|The Pleasure Of Your Company
Author: MrsTater PM
Nymphadora, may I acknowledge the hippogriff in the room?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Angst - N. Tonks & Albus D. - Words: 3,184 - Reviews: 24 - Favs: 20 - Follows: 1 - Published: 08-06-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3090233
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Originally written for the June/July 2006 RT Challenge at LiveJournal, this piece is not part of the Transfigured Hearts series, but will be referenced in the next instalment. It's based on the following dialogue from chapter sixteen of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: "I invited dear Tonks to come along today," said Mrs Weasley, setting down the carrots with unnecessary force and glaring at Fleur. "But she wouldn't come. Have you spoken to her lately, Remus?" "No, I haven't been in contact with anybody very much," said Lupin. "But Tonks has got her own family to go to, hasn't she?"
The Pleasure Of Your Company
"For the first time in my life, I am certain that the impulse to visit the Hogshead Inn was a fortuitous one. Happy Christmas, Nymphadora."
The pint of Firewhiskey Tonks had just raised to her lips slipped from her hand. It crashed to the table and doused her dinner. Leaping up to avoid the spreading liquid, she toppled her chair and very nearly fell herself when she tripped over it.
A pair of thin hands caught her shoulders, balancing her, and the voice that had startled her uttered a Scourgify over the spilt drink.
"Aberforth, will you please bring Miss Tonks a fresh Christmas Special and another Firewhiskey along with mine? I seem to have brought about the ruination of hers by creeping up silently behind her. Though I must say…" His voice held amusement as he released Tonks and cast a quick spell to right her chair. "…I am quite pleasantly surprised to know these old bones are yet stealthy enough to startle an Auror."
Drawing a deep breath, Tonks turned and faced Albus Dumbledore. He wore crimson robes embroidered with an abstract gold leaf pattern, and a matching pointed hat. She felt his piercing blue eyes beckoning her from half-moon spectacles, but she could not meet them. Nor could she muster convincing seasonal cheer or goodwill when she said, "Happy Christmas, Professor."
"You sittin' with Tonks?" Aberforth asked, approaching with their meals.
Tonks' eyes darted around the tavern full of empty tables. Pathetic as it was that she was the only patron at the dodgy tavern – The Three Broomsticks was more appropriate for the occasion of Christmas – she didn't care for company. If only the Hogshead offered room service…
On second thought, that thought was beyond frightening. Even to an Auror.
"If Miss Tonks does not mind," said Dumbledore pleasantly, "I should very much enjoy the company."
Tonks did mind, but told Dumbledore she did not, and did her best to avoid his gaze as she resumed her seat.
"I'm company," said Aberforth, haphazardly laying their plates on the table and taking Tonks' sodden one.
As Dumbledore took his seat, he gave a cough that sounded suspiciously like For goats.
Tonks couldn't stop a slight smile. They couldn't be brothers.
Of course, it seemed equally unlikely that she was Bellatrix Lestrange's niece…
"I see that things never change." Dumbledore watched his brother shamble back to the bar, then reached into his pocket and withdrew a set of utensils. "No matter who is Head of Aurors, it is the young, with places to go and people to see who are always assigned the holiday shifts."
"I volunteered," said Tonks crisply. She could have gone places and seen people, but had not wanted to face her parents telling her to get over Remus, or Remus telling her to get over Remus.
Dumbledore's brows arched, but Tonks couldn't tell whether he was surprised or not. How much did he know about what had happened between her and Remus? Did Dumbledore realise she was angry with him? He was talking naturally, not like someone trying to make conversation to avoid awkward silence.
Then again, that didn't mean anything. Dumbledore could have a conversation with a troll and make it sound natural and pleasant.
"You have proved very dutiful and focused, even in the midst of difficult personal stresses. As I knew you would." He took a bite of turkey and closed his eyes. "Whatever one might say about my brother, Aberforth certainly knows how to cook a turkey."
Tonks picked at her dinner, trying not to think about Molly Weasley's turkey, or Remus at the Burrow eating it. "Wasn't there a Christmas Feast at the school?"
"Indeed, though there were more faculty than students. I wish I had known you would be in Hogsmeade. I would have invited you to join us."
And she would have refused that invitation, too, though she would have been harder pressed to come up with a valid excuse. I have to work had been sufficient for her mother, and Remus has enough to worry about without seeing my hair had done for Molly.
I'm pissed off at you for sending my almost-fiance to live with feral werewolves would not have done for Dumbledore.
"Do you know what I like about you, Nymphadora?" Dumbledore dabbed the corners of his mouth with his napkin. "In addition, of course, to your delightful name, your excellent impersonation of Sybill Trelawney, and how becoming vivid pink hair is on you."
He smiled fondly as he sipped his wine, but Tonks was unable to return the expression. How could Dumbledore mention her lost powers when he was the reason she'd lost them?
"I like that you question me," Dumbledore said, setting aside his goblet and taking up his utensils to cut his turkey.
Tonks noticed the blackened, shrivelled hand, and what little food she'd eaten seemed to harden into a leaden ball in the pit of her stomach. How could she question Dumbledore's wisdom, how could she be angry when he would give his own life to protect them all? She felt sicker when she considered that Remus might – and would do, if he thought it was required of him – lose dearer things than life for Dumbledore. Anger and frustration and confusion gnawed at her.
"Few people do," Dumbledore continued, "except for you…and Harry…and my brother."
"I question that hat," called Aberforth.
Tonks painfully swallowed her Firewhiskey as she laughed.
Dumbledore gave his good hand a little wave that sent his hat across the tavern to settle on Aberforth's head. The brim fell down over his eyes.
"Oy!" Aberforth snatched the hat off his head and crumpled it in his hand. "I'm givin' this to the goats."
Dumbledore rolled his eyes as Aberforth swept out the back door.
"Sorry about your hat," said Tonks, her throat still burning from her wrong swallow, "but maybe it'll keep those bloody goats quiet. S'hard to sleep here."
"My hat is a small sacrifice, indeed, for an Auror to get a good night's rest." Merriment fading from his blue eyes, Dumbledore said seriously, "Where was I? Ah yes. I find it frightening when people think me infallible. Knowing that people might question my decisions keeps me on my toes."
His gaze held hers as he put another bite of turkey in his mouth and chewed carefully. Tonks' heart hammered as she realised he knew what she'd wanted to ask him for months. Not only knew, but was giving her permission to ask.
"Why'd you send Remus underground?" she blurted.
For just a moment Dumbledore's pleasant expression faded, and his gaze seemed inward, self-searching. Tonks forgot to breathe. Was it possible that Dumbledore was second-guessing the decision? Might he call it off?
Just as quickly, his composure returned. "Remus volunteered."
"No." Tonks shook her head vigorously. "You know he'd never refuse anything you think is important. He thinks he owes you."
Dumbledore's face was unreadable. "Remus is also very dutiful and focused."He paused to sip his wine, then asked,"Nymphadora, may I acknowledge the hippogriff in the room?"
"Hippogriff?" said Aberforth, coming back in, tracking in snow and hay goat hair. "Hagrid's got the hippogriff. I've got the goats. And the goats've got your hat."
Dumbledore shut his eyes and gave the slightest shake of his head as his brother grabbed a bottle of Firewhiskey, then went back outside to his goats.
As he turned his attention back to her, Tonks' gaze fell to her plate, upon which remained entirely too much food for someone who had eaten as little as she of late. Lovesick, pining Auror, commanding the confidence of the Wizarding world. The hippogriff in the room, indeed.
For months she'd imagined having this conversation with Dumbledore. Why her hesitation now that he'd done the hard part for her and initiated it? She was an Auror, damn it, pining or not.
"The hippogriff," said Tonks, rather more shakily than she would have preferred.
"I have been asked before whether it is advisable for Order members to become romantically involved. In the past a few of these entanglements have given me pause. It is very easy for loyalties to become confused, for focus to waver – and of course the relationships themselves can suffer under the demands of our work." He gestured toward her with an open palm. "I am sure you understand perfectly how difficult it is to come by even a few spare hours to spend together."
Tonks nodded, recalling weeks of conflicting schedules and long, back-to-back shifts that left little energy. Yet they'd made it work, and with the added issue of lycanthropy, and she would give anything to have that life again, even at its most stressful.
"When I learned you and Remus had become more than colleagues," Dumbledore continued, weaving his long fingers together on the table, "I never once had any concerns that either of you would cease performing to your usual standard. Indeed, you seemed more focused on your work."
Because they were always waiting at the end of it. Their work was for their future. The fight was personal.
"Love blossomed," said Dumbledore quietly. "Your relationship thrived."
It had more than thrived. They were going to be married.
Until the bloody mission.
Tonks hadn't realised her hands had balled into fists in her lap till a sharp pain in her palms told her she was digging her fingernails into them. She flexed her hands, rubbed sweaty palms on her robes.
"Which d'you reckon's worse," Tonks asked. "To let duty get in the way of love, or to let love get in the way of duty?"
"I can always trust you, Nymphadora, not to mince words." Dumbledore smiled, but his eyes clouded. "I believe it is unwise to leave love out of anything."
"I can always trust you, Professor, to give a cryptic answer.
Dumbledore's face crinkled with silent laughter.
"I mean no disrespect, Professor…"
"I have never sensed anything but the utmost respect from you, my dear, and I thank you for it."
Tonks swallowed a bitter taste at all the times she'd avoided speaking to him since the summer, and even refused eye contact. Yet he gazed directly at her now, smiled sincerely, and invited her to speak frankly.
"Right." Frank. Dumbledore wanted honesty. She blurted, "You don't understand—"
Dumbledore's words – utmost respect – echoing in her head made her catch herself and avert her eyes again. She didn't want him to change his opinion of her over this. She respected him still – how could she not? – even if she thought he was wrong.
And Remus – he would never lash out at Dumbledore. He'd be mortified if he knew she almost had. If he knew she was talking about this at all…
But Tonks did want tell Dumbledore she didn't think he understood. Because he couldn't understand, or he wouldn't have asked this of Remus.
"It's just…" Her voice was shaking, and she could feel herself still at the brink of losing control. Tonks drew a deep breath, tried to speak slowly, but the words tumbled out pell-mell. "Remus is terrified of the werewolf part of himself. He worked through a lot of issues when…we were together…but the moment you asked him to go underground, it undid everything."
Worse than undid everything. At the prospect of life in a werewolf colony, he'd begun to see himself as one of them, and as inferior to her.
"Is it really necessary for him to see the worst of things?"
"The only way to overcome fear is to confront it," said Dumbledore, "and nothing has yet convinced me that fear shouldbe completely overcome or, as Alastor Moody might say, we cease to be constantly vigilant."
Tonks sank a little lower in her chair, eyes drifting up to the mouldy ceiling. Remus had said the same thing. He couldn't let himself forget what he was. And she didn't want him to stop being careful. But did he have to be so careful? Did he have to be careful for her?
The sound of Dumbledore softly clearing his throat redirected her attention to him. He took a long drink and said, "I do not dispute the health or effectiveness of your relationship with Remus. In fact, the only times I have seen him almost as happy were in his days as a Hogwarts pupil."
It was ridiculous, given the fact that she had not seen Remus since he embarked on his assignment, but she could not help but take a little pride in knowing she was responsible for the happiest time in Remus Lupin's life. And yet he'd felt so duty-bound that he'd sacrificed happiness.
"But you, Nymphadora," Dumbledore continued in a lower tone, "are not the monster Remus faces each time the moon waxes full."
"He shouldn't have to face it alone!" Tonks cried, clenching her fists again. "I want to help him through this, but he thinks he's got to be alone!"
Her breath came quickly, in shallow gaps, and Tonks realised with horror that she'd just blurted an implication that Dumbledore had suggested Remus separate from her. Had Dumbledore taken her comment that way? She didn't think that, did she? It wasn't Dumbledore's way to offer that sort of personal advice to people.
And the look on his face was so sorrowful, so compassionate. He couldn't have done. He couldn't have intended…If he had, he was sorry.
"I do not make it a habit to question my colleagues' convictions," said Dumbledore, "but I think the more applicable question is not whether Remus should be protected from the worst of lycanthropy, but whether he is right to protect you from it. To protect another can be to overstep the bounds of free will."
Tonks' heart un-knotted, and she felt lighter inside than she had in months. She could have cried, except that her eyes were completely dry. Dumbledore hadn't meant for things to happen this way. Molly had said so. Dumbledore thought she could help Remus, thought she could handle his condition and his mission.
The knot had loosened only to tighten again, more restrictive than before.
Remus had decided all on his own that accepting the underground assignment meant the end of their relationship.
He didn't think she was enough.
"He's shut me out."
Immediately Tonks wished her words unsaid. This wasn't tea and sympathy with Molly. Dumbledore had the weight of the world on his shoulders. He didn't need lovesick witches whinging to him.
"I have found, Nymphadora," said Dumbledore, "that when I am shut out, the best way to get where I wish to be is to barge through doors. Well, perhaps not barge precisely. I prefer the subtle approach, though that has been known to result in spilt Firewhiskey."
A smile cracked across Tonks' face, then slowly a laugh rose up from some part of her that felt buried and tired. It came out softly, but Dumbledore's eyes lightened, and some of the weary lines of his face seemed less deeply etched. He'd empathised with her, the past months, and she hadn't even known it because she'd shut him out.
And all the time he'd wanted to give her hope for her broken relationship. She could have barged – or tripped and sprawled, in her case – through the Burrow door and spent Christmas with Remus…
…or not. It would have been horribly awkward, after six months apart, and not at all private…
And Remus had been so adamant against seeing one another. And her hair, and her Patronus…It would be a lot for him.
But maybe he realised now, that he shouldn't do this alone.
He shouldn't do this at all.
"It's so dangerous," said Tonks, slumping in her chair as the whole scenario seemed hopelessly heavy and unbearable once more. "If…Can you promise me you'll call it off, if it gets too bad for him?"
"I wish I were in the position to make promises," Dumbledore replied, looking grey. "Nymphadora, I do care, very deeply, about how this might affect Remus."
For a long moment Tonks sat gawping at him, feeling as though what little hope had remained to her was now draining from her body, leaving her limbs numb.
"I don't like that answer very much." Her voice was soft, but remarkably steady, considering her heart seemed almost to tremble in her chest.
Suddenly she could not look at him anymore.
"No," said Dumbledore in hollow tones, "nor do I like it much myself."
"Don't like what?" said Aberforth on his way in again, the bleats of his goats drifting in before he shut the door. "The robes? Goats'll like 'em, too."