Flames flickered along the top of the ridge. Tonks squinted against the rising wind and smoke haze, trying to gauge the speed of the approaching fire. A glance behind her showed nothing but the edge of a forest, where the shadows clustered together in strange shapes that had little to do with the line of trees above them. The wood held its own secrets, and there was little time to figure out which held more danger, the fire or the forest. Tonks turned back to the ridgeline, where the flames had gained the near side and now crept hungrily toward her. She took a step back, and another. There was laughter in the fire, but she was learning not to flee outright at the sound of it. Memory stirred. She had faced down that laughter once. The echo of screaming defiance drifted through the air along with the tendrils of smoke.
A prickling at the back of her neck made her turn once more toward the forest. A wolf watched her from the underbrush, standing just forward enough to be visible, its ruff bristled out. The roar of flames behind her drowned out all other noise, but she didn't need to hear the wolf's growl to know what the curl of lips and show of teeth meant.
There was nowhere to run. At least, a dry voice spoke in her mind, being eaten by a wolf would be a change. Could teeth ripping at her arms and legs be any more painful than burning in that godforsaken fire? The smell of burning hair and cloth filled her nostrils; ash and floating embers swirled around her. She brushed a negligent hand through her hair, her mind more on the wolf, waiting for it to spring. There was no escape, and no point in trying. She sank to her knees. As it launched itself for her, she made no move to save herself, simply closing her eyes. A rush of air on her face snapped them open again, staring in horror as the wolf leaped over her head and threw itself, snarling, into the fire.
This time when Tonks awoke, she knew it. After a few heart-pounding moments, her eyes rapidly flick over her surroundings, she even knew where she was. It was impossible to be an Auror for more than a month without having at the very least a nodding acquaintance with St. Mungo's. There was no one else in the room with her. She only had a minute or two, then, before a Healer showed up to check on her, alerted by spell the moment she'd woken up, only a minute to take stock before the poking and prodding and endless questions began.
She lay on her stomach, her head turned to face the door on the other side of the room. Whatever lay on her other side would have to remain a mystery; when she tried to turn her head the other way she found she'd been immobilized by what she assumed was a Petrificus spell. While she felt no pain, a prickling along her back spoke of potions merely holding it at bay. Her memories were all a blur, too caught up in the fire dreams to tell what was real and what wasn't. She sifted through them, trying to fit different pieces together, and grew frustrated when the edges refused to match up. Faces and events and sounds muddled together without any reference to time or location: screams, the stench of burning, crumbling rock, butterflies, Deatheaters and the far off singing of birds, an angel whose smile promised death. Tonks gasped, instinctively flinching away but unable to move, as laughter floated up out of her nightmares. Claremont. A burning flat. Lupin's face, bloodied and dirt-smeared.
Lupin. She wanted to believe that her own presence in St. Mungo's meant that he'd made it out alive. A few moments ago, she'd wanted the Healers to take their time; now, paralysed and full of unanswered questions, she impatiently waited for someone to show up. Thankfully it wasn't long before she heard voices at the door, though only one person came in.
"Well, girl, you've got some explaining to do," Moody grunted as he stumped over, looking around her room suspiciously, checking all the corners. "A right ruddy mess you and Lupin made of things, what with that Muggle building half-burned to the ground and Scrimgeour breathing down my neck. You're lucky the press never got hold of it."
He stopped next to her, summoned a chair with a quick mutter and flick of his wand, and sank down, glaring at her. He looked furious. Tonks, who knew him better, could read the anxiety and affection in his eyes, as well as the exhaustion as he slumped further into the chair. Guilt stabbed through her. He'd warned her, after all, and she hadn't listened.
"Well," he demanded, "let's hear it. Oh, wait, you can't- Stanis!" he roared at the door before turning back to her. "I told him he could damned well wait outside while I made sure of things in here."
Another man in healer green robes walked in on the tail end of Moody's comment, wearing a look of such stretched-thin patience that Tonks would have had to hide a smile, had she been able to. Moody on the best of days could be difficult; Moody, anxious and sleep-deprived, was utter hell, and Healer Stanis, to judge by his expression, had been experiencing this firsthand.
"Auror Moody," he nodded coldly. "The room appears to be free of potential thieves and murderers. Perhaps now I can check on my patient?" Healer Stanis was surprisingly young, but confident enough, or irritated enough, to bite back. "If you don't mind?" He gestured toward the door.
Moody gave him a hard look. "Well?"
"Hospital regulations state that only-"
"Regulations be damned!" Moody barked. "You've still got a Bind on her, she can't so much as twitch a finger and you want to send off the first friendly face she's seen in three days?"
Three days? Tonks thought. She tried an experimental finger twitch and abruptly remembered the feeling of her fingers snapping as she forced them through Claremont's Petrificus spell, an unpleasant memory she quickly pushed aside. Unlike her back, there was no tingling or prickling in her hand; a good sign, and one she took to mean that her fingers had been fully healed and were as good as ever. Probably better, since she'd broken her pinky back in training and never bothered to get it fixed properly.
The two men were still arguing when she turned her attention back to the room.
"-to assess the extent of her injuries before we remove the spell."
"She's not stupid. Or deaf. Explain things to her, let her make her own decisions."
Tonks watched the healer walk toward her. She was surprised to see genuine concern in his eyes as he sank to one knee. He looked almost as tired as Moody.
"My name is Healer Stanis, as I'm sure you heard," Stanis shot a look at Moody. "I'm one of three Healers caring for you right now. The others are Healer Purvis and Healer Golding. Auror Moody brought you in four days ago. At the time your wounds were severe enough that we were forced to keep you unconscious in an attempt to keep you from metamorphosing back into your proper shape, since we had no way of knowing how this would affect your wounds. During that time you somehow woke from the spell and threw yourself from your bed. I don't mind telling you that we're still puzzling over that, no one's ever done such a thing before. Perhaps, if you're willing to come back once you're healed so that we might further study...?" He trailed off on a questioning note, interrupted by a growl from Moody.
"We can, ah, talk more about that later. After you woke up in such a manner, of course, we kept you in a Body Bind and a stronger sleeping spell to ensure that it couldn't happen again. We removed the spell keeping you unconscious this morning. The other healers and I agreed that once you were awake, the Body Bind spell could also be removed, if that was your wish, but only with the understanding that you must not transform, not in the smallest detail, until we can be reasonably sure it won't hurt you. We don't fully understand the nature of the spell that caused the damage, and you may do yourself further injury, perhaps irreparable, by changing shape at such an early stage in the healing process. All your other injuries have been healed, but the wounds on your back have proven...resistant. Moving around too much may reopen them, even now, so try to stay as still as you can.
"Now, knowing all this, would you like me to remove the Body Bind, or would you prefer to remain immobile during the examination? I can't guarantee that it won't hurt you; as I said, we don't understand your injuries. Frankly, we know very little about the differences in physical composition between a Metamorphmagus and that of a normal Witch or Wizard. It may be that our difficulties stem more from how your own body heals rather than the injury itself-"
"Merlin's balls, man!" Moody exploded. "I said let her decide, not lecture her back into unconsciousness!"
The healer flushed and cleared his throat. "Yes, well. She does need to be able to make an informed decision. Miss Tonks, please blink three times if you'd like me to remove the Body Bind, otherwise I'll leave it in place until I'm finished."
Tonks blinked so quickly she was afraid for a moment that he'd missed it. She'd deal with the pain; it was the feeling of helplessness that was making her edgy, not to mention the long-windedness of Healer Stanis. He knelt looking at her, bemused, then shook his head and stood up.
Moody snorted. "She's an Auror, lad, what did you expect?"
The healer ignored that as he pulled his wand out and released the spell. Tonks took a cautious deep breath and, feeling nothing more than stiffness, drew in a deeper one.
"How're you feeling, girl?" Moody asked.
"All right," she whispered, her voice dry from disuse. "Lupin, is he-"
"A little banged up, but he'll be fine. Just needs more rest, like you. We'll...talk more about it later." He glanced sideways at the healer.
"Are you in any pain?" Healer Stanis asked, standing over her.
"Good. I need to remove your bandages. If you feel pain, tell me immediately and try not to move."
Other than the pins-and-needles in her back getting stronger, Tonks felt no physical discomfort during the whole process, but her mind was awhirl with questions and a vague fear long before it was over. As the healer pulled aside the bandages covering her, she heard Moody's muttered oath. He wouldn't ask questions in front of her, not if the situation was bad, and he said not a word. Healer Stanis made a few comments to himself as he gently probed the wounds and cast diagnostic spells over her, but he spoke too quietly for Tonks to hear, and if Moody understood, she couldn't see his face to gauge from his expression how matters stood. She'd posed a hesitant question and been rebuffed immediately. She didn't try again.
After enough time had passed for her to very much regret that she'd agreed to hold herself still, Healer Stanis addressed her directly. "Miss Tonks, without moving your arms, please slowly flex your shoulders. Stop immediately if it hurts."
It didn't hurt, but the prickles were growing uncomfortable, much like when Claremont had first cast the spell. It had started as a tingling, spreading, and then had come the fire...
A shudder shook her from head to foot, though she tried to keep still as the healer had told her. I'm safe, she told herself, forcing both the clearer memories of her dreams and the hazier ones of what had truly happened back into the recesses of her mind. As her body stilled, she found that she'd curled arms and legs underneath herself. I'm awake.
"Miss Tonks?" Healer Stanis dropped hurriedly to his knees. "Auror Moody, please go call for Healer Purvis, I need-"
"'m all right," she gasped out. It took a conscious effort to relax the muscles that were trying to curl her up into a ball.
"Are you in pain?" he asked, shining light from the tip of his wand into her eyes.
"N-no, not really, but my back, it prickles..."
"Yes, I think it's time for more potion. I'll be back in a moment," Healer Stanis said, rising and heading for the door. "Stay still," he admonished as he left.
"Moody?" Tonks looked around, not seeing the old Auror.
The sound of his wooden leg scraping on the stone floor came from the other side of the bed. She hadn't noticed him move there. He walked back around to where she could see him.
"How...how bad is it?"
There was an uncomfortable silence. "It's not pretty. Stanis may be an arse, but he and the other healers know their business. In the end, you may have a fine set of scars to show off."
Tonks grappled with this. She'd never considered how the curious elastic quality of her skin dealt with injury, but one thing was certain: these would be the first scars she'd ever had. What if she couldn't metamorph them away? The thought unsettled her more than she'd have thought possible.
"Does it bother you?" Moody asked.
She looked at his war-torn face and tried to keep her voice light. "Well, it's not like it scored me a cool magical eyeball or anything."
Moody chuckled roughly. "That's my girl. Don't give those bastards the satisfaction of knowing they've gotten to you."
Tonks smiled but knew that she was lying. "Can I have some water?"
He chuckled again. "I can see you and Stanis are going to get on. Not much of a bedside manner, that one." Moody eyed her as he fetched a glass from a side table and poured out water from the waiting pitcher. "You think you can keep this down?"
Tonks nodded. The bed creaked as he sat beside her. With his help, she shifted to a position where he could hold her head up as she drank.
"Slow down there, you've not had anything in four days. No, you don't get more," Moody said in answer to the wistful look she aimed at the empty glass. "Tonks...I can guess what you were remembering earlier. You know that's going to keep happening unless you can work it out of your head."
Tonks nodded again, slowly, reluctant to talk about it. She wanted to ask how she could ever forget the things she'd seen, but looking at his face and knowing that most of his scars weren't external, she wasn't sure that he could give her an answer. 'Constant vigilance!' wasn't the motto of someone who had made peace with his nightmares.
Her nose itched. It felt good to be able to reach up and scratch it, to be in control of her own limbs and move around, if only a little. "Oh," she stopped herself, arrested by the sight of her hand. So small. It was easy to forget just how small she was in this particular body. No wonder the healers were nervous.
"Aye," Moody said, interpreting her frown, "that didn't make it any easier for the rest of us. I think we'll all feel better once you're back in your own shape."
The re-entrance of Healer Stanis forestalled any further conversation. "Ah, you've given her some water?" Healer Stanis asked, noticing the glass in Moody's hand and Tonks' changed position. He was plainly struggling to keep his irritation off his face, although it bled into his voice as he strode over to the bed. "Well, 'stay still' sounds very much like 'have a drink,' so I'm glad to know that you take the orders of her healer seriously."
"Oh, leave him alone, I asked for it," Tonks told him as he bent to administer the vial of pain potion. She swallowed, grimacing at the foul taste.
Healer Stanis stood regarding the pair of them, the picture of offended disapproval, his professionalism at odds with his obvious desire to tell them both off. "Perhaps in a couple of days, Miss Tonks," he said tightly, "if I can trust you not to get out of bed, we'll see if you're ready to transform back to your usual, er, self."
"Hold on, now," Moody objected, rising to his feet, "Purvis said today or tomorrow!"
"He said if she were well enough," the healer shot back, raising his voice. "Her back hasn't healed nearly enough, and in my opinion she's not in a fit physical or mental state to try anything so taxing on her body. If you'd like to take it up with Healer Purvis, then be my guest, but I've had about enough of your-"
A terse knock on the door interrupted this building tirade, followed immediately by an older woman in nurse's robes who walked into the room and straight up to Healer Stanis. She spoke urgently into his ear.
"Now?" he asked in a low tone that Tonks could only just catch. "Can't you stall him?" The nurse spoke again and he sighed. "All right. Ten minutes, that's all he gets. I'll let her know."
The nurse nodded and left. Healer Stanis rubbed his forehead with one hand, looking suddenly exhausted. "I'm sorry, Miss Tonks. Auror Scrimgeour is downstairs waiting to speak with you. He'll be here in a few minutes."
A/N: Allergies + cold virus = blarg. Next chapter up next week, assuming that I'm back to normal and not still an ambulatory ball of phlegm.