WARNING: This chapter contains adult situations, but is within the 'R' rating. (RL/NT)

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I borrowed the idea of the 'Floo Lighter' from another author. It's not my brilliant invention, I'm afraid, but I can't remember quite whose it is. At any rate, many of the things in my story are my conceptualisation, many are JKRs, but that one belongs to a very ingenious writer out there. Kudos to her and I hope she doesn't mind my borrowing the idea for this story!

Also, I am aware that JKR has said she's going to depose Fudge as Minister, which is her right and privilege as the author of the series upon which this fanfic is based. However, in this continuity, for the purpose of this story, let's imagine that Fudge is still in power.

Finally, thank you to the people who have sent feedback on this story. Your encouragement has helped in some pretty dark times. And much love to Yolanda who has been a fantastic beta regarding directions and encouragement.

2. Neosso Irrado

In the streets of the posh Bristol suburb of Clifton, a delicate mist of rain would have made the stakeout unbearable, but for the Impervius that vanished the drops mere inches away from the skin. To a passing Muggle, the wizards on the stakeout might look a little odd, all dry in the misting wet, but it was late, and all sensible Muggles were inside and in bed, asleep.

Those that weren't sensible were easily diverted by the 'suggestion' spells that the Aurors had cast about the area. Did I leave my wallet at the pub? Maybe I should go and stay at a friend's place for the night. It looks way too dark to walk down there, I'll go along the other street...

Somewhere down the road, along the line of cast-iron fences, cats yowled, hissing and spitting with feline hatred. Cars drove through the sodden streets, their wheels rolling wetly through the puddles, spitting up tiny flurries of water in their wake. Overhead, the trees rustled damply, losing their leaves in the autumn cold, the remaining foliage clinging desperately to the branch as the raindrops pattered across their broad surfaces.

And down on the ground, the shadows moved with predatory intent towards a house. It was no different to any other house in the street, except for the fact that the man who owned it was a wizard - a Death Eater - as were his wife, and the guests who had been staying there for nearly six months.

Tonks always hoped for one of her jobs to go without a hitch. Hitches were bad; they meant Aurors down, spells everywhere, a great deal of confusion, and even more paperwork.

She'd never been much of one for paperwork.

And, to begin with, everything seemed fine.

In the living room of the house, Harry's glasses gleamed as he paused in the stream of pale, sickly streetlight pouring through the chintz-curtained window, and Tonks laid her wand against the wall and whispered a spell. The Silencio could be cast on buildings, but it required wand contact to maintain the spell: that, or a supremely powerful witch. Tonks had found it easier to maintain contact with the house. With her clumsiness, she was wasted stumbling through an unknown house, far better to leave that to those with the skills and grace for it.

Four dark shadows stole by her.

Then a fifth shadow detached itself from the darkness. "Accio wa--"

"Protego! Immobulus!"

Harry cast the first spell before the wizard could finish his incantation. Ron took him down with a well-aimed punch behind the ear and tied him up with a hissed, "Incarcerous!"

It was all over in less than ten seconds, and with a single exchanged glance-and-nod, the two moved up the stairs on silent feet.

Alf Hannon shot Tonks a meaningful glance as he knelt down beside the older wizard. "Harkanon Grimsby," he muttered. "Wondered what happened to him after the explosion in Newcastle." Then, without anything more on the subject, he continued through the ground level of the house with Vel Pearson. The two young men had moved to take out the threat as neatly and certainly as a couple of Aurors who'd been working together for decades. It was just one of the reasons Fudge had pulled every string to get the two through Auror training and out on the street.

As her team spread out, and she kept watch, Tonks had a momentary hope that this bust would go as smoothly as they never did. The outraged screech that came from a witch upstairs negated that idea immediately.

Overhead, there was a scuffle and something exploded with a bang. Then someone incanted the Cruciatus.

Sweet Merlin...

"Alf, Vel!"

Alf was already halfway up the stairs at her cry, his wand out and ready. Vel was slower, glancing back at Tonks to check that she was okay. "Just go," she said sharply. The older Auror vanished up the remainder of the stairs, and a moment later, two more voices added to the cacophony overhead.

Tonks kept her back against the hallway wall, her wand tip raised, her eyes darting through the darkness. She kept her senses alert, in case another Death Eater lurked in the shadows, waiting for the moment to strike.

More shouts and grunts overhead. A scream, a curse, a cry of pain, and then the words Tonks hoped never to hear while on a bust: "Avada Kedavra!"

There was the sound of a massive explosion upstairs, mingled with more voices casting spells. Then silence.

A little plaster dust sifted down from overhead.

With her right hand still holding the wand against the wall, Tonks' left hand slipped into her pocket and pulled out the Floo Lighter. Some brilliant little witch in another country had come up with the idea three years ago, patented it, and made herself a tidy profit from the sales. The Muggle-born witch's reasoning had been: if you could travel by Floo, why couldn't you send other things by Floo, as well? She flicked the flame on, careful not to look at it so her night vision wouldn't be ruined. "Alf?"

Silence.

"Harry?"

Crapcrapcrapcrapcrap...

"Ron?"

She stared up at the ceiling, willing everyone to be okay. They'd been working together for nearly six months now and, other than one resignation, they'd kept everyone alive and in one piece.

Then there were the sounds of footsteps overhead and a shaky voice came through the Floo Lighter. "We're okay, Tonks," Alf said. "All okay, nobody dead. It missed Harry by inches, but he's..." The older man blew out a breath. "He's good. We're all good."

She laughed, a little shaky herself. Standing and waiting for the others to get the job done was slightly nerve-wracking. At the end of the night, she had adrenaline coursing through her veins, but nothing on which to take it out.

"We're bringing them down." In comparison to Alf's relieved voice, Harry's light tenor sounded cool, almost unconcerned about the attack. "No others up here, we're clear. On our way down."

She envied him his nerves. Her own weren't all that steady right now.

The Lighter went back into her pocket, and with all the Death Eaters subdued, she took her wand off the wall. The Death Eater on the floor was levitated to an upright, hovering position. The man writhed, but Ron's bindings held him fast. A moment later, he was joined by one of his colleagues, also bound and twisting.

In the darkness of the house, the floating prisoners made an odd and slightly eerie sight with their feet drifting above the floor and their eyes fixed upon the Aurors in malevolent hatred. Tonks met the gazes coolly, refusing to let them get to her. She'd seen their type before - she'd dealt with their type before - and with a flick of her wand, ushered them out the door under Vel's care.

Alf followed them out with two more prisoners a moment later, with a faint smile and nod for Tonks.

Which just left the two young Aurors.

Ron clattered down the stairs, not bothering with stealth now that the house had been emptied. "All clear, Tonks."

"Good work," she said. "Harry okay?"

A lift of one shoulder said it all. "He says he's fine," Ron remarked. "But he got hit by a Cruciatus," he added. "So I wouldn't trust anything he says about being 'fine.'"

"Tattletale." Harry scowled at Ron as he descended the stairs, then turned to her. "Might want to get the curse-breakers through here later, Tonks. Their bedside reading includes 'Of Curses and Cruciatus.' Probably not theoretical, either."

"Will do," Tonks assured him. "You're okay?"

"Fine," he said, then levelled another glare at Ron.

Ron shrugged, not apparently bothered by his friend's annoyance. "'It is the job of the lead Auror of a team to know the injuries and spells which have been cast upon their team,'" he quoted from the Auror's rulebook.

That brought a half-smirk to Harry's face. "Since when have you ever followed the rules?"

"I followed the rules," Ron said, holding his hands out wide in a 'who me' gesture. "It was following my best mate into trouble that got me into the habit of breaking them!"

Harry had just opened his mouth for a pithy retort when there was a cry from outside.

As they made for the door, a single word was spat into the night, and a bright light flashed through the darkness.

They tumbled out of the door and into the street. "Lumos!" Tonks cried, choosing visibility over stealth, risking public notice over public danger.

The glow from her wand tip illuminated Alf clutching his throat, and Vel's still form in the gutter. It also illuminated the man crouched over her, blinking in the sudden light.

The hood of his robes held his face in shadow, but Tonks caught the impression of chubby jowls and a pug nose - Terence De Vere. He looked up and his face convulsed into hatred at the sight of Harry.

His wand rose as he incanted, "Avada Ked--"

"Silencio!" Harry bellowed.

The man's lips finished the incantation, but no sound came out. A moment later Ron smacked into him with all the force of a rugby player in a scrum, tumbling them out into the street. De Vere went flying in one direction, his wand in another. The next moment, Ron had his knee on the man's chest and his wand at the man's throat. "Don't even think about it," he said, as De Vere glanced around for his wand.

"Blood traitor filth," spat the Death Eater, his face contorting into a grimace of pure hatred. "Consorting with Mudbloods--gakk!" He choked a little as Ron dug the tip of his wand deeper into the heavy jowls.

Tonks was at Vel's side, checking for a pulse. In the background she could hear Ron warning De Vere against the language.

"She okay?" Harry asked, Alf beside him.

Her fingers encountered a sticky patch, matting Vel's fine blonde hair. "Hit her head. She'll need a mediwitch."

"Alf can take her," Harry said, crossing over to check on the tied-up Death Eaters. "Get that throat checked."

The older man was breathing hard, and Tonks gave him a quick, concerned look. He shook his head. "I'm okay," he rasped. "Got me in the throat with a choking spell."

"Harry's right," she said, "You get to St. Mungo's. Harry, Ron and I will get these ones to Azkaban--"

She was interrupted by the sound of a fist hitting flesh, and turned so hard on her heel that she fell into the gutter on her backside. The wash of water and wet leaf mulch against her butt hardly registered as she saw Ron raise his fist for a second punch.

What the...?

A moment later, the Death Eater's sibilant words drifted through the drizzling night. "--screamed like a pig when they Crucio'd her." From the corner of her eye, Tonks saw Harry move as Ron's backhand interrupted De Vere's tirade.

"One more word," the redhead breathed, a furious tremble in his voice. "Just one more word--"

"You'll what, Weasley?" The pale slitted eyes burned with a deep fanaticism. "Perform the Killing curse? Like they did on your Mudblood bitch--"

"We don't need the Killing curse," Harry said, his voice flat and cold. The polish of his wand gleamed sinister in the dark, and De Vere doubled up, cursing as Ron planted a fist that was decidedly below the belt. "Hermione gave us something else to work with!"

Ron rose from his crouch over the gasping Death Eater, and pulled out his wand in a fluid movement.

Tonks started up, and even as she did, knew she'd be too late to stop them. Everything contracted down to focus on the two young men, their wands, and the Death Eater who lay prone on the ground before them.

They spoke in unison, as one, and for all their difference in height and appearance, there was no differentiating between the hatred in their voices. "Eliminatus!" Twin lances of fiery blue light emerged from their wands, and burned into De Vere; around them, the world shuddered and shifted, warping with the strength of the Eliminatus.

De Vere's expression of pain and hatred wavered for a split second, then twisted into agony. He screamed, a long, dying wail like a bagpipes running out of air, and it rent the night's silence like nails dragged down a blackboard. The cry was more animal than human, and something in Tonks shuddered and hid beneath blankets of comfort and safety.

The body sagged and went limp. Flesh shrivelled like a deflating balloon, then disintegrated like dried leaves rotting. Bone crumbled like chalk, heaping in piles that then sifted away on a wind from nowhere. One moment, a plump, middle aged wizard had lain on the ground; now there was nothing there to show he'd even existed.

Nothing, except the two young men standing over the empty spot, their wand hands trembling with the force of their rage and grief.

They weren't the only ones trembling.

----

He heard the mug shatter as he reached the foot of the stairs. She cursed, and the roughness of her voice plainly told him her state of mind.

Not that he'd needed much indication after she'd failed to come to bed.

Remus Lupin pushed open the kitchen door to reveal one haggard-looking metamorphmagus Auror crouched on the tiled floor with her wand hovering over the fragmented shards of the mug.

"Reparo!" The pieces shivered and collected together, the cracks sealing up and making the shattered crockery whole again.

He waited until she'd laid the repaired mug on the table before speaking. "I thought we talked about drinking coffee after midnight."

She turned, nearly knocking the mug off the table again in her surprise. "I wasn't--" Tonks began, sounding like a child caught stealing sweets. He pointed at the percolator jug and coffee grounds on the bench, and she blushed. "I was just going to have a little bit."

Remus shook his head and pulled a saucepan from beneath the stove. "I'm guessing that you didn't consider the effect of your coffee on me when you come to bed and toss and turn for the rest of the night?" He arched a brow at her as he laid the saucepan over the hotplate, "Unless you weren't planning to come to bed?"

Another blush - this one visible on the back of her neck - the only part of her skin that he could see since she'd turned back to the corner and seemed to be continuing her preparations for coffee-making. Remus walked up behind her and brushed a hand lightly through her hair - short, electric-blue locks today. "What happened?"

"What makes you think something happened?" She was nonchalant, as though nothing had happened. Remus frowned a little. Tonks knew better than to try to hide her troubles from him, but she still made the effort at this time of the month, not wishing to burden him with more than he already carried.

"It's the full moon in about twenty hours," he said, slipping an arm around her waist, and holding her close against his front. "I can smell it on you."

She sighed and tilted her head back against his throat, her hands stilling on the spoon and coffee jar. Over the years, she'd become accustomed to the gentle waxing and waning of his moods - a cycle dictated by the moon that ruled his life as a werewolf. Over the last few years, he'd become accustomed to adjusting his moods according to her presence in his life. There were rough patches, but there always were rough patches in relationships. They worked through them.

Tonks tilted her head back, looking up at him with teasing eyes. "What do I smell of?"

It was a game between them, something they'd played for the two years they'd been together. Another person might have tried to forget what he was - Merlin knew that sometimes Remus tried to forget what he was. Tonks, perhaps because of her own changeling tendencies, simply accepted it and treated it like one more thing he could do. Her casual references to his lycanthropy had shocked others, but they endeared her to him.

Remus slid his nose through her hair. "Hair dye and gel," he answered immediately, and felt her elbow him lightly. He tickled her ear with his lips, then slid them down her throat. "Earwax, vanilla-scented soap - you stole mine, don't think I haven't noticed - and sweat." He paused at the curve where her throat met her shoulder. The nape and throat were very powerful places for scent-based emotions, forming a cloud that betrayed the individual's state of mind. Tonks was a storm of emotions right now. "Anxiety, worry, stress, anger, and fear." And, faintly, a hint of desire - not unusual after she'd been doing Auror work. It heightened the senses, left the Auror with an edge to be worked off.

He reined in his own brief surge of desire; that was for later. Maybe. The full moon strummed that longing, making him hungry for life and living, honing the edge of his senses. Before and after the full moon, he was not the werewolf, but neither was he merely human. The yearnings were harder to rule but Remus always tempered his desires to hers, careful not to let the beast have control of him.

"What happened?"

This time, she answered. "The Eliminatus."

Harry. He winced and felt the icy cold in his gut. "Why?"

"De Vere taunted them about how Hermione died."

Stupid. Remus grimaced. "Wasn't De Vere last seen in Hungary?"

"Yes. Obviously he came back." She turned in his arms, tired and not a little distressed. "I've never seen them so angry before. Not even the day after Hermione went missing and Dumbledore forbade them to join the search for her."

Remus remembered that day only too well.

He remembered the stiff tension in the boys that first night after Hermione was nowhere to be found in Hogwarts. He remembered the way they stood in close proximity, comfortable with each others' personal space, but somehow lacking something - lacking someone.

He remembered Neville's ashen face, the way Ginny and Luna held on to each other with hands that knuckled white against their pale skin, and the glimmer of anger lurking in the gazes of the boys as they paced, caged panthers only needing a prey to hunt. Five children drawn together, waiting for news of the sixth.

The Aurors had been all through the castle, looking for a route through which she might have been taken while the other students were herded back to their dorms. An atmosphere of fear pervaded the school, from first year to seventh and there was no respite from it anywhere. Not even in Dumbledore's office where the two young men faced down the elderly Headmaster, openly rebelling against the edict that they should remain at Hogwarts.

"What do you mean we're not allowed to go after her?" Ron cried. Disbelief exuded from him, unlike Harry who radiated anger. Remus watched and felt a pang in his heart. Ron still believed in Dumbledore; Harry did not. "Professor, this is Hermione! We're not going to just sit here and do nothing!"

"Ron--"

"Mr Weasley," Dumbledore said, interrupting Bill's reprimand, "I cannot allow you to leave the castle at this time. It is far too dangerous for you to go looking out for Miss Granger--"

"Far too dangerous in terms of what?" Ron asked, heatedly. "In terms of facing Voldemort? Harry's done that six times so far and survived each one. In terms of facing Death Eaters? Done that, too. In terms of going looking for our best friend? We're bloody Gryffindors, Headmaster, what do you expect us to do?"

Ron's anger was understandable, if unexpected.

But it was far preferable to Harry's acrimony.

It was then that the pent bitterness of three years burst forth, revealing what the demands of the wizarding world had made of Harry Potter.

"I could tell you to sod off with your prophecy, Headmaster," he said, and the acid of his voice etched painful lines into the old man's face. The change was minute, but telling: where Dumbledore had attempted to restrain Ron, he made no such attempt with Harry.

"You could," Dumbledore said, holding up a hand to curb the reactions of the Order standing around them. The moment stretched thin and quiet. "I cannot stop you, Harry."

Harry's laugh barked, short and harsh in the silence. "But you don't have to, do you, Dumbledore? You know that I'd never... That I wouldn't risk anyone else like..." His voice thickened, choked in a moment of powerful emotion, and he turned on his heel and left.

Ron turned, likewise, took one step after Harry, then swung back to look at Dumbledore for one long moment. Remus saw the moment when trust crumbled and belief died. Then Ron bowed his head, turned away, and followed Harry out of the Headmaster's office.

Since that day, the two had spiralled ever downwards; heroes to the wizarding world, but with a hatred for Dark wizardry to rival Barty Crouch at his most passionate.

"What did you do?" Remus asked, referring back to the raid in Bristol.

Tonks grimaced. "What could I do? De Vere was...well...gone before I could do anything. Alf had a choking charm done on him and Vel was out cold. I put the boys on report - but Fudge will just put them back on duty again, and we need them out in the field more than..." She leaned her forehead against his collarbone. "The Eliminatus isn't among the Unforgivables yet, and De Vere was a known Death Eater..." She trailed off. "They did what a lot of us have wanted to do for a long time but... They were just so--"

"Angry and reckless."

"Angry and dangerous," Tonks said. Her soft words chilled him.

"Do you think they're a danger to the wizarding world?"

"Not yet." The grimness in her voice was frightening. Tonks was one of the more lighthearted Aurors, although she took her responsibilities as seriously as Moody could wish. To have her so concerned about the boys was an indicator that things might be worse than anyone had ever thought they could be. "I wish..." She paused, then continued, "I wish Fudge hadn't insisted we shorten their training. Yes, they'd been doing that Defense Against the Dark Arts stuff for years before, but that doesn't change the fact that they're too young for the job. Emotionally young."

"This coming from one of the youngest Aurors ever accepted into the Division," Remus teased her, but lightly.

"I was never on a hair-trigger, Remus," she murmured. "Nor are any of the other kids in the Division."

"No," he said.

Four of Harry and Ron's peers had joined the Auror Division with the intent to become Aurors: Susan Bones, Daphne Greengrass, Anthony Goldstein, and Draco Malfoy. All four of them were now out in the field after a shortened, specialised training program.

The work of the first three within Dumbledore's Army had advanced them enough in hexes, curses, and spells that a full year had been knocked from their training and they had started working without supervision in just the last four months.

Draco Malfoy had not been in the DA, but he was already out doing fieldwork on his own. Dumbledore had trusted him in the second war, and the young man had proven his loyalty to the side that was going to keep his skin intact. Besides, nobody could deny that Malfoy had more than enough incentive to hunt down the Death Eaters - as well as an insight into Voldemort's inner circle that the Order had lost upon the death of Severus Snape.

Tonks trusted her cousin, accepting his conversion with her open ease. Remus would never quite trust Malfoy - the boy's cold pale eyes watched Remus with all the wariness of someone who looked at a beast to be put down should it so much as bare its teeth.

Young Draco could be sarcastic, mocking, and cynical, but his anger at what had happened to his family and name was clean. He resented his role, but at least that bitterness was pure, lacking the poisoned edge that marked Harry and Ron.

They were like a delayed destruction spell, set to explode at some unknown trigger event.

Unfortunately, Fudge refused to see that, in much the same way he'd refused to see so many other things in his career as Minister of Magic. That the man had remained in his position all these years was a testament to his political slipperiness; that, and the fact that so many other candidates had proven themselves unable to navigate the ups and downs of the political changes in the last couple of years.

Remus looked at Harry and Ron and saw a very similar duo to Sirius and James. Harry and Sirius with their pride and their fierce anger at the world; Ron and James acting as the mitigating influence to the forces of nature that were their friends.

Was it strange to liken Harry to Sirius rather than James? Most people would have said, 'Yes.'

Remus Lupin wasn't most people.

"One day they'll go too far," Tonks murmured, still leaning against his collarbone. "They'll do something that really is unforgivable."

Two years ago, Remus would have thought it impossible that Harry and Ron could do anything unforgivable. But two years ago was two years ago, and too much had changed in that time.

"Can we stop them?"

She laughed shortly and turned her head into the crook of his neck, seeking comfort. "I'd like to see anyone try."

He let her seek comfort in him, seeking his own comfort in her.

"Neosso Irrado," Remus muttered to himself.

"What?"

"Neosso Irrado." He enjoyed her narrow-eyed glare for a moment, then explained. "It's a phrase in a Muggle book about a family of painters who are wizards - but their magic only comes out in painting."

It never ceased to surprise him that Tonks, coming from a part-Muggle background, had so little interest in the Muggle world. Of the two of them, Remus came from a pure wizarding background and was the one to read up on Muggles and all the different ways they managed without magic - and then the way they compensated for the lack of magic in creating imaginary worlds.

Tonks frowned. "How can magic only come out in--" She caught his look. "Okay, okay, it's just a story! But what does 'nusseorado' mean?"

"'Neosso irrado,'" Remus corrected her gently. "It means 'angry youth.'"

She grimaced. "Apt." Silence fell, but Remus could hear that the conversation was not yet finished - another instinct which was heightened during full moon. Finally, she spoke. "Arthur calls them jaded. Too much, too young; too hard, too soon; too little, too late." She let out a long, shuddering breath and his arms tightened around her, just a little - just enough to reassure her. They weren't her responsibility - or at least, they weren't just her responsibility. They were their own, too. "They relied on her so much."

He couldn't stop the bitter smile that touched his lips at her words. "It was worse than that," he said, very gently. "They loved her."

Remus could understand Harry and Ron, even if he'd never taken that path.

That first month after Sirius went to Azkaban had been the worst in Remus' life. He'd lost the four people he loved most in a single night: two to the Killing Curse, one to betrayal, and one to fear and ambition - and it had scarred him as much as the werewolf's bite. Nobody truly recovered from losing people they loved. They could distance themselves from it, they could forget about it, they could let time wear the pain down until there was only the fondness of old recollection, but they never emerged from such an experience unchanged.

"So what do I do?"

That was so very Tonks, needing to do something, to be active and proactive. Twelve hundred years ago, she'd have made an amazing Valkyrie. His fingers brushed through her locks and he grinned to himself, imagining a Valkyrie with short, spiky blue hair under her helm. Then he sighed and put the whimsy away.

"Nothing." The word galled him as much as it would her. Sometimes there was nothing to be done.

"Nothing?"

"Nobody can stop them," he murmured. "You said so yourself. Dumbledore lost the reins to those two years ago, and they suffer the rest of us telling them right from wrong, but they're men now, Tonks - adults."

"So they can't be led," she said. "And they won't be stopped." Her breath huffed out in a big sigh. "Between the devil and the deep blue sea."

"Yes." Remus stroked his hand through her hair, savouring the contact and burying his nose in her hair.

"I wish..." She didn't say what she wished, but he answered anyway.

"I know."

She said nothing more, and he didn't offer anything more, not wishing to break the peace of the moment. In a few hours, he would Apparate out of London to an apothecary in the far North of Britain for his monthly Wolfsbane potion. It would be two days before he returned to Grimmauld Place, exhausted, weak, and rather the worse for wear.

Now was the best time for him to enjoy the feel of her to his heightened senses: soft skin, warm body, willing woman.

For small mercies, he could be incredibly grateful. And incredibly patient.

They stood in each others arms in the kitchen of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, delicately balancing on the aged flagstones of the floor. Overhead, the old house creaked slightly, shifting its old beams in gentle discontent.

Remus began to relax. The feel of her in his arms was nothing unusual; he'd slept with her slim form snuggled up beside him many nights before. Yet each time she rested there, he noticed something new, felt surprise steal through him that she was here, with him.

For a werewolf, so many small things could never be taken for granted: job, friends, lover, family. Remus' life wasn't perfect, but he could appreciate how much he had. He couldn't understand why a beautiful young woman like Tonks would want to waste herself on an old, tired werewolf like himself, but any time he questioned it, she got angry at him.

He'd learned not to question it - at least not out loud.

The cold of the night was seeping into his old bones. He tried to resist it, but when he could take it no more, he spoke. "Did you have dinner?"

She lifted her head from his throat, meeting his eyes only briefly. "Did you?"

"I take it that's a no?"

"I was going to," she protested and he felt the surge of exasperated affection. "But I went to Bristol straight from the Ministry to meet with a couple of young Aurors who were keeping an eye on the place today." At his disapproving expression, she added, "I'll have something to eat when I get up."

"Really?" He arched a brow. "In another," he peered at her Muggle watch, "ten hours when you finally crawl out of bed?"

"I'm not hungry right now anyway," Tonks argued, trying to forestall any attempts to feed her. "I'll wake when I'm hungry, Remus."

"You sure?"

Outside, high in the velvet sky, the clouds had drifted gently away from the silver orb of the moon, and the moonlight poured over them, rich as wine, pure as silk. He shivered briefly in her arms.

"Yes," she retorted. "What are you, my mother?"

Remus grinned - yes, wolfishly. Standing in the rays of the almost-full moon, his senses kicked into overdrive, as though there was suddenly a new layer to the world about him, hirtherto unseen. Almost of his own accord, his hands quivered over Tonks' skin as he bent his head towards hers. "Definitely not your mother, Nymphadora." He paused, mouth hovering over hers. "And even if you're not hungry, I am."

She laughed as he kissed her and he tasted it on her lips. There, too, was the edge of desire he'd scented on her before, swiftly developing on her skin and his. Tonks kissed him back with the certainty of a woman who knew her lover and knew what she wanted from him, and his pyjama top was hanging from his bare shoulders before he realised they were still in the kitchen and the nearest flat surface was the kitchen table.

He wasn't entirely sure how they reached their room, but they did, stumbling and laughing and not letting go of her for more than a few seconds anywhere along the way. There was a pause in the feverish need for touch and taste and smell when Tonks dragged herself away from him long enough to yank back the curtains so the moonlight cascaded over her hands, her hair, her skin...

Then Remus was upon her and devouring her - lips, shoulders, breasts, hips - until there was nothing left of either of them but the thick moonlight in which their bodies lay, supine.

He was still lying over her in a tumbled heap on the floor when she brushed her fingers past his cheek, tracing the slight bristles of his faint-grown beard. "What?"

"Oh, nothing." Tonks' mouth curved sweetly. "But the elastic of your pyjama bottoms is digging into my buttocks."

Her laughter rang through the room, filling the rafters with her amusement as he scrambled to his feet. He held out a hand to help her up and she yanked him down for a kiss before she climbed to her feet.

He tugged on his pyjama bottoms - the top was left somewhere downstairs - as she pulled on a t-shirt that doubled as a nightie and went looking for her underwear. Remus sat in the bed and smirked at her until she found them and slipped them back on, admiring her legs and the way the moonlight glimmered over them.

She flopped back on the pillows with a brief smile for him, but he could sense that her thoughts were not of him. Presently, a frown wrinkled her brow, and she opened her eyes. "Remus?"

"Tonks?"

"What if I get them killed?"

Not for the first time, Remus wondered at her ability to change trains of thought so effortlessly. Auror work, sex, then back to Auror work.

"You won't," he told her with certainty.

"But what if I--?"

Remus repeated what he'd told her before. "You won't." He turned on her, held her gaze. "If anyone gets them killed, it'll be themselves." He knew that with a certainty that shook him, and wished he didn't.

Her eyes - now large and black in her heart-shaped face - fixed upon him, slightly amused, but mostly not. "Turning Seer on me, now?"

He shook his head at her. "You're the leader of their Auror team, Tonks, not their keeper. They're grown men. Or," he amended as her mouth twitched, "close to grown men. They can look after themselves. We can keep an eye on them, but we're not responsible for them. Not anymore." If we ever were, he thought, remembering his first sight of Harry Potter, unconscious from the presence of the Dementors in the Hogwarts Express. "You can't stop them from endangering themselves," he said at last. "All you can do is stop them from taking others down with them."

He could feel her despair, a soul-numbing chill that wound itself around her soul, and he moved in close beside her. His beautiful Tonks was an adult, and an Auror, and a metamorphmagus, but sometimes she felt the world so immediately and fervently that he wondered that she hadn't been more hurt by the pain and cruelty and ugliness in it. And he loved her all the more for wanting to do something about it - for having the passion to fight, even in the face of her own despair. "You do your job, Tonks. That's all you can do."

Her hand brushed through his hair, lingering on his neck. "Will it be enough?"

Remus thought of the two angry young men who'd once been young boys with only schoolwork on their minds, then turned his head to kiss her palm. "Merlin knows."

--

AUTHOR'S NOTES: 'Neosso Irrado' indeed comes from a Muggle book written by a trio of formidable fantasy writers: Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, and Kate Elliot - 'The Golden Key' by DAW books. If you can lay hands upon it, read it - it's good.