By Jess Pallas
Disclaimer: This is the house that JKR built. I am merely squatting. I do however claim squatters rights over anything not canon. :)
A/N: This fic is something in the nature of an experiment. I've never considered myself a romance writer so writing a straight out romantic fic is a bit of a venture for me, an effort to improve my skills - hence feedback would be appreciated. Oblivious readers might feel a certain deja-vous on the grounds that the first two parts of this three part fic are based upontwo chaptersof that fic, with spoilers and references to Oblivious removed and friendly banter heightened to romantic undertones.Part One – A Cold Wind
It was freezing.
Pulling his scarf tighter around his neck, Remus Lupin hunched down deeper into the protective but ineffectual warmth of his robes and cautiously quickened his pace. Care was required as icy patches glinted on the cobblestones ahead, frost lightened the eaves of Hogsmeade and occasional short but bitter flurries of snow dashed at his skin and spun, laughing, into the rays of light that slanted from the windows around. Glancing at the golden glows of distant fires and warm occupants, Remus couldn't help but feel a slight gleam of jealousy for their snugness.
It was only the end of November, for pity's sake. There was no way that it was allowed to be this cold without being officially winter.
Wistful images of the glowing fire in his chambers and the cheerful warmth of dinner in the Great Hall taunted him with tantalising glee.What am I doing out here?
Keeping a promise.
Remus sighed. A drink with Tonks. Even given the way the idea had been thrust upon him, it really hadn't seemed such a bad thing. Considering the less than fantastic month he had just had, a night out with a friend had indeed held a certain appeal.
Until of course the universe had decided to make that particular Tuesday one of the coldest nights of the year.
It had been almost three months now since his return to Hogwarts, resuming his position as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at the near insistence of Albus Dumbledore. That the Ministry and the governors had not been entirely thrilled by the prospect of the reinstatement of the infamous werewolf teacher would have been akin to suggesting that Severus Snape was not in fact the bounciest happy bunny in happy bunnyland, but Dumbledore's arguments and the fall of Minister Fudge had combined to overcome the official opposition and opened the path for Remus to teach once more. That Remus himself had taken a great deal of persuasion was a fact less well known, but the absolute determination of Dumbledore to insure that, in these most dangerous times, the children were best equipped to defend themselves had eventually defeated his former student's arguments. Under strict and sturdy guidelines regarding his full moon conduct, Remus had taken up his post once more the previous September.
The Daily Prophet had not been as easily persuaded as the Ministry. Hardly a week went passed without at least one vehement article, column or reader's letter about the falling standards at Hogwarts and the dangers of a Dark Creature teaching their precious kids. There had even been several calls for his imprisonment in Azkaban should any hint of a break in the guidelines reach their ears.
And one week ago, the guidelines had been breeched.
It had not really been anyone's fault. The inferiority of the particular batch of aconite that Snape had used in the brewing of that week's Wolfsbane had not been uncovered until Remus had been four days into his treatment course. A random experiment had fortuitously uncovered the flaw and forced the Potions Master to summon his colleague and the headmaster and admit with irritation that there was a good to highly likely chance that the doses of potion administered thus far were as good as useless.
And so it had proved.
It had been Remus' first transformation in the Shrieking Shack for almost twenty years. It had not been a nostalgic return.
The wolf had been caged for more than two years, restricted and numbed by routine doses of Wolfsbane potion. And it had been angry.
Three days of strict bed rest under Poppy Pomfrey's care had seen the worst of his injuries healed, but a plethora of new scars now stained his skin, most notably a painfully visible swipe across his throat that he had taken to concealing behind high necked robes and carefully wrapped scarves. And even now, almost a week later, he still felt distinctly shaky.
Fortunately word of this breech of contract had not reached the outside world. Remus' incapacity and his injuries had been attributed to an accident resulting from a slight Wolfsbane overdose – woosy from slight poisoning, Dumbledore had explained straight-faced to the governors, the Ministry and the children, Professor Lupin had tripped and fallen down the staff wing stairs whilst attempting to reach the Hospital Wing. That this story had been greeted with scepticism had not been at all unexpected and when word had arrived that a team of "impartial investigators" would be sent to probe into the incident, Remus had been filled with a distinct sense of dread.
Until the morning of the day before had arrived and he had discovered that the dreaded team had consisted of a vaguely bored official from the Werewolf Registry and the turquoise haired form of Nymphadora Tonks.
And then, after a few brief questions and the careful dismissal of the Registry worker, Tonks had dragged him to one side and informed him that he would be joining her at 6pm for a cheering drink at the Three Broomsticks that Tuesday. She would accept no excuse but death.
He had requested a nice eulogy. She had slapped him on the shoulder and warned him there would be penalties if he arrived late.
And thus it was that Remus had determinedly sallied forth through the snow flurries and the ice along the road to Hogsmeade, wrapped up in heavy layers, and feeling more and more fragile with every cautious step and icy lungful of air.
He was not, perhaps, as improved as he'd thought.
He was, in fact, still officially convalescent, at least if Poppy's shrill protests when she'd caught him crossing the entrance hall to head outside were anything to go by. Breathless, shivery, and still a little unsteady in his footing, Remus couldn't help but feel that perhaps this venture, so soon after a substantial period of bed rest, was not necessarily a good idea. Perhaps he should have contacted Tonks and delayed the drink for another night.
An image of the rainbow-haired Auror stared sternly at him from the depths of his minds eye. Somehow he suspected Tonks would not have taken "maybe another time" for an answer. She seemed grimly determined to cheer him up.
However miserable it made him.
Remus sighed. That wasn't fair, not really. It was a nice idea. He could hardly blame Tonks for the weather and his own still precarious health.
And he liked Tonks. The idea of a drink and some time in her company was worth a little trip through the cold.
At least it wasn't much further.
A warm glow and bubble of noise beckoned from beneath a creaking sign a few yards ahead. At last. The Three Broomsticks.
Carefully sidestepping a patch of ice that glinted by the gleaming light that emanated from his destination, Remus hurriedly pushed back the door and almost tumbled backwards as he was assailed by the fireball blast of heat and light and sound that washed across his half-frozen form from within. Catching his breath sharply, he loosened his scarf and, pulling off his gloves, moved hurriedly and with some relief inside.
Glorious warmth enfolded him from every direction, roaring fires that flared suddenly emerald, chattering figures with warm butterbeer and Madam Rosmerta bustling as always behind the bar. The pub was quieter than one had come to expect of the Three Broomsticks, but given the cold weather, this was perhaps not too great a surprise.
Much to his relief, almost nobody took much note of his entrance. Shrouded in blissful anonymity, Remus unwound his scarf almost completely, leaving only a fold in place to conceal the scars on his neck and made his way on cold and shaky legs in the direction of the bar and the glorious relief of a seat. He had barely hauled himself onto a stool, allowing his cold-stung cheeks to drop into the soothing cloak of his palms as he rested his elbows on the counter, when he was startled from his moment of rest by a loud hail and a friendly slap against his shoulder.
Tonks grinned as she leapt with enviable and most unexpected agility onto the neighbouring stool, brushing ashy remnants of her floo journey from her robes and her forest-green spiky hair. Her grin wavered as she caught a glimpse of the cold-forced flush of her companion's cheeks and the hint of frost that lingered in his hair.
"Blimey," she said, her eyes raking over the depths of clothes in which Remus had shrouded himself before darting towards the window. "Is it cold out?"
Remus chose not to dignify the question with a response. He simply glared.
Tonks remained thoroughly unfazed. "I'll take that as a yes, shall I?" she declared with alarming cheer. "Hey Rosmerta! A couple of butterbeers over here when you've got a moment!" She beamed at him heartily. "Never mind, Remus! We'll soon get you warmed up."
Remus tried to smile but it was a poor attempt. As the warmth of the room seeped into his bones and stole away the numbness of the cold, he found himself alarmingly shaky. His limbs felt heavy and tired, shaking and shivering with weariness instead of cold, tight tension sent whispers of pain across his forehead and the bridge of his nose, and a pervasive exhaustion had settled over his chest, his lungs sore and tender, his heart a stony weight. The fresh scar tissue across various parts of his body seemed to tug tenderly whenever he shifted in his seat.
Definitely not as improved as he'd thought. Bed rest was a deceptive beast.
Damn Poppy for being right.
A foaming butterbeer plonked down on the counter in front of him. A heart-shaped face peered close, as concerned eyes raked over his now ice-pale pallor and trembling fingers.
"Remus, are you all right?" Tonks asked, her tone abruptly softening into concern as she rested a gentle hand on his shoulder. "No offence, but you look awful."
"I'm fine, really." The declaration would probably have carried more weight if Remus could have found the requisite energy to raise his head from his hands. "I just need to catch my breath."
"I think it's winning the race." The hand tightened sympathetically. "I'm so sorry, mate, I should have thought! Making you walk all that way when you're still recovering." She sighed. "It's so easy to forget that you can't floo in or out of Hogwarts or apparate from the grounds."
Remus shook his head slightly, his face still buried. He still felt too tired to lift it. "I wouldn't have apparated anyway," he admitted hoarsely, his voice slightly muffled. "I'm in no mood for a splinch. Few enough parts of my body are working properly at the moment without leaving half of them behind."
Abruptly he felt his left hand being peeled away, its fingers wrapped securely around the warm handle of the butterbeer mug. A bar of Honeydukes chocolate thunked down on the counter next to it.
"Drink up," Tonks ordered with mock briskness. "Butterbeer cures most things and chocolate will see to the rest. And don't worry about walking back – when you're ready to go, I'll floo back to my place, grab my broom and give you a lift back by air. Okay?"
Too tired to argue, Remus wearily nodded. With a sigh, he lifted the foaming and admittedly tempting tankard and raised it to his lips.
There was no denying that he did feel better for it. The cosy warmth of the drink seeped down into his tired body, flushing a hint of colour back into his cheeks and furnishing him with the energy to at least sit upright once more. Draining the last dregs of the tankard, he shot his Auror companion a more genuine smile.
"Thanks," he said sincerely. "I do feel better for that."
She smiled back. "See? Told you so." Hailing Rosmerta once more, she indicated for a refill before turning back to her companion with over exaggerated Poppy-like sternness. "Now eat your chocolate," she ordered, tapping the counter top firmly. "Dr Tonks knows what's best."
Remus grinned with false meekness as he accepted his second butterbeer from the Three Broomsticks landlady and lifted the Honeydukes best obediently. "Yes, ma'am."
Rosmerta lingered a moment, smiling at the pair of them. "It's nice to see you again, Remus," she said with genuine sincerity. "I was worried all of these ridiculous newspaper reports would make you nervous to leave the castle."
Remus gave a wan smile. "Oh, they do," he admitted frankly. "But she bullied me into it."
He darted his eyes towards Tonks who blessed him with a cheeky grin. "It was for your own good!" she retorted playfully. "You were stagnating away in that castle. Besides, since you rejoined the wonderful world of employment, I've hardly seen hide nor hair of you. And believe it or not, I have missed having you around."
Madam Rosmerta laughed merrily. "Oh Remus, honestly! I thought better of you than that! Have you been neglecting your poor girlfriend?"
Remus, who had been in the process of gulping down a moderately sized mouthful of butterbeer, abruptly choked. The coughing fit that ensued was deeply impressive, if rather painful to an already sore array of ribs and the steady slap of Tonks' hand against his back wasn't helping. He appreciated the sentiment but…
Finally, oxygen flow was restored. Tapping his chest to clear the last of the coughing, Remus finally managed to focus on exactly what had caused the abrupt explosion of his lungs in the first place.
He liked Tonks. He liked her very much. She was fun to be around, good company, a surprisingly professional companion for Order business and an excellent friend especially in these difficult times. She had been a rock of support throughout the difficult time following the death of Sirius – her warm manner and gentle sympathy had, he was a little ashamed to admit, surprised him. But girlfriend?
If he was quite honest with himself, the thought had never really crossed his mind. For a fleeting instant, he wondered why not.
"Are you all right?" The green crowned heart-shaped face of Tonks intruded across his vision and jerked his thoughts back into the room. "You went awfully purple there for a moment."
"Fine." The gasping nature of the word did not necessarily reassure but at least it was a sign that he had recovered the powers of speech. "I'm fine. I just…" He caught sight of Rosmerta's smiling face and hurriedly suppressed an appalling urge to blush.
"Sorry about that," he apologised more coherently, pulling himself upright as he sharply collected himself. "You surprised me there for a moment, that's all."
"Surprised you?" Rosmerta's brow crinkled slightly. "How did I manage that?"
"You said…" Remus caught a glimpse of the raised eyebrow of Tonks and struggled to compose himself sufficiently so that he would not accidentally give offence. "We aren't a couple, that's all. We're just friends and it surprised me when you said…"
Two sets of eyes drilled quizzically into him. Sensibly, Remus managed to halt his lips before they plunged him further into the dangerous quagmire that was looming.
"That's nice!" Tonks was regarding him with an expression that was difficult to interpret; although her lips curled and her expression twinkled, there was a flash of seriousness in her eyes that came and went so swiftly that Remus was certain it had been his imagination. "Someone suggests me as a potential partner and you nearly choke to death. Note how flattered I am."
Remus sighed wearily. "You know I didn't mean it like that," he stated, dropping his head into his hand as he leaned against the bar. "It's just… you're my friend, Tonks. I guess the thought had never occurred to be that someone might take you for anything more."
Tonks's sudden grin was abruptly reassuring, although the look in her eyes was still slightly ambigious. "What, I'm not your type?" she teased cheerfully, with a casual swipe at his shoulder.
Remus smiled back, relieved that the awkward moment seemed to be passing without incident. "I'm not sure I even have a type," he remarked, fingering the chocolate wrapper thoughtfully. He glanced at Rosmerta. "But in all honesty, the possibility of us being a couple has never really crossed my mind."
The landlady shrugged with a smile. "I don't see why you shouldn't be." She laughed. "I've had stranger pairs in here, believe me."
"You don't think we look good together?" Tonks planted her green spiky head against Remus' left shoulder with a broad smile as she hooked her arm around his and winked at them both. "I suppose we aren't exactly what you'd expect. But if we were playing to stereotypes, I'd be sitting here with the lead singer of the Weird Sisters and the professor here would be having a drink with a librarian."
Remus glanced sideways and barely avoided a nasty collision between a nearby spike of hair and his eye. "Madam Pince is not my type."
Tonks shifted her hair. "I thought you didn't have a type."
"I have enough of a type to say that."
Rosmerta laughed again. "Very well, if you insist; friends it is." She gave a slightly rueful smile. "I suppose it was a bit of wishful thinking on my part. I've always thought you could use a nice girl in your life, Remus."
Remus shrugged, trying to avoid a sudden sense of depression at the mention of his rather non-existent love life as he fingered the edge of his robe absently. Somehow, the romantic life had always passed him by, left alone and out in the cold as those around him found solace in each other. It was not that he had not liked the idea of a wife and children – he did – but the idea had never really seemed to like him.
He had never been an Adonis in the first place, even in his youth; Sirius had held the honours and the lion's share of female attention in that category, and James' Quidditch athleticism had meant that he too had rarely been lonely. Even Peter had possessed what he had heard referred to as "a kind of chubby cuteness" that certain types of girl seemed to appreciate. But Remus – slight, pale, unremarkable – had tended to keep thoroughly out of the spotlight. When harbouring such a secret as his, drawing attention to himself would not have been a wise idea, so perhaps a certain ordinariness of appearance had all been for the best.
He had dated, a few times. But most of his relationships tended to stall and peter out under the strain of what Sirius had rather mockingly christened "Moony's Eternal Question" when he had explained the problem the year before – at what point in a relationship do you tell a girl that you're a werewolf? At the beginning and risk disdain or worse, widespread exposure? Or later and be branded a liar and deceiver? He had tried both ways and had yet to discover a satisfactory answer. He suspected one didn't exist.
Sirius had kindly pointed out that most people were aware of his condition now anyway, so what did it matter? Remus had acknowledged this but felt obliged to note that he had hardly been beating the ladies away with a stick ever since.
Not that being single bothered him, really. It just might've been nice to have had an alternative.
Of course, Tonks knew he was a werewolf and judging by the grip on her arm, she didn't seem to be going anywhere. But that wasn't the point. Whatever conclusions Rosmerta had jumped to, she was just his friend.
He smiled at Rosmerta with rather more cheer than he felt. "So have I," he answered honestly. "But werewolves aren't exactly the ideal husband material, and after all this business in the newspapers…."
"Oh don't be silly!" Rosmerta cut him off sharply. "You're a good man, Remus Lupin and anyone who knows you will say the same!"
Remus smiled wanly. "I appreciate the sentiment, Rosmerta," he said with a sigh. "But it's the people who don't know me I worry about…"
"Oh Remus, for goodness sake!" Tonks intervened abruptly. "Why do you always assume people are going to turn on you because of what you are?" She grinned wickedly. "Did it not occur to you that maybe they just don't like you?"
Remus furnished his companion with a long, slow look. "Thanks," he remarked dryly. "Watch my self esteem shoot through the roof."
"All part of the service." Tonks released his arm as she sat back with an expression of deliberate smugness.
"Service? What service?" Remus rested his elbow on the bar as he cupped his chin with one hand and took another swig of butterbeer as Rosmerta disappeared to quieten a hollering drunk at the far end of the bar.
Tonks grabbed her own tankard and matched him. "Why the patented Tonks The Human Pepper-Up Service of course. Guaranteed to improve the mood of even the most committed stoic misery of a professor."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "I want my money back."
"No refunds." Tonks swiped a square of chocolate with a cheeky grin. "It's in the contract."
"I demand a copy of this contract." Remus downed the bottom of his second tankard with a gulp. "I want to see the fine print before I get in too deep."
"It's a verbal contract."
"Then get me a pensieve."
Tonks eyed him for a moment, clearly weighing her options. "Would you accept a written apology?" she inquired hopefully.
"Nope." Remus fought desperately not to grin as he stared at her with casual indifference. "I want a full refund. In chocolate."
Tonks gestured indignantly at the open wrapper on the counter. "I already gave you chocolate!"
Remus lifted a broken chunk, examining it with apparent thoughtfulness. "This is medicinal. Refund chocolate is for pleasure."
"Tell you what," There was a sudden gleam in Tonks' eyes that was alarmingly Sirius-like. "I'll arm-wrestle you for it."
Remus blinked. Of all possible responses, he had not expected that one.
Tonks was grinning manically. "Arm-wrestle!" She plonked her elbow down on the counter and wriggled her fingers madly. "The winner gets chocolate!"
Remus sat up carefully. "Just how much did you have to drink before you came?"
Tonks deigned him with a superior stare. "I will have you know that I am high on nothing but life. Now are you in or not?"
Remus eyed the frantic fingers uncertainly. "I don't think this is a good idea."
Tonks waggled her eyebrows, her eyes gleaming. "Scared, are you?"
Remus rolled his eyes. "Not exactly. But it's hardly a fair competition, Tonks."
The Auror grinned. "I know, you poor thing. I'll give you a 5 degree start."
"In my weakened state?" It was Remus' turn to grin. "It should be 15 at least. For an Auror to pick on an invalid like me; you should be ashamed of yourself. Ministry brutality at its worst."
"Spoilsport." Tonks let her hand drop as a genuine chuckle crossed her lips. "I would have won."
Remus laughed outright. "I have no doubt. You scare me."
The gleam revived. "How about something smaller scale?" She extended her right hand, thumb raised. "Thumb war?"
"Oh good grief." Remus shook his head with a smile. "How old are we?"
"Hopefully not old enough to know better." She laughed and poked him sharply in the arm. "Come on! Where's the harm?"
Alarmingly, Remus could not think of a reasonable argument. With an exaggerated sigh, he extended his hand and allowed Tonks to grasp his fingers in the traditional thumb war posture.
With an expression of deliberate over-concentration, Tonks hunched forward and braced herself. Remus on the other hand, remained upright on his stool, desperately trying not to laugh as his companion performed a series of exaggerated thumb exercises.
"Ready?" she asked, apparently when he had decided her thumb was suitably flexed. Remus nodded his consent. "Then three, two, one… GO!"
It should have been no contest. Remus of course had larger hands, a longer thumb and a far superior reach. There was however a factor he had not accounted for.
Tonks' thumb was changing lengths.
A protest seemed in order. "You're morphing! That's unfair!"
Tonks was grimacing with mock concentration as the thumb wrestle intensified.
"You…" she panted. "Have a natural advantage! I'm evening the odds!"
"It gets longer when you attack!"
"I thought you didn't care anyway!"
"And then you shrink it back when I get close! That's cheating!"
Tonks grinned as their joined hands twisted with the intensity of battle. "You can't cheat if there's no rules, Lupin!"
No rules? Well fine, if that was the way she wanted to play it… He could do no rules.
With an expression of uncharacteristic wickedness, Remus lunged forward with his free hand and tickled her under the armpit.
The effect was suitably dramatic.
Shocked, off balance and with her concentration broken, Nymphadora Tonks squealed, rocked and then tumbled sharply backwards off her stool.
Belatedly, Remus tried to catch her, but it was far too late. Plunging over in a wild flail of limbs, Tonks crashed into the drinker behind her and flung both herself and her unfortunate neighbour to the ground.
Sudden guilt washed over Remus in a rush, sweeping away the warm glow of silliness that had engulfed him. He leapt to his feet at once, grasping the hand of a slightly dazed looking Tonks as he helped her gently upright and set her down on her hurriedly righted stool, his lips half-open with words of apology. Her glare however sharply cut him off.
"You apologise to me, Lupin, and I'll thump you. I mean it!" She grinned slightly. "I will not have you being sorry for showing daring and innovation in thumb warfare."
Remus raised his hands with a small smile. "All right, no apology. But I do forfeit the fight. The chocolate is yours."
Tonks appeared on the verge of protest but Remus had already turned to aid the unfortunate drinker caught up in their display of mutual daftness. The man however had already come to his feet, grabbing at the drink he had fortunately left safe on the bar as he turned.
He was a badly shaven man, scruffy and wild haired, with beady eyes that squinted uncertainly as they fixed upon Remus' deferent approach. The glass of firewhiskey was grasped in one hand, and the noxious odour that surrounded him implied that it was unlikely to have been his first.
He blinked, one eye twitching slightly as he wove a little on the spot. His eyes narrowed.
"'Ere! You're 'im, ain'cha?" The boorish voice echoed loudly across the rafters of the Three Broomsticks. "Ain'cho 'im?"
Oh no. Ignoring the chill of apprehension that fluttered though his stomach, Remus nonetheless maintained a polite demeanour as the newcomer swayed drunkenly on the spot. Beside him, Tonks had tensed.
"Sir, are you feeling all right?" he inquired carefully, with a slight frown. "Perhaps if you sat down…"
"I don't wanna sit down!" The man's voice loudened by several degrees – all around the Three Broomsticks, heads began to turn. "Makes me an easy target, don't it? Cos' I know who you are, see! I read the papers! You're 'im! You're that loony werewolf teacher from up at the school!"
A deathly silence fell across the Three Broomsticks.
Rosmerta's expression was steely and cold. "That's enough, Fergus," she ordered, her voice low but filled with the kind of authority that only a landlady on the verge of a chuck out could muster. But Fergus, it seemed, was well beyond stopping. He rocked in a small circle, waving his finger as he sought to focus himself before launching abruptly back into his diatribe.
"I know your game!" he roared, hurling flecks of spittle across a wide radius. "You're on the wossit…on the prowl, ain'cha? Checking out who looks good chomping when the next mull foon comes round!" He stabbed the air with an emphatic finger. "Now they made all them rules to stop you gettin' the kiddies, you gotta look elsewhere for your fix! Well, not round 'ere, says I! Not while Fergus McGinty still stands an'…."
The finger wobbled. The eyes crossed and slowly glazed over. Straight-backed as a plank of wood and emphatic as though pole-axed, Fergus McGinty teetered and toppled backwards on his heels to lie giggling and soaked in firewhiskey as he stared at the ceiling, Remus apparently forgotten. A moment later, he began to snore.
The silence deepened. The stares increased.
And then, with her eyebrows raised, Madam Rosmerta leaned forward and peered down at her erstwhile customer over the counter.
"When he wakes up," she said matter-of-factly. "He'll be barred."