Moody straightened up slowly from the bow, not taking his eyes off her. She did the same. Good, thought Moody, she's got caution at least ... let's see how she duels. Without warning, he hit her with a Disarmament Jinx.
She was too slow to counter it. Her wand flew out of her hand, and Moody caught it. He threw it back to her with a snort of disgust.
"Can't you do better than that? You didn't even last three seconds."
"I – sorry, sir." Tonks was about to protest that she hadn't been ready for that, but she knew making excuses wasn't going to do her any good. Moody was obviously not the sort of person who tolerated excuses. He expected results.
"The first few moments can be crucial in a duel. Either hit your opponent fast, or be ready to dodge. We'll try again." Moody bowed, and so did she. Her mouth was set in a firm line now, more grim than before.
"Stupefy!" shouted Moody. Tonks was quicker this time, and she ducked. It took her a moment to think of a counterattack, though, and before she could finish saying "Impedimenta," Moody had Disarmed her again.
"Stupid!" snapped Moody, throwing Tonks's wand back at her more forcefully this time. "If you can't think on your feet, you'll never be a fighter."
"I'm sorry, sir," said Tonks, again. She hated being so mousy and apologetic, but Moody was rather intimidating. She could not think of any better response.
"Don't be sorry. Just learn, will you? Once more." Moody bowed curtly. She returned the bow, and this time was fast enough to get in the first shot.
Moody had to break off his own spell to block her Jelly-Legs Jinx, and that gave her an opening to throw a Disarmament hex. Unfortunately, despite that wooden leg of his, he still managed to dodge, and before she could cast another spell, he had set up a Shield Charm. Her next attack bounced harmlessly off it, and Moody dropped the shield and Stunned her with lightning speed.
The next thing Tonks knew, she was waking up on the floor, with several bruises. "Get up," said Moody, prodding her with his wand. The tip of it was hot. "Ow," said Tonks, pushing it away. Moody backed off and allowed her to climb to her feet, but then Stunned her again as she was bending down to pick up her wand.
The first thing she heard upon reviving was Moody shouting at her, "Constant vigilance! An Auror never lets his guard down even for a moment! Your enemies aren't chivalrous, they aren't going to wait for you to arm yourself and put up a fair fight! Nymphadora Tonks, you –"
"Don't call me Nymphadora!" exclaimed Tonks, trying to sit up, with some difficulty. The floor seemed to be not quite steady underneath her. She held a hand to her forehead and suppressed a groan. "I hate that name. Call me Tonks. And don't shout so, I can hear you perfectly fine from three feet away."
Moody grumbled under his breath, but still loud enough for her to hear, "What a sissy. Can't believe the sort of milksops coming out of Hogwarts these days, what's Dumbledore thinking, I don't know ..."
Tonks bit back a rude response, and picked up her wand without taking her attention off Moody. He raised his wand again, but since she had hers in hand, she managed to get to her feet without being attacked.
The truth was, Tonks had been a respectable enough duelist in Auror training. She wouldn't have got half this far, being assigned as shadow to a senior Auror, if she hadn't shown some ability already. If Moody were sent out on assignment, Tonks would be expected to accompany him, and that meant she could be trusted to keep herself out of trouble. She was supposed to be useful, though at this rate, the odds were Moody wasn't going to let her do much of anything with him.
The real problem, she decided, was that she was too self-conscious to honestly attack Mad-Eye Moody. And who wouldn't be, considering his reputation? Tonks was a nice girl, a bit rebellious in her musical tastes and modes of dress, but overall she didn't like to hurt anyone, and she certainly wasn't inclined to pick a fight with someone of legitimate authority. A few of her teachers had thought her disrespectful, but Tonks was overall quite respectful to those people whom she considered deserved it.
By this time, though, Moody was making her angry. She decided she was going to let him have a taste of his own medicine.
They bowed to each other yet again, and this time Tonks unleashed a powerful hex that Moody's initial shield could not block. He staggered back, and rather than let him off the hook, Tonks seized the advantage of the moment. "Stupefy!" she cried.
Moody was slammed back against the wall, striking his head with a nasty thump. He fell to the floor. Tonks ran to him and cradled his head with one hand, casting a Re-Energizing spell.
"Sir – Mr. Moody, are you all right?"
Moody's eyes opened. Both of them: the magical one fidgeted back and forth for a moment before it went back to spinning around as usual. Moody reached for his wand, but Tonks saw what he was doing and smartly Banished it out of his reach.
"Not bad," he said, gruffly. "You can let me up now."
Tonks stepped back and allowed him to rise. He stretched himself slowly, and said: "Not as young as I used to be. I knew I had a good reason to be thinking about retirement. Dumbledore's ruddy persuasive, though: he wanted me back on the job for a little longer yet."
Moody looked around for his wand. "Ah, there it is!" He held out his hand, and the wand scooted across the floor, then rose to meet his fingers. Tonks was impressed with his skill.
"Are we done testing each other now, sir?"
"Not by a long shot, girl. If you and I are to work together, we've a lot more to do than that. Stupefy!"
Tonks was caught off guard again, but this time her reflexes were a little better, or else she had subconsciously anticipated the attack. She dodged to one side, and put up a Shield Charm. Moody launched another spell, but it shattered against the protective shield in a shower of bright sparks.
Moody kept his wand pointed at her, but he paused and appeared to be thinking. Tonks watched him, keeping the shield up. She wasn't ready to attack again and let her guard down.
Moody swished and flicked his wand in a complicated pattern, and muttered some words of a phrase Tonks couldn't catch. Then the room seemed to grow darker, and a fetid, awful breath exhaled from somewhere. It smelled like dead things rotting in a murky, ancient swamp.
A tall, gray-black, hooded figure stepped out of the air. It was a dementor. Tonks backed away, wide-eyed. Her Shield Charm flickered and dimmed. As the dementor approached her, it touched the shield, and the shield dissolved. Tonks couldn't remember how to keep the dementor away, could not even recall if she had ever been told how in the first place.
"Fight it off, girl!" came Moody's voice, from somewhere far away. "I'm certain you know how – go on, do it!"
Tonks felt cold and shaky and sick. Her mind was completely void of anything she could use against dementors. The only thoughts in her head were memories of the worst moments in her life – moments of terror, and despair, and inescapable shame. She covered her face with her arm, wanting to hide from it all, not wanting to see the monster that was coming closer.
"Oh, bugger it! Expecto patronum!" said Moody. A silver light illuminated the room, and Tonks suddenly felt warmer. She looked up. The dementor had gone. A large, bright silver bear was standing a few feet from her, where the Dark creature had been moments ago. For some reason, the bear's appearance made her feel better. She could think again. Absentmindedly, she reached out to pat the bear, but it disappeared. Then she looked up further, and saw Moody looming from the other end of the room. Her stomach twisted all over again, though not as badly as when the dementor had been present.
Moody opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say a word, the door opened. Kingsley Shacklebolt stuck his head in.
"Mad-Eye Moody," said Kingsley reprovingly, in his deep voice. "Do the hairs on the back of my neck deceive me, or did you actually just summon a dementor in my Auror department?"
"I did, Kingsley," said Moody calmly, pocketing his wand. He folded his arms, as Tonks wiped her face and tried not to look like the wreck she felt in front of her boss. "You have good senses, as always."
"Moody, you should've known better," scolded Kingsley. "You know those things are dangerous. They don't belong inside the Ministry, of all places – and what has it done to your assistant?" Kingsley looked at Tonks, who made an effort to stand up straighter.
"It didn't touch her," said Moody. "You know I wouldn't let it, Kingsley. I know better'n that. I had the thing under control, or as good as, with my Patronus – but she couldn't do a damn thing to stop the monster! This child is no better than helpless; I'm not taking her out with me anywhere, because she'd get killed or captured and I'd have to rescue her, like as not –"
"Mad-Eye, you are well aware the Defense Against the Dark Arts department at Hogwarts is deficient!" exclaimed Kingsley. "You can't expect the poor girl to know how to conjure a Patronus. Half the Ministry wizards couldn't do it if they tried! That's far too advanced for her first day on the job."
"I'm not a 'poor girl,'" said Tonks, who felt it was time to speak up for herself. Unfortunately, her voice came out much higher-pitched than she meant it to; she sounded near tears, which was the truth, but was not the impression she hoped to get across. "Kingsley, I tried, I really did, but you know we only got to dementors at the very end of Auror training, and what we mostly learned was to run away and go find help."
"That's true," sighed Kingsley. "The training program desperately needs an overhaul, but it's just one more thing on my to-do list, and the Minister isn't giving us a very high priority. We're short on teachers, in addition to everything else. Not to mention the budget. What I wouldn't give for a squad of twenty from the old guard ... or even a dozen ..."
"Half a dozen'd be a good start," growled Moody. "But they're dead and gone, or too old to go out fighting any more. That's why you've given me this young'un to work on, I suppose. Not much to work with, though, so it seems."
"You're being unfair," said Tonks, and was glad to hear her voice sounded a little stronger this time. "I know Dark wizards aren't supposed to be fair, but we're better than they. That's what I'm here for. Mr. Moody, sir, I really do want to learn from you, and I've learned quite a lot today already, and far be it from me to question your teaching methods ..." Which was not at all what she was thinking, but she was determined not to be rude even after the thrashing Moody had given her.
"... but perhaps if you would show me what to do first, and let me start to get the hang of it, I would have a better chance of performing the way you want in the crunch."
Kingsley nodded, as if to say She's got a point, and looked at Moody expectantly.
Moody gave a long sigh and thrust his hands into his pockets. "Well, girl, you make a good argument there. Since no one's taught you certain important things about self-defense," he glared at Kingsley, who made a helpless not-my-fault gesture, "I guess it falls to me to do it. You've had enough for one day, so I suggest you go home early and get some rest. I'll teach you some defensive moves tomorrow – and then we're going to duel again, so you'd better be prepared to learn fast."
"Thank you, sir," said Tonks, venturing a smile.
"Oh, but there's one more thing, girl. You can stop calling me 'sir' and 'Mr. Moody,' if you please. I used to set a lot of store by it, but it's really a waste of time. Call me Mad-Eye, or just Moody. Everyone else does."
"Yes, sir. I mean, Mad-Eye." It felt very strange on her tongue, but Moody nodded approval.
"Provided," Tonks added, "that you stop calling me 'girl.' Call me Tonks. That's fair, isn't it?"
"Yes, fair enough. Very well. Tonks it is." Moody did smile then, just a little bit. Kingsley left and shut the door, apparently satisfied.