An easy routine had settled around the four teenagers and Tonks as August rolled on. Tuesdays and Thursdays were three-a-side Quidditch days at the Burrow, with Harry, Ginny and Tonks on one team and Ron, Bill and Fleur on the other. Molly would jump into action occasionally, pairing up with her daughter and Harry if either Bill or Fleur didn't want to play. Hermione was occasionally pressed into referee duty, as much as one could do from the ground, but she preferred to feign watching from the safety of a lawn chair, throwing in the occasional "lovely shot, Ron," when it seemed appropriate. A couple of sunscreen charms, the protection of Bill's imperturbable charm and the company of Bridget Jones's Diary (a novel she deemed "cheap Muggle throwaway tripe, but it serves a purpose") gave Hermione a rather indifferent feminine air while those above her waged frantic combat.
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays generally centered on meditation. Tonks would show up around half past one in the afternoon to collect the Trio plus Ginny and head back to her flat for their meditation classes. At this point 'class' wasn't really the order of the day anymore; the four had learned enough about the subject that they could handle things themselves. Still, everyone was happy for the excuse to get out from under the rather stifling apron of Molly Weasley, so no one really talked about no longer needing the formal scheduling.
One Monday's session was a little more eventful than the others. The trio had gone to Diagon Alley the previous Saturday only to find the newly-marked Draco Malfoy doing some 'plotting' that would make most cartoon villains look competent. After a rather ham-handed attempt on Hermione's part at getting information about Draco's doings, the three decided that leaving the counter-terrorism reconnaissance to trained professionals was probably wise, especially when one of their members was actually dating a trained professional. It took a bit of work to shoo Ginny back to the Burrow ahead of them, but Hermione warning her in advance that there was "war business" that they needed to discuss mollified things significantly. Still, it was an awkward segue from meditation to business.
"Er, Tonks. Mind if we have a word before we head back to Ottery?" was the way Harry opened things. The distinct lack of playful cheek in his request was apparent to anyone within earshot.
"Right. Of course, Harry, what's going on?"
"Your cousin's a Death Eater."
"Ha. Right, and in other news, folks: Sky said to be blue all bloody day, 'cept at night and when it rains. Back to you, Ted."
"No, really Tonks. We saw him. He's been flinching when people touch his forearm, and he's skulking around Borgin and Burke's making dodgy deals with the shop-owners. He's really gone and done it, and now he's going to have to prove himself to Volde – get a grip, Ron – to Voldemort."
"Suppose he has, then?" Tonks asked. "What do you expect me to do about it? I mean, I can't just go and arrest someone on what a couple of teenagers think they may or may not have seen while wandering around playing spies, now, can I?" As soon as she said those words, Tonks regretted it. But when it was Hermione who flew off the handle, she knew she was in trouble.
"Tonks, how could you? Honestly! What kind of patronizing rubbish was that, anyway? After all Harry's done for all of us, do you possibly think you could spare him the barest benefit of the doubt here?"
"Hermione, of course I can; and I do. But there's really nothing I can do about it with just your – or even his – say-so."
Harry was agog. Here was his best chance to actually stop the tide of Death Eater activity in Hogwarts – to get to students before Voldemort did – and Tonks was playing bureaucrat?
"Tonks, I'm sorry, but I'm really going to have to do something about this. And if you're not going to help me, I'll find someone who will. Look, I don't want this to turn into some big to-do and come between us, but this could be my life here."
"Aren't you making just a bit much out of this, Harry?" Tonks asked, getting more and more worried as the conversation went on. "Do you really have to start bringing this into my work?" Harry lost it.
"Your work? Your bloody work? For five fucking years now, I've had to dodge someone who's been out to kill me – to kill me, Tonks – every June, like clockwork. And you're asking me if I'm making too much of this? What were your schooldays like, Tonks? I'll tell you what – you find me one time where your life was in imminent danger of ending by murder while you were a schoolgirl, and I'll let you handle this however you see fit. Until then, I'd appreciate it if you'd not tell me how best to protect myself. Send me an owl if you change your mind about this. Meanwhile, goodbye." Harry walked to the floo, shouted "The Burrow" into the fireplace, and headed back home. Ron and Hermione followed shortly thereafter.
Harry wound up not going back to Tonks's place after the blow-up over Draco. The following Wednesday, as Ron, Hermione and Ginny were set to go over there, Harry stayed at the Burrow, claiming he "probably didn't need the lessons anymore." Molly made treacle tart for dessert that night, and Ginny took his shift with the dishes.
The following Thursday, Harry made good on his promise to find someone who would listen to him about Draco; going over Tonks's head to Kingsley Shacklebolt, albeit against the advice of Ron and Hermione, who suggested leaving the matter to Professor Dumbledore. Unfortunately for Harry, Kingsley was about as much help as Tonks had been. No outright laughter, as there had been with Tonks, but the series of platitudes and "Thank you for bringing this to our attention" Harry got was enough to assure him that, once again, he was going to be on his own as he tried to survive another year at Hogwarts.
The Friday before leaving for Hogwarts was occasion for a party. Harry had been made Quidditch captain, and the trio's OWL scores certainly augured a banner year in the Weasley household. Neville and Luna showed up, as did Remus and Hagrid, the twins and Dean. Most of the activity was outside, but Harry was in no mood for a party, and watched the goings-on from the sitting room. Hermione and Ron were tossing a Quaffle back and forth lightly, and Ginny was serving apple cake to the guests. She was wearing a flower-print pencil skirt that Harry hadn't noticed before – he assumed she wore it because she was seeing Dean for the first time in two months – but it did provide a flattering silhouette of her figure, as far as he could –
"Quite an arse on that one, eh?" Harry nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of Tonks's voice.
"I – I wasn't. I mean, I"
"S'alright, love. She's fit, there's no denying that. Hell, you never know, I might steal a glance at a bum like that every once in awhile myself." Tonks paused for a moment to let that jibe sink in. Harry stared at her agog, which brought a wide grin over Tonks's face.
"Nah, I don't. But I can go to my grave happily having seen a look like that on you. And that blush, is it contagious, then? Come on, sweets; don't think about it too hard. If you were the first bloke to get those ideas in his randy little head, several major publishing companies would be out of business."
The banter had given Harry some time to collect his thoughts, and as he looked into the violet eyes of his erstwhile companion, he knew he needed to set things right between them before he headed back north for his sixth year.
"So, what are we going to do about your cousin, then?" Harry opened. Tonks sighed resignedly and lowered her head.
"You're not going to make this easy, are you, Harry? Nothing's changed in the last week and a half. Kingsley appreciates your concern, and security is going to be tightened at Hogwarts this year. Unfortunately, that's all we can do." Tonks grabbed Harry's hands gently, which the young man pulled back quickly.
"So, that's it, then? I get to go back to a school where we know Death Eaters are plotting. All this shite this summer about keeping the three of us safe – fat lot of good it does now, what? I could have at least have a normal summer instead of being cooped up here, as long as I still have to go back to Death Eaters taking pot-shots at me."
"Aren't you making this a bit more than it is?" Tonks asked, starting to get annoyed. They had collected an audience by this time, with Ron, Hermione, Remus and Ginny watching carefully to make sure things didn't come to wands.
"Who in the hell do you think Malfoy's coming after then? Dennis bloody Creevey? Look, I try to do the right thing. I see something happening, and I tell someone. Law enforcement. Someone in law enforcement that I believed cared about my well-being. And – " Tonks reared back and slapped Harry clean across his face, skewing his glasses and leaving a stunned look on the boy, and eliciting gasps from the onlookers.
"Don't you dare presume to know what I do or don't care about, Harry Potter. Boy-who-lived or no, you do not get to make those kinds of choices for me. Do you have any idea what I've been through since you brought this up to Kingsley? Every order meeting I have to hear about it from Kingsley, from Snape; and then those looks Molly sends over. Do you know what that's like? I'm going to be hearing this all bloody year up there in Scotland with you lot just so that I could keep an eye on you myself, Potter."
Harry had a cold, steely look in his eye as he retorted
"Don't put yourself out, Tonks. I've done a pretty damned good job of taking care of myself this far, I certainly think I can manage well enough without you up there." Harry turned on his heel and walked upstairs to the twins' room.
Tonks muttered a low "Fucking brilliant," as she saw Ginny race upstairs to his aid. If to make matters worse, as she was trying to collect what remained of her dignity, Hermione intercepted her on the way to the floo.
"We tried to tell him not to press the matter, Tonks. Look, I'm sorry about all this, really I am, but you know how Har-"
"It's okay, sweets; it really is. I don't think we were too much longer for each other, anyway. Just tell Harry that if he wants to hash things out once he's collected himself, I'll be open to that; and if not, I'll just steer clear of him at school. Meanwhile, you take care of that Weasley of yours, what?"
"But, but Ron and I aren't – " Tonks chuckled.
"Of course you're not, Hermione. Of course you're not." And, calling out a subdued "Diagon Alley," Tonks flooed out of the Burrow and away from what was left of the festivities, Remus nearly on her coattails.
Epilogue: 1 September 1996
It was Tonks, of course, who found Harry still on the Hogwarts Express long after the last students were supposed to have exited the train. She wasn't looking all that well, but truth be told, he was looking a damned sight the worse for wear. Harry was too beaten by that point to press the issue when it came out that it was Malfoy who put him in that state; he was merely grateful for the rescue. They made some polite small-talk on the way from the station to the castle, and Harry managed to take a bit of the piss when he saw her cast a Patronus to let Order members know that he was alright. Tonks was a bit shocked herself, truth be told, at seeing the silver wolf shimmy out of her wand. It was a start though, and they were able to drop pretense for a moment.
"You look like shite, you know that?" Tonks quipped, the humor in her voice tempered with remorse.
"Right. If I were in any position to defend myself at present, I might mention that mousy brown isn't exactly a good look on you either, sweets." Harry sighed. "But I'm not."
Tonks chuckled softly, then they fell silent for a moment, sizing each other up while looking anywhere but each other's eyes. Harry was able to break the silence.
"You came. Does this mean you're up here for the school year?"
"Sure am, Harry. I'll be hiding in the shadows, though, so there won't be much of a chance to – "
"Right. I know. I wasn't… Well, I mean – "
"Look love, did you really think I'd be meeting you at Honeydukes on Hogsmeade weekends? You're a wonderful man, Harry, and you're going to make some girl very happy someday; but the logistics of the thing right now…" Tonks paused for a moment, carefully considering her words. "Tell you what, love, you find me the moment you're done with Hogwarts, and I'll show you how to test the limits of a good silencing spell." Tonks placed a soft kiss on Harry's pursed mouth and stroked his cheek gently.
"It was a brilliant summer, Tonks," Harry said, smiling after a moment's pause.
"It was, wasn't it?" she replied, returning his smile.
They stood in front of the Hogwarts gate in silence, holding each other's hands and enjoying what they both knew would be Harry's last peaceful moments for quite a while. As Professor Snape appeared on the horizon, fairly floating in malevolent glee towards where they were standing, Harry reached out to Tonks, giving her a warm hug and soft kiss on the cheek. Snape made a sharp wisecrack about Tonks's new Patronus as he dragged Harry towards the opening feast. Harry took one last look behind him at the woman who had saved him a second time.
"Good night," Harry called to Tonks over his shoulder, as he began the walk up to the school with Snape. "Thanks for … everything."
Citation: The last lines (the ones in italics) were directly lifted from canon. To be more specific:
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005 (p. 160).
Author's Note: To be perfectly honest, I didn't think I was going to be able to finish it, which is why it's been labeled "complete" for a couple of weeks. But, here it is: a canonical Harry/Tonks story, which is the mysterious thing 'that couldn't be done' referenced in my summary.
The response to this story has been remarkable. As of this writing: 193 reviews, 111 favorites and 231 alerts. "Summer of '96" can be found in 41 different C2 archives, and pages have been hit well over 35,500 times. I can't thank you lovely people enough for that. For someone who writes as a hobby and who started this story on a whim, you've given me an amazing amount of confidence. Now, please let me invite you to read my latest project: The Mercury Chronicles. It's a very different take on Albus, Rose and Scorpius, and may be found either in one-shots or as a compilation (at least until the fanfiction dot net folks wise up to it) on my profile. If you like snarky, overly mature, image conscious pre-teens, then these stories are for you. Happy reading!