1. Chapter 1 by Dionde
"Honestly, this is absolutely ridiculous!" Tonks had been quiet for hours, but she couldn't keep it in any longer. "We're wizards, we can Apparate. No need to trudge through rotting leaves for miles when we can just arrive directly where we want to go. Didn't they teach Apparition at Hogwarts in ye olden days?" She regretted her tirade as soon as she had finished it. This wasn't Emmeline or even Kingsley, this was a bloke who had been in the original Order. He would probably have her strung up for sacrilege.
"Last time I checked, Stealth and Tracking was on the Auror curriculum. Did they abolish it in Voldemort's temporary absence?" Lupin sounded amused rather than pissed off. Someone had been telling tales, though – her money was on Emmeline.
Tonks was grateful he was behind her. "It might in fact not have been my best subject."
"I see. Should I be concerned that my first partner on an Order mission in fourteen years has a poor track record with stealth?" At least he didn't sound very worried.
"I don't know. Should I be concerned that I'm trekking through the woods with a werewolf? My granny used to warn me off that sort of thing." Her bloody mouth! It just ran off on its own accord, and now she had really stepped into it. That was probably the last thing the poor bloke wanted brought up.
He was right behind her, so Tonks couldn't see his expression. There were no clues in his tone of voice, either. "Would this grandmother be Drusilla Black, by any chance? I imagine she would have a thing or two to say about people like me."
"No, it was my Muggle granny, actually. Didn't end well for Little Red Riding Hood, did it?"
"That depends on the details, surely. Maybe her grandmother left her a significant inheritance." This time he did sound amused, and Tonks relaxed a little.
"Ha! Lots of empty gin bottles, more like it." Tonks forced her way through what seemed like an endless stretch of wet branches, trying not to let them hit Lupin on the rebound.
"Or maybe she put her newfound observational skills to good use and entered a new career as a private eye?" Lupin suggested.
"That would be of no bloody use to me. Haven't you realised by now that any sort of delicate behaviour is beyond me?" Tonks gave up her battle with the branches when one slapped her in the face. It was full of slimy, rotting leaves that had no business still being attached to the tree. Wasn't the whole point of autumn that leaves were supposed to fall to the ground?
“I'm glad to hear that. Having my partner insist upon dealing with our opponents politely has always made me rather apprehensive.”
Blimey, he was quick on the uptake. “That was a lot of words with many syllables. Are you planning to test me later?” she asked.
“Sadly, my time for giving tests is over.”
“Well, if you actually liked teaching the little rascals I'm sorry, but I can't say I am. Never liked tests, myself.” Given her poor performance in Stealth and Tracking, that may not come as a surprise to him.
The last bit came out as a mutter due to Tonks' attention being diverted to her suddenly wet feet. “Watch out, bit of a damp patch here.” She was just about to pull out her wand to cast a Drying Charm when she remembered the reason they were experiencing the joys of the countryside in the first place. If the Death Eater wards were strong enough to detect Apparition miles away, they would probably pick up on her trying to warm up her tootsies.
As they approached the dilapidated farmhouse, Tonks didn't have to try very hard to contain her non-existent excitement. The building was on the list of suspected Death Eater hangouts because it had once belonged to Yaxley's aunt. Judging by the way the roof was sagging dangerously in the middle between two ridges, no one had paid it much attention since she died in 1957.
Yet, here they were – the Order of the Phoenix of 1995 had so little to go on that every scrap of information had to be followed up. Voldemort had to be hiding somewhere.
It was, however, extremely unlikely for him to be in this hovel. They would be more likely to find Katrina von Glockenspieler of the German Quidditch team hiding inside, smiling and offering them her autograph. One look at Lupin told Tonks he agreed with her.
Still, neither of them spoke as they advanced under cover from the thick undergrowth that seemed to consist entirely of brambles, making it an extremely unpleasant experience to crawl through it.
Tonks didn't complain out loud, though (what she was thinking didn't count). She was a professional and it was all in a day's work – even when she didn't get paid. Also, Moody would never bloody shut up about it if her whining made Voldemort or any of his followers slip out of their fingers.
Hiding behind a particularly large bush, she pointed her wand to the left. Lupin nodded. Then he started crawling in the same direction, which wasn't what she had planned. This sort of thing was better left to professionals. As she couldn't come up with a way of stopping him that wouldn't rumble them if anyone was watching, she had to settle for an undignified, fast crawl.
Her face was almost in his bum before she caught up. Unlike some wizards, Lupin had actually seen real Muggles in the past decades, and hadn't committed any worse crimes against fashion than settling for brown corduroy. She had to tug at the hem of his trousers repeatedly before he stopped. Lupin just shrugged when she pointed back to the bush and continued crawling ahead.
“Oh, for fuck's sake,” Tonks mumbled, but she bit her tongue and followed him. They almost made it to the door before they ran out of brambles. By then it didn't matter anymore. The door dangled uncertainly from loose hinges, the interior of the house clearly visible through the gaps between the planks. It helped that most of the roof on this side was missing, so the unholy mess inside could be seen in broad daylight.
Weeds were growing through the floorboards, disguising the signs of inhabitation strewn around. Old copies of the Daily Prophet littered the floor, and there was a truly spectacular mould patch where someone had abandoned a sandwich. A bottle of Firewhiskey was propped up by the hearth, three fingers' worth of whiskey remaining. Someone's dress robes were draped on the back of a chair, quite some time ago judging by the bird nest in a one of the pockets.
It was glaringly obvious no one had been here for months.
“Of all the filthy buggers...” Tonks moaned, knowing Moody would expect a report listing every single item. Including the dead rat by the fireplace. “If my dad wasn't Muggle-born I'd haul him in for questioning. The only place I've seen that is worse that this is his shed at home.” She wrinkled her nose at the wellies left by the door. Hopefully it was only dragon muck that had left the stains on them.
“I think we can rule out this being Voldemort's secret hideout,” Remus said. Tonks had already started turning around to glare at him – he had seemed so clever and funny before, and now this – when he continued. “Puce definitely isn't his colour, so those can't be his robes.”
“You almost had me there,” Tonks admitted. She waved her wand at the horribly stained robes – human blood wasn't usually that colour, was it? – in order to record them on her list.
“Tut, tut. Aurors didn't use to be so gullible in my day.” Lupin had cottoned on to what she was doing and copied her charm to add a dog-eared copy of ‘Loony Nonby v.s. Cornish Pixie’.
The slight wistfulness in his tone annoyed her. “Yeah, you must be all of – what, thirty-four?”
“Definitely old codger territory, then,” Tonks said. “Just look at Dumbledore. Oh, wait – he's a hundred-and-thirty-five. Or something like that,” she amended when Lupin looked sceptical.
“I think you'll find he's about a hundred-and-thirteen,” he said, poking his wand at the pile of old newspapers.
“The details are unimportant. He's ancient, just like you – gets up three times in the middle of the night to take a piss and needs glasses to read the headlines.” Tonks put down 'Daily Prophet, 2nd of July 1994'. If Moody wanted the articles he could come and look them up himself.
“How in Merlin's name do you know how often Dumbledore goes to the loo?” Lupin didn't seem to know whether to laugh or recoil, and Tonks cursed her tendency to talk without thinking. He was too easy to talk to; she kept forgetting she'd only known him since this afternoon.
“I was talking in general. About signs of ageing,” she explained with as much dignity as she could muster, trying very hard not to think about Dumbledore's toilet habits.
“I see. Perhaps I'm not a quite that old, yet.” He looked utterly serious, but there was a smile in his voice as he Levitated a table so she could look beneath it.
“I think we can agree this has been a complete waste of time,” Tonks said as she jotted down the last item on her list – an almost empty bottle of Firewhiskey. It had something growing in it, but she refused to go and see what it was. Even she had limits.
“Don't say that. We know at least one of them has an approximate reading age of eleven,” Lupin said. “That should narrow it down.”
She laughed, despite being elbow deep in mould and other unsavoury substances, despite having wasted her only day off this week on a wild goose chase. “Maybe not. At least I got to know you. You're not too bad, Remus Lupin.”
“You're not too bad yourself, Nymphadora Tonks.” The mellow light from the setting sun softened the lines on his face, and for a moment he seemed young and carefree.
“You were doing so well, and then you had to go and balls it up,” she complained. “Never call me Nymphadora and we'll get on like a house on fire.”
“I used to think it meant the opposite,” Remus said. “People hating each other and having huge fights.”
“You don't seem the type to have screaming fights with anyone.” He was so restful, for want of a better word. Some blokes couldn't shut up about themselves, what great wizards they were. Remus was the opposite: he made you curious to find out more about him, rather than wishing he would shut up.
“You would be surprised.” His smile lit up his face, and it occurred to Tonks that his was the sort of face you could fall in love with. It wasn't handsome, or noble – it was only that it seemed just right, somehow. Like someone you could imagine coming home to at the end of a long day, and he would make you laugh and forget about paperwork and Dark wizards.
As the last bit of golden sunlight finally disappeared behind the treetops, she gave her hair a good shake to get rid of the cobwebs. Hopefully they would take any romantic notions with them. The only thing she was worse at than Stealth and Tracking was love.