Tonks braced herself for a rough impact with the ground, but it didn’t come. They landed, of course, but, in addition to Remus’ arms around her, Tonks could feel a cushioning sensation run the length of her body. In an instant, she took stock of the situation. She realized the object gained from her Disarming Spell felt far larger than a wand in her hand, and she looked up just in time to see the jet of light from Remus’ wand rebound, thankfully shooting off into the trees.
Tonks and Remus turned their heads sharply toward a booming voice as the ground shook slightly with heavy footsteps.
“Hagrid,” Remus said with a sigh, relief flooding his voice.
Tonks looked to her hand and found that, instead of a wand, she was grasping Hagrid’s pink flowery umbrella. She gave a quick flick of her wand to cancel her Shield Charm, and looked up into Remus’ face, which was mere inches from her own. Now that she knew they weren’t in immediate danger, she took a moment to enjoy the feel of his lean body lying atop hers.
“My backside seems to be in your debt again,” Tonks said with a cheeky grin.
“A Cushioning Charm seemed the gentlemanly thing to do,” he replied with a grin of his own. “I did say I would endeavor to keep your backside safe.”
Hagrid grasped Remus’ shoulders and lifted him easily to his feet, unfortunately interrupting their exchange. “Lupin? That you? Who’s that with yeh?”
“You might want this back,” Tonks said as she lifted it toward Hagird, who was now towering over her.
“Tonks!” Hagrid said cheerfully, reaching down to grab his umbrella from one hand and pulling Tonks to her feet with the other. “Haven’ seen yeh in ages.”
Hagrid swiped his huge hand down the back of her body to brush away the leaves clinging to her clothing. Tonks’ tiny body being no match for his strength, he knocked her into Remus, who thankfully caught her before she toppled to the ground.
“Hello, Professor,” Tonks said, laughing as she grasped Remus’ arms for support. Hagrid was rambling on about the last time he saw Tonks at Hogwarts—something about a mishap with a broomstick and one of the Weasley boys—still attempting to brush debris from her back while Remus held her close to his body to keep her from falling.
“I believe I owe Hagrid a thank you for allowing me to assist him in this matter,” Remus said with a mischievous grin, earning more giggles from Tonks.
“Hagrid,” Tonks said loudly around her laughter. “I’ll take it from here, mate.”
“Oh, righ’,” he said as he pulled his hand away. “How’d yeh find me?”
“Macnair’s tracking you,” Tonks said as Remus steadied her on her feet. “We figured out how to follow the spell.”
“Tha’ ruddy bastard,” Hagrid said with a shake of his head. “How’d yeh know he was followin’ me?”
Tonks shivered. The air was much cooler in northern Poland than it had been in southern France. Locating her rucksack that had fallen to the ground upon their arrival, she opened it and pulled the hooded sweatshirt from inside. Her cloak would be warmer, but the hoodie wouldn’t cause trouble maneuvering through the woods. She contemplated her fuzzy socks for a moment, but decided the heavy boots she’d donned would be enough for now.
“It’s a long story,” she said as she pulled the sweatshirt over her head and set her bag aside. “But we know he’s hoping to cause you some trouble on your trip back.”
“We’ve just left Madame Maxime,” Remus said.
“Good ter know she made it back all righ’,” Hagrid said with a heavy sigh. He went on to fill them in with the quick version of what transpired during their time with the giants, ending with informing them that Madame Maxime decided to return to her school rather than travel any further with him. “Anyway, she lef’ ter get back ter her school. So that jus’ leaves me gettin’ back ter Hogwarts.”
“From what we’ve heard, you’ll not be returning to Hogwarts alone,” Remus said, raising his eyebrows.
Hagrid wrung his hands together, looking sheepish. “Told yeh ‘bout that, did she?”
“Madame Maxime kept her word,” Remus replied levelly.
Tonks watched Hagrid wring his hands further before looking up into his worried eyes. Her brows crinkled in confusion as she properly took in the state of his face. Tonks knew a bit about nosebleeds and black eyes, given that she’d had a fair few of each in her lifetime, as clumsy as she was. Hagrid had a trail of dried blood leading into his unkempt beard as well as the beginnings of a bruise surrounding one of his eyes.
“What sort of trouble has this pet been?” Tonks asked suspiciously. Hagrid attempted to protest, and Tonks rolled her eyes gestured to his face. “You look like you’ve gone a few rounds, and not with Macnair. I’d wager you could take him in a fist fight.”
“I wouldn’ call it trouble, really,” Hagrid said, avoiding Tonks’ gaze.
Tonks started to say it looked like trouble, but Remus held up his hand to stop her. He was looking at Hagrid with a serious expression, seeming to be taking in his injuries.
“This isn’t one of your ordinary pets, is it?” Remus asked cautiously.
Tonks almost laughed at any of Hagrid’s pets being ‘ordinary’, but saw the look on Remus’ face and wondered what it was that he seemed to know, or at least had guessed.
Hagrid looked peeved for a moment before replying indignantly, “More like a member of me family than he is a pet.” His shoulders slumped as he heaved a sigh. “Come on, then. Reckon I should show yeh.”
Tonks shot Remus a questioning look as they started to follow Hagrid winding through the trees. She held her wand at the ready, not entirely sure what they were going to encounter when they met whatever beast Hagrid decided was his new pet. They walked up a short hill and stopped next to Hagrid where he was staring into the shallow valley on the other side of the hill. He glanced at Remus and Tonks nervously before gesturing to follow. They walked a few meters and stopped. At first, Tonks wasn’t sure what they were looking at. Then she saw it. Nestled amongst the trees was what looked like a large group of boulders, except one boulder appeared to have hair. Upon further scrutiny, Tonks could see distinct arms and legs curled close to a body. The boulder with hair seemed to be a head.
Tonks gasped and jumped closer to Remus, stumbling over a branch before clutching his arm for balance. “What the—bloody—bugger—” Tonks stammered.
“Well put,” Remus said beside her in a choked voice, moving an arm around her shoulders to steady her.
“H-Hagrid, is that…” Tonks clapped a hand over her mouth. She shot a look of slight panic at Remus before lowering her hand and whispering, “Is that a giant?”
Hagrid nodded, tears leaking at the corners of his eyes. “He’s me half-brother,” he replied.
“This is the pet Macnair was referring to?” Tonks asked shrilly.
“Shh! Ye’ll wake ‘im,” Hagrid whispered frantically.
Tonks raised her wand and cast a Muffliato spell. “What the buggeration are you thinking?” she yelled.
“I couln’ jus’ leave ‘im,” Hagrid said, tears now flowing freely down his face, running into the tangled mass of his beard.
“Couldn’t you?” Tonks said exasperatedly. She took pity on him and reached into Remus’ bag and rummaged for the massive handkerchief, handing it to Hagrid.
“Ta,” he said, wiping his face.
Remus took a deep breath and placed his arm back around Tonks before breaking his shocked silence. “Hagrid.” He stopped to take another breath. “What is your plan, exactly?”
“I have ter bring him back with me,” Hagrid said, still wiping tears from his face.
“Brother or not, he can’t come back to Hogwarts with you!” Tonks yelled.
“Don’t you ‘Nymphadora’ me, Remus! If I knew what it was I would middle-name you right now,” she cried before taking a deep breath. “Dumbledore wants us all to keep a low profile, doesn’t he?”
“It’s John, and he does,” Remus said with a nod.
Tonks found that his calm demeanor was infuriating her rather than calming her, but happily filed away his middle name in her memory. “Don’t you think that waltzing into the grounds with a giant in tow might raise suspicion?”
Remus tightened his grip on the hand that hadn’t left her shoulders and leaned down close to her ear. Tonks relaxed into his side as he spoke softly to her. “You’re right. Albus certainly wants us to maintain a low profile.”
“A giant hardly fits that bill,” Tonks argued.
“I agree. But, let’s hear if he has a plan.” Remus looked up hopefully at Hagrid, who had composed himself and was tucking his enormous handkerchief into the pocket of his cloak.
Tonks took a deep breath, and gave Remus a slight glare. “Hagrid, please tell me you’re plan includes returning that bloke to his colony.”
“Er, don’ really have a plan,” he replied. “But I know he can’ go back.”
“He bloody well needs to!” Tonks said, feeling her temper rising again. She had no problem with Hagrid being half-giant, but he’d lived amongst wizards his whole life. If he thought he was going to tame this giant, Tonks guessed he must have lost the plot completely. “You do realize he’ll knock your cabin to bits with one go of his fist?” she said, gesturing wildly with one hand at the giant.
“He can’ go back,” Hagrid repeated. “They were bullyin’ ‘im, they were. I couldn’ leave him behind ter be killed.” He gestured to his face before continuing. “He jus’ don’ know his own strength, is all. He’ll be all righ’ in the Forbidden Forest.”
Tonks could tell there was no talking sense into him now, and it was starting to get dark. Peering at her watch, she realized it hadn’t yet gone six, but being surrounded by the dense forest, there was hardly any sunlight left. She gave a huff of frustration and turned to Remus. “I’m going to secure the area with some protective wards. Please talk some sense into him while I’m gone.”
Not bothering to wait for an answer, Tonks climbed out of the shallow valley. Fuming a little at the ridiculousness of Hagrid thinking he was going to sneak a full grown giant home with him, she decided to walk a short distance in order to give the giant a wide berth—and shake off her temper—before casting any protective spells. She raised her wand, hoping to decipher the spell Hagrid had been maintaining when they tracked him. Detecting a Muggle-Repelling spell Tonks chanted, “Protego Totalum” as she swept her wand in a downward motion, knowing they needed something other than protection from Muggles since they were the least of their problems at the moment. She began circling around where Remus and Hagrid were standing guard, continuing to cast her protective enchantment. As she rounded to the opposite side of the wide circle she was walking, Tonks heard two nearly simultaneous cracks of Apparition close by.
In a maneuver fast enough to make Mad-Eye proud, Tonks dropped to her stomach on the forest floor and quickly cast a Disillusionment Charm on herself. She looked around feverishly for the source of Apparition, but saw nothing save for trees. Concentrating, she closed her eyes and listened. She hoped that since she hadn’t completed her circle, Remus had heard the arrival as well.
Focusing on the sounds she could hear around her, she picked out what sounded like slow footsteps crunching over the brush on the forest floor. She opened her eyes and looked around again. The footsteps stopped, and Tonks held her breath, listening closely. Finally, she heard the low rumble of a male voice.
“It looks clear,” the voice said.
Tonks could tell they were very near and just behind her. She lifted her head slowly and stared over her shoulder, scanning around the trees for movement. The shimmer of a Disillusionment Charm caught her eye just before she saw a man’s body slowly take form; his head appearing as the charm lifted, trickling down to reveal the rest of his body. Walden Macnair.
“We’re not alone,” Macnair said.
“Of course we’re not alone,” a second voice replied impatiently. “Aren’t we here to track that oaf?”
Tonks’ eyes widened in surprise, realizing that she recognized the second voice as that of Avery. His identity was confirmed a moment later as she watched his charm lift.
“Someone’s cast some wards,” Macnair said.
Tonks raised her head slightly to see Macnair raising his wand. “And I guarantee it wasn’t Hagrid by the feel of them,” he said. “Far too good.”
“Reckon it’s one of Dumbledore’s lot?” Avery asked with obvious disgust.
Macnair gave a grunt before muttering, “Homenum Revelio.”
Shit. Tonks pushed up to her hands and knees so she could scramble behind the protection of a large tree, caring little for the rustling noise her movements were making. If she was going to have to fight two of them, she would rather start in a better position than sprawled on the forest floor. Warring with herself as to whether or not to send up a red spark to alert Remus, giving away her position, or attempt to take them on herself, her decision was made for her as she felt a rush of air flutter over her body. Even though she was kneeling behind the tree, Tonks knew that the spell would reveal her positon.
“We know you’re here,” Macnair taunted. “Might as well come out and fight.”
Tonks quickly scrunched her face and morphed her features, rounding out her face and darkening her eyes. She took a hasty peek around her hiding spot and saw Macnair and Avery less than ten meters from the tree behind which she was hiding, turning slow circles with their wands at the ready.
The chill trickling down her body alerted Tonks that her Disillusionment Charm had been cancelled. They’d know exactly where she was in seconds. Quickly congratulating herself on her choice of sweatshirt versus her cloak, she took a deep breath and moved from her knees to her feet, crouching low. Deciding that she would like to take out Avery first since she’d wanted to hex him since the party the previous week, she raised her wand and sent a nonverbal Stunner at him.
Avery whirled toward her spell and shielded himself, quickly sending a Stunner towards Tonks. His spell glanced off the tree near her head. Another Stunner followed, Tonks assumed from Macnair. She ducked as the tree shielding her exploded from what she guessed was a well-aimed Reductor Curse. Tonks took advantage of the chaos of exploding tree bits flying and pivoted, sending her next spell from the other side of where her cover had been, hitting Avery square in the chest, toppling him to the ground.
She sprung to her feet, throwing up a hasty Shield Charm as Macnair’s first spell shot toward her. They dueled fiercely, parrying and firing spell after spell at each other. They were well matched in skill; she was quicker, but he was ruthless.
“Give up, girl,” Macnair spat. “You’re no match.”
“No match?” Tonks asked mockingly, satisfied that Macnair was breathing heavy. “That what you think?”
Macnair gave a growl before he unleashed his next spell. Tonks felt her feet pulled out from under her. She had a brief flash of annoyance that of all the jinxes he could use, it had to be the Trip Jinx. Her annoyance was short lived. She felt the crack of a rib breaking as the force of his spell knocked her flat on her back. Her head contacted either a rock or a large tree branch, she couldn’t be sure which. All she was sure of was the blinding pain at the base of her skull and the stars she saw dancing in her vision.
Before she could even blink away her blurring vision, she tried to roll to get back to her feet, but felt the heavy weight of a body tackle her back to the ground. She brought her wand arm up and realized with dread that she must have dropped her wand when she hit the ground. As her eyes opened, the livid, albeit blurry, face of Macnair loomed over her. In that moment, she knew exactly why people called him a nasty bloke and why Severus had warned her. His face was contorted in in a look of rage as he brought one large hand to her throat and squeezed hard, his fingers clutching tightly. Tonks used the adrenaline surging through her to her advantage and fought and kicked, trying to free herself from beneath his heavy weight.
She tried in vain to drag air into her lungs, but his hand was like a vice. Concentrating with all her force, she used her left hand to cast two wandless Stinging Jinxes to Macnair’s torso, while her right hand grabbed at the forest floor, trying to locate her wand. He yelped in pain, but tightened his grip further, his fingers digging into her neck while his thumb pushed mercilessly against the pulse in her neck.
Tonks hoped at this point that Remus’ wolfie hearing would pick up their scuffle. Or that he had seen the jets of light from their spells in the darkening forest. Feeling herself getting faint, she continued to run her hand around beside her, searching desperately for her wand. Relief shot through her as her hand touched the smooth length of wood. Tonks grasped her wand and shot red sparks into the air before Macnair dropped his wand and grabbed her by the wrist, attempting to wrestle her wand away again.
She couldn’t panic. Wouldn’t. Thinking of Mad-Eye and all his paranoid teaching and advice, she knew there had to be something he’d taught her that would be useful in this moment. It suddenly hit her what she needed to do. His gruff voice cut through the fog in her mind, telling her what to do if she ever found herself in a brawl with a man. If she’d had it in her just then, she would have smiled. Going completely still, she stopped struggling and closed her eyes. Imagining that she was drawing a deep breath to calm herself, she concentrated all her strength in her right leg and brought her knee swiftly and brutally up to meet the junction of Macnair’s legs. She opened her eyes just in time to see his eyes bulge in shock with the blow. A load groan emitted from his lips as his grip slackened from her throat, and he rolled to the side, his body curling into a fetal position.
Tonks gasped loudly and dragged air into her lungs. Realizing that she didn’t want to fight off Avery in her condition if he woke from his Stunner, she lifted her arm and once again shot red sparks in the air. As she continued to gasp for breath, she pointed her wand to Macnair, moaning pathetically next to her, and managed to whisper “Incarcerous”, binding his hands and his feet with ropes.
Tonks heard heavy footsteps nearing and hoped fervently that it was Remus. Relief flooded her body as she heard him call her name from nearby. She sent up a third flare of red sparks to guide him to her. Still soaring on adrenaline from her fight, Tonks pushed the dead weight of Macnair’s heavy body away from hers and scrambled up to her hands and knees. She coughed violently, and gagged, nearly vomiting for the second time that day. Her throat burned in protest. Knowing that she would likely need some healing spells for her rib and her head, Tonks closed her eyes and concentrated on morphing her face back to her own and her hair to its natural state.
Opening her eyes again, Tonks flicked her wand twice and murmured “Lumos Maxima”, lighting up the area with a comforting glow. Running footsteps stopped abruptly and she heard Remus swear loudly before he picked up Macnair by his hunched shoulders and threw him aside. He dropped to the ground next to her, wrapping his strong arms around her and made to pull her to a sitting position. She winced and gave a small cry as his arm tightened around her injured rib.
“Don’t,” she rasped through her aching throat, trying to steady her breathing. The world seemed to spin and her vision was still blurry. “Give me a minute.”
Remus released his hold on Tonks. She saw him moving his wand over her body, muttering incantations under his breath. He swore again angrily. Tonks realized she had rarely, if ever, heard him swear, especially not as harshly as he had just now and moments before when he’d come across her current situation.
“You have a concussion,” he said tightly. “And at least one broken rib.”
Tonks steeled herself with a deep breath and crawled, pushing herself to sit on her heels, keeping her aching head lowered. She closed her eyes against the dizziness and grasped Remus’ arm to steady herself.
“Looks like you Stunned that one.” Tonks guessed Remus was referring to Avery lying a few meters from them, still knocked out cold. “Macnair’s still conscious, but looks to be in a bad way. What’d you do to him?”
“Knee. Bollocks,” Tonks said hoarsely. She raised her head to look at Remus, ready to tell him what happened.
Remus gave a satisfied chuckle. “Serves him right, I expect. Although how you got close—”
He stopped abruptly when he caught sight of her neck. It ached almost as badly as her head, so she was sure it must look terrible.
A look of understanding crossed his features before they tightened into look of fury. He rose quickly to his feet, crossed the short distance to where Macnair slumped in a heap and Stunned him. With what looked like no effort, Remus picked him up roughly by the front of his robes and dragged him over to where Avery was sprawled on his back and threw him unceremoniously to the ground next to him.
“Incarcerous,” he said gruffly, binding the two men together.
Remus walked slowly back to Tonks and dropped to his knees in front of her. He picked up a pine cone and Transfigured into a cup, filled it with water from his wand and handed it to her. After Tonks had taken a welcome drink, he pushed her hair back behind her ears and touched her neck tenderly, pulling his fingers back when she flinched at his touch.
“Tell me what happened,” he said. His voice that had been so rough with anger just moments before was now the gentle, comforting voice she was accustomed to.
Tonks took a deep shuttering breath and told him what had transpired after she’d walked away from him and Hagrid. When she reached the bit about the Trip Jinx, Remus moved around to her back and gently tipped her head forward, parting her hair to assess the damage. As she finished her story, he moved back to kneel in front of her.
“I should have cancelled the damn Tracking Spell the moment we found Hagrid,” she said, shaking her head, cringing at the movement. She was frustrated at her mistake.
“Being distracted by a giant makes one lose their train of thought,” Remus murmured as he lit his wand and used it to peer into both of Tonks’ eyes.
Tonks groaned and closed her eyes to the light. “No light. It hurts,” she said with a moan. “Feels like there’s a bloody Bludger bouncing round my head.”
“You need a Healer for the concussion and the cut on the back of your head,” Remus said as he rose to his feet. “And we need to decide what to do with these two.”
“We should unleash Hagrid’s pet on them,” Tonks mumbled. “Did you manage to talk any sense into him?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Remus said with a sigh. “But, he’s ready to move. I gave him the supplies Dumbledore sent along. If he wants to go ahead with his plan, he’s on his own.”
“We can at least give him a head start now that it’s dark,” Tonks said. “End the Tracking Spell and tell him to get a move on. Those two should be out for a bit.” She gestured at the two Death Eaters bound together. “Between their binds and an Anti-Apparition Jinx, they won’t be able to go anywhere for quite a while. Leave them their wands and they’ll be able to get home eventually.”
Remus reached down and pulled Tonks gently to her feet, wrapping an arm around her to steady her. She winced as his hand brushed against her rib, and swayed dizzily, leaning against his body for support.
“You need a Healer for the concussion,” he said as he kneeled once more in front of her, guiding her hands to rest on his shoulders for support. “But I can fix your rib.”
Tonks sighed as she removed her hands from Remus’ shoulders to pull one arm through the sleeves of her t-shirt and sweat shirt. She swayed again, and Remus placed his hands on her hips to steady her. “This isn’t quite how I pictured you seeing me topless for the first time,” she said regretfully.
Remus hummed in agreement as he moved her shirts out of the way with one of his large hands. “I was thinking your couch would be the preferable location.” He chuckled lightly as he pushed her shirts up to rest on her shoulder, revealing her purple and pink polka dotted bra. “Why am I not surprised that even your undergarments are colorful?”
Tonks gripped his shoulders to steady herself against the dizziness. She grinned as she shivered, thinking it was likely as much from the warm hand moving across her ribcage as it was the cold air reaching her skin. Her grin turned to a grimace as his hand ran over the spot that was clearly broken. Remus shifted his body so he was kneeling at her side, closer to the broken bone. Feeling the tip of Remus’ wand touch the spot, she drew a breath and heard him mutter “Episky”, repeating the incantation on another spot just below the first.
Remus moved his hands back to Tonks’ hips. “All done,” he declared before pressing a kiss to the spot he’d just healed.
“Thank you, Professor,” Tonks said, very much wishing they weren’t in the middle of a Polish forest with a giant and two Death Eaters to deal with. She’d like nothing better than to snuggle up next to him on the couch, letting him continue to kiss her injuries.
Remus stood and helped Tonks push her arm through her sleeves, keeping ahold of her other arm. She turned toward Macnair and Avery, unconscious and bound a few meters away and cast the Anti-Disapparition Jinx. Even though the thought of the two men being eaten by a wild animal was tempting, she decided that she couldn’t let that happen, and so cast a few protective enchantments around them.
“There,” she said triumphantly. “Those blokes won’t be going anywhere soon.” Tonks conjured her Patronus, sending it ahead to light the way through the dark forest.
“I don’t want to trip over something I can’t see while carrying you in front, so why don’t you climb on my back.”
“I don’t need you to carry me,” Tonks said defiantly, clutching his arm to keep him from moving to crouch. The last thing she wanted was to be perceived as weak in anybody’s eyes, even Remus. She was a woman in a mostly male profession, the youngest member of the Order, and greatly hopeful to prove herself in both positions. Even if it meant that she needed to stumble back to Hagrid, she wanted to do it on her feet.
“Don’t you?” he asked with an amused look.
“Just help me along.”
“It’s quite a way back to Hagrid, and you’re barely steady on your feet simply standing.”
“I can walk.” Tonks took a step forward, attempting to pull Remus along with her. Nearly toppling to the ground, she huffed in irritation as Remus’ hands pulled her back to her feet.
“Are you always this stubborn?”
“You should take tea with my mother,” Tonks grumbled, realizing that she was fighting a losing battle. “You two can call me stubborn together.”
“Your cousin tells me your mother’s company is quite enjoyable,” Remus said pleasantly as he crouched down in front of her. “Hold on to my shoulders and climb on.”
Tonks almost shook her head in amusement at the thought of riding him piggy-backed, but then remembered that she didn’t want to send the Bludger in her head rolling around again. She slid her arms over his shoulders, wrapping them around his body and clasping her hands together at his chest. Relieved—not that she would admit it—that he was going to carry her, Tonks rested her head on his upper back and laid her body against his, climbing gingerly onto his back and grasping his body between her knees. Remus stood easily and adjusted his hands under her thighs.
He gave her legs a squeeze with his large hands and walked forward, following her Patronus. “This is much more enjoyable than stumbling back, don’t you think?”
“I don’t like feeling like some damsel in distress,” Tonks replied with a pout. Remus chuckled, to which Tonks scowled and asked, “What’s so bloody funny?”
“I find it amusing that you think yourself a damsel in distress,” Remus said with notable pleasure in his voice. “Did you happen to note the state of those men we left behind? One unconscious, one who will certainly have trouble walking in the coming days. I’d say your dueling skills measure up to their reputation.”
Tonks couldn’t help but smile as she closed her eyes and enjoyed being basically wrapped around Remus’ body. “Thank you for the ride,” she said softly.
“It’s the least I can do after allowing you to be placed in the situation you were tonight,” Remus said as he ducked slightly under a low-lying tree branch.
“Don’t,” Tonks said, unclasping her hands and thumping one against his chest.
“Don’t blame yourself.” Tonks took advantage of the opportunity of having unclasped her hands and rested both hands against Remus’ chest, happily enjoying the feel of muscle under her hands. She sensed them walking downhill and tightened her grip. “The work we do is dangerous. Every now and again, it’s likely someone will get hurt.”
“I shouldn’t have let you wander away on your own. That’s why we work with partners.”
“And I should have cancelled the Tracking Spell straightaway, but I didn’t. Looks like we both learned something. Besides,” Tonks said while giving him a squeeze with her legs. “My partner is coming to my aid brilliantly right now.”
Remus squeezed Tonks’ thighs again in response and continued down the hill, finally making it to where a fretful Hagrid waited with the giant. They filled him in on what had happened, glossing over the worst of Macnair’s treatment, reassuring him that Tonks would be all right and just needed some rest and a Healer to check her over. After Hagrid threw out some choice words about Macnair and his brutish tactics, Remus had to remind him that he needed to cover as much ground as possible before they woke and there was no time for him to give the Death Eater a taste of his own medicine.
Tonks slid tentatively to her feet, Remus guiding her to the ground and maneuvered her around so he could hold her steady. She cancelled the Tracking Spell and told Hagrid to wake the giant and get moving as soon as she and Remus Disapparated. He said a tearful farewell and said he’d see them whenever he managed to make it back to Hogwarts.
“Where to, Professor?” Tonks asked blearily. In addition to her head throbbing and her vision still being blurred, she felt completely knackered.
“Hogwarts,” he said without pause. At Tonks’ raised eyebrows he explained, “It’s not as if we can march you into St. Mungo’s and Hestia is on guard duty tonight. It’s close to the start of term, so Poppy will be there preparing the hospital wing for the students’ arrival.”
Remus conjured his Patronus and murmured a message to Poppy before sending it on its way. “Are you ready?” he asked as he wrapped his arms around her body, holding her tightly to him. After a grunt of reply from Tonks, Remus turned them on the spot, landing a few moments later at the gates of Hogwarts.
Remus made to pick up Tonks bridal-style, but she stopped him.
“It looks less pathetic if I ride on your back,” Tonks explained, earning her a chuckle as Remus crouched again in front of her. That was only part of the truth; she had enjoyed feeling him under her body while he’d carried her through the woods and fancied another go.
“Let’s hope Poppy got the message to Albus to take down the wards,” Remus said as he straightened and carried Tonks over to the gates.
Thankfully, the gates opened, and they began their walk down the long drive to the castle. Poppy was waiting for them at the top of the steps leading up to the castle with her hands on her hips, her mouth fixed in a thin line of disapproval. As they neared, she began her rapid-fire barrage of questions.
“Remus Lupin, what is the meaning of this? Not that I’m not delighted to see you, but—” she stopped her questions to march down the steps to them. “Who is that you’re carrying on your back? Tonks, is that you? Your hair is brown! You must be injured. What in the name of Merlin happened to you two?” All of this was spoken without so much as taking a breath.
As they explained her injuries, not going into too much detail about the mission; Poppy never asked too many questions where injuries were concerned. She clucked and shook her head disapprovingly as she ran her wand over Tonks’ body. “It’s a wonder to me that you feel the need to chase after more danger. Isn’t there quite enough of that in your job?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tonks said with a small smile. She found it amusing that Poppy went back to treating her as if she were a student without so much as a blink of an eye.
“Carry her up to the hospital wing, Remus and be quite quick about it,” she said briskly. “That head needs some ice, among other things.”
After a long trek through the dark castle, they entered Poppy’s domain and were directed to a bed toward the end of the ward, close to her office. Tonks slid off Remus’ back the same way she had in the forest, and sat carefully on the bed. Her head was absolutely throbbing at this point, and she was starting to feel sick to her stomach; what she wanted most was to sleep. She began to lower her head to the pillow when Poppy suddenly snapped her fingers in front of Tonks’ face.
“Oh, no, dear, you’re not allowed to sleep yet, I’m afraid.” Tonks groaned slightly in response as Poppy Summoned an ice pack from her store cupboard and handed it to Remus. “Hold that to the back of her head while I gather some potions.”
Remus lowered himself to his knees in front of Tonks and placed the ice pack over the injury. Tonks gave him a sleepy smile. “At least our mission was successful. And we have the added benefit of not having to spend the night in the wilderness.”
“Here I was hoping you’d want to share my sleeping bag,” Remus said quietly enough that Poppy didn’t hear.
Tonks giggled and then grimaced as her head protested the laughter.
Poppy returned with a small bottle and handed it to Tonks. “This is for the headache. I need to go bother Severus for the others. Since term doesn’t start for another two weeks, I haven’t gotten everything restocked. Your job, Mr. Lupin,” she said with a commanding tone. “Is to keep Tonks awake and keep that ice pack where it is.” Tonks felt coldness seep through the pack Remus held on the back of her head and guessed that Poppy had renewed the charm.
“Then can I sleep?” Tonks asked with a yawn.
“Not until I get back and get your head sorted properly,” she said sternly.
“What’s the big deal? You’ve healed my concussions before and never made such a fuss,” Tonks complained, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, calming the nausea that continued to threaten if she kept her eyes open for too long.
“Those were mild concussions resulting from your losing battle with the many staircases in this castle,” Poppy said, her tone becoming gentler. “You’ve taken quite a blow to the head, my dear.”
“We really shouldn’t get her and Molly together.” Tonks heard the door to the hospital wing close and sighed. “Do you think it’s against her rules to rest my head on your shoulder?”
Remus scooted forward, closer to the bed and guided Tonks’ head down to his shoulder, keeping the ice pack in its spot. “I’m going to bother you with questions to keep you awake, otherwise you’ll get me in trouble.”
“What sort of questions?” Tonks asked, relishing her close contact with his body. With her head resting against his shoulder, she could smell the spicy scent of his aftershave.
“I want to know more about you. For instance, when did your Metamorphagus powers first show?”
Tonks smiled slightly at his question. She was asked that a lot. “Within hours of my birth. Apparently with one angry cry demanding food, my hair turned red. I couldn’t control it until much later, obviously. Probably not properly until I was maybe six.”
“You’re hungry all the time. Has it always been that way?”
“Yes, especially if I’ve morphed a lot. The running doesn’t help, but it keeps me sane so I can’t give that up.”
“What’s your favorite food?”
Tonks almost laughed, but though better of it. The easy banter back and forth was comforting. It was nice having her head resting so that his mouth was so close to her ear, his hoarse voice soothing her. “All of the above.”
“You truly don’t have a favorite?”
“Hmm,” she hummed thoughtfully. “My mum makes a mean Shepherd’s Pie. And croissants. I could live on croissants. What about you?”
“Chocolate,” Remus said instantly.
“That’s not a food, Professor, that’s a dessert.”
“Your favorite foods are chocolate and chips?” Tonks asked, suppressing a giggle. “I’d have expected something healthier.”
“I like healthy things, too, but you requested my favorite.”
“Fair point,” Tonks said around a wide yawn.
“No sleeping yet or you’ll get me into trouble.” Remus drew his wand and renewed the cooling charm to the ice pack before continuing. “Coffee or tea? I’ve seen you drink both almost equally.”
“Coffee in the morning, definitely. But, tea later in the day. Although lately I’ve been requiring more coffee. You prefer tea, don’t you?”
“I enjoy having coffee in the morning. But yes, my preference is tea.”
Tonks wondered if she could take advantage of their quiet surroundings for the moment and ask a question of her own; something she had been wondering for a while. Not wanting to put him on the spot, she’d decided to never ask him in front of others. And for a question such as this, she wanted to ask him herself rather than ask Sirius.
“My turn,” Tonks said, her heartbeat quickening. She didn’t want to ruin their easy exchange, but she desperately wanted to know. The arm that was wrapped around her shoulder holding the ice pack in place stiffened, as if he knew what she was going to ask. Tonks reached down and grasped his free hand that was resting on the bed next to her and threaded her fingers through his, giving his hand a slight squeeze.
“Four,” he said quietly.
Tonks was stunned into silence. The shock wasn’t that he knew her question before she’d even asked. She was shocked that he had been transforming into a werewolf once a month since he was scarcely more than a toddler.
“Four?” she repeated breathlessly.
“Nearly five,” he said roughly, as if the answer were costing him a great deal.
“Thank you for telling me,” Tonks said, squeezing his hand again. “Can I ask you one more thing?”
“You may,” Remus replied, rubbing his thumb in soothing circles over her wrist.
“Why doesn’t your Patronus ever take form?”
There was a thoughtful silence before Remus answered, “Its form is not one I wish people to associate with me.”
Tonks thought she could guess what it was, but asked anyway. “What is it?”
“Can’t you guess?” Remus asked with what Tonks was relieved to hear was a slightly amused tone.
“Will you show me?”
“Unlikely,” he replied.
“Oh, come on, I bet it’s wonderful.” Tonks gave Remus’ hand another squeeze. “You’ve seen mine, now you can show me yours.”
“Are we still talking about my Patronus?”
Tonks smiled despite knowing he was likely trying to distract her from the question. At least his distraction was a pleasant one. “I was, but if there was something else you’d like to show me, I certainly wouldn’t complain.”
Remus chuckled. “Unfortunately, with your injury and Poppy returning any minute, now isn’t quite the time for me to ‘show you mine’.”
“Don’t mind me, Mr. Lupin,” Poppy said with a laugh. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”
Tonks laughed loudly, immediately regretting it, and ended it with an equally loud moan. They had been so engrossed in their conversation that they hadn’t heard the matron return.
“Pardon us, Poppy, I was simply following your instructions and keeping Tonks awake,” Remus said lightly.
“Indeed,” she replied knowingly. “Sorry I was so long. Severus is out of the castle and I had to navigate my way through his stores to find what I need. Which I’m sure will thrill him to no end, but he’ll survive.”
Tonks raised her head from Remus’ shoulder and gave him a small smile, feeling a little shy after their conversation. Poppy removed the ice pack from the back of her head and handed her two more potions, explaining one was for the nausea and the other for the swelling. After Tonks had dutifully swallowed the potion, Poppy tipped her head forward and lightly tapped her wand to the injury, explaining that she was cleaning and healing the wound and reducing the swelling.
“Now you may get some sleep, dear,” Poppy said once she had finished her work. “Would you like me to fetch you a gown?”
Tonks grimaced at the thought of sleeping in one of the scratchy hospital wing gowns. “Can’t Remus just take me home?”
Poppy shook her head firmly. “You’re sleeping here. No more Apparating tonight. We’ll see what you look like in the morning.”
Tonks grumbled wordlessly, but decided to follow Poppy’s advice, especially if it got her healed faster. “Am I allowed to have a pee before you tuck me in?” she asked irritably, trying her best to suppress a yawn.
“Irritability and drowsiness are two of the many signs of a concussion, so you’re really just making my case for me, young lady,” Poppy replied, placing her hands on her hips. “You may use the loo and brush your teeth, and then I want you in that bed to take your last potion for the evening,”
She glared at Remus as he chuckled lightly at their exchange. “Sorry,” he said with undisguised amusement as he helped her to her feet. “I’m just glad to know I’m not the only one she bosses around.”
Tonks made it to the loo and back—stubbornly with little assistance—and sat back on the bed, waiting for Poppy’s instructions.
“Take this,” Poppy said, handing her one last vial. “It’s a longer acting pain potion. I don’t want you out of this bed until morning. You’re sure you don’t want a gown?”
“I’ll just sleep in my t-shirt,” Tonks said, yawning again as she pulled off her sweatshirt. Before retreating through her office to her chambers Poppy informed her that she would check-in on her later in the night.
Tonks looked to Remus, who was sitting casually in a nearby chair, reading the Evening Prophet he’d retrieved from somewhere. “I hope you grabbed my bag, because if not, I’m sending you back to Poland to get it.”
Remus set his paper aside and reached in his robes, pulling two tiny bags from his pocket. “Hagrid collected and shrunk both bags for me.” He restored both bags and tossed hers into her lap.
Tonks searched drowsily through her bag, pulling the fuzzy socks from the bottom. After removing her boots and socks, replacing them with the cozier version, she scooted under the covers and shimmied out of her jeans.
“Can you stay with me, or do you need to return to Headquarters?” Tonks asked, feeling silly for asking.
Remus smiled his shy smile at Tonks and rose from his seat. “Poppy said that Minerva lifted the wards for us earlier because Albus was out. I need to see if he has returned in order to give him an update.” He sat at the edge of Tonks’ bed. “But I had planned on sleeping here once I’d given my report.”
“Thanks,” Tonks said, struggling to keep her eyes open. She snuggled down under her covers and felt Remus press a kiss to her forehead.
Remus’ footsteps echoed through the empty hospital wing, the door closing a few moments later. Tonks was just drifting off to sleep when a bright light caused her to open her eyes once more. She smiled as a large wolf Patronus trotted through the room, paused at her bedside and rested on its haunches. Its mouth opened and Remus’ voice softly spoke, “Sleep well, Nymphadora.”
A/N: I hope you enjoyed the action and the conversations in this chapter...seriously one of my fave chaps so far:).
First day of school for my older kids today so it's far too quiet in my house. How about you guys liven up my day with a review! Thanks a bunch to the reviews from the last chapter, they seriously make my day.
As usual, none of it's mine. Hagrid, Madame Maxime, Remus, Tonks, the whole lot of em are Jo's. I'm glad we get to play with her universe.
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