"Evenin' Snarkypants," Tonks said as she swung into the booth at The Three Broomsticks.
Snape looked up for a moment. "And how was your afternoon, dearest?" In the dim amber light of the inn's common room, Tonks couldn't read his expression - not that there was likely anything there that brighter lighting would have revealed.
"Just peachy. After our little interview with Ms. Skeeter – whom I've decided to invite to the wedding, by the way – I penned a quick letter to my mum and then spent the rest of the afternoon chasing down minor Death Eaters."
"Good to hear, dear," Snape said. He toyed with a mug of butterbeer while another sat beside it untouched. "I am pleased to see that you're not bleeding any unusual colors this evening."
Tonks spared a glance at the jagged, half-healed cut on her forearm. "Thought I'd go with the traditional color tonight."
"It is most becoming on you."
"Thank you." Tonks smiled the tight little smile that Snape seemed to bring out in her while she waited for the other shoe to drop.
A slight twist in his lips warned her of the imminent arrival of one of his acidic comments. "And I notice your unerring sense of style prompted you to coordinate your hair with it."
"Well, yes. Red is for romance after all." Tonks pointed her finger Rita Skeeter-style at the untouched butterbeer. "Is that my beverage?"
Snape inclined his head briefly and slid the mug across the table to her. "It is indeed."
She caught the mug without spilling more than a drop or two and sniffed critically at the contents before drinking from it. "Y'know, every time you give me something to drink, I can't shake the feeling that you've poisoned it."
The twist in Snape's lips widened into a grin. "That, my dear Nymphadora, is what living with Alastor Moody will do to you."
"And what will living with you do to me?" she wondered aloud.
His eyes shifted away from her almost guiltily. "Ideally this arrangement will not last long enough for that to be an issue."
"Ideally?" Tonks asked, leaning forward like she would've if they had been seated across an interrogation table. "Does that mean you are considering the possibility that this might not end... 'ideally'?"
Snape matched her stare. It might have been a trick of the low light, but Tonks thought she saw the faintest of glimmers in his dark eyes. "I would not be the wizard I am if I didn't."
"I suppose I'll grant you that one," Tonks said, smiling slightly. Just then, she caught sight of the Weasley twins. "Behave yourself," she warned Snape. "We need them to wreak havoc and mayhem."
"Why if it isn't the lady with the bat herself!" Fred exclaimed jovially.
"And the bat himself!" George added.
Fred nodded at each of them with mock-officiousness. "Miss Snape, Mr. Tonks – so good to see you."
"Percival," Snape acknowledged without missing a beat.
"Ooh - low blow, Professor." Fred looked more amused than annoyed by Snape's greeting. "Pleasantries aside, WWW hears you are in the market for specialty foodstuffs."
"And we are here to oblige," George added, brandishing a brief case. "May we join you?"
Tonks gave up her bench to the twins and sat beside Snape. "I thought I said 'no samples.' "
George looked affronted. "Merely pricing brochures and informational pamphlets."
"Only one sample, in point of fact," Fred corrected, removing what could only be described as a shapeless knick-knack from his pocket and placing it in the middle of the table. "A prototype Eaves-Dropper. Less obvious than a charm, it scrambles the immediate conversation for anyone listening in and replaces it with innocuous and utterly incoherent babble."
George snorted. "The only minor glitch it seems to have is a tendency to make people think we're speaking like American Muggles."
"We're still ironing that part out," Fred admitted. "Now, then, we thought we would start out the evening with a light sampling of the more or less undetectable products and potions," he smoothly launching into what sounded like a practiced sales pitch. "An open bar and the finger snacks that Tonks suggested. Mostly recreational substances, such as Confusing and Befuddlement Draughts and Babbling Beverages… perhaps an Elixir to Induce Euphoria or two. This, of course, would be mostly in your purview, Professor. Something to ease them into the festivities without alerting them. If the canapés start turning people into canaries, for instance, people might become a little suspicious."
"I think I can manage something appropriate," Snape said.
"We have ever confidence in your ability, Professor."
George grinned at him. "Moving on to the main course… "
Tonks took a sip of her butterbeer and then set the mug down again abruptly. "If you'll excuse me for a moment, I should visit the loo." She edged herself out of the booth. "You gentlemen continue to plot amongst yourselves."
Snape raised an inquiring eyebrow.
"I didn't use the little witches' room before I left the office. I'll be back before you miss me, I promise."
There was a glimmer of almost appreciative amusement in his eyes. "I think we can be certain of that."
Tonks inclined her head regally to him before pivoting on one heel and making her way to the washroom. "Ta."
Once she was ensconced in the relative safety of the women's washroom, she fished a tiny bottle from the inside pocket of her robe and downed the clear liquid in a single gulp. "Bloody wanker." She'd been expecting something like this after he asked her to pick up the powdered pearl from Slug and Jigger's... and it wasn't as if she could have missed the shimmering potion in his lab this morning. "I could brew a mild draught…" indeed! Who did he bloody well think he was dealing with? It was an insult... personal, professional... whatever. A bleeding insult to her to assume that she'd be such an easy mark.
"We'll see about that." Tonks splashed a little cold water on her face and shared a conspiratorial grin with her reflection in the glass. This was a game two could play.
As she approached the table again, Tonks strained her ears to hear the conversation, testing out this Eaves-Dropper device. Snape was saying something that she could barely make out. "...I know it – A way up to the roof... There was a party – celebration – all of a sudden they were – you don't work for Nakatomi..."
It was admittedly odd to hear Snape speaking with an American accent. "Who doesn't work for wossname?" she asked as she swung in next to him.
"What were you saying?"
George took a sip of his butterbeer and then wiped his mouth. "We were setting a date."
"Congratulations," Tonks said. It seemed appropriate at the time, even if it wasn't a particularly brilliant remark. "So no one mentioned working for anyone or rooftop parties?"
Snape just looked at her quizzically, but Fred grinned broadly. "I see our Eaves-Dropper is preforming satisfactorily."
"You were right about the accent bit, though," Tonks told them. "Makes it sound a mite suspicious." She paused momentarily when she turned her head to look at Snape. There was something she ought to be doing, and it involved making the bastard pay. It just came down to finding the courage to do it.
"The date, dear," Snape reminded her. "We need to choose one."
It was time for Tonks to do something very brave. The problem, of course, was bringing herself to do it. You're a bloody Auror, she reminded herself, you can do this. Beneath the table, so the twins wouldn't see, she reached out and put her hand on Snape's leg. She made herself look into his eyes and watched as he didn't react at all. Just for that, she started to slide her hand up his leg. "Let's do it as soon as possible, snookums dearest."
"How's Saturday for you?" A hand covered hers under the table, preventing it from traveling any farther. Long fingers traced a pattern on the back of her hand and her wrist. It could almost have seemed absent-minded the way his fingers ghosted over her hand, except that she was well aware that he never did anything that wasn't entirely deliberate and exhaustively premeditated. So, Snape seduces, she thought almost academically. The reference to academics thrust her back to her school days and she was suddenly reminded of how very odd this situation would have seemed to her seventeen-year-old self. Downright pervy, she decided, and not in the good way.
A flash of anger cleared away her Snape-induced distraction. He seduces a woman in a drugged state – one that he put her in himself, the bastard. "It can't come soon enough." She linked fingers with him and squeezed his hand. "I'll owl my mum later and let her know. So, how are our plots progressing?"
Damn the man, but he still looked perfectly normal. "Well enough, I think. Between us, we should be able to provide what we need... and Minerva has been so kind as to 'volunteer' her services as well, so we will have an extra wand there."
Tonks was momentarily taken aback. "Minerva... McGonnagal? Isn't she more of a rules type?"
Snape chuckled. "Only when they're her rules."
George nodded sagely. "We'd noticed that during the Umbridge occupation. We'll contact her tomorrow."
Tonks frowned. "Is she going to tell Dumbledore... or are we going to tell Dumbledore?"
"No doubt he already knows or suspects enough. This is the sort of thing that the Headmaster finds..." Snape paused for a moment as he searched for the appropriate word. "Fun. I wouldn't want to spoil his surprise."
"Y'know, as long as we're holding the wedding at Hogwarts, we could always recruit Peeves as well," Fred mused.
Snape appeared to consider it. Tonks took the opportunity to slip her foot out of her shoe and into the leg of his trousers. She wasn't entirely sure what she was supposed to do at that point, but she figured it would come to her eventually. "I... believe that might be going too far," Snape said at last. "Peeves is... unpredictable at best."
"But where causing chaos is concerned, Peeves is the top in the field," Fred reminded him.
"We learned most of what we know from him," George added.
Tonks had a feeling Snape was correct on the Peeves issue. "I dunno. Seems to me that we want something more along the lines of carefully orchestrated chaos – we want to embarrass the Ministry, not..."
"To end up in Azkaban for endangering the welfare of Ministry officials?" Snape finished. He disentangled his trouser leg from her foot and deftly hooked his own under hers so that she couldn't play that trick again. It left Tonks in a somewhat awkward position.
"Think on the bright side," George began.
"Maybe they'd let you share a cell," Fred finished for him.
Tonks turned to Snape. "The Dementor's kiss looks more appealing every day."
The faintest of smiles suggested that Snape appreciated that she was in some way comparing him with a Dementor and all that went with it. Tonks felt her hair going a little pink at the root. Apparently her antidote was not one hundred percent effective.
"Are we done here then?" Snape cast a quick glance at the twins.
George looked at his brother. "I can't think of anything else, can you?"
"Only the minor issue of fees."
"What – you're not doing this as a wedding present?" Tonks asked more-or-less facetiously.
"Much as we would like to make a gift of our services to you, we're afraid that running a business in these troubled times requires some observance of the bottom line."
"The Ministry will be picking up the tab," Snape said. "Submit your bills to them."
"You can rest assured that we will," Fred said with a conspiratorial grin.
"I'd advise making sure you get paid before the wedding reception," Tonks said.
George nodded and touched the side of his nose slyly. "Excellent thinking, if I do say so myself. Well then..."
"We'll be in touch if we think of anything else." Both twins stood and Fred deftly pocketed the Eaves-Dropper. Snape released Tonks' leg and stood as well. Tonks barely managed to scramble into her show and onto her feet. "Goodnight, Mr. Tonks. Miss Snape."
"WWW Catering is glad you have chosen to hire us for your special day."
The double pop of their Disapparition sounded through the pub. Tonks found herself rolling her eyes at the twins' deliberate flouting of manners.
"I suppose it was inevitable that they would leave me with the bill." Snape sounded almost amused. Under normal circumstances, Tonks would've insisted on paying part of it, but she was a little too irked with the git before her to want to bother, so she kept silent. "I'll settle up with Rosmerta. Walk with me back to Hogwarts."
Tonks frowned. "I thought I would Apparate home tonight." On one hand she really wanted to sleep in her own bed tonight, but on the other she really hadn't been all that effective at making Snape pay. And she rather wanted to see what nefarious plans he had for her...
"There is no way I will be allowing you to Apparate anywhere when you have been drinking."
Well, that was a flimsy excuse if she'd ever heard one. "It's butterbeer, Snape. They give it to third-years. And I haven't even finished mine."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "I would suggest you do that then."
It occurred to Tonks that he was being infuriatingly agreeable... and that it must be costing him some considerable effort to be so. Somehow, the idea of Snape seething under his mask of affability made her feel vaguely... happy. She raised her mug and drained it.
The walk back to Hogwarts was, it turned out, painfully awkward. Snape seemed content to let her lope along beside him as silence stretched out like the long dark pathway before them. For her part, Tonks was somewhat less than content with this arrangement, but she hadn't yet managed to think of something to say that wasn't completely inane.
"I spoke to Miss Hibbins again this afternoon."
"Oh?" Snape didn't sound particularly interested, but Tonks chose to infer an interrogative at the end of his monosyllabic response.
"She caught me in the hallway while Kingsley and I were running out to knock some Death Eater heads together. Volunteered to put together the guest list on account of the short time before the wedding."
"That was considerate of her."
"I thought so. She said there were some people she wouldn't want us to accidentally overlook."
It seemed that Snape pondered for a moment before answering. "Undoubtedly she would know better than we who in the Ministry ought to be included."
"By virtue of their intimate involvement in getting us together."
"Indeed," Snape said, although his tone suggested that she'd hardly needed to say that.
Tonks felt the conversation flounder and die. It occurred to her that things were not going as she had expected them to. As Snape took the fork in the pathway that cut through the Forbidden Forest, Tonks felt a faint hope light up within her, but that extinguished a moment later when she remembered that taking the path through the Forest was significantly faster than skirting the edge. She'd taken it herself often enough for that very reason when she was a student. The fact that it had been strictly off-limits had only served as extra incentive.
It was also, she remembered belatedly, half-overgrown and studded with gnarled tree roots. This last thought occurred to her as she tripped over one of the aforesaid gnarled tree roots and pitched forward into the dark. She caught herself a moment later and managed to land in a more-or-less upright position. Unfortunately, her acrobatic maneuverings put her even farther behind Snape. She could just barely make out the swish of his cloak as he disappeared into the darkness ahead.
Tonks swore under her breath and picked up the pace to try to catch up. This resulted in her tripping over several more roots, nearly being bowled over by a low-hanging tree branch, and becoming uncomfortably close to a tree that oughtn't have been where it was (namely in the middle of the path).
It appeared that Snape was attempting to torment her for something again... although she couldn't for the life of her figure out what that would be. She didn't really want to spend too much time pondering, either – not when there were so many phantom tree parts out there to contend with.
The solution to her more immediate problems belatedly occurred to her. Tonks drew her wand. "Lumos!"
Snape whirled. "Nox." And then it was dark again and Tonks was all the blinder for her moment of illumination. She could sense Snape closing the distance between them. "Have you forgotten where we are?"
"How in the bloody hell could I do that when I'm tripping over tree roots every blasted step I take!"
"Have you also remembered the Acromantulas? The centaurs? Tolls? It is called the Forbidden Forest for a reason, I would remind you."
"Don't forget the blood-sucking bugbears," Tonks muttered under her breath, certain that Snape could hear her. "And bowtruckles, glumumbles, puffskeins... who knows? Maybe you'll run into a unicorn. You can bridle it with a strand of your hair."
Snape was near enough that she could see the outline of his pale face in the moonlight that filtered in patches through the canopy. "It would not be wise to draw such attention to ourselves."
"Honestly, when have we ever been inclined to do what's wise, Snape?"
She was absolutely certain then that he was going to hex her. It therefore came as a complete surprise when she discovered they were snogging instead. A brief period of amnesia seemed to span between the one moment and the next.
She felt her heart beat more quickly and stomach somersault. The semi-lucid thoughts that tried to introject themselves suggested that one did not kiss Snape. It seemed a forbidden thing... as forbidden as the forest they were in. Bloody dangerous, too. But – oh, you know, it wasn't actually horrible. She could feel the thrill of adrenaline in her veins and pulled him closer to her. In response, Snape wrested control again and backed her into a nearby tree.
She fought to breathe for a moment without panting too obviously when he finally broke the kiss. His lips skimmed across her jawline and then he kissed the hollow just below her ear. Tonks let her eyes close. She knew she'd have to end the love potion charade at some point, but, all things considered, she found herself disinclined to object to this treatment.
"Mmm." Words, Tonks found, were proving a little difficult to come up with at that precise moment.
"Look up and tell me what you see."
Now why in the world would he..? Tonks opened her eyes and squinted. "Leaves. Branches. Some sky here and there..."
"And in that patch of sky?"
"The moon, stars... lots of dark stuff, bits of clouds..." She trailed off as he kissed her throat.
"Tell me, Nymphadora, what is the phase of the moon?"
"Er..." Tonks tried to focus on the luminous orb. It was either nearly full or just past full. She thought for a moment and seemed to remember it having been somewhat less full recently. "Waxing gibbous?"
"And what does that suggest to you?"
"Oh bugger." She didn't need any further prompting from Snape to see where he was going with this. A waxing gibbous moon meant the moon hadn't been full for some time, and he wouldn't have had the opportunity to brew the love potion she had assumed that he'd brewed with the powdered pearl. Worse, it meant that he knew that she had suspected him of having brewed it and dosed her with it.
"An interesting suggestion," he said, his voice still all-too-close, "but not entirely the answer I was looking for."
Tonks hit him upside the head and struggled to push him away from her. "You effing bloody devious, conniving bastard. You deliberately led me to believe you slipped me a love potion!"
A moment later, he had her hands pinned. "I beg to differ. Your own suspicious mind led you to believe that I had slipped you a love potion."
Tonks took a quick breath. This was not precisely a position she was used to being in... and she still hadn't quite managed to discern why Snape had gone to all the trouble of deceiving her. "Well then you ruddy well led my suspicious mind to lead me to believe that you'd slipped me the love potion."
"And you decided to punish me by playing into my hands? Some might consider that entrapment, Auror Tonks."
It occurred to Tonks that she was quite literally in Snape's hands and that he had her trapped, but luckily her ability to think clearly hadn't entirely deserted her. "That would be the same 'some' who have no blasted clue about the law but a persistent urge to blather on about it, right?"
Snape released her hands, but didn't move away enough for Tonks to be able to get free. "For my part, I am offended that you could believe I would slip any sort of potion to a witch who had so recently very nearly died. Allow me some sort of credit as a careful man, if not an entirely pleasant one."
Tonks poked him in the chest with one finger. "So you changed your mind and decided that you could bring about much the same effect with only a mind game. But you'd intended that powdered pearl to be for me before I was injured."
"Don't flatter yourself, dear. I merely thought it would be an appropriate addition to the wedding feast..." He paused, and Tonks could almost feel one of his eyebrows rise and the corner of his mouth quirk. "Although I will reserve some for you if you wish."
"You're... utterly remorseless."
"I believe I achieved my end." Snape paused again, and this time it felt like a long time before he spoke again. "Tell me, Nymphadora... did you wonder whether your antidote was working properly?"
Tonks attempted to stomp on one of his feet, but her legs seemed to be all tangled up with his. "I wonder why you still have me pinned to this tree."
"I am simply making sure I have made my point clear."
"Your point has been made obvious, Severus."
"Then I am satisfied for now." Snape stepped back, away from Tonks, and turned to continue down the path. She pushed herself away from the tree trunk and stood wobbily on her own two feet, wondering, for a moment, what had just happened.
"Oh," Snape said, pivoting and striding toward her again, "before I forget, I have something for you."
"I ought to do this properly." With a dramatic flourish of his robes, Snape kneeled at Tonks' feet and produced what she could only assume was a ring. She certainly caught the flash of a large pale jewel in the moonlight. "Would you do me the honor of making me the most miserable wizard on the planet?"
Tonks thought about it for a moment. "Do I have the option of rejecting you?"
"It would seem to be a little late for that."
"Well, then I accept your offer and promise to do my best to make that happen."
"I'm sure. Take the ring so I can get up off the ground. There's a root digging into my knee."
Tonks hesitantly took the ring from Snape's outstretched hand. It felt strange and heavy.
"Do you like it?"
Snape, Tonks noticed, had stood again and was looming over her in the darkness. She examined the ring more closely. It seemed to be an enormous crystal – aquamarine if she guessed correctly – set in heavy, age-tarnished silver that was wrought in the vague, menacing shapes of half-forgotten nightmares. In the dim light of the nearly-full (waxing gibbous, she noted wryly) moon, the gem shone the milky, soulless blue of an inferius' eyes.
"It's grotesque... it's fantastic... it's perfect."
"I'm glad you appreciate it."
Tonks slid the ring onto her finger. "Merlin, where did you get this thing?"
"My mother's cold, dead hand of course."
"I picked it up in a pawn shop on Knockturn Alley and spent half the afternoon breaking the curses on it. But if anyone inquires..."
"It's an ancient family heirloom that you engaged in unspeakable acts of grave-robbery and corpse-desecration to acquire for me. Got it." Looking at the ring on her finger, Tonks felt as if her hand had become somehow disembodied or dispossessed. "You're sure you got all of the curses?"
"Fairly certain. Shall we resume our walk back to Hogwarts then?"
There was a rustling in the woods. "We'd appreciate it if you did."
Tonks whirled, her wand out, but the curse she had ready died on her lips when she recognized their visitors. Centaurs. There were three of them. Tonks put her wand away. "Bloody hell – how long have you buggers been there?"
One cleared his throat. "Long enough." Tonks thought she recognized him as Ronan, or perhaps Elnar.
"More than long enough," the second rejoined.
The third snorted. "Far too long."
"I apologize for my fiancée's excited remark, sirs." Snape's hand was digging into Tonks' upper arm and she could tell that his other hand itched to draw his wand.
"Don't be alarmed, Professor; we would not harm our friend Tonks. We are used to her... somewhat strange ways."
"Nevertheless, it might be advisable for you to return to Hogwarts as soon as possible. Bane is nearby and he has still not forgiven our colorful friend here for a certain careless remark."
Tonks smiled a little guiltily and shifted her weight. "I called him a nag. Didn't know what it meant to Centaurs at the time..."
"And likely would have called him that even if she had."
To this, Tonks shrugged. "Can't really say either way."
Snape pulled at her elbow. "We'll take your advice and make our way back to Hogwarts, now."
She heard the faint snicker of a Centaur's laugh as Snape managed to pull her away and down the path.
"Yes, Friend Tonks?"
"Anything in the stars about Saturday?"
"Would you care to share?"
"Only this," the Centaur said, "at precisely 8:43 p.m... duck." With that, the three Centaurs turned and crashed through the woods. Tonks looked at Snape, shrugged, and together they took the path back to Hogwarts.