Disclaimer: Everything is Ms. Rowling's, which is unfortunate as I'd love to use all that royalty money to pay off my student loans.
So this is a little epilogue, which I had to tweak quite a bit to get the tone right (sweet but not sappy) - I'm still not sure if I managed it. Anyway, thanks to everyone who left a review, or several reviews in the case of saiyanwizardgurl. ;) Enjoy.
The windows of the Burrow were steamed up, even though it was so warm out. Walking into the kitchen was like walking into a sauna. Molly was the queen here, ordering her lackeys around - Hermione chopped potatoes into precise cubes, Ginny was washing dishes, Ron reluctantly peeled carrots. "Oi!" he said, looking up and squinting through the steam. "Mum, it's Tonks and Professor Lupin!"
"Oh my goodness! I didn't even hear you come in." Molly enveloped each of them in a bosomy hug.
"We brought dessert," said Remus, holding up a biscuit tin. It contained about two dozen brownies, each of the approximate density of a neutron star. When measuring the flour, Remus (who claimed he "knew exactly what he was doing") had mistaken tablespoons for teaspoons, and they hadn't realized the error until the brownies were already in the oven.
"Come on and sit down. Can I get you anything? Some tea, maybe?"
They each accepted a mug of sweet milky tea. Molly explained that Arthur had been called into work on an emergency and would be back soon. "Hermione says you've agreed to be her tutor. I think that's an excellent idea."
"Have you talked to your parents yet, Hermione?" Remus asked.
Hermione looked a trifle guilty. "Not yet. But I'm sure they'll want to hire you."
"We'll see," said Remus. Hermione looked a bit put out, and went back to cutting up the potatoes.
They were talking about the nice weather - Remus had actually gotten a slight sunburn on his nose today by sitting out in the garden for too long - when there was a hesitant knock at the kitchen door. "Harry!" Molly cried, getting up so hastily that her chair fell over. "I thought you were at your aunt and uncle's!"
Harry gave Ginny an uncertain look. She tossed her hair back and ostentatiously turned her head the other way. "I was, but Hermione told me that - oof -" When Molly released him, he smiled shyly at Remus and Tonks. "Hi, Tonks. Hi, Professor Lupin."
Remus seemed to have given up on getting the children to address him informally, since he merely nodded and said hello. "Wotcher, Harry!" Tonks said, getting up to give him a hug as well. "How are the Muggles treating you?"
"They think that if they pretend I'm not there, I'll leave sooner. It's all right by me."
"I've not met your Aunt Petunia," said Remus, "but judging by your descriptions, I have my doubts about whether she is really related to your mother."
"Yeah, I know. Erm . . . can I help with anything?"
Molly set Harry to peeling the carrots along with Ron, which quickly degenerated into a food fight. Ginny watched them with an expression of distaste. Molly eventually sent them both into the garden, where they continued to make a great deal of noise, although it was unclear exactly what they were doing. "Boys," she muttered exasperatedly, using her wand to get several carrot peelings off the ceiling. "I can't believe I managed to raise six of them without losing my mind." Arthur came in then, looking frazzled, and there was another round of greetings. He gratefully accepted a cup of tea and collapsed into a chair.
The stew took some time to cook. Ginny went up to her room, presumably for a good adolescent sulk. Hermione was telling Remus at great length about an article she'd read in Transfiguration Today, and he was doing a good job at pretending to look interested. Or maybe he wasn't pretending. Molly leaned across the table and whispered to Tonks, "What's that on your cheek?"
She automatically touched the four parallel scratches, which had mostly healed. "it's nothing, really." When Molly raised her eyebrows, she added, "I'll tell you about it later."
Finally the food was ready. Tonks was torn between annoyance and amusement at the way that Remus gobbled his food. He'd done the same thing with the kebabs - he barely seemed to chew, and seemed unaware (until she mentioned it) that he'd gotten sauce all over his face. He was managing to keep himself a little cleaner tonight, but she suspected that he was restraining himself from putting his face into the bowl like a pig. The stew was extremely good, though, so she supposed she couldn't blame him too much.
Molly had coaxed Ginny down from her room, and now she was shooting dirty looks at Harry, who was sitting at the opposite end of the table and listening to Tonks fill him in on the state of the stolen Black heirlooms. But while Remus passed around the Brownies of Infinite Density and Ron remarked that they would make excellent bludgeons, Ginny asked if she could be excused and dragged Harry out with her.
"Who do you think's going to win?" Hermione asked.
"My money's on Ginny," said Ron.
"I hope we won't have to turn the hose on them," Remus whispered to Tonks, who giggled.
The brownies really weren't all that bad. She ate two, and felt each one settle in her stomach like a brick. She was going to have indigestion tonight, she could sense it. All the heavy food was making her sleepy, and she barely listened to Arthur's epic tale of the black market divination cabal that was selling exploding scrying mirrors and contraband crystal balls. She didn't catch the names of the wizards responsible, but she figured Mundungus Fletcher was involved somehow. For some ungodly reason, she missed him.
Eventually Remus announced that he was tired, and after farewells all around, they walked out of the house together. It was another mild evening, the sun setting over the moors in a haze of red and gold. Out by the side of the house, Harry and Ginny were arguing fiercely with each other in hushed voices. Abruptly, Ginny flung her arms around Harry. As far as Tonks could tell in the dim light, Harry looked extremely confused.
"Ah, to be sixteen again," Remus commented.
"No thanks," said Tonks.
By some unspoken mutual decision, they went on walking along the lane that went past the house. The spot where it branched off towards the village was at the top of a hill, and they stood there for a while as the daylight continued to fade. "There's Venus," said Remus, pointing towards a bright star on the horizon. "You can tell planets from stars because planets don't twinkle."
"It's a lovely sunset."
They stood there with their arms around each other, facing west in silence. "Well," said Remus presently, "I suppose we ought to go back to Grimmauld Place and clean up."
"Ooh, yeah, we left a bit of a mess, didn't we?"
"That's putting it mildly. It looked like a bakery exploded in there." Remus looked down at her, his face barely visible in the twilight. "You can stay the night again, if you like."
"I have to go to work tomorrow, remember?"
"Ah, yes, work. I remember work." He paused, and added, "You know, I was just thinking. . . that if you moved in with me, you wouldn't have to worry about that. I mean, err. . . there's plenty of room, you know, and we wouldn't have to. . . I'm sure Harry wouldn't mind. . . and if something came up with the Order, then if we were both in the same place. . ."
She thought about Number 12, Grimmauld Place - the long dark halls, the peeling wallpaper, Kreacher muttering about half-bloods and half-breeds under the kitchen boiler. She thought about Sirius sitting by the fire with the yellow light illuminating his face. She thought about Regulus Black's bed, and Remus in it, telling her that patience was a virtue. He was right, of course. She said, "Not yet, I think."
"Anyway, my lease isn't up for another month. But if you get me up early enough, so I can go home for a bit before work, I can stay the night tonight."
"I'm a master at waking people up. I'm like a human alarm clock."
"Shall we go?" He offered his arm like a gentleman, and they were gone.
Dear Sirius Black:
I am a 37-year-old unemployed werewolf looking for love in all the wrong places. If you'll recall, you informed me a year and a half ago that you "wanted me to be happy." What I didn't think to tell you at the time is that happiness is not a simple or easy goal, a door that will open whenever you knock. I don't know if you were ever truly happy, so you may have known that already. At any rate, I'm starting to think that I may have found a key that might open that door. I believe it's called trust.
As for "love in all the wrong places," love can be found in all sorts of places, as I've discovered. Sometimes you can find it where you're least expecting it.
I bid you adieu from the world of the living, and I remain, as always,
Your best mate,
R. J. Lupin