Chapter One: The End
The mists arrived on the day they closed up Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.
There was no connection, of course. Tonks knew that. The Dementors cared not a whit about the dubious status of Sirius Black's will. But as she stood by the window of the third floor guest room and watched the mists curl into the courtyard garden, first softening the edges of the paths and then obscuring the remains of Auntie's prized rosebushes, she couldn't help feeling that they were tied, that somehow the breeding of the Dementors was erasing the world.
She shook her head and turned away, annoyed at the maudlin turn of mind.
Remus was leaning against the door frame, his arms crossed loosely, watching her. "We have to go."
"Yes, I know." She smiled and took his hand. He kissed her knuckles. "I suppose I'd just got used to thinking of it as home. Which is odd when I think about it, as I don't live here."
"You may as well have. And it is your family home. In a manner of speaking."
A sick, unwelcome kind of anger twisted through her, as unattractive and unexpected as it had been when the solicitor had read Sirius's will earlier. She stomped on it as hard as she could, trying not to give it any quarter.
It didn't fool Remus. "What is it?" he asked.
"I think Auntie has invaded some little corner of my mind," she said. "She's screaming about the house going out of the family. I tell her to shut up, but she just keeps on screaming."
"She's like that." He led her out into the corridor, where the last two valises, filled with their personal things, were waiting for them. "It's not out of the family," he said. "Legally speaking, Harry is Sirius's son and heir. It was true of the way they both felt as well. The house is passing to the eldest son, as it always has."
"He won't want it."
"True. Not the point, but true. Sirius's will sees to it that it goes to the person who has the strongest legal claim on it."
"And if it goes by blood--"
"Then we're all in a great deal of trouble."
As if to confirm this, a door opened at the far end of the corridor, and Kreacher scurried out of it. He stopped in front of them. "The half-bloods are still here," he muttered. "When Mistress Bellatrix arrives--"
"You'll be gone one way or another," Remus told him.
"The werewolf can't stop a house elf from serving his true mistress."
Tonks drew her wand, but Remus put his hand over hers and guided it away from Kreacher.
Kreacher spat on the floor. "The half-blood traitor is unworthy of this house."
"You murdered the master of this house," Tonks said. "Don't talk to me about worthiness."
Kreacher wheezed laughter, as he always did when Sirius was brought up, and scurried off into the master bedrom, where he'd been scouring away the traces of Buckbeak the hippogriff since Hagrid had taken him two days ago.
"Do you really think the house will go to Aunt Bella?"
Remus shrugged. "I don't know. Even Dumbledore isn't sure. I'd rather not be here to greet her if it does."
"I wouldn't mind a re-match."
His head snapped around quickly, and his eyes were somewhat wild. "Don't say that."
"I wouldn't, though. I owe Sirius that much."
"I don't want you anywhere near Bellatrix." He took a deep breath, and the wildness left his eyes. "Please, Dora. Let it go. Let her deal with someone she's less invested in killing."
"She's invested in killing nearly everyone." Tonks shook her head. "Don't worry. Kingsley took me off of Aunt Bella's case. She's likely to be caught by someone else. Soon. Given to the Dementors."
Remus nodded vaguely and looked at the valises. "Are you going to your parents'?"
"Yeah, at least until..." Tonks let her voice trail off, hoping he would pick up the thread. They hadn't spoken of marriage since the night he'd proposed--the night before Sirius had died. It never seemed to be the right time to have a whole conversation about it.
He didn't look back at her, though she saw his head tilt slightly, so he'd certainly understood. "I'll send these along," he said, pointing his wand at the valises. They disappeared with a pop.
"Where will you be?"
"I don't know yet. The room in Diagon Alley until I... have to leave." He started down the stairs. "I sent that desk to the Shrieking Shack," he said. "I hope you don't mind. I didn't think you'd have room for it at your parents' home..."
"You bought it."
"It was a gift."
"You said you'd bought it for your flat."
"I lied." She smiled and hurried down the stairs, catching up with him and slipping around in front of him. "Why don't you move into the Shrieking Shack? You're already paying to keep up the charms on it, and the taxes, and..."
Remus smiled wryly as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "You've clearly never been in the Shrieking Shack. It's not really a place to set up housekeeping."
"Speaking of setting up housekeeping--"
"FREAKS! HALF-BLOODS! MURDEROUS THIEVES!"
Remus raised an eyebrow at her, and they went to the curtains around Auntie's portrait, each taking one. "I'll miss you too, Auntie," Tonks said, then stood on tiptoe and kissed one painted cheek.
Silence fell immediately, and when Tonks stood back, she saw Auntie blinking at her, her mouth working into a snarl, words apparently insufficient to express her disgust.
They closed the curtains.
"A novel approach. I believe that's the longest Alya has ever remained silent on her own."
They turned. Albus Dumbledore was making his way up from the kitchens, a few rolls of parchment gathered in his arms.
"I didn't realize you were still here," Remus said.
"I wasn't. Now I am." He gestured with the parchment. "Nothing of great import, but I thought it unwise to leave full plans of the Ministry in Bellatrix's reach, should she arrive."
"Then we've got everything?" Remus asked.
"I believe so." Dumbledore looked around. "A great waste of what was once a fine house. But all isn't lost, even now."
"It will be if Aunt Bella takes it over."
Remus opened the door, and they stepped out into the mist, descending into the square without speaking. Behind them, the door of Number Twelve closed, and the house disappeared from view. Tonks watched it go. The mist was already swirling around her knees, burying her feet and making the lamp-post only a few feet away nearly invisible.
Dumbledore smiled at her kindly. "There's more to the House of Black than architecture, Nymphadora. And I personally have high expectations for its future."
"I believe Sirius's will will prevail in this matter, and we'll return soon. If all else fails, there is a test I can conduct with Harry, though I would prefer not to burden him with legal questions about Sirius unless it becomes necessary."
"I agree," Remus said.
"I thought you might, as the solicitor informed me that you had seen to his fees."
"I told Sirius I would look after Harry," Remus said quietly, not looking at either of them.
Tonks bit down on an acid response to this--Remus didn't have extra money to toss at a boy who had a sizable dragon's bed already--and just smiled tightly. "I think Sirius would have preferred you to simply visit Harry."
"I plan to."
"That may not be an option," Dumbledore said abruptly. He looked at Tonks. "Nymphadora, I must ask your leave to speak to Remus alone. A matter of some importance has arisen, and he is... uniquely suited to serve the Order in regard to it."
"Of course. May we, er..."
Dumbledore turned around without saying anything.
Remus touched her face. "It will work out," he said. "All of it."
"All of it?"
He kissed her, smiled in a way that made him look as ancient as Dumbledore, and didn't answer. "I love you," he said.
She nodded and turned away, walking toward the tube station two streets up. When she reached the corner, she looked behind her. Grimmauld Place, Dumbledore, and Remus had been swallowed whole by the rising mist.
She shivered, and kept moving.
By the time she reached her parents' home, the mists had become a chilly, pervasive fog, and she was glad to trade her sodden cloak for a warm jumper and a pair of jeans. She warmed a second jumper with a Heating Charm and picked up her old cat, Granny, in it, being careful of her arthritic hips in the cold and damp. Granny gave her a grateful purr and nudged her chin.
When she got downstairs, the other three housecats--Granny's last litter of kittens, Quaffle, Bludger, and Snitch--were huddled together on the sofa, trying to keep warm. Dad was at the living room window, watching the swirling mist and absently flicking his wand to light candles. He looked over his shoulder and gave a faint shadow of a smile. "It seems we've been hit with quite a severe Stereotypical Weather Curse," he said.
"Yeah, foggy London. Who'd've thought? I wonder how long it will take the Muggles to notice anything wrong." Tonks sat down on one of the unoccupied armchairs, curling her legs under her and being careful not to jostle Granny too much.
"They have instruments to track these things. They'll notice soon enough. What is it really? Dementors?"
"Dementors," she confirmed. "They're breeding."
"That's a mental image I didn't need." Dad left the window and sat down on the couch, across from the other cats. He absently scratched Quaffle's head. "We've seen some attacks at St. Mungo's. The Closed Ward is becoming crowded. Your mum got a nasty group in just before the end of her shift."
"We're trying to keep up."
"I know, Dora."
They talked for an hour as the night deepened, Mum joining them when she finally made it home. After Mum and Dad went to bed, she found herself wandering the house, stopping at windows, Dumbledore's last words echoing in her mind more and more loudly as the night grew more silent.
She hadn't thought much of it at first, assuming that Remus would come by, tell her about it, work out anything that needed to be done. But minutes and hours went by, and there was no word. She was nearly asleep when she saw an owl making a weary, zig-zagging path toward the door.
Suddenly wide awake, Tonks opened the door. The owl flew in, crashing onto the floor with resignation, his wings still flapping weakly. From the armchair, Granny gave him a sympathetic meow.
Tonks managed to find the small bit of parchment, and sighed with relief, recognizing Remus's small, spidery handwriting. She untied it and carried the ancient owl to the kitchen to have food and water before sending it back.
She unrolled the scroll and did a quick decoding spell.
Dora, he had written, Dumbledore has received rather disturbing news regarding the reappearance of an old acquaintance of mine, and wishes me to go undercover to investigate. Time is of the essence if I'm to arrange an accidental crossing of paths, so I can't write at length, or speak to you before I leave. I won't be able to send or receive messages with any regularity, but Molly and Arthur, whose owl this is, have quite generously agreed to be my contact point during this assignment. If you need to reach me, I will visit them on Saturdays (depending on the obvious timing issues).
There was a wide blank space here, and when the writing picked up again, it was a slightly different shade of ink, and the letters were even smaller, and more quickly formed. She imagined him writing his cool-headed bit of information, reading it over, then, at the last minute, grabbing another quill and ink bottle to add his coda while no one was watching.
I'm very sorry to disappear like this, Dora. I miss you already, and love you always.
She sat at the table, suddenly very cold. Nervous pinwheels of energy spun around in her stomach, and the note was shaking in her hand.
She looked up. Mum was standing in the door to the kitchen in her dressing gown, her light brown hair a muzzy halo around her face.
Tonks tried to speak, found no particular word, and finally just shook her head. "Remus," she said.
"Dumbledore's sent him off somewhere."
"I suppose I'm not cleared to know where."
"Apparently, I'm not either."
Mum frowned and sat down, Summoning the teapot and two mugs. The sugar bowl and creamer floated along and began sweetening and lightening. "Do you need to talk?"
"No. I'm sure... there's a good reason. He'll tell me. I can see him at the Weasleys' this evening, I think. I'm just worried, is all."
"Understandable." Mum gave her a suspicious look. "Dora, Dad and I were talking. You haven't mentioned anything about--"
"Can we not talk about that?"
"Are you sure?"
Mum nodded dubiously and picked up her teacup. She gestured at Tonks. "I don't think I've seen your hair that color since you were four. What's the occasion?"
"What do you mean?"
"The natural look?"
"Accio mirror," Tonks said, and a small mirror flew over from the counter. Her hair was the same light brown as Mum's. She looked up. "No offense, Mum, but I didn't make it this way."
Mum smiled. "No, I believe Dad and I made it that way."
"But my hair is black when it's not morphed. Like Sirius and Aunt Bellatrix and Auntie and..."
"Like your Dad," Mum corrected. "Totally different side of the family. You decided it was black when you were quite small, and I never could talk you out of it."
"Would you be terribly offended if I changed it back?"
Tonks concentrated, looking into the mirror, and after what seemed like a very long time, bright color rushed up from the roots of her hair. The pink didn't feel quite right at the moment, but her head hurt from the effort, so she decided to leave it alone. "Odd," she said. The pinwheels in her stomach spun faster, sending out little sparks. She shook her head; there were more important things in the world to worry about than the color of her hair.
Which had faded back to brown by the time she got to work.
Kingsley and Mad-Eye commented on it. She lied to them.
By the time her shift was over--all deskwork, Scrimgeour's notion of punishment for aiding a perfectly innocent fugitive--her heart was beating too quickly, and sounds seemed to be echoing. She took several deep breaths before Apparating to the Burrow.
It wasn't a place she'd been before, though Molly had given her the coordinates long ago, but she would have recognized it in an instant--everything about screamed "Weasley," except for the redheaded girl running out of the house screaming, "Tonks! I'm so glad you're here!"
She found a smile and painted it on. "Wotcher, Ginny."
Ginny Weasley examined her. "I like the brown. It's different."
"I aim to please. Is Remus here?"
"Professor Lupin?" Ginny looked puzzled. "No. Why?"
"I had heard... Er..."
"He's due in later," Molly said, coming up behind Ginny. "Go on inside, Ginny."
"Yes, Mum." She disappeared into the house.
Molly sighed and put her arm over Tonks's shoulders. "I'd prefer the children not know... everything."
"I don't know anything," Tonks said. "He couldn't tell me anything in the note. I'm worried sick."
"Come inside, dear. Have some tea while we wait."
Molly did a quick search of the kitchen, muttering something about "Extendable Ears" while the tea set hovered in front of Tonks until she remembered that it didn't know her preferences.
"Sweet," she told it. "Not light."
The pot poured a cupful and the tongs dropped a cube of sugar into it. A lemon slice floated hopefully over, but Tonks waved it on its way. Molly snagged it and dropped it into her own cup as she sat down.
"My children," she said apologetially. "They feel they need to know absolutely everything. And I've noticed... well, dear, I thought there might be a few things you wouldn't want them chattering among themselves about." She set something down beside her, and Tonks glanced at it lazily, then with some alarm.
"Molly, your clock--!"
Molly smiled tightly. "It's been like that since the night... well, the night that Ron and Ginny went to the Ministry," she said, and tucked it behind the teapot. Tonks could still see all the hands pointing to "mortal peril."
"I knew it was coming." She sighed. "As Bill says, as long as we're all in mortal peril anyway, we may as well do something."
"This business with Remus... is it... I mean, is your family...?"
"Dumbledore has helped keep this house unnoticeable since Harry started spending time with us. A Distraction Charm or some such thing, to keep people from remembering just how often Harry is here. It's no Fidelius, but it's a bit of safety. He thought Remus would be able to make use of it as well, as long as it's there." She took a sip of her tea and watched the steam for a moment, then said, "I don't know what you're cleared to know or not know. Remus and Dumbledore didn't have a great deal of time to explain everything..."
"It's all right. He'll tell me--or, well, tell me that he won't tell me--when he gets here."
Molly nodded. "Are the pair of you all right?" she asked carefully. "I don't mean to pry, of course, but I'm awfully fond of you both..."
"Of course we are," Tonks said. "Well, we simply... that is, there hasn't been a lot of time. And Sirius... I mean, since he..." She shook her head. "I don't know. I'm sure we're fine. But you know Remus. Not one of the world's great talkers, that one."
Molly looked troubled, but changed the subject. "You know, Bill's been talking about marrying that Fleur. Bit mad, if you ask me. He barely knows her."
"Young people. They always do these impetuous things. And they end up... Ginny? What do you need?"
Ginny was standing in the doorway. "Just a glass of pumpkin juice," she said, looking curiously at Tonks.
Molly had already Summoned a glass and a carafe of juice, which both floated over to Ginny. "Anything else?"
Ginny shook her head, then looked at Tonks. "Are you going to come out later? Ron and I were playing Jury of Jarveys... it's a fun game where you--"
"I know the game," Tonks said, a sharp bit of grief for Sirius hitting her unexpectedly. They'd played Jury of Jarveys for hours one night at Grimmauld Place, and she remembered him wandering around with a jarvey nose after he'd won and... She made herself smile at Ginny. "Maybe later."
Ginny nodded uncertainly, and retreated to the living room.
"Sorry about that," Molly said.
"It's all right. I like Ginny. She's a good girl. Just thinking about Sirius. The game. It's just a silly thing."
"He meant a lot to you."
"To both of us. Sometimes I wonder if..."
"If I'd been able to stop Bellatrix. You know. Maybe everything would be different. But I couldn't do it. And she went on and killed him. I wonder if that's what--"
"You're not actually imagining it's your fault?" someone said behind her. She looked over her shoulder and saw Remus at the outside door, wearing a shirt and trousers that were barely more than rags.
"You're all right?"
"I'm all right. You didn't answer me."
"No. I don't know."
Remus looked across the room, toward the living room door, then looked back down. "Molly, I need to talk to D... to Tonks for a moment."
A flock of twittering panic birds exploded inside of Tonks. "Since when do you call me...?"
But he was just looking back at her steadily, his hand held out.
Tonks looked over her shoulder. Ron and Ginny were still playing their game, but Ginny was sneaking glances over her shoulder.
She nodded, and followed Remus out into the night.
He put his arm over her shoulders and drew her to him. "Don't start questioning what happened at the Ministry. Bellatrix is an expert duelist. You lasted as long as Sirius did and longer than Kingsley. She's very powerful--"
"And I let her get away."
"No. She just won." He moved away a bit and took her hand, leading her up a path through the Burrow's garden. "How much did Ron and Ginny hear?" he asked.
"Nothing, as I don't know anything. Molly and I mostly talked about... other things."
"I plan to keep the Weasleys informed about what I'm doing. They have a right to know. It's the other things I'm worried about."
Tonks stopped. "Us? You're actually... We're to hide... Remus, we've talked about getting married. At least we did once, and--"
He turned and stopped her talking with a kiss. It was harsh and desperate, and tasted bitter. He ran his thumb over her cheeks, then kissed her forehead and her eyelids.
Then he let go and turned around. "I don't want anyone seeing us together this year," he said. "Not as anything more than... acquaintances."
"Dora, please. I'll explain. But please don't make this worse than it already is."
"It's because I love you," he said. "Come with me, Dora. Please."
They walked hand in hand for a long time without talking, their shadows making eerie, swirling shades of them in the mist, as they headed up toward an orchard at the top of a rise. He let go of her hand as they climbed the last steep rise, and didn't take it back again when they reached the top. Instead, he sat on a low stone bench and leaned forward, his long fingers absently rubbing at his forehead.
Tonks sat down beside him and put her hand on his shoulder. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, then reached across and brushed her fingers with his own.
"Fenrir Greyback has resurfaced," he said quietly.
The twittering panic-birds disappeared, swallowed whole by a roaring lion of fear. Tonks wrestled it down. "I know that name," she said. "When I was first studying to be an Auror, I read about him. He targeted small..." Full understanding came in a flash. "Oh, Remus. He's the one, isn't he? The werewolf who bit you."
He nodded, then gently nudged her hand off of his shoulder and stood up. "He's bitten many people," he said. "I thought he might have forgotten me, but he hasn't. He's in Voldemort's service. So are most of the werewolves he's bitten."
"And Dumbledore wants you there?" Tonks asked.
"Yes. Uniquely suited in every way." There was a trace of bitterness in his voice that she didn't think he was aware of. "I'm to tell them that I was prosecuted after the battle at the Ministry. Stripped of my property and exiled. It was hardly difficult to feign being stripped of my property. Bill just hid what there is of it in a corner of the Weasley vault. The rest..." He sighed. "Anyone he believes I'm still connected to, anyone who seems too important to me is in danger."
"I'm an Auror, Remus. I've controlled werewolves before. I know I don't talk about it much, but--"
"He said I should 'bring you into the pack.'"
It cut off Tonks's words more quickly than the kiss had done. She waited for him to go on.
"He saw us together in London." Remus's face twisted in disgust. "He said you were a lovely child. That I should bring you as soon as I could. I told a lie. I think I'll be telling a lot of them. I said you were..." He struggled, then sat down beside her, his face in his hands. "I told him you were just a girl with a werewolf fixation and I was getting... affection... where I could. Nothing serious, and over now. I'm sorry. I had to say it. I don't want him thinking that you--"
"It's all right. I've been undercover, Remus."
"But I can't give him any reason to think otherwise. Do you understand? Tell me you understand."
She nodded, not trusting her voice.
Remus rubbed violently at his face, then stood up, and to her complete confusion, drew his wand. He held it for a moment, looking at it contemplatively, then held it out to her.
"Oh, no," she said. "Oh, no. You're not doing this. I won't let you."
"They'll snap or burn it if they find it on me anyway."
"So keep it hidden."
"Dora, take it. Most of them were bitten long before they would have acquired wands, and they resent it. Please. Take it." He took her hand, wrapped it around the wand, and put it back at her side. She could feel the slightly splintered surface under her palm. The night seemed to be growing very cold. He closed his own hand and turned away again. "Thank you," he said.
"I haven't agreed to anything."
"Dammit, Dora! I'm not playing here."
"Nor am I."
A cloud passed over the moon, darkening the space between them. Remus was only a hunched black form in the mist. "I need you," he said. "I need you to be safe. Please, Dora. Keep the--" He paused, then his shoulders went stiff. "That's not a cloud," he said clearly.
Tonks looked up, and dread filled her. The shadow passing over the moon hadn't stopped. It was spreading, blotting out the stars. The chill was rising. Something nearby rattled.
"Dementor," she said, standing up. She scanned the mists, looking for the tell-tale shadow form, turning on the spot.
It rose up suddenly, emerging from the mist in front of her as though made from it, one white hand reaching forward, voices from the past speaking into her mind.
"Little half-blood freak... traitor..."
"I'll kill your Daddy, and then I'll come for you..."
Into the depths...
The cold hand brushed against her and she raised her wand--Remus's wand, actually--and called out, "EXPECTO PATRONUM!"
A burst of white leapt from the end of her wand, driving the Dementor back. She didn't watch. She turned back to Remus, holding the wand out. "Here, take this," she said. "There could be m--"
But he grabbed the wand away from her roughly, taking several steps back, his eyes narrowed and somewhat wild. "Who are you?" he demanded, pointing the wand at her head. "Who are you and where is Nymphadora Tonks?"