A/N: Originally written for the MetamorFicMoon Lovers Moon Jumble at with the prompts 'Talking Mirror'; Ginny, Hermione, Snape; 'Break' and Romantic Comedy.
Disclaimer: Everything recognisable belongs to J.K. Rowling.
The only good thing about situations like these, Tonks thought philosophically as her eyes wandered around the gaol cell, was that they made damn good pub stories. She fervently believed that the best way to get over a traumatic experience was a long shag with a nice bloke. If that wasn't on the cards – which it might not be once her very nice bloke got wind of this debacle – a large drink, a warm fireplace and a credulous audience would suffice. After years of scrapes, mishaps and bad relationships, she'd spent many a happy hour with her bum planted on a bar stool and a foaming pint in her hand, talking a bit of gobshite to the other punters.
Not that this particular story would need embellishment.
Playing with the anti-magic cuffs around her wrists, she fastened her gaze on her fellow convicts. Ginny Weasley, looking irritatingly chipper for a witch who had been arrested twice in one night, was deep in conversation with a heavily-tattooed woman and a gaunt teenage girl. Never one to sit still for long, she had already investigated their poxy little cell from ceiling grate to floor drain. Whether her motivation had been another escape plan or sheer boredom, Tonks had declined to inquire. She wasn't best thrilled with the little tete-a-tete in the corner, but it seemed harmless enough. Snatches of phrases had been drifting over, most of them to do with Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes. Since Tonks knew full well that Ginny was carrying quite an inventory of her brothers' products beneath her short dress, she could only hope that the younger girl didn't pull out visual aids to enhance her sales pitch. She could almost hear the rocking chairs and bifocals coming for her with this unprecedented attack of maturity, but she reckoned they'd all drawn quite enough attention to themselves that evening. Only the media would be pleased if Wild-Fire Whiz-Bangs suddenly exploded from the cell of "Harry Potter's harem", as the big-haired beetle at reception had dubbed them.
It was unbelievably bad luck, really, that Rita Skeeter had already been at the gaol upon their arrival, brandishing her bloody Quick Quotes quill and harassing the guards over the recent arrest of the Montrose Magpies' Seeker for petty theft. She had gone off like a Whiz-Bang herself when she'd spotted their entourage. Much as she loathed the woman and cringed at the thought of tomorrow's papers, Tonks could hardly blame her. News was a bit slow for the gutter press with that pesky war out of the way and it wasn't every day that Harry Potter's girlfriend, a Ministry assistant and a Senior Auror were brought in binding cuffs to Little Dorridge Gaol. Little Dorridge? Tonks frowned. That didn't sound right. Little Dudleigh? No. Little Durring? Tiny Dotting? Even Smaller Didding? What the heck was this place called?
She dropped back against the wall with a sigh. What did it matter what it was called? Come morning, they would be front page news for the Alley Inquisitor, the blokes at work would have ample material to rag her with for months and it was entirely possible that she was going to miss her husband's birthday party. Given that Molly would hex her into oblivion for doing such a sod-awful job of protecting Ginny and Hermione.
Tonks scowled, glancing over at the further-most corner of the cell, where Hermione sat with her ankles neatly crossed and a frozen expression on her face. She bore the unmistakably peaky pallor of someone who had drunk too much and sobered up too quickly. She was also reading her charges scroll, the hopeless little swot. A reluctant smile tugged at Tonks's mouth. The poor girl couldn't have looked more horrified and bewildered if she'd spent the night downing swigs of Delusion Illusion potion. Rather than Hagrid-sized portions of firewhisky, that was. Tonks vaguely remembered Ron once having a laugh about Hermione's third-year boggart. Remus had been right annoyed about it. Still, the kid had popped into the loo and come face-to-face with a rampant troll in her first year at school, yet had still been more frightened by the thought of receiving a Troll on a homework assignment. Big surprise that a criminal record for misuse of magic, destruction of property and attempted grand larceny would get her knickers in a twist. Since she'd thrown back a couple of Hangover-Over lozenges, which had unsurprisingly been tucked into Miss Be Prepared's bra, Hermione had been steadfastly ignoring them all. Never mind that this whole fiasco was largely her fault.
No. Tonks had better resign herself to face facts. Remus was the leader of the Order of the Phoenix, a former professor at Hogwarts and an upstanding citizen. He was also a Marauder. If he kept that last fact in mind, he might just be amused by this turn of events. Possibly even a little bit jealous that their hen's night for Hermione had been a lot more exciting than Ron's tame stag party. If not – well, she wouldn't have much more luck with Tom and the gang at the Leaky.
People would never believe the tale of this little adventure.
Six hours earlier…
"I'm entirely sure that I'm comfortable with this," Remus said, raising his glass to cover his smile. His eyes twinkled at Tonks as he took a sip of water. "My wife spending the night before my birthday with a gaggle of inebriated young women."
"And strip-wizards, Professor Lupin." Parvati Patil bustled past them, her arms loaded with a variety of baskets and bottles. While none of Hermione's schoolmates could bring themselves to drop the "Professor" when addressing Remus, Parvati apparently felt no embarrassment in discussing hen's night entertainment with her former teacher. "Don't forget about the strip-wizards."
"What's that?" Ron asked, sounding alarmed as he joined them by the bar. A crate of wine glasses made a less than graceful landing as his levitation charm faltered. "Strip-wizards?" He turned to look accusingly at Hermione. "I thought we agreed we wouldn't have any of that rubbish. Just a few drinks and laughs with our mates." He cast a slightly bewildered glance around the ballroom, which was already crowded with giggling girls. "I didn't even know you had this many friends. You reckon they're all in the right place?"
Tonks winced. Blimey. It was a good thing that Weasley men had more charm than they did tact, or Molly would end up with a house full of aging bachelors. Charlie and Percy were looking like doubtful bets in the matrimony stakes, as it was. One was enamoured of a more spiky, fiery, smelly companion than a girlfriend. And the other – well, he was a bit of a prat, wasn't he?
Hermione, who had blushed at the mere mention of disrobing wizards, managed to summon a disdainful stare.
"And you didn't have strip-witches at your stag night, I suppose?" she said, pointedly overlooking the latter half of his complaint.
"No!" said Ron, blustering, the tips of his ears turning pink. "'Course we didn't."
Hermione picked up her quill and clipboard, placing a careful check against the list of drinks. Humming slightly, she perused the long scroll of parchment and ignored her fiancé's increasingly far-fetched explanations as to why there may have been one witch at his party and why she may have removed her outer robes. But only her outer robes! Not her…her under…things. Or not many of them. It wasn't like she was starkers or anything. So if Hermione thought she could have a load of blokes getting their kits off…
"Tonks?" Hermione asked, interrupting Ron's babbling and very lengthy monologue, "Do we have enough non-alcoholic drinks, do you think? My mother isn't a big drinker and I think my cousin Jane is on a diet."
"There's enough liquid in this joint to make the Giant Squid feel at home," Tonks reassured her, swallowing a giggle and squirming away as Remus's hand slipped teasingly beneath the hem of her silky top. "Ranging from pumpkin juice and butterbeer to my personal recipe for punch."
"Bit dangerous, is it?" Harry asked, grinning at her as he set down a second crate of glasses. A task that seemed to have taken him twice as long as Ron to accomplish. He was looking a bit disheveled, actually, with his glasses askew and a flush creeping down his neck. Tonks hid a smile as Ginny appeared behind him, surreptitiously smoothing her hair.
She wondered how long it would be before they were organising another wedding.
That thought was startled away when Remus snorted rather loudly, right against her ear.
"A bit dangerous?" he repeated, sounding terribly amused. "Tonks's punch appears on lists at the Ministry, you know. Dolores Umbridge still suspects that a cauldron of the stuff was used in the Great Goblin Caper of '95."
Tonks aimed her elbow at his ribs and cast him a sidelong glance. "Still bitter, are we? I did warn you, Remus. Sirius warned you. Even Auntie warned you. What was it? No vomiting Dark Creatures in her house, ta very much?"
"Give or take a few profanities," Remus said calmly, sending her a mockery of a scowl and obviously fighting a laugh. "I hope you're not casting aspersions on my drinking abilities, Nymphadora. I seem to remember having to carry you up to your room on more than one occasion at Grimmauld Place."
Tonks widened her eyes and cast him a scandalized look. "Remus, please. Not in front of the children!"
Ginny and Hermione laughed. After a moment, Ron and Harry joined in, although Tonks was sure she could detect a faint reddening to the cheeks of both boys.
There was nothing quite as aging as being able to revolt teenagers with one's sex life.
"Hermione, what's that?" Ginny asked suddenly, her voice cooling considerably. She was staring pointedly at the clipboard in the older girl's hands.
Hermione folded a protective arm across it and assumed a slightly truculent expression.
"Now, Ginny," she said in a tone that put Tonks forcibly in mind of Molly. "I know you were in charge of organising the party, but sometimes it's helpful to have someone to keep track of the little details. You'd be surprised how many things can be overlooked."
Tonks's hand closed instinctively around her wand as she prepared to deflect a Bat Bogey Hex on Hermione's behalf. Ron and Harry had fallen silent and were both edging away, in an action that was either hopelessly cowardly or bloody smart.
Ginny flicked them a disgusted look, her opinion of the maneuver blatantly obvious, before presenting Hermione with a tight smile.
"Everything's sorted, Hermione. We're fully stocked on drinks, our Mums have done enough cooking between them to feed the first years at the Sorting Dinner and the band is setting up as we speak. There are no little details to… Oh, shite, what's Padma doing with that cauldron?"
"What?" Hermione spun around, horrified, her eyes searching the room for potential catastrophe. Ginny plucked the clipboard neatly from her grasp.
"Never mind," she said cheerfully, paying no heed to her friend's dawning scowl. "Must have been a trick of the light." She grinned, and Tonks wasn't surprised when Hermione's mouth twitched in response. As Mundungus Fletcher had once said, with a belly full of whisky, the only thing more infectious than a Weasley smile was the Nargle Pox. Which Tonks supposed was meant to be a compliment. Although given that Bill had been the only Weasley present at the time, she'd been too startled to agree.
"Hermione, will you lighten up? Please, get yourself a drink and relax. This is your hen's night. It's supposed to be fun." Ginny's eyes flicked over the list as she spoke and her words ended in a groan. "You've actually scheduled in supervision of the clean-up at two in the morning?"
"Too early?" Hermione asked, looking a bit unenthusiastic. "I know you've all gone to a lot of trouble, but we don't want to be out too late, surely? Madam Malkin is bringing the wedding robes around in the morning and there's Professor Lupin's party in the afternoon, of course."
"His very small and intimate party for the family," Remus spoke up, darting a meaningful look from Tonks to the increasingly loud ballroom. "Isn't that so, Tonks? It is just a small party?"
Tonks rolled her eyes. "Did I not do everything but make an Unbreakable Vow about this? It's a small birthday party. Very small. At this point, you may not even be invited."
He continued to regard her with suspicion. "How many people did you invite in the end?"
"I sent owls to forty-five people," Tonks told him, accepting a glass of bubbling pink liquid from Ginny and watching Hermione sip at hers with a look of surprised pleasure. "Ta, Ginny. On the assumption that at least five people would be busy and we'd end up with forty. Forty guests for forty years," she said, grinning cheekily at him. "Only it turns out you're quite popular for such a fussy old git and every single person wanted to come."
"So there are forty-five people coming tomorrow?" Remus asked, manfully ignoring her levity and looking genuinely astonished.
"Well…no, actually," Tonks confessed after a moment, flushing a bit. "The order for the invitations got bollocksed up and Flourish and Blott's sent it over twice. And I was in a bit of a hurry when the second batch arrived, so I took them to work with me. I was going to put them away when I got home," she defended herself, watching as an expression of resigned anticipation settled on his face. "Only Kingsley cornered me about that bloody paperwork and everything was a bit hectic."
"And…" Remus drawled out the word and she glared at him.
"And I accidentally sent the invitations out with the afternoon memo. Sorry." Tonks finished the liquor in her glass and blinked when it instantly refilled. Ginny really was on top of things. "A bunch of people in the Auror Department got them, no one that you don't know, and a few might have gone to Head Office. I could hardly snatch them back and say, sorry, these were just the spares, could I? Everyone was dead chuffed about being asked."
"Ninety." Remus's eyebrows had shot up. "That's your idea of a small celebration, Nymphadora? Ninety people?"
The distraction that Tonks had been silently willing for the past three minutes – to the point where she'd been considering tripping over on purpose – arrived in the form of Neville Longbottom, who was carrying a Weasley tuck-box and trying valiantly not to peek at a pretty blonde girl by the stage area.
"Here you are, Ginny," he said, setting it down carefully and dusting off his palms against his trousers. "I think that's everything now."
"Thanks, Nev…," Ginny started to say, smiling at him, before Tonks interrupted her with a hearty clap of her hands.
"Right, it's nine o'clock and there are far too many men here. Thank you, blokes, for the use of your manly arms and well-developed muscles. Don't mean to sound ungrateful, but bugger off now, please."
Hermione made an affirming noise and raised her glass in unsteady salute. Tonks, who had been wondering if the twitch she saw out of the corner of her eye was Remus's smile or the vein in his forehead, gave her a speculative look. She'd only been slurping at the thing for five minutes, for Merlin's sake. Obviously one to watch.
"That's right." Parvati – or was it the other one? – reappeared, a plate of nibbles in each hand, and winked at the men. "Unless you're planning to whip off those robes, boys, this just became a bloke-free zone."
Ron bristled again, and Hermione set down her glass with a clatter.
"Oh, Ron. Don't worry," she said, a bit too loudly. "I don't think Ginny's hired any strip-wizards." She frowned. "Or she forgot to put them on the list."
Ron tore his eyes away from Hermione's abandoned glass and fixed them accusingly on his sister, who shrugged and absently rubbed her fingers against Harry's shirt.
"Don't worry, Ron," she repeated. Her face was a perfect study of blandness. "Hiring people for a party is tacky. Right, Tonks?"
"Number two rule of throwing a legendary event," Tonks agreed, casually hooking a finger around the stem of Hermione's glass and pulling it away from her questing hand. "Right above number three, pace yourself or end up asleep under the table with your knickers on display."
"And what's the number one rule?" Remus asked, as he banished her own glass with a casual flick of his fingers and grinned at her enraged squawk.
"The first rule is to remember that the best thing about the party is the person who's waiting for you at home when it's over." Tonks pointedly reached for a fresh glass of the brightly-hued bubbles. "Although I reckon we could bump that one down to at least sixth place, now."
"Be that as it may," he retorted, reaching to give a strand pink hair a sharp tweak, "this person will indeed be waiting for you at home. And it would be a good idea to keep rule number three at the front of your mind, my love. I don't fancy Apparating to Diagon Alley at three in the morning to pick up my unconscious wife. I would do it," he added, leaning forward to touch his mouth to hers, "but we aging wizards need our rest, even if our young brides are out gallivanting until dawn."
Tonks snorted audibly. So spoke the man who frequently sat up at his desk until the early hours, reading enormously boring textbooks and writing screeds of long words that made no sense whatsoever to her. The same man who had kept her awake for three consecutive nights before the last full moon because he was feeling antsy and needed to expend his excess energy. On the fourth night, too exhausted to even open her eyes, she'd had to suggest that he take up jogging.
He was getting quite fit, actually. She'd noticed earlier in the day that his neatly pressed trousers were covering a rather impressive pair of runner's legs.
Remus blinked as he registered her distinctly lascivious gaze.
He unfortunately had no time to act on it before the Patil twin, apparently Ginny's elected bouncer, returned to forcibly evict the significant others. In fact, Parvati-or-her-sister said threateningly, twirling her wand, if there was still a man left on the premises in three seconds, she would begin banishing one item of clothing per minute.
Tonks wasn't entirely sure that she was joking, particularly as the girl's lustful stare was fastened on a blushing Neville Longbottom. The men, apparently unwilling to risk a more revealing exit than intended, didn't linger to test her resolve.
After informing Hermione that most of the strip-wizards in London were former Death-Eaters with no other source of income, Ron beat a hasty retreat, Neville hard on his heels. Remus issued one last warning on the dangers of intoxication when one's husband wasn't around to pick up the pieces, to which she rolled her eyes and asked if he really needed her to bring up the Christmas Punch Incident again, before he followed in the wake of the intrepid groom.
Tonks watched as Harry played with Ginny's hands and told her in a low voice to send him a message if she didn't want to Apparate home later. He didn't mind coming to get her on his Firebolt. Unlike Remus's smart-arse remarks, Tonks decided, that was just sweet. Harry kissed Ginny quickly on the cheek and bid Tonks and Hermione a cheeky goodbye. The bride-to-be seemed to find his departure a right laugh, and Tonks exchanged a meaningful look with Ginny.
She gave it thirty minutes before their guest-of-honour was snoring at a table.
Forty-five minutes later, she was forced to admit that she'd maligned Hermione. The younger witch was flushed and chatty, but still – just – on her feet, despite having moved from fluffy pink cocktails to straight shots of firewhisky, which had Tonks gobsmacked. She'd have thought that Muggles were born with iron stomachs, if it weren't for the fact that her Great-Auntie Margie got sloshed from a thimble of brandy at family dinners.
The rest of the party was beginning to degenerate into the utter chaos that can only be produced by fifty drunken women. The natural giggles of high-spirited hormonal teenagers had peaked into the helpless laughter of the utterly sloshed. Even the ghosts in the ceiling rafters were starting to look a trifle bosky on it, Tonks thought, tilting her head back to watch them.
Oops, not a good idea.
She swayed and almost overbalanced. A hand grabbed her elbow to steady her and she straightened rather woozily to smile at Ginny.
"Wotcher, Ginny," she said, surprised at the sheer jollity of her voice. "I have to say, kid, you know how to throw one hell of a party."
Ginny's smile was completely satisfied as she gazed around at the noisy, happy crowd.
"It's quite good, isn't it?" She pushed back a strand of red hair and nodded toward the bar. "I think I have to give sole credit to your punch, though. Look, Mum and Mrs. Granger are on their sixth cup each. I dunno why Hermione wanted pumpkin juice for her mum. She hasn't touched the stuff. And Hermione's into the firewhisky!"
"I'm surprised she's still on her feet," Tonks said frankly, following Ginny's gaze to where Hermione was informing an amused Minerva McGonagall of her impending nuptials. She'd already told Tonks twice that she was getting married, Ginny at least four times, her future mother-in-law twice and the coat rack once.
"I know, it worked better than I thought…" Ginny's voice trailed off guiltily, and she flushed a bit as Tonks turned a suddenly intent stare upon her.
"Ginny," Tonks said after a moment, already wincing. "What have you done?"
"Nothing!" Ginny bit her lip. "Just a tiny drop of potion into her first drink. I wanted her to loosen up and have a good time. You know what Hermione can be like. Tonks, she waited until she thought I was asleep last week, snuck into my room and tried to correct the food budget!"
"Then you should have thrown something at her."
"I did. The scroll with the guest list on it. And then she corrected that."
"What exactly did you spike her drink with?" Tonks asked, eyeing her own cocktail suspiciously.
"A little bit of Inebrio Laudus," Ginny told her, waving back half-heartedly as Hermione spotted them. "Loss of inhibitions potion. I know it's all right; I nicked it from Fred and George's personal supply."
Tonks cleared her throat.
"I think you might be thinking of Inertia Reverso."
"What?" Ginny stared at her.
"Inebrio Laudus isn't a potion to free someone from their inhibitions. It's a potion to make them irresistibly attracted to alcohol. Like bees to pollen. Nargles to mistletoe. Your brothers to pudding. No wonder she's been swigging everything in sight."
"Oh, sh – shite," Ginny amended as her mother drifted past, both hands cupped protectively around a glass of punch. Her smugness over her success was clearly forgotten. She looked downright sick, now. "She'll never speak to me again, will she? Can I reverse it, do you think?"
"It'll reverse itself eventually." Tonks wrinkled her nose. "In the time-honoured way. That won't be pretty. You can do penance and hold her hair back later. Alternatively, she'll just go down for the count. I wouldn't worry," she added, as Hermione halted her progress a short distance away and pinched a scantily clad gentleman on the bottom. "Any time now, I'd say. I thought you told Ron that hiring strip-wizards was tacky?"
"It is tacky," Ginny said distractedly, her expression one of horrified fascination as she watched her friend. "So I invited them, instead."
Tonks laughed. She had a kindred little sister in Ginny, she really did.
"Tonks!" Hermione greeted her as though they'd been apart for years. "Look, Ron, it's Tonks."
All traces of contrition disappeared from Ginny's face.
"Did you just call me Ron?" she asked frostily.
Hermione obviously failed to hear the question through her fog of whisky.
"Tonks," she said happily. "Tonks."
"Yes, Hermione?" Tonks bit down hard on her lip. The girl was heading for the mother of all hangovers. It was wrong to laugh.
Apparently she just liked the sound of the word.
"I'm getting married!"
"I know you are. Congratulations, kid."
Hermione beamed at her.
"Hermione, maybe you should sit down," Ginny suggested warily. She reached for the wine glass that was being held in a white-knuckled grip. "I can take that."
"I know, but…"
With a toss of brown curls and an outraged sniff, the drink was borne safely away and Ginny was left grasping at empty air.
"Tonks!" Ginny turned to her helplessly.
"Right, my name is about to lose all meaning." Tonks patted Ginny reassuringly on the shoulder. "She's already drunk enough to stagger Grawp. She'll have to stop soon and then we can force-feed her a hangover remedy."
"Maybe I should just do a sobering charm," Ginny said decisively, already reaching for her wand.
"Not a good idea," Tonks advised immediately. "I gave Inebrio Laudus to a mate during my training years, for a laugh. He got right out of control, so I tried a sobering charm on him. You don't want to see what happens. Trust me, nobody wants to see what happens, particularly not the cleaning crew that I doubt Hermione will be supervising."
"I can't just do nothing. Oh, bugger, she's talking to her mother. She's probably telling her what I did," Ginny said crossly.
"Paranoid much?" A levitating tray bobbed past and Tonks plonked her half-empty glass onto it, swearing when it nearly slid off the opposite side. She jerked her head toward Hermione. "She's probably telling her that she's getting married. Yes. See the look of fake surprise on Lyn's face?"
"Excuse me. Ginny?" A woman with bushy white hair and a marked resemblance to Hermione interrupted Tonks's commentary, smiling at them apologetically. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm afraid there's a slight problem in the salon. Several of the younger girls have been mixing up the gift tags and being rather silly with the presents. Lyn seemed to think that there was a system in place for the gifts, so I thought you ought to know."
Ginny set her jaw and smiled brightly at the bearer of bad news.
"Thank you, I'll go and sort it out," she said, holding the grateful expression until the woman had disappeared into the crowd. Then she let out a frustrated grunt. "I'm never being a bridesmaid again. You'd have thought I'd have learned my lesson after the Fleur fiasco. Hermione should have asked Lavender Brown."
"Ron's old snog? I thought Hermione hated Lavender Brown."
"Yes. Exactly," said Ginny pointedly. Smoothing her short cocktail dress, she sighed. "I suppose I'd better see what Hermione's awful cousins have done in the salon. Mind lending a hand?"
"As opposed to staying here and watching Hermione molest your more scantily clad guests?" Tonks asked, proud of herself when her tongue only tangled on one word of that sentence. She shook her head. "No, I don't mind at all."
The front salon, with its musty damask chairs and tarnished chandeliers, was blessedly peaceful after the racket in the ballroom. Brightly wrapped gifts were piled high on the tables and couches, looking a bit haphazard but at least undamaged.
Although that might not be such a blessing in one case.
Tonks stood in front of a heavy filigree mirror, one of the few presents that Hermione had opened when they'd arrived at the inn, and eyed it ruefully. The rest of the furniture in the Stately Sceptre might not have been cleaned since Felix Summerbee had invented Cheering Charms during his stay there in 1508 and gone nutters in the process, but Hermione and Ron's new mirror still looked like the poor cousin in comparison.
Ginny peered over her shoulder.
"Did you really make that?" she asked, sounding as if she wasn't sure if she ought to be impressed or not. "I didn't have a chance to get a good look before."
"I wouldn't advise having one now," Tonks said firmly. "It really looks better when you stand at a distance. In the other room, for instance, with the door shut."
"It's not that ugly," Ginny protested, before wincing. "Sorry. Can I blame the punch?"
"I wanted to buy her something," Tonks said defensively. "I had my eye on Fred and George's new range of…under-the-counter products, if you catch my drift. They were right enthusiastic about it when I asked them."
"Were they?" Ginny sounded a bit miffed. "I haven't even seen them. Fred said I must be out of my head if I thought he'd sell x-rated wheezes to his baby sister."
"He wouldn't sell them to me either," Tonks said, grinning. "Not once he realized they were for Ron and not Remus. Your brother has some awfully pervy ideas about what happens at the full moon, you know."
"So, this mirror," Ginny said hastily. "You made it after you broke your leg last month?"
"Mm." Tonks gave the object in question a scathing look. "Remus was having his transformation that night, so your mum came over to keep me company while the Skele-Gro was working. I know she meant well," she added hastily, "but fifteen Celestina Warbeck songs in a row, it was driving me batty. I told her that I'd quite like to hear something a bit chattier and she switched the wireless to this afternoon craft show."
Ginny turned around and stared at her, aghast.
"Not 'Crackin' Crispin's Crazy Craft Hour'? She didn't make you listen to that while you were drinking Skele-Gro? The man's a nutjob. Mum's been listening to it since I was little. She's taken scrolls and scrolls of notes, but she's never tried to make anything." She stared at the mirror with dawning comprehension. "You actually made a Crazy Craft. I don't think anyone's ever made a Crazy Craft before."
"With shards from the vase that I broke at the same time as my leg," Tonks admitted, mournfully prodding at one. "It seemed like a brilliant idea after a few swigs of pain potion."
Ginny was shaking slightly.
"And you gave it to Hermione and Ron?" she asked, her voice pitching on a high note.
"Remus said that if I was going to put his name on the card again, I had to give them a more mature present. I think he's still sore about Ron's eighteenth birthday. He thinks that if Ron and Hermione are old enough to get married, they ought to have something adult, something nice for their first flat." Tonks scowled. "I reckon he just wanted the thing out of the house."
"It is a bit…different looking," Ginny conceded unsteadily, chewing on her thumb nail with studied care.
"Oh, it's not the appearance that he finds disturbing." Tonks scratched her nose, embarrassed. "I quite fancy that mirror you have at the Burrow, you see, so I thought…"
"Is it a talking mirror?" Sounding rather impressed after all, Ginny immediately leaned forward to look at her reflection.
Tonks closed her eyes.
"Cor, dearie!" Her handiwork immediately broke into a melodious if ungrammatical baritone. "That hair! An' those eyes. Yer a sight fer a jaded 'un, ain't yer? A right swell 'un. Fancier than a brass nail an' no mistake."
Ginny jerked to a standing position. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, but very little in the way of actual words emerged.
Tonks pulled the dustcover from a squat armchair and draped it over the mirror.
They both stared at the shrouded object in silence for several moments.
"Bloody hell," Ginny managed finally. "It sounds just like…"
"Snape," Tonks supplied gloomily. "I know. I can't understand it. It seemed like a reasonably straight-forward spell, too."
Flicking her wand, she summoned a fresh cocktail from the other room. It was a good thing that Hermione would probably never want to see a drink again once she'd sobered up, because her new present was enough to drive anyone to the bottle.
"See?" said Ginny firmly. "This is what happens when you try and make a Crazy Craft. A glass Snape. With a ruddy awful Cockney accent. And did he just call me a tart?" She sounded belatedly affronted.
"Not a tart. Fancier than a tart." Tonks downed the contents of her glass in one gulp, before jumping as something hit the window. "What the hell was that?"
"Probably kids playing with Whiz-Bangs. The twins' shop is right up the road."
Tonks wandered over and peered out of the narrow medieval window.
"Your brothers are a menace," she said, with no little affection, stepping back instinctively as another firework exploded against the pane. "It's an interesting view from here. I never thought I'd get to see inside this place. My mum used to hurry me right past when we came to shop. All that bollocks about Dark Creatures and the tormented spirits of past publicans." She snorted. "All of the spirits seem pretty jolly to me. Getting jollier by the pint. How did you manage to get this place? It's been boarded up for years."
"Lucky break." Ginny's voice was muffled behind the largest stack of presents. "Luna's granddad is one of the caretakers. It wasn't much trouble hiring it. I s'pose it's just that no one's ever tried before. The place looks like a wreck from the outside."
"It'll look like a wreck on the inside, come morning." Tonks divided her attention between her glass, which was refilling itself for the third time, and the busy street outside. In a sea of churning legs and bobbing heads, most of which were probably engaged in disreputable activities at this time of night, one figure in particular caught her eye. A small, round, loathsome figure. She set down her glass with a bang, spilling a wave of alcohol onto the ancient wood of the sill. "What the hell is Dolores Umbridge doing in Diagon Alley? I thought the nasty bint was still under banishment."
"What?" Ginny joined her at the window, pulling the drapes further aside and searching the cobblestones below. Her cheeks flushed red with anger. "It is Umbridge. She isn't allowed back in England until June."
She looked furious, and Tonks nodded grimly. They both had several reasons to detest the woman, the most important being the harm she'd done to their respective men. Her wand hand twitched. For just a split second, the urge to fire off a sniper's hex was frighteningly strong and she took a step back, shuddering. She hadn't had a moment like that, of sheer black rage, since the final battle. It was in those times that she swore she could feel her maternal blood as if it were a separate entity, surging through her veins like a contaminating presence.
Ambitious, yes, and brave, to be certain. The dark blood is weak, very weak, but it waits below. Can you control it or will it control you? Another member of the House of Black? Perhaps you do belong in the house of snakes… A fifteen-year-old echo flitted through Tonks's mind, but disappeared back into the past as her attention returned to Umbridge.
The human toad was scuttling past the old site of Gambol and Japes and would soon be out of sight.
Tonks made up her mind.
"I'm going after her," she said, drawing her wand from its holster. "At best, she's breaking the laws of exile. At worst…well, we know what Umbridge is capable of at her worst."
Bracing herself, she touched the tip of her wand to her right temple and cast a sobering charm. Although she could understand why magic-aware Muggles coveted that particular spell, she rarely used it. For a good reason. The resulting rush of nausea and disorientation was ten times stronger than the effects of Apparition. It immediately lifted the fog of alcohol from her eyes and mind, however, and she blinked a few times. It must be a somewhat similar, she reckoned, to giving a very short-sighted person their first pair of spectacles. All was suddenly clear. Including her unimpeded view of the mirror.
Pulling a face, she turned away and strode for the door. It was tempting to just Apparate out onto the street, but that was one of Moody's rules, drummed into her again and again during training. No Apparition for at least half an hour after casting a sobering charm, taking a pain potion or having sex. She'd never quite understood that last one, but Moody's rules were Moody's rules. An Auror without a death wish followed them. He might be retired, but the man knew his sh…stuff.
She had dashed through the ballroom and was halfway down the stairs when she paused briefly to transfigure her heels into a pair of trainers. The realization that she wasn't undertaking a solo mission came when Ginny crashed into her back and almost sent her headlong off the landing.
"I think you ought to stay here, Ginny," Tonks tossed over her shoulder as she righted herself and took the remaining stairs three at a time. "Your mum would have a fit if she knew about this."
"It's Umbridge," said Ginny flatly, yanking her long hair into a messy ponytail as she followed Tonks. "I'm coming."
Tonks shoved open the heavy front door of the inn and stepped out into the busy Alley, turning to survey the other witch's set features. It was the Weasley Stubborn Look, and she sighed.
"At least use a sobering charm, then."
"Like I've had time to get drunk," Ginny scoffed. "I'm fine. Let's go."
She probably was sober, actually, despite the feverish flush to her cheeks. Naturally Ginny would get more of a kick from trailing around after the Scourge of the Ministry on a freezing cold night than she would from party-planning. No wonder Harry loved her so much.
They navigated the length of Diagon Alley as quickly as they were able, given the crowds and the patches of ice on the cobblestones. Umbridge was the length of fifteen rowdy wizards away when she ducked her head in its ugly brown hat and disappeared through the brick wall behind the Leaky Cauldron. Tonks dodged a particularly wide wizard, fired off an absent Bat Bogey Hex in response to his offer of a ride on his broomstick and tapped her wand against the wall with unnecessary force.
The wind was icy in the dingy little courtyard beyond, a sharp gust of it reddening their ears and scattering cigarette butts and old crisp packets about their feet. Tonks cast a quick look through the grimy back window and was relieved to see a glimpse of an eggplant-coloured twinset at the bar.
"Right," she started to say, turning to address Ginny and coming to a startled halt when another familiar figure stumbled through the portal.
"Hermione!" Ginny exclaimed, goggling at her friend. "What the hell…"
Hermione smiled vaguely at her, but her eyes had lit on the pub sign. Before either Tonks or Ginny had gathered their wits enough to stop her, she was making a beeline for the bar. Muttering an obscenity, not quite under her breath, Tonks followed her. It wasn't much warmer inside than it was in the Alley. Tom was skimping on his heating tax again, the tight old coot. She kept a wary watch on the bar, where Umbridge was fortunately in the process of turning away. She didn't fancy a confrontation just yet, not when she could potentially get the woman a much worse punishment for her misdemeanors than two ruddy years in exile. An extended holiday in sunny Spain in recompense for a lifetime of crimes against wizardkind. Bloody Scrimgeour.
"What are you doing here?" she heard Ginny hiss at their unexpected companion, before a small scuffle broke out.
"Uh, girls?" Tonks paused with her hand on the front door and Ginny looked up at her, one arm still wrestling Hermione away from the cocktail menu. "She's already left."
It was Ginny's turn to swear. Casting a doubtful glance at Hermione, she obviously decided that they couldn't leave her alone in a pub, especially not with Tom, who had been known to take money from customers' hands and pour them another drink when they were lying prone on the floor. Latching onto the protesting girl's hand, she dragged her in their wake.
Charing Cross Road was just as busy, dirty and raucous as Diagon Alley, but Tonks had no trouble keeping track of Umbridge in the chaos. She'd know dear Dolores anywhere. Given that she was breaking her exile and actually venturing into Muggle London, this obviously wasn't a casual outing. Not that she showed any signs of wariness, keeping her minimal chin up and pointing straight ahead. It probably wouldn't occur to the conceited cow that she might be followed. Or that someone might see through her penetrating disguise of wearing mauve rather than pink and recognize that she was on forbidden soil.
Or maybe she just hoped that a forty minute stroll in the remnants of winter weather would discourage anyone foolish enough to follow her. At least walking halfway across London would do Hermione good, Tonks thought, shivering. The bride-to-be had reached the whining stage of Inebrio withdrawal.
"I'm hungry," came the latest complaint, and Tonks glanced back in time to see a cross-looking Ginny dig in the silk pouch around her neck and hand her a wrapped sweet.
"Ginny!" Tonks snapped, snatching the Puking Pastille away from Hermione's eager hands. "Honestly, it's like being fifteen again and forced to babysit Draco."
The shot went home and Ginny winced.
"All right, point taken. Sorry." She produced a bar of chocolate from Merlin-knew-where, since her tight dress didn't boast an obvious pocket, and offered it to a sulky Hermione. "It's just Honeydukes, I promise," she said quickly as Tonks eyed the wrapper.
"Paddington!" Hermione bellowed delightedly, ignoring Tonks's pained attempts to silence her without resorting to magic in a Muggle street. "Please look after this bear. Thank you. I want a marmalade sandwich."
"What?" Ginny looked completely befuddled. "Has she gone nutters?"
"Paddington Station," Tonks said briefly. "Rather than Paddington Bear…never mind. It looks like she's taking a train. At least she can't be going back to Spain by rail. I don't fancy owling Remus from Madrid tomorrow." She looked at Ginny. "We've probably been missed by now. Especially since we've accidentally buggered off with the bride. What d'you reckon? Midnight express or back to Diagon Alley?"
Ginny grinned at her, all traces of irritation vanishing.
"What do you think?"
It was two in the morning, roughly the time when Hermione's cleaning crew ought to be arriving to sweep the ballroom of the Stately Sceptre, before they found themselves in the near deserted main street of the tiny village of Lower Hamblett. Tonks stared at the façade of the little bric-a-brac shop into which Umbridge had vanished some minutes earlier. It was one brightly lit window in a row of darkened, locked cottages, and was apparently doing a roaring trade in the early hours. Two more people, coats drawn tightly around their faces, had gone in after their quarry.
"Well, this doesn't look at all suspicious, does it?" Ginny hissed, rustling around in the branches beside Tonks. "It's a regular Muggle activity, I s'pose? Antiquing in the middle of the night."
"Ssh." Tonks pulled both girls back into the shadows of the mulberry bush as heavy footsteps approached.
They all watched silently, which was a bloody miracle in the case of Hermione, who had kept up a steady commentary of every train journey she had ever taken on the way there, as a large man attired as a Muggle policeman clumped by. One hand was clasped behind his back, while the other casually traced patterns on the ground with the light of his torch. His cheerful whistle didn't falter as he passed the bric-a-brac store. He didn't, in fact, give it a second glance. Tonks frowned. The common bobby might come off as a flat-footed fool in just about every Muggle film that she'd seen, but that still seemed a bit oblivious.
"Concealment charms." Ginny voiced her own deduction in hushed accents. She waited until the policeman had disappeared around the bend in the road, continuing his nightly rounds. "I s'pose that means Umbridge isn't attending a Muggle get-together, then. What's the plan?"
Tonks chewed on her lip for a moment, considering the options. She could and probably should alert Moody and Remus. The Order was more invested in Umbridge's actions than the Ministry, which still had a habit of turning a blind eye when one of its own went rotten. Merlin knew what was going on in that store, but it didn't look good. The intelligent thing would be to send for back-up and then get Hermione home to a bucket of hot tea. She knew without a doubt that would be the action taken by Molly, Hestia and every other woman in the Order.
However, no other woman in the Order had just spent two hours in an enclosed space with an intoxicated Hermione Granger. Or ten minutes trying to look inconspicuous in the middle of a mulberry bush.
And no one else's husband had been hunted like an animal by that creature upstairs.
"Sod it," said Tonks, standing up in a rush and grabbing her wand. "I'm going in."
She had barely blinked before Ginny had her own wand drawn.
"Don't even try and stop me," she said before Tonks could protest. "I have my own bone to pick with Umbridge."
Tonks ruthlessly ignored the little voice in her head, the one that sounded like Molly and was expressed as a Howler. The one that told her that if anything happened to Ginny, she shouldn't expect a pink jumper and an invitation to dinner next Christmas.
Ginny was right. She had her own score to settle and the scars on her boyfriend to prove it.
Hermione just looked confused.
The response to their grand entrance as they stormed the front room of Umbridge's hideout was slightly deflating, to say the least. A bored-looking man at the counter barely looked up from his copy of the Daily Mail.
"Upstairs and to the right," he said dully. He couldn't have sounded more depressed if every piece of bad news in the rag had been directed at him personally.
He also wasn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier, obviously, given that there were three wands pointing at him.
Tonks darted a hasty peek at Hermione. She had managed to produce her own, although she seemed to have forgotten exactly what it was for. Out of the corner of her eye, Tonks saw it falter. A few seconds later, Hermione was using it to scratch her nose as she poked aimlessly at an ugly china cat.
"Drop the paper and get your hands where I can see them," she snapped at the shopkeeper, trying to insert a bit of authority back into a situation that was rapidly turning into a farce.
"What's that?" the man asked through a yawn, blinking at her blearily.
Tonks gritted her teeth and was about to issue either a second warning or a binding spell when a flurry of aubergine wool drew her attention to the doorway behind the counter.
"You!" Umbridge spat, her face registering surprise and revulsion.
Although Tonks had plenty of words to offer in return, she never got the chance.
Hermione – belatedly, unexpectedly and appallingly – decided to be helpful.
"It's Umbridge!" she uttered with surprising clarity. "Don't worry, I'll get her."
"Hermione, no!" Ginny lunged for her arm as she cut a strike through the air with her wand.
She was right to be horrified. Hermione, who had never been at her best when forced to think on her feet, proved a complete hazard when under the influence. Her slurred stunning spell went rogue, ricocheting off a display of cigarette cases and bouncing from one glass cabinet to the next. Glass shattered, china shards went flying, an alarm began to pulse shrilly and the hapless man behind the counter dove for cover. Tonks threw her forearm across Hermione's face, pulling her down to the ground, while Ginny flung up her best shield charm around them.
The destruction of three hundred second-rate figurines took less than fifteen seconds and they didn't go down quietly.
By the time the last figure wobbled and fell to smash on a pile of broken plates, Umbridge had done the smart thing for once in her life and bolted. Tonks knew that the ruckus downstairs had probably drowned out a series of hasty pops upstairs.
She got slowly to her feet, pottery crunching anew beneath her trainers, and helped Ginny and Hermione to stand. The three of them gazed around at what had been a very well-stocked junk shop.
A new and entirely unwelcome voice broke through their spellbound silence and put the cap on a truly hideous evening.
"Well, well," said the Muggle policeman. He was standing in the doorway, scratching his head and looking more surprised than anyone. This was probably the first extraordinary thing to ever happen on his watch. "Well. Well, well."
And, of course, bloody buggering Dolores Umbridge had lifted the concealment charms on the shop before she'd scampered off.
What a bitch.
"Oh, bugger," breathed Ginny.
"Shite," snapped Tonks.
"I'm getting married," said Hermione.
With a long groan and a string of curse words, the shopkeeper's head appeared above the counter. He looked disoriented. Shaking his head a few times, he gazed around at the ruins of his livelihood in dawning fury. His attention and his wrath focused on Tonks, Ginny and Hermione, who were still standing, frozen, trapped between two confused and angry Muggle men.
"Thieves!" roared the previously taciturn gentleman. Tonks thought, on the whole, that she'd preferred his oblivious stint. "Bloody thieves!"
He began bellowing for someone to do something, anything, to call the police and have them arrested, which seemed a bit superfluous given that the arbiter of law and order in Lower Hamblett was standing right in front of him.
Although she didn't think she'd put much faith in Sergeant Stupor, either.
The full import of the situation had finally occurred to that gentleman and he looked from the three women to the destroyed wares and windows.
"Ladies," he said with the gusto of one who also watched Muggle films about incompetent bobbies, "yer nicked!"
Their guard managed to demonstrate an unexpected efficiency, borne of sheer enthusiasm, and less than ten minutes later, Tonks found herself on the inside of a gaol cell for the first time in her career. She couldn't say that she cared for the experience. Particularly since they'd decided that enough was enough and cast a sobering charm on Hermione, who had performed as expected. All over the floor.
Ginny, proving once and for all that she was Molly's daughter, performed an extremely impressive non-verbal scourgify. After the debacle at the junk shop, they'd abandoned the policy of no spells around Muggles, which had been stringently enforced since the war. It was Saturday night, so Tonks could only hope that things were busy enough in wizarding London that they wouldn't be slapped with a fine for misuse of magic.
She pressed her face against the bars and peered down the narrow hallway of the Lower Hamblett Police Station, which had turned out to be the ground floor of Sergeant Stupor's cottage. She could hear the vague sounds of tea-making several doors down. The policeman, who obviously couldn't believe his luck, had originally seemed inclined to stay and chat with them all night. He'd already informed them that, as Tonks had suspected, nobody had committed cause for arrest since Mr. Hicks had tried to poison Mrs. Bale's cat. They were a big event in Lower Hamblett.
Tonks had lived in an almost identical village for two years during her childhood and knew that every resident of the hamlet, including Mrs. Bale's cat, would show up for a gander at them once the paper boy delivered the morning gossip. Fortunately, as they had no intention of sticking around to make an even greater spectacle of themselves, their new friend had belatedly remembered to ask for their names. Ginny, who had years of experience in talking her way out of a telling-off, had immediately introduced herself as Dolores Umbridge. Hermione had been too busy being sick to respond or care. Tonks had been caught unawares, surveying the physical layout of the cell, and had given her real name. Which was pretty appalling for an Auror, she had to admit. The sergeant – or constable, he hadn't bothered to return the favour and introduce himself – had taken personal affront to her cheekiness, given her a lecture on the evils of supplying a fake alias to the "poliss" and stalked off to make himself a cuppa, looking askance at her pink hair and muttering something about young people and their drugs as he went.
Apparently he didn't find Nymphadora Tonks-Lupin a sensible name, either.
Tonks leaned back against the bars and sighed.
"I suppose it's easiest if we give Hermione half an hour to recover and then Apparate back to the Leaky. I'm the only one who was a big enough prat to give my own name and nobody will believe it's a real one, anyway… Ginny?"
The younger witch was gazing around with the avid interest of a Muggle Studies student on a field trip.
"What… Oh, sorry," she said, catching glance of Tonks's pained expression. "My dad's always wondered if Muggle goals are like wizarding prison."
"Somehow I doubt that's the first question he'll ask about tonight," Tonks told her sourly. "So, Apparition…?"
"Not for at least half an hour after a sobering charm, yeah?" Ginny looked over at Hermione, who was hunched and miserable in her corner. "I reckon it's best we get her moving around. Don't worry, I've got this covered." And she reached to pull up the hem of her dress.
Tonks's eyebrow shot up.
"I beg to differ. And if you're suggesting that we seduce the guard," she said warily, "it'll be beauty before age, kid."
Ginny gave her a quick grin, before patting around the line of her stockings. Producing a small round object, she shook her head dismissively and gave it to Tonks to hold. A small box then appeared, which grew by several inches when she tapped it with her wand.
"Should I even ask what that is?" Tonks was prepared to be concerned by anything that a Weasley would be carrying strapped to their leg in a small box. She tossed the round ball in her grasp, a new Exploding Decoy Detonator, from one hand to the other a few times.
"It's Fred and George's Gaol Break Kit, of course."
"Of course it is." Despite the fact that this entire situation had ceased to be funny the moment that Dolores Umbridge had come onto the scene, Tonks couldn't help but laugh. "Because who would go to a party without a Gaol Break Kit?"
"Exactly." Ginny opened the box. "It's especially designed for Muggle locks, too. The twins reckon that they can get up to just about anything in wizarding London without being arrested, but the first time they went to a Muggle party, they ended up in a holding cell in Bayswater. So now we all take one of these when we go out, just in case. Except Percy, but he wouldn't get arrested, the prat. We're not that lucky."
Tonks peered over her shoulder, fascinated by what Fred and George might consider essential in a Gaol Break Kit. Inside the box, nestled on a bed of black velvet, was a strange-looking key.
"Is that it?" she asked, disappointed. "A skeleton key?"
Ginny pulled it out and held it near the locked gate. It immediately began to shimmer and bend, wiggling itself smoothly into the keyhole and aligning to fit. The lock clicked, the door swung open and Ginny shrugged.
"It's just a Muggle lock," she said, a bit scathingly. "What else do you need?" With a grand gesture, she indicated the empty hallway. "Shall we?"
"Poor Sergeant Stupor." Tonks wrapped an arm around Hermione's waist, supporting her as she swayed on her feet. The poor kid was a visible shade of green. "He'll be so disappointed. I reckon we made his whole career tonight."
They headed for the front door as quickly as they could. Hermione was dragging her feet and muttering something about her stomach, a threat which Tonks took very seriously given their proximity. Ginny rounded the corner of the hallway first and came to a dead halt.
It took some fancy footwork to avoid a reversal of the earlier incident on the stairwell.
"Ginny?" A weight settled in Tonks's belly. What now, for Merlin's sake? She came to stand at Ginny's shoulder and followed her gaze. Oh, bugger. Their policeman friend, who was proving surprisingly competent after all, was standing between them and the front door, having apparently left the kitchen by another route. With his cup of tea raised halfway to his mouth, he too seemed frozen in surprise.
He seemed frozen, full stop. Tonks frowned, the flesh starting to creep at her neck. He had never seemed like a vastly energetic bloke, true, but still… The man had definitely been immobilized. Her hand immediately went to her wand, her body locking down into combat stance. They hadn't come far enough from the war for this situation to feel at all comfortable.
Ginny tucked her left hand through Hermione's elbow and brandished her own wand in her right. She turned to look behind them, her eyes suspicious and excited.
"Do you think… You don't reckon it's Death-Eaters?" she asked tentatively.
Tonks didn't reply for a moment, as she strained her ears for the squeak of footsteps or the whistle of a hex. It wasn't beyond the realms of possibility. There was still a long list of Voldemort's former followers on the loose, most of whom were indulging in petty crime to survive on the run. And there was obviously something going down in Lower Hamblett…
Motion flickered at the front door and she reacted instinctively. Her stinging spell narrowly glanced off a shield charm and raised an indignant shout. Three pairs of outraged eyes focused on her. Tonks flinched in response to the spectacle before her. The men were all dressed in badly transfigured suits of a shade of green even sicklier than Hermione's face.
"Wands down and hands up," said the recipient of the stinging charm grimly. "Under the legislation of Act Eight-Two-Six-Three, Paragraph Twelve, you are all charged with misuse of magic, destruction of property, attempted theft and the use of the Imperius Curse on one Mister Walt Johnson of Twee Antiques, Lower Hamblett. You are entitled to legal representation, which will be assigned to you at the Department of Criminal Justice."
"Not Death-Eaters," Tonks said to Ginny flatly. "Worse."
The Frog Squad.
The Ministry's Inquisitorial Combat Squad had been instituted by Umbridge herself during the last months of the war, for the purpose of uncovering followers of Dark Magic and compensating for the failures of the Auror Department. The bloody twats had been responsible for the incarceration of a quarter of the population of Britain. After Voldemort's fall and Umbridge's exile, the Squad had been kept on by Scrimgeour to "help tie up loose ends". They'd been making a nuisance of themselves ever since, filing screeds of useless paperwork and mincing about in robes of lurid lime green.
They were a joke. Unfortunately, they were a joke with authority to arrest and she'd just fired on them.
Reluctantly, Tonks lowered her wand.
In the process of doing so, she accidentally dropped the Wizard Wheeze that was still clutched in her hand. The Exploding Decoy Detonator got to its feet and skipped happily across the floor. It then blew itself up, in a spectacular display.
Beneath the lurid lime green robes of an Inquisitor.
As their colleague leapt about and produced a volley of words that would have raised eyebrows in a giants' pub, the remaining agents turned to her grimly.
"Madam," one snapped, and Tonks winced. She may feel like a veritable grandmother in comparison to Ginny, who was now in hysterics and getting entirely too much enjoyment out of this little adventure, but surely she wasn't old enough to warrant a "madam". Even Remus had only just turned forty.
A wand pointed menacingly at her and she raised her arms in resignation.
"Madam - "
"Don't tell me," she said glumly. "I'm nicked."
And so here they were. Behind bars for the second time in one night, which was a feat that would impress even Fred and George. Their arrest had been processed at the Ministry, which would ensure that every joker in the Auror Department would hear about this before her next shift. They had then been transported to the holding facilities at Little Deadbeat Gaol. As she'd hoped, it was shaping up to be a busy Saturday night for the Department of Law Enforcement, so much so that the Ministry cells were already full. There were, however, an abundance of cottage prisons left empty since the persecution mania of the war had ended.
Tonks, gazing around at their dreary cell, had new empathy for the poor souls who had found themselves here for months on end. For much less reason than the list of charges that they had been stuck with. Under great protest, cold threats and the display of her Auror's badge, the offense of using an Unforgivable on the shopkeeper had been dropped and a search had been launched for Umbridge. Probably a half-assed one, given that the Frog Squad still adored their toad leader. As soon as she was released, Tonks would get on to Kingsley and Remus about it. The woman was buggering about in the middle of the night with shady accomplices and the Imperius Curse. She belonged in Azkaban, not Ibiza.
Of course, that might not happen any time soon. With the charge of destruction of property, in particular, they didn't have a leg to stand on. Especially since Ginny, in a well-meaning attempt to secure their freedom, had pointed out that if they'd been trying to rob the store, they'd done a piss poor job of it. They'd broken everything.
A large red "Guilty" stamp had closed the investigation on their case.
Tonks tugged crossly at an anti-magic cuff. They were bloody lucky that this hadn't happened during Umbridge's reign of terror, not that anyone had been in the mood for parties then. All joking aside, they could now have been facing an execution sentence. One that would have happily been pushed through by some people at the Ministry. As it was, they were looking at a hefty fine and a magic ban of up to three months. Which would mean desk duties at work for the same amount of time.
No. That wasn't fair. Hermione had hardly been herself and Ginny had made an honest mistake with the potion. Tonks had been an adult for quite some time and she was a trained professional. It was largely her own fault that Molly's babies now had records and she was going to miss birthday morning sex with her husband. Who would probably never speak to her again if she couldn't get home by evening and he was stuck with ninety party guests, forty-five of whom they hadn't liked enough to put on the invite list in the first place.
The first rays of dawn were beginning to slide across the concrete floor before Tonks heard a familiar voice floating down the hallway.
"I'm not saying you don't know your job," Ron Weasley protested. "I'm just asking. Are you sure you've got the right girl? You've arrested Hermione Granger? H-E-R-M… Look, mate, there's no need to get worked up about it…"
Hermione lifted her head from her folded arms. She didn't look very enthusiastic about the impending reunion with her fiancé.
"Oh, no," she muttered, swinging her legs to the ground and sitting up to stare out through the bars with a hunted look on her face.
Ginny, who had finally abandoned her conversation with the neighbours an hour earlier, bounded from the bench with renewed energy. Wrapping her hands around the bars, she craned her neck to look and a smile broke out on her face.
"About time, big brother," she said, with incomprehensible cheer. "Hello, Professor Lupin. Happy Birthday. It's all right, Harry, I'm fine."
Tonks shook her head. Nobody over the age of five had the right to that much resilience. As relieved as she was that the cavalry had arrived, she still felt like a deflated Quaffle.
Escorted by two members of the Frog Squad, Remus, Ron and Harry came into view. They bore the unmistakably harassed expressions of an encounter with Rita Skeeter.
"Wotcher, boys," she said sheepishly, getting to her feet and giving a weak shrug in response to Remus's disbelieving stare. "Thanks for coming."
There was a moment of complete silence. Even the woman in the adjacent cell with the perpetual sniff was watching them with bated breath.
Then Ron started to laugh. Loudly.
"You…you actually…you…" He clutched at his sides and gave up his attempt at speech.
"Oh, shut up, Ron," Hermione snapped, in a less than lover-like greeting. Her face was bright red and her eyes shone as she glared at him.
Tonks sympathized with both of them. On the one hand, it was bit unromantic when your fiancé found you after a harrowing night and dissolved into giggles rather than tears of gratitude at your safety. On the other hand, if the situation had been reversed, she'd have split her sides laughing.
"Don't worry, Hermione," Ginny said, fighting a smile. "They're just jealous. What was the most exciting thing that happened at your stag night, Ron? Dobby's rendition of "You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me"?
Harry, the colour having come back into his cheeks at the sight of a perfectly whole, wisecracking girlfriend, snorted.
"Sure you're okay?" he asked, reaching a hand through the bars, which she grasped, nodding.
"Fine. These heels have had it, I reckon, but otherwise unscathed."
"Can you let her…them out of there, please?" Harry said tightly to the Inquisitorial agents, who nodded reluctantly and released the lock charm on the door.
"The two young 'uns are free to go. For now," he added ominously, before leveling a cold stare at Tonks. "We're still processing Pinky over there. Few extra charges on that one."
"Extra charges?" Remus spoke up for the first time, his eyes narrowing on the man. "And what extra charges might those be?" His voice was cool.
"Assault on an arresting officer," said the man, jerking his head at his scowling companion. "And disrespect to the arm of the law."
"I beg your pardon?"
"She made certain comparisons between our highly-trained Squad and the inhabitants of the amphibian community, sir," came the stiff reply.
Remus's mouth twitched.
"I see," he said with admirable calm. "Harry, Ron, take the girls home please. It's all right." He had spotted Hermione's barely suppressed alarm at the prospect of traveling by Floo, Apparition or – worse – broom. "There's a Ministry car outside. Supplied courtesy of Kingsley Shacklebolt, who extends his very best wishes for your upcoming marriage."
"Now," said Remus, when the kids had departed, Harry and Ginny hand-in-hand and Hermione ignoring a still-chuckling Ron. He directed an authoritative stare at the Frog Squad, the one that could make even Mundungus Fletcher jump to do his bidding. "It's my birthday and I'd like to be with my wife, so you can let me in with her until her bail has been processed, thank you."
"Now, look here," began the first agent, bristling.
Remus pulled back the lapel of his coat and displayed the official pin attached to his jumper. Umbridge's legacy still lingered on Ministry premises and the word "Werewolf" jumped out in bright red ink.
Both of the Frogs took a visible step back.
"That doesn't mean that you can just…" The larger of the men made a valiant attempt at rebuttal, his throat jumping nervously. Then he gave up, obviously wanting to get the hell away from both of them. "Oh, just let him in," he told his colleague. "He'll be locked up, won't he? Not in a position to attack anyone. Except her, I suppose," he realized doubtfully.
"And wouldn't that be a shame?" said his colleague. Since the man must still have bits of Decoy Detonator lodged in his underpants, she had to forgive him the sarcasm.
The highly-trained Squad was beating a hasty retreat before the lock had slammed closed.
Remus removed his hands from his pockets and surveyed the interior of the cell with great interest.
"They built thirty of these in less than three months, you know," he began conversationally, hitching up his trousers and taking a seat beside her.
He looked perfectly at ease. They might have been having tea in the garden of the Burrow.
Tonks set her jaw and waited.
It didn't take long.
After gazing at her thoughtfully for a couple of moments, Remus broke down and began to laugh, as helplessly as Ron before him.
"Since I left you at the party at nine o'clock," he said, wiping at his eyes, "you've managed to destroy an antiques store in Northampton, assault one Inquisitorial Combat agent with a Wizard Wheeze, insult the rest of the Squad and get yourself arrested twice. Did I leave anything out?"
"Apart from a very long train journey with a very drunk teenager, a short sojourn in a mulberry bush and a mind-numbing conversation with a Muggle copper? No."
"I wasn't sure if I ought to be appalled or amused when Kingsley's owl arrived," Remus said, examining the cuffs around her wrists.
"You've obviously made up your mind on that one," Tonks snapped, giving him a sour look. She was suddenly wholly in support of Hermione's attitude. It was more than a little galling when the love of one's life didn't have a drop of sympathy to spare. His unrelenting chuckles were grating on her already finely-drawn nerves.
As if he'd read her mind, Remus sobered suddenly.
"You're lucky that I have a sense of humour about this," he told her sternly, dropping her hands. "I didn't enjoy waking up to a Ministry owl, you know. The notification of my wife's arrest for attempted larceny wasn't exactly the first possibility that jumped into my mind. I was assured, however, that you are perfectly unharmed, which is more than can be said for the string of men whom you felled by various means tonight. You are all right?"
His eyes were dark with concern rather than merriment now, and Tonks felt a rush of renewed warmth for him.
"I'm fine," she said firmly. "I'm just sorry that I've ruined your birthday."
A spark of humour lit his gaze once more.
"You have to be joking, love. It's not even half seven in the morning and I'm already behind bars. That ought to silence any more 'old codger' remarks from the twins this afternoon. This may just be the best birthday I've ever had. I'm only sorry that Sirius isn't here to witness it."
"Oh, Fred and George don't think you're an old codger." Tonks managed a genuine grin. "You ought to hear their theories about werewolf sex under the waxing moon."
"Is that right?" Remus cast a quick look around the cells, but as Harry Potter had departed and it was clear that the pink-haired witch and her husband were not going to get into an argument, the other inhabitants had lost interest in them. He cupped her chin in his hand. "You can fill me in tonight. When, I believe, there may just be a waxing moon. Isn't that convenient? And for now, you can kiss your old git of a husband on his birthday."
His mouth was warm and welcome against hers and Tonks raised her cuffed hands to entwine her fingers in the folds of his jacket.
"This is very scandalous behaviour for a forty-year-old man," she murmured, pulling away to nip at his lower lip.
His grin was so wide that their teeth clashed briefly.
"I know," he said, tugging her unresisting form closer.
She had almost forgotten her stressful night when his body began to quiver against hers.
And not from a surge of passion.
He sat back, gripped by another spasm of laughter.
"I'm sorry," he apologised unconvincingly. "It's just bloody unbelievable. Tonks, what were you thinking?"
"I don't know," she admitted gloomily. She gathered that the snogging was temporarily on hold and sat back regretfully. "I wasn't thinking. I just see that woman and every rational thought, except "Hex her! Hex her now!" goes flying out of my head."
"Ah, yes, Umbridge," Remus said, his mouth straightening into a grim line. "We have a new mission for the Order, I understand."
"I don't know what she's doing," Tonks admitted, "but it can't be good, can it? Everything she touches turns to rot. Today, we celebrate your birthday. Tomorrow…" Her mouth quirked. "We go toad hunting."
They sat in silence for a minute, listening to the drip of a pipe and the nose of the woman next door, before Tonks swore loudly and made Remus jump.
"How long do you think those twats are going to leave us here? I was supposed to help Molly with your cake this morning."
"Were you?" Remus tried, belatedly, to hide his astonishment and she glared at him.
"She was going to let me ice the top. Calm down. I'm not allowed near the actual baking process." Then she groaned. "I probably won't be allowed near her house. Does she…"
"Molly is currently sleeping off a gallon of your punch. And Arthur has fortunately seen the funny side of your excursion. We've agreed that Ginny will give her mother an…edited form of events."
Tonks didn't feel any more reassured.
"I think she'll get the general gist when we have to appear before the Council, won't she? Reckon that's the last of my Christmas jumpers."
It was probably too late for Molly to lock down the Burrow against Tonks and her party guests. She wouldn't, anyway. It was Remus's birthday and she would still be fond of him in a couple of hours.
It was almost a pity. Tonks wasn't sure that she ever wanted to attend a party again. After today, she decided, that was it. No more parties. Particularly with members of the Weasley family. They were bloody dangerous.
"Oh, I almost forgot," said Remus absently. "Fred spilt the beans late last evening. He wasn't supposed to announce anything until after this weekend's celebrations, but he and Angelina are engaged."
It was news that had been a long time coming, but it was still a very welcome bright spot in a grey morning.
"And she wants to talk to you and Ginny about plans for her hen's night."
Tonks's smile vanished.
"Don't worry, love," Remus said soothingly, correctly interpreting her expression. "You can always get yourself blacklisted from that wedding. I understand we all have to purchase a vast quantity of broken china. There ought to be more than enough for another mirror. Perhaps you could make them one each."
Her anti-magic cuffs might prevent her from firing off a hex or two, but they at least made a satisfying thunk when she punched him.
He dodged away, still chuckling and looking much happier than he had all week, after well-meaning birthday greetings and jests about grey hair had sent him into periods of morose contemplation.
And all it had taken to cheer him up was her arrest and incarceration.
To think, she had expected the worst outcome of the night to be a hangover at Remus's birthday party.
He was right. It was unbelievable. It was ludicrous.
As the other unfortunates of Little Dicking Gaol exchanged wary glances, Tonks finally gave into laughter.
The woman with the sinus problem looked up from her miserable contemplation of the floor drain and watched as they held onto one another for support.
"Knew she had to be a nutter," she said, to no one in particular and with the smug triumph of one proved right in their assumptions. "Look at that hair!"
And she sniffed derisively.