Disclaimer: I own none of this. J. K. Rowling and assorted companies including but not limited to Bloomsbury, Scholastic, and Warner Brothers own everything. They also make all the money. I am just having fun and in no way seek financial profit from their property.
Note: This was originally written for the Half Moon Rising fic jumble at the Metamorfic-Moon livejournal community in response to four prompts: Thing – Shrivelfig, Place – Forbidden Forest, Time – A Day of Confusion, Genre – Mystery/Suspense . I am tickled to note that it won first place for Best Mystery/Suspense and Runner-Up for Best Use of (An) Original Character(s).
The Great Shrivelfig Caper
Remus turned in his chair to face the door and the source of the quiet voice calling for him. "Adriana?" he said, smiling softly at his daughter standing in the doorway.
"Mum is getting Demetrius out of his bath now," she said as she slid further into the room, her brown hair hanging limply down her back, still damp from her own bath. "Will you come read us a story?"
Remus sighed, glancing back at the papers scattered over his desk. "It's awful late, sweetheart," he said gently, "and I really have to finish this."
Adriana walked over to stand directly before him, a slight pout working its way across her heart-shaped face. "But you promised!" she whined.
"I did?" Remus asked, skeptically raising one eyebrow at her.
"Yes," she insisted, playing with the sash on her dressing gown and not quite meeting his eyes. "Don't you remember when I asked at dinner?"
"I said 'Maybe,'" he gently reminded her. "That is not a promise."
Adriana looked back up at her father. "Your mouth might have said 'Maybe,' but your eyes promised that you would."
Remus blinked in confusion. "My eyes promised?"
"Yes. Your eyes said 'Adriana, I love you and I'll do anything for you so of course I'll read you a bedtime story tonight.'" The little girl's eyes were wide, her tone earnest, and it was all Remus could do not to laugh at her.
"A promise only counts if I actually say it. No matter what my eyes might or might not be saying," he countered, knowing his eyes currently were betraying his amusement.
Adriana frowned. "Only if you say it?" she asked. "What if you write it down on parchment with a quill? Doesn't that kind of promise count?"
This time Remus could not quite contain the laugh. "Alright," he chuckled. "It counts if I write it down."
Adriana nodded thoughtfully, but she was apparently not yet appeased. "What if you spell it in the air making letters with your wand?"
"I suppose that would count, too. But I can't think of any reason why I would."
"I won't have anytime left to read you that story if you keep asking what ifs," Remus interrupted.
Adriana's face broke into a huge grin, her eyes sparkling. "So you will read us a story!" she shouted triumphantly. "Thanks!" Without giving him a chance to reply, she went running from the room and he could hear her calling to her brother, "Demetrius, he said he'd read us a story!"
Remus stared at the empty spot where the little girl had previously stood. Shaking his head ruefully, he murmured, "I think I was just out maneuvered by a seven year old."
With a sigh, he rose from his chair to follow Adriana down the hall to the girl's room. Partway there, his progress was halted by a small, dark-haired, ball of energy bolting from an open door and colliding with his leg.
"Story, daddy!" the shirtless ball of energy just had time to exclaim before being grabbed by the shoulders from behind.
"Not until you're ready for bed," Tonks declared as she tried to halt the squirming three-year-old that just might be the world's first perpetual motion machine.
"I am ready!" Demetrius protested, stamping his foot. The little boy looked up at his mother, his mouth a firm line and his brow creased with determined wrinkles. "Want story."
Tonks narrowed her eyes back, a mirror image of her stubborn son. "Not until you put on the rest of your pajamas!"
The little boy glanced over and up at his father, seeking any sign of support. Remus arched an eyebrow and shrugged his shoulders. "You heard your mother."
Demetrius seemed to realize he was outnumbered and it was time to accept defeat. He immediately threw his arms straight up in the air and froze, except for a slight wiggle in his toes, waiting impatiently for his mother to pull his shirt on for him.
As Tonks finished dressing Demetrius, Remus slipped down the hall to Adriana's room. The little girl was squatting near a shelf, scanning the spines of the books resting there.
"Hey, Honey," Remus said as he sat behind her. "Have you picked a book yet?"
Adriana sighed dramatically, her entire body heaving with the effort. "No," she moaned. "I can't find anything interesting. I want something exciting. Something new."
"Hmmm, well, I don't think we have anything new. Maybe we should let Demetrius pick."
Adriana looked up at him, her eyes wide and face aghast. "No!" she cried, as if this was the most horrifying idea she had heard in her young life. "He always wants you to tell the exact same story. That is so boring," she said, drawing out the last word as Tonks entered carrying a now fully-dressed but no less squirmy little boy.
"Stor-y! Stor-y! Stor-y!" Demetrius chanted as he finally wiggled loose of his mother's grasp and ran to stand beside his father gazing at the books over Adriana's shoulder. Remus looked over to see the now unencumbered Tonks sitting down in the rocking chair by the window, claiming the comfortable spot while Remus was stuck on the floor.
"Yes, Demetrius," Remus said, reaching out to wrap the boy in a tight grasp and draw him into Remus' lap. "It's story time," Remus continued as he began tickling the wriggly child, causing the chanting to finally die in a fit of high pitched giggles.
"Daddy! Demetrius!" Adriana called impatiently, before turning to he mother. "Can't you make them stop?"
"What do you want me to do?" Tonks asked from her chair. "Put them both in a full-body bind?"
Remus stopped tickling his son and stood the still giggling boy on his feet. "Sorry," he apologized to his glaring daughter who rolled her eyes in response. "We'll behave. Have you picked a book?"
"No book!" Demetrius exclaimed, his laughter gone but the added energy from his father's tickling causing him to literally bounce in place. "Daddy tell story."
"What story do you want me to tell?" Remus asked over Adriana's groan.
Demetrius, Adriana, and Tonks all answered Remus' question in perfect unison. "The time mummy and daddy met."
"We've heard that one a billion times," Adriana moaned. "Can't we hear something new?"
"No!" Demetrius yelled, louder than normal even for him. Remus stifled a grin at how well tickling the boy had revved him up, while Demetrius' mouth once again dropped into a firm and stubborn little pout. Some days Remus wondered why the boy had any facial muscles other than those necessary to make the determined glare that was his preferred expression.
Adriana was unfazed by her little brother's stubbornness and turned an accusing glare of her own on her father. "He only likes that one because you change it every time you tell it."
"If I change it," Remus said with a smile, "you haven't heard the same story a billion times."
The little girl refused to be placated. "Now you're just being silly, Dad. I want something exciting!"
"What do you say, Demetrius?" Remus asked. "Can we try something new tonight?"
Demetrius appeared to ponder this for a second, staring at the wall while still bouncing in place. "O-Tay," he finally announced. "New, 'citing story."
Remus levered himself from the floor, offering a cheerful "OK" of his own to mask the groan he wanted to offer as his muscles protested. He quickly scooped Demetrius up and threw the boy in the air causing Demetrius to again burst into giggles. "Why don't you sit with mummy?" Remus asked as he deposited the hyper child on Tonks' lap. Tonks glared at him before brushing a hand through their son's hair trying to calm the boy enough to sit still. Served her right for taking the chair.
Remus turned back to help Adriana get situated on her bed and snuggled into the pillows propped against her headboard. Once everyone was settled, or as settled as they were going to get with Demetrius bouncing on his mother's legs, Remus sat down at the foot of Adriana's bed, got as comfortable as he good with his back resting against the wall, and realized his mind was a total blank.
"Uh…" he said, looking around the room for inspiration. Tonks' arched eyebrow and half-smile, clearly expressing her unspoken challenge that he would not be able to think of a convincing story, were certainly not helping matters. "Hmmm… A new and exciting story…" Remus had plenty of those. Unfortunately, most of the Marauder tales were not suited to an audience consisting of a seven-year-old and a three-year-old. Especially not when they were children that he was expected to discipline. "Ummm… well…" Remus was struck by a sudden and rather insane idea. "I know!" he cried, causing Demetrius to take a rather high bounce off his mother's knee and Tonks to wince in slight pain upon his landing. "Did I ever tell you the story of the Great Shrivelfig Caper?"
For the second time that night, his entire family answered Remus in unison. "The what?" three confused voices asked.
Remus looked at Tonks, his eyes widening in feigned shocked. "Don't tell me you've forgotten the Great Shrivelfig Caper!" He stared intently at her, silently willing her to go along with him.
She obviously got the message, but glanced at the squirmier-than-usual boy on her lap, contemplating revenge before deciding to let him off the hook for the moment. "Oh. Right. The Great Shrivelfig Caper. I'm sure the kids will love that one." Her tone indicated that she couldn't wait to hear the story herself, a factor that probably weighed heavily in her decision to play along.
"The Great Shrivelfig Caper," Remus began, lowering his voice to a more appropriate story telling tone, "began when your mother and I got an owl from Pomona Sprout. She's the Professor of Herbology at Hogwarts. She had suspected for a while that shrivelfig bushes had been disappearing from the Hogwarts' greenhouses, but the night she sent us the owl she knew for certain someone had taken a bush and she wanted us to try and put a stop to it. So we went to investigate. It was a dark and stormy night when…"
"It was a dark and stormy night?" Adriana interrupted sounding rather insulted. "Come on, Dad! I'm seven and I think that's old. Can't you do better than that?"
Ignoring the cough that was Tonks trying desperately not to laugh, Remus rose to his daughter's accusation. "Yes, lots of stories start that way. But it's not usually true. They always say it's dark and stormy but then talk about the lightning flashing or the moon shinning so it's not really dark. In my story there is no lightning. Just lots of rain and clouds hiding all the stars. And it was a night with no moon."
"New moon!" Demetrius exclaimed, not wanting to be left out of the conversation.
Remus felt a familiar tightening of his heart as he turned to look at his son. No three-year-old should know what a new moon meant. He hadn't even known at that age. Tonks' glare over the top of Demetrius' head said she knew exactly what Remus was thinking. It also said he needed to get over himself. "Yes, Demetrius. It was a new moon," he said simply.
"So," Remus said turning back to Adriana, "since there was absolutely no light and it was pouring rain, can I call it a dark and stormy night?"
"Oh, all right," Adriana said with the faintest eye roll. "It was a dark and stormy night."
"On a dark and stormy night, your mother and I left the Hogwarts greenhouse looking for clues to solve the mystery of the disappearing shrivelfig bushes…"
Tonks shivered as a cold wind howled, barely heard over the roar of the falling rain. Her usually spiked locks hung limply in her face as the water poured down. Looking at her, Remus could only assume much of the rain was running down her back, sliding inside her cloak and robes, soaking her back, the same as it was doing to him. He had been fighting a cold all day, they were out of Pepperup Potion at their home, and he was absolutely miserable. The two of them couldn't see a thing beyond the small oval of light created by the overlapping circles of two lit wands held high over their heads.
"If this has been going on for weeks," he asked Tonks, "why do we have to be out here tonight? Can't we just come back in the morning? Or better yet, set a trap for the next time they come back?"
"Come on, Remus," she said, placing a placating hand on his shoulder. "You heard Pomona. She is certain a bush has disappeared in the last three hours. We've got to look for any clues while they're still fresh."
"Assuming they haven't floated away," he grumbled as her shivers made their way through her fingers and into him. "Or frozen."
"It's not freezing. If you want to get out of this rain tonight, we'd better get moving. We should split up and circle around the greenhouse. If we don't find anything, we'll meet on the backside and come up with a new plan."
"Sounds good," Remus said smiling despite his misery. Tonks' ability to effortless flow into "Auror mode" never ceased to amaze him. "What if we do find something?"
"We can send up sparks to call the other."
Remus frowned skeptically. "Do you think we'll be able to see them in all this?" he asked, glancing up into the rain and instantly regretting it as fat drops fell in his nose, inducing a sneezing fit.
Tonks whacked at his back until he was again able to breath, which he appreciated though he wasn't quite certain what it was supposed to accomplish. "Good point," she said when he was again breathing normally. "I guess we'll just have to send a Patronus messenger. "
"You do realize we are going to be out here all night?" Remus asked conversationally.
"Do you have any better ideas?" Tonks asked with a superior smirk that clearly indicated she knew he hadn't.
"I don't suppose we could try 'Accio clue?'" he asked without much hope.
Tonks laughed. "Sorry. It doesn't work that way, for which you should be thankful."
"Why should I be thankful that I'm stuck in this downpour?" Remus groused.
"Well, if it were that easy, I would probably be unemployed."
"Ordinarily, I would concede to that point. But at the moment, I think I would prefer warm and dry over you being gainfully employed."
"Would it make you feel better if I gave you a kiss to warm you up before we set out?" Tonks asked.
Remus paused. "Hmm… I'll have to think about that."
"Oh, well, if you have to think about it, I withdraw the offer."
"Too late. I accept," he said leaning in to kiss her. Or let her kiss him. Or whatever.
Just before their lips made contact, they were jolted by two very loud voices crying out, "Ewwww!"
Remus looked around the bedroom. His son and daughter both had their noses wrinkled in disgust as their mother was shaking with silent laughter.
Demetrius resumed chanting. This time his mantra was an endless stream of "Ew!"
"Can't you skip the mushy stuff?" Adriana asked, shaking her head. "I want excitement not romance."
"OK," Remus said. "No more mushy stuff. Any other requests?"
Tonks grinned at him. "I didn't 'remember' you being quite that whiny."
Remus winked at her, acknowledging her choice of language. "Ah. I thought you might have 'forgotten' that part. I was hoping you'd like being reminded."
"No more mushy stuff and Daddy keep being a whiny grouch while Mummy saves the day. Any more requests before I get back to the story?" Remus was rewarded with three shaking heads.
"Right then. So we split up. Your mother went to the right and I went to the left to circle around the greenhouse looking for anything that might help us deduce who was stealing Hogwarts' shrivelfig bushes…"
Remus kept his eyes on the ground as he slowly shuffled through the mud around the greenhouse. As long as he kept his head down, the rain wasn't as much of a nuisance. He was already soaked to the bone, so his only concern was keeping the water out of his eyes and already-runny nose as much as possible. The darkness was more of a problem than the rain. He was certain he wouldn't see any possible clue smaller than Hagrid in the dim light cast by his wand.
He paused in his circuit to stamp his foot in a deep puddle, hoping to splash out the excess water to reveal anything in the mud at the bottom. Unfortunately, his only reward was water seeping through a hole into the bottom of his shoe. His socks, one of the few somewhat dry articles of clothing he had remaining, were immediately soaked. With a deep sigh, he continued, feeling his feet squishing in his sodden socks with every step.
Remus now had two missions: find a clue and stay out of all puddles. The second wouldn't do any good since his feet were now so wet he wouldn't notice more water in his shoes and so numb with cold he probably wouldn't notice a mountain troll standing on his toes. Though his nose, as stuffed as it was, would still notice the smell so he decided to add avoiding mountain trolls to his list of missions. Despite the futility, Remus claimed a slight moral victory in every puddle he successfully skirted. He was so intent on picking his path, avoiding puddles, and looking for the elusive, perhaps nonexistent, clues, that he never noticed the grey form, shimmering with its own light, coming towards him. He remained oblivious until it was so close that, had it been a real wolf, he would have felt its hot breath on his face. Instead, he heard Tonks' excited voice. "Come quick! I've found some tracks."
Its message delivered, the Patronus turned and loped off into the night, presumably heading back to Tonks before dissolving. Remus slowly followed in its wake, still attempting to avoid the puddles, but no longer looking for clues.
A little less than halfway around the greenhouse, he found Tonks leaning against the wall. She was scrunched as small as she could get without morphing, and was attempting to huddle under the eaves. She grinned when she saw him. "Wotcher, Remus!"
Remus sneezed before managing a proper reply. "You're awful cheerful considering all this cold and rain," he grumbled.
"Look," she said, pointing the lit tip of her wand towards the muddy ground just below a window. There, directly below the sill, was a deep footprint. It was so deep it might have been made by a giant. Or perhaps just by the weight of two men as one boosted the other into the window.
"Great. We know how they got in but now what?"
Tonks grin grew even wider as she knelt next to the footprint. "Nox," she murmured and the light on her wand instantly died. Remus squatted next to her, his own wand the only illumination. Only the most complex of spells would require the wand's full power so he was instantly intrigued in whatever she was about to do. She tapped the footprint twice and clearly stated "Sequor Nota."
The footprint began to glow a faint purple and Tonks turned her head to look out over the school grounds. Remus followed her gaze and was amazed to see a trail of similarly glowing spots, each about the size of a man's foot and spaced a stride-length apart.
He turned back to Tonks, trying not to let his jaw drop. "Now we follow the trail," she said, the twinkle of her eyes showing she knew he was impressed.
"That's handy," he admitted, before doubling over with another horrendous sneeze.
"You going to survive?" Tonks asked.
"I'll live. What's the other option? Let you go alone?" Remus brightened as a new idea occurred to him, "Or can we go in and follow this in the morning?"
"Afraid not," she said shaking her head. "The rain will wash away all trace of the footprints within a few more hours. Once the spell has nothing more to cling to, it'll fade away. We've got to go now and it looks like we're heading into the Forbidden Forest."
"At least the trees will provide some protection from the wind and rain," Remus shrugged, finding the bright side of a situation for the first time that evening.
"Yeah," Tonks quickly agreed, clearly surprised by the unfathomable appearance of optimism, "and we shouldn't run into any being or anything. They'll be holed up someplace dry."
Tonks relit her wand and they trudged along together in silence. The footprints did indeed lead into the heart of the Forbidden Forest. They both kept their eyes on the ground, following the purple steps and looking for any additional clues. Their tunnel vision caused them to be blindsided by more than one tree branch. Despite the concentration on their feet, Tonks tripped over roots, rocks, and dirt clods every few feet and Remus landed on his rear after a particularly engaging battle involving a successful attempt to reclaim his cloak from the limb that had snagged it. While it was not possible for either of the pair to get more cold or wet, the new scratches and bruises certainly added to their general misery. Still the tracks continued into the woods.
The trail finally led them to a deep gully. The glowing images of footprints became an indistinguishable jumble as their quarry apparently stumbled and fell down the ravine. A single track emerged onto the other bank, and then immediately disappeared.
"Split up again?" Remus asked Tonks when no other obvious path presented itself.
"Sounds good. Follow along the ravine. We can meet back here if we don't find anything within twenty minutes and we'll make a new plan."
Remus carefully marched along his portion of the gully. He searched for any signs of human passage, but found nothing. As he neared the end of Tonks' twenty minutes, he suddenly spotted something brown and lumpy in the bottom of the gully. Carefully sliding down the bank, trying valiantly to prevent more mud from accumulating on the seat of his trousers, he reached the shrivelfig lying in the mud.
Lying in the mud.
Not bobbing in the water.
With the rain still poring, the gully should have been flooded, but this portion was oddly dry. Remus peered further up the ditch. Just at the limit of his wand's light, he spied a bramble of weeds and tree limbs that seemed to be acting as a dam, holding back the water.
A quick investigation of the makeshift-barricade revealed that a dam was only its secondary function. Its primary task appeared to be blocking the hole in the side of the ravine and the dim light shinning within. Remus turned to cast a Patronus to summon Tonks. Before he could mutter his spell, or even give vent to the sneeze building in his sinus cavity, he heard a deep voice cry, "Stupefy" from behind him and then he knew no more.
Remus' next conscious thought was that his bed was much too small. There was no room for Tonks on the little cot on which he lay. It wasn't long after this that full consciousness returned and Remus sat bolt upright, blinking rapidly and looking around. He was in what appeared to be a cavern. The door attached to the rock wall and the fireplace with its cheerful blaze were definitely not Muggle built. The room offered nothing else, including easy hiding places. Content that there was no immediate threat in the vicinity, Remus turned to an examination of his own person. Unsurprisingly, his wand was gone. His cloak was draped over the foot of the cot and his clothes were nearly dry. His socks inside his shoes were still soaked, so he concluded that his clothing had dried naturally instead of with a charm from his hosts and he had been out for an hour or two. In other words, long enough Tonks would be frantic with worry.
He was jarred from that disturbing train of thought by a knock at the door. Before he could formulate a reply, the door swung open and a man entered. The only obvious feature to this man was his hair: a wild brown mop on top and an impressively bushy beard and mustache covering his face. If the man had been a few feet taller, and if Remus had not already met Hagrid's bother, this man's hair would make Remus suspicious that the half-giant and Remus' unknown captor shared at least one parent.
The bearded man closed the door behind him and turned to Remus with a huge smile. "Hello," he said in a thick German accent. "I knew you should be avake now!"
The man's smile was more than a bit disconcerting, considering the circumstances. "Uh, hello?" Remus hesitantly replied.
"Vhat are you doing in the voods on such a bad night?" the man asked in a conversational tone that would have been appropriate if he had asked Remus out in the ravine. Remus found it annoying after having been stunned, carried to Godric only knew where, and Tonks' left to worry. Assuming she hadn't been taken as well.
"Where am I? What were you doing out there? Why did you Stupefy me?" Remus demanded answers to all his most burning questions except that of Tonks' safety. He did not want to alert this man to her presence if she had remained undetected thus far.
"I did not Stupefy you!" the man argued. "Gunther did it! Und you vere trying to steal our shrivelfig."
Remus stifled the urge to correct the man as to who was stealing whose shrivelfigs, and settled for protesting his own innocence. "I wasn't stealing anything. There was a shrivelfig lying on the ground, I thought that was odd since there are no shrivelfig bushes around here, and I picked it up. You have no right to hold me, here. I demand you let me go!"
"It's not safe outside," the man gasped with large eyes, appearing truly shocked that Remus would want to venture outdoors. "Ve vill let you go in the morning vhen the rain has stopped. It is safer. Ja?"
"No. I want to go now!"
"Goodnight," the man replied pleasantly as if Remus had not spoken. He turned and knocked on the door, which immediately opened, left, and pulled it tightly shut.
Remus waited a few moments, making certain the man was gone, before rising from the cot and investigating his temporary prison. There wasn't much to investigate. The door was sealed tightly and he had no hope of opening it without a wand. The fire in the fireplace was real enough, but a magical barricade prevented him from getting to any of it to be used as a weapon or even to attempt to burn the door. The sparse furnishings, the cot and a small table, offered nothing useful.
Remus flopped back down on the bed to plot his next move. Unfortunately, there didn't appear to be a next move. If he was going to be here a while, he might as well make himself comfortable. He kicked off his shoes, a grimace turning into a series of sneezes caused by the musty aroma of his dank socks, and set them just in front of the door. If his captor came back and tripped over the shoes, it might give him a small opening. He grabbed a blanket from the bed, spread it in front of the fireplace, and sat down on it to remove his socks to hang them by the fire to dry. He happily wiggled his toes as warm heat spread from the fire over his bare feet, and layback to wait.
The warmth of the fire far outweighed the discomfort of the stone floor beneath him and Remus began to doze. He was only aware of this fact when a slight noise outside the door jolted him from his light slumber. He tensed as a faint blue glow enveloped the doorknob. He heard a faint click and then the door swung open to reveal a beaming Tonks.
"Wotcher, Remus," she murmured as she hurried into the room and promptly stumbled over his shoes.
"Tonks!" Remus exclaimed, scrambling to his feet and hurrying towards her. Before he had managed to rise from the floor, Tonks had regained her balance and shut the door.
"I see how this works," she grumbled, the smile playing at the corner of her mouth belying her words and tone as she quickly scanned the room. "I'm slinking around in the cold and rain, spying on the bad guys, and making plans, while you're lounging by the fire and leaving your stuff scattered everywhere."
"Oh well," he said, his tone light while his eyes quickly scanned her for any sign of new injuries. "You're the Auror. I decided to just leave things to the expert."
Tonks cocked her head to one side. "If I'm the Auror," she asked in a voice of innocent curiosity, "what's that make you? The damsel in distress?"
"I'll show you who's a damsel," Remus said as he pulled her in for a rough kiss that was interrupted by a weak "Ew."
"I know. No mushy stuff. Sorry," Remus apologized to Adriana.
"I think your other heckler has had it," Tonks spoke from the chair. Demetrius was sound asleep in her lap, his arms and legs occasionally twitching. Even in sleep, the boy never fully stopped moving.
"So much for my story being exciting," Remus said ruefully. "Perhaps we should save the ending for tomorrow."
"No!" Adriana squealed. "You have to finish it."
Looking at his daughter, Remus could see the battle she was fighting against sleep herself. Her eyelids were drooping, she was repeatedly trying to swallow yawns, and her head kept falling back against the pillows as she swayed slightly back-and-forth. "There really isn't much else to tell," Remus said softly. "We found the bad guys, captured them, returned the shrivelfigs, and everyone lived happily ever after."
"You can't end the story that way, Daddy!" Adriana protested, her eyes widening, making her look more alert.
"If we finish it tonight, I'm still going to tell the second half tomorrow for Demetrius," he told her.
"OK," she quickly agreed.
"I don't want to hear any arguments from you about being bored with the same story twice in a row," Remus warned her.
"You won't. I promise." Adriana's tone led Remus to suspect that she would have agreed to anything short of no Christmas presents for the next five years.
"Tonks," Remus said turning back to face the chair, "do you want to take him to bed?"
"Oh, no. We're fine," she said as she shifted the sleeping boy to a slightly more comfortable position in her arms. "I, uh, want to stay and make sure you don't get any of the details wrong."
"Right," Remus said doubtfully with a grin at her. She was as eager as their daughter to hear the end of his little tale.
Remus turned back to address the little girl. "After your mother found me," he began before being interrupted by a cough from Tonks that sounded suspiciously like "rescued you." Remus quickly threw a glare back at her and continued as if nothing had happened. "She told me everything she had learned while spying."
"There are only two of them," Tonks quickly briefed him. "But they're identical."
"Brown hair, beard, and mustache?" Remus asked to confirm these were the same men. At her nod, he continued, "I met not-Gunther."
"One of them came to talk to me and said the other was named Gunther. So I met the one who is not Gunther."
"And did you and not-Gunther have a nice chat?" Tonks asked rolling her eyes.
"No," Remus pouted. "He accused me of stealing his shrivelfigs. And they took my wand."
Tonks laughed at his exaggerated frown and wide mournful eyes. "We'll just have to go have a talk with them and get your wand back," she said before again turning serious. "The main room is at the end of the tunnel. I was able to watch the door for a bit while disillusioned but I couldn't get in. Based on the smoke that billowed out whenever one of them went in or out, I'm guessing they've got some kind of potion lab going."
"That would explain the shrivelfigs. Do you think we can take them if we rush the door?"
"Frontal assaults do seem to work well, but we've only got one wand at the moment," Tonks frowned as she considered their options. "I guess that will work. I'll lead and you watch my back."
"Solid plan. But first, could you use that wand to dry my socks before I have to put them back on?" He pointed back to where the articles were hanging near the fire, still dripping water onto the stone floor.
Tonks playfully frowned at him, her mouth compressing but her eyes dancing as she moved to comply. "Are you always this whiny when you get a little wet?"
"I notice your clothes have all been charmed dry. You didn't want to walk around in squishy socks any more than I do."
"Yeah, but did you also notice I didn't let someone take my wand and can dry my own clothes?" she countered holding his now dry socks out to him. "Happy?" she asked.
"The dry socks are better," he said as he began pulling on them and his shoes, "but I could do with some nicer company."
"You'd better take that back or next time I'll let you tromp through the rainy woods with Mad-Eye."
"Mad-Eye is a very nice man."
"Oh well, in that case I'll just move out and let him move in," Tonks huffed.
"Alright," Remus conceded defeat. "You're nicer than Mad-Eye."
"Thought so. You ready?"
Remus quickly finished tying his shoe. "Ready."
Tonks tapped the door with her wand and gently eased it open. The tunnel beyond added to Remus' impression that he was in some sort of cave or underground cavern. It was a simple stone and dirt corridor and Remus quickly realized that it would be pitch black when the door to the lit room was shut. Wanting to leave Tonks' wand ready, Remus quickly conjured a small hand full of flames to light their way before pulling the door shut. Tonks grinned back at him, and then began to slink down the hall, hugging close to the wall, alert for any sound to indicate one of the men was coming.
Remus followed her as silently as he could, always keeping both ears and one eye alert for anyone approaching from the rear. He felt another sneeze coming and screwed up his face, eyes closed, desperately trying to stifle it. The odd noise that escaped him caused Tonks to glance back at him and not notice the small stone at her feet. She was just regaining her balance when he bumped into her. Remus quickly wrapped one arm around her waist and threw the other hand against the rock wall. They were plunged into darkness as the stone extinguished his flames, but they remained on their feet and had made no noise loud enough to give away their presence.
They huddled by the wall for a moment their breathing slowly retuning to normal. Remus withdrew his arm from Tonks' waist and rekindled the flames. She smiled a silent "Thank you," and they resumed their trek.
After a few twist and turns in the corridor, Remus finally saw the faint glow of light filtering around a doorsill. They wordlessly assumed positions on either side of the door and exchanged terse nods. Tonks aimed her wand, and cried "Reducto."
The door was blasted into a fine powder of dust through which they quickly charged, Tonks just in the lead. Without really aiming she added a quick "Expelliarmus," and they were rewarded by the sound of wood falling to the floor.
Remus quickly surveyed the room. The two identical men were standing near a large cauldron. One was stirring the potion bubbling there and the other was examining his hand in shock, apparently looking for his missing wand. The room was large with shelves of vials and three other large cauldrons taking up much of the space. One wall was given over to a garden over which fake sunlight streamed. The missing shrivelfig bushes were planted at the far end of the garden.
"Who are you?" the two men asked.
"I'm an Auror," Tonks said simply. Their eyebrows shot up and her answering grin would have suited a Sphinx whose riddle had been answered incorrectly. "I'll ask the questions. Remus, get their wands."
Remus quickly grabbed the wand on the floor near their feet but couldn't find another one. "So, uh, who are you?" he half-heard Tonks ask as he continued looking.
"I am Fritz," said the man furthest from Remus who had been stirring the cauldron.
"Und I am Gunther," said the one whose wand Remus now held.
Remus aimed the wand at its owner. "So you're the one who stunned me?" he asked, his menacing glare ruined by other sneeze.
"Nein. That vas Fritz," Gunther said pointing to what could only be his brother.
"It vas not!" Fritz exclaimed with great indignation.
"Enough!" Remus heard Tonks cry as he tuned the two men out. He had finally spied the second wand on a nearby workbench and went to collect it. Now if only he could find his own wand…
"I don't care who did it," Tonks continued. "I just want to know what you're doing."
"Was too," Gunther murmured under his breath to his brother before answering Tonks. "Ve are vorking on a potion."
"Ja!" Fritz agreed. "Ve make uber-advanced Shrinking Solution!"
Remus and Tonks exchanged quick glances of confusion. Curiosity piqued, Remus temporarily abandoned his search for his wand. "Why?" he asked.
"Ve cannot tell you that," Fritz said, shaking his head emphatically.
"Why not?" Tonks asked.
"Because then you vould try und stop us," Gunther said with a pleasant smile.
Fritz quickly smacked the back of his brother's head, killing Gunther's smile. "Gunther!"
"Vhat? They vould!"
Fritz rolled his eyes. "You can't tell them that. Now they vill vant to know more and vill try und stop us!"
"Oh," Gunther said, the word drawing out, as his eyes grew wide. "Could you forget I said that?" he asked Remus and Tonks.
"Trust me. She has an excellent memory. She's not going to forget something like that," Remus offered.
"Drat." Gunther turned to his brother again. "Ve could Obliviate their memories."
"No good," Fritz countered. "They have our vands."
Gunther pondered that for a moment, the two brothers seemingly oblivious to their audience. "Ve could always use his vand," he finally offered. "It is still over there." He waved vaguely in the direction of a shelf in the corner.
"Thanks," Remus said with a smile as he went to retrieve his wand. Neither man acknowledged his words.
"Ve could try running." Fritz suggested.
"Nein. She is blocking the door. Ve could give up."
"Ja. She is an Aurorin."
The bothers turned to Tonks and said in unison, "Ve give up."
Tonks looked at Remus, her lips compressed to swallow her laughter as he came to stand by her, pocketing two of the wands he had collected and aiming his own at the men. He shook his head slowly, uncertain what else he could offer in the face of this odd behavior.
"Glad we got that settled," Tonks said at last. "Now, would you tell me what you are doing?"
"Ve told you," Gunther bit out each word in exasperation. "Ve are vorking on uber Shrinking Solution."
"Why?" Tonks asked.
"Ve vant one with no counter potion," Fritz explained. "Then ve vill shrink your Vizengamot und hold your government hostage. Ve vant big ransom."
Remus and Tonks again looked at each other, their jaws dropped. Finally with little else to do, they both burst out laughing. They nearly doubled over though both were careful to keep their wands aimed at the crazy pair before them.
Remus' laughter was cut short by another sneeze, allowing him to recover first. "Are you serious?" was all he could think of to say.
Now it was Fritz and Gunther's turn to look at each other, clearly befuddled. "Ja," Fritz said at last, sounding rather insulted that the other two had laughed at his plan.
"Vhy not?" Gunther asked with a pout.
"How were you going to get the entire Wizengamot to drink your potion?" Tonks asked.
"And if there is no counter potion," Remus added, "what would you give the Ministry if they did pay your ransom?"
"Uh… Ve had not thought of that, I guess," Gunther stammered.
"Vould you like to help us plan?" Fritz asked eagerly. "Ve vould share the ransom!"
"As appealing as is an offer of room and board for the rest of my life," Remus said with a smile at the two men, "I've heard many horror stories about Azkaban and don't fancy spending my days there."
"I think I've got a better idea," Tonks offered. "Why don't I bind you two and you come quietly with us back to the castle and you can explain to the Headmistress and the Herbology professor what you were doing and why you needed Hogwarts' shrivelfigs for your potion?"
With surprisingly little grumbling, the two men consented to Tonks' new plan. Their hike through the tunnel was short and they emerged into the Forbidden Forest at the mouth of a cavern not far from the hole, presumably a secondary entrance, Remus had found earlier. The storm had abated, though the overcast sky still hid most of the stars and threatened more rain to come. They marched through the woods in silence, Remus and his lit wand in the lead; Tonks bringing up the rear with her wand never wavering from a spot somewhere between the two prisoners.
At last they came to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, the lights of the castle flickering in the distance. They halted there, and Remus sent a quick Patronus messenger to alert Minerva McGonagall to meet them and then moved to stand near Tonks.
"They really are quite the pair," he said nodding to where the bearded men were chatting in rapid German.
"Yeah," Tonks said sadly. "A pair who are going to end up being punished far more than they deserve."
Remus sighed in sad agreement. "They were plotting the downfall of the Ministry of Magic."
"But they're too thick to have ever pulled it off," Tonks argued.
"Oh, I agree with you," Remus hurried to correct her. "I just don't know how we can not turn them in."
"Well," Tonks said slowly, "I'm not on duty and no one except you, Pomona, and Minerva know I was here so I should be OK."
"We could just turn them over to Minerva and let her decide whether to involve the Ministry," Remus suggested.
"I like the way you think," she said with a smile. "Less paperwork for me," she continued as he launched into another sneezing fit, "and we can go get you some Pepperup Potion."
"So that's what we did." Remus said, smiling at Adriana.
"What happened to Fritz and Gunther?" she asked with concern.
"I'm not really sure," Remus admitted. "Headmistresses McGonagall told us she would take care of them and assured us they would not cause any more problems. I do know they helped Professor Sprout replant the shrivelfig bushes they had stolen. But that is about it."
"Why did they want Hogwarts' shrivelfigs?"
"Oh, they said that was because there is so much loose magic at the school from students who don't know how to control everything. It seeps into the soil and makes magical plants grown there more potent than elsewhere."
"Wow!" Adriana said, her eyes wide but sleepy. "Did you and mum work together on any other cases?"
"Those stories will have to wait for another time," Tonks joined the conversation. "Now it's time for bed."
"Do you want me to take Demetrius?" Remus offered as he rose from the bed.
Tonks was very carefully trying to get out of the rocking chair without waking the sleeping boy in her arms. "No. I've got him," she said before nodding her head toward Adriana.
Remus smiled his agreement and turned to their daughter, who was squirming down into her covers, her wiggling toes just visible through the blankets as they sought the warmth left where he had been sitting.
Tonks left carrying Demetrius, a sleepy voice emerging from her arms. "Don't wanna go bed. Not tired."
"Did you enjoy the story?" Remus asked Adriana as he smoothed her hair back from her forehead.
"Oh, yes!" she said happily. "I want to hear more of your adventures."
"Now remember, tomorrow night it is this one again so your brother can hear the ending."
He gave her a disapproving frown as she released a long-suffering sigh. "OK," she hastily said in response to his glare.
Remus smiled, relenting slightly. "Maybe you can ask your mother to tell it. The ending will be the same but you can hear about what she was doing while I was captured."
"Really?" Adriana asked moving to sit back up in her bed. "That would be great! I'm going to go ask her right now."
"No, you're not," Remus said as he gently laid a hand on her shoulder, pushing her back down into her bed. "It's past your bedtime. Now you are going to sleep. You can ask her tomorrow," he added, already plotting ways to keep his daughter from asking Tonks until story time the next night. It would be much more fun to see how well she could do making the story up on the spot.
"OK," Adriana said with a yawn. "Night, Daddy."
Remus leaned down, gave her a kiss on the forehead, and said "Goodnight, Adriana."
He left her room, flicking her light off on his way out. In the hall, he met Tonks coming out of Demetrius' room. She smiled at him and said, "Well, that was fun. But darling, your German accent is atrocious."
He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her into a tight hug. "Isn't that what Fritz und Gunther sounded like?" he asked innocently.
"I wouldn't know since I've never met them."
"What?" he asked in shock. "Of course you met them!"
"Nope," she laughed. "The only shrivelfig incident I remember is when the Weasley twins asked you to get some from Pomona for them because they were trying to make a potion that would shrivel and rot vegetables so kids could get out of eating their greens."
Remus dropped his arms and looked at her in confusion. "Really? That's all you remember? First of all, that doesn't even make sense. Shrivelfigs as an ingredient tend to make things younger not older. You would need a modified Ageing Potion to rot vegetables."
"They'd tried that and had some crazy theory about how this new potion would work. Of course, it never did. They might be mischievous geniuses, but that doesn't mean they'll get it right every time. Honestly, Remus, don't you remember that?"
"Maybe," he said with an evil grin.
She looked at him warily before saying, "If that was first, what comes next?"
"Well," he said backing slowly away from the smack that was sure to follow, "if you don't remember the Great Shrivelfig Caper, I'm really confused as to who it was I kept trying to snog on that mission."
Reviews are much appreciated. So much so, in fact, that in exchange for one Remus will come tuck you in a tell you a new bedtime story. Or Tonks can tell you her version of this one. Your choice.