AN: Sorry for the delay. Due to bad weather, misbehaving characters, and a misbehaving author, this chapter didn't get typed up until several days after I'd written it. Huggles again to Ayla for promoting Fred and George mischief (though I'm not quite sure what to make of her demands for a Tonks/Twins romance). Thanks for clicking, et j'aime tout le monde qui lit et répond!
Part III- Nunc aut Nunquam
"I am not doing that."
Tonks dropped the odd Muggle object she had been playing with on the kitchen table and rolled her eyes at Remus. She had expected a little resistance to her brilliant plan, true, but not outright denial. "You said you'd pay me back for the jumper."
Remus continued to stir his cauldron calmly. "I didn't know it would involve immature pranks. No."
"You know what you are, Remus Lupin? You are an insufferable git. Fred and George are always-"
"-acting like idiots, but they're also eighteen years old."
"And Dung's much worse, he's always bringing illegal things-"
"-home, but I don't condone Dung's behaviour, either. I promised to do something for you under the impression that it would neither endanger my life nor open myself up to Dumbledore's criticism. No, Tonks. That's my final answer."
She stuck her tongue out at him indignantly and returned to the cube. How Muggles could actually get the thing to show a different color on each face without magic was beyond her. The kitchen lapsed into an uncomfortable silence.
Tonks threw the toy (what had Arthur called it? A Ruby cube?) down again and tried to bring the topic back up. "They deserve it. They've been bugging me for months now. I swear, Fred and George must've sat down one day and decided that pissing off Tonks was an enjoyable experience."
Remus shook his head. "No."
"Please? You haven't seen half the stunts they've pulled. Like Apparating on top of my feet, or slipping fireworks under the door while I was sleeping. Just one good jinx should show them ... "
He cut in more sharply than she anticipated. Still not angry - Remus's self control was too strong for that - but fairly irritated. "I think I made my decision quite clear. If I do something to them, they'll turn on me. Having a scapegoat is useful."
Tonks winked at him. "Don't try to pull one over me. You're like the twins' idol. Remus Lupin, one of the creators of the Marauder Map; an example to all the young mischief-makers of the world. Seeking revenge on them for me would only give them another reason to venerate you. And if you take certain precautions to ensure that they don't immediately know the identity of their attacker, you could ... " She stopped, and returned to the cube. Remus looked up from his cooking interestedly.
"Well, that could - no, no. Don't plant ideas in my head. Besides, Mad-Eye would notice if his Invisibility Cloak was missing. He only has one."
She crossed her legs and thought hard. "Someone else has to own one. They're damn useful - I wish I could get one for my birthday. I mean, now that I'm a respectable adult, I would use it most of the time for Order business. And other stuff."
"Harry has an Invisibility Cloak," Remus said. "But he's staying with those awful Muggles; Dumbledore said he has to stay at Privet Drive through the end of July, at least."
"So we ask him if we could borrow it-"
He dropped some vegetables into the pot and frowned disapprovingly. "How do you propose we do that? Send a letter by owl post? 'Dear Harry - May we use your Invisibility Cloak to hex the Weasley twins? Leave it on the back doorstep Thursday night, and we'll return it to you as soon as possible.' "
Tonks snorted. "Don't be obnoxious. I'll contact Arabella, Apparate in, grab the cloak, leave a note and some sweets, and then return it once you-"
"No," he said emphatically. "Harry would feel like he's missing out, and that wouldn't be right. It's bad enough that he's forced to stay with the Dursleys most of the summer anyway."
Remus paused. His expression never changed, but Tonks noticed that his eyes were different - brighter - almost as though someone had lit a flame just behind his pupils. She leaned back casually and smiled. This was what she had waited nearly a year to see: plotting, furtive Remus, a wiser and more cautious version of the young mastermind behind some of the Marauders' most elaborate schemes.
And he looked ... happier. Perhaps the stratagem brewing in his mind had dampened the great sense of loss he always seemed to carry- never voiced, but always present. Sometimes, that damn grief was so pronounced that it hurt her just to see him moping mutely around headquarters. Yet for once, Remus Lupin was almost happy.
She tinkered with her cube for a few more seconds, trying to make one of the faces full of only blue boxes. She knew she couldn't erase the pain behind Sirius's and the Potters' deaths, but she had found a way to help: give Remus other things to think about.
He wasn't going to back out of this prank now.
"But you must know someone else who has a cloak."
He affected surprise. "Why would you say that?"
"Oi, come now. I might not have been good at Divination, but your aura is pulsing with tomfoolery."
"Well," Remus said, dragging out the suspense by pretending to inspect his cauldron, "Once, James and I had a conversation about Invisibility Cloaks. You see, he wasn't the only one at Hogwarts with one ... granted, she was several years above us, but that doesn't matter."
Tonks abandoned all pretense of playing with the cube and slammed it down on the table in frustration. "Don't be a bloody prick, Remus!"
"I was getting there. I'm surprised you were never privy to this piece of information. Andromeda Black owned a cloak."
She stared at him blankly. "What? My mum? How she'd get that?"
He tested the stew and added a few spices. "Your grandfather. Apparently, each of the Black sisters got a special gift on their seventeenth birthday. I think Narcissa asked for an enchanted mirror-"
"No, not exactly. An enchanted mirror that forced a person who passed it to reveal their true intentions. Lucius Malfoy has employed a similar charm on the main hallway in the Malfoy Manor. That's why we haven't tried to penetrate it yet."
Tonks tapped the cube lazily with her wand tip and barely watched as it snapped into the proper arrangement. "Ick. Narcissa always was an evil nutter. Bellatrix?"
He placed his ladle on the table and shook his head. "I never heard what she got. Probably something quite vile."
"And chock-filled with Dark magic. Why did Mum never tell me she has a cloak?"
Remus just gave her a smug smile as he searched for clean dinnerware. "She most likely knew that her daughter would try to 'borrow' it and use it to promote bad behaviour."
Tonks accepted a plate from him quietly and picked at the lumps of potato and carrot in her stew, trying to find a new way to convince him.
She settled for some pointless small talk while her brain sweated its way through her current puzzle. "We never have any variety in meals here. D'you know that?"
"Oh yes?" he asked, spooning the mush absently.
"Of course yes. Today's Tuesday, and I came home on Friday. And we have had soup or stew every single day. I'm bloody sick of it."
Remus swallowed his mouthful and looked reflective. "You don't say. What would you prefer?"
She stabbed a piece of roast with the end of her spoon and nearly overturned the entire plate onto her lap. "Well, fish and chips would be nice. I haven't had them in a long time. Steak and kidney pie, with a treacle tart for dessert. Or ... takeout. Muggle takeout," she clarified, watching Remus glance up attentively.
"Tell you what," she continued, trying to flick some crumbs onto her napkin but actually dropping them on her new shirt. "I'll make you a deal. You jinx Fred and George and ... um ... make me treacle tarts for a week; I'll pinch the cloak from my mum's house, pick up some Chinese food this weekend, and hex the next person who rings the doorbell."
"The next person? Kingsley knows not to use it, Mad-Eye is out, the twins just Apparate ... " He stopped, and his eyes regained that devious gleam. "Mundungus."
Tonks smiled wickedly. "Exactly."
Remus rubbed his face, clearly comparing the virtues of getting back at Dung (he'd left a huge shipment of cracked Foe glasses in the library two days ago, and even Mad-Eye was peeved with him) to the perks of retaining order. Mischief seemed to triumph, though, for he nodded at her and smirked faintly. "Despite the inkling that I'm getting in over my head, I agree. I hope you have some good, obscure curse in mind."
"Something like that."
She didn't have much time to plan out her defence. The doorbell clanked ominously moments later, soon accompanied by the shrill cries of Mrs. Black - muted in the kitchen, but unfortunately still audible. Throwing a quick glance at Remus, Tonks shot to her feet, knocked over her chair, and ran up the stairs to the hallway. Remus followed a few steps behind, and as they neared the threshold he motioned her towards him.
"I'll deal with the portrait, then nip in the coat closet. Best to cherish a bit of evilness before my conscience seizes control again."
"Ha. Watch, I'll hex him before his bloodshot little eyes even recognize where he is."
He shot her a disapproving look, and she snickered. "Just in good fun!"
Remus pulled out his wand and then grabbed hold of one of the curtains, muttering what sounded like a Fermesce Charm under his breath. After several seconds, during which Mrs. Black's insults increased in both vehemence and volume, the hangings snapped shut and the commotion ceased. He sprinted to the closet and pushed his way inside, leaving the sliding door open a crack.
Tonks walked towards the doorway, yanked her wand out of her back pocket, and tapped the front door once with her wand tip. Trotting to the bottom of the staircase, she sank into a crouch - lost her balance - got back up - fell over backwards - tried to ignore the muffled laughing noises issuing from the closet - finally assumed a comfortable position - and watched the door.
She heard rather than saw the locks click open and the heavy chain slide out of its latch, her eyes focused on the wood floor as she desperately searched her memory for a short but nasty curse. Her Stinging Hexes tended to produce not welts by horrid, painful boils; a Hair Warp jinx, while producing amusing results, was slightly difficult to reverse. But last summer Ginny had shown her a modified hex that was wickedly annoying ...
Rising unsteadily to her feet, she wiped the wide grin off her face and assumed a look of careful concentration as she pointed her wand at the door. The handle wobbled slowly, then as the last click sounded the door swung open and a dark figure stomped onto the welcome mat.
Tonks flicked her wand at the end, adding the little twirl that Ginny had taught her to increase the number of bat bogeys, and giggled victoriously.
But in a few seconds' time she began to realise that something was wrong. The man was too tall to be Dung; and as she crept forward for a closer look, she noted that his fashionable black clothing was a bit too nice for the thief. He bobbed his head wildly, clawing at the fluttering nuisances flying around his face, then stumbled into the light.
He had a ponytail. A red ponytail. A bright red ponytail.
"Bill!" she hissed.
"Tonks! What the-" He cut off, swearing and waving his hands at the crazily flapping things.
Stifled laughter drifted over from the direction of the closet.
"I thought that-"
"You're bloody - umph - dead!"
"Merlin's arse, Tonks!"
The sniggering abruptly changed to choking noises.
"I didn't mean-" she began quietly.
"Sodding - ow - bugger!"
"Sorry sorry sorry-"
"What were - euh - you thinking?"
"Oh, Bill ... "
"JUST SAY ... THE COUNTERCURSE!" Remus screamed from the closet. "GOD, I CAN'T BREATHE!"
The curtains flew open again, and Mrs. Black launched into another round of abuse. Tonks flicked her wand half-heartedly at Bill and turned to see Remus emerging from the closet, an old trench coat wrapped around his neck in a stranglehold. She groaned.
"I think I'll go crawl in a hole now and die."