The moment I entered the home on Privet Drive, it was as though the ghost of a star-struck schoolgirl took possession of my body. I immediately reverted to the teenage habit of stumbling when excited, knocking something off the kitchen wall.
I said, "Reparo," and lit my wand to see what I had broken. It was a commemorative plate of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding. I hung it back next to a calendar depicting Balmoral Castle in August, rolling my eyes as I muttered, "Wonder if there's a plate to commemorate their separation?"
A hand patted my arm. It was Emmeline. "Douse the light, dear."
I extinguished the glow, although I was tempted to ask why we were standing in the dark when the Dursleys were out. Didn't make sense to me. Wouldn't Harry be less nervous if he could see us plainly?
The boy we had come to escort to Headquarters heard the noise and came down to investigate. Harry paused on the stairway, his glowing wand outstretched. I listened to Mad-Eye and Remus try to reassure him before I finally asked the question I had been thinking and cast a Lumos spell.
Harry Potter looked just like I thought he would.
The second I gushed that out loud like a fan spotting a film star, The Boy Who Lived looked directly at me. I put a hand on Remus's back to steady myself while I called, "Wotcher."
Remus tossed an amused glance over his shoulder at my eager tone. Merlin only knew what he thought when I bragged about luring the Dursleys out of the house and then made a point of not wanting anyone to call me Nymphadora during introductions.
I hoped he understood I just didn't want anyone but him calling me that.
Remus began to introduce the rest of the Advance Guard. I stayed quiet, determined not to draw undue attention to myself.
My resolve broke faster than a New Year's resolution. While Emmeline, Sturgis, and Hestia were content to watch in silence, I commented on the kitchen's spotlessness, Mad-Eye's disgusting habit of popping out his eye, and volunteered to help Harry pack.
I gazed back at Remus before I followed Harry up the stairs. He winked.
Upstairs, Harry threw me a disbelieving look when I said his room was better than the unnatural cleanliness of the rest of the house. I watched him silently begin to toss books into his trunk and bit my lip. He certainly wasn't the chatty type.
Shamelessly, I resorted to showing off my morphing to gain his interest. Green eyes lit up when I changed my hair from violet to pink.
The enthusiasm he showed about my being a Metamorphmagus and Auror vanished, however, when I mentioned his scar. He looked away. I wanted to slam my forehead against the wardrobe door. Bugger it! Why did I have to open mouth and insert foot when I was trying to make a good impression?
I attempted to cover awkward silence with cheerful patter and was partly successful. Harry's expression thawed from wariness to reserve.
Downstairs, I kept up the cheery act. Inwardly, I was disappointed Harry hadn't taken to me the way most kids did, but I didn't let it show.
The flight back to London was uneventful, though Mad-Eye's paranoid desire to fly through rain clouds and double back to ensure we weren't being followed got my dander up.
By the time Remus and I carried Harry's trunk into Headquarters, I was cold, in a nark and wanted nothing more than a cup of coffee. I headed straight for the basement kitchen, grabbing the largest mug available before making a beeline for the coffee urn.
A heartbeat after I sat down in my usual place, the malevolent bat perched next to me said, "This is not Hogwarts, Miss Tonks. There are no assigned seats."
I shot back, "Youngest member sits in the worst spot."
He looked down his long nose at me. "You sound disenchanted. Did your meeting not live up to girlish expectation?"
I wordlessly displayed a two-fingered salute. Snape's gaze narrowed, and then his lips twitched. I asked suspiciously, "Can you perform wandless Legilimency?"
Stygian eyes gleamed. "Yes."
I slumped over my coffee. "Fabulous."
Snape made a weird huffing noise.
I got snippy. "Harry may find me annoying, but he hates you."
"Yes, but you wish to be liked."
I caught the implication that Snape didn't give a toss for Harry's good opinion. Since I did, I ignored the bat, smiling when Arthur sat beside me and asked, "Tell me, was the home filled with Muggle labour-saving devices, and did you have a chance to examine the microwave?"
"It was and I did." Well, Kingsley and Sturgis had played with it, but I had seen them doing it.
"Can you tell me anything about how it works?"
"I know one thing." I paused when Arthur held up a hand and withdrew a quill and notebook from his robe pocket. He gestured his readiness. I said, "If you turn the microwave on without anything inside, it overheats and dies."
"Really?" Arthur scratched furiously on parchment.
"Yeah," I answered. "I reckon Mrs. Dursley's going to throw a bigger fit over that than when she discovered there was no 'All England Best Kept Suburban Lawn Competition.'"
Arthur chuckled. Beside him, Molly smiled, even as she scolded, "Shhh! The meeting is about to start!"
The Order meeting was productive, but it seemed the uproar caused when I tripped over the umbrella stand after saying goodbye to Emmeline was an omen. The dinner that followed ended in discord.
I agreed with Molly and Remus that Harry wasn't old enough to join the Order and shouldn't be given too much information, due to the dangers involved, but I understood Sirius's point too. Harry Potter was not an average fifteen-year-old boy. He shouldn't be treated like one.
After Molly ordered Harry, Fred, George, Ron and Hermione up to bed, Sirius reached for a bottle of beer. He took a long pull. "No offence, Arthur, but your wife rivals the Prophet."
"How do you mean?" Arthur frowned.
"What those articles do to Harry, make him out to be a deluded joke, she's doing to me."
"Now, Sirius," Remus began.
"I'm being dead honest," Sirius cut in. "Telling Harry I've lost my grip and think he's James, that I'm rash and irresponsible. Molly's constantly arguing and purposely undermining my position as Harry's godfather."
Remus shook his head. "Why would she do that?"
"Because she's jealous!"
Arthur said, "Of course she's jealous." When everyone stared, he smiled wearily. "It's only natural. We've regarded Harry as another son, tried to look out for him as best we could. That you are the person he turns to for guidance, Sirius, yours the opinion he values most, well, I defy any parent worthy of the name not to feel envy."
Sirius stood, the anger drained out of his face. "I want what's best for him, too, Arthur, and I'm well aware I wasn't any use in Azkaban." He exhaled heavily. "I'm not trying to take anyone's place in Harry's life. I just want to be the godfather I've never had the chance to be before."
I watched him stride across the room. "Where are you going?" I asked.
"To walk the dog," he replied without turning around.
Arthur cleared his throat. "Dumbledore said you should remain in this house."
Sirius opened the door, half-turning to say, "When Dumbledore clears Cami to visit, I'll be a good boy and stay home." He smiled grimly. "Until then, I'll continue to be a bad doggy."
After Sirius left, Arthur said, "This Cami person—"
"Camillia Llewellyn, a friend of mine. She met Sirius when he was Snuffles." I shrugged. "She's a dog lover."
Arthur smiled a little. "Is there a reason she has not joined the Order?"
I looked at Remus. He said, "Cami is a recovering alcoholic."
Silence fell. I broke it, asking, "Anyone want another cup of coffee?"
"No, thank you, I shall find it hard to sleep as it is without caffeine keeping me awake," said Arthur.
I looked around at all the dirty dishes. Growing up, Mum cooked and Dad did the dishes. So far at Grimmauld, Molly had insisted on doing both. I wanted to change that, but when I told Harry I wasn't the best at householdy spells, I'd left out why. I hated cleaning.
My gaze fell on Remus. He always lent a hand, which made cleaning less of a chore. I asked, "Will you help me do the washing up?"
He smiled and lifted his wand.
Molly met us in the main hallway as we made to leave. "I didn't trust the boys to go to sleep as they ought," she said. "They settle down better if I make them worry I might burst in and give them a blistering scold." She smiled wryly. "Scolds are my speciality."
I said, "I think cookery is. Dinner was wonderful, and I can't imagine how you conjured so well in that dungeon of a kitchen."
"The stew was delicious, Molly," Remus added.
"For heaven's sake, it's the simplest conjuring for anyone with coordination." Molly patted my arm and said briskly, "Don't worry, dear, I'll show you a few tricks next time."
"Ta, Thanks," I said laughingly.
"Yes, thank you again for sharing your gift of hospitality," said Remus.
Molly waved a hand in a shooing motion. "Go on with you both!"
Outside, I asked Remus, "Come back to my place?" We had been lovers for weeks, rarely spending the night apart since Sirius asked for Remus's help to alert the old crowd, but I never wanted to take Remus's love for granted.
"Are you sure you're not tired?"
I gave him a cheeky smile. "Young people have loads of energy."
"Is that so?"
I nodded. "Enough to give a back massage."
Beneath the torchlight, Remus's eyes gleamed amber. "Then by all means, let's go."
Once we stepped out of the shower, Remus said, "It's getting late. We can do the massage some other night."
"Loads of energy, remember?" I wrapped a fluffy towel around myself.
He lay stomach-down on the bed and turned his head to the side, watching as I lit a few candles around the room and dimmed the illumination orbs. "Shouldn't I do that?" he asked, when I warmed some oil in my hands and began to rub my arms and shoulders.
I used my fingertips to work the tendons at the back of my neck. "I'm preparing my fingers for the real fun—you."
After massaging my temples and jaw, releasing one kind of tension while heightening another, I moved to the bed.
I began by using the flat part of my palm to spread oil over his back in smooth, wide strokes. He made a growl-y noise of contentment. I kept my motions sensual and slow, enjoying the warmth of his skin beneath my fingers.
"Smells good," mumbled Remus, as I placed my hands on either side of his spine and gently rubbed down the length of his back.
I admired the way the breadth of his shoulders tapered down to his waist. Everything about him was firm and sexy.
I massaged my way up his sides, rubbed downward, and repeated the motion several times, feeling muscles relax beneath my hands. "It's almond oil," I said, bending down to nibble his earlobe. "Completely edible."
I smiled when his body tensed. "Look at these shoulders." I tsked playfully, using the fleshy part of my thumbs to push across the shoulder blades before concentrating on tight spots at the tops of his shoulders.
The deep, circular pressure relaxed Remus to the point of sighing, "Mmm."
"Mmm," I echoed. "You look and feel scrummy."
He huffed with sleepy amusement while I took my time massaging his back, using the heels of my hands to rub mid-sized circles down his sides and to loosen up his lower back.
I bent and kissed the nape of his neck before reaching to massage his temples, brushing my body against his in way that felt good for me. too, and made me wish I hadn't put on a towel.
"It doesn't seem fair that I can't touch you," Remus said.
I placed my hands at his waist and massaged up the centre of his back before stroking down. "You can touch."
Remus turned over and pulled me down. After a heated kiss, his hands travelled leisurely over my backside before tugging at my towel. In a sudden movement that made me gasp, he rolled me onto my back and reached for the massage oil. With a wolfish grin, he removed the stopper.
Later, in the dark, with Remus's skin next to mine, I felt secure enough to admit, "I don't think Harry likes me much."
"He's a boy who has encountered more evil than most grown men. He doesn't give his trust or friendship instantly."
I made an effort to say lightly, "Maybe I'll grow on him—like mould."
I felt Remus's chest shaking against my back. "I'm sure you will," he said with a smile in his voice. "You already have Hermione and Ginny eating out of your hand."
"I do have a way with noses," I said smugly.
The masculine hand resting on my abdomen slid up to tweak my nose. "Yes, you do."
I shifted to face him, stroking his cheek. "Thank you."
Remus didn't ask for what. He knew I meant it for a myriad of things, and for loving me just the way I was most of all. He brushed a whisper-soft kiss across my lips. "You're welcome. Now go to sleep."
I giggled and scooted back around. "Yes, Professor."
His chuckle followed me into my dreams, which were incredibly sweet.
The next morning, an owl delivered a message from Neil and Ambika Patil, inviting Remus over for tea. While scratching out his acceptance, he said, "I wonder if this has anything to do with Ambika's recent illness."
"Do you think she might not be able to return to Healer training in a few weeks?" Left unspoken was Do you think they won't need a tutor for their children anymore? Will you have to move out of your flat above their shop?
"I don't know." With a shrug, he added, "No sense in worrying. I'll find out in a few hours."
"Want to meet at Jimmy's for lunch? Pizza is good for celebration or commiseration. Jerry and I will be doing both—commiserating that we pulled duty on a Saturday, and celebrating that it's half over."
"Meet at noon?"
I threw my arms around him and hugged tight. "First one there holds the booth—last one has to play our song on the jukebox."
He huffed in amusement. "Why do I have the feeling you'll be the one enjoying the irony of me paying to hear Hungry Like the Wolf?"
I gave him a sultry look. "I'll enjoy the thought of acting it out sometime."
Remus smiled. What nice teeth he had. I couldn't wait to feel them raking gently across the nape of my neck or other sensitive areas. I shivered thinking about it.
He said, "We'll have to do that soon."
I kissed him soundly in agreement.
I was humming my favourite Duran Duran tune as I walked the deserted corridor of the Auror Offices. "You're awfully chipper today," said a voice I usually dreaded.
I stopped to peer into the cubicle of the witch known as Harriet the Spy. "Wotcher, Harriet. Why are you here on a Saturday? You pull duty?"
"No. I came in to see if my inbox received anything after I left yesterday. I prefer my box to be cleared at all times." She held a piece of parchment clutched to her chest, staring at me warily.
"Wow, that's impressive," I said sincerely. Her dedication was anal, yet strangely admirable. I asked, "Did you get your hair cut? It suits you." Honestly, it would've looked better coloured, because mousey brown flattered no one in my opinion, but the shorter hairstyle was an improvement.
"Oh, yes, thank you," she said, acting flustered by the compliment.
I waved and continued on to Jerry Connelly's cubicle. My partner was so intent on whatever he'd picked up out of his inbox that my entrance made him jump. "Merlin! You startled me!"
I laughed. "You don't say." I dropped into a chair and held out a hand. "What were you looking at, a case for today? Let me see."
Jerry turned red, making his brown freckles stand out. "No, that's not a good idea."
"Are you looking at something naughty?" I reached for my wand. "Accio parchment!"
Luckily, I pointed directly at the one in his hands. Otherwise, I would've given new meaning to the term paper chase. I snatched the sheet out of the air and looked down.
The drawing depicted an Auror on the ground, looking up at his partner walking on clouds. Her robes were open, the tee she wore emblazoned with the words all night, every night.
Marsden, the office cartoonist, had paid me back for a prank. I slowly shook my head back and forth.
"Are you upset about it?"
"I've seen Kingsley skewered worse," I said, "and I have been in an exceptionally good mood these last few weeks, so I might have left myself open for this sort of lampoon."
Jerry looked at me steadily.
I threw up my hands. "OK, I left myself open, but do I look sleep deprived to you? I mean, really… all night?"
Freckles were standing out on his face again. "Uh, here's the file," said Jerry, thrusting a manila folder across the desk. "We're assisting with a raid this morning. Bloke asked his neighbour to water the plants while he was on holiday, and she saw possible Dark objects."
"Who are the leads?" I asked, scanning the parchment.
"Crantz and Stern."
I snorted. "My favourite Aurors."
A raspy chuckle came from the corridor.
"D'you hear that Gil? We're her favourite Aurors!"
"If that's the case, Ron, we'll graciously allow her to buy us lunch."
I met the smiling, incorrigible gazes of the two biggest moochers in the Ministry. "Have you ever tried Muggle pizza?"
They had, and strolled in to tell us all about their favourite toppings. Stern sat on the edge of Jerry's desk while Crantz lowered his stocky body into the chair next to mine. When they exhausted the topic of pizza, the two began regaling us with stories of past raids.
I found their tales amusing. In an odd way, they reminded me of Mundungus. When I glanced at Jerry, he tapped his watch meaningfully, so I asked, "Shouldn't we be going?
I heard Stern's bones creak when he levered himself off the desk. "Whetted your appetite, have we?"
"Can't blame them for wanting in on the fun," said Crantz. He jerked his head toward the doorway. "Birds first."
"You're such a gentleman," I murmured.
"That's not what Ron's third wife said." Stern's laugh became a cough.
Crantz pounded him on the back. "There's always hope number four appreciates me."
The pair led the way out of the offices, rattling off the location of the home and the information that the suspected Dark wizard had returned from his business trip.
As we neared the semi-detached residence of our suspect, I asked, "You want me to get him to open the door willingly?" I closed my eyes and concentrated. Within moments, I had become a waif-like blonde with big blue eyes and prominent cheekbones.
Crantz frowned. "Frail and helpless should work, but I'd rather open the door to a bird with big knockers, myself."
"We'll make a note of that for the future," Jerry said.
I grinned. "Nice one!"
Stern turned to his partner. "Do we report this insolence?"
"Only if we want to buy our own lunch."
"Point taken. We'll call it 'high-spirits.'" Stern jerked his head toward the house. "Lead the way, Orphan Annie."
"Call me Kate," I said. "I may look pitiful, but I'm really a shrew." Tossing my long hair back, I approached the front door slowly and bit my lip after lifting the knocker to give the door a couple of hesitant wraps.
Within two minutes, the door opened a crack. "Yes?" a man's voice enquired.
"Good morning, Mr. Vaisey," I said, showing my Auror badge. "I have a few routine questions to ask. May I come in?"
I could feel the wizard inside looking me over. He opened the door all the way. "I suppose. What is this concerning?"
I stepped into the doorway. When Jerry, Crantz and Stern joined me, I entered the house, saying, "This concerns a warrant to search these premises for Dark objects. Any attempt to impede Aurors will be a violation of Ministry regulation." I brusquely rattled off a number," and will be met with due force and a mandatory sentence of six months in Azkaban."
The thin, forty-something wizard stared at the wand I held unwaveringly. "What do you know about force?"
When I heard Jerry shut the door and mutter a spell to assure our suspect wouldn't be able to flee out of it, I said, "Not much. Why don't we discuss the subject in the lounge while my associates carry out their duty?"
His gaze shifted. I said "Incarcerous!" before the wizard's hand could remove his wand from a robe pocket.
Stern nodded in approval of the captive's bindings. "Have that chat here. Shouldn't take us long to locate Dark objects."
"We'll have them bagged and tagged in no time," said Crantz, using his shoulder to push Vaisey out of his way.
Jerry said, "Good work," and followed the other two.
The sounds of my colleagues' searching and finding dark objects carried clearly into the entry. I told Vaisey, "You had no priors. You could have pleaded ignorance about the true nature of the objects and paid a fine. Why did you go for your wand?"
"Do you think I fear Azkaban?" He sneered. "I won't be there long. My master will soon set the prisoners free."
I felt a cold chill. "Your master?"
Vaisey looked at me closely. "You know about him, don't you? That he has returned to claim what is his. I see it in your eyes. You know!"
"What's he going on about?" demanded Stern from the lounge.
"Nothing, he's delusional!" I called back.
Vaisey started to laugh. "I see the fear in your eyes. You do know the Dark Lord has returned! Why don't you tell them?"
I'd lose my job.
The truth was a bitter pill to swallow. I made it a trifle easier by pointing my wand at Vaisey and casting a Silencing Charm.