Remus Lupin Apparated into a black, rain-drenched alley and promptly slipped on a patch of something oily. His arms flailed wildly to maintain his balance, and there was a moment when he thought he might actually remain upright. But splat he went on the wet, slimy ground, narrowly missing striking his head on a metal trash bin as he pitched backward. From his prone position he saw a rather large rat scurry past his left hand toward the other end of the dank alley. Directly across from him, a homeless person of indeterminate gender stirred beneath his or her makeshift bedclothes, which consisted of cardboard and ancient, foul blankets.
"Sirius Black, I will kill you," Remus murmured to the bleak sky as heavy raindrops battered his forehead, adding a bit of water torture to his sodden predicament. "Oh, yes, I will kill you. It shall be done. This time I really, really mean it."
The lump under the cardboard and blankets mumbled something incoherent and turned to face the wall.
Remus stood up as gracefully as he could, drew his wand, and Scourgified the slime from his woolen pants and tweed coat. Next he conjured an umbrella and performed a drying spell on himself beneath it. He turned toward the end of the alley and reached into his breast pocket for the scrawled message Sirius had left on the kitchen table at number twelve Grimmauld Place:
No need to argue. I'm going mad here and at last I have a good excuse to escape, in other words, read: female(s). If you want to partake, or keep an eye on me – I don't care which, but you need to get out of this hell hole as much as I do and you know it, so stop being all blustery – then Apparate to the alley next to that pub in Dublin – you know, the one we went to over Christmas holiday our seventh year. There's a new club at the end of that alley, and I'm told the police, Muggle and otherwise, are fairly scarce thereabouts, so bugger all I'm going. I've left you some Muggle money to get in and to buy a few drinks, which I fully expect you to do as I will have had a two hour head start. You'll probably see me at the bar or on the dance floor. Now shut your cakehole and put on something non-tweedy.
Remus replaced the note and stared at the industrial behemoth in front of him. It was a ridiculously sprawling gray building, three stories tall and completely nondescript except for the insistent thump-thump-thump of bass which vibrated its very walls. It resembled nothing so much as a huge warehouse. A tiny, purple neon sign indicated the entrance, and Remus sauntered toward it through the driving rain.
At half past twelve, there was a long line of people waiting to get in, and all of them seemed to be under the age of twenty-five. Many of the girls were dressed in the skimpiest, tightest clothing imaginable, complete with high heels and glossy, pouty lips. A few girls and most of the boys wore tight T-shirts and baggy pants and an air of indifference. Nearly all had neglected to bring an umbrella, as umbrellas would likely have clashed with the attire and undoubtedly would have ruined the intended attitude of disaffectedness; instead they clung to the wall as best they could, using each other's bodies as shelter. Remus towered over nearly everyone around him in his tweed and wool and graying hair, and suddenly he knew what Sirius had meant when he'd warned him (at the tender age of eighteen, no less) about never being the old bloke at the club.
He paid his money with a grim smile and went inside.
The music was loud, but it seemed to be coming mostly from the second and third floors. Here on the first floor it was relatively peaceful. A sign on the black painted wall told him that this floor was AMBIENT BEATS/OXYGEN BAR/FORTUNES TOLD/MASSAGE (NON-SMOKING). Sirius wouldn't be here: too "crunchy," he'd say. The second floor was DISCO/70s. Remus doubted Sirius would be there, either, as he'd never been a fan of the disco scene. The third floor was HOUSE/TRANCE/DANCE CAGES.
Remus began climbing the stairs toward the third floor.
As soon as he reached the landing for the second floor, the noise of the disco was deafening. Bodies crushed into him and past him, and synthesized music seared through his brain like a chain saw. A disco ball hung from the ceiling and threw starlight onto all the patrons dancing on the parquet platform or lounging at the long bar. Remus quickly darted into the men's bathroom and slipped into a stall, where he drew his wand and performed a muffling charm on both ears to deaden some of the noise. He could still hear conversation, but the amplitude was reduced and most of the high and low frequencies were eliminated. With a sigh of relief, he stepped out of the bathroom … and into a tall woman in a red sequined evening gown, not unlike like one that Judy Garland might have worn in Las Vegas in the 1970s.
"Oh, pardon me," Remus muttered, stepping back toward the wall to make room for her to pass.
"Not at all," the woman beamed. She had a lovely Irish accent; but her voice was strangely throaty. Remus looked into her face and saw overly-lined lips, caked-on rouge and eye makeup, a huge, dark brown hairdo. False eyelashes. Strong jaw. Adam's apple.
She was a he.
"Care to ask me to dance, professor?" she smiled, sidling next to Remus near the men's room door and eyeing his tweed coat with friendly amusement.
"Er, I'm flattered," Remus stammered, " but I don't really dance."
"Tch. Pity," she smiled. Her eyes danced over his face flirtatiously.
Remus squirmed. He was backed against the wall now. "Sorry, wish I could help you, mate."
The drag queen fixed him with a look of fury.
"I mean, mademoiselle," he amended hastily. "Sorry, I don't get out much lately. My fault, really. Erm, may I say you look smashing?"
Her look melted into one of warmth, as if Remus had just said the most charming thing.
"Well, if you happen to change your mind …"
"Yes, thanks, I will," Remus said with relief. "I mean …" He swallowed. "I may not see you. I'm on my way to meet a friend."
"Lucky friend," she said with a wink as she allowed him to inch his way past her toward the stairs. In her generous smile, Remus could see every one of her dazzling white teeth. She fluffed her wig with one impeccably manicured, albeit large, hand. It must have taken this person three hours to get ready to go out. Remus suddenly felt grateful that he never felt the need to scrutinize his own appearance too closely.
"A pleasure meeting you, er – "
"Right. Remus." He backed away and waved in what he was certain was a rather silly manner. Then he dashed up the steps.
"People come and go so quickly here," Victoria said with a pretty sigh.
The third floor was a mash of sweaty bodies. There was barely room to move, much less to locate one wayward wizard. It took Remus a solid ten minutes to make his way from the stairwell over to the bar situated along the side wall. Sirius was nowhere to be seen. Another ten minutes passed before he got the barman's attention. He asked for two glasses of the oldest whiskey they had, with a splash of water in each, and turned to battle the throng once more. Slowly he pushed his way through the crowd toward the tables arranged on a carpeted platform, ringside-style, around the large sunken wooden dance floor. The thump of the bass and drums from the large speakers dotting the room probably would have made his ears ring for two days if he hadn't protected his hearing. The swell of music drove the club's patrons to ever-heightened states of frenzied dance. Remus had to admit that the climaxing music, although formulaic, wasn't unpleasant; it was melodic and sweeping, intense and dynamic, designed to build and release in just the right increments. As he approached the tables, he noticed the dance cages, one at each corner of the dance floor. Inside each cage was a single, well-sculpted woman or man dressed in scanty, caveman-type fur clothing; large furry boots provided the most coverage of their nubile young bodies. They shimmied and shook and contorted, but no one seemed to pay them much attention. They were part of the scenery, much like the shifting colors of the flashing electric lights that shone and swung from the steel rafters.
Somehow Remus discovered an empty table near the dance floor. He found a chair that wasn't too sticky and sat facing the heaving crowd. In his stillness he became aware of the cigarette smoke in the air, and his eyes began to burn. Blinking rapidly, he took a slug of whiskey and silently cursed Sirius once more. What would the Order do if Sirius was found missing from Grimmauld Place? Truth be told, Remus was surprised Sirius hadn't tried to sneak out before now. He growled and took another swig. He would simply have to try to bribe or coerce the man into coming home before closing time. Then he shook his head: who was he kidding? He would probably be here all night. Well, someone had to keep Sirius out of trouble.
From his ringside seat above, his eyes scanned the mass of bodies on the dance floor. The crowd particularly seemed to love the song that was blaring, and they jumped up and down en masse, over and over again, creating one surging, frenetic tidal wave of sweat and pheromones. Remus hoped the floor was sturdy. As he searched the throng, his eyes slowly focused on two people near the center.
This couple was not bouncing like the rest of the crowd. In fact, they were swirling, creating space around them by the force of their spin. The woman sported a wide grin, and she held onto the man tightly as they circled round and round, faster and faster. It was mesmerizing, watching man morph into woman and back again as their faces appeared and disappeared from Remus's view during the whirl.
Remus couldn't take his eyes off the young woman. Through the blur, he discerned that she had a sweet face, but her arms rippled with the compact, taught muscle that only petite frames such as hers can develop. She had short, black hair tipped in fiery orange-yellow. He could almost swear it was giving off sparks as they swirled. The man was laughing without reserve, and his eyes were crinkled and looking warmly into the face of the woman. There was something about the shape of her the man's brow that reminded him of –
"Sirius!" Remus stood awkwardly as he shouted in vain; the music was too loud. He waved at the couple, but their eyes were only on each other. Finally he sat down again and slowly finished off his whiskey, staring bleakly at Sirius and his date. Then he reached for the other glass, which he had intended to give to Sirius, and took a swig from that one, too.
Remus knew from experience that this would be a long night.
Several songs later, Sirius and the young woman wiped sweat from their foreheads and necks as they began pushing their way through the crowd. Remus stood again and waved. Sirius caught his eye and waved back; then he said something into the woman's ear. She looked up, saw Remus, and wiggled her fingers at him, smiling broadly. Her smile was quite lovely, and Remus couldn't help grinning back at her. Sirius pointed toward the bar, then at Remus. Remus pointed at his glass of whiskey. Sirius nodded and detached himself from the woman, making his way back to the bar to replenish their drinks.
Between the alcohol and the heat inside the building Remus suddenly felt quite warm, so he removed his tweed coat and draped it over the back of his chair. He remained standing as the young woman approached. She was much smaller than him, but well-proportioned and lithe; and she carried herself as a much larger person might, with strength and determination, as if she were used to getting respect. She wore military-green pants, sturdy black boots, and a bright lilac tank top. A black velvet choker encircled her neck. Sweat beaded and glistened on her shoulders as she neared him, smiling. Remus smiled back, and she tripped on the carpet.
She caught her balance with a spectacular waving of arms. "Oh, well done, Tonks," she laughed, blushing. Finally she reached the table. Remus began to pull out a chair for her; but she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him, standing on tiptoe. "Remus Lupin, in the flesh," she spoke into his ear.
"Er, um, yes," he replied, immediately flummoxed. She was very affectionate, this one. So as not to appear rude, he allowed one arm to wrap around her small waist. The heat from her cheek and neck warmed his, and he noticed a pleasant, nutmeggy scent in her hair. She squeezed him hard once before releasing him.
"Sirius has told me all about you, Remus Lupin. It's a pleasure to meet you." Tonks stood back and appraised him frankly, letting her eyes sweep over his face and body. Remus was suddenly sorry he had chosen to wear his favorite old shapeless green jumper, though he couldn't have said why. He noticed that Tonks's eyes were jet black, as black as her flame-tipped hair, but warm and friendly as she regarded him. She cocked her head and squinted one eye up at him, commenting, "Wiry thing, aren't you?"
He felt his brow contort. "I – ?"
She clapped a hand over her mouth. "Sorry, sorry, foot in mouth. A big problem when I've had a few. Sorry, love." There was something about the way she called him "love" that sounded exactly like Sirius.
Remus was determined to participate in this conversation, if only to keep the lady's foot out of her mouth. "Tonks, you said?" The name sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it.
"Just Tonks," she smiled. "I could let you use my first name, but I'd have to kill you."
"You – ?"
Suddenly her bright face crumpled. "Oh, I'm bollocks at introductions. I'm embarrassing you and myself all in one fell swoop. Shall I begin again?"
"Well, that's hardly – "
She took a deep breath, offered her hand, and spoke with a grave face. "Wotcher, Remus?"
Suddenly Remus burst out laughing as he shook her hand properly. "Why don't we have a seat and pretend we've already got past the awkward introductions, shall we?"
Tonks offered a grateful smile and Remus returned it warmly. She sat in the seat Remus had already pulled out for her and smoothly produced a vodka tonic and another whiskey from underneath the table. She slid the whiskey to Remus.
"Cheers," she offered. "Sirius could be hours coming back from the bar."
So Tonks was a witch. He hadn't even seen her draw her wand. She was either very subtle or very talented – perhaps both.
"Thanks," Remus smiled, raising his glass. He figured he might as well enjoy a few drinks. He had a feeling Sirius was just getting started and had no intention of leaving anytime soon, and Remus didn't want him to Apparate drunk. He would probably have to stay here in Dublin with Sirius tonight and get him home somehow in the morning. Of course, if Sirius had plans to escort this young woman home, Remus would have to find sleeping arrangements on his own. Well, he thought, it's been done before.
Remus watched Tonks sipping her drink thoughtfully. Her eyes roved the dance floor and her head bobbed in time with the music. She really did have a lovely face. Heart-shaped, with a delicate chin. Large, expressive eyes and straight, black eyebrows. High cheekbones; they reminded him of Sirius's. Flawless pale skin. Although she was not what anyone might call classically beautiful, she was striking in an ethereal sort of way. Leave it to Sirius to find not only a captivating young woman, but possibly the only witch in this Muggle club. He felt something shift inside him, and his heart fluttered inexplicably.
Suddenly Remus felt like flirting.
It had been a long time since he'd done anything close to flirtation. Would he make a magnificent fool of himself? On the other hand, why should he resist? The Marauder in him elbowed him to make a pass. He started with the obvious question. "So what do you do for a living, Just Tonks?"
She smiled, shooting a sidelong glance at him. "Well, Remus Lupin, I could tell you but I'd have to kill you." She snickered at her own recycled joke.
Remus raised an eyebrow and sipped some whiskey, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth.
In the past, flirting in earnest was something he only allowed himself to do with Sirius's girlfriends, as there was no chance any woman would be lured away from the handsome scoundrel by a thin, bookish sidekick. It gave Remus a thrill, and it saved him from having to have The Werewolf Talk somewhere down the road. Sirius, in fact, condoned his teasing; after all, as Sirius had repeatedly been known to say, "The more beautiful a woman feels with the male sex in general, the more likely she'll be to succumb to my substantial charms." But it had been over twelve years since Remus had been in this position with one of Sirius's women. He hoped he wouldn't come across as a dirty old man. So far, however, Tonks didn't seem to mind.
"Lady of mystery, are we?" Remus lowered his chin and gazed up at her through his fringe.
Tonks's eyelashes fluttered a few times and she blushed and looked away. Had he already successfully knocked her off her plate? But then she chuckled and continued. "Not very. I'm finishing up Auror training."
This time both Remus's eyebrows went up.
"You may have heard that the Ministry is trying to restore relations between Selkies and humans," Tonks explained. "They've got me here in Ireland doing some work with female Selkies and their human male captors." She took a swig of her drink and went on, frowning. "It's tough when there are children involved, but the female Selkies have to be allowed the choice of staying on land or going back to sea. And the Ministry is trying to educate the male Selkies about the hazards of seducing human women; many of them do it in retaliation for the female Selkies who were abducted by human men."
"I never knew that," Remus said, impressed. He lifted his glass to her again, forgetting at once that he was supposed to be flirting. "This is important work you're doing."
"Oh, it sounds noble, but all I'm really doing is hunting the offenders down, human and Selkie, and turning them in at the Ministry office here in Dublin. I've got this assignment because I've had some trouble with Stealth and Tracking," she said with a blush. "But I have come across a few female Selkie skins that no one else has managed to track down," she added proudly. "Let me tell you how wonderful it is to return a skin to its rightful owner. You should see the look on their faces …" Tonks's voice trailed off and she smiled, her eyes focused somewhere far away. "But then comes the choice of whether to stay or go back to sea. And if there are children …" Her brow furrowed and she looked down into her drink, tracing the lip of the glass with a finger.
From her story, the echo of a song Remus had heard somewhere niggled his brain, but he couldn't recall what it was, or who had sung it. A wave of sadness washed over him, and he wasn't entirely sure why. He needed to try to lighten the mood. He watched Tonks in her reverie for a moment before asking, "Is it true that the children of Selkies and humans have webbed fingers and toes?"
"Yes," she nodded, bringing her eyes back to Remus. "But often the family has the webs clipped at birth." She shuddered convulsively at the thought. "It's not true that the webs grow back, despite what you've heard." She gulped her drink and shuddered again.
Remus sipped his drink slowly, impressed by Tonks's empathy for these children, and for the Selkie mothers faced with the choice of leaving them. He decided he liked this woman.
"What about you?" Tonks asked brightly. "What do you do? Sirius didn't tell me."
Remus wasn't certain whether he should mention the Order; not all Aurors were convinced that Voldemort was trying to regain power. "Well, I've recently taught Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts."
Tonks smacked him hard on the shoulder. "No!" she shouted, grinning broadly.
Remus rubbed his shoulder; for such a small young woman she packed quite a wallop. "Yes, it's true." He didn't want to tell her the circumstances under which he'd been forced to leave the school.
"Now I'm impressed. You must be pretty smart – and talented – "
But Remus didn't hear anything else she said, because at that moment he saw Sirius at the bar, drink in hand. And he was chatting up another woman.
Remus brought his startled gaze back to Tonks, feigning interest, but all the while he was trying to figure out what to do. Perhaps twelve years in Azkaban had completely removed all of Sirius's common sense. Here was a beautiful young woman, obviously taken with Sirius, and there was Sirius – Remus's eyes darted toward the bar again – leaning toward a beautiful, statuesque woman with dark brown skin and chestnut braids down to the middle of her back. He was letting her touch the tattoo on his neck and shrugging as he spoke, probably casually making up some story about a former career as a pirate or some such nonsense. Merlin, what was Remus to do?
" – don't you think?" Tonks asked.
"Hmm?" Remus floundered. "Oh, yes, quite."
"I knew you'd agree with me. But most people would rather – "
He tuned her out again while his mind raced. This was beyond anything Sirius had ever done in the past. The man had juggled girlfriends before, but never so blatantly in the same room. Remus felt his blood boiling at the gall of it. Now Sirius was whispering into the woman's ear, his hand on her waist, and she was laughing and nodding. The sodding bastard still had his charm, and his looks, albeit a bit rougher around the edges now. But most women undoubtedly would still find him attractive. Obviously, at least two in this club did.
"Say, what's taking Sirius – ?" Tonks muttered, craning her neck to look toward the bar.
"Tonks!" Remus blurted suddenly, cutting her off mid-sentence. As she turned back to face him, he stripped his green jumper off, revealing a gray V-necked T-shirt, and tossed the jumper on the table.
"What?" Tonks asked, puzzled.
He threw back the last of his whiskey. The old saying about desperate times and desperate measures echoed through Remus's alcohol-soaked brain.
"Let's dance." He took her hand and, without waiting for her to say yes, led her away from the bar toward the dance floor.
As he pushed his way through the crowd, he wondered when was the last time he had actually attempted to dance and whether it bore repeating now, even under these dire circumstances. But he was determined not to let Sirius's callous lasciviousness hurt this young woman, if he could help it. He would do everything in his power to show her a good time.
As it happened, Tonks was a marginally better dancer than he. She had a sort of clumsy style that, in a strange way, worked for her. Perhaps it was her smile that somehow made the gyrations of her body make more sense. Fortunately for both of them there wasn't much room for flailing, so they eventually they both gave up dancing properly and simply bounced up and down with the rest of the throng. They laughed at each other's attempts to add style and individuality to what was essentially just hopping; and somehow an unspoken contest ensued. Tonks started it by imitating the man dancing next to her, trying to mimic his awkward, halting movements as best she could. Remus applauded. Then he attempted to dance like the woman next to Tonks, which was a challenge as it involved a lot of shimmying of shoulders and bosoms. Tonks nearly toppled over with laughter, which made Remus laugh all the more. The imitations escalated until both were in stitches and having trouble breathing. Tonks leaned with one hand on Remus's shoulder and tried to catch her breath. At last she yelled something at Remus, which was nearly unintelligible over the noise and music. He cupped a hand behind his ear and mouthed, "What?"
Tonks stood on tiptoe and Remus slouched a bit so he could hear. She brought her lips to his ear and said, "Let me show you the only way I know how to dance. It keeps me from stepping on blokes' feet. Sirius taught me."
She took Remus's hands and placed them around her waist. Then she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulling him close. She squinted her eyes and muttered something … and suddenly they were levitating.
Remus laughed in surprise and Tonks grinned as they began to slowly spin. "Look into my eyes," she yelled, "so you won't get dizzy!" He was astonished that she hadn't had to use a wand.
The spiral gained momentum little by little, and Remus found he had to hold on tightly to Tonks to keep from flying away from her into the sweaty crowd of dancers. He smiled into her eyes, realizing that, indeed, keeping his gaze on hers kept him from becoming dizzy. The mad, synthesized music with its sweeping chord progression, driving bass, and sextuplets of descending arpeggios on alternating beats and off beats seemed to be intensifying at the same rate as their circles, and it was quite a heady feeling: it was as if their spin was orchestrating the music, or the music was directing the force of the spin. The female voice sang something about being a rocket in the sky, and somehow Remus found himself accepting the proclamation as readily as anyone else in the club. No one else seemed to notice that the pair's feet weren't touching the ground, and the oblivious crowd parted slightly to make room for their whirling.
"Tighter!" Tonks shouted with glee.
Remus had to admit it felt good to hold this woman close to him. For such a small thing, she felt solid in his arms, and her smile was completely generous and unguarded. Her eyes – he stopped himself from considering her eyes. It would do no good. She was here with Sirius, and that was that. But for now this dance was theirs. Remus clutched her snugly to him and she laughed as the speed of the spin increased even more. Remus whooped as he felt his feet begin to fly outward due to centrifugal force. Tonks, anticipating this, quickly wrapped her legs around his thighs and calves and increased the spin yet again, laughing and holding Remus tighter. It was an intimate position, to be certain, yet it felt perfectly comfortable and natural in this moment.
Just when Remus thought he couldn't bear to go any faster, Tonks slowly, slowly began to reduce the speed of their circles. At the same time, the music shifted into something moody and romantic, something for lovers to dance to. People began clearing off the floor as a few couples remained to slow dance together, arms entwined around waists, hands cupping necks, lips on cheeks, in every combination of color and gender. Their rotation at last slowed to a minimum, and Remus felt his toes graze the floor.
He kept his eyes on Tonks as he found his footing, and two things happened which caused his heart to leap inside his chest: Her hair suddenly turned bright pink. And she blushed furiously, smiling and looking at the floor.
She stepped away from Remus and, as if she were suddenly unsure what to do with them, thrust her hands into her pockets.
"Your hair – " Remus began, gesturing with a finger.
"What?" Her hands came out of the pockets and clutched at her hair. "What color is it?"
"It's – it's – " She screwed up her face for a moment and then looked at Remus desperately. "Are you sure? Still pink?"
"Pink," he said again.
"Well," she mused, smoothing her spikes down with her hands as if she could cover the pinkness with the motion. She looked at Remus curiously, as if it were somehow his fault. "Well, then," was all she said. And she nodded, turned on her heel, and strode back to their table.
Remus followed. He glanced toward the bar and saw the chocolate-skinned woman pulling a willing Sirius down a dark hallway leading to the toilets. Remus shook his head and scowled.
"Something different?" Tonks offered brightly when they reached the table and pushed their finished drinks aside.
"Why mess with perfection?" Remus replied simply. His words were definitely a bit slurred now, but there was nothing to be done for it: he was here for the long haul.
Tonks smiled and produced another pair of drinks from underneath the table. As she slid the whiskey toward Remus, he noticed that her eyes were now a stormy blue. She quickly darted her eyes away and stared out into the crowd once more.
She looked back at him shyly, a vulnerable expression on her face.
"Are you a Metamorphmagus?" Remus asked gently.
"Is it that obvious?" she retorted, swiping a hand through her sweaty locks.
"No," he assured her. "Well, until your hair turned pink, that is, it wasn't obvious at all."
She tilted her chin down and fixed him with a look.
"And I should point out that your eyes are now blue. But other than that – "
"Oh, brilliant," she sighed. "I thought this had stopped when I was seventeen …"
Somehow Remus felt that he shouldn't pry into whatever "this" was. But he wanted to reassure her that he didn't think less of her. Metamorphmagi often had trouble making friends because people tended not to trust them not to change their appearance and spy on them. It made her perfect Auror material, but Remus was certain he didn't need to point that out to her.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "Everyone has their little talents and quirks. Sometimes they're one and the same. Frankly, I'd give a lot to be able to control my appearance. I'd trade my dark little secrets with being a Metamorphmagus any day."
Tonks watched him carefully, her expression unreadable.
"Besides, I think pink hair suits you," he said genuinely. "You have the right complexion for it."
A smile slowly spread across her face. "You are a good man," she said quietly, looking away. She blushed again. "Wiry, but good."
Remus felt a burst of warmth spread through his chest. "See, I could make myself a little shorter for you if I had your talents."
Tonks laughed, and he realized now he was flirting for his own sake, not for Sirius's. He took a breath and went on.
"Or more muscular."
She smirked, darting a glance at him.
"Or give myself the famous good looks of the house of Black."
Tonks rolled her eyes. "They're overrated."
Remus again felt that thud inside his chest. What was happening to him? Reality, Remus, he reminded himself.
But his mouth started talking before his brain had a chance to stop it. "I thought you and Sirius – "
At last an unkempt Sirius sidled quietly up to the pair of them, tucking his unbuttoned shirt into his pants. "Well, time to go, folks. It's been a pleasure. Are you getting on? Perfect. Come on, now."
Remus knew something must have gone wrong, and quickly, with the statuesque woman. Sirius was practically picking up Remus and Tonks by their collars.
"We've just got our drinks," Tonks sputtered, holding onto hers.
"More at your flat, right, love?" he said, steering them away from the table.
"At her – are you mad?" Remus spat, glowering at Sirius.
"Well, you're not Apparating in this condition," Sirius pointed out, "and I know you won't let me, either, so we've got no choice. This is the plan, mate, best get used to it."
"Let me get this straight – "
"Walk and talk, walk and talk," Sirius said, pushing the other two ahead of him toward the stairwell. Remus whirled around to grab his jumper and coat. Sirius grabbed him by the T-shirt and pulled him along again.
Remus spoke into Sirius's ear so that Tonks wouldn't hear. "You've spent the last half hour chatting up some woman, doing Merlin knows what in that hallway, and you still intend to go home with Tonks?"
"Not me, love. We."
"Yeah, come on. She's planned for it. Breakfast and everything."
"What?" Remus was dumbfounded.
"She offered, we're accepting, end of story. Now move."
Remus clattered down the stairwell, his brain reeling from the drink and from what Sirius seemed to be implying. Tonks seemed a sweet girl, but suddenly it all made sense: her immediate affection towards him, her appraisal of his body, their intimate spin on the dance floor. Tonks was a beautiful woman, but a ménages à trois with her and Sirius?
"Sirius, this is a very bad idea – " Remus said on the landing of the second floor. He caught the eye of Victoria, the drag queen, who waved at him from the bar. He smiled awkwardly as he was maneuvered by Sirius down the next set of steps. Perhaps it would have been safer to have stayed on the disco floor with Victoria after all.
"What's the bloody hurry?" Tonks asked over her shoulder.
"Boyfriend. Policeman. Exit now."
The three burst into the wet street and hurried around the building to a side street; fortunately for them it had stopped raining at last. Tonks conjured a coat for herself; and after ten minutes of fast walking, they reached a quaint neighborhood of narrow row houses lined up like books on a shelf. She approached the second house from the end and broke the protection spells that sealed the door to her building.
Once inside the common hallway, they went upstairs to another, smaller living space: Tonks's temporary flat. "Welcome to Auror Storage, as we trainees affectionately like to call it," she explained with a smirk.
The silence was disconcerting after the blare of the club. Remus drew his wand and reversed the muffling spell on his ears. Then he looked around. Although the flat was spartan, there was lovely dark wood trim on the doors and windows; and Tonks had livened up the place with splashes of colorful decor and flowers. A Wizard's Wireless sat on the window seat overlooking the narrow street.
Tonks was still holding her vodka and tonic from the club, although much of it had spilled onto her tank top in their haste to leave.
"Let me go change into something a little less … vodka-y," she muttered. And she excused herself to the small bedroom and shut the door.
So this was really happening. Remus stared at her closed bedroom door for a moment, feeling as if he were in some sort of alternate universe, one in which he was a sex god. To be sure, he'd indulged in fantasies of threesomes; but never, never had they included Sirius. Actually, never had they included another man; in his mind, it was always Remus and two women. But fantasies were just that: the reality of actually going through with something like this would muddy whatever waters he'd be lucky enough to tread in. Would he be able to live with himself afterwards? Unlikely. Would he be able to look at Sirius the same way ever again? Definitely not. And would Tonks want to date Sirius – or him, for that matter – when the deed was finished? If she were the kind of woman to throw herself at two men after just meeting them … well, all moral judgment aside, he decided, no, probably not; he'd probably never see her again.
He glared at Sirius strolling casually about the room, picking up knickknacks to inspect them and putting them back in the wrong places. Finally Remus managed to murmur, "We can't do this."
"What? What else would you suggest?" Sirius said, flopping down with a huff on the lime green sofa and taking in the room from that position.
"This is normal for you, maybe," Remus sputtered, eyeing the bedroom door again, "but shouldn't you have asked me first?"
Sirius narrowed his eyes. "Have you really become this rigid?"
"After twelve years of waiting, I'd have thought you would have wanted to be alone, not, not" – share the first woman you get your mitts on, he was thinking.
"Well, we had a couple of hours together before you arrived."
"A couple of hours!" Remus stared in disbelief. "You just met the woman."
"Wait, who?" Sirius looked puzzled. "No, her boyfriend is a policeman, and he works in that club – which she didn't tell me until we were nearly in the thick of it. Believe me when I tell you it almost didn't deter me at all. But my face is still plastered up in all the Muggle police stations, according to Dumbledore, and I'd rather enjoy a nice evening here than play cops and robbers with some rube with a badge. Besides, narrow escapes are rather fun, don't you think? Gets the blood –"
"Tonks has a boyfriend?"
"No, Tonks doesn't have a boyfriend." Sirius slurred the statement slowly, as if speaking to an especially dimwitted child. "The other woman has a boyfriend."
"The woman in the hallway."
"You're catching on."
"So what are we doing here again?"
"Spending the night, isn't it obvious?"
Remus was silent. "You are unbelievable. I'm leaving." He put on his coat and headed for the door.
Just then Tonks's bedroom door opened and she reappeared in her socks, wearing a pair of baggy, old jeans and looking very demure in a fuzzy black jumper. Remus paused to take in her lovely form, hardly daring to believe that her intentions toward him were as sensual as Sirius had suggested.
"Where are you off to?" she asked, brushing her hair and strolling past the microscopic bathroom toward the tiny kitchen.
"Three's a crowd," Remus said.
"What?" She dropped the brush on the kitchen counter and entered the living room again. "No, the more, the merrier. I insist. Besides, any friend of Sirius's, blah blah blah." She placed her hands on her hips and gazed expectantly at Remus.
He felt his cheeks flush. "Look, I'm flattered, Tonks, really I am. You're a beautiful, stunning woman." A corner of her mouth contorted into a tiny smile and she blushed. "But I prefer to limit my intimate encounters to one-on-one."
There was a full ten seconds of silence as he and Tonks stared at each other. She looked utterly perplexed.
After another moment Sirius shifted on the sofa, scratching his forehead with two fingers. "You – you – wait a minute." He held up both hands as he gathered a thought. "Hold on here." The thought was crystallizing. "You thought – you thought – you – " Suddenly he burst into hysterical laughter.
Had Remus missed something? "What's so bloody funny?" he managed.
Sirius's breath caught in hiccups. It went on for several minutes. Finally he took in a long, shuddering inhalation and sighed with glee. "I fear you two were not properly introduced. But I see you've met my little cousin, Nymphadora," he said cheerfully. His drunkenly slurred speech would have added comic effect to his words in any other situation.
"Cousin?" Remus gaped.
"It's Tonks, Sirius!" Tonks growled simultaneously.
"You're his cousin?" Remus asked, whirling back to face her. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought Sirius told you. I thought you knew."
"I thought I told you, mate," Sirius agreed. "I left you a note."
"The note said females, Sirius."
"Nothing more specific?" Sirius asked.
"Nothing," Remus confirmed, pulling the note from his breast pocket and tossing it onto Sirius's chest. "I thought you were picking her up."
Tonks's jaw dropped and her brow furrowed. "Eww," she said flatly.
"Someone kill me now," said Remus in the same tone.
Another ten seconds of silence ensued while Sirius reread his own note, then he burst into howls of laughter again. And soon, when Tonks finally realized the full extent of what Remus had thought, Sirius's shrieks were joined by her giggling and she fell onto the sofa with him. Remus looked on, cheeks burning.
"My apologies, Tonks, for – "
Her high-pitched squeal of laughter cut him off. She stood up and hugged Remus tightly, then pulled him down onto the sofa between her and Sirius. "Take off your coat and stay awhile," she laughed, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I promise not to seduce you while you're not looking."
"Me, too," Sirius quipped gravely, raising a hand in solemn promise as he burst into sniggers once more.
"All right, Sirius, you've had your fun," Remus said, removing his jacket and draping it over the back of the sofa. "Can you not see how mortified I am?"
"That's what's so delightful, don't you know?" Sirius explained with a giggle.
"Sirius told me this was one of your 'endearing young charms,' Remus," said Tonks, poking his thigh with one socked foot.
"What, having a conscience?" He was trying to maintain the proper mixture of humiliation and offense, but found that his lips were curling into a smirk despite his best efforts.
"No, you're just so – so wonderfully sincere." Tonks smiled genuinely, letting Remus know that she did find it endearing, not amusing or, worse, pathetic.
"But his mind's clearly in the gutter," Sirius pointed out. "Actually, I've got newfound respect for you, Remus. I never suspected."
"Brilliant. A sincere lecher. You're making me feel so much better," said Remus dryly.
Tonks leapt up and opened a little cabinet, pulling out some firewhiskey. "Nightcap, anyone?"
"Better not," Sirius deadpanned. "You never know where it might lead. Two randy boys …"
"Remind me to kill myself first thing tomorrow," Remus groaned, resting his head in his hand.
Sirius cackled. "Oh, it's been a long time since I've witnessed something Remus Lupin will never live down." He sighed, shaking his head with a grin. "I feel like a new man."
Remus cast him a sidelong glance. "Glad to be of service."
Tonks meanwhile flitted around the room lighting candles of different colors and sizes. She then extinguished the overhead lamp and tuned the Wizard's Wireless to a melodic, mellow broadcast. She poured three glasses and placed them on the low table in front of the sofa, then conjured a chair for herself. Facing the two men across the table, she raised her glass. "A toast to –"
" – to a lovely evening," Sirius inserted, "though not quite as satisfying as Remus here had hoped."
"Augh!" Remus yelled, slapping his own forehead.
"That's what I was waiting for." And Sirius downed his drink. "It's so much fun ruffling your feathers."
"I'm surprised I've got any left."
Tonks laughed and raised her glass to Remus, then tossed back a swig and made a face. "Whew, I never get used to the burn of this stuff."
"Nymphadora – " Remus began.
"Tonks," she corrected, though with less vehemence than when she had set Sirius straight.
"Tonks." Remus swallowed and stared at the table. "Please let me apologize for thinking – thinking – "
"No worries," Tonks said at once. "I'm actually sort of flattered that you imagined I was capable of such, er, amorous athletics." She giggled again and took another sip of the fiery liquid. "Blokes don't usually look at me in quite that light."
Remus thought he saw her smile falter shyly for a split second. Then a full grin lit up her features once more; he was relieved to see no animosity there.
"Thank you for not thinking I'm a beast," he said. Tonks winked at him, and his heart stumbled. Suddenly he found himself smiling broadly and he looked quickly away.
Sirius had just finished his glass and now poured himself another. "Tonks was always a bit of a tomboy as a child. Say, cuz, did you ever actually go out with a boy?"
"I will not discuss my romantic endeavors with you, Sirius Black," Tonks said smoothly.
"Two words: my mother."
"What?" Sirius sputtered. "I won't say anything."
"Hmm." She raised an eyebrow.
"Why did I have to miss your teenage years?" Sirius opined. "I could have – "
" – given her emotional scars for life," inserted Remus.
"You always look for the silver lining," Sirius shot back.
"It's my job."
"Historically," Sirius explained to Tonks, "Remus was always the pragmatist among us."
"What he's really saying is that I've got enough gloom and doom – "
" – to power a small planet!" Remus and Sirius finished together.
"Ah, memories," Sirius sighed dramatically.
Tonks watched the two men with a smile as she sipped her drink. But her eyes became moist for a moment and she murmured, "I'm sorry you missed my teenage years, too, Sirius."
Sirius met her gaze and nodded silently, his own eyes glistening. As Remus watched, the color of Tonks's eyes shifted again until they were as gray as Sirius's, though her hair remained pink. She seemed to be completely unaware of the change. Suddenly Remus did indeed feel like three was a crowd, so he excused himself to Tonks's small kitchen to make a late night snack for everyone. He shut the door and stood there by himself for a long moment, leaning against the counter and staring at the floor, arms folded loosely. Presently he sighed and set to work.
There wasn't much in the pantry, but he stalled for as long as he could to give Sirius and Tonks a little more time to talk. When at last he rejoined them with a plate of grilled cheese sandwiches, the pair were seated together, Sirius's arm resting on top of Tonks's on the back of the sofa. They were laughing.
"Ooo, thanks, Remus," Tonks cooed as she took a sandwich. Remus felt himself blushing.
"May I recommend water?" He levitated three glasses of it from the kitchen. He sat in the chair across from the sofa and slowly ate his sandwich while the other two munched and reminisced about their younger days together. He saw Tonks's horror and anger when Sirius told her the whole Peter Pettigrew story, culminating with their confrontation in the Shrieking Shack. And he observed how Sirius's face lit up as Tonks told him about things that had happened to her and in her family after he was sent to Azkaban, including her adventures as an Auror-in-training. Remus hadn't seen Sirius this happy in months, since he'd finally been reunited with his godson Harry.
And Remus was getting to know this lovely young woman vicariously through her humorous and dramatic tales. He remained as silent as he could, except for the times when one or the other would turn to him for dramatic emphasis or to ask a question. They both were slouched back on the arms of the sofa; Tonks had propped her feet up on Sirius's knees and peered at him from around the side of her legs, one arm tucked under a fuchsia throw pillow behind her head. He found himself staring at the smooth, pale skin of the inside of her forearm where the jumper had been pushed up. Something was shifting again inside him, though he tried to ignore it.
At last, as the hours grew late and the conversation dwindled and Tonks's eyes began to close for longer and longer stretches of time, Sirius sat up. "Come on, love," he whispered gently. "Nighty night."
Tonks smiled up at her older cousin. It was such a sweet, unguarded smile that Remus thought his heart might break then and there.
He stood and cleared the sandwiches and glasses from the living room to allow them some space for their goodnights. When he returned from the kitchen, he found that the coffee table was gone, the sofa had been magically extended, and a cot had been conjured next to the window. Bedding was already arranged on each.
"You get the sofa, Remus," Tonks said sleepily, turning off the Wizard's Wireless. "It's comfy. I've fallen asleep there more times than I care to admit." She shuffled toward the bedroom. "Oops, I guess I just did admit that. Oh well. Night."
"Night," said Remus.
"I expect pancakes," Sirius called after her. Without turning, Tonks raised a hand in acknowledgement as she shut her bedroom door. "Her mum's a fantastic cook," he told Remus.
Remus extinguished the candles and the two men settled into their little beds. Sirius was asleep almost at once. Outlined by the streetlamp shining through the window, his side rose and fell rhythmically. It was almost like being back at school in the Gryffindor bedtower, listening to the snores of his mates; but now his friends were fewer in number, and just now he acutely felt the ache of missing James. And Lily. If only Remus didn't feel so old, so weary; so much had changed, been taken away from both him and Sirius. He sighed and rolled over onto his back.
Above him, Tonks had magically enchanted her ceiling with hundreds of tiny pinpricks of light.
He smiled as he drifted into a dreamless sleep.
A/N: I'm still actively working on Friend or Foe, but I needed a break from the darkness of that story. Welcome to my first bit of Remus/Tonks fluff! Hope you have enjoyed it so far. I'm expecting this will be a shorter fic of about 5 chapters.
Anyone who leaves a review gets the next dance with Remus and the music of your choice – salsa, swing, tango, the twist, etc. – the sky's the limit. You might even talk him into poplocking for you. But watch out for Salsa Remus; he's pretty cheeky. ;)