"My poverty is not complete: it lacks me."
Antonio Porchia, 1943
One of many similar late nights (early mornings?) found Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks sharing Earl Grey and small talk in the Grimmauld kitchen. Both would willingly stay up late after a harrowing and long day just to share a quiet cup of tea in the dead of night. And tonight, when he came in at 2:00 am, she already had the pot on, waiting for his arrival.
The quiet kitchen hinted of Molly's lasagna dinner and of something sweet and enticing that they couldn't locate. Chocolate biscuits would do. Flickering fire emanated from the magical lantern on the counter as they both sat, brutally exhausted but unwilling to forgo the nightly ritual.
Remus reached a long arm across the narrow table and brushed a crumb from the corner of her mouth then took a sip of his tea, smirking into the cup, his eyes dancing over the brim.
"Wotcher," Tonks said with a good-natured laugh and repeated the movement, checking for any stray crumbs he might have missed.
"Good biscuits," he said, looking at her affectionately.
Getting to know the quiet and enigmatic werewolf had become a long and rewarding road. To say the least, he was different from her. And, of course, Tonks knew her rebellious appearance, loquacious demeanor and distinctly different personality provided him with similar obstacles. It took work to understand each other, yet the labor always paid off in the end. Their relationship had reached the point of comforting silences and idle touches, though Tonks didn't know when and how they arrived there, only that she counted their friendship among her most cherished possessions.
The young auror studied Lupin over her raised cup when she noticed a black string of sorts barely peeking above his collar on one side.
"What is that, Remus? Are you wearing a necklace?" When she nodded towards his collar, he reached up with a free hand and felt the thin leather strand there.
"Yes," he said, a tad disconcerted to find the strand awry. Instead of showing her the necklace, though, he tucked it back into his collar then casually reached for the silver sugar spoon and added another lump to his tea.
"You don't seem like the jewelry type," she whispered, elbows on the table and leaning forward with a teasing smile. "May I see it?"
Remus looked mildly surprised that she would express interest in something he wore.
Since jewelry reflects the owner, she did want to see what he fancied. But part of her hoped the request might cause him to unbutton his shirt just a bit and provide a glimpse of skin other than the standard (but oh so beautiful) hands that seemed to be all he ever showed. She felt a stab of disappointment when he tugged lightly at the strand and pulled it out of his tie-shod collar instead of undoing any clothing.
The pendant portion of the necklace popped gently from under the fabric with a tug - a small white circular stone connected to the strand with a loop knot running through a hole in the center. It was polished and raked throughout with thin grey threads running like tendrils of angry clouds in a winter storm and ranging between sharp and soft angles like lazy lightning.
"It's Howlite," he said, craning his neck back to idly look at the pendant before dropping it to his shirt.
"Is it rare?"
"Oh no, it's neither rare nor expensive as minerals or gems go. But it is difficult to acquire here in England."
When she reached her hand out with a shy smile, Remus deftly undid the knot in the leather with two fingers and handed it to her.
"Odd that it came undone so easily. I rarely take it off."
The stone was still warm to the touch, warm from sitting close inside his clothes, nestled to him. And he rarely takes it off… She observed the length of the leather strand and knew it would sit high on his chest.
Tonks' body fought for control of her mind and swiftly won. She pictured a dripping wet Remus walking by the lake, wearing nothing but swimming trunks and the Howlite necklace; Remus sleeping in the four-poster, curled up in his boxers with the stone resting against his neck; Remus standing in the shower with hair plastered to his forehead and water raining down his shoulders, wearing the necklace and nothing else. Beautiful Remus in this sexy, masculine piece of jewelry.
"Do you like it?" She looked up, jolted out of her naughty revelry by the quiet timbre of his voice.
Tonks cleared her throat and kept her head low to hide an encroaching blush.
"It's beautiful, Remus."
She began to protest, but he just laughed and pushed the necklace back into her hands.
"Tonks, it would make me very happy to give you something you want. I don't get to do that for a friend very often." He smiled and leaned over the table, kissed her gently on the cheek, before picking up their mugs and spelling them to self-wash in the sink.
"Blimey, Remus….It really is beautiful. I'll never take it off."
When she weaved unsteadily towards the door as she tried to tie the necklace and walk simultaneously, he came up behind her and secured it.
"People often dye Howlite to make it look like nicer or more expensive stones…like Turquoise or Lapis. But sometimes, things are beautiful in their simplicity."
He suddenly realized that stark simplicity might not appeal to Tonks as he turned her around to situate the necklace on her chest. "You can dye it if you want, though….to make it more colorful."
"No, I wouldn't do that. I want it just the way you had it. Things don't have to be glittery or fancy to be…..stunning."
She pulled him into an intense eye-lock when she said it, and he idly rubbed the frayed edge of his shirt sleeve, slightly unsettled by the way her eyes could make him feel warm inside.
Two weeks later, Tonks returned from the Ministry at a not-so-ungodly hour and fingered the necklace around her neck, like she often did when she thought of Remus. What time would he come home? She needed tea and biscuits. And his soft, soothing voice in her ears.
She heard sounds in the sitting room and peered in hopefully but found, instead, Arthur Weasley weeding through a massive pile of paperwork.
"Hello, Arthur." The auror threw herself on the couch with an air of defeat.
"You look knackered."
"Double shifts are not my friend."
"Well, I've got some good news for you, though. Remus is back from St. Mungos."
Tonks jumped off the couch as if it were on fire.
"What? No one told me he was hurt!"
Arthur's face went from clueless to apologetic. "No! No, it's nothing related to the war! He wasn't attacked. He's fine!"
He got up to take Tonks by the shoulders and peer into her face, regretting how casually he brought up Remus' injury. It appeared that young Nymphadora and their favorite werewolf had become close when he wasn't looking.
"It's alright, sit down."
But she continued to stand and wait for an explanation as he returned to his paperwork mound.
"I'm sorry, I thought you knew. When Remus went to Snape's lab for wolfsbane this morning? He picked up a silver measuring spoon and burned his hand…quite badly. They healed the worst of it, but silver burns on a werewolf take some time to mend properly."
"Sleeping last time I checked….Remus normally wears a Howlite stone to protect him from silver burns. I guess he just forgot that he didn't have one on."
Tonks felt petrified, blood frozen in her veins. "Howlite?"
"It's a type of stone. It protects werewolves from adverse reactions to silver and helps lessen the pull of the moon a few days before transformation. It's actually a beautiful stone, if somewhat plain…..Tonks?"
Arthur looked up from his paperwork to find the young auror completely missing from the room.
Tonks stormed up the stairwell with tears in her eyes and pushed open his door without knocking. There he was, the prat, awake and sprawled out on the four-poster, fully-clothed and shoes shucked off, several pillows behind him as he perused "The Daily Prophet."
She rushed to the bed and took his hand away from the paper, studying the bandage with her face hidden.
"I just heard what happened."
"Well, good evening to you, too," he said lightly. "It's fine. It's just a burn."
"A silver burn! How many weeks will it take to heal?" she blurted angrily, raising her tear-streaked face to him.
"It's practically healed right now."
"How can you be so stupid!" When she snatched his shoulder tightly in her free hand, his eyes widened with a slightly comical look, surprised at the strength in her vice-like little grip.
"Oh! I'm sorry. I'm just so furious." She rubbed his shoulder briefly then threw her hands to her face in consternation. Breathed in deeply. Tried not to scream at him. Lost the battle.
"WHAT were you thinking! Howlite protects you? How long did it take you to find that stone! How could you do that, Remus! Give away something that protects you! How could you be SO THICK!"
"DON'T you 'Nymphadora' me right now, Remus! Don't!"
"Tonks…." He smiled and gave her a small encouraging nod, not wanting to raise her ire any farther than it already was. "You need to understand…..would you take a deep breath for me, because you look like you're about to explode."
"I am breathing."
"Just listen to me, alright?"
"Tonks, it's….it's very hard to care about people yet never have the means to give them things. Holidays, birthdays – they're nightmares for me, not because I don't want to celebrate with those I love, but because I can't show them how much I care. I'm destitute, Tonks. And with Umbridge's new legislation, I imagine that I always will be."
"Remus, love isn't about things."
"No, of course not. But it doesn't change the fact that I'd like to provide things for the people…the people I love. It's as simple as that."
He propped the newspaper back up, trying desperately to make light of something that had her fuming. To be honest, her anger was a bit scary. Maybe because it hinted at a level of emotional attachment that he didn't know existed for her. For him, it did. But for her, as well?
"Alright then…Would you like to go get a bite to eat tonight? I did some exorcise work for Kendrick Spurlock over at The Woozy Wizard, and he's given me a dinner tab."
She sat very still on the bed, looking down, but at least her tantrum was over. Surely…
Suddenly, Tonks ripped the paper out of his good hand and sent it fluttering and separating across his floor. He watched the sections waft down.
"Remus, you're not going to squirrel out of this."
"There's nothing left to say."
"I'm not finished, not by a long-shot."
Remus looked down at the one leaf of paper still stuck in his hand. The obituaries. How depressing. He started to read them anyway, but Tonks tore the final vestige from his hand and threw it over her shoulder. Staring at the empty space in front of him and taking in her heated countenance peripherally, Remus bit his cheek and leaned back into the pillows. After a beat, he gave her his steady gaze and she seemed to lighten a shade or two.
"Remus, do you think whatever material gift you might give Harry on his birthday is anything compared to your teaching him how to conjure a Patronus? Do you think Sirius would rather have some wrapped token from you; or would he rather remember that on his lowest days when he returned, you helped him through his worst nightmares, made sure he ate and slept and talked when he needed to talk? Do you think…" She swallowed down a rising hitch in her throat. "Do you think this necklace means anything to me compared to sharing any given late night with you in the kitchen?" She pulled the necklace off and held it in her hand.
He sighed heavily and looked up at the ceiling, trying to find the proper way to explain. "I do understand. And I agree with those things, but the look in your eyes that night….I've never been able to do that before - give someone something they'll love and treasure. The burn was more than a fair exchange to me. I just need to be careful until the stone is replaced. And I mean replaced. I won't take that one back. It was a gift."
"……That look in my eyes?...That look in my eyes…." She laughed softly. "Remus, I wasn't thinking about how much I like the necklace….when I had that look in my eyes….I was thinking about how much I like you."
She undid his tie and pulled it slowly through the collar, freed three buttons of his shirt and tied the necklace around his neck, situated the stone flush against his chest, and pressed down with her palm, holding it between her skin and his for a moment and then kissed him on the cheek in the same gentle fashion he had kissed her that night.
"If you wear it, I know you're safer. And I can….I can picture you wearing it…sleeping here in your bed…and I'll have one less thing to worry about in this war. You're the best gift I ever received. Can you understand that? And I take care of my gifts."
She could see a quiet obstinance tugging at Remus, his eyes set in mild defiance. And she returned her hand to the inside of his open shirt, stroked lightly, her eyes pleading for him to understand and to let this go. His determined eyes fluttered and closed. Her hand felt nice. Nice enough for him to relax his pride for just a moment.
"Nymphadora, did it ever occur to you that we're both too stubborn for our own good?"
She smiled and moved closer to curl into his lap, and he held her lightly, if not broodingly.
"May I take you out to eat tonight? At least I know you won't return consumed food…. unless you're very very angry with me."
She burst out with a mirthful howl and laughed so hard tears came down her face. And soon he was in the same state, the two of them collapsed in each other's arms, convulsing in fits of laughter on the four-poster.
When he picked up a silver knife in his good hand at dinner, she turned the hand over, looking at the unscathed palm, and kissed it. And she received, in turn, the most passionate kiss of her life. He tasted of red wine, and her fingers grazed the leather strand on his neck and the flushed skin around it.
That night, she didn't have to fantasize, as he lay in her bed, pale skin glowing in the moonlight, the Howlite stone resting on his chest as she wrapped herself around him and whispered in his ear, "It seems the thing that satisfies me best is free."
"Lucky me," he said with a wide grin and tasted her skin, and thought to himself that Nymphadora (beautiful gift) was certainly a well-named young woman.