There is an old, derelict village in the English country side, north of Ipswich. The inhabitants disappeared years ago, leaving everything behind. No one knows where they went, or why. All that anyone knows is that the village doesn't age. The buildings don't crumble, the lawns don't grow. The flowers are in bloom all year round, even in winter. The fires never die out, but they don't burn anything down either. Taps are still running, but nothing ever floods. Everything is exactly as it was when the villagers mysteriously disappeared. Well, everything except one huge, stone building at the centre of the village. Three stories of stone blocks covered in ivy and moss. Grass grows between the crumbling stones, and the lawn is waist high, covering the winding path to the rotten wooden door. It doesn't have any windows. It's solid stone. And every night, for miles and miles round, the wind carries the sounds of painful screams to nearby townships, long since abandoned in fright. And the rumours say that the noises, the screams… they come from the only aging building, that huge stone block. At night, the stone screams.
Tonks rolled her eyes, sitting back in her chair in the library at Grimauld Place. "None of that is true, Sirius. It's an old wives tale."
He raised an eyebrow. "Think what you like. But a few hundred people don't just disappear."
"They didn't just disappear, be logical! They probably died out from Dragon Pox or something. And besides," Tonks said pointedly, "the village doesn't exist."
Looking back, Tonks wished she had been right when she had told Sirius the village wasn't real. But he had been spot on.
A light breeze ruffled the perfect lawns of all the perfectly kept gardens in front of perfectly tidy houses. And yet there was no sound. Even her heavy boots hardly crunched the loose gravel in the village square. Tonks felt uneasy; and looking round at the others, she could tell they felt it too. This place was wrong.
"It's like being at someone's death bed." Bill whispered to her as he passed silently. She just nodded. Even speaking felt wrong. But a death bed was exactly what the whole village felt like.
Remus walked after Bill, turning down a perfect little dirt path and peering into the windows of one of the houses.
"Remus…" she called after him quietly, glancing around the square. "I think we should all stay together…"
He waved a hand, as if to nonchalantly say "I'll be fine!" He was too busy inspecting the house to even turn and look at her. A few months ago, she thought… a few months ago he wouldn't have been acting like this towards her. Shaking her head, she pulled her long brown hair back in a pony tail, walking to join Kingsley and Moody, who were examining the iron gates to the huge block of stones. A heavy padlock chained the gates together, and the two had their wands out, apparently at a loss as to how to open it.
"Alohomora proof?" she asked. They nodded. "So was this a Wizarding village? Or did muggles live here too?"
Kingsley shrugged. "There's not much to go by, unless you're going to listen to all the rumours. Pretty sure it was a bit of both. This building was obviously built by wizards though. It's been locked with dark magic- really old dark magic too."
"Maybe you should use a bit of muggle ingenuity then." She suggested, digging around in her jacket pocket. The undetectable expansion charm made it a bit hard to find things… "Aha!" She pulled out a small pair of pliers. She had come well equipped. "Move back, boys."
The crack as she broke through the chain was like a gunshot in the silent air. Warily, Bill and the twins came closer as she pulled the chain from around the rusting bars. Every clang as the chain hit the gate sounded a hundred times louder than usual.
"No one ever expects muggles." George said, grinning as Tonks put the pliers back in her pocket. She shrugged, and gingerly pushed the gate. Despite the amount of rust, it swung open silently.
"Oiled hinges." Bill observed.
Tonks shivered. "But I thought no one lived here. This is just… this place is creepy."
"It gets creepier," said a voice behind her. Remus joined them, looking slightly confused. "I had a look in a few of the house's windows. Everything looks lived in- there was even bacon in a fry pan in one kitchen. Taps running, fires in fireplaces… books open on seats, unmade beds… this place doesn't make sense."
"The silence is the worst." Moody muttered. "Listen." They looked at each other, almost holding their breath. There was no noise. No wind, no birds, no… nothing. Tonks couldn't even hear the buzzing she usually could hear when it was this quiet. She glanced at Remus- his senses would be slightly heightened, considering it was nearing a full moon. He was stock still, frowning as he concentrated.
"I can hear… something." He said finally. "It's really faint, but it sounds like… screaming."
"Fantastic." Tonks muttered. This was exactly like that story Sirius had told her, all those months ago. It seemed like years now.
"We have to find out what happened here. That's Dumbledore's orders." Kingsley reminded them all. "We can't risk this being some sort of Death Eater hide out or trap. This is probably the best place to start." He jerked his head towards the crumbling stones. "Come on."
Everyone headed off around the building in different directions, making paths in the long brown grass.
"Remus, wait, please-" she grabbed the back of his jersey as he started off. He looked back at her angrily.
"Not here, Dora. Not now!" He hissed, pulling his clothing out of her grasp.
"I wasn't… that's not what I was going to say!" she hissed back, hurt and indignation welling up inside her. Did he really think she would bring that up now?
"What then?" he asked, still angry.
She glared at him. "Just…" she looked down at her boots. "Just be careful."
His eyes had softened when she looked back up. "Yeah. You too." He made a jerky gesture, as if he was going to take her hand but had thought better off it. Quickly, he turned away, and in the silence, she could hear him cursing under his breath. She smiled to herself.
Kingsley was at the old wooden door, examining the iron hinges. She made her way to him, following his cut path. "So… what do you think this is?"
"I'm not sure yet." He muttered. "Odd. These hinges are oiled too."
"Could it be a trap? A paradox? A time lock? A state of flux…" she trailed off. "I ran out of clever words."
He shook his head, rolling his eyes lightly. "How could it be a trap though? A trap for whom? I mean, it can't be for us… we had no idea this place even existed until last week. And this place has supposedly been deserted for decades."
Tonks shrugged. "Only one way to find out, I suppose…" she reached for the door knob.
"I don't think that's wise." Moody said- but too late. The door was unlocked, and she pushed it open.
A wave of sour stale air rushed out to greet her.
"Okay…" she said quietly. "Now what?" she looked back at the others, who had all gathered to see what was inside. But they were staring back at her, equally at a loss. "Well…" she stepped in, and was faced with a blank, dripping stone wall. There was a long corridor to her right, as well as to her left behind the door. She could make out crevices at regular intervals- whether they were doors, or other corridors, she couldn't tell in the dim light. "It's weird," she called back- no one had followed her in- "It's almost like a maze in here."
Letting the door knob go, she stepped in, pulling out her wand and casting an eerie glow down the corridor to her right. Nothing there.
A sudden scuttle came from above her head, and she held her wand to the ceiling. There was nothing but more mossy stone. But it had sounded like something moving… a many legged something…
Shaking her head, she looked back down the corridor. She was imagining it…
There was a loud creak, and the door started to close behind her.
"NO!" yelling, she grabbed hold of the handle, pulling, her heels digging into the dirt floor. But it was no use- the door was practically closed already.
"Tonks! What's happening?"
"Just push, god damn it!" she almost fell back as they threw their combined weight against the wood, but the door was putting up a good fight- it was still closing. Locking her in the dark, alone.
"Watch out!" there was a loud crash as something was thrown against the door. The crack was almost open wide enough for her to slip through…
"Remus, what the hell are you-"
Before she knew it, a dark shape had squeezed through the crack, tumbling on her and knocking her down. The door shut with a final groan.
"WHAT did you do that for?" Seething, Tonks pushed Remus off her, standing.
"I thought… someone on the other side to even it out…" he looked flustered, and angry with himself.
"Well, that might have worked if you hadn't bowled me over." She replied sourly.
"Sorry." He whispered.
She rolled her eyes. "Stop apologizing." Turning to the door, she tried to call out to Kingsley. "Hey! Is there another door or something?"
The muffled reply wasn't positive.
"Great." She muttered to herself, kicking something large and rusty in the dirt. "Just great."
"These passages have to lead somewhere, don't they? If we follow them we're sure to find a way out. A maze, just like you said." Remus pointed out.
"Don't really have another option, do we? So, left or right?"
Remus shrugged. "It smells foul that way," he said, inclining his head to the left.
"Right then." She said firmly. "And keep your wand out. I have a horrible feeling we're not alone in here." Holding her own wand out, she muttered "Flagrate," and started walking, leaving a fiery orange trail on the wall beside her. "If you follow one wall," she said, seeing Remus' confused face, "It should eventually take you out."
"Eventually." He repeated, sighing. "Better get started then."
They started walking in silence. Remus lit the way, while Tonks continued to mark their path. They turned a corner, and it wasn't long till they hit a dead end. But Tonks' plan seemed to be working as they followed the same line of stones around the maze of a building.
"We can talk, you know." Remus said quietly, breaking the silence between them. Tonks looked at him sadly.
"About what, Remus?" she looked away, sighing. "You don't listen to me. You just don't listen to anything I try and tell you."
"I listen." He replied. "But it doesn't make a difference. And when I said talk," he added, "I didn't mean about that."
"No. You never want to talk about us, do you? But you still think I can discuss the weather in a perfectly civilised manner when what I really want to do is grab you and-"
"Fine." He cut across her hastily. "Fine. If that's what you want to talk about, fine. But you're not going to change my mind."
"Okay." They made their way past another dead end. "Let me ask you this. What changed? I mean, we were good. For months. And then Sirius died, and then you told me you didn't love me anymore. So what changed?"
He didn't answer for a minute or so. "I don't know, exactly," he said slowly, "But I think I just realised… after Sirius, and you were in St Mungos… you're in enough danger as it is. You shouldn't have to worry about the possibility that I could hurt you, or bite you at a full moon… I was being selfish. You deserve better than that. And I can't love you, knowing how much I could hurt you. It's selfish. I've always been so selfish." He added quietly.
"What's a little added danger?" she muttered, looking at her boots and shivering.
"Something you shouldn't have to deal with." Remus said firmly.
"Why not? I laugh in the face of danger, ha ha ha- AAH!"
Remus' arms were around her waist before she hit the floor- he'd had a lot of practice. He pulled her up, concerned.
"Yeah. Just slipped on the ice…" she looked up at him, frowning. He looked at her, and she knew he was thinking the same thing.
"No…" he whispered.
Their breath came out like smoke as they stood stock still, eyes wide in the dark, shivering, waiting for the noise they were dreading…
A deep, rattling breath sounded from round the corner. Cursing under her breath Tonks aimed her wand, a montage of thoughts running through her head. She didn't know what to use, none of them were happy anymore…
Her hand found Remus' as the Dementor glided round the corner, and he gripped it tightly.
"Expecto Patronum!" they shouted together.
Two giant silver wolves lit the passage as they erupted from their wands, and ran the Dementor down. It fled, retreating back into the darkness, and the patronuses followed. The ice began to melt quickly; the temperature rose.
Tonks let out a sigh of relief, dropping his hand. "Well, that was exciting."
Remus seemed unable to speak; he was opening and closing his mouth like a fish, and was still struck dumb when the patronuses returned, their huge paws making no marks in the dirt floor. Silently, Tonks reached out as her patronus walked past her. She ran a hand through its transparent fur as it dissolved into darkness.
"Your patronus…" he stammered. "It's changed."
"Yeah. A while back." She murmured quietly, shrugging. He didn't answer- he didn't know what to say. "I guess we'll have to watch out for that Dementor, it'll probably try again if no one's been in here for years. I'm surprised it's not dead." Tonks continued, changing the topic as she began walking round the corner, marking the wall again.
"Probably." Remus agreed, walking behind her. He was still confused about her patronus- they didn't change because you were bored with the old one. And it was the same as his…
They walked in silence again, their earlier conversation forgotten, following the twists and turns of the maze, both lost in thought. It wasn't until they heard a loud humming noise ahead of them that they stopped and talked again.
Holding a finger to her lips, Tonks shushed him, and slowly peered around the corner. She couldn't see anything. "Nothing." She whispered.
"Let me look." They switched places, and Remus stared intently at the corridor for a full minute. "I thought so," he said, pointing to the ground a few meters ahead of them. "You see that slight ripple there? It's some kind of shield or force field." Staring out from under his arm, she followed his finger to the smallest ripple, a fuzzy blur. Pushing her back a little, Remus picked a stone off the ground and threw it. There was a loud crack, and it came back with a flash of blue lightening, whizzing so fast that it cracked the stone wall where it hit.
"How on earth are we going to get past that?" Tonks asked. He shook his head in response.
"I'm not sure. There must be some way around it."
"Humph." Angrily, Tonks kicked the wall. It didn't help. Sitting down in the dirt and holding her throbbing foot, she watched as Remus crouched next to the force field. "How's it powered?" she asked. "Magic?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so. There's some sort of switch on the other side. Must be powered by batteries or something."
"That would account for the blue flash when the rock hit, wouldn't it? The electric currents and what not?"
Remus shrugged. "I only did muggle studies for a year."
"Well," Tonks muttered, fishing around in her expanded pockets, "There's one thing electricity really doesn't like."
He raised an eyebrow. "What? Werewolves?" he added hopefully.
She shook her head, finally extracting the bottle from everything she kept in there for emergencies. "Water."
A look of realisation spread over Remus' face. "That's clever."
Standing, Tonks gave a small smile. "Not just a pretty face, you know." Unscrewing the cap, she splashed a little water in the middle of the force field. There was a loud hiss, which let off a stream of smoke that smelt like burnt rubber. She wrinkled her nose. Waving the smoke out of the way, they could see a small hole where the water had hit. "Well, we're on the right track."
Gently, Remus prised the bottle out of her hands. "We need to hit the weak spot." He gestured to the small ripple that gave it away, and splashed it.
Coughing, Tonks pulled herself to the ground, trying to avoid the worst of the smoke, which was filling up the corridor. The humming had stopped, but she could see small blue sparks and hear electrical cracklings at the edges. They stopped soon too, as Remus had flicked the switch. She felt his hand wrap around her arm, pulling her up, and leading her through the smoke. As they found their way into a clear corridor, he handed the bottle back. Grinning she pocketed it. "This place certainly isn't short on surprises, is it?"
"No. but they're not really nice surprises." Remus replied, frowning. "I hope it's not much farther." He checked his old battered watch. "We've been in here an hour already."
"Feels like longer."
"Because it's so quiet."
"Well, we should talk about something then. Something else." He added hastily.
Rolling her eyes, she nodded. "Mkay. What have you been up to, then? It's been a few months."
"Just… stuff. With other werewolves. Watching… learning… you know."
"Right." That conversation hadn't gone far…
"How's the ministry? Anything exciting happening for you?"
"Nah. Nothing much going on, really. I mean, I'm stationed at Hogsmeade most of the time, so I don't really know. I end up missing out on all the action." She sighed sourly.
"Maybe it's for the best." Remus replied softly.
She scowled. "It's not. I hate not knowing what's going on. Not knowing who's dying. And I can't do anything to help, because I'm stuck, miles away, guarding a school that is never going to be broken into. Honestly. It's a waste of time."
"I'm sure the ministry wouldn't put you there if it was a waste of time."
"But they would. After that fiasco in the department of mysteries, they know I'm in the Order. And they know Kingsley's in the Order. So they split us up. We're not such a threat to the department like this."
"Threat?" Remus asked, confused.
"Yeah. I don't know, they probably think we want to take over or something. They're just really not keen to have us in their law enforcement department. Idiots. Fudge's way of thinking still stands with a lot of people."
"It's interesting is all."
"Annoying is a better world for it. Aggravating. Stupid, lame, idiotic, irritating…"
"Yes. Those too. But it's interesting that people still think about what Fudge said, now we all know he was lying-"
A loud chorus of barking cut him off. They both turned around, Tonks wearing a look of absolute anguish as a howl ripped through the dark.
"You're joking. What the HELL?"
Remus shook his head, and replied with one word.
Turning back they started running as fast as they could, tripping around corners and unseen twists, their breathing sharp and jagged.
"Where- the-hell," Tonks yelled, slightly crazed, "Did a pack of dogs come from?"
"No idea! But keep running! I don't want to meet them!"
They were sprinting flat out down as they turned into a straight corridor, and there was a small light at the end…
"The exit!" Tonks cried happily, turning to smile at Remus.
If he hadn't pulled her back, she would have run head first into the wall.
"What?" she gasped. A single bulb was glowing uselessly, swinging sadly in front of her face.
"Dead end." Remus replied, bent over, hands on knees as he caught his breath.
"But we followed one wall! This should be it!" she said angrily.
"Well it's not! We must have missed a turn-"
"We didn't! Argh!" Tonks dropped her head back, running her hands through her hair in frustration. This should be the exit. There should be a way out here, somewhere…
The barking was getting louder.
"Tonks, we need to go back, they're going to be here soon-"
"Did you see any turns, was there anything we could have-"
"Remus. Shut up." He looked at her angrily. "No, look!" she pointed to the ceiling. He followed her finger.
A trap door. And, looking around, he pulled a small stool out of a dark corner.
"Right." He jumped into action, climbing up to investigate the trap door. Tapping it with his wand, he cursed. "Blasted thing won't open! Is there a key lying round anywhere? Probably big and rusty like the lock."
She scanned the ground. "Nope." But then she remembered kicking something large and rusty as they entered the maze… "But I know where it is. It's at the start. I kicked it. Crap."
Remus bit his lip. "How quickly can you summon it?"
"This quickly," she muttered. "Accio key!"
He was straining to push the trap door open. "Is it coming?"
"Yes! Maybe… I don't know! How long do you think we could keep them off for?"
"Depends," he gave the trap door another useless shove with his shoulder, "on how big they are!"
"They sound huge…" Starring intently down the corridor, Tonks gripped her wand tighter.
"OH COME ON!" angrily, Remus hit the door, cursing as a splinter embedded itself in his hand. He turned suddenly, as a high pitched whistle reached his ears. "Dora, you hear that?"
"It's coming! And fast!"
Jumping off the stool, he reached out a hand, neatly catching the key as it flew their way. "Right, come on!" shoving the key in the trap door, he twisted it. There was a satisfying click. Pushing, he managed to fling the door up and open.
"See anything?" Tonks asked, still watching the corridor. The barking was so, so much louder now…
"Nothing. Here, let me give you a hand up, then I can-"
She shook her head. "You go first. I wouldn't be able to pull you up, but I can give you a hand from down here." Entwining her fingers together, she held out her hands, ready for him to step in and push him up.
"Okay…" he said doubtfully. "Are you sure you can-" he was cut off this time by a loud howl. They were almost around the corner…
"Go." Tonks said stubbornly.
"Right." Lithely, he jumped for the square above them, gripping the old wood, before putting a foot in Tonks' small step. She lifted and he pushed himself forward until he could take his foot out and pull himself up with his arms. Grunting, he lifted himself through, just as the pack of dogs rounded the corner.
They were unlike any dogs Tonks had ever seen before- absolutely huge, with foaming mouths that looked like they could easily fit her head inside, and rolling, mad eyes. Their dark coats blended into the darkness, and she was suddenly glad for the solitary light bulb.
Quickly, she clambered onto the stool, grabbing Remus' outstretched hand with one of her own and jumping, trying to reach the wood of the frame with her other. She grabbed it, swinging again slightly so she could get her elbow resting on it. Remus was pulling her up, and as she shimmied herself onto the cool stone floor, she heard loud snaps around her ankles. Swearing loudly, she kicked out, and felt her boot hit something- there was a loud whimper- and then she was through.
Grinning with relief, Remus pulled her to her feet, but she somehow managed to trip over her own feet, and sent them both crashing to the ground.
"Sorry…" blushing, she untangled herself, and was about to pull herself off him when his hand wrapped round her wrist. She stared at him. But he was watching his hand, as he moved it up her arm… his eyes flicked up to hers, and under her confused stare, he pulled his hand back, clearing his throat."Okay then?" She stood quickly, nodding, and busied herself with closing and locking the trapdoor. The dogs were circling underneath, occasionally jumping surprisingly high. Turning back, he was looking the other way, arms crossed, and she could hear him whispering to himself.
"Aah… Ready to move?" she asked awkwardly. He just nodded in return. "Come one then."
This level was even darker than the previous- one wand light wasn't enough. It was even quieter too- the loud baying of the dogs had been silenced as soon as the trap door was closed. Only their footsteps echoed in the cavernous space.
"Keep your wand down," he murmured after a while. She frowned at him, and he gestured up. Hundreds of bats hung upside down, their wings making no noise as they stretched and fluttered. Occasionally one would admit a high pitched squeal, but it was also lost to the silence.
It seemed that they had silently agreed not to talk about what had just happened, but Tonks couldn't stand the gap that was growing between them. The silence was deafening. "How much farther, so you think?" she asked quietly.
Shrugging, he replied "The building couldn't have been more than two stories high. The corridors are wider up here, so hopefully that means it won't be as bigger maze as before."
"Look," he said suddenly, sounding pained, "About-"
"Don't worry about it." She said, her voice steady.
"Not just before. About before before. About us."
She kept her eyes on the ground. "What about us? Thought you had made up your mind."
"I have. Had. It's just… you're not happy. And that's not what I intended. I wanted you to move on."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Move on. To another jerk that's going to hurt me again."
"I didn't mean to do that." He replied quietly.
"Good intentions don't always result in good consequences. You of all people should know that by now."
"I know! But… I hate seeing you like this. Not changing your hair, depressed… it's not you."
She shrugged. What could she say to that? True as it was, it was all because of him.
"Is there nothing else that could change any of that? Anything other than me?"
She shrugged again. "A Porsche?"
He stared blankly.
"It's an expensive flashy car."
"Oh. Probably can't afford it then."
"Nope. Neither can I."
"So there's nothing you want other than me? And a Porsche?" he asked, resigned.
"You're spot on. Although, right now I wouldn't say no to some Chinese takeout."
A loud scuttling stopped Remus replying. He sighed, annoyed. "What is it with this pace?"
Shrugging, Tonks scanned ahead. Nothing. "I don't know, but I really, really don't like it. And that didn't sound good at all."
"Do you think this is a trap, or a hide out or something? How could someone have known we'd come? It doesn't make-"
A loud hissing splutter cut across him.
Tonks gulped. "Or something."
"Something's more likely, I think." He muttered, raising his wand.
And then it came hurtling towards them- a great ball of crackling, spitting flame.
"DUCK!" they yelled simultaneously, jumping to the cool ground, Tonks thinking fast enough to cast a shield charm over their heads.
The heat wave passed over them, but it was followed by the high pitched squeals of the fluttering bats, who seemed to be blaming them for disrupting their sleep.
"It-wasn't-us!" Tonks muttered angrily, swatting at the air with her hands, trying to move on. "Remus?" she called back. "You okay?"
"Fine." He replied, keeping one hand on the wall so they didn't lose their way.
"Right. Let's get out of here then." Raising her wand, she spread light throughout the corridor. Squeaking, the bats flew back, as if blinded. "Yeah, how do you like that, you little suckers?" she muttered savagely, swiping one out of her path.
"It's not their fault," Remus murmured, catching up and taking her free hand. She looked at him fiercely.
"Don't care. Want to get OUT of here."
"You shouldn't make so much noise."
"Why? The bats are squeaking loud enough- argh, get off me! I think I'll yell at them if I want."
"No, seriously." He pulled her back, putting a hand over her mouth. Ignoring her outraged looks, he shushed her, listening intently. "Can't you hear that?" he whispered, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. She shook her head, letting out a muffled "Hmph." He listened again, and the haunting noise got slightly louder. He couldn't be imagining it. "I can hear screaming." He said quietly, taking his hand off her mouth.
"What? Which direction?" She whispered back.
He pointed in the opposite direction to where they were going. "I don't want to find out what that is." He muttered.
"But our mission is to find out what happened here! This could be the answer! Come on." Marking a fiery X where they had been standing, she pulled him towards the screams. It was a while before she was even able to hear it- but they quickly became louder and louder, as the temperature dropped noticeably.
Remus held out an arm, stopping Tonks. "You don't think," he asked, "That that Dementor was the only one?"
She let out a chilled breath. "It should have been dead after being in here so long without a life source..." She drew her wand, mirroring him. "It could have friends."
"Patronuses? Just in case?" he muttered. She nodded back, knowing there was really no 'just in case' about it. They were here. The other one must have gotten separated from the rest... but that would mean...
"Someone's been here before us." She said, stopping.
"What?" Remus asked, confused.
"If the Dementor's food source is up here, then why is it on the lower level? Think about it. Someone had to come here to lock the trap door so it couldn't come back up. Someone had to drop that key at the start!" She paused, then continued walking. "We're not alone. Expecto patronum." She whispered the spell smiling slightly as her patronus lit up the dark. Remus copied her.
"So you're saying that someone built this place and everything, put in the traps and the Dementors... and then someone else came here? Do you think it was death eaters? The second time, I mean."
Tonks shrugged, shivering despite the patronuses warmth. "Could be. Most likely. But why? It doesn't make any sense."
"Unless it's a trap for us," Remus muttered under his breath.
"But how would they've known we would come here?" Tonks shook her head. "This place just doesn't make sense."
"I don't know... missing people, scary stories... it's sounds like something Dumbledore would go for if he thought it might help. Maybe they found it and knew we'd investigate sometime."
Tonks shrugged, stepping nearer him as a loud, rattling announced the presence of Dementors. His hand brushed hers lightly, so she quickly wrapped her own around it. Their patronuses kept them warm, and safe, but their rotting flesh and sucking breaths was enough to set her heart pounding. The screaming had changed; it was more like moans now that the patronuses were keeping away the worst.
They rounded a corner, and were faced with a long line of cells.
"Oh my god," Tonks whispered. Her hand dropped out of Remus' as she rushed forward to look into the cells.
"Who is it?" Remus asked, his voice full of horror.
"I think it's them. The villagers. They've been trapped in here for years..." She looked up from her crouching position, clutching the bars for support. Her eyes were tearing. "They're long gone."
"Whoever did this is... disgusting." Remus finally managed to say. The whole situation made him sick to the stomach. Caging poor, innocent people up like animals, so the Dementors could suck out their happiness, their souls...
"They're not even dead." She whispered. "They just sit here being tortured, but not enough to kill them..." Remus' hand clutched her shoulder. "Someone's helping the Dementors. Someone... someone sick."
"Come on," he whispered gently, pulling her away. "We have to get out of here, and then we can get help for them."
From one of the cells further down came a loud groan, and then a weak voice called out. "Help... please..."
Tonks turned to Remus, eyes full of hope. "Keep watch for Dementors. Or anything else." She said, before rushing down to the cell.
"Right." Nodding, he took a quick look in the direction they had come. All silent, apart from the occasional rattle as a Dementor tried to pass his patronus. He turned back to watch Tonks. She was speaking in hushed tones to whoever was in the cell, one arm through the bars out of sight, probably trying to bring the person round, or getting them to trust her.
He trusted her. Yes, he'd been stupid, and he hadn't been thinking when he pushed through, in a lame attempt to help her out, But if he had to be stuck in a creepy maze full of god knows what else, he'd rather be with her. Sure, the conversation had been slightly awkward, but at least he knew she wouldn't let him die.
She made the smallest of movements. If it hadn't been for the fact that he had watched her so often, he probably would have thought nothing of it. But it was the same thing she did every time he walked into a room. She had stiffened the slightest bit, and it was something that said, quite clearly and very much in Tonks fashion "Oh crap."
He was about to ask what was wrong, but she spoke first. "Remus? I think you should leave." There was a small, slightly insane sounding giggle from within the cell. Frowning, he stepped forward. The only small part of her face that he could see was staring intently at whoever was in that cell.
"Go, Remus!" she ordered, her voice slightly higher than usual.
"NOT until you tell me what's going on." He said firmly, taking another step forward.
The insane giggles started again. Tonks turned to face him, her face one of anguish. "Please..." she said quietly. "Just go."
"I'd listen to her if I were you, wolfy." Tonks was hauler to her feet, her arm yanked in so she was pulled up against the bars. And that voice... it sent shivers down his spine, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
"Remus." She seemed almost calm now. She wasn't crying, even though he could see a wand pointed at the side of her head. "Go."
He shook his head. "Let her go, Bellatrix."
She laughed again. "Ooooh I don't think so! Wait until Fenrir hears this..." He could practically feel her eyes gleaming. "One of his beloved children... fraternizing with not only a member of the Order... but an Auror too? Oooh, you'll be in trouble..."
"I don't care what Greyback thinks," Remus growled. "He's a conceited, arrogant arse, and you can tell him that from me."
"Leave it Remus! She's winding you up... just get yourself out of here!"
"I can't... you can't die in here. You can't die today." He barely managed to get the words out. He wasn't going to leave her to die...
"Today's as good as any other day." She whispered, more to herself than to him.
"No it's not." He said angrily. She couldn't actually expect him to leave her here, with Bellatrix in the dark, surrounded by Dementors!
"She's giving you a chance, wolf boy. I'd take it before I kill her now, and then you."
"Remus." Tonks pleaded. "Get the order." She paused. "Get them out of here. Make sure no one ever comes here." Her eyes locked on his. Get the order, she had said.
He nodded, stepping back. "Dora... I... I..."
"Go." She whispered.
He turned, and fled back the way they had come. The sound of his footsteps quickly receded into silence, which was soon replaced with the rattling breaths of the Dementors as they closed in. She turned back to Bellatrix, who was smirking. She was absolutely furious with herself that it had been this easy to dupe her. And now she was trapped, with only the hope that Remus had understood her message. Get the order. Bring them here. Capture Bellatrix, save her. He must have understood that was what she meant...
"Well well, isn't this cosy? Little family reunion?" Still smirking, Bellatrix opened her cell door, swiftly stepping out, her wand pointed at Tonks the whole time. Her free hand was now taking Tonks' own wand and throwing it into the closed cell. "Won't you Mummy-" she spat the word- "be happy when wee Nymphy comes home all dead and cold-
Extremely calmly, but with a lot of suppressed rage, Tonks punched her aunt in the face.
Bellatrix fell back, startled, gripping the cell door for support. Tonks didn't try to run. She knew if she did, she'd be dead in an instant. She didn't want Remus to have to find that. But now... now her aunt was angry, and that ought to buy Remus enough time to bring the order in. This wasn't going to be pretty. This was going to hurt. A lot.
"You... you little..." Face contorted in fury, and now with a huge red mark below her eye, Bellatrix advanced on her. Tonks prepared for the worst.
Remus had just past the fiery X Tonks had made to mark their path when he heard it.
He almost turned back as she screamed. It was piercing and terrible; how had he forgotten that the cruciatus curse was one of bellatrix's specialities?
He wanted it to stop. He wanted to run back and get her out of there, but he knew that going back there would only result in both of them dying. So instead he kept going, running as fast as he could, trying to ignore the painful sound that was hammering his ear drums with every step.
He couldn't run whilst holding his hands to his ears to block out her screams, but that was all he wanted to do. They would stop for a bit, but then start again, louder and more excruciating than before. He didn't want to hear it. If it wasn't for his werewolf senses, it wouldn't have been half as bad, he knew.
At least it meant she was still alive. Silence would be worst, because that would mean she was dead. And he couldn't stand it if she died to save him.
It seemed to take an age, but finally he found the trap door. Praying to any and all gods, he took the key from the last door out of his pocket and twisted it. With a click, it opened. Uttering thanks to anyone listening, he pulled himself up and out. The bright light was blinding.
He was on the roof.
Eagerly, he rushed to the edge, looking for everyone else. They were no longer at the front door. But then he saw them- a bunch sitting by the old gate, while another few searched the village again. At least they hadn't left.
He called out. No one moved. He called again, louder. Still no one moved. Couldn't they hear him?
Angrily, he reached out- only to meet an invisible barrier. It threw him back slightly, making him jump. He swore. How the hell was he going to get off the roof and bring the rest of the Order up? Furious now, he kicked a stone. She was going to die if he couldn't get out. He picked up the stone and threw it at the barrier as hard as he could.
"THIS ISN'T FAIR!" he yelled.
There was a blue spark and he was forced to duck as the rock he had thrown ricocheted back at his head.
Looking at the spot where the rock had hit, he thought back to the barrier they had encountered in the maze. It had to be the same thing! Studying it, he looked around to see if there was a weak spot he could hit it with. but he could find no small blurring hole, and what was more, there was no switch to turn this one off. It had to be magically generated electricity then, he decided. Still, no matter what kind of electricity, it wasn't going to like water.
"Agumanti," he said, just as another scream carried through the open trap door. Quickly, he turned the strong jet of water to the barrier closest to where everyone was sitting. Sure enough, it began to burn a smoking, sparking hole through the barrier. He made sure his barrier was big enough for someone to climb through before stopping.
When he yelled this time he got everyone's attention. Finally.
"What's going on? Where's Tonks?" Bill called up. Remus explained the situation- the maze, the dementors, the dogs, the fire, the villagers, and Bellatrix. "We have to get her out of there, she's being tortured right now!"
Fred tried apparating to the rooftop. "Apparating's no use!" he called. How will we get up?"
Quickly, Remus picked up the rock he had thrown, and transfigured it into a rope ladder. "Could you climb this?"
Everyone confirmed they could, apart from Mad-eye, who of course wouldn't be able to with his wooden leg.
"But we'll need you in there mad-eye!" Remus called, frustrated. This was taking too long...
"No Worries!" Mad-eye called gruffly, searching around in his pocket. His arm was in right down to the elbow before Remus realised he must have an undetectable expansion charm on his too. He probably taught Tonks how to do it, now that he thought of it.
Mad-eye was now pulling his broom out of his pocket. "Will it fit?" he called up. Remus widened the hole, just in case.
"You should be fine. Here!" he stuck the ladder to the roof, throwing it over the edge for the others. In a matter of minutes they were all up, and Remus had to explain further before they would go in.
"Look, I don't know who set this thing up. But the Death Eaters obviously found it and have probably been putting different people there on the off chance we would come to check it out. And we came. They must've known we would eventually. I bet they thought we'd all come in and either the maze or the death eaters would be able to wipe us all out." He ran a hand through his hair. "We need to rescue her. She knew she'd be tortured or killed... I just hope we're not too late."
"Lets go get her then," Bill agreed. "She's waited long enough. How long will it take up to reach the cells?"
"About fifteen minutes?" Remus guessed. It had seemed like much longer when he'd been down there. "You'll all need patronuses, the dementors will come swooping."
He jumped down the trap door into the dark, and the others followed. He could hear her screams, but judging by the others, it was only because of his increased hearing at this time of the month. "Right, patronuses out... this way."
The cluster of silver animals marched around them, his wolf and Kingsley's lynx at the head of the group. None of the dementors came near enough to bother them, although it was still freezing.
It wasn't long until they reached the fading fiery X Tonks had put into the passage, and by that point everyone could hear her screaming- although it was weaker now, so much weaker, and Remus could hear her crying too. He shuddered, hoping against hope she would be alright when they found her. If Bellatrix did to her what she did to the longbottoms... that would almost be worse than death.
Bellatrix's voice soon reached them all, taunting and laughing. She was enjoying this. The thought made Remus furious- angrier than he remembered being before. Letting his patronus fade, he ran ahead.
"How does that feel, Nymphy? I'd say you wont be punching me in the face again any time soon, but you're not going to be around to do it, are you?" Bellatrix laughed. "Now, to kill you... or do we drive you insane? Decisions, Decisions..." Tonks moaned weakly. "What was that Dorrie? You want me to stop? Do you want me to stop?" Bellatrix pulled her up by her hair, laughing. "You want me to stop?"
"YES. Right now, if you don't mind."
Bellatrix whipped around, dropping Tonks to the ground where she lay, hardly moving. She cocked her head, smiling. "Aaah, wolf boy... I thought I told you what would happen if you came back?"
There was the pounding and footsteps, and within seconds, the rest of the Order stood behind him. "But nothing was said about what would happen if I brought company."
Her face contorted with fury and she yelled something, indiscernible in her high pitched voice. Her curse was blocked; and seeing that she alone was no match for all of them, she turned on the spot and vanished.
"I thought you couldn't apparate?" Fred said, confused."
"They'll have fixed it so that only death eaters can." Kingsley answered. But Remus was listening he was already at her side, gingerly lifting her onto his lap.
"You okay?" he whispered. Her eyes were shut, her breathing was coming in short gasps, her face was bloody and he could see blood seeping through cuts in her clothes. She smiled weakly.
"Sure. I'm fine."
He laughed then- laughed because it was ridiculous- she was most obviously not fine. But she was alive, and she was smiling, and that was fine enough for him now. She gave a small weak cough, and he pulled her closer to him.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry... I should never have come in, we would have gotten you out, it's all my fault..."
She shook her head, putting a small finger to his lips. "Don't. Don't apologize."
"okay. Alright." He smiled, pulling her hand away.
He didn't care that everyone was there, that they were all watching. She was alive, and that was reason enough for him.
So he kissed her.
He could feel her confusion at first, but then she smiled, and one of her arms reached around his neck, pulling his face closer to hers.
It didn't matter that Fred and George were wolf-whistling, or that she was covered in blood. He knew he couldn't let her go ever again.