A/N: A quiet, light chapter for you all, to recover from recent cliffies. Enjoy. :)

21: Word of Mouth

Remus couldn't help but feel that he really had spent far too much of his life in the Hogwarts Hospital Wing.

It had been only under sufferance that he had allowed himself to be escorted to a bed upon his arrival in the too familiar ward and only then after a firm and indisputable proclamation from Poppy Pomfrey that both Tonks and Jimmy Peakes were perfectly fine and resting comfortably. He had taken his Wolfsbane obediently – that was not a mistake he ever wished to make again - but the matron's insistence that he lie down and get some rest himself was immediately protested. He had to help, he informed her, he had to talk with Dumbledore and Kingsley and decide what they were going to do now that the Institute's Death Eater had rolled their dice and crossed the Rubicon. All he needed was something to calm his shakes and still his tremors and he would be on his way.

Poppy had pursed her lips together tightly and eyed him from beneath narrowed brows. And then she had handed him a purple potion and told him it would do as he asked.

Remus drank it.

His eyelids grew instantly heavy, his mind filled with sleepy fog. He had only a moment to wryly acknowledge the deceptive cunning of experienced school matrons in the face of a stubborn but trusting patient before he dropped inevitably into a deep and peaceful slumber.

And when he awoke, a slow reluctant blink back into consciousness, he found himself tucked into bed in a Hospital wing flooded with mid-morning light as a gentle finger stroked the length of his cheek in a soft and soothing fashion.

For a moment, Remus allowed himself to simply drift into wakefulness. His head was distinctly fuzzy but that was mostly to be expected after the battle of the night before. But at least the ache and tremble in his body was mercifully gone; in that respect, Poppy had at least been telling the truth about her potion. But still…

"Bloody Poppy," he muttered half-heartedly.

The stroke against his cheek ceased instantly. A heart-shaped face, pale and rather sleepy-eyed darted abruptly into his line of sight.

"She got you too then." Tonks' voice was wry and slightly rueful as she smiled down at her still dozy companion. "Ruddy purple potion. I'm never trusting that woman again."

Remus smiled in spite of himself. As coherence returned, he glanced towards her, drinking in her features, washed in the sunlight that streamed through the windows. Although still not back to her usual shade of skin, the deathly whiteness of the battle was blessedly gone, although the limp brown locks she wore in lieu of her normal, more vibrant hairstyles did subdue her face rather more than Remus had come to expect. She was wrapped in a pale pink dressing gown that he suspected had been lent to her by Poppy to replace her bloodstained robes, leaning back with a vaguely weary air in the chair propped by his bedside. She looked well enough, if not entirely herself.

Grimacing, Remus forced himself up onto his elbows. "Are you all right?" he asked at once, his eyes scanning over her once more almost to reassure himself that she really was there, beside him, awake and whole. "I was so worried…"

The smile on Tonks' face lit the room like a sunbeam. "I'm fine," she replied with a slight wave of one hand. "The cut wasn't as deep as it could have been. Madam Pomfrey healed me up in a flash and dosed me with Blood Replenishing potion as soon as Hagrid brought me inside. And then…" She pulled a face. "When I told her I wanted to go outside and help you again, she told me I just had to drink some of this purple potion she offered me first…" She snorted with wry fondness. "Ruddy woman. You'd think we were still students."

Remus chuckled as he pulled himself into a sit and leaned back against the headboard. "Everyone under the age of about forty is still a student to Poppy Pomfrey and always will be. And she always gets her way in the end. I've learned that the hard way more times than I'd care to count." Absently, he brushed his hair out of his face. "How long have you been sitting there? Shouldn't you be in bed as well?"

Tonks stifled a yawn. "I'm fine now," she insisted with a shrug. "All better. I woke up a couple of hours ago. I was out cold all night - this stuff takes a while to properly wear off - but I've been sat here maybe half an hour waiting for you to come round."

"A couple of hours?" Remus glanced again at the streaming light, frowning slightly at the nagging sense that there was something he ought to be doing, somewhere else he ought to be. "What time is it?"

Tonks shrugged slightly. "Getting on for eleven am, I'd guess. We'll know when the next bell goes…"

Bell. Monday. It was eleven in the morning on Monday.

"My classes!" Remus grasped the bed-sheets, intending to fling them aside but Tonks' hand descended upon his with an audible smack and stayed the motion instantly.

"Are covered," the Auror informed him sternly. "Teachers who are assaulted in front of the school gates by a horde of Death Eaters and Imperiused Hogsmeaders are allowed a day off to recover, you know. Even Aurors are." She leaned back in her chair with a rueful frown. "Kingsley's written me off duty until Thursday morning. Partly it's so I can recover, but it also might be handy for me to be unarguably available if this reconnaissance mission to the Institute goes ahead. They'll need someone who knows the layout after all…"

"Wait. What?" Remus was instantly bolt upright. "What reconnaissance mission?"

For an instant, Remus could have sworn that Tonks was smirking. "Oops," she said blithely with an unmistakable wink. "I conveniently forgot you were asleep when Kingsley dropped by." She gazed at the ceiling with insincerely innocent eyes. " I wasn't supposed to mention that to you yet in your weak and fragile state. Silly, silly me…"

Remus folded his arms sternly but the corner of his lip was twitching with suppressed amusement. "Oh?"

"Mmmm." Tonks shrugged with faux casualness and a barely concealed grin. "You see, I'm not supposed to tell you that Kingsley, Moody and Dumbledore have decided that we need to get inside the Institute again. They reckon we need to have a proper poke around in forbidden drawers and closed off levels and the like to see what rottenness old Denmark can show up. After all, attempting to kidnap you would imply something is in motion." She tickled his knuckles absently with her fingertips. "I've already contacted Felisha by coin and she'll meet us whenever we can arrange, hopefully with her secret way in all prepped and ready to go. Since I know the territory and the background of the case, I've been chosen to take part. And for some reason, Kingsley seemed to think that, as the only person apart from me who knows more about the layout and the staff in the Institute, you might want to come with me. But of course given how keen they seem to be to get you back into the Institute, he's afraid that sending you along might be playing into their hands." She shrugged. "Since he didn't want to upset you by excluding you, he suggested you be kept in the dark." Her smile was rueful but abruptly genuine. "However I reckon that decision should be yours not his. And since you saved my life last night, I happen to think you really can look after yourself."

Remus could not hold back the smile. "That's rather a change of heart from my determined bodyguard."

A brief hint of a flush touched Tonks' features. "No bodyguard," she said softly. "Just a friend who'll watch your back if you watch hers."

Her dark eyes met his. She smiled. He smiled.

All at once, Remus was very aware of the soft, feather light touch of her fingers against the back of his hand. Her face seemed strangely close…

And then with startling ring, the school bell echoed down the length of the Hospital wing from the open door beyond. Remus' startled jump was almost as emphatic as Tonks'; abruptly, her hand snatched itself away as her eyes snapped to the floor and stayed there. For his part, Remus found his gaze was glued to the bed-sheets as his hands grasped the white material almost compulsively.

Sweet Merlin. What on earth was that? She's your friend, Lupin, not to mention far too young to ever

"Eleven," Tonks' voice, almost forcefully bright, cut across his brief moment of alarmed musing and jerked him abruptly back down to earth.

"Pardon?" he managed.

"It's eleven." Tonks glanced over at him, smiling, and suddenly his world swung back into a stable orbit and everything was as he knew it once more. "I said we'd know when the bell goes…"

"You were right." Relaxing himself almost forcefully, Remus lifted his gaze and returned the smile. "I was due to teach the fifth year Slytherins now and their stock of snide werewolf jibes is getting a little repetitive. Perhaps being in the Hospital Wing isn't so bad after all."

Tonks laughed out loud. "I was just thinking that I was suppose to be on patrol with Dawlish's team today. So I'm definitely happier here."

"You'd rather be in hospital recovering from a Death Eater attack than on patrol with my good friend Mr Dawlish?" Remus arched an eyebrow. "That doesn't say much for his people skills."

Tonks snorted with mirth, her eyes twinkling wickedly. "And what about you, professor? Slandering your beloved students for expressing themselves?"

Remus shrugged easily, fighting not to laugh. "It's not the expression of their opinion that bothers me, it's the lack of imagination. Jokes about body hair and raw meat, whispered asides about moon cycles – it's so unsubtle. I'm thinking of teaching them a few new insults, just to vary the palate. It would make the lessons so much more interesting."

A snorted laugh from the doorway of the Hospital wing caught them both by surprise. "I don't think you need to worry about that anymore." A familiar young voice drifted in, the green eyes of its owner filled with barely suppressed humour. "You've given us all much more interesting things to discuss than your condition."

Remus folded his arms as he eyed Harry's smirk warily. Behind him, Ron and Hermione were wearing almost identical expressions of humour.

Oh fantastic

Harry cocked an eyebrow as he and his two closest friends stepped into the room, pulling the door closed as he followed them in wandering over to Remus' bedside.

"Tonks. Professor," he said with a grin. "Is there something you'd like to tell us?"

Remus shot Tonks a glare. "This is your fault. You and Rosmerta, pretending we were a couple. I told you there were students in that room."

For her part, Tonks was battling laughter. "Oh darling," she exclaimed melodramatically. "How could I have possibly hidden what I feel for you? It was beyond all restraint!"

Remus ignored the uncomfortably prickle that ran along his spine at her words as the three Gryffindors laughed. Instead, he frowned at his students.

"Shouldn't you three be in class?" he queried wearily.

"Free period," Ron said shortly as he flopped down on the adjacent bed, Hermione and Harry at his side. "Thought we'd come and check on you two instead of faffing about in the library."

Inevitably, Hermione's eyes went stony at this cavalier dismissal of schoolwork. "Studying is not faff," she retorted sharply. She pointedly ignored the roll of Ron's eyes. "It just so happens that this is more important."

"Thank you, Hermione," Remus' gracious acknowledgement luckily halted potential hostilities. "I appreciate that."

"And I'd appreciate some gossip," Tonks leaned forward across the bed towards the three teenagers. "Come on, spill the beans. What are they saying about good old Professor Lupin out there?"

Remus closed his eyes. "Tonks…"

Harry was chuckling. "It varies."

"Tell me the variations."

Remus sighed. "Must you?"

Tonks' expression was all innocence. "Now, professor. Surely you need to be prepared. Lesser men than you have been strangled by the grapevine, you know."

Harry intervened over Remus' low groan. "Well, the general consensus is that you were definitely seen going upstairs in the Three Broomsticks with a younger woman," he admitted. "And that you'd booked a room. But as soon as someone mentioned pink hair, we knew it had to be Tonks. And since you just said you were pretending, I'll guess you were there on business."

Remus nodded emphatically before Tonks could muddy the waters further. "Yes, we were."

Harry smiled. "Thought so. So I guess those rumours coming out of Ravenclaw that you were caught upstairs later with a different woman talking about getting…" he cleared his throat, "…well, naked, were just stories then like the rest of it?"

Remus wished with all his heart that he could have suppressed that blush. Tonks burst out laughing.

Harry, Ron and Hermione's eyes widened incredulously as one.

"It's true?" Hermione gasped, after taking a moment out to slap Ron's shoulder in order to disperse the look of misty-eyed respect on his face. "Professor…"

"It's not… I mean…" Remus was aware that his face was already tomato red and the pealing hysteria of Tonks' laughter was not helping to calm his fluster. "Will you shut up?" he snapped irritably as his companion slumped forward over her knees, still helplessly giggling. "This is your fault. And it's fairly serious that my secret meeting with Felisha is now all over the school."

Tonks' jaw snapped shut as she sobered instantly. "Sod it," she said with feeling. "I didn't think of that."

A light glowed on in Hermione's eyes. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "That's it, isn't it? Those coins I helped you with – you said they were for a contact of yours in the Institute staff. That's who you were meeting, isn't it? That's who Felisha is!"

Hermione Granger really was a very smart young woman. "Yes, it was," Remus admitted wearily. "And it was supposed to be top secret. Felisha could be in a lot of trouble if word she's met me in private leaks out."

But Harry was already shaking his head. "I wouldn't worry, professor. There are so many mad rumours flying around, no one's going to know one truth from another. And there isn't any kind of description of this other woman – just of Tonks." He grinned. "I guess pink hair is more memorable."

"See, I am useful," Tonks nudged Remus as her expression grew wicked once more. "I make a good distraction. And Harry, did I hear you say that mad rumours abound? Please, tell me more."

Harry chuckled again. "When I say mad, I mean mad."

"The madder the better. Talk."

Harry and Ron exchanged a long look as the red-haired Weasley took up the tale from his bespectacled friend. "Well," he began uncertainly. "There's the second woman one we mentioned – which is kind of true. But some people are also saying that the first woman – Tonks, I guess – caught Professor Lupin with the second woman and dragged him off, screaming at him. And then people started saying there had been a fight between the women and then there were three women, or four and then it started that there hadn't been a fight at all and that you'd just been in the room with a half dozen or so perfectly happy women." He shrugged apologetically, although his mouth was curling distinctly. "Well, by the end of the week, most people reckoned you'd gone off for the rest of the Easter holidays with a harem of buxom veelas and the reason you're in the Hospital wing today is because you're outright knackered."

Yet again, Tonks exploded with laughter. In spite of himself, even Remus cracked a smile.

"I think I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that veelas aren't my type," he remarked dryly. "I prefer my women rather more thoughtful and definitely more human than that." At his side, Tonks' laughter was drying away as he continued. "Besides, I'm not sure my father would appreciate being morphed into a bevy of buxom veelas by the imaginations of a castle full of adolescents."

"Now there's a disturbing mental image," Tonks added as she leaned forwards. "But I'm kind of curious. I'd have thought word about the attack would have spread around the school like wildfire. Are you saying people don't know?"

"They know." Harry shrugged slightly. "But there's always a few, you know?"

"Which reminds me," Remus turned his gaze onto his three students. "Why on earth did you and the rest of your team come hurtling into the fray like that? You could have been killed, Harry, all of you. Jimmy Peakes was lucky he wasn't."

"Jimmy's fine," Harry protested. "Madam Pomfrey let him out first thing this morning. He's a Beater, he has worse bruises than those from our last match…"

"That's not the point. Why didn't you just go for help?"

"Ritchie Coote went for help," Ron was the one to protest. "So did Hermione."

Remus raised an eyebrow. "Hermione?"

Hermione pulled a face. "I was recording their practice moves with Omnioculars as a favour for Harry. But then Ginny spotted Hagrid running across the grounds and I saw the flashes of the fight and focussed in." Her nose wrinkled. "I saw Tonks get hit. And although the wall was in the way, I was pretty sure you were ringed in. So Coote went for McGonagall and I went for Dumbledore while the others grabbed their wands and flew to help. That Kingsley and Mad-Eye were in his office too was just lucky."

Tonks twisted her lip. "Actually, they were waiting for us to report in."

Harry's eyes narrowed curiously. "Report in on what?"

But any answer was forestalled by the creak of an opening door and the gentle voice of Albus Dumbledore.

"That, Harry," he said softly, "is what Professor Lupin, Miss Tonks and I need to discuss. So I'm afraid I must ask you to leave."

A/N: Many thanks to my lovely reviewers – elka78, The Great RC, Rel Fexive, thee-unknown-factor-incognito, xMissxUnderstoodx, vieras, Lucathia Rykatu, Godricgal, Smeagolita, Miracle, Siorsa, Ruby, emmaD, RebeccaGoose, Kailin, KnightMara, Howling-wolf, le petit chou, Silver Mo0n 19, a happy bibliophile, Gilpin, vefa, Wade Scott, Adele Starminster, Ella J.W, morgan, sylthian, Hawkgal, pathoffeanor, aurelie1, Liv Naravul, felixgirl and cellorocksmyworld – who brighten the dull days of autumn for me. Bless you all muchly (especially now I am over 400 reviews and averaging 20 a chapter! Woohoo!) and though I can't reply specifically to all of you, I do appreciate all your reviews. :)

A Few Responses:

Elka78 – I was assuming that those under the curse would be better than normal on the grounds that they were being directed forcefully. So yes, just like Neville. ;)

xMissxUnderstoodx – SLAP! Hello Betty…;) There's nothing wrong with being in a silly mood – it's near enough my permanent state of being! ;) And I agree – "remusy" should be a word…:)

vieras – Glad to help. :)

Miracle – It is the first time I've used non-verbal spells in a fic – as you may have noticed, I am trying to incorporate elements from HBP into my fic where possible, like non-verbal spells and the Quidditch team. As long as they don't mess with my plot, anyway…;)

RebeccaGoose – It's the Imperius curse that has a bad effect on a werewolf – Crucio affects them normally but they can just handle it better. Glad to feed you. ;)

KnightMara – Welcome back:) And don't think you're off the hook cliffie wise – that ride has barely started…;)

Le petit chou – AU stands for Alternate Universe – on other words, it differs from canon. This fic was canon compliant up until HBP came out but now, since it branches off in a different direction, I've declared it AU. ;) Kingsley and Tonks? I think you may be thinking of someone else's fic, it's not something I've ever implied. Kingsley was worried about his friend, that's all…:) And alas, I can't update more frequently because I can't write faster than a chapter a week on average, so posting quicker would mean bigger waits later…/

Silver Mo0n19 - I'm aiming for 35-40 chapters overall though this is subject to how the writing goes and whether I over write! ;)

A happy bibliophile – As you can see, the aftermath has been partly dealt with above. And I know I'm mean to Remus, I'm sorry, but that's kind of the plot! Does the ball squeak, did you mean? I don't think so. I've answered the chapters question above. And don't worry, this chapter is a nice rest for you. :)

Morgan – Hi and welcome:) Thanks very much, characterisation is something I pride myself on so its nice to hear you and so many others think I've got it right. :)

Sylthian – Hey, that's okay – valid point. :) I'll say it was kind of a healing spell as well as stopping the blood flow, lessening the effects of shock and that kind of thing - though in all honestly I didn't think of that. Whoops! ;)

Hawkgal – I'm sorry! I didn't mean to ruin anything! ;)

Pathoffeanor – I think it is your first and thank you very much:)

Liv Naravul – Hey, welcome to my part of the world:) I haven't seen GOF yet – my beta and I are going in a few weeks when I visit her. Any good:)

Cellorocksmyworld – Hi and welcome! Do I take it from your name that you like the cello? Only I used to play it myself at school. Mind you, I was terrible…;)

Reviews would be lovely. ;)