The Sugar Quill
Author: Buttercup Inmates  Story: The Gift  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

"Tell me why we're doing this again

A/N: We’d like to take this opportunity to introduce ourselves, the inmates at the Buttercup Asylum, as none other than Anya and Falling Damps, who found each other through their magnificent beta and a shared love for realistic characterization – not to mention Moody fluff and Snape snark. Now, this particular story is a collaboration written in honor of the aforementioned beta, WHIMSY, on the occasion of his birthday! It features none other than the awesome of all awesomes Whimsy himself, as well as several of our very favorite Order members. We feel it is only fair to warn you that this story makes reference to people and events from “House Divided” and “Speak with the Dead,” and if you haven’t read either of those, you may be at a distinct disadvantage in understanding just what on earth we are talking about. And zillions of love and hugs and showers of moon boots to the lovely Dogstar for beta reading this for us! Let the games begin!

 

 

"Tell me why we're doing this again?" Lourdes huffed, arms folded impatiently over her chest as she and Severus shuffled down the litter-strewn street leading up to Grimmauld Place.

Severus couldn't actually see her rolling her eyes behind the giant mirrored sunglasses she was wearing to shield most of her face, but he had a suspicion...

"Informants, Ms Mezarci, are hard to find and hard to maintain. Good informants, especially good Muggle informants, are scarcer than Nundus and vastly more useful. So, when one has a positive connection with an informant who has no reason to stab you in the back or sell your information to a higher bidder, best to give them better care than your firstborn infant. Keep them happy without making them ask..." Severus said, somewhat bitterly as he clutched a small gift wrapped box.

"In other words, treat them better than our bosses treat us," Lourdes snickered.

"Precisely."

"And why are we buying for this particular informant?  I mean he’s brilliant and all, but we haven’t got money to burn!”

"Simply following orders, Ms Mezarci. I hate to have to be the one to tell you this, but we're not going into this meeting alone..." he muttered as they lingered by a corner lamp post, waiting for an elderly woman and her poodle to round the corner before they could approach the dirty row houses that hid Order headquarters.

"Oh Dorje...tell me Remus isn't coming along. He's so damn polite - makes me sick," she hissed, pursing her lips as she glared at the old woman.


"I hardly think you'll find the manners of our companions for the afternoon...superfluous." Severus sighed, slinking up the sidewalk as Lourdes checked over her shoulder frequently.

"Black! It's Black isn’t it?"

"Don't you think I'd be a little more upset if it were Black?" he hissed, slamming the doorknocker several times to alert the Order members within.

"Good point. You're irritated, but not too irritated. It must be...Aurors?"

 

 

"Smile!" Alastor scowled as a bright flash went off from somewhere to his left, momentarily blinding his good eye and causing his magical eye to spin wildly in the other direction.

"Will you put that damn thing away?" he growled, blinking furiously and putting his hand to his wand, just in case someone snuck up on him while he was incapacitated. "Are you out of your mind? No one can know that he -" Alastor jerked his head in the direction of the Grimmauld Place sitting room - "was here."

Tonks sighed and lowered the camera, leaning against the grimy wall of the front entranceway. "Relax. I'm not going to take a picture of a spy. That would be rather idiotic. Have you gotten him a gift?"

Alastor scratched his head distractedly as he tried to follow Tonks' abrupt subject change. "Yeah."

"What is it? Did you wrap it?"

"Course I wrapped it. What kind of a fool do you think I am..." he muttered, keeping one eye trained on the camera in case of another sneak attack while checking outside the front door.

"The kind of fool who doesn't wrap presents," Tonks said frankly. "Too dangerous? Easy to disguise a dangerous object?"

"Someone's coming," Alastor interrupted, turning away from her and heading for the front door.

"Who?"

"Snape. And..." he paused. Was that... Trelawney? No... he breathed an inaudible sigh of relief - for a second, with those glasses... but then there was a bang on the door, and Tonks sprang forward to open it before he could caution her that Snape was bringing a very dangerous looking character into their Headquarters. Every shred of doubt about Snape's loyalties came rushing to the front, and as he felt a panic rising in his chest, he clenched his fist around his wand tightly, ready to attack.

 

 

Something very...PINK answered the door – a cheerful smiling girl with bright pink hair. Demons in hell, Lourdes thought, feeling her jaw drop incredulously. They're letting teenagers into the Order now.

Severus gave her a rather rude shove into the foyer, hissing something about getting out of sight before the whole world knew they were here, and for just a moment everything was pitch dark as the door slammed behind her. Oh yes – the sunglasses. In one smooth motion mastered over years of disguising scars, Lourdes removed the sunglasses and smoothed the swath of hair into place, eye darting across the foyer that smelled of mothballs and decaying troll to size up the company.

The pink creature and...no! That couldn't be. Mad-Eye Moody - in the flesh?

At O.H.K., Moody was the stuff of tall tales, like Robin Hood or Kubla Kahn. She sort of wanted to giggle and gush about how much she and her coworkers had admired his collar on the St George's killer case, but as he was pointing his wand at her it probably wouldn't be a good idea.

Play it cool Lourdes. It's just Moody. You can do this…

Drawing herself up to full height, she took a step closer to Severus and eyed him expectantly.  Severus in turn looked extremely annoyed and gave Moody a sidelong look before heaving a dramatic sigh. "As per Albus Dumbledore's orders I have clearance to allow deep cover operative Lourdes Mezarci to make contact with Auror Moody and Auror Tonks," he said in a tone of practiced recitation.

Automatically, Severus' hand dipped into his pocket, and he thrust a sealed roll of parchment towards Moody, who stepped forward to claim it without dropping his wand even a centimeter.

"That document should clear up any questions of authorization, Moody," Severus said dryly. "Dumbledore has extended the network of contacts that are aware of Ms Mezarci's purpose within this operation for accountability's sake. Though you will find that contact with this operative is to be achieved only through myself and operative Aberforth Dumbledore. Now that the sticky issues are, I trust, out of the way, we may address the issue which has brought us all into this filthy foyer - contact with our informant?"

The pink-haired girl, who Lourdes could now logically conclude was Auror Tonks, was apparently trying not to grin (or she was having some sort of facial spasm, Lourdes could never be sure).

"He's told us, hasn't he?" she muttered out of the corner of her mouth to Moody, apparently amused by Severus' blustery posturing.

 

 

Alastor didn't respond to Tonks - as he was accustomed to doing when trying to concentrate on something important - and squinted down at the parchment. It seemed legitimate.

"Good afternoon, Snape," Tonks said into the tense silence that was seeping over the room. Alastor thought it was rather late for greetings, but he was too busy checking the parchment for Illusion charms and spells of deceit to care.

"Good afternoon."

Another silence. "And you must be... Ms. Mezarci!"

"Yes."

The silence in the room was painful now, and Alastor felt a sharp jab in his arm. Looking up, he found himself face to face with a very annoyed Tonks, who was giving him a look that clearly said he was being ridiculous. He could always tell when she gave him that particular look - not only did he receive it quite often, but she did a funny thing with her eyebrow and twisted up one side of her mouth so it looked like she was about to be sick.

Warily, he lowered his wand. "Yeah, about our informant."

Tonks started discussing something with Snape, but Alastor wasn't particularly listening, for he was too preoccupied with studying deep cover operative Lourdes Mezarci, who was standing to the side quietly, looking profoundly uncomfortable.

Perhaps what intrigued him the most was that she had pulled all of her hair down to cover one side of her face, showing only one eye.

Maybe she only has one eye! Alastor thought with some interest. After all, it was rare that he met someone else in his cyclopic position. And she had some fantastic scars... he wondered vaguely what on earth she had done. Her scars rivaled Remus', and maybe even his own, but he doubted that she was a werewolf...

Though you never know, he thought darkly, casting her a second, furtive glance.

There was a funnily shaped tattoo under her eye that seemed oddly familiar. He frowned, wracking his brain, trying to remember where he'd seen it before and what it meant.

 

 

That blue eye was practically x-raying her face, and Lourdes was absolutely sure he was staring at the tattoo. If the magic eye did what she thought it did, he'd have his wand at her throat in a heartbeat asking about Dark Magic.  Momentarily she looked over to see if she might be getting any support from Severus on this issue. Not likely, he was still arguing with Tonks, doing that big puffed-up "listen to me I was your teacher" thing.

Better to head Moody off at the pass, after all Evocators were hardly welcomed by Death Eaters, let alone polite society or people fighting the Dark Lord... squaring her shoulders in her best, most military fashion Lourdes took the two steps that separated her from Moody and nodded crisply. "Auror Moody," she started hesitantly.

Moody's eyebrows furrowed deeply, and he frowned just a little. "That's Ex-Auror now, actually."

Lourdes brushed the heavy section of hair off the left side of her face to expose the deep, spider-web pattern trenches that ran from just under her eye to her jaw line and the other distorted tattoo.  "I think it a courtesy to tell you up front as senior officer that you may find me on file at the Turkish Dangerous Citizens Registry, registry number 723713. Sub classification Evocator...”

The usual hollow silence followed as peoples minds had to race back to seventh year Defense Against the Dark Arts to remember the categories of "types of Magical Beings thought to be extinct" and then connect that with childhood fairy tales about soul-sucking, life stealing witches, and corrupt sorcerers being trapped by demons out of they’d summoned.

"But I know you!" she said quickly, cheeks and scars creasing as she put on an eager, sort of frightened smile. "You're sort of a legend in Turkey in law enforcement circles you know.  I was a profiler for Behavioral Analysis and we were just blown away that the main office could get you to come down and consult on the St George’s killer case!" Lourdes had to stop there because she was dangerously close to a giggle-and-snort. Which would not have been commanding, or impressive at all. That, and her accent which was usually very faint, was starting to thicken now that she was nervous... "We used to read transcripts of your interrogation sessions as guides! Everyone in Capture Unit thought you were brilliant for staying straight even though Crouch authorized the use of Unforgivables during the first Voldemort conflict!"

She had giggled just a little there. Lourdes felt rather like a teenage girl staring into the face of a rock star, except that Moody looked rather suspicious and slightly bewildered by her gushing.

Her eyes darted over to check on Tonks and Snape, and they were still arguing. Tonks had a wide, slightly tense smile on that suggested she had switched from "reason with him" to "kill him with kindness."

"I just wanted to say, sir, that it's a pleasure to be working with you."

 


It was often that Alastor felt his age physically, but rare that he felt as old as he truly was in person - this was one of those moments. An Evocator! No wonder his magical eye was thrumming with the sense of Dark Magic. Of course, it always went haywire in Grimmauld Place, and who knew what the Blacks still had hidden in this place... his eye gave a convulsive sweep of the area.

He never thought he'd live to see the day when Evocators were welcomed into the Order. Here they were, fighting Voldemort, a band of... what? Werewolves, convicts, and soul-suckers? He snorted.

Immediately the girl - for now he could see that, despite her scarring, she was not much older than Remus - stepped back, her countenance drawing back into itself and freezing into a well-practiced blankness. Alastor wanted to kick himself as he realized that she must think he was laughing at her.

Twisting his face into what he hoped was a smile, he thought, An Evocator could be useful. And I may as well just kill myself straight off the day I blame someone for being a way they can't control. Even if it is dark and a bit unnatural. I will NOT be another goddamn Riley.

"Turkey, you say?" he grunted as kindly as he could manage.

The girl nodded curtly.

"Well, that's interesting. Can't say I enjoyed my stint in Turkey, you'll understand, I'm sure, I wasn't exactly on holiday, but there are good people working out there. Good people. Very vigilant."

The girl seemed to take in his words and relax a little, the smile from before returning in part to her face. "Yes, very vigilant."

Once again, Alastor found himself in the odd position of being around people who knew all about him, when he couldn't even remember their names. But he had enough on his mind without making an enemy of an Evocator, and she seemed genuine enough... spinning his eye back around to check on Snape, he said gruffly, "Glad to start working with you, too, Lurdz," and extended his hand.

She looked at it blankly for a moment, as though wondering if he were serious, before reaching out and clasping it firmly. Very firmly. Alastor was impressed.

But then a flash of light, and he whirled on Tonks with a growl. "Get that damned camera out of my sight!"

 

 

Blinking hard to clear the big patches of light burned on her retinas, Lourdes froze and automatically shook her hair back into her face, giving Tonks a look that could have frozen a volcano. Tonks responded with a sheepish smile, tapping her fingers on the camera impatiently as Severus cleared his throat.  That was about when Lourdes realized she was still shaking Moody’s hand...

Simultaneously they gave each other that firm "all on the up and up" nod and withdrew. Internally though, she was riot-giggling like a third year after her first trip to Honeydukes.

Putting on his most world-weary and aloof look, Severus turned and addressed the crowd of three. "It seems there was some confusion as to who was purchasing for this informant, and who was supposed to be meeting. Apparently Nym-pha-dor-a," Severus put painful emphasis on every syllable of the most ridiculous name Lourdes had ever heard, and Tonks – oh - Nymphadora's face twitched angrily.

"And Moody assumed this meeting was their first networking contact with Whimsy-"

"Whimsy?" Lourdes stopped short, "I thought his name was Mar-"

"Code-name..." Alastor interrupted gruffly, head and magical eye rolling in opposite directions to make sure no unauthorized parties had overheard that near slip.

"Ah, well that makes sense." Lourdes nodded.

Heaving what must have been his eighth long-suffering sigh of the hour, Severus twitched and glared at everyone again. "If you two are quite finished now..."

"Yes, Headmaster." Without really thinking about who was watching, Lourdes smirked and gave him a mock curtsey.  Nymphadora’s eyes bulged as she snorted and convulsed, trying not to laugh out loud.

"Yes well, apparently Whimsy is briefing Nymphadora and Moody on some basics of the use of Muggle technology, and he was supposed to meet with Lourdes and me to discuss a…program he’s created to track suspicious spike in banking activity... Either way, we’ve all shown up on the same day, no sense in asking him to come back.  I see no reason why we shouldn't be able to meet simultaneously. After all, not all of us are retired and my free time is limited."

 

 

"Yeah, and I spend my days in a rocking chair, doing Daily Prophet puzzles and listening to the wireless," Alastor responded irritably. "Keep the editorializing to yourself, Snape, we've got work to do."

"Exactly what I was saying," said Snape, a forced smile pasted on his pallid face.

Alastor opened his mouth to retort again, but Tonks, who had been standing with her body halfway turned away toward the wall to hide her laughter, straightened and cut in smoothly. "And now that we all agree that there's plenty of work to do, how about we get to it?"

The other girl - the Evocator - nodded. "We should give him his gift, I suppose."

"Oooh, good idea," Tonks said, visibly brightening. "Soften him up before we get down to business. Mad-Eye, where'd you put yours?"

"Upstairs."

"Let's go get it." Tonks bounded past him and took a few steps toward the stairs, turning around when she realized that he wasn't following her. "Are you coming?" She opened her eyes very widely and blinked at him.

Hmm. Alastor frowned, feeling like he was missing out on something that he was supposed to understand. Like that time she had wanted him to clear out so she could talk to Remus. Only... there wasn't quite so much eyebrow wiggle this time.

"You're going upstairs, why don't you get it?"

Next to him, the Evocator - what is her name? Lords? Lurdiz? - let out a funny huff of air that might have passed for a giggle, if he hadn't been utterly incapable of imagining such a creature giggling... Snape sighed again, more loudly this time. Alastor wondered if it were possible to sigh any louder without choking.

"Because," Tonks said slowly, still blinking widely at him, "it's your present." And with that, she bounded up the stairs two at a time, missing her footing on the landing but grabbing onto the rail with barely a squeak.

Alastor rolled his eyes (both of them) and took to the stairs after her, leaving Snape and Lurdiz standing apart in the hallway. Careful to keep one eye trained on them at all times, he nearly bumped into Tonks, who was waiting for him at the top of the stairs.

 

 

“Well that wasn’t suspicious at all,” Severus muttered, craning his neck to see if he could make anything out at the top of the stairs.

 

“Is there a tactful way to tell them you have to say Lor-des?” she muttered.

 

“Do you…mean that the all All-Knowing Moody might have made an error?” he said with mock horror.

 

“Oh! What are you on about now,” she hissed.

 

“I heard you giggle, you sound like a besotted teenager.”  Honestly, the fawning was just over the top.  Oh! Moody I’m so honored to be working with you! Let’s run off and make mad love together on some beach somewhere!  Did I mention I’ve read every one of your transcripts! Disgusting really.  Did she think he couldn’t see her puffing up her chest and jutting her hips out like some lower primate carrying out a mating ritual?

 

“If you got to meet, say, Nicholas Flamel, wouldn’t you be a little out of sorts?”

 

“I have met him, I did not giggle, and certainly I didn’t feel the need to flirt with him,” Severus said scathingly.

 

“Pardon?” Lourdes gaped at him incredulously.

 

“You did everything but open your mouth wide enough to prove you have all your teeth!” 

 

“Well I must admit, there is something to be said for experience…but do you really think he’s my type? I mean, how would we raise the children?”

 

Snape felt his face attempt to go in three different expressions at once, but he had to settle for simply scowling and making a little hissing noise.  “I simply think it’s unseemly for coworkers to behave that way.”

 

“Alright then. I solemnly swear I’ll wait till the war is over to elope with Moody.  Until then I suppose I’ll just pine away.” Heaving a very dramatic sigh, she flung the back of one hand up to her forehead and faked a swoon into the wall. “Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask.  What exactly did we get our informant?” she said curiously, straightening up and tapping the squished box.

 

“A timepiece, I’m told wrist watches are rather fashionable.  Rolex apparently makes the best...”  It was rather nice, and he’d had to put his best suit on to get into the store without drawing too many stares.

 

“I didn’t know we could afford that,” Lourdes muttered, looking as impressed as the shopkeepers had.

 

“We can’t…Black can.  When you have the best as far as an informer goes, you must give the best.  How could Black argue with that when he’s had it out to be more useful in the Order?” Severus said lightly.

 

“Now see, that’s what I like about you.  Top notch extortion,” Lourdes snickered.  “But where the hell have the other two gotten off to?”

 

 

Alastor watched, mildly interested, as Tonks waggled her eyebrows at him from across the stairwell. First one side went up, then the other, then they switched... he wondered whether her morphing abilities made her more talented at eyebrow-waggling than the average witch. After several moments of this, however, it became apparent that Tonks was not going to supply any words to go along with her motions, so he leaned back against the wall and said, "What."

"What do you mean, what?" Tonks asked innocently, her eyebrows still dancing ridiculously across her forehead. "I'm up here to get your present for Whimsy."

"Don't give me that," he growled. "You've got something up your sleeve and I want to know what it is, right now." So that I can be sure it doesn't have to do with me, he finished silently.

Tonks pursed her lips together - for a moment, Alastor thought she was actually annoyed at him, but then he saw that she was merely trying not to laugh - and finally said, "Snape!"

"What about him?"

"Snape, and Lourdes." She winked at him.

"Yes, both of them down in the hall waiting for us to finish this inane conversation," Alastor said shortly. "What about them?"

Eyebrow waggle.

"If you don't stop that right now, Tonks, I swear..."

"Oh, honestly!" She stepped closer and peered down the stairs, lowering her voice. Alastor watched warily as she straightened, a wide grin spreading across her face, and she whispered, loudly, "Snape. And Lourdes. And Snape. And Lourdes!"

Alastor was about to comment that today she was sounding like a parrot as well as looking like one, but then something seemed to click in his mind, and he suddenly felt torn between hilarity and horror. "No."

"Yes."

"No!" But then again... he turned his attention back to his magical eye, still trained on Snape, and saw them standing together in the hall. The Evocator was peering forward at the box which Snape held out in his hands. Nothing scandalous... but, he reasoned, Snape looked remarkably relaxed, and that in itself was quite miraculous.

Tonks was still going on about all the ways she was planning to tease Snape about it, and Alastor was about to comment that this was probably not a good idea, when he was struck with a sudden thought. "But she's an Evocator!" he said out loud.

Tonks stopped short. "Yeah, and?" She shrugged. "I'm sure they can still do it."

Alastor choked. "WHAT?"

"Nothing, nothing," Tonks said, waving her hand. "Wouldn't want to give you a heart attack in your old age there, Mad-Eye. Now will you get the present, please?" Thrusting her hands on her hips, she eyed him sternly, as though it were his fault they were gossiping in a dark stairwell about (God help him) Severus Snape's love life...

He grunted indistinctly, both as a response to Tonks and as an outlet for his disgust, and headed down the hall.

"I'll meet you downstairs!" Tonks called cheerily. He waved her off over his shoulder without turning around, and as he stumped off in search of his unwrapped gift, he heard her bounding down the stairs with an enthusiasm that didn't bode well for her old Potions teacher.

 

 

Lourdes had a habit of standing entirely too close to him in public, and he was quick to step away the minute he heard what was undoubtedly Nymphadora galumphing down the stairs, making more noise than an entire herd of elephants (that or Moody had tripped, a thought that filled him with a very evil sort of glee).


No. It was definitely Nymphadora, who bounced to a halt right in front of the two of them, fidgeting like an overgrown toddler and with an expression that suggested she was just DYING to say something. Lourdes looked a little startled by it and automatically stepped closer to him as if she were afraid Nymphadora would burst.

"The gift?" Severus hissed, glaring at her and indicating her empty hands.

Nymphadora feigned ignorance astoundingly badly - and this was the face of the Aurors of tomorrow, damn discouraging really.

"Gift... ohhh yes, Mad-Eye’s getting it. And how about the two of you?" Her eyebrows did some... strange jumping-about thing as she grinned like a Cheshire cat.

That last bit crawled lamely around his brain looking for a spot to register itself before it finally hit him. Automatically his head snapped over and he managed to catch Lourdes' eye.

"What the hell is this all about? Did you tell him something?" Severus thought viciously, trying to impress that as hard as he possibly could.

"I don't know what you're talking about! Didn't you just accuse me of trying to get up Moody's robes?"

Disgusted, Severus looked over at Nymphadora whose cheeks had puffed out alarmingly as she tried to hold in the laugher. Alright, if that was how the little girl wanted to play this... Severus only had to turn to Lourdes and raise an eyebrow before she took her cue to start the antagonizing.

"Getting what? Nym-pha-dor-a?" Lourdes drew her name out spitefully.

Nymphadora, barely ruffled by the abuse of her name, leaned in a very conspiratorial manner. "Oh don't be coy you two, you're partners and all that! Spending all that time together...alone."

"You know, Mr Snape, now that I think about it, we do spend an awful lot of time together.  Scrubbing cauldrons, doing paperwork, “Lourdes said lightly, ticking her points off on her fingers as she went. "And, oh yes!  Facing the Dark Lord on a daily basis, and answering letters from Death Eaters.  It’s a real good time."

Snape took this as his cue to give Nymphadora his best professorial withering glare. She proved irritatingly resilient and waggled her damn eyebrows again.

"Why would you ask, Nymphadora? Are you sleeping with your partner?" Severus asked coolly, envisioning himself dancing a jig on top of her head as Lourdes looked on and applauded.

Nymphadora's resolve broke all at once as she gasped and leaned forward, clutching her stomach and screeching with horrified laughter while she wiped the tears away from her eyes.  Actually she was laughing a little too hard, like someone nervously laughing to try to cover up a drastic faux pas. 

"Jolly good show old boy," Lourdes said primly, affecting her very best posh accent.

"Why thank you, Ms Mezarci," Severus replied, raising an eyebrow and inclining his head graciously.

By the time Nymphadora managed to stand up straight they heard the ominous clunk CLUNK of Moody approaching....

 

 

Tonks tried to swallow the last of her giggles as she heard Mad-Eye stumping unevenly down the stairs, though some small part of her knew that he probably had been watching the entire incident... Good thing he doesn't have magical hearing to boot, she thought, replaying the encounter in her mind and deciding that, as confrontations with a love-sick Snape go, it really hadn't gone that badly.

Except for the part about Remus... Tonks subtlety morphed to hide the blush growing on her cheeks as her initial surprised laughter subsided. He couldn't possibly know. He was just casting about in the dark and hoping she was in a relationship, or else his insult would have fallen rather flat.

"Hullo," Mad-Eye grunted as he stepped down from the last stair and limped over towards them. "Got my gift." There was a superior, almost prideful tone in his voice that Tonks attributed to the fact that his gift was rather prettily wrapped in dark blue paper, and even had a matching ribbon tied on top. "And wrapped."

Yes, thought Tonks. He is so predictable.

"It looks lovely," Lourdes said. Next to her, Snape visibly stiffened, and Tonks watched interestedly as a flicker of something passed across his normally stoic face. She fancied for a moment that it had been jealousy... but no, it was probably just annoyance. His most common expression. And not particularly new or interesting to anyone who had suffered through NEWT Potions.

Mad-Eye jabbed her in the shoulder, and she jumped and whirled around. "Did ya hear that?" he asked smugly. "Lovely." He brandished the gift as her as though it were an explosive, and Tonks plucked it from his hands.

"I'm going to give it to Whimsy," she said briskly, taking a step toward the sitting room. "He's been waiting for quite long enough, I think." She took another step, but no one made any move to follow.

Tonks glanced at Snape, who was standing stiffly next to Lourdes, and felt a vague idea taking shape in her mind. She shot a quick look at Mad-Eye, who was frowning and seemed to recognize, as maddeningly usual, that something was on her mind. He shook his head at her, but - with Snape's comment from before ringing in her ears, - she grandly ignored him. Besides, it was about time Mad-Eye realized just how much she knew about him.

 

"And you don't have to worry, Snape. Mad-Eye's already taken."

As she turned her back on their astonished faces and pushed through the sitting room door, grinning, Tonks decided that being around Snape was good for her. Healthy. She wondered momentarily what Sirius would do if he ever heard her say such a thing... but it made her feel young. Energetic. And very, very pink.

 

 

Nymphadora's remark left a hollow crater of silence in the hallway as Moody, Severus, and Lourdes stood in abject disbelief that they'd just been trumped by a little pink haired punk. Severus had gone ugly brick red across the nose, and Lourdes was looking murderous.

"Are we going to let her get away with that?" she snapped.

 

"Yeah, sometimes she gets me too," Alastor said grumpily, as the part of his brain that was annoyed at Tonks won the struggle over the part that was shocked at her insinuations. Could she be talking about... but no. There was no way. He even shook his shaggy head a few times for good measure. "But she's a good Auror and a good Order member and there's not a damn thing you can do about her cheek. I should know..." he muttered under his breath, glaring out in the direction she had left.

"I take it intimidation was unsuccessful," Snape said, as though he were analyzing some interesting problem, in a tone of studied normality that just dared anyone to comment on his obvious blush.

"I could...have a word with her in the kitchen?" Lourdes said, finishing with a low growl.

"No, no. I don't think that would be necessary," Severus muttered turning his lip up.

"Whatever you're up to it's going to have to wait. We've got an informant in there." Moody grunted, jerking his head in the direction of the nearest parlor door.

"Oh that's right..." she muttered, fingers twitching around her arms as if she were clearly eager to throttle something. Moody led the way, and by the time everyone was in the parlor and settled the issue of seating (Lourdes ended up squashed between Snape and Nymphadora while Moody settled into the other free armchair) they had a moment to survey their informant closely.

He certainly didn't look any more like a Muggle than they might have guessed, but it was a little hard to get a good picture of his face at rest because he was tucking into Moody and Nymphadora's gift with unholy fervor.

"Jellybeans?" Lourdes leaned over to hiss in Severus' ear.

"I suppose Bertie Botts are a rarity for Muggles?"

"I guess so... he certainly seems to like them. Did Nymphadora warn him about the..."

"Eugh!" Codename:Whimsy quickly spat a fetid green candy out into his hand for closer examination.

"It's squash flavored!" Nymphadora said, with a grin fit to split her face. "Sometimes they put off flavored ones in just for fun."

"I see..." he replied, wrapping it warily in a tissue. Lourdes noted that he was certainly pickier about which of the sweets he'd eat after that...

 

 

From Alastor's comfortable perch in his private armchair, he noted with some amusement that Tonks had knocked a few of the cushions onto the floor and that Snape's entire left side was pressed up against the Evocator's. Heh, Alastor thought with a private chuckle.

"Well, now that we're all here," Tonks said, uncrossing her legs and leaning forward slightly. "Whimsy - meet Mad-Eye Moody..." Alastor nodded and spun his eye in a few quick revolutions. He was gratified to see that Whimsy was properly impressed by the way his eyes widened slightly. "Severus Snape..." Snape nodded briskly. "And Lourdes..." Tonks paused and half-turned her head to face the other woman. "I'm sorry, I don't believe I caught your last name?" Alastor realized, with a jolt, that he had been mispronouncing her name this entire time and inwardly vowed never to address her by name again.

"Mezarci."

"Right. Lourdes Mezarci."

Whimsy seemed to be taking in the rather odd sight of them all assembled there, such a motley group, whom Alastor was sure looked entirely out of place in the dusty formal Black sitting room. But, to his credit, he smiled politely and said he was pleased to meet them and even shook hands.

"I assume you all know each other," he said, sitting back down and massaging his hand gently after pulling it away from the Evocator's.

Alastor grunted, "Hell, yeah," and after a moment added, "We've been working together for a while."

"I work with Mad-Eye," Tonks said, nodding in his direction and rolling her eyes exaggeratedly - Whimsy chuckled - "and Snape and Lourdes are partners."

Alastor noted that Snape's eyes were fixed determinedly ahead, while Lourdes made a funny strangled noise in her throat and would have turned toward Tonks, if she hadn't received a sharp elbow in the ribs.

"We work together," Lourdes said through clenched teeth.

Whimsy nodded slowly. "I see."

Snape fixed the other man with a cold stare. "Dumbledore's orders."

"Of course."

Tonks covered her mouth with her hand.

"Alright," Alastor interrupted loudly, clapping his gnarled hands together and trying to salvage this diplomatic disaster. We'll be lucky if Whimsy's still willing to work for us after this, he thought darkly. "Er... happy birthday. Glad you liked the gift. Snape - you got something?"

 

 

"Yes..." Snape said tersely, thrusting the box out towards Whimsy so that the contents rattled alarmingly.

He accepted the squished box gingerly and peeled the wrapping and cardboard off to reveal the small velvet box within.

"It's a..." Whimsy said quietly.

"Rolex," Snape finished.
 
"You can pawn it if you'd like." Lourdes suggested, but Severus elbowed her hard in the side again. If he left a bruise she was going to shred all of his robes and see how he liked that...

"No, no. It's lovely, thank you." Whimsy nodded amicably and snapped the box shut before he began rifling through the Bertie Botts again. "Which of you am I supposed to address first?"

"US!" Snape and Tonks chorused. Severus shot her a vicious glare but was quelled when Moody spoke up.

"Ours'll be shorter. Age before beauty you know," he said sardonically, eye rolling almost playfully in Severus’ direction. Lourdes let out another half-giggle and had to cover her mouth with the back of her hand. She sort of zoned out for the next few minutes as Whimsy passed out folders and patiently explained the contents. It wasn't that it wasn't interesting, but for one thing Lourdes had no idea what an "internet" was, and what a "computer" did but apparently Muggles used them to share information.

 

For another thing, she was squished right up against Severus, and he kept twitching every time she shifted her weight. Every time he twitched Lourdes could see Moody's magical eye snap back to the folder he was supposed to be studying, and she could hear Nymphadora snort. Whimsy looked bewildered but not offended by the whole display, but continued through the lecture undeterred.

 

 

"What the hell?" Alastor muttered to himself as he rifled through the thick folder in his lap, chastising himself for being hopelessly out of date on Muggle information and technology...

He hazarded a glance at Tonks, who was engaging Whimsy in an animated conversation about the benefits of something called a live journal. Alastor tried to follow but couldn't understand most of the terms involved, so he contented himself with looking studious and secretly spying on Snape and Lourdes.

They weren't doing anything particularly interesting at the moment, though he did note with some interest the way Lourdes leaned to the side as she uncrossed and re-crossed her legs, and he wondered vaguely how it was possible for a journal to be alive if it hadn't been enchanted, and could a journal be dead? Journal-murder. Hmmm...

"...any questions, Mad-Eye? Mad-Eye!" Tonks called his name rather loudly and he snapped back to attention.

"Er... what? Sorry."

"Do you have any questions?" she asked, not unkindly.

"Um... no, nothing you and I can't go over later," Alastor replied quickly. She shot him a look which clearly said that she knew he was hopelessly lost on the Muggle terminology, but that she wouldn't hold it against him. Not for the first time, Alastor was grateful that he had a partner with a Muggle background.

Whimsy snuck another jellybean, and Alastor zeroed his attention on the understated pink bean, trying to determine what the flavor was, when a shout from the sofa made him whirl around in his seat.

 

"And if you elbow me again I'm going to break your wand wrist," Lourdes hissed, meeting Severus' look of cold fury with an equally hard look, driving the heel of her boot a little further into the top of his before she withdrew and smoothed her skirts out.

His left cheek was twitching as he locked a nasty glare on her and despite her half hearted attempt to keep him out, Severus managed to break through with -

"I wouldn't have to bother if you'd BUDGE UP."

"I'd love to, I really would except if you haven't noticed there is a third body on this couch and I can't really go anywhere so shut up and act like you're listening and if you put that elbow in my ribcage again I'll break it off.

She snarled and let her mind go completely blank until Severus huffed and looked away to discover Whimsy staring warily, halfway through the process of eating a jelly bean (it didn't look promising, those dark brown and white ones were dirt in her experience).

Lourdes and Severus aimed identical terse smiles in his direction and she snickered nervously. "So sorry, don't stop on account of us."

"Oh, no you see, it's your turn," Whimsy said tentatively. Lourdes wasn't sure if that was a "please don't hurt me" grimace or just a reaction to the jellybean.

What followed was the handout another well organized folder and a lengthily discussion of figures and banking which was not Lourdes' specialty. Apparently this Whimsy person could keep an eye on some suspicious funds being cycled through the Muggle banks, Malfoy money no doubt.  It wasn’t that the topic was uninteresting, it was just that she hadn’t done well in university math, and there was a very good reason she’d never been placed in the Blue Collar crime unit.

As Severus was paying close attention, Lourdes gave herself permission to flip through the packet while she plotted some sort of sweet revenge...

 

 

Watching as Whimsy and Snape fell into deep discussion about something to do with very large figures, Tonks leaned back into the thick cushions, crossed her arms loosely, and wondered whether it mightn't be too horrible to be married to a Muggle.

 

 

"Wait just a moment," Severus said sharply, interrupting Whimsy's explanation of how the "program" he’d devised worked.  Lourdes snapped to attention thinking she’d been caught daydreaming.

"You made the things…that made this thing work?" Severus continued suspiciously, sounding a little more impressed by that than he probably intended. "This program thing, you made it work?"

"Yes," Whimsy replied kindly. The poor dear had bottomless patience it seemed - he'd spent 30 minutes trying to walk Lourdes through a riddle he'd brought up at their first meeting on a lark, but Lourdes unfortunately had never really gotten the hang of it.  It was so dead easy to get off track with this informant as he knew just about everything about anything, Severus had nearly been late getting them back to Hogwarts because while Lourdes couldn’t follow the riddles, she was always up for a conversation on Muggle parapsychology.

"Well that's rather like working up spells, isn't it?" Nymphadora interjected, wearing a slightly goofy smile that Lourdes recognized because she’d sported one while talking to Moody (who had his face screwed up in intense concentration - either trying to follow the conversation or considering the benefit of adding prunes to his diet. Lourdes couldn't be sure.)

Well wasn't that interesting. It gave Lourdes a most unsavory idea for revenge...

While Nymphadora probed the topic of how one put a computer together, Lourdes managed to catch Severus' eye.

Do you remember that spell you used on Potter in school? The one that turned him bright pink all over and made his tongue grow whenever he tried to talk to Evans?

A very wicked glint ran through Severus' eyes.  Who could forget?

What say you hit pinky there with it on our way out? See how she likes having her laundry dragged out in the open?

He looked over at her briefly, to size up the situation and turned back to Lourdes. It's a plan.

And it's dead hard to break too, Lourdes thought, letting a nasty smile settle firmly on her face before she tuned back into the conversation about "strings of code."

 

 

Alastor had given up on trying to follow Whimsy's explanation that was littered with unfamiliar Muggle terminology and was instead trying to remember exactly what an "Internet" was. He was sure he'd studied it in Auror training, and he knew it had to do with communications, somehow...

He wanted to ask Tonks, but she was paying rather rapt attention to the conversation, and so he decided not to interrupt. She could explain it to him later at the same time he had it out with her for making inappropriate comments in front of other Order members - Snape, no less!

Alastor leaned back uncomfortably in the armchair, feeling a stab of needle-like pain shoot up his calf as his good leg fell asleep. Oh well... he though to himself. This can't go on for TOO much longer...

Nearly twenty minutes later, Whimsy and Snape were showing no signs of slowing down. Tonks was still hanging on Whimsy's every word, and Lourdes the Evocator had shifted positions in her seat no less than seven times. Alastor stifled a groan and decided it was time to take matters into his own hands.

"Well," he interrupted loudly, sitting forward in his seat and clapping his hands a few times, "this has been fascinating."

Whimsy looked a bit surprised but recovered quickly. "Oh, I'm not quite finished yet."

"I think we're out of time," Alastor said, trying to sound disappointed. "What time is it, actually? You can check on your new watch," he added, reminding Whimsy of his new gift to keep him in a good mood.

"We have plenty of - " Snape started to say, but Lourdes cut him off.

"Yes!" she said rather enthusiastically, nodding. "I think Mad-Eye's right. We are running a bit late..."

Snape frowned and caught Lourdes' eye. At first, Alastor thought he was simply giving her one of his patented angry stares, but then he noticed that neither of them was blinking... A thought occurred to him, but, no... they couldn't be communicating with Occlumency! He watched interestedly.

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Tonks said from her corner of the couch. "Snape's right - we have plenty of time. And I thought you were taking the Order so seriously, Mad-Eye! This is an important briefing!" She smiled happily at Whimsy, who gave her a small grin back.

Lourdes broke eye contact with Snape, who immediately directed his gaze somewhere out past Whimsy's left shoulder.

I wonder what they were talking about, Alastor asked himself with a rather unusual burning curiosity.

 

 

“Whimsy, you know we appreciate all that you’ve done for the Order,” Lourdes said graciously, “with the brilliant...program thingies.  And as much as we adore meeting with you I’m afraid Severus and I have a few less pleasant meetings lined up as well.  Have we covered the basics or is there anything else we need to know?”

 

Severus turned his lip up at her and wished they’d had a bit more time, he was just starting to get the gist of the programming process which was remarkably like complex spell development…

 

Like the one he was going to cast on Nymphadora.

 

“No actually, I think all of you should be caught up.  If I need to meet with you later will you all be sending one of those Owls?” Whimsy replied cheerfully, closing the top off on his Bertie Botts and collecting his watch. 

 

“Owls?” Moody’s eyebrows shot straight up and he growled a bit.  “Intercept-able owls?”

 

“D’you know any better way to get in contact with a Muggle informant without scaring half the neighborhood?” Nymphadora replied, a hint of irritation present in her voice again.

 

“You…could always send me an email.  From a computer at the library,” Whimsy added helpfully.  “I’ve given all of you instructions.”

 

“That sounds perfect,” Severus said shortly.  He’d rather enjoy a trip back to the library…

 

“Definitely,” Nymphadora added, the flirty tone back in her voice.

 

Severus gave Lourdes a sideways look, and she stood up, shook Whimsy’s hand and made her way over to Mad Eye to offer a hand up out of his chair.

 

That was his cue.

 

Severus faked a magnificent fall, toppling Nymphadora who was trying to make her way over to Whimsy.  As he pretended to fumble and collect the contents of his folder, he fingered his wand, gave her a good poke in the ribs and placed the hex on her silently. Of course when he looked up he scowled immediately because Lourdes, having successfully helped Moody from his chair, was leaning in to press a kiss to each of his heavily scarred cheeks, presumably to distract him.  How very bloody European of her.

 

Severus grabbed her by the elbow on her way out, forgetting his good byes and pleasantries for Moody and Nymphadora entirely.  Once they were outside in the sunlight again he turned on his heel to face her and hissed,


”Was that little display really necessary?”

 

“Oh honestly, Mr Snape, didn’t you hear Nymphadora? He’s taken…”

 

 

Tonks gathered herself up from the floor as gracefully as she could, trying to save face, and she smoothed out her robes with a pleasant smile. "You would think," she said conversationally to Mad-Eye, "that Snape could come up with a better way to get back at me than pushing me over like a toddler."

Mad-Eye shrugged, looking rather bemused. "Thanks for your time," he said to Whimsy, taking a few uneven steps in the other man's direction and extending his hand. "The Order really appreciates all of your work."

"Least I could do," Whimsy said amicably, shaking his hand. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Mad-Eye. And you as well, Tonks." He let go of Mad-Eye's hand and reached for hers, which she shook firmly, making sure that her face didn't adopt the silly grin that was threatening another appearance. After a few seconds, they let go, and Tonks took a step backward and picked up her bag.

"We better go," she said to Mad-Eye, nodding with her head toward the door.

"Yeah," he said. "Okay." They said their final goodbyes and thanked Whimsy again, and a few moments later Tonks found herself stepping out into the blinding sunlight, with Mad-Eye right behind her under his invisibility cloak. Snape and Lourdes were standing a few feet away, deep in discussion - Tonks walked by them quickly, not wanting to intrude, though she couldn't resist a quick wink as Lourdes as she passed.

"That wasn't half bad," she said when they were a bit farther down the street, swinging her bag jauntily as she walked. "I rather enjoyed myself. Nice party. Nice fellow."

Invisible Mad-Eye grunted indistinctly from behind her left elbow.

"What are you so grumpy about now?" Tonks asked with a mock-sigh, though she knew perfectly well what was annoying him.

"You know perfectly well what annoyed me," he growled under his breath. Tonks chuckled and continued to step down the street.

 

 

Lourdes sincerely hoped Moody’s eye wasn't aimed in their direction, otherwise he might have seen the nasty little smiles she and Severus were sporting.

"It's a pity we won't be there when that goes off..." she said slyly, dipping into her coat pocket for her sunglasses.

"We'll hear about it. Lupin knows what it looks like, I'm sure they'll have to call him in to break it." There was a distinctly bitter note in Severus' voice there.

"Moody was grunting especially when he went by, do you think I've annoyed him?" Lourdes muttered nervously as they started back down the street. It would not do to annoy a personal hero and a coworker all in one fell swoop, but that cheek-kiss had been the first thing to spring to mind when she'd tried to remember how her pick-pocket "auntie" had distracted people before robbing them blind. Well, it was the only method that didn't require a prop arm or children.

"No one likes enduring a facial assault from an Evocator, Ms Mezarci. I rather think he thought you were trying to do something less innocuous." Severus said lightly.

He couldn't see her vicious glare on account of her sunglasses, but Lourdes entertained the thought of dumping the contents of his underpants drawer in the fire for that little remark. But she had a better idea. When they stopped at a quiet street corner on their way to the clump of trees in the neighborhood park that served as an Apparation point, she snapped her sunglasses up on top of her head and clamped one hand on his shoulder.

While she "assaulted" his cheeks the free hand dipped easily into his coat and trouser pockets - the wand went up her sleeve, the money was flipped into her waistband.

"There. We're even," she said coolly, as Severus scowled and rubbed his cheek. "What do you say we hit a cafe before we get back? It's on me..."

 

 

Alastor wondered, as he often did, if his proximity to Tonks made him feel younger or older. And he concluded, as always, that he had absolutely no idea.

"Well, honestly, it's not like I don't have eyes," Tonks said, grinning, as they came to a stop under an unfathomably tall leafy tree. "We've been partners for long enough that you ought to assume I know more about you than the few things you've spelled out in so many words."

Alastor rubbed his hand on his forehead. "I'm admitting nothing."

Tonks fixed him with an annoyingly amused stare, her hand resting on the thick bark of the tree trunk, before she said lightly, "You don't have to admit it, Alass-tor."

Alastor's head shot up as his brain registered Tonks' accent and particular emphasis on his name - he opened his mouth to protest angrily but snapped it shut again. Any response would only confirm Tonks' suspicions - and suspicions were all they were. She had no facts. She was bluffing.

Tonks had turned away to hide a smile and was now looking out over a small park that stretched out behind them. "This is where I leave you," she said, waving her arm out toward the park, where he spotted a lone figure sitting in the distance on a wooden bench. "But I'll be in touch with you tomorrow."

Leaning heavily against the tree, Alastor watched as Tonks headed down the winding path, a distinct spring in her step. The play of the spotted shadows cast by the sun poking through the leaves of the surrounding trees made her appear even more alive than usual, and for a long while he was content to merely observe her, half-bounding half-sailing toward the man on the bench, waving and calling out hellos until she was out of earshot. Once, when she was about half-way down the path, Tonks turned and waved cheerily back at Alastor, almost tripping over a crack in the pavement. He had grinned at that and waved awkwardly, in his own fashion - but she didn't see, because she had turned her attention back to the path in front of her, and she didn't look back.

Heaving his weight off the tree, Alastor began his slow, stumping walk down the street. Just as he was about to round the bend, he hazarded a glance back at Tonks and Remus with his magical eye. They were far in the distance now, but he spotted Tonks easily due to her obnoxiously pink hair... and face... and body?

"What, is she doing a flamingo impression?" Alastor muttered under his breath as he paused in some bemusement to watch a fully-pink Tonks flapping her arms about in some distress. Remus was bent over double, laughing, clinging desperately to the top of the bench for support.

Alastor shook his head dubiously and continued on his way.

 

//
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