how many nooks and crannies there were for someone to get lost in.
It was nearing nightfall when you found her. She was sitting, knees pulled to her chest, at the edge of a tiny lake.
"Well, I reckon Moody will be thrilled to see you in one piece... for about five seconds." A quizzical look passed over your face when she didn't respond. For a moment, you almost repeated yourself but, all in an instant, the synapses in your brain connected the pieces of data you had been trained to gather and retain. The knees pulled close to her heart, the closed eyes, the trembling shoulder... she was crying.
Something in your stomach tightened. The notion that you were the quietly observant, well educated werewolf was largely myth. Certainly, you were well educated, mostly because, until James and Sirius, you had no one but the characters in books to befriend you. When playing with the imaginary heroes of Wizardkind tired you, your father made the trek to Muggle bookshops, making you privy to the likes of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Listening? That is a skill easily attained when no one cares enough to hear you speak.
Drawing from the only experience you had with these sorts of things - a horridly uncomfortable evening with a slightly pregnant Lily - you reached out to place a hand on her quivering shoulder. "Tonks?"
For many long moments, you sat by the bank, a comforting arm encircling her shoulders, watching the sun sink into the horizon. Under different circumstances, this might have been peaceful. Tonight, you could only be too aware that Shacklebolt was likely to stop in on you at any second and while, for him, no explanations would be needed, you would feel that quite a large one had to be made.
Almost as though she heard your thought, she drew her head from your chest, rubbing the tears from small almond eyes. "We should be going. It's getting late."
There was no sign of pain in her voice, no trace of the tears. The only thing that made you certain you hadn't gone mad was the sad look on her pretty face.
Mercifully, and perhaps on your look when you entered the front door, Moody withheld his questions until morning, for Tonks at least. You, however, had not been so lucky. He’d wrenched you away from her the moment you crossed the threshold, sending Hermione and Ginny to usher her upstairs.
”Where was she?” he’d hissed and you’d answered as calmly and truthfully as you could.
“And what, Mad-Eye?” you asked coldly. It had been a long while since you’d bristled at an Order member – long enough so it felt uncharacteristic doing it.
Just then, Charlie and the twins trooped in behind you, still sweaty from their search. Moody was temporarily distracted, giving you an opportunity to steal away.
You contemplated, on passing her door, pressing your ear to listen – for what, you weren’t sure. For anything, you supposed. For a sign of life. For a sign that she was okay. For a sign that she wasn’t okay.
You had had the pleasure of knowing Tonks for several years and never had she been so prone to spontaneous breakdowns. Momentarily, you remembered some of the nervous attacks of previous Order members. The Longbottoms, certainly, had been attacked and driven into insanity but, for others, the threat, the danger, the hours, the stress, and the sleep-deprivation proved to be too much. Many had fallen.
Somewhere in the caverns of your consciousness, you sensed that this was different.
Suffering from a sudden onset of sullenness, you tossed your traveling cloak haphazardly onto the footstool and slumped into the armchair, head in your hands, fingertips pressed to your temples.
For six months this battle had raged within you. Of course you noticed her – everyone noticed her. Graceful she was not, but she had beauty to make up for it at a conservative ten-fold. With her unique appearance, you’d noticed her in the crowd, and with her brilliance and quick thinking, you’d noticed her at the Ministry too.
Sirius, it seemed, had always been aware of the awkward glances you’d tried so hard to ignore and he took every opportunity to remind you of it in the most painfully embarrassing ways possible.
Then, you thought, that was Sirius.
Transferring unpleasantly from one disquieting memory to another, the recollection of a night spent around a crude campfire blazed fiercely in your mind. You’d thought about her constantly when you were with the feral wolves. On more than one occasion, you’d found yourself on the cusp of discussing it. Only concern for her made you bite back the urge to inquire. There were many mated couples living among them – but, you’d reminded yourselves, that was different. These were mated wolves. Wolves.
Absentmindedly, you massaged another circle on your temples. That uncomfortable pressure that always came with this conversation was ebbing again.
You never intended to make a wolf of a woman, no matter what your own desires, and so this line of thought was pointless. There was simply too much risk involved. Nevertheless, you found your gaze drifting to the daisy, illuminated by a chink of moonlight.
When, how, and why you had fallen asleep were all a mystery. The only thing that you knew for certain was that it was very bright. Very, very bright and very, very loud. Bright and loud. Why was it bright and loud? And then, all too suddenly, there was a startling crack from the floor below you – unmistakably the sound of a hex being shot in the entryway. Instinctively, you leapt to your feet, ready to rush at a moment’s notice to the floor below. Ready to – stop dead in your tracks and crumple back into the armchair. Sleeping at a ninety-degree angle hadn’t improved since the last time you’d attempted it.
“Ronald Weasley, why can’t you just stay out of my things?”
“Ginny, I thought you fancied Harry?”
Willing your mind to focus, despite the searing pain, you managed to gather a few key words: Ron, my things, Ginny, and Harry. At this stage, several obscenities surfaced on your tongue but it didn’t even seem worth it to utter them. Ron and Ginny were accomplished in defense but they couldn’t go more than an hour without getting into an argument about one thing or another.
Gingerly, this time, you pried your joints into a standing position and headed for the kitchen, hoping against hope that Molly was making crumpets.
“I’m fine, thanks, Ron.” From the corner of your eye, you saw Harry smirking. Had you really spent so much time with the Weasleys that you could understand Ron, even with his mouth full? “As a matter of interest, sleeping upright is even less intelligent than it was in my youth. No crumpets this morning, Molly?”
“We had crumpets,” she replied, raising her eyebrows at Harry and Ron. “However, some of our new wizards got a little ambitious with their wands.”
“Now, Ronald,” Fred – or possibly George – said, spewing crumbs across his plate. “Now that you’re of age you have to learn to distinguish between a time that’s appropriate and a time that’s inappropriate.”
“Oh, don’t think I’ve forgotten the terrible trouble that you two were,” Molly retorted, rounding on the twins. Harry chuckled into his oatmeal.
Silently, you smiled to yourself. The twins reminded you so much of Sirius and James, always so quick to cause trouble of their own and guide others into it. They had been your best friends and, in moments like this, you remembered why. There had been many such moments, around this table. There were times you regretted always being the one chuckling into your cereal bowl, never really in the thick of it – but, then, once every moon cycle you were the thick of it.
“That reminds me, Molly, is Arthur coming in at all today?” She looked puzzled for a moment but followed your gaze to the calendar, tears welling in her eyes.
“No, I don’t think he was planning to. They’re very busy at the moment – Moody has persuaded them to release Stan Shunpike and a few others. Arthur is trying to keep the cogs moving smoothly and all. You might try dropping in to the Ministry, though.”
“Yes, I might,” you replied distractedly, leaving the room without explanation, making a beeline for the front door, not even bothering to change into more suitable, or at least less rumpled, robes.
The next few days seemed to pass uneventfully. Mad-Eye wasn’t at all interested in continuing your earlier conversation. On one hand, you hoped it had been because you’d made your point heard, finally – your relationship with Tonks, or lack thereof really, wasn’t up for discussion by Moody or any member of the Order. In your more honest moments, you suspected that he assumed your cheek was related to the full moon. In your younger years, you might have appreciated avoiding the trouble but with Dumbledore, Sirius, James, and Lily all gone, to some degree, at your hand, you couldn’t have wanted to make anything clearer.
Now, you were waiting for what you were certain would happen at any moment. You could see the light creeping in, even as you tried desperately to fight the moment off. It had been easier to transform with the pack – in the full light of night, free to roam, run and live as werewolves were intended to live. Tonight would be your first captive transition in several years. Tonight, you would not be the only one risking transformation. You knew, somewhere in the old castle, Bill was waiting – terrified for the same moment.
It hadn’t been fully ascertained how he would react – whether a bite from a feral but human-form wolf could transfer the curse fully enough to incite a transformation but, in an attempt at safety for both of you, you would stay in the Shrieking Shack, while Bill remained in the Hogwarts castle. If he was able to fend off the transformation or to avoid it completely, he would find a warm place to rest, books to read, food to eat, and a staff of House-Elves ready to provide him with anything he fancied. If, however, he transformed, he would be of no harm to person or property.
As you sat patiently, naked, watching the moonlight creep across the floor from a slash in the moldy curtains, you tried to recall every step of the complete transformation as best you could. First, the buzzing in your head – faint now, but stronger as the moon grew higher in the sky. It’s how you’d always known that Snape hadn’t botched your potions – if it came, he had made a mistake, but so long as it stayed away, you were safe locked in your office.
After the buzzing there was… there was… there was….
Nothing. After the buzzing in your head, there was nothing. You remembered now, lifting a swollen and sore finger to your bloodied lip. After the buzzing you could recall nothing of the night’s events though, judging by the state of things, you’d thrashed around a fair bit.
Drawing yourself painfully to your feet, you stepped forward, careful to avoid the slivers of wood and glass scattered across the floor – the dust searing in the cuts on your skin. Distantly, you made a note to fetch a broom before you returned: at least then you would be able to sweep the mess out of your way in the morning. Inside the piano bench, just beside the beginning learner’s book, you’d find the stash of healing potions. You’d kept replenishing them, at great expense, since your first day at Hogwarts. Today, you appreciated your forethought.
In the dark, you thumbed through the old bottles and licked your injured lip. There was nNot much blood, and it wasn’t hot. The injuries could not have been more than moderate. Eyes still unopened, you uncorked the vial and drank the contents in one gulp.
A wave of pain. A wave of nausea. An uncomfortable tightening in your flesh. A gasp for breath. Another wave of pain.
Instinctively you flexed every part of your body – wiggling your fingers, bending your elbows, testing the rotation in your shoulder, rubbing a hand across the back of your neck, bending forward and back. Once you’d ascertained that all vital pieces were still functional and attached, if the worse for wear, you drew the robes from within the piano itself and pulled them over your head.
James and Sirius had always joked about this – your fervent refusal to look at your injuries before treating any of them for minimal scarring. It became a habit, even in your dormitory, to dress before opening your eyes. It was something that even the ferals couldn’t understand. Werewolves themselves, they were proud to wear their scars – they encouraged villagers to look upon them, drew their eyes deliberately, in many cases. Perhaps that was why Greyback never trusted you, Oror, perhaps it was because he suspected you of being under Dumbledore’s wing. Despite the thick, muggy air, you shuddered – this was the first thing you’d ever considered refusing Dumbledore. A man who had always been so good to you – willing to take chance after chance with his students and his career so that you might have a successful life – and you had considered refusing him this one thing that he asked of you.
Then, perhaps if you hadn’t gone – perhaps if you’d been at Headquarters you would have known – might have noticed – could have seen. Stop it, a voice in your head told you forcibly. There’s no point. He’s dead and Snape has disappeared. You don’t even know if he’s truly done any wrong in the end. He may well show up in a week with a letter full of detailed instructions from Dumbledore and a heap of information about the Death Eaters’ whereabouts. In any case, you hoped against hope he would refrain from doing so at Grimmauld Place. Harry might have forgiven Sirius for allowing him into Headquarters but there would be no allowing it after what Snape had, undoubtedly, done.
The castle depicted in books as the illusion Muggles saw no longer varied so drastically from that which stood before you now. The gates, still recovering from the blast they took from Hagrid, hung limply at the wall. The formerly cobbled path was missing stones here and there and, where a stone was not missing, a weed grew tall and sharp, catching at your ankles. Even the oak front doors, once so strong, seemed to be falling apart. No longer were the complex spells, passwords, and careful permissions of old required: a simple “Alohamora!” and one of the great slabs of wood fell aside to reveal the castle – still as sparkling as ever.
“Kreacher will not stand this any longer. Kreacher will not allow half-breeds and mudbloods to keep him out of his mistress’s house. Kreacher will not.”
“Kreacher will do as Kreacher is told! Professor McGonagall is telling Dobby to keep the school nice and Dobby is making sure the school is staying nice. Kreacher is helping to clean the school because Dobby is saying so!” As you rounded the corner, you saw the tiny elf holding what looked like a modified prefect’s badge up from his chest. “Dobby is head elf, Kreacher, and Kreacher will listen to Dobby or Dobby shall tell Professor McGonagall.”
You grinned feebly and stole through a partially hidden door, avoiding the elves squabble.
Bill was resting, head in his hands, shredded robes beside him, near tears, when you found him on the fourth floor.
“I went up to Gryffindor Tower this morning and fetched some old Hogwarts robes for you,” you said quietly, setting the robes next to him on the creaking table.
“I didn’t expect…”
“I couldn’t have imagined…”
“I know.” The pain, confusion and aching Bill felt at the moment couldn’t be consoled away and you knew it. You had known that pain as a boy and you’d stood, just as you were now, before many such men, experiencing the pain of a first transformation.
“There was this sort of buzzing and then…”
“Nothing?” you asked quietly, waiting for what you knew would come: swollen and puffy eyes looking up and nodding. To your great astonishment, Bill snapped his head up and met your eyes: terror.
“No! It was horrible – this stretching feeling. My bones cracked and my muscles ripped,” his voice shook, even as he spoke. “I’ve never been in more pain. Then, I just remember sitting here and waiting – listening to the sounds of the castle all alone. with this horrible burning running in waves over my body. It was... it was like my flesh was trying to cauterize wounds.”
For a long while, you stood in awe; Bill had experienced the full transformation from man to wolf but remained lucid throughout the experience. He remembered each and every painful moment of the previous evening. There were questions you wanted to ask;, things you needed to know;, things that would be so useful against Greyback. Certainly the Ministry wouldn’t stand for this. They hadn’t been able to catch him when he was giving children the curse – it seemed almost normal for the course, but to subject a man or child to the searing pain of transformation with full recollection of it: that was a cruelty that even Greyback couldn’t be capable of.
Instead, you smiled as warmly as possible – fairly certain you’d broken your jaw last night – and held out the old uniform to him. “I’ll wait outside. I’m sure your fiancée is worried sick for you.”
Chapter 4: Four
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When you returned to Grimmauld Place, Tonks, Moody, Arthur, Molly, and Kingsley were all waiting silently at the kitchen table for you.
For the first time in your near memory, Molly sat quietly at a table, a teacup shaking in her hand, without offering anyone a spot of anything.
“I sent Bill up to bed,” you supplied. “He’s not injured but he’s quite sore, exhausted and shaken.” It occurred to you to show some sign of emotion but then, watching Molly’s trembling hand, you thought it better not to. Stoicism had gotten you through many uncomfortable moments and, Merlin wiling, it wouldn’t fail you now.
“S.....so, he transformed then? He’s a full-fledged werewolf?” Arthur asked, clearing his throat several times as though attempting to sound businesslike and calm.
“Yes and no,” you replied evasively. Just how did one explain that? Arthur and Molly were well-educated wizards but neither of them could be expected to understand the hairline difference between Bill’s experience and your own. How could they understand that you didn’t know how Wolfsbane would impact him? That you didn’t know whether he would ever be able to live a truly normal life or if he would, as you did, disappear once monthly.
“Arthur, Molly,” Tonks was speaking now, pleading in a little voice. “Perhaps we should let Remus get some rest before he explains all of this. It isn’t as though he hasn’t had a difficult evening himself.” As she spoke, you watched her eyes, never faltering from your face, even though she spoke to Arthur and Molly. The concern you appreciated – the source you did not.
“It’s quite all right, Ton…” you started in. You had endured a long evening and you were exhausted, but not so much as to recognize the attempt.
“No, no, no, Remus. Tonks is quite right. It’s unfair of us to question you before you’ve had some proper rest.” Arthur supplied, arm around his wife’s shoulders. “In any case, I rather think the whole family should be here for this, and it’s a few hours before Charlie will be back.”
With a grateful smile, you’d left the table and started toward your room but you couldn’t help feeling, upon arrival, that sleep would evade you as persistently always. It seemed, these days, that sleep came only when you wanted it least and, even when it did arrive, it was there only to taunt and torture you with vivid dreams and nightmares.
On Dumbledore’s orders many moons ago, you had stopped asking yourself the lengthy list of ‘What if’ questions a man in your position might. As a boy you had asked only “What if I hadn’t been bitten?” And, as a man, you’d asked so many more but Dumbledore’s advice had never changed. Today, as you contemplated Tonks and Harry yet again, you assumed his counsel would remain steadfast. Don’t ask what if Harry werewas to lose. Don’t ask what if you threw caution to the wind. Don’t ask what if you were killed. Don’t ask who would care for him, care for her…
Gently, you massaged the left side of your jaw, feeling rough edges of displaced bone. It would heal. The breaks, bruises and gashes always did.
It was a long time before you felt confident enough to start your way down toward the kitchen. You’d spent the better part of your ‘nap’ sifting through some of the old volumes in the library for something that might satisfactorily help the Weasley’s to understand Bill’s transformation. Once upon a time, you remembered a picture in a book your father owned, of a werewolf, standing at full stature, mid-way through a violent transformation. It terrified you now as much as it did then. For some reason, you had never been able to fully reconcile yourself with the beast in your lucid hours. Cognitively, you knew that you and the wolf were one in the same, to many degrees but perhaps by grace of the lost memories, you could not fathom your body taking that form.
The guilty twinge rushed across you once more – on some level, you’d hoped that Bill would transform – hoped that he would be among the cursed and just like you. For now, it seemed that he was somewhere in between – like the ferals; aware, but also like you; determined not to harm anyone.
Taking a moment to collect yourself, thumb still securing the page, you pressed the kitchen door open. Tonks stood alone against the cupboard, a meek, slightly boyish look in her eyes.
“I…I’m sorry. I came down to see the Weasley’s.” You had wanted the sentence to come out strong and unshaken – calm and collected. Instead, you heard your voice crack, struggling to deliver the words, but she said nothing still. “I’ve found something that might help them to better understand… I just… They aren’t in the meeting room, are they?” She said nothing. “I didn’t mean to intrude, I’m sorry.”
At this, something seemed to snap. Before her expression had the chance to change, the tips of her hair switched from deepest purple to a violent red and again to a vibrant indigo but, still, she said nothing.
Automatically, you rushed forward, pulling her toward your chest to stop the tears from falling. In that moment, you’d have done anything to stop the sadness from pouring forward but, as the moment ended, the force that had guided you to her abandoned you, leaving her in your arms with nothing to do but pat her back in the most awkward of fashions.
”Shhhh…” you whispered gently, one arm wrapped tightly around her shuddering shoulders. “Everyone is going to come out of this all right. Bill will be fine and Harry will come around and realize that we’re….”
Remus Lupin, you are horrible at this sort of thing, the voice in your head stated resolutely. She’d pushed hard against your chest and you’d released her immediately, the warm, comfortable feeling draining from your body. Her eyes met yours; still sparkling with tears but alight with a sort of fury you’d never seen in her before.
Without a word, she stalked from the room and everything made sense.
In the echoing of the slammed door, you swore you heard the old portrait of a witch telling you, groggily, to go after her.
“Andromeda, please round the Weasley’s into the sitting room, if you would.”
The cool window felt good on your forehead. The mercury pushed 100 even degrees outside. The mist had finally fallen; it felt good to know that you were getting a jump on them. Dumbledore’s passing seemed to instill a sort of fury in each and every member, pushing longer hours, entering more dangerous situations with less hesitation, and moving forward with an almost reckless abandon. Bill still hadn’t left his room – sleeping, you hoped. He would need the rest before he returned to the Burrow for Fleur. Fortunately, his bites seemed to have quieted the desire he once held of bringing her into the Order. Foreign wizards were one thing, you’d told him, but Fleur Delacour was a passing ship – not the kind of person that stood by you in battle. Too delicate. Molly had taken that moment to point out that if Bill wanted a woman who would fight for him, Tonks would be the better choice. Memories, which are so often correct when we wish them to just write over something, reminded you of how purple your face must have turned.
You grimaced. As always, any train of thought led you right back to her. Instinctively, your eyes ran across the room and to the daisy in the vase.
Without warning, someone cleared their throat at the doorway.
“Mrs. Weasley said I should come up and say goodbye before I leave.”
This was not on your list of things to deal with today.
“Harry, why don’t you have a seat? We should talk before you get any fancy ideas.” He remained silent but didn’t sit. Instead, he leaned heavily against the door jam. “I don’t know what Dumbledore was teaching you in those lessons of yours but you’re still not a fully qualified wizard, even though you may be of age. You should really consider staying here for a while, perhaps taking some lessons from Mad-Eye.” He was bristling. “Not that we won’t let you go on your mission,” you added in a placatory fashion. “It’s only that we want you to be prepared before you go. I’m sure that whatever you and Dumbledore had planned could wait a few weeks until you’ve had a chance to get some proper training.”
Your relationship with Harry had been more tenuous since Dumbledore’s death. He outright refused to tell any member of the Order what his meetings had been about and he seemed to regard you as someone to stay distant from. You hoped that, at the core of his motivation for doing so, he was simply trying to avoid being hurt as he had when Sirius died but you feared that it was your unwillingness to castigate Snape that made him step away from you.
It was strange, looking at him like this. Seventeen, and taller for it, he held a rucksack over his shoulder, a heavy woolen traveling cloak over his arm, torn jeans, abused trainers, and a dirty sweatshirt. His hair was as messy and unruly as ever but his stature, no longer that of a gawky teenager, was tall and firm as his father’s had been. You remembered watching James, very similar to this, the last time you’d seen him. He had stopped in to visit you at your dingy flat in London, to tell you that he and Lily were going into hiding with their newborn son. He told you that Sirius was the secret keeper – that he would miss you and, while you’d tried to persuade him to use you instead, he flat out refused, his face looking much like Harry’s did now.
Twice in your life you had been made a traitor to those you loved most.
“Thank you, Lupin, but this can’t wait and,” he added, his voice softer now, “neither can you, by the looks of it.” The minutest shift of his gaze and tilt of his head indicated the door across the hall. It was disarming, hearing his youthful insight into a situation you’d prefer he never heard a word of.
”Harry, I’m afraid this is something you won’t be able to understand for years to come. This is quite different from Hogwar—“ but before you’d finished the words, he smirked and turned from your door.
His footsteps echoed on the stairs for a long while after he’d gone. Once again, you felt helpless in a situation you should have mastered.
“Mission schedule,” Tonks said coldly at the breakfast table next day, passing a slip of parchment over to you. “Moody asked me to give it to you when you came down this morning. He stopped in but only for a moment. Said he needs to speak to you tomorrow. And, please,” she was warming slightly. “Don’t forget to tell him that I told you or he’ll have my head. I swear, you’d think I was as forgetful as Dedalus.”
Flinching against the pain, you forced yourself to laugh. It was good to see her smiling again. It seemed that you’d seldom seen her without tears in her eyes in days but the moment was short lived. She seemed to read the pain in your face.
”Hestia said you’d been in the market for some Skele-Grow. I have some upstairs, you know. We should get that jaw of yours healed up properly.” She was holding her fingers mere centimeters from your face and, against everything you knew, you longed to feel them graze your swollen, bruised skin.
What had made you follow her, you weren’t sure but here you were, lying as still as possible on her bed with a nasty smelling salve compress on your jaw. It always took longer to heal from captive transformations. The wolf spirit seemed to know that it was being held and raged even more, or so you suspected. No great shakes at potions, the healing potions you took were rudimentary – they stopped the bleeding and healed the slashes. They were never meant for mending bones.
Tonks, if you recalled correctly, had gotten satisfactory marks in potions, much to Snape’s apparent dismay. You’d never been more aware of her clumsiness, however, but she seemed to be paying careful attention to her measurements as you could feel the swollen flesh relaxing and receding.
At the moment, she was lecturing you on the proper use of Skele-Grow, insisting that it wasn’t good for mending broken bones but that, if she could only find it, she had something a hundred times better.
“Howdidyougitsogdattis?” you muttered through clenched teeth.
“Don’t talk, you’ll make it go slower,” she scolded, leaning over you to readjust the compress. “And don’t give me that bunk about how you could have waited until Molly came back – you know perfectly well that you looked like a purple chipmunk walking around here.” Her eyes were smiling as she looked down at you, to a degree, helpless in her hands.
There was a good chance you knew it was coming before she did – it wouldn’t be the first time and probably not the last. You and Tonks often found yourselves alone in close quarters, free from prying eyes.
“Tonks…” you whispered warningly, trying to sound stern. “Youknoweshunte..”...” but her lips were already on yours, fingers tracing through your hair.
Her lips were sweet and cool against your throbbing swollen ones, gentle and tender. Hers was never the move of desperation or of a frantic need but that of a passion that had realized itself before and felt comfortable in the knowledge that it would again. You moved to protest, lifting your hands slightly but found yourself dropping them again, giving in to the whispers of breath on your neck, tickling the many scars.
“I love you, Remus Lupin,” she said resolutely when she drew away, a lively flush in her cheeks, her eyes resting on yours.
She smiled wide once more and, with a look of dawning comprehension, rushed from the room, returning a moment later with a bottle of something foul.
“I left it by the troll’s leg when I broke my arm falling down last week. It’s not as quick as a spell but it’s a bit more effective and a lot less risky.”
“You look a lot better, Lupin!” Charlie Weasley was the first to arrive at the meeting that evening. You’d stolen down early, determined to have a talk with Moody about the mission appointments. He’d paired you, deliberately or not, with Tonks four of five missions in the next two weeks. “It’s like it never happened…” he was inspecting your jawbone vigorously. “Brilliant…”
“Yes, we can all thank Tonks for that. She did a bang up job.” Not the subject you’d wanted to discuss and most certainly not with a Weasley. Hestia, perhaps. Dedalus, Doge, anyone but a Weasley.
Charlie laughed. “Well, if you ever meet anyone with more experience mending injuries, let me know. Our Tonks has had her fair share, now, hasn’t she?” You didn’t answer, but Charlie seemed almost completely oblivious to your disinterest in the conversation. “Mum asked me to invite you over for supper. Just a little get together – thought it might be good to get you out of here for a bit. I know there’s a massive run on missions – Dad made up the schedules last night. He even sent the twins out. Who knows what a disaster that will be…in any case, Mum would love for you to come tomorrow night.”.“
“No, of course…your father made the mission appointments?”
Charlie looked perplexed. “Yeah, Moody set him into it last meeting – we decided he would do it to lighten Mad-Eye’s load a bit. With Dumbledore gone, there’s a lot more work for Moody to do and….”
“You’re a good man, Charlie. Tell your mother I’ll be glad to join you for dinner.” You were already set for the door. “Oh, and tell Mad-Eye I’m sorry I’m late!”
Anyone but a bloody Weasley. Out the door and vanishing with a pop, you were on your way to the Visitors Entrance of the Ministry of Magic.
“Arthur, I simply won’t hear of it. Molly can try as she might with Bill and Fleur but she isn’t going to be playing matchmaker with Order members. It’s inappropriate and unprofessional and, frankly, none of her business!” You’d cornered Arthur in his office, shooed his employee’s off with various charms and locked the door behind you, throwing under a silencing charm. The word ‘furious’ couldn’t begin to describe you. Actually, it probably could, because, the longer you stood there, shouting at Arthur, the more painfully aware you became of his expression – the list on his desk, the appointments and pairings he’d scribbled onto the calendar, the missions and locations. Bill’s wedding. “I’m astonished that you’d even take part in such a…such a…” you were losing steam and struggling for words. “Such a distasteful activity! The only four day long mission and you put Tonks on it?”
“Are you quite finished?” He asked after a long silence. He wasn’t angry or irritated – in fact, he seemed amused.
“Yes. Yes, I rather think I’ve made my point clear,” you stammered, completely displaced.
“I take it it’s Tonks who mended your jaw, then,” he asked. You nodded. “What happened?”
“I…it…nothing! I simply think it’s ridiculous that you paired the two of us on nearly every –“ but he cut you off before you could finish.
“On nearly every of the most important missions we have for the next two weeks? You and Tonks are my best people. Kingsley is working non-stop for the Minister, the Aurors are all quite busy with their own missions and my sons are busy with Bill’s wedding. After all he’s been through; I thought you would be the first one to understand how much he needs this.” There was a long pause before he spoke again, his face turning from stern to paternal understanding. “You and Tonks are the best I have and the only people Moody would have trusted for these.” He watched you appraisingly for a moment and opened his office door, drawing a cloak over his shoulders and seizing a large stack of parchment. “You know perfectly well what I think of this, Lupin. You’re stubborn and bull-headed and she wants you anyway.”
There was another moment’s silence before he ushered you toward the door, not pushing for a response. “Molly will have our heads for being late. You know how surly that makes Mad-Eye….”
It was infuriating, flushing crimson in front of Arthur. The entire situation with Tonks had created a frenzy of gossip and thrown your personal life into sharp relief for everyone to inspect and comment upon.
You had laid like this many times in your years at Hogwarts and those that followed. Peter had always been more James’ friend than anything else. So, on Friday nights when Sirius and James disappeared with Gryffindor girls on their arms, you spent hours alone in your dormitory staring at the stone ceiling. You’d tried, of course, to partake in these sorts of things. Lily set you up with so many of her friends you couldn’t possibly have counted, but it never seemed to go well. They were nice enough and you’d fancied quite a few of them but, for you, it was always irrelevant. However much you enjoyed their company, you would never have a normal relationship and you’d told yourself it was better to simply stay away than to try.
It was a mantra that you’d attempted to carry into adulthood. There were indiscretions, certainly – there had been women, perhaps even loves, but they always ended as clearly as they’d begun and, since the Prophet had revealed your secret, there had been no more.
Laughing, you recalled some of the more…sordid…owls you’d received after the article ran. If only the intelligent, sensitive werewolf story had spread when you were at Hogwarts, your life might have turned out much differently.
Tonight, you lay here for the same reason: Tonks. Much as you had in your teenage years, you lay conflicted between the advices of many, pushed and pulled in so many different directions. It had been a long while since so many had dared to advise you so bluntly.
Mournfully, you glanced up at the clock on your bedside table. Meeting attendance continued to swell and, each time, it took longer and longer. Fred joked that if they got much longer, he was going to insist that they be moved to Diagon Alley so that he could get back to his shop before their patents expired. Unfortunately, more members required more paper work and more paperwork meant that, each night, you had less and less time to sit alone and think. Good or bad, you weren’t sure yet. The only certain thing at the moment was that you needed to be up and ready to depart for the first of five villages in a scant four hours.
You grumbled something about Moody’s insistence on parchment records and photographs and rolled off of your bed, heading down the hallway, towel in hand.
Chapter 5: Five
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The early morning could possibly have been your favorite time of day if it weren’t for the lingering presence of the moon. It was in these twilight hours of sunrise that the world truly seemed to be alive with magic. Mists rose from the surrounding fields and flashing fairies and wood nymphs appeared, darting through the trees at the forest’s edge. This was the time of day you considered best for luck and it was this time of day that you began all of your missions, when given the opportunity.
Tonks met you in the kitchen long before dawn, sitting beside Molly. They’d been whispering in hushed tones, and judging by the way they jumped when you opened the door, it was about you.
“Remus. Good, you’re here. I was just about to leave but I wanted to catch you. Ron asked if you would be stopping by again any time soon, he wanted to ask you something about Harry. He insisted you’d know what he was talking about. I swear that boy…” she was causally drawing her cloak over her shoulders and stepping to the fireplace. “You’re looking peaky again. I’m going to start having you over for dinner more often if you don’t start eating properly!” If not for her attempt to seem so nonchalant, she may have fooled you. She’d been somewhat cold since your row with Arthur but this morning all ice seemed to have melted, leaving shifty glances in its place. “We’ll talk later, Tonks. Everything will be all right in due time.”
She walked beside you silently, her Auror’s robes billowing behind her. Today her association with the Ministry would not be hidden. This was a wizarding community through and through and, while there were a few Muggles – Squibs, really – there was no secrecy here and, for once, there would be no need to manipulate your way into homes and yards. These days, simply the sight of a ministry crest sent people to their doorsteps with cups of tea, foodstuffs, and open arms. You often wondered if it was gratitude or terror they were expressing. Either way, it didn’t matter. Today would be easy, at the very least. Today you would make your presence known as well as your departure, and tomorrow you would slink back in and watch the frenzy.
She was staring resolutely at the gravel and the tips of her shoes, refusing to look up at you. It cost you something to watch her, so afraid to speak to you. Doubtless, your tardy appearance at the meeting had not gone unnoticed to her keenly trained eyes and, likewise, you were certain she knew what you’d been to see Arthur about.
Once more, as though she could read your thoughts, she uttered a sentence you’d thought you’d been dying to hear but found it resonating with a sort of hollow feeling in your chest. “You know, I didn’t ask Arthur to put us together.”
“I know you didn’t.” Your voice startled you – quivering slightly.
“And I don’t blame you for asking him to take it back,” she added, trying her best to sound sincere.
The voice in your head that had seized her in the kitchen and given in whenever her kisses came took over again and you stopped in your tracks. “I didn’t ask him to take it back,” you stated perfectly factually, tipping your head to catch her eyes. Resolutely, she avoided your gaze and started down the path again.
You waited for a moment, hoping she would turn ‘round and hear what you wanted to tell her. Then, you weren’t certain you knew what you wanted to tell her. It only seemed desperately important that she understood, but she did nothing of the sort, continuing along the path without so much as an inkling toward hesitation.
It cost you something to know just how deeply you hurt her. She spoke to you only when necessary, any sweetness gone from her face when she looked at you. There’s nothing for it, you’d told her. It would have been irresponsible to begin any sort of relationship, better for her to move on – to find someone better suited to, well, life. She’d argued back, pleading with you to consider it from her perspective. She loved you – she didn’t care what you were. She didn’t care that you had no money to offer her, it wasn’t money she wanted. She didn’t care that you were older than she was; she knew you were younger than many.
You smiled at the blank parchment before you. She’d done her research there. Of any that had tried before her, she was the first to draw that conclusion. “Sirius,” she’d exclaimed, “was young at heart until the day he died. I’ve seen you together – you’re not as aged as you pretend to be.”
Recalling that evening sent a trickle of hot wax down your spine. A mere night before the full moon, the New Year, no less, a group of Order members convened at the Leaky Cauldron to give the old year a send-off. Piss drunk and light on the defenses, she’d leaned across the table and made a…suggestion no man or wolf could have refused.
You’d followed her without hesitation to her flat. She’d insisted on taking the underground, slow and teasing, she’d planted kisses on your neck and whispered intentions in your ear until the moment you arrived at her door. The rest of the evening was primal. Flashes of her pressed to the wall, head thrown back rushed across the back of your eyelids, stirring shallow breath.
For weeks, you’d worn her scratches on your shoulder blades. It would have been all too easy to heal them, but the sting when fabric brushed against them seemed somehow pleasurable.
The ginger knock at your door called you away from your musings. Hastily, you drew your watch from the breast pocket of your cloak and got to your feet, wand in hand. “Who’s there?” you asked, attempting to disguise the sound of your voice.
“It’s me!” Tonks squealed indignantly, pressing the door open further. “You’re late.” She looked appraisingly at you. “And not at all prepared,” she added with a small chuckle.
“What?” You rounded on her, already digging through your bag, but she didn’t answer. Instead, she discarded the suitcase and turned toward the lavatory, emerging with a comb in hand.
“We’re going to dinner tonight, if you recall.”
“Yes,” you replied, still irritated attempting to swat her hand away from your hair.
“With my Head of Department,” she supplied, smacking your hand away and attacking the top of your head. “Now go change out of those,” she ordered, shooing you out of the room, “and give them back to me.”
Thoroughly frustrated, you followed your orders to get this thing over more simply. When she handed your clothes back to you, they were pressed crisp as boards.
“Why are we going to dinner with your Head of Department?” you asked as you made your way down the lane.
“Well, technically, it’s not my Head of Department; it’s his wife but, all the same, she lives here and heard rumors that I was in town with a ‘gentleman friend’ who she simply had to meet.” For a moment, you almost choked on your breath. “Oh, hush. That was the mission – we were supposed to get close, to get invited and gather what information we could. I know you don’t like the implications, but that was the guise and that’s what she heard.” She turned to you a moment later, nearly toppling over her shoes in so doing. “You can hate me for this later, no? Just pretend, for a moment, that you love me enough to forget that you’re a werewolf who’s a few years older than me. Pretend that none of it matters to you as much as it doesn’t matter to me and we can go home and get Arthur to put the schedule right and I won’t bother you with it any more.”
“Tonks, I…” You meant to correct her, to argue, to set it right, to tell her that it wasn’t lack of affection that kept you from her but the pleading look in her eyes seemed to give way to tiny sparkling tears that you couldn’t bare to see. Gently, you put an arm around her waist and guided her up the steps.
“You know, according to Miss. Scrimgeour, you’re quite the rising star.” Tonks smiled a little, held tight to your chest, head resting on your shoulder, as you walked down the steps. “I rather think she suspects you’re sleeping with him,’ you added, grinning.
“Yes, well, that’s likely,” she said, shuddering against the cool evening. As fall approached, the nights cooled considerably. Perhaps it had been too long since you’d last spent an evening outside of Grimmuald Place.
Neither of you spoke for a while, walking silently back to the little inn. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence – just quiet. The night was darkest at this hour but street lamps illuminated patches of ground every few feet. For a fleeting moment, you closed your eyes; drinking in the delicate scent of honey that was the woman beside you, reveling in the warm feeling of her head on your shoulder, a lock of her hair twined between your fingers.
Abruptly, she pulled away from you, muttering something about being far enough from the house that none of the leaving parities could see you any longer.
“Tonks, we should….”
“It’s an early morning, Lupin. I need to get some rest. Call on me at around six.”
“Nothing suspicious there, Mad-Eye. I swear it. We were there for four days and there wasn’t a single thing.”
“Did you get anything on Scrimgeour?” he asked pointedly. Dumbledore’s old office had been completely taken over by Mad-Eye and Arthur. Maps and charts covered every inch of the walls, no table space went uncovered by sneakoscopes, drafting tools, assorted bits of disguises and, of course, the glass of water Moody periodically washed his magical eye in.
“We only met his wife – suspicious, but not dangerous.”
“Suspicious, eh? What do you mean by that?” he asked, gnarled face further twisted.
“She seems to think that Tonks is sleeping with her husband. I’m sure it’s harmleharmless…”
“And is she?” Moody asked, absentmindedly pawing one of the Facsimile’s in his fist.
“Is she what?” you asked, bracingly. Subconsciously, your fists tightened on the chair arms.
“Sleeping with Scrimgeour?” he supplied, unabashed.
Moody smirked. “Just checking. Just checking. She, uh, put in for a change in schedule; I thought that might have been why.”
“She what?” She had said she would do it. She’d announced it forthwith. She hadn’t hidden it but for some reason you’d been surprised to hear Moody uttering the words.
“Says she needs a few days off. She’s requested…” Moody lifted the page on the calendar, flipping to the next month. “…10 days free. I’m putting Hestia on the last two. She’s competent, not fantastic but –“
“I need to…” you’d cut him off mid-sentence but Moody didn’t have the opportunity to response. You were at the door before he’d had even a moment to protest.
You took the steps two at a time and not even bothered to knock before opening her door and burst into the room. For a moment, you froze, breath caught completely in your throat. The room was almost completely bare. Usually a disaster, Tonks had cleared away her clothing, books, quills…she’d taken everything….
It had been some time since your last trip to her flat in London – months, actually. She took up residence at Grimmuald Place just after you joined the ferals. Arthur and Molly claimed she wanted to be closer to the news. You claimed it was closer to Hogsmeade. In any case, if you could concentrate hard enough on it – the hall – what did the hall outside look like?
The familiar sense of compression and you were standing before her door – number 316 – the soft sounds of tears echoing through the hallway or perhaps you were only imagining them.
For a moment, you hesitated but the door whipped open regardless. “If you came here to tell me that you’re sorry but this is the way it has to be, just leave,” she shot venomously before the door was even completely open.
“How did you know I was…?” you asked, still at a loss for words.
“Ron called in on you but you weren’t there so he called in on me. When I heard the pop in the hall, I assumed.” She was speaking with no concern for the volume or tone of her voice. You could feel prying eyes on the back of your neck. “Quit stalling, Lupin.”
Her dark eyes bravely matched to yours unapologetically and, as you stepped forward, even a fraction of an inch, she watched, tense and ready to move. You weren’t sure if you should expect her to sprint forward or pounce.
“Tonks, I…” you started to say the words but faltered, only for a moment. Tonks, however, heard the hesitation and, in one fluid movement, slammed the door.
Going back to Grimmuald Place seemed unfathomable when you left her flat. Moody would be there, eager to ask, to press, pry and reprimand. He would be all too ready to say, “I told you so!” To warn you against making trouble for the Order. Hogwarts was closed – Dumbledore was dead. Sirius was gone. James was gone. Harry was off gallivanting who knows where.
You flicked your wrist, signaling a plump waitress.
Sitting here all evening was, of course, not an option but there were very few places to go, truthfully.
As the waitress sidled over to your table, the Facsimile in your pocketed screeched unpleasantly. Every other patron in the pub looked up, clearly irritated.
“We don’t allow mobiles inside. You’ll have to take it into the men’s room,” the waitress drawled as you reached into your pocket, wrapping your fingers tightly around the ball – willing it to shut up.
“Right, then,” you replied, getting awkwardly to your feet.
Pressed into the dank and dingy lavatory, you drew the ball from your pocket and snapped what would need to suffice as a greeting. The combination of whirring squeal, florescent lighting and drunken spinning was making your head hurt horridly - a sensation that could only be made worse by the cheerful presence of Charlie Weasley.
“Oy, Lupin! Bill’s taken a bit of a turn of sullenssullenness – Mum wonders if you might have a…” Someone banged hard on the lavatory door. “…Where are you?”
”Never mind, that,” you replied gruffly. The banging continued.
“...Right. Anyway, Mum wondered if you might come and talk to him for a minute. Went to call on him earlier and he wouldn’t open the door. She reckons it has something to do with the bites. He can’t seem to get past it. And her, well, she’s a complete disaster at the moment – rushing about the house like a maniac…Fleur is here trying to calm her down which, of course, has Ginny going spares…”
“Yes?” he asked happily.
”Sod off.” You waited. He did not look at all affronted. Irritably, you pocketed the ball.
The angry man who’d wanted into the lavatory so desperately had passed out on the floor beside the door in a pool of his own vomit. You always could pick the highbrow pubs.
Slamming a note on the bar, you seized the replenished glass from the table and swallowed it completely before leaving in a quiet flurry. You didn’t bother to step more than ten paces from the doorway before apparating away.
Apparating is an interesting business and a tricky one. You’d been taught, at Hogwarts, a few clear rules for apparition and they were presented as inclusive. This, you found, rather painfully, was not true. Rule number one; do not apparate while distracted. Rule number two; do not apparate with a distracted fellow. Rule number three; when going to a set point with a group of individuals, better, instead, to give a moment for your fellows to step out of the way than landing atop someone and getting splinched in the process. Rule number four; do not apparate with anyone you would not want to change noses with.
Rule number five; do not attempt to apparate while drunk. It only makes the situation several hundred times worse, with a slice of lemon.
“Ouch,” you remarked, stepping the few paces from the sidewalk toward the doorway. Furtively, you glanced around the street and drew your wand, tapping it on the security phone. There was an unpleasant buzzing.
Initially, you assumed this buzzing to be in your head. It took another three taps on the security panel before you realized, much to your personal amusement, that the buzzing was coming from the door and not your own addled mind.
Quietly, you crept up the stairs to the third floor and then down the hall, passing freshly delivered Muggle papers on your way. One…Two…Three…Four…Five…Six. Three Zero Six.
Three is a funny word. You repeated it aloud to yourself several times, rolling your tongue on the r’s and slurring terribly. “Thrrrrree.”
For the second time in a short month, you awoke, painfully, uncomfortably, from a night spent at a ninety-degree angle. This morning, or perhaps early afternoon, it was not your back that throbbed painfully, but the tips of your fingers. A person, indistinguishable from the wall at the moment, had trod painfully on them. Ready to draw your wand on the unidentified intruder, and wondering why you had fallen asleep, resting on the floor, the shape suddenly resolved itself into a human being; Tonks.
“Tonks!” you exclaimed, leaping as quickly as your sore muscles could master themselves. “I came to….I wanted to…” She was watching you, still apparently stunned by your presence. “I…”
Words escaped you. When you’d appeared, literally, on her doorstep the previous evening you’d been pleasantly drunk; the aftermath of which meant that you were now quite unpleasantly hung over and completely without your usual verbal prowess.
She seemed to survey you for a moment, ignoring your stammered words and disjointed phrases, before seizing the sleeve on your robes and dragging you inside. This, you took as a good sign and advanced, wanting suddenly to pull her into a comforting embrace. Whom you were comforting, you weren’t certain.
“I didn’t let you in here because I’m not furious with you,” she cautioned, “but Miss. James across the hall was peeping out of her keyhole and that always makes me nervous.” Even in your present condition, you could sense that she was more uncomfortable now than she had been even in the hall. “What were you doing in my hallway?” she asked suddenly, accusatory tones ill disguised.
“I….I wanted to apologize,” you said; your faculties returning abruptly. “I’m sorry.”
Chapter 6: Six
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She seemed to take an extra moment to look up at you, her eyes working slowly from the tie on her dressing gown held between her fingers, to the window, then the desk and finally up at your face.
You had expected her to say something; to protest but for the first time, she did not. She simply looked at you; sad, tired, forlorn.
“You do understand?” you posed, not certain why.
“Not at all,” she replied, quietly but did not explain.
“Tonks, I need you to understand…I need you to realize that it’s the right thing. The pair of us, we’re targets all ready; a relationship would only complicate the situation. Voldemort has never been above taking one to bait the other.” It was not what you’d wanted to say, not what you truly feared, but it was far easier to discuss the dangers Voldemort presented than those that you would always possess. As you watched her, you felt resolute, somewhat triumphant – as though you might finally have gotten through the point of it all.
“I would imagine he could do that quite nicely now.” It took you seven long seconds to gather her meaning; she was asking you a question you had yet to answer. She was asking you, in fewer words, if you loved her. The answer was simple, at the tip of your tongue, but the ramifications were not.
“That’s perfectly irrelevant,” you supplied instead, hoping that your escape would be more skillful than it had seemed in your mind. It was not, but the rage you’d suspected beneath the surface bubbled over.
“It is perfectly relevant, Remus. If you…” she faltered over her words, “…care for me at all then Voldemort already has that over on us. There’s no more danger in pursuing the relationship than there is in avoiding it, except that in avoiding it you’re sleeping in corridors!” Her volume was escalating steadily. “That’s not what you’re really concerned about. You know perfectly well he’s after the both of us but it doesn’t matter; he would be after us no matter what we did. You’re afraid, Remus. You’re afraid of yourself and you’re punishing me!”
Each syllable bit deeply into your resolve. This had been the argument you’d been putting off since that night in the Hogwarts hospital wing; the argument she’d bit back when Harry vanished and again each day since. The now-familiar rush of discomfort flooded into your mind, seizing your brain and throttling it against your skull.
“Tonks, I –“
“Oh shut up! Shut up!” she was shouting at you, tiny hands wringing through her hair; red, then blue and now a rather pathetic shade of brown. “The next time you start a sentence ‘Tonks, I,’ I swear I’ll hex you into next week!”
Time seemed to pass remarkably slowly for a short while. Her hands were barely through her hair, tears seeming frozen on her face, when you moved forward, taking her chin in your hand and pressing your lips gently to hers.
Tears as you’d not seen her shed before fell from her eyes as she wrapped her arms tightly around your neck, burying her face in the whiskey-stained collar of your shirt.
In all the years you had known Moody, through all of the indiscretions of the twins, Molly’s worrying, Ministry blunders, and the infuriating way Dumbledore wove his way around subjects at times, you had never known him to be so angry.
Purple faced, his innumerable scars showing, vibrantly white against his skin, Moody seemed barely able to utter the few words he was managing.
“Hestia…expecting you…irresponsible…Tonks…too young…inappropriate….” He’d been stuttering like this for twenty minutes. You’d known when the Facsimile bean to squeal that you were doing an insanely stupid thing by answering it but, sufficiently sobered now, you couldn’t bare the thought of keeping the Order in suspense about your safety any longer. It had been much easier to forgo your mission last night when you’d been too inebriated to remember. Now, however, it rested painfully in your chest that you’d not only jeopardized a night’s surveillance but that you’d left everyone in question for nearly 24 hours.
For all the discomfort of entering the lion’s den sans chair, it was rather amusing to watch as Moody’s face changed colors more spectacularly than Tonks’ color-change hair.
“Charlie says you were drunk…. unbelievable…. back here…. Molly in an uproar…. whole Order out to look for you….”
Footsteps started in the hall behind you. Tonks emerged from behind a doorway, wrapped to the shoulders in the upset fitted sheet, her hair a short-ish, white blonde with sparks of pinks that seemed to shine through. Her eyes shone brightly when she frowned at you, furrowing her brow and scrunching her nose. Frantically, you waved her away with your free hand, hoping Moody hadn’t noticed the motion.
As night fell, you mused quietly in the sitting room, a book in hand, watching the moon traverse across the sky outside your window. Quiet seemed to settle at number 12 Grimmauld Place later these days. Meetings took longer each time so that Molly had eventually resorted to letting Ginny and Hermione start the meal or stealing away from meetings early to chop vegetables for stew. Many of your younger witches and wizards - mostly friends of Tonks - stayed for supper. It seemed they had nowhere else to go.
It took several days for those who frequented Grimmauld Place to become accustom to finding you reading quietly on one of the leather couches in the library, Tonks absent mindedly stroking your hair as she poured over her own volume. The Weasley’s, naturally, had been thrilled. Bill seemed particularly pleased to see that Molly no longer extended heavy-handed dinner invitations to either of you.
“You know,” Tonks said, startling you from your thoughts. “We should consider reweaving our little tale here.” You blinked perplexedly at her, eliciting a wide smile. “I just don’t think you appearing at my flat piss drunk is the kind of story I want to tell my grandchildren and I’m almost certain Molly would have my scalp for telling Hermione and Ginny.”
She’d been doing this at least once or twice a day for a week now, happily musing over every detail of your mutual existence. You might have rolled your eyes and smirked at her almost juvenile glee were it not for the warmth that seemed to course through your veins when she was near. I dare say, Remus Lupin, that you are happy.
Instead, you simply smiled. “I would appreciate if we might be able to eliminate the sleeping in the corridor portion of that story.”
“But that’s my favorite part!” she exclaimed, looking scandalized. “All that pining for me – waiting at my doorstep all night long, so desperate to be near me!”
“I’m not entirely certain that’s how it happened,” you replied, struggling to sound dignified, despite the pigment creeping in your cheeks. In spite of yourself, you leaned over, entangling her lips in your own.
For what would not be the last time, the cacophony of sounds in the house reached violent levels, signaling the end of your pleasant reverie.
” –- If you two can’t keep it down I’ll send you straight home! Hermione, help me with this pin, would you?”
Ginny was perched atop a kitchen stool, balancing in what looked like the most unpleasant of ways, sheathed in a simple but some how completely hideous gold gown. Tonks, descending the stairs behind you, nearly tripped over the rug upon sight. Struggling to stifle a loud snigger, she rushed behind you, sinking teeth into your shoulder blade.
It was as if the world had melted from beneath you, eyes shut tight, breath held in your throat, vividly aware of each inch of flesh as your muscles tensed; the simple motion filled your consciousness with visions of her limber body sprawled before you.
“Lupin, could you check on Fred and George? They’re working on a new product in the kitchen and…Lupin!”
Several long minutes seemed to pass before you returned fully to your surroundings; Tonks gone from your side now, Molly shouting something at –
“Lupin!” she looked appraisingly for a moment, no maternal sympathy in her eyes. “Check on the twins – make sure they aren’t getting any of that joke business into supper. Hold still, Ginevra!”
Eager to flee any room in which Tonks had been handed a box full of pins, you crossed to the kitchen, careful to avoid Molly’s self-sewing kit to find Moody, Fred and George bent over a pile of coins.
”—Hermione knows more about these than we do but we’ve rounded up as many as we could. You see the serial number? Watch this.” Fred (or George) jabbed violently at one of the coins, looking satisfied at Moody’s astonished expression.
“We thought they might be more useful than the Facsimile’s, effective and less noisy,” George added.
You cleared your throat rather louder than necessary as you seized a coffee cup. Moody hadn’t spoken to you other than to exchange mission briefings or give you assignments. It was certainly a quieter existence but it wasn’t effective for the Order. Sooner or later, one of you would have to be the bigger man and initiate friendly conversation. It can wait, you thought, prying the lid off of a coffee can and dumping a copious amount into the bottom of a mug, still slightly shaken by your encounter in the sitting room.
For many, the rising sun brings good tidings: a new beginning, an opportunity. For you, it had never been quite as pleasant. Staring up now at the blinding ball of fiery light, you squinted against your watering eyes.
You were happy for Bill and Fleur, certainly. She mightn’t have been your personal taste in women, too vain and flighty, but she loved Bill, despite his newfound lycan tenancies and that was something to be regarded. Still, this would be the first wedding you had attended in the many years since James and Lily were married and the similarities were stark and saddening.
Looking sullen, you drew your watch from the drawer in the night table, pushing aside the book Tonks had been reading when you’d arrived. Alas, it was, as you’d feared: 6:30 am. Groaning, you made your way over the plush carpeting to the cold tile of the bathroom and pulled the taps.
The ceremony would be small, she’d assured you. “Just the Order and a few of Bill’s mates from Gringotts,” she’d added apprehensively. As the water rushed over your face you wondered exactly how many of ‘Bill’s mates’ would be attending. This endeavor was bringing back far too many unhappy memories for your liking. It does have its perks, though, you thought, stealing furtive glance at Tonks.
The morning light seemed to favor her above all others, illuminating the light blonde hair, long now and the pale blue summer dress. Even now, with her brow furrowed in a look of militant determination, barefoot and poking her tresses with the tip of her wand, she seemed to glow. Then, perhaps you were biased.
Weddings; a celebration of love and commitment.
Weddings depressed the hell out of you. They were supposed to be the pinnacle of a life’s happiness,; your most gleeful moment. In your experience, however, they consisted mainly of frantic, angry brides, violently nauseous grooms, embarrassingly inebriated guests, crying families and loud, unhappy children. Bill and Fleur were doing little to change your perception. Molly ran about the house, erupting in spontaneous and uncontrollable tears, jabbing her wand furiously at the bits of tulle that seemed to have overtaken the Burrow since your last visit. Several trays of hors d’ovres seemed to be floating throughout the wandering crowd. At the moment, Fred and George were bewitching a particularly pungent tray of shellfish to chase Percy about.
Tonks had abandoned you, mumbling something about checking in on the security detail. She’d assured you, fervently in fact, that she would be back by now but, naturally, she’d been detained and you were left alone and exposed; completely without someone to buffer you from the other guests.
You didn’t know why weddings bothered you so; they’d just always seemed unpleasant. Too many pretenses; too many facts ignored. Too much tulle.
“Professor?” a little voice said, taking a seat beside you. Instinctively, you reached for your wand before even looking to see whom it was; Ginny Weasley. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I just…I just wondered if you’d heard from Harry…?”
It took you a moment to realize why her voice was so heavy with pleading sorrow but, as it registered, you felt the muscles of your face soften into something you hoped would look comforting. “I’m sorry, Miss. Weasley, I haven’t.”
“Oh.” She looked down at her feet, nervously wringing her hands.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” you added, trying to sound analeptic. Silently, you chastised yourself for not preparing for this conversation. You should have seen it coming.
“He said he was coming today,” she said, tears in her voice.
“If he said he would be here, I’m sure he will.” Awkward. Very awkward. A year of comforting Tonks should have prepared you for this but you were fumbling as always. Her you could take in your arms and hold. Ginny, however…. Absentmindedly, you lifted a hand and began massaging your temples.
Without saying any more, Ginny rose and returned to sit with what appeared to be a miniature version of Fleur; presumably, her sister. On the positive side of things, you’d just discovered something you hated more than weddings: crying women.
It was something like living in a memory; like a trip in Dumbledore’s Pensive. Bill and Fleur exchanging what seemed like hurried vows, Bill already baring scars of war. It was all disquietingly similar and, as you watched several young Order members patrolling the edges of the yard, the realization that you were planning your own war time wedding settled in, leaving an uncomfortable burning sensation in your gut.
Tonks bore no signs of worriment, head resting peacefully on your shoulder as you circled in a crowd of dancers but, for you, the evening was peppered with grim interruptions.
Harry, as it turned out, did not keep true to his word. At your insistence, Mad-Eye sent someone to look for him before Ron and Hermione chased after him themselves.
“You’re lucky I’m not a crier,” Tonks whispered, aiming her gaze to the edges of the fairy-lit clearing where Fred sat, desperately trying to comfort his date. You felt yourself matching her happy, peaceful expression and bent your head to her ear.
”I’m lucky you’re not a lot of things, darling.”
Chapter 7: Seven
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“You really do hate weddings, don’t you Lupin?” Charlie Weasley was sitting at the kitchen table once again, a copy of the Prophet in his hands.
“Awww…he doesn’t hate all weddings. He just hates weddings when he’s busy trying to avoid your sister.” Tonks smiled sweetly and kissed your cheek.
Silently, you made a mental note to thank her for the quick save. “Speaking of that-“ you seized control of the conversation unapologetically, “where is Harry?”
“He’s in the den. Mad-Eye brought him through this morning. Molly is taking him into Diagon Alley today to get his school supplies. Here.” Tonks handed you a mug of coffee and pressed you into a chair.
The day was progressing like a whirl wind that you were ill equipped to control and it didn’t seem to be improving much. First and foremost, there was Harry. Someone would have to talk some sense into him and, doubtless, that someone would be you. Teenage angst was not in the job description when you’d signed up as James’ best friend. Then…then there was Tonks. Tonks was a mess; a beautiful disaster in the truest form. You’d spent years in books and novels and the worlds of authors and genius and learned the lessons they taught, yet on some – okay, all – level you couldn’t transport them here. She was the enigma – the unbelievable and ridiculous depth of your own insanity.
“When did you manage to slip away last night?” he asked, calling you back out from the depths of your own contemplation.
“Oh, just before cake, I think. I had to come back here – someone needed to be here to check for Harry,” you replied, not really meaning it. You had escaped just before they cut the cake, but it wasn’t back to Grimmuald Place in search of Harry that you’d gone.
Charlie nodded without real conviction either, seeming to know that you were evading him but choosing to leave it as it was, for now, at least. As you searched for a reason that would be more convincing the next time you were asked, Tonks slid into the chair beside you and put dry, more than slightly burnt toast on your plate. “Eat something,” she muttered, adding cream and sugar to your coffee. “Mad-Eye wants to see you before you go speak to Harry.”
“Of course he does.”
“And I know that, Mad-Eye, but you can’t force the boy. He’s old enough to decide what he wants to do of his own accord – and that’s not just what I think, that’s Ministry Decree. The boy is 17, there’s nothing we can do now. He’s of age and if he wants to go chasing after some foolhardy hunch then all we can do is offer him support and security. He’s said he’d go back to Hogwarts when term starts. We should take it for what it is and let him do what he likes.”
“And I’m not sending my good men into a dangerous situation for the sake of letting the boy have his own way. It’s reckless.”
“Then do you propose we send him out alone?”
Voices were pouring out from under the door frame – the unmistakable tones of Arthur and Moody arguing over Harry yet again. One. Two. Three. And in we go. Taking a deep breath, you turned the handle and cleared your throat for the benefit of the room at large. Arthur was leaning against a hat rack, fingertips pressed to his temple, a stack of parchment crumpled in his fist, looking exasperated. Mad-Eye glared back at him with an equal animosity.
“Hello, Remus,” Arthur growled.
“I assume you heard all of that.”
“Mad-Eye, Harry is upstairs and I think he heard all of that,” you replied, scathingly. “You wanted to see me?”
“I did. I wanted to see you,” he shot a sidelong glance at Arthur with his good eye, “before you spoke to Harry to ask you to tell him that he will be returning to school on September 1st and, until then, he’s staying here.” Arthur snorted. “That is, that’s what I was going to tell you until Arthur showed up and informed me that dealing with Harry wasn’t my per view.”
Digging your knuckles into your eye sockets, you found yourself fighting not to sink back against the wall. “Arthur, we can’t send people after him. What he’s doing, whatever it is, is too dangerous for him and too dangerous for our people. We need to keep him from it but,” you roseraised your tone, squashing Mad-Eye’s look of triumph, “we can’t do that by forcing him to stay here either.”
“And what do you propose we do then?” Mad-Eye snapped back, looking more grizzly than usual.
“He doesn’t know – because there is no solution to them both.” The red-Weasley hair seemed more vibrant than it was a moment ago as Arthur moved forward, seeming ready to pounce on Mad-Eye and the bulldog of a man snapped back. Within moments they were yelling over the top of one another, neither taking in the others point and both unaware that you were there any longer.
“I’ll just be…well…yes.’
Peace had become a rare thing in the house and so you’d taken to finding it in the evenings. Tonight’s meeting had gone like any other, with a fair few more grunts and unhappy complaints from its hung-over participants. The mission schedule, taped to the refrigerator, looked frayed – covered in greasy fingerprints, spilt soup, and scratchings outs. It was evidence of how many more were involved now than ever before, that the parchment stretched over half the door.
Tonks was scheduled to leave in the morning on a mission with the Ministry but you couldn’t bear to lie in bed with her at your side, breathing softly, while your mind teemed with concerns and worry. The house had gone silent in the last hours. Even the usual mutterings of portraits and creaks of stairs – the sound of the late summer rain beating on the windows was silenced. The only sound in the house was the crackling of a dying fire in the grate, and a particularly loud pop called you from your reverie to lieay on another log and stoke the coals.
When you were a boy, your mother told you the story of Prometheus, and its memory surfaced now, as you watched the fledgling flames lick at the edges of cool, damp wood. His life, one of eternal suffering for a deed done in good heart and spirit – to protect and save mankind. You never properly understood why your mother told you this story – why she felt it so necessary that you be made to know the life of Prometheus – to comprehend his suffering and grasp his pain. Yet, important she had found it and she told the story again and again until you were able to tell it yourself without missing a single detail. As you sat before the fire, absently inspiring flares and hisses from the coals with your poker, you wondered again why this lesson was to be learned above all others.
“Remus? Remus what are you doing down here?”
Tonks stood in the doorway, your dressing gown slid over her arms, vibrantly striped socks peaking out from beneath its hems. She wore a puzzled expression, still tousled from sleep. “I couldn’t seem to get to sleep,” you said, as she crossed the room, pulling a chair up to the hearth to sit beside you. “What are you doing up. You aren’t set to leave for several hours still.”
“I know, but I never quite bothered to get ready and I can’t remember where I put my Facsimile…or my sneakoscope.”
“Remind me, no matter what happens, to ever let Mad-Eye set you on mission with Neville Longbottom.” Tonks sniggered and let her head fall onto your shoulder. The two of you sat, mesmerized by the fire for what seemed like an age. What either of you were thinking about wouldn’t be recalled in the days to come, but the minutes that passed by carried a quiet kind of comfort – the sort that was remembered for years.
The fire was log you’d set was long gone in the grate before either of you looked up again – the sound of birds chirping outside the windows, of squirrels scurrying for their breakfasts, disrupted the peaceful silence and the necessities of a day presented themselves yet again.
“Can I ‘elp you?”
“Yes, please.” Running errands was not your most favored of tasks, particularly when, if you’d only thought it through a bit more, Molly would have done them for you without complaint. The apothecary was even less favored.
The place smelled strongly of 1,000 items you’d rather not consider. Then, you thought, perhaps it was your aversion to the dismembered carcasses of various animals that had always made you so abysmal with potion making. “I need to restock a standard potions kit – but I’ll need triple the amount of what you usually supply for one.” The clerk was eying you strangely, squinting too closely at your scars for comfort. This was a look you’d seen too many times before, but still, not something you were comfortable with. “I’ll also need the standard ingredients for a Wolfsbane Potion,” you added, concentrating hard to keep your tone as even as possible.
“Righ’ then. You can ‘ave a seat o’er there or go finish yer shoppin’. Big order. It’ll take me more’n a moment to put together.”
The man lumbered out of sight behind a massive basin of Dragon’s Livers, leaving you alone to make your decision with more than a small implication that he’d rather see you leave. Drawing the list out from your pocket once more, you pressed open the door, careful to avoid the slightly slimy handle, and made your way back onto the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley.
Your trip remained quiette and uneventful all through Scrivenshafts, Eyelops, and Madame Malkin’s, and you were even beginning to feel a bit better about the shopping trip itself. You’d gotten nearly everything on the list – picked up Harry’s new robes, much to Madame Malkin’s dismay, as she’d not gotten the opportunity to take his measurements herself, fetched the owl treats for Pigwedgeon, Errol, and Hedwig and gotten new quills and parchment for yourself, as well as a surplus for the office when the sound you’d now come to consider even more vile than the howl of a fellow wolf screeched from your pocket.
“Hang on then with the drink, Tom. I may be leaving a bit sooner than I intended.” The barkeep, fingers stuffed in his ears, nodded you toward the nearest private parlor.
Shutting the door behind you and anticipating another in what had been a long string of cheerful, Weasley interruptions, you did you best to summon a somewhat less sorrowful expression before drawing the ball from your pocket.
Rather than Charlie’s warm tones, a somewhat choked voice met your ears. It was Tonks – dirty, a bloody slit stretched across her cheek, she was speaking in strangled tones that you could scarcely understand. Words like “Aurors” and “Death Eaters” drifted upwards, floating out into the ether before you regained your full faculties.
“Where are you?” was the only sentence you could seem to form, whipping your head around at the sound of footfalls on the floor outside the doorway. Her answer had barely left her lips before you were sliding the ball into your pocket and muttering her flat number aloud.
“We have to see Mad-Eye…Have to let them know…” she muttered as you daubed a sweet smelling potion against her cheek. The minute wince she tried to conceal seemed to wrench a knife against your being like none you’d ever felt before, and you issued an instruction to relax, not sure which one of you was being disciplined. “Ministry got three. Two are dead. Don’t know how many got away. They found bodies, none of ours, but they haven’t figured out who they are yet.”
“Shhh…” you hissed – not yet ready to hear the details – not prepared to deal with the reality.
In your life, you had known many friends and would have died to protect them – nearly had, on several occasions – but seeing her, wounded and exhausted, was unlike anything you had yet endured. The mixture of guilt and anger was coming forth in a desire for uncharacteristic violence.
Shaking off the introspection, you turned your full attentions back to her face – the cut on her cheek had stopped bleeding and was already beginning to close. “I think a bandage for good measure,” you added, wiping away the sweat, dirt and tears. “Will you take a calming draft and a sleeping potion?”
“I don’t need to –“
“Yes, you do.”
“Remus, I really – I’m really fine, it’s nothing worse than the time I fell down the staircase in my fourth year – and that time I –“
“Tonks, please. For me.”
Chapter 8: Eight
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Diagon Alley spread out before you from the steps of Gringotts. The blinding light of the sun beat down on the streets many visitors, warming the back of your neck exposed above your collar. To your left, a child was dragging it’sits mother by the hand, crying for ice cream. To your right, another family consulted their Hogwarts school list. As you made your way through the streets, you felt the impulse to steal a glance at Knockturn Alley – a foreboding sense of unrest had stricken your heart cold and it took more than muscle control to turn your eyes down the dank alleyway.
At the end of your vision, just on the point of disappearing, a shot of red light rushed across your eyes, then a flash of blue and green. The spells glistened against the dreary grey buildings – a point of brilliance. As you watched, the scene seemed to grow larger, coming closer to you – or were you growing closer to it? The origins of the spells were becoming detailed now – previously invisible, they developed into blobs of black and grey with indistinct faces hidden under their hoods. No one else on the street seemed to notice the battle taking place mere feet away as one of the warriors fell limply to the pavement. You found yourself taking a few steps forward, squinting against the flurry of lights to make out the features of the fallen figure – a tiny face, pale skin and an unmistakable lock of pink hair, slowly fading to mousey brown.
Your muscles seized as you sat bolt upright in the chair. The blackness of her flat resolved before you, licking at the edges of your dreams. When had you fallen asleep? In the dark, you groped forward for something to steady yourself against. In the background, the soft sounds of Tonks murmuring in her sleep quieted your nerves.
You were not a superstitious man, but as the floorboards outside of the kitchen creaked with the weight of footsteps forced upon them, you began to wonder if all of your attempts to finish Murphy would be thwarted as those in recent days had been.
“Is she all right?”
You had expected Molly, come to make sure you were remembering to eat breakfast or Mad-Eye, perhaps, full of a fresh determination to abhor you for not bringing Tonks to Grimmuald Place immediately to file a report, but all thoughts of Harry had vanished in the upset of the previous evening and the sight of him standing in the doorway was disorienting.
“Tonks or Ginny?” you asked, by way of answer.
“Tonks,” he supplied, quickly, though you were certain she was not the one he had intended.
Setting your book down and pushing away from the table, you gestured toward a chair. “Sit down. There’s hot water for tea on the stove. Tonks,” you added, “is fine. A few cuts and bruises, but I’ve a little experience at mending those so she should be good as new after she gets some rest.”
“That’s…That’s good.” The chair scraped unpleasantly as he pulled it out, accentuating the already heavy silence. A combination of humidity, the thick, sweetness of Molly’s spice cupboard and tension was making it difficult to breathe. Last nights dream still weighed on your mind, making your temper far shorter than you would have liked it to be for yet another fruitless dealing with Harry.
He was stubborn – too stubborn – just like his father and just as you’d never been able to control the trouble James got into at Hogwarts, you seemed entirely unable to exercise any influence over Harry either. In discarded moments, you cursed Dumbledore for leaving their safety in your charge and in others, pummeled your own being for allowing them both to take the paths they chose.
Not sure if you were annoyed with Harry, with James or with Freud, you found yourself abandoning the book and half-drunk tea on the table where it was and making for the door. “Hermione and Ron will be here later today. At least stay long enough to see them.”
The meeting room was more fullfuller than it had ever been and still, you found that you recognized all of the faces. What was worse, you were more convinced now than you had been then, that you were going to lose.
The handful of young witches and wizards recruited by Tonks had grown to occupy nearly half of the ballroom now, and as you looked around, the old faces you knew seemed scarcely peppered through out the crowd. Briefly, you wondered if it was mortality, old age or perhaps simply skillful recruiting that had skewed the ratio so immensely. “This is more than we had last time,” you muttered to Mad-Eye as he, too, surveyed the crowd.
“There’s more to lose this time.” That was all he said, and something in his tone made you sure that was all he would say, but you watched as the magical eye spun in its socket, zeroing in on the boy you had left in the kitchen hours ago, who doubtlessly had his ear pressed to the door.
Absently, you allowed your eyes to wander over the odd assembly once more, studying the faces this time. The nervous girl in the corner – you’d seen her before. She stood by herself and never stayed for dinner, but she was a fair fighter when it came to it and dead handy with a map. The group of boys – young men, you supposed, but boys they seemed to you – scarcely older than you had been when Dumbledore first formed the Order of the Phoenix, chatting merrily about Bulgaria’s last Quidditch match. They seemed like the type that would be useless in a battle, but what they lacked in finesse, they made up for with cunning. The woman knitting near the front – she was approaching her mid-sixties and not at all the kind of person one would have considered for Order work, but her son died with the original Order of the Phoenix and she was more determined than the rest to do what she could to continue the work he felt was so important. In her first day there, she completely reorganized Mad-Eye’s file system from the disheveled piles of old into folders and catalogues that made it possible to reference old schedules and reports without clairvoyant powers.
As the meeting began, Arthur and Mad-Eye issuing strangled and censored details about the battle in which Tonks was a part, you carried on watching the people. Only occasionally would a word filter through the chatter to reach your psyche, but watching the faces was more than enough data to build an understanding of the conversation. All around the room, people froze as if being held at wand point. Whether sitting or standing, they all seemed to have chosen a fixed point on the wall or the floor and were unable to look away. A few shed tears, but most simply clenched their jaws. They were faces you’d seen before – the same faces people were making nearly 20 years ago when you attended your first meeting. In those twenty years you had learned many things and become a better man in so many ways, but, watching their collective expression, it was painful to realize that you no longer felt their sense of shock when another meeting brought more reports of deaths and losses.
Three words called you forward from your thoughts, your eyes searching the room for their speaker. “It’s started then?”
Their owner was a boy in expensive robes – the crest of a first year student at the Auror Academy sewn onto his chest. “It’s started then – the war? It’s really started?”
Mad-Eye let out a small growl and Arthur began to stammer. “It’s started,” you said, plainly, speaking over them both. The room fell silent for a while, all eyes fixed on you – yours, fixed on the student in the expensive robes.
The remainder of the meeting passed in the same blur in which it had begun and, in the chaos of a supper that overflowed into the sitting room and even the foyer, you snuck up the creaky stairs to your room undetected. Your stomach was growling painfully, but your measured outburst earlier left you feeling a pressing desire to leave the congested kitchen and fall into the comfortable world of books, but your focus was ill extended.
“You, Remus Lupin, are a philomathPhilomath.”
It was only as she spoke that you realized you were still holding the book in your hand. She was leaning in the doorway, the cut on her face still visible, though much improved and her arm heavily bandaged. Smiling heavily, you set your book aside, not bothering to mark the page, and watched her eyes.
“Tonks, you shouldn’t be up – you shouldn’t even be here,” you said, possessively.
The words came out of your mouth before you’d thought them through and, as you spoke, you realized you hadn’t intended it. She was a fiery opponent, and you’d long since learned that she couldn’t be controlled, but the desire to protect her from harm couldn’t be satiated.
Instead of the anger you expected, she simply smirked and seized one of the discarded cushions, sitting gently in your lap. “And you shouldn’t worry so much, but we’ve both always flown against the wind, haven’t we?” She looked at you in that way she did when she had very specific intentions, and shifted slightly.
“You’re hurt,” you whispered as she leaned in, blocking the light from your eyes. She seemed to giggle as your lips met with an affectionate gentility – the same way they had so many times before. There was something about Tonks you would never fully identify and it was, perhaps, the thing you respected most about her. For all of her clumsy movements, when she made a decision, her execution was careful, calculated and carried a kind of comfortable confidence you’d not yet seen elsewhere. You found yourself letting her move you against your better judgment – gingerly sliding her t-shirt off over her bandaged arm. Even as you did so, you uttered cautions, but her teeth dragging against your collar bone silenced the voice that summoned them.
“Tonks…” you muttered as a last attempt, already moving to carry her the few feet to the bed.
“Shut up,” she replied, not allowing the last hisses of the ‘s’ to vacate the air space before reaching for your belt loop.
Sleep was eluding you once again – leaving your mind free to wander over any of the many things that plagued your existence – running over and over again all of the things you had wasted so many musings on. Tonks. The Moon. Harry. Dumbledore. The Order. The War. …Wormtail.
For all of the time you spent avoiding any number of the subjects people so often wanted to discuss, avoiding thoughts of Peter was always your foremost priority. There was something blindly sickening about knowing that you’d allowed him to continue to exist under your nose for nearly an entire year, and then that you’d allowed him to escape, to return to Voldemort and, in so doing, enabled power to return to the other side. Absently, a voice in your mind dinned something about being one of the many who felt, but were not, singularly responsible for the state of affairs as they were.
As you lay there thinking, your wandering mind drifted to several unalienable truths – that there were always people in the world who longed to be “part of something” and that you were, in this moment, part of something massive. For the second time in your life, you found yourself in the dead center of a war that would go down in Wizarding history, no matter how it turned out, and – only very occasionally, but occasionally nonetheless –you realized that your name might be listed for the ages somewhere other than the Werewolf Registry – somewhere that mattered, and you longed to wipe it away.
In your early 20’s, you aligned yourself firmly with the Order of the Phoenix out of respect for it’s creator and a firm, perhaps naïve, belief you and your friends could achieve what those before you hadn’t been able to – a war without loss. Never had it occurred to you, when you sat at your first meeting, thatmeeting, which you would be sitting, nearly 20 years later, in the old Black Manor right where you’d started – this time, without James, Lily or Sirius.
Now, you wondered if it was only the sophomoric omniscience of youth that could inspire the kind of allegiance you and your friends provided. Had it not been for their deaths, you weren’t sure that you would still be fighting beside the Order now, or if you might have, like many others, turned for an irresponsible but quiet life.
Tonks stirred suddenly, thrashing beside you, her lips moving in what seemed like strangled screams.
“Shhhh….you’re safe…,” you whispered, instinctively pulling her closer.
Chapter 9: Nine
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The halls of the Hogwarts Castle looked nothing like they had the last time you were here. The shattered armor and broken statues had all been repaired – weeds pulled from between the paving stones outside and singed tapestries rewoven. It appeared as though the castle would carry no physical scars from the battle that took place inside of it only months before, but there were the sorts of scars that no amount of magic would be able to mend, and those lived within the hearts of its inhabitants.
Everywhere you looked, house elves scurried in and out of classrooms, refilling ink wells and washing blackboards. They went about their duties as if nothing had changed – happy, simply to be working for another year. Idly, your eyes wandered across the battered portrait on the wall. Perhaps ten years ago, you might have been tempted to take the four steps to your left and speak the incantation, if for no other end than finding out what had become of your favorite secret passage. Today, the foreboding sense of emptiness in the halls spurred you forward. It seemed better not to know.
An owl zoomed by the window and, for an instant, you were certain it was the one that had woken you this morning with the austere penmanship of Minerva McGonagall. In your school years, the sight of her triangular letters and sharp points instilled the fear in your heart and as the years passed and the letters of reprimand multiplied, it set a permanent sort of terror into your chest. To this day, you found it difficult to look too closely at the annotations on Arthur’s schedules and Mad-Eye’s paperwork. Still, this morning you were continuing to put one foot in front of the other as you ascended the stairway to Dumbledore’s old office, not certain you were prepared for any of what lie within.
“Remus, thank you for stopping by,” she said, as though she hadn’t given you a time, a location, and a heavy handed indication that it was more on the lines of an order rather than an invitation. “Sit down.”
Minerva McGonagall spoke it statements. She had since the day you had met her and nothing had changed in the years since. No matter what the occasion, the only person whom you had ever seen her address as a subordinate was Dumbledore himself, and it was only a hearty respect and lengthy friendship that granted him courtesy she offered to no others. As you removed your cloak and took a seat in one of the chairs opposite the massive desk, you stole a glance around the room, marveling at the way everything inside of it was exactly as it had been, but, somehow, entirely different in the same breath.
It seemed that was the one pervasive quality about death. You had experienced the deaths of James and Lily entirely differently than the passing of your mother and the loss of Sirius and Dumbledore’s death seemed to be proving no different. There was residual sadness and a sense of loss, certainly, but the imperceptible change in the very air at Hogwarts was the thing you noticed most. No matter what the loss was, there always remained a minute change in the space-time continuum, as though they had taken a piece of the universe with them to the afterlife.
“Have you given any thought to the offer the Governors made?” she asked, calling you back into consciousness. Three days ago, a letter had arrived at your window, carried by the same tawny owl and tied with an emerald green ribbon. You kept it in your drawer for longer than might have been advisable and still hadn’t untied it when the owl returned this morning.
“I don’t know that the position would be appropriate, Minerva.” You hadn’t needed to open it to determine its contents. The dwindling supply of Hogwarts students had all been sent incomplete book lists this year – Defense Against the Dark Arts supplies to be determined. Under any other scenario, you would have gladly taken the position, happy for the financial relief and content to ignore the hypocrisy of society’s sudden acceptance of you – the rouge werewolf. As you stared at the letter, stuffed irritably into your desk drawer, you couldn’t stop wondering what would happen when – or if, rather – society normalized again would you be discarded and made a pariah? Would the small sense of security and stability you were able to offer Tonks disappear in an instant and would she, in time, disappear as well? “It all ended so well the last time,” you added, feeling the bitterness biting back at the forefront of your mind.
For the second time in a matter of days, you were set, once again, on an impossible task. There was something unfair about this ritual. In the past, when the perfect gift had not produced itself, you blamed it on money but, as you stood at the threshold of HogsmeadHogsmeade village with a pocket full of gold coins and nothing but her birthday to spend them on, you were forced to realize that it was not money, but creativity and know-how that had long prevented you from buying the right gift.
True, it was not a task with which you were often charged. In truth, you could recall only one or two occasions since childhood you had been compelled to purchase a gift for anyone who couldn’t be satisfied with a Zonko's product but as you anticipated a day of fruitless shopping, it seemed like more. Even Harry, whose gifts you put somewhat more thought into, it had been easy to find the things that would most help him in his quest and provide him with them. Tonks, however…she was a matter you would rather not consider, and your determination not to think about her impending birthday in hopes that it would go away left you here, they day before, with not a single idea on hand.
As you wandered the streets, glancing in the windows you noticed, for the first time, just how many of them were vacant. There were those that were left – the robes shop and a few antique stores; the tea shop and both pubs remained, all seeming to entertain a larger clientele today – the unexpected mid-afternoon chill catching unsuspecting shoppers off guard.
Taking a deep breath, determined to break the cycle that had you pacing the many streets and alleyways, you pushed open the door to the nearest shop, cringing at the sweet tinkle of the brassy bells. As your eyes adjusted to the dusty lighting, parts of the store filtered through – shimmers and glints of white light diving bravely through the chinks and reflecting once again to scatter across the dust particles. Gaining your bearings, you focused in on the first thing that came to mind as a solid shape – a nearby glass counter. Leaning heavily against it and rubbing away a thick layer of grime you made out a near empty display of necklaces, bracelets and rings. Obviously resplendent with fine pieces one day not so long ago, this jeweler was feeling the financial burden a war brought to even simple honest businessmen like himself and you felt a small twinge upon realizing that it was the war that had finally brought security to you.
“Well hallo there, sir. Tell me, what exactly are you in the market for?” he asked, trying to sound jovial in spite of your somewhat well worn attire.
“The truth of it is, I’m not sure,” the shopkeeper scowled even further, picking his rag up again and returning to picking the dirt from beneath his fingernails. “I…my…well…my fiancé is celebrating a birthday in a few days and I’m looking for the perfect gift.” Your sentence ended even more feebly than it had begun as you found your statement sounding even more lamelamer than you had intended it.
“Well,” the man said, setting down his towel but still eyeing you suspiciously, “If it’s jewelry you’re in the market for, it’s important to make sure it matches her engagement set as those are pieces she will wear all of the time.” As he spoke, you were sure you cringed visibly but he carried on talking and drawing pieces out from underneath the dusty counter without making issue. “Now, these pieces are offered in yellow and white gold as well as platinum so they can match any setting. Currently, I only have the yellow gold in stock but if you give me a few days I can have our –“
“White. It will be white gold,” you interjected, letting your eyes wander across the many tiered stands, resting on a series of velvet boxes.
“Will be, Sir?” the man asked, carefully laboring the ‘sir’ so that he seemed patronizing without actually doing anything directly patronizing.
This man looked out of place in the dusty store on this tiny street. The manners and skills of a man 100 times more qualified and yet, here he stood, in his tiny, weatherworn shop, offering you his hard work for half it’s worth, only to take something.
Once, in a muggle waiting room, you watched a politician speaking warmly of all the ways in which war was good for the economy, but as you watched this man doing what he could to survive, you wondered if it was only so in the muggle world and, if it was, why they had designed it that way. “I haven’t found the right ring yet,” you lied. As you looked at him, you could tell he knew you were lying but you couldn’t bring yourself otto say that you hadn’t yet looked.
As you formed the words, the shopkeeper smiled, lifted the many relics off of the countertop and replaced them in their case before ushering you over to the cabinet with the velvet boxes, a jolly smile on his face – his entire demeanor changed.
“Tell me, what is her name, sir?”
“Tonks! And if I take it?”
Your day had erupted into a myriad of complications, not least of which had been your meeting at the castle this morning. Still, you were beginning to long for the quiet admonitions as the sight of the flush Tonks was developing.
You knew when you got the letter that you should have told her, but the prospect of doing so seemed even more uncomfortable than the argument that would ensue if you didn’t. As you watched the pigment spread from her cheeks to the tips of her hair, you started to wonder if your tenuous relationship had always been your fault.
At the moment, she looked flabbergasted – as though you’d just asked her to sacrifice a pygmy puff. “If you take it, you’ll be working with the students – potentially saving their lives. You could keep an eye on Harry – maybe get him to tell you what he’s been doing…..You could stay in HogsmeadHogsmeade, near me.” She knew what she was doing to you as her anger disintegrated into nothing more than the exasperation that comes from genuine concern, you could hear it in her voice. It was the way you had addressed her so many times before. “You’re not the same man you were before he died.”
Her words resonated in the room like a shot across the bow. It was unfair and she seemed to know it, but refused to break her defiant stare. “Tonks, this has nothing to do with his death. I wouldn’t have taken the post if he’d offered it to me either. It’s not the right time – not the right circumstancircumstance—“ You meant to say more, but she cut across you even more bitterly.
“Not Dumbledore – Sirius. You’d have taken this job before he was gone – before you were the only one left.” There seemed to be a lengthy, pregnant pause between the the clicked ‘t’ and the start of her next word, but the absent ticking of the second hand on the wall clock made you certain that the moment had, certainly, been only imagined. “You would have taken it because he would have made you.”
The end of summer was arriving rapidly and you wondered if autumn’s progress was being aided by the Ddementors that had plagued your last remaining friend for so long. The days were still hot and sunny – this afternoon holding at a swelter, but you could feel the mercury dropping more each day. In Molly’s kitchen, however, the blistering warmth could always be felt.
Hermione was leaning over a cookbook with a set of brass scales, carefully measuring chopped onions for the evenings supper while Ginny sat perched comfortably in Harry’s lap reading aloud from some of Ron’s letters from the girl he’d been dating last year. “…love, Lav-Lav,” she said, giggling and pulling out another.
It had been a long three days since your meeting with Minerva and things with Tonks had not yet improved. True, she was no longer yelling at you, but the frustration she felt with your decision was nevertheless evident. For that, when Bill’s still-mangled face illuminated the Facsimile, passing along an invitation from his mother, you’d taken it simply to get out of Grimmuald Place and away from the constant tension. The children, in fact, seemed to be the only people who weren’t angry with your and their forgiveness was product only of total ignorance to the situation.
“Remus,” Molly’s voice wafted in from the den where she was mending the various torn areas of your traveling cloak with a determined look in her eyes. “would you mind asking Harry and Ron to set two extra place settings?” As her speech registered across the room, Ginny leapt off of Harry’s lap and rushed over to the massive pot, nervously wielding the spoon as though she’d been doing so all along. Harry rolled his eyes.
“They were happy enough when you and Tonks decided to get married,” he muttered, re-opening the cutlery drawer.
“Yes, well, you can have that, thanks,” The two of you shared an unspoken laugh while you pushed several place settings aside to make room. “Do you know who else is coming for dinner?” you asked the room in general.
“Professor McGonagall and Professor Slughorn,” Hermione supplied promptly as the weight dropped out of your stomach.
More than four hours later, you had returned to the sitting room of Grimmuald Place, having found a place more fully wrought with tension. “Have you changed your mind?” she asked, standing beside you. The room was only dimly lit by dying firelight. The flames had begun to flicker out over an hour ago, but you were too far away from the overstuffed, yet entirely empty room to notice or care. Her shadow surprised you on the hearth rug.
The dinner had been what you expected it to be – an attempt to back you into a corner and berate your resolve and, somewhere between Horace Slughorn’s second tin of crystallized pineapple and the third passive-aggressive argument Ron and Hermione were locked into, Minerva said something that reached beneath the layers of logic and stopgaps.
Dumbledore would have wanted you to do this.
“I’ve taken the job,” was all you could seem to say but she didn’t require more, simply leaned forward and kissed you on the cheek before heading for the stairs without another word.
Chapter 10: Ten
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“If we can do it – you should always assume that they can do it, too. Does anyone else have any suggestions?” Your first month back teaching at Hogwarts was entirely unlike any of your expectations. You had assumed your first class would be easy – they were first years, after all – but they were far more inquisitive than you had ever been in your first year and more than inquisitive, they were terrified. Within fifteen minutes you’d lost total control of your class, your two month long lesson plan on beginner’s defensive spells long since forgotten. It had taken more than one sleepless night and skipped meal, but you managed to regain your grasp on their attention and even slip lessons into the conversation.
Your return to the halls of Hogwarts was, once again, different than it had been before. No longer did you walk the corridors remembering days gone by. Instead, you found yourself present with a new sort of determination – for the moment, anyway, you had an opportunity to shape your students – to form their minds and guide them in the direction you thought was right.
A snigger erupted in the back of the classroom. You had only given a few lessons to this particular bunch, but you were already able to pick out the present or future trouble-makers. The boy stared arrogantly back when you raised your eyebrows in his direction.
“Is there a problem, Mr. Stebbins?”
“Not at all, Professor.” There was another boy, not so many years ago, who had addressed you in the same manner and you shuddered to think of where he was now.
“Excellent, then. I assume you have a suggestion to share with the class?”
There were many things magic could accomplish, but you had yet to learn a spell that could sort through your scattered notes and form them into cohesive, complete thoughts.
Your office at Hogwarts had, much like your room at Grimmuald Place, taken on a look of distinct disarray over the course of the last several weeks. Nearly every surface was covered with an open book and those that weren’t wore a thick layer of coffee stained parchment. Sitting heavily at the desk, you reached out for the nearest stack of papers and set to the task of marking them.
The clock would say that nearly an hour had passed before you were first interrupted but, as you had so many times before, you found yourself so deeply entrenched in your work that you didn’t hear the door opening. She might have stood in the door way, watching you for hours before you noticed if she hadn’t been so clumsy and, for the first time in recalled history, you were thankful to hear the sound of breaking glass. It felt uniquely stark, to wander the halls of Hogwarts with periodic intrusions from Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione and Tonks after a year spent here so supremely alone. Still, the visits were welcome, and the appearance of Tonks in your doorway was among the finest rewards for a day's difficult work.
“Shouldn’t you be working?” you asked, smiling indulgently, determined to keep your eyes turned toward your papers. She returned your grin, crossing the room and flopping into one of your worn leather chairs, feet dangling over one arm, head thrown back against the other.
“I’ve managed to knick an afternoon off and I’ve checked your schedule, you’ve gotten one yourself.
“In theory – yes,” you supplied, stealing another sidelong glance in her direction, “but, as you can see, I have two dozen papers to mark before tomorrow morning and not a lot of time to do it. We have a meeting this evening, if you recall.”
“If you think that I picked up four midnight shifts to sit and watch you mark papers, you’re out of your mind.” The movement was one of the swiftest you’d ever known her to make. In the time it had taken you to lodge a complaint against her plans, she snuck behind your chair and snatched the papers from your desk.
“You know a student could burst through that door at any moment,” you protested, recognizing the devious look in her eyes.
“Do you take some sort of pleasure in jeopardizing my job security?” you asked, a full twenty -minutes later, wondering exactly why you had let things go this far but still completely enveloped in the haze. Tonks smiled and handed you a roll of dusty parchment.
“Don’t you ever clean under there?”
“I don’t. Until recently, I hadn’t thought anyone would have occasion to visit that particular location.” The grin she was giving you seemed to suggest that your attempts at a stern reply were failing as miserably as your attempts to buckle your belt again.
“Oh, go grade your papers,” laughing, she tugged playfully on your shirt, jerking you closer to her. “You owe me now, you know,” she whispered, and, her voice still carrying it’s treacherous quality, turned for the door. “I’ll see you at the meeting later?”
As she shut the door and her footsteps on the stairs dissipated, you grinned indulgently. You would never be able to get a mark on Tonks and, for all the paranoid terror that caused you in weak moments; it was one of the things you loved most about her. Her every act, even the deviant, carried beneath it a visible innocence. The kind of demure sweetness you’d never found in another human being. It was in those moments that the paradox of the joy and the risk rested most heavily on your shoulders.
“What exactly do you think the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor is supposed to contribute to the Halloween celebration?”
Sitting squarely in the center of her sitting room floor, Tonks was sifting through a massive pile of what appeared to be Weird Sisters memorabilia. Throwing an incredulous glance in your direction, she held a t-shirt up into the light and grimaced. “You should know the answer to that. You’ve been the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor before.” Her tone was irritated, though it didn’t seem to be with you – a theory confirmed when she dropped her hands to her side and flopped back against the couch, blowing hair out of her eyes.
“Can I help?” you asked, cautiously. Finding the castle somewhat suffocating in it’s vast emptiness, you’d taken to spending an inordinate amount of time exactly as you were right now, leaning against the breakfast bar having a conversation with your fiancé. It felt disquietingly normal to spend your life like this and, still, you were astonished by how quickly the two of you had fallen into an easy routine. Nevertheless, you knew it was ill advised to enter the lions den without a chair.
Balling the t-shirt back up again and tossing it aside, she smiled up at you and shook her head. “I’m looking for the t-shirt signed by Donaghan Tremlett. I wanted to wear it tomorrow and I can’t find it.” She sighed heavily and resumed her search. “Well, why not teach them some shield charms? When I was in my fifth year, one of the boys played the worst prank on the whole house. Everyone who was in the common room at the time walked around blue for a week. Charlie got the worst of it. I was doing detention in the hospital wing at the time – you should have seen Molly Weasley when Madame Pomfrey told her there was nothing she could do….Ha! Found it!”
“Tonks?” you asked, setting your mug down on the counter. She looked up in your direction, a patient expression crossing her eyes. Looking back at her, you couldn’t mark why you felt the insatiable urge to ask the question you were about to ask but, for as much as you wanted to ask it, you were terrified of the answer. “Do you want a house or a flat or….” The longer you spoke – the more syllables escaped your paranoid mind – the more you were inclined to believe you had spoken out of turn. Her expression was changing by the second – laughter in her eyes seemed to be mounting. “I just…do you love this flat – because we can keep it – or, if you like, we can find another one or look at houses. I’ve been staying at Grimmuald so long that it’s only just occurred to me now th–“
“It doesn’t matter,” she said quickly – the smile and the laughter still present in her eyes.
In three words and a simple expression, for the first time, she was the cause of the walls of your future crashing down around you. “I…” you supplied, trying to back-peddle without revealing how uncomfortable you felt.
“No. Remus – I mean it doesn’t matter because I don’t care. Whatever you want or…whatever we need – I – it just doesn’t matter.”
Days later, returned to your office, this moment replayed in your mind without reference to time or space as it had done almost hourly since it took place. Your engagement to Tonks had been in the works for months now – your relationship with her cemented for even longer, still – but, somehow, no single moment over the course of those many months had made it as material as it had seemed in the instant you felt, once again, like you were losing it.
Noise erupting in the classroom beneath you signaled that your musings must come to an end. Taking hold of this weeksweek’s lesson plans, you started for the doorway.
“Books away please. Today, we’ll be doing some practical work with shield charms….”
“Can I make you some tea, Minerva?” you asked, setting down your own coffee mug and drawing a tea cup out of the cupboard. She nodded and set the stack of parchment she was carrying down on an end table. “If you’re looking for a quiet place to do some grading, I can go. I only came in to get a cup of coffee. I had a batch of Slytherin’s today.”
She smiled sympathetically.
In truth, there were very few Slytherin’s in the school at all. While many parents elected to keep their children at home, Slytherin house was pilfered far more fully than any of the others. There were still a handful of younger students, but the sixth and seventh year students disappeared almost in their entirety. Many of them had been recruited to work with Voldemort but most, it seemed, were transferred to Durmstrang. Even so, the students who remained were either emboldened by Voldemort’s victory over Dumbledore or angry with their alienation from their schoolmates. In the days after Halloween, nearly all of them were reported to their Head of House for various acts of disobedience in the corridors, common rooms or classes.
“No, not at all. I have a class in a few minutes. I only thought I would drop these off. There’s not a lot of peace in D – my office for grading essays.”
It was your turn to smile sympathetically. So much of your time since you returned to the teaching staff was dedicated to Tonks, to missions, or to lessons and marks that you’d forgotten how difficult this term would be for Minerva. Aiming your wand at the cool water and muttering a spell, you felt a pang of guilt for not stopping in to check on her more often. “If there’s anything I can do,” you replied, sincerely, handing her the tea.
“You have quite enough to be getting on with. I noticed Moody has you set for a mission on the 16th. Do you think you’ll be well enough by then?”
This was not what you had in mind. “I should be just fine. Slughorn has been doing a wonderful job with my potions. He’s even agreed to give another try to teaching me how to make them myself.” In the hallway, the thundering sounds of students erupted. “Perhaps he’ll have better luck now than he did when I was sixteen.”
As you spoke, she had begun gathering her things. Tidying the pile one final time and ascertaining that her wand was still safely in her pocket, she wished you well on your efforts.
“Oh, Lupin, I meant to tell you – we’ve never had a batch of students pick up Shield Spells that quickly.”
Smiling indulgently, you downed the rest of your coffee.
Unruly Slytherin’s or not, the preceding two months were beginning to feel remarkably like the way you wanted your life to be. In the moments when you felt an impulse to give in to the doubts and concerns – the weight of the Order and it’sits activities, the nature of your condition and it’sits impact on the people you loved most, the stress of students and lessons, and the political state of affairs – you found a worthy distraction in Tonks. Her jovial disposition was never before better applied, and even the nagging tension that made it’s camp in your neck at the age of ten, was losing it’sits battle with your relaxation.
Even Harry seemed to be cooperating. Fallen somewhat more comfortably into his relationship with Ginny she seemed to have taken a page from Tonks and was administering a similar intoxicant. He seemed satisfied, in the moment, at least, to take Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons with the rest of his classmates and dedicate his time and attention to learning to defend himself from Voldemort rather than impulsively running to fight a battle he did not yet have a chance of winning. Whatever Mad-Eye or Arthur might say, you were determined to prolong his sense of ease as long as you might. It felt selfish, in a way, to stay his battle as long as you had and, in so doing, permit so many others to die, but you shook off that feeling, too, in reminding yourself that if Harry stepped into this war before he was ready, he would most likely lose and the hope you all held would be lost.
It appeared, however, that your euphoria was not meant to last forever because, even as you added another finished novel to the pile of books you had read since you took up your new post, there was a foreboding knock at your door.
“P…professor?” Not often was the opening of your door met with a trembling student, let alone three, but before you they were, nonetheless. You started, opening the door further and gesturing them toward your crackling fire.
“Hermione, what is it?” you asked, taking off your suit jacket and wrapping it around the shoulders of the youngest girl. She appeared to be soaked through from her woolen cloak all the way to her socks. She shivered violently. “I’ll…some tea,” you muttered uselessly.
“I’m sorry,” Hermione whispered, taking your tea cups in hand and wiping them with her own wet sleeve. “I just know that you are usually up at this hour when you’re at Grimmuald Place. I thought you might still be up and…”
“Hermione,” you said, setting a comforting hand on her shoulder, “It’s quite fine. What happened?”
Chapter 11: Eleven
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The air was freezing. The speed at which the nights turned from sweltering summer to a frigid, angry winter astonished you now, standing in the cold without a cloak. Still, the sight of Harry – alive, well and notably, without the presence of a battle scar or a troop of Death Eaters on his heels – made more than enough to quiet the terror all of the informed had felt for the past 48 hours.
Harry didn’t look at you or turn around. His hands dug deeply in his pockets,pockets; he was staring down on a site you’d visited many times at his age – the ground where his childhood home once stood and the place where his parents died. Tuesday’s frigid rain left the ground a solid sheet of ice, made only minimally safer to walk on by the thin dusting of snow that was falling now. Taking a few cautious steps forward, you tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t betray your actual impulse – taking his wand and rendering him immobile. The part of you that felt sympathy for his plight, however, was speechless.
“There’s nothing that coming back here can give you, Harry.” His shoulders tensed slightly through his cloak – drawing closer together against the cold of your words. “There’s nothing coming back here can give any of us,” you added, trying to be more gentlegentler this time.
“I thought…” he started, still staring resolutely at the ground where front steps once stood. “I thought there would be something here…a marker.”
Impulsively, you furrowed your brow slightly and asked, “Like a plaque?” He shook his head.
“Like a photo or a letter. It’s like it was never here.” As you came closer to him, you noticed that melted snow had long since saturated his robes – his hair, so much like his fathers, was even darker for all of the water it absorbed. Why, now, you were inclined to count the number of ice crystals that landed on his head when he was looking at your for the first time in the awkward ten minutes since you found him was beyond your comprehension but you were at a loss for what to say to the boy standing before you.
Fumbling in your pockets, you drew out a tattered envelope that was almost as old as Harry himself. “You know that I met your mother and father as a boy at Hogwarts,” you started. Harry looked back down at his trainers. “and you know that your father and I were fast friends for most of our time in the castle….” The more you spoke, the more insatiable the urge to stop speaking became. In eighteen years, the moment that you spent with Lily, standing in this very spot on the Potter’s lawn, you told no one – and why you were telling Harry now – what good you believed it would do on some subconscious level – you weren’t certain, but the look in his eyes, barely visible between his bangs and the heavy shadows, wouldn’t let you stop. “Your mother and I were friends long before James and Sirius ever paid me any real mind. She – Lily – and I were always close….The last time I saw them before...before they went into hiding, your mother gave me this and told me to always remember that, no matter what happened, my friendship would always mean something to her.” Taking a deep breath, you held the envelope out to Harry. “And then she made me promise that, if they weren’t around to do it themselves, I would make sure you knew what it felt like to have friends like that. She gave me that right before she died and I’ve kept it with me ever since. No matter what happened.”
The sound of the brittle paper crackling was too much for you to bear and you looked away as he opened it. Inside he would find nothing gruesome – only a few photographs – some of the last snapshots ever taken of his parents – of your friends – before they died.
“Whatever you were looking for, Harry, you’re not going to find it here,” you said after a long while. Your fingers had long since gone numb. “Care to take odds on whether Hermione or Ginny is closer to a nervous breakdown?”
“He’s fine,” you announced to the room at large, making your way into the sitting room at Grimmuald Place. “He’s back in the castle and I put Mackenzie, Stanhope and Barstow on him until I get back.” Of the sixteen people in the room, it seemed like at least 15 of them fired questions at you the moment you stopped speaking. The cloak you almost put down hung in midair – suspended halfway between your arm and the couch. Trying, for only a moment, to decipher any one of the questions that had just been shouted at you, you regained your grip on your cloak and smiled. “And now I’m going to go have a drink…”
Your plan had been to break free from the grips of Grimmuald Place and stop in at the Three Broomsticks for a tipple before heading back up to the castle to check in on Mad-Eye’s men, but, as the adrenaline rush you’d been existing on for the past 48 hours subsided, you were stricken by several realizations. First, and not least of which, was that the castle walls would greet you with the same onslaught of questions you’d met at the manor – only, at least within the walls of the manor, they could be answered at will. Here, in the suffocating atmosphere Hogwarts provided, you could no more allow Hermione, Ginny, Ron and the rest of the student body to ask the questions than you would be able to answer them candidly. Still, while it may have given you good reason to avoid returning to your office, you couldn’t help but be aware that the real reason you were now pacing the streets of HogsmeadHogsmeade in several inches of fresh snow was more heavily embedded in the box buried in the depths of your pocket.
You had been carrying this particular box for months now. Feeling the unflinching bite of winter against your face, you were forced to remember that, when you took possession of this most precious item, the trees still bore green leaves. An odd sensation overtook you for a moment and you found yourself glancing up, wondering why the hairs on the back of your neck were prickling, only to catch a glimpse of the jewelry store’s shop front – forebodingly vacant. Idly, you wondered if you were the doomed patron who’d made the stores final purchase.
It may have taken you months to come to terms with, but Tonks, you were certain, was content to have you for as long as you would let her. Why, you might never know, but the certainty of the fact was something you could no longer question. Thus, the true question had become why, after so many months, were you still staring at this ring with an inexplicable knot in your stomach? Glancing back down the street at the castle lights in the distance, you resolved not to drag things out any longer than they needed to be. For whatever reason, you had been hiding from this and, trading the ring box for the Facsimile in your chest pocket, you glanced up at the nearly full moon and set your mind to doing it tonight.
Pressing open the heavy door to the Three Broomsticks, you smiled genuinely at your fellow patrons and leaned against the bar. “Rosmerta, is there any chance you’d be willing to sell me a bottle of champagne and two flutes?” She surveyed you, inquisitively for a moment but, catching a glimpse of the velvet box’s bulge in your pocket, winked slightly and placed two glasses and a bottle on the bar – waving off payment.
“And I don’t really give a damn if you’re exhausted. We’re all exhausted, but we have a job to do.” Kingsley shouted. It was a strange experience, listening to someone shout while watching the same person kneel on a hearthrug with their head in a fire. Wizard or not, there were some situations that would always strike you as entirely surreal.
“Merlin, if we don’t get some better recruits out of this batch of graduates I think I may quit my job.” Kingsley was on his feet again, dusting the knees of his trousers lazily with his palms and snatching a piece of toast off of a plate in the center of the table. Molly scolded him for not eating a proper breakfast and your morning at Grimmuald was off to a perfectly normal start. “They’re on the job because you skived off last night, you know. What were you up to that was so important?.”
Smiling, you took another swig of your coffee and reached for a tea stained copy of the Prophet. “Last nights or this mornings?”
“It’s this mornings,” Tonks answered. “I got it before I went running.” She wrapped her arms around your neck for a moment, pulling you close and kissing you jubilantly on the cheek. As she pulled away, a pitcher of milk became the last in a series of unwitting objects that had fallen victim to Tonks and her two left feet.
And then there is Tonks, you mused, taking notice of the way she was careful to tuck her ring into a pocket before filling the wash basin with sudsy water.
“She’s happy this morning,” Kingsley muttered, pulling his previously dry papers out from under a gallon of milk. If he was looking to you for an explanation, you were determined to give him nothing. Instead, opting to smile indulgently at your coffee mug, the place where she’d kissed you still tingling pleasantly. “That’s what I thought.” He grimaced and turned toward the sitting room.
It is often said that order is the sign of a structured mind. As clichés were known to go, you always preferred the notion that chaos is simply a sign of genius. You never kept particular order of your living quarters. Your room at Grimmuald Place, lived in only on rare occasions when Order meetings ran so late that you could scarcely drag yourself up the stairs, let alone down the block to the ApperationApparation safe point, was just as disorderly as it had always been and yet, within the seemingly random mess, you could always find what you were looking for when you needed it. Here, in your stark, orderly room at Hogwarts, nothing was ever where you expected it to be.
“House elves are an overrated luxury,” you grumbled, shifting aside a stack of neatly folded clothing to check beneath the couch cushions for your discarded tie. Tonks pointed out on many occasions that the solution to never being able to find your tie was to simply buy more than one. It annoyed you.
Today, you were looking for it in light of what seemed an impossible situation. This morning, as you sat at the breakfast table drinking your coffee and thumbing through the morning edition, an unnerving feeling settled upon your shoulders. The ring you’d given Tonks – so late, by your standards – seemed to have inspired in her nothing but joy and she responded with half-designed wedding plans. Now, lodged halfway in between your lessons and the pending Christmas celebration, you realized the thing you’d forgotten to do all these months, and even thinking about it sickened you.
Muggles, you heard, are not unlike wizards in their wedding customs, and the multiplying number of Bridal magazines that were everywhere sought to remind you of this constantly. Cognitively, you knew the magazines weren’t multiplying – standing on the street corner waiting for a taxi, you couldn’t seem to acknowledge that it was your perspective making them appear everywhere you looked.
Or, perhaps, it was because you were on your way to see Andromeda and Ted .Tonks with a socially unacceptable and unforgivably tardy request.
Tonks hadn’t asked you to seek her father’s permission. She expected nothing of you with regard to her family and never had, but something within you had been nagging ceaselessly since you’d slid the ring onto her finger in the dusty streets of Hogsmeade and it’s manifestations were growing to include what you were certain was an ulcer. When you’d told her what you were doing, she called you old fashioned. You were inclined to remind her that you weren’t old fashioned – simply old, but the impulse was mastered before you made a grave error. Taking a glance at the street sign, you frowned. Navigating the streets of London alone was not your idea of a good time and, if the stories your Muggle-born Order members had told you were to be held to any veracity, your taxi driver would be of little help in locating their house.
Still, when the little black vehicle stopped in front of you, you opened the door and said, “I’m looking for an address in Islington.” The driver smirked.
Ted Tonks was a jolly looking Muggle – Andromeda, still bearing remnants of her Black heritage, shared his cuisine rounded features as the smiled back at you warmly.
There were moments in life that stopped you cold and, for an instant, you were made certain to be having an out of body experience of sorts – looking down on the situation as a third party observer, fully capable of taking in all of it’s ironic glory. This was one of those moments. Looking across the coffee table of the disorderly flat, you couldn’t help but realize that, of all the times you’d imagined uncomfortable situations and pictures of the future, this had never been among them.
Andromeda nodded a little awkwardly to her husband as she reached over to pour the tea.
“So…” Ted searched for words, glancing around the room as if to find inspiration. “What brings you so far out on an afternoon like this one?” he asked, trying to sound as normal as possible. It occurred to you only hours later that they might have taken your presence in the house to mean some ill had befallen their only daughter. In the moment, however, you could only imagine that they were aware of what you were about to ask and dreading it as much as you were.
You cleared your throat to buy time.
“I…” you began, stealing a glance at the clock on the wall. Fifteen minutes had passed already. As you watched the second hand ticking away, the last remnants of your “I” drifting in the air, it occurred to you to wonder if Tonks had told them much about you – more importantly, how much. Surely, they knew whatever the Order knew – Andromeda carrying a relevant role, but what else might she have told them? Did they know how seldom you were spending nights alone or had she failed to mention your meandering, clumsy relationship to them at all? The knot in your stomach tightened abruptly.
Absently, you wondered if this was what it felt like to be sixteen.
“Go on, dear,” Andromeda prompted. It felt something strange to be called ‘dear’ as a child by a woman who was so few years your senior, but it was comforting nonetheless.
“I’ve known your daughter for some time now,” you started and, not taking an instant to catch your breath, you continued just as fervently. “And I, well, I intend to marry her…I, that is…” You glanced at Ted. “…with your blessings, of course.”
When you left their cluttered, cramped, kitschy, dusty house an hour later, you felt even more nauseous than the moment you arrived.
Chapter 12: Twelve
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“What did he say?”
The words burst forth from her mouth with little regard for whomeverwhoever was on the other side of the door. To her good fortune, it was you.
For someone who cared so little for the custom, the expression on her face seemed to say that she has grown to care a great deal over the last few hours and you were certain the despondent, defeated expression you wore would not help to soothe her frazzled nerves any.
“It went fine,” you said, dully, throwing your cloak over the back of your desk chair. On the floor lay a pile of singed cards and, next to them, at least twenty Droobles wrappers. Tonks exhaled so heavily she splashed tea down the front of her robes. “The taxi cost me an arm and a leg because he took sixteen wrong turns – the last 12 of which I’m certain were taken intentionally, but your mother was wonderful as usual and your father didn’t seem terribly displeased with the notion.”
The exuberant look of relief in her eyes made you wonder, momentarily, why you felt so much like you were being squeezed by a boa constrictor but, as she rushed forward and wrapped her arms around you, the suffocating sensation abandoned you with nothing more than a tingle in your fingertips. “Oh, Merlin. I’m sorry, Remus. Let me get a towel…”
Seeping through into your undershirt, a tea stain formed.
Wind, you decided, was a determinately unapologetic thing. It shared that in common with time, at least. Three and a half hours you’d been waiting in the snow already for something to happen. It wasn’t often on missions for the order that you found yourself actually longing for life threatening activity but, with a nod to your old friend, Sirius, tonight you were feeling irrational. Something in the recent days' events inspired a sort of reckless violence in everything you were doing. True, it might have improved your sex life vastly, but the exchange didn’t seem worth it now you were stuck standing knee deep in frozen water – more specifically, thawing water, as it soaked through all of your layers hours ago.
“I’ll never volunteer for anything again,” you muttered aloud, blowing into your gloved hands as if that actually did anything to stay the cold. When Mad-Eye mentioned the surveillance assignment, you shuddered at the thought but, looking out across a crowd of green, juvenile faces, you found yourself offering to take it – nay, insisting it be assigned to you – before someone mucked it up.
It hadn’t been long enough since Tonks and her fellow Aurors were attacked in broad daylight for you to take any perspective from distance. In fact, the only edge that the Order held over the Death Eaters was the ability to watch without interference. Working with the Ministry granted you certain rights and privileges – protecting families granted you warm receptions from towns that would as eagerly hang a man as hug him and your fortunate acceptance of Muggles meant that it was much easier to canvas a broader spectrum. Surveillance was the only thing that you and your fellow Order members could count on – the only thing keeping them safe – and to see a mission handed to less capable hands would have made you ill.
Still, standing in the cold like this was liable to make you ill as well.
“I’ve brought you some tea, Mr. Lupin, sir.”
That was enough to make you ill.
“I’m not sure it’s hot any longer, but it should still be a little warm,” the boy added, holding out his hand eagerly.
Teaching you enjoyed. The companionship of students was like no other – a constant exchange of ideas. Training eager young members on important missions while both of your lives – the lives of thousands – rested in your hands was not, however, your slice of pie. The tea, however, you appreciated.
“Thank you – Henry, was it?” He nodded. “And don’t bother yourself about calling me ‘Mr. Lupin.’ It’s Remus to those who know me – even some of my students when I’m not looking,” you added, making a half-hearted attempt at a joke. If you were going to spend the rest of the night standing here, freezing in the snow, you might as well make the best out of the experience.
Despite your best efforts, however, another twenty-five minutes went by without so much as a peep from either of you, save the muttered incantation to re-heat your tea. “So you’re marrying Tonks, then?” he asked, a little sheepishly. The question up ended you. It was the first time anyone had ever asked you about Tonks in that way. You were accustom to the presumptuous lines of questioning the Weasley’s took, the admonishing lectures from Mad-Eye and the occasional opinion from Harry, but never before had a relative stranger asked you about Tonks, not as your friend, but as hers.
Entirely unsure of how you were supposed to proceed, you replied with a simple “Yes” and hoped against hope that he might be kind enough to steer the conversation in another direction. Why you assumed, even for a moment, that your luck would prove true for you now when it never had before, you would never be sure.
“That’s so weird,” he said, kicking himself a larger hole to stand in. “I mean, not because of you or anything, it’s just weird to think of Tonks getting married is all. I can’t picture her as someone’s wife.”
“Neither can I,” you added, honestly. You both chuckled. “Do you know her from school or work?”
“Oh, gods no!” he laughed. “I met her at a pub, actually. I mean, we were at school together but we never crossed paths. Ravenclaw,” he supplied by way of explanation. “I didn’t meet Tonks until after graduation. This pub was truly awful. I don’t know how we ran into each other, what with all of Muggle London to work with, but we did. She was dating the bartender or something – I don’t know what was going on but they were close, you could say – and I came in to get a couple of drinks with my chums after work. By the end of the night, they had this terrible row – right in front of everyone, too – and she stormed off into the alleyway. I didn’t know she was a witch, of course, but I followed her anyway, just to see if I might be able to get a night off in taking her home and she – “
Henry stopped mid-sentence. Your grip on the railing had tightened so much by now that your knuckles were white. A few stammered apologies and the assurance that nothing had happened and then nothing but an earth shattering silence for the rest of the evening and now you were wishing, more than ever, for something to happen.
“Any news, Lupin?”
“No,” you replied, briskly, already halfway up the stairs before Mad-Eye had so much as formulated a response.
With the term at an end, Grimmauld Place was bustling with life as Molly dropped Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny off in the care of whatever Order members happened to be around and around they were. It seemed that the impending holiday was bringing people to headquarters in unparalleled numbers. Mealtimes spilled over from not only the kitchen and the sitting room but back into the meeting room as well. There was scarcely room for the Christmas tree amidst the number of mismatched chairs that had been conjured and abandoned in a mottled mess. Cloaks had long since overrun the entry way to the point that Molly had given up her endeavors to expand the hall closet and designated a spare bedroom for nothing but galoshes and jackets. Dobby was even borrowed from the Hogwarts kitchen for the Holidays, much to Hermione’s chagrin, to help lend a hand at Number Twelve.
The hustle and bustle of the house, combined with last nights uncomfortable pauses and even more uncomfortable chit-chat, left you with an insatiable desire to lock yourself in your room with a book and a bottle of bourbon. Thinking longingly of the sweet, slightly spicy taste on your tongue and the tingling in your fingers that would take only moments to make you forget how unpleasant you were feeling, you grabbed hold of your door knob and pushed only to find your once serene single room – its many bookshelves, wooden desk, comfortably worn leather chair and ottoman and queen sized bed – it utter disarray. All of your furniture had been pushed against the back wall in your absence, leaving room for the not one, not two, but six roll away beds that had been haphazardly crammed into the tiny space. There was scarcely room to breathe, let alone to walk and you were overtaken with an urge to scream.
Taking a deep breath, you slammed the door again and headed back down the stairs to find Tonks taking off her cloak and knocking snow from her shoes.
“Hullo, darling,” she said, kissing you on the cheek as you passed. “Where are you off too?”
“Out,” you replied, not yet ready to face her and, with the second slam of a door in moments, the cold wind rushed back into your face.
One of the fortunate facts of the world is that, while silence and good company cannot be bought, some of the other fine things in life are available for a price. Sitting in the back corner of the Leaky Cauldron, nursing a drink serenely and attempting to comprehend the rambling prose of one James Joyce, you were thankful for that yet again. Your life may not be easy, but Finnigan’s Wake always had a way of putting “easy” into perspective wonderfully.
Taking another drink, you pondered a sentence you read many times over – “riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodiuscommodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs” – and took another mind numbing drink. Inebriated, you’d learned over the years, was the only way to approach a novel by the one and only Joyce and tonight you intended to give it its due.
Tom walked past your table for the fourth time in twenty-five minutes and scrutinized you none too subtly.
“Paris,” you read aloud, flipping through the pages. It may have taken some literary critics their entire lives to come to a conclusion about this novel but, for you, it had taken only fifteen minutes. James Joyce had gone round the twist and, in a frenzy of over publicized familial complications, elected to play a trick on the world. It was the only explanation that made any sense and you were certain of that. Your interest in the book, however, hadn’t faded at sixteen when you read it through for the first time, norfor the first time, or at twenty-one when you elected to pick it up again. Even now, you found yourself drawn to Joyce when your own life became complicated – as though dissecting the prose to find the punch line might lend you some perspective of your own.
Agitated, you shut the book sharply – or, as sharply as one could with a novel as time worn as this one was, it’s binding disintegrating entirely into the air even as it lay on the table. Your drink was nearing empty and, more importantly, your patience was running thinner by the second, not just with the book, but with everything in life.
As if to annoy you, Tom passed by again, this time, with a line of tinsel trailing behind him, it’sits bells jingling merrily. Slamming a note on the table and stowing the book in your pocket, you drew your coat tightly around your throat and headed out into the cool, cobblestone streets of Diagon Alley.
Tom waved a goodbye as you left.
“Nonsense, Remus.” Molly was standing, as she often did, over a massive cauldron full of something that smelled delicious, lecturing you in such a manner that reminded you why even her cooking couldn’t justify your regular trips to their house. Ginny was attempting to hide in the corner while she tied a heavy package to the Weasleys' ancient owl, Errol, without being caught. Fleur, who you only noticed a full twenty minutes after your arrival, appeared to be knitting of all things. “You’ll come here and spend the holiday’s with us.”
“Really Molly,” you started, slipping the cat a biscuit under the table. “There’s no need. With all of the hustle and bustle at Hogwarts, and the mayhem at Grimmauld, there is more than enough holiday cheer for one man to contend with.” You gave the cat another biscuit while no one was looking and took a sip of tea.
“Oh, but that’s not holiday cheer. Harry and the others won’t even be staying at Hogwarts this year. Even Minerva has agreed to leave the castle for a few hours on Christmas.” Sprinkling a few ambiguous spices into the stew and reaching for another pot, she glanced over at your plate and waved her wand toward the tin of biscuits, which promptly dumped themselves over in front of you. “It is so good to see you eating something,” she added, merrily.
“Molly, really,” you replied, trying a fresh tack. “It’s the first Christmas Tonks and I will have without so many other…complications.”
“I won’t hear of either of you spending the holiday holed up in that dusty old house or her tiny apartment with no family to spend the day with. You’ll come for dinner and that’s final.”
Arthur, who had come down the stairs with a basket of dirty laundry from Ron’s room, smiled conspiratorially in your direction before clearing his throat and wishing Fleur a good afternoon.
Your evening with the Weasley’s went as well as any other afternoon with them had ever gone. Ron snuck into Ginny’s room – either to find Hermione or to snoop through Ginny’s things – and Ginny came tearing down the stairs after him, wand at the ready, shrieking at him all the while. Percy, who was rarely seen in the house, did send post by way of a Ministry owl that he would be happy to stop by for tea on Boxing Day but simply couldn’t get away for Christmas dinner. He didn’t mention it, but it was well known in the quiet of whispered conversations that he was eager to repent for his mistakes at the Ministry and taking any and every opportunity to show his superiors just how eager he was. Even Bill passed through on his way home from the bank. He popped into the kitchen, nearly putting Molly through the ceiling, and grabbed a bit of leftover supper from the icebox before kissing his wife goodbye and being on his way. Fleur was the only person who seemed off – well, more off than usual – instead of her generally condescending and incessant chatter, she spoke barely a word all evening – interjecting into the conversation at odd times to say things that only barely pertained to the conversation, and then return to her knitting as though no reply to her statements was required.
“Lupin, a word.” The tone to Mad-Eye’s voice was foreboding when he leaned out of his office door, far more dexterously than a man of his age and number of limbs should be able.
You walked into the office more than a little nervously, wondering if you could take a leaf from Fleur’s book and simply pretend not to know what he was talking about until he went away.
Mad-Eye sat heavily behind his desk and shuffled through the few papers on his desk. The room had changed tremendously since you last took the time to truly inspect it. Cognitively, you knew there were Order members whose entire task was simply organizing the insane amount of redundant paperwork Moody insisted on keeping. Still, it was only now that you noticed the impact their work was having on things. For only the second time in your recalled history with him, did you see Mad-Eye Moody, the infamous Auror, looking awkward and uncomfortable. Recalling how seldom he referred back to his paperwork, you began to wonder if he didn’t insist you keep it simply so he had something to do with his hands.
“I want to talk to you about Harry.”
“He always is a popular topic,” you replied, feeling slightly goaded.
“Molly and Arthur want him to spend the holiday at the Burrow.” You nodded, unsure of why he had chosen a period instead of a comma – as if he thought that statement was enough to stand on it’s own in the inspiration of outrage. After a moment, he cracked his fist down on the desk, snapping a quill in two. “Well! You can’t possibly think that it’s a wise idea to let the boy outside of headquarters or Hogwarts for that long, can you?”
“Alastor,” you started, not yet certain what you were going to say – only that it would not be the thing he wanted to hear, no matter what you said. “The boy can run off from here as well as he can from there. And the Weasley’s – save Ron and Ginny – are all trained Order members. To boot, there will be people there constantly. I’m sure Molly has insisted that two thirds of the Order be there to help celebrate.” As surprised at your own answer as he was, you tried to force a comforting smile but failed. “There’s no place he could be safer,” you added, finally, and got up from your chair to leave.
“Lupin.” Mad-Eye was speaking even more gruffly than before, a feat you weren’t sure anyone could accomplish. You stopped, hand on the door knob and turned to face him. He was staring at the desk and shuffling his papers again. “You’re doing OK. I’ve never seen her happier.” You could barely hear what he said, but you didn’t really need to hear him to understand the sentiment. It was, you were certain, the closest you would ever come to receiving his blessing.
“Thanks,” you replied softly and opened the door on its rusty hinges.
Chapter 13: Thirteen
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“So,” Tonks said, snow falling liberally between you in the street. “What do you want to buy?”
The holidays were not your favorite time of year. As much as Sirius appreciated having Grimmauld Place full to the brim with guests, you did not. Mad-Eye could be found wandering the halls and muttering to himself about people overstaying their welcome almost exclusively while even the ever-social Weasley’s seemed haggard by the presence of so many guests. You smiled grimly as even simply picturing the look on Charlie’s face yesterday at the sight of the meeting room, now covered in a seemingly endless stream of beds give you a bit of guilty pleasure.
Your least favorite part of the holidays was buying gifts – made even less jovial by the number of empty shops that littered the streets. It seemed that the Ministry was doing everything they could to keep Diagon Alley looking cheerful for the holiday shoppers, but no length of tinsel or amount of baubles could hide a series of empty shop windows from view. Still, that wasn’t your primary reason for loathing holiday shopping. Giving Tonks a feeble smile, you tried for the umpteenth time to convey exactly how much you wanted her to take the lead and simply begin picking things out for you without actually saying it.
She, however, seemed oblivious. The only input she offered all day was to forcibly drag you from within Flourish and Blotts this afternoon upon seeing the stack of books you’d selected for Harry, Molly, Arthur, Mad-Eye and, though she didn’t know it, her. “You always get Harry something, right?” she asked, rhetorically. “What would you like to get him this year?”
“He could use a new school bag,” you ventured meekly. Tonks rolled her eyes at you and waved a street vendor his way. His sign read “1000 in 1 dark detectors!”
“The Quidditch supply shop is over here,” she started. “Anyway, I’ve been dying to get a look at the new Comets. Obviously, they’re still nothing compared to Harry’s Firebolt – but they’ve put some new features on this model that I never thought I’d see on a bargain broom.”
Two hours later and more than you ever wanted to know about broomsticks, you tapped the bricks on the wall behind the Leaky Cauldron and helped Tonks through the arch. Weighed down by dozens of bags and parcels, she seemed to finally be heavy enough to keep her feet on the ground without sliding. “You did goodwell, Lupin,” she said, smiling. “I think you managed to get everyone on the list something they’ll love.” Taking a sip of her butterbeer, she shivered and wiped the last snowflakes from her eyes.
“Almost everyone,” you noted. “You still haven’t told me anything that you might like for Christmas.”
“That’s because I don’t want anything for Christmas except a few things I really shouldn’t say in mixed company.”
You weren’t often known as a man who blushed but when she said things like that, you couldn’t help yourself. The red in your cheeks did nothing to dissuade her, however, as she snuck a hand under the table. “This is a family place,” you muttered feebly, but all she drew out was a bag you hadn’t noticed from a shop you didn’t recall being in. “Tonks!”
There were a lot of things you didn’t like about Christmas. Gift wrap. Tinsel. Egg nog. Definitely a lot of things that you didn’t like about Christmas. At the moment, however, the thing you liked the least was the snow soaking into your shoes as you helped Tonks to carry the countless packages in from the rented car. In fact, you liked it even less than the harrowing car ride from her flat to the Burrow. “I will never ever ever ever get into a car with you ever again unless you are firmly planted in the back seat.”
Tonks laughed. “It wasn’t that bad! I know I haven’t driven in a while but I still passed my exams.”
“What in Merlin’s name was that?” Bill came tearing up the drive, Charlie on his heels, both looking like they were prepared to either engage in a violent battle or offer first aid to the wounded.
“Tonks. Driving!” you shouted across the yard. Panting, they both slowed down. Charlie doubled over, hands on his knees, took a few rapid breaths and yelled something unsightly back in your direction.
“Oh sod off!” she yelled back. “Get on up here and help us unload.”
“I’ve never seen this many gifts in my entire life, Tonks. What on earth have you been up to, girl?” Bill asked. Their relationship moved more easily after he married Fleur. Tonks, who used to hide from Molly and Arthur whenever Bill was around, came to the house on most nights she was asked, though not always willingly. Still, on occasion, their easy flirtation made your stomach churn.
Nevertheless, you pressed inside with your piles of packages and stacked them haphazardly under the enormous tree. Looking around, half of the Order was there. Only Mad-Eye seemed to be missing from the festivities and the noise level in the room suited in kind. After an hour, Molly was still rushing around pressing drinks and sweets into people’s hands. If the kitchen was to be any indication, she hadn’t stopped cooking since the last time you visited and she was feeding you equally fervently. “Eat something, Lupin!” Charlie said, handing you a plate of chocolates.
Gifts open and dinner obliterated, dirty plates were stacked six deep in and around the entire kitchen. You kicked a ball of wrapping paper across the floor absent mindedly and watched it roll. Arthur was explaining a complicated piece of Muggle technology called “the internet.” Apparently, it connected them to one another in a way even wizards hadn’t yet conceived. “They use it to work around the fact that they can’t Apparate. Instead of going to see their friends or stopping in at shops, they use this internet web thing to connect with each other,” he explained. You nodded with an ill concealed disinterest.
Tonks was helping Molly clear up the kitchen. “Ginny, help Tonks with that stack of plates please,” Molly intoned apprehensively. You didn’t need Moody’s magic eye to picture Tonks teetering around the kitchen with twenty of Molly’s favorite dishes.
“I should…” you muttered, cutting Arthur off mid-sentence and heading for the kitchen.
The headline read Muggles Invade St. Mungo’s and just seeing it made your stomach turn. It seemed odd, being among the upper echelons of a semi-covert organization, that you still got most of your news from the Daily Prophet just like any other wizard would but, for today, it would have to do. St. Mungo’s played home to a few Muggles over the years – the only real wizarding hospital in the area, when a Muggle was afflicted with a wizarding disease or illness that couldn’t be treated by doctors or surgeons, they were whisked away to St. Mungo’s and their memories erased but, not since the last war had there been so many within it’s walls.
Fifteen Muggles were admitted to St. Mungo’s last night, victim to yet another giant raid in the high country. These are in addition to the 24 already living within the walls of the wizarding hospital. Security concerns are high as Healers and Ministry officials take special precaution to prevent our community from being revealed on the large scale. ‘Where possible, the Muggles in our care are confined to a private ward. Aside from the Healers that visit their bedsides, they don’t really have any gratuitous contact with wizards or magic. In fact, we try our best to replace spells with potions that can be administered as Muggle medication would be and even to dress as Muggle doctors,” a hospital employee stated during an interview yesterday.
The article went on for two pages – detailing, in full and glorious relief – the treatment and behavior of the hospitals new inhabitants. The raid received three paragraphs on the second page. Part of you blamed the paper for allowing the more important story to fall by the wayside of soft, human interest bunk but the rest of you worked to remember that the public would stop buying a paper they didn’t want to read – and people only want to read things that either make them happy or give them something to complain about. A story about a raiding party of loose giants would do little more than inspire a rage that had already been expelled so many times the words “hatred” and “loathing” lost all meaning for anyone involved.
“You’re up early,” Tonks grumbled, groggily, dragging the bed sheets around her as she plodded across the room, wearing nothing but brightly colored, striped knee socks. Over the years you had learned a lot of things about Tonks – one of which was that she was not to be awoken earlier than necessary. In fact, she was more difficult to rouse than the Weasley twins, if she had a mind to stay in bed and, on lazy Saturday morning’s like these, you had no intention of testing the waters.
Smiling, you stood, gesturing her toward your armchair and handed over a section of the paper when she reached out to snatch yours. Glaring at you through a mess of eyeliner, mascara and messy hair, she flopped into the chair with a sigh and pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping the sheets even tighter. “Are you cold?” you asked. She emitted an unhappy whimper which you took to be a yes and rose again, this time, to place another log on the fire.
It was hard to remember, glancing at her now from under your newspaper – technicolor toes poking out from underneath the mass of your linens – that you were angry and forcing distance only a few days before. Neither Henry’s story, nor the insecurities that it fed had been at all forgotten, but the comfort of simply having her around proved too much for simple fear to drown out.
“Have you seen Mad-Eye’s schedule yet?” she asked, sounding a little less like the waking dead and shifting in her seat.
“Yeah, I did. I thought I was going to get to take a holiday but it looks like when I’m not working for one, I’m working for the other.” Tonks smiled sympathetically and pointed to her name directly below yours.
It was like the old days, walking toward a safe apparition point with Tonks walking softly beside you. The difference now was more profound than it had ever been, because now, you had her with you, not simply standing next to you. As she did in the fading summer evening, she, once again, rested her head on your chest as you walked, only now she wouldn’t pull away when you twined your fingertips in her hair and inhaled the gentle tones of honey from her skin.
Your evening’s task was not a pleasant one and its implications were swimming in your mind – periodically colliding with other thoughts, splitting only to collide again in a sick form of mitosis meeting paranoid schizophrenia. “Has anyone spoken to Hagrid?” Tonks asked, lifting her head only slightly and letting it fall again.
“No. According to Minerva, he locked himself in his house and won’t come out. Mad-Eye scheduled him for something or other in a few days to see if we can coax him out.” Hagrid was taking the news of more giant attacks poorly. His brother, Grawp, more like a giant than he ever would be, Hagrid still took giant attacks very personally. The longer they went on, the more giants were killed by Aurors and even, on occasion, Muggles. “She says he’s been working on a house in the forest for Grawp.”
Tonks giggled a little.
“Are you picturing him in a lacy apron as well?” She nodded as you spoke, and her giggle broke into an true, easy laugh.
Christmastime faded into New Years Eve and, if the explosion of noise downstairs was to be any indication, at only one o’clock, the party was already well underway at Grimmuald at least. Crossing the hallway, you looked, surreptitiously up and down it for a sign of life and opened a door to a nearby bedroom. Molly would think to send Hermione or Ginny – whichever was playing stool pigeon for her today – to your room or the library, but an ambiguous bedroom across the hall from yours would not be on their list of places to check. Taking a final glance toward the staircase, you whispered a silencing charm, then unlocked the door and snuck in.
You never wanted to live in the city. Even here, the houses were stacked so closely together that, without magic, no significant amount of light entered this room during the day, and, given the heavy curtains, remnants of the Black decontamination, nothing more than tiny slices of sunlight criss-crossed the room, doing little more than to illuminate the clouds of dust. This was an unused room or, one that had been previously unused, at least. The sharp pain in your shin made you keenly aware that it was playing storage to some very sturdy cots, all stacked up against one wall.
Sighing heavily, you groped your way toward what you believed to be a dusty armchair.
You were beginning to question the logical aspects of crossing a room in an old wizarding house where many dark objects had been found with only your hand to navigate when your toes banged unceremoniously into what you assumed must be a chair and you tried to breathe a sigh of relief. Instead, you coughed up dust.
Taking hold of your wand once more, you set to the task of remembering the charm for hiding light, and then to the simpler one of creating light to hide.
December simply had too many holidays packed in one tiny month.
This was the fact that you were considering when it first occurred to you that your escape plan might not work as well as you had hoped. It was the sound of cattle coming up the stairs or, more likely, Fred and George, thundering on the creaky wood and then down the carpeted hallway toward you. Still, the twins thundered a lot. So, you convinced yourself, their presence wouldn’t necessarily mean ill. Later it would occur to you might be reading a few too many spy novels in your spare time. In the moment, however, you were to be occupied by a nervous feeling in your stomach as their whispers came closer to the door.
The expressions on their faces when they walked the room, glancing down the hallway as sneakily has you had done, that should have tipped you off. Both boys looked positively gleeful. Absently, you made a note to come and look in on this room later but, for now, vowed to stay silent and hope that they would go away on their own and leave you to your novel – Moriarty was about to do something dastardly, you could tell – it was page fifteen.
“What do you think the chances are?” Fred asked George, still whispering.
“Pretty good. We’ve been working on it long enough.”
“It would be great to have it out before our birthday, don’t you think.”
George was walking ahead of Fred slightly and it would be only moments before he trod on your foot. You opened your book and focused your attention on it, hoping to pass it off as though you’d not heard them come in. Only Molly Weasley and the prospect of a fantastic lot of party-goers and even more disturbing amount of alcohol could make you feel so much like a student out of bed after hours.
“Lupin?” George asked, sounding more terrified than alarmed.
“What of it!?” you replied, defensively and then made a cardinal error of judgment – you tried to get up.
The sound of the top button popping off your collar was the only one you heard for a moment. Fred and George had gone quiet and you were knocked off your balance by the force with which your clothes stuck to the arm chair. For a second, you thought it must have simply bee a mistake and tried to rise again, but your shirt collar once again tightened around your neck.
“Happy birthday then, George,” Fred said, turning to his twin, a look of ill-concealed torture in the lines of his face. George smirked and muttered something about going to fetch Tonks, which he did, but she was little more help when she arrived than they had been.
Now sweaty from your continued futile efforts to wrench yourself free from the chair and red with mingled fury and embarrassment at being caught, not only by the Weasley twins, but then by half of the Order when they overheard the explosive laughter as George tried to explain things to Tonks, you were trying your best to remain calm in the face of certain mortification.
“Oh come off it,” Tonks said, laughing. “Sirius and James did loads of worse things to you, I’m sure.” She was surveying you from the doorway, fumbling for a light switch.
“Actually,” you replied, as she finally got the light turned on and the entire room came into full relief. The sticky substance on the wardrobe was nothing other than spilt potion ingredients. You felt even more foolish now. “I was usually on the giving end of the pranks James and Sirius enacted upon our classmates.”
Tonks smiled. “Well, the only thing I can figure…” she prodded at your shoulder with her wand, muttering something under her breath. “…is to get you out of those clothes.” You blushed furiously. Fred and George were still in the room. “Unless you want to wait up here for Kingsley, of course. Though, I do think I heard some of the revelers mention dressing you up like Baby New Year.”
Chapter 14: Fourteen
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“I think there are more of us than there are of them,” you said, finally, sitting in Minerva McGonagall’s office. In truth, you hated being here. The way Dumbledore’s portrait looked down on the pair of you, occasionally muttering something that didn’t make a tremendous amount of sense, smiling and eating gumdrops as though he hadn’t a care in the world…it left you more than a little unsettled.
The concept of an afterlife was one that had been presented to you in various forms. Dante presented it as a ChristoChrist-centric concept of heaven and a many-layered retributive structure. Reincarnation may have been bandied about by some with a lesser grasp on their faculties, but the portrait hanging before you, carrying an imprint of the man that Dumbledore once was, seemed to suggest that, no matter the amount of magic a person could perform, the being of the soul – that couldn’t be transferred or bartered or moved or regenerated. Being ended upon death and that was that. Still, since your youthful visits to this office, the portraits always left you a little queasy and, with the addition of your greatest mentor to their ranks, you were finally able to identify the reason. It was his eyes. The bright, intelligent eyes that had always been Dumbledore’s – the spark that went out the same moment the spell reached him – it was still visible, hidden under a heavy blue glaze of disconcern unconcern and that was something you would never see in Dumbledore so long as you lived.
Diverting your eyes from the portrait again, you settled on watching Minerva. She was cleaning her glasses with a cloth drawn out of her desk drawer. She always did this when the subject of the schools future was brought up. Seldom, however, were you the one initiating the conversation.
When you awoke on Monday morning, it was a bit of a start to realize that you would be returning to your regularly scheduled lesson plan and a classroom full of students. Moreso when you reached the classroom to discover that for today’s double period of third years, you would be teaching only four students – two Gryffindors and a Ravenclaw.
“The list is only getting longer, Minerva,” you added, setting your morning copy of the Daily Prophet on the desk in front of her, folded to page ten. “It’s not that I mind the regular pay or that I think we should rob the children who do want to stay of the education that they deserve, I just think we have to do something.
“Something like what?” she asked, not looking up from her glasses. Instead, scratching violently at a water spot.
“Something like…something.” You let out a feeble half-smile. This would not be the last time you were lost for a solution to a problem. “We need to stem the flow a bit – make a change that makes getting a full fledged magical education in a time of war a practical thing. Most of our Muggle-born students were pulled out of school after you sent that letter.”
You had more to say but she cut you off before you could even finish your breath. “What would you have had me do, Remus?” she asked, sternly, but you had the impression you were not being invited to answer. “Most of those students weren’t telling their parents what is happening here. How was I supposed to explain to another parent how their son or daughter died when they didn’t know anything about Voldemort – anything about a war.”
“I’m not saying you did the wrong thing,” you started to say but stopped yourself before the lie was found out. She seemed to complete the thought for you, however, and set down the towel. Putting her glasses on a little more carefully than usual, she clasped her hands on the desk and leaned forward with a defeated, almost resigned air.
“What do you think we should do?” she asked, this time, more sincerely.
“What do you think we should do?” you asked Tonks that night over dinner. What the meal you were sharing had in common with the concept of dinner was little more than it’sits hour and it’sits location, but you were too nauseous to be heavily concerned with eating something. In truth, you only agreed to stop by her flat as a means of avoiding Slughorn and the rest at the castle.
Word of your meeting with Minerva was traveling fast, both at Hogwarts and within the Order. Molly Weasley took the opportunity to send Charlie to talk to you, full of ideas for changes that could be made at Hogwarts to improve the school and make it safer. One of them involved caged and chained dragons, though you suspected that might have been Charlie’s addition.
“You’ll think of something, Remus. You always think of something.” Tonks shrugged, none too reassuringly, and popped another fortune cookie into her mouth, reading the contents aloud. “Wealth cannot always be measured in coins,” she said, scrunching up her nose. “When did they start filling these things with proverbs?”
When you fell into your bed at Hogwarts last night, it was nearly four in the morning. “I think I may be too old for heroics,” you muttered into the night, pulling the blankets over yourself, shoes and all. Now, at nearly five thirty, the constant trickle of water from the washcloth Peeves was holding over your head prevented to from doing anything akin to sleeping at all. Cognitively, you knew attempting to reason with a poltergeist was more pointless than trying to befriend a Death Eater. Nevertheless, you persisted in trying.
Peeves, it seemed, feared you no more now as a teacher than he had when you were a student.
“Loony, loopy Lupin. Loony, loopy Lupin!” he chanted in a sing song voice, giving the rag a hearty squeeze and turning the trickle to a stream for a few moments.
Running your hand across your forehead and massaging your temples, you made a decision and, reluctantly, sat up in order to enact it. .
Peeves followed you with the rag.
“Is it really necessary for you to continue that now you’ve succeeded in keeping me awake, Peeves?”
“It is! It is!” he hissed, chasing you merrily. Hoping the rag would eventually run dry; you rolled your eyes and made your way to the Owlery, hoping not to cross paths with anyone on your way.
Nearly an hour later, with a copy of the morning edition in one hand and a steaming mug of coffee from the kitchens in the other, you looked out over your domain (i.e., your desk and the tiny bedroom beyond it) with a sigh. You were going to do this. You were going to open this paper, pull out the classifieds section and, if you didn’t find a Wizard in Hogsmeade offering a home you liked, or maybe flat over Diagon Alley, you’d have to resort to the Muggle sales system.
“You can do this,”: you muttered.
The truth of the matter was that you didn’t know if you could do this. Financial constraints and a regular monthly disappearance always left you with a set of lowered expectations you were sure, no matter what she said, Tonks would never tolerate. In fact, normally, you shopping for a place to live mostly consisted of your happening upon a witch or wizard with a moldy, infested house and a room to rent for almost nothing and a promise to never ask questions. Leaving usually consisted of you sneaking off in the middle of the night, bill paid in full but with a bag over your shoulder before they discovered your secrets.
Taking a sip of coffee, you might have left as though you were losing your nerve, but the soaked shirt clinging to your shoulders reminded you exactly why you were doing this. “Peeves!”
“How’s Bill doing?” you asked Molly, three days later. She was resting around the fire in the sitting room at Grimmauld Place with her several of her children. For the first time in months, both Ron and Ginny seemed to be thoroughly distracted from their respective melodramatic relationships and entirely engulfed in something supremely real. It made you ill.
“The healer says he’ll be all right in a few days,” she croaked, looking up at you as warmly as she could muster.
Molly Weasley sounded as if she hadn’t had a drink of water in days. Emaciated and weather worn, the entire Weasley family was taking this latest tragedy harder than any that had befallen them before. Perhaps, however, it had something to do with the number of injuries they too sustained.
Seventy-two hours ago, you were unhappily looking at apartments in London with your new friend, Maxwell, the realtor who was charging you so much it made your ears bleed just to think about it. Just thinking about the look on his face when the Facsimile in your pocket started squealing made you nauseous. Within the span of a few hours you had moved from a relatively panic stricken, first time home-buyer to a…well, you weren’t sure what battles made you, other than extremely sore.
A knock on the doorframe from the kitchen called your attention away from your musings. Nursing your left leg carefully, you got up without replying and limped into the kitchen to leave the Weasley’s to their collective thoughts.
“What do you think?” Tonks asked, shutting the door to the pantry behind her. It was the first time in months the two of you were in a confined space
Replacing an upset can on one of the shelves, you groaned. “I think you’re going to need some serious medical attention if you don’t get some sleep soon.” Tonks pressed her fingertips to her temples in an uncharacteristically pained gesture and returned your grimace. She said something like ‘not that’ without ever opening her eyes. “I think it’s a bloody disaster, Tonks.”
The last three days would run before your eyes many times in the coming months, but no where near as many times as your life had flashed before you in the scant few hours of battle. For the first time, you truly felt this had become a Second War – both dangerous and deadly enough to be considered and feared as a unit in and of itself.
“The strategy was different. They’ve been silent for months, nothing more than a few rumblings, and then they come out of no where with something they must’ve been planning for months, just to get that kind of turn out.”
The two of you were pressed so tightly together that, in order to drop her arm, she needed to slide it between the two of you and press herself against the wall. “Tonks, you need rest.”
Taking another deep, fortifying breath, she started a feeble smile. The barely healed scabs on her lips cracked and bled before she could manage it and she let her face fall. “Just a few minutes.”
With Tonks finally fast asleep, you brushed a stray hair out of her eyes and slid out of bed, gingerly putting the first weight of the morning on your left leg and wincing. The sun was just starting to peak tentative fingers out from under the blanket of horizon, the moon long since retreated to it’sits own quiet home, when you made your way to the bathroom at the end of the hall and set to your morning routine. Toothpaste on the brush. No, toothpaste on the toothbrush and small circles – be gentle on the gums.
An hour later, you were ordering coffee at Madame Puddifoot’s. The closed door at Rosemerta’s was as big a shock to you as the frigid weather had been and, as you paid for your coffee and glanced up at the looming castle, you tried to set your resolve.
You would take the house Maxwell had shown you. Tonks wanted a house – even if she never said it in so many worse. It was big enough for you and for her with a comfortable guest room and two bathrooms. The kitchen was big enough for someone to cook in – not that either of you cooked, but if you wanted to… Buried deep in the suburbs, the houses were far enough apart to avoid all but the most zealous door-to-door salesmen and religious pamphlet distributors. The city lights wouldn’t keep you up and night but you wouldn’t have to take the Knight Bus to the market, either.
You would take the house, but before you did, you would make the trek up the hill and talk to Minerva. Just as soon as you’d gotten your coffee…and warmed up a bit…and perhaps ordered a bagel….
Three and a half cups of coffee later, your knees were shaking and you were relatively certain there was sweat developing on your brow, despite the freezing temperatures, but you had finally come to terms with the fact that, eventually, you were going to have to go up to the castle – and it wasn’t only the premature, Valentine’s Day cupid’s that were convincing you. You had a meeting with Maxwell at 10:30 and if it would be pointless to take it without having spoken to Minerva beforehand. So, you resigned yourself to the notion that you were going to have to do this and trudged through the icy snow, up the walk to the school, through the entrance, down the hall, up the moving staircase and through the door you dreaded most. “Minerva?”
Minerva McGonagall was sitting at her desk, barely visible behind a gigantic pile of papers. An arm popped up over the top of the mountain and waved you forward, her quill still scratching vigorously.
High on caffeine and low on sleep, you shook unceasingly without realizing it but she didn’t seem to notice. The combination, however, made your phrasing and approach less graceful than it might have been and you found yourself blurting things out in a kind of uncontrollable flow before you knew what was happening. “I want an additional three periods a week and I want Defense Against the Dark Arts to be mandatory. I want all of thethe entire curriculum changed to reflect war related services.” Your wavering hand knocked an inkpot off of the desk.
Minerva looked up with a start.
“I want all of the students completely educated on Defense. And…” the verbal diahreeadiarrhea continued “I want an Auror to give optional lessons as well. Slughorn shouldn’t teach anything but antidotes and potions that could protect against an enemy or delay their progress…And I want the names of all of the student’s who’ve withdrawn. I want to tell their parents what we’re doing – give them the option to come back.” You paused, waiting for her to respond, getting progressively more nervous by the moment.
Caffeine, it seemed, would affect you similarly to alcohol if consumed too quickly – it made you brazen, impulsive, and a self-declared wiseman. It was a lethal combination. Suddenly, you felt a need to sit down.
“If…uh, you think that’s a good idea, that is…”
Info 20: BitterEpiphany is a site admin and the one of the current staff who has been part of the staff for longest apart from Jay.
When we have faith in you
and we think it can last
You know what you may do
Then everything is fast
Chapter 15: Fifteen
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Fifteen Killed…..Three Injured…Significant Property Damage…Four Muggle Memories Modified….
There was a reason you’d long since stopped looking at this bulletin board. It was only a now dire need for the requests sheet that had you staring at it now. Your hand was held halfway up to the board, a thumbtack pinched between two fingers, as you inspected one of the postings closer – in the lower left hand corner of an article addressing some of the more recent injuries and deaths in the magical community, on the reverse side, only visible because of the amount of post-meeting candle light, you could see the remnants of an obituary peaking through.
With a jerk in your stomach, you realized that avoiding this bulletin board was not the only thing you kept yourself up to avoiding and looked away, accidentally jamming the tack into the eye of a disheveled looking witch who had given the Prophet a dramatically colorful quote about her brush with certain demise when a Death Eater came to fetch her tea pot. The byline on the article read Rita Skeeter in a flowery green ink.
Gripping tighter to the list in your hand, you made your way through the crowded kitchen and toward the office that now belonged to Arthur and Mad-Eye and set the form on Arthur’s crowded desk. “The requests for holiday this month,” you said and turned toward the door again, only to stop and take hold of the frame. “If there’s any chance you can manage it – take a few days for Tonks?” Before you knew what you were doing, the soft, warm smile that could only belong to Arthur Weasley was clouding your better judgment and you were experiencing a now familiar feeling of sharing more than you’d intended. “We’ve just closed on a house and I’d like to give her a few days to get used to the idea. She could use some sleep, as well,” you added and Arthur nodded, muttering something about seeing that it was taken care of if he could spare you.
As you left the tiny, overcrowded office, you couldn’t help but notice how good it had felt to say those words. You, Remus Lupin, were closing on a house – a house you had bought…a house you had bought with your fiancé.
That, at least, was going right.
Classes, however, were another story. Your campaign to revitalize the school had gone somewhat better than you planned but, drunk on caffeine and exhaustion, you had certainly bitten off more than you, or anyone, could chew. Molly was worried more now than ever and, rather than asking you over for dinner a few nights a week, had begun delivering dinner to your office, either in person or through one of her older children. On other evenings, Ginny and Ron were responsible for reporting as to whether you appeared for your three square meals a day and, on occasions when you didn’t, reminding you by force if necessary.
The problem, however, was not the eating of food. Your sleepless nights had finally caught up with you and your appetite could scarcely be sated. It was finding a place to put your plate that presented a problem, above all others.
In addition to your regular classes, which had now all been turned to double periods to allow you a greater chance to address more complicated spells more quickly, you were re-writing the curriculum for several other courses and addressing the issue of training sessions after hours with more than a few of the schools students.
The part of you that enjoyed sleep and Tonks and dinner was sincerely regretting that early-morning conversation with Minerva.
To help ease some of the load, Hermione happily taught Ron, Harry and Ginny how to bewitch quills to repeat the same message on an entire parchment roll. She even learned how to inspire them to pen a different name on each letter – making the task of notifying all withdrawn students considerably easier. While her quills worked, Ron stuffed the letters into envelopes, Harry dripped wax onto the seals and Ginny stamped the Hogwarts Crest on each and every puddle of silken, red wax. It was a sick sort of assembly line rewarded with massive bars of Honeydukes chocolates – some of the last Ambrosius Flume ever sold before closing up shop and barricading the doors to his upstairs flat.
At the end of that incredibly productive evening – with half of the school owls hard at work – you were feeling self-satisfied. Now, buried behind a mound of papers, a plate of cold mashed potatoes sitting on the window sill, you were remembering that naïve sentiment with a terrible longing.
You were beginning to understand where Moody got all of his paperwork.
Pushing up from your chair, you took hold of a stack of parchment and crossed to the fireplace. “Horace, I wanted to talk to you about a list of potions and antidotes I really think we should cover as soon as possible…”
“We’re launching an offensive,” Moody announced loudly, at the beginning of the next meeting. The room, formerly filled to capacity, seemed to have lost half its inhabitants. Nevertheless, those that remained – injured though some of them were – could still make quite a noise but, with Moody’s words, the din went completely silent. The expression “You could hear a pin drop,” had never been a more vast understatement. Not only would you have been able to hear a pin drop. You could have heard the sound of that same pin trying to form a thought in spite of its status as an inanimate object.
“We’ve wasted too much time on surveillance and thwarting and, yes we’ve taken a few Death Eaters in and killed a fair few more, but it’s not enough.” The way he said killed made everyone in the room shudder. The Daily Prophet reported deaths on either side twice a day but the lot of you tried, as a collective, to avoid the realization you were ending lives. Phrases like “how many did we get?” and “a few fell” were bandied about the dinner table like polite conversation without anyone so much as batting an eyelash but no one ever said “kill.”
Mad-Eye carried on for hours. What you expected to be a simple meeting turned into a war council of old. As you drifted in and out of consciousness, watching him scribble notes on a rolling chalkboard and scratch out entries in his piles of paperwork. Occasionally, someone would address you directly – the last question pertained to something about a quick refresher course in Stealth and Concealment – and you muttered something non-committal in response. Now, you sat alone in the library, staring at the dying fire in the grate. The words Moody said as you left the kitchen seemed stalled in the forefront of your mind – “We’re going to lose, Lupin.”
It was a jarring realization to find that you and Mad-Eye agreed on something, more disconcerting for it to be a prediction of early and painful defeat, but the clatter in your head would have to stop if you could simply will it to. Absentmindedly, you lifted your wand off of the end table and added another log to the fire, trying to think of anything but the stream of images that had been playing across your mind for hours.
Unable to fully lose yourself in musings, you anticipated the knock at the door before it came and looked up. Tonks stopped her hand in mid air, letting her arm drop to her side and taking a deep breath. “He’s on his way,” she said simply and left the room without smiling. Putting a hand to your temple, you sighed heavily and stared back into the fireplace.
The first words you heard when you descended the stairs nearly an hour later, holding a copy of your prepared speech for reassurance, were anything but comforting. “Weasley!” The sound of Mad-Eye’s voice booming through the house was no longer enough to make you stand at attention but something in the tone and the speed at which Fred and George clamored toward his office made you nervous and you picked up your gait. “The two of you – go to the castle. Get your brother and sister and bring back the brown-haired girl he spends so much time with. Bring them back here-NOW!” he bellowed, looking more ominous than you’d ever seen. “Lupin, what did he say to you the last time you saw him?” Moody asked, accusatorily without turning to look at you. The twins skidded out of the room, both looking serious – almost devastated.
“Harry? Nothing,” you replied, feeling a mounting sense of anxious tension. Your heart raced against your chest as you forced yourself to ask the inevitable why.
“No time to explain,” was all he said, shoving a torn piece of map into your hand and limping out of the room, shouting instructions at everyone who walked past.
It wasn’t in your nature to follow orders without question but this seemed to be the time to make a change if you were ever to make one so, matching the pace of everyone moving around within the house, you grabbed a cloak from the rack, checked to be sure your wand was in your pocket and rushed out the front door, not even bothering to move down the street before you flattened out the map, focused in on a likely looking point and disappeared into the night with a loud Pop!.
The map, as it turned out, landed you smack in the middle of a likely looking clearing. Unsure of what you were looking for, the only hunch you had was that it had something to do with Harry, so you set to the task of the looking.
After nearly an hour of pacing around in circles, you finally resorted to a break in protocol and drew the Facsimile out of your pocket. Feigning a smile, you muttered the first name that came to mind and called for Arthur.
Moments later, the backdrop of his dreary Ministry office resolved – your view of him blocked almost entirely by an over extended index finger. “Oy, Arthur, move your finger off of the lens,” you shouted against the wind, flexing your own numb digits. In his own office, he was frantically yelling to someone across the hall – the orientation changing so rapidly that just watching it made you nauseous.
“Sorry about that, Remus. We’re a bit busy here.” He paused to shout something at someone else. Not angry, even in a situation as frantic as this one, his voice retained a jolly, sing-song tone. “What can I do you for? I thought Mad-Eye sent you off into Northumberland.”
“He did,” you replied, grateful, at least, to have some idea where you were. “I just wish I knew what I was doing here.” Arthur yelled at someone else and then returned, trying to keep a smile on his face, to the ball in his hand.
“Yes, well, it’s a little like losing four members of the family rather than – Would you sod off, Johnson! I don’t have time for your office chain letters right now!” It was the first time in recorded history you’d heard Arthur use a term anywhere near that of an obscenity and, if the cold wasn’t making you so certain you were, in fact, awake, you might have been sure you were dreaming. The moment, however, didn’t spare even a second to ponder what Molly would say if she heard Arthur talking to someone like that. “Kingsley thinks he has something. He’s not very far from you. There’s an old house a few – well, hang on –“ He disappeared to consult a map. “Yes, there’s an old house a few miles south of you. It’s owned by a family named Godney. Fred and George went into the dormitory when they realized what had happened and found a few old Daily Prophet clippings that make them think they might have gone somewhere near there….”
“So Harry and Ron disappeared and you think they’re at some old manor?” you asked, cutting across him, sure your fingertips were turning to solid ice.
“Or on the grounds,” he snapped, slamming his office door. “With Ginny and Hermione.”
Harry was rapidly becoming your least favorite person. You felt for him, really – he was dealing with a lot, but the part of you that had outgrown and colored over your own youthful indiscretions was more than a little annoyed with him. The air was frigid and every part of your body, from your toes to the very ends of your hair, had long since gone numb. Of all the spells and potions in the world, wizards had yet to come up with a practical solution to a cold night.
Aside from your own occasional mutterings, the next voice you heard was Kingsley’s – wand trained on you with an expertise possessed only by Aurors - he shot a warning beam that did little more than singe a few of the hairs on your chest. “Announce yourself,” he said, firmly. For a moment, you mistook the glint of his earring in the moonlight as another spell and flinched.
Taking a deep breath, you let your wand fall to your side. His stealth marks clearly would’ve been higher than yours. “It’s me, Kingsley. Insquequo is est perfectus,” you replied, bracingly.
“Insquequo is est super,” he said, voice still cold. Rather than lowering his wand, he gestured for you to raise yours and took a few steps forward. “What are you doing here, Lupin?”
“I was hoping you knew.”
Chapter 16: Sixteen
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“Harry…Harry…C’mon, you’ve got to wake up…” Ginny sat beside Harry’s bed, gripping his hand as though she would drown if she had to let go. Every few minutes, she muttered something similar and squeezed until her knuckles went white. Ron and Hermione weren’t far behind – both looking so dazed, Mad-Eye suspected they’d been bewitched. They would have to be questioned again but, for now, you didn’t have the energy.
Harry Potter earned himself a private room in St. Mungo’s on a locked ward. It seemed, no matter how overrun the hospital might have been with the long term wounded,wounded; there would always be a private ward for a celebrity. Normally, this would have annoyed you but, under the circumstances, you were glad for the security.
A rotating guard of no less than four had been set up outside the door to Harry’s room, with two more wizards inside at all times. Even Bill Weasley, still nursing significant injuries of his own, requested a few shifts. You were exhausted.
There hadn’t been a moment of this war you had feared more than this one. Your search with Kingsley, good or bad, returned results you hadn’t expected. Much to the chagrin of your skills, it wasn’t your successful tracking that brought you to them – rather, Ginny’s girlish screams in an empty wood that led you right to the three of them – Ron, Hermione and Ginny, all huddled outside of what appeared to be little more than a tiny shack.
As you approached them, breaking into a run, Kingsley caught you with a spell. “Do you really think those three would sit outside, exposed like that?” he hissed, jabbing your shoulder with his wand. From there, the pair of you approached carefully – one going left, the other right. On Kingsley’s signal, you shot a stunning spell and ducked to avoid his blast of light. He approached first, you combing the tree line for offensives. It wasn’t until he shouted your name that you rushed forward.
The group of them were not only stunned but bound together with a spell you hoped had been cast by Harry. Ginny’s eyes were wide, her entire expression strained as though she’d been struggling against the spell for more than a few minutes.
”Are you out of your mind, Lupin? I’m far more qualified for this.” Kingsley argued, clearly aware of your level of exposure here, in the middle of a clearing.
“Harry trusts me, Kingsley. Stay here until someone arrives to get them.” You gestured toward Ron, Hermione and Ginny, still incapacitated, leaning up against the building. As Kingsley made to argue again, you pulled off your cloak and took hold of Harry’s invisibility cloak instead. “Then you can follow if you want.”
Vivid in your mind, the feeling of unknown washed over you again, sitting in his hospital room. For the first time on a mission, you had no idea what to expect on the other side of the door. The wizarding world had taught you a lot and one of its lessons was not to judge anything by its cover – absolutely anything could be on the other side of this door. The one thing you had not expected was a stone and earth staircase – descending so far into the earth no light could reach its bottom.
Your legs still ached from trying not to slip – cuts deep into your hands for all of the tree roots you grabbed hold of to keep balanced. You must’ve walked down three-hundred stairs before you found him, laid out across the steps as though he’d simply elected to laylie down and take a rest, but the trail of blood on the stairs below revealed a much more sinister story.
You weren’t sure when you started breathing again, but it surely wasn’t until your fingers felt a faint pulse in his wrist. “- Remus Lupin?”
“There are some forms for you to sign.”.
“Ginny, I know you want to go in and see him, but you can’t right now…” wafted under the doorway. Tonks, it seemed, was outside, trying, in her sing-song voice, to restrain a disconsolate Ginny from breaking down the door.
It had been three days since Harry checked into St. Mungo’s and, for the first time in seventy-two hours, no one but the guard was in his room.
“What did he say, exactly?” Arthur asked for what must have been the fourth time. The three of you – Arthur, Mad-Eye and yourself – were crammed into a tiny waiting room. It was almost too dark to see and the furniture had a quality that seemed to suggest this waiting room had long since fallen into disuse. Or, maybe that was the dust. Nevertheless, there you were, explaining the two hours you spent interrogating Harry over again, ad nauseum.
“I’ve already told you – he just kept repeating that he can’t tell us. How many times are we going to have this conversation?” you asked, finally. Claustrophobia, something you hadn’t felt since childhood, was beginning to set in and the three sleepless nights spent in one of the world’s most uncomfortable chairs was doing little to improve your demeanor, not to mention Arthur’s ceaselessly pointless questioning.
“I think you’ll find that he can,” Mad-Eye growled and reached into his pocket, pulling out a vial of what could only be Veritaserum.
“You can’t,” Arthur stammered, looking aghast. “We don’t even interrogate Death Eaters with that stuff.”
Where you expected to agree with him, underneath the righteous indignation, a steady, easy flow of curiosity and urgency was developing. You exchanged a meaningful glance with Moody and his cautions of a few evenings ago rang forward in your mind – we’re going to lose. “Arthur,” you started, bracingly.
“Did you give it to him?” Tonks asked a few hours later, leaning against the wall next to you. You tilted your head back, letting the cold, painted stones press against your balding skull and reached out to take hold of her hand. Why, in that moment, you felt the need to make a gesture you so seldom did, you weren’t sure, but she seemed unfazphased and simply squeezed your hand in response, taking another sip of her tea. “Well, look, I know you have to go back in there in a minute and I know that you’re probably sick of being badgered about eating by Molly, but I did bring you a muffin and some coffee.” Leaning down to pick up a bag, she held out a bag from the bakery across the street. “I got it while Ginny was…napping.”
She winked. “She’s a bit sinister sometimes, isn’t she?” you asked, feeling a laugh bubbling toward the surface.
“She’d make a right Auror if she weren’t so damn excitable,” she spat, rubbing her nose instinctively.
“Bat boogey hex?”
Before Tonks could answer, Arthur burst forward from Harry’s room and gestured frantically, looking up and down the hall surreptitiously as though he was going to be caught doing something illicit. “What?” you hissed, leaping to your feet with the grace of a much younger man.
“It’s Harry. He’s talking.”
Harry was, indeed, talking and it wasn’t long into the conversation before you heard yourself ask Moody to escort his guard elsewhere and ushered Arthur off to deal with his distraught daughter. Now, alone, you pulled your chair closer to the edge of Harry’s bed and leaned in, conspiratorially. “Kingsley said all that was at the end of that stairway was a longer corridor,” you said, trying to egg him on.
“It would just look like a long corridor if you didn’t know what you were there for,” Harry replied. The eager, childlike innocence in his response – completely devoid of any guard – triggered the indignation you’d felt earlier and manifested itself as guilt. Your stomach flip flopped and you regretted the coffee.
“What were you there for?” you asked as calmly as you could.
“A horcrux,” he said, simply, and took hold of the spoon in his cup of ice chips.
Heart racing, you leaned in closer and checked the door again, straining to hear Moody’s clunking false leg coming down the hall over the sound of Harry crunching on ice. “A horcrux?” you asked. It felt unethical even to speak the word, and suddenly you were feeling a lot less remorse for having given him the potion. “Harry, are you sure of what you’re talking about?” came out of your mouth instinctively, but you knew perfectly well that if he was saying he had been in pursuit of a horcrux, he, at the very least, believed he had been.
He nodded and took another spoonful of ice chips.
“Where is the horcrux?” you asked, next, feeling your body taking on an irregular rythmnrhythm – your hands shaking violently.
“It’s in my pocket.” Your stomach lurched. “Don’t worry though,” he added, watching your expression and munching on his ice chips almost merrily. “It’s another fake.”
Doing your best to avoid his glassy eyes, you drew your wand out of your pocket nearly thirty minutes later and thought the incantation, for you could not have forced yourself to speak it. The eyes, glazed over from the Veritaserum, seemed even more lost, now, as you supplied him with another memory of the last hour. How you dealt with Mad-Eye and Arthur would be another issue as they were now, doubtless, aware that you’d locked them out of his room but, for the moment, you needed to breathe.
It wasn’t the fact that the horcrux was a fake that troubled you, nor that its replacement took the form of a tattered note with foreboding initials scrawled across it. No, it was the fact that he used the term “another” that had you lying awake, fully clothed, and considering the logical points behind several courses of action.
One of the first things that occurred to you after Harry revealed his recent activities was to return to the scene of the debacle itself and look for evidence – some form or fact that would make the entire exchange make more sense, but you’d quickly discarded it. Kingsley was a trained Auror and, if the limited field experience you had with him was to be any indication, he was a fair sight better than you at investigation. If he hadn’t found a single sign of what Harry was up to – let alone a sign that the corridor carried more weight than it appeared to, you weren’t going to either. Not to mention, if Kingsley found himself in no danger in a location constructed by Voldemort, it was likely the shack and it’sits contents had little more to reveal.
Discarding that notion, you did the next best thing and let yourself into the library at Hogwarts, but a few hours of that and you were certain the pursuit was pointless. This library, though one of your only friends in youth, had never revealed all of it’s secrets to you and, if there were any mention of horcruxes in it’s volumes, it intended to keep the tomes and their contents a secret for this evening at least. Now, sitting in your room, you were trying to formulate another plan of sorts and staring at the note that had been left behind for inspiration.
I know I will be dead long before you read this
but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret.
I face death in the hope that when you meet your match
you will be mortal once more.
Getting up, feeling more and more like a general failure, you plodded across to your desk and pulled out a piece of parchment. Sparing yourself the trouble of a heading, you began to copy the note, verbatim, over again, scribbling notes at it’sits sides. When you were done, they would have made little sense to anyone else but, in lieu of Dumbledore’s old Pensieve, an old fashioned quill and ink system of reviewing your memories would have to do.
Taking a deep breath and starring at the word “another” – written there in the permanence of ink – you let your mind flit around in search of something to attach the concept to.
“The notion that Voldemort used Horcruxes isn’t new. It’s not a popular opinion, and it’s not exactly something that we discussed, but Dumbledore mentioned it a few times.” “ You said a few hours later. Moments after you’d falling asleep, Tonks appeared at your door, looking as disheveled as you felt.
“When?” Tonks asked, handing you a cup of tea and sitting down across your desk.
You chuckled, dismally. “Last time. So, twenty-some odd years ago.”
“Oh,” she replied, flatly, pulling the hair out of her eyes forcibly.
“Well, there has to be something to it. Nothing is really a mystery.”
She reached forward and pulled the notes you’d taken out of your hand, her nose screwed up, inspecting them carefully. It wasn’t that you underestimated her as a matter of course but, nevertheless, it was strange to hear something so profound coming from her lips so accidentally, let alone that it happened at six in the morning.
“I suppose nothing is,” you muttered and closed your eyes, feeling heavier now than you had when she arrived.
It took several long days before you felt honest enough to visit Harry at St. Mungo’s and more than a few owls from Healers asking you to come in and sign consent forms. Harry, it seemed, really had no recollection of the conversation you had and, with a few stern words and more than one loosely veiled threat, you convinced Mad-Eye and Arthur not to put him through another round of Veritaserum. Whether or not you convinced him he had said as little as you felt compelled to report, you weren’t sure but, in light of the situation, that would have to wait for the memoirs.
As it were, the only person to whom you’d revealed Harry’s confessions was Tonks. Even Harry didn’t seem to recall having said anything to you. He reserved vague references to a conversation with you, Moody and Arthur, but assured everyone he was a little “fuzzy” on the rest. Your stomach twirled every time it was mentioned.
Nevertheless, see him you would have to so, there you sat, across the street from St. Mungo’s at a tiny deli feeling dreadful. Literally dreadful, as in, full of dread.
For once, the feeling couldn’t be attributed to the pending moon.
“Lupin!” Charlie Weasley exclaimed, the jingle of doorbells sounding as he came in. In the time it took him to weave between the many chairs to your table, you tried to formulate an expression that wasn’t as loathsome as the one you were wearing.
“Charlie…” you replied, trying to smile.
Charlie seated himself and picked up a copy of the menu. “What are you doing here?” he asked, but didn’t wait for a response. “I have a round of guard in a few minutes. I thought I’d stop in and visit Bill beforehand. I know he wanted to come down and see Harry. Maybe the Healers will give him leave for a few minutes to stop in at the ward…”
You were spared the rest of his statement by a waitress who sidled up to your table, looking as contemptuous as you felt, and took Charlie’s order. She wore the expression of someone who was clearly wondering why all of the weirdosweirdoes came in on Thursdays. In the time between taking his order and her return with his drink, Charlie asked you four separate questions and gave you the time to answer none of them. It might have bothered you but, for the moment, you were content to give him the illusion of an actual conversation without complaint. Your thought to the date brought you an unpleasant realization – the moon was upon you. But, before the indigestion you felt each time that occurred to you, another unpleasant reminder surfaced, this time in the form of a tinny ringing sound emitting from your pocket.
The noise made you jump. Charlie put down his water glass and looked around the restaurant. “You would think muggles might have the common decency to turn those things off in dining establishments,” he muttered.
Realizing, a few seconds too late, that the noise was yours and that it was coming from something you scarcely ever thought you would own, you reached into your jacket and pulled out a tiny muggle device the size of a playing card. Charlie sputtered something about what you were doing with a cell phone but you ignored him, instead, paying attention to the tiny flashing light on its face. “I think I have to push the green one…. Maxwell?”
** note borrowed from HBP (chapter 28)
Chapter 17: Seventeen
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“Remus Lupin! It is good to see you!” The way you realtor looked at you, you would have been certain he was either about to give you several million euros or clobber you over the head with his briefcase – the sort of manic nicety that only came when money was changing hands and, in this case, a lot of it. Clapping a hand on your back, he grazed a recent wound and you tried not to flinch.
This should have been a happier occasion but already it was overshadowed by the realities of your life. Still, when he handed you the keys on the way up the walk and you unlocked the door to your home for the first time, there was a slight - slight - tingle in your fingertips.
Of course, you mused, there would still be the matter of telling Tonks.
Harry’s excursions, hospitalization and then the resultant research was distracting you from many of your day-to-day activities and, as you stood here, looking out over your empty living room, you realized you were now, officially, going to have to tell her.
“Well, mate, the place is yours,” Maxwell said, his words barely filtered through the ether but you smiled all the same and watched him leave.
If he had stayed a moment longer, you might have thought to ask him where on earth one procured furniture.
Your motto, it seemed, would forever be ‘a day late and a dollar short.’ That was the only thought that seemed to come to mind as you stood in the hallway outside of her apartment waiting for serendipity to arrive and show you an easy way to get out from underneath the fact that you had, in effect, made a life changing decision without actually letting her know you were doing it.
Telling her it was a surprise might have been trying to put too cheery a spin on things.
Before you had been able to give serendipity it’s chance;, however, the fates stepped in, and Tonks emerged from her front door. “Oy, Remus. What are you doing here?” She didn’t give you a second to answer her, which seemed to be a growing theme in your life but, again, you were grateful, because her eagerness to speak was sparing you from stammering in an effort to kill time. “I was just coming to look for you. I had a talk with Hermione today.”
Tonks, it turned out, had made somewhat more use of her day than you of yours and, if you weren’t already feeling guilty for the movers that were currently trucking the contents of an IKEA store to your new address without her knowledge, you probably would’ve felt guilty for being remiss in your own research pursuits as well. Serendipity was cruel.
“I overheard Hermione and Ron talking. Actually, Fred…or George, who knows, anyway – one of them heard them talking on their extendable ears and they passed it over to me.” She tore the wrapper off of a heart shaped lollipop and stuck it in her pocket. The sucker clanked against her teeth as she talked. “I think they know more than they’ve let on about what Harry was up to. The certainly weren’t following him as blindly as they thought.” She had the voice of a person consumed by something they loved more than life itself – a mystery – and, for an instant, the paranoid fear you thought you’d squashed so many months ago, resurfaced – the why of her affection for you. What was it that possessed her to love a man like you – and the answer you’d come to so many times before reared it’s ugly head at you again – the fear that she wanted you only because she didn’t understand some aspect of your personality. Moreover, you were afraid that, upon sating her curiosity, she would leave you like so many people before her had.
“I think we have to tell him what we know,” she said, finally, and you realized you missed the last five minutes of exchanged conversation and also managed to drink your way through an entire cup of coffee at 5:30 in the evening. “Unless you think that’s a bad idea…” she added, tentatively.
The papers a man leaves behind define him, you thought to yourself, looking around the office a little dejectedly.
Your conversation with Hermione had been a short lived success. Where you had been convinced that her respect for her Professors and her understanding of the intricacies of the situation would prove out over her loyalty to Harry, you had been wrong. After nearly an hour with her, the most you were able to extract was a simple sentence – Dumbledore said he wasn’t to trust anyone but us.
It seemed that the closer you got to the answer and the harder you tried to find it, the more difficult and logistically dangerous the answer became. On a hunch, you abandoned your pursuit of her memories and left her with Tonks in hopes that a little bit of girltalkgirl talk would do a body good. You, on the other hand, made a beeline for the Hogwarts fireplaces.
Minerva leapt aside when you arrived at her office door, clutching the stone gargoyle for support while you caught breath. Now, you were sitting in a disused classroom, stashed up in North Tower, digging through the boxes that had once been Dumbledore’s possessions. He trusted Harry, of that you were certain, but he was a practical man, above all else. He believed in fail safes for the fail safes of Plan B and he would never leave the entire fate of the wizarding world in the hands of a seventeen year old boy – not without giving those around him the tools they needed to support his cause.
The papers he left behind, however, were doing little to aid in your search for knowledge. Littered with non-sensical notes and the kind of dull, dreary letters that a Headmaster to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry must receive and respond to, you had long since given up any real hope of finding something truly useful but, with no better idea of where to begin, you pressed on anyway if for no reason more than a morbid curiosity.
He had stacks and stacks of seemingly blank parchment. You said “seemingly” because Dumbledore was a wise man and a wizard a good deal more intelligent than you. If he had parchment, filed so neatly away in a box, he had it for a reason and it surely was for more than posterity. You found jars upon jars of muggle candy and an even greater number of magical instruments. In truth, Mad-Eye Moody would have loved to get his hands on any number of the finely crafted Dark Detectors Dumbledore held in his possession – and if only he knew of the number sitting in boxes within the castle, collecting dust.
If you were to determine the mark of this man based only on the objects he left behind, you felt certain that you could almost capture what he truly was – see him in a way portraits never could. His belongings, his angled hand-writing and his silly but oddly profound statements all lived on in these documents.
Perhaps you had spent too much time in the dusty room but, before long, you were beginning to feel as though the contents of these boxes were sacred – as though you shouldn’t have disturbed them in the first place. You were about to replace them when you stumbled upon something hiding beneath the stack of blank papers. A small, gilded box no larger than one for holding jewelry lay at the bottom of this pile of dust, looking even more drearydrearier than everything else. Maybe it was the sense of magic Dumbledore always said a trained witch or wizard could feel or, on chance, the man had bewitched it himself but, either way, you felt your hand subtly drawn toward it and, against your better judgment, lifted it from it’s mite-filled captor.
This you would take home.
You were alone. You were alone and there were boxes. Many, many boxes.
You were alone with many boxes in a dusty room lit by a single floor lamp.
Among the many boxes that surrounded you, there was only one of interest and it was not of the cardboard variety. As a matter fact, you had long since forgotten about the rest of the boxes, save the one being substituted as a table. Actually, for all you knew, that box could have, in fact, contained a table, but that was neither here nor there.
You were wondering what you had been thinking.
Leaving Hogwarts with the tiny, engraved box in hand should have been an easy feet and, in truth, it was. No where in your progress out of the school – or back into it, when you realized you’d forgotten your cloak – were you bothered, stopped or impeded in any way. Nevertheless, you felt like a sneak. Dodging in and out between students, Aurors and other staff members, you managed to bump into or knock over nearly every relic between the North Tower and the large oak doors.
You felt like Tonks.
Now, you stood alone in your empty house staring down at the object that had you so nervous. It was an unremarkable item and, for as uneasy as you were about removing it from the castle and as certain as you were that it carried some relevance, you were surprised when, upon arriving home, it wouldn’t open. You tried everything you could think of and still the box would not open – a fact that did little to soothe your worried mind. Later, it would occur to you to take solace in the knowledge that you could at least be reasonably certain you had found the item you were looking for but, in the moment, it was infuriating.
Distantly, you registered the ringing of a bell and, looking down at your watch, took a deep breath.
There are those who hold that men cannot correctly identify emotions. That, you would be proud to inform anyone who would listen, was not true.
In the last twenty minutes, you correctly identified at least two-hundred and fifty-seven emotions and, what was worse; you were experiencing each and every one of them. Either simultaneously or in waves, your bio-chemical range was wavering from calm and collected to anxious and paranoid. It was beginning to have an adverse affect on your appearance as well as the sweat on your brow formed ever growing beads.
Tonks, much to your chagrin, was not oblivious to this.
"Remus, what's going on?" she asked, a fork halfway to her mouth.
When you set this date with your future wife, your choice in location was motivated by the safety in numbers instinct – she wouldn't make a scene in public….right? Now that you were there, you were regretting the decision. Never a self-conscious person, per se, you suddenly felt like a fifteen year old girl, certain that every person in the restaurant was staring at you.
"Uh…." you started, lamely, trying to fill the dead airspace between you. "Nothing. Nothing at all," you lied.
You get more inept on a daily basis, you thought, taking a sip of water. Tonks, it seemed, was aware of this fact, because she looked at you skeptically and put her fork down without taking the bite.
"You're a terrible liar."
Before you could think of a response, you heard yourself uttering one without reference to thought. "I know." Your reply seemed to catch her as off guard as it had caught you and she stopped, for a moment. The pair of you stared at each other for a full minute before you abandoned all rational thought entirely. "I bought a house."
For the first time in the span of your relationship with Tonks, she was the calm, level headed and collected one. Where you were known for this behavior, it was something Tonks only exhibited on rare occasion. True, she wasn't exactly completely irrational, but if forced to compete, you could at least beat her in a game of stoicism. Tonight, however, she took the ribbon and, at the moment, she was wearing it proudly.
"There's another bedroom down the hall…" Your sentence trailed off at the end, losing momentum as you watched her. She was standing, back to you, staring through the living room out into the small back yard. It took you about five minutes to make your way through the sales pitch for the house – list all of it's rooms and it's finer features – and now you wished for nothing more than the ability to melt into the floor.
"I know it's not perfect," you lied. It had taken you an age to choose this house and choose it you did, not for it'sits location or for its flooring, but because this house, above all others, felt right. You could see yourself here. You could seensee Tonks sitting in front of the hearth. Perhaps, even in a wild fancy, you could see friends or family coming to visit for an afternoon tea. The Weasley's, however, you would have to find a way to keep out.
Tonks, it seemed felt similarly, for, in the moment you were lost – feeling the dream of owning this house, of marrying her…of everything you'd worked for slipping through your fingers – she whirled around and a crack appeared in her stoic architecture. "It could be, if you wanted it to."
The statement she made was simple, but the many ways it could be interpreted were still taxing your mind hours later. Had she meant to say she would live there if you liked it, but that, in truth, she was none too pleased? Was she saying that she loved it, but if you didn't want to be there, she would consent to live elsewhere? Worse, did it mean that she felt that your not including her in the decision somehow made her feel as though you didn't care for her as much as she might have hoped?
Whatever her intentions, the questions were useless now as you sat, side by side but not speaking, in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place.
"Some Valentine's Day, then?" Charlie and Bill burst through the doors without warning, Bill looking as though he'd suffered a more than significant encounter of the third kind. The fact that it was Valentine's Day had slipped your mind.
"You have no idea," Bill replied, sinking heavily into a chair across from you.
"It's his first Valentine's Day with Fleur," Charlie supplied, sitting on your left and pouring himself a glass of pumpkin juice. "It didn't go as well as it might have," he added.
"But we're not going to talk about it," Bill said firmly, taking Charlie's glass. "How was your day, Tonks?"
The only sound she managed was an uncomfortable "Uhh…" before Mad-Eye broke into the room, holding a stack of papers a mile high.
"We got a lead."
Chapter 18: Eighteen
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Fingertips to your temples and rub. Clockwise. Gentle pressure. Pause. Repeat.
Mad-Eye's lead, as it developed over the course of the next few days, was little more than another dead end but the last year had taught you nothing if not a tolerance for them.
Moody, however, was not so inclined. You were reminded of this as he poked his head into the kitchen door for the fourteenth time in an hour and grumbled something about your E.T.A – whatever that meant.
"Where's Tonks?" Charlie asked, twenty minutes later. His voice bore that unbearable tone of jovial disconcert that made you absolutely certain he was, at present, leading a blessed and simple life. In the moment, you hated him.
"I don't know," you intoned, barely above a grunt. If he insisted on asking, he would get little more than that, you told yourself and returned to your papers. Charlie looked up – wounded.
As he left the kitchen, abandoning you once again with your schedule, you felt a pang of regret for not engaging him longer. In truth, in the week since you'd shown Tonks the little house in the little town with the little, proud smile on your face, you found yourself often in the company of others and often wishing to prolong it. In deference to an activity you'd not performed in many months, you went to visit Harry in St. Mungo's, not to extract information or sign forms, but simply to see him.
"Remus, do you think you might be able to come in here?" wafted under the door in Molly's sweet but murderous tones.
Fingertips to your temples and rub.
Your relationship with Tonks was an emotional minefield, at times. There had been few actions you'd taken since the sweet girl with her clumsy ways and Technicolor hair made her way into your life a little over two years ago that hadn't backfired all over you. This house was no exception and it was literally backfiring all over you.
Whether Tonks would consent to live in it or not, you were still uncertain about but, regardless of whom its inhabitants would be, you wouldn't simply leave it protected by only muggle locks for much longer.
That was, at least, what you told yourself when you'd awoken this morning and realized you had absolutely not a single thing to distract you from your current situation. With Harry in the hospital, condition taking a sharp downturn and Tonks not speaking to you, you certainly needed the distractions.
As you sat, now, on a cardboard box in the middle of your sitting room trying to coax an old house to reject intruders, you started to wonder what the real benefits of home ownership were and when they might kick in. Beneath that, you wondered when you would swallow your pride and beg her to come home.
Defeated, frustrated and covered in more than a few unnecessary bruises from aspects of your incantations gone too well, you looked around the room for something new to distract yourself with and your eyes fell upon the box you'd discarded so many days earlier. Stowing it safely in your jacket pocket, you resolved to do the thing with it you should have done in the first place.
"Hermione!" you said with a start, looking up from your work only to rid your neck of its horrible cramp to find a bushy haired student hovering over you. At the very least, it wasn't Ginny. "It's good to see you back to work. I thought you and Mr. Weasley might still be busying yourselves with Harry's illness and not taking any time for your studies."
Hermione smiled weakly and shifted on her feet. You gestured toward the chair across the table and, while she occupied herself with lifting her enormous schoolbag, you slid the box behind a nearby book and tried to smile.
"What can I do for you, Miss. Granger?" you asked, awkwardly.
"Is Harry going to be all right?" Everything about the question was matter of fact – her phrasing, her expression, even the way she sat straight up in her chair looking directly at you. It was an approach you'd never seen from Hermione – usually so sensitive and empathetic to the injuries of others. It was unnerving to see that, perhaps, the war had hardened her, too.
"Today, or in the long term?" you found yourself asking. It was the first time in the history of your tenure at Hogwarts you had ever spoken to a student with any malice or sarcasm. Hermione didn't falter.
Where your response had unnerved you, she seemed to remain as settled as she had always been – patiently looking at you from across the table and, all too suddenly, her expression reminded you of that of another female who looked at you from a few feet away, indifferent to emotion. The exchange with that female had not ended in your favor.
"For today…I don't know." It was true, you didn't know though, as the days pressed on and things took short climbs up and long climbs down – more importantly, as his restlessness in staring at those same four walls grew, you began to worry that he would do something rash sooner than you had imagined. Those, however, were details and concerns you would not share with her, no matter how resolutely she stared. "In the long term…" you started again, simply to prevent her from asking for details of your last statement. "I can say only that…"
"Nevermind, Professor," she said, as you cast around for a word that could express your total conviction that Harry would most likely not be OK without sending out a self-fulfilling prophecy into the world. You were grateful.
"I want to talk to you about the horcruxes, the Vveritaserum, and what I can do to help."
"I read a Muggle magazine a few weeks ago and learned that they sometimes use a strong, hot light to interrogate people," an eager young wizard suggested.
"She's not being interrogated," you snapped back. The amount of people around you was overwhelming. "She's offered to tell us what she can about what's going on and there's no need for all of the fire and brimstone."
"Says you, Lupin," another voice countered.
"We could give her a bit of Veritaserum," Mad-Eye suggested, reaching into the depths of his jacket pocket.
"We're not giving her anything!" you interjected, snatching the bottle out of his hand.
"What about some cookies and a little one on one chat?" Molly asked, pressing a plate of chocolate chip cookies into your empty hand.
It had been like this for nearly an hour – a constant stream of useless suggestions and meaningless interjections falling on deaf ears from either side. "Shut up!" you finally roared, looking out over the gathered crowd of twenty or so. The room fell silent;, most everyone looking indignant and offended. "If I wanted your input, I'd have asked for it." As you turned to walk out of the room, you stole a cookie from Molly's plate.
Hermione was crying.
She'd been crying for fifteen minutes.
Customarily, this would have annoyed you – at the very least, left you feeling terribly awkward but, you were finding the longer she carried on, the more you appreciated that she wasn't spending this time staring at you as she had done in the library or you might have revealed more secrets than she.
"I c…c….can't tell you everything, p-p.-professor," she managed, daubing her eyes with a handkerchief.
"I know, Hermione," you said, as soothingly as you could and wishing more than ever that you'd taken the plate of cookies. Keeping up with the emotional flip-flopping that had her yelling at you twenty minutes before was tiring. "Just tell me what you can. Anything you know is going to help."
"You already know about the Horcruxes, then?" she asked, though it sounded more like gibberish.
"And you know about Dumbledore knowing."
You nodded again. "I went through his personal papers," you started as she blew her nose for the fourth time. "I wanted to find anything I could that might relate to all of this but there didn't seem to be anything."
"Well, he wouldn't have just left this sort of thing lying about," she scolded, looking up at you as sternly as a person could with tears staining their eyes red as apples. "He told Harry not to tell anyone but Ron and myself about the memories and what they did during their lessons. Even Ginny doesn't know the whole story. I sincerely doubt he'd leave you a note explaining the entire situation like it was all some sort of joke."
You opened your mouth to reproach her tone but thought better of it and said instead, "Well, no. But one has to try." She smiled a little and searched her handkerchief for a clean spot.
Nearly an hour later, you poked your head out of the office door and looked out into the hallway, listening hard for whisper and voices but, for the moment at least, this section of the house seemed to be deserted. Turning back toward Hermione, you gestured for her to leave.
How you survived the entire interview and continued asking questions, you weren't certain. To be sure, the information she provided, the details she continued to let slip, they were helpful.
"I know it seems silly to you, but what will the neighbors think if I move out and nothing moves out with me?"
"But you'll take it with you – we'll just do it the easy way," you argued. Why Tonks was being so stubborn about this of all things, you couldn't be sure. True, she had a point, the neighbors might find it suspicious if her belongings disappeared but weren't actually carried down the stairs. "If you like, I'll even carry a couple of boxes down like this one," you offered, trying to smile convincingly. "But it will be great, because this box is empty and light…"
Tonks rolled her eyes and took the recently assembled box from your hands, replacing it with another, much heavier, counterpart.
Boxes, it seemed, were doomed to consume your entire existence. Boxes at your new house. Boxes at the castle. Even boxes at headquarters seemed determined to plague you. At the moment, the boxes you were wrangling with bellowed to Tonks or rather, you supposed, fifty percent of them were about to belong to you. This fact probably wouldn't have been at all unappealing to you were it not for the fact that the bulk of their contents appeared to be an alarmingly disparate collection of pop culture kitsch.
You wanted to say something like, 'Are you sure you want to take all of this?' but previous experience had taught you not to. Instead, you tried to smile while lugging another box down three flights of stairs. The lift, irony of ironies, was out of order.
"Good morning, Mrs. Cassini," you simpered on the way back up the stairs again. Mrs. Cassini was shrill, middle-aged woman.
Middle aged. You said it as though you were anything but.
You've been spending too much time with Tonks.
Further to the point, however, Mrs. Cassini was among the many middle aged women who shared a building with your young and presently sticky fiancé. (She was having a foul run-in with a tape dispenser.) Upon your arrival, most of the women in the building simply considered you another among the litany of her strange visitors. The more time that passed, however, the more they seemed inclined to loathe you.
"Among the many marvelous benefits of you moving into our humble abode, I won't have to see her anymore," You whispered to Tonks as you shut the door behind you.
Tonks sniggered and told you to be nice. Then, she handed you another box.
Yes, boxes were, indeed, the enemy.
The broom cupboard in the upstairs hallway, just past the bathroom. This was the only place in so many weeks that you had found to be alone. First there had been the intrusion into your room at Grimmuald. Then, Hermione's many visits to your office at Hogwarts. Tonks and her unpacking were currently filling your communal residence and then there had been your ill fated encounter with the disused storage room that left you naked and red faced. Even the pantry, once a place you could lock yourself in for a quick moment of silence, was not playing host to so many snacking Order members that it was lucky queue's hadn't been formed. Now, there was only this broom cupboard and, if necessary, you were willing to make a stand to keep it.
Tonks had come to you, rather like a lot of people do, unexpected and out of the blue. Customarily, this would not have annoyed you as such, but since your meeting with Hermione, you'd not yet had time to do the thin which had been nagging you – open this old box.
Of the many things she'd said to you that day, only one seemed truly relevant and it consumed your every thought – "…about the memories…" Dumbledore's office, you wagered, was not when he died, nor ever had been, full of magical instruments simply because he liked looking at them. Eccentric, perhaps, but a frivolous man he was not. If he owned something, he used it and the empty Pensive you'd passed over not so long ago was your object of interest now because you were certain that if you could only get this box open, it would reveal everything you needed to know.
As you worked, ignoring the sting of dust as it soaked into newsprint cuts, you began to swear you heard the sound of vials tinkling within. If you could only get it open – if one of these spells would simply work! Crashing the box down atop a crate of old mop heads in frustration, you dropped your face into your hands and groaned.
This was going to be a long day.
Chapter 19: Nineteen
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For the first time in so many days, you'd awoken at Headquarters, tripped down the stairs with the combined grace of a drunken ox and a spooked thestral and landed unceremoniously in the kitchen far too late for either Tonks or Molly to fuss over you. The feeling was actually somewhat freeing, moving through the kitchen without the added complications of a few scattered conversations and a dozen or so Order members. Reaching into the cupboard for your coffee, you were unpleasantly surprised, however, to find the tin empty. Twenty minutes later, and still supremely under caffeinated, the sense of freedom you had been previously experiencing vanished without a trace, in its wake, the angry impulse to call out for help was taxing your better judgment. On a whim, you tucked your head into the cupboard under the sink and, feelings toward the day improving slightly, drew out an, albeit slightly rusty tin.
"Wotcher, Remus! There you are." Tonks crunched loudly on a mouthful of dry cereal. The sudden sound of her voice starting you so completely that you smashed your skull hard into the cupboard. Grimacing a little, you returned to your chair at the table, trying not to nurse your wounds too visibly. She seemed not to notice, however, resuming her speech almost as soon as she was able, "I've been looking all over for you."
It was while she was explaining where she had been and why she so desperately wanted to find you when the answer to the problem that had caused you so much grief and so many sleepless nights struck you like a ton of bricks. The answer was so simple and yet it hadn't occurred to you until now, prying the tin open by breaking the welds on the hinges with a bread knife.
You, Remus Lupin, are a git.
"In short, the function of this next series of lessons will not be to education you as to any specific area of Dark Magic but rather to teach you all, through controlled experience, how to actually defend yourselves in a dangerous situation." The fifteen or so students spread around the classroom in front of you looked eager and it made you more than a little sick to see them smiling up at you, anticipation evident in their expressions. "You'll be splitting off into pairs," you said, bracingly. "Don't get excited though, I'll be choosing your partners this time around and we'll be trading off on my word about halfway through to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake at someone who might not exactly match their skill level and whose style they also might not be prepared for." A few girls that had clustered together split up and spread out.
Lessons, much though you tried to focus, were getting lost in the constant, more pressing, needs of the rest of your life - Harry, Tonks, the Order and yourself. Fortunately, judging by the flashes of light flying back and forth throughout the classroom a few moments after you'd begun issuing assignments, determination, interest, desperation or (and you sincerely hoped it was this last one) accidentally stellar instruction on your part, they were doing quite well.
"Ms. Weasley." You snuck up behind Ginny Weasley, who jumped at least a foot in the air as you did, and took her arm, gently bending it to unlock her elbow, "If you stretch your joints that fully, you gain immediate strength but lose in the ability to react quickly to changes in your surroundings." She looked a little sullen but bit her lip defiantly and returned to her work - aiming her wand directly at Luna and shouting a spell eagerly.
"Remember," you found yourself saying to the room at large, "having to think a spell and then say it takes time and time is almost always of the most crucial essence. Consider trying your hand at casting spells without saying them, and Mr. Smith, kindly direct all destructive spells toward the pillows in the chest under the window." The boy, in full swing of a glorious wand movement, stopped, sputtered and twisted on the spot looking crestfallen.
You couldn't help but feel like an utter dolt. Weeks of work, countless hours, all wasted in pursuit of an answer so utterly simple and, now, once again, you were crammed into the upstairs broom cupboard between lessons, pondering the theories of a long since dead Muggle philosopher. If memory served you, as it so seldom did, the theory held that the simplest answer was always the most correct. It was the sort of philosophy you imagined Dumbledore was happy to abide by.
Never a master craftsmen, magical prowess prevented you, even on your meager budget, from endeavoring too fix - or destroy - anything without the aid of magic before. Setting your lit wand aside on an ancient box of Mr. Murphy's Magical Mopping Liquid, you opted, instead, for the kitchen knife you your chest pocket and balanced the box in question on your knees. It remained at it had always been. Small, unmenacing, and emitted a soft tinkling sound whenever you rotated it. Still you reassured yourself, placing the knife against what you believed to be a stress point, it couldn’t be that complicated.
There was a screeching sound as metal scraped upon metal, then a crunch as the knife and the hinge wedged so firmly together that neither could budge and so either must bend and, finally, the most welcome sound on earth as the hinge itself split in two. And the second time the squeaking, screeching, unpleasant crunching began, your energies fully focused on the other hinge, you felt a knot in your chest give way momentarily only to mount again seconds later, the familiar sensation of reaching a dangerous goal washing over you.
The stirrings of March and, now, the scent of April were upon you already. Fifth years, for whom OWLS should have been looming, focused instead on things of a less academic variety. True, they could still be found wandering the library shelves where they were allowed, requesting books from the restricted section with greater frequency, and Madame Pomfrey's ward could not have been any busier with students appearing almost constantly to seek treatment of a cut, a gbash, or a bruise sustained at the hands of their fervor to practice dueling skills. In a break from her usual attitude, Poppy spent less of her time wandering the isles of beds muttering cryptic admonitions of the teaching staff, the students, and the establishment. Instead, she seemed patient and even, at times, sympathetic to the cause. More than once, you heard her muttering advices to injured students on their wand work.
Sitting up at the head table now, waiting for students to appear for the morning meal, you looked out at the empty hall and wondered whether or not it would be kinder to remove some of the empty seats. Though, looking up and down the staff table, the empty seats were equally evident. Missing from your ranks were Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape and, with a more and more frequent interval, Hagrid. It had been so long since you saw any of the tables full that you were almost forgetting what they looked like - what the sound of the din in the Great Hall could be when it was packed to the moldings with students and teachers.
Stirring you abruptly from your musings, the sound of nearly one hundred owls rushing into the great hall and its consequent eruption of talk exploded. Unbeknownst to you, while you were taking inventory of the staff table, the first few among the deluge of students had arrived to be followed almost immediately by the post. You were surprised further when, for the first time in a great many weeks, a picturesque grey owl landed ceremoniously on your plate, gingerly dropping a formal looking letter before you. Instinctively, you looked up and down the hall for some indication that you were not the only one.
The owl from St. Mungo's was nothing if not a surprise. Indeed, the news had so unseated Ginny that she, in a stunning impersonation of Tonks, toppled an entire jug of pumpkin juice from the breakfast table. Crookshanks still smelled a little like rotting gourds. Even Minerva dropped her fork. Still, a week of listening to Bill argue the not entirely medical benefits of carrying a cane, you were ready for the novelty to wear off and business as usual to resume.
"You wanted to see me, Professor?" Harry addressed you formally, more formally than he had done in months, and leaned hard on his knobby wooden can.
"Decided to use it in the end, then?" you commented, gesturing him toward the nearest chair.
He blushed a very slight crimson and grinned. "Ginny," he muttered. You smiled sympathetically, having long since carried similar suspicions about Tonks.
"So..." he added, breaking the silence awkwardly. "...is there new information?" His question was as loaded as your invitation, but you were having a difficult time either carrying on with or breaking the ruse. So, instead of saying anything at all, you reached into your bottom drawer and drew out the small wooden box that had been bane to your existence for so many weeks.
The tension as you set it on the desk was palpable; if you had any question that Harry knew what it contained, the expression on his face dissuaded it. Clearing your throat, you drew out one of the tiny incandescent vials and set it on the desk. "I wanted," you stated, "to extend the courtesy of talking to you before I visited these." Harry sat, stony faced, across the desk. It occurred to you, watching him now, that it might have been unwise to issue a blow this large to someone so recently hospitalized, but your almost manic pursuit of the answers that had plagued you for nearly two decades was drowning out any sense of better judgment. Pressing on, you leaned forward, resting your elbows on the desk and looked at him in what you hoped was a penetrating, paternal gaze.
"Where did you get them?" he asked, simply.
Try as you might to parse the subtext of his speech, tone of voice and body language, you couldn't feel confident in any snap analysis and it pained you. In your younger years, you had spent so much time trying to read James or Sirius, and for so many years after that, you'd honed the skill but Harry presented the same challenge your dearest friends always had. It was as though a filter was placed over your eyes when it came to seeing what those you cared about were feeling or experiencing. It was this ineptitude that had plagued you so long, first with Lily and now with Tonks. Abandoning your pursuit, you took a deep breath and endeavored to explain, without giving mention to the veritaserumVeritaserum or to Hermione's confessions, from whence the box and its contents had hailed.
Feeling prepared for almost nothing as Harry looked blankly at you as you retold a slightly edited version of the tale - one that represented your abilities to open the box in a somewhat more favorable light -you were least prepared for him to do what he did. Slowly, but surely, Harry rose up from his chair, limping heavier than he had been when he arrived and trying even harder to hide it, he left your office, the sound of the slammed door ringing in your ears.
"Lupin!" The flushed face of Hestia Jones met you at the doorway as you made your way into Grimmuald Place and you wanted to turn on your heel the moment your saw it. "Bad news. No one has seen--"
“Don’t,” you intoned, gruffly. It had been some months since a word from you was enough to silence someone and the fact that it worked now would make you question your emotional well being but, in the moment, you were simply glad to have the silence.
Storming down the long hallway toward Mad-Eye’s office, you threw the door open and threw upon him a deluge of information. Not but a few moments later, the two of you, with the added support of Arthur and Kingsley, were making the trek from Minerva’s office down the corridor, up the stairs, past the gargoyle, through the hidden passageway and around two more corners and up three more flights of stairs to the room where Dumbledore’s old belongings were stored.
The room was exactly as you’d left it – in a state of utter disarray.
“Is this a…” Mad-Eye started. He was turning a small, gold rod in his fingers, looking as though he’d found a divining rod for platinum.
“Focus,” you hissed, passing another box to Kingsley and opening a fifth, yourself. Mad-Eye looked irritated but, instead of arguing, pocketed the device and grumbled.
His grouching was short lived, however, as moments later, Arthur found the object you’d all been pursuing and set it atop the table. “What now?”
Chapter 20: Twenty
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The silvery liquid poured easily from the vials into the Pensieve. It seemed like day’s since you’d spoken to Harry;, the four of you parsing the memories of others. “Do you think we ought to tell Minerva?” Arthur asked as you emerged once more from the Pensive, pondering the memories of Morphin Gaunt.
“Tell her what?” you asked. “Tell her that we’ve found a pile of memories that don’t make any sense in Dumbledore’s things?” You felt aggressive, and the constant barrage of inane questions was making your head hurt. You wanted to shout that Harry was missing, Dumbledore was dead, Snape was at large and none of you were closer to knowing the things you could only assume Harry did but, no matter how many times you repeated that Harry must have known what these memories were and that he absolutely did not want to tell you what they contained, the impact of these statements seemed to be lost in the translation. Taking a deep breath and trying to continue in a more patient, collected tone, you tried again, “We’re almost done here. There are only a few more left. By the time someone went down to her office to fetch her and made it back up here, we could be finished.”
Arthur, Kingsley and Mad-Eye nodded as a collective and you lifted the last two bottles from the box. Pouring the first in proved somewhat more difficult than you had imagined. The thread of memory was clotting in the bottle neck. You shook it to draw out the last droplets and descended into the Pensieve, your hand still clasped tightly around the other.
The setting was familiar, and you realized, that you were standing within the office of Horace Slughorn, the now familiar fixture of a young Voldemort, and his lackieslackeys hanging around him. Horace and Voldemort, then Tom, chatted jovially about Tom’s future and the irony of hindsight struck you but, beyond that, the memory seemed disinteresting. You watched as Horace munched on crystallized pineapple, his fingers crusted with sugar. “He would have made a terrible lawyer,” Kingsley muttered to Arthur, who smirked slightly and then, without warning, the room clouded over – a mist so heavy you were certain you must be heavier simply for standing within it.
Mad-Eye looked at you with a dark significance as the unmistakable signs of a modified memory revealed themselves.
As an adult, you were forced to remember something you’d known quite definitely as a child; there are some things truths that, no matter how badly you need to know, you simply don’t want to understand. As the four of you walked slowly down the castle corridors, you could think of nothing else. Even Mad-Eye, who you were certaincertain, could become no more severe than he already was, looked more somber and more serious. Now, sitting in the meeting room at headquarters, you felt ill.
“What we’re dealing with,” Mad-Eye began, speaking to the thirty or so Order members who had been summoned here for this emergency meeting, “is more than a matter of life and death for a few people or even a few hundred people. It’s a matter of life and death for the race as a whole.”
You sat in this seat and looked out on them so many times before and each time took note of the exhaustion, the dedication, and the loyal spirits they all held. You appreciated fully the risk that they all took and wished that you, alone, could assume it – wished that you could take from them the necessity to make this decision but, as you watched them listening to Mad-Eye’s prepared speech, his words occasionally reaching past the filter in your ears, you realized that they weren’t there because of a necessity to make the decision. The thirty or so people before were the people that clamored at the door when no one else listened – when no one would believe that Voldemort had returned. These were the people who never believed he was really gone, and that these people felt as personally responsible for each death as you.
These faces – Tonks, nearly the entire Weasley family, Diggle, Hagrid, Kingsley, Minerva, and so many more – were scared in some cases, they were weary, but they were the faces of people who would have fought without an organization, without any indication of where to go or who to pursue. It pained you to know that they would never be known as the heroes they were, but you were comforted to think that they probably would never care to be known as heroes anyway – so long as their efforts were successful.
“Some of you will know what I’m talking about when I tell you that what we’re up against are Horcruxes.” A few people murmured confusion. A few more gasped. Tonks met your eyes and her look of abject horror, begging for you to deny what Mad-Eye was saying. It felt like a knife to the chest but you forced yourself to issue a small nod.
“Did you say Horcruxes?” the persistently attentive Bill asked, emphasizing the plural. More murmurs. More gasps. More looks of horror.
It was Mad-Eye’s turn to nod and, judging by his grip on the podium he insisted on using, it was as difficult for him as it had been for you. “Six, to be precise.” More murmurs. More gasps. More looks of horror. Continuing in spite of the noise, he looked resolutely at the far wall, “From what we can guess, Harry not only knows about the Horcruxes, but he has some indication of what they are. We think,” he added, “that’s where he’s gone.” As he spoke, you noticed beads of sweat forming on his brow, his knees quaking and his defiant expression fading.
“What is a Horcrux?” Fred interrupted. He blushed slightly as he did but it seemed that he was not the only one confused. Several others intoned their approval of the question and Mad-Eye shifted where he stood.
“A Horcrux,” you started, noticing the way Mad-Eye’s knees quaked, “is an object that contains a part of a wizardswizard’s soul.” The awe you’d expected at the end of this statement didn’t come, so you pressed on, feeling ineffective. “In effect, Voldemort has split his soul into seven pieces – one residing within his body, the other six within objects we haven’t yet firmly identified.”
Mad-Eye resumed, looking sturdier, “What it means is that, in effect, as long as these pieces of his soul are intact, we can’t win.”
“So we have to destroy them?” Bill asked. It was at that point that you tuned out the remainder of the conversation, though it seemed to drag on just fine without you.
There are times in life when one can find themselves overwhelmed with sensation. Moments when a touch can intoxicate you better than any potion, when a flavor can make you dizzy – times when words like succulent and awe-inspiring are can’t begin to be enough to lend accurate description. It would be your misfortune to discover that this kind of astonishing sensation could also come in the form of sickening dread and doubt.
The sound of scraping chairs signaled that it was time to get up and you left the meeting room on auto pilot, miraculously making your way into the kitchen without bumping into anyone or anything. It wasn’t until Tonks met you in the hallway, tears welling in her eyes, that you were jarred into focus. The strong, independent Auror seemed to have vanished and, standing before you was a person you hadn’t seen before. Even in her tender moments, with everything else stripped away, she never seemed to lose her audacious nature. Nevertheless, she took two shameless steps forward and sunk her face into your shoulder.
You did only that which came to you on instinct, reaching out to envelope her in your arms and whispering that things would be OK, your own mind swirling nauseatingly. Still, after a few minutes release, she regained herself, drawing back with a slightly red nose and waterlogged eyes but present was the stubborn determination in the set of her jaw and a confidence in the way she set her feet.
“Sorry,” she whispered, reaching up to try to rub the damp patch on your sleeve away.
You smiled weakly, not entirely sure you were ready to let her go. “Don’t mention it.” For as much comfort as you hoped to have given her you realized as she walked away that she must have been providing twice that for you.
There was work to be done, however.
“Hestia, you’ll go with Kingsley. Fred, George – you’re with Bill. Molly and Dedalus, you’re on together. Arthur, you’ll be with me.” Mad-Eye rattled off assignments as you and Tonks readied rucksacks in the sitting room. It wasn’t until this moment that you realized how much time you had wasted. Looking out the window, dusk was upon the city streets and, while you knew it was safer to make moves such as this under the cover of darkness, you couldn’t help but be aware of how much time had passed since Harry left your office and disappeared.
“I just put the last of them in the hallway,” Tonks said softly, swinging her own bag over her shoulder. You nodded and leaned into the kitchen, signaling to Mad-Eye, who gestured you away, carrying on with his speech.
The evening was balmy. Far too warm, you thought, for the season. As Tonks closed behind her, the last words of Mad-Eye’s speech could be heard, reaching out farther into the night than you might have liked “…There are supplies in the hall. Stay together if possible but not at the expense of the mission. If you have to leave someone behind, don’t be afraid to d…”
“Cheerful one, that,” Tonks said, trying in vain to lighten the moment.
You tried to reply but could think of nothing to say so, instead, forced a laugh and then looked behind at the house. “We should go. They’ll all be wantingwant to leave soon.”
When you left Grimmuald Place an hour ago, you were nothing if not preoccupied – preoccupied with a sense of injustice, fear, dread and tension. Try though she might, Tonks hadn’t been able to lift your spirits though, you weren’t as easy to please as Ginny and Hermione and her ill-fated attempt at a show of creative noses did little to cheer you up. Your preoccupations had changed, however as, waist deep in prairie grass, an overwhelming cloud of pollen rose up from the ground below and coated your sinuses, lungs and clothes.
“You all right?” Tonks skipped a few paces to catch up, taking hold of your arm as you sneezed into your sleeve.
You sniffled and ran your wand over your sleeve, leaving it clean once more. It had been your intention to reply with a ringing ‘Fine, thank you.’ Instead, what you said sounded more like “Fibe, tank oo.”
Tonks took a quick glance around and released your arm, dropping her bag to the grass and rifling through it.
Fearing the way the words would sound if you attempted to dissuade her, you resigned yourself to the notion that you would be taking a potion in short order, and, at least, if you cooperated, it would be over quickly. Sneezing again and rubbing your itchy eyes, you knelt down in the grass beside her.
All too suddenly, the quiet darkness that had fallen was broken by a flash of light. Tonks, clearly freed of her earlier misgivings and insecurities, leapt up from her position and wheeled toward the origin of the light, firing a curse in its direction. “ToOnks!” you shouted, trying to pull her back down into the grass, but it was too late. Your pursuers, whoever they were, had spotted her.
Three more flashes of light pierced the night sky before you were able to get to your feet and return fire. Tonks dodged them adeptly and your runny nose was forgotten. Sidestepping a spell yourself, you reached out for your discarded broomsticks, fired a stunning spell and tried to pass a broom to Tonks.
“We can’t just leave,” she shouted at you, straining to get a glimpse of the evidently approaching attackers.
“But we can see them better if we’re in the air,” you yelled back, pressing the broom toward her again. Reluctantly, she took it and, abandoning the bag of supplies behind you, you kicked off into the air, rising over the field searching the darkness for the source of the danger. A spell licked the tail of your broomstick and Tonks shouted, aiming a stream of water its direction to extinguish the resulting flames.
“Protego!” you yelled in return, knocking a blue flare out of the sky.
It persisted like this for what felt like hours – the pair of you circling the skies above ever shifting enemies. A spell grazed your wand arm, leaving a painful burn in its wake. Tonks, it seemed, flew heavy to the left, barely gripping her own broom, her right leg hanging limply at her side. Each time you were certain you had felled one of your opponents, another would appear, ceaselessly aiming spells at you.
A whimper came from behind you, barely audible as Tonks let her wand arm fall to the broom handle, her other pulled close to her chest. Pulling your broom to a hard vertical, you shot up into the sky – Tonks following - hoping to move out of reach of their spells for a moment or two and plunged your wand hand into your pocket, groping for the FacsimilleFacsimile that had tortured you so often with interruptions. Squeezing it tightly, dodged another spell and shouted, hoping that someone – anyone – would hear you.
As if your prayers had been answered, from the midst of the field below a spell shot out, singeing the grass as it passed. Kingsley Shackelbolt appeared at your right side, moments later, gripping his own broom. “Hestia’s broom shattered,” he explained in his comforting, booming voice.
“She’s not safe down there on her own,” you reasoned, already beginning to direct your broom downward but Kingsley’s moving hand distracted you. He was pointing to Hestia who, upon disappearing into the grass to dodge a spell, reemerged with her wand alight. It was a moment before you realized what she was doing, but as the ring of white light spread, you realized that it wasn’t simply light, but fire.
The light cast by the tremendous flames illuminated the entire evening, not only making your attackers visible, but yourselves as well. Nevertheless, you dove toward the ground, sweeping as close as you possibly could to the cloaked figures without dragging your feet through the high flames.
The mask shone white like the skeleton it was intended to represent.
Chapter 21: Twenty-One
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You survived, perhaps, another ten minutes of battle – sweeping up wide to avoid a spell the Death Eater on the ground had shot at you and issuing one in return. Tonks, hugging the distant tree line, shoot deflection charms at your opponents spells as she was able, her position too far out of their range to harm. Hestia’s flames burned on, making your targets easier to spot as she fired spells through the grass. Kingsley soared around all of you, at one point sneaking up behind a particularly thin member of their team, so close that he could have thumped them on the head, instead thrusting out his wand and, for the first time that night, a flash the shade of green that so sickened members of the Wizarding world could be seen as one of the cloaked figures fell, Kingsley rising from the spot with an expression so somber it could be seen vividly, even at a distance.
“Who -“ you started to ask as he flew past you.
“Dunno,” he replied, cutting you off. He didn’t make eye-contact and for a moment, you mistook it for remorse. However, as he shouted your name and you pulled your broom round, you realized only a moment too late that his aversion came not from grief but from fear as another member of the Order approached in the air.
Harry Potter, the boy whom you were all here to protect, flew too close to the ground, too far from safety and too much like a Quidditch player. Shouting at him in vain against the ever present din, you took a deep breath, a quick glance at Tonks and made a dangerous dive to his side, prepared to do whatever it took to get him out of the fray. “We need to get higher!” you yelled, taking hold of his sleeve with your free hand but he yanked his arm away and dove even closer toward the ground.
You shuddered but, without thinking about it for an instant, followed him, warmth from the blinding flames blistering the rubber on your shoes. “Harry,” you yelled again, trying to sound as reasonable one could given the extraordinary circumstances, but he ignored you, making his way toward the edge of the ring of fire, sweeping, it would seem, over the bodies of fallen, stunned or otherwise occupied Death Eaters.
“She has it!” He yelled back, finally, still searching frantically. “Bellatrix. Where’s Bellatrix?”
You were midway through shouting back at him that he needed to pull back up if he was going to accomplish anything when Tonks appeared at your side, her injured arm gripping as tightly to her broom as she could manage, wand arm free once more. She shouted something that you couldn’t understand before making a sharp turn upward and shooting off in the opposite direction, weaving in an out between spells shot by both friends and foes. By the time you looked back, Harry was pulling forward faster than you could follow, driving hard for the ground.
Pushing your broom as hard as you could, you followed, watching as he leapt onto the ground, letting his beloved Firebolt to crash into earth at a rate of speed that could not possibly have yielded positive results. He was running flat out without regard to the curses around him. As you rushed toward him, you swerved to avoid a tree as it crashed to the ground, the place where a particularly ominous looking curse had collided with its trunk.
It seemed, in the moments since Harry reached the ground, the Death Eaters, formerly so intent on killing any and all of you before the evening was out, focused their attentions soleysolely on him and, as you rushed to catch up, trying desperately to block the curses aimed in his direction, Hestia appeared a few feet in front of you. She had popped out of no where and, for a woman her age, moved with an impressive agility. “I’ve got him, Lupin,” she yelled and, Harry, as though gripped around the ankles stopped moving, his arms and torso still whirling so that he landed with ana graceless thud on the grass.
Dropping onto the ground yourself, you met Harry and Hestia, Harry struggling hard against his bounds.
“Where’s Bellatrix?,” he asked again, looking as aggressive as you’d yet seen him and groping for his wand. Before you could answer him, there was the sound of an anguished scream and you looked up to verify that both Tonks and Kingsley were still in the air.
“What are you talking about, Harry?” Hestia asked, picking his wand up off of the ground and setting it, once more, out of his reach. She was panting hard and barely able to speak. The ends of her formerly long hair were singed and smoking in places and she had what looked like the beginnings of an unpleasant scar on the side of her neck. “What about Bellatrix.”
“She…” He strained against his bonds. “…has it.”
“Has what, Harry?” you asked, dreading his answer. For a few seconds, which felt like hours, he glared at you – he looked at you, in fact, the way that James and Sirius once looked at you when they believed you to be betraying them. He looked at you like the enemy.
“The Horcrux.” His reply was issued through gritted teeth and he jerked harder against the invisible bindings than ever, his knees bent at odd angles. Exchanging a glance with Hestia, you released his bonds and Hestia returned his wand. He bolted to his feet and looked around, a little more calmly than before. “There were six when they found me. How many are there now?”
“A dozen or more,” Tonks supplied, landing beside you. “We’ve killed a few,” she said, nursing her injured arm. “Stunned a few others….”
“Accio Firebolt” Harry muttered, not looking at her. You ducked as the broom sailed past your head. In a matter of moments, the four of you were back in the air, Hestia and Tonks sharing a broomstick.
The number of spells that were cast that night couldn’t have been counted. The fire blazed on in spite of the fact that the grass that was feeding it had long since turned to ash. Try as you might to keep your bearings and remember where your fellow Order members were, the sky became a blur of light and it was all you could do to keep your attention on your own safety, let alone track the progress of others.
Watching a killing curse collide squarely with a hooded figure in black huddled in the trees, you spun in the air, rocketing toward the source of the spell that had just grazed your ear but, before you were able to get within range, someone you couldn’t identify cut across and you jerked your wand toward the sky. When you looked back, the Death Eater had vanished.
Looking around, you tried to take inventory. Kingsley could be seen, high above all of you, circling the field looking for remaining opponents. He caught your eye and made an obscure hand gesture that you could only assume meant the coast was clear.
You measured the time it took them to open the door in the number of times you heard a blood droplet fall on the pavement below. Tonks leaned hard on your shoulder while Harry and Kingsley struggled to support an unconscious Hestia. Even after you made your way inside to rest, Poppy tending first to Hestia, then to Tonks while Mad-Eye looked to Kingsley and Harry, the evening seemed a blur. “Will she be all right?” you asked Poppy in the kitchen. You could see Tonks through the doorway, layinglying on the couch, injured leg propped up on a pillow.
“Oh, she’ll be fine.” As she answered you, however, she wrung her hands nervously. “I’ve given her something to keep her calm. Hestia as well.”
“Yes,” you added, distractedly. Poppy nodded and reached for her bag, muttering something about stopping in at the castle to check on her charges, then coming back as soon as she could.
She spoke with the sort of nervous energy that suggested she was more worried than she wanted to let on and you could do nothing but hope that it wasn’t over Tonks. As though she were reading your mind, she patted you gently on the arm and whispered “She’ll be fine, Remus.”
Nodding your goodbyes, you made your way back into the sitting room and seized your bloodstained cloak. Tonks twisted a little to look at you, wincing as she moved. “Shhh,” you whispered, kissing her gently on the cheek. “I’ll be back in a little bit. I’m just going to help Kingsley and Harry.”
“Did you find her?” you asked, coming up behind Kingsley.
He had a tight grip on Harry’s arm as they walked through the clearing. The fire, having finally been, for the most part, put out, left a massive circle of smoldering ash in its wake, tufts of flame still surviving every few feet. Careful to avoid it, the three of you carried on in your pursuit, periodically running up against fallen tree limbs.
“Any survivors?” The sun was coming up and, as birds began to chirp merrily, it seemed the time to break the silence. Kingsley nodded and pointed to a dark patch a twentytwenty yards ahead. The harder you squinted, the less visible they seemed to become. “I’ll take your word for it,” you muttered.
“Arthur is keeping an eye on them until Mad-Eye can get here,” he explained and it occurred to you to wonder what Moody and Arthur intended to do with them. Before you could carry the line of thinkngthinking too far, Harry was wrenching against Kingsley’s grip, his wand aimed at what could have easily been nothing more than a crumpled pile of robes were it not for the unmistakable shock of long, thin black hair trailing from within them.
“Let him go,” you whispered, gruffly and Kingsley relaxed his grip, allowing Harry to break away.
“He’s oddly calm,” you muttered. Kingsley smirked at you in a way that seemed to suggest he had something to do with the measured way Harry was approaching the limp form. Wands drawn, you watched as he moved the stream of light across the figure then, with the tip of his trainers, turned it over. It appeared that even death could not change the features of Bellatrix Lestrange. She looked sallow, sunken and cruel.
It was the first time you had seen her – really looked at her – since she killed Sirius and it pained you to realize that Harry must be dealing with the same thing. He, however, did not falter – reaching into her robes, he pulled out an ornate dagger and turned his back on the woman who had caused him so much pain. “Ready then?” Kingsley asked, casting a worried glance at the rising sun.
When you arrived back at Headquarters, Hestia was sleeping, but conscious and Tonks, much to Poppy’s chagrin, could be seen hobbling up and down the hallway on a pair of make-shift crutches. At the sight of you, the odd assemblage of people in the surrounding rooms closed in on you, shooting questions in a million different directions.
“Would it be fair to assume that everyone else made it out all right, then?” you asked, having finally made your way into the kitchen and secured a seat at the table for Tonks.
“Seems so,” she said somewhat matter-of-factly. “Molly and Dedalus ran into a bit of a scrape but, timewisetime wise, it seems to have happened around the time the others found Harry…and then us. So,” she bit into a cauldron cake, “it was fairly short lived. Hagrid isn’t back yet, but you know how he can be.”
You nodded. You seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. “Kingsley should be bringing Harry around any minute. They just had to deal with a little something first,” you supplied. She hadn’t asked but it seemed like something that might, at the very least, fill the dead space in the conversation. Tonks returned the favor by issuing her own half-hearted nod and fiddling with the edge of your cloak.
“In any case,” she started in again, clearly trying to keep you too busy to worry, “It looks like everyone is going to be OK. Banged up, to be sure, but OK. Charlie is a little worse for the wear…”
The way she let her last statement drag off made you nervous and you realized that he hadn’t been among the throng of people who mobbed you when you walked in the door. “Where is Charlie?” Little though you may have actually liked Charlie Weasley, you certainly didn’t want anything ill to befall him. Well, nothing more ill than a good hard dose of reality, perhaps.
Charlie, as it turned out, had gotten the ‘good hard dose of reality’ you wished for these many months and, in retrospect, you felt more than a little bit guilty. Tonks, wove the tale for you quite colorfully as you helped her up the stairs to the library. “I could have managed just fine if you would have let me keep my crutches!” she argued.
Bill, who was coming up the stairs behind you, tried (and failed) to stifle a snicker. “It wasn’t for your safety, love. It was for the rest of us,” you replied. Red in the face, she refrained from protesting again.
Unfortunately, once you settled in and the creaky leather sofa quieted, she screwed up her nose, squeezed her eyes shut and switched her focus to returning her hair to her favored pink – a feat that, according to Poppy, she would be unable to accomplish until she’d gotten a few days rest and had a few good potions. She was, apparently, undeterred from the effort.
“Isn’t that against Madame Pomfrey’s orders?” Fred asked, leaning over a mountain of books you’d failed to put away during your last visit.
“I’ve learned to choose my battles much more wisely than that, Fred,” you replied.
He grinned, as though the two of you were sharing a joke that no one else in the world could understand, and then winked. Briefly, you wondered if there was some sort of cosmic rule about the perpetual existence of an irritating member of the Weasley family and what it must mean for Charlie if Fred was working so hard to assume that role. “Fudge, Lupin?”
Chapter 22: Twenty-Two
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There was a crash, a bang, a screech and an unmistakable sound of kitchenware in distress. You jumped with an entirely justified start. "Tonks!?" you shouted, bracing yourself on the hallway wall as you spun, a little too fast, around the corner into the kitchen.
"I'm fine!" she yelled back, but the sight of her was far from fine, splayed on the tile, an unnerving assemblage of broken glass, cutlery and pans surrounding her. Most disconcerting, however, had to be the angle at which her ankle bent away from her leg.
Ten minutes later, threading your way through the minefield of what had formerly been your kitchen appliances, Tonks tried to smile but winced instead. "I told you not to move," you scolded, setting her gingerly down on the couch and propping her ankle up on a pillow.
"Is it broken? I think it's broken." You didn't answer her. The ankle, you were certain, was indeed broken, but she didn't need to know how badly.
Reaching into your pocket you drew out your wand and tried to smile. “Well, we should probably take you to St. Mungo’s just in case.”
The streets of London looked no different than they had a few months. True, for the non-magical community, very little had seemed to change. Herbert Chorley may have finally returned from his rather extended vacation and the Prime Minister’s paperwork might have been somewhat less in order, Kingsley having been finally able to return to his regular duties and freed the title of secretary but, for the most part, they had seen little difference. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t just take the Floo,” Tonks argued, sitting grumpily in an old, wooden wheelchair.
“Because,” you said, the grin you hadn’t been able to shake for near a month still present on your face, “I wasn’t about to let you fall out of a fire grate and break something else.”
“I could have flown!” she protested again. “Or Apparated.”
You might have argued but, instead, still grinning, replied with a simple “We’re here!” and tapped gently on the glass in front of a tacky old mannequin.
Still complaining, Tonks wheeled herself forward to the equally grouchy mediwitch behind the desk. “Please state your injury,” she said, looking at Tonks from underneath her glasses.
“It looks as though she’s broken her ankle,” you supplied, merrily.
The witch looked at you skeptically. “Name?” she asked, looking more agitated than she had when you’d arrived. Tonks sunk further down into her wheelchair.
Several stacks of all too familiar paperwork later, you wheeled Tonks toward the lift that would take you to the first floor. It struck you, as you looked at the number of empty or near empty wards that St. Mungo’s, at the very least, reflected the significance of what had been accomplished.
“Is this really necessary?” she asked, breaking into your reverie as the lift pulled you upwards.
“Yes,” you replied, pushing her into yet another hallway. “I think, when you’re all done, we might go visit Charlie. He’s on the fourth floor still, no?”
Later that evening, sitting warm by the hearth fire, thumbing through the Evening Prophet, you pondered the significance of your memories. It was true, your names might not go down in history books and time would probably not remember the Weasley’s for as brave a family as they were. Professor Binns might not ever find occasion to teach future generations of students about the people who gave their lives along side of Harry Potter – helping him, defending him, teaching him – but, for you, at least, the sight of an empty ward in St. Mungo’s and a once more bustling Diagon Alley would be enough.
Flipping to the obituaries before discarding the paper was a habit you knew you might never learn to break, but time had taken the sting out of the activity somewhat. “What is it?” Tonks asked, taking note of a slight change in your expression.
You waited a moment to answer her, dwelling instead on the photographs that greeted you. “It’s been six months…” you replied, holding the page out for her to read. Her hair remained short and shockingly pink;, her eyes still tinged slightly violet, but there was something in her face that made her seem older, perhaps wiser and watching as she read, you felt a pang of guilt – as though perhaps your worst fears for her had come true.
Taking the newspaper from you and setting in on the coffee table, she leaned over to kiss your cheek and whispered an ‘I love you’ before heading off to bed.
You sat for a long while staring at the faces of your friends – at Moody and Dumbledore, at the Prewetts and so many others. Scanning to the end, you found the faces you were searching for, the Potter’s – Lily, James and, beneath them, Harry. The article directed you to page seven where you were certain there would be a flowery remembrance, prose akin to that of Robert Frost. Still, you couldn’t bring yourself to read it. The date, May 16th, floated serenely beneath his photograph and, for you, that was eulogy enough.