We were watchful as the kids dragged their trunks and pets through the snow and inside Hogwarts grounds. Only after they reached safety did we relax.
"You know, there is something very special to me about this school," Remus said. He had a wistful look about him.
"Oh yeah?" I prompted. I knew that everybody loved Hogwarts, myself included, but there seemed to be something more to this story and I keen on hearing it.
"First of all, this is the place where I found acceptance—friends who lightened my burdens. And a headmaster who not only educated me when even my parents had given up on me because of—" he trailed off.
"Your condition?" I supplied.
"My condition." I couldn't help but hear a note of disgust in his voice at that statement. "Anyway, later he gave me perhaps the most fulfilling job of my life. And although you wouldn't think so if you looked at all the rules I broke as a student here, this is where I learned how to take responsibility for who I am. How to accept myself." He paused, then continued in a very subdued voice. "I guess you could say that Albus Dumbledore saved me from myself. I have boundless respect for him."
I nodded in agreement. I loved the headmaster as well, but could only imagine what growing up Lupin must have been like and how Dumbledore fit into all of it.
He stared at the castle for about a minute more and then turned to me with a slight smile. "Well, enough of my reminiscing. We should probably get back then, you think?"
"Yeah, probably," I sighed. "Only it's such a nice day and I really don't have anywhere to be for a bit. Not to mention that riding that Knight Bus makes me queasy." Stan was standing in the bus' doorway, impatiently waiting for us to re-board. "For that matter, so does Stan," I added in a whisper. "Mind if we walk for a while?"
"I think that's an excellent idea." He waved off the bus and its very disgruntled operator.
We walked in silence for a while. "You really enjoyed teaching, didn't you."
He looked down at the ground in defeat. "I did," he admitted. But his lips curved into a smile. "My favorite moment was teaching the third years boggarts. Severus has never forgiven me for that one."
I turned my head in surprise. "Severus? Snape?"
There was a mischievous glimmer in his eyes. "Neville Longbottom's greatest fear. But I assure you, he's not so frightening in drag."
I could only imagine. "I'll have to remember that next Order meeting," I murmured.
The mischievous look was replaced with a very wicked one. "I have a hard time looking at him and keeping a straight face anymore. I always see him with a red handbag."
I couldn't help but smile at the thought. Soon the only sound was our feet crunching in the snow. Despite the silence, I plucked up the courage to ask about something I had been thinking about for a while.
"Speaking of boggarts, Molly told me about how easily you handled that boggart in the drawing room."
"She did?" He sounded curiously surprised that we would be discussing him. "Why?"
"Well, I sort of coaxed it out of her the next day," I admitted and flashed a guilty smile. "She was just so shaken up about the whole episode."
"I don't blame her."
"Neither do I. Especially after…" Remus nodded. Arthur's near-death experience had left us all shaken. She has a lot to fear—she cares so much for her family. And Harry," I added. "But whatever you did or said, it had a profound effect on her. If it was even possible, I think she is even more impressed by you." There was no way I was going to admit it, but I was impressed, as well. Not that handling a boggart is particularly difficult—it is third year curriculum, after all. Blame the tendency I have to feel like an infatuated schoolgirl around him, but it made Remus seem even more—brave.
I fought the slight blush that was threatening my cheeks and ears and mentally chided myself. That's because it IS a stupid schoolgirl reaction. Act your age, Nymphadora!
He didn't comment. In fact, he was quiet for quite a while. "You know who really impresses me?"
The serious tone to his question brought me back to my senses. "Who?"
"Harry. Do you know what his boggart is?"
"I couldn't even imagine—there's so much…" I trailed off. I couldn't even fathom the horrors Harry has been through, and at such a young age. The possibilities were endless.
Remus seemed to be reading my mind. "I know. He has so much to fear. But it's a dementor."
I was shocked. "Only a dementor?"
"Only a dementor."
"Wow. I would have bet money it would be Voldemort."
"I know. It surprised me, too. But all he fears is fear." He paused. And then, to my astonishment, he chuckled. "And all I fear is myself. How 'bout you, Tonks? What's your greatest fear?"
I should have known this was coming. I knew how stupid this was going to sound. "Flushing toilets," I murmured.
He snorted with incredulous laughter. "Flushing toilets?"
"Yup. Especially public ones." I lost the fight with the blush and felt mildly embarrassed at his laughter. "The louder they are and the more water pressure they have, the scarier they are. The make me jump every time. I always worry that they're going to overflow or shoot out water or drag me down the drain or something." He was still laughing at me. "I know, I know, it's really stupid. In fact, as a kid, I would open the door to the stall before I flushed and jump away as quick as possible."
Shaking his head, he asked, "And how do you turn something like that into something funny?"
I had to laugh at my own stupidity. Of all the frightening things in this world, I had to pick something incredibly stupid to be afraid of. "I don't have to turn it into something funny," I explained. "After the initial shock, I just laugh at how bloody stupid I am to be afraid of a toilet."
We laughed this for a few good minutes. After we regained our composure, he cocked his head towards me and said, "You know Tonks—I love your laughter. It's so loud and free and it echoes off of everything."
"Can't say I hear that much." I laughed some more. "I'm usually told that I'm too loud. But I can't help it; I just love to laugh a lot. I find damn near everything funny."
Before I could internalize the fact that Remus Lupin had just given me a very personal compliment, the laughter died from his lips as he stopped cold in his tracks. His eyes, which had been merry just moments ago, clouded over at the sight in front of him. Concerned, I followed his gaze up the hill to…
The Shrieking Shack.
He began walking up the slight grade with sudden purpose. I had to jog to catch up, slipping and tripping in the snow and nearly falling on my face. I almost ran into him when he stopped at the fence. Altering my course at the last minute, I stopped, breathless, beside him.
"Remus?" I whispered. "What is it?"
For a while, my query went unnoticed. He was distant—in another place and another time. When he finally spoke, his voice was hoarse. "Do you know what this place is?" Somehow, I had the feeling this question was rhetorical. "I came here every month for seven years to transform," he whispered into the air. I tore my attention away from the notorious house and back to his face at this confession. Sirius had often talked of the boys' hideaway, but never named it. I opened my mouth to say something, but closed it again when nothing came. I simply wrapped my cloak tighter around myself. The air seemed to turn colder all of a sudden.
His low voice broke the silence again, but this time with a steely edge. "Sirius is so lucky I didn't find him before he found Peter."
"I was going to kill him."
"I was going to track him down and I was going to kill him."
I could only gape at him in shocked silence.
"Peter made such fools of us all," he growled. The anger in his voice made me turn my head, afraid to look at him. "It was only twelve years later that I was able to piece it together." He paused and took a deep breath.
"We knew that there was a spy in the Order," he explained. Resignation replaced the anger. "We knew someone was passing Voldemort information on the Potters. We knew it for a year. We knew it was someone close to James and Lily. But we couldn't figure out exactly who." His eyes darkened again, but his tone held out. "Peter told me he was convinced it was Sirius. 'After all, Remus, Sirius is James' best friend, who else would know this information? And look at his family!'" he mimicked. "I doubted that Sirius would ever rejoin the Black family legacy, but over time, Peter persuaded me. Meanwhile, he must have been feeding Sirius the same doubts about me. That perhaps the wolf in me had decided to join my dark brothers. He even went so far as to imply that I was looking to get rid of James because I wanted Lily!"
I finally chanced looking over at Remus. He maintained his empty stare at the shack, his back braced against the cold and his hands in his pockets. My head was as empty as his eyes except for the one thought bouncing around: "You were going to kill Sirius?"
I jumped a little when I realized I had said that out loud.
He turned and regarded me thoughtfully. "Nymphadora, why are you fighting this war?"
"Because it's the right thing to do." I was confused. Why was he changing the subject?
"Right and wrong are very subjective choices."
I paused at this. He was right. If you asked me and, say, my Aunt Narcissa how the wizarding world should be run, you'd get very different answers. "I—I guess I don't know, then." My answer only made me feel more young and foolish.
He nodded in understanding and looked away again. "I didn't know at first, either. If you had asked me when I joined the Order, I would have said the same thing. Because it was 'right.' I was seventeen and fresh out of Hogwarts. The next few years would teach me a lot about what was right and what was wrong." His voice hardened and his eyes again clouded over with ghosts.
I waited a bit, waiting for him to continue. "What did you decide on?" I half-whispered when he didn't finish. I was hoping that I wasn't treading on too-sensitive ground.
He turned to me again, and looking me square in the eye, answered, "Family. Faith. Country. Freedom." His sureness crackled through me like electricity. "The Order was my family. And as far as I knew, Sirius had betrayed us all. I had to know why. How. How he could hand his best friend over to a maniac."
Remus had finally put one plus one together and chuckled mirthlessly. "Don't expect bloodlust from such a gentlemanly chap like me, do you?" "It's an easy question to ask someone what they'd be willing to die for. It's another question to ask what they'd be willing to kill for."
That had always been a hard question for me. In Auror training, we learned all about necessary force. The optimist in everyone hoped that they'd never be faced with a situation where they'd have to judge just where that fine line was and when they'd have to cross it. But we all knew better. Even Moody, with all of his best intentions, had instances where he couldn't bring the culprit in alive.
My thoughts must have played out on my face, because Remus seemed to know what I was thinking. "There's going to come a day, Tonks, where you'll be face to face with someone, and it's going to be either you or them. You'll make a split decision, and you'll survive. But what makes you different—what maintains your humanity—is that you will mourn for them. Even though their actions were atrocities, even though they would have shown you no mercy, you will weep over their death." I moved my eyes to meet his. "And that is where knowing what you are fighting for will come in. You might forever regret taking someone's life, but you will understand why it was necessary and you will be able to live with your decision."
That's when I finally realized that Remus Lupin had lived a very long life. He had faced discrimination. He had fought battles. He had lost friends. And here he was, risking it all again for a world that was most likely going to reject him once he had saved it. This he did willingly, simply because his principles dictated that it was right.
I, for one, was going to stand with him.
As if to signify this decision, I closed the distance between us and looped my arm through his. "Thank you," I murmured softly. His brow furrowed in curiosity but he did not pull away. Instead, we both watched silently as the sun slowly set over the Shrieking Shack.
A/N: Obviously my last chapter before HBP. I really do have this story all planned out, but believe it or not, it just takes me a bit of time to write each chapter. I fully intend on finishing, even if Jo makes it all AU. Thanks again!
A/N #2: POST HBP Of course I knew they were going to get together, but one burdened with the Inner Eye does not boast or brag about it, but rather, writes fun little fanfics. And, I'm happy to add, I only have to change my ending slightly to make it fit canon, that's how good I am.