Cards on the Table

Chapter 3: Lost

The skeleton clock on the mantelpiece announced the half hour by banging its ribs together. The miniature wooden witch that lived inside stuck various fingers and a long warty nose out from an eye socket to confirm the fact. It was ten-thirty, they had only an hour left before they were on duty together, and Tonks felt as if she was reeling. Again.

"Tonks, I don't do casual. I – can't."

Surely he couldn't mean what that sounded like? Surely he couldn't think -?

Apparently he did.

"I don't do bloody casual either, mate," she said, and she could hear the edge in her voice. From the way his head came up sharply to look at her, he did as well.

God, what impression had he been getting of her all these months? Did he think all this was because she just wanted a quick shag in the hall cupboard? Had he seen the hall cupboard recently? That murderous old ghoul which she'd helped the kids get rid of ages ago had used it as a holiday home, and it was always freezing cold and full of huge, sticky cobwebs. Kreacher was frequently found there as well, which was another compelling reason why no one else on earth would ever want to be.

Obviously she'd been kidding herself when she thought Remus had accepted her exactly as she was from the moment they met, and totally delusional to hope that he might even have admired her. Gentlemanly Remus must have been secretly appalled all along.

Her mind cast furiously around for an example of how and when this could have occurred, and promptly came up with the most ludicrous it could find.

"Is this because of New Year? When I had my hair in rainbow stripes and those long boots on? It was the leather shorts, wasn't it?"

"What?" He looked at her in what seemed like complete bewilderment.

"Because if you remember it was fancy dress and I was supposed to be a pirate queen with superb sword skills and dubious morals! And everyone was slightly drunk! I mean, I didn't really think you were a Greek philosopher, any more than I thought Emmeline was an Ancient Egyptian slave girl or Sirius was a Roman Cardinal! Or was I just being stupid?"

The frown lines on his forehead had deepened. "I have to say, I thought Emmeline was surprisingly convincing, and as for Mad-Eye in that Viking outfit -"

"Why you smug-faced -"

"Tonks, I think you're getting the wrong end of the stick here."

"Aren't I just? Probably over-sensitive for some reason."

"I didn't mean -"

"Could it be because I've had such a fun-packed evening?" She overrode him loudly. "I've been hung out to dry in front of the entire Order, all to save your neck!"

"I haven't had such a great time myself, actually."

"Plus everyone now knows what I've done and what an idiot I've made of myself. Whereas you're still Dumbledore's blue-eyed boy around here! With his halo shining brightly!"

He moved a step closer, his mouth tightening into a thin line. Some part of her, the detached part that remembered it was trained to see these things; noted clinically how that one had hit home and filed it away for future reference. Some time later she would think about the fact that Dumbledore always protected Remus, that downstairs one glance had told him exactly what had happened with the roster, and that he'd bailed him out without hesitation.

And that Remus had known he would.

But that was for some time later, and right now Remus was under the slight misapprehension she was only after him for one thing. Apart from anything else, wasn't that what the girl usually accused the bloke of?

"I really don't think you've gone through what I have tonight," she said, acidly. "In fact, I don't think you've got the slightest idea what's been going on while you've been swanning around getting sympathy off everybody."

His eyes seemed to have taken on a steel grey look. "Well whilst busy swanning, I've had Moody turn into some kind of scary Victorian step-father on me, Arthur give me the sort of advice he should be addressing to his eldest son, which completely embarrassed us both, and Dung -" He paused. "Dung appears to have spent the entire night wondering if I've got two Knuts to rub together, and how many double entendres he can get into that one sentence. It certainly wasn't the way I envisaged the meeting going when it started."

"Oh, poor little you!" Tonks glared at him. "If it wasn't for me, we'd both be wearing his and her jumpers! And yours would be aubergine!"

"Look," he held his hands out placatingly, a gesture which served only to annoy her even more. "This wasn't my plan. I just wanted to -" He broke off suddenly, a look of consternation on his face. "His and her jumpers?"

"You had a plan?" Tonks looked at him in disbelief. "What – you planned this entire conversation? How's that go then? Tell the girl you're the one who's been manipulating things so they're together? Then get cold feet and tell her you're awfully sorry, but you don't do bloody casual?" She drew a deep breath. "God, you've got a nerve. I haven't been out with anyone for nearly a year. My last serious boyfriend was ages ago, and before that wouldn't make the gossip column of the Daily Prophet. So you can bugger right off your moral high ground with me!"

"It's got nothing to do with that. I wanted to make sure you know what you're getting into." He was starting to look distinctly annoyed himself now, which pleased her no end. "And if we're doing true confessions, it's a fair old while since I went out with anyone, and having anything to do with me at all will mean you do run the risk of ending up in the gossip columns. None of this is simple, least of all whatever is between us."

Her brain dimly registered that somewhere in all that he'd said something which was really important to her too, but she was too far gone down her line of infuriated thought to take it in.

And he'd hurt her.

"I suppose you think I'm too young for you," she almost spat, because she no longer cared how wild her sarcasm was as long as it got under his skin, and she hurt him too. "With an unfeminine, unpopular job everyone thinks is vastly over-paid. And I'm a member of the mostly evil and mentally unstable Black Family. So doubtless you're terrified of me too." She broke off sharply as she saw his mouth twitch.

Was the bastard laughing at her?

"Oh, Tonks," he said, and she could see the glint in his eye and the curl of his lip. He was holding back a laugh, like he had downstairs when she'd been going crackers worrying about him."If you only knew what I'm thinking."

Suddenly she had no intention of sticking around to find out.

She went to move past him, trying to control her rage and her grief; both of which threatened to choke her, looking at the floor, at her feet. Her ridiculous, clumsy feet which always let her down, and why the hell had she ever thought for a moment that someone like Remus would be seriously interested in her? No wonder he was about to roll on the floor, laughing hysterically. This would keep Sirius amused for weeks, probably Dung too; and that would leave Molly patting her hand and telling her sympathetically there were plenty more wizards in the sky.

Was this a great night or what?

Remus's tired brown shoes with their mismatched laces were suddenly in her line of vision. She moved to her right. The feet appeared and blocked her again. She looked up and glared at him. She went to move again and he stepped right in front of her, very close, and his face perfectly serious now.

"Please don't go," he said, softly. "I know you haven't seen anyone for a while. I didn't mean it like you think I did."

"What do you mean, 'I know?'" she snapped. "Turning into Trelawney, are we? Been gazing into the tea leaves or something?"

His eyes flickered.

"Well," he hesitated, pushing his hand through his hair, a look of uncertainty crossing his face as though he was debating the wisdom of this. It made him look very young and boyish.

"You were always here. With me. So I thought you couldn't be seeing anyone. At least I hoped not. And…I was always so very glad to see you."

She stared at him.

She remembered she'd been very angry about something. Furious, in fact. It didn't seem very important now.

"I thought you might get fed up of me hanging around," she said, after a pause.

"Yes, that's why I've been fixing the roster since November. I'm absolutely sick of the sight of you."

Merlin, she'd only started on the old fixing thing herself just before Christmas.

She wondered what to do next. He'd just said two revealing things in a row which, for Remus, was tantamount to a gushing confession. Explicit statements for once, rather than the implicit ones she'd spent so many hours thinking about. Though he gave no outward sign, she thought she could see a hundred different thoughts running through his head. Well there were currently about a million in hers. Did she push him again? Did she wait for him to take the initiative? Was he waiting for her? Was he already regretting what he'd said? Would she still be stood here when she was ninety?

The intelligent thing to do would be to let him make the next move. He'd met her halfway; he'd stopped her leaving. The sensible, indeed the only decision she could make, was to keep quiet.

Oh, bugger that for a game of wizards.

"Remus," she said firmly, "tell me about this plan of yours. Did you actually intend to ask me out before we both need help getting on our broomsticks?"

It was the right thing to say. The spark of mischief was back in the eyes that glinted at her.

"I was…getting round to it. I just kept getting bogged down weighing up the pros and cons."

"There are pros and cons about this?"

"From my point of view there are only pros, but the thing that concerns me a great deal is that from yours it seems to be all cons. Rather large ones. Sometimes I think they're insurmountable." By the time he'd finished he was serious again and his eyes weren't quite meeting hers. His tone was mild but she wasn't fooled; this was what really mattered to him. These were the stumbling blocks she had to smash through.

"Well downstairs is one ex-con so I reckon we can ex all the others too. They can't be half as much trouble as he is." She grinned at him, trying to keep things light, to restore the banter they were both so comfortable with, but his face remained grave. She knew if she let him start to talk about these so-called cons, the mood would change. It wasn't as if she couldn't guess what they were, and she didn't belittle them in any way, but time was so precious. This moment would slide by like so many others had and the opportunity would be gone.

There was one sure-fire way to divert him. All she needed was to give him the opening line.

"What can be so bad? It's not as though you're one of those weird wizards who still lives with his Mum."

He didn't hesitate; the eyes lit immediately and he was straight back at her.

"Tonks. I live with my friend and his Mum. I can't even think of a word weird enough to describe that, and -"

He broke off, staring for a second as she laughed at him. With him. And then he was laughing too. He knew exactly what she'd done and how he'd been unable to resist.

They laughed together for a long time and then the laughter slowly died away. She felt her smile fade from her face. His had already gone.

He stared at her.

For some reason it was so hard to meet his eyes, yet impossible to look away. It was up to him now; even if this all fell apart in front of her she couldn't push him into it, because then she'd always know she had.

The silence stretched out in front of them. She hardly dared breathe.

He smiled, rather tentatively.

"Tonks," he said again, and his hand reached out and brushed a stray piece of pink hair back from her face. He trailed a path lightly down her cheek with the backs of his fingers and she felt a shiver run straight down her spine in response.

She didn't move. She thought his hand shook slightly.

Slowly, very slowly, his hand moved to her shoulder and down her arm, and even through the thickness of her jumper she could feel his touch against her skin. His fingertips stroked her wrist very lightly and then his hand, dry and warm, clasped hers and his fingers were threaded through hers.

She swallowed. She thought he did too.

"I want to believe this can work," he said, his voice barely above a whisper, the blue eyes, which were darker now holding hers, and there was no distance or artifice in them at all.

He raised his other hand, watching her carefully. Giving her chance to say no, because only he could possibly think she would. His fingers brushed her cheek very softly, very gently, and then he stroked her skin along her jawbone and slid his hand into her hair.

She waited.

She wanted to pull him towards her, but she waited.

He bent his head and kissed her.

She closed her eyes and he was gentle and cautious for a long, knee-weakening moment as she knew he'd be; before it finally seemed to dawn on him what she wanted, what they both wanted, and then he pulled her tightly against him and his mouth was hard on hers. Her arms were round his neck, and she stretched up and leaned into him, and answered him with everything she'd got. She felt the glow from the flames of the fire on her back, but it was as nothing compared to the warmth of his mouth on hers, the heat of his fingers on her skin, and the sheer blaze of joy deep down inside.

It amazed her and scared her and stunned her, and she could never, ever get enough of it.

She had to take her mouth from his in the end to grab some air. His hand stroked her back and his lips slid down her throat, so that she could put her face into his soft, thick hair and totally revel in what was happening.

"Remus," she said, not meaning to say it aloud and certainly not in that way, and he lifted up his head and the expression in his eyes made her grin uncontrollably.

"Nymphadora?" he enquired politely, if rather breathlessly, and she laughed for the first time ever at her name because she was so happy. He clutched her to him and she felt his thin body shake with laughter too.

Somehow they found their way to the sofa and he kissed her again, holding her face tightly between his hands, and they half sat, half collapsed onto it. He pulled her so that she lay on him with her arms round his neck, her head pressed against the soft wool of Molly's brown jumper; and it all felt so incredibly right that she felt relief coursing through her.

They lay in silence for a few minutes. She did a lot more revelling.

"Wow," she said.

"Wow," he agreed.

He sounded a bit stunned, a bit pleased and a bit smug. She liked that.

His heartbeat was racing like mad under her cheek. She felt pretty stunned, pleased and smug about that herself.

There was more silence.

"Wow," she said again. "Erm…I can't think of anything else to say at the moment."

"It's the altitude change. Going from standing up to lying down very quickly scrambles the brain. Takes time to adjust."

"Right." It was times like this she could tell what a great teacher he'd been. Simple, to the point, no messing. Plus really hot. Those lucky, lucky kids.

She remembered how in her days at Hogwarts, she and her mates had rather cruelly had a game where they used a one word adjective to describe a boy's snogging ability. She'd got a nasty feeling it was her who'd suggested it in the first place. 'Slobbery,' had been bestowed upon Julius Hardacre, the first boy she'd ever kissed. She hadn't given him much choice because she was nearly fifteen, and everyone else claimed to have snogged someone and said it was marvellous.

'Selfish,' had gone to Christopher Catesby, her first proper boyfriend, although it had taken her far too long to work out that he wasn't, in fact, 'Wonderful.' And 'Dragon-breath' was, unfortunately, forever how she would view Charlie Weasley after a drunken New Year's Eve snog, which ensured that to this day they were never quite comfortable in each other's company.

And she still didn't want to know what the hell he'd been up to beforehand.

She hadn't thought about this for years but now, lying there with Remus's arms round her, hardly able to believe what was happening, she wondered what word would fit kissing him. Intense? Passionate? Sensational?

Wow, she thought. Wow. That was it.

Another thought popped into her head. Something that had been nagging at her. Clearly she was adjusting to the new altitude level.

She twisted to look up at him.

"'I don't do casual?'" she said and watched him redden slightly. "You wouldn't care to elaborate on that one for me, would you?"

"Perhaps I didn't choose my words very carefully."

"I'll say."

"What I meant was, if you get involved with me you can't just have a few dates and forget it if it doesn't work out -"

"I can't?"

He grinned, but then looked serious. "Because merely by associating with me, you could alienate family and friends. People will disapprove. Strongly. As for work - well let's hope no one there ever finds out."

"I don't care if they do!" she said, hotly, thinking she'd relish the chance to tell a few people where to get off if it came to it. Although, hopefully, it wouldn't.

"You're not that naive, Tonks. And when you say things like that it frightens me because I think you don't know what you're taking on. You'd be much better off with a young, normal wizard -"

"Like Shane Stepper, I suppose. What a shining example he was of young and normal."

Remus ignored this. "With a job and prospects -"

"While you'd rather chase after Olivia Purves."

He paused while she lent over and trailed kisses along his cheek and jaw. Breathing in the smell of him, which was so uniquely his, and so very, very intoxicating. Working her way down to the warm pulse beating fast in his neck which she touched with her tongue, feeling the vibration. She let her lips move round slowly and linger in the hollow of his throat, and she felt his hands tighten on her back and he made a sound that delighted her.

"Actually…I've rather lost track of who she was." His voice was very husky.

Tonks laughed. "I hope you're not going to be as fickle with me."

"I doubt it." He rolled them both, awkwardly but effectively, and then there was a bizarre moment when he paused above her as though asking permission, and she gave an impatient tug at his jumper. He grinned and settled very carefully on top of her. They sorted out their arms and legs again, and he winced slightly as she banged his calf with her foot.

He was heavier than she'd imagined he'd be.

He cupped her face in his hands and looked down at her. "I'm just lost in you."

She shut her eyes because she was sure all her feelings must be shining out of them, and it was far too soon to blow his mind. He seemed to have no compulsion about blowing hers though. His mouth was on hers again, and then his lips were brushing over her cheeks like a whisper, kissing her eyelids. She pressed her face into his and slid her hands up his back, and thought this was so much more than she'd dared dream of.

Wow time, again.

Eventually he eased back, his hands still in her hair, and she opened her eyes reluctantly. He had that damn concerned look again. Time to gather her scattered wits and tell him what he needed to hear.

"Remus, I really have thought about this long and hard." She had as well, because she'd have been a fool not to consider what was involved, and while her heart might run amok in fantasy land there was always a hard core of brutal realism in her mind. She'd spare him the part about giving up curries, and worrying if their teeth would clash if they ever actually got round to doing this, because that was on a need-to-know basis only, but, apparently, this was one prospective boyfriend who'd appreciate hearing some unflattering truths.

"You seem to want a perfect fairy tale with us arm in arm and a wolf-drawn sleigh full of Daily Prophet Draw winnings trotting along behind. I, however, am a lot more down-to-earth. Despite your best attempts to look like some romantic hero when you came in the room. You could have just put the lamps on, you know!"

"I didn't -"

"Oh, come on!"

"Did it work?" He grinned at her.

She pretended to consider. It wasn't easy with a long finger stroking her face, and tracing the path of the scratch near her eyebrow, which was the result of tripping over a tree root a few days ago and connecting rather painfully with the trunk.

"You could have done with Snape's cloak billowing out behind you. Adds a touch of the dramatic."

He nodded. "I'm sure he'll lend it me next time as he's taking such a keen interest in us. I'll bring Dung's pipe as well so I can walk slowly and mysteriously out of a cloud of swirling green smoke towards you."

She laughed. "While coughing your guts up?"

"Good point. I'll probably need some music as well. Perhaps Molly can recommend something you'd appreciate." He grinned as she jabbed a finger in his ribs. "Anyway I can't impress you with my wealth or my prospects, so," the blue eyes looked at her a little ruefully, "I lay what little I have before you. Which appears to be cheap tricks."

"I was impressed." Tonks raised her head slightly to close the tiny gap between them and kissed him softly, struck by the glorious realisation that she was allowed to do this now. She'd always thought his eyes were beautiful, but now, this close, she realised what long lashes he had as well. His lips parted and she murmured a few words against them, feeling his breath on her face, fighting the urge to pull his head down hard against hers.

The lamps and the fire dimmed around them to a tiny glow.

She tried not to smirk. Wandless magic was easy. Wandless magic while kissing Remus was something else. It was murder on the old concentration.

"You're not the only one who can do cheap tricks, you know."

"So I see." He gave her that smile which she was beginning to hope was hers alone. "What else can you do?"

"You'll have to find out, won't you?' She gave him her best flirty glance in return, from under her lashes. 'What else can you do?"

He raised an eyebrow at her. Oh, that look. It was…wicked. It made her want things set in stone. Just to make sure she wasn't dreaming.

"You know you still haven't asked me out yet," she said.

He pulled a face. "It's more like 'Do you want to stay in with me?'" He realised what he'd said immediately as she grinned and, reddening a little, added hastily, "I mean, you know, with the situation with Sirius."

Ah yes, something else she'd given a lot of thought to. It was amazing how no one voiced aloud what everyone knew; Remus was acting as companion or minder or, as had occurred to her on more than a few occasions when she'd witnessed petulant, irrational Sirius, as baby-sitter. Most of all he was acting as a friend, but she wondered what strain it put on their friendship, if they ever discussed it. There was no doubting their loyalty to each other, but she'd seen irritation and frustration in both of them at times.

And irritation in Remus was so rare as to be noteworthy.

She wondered what additional strain it would bring if she and Remus got seriously involved. Sirius had seemed all for it, but had he realised what it might mean?

Remus was watching her. "It's…difficult to leave him alone for long periods. He hates it here so." He grimaced. "Which is unfair on you, and why I said nothing about this is simple."

It was unfair on him, too. She smiled.

"I'd love to stay in with you, Mr Lupin. There's always freezing patrols in some filthy, dark alleyway when we want to snatch the odd romantic moment."

He smiled back, relief showing in his eyes as they crinkled at the corners.

"I'm glad you feel like that, Miss Tonks, as I've already planned the next two rosters and, by a strange coincidence, it appears we're paired together again."

She snorted. "Do you think Snape will notice?"

"Is it very wrong to hope he does?" Remus looked at her innocently, and she laughed up at him, hugging him tightly to her and feeling the laughter inside him as well.

There was something very special here. She hadn't been kidding herself at all.

The only misgiving was to wonder how the hell she was ever going to get her head in gear for a patrol after this. She was damn well going to though, otherwise that sod Snape would be proved right. No way was this going to affect the rest of the Order. This was the first and last night they were all going to interfere.

"Severus was right, though." Remus was looking serious again. "People will think you're mad. And you - you could have anyone."

"You're right - I fight my long queue of suitors off at work each day." She put her hand on his face and stared at him fiercely, touched beyond measure that he could really believe that, and determined to make him understand. Determined to explain what he was giving her. "But I want someone who's honest, kind and has a wicked sense of humour. Who for some reason believes I'm the catch of the century. Someone unique. That would be you." She paused. "I do have one concern though."

"Yes?" He looked as if he was bracing himself.

"Do you like greengage or raspberry jam best?" She kept her face straight with difficulty. It was so hard to wrong-foot him and it was just great when she did. One up for pink-haired witches everywhere.

He frowned; puckering the skin between his eyes, taking his time. His lips twitched a minuscule amount, which she'd have missed if she hadn't been looking for it.

"Is this some kind of Molly Weasley Suitability Test? Do I get a special cake for the correct answer? Hmm. No one could prefer greengage to raspberry, could they?"

"See." Tonks beamed at him. "You're absolutely perfect."

He laughed but she knew all the doubts hadn't been banished forever. She certainly wouldn't be making any passionate declarations for a couple of months. While they knew each other very well in some ways, they knew each other very little in others. She'd never seen him or helped him straight after a full moon, nor really discussed it, and he'd need to be okay with it. And, because she was still a hard-headed realist in many ways, she needed to be sure she was okay with it too.

Perhaps one and a half months before any declarations. Till she was comfortable he wasn't going to wake up one day and realise he could do a lot better.

Okay, one month at most. Possibly three weeks.

She frowned.

"Why do you owe Sirius a couple of Sickles?"

Remus looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. The wooden witch, who was watching with rapt attention from the eye socket, gave him a cheery wave. "We haven't got long. We ought to get ready."

"Don't change the subject!"

"I suppose if I say it's 'Men's Stuff' you'll want to know even more?"

"Course I will."

Remus played with the ends of her hair for a minute before answering. He shifted sideways, slid his arm underneath her and rolled them again, with more finesse this time so they faced each other. There was more leg organisation required, followed by more wincing, a muttered apology as her belt snagged his jumper – Molly would have a fit – and fun deciding where her hands could go at this new angle.

"Sirius had a theory," he said at last, when they'd sorted themselves out, "that Severus was not, shall we say, best pleased by our friendship, and not necessarily for the reasons he put forward tonight."

Tonks grinned. "Well the miserable git's jealous as hell of you. Dung hit the nail on the head. Didn't you say there's always been trouble since your school days?"

"That's true."

"And you being such a success in the post he wanted must have been the final straw."

"Possibly." Remus nodded. "Though I'm not quite sure I'd describe 'being a success' as having to resign after endangering lives and bringing the school into disrepute."

She gave him a pointed look. "Stop being so modest. Snape endangers lives every day with the grease on his hair. Anyone could slip over and break something. So that's it? Sirius bet you Snape was jealous because we were friends?"

"Mmm. Sort of."

"And you being so smart couldn't work that out for yourself?"

This time the smile was close to a smirk. "I failed to appreciate how much Severus admires certain…illustrious members of the Noble and Most Ancient House Of Black. But Sirius told me ages ago it was obvious."

"Well Snape's a terrible snob when it comes to the pure breds. Good job I'm not one." Tonks glanced at the skeleton clock, realised she'd completely missed the eleven o'clock bone rattle, and lost all interest in Snape and his unsavoury motives. They should get ready. Damn. She'd give anything for a Time-Turner right now. She looked at Remus, who was watching her with a faintly amused expression, which promptly made her want to trace the curl in his lip with her finger and kiss him.

Apparently the feeling was mutual.

"Snape said you'd take advantage of me," she pointed out when she could speak again. If he carried on at this rate there was going to be a passionate declaration within the next ten minutes.

"I know," he nodded. "And Moody's just told me he knows he can rely on me not to, Sirius told me to do it weeks ago, and Molly seems to want you to take advantage of me. It's very confusing trying to please all these people."

"Perhaps you'd better just please me then."

"That's the theory I'm currently working to." He leaned towards her again and his hand stroked her hair, tracing the shape of her head down to the slope of her shoulder. It made her shiver. As did his other hand, which was somehow resting on the bare skin of her waist, where it appeared her jumper had ridden up with all the shifting round. She'd have been very impressed at Professor R. J. Lupin if both her own hands weren't in exactly the same position under his. He was slender, but so solid and comforting at the same time. So warm.

She wondered if he was finding it as hard to keep his hand still as she was.

Clearly Molly had miscalculated with her latest batch of jumpers and they'd turned out far too baggy, which led all too easily to this sort of thing. Of course, knowing Molly, she probably knit them like that on purpose.

The thought made her laugh until he covered her mouth with his own again, his tongue finding hers, and she pressed into him, tangling his legs with hers. These slow-moving, deep kisses were a warm, drugging wonder that deprived her of all coherent thought. She could happily do this forever.

"Weren't you saying you were out of practice at this?" She managed to get the words out with some difficulty while he was kissing her neck.

"It seems to be like riding a broomstick." His voice was indistinct as he didn't seem inclined to stop what he was doing. "You don't ever forget. And before you start yelling at me again in your capacity as Alexa the Pirate Queen, I know I could have phrased that one better as well."

She giggled, which turned into a gasp though she tried to hold it back. His eyes were so dark as he raised his head and looked at her. Time was running out so she gave in to her earlier impulse and pulled his head down hard, tasting his mouth and twisting her fingers through his hair; which led to more incoherent thoughts and his arms very tight around her.

"Tonks," he said softly, his lips against her mouth.

"Mmm?"

"Next time we do this -"

She grinned; both at the words 'Next time,' and the fact that he looked shyly at her as he said it. He'd never take anything for granted.

"- would you do something for me?"

"What?"

"Could you take those boots off? They're absolutely lethal."

"How about you take them off?" Her eyes met his. "If you think you can handle it."

The blue eyes glinted at her. She decided he seemed pretty confident he could.

This working together as colleagues and having a relationship was going to be…challenging.

Sirius said as much in his own inimitable fashion when they finally made it downstairs to the kitchen - Tonks having never before imagined that she'd ever want to linger on the dark staircase or happily lean back against the damp, mouldy walls - and found him waiting at the table with the now empty bottle of Firewhisky, Dung's pack of Hellcat cards spread out in front of him, and what could only be described as a self-satisfied smirk.

With a sudden pang, she realised that for all his apparent carelessness it was he who'd sat patiently on his own in the gloom and waited for them. Waiting either to celebrate or console, and then be left behind again when they had to leave.

Why were things so bloody unjust?

Of course, the smirk made her itch to wipe it off him.

"Ah, here's Love's Young Dream all bright eyed and bushy tailed! The latter in Moony's case only, of course. And to think you owe it all to Snivellus!" He laughed raucously. "Obviously the cards got laid then. The question is, will anything else while you're on duty together?"

"I'm sure we'll manage to restrain," said Remus dryly. "It's a freezing night." He glanced at her as though to check she wasn't offended, and she thought how quickly the very different Remus she'd seen upstairs had reverted back to the composed, give-nothing-away one. It made her want to smile.

"I'll get the coats," he said.

When the door closed behind him, she thumped Sirius.

"Ow! What's that for?"

"Being an insensitive sod." Tonks thumped him again, with slightly less force. "We haven't had a date yet. We've had the most traumatic night ever. And…we've both got a lot to think about, like how this is going to work. Mad-Eye's going to be giving me non-stop lectures, and I'm sure Molly will be trying to have an embarrassing chat with Remus very shortly. Or the other way round. In fact, I'm almost wanting to run away at the very thought of it all, so Merlin knows how he's feeling. So if you could just give us a week before you start with the relationship advice."

Sirius raised his eyes to the ceiling. "There's a war on, Tonks. Don't let Moony start thinking you're doing him an immense favour. Neither of you can afford to piss about."

She looked at him with the beginnings of annoyance; honesty forcing her to admit that part of her would just love to ignore her own wise words of caution, and hearing someone else voicing the thought - and that person being Sirius - was downright irritating.

"I don't suppose you've heard of the phrase 'We'll be taking it slowly,' have you?" she said.

"Nope." Sirius sniffed, clearly unimpressed. "Unless that's the one you lot trot out at inconvenient times to sound impressive, so you can then lay back with a clear conscience, watch your bra come off, and blame it all on us blokes."

She had to turn away to hide her grin and straightened up a couple of chairs to give herself something to do. There were a few scattered feathers on the floor and no sign of the owls. She'd thought Sirius had a strange white blob on his jumper – obviously the owls had decided discretion was the better part of stupidity and were spending the night elsewhere. The mind boggled as to what had been going on while she and Remus were, erm, occupied.

When her face was under control again, she turned back to him. He had Dung's cigar balanced perfectly upright on the end of his index finger, and he must have charmed it because it was revolving round and round in front of her.

"Put it away, Sirius," she said, in the tone of one addressing an eight year old.

"Not needed yet then?" He regarded her with interest.

She grinned. He was either trying to embarrass her or test her, and he was going to fail at both. Men like this – boys like this - she could handle any day of the week; it was the gentlemanly ones that got under her skin.

She looked at him shrewdly. "You wouldn't dare show that to Remus, would you?"

The cigar wobbled slightly. "Bloody right I wouldn't!" He smirked at her. "You've got no idea where that man can make chewing gum end up."

Tonks thought he really should be more concerned at the moment with what she could do with it. Still, he was probably the sort who always under-estimated girls, and that might be to her advantage.

She lent on the back of a chair and smiled at him. "It isn't needed yet, Sirius, so you'll have to hang onto it for a while. Besides, we were only up there for an hour. You shouldn't judge everyone by your own standards, you know."

The cigar stopped dead, balancing perfectly for a couple of seconds on his finger. Then it fell sideways as he roared with laughter and caught it in his fist.

She laughed too.

Sirius put the cigar in his pocket and frowned at her. "I still say you should jump on him. Get past any gentlemanly tendencies."

"You've really forgotten how to talk to girls, haven't you?"

He gave her a pitying look. "I never actually needed to talk to them, Tonks."

He ducked as she tried to thump him again.

"I mean it. Don't waste time. Don't muck around."

She softened, because he must know better than anyone how quickly things could change. The one thing she never doubted was that Sirius was loyal to a fault to the people he cared for. Remus was certainly top of that list with Harry, but there was no mistaking the fact that he was including her on it now, even if she was a long way down.

The realisation made her nod and put her hand lightly on his arm for a second to show she understood what he was getting at. He covered her hand with his thin one, in which the blue veins stood out prominently and the nails were almost colourless; and they smiled at each other, rather uncertainly.

She wondered what was going to happen between the three of them in the future.

Remus came back in with the coats and noticeably tidy hair (which made her want to do a Dung-like snort), and she started to speak about the first subject that came into her head.

"I was going to write on the window earlier when Mad-Eye was going on. A somewhat hysterical plea for someone to rescue me from all the madness. Good job I didn't." She grinned at Remus. "Someone might have come along and done just that and then I'd have missed out on so much fun."

"I can certainly see why you'd have hated to miss out on some of Dung's more astute observations. Tonksy." He dodged the gloves she threw at him and laughed. "I couldn't find your scarf by the way. The purple striped one, isn't it? Hard to miss."

"Oh, I knotted it round the troll's foot when I got here. Thought it might highlight it so I didn't fall over the damn thing. Hang on, I'll get it."

Her own rather dishevelled hair caught her eye in the hall mirror but, while that was easy to fix, she was completely unable to remove the broad smile plastered across her face.

"Oh, Merlin, another happy one. I'm going to throw up," said the mirror rudely. She laughed and gave it a pat, which made it wince and tell her what she could do with herself.

She morphed her hair black so it wouldn't catch any light from street lamps outside. It glowed like the richest coal-black velvet, with shining blue lights reflected in it.

The mirror shuddered and made a retching noise.

She grinned. She couldn't stop.

The scarf was indeed wrapped around the troll's foot, which she also gave an affectionate pat to. At this rate, she'd be hugging the next Death Eater she met, and paying for him to have counselling sessions in Azkaban. Hopefully, as she was still planning on sending him there, she hadn't gone completely round the bend.

When she went back in, Remus and Sirius were both suspiciously straight-faced and casual, with their backs to the window. Angelic looking. Sirius was quietly singing what appeared to be his own lyrics to The Stones' 'Paint It Black,' and the Hellcat playing cards were doing some kind of synchronized cheerleader movements to accompany him.

The pair of them must have been an absolute menace when they were at Hogwarts; especially the quiet, sensitive one, who gave her a smile that turned her stomach over, and looked as though butter wouldn't melt anywhere near him. It was that smile he only gave her as well.

Had all that really happened between them upstairs? Wow.

"What?" she said, looking from one to the other as she knotted her scarf round her neck. How young they both looked. Like naughty schoolboys

"Nothing." Remus' eyes glinted with amusement at her. "Come on. Let's see what the forces of darkness are up to."

"I'm not going till you -"

He moved then, just stepping a pace to the left and she burst out laughing.

On the window, inscribed in the grime on one of the big panes, were the words: Need a Matchmaker or Relationship Expert? Call Severus Snape and get knocked into shape! Confidentiality will be ignored and pillow talk is extra. As recommended by two highly satisfied customers, Remus & Tonks. Also by Sirius Black, who likes a good laugh. (Some tickets still available for the next session, but hurry, they're selling fast!)

The End

A/N: Well, as they don't say here in Britain, 'That's all folks!' At least it is for this particular night in their lives, as they've now got to go and do some work. Many thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed and, if you've made it this far, you probably now deserve a forty minute session on the sofa with Remus sorting out a few issues. I'm not sure about a sequel, though it's a possibility as I'm quite intrigued by the idea of them trying to make this relationship work while helped and hindered by the rest of the Order, who obviously have nothing better to do. However, some readers may be thinking enough is enough!

In the meantime, MrsTater has ignored the advice of several eminent doctors, and is writing a joint fic with me. It is provisionally titled 'Up All Night,' and will be the story of another interesting evening for Remus and Tonks. I hope you'll look out for it, and it will be appearing…as soon as we've written it.