I wished somebody had told me the little old lady claiming disability had a grandson built like a troll. Ducking the large, hairy fist swung in my direction, an ungainly dive and roll was my only option. Thank Merlin the space beside the block of flats had been swept recently. In a voice a harpy would envy, the witch screeched for "Diddums" to move and give her wand a clear shot. I used mine to stupefy the pair of frauds.
It was a relief to find my goblin spy camera and its photo of the elderly woman traipsing off to New Moon Madness Bingo was still in one piece. Uncle Morty had promised a substantial fee if I could deliver the incriminating photograph by midnight. Seems the company the old witch was suing wanted to wave it in her solicitor's face at a conference in the morning. His regular agents were on other cases, so I got the lucrative assignment. Being a Metamorphmagus came in handy, since Auror pay matched rank, and I had a shiny new badge. A side job was a necessity.
Once out of the alley, I morphed my features from nondescript plainness back into the heart-shaped face genetics, not magic, had given me. The familiar sensation of my appearance magically returning to normal rushed through my body. It tingled.
I strode to the kerb and hailed a squire cab. Apparating was instant transportation, but I needed time to catch my breath and write a report.
The cabbie asked the destination. Hearing the answer, a wide smile lit the man's dark, bearded face. A Jamaican accent gave his words a musical lilt. "I've been dere. That Morty, he got da evidence that my lady was cheatin', and I won dis cab in da settlement!"
After returning the man's smile, I stared out the window. Late night London was a different world than day. It was a lot less crowded, and a lot more interesting. This particular evening at the beginning of September was mild and dry.
I wondered where my cousin Sirius was hiding. Strange to think that it had been over a year now since he'd escaped from Azkaban. Every time I passed one of his wanted posters, I smiled a bit. I remembered my older cousin as one of the few relatives Mum had invited over for tea when I was small. He would play Exploding Snap with me, and always managed to shuffle the cards so I would win. My folks and I still held to our belief in his innocence. Hoping that wherever he was, Sirius was safe and happy, I gazed down at the paperwork in my lap, indifferent to the scenery whizzing by.
Squire cabs were much speedier than Muggle ones and always in demand. Once, I had to make do with the non-magical variety and had sworn to the driver that running would've been faster. The inability to squeeze through traffic, literally, was a handicap for un-enchanted vehicles. Dad said Muggles have a saying, ignorance is bliss. Not for me. I'd been stupidly happy before. It didn't last. These days, I preferred smart and mostly content.
I'd finished scratching out a report by the time the cab pulled up to a familiar corner in a wizard section of the city. A flickering illumination sign advertised the Blue Moon Agency. It was housed within the door of the building neighbours called an eyesore. I grinned up at the dimly lit second floor windows of my flat. Faded paint, grimy windows and all, this place was home.
When I released the wards on the agency's front door, a weird shiver crawled down my spine. Glancing around the empty reception area, I shrugged it off. Maybe I was just cold.
The darkness didn't help. Orion Mortimer Black would give a bloke in need the coat off his back, but begrudged the illumination company every Galleon paid for an orb, candle, or torch. His half-sister, my mother Andromeda, wasn't a skinflint like Morty, yet preached the value of saving constantly. I was a sore trial and disappointment to her, unconverted to thriftiness. Somebody in my family had to keep the economy going.
The corridor leading to the offices from the reception area was spartan. Only black and white photographs recording my uncle's travels in exotic locales enlivened the shadowed walls. I made a conscious effort to tread quietly. After almost failing stealth during Auror training, my footsteps since then have been mostly silent—unless I tripped over something, or brushed against a fragile item that fell and broke. That ability gave me a moment, standing in the doorway of Morty's office, to recover from the shock of seeing the man seated in a battered leather chair within.
Evan Rosier the second, alumni of Slytherin House, son of a Death Eater and my ex, lounged elegantly, making desultory conversation. I acknowledged grudgingly that for a lying cheat, Evan had lovely manners. He'd chat civilly with anyone, even people he thought Muggle-loving scum.
Over a year had passed since he'd tried to sway his naive Hufflepuff fiancée to the Dark Side, as Dad put it, and I'd seen past the blue-eyed, fair haired looks and charm to the real man beneath the façade. Evan still did a bang-up job at pretending to be just a wealthy young businessman, but I was no longer impressed. The ugly look and uglier words I received when giving back the engagement ring tarnished that golden image forever.
My uncle chuckled politely when his visitor made a dry comment about Ireland's luck in winning the recent Quidditch World Cup. I smirked. Evan had probably bet on Bulgaria.
Morty raked a hand through salt-and-pepper spiky hair. His dark eyes brightened to see me. "Tonks! I knew you'd come through, luv." He gestured to his client. "Rosier Industries is the company that hired us."
I hadn't thought the pure-blood had come to visit me. The Daily Prophet's society section always included photos of galas he attended with his new fiancée Priscilla 'Prissy' Parkinson. Golden eyebrows rose at seeing my lips twist to suppress amusement at the bizarre thought of Evan calling Prissy his pretty pug-face. There was something darkly satisfying about knowing that not only did you break off the relationship, but the ex was with a woman that looked and acted like a bitch.
I handed over the film to my uncle, acknowledging Evan with a slight nod as I picked up a heavy sack of Galleons. The money made the knowledge that I had inadvertently helped someone who wouldn't get my spit if he caught on fire easier to swallow. My best mate Julia and I had been planning on hitting Diagon Alley on a shopping spree whenever I could afford to go. That time was now.
I schooled my features to hide the irritation he no doubt intended by using my despised first name. I wasn't a big believer in speaking civilly to people I loathed. My parents raised me with the Muggle creed of, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
I had to bite my tongue a lot.
My ex was as smooth as ever. "You've changed your hair. It's interesting. How have you been?"
I gazed over the prat's shoulder at my uncle to avoid staring in disbelief. Did he really think I wanted to stand around and chat? I said, "Fine. Bye."
My attempt to leave was prevented by a hand placed on my arm. When I'd been a seventh year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, that patrician, manicured hand had made my pulse race. Now, it made my skin crawl. What a difference a few years made.
I pulled away. "I can't stay and catch up on old times, Evan. I have to get up early in the morning. Goodbye."
Classically handsome features shifted into condescending amusement. "I'd heard that you made it through Auror training. Caught any bad wizards yet?"
The mockery in his voice triggered my temper, which admittedly wasn't hard to do. "Dark wizards, actually, so tell your pals to watch their step."
Cool blue eyes turned glacial. "Rosier Industries has no association with such persons, and anyone saying otherwise will regret it."
I shook my head at the bold-faced lie. "I'll leave you to show the client out," I told Morty. "Goodnight."
The men were left behind without a backward glance. Upstairs in my small, untidy flat, reaction set in. I made a beeline for the kitchen to conjure tea. I sipped it while watching Evan leave the building. Good riddance. He glanced up at my windows. I knew he couldn't actually see me, but he waved anyway, the arrogant git.
A series of knocks jolted me out of my reverie. I turned from the window. "Come on in, Morty."
He stood in the doorway, cajoling smile in place. "Don't be angry. I didn't think the man himself would pick up the film." Pleased at the nod he received, Morty got to the real reason he'd stopped by instead of continuing on to his flat next door. "I need your help tomorrow night. Client's willing to pay double for the short notice."
I wasn't mercenary, but the thought of how pleased Mum would be if I told her I'd actually built up my savings made me ask, "What's the job?"
Family members always blamed my mischievous streak on Uncle Morty. Viewing the gleam in his dark gaze, my mouth curved in automatic response. We're a lot alike, having personality traits and first names that make us cringe in common.
"A new client suspects the husband of cheating. He always goes to meet the boys for a drink after work. The wife's not buying the story anymore and wants us do a matrimonial enquiry; send a decoy his way." He winked. "See if her husband nibbles the bait."
I rolled my eyes in the manner that had earned me detention from Professor Snape many a time in Potions. "Why do I always get pegged for slag duty? Cami or Lisa could do it just as well."
Trying and failing to look remorseful, the conniver replied, "Neither one of them is free." He gave up his attempt at sincerity and jibed, "Some of my agents actually have private lives." He held up his hands. "All right, I won't tell you that you need to start dating again." He grinned when I flipped him off. "The spouse is a Ministry official in his mid-thirties. He pretends to be one of those impoverished intellectual types with a sad smile." He laughed shortly. "Believe it or not, the wife said she'd heard women actually proposition him!"
I sighed heavily. "Fine, what's his name and which type does the cheat go for?"
"Now, Tonks, it's not established that he's a cheater." Morty chuckled at my expression. "Green-eyed redheads and here's the dicey bit, the client wouldn't give names." Holding up his hand to stop my protest, he wheedled, "She was one of those society witches who live in fear of ending up in the Intruder. The bird paid the Galleons in advance, and how many blokes could possibly fit that description?"
I admitted, "Not many. All right, I'll do it, but I want my share deposited in Gringotts first thing tomorrow morning."
Morty teased as he headed out of the flat, "Why's that? Afraid you'll spend it?"
Refusing to dignify that cheeky and accurate remark, silence was my only answer. Incorrigible, he snickered while closing the door.
The next night, after a day of investigating reports of Dark wizardry that all proved false, I got ready for my side job. I stared into the mirror and morphed my face shape to oval, with fuller lips. Powdering my slim, straight nose, I decided to change it as well. Noses were fiddly, and therefore more of a challenge. I felt a sense of pride at achieving a cute, tip-tilted one. Shoulder length, fiery hair completed the transformation. Wriggling into a form-fitting little black dress, the new reflection blew me a kiss. It was almost disturbing how easily and well I morphed into a slag. Maybe I did need to start dating again.
The Black Wolf tavern was within walking distance, but I Apparated. Inside, the pub was dim and filled with a mixed clientele. I sized up the patrons. Only one fit the description. The man was sitting in a booth, reading a book. An almost empty pint of beer on the table in front of him indicated that he'd been there awhile.
I sashayed over, closely scrutinising the target. He wore shabby robes covering a brown jumper that looked knit by someone with more enthusiasm than skill. The ensemble looked good on him, but most things would. There was an air of grace and refinement about him that had nothing to do with money and everything to do with class. Brown hair was streaked with grey. The wizard's face was handsome, intellectual. Lines at the corners of his eyes made the man appear older, world-weary. His gaze lifted. Light brown eyes met mine. There was a faint sadness in his smile. My stomach clenched with unwanted attraction.
I forced painted lips to smile beguilingly. "May I buy you a drink?"
Unexpectedly, he looked taken aback. "Me?"
Was this part of the routine, to appear oblivious of his appeal in order to feel blameless when women threw themselves at him? Bright tresses were slid back to reveal my bare shoulder. The "Professor," as I thought of him, swallowed hard and waved to the opposite bench when I nodded. He said with a half-smile, "If you'd like—I mean, please join me."
Usually, I plopped inelegantly, but that wasn't exactly seductive. This time I slithered onto the seat, leaning forward to smile. "It's so nice to have a handsome man to talk to. I'm Lora, and you are . . . ?"
My outstretched hand was held briefly in a warm clasp, and then released. I tried not to feel disappointed at the loss of contact.
He smiled while answering, "Remus."
Caught off guard, I laughed. Not elegantly, but the suspected adulterer seemed to like it, grinning with appropriately wolfish charm. "What's so amusing?"
He knew, by the twinkle in his eyes. I played along. "Remus, in The Black Wolf Tavern—you don't have a brother named Romulus, do you?" That breathy, flirtatious quality to my voice wasn't affected. I was finding it way too easy to put the moves on him. Because making progress was part of the game, I disregarded my quickening pulse.
His smile turned reminiscent. "No, just a mother who loved Latin and irony." When my brows arched, he explained with a wistful smile that, even knowing he'd probably used it on loads of women, got to me, "My last name is Lupin."
A bark of laughter greeted my use of a favourite schoolgirl term. Oh, who was I kidding, it was still an all-purpose vocabulary word.
Time seemed to stand still as we sat gazing into each other's eyes. Warning bells started ringing. Remus wasn't anything like I'd expected. His gaze stayed on mine instead of drifting down to my exposed cleavage. We chatted about this and that in the usual getting to know someone way.
He was reading a Sherlock Holmes novel and told me a bit about it. I made all the appropriate noises, but other than "Hound" and "Baskervilles," the rest was goblin to me. The timbre of his voice was so pleasant. It soothed and stimulated at the same time. If he'd been one of my professors at school, I would've mooned over him so bad.
"I've bored you, haven't I?" he asked wryly.
My cheeks heated. Hopefully, it wouldn't be noticeable in low light and under the dramatic makeup applied as part of my guise. "No, of course not. I've enjoyed listening to you."
That wasn't a lie, and the fact was starting to alarm me. Remus was handsome, intelligent, with a kind, self-deprecating wit and a mouth that was the first one I'd really noticed, or wanted to kiss, since breaking my engagement. I was torn between wanting him to be faithful and hoping he'd move to my side of the booth and snog me senseless.
He shook his head. "I don't usually run on," Remus said, "but you've made me feel so at ease, and our conversation has been so enjoyable." He paused and then said, "Would you care to meet for coffee or tea sometime? Tomorrow perhaps?"
I was guiltily thrilled he wanted to see me again, even though I didn't plan on doing more than writing his offer down in my report. Before I could decline, a high-pitched giggle drew my attention to a redhead sitting on a wizard's lap at a table in the opposite corner. The couple hadn't been there earlier. When I saw the bloke with long hair, handsome, weak features, and a sad smile, my stomach flip flopped.
I looked into Remus's eyes. They weren't hiding anything—especially his attraction to me. I said numbly, "You don't come here looking for birds on the pull, do you?"
He appeared suspended between laughter and offence. "No, I'm not one for casual encounters, if that's what you mean."
Mumbling "Sorry," I picked up the clutch purse near my hand, lifted it, and pressed the small button activating the spy camera inside. Assignment over, I lurched to my feet and all but ran from the tavern.
Outside, a firm, gentle grasp halted my flight.
"Lora, what's wrong?"
Something inside me snapped. I tugged free to grab his robes with both hands and drag him closer for a kiss that made me shake. His lips moved against mine, and I forgot that this was supposed to be a snog and run. The voice of reason was ignored while other needs took over. His brown strands were silky beneath my fingers. One of Remus's hands curved around the nape of my neck in order to deepen the kiss. The other slid down my back and pressed me closer. My brain was fuzzily trying to remember why this wasn't a good idea when he smiled against my mouth.
Shifting to nuzzle my neck, he growled softly, "Your skin smells so good, clean and without perfume. I think I'd recognise your scent anywhere."
The thought gave me a thrill that scared me so much I shoved him away.
He frowned. "What's wrong?"
Panicked, I blurted, "I'm not Lora. I'm not some slag who's trying to have it off with you, Lupin. I was acting decoy on an assignment. I mistook you for someone else, so just forget this ever happened, OK?"
Turning my back was hard, but I'd made a vow over a bottle of Firewhiskey more than a year ago to run, not walk, the next time I started to fall for a guy at first sight. By the stars above, I was going to keep it.
Preparing to Apparate, my body tensed when he promised softly, "I won't forget—and I hope that you don't either."
Why did I look back?
A/N: I don't claim to be the brilliant Ms. Rowling, as she didn't give plucky, clumsy Tonks a black sheep Uncle or an EastEnders watching Gran like a cheeky writer named Kerichi did. This story is set GoF and was inspired by a love of Tonks and Remus and first-person female detective novels by authors like Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, and Charlaine Harris. Using Fenrir Greyback and Bill Weasley as examples of men who retain wolfish tendencies, the fic takes the viewpoint that Remus Lupin has a few qualities that he keeps hidden from most, although he remains true to his characterisation of a quiet intellectual and a gentleman. This story is more focused on the magic of love and personal relationships rather than mystery or suspense, although they're important too and love is the biggest mystery of all.