Disclaimer: Still not mine, you'd know if it was, my nametag would read J.K. Rowling and I'd be celebrating Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them going on screen!
A/N: Thanks to my dear beta, Fredrika, whom I'm still trying to get into writing her own stories (wink-wink-shove-subtle hint ;D )
So...the end is here! Don't hate me for it though, stories need an ending just as much as a beginning. Plus, I'm writing tons more of stories so be sure to follow me as a writer!
Chapter 20: The Maidens and the Knights
Hermione's head lolled back aimlessly. She had already lost any fight that was left in her as Tonks continued to ask her the same pointless question over and over again, firing the stinging hex at her heart too many times to count when the answer was deemed unsatisfactory, that is to say, every time. Hermione had tried lying to her crazy captor, tried pleading and reasoning with her, but all her attempts were met with the sting of the damned spell or even, from time to time, a slap, when Tonks got too frustrated to use her wand.
The young woman didn't know how long she had been tied to the uncomfortable wooden chair and subjected to the slow torture, for lack of a better word, but she felt the numbness take over her and found it more and more difficult to breath and stay conscious. She vaguely remembered being enervated a few times, and wondered if the auror would ever get tired of playing with her. To be frank, Hermione had lost hope, because if her friends hadn't found her yet, they probably never would.
A flash of white light that dissipated just as quickly in a cloud of silver sparks surprised her, and she became more alert, hoping against hope that help was on its way. Tonks on her part was muttering and glaring at the empty room around them as if she was waiting for something, so she strained her ears but only heard the words "Shacklebolt... again... stubborn..."
Hermione's eyes were wide as she observed a lean four-legged patronus leap forward and smash into a sort of shield surrounding the metamorphmagus, dissipating it.
"Remus!" The pink-haired woman squealed. "It was Remus' patronus!"
Hermione was understandably relieved but she didn't see what Tonks was so happy about, until the next patronus arrived. The auror dispelled whatever shield she had been using against the patronus and the brilliant white wolf which was undoubtedly Remus' delivered its message.
"Tonks. The war is over. Wherever you are, come back to me." The wolf paused before resuming. "I need you. I love you."
Tonks shouted triumphantly, a wide grin splitting her face as the patronus howled and vanished, having accomplished its mission. She then loomed over her prisoner once more and gushed gleefully.
"I knew you were doing something to him! Now that I have you, your potions or enchantments have worn off and my Remus realizes it's me he's always wanted. Me! Not you! Me!"
Hermione was flabbergasted. Although it had pained her to hear Remus' words of love addressed to another woman, the strain and hesitation in his voice, even through the patronus, was plainly evident. That meant Remus, and probably Severus judging by the deviousness of the deception she had just witnessed, knew or had a very strong suspicion of who had abducted her. However, Hermione was very surprised Tonks had fallen for it. The older woman was, after all, supposed to be a smart, resourceful auror, not a simpering idiot, which could only mean her brains were more addled than she had previously thought. But she guessed that, ultimately, people believed what they wanted to believe, regardless of it being true or not.
Before her, the metamorphmagus started shifting: her hair lengthened in soft ebony loops, her features loosing some of its hardness to become a lovely heart-shaped face with brilliant violet eyes. She transfigured her clothes into dress robes that hugged her figure. Hermione looked at the result mouth agape, Tonks looked gorgeous, if she said so herself.
"Well, what do you think?" The beautiful woman asked, twirling in front of her prisoner. "It's time Remus saw me au naturel now that he has finally accepted me."
Hermione groaned and couldn't stop her jealousy from showing. Remus might care about her and the witch might be crazy but how was she supposed to compete against such overwhelming beauty and perfection? Doubt started creeping into her heart.
"This is goodbye then." Tonks announced cheerily, skipping towards a gaping black hole in the opposite wall.
"Wait!" Hermione exclaimed desperately, panting from the effects of the multiple stinging hexes on her heart.
Her captor looked at her questioningly and huffed.
"What is it now?"
"Take me with you!" Hermione was afraid she'd never be found in this hell-hole or even that she'd be dead by the time they did, her chest muscles feeling more and more stiff. "Arrest me and have me sent to Azkaban. You'll be a hero!"
This did seem to appeal to the auror who finally banished the wooden chair she had been sitting on, all the while leaving the ropes to constrain her. Hermione landed on her bottom with a cry of pained surprise, before being roughly pulled back up to her feet.
"Don't be such a nuisance." The metamorphmagus sneered pushing her through the exit, a very dark and narrow corridor with many other doors and hallways on either side. The two women finally made it out into a dirty and deserted street, without so much as a streetlamp in view. It was night and cold, but Hermione relished the cool fresh air: it seemed easier to breath, even if she knew it was probably just an impression. Tonks clawed her arm for side-along apparition but abruptly faltered.
"Where to?" The woman demanded crossly. "Remus didn't say."
"Oh." Hermione realized this had probably been her friends only way of insuring Tonks brought her prisoner along. Clever men! "Hum, the cottage, I guess?" She answered uncertainly although she was pretty sure she was right.
"Take me." Ordered the beautiful witch, grasping her arm even tighter. She would probably be bruised black and blue by tomorrow, if she was still alive, that is. Hermione winced, not certain she could apparate, and even less so with a side-along. As she feared, saying as much earned her another slap in the face, before being force-fed a pepper-up potion. What the effects of that would be after having drank so much of the potion just the day before, added to the consequences of being hit by multiple stinging hexes, she had no idea but she guessed it wouldn't be good and hurried to bring the two of them to the WARTs headquarters before it was too late.
Remus was pacing the small kitchen floor nervously. Angry at himself, at Tonks, and even at Severus for his scheme. Sending such a message to the crazy witch had hurt him. Saying words he wanted to say to Hermione to another witch had been very difficult. And now, even though they knew the message had been received, the two men waited without being sure of the outcome. Severus seemed to be pretty confident it would lure the metamorphmagus out, and bring her, as well as her prisoner, right into their lap, so to speak. Remus was more doubtful, especially when they had learned Kingsley Shacklebolt, who was a senior auror, had not even been able to follow her trail. So Remus paced, unable to sit still like the dour Potions Master.
"Lupin, could you avoid running in circles like a lost puppy?" Severus finally snapped.
"How can you be so calm? Aren't you even worried about Hermione? You say you care about her, but you-"
Remus' rant was cut short by the loud crack of apparition coming through the open window. The two men glared at each other for a second before the Gryffindor lounged casually in the sofa facing the entrance while the Slytherin disillusioned himself in the shadows behind the front door. As Severus had promised him, two women walked through the door. The first was Hermione and looked very sick although no wounds were visible. Remus gulped in horror and had a hard time tearing his eyes off of her, but plastered a pleased smile on his face, when all he really wanted was to tear off the ropes binding his witch and take her in his arms, never to let her go. However, and with great difficulty, he let his eyes slide to the second witch, who, he had to admit, was a very stunning beauty.
"Tonks?" He asked hesitantly.
He had a hard time reconciling this alluring witch with the immature auror, with her bubblegum pink hair and boyish figure, until she spoke.
"Yes! Yes! Oh Remus, I knew you loved me. I always knew we were meant for each other. I had to save you from her." She said as she jabbed her wand viciously in her captives ribs.
Hermione didn't even react, merely staggered forward. In fact, she barely seemed aware of where she was. She hadn't even looked at him, and that worried Remus even more than her deathly pallor.
"I-I can never thank you enough, Tonks." The wizard said, barely controlling his anger. Thankfully, the crazy witch seemed to take his emotional turmoil as his desire for her. "Just… Just toss her over there. We'll deal with her later. For now, it's just us." He told her with a vague gesture in the direction of the door where Severus was hiding.
Tonks didn't have to be told twice, she shoved Hermione behind her without a backwards glance, having eyes only for her obsession and flung herself into his arms, peppering whatever part of him she could reach with kisses and proclaiming words of undying love in a throaty voice. After a few minutes, realizing she wasn't getting any kind of reaction from the man, she stopped and looked up at the wizard. Remus was shaking with fury and his face was contorted with rage and loathing. He suddenly grasped the metamorphmagus' wrists tightly, forcing her to drop her wand as she cried out in pain.
"Remus!" Tonks pleaded uncomprehendingly. "Why-"
His eyes, cold as chips of ice, met hers.
"I am not yours, and I never will. But I'm warning you, witch, Hermione had better be alright or I will make you pay." He growled in a low and venomous voice.
Tonks tried backing away, bruising her wrist more in the futile attempt.
"I'll take it from here, Lupin. You should apparate Hermione to St Mungos. Whatever Tonks did to her, her heart is damaged." Severus snarled, looking just as angry as him.
The Gryffindor blanched, rushing to the unconscious woman's side. In a mere minute, he had her cradled in his arms and vanished with a loud crack to the wizarding hospital.
When Hermione woke up a week later, she smiled tenderly at the sight that greeted her. A very grubby Remus with stubble on his cheeks and hair sticking out in every direction was sleeping in a chair next to her bed. She winced as she realized how uncomfortable it had to be, especially with his neck at that angle. As if feeling her eyes devouring him, he woke up with a start, and blinked several times to chase the remnants of sleep away.
"Hermione, my love, you're awake." He said tenderly, caressing her hand and making her heart skip a beat.
A loud bip reverberated around them and a healer rushed in.
"What happened?" He demanded.
Hermione recognized Poppy's friend.
The wizened doctor nodded enthusiastically.
"Happy to see your brains have not suffered from your injuries, Miss Granger. And please call me Ichabod. I do owe you my life after all."
Hermione recalled he had been among Voldemort's prisoners and was surprised he was already back to work.
"Only if you call me Hermione. So, am I all fixed up?" She asked hopefully, eager to leave the hospital. "I feel a lot better."
"Well… I want to say you're free to go. We put you in a magical coma for a week to allow your body and heart in particular to get stronger. But the alarm just now informs me your heart is acting erratically again and so soon after your waking, it has me worried." The healer informed her, checking her chart and then, raising an inquiring eyebrow when he noticed the blush on the young witch. The blush was mirrored on the wizards face, and he looked between one and the other before laughing heartily.
"Ah, to be young again…" The older man said with a sigh. "Alright then, I see no reason not to let your fiancé take you home, so long as you promise to come to me personally for a checkup in another week's time."
Hermione nodded and signed the discharge from the hospital with a blank expression. As Hermione got ready, she teased Remus.
"They wouldn't let me stay if I wasn't a family member." He explained, his blush deepening as he shifted uneasily. "So I… Uhm… I told them we were engaged. I'm sorry. We can just say we broke it off just as soon as we leave the building. I just couldn't leave you here alone… I'm sorry."
"Or we could just stay engaged? If you want to, I mean." She offered, feeling very bold after almost meeting death again, but still blushing fiercely.
"Really? You really want that? Want me?" Remus asked, his eyes hopeful and amazed.
"Of course I do, you silly man." She chuckled. "I love you."
Remus lifted her in his arms, spinning on the spot and whooping happily while she laughed at his unusual exuberance. He let his witch slide back down in his arms and kissed her fiercely when they came face to face.
"I love you." He whispered in her ear, causing a shiver of desire to run down her spine. She had missed his touch, his voice, his smell… Her reaction to him hadn't been missed judging by the hungry look in his eyes.
However, he stepped back to get his body back under control, and, always the perfect gentleman, offered her his arm, once she was ready, to lead her down to the entrance hall from which they could apparate.
"Home?" He asked, more timidly.
"Home." She confirmed with a bright smile.
The couple appeared with a loud crack in front of their cottage in the woods. A cup of tea later, Hermione wanted to know everything that had happened since she had been kidnapped by Tonks, firing questions at the poor wizard who held up his hands in a defensive gesture.
"Let me start at the beginning." He laughed before all mirth left his face when he narrated how they had soon noticed her missing from the party, how it appeared there had been two Ginnys at the Burrow, how all pointed at Tonks who had still not been captured. His tone got darker as he told her how desperate they had become when they couldn't find her. "Until Severus' plan, of course. I swear I won't ever get on his bad side again. Well, you know how that went. I'm so sorry we hadn't gotten you back sooner…"
Remus' fists clenched and he wouldn't look at her. Hermione's hand came up to his chin and lifted it up to kiss him lightly on the lips.
"You saved me. Without you, I would be dead. You know that, right?"
The wizard nodded shakily but couldn't let go of his anger, so she got him talking again. Maybe when he had gotten the whole story out, he would feel better.
"What happened to Tonks after? You didn't hurt her, did you? I really think she needs mind-healers."
Remus made a strange face she couldn't decipher and snorted.
"I didn't even care at the time. I just wanted to get you to St Mungos as soon as possible, so I left her with Severus."
Hermione's eyes widened.
"No." She breathed out, her hand flying to her mouth. Terrible images flew through her mind, the last of which was the metamorphmagus finishing as potion ingredients.
"Yes, that is everyone's reaction." He mused. "No less than she'd deserve if you ask me. Severus did assault her with his legilimency as soon as we left, I'm told, he wanted to know what she'd done to you and understand why. I hear it can be quite painful, particularly if you're fighting it."
Hermione paled. Despite what the crazy witch had done. She didn't like feeling like she was responsible for someone else being tortured.
"But-" Remus hesitated, interrupting himself as he frowned. "Soon after, Severus found mental blocks in her mind. They don't explain her obsession with me: there had to be something, some attraction to start with. But it did enforce it to the extreme, like someone blowing on a small kindling fire and letting it grow into a dangerous wildfire, without control or awareness."
Hermione was livid. If she had had time to defend herself when Tonks had assaulted her. she could have seriously hurt the witch, when she was innocent in reality. Innocent of all but a harmless crush to begin with. And who could begrudge her that?
"Who?" was the only word she managed to croak out, but Remus understood her meaning: Who would do such a despicable thing?
"Severus isn't sure, only it had to be someone familiar with Occlumency and very skilled in Legilimency."
"But that means..." Hermione trailed off, not liking where this was going.
Remus nodded somberly.
"Yes, there are not many who qualify, are they. Those we know about are Severus, Voldemort and Dumbledore."
It didn't take a genius to deduce the culprit: Severus would never mess with somebody's mind like that and the almost-late Lord Voldemort had not gotten his hands on Tonks.
"Would he really? Why?" She whispered, afraid speaking it aloud would make it more real.
"It depends on when it was done, I suppose. But since Tonks' behaviour became noticeably strange after you became a patronus, but before I did..." The wizard sighed loudly, ruffling his hair in frustration. "I just can't believe the old man would go so far to keep people under his thumb. He'd probably say it was for the greater good."
He sighed loudly and then she saw he couldn't help but quirk a smile.
"What is it?" She asked, smiling too at his apparent mirth.
"Severus healed her mind as best he could and has been teaching her advanced occlumency ever since, to help her. They have grown quite... close."
Hermione's jaw dropped.
"Severus?" A nod from the amused wizard. "And Tonks?" Another nod. " Severus and Tonks?"
"Oh dear! I think I broke Hermione. Whatever will I do?"
The witch slapped his shoulder playfully.
"You can't just spring that kind of news on someone like that, they could have a heart attack. I mean, it's Severus we're talking about. He's not exactly the romantic type, actually I can't even picture it."
"You'll see them soon enough. Well, Severus at least. I think Tonks is a bit ashamed, she broke down in tears last time she saw me." Remus frowned, he wasn't used to making people cry.
"How about Harry?" Hermione asked rapidly, both to change the subject and because she was genuinely eager to have news of her best friend. "Have the owls stopped harassing him?"
"Not exactly…" Remus answered drawing out the syllables. "Whatever we say, Harry will always be wizarding Britain's beloved golden boy, so he decided to go on his Horcrux hunt arguing that on the move, the owls would have a difficult time finding him. Ginny went with him, despite her mother's protests. The Daily Prophet somehow learned the both of them have disappeared and printed an article saying they had eloped…"
"Oh, my!" She exclaimed, although she made a mental note to visit Rita Skeeter in the very near future, with a bug spray in hand.
"Yes." Remus agreed solemnly. "I'd avoid the Burrow for the next few days if I were you."
Hermione couldn't help it, she smiled, giggled and then burst out laughing at the whole situation. Remus watched her with adoring eyes.
"How about us?" He asked quietly, blushing.
It must have really cost him to ask about their budding relationship she realized so she decided to diffuse the tension.
"What about us?" She teased, waggling her eyebrows suggestively.
He barked a laugh.
"Hermione, Love, just when I think I figured you out, you still surprise me." He grasped her small hand in his larger ones. "What were you planning to do once the War was over?"
She thought about this for a minute.
"I really wanted to work at the Ministry to help promote equal rights for all magical beings. But now...now, I can actually do something to make life better for people who are suffering from dark curses. I don't mean to say I want to do that my whole life because… Well, that would be...inconvenient." Hermione answered, stumbling on her words, because there was no way she was bluntly going to say she wanted to shag Remus senseless in the very near future.
"Not to mention frustrating." The man muttered in complete agreement.
Hermione sighed in relief at his understanding.
"So, I was thinking." She continued in a more excited chatter. "We could take our year long engagement to tour Britain and maybe also part of Europe ! We could stay with the families of werewolves and such, move on every few days. We could even write a book about our travels! We're bound to meet such interesting people, hear their stories, learn a thing or two…"
Remus was speechless as he stared wide-eyed at the lovely witch, her cheeks flushed and eyes sparkling, looking at him so hopefully. He had considered healing children who had been bitten by Fenrir Greyback himself because, even if he really wanted to ravish his witch, he couldn't let other children suffer their whole life as he had when he could help them with his Patronus Totalus. But Hermione was so selfless, she was thinking on a much wider scale, regardless of her own desires. How could he ever refuse her. Besides, he had waited almost forty years for her, he would wait forty more if she asked.
Hope Rosalind Lupin closed the book she had read so many times already. It was a first signed edition, battered and worn but she loved it dearly, and not just because it had been written by her parents. It was a wondrous account of everything the two war heroes had accomplished to alleviate the pain of people they didn't even know when they themselves had already suffered so much through the war.
She dearly wished she too would find her calling and find a love as true as her parents had. As she was daydreaming, looking out the window of the Hogwarts express that sped across the Scottish countryside, she didn't hear someone enter the compartment until an arm sneaked around her shoulders.
"James Sirius Potter! Take that skinny thing you call an arm off of my person before I hex it off myself." Hope said primly, tossing her curly hair behind her shoulder.
"Oh, come on Hope! Don't be like that. I tell you what, I'll leave you alone for the whole train ride if you accept to go out with me." James said with a cocky grin and a wink.
As usual, the only answer he got was an old book tossed at his face that he narrowly avoided, laughing as he ran down the train's narrow corridor.
Hope sighed and picked up her book, not understanding why all her brothers worshipped that arrogant prat so much but secretly wondering with a small smile if maybe, just maybe, she hadn't found her true love already.