This story follows We Interrupt This Broadcast in the Transfigured Hearts series, and is set between Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
"Have you finished, Professor Lupin?"
Hermione Granger's address jarred Remus from his musings. Though her manner was typically direct, he was startled she would speak so brusquely about the bottle of Wolfsbane Potion standing untouched before him on the Weasleys' kitchen table.
"I mean the Prophet," Hermione said, and Remus glanced across the table to see her blushing to the roots of her hair. "I mean, you haven't seemed to be reading for the past ten minutes, and I've done with all these." She indicated the newspapers – Wizarding and Muggle alike – strewn about her place and the one beside her, along with a few history books against which she checked the recent reports.
"I am afraid I haven't your capacity for concentration." Remus folded his Evening Prophet and handed it over. He mentally kicked himself for being so consumed with his condition that he'd projected that onto another person, but added, "And you don't have to call me Professor."
Ginny, who sat on the hearthrug petting Crookshanks, giggled. "You sound a bit like Tonks."
Remus smiled faintly. "Except she's a bit more emphatic about not being called Nymphadora, isn't she?"
And Tonks had always hated her name, while his aversion to the title had just developed. He'd found it oddly ego-boosting that the kids missed him at school – though he supposed even a werewolf hadn't much competition from his predecessors and successors. Now, however, Professor Lupin was as bitter a reminder as the Wolfsbane Potion that he'd lost that job because he was a werewolf.
And he'd gained this new one because only a werewolf would do.
The Daily Prophet had got it right all those months ago, after all. He was Remus Lupin, werewolf.
"Something wrong, Remus?" Molly's motherly voice broke into his brooding. "I mean, apart from…" She sniffled and pulled a clean towel from her laundry basket and dabbed at her watery eyes. The murder of Emmeline Vance had shaken the entire Order, but Molly in particular. "…this nasty business."
In the background Hermione bickered with Ron, who was sprawled on the sitting room floor clutching his beloved Wizard's Chess set, and speculated with Ginny, about whether Cornelius Fudge would really resign, what official was most likely to replace him, who would fill Amelia Bones' position as Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and whether it was really appropriate to play chess – as Ron had been begging everyone to do – when people were dying.
"It's just…" Molly continued, casting a laundry-folding spell that made Andromeda Tonks look like a domestic failure, "…you've been quieter than usual since you had that talk with Dumbledore."
Remus almost smiled at Molly's curiosity – except that it was more than that; it was anxiety, and it had been in her eyes since Dumbledore pulled Remus aside after the meeting. It was obvious she was frightened that apparently there was some Order business to which the entire group was not party. Seeing her eyes flicker warily over his potion bottle, Remus wondered fleetingly and with a racing pulse whether Molly suspected the subject of that private talk.
But no – she couldn't. Remus himself had never imagined Dumbledore would ask him to live in a werewolf colony as a spy.
When Molly turned her back to send a stack of towels into a cupboard, Remus grabbed the bottle and held it under the table. He felt guilty for having brought this reminder into her home – for she seemed to forget, and perhaps intentionally – that he was a dangerous creature. Technically, he had not brought it here. He would have to forego the luxury whilst underground, and there was no point in keeping up this week's dosages since he would be there for full moon.
But Tonks had sent it. Tonks – who had no idea of his assignment or that he must end their relationship because of it, who had been up all night and worked all day investigating the bridge and Bones incidents, and now the Vance…Somehow in the midst of all that she'd remembered he needed a dose, stopped by the apothecary's, and sent a bottle to the Burrow.
"I'm all right, Molly," said Remus hoarsely. "Just pondering something Dumbledore asked me to think over."
It was a lie, through and through. Remus had agreed without hesitation to take the mission. Though Dumbledore refused to accept it as an official decision asked him to sleep on it, Remus would not change his mind.
Molly pursed her lips as she flicked her wand and watched a pair of maroon socks roll themselves together. "There's quieter places to think things over than here," she said over the rising volume of the teenagers' discussion.
Hermione had migrated into the sitting room and Bill, who sat in one chair with Fleur – to whom he'd recently become engaged – had joined in the conversation.
Molly added, "And sometimes it helps to talk things over."
Dumbledore had said the same, though without naming names, as Remus braced himself for Molly to do. He glanced into the sitting room, and was slightly relieved to see the younger set seemed to have forgotten his and Molly's presence. Somehow his former students had not cottoned to his romance with Tonks – surely because of his age as much his condition – and he preferred it stayed that way now that it was about to end.
"Tonks' owl surprised me," Molly said with the same dubious look she'd given him earlier, when he'd asked to stay at the Burrow tonight after spending the past three with Tonks. "She's always welcome to drop by, but I thought she'd want to go straight home and sleep. Though it is difficult to sleep when things aren't right with the people you love."
Of course Molly assumed they were having a lovers' quarrel. Remus wished she would not interfere. Tonks herself was unaware that he would not be returning with her to her flat, and the very last thing he needed was for Molly to assume Tonks did know and reveal it before Remus could broach the subject sensitively. His conscience was slightly pricked that Tonks, assuming he was busy with Order duty at the temporary headquarters, felt compelled to come see him here. But after packing his meagre belongings, he hadn't the heart to wait in Tonks' cosy flat to tell her he was leaving…
"People get married during wars," Ron flung at Hermione, gesturing wildly at his brother, who was distracted once more from the debate that was fast intensifying to argument by Fleur kissing his ear, "so why can't people play chess? That's what they're fighting for, isn't it?"
"Zat sounds like Bill," came Fleur's throaty voice.
Remus felt the heated atmosphere of the Burrow chill as the other three females regarded Fleur. Ron looked in danger of drooling on his chess set.
"When 'e proposed," Fleur continued, silvery blonde hair shimmering as her diamond ring caught the lamplight and refracted rainbows, "'e said zat getting married is as patriotic as it is romantic, and will show You-Know-Who zat we are not afraid."
Remus glanced at Molly, whose lips twitched as though she could not decide whether to display pride in her eldest son's bravery, or displeasure with his bride-to-be. Under normal circumstances, Remus' own mouth would have contorted with restrained laughter, but he ached inside knowing that Tonks might be thinking as romantically as Fleur, not suspecting that the wedding he'd promised her last night was a dream destroyed by the light of day.
It was for the best. Tonks deserved a young man like Bill, who could slip a diamond onto her finger when she accepted his proposal, not a pauper who could only drag her down to degrading levels with Dark Creatures.
"This business about life going on in wartime," said Molly, shooting Bill a pointed look, "is all well and good – your father's out in his workshop right now, carrying on with his hobbies – but people rush into important decisions without really thinking them through."
Remus gripped the Wolfsbane Potion bottle from which he still had not drunk and wondered if Molly would think confessing love, moving in together, and getting engaged in less than a fortnight constituted rushing into important decisions. He wished Tonks were here. Maybe she'd reconsider—
"Ginevra Molly Weasley!" screeched Molly, dropping her laundry basket en route to the stairs, spilling socks and underwear. "Do you think you're too old for me to use a soap charm onthat mouth?"
What on earth? Given the fact that Ginny's face was the picture of a proper teenaged strop, Hermione's hidden behind her hand as she battled laughter, Ron's as red as his hair, Fleur's downcast, and Bill's livid white, Remus could only guess that Ginny had made a roundabout insult to Fleur by way of Ron. But what could she have said to fluster her mother so and make Bill look like that?
"I theenk I am razzer tired to play chess weeth you, Ron," said Fleur, not meeting anyone's eyes as she rose from Bill's lap. "And I should like to owl my darling Gabrielle before I go to bed. Bonsoir, everyone."
As Fleur hurried to the stairs, Bill at her heels, Remus felt for both – but especially Bill, who paused at the foot of the steps to cast reproachful looks at his mother and siblings. Remus would not put Tonks in the position of being mortified for her fiancé and at odds with her otherwise wonderful family. He would not spoil what should the most joyous time of her life with the discord sure to arise on his account.
A rap on the back door brought everything to a halt. Molly dropped the laundry basket again, spilling the socks and underwear she'd just charmed back into the hamper. The teenagers sat up straight, staring round-eyed. Fleur gasped and clung to Bill's arm, but he kissed her temple and slipped out of her grasp to descend the stairs. Remus replaced his potion on the table as he stood and joined Bill, wand drawn, at the door.
"Who's there?" Molly called out tremulously. "Declare yourself!"
Not bothering with the spilt laundry, Molly bustled to answer the door as Bill asked loudly, "Why'd I put you in detention when I was Head Boy?"
After a slight hesitation, Tonks' voice replied, "I Impersonated a prefect so I could use their bathroom."
"That's the real Tonks," said Bill, Ginny's laughter mingling with his as he opened the door.
But Tonks' voice held no laughter as she stepped inside and greeted, without her usual enthusiasm, "Wotcher."
Her dark eyes immediately sought Remus', and he noted with some alarm that they were bleary and bloodshot, rimmed with faint purple that accentuated her pale complexion. But rather than drooping with fatigue, her eyes were wide as though she were stunned. He forgot sometimes that Tonks was not a seasoned Auror, and that she had not yet experienced the regular catastrophes of war.
"Tonks," said Fleur, approaching and slipping her hand into Bill's, "is zees your natural hair? I remember you told me it was a horrid colour."
Tonks' hand flew to her hair; her look of surprise concerned Remus too much for him to be miffed for her sake at Fleur's insult – which was likely not meant that way, and Molly and the girls were indignant enough.
"It's not horrid," Hermione said. "It'll lie flat if you want it to do."
"It's just a bit plain," Ginny conceded. "I do like pink better on you. Or red."
"Brown's a very sensible colour," said Molly. "Nearly the same shade as Remus', isn't it?"
Tonks' lips curved in a ghost of a smile, and there was a hint of a sparkle in her eyes as she cut them at Remus. "Shall I morph a little grey so we'll match?"
Hermione looked a bit scandalised that Tonks would tease Remus that way; Ginny laughed but then, catching his eye, clapped a hand over her mouth.
For his part, Remus was relieved to hear Tonks joke. "You're not having trouble with your Metamorphosing, then?"
As Molly guided her to the table, Tonks scrunched up her face and, with obvious effort, changed her hair veela blonde. "Just knackered's all." She let her hair go back to the state Fleur had criticized. Her forehead crinkled. "Really knackered. I usually feel it if I'm about to lose a morph."
"Perhaps you should see a Healer tomorrow," Remus said as Bill and Fleur made good on their previous intent to leave.
Tonks shook her head. "It's normal. Really."
"Sit, dear," said Molly, gently pressing Tonks' shoulders, "you're dead on your feet." She watched until Tonks leant comfortably back in her chair, then asked, "Tea?"
As Remus seated himself beside her, he noted Hermione scrutinising Tonks. The look on her face was one Remus had seen often at Hogwarts, and had learnt to identify as Hermione making a mental note to research a topic further on her own time. It was safe to assume that later Hermione would be looking up the effects on stress on a Metamorphmagus' powers. He would have found it amusing if his own worry for Tonks did not make him keen to learn more on the subject, as well.
"I saved a plate of supper," said Molly, boiling the kettle. "Shall I warm it over for you, dear?"
"Not really hungry." Tonks didn't bother to cover her mouth as her mouth opened cavernously with a yawn. "Too tired."
Molly gave Tonks a long, troubled look as she levitated a cup of tea to her. "You shouldn't have troubled yourself to come here," she said with another accusatory glance at Remus. "Why didn't you go home?"
"I needed a bit of cheering, and this is the place for it." Tonks heaped sugar into the tea Molly levitated to her, and Remus noticed her hand trembling. "But it looks as though you lot need it more. S'my hair that depressing?"
Remus realised the three teenagers were all watching her closely and looked troubled. They weren't used to seeing Tonks anything less than perky; her vivid hair colours usually belied however grave she might feel.
"You look…" Ginny either could not decide how Tonks looked, or was afraid of insulting her, because she changed directions. "Did more stuff happen?"
"We'd know," said Ron, "since Hermione's read every bleeding word of the Prophet."
"Ronald!" shrieked Molly. "You're not too old for soap charms, either!"
"Mum! All I said was—"
"The Prophet doesn't report everything," Hermione interrupted with a huff. "Anyway it's been hours since the evening edition arrived." She too looked expectantly to Tonks, suspecting the Auror knew more than they did.
"Nothing since…this afternoon," said Tonks, Emmeline's unspoken name weighing heavily on them all.
"Aurors get tired and upset just like everyone else," said Molly gently, setting a plate of biscuits before Tonks.
Dark eyes fixed vacantly on her the contents of her teacup, Tonks toyed with the handle. In an uncharacteristically soft voice, she said, "It's never been like this before. So much at once, y'know? There's not time to deal with one thing before something else…" Her chin quivered, and her voice cracked as she continued, "I know these people. Amelia was really great to me when I was in training…"
Molly quickly turned to scrub something in the sink, but could not hold back a sob. "I went to school with Emmeline. Every Christmas we knit jumpers for our year."
The teenagers exchanged uncomfortable glances.
Under the table, Tonks' fingers tugged at Remus' jumper. His chest tightened when he tuned and peered into her brimming eyes.
"Are we going to lose people every day?" she asked. "Will I always be one step behind? Sirius…" She screwed her eyes shut, and swallowed hard. "I'm sorry. I'm a mess…" Again Tonks tried to smile, but her mouth contorted as tears threatened to overcome her brave fight against them. "It's not—"
"Ginny, Ron," Molly cut in, "help me put the laundry away, please."
Remus thought it was probably the first time in history a boy had picked up a laundry basket as eagerly as Ron, and he didn't miss Ginny's eyes dart warily at Tonks. With a pang, Remus pictured evenings at Grimmauld Place when Tonks had happily obliged Ginny's requests for bizarre morphs, and he'd been drawn from brooding conversations across the dinner table to find his own spirits buoyed by Tonks' vivacity.
Imagination took control, and he saw himself seated at a cosy table, watching much younger children than Ginny – with brown hair and elfin faces – delight in their mother's dinnertime antics.
He forced the vision out of his mind, not sure whether it hurt more to imagine what he could not have or to banish the dream.
As Molly helped Hermione gather her papers and writing implements, Remus realised they were leaving him alone to deal with Tonks. Again he wondered if the children would suspect he and Tonks were more than comrades-at-arms, but he supposed they'd seen Molly cry on his shoulder enough that consoling was simply one of his Order duties. He hated the irony that Tonks depended on him to help her deal with this new aspect of soldiering, and now that times were becoming direr, he had to leave her.
Leave her. God…Tonks' dream in St. Mungo's…She'd woken from the hex terrified that Remus was leaving her, and he'd promised vehemently and with reassuring kisses that he would not do. He should have known better than to promise constancy. His life was patterned around the moon, for Merlin's sake.
Yet it was those broken promises that now made Remus turn in his chair wrap his arms around her as she crumpled against his shoulder. He owed Tonks so much he could never make up for, but this moment he could give her.
"You mustn't blame yourself," he murmured as Tonks cried, so still and quietly that he wouldn't know she was crying if he hadn't seen her tear-filled eyes before she buried her face against him, or felt the moisture seeping through his sleeve.
"I don't really." Her voice was muffled. "But if just one little thing had gone diff—"
Tonks' head shot up. Instinctively, Remus brought his hands to cup her face. He felt the stickiness of her tears on his fingers. Though he knew he shouldn't, he couldn't stop himself from kissing her cheeks, her eyelids, to taste the saltiness. Enfolding her again, he held her head in the crook of his neck and stroked her hair.
"Don't go down that road, love," he whispered. "Don't, or you'll go mad."
He hadn't meant to use the endearment, and it frightened him that he didn't know how to comfort Tonks without affection. He thought of her long-ago comment – the very same night she'd told him not to give up the dream of marriage and a family (Merlin, he should have seen then the path they were embarking on and put a stop to it) – that if they weren't romantically involved they would be awkward. It would be so much worse after all this time…
But she was relaxed now. Her tears had ceased. Tonks heaved a shuddering sigh as she raised her head and smiled weakly. The light was in her eyes again, faintly. He'd helped her. He was glad he'd held her, kissed her.
"I'll be okay," Tonks said, reaching for her tea. "Just need sleep." Her eyes glimmered over the rim of her cup as she sipped. "And you."
Though Remus knew the last thing Tonks needed was to need him, he hesitated to say so.
Setting down her teacup, Tonks tapped the bottle of Wolfsbane Potion she'd sent. "I wasn't sure you'd a chance to go to the apothecary."
"I hadn't," Remus bent the truth. Despite his thought that dragging this out any longer would increase Tonks' hurt, it seemed like the worst timing to reveal his mission. "Thank you."
Tonks waved unnecessarily as she took another drink. "Part of the almost-fiancée job description."
"No," said Remus. "Definitely above and beyond the call of duty. I can't see how you found time."
"Actually I was questioning one of the apothecaries. Dodgy lot working in there."
"To put it mildly," said Remus with a lightness he didn't feel. He'd always known the Knockturn Alley apothecary from whom he purchased Wolfsbane Potion dealt with an unsavoury crowd, but in light of Dumbledore's information about the werewolf population, the implications of a potential Death Eater – or friend of Death Eaters – brewing the potion were harrowing.
"Inspired me to get the hang of brewing it so you don't have to give them your patronage."
The determination on her face and in her voice pricked Remus' conscience. If he couldn't break it off yet, he at least could steer her away from talking as if they'd a future together.
"You've got more than enough to occupy you without potions."
"Once I've got it," Tonks said as if he hadn't spoken, "I'll work on improving the taste. That's why you haven't drunk it yet, isn't it? Overcoming the gag reflex?"
"You know me."
Tonks was smiling as she took another drink of tea, but her expression became grave as she lowered her cup again. "How are you really? You knew Emmeline quite well."
"You're not fine." She covered his hand. "Talk to me?"
It was the same question she'd asked the night of Sirius' memorial, after he'd comforted her. Just as he had that day, Remus wanted to tell her everything, but he couldn't.
"I am rather too shocked to know how I feel," Remus said.
Part of him thought Tonks would find the answer unsatisfactory, and for a moment he saw a flicker of emotion he could not identify.
But she squeezed his hand and said, "Y'know what we need?"
Her tone was slightly flirtatious, and her hand was on his thigh. Remus compulsively responded to the gleam in her eyes. "What?"
Still mischievous, but with a hint of trepidation, if her brief glance away and deep breath indicated, Tonks replied, "To elope."