"Anything that we eat when we're with you doesn't count, Dora, because we don't get to see you enough." Shannon, or Shaz as everyone but her parents called her, made the pronouncement with utter authority as she reached across the glass countertop and took the sundae, brushing her blue-streaked hair out of her eyes with her other hand and grinning at the other two girls.
"Mmmph!" Tonks nodded happily, her mouth full of butter pecan and caramel. Her own hair was a vivid green, spiked up harshly in a head-turning punk style that matched the ripped denim and black, studded leather clothing that she and her friends wore. Shaz was entirely right. She only got to see her Muggle friends during holidays from Hogwarts, although all they knew was they she went to boarding school somewhere far away.
Shannon, Beth – well, Bit these days – and Tonks had been friends since they were five years old, progressing together from pinafores to ponies to punk, and they were the friends she most treasured. They had no idea that she was a Metamorphmagus, or a witch at all, and she was thankful that her father had insisted she be allowed to keep a handful of childhood friends, something that was rare among the Muggle-borns and Half-Bloods she knew at school.
She had just finished her sixth year there, and had come of age in the wizarding world, but even though she was still a year underage in the Muggle world, their parents considered them old enough to go out on their own for the night in London, and they were making the best of it. They had gone shopping with abandon, laden down now with bags and packages of everything from hats and earrings to boots and jackets, gorged themselves on immense, greasy bags of chips that left their fingers crusted with salt and dripping with sharp malt vinegar, and were now making a stop at the ice cream parlor on their way to the cinema. There was a new horror film that they had dared each other to see, something that would involve a lot of shrieking and clutching each other as girls their own age got slashed to pieces in harmless gushes of tomato sauce and corn syrup.
"How do you think he's gonna come back this time?" Bit asked pensively, digging her spoon into a teetering mound of marshmallow fluff and strawberries. "I mean, at the end of the last one, they what – oh, blimey, I can never keep it straight – was it in five or six that they trapped him in the petrol tanker the cute guy blew up?"
"Five." Tonks gestured officially with her own spoon. "That was five, and I still say the bloke that got cut in half with the band saw was cuter. That was a crying shame, that was. They got around that one because fire can't permanently stop someone who's damned to hell, hell being all fiery and stuff. Last time the girl threw herself into the Soul Vortex with him, so I say he's going to have a Beast Bride in this one. That's the other figure in the posters, mark my words."
"Oooh, that would be great." Shaz grinned wickedly as she performed an elaborate juggling act with her treat and packages, shoving open the door with one thick-soled thigh-high boot and allowing the others to pass. "'Cause you know what a Beast Bride would mean! I mean, if you were vengeful psychotic undead, you wouldn't go hunting down other girls in their knickers, would you?"
"Boys starkers!" Bit did a happy little dance, then burst out laughing at the look of absolute horror they were getting from a middle-aged couple who had crossed the street to get away. Tonks waggled her tongue at them, displaying the bright stud shoved through the center of it, and the woman actually raised a hand to hide her eyes as if from something obscene.
Shaz made a graphic gesture, then threw her head back and yelled at the top of her lungs. "Hot, sweaty, boys, starkers! Utterfuckably starkers! Not a bleeding stitch on their gorgeous tight bums!"
The man yelled something about the country going to the dogs, and the two vanished inside the nearest shop, leaving all three girls collapsing against each other with laughter, clutching their sides and trying desperately to stay on their feet. "Oh, God!" Bit could barely breathe. "Heaven forbid, we've got odd hair and like smutty boys! Egad! We're probably all witches or Satan worshipers or something!"
Tonks wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, cringing for a moment at the broad streak of eyeliner that she'd smeared everywhere. She barely caught herself before simply transforming the damage, wiping her hand on the seat of her black jeans instead. "Nah, just me. That's where I go, you know. Witch school."
"Now, Dora, witches don't go to schools," Shaz wagged a finger at her. "They learn their foul arts from books written in blood and sacrificial rituals with Dark Masters! God, don't you pay attention?"
"Apparently, she don't." The voice that answered was not giggling. It was, in fact, far too harsh and far too deep, and came with a bright flash of red light that caught Bit and Shaz in split-second expressions of uncomprehending shock. Then they both collapsed bonelessly to the sidewalk, the unfinished sundae spilling from Bit's limp hand and rolling into the gutter, strawberries staining the trickle of water a lurid fake scarlet.
Tonks let out a scream, only to have it aborted into a tiny squeak with a hissed spell and an abrupt choking sensation. "Silencio!"
Frantically, she reached for her wand, but she had tucked it deep into her boot to keep it out of sight, and her fingers fumbled uselessly with the buckles and zippers as she tried to get in to the skin-tight leather that kept her from her only magical weapon. Then something hard and pointed jabbed her beneath the jaw as rough fingers grabbed her hair painfully, and she knew it was too late.
Before she could recover her bearings enough to concentrate and retract her hair from the attacker's hand, Tonks had been yanked into the shadows of the narrow alley the three girls had not even noticed they were passing, her back pressed up against the cold, slimy side of a dumpster that reeked of stale urine and rotting rubbish. The wand was still tight against her throat, and she began to sob despite herself, trembling so hard that she could feel her jawbone rattling against the wooden tip.
There were four of them. All wizards, two others besides the one who held her holding their wands in their fists, leveled at her chest, and the fourth busily pulling her friends' unprotesting bodies into the concealing shadows. They were clad in black cloaks over simple, dark robes, their faces hidden under black woolen balaclavas, and they were all big, at least twice her weight and a head taller for the smallest of them. And that was in her boots.
As the last shocking pink strand of Bit's hair disappeared from view of the street, the fourth wizard turned to the one who held her. Apparently, he was the leader. "Them Muggle girls is heavier than they look, all that bloody get-up they've got on! 'Spose anyone saw?"
"Don't matter if they did," sneered the leader. "These ladies did us a favor, dressing and carrying on like they do. Muggles don't care what happens to punks." Tonks felt his hot breath on her ear as he turned his attention back to her. "No, lovely, don't get any ideas about turning into something unpleasant. We know exactly what you are, Nymphodora, and there ain't nothin' you could be that the Cruciatus Curse won't work on just peachy."
A tiny whimper of despair escaped her lips, and she felt like she was going to be sick, the fear a real thing now, a sharp, coppery bite in the back of her throat. "Now." His voice took on a chatty, pleasant tone that was somehow worse. "Don't get yourself too worked up. My friends and I just want to have a little fun, that's all. You're a rare bird, and we fancy ourselves…bird collectors." The other three wizards chuckled at the sophomoric pun. "We're gonna Obliviate you when this is over with, of course, so if you think about it, as long as you don't get stupid with us, this'll have never happened, and you and your little girlies will have just tripped on those ridiculous boots and tipped over a moment. So…." The wand shoved up into her throat so painfully that she gagged. "Are you gonna play nice, Nympho?"
"Yes." Tonks did not recognize the thin, jagged whisper as her own voice, but it was enough for the men.
She could hear the snide leer in his voice as the leader turned to his friends. "All right, boys, place your orders. Me, I could go for about twice as much in the tits…."
Across the dank alley from the four wizards and her younger self, Tonks pulled at the sleeve of the man standing next to her, staring in horror at the scene played out before him. "C'mon, Remus…I don't want you to see the rest." She paused, looking down at her feet. "Unless you think you really have to."
The young Tonks was weeping now, her face screwed up in mingled terror and concentration as her chest swelled to grotesque proportions, stretching the thin fabric of her t-shirt almost to bursting point as the faint snap of her failing bra seemed to echo off the moldy bricks. Remus Lupin shook his head, looking away quickly as the leader of the gang slashed at her shirt with his wand. "No – really. This is…more than enough."
The scene faded into silver mist, Tonks and Remus seeming to fly upwards into the London night of almost five years past, until slowly, the grim study of 12 Grimmauld Place resolved into solidity around them. Tonks stared down into the liquid vapor of the old Black family Penseive, not wanting to meet her companion's eyes.
"Moody found me," she said dully. "He was in London visiting some old friends at the Ministry, and his malfeaseometer went off like crazy. He…he stopped them. Trussed them up like roast ducks and sent word to the Auror department. I didn't have to testify. He did that for me. Told them what he'd seen. Guess he also had to explain why he'd done the Castratum Curse on the one in charge."
Remus looked as though he could not decide whether to be furious or saddened. "He's lucky it was Moody's curse. I'd have bitten the whole damn kit off, full moon or not."
She smiled and laid her head against his shoulder, ignoring the faint wince he always gave when she touched him. "You're a real prince sometimes."
He glanced away, uncomfortable. "So that's why you became an Auror, then?"
Tonks nodded. "I already had the marks. I was going to become a Healer before that, did you know?" Remus shook his head, and she continued. "That night was the final straw. It wasn't the first time, you see. Oh, it was the first time like…like that. Forced. But ever since my fourth year, when all the boys' brains dropped into their trousers along with everything else, I've been nothing more than…." She gestured towards the silver mist. "A fantasy waiting to happen. The girl that can be whatever you want her to be. But I wouldn't. I wouldn't do it, so they…." Her voice took on a bitter, hardened tone. "They just bragged to each other that I had anyway. I still got the reputation. What my mother was thinking when she named a female Metamorphmagus anything starting with Nymph –"
"You know, Remus isn't my real name."
She started, letting go of his arm to stare at him in surprise. "But that's…I mean, Sirius hasn't ever known you by anything else, and he's known you since you were first year in Hogwarts, hasn't he?"
Remus smiled ruefully. "A little bit poetic, don't you think, Dora? A werewolf named Remus John Lupin? My parents were willing to let me go, but they'd managed to keep it secret that there was a werewolf in the family. They were terrified that something would go horribly wrong at school that would let the secret out in the worst way and tie me to them as what I was. I made it official when I was seventeen. Liked it better, really."
"But it almost tells people what you are! I thought you hated that?"
"It could be worse. Worse than Nymphadora, even, I think."
A mischievous grin quirked her lips. "Oh?"
"Heroditus Horatio Gulliver Mackelthwait."
Tonks let out a snort of laughter so violent that she doubled over, her face changing colors like a traffic signal as she fought to keep from outright guffawing in his face. "Oh – Merlin…you…really?"
And now she couldn't stop. She laughed until she was sobbing, curled up on the floor of the study and pounding the rug helplessly with her fist. Remus just stood there, regarding her with a slightly embarrassed but good-natured smile on his face until she had regained control enough to roll over on her back, her chest heaving as she gasped for air. "That's priceless. And you're right. Remus Lupin is a great name…and that is worse than Nymphadora."
There was a deep bittersweetness on his face that she had seen there all too often as he extended a hand to help her up. "I'm honored you think so. And that you showed me your memory…even if I don't quite understand why."
"Isn't it obvious?" His regretful shake of the head was completely genuine, and she sighed, wondering how it was that she had fallen for someone with such an infinite capacity to be dense if it meant he could go on loathing himself. She took his chin in her hand, stretching her legs until she looked him straight in the eyes. "Remus Heroditus John Horatio Gulliver Lupin Mackelthwait, you are not the only witch or wizard who has been born or made into something less than fantastic. I swear I'll get Harry in here and ask him how he feels about having a bulls-eye scarred into the center of his forehead if you want another example."
He shook off her hand and turned away, his features frozen into a mask of unswerving stubbornness. "It's not the same. You don't mutilate people and destroy lives when you change."
"No." Her voice was quiet, all the sass and bravado abandoned. "But it makes me just as alone. You're the first man I've ever been close to who hasn't wanted to know if I could morph into some kind of living pin-up for him….not even in the deepest parts of your eyes. Maybe it's because you're too busy hating yourself, but you don't seem to want me to be anything except what I am on my own."
Remus blinked at her incredulously. "But, Dora, you're beautiful already."
At the absolute surprise painted over his scarred face, Tonks felt her feelings for him swell into something that she knew would be impossible to ever let go of. In that moment, what had been a profound crush, even perhaps the beginnings of love, deepened and changed as though the emotion itself was metamorphic.
She had been right about him. He had never even considered wanting her to be anything else, even for the briefest of moments, and she loved him for that. Loved him with all her heart.
Tonks took a step towards him, trembling suddenly at the stakes she was abruptly playing with. She had considered doing this for a long time, trying to get him past his silly determination to be lonely forever, but she had never quite had the courage, too trapped in her own demons. Now those didn't seem to matter anymore. Taking a deep breath, she locked his eyes with hers. "Remus…there are options for us.…"
She transformed. Pink hair turned a dusky gray, spreading down from the top of her head to cover her entire body. Her hips shifted as a tail sprouted out of the back of her robes, long and tufted. Her knees reversed, and she crouched as her arms changed into powerful forelegs, the fingers curling back as the nails lengthened to thick, yellowed claws. Her eyes changed from blue to yellow, her tongue, now long and flat, slicked over sharp, gleaming fangs, and she shook off her now-loose robes like a dog after a bath, striding forward to stand in front of him in all the ferocious, monstrous beauty of a she-werewolf.
Remus had turned stark white. A thick, choking noise croaked out from the back of his throat, and he took a step back, almost stumbling over his robes. "No…." he finally gasped, "God, Dora…you can't…don't…PLEASE…." He made a desperate motion with his hands, as if trying to explain something that was beyond words, then, with a look in his eyes as though hell itself had brushed against him, he fled the room. The door slammed with the crack of a heart breaking.
The wolf crouched back on her haunches, raising her muzzle to the ceiling with a long, anguished howl. The sound changed, deepened, faded into a sob less melodic but just as wrenching as the wolf collapsed to the rug, now nothing more than the huddled, naked figure of a young woman with mouse-brown hair and tears coursing down her cheeks. Her fingers, long and pale and hairless again, clenched at the dusty carpeting, but no one was there to hear the words that whispered out between the sobs.
"Damn you, Remus…I changed for you."