Hi all! Here I am for Round 3 of the QLFC, once again as Captain of the Caerphilly Catapults! This round, I had to write within the confines of a word limit, which for me was 1751-2000, and I had to use the word 'catapult' in some way in my story! To my judge, I'm sure you know that FF is weird about word counts, but let me know if you need any kind of proof that my word count is 1995 on the dot, excluding Author's Note and the date at the top of the story.
Thanks a bunch!
23 June 1996
Tonks jogged after Mad-Eye and Kingsley towards the plain black door beyond which lay the Department of Mysteries, her heart hammering in her throat. She spared a glance over her shoulder at Sirius, who was looking more anxious than she had ever seen him, and Remus, whose expression was stony and tense.
Kingsley reached the door first, and they all entered a wide, round, dark room that contained nothing but more plain black doors and torch brackets full of blue flame. The second Remus closed the door, the walls creaked into motion, starting to spin dizzyingly around them.
"What's happening? Where are they?" Sirius asked over the roar of sound.
"It's a security measure!" Tonks yelled back, as the walls ground to a halt. She pointed at a door to her right that was emblazoned with a smoldering, fiery X, and said, "They've been here. Someone's marked that one, see?"
"Remember," said Mad-Eye, indicating a door behind Kingsley, which he moved to open, "disable any Death Eaters you see, but the priority is Potter and the kids—six total, Snape reckons—get them and yourselves out safely, if you do nothing else. Wands out."
"Do you hear that?" Tonks whispered as they crept along the short corridor. "Sounds like breaking glass…"
"Look," Remus said, and they all came to a stop before a tall wooden shelf full of small, sparkling glass objects. As they watched, it crashed to the floor, destroying everything it held—and then it reassembled itself, perfectly repaired. It fell again, smashing the glass objects into smithereens, and, just as quickly, repaired itself once more.
"Tonks, can you hear me?"
"They've been here, too," Moody muttered, looking around the dimly lit room and twitching his wand in the direction of the shelf. "Those are Time-Turners. Come—"
"Mad-Eye!" Tonks hissed. "Listen!"
They were all silent for a moment, straining to hear over the tinkling crash of the Time-Turners; Tonks caught Remus's eye, and she knew he had heard it too—muffled screaming, not far away. It was impossible to tell who it might be, but Sirius roared, "HARRY!"
Unable to restrain himself, Sirius catapulted past the Time-Turners, straight at one of two doors along the far wall. Even as they all pelted after him, Tonks could hear a peal of insane laughter echoing off the walls of the chamber beyond…
"Tonks, it's me—take it easy…"
Now the laughter was ringing in her head, and Bellatrix Lestrange was smiling evilly up at her, her eyes alight with a kind of malice that Tonks had never seen in a human face. Her stomach dropped, even as she raised her wand; there was recognition in that look, too. In a single movement, Tonks sent a streak of bright white light straight at Bellatrix, who blocked the spell with a shriek of fury, then returned with a volley of spells that hurtled, one after the other, directly at Tonks' feet.
"Dance, you little half-breed!"
Tonks did not want to open her eyes, but even through the whirl of sounds and images that filled her brain, her instinct was telling her that she needed to wake up. Someone was standing over her, and as this thought clunked through her mind, she noticed that she was bathed in sweat and her heart was racing. A second later, the pain hit her; she had never felt such pain as she did in this moment, though for an instant, she couldn't remember why…
Then her left side gave a throb, her chest tightened sharply, and she had a flash in her mind of Bellatrix Lestrange casting a curse that burned white-hot as it ripped Tonks' side open from ribs to hip—
"Tonks." The urgent voice that came from somewhere above her was hoarse and tense. "Can you hear me?"
Tonks realized that she was lying in a bed, neither bleeding freely nor dead, which meant that she was very likely all right, and that the person who spoke to her could only be a friend. She forced her eyes open; the room was dark, but it looked like a hospital room. She frowned, trying to push the fog out of her brain so she could think. Then a cold hand closed on hers, and Remus Lupin's face swam into view from the shadows.
"Remus?" she mumbled, feeling momentarily relieved at the sight of him. But the effort of speaking was accompanied by a burst of pain that shot through her whole body, setting every nerve aflame, and she went rigid.
"It's me," he said, worry etched in every premature line of his face. "I've been trying to wake you—I thought—" he broke off and cleared his throat. "You're at St. Mungo's."
"They're all alive. They're being tended to back at Hogwarts," said Remus. "But you've been badly hurt, so relax for a moment…"
Alive. Even in her haze of disorientation, the word tripped an alarm in Tonks' head. She opened her eyes and found Remus again; he wouldn't have specified that the kids were alive unless someone else was not…
Remus gave a sort of shudder; Tonks could feel his hand tremble in hers. "Sirius," he murmured.
Tonks gave half a gasp, and then nearly cried out in pain—she didn't know if it was the spell damage, the gaping wound in her side, or the very real pain of the loss that hurt most, but she felt tears start to slide down her cheeks.
"Easy," croaked Remus, his voice tight. "Take it easy…"
"I'm so sorry," she whispered. She couldn't find words that felt adequate; she wiped at her eyes with the back of her free hand. Remus seemed to be fighting to control himself, looking away from her so that she could only see his profile in the semidarkness. Neither of them spoke for several minutes.
It was Tonks who broke the silence at last, and again, speaking was like trying to push through a dense fog. "How—?"
"I've sent a message to your parents," Remus interrupted, evidently trying to avoid the topic of Sirius. "That was nearly an hour ago, I'm sure they'll be here soon."
Tonks blinked, her brain catching up slowly with what he said. "My parents…they know?"
"I thought they ought to," Remus told her. "Don't worry. I'll leave when they arrive."
"No, stay," Tonks said. "Don't go…"
"Dumbledore will need me," Remus replied. "I brought you straight here, I—I haven't heard what's happened since…"
"Please, Remus," said Tonks, squeezing his fingers. "Don't leave."
He met her eyes, looking pained. "Okay," he told her. "I'll stay for—for a little while. Now try to rest, will you?"
"How come you brought me here?" she asked hazily.
"What else would I have done?" Remus stared at her. "You—you were bleeding—"
"No, I meant—why you? Why not…Kingsley, or someone else?"
Remus stiffened. "I didn't realize—"
"Oh, that's not what I meant, and you know it...don't do your tortured soul bit for me," Tonks replied, and now, in spite of everything, she smiled at him. Her brain seemed quite disconnected from her mouth, and she was feeling foggier than ever; she couldn't have stopped the next words from coming out, even if she'd wanted to. "You're here…because of what I said…when I said…on guard duty…when I said I was falling for you…aren't you?"
"Tonks," Remus shook his head, "you've been through a lot. Go to sleep, get some rest."
Tonks frowned stubbornly and kept her eyes open; for a moment, he looked as though he were on the verge of smiling the way he always did when she picked a fight with him for fun. For a moment, it was just like any other night, like they were sitting in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place, chatting and having a drink with Sirius…but a second later, he looked sad and exhausted once more.
"Tonks, you're not thinking clearly," he said softly.
"I am," she insisted. "I'm very clear on what I'm feeling, Remus, and you are too. I know it. I can tell. I'm a very good Auror, you know. Can read people…"
"Tonks," he said, almost pleading. "You know that—"
"Know what?" she asked. "Don't know a thing."
Remus let go of her hand and drew back, looking away from her. "You know that my feelings aren't—that they don't matter, here."
"So you have got feelings," she said. They locked eyes, and for a glorious second, Tonks felt her pain melting away, like she was being lifted up by the words she was sure Remus was about to say…
"I can't, Tonks."
The floating sensation dissipated so quickly, Tonks was sure she felt herself fall. The pain returned to her side, sharper than ever. She steeled herself with a shaky breath and whispered, "Well...what'll we do now?"
Remus shook his head again. "I don't know. The others…"
"Not them, Remus. Us," she said. "What'll we do now?"
He looked as though he didn't know what to say. In the long stretch of silence in which Tonks felt a few more tears slide down her cheeks, she became distantly aware of a clock ticking somewhere in the room.
"I'm sure your parents will be here soon," said Remus. His hand moved to take hers again, and she suddenly felt so exhausted that she didn't have the strength to pull it away. "Try to sleep."
And although she wanted to sit up with Remus all night, to argue and argue until he had to see reason, the dark fog at the corners of Tonks' mind was threatening to overtake her once again; it was becoming hard for her to keep her eyes open. "You won't go, will you?" she asked, and her voice sounded far away, even to her own ears.
"No…no, of course I won't, Tonks," he replied, and the kindness in his voice made Tonks' stomach turn over the way it had the very first time she'd ever spoken to him.
"Call me Dora, okay?" she mumbled. The last thing she felt was Remus's hand tightening on hers—then, she drifted off into the blackness once again.
When Tonks opened her eyes again, all the lights were on in the room, and sunlight was streaming through the window. A few brilliant rays fell on a bouquet of daffodils that was sitting in a pitcher of water on the table beside her hospital bed.
"Nymphadora? Oh, thank Merlin, you're awake! Ted, wake up—"
"Let him sleep, Mummy," Tonks said, turning her head to see her mother looking pale and anxious as she leaned over her; her father slept under his cloak in a visitor's chair in the corner. She was still in a great deal of pain, but did her best to give Mum a smile. "I'm okay."
"That remains to be seen," her mother replied, looking into Tonks' eyes, switching immediately to her nurse's personality. "When was the last time you had any water? Have you eaten something?"
"Mum, please," Tonks said weakly. "Sit down, all right?"
Mum did, but did not release her hand; Tonks felt sure that she was having her pulse checked. To distract her mother, she said, "The flowers are beautiful. Thank you."
"Hm? Oh—that wasn't me, sweetheart. That was your friend who was here when we arrived," Mum told her.
Tonks' heart leapt into her throat. "What? They're—they're from Remus?"
Mum frowned. "No, dear, Kingsley. He's the Auror, isn't he? He was here when Daddy and I arrived…he brought the flowers, and said he would come back this afternoon…Dora?"
Tonks felt as though she'd lost the bottom of her stomach. "Wasn't anyone else here?"
"No, sweetheart…" Her mother looked puzzled. "Are you all right? You look terribly pale, shall I call someone?"
"No," Tonks said at once, trying to recover herself. She shook her head. "No, Mum…I—I'm all right."