20: Onto Something

"No."

Remus' arms tightened, grasping her limp form in a firm embrace in an almost instinctive urge to protect as he swung her sideways to shield her body with his own. He could feel the slick, warm wetness of her blood soaking his hands, a stark contrast to the rampaging chill of cold that was running through his bones. Her green hair brushed softly against his chin.

Not Tonks. You can't have Tonks.

He had to do something. He had to think of something. His grip tightened further, pressing his fingers into the folds of Tonks' robes as something hard and wooden indented against his palm…

His wand. He still had his wand.

In the shock of Tonks' fall, he had barely noticed that he had not actually been disarmed. And his captors, it seemed, had not noticed at all.

One shot. If he was lucky. But one shot might be enough…

He straightened his back and turned his head.

"No," he repeated, one word wrought from purest steel, his eyes stony as he stared over his shoulder and fixed his gaze upon the smirking form of the lead Death Eater. "If you want to kill her, you'll have to kill me too. And you've already made it pretty clear that I'm needed alive."

The Death Eater's lips quirked with palpable annoyance.

"You Order types," he sneered coldly. "Always have to play the hero, don't you? Face the truth, Professor – the girl is as good as dead. Put her down and she'll have a quick death at my hand. Or, of course, you could just continue to be awkward and let her bleed to death slowly here on the road. Either is fine by me."

Remus forced himself to breath slowly, to stay in control. He could feel Tonks' heartbeat – or was it his own? – vibrating across his ribcage. Their pulses mingled.

Holding his steady gaze was one of the hardest things he had ever done. "You can have me," he whispered softly. "Just let her go."

The Death Eater chuckled, cold and mirthless as he swept one hand in a loose semi-circle. "Look around, Professor. I have you anyway."

"I'll come quietly." He meant it. If his own freedom was the price he had to pay for Tonks' safety, so be it. "No struggles, no fuss. Just let her live."

The shake of the Death Eater's head was a slow death knell. "She knows too much."

The cold surged. Blood dripped and puddled on the floor, soaking his boots, much, too much. There wasn't much time.

She saved me once when I was bleeding to death. I have to save her too.

Lowering his head as though in sorrow, he buried his face into her hair and shifted his grip, pressing his wand unseen against her sliced ribcage. Focussing all his energy, he concentrated his mind on a non-verbal healing spell. He felt a flood of warmth as the spell released – he knew that under such circumstances any fix he made would not be clean or professional but if he could just stop the bleeding, if he could just give her more time…

The flood of blood against his fingers slowed abruptly to a trickle. He felt her eyelids flutter slightly against his cheek.

Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes

"What are you doing?" The Death Eater's voice cut harshly into his single-minded focus. As Remus glanced up, he saw the cold eyes widen with realisation behind their mask.

"Drop your wand," he ordered sharply. "Now."

Remus hardened his jaw as a sudden wash of furious belligerence swamped him. "Drop the girl, drop your wand. Do make your mind up."

The Death Eater's wand trembled angrily. "You're on dangerous ground, Lupin."

Remus smiled grimly. "Then why don't you kill me?"

His adversary's eyes narrowed. "So smug, so superior," he drawled, his voice grating like ice over stone. "You think yourself so high and mighty. And yet you can't even call yourself human."

Remus felt his fingers clench with fury – desperately, he fought it down. Half conscious, Tonks jerked against his suddenly intensified grip.

He raised his head, his eyes bright and defiant. "I'm more a human than your precious master is. Or will ever be."

He saw the Death Eater's teeth grit and clench. "Drop your wand and drop the girl," he repeated, his voice shaking with a suppressed fury of his own. "Or face the consequences."

Remus straightened, adjusting his grip on his wand as he did so. One shot. One shot to save Tonks. One shot to save yourself... The Hogwarts gates were just a few yards away – if he could create some kind of diversion, just enough time to haul himself and Tonks inside and close the heavily warded gate behind them…

He saw Tonks' dark eyes flicker towards him. She was not well. But she was awake.

He braced himself. "We've already established that you can't kill me."

The Death Eater's smile was alarmingly malicious. "They want you alive, werewolf," he drawled softly. "But they didn't say undamaged."

His eyes flashed cruelly as Remus realised, a mere moment before, what he intended to do. And he knew at once that this would be his only chance.

And then it came.

"Crucio!"

Pain, bright and excruciating, raced down his limbs, burning, screaming through his body with a triumphant roar as agony ran rampant. The Death Eater's eyes gleamed with sick joy as he watched his spell struck home.

But then his triumph faltered.

For Remus did not scream. Remus did not drop. Remus did not even let go of his Auror companion.

For Remus Lupin was a werewolf. And although the pain was terrible, although his body trembled and shook with the force of its intensity, although his blood boiled and his skin burned, it was nothing worse than the pain he had grown accustomed to enduring twice a night, once monthly for almost all his life.

And yes, it hurt like bloody hell. But Remus had never let pain stop him before.

Even ten or twenty seconds under the most agonising spell in the wizarding world.

His eyes met the Death Eater's. And shakily, he smiled.

"Wrong spell," he rasped. "Roto!"

With a gasp of horror, the lead Death Eater staggered as his body began to spin, heels digging desperate troughs in the gravel as he fought to expel a counter curse to cease his sudden spiral. The other Death Eaters started forward but Remus was already moving with a shout of "Caligo!"; dark mist blossomed from his wand once more, engulfing him and sweeping him from their view. He felt Tonks brace against his arms, felt her stagger to her feet along side him as they both ducked instinctively from the spells shattering against the wall where they had just been stood. The mist swirled, blinding him as strongly as his enemies, but to follow the wall was all he needed, a few yards, a quick turn of a key…

He heard a coherent roar of fury – the lead Death Eater, it seemed, had mastered his counter curse. Remus redoubled his pace; Tonks grasped his arm with a gasp of pain as she stumbled suddenly but Remus' hands were already around her waist, hauling her upright again. The mist was already dispersing but the gate, the gate, where was the gate…

There was the gate! Fumbling in his blood damp robes, he felt the press of metal – grasping the key, he thrust it forcefully into the lock and turned.

Yes! We're through! We're…

And then, to his utter shock, he heard the whoosh of broomsticks overhead and a set of alarmingly familiar voices as they bellowed out into the night.

"Stupefy!"

"Impedimenta!"

"Stupefy!"

Harry? Ron? Ginny?

Broomsticks swooping over a distant Quidditch pitch, a team, the Gryffindor team at practice. They must have seen the glow from the fight…

Oh no, oh no, no, no…

The mist had all but gone now and Remus could see the spells that illuminated the night as they burst from the wands of the six scarlet blurs that circled and rushed overhead, Harry, Ron and Ginny fiercely in the vanguard with Demelza Robins, Katie Bell and Jimmy Peakes just behind, all armed, all attacking, all to save him. Two Death Eaters were already down, clearly caught by surprise, but those still standing were holding their own against this aerial onslaught – even as Remus watched, the lead Death Eater slammed Peakes' broomstick with a well aimed Incendio that sent the third year spiralling and smoking back over the school wall and down with a thud onto the lawn.

He grasped his wand. Adrenalin pounded through his body like a tempest.

Oh dear Merlin, they'll be killed

But Tonks… The spell he had cast to cauterise her wound was rudimentary at best - she needed immediate medical attention. But how could he abandon his students to the tender mercies of a hoard of Death Eaters?

Help me! Somebody please, come and help

And then, miraculously, his silent prayer was answered.

With a creak and crash of iron, the gates of Hogwarts were wrenched open wider as an enormous, bearded figure stumbled, gasping and wheezing and almost knocked him flat. A cudgel was gripped in one vast palm as irate eyes reached out in search of a target.

This was not a chance than Remus could afford to waste. "Hagrid!"

The gamekeeper's beetle black gaze turned on him at once as a beefy hand stilled his stagger from the impact. "Remus!" he exclaimed, starting forwards at once. "I'm sorry! I came runnin' as soon as I saw there were trouble but…"

"No time!" Unceremoniously, Remus thrust the still weak Tonks into the half-giant's arms. "Get her to Madam Pomfrey! Now!"

"No!" Deathly pale, half awake, Tonks nevertheless launched a futile attempt to bat away Hagrid's meaty hands. "No, Remus, I have to stay with you, I can help…"

Oh for goodness sake… Remus did not even dignify such foolishness with a reply. "Go!" he roared at Hagrid and with a nod, the gamekeeper obeyed his command, sweeping the protesting Auror into his arms and vanishing through the gate with her without another word. Across the grounds, on the steps of Hogwarts, Remus could see more figures streaming out of the castle towards the lumbering Hagrid and his burden. The lights in the infirmary flickered on.

She's safe. Now save the children.

But a moment later, even that became unnecessary. For the night burst into flames in a flash of firey orange that glowed like the purest furnace.

And Dumbledore appeared. His blue eyes surged with waves of compressed fury.

The lead Death Eater's eyes widened as he flung a desperate "crucio!" but the spell rebounded from Dumbledore's shield charm like a swatted mosquito. Grimly, the Headmaster raised his wand to retort.

He did not get the chance.

A flare of light signalled the dropping of the anti-apparition wards. And then, with a pair of echoing cracks, the lead Death Eater and one of his companions were gone.

For a moment, the very night seemed to freeze. And then, abruptly, surprisingly, the Death Eaters they had left behind staggered and then dropped unceremoniously to the ground.

For a moment, Remus could only blink at the vaguely unreal scene before him. The tall, imposing figure of Albus Dumbledore stood silent and thoughtful in the midst of a ring of unconscious, black robed bodies; his blue eyed gaze shifted from the limp figure still pinned against a nearby tree, to the unconscious, battered one slumped face first against the wall, to the dull-eyed, drooling one, his saliva still drip dripping in a slow and steady stream onto the grass as he stared mindlessly at his still frantically twirling companion, now dug a good foot into the earth and wailing helplessly. Overhead, five figures dressed in scarlet circled on broomstick back and surveyed the scene above.

And then a thump shattered the silence and broke the spell as Kingsley Shacklebolt and Alastor Moody stepped out of night as one, each grasping a portion of what Remus recognised as one of the silver instruments from Dumbledore's desk. An instant later, they were gaping.

"Hell's teeth!" Moody's frustrated proclamation burst across the night like a blazing comet. "We missed the fight!"

"I'm afraid so." Dumbledore's long fingers flexed. "I apologise. I should have made the portkey more instant." With a nod at the two Aurors, he lifted his head. "Harry, if you would be so good as to take your team back to the castle. I suspect you will find Professor McGonagall crossing the grounds."

"But…" Harry's windswept protest took in both his Headmaster and Remus with its green-eyed intensity but Dumbledore's twinkling blue was more than its match.

"Professor Lupin and I will speak with you soon, Harry. Now please, the castle?"

James' son exchanged a brief, slightly irritable glance with Ron and Ginny. But then, with a weary nod, he and his fellow Gryffindors turned their brooms and vanished over the wall.

The cold of the night washed abruptly across Remus' skin as the sweat that soaked his brow cooled against the air. Weariness washed through his bones, heavy, oppressive – with a deep sigh, he allowed himself to slump back against the wall, acknowledging Dumbledore's gaze with a barely perceptible nod. The Headmaster smiled at him softly.

"Remus," he greeted gently. "Are you all right?"

It was only then that Remus remembered that his robes were still soaked with blood.

"Fine." Gritting his teeth slightly, Remus pushed himself away from the wall and made his way slowly and steadily over to where his fellow Order members had gathered. "It's Tonks' blood, not mine."

"Tonks?" Kingsley's head shot up like a whip-crack. "What happened to Tonks?"

His head was spinning, the world was dancing, but Remus forced himself to concentrate. "She was hit by a cutting spell," he replied, biting his lip as he struggled not to slur his words. "I did a rudimentary fix and Hagrid's taken her to Madam Pomfrey. I'm certain she's okay."

Kingsley did not look desperately reassured. "Remus, what happened here?"

A dull, insistent ache began to creak across Remus' body, tightening muscles, stabbing at joints. He shook his head to clear it. "We were ambushed," he stated wearily. "Tonks and I apparated here from the Three Broomsticks and found them waiting for us." He pulled a face. "They wanted me alive."

Kingsley frowned grimly. "The Institute. After Kane's death, this can't be a coincidence."

"I'll say," Mad-Eye Moody muttered with a scowl as he gestured around at their fallen foes. "Given these numbers, I'd say it was bloody important to them too." Wooden leg stumping against the gravel, the retired Auror ran his electric blue eye over the scene, his grizzled face frowning. "Good haul though," he remarked thoughtfully, kicking a supine body casually with his clawed foot as he leaned over to examine the white mask that concealed the face. "Almost too good in fact. You-Know-Who must be getting damned careless to waste this many followers so close to you, Albus."

"I quite agree." Treading carefully around an outstretched limb, Dumbledore moved to his old friend's side. "In fact, from what Severus has told me of Voldemort's recent recruitment tactics, I believe if we examine these opponents carefully, I think we will find that some of their number were not true Death Eaters at all. Observe."

Leaning forward gently, Dumbledore's long fingers curled around the white mask and lifted it away. Kingsley's gasp was audible.

"That's Minty Gabbidon! He works in the Hogsmeade Post Office!"

"Indeed." Dumbledore's expression was grim. "In fact, I suspect we will find that most of these Death Eaters come from the village of Hogsmeade. And not willingly."

The pain was creeping through his veins now, spreading and surging as the adrenalin of battle faded. Twenty seconds under the Cruciatus curse was no laughing matter, even for a werewolf; that Remus could take the pain at the time was not the point. He could handle it much as he could handle the agony of a transformation but that didn't mean that, just like at full moon, he wouldn't feel the aftermath.

"The Imperius curse," he offered, fighting to hide the tremble in his tone. Stay on your feet, stay on your feet, don't be ridiculous… "Four or five true Death Eaters and an army of obedient victims."

"Exactly." Dumbledore straightened, his eyes sweeping the scenes. "And given that only two of your attackers made good their escape, I believe that means we will find two or three Death Eaters amongst the fallen." He fingered his wand between his thumb and forefinger. "Alastor, if you will assist me in incapacitating these people until we can establish the guilty from the innocent?" Moody nodded grimly. "And Kingsley, if you would escort Remus to the Hospital Wing? I believe he requires Madam Pomfrey's attention rather more than he wishes us to know."

Remus raised a hand in dismissal. "I'm fi…"

Luckily Kingsley's reflexes were good enough to catch hold of his elbow before he fell. As it was, the backwards stagger was rather undignified.

Kingsley raised a pointed eyebrow. "Of course you are, Remus," he remarked dryly. "But if it's all the same to you, let's do as Dumbledore says, shall we? Besides, I need to contact the Ministry and the Hospital Wing's on my way."

Remus pulled a face, trying to ignore the pounding protests of his body. "It's nothing, really."

"You're clammy, unsteady on your feet and you're white as a sheet." With a nod in Dumbledore and Moody's direction, Kingsley placed a supporting hand against Remus' back and guided him slowly but firmly in the direction of the Hogwarts grounds. "That's a significant nothing. What did you get hit with?"

Remus blinked, desperately struggling to clear his head. Every step was a heavy, painful weight and the bright lights of the castle and the blurry outline of approaching figures suddenly seemed an alarmingly long way away. "They wanted to kill Tonks and I wouldn't let them," he replied absently. "It was just a Crucio."

Kingsley's eyes bulged. "Just a Crucio? Bloody hell Remus! In all my life as an Auror, I have never heard anyone shrug off the Cruciatus curse as just a Crucio." His pace quickened distinctly. "Did you even try and get out of the way?"

Remus glared slightly. "They were going to kill her," he repeated pointedly. "And it's no worse than I'm used to on a full moon."

"Forgive me if I'm not so blasé." Kingsley was shaking his head. "They went to a lot of trouble to capture you and get rid of Tonks. And if this doesn't have something to do with what's been going on at the Feral Institute, I'm Cornelius Fudge." He smiled dryly, but the set of his jaw was grim. "You know, Remus, there's an old saying in Auror circles, a saying I think is pretty relevant here. You know you're onto something when someone tries to kill you. And if that's the case, you and Tonks are really onto something right now."

A/N: See? No one dead. You should have more faith in me…;)

Many thanks as per usual to my horde of lovely reviewers – Mouseykins, vieras, Smeagolita, elka78, Liv Naravul, Rel Fexive, Thee-unknown-factor-incognito, The Great RC, xMissxUnderstoodx , wizardelfgirl, Hawkgal, GodricGal, Cartoon-Protector, Tabari Avaren, Pickledishkiller, Sycogerl64, a happy bibliophile, Howling-wolf, TonksIsMyHero, le petit chou, Adre, YourEvilOverlord, EllaJ, Mandalen, Gilpin, Siorsa, felixgirl, Kailin, Ruby, aurelie1, Miracle, Adele Starminster, sylthian and Analia's Broom – you are all wonderful and have made my ego a ravenous glutton. ;) I wish I could respond to each and every one of you but my lunch hour just isn't long enough, bless you. ;)

Mouseykins – Poetic was what I was going for. So thank you:)

vieras & EllaJ – Thank you very much and welcome out of lurkdom! It's pretty out here isn't it:)

Liv Naravul – I'm glad you liked it. Action chapters always require a lot of work so it's great to hear that they work. And… ACK! Bugger, I'm so, so sorry, I remember when I saw your review last week I was going to email you the chapter a day early but curses on my head, I completely forgot until I came to write these responses this morning! –smacks stupid self along the head- A thousand apologies…:(

xMissxUnderstoodx – I apologise for killing your last shred of sanity. I didn't mean to…;) And thank you for the "Without Words" picture – it was lovely:)

wizardelfgirl – I really wanted to show with this duel that Remus is competent at defending himself – after all, this is the only man who, in the last two major canon duels, has come out completely unscathed. He must be pretty damned good…;) I also wanted to prove, in this scene and the fic in general, that Tonks is competent too – so many fics have her as a silly, useless dueller tripping over her own feet when she is an Auror and must have done pretty well to get that far. It's a shame she had to get hit but it was necessary…:( Thank you for the ego titbits. ;)

Hawkgal – Nice suggestion but this chapter was already written when I posted last weeks so their fate had been decided. ;) And I've checked back and her hair was definitely green unless I've missed a reference…

Tabari Avaren – See, look? Not dead. :) And you're placing me alongside Fernwithy and Pandora Culpa? Blimey, that is flattering:) Serial fiction is kind of what I was going for. And you're right, Tonks is so much fun to write. It's quite spooky though, the way that when she and Remus are put in a scene together, they just take off and all but leave me behind! ;)

a happy bibliophile – Yep. I did. I told you to bear with me…;)

Howling-wolf – Yep. They did. ;)

Gilpin – Are you suggesting that Remus has inappropriate feelings for a mermaid? ;D

felixgirl – I hope you feel better:)

Ruby – I am sorry – what an awful chapter to finish reading through on! I hope you are still functioning…;)

Miracle – Sorry about that. –offers a towel- ;) And see, look? Tonks isn't dead:)

Adele Starminster – Only third? Damn, I shall have to work harder…;)

Thank you all again and reviews are a magnificent ego-food…;)