It took Harry a while. He started the question several times, then chickened out and asked something else instead. It was a downright creepy thought, truth be told, that he couldn’t shift, and couldn’t stop thinking about. It was on its way to slowly driving him nuts with apprehension, until he just garbled it out and had done with it. ‘Was there a funeral?’
Tonks’ bluntly ended sentence, sidelong glance and incredulous tone indicated she thought he was pretty nuts too. ‘For Umbridge?’ Although Harry was willing to admit that the timing of his interruption might have indicated he was referring to that odious woman, he liked to think it was still pretty obvious that he didn’t give a damn what happened to her after her death. She could have been left to the rats for all he cared. ‘You-Know-Who didn’t just kill her, Harry. He made an example of her, to show all of us what happens when you pretend to be pure.’ That Tonks had taken his question in the wrong way didn’t help much. ‘She was the first one the Dementors found. Stupid bint didn’t help herself much either; turns out she’d gotten her hands on something of You-Know-Who’s and was using it as proof of her great and mighty heritage.’
‘Not Umbridge.’ Harry swallowed, wondering whether his distinct lack of caring towards the fate of the late undersecretary made him as awful as she had been herself. Tonks didn’t seem to care much either, if her rant was anything to go by, but then again, she had nearly fallen foul of the woman’s maniacal scheme herself. ‘I mean, was there one for me?’
Tonks’ eyes shot open in surprise. Her tea sloshed to the rim of the chipped mug as she placed it hastily on the desk. ‘For you?’
He knew that Tonks didn’t mean to make the idea sound utterly absurd, but he still found himself unpleasantly stung. ‘That’ll be a no, then. Dumb idea, really, since everyone forgot me.’ Harry didn’t know if he was pleased or upset. The idea of Ron and Hermione crying over an empty coffin was disturbing at best. The thought that he had just vanished from their minds wasn’t much better.
‘No!’ Harry pulled his hand abruptly away from where hers had reached across the table to grasp his own, in apology and reassurance. ‘That’s not it at all! I mean, you have to understand,’ Tonks fumbled to explain, pulling his hand forcibly from where he had placed it in his lap and squeezing his fingers. ‘It wasn’t like that. You weren’t just gone and forgotten in a day.’
‘I know that,’ Harry mumbled bitterly. ‘Snape said it took years.’
‘He would.’ Tonks shook her head of her own distaste. Harry had once again pulled away from her, this time wrapping his palms solidly round his now lukewarm mug of stale tea. It was the second serving Audrey had provided, and half empty cups had started to litter the table even as she retreated back to the kitchen, no doubt to make more. Harry was glad that Tonks didn’t try to retrieve his hand again, and was instead fiddling guiltily with the spilt drops of her own drink that had splattered the table, smearing them with the tip of her little finger. ‘Look, it’s hard to explain.’ The absolute misery on her face eased a little of Harry’s own. ‘No-one actually knew where you were or what had happened to you…’
‘Snape said I was dead,’ Harry interrupted agitatedly.
‘Snape has apparently been saying many things,’ Tonks replied coolly. ‘Dumbledore, however, said quite differently, and we listened to him.’
‘Until he died.’
‘And after,’ Tonks verified, before softly adding, ‘And for what it’s worth, none of your friends ever forgot you. You-Know-Who…the Obliviation; it didn’t happen until much, much later.’
‘And they died before that. I get it, okay?’ Harry argued resentfully, wishing he had never asked in the first place. His morbid curiosity had been much easier to deal with than the glaring awkwardness that now sat between them. ‘It was a stupid question.’
‘It wasn’t.’ Tonks tried to smile and failed, the movement fading into a guilty grimace. ‘Y’know, you’d be amazed at how much more sense everything makes now,’ she said with a twinge of sourness that did a poor job of hiding the seeping self-loathing that was slowly leaking into her voice. ‘I know you’re upset with me - you have every right to be - I’m just glad you can still ask me stuff.’ Her words sped up as she fought to get them all out before Harry could stop her. ‘You could have been killed because of me, and I’m really sorry…’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Harry interrupted again, not annoyed at Tonks specifically, but at the whole mess. He shrugged, gesturing aimlessly with his hand, wanting to dislodge his own guilt as much as hers. ‘I’m just surprised Voldemort didn’t declare me dead himself. Paint everyone some horrific scene of torture or something. Figured he would have jumped at the chance.’
‘That would just have martyred you. His way worked better.’
The whole conversation had gone like this, with Tonks saying as little as she thought she could get away with, and Harry having to push and pry for whatever details he could force from her. ‘Which was?’
‘To say nothing,’ Tonks sighed regretfully, her head hanging with defeat. ‘Sure, we believed you were still alive, but some people…’
‘Thought I’d run away, or something,’ Harry finished with horrible realisation, not wanting to know exactly who had fallen into that some people category. ‘And just hated me for it.’ He felt a wave of bitterness that inspired him to continue with open hostility, aimed nowhere and everywhere at once. ‘Bet they were really upset to forget about me.’ He took a deep breath. He had always wanted to be unknown, but it still rattled that people’s last thought of him had been as some sort of coward. He had thought, or had at least hoped, that people were better than that.
As he heard more, he began to think maybe not.
And he found himself constantly reminding himself that it was all true, that it had all happened, even if it hadn’t happened to him and felt as distant and remote as another life altogether. Dolores Umbridge, it turned out, had been the Dementor’s first victim. More than that, even, hers had been the first life reduced to nothing more than a bargaining chip and a reward, given to the creatures by Voldemort as a treat for a job well done. It was, as Tonks eloquently described it, the moment the world went even more arse up than it already had. Harry found himself agreeing rather emphatically.
The Dementors had worked their way through the Ministry first, testing and honing their newfound skills with the incentive that for every lying, thieving Mudblood they uncovered, that life would be theirs. It had been a bad idea from the beginning, almost leading to the decimation of the entirety of wizarding Britain. Harry found that notion difficult to comprehend, especially given the recollections he had of a similar comments made by Snape. The man had mentioned something - something about needless death, but it hadn’t sounded anything like what Tonks was suggesting. He had given Harry a vague notion of death caused by the neglect of someone more intent on ruling than true leadership. From Tonks, though, it sounded like simple genocide that had gone out of control.
It started with the Muggleborns. Dementors, it turned out, were uniquely suited to the task of rooting out even the cleverest of them. They fed on happy memories of warm sunlit days when children pranced obliviously through life with no concerns or worries beyond the grass beneath their feet and the sky above them. And Voldemort taught the Dementors exactly what to look for in these reminiscences; the subtle signs betrayed by childish innocence that would bring a swift sentence of death. Voldemort taught them exceedingly well, but not as well as it appeared they then went on to teach themselves.
This disturbed Harry greatly, causing an involuntary shiver to pass up his spine. Dementors were just things, evil things, with barely a mind of their own, beyond that for feeding. He liked that thought. It was oddly comforting in face of the prospect that they were actually so much more.
Intelligence makes something that much harder to control.
One of the first things the Dementors learned for themselves was that there simply were not as many Muggleborns and half-bloods as they had been led to believe. If they had just taken retribution for that deceit, things might have been very different. But they were led by their hunger. Instead they discovered that the lack in the perpetual feast owed them lessened greatly depending on exactly how they approached it. And with the combined knowledge of a hundred different wizards, each with his own view on purity and a different opinion on what made a Mudblood, they had no shortage of meanings and interpretations to choose from.
Harry was amazed to realise exactly how flawed the principle a war was being fought over actually was. By the strictest of definitions, a pureblood was simply someone whose parents were both magical; strictly true, yes, in a world where numbers and logic could be replaced with an exact replication in words. Instead, however, it seemed that Muggle blood did more damage than a pureblood could ever make up for, even when it was Tonks’ mighty Black blood in question. The damage was irreparable.
So the Dementors got hungry, and made their own rules - rules which were, in theory, based on the combined prejudice and paranoia of the wizarding world, but were in practise based on an insatiable appetite. They stopped just hunting for memories of parents, and looked for grandparents, and even great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, the slightest sign that perhaps, somewhere, there was a non-magical relative for a person to answer for. Voldemort did no more than laugh upon hearing of it, encouraged them even. Propaganda spouted about how a family that had stolen the magic in the first place was merely continuing the theft by passing it onto their offspring. Protecting a loved one and concealing the truth were treasonous. Guilty by proximity, that was the dictum, and their soul was claimed as remuneration. And whilst Voldemort may have laughed, and a few of his closest followers may have laughed right along with him, others were starting to catch on to a few well hidden truths.
‘D’you know how many wizarding families can track back through as few as four generations and not find some Muggle contamination, somewhere?’ Tonks questioned harshly. ‘It’s not many. He never realised he was on his way to killing off the country as we knew it. Idiot,’ she added with a snarl.
Harry thought of Ron, with his accountant uncle, and Hermione, who never stood a chance. ‘He stopped them, in the end, right?’
‘Nope, his Death Eaters had to do it for him. Never thought I’d have something to be grateful to them for, either. A fair few of them even died for it.’ It was the nearest to a worthy death Harry could imagine for any of them. ‘There was a bit of an outcry, you see, when the Dementors went for one of his own.’ Of course, the Death of a Death Eater was a suitably ironic vehicle for a saviour.
‘Someone called Yaxley.’ The name meant nothing to Harry, and Tonks picked up easily on his ignorance. ‘Old family. Not as old as the Malfoys, or the Blacks, but old enough at that. You-Know-Who claimed he only marked purebloods, but when you look at his ridiculously strict rules for pure, there just weren’t enough people alive to account for all his followers. Pretending, most of them.’ Hermione had said suggested that once, as if it were blindingly obvious. Harry had figured Voldemort was smarter than that. ‘He was furious when he found out. Tracked down and killed almost every single one of them personally, he did. And after that, those who were left were no longer off limits as far as the Dementors were concerned. He didn’t trust them anymore. Yaxley was either too smart for his own good, or too stupid. Everyone knew the Dementors were branching out. Turns out Yaxley’s great-grandfather eloped with a Muggle girl from the nearby village. It’s an old family joke that, in his madness, he had later swapped an illegitimate son for the rightful heir he left behind. Can’t blame the man for fretting about it, even if he practically invited the Dementor to him in doing so.’
It was deeply terrifying that people could fear a man so much they would allow mere speculation to end a life before daring to speak. ‘What happened after that?’
Tonks’ scoff was infused with a sinister, dark wash of humour. ‘Well, as it turns out, you’d be amazed at exactly how many secrets the old pureblood families are keeping. I think pretty much everyone had realised at that point that if someone didn’t stop You-Know-Who, he was quickly going to be the only damn wizard left.’
Harry tried and failed to imagine anyone stopping Voldemort from doing anything. ‘How did they manage? I can’t imagine a nice little chat doing the job.’
‘Auntie Bella.’ Tonks wielded what should have been an affectionate endearment as a weapon.
‘Yep. She was the only person who had the guts to stand up to him.’ There was the smallest trace of familial pride in the sentiment, almost drowned though it was by hatred. ‘Probably the only person who had even the slightest chance of surviving it too. It wasn’t like she didn’t have enough to worry about herself, the way things were going.’
‘Like me, for one thing.’ Tonks’ smile was predatory now, as though joyful in the knowledge that she could have caused her Aunt’s death by mere existence, where her wand had failed before. ‘Her own sister ran off with a Muggle-born and had me. The Muggle taint was as close to her as it was possible to get. She did it for Narcissa too. Bella might have hunted down Mum for betraying her, but you can’t say that family means absolutely nothing to her.’
Harry picked up on the seemingly impossible idea that Tonks had suggested. ‘What do the Malfoys have to hide?’
‘Her son, my dear little cousin Draco.’ Harry snorted at the idea that fanatical Draco Malfoy had ever had anything to fear. ‘He inherited not only the Black family secrets, but the Malfoy’s too, and that meant Lucius’ somewhat eccentric Uncle Erasmus. Double the shame on his poor, aristocratic little shoulders. Narcissa was worried her son would be one of the next ones, so Bella did it for her too.’
Harry was morbidly hopeful. ‘Did she..?’
‘She didn’t die,’ Tonks saved him from having to ask. ‘Got tortured even further into insanity, but there was no killing curse for her. Those that backed her up died, for the most part. But it got the point across and the Dementors were reigned in.’ Tonks ran a hand through her greying hair, before counting off on her fingers. ‘There are rules now. At least two direct generations of magical parentage. And if any one parent was Muggleborn, you had better hope that the other wasn’t. Have to prove that the magic comes from somewhere legitimate.’
‘And people just let it happen?’ The accusation was clear in his voice; that he had expected every Order member, at the very least, to fight for as long as they could.
Tonks shook her head with profound regret. ‘At that point, people were bloody grateful for it. All but paved the way for getting rid of you. I don’t know what Snape told you about the Obliviation itself?’
‘Just that it took a long time.’ This was the bit he wasn’t so sure he wanted to know about.
‘Made it sound like an effort, no doubt, like he was chasing people down in the streets.’
Unease kept Harry’s voice low. ‘I guess…’ Where she had been reluctant before, now Tonks displayed only determination to say everything she could.
‘You-Know-Who made a deal. Not that we couldn’t see right through it. Said he would call off the Dementors on a couple of conditions.’ She set her shoulders.
Harry couldn’t manage much more than wretched comprehension. ‘The Memory Charm was one of them.’
‘Yep. By that point, though, I think people were happy to forget you. You were a tiny flicker of hope.’ She held up her thumb and forefinger, spread minutely apart. ‘Even for the people who thought you had run off and deserted them. I guess there comes a time when hope does more harm than good.’ Harry was about to ask if anyone at all had objected. ‘Then there was the second condition, you see, and that was the big one.’ Tonks sighed heavily, and Harry no longer needed to ask. ‘He wanted our wands.’
There was a pause. ‘He what?’
‘Our wands and our memories for our lives,’ said as though it was the most reasonable of requests. ‘Oh, some people snapped theirs and ran – god only knows if they survived. I considered it myself, briefly, but at the end of the day I figured I could do more good crippled and here, than I could on the run.’ Harry found himself filled with overwhelming pity for the choice she had been forced to make. ‘It was a farce anyway,’ Tonks continued with the dejection of someone who had known it would be all along. ‘He gave the wands back, out of his sheer benevolence, and no one complained even when they discovered they couldn’t cast half the charms they used too.’ She lifted her wand, pointed it towards a stack of paper, and muttered Incendio. Nothing happened. ‘The damn thing is so covered in dark magic I can hardly stand to hold it sometimes, and I can’t cast anything that could be considered even remotely threatening. Made Floo travel a right pain, for a while. But you get on with things, and the world was a lot quieter after that. Can’t blame a girl for being a little grateful.’ She sounded horribly guilty.
He didn’t want to stack onto that remorse. He wanted to just sit in shared silence together, not make her feel even worse with his incessant questions. But he had to know. ‘How many more went through that? Of the Order?’
Tonks looked at him nervously. ‘I was the last one left that I know of. If the Dementors didn’t get them, the Death Eaters did, and most of them were long gone quite some time before that. I’m sorry, Harry.’
It was the apology that confirmed the horrible suspicion he had. ‘You’re lying,’ Harry challenged. ‘Who else is left?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘You do, you just don’t want to tell me!’ Childishly pounding on the table, as he was seconds from doing, wasn’t exactly going to help that matter, though. Harry gulped down a mouthful of air and fought for the reasonable tone he had had no problems sustaining minutes ago to continue with. ‘Snape told me about the Weasleys, and Hermione, and Remus. I saw most of the other names in the newspapers. So who is it, who’s lying?’
Tonks looked down at her hands, then out the window, following the progress of a young girl who kicked at the cobblestones and tugged at her mother’s robes. She looked briefly at Harry, then looked away again, her mouth opening silently several times before she finally spoke. ‘Remus isn’t dead, Harry.’ It wasn’t good news, and Harry fought back the instinctive urge to relish in the words, biting back mercilessly on his hope. It still etched itself through him as he perched hungrily on the edge of the stool, the now familiar sound of clinking ceramic closing in from behind.
‘Or at least, I don’t believe he is,’ Tonks continued cautiously. Audrey had appeared for the third time, this time with a steaming teapot clutched so close to her chest Tonks was sure it must have been burning her. She took it carefully, helping the woman unfurl her fingers from the smooth handle. No matter her beliefs, Audrey had been her closest friend for years, and it was upsetting to see her so bewildered. Tonks hoped it was only an Obliviate Snape had cast, but she doubted it. ‘Why don’t you go home?’ she offered, patting the hands that were trembling without something to hold onto. ‘You’ll feel better in the morning.’
Harry watched silently as Audrey spun round slowly on the spot, her eyes darting frantically for some sort of direction. It was a miserable sight to watch, as Tonks steered her towards the fireplace, distorted green shadows playing on Audrey’s pinched face until she vanished in a swirl of smoke and ash. Sighing miserably and hitching up her heavy robes from where they trailed round her ankles, Tonks sat heavily back down, folding them across her lap. ‘If someone has had the nerve to kill him, I tell you, I would consider it a blessing for him.’
It took Harry a second to realise she was talking about Remus again. ‘Where is he then?’
‘I don’t know.’ It was a lie, and an incredibly poor one at that.
‘You must know something, or why would you say anything?’ Harry didn’t care how guiltily Tonks fidgeted, or how she wrung her hands together with such force that the wrinkles returned less and less after every pass.
‘I shouldn’t be the one to tell you.’ Harry wondered exactly who else she thought would step up to the role. ‘I was angry and rash and should never have even mentioned it.’ He refrained from pointing out that she had not been angry, rash and not thinking about what she said in his presence, so much as she had been angry, rash and forgetful to the fact that he had even been there, so caught up had she been in her fight with Snape. ‘I don’t know enough. I’ve got rumours and guesses that will probably leave you more worried than you already are.’
‘Let me guess, I should talk to Snape?’ Snape had already proven that, when it came down to the thousands of questions Harry had about his friends, he would be getting about as much information in that regard as he would sympathy.
‘You have no idea how much I would rather you never had to exchange two words with him again,’ Tonks’ tone was bitter and clipped at mention of the Potions Master, and she stiffened defensively in her chair. ‘Unfortunately, the man had a point. This is his world now. No matter how much I don’t like it, we won’t get very far without him. And even if we could I doubt I could truly get you away from his influence. Better not to waste the time trying.’ She flashed him a weak smile, which did nothing to alleviate Harry’s diminishing mood.
‘You could tell me what you do know,’ he suggested.
‘There are some things no child should ever have to hear.’ Tonks replied flatly.
‘I’m not a bloody child.’
Tonks leant over the desk and gave Harry’s hand a comforting squeeze, eyes watching him sympathetically. ‘You’re barely even sixteen.’
‘It’s not like I’ve never seen death before.’
‘Exactly. Can’t you see why people would want to keep as much of it from you as possible? You have seen more than anyone should have to witness.’
‘And still no one will tell me anything.’ The cup hit the table almost hard enough to crack it. ‘Dumbledore kept stuff from me for years, and all it did was get people killed. And now, when there are only three of us left, you’re still trying to keep secrets from me.’
‘If it had anything to do with your safety, I would tell you,’ Tonks tried to reason.
‘What gave you the right to decide that?’
‘The fact that I care about you.’ Harry made a mocking sound in the back of his throat. ‘And I don’t want to see you get yourself hurt.’
‘So what, instead you’re just going to leave me to imagine all the terrible things he could have suffered, or could still be suffering. How could telling me be worse than that?’
Tonks shook her head, still reluctant to concede to his point and rolling her eyes at her own big mouth. ‘I really should have thought before I spoke, but seeing you again just had me so rattled.’ She leant forwards swiftly and enveloped Harry in another bone breaking hug. ‘It may not feel like it, but you are still just a little kid. I wish you hadn’t suffered so much that you can’t see it.’ Harry cringed slightly at the excessive affection and the blatant attempt to distract his attention, not sure what to do with himself until Tonks released him again with a heavy sigh. ‘Still, I can’t see you reclaiming that lost youth here.’
Harry’s fury ebbed slightly. ‘So you’ll tell me?’
‘Remember that I could be wrong,’ Tonks said urgently. ‘If anything else you must remember that this is all based on rumour with no definite reliability.’
‘Where is Remus?’ Harry demanded desperately.
‘The Dark Lord has him.’ Living in the wild, homeless amongst Muggles, forced to flee abroad; any of these would have made more sense as to Remus’ current situation, since any life granted in the presence of the Dark Lord should have been measured in days or weeks, not years.
‘What? Why?’ Tonks replied to his question with a sympathetic look, one that screamed of soft-hearted tolerance towards Harry’s apparent ignorance of the obvious as she spoke with careful evenness.
‘He is a werewolf, Harry.’
Tonks stared at him for a moment, although she seemed to be staring more through him than anything else, mind not quite with them. ‘I have seen him once, since You-Know-Who started his attacks in full force. They were popular in the beginning, a couple of nights a month of sport, as the Death Eaters called it; when the half-bloods and Muggleborns still lived in large enough numbers to justify it.’
‘He didn’t?’ Harry was aghast at the insinuation, mouth open in disbelief as Tonks nodded morosely.
‘There is one werewolf, although he is much more wolf than man, who is notorious for his cruelty, to say the very least. Fenrir Greyback. I had never seen Remus so focused then when he heard that name, and I didn’t think he had one violent bone in his body until that creature turned up again. Walked right into Hogwarts, so close to all those children.’ Tonks look of sadness mingled with remembered fondness. ‘Remus wouldn’t stand for it, said enough people had suffered at his hands and that something needed to be done. The Ministry didn’t know what they were dealing with, but Remus claimed he did. At first I thought it was his personal crusade; to do something against those of his kind that made it impossible for those like him, kind and gentle, to have any kind of life worth living.’ Tonks seemed to remember herself, the lost look leaving her eyes as she smiled wistfully. ‘If you had ever met Greyback you would perhaps understand more about why werewolves are so feared and regulated. It turned out I was wrong. It was personal, but it was no crusade; it was revenge. You see Greyback was the one who turned Remus. Had a thing for small children, and Remus’ father had owed him something, something he felt it was worth claiming the future of a five-year-old boy over.’
Harry all ready knew the answer, but asked anyway. ‘What did Remus do?’
‘Greyback was recruiting werewolves for the Dark Lord’s cause. He had a lot of influence and could instil fear quite effectively where said influence failed to reach. Remus tried to stop him, tried to get to others before Greyback could manage and convince them to join Albus instead. It’s incredibly difficult to kill a werewolf, you see. They are impervious to the Killing Curse and most other techniques the Ministry employs for dealing with dangerous people or animals, which makes them an asset if you are depraved enough to use them.’ Tonks shivered slightly in spite of the warmth and stuffiness. ‘And the Dark Lord was. Remus gathered himself quite an army though. Greyback left a lot of good people to suffer needlessly.’
‘It wasn’t enough,’ Tonks sighed miserably. ‘They were tracked down by the Ministry themselves, although whether or not the Ministry had managed to remain out of the control of the Dark Lord at that time is uncertain. Still, werewolves congregating was not something they were willing to let slip past, especially given the attacks made in the name of the Dark Lord. The Ministry found them, but it was Death Eaters who were dispatched to take care of them. I thought Remus had been killed.’
‘Why did they take him?’
Tonks shrugged. ‘Who knows? To make an example of him. Greyback may have even requested it. I have no desire to even try to work out how their minds work. All I know is that the next full moon Remus was still alive. I know because it was the village where I lived that was attacked.’
‘But why?’ Harry’s voice was becoming irate as he sought to understand. ‘No one can control who a werewolf attacks! Voldemort was risking purebloods along with everyone else.’
‘But you forget something, Harry, something crucial to all of this. Because werewolves are no longer the mindless creatures they once were, are they?’
Harry gasped. ‘Wolfsbane.’
‘Exactly,’ Tonks nodded. ‘And with a Potions Master at his disposal it was not exactly something in difficult demand.’
‘Snape made it for them?’ He didn’t know why it was such a surprise, or why he struggled to believe it, but there suddenly seemed a world of difference between casting the Killing Curse when there was no other option and the foresight and premeditation that must have gone into such a thing.
‘I can imagine no other having the skill, and it was certainly not bought. There were few capable of brewing it before the rise, and even fewer after.’
‘Then why did Remus go?’ Harry had missed so much, and it was starting to dawn on him how very different everything was. People didn’t even seem to think right anymore. ‘Why did he not just run away that night?’
‘I couldn’t tell you. Imperius Curse perhaps. My betting is on that damn potion though.’ A fire had lit behind her eyes. ‘Snape did something to it, made Remus more pliable, more open to suggestion and leadership. It’s not like the potion wasn’t originally designed to affect a persons mind. The whole night was some sort of test.’
‘What makes you so sure?’
‘It was the last night it was permitted to continue. My betting is because whatever it was they did to Remus, they finally had the proof they needed that it worked.’
‘A werewolf they could control, completely.’
‘Nice idea, huh?’
Harry looked up hopefully. ‘They could have killed Remus after that night though.’
‘I suppose,’ Tonks radiated reluctance to cause him further grief. ‘If he was just a test subject, I see no reason why they wouldn’t have. They don’t strike me as being that kind though, nor that compassionate.’ A thoughtful silence followed the statement, as Harry stared into the dregs of liquid sitting at the bottom of the abandoned cup.
‘Still,’ he started carefully, considering every word. ‘Once I get back none of this will have happened.’
‘And now I know about it!’ He was finding purpose as he spoke. ‘I can stop it from happening again.’
‘Harry.’ Tonks’ eyes flashed upwards, glancing briefly over his shoulder although Harry remained completely oblivious.
‘What? It’s true, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, if you could get back you could perhaps change the future.’ Harry hadn’t even heard the door open, or the approaching footsteps as he jumped in his seat and glared up at Snape’s towering form. ‘But as we have all ready discussed, it is not a likely situation.’
‘Where’s Remus?’ Harry demanded, previous conversation instantly forgotten.
‘You told him then,’ Snape sneered towards Tonks. ‘Not afraid of upsetting the golden boy’s prized sensibilities?’
‘He deserved to know what happened to his friends.’
‘Why did you do it to him?’ Harry challenged.
‘Excuse me?’ Snape looked down at him insignificantly.
‘The Wolfsbane. Couldn’t you have tested it on someone else? Why Remus?’
‘It appears that the rumours of the Dark Lords activities have become somewhat closer to the truth than I realised,’ Snape looked suspiciously at Tonks, narrowing his eyes. ‘Where did you hear this?’
‘Nowhere I would be likely to tell you. So are you going to answer his question or not?’ Tonks gestured to where Harry was glaring angrily.
‘I did not have a choice in the matter.’
‘There is always a choice, Snape.’ Tonks seemed angrier than Harry at the reply, moving from behind the desk with ease unnatural to the disguise she wore, unable to hold back her questions any longer. It hadn’t occurred to Harry until that moment that Tonks would have been just as upset over the news as he was, and that she had had years now to nurture that resentment and to ask these same questions over and over, not believing she would ever have a reply. She was determined to get one now, though.
‘Death was not one I considered feasible at the time.’ Snape remained calm, his voice flat and level and not without its usual condescending undertone.
‘You could have done something.’
Snape peered down at her in disbelief, his scorn for her ignorance manifested in his bearing. ‘I did everything I could to ensure his suffering was minimal.’
‘You forced him to kill!’ Tonks was shouting furiously now. ‘And you made him live with it. He could not have suffered more.’
‘I did not make him live with it.’ Snape’s voice was soft as he inclined his head with a small, victorious smile. Gleeful, that’s what he was, revelling in the news simply because it was something he knew that others did not. Tonks looked ready to slap him, her hand twitching at her side.
‘What?’ Harry asked sharply, his silence abandoned.
‘Lupin is dead.’
‘A slight modification to the potion I was testing. Not completely necessary, but I felt it would have produced results the Dark Lord would have been pleased with. It was, unfortunately, fatal.’ Snape turned to meet Harry’s glare with a challenging smirk of his own. ‘Does this count as something for which you could never forgive me?’
Harry answered the question with one of his own. ‘Why didn’t you do it sooner?’ Snape practically chuckled.
‘Actively encouraging the murder of one of your friends are you now, Potter?’
‘You could have done that straight away. The first test you ever forced down his throat could have contained that exact same mistake. Why wait?’
‘Because I was much more willing to undergo punishment for killing a test subject who had outlived his usefulness than I was to invite certain death by making a mistake at a crucial stage for which there would have been no forgiveness. Lupin understood this, I would like to think you would not insult his memory by refusing to do so yourself.’
‘Don’t you dare, Snape,’ Tonks interrupted angrily. ‘Don’t make him feel guilty for being angry with you when he has every right to be.’
‘I will not justify my every decision over the past quarter of a century to him, Nymphadora.’
‘I am not asking you to.’ Tonks bristled at the use of her first name. ‘Just show a little understanding.’
‘When I get none in return?’
‘You are the elder here, so why don’t you act like it?’
‘I want to go home,’ Harry said quietly, glaring again at Snape, although with more defeat than anger as his shoulders slumped.
‘We have spoken on this, and I already said it is most likely impossible.’
‘But not completely impossible,’ Harry commented sullenly.
‘No, not completely,’ Snape admitted disdainfully, inhaling offensively through his hooked nose. ‘However, as previously ascertained, I cannot bring a Time-Turner to you. They are too heavily warded. Therefore my only hope would be to take you to a Time-Turner, and despite your obvious preconceptions, I am not willing to lead you into the Dark Lord’s inner sanctum.’
‘I want to go home,’ he said with more force, as Harry wrapped his cloak more tightly around him, blinking back against the stinging in his eyes. ‘And I certainly don’t want to spend another minute with you.’
‘Then by all means, go. You know where the door is.’ Snape gestured dismissively across the room, and Harry didn’t pause, jumping to his feet and stalking towards the closed door. He heard a clatter behind him, Tonks toppling her chair as she forced it backwards and skirted the table. She elbowed Snape fiercely in the ribs as she passed him, muttering something under her breath.
‘Harry, no.’ He paused at Tonks words, and the hand that rested on his shoulder, not wanting to turn around. ‘I can’t let you go now. I’d be killing you if I did.’ If possible, Harry felt even more torn. It wasn’t like had a clue where he could go or what he could do if he left. Returning to Grimmauld Place was the only option, and once there, then what? He couldn’t spend his life holed up in the dusty old place, and he didn’t even want to consider it. He wanted his friends, his life and his bloody time back. He’d have to avoid Dementors, find himself wary of every single person, all the while hoping that some miraculous solution would just drop into his lap. ‘Whilst sending you back is unlikely at the moment.’ She ignored Snape’s snort in the background, which reminded Harry of exactly why he couldn’t damn well stay here either. ‘It will be impossible if you are dead.’
He couldn’t survive like this either though. ‘I won’t stay here and listen to him lie all the time.’ Harry jerked his head towards Snape, whose retort was no more than a brief and somewhat habitual snarl.
‘I haven’t lied to you, Potter,’ the man sneered from where he had moved behind the desk vacated by Tonks, and was even now prodding various chance items with the end of his wand. ‘I wouldn’t waste the breath.’
The hand clenched his shoulder even tighter, and Harry found it hard to breathe through the hammering of rage in his head. ‘Shut up, Snape, you really aren’t helping.’ Tonks voice was weighted with exasperation as she closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath that Harry mechanically mirrored.
‘I won’t forgive him,’ he said bluntly.
‘And you shouldn’t. He did some terrible things.’
‘All of which enabled me to be here now, risking my life for a jumped up brat with absolutely no appreciation,’ Snape cut in again, a musty book now open in his hands, which he was scanning disinterestedly. ‘Let him go.’ He engrossed himself in his reading again, righting the chair with an easy flick of his wand and waving his hand absently towards the window and the street outside. ‘I’m sure Draco would be absolutely overjoyed to see him again.’
‘What does Malfoy have to do with it?’ Harry asked heatedly. ‘I thought you said he was stuck up at the school?’
Snape seemed to spend an obscene amount of time seating himself comfortably, adjusting his robes carefully and doing nothing to hide his smirk. ‘He knows you are here,’ he eventually offered, reclining slightly as though to better enjoy their reaction.
‘What?’ Both Harry and Tonks exclaimed together.
‘I suspect he knows you are here,’ Snape corrected reluctantly, since he had earned their unwavering attention, snapping the book shut and sliding it back into the drawer he had been searching. ‘He certainly dropped enough hints for me to at least be suspicious.’ Harry tried to believe that Snape was making it up, the way he seemed quite happy to make up whatever he thought it would take to manipulate Harry into do as he wanted. ‘However, he did not seem aware that I was with you, which does give me the faintest glimmer of hope that he is exaggerating his knowledge, or simply just trying to rattle me.’
‘I wish you weren’t with me.’ Harry glowered to himself.
‘The feeling is more than mutual.’ Snape evidently took great pleasure in ignoring the rhetoric, as he stood and leant across the desk, hands splayed on the surface. ‘Perhaps now I can finally get it through your thick skull that it is more than just your life at risk.’
‘Don’t think you can handle Malfoy?’ Harry couldn’t stop himself from throwing it out maliciously. ‘That scared of someone half your age?’
‘The only thing keeping him from killing me is my obvious importance to the Dark Lord, and the displeasure he would face was he to try,’ Snape quirked an eyebrow, his tone neither conciliatory nor justifying. ‘He is just looking for an excuse, Potter, and you may well prove to be it.’
More than anything, Harry hated how different what he considered the most predictable of things had become. ‘I thought he looked up to you.’
‘He did, once, until he discovered something that changed his mind.’ Snape’s accompanying laugh was humourless.
Harry narrowed his eyes and gestured rudely, needing some outlet for his anger and finding the act wonderfully liberating. ‘Well, if you will display that noble streak of yours for all to see.’ Snape’s hand twitched at his side.
‘Will you two please give it a rest?’ Tonks’ exasperated snap was aimed mostly at Snape, although it was Harry she stepped in front of, kneeling so that he found himself looking uncomfortably down on her pleading features. ‘You don’t have to like him,’ she said beseechingly. ‘You don’t have to forgive him. But you do have to trust him, apparently more than ever now.’
It was hard, when Tonks was obviously so desperate to make him stay, but Harry was not about to give Snape an inch, even if the bastard only used it to hang himself. ‘I wouldn’t trust the git to do anything expect possibly poison me when I’m not looking.’
‘He’s the only one who can help you,’ Tonks tried to reason, casting Snape a meaningful look, asking – practically begging - him to help diffuse the situation, instead of continuing to antagonise it further.
Harry accompanied her look with a glare of his own. ‘Fat lot of help he’s been so far.’
‘You are still alive, are you not, although given your stunning intellect I admit it can sometimes be difficult to tell.’ Harry yelled something furiously insulting, but Snape just rolled his eyes at Harry’s outrage and Tonks despairing sigh. He slammed his wand down on the desk, so it rested just beneath his palm, the dull sound reverberating through the air. ‘Listen, Potter, because I will only say this once. Just because the most obvious option seems impossible, that does not mean a solution cannot be found. I will do everything in my power to see you returned. Merlin knows it’s not as if my future doesn’t rest upon this too.’
‘Because you only joined Voldemort at Dumbledore’s request?’ Harry mocked, unwilling to let anything drop. ‘I’m sure that if you sent me back you’d really struggle to find another convenient excuse for your betrayal.’
‘Do not say his name, Potter,’ was Snape’s only reply, his voice now flat and emotionless as he stared unblinking at Harry. It wasn’t enough. Harry wanted the man to do something other than just stand there and look as though the world owed him one huge favour.
The only thing Harry believe owed to Snape was one equally huge comeuppance. ‘What would you rather I called him, then, because I’m not sure I can say ‘the Dark Lord’ that many times and keep a straight face.’
‘I do not care, figure it out for yourself.’ Snape seemed beyond caring now, gesturing glibly as he turned his back on the pair, Tonks pushing herself stiffly to her feet. ‘You obviously believe you have all the answers you need.’
Harry found himself shouting as the man returned to his haphazard search of the shop. ‘I have enough to know you are a scheming, back stabbing bastard who would probably as soon sell me out to Volde…You-Know-Who as you would look at me!’
Snape’s reply was calm and simple. ‘If I were to turn you over now, I would be killed for not doing it sooner.’
‘Oh, so that’s supposed to change my mind, is it?’ Harry raved. ‘Convince me that you’re not out for blood?’
Snape didn’t even bother to look up this time, tapping his wand methodically along the shelves, looking and probing and all but ignoring Harry beyond his indifferent words. ‘You don’t have to trust me, Potter, but you’ll find things would be a lot easier if you did.’
‘Do you agree with him?’ Harry asked Tonks suddenly, staring at her accusingly, needing some sort of understanding. She regarded the Potions Master with contempt, but the longer she thought on it, the more Harry knew what her answer was going to be, and the more he no longer wanted her to say anything.
‘Much as it pains me to say it, yes.’ Harry frowned at her in betrayal.
‘You trust him?’
‘To a point.’
‘You said you didn’t earlier.’
Tonks just shook her head. ‘I said I would rather it didn’t have to be him. But it is, and there is nothing we can do to change that at the moment.’ She shrugged apologetically as Snape rammed a final book back into place, the stand wobbling precariously.
‘Your faith in me is heart-warming, really,’ he sneered, looking contemptuously around him. ‘And you have absolutely nothing of use in this place.’
‘What did you expect? It’s your laws that get us searched every other day,’ Tonks retorted. ‘And you came back alone. I didn’t really think you would.’
‘I live to surprise,’ Snape’s tone was curt. He looked more tired when he turned back to Harry, though, steeling himself to holding his tongue against another barrage of insults. ‘So, Potter, have you made up your mind yet?’ Harry scowled, but made no further move to leave. ‘Shall I take your resounding ability to articulate a response of some sort to mean you aren’t about to disappear, and thereby selfishly sentence us all to this future?’
‘I still don’t forgive you.’ Harry bit back.
‘Heaven forbid I should forget!’
‘But I trust you’ll at least try to get me back.’ The words left an unpleasant lump in his throat, one that he couldn’t swallow away.
‘Finally,’ Snape declared with a sweeping gesture, sitting down heavily on the nearest chair. He slumped back ungracefully, holding up his hand to stall either question or comment. ‘If you would be so good as to shut up for a minute and stop with such melodramatic scenes, perhaps we can decide upon what to do with you now.’ He glanced up through his thin hair, adding quickly - ‘something upon which we can all agree,’ - as Harry looked prepared to launch into another tirade. ‘We apparently have even less time than I had hoped for.’
‘That may not be necessary,’ Tonks offered quietly.
‘There may be another way to find Harry what he needs.’
His posture became marginally more attentive, but Snape still looked doubtful. ‘That is unlikely, unless you have somehow managed to secrete an illegal and heavily hunted item about your person for the last twenty years.’ He gave her a leering, if half-hearted, sweep with his eyes. ‘I know you have not.’
‘Not exactly,’ Tonks said with a grin that looked almost malevolent on her wrinkled face. ‘You weren’t the only one to receive a last request from Albus, though.’
Snape fell back again with a sigh, running a hand down his face. ‘I highly doubt even Albus’ astounding foresight could have predicted exactly what Potter now needs, nor found a way to ensure one has remained accessible.’
‘No, but he may have left a few ideas floating around.’ Tonks said it enticingly, smiling as Snape looked up in slow comprehension, his face once again a mask of determination.
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