This is where the M rating comes in - there's nothing graphic, but be warned there's a few nasty threats and implications in this part.
Revenant Part II
Tonks had planned several opening lines but Lucinda Russell, former Seer, and long-term inhabitant of Sunnyside Rest & Retirement Home (motto: Exceptional care from people who care), rather took her breath away.
"So you're Remus Lupin's Dora, are you?"
"Why … yes." The more accurate answer being I was, but she didn't care. Had he really called her that? She hadn't been sure what to expect from Remus' description, but it wasn't this tiny, bird-like creature, who was regarding her with piercing blue eyes through brass-rimmed spectacles.
All while peering through a six inch gap between door and wall. Tonks wondered how many people were eavesdropping in the corridor and then decided they were so high up – and this was an old people's home – that the answer was none. Particularly as all the other inhabitants seemed to be gathered round the piano in the lounge downstairs, knocking back sherry and biscuits, and singing something the matron had told her was a Vera Lynn classic.
Personally, Tonks thought Vera could teach Celestina Warbeck a thing or two about holding a tune.
"I'm ninety-eight," the creature announced, head tilted on one side to see how this news was taken.
"And Ted Tonks'."
"Hmm. Don't know him. My loss, I'm sure." Tonks was inspected again thoroughly from head to foot. "You must be quite pretty when you don't look so pasty and miserable. Remus told me you're an Auror."
"Good news for the female side then." The door opened about another six inches. "I'm out of touch stuck in here and one rather fears those idiots at the Ministry might have taken to hiring some frightfully butch types, clad all in leather, in a last ditch attempt to put the collywobbles up You-know-who's backside.
Tonks managed to compress her lips together just in time. "I've left my leather gear at home for the evening. Along with my spear."
"Have you now?" Approving light seemed to gather in the glasses. "Well you'd better come into my grotto and have a little drink, hadn't you? Gin? Whiskey?
"A small whiskey, please." Tonks stepped over the threshold, feeling as though she'd passed some kind of vampire admittance test. She'd thought it rather odd when the matron had escorted her up the numerous flights of stairs to what seemed like the attic, knocked on the door, nodded apologetically and promptly sped off without looking back. Though admittedly her experience of Muggle rest homes was severely limited.
This surely wasn't normal though, was it?
The room itself was all angles and corners and seemed crammed full of a total mis-match of pictures, furniture and ornaments. Roughly half the things Tonks recognised; everything else, she assumed, must be from the Muggle world. A large glass cabinet, from which Miss Russell was removing a half empty bottle, was packed to the brim full of others. There were locked cupboards around the room, a very, very high bed – she must need a ladder to get up there –a fire burning low in the grate, and an absolutely full-to-bursting bookcase, with what looked like some highly dubious reading material that an Auror with a lot less to think about would be very interested in.
She wondered why in the name of Merlin a Seer would choose to end her days here of all places.
"There you go." A tiny hand like a walnut, with red varnished nails, passed her the glass. There was a comforting and familiar smell to the room. "Could you really see me in a little black and white timbered cottage, with pink roses strewn just-so round the arch above the door, and a tortoiseshell cat purring in the window?"
Tonks jumped with the glass half way to her lips. Some of the whiskey – it certainly wasn't a small one – slopped over the side.
"That was rude," she said reprovingly, rubbing the wet patch on her jeans with her hand. "But now you mention it – why here?"
"Because I can't stand cats, and don't have to worry about keeping the garden nice, or anything else for that matter. One can live easily amongst the old Muggle biddies here; they're mostly harmless and I do them little favours now and again. Don't look like that at me, young lady. Even old biddies still like a nostalgic frisson or two to keep the blood flowing in the varicose veins. No, the point is that all I have to do here is Obliviate that pain in the arse of a matron whenever she's a nusiance, and I can do as I like. The food's good too. No one clamouring at my door to have their bloody tea leaves read every five minutes. In fact," the blue eyes gleamed wickedly through the glass, "you might say it's every Seer's dream to end their days with … Inner peace for their Eye."
Tonks, who'd been trying to get some whiskey actually in her mouth, was forced to swallow liquid and air together, with nearly disastrous results.
"Steady on," said Miss Russell, arranging herself and her green dressing gown carefully on what looked like a child's stool.
"Doesn't the Ministry clamp down on you for using magic?" Tonks asked, rather faintly.
"Oh, they sometimes send that lovely Arthur Weasley round to give me a lecture, but nothing too severe happens." The little face took on a harder edge. "They're too frightened of me, you see. I know too many things they wouldn't want getting out. They used me extensively for years before age started catching up with me and I couldn't cope with it any more. Don't look so worried, it's a well known fact that all the best Seers go nuts in the end, if they're not to start with. You would, too, if you had to keep seeing the future when the past and the present are quite excruciating enough. Besides, I love seeing Arthur and having a little chat over a gin and tonic or three. All you have to do is give him a plug or a battery to play with and he's so happy."
Tonks suddenly wished she had a lot more time to spend with this woman.
"Nice as it is to meet you at last, Dora Tonks – and you do show some signs of living up to my extremely high expectations – where is my lovely Remus Lupin?"
"He's a bit occupied with being unconscious at the moment." Tonks took her eyes off one of the pictures on the wall, which seemed to consist of a large amount of naked flesh. "That's why I'm here. We need to know about Marius Black and Isabella Montague-Lacey."
"Do you now? What do you know?"
"Only the rumours. So virtually nothing."
"Nice to see you're an intelligent girl." The blue eyes were unfocused; hazy.
"Remus says you'll know the truth, if anyone does." She paused and took a chance. "Though I'll probably have to play by your rules to get it."
"He's a cheeky boy, that one." The eyes were suddenly diamond-bright again. "They've hurt him, haven't they?"
"Bad enough to try and ensure he doesn't put a stop to something called 'Muggle baiting', which is due to take place tonight in," Tonks checked her watch, "about three hours time on the stroke of midnight. At Isabella's grave."
There was an indrawn hiss of breath from the level of the stool. "What are they doing? Don't tell me. Young, not-too-bright, werewolf lads meeting Muggle girls and boys for a drink at the pub, and a squeeze and a bit of a grope in the dark, followed by a giggly trek through the woods to see a ghost and have a wish granted on Hallowe'en?"
Tonks took a deep swallow of whiskey. "Got it in one."
"Stupid, stupid, stupid." Lucinda Russell shook her head. "Remus did right to send you here. Who's organising it?"
"A werewolf called Ralf Quinn. He's one of Fenrir Greyback's most trusted lieutenants. He's coming here to make sure the lads have a good night out. We presume he'll be planning on giving trick or treat a whole new meaning."
Miss Russell had turned her head away, watching the fire in the furthest corner of the room. Tonks suddenly recognised the smell.
"How do you know Remus?" she asked.
"Mmm?" The bird-like head – even the tight white curls were like a plume - tilted towards her. "Oh, I was neighbour to the Lupins for a long time. Nice family. I was the one who stayed."
"The one who stayed?"
Those odd eyes were shining again. "All the others moved away. After he was bitten. His parents had to tell them, they thought it was only fair."
"But…" Tonks was so shocked she could barely find the words. "He was a small child."
"Still a werewolf, though. Still a Dark Creature." Lucinda Russell shrugged. "Think about it; how would you like to know that that was being chained up in a cellar close to your own precious family once a month? There was always the possibility of escape. There was no Wolfsbane back then, only wild stories and unlikely theories about how the curse was passed on. All the neighbours said they understood, of course, that there was no problem at all, but they all equally soon moved away, one by one."
"He … never said."
"No, I don't suppose he did. You must realise the shame and stigma attached to being a werewolf, though? Why do you think they go out of their way not to have children of their own? Do you not think about things like that and what they could mean to you?"
Tonks looked at her and a pencilled eyebrow rose high about the glasses. "I know; one's being frightfully rude and personal, and we've only just met. But neither of us have time for the niceties. You'll have to believe it's from the best possible motives. I've known Remus for over thirty years and this shrivelled old heart of mine was thrilled at seeing him so happy a few months back. He keeps finding excuses not to come and see me now so I can't get answers from him. You've just put those nasty blocks in your mind – Occlumency is such a nuisance – and though I could find my way through if I really wanted to, I'd rather not as it's remarkably like rifling through someone's underwear drawer. One just prays they've washed their knickers. And what I'd like to know is if you think he's worth fighting for?"
Tonks considered quickly. "Perhaps I'll answer your questions if you'll answer mine."
"Smart girl. Now you're playing my game." A crumpled smile, the little face folding in on itself into a thousand lines. "You have a deal."
"All right." Tonks wondered how much she knew, but was sure Remus would have been as sparing on details as ever. Especially when it came to this. Which is why Dora was something to cling onto.
She took another swallow of whiskey. "We were colleagues, then friends, then it became a whole lot more shortly before – before a friend died." She paused. "Then people I worked with died. And Dumbledore gave Remus this mission."
"Ah, yes, Albus. Such a manipulative old bastard." Miss Russell burst out laughing. "I can see by your face you agree, Dora Tonks! Don't worry, I don't expect you to be disloyal, but he certainly is. But that is what's needed in these times – ruthlessness and cunning. For example, I'm sure he only sent you to Remus because he knew, firstly, that it was likely you could do the task in hand, and, secondly, that he was sending a pair of, one might say, interesting lovers out against a pair of very interesting ghostly ones."
"One hasn't considered that?"
"No." Tonks frowned. One bloody hadn't. "There was I thinking he might possibly be trying to do us both a favour out of guilt."
"Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm sure he was! Though I doubt it was out of guilt. Albus is a bit of an old romantic, especially when it comes to thwarted love for whatever reason, and he's always had a liking for Remus and I'm sure he must be fond of you, too." Miss Russell leaned forward on her stool. "But don't be fooled into thinking that that wouldn't rate a very lowly third on his list. When you have to be prepared to send people out to die, you can't afford to be too sentimental."
"I'm learning that." Tonks spoke grimly, thinking she never wanted to end up like that herself. "When Remus told me it was finished, I –I refused to accept it. Part of coming here – a large part – was to see if that's still true. I might be young but I'm not a fool. I've thought over and over what he said, and I know how hard a life with him will be. Or perhaps I don't know. That doesn't matter. Perhaps he's right and I will regret it one day. I don't know that, either. He wants us to be friends now but you make friends because you choose them, you usually have things in common, and it's all very … reasonable. And Remus can tell me why we shouldn't be together, and he's thinking by reason as well, and he believes that he's absolutely right. But -" She stopped, feeling the heat in her cheeks. "When it comes to this, I just think reason should get stuffed."
Lucinda Russell hugged her bony knees to her chest and laughed. "Ooh, goodie, now I can tell you're a Black. One was wondering when the blood would out."
Tonks gave her an unimpressed look and she laughed. "It always comes down to that in the end, my girl. As long as this isn't some ghastly theory about you having the love of a good man and all's well with your world? Because I have to tell you, I will be severely disappointed if it is."
"I'm working on the theory that all he needs is the love of a good woman and all might be a bit better with his world," Tonks said dryly and Miss Russell clapped her hands.
"Okay. It's your turn and I haven't got time for the niceties, either. Tell me about Muggle ghosts – I thought only wizards could chose to come back?"
The little face wrinkled up in dismay. "Yes … and no. I could bore you with technicalities about imprints and poltergeists and psychic projections, but what you need to think about is that some Muggles believe that Hallowe'en is the night the barriers come down between the dead world and this one. And belief can create energy. And energy can be harnessed. Not always to the good. Our magic combined with their energy is a very powerful force indeed. What did you think of the grave?"
Tonks frowned. "Peaceful. Not unfriendly. At least the trees and the surrounding area are."
"Exactly. Anything else strike you?"
"There's scorch marks on the trees. From a wand. Marius?"
"Indeed from a wand. But not Marius. From Isabella using his wand and trying to make it work for her. Abusing the trees." She saw the look on Tonks' face and sighed. "It's part of my less than glorious past that I once worked for a branch of the Black family. I was young, and greedy, and a Seer was very useful to people like them. I can remember the incredible scandal when Marius fell for this little blonde Muggle girl, who seemed so very simple but, like a lot of simple people, was actually very cunning."
"That doesn't sound like a story book romance."
"No." The light through the glasses was now intent and focused. "Marius would have done literally anything for Isabella. He did. He found a way to give her in death what she'd longed for in life – a way to do magic. He was an impetuous, romantic fool and he was overwhelmed with grief. He didn't realise that as far as she was concerned, he and this wonderful world of magic he'd shown her, had let her down completely at the end. She'd sat there and waited, and neither it nor he came to save her."
Tonks frowned again. "So we've got a malevolent ghost, who gets to grant wishes – I'm thinking they're not going to be nice ones, are they? Only rumour has it that if you touch the grave tonight you'll get to see and one day be with your true love forever."
"Nearly right," Lucinda Russell said calmly. "That's what Marius intended – that they died for, and with each other, and were rewarded by always being together. But it's more accurate to say that you'll see the person you love the most and one day die for them. Without ever knowing their fate or if you save them. By her logic, she died for him, not knowing where he was. She wants others to suffer the same. It's revenge played out over and over again."
"Oh….shit." Tonks could remember the look on Remus' face as he'd told her, when she'd known he was being economical with the truth. Had he suspected as well? James, who'd touched the grave, and later gone on to die for Lily and Harry. Sirius, who'd laughingly said he'd only seen James' face that night, but had died for the son who looked so like him. Peter, who might as well be dead, and cared only for himself…
"She'll want a death to appease her," said Miss Russell, her face lined and troubled. "An immediate one. None of this years afterwards stuff; that can't be very satisfying to a malevolent little cow. She wasn't the nicest person when she was alive, you know."
"I've got to go." Tonks put the glass down on the nearest cupboard.
"Yes, I think you have." Lucinda Russell's face was troubled. "Because I haven't explained that the Muggles have a term which is badger baiting. It's against the law but in some places it still goes on. Men torment the badger with dogs and when the badger turns on them they have an excuse to kill it. So Muggle baiting -"
"- is being hunted by werewolves tonight. Young boys who've been told it's all a bit of fun. That the girls will only protest to start with and they can do what they like with a Muggle. That they've got to prove themselves as both man and beast." Tonks closed her eyes for a second, remembering what Remus said he'd been told by both Lovel and Randall: "No one will get hurt, just the Muggles will get a bit of a fright, and that's all their fault for being a Muggle."
Crap, she thought, and then her mind made another unwanted connection.
Death is a debt to nature due, which she has paid and so will you.
"Yes." Miss Russell nodded. "Isabella was corrupted by magic. Betrayed nature, if you like. Marius realised what had happened, of course, but too late to reverse it."
Can't right my rights or right my wrongs, except in dreams where we belong.
The little face was screwed up in disquiet. "Which may mean there's a very vindictive ghost out there who hasn't had anyone to torment for a long time. I thought the Ministry had successfully stopped anyone going there years ago."
"They forgot about the werewolves. Remus said they find food in the woods there and they know all about the iron gate that leads to this mystery place they can't get into. Except tonight they can." Tonks stood up, running her hand through her hair. "I have to go," she said again.
"You and Remus have a plan to stop all this, of course?"
"We didn't quite realise everything involved, but … he has a plan."
"You've let him drain you, haven't you? Take all your colour?"
"I wouldn't exactly call it let." Tonks heard the defensive note in her voice. "Nor put it all down to him."
The head was tilted on one side, watching her closely. "Last time I saw him, it seemed to me that he was pretty drained himself. All emotion buttoned up so tightly it was amazing, quite frankly, that he could breathe at all. I wondered then what kind of girl could do that to him. No wonder Albus has sent you two to sort this out."
Tonks bit her lip. "The best we do now is avoid hurting each other and stumble around all the things we can't talk about. He's said nothing to give me much hope."
"Well, he did attempt to wrestle me to the floor at one point, but he was delirious at the time."
"Much like drunkenness, one tends to think that's when people are really honest. No tiresome self-control to get in the way." Lucinda Russell laughed. "Besides, you know him. I though you didn't listen to boring old reason?"
Tonks grinned at her. "I know for a fact the daft idiot is going to do his level best to keep me out of harm's way tonight and probably make himself a target instead."
"And you're not standing for that, are you? Good girl!" The light in the glasses was twin pinpoints, fixing her against the door. "So stop hanging around with a silly old fart like me, and go get your leather and your spear, Dora Tonks!"
There was a broken necklace of moving lights, of flickering fire torches being carried head high in the distance. An occasional raucous laugh and breathy giggle floated down on the silent, creeping mist.
"Sure the back's all right?" she asked again, low-voiced, crouching next to him in the darkness.
"You've looked at it. Prodded it several times, in fact, in a fairly brutal manner."
"That's why I'm asking, Remus. It still looks awful."
"Well, trust me, it feels fine. Remember to pass on my compliments and admiration to Severus."
"I think I'll just say thanks if it's all the same to you. Don't want him getting too choked up with emotion, do I?" He could just imagine the look she was giving him in the dark and wanted to laugh, though the truth was he was incredibly grateful to Snape.
Say what you like, the man was a genius with potions. He didn't even ache, though he was worried he'd made a complete fool of himself shortly before the Sleeping Draught had taken hold. Tonks would only say, with a mischievous grin, that he had nothing to worry about, which wasn't in the slightest bit reassuring. Though those black eyes had danced at him once again and he thought making a prat of himself was worth it to see that alone.
As long as he hadn't said anything unfair. Given her hope when he knew there was none.
"You know…" She was watching the lights as they drew nearer. "Not to worry you or anything, but unless they're all carrying torches, there's more than we bargained for. There's always the one thing you don't count on."
He'd thought that himself. Damn. They'd allowed for ten or so but extra Muggles were a complication they didn't need, and extra anything else didn't bear thinking about.
"And you're sure they'll come in from the west side, even though it's much more difficult up that hill?"
"Yes. My peo – werewolves have learnt that if you're on high ground you can see trouble coming and run from it if necessary." He didn't say that they hunted like that too, but thought she'd guessed anyway as her shoulder first brushed against and then stayed to lean against his. "And then they'll be able to give the girls a hand over the difficult terrain," he added. "It's a good excuse to get your arm round someone and possibly leave it there, and then see what develops. You know."
The shoulder pressure withdrew.
"And there I was thinking you were so sweet and innocent when we first met," she muttered.
"I was very sweet. That doesn't mean I was stupid." An elbow dug none too gently into his ribs and he thought that if this hadn't been so serious, and potentially so deadly, he'd have been enjoying himself.
Because she was here and it was like old times.
"I just hope none of them are in high heels, for their sake," she said by his ear. "I nearly broke my neck myself coming up there the first time."
Suddenly any misplaced sense of enjoyment vanished. "Tonks –"
"They're close enough." She wasn't listening. "We don't want to end up in the middle."
He smiled mirthlessly at the sudden memory of Sirius saying that if you found yourself caught in the middle, the trick was to always make sure you ended up on top. Though he hadn't been referring to this sort of thing. "Tonks –" He caught her arm as she started to get to her feet. "You're sure you can morph?"
"I've told you, I can. You worry about yourself. I've got the easy part. In fact –"
"Just get the Muggles out of here and safe. Stick to the plan. I'll do the rest."
She said something under her breath, which he didn't catch. There wasn't time to argue again, the lights were almost upon them and, oh damn, there were indeed more than he thought and they weren't Muggles. He could tell from their movement and the positions they were taking up. Flanking positions at the side and rear, like the pack hunted prey, so nothing could double back and escape.
But these were men. And these weren't prey, they were people.
Which is why it had to be stopped. Whatever it took. He could see the outline of her head next to him, and saw the characteristic rise of the defiant little chin, and the toss of the head.
He pulled her to him in an impulsive, clumsy hug and she buried her head in-between his neck and shoulder.
"Stay safe," he said, thinking he could bear anything as long as she was.
"You too." Her voice was muffled but fierce.
His lips touched the soft hair against his face for the briefest of seconds and then she was gone, a black shadow swallowed up immediately by the darkness and mist.
He pulled the hood up over his head and crouched down again. Watched them go by, giggling, joking, swaying against each other. "You haven't got a bleeding clue where you're going, Gerry!" followed by "Look out, shithead!" Then more laughter, someone stumbling and a deep voice at the rear – oh God – rich with amusement, suggesting they all hang onto the person in front as they were about to have to go up some very steep rocks.
A chorus of groans. "You've got to be kidding me, mate. I thought we were going to see a grave, not climbing effing mountains." A male voice, which must belong to a Muggle. As was the girl's that followed it. "All too much for you, is it Danny? Don't want to break your lovely nails?"
"Piss off, Collette," was the reply, followed by more loud laughter.
"It'll be all right." An earnest, young voice. Lovel's. Sounding uneasy but wanting to help. "I won't let you go."
"I bet you won't! I can tell what he's after, Maddy!"
"Actually…" The rich voice was just ever so gently amused by it all. "I think Lovel's got the right idea. It is steep and we don't want any of you ladies – or gentlemen – losing your footing in the dark. I did bring something I'd forgotten all about, but Lovel's just reminded me what a very good idea it would be."
The light from the torches dipped and moved as Remus craned his head to see.
"Ooh, sexy!" It sounded like Collette again. "This is just, like, unreal."
"We said we'd give you a thrill, didn't we? Watch where you're stepping, it's narrow there."
"Oh, mega thanks, mate. Got to agree it's bloody awesome out here."
"I don't think I –"
"Just do it, Lovel."
"It's, like, ever so tight." Another girl's voice, giggling. "Don't you want me to get away?"
"Oh, I don't want you going anywhere, Maddy." The rich voice again. "Except staying safe beside me. But remember –" the voice was raised slightly, to make sure it carried – "no one look down now. We're high up and all the scares are supposed to be later on." Remus knew that must be Ralf Quinn, with that note of command in his voice, and the way the other two, no, shit, three, werewolves said nothing and hung their heads deferentially as he spoke.
Along with the two youngsters from his camp, plus the one he didn't know, that made seven werewolves and … four, no, five Muggles. No, six. There was a tall, lanky boy with black shoulder length hair at the rear on his own, who he'd somehow missed seeing before. He looked a lot like Sirius had in his last years at Hogwarts, and how amused would Padfoot have been to think there were Black family look-alikes amongst the Muggles?
Still, thirteen? Let's hope it wasn't unlucky for someone.
If only he could count on the youngsters not to try and fight, or get in the way. Lovel wouldn't. Randall probably wouldn't, but he didn't even know the name of the other youngster they'd brought along. He looked scared to death though, more of Quinn than anything else. Which meant he'd do anything he was told.
And Dora was out there. On her own.
A small breeze touched his face under the hood and the fire from the torches flared and lit up the scene in front of him for a second. Long enough for him to make out that they were all now stood in a straight line, like some kind of swaying, drunken, follow-my-leader gathering.
There's always the one thing you don't count on.
What he hadn't counted on was Ralf Quinn tying them all to each other with what looked distinctly like leather straps.
It had taken them absolutely ages to get to the top of the slope. From the piercing, ear-splitting shrieks and screams and swearing that went on, Tonks almost hoped that Ralf Quinn's irritation levels would be such that he'd give the whole thing up, but there was no chance of that. The line of light faltered, staggered and occasionally came to a complete standstill, but each time that voice, the one that was almost sexy if it hadn't contained something which made the hairs on the back of her neck crawl, was raised above that of everyone else to give instruction and on they came. And now they were nearly on even ground again and it was only a short walk to the iron gate that marked the entrance to the grave.
Except she was in the way.
"Hang on a minute everyone, we're almost there." The voice of command again, and now the torches were flaring in a circle and she could see everyone in the dark red light and black flickering shadows, and the shock was such she nearly gasped.
No one had said Muggles dressed up for Hallowe'en.
The girl with the long hair nearest her, the one giggling quietly at absolutely nothing, was wearing a very short, shiny black dress, breasts half rising out of it – the boy next to her was staring at them avidly – with long black, high-heeled boots, a bright red wig and … some kind of pointed hat.
With a large W in white on it. Tonks thought it was too much to hope that it stood for wanker.
Well, that was one who wasn't going to be able to run for a start. Neither was the boy, Gerry, who was dressed as – presumably – a vampire, with huge, fake teeth. Or the girl who seemed to be dressed as a cat, complete with a tail and whiskers, and who looked about sixteen at most.
For the first time, Tonks felt the beginnings of despair as she looked at them – these were children in a way Harry, Ron and Hermione had never been, even though they were probably older in years. Children against men, who were beyond their comprehension.
Did they not sense the danger they were in? How could they be so trusting?
She looked at her watch. Remus should be coming up behind them by now if he'd done what he had to.
Except Ralf Quinn wasn't waiting for anybody.
"Right then." He walked up to the girl in the shiny black dress and smiled at her as he reached into his pocket. Tonks had her wand pointed at him, ready to send a Stupefy right into the centre of his chest as the edge of the knife blade caught the light, but all he did was slice through the strap that tied the girl and the one she thought might be Lovel to the rest.
His own strap had already been cut.
"Two at a time, I think," he said. "We don't want to scare Isabella off, do we?"
"Oh, but I want us to see her all at once!" The girl looked up at him, half pouting, half smiling invitingly. "You promised, Ralfy!"
"Yeah. That's right, mate." The fake vampire spoke out, confident and loud. "We all want to see –"
Quinn slapped him hard across the face.
It was almost lazy, as if to show that if he was really annoyed he'd knock his head from his shoulders without so much thought or effort as in swatting a fly.
"From now on, you don't speak till you're spoken to. And my dear Collette –" He swung round on the stunned girl. "I think you're wearing far too many clothes in this weather." He looked back at the boy he'd just hit. "I'm sure you'd think she'd look even more awesome without them, wouldn't you?"
"N - no." It must be Lovel, he sounded terrified. Tonks could literally see him shaking, but he still took half a step towards Ralf Quinn. "No. I don't want to do this."
Tonks could see Quinn's eyes shining from where she was. With pleasure.
"Oh look," he said. "I think we've got our first victim. Let's see if you're willing to die for the Muggle filth, or would prefer her to do the dying for you."
He took a step towards the boy, the girl in the cat costume whimpered, and then the torches went out like a sudden draught had blown them out.
Voices cried out and were roughly silenced by Quinn. Tonks was momentarily puzzled, having seen no telltale wand signs, and then remembered the Deluminator. If so, good for that manipulative old bastard, Albus Dumbled-
A huge fountain of flame and light sprang into the air. Jets of red and gold lights from a wand shot upwards like cascading fireworks, and at the centre was surely the unmistakable glow and heat of real flames, looking like a splash of crimson blood against the moonless sky.
Everyone turned to watch the world burn before them, except for one tall boy, with shoulder length hair, who for a moment seemed to be looking directly at her hiding place. He reminded her of someone, but before she could wonder who it was the smoke and mist covered him from sight.
Wisps of black ash, like fluttering moths, drifted downwards from the sky. One lightly brushed her cheek in passing.
Ralf Quinn drew his wand and Tonks quickly covered him with hers.
Slowly, very slowly the flames died back until just two bushes burned, fierce and crackling in the night. And in the centre of them was a hooded figure all in black.
Show off, thought Tonks, and felt the idiotic grin spread across her face.
"My, my." Ralf Quinn sounded a lot less impressed. "What have we here? Someone else that needs to be taught their lowly place in society?"
He'd barely finished talking when he hurled some sort of vicious-looking hex, but Remus had had all the time in the world to Conjure a Shield Charm and it slid harmlessly by. Instead the dark hood looked at the scene in front of it as though suddenly frightened, as though suddenly aware of how vastly out-numbered it was, took a couple of hesitant steps backwards, stumbled, and then turned tail and ran.
Go on, thought Tonks. Follow the decoy like a good little werewolf.
"You both stay here!" Quinn growled, gesturing at one of the men, who immediately started to cut himself free. "He can't go far as he'll have to come back if he's playing the Muggle saviour. Connor, watch the filth."
He vanished into the darkness where Remus had last been seen and, as he did so, Tonks closed her eyes and concentrated on imagining what a blonde and nasty ghost might look like. What was once so easy was now … such … an … almighty … effort, but she was going to hold onto it, whatever it took, and she forced her body to obey her.
The blonde hair nearly hanging to her waist was really rather dramatic, though she thought her face had the required pallor with no further help required.
All she needed now was for her pounding heart to calm down.
Of course, it was just typical that no one was even bloody looking in her direction. Still, it gave her time to add some artistic fog around her, which was a nice, ghostly effect, and would hide the fact that Isabella probably wouldn't be floating around in ankle boots, two sweaters and a pair of jeans.
She raised her wand, hit the one called Connor neatly on the forehead with a Conjunctivitus Curse, and shouted at the top of her voice as she watched him fall to his knees clutching and clawing at his eyes.
What came out sounded distinctly like "Oy!" but every head did turn as one in her direction.
There were a couple of very loud screams of shock, and a lot of fearful wailing, which would have been extremely gratifying, except that she was suddenly aware that the pounding in her ears was getting worse. Neither was the world quite as in focus as it should be. Someone yelled, and it sounded as if they'd just been painfully hexed, which was surely good news, but what definitely wasn't so great was every muscle in her face sliding around like uncontrollable jelly.
The morph was slipping.
She fought it again. But it was a brief respite only and she started to shake with the effort of hanging onto it. She could hazily glimpse someone unconscious and bound on the floor, which surely made two, if not three werewolves out of action, when suddenly she knew she couldn't hold it together any longer.
The world spun so violently she thought her head was going to fall off.
"Er … Hello." A male voice sounding very uncertain and almost as if it was backing away from her. Lovel. "Remus says I'm to help you and that you're not, not her… Oh!"
"It's all right." Tonks was forced to look up at him as she was on her knees, without being too sure how she'd got there. His face was a blur. But she needed to get these kids out of here and help was welcome.
"It's all right," she said again. "I'm here to…" Throw up at your feet? She swallowed convulsively and took a deep breath of the freezing cold air.
"Your face … It's – it's …changing," said Lovel.
"Don't worry," Tonks got out, thinking she was doing enough for both of them as it was. The spinning stopped as she felt the long blonde hair vanish, which probably went to prove that bad hair was always a thing to avoid.
She took a chance and stood up. Bit blurry but not too bad. Apart from the shakiness. And the pounding. And the—
"Tonks!" Remus was suddenly beside her, his hand on her elbow, his voice sharp. "What are you doing? Take them through the gate and get them out of here!"
She swallowed quickly again. "Did you set the false trail?"
"Yes. Quinn should follow it for a fair old way before he realises it's a trick. And by that time you all need to be gone from here. So get going. Lovel, trust me, she really isn't a ghost!"
"Where's Randall?" Lovel said, still staring wide-eyed at Tonks. "I haven't seen him for ages."
"… I'll find him," said Remus. He turned to her, very calm and controlled. "Go. Please. Now."
Tonks felt as though ice was melting down her spine. She took another breath and raised her voice. "Right you lot, behind me! Lovel, can you bring up the rear, and make sure no one gets lost? Everyone fast as you can and help each other as we can't risk lights."
Truth be told, they followed her like obedient and frightened sheep. She took them away from the grave as fast as she dared, and then stood and watched and counted as they filed past. Some holding onto each other, some supporting each other as they stumbled along. The tall boy she thought she'd glimpsed earlier wasn't there but they all looked at her dumbly when she asked, and the other boy was tall and dark, and not dissimilar, and she had been looking through smoke. The girl dressed as the cat went by with the ridiculous fake vampire. Then Lovel bringing up the rear nervously.
There was no Collette. No shiny black dress or pointed hat.
She'd always known that she'd have to go back.
There was a light round the grave that didn't come from the sky. A glow of silvery grey that lit it from within, as well as from above, and which made the edge of the knife glint as it caught it.
Quinn stood in front of it with his arm round the girl's neck; the blade to her throat.
"Remus Lupin, I imagine?" he said. He was breathing heavily but the voice was still amused. "I had someone watching you but they swore they'd put you out of action for some while."
"They did." Remus smiled mirthlessly. "I think you'll find I'm not really here at all."
"Another ghost, eh?" Quinn smiled too. "Well, that's handy because you can just float off then, and leave me to give this young lady—" The knife pressed just a little harder against the white skin and the girl's staring eyes opened even wider in a desperate, silent plea. Quinn laughed. "To give this little slut what she so richly deserves. So handy I managed to bump into her in the dark."
"You know I'm not going to do that." Remus thought that he had so few options, not helped by the fact that his hand felt frozen to his wand. The wand was a useless bluff anyway, whether Quinn knew that or not, and he was too far away and rapidly becoming too desperate.
It wasn't as unbelievably cold as this before, was it?
"And you know that I'll cut her throat before you can hit me with a spell. What's it to you anyway? She'd despise you if she knew what you were. Watch you starve before she lifted a finger to help." He cruelly pressed the knife so that the angle of the girl's head became even more acute, the tendons in her neck straining back. "And you're worried about her miserable little life?"
"I'm not going to let you blame this on the werewolves, bringing the Ministry down on them, and then forcing them to have no other option than to join Voldemort."
Quinn smiled even wider, the pointed incisor teeth shining in the silvery light. "But I really like that plan. You've missed the first part of it already. Best of all, I like that I can't see how you can stop me carrying it out. Can you?"
"I don't think it will be me that does. Look behind you."
"Oh, please. Not that old one. How you disappoint me, Lupin. We werewolves pride ourselves on our initiative and cunning, and you really let the side down in so very many ways. Still, I'll humour you for one last time, and then you can watch me gut her."
He jammed his fist into the girl's mouth, cruelly flattening both a breast and her cry of terror as he did so, and turned them both slightly to enable him to glance backwards over his shoulder.
Remus clicked the Deluminator, with more hope than conviction, at exactly the same time as he heard the unmistakable crack of someone Apparating close by.
It was always hard afterwards to think about the exact sequence of events.
No matter how many times you Apparated, even when the feeling of being squeezed through time and space became second nature, there was always that one moment, those few seconds, as your eyes and mind had to become accustomed to light from dark, when you literally didn't know if up was down in the world any more.
Mad-Eye used to tell her to adjust, evaluate and …
Even if she'd never had to evaluate anything like this in her life.
She was looking at the scene sideways on. Nothing she could do with her wand.
Quinn was staggering backwards, off-balance, dragging Collette with him. They were pursued, or so it seemed by a small ball of bluish light, which seemed to be heading straight for his eyes.
Remus was moving rapidly towards them, with his wand out, but the girl was in the way and they were both teetering desperately, Quinn's heel about to make contact with…
… The grave.
The knife snicked into Collette's skin and she cried out. Tonks saw the trickle of blood start down her throat as though in slow motion, at the same time as she saw that Quinn's eyes weren't even on the strange light but staring behind him.
She caught a glimpse of the ghostly, transparent figure too, but there was no time to think as his foot caught the edge of the stone, the knife tumbled uselessly out of his hand, and he and the girl started to fall together.
Instinct alone moved Tonks, spurred on by anger and fear. Quinn might deserve his fate but the girl didn't. She leapt forward and grabbed at the plump arm, feeling the smack of flesh on flesh, and then the terrible pull as the combined weight of their falling bodies pulled at her in turn.
Someone shouted at her.
She heard the voice, sharp and hoarse, heard "Dora!" and long hands she knew grabbed at her, dragging at her brutally.
"Get away, you fool!"
But the choice was no longer hers to make. She wrenched at the girl, shoving her away from both Quinn and the grave with all her might. And someone else was pulling frantically at both of them, she could feel the arm grasp her round the waist, and she thought, as she always did, that Remus was so much stronger than he looked.
Was he strong enough?
It seemed as if he was because as Quinn fell silently back, landing spread-eagled on the stone with his eyes open and still and staring at the sky, so the girl hit the grass alongside with a painful smack that knocked all the breath out of her lungs. But she was rolling sideways, wheezing, crying and, blessedly, rolling away.
Which left only her and Remus. She could feel them both throw their falling weight and everything they'd got to the right as one force, one being. Her shoulder hit the ground first, then her head thumped down with such brutality she cried out. But she was pulling with all her might still at Remus above her, and she curled her legs and her body round his and then they were both rolling.
Rolling on the grass. Away. They'd made it.
She was aware for one second of the look of disappointment in the transparent face that merged with the silvery light above her, and thought: Take that, you vindictive bitch.
She let her hand fall back relaxed against the earth and stone scraped against her fingers.
Just the very tips of her nails and skin.
It didn't matter anyway because Remus was safe. She hugged him to her as tightly as she could and felt his head, his unshaven cheek, resting against hers; their hearts, through all those jumpers, were thundering away together.
She wasn't too sure what happened next, except her head hurt so much the only sensible thing to do was close her eyes and let go of things for a while. She saw Remus' face, very intense and white; felt his body and weight lifting up off of hers. He seemed to nod at her, to make sure she knew it was him she was seeing, which was daft because of course she did. Then he turned away and somehow she knew he'd gone to do something very important, and had only reluctantly left her when he knew she was safe.
"Yes, that's right." She turned her head to see the tall, good-looking boy with the long black hair. It seemed he was real after all because he was looking down at her and smiling. She gripped her wand, just in case, but somehow she knew he wasn't dangerous.
Merlin, he reminded her of someone. It was the cheekbones and the eyes …
"Don't worry," he said. "It's all as it should be now. As I meant it to be. She'll be happy now, too. We'll be together. You two will be as well. Not yet though, obviously."
"Obviously." She said it sarcastically, wondering what he was on about, and wishing he'd bugger off so her head could explode in peace.
"I'm glad it was you," he said, grey eyes glowing. "We have to put things right, don't we? And you being family and all. We all get a second chance, it seems." He laughed, a deep bark of a laugh.
Oh God, how much had some of these Muggles had to drink?
"Yeah," she said, humouring him. "Well, it's been nice chatting—"
"It has, Tonks." A final smile and the craziest idea ever came into her head, but it was really so utterly crazy she couldn't stay awake any longer to even entertain the notion for a second.
She closed her eyes and slept.
He sat slowly down amongst the satin cushions and watched her sleep in front of the fire, curled up like a child with her legs tucked under her. The red and orange coals made patterns of flickering golden light on her skin, and her sleep seemed quiet and untroubled, as though the wariness and uncertainty had gone for now.
When morning came, she'd go back to Hogwarts and he'd return to the werewolf camp, and this would all be just another memory to hold onto and be grateful for. It was no longer his reality, or his life, but for just a little while he could still pretend it was.
The firelight had brought the life back to her hair, which lay across her cheek and was glowing with the colours of autumn.
He couldn't stop looking at it. Or her. Wondering how he could let her go again and knowing he must.
She was stood at the top of the staircase and somehow knew she'd never dream this again. What was beyond the door was still a mystery as she saw only a light of molten pink gold, like the coming of dawn in the sky, but something somewhere had been resolved in her mind. Some doubt in her own judgement – a moment of wonder whether she really was 'Too young' to take on this – had been eradicated and it wasn't coming back.
And it was time to wake up.
She opened her eyes, and with no sense of surprise, found Remus sat watching her. His face was lined and drawn.
"Wotcher." She smiled at him sleepily, and then reality returned with a rush, and she struggled clumsily to sit up amongst her pile of soft and restricting cushions. "What's happened? Are you all right? The others?"
"Yes." He nodded but his eyes were very grave. "We took the Muggles back and I modified their memories a bit." He shrugged. "Hopefully left an element of fear there about coming this way again, though it's difficult to be precise with these things."
"I had quite a lot to Obliviate there but judging by the fact that she was last seen suggesting that, to save the evening from being a total write-off, they go to a club that is 'absolutely awesome and, like, unreal'" – Tonks snorted, and Remus smiled in return but it didn't reach his eyes – "I think she was bouncing back. I healed her neck, of course. It was only a small cut."
"I'm sorry I left it all to you." Tonks hesitated. So much to ask but she was afraid of the answers.
"How's your head?"
"It's fine." She shook it as proof and, amazingly, it was. "How long have I been asleep for?"
"Only a couple of hours. You gave it such a thump, I'm surprised you're awake at all."
"Tough skull." She looked at him, determined not to put it off any longer. "Quinn?"
"I … don't know." He added hastily at her look. "Oh, he's dead. I checked that before I even brought you in here. But I've no idea what killed him. I'd swear he was dead before he even hit the grave and there wasn't a mark on him—"
She interrupted. "Was that blue light I saw from the Deluminator?"
"Yes. It distracted him for just a second. Then he seemed to stumble - I just pressed it, more in hope than anything else, but I didn't know it could do anything like that. It let me get that vital bit closer to …" His voice trailed off and he looked away, swallowing.
She thought the missing words, the ones he couldn't say, were probably: To get hold of you.
Merlin, what he must have been through while she'd been snoring her stupid head off in here.
"The body's gone."
She didn't register what he'd said at first and stared at him for a second. "Gone? Gone where?"
"I don't know. It was gone when I got back."
She was still staring at him. "And is that good news for us?"
"I think it is." His voice was very soft and cautious but it obviously wasn't this that was bothering him. "Something's changed out there. I can use magic now, and the mist has lifted, and – well, you can see the grave for yourself in the morning."
She thought this over for a minute as he pushed his hair tiredly back out of his eyes. "Did you bring me in here straight away?"
"Oh…" She gave an embarrassed laugh. "Just that for a second, I thought I caught a glimpse of Isabella – and that was even before I'd hit my head – and, worse than that, after I had, I could have sworn I had a conversation with someone who just maybe might have been … Marius Black. Telling me everything was hunky-dory and as it should be." She stopped. "Okay. You can laugh now."
But he was shaking his head. "I thought I caught a glimpse myself. Well, I thought I saw someone who looked a lot like Sirius, to be honest. But there was no one like that amongst the Muggles and no one else had seen him. There was a lot of mist out there, Tonks. Fire. Confusion. Not to mention it was pitch black."
"I saw him." She didn't add that she felt strangely reassured by the words of an apparent ghost. The spell had been broken, after all.
"Perhaps we both saw him. The magic certainly seems to be fading in here as well; there's a lot less of those damn cushions lying about now." He smiled, which faded as quickly as it had appeared. "You didn't, did you?"
He swallowed. "Touch the grave?"
"No!" She saw him visibly relax and demanded, "You didn't, either?"
"No." He shook his head firmly, looking straight back at her.
She watched him as he looked at the fire, seeing the glow touch his face. She'd only loved him for a few short months, but it felt like a lifetime, and there were times she could follow his thought processes as though they were her own.
She looked at stiff, dark cuff of his jumper, near where his hand was fingering.
"It isn't mine." He'd turned his head slowly to look at her, and his voice was flat and emotionless as his hand moved away from the dried blood. "It's Randall's. Quinn or one of them killed him."
She stared at him, her eyes huge, and he said, "I presume they did it so he could take the blame for Collette's death. Give the Ministry a ready-made culprit. A corpse can't protest its innocence very convincingly, can it?" He added inconsequentially, "I was trying to teach him to read and write properly. He'd never been to a real school for long, you see."
For a moment she couldn't move and then she was crawling towards him on her hands and knees, sprawling and falling over the cushions and kicking them out the way. She caught hold of him and felt his arms go round her in a desperate grip.
She held his head against her as if he was a child and rocked them both. He shuddered once, then she felt him take a deep breath, and he lifted his head and looked up at her.
"It could have been you," he said.
"I saw him – saw what they'd done to him. And my first thought was that I didn't even care because it wasn't you."
"Remus." She strained him against her, his unshaven cheek rough against her skin.
"I won't let it happen to you."
"Remus. I'm right here. You're holding me! I—" She stared at him, struggling to find the words to reach him, and then decided that words weren't what either of them needed.
She bent her head and kissed him tenderly.
"No," he said against her lips, trying to turn his head away. "Not fair." But his arms were tight round her waist and she could feel him trembling with need for her and this was something else they'd always shared, right from the start.
"It's for me, as well. And that's fair," she said, and kissed him again, pulling him down to the cushioned floor with her.
His mouth closed on hers, blotting out thought. Hot, drugging kisses that were filled with want and need and love. She knew they were, and so were his hands as they stripped away her clothes and slid eagerly up from her hips, over the curve of her stomach to cover her breasts. So were his eyes as he looked at her, as if he'd found something he never dreamed of having, as if she were his whole world. And she felt the same as she touched him and kissed him and stroked him, and he half gasped, half laughed against her, and then made her softly moan against his skin in return.
Most of all it was in his voice. "Dora." Over and over again. "Dora, Dora, Dora." They made love face to face in the dark, and in the firelight, and with the scent of apples and nature filling the air around them. She told herself that it should be different, should feel different, that there was too much hurt and anguish between them for this to be exactly as it was before. But the joy seemed even more intense as he filled her with a shudder of love and gasped her name once more against her lips.
He fell asleep as she held him in her arms, the sleep of one who'd seen and done too much that day, and she watched the flames, and thought that in the morning he'd leave her again and feel that he had no other choice. That he was doing it for her. And this time she'd let him go without argument or reproaches, because she knew now, after all this, that the heart had reasons that Reason, because it was so sensible and so very, very limited, didn't even know the first thing about.
It was Remus who wasn't yet old enough for this, not her.
They barely spoke to each other in the morning. What was there to say, after all?
He'd woken to find them both entangled in each other under her cloak and his. He let himself run his hand down her spine for a final time, feeling her shiver as she stirred against him, and then realised that the brown hair against his cheek was damp.
The roof was leaking. The fire was gone, leaving only a pile of ashes and the faintest scent of apples lingering in the air.
The pavilion had vanished as they slept.
They dressed almost in silence; taking in the straw and the wooden boards and the holes and splinters between them.
"It's a barn," Tonks said, her dark eyes wide but there was no surprise in them.
"Perhaps this was how it was when they first met," Remus said, reaching for his jumper and passing hers to her as he buckled up his belt. "Before he thought he had to impress her."
Tonks wrinkled her nose. "No wonder they ran into trouble. Why didn't he know that he was all she wanted?"
Their eyes met for the briefest of seconds before both looked away.
He showed her the grave as they stood outside in the sunshine and faint drizzle that met them. Showed her the new inscription which had replaced the old: Now we rise and we are everywhere.
"That's nice," she said, and smiled at him. There was a fraction more colour in her face this morning.
They walked slowly to the gate and turned to face each other. He gave her the Deluminator and told her to take it back because it had done everything it could and more.
Silence as he straightened his cloak and she picked at a thread in her jumper.
"No, don't say it. No point." She smiled a little too brightly and then said suddenly, "I know you're going to beat yourself up about last night and everything else the minute I'm gone, but just tell me the truth about one thing."
He could hardly bear to look at her, so brave and so determined, standing there in front of him. "Of course," he said, and heard the coldness in his voice, which was all that was holding back his fear and love.
"Tell me you don't regret last night. In there."
At least, he could tell her the truth there. "I should, for your sake … but, no." He managed to smile at her. "How could I, Dora?"
Shouldn't have called her that. Not fair.
"That's something then. You stay safe or else."
She turned and walked away very quickly, almost before he'd expected her to, and he only just stopped himself calling after her. He made himself start to walk in the opposite direction, very fast as well, but it wasn't fast enough to avoid hearing the crack of Apparation and know that she'd gone.
He stopped and turned around to stare at the trees and emptiness. Told himself this was the only choice left to him, to let her go and find a better life. If he ever had any doubts, he only had to remember the tale Lovel had excitedly told him of her collapsing as she tried to morph.
He should have known she wouldn't tell him the whole truth but would want to help. Whatever the cost and risk to herself. And it would always be like that; her being the one making sacrifices to be with him. He could dream all he liked, but the brutal reality was that their relationship was all take on his side and all submissive, self-effacing, soul-destroying give on hers, and one day she'd come to hate him for it.
He wondered if they really had both seen Marius Black last night, if the curse was truly broken. When his foot just caught the edge of the grave he'd been looking at her face in front of him. Not that he needed to be told who the person was he would willingly give his life to save. That was something else to cling onto in the months ahead.
A slow breeze passed through the beech trees near him, one that rippled and carried into the distance, so that leaves and branches stirred all around. His eye was caught by the faintest movement in the distance by the grave and as he stared he thought for a moment that a familiar, tall, thin figure was shadowed in black leaning against the guardian tree. It stayed quite still for several seconds as though watching him and then waved what looked like a casual hand in equally familiar salute.
Remus hesitated, then smiled and raised his own hand in return.
More A/N: Marius Black was blasted off the Black Family Tapestry for being a Squib, according to JKR's family tree. No other reason has ever been mentioned. ;)
The grave inscriptions were all invented by me, hence the dodgy rhymes, except for: "Now we rise and we are everywhere." This is on the gravestone of Nick Drake, a singer/songwriter whose songs seem to be often referred to in R/T fan fic, perhaps because he once write a track called Pink Moon.
Reviewers get my thanks and a choice of a large glass of gin with Lucinda, who could probably tell you your future, or an emotional night in a barn with Remus, who's in need of a hug, and probably a gin as well! Hope you've enjoyed the story. :)