Slowly Sharpen, Gently Fade
"Wotcher, Nymphadora," Bill says with a grin, and she wants the floor to open up and swallow her whole.
"It's so good to meet finally meet you," Mrs. Weasley says with a smile. "Charlie's mentioned you often. You took Potions together, didn't you?"
She swears she hears Snape mutter something, then the man from the gaol – Lupin, was it? – speaks up.
"Did you say something, Severus?" he asks, earning him a sneer, and she thinks she should not underestimate the quiet-looking man.
"Let's all sit down," McGonagall says, "Albus will be here shortly."
The name sends a shock through her when she realizes she's waiting for Albus Dumbledore at a meeting for the secret society of the Order of the Phoenix which Moody brought her to, in an Unplottable House complete with secret spells and security measures. Puzzle pieces begin to fall together and she wonders what exactly Moody's expecting from her.
People start to move, finding seats around the large kitchen table. She sits between Moody and Shacklebolt, and listens while the others make small talk about Quidditch, and though she's got a great deal to say about the Harpie's recent trade, she keeps quiet. She needs to observe how everything works, and what exactly is going on.
She doesn't have to wait long, because soon a figure she hadn't seen before bounds out of a doorway she didn't notice, and slides into a chair next to Lupin.
"Nasty bugger was terrorizing Buckbeak," he says, and she blinks, she barely recognizes him. The man at the table is not the gaunt, bug-eyed prisoner staring back from Ministry notices. This man looks well-fed and agitated, full of the sort of nervous energy a prisoner of Azkaban would not have -
Their eyes meet, and she cannot breathe (his eyes are so familiar) until he sighs and slams a hand on the table.
"Well?" he asks, glaring at her, and the conversation about Quidditch dies down. She feels dizzy.
"I…" she starts, uncertain what to say because what she wants to say is They tortured me to find you and you are sitting right here, they gave me Veritaserum and why are you sitting right here? but Shacklebolt (how is he so calm?) speaks first.
"This is Nymphadora Tonks," he says. "She works with me." He pauses. "This is Andromeda's daughter, Sirius."
The look on Sirius Black's face changes immediately from one of indignation to something else, something she can't describe – equal parts shock and curiosity - and she looks away.
"I had forgotten about you," Black says softly. "Moody mentioned another Auror and I never associated the name he mentioned with your family."
She looks back, and the expression on Black's face makes her insides tear. He looks so very sad, sitting there, looking at her, and she'd have more pity if it wasn't for the latter part of his statement which makes her head spin.
"Wait," she says. "You lot know about me."
"Moody suggested we bring in another Auror, and your name was mentioned," Mr. Weasley says.
"So he had you assigned to me, so I could evaluate you for myself," Shacklebolt says.
"But we all did our own research," Bill added. "The time when Charlie came to town – "
"I met you that night," she says, looking at Lupin, who nods.
"Yes, you did," he says, "though that was not planned. We did not know Dung was going –"
"Wait," she says. "That thief is in the Order?"
"Am not a thief," the pile of rags in the corner says, and she glares at it. "Am an independent retailer."
She snorts at his phrasing, then turns back to Shacklebolt. "So you're recruiting, then, and thought I'd be a good match?"
"You certainly can handle yourself as an Auror," Bill tells her. "Despite what Dung might say."
"While I'm quite certain Mr. Fletcher has a great deal to say on the subject," a familiar voice says. "I think we should get started." She turns to find Dumbledore seated at the head of the table. He smiles at her. "Good evening, Nymphadora. I'm quite glad you could join us."
She nods, still intimidated by Dumbledore five years out of Hogwarts.
The Order of the Phoenix, she learns, is a society composed of a small but very dedicated number of individuals who want nothing more than to ensure the Wizarding World remains free from You-Know-Who's evil plans. Snape - Snape! - is operating as a double-agent, and it's apparent from Black's suspicious glances down the table that he may or may not be trusted. Furthermore, the Order is, in fact, actively recruiting – as active as a secret society can be, really - as well as formulating plans to protect Harry Potter, but this meeting is mostly for her sake, to discuss whether or not she'd be interested in joining.
It's a daunting prospect, being put on the spot in a foreign room with people you've just met and people you've known for years judging your reactions. Pledging your allegiance to your government and your nation is one thing, but actively working to undermine the government which pays you – all in the name of the good and just – is something completely different. Her head is divided; it tells her that she'll be caught, and then what will Umbridge do to her? But it also tells her that she can't deny the idiocy of the Ministry, the lies and deceit of senior officials any longer.
And her heart tells her that if Dumbledore believes this is the right course of action, then she will believe him.
But for the moment, since everyone's looking at her, she sputters out, "I really don't know yet."
Dumbledore smiles from his end of the table. "Of course. Now, I believe Molly has prepared us a lovely meal…" turning to Molly Weasley who, it seems, is the cook and housekeeper and has been waiting for her cue all evening.
The meal is quite lovely – stew and bread, with two different kinds of pudding for desert. She's just about to start eating when Shacklebolt moves and Black slips in beside her. He looks at her, studies the lines of her face and then says, in a low voice, "Tell me about your mother."
It's a bit awkward at first, talking to the elitist pureblood wanker she's been forbidden to mention, but she tells him about her mum, about what she does for a living (Department of Magical Housing, Rules & Regulations) and about her father (Department of Magical Transport, Portkey Office) and a little about herself.
Then it's easy, so easy to talk to him and she thinks yes, maybe she can do this, maybe she can stop the darkness, or at least try, and makes a note to sign herself up before she leaves. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees that Lupin and Moody are watching her, despite being in conversation, and she smiles to her mentor shakily.
She can do this. If they do this, she can. It can't be that hard, right?
There's no paperwork to sign when you become an Order member, no loyalty oath or blood pact – just the simple promise you will aid the Order to help prevent the rise of Voldemort.
It's understood that the job comes with risks. Names are mentioned at meetings – the McKinnons, the Potters, the Longbottoms, Fabian and Gideon Prewett, Edgar Bones – a litany of saints, and a prayer of thanksgiving lifted up to the heavens in hope of salvation.
After the meeting, Shacklebolt asks her to stop by his flat for a drink, and promises that he'll answer her questions.
"What about Peter Pettigrew?" she asks as he pours each of them a glass of firewhiskey, and after he tells her everything about the Black case she's never known, like how Black allegedly switched his role as the Potter's secret-keeper with Pettigrew and how he claims (and both Snape and Lupin confirm) that Pettigrew is a servant of You-Know-Who.
"Oh," she says, taking a sip. "Does the Order know I'm – what I am?"
Shacklebolt nods. "Yeah. Was a point in your favour, actually, though I doubt you're surprised."
"Not really," she says. "So they know about Lupin, then?"
Shacklebolt seems surprised, so she rushes to add more. "He had to sign for Fletcher, and the register-"
"- recognizes werewolves," Shacklebolt says with an understanding nod. "Of course. And yes, the Order knows, and there are precautions taken for full moons."
"How did you get into all of this?" she asks, because he seems to know a lot, and every time she thinks of that Lupin fellow she feels horrid.
"Put the pieces together myself," he says. "And it was Dumbledore that helped me with the pieces."
"I forget, Kingsley, what house were you in?" she asks, suddenly curious.
"Gryffindor – few years younger than your dad, but I remember when Black and Potter and their lot came in," he says with a nostalgic grin. "I remember your dad too, and – "
"No stories,' she says with a laugh. "I do not need to know what my parents may or may not have done at school."
Shacklebolt smiles. "I'm glad you're aboard, Tonks. The Order needs some young blood."
She smiles at the compliment. It's good to feel useful when all she does is file papers at work and not any actual law enforcement.
Being in a secret society is difficult, and lonely. She can't tell any of her Ministry friends, and so when she can't make it out that night, she feels guilty – like she's hiding something, which she is but still. Thankfully, they seem to understand, as many Ministry workers have been pulling overtime to ensure the Ministry's anti-Dumbledore campaign running at full capacity (when did she become such a cynic?)
Two days in and she's already fidgety.
Shacklebolt sends her down to Misuse of Muggle Artifacts one day with a talking motorcycle helmet which someone sent in. The helmet swears it helped Sirius Black escape the country and she's not entirely sure if it's lying or not. She frowns all the way down to the Office, and then furrows her brow when she recognizes Arthur Weasley.
"Hello, Tonks!" he says cheerfully. "You might not remember me but I'm Charlie's dad? Charlie Weasley?"
The ruse is obvious, and she commends the Order for taking these precautions (so obviously bearing the signature of one Mad-Eye Moody…).
"Good morning, Weasley," she says with a smile. "Got something for you here." As she reaches forward to hand him the helmet, she trips over a garbage bin and sends old memos flying across the floor (well, more like feebly limping and trying to become airborne despite their withered and decrepit state). With a wave of her wand, she sets the bin upright again and starts collecting the memos.
"Sorry about that," she says sheepishly, but Mr. Weasley smiles.
"Not important," he tells her. "It's a small office."
Indeed it is, with barely enough room for one employee, let alone the two (and only two) staff of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office. The office has long had a reputation for being ridiculous, especially in light of Arthur Weasley's notorious love of Muggle gadgets, though she has to admit, there's a job for everyone.
"Going for a cuppa," the other occupant of the office, an elderly wizard, says as he stands up and hobbles over to the doorway (stepping on Tonks' foot in the process). "Fancy one, Arthur?"
"No thank you, Perkins," Weasley responds. "What do we have here, Auror Tonks?"
At this moment, the helmet launched into a rousing rendition of "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," which she only recognizes because it's the tune her gran's doorbell plays when rung (Weasley would have such fun with that…)
"Fantastic!" Weasley exclaims.
"When it's not singing marching songs, it likes to talk about Sirius Black," she says. "Shacklebolt says you should have it."
"Yes, of course," he says, taking it from her. Placing it on his desk, he looks over her shoulder out the door, then says in a low voice, "Molly would like to have you over for supper tonight, so you can become familiar with the house."
"That sounds lovely," she says, thinking about her meager food supply at home and the delicious meal from her first meeting.
"Wonderful," Weasley says with a smile. "Now, I know you just Apparated there last time, so wait for me outside the visitor's entrance and I'll take you to the house."
She nods, as this is acceptable, and spends the afternoon with a knot in her stomach. It's not that she's apprehensive about going back to headquarters, it's that she's still so shiny and new, and so young and is terrified of making a bad impression.
The walk to the house with Mr. Weasley passes in companionable chatter, where he asks her about her job and asks her to recount, from her perspective, the infamous burning cauldron incident that resulted in two full months of detention for both Charlie and herself. She pays attention to the streets and the turns they make, tracing the route in her head for future reference. At the door, he performs the security charms and promises to teach her before she goes home.
The darkness of the ancient house, combined with the smell of mold, makes her uncomfortable (how many houses of dark wizards has she seen that are far worse than this?) but the kitchen, with its warmth and pleasant smell, make up for it.
"Nymphadora, dear!" Mrs. Weasley calls out, "please, do sit down and make yourself at home."
"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley," Tonks says, sitting at the table. Taking a moment to look around, she sees that she's not alone, but Lupin is there too, seated at the far hand and making a casual note of her arrival.
"Nonsense, dear, call me Molly," Mrs - Molly - says, placing a steaming cup of tea before Tonks on the table. "Now, Arthur, there's a ghoul in the upstairs bathroom I need you to have a look at – "
"I told you I could help, Molly," Lupin says, though his eyes have returned to the stack of papers he's reading at the table.
"Don't be silly, Remus, you're on duty tonight," she says, pushing her husband back out of the kitchen before he can greet it's other inhabitant.
There's an awkward moment, then Lupin asks "Do you want milk and sugar?" and when she nods, embarrassed, he sends them from the counter to the table with a flick of his wand.
She's not sure what to do here, with him, and the only thing that occurs to her is to apologize for being rude the first time they met. She's not entirely sure she was being rude, but she doesn't want to make a bad impression (she is the daughter of Andromeda Tonks whether she likes it or not).
"I'm sorry," she says suddenly. He looks up from his papers, and she continues. "I hope I didn't offend you when we first met."
"On the contrary," he says, "you owe me no apology at all. Compared to most of the interactions I've had with Ministry employees, ours was practically perfect."
"Practically?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, there was the matter of a certain minor felon…" Lupin says. "But no, you didn't offend me in the slightest, and as I very much doubt you have any prejudices against werewolves, I expect little trouble in the future."
"You're very loquacious," she says, and Lupin smiles, though it doesn't quite reach his eyes.
"I have been told that, on occasion," he says. "And since you broached the topic, I thought it best to have everything said and done."
"Good point," she responds. "I just wanted to, you know…"
"Thank you, Nymphadora," he says with a sincere smile.
"Oh, don't call me that," she says, playing with her teaspoon. "I can't stand that bloody name."
"It's your name, though," Lupin points out as he stands up, gathering his papers.
"Sometimes we can't help what we are," she says softly, hoping he'll understand but worried the moment it leaves her mouth that she's insulted him. She changes her hair to bright orange for added affect, and he smiles.
"Very true," he says. "So what shall I call you, then?"
"My dad's family calls me Dora," she says. "I don't mind that. Everyone else just calls me Tonks."
"Tonks it is, then," Lupin says with a polite nod. "I'll try to remember next time."
"Don't worry," she says, smiling. "If you don't, I'll just nag you until you remember."
"Indeed," Lupin responds dryly, with a raise of his eyebrows, on his way out. Luckily, Molly reenters, and smiles at her.
"Come and help me with the dishes, dear," Molly says, but – as usual – she manages to break several just by coming into contact with them, making Molly frown and Tonks' hair turn a weak shade of red.
"Why don't you just sit down, dear – you seem distracted tonight," Molly says, waving her wand towards the pile of dishes.
"I think I offended Mr. Lupin," Tonks says suddenly, and Molly laughs.
"I doubt that," Molly replies as she puts dishes on the table. "He's an unusual one, Remus, but he's got a good heart and it takes a great deal to offend him."
"Not even Snape manages to offend him," Black says as he enters the room, and she flinches. If the conversation was that obvious, that loud, who else could have heard?
"Good ol'e Moony has the patience of a saint," Black says as he sits down at the table.
"Moony," Tonks repeats. "Fletcher called him that at the jail. It's a nickname – oh," she says as it all becomes clear. Werewolf – full moon – Moony.
"We all had nicknames, back then," Black says, playing with a knife. "Mine was Padfoot. James was Prongs." He does not talk about Pettigrew, and she is smart enough not to ask.
"Supper's ready!" Molly calls up the stairs, and suddenly a great surge of ginger people stomp down the stairs, followed by Lupin. It startles her, and it must be obvious as Black leans around the table and says, "They're Molly and Arthur's kids. They're staying here for the summer."
"Oh," she says. "That's a lot of people for this house."
"It's a fairly large house," Black says. "I'll take you on a tour after supper."
"Thank you," she says. She would like to get her bearings, but any thoughts on the house's scale are disturbed the Weasley clan, specifically the twins which sit on either side of her.
"Hello," one says.
"What's a witch like you doing in a place like this?" the other adds. Both grin wolfishly and, glancing briefly at Black's amused face, she winks at the one on her left.
"Don't know yet," she says in what she hopes is a sultry voice, "but I'm sure you can help."
"Fred, George," Molly starts, sitting down, "this is Nymphadora – "
"Tonks," she corrects, trying to ignore the way the twins' grins grow by the minute. "Just Tonks."
Soon the rest of the Weasley children are introduced, though she vaguely recalls the twins – or, at least, Charlie's mentions of them, through their reputation for trouble. There's Ron, and the youngest, Ginny, and another girl named Hermione Granger, who is not ginger but rather a bookish-looking girl with bushy brown hair. Her name sounds familiar, and it's not until she mentions it that Hermione blushes and admits that maybe Rita Skeeter, ex-reporter for the Prophet, may have made some unsavory hints about her relationship with one Bulgarian bon-bon Victor Krum (at this, Ron looks annoyed and Ginny absolutely amused).
Dinner is fun, and both Black and Lupin tell amusing stories and it's not until she's trying not to have Butterbeer fly out of her nose does she notice the sudden lull in conversation.
"Your hair," Hermione starts. "Your hair changed color."
"Oh," Tonks admits, pulling at a longer strand to see that it's indeed turned a shocking violet. "That happens sometimes, when I'm not paying attention."
"You're a Metamorphmagus, aren't you?" Hermione asks, and Ginny follows with, "Can you do anything neat?"
The rest of dinner is spent demonstrating her abilities, which earns much laughter from the children and a few smiles from the elder Weasleys as well.
After supper, as promised, Black takes her on a tour of the house. It takes her some time to realize that this is his family home, which means it's a place her mother frequented as a youth and it shocks her that her own mum came from this.
It is much larger than she expected – three full floors above the kitchens, each with multiple bedrooms and baths. There's a library, and a parlor suffering from a bad doxy infestation, and a formal dining room with a large tapestry covering several of the walls. It's a tree, woven with pictures and names and once she recognizes Narcissa she knows where the conversation will go.
"Your mother should be here," he says, touching a scorch mark in the fibre. "And I should be here." His finger traces one branch over, to another scorch mark.
"Only the good ones, eh?" she says with a forced smile, though the tree bothers her tremendously. Growing up she knew little of that life, so obvious in this house with its prominently displayed heads of loyal House-Elves, and numerous dark objects. Her own childhood was warm and loving in comparison. Being in this house repulses her, and that repulsion reinforces her decision to become an Auror a thousand times over (she can't even imagine what Sirius must feel…)
She catches herself calling him 'Sirius' in her head, and is nowhere as discomforted as she thinks she should be. Despite the years and the distance, despite the horrible things that have happened, standing here in this room in front of the tapestry solidifies all murky ties. It is, she assumes, as it should have always been: blood will out.
As she follows Sirius out of the room, she strongly hopes that is not the case, not completely. She wants nothing to do with the darkness of this past, the murder and betrayal and what-not of the Toujours Pur Black family (she's not at all surprised to think of it so scathingly, for she's been brought up hearing the name spoken contemptuously by both her parents, much like Sirius).
When she arrives home that night, she takes a long hot shower, scrubbing away the invisible grime that seems to linger on her skin from her time at Grimmauld Place. Afterwards, skin damp and hair clinging to her forehead, she scans through her Auror handbook once more, looking once again for her notes on werewolves and dark creatures. She feels guilt for connecting the quiet, mild-mannered, aloof Lupin with these bloodthirsty beasts but, as she has had been reminded of so often these last few days, appearances and preconceptions can be deceiving (she hopes, for his sake, that is not the case).
Author's Note: Thank you all for the many reviews - I love getting your feedback, so keep it coming ;) Also, a big thanks to my beta, Jo, for all her hard work :)