No DH spoilers!
Originally written for the Last Chance Full Moon Showdown at MetamorFicMoon on Livejournal (see my profile for details!). As always, many, many thanks to MrsTater for her superb beta work and letting me ramble endlessly about the plot for this fic.
Asinus Protego - Chapter 1
Tonks leant against a filing cabinet as she listened to Robards drone on about the proper way to investigate possible Death Eater crime reports. Really, she'd been dealing with this war for twice as long as Robards had, and the meeting was useless enough to deem a pathetic waste of perfectly good baddie apprehending time.
This time last year, she'd thought things were about to get better, that finally, now the Ministry was acknowledging, albeit grudgingly, Voldemort's return, the Auror department would step up, fight the fight, start to nip the situation in the bud before it could unfurl into its ugly blossom. And they had, to some extent, she supposed, but it wasn't enough.
Not enough by a long shot.
Tonks glanced over towards Kingsley, who looked every inch as bored as she felt. He rolled his eyes at her surreptitiously and then turned back to Robards, with a neutral gaze.
Everywhere they turned they were faced with bureaucracy; common sense was stoppered by the need to keep up appearances; the requirement to seem like they were doing a good job surpassed the need to actually do a good job.
And she'd heard this all before; this insipid droning about reports and following public leads; to investigate what the Daily Prophet spent its column inches in fear mongering. Politicians and their infernal spin were not going to win this war; Voldemort could be playing kiss chase with his Death Eaters right out side the Ministry, and no one would know because all the bloody Aurors were listening to one of the said politicians reciting a monologue because he liked the sound of his own voice!
Tonks tuned out.
Meetings such as these did afford their selfish bonuses, though; she made the most of it, as her mind drifted back to the previous evening... to the feel of Remus' body, solid and manly above her; his eyes locked to hers as they made love; the tender lilt in his whispered I love you once they lay breathless and sated beneath sheets that moulded to their bodies.
She still couldn't believe it, really, that she had him back. That he was back.
And she didn't think he could, either.
They'd laughed last night, really laughed, for the first time in an age; it had been liberating and wonderful. The lines that had been etched on Remus' face for the last year had seemed to lessen, somehow, the twinkle of mischief she loved to see had returned to his blue eyes. Laughter had been what they did best; it had been his sense of humour that had first attracted her to him and later, once she had fallen for him, she could laugh just by seeing his smile, or even simply thinking about him and the good fortune she'd had to meet him and have him fall in love with her.
Rather than the desperate and urgent lovemaking that had marked each night since their reunion, followed by falling asleep, exhausted, in Remus' fiercely protective embrace, as though he feared he might lose her if he dared let go for a second, last night had been relaxed and easy; an evening of teasing and story telling and languid kisses and gentle touches; an evening where horrors and death could be forgotten because it was vital to keep something for themselves. And just as her Patronus signified, Remus was her guardian of that something, as she was for him.
Remus understood that now, she thought. At least he said he did, and if his actions last night spoke of anything, it was that. Love, she'd told him, didn't discriminate against trials and tribulations; it didn't care because it wanted only to nurture and protect, to soothe and to share. It took the bad with the good because the good was worth it.
She couldn't wait to be back in his arms tonight, laughing with him, kissing him, making love with him. She'd been a year without him and now she couldn't get enough of him. He made her feel whole, complete, strong in a way she'd never felt before. If this blasted meeting could just be wrapped up, she could get back to laughing and kissing and building up a bit more strength with a jolly good romp between the sheets.
Just as she shifted her attention back to Robards, he barked, "And finally, we've had a report of an Onocentaur under the Imperious Curse. Probably complete codswallop, of course, and from an anonymous source, but considering the ramifications of an Onocentaur at He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's mercy, we must keep it in the back of our minds." With that, Robards ducked his head and reached for his files, shuffling them roughly against the table surface.
"Do we have any idea where the report came from?" Tonks piped up.
"I said it was anonymous, didn't I?"
"You did," Tonks replied, trying not to sound put off by Robard's acidic tone, "I just wondered how the report was made, and to whom."
"It came in by owl, to Magical Law Enforcement, but it doesn't matter, girl, it's probably from a crack pot old fool after causing some trouble."
Accepting this time that she would get no further information, Tonks let the matter drop, but resolved to mention it to Remus that night. While Robards was more than likely right, she knew from experience that no possible threat should be disregarded, especially one so terrible, if true. A year ago, Robards would have agreed with her, but the last twelve months had taken their toll. He was being stretched in every direction with pressure from above. If he hadn't a tendency to take it out on his team, Tonks would have felt sorry for him.
"Dismissed!" he cried, before sweeping out of the room, his cloak flapping behind him.
Tonks exchanged a glance with Kingsley, across the room, hoping he could read her expression: we need to talk. She mouthed Grimmauld. When he gave a small nod of agreement, Tonks turned and left the room, stopping quickly at her desk to gather her things before heading for the employees' entrance of the Ministry.
Buoyed by her thoughts of spending the evening with Remus -- whether it was prefaced by a serious conversation or not -- Tonks walked with a spring in her step, enjoying the warming rays of the mid-summer sun and merrily humming the latest Weird Sisters hit, thinking how different things had been just a week ago. Then, even in the brightest of sunshine, the world had seemed grey, and despite the tremendous loss that still shrouded the Wizarding world in grief, everything seemed so much easier to face because she was going home to Remus.
She ducked into the alley many Ministry employees used as an Apparition point when the weather was fair and turned to Apparate to the less than salubrious alley several houses down from number twelve. The Dementor mist was more pronounced here, away from the Ministry where the soulless fiends had yet to find the gall to linger. She shivered, and hurried the few metres to the front door, let herself in, and closed it swiftly behind her.
She paused for a few moments, listening intently for the sound of voices to give away Remus' possible location. There were none, which gave her an excited jolt because that meant, at this time of day, Remus would be in the library. Alone. They'd be able to say hello properly before Kingsley arrived.
She tiptoed carefully down the hall, past the snoring portrait they still hadn't been able to get rid of, and up the stairs to the first floor, grinning when she saw, through the half-cracked door, Remus sitting at the desk he'd laid claim to long ago, frowning in concentration at the parchment he held in his hand. She'd always thought he looked adorable when he was focused on something. Of course, she preferred it when he was focused on her.
When she pushed the door open, it screeched noisily and he looked up, a broad smile leaking across his face; it brightened his eyes and took years off his features, as he pushed back in his chair and stood, making to walk towards her.
Tonks, suddenly shy, because this really did feel like the heady days of a new relationship all over again, offered him a small smile, dropped her bag at the door, and said softly, "Hello, you."
"Hello yourself," Remus replied, holding out his hands to her. Taking a step forward, Tonks placed her hands in his and he pulled her close, drawing her arms about his waist and then enfolding her within his own.
She looked up at him, and Remus bent his head to kiss her softly. When he pulled back, he let his lips dally on her forehead, warming her completely.
"How was your day?" he asked.
"Not too bad," Tonks said, burying her face in the soft wool of his worn jumper, breathing his scent and feeling at home in the strength of his arms. "Robards was a bit of a dick, and there was a rather boring meeting to sit through, but I did come out of it with something we need to talk about."
"Later." She tightened her arms around him. "It's nothing that can't wait a few. Kingsley will be here soon and I'd just like to sit with you for a bit, if that's okay, before getting down to business."
"Of course," Remus replied. "Last thing you want to be doing the second you get home is talk shop. Do you want something to drink, a snack or anything?"
"No, just a cuddle, please."
"We are cuddling," he replied, nuzzling her temple playfully.
"You know what I mean, a proper cuddle, on the sofa."
"Ah, so this is a second rate cuddle, is it?"
He was being purposefully annoying, but Tonks couldn't help but laugh, mostly because she was so very, very happy and so very, very relieved to hear him back to his normal self -- gittish tendencies and all. His dip in self-confidence had killed her almost as much as the raw emptiness she'd felt without him.
"There's no rates of cuddles, just different types, and right now I would like one that doesn't involve standing on my poor battered feet," she retorted.
"Well in that case…" Remus swept her into his arms, making her squeal, and carried her over to the settee. He lowered her to the sofa, and then lay down beside her, sandwiching her between the back of the sofa and the solid warmth of his body.
"How was your day?" Tonks asked, once she'd finished snuggling into the most comfortable position she could find, tucking herself into Remus so that there was not a hair's breadth between them.
"Pretty average, all things considered," Remus replied, as his hand worked its way underneath her robes to trace faint circles on her back, making Tonks shiver, and wonder distractedly what they might get up to later on, when all business had been taken care of. "I've been reading for most of the day; had a chat with Minerva about Hogwarts reopening or not. We just keep going round in circles with it, and she needs to make a decision. And soon, otherwise we won't have time to make the proper arrangements."
"I don't think Robards is going to be terribly keen to send an Auror contingent this year," Tonks said.
"I had feared he wouldn't be. What has he said?" Remus asked.
"Just that the department is stretched enough as it is and could ill afford to lose the bodies."
"If the school opens, it will need Auror protection more than ever. Without Dumbledore…"
"I know," Tonks said, turning her face into Remus' chest.
They fell silent then, and still, apart from Remus fingers still moving up and down her spine, soothing her, helping her relax as she tried hard to dispel the weight that settled in her chest at the mention of Dumbledore's death and the general accompanying gloom.
Soon, the steady rise and fall of Remus' chest against hers, the feel of his fingers on her skin, and his very presence carried her to a brief respite from all that. When he moved his hand from her back to her chin and tilted it up to face him, gazing at her for a few moments, as though he could look right through her, before lowering his lips to hers, she really did lose all train of thought. Nothing and no one existed but him and her, as his tongue darted out to part her lips to slide against hers. She felt as though she could melt into him, like she was part of him. He made whole what the trials of the day had eaten away.
And she knew the same was true for him. She knew they now both met and matched the power each held over the other; they were truly a partnership of equals, and, though the past year had been more difficult, had caused more hurt than she'd ever thought possible, she had wondered over the last few days, especially today, after the magical night before, whether this fight, that empty pain and aching need, had been required to get to this point. They still had a way to go, she knew that, but they had a solid platform on which to build their future, such as it was in the face of uncertainty.
Remus' hand fisted in her hair, pulling her mouth firmly against his as he kissed her fiercely, and she kissed him back, feeling a searing heat rise between them, and which, she realised with no small amount of regret, they must temper, if they had any chance of not being caught flushed and breathless when they heard Kingsley's clomping gait mounting the stairs.
If they even heard him at all.
"Remus," she managed to gasp against his lips.
"Hmm?" he murmured in reply, as his lips left hers to forge a blazing trail to her jaw.
She felt the disappointment in Remus as his lips slowed their hurried movements. He buried his face in her neck, his breath coming in staccato puffs against her skin. "You're addictive, do you know that?" he asked breathily. "I could kiss you for a lifetime."
"You will be the only man to kiss me for our lifetime," Tonks whispered, as Remus looked up, his eyes darkening as he looked at her intensely. "Can you content yourself with that?"
"I shall have to." He bent down to kiss her softly, sweetly, and then lent back and sat up, running a hand through his hair as though composing himself, which, Tonks supposed, he undoubtedly was. Tonks took a few deep breaths herself, before sitting up and running her own hand through his hair.
"Later," she whispered. Remus' eyes locked with hers and a thick crackle of energy passed between them, sending a physical jolt right through her that translated in her brain as a mental curse against whatever part of her had thought asking Kingsley to come over tonight was a good idea after the night she'd had with Remus yesterday; when she felt so high, so drunk on love and touching him, kissing him, tasting him, seemed irresistible.
"Yes," he said, "later." He looked at her for a few moments, eyes roving over her face, briefly down to her lips and further down her body. "You know," he said, with a slight chuckle, "I do sometimes wonder if you hold the more mature side of this partnership; my old argument seems to trot off into insignificance, when I consider that it never crossed my mind to stop just now."
Tonks tittered lightly, because she knew she ought and Remus meant it in a light-hearted manner. But could he have any idea how much of a leap and a bound forward it was, in her mind, that he could make light of his past misgivings?
"You're probably less concerned about getting caught in the act because Kingsley would never have the guts to take the Mick of you, whereas with me, he'd never waste an opportunity to rib me surreptitiously at work," Tonks said.
"Possibly." Remus said, his tongue darting out to wet his lips before he continued, his expression suddenly serious. "I mean it though, and I meant what I said the other night about being sorry for using our age difference as an excuse. It was insulting to you, to your intelligence and your commitment to me."
It was as though fireworks were going off in Tonks' stomach. Though he'd said a fair few such things over the course of the last few days, their effect had not lessened. It threw her over the moon and back again to know that his actions were backed up in words spoken so honestly, so sincerely, and she very nearly proved him very wrong by throwing herself at him and throwing caution -- and Kingsley -- into the wind.
Quickly gathering her thoughts, and storing them safely for later, she stood, held out her hand to him and said, "You can't say things like that, Remus Lupin, and expect a girl to hold on to her sensibilities without a battle. We'd best head on down to the kitchen to wait for Kingsley, lest the temptations of the sofa prove too much for this girl to handle."
Remus laughed. "You don't think we could manage to lose ourselves in something on the temptation of the kitchen table?"
Tonks looked at him levelly, and held out her hands to him. "If you think I could manage the balancing act that kind of something on a kitchen table requires, you must not know me as well as I thought you did."
"Oh, I know you alright," Remus said as he took her hands and pulled himself upright. "But now I'm wondering if you know me."
"Excuse me?" Tonks looked at him, tilting her face to one side and arching an eyebrow.
"When have I ever let you fall?"
Momentarily stumped in their bantering, Tonks allowed Remus to turn her by the shoulders and guide her out of the room.
"In any case," Remus continued, his breath hot on her ear, "it's a moot point. Different say, if we were talking about your kitchen table, but there's something intrinsically wrong about doing that kind of thing just feet from Kreacher's den."
"He's not here anymore, though," Tonks said, even though she didn't know why she was arguing with him on this point.
"Does that matter?"
"No," Tonks said, laughing, "I suppose it doesn't. Little dirty bastard."
"Quite." Remus added his own chuckle to the mix as they headed down the stairs to the hallway. His hands fell away from her shoulders as he moved in front of her and took her hand to lead her down to the kitchen.
Candles danced in their sconces, casting flickering shadows over the clean, clinical expanse of a kitchen past its heyday. It had been a long time since Molly's culinary touch had passed over the kitchen, though Tonks could almost smell the rich stews and tasty roasts of times past.
No one came here much now, not since Sirius died. The house had lain empty for much of the last year, only used as a last resort for Order meetings until Remus had returned a couple of months ago, at the end of his mission, with nowhere else to go. And now they stayed here often, but even combined their culinary abilities were nothing short of abysmal, so they rarely cooked.
Tonks often thought that with some hard work and a multitude of paint charms, the house could be made hospitable. She'd wondered, and asked Remus about it, if Sirius deliberately had kept some of its dark past in which to wallow, as though he couldn't let go what had passed here, as hateful as it had been, it was still a tie to a former life that couldn't be regained. Remus had been non-committal in his response, saying that he couldn't answer objectively after having watched Sirius spiral out of control within its confines.
"Would you like some tea, now?" Remus asked, letting go of her hand as she moved to take a seat at the long wooden table.
"Actually, do we have any Butterbeer?" she asked.
"Think so," Remus said, walking towards the larder.
He'd just disappeared inside, when Tonks heard the front door go. A few seconds later she heard Kingsley's booming voice call, "Hello?"
"Down here, Kingsley!" Tonks shouted back.
Kingsley entered the kitchen at the same moment Remus emerged from the pantry with a couple of Butterbeers in one hand and a single, larger bottle in the other.
"Butterbeer, or elf-made wine?" he asked, adding, "Hello Kingsley."
"Evening, Remus," Kingsley replied, "Wine definitely gets my vote." He took a seat opposite Tonks and nodded to her in greeting, which she returned with a smile.
Remus turned to Tonks, his eyebrows raised in question. "Wine works for me," she said.
Remus nodded and turned to busy himself with opening the bottle and fetching glasses. She watched for a few moments, admiring his graceful movements and wondering that something as simple as playing the lady to Remus' man of the house should stir such a sense of pride, and she knew he took pride in it, too.
He'd always been very adamant that she let him do things like fetching drinks, serving her at the dinner table and carrying heavy bags and boxes. It had annoyed her slightly at first, made her feel uncomfortable that he should do all the work. So they'd argued and she'd felt simply awful when he'd been forced to tell her that he needed to do these things because it was all he could offer without the means to spoil her rotten with flowers and chocolates and meals in fancy restaurants. She'd relaxed then, and allowed herself to enjoy it; she'd missed it sorely when he'd gone.
And now they were as good as living together -- even if it had only been for a few days -- she felt it more keenly. Getting back together had been an all or nothing affair as far as Remus was concerned. They hadn't said much at first. Remus had found her slumped in the hallway outside the hospital wing, reached for her hand, and led her away to his room. Then they'd lain, side by side, simply looking at each other, offering simple touches as though trying to confirm that the other was really there. Then he'd promised her, pressing her hand to his heart with his, that he was hers and always would be and told her he wanted everything with her; marriage, children, the whole works, at the proper time and place. It had been dizzying and wonderful, and still it felt like a fairytale.
"What did you think of Robards' lecture, Tonks?" Kingsley's voice broke through her thoughts.
Tonks dragged her eyes away from Remus, and turned them on Kingsley. "I, erm," she said, not entirely in control of her faculties.
Kingsley rolled his eyes.
"Not much," Tonks said. "You?"
"Same. Why is it that the instant you put someone with a modicum of competence in a position of responsibility their brain cells start flying out the window like owls in a post office?"
"Post-promotion pillock pox," Remus said smoothly. "Common ailment, no known cure."
Kingsley let out deep, appreciative chuckle, along with Tonks' snigger. "You're right there, mate," he said.
At that point, Remus levitated a goblet of wine in front of Kingsley and Tonks, who both murmured their thanks, and Remus himself ambled over, goblet in hand, and took his seat next to Tonks. He picked up one of her hands, twining their fingers together, and settled their joined fist on his knee.
"So, what happened today that you need to talk about?" he asked.
Kingsley jumped in before Tonks could answer. "I don't understand the significance of it myself," he said, "but Tonks seemed to think it was cause for concern?" He raised his voice in question, addressing Tonks.
"Yes, it is." Tonks said. Turning to Remus she continued, "There's been an anonymous report made of an Onocentaur under the Imperious Curse. We don't have any more details than that because, as we've already established, Robards is a pillock of the highest order, but I do intend to do some digging around tomorrow, to see if I can find the report."
"That can't be true," Remus said, shaking his head, "Onocentaurs do everything they can to keep away from Wizardkind. They can sense us, and they know when to move and run."
"I know, Remus, but with the consequences, don't you think we have to investigate it a little?"
Remus took a breath to answer, but Kingsley cut in. "Could you explain, please? I don't understand the threat."
"Of course, sorry," Tonks said. She looked to Remus and nodded at him to go ahead.
"Onocentaurs have the torso of a man and the body of a donkey," he started.
"That much, I know," said Kingsley with a chuckle.
"Just let him get on with it," Tonks said, with a roll of her eyes, "he's gone into professor mode. No helping it." She laughed when Remus sent her a mock glare.
Kingsley motioned with his hand for Remus to carry on, an amused glint in his eye.
"They are an ancient breed, possibly among the oldest in the magical world. Secretive and elusive, their existence was only confirmed in the fourteenth century. Onocentaurs hold in their blood the very essence of magic itself. The ability to control it, to bestow and take away."
"They give can give magical powers?" Kingsley asked.
"No," Tonks said, raising her goblet to her lips and taking a sip, "their blood holds the key to the power to do so. If say, it was drunk by Voldemort, or a Death Eater, they would be able to take away the magical power of anyone, or give anyone -- a Squib, a Muggle -- the ability to perform magic. But the Onocentaurs have no ability to control it themselves."
"That's why they keep to themselves," Remus continued, "they are the carriers of great power, but hold none of their own. Throughout the centuries, they have strived to protect the magical force that lies dormant in their veins. They go to great lengths to cut themselves off from Wizardkind, to avoid detection and exploitation."
"So their blood, could, theoretically, take away Voldemort's power?" Kingsley asked, a little sceptically.
"Not even theoretically. It could." Remus replied.
"But I suppose they won't give it to anyone."
"No, they would never willingly do that. For centuries they have run from forest to forest, nomadic creatures in the quest to escape detection. I do not know where they are currently rumoured to be inhabiting, nor do I know anyone who would know. It is possible Dumbledore may have kept notes on the subject."
"Might the Centaurs be able to tell us where they might be?" Kingsley asked.
"It is unlikely," Remus replied. "The Onocentaurs are said not to have a high opinion of the Centaurs. They are creatures of humility and think little of the Centaur's high and mighty attitude."
"So where do you think we should go from here, Remus?" Tonks piped up.
Remus thought for a moment, and then said, "I think that you or Kingsley needs to find that report, on the quiet, if you can. I'll see if I can find anything in Dumbledore's notes that might relate to Onocentaurs -- it can't be a possibility that he discounted -- and talk to Hagrid, to see if he has heard anything. There are creatures in the Forest other than Centaurs that might know something."
Then as an afterthought he turned and addressed Tonks. "Anything else you can think of?"
"I think that those are good first steps, but as a back up, we might bear in mind that Newt Scamander might be a good source of information, although we do want to keep this as quiet as possible," she replied. "Kingsley?"
"All sounds good to me," he said. "Shall we meet for lunch tomorrow and come up with a plan to find this report, or do you want to do it tonight? Frankly, I'm dead on my feet, and probably not in the best frame of mind for scheming. Not that plotting against the Ministry is all that arduous, bunch of incompetents that most of them are. 'Specially that lot in Magical Law Enforcement, bunch of wannabe Aurors; lazy to boot, passing off every other case to us…"
"Kingsley, I've heard your Magical Law Enforcement rant at least twice this week. Spare us?" Tonks said wearily. "We'll meet for lunch tomorrow."
Kingsley scowled at her and Remus chuckled beside her, squeezing her hand lightly.
They passed the next half an hour or so making idle chit chat, and it felt more normal than any she'd passed in the last year, though a little odd without Sirius. Remus was once again at her side at the kitchen table, her hand was where it belonged: tucked in his, and despite the gravity of some of the conversation, Tonks felt her spirit soar. She and Remus would fight this war together, and determination to battle their way through to the end would carry them to the other side, so that normality didn't include the weighty discussion of matters of life and death.
To be continued...
Author's Notes: Onocentaurs are 'real' mythological creatures, but the only thing I've not made up is that they're part human, part donkey. For your traditional review bride, I'm offering to dispatch Remus for a cuddle rating session after a hard day's work. Thank you for reading, and if you review, then thank you very much for that, too.