A/N: Thank you to everyone who kindly reviewed and I'm glad you're enjoying the story.Thanks also go as always to my beta reader Snorkackcatcher and my Merry Band of Behind the Scenes Helpers, several of whom helped me thrash out the ways and means of the Portal and ways to incorporate various canon that might have otherwise proved tricky...;) I had originally planned to continue writing this chapter from Teddy's pov but I discovered in this attempt that it's very hard to create excitement and risk of failure into a chapter written from the pov of someone chilled on Felix Felicis when everyone reading knows his plan already. So I decided instead to take this and the next few from the pov of someone who hadn't a clue what was going on instead. Plus it also gave me the chance to make reference to JKR's chat statement about Bellatrix and Tonks and offer and explanation as to why this might have been wildly believed...:)
3: For Better or Worse
Twenty years earlier…
The killing curse missed her by less than an inch.
Tonks felt rather than saw its passing, a skim against the loose sleeve of her hastily donned Auror robes, a fatal whisper and a hint of deadly green that tore the air and spoke fluently of barely evaded death. Even as she tumbled, immobilized and helpless, the victim of a stray Impediment Jinx between the shoulder-blades mere moments before, she knew that she had escaped death by less than the width of her finger. For that stray jinx had just saved her life.
But dear Auntie Bellatrix had apparently not noticed.
She heard a scream of triumph, a victorious shout, and caught words and phrases of a screeching, fanatical tirade from her mother's barking sister not dissimilar in style to the late, unlamented Walburga Black. It took Tonks a moment to realize that these words were being screamed at what Bellatrix believed was her corpse.
"This is the price of filthy blood, Andromeda, death, death is the price! This is what you and your brat get for consorting with Muggles and mudbloods and disgracing the name of the noble House of Black! And this is what you get, little girl, for dallying with a filthy werewolf! And he'll be right there alongside you the moment I cross his path…"
No. Don't move. If you move, she'll know you aren't dead and you're hardly in a position to stop her rectifying that…
The litany of abuse came thick and fast now, insults about her mother, about her father (oh god, shut up, shut up about dad) and how she'd made him pay, (you're dead, stay dead, don't rise, don't rise...) how she'd make Remus pay too and the foul-blooded inhuman brat they'd spawned…
Teddy. Gods, she knows about Teddy…
Don't move. Don't shake. Don't scream. Think dead.
It was the hardest thing she'd ever done.
Move on, you foul bitch, I'm dead, you can't hurt me, get the message? Stop gloating and go find someone else to hurl crap at…
"And now my family honour is restored and you can rot away…Ah!"
It seemed Bellatrix was paying for her extensive gloating for then Tonks heard another voice, the familiar voice of Bill Weasley bellow a curse, heard her aunt's screeching cries turned in another direction and at last the harridan was swept away into the battle once more and finally left her alone.
Bitch. Bitch, bitch, bitch… She's probably out there now boasting to Bill about how she's just killed me.
I need to get up, I need to move, I need to find Remus, I need to help, to fight again…
The Impediment Jinx bound her arms and legs, but at least now she could open her eyes. She could see the damaged walls of the courtyard, before which danced half-glimpses and shadows of fighting figures just out of sight, the whine of spells, screams of pain and the echo of distant detonations. The battle continued to rage without her.
Well she wasn't dead yet. That was a bonus.
But it didn't change the fact that she still couldn't bloody well move.
She'd been doing all right too, in spite of her achy, protesting, post-natal body, taking down Rookwood with a well aimed curse and holding her own in every fight until Bellatrix had crossed her path, distracted her with insults and then this unexpectedly helpful misdirected jinx from some blond kid she didn't even know had accidentally saved her life and left her trapped and presumed dead on the floor of the courtyard…
Tonks allowed herself a grimace as she battled to move her limbs, to shift position, to do anything that might loosen the unseen bonds in which she remained gripped. She had to get out of this, she had to help, she had to find some point to her risking everything to be here. Maybe Remus had had a point when he told her to stay with her mother…
No. No. She had been an Auror until last summer and was a member of the Order of the Phoenix; she had trained for this, fought for this for most of her adult life. For as long as she'd known the difference between good and evil – and with her family, that realisation had come young - she'd been preparing for this fight. One hand, one wand could make all the difference here, so how could she sit at home not knowing, not helping just because of…
Teddy. Her baby.
Her heart gave a desperate throb at the thought of that tiny face, that so soft hair; he had smiled at them for the first time just a couple of days before, a proper smile that could not be attributed to wind and how she and Remus had smiled and laughed in return as they'd taken turns to hold him and bask in this first milestone…
No. I can't think about that now. I can't think about what I have to lose.
Harshly, she forced the memories away. She was doing this for him, for Teddy, for her baby. She was here for him. If they failed, if all was lost, what kind of future, what kind of life would he have whether she and Remus survived or not?
A short one. A very short one.
Remember what Bellatrix said. He's foul-blooded spawn and a canker on her nice pure family tree. If you lose this fight, she or someone like her will kill him without a second thought.
She had to do this. She had to.
The Impediment Jinx was starting to wear off – as she wriggled her shoulders desperately, Tonks could feel the invisible bonds straining and fading away. One arm was free, one leg and then suddenly, something seemed to snap and she could move again, scrambling to her feet, wand grasped as she wheeled in search of enemies to fight. Maybe if she could find Bellatrix, stop her, kill her, make sure of her baby's safety in one way at least…
But Bellatrix was nowhere to be seen.
Instead, she saw Remus.
He was running hard, his face furious, his eyes hard as he hurtled out of the courtyard just below in pursuit of a black robed Death Eater. Even from almost a hundred yards away with a chaotic battleground all around them, Tonks could feel the waves of fury coursing out from her husband as he hurled himself onto the steps leading to the north battlements, his stony gaze never leaving his quarry for an instant.
Remus! Remus, be careful!
He shouldn't be that angry, not in a battle, not if it made him lose his head. There were enemies all around her, everywhere a battle to be fought, but she couldn't risk it, couldn't leave him to face a duel angry and alone. But there was Bellatrix too and protecting Teddy and how could she chose between watching over her husband and safeguarding her son…
The ground was shaking. She could hear angry grunts and roars, the crashing of trees, the echo of massive pounding footsteps coming closer, closer, closer.
Giants. She saw them break through the trees, lumbering forwards with clubs waving and fists clenched, heading straight towards…
The north battlements. Where Remus was. Where Remus was distracted…
Damn it Remus! Damn it!
Teddy was safe with her mother for now. But Remus was in immediate danger.
Grasping her wand firmly and praying that she didn't stumble, Tonks flung herself off in pursuit, dodging hurled curses and flinging retaliation at any black-robed figure that dared to get in her way. It seemed to take forever and a day to reach the foot of the steps, to grab the stone wall and haul her screaming body up, up, up, step after step after step, hoping beyond hope that she wouldn't trip or slip or send herself flying and by some miracle she didn't. She could hear Remus now, yelling, furious, something about a boy, about the murder of a child. Tonks felt her heart catch. Dolohov had killed one of his former students. No wonder he was so enraged.
And she could see him now as she topped the steps, standing irate over Dolohov's slumped form, his face as cold as she had ever seen it.
"Enough is enough," she heard him say. "Avada…"
And then she saw too late the giant head rearing from behind the battlements to her husband's right, saw the enormous club rise and then descend with shocking, terrible force…
The battlements exploded in a dusty blur of noise and stony shrapnel. She saw Remus stumble, grasping at what remained of the wall as the stones beneath his feet cracked, lurched, crumbled away beneath him…
The dust rolled over her, choking and thick, but she paid it no heed as she surged forwards, ignoring the odd, warm shiver that seemed to touch her skin just for an instant as she plunged into the murk. His footing had gone now, snatched away and she could see his fingers grasping at the last of the dissolving stonework, slipping, sliding, falling away…
She lunged forward, hurling every last drop of her speed and strength into the effort as she thrust her hands desperately down and snatched her husband's arm out of the air. The jerk all but dragged her down after him into the dusty abyss of shattered rock that was now the courtyard below and she dug her feet frantically against the last of the battlement, feeling his fingers – still holding his wand, bloody hell, and I'm still holding mine! - scrabbling against her robes and skin as his free hand swung out and grabbed at the wall once more, missing once twice, three times…
Come on Remus! Merlin, how could someone so thin weigh so bloody much?
"I've got you! Remus hold on, I've got you!"
The words were as much for her own reassurance as his. Her fingers strained and jerked, the muscles of her arms and back screaming at her as she pulled with all her might, the hard wood of his wand pressing uncomfortably against her elbow. She caught a glimpse of his dust-tousled head, wide-eyed below her as he stared up at her in shock and disbelief for a moment before pulling himself together and turning every effort once again to gaining a foothold on the wall.
Hurry, hurry, Gods, hurry, I can't hold out much longer and I can't let you go, I just can't…
Wood dug into her hand once more, painful, hard. She was still holding her wand. She was still holding her wand.
Bloody hell, Tonks, what kind of a witch are you?
She dare not speak aloud for her straining breath would probably snatch the words away. Instead, she thought with all her might.
Wingardium leviosa! Wingardium leviosa!
Since her hands were otherwise occupied with holding onto her husband, it wasn't really much of a swish. The flick was equally pathetic. But gloriously, miraculously, his weight lessened, just a touch, just enough for him to make one final grab at the wall. She saw his fingers digging into mortar, one foot jammed in a still expanding crack as he gritted his teeth and made a laborious start on pulling himself to safety. Ignoring the agony of her screeching muscles, Tonks hurled all the strength she had into leaning backwards, dragging him up with all her might. His free hand slapped down against the battlement now as he levered himself desperately up, wedging his elbows against the stone as he struggled to take his own weight off her hands. His eyes bored into her, shock written large within them, horror too but there was also just a hint of joy half-hidden in the depths that more than made up for the other.
Shock and horror however, won out.
"What the hell are you doing here? Get out of here, now!"
For about a quarter of a second, Tonks was almost tempted to drop him. Remus bloody Lupin, you noble, pushy, ungrateful, over-protective, self-righteous…
Grabbing the back of his robes, she hauled him none-too-gently up the last few inches. "Do you mean right now?" she exclaimed, her voice raising a good two octaves out of a cocktail of effort and irritation. "Or shall I finish saving your life first?"
"Saving my life is good!" Well at least we agree on something… "You being safely with our baby is better!" But not everything. Isn't that just the story of our life?
With a final grunt of effort, Remus dragged himself onto the remains of the flat stone walkway and dropped with a thud, his breath harsh and rasping, his hand still clasped in hers. He was covered in dust, blood and vivid red impact marks that Tonks knew from long experience would soon be heavy bruises. He stared up at her as she leaned back, helping him to his feet, meeting his eyes with all the love and pleading and desperation to help that had filled her from the moment he'd kissed her and Teddy goodbye and Apparated away mere hours before. And in return, his eyes filled with the same, his love, his desperation, his pleading that she go, be safe, get away from this chaos and live her life whatever became of him…
Gods, she loved him so much. The noble prat.
"Get out of here," he whispered softly. "Please."
She could drown in those beautiful eyes. The noise and fog battle seemed to fade into nothing, just for an instant, leaving a moment of peace, of love, of clarity, just the two of them, nothing but them in the whole wide world and she knew that he and Teddy were all that she wanted, all that she wanted forever…
And then the world blew apart.
It was as though the air beside them rippled, stretched and then suddenly burst, striking her face with an impact that almost sent her staggering. A shadow, a figure loomed suddenly beside them and she felt it lunge forwards, felt Remus' wand snatched from their clasped hands and heard a voice, a man's voice yell a spell out loud.
And then, for one dizzying, bewildering instant, Nymphadora Tonks was staring straight at herself.
What the bloody…
But she had no further time even to swear. Green light flared across her sight, closer than before, closer than Bellatrix, too close, too close, but then a moment, an instant, a millisecond later, a hand slapped down upon heavily upon her wrist and yanked.
And everything around her was gone.
Hogwarts, the battle, the giants, Dolohov, friends and foes, even the ground beneath her feet just gone. Deep red light brushed against her, surrounded her, filled her vision, her mind, her soul like an undulating curtain and all that she had in the world was one mysterious hand clamped around her wrist and Remus' fingers clasped in hers.
And then the red light squeezed.
It was the only way she could describe it. It engulfed her like a straitjacket, like a shroud, wrapping her from top to toe as it pressed into her skin, her muscles, her heart and set each and every molecule of her body vibrating. It felt like a metamorphosis gone terribly wrong, like the times in her youth when she'd experimented too hard, pushed too far and felt the protests of her body but this was a thousand fold greater, shrinking and stretching, pulling and pushing, yanking at her body, her heart, her mind, even her soul as though to tear each from the other and rip them all asunder. If it had not been for the malleable nature of her body, she was certain, oh so certain that she'd have been torn into pieces already.
A shudder to her left, a man's gasp, unfamiliar. And then…
And then Remus screamed.
She felt his fingers torn from hers, ripped away with shocking violence and she tried to grasp them back, tried to cry his name, but there was no sound, no movement, nothing but a sudden surge in the glow of red around her, a ripple, almost a push and then…
Light. Normal light.
She had weight again. And that weight plummeted to the floor, her shoulder striking the ground with painful clarity, her hip jarred and bruised, and for a moment she could do nothing but lie gasping in the sudden silence, eyes closed, fingers flexing as though that simple movement would restore her husband's touch. She could feel the heat of another body beside her, hear the frantic drawing of breath, the gentle gasps of shock and it had to be Remus, it had to be…
She opened her eyes.
Remus' eyes met hers.
But they were not in Remus' face.
No, no, no, that couldn't be right. They were Remus' eyes, so like Remus' but the young man lying beside her was emphatically not Remus. Oh, there was something there, something about him that nagged, made him familiar, but he was too young and smiling too broadly and his hair was too turquoise…
And he was staring at her. Staring at her with disbelief. With incredulity.
With joy. Utter joy.
Who the hell was he?
But suddenly the smile was fading. His eyes had left her, moving around the room – the strange room, where was she, this wasn't Hogwarts - searching, seeking and finding nothing. Horror, slow and terrible, began to dawn upon his face.
"Where is he?" she heard him whisper. "It should have worked, it did work. Why isn't he here too?"
A cold chill seemed to fill her heart as she dragged her head from the floor. One glance was enough to turn it glacial.
For she was here, wherever here was, in this strange little room with its red glowing portal and plain creamy walls. And the young stranger was obviously here too.
But they were alone.
There was no sign whatsoever of Remus.