Nymphadora Tonks was many things that made her an ideal law enforcement officer: she was direct, honest, tenacious and intelligent, and she had a pleasant disposition which endeared her to workmates and apprehended criminals alike. However, her investigative skills were not particularly finely honed, and this was to be her downfall when she was tested with a trying mystery that would require her to employ the services of her handsome, dashing and impetuous first cousin, once removed.
These are their stories.
"All right, examine the facts." Sirius held his hand up in front of his face, squinting at his fingers as his other hand fumbled with them. "One, the general sense of depression, listlessness, lack of satisfaction."
"Well, it's not like he has a job or anything," Tonks said, topping her glass up with firewhiskey. "And he's a werewolf. Actually, come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen him in a particularly elated state."
"Two," Sirius continued, undeterred, "the girlfriend." He motioned in deference to Tonks, who rolled her eyes at him. "You're pretty... well, pretty-ish. That's my side of the family, obviously. And you're younger than him. I'd say the signs are all there. He's having a mid-life crisis."
"That's so stupid. He's way too young for that. Plus, what is he having a crisis about? His high-pressure career? His demanding family life? Please."
"If I may interject," Remus Lupin said from across the room, shifting the newspaper on his chest so he could sit up, "I really think the both of you are making a fuss about nothing. I'm perfectly happy and well occupied."
"How many times have you read that paper in the last two days?"
"Four," he retorted back at Sirius, "and that's because somebody hasn't paid for his day of the papers yet."
"I said I would pay for the paper when you said you'd clean the bathroom for me. And you never did it!"
"Buy me my paper!"
"Remus!" Tonks rubbed her temple and shuffled over to Remus' chair, where she sat beside him and placed a hand on his knee. "I do think Sirius has a point. You have been pretty bored out of your skull here. Why don't you find something to do with yourself during the days?"
"Like what? Get a job with my impressive business acumen?"
"I don't know! You can find a muggle job, or something. Charity, volunteering, helping little old ladies take their groceries to the car."
"Am I really that bad?"
"You made a funeral pyre out of butterbeer bottles last night."
Remus chewed his tongue and looked thoughtful. "All right. Only if he gives me money to buy today's paper."
"Clean my bathroom!"
"Oh, shut up, the both of you," Tonks said, flinging a galleon at Remus before stalking out of the room in search of a headache cure.
The next evening, Remus Lupin came in late after an Order meeting, looking somewhat ashamed of himself. "I've found a job," he told Tonks in a hushed tone. "Evenings. Money isn't good, but it's something." He lit the flame under the kettle with a flick of his wand. Tonks figured there was something distracted in his demeanour, but she said nothing as she watched his normally calm, steady hands fumble with a pair of teacups.
Two weeks later, Sirius pulled Tonks aside during his half-hearted adherence to his rostered laundry duties. "Look at this," he said, pointing to the collar of a threadbare white shirt. "Look!"
Tonks leant in closer, peering at the starchy collar. "What am I looking for?"
"This. It's muggle makeup." He shook his head and pointed at the stain with an angry look on her face. "You know how many spells I've tried? He can wash his own damn clothes."
"But I... it's not mine, I don't wear makeup..." Tonks stared at the stain as her face fell slightly, and her jaw slacked slightly as the possibilities milled in her mind. "Why would he--"
"Maybe he's secretly a mime. Has he been wearing more black than normal?"
Tonks shot him a withering look. "He wouldn't be seeing another person behind my back. No. He's not that sort of person."
"Maybe he's seeing a mime behind your back."
Tonks stuck her wand in Sirius' face and poked him harshly on the nose.
"The thing is," Tonks sobbed between sips of her tea, as Molly patted her hand, "I never thought before it might be me he was unhappy with. I mean, maybe he's just depressed, or maybe I'm making him depressed... maybe Sirius is right, maybe he's going through his mid-life crisis."
"I thought you were his mid-life crisis," Molly said gently.
Tonks didn't know whether to nod or start crying again, so she elected to do both. "But... you saw this, right?" She pulled out a scrap of paper from her pocket and threw it down on the desk. "I don't know who she is, or what those names mean mean, but I don't think he even has a real job."
"There's got to be a logical explanation for this, dear," Molly said as she reached for Tonk's hand. "Maybe... maybe Remus is feeling the years catch up with him and he's... touching up his skin with that daft muggle stuff to make himself feel younger." Even Molly seemed to realise how stupid an explanation this was, because she trailed off into a mumble halfway through the sentence.
"I wish he could be open with me," Tonks sniffled. "He's always so bloody cagey. Do you think he could be... oh, God!" she exclaimed, banging her head on the kitchen table and causing the mugs in the cupboard to shake precariously, "he's cheating on me! He's gone and found some young woman with whom he can relive his cheated youth with!" She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her robes. "Again, I mean."
Molly looked at her with a mixture of pity, embarrassment and disgust. "You know, Tonks, dear... you could always try asking him what he does for his money."
"As if he'd tell me!" She sat up, angrily, and knocked her cup over with the flick of a finger. "I bet he's off drinking mid-priced wine with some slapper who colours her hair and makes him feel young."
"That would be a change," Molly said, very very quietly.
At that moment, Arthur Weasley walked into the kitchen with a world-weary heaviness in his gait; the sort of gait gained only from decades in the lower echelons of the public sector. "Hello, all. How have your days been?"
"My boyfriend is having a mid-life crisis and is cheating on me with another woman!" Tonks shrieked, and she stormed out of the kitchen, the door slamming behind her.
Arthur stared at the slammed door, a quizzical look on his face. "Funny. I thought she was Remus' mid-life crisis."
"That's it," Tonks said loudly, waking Sirius with a door-slam which shook the foundations of the house. "I'm going after him tonight. I need to see what he's doing behind my back."
"Tonks, look. Do you really think Remus is the sort of emotionally unreliable, secretive and untrustworthy figure that would require great suspicion to the point of immense personal... oh, wait. Yeah, you should go look for him." He sat up from his couch, and stretched. "Can I come too?"
"You know, this all started because you forced Remus to get out of the house, and now you're making me stay in? You have got double-standards like I don't believe it."
Tonks shrugged. "Fine. But you're going as the dog."
"And you're wearing a leash."
"And you'd better go to the toilet now, because I'm not taking a plastic bag with me."
Sirius stared at her. "Do you really think I'd perform my ablutions in front of you? What do you take me for, some kind of cretinous imbecile?"
"Are you wearing Remus' underpants?"
"Mine were dirty."
As soon as Remus left Number Twelve early that evening, Tonks and Sirius followed after him on foot; Tonks disguised as a middle-aged woman with a terrible perm, and Sirius' normally jet-black coat was replaced with a cascade of brown curls. Tonks thought that if dogs could give people murderous looks, Sirius was doing so at that very minute.
"You look very cute. Be grateful I didn't make you wear a jumper."
Sirius growled at her and pulled on the leash. She smiled for the first time that day and ran a hand through red hair. "God, I hope there's an explanation for this."
Sirius didn't respond. Which, of course, given that he was a dog was entirely justifiable. But she got the impression that he likely wouldn't have said anything to her even if he could talk. Though she knew Remus and Sirius were close friends, she always knew Sirius was often disapproving of Remus' many moral imperfections; in particular, his lack of trustworthiness as proved sixteen years earlier. She also got the idea that Sirius Black was the only person in the entire Order who suspected Remus Lupin of being a womaniser: which was stupid, given that the only moment of lechery she'd seen was Remus mistaking a mop for her. To be fair, it was a very nice-looking mop.
In the distance, Tonks caught sight of Remus' light brown hair glinting in the dying sunlight. He seemed to be walking quickly, his muggle coat pulled up around his neck as if to hide his face. She frowned as he turned a corner, and she pulled at Sirius' leash to hurry him. Very soon, she'd broken into a run, tugging Sirius along behind her. Sirius was wheezing and panting, and she suspected that the many months of alcohol, Molly's cooking and being house-bound had finally taken its toll on his fitness.
As she came to where he turned off, she was faced with a narrow, dimly-lit alleyway, and she saw a figure in a coat standing at a door beneath a gaudy, neon sign. She squinted to try and read the wording on the sign, and stepped forward tentatively. Soon enough, just as Remus disappeared behind the door, the words came into focus.
"Madame Foxy's House of... Oh, for the love of..."
Sirius' tail perked up as he caught the final word on the sign, and Tonks gave him a sharp side-ward kick. He growled at her, but she raised her eyebrows. "It's not technically animal abuse if you're actually a person, you know," she said, leaning in to see if the back entrance had some kind of way to get in. "Step back, aloho--"
Tonks was almost knocked backwards as the door swung out, and the sorest, sorriest excuse for a receptionist stepped out onto the landing, an unlit cigarette in her hand. "Oy, what you doin' there?"
"Sorry, I just--"
The woman sized her up and down. "Bit old to be lookin' for work 'ere, aren't you love?"
Tonks bit back a comment, and smiled sweetly: remembering none too soon that she was, indeed, a respectable middle-aged citizen. "I apologise. It's just that the young man who just came through this door is my son, and... er... he's left his lunch at home." She inwardly hexed herself as she saw the receptionist raise an eyebrow most disdainfully: the sun had started to set hours before, and she would have to be exceptionally dim to fall for such a stupid plot.
"You know Rupert?"
Rupert?! "As I said, I'm his mother."
"Right. Come this way. But tie the dog up outside."
"Er... actually... um... he's my seeing-eye-dog."
Sirius gave Tonks the most quizzical look that his canine face could muster. Quizzical, and disappointed: as if he'd expected more from her. She'd been head of her Auror class for concealment and disguises, gosh-darnit. She could manage better than this. Fortunately, her new friend just nodded with a stupidly resigned look on her face, and invited them both into a dark corridor.
Immediately, Tonks' nostrils were hit with the force of a million cans of hair lacquer and the unmistakeable odour of leg wax. In her peripheral vision she could see a chorus of slightly wilting-looking women lining up to be laced and tucked into their respective costumes. She tugged Sirius' leash sharply when she felt the rope go excessively taut. "So... my son come to this club very often?"
"What, Rupert? Nah. Don't know if you noticed, madam, but I reckon your son's a bit batty, you know what I mean?"
Tonks heard Sirius making an odd kind of coughing sound. She aimed another kick at him, and struggled to maintain her dignity. "Oh. Well... erm, probably because I've raised him well enough that he wouldn't be interested in this sort of thing. Yes."
"'E works back here," she croaked, knocking on an old wooden door. "Sorry, love, theatre shares an entrance with us. Bit of a fuss to get through."
The door swung open, and a ratty little man in a soiled undershirt and dirty slacks stood at the entrance with a mean look on his mean face. "What is it now, Violet?"
"This bird 'ere reckons she's Rupert's mother, John."
John looked Tonks up and down. "Thank Christ. I thought she was that new bird come audition for us."
She opened her mouth to protest, but Sirius tugged on his leash. "No, sorry. Bit past that, I'm afraid. Is my Rupey-poos there to talk to? Only... er, it's his dog, see. I'm taking him to get spayed tomorrow morning. Thought he'd like to give him a pat good-bye." She ignored the low growls coming from Sirius. "Yes, spayed. Can't have any more mongrels like him prowling the streets."
"I thought you said it was his lunch what he forgot today," Violet said, curiously.
"Well, obviously that's embarrassing for me," she replied hastily. "Only can I come in and see him now?"
"Whatever you say, ma'am," said the ratty little fellow, holding the door open, "only he's getting his makeup done."
Oh no. My boyfriend has become a sleazy male stripper and it's all my fault, she thought to herself. She mused that he could have done anything - rubbish collecting, rat-catching, pan-handling with Dung - and as she geared herself up for another few months of singledom before the next slightly dull lothario in the Auror office would feel her up at the Ministry's Christmas party, John-the-Rat pushed her in through the door, and she landed face-first into a pile of smelly old fur coats.
My boyfriend is a sleazy male stripper and I'm going to get an asthma attack, and I think the dog is laughing at me. She pulled herself to her feet as Sirius tugged at his leash, and John opened yet another door into a hallway of garish-looking costumes.
"Oy, 'urry up. 'E's in here. Curtain call's in fifteen minutes, don't take long."
She nodded a brief thanks, and pulled Sirius along with her into the room as she tiptoed through a rack of satin dresses, only faintly picking up voices behind them.
"--sick of this. I didn't spend three years at bloody RADA to serve beef-frigging-stroganoff to depressed-looking fifty-somethings--"
"Serves you right for doing a drama degree, then," came a familiar, hoarse voice from behind the clothing. "I could have told you, there's an oversupply of potential employees in the creative arts and--"
"I could be a lawyer by now!"
"Now, now, Rachel. You've made your bed, now you're going to lie in it and serve chicken parmiggiana with your nicest smile as you hoist your cleavage into a medieval corset that hasn't been washed since... oh, you probably weren't even born back then."
"Only if you kill me first."
Tonks cracked her knuckles as anger flooded through her body. So this was the nasty little thing that had put a wedge into their relationship. Tonks was in a mood to ruin people's faces, and she held her breath as she rounded the corner to find Remus and a young woman fighting for table-space in front of two bright-lit mirrors, sponging makeup on their faces.
"You filthy little... what are you doing?"
Remus jumped, and when he turned around to see the source of the voice, he shrieked and pulled the young woman in front of him. "DON'T YOU LOOK AT ME!"
"Remus, what... who... are you wearing pantaloons?"
Remus released his grip on Rachel. "I think I need a minute alone, could you--"
"Stuff this. I'm going back to being a receptionist in the morning." Rachel stormed out, swiping a frightening-looking hair dryer along with her, and Remus turned his attention back to Tonks. It was only without his co-star blocking him that Tonks finally noticed what he was wearing; he was bedecked in faded green velvet, and he had a stupid ginger beard glued to his face, and what looked like a dozen pillows were shoved down his shirt-front.
"Well. I suppose you deserve an explanation, and... why did you bring Sirius along?"
"It's all right, I brought a plastic bag with me."
"No, it's just... no, never mind."
Sirius transfigured back into his human form, and sneered at Remus. "So. Now we know your sordid secret. You're having an affair with some two-bit actress who has aspirations of being in the theatre and you're trying to string her along by pretending to be an actor yourself. And I'll have you know I don't need the plastic bag any more, thank you very much."
"Er... no. And you shouldn't even be out of the house, Dumbledore is going to kill you, and then he's going to come back and find me and kill me."
"Tonks made me."
"Whatever," said Remus. "Look, Nymphado... Tonks. You know I'd never do anything to betray your trust or directly embarrass you, right?"
"Are you... are you trying to tell me that--"
A look of the deepest shame crossed his face. "I'm so sorry."
Tonks could not have been any more disgusted. "You're working in dinner theatre?"
"Now, you know I'm a patron of the arts, Tonks, and this is absolutely murder to do this, and... do you have any idea how much it killed me on the inside to play a straight month of "Fawlty Towers" lunches?"
"I can't believe this... all this time I thought you were cleaning toilets, or delivering papers, but... this is so... degrading."
"I know, I'm so sorry. It's just... the money was all-right, and they feed us, and... well, we're just doing a run of "The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth", and all I have to do is sit on stage for two hours and eat chicken. Admittedly, yes, the scripts are terrible, but I do think that this is to my advantage."
"Oh my god! This is... this is even worse than prostitution! I'd be happier if you were next door gluing nipple-tassels to the dancers, I don't know why, I don't know what I'm going to tell my mother when she finally wears down my self-security enough to pry into my private life." Tonks sank down into a director's chair, and looked forlornly at the grotty carpet. "Great."
"Wow, that's so degrading," Sirius said, with a smirk on his face.
"Oh, yes, like I actually believe you when you say you're just cleaning yourself whenever you're in dog form and you're licking your own genitals--"
"That's enough!" Tonks rubbed her temples, and the two men stopped their bickering. "I can't believe that you're both at least a decade older than me."
"Only thirteen years in my case," said Sirius. "He's older than I am."
"Certainly, your majesty..."
"That's it, when we get home I'm giving you that flea and tick treatment, and this time it's not going to be in tablet or handy bubble bath formula."
"I hate you both," she muttered to herself. "Look, Remus... I'm sorry I forced you into getting a job. I didn't know your prospects were that lousy, is all. But... er, I didn't lose too much respect for you?"
"Er... thanks," Remus said, scratching his fake beard.
"And me?" Sirius tried to catch a moment of glory for being less pathetic than Remus by standing proudly with hands on his hips.
"Oh, it's all right, I never really had any respect for you in the first place. But whatever the matter, Remus, I still like you, and I won't spread this embarrassing truth with anyone else."
"Thanks," he said, and for the first time that night he looked mildly relieved. "Now, is there any way I can make this up to both of you?"
Sirius' face brightened as an idea visibly came to him. "Well, there is one thing..."
"Yeah, sorry about the chicken. Barbara's really not all that good a cook, so it's lucky that the play's so bad that you don't really notice."
"Hey, free dinner is free dinner, right, Snuffles?"
Sirius barked in agreement as he trotted along a little more slowly than usual, on account of having finished off two massive pieces of chicken parmaggiana - and Remus and Tonks' left-overs, of course.
"So, am I a great actor, or am I the greatest actor? Aside from forgetting all of my lines and just compensating by eating my chicken really loudly to replace the dialogue. And how I dropped my leg bone down Rachel's top, I don't think she appreciated it that much."
"Which wife was she again?"
"Oh, I don't know. Anne-the-somethingth. The script writers sure as hell didn't know either. She got to die off early, though. Lucky bugger." Remus took a deep breath. "I'm sorry I never told you about what I was doing. It was such a stupid little thing, but... I thought you'd lose respect for me."
"Well, I'm just glad that it wasn't some other girl. Not that I would have lost more respect for that than I did for your actual job, but... it doesn't matter, really. You know, you have been different, lately. You're different, tonight. I don't know what it is."
"I don't know. Pride at earning a legitimate paycheck, maybe?"
Tonks stopped walking, and grabbed at his hand. "Yeah. Pride. Pride and confidence. That's a nice change."
"Yep. But it's all right, Sirius and I will get them beaten out of you before too long." She kissed him on the cheek, and pulled on Sirius' leash again. "Come on, before someone mistakes you for my prostitute."
"Yes, madam," he said, taking her arm in his as they walked off into the night.