The Sugar Quill
Author: FernWithy (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Shades  Chapter: Chapter Three: Vanishing Acts
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Shades: Chapter Three--Vanishing Acts

Shades
Chapter Three:
Vanishing Acts

by FernWithy

When Tonks got home from work just before dawn, she found Mum already up and fussing about with something in the kitchen. Her face was drawn and pale, and her eyes had taken on the sunken, bruised look that Sirius's had held so often last year. Tonks hugged her from behind and kissed her cheek, then came around and started Banishing the dry dishes to the cupboards. Mum just leaned against the sink until it was done.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't like it when I get like this."

"Have you slept?"

"A bit." Mum wiped her face with the back of her hand and sat down at the table. "Dad wants to get his old group of Muggle-borns back together. What's left of it anyway. Make all sorts of public noise to take some heat off of the Order. Or at least that's what he means to tell Dumbledore. I think he means to actually take on Death Eaters."

Tonks took a deep breath and poured herself a lukewarm cup of tea. "I'd rather he didn't do that. I've enough to worry about, without him painting a large target onto himself."

"I know. And it needs something a bit more subtle. You're not getting enough information. I could get inside. I would need to pretend... to tell Narcissa that I've seen the light and--"

Tonks had thrown the tea before she had the slightest notion that she was going to do it. It cut off Mum's speech before the first drop rolled off the end of her nose. Tonks clapped her hand to her mouth. "Mummy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--"

Mum dried her face carefully. "I will take that to mean you also disapprove."

"Of you telling your mad sisters that you've left Daddy and me and want to join them? I don't know which would be worse--if they don't believe you--"

"They would."

"Why?"

"Because I'm their sister."

"Wonderful, so if they do believe you, you run off for a year among Death Eaters, and they're not all family, and sooner or later, they'll find you out and they'll kill you. For what?" She sat down shakily.

"To have someone on the inside."

Tonks winced. Mum wasn't cleared to know a great deal, and certainly shouldn't know anything about Snape (unless Sirius had mentioned it, and he didn't appear to have done so). "Mum, please trust me," she said. "You don't need to."

"But--"

"Mum, please. Stop talking about it and stop thinking about it."

"I'll talk to Dumbledore," she said stubbornly.

"Fine, good. Talk to Dumbledore. Have Dad talk to Dumbledore. Or just stay here and snap at one another a bit more."

"Dora..."

She stood up. "I'm sorry, Mum. I'm tired. I'm very tired."

"You should sleep."

"I know. But you have to promise me..."

"I'll talk to Dumbledore." Mum reached over and took her hand. "I'm sorry, Dora. I didn't mean to frighten you. I just feel like I need to do something. Sirius gave his life to it. I should never have curled up and been safe."

"You and Dad kept me safe, and now I'm paying it back by keeping you safe."

"There's no payback for parenting," Mum said. She bit her lip. "Dora... you know I'm not particularly fond of your unusual hair colors, but you haven't used them all week, and..."

"I'm having a spot of trouble morphing. It'll pass."

"If it hasn't passed in a week, come into St. Mungo's, and I'll look you over. I don't like it."

Tonks nodded wearily, having no intention at all of going to St. Mungo's. Mum was the only Healer who understood much about Metamorphmagi, and she wasn't entirely objective about the situation. She went upstairs to bed, slept until just past noon, and awoke to find both of her parents gone, and the Weasleys' owl fluttering around her bedroom.

She held out her arm, and Errol gratefully lowered himself to her, missing her arm entirely, but landing on the bed beside her. Mum had tied an extra note to his foot--Owl arrived at eight a.m., but you needed sleep. No arguments.

"No arguments," Tonks muttered, and pulled the sealed scroll from Errol's foot. It was addressed to her, but not, to her disappointment, in Remus's handwriting. Instead, it was Molly's large, round script, easily readable from halfway across the room.

She sighed and carried Errol over to her desk to drink from the cats' bowls, and broke the seal on Molly's letter. She'd used a simple encoding spell, but even if someone had broken it, there wasn't much to learn.

Tonks--

Remus was by, and has left a letter to you here. He said not to send it with Errol, as he doesn't want to take a chance of its being intercepted (though I suspect from his face that he's more worried about your mum and dad than about Death Eaters, if you want my opinion.)

I think you should come when you have a bit of time afterward, in case he has told you something which we would need to know about. Would your schedule at work let you come today? You could join us for dinner as well. Hermione arrived yesterday, and I know she and Ginny would very much like to see you. They're quite fond of you, as Arthur and I are, and we'd love to have you as a guest, no matter what the topic of conversation.

Please let me know your plans. I haven't been able to make cauldrons or kettles of your work schedule, and Remus is equally mystified by it. Do they ever give you a normal shift anymore?

Send your answer back with Errol; he's sturdier than he looks.

Molly

Tonks opened the drawer on her bedside table and pulled out her schedule. Robards was mixing things up horribly with scheduling--he'd done no administrative work before being assigned his new position--and he'd given her only eight hours to sleep before pulling her in for an evening shift, from three in the afternoon until eleven o'clock at night. She'd have time to go to the Burrow, but if Remus had left any complicated instructions, there'd be no time to discuss them with Molly. She wrote back, explaining the situation, and asked Molly to send word to her at the Ministry if there would be a problem with her arriving quite late.

She spent an unfruitful afternoon working at clues on the Vance murder. As an Order member, she was most concerned with how long Emmeline had been missing. As an Auror, she was most concerned with who might have seen her last. The two meshed reasonably well, but she was quite unfortunately unable to narrow the events down to less than a day before her body had been discovered. Emmeline had gone about her usual business in magical construction, contacted Minerva McGonagall to ask about a project for the Order, and disappeared somewhere between there and a dinner appointment with a man McGonagall and Dumbledore considered beyond suspicion. After speaking to him for two hours, Tonks was convinced they were right--he seemed quite devastated by the loss of a woman he repeatedly referred to as his "dearest, dearest friend." Also, Tonks had asked him to show her a photograph of Emmeline that he kept on a high shelf, so that the sleeves of his robe would fall down. His arms were clean.

When she returned to the office, Arthur Weasley told her that Molly had instructed him to give her permission to arrive at any time of night. "I'm staying a bit late myself. They've made a whole new department, and I've got to put together some procedures..." He shook his head. "It's easier to plan with a staff of two, you know."

"I'll take your word for it."

"Molly sent enough dinner for both of us to eat over work. Care to have a desk break and eat it?"

She smiled, and sat down with Arthur for fifteen minutes, inhaling a large quantity of Molly's cooking, which seemed to please him, as he and Molly had apparently been worried about her health. To her surprise, she found this less irritating than when Mum fretted over her.

Arthur was still working in his office, a candle burning down on the shelf behind him while he worked with an untidy sprawl of personnel scrolls, when her shift ended. She waved to him, and he asked her to tell Molly he'd be home soon.

Then she Apparated out of the entranceway, and found herself in the Weasleys' cheerful garden. Most of the windows were dark, but light spilled from the kitchen and the living room.

Hermione Granger, standing at the window, spotted her first, and before Tonks had even reached the kitchen door, both Hermione and Ginny Weasley, in pajamas, rushed out to meet her. They embraced her warmly, and looped their arms around her waist from either side. Tonks put her arms over their shoulders.

"It's good to see you both as well," she said. "Have you had a good holiday so far?"

"I've just been anxious to get back," Hermione said. "I can't seem to stand being away while all of this is going on."

"Hermione needs some tutoring on how to take a holiday," Ginny said, winking.

"Yes, and Ginny's been so exemplary at it, with her stack of Daily Prophets..."

"You two should both be in bed."

"It's only eleven."

They went into the kitchen, where Molly was stirring some soup. "Girls, let Tonks be."

"It's all right, Molly. Really." Tonks smiled at them.

"Mum says you have a letter from someone in the Order," Ginny said. "We'll leave you to it, I suppose."

"Well, thank you."

"But do the pig's nose first." Ginny stuck out her tongue. "Ransom." Hermione laughed.

Tonks braced herself for some pain--it had gotten progressively worse with her hair--but concentrated as hard as she could. It was good to see them smile, and...

Nothing happened.

She frowned.

Tried again.

Nothing.

Hermione's smile faltered. "Are you all right?"

Tonks made a great show of trying to look down her nose, and tapped it with her fingers. "Apparently, it's broken," she said. "I shall have to have it looked at tomorrow."

"Leave her be," Molly said again, more sternly.

The girls disengaged, and Tonks saw a very concerned expression on Hermione's face. She said good-night to cut off any further questions, and watched them walk off toward the stairs. Ginny was speaking quietly, Hermione casting ever more worried glances back.

"I'm sorry about that," Molly said. "They've missed you, and Ginny's worried about you."

"Now she seems to be worrying Hermione about me as well."

"I'll talk to her."

"Please do. It's really not that important. I'm just under a bit of stress. Thank you for not telling them that the letter is from Remus, by the way. I remember being fifteen. I don't fancy imagining the guessing game that would come from that."

"Whatever is going on between you and Remus is your own business," Molly said. "Though it's my impression that he's being an idiot."

"Molly!"

"Well, he keeps walking away from a good woman who makes him happy, and he's making himself miserable doing it. I don't know of a better definition of the word." She raised her wand, and a scroll appeared beside her. She handed it to Tonks, and busied herself chopping vegetables while Tonks read.

My dearest Dora, Remus had written. This is not an easy letter to write, but it has to be done. When we were close yesterday--it was too close. Greyback has become accustomed to using his sense of smell a great deal more than I do--it's a myth that our sense of smell is any more acute, but it seems that my new companions are more practiced with it--and he smelled the perfume that's in your soap. He knows I saw you, or at least that I was with a woman. I had to create yet another lie about... well, the details are unimportant. It isn't a lie I was glad to tell, and it isn't one I can tell often.

The truth is that it wasn't just your perfume. I'm different when I've been with you, more human, more normal. I can't help that. You pull it from me without even trying. And I'll find myself thinking of you, wishing for you, and they always seem to know that I'm hiding some connection to the world of normal wizards. Even when it isn't Greyback. Another werewolf, who I saw only briefly to ask about issues of common concern, refused to deal with me because he considered it obvious that I was still holding on to hope, that I thought I could fit into the wider world again.

And he's right. You are hope to me.

And hope is one thing I can't have.

Tonks closed her eyes, crumpling the parchment, not wanting to read the last paragraph, though her traitor mind had already picked up the salient points.

I never should have let you love me, and I can't let you be with me now, not even secretly. I'm so very sorry. You deserve better than this, my darling Dora. How can I walk away? But I must. I want you to have every good thing there is in the world. Please... be free of me. I love you. Be free.

Tonks heard something wailing, and the world was glassy and full of prisms. It was rocking back and forth. Her throat was sore, and someone seemed to have plunged a knife into her stomach.

Then she felt the tears on her face and understood that she was weeping, that the ink was running on the parchment beneath her. Molly Weasley had embraced her at some point and was rocking her back and forth like she might have rocked her children as babies and saying, "There, dear. You just go on and cry, it's all right. You don't have to tell me anything."

But when the tears passed, Tonks told her everything.


Molly patted her hand when she'd got through it all. "You're all right here, dear," she said. "We'll get you fed and warm, and I won't put up with any more rude letters." She pursed her lips. "I think I'll have a word with Lupin as well--"

"No, Molly, please! Remus needs someone and if he won't let me be there and he thinks you don't like him... and he'll think that if you yell... he'll just disappear..."

"Hmph. He'll need to learn to handle a bit of disapproval if he's earned it. I won't pretend he's not being an idiot. But I'll make sure he knows we're perfectly fond of him."

"Fond of 'oo?" someone said.

Molly raised her eyes heavenward. "It's a private matter, Fleur," she said.

Fleur Delacour drifted into the kitchen, looking curiously at Tonks. "I don't theenk we 'ave... " She frowned. "Are you--?"

"Tonks," Tonks said wearily. "Wotcher, Fleur."

Fleur nodded. The niceties thus covered, she broke into a wide smile, and waved her left hand airily. Something glittered on her finger. "'As Molly told you our news?"

"Not now," Molly said firmly, looking horrified.

"It's all right," Tonks said. "Good news is good to have. Molly told me a few days ago. Congratulations. To Bill as well."

Fleur gave a contented sigh. "Eet eez wonderful, no? I am 'ere to meet my new family! Bill eez busy, and Molly and Arthur 'ave let me come to stay." She kissed Molly's cheek, then floated over to the sink and found a glass, which she inspected in the candlelight and re-cleaned with a touch of her wand. Molly watched this with narrowed eyes, but Fleur seemed oblivious. "Eet eez very different 'ere zan at 'ome."

"I imagine so, dear," Molly said.

"But eet eez wonderful to be in love, don't you theenk?" She swooped down on Tonks. "Aren't you and Meester Lu--"

"No," Tonks said quickly. It was just a shield, thrown in haste to keep Fleur from stabbing into an open wound, but as soon as it was out of her mouth, she felt the world starting to slip away. Images streamed into her mind unbidden, and tastes, and smells. "No," she said again.

Fleur looked confused. "Oh, I thought... I must 'ave been mistaken... 'E seemed 'appy, and I thought that you... was eet someone else?"

"That's enough, Fleur," Molly said sharply.

"I'm sorry. I--" She frowned deeply, apparently coming to the conclusion that something was wrong. "Well," she said, "I weel leave you to your talk. Eet was lovely to see you, Tonks." She left.

Molly sighed. "I'm sorry about Fleur." She shook her head. "I have a feeling I'd best get used to saying that. The child has all the tact of a drunken poltergeist."

"It's all right," Tonks said. "She's off in her own world. It seems to be quite bright. And shiny. I miss bright and shiny things. Perhaps I'll have a holiday in Fleur's world."

"If you want to, you could always just switch with her. Really. You'd have my blessing." Molly grinned.

Tonks tried to laugh and couldn't, but she found a smile somewhere. "Fleur's all right," she said. "You'll get used to her. Probably."

"Do you want to stay here tonight? It's a bit full, but I don't think Harry will be here until the morning, so you could sleep in the twins' room, if you don't mind sharing it with Harry's trunk. I don't like the thought of you being alone."

"Oh, Mum and Dad are probably home already and wondering where I've got to." Tonks looked out the window into the darkness and mist. She could barely make out the shape of the broom shed. "Do you know what I'm afraid of, Molly? I'm afraid that I'll tell them what happened, and they'll hate him. That they'll just be furious and say horrible things about him. They're his friends, but--"

"But you're their little girl, and there are priorities."

"Right." She looked back, tipped up her teacup to drink, and found it empty. "I don't want that. I don't need anyone to tell me he's being an idiot, I know he's being an idiot. Bolting is his favorite way to be an idiot, and I should have known this was coming. I don't want to hear that, Molly. I just want someone to tell me that he'll be all right. That he won't--" She covered her eyes with her hand, and brushed away a tear that was trying to get out. "Dammit," she said, then looked sheepishly at Molly. "Sorry."

"If I didn't ignore one or two slips at the table, my children would have starved."

Tonks's gaze moved back to the window, and she froze. "Molly, there are two people coming toward the house. I can't see who."

"Two? Arthur didn't mention--"

Three sharp raps against the door cut the conversation, and Molly got up warily, standing between the window and the door, out of a direct line of sight from either. "Who's there? Declare yourself."

"It is I, Dumbledore," a pleasant voice said from the other side, "bringing Harry."

Molly opened the door before Tonks had a chance to remind her to double-check, but the man who entered was very obviously Albus Dumbledore. The hand which had been bandaged at Emmeline's funeral was burned and blackened. Tonks stared at it while Molly exchanged greetings with him, told him he'd frightened her by arriving hours earlier than expected, and got some accounting for his whereabouts. The scroll on the table caught her eye, and she was surprised by a wave of anger at Dumbledore, deep and cold as the Hogwarts lake in January.

"Ah, hello, Nymphadora!"

"Hello, Professor," she said, barely noticing the use of her first name, which was becoming something a fashion in the Order for some reason. The anger hadn't left. She picked up Remus's letter and told herself that Dumbledore would never have asked this if it weren't important, and it made no difference whatsoever. He tried to catch her gaze, but she couldn't quite look at him. She nodded to the slim, tall boy beside him. "Wotcher, Harry."

Harry Potter nodded at her. "Hi, Tonks."

She looked up briefly and found Dumbledore frowning oddly in her direction, so she gathered her things and stood up, fastening her cloak. "I'd better be off," she said. "Thanks for the tea and sympathy, Molly."

Dumbledore urged her to stay, claiming business with Scrimgeour that seemed unlikely to Tonks at this hour, but the Burrow was becoming a bit crowded. She felt that at any moment someone--perhaps Dumbledore, perhaps Fleur--would mention Remus, and Harry would ask how he was, and how would she answer that?

Molly suggested that she come to dinner over the weekend, reminding her--thank heaven without saying anything that would let Harry know what was happening--that Remus would be here to see Harry, if nothing else, but the words of the letter were still in her mind. They would know if he'd been with her. He would pay. She refused.

So she went out into the night, stopped in the middle of the dooryard, and Apparated home. Mum and Dad were both there, but they were sleeping (or, she supposed, not sleeping, but behind closed doors one way or the other; she only knew they were home because they'd left out a pair of wine goblets from a nightcap they'd obviously shared), so she didn't tell them, and by morning, she'd resolved to tell them only that Remus was involved in an elaborate pretense, a lie that was shattered when Mum found her two days later, sitting at the kitchen table and compulsively re-reading the letter he'd left for her.

The explosion of her temper was catastrophic, and Dad, who usually reined her in, sat fuming on his own. Tonks considered it rather ironic that they were so furious at Remus for hurting her that they were yelling at her, but it didn't seem like a wise moment to point this out. Instead, she just went up to her childhood bedroom and curled up on a pile of pillows with Granny the cat purring against her chest. She stayed there until the storm subsided. Mum apologized and promised to try and do better, but Tonks could see in her eyes that she was still out for Remus's blood.

On Wednesday, Dumbledore sent word that Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, was safe for the Order's return, and Harry had given permission to continue using it. Tonks went by herself, haunting the empty rooms, listening to Auntie's diatribe, sensing the ghosts of the place--not the shades that spoke, but the quiet emptiness where memories sat in solitude. She saw Sirius sitting at the kitchen table, peeling bits of splintered wood away. She saw him singing Christmas carols, transforming into a dog, drinking in Buckbeak's room. She saw Remus and herself planning elaborate charades that became ever more real, and she saw him catching her at the base of the kitchen stairs. She felt Sirius watching her from everywhere here, trapped for all eternity in this prison his friends had built for him.

She sat on the stairs and wept until Mad-Eye appeared with Hestia Jones, and they both pretended not to notice anything amiss.

Tonks didn't return to Grimmauld Place.

She started working double shifts to avoid thinking too much about her personal life, but work was hardly cheerful. It was a rare day that went by now without someone coming up missing. Those who were obviously taken by force were the first priority. Those who simply vanished, the Ministry did not place a high priority on. They knew there was a possibility of coercion (or of the Imperius Curse), but it was all too probable that Voldemort was simply gathering his army, and when the time did come to look for these people, it would not be as victims.

The Dementors' mist cleared somewhat in the cities, but there were massive gatherings in some places, and by the time the second Monday after she'd spoken to Molly came around, everyone in the Auror Division had had an opportunity to see her new Patronus. Proudfoot, whose aunt or cousin or some such thing had been savaged by a werewolf, now looked at her with utter revulsion.

She was just coming off of a night shift, fighting with half a dozen Dementors who had chosen to feed from a group of Muggle teenagers covered with tattoos and piercings, when word came to the office that Florean Fortescue had vanished.


"I hate to do this to you," Robards said without preliminaries, before Tonks had much of a chance to do more than pack her casefiles into a satchel to bring home.

She sighed and put the satchel down on her desk, still feeling distantly low from being close to Dementors. Better to be busy than brooding, anyway. "I didn't have anything special planned. How long do you need me to stay?"

"The morning at least." He rubbed his head. "I've left Dawlish at the scene, but Fortescue's well-known--I think we all remember doing our homework over an ice cream--and I want to secure the scene as quickly as possible before... well, you know how people are."

"Yes."

"I have to get to one of these ruddy meetings, or I'd do it myself--I hate this desk business, never let them promote you--I have Harmon and Star out on the Emerson disappearance, and--"

"I'm on it, Robards."

"You're a godsend, Tonks."

"No, just a single Hufflepuff with no remaining commitments."

"Administratively, there's no significant difference." He handed her a scroll. "I put together what I could on Fortescue. Aside from the ice cream shop, he's a bit of a hobbyist historian, though I can't see why the Death Eaters would be interested in either."

"Maybe Aunt Bellatrix has a sweet tooth. I'll ask Mum."

Robards gave her a slightly confused smile, then said, "I need to get to my meeting with Scrimgeour. Only stay as long as you need to in order to do the initial evaluation, then go home and get some sleep for the afternoon, will you? I'll still need you for the night shift." He hurried off, trying to organize several scrolls as he went. Tonks sighed, gathered up her equipment, and headed back out into the field.

Diagon Alley was crowded by the time she got there. The disappearance of as much of a fixture as Florean Fortescue had brought out the curious onlookers, and the first decent weather in several weeks had brought out the shoppers. She went through Dawlish's security barriers--her Auror's talisman allowed it--and stepped into the ruins of Fortescue's shop.

"Mind the glass," Dawlish snapped, waving a hand toward the floor beneath the window. "I'll repair it after I've had a better look."

Tonks stepped around the glass shards. "What are you looking for?"

"Does it look to you like it broke inward, or just shattered when he hit it?"

Tonks went to the other side of the room. The shattered glass spread out in a well-defined fan. "Definitely blown in," she said.

"That's what I thought." Dawlish crawled behind the counter and sneezed as he breathed in the dust. "I don't see anything that suggests who it was. If they'd already broken the security wards, why not just Apparate in, as they did with Madam Bones?"

"Maybe they wanted him to watch them destroy his shop."

"Maybe. Though they didn't break anything else, just tipped things over. And you'd think they'd set it on fire if they were serious about that."

"They frightened him first," Tonks realized, glancing around. Several of the tables had been jostled, but not overturned. She could picture Fortescue walking backwards from the window, knocking clumsily against them as he saw... whoever was out there. The last table was skewed more acutely than the others, and the chair beside it was on its side.

He lurched onto that table, now wild with fright, and only caught the edge of the chair on the way down.

And when he fell, the window crashed in, and they came for him.

She shuddered, imagining a hunched figure grasping at the window frame, outlined against the large...

Moon.

"We may be looking at someone who doesn't Apparate well," she said, feeling like she was in a room full of Dementors again. She would need to talk to Remus for the first time since he'd...

And it would be business.

"Is there"--she closed her eyes--"blood back there?"

"Just a little. I don't think they killed him, unless it was a Death Curse. A splash of blood back near that door." Dawlish indicated the swinging door that led to Fortescue's small living quarters. "Looks like they blocked the back way out."

"How?"

"Look for yourself. Robards sent you to work, not get my report."

Tonks went back into the living quarters, which were full of historical bric-a-brac and books piled onto the floor in front of overcrowded shelves. A book on the end table--set down carefully, she supposed, when he'd first heard a noise--was open at an investigation of the witch Nimue, also known as Niniane and sometimes Vivian, who had imprisoned Merlin in an oak tree. She read the page over and over. The last sentence--which began, "Though many reasonable witches and wizards over the years have doubted the existence of"--wrapped around to the next page, and her mind snagged over and over on the idea that Fortescue might never find out just what reasonable witches and wizards doubted. At some point between the mention of the doubt and identification of its subject, he had been torn out of his life as easily as she might tear the page from the book.

Tears stung at her eyes, and she forced them back. Fortescue had been a kindly, totally inoffensive man, who generations of children had fond memories of. What business did Voldemort have interfering with him? Why would he ever imagine he had the right...?

She looked up and noticed a disturbance of a few of the loose piles of books, making a rough line from the door to the back of the flat. She followed it. In the tiny kitchen, shattered dishes were all that stood to show that a struggle had occurred here. A door that led to the back alley was closed solidly, and Tonks could still see a faint green glow around the edges of it. The door and the jamb had been fused together.

She noted it in her casebook, then pointed her wand at the door and said, "Finite incantatem." The green disappeared and the door separated itself. She opened it easily, and hated the Death Eaters a little more for frightening poor Fortescue enough that he hadn't had the wherewithal to simply end the spell.

The alley behind the shop was undisturbed by any sign of a struggle. A pile of newspapers sat beside the dustbins. A relatively fresh apple core, only starting to brown, was on the ground beside it.

She couldn't be sure--the alley did open have a narrow, crooked path leading out to the street, and someone could have come in later, before the disappearance was discovered and the barriers put up--but she was sure nonetheless: One of them had sat back here, eating an apple, while Fortescue was terrorized inside.

She followed the path out to the street, finding no further information along it, and used her talisman to get through the barrier. A few curiosity-seekers who knew where the path came out were there, but she refused to answer their questions. For all she knew, one of them had a taste for apples.

She looked out over the milling crowd, most of which was gathered in front of Fortescue's shop, and her heart did a strange, nervous sort of flip.

Remus was standing near the back of the crowd, talking to a slightly familiar-looking round-faced boy who looked quite upset. He looked up and noticed her watching. He seemed ready to move--whether toward her or away from her, she was no longer willing to guess--but the boy he was speaking to was talking, so he couldn't leave.

Tonks watched him for a moment as he looked back down at the boy, then took a deep breath and started to weave through the crowd toward him. by the time she reached the two of them, both of them were looking at her. The boy smiled. "Hello," he said. "I'm glad you're better."

She frowned. "I, er... thank you..."

"This is Neville Longbottom," Remus said quietly. "He was at the Department of Mysteries when you were hurt."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I only saw you there for a moment before I fell. I didn't--"

"It's all right," Neville said.

"Neville, this is Tonks. She's an Auror, and she works with us."

Neville looked at her uncomfortably, and she thought of his Auror parents, lying vacantly in their beds in the ward at St. Mungo's. He held up a thin box. "My wand broke during... you know. Gran just got me a new one for my birthday tomorrow."

"It's your birthday tomorrow? Happy birthday."

"Thank you."

"Well," she said, "it's nice to meet you, Neville." She looked at Remus, who didn't look back at her.

"I should go," he said.

"I need to talk to you."

"I don't--"

"Actual business."

"Oh."

"Could you wait while I tell my partner where I am?"

He nodded, looking flustered. Tonks smiled at Neville again, and went back into the shop. Dawlish was less than thrilled when she refused to tell him to whom she'd be speaking or what she wanted to ask, but she reminded him that he was there to work, not interrogate her about her methodology.

When she went back outside, Remus was still with Neville Longbottom, but a formidable-looking older witch was making her way toward them, looking quite irritated.

"Neville!" Tonks heard as she approached them. The older woman put her hand on Neville's shoulder. "Neville, how often do I need to tell you about giving gold to beg--"

Neville, mortified, was shaking his head. "No, Gran... this is..." He looked at Remus miserably. "This is my teacher, Professor Lupin. He was with us at..."

Neville's grandmother blushed and held out her hand stiffly. "I apologize, Professor," she said.

Remus shook her hand, but continued to look at the cobblestones. His face was brick red. "It's all right, Mrs. Longbottom. I know I look a fright."

"Nevertheless, I shouldn't have presumed." She turned Neville around. "Do you have everything you came with?"

"Yes, Gran."

"We should leave, then." She nodded to Remus. "Again, I apologize."

Remus managed to meet her eyes and nod back. He muttered, "It was nice to see you," or something of that sort. He didn't turn to look at Tonks when the Longbottoms left. "What did you need, Dora?"

She cast a Distraction charm (although no one was paying attention to them anyway). "Where was Greyback last night?"

"I don't know." He crossed his arms when she came closer to him, and took a step back. "They're starting to gather for the moon tomorrow night. Several of them were wondering. He never made an appearance. Do you think...?" He gestured at the store.

"You know, I'm just going to either nod or shake my head until you're forced to look at me."

"Please, Dora." His gaze flickered up to her, then he cast his eyes down again. "Please."

"All right. Yes. I'll leave you a note at Molly's explaining why. Please keep your eyes open for anything on Fortescue, and dammit, Remus, look at me."

He took a deep, shaky breath, and looked up. His face was still red. "I'm sorry," he said. "Molly told me that--"

"I told her not to scold you. I don't want to scold you myself, either, if that's what you're worried about. I just need you to..." She reached out, touched his wrist. He shivered. She bit her lip. "I just need you."

"For what?" he asked bitterly, looking in the direction the Longbottoms had gone. "I have nothing."

Tonks shook her head. "That's because you keep throwing away the things you do have. I don't want to be thrown away."

"I'm not throwing you away."

"Then stop treating me like rubbish."

He looked at her, his eyes bruised and lost. "I'll watch for Fortescue," he said. "Goodbye, Dora."

He turned and left. She watched him until he'd vanished into the morning.

//
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