Author's Note: Set in late January during Order of the Phoenix
Disclaimer: I'm not JK Rowling, but she's got some wonderful characters I'm borrowing for a bit and having my wicked way with.
This fic is dedicated to Lady Bracknell, who first made the suggestion that I wrote something myself, and MrsTater, who made it again and again. Thanks to you both for giving me the excuse my easily swayed subconscious was looking for. I hope you don't regret it.
Cards On The Table
Chapter 1: The Disorderly Order Meeting.
It really was turning into the most excruciating meeting of the Order of the Phoenix ever. Which was probably because she wanted it over with as soon as possible.
Tonks gave up trying to see through one of the blackened kitchen windows of Grimmauld Place. It had long been dark outside anyway on such an icy cold January night. She toyed with the idea of writing 'Hot young witch needs rescuing! Apply within!' in the grime with her finger, but decided against it, not least because she was liable to catch something. Moody might appear to be deeply engrossed in a lengthy report on how he'd caught a troll traitor while at the barbers on his day off, but neither eye really missed a lot. Much as she liked the old curmudgeon, she liked him missing quite a few things as far as she was concerned even more.
"And then I doubled back again," said Moody, nodding with gruff approval at Kingsley, who was sat ramrod-straight and seemed to be the only one paying attention, "past the dryers in case I had it wrong and the blighter really was only there for a short back and sides."
Tonks sank back to hide her face in the side of the cracked brown leather two-seater, which she always made a bee-line for. Remus said it was the only comfy chair in the house. Depending on who you sat next to, of course. She wished he was sitting next to her to hear this. Except she wouldn't dare look at him in case he raised one of those expressive eyebrows very slightly at her and she choked. When Remus chaired meetings the atmosphere was always relaxed but things got done. They were getting done at this one too, until Dumbledore had unexpectedly arrived and whisked him away for a word. Presumably it was about the task Remus had only just got back from, and no doubt Sirius would get a mention too, but it really was lousy timing.
This had left a tired Arthur, still recovering from his run-in with the snake, and seemingly unable to stop Moody building up a head of steam, Dung playing cards at the back, Sirius toying with a thankfully empty silver goblet, Molly knocking back a fairy cake, Hestia admiring her violet nails and Severus Snape watching proceedings, and occasionally herself, with a condescending smirk. He'd arrived with Dumbledore and that was damned odd because he must know the duty roster had been altered? She'd seen Remus send the owl just before they'd sat down to one of Molly's wonderful roasts, and she'd gone from not being able to eat a thing at the thought of a patrol with Snape to absolutely stuffing herself at the prospect of one with Remus. And thanking Merlin she'd resisted the impulse to charm the roster yet again because she'd really pushed her luck there lately.
So why was Snape here? He rarely attended and when he did the only thing he added was a noticeable dip in temperature. Tonks looked at Sirius as it wasn't long since the pair of them had nearly come to blows over Harry and the Occlumency lessons, but Sirius hadn't even glanced at Snape once. He seemed to be telling Dung about the Top Ten Things You Didn't Do In Azkaban, a list he'd shared many times with her and Remus during a late night session.
"And number three," she saw rather than heard his lips say, "is never fall asleep with your mouth open."
Dung gave a loud belch of appreciation and dropped some of his cards on the floor, which Sirius bent down to get for him. Tonks knew the back of them showed the scantily-clad Helford Hellcats, an all-female Quidditch team famous for their unusual…dexterity with a broomstick. They were obviously demonstrating this now as Sirius laughed, and she hoped fiercely that Molly wouldn't notice, that the meeting would end, and Snape would clear off in his long black cloak and take the gloom with him.
But could anything shut Mad-Eye up?
As if in answer to her thought, the door opened with a loud creak of protest and revealed Dumbledore and Remus.
"Alastor," said Dumbledore smiling slightly and rather resplendent in green robes, "I'm so sorry to interrupt but I need a word with Kingsley and Arthur. Perhaps this might be a good time to finish?" He looked across at Tonks. "I hope you'll forgive me for sending you out on such a bitterly cold night, my dear? At least there'll be two of you to moan about me."
"I'm resigned to it. And the company." Tonks grinned at them both.
"That's the spirit. A bracing stroll, a little deceit and betrayal to observe and then, hopefully, some splendid news for our side." Dumbledore smiled at her, eyes twinkling, and then turned to say something to Remus.
Sometimes it was all too easy to miss the horror in Dumbledore's words. Tonks shivered slightly and moved so she could feel the reassuring heat coming from the great fireplace to her left. Moody was looking slightly put out at being cut off in mid-flow so as she caught his normal eye she winked. He glared at her and growled something under his breath. She glanced around the room, trying to hide a grin, and saw Snape leaning forward in his chair and staring fixedly at Dumbledore and Remus. His expression was hidden from her, but she had the sudden, inexplicable urge to shout a warning. Which was ridiculous. It was just her guilty conscience making her jumpy. Making her think he waited like some menacing bird of prey, judging the precise moment to pounce.
"Has anyone any questions as it's getting late?" Remus' slightly hoarse voice broke into her thoughts and she welcomed the interruption. He was wearing the dark brown sweater Molly had rather unwillingly knitted him for Christmas, having set her heart on aubergine, and a faded, tatty pair of jeans. Much like her own, but then she'd paid a lot to have them look like that.
Remus looked round the room. "No? Right then, I suggest we - "
"Just a minute, Lupin. I do indeed have a question," Severus Snape's voice cut across him like a swathe through grass. It was loaded with malice and Tonks knew, with sickening certainty, that she hadn't been wrong. Here indeed was trouble and more.
"I'd like to know when I start my patrol tonight with Nymphadora," Snape said, and the way he drawled Nymphadora, and flicked her a sideways glance down his hooked nose made her want to hex him on the spot.
His words had an instant effect. Sirius sat bolt upright, Moody's magical eye started whizzing round, and even Dung showed hitherto unknown signs of animation. Molly seemed to have frozen mid-chew.
Everyone turned automatically to look at the lean figure at the head of the room. The flames from the fire lit the side of his face nearest her, illuminating the premature lines and turning the grey-brown hair to copper. He looked perfectly composed.
Why, oh why, hadn't she warned him when she had the chance?
"I don't quite understand, Severus," said Remus, politely. "The roster was changed. Did you not receive an owl?"
"Oh, I received an owl all right, thank you." The sarcasm was biting. "An owl I couldn't possibly comprehend."
"Was the writing not clear?" Remus spoke with a concern and courtesy that was faultless. Dung gave an audible snort that rather spoilt the effect. "I have to apologise. I was in a bit of a rush and - "
"Oh, I bet you were, Lupin. I bet you were" Snape was leaning so far forward in his seat that he was almost doubled over. "After all you only got back this afternoon and you must have been absolutely devastated to find out for the first time in - let's see is it five or six patrols now? - that you weren't paired with Nymphadora. What went wrong? Didn't you leave precise enough instructions?"
"Actually I think it's five since Christmas," Remus frowned slightly. For a moment Tonks thought he was going to count on his fingers to check. Her mind was screaming at her. There was no way she could let him take the flack for something she'd done. Eventhough she'd not actually done it this time.
How bloody unfair was that?
"I'm very impressed by your ability to keep track of Order patrols, Severus. Considering how few meetings you can attend with your busy schedule, it's – well, impressive is the word." Remus nodded with approval as if he were discussing the promised mild spell of weather to come, but there was a slightly cooler tone to his next words.
"Am I to understand you have some sort of problem with this particular one?"
This time it was Sirius who snorted. Snape shot him a look of pure loathing and stood up slowly. He looked taller and wider and blacker than the slighter figure opposite. Tonks felt her fingers curl involuntarily around her wand. She'd back Remus against Snape any day but, thanks to her, the odds were stacked heavily against him here.
"My problem, Lupin, is that you are acting in a totally unprofessional and inappropriate way that could jeopardise the safety and stability of the Order. The roster is your responsibility, is it not?"
"Indeed it is." Remus nodded slowly. Thoughtfully.
"So did you think no one would notice?" Snape was sneering now. "Did you think no one would keep track? Did you think we were all stupid?"
There was a slight pause.
"I 'adn't noticed like," said Dung, helpfully. He turned his head. "'Ad you 'Estia?"
Hestia Jones looked absolutely horrified to be singled out for attention. She shook her head vigorously in denial.
"No?" Dung looked satisfied. "T'isn't just me then. Course I 'ain't sure what all the bother's about, like. I does a lot of patrols and stuff with Mrs Figg and there ain't nothin' going on there. Gawd blimey no!"
Sirius laughed loudly. Tonks would have as well if her heart hadn't been in her mouth.
Snape hadn't taken his eyes off Remus.
"Lost for words are we, Lupin?" he enquired acidly.
"And Mad-Eye and Kingsley are always on patrol t'gether, like," went on Dung to no one in particular. "And you'd 'ave to 'ave a mind like a bloody sewer to think there was any funny business there."
"I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to be answering, Severus," said Remus, politely. "I seem to be missing your point."
His eyes flicked, briefly, to Tonks and then away again. His expression was unreadable.
Oh Merlin, she thought. He knows.
"See does it matter if they wants to get in t'other's knickers?" Dung now addressed the transfixed room with an enquiring shrug of his bony shoulders. "Er, Remus and Tonksy I means, not the other two. Gawd blimey! Got me at it now. But she's a pretty little thing. Perfectly understandable. And I'm sure he'd like to have a good - "
"Will you shut up?" Snape swung round and roared at him. "This has nothing to do with you! It's between Lupin and me!"
"Eh?" Dung peered at him balefully through his matted ginger hair and looked rather hurt. "Right you are. Sorry, like. Anyone seen me pipe?"
Snape turned his back on him. Two bright red spots of colour burned in his sallow cheeks. Tonks thought about hexing him - and herself - into oblivion.
"Touch of the ol' green eye, I reckon," muttered Dung, in a voice he presumably imagined was under his breath, while hunting round the table and patting his numerous pockets. "Dunno which one of 'em it's for, mind."
Sirius collapsed in a howl of laughter. Tonks would have as well in another lifetime. When it wasn't all hitting so very close to home. She risked a glance round the room. Moody - bless him - was looking from Remus to her with concern on his face, Molly's mouth was wide open, Hestia was staring fixedly at her boots. And Remus? She risked a quick glance. Inscrutable as ever. Except the corner of his mouth was turned up slightly. That slight curl she'd learnt to look for.
If she didn't know better, she'd think he was enjoying this.
Snape had turned his attention to Sirius. Who looked as if that was just exactly what he wanted. Oh, hell -
"Of course you would find this amusing Black, wouldn't you? Rule breaking and putting lives at risk always appealed to you. I expect it was you who messed the roster up for your pal." Snape literally heaved air into his lungs, which he expelled in a snarl of hatred. "Too drunk to remember what you were supposed to do, were you?"
The room erupted. Tonks was on her feet and so were several other people. Sirius was reaching for his wand. And everyone shouted at once.
"I'm warning you, Snivellus - "
"Sirius! Leave this to me!"
"That's right, Black. Do what your keeper tells you to."
"Why you whey-faced - "
"Remember what I told you, Padfoot!"
"It was Arthur who sorted out tonight's patrol! Nothing to do with Remus or Sirius!"
"Really, Molly? Do you think Arthur's brain is capable of working quickly enough when I question him to back you up on this? I rather doubt it myself."
"I could do a nice deal on a wedding cake an' booze if anyone's interested, like?"
"Severus, let's discuss this on our own as it seems to be getting a little out of hand?"
"You're being damned insulting, Snape, to fellow Order members! Totally unprofessional! It's confidential information but I did tonight's patrol list!"
"Really, Mad-Eye? And I understood you were in Scotland all day today. How very far-reaching of you."
"It was me!" Tonks shouted to make herself heard over the din. "For Merlin's sake, Snape, it was me!"
The room fell silent immediately. Everybody stared at her.
"It was me," she repeated more quietly, her heart pounding so loud she was sure everyone could hear it. "Me. I did it because I - I like being with Remus. All right?Everyone catch that at the back or do you needme to say it again?"She looked sharply away from Molly's sympathetic eyes. "So - so I charmed the roster. I've been doing it for a while." She looked hard at Snape. "Are you happy now? Are you satisfied?"
Snape was staring at her, a very odd expression on his face. For a moment he looked almost uncertain and his Adam's apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed. Then his mouth twisted in the familiar sneer.
"Tonks." She heard the hoarse voice from her right but its' owner was the last person she wanted to look at.
"This is all very touching," Snape drawled. "So now you're lying for him as well, are you, Nymphadora?"
"That's enough." Remus' voice was cold. "It's nothing to do with her. Your quarrel's with me and you were quite right in what you said in the first place. Did you hear me? I said you were right."
Snape turned round with a gleam of triumph in his face. Tonks was forced to look as well and saw Remus was now only a few paces away from him. The two men locked gazes and she all but held her breath.
Snape laughed. He actually laughed and the sound was so jarring and unexpected that Tonks jumped.
"The thing is," he said scornfully, happily, "the thing is, Lupin, I don't know how you can ever imagine that an illustrious member of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black would ever lower herself to get entangled with an unemployed dark creature of dubious ancestry and without a Knut to his name! It's ludicrous! Talk about ideas above your station!"
Out of the corner of her eye, Tonks saw Dung looking askance at Sirius, who'd sat down again and was tilting back his chair, arms folded, one black booted foot casually balanced against the table with a look of high amusement on his face.
Had she missed something?
"No nuts?" Dung asked in his horrendously audible whisper, forehead creased in consternation.
Sirius shook his head.
"Not true," he said. "I shared a dorm with him for seven years."
"Thank Gawd." Dung coughed throatily in approval, and clouds of green smoke from his pipe billowed around him. "I was worried like, for the lass's sake."
Snape's face darkened dangerously again and he sneered.
"Haven't you a Hippogriff to feed, Black? There must be something useful you can do for the Order at this hour. Perhaps a bit of cleaning - you must have a duster handy? Or a tea towel?"
Remus took another step forward but, amazingly, Sirius laughed. He threw his head back and showed all his strong yellow teeth; and his long black hair streamed back off his wasted face as well, showing the high, chiselled cheekbones and the man he'd once been. When the girls must have formed a long queue around Hogwarts.
Tonks tensed, her hand on her wand again, but Sirius was still laughing.
"Nowhere to be at all, Snivellus. I'm enjoying this far too much. Especially now Moony owes me a couple of Sickles. Which I'm willingly going to forego for the pleasure of seeing you make an ass of yourself."
An ugly flush suffused Snape's face and his voice was suddenly a soft, malicious whisper. Which, Tonks remembered only too clearly from her days in his Potions Class, meant things were getting rapidly out of control.
"Let's get the Headmaster in here, Black, and see how funny you and Lupin find all this then. I'm sure he'll be thrilled to learn how both of you are jeopardising the stability of the Order by fostering a wholly inappropriate relationship between two of its members. Especially as one of them is too young to properly appreciate when she is being taken advantage of, and comes from a family with a history of mental instability."
Tonks had had more than enough. Mental instability and all.
"If you bothered to wash your hair occasionally and had about ten years in Charm School, you might find out what a relationship is," she started angrily. "As it is, why don't you just go and - "
"I've already said I accept full responsibility for this, Severus."
Remus had moved quickly in front of her and cut her off, a long-fingered hand out-stretched to keep her behind him. A gesture which was, all at once, the most infuriating thing she'd ever seen.
Great gentlemanly prat.
She tried to push past him but his arm was like an iron bar. Apparently he was a lot more solid than he frequently looked. Terrific. Now she was stuck behind the idiot, unless she indulged in an undignified shoving match. Although why the hell was she worrying about dignity at this late stage in proceedings?
"Let's get the headmaster." Snape's eyes gleamed.
"You really want to bother him about something as trivial as this?" Remus spoke calmly but with a noticeable effort.
"I rather doubt that Dumbledore will consider this matter trivial, Lupin."
"What matter would that be exactly, Severus?"
A pleasant voice interrupted them politely. Tonks turned to see Dumbledore standing in the doorway, flanked on either side by a worried-looking Arthur and an impassive Kingsley.
She wondered how he'd opened the creaky door so silently.
"Ah, just the person." Snape turned his back on Remus and her, and walked confidently towards Dumbledore. "We've been having an interesting little discussion about Order security and stability in your absence, and it appears Lupin, aided and abetted by Black, has been abusing his position of trust. Once again, I might add."
"Really?" Dumbledore looked at Remus over his half moon glasses and then back to Snape. "I find that extraordinarily difficult to believe."
Tonks tried to get round Remus again, and again his arm held her back.
"Get out of my way, you prat!" she hissed in his ear. "This is my fight!"
"Wait!" he whispered fiercely back. "Trust me."
I'm going to hex you too in a minute, mate, she thought, furiously. But she did pause fractionally because of "Trust me," which he'd never said to her before, and while she was hesitating Snape spoke again.
"The proof," he said loudly, confidently, "is in tonight's duty roster. It's come to my attention that on repeated occasions of late Lupin has paired himself with Nymphadora - "
"They do work well together," Dumbledore interrupted gently. "To my mind it makes a deal of sense if people who do so are paired together. Mad-Eye and Kingsley are also - "
"Not five times since Christmas!" snapped Snape. "And the duty tonight, which was originally for myself and Nymphadora, underwent an amazing last minute change. Imagine my surprise when an owl arrived telling me my services were no longer required."
"Ah." Dumbledore took off his glasses thoughtfully and looked almost absently across at Remus with her stood next to him. He took a large orange handkerchief out of his pocket and began to polish the glasses.
"Hmm?" Dumbledore looked up. "I'm sorry, I was imagining your surprise. Do go on."
"Clearly," said Snape, sounding as if he were speaking between clenched teeth, "Lupin has behaved in an unprofessional manner and should be severely reprimanded. Responsibility for the roster should be taken away from him forthwith. As he has been absent today, however, it seems obvious only one other person could have done the roster." He drew himself up, triumphantly. "And that person is - "
"Me," said Dumbledore, tucking the handkerchief neatly back into his pocket and holding his glasses up to the light to check them.
He smiled, pleasantly, round the side of them.
"Quite right, Severus."
Snape made a noise. As though he'd been about to speak and a hand had suddenly cut the air off from his windpipe. Tonks thought she could quite easily make the same strangled sound herself. Next to her, the sharp edge of Remus' shoulders relaxed slightly.
"Y-you?" Snape stumbled over the word.
"Yes, indeed." Dumbledore put his glasses back on and peered over them at Snape. "I'm afraid I'm not as proficient at it as Remus so I do apologise for any confusion, Severus."
Tonks was sure she could see Snape's nostrils quivering. His eyes were dark with suspicion.
"Perhaps you could, ah, clarify this for me Headmaster? You did the duty roster in Lupin's absence?"
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows questioningly. "I believe I've already answered this, Severus."
"Yes, but - "
Dumbledore sighed, heavily. "I really need to be getting back and so do you, I imagine." He saw Snape open his mouth again and held a hand up. "As this seems so important to you, I can assure you that I did the roster in Remus' absence today. I did the pairings for the patrols. Obviously there seems to have been some sort of misunderstanding?"
There was silence. Tonks could see Sirius smirking and Dung chewing on the end of his pipe with relish, glancing from face to face like an observer at a Muggle tennis match. The green smoke had thickened the air around them all and made her eyes itch. Snape was staring hard at Remus, his face contorted with fury, the red patches in his cheeks burning brightly. His black eyes…glittered.
She moved quietly in front of Remus, whose arm was back by his side.
Snape's gaze bore into her.
"Do you really think this is going to end well for you?" His voice was thick with malice, and then he swept out the room, brushing past Dumbledore as he went, the black cloak billowing behind him like some tumultuous thunder cloud.
They listened to his boots hitting the stairs and then receding down the hallway. The front door slammed with ferocious force. A log shifted suddenly in the fire behind them as though feeling the vibration, and a shower of sparks shot through the air, landing on the threadbare carpet.
In the distance, Mrs Black's portrait began to scream.
Dumbledore smiled. Apparently unperturbed. "Well I'll wish you all a very pleasant good night, and I'll have a word with Mrs Black as I go and wish her the same. Dear me, I've forgotten to say something to Severus. Still the speed he was moving I expect he's back at Hogwarts already so I'll catch him up there. Remus, Nymphadora - " he gave them both a measured look over his glasses with eyes that seemed faintly amused and yet very serious "- you will take care tonight. I'll look forward to your report in the morning."
He turned on his heel and was gone too.
No one looked at any one else for a long moment. No one broke the silence even when Mrs Black abruptly quietened. Then Hestia gave a sudden, nervous giggle, Dung let out a loud belch of appreciation and Sirius threw back his head and collapsed in laughter across the table. All Dung's cards went flying again and several Hellcats fell off their broomsticks, screaming abuse and losing articles of clothing they could ill-afford to in the process. Sirius howled even more. Molly and Kingsley were smiling, Arthur looked relieved and even Moody gave a guffaw of amusement.
Remus wasn't laughing. The face he turned to her had the shutters firmly down. He didn't meet her eyes.
"We need to talk," he said, quietly.
Oh shit, she thought.
Reviews are very much appreciated. As are appalling Knut jokes like mine. :)