In the fading afternoon light, the shadows are growing long on the washed out old furniture in the parlour of Grimmauld Place. About fifteen or so of us are gathered here, doing our best to pretend we're at Sunday dinner rather than an Order meeting.
Except now that the dinner part is over, it's a bit thorny to deny the existence of the meeting part.
Everyone takes their time gathering, which does nothing to hide our reluctance to do so. We listen to Dumbledore explain his theories on how we should handle the Azkaban break, which, it goes without saying, is the high priority item on our agenda for the evening.
There's been a bit of a cloud hanging over the day; everyone feels it. We had just started to make some headway in recovering morale for the first time since Arthur's attack when this happened. One step forward, two steps back.
Still, we all do a fair job of feigning optimism, if I do say so myself; Dumbledore proposes assignments, and we move off of the topic of the prison break.
Moody has a few choice words about Umbridge, but Dumbledore dismisses her as a minor concern, compared to the reality of ten Death Eaters back on the streets and the possibility of rogue Dementors.
I notice when he speaks of Umbridge, though, that his expression darkens slightly. He might not consider her an immediate danger, but he's clearly concerned about the present state of Hogwarts in the hands of such a person.
Finally, the meeting is adjourned and people don't waste any time in making their goodbyes. Grimmauld Place isn't exactly the type of place in which one lingers unnecessarily. Remus and I are a different story. Settled on a large chaise in the corner, we make no attempt at moving. We're not going anywhere.
Moody is the last of the others still here, and is currently busying himself with packing up his rucksack on the settee across from us. I get the feeling he's making a chore of it for a reason: stalling his departure.
"Lupin, moon's on Wednesday, that right?"
Remus nods his confirmation. "Yes, Tuesday."
"I was just thinking…Albus and I were talking, that is… that we won't be having another meeting until the end of the week, so if you'd want to stay here…"
"Oh," is all Remus comes out with. I don't think he knew where Moody was going with this.
"It's just that Molly was hoping you'd stay nearer this time. Last month she nearly chewed our ears off with how stubborn you are about accepting help post-transformation and—"
"I'll consider it, Alastor."
Moody must feel this is as far as he can press the issue, and so he finishes up and bids us goodnight. In the moments after his Disapparation all we can hear is the ticking of the grandfather clock, punctuating the stillness of the room.
Remus catches me observing him and gives a bit of a look.
"What?" I ask.
"I think it was nice of him." The moment it's out of my mouth I count the seconds until I hear the sigh I know is on its way… and there it is.
"I'm sure you do."
"Remus, they're just trying to be helpful."
"I know that, Tonks. I'm not ungrateful."
"No, just unwilling." Another sigh. Hell, am I that bothersome? "I'm actually glad Moody raised the issue. Have you thought about it since we discussed it last?"
"Can we discuss this later? Alone?"
In a very exaggerated fashion, I look side to side across the empty room and then back to Remus. "Unless you're referring to the doxies, I'm fairly certain we are alone."
He rolls his eyes at me. Despite my current frustrated state, I have to smile at him. He never rolled his eyes until us.
"Tonks, please. Let's discuss it later."
"No, Remus. No more later. You always put off the things you don't want to address, and this is one of the biggest items on that list." I cringe at the whinge in my own voice, and try to moderate it to sound more even and calm before I continue. "You're avoiding the issue. Why?"
He brings his hands up to scrub his face, surrendering to my persistence. It's an empty victory for me, though. He looks defeated, and the notion that I caused that look doesn't feel so wonderful.
Feels even worse when he turns to look at me and brings his hand up to my cheek.
"Tonks, you've never made me feel our age difference before. Most of the time I don't consider it much of an issue. That surprised me, to be completely honest."
"Go on." I lean forward, as if something important is coming.
"I know you're no fragile thing. Your line of work, the things you've seen. My transformation wouldn't intimidate you, and I'm not ashamed. I trust you."
"You can trust me, Remus, I wouldn't—" He puts a finger to my lips, and I nod. Shut up, Nymphadora.
"After the moon I feel like a ruddy old man. Broken, battered and grumpy. I wonder—no, that's not right—I worry whether seeing you bounce in all lithe and full of youthful exuberance to nurse me back to health will finally give me a reason to feel like a dirty old codger."
I think all I am doing is blinking. I can't imagine I have an expression of any sort on my face. What is he talking about?
"Youthful exuberance?" I echo his word choice back to him. Is he kidding me with this?
"You know what I mean," he says. There's a smile escaping him, but it's not found its way out yet.
"Sure, I know just what you mean. This has been a great little chat," I tease, making to get up. "Now I hate to run, I'm meeting friends for roller disco—"
This time he interrupts with his actions, not his words, grabbing me round the wrist and pulling me back down to him. "Get back here and stop being a pain in the arse."
He nuzzles my neck in that way that he does, and suddenly we're not laughing so much anymore. He's so warm, and despite the roaring fire in the hearth, the house is always so damn cold. I slide my hands up into his hair and meet his lips with mine.
I'll never get tired of kissing this man.
The way he wraps his arms all the way around me, secure but not confining, firm but gentle. He just feels unbelievably good. And tempting. And, if I shift just so, I can feel him hard beneath me. Also quite appealing, I decide, redistributing my weight slightly so as to gain some friction there.
"Eech, cut it out," comes a booming voice from the doorway. "Don't you two ever get tired of that?"
Sirius catches us canoodling all the time now, though, and Remus doesn't even startle. "A foolish question if I ever heard one, Sirius. I'm guessing you don't honestly expect an answer."
I turn around and slide off of Remus's lap and onto the seat next to him, feeling the slightest bit of pride in noticing that he needs to adjust his trousers.
"She's right, you know, Moony." Sirius says, plopping himself down on the settee and turning the conversation in the opposite direction.
This causes Remus to look at him, finally. "Right about what?"
"There's really no reason for her to leave the house during your transformation."
I open my mouth, agog, but Remus reprimands. "Eavesdropping doesn't become you, Padfoot."
Sirius completely ignores this and ploughs on. "Remus, think on it, for pity's sake. She's more capable than me, for one thing, and—no, let me finish—she's seen much worse in her line of work than your sorry werewolf arse."
I can see Remus's jaw clenching and unclenching in frustration. Sirius is quite clever when it comes to managing Remus; he knows that if you come up with an argument that can't be deconstructed with logic, you're already halfway there. Because it's rare that Remus will own that his reasons are purely emotional ones.
Even when they are. As in this case.
Besides, when we team up on him, we wear him down right quick. Sirius can be as tenacious as I can be.
"All right," Remus concedes, holding up a hand to pre-empt my reaction. "On one condition."
"And what would that be?" I'm willing to agree to just about anything for the chance to prove to him that I can help with this part of his life.
"Sirius shows you exactly what he does while I'm usually gone, and," he turns to Sirius, "you stay with her the whole time, just in case anything goes wrong."
His choice of the word 'gone' catches my attention, but I make no indication that it does.
"Where the hell am I going anyway?" says Sirius. Fair point, that.
Sure enough, Tuesday afternoon, the three of us are doing a walk-through of the rooms at Grimmauld Place that the two of them have adapted for this purpose. There are two adjoining chambers off the dining room that I never knew were there. Apparently this space was once used as a staging area by the serving staff for large dinners at the house, to save the guests from having to see the servants passing through the hallway to the kitchen.
Heaven forbid. Typical Black family shite.
Anyway, they've created a safeguard using a complicated combination of actual doors and locks, and sealing charms for added protection. In spite of myself, I'm impressed. It's more secure than where we hold suspects at the Ministry.
The entire room has been stripped of light fixtures and furniture, and the two windows have been boarded up and reinforced with what look to be iron bars. Only a small, low bed remains, tucked into a corner. The wide oak floorboards are uncovered by carpets, and despite being smooth, their falsely glossy appearance suggests one too many Reparos. They obviously come through each month post-transformation to do clean-up and repairs. My hearts swells a little with gratitude for Sirius; cleaning up your friends' messes is something you never outgrow.
They run through the usual checklist with me: supplies Remus needs, emergency signals to each other, and the procedure for locking the rooms. It's fairly straightforward, and since Sirius and I will be doing it together, I find myself paying more attention to the way Remus explains things to me, rather what he's explaining.
True to form, what he doesn't say speaks volumes.
Before long, it's time for him to get ready for his 'alone time,' and I follow him into the room to say goodnight. Sirius leaves us.
He pulls me to him immediately. "I'm sorry you have to see all this, Love."
"It's fine. Everything's fine. Short of revealing yourself as Fudge's lover, there's not much you could do to change my opinion of you."
He swats my bottom in jest, but it's rather halfhearted. The helplessness in him kills me; it's not a side of him I'm used to seeing.
Needing to keep the conversation moving to distract myself from it, I ask, "So, now what happens?"
"Now I make myself scarce. We lock the doors and then… well, after moonrise… for awhile, you might… hear me."
"Hear the wolf, you mean?"
He nods without meeting my eyes. "I've asked Sirius repeatedly to cast a silencing charm, but he refuses."
"As he should! What if you needed help?"
He strokes my cheek with the back of his hand. "I'll be fine. Anyway, after a bit it will die down. The noise. Once the wolf accepts that he can't get out, he'll sleep. There are no other options."
"Right. So, then once it gets quiet, we just wait for morning?"
"Yes. That's all." That's all. I'm not worried about anything going wrong, either, but somehow the fact that this is so routine for him is a bit disturbing. Or sad. Or something.
"And when can I come to you?"
"Not until well after sunrise. The sun needs to be over the horizon." He's using that tone again, that be-a-good-girl tone. "Promise me, Tonks."
"I promise." It will be a tough promise to keep.
Once Remus's rooms are secured, Sirius and I retreat to the parlour. Close enough to hear him, but more comfortable than the adjacent dining room. Naturally we stop by the kitchen on the way. As is our custom on drinking nights, he grabs the firewhiskey and I fetch the glasses.
Once we've settled in, and he's pouring, I say, "Do you do this every month for him?"
Sirius looks up from his task, perplexed. Clearly he's not thought of it as a favour before now.
"What did he do before you were available again?"
"I don't know. He's never said, but I imagine he went it alone. Locked himself away somehow. Not like him to ask for help."
"No. No, it's not." The idea of Remus transforming, alone, in the middle of nowhere, with no one to help him should something go wrong, it's not something I care to think about. Especially when we can hear him now and again, through the thick oaks doors, howling, snarling. Helps me visualise the whole scene better than I'd like to.
"Sirius, thanks for helping to convince him to let me stay."
"He is just worried about you, you know."
"I do know."
"He can be a real stick in the mud, but believe it or not, he's more relaxed now than when we were kids."
More relaxed. I choke a bit on my firewhiskey. "You've got to be joking."
"No, honestly, I'm not." Sirius laughs with me, at me. "He was so afraid to allow himself the carelessness of youth. Most lads up to no good were running the risk of a detention, or losing a privilege. But Remus, you know, he was rolling a set of dice with more… lasting consequences. And that weighed heavily on him."
"You think he's much different now?"
"Oh, much. This last year, getting to know him again. He's surprised me more than a few times."
"Well, when I found out he was actually dating I almost lost my head."
Oh, come on. "Surely he must have dated girls when you were younger. At school, and as a young man…"
Sirius shakes his head. "Not often, and even then only when it fell in his lap, or when James and I forced him into it. He hated it… we thought he was just nervous with girls, but looking back, I expect he didn't trust himself."
"But if it wasn't near the moon—"
"Oh, I don't mean he thought he'd hurt someone. No, I think he was too worried about the possibility of caring for someone."
Sirius takes notice of my somber expression, and continues. "It was the same thing this last year. Before you, he never let himself anywhere near someone he might actually feel for. Although a difference I did notice this last year was that he was more diligent in seeking out casual encounters… Sorry, is this bothering you?"
"No!" It's not. I didn't imagine he'd lived as a monk all these years.
I pour myself another drink, and ask Sirius what I've been meaning to ask him for some time. "Do you think we have a real chance, Remus and me?"
Slouching back against the settee, Sirius looks torn. I hope desperately that he's not trying to find the words to let me down easily. Or worse, to lead me to believe something that's not true.
"Tonks, I've never seen Remus so vulnerable with someone before. I suppose it's because I've never seen him in love before. And I think it scares the shite out of him. You get him to open up more than I thought you would, but I think you've got your hands full if you plan to make a lifetime practice."
Put in these terms, it seems quite clear to me that I have no other choice but to make it a lifetime. I can't even think about walking away. "Sirius, I do want to. Be with him, I mean. I can't imagine my life without him in it anymore."
He smiles. Is it sadly, or sympathetically? "I think you're taking the right approach with him. Slow and steady. No pressure. He trusts you more than you know. And he already depends on you."
"I hope so." We should talk of something else. I don't think it's fair to Sirius to play agony aunt all the time, when he's without options of his own at the present time.
"Have you talked to Harry?" I ask.
"Not since he went back to school. There's no doubt communication options are limited at the moment."
"That must be frustrating for him. And you."
His expression stiffens. "That fucking cow at the school, making his life hell. On top of Severus, and the rest of it. As if he doesn't have the weight of the wizarding world on his shoulders as it is. Some days I have to refrain from heading up there to get him."
"Sirius, you need to be careful—"
"Careful?!" He slams his glass down on the table with a little more force than necessary, and it makes me jump, sloshing my own drink around a bit.
"I'm bloody tired of being careful. Where does careful get you? Got me landed in prison for half my life."
"Well, you could end up back there."
"So be it, if I can do something for Harry in the process."
"You don't mean that."
"Don't I? These are desperate times, Tonks. The history books are full of heroes and patriots who in their own times were called rebels, infidels, terrorists… Insane."
I move to sit next to him, hoping that physical contact will have more of an effect than my words. "I don't see how there's anything that you could do right now that would help Harry in any substantial way."
"I don't know," he says. He's quieter now, pensive. "When the ones with no numbers and no resources have to fight against those who have them, what choice do they have but to resort to guerilla warfare? Underhanded tactics?"
"You're not planning something, are you?" He's starting to make me nervous. Like perhaps his ranting isn't so arbitrary.
"It doesn't really matter what I do, Love. I'm a fucking ghost already. Just one more bitter ghost trapped in this haunted old house."
The sense of foreboding just emanates from Sirius these days. He used to swing from high spirits to bitter resentment without warning. Now he spends most of his time at just the one end of the spectrum.
My mother always said the Blacks were the worst at passivity. The family hallmark was to be in constant motion, whether living the high life or up to no good. I see this in my cousin. The slow, maddening decay of sitting still in this house is taking its toll on him more than any war might. Maybe even more than imprisonment did.
His feeling of uselessness is eating him from the inside out. I fear that he'll do something impulsive, for no other reason than to break the cycle of dull torpor.
In any case, the mood of our conversation has shifted, and our drinking session is decidedly over. Neither of us needs to say it out loud before we're clearing the glasses and getting ready to turn in.
"You going to stay down here?" he asks.
"I don't think I'd sleep if I went upstairs."
"I thought as much. Try to get some sleep, alright?" He summons a wool blanket from the wardrobe in the corner of the room and kisses me on the forehead. "You're a special person, Tonks. Thanks for taking care of us."
He can be very sweet, when he's not trying to avoid it. "Good night, Sirius."
"Call me if you need anything." I nod, and then he's gone, leaving me on the settee to watch the dying fire. I snuggle into my blanket, which smells faintly of cedar, and is softer than it looked. There is no noise coming from the rooms down the corridor any longer, and I hope that means that he's asleep. That he's resting.
And with this hope, I finally rest, too.
When I awaken, sunlight is in fact finding its way through the floor-to-ceiling windows, spilling onto the glossy parlour floorboards. It's still weak, but it's high enough over the horizon to count.
Hurriedly, I make a quick stop in the washroom to clean my teeth and such, and then practically run to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Earl Grey, his favourite. Briefly I consider making some toast, but decide against it. I'll see how he's feeling first and then come back to do it later.
One by one, the locks are undone and the charms are lifted, all while I balance the tea tray on my hip with one hand. Please, let this be one time that I don't drop it. Tea trays and I have a dodgy history together.
And then I step inside the dark room; it's silent. I decide it's probably prudent to put the tray down, given that I can't see anything.
My wandlight reveals a series of scratches on the floor, most of them near the entrance. I don't bother to check the back of the door I've just come through; I'm sure there are more there.
Making my way over to the corner where the bed is, I see him. Sure enough, he decided to sleep on the bed, where he remains, without clothing, without blankets, and snoring faintly.
He doesn't look as bad as I thought he might, especially given the state of the room. He's told me that he sometimes wakes with self-inflicted wounds, but thankfully I can't see any apparent injuries. Only the faint red lines remain where his skin was breached by bones and stretched by shifting muscle and organ.
Those marks are well into the healing process, though. The second transformation seems to be as rapid as the first. I hope it's less painful.
Even to my human nose, there is an unfamiliar scent lingering about him. I don't want to disturb him, but I do opt to perform a couple of silent cleaning spells on the bed and on his body, which I hope will make him more comfortable.
The room can wait. I Accio the blanket from the other room and finally climb down next to him, content to just lie here and watch him for a while. To have him to myself again.
Funny, he thinks he looks old and worn out after the moon. But lying here, lost in deep sleep, he looks almost childlike. I always love watching him sleep. He's so peaceful—no furrowed brow like he wears most of the time.
He shifts, and groans, and slides an arm around my waist with a big heavy sigh. I just watch. He is so beautiful. Hell, I love him.
Maybe my mile-wide smile contains some sort of waking powers, because next thing I know he's lifting one eyelid to observe me next to him.
"Hi," is all he can muster. He tries to roll toward me, which causes another groan.
"Are you in any pain?"
"No. No pain. I'm just stiff."
"Is this okay?" I turn into him, press my body to his warm one, knead the muscles in his back. Happy to know he's safe.
"Mmmm. Very okay. That feels…hrmmm."
"Well articulated, Mr. Lupin."
"Don't be cheeky," he mumbles, pulling me closer, tight to him. "And here I was just about to tell you I'm happy to see you."
With a pointed glance toward the place where our lower bodies are tightly pressed together, I say, "I can feel—I mean, tell."
"Shame I don't have the energy to put that to use." Yes, it is. But his words give me a wicked notion.
Before he realises what I have planned, I've got to my knees and lowered my mouth to envelop him, enjoying his sharp intake of breath as he grips my arms. He glances down when he feels my tongue swipe the underside of his cock and smirks at the sight of me kneeling before him.
But then, after enjoying it for a moment, he tries to stop me. I brush him off without moving away. "Doesn't it feel good?"
He chuckles. "Of course it feels good. I'm tired, not dead."
"Then please let me please you. All you ever do is take care of me. In and out of bed." I'm not sure this has him convinced, but I don't wait for further permission, just dip my head down and take him in my mouth.
He leans back onto the bed, and brings both arms up to rest across his forehead. He startles as I place my hands on his knees, but exhales contentedly as they run up his thighs, pushing them apart as I settle myself more comfortably between them.
When I pause for a moment, it's hard not to smile because I feel him holding his breath. So I don't go any further. Not to tease, mind, just you know, in the true spirit of consent. Wait to gauge his reaction. My thumbs are running along his groin, just grazing other places, but it seems that's not enough for him after all.
I congratulate my smug self as he arches his back and parts his legs further, leaving me in no doubt that my attentions are welcome. Laughing quietly, and one hand gently cupping him, I settle lower on the bed and resume my position between his knees.
And then he sighs—and, oh, it's the most fantastic sound—when I finally lick and nip at him a bit before taking the head of his cock between my lips and sucking gently.
I have never been particularly confident about my skills in this area, but the feedback I'm receiving makes me feel like an expert.
"Oh my God…" he murmurs, rocking his hips toward me.
He feels so damn good, tastes so amazing, which is obviously attributable to how there's not much I'd rather do than make him feel good. Physically, and a million other ways as well.
And the sexy noises he's making are driving me mad.
Before long, I'm not sure who's enjoying it more. It's addicting, experimenting with different techniques to discern what he likes best. So far it's a close competition between the tongue swirling and the quick, tight plunge downward, both of which seem to go over well.
"Tonks, oh… shite," he curses, raising his hips from the mattress, sending his erection deeper into my mouth. Why is that so arousing for me?
His hands are once again on me, grasping at my shoulders, reaching for my clothing, trying to pull me up. And I'm so tempted to submit, to change the course of things. But I'm nothing if not determined, and I resist his advances and continue in my ministrations. I need to let him know that I'm not playing, not teasing the way I sometimes do just to get him all fired up.
He throws his head back and his hand clutches at the blanket that's now falling off the edge of the bed.Releasing him from my mouth for a few seconds causes him to open his eyes and give me a look that is its own reward. I slide my hands beneath him and grasp his arse a bit roughly, making a direct contrast to the gentleness of my thumbs, which are ghosting past his most private spaces and making him gasp.
"Mmm Tonks… yes… that's… yes," he whispers, babbling.
I stop to blow on his hot flesh and he arches up off the bed once more.
"Yes," he hisses, as my lips surround him again, and this time his eyes stay open and meet mine. And he wraps my hair in his fist, a little desperately, actually. His expression, the look in his eyes, tells me everything I need to know.
Remus breathes deeply, and I can tell he's still trying to hold back from the edge of climax.
"Let go, Love," I whisper, before increasing my pace and pressure, my tongue tracing every groove and detail of him, my fingers wrapped around him, stroking. He makes a small grunting noise as he obeys, his head falling back onto the bed with a soft thud that make his body buck beneath me at the slight impact.
I climb up next to him and lie still as I can, enjoying the sound of his laboured breath and intermittent sighs. Eventually we are quiet, and after a time I think Remus has drifted back to sleep.
So it startles me a bit when he finally speaks. "In all my life there's never been anything I couldn't resist if I set my mind to it. Nothing I couldn't turn down, no person I couldn't choose to walk away from. But I can't walk away from you."
Should I respond? If his candor is fueled by my quiet, I don't want to ruin it. So I just snuggle closer to him, without speaking.
He pulls me on top of him so he can look at me. "I'm changing, Tonks. I spent my whole life creating… some sort of life, anyway… and despite its shortcomings, it worked. I swore I'd never compromise that. But you, well, I'd do anything you asked."
"Wow. 'Spose I should do this more often, then?"
"It's not the sex and you know it. At least I hope you know it."
"I hope I know it, too." I still have doubts. Even now.
"Don't be unsure, then." He looks me directly in the eyes, so intent. "I love you. Couldn't choose not to if I tried. I have never let anything have this much control over me. But I've also never had so much to lose."
I don't know if this is acceptance or defeat for him, this realisation. And I don't know if I want to know, so I don't press.
He, too, lets the topic go.
"Have I ever told you that before I was bitten, I was a budding astronomy buff?"
"I was. My father had given me a telescope as a Christmas present and I was immediately obsessed. I spent hours in the backyard charting the night sky, staying out until I was shivering. Even then I'd protest when my mother came out to retrieve me."
I'm in a sort of sleepy trance, what with the post coital bliss and the pleasant surprise of having Remus share something personal from his past. The combination sets me up for a bit of a start when he asks, "Can you guess what was my favourite thing to study?"
Reluctantly I voice my guess.
The obvious one.
He laughs, but it's forced. "How's that for irony?"
Tears fill my eyes as I picture the young Remus, broken-hearted at losing something he treasured as completely as only a child can.
"Remus," I say gently, raising myself up on one elbow. "Someday I'm going to show you the moon again."
"I know," he says, absently stroking my back. "I know you will." He's sleepy now, too, and dismissing my statement as a kind but essentially hopeless sentiment. He doesn't believe me. Not really.
But I never had a real purpose in my life until I decided that I would give this man what he needs, and so I add the impossible promise to my list, regardless of what he thinks.