Table of Contents and Summary So Far
Robards appeared for a check-in on Wednesday morning with Sarah Mason--a middle-aged Auror who Tonks knew only vaguely--in tow, and informed Dawlish that he was supposed to have instructed Tonks to take a few days off more than a week ago. Mason would be able to cover for her official duties. "We don't give time off because we're kindly uncles," he said. "We give time off because burned-out Aurors are careless Aurors. And Tonks, I can't control what you do with your days, but do yourself, us, and your other friends a favor by using them to refresh your mind a bit."
Tonks paled. "Has my work been off? I--"
"Your work has been quite adequate. So far. I would like it to stay that way."
Tonks owled Dumbledore and asked what the Order needed, and got a response from McGonagall, who was handling his correspondance while he was away from the school.
Dear Miss Tonks,
I mean to speak to Albus about these scattered assignments of yours. Hagrid and I are capable of watching the Forest, and I believe we've heard enough to know that the local wags in Hogsmeade are not taking more interest than usual in Albus's comings and goings. Since I know you will not agree to simply take time off, I will request that you go to headquarters and speak to Shacklebolt and Moody regarding our sticky-fingered acquaintance, but for heaven's sake, Miss Tonks, visit with your parents, see your friends, and take in a Quidditch game if you fancy one. I have certainly not given up enjoying Quidditch matches here, nor has young Harry. Life goes on, and Mr. Robards is quite right that not living it is certain to have consequences.
Tonks read it over, slightly irritated at the scolding tone, but there was no particular recourse. She packed a suitcase to go stay with her parents, briefed Mason on the ongoing investigations, and Apparated to London.
Mum and Dad were glad to have her, but quite busy. There was a vicious outbreak of Morphosia Fever in Sri Lanka, causing dozens of wizards to change shape without plan or control, and usually without warning. Three wizards so far had died during particularly abrupt changes.
"They want me to come," Mum said. "I spent so much time studying disorders related to shapeshifting when you were small, I'm apparently considered something of an authority on the subject."
"You're the authority on the subject, Mum," Tonks said.
"I try to tell her that," Dad agreed.
"Then we're all in trouble, because I've barely scratched the surface."
The next morning, Tonks wandered into Diagon Alley, shopping for nothing in particular and coming out with several new sets of robes whose colors she couldn't remember once they'd been wrapped in brown paper. She charmed them to be feather light and slung them over her shoulder, wondering what she was meant to do next. She spotted Bill Weasley across a small square, but just as she was about to go and say hello, Fleur came out of a shop and they walked off holding hands and looking happy. Tonks didn't think they'd appreciate an interruption.
Finally, her feet carried her to Florean Fortescue's shop, still cordoned off by hexes. She didn't have her talisman with her, so she couldn't pass them to go inside. Instead, she crossed the street and looked at the front window. It was boarded now, but she remembered how it had shattered. Whoever had broken it had been standing near where she was... for how long, though? How long had they watched him? How long--
"Tonks?" Robards had come up beside her, looking annoyed. "What are you doing here?"
"Shopping," Tonks said, showing him her packages.
"Fortescue's is closed."
"There's, er... well, there's an apothecary further down the way. I need to restock some..."
"Don't give me that." He sighed and pointed to a nearby bench. They went to it and sat down. "I pegged you for any number of things when I went through your file upon getting this post," he said. "Being a crushing, work-obsessed bore wasn't one of them."
"Oh, thank you very much."
"I didn't mean that to be unkind."
"What would you say to be unkind? No, never mind. I don't care to know."
Robards turned slightly, orienting himself toward her. "You're an extraordinary Auror, Tonks. I don't say that to everyone. You have sharp instincts and good intuition. But you're slipping. Your work is still excellent in comparison to other people, and certainly adequate to the tasks at hand, but in comparison to yourself, you're slipping."
"None of us are doing very well this year. Stan Shunpike? Please."
"What would you have us do with someone who confesses in public?"
"Give him a couple of months in light security for spreading panic and making a false confession, and let him go with a really hard slap on the wrist."
Robards smiled. "I should have expected that you'd actually answer that. Well, leave it to the Wizengamot and Rufus."
"Rufus Scrimgeour--" She stopped, trying not to think about how unpleasant Scrimgeour had been last year, his sharp mind and suspicious nature applied to nothing more than trying to ferret out Cornelius Fudge's enemies. "I sometimes wonder why I work for the Ministry at all."
"We all do." He shrugged when she raised an eyebrow at him. "Well, we do. How special do you imagine you are? The Ministry can be quite horrid, except when compared to nearly any other wizarding government in the world. And it's certainly better than either anarchy or our current alternative."
"I think we all have an idea of what it's supposed to be, and we compare it to that instead to the rest of the wo--Tonks? What is it?"
Tonks felt the blood drain out of her face as she glanced up over Robards shoulder. Standing in the shadows of a narrow alley was a tall, skinny shadow with bright eyes and wild hair. She stood up. "Remus?"
"I'm sorry, Gawain. I have to cut our little pep talk short. Could you watch my packages here?"
Robards nodded as she left, but she'd have left them there even if she was certain someone would steal them. She ducked into the alley, and it twisted away into darkness. She caught a glimpse of Remus scuffling around the next twist and followed him. It came out into a wider back area, walled in on three sides except for a tiny alley even Remus wasn't thin enough to slip into. He stood with his hands on his hips, looking confused.
What in the name of God had happened to him?
"Remus," she said.
"Go away. Go back to your friend."
"He's my boss, not my friend, and I'm off duty."
"He's old for you. Even older than I am. Too old."
Patient. Be patient. "Again, he's my boss. And he's already juggling two women. And I have an odd reticence to go out with someone who's cheating by going out with me. I doubt men like that would suddenly become faithful. More to the point, Robards is simply out of the question for a simpler reason."
"He's not you. Most men suffer from that particular malady."
"Lucky them." He turned to look at her, and she saw that he was covered head to toe with scratches, and his eyes were wild. "Go away, Tonks. I don't want to see you."
She took a short, sharp breath, remembering Dumbledore's advice to be patient with him, remember that something horrible had happened. She tried to tell herself that he was playacting because Greyback was somewhere nearby--a possibility that seemed bright and welcome--but she'd never known him to be this good an actor where she was concerned. "You were the one watching me," she said. "Let me help you."
She took a few steps forward, and he took a few sideways steps along the wall. "I mean it," he said. "You need to stop this. If he's just your boss, fine, but go talk to someone else. I have nothing. I'm nothing. You have to move on from this, Dora. You have to move on."
He blinked in total incomprehension.
"I'll stay away now if it's what you actually need. But I'm not bloody 'moving on.'" She stepped aside.
He looked at her for a moment, his eyes taking her in completely, then he stepped forward and went around her, disappearing down the alley. Tonks breathed deeply, closing her eyes, her head pounding. After awhile, she went back and got her packages (Robards gave her what seemed a genuinely sympathetic look).
She wanted to settle in for a long talk with Dad, to get him to talk about Remus and Greyback, anything he knew. She could get him to talk if she tried, she knew it. But when she got there, her parents had a visitor.
Sitting at the kitchen table, sipping tea and speaking in a low and confidential voice, was Narcissa Malfoy.
Mum's eyes were both wary and sympathetic; Dad, leaning against counter was flatly suspicious. Aunt Narcissa looked drawn and tired, but Tonks didn't trust her and further than she could be hexed.
"Hello, Auntie," she said.
Narcissa nodded to her. Between them was the memory of a day in the spring, when Tonks had found her outside Grimmauld Place and threatened to "have her for something," and Narcissa had practically dared her to try. "Hello, Nymphadora," she said coolly.
"I saw Uncle Lucius last week."
Narcissa's cool composure broke away. "You saw him? At Azkaban? Is he well? That horrid place...!"
"The Dementors are gone. He's probably a bit uncomfortable, but he's well, and worried for you. I took the liberty of telling him you missed him. I suppose it wasn't my place, but..."
"Thank you." The words carried no trace of sarcasm or irony. Narcissa's composure returned. "That was kind."
"You're my mother's sister. I've been raised to care about such things. So I probably won't poison you and--"
"Nymphadora," Mum cut her off.
"I've heard rumors as well," Narcissa said. "I won't say where, but you did well to rid yourself of that werewolf. Do you know he's going about saying it's because you thought he would get Sirius's money and left him when he didn't?"
Tonks went cold. "Whoever is he telling that to, Auntie?"
"As I said... rumors. He's keeping some unsavory company." She pulled a newspaper from her bag--a Muggle newspaper, much to Tonks's surprise. "I thought your Mum would be glad to hear that you were away from that monster now." She smoothed it out on the table.
Tonks didn't need to search for which article Aunt Narcissa meant. It was off in a lower corner of the page and she hadn't circled it, but only one made sense.
Partially consumed body raises fears of feral dogs
"Happened under the full moon," Narcissa said, and her solicitous voice now had a cruel undertone to it. "And rumor--just word on the grapevine, as it were--has it that your ex has gone off his vegetarian diet."
"That's it," Dad said. "That's bloody it."
Tonks's mind was spinning, but one thing was suddenly very clear. Narcissa was in contact with Fenrir Greyback. If she knew what this was and who had been involved, then only Fenrir could have told her. And information could flow two ways.
"Don't worry about it, Dad," she said, hoping that fatigue would make her sound distant and disinterested. "Narcissa's right. Good thing I dumped him. And he's saying it was my fault? Bloody cad was all over town on me. Thinks being a wolf should let him be a dog."
Mum's eyes widened and Dad looked dumbfounded, but neither of them contradicted her.
Narcissa stayed for an interminable amount of time, and Tonks registered nothing that she said. She left the newspaper on the table. As soon as she had Apparated out, Tonks grabbed it, read the article over and over, and chose a focus.
Whatever she did, she was going to make sure that Fenrir Greyback paid for this.