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Chapter 2 : A Step Further
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This night has been no different than the last few she had spent at work, preferring to bury herself amidst mountains of paperwork. She knew her mother was worried about her safety and the conditions in which she spent her nights, but somehow, Tonks did not find it within herself to ease her mother’s distress. Not at the moment at least.
Even if she couldn’t shake off the feeling that she was a bad daughter and her mother didn’t deserve this treatment, something always stopped her from reassuring Andromeda whenever they crossed paths at home during the day. She simply couldn’t forget the way her mother had dismissed her about the topic of Bellatrix, when Tonks had pleaded that it was very important for her to know the truth of her mother’s relationship with her sister. It shocked Tonks how Andromeda would not sway an inch even if it meant her daughter’s peace. After growing up in an environment where family and honesty were two of the values praised before anything else, her mother’s attitude had severely shaken Tonks up.
She had tried approaching her mother with the same inquiry again on several occasions, thinking that maybe at the time she had caught her in a bad moment, but it had only gotten her as far as being given the beating her mother reckons she should have received when she were younger. Tonks even tried ambushing her with the question, hoping that the surprise would make her spill at least something, but after Andromeda reduced her to inaudible gasps and splutters with a Silencing Charm she refused to lift for a whole day, Tonks finally realized the hopelessness of her situation and decided to look for answers elsewhere.
It was therefore with heavy heart that she one day decided it was time to take matters into her own hands, and follow through with her threat of pursuing the truth by her own means.
At first, the thought left a sour taste in her mouth, and she decided more than once to just abandon the whole thing and forget about it all together. But every time she seemed close to putting away her aunt’s face from her mind, it always returned at night, stronger than ever.
Every time she would relive that horrible night in her dreams, she would wake up covered in cold sweat, panting heavily, the hollow emptiness in her stomach making her retch. It didn’t happen that often any more, the dream. But the fact that it bubbled on the surface of her unconscious mind whenever she was close to forgetting her ordeal, made it clear to her that she couldn’t put it off any longer and the only way to permanently escape this torture was to get her questions answered.
However, the fact remained that Tonks didn’t know where to start her inquiries. It was hard to imagine that someone would tell her anything about her aunt if she asked them straight, so the only remaining option was to find out indirectly.
The idea had come to her a few days past, but she had been so busy all around-the-clock what with her Auror duties and her work for the Order, that she hardly found a moment to properly breathe, let alone make private investigations.
Still uncertain if she had been stalling time until now, or whether she really was busy and couldn’t find the right moment, she had decided the previous day that she’d use the opportunity of remaining at her office over night to go around poking into the Archives Department. There was bound to be a file on Bellatrix Lestrange, with her being such a notorious Death Eater and everything.
So, preparing herself mentally, Tonks did everything she knew best not to fall asleep: charms, potions and even something she read once in a Muggle story Charlie had sent her from Romania. She carved a spike out of a wooden plate and placed it behind her, so that every time she felt tempted to lean back and relax, it would poke her in the back, forcing her to stay awake. Of course, the spike proved quite useless because after only a few hours into the night she fell hard asleep with her head banging roughly on the desk, not even that waking her up from her deep slumber.
She only woke up several hours later when a particularly loud snort made her jump.
‘Uhh? Whazz ‘rong?’ she muttered with her mouth still half closed. She willed her eyes open, but they kept shutting up and a terrible pain stabbed her lower back as she tried straightening herself. It took her a few moments to realize where she was.
With a shove, she threw aside the useless spike and leaned back in her rickety chair, while lazily taking in her surroundings. Behind the light blue screenings she could see the first hues of the dawn spilling on the sides of the curtains, giving the entire Auror Office a somewhat misty look. The magical sky outside was enchanted so that it resembled the real one outside of the Ministry of Magic, and it seemed today would be a deep, magnificent blue judging by the patches of light that were now blurring the outlines of the cubicles.
Suddenly, she jumped to her feet so fast like an electrical surge had just gone through her. A soft curse escaped her lips as she snatched her wand off the table of her own cubicle and dashed towards the door leaving a trail of flying parchments in her wake.
The only thought she kept repeating while she dodged misplaced chairs and cubicles that seemed purposefully lain in her wake was ‘How could I’ve fallen asleep?’ Today, of all days, or rather last night, was the night she was supposed to stay awake so that she could sneak inside the Magical Archives Office unseen. How could she have slipped this bad when she knew that Mr. Atkins was a morning person and was the first to arrive at work every day? In fact, if she thought well about it, he must be the first person in the whole Ministry of Magic to get to work. He must sleep inside the building as well. There was no other way to explain why every time she went to ask him for a file or other, no matter the early hour, he would be there, sitting on his master chair like a hawk prepared for its first victim.
After almost a quarter of an hour of flat-out running, impatiently tapping the panel of the elevator in hopes that it would go faster than usual, and almost tripping over the last steps of the final staircase in her haste, she finally burst out into the corridor that led to the Office where all the Archives of the Ministry were stored.
Clutching a stitch in her side, she waited a few minutes until her breath slowed down and she could face Mr. Atkins without risk of being mistaken for a fugitive escaping the scene of the crime, even if this was exactly how she felt judging by her pounding heart.
Then, puffing out her chest, straightening her back and lifting up her chin, she started making her way towards the furthest door of the corridor in a very comical way, which was always opened slightly, today being no different.
Even if everything about Tonks seemed to breathe confidence, her insides were far from confident. If anything, she felt afraid that the Archives keeper would hear the pounding of her pulse, that’s how nervous she felt.
After what seemed like an eternity of steps, she finally reached the cracked door. She tentatively knocked on the door, half hoping that Mr. Atkins was not there and she would have an excuse to fall back on. However, that was not the case today.
‘Yes?’ came the voice immediately after Tonks had knocked on the brown wooden door. Taking a short breath of air, she pushed the door opened and stepped over the threshold into the small cubicle that was Mr Atkins’s office.
He was a man way over his sixties, with huge, thick glasses that always unpleasantly reminded Tonks of the nasty mosquitos that had terrified her when she was young. Bald head, fluffy moustache and an almost sickly thin countenance, Tonks always wondered how this little man could remain on the ground when gusts of powerful wind blew throughout London.
Shaking a mental image of Mr. Atkins holding on to a tree for dear life out of her mind, she finally turned her attention to the man in front of her, who looked up at her curiously taking in her wrinkled robe and messy hair.
‘Yes, um…what did I..oh yes. I’d like to request the file on Bellatrix Lestrange please,’ said Tonks with as much self-assurance as she could muster.
The seconds that followed, during which Mr. Atkins simply started at her with the same almost annoying inquisitive look he always had when someone asked for a file as if they were all his, seemed to pass like minutes.
Finally, without asking her any questions whatsoever, the elder slowly got up and slowly made his way through a back door that was hidden from view by his massive armchair.
While she was waiting for Mr. Atkins to return with her file, Tonks decided to look around, intrigued by all the unusual things that made up his office.
It was a horribly matched room. Nothing fit with anything. The walls were all empty of any portraits, instead they were painted in different shades of red, green, yellow and blue, the colors of the four Houses of Hogwarts. It looked to Tonks like rather than being professionally painted, the way the stains covered the wall, a clumsy child had played with the paint.
The floor was covered with shining black tiles that made the color of the walls more powerful by contrast. And last, Mr. Atkins’s desk, which was made of very solid purple oak. Everything was so off about this room that it made Tonks giggle every time she stepped in here.
After a few minutes of being absent, Mr. Atkins returned carrying a pretty hefty folder in both his arms. Eyes fixed on Tonks the whole time, he went around his massive desk and put the file into her outstretched hands.
An involuntary shiver went down her spine when she looked down at it and saw the picture of Bellatrix Lestrange grinning and winking back at her. A feeling of foreboding started forming in the pitch of her stomach. She was so drawn in, almost mesmerized by the gruesome picture of the woman, that she turned around and started making for the exit door without realizing she was moving her feet. It was only when Mr. Atkins called her back that she snapped back to reality.
‘Sorry?’ asked Tonks, confused as to why she was called back.
‘You need to sign the registry dearie,’ replied the man in a patient voice, like he was talking to a child that needed guidance.
‘Oh…,’ said Tonks, turning back and signing the registry, under the space that Mr. Atkins was pointing with his finger. After that she looked at him, to see if there was anything else she had to do, but there was nothing else because Mr. Atkins nodded in her direction and went back to his own business, as if she was completely invisible.
Clutching the heavy document to her chest, she started her way back to her office. Her mind was filled with erratic thoughts about the file she kept so firmly between her arms. There was no space for anything else. That’s why, it came as a surprise to her when she realized her feet had taken her back to her cubicle and she was out of breath. She must have run all the way here.
Placing the document on her desk, she wiped her forehead with her sleeve and sat down, staring at Bellatrix’s face. As she was watching the woman grin malevolently, an unexpected burst of sadness tugged at her heart. This was supposed to be her aunt. The second woman she would look up to after her mother. Family.
Closing her eyes against the threatening tears that started forming at the corner of her eyes, she turned the first page of the document, where her eyes fell upon a file that stated everything from Bellatrix’s full name, to where she had attended school, the House she had been sorted in, who had been her friends, her family, everything the Ministry knew about her.
Tonks leaned back in her chair and started reading every single line of the file, devouring all of the information she had been kept in the dark about. Time passed in a blur of evidence files, medical certificates, Head Auror notifications for private investigators and summons for their findings, until it suddenly slowed down to normal flow when she reached the witness testimonials, particularly the one of Arran Young that was the last known witness to see her.
The more she read this Arran Young’s testimony, the more horrified she felt. By the time she reached the end the little doubt she had had these last few days were all but evaporated. Not after what she had just read. Her mind was set now and there was nothing that could make her change her mind.
Looking up from the paper she realized it was well into the morning by now. Not long now before her companions would start making their way through the office door for another day of work. There was not a moment to lose.
She hastily got up, kicking back her chair that hit the floor with a resounding crash in the still empty room and looked around for her wand, which was nowhere in sight. She started shuffling papers around looking for her lost wand, all the while carefully listening for any sign of anyone approaching the office.
She could not believe the mess her desk was in. How was it possible that every time she had work she’d make such a disaster? Finally, after pushing a document away in a desperate swipe, her wand fell to the floor with a slight clatter and rolled under her desk.
‘Oh, for the love of Merlin’s shoes,’ mumbled Tonks while bending down to reach under the desk for the elusive wand. After a few failed attempts she finally reached it and with a triumphant “HA”, she pushed herself back from under the desk and up on her feet again, only to find herself face to face with Moody.
Startled by his unusually silent presence, she dropped her wand again, this time not even bothering to retrieve it.
‘Wh-what are you doing here?’ she mumbled, stepping sideways in an attempt to hide Bellatrix’s open file on her desk.
Moody didn’t even bother to answer. He was staring her down with his normal black eye while his electrical blue one whizzed in his head in a very nauseating manner. Her heart skipped a beat when she remembered he could see through solid objects.
‘What are you hiding there Tonks?’ he asked in the gruff, accusatory tone he was well known to have when speaking to people he considered to be guilty of something, who in his opinion was everyone.
‘N-nothing. Just…just work. A new case you see..,’ said Tonks while turning around and started grabbing papers from all around the desk and piling them over the incriminatory file. But she didn’t get far as she felt a rough hand push her gently out of the way.
She didn’t try to resist. Instead, she started biting her lip and watched Alastor closely, awaiting his reaction with mounting anxiety. He took a clunking step closer to the desk and she could clearly see his right hand curl into a fist moments later when he realized what she had been reading.
He turned his head in her direction and for the first time in her life since she started working in the Auror Department, the ‘talent’ she was proudest of in her life simply disappeared. This time, she could not read his thoughts on his face.
Author's Note: Hey guys. Thank you for taking the time to read my second chapter and my apologies for taking so long. Now that NaNo is over I can focus on my ongoing projects once again. I dearly appreciate your thoughts if you have any :)
Thanks to my lovely MissMdsty for the summary of the chapter
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