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Jinxed Hearts by Emcnary
Chapter 12 : Chapter 12
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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Standing in the alley off Grimmauld Place, Tonks took a deep breath. She needed to focus on the mission ahead rather than dwell on the sad, brooding expression Remus had worn as she’d left the kitchen. She pushed the image to the back of her mind and focused on the task at hand. Tonks had spent a lot of time reading Death Eater files and contemplating her back story as Claire Daniels in order to prepare for this mission. Time to go mingle with some criminals.

“Will you be stumbling over your feet at regular intervals this evening?” Severus’ voice interrupted her thoughts as he held out his arm for her to grasp for Apparition.

Tonks realized she was getting ready to find out exactly what an entire evening with Severus Snape would be like. She wondered idly if he possessed any kind of sense of humor—he certainly didn’t seem to. Of course, she had only ever seen him in the classroom and in Order meetings; not exactly the two places where you’d find much humor. “If we have to spend the evening together, try to not be a complete jerk,” Tonks replied, keeping her adopted accent even in the relative secrecy of the alley. “Being on a mission, I’ll be in character, and Claire Daniels isn’t a klutz.”

“Jerk?” Severus questioned as he raised a sardonic eyebrow.

“Yes, jerk,” Tonks said as she looped her arm through his. “I believe on this side of the pond you usually say ‘git’ or ‘prat’.”

“As fascinating as I find this lesson on American dialect, I’m sure you know that we have somewhere to be.”

Tonks rolled her eyes. “Let’s go, then. You’re the one guiding me to our destination.”

Without warning, Severus turned on the spot, tugging her along in Apparition. They landed seconds later at the end of a long gravel drive off a country lane.  Tonks took a moment to steady herself with a deep breath before taking in her surroundings. The late summer sun was low in the horizon, casting shadows from the tall hedges lining both sides of the drive. Halfway down the drive there was a large wrought iron gate, propped open to welcome the guests to the party. Tonks looked beyond the gate for her first glimpse of Malfoy Manor. She couldn’t help but be impressed with what she saw; the house was grander than any she had seen before. Tonks thought it looked more like a small castle with its tall towers and numerous high windows. Its wide stone steps led up to an impressively large front door—also open to welcome guests— surrounded by leaded glass windows. There was a short queue formed at the door, extending down the steps as the guests waited for admittance into the manor.

Tonks was surprised to feel Snape’s hand cover hers where it rested, still curled around his elbow from Apparition. “Shall we?” he asked as he pulled her forward to set her feet into motion.

She nodded as she looked up into Snape’s face and took in his appearance for the first time that evening. He had pulled his usually lank hair back and secured it with a black band at the nape of his neck. His attire was customarily black in color, but, rather than his severe teaching robes, he was wearing nicely tailored dress robes with a crisp white dress shirt. Tonks was surprised to find that he looked rather nice compared to his usual bat-like appearance.

“You’re not looking as threatening as usual this evening, Severus,” Tonks said as they continued up the drive.

Snape turned his head sharply towards Tonks, his eyes narrowed. “Miss Daniels, did you happen upon some unsavory tea before our departure this evening?”

“That was a genuine compliment,” Tonks replied with a laugh, remembering the unfortunate incident with Fred and George’s experimental potion. “Not a sip of tea was involved.” They stepped into the line leading up to the front steps. “Now, in case you weren’t sure, it’s customary for you to return a compliment once one is received.”

His eyes narrowed.

“You don’t think this is an improvement on my usual attire?” Tonks asked as she twirled her skirt a bit. She wasn’t fishing for a compliment, but some positive feedback would be appreciated.

“Considering your penchant for Muggle rock band t-shirts, I suppose I must agree that this” he said as he waved his hand vaguely in her direction, “is an improvement.”

“Complimenting my dress through an insult to my t-shirts is hardly a compliment,” Tonks said tartly, earning her a smirk from Snape.

The line inched forward until they reached the steps. Tonks peered curiously around the guests ahead of them. She could see a gentleman at the door taking invitations and checking them off on a list, but didn’t see their host and hostess a.

She leaned in closer to Snape and asked, “Are they too posh to greet their guests at the door?”

“They’ll likely greet their guests in the most ostentatious location within the manor,” Snape replied with a vaguely irritated expression. Whether irritated at her continued efforts to engage him in conversation, or at the pompous greeting they were sure to receive from their hosts, Tonks wasn’t sure.

The line of guests continued to move forward until they were standing at the top of the steps leading up the front door. Snape handed over the invitation, and they were allowed entrance into the manor. They walked through a marbled entry hall, passing a doorway that lead into a large drawing room that was beautifully furnished and filled with portraits. Tonks caught site of an enormous stone fireplace along the far wall that was easily at tall as she was. They were not yet through the entry hall, and she thought that so far the inside of the house equally matched the impressiveness of the outside.

They reached a corridor which led to a grand room that appeared to span the entire length of the back of the manor, large windows across the entire length giving a striking view of the back garden and the English countryside beyond. Tonks heard the lovely strains of classical music and looked around to see a string quartet and a pianist playing discreetly in the corner. There were tall cocktail tables set up throughout, and a bar set up in one corner, with two bartenders serving drinks. Waiters in starched white shirts circulated throughout the room with trays filled with glasses of wine and small white cups with tiny forks sticking jauntily out of the top. Tonks fervently hoped the cups were filled with appetizers. Her eyes continued to sweep through the room, getting a feel for the layout and the guests milling about. She felt Snape gently tug her arm and looked in the direction he was pulling her. Narcissa Malfoy was standing just a few meters away. They crossed the short distance to their hostess, Tonks’ arm still tucked neatly into the crook of Severus’ elbow.

Narcissa turned her attention to them as they approached. “Severus, it’s lovely to see you,” she greeted him with a smile.

Tonks gazed at the woman before her, finding it hard to believe that she was her mother’s sister. Andromeda was warm and caring; her Black family eyes were expressive, showing love and sincerity with ease. The face Tonks saw in front of her was certainly not warm. Instead, Narcissa appeared aloof. Her demeanor was friendly enough, as a proper hostess from the noble house of Black should be. But her smile did not quite reach her eyes.

“A pleasure to see you as usual, Narcissa,” Snape said with a terse nod. “Allow me to introduce my colleague, Claire Daniels.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Daniels,” Narcissa said as she extended a hand out to Tonks. “Although, I must confess I was disappointed to hear that I needn’t attempt to play matchmaker for Severus again.”

Tonks had a difficult time controlling the urge to burst into laughter at the thought of Snape being set up on a blind date. She settled for a wide smile as she accepted Narcissa’s handshake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Malfoy.” She looked up to see a slight scowl on Snape’s face. Tonks patted his arm placatingly. “And, don’t worry. I’ll be leaving England in a matter of days and you can resume your position as matchmaker.”

 Narcissa laughed lightly. “Oh, my dear, I do believe I like you. You must meet my husband.” She peered over her shoulder and called out, “Lucius, do come meet Severus’ guest for the evening.”

Tonks had been hoping to largely avoid Lucius Malfoy during this mission and was disappointed to find that plan falling by the wayside when the night had scarcely begun. She fixed her features into a pleasant smile and prepared to greet her uncle as he appeared at his wife’s side.

“Lucius, meet Claire Daniels. She is the young lady who stole my opportunity to match Severus with that lovely witch I met through the Ministry Women’s Guild.”

Tonks offered her hand to Lucius and was revolted that instead of a handshake he took her hand and brought it to his lips. “Miss Daniels, welcome to Malfoy Manor.” Lucius released her hand and turned his attention to Snape. “Severus, you’re looking well.”

“Lucius,” Severus returned, reaching out to shake hands. “Narcissa, I assure you there is no need to match me with a witch from the Women’s Guild or any other association for that matter.”

“Let Narcissa have her fun, old man,” Lucius said as he smiled indulgently at his wife. “Tell me, Miss Daniels, how did you and Severus come to cross paths?”

The question shook Tonks from her reverie at watching the odd scene of Lucius gazing so affectionately at his wife. “We met a while back at a Potion’s conference. I happen to be traveling through London this week to check-in about some research I’m completing.”

Lucius stared intently at Tonks, as if studying her. “What perfect timing that you happened to be in London this very weekend.”

Bugger. Tonks realized that how she reacted—or didn’t react as the case may be—to Lucius was very important. He was obviously suspicious over her attendance at the party. She smiled and said confidently, “I agree, Mr. Malfoy. Perfect timing. Rather than being cooped up in a laboratory for the entire weekend discussing Potions, we get a break and a chance for me to see your lovely home.”

“Hmm. Yes, indeed,” he replied with a thoughtful look. “Well, enjoy the party. I’ve brought out some of the Malfoy family’s finest vintage for the occasion.”

Snape turned and guided Tonks further into the large room. He leaned down and spoke into her ear when they had moved several paces away from where the Malfoys stood. “You responded well.”

There wasn’t time for Tonks to register her shock at Snape’s approval before a thought suddenly occurred to her; something they should have discussed prior to arriving at the manor. “Would it be in your best interest if this evening was kept strictly as colleagues?”

“It would be…uncharacteristic of me to bring a date to a function.”

“Unless it’s a friend of Mrs. Malfoy?” Tonks asked with a cheeky grin. When Snape glared at her, she did her best to suppress a giggle. “Colleagues, then.”

Snape gave another nod as he continued to guide Tonks away from the Malfoys, stopping after a few paces to survey the room.

“I say we find a table and try to flag down some food.”

“Are you in constant need of feeding?” he asked with a huff.

“I believe somebody warned you earlier that I get grumpy when I’m hungry,” Tonks replied with a smile. “But that’s not the only reason I want to secure a table.” Snape looked at her with an eyebrow raised in question. Tonks lowered her voice. “If we get a table with a good view of the room, we can better see what’s going on.”

Snape gave her a look that she was shocked to see bordered on approval. Reluctant approval, no doubt, but approval nonetheless. “Very well,” he said as he signaled to a waiter to stop. Tonks released his arm as he reached to pick up two glasses of wine from the tray, handing one to her. “Lead the way.”

Tonks accepted the glass of wine and scanned the room for the best vantage point. She spied a table toward the back of the room, close to a set of French doors that opened to the garden. From there, they could stand with a view of the entrance to the room, the bar in a far corner, and most of the other tables. She made her way to the table, grabbing one of the small cups from a waiter’s tray on the way. Once at the table, she set her wine and food down, along with her bag that had been tucked securely under her arm.

Tonks gave a low whistle as she looked around the room, taking a few mental notes. “I will say their home is impressive. Which is more than I can say for this food.” She picked up the little fork from the cup of what looked to be a tiny portion of prosciutto and goat cheese topped with a slice of fig. “Where’s the four-course meal that goes along with a house like this?”

“No doubt this is the newest fashionable trend in entertainment according to Narcissa,” Snape replied. He leaned against his elbow he’d propped on the table, looking around the room with a bored expression. “Tell me, Daniels, what do you see?”

Tonks rolled her eyes as she finished her ridiculously tiny portion of food. She flagged down another waiter, grabbing two appetizers—tiny plates with miniscule slices of baguette topped with a smidge of pesto and a poached shrimp—and passing one to Snape. “I should make you call me Claire for the evening.”

“Irony at its finest.” Snape picked the shrimp off the baguette and ate it. “So?”

Tonks took a sip of wine as she took another scan of the room. “It’s quite an interesting group here tonight,” she began in a low voice. “A mix between Ministry employees, the Minister himself no less, and a fair few of your friends—”

“Facts I could get from virtually anyone in this room.”

Tonks sighed as she realized that Snape was testing her. Fine, she thought. Test away. Tonks hoped that by the end of the night he would at least be willing to concede that she was at least mildly good at her job. Asking him to believe her to be quite good at her job was likely asking too much. “Be quiet and let me finish.” Snape waved a hand, motioning her to continue before. “There are about fifty people in the room—wait staff not included. More men than women. Most of them aren’t particularly worthy of note. Simply party guests. But, there are a few interesting characters.”

“Go on,” he murmured.

Tonks gave Snape a pleasant smile so that anybody who was watching their exchange would assume they were engaging in enjoyable small talk. “The most immediate threats are the dark-haired gentleman by the bar who looks a bit jumpy, the group of your associates at the table by the door leading to the garden, and the man leaning against the wall by where we came in who appears to have gone heavy-handed on the charms to disguise himself.”

“Is that all?” he asked, once again raising an eyebrow at her.

Tonks swept her eyes swiftly around the room again. “The best exit for a quick and unsuspicious getaway is through the back doors to the garden. And.” She gave a furtive glance over Snape’s shoulder. “Your colleagues at the table behind you are watching us.”

“Are they?” he asked mildly, giving Tonks an amused look—well, as amused as Snape’s expression could be. He certainly wasn’t scowling at her. “Interesting that you identify the threats and the exit first.”

“I think you’ve met my mentor,” she replied, mirroring Snape’s expression with a quirk of her own eyebrow. Tonks took another sip of her wine, noting that it was quite good. She set her glass on the table and pushed it aside for now. She wanted to be able to nurse the glass for the evening so she looked like a typical party guest with a drink in her hand without having to drink more than one glass. “Are you going to have to go play nice with your associates at some point?”

“Obviously.”

“Well, while you are busy with that, I’ll take the opportunity to chat with my friend from the Ministry.” Tonks grabbed two more plates from a passing waiter. “Until then, let’s make up stories about the other party-goers while we eat our pretentious food. Hope you like grilled oysters on a bed of salt.”

Snape took the plate Tonks offered him. “What possible advantage does that lend us?”

“No advantage, really. It’s just for fun,” she replied with a smile. “If we have to watch people anyway, we might as well entertain ourselves. We’ll start with an easy one. That man at the bar.”

“That would be the Minister for Magic,” Snape deadpanned.

Tonks rolled her eyes and decided that if he did have a sense of humor, it was definitely snarky. “The man next to the Minister,” she replied with exasperation. “The one who already looks half pissed. Suppose he’s had a rough day?”

“I have absolutely no bloody idea. Nor do I care.”

Tonks continued, ignoring Snape’s grumbling. “I think the woman next to him has just chucked him over because he won’t commit.”

“He’s likely all the better for it,” Snape said with a grim smile.  

“Now he’s thinking he should declare his undying love for her to win her back,” she continued. “Although he really shouldn’t have that next drink unless he wants to make a complete drunken fool of himself.”

Snape fixed her with the impatient glare she recognized from her Hogwarts years. “Perhaps he’s at the bar to acquire another drink to help stifle the insufferable prattle being bestowed upon him by the woman at his side.”

“You can play along,” Tonks said with mock gasp. “Although, I think your story is imitating real life. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with my prattle for the evening.” Tonks saw movement from the table of Death Eaters over Snape’s shoulder. One of them—her studies of Ministry files told her it was Avery—had left the table and was walking in their direction. “Heads up,” she whispered. “One of your associates is coming our way. I think I’ll use this chance to find my friend.”

“Wait.” Snape reached out and grabbed her wrist as she went to grab her bag from the table. “Allow me to make an introduction first and then excuse yourself to the loo.”

Tonks kept her face neutral as she glanced up to see Avery wending his way through the few tables separating them. She supposed it probably was best that she be introduced to a few of the Death Eaters if she was hoping to gather anything from them that evening. “All right,” she replied, pulling her hand away from her bag. “But let’s hope none of them ask me to dance.”

Avery came to stand next to Snape and stared intently at Tonks as if trying to recognize her. “Hello there, Snape,” he said, finally moving his gaze from Tonks to Snape. “Care to introduce your friend? We’ve been curious about her ever since Lucius said you’d decided to bring a guest.”

“Of course,” Snape said maintaining his usual indifferent expression and silky drawl. “Avery, meet Claire Daniels, a colleague in the field of Potions.”

Tonks found herself wishing they hadn’t decided to play the part of simply colleagues; she didn’t really care for the way Avery was sizing her up. Maybe I should have morphed into a man for the evening…She smiled politely at Avery and reached out a hand to accept his handshake.

“Miss Daniels,” Avery said with a nod of his head. “Know Potions, do you?”

“I do. Although, probably not as well as my colleague, here,” she said with a grin.

“American, eh?” he asked. “You teach as well?”

“No, I leave the teaching of dunderheads to those with more patience,” Tonks replied, her grin broadening at the impatient look on Snape’s face. “I stick with research.”

“Anything interesting?”

Tonks was glad that she’d used her time sitting on the floor of the Department of Mysteries to think over the details of her alias. “Using Stasis Charms on Potions ingredients to better maintain their shelf-life for consumer sales.”

“Er…right. That does sound interesting.”

Tonks had to stifle a laugh at the obvious eye roll Snape gave at Avery’s clearly feigned interest in her so-called research. Apparently, he decided that he’d questioned Tonks enough since he turned his attention to Snape and began speaking with him. This suited Tonks just fine as she could now resume her study of the party guests. She glanced at the table Avery had come from and mentally ticked off the names of the faces she recognized. Goyle, Crabbe, Nott, Yaxley…Tonks realized there was one missing she had anticipated being present. Walden Macnair worked for the Ministry, but was also a former Death Eater who’d avoided Azkaban after the first war. She didn’t see him as she glanced around the room, but made a mental note to keep an eye out for him. She did, however, catch sight of the traitorous William Murphy from the MLE office talking with Cornelius Fudge at the bar. She watched as Lucius approached them, chatted briefly, then clapped a hand on Murphy’s shoulder and led him away from the bar.

Tonks decided she didn’t want to spend time easing the curiosity of one of You-Know-Who’s cronies when she had disloyal Ministry employees to follow. She watched as Lucius guided Murphy purposefully through the crowd, toward the opposite corner of the room. Tonks saw an elegant arched doorway she assumed led to another wing of the manor. She watched as they made their way further into the room, walking closer to archway. Coming to a quick decision, she picked up her bag and placed it under her arm.

“If you gentlemen will excuse me for a moment, I find myself in need of the lady’s room.” Tonks left the table after a quick smile to both Avery and Snape and began her way across the room, neatly dodging guests and tables along the way, careful not to walk too quickly and rouse suspicion. She neared her targets as they walked through the archway and slowed her pace, keeping a bit of distance from them to see where they were headed. Tonks casually walked through the arched doorway and saw a long hallway with many doors and a staircase at the end. She saw Lucius and Murphy ascending the stairs at the end of the hall. As she headed down the hallway, a door opened on her right, and a woman stepped into the hall. Tonks saw that beyond the door was the loo. She approached the door as if to enter, peered over her should to watch the woman leave the hallway, and quickly headed to the staircase.

Carefully climbing the steps, Tonks pulled her wand from her bag. She stopped on the landing to cast a Disillusionment Charm before heading up the remaining steps to the next floor. As she neared the top of the steps, she heard a door close. Bugger. She had no idea which room they were in. Tonks thought for a moment, and quickly ruled out the first few doors. They had been far enough ahead of her that they would have reached one of those rather quickly, and she had just heard the door close. Tonks started at the second door on her right, tapped her wand to the door and whispered “Homenum Revelio”. She moved quickly from door to door before her spell revealed there were people behind a door at the end of the hall. She crouched down, taking care to pull her dress out of the way of her feet to ensure she didn’t trip and give herself away. She positioned herself to the side of the doorway in case they decided to make a hasty exit. Tonks opened her bag and reached in up to her shoulder, feeling around her boots and clothes until her fingers grasped the item she was searching for. She uncoiled the length of Extendable Ears—thanking Merlin that she’d put the Weasley twins’ trouble-making invention in her pocket after spying on the Dursleys —and slipped one end under the door. Tonks held the other end to her ear and immediately heard Lucius’ voice.

“…and what of your boss?”

“He continues to blindly follow the Minister,” Murphy replied.

“Excellent,” Lucius said with a haughty laugh. “Couldn’t be better if he were under the Imperius Curse.”

“He isn’t, sir?” Tonks was shocked to hear that Murphey sounded at least a little bit uneasy at the prospect of his boss being under the influence of an Unforgiveable.

“Not for the time being. The time may come for such measures, but we’re not there yet,” Lucius said. Tonks could hear footsteps moving about the room and some shuffling of parchment. “I wish for you to continue your surveillance as well as your efforts to bring people into the Quill.”

“Madame Bones isn’t quite so trusting of the Minister,” Murphy said hesitantly.

“I’m not surprised to hear it. We’ll deal with that later, if necessary,” Lucius said dismissively. “There is another matter at hand. I believe they will soon begin more frequent inspections of Azkaban, and we need copies of those reports.”

“Consider it done.”

“Good work. Now,” Tonks heard what she thought to be a clap of hands. “Enough business. Let us return to the party.”

Tonks heard footsteps crossing the floor. She hurriedly pulled her Extendable Ears from under the door, remaining crouched close to the ground with her back pressed against the wall to steady herself. She fought to keep her breathing slow and even, not wanting any movement to give away her position. The door opened and Murphy walked through, followed closely by Lucius, who swept his eyes slowly up and down the lengthy hall a few times before pulling the door closed and following Murphy back to the staircase.

Tonks exhaled a long breath as she quickly processed what she’d heard. She wasn’t surprised that William Murphy was being asked to spy on Pius Thickness, nor that You-Know-Who wanted to know what was going on with Azkaban since some of his followers were still imprisoned there. But, what was he doing at the Quill? She was more curious than ever to find out what they were up to and thought it was time to spend a few evenings in the dodgy bar. Once Lucius and Murphy had descended the stairs, Tonks counted to thirty then rose to follow them down the corridor.

She’d made it to the first landing when she heard voices from the hall below that stopped her in her tracks. Even though she was still Disillusioned, Tonks reflexively moved against the wall and listened, crossing her fingers that they wouldn’t come up the stairs. As the voices came closer, she could hear some of what they were saying.

“You headed to Nott’s after this?” She recognized the voice as Avery’s.

“Yeah, reckon someone needs to check-in. How much longer do you think we need to stick around for this show?”

Tonks heard a grunt in reply followed by, “Long enough to keep Lucius happy.”

“Speaking of, I think he’s paranoid. Let’s head back, there’s nobody down here…”

Their voices faded away as they walked away from the staircase. Tonks quietly slunk down a few steps, but was unable to hear anything more. She retreated up to the landing, cancelled her Disillusionment Charm, and stuck her wand back in her bag. She peered down the steps to ensure she was alone before heading back down the hall to the party.

Once she walked through the archway, Tonks quickly scanned the room looking for Snape. Thinking about the second bit she’d overheard during her supposed trip to the loo, she wanted to get him away from the others so she could ask if he knew about the meeting at Nott’s house after the party. She saw him standing at the table where she’d left him, except now the whole lot of Death Eaters had joined him, engaging in raucous conversation while Snape leaned against the table surveying the room. Tonks smiled to herself and moved across the room to join them, thinking perhaps she would make Snape dance with her to get him away from the group.

“Long line for the loo?” Snape asked quietly as she rejoined the table.

“There’s always a long line for the lady’s,” Tonks replied.

“Did your trip yield fortuitous results?” Snape asked in a low voice.

Before she could answer him, Avery and the mystery Death Eater he’d been talking to by the stairs—she now recognized him a Goyle—returned to the table and took a place right next to Tonks.

“According to Lucius, Narcissa has requested that the dancing begin soon,” Avery said. Just as he’d said this, someone began levitating tables to the perimeter of the room, leaving a large expanse of floor space for dancing. “Care for a dance, Miss Daniels. That is, if Snape doesn’t mind.”

Snape gave a casual wave of his hand, which Tonks answered with a glare before turning to Avery and answering, “I’d love to. Although I’ll warn you that I’m not much of a dance partner.” Unfortunately for Tonks, her statement did nothing to dissuade him. He merely answered that he was sure they’d get along just fine.

After all the tables were tucked aside and Avery had escorted her to the dance floor, Tonks found herself relieved that it was a group dance in which partners were rotated. She started with Avery, but as they progressed she found herself paired with nearly every man on the floor—Lucius Malfoy and Cornelius Fudge unfortunately on that list. As the dance ended, she was heading back to the table when Avery caught her elbow and informed her that the first dance didn’t count.

As they waltzed slowly to the music of the second song—Avery holding her a bit too close to his body for Tonks’ liking—he began to ask her questions. “Do you travel to the UK often?”, “How long are you in town for?”, “How long have you known Snape?”

Tonks kept the conversation light, but after answering that she and Snape were simply colleagues, she realized uneasily that his hand had migrated. They had started the dance with his hand placed in the traditional spot at her waist, but it was now located below the tie of her sash, inching towards her backside.

“If you two are just colleagues, I don’t feel bad telling you I’d like to get to know you better while you’re here.”

Tonks’ stomach turned at the thought, but fought to keep her tone light. “I’m afraid I’m leaving early tomorrow.”

“No matter.”

Thankfully, the music ended. Tonks wasn’t sure if he’d attempt to grab an entire handful of her bum in a room full of people, but she was glad she didn’t have to find out just yet. She used the excuse of needing something to drink to avoid another turn of the dance floor. Keeping her expression as friendly as possible, she fought a grimace as Avery kissed her hand before allowing her to walk back to where Snape stood, watching her as he sipped his wine at the now empty table.

“You know, you could have cut in,” she said once she reached the table. “It was a near thing that I didn’t forcibly remove his hand from my body.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “I’d like some water from the bar and then you’re taking me for a tour of the garden before that gorilla asks me to dance again.”

“Am I?”

“Yes!” she hissed. “In addition to not wanting to be further groped, I have things to tell you.”

Snape set his glass down and walked to the bar, returning with a glass of water. Tonks slipped her arm through his, and together they walked through the French doors and onto a gravel path that split in two a few meters from the door. Taking the path to the right, they walked through a beautiful landscape garden. They followed the fine gravel path, which was lined on both sides by wonderfully manicured flowers and ornamental trees and shrubs. The path was lit along the way by floating lanterns. As they passed a large stone bench sitting under a pergola covered in flowering vines, Tonks could hear a fountain splashing deeper in the garden.  After winding along the path for a couple of minutes, Snape came to a halt under the cover of a large flowering tree.

He turned to Tonks, releasing her arm from his. “What did you learn?” he asked quietly.

“The short version is that Murphy is spying on Pius Thickness, Malfoy asked him for reports on Azkaban, and he’s to keep doing whatever he does at the Quill. What’s that about?”

“I’m not sure,” he said slowly.  “They’re keeping it well secreted.”

Tonks took a drink of the water Snape had brought her from the bar. “Do you not get all the info?”

Snape raised an eyebrow at Tonks. “Do you know what all of your colleagues’ tasks are?”

Tonks realized that he raised a good point. She had no idea how Emmeline or Hestia got their information. Nor Dedalus and Sturgis…and she really didn’t want to know how Mundungus received any of his information.

Tonks heard gravel crunching under footsteps, followed by the low murmur of approaching voices. Apparently, they weren’t the only ones out for a garden tour. Before she could reach into her bag for her wand, Snape had drawn his. He grabbed her roughly around the shoulders, nearly knocking the glass out of her hand, and tapped her sharply on top of her head. For the second time that night she felt the cool sensation of a Disillusionment Charm spreading down her body. Tonks stood motionless against Snape’s body, thankful that the footsteps had stopped and that the intruders didn’t seem to be venturing further. They were close enough that she could hear their voices from a nearby path.

“What d’ya reckon about the bird Snape brought?” Tonks didn’t recognize the voice.

 “I reckon she’s fit, that’s what.” She recognized this voice as Avery. “I’d shag her if I had the chance.” Not in this lifetime, you berk.

“Someone ought to since you know Snape won’t,” the second voice said.

“That’s the truth,” Avery said with a snort. “I haven’t seen him moon over a woman since that Gryffindor Mudblood.”

Tonks was stunned at what the man had just said. She’d never given any thought to Snape having a love interest; like the childish thoughts one would have regarding their parents’ love life—it simply didn’t exist. And, a Gryffindor? That was even more surprising than him having a romantic life. It was well known that he favored Slytherin House above all others; it was also well known that he had a strong dislike for Gryffindor.

“What’d you drag me out here for, anyway?” the second voice asked irritably.

“To tell you of the plans for after. Meet at Nott’s.”

“I already heard. When can we leave without offending Malfoy?”

“It’s just now gone half ten. I think we should stay for another hour. Gives me a chance to find out where this Miss Daniels is staying while she’s here…”

Tonks heard gravel crunching again as their footsteps retreated in the direction of the house. After the sounds of their voices faded, she heard Snape mutter “Imbeciles” under his breath. She felt his wand tap her head again and looked down to see her body reappearing. Although afraid of his expression, Tonks made herself look up into Snape’s face. His usual scowl was in place, only fiercer, his eyes glittering with anger. His hand was clutched so tightly around his wand the knuckles were white. He looked absolutely furious. At a complete loss for what to say, she remained quiet until his hand had loosened its grip around his wand and a deep breath seemed to have calmed his anger a bit.

When Tonks thought it safe enough to speak, she said quietly, “That’s the other thing I learned. They’re meeting at Nott’s house later. Apparently, someone needs to check in about something.”

Snape’s head had turned to her sharply as she began speaking, and he was now glaring at her. His black eyes seemed to want to burn a hole right through her. “Nothing else to say?” he asked with a nasty sneer.

Tonks stared at the man in front of her. Her former Potions teacher who was always so quick with his cutting comments and derision of his students. At that moment, regardless of his prickly personality, the man in front of her was simply a colleague fighting on the same side as her. Although she had no idea exactly what they had been referring to, he was obviously upset about having something so private revealed in front of her. What little she did know of him, she knew he was intensely private; she imagined he didn’t take kindly to the Death Eaters gossiping so freely about him.

“I’m not going to ask you about anything that isn’t my business,” Tonks said softly. Unsure of what else to say, she took a deep breath to steel her nerves and decided to discuss what they’d heard, rather than comment any further on his personal life. “I think we should follow them to Nott’s house.”

“Are you mad?” he asked with a scowl.

“No, I’m not mad,” Tonks replied calmly. “I’d just rather end the night gathering more information rather than having to Obliviate myself of the memory of dancing with Avery.”

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose as if trying to ward off a headache. “Are you simply going to knock on the door and ask them to invite you in for tea?”

“Don’t be silly,” she replied as she set down her glass and opened her bag. She plunged her hand into its depths once again.

“I’m never silly,” he replied sourly.

“I imagine not.” Tonks pulled the Extendable Ears from her bag and produced them to Snape. “We are going to use these. Now, this is what I was—,”

“I don’t recall anyone appointing you the leader of this mission,” he interrupted, his voice taking on the dangerous low tone he used when dolling out punishment.

“I don’t recall yourself being appointed leader either,” Tonks replied with a challenging look. She didn’t want to waste an opportunity to gather more information. Perhaps their spying would give them something, perhaps not. Regardless, she thought it was worth checking out.

They stared at each other for a few moments, Tonks fighting to keep from flinching at the glare Snape was giving her. She didn’t want him to think that she would easily back down. Perhaps if she continued to defend herself against his verbal onslaughts, he’d eventually stop doing it in front of other Order members.

Finally, his expression softened almost imperceptibly. “All right, Daniels. What is your plan?” Snape saw the smile of triumph on Tonks’ face and added, “Take notice that I never said we were following your fool plan.”

“Right, they are planning on staying another hour.” She hastily shoved the Extendable Ears back into her bag as she talked. “We make sure we leave before them so we can get to his house and scout out a good spot. We sit and listen for a while, and if nothing comes up, we leave.”

Snape stared at her with a blank expression for a few moments before he seemed to come to a decision. “I’m not sitting outside the bloody window all night.”

“Agreed.”

“In the interim, we should return to the party.” Snape offered his arm again. “We can ill afford to draw suspicion at our absence.”

Tonks shrugged as she looped her arm through his. “You were showing me around this lovely garden.” She smiled hopefully as she continued. “And then, you’ll escort me to the dance floor to help me avoid handsy dance partners.”

“Unlikely,” Snape said as they wound their way through the path.

“Why not?” Tonks asked pleadingly. “I’m sure you’ve had to dance before to fulfill social obligation.” This couldn’t be the first fancy Death Eater party he’d been to.

“I’ve had occasion to dance in the past when not able to refuse.”

“Well, consider yourself unable to refuse,” Tonks whispered as they neared the house.

“I’ll consider no such thing.”

Tonks heaved a dramatic sigh. “I’m not too bad, you know. It’s unlikely that I’ll step on your feet.”

“I actually have suspicions I need to confirm about two guests before we depart,” he whispered.

Tonks stopped and gave him a glare just before reaching the French doors leading into the party. “Why didn’t you just say so?” She watched Snape’s mouth twitch with the faintest hint of a smile before slipping back to his mask of indifference. She realized he was rather enjoying tormenting her. Tonks growled a little in frustration. “Remember at the beginning of the night when I asked you not to be a complete jerk?”

“Indeed,” Snape said, looking around the room as they reached their table. “Relax, Daniels. Your admirer may not even request another dance.”

Tonks had a moment of hope that Snape would be right, which was quickly dashed as she caught sight of Avery looking at her from across the room where he stood talking with Crabbe, Goyle, and the heavily disguised wizard. Tonks enjoyed quick visions of her Apparating away and leaving Snape to make excuses, or thrusting a knee straight at Avery’s bollocks before deciding that neither scenario was really an option. She sighed as Snape left the table and walked in the direction of the group of Death Eaters. Tonks glanced around the room in search of something or someone that could occupy her enough to avoid Avery for the short bit of time they had left at the party. Finally, she saw a dessert table had been set up during their trip through the garden. At least there’s pudding. If she had to endure twenty more minutes of Malfoy Manor, maybe something chocolate would ease her suffering.




A/N: Sorry from the bottom of my heart that it has been so long!!!!! Real life has been in an uproar! We travelled across the pond to The Netherlands (any Dutch readers!?), which was amazing, and my entire brood of children are home for summer break.

Remember as you read that Fanfiction writers are paid in reviews!! I have 5 children to feed, so I need a lot of payment to keep the chapters coming:) Drop a little line and tell me what you think of the story!

In case you forgot, it's not mine, just Jo's.

 


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