Disclaimer: J. K.Rowling is the creator of these characters, and all credit goes to her. I'm just borrowing them for a bit.
A/N: I came up with the idea for this story during a discussion on the Metamorfic Moon LJ page and decided to try it out. What would happen if Tonks and Lupin met for the first time while on assignment?
Not a clue as to how long this will turn out to be, but I can guarantee you a wild ride...
Rookie assignment, my arse. Just an excuse to shift the crap jobs onto the all the poor slobs at the bottom of the ladder who don't have enough seniority to piss without permission, much less complain about the cases they get.
In the middle of a Sheffield park, cross-legged in the shade of a spreading horse chestnut, a small girl sat all by herself. Despite the lack of other children to play with, to the casual observer she appeared happily absorbed in a small pile of dirt she'd gathered and didn't seem to mind that she was alone. Fistful after fistful was grabbed up, her eyes wide with fascination as the grains trickled back through her fingers. The simple game continued for nearly a quarter of an hour, her interest never wavering, until an ill-timed gust of wind brought it to an abrupt end. Since she'd arrived, the idle summer breeze had done nothing more strenuous than gently tug at the golden ringlets that lay on her shoulders, but now it picked up suddenly, catching the fine particles as they fell from her hand and tossing them back into her face.
She jerked back with a cry, dug grimy fists into stinging eyes, blinked furiously and scowled and kicked a foot at the dirt pile in anger. She seemed unaware of the long muddy streaks on her face thanks to the unhappy combination of tears and dirty hands. Her tantrum didn't last long without an audience to draw it out, though she could be seen glancing around, looking for any sympathetic passers-by. There were none. She was still alone. With a last sniffle, she stood and tried to clean herself up, batting at her tangled curls, raining bits of earth and grass, but she only succeeded in getting her hair and dress dirtier. After a few more half-hearted swipes she gave up and looked around.
Where the hell is he?
The girl's face lit up, having spied a tree branch conveniently low enough for her to reach. Running as quickly as short, somewhat unsteady legs would allow, she caught hold and let her momentum swing her forward, legs raised in crook-kneed fashion that displayed to the world how fond this tiny example of femininity was of Mickey Mouse underwear.
All that effort to be here early—early, for Christ sake!—and for what? To piss around until the Order's golden boy feels like showing up? If Moody ever complains about me being late again, I swear to God I'll set fire to his leg. And maybe his eye.
Grubby knees swung back and forth as the girl gripped the branch, scrabbling a little to get a better hold. Her voice lifted up in a sweet, off-key treble. "Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon, the little dog laughed to see such-"
Her attention was caught by a wandering butterfly, the whimsical nature of its flight bringing a bubble of laughter to her lips. Fingers released their hold on the makeshift swing and she dropped back to the ground, stumbling as she went chasing after the bright-winged distraction.
No sign of the two we're supposed to trail, either. Am I the only one who bothered to check the time this morning? Death Eaters or not, most people still know how to use a damned clock. I dunno, maybe we were wrong about the location. I told Kingsley that this seemed like an odd place to show up, but does anyone listen to me? Nooooo…
The girl's interest in the butterfly waned as quickly as it had come. The chase abandoned, she raised her arms to her sides and began a slow spin, laughing as she twirled like a top on the grass before collapsing in a dizzy, giggling heap.
Complete. Bollocks. The most suspicious thing out here is Mr. Butterfly over there. Or Mrs. Butterfly. Can't really be sure about these things. Kingsley's due a swift kick in the arse next time I see him, along with Mr. Can't Be Bothered To Show Up On Time. Bad first impression, mate, I've got to say. Making me sit here talking to myself about butterflies and which people most need a good throttling.
The girl stood, paused, swooped down again briefly to pluck a flower that had nearly met its death under her sandaled foot. She bent her head to smell the blossom and sneezed. More dirt smeared across her face as she wiped her nose on a forearm. The flower was closely inspected, tossed in the air a few times and finally picked to pieces. When she started twirling around again, she let her fingers fall open to shower the bits of petal, leaf and stem in an arc around her feet.
I never should have agreed to go into this blind. There's no real reason for the Order to get involved, not in a simple Auror case. Oops, sorry, "rookie" case. If I can't handle a bleeding surveillance assignment on my own, Scrimgeour never would have hired me on in the first place. And if he didn't think I needed backup, why would Moody turn around and saddle me with some guy I've never even met bef-
The distinctive crack of Apparation reverberated through the neighborhood. The little girl fell still, eyebrows raised in the appearance of mild interest, curls splaying over her shoulders as she looked up into the sky, at the trees, back down the street.
From a nearby alley between two blocks of flats, a pair of men emerged. They talked as they strolled along, turning immediately to the right without looking around and giving every impression that they were familiar with the area. It was only when they came to the crossing that would take them alongside the park that the taller and darker of the two men looked up and saw the girl. He said something briefly to his companion and they changed direction, making for where she stood.
Oh, hell, those are the two I'm—we're—supposed to trail. Why are they coming over here? Shit. I can't leave now.
The back of her neck prickled briefly, but she tried to bluster away her sudden unease.
Calm down, you. It's not like they're going to do anything to a Muggle child right here in the open. Probably.
She stared at the strangers, as wide-eyed and curious as she'd been with the butterfly, following their progress into the grass toward her until they stopped just a few feet away. Another wave of unease hit her, shivering down her spine as twin stares pinned her where she stood.
"Hi!" She waved a small hand in tentative greeting. Her seemingly innocent blue eyes flickered between their faces, while mentally she raced through everything she'd read in the files Kingsley had shoved at her a few days before, comparing it with the two men now facing her.
The taller of the pair, the one who'd spotted her, was thickset and massive-shouldered and possessed of impossibly long legs. His leer suggested that he liked nothing better than to chance upon little children alone in city parks. Simon Lennox according to his records, though his file didn't contain much beyond his name. More muscle than brains to look at him, a typical Death Eater bullyboy, though bigger than most. Rumours whispered there was giant blood somewhere in his background. Whoever put together the information on him had somehow skipped over his undisguised penchant for young girls.
The second, his ice-blue eyes fixed intently on her face with an expression somehow even more disquieting than the one on Lennox's, being a shade too cold, too calculating for her comfort, looked much like her childhood impression of biblical angels: graceful, slender, with gilt-hair floating around his fine-boned face. A picture of ethereal masculine beauty. Lucifer before the fall. Oswin Claremont.
He and Lucius Malfoy must be quite the matching set when they get together. Two-for-one sale at the local Evil Minion store that day? Ahaha, oh God, this whole assignment's fucked.
So near to him now, she found herself trying not to think too hard about the details contained in his inches-thick file; every account spoke all too vividly of a monster lurking underneath the beautiful exterior. Easier to fall back on snide internal commentary rather than focus on how vulnerable she felt at that moment.
Claremont's mouth curved into a smile, but if he meant it to inspire trust or reassurance, he failed utterly. It served only to reveal something disturbingly predatory in his features.
"Hello, little one."
Battling the mad urge to spin on her heel and flee, "little one" swallowed hard and wondered how three short words could evince so much cruelty. The earlier shiver down her back gave a repeat performance. She dragged a fist across her nose and snuffled, her own return smile shy and unsteady. "Are you an angel?" she asked, letting wonderment tinge her voice.
His shark's grin widened, emphasizing the chill in his eyes and forcing her to suppress another shudder. At his side, Lennox let out a coarse laugh, black beady eyes lingering over her tiny frame.
Damn pervert. Shit shit SHIT! Screw kicking his arse, I'm going to kill Remus bloody Lupin. Right. Calm down. Think about this. Something's wrong here. Why are these two bothering with a Muggle child, anyway? It doesn't make any sense.
"So, little one," the false angel cut into her thoughts, his voice honey-smooth but with an underlying menace that hung in the air between them. "Can you answer me a question?"
"Um, well…" She casually linked her hands behind her back and looked down at one foot as it scuffed the grass, praying they would dismiss the flush on her face as embarrassment. Effectively hidden now, she clenched her fingers, refusing to wince as the nails bit viciously into her palms. The pain cleared her head somewhat. Fear was a luxury she couldn't afford right now. The mission was shot for the moment, no sense in trying to deny it, but there was a good chance she might get away without betraying what she was, double back and pick up their trail in another guise. She had to at make the attempt at least, and she needed to be able to think straight in order to do it.
You're an Auror, you've been trained to handle situations like this, and damned if you're going to let all rational thought fly out the window just because you've got to handle this mess by yourself. Ten minutes ago you were saying that you didn't even need backup. Moody's going to have a heyday with this.
"My mum said not to talk too much to strangers." She peered up through her curls in what she hoped was coy naiveté.
"Your mother sounds like a wise woman. Still, would she tell you not to help someone in need? Even angels need directions now and then."
The words dripped sweetly off his tongue, and she thanked the Fates that she was not in fact the child she appeared to be. No child would have been able to resist such charm, too young to sense the poison drowning in so much honey.
"You want directions, mister?"
"Oh, yes—you see, I'm looking for a friend and I'm not sure where he lives. You may have seen him around here, though," he purred.
The nagging feeling that something was wrong exploded into a sure knowledge of the same. It was ridiculous to think that they would come to such a place without knowing exactly where they were going, so why put up such a show?
She needed to get out of there.
Shrugging her thin shoulders, she swung a leg backward and shifted her weight, putting just a little more space between herself and the two men staring at her with such unsettling intensity.
"We just moved here. I don't know anybody yet." Her eyes widened. "Oh, wait, I know! I'll go get my mum and she can help you!" Pearly teeth gleamed as she grinned, her wide smile as guileless as her blue eyes. One foot took another delicate step backward.
It was unnerving, the way his eyes were glittering in the sunlight, but Claremont made no attempt to stop her. Encouraged, she turned and began to skip away, an almost overwhelming sense of relief threatening to sap her limbs of strength as she aimed for a house across the park. Toys left on the front steps heralded the presence of children, and she might safely walk around the house to the yard in the back without suspicion.
She chanced a swift glance over one shoulder. The two men might have been statues, silently, motionlessly tracking her progress. The blanketing relief that had settled over her was abruptly yanked away to leave her shivering in fear once more. Instinct kicked her in the guts and screamed out a single word into her mind.
Her head whipped forward again as she gathered herself to take flight, but no more than a single desperate stride was allowed before her legs were cut out from under her. She landed heavily in the dirt, paralyzed from the waist down and winded from the fall. Bruised, shaking, she raised herself onto her elbows and tried to crawl forward, though common sense told her it was useless. Already the ground behind her shook with the deliberate, heavy tread of booted feet as the Death Eaters approached. They must be enjoying this, witnessing her so helpless on the ground.
No! I can't let this happen!She desperately scanned the surrounding area, hoping to see someone, anyone, who might notice what was happening in the park and think it worth coming over to investigate. Her heart sank even as she searched for her imaginary, would-be saviour. None of this would look at all suspicious to an outside observer, she realized. Claremont had made no move on her that any Muggle could see. Anyone watching would have seen her blithely skipping across the park, only to trip and fall many feet away from the pair of men. No one could know that it was one of them who had jinxed her from behind. It was perfectly natural that the two would then come over to assist her, which surely must have been Claremont's intent.
Mad-Eye will kill me for being so thick. She swallowed hard. I hope he gets the chance to try.
A second thought followed swiftly, hitting her like an oncoming train and nearly crushing her under the weight of it: these men would not hesitate to strike out at anyone who ventured near, she knew that now. Calling the attention of any passing Muggle would be tantamount to serving them a death sentence. She couldn't bring herself to do it.
She had to let them take her without a struggle.
Behind her, the muted sound of boots on the grass had fallen silent.
"Little one, you really should be more careful." Claremont's voice wrapped itself around her, its silken tone sheathing the deadly significance of his words. He knelt beside her and pulled her upright, supporting her small body since her unresponsive legs hung useless beneath her. "It appears that you cannot walk, child." He picked her up, cradling her against him in a travesty of an embrace. "Here, let me help you."
She bit her lip to contain an altogether unexpected whimper of fear. Whatever twisted desires she had seen gleaming in Lennox's eyes were nothing compared to the promise of torment burning within Claremont's.
As her thoughts spun wildly in her head, one in particular shouted over the top of all the others. It still made no sense. None of this made sense. Why go to all this trouble to snatch a Muggle child? There seemed little gain in it, not unless...
She glanced up at Claremont and asked in a small voice, "Where are we going? Are you taking me home now?"
She felt the low rumble in his chest as he broke into quiet laughter, a terrifying, evil sound that whispered of death.
He smiled down at the small captive in his arms and slowly stroked one cheek, laughing again as she shuddered away from his fingers, unable to keep up the childish façade as her imagination unwillingly pictured what those same fingers might do to her if escape became impossible.
Claremont bent his head slowly and whispered into her ear, sweeping even those frightening images away in a flood of shock and terror.
"Oh, not yet. There's something I need to show you first, my dear Nymphadora."