Title: Between Friends (3/3)

Author: MrsTater

Rating: PG

Pairing: Remus Lupin/Nymphadora Tonks

Summary: In this moment, everything has changed.

Author's Notes: Originally written for the February and April 2006 RT Challenges at LiveJournal. Set during the summer between Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.


Part Three: The Long, Good Night

"Reckon you can walk as far as the front porch?"

The instant the impulsive question leaves Tonks' mouth, her eyes fall from Remus' face. A flush prickles up her neck and cheeks, so hot that she's sure her pink hair must have darkened a shade or two. Merlin's bloody beard! Has she gone completely mental?

It's bad enough she's suddenly thinking of his smile as sexy, and wondering how it would be to kiss him, but now she's asking him to sit on the porch. Not only asking him to sit on the porch, but asking him in a way that makes him seem a complete invalid. That's not how she meant it; she was only making reference to his earlier joke about only being able to walk as far as the door. But Remus is the only one with the right to take his condition lightly. What must he think of her? She doesn't want to know.

"I believe I could last an extra pace or two," Remus replies mildly – and to Tonks' great astonishment, she looks at him and sees that dry half-grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. He knows what she meant. He's not offended.

"It's just that it's so lovely out," Tonks says quickly, raising her mug of tepid cocoa and sloshing a bit. "I thought we could take these outside."

"Hm." Remus' forehead crinkles as he regards his mug. "Is carrying the mug a requirement for going outside? Mine's empty, you see, and I've no inclination to carry an empty cup around."

"I thought you were the nice one."

"Nice one of what?"

"You and Sirius."

Remus hums again, and though his lips do not so much as twitch, the gleam in his eyes tells her he's fighting a smile.

"Sirius certainly is not the nice one," he says, standing. "I am not entirely sure I am, but since I hate to disappoint a lady with a toe ring—" He nods appreciatively to her propped-up feet. "—I shall make myself another cup of cocoa and tell you what a splendid notion it is to take it outside."

"I think," says Tonks slowly as her insides perform moves more spectacular than any she's witnessed on the Quidditch pitch, "you're the mad one."

"Probably," Remus replies, looking as if she's complimented him. He reaches for her mug and asks, "Can I make you another?"

"I'm still working on this one."

"Isn't it cold?"

Tonks takes out her wand, but before she can cast a warming spell Remus summons the mug.

"Warmed-over hot chocolate is no good," he says, vanishing the contents. "It must be drunk fresh."

"The cocoavore's a connoisseur."

"Naturally."

Tonks studies him intently as she did when he made her previous cup of hot chocolate, and she finds it quite a conundrum that Remus works more quickly this time. He is no less deliberate, but he seems not to be using the task to take control of thoughts and emotions, as before. Is he comfortable with this new path their relationship is taking? Or have they arrived at a dead-end? Maybe he's turned around…

The grandfather clock in the hall chimes, and Remus glances up at the kitchen wall clock.

"It's late," he says, stirring cinnamon into their mugs. "Are you sure you shouldn't go home and sleep?"

Before she can stop herself, Tonks asks flirtatiously, "Are you trying to get out of gazing at the stars with me?"

Her face burns again, but Remus flushes, too – adorably. His ears are especially red.

"Not at all," he says raspily. "But I do realise you'd guard duty last night and worked overtime today."

Tonks believes the Quidditch World Cup's taking place in miniature inside her, and she can't decide which is responsible for it: that Remus is aware of how she's spent the past two days, or the measure of admiration and respect in his gaze.

"But it's not my bedtime," she says coyly.

"When is your bedtime?"

"Later."

Slow grin stretching across his unshaven face, eyes never leaving hers, Remus hands her a steaming cup. Their skin brushes as Tonks's fingers replace his around the handle. The contact sends a shiver up and down the length of her spine, and she can't believe her fingers don't turn to jelly and drop the mug.

"Shall we?" Remus' husky voice brings her back to reality, but does not break the magic.

In his typical gentlemanly fashion, he steps aside for Tonks to exit the kitchen ahead of him. After a few quick steps toward the stairs, however, Tonks realises Remus is not at her heels as he usually is, but shuffling slowly behind. Her heart lurches at the thought of him wanting her to turn her back so she won't see his feebleness. Is he always ashamed for people to see him recovering from a full moon? Or is he more self-conscious because he sees her as a potential romantic partner and fears rejection?

Falling back to walk beside him, Tonks leans close and says in a low tone, "Reckon we can make it down the hall without Auntie screaming 'half-bred shape-shifting freaks'?"

Remus grins sidelong at her. "We've a sporting chance, barefoot."

As the lines of fatigue melt away, his face looks boyish. They creep up the stairs, and Tonks feels like they're daringly trying to sneak out of their dormitory and get past Filch. The image makes laughter well up in Tonks, but determined to be stealthy for once in her life, she holds it in along with her breath.

Remarkably, they do make it down the hallway without waking Mrs. Black, and it strikes Tonks as oddly intimate when she exhales and then gasps for air, and Remus doing the same. As they catch their breath, she glances up at him, and her smile widens as she notes that, while peaky from their walk upstairs and down the corridor and leaning heavily against the wall, his eyes are bright and dancing and he's still got that youthful look. Especially with his hair sticking up like that, and his clothes dishevelled.

A yawn rises up from Tonks' lungs, but she represses it. Though it isn't quite bedtime, and she could stand to sleep, no way is she missing an opportunity to see more of this new side of Remus – or this new way she's seeing him.

"Ready?" she whispers.

Remus straightens up and reaches for the doorknob as he whispers back, "Mind the umbrella stand."

A defensive reply leaps to her tongue, but it dies before it escapes her lips. Remus isn't giving her a hard time. He's glancing sweetly over his shoulder at her.

"You're not wearing shoes," he explains, as though sensing her initial assumption. "It would be quite painful to stub your toe."

But as Remus steps aside to let Tonks through the door, a tell-tale thud indicates he has stubbed one of his bare toes on the infamous troll foot umbrella stand.

"Oh, bloody—!" He cries, bending to grab his foot, then hisses with a different kind of pain. "Hot!"

As the portrait awakens with the predicted epithets streaming from her mouth, it registers with Tonks that Remus has spilled his hot chocolate down the front of his shirt. She whips out her wand and performs a quick scourgify on him.Doors creak open upstairs, and feet pound on the stairs as Sirius bounds down to quiet Mrs. Black. Unable to think further in the cacophony, Tonks grabs Remus' arm and drags him outside.

He grunts as he puts weight on his foot. "I think…I think I've broken my toe." With a wry glance at the cup in his hand, he says, "It seems as though I've brought an empty mug outdoors, after all."

"Cosmic payback," says Tonks, pulling the door to with her foot, "for that smart-arsed professor humour."

"I'm in pain," says Remus in a pinched voice. The glimmer of amusement in his eyes, however, squelches Tonks' pang of guilt at having teased him. "Isn't that lecture enough?"

"Let's have a look," says Tonks compassionately.

She puts her hands on his shoulders and gently pushes him to sit. Kneeling beside him, she sets her cocoa to the side and casts a lumos by which to examine his toe. He grimaces as she gently prods.

"Definitely broken," she says. "Episky."

Her heartbeat quickens as Remus looks at her admiringly again – perhaps mingled with a little surprise.

"Thank you," he says, wiggling his toes. "Especially since you don't like feet."

Tonks glances down at his feet beside hers on the porch step. They're quite nice, as far as feet go, especially for a man's. Her fingers tingle as she recalls his heel being rather smooth against her callused fingers.

"You're not even remotely like a werewolf," she says.

"What do you mean?" Remus asks, a hitch in his voice.

Tonks wonders if it's possible to blush so frequently or so hotly that one's head catches fire. Especially when her eyes dart up to Remus and she notes a few buttons are missing from his shirt.

She gasps and claps a hand over her mouth. "Oh God."

Remus glances down, sees his shirt, then quirks a brow at her. "Little problem with your scourgify?"

Tonks nods. "It never goes quite right."

"No matter. The episky was the important one."

His easy manner puts Tonks at ease – for a moment.

"Or…" Remus stretches out his long legs and leans back on his elbows. "…are you just making excuses to look at my chest? Do you fancy me looking like the hero of a smutty paperback? What do you think, Nymphadora? Shall we conjure a breeze to ruffle my hair?"

"Don't call me Nymphadora," she says, though her laughter belies her.

The way he's reclining, his shirt falls open a little more. The waning moon gives just enough light that she notes a decided lack of chest hair.

"You're not hairy." Tonks closes her eyes and curses herself for speaking the thought.

"No." A question in Remus' hoarse voice draws her to look at him again.

"That's why I said you're not like a werewolf."

He gazes at her for such a long time that Tonks wonders if he is a Legilimens and reading her mind. But his eyes aren't searching. He just looks steadily at her, contemplating.

"That's nice to hear," he says at last. "Really nice, the day after…" He coughs. "…full moon." He coughs again, and cannot stop.

"Here." Tonks remembers her hot chocolate and offers it to him. "Have a drink."

"S'yours," Remus croaks.

"We'll share."

Remus' eyes never leave her as he sips her cocoa. Tonks watches his mouth, and follows his Adam's apple as he swallows. She notes the rim of the cup as his lips slide off, and when he hands it back to her, she drinks from the place he did and imagines the warmth there is his. It's a teenager sort of thing to do, she knows, and Remus observes her as intently as she did him. Merlin, does he realise what she's doing? She breaks their gaze.

But again, her discomfort lasts only an instant. Neither speaks as they look up at the night sky, the moon so bright they can barely see the stars. Comfortable silence blankets them as they pass the cup back and forth, and Tonks wonders how it can be this way between them, now that they're no longer just friends. They're something else now; they've got one of those indefinable relationships that could very well result in awkwardness and strain.

Instead, Tonks feels as easy as ever with Remus Lupin. They're making transition from banter to flirtation quite naturally – and oddly, Remus seems to be much more adept at it than she. Maybe it hasn't been banter for longer than she's realised. Maybe they've been flirting all along.

She yawns, and without thinking, leans her head against his shoulder.

"It's late," Remus murmurs.

Tonks means to be coy, but swallows her reply with a yawn. She nestles a little closer against him.

"I believe it is later," says Remus, somehow having deciphered her muddled words. "For me, anyway."

He lifts his shoulder to indicate she should raise her head. The bottom drops out of Tonks' stomach as he pushes himself to his feet with stiff, jerky movements. She's gone too far. She's made him uncomfortable. Oh why is she so stupid about situations like this?

But Remus is holding out an open hand to her, and he smiles as a she takes it. His grip is hardly firm, and Tonks feels him shaking a little as she rises as if unaided. But the gesture is lovely, and Remus doesn't release her immediately. He pulls her a little closer to him than a friend would.

"Thank you," he says huskily. "Thank you for coming…and everything."

Before Tonks realises what's about to happen, he leans in and closes the space between them with a brief, feather-light kiss on her cheek.

He might be saying goodnight, and she might be saying it back, but nothing's coherent. Even the pulling, stretching sensations of Disapparation are dulled as she leaves him a moment later.

As Tonks' feet sink into the thick rug of her sitting room, clear thought returns: she's forgot her shoes at Grimmauld Place.