Yes, but...: Four

by Aestel


FOUR:

Tonks put her book aside when she heard the scuff of boots on her front steps, her hand going to her wand before she even registered that she knew those footsteps. This is what living with Moody does to a girl.... Moments later, the proper tattoo of wand taps was rapped onto the door, the key turned in the lock and Mad-Eye Moody slumped into the flat.

“How was Glastonbury?” she asked in her best ‘you’ll notice I’m not hiding behind the sofa’ tone of voice.

Moody grunted and took a pull from his flask.

“That good, eh?”

“It was like the entire town was populated with Trelawneys.”

Tonks tried to stifle a smile. “Get your tea leaves read?”

Moody harrumphed from the kitchen, and Tonks could hear the clang of the kettle hitting the hob. “Did you break the last of my vases?”

“Huh?”

“There are flowers in the garbage. Is that your statue’s arm?”

“Ah. Percy was over. And Snape. For tea. We all had such a smashing time that we’ve decided to make a regular gig of it. Next time we’re dressing up like princesses… or possibly tarts and vicars—we haven’t really decided yet. Snape’s holding out for tarts and vicars, but that’s probably because he wouldn’t have to change his robes. Oh, and you’ll find your spare flask is missing some firewhisky.”

“Some?” Moody asked skeptically.

Tonks had a feeling that even now his magical eye was peering through the wall, past the somewhat banged-up statuette of Nelson, and checking into the contents of the flask. “All,” she amended unrepentantly. It was probably time for a change in topic, she decided. “You know we have another meeting tonight?”

Moody hulked back into the living room. “I got the message. What’s Dumbledore got up his sleeve this time?”

Damn. She was hoping Moody knew. “Dunno. I think it’s whatever Snape found out the Ministry was up to.”

“He didn’t tell you?”

“That man keeps secrets just for the fun of it.”

Moody did not answer immediately, but if Tonks had to guess what he was thinking, there would be quite a bit about Death Eaters’ personality quirks, and some speculation about what she did to earn Snape’s extra-special dislike.

“You Apparating?” Moody asked.

Tonks shook her head. She really didn’t feel like splinching herself tonight. “Taking the tube.”

Moody’s magical eye swiveled to regard her. She hated when he did that. “What happened to your broom?”

“Tree. I should probably leave if I’m going to get there on time.”

Moody snorted. “See you there, then.”

#

A little over half an hour later, Tonks was climbing up the steps of Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Before she could reach the knocker, the great door creaked open, ominously silhouetting a dark figure in the amber light from inside. “Well, finally,” Snape said.

Tonks raised an eyebrow, then favored Snape with a grin so hopeful it was saccharine. “Miss me, Professor?”

“Desperately,” Snape snapped as he opened the door wide enough for her to pass. “Come inside; I want to speak with you before the meeting.”

“Maybe you should’ve mentioned that earlier, sir?” she suggested with a grin. She watched as one of his hands clenched into a fist at his side.

“Severus? Ah, Miss Tonks is here!” Dumbledore sailed past them in a sea of fuchsia velvet. Really, why does everyone act so surprised when I make it here in one piece? “Excellent. We should proceed into the dining room immediately.”

Tonks was about to follow the headmaster when something caught at her elbow. She looked down to see Snape’s pale hand on her arm. After she blinked it was still there, so she looked up at the Potions master in bewilderment.

“I would like a moment with Miss Tonks, Headmaster.”

Dumbledore shook his head. “I daresay there will be plenty of time for that later, my boy.”

More confused than curious, Tonks moved to follow Dumbledore into the dining room.

“In the future, please remember that I attempted to warn you,” Snape muttered in her ear as he pushed past her.

As she trailed in behind him, Tonks mulled over the Potions master’s uncharacteristic behavior. When did he ever deign to issue a warning? Generally he seemed to enjoy watching the cauldron blow up in your face, then proceeding to tell you what you did wrong—in excruciating detail. She looked over at him questioningly, but his face revealed nothing other than his usual bad temper.

Arthur Weasley nodded to her in greeting as she took the empty seat between him and Snape. “Have you heard anything more from my son?”

Tonks grimaced. In fact, she had received a particularly disturbing owl from Percy that morning. Devoutly wishing she didn’t have to share it, and not trusting herself to read it aloud, Tonks pulled the parchment from a pocket in her robes and handed it to Arthur.

“What’s wrong, Arthur?” Molly asked.

With great presence of mind, Arthur managed to re-fold the parchment and slide it over to his wife.

As she read the note, Molly’s expression took on a strange amalgam of amusement and horror. “Oh my…” Tonks felt herself blushing in acute embarrassment.

“Honestly you people should know better than to pass notes in a room full of professors,” George chided his parents as he deftly snatched the note. Tonks was not quite fast enough to grab it back from the redhead, and he beamed at her after he finished reading it.

“Read it to the class, George,” his twin prodded.

George cleared his throat, making sure he had the room’s full attention. Tonks felt herself blush furiously. “Now then, my pretentious git of a brother wants to relate to his beloved Nymphadora, here, that he very much enjoyed their tea. However he’s decided that the epistolary medium is insufficient to convey the full depth and range of his emotions, so the prat has penned her a poem.”

Tonks slid her wand out of her sleeve and pointed it at the stocky redhead. “I will hex you, George Weasley.”

“Room’s full of Aurors, too,” Fred reminded her.

Tonks reluctantly put her wand away. What was she thinking, drawing her wand on another person, even as an empty threat? “Honestly, Percy wrote a bad poem and that’s all. Let’s get on with the meeting.”

“This could be relevant to the matter at hand,” Snape murmured silkily. Tonks shot the man a death glare before turning to Dumbledore imploringly. The headmaster only shook his head with a glimmer in his eye.

“Read the poem already!” Ron demanded.

“Patience, Ronald,” George said, drawing himself up and puffing out his chest in imitation of Percy. “Ahem. This poem is entitled Nymphadora,” he declaimed.

“Nymphadora,
How I adore ya.
I’d do anything for ya,
So, on my knees I implore ya
To be mine, Nymphadora.”

Tonks buried her head in her hands, unable to look the other Order members in the eye. Honestly, she wasn’t used to this amount of attention at the meetings, and she was uncomfortable with it.

“Wow, that was bad,” she heard Harry say.

“To think you people named him Head Boy!” Ron spluttered.

Tonks heard one of the twins laugh. Fred, she decided. “Give the man a break, Ron… he obviously loves her so much that he condescended to use the word “ya” for the first, second and third times in his life just for her.”

“It’s hard to rhyme with Tonks,” George added sanctimoniously.

“Dunno, I could give it a shot for good ol’ Perce,” Fred rejoined. “Hmm…

“Oh Tonks-y…
You make my heart do the Wronski
Feint.”

“And every time I imagine your knickers, I faint,” George finished, setting them off into another fit of laughter.

The wand was in Tonks’ hand again in a flash, but just as quickly Snape relieved her of it. She looked at the man incredulously, but he was pointedly ignoring her.

“Would you say that constitutes a marriage proposal?” she heard him ask Dumbledore in his rich, smug voice.

“Give me my wand back,” Tonks demanded.

Snape turned to her for a moment. “No.”

“What?”

Snape again turned from his private conference with Dumbledore. “No, you may not have your wand back, Miss Tonks,” he said slowly, with more than a trace of condescension in his low voice. “A word of advice: this evening is about to get much worse for you, so perhaps you should take a moment to calm yourself.”

Tonks looked around the room, noticing all the eyes on her. It was unnerving, and she considered for a breathless moment that it was unlike her to be unnerved. Merlin, the only time she was the center of attention was when she was acting the comic relief. But this was different. For some strange reason she felt like she’d been caged and put on display, and she had no idea how to handle it. She could feel the pulse bounding in her chest and neck, and her stomach churned in foreboding. “What did you find out from Percy’s mind?” she asked hoarsely.

Snape looked to Dumbledore, and at the headmaster’s nod, he rested both hands on the worn tabletop and rose to his feet.

“I was fortunate enough to intercept Percy at Miss Tonks’ flat yesterday afternoon,” he began. Tonks was suddenly reminded of many years of Potions lectures. For all his faults, the man was adept at capturing the attention of his audience. Even those Order members who were not former students showed rapt attention. A warning pang in her gut told Tonks to grip the edge of the table for support as Snape continued to relate the previous day’s events. “After dosing his tea with a powerful sleeping agent, I was able to perform Legilimency on him. From his unconscious mind, I gleaned that the Ministry, in its infinite wisdom, is planning to inflict compulsory marriages upon the wizarding world.”

Tonks’ mind shut down on hearing the word marriage. “They what?”

“More specifically,” Snape continued, shooting her a quelling look, “they will soon make it so that any pureblood of age may petition to marry a half-blood or muggleborn above the age of eighteen.”

“Hermione!” Ron shouted, turning to the girl in concern.

Hermione sighed. “I’m sixteen, Ronald. I have fourteen months.”

“If I may continue?” Snape asked nastily. “Anyone receiving multiple petitions may choose amongst them, of course--”

“Percy!” Tonks exclaimed suddenly.

Snape gave her a black look for interrupting him again. “Miss Tonks, in a display of typically Gryffindor articulation and mental acuity, has finally managed to hit upon our current problem.”

“Eew,” Ron said, as he, too, worked it out. “Erm… sorry mum.”

Molly ignored her youngest son’s exclamation, and gave Tonks a concerned look. “Will they use the binding, Severus?”

Snape nodded shortly. “Unless the pureblood partner requests otherwise.”

“My son intends to employ it?” Arthur Weasley asked as if he already suspected the answer.

Again, Snape nodded.

“What’s a binding?” Harry asked.

Dumbledore chose to answer first. Tonks could almost feel him weighing his words. “It’s a permanent, somewhat diluted form of the Imperus Curse, Harry.”

“The bound one is compelled to obey her husband’s orders,” Snape elaborated, nearly spitting the words out, “and she receives pleasure from obedience. It also distorts her emotions concerning her husband into something akin to worship, while making all other men seem repellant.”

“That’s barbaric!” Hermione exclaimed. Tonks felt a surge of sympathy; she didn’t doubt the girl was thinking of how she could be in that position in a little over a year. Oh, she realized with a start, that’s me. Now. She blinked rapidly as comprehension dawned. Bugger.

“It’s not without precedence, Hermione,” she heard Lupin say from his dark corner of the table. Until now, Tonks hadn’t realized he was there. “Pureblood girls were traditionally bound to their husbands.”

“To ensure fidelity and docility,” Snape added with a sneer.

“It’s still barbaric!”

The voices were all starting to blur together in Tonks’ head. “Percy,” she repeated, half to herself. “I’m going to have to marry Percy.”

Snape’s head snapped in her direction. “Not necessarily.”

She blinked owlishly. “I don’t have to marry Percy?”

“No,” Snape said as he loomed over her. “Dumbledore has seen fit to offer you a much worse alternative.”

Wordlessly, Moody stood up and handed her his flask of firewhisky. Tonks took it and looked up at Snape uncomprehendingly, her mouth agape.

“Drink,” Snape advised. He glared at the rest of the room. “If the vast majority of you could see fit to depart now?”

Tonks was dimly aware of Dumbledore saying something and then people filing out of the dining room as she sat there with the flask held limply in her hand.

“Do you want me to stay, dear?” Molly asked her.

“Huh?” Tonks responded.

“I’ll stay, Molly,” Moody growled, and Tonks felt a surge of affection. As he stood behind her and clapped a hand on her shoulder, the old Auror reminded her of nothing more than a surly teddy bear.

With fewer people in the room, and Tonks began to focus more clearly. She felt rather than saw Moody behind her, Snape looming before her, and Dumbledore hovering behind him.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

Snape angled his chair until it faced hers then sat in it. He was very close, Tonks’ brain registered as much of her field of vision filled with black. “Take a drink, Miss Tonks. I derive absolutely no pleasure from tormenting young women in fugue states.”

Looking at the flask, Tonks felt herself craving a steaming cup of tea instead, but she hesitatingly brought it to her lips and took a gulp. The liquid burned, and Tonks shuddered reflexively. Usually she could handle her liquor much better than this, she thought as her sinus cavities felt seared and her eyes filled with water. She blinked furiously.

Moody squeezed her shoulder, and Tonks closed her eyes for a second before taking another sip. After shaking her head, she felt up to opening her eyes.

“Are you ready to face me, now?” Snape asked.

Tonks looked at him warily. “You make it sound like a duel.”

Snape’s eyes glimmered and he smiled thinly. “And I still have your wand. Hardly fair, is it?”

But I have the alcohol, Tonks found herself thinking. She shook her head again. “Give it back.”

“Not just yet. We wouldn’t want you coming to your senses and hexing me.”

“Get to the point or I’ll hex you, Snape,” Moody threatened.

“Alastor,” Dumbledore warned.

“Very well, Moody. I will get to the point, as you insist. Pay very close attention, Miss Tonks: Forgoing all logic and reason—and very much against my will—the Headmaster has decided to issue a marriage proposal for you on my behalf. I suspect you have little over a week to convince the doddering old fool to rescind it and find yourself another husband. Take your wand,” he said, shoving it into her hands. “Good evening.”

Without another word, Snape swept from the room.

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