My dad's antiquated record player is buried under a pile of pink tee shirts I had promised to sell for my mate Donaghan at the concert tonight. I chuck the lot of them unceremoniously onto my unmade bed. Rifling through an old cardboard box, I select Led Zeppelin III and proceed to rock out. I will deal with my troubles later.

Meanwhile: my daily workout. Plant screams in his deliciously muggle way to the anti-melody of "Immigrant Song" as I kick front, front, side, side, back... It makes glorious sense, and this is what I should have spent my life doing. Singing rock and roll music, or becoming a kickboxing instructor. Or just something fucking sane.

I am so damn tired of being a bloody auror, and I've held the job for all of ten months. I have been relegated, so far, to desk work, but it's as complicated as anything I've ever done in Advanced Potions with that git Snape. And it isn't a nine-to-five, either. With the hours I work, I'm doomed to a midlife crisis before the age of thirty. Blast it all, my one night off, and instead of going to see my friends, The Weird Sisters: Live at Stonehenge, I'm destined for more paperwork.

I kick out my frustrations straight through "Tangerine," and sit down on the bed for a rest. Breathing a sigh of semi-contentment, I realize the full extent of my piss-offedness.

Damn. Richard. Bastard. I'd nearly managed to forget about him, but the moment of respite brought the memory of what an ass I've made of myself into focus. For a year- a whole year- I've wasted my life on that fool of a Ravenclaw, and only yesterday I discovered he's cheating on me with someone else. On top of all my work stress I'll have to confront him. It's more than I can bear. I collapse on my sore arms, on the pile of pink shirts, and sob for ten minutes.

Snap out of it, I tell myself. I get up off the mess, shake my head violently until the bright red spikes become long black curls, and do a few more minutes of kickboxing. The occasional stray tear rolls off my cheek, and I elect to ignore it.

Finally I take the record off the record player, run to the loo and yank the shower nozzle until it is emitting boiling-hot fuschia-scented streams of water. I step inside, luxuriate for ten minutes, and escape the heat into the kitchen, throwing on a robe.

I sit down at the table. I lay out a chipped beaker of chai tea, a ream of Ministry parchment, a lime green highlighter, and a tiny toad bobblehead toy (for stress relief) in front of me. I sip the tea, pull the parchment closer, and am millimeters away from bobbing the bobblehead when I hear the doorbell.

Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit. It's Richard, it has to be, and he's going to offer up some apology or excuse, or remind me that he has the Weird Sisters tickets, and that I don't really want to be cooped up in this flat on a Friday night when I could be at Stonehenge, or in Oxford at his flat, in his bed.

I should forget about the doorbell, I tell myself. I should pretend like I'm not home. I nestle more deeply into my work. The bell rings again, this time with a sense of heightened urgency. I will rise, balance the tea and the bobblehead in one hand and the parchment in the other, and gracefully saunter to the recesses of my boudoir. Except this doesn't work, because as usual I fuck everything up, get caught up in the chair, drop and unroll all of the neat parchment, spill the scalding tea all over my bare feet ("BOLLOCKS!" I shout, as if I wasn't noisy enough) and the cute bobblehead lands smack on his head. No use ignoring the door now. Because the bell rings eight times in rapid succession, and whoever's behind it isn't giving up anytime soon.

I hastily clean up the tea mess, resolve to pick up everything else later, and tiptoe warily to the door. My arms are crossed, and I wear what I hope is a no-nonsense expression. I touch my wand to the lock. I turn the knob.

But it isn't Richard. It's someone I haven't seen in years.

"Bloody hell, Remus, is that you? How ever did you find me?" I usher Remus in, and belatedly realize he has a friend with him- a rather large black dog. "Oh, hello there!" I pat the beast's head and he licks my palm.

"How have you been all these years? I haven't seen you since... well, you know." I haven't seen him since just before Sirius had been captured. We used to play together, or rather, he used to play with me, he and Sirius and James and Peter. Long before I went up to Hogwarts. True, it has been years, but I knew him at once because he's the same serious boy with the brown gaze and rather ratty robes I always remembered.

"Nymphadora, please... forgive me." He sits down without invitation in the big squishy chair by the window. I observe him through a moment of silence, and realize belatedly the oddness of the whole situation. Did he just call me Nymphadora? Damn him.

"It's Tonks, Remus, same as always. Let me get you some tea."

The dog follows me into the kitchen. I glance back at the haggard man on my best chair and think back, wondering whether very far-back acquaintances often show up at my front door and silently allow me to wait on them while their dogs follow me around.
What do I remember about this Remus Lupin fellow from my childhood? I ask as I fish for an inoffensive beaker to pour Remus's tea in. I remember he met me on a visit to the Potters' house in 1979. I was six, and he was nineteen. I was playing with a stuffed hippogriff, and Sirius and Peter and James were romping about the larder, on a quest for snacks. Remus sat beside me on the settee and engaged in a rousing chat with the plushie and me. Each time we met he brought me chocolate. I never knew him as well as Severus, but he was a nice boy then. Have the fourteen years between our last meeting and now changed him? I'm eager to learn what brought him here. Miraculously, I manage not to spill the tea into his lap. I sit on the couch opposite him, the black dog curling up beside me. He drinks deeply, and sets the mug onto the lamp table beside him. Then he looks at me. I hold my breath.

"Forgive me for the Nymphadora bit. I assumed... you had outgrown..." He cleared his throat.

"One doesn't grow into a silly name," I smirk. "It's Tonks."

"It has been a very, very long time."

"Hmmm, yes. Fourteen years." I feel proud of myself for having done the counting already. I am a big girl, I want to prove to him, as I desire to prove to all my new adult friends in the big adult world I am attempting to enter quite unsuccessfully. "I never expected to see you again."

"Nor I you, Tonks." he pauses again. "But circumstances have- er- arisen, that make it... tell me, Tonks, do you have time? Am I preventing you from something?"

I think of my parchment diffused throughout the floor of the kitchen, and I don't really care about it at the moment.

"I am completely unbusy." I pet the scruffy pup with my foot, still sticky from the tea I spilled. "Very well. To begin with... you should know that something happened two weeks ago which will, regardless of your own beliefs toward the subject, affect your job, and your life, greatly in the future."

"We're talking about You-Know-Who, aren't we?", and suddenly my guard is up. I refuse to believe it. This can't be real. The Prophet said... Damn and blast, but I've got enough to be worrying about without adding a possible coupe of the Wizarding government and subsequent pogroms against Muggleborns. I cannot believe it.

He sighs wearily. He can sense my hostility to the subject. "Yes. We are talking about Lord Voldemort."

I cringe.

"He is back; Harry Potter's story is true."

"How do you know?" My voice is even.

"I cannot tell you precisely how just now. I have more to relate at present."

Through my initial, overpowering dismay, I am aware of how annoyed I am by his formality. Lighten up, man! I almost shout at him. I'm twenty-two, not forty.

"Headmaster Dumbledore has orchestrated the beginnings of an effort to fight You-Know-Who, and we heard tell of your up-and-coming talents from one of your co-workers at the Ministry."

Which one? If it's Kingsley, I'll kill the bloody wanker, I think to myself.

"The biggest setback we have at the moment is that, as I'm sure you're aware, the Ministry is uncooperative at best. We have to conduct all our operations in secret. But we need as many insiders at the Ministry as we can get."

"Which is where I come in?" He nods. "So... fourteen years, and now you come in my flat at eleven p.m. and ask me to join some secret mission to fight the reincarnated darkest dark lord of the twentieth century, with your filthy dog dirtying up my carpet?" Another belated realization: my carpet is already horrid. Remus doesn't seem to notice. The dog whimpers.

"Sorry, it wouldn't have been so late. I was given faulty directions. But yes, essentially, that is the reason for my visit."

Some visit. "Can I have a moment?" He nods again. I discover in the silence that the dog likes to be pet just between the shoulder blades. "Can I ask two questions?"

"Of course."

"How many times have you rehearsed that speech?"

"Thousands." The ghost of a smile appears, the first I have seen all evening. "Really, I'm just very articulate. Practiced talking with stones in my mouth, and everything."

Must be a classical reference of some kind. It flies over my head, and I feel ashamed when I remember that at the age of seven Remus once read me Catullus. It has been a very, very long time indeed. I continue to pet the dog, pretending I understood. Remus clears his throat. I look up.

"The second question?" he inquires.

"What's the pup's name?"

"Oh." A pause, then: "Can I tell you something before I tell you that?" I raise an eyebrow, urging him to continue.

"This may come as a shock to you."

"I like shock." I turn my hair pink and spiky, eliciting a wry smile.

"Very well, then. Sirius Black did not betray the Potters." And it is a shock. A very big shock.

"What?" I ask dimly. I am beginning to believe every word he says, although every word becomes more and more incredible. "It was Peter Pettigrew." He looks tired- I am now looking in his eyes, and they are extremely lovely eyes, but the saddest I have ever seen. I am a collector of people with interesting eyes.

"How is that possible?" I breathe. I feel like I'm in a novel, only it's real, too real. Sirius is innocent? Yes. I believe that. It's what I've wanted to believe all along. I will join Dumbledore, because Sirius is innocent, and that is the worst reason possible for joining a cause, but there you go. I love my cousin. I have missed him, missed his GOODNESS. Missed his friends.

"It's a terribly long story, Tonks."

"Regale me."

"It includes more shocking things." I am silent, but my eyes beg him for more. "Tonks..." His face changes, a flicker of something unexpected passes over it, his eyes meet mine and in a moment it is so intense that the next moment, when it is over, we cannot help but forget it immediately.

"Yes?"

He once more clears his throat, holds my gaze, and I become once more aware of the dog which is now hopping down off the couch and stretching his legs out between Remus and me. But mostly I am anxious to hear his story.

"The first thing you must know is that I am a werewolf." Our gaze breaks and then he recaptures it.

"Ah." My fists clench and then reopen. No need to be afraid. Full moon... two weeks ago...

"Recent development?"

He shakes his head. "I was six when I was bitten." My mouth forms an O. He continues. "When I entered Hogwarts I never expected to find friends at all, much less friends like Sirius, James, and Pettigrew." This last name he nearly spits. "They all became Animagi- unregistered- to accompany me during my transformations. Peter became a rat. When Voldemort rose to power, and James and his wife had to go into hiding, they made all pretense of making Sirius their Secret Keeper, but Sirius and Peter switched places at the last."

"So it was right of Sirius to kill Peter." It all makes sense. But wait: the Muggles...

"Pettigrew transfigured back into a rat and escaped. After feigning his death. And killing a street full of Muggles."

Now it makes more sense. I am completely astonished. "How can you be sure?" I whisper, as it seems an occasion for whispering.
"Sirius and I saw him. He admitted to it; we were about to kill him once and for all; but then he escaped."

"And he rejoined You-Know-Who?" Remus lowers his eyes. And suddenly part of what he just said comes back to me.

"You've seen Sirius? Is he all right? He's... he's been on the run, but..." Animagus. Shit for brains, Tonks. "Oh, dear God." I look down at the dog, who is patiently watching me with merry eyes. And the dog is definitely not a dog anymore.

Sirius smells like he's been for a bath in the Thames, and looks like Satan invited him over for shopping at Hell's Harrods, and to me he has never looked better. But I don't spare much time for looking, as almost immediately I am throwing my arms around him and he with bony weak arms is twirling me around with the most exhuberant air, and I am reunited with my favorite cousin. I can feel his rash smile against my hair, and more than anything I can feel his soul radiating our from deep within him, though I know it's been suppressed for so long. God, how I have missed you, cousin mine. This I say aloud.

"Tonks, you're a right lovely young woman now." Is that a tear I spot? For I am beginning to feel an onslaught of them from my side.

"Sirius, you look like hell." I grin.

"Same old Tonksie." He pats me on the head. "Wearing the pink, as I like it"

"Always I think of you, Sirius. How come you never told me you were an Animagus?" "It was our secret, mine, Remus's, James's... But the secret's out, thanks to that rat." He shudders. "But now, you have to tell me about what you've been up to for fourteen years"

"Oh, you know, growing up. I'm an auror now, but I guess you know that"

"Yes, I do, and I'm damn proud of you for it. I hoped you would become one."

"I managed to swing it. What about you?"

"Fourteen years of Dementors in Azkaban doesn't make for a very interesting story." He offers a wan smile. I embrace him again, feeling a few tears leak out. "But we can talk later. It's late; I'm sure Remus wants to get back to his flat, and there's still the matter of you joining the Order."

I remember that Remus is in the room, appearing more than a little uncomfortable at the emotional display. I am curious: "What's the Order?"

"The Order of the Phoenix," Remus pipes in. "It's the name Dumbledore gave our group. We've begun setting up headquarters. Will you join? We need all the strong hands we can muster." He takes a few hopeful steps toward me. I brace myself for my reply.

Can I, young, inexperienced Nymphadora, tackle the task of being part of a covert society up in arms against the Death Eaters and the Ministry of Magic?

I look at my rediscovered cousin, and his friend, who will become my friend as well, and I look down at my "strong hands" briefly and I look up, and I say:

"Where do I sign up?"

And in a moment, every little problem, every insignificant quandary that plagues me, falls and shatters on the kitchen tiles, forgotten.