Disclaimer I don't own it; I just do this for your entertainment. (Okay, maybe a little for my entertainment too.)


Fool's Paradise

Remus Lupin moved quietly through the crowd at the back of the room. The old barn housing the gathering was just as run down as its current inhabitants. Their host had not yet arrived, so there was an increasingly loud hum of conversation permeating the air as thickly as the pipe and lamp smoke that hung heavily overhead. The pungent haze dulled, but did not eradicate, the myriad of scents that assaulted Remus' overly sensitive nose. He'd immediately detected horses long-gone, various species of rodent – both past and present – and rotted wood. Worse, though, were the human aromas: sweat, whiskey, decay, despair, the bitterness of oppressed lives and – underneath it all – fear.

When Dumbledore had first approached him about making contact with other werewolves, Remus had readily agreed. It'd made sense: it was a task that only he could perform with any expectation of success. Even if the assignment hadn't been tailor-made for him, he'd have done it without question at Dumbledore's request. He owed the man a great deal, but apart from that, Remus had vowed to fight for the side of the Light, and that meant trusting and following Dumbledore's (sometimes-mad) directives – a willing, but uninformed cog in the man's mysterious machinations.

Not that he'd ever considered the Dark. He could have chosen apathy; could've chosen to sit idly by while the world that had no use for him was consumed by Darkness – easily justified by the treatment of werewolves by society in general, and the Ministry in particular.

That path, of course, would have been a betrayal of everything he'd stood for, of everything and everyone he'd lost over the years, and of the little bit that he'd gained.

This kinship with the other werewolves was an odd thing. Remus had been exploring it for almost two years now, and he'd yet to reconcile the feeling of affinity he'd felt with the – at-best – taciturn people he'd encountered. Even though he couldn't seem to get to know people on a personal level, there was no denying that he'd felt parity standing in the midst of his fellow werewolves at these gatherings. People from all walks of life, having little or no common ground, lumped together by a single affliction. They were all on equal footing, weren't they? No legal rights, and shunned by most of society – in other words, ripe for the picking.

Indeed, many of the downtrodden outcasts were not only ripe for it, they were eager. They'd suffered long enough at the hands of the government that had cast them aside and had made it impossible for them to live normal, productive lives – let alone happy ones – and the Dark was telling them a tale they'd longed to hear. It was selling freedom, or the idea of it, promising a reversal of their non-person status, and the desperate werewolves were buying. Blindly entering into the service of the Dark without regard to the cost, without understanding that serving Voldemort was not freedom at all, not realizing that in buying the lies, they were selling their souls.

The ease with which the Dark was amassing werewolf followers was not at all surprising. The irony of the successful recruitment drive was its leader. Greyback had, in all probability, attacked and infected a vast majority in every crowd. If not directly responsible, he was at least likely to have been the very center of a lycanthropic bloom – like an uncontained, particularly virulent strain of highly contagious virus. A plague: an evil, warped, demented, self-aware plague. Moreover, Greyback's abominable thirst for the blood of children had paved the way for Dolores Umbridge's anti-werewolf legislation. The Ministry had no idea that a single, psychopathic werewolf had perpetrated the bulk of the crimes, and the public at large was easily convinced that it was typical behaviour for all werewolves.

Being regularly in the presence of the beast (for he'd ceased to be a man in Remus' eyes – no better than an animal, worse for the cognizance of his heinous actions) that had infected him over a perceived slight by Remus' father, was wearing on him. Nearly as bad was the seeming futility of the mission. He'd managed to sway some, but not nearly enough of his fellows to make an appreciable difference. Remus did not have a lot to counter-offer – only a quiet appeal to their morals and whatever goodness might still linger inside them. But for many of them, the bleakness of their lives did not allow for the luxury of a pure soul and a clear conscience.

Remus leaned against the age and moisture-softened wood serving as the south wall of the dilapidated structure, and closed his eyes. The air wasn't so foul back there, and leaning against the wall allowed him to relax slightly, which helped to diminish the dull ache that had persisted at the base of his skull.

He paid dearly for the momentary respite – without the tight restraint he normally exerted, his mind wandered into forbidden territory. Flashes of pale creamy skin, tightly toned abs, gently flaring hips, strong thighs wrapped around his lean middle, pert breasts, a heart-shaped face, its lush, kiss-swollen lips crying out his name in ecstasy ruthlessly assailed him, nearly drowning him in their perfection.

With tremendous effort, and not a little bit of pain from what felt like a vice around his heart, Remus wrenched his eyes open, hoping to banish those memories back to the abyss that housed all the painful flotsam of his mind. He'd turned her away for her own good. His own happiness, his own comfort was not a consideration. He had nothing to offer her of any real value. She was too young to know what she really wanted, certainly too young to attach herself to a broken-down werewolf, fourteen years her senior, with no bright or even dim future in sight.

The list of reasons was a long and tired one. It only served to increase the weariness Remus was feeling. After several months of bewildering attention on her part, he and Tonks had come together, and for a brief time Remus had known true happiness, had believed it could work. Then they'd lost Sirius, and Remus had come to his senses. It was a ridiculous notion, the two of them together, a fool's paradise.

He would never forget the feeling, watching in horror as Sirius fell, and he'd been barely aware enough to grab Harry as he tried to follow Sirius to whatever end had awaited him beyond the veil. Remus had been tempted to do the same, and probably would have had Harry not distracted him. Then he'd spotted Tonks in a crumpled heap on the floor, lying there like a forgotten rag-doll. He realized in that moment that she was so young – too young, and life was too short for someone that vibrant, someone deserving of so much more, to be attached to him. He'd also realized that he loved her, and that only served to strengthen his resolve.

A disturbance at the front of the room brought Remus back to his present situation. Greyback had arrived, flanked by two Death Eater goons – though they weren't wearing the customary masks. Remus' stomach rolled at the hideous sight the werewolf presented – it seemed as if the evil within him had somehow oozed out and corrupted his outer shell to match the vileness that lurked inside.

Remus' revitalized headache, coupled now with nausea, had him wishing for his bed. Thankfully, the crowd this night did not seem nearly as responsive to the Dark as many others had. In fact, some of the people around him seemed just as disturbed by Greyback's appearance, and seemed equally as distrusting of his thuggish company. Although Remus did not want to disappoint Dumbledore in any way, he was starting to feel as if his task had outlived its usefulness.

Dumbledore had asked him to patrol the halls at Hogwarts tomorrow while he attended to something away from the school. Remus decided he would speak with him about changing their tactics when Dumbledore returned from his errand.

He moved unobtrusively out the rear door, took a deep breath of the fresh night air and Disapparated with a quiet 'pop'.

Remus rubbed his face tiredly, and shifted on the bench just outside of the hospital wing door. He rested his elbows on his knees, and stared at the stone floor between his shoes.

Dumbledore was dead.

Dumbledore was dead, and Snape had killed him.

The events that Harry had related were too incredible, too unbelievable to process properly. He couldn't wrap his mind around it, so he decided to push it to the side for now, which left in its place the only other thought powerful enough to break through the confusion and pain of loss – Nymphadora Tonks.

He'd watched the Weasley family drama play out in front of him with a sort of detached fascination. Remus had made reference to wolfish characteristics in an effort to ease the idea into their minds. He hadn't told them that Bill had a faint scent of the wolf about him – he'd held his tongue only because it wouldn't change anything. Only time would tell what the aftereffects of such a bizarre attack would be.

Remus had silently added another item to the mental list of Greyback's offenses he'd been carefully cataloguing. This one could not even be chalked up to lycanthropy – it wasn't a full moon, just an extremely twisted individual.

Molly's assumption that Fleur would change her mind about marrying Bill, and Fleur's indignant assertion that she would do no such thing, had shaken something loose in Remus that he'd declined to acknowledge at the time. She would marry Bill in spite of the very real chance, however slim, that he would become a dangerous monster each month.

Remus had been ready, for Tonks' hurt-filled glare and heated plea for him to see the circumstances as a mirror of their own situation. He hadn't been prepared for Arthur to basically call him a fool in his kind way, but nothing had changed. Theirs was a different situation entirely, wasn't it? It didn't apply to them. Despite the lingering scent of the wolf, Remus felt fairly certain that whatever ill effects Bill would suffer, they wouldn't be enough to cause him to fall under the anti-werewolf legislation. Bill would have ugly scars yes, and possibly other strange new behaviors, but he'd have everything else in the world to offer Fleur, and Remus had nothing for Tonks.

Still, that little loosened piece of something was questioning his every thought, every decision.

Remus didn't know how long he sat there, feeling weary down to the very center of his being, and vacillating between what he felt was right for Tonks, and what just simply felt right. He caught her scent long before he saw her feet occupying the very spot on the floor at which he'd been staring. She cleared her throat softly before speaking. "Remus?"

He looked up at her, taking in the all too hauntingly familiar features, and the still very unfamiliar sand coloured hair. He wondered vaguely why she chose to make it such bright colors when she was so beautiful in her natural state? Although, at the moment, her eyes were red rimmed, and she looked so very tired. Was it the terrible loss they'd suffered, or had he once again caused that? He shook his head as if to cast the thoughts away from him before he responded with a soft, "Hullo." He patted the bench next to him, but she declined, shaking her head as she extended a hand.

"Come home with me, Remus." It was not so much an invitation as a quiet demand.

He wanted to say no, he wanted to argue with her, to tell her it was for her own good, but he was no longer so certain that was the truth. Dumbledore was dead. That seemingly invincible, seemingly omniscient man had been murdered by someone he'd trusted implicitly, and had defended unwaveringly.

Suddenly, everything Remus knew to be true seemed uncertain, and he felt his steely resolve become a thing of gossamer.

By way of an answer, he took the proffered hand in his, and rose stiffly from his perch. They walked silently through the stone corridors, hand-in-hand, to the nearest exit, and over the dew-covered grass of the school grounds to the tall gates. Somewhere in the silence, that was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable, Remus had made a very big decision.

"Do you trust me?" He asked her in a hoarse whisper.

She looked slightly surprised by the question, but answered with sincerity, "Yes, of course, I do."

Remus nodded, pulled her into his arms, and Disapparated both of them.

Rather than her little flat in London, he'd brought them to an overgrown path leading up to a moss-covered cottage. The sun was just starting to break the horizon, and it provided enough light for him to see the look on her face. It told Remus that if the circumstances had been any different, she would have laughed delightedly at the sight. Remus himself had always fancied it resembled something from a fairy tale. Even now, there was a tiny sparkle in her eyes that assured him he'd made the right decision in bringing her here.

Like everything else Remus owned the cottage was well worn. In this case, however, it was an attribute that lent charm, rather than shabbiness. Even through the obvious signs of absence, it showed every indication of being loved and cherished. Everything from the dark green shutters flanking the two visible windows and little flower boxes, to the slate shingles of the roof, spoke of care.

"Remus, what is this place?" She looked enchanted as she took in the flowers growing along the overgrown path up to and across the front of the little stone cottage on either side of the arched doorway. There were trees in every direction one looked, but rather than feeling isolated, it was cozy. Nestled there, it looked every bit as if it had grown from a seed right along with the foliage that surrounded it.

"This is my home." The brief time they had spent together had been at Grimmauld Place, dictated mostly by proximity to The Order, though Remus had hated to leave Sirius alone there for any length of time; fortified wines had held too much allure for Sirius, who had become bored and depressed – a bad combination to be sure. He'd intended to bring Tonks here a long time ago, but the right time had never presented itself, and then, it had been too late.

He used his wand to disarm the several layers of wards and protective spells he'd put in place the last time he'd been there, knowing he'd be gone for a while. Opening the door, Remus bowed slightly, and indicated with his hand that she should precede him. "Welcome."

A slight smile played across her lips as she stepped over the threshold. Remus followed, reset some of the wards and closed the door behind them. He inhaled deeply, and found the familiar scents of home underneath a thin layer of dust that had accumulated in his absence. A warm feeling stole over him as he took in the comfortable over-stuffed furniture, his beloved books barely contained by the shelves built-into the walls around the fireplace, and the little bits and bobs that were scattered on various tables and the mantelpiece. He hadn't realized until this moment how much he'd missed it – everything from the colorful glass bottles on the windowsills to that cupboard door that never would shut properly no matter what he did to fix it.

He waited, somewhat nervously, while Tonks looked around the little sitting area and the small kitchen adjacent. "It was my Gran's. She left it to me when I was fifteen because – well I guess, because she knew I'd need it the most. The décor is mostly hers, but it seemed to work so I left it." Remus realized he was starting to babble, and bit his tongue to prevent any further nonsense from escaping.

Tonks made her way back to him with a very appealing sway in her hips. "Remus it's lovely! It must be hard to leave a place like this."

Remus pulled her into his arms, and he felt her sink into his embrace. He couldn't help thinking that it might be much harder to leave now that he could see her in every nook and cranny.

"Dora." He'd not allowed himself the intimacy of that name while they were apart. It made it that much easier to keep her at arms length just using her surname. "I'm so sorr—"

She cut him off by placing her fingers gently on his lips, and he was sorely tempted to nibble them. "Shh, don't say it. Make love to me, Remus."

Another quiet demand, and one he defied the strongest of men to resist. He leant down to close the short distance between them, and she met him half way. Her soft lips moved hesitantly over his at first, but quickly warmed to the familiar touch. The whole world reduced down to the warmth pressed against him. The sensations flowing over and through him filled Remus with wonder. How had he lived without this? How had he denied them both this perfection?

Remus let his hands play across her back, up her arms and then tangled his fingers in the hair at the back of her neck. He felt her arms circle his waist and he deepened the kiss, tempting her tongue with his own until they'd begun a playful duel. Tonks smiled around the kiss, and he pulled back to look into her eyes, gently running his thumbs over her cheekbones. His sensitive nose caught the musk of her desire, and it heightened his own arousal. His blood was pounding hotly in his veins, and he knew this was the point of no return. "Are you sure about this?"

She arched an eyebrow at him and asked, "Which way is the bedroom?"

Remus led the way down the short hallway to his bedroom. He reacquainted himself with the comfortable, and more masculine room, as he watched her do the same inspection she'd done in other parts of the house. He stood in the doorway, waiting once again for her seal of approval. He wanted her to feel comfortable there, he realized. He wanted her to feel – at home.

A bit of nerves crept up on him – it almost felt like this would be their first time together. In a way it was. He'd realized he loved her, and then had pushed her away for her own good, or so he'd thought at the time. They were coming together this time with his full awareness of his feelings for her. He'd never stopped loving her in the time they were apart, and while he'd never spoken the words aloud to her, he decided he'd show her here and now.

Remus moved across the room to the dresser where she was looking at the various framed photos he had displayed there. Standing behind her, close enough to feel her heat, he moved his hands around her waist, and dropped a kiss on the back of her neck. He felt rather than heard the sigh that escaped her, and she lifted one arm back to run her fingers through his hair. Remus took this as a sign to continue his exploration of her neck and shoulder, and happily did so until she turned in his arms to face him and caught his mouth in a searing kiss.

His plan had been for slow, languid lovemaking to demonstrate how he felt about her, but that kiss broke his restraint. He wanted to taste and worship every inch of her, but the heightened passion, the need for comfort and life affirmation was too great for that thorough attention.

Remus guided her toward the four-poster bed without breaking contact with her demanding lips and tongue, or the frenzied hands that tore at his clothing. Once free of their restrictive garb they became a tangle of limbs, coming together in a state of desperate desire, climbing together ever higher toward an elusive pinnacle. Finally, they tumbled over the edge into bliss, crying out each other's name as they fell.

Exhaustion caught up with them at last, as Remus adjusted the comforter over their sated bodies. He drew Dora to him, and heard her murmur, "Don't let go, Remus," into the chest she was using as a pillow.

"Never again, love," he responded as he drifted into much needed slumber. "Never again."

Sometime later, Remus awoke with a start, for no immediately discernable reason. The light outside, visible through the parted curtains on the south facing window, indicated that it was likely mid-day. Not wanting to disturb Dora, he tried to remain still while pondering the direction his life had just gone. He had no regrets about it, or about the decision he'd made with regards to having her in his life. The concern was whether or not she knew what she was getting herself into.

Remus rolled the thoughts around in his head for a while before he heard a sleepy voice say, "You're thinking too loudly. Woke me out of a dead sleep with it."

"I'm sorry; I didn't realize my thoughts were so noisy. We'll try to keep it down to a dull roar. Go back to sleep." He chuckled lightly, and ran his hand over her sleep-warmed back.

She opened her eyes and lifted her head, searching his face. Remus endured the scrutiny patiently, not entirely certain what she was looking for. Tonks pushed herself up from the bed to kneel next to him. He was momentarily distracted by her state of undress (and her complete disregard of it), then sat up himself, propping up against the pillows behind him. Straddling his legs, she looked into his eyes and asked with concern, "You're not having second thoughts are you?"

He rushed to reassure her. "No! Not at all. I just want you to be certain. I mean do you realize what you're really getting yourself into with me? Apart from the obvious lack financially, and the fact that I'm old enough to be your... well, maybe not your father but certainly older... apart from that, I turn into a beast once a month."

Tonks snorted, "Well that makes two of us, then."

Remus didn't want to laugh, didn't want to find any humor in what was a serious issue, however he couldn't quite contain the small smile that touched his lips before he cleared his throat, and said firmly, "Dora, I'm serious."

"Honestly Remus, you hate that part of yourself so much that you have no perspective on the matter." Remus assumed by her tone that it took a supreme effort for her not to roll her eyes at him.

It occurred to him too late that perhaps her position on his lap was not exactly ideal for a serious conversation. His attention was being drawn away from the issue at hand. Her scent alone was heady and arousing, and her velvety skin was so very tempting. He tried to focus on her face.

"What do you mean by that?" Genuinely baffled, he waited for her to continue, and struggled with his increasingly alert libido.

"Well, you turn into a snarling beast, say, twelve sometimes thirteen times a year right?"

Remus thought there must a trick in the question, but he was unable to find it. "Yes, we've already established that."

"So, what are you the other three hundred and fifty-two days of a year, eh?"

Taken aback, Remus just gaped at her. He'd never thought of it that way.

"You're a good man, Remus. A good man with a terrible burden, but it's something that we can deal with. The full moon hardly sneaks up on us."

He had to object to that. "It has once before, and it could happen again. There have been times when I could have hurt someone, or infected someone."

"How many people have you attacked? How many people have you infected?"

"That's hardly the point" Remus didn't know why he was fighting her on this. The things she was saying were good things – but so very different than everything he thought he knew.

"I know about that one time you were loose during a full moon, and it certainly was an extenuating circumstance. If I remember the tale that Sirius told me, even in full-blown werewolf form, you chose to run into the Forbidden Forest rather than into a school full of potential victims." She put both hands on his chest, and leaned closer to him. "This thing that happened to you when you were a child, does not define you, Remus, because you are so much more than that. It's just a small part of you, a tiny piece that I can accept. Because I love you, the whole package."

Remus felt the last vestige of his old perspective break away from its moorings. He pulled Dora to him and squeezed her tight, needing an anchor to counteract his shifting world.

They sat that way; quietly holding on to each other for a few moments while Remus processed all that she had said. Before he could respond, there was a noise outside the window. Dora was up, and in Auror mode before Remus could even blink – she pushed him flat and said, "Stay down."

Remus wondered absurdly where the hell she'd been keeping the wand she now held in her hand at the ready, and felt a bit ashamed that he had no idea where his was at the moment – probably in his discarded robes, somewhere on the floor. He hadn't felt safe enough to be that sloppy in a very long time.

Dora moved towards the window silently, with an unusual grace, and stopped just short of and to one side of the parted drapery, turning her back to the wall. She moved the parted curtain, just barely, with her wand in order to gain a better view. He asked her from his slumped position, "Can you see anything?"

Despite the fact she was as bare as the day she was born, she was all business. This was Auror Tonks in front of him now. "Your wards – if I send a spell out this window, will it bounce back at me, or will they allow it to go out?"

He adopted her business-like tone. "They'll allow it outgoing, but not incoming." She was magnificent; her muscles taut and alert, her stance battle-ready.

The little voice in Remus' head, the one that had goaded him, time and again, into going along with the Marauders' schemes, the one that somewhere around fifth year had taken on Sirius' voice, was telling him now, You really are a fool, Moony. She almost got away from you. He knew it was true. He'd thought he was being noble in trying to push her away, trying to protect her. This woman didn't need his protection. For whatever reason, this luminous creature had chosen him, and he would do everything he could to be worthy of it.

He didn't know which spell she was using because it had been delivered non-verbally, but the result must have been satisfactory. Her posture eased, and she stood up straight.

"What was it?" he asked her as she made her way back to the bed.

"Just a deer, but you can never be too careful." She added sardonically, "The Ministry, just last week, urgently informed the MLEs of a recent a surge in unregistered Animagi. Can you imagine?"

She sent him a cheeky smile, and climbed back onto his legs. "Now, where were we?"

"I believe, we were right here." He flipped her so that she was underneath him, and drank in her adorable features. "I love you, Dora." And he proceeded to show her just how much.

Reality had intruded upon the reunited couple several times over the next few days. The day of Dumbledore's funeral had dawned bright and clear. Remus had to wonder if it was in honor of the great man they were laying to rest, or if it was mocking those left behind? He still couldn't quite grasp that Albus was really gone. The driving force behind the Order of the Phoenix, the only wizard that Voldemort had ever feared was no longer.

Although their horrendous task now seemed truly impossible, Remus had met with Arthur, and various other Order members, and all had unanimously decided to carry on, as they had been – no one willing to abandon the fight no matter how hopeless they felt about it at the moment.

Bill in particular, though possessing surprisingly good humor about his attack, had pulled Remus aside, away from the ears of his mother, and had said, "You and me, Moony. We're going to get rid of that animal, once and for all."

Remus had wholly understood the sentiment, but it was the vehemence with which it was delivered that was shocking. There was an unfamiliar hard edge in his tone. Bill had picked up his old nickname from Sirius, and Remus had found comfort in hearing the name on the occasions he'd met with Bill. Now they had another common objective, and Remus was glad for the solidarity he felt in the declaration. They would rid the world of Greyback, hopefully sooner rather than later.

That one statement from Bill had, in fact, spawned an idea for Remus. He'd never got the chance to speak to Dumbledore about his tired werewolf intervention, but he'd been struck with an idea when Bill had declared his intentions toward Greyback. Remus had been going about the werewolf gatherings the wrong way. He needed to use the revulsion he'd seen in the faces of the others at the last meeting. He needed to expose the truth about Greyback and his part in their current Ministry status. Rallying them would not be easy, but if he could get a big enough group to fight for the Light, they could show the world that not all werewolves were like Greyback.

Something Tonks had said injected a new life into his task. It'd been a flip response to conversation about his employment status: "One thing at a time, Remus. First lets get rid of Voldemort, and then we'll take on the Ministry." The werewolves needed to get organized, and their diversity was a distinct advantage – people from all walks of life, united by a common goal, rather than just lumped together by an affliction.

Remus had also recently become slightly obsessed with Severus Snape. He'd been puzzling over the man's motivations since the initial shock of Dumbledore's death had worn off – turning what he knew over and over in his mind. Harry had always suspected Snape was not really on their side, but Snape had always treated Harry harshly and unfairly. While the man had that against him, and really his loathsome personality as well, Dumbledore had always sworn the highest faith in him.

The thing that was plaguing Remus was: Why now? Dumbledore had told anyone who would listen about Snape's efforts after the incident that had blackened his arm. He had, in fact, stated that he would have died without Snape's intervention. If Snape wanted him dead, why didn't he just let him die at that moment, when there were no potential witnesses, and nothing to cast suspicion on Snape? He'd saved him instead, and in the process Snape had gained a Life Debt bond with Dumbledore. A Life Debt bond is powerful magic, which did not rely upon the honor of a wizard to fulfill it. Why would Snape kill a man that owed him something so valuable? Logically, one would expect that Dumbledore was fulfilling his Life Debt, except that by Harry's account, Snape's life was not in any danger. It didn't make any sense.

Harry had also said that Snape was the reason Voldemort had gone after James and Lily, which created another Life Debt bond puzzle – one that actually had the academic in him itching to do research. Snape had owed James a Life Debt, but had also been the cause of his death. Had the bond been passed on to Harry at James' death? And would it somehow increase the strength of the Life Debt bond that Snape had indirectly caused the death of the person he was indebted to? If this is the case, then Harry now had two Life Debt bonds with people in Voldemort's inner circle. Remus was determined to find more information, if only to help Harry.

After Sirius had gone, Remus had had plans of filling the same role for Harry that Sirius had held, if in his own way. When Remus had told Dumbledore of his intentions, the man had said, "It is very kind, Remus, that you would like to be that person for Harry, but Harry would be better served to start becoming his own man."

Remus had been momentarily hurt and very confused by the Headmaster's words. "Oh. I see. Well, if you think it's best... I just – I didn't realize you felt that way." Then Remus had become slightly put out. "With all due respect, sir, don't you think that it should be up to Harry?"

Dumbledore had raised his hand in a placating gesture. "Now, now dear boy, I can tell by your use of honorifics that you have misunderstood me. Your condition is not an issue. I do not think it at all inappropriate for you to be a part of Harry's life. The time has come, however, for young Harry to take steps toward his destiny. In order to do this, he will need to be focused and mature. I'm sorry to say that it will only hinder his progress toward this end, if he were to have another parental figure in his life. He is an extraordinary young man, and in less turbulent times, he would have benefited greatly from that sort of relationship with you. Unfortunately, we do not have that luxury."

Remus had kept his distance as Dumbledore had requested. Although, Dumbledore had also said something very strange before they'd parted. "Harry will need in you in the end, Remus." It had sounded so ominously prophetic, but Dumbledore would not elaborate.

During the funeral, Remus stood holding hands with Tonks, whose hair had returned to its normal vibrant pink. Her natural effervescence had also returned shortly after their reconciliation, and he was grateful for it. He was done fighting the things that felt good, the things that felt right. Life was too short, and he would enjoy every minute he was allowed with her. Whether or not he deserved it.

He'd also kept an eye on Harry who seemed to hold it together well for the most part. Remus had actually been observing Harry for the past few days, whenever possible, and something extraordinary had become clear to him. More and more frequently he saw people – adults, Order members as well as fellow students – turning toward Harry, ever so slightly, for leadership. Apparently Dumbledore had been right; Harry seemed to be heading toward his destiny. It made Remus a little sad, but enormously proud of the young man.

Although, just because Harry seemed to be ready to take on the mantle of leadership, it didn't mean that he was perfect. That was made abundantly clear as Remus watched Harry make the very same mistake that he had. Remus kept his fingers crossed that Ginny Weasley would be just as stubborn as his Dora had been.

Remus wished for a moment that he had the kind of relationship with the boy that would allow him to dispense some advice. He would have told Harry that Ginny probably didn't want, or need, to be protected in a way that would keep them apart – that she was likely no safer away from him than by his side. He would have told Harry that a burden, no matter how enormous, was easier to bear when you had someone to share it with. He would have told him that it wasn't a fool's paradise after all. It was a reason to live, a reason to fight. It was hope.

Remus caught her scent as she moved toward him; he looked over when he felt her hand on his arm. "Are you ready?"

"Yeah, let's go home." He liked the sound of that – home, their home. They walked out the Hogwarts gates hand-in-hand toward a future that felt more uncertain than ever. But whatever tomorrow would bring, they would face it together.


A/N Many apologies to my sister Tracy (and her girls – Nicole & Makenzie). Under my corrupting influence, she's become very addicted to HP fan-fics. It gets easier to live with Trace, as long as you feed it regularly!

Thanks to Sparky for inspiration. Thank you to Casey for the always-honest feedback.

Thank you to my beta, Musings, for her always-exceptional guidance and input.