The confrontation with Sirius—although Lupin felt "confrontation" to be a misnomer, since their conversation had been rendered uncomfortable not so much for its confrontational qualities as the lack of them—effectively ruined any chance for getting either more rest or something productive done that day. He picked at the food Molly had brought up, or paced the narrow strip of floor between the bed and the wall, or sat in his desk chair with his head in his hands when both appetite and restless energy deserted him.
Sounds filtered up through the floor from what Lupin guessed to be another pitched battle between the new and old residents of the house. He'd never understand how Molly, who fought tooth and nail to shelter her children from any and all evils of the outside world, could blithely threw those selfsame children into cleaning out rooms of a house which could, and had, made grown Wizards blanch. Lupin tensed as muted screams echoed shrilly from two stories down, forced himself to relax again as they abruptly became shrieks of laughter. He was grateful that Molly hadn't tried to conscript him this time. His present state of mind practically ensured that disaster would ensue one way or another.
The day seemed to stretch on forever.
Tonks dreamt of fire.
Sometimes it was a thing far off, and she would watch it draw closer, knowing she should run, knowing it would do her little good. Those dreams were frightening, but buried deep in her mind was the knowledge that they were in fact only dreams, and by their very definition she could only be trapped in them for so long.
Then there were the dreams where she was the fire, a living, breathing tongue of flame that devoured everything it touched. All, all became ashes and death, she herself was dying, for the fire spared nothing from its terrible burning presence, not even her own body, incorporeal though it appeared to be. These dreams pushed her beyond fear into despair, because they left nothing in her mind but the realisation that no matter how she fought, she could not escape herself, could not become other than herself.
This went on for a seeming eternity, but eventually one small change inserted itself into her dreams. As she stood, once again watching the fire's approach and willing herself to run, over the roaring flames she heard laughter. Whose laughter it was she didn't know, only knew that it was to be feared even more than the fire. She screamed.
And woke, screaming. For a single moment she thought she had escaped the fire, but then she felt the lick of flames over her back and instinctively threw herself forward, felt herself falling, hitting the ground with a bone-jarring thump. The floor was cold, and her fingers scrabbled over what felt like stone, but her mind could not separate itself from the hideous echo of laughter, nor the burning of her skin. She heard voices calling a name, her name, but from a distance, and she couldn't believe that they meant her no harm. She fled on hands and knees, blind to her surroundings, until she crashed into something solid. From behind her there came a shouted spell. She opened her mouth to scream again, but the spell stole her voice and stiffened her limbs where she huddled on the floor. It was only when she heard a second spell cast and felt darkness sweep over her that she understood and began to fight with all her remaining strength to stay awake. She wept silently as the voices faded and the dreams returned.
Molly brought word after supper that Kingsley had arrived. She didn't offer news about Tonks, and Lupin didn't ask. Instead he waited until the giggling and thumping and general noise that comes of children getting ready for bed had compeltely fallen off before heading down to the kitchen. He caught the murmur of voices as he made his careful way down the narrow hallway to the back stairs, murmurs which coalesced into intelligible speech as he slowly descended.
"-trying to figure out who the leak is."
"Wouldn't it have to be someone in the Ministry? If what Moody said was true, that the Death Eaters knew that Tonks would be there but not which member of the Order..."
"Probably. I don't know what the hell I'm going to tell Scrimgeour tomorrow, he's out for blood-"
The conversation cut off abruptly as Lupin pushed open the door. Kingsley sat across the table from Sirius, a thick stack of parchment and a half-empty bottle of Firewhisky between them. Both of them were nursing their glasses with the air of men who meant to do their duty and drink the bottle dry whether it needed it or not.
"Lupin." Kingsley tipped his head in greeting, his smile brief and his eyes tired.
Sirius didn't bother to look up at all.
With a small sigh and the knowledge that the next few hours were going to be excrutiating, Lupin summoned himself a glass and took a seat, stationing himself at the end of the table where he wouldn't have to look directly at either man.
"The kids asleep?" Kingsley asked.
Lupin nodded, pouring out a generous finger of whiskey. "I wouldn't be down here if they weren't." He knocked back his drink and poured himself another.
"Moody needs your report as soon as you can write it up."
"Already started." Lupin grimaced as the second shot went down. "I should have it done by noon tomorrow. Where's Alastor?"
"St. Mungo's, guarding Tonks' room. He wants a watch kept around the clock until she's out of there. I went to see him before I came here, told him to get some rest, let someone else guard her , but he wants to stay at least until she wakes up."
So she hadn't woken yet. Lupin wasn't sure whether this made him feel better or worse. "Is she in any danger?"
"She's in a secure ward," Kingsley shrugged. "No visitors unless they're approved by Scrimgeour first. Anyone determined to get to her would have to storm the doors. Then there's Moody, plus three other Aurors on guard shifts around the clock, though I think that's just Scrimgeour's insurance that the press doesn't get its claws into her. If Voldemort wants her badly enough to go through all that, she's not safe anywhere."
Lupin blinked, taken aback by the implications of so much security surrounding her. He shook his head. "No, sorry, I just meant- She's healing, right? There's no danger of...?" He couldn't quite bring himself to finish.
"Ah. No, she's going to be all right. It was a near thing, though, from what I understand."
"She'd lost a lot of blood," Lupin said in a hollow voice.
"No, that wasn't the problem. Not that it helped. I won't pretend to understand everything Moody told me—even her Healers don't fully understand what's going on. There's not a whole lot of information on metamorphs, and even less on how to treat them when they're injured, and none of it applied to what they had to deal with yesterday. She'd been holding the form of a child, right? Well, it takes energy to shift into a form so radically different to her own, and then hold that form for any significant amount of time. If it were a normal day, that wouldn't do more than tire her out a little, but between fighting and whatever it was that spell did to her...it was too much. Way too much. She'd tapped into her reserves to keep going, but she drained herself dry and her body was shutting down. That's why she's still out. The Healers are keeping her asleep until they're sure that shifting back into her normal form won't inadvertently kill her."
The memory of Tonks in the Death Eaters' flat, asking him—no, ordering him—to cast the spells that would keep her going until they both got out, splashed itself across Lupin's mind and set his hands shaking. He put his glass down carefully. He'd almost killed her. He'd known it at the time, and he'd done it anyway.
Lupin looked up to find Sirius looking back at him, exasperation and pity in his eyes.
"You got her out of there. Here." Sirius reached across and slopped more whiskey into Lupin's glass. "Drink. She's alive. I know that look. Stop trying to convince yourself that you did anything other than what had to be done."
Lupin stared. "You're not- I mean, you said-"
"I still think you're being an idiot, but let's not compound the issue with unnecessary guilt. You did what you had to do. She got to St. Mungo's alive. You made it here alive. It could have turned out a hell of a lot worse."
"Fair enough," Lupin muttered.
Kingsley was eyeing the other two men thoughtfully, but tactfully changed the subject. "So are you going to tell us what happened? I've got to give Scrimgeour something tomorrow."
Lupin straightened up with a heavy sigh. Downing that much Firewhiskey on an empty stomach hadn't done him any favors. "Let me get something to eat, then I'll tell you whatever you want to know."
Sirius and Kingsley grilled Lupin for another hour after he related to them everything he could remember of the day before. By the time they'd wrung every detail out of him, some of which he was surprised that he remembered at all, he was ready to drop. His lungs felt tight, congested, and his head throbbed, though he thought that might have been more to do with the whiskey.
Kingsley was tipped back in his chair, eyes fixed on the ceiling. "Sirius, I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm just saying that it's going to be almost impossible to trace that leak. It could have been any number of people, and we just don't have the resources to-"
"Can we argue over this some other time?" Lupin interrupted, cradling his head in his crossed arms on the table. "Not that it isn't a fascinating subject, but you still haven't told me what you found at the flat. You got there before the Ministry?"
"I did. I can't guarantee that I got everything, but then there wasn't much to get. Lennox had gone by the time I arrived, and he'd pretty well torched everything left. He'd even dug Claremont out of the mess you two made of the stairwell. You're sure he was still under there when it fell?"
"No, I'm not sure. He had a sodding ton of cement fall in on him. If it didn't kill him outright, it at least did a decent bit of damage, but seeing as how I didn't have time to go poking around afterward, we can't really be sure of anything." Lupin lifted his head wearily. "I'm beginning to believe the rumours about Lennox."
"Which ones?" Sirius asked, the words slurring together slightly. He'd been the one to finish off the bottle, and it was beginning to show.
"Giant blood. Not like Hagrid, farther back, but somewhere. He shouldn't have been walking after some of the blows he took."
Footsteps on the kitchen stair had all three men turning to see the newcomer. Arthur appeared in the doorway with a weary smile.
"Any dinner left?" he asked.
Sirius waved a hand toward to the pantry. "Molly left you a bowl of stew. Did you just now leave work?"
Arthur disappeared into the pantry, emerging a few moments later shaking his head, his mouth full of bread and butter. He set his dinner on the table next to Kingsley and sat down. "I stopped by St. Mungo's to talk with Moody. Here," he dug a thin roll of parchment out of one pocket and tossed it onto the table. "Duty roster for the next week. I wish he wouldn't change ciphers every time, I can't keep track of them all."
"I'm amazed he handed this off. He's never done that before," Sirius frowned. "He must be more worried about Tonks than I'd imagined."
Remus shifted uncomfortably, relieved when Arthur answered Sirius' unspoken question without any further prompting.
"He says she'll make it through, though she's still having a tough time of it. She woke up earlier, a little while before I got there."
"And?" Remus demanded when Arthur paused.
"She didn't know where she was. Moody and the Healers ran in when they heard her screaming, but she'd reopened some of her wounds before they could stop her. They had to put her under again before she did more harm to herself."
Remus stared blindly, knowing what those first waking moments must have been like for her, trying not to imagine her panic-stricken struggle with the Healers.
"Wait, what do you mean, 'reopened'?" Sirius demanded. "Why haven't they healed her yet? How did she even wake up? I thought they were keeping her asleep!"
Arthur looked confused. "I..."
Kingsley cut in. "She's not a normal case. Either she doesn't heal from serious wounds the way the rest of us do, or the spell damage doesn't react to healing the way it should. Maybe both. Maybe that's why she woke up, too. I told you, the Healers are out of their depth with her, but they're doing what they can, Sirius."
Sirius subsided, but he looked as though he wanted to hit something.
"I'll go see Moody again tomorrow afternoon," Kingsley said. "Maybe I can convince him to go home and get some rest."
"Good luck," Arthur mumbled around a bite of stew. "I tried that already, he wouldn't listen."
Kingsley let out an irritated sigh and stood up. "I tried it, too. If I have to Stun him, I will. He's got the staying power of an ogre, but even he can't go three days straight without sleep. Remus, I'll stop by for your report before I go over." He nodded a farewell and strode out of the kitchen.
Lupin contemplated the last mouthful of whiskey in his glass.
"You should go see her."
He avoided meeting Sirius' eyes. "Don't you think I'd be a reminder of what happened and set her off again?"
Sirius shrugged. "Don't you think she might find it comforting to see that you're all right?"
For the life of him, Lupin couldn't explain why the thought of seeing Tonks filled him with such reluctance, but he knew that it wasn't something he could or wanted to talk about. He gave a small shake of his head. "It's a moot point for the time being, anyway. Scrimgeour wouldn't let me anywhere near her."
"He might," Sirius argued.
Remus rose, swaying on his feet. "We'll see. I need to get some sleep." He made his way slowly to the door, grateful that his weariness masked the fact that he was, in fact, fleeing the scene to avoid any more uncomfortable questions. He could feel Sirius' gaze burning a hole in the back of his head all the way out the door.
Lupin's report was finished well before Kingsley came to fetch it.
He'd expected nightmares to wake him in the morning, and they did, but he'd also imagined himself still too exhausted for this to happen until well after sunrise. No such luck. When fear chased his eyes open, there was no light coming in the windows, no comforting smells of breakfast. Dawn was still hours away, leaving him in the dubious company of those quiet, menacing night noises peculiar to a house steeped in decades' worth of dark magic, and his thoughts. Of the two, the noises were easier to deal with.
By the time the sky had begun to lighten, revealing a grey, dreary world both inside and out, he'd been glad to throw himself into the task of writing down everything that had occurred two days earlier. Putting those events down on parchment couldn't possibly be any worse than reliving it over and over in his own mind, whether awake or asleep, and at least this way he could focus on the dry details, scrupulously avoiding any emotional overtones that might try to creep in. Clinical, that was his objective, and rereading it when he was through, he thought he'd achieved it. The whole exercise felt cathartic in a way that relating the story to Kingsley and Sirius the previous night had not. He ate a quiet breakfast and went back to bed, falling into a deep sleep free of any kind of dream.
A coughing fit forced him awake hours later. He knew he should have dosed himself with something that morning, or even better, the night before when he'd first felt it coming on, a heaviness in his lungs that betokened the inevitable onset of illness whenever his body was pushed past its limits. The only medicines Sirius stocked in the house were to be found in the liquor cabinet, but surely Molly would have something on hand. He went downstairs with the intention of finding her, only to come up short on the bottom step as Kingsley walked in the front door.
"Afternoon, Remus," Kingsley greeted him quietly as he shrugged off his wet cloak. "Something wrong?"
Lupin realised he was frowning. "No, it's...I just woke up. I hadn't meant to sleep so long."
"Wouldn't you say you're entitled to it?"
Lupin shrugged. With a tip of his head to indicate that Kingsley should follow, he hurried down the corridor to the kitchen stairs as another spasm clutched at his chest.
"Have you taken anything for that?" Kingsley asked him as they reached the kitchen, the sound of coughing echoing back up the stairwell.
Molly was pulling bread from the oven. She straightened with a look of concern. "Goodness, Remus, you sound terrible."
"Sounds worse than it is," he answered. There was no need to ask Molly for a lung restorative; with brisk movements, she'd already Charmed the bread into the pantry, fetched the potion from a nearby cabinet and gotten him a glass of water. "You're a wonder as always, Molly."
Her cheeks pinked. "After six children, I'd hope I could do that in my sleep." As if Lupin was a child himself, she watched him swallow down the medicine, nodding in sympathy at the face he made afterward. "You'd think they'd find a way to make these things taste better. Hermione says some of the Muggle remedies taste like candy."
"They work about as well as candy, too," Lupin grimaced as he got himself a second glass of water to rinse away the taste. His lungs eased as the potion took effect. A quick look in the cabinet showed a few more vials of the stuff. "I'll pick up more, Molly, chances are I'll use up the rest of this."
"Don't worry about it," she shook her head as she bustled about the kitchen getting tea things ready. "I'll have Arthur pick more up tomorrow. You rest up."
Lupin found himself settled at the table with a bun and a cup of tea almost before he knew what was happening.
Kingsley grinned at him, deftly snagging two buns for himself before taking the seat across the table. "That report ready?"
"Yes. It's up in my room." Lupin started to get up, but Kingsley waved him back into his seat.
"Finish your tea. I need to talk with Sirius before I go anyway, there's time."
"How's Tonks doing?" Molly asked, interrupting Lupin's internal argument over asking the question himself.
Kingsley drained the last of his tea and let Molly pour him another cup before answering. His face had gone blank. "Better than she was, though her back's still not healing as it should."
"Do they know why?"
"No. It could be an after-effect of the spell, or the fact that she hasn't changed back yet. They're not sure."
Lupin frowned as a thought occurred. "I thought you said that it takes energy to hold a different form."
"So why are they allowing it?"
"I think they'd force the change back at this point if they could, but they don't know how. The plan was to let her wake on her own today or tomorrow."
"Have the Healers said when she'll be allowed to leave?" Molly asked.
"No, but with Mad-Eye and Scrimgeour breathing down their necks, I'd imagine they're doing their damndest to get her healed up and out of there."
Lupin made a wry face. "Oh, I don't know, there's probably a few of them who feel that they've discovered alchemical gold. Metamorphmagi are rare enough that studying one is the opportunity of a lifetime."
"Assuming Mad-Eye lets them get anywhere near her for that sort of thing."
"If you're done," Kingsley nodded at Lupin's empty cup, "I should go find Sirius."
"He's probably up with Buckbeak." Lupin rose and, after thanking Molly for the potion and tea, followed on Kingsley's heels back up the stairs.
Thanks to LadyRuthless, justwaitingontheworldtochange, strawhay, James 'Kendall' Potter, famous4it, aineee, TheOfficalGleek, NighttrollGirl, Tessiete, and fanficmaster29 for your reviews. For those of you who asked, Tonks' turn is coming, don't worry. ;)
I've been trying to keep to a posting schedule of one chapter every two months. However, the newest addition to my family is due in about four weeks, and while I'm hoping that this won't affect updates, it very well might, babies being what they are. If it looks as though the next chapter is going to be significantly delayed, I'll make a note in my profile around the beginning of November.