Author's Note: The last scene in this final chapter is based on the start of chapter 7, "The Ministry of Magic", from OotP, and several lines, actions, and details of seating arrangements are taken directly from the text … ;)
Revenge Is a Dish...
Remus wasn't at all sure that the walls of the alleyway which was the Apparation point for Grimmauld Place were particularly clean. However, Tonks was wearing black, and after what their clothes had just been through they could probably withstand anything. Besides he had more pressing matters on his mind, not least that they had, at most, about ten minutes to actually get back inside the house.
It had to be said they'd only made all of about two steps in roughly that direction since arriving here. And, if he was being strictly accurate, they were sideways ones.
"You're happy with the plan?" he asked again.
"Only you keep saying 'Mmn' and I'm not sure if it means you are or not."
"Mmn." Tonks lifted her head up to glance at him and smiled, which from a distance of approximately three inches away was quite devastating. "Aren't you?"
"Well, yes, but I'm not entirely sure --" He stopped because the smile and what she was currently doing was making it very hard to form full and coherent sentences. He was also receiving urgent messages from his hands, which were telling him it seemed a terrible shame not to stroke the smooth skin of her sides and stomach while they were in that area, and feel the muscles contract underneath in response.
"Mmn," she said in an appreciative whisper, brushing her lips against his neck.
Remus nearly said "Mmn" himself as she moved against him, but someone had to keep their wits about them and, unfortunately, it seemed that someone had to be him.
"I'm not entirely sure we're talking about the same plan here," he said, in rather a rush. "Are we?"
It seemed only fitting after managing all of that to give himself a reward, so he kissed her, finding the taste of her utterly intoxicating once more, and that the edge of her top was stiff and crinkly from the salt water as he slid his fingers underneath it and upwards. All of this totally derailed his train of thought, and he had to force himself to pull back from her, and concentrate on getting the carriages back into line and hitched up to the engine once more.
Time. Harry. Grimmauld. They'd got to get back inside before the house, and everybody in it, woke up.
She was staring up at him, slightly open-mouthed, a smile hovering around her lips.
"I'm fine with both plans, Remus." She leaned forward, having apparently decided for some reason to carry on the rest of the conversation with her mouth against his neck. "Both you and me, later on tonight --" her voice was distinctly muffled now and her breath was tickling his skin "-- and what we're going to do once we're back inside. I've been working on that one already."
"You—" He stopped abruptly, both at her words and the feel of what was surely her tongue against the pulse in his neck.
She grinned upwards at him from a forty-five degree angle, in a way that made him think the Little minx password was both perfectly apt, and made up by someone who knew her very well indeed.
"Mmn." She gave a soft snort of laughter. "See, I knew you weren't concentrating on the right plan yourself, while you were getting all snotty with me about it."
"What?" Remus was taken aback at the gross injustice of this, when he was the one who'd worked on it under the most distracting of circumstances, while she'd just been … distracting. "I think you'll find I was the one coming up with all the lines to say, and how to play this."
"Mmn." Tonks nodded in agreement, and started to trace the line of his spine through his shirt with a zig-zagging finger. "But then you're the one who pinned me up against the wall in the first place and," she paused, apparently to fight back a giggle, "who has completely failed to notice that I'm already prepared and ready to go."
He blinked at her.
She raised both eyebrows and disentangled a hand to point to her hair. Her blonde, curly hair. When the hell had that happened?
He cleared his throat and said, with what he hoped sounded like hurt dignity: "I assumed that was your passion hair."
She laughed. "I think my passion hair will be forever pink after tonight. No, I've told quite a few people that I go blonde when I'm in a bad mood, so let's hope they remember that little fact."
"And if they don't?"
"I'll remind them. I've planned my own lines while you were rabbiting on." The dark eyes danced wickedly at him. "Now, much as I hate to say it, shouldn't we be going?"
Remus stared at her. He'd spent the whole night agonising over whether he could and should ask her out, and then he'd fallen on top of her and half-drowned them both in the sea. Now here they were in a less than clean alleyway, and her hands were gripping his back as if, despite her words, she had no intention of letting him go anywhere, and he could feel her heart beating much faster than it should against his own. And he really had her pinned up against the wall, and the kaleidoscope of brown lights dancing within her eyes certainly didn't look anything remotely like an awkward adolescent thing to him.
"In a minute," he said, and found her mouth again with his, in what he momentarily assured himself would be a tender last kiss. Instead, it became several, lengthy, final ones of increasing fervour, unaccompanied by any 'Mmn's' as neither of them had the breath or wit to spare; and was followed by an undignified and slightly frantic half jog and half run back towards the house, while clutching hands and laughingly blaming each other.
They let themselves into Grimmauld with a stealth that Crookshanks would be proud of, and blinked with relief at the darkness and quiet that greeted them. The hallway was chilly and unwelcoming, but Remus allowed himself one more kiss on those warm lips, and thought he'd never felt so at home.
He pointed upstairs as they'd decided she should go to the room she'd got changed in earlier, while he'd head for the kitchen. Sirius always rose precisely at five o'clock, a hard-to-shake routine left over from Azkaban, and Harry surely wouldn't be lying in on today of all days.
The whole house would come alive at any minute.
She nodded, started to move away, and then came quickly back to him, winding her arms round him and burying her head in the crook of his neck. He held her tightly for a few seconds, his face in her hair with neither of them saying a word, and neither of them needing to, before they let go of each other. She headed for the staircase while he did a hurried spell to silence the creaking floorboards. She made it safely to the top, nearly collided fatally with an elf head while turning to wave at him, and disappeared with a final, mischievous grin.
Remus let out the breath he hadn't realised he was holding, and headed quietly for the kitchen.
The tea had been in the pot for several minutes and the toast residing on one of the weighty family plates, when the door opened abruptly due to Sirius' usual impatient shove at anything that had the audacity to get in his way.
The familiar tall figure paused momentarily in the doorway at the sight of him.
"Morning." Remus started to smile, but it turned into a wide yawn. Merlin, he remembered suddenly how tired he was, and the places where sand had somehow lodged were letting him know about it now he was sat down. He bit back a grin as he wondered if Tonks had the same problem, and cleared his throat to say: "Tea's ready if you want one."
"Something stronger than that on a day like today," Sirius, having quickly recovered from his apparent surprise, sounded glum. "Didn't expect to see you back," he added, from over his shoulder, as he poured himself a mug. "Thought you'd be too knackered."
"You didn't?" Remus reached for the pot of lime marmalade. "But you knew I wanted to see Harry before the hearing."
Sirius shrugged. "As you said last night, he should be okay. Thought you might have other things to think about this morning, anyway." He picked up the steaming mug and kicked the chair moodily with his foot, causing it to shift rather violently away from the table so that he could sit on it. "The hearing's nothing to worry about, as you keep telling me, because Dumbledore will be there for any funny stuff. I still think you lot are being far too casual about it, but then everyone knows I'm just paranoid. But while we know all this, Harry doesn't, and I can't go with him so he doesn't worry. But that's okay, too, because Uncle Arthur's going to take him, so who needs me?"
"Harry will when it's all over." Remus looked at him hard, aware that he himself had a faintly uneasy feeling about the hearing, which was partly why he'd been so anxious to get back. He wondered if Tonks had felt the same, and wished he'd asked her. Seeking to find the words to reassure Sirius, he said: "Does it really matter who takes him to the damn thing as long as he knows who cares about him while he's there?"
Sirius took a long swig of tea, gulped it down noisily, and sighed. "Did I ever tell you how much I hate it when you get all boring and sensible?"
He still sounded surly, but something had lifted. Remus smiled.
"Did I ever ask if you always wake up grumpy?"
"Well I used to leave her on the pillow next to me, but let's not talk about the good old days." Suddenly he was watching Remus intently, with bright, interested eyes. "Where's Tonks?" he asked, casually.
"Upstairs." Remus put a piece of toast in his mouth.
"Did you enjoy the duty with her? Only you certainly look like a bloke who's been up all ni—"
"It was a duty." Remus bit off another piece of toast. "One's much like another, as you know."
Sirius frowned slightly. "Yeah, but Kingsley said this place you were going to was fantastic. And even you couldn't bugger up being alone for a night in a dream cottage with a woman your tongue's been hanging out for."
"Kingsley had never set foot in the place," Remus said, putting his knife down with a clatter. "And, let's face it, only a right idiot would believe anything Dung told him. I was suspicious from the start, but even I never imagined how bad it was. Kingsley's going to be embarrassed for weeks when I tell him he recommended a stinking cow shed to me as the perfect place to get away from it all."
Sirius' eyebrows twitched almost imperceptibly. "… Cow shed?"
"You've never seen anything like it." Remus nodded. "Most cows would have run a mile in horror."
"Right." Sirius took another mouthful of tea, a much quieter one this time. "Must have been a bit of a let down."
"It would have been except I had bigger problems by then to worry about. God, you think you know someone really well, and then you suddenly realise you don't know them at all." Remus shook his head in disbelief and looked at his watch. "I hope Molly's down soon, I really wouldn't say no to some bacon and eggs, would you?"
"What problems?" Sirius' head had come up sharply.
"Oh…" Remus made a vague gesture of annoyance. "Let's not talk about it. It'll just put me in a bad mood as well. I need to sort it out with Kingsley, anyway."
Sirius' brow was wrinkled. "Where's Tonks?" he asked, again.
"I thought we weren't going to talk about it."
"Well it's hardly her fault the place was a dump, is it?"
"You're missing the point," Remus said, shortly.
"You've messed this up, haven't you?" Sirius rolled his eyes. "I don't believe you!"
"Actually it wasn't -"
"For Merlin's sake, she got dolled up to the nines for you, and all you had to do was take advantage of what was blatantly on offer. How hard can it be?"
Remus grinned. "You don't want to rephrase that last bit at all?"
"Oh, shut up!" Sirius gave him a disgusted look. "What did you do? Please don't tell me you decided she was too good for you, or some such crap, because I'll hex you on the spot. Do you have any idea of ho—"
"Actually it wasn't me."
"Anyone else would have jumped at such a golden opportunity but, oh no, not you! It's a cow shed! It's dirty! What does it matter if you can lie down in it?"
Remus thought that accommodating attitude explained a few things from the Hogwarts years which had puzzled him at the time -- especially the feathers, which looked as though a rather bald chicken somewhere would be searching for them, and which had kept falling out from under Michaela Morrison's long skirt one day at breakfast -- but he was far more preoccupied by struggling to hold in a laugh. Especially at what he'd got to say next with exactly the right intonation.
"Tonks would doubtless agree with you," he said, gravely.
Sirius looked distinctly taken aback, and Remus was absurdly pleased to see this reaction on Tonks' behalf. "So what's—?"
"The problem?" Remus traced a grove in the table with his finger, to give himself time to make sure he had his expression just as he wanted it. "The problem is a whole new twist on the werewolf problem." He shook his head. "Never in a million years could I have seen this coming."
"But she doesn't care about that!"
"I know that only too well, thank you."
"So what are you on about?" Sirius opened his hands palm upwards in a gesture of non-comprehension which Remus found distinctly satisfying.
"Kingsley set me up," he said, quietly, "and Emmeline did the same to Tonks. They didn't know what the place was like, but everything else was a set up to get us together. Like juvenile passwords and loads of drink available to get us in a romantic mood. Which would have been all well and good, apart from Tonks revealing just how much she does care about the werewolf problem."
"But she doesn't, you silly sod!"
"No. You don't understand." Remus leant forward with his elbows on the table and lowered his voice. "Look – you're not to breathe a word of this, all right?"
"Bloody hell, Moony, whatever it is, you've got to be making too much of it." Sirius was frowning heavily, his thick black eyebrows drawn together. "Are you sure you haven't simply misunderstood what she said?"
"Not a word, all right? I don't want Tonks to be—" Remus paused, as though searching for the right one himself, "—upset. Although as she didn't consider my feelings in the matter at all, I'm not quite sure why I'm so bothered about hers. And it's not a question of what she said, it's what she did."
The frown had got worse. "You're making this sound sort of weird."
Remuis shrugged. "Yes, well, I did think it was distinctly weird when she started complaining I wasn't hairy enough."
"It was rather off-putting to say the least. Not to say embarrassing. I mean, she almost seemed to have been expecting it on my back as well, like … fur."
"And then she couldn't hide the disappointment that I wasn't scarred from head to foot with not an inch of normal skin at all."
Sirius opened his mouth but no sound came out.
"She's studied werewolves for a long time, you see. I think she does genuinely like me, but there's no doubt what she was most thrilled about was having her own personal werewolf to examine all to herself. Unfortunately, I don't think I quite came up to expectations for her."
Sirius seemed to have found a voice again, even though it was much hoarser than the one he normally used on a day-to-day basis. "Th-that doesn't sound so bad," he started, "perhaps once she'd got over her curiousity--"
"She wanted me to growl at her, Sirius. All the time." Remus pulled a face in disgust. "Have you any idea how much of a turn-off it was?"
"Well I usually think some sort of kinkiness adds spice--" He broke off hastily as he saw Remus' expression. "No. It's wrong. Very wrong. I can see why you'd be upset."
"Yes." Remus bit his lip. "Of course, she tried to pretend then that it had all just been a terrific joke, but you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife after that, and the real worry is that I have no idea how I'm going to do any duties with her in the future. I'm going to string Kingsley up when I see him."
"Right." Sirius' eyes had a slightly glazed quality. "Yes. Well I still say you shouldn't over-react."
"Over-react?" Remus looked at him in amazement. "I'm thinking of owling the idiot right now and telling him what I think of his meddling."
"I don't think you should do anything hasty." Sirius sounded rather hasty himself. "You're a bit upset, which is fair enough, but we don't want to make things worse, do we? I'm sure Kingsley was acting from the best of intentions, as was Emmeline."
"'Best of intentions?' Tonks and I can't look each other in the face any more, and we've spoken all of two words since we got back here. That's a great state of affairs for a couple of Order members."
"Okay, but you've got to admit that Snivellus gets by just fine having that sort of relationship with everyone?" Sirius looked hopefully at him for non-existent signs of humour. "Okay. I admit I'd never have imagined in a million years that Tonks would ever have these, um, tendencies, but it's hardly the end of the world, is it?"
Remus looked at him coldly. "No. The end of the world arrived when she mentioned the dubious future possibility of something she referred to as multi-coloured werepups. She actually seemed deeply turned on by the prospect. Apparently she wants at least ten and several litters. Where's your owl? I've had it up to here with old friends sticking their long noses in where they're not wanted, and when I had everything perfectly in hand anyway."
"Owl? Now hang on a sec—" Sirius stopped dead, staring, as Remus, unable to contain himself any longer, burst out laughing. He slumped back in his chair in disbelief while Remus tried to control himself. "Why you absolute sodding bastard."
"Yes." Remus nodded, still laughing. "Though you can talk."
"It was all from the best of intentions!" Sirius slapped the edge of the table indignantly. "I can't think of anyone else I'd try and help out like this."
"Lucky them. I can't think what possessed you."
"Your inability to take opportunities, for a start. And she's just as bad. Something had to be done." Sirius snorted. "Does Tonks know you're passing her off as a werewolf pervert nowadays? I knew it was ludicrous."
"Silly me then, thinking you were momentarily quite impressed at the prospect. It was her idea, actually. Which I probably should be worried about." Remus smiled at the memory of Tonks planning this with him in the alleyway. He smiled even more at the thought of what else they'd done, but Sirius' mind had already leapt ahead to other things.
"How'd you suss me then? Did Kingsley slip up? Emmeline? As for Dung, I'll be ramming that pipe of his down his throat the next time I see him. The sod swore to me it was everything a seduction pad should be. Did he leave something that gave it away?"
Remus was shaking his head. "Kingsley was faultless. Tonks says Emmeline was, too. Though I was surprised by the idea of them as a couple—"
"It was supposed to be him and Hestia," said Sirius, gloomily. "The silly cow couldn't stop giggling, though, so Emmeline had to substitute at the last minute. That's what happens when you involve amateurs."
"—but it was actually you who gave it away."
"Me?" Sirius sat up, eyebrows raised high in indignation. "You're kidding me. I never put a foot wrong. All that praising you for your own deviousness in wangling a duty with her was a master-stroke. You lapped it up in your best smug git fashion!"
Remus raised his own eyebrows in return. "'Romantic Thurlestone on a hot and steamy night?' Ring any bells?"
Sirius screwed his eyes up. "I said it, didn't I?"
"You did. But all I'd told you was that I was doing Kingsley's night duty in Devon. So how did you happen to know exactly where it was? And then I thought back to how you'd been so admiring of my apparent manipulation of the situation and could just see you trying to pull my strings."
"Oh, Merlin!" Sirius looked as if he was strongly considering banging his head against the table in frustration. "Now that's an elementary mistake, which I'd never have made if I wasn't so out of practice. It's positively embarrassing!"
Remus grinned. "It will be when I go on about it for months and months."
"James would disown me in disgust." Sirius groaned loudly and buried his face in his hands. "I might even disown myself," he added, sounding rather muffled.
"Don't take it too hard. It did take me a little while to get it. I must be out of practice, too."
"Yeah, well, it's not much consolation." Sirius raised his head and regarded him somewhat blearily. "I really did do it out of good intentions, you know. I wanted to help."
"I know." Remus smiled, while thinking that though Sirius fully believed that – and so did he – he also knew Sirius would always look for something to distract him if he was thwarted with something he really wanted. Like being everything he thought he should be to Harry, which included being both a godfather and a substitute for James. Or did Molly have a point when she said Harry was the one who was substituting for his father?
He wondered once again if Sirius, in his heart of hearts, really wanted Harry to be cleared at the hearing, and thought it was entirely understandable if a small part of him longed for permanent company and unstinting admiration. He'd been starved of both for such a long time.
"I thought you'd like the passwords." Sirius was smirking.
"'Older men do it longer?' Yes, thanks for that, really subtle."
"Don't worry, it'll have lodged somewhere deep in her sub-conscious, and she'll start thinking about testing the theory sooner rather than later. Women are so predictable." Sirius was still smirking, while staring at him, hopefully. "So did I?"
"Did you what?"
"Did it work out for you both? Did you get off with her and, if you did, you owe me a vote of thanks instead of all this abuse." The eyebrows came together again, as another thought occurred to him. "What is Tonks doing upstairs exactly?"
"Getting changed." Remus looked at him innocently.
"You're not going to tell me, are you?"
"That sounds like people are moving upstairs." Remus put the last bit of toast in his mouth and stood up to take his plate to the sink.
Sirius let out a snort of admiring laughter behind him. "You can keep a poker face all you like, but as soon as she walks through that door I'll know instantly. Everything shows on that girl's face. If she's all pink haired and glowing, it'll be a dead giveaway, and you can lie and scheme all you like but I'll know. So you might as well tell me now."
"There's nothing to tell." Remus glanced upwards. "I can definitely hear movement. We'd better stoke the fire as I still fancy bacon and eggs."
"You're really going to drag this out, aren't you? Make me sweat."
"Oh, yes." Remus looked at him over his shoulder. "After the night I've had, that's exactly what you deserve."
...Best Served By Two
Slipping inside the spare bedroom where she'd changed clothes last night, Tonks let out the laugh she'd been holding in since she left Remus in the hall. For once in her life, she wasn't the least bit embarrassed that he'd seen her do something as undignified as nearly run into a stuffed elf head. It would do him the world of good to realize the effect he had on her equilibrium. It had certainly done her an amazing amount of good to find out that, just once in a blue moon, reality really did exceed even the most vivid of hopes and imaginations…
Though her legs still felt wobbly now, she hurriedly peeled off the black top, which any self-respecting Cleaning Charm would give up on immediately, and put the pink bra abandoned from last night back on. The wall mirror told her with great relish that she looked like something the tide had dragged in, and blonde hair made her look pale, pasty, peaky and at least ten other words beginning with P. She grinned at it in agreement, carefully checked to be sure her eyes had gone back to normal, and scrutinised her bra, which was simple but comfortable. No more under-wiring nightmares for her. Though maybe that was the wonder of a Witches Wonder Bra -- wonder how long it would take him to get it off her.
Another giggle burst out; she pressed her fingers to her mouth, while her other hand clutched her stomach, which felt as though several trapped fairies were fluttering frantically about inside. To think, after all that agonising about whether Remus would ever ask her out and if he'd ever admit to feeling just a fraction of what she did, that he'd confessed to wanting dozens of dates with her. And, they were going to spend the whole evening together again and, possibly even finish what they'd started so ardently on the beach, and then continued so feverishly in the alley... Sweet Merlin, how was she going to get through the day, thinking about it all?
Tonks caught hold of herself firmly; that was all for later. There was work to get through, and poor Harry to think of, and that slight sense of unease she had about this hearing, which could probably be put solely down to the fact that she thought Fudge was about as trustworthy as the Weasley twins on Valentine's Day.
Just as she'd changed out of her jeans into her wrinkled trousers and done up the last button of the white shirt she'd worked in the previous day, there was a tentative knock on the door. She'd purposefully left the door open a crack. The gap widened with a squeal of hinges, and Molly's familiar short, plump figure -- clad in a purple quilted dressing gown -- momentarily paused in the doorway at the sight of her.
"Wotcher." Tonks started to smile, but it handily turned into a wide yawn. Merlin, she remembered suddenly how tired she was, and the places where sand had somehow lodged were really letting her know about it as she bent to retrieve her lilac socks and Doc Martens. She bit back a grin as she wondered if Remus had the same problem – would it be worse in either boxers or briefs? - and cleared her throat to say: "Do you need a hand with breakfast?"
"I was just trying to decide what to make." Molly, having quickly recovered from her apparent surprise, sounded distracted. "I do hope Harry can eat something to keep his strength up..." She looked at Tonks as though seeing her for the first time. "I didn't expect to see you back, dear." Smiling, but looking her surreptitiously up and down with an appraising eye, she added, "I thought you'd be resting after your, um, duty."
"I'm already behind on sleep, so what's a few less hours?" Tonks took her time pulling on her socks, and hiding a grin at the traces of sand between her toes. "I wanted to see Harry before the hearing."
Molly smiled. "That's very sweet of you, dear. Though I thought you might have other things to think about this morning." She retrieved Tonks' crumpled Auror robes from her bag and cast a charm that instantly revived them. "The hearing's really nothing to worry about, as Dumbledore will be there to keep an eye on the Wizengamot, but it's such a shame poor Harry doesn't know that. And of course Sirius will be in one of his moods since he can't take him." She was watching Tonks intently, with bright, interested eyes. "Where's Remus?" she asked, casually.
"Kitchen." Tonks crammed her feet into her shoes.
"Did you enjoy the duty with him, dear? Only you certainly look like a girl who's spent all ni—"
"Suffice it to say, I only go blonde when I'm cheesed off and ruder words beginning with P." Tonks interrupted while tugging at her shoelace. "It was a duty. Just like any other old duty, you know."
Molly frowned slightly. "Yes, but Emmeline said this place you were going to was lovely. What happened when you were off duty and alone in a romantic cottage with a man I know you've always wanted to get to know better?"
"Emmeline had never set foot in the place," Tonks said, yanking her other shoelace into a double-knot, and compressing her lips into a straight line of disapproval." Apparently, she's gullible enough to believe anything Dung told her about it. I was suspicious from the start, but even I never imagined how bad it was. She's going to be embarrassed for weeks when I tell her she recommended a stinking cow shed to me as the perfect place to get away from it all."
Molly's round, pink face looked a whole shade paler. "…Cow shed?"
"You've never seen anything like it." Tonks nodded. "Not even you could have done spells to get rid of the stink."
"Oh my goodness." Molly leaned rather heavily against the oak dressing table. "That must have been an awful let down."
"It would have been, except I had bigger problems by then to worry about. Merlin, you think you know someone really well, and then you suddenly realise you don't know them at all." Tonks shook her head in disbelief and looked at her watch. "Do we need to go down soon so you can get breakfast started?"
"What problems?" Molly hadn't seemed to hear her.
"Oh…" Tonks made a show of tripping over the edge of a rug as she approached Molly. "Let's not talk about it, eh? It'll just put me in a really foul mood." She took her robes from the older witch and thrust her arms into the sleeves. "I need to sort it out with Emmeline, anyway."
Molly's brow was wrinkled. "Where is Remus?" she asked, again.
"I thought we weren't going to talk about it."
"Well, dear, it's not fair to blame him because the place was a disappointment, is it?"
"That's not the point," Tonks said, flatly, pulling the blonde curls out from the neck of her robes.
Molly pursed her lips. "Now you can't tell me you didn't think Remus looked extremely nice. I saw your face, young lady. He'd put on his best shirt for you, and those brown trousers were—"
Yes, that shirt and trousers, which she'd thought were rather tasty, and then he'd stood up in them when he was drenched and, cor blimey, was the only vaguely coherent thought in her head... A dreamy warmth spread through Tonks, and she was only brought back to reality when she belatedly registered the rather absent look on Molly's own face. Oh Merlin, how could she stifle this laugh? Molly had taken careful note of the fit of Remus' trousers? He'd just die if he knew.
"Well, those colours seem to suit Remus," Molly said, seeming to give herself a little shake. "He's got such kind eyes..."
His eyes, indeed... Tonks dropped hers to the floor, and thought she'd never worked harder in Concealment and Disguise than at this very moment in time.
"He'd definitely made an effort for you," Molly went on briskly, "and he was so concerned to put you at your ease in the kitchen. Sirius and I might as well not have been there the way he looked at you. Surely a dirty cottage doesn't count for much against that?"
If only Molly knew how Remus had been looking at her as his body pressed hers into the sand, and they were a tangle of limbs and lips as the tide lapped against them... And, yes, indeed, she certainly hadn't been overly concerned about smelly cow sheds when she'd watched his eyes follow the trickle of sweat down her cleavage, and when they'd clasped hands sat together on the suitcase. Indeed, it could have been the sweetest smelling garden for all she'd noticed.
Merlin, she was thinking in a lot of indeeds. Was this what being in love did to you? Especially now when it had been expressed in deeds…
"No doubt Remus would agree with you," she said, gravely.
Molly looked distinctly taken aback, and Tonks was absurdly pleased to see this reaction on Remus' behalf. "So what's—?"
"The problem?" Tonks slowly fastened the closures of her robes, to make sure her flush had faded, and that she had her expression just as she wanted it. "The problem is a whole new twist on the Metamorphmagus problem." She shook her head. "Never in a million years could I have seen this coming."
"But Remus would never ask you to be anyone but yourself, dear."
"I know that only too well, thanks."
"Whatever can you mean?" Molly took a couple of deep breaths through her apparently puzzled nose, which Tonks found distinctly satisfying -- if not a little intimidating, as this was after all the woman who could find her way to the bottom of Fred and George's mischief.
"Emmeline set me up," Tonks said, quietly, "and Kingsley did the same to Remus. They didn't know what the place was like, but everything else was a set up to get us together. Like juvenile passwords and loads of booze available to get us in a romantic mood. Which would have been fine, except for Remus letting on just how much he does want me to be exactly myself."
"But that's all well and good!"
"No. You don't understand." Tonks went back to the bed and, sinking onto the protesting mattress again, leant forward with her elbows on her knees and lowered her voice. "If I tell you, you'll promise not to breathe a word of this, won't you?"
Looking mystified, Molly briskly swept across the room and sat beside Tonks, patting her knee. "I promise, dear, but I'm sure, whatever it is, you've got to be making too much of it." She was frowning heavily; strawberry-blonde eyebrows drawn together. "Are you sure you haven't simply misunderstood what he said? You're making this sound a bit...bizarre."
Tonks shrugged. "Yes, it was totally bizarre when he started going on about the Black family tree, and whether those small families were because they actually chose not to have many children, or because they're infertile, and whether I knew of any other Metamorphmagi in the family, and the chances of passing the ability on down the line."
"It was rather off-putting to say the least. Not to say embarrassing. I mean, he almost seemed to have been expecting me to rattle off percentages."
"And then he couldn't hide the disappointment when all I knew was that it was very rare, and as far as I was aware I was the first in the family." She smiled grimly. "I did mention that next time I search Malfoy Manor, I'll be sure to ask Narcissa if she's ever had fertility tests."
Molly opened her mouth but no sound came out.
"He's studied Metamorphmagi for a long time, you see," Tonks went on. "I think he does genuinely care about me, but there's no doubt what he was most thrilled about was having his own personal Metamorphmagus to examine all to himself. Unfortunately, I don't think I quite came up to expectations for him."
Molly seemed to have found a voice again, even though it was much higher and more pinched-sounding than the one she normally used on a day-to-day basis. "Th-that doesn't sound so bad," she started, "I m-mean, he does study magical creatures, the children always said... Perhaps once he'd got over his curiosity -- I really can't imagine Remus offending you, dear. He's such a gentleman, and I'm sure he'd say the loveliest things to a girl--"
"Oh, yeah, 'Did you know that werewolves mate for life?' was really, really lovely." Tonks shook her head in disbelief. "I just couldn't believe my ears, Molly."
"Well, he does have a very dry sense of humour, and perhaps it was just his way of revealing serious intentions towards you." She broke off hastily as she saw Tonks' expression. "No. It's too much, too soon. I can see why you might find that...a lot to take in."
"Yes." Tonks bit her lip. "Of course, he tried to pretend then that it had all been a terrific joke, but you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife, and the real worry is that I've no idea how I'm going to do any duties with him in the future. I'm going to hex Emmeline to next week when I see her."
"Oh my." Molly's eyes had that slightly glazed quality again. "Yes. Well, dear, I still say you shouldn't over-react."
"Over-react?" Tonks looked at him in amazement. "I'm thinking of owling the silly cow right now and telling her what I think of her meddling."
"Now don't be hasty." Molly sounded rather hasty herself. "You're a bit upset, which is fair enough, but we don't want to make things worse, do we? I'm sure Emmeline was acting from the best of intentions, as was Kingsley."
"'Best of intentions?' Remus and I can't look each other in the face anymore, and we've spoken all of two words since we got back here. That's a great state of affairs for a couple of Order members."
"You and Remus are such great friends, I'm sure this is some kind of simple misunderstanding. Though I do have to admit I'd never have imagined in a million years that he would ever have these, um, ideas..." Molly patted Tonks' knee again, though this time she seemed to be reassuring herself. "But it's hardly the end of the world, is it, dear?"
Tonks got up off the bed and looked at her coldly. "No. That arrived when he started on about the Innuendo Night Club, and I thought he was asking me out – until I realised he was talking about having hen nights and wedding receptions there. He doesn't want to date me, Molly, he wants to marry me! Preferably right this minute! So we can immediately start having several litters of magical marvels which he called multicoloured werepups, if you've ever heard anything so crazy in all your life. Where's Ron's owl? I've had it up to here with friends sticking their long noses in where they're not wanted, and when I had everything perfectly under control anyway."
"Owl? Now wait just a minute—" Molly stopped dead, staring, as Tonks, unable to contain herself any longer, burst out laughing. She slumped back on the bed in disbelief while Tonks stood still and released everything she'd been holding back since the mutually obsessed moment with Remus' trousers. "Why you...you're as bad as the twins!"
"Yes." Tonks nodded, still laughing. "Though I reckon they get it from you."
"It was all from the best of intentions!" Molly clutched at the heavy bedspread indignantly. "I can't think of anyone else I'd like to help get together more than Remus and you, dear."
"And I can't think what got it into your head that we wouldn't get together on our own."
"It was obvious how much you liked him, and I thought you might ask him out on a date, but you were taking so long! And Remus has such an easy way with people, yet he seems so uncertain when it comes to you. It was getting ridiculous! Something had to be done." Molly pursed her lips. "Does Remus know you're passing him off as a man obsessed with the most peculiar things?"
"It was Remus' idea, actually. Which I probably should be worried about." Tonks smiled at the memory of Remus planning this with her in the alleyway. She smiled even more at the thought of what else they'd done, but Molly's mind had already leapt ahead to other things.
"How did you know it was me then? Did Emmeline give it away? Or Kingsley? As for Dung, I'll turn that tobacco into carbolic soap while he's smoking it the next time I see him. That filthy little...scumbag...swore to me it was everything a romantic cottage for two should be. I suppose he left something in it, didn't he?"
Tonks was shaking her head. "Emmeline was the consummate actress. Remus says Kingsley was great, too. Though I was surprised by the idea of them as a couple—"
"It was supposed to be him and Hestia," said Molly, gloomily. "Only you know how she can't ever stop giggling, no matter what I threatened her with, so Emmeline had to substitute at the last minute."
"—but it was actually you who gave it away."
"Me?" Molly sat up, eyebrows raised high in indignation. "You're joking! I never put a foot wrong. I lavished you with praise for arranging the duty and you completely fell for it!"
Tonks raised her own eyebrows even higher. When you could morph them to move, ordinary mortals didn't stand a chance. "Except you kept harping on about your soft spot for unlikely couples, and then apparently finding out you were pregnant with Ron after a romantic holiday, which just happened to be incredibly near where we were going, was over-egging the plum pudding slightly."
Molly blushed. "I did go on a tiny bit, I suppose." Her hands flew to her face. "You must think I'm desperate to get you married off and settled down with a family, no wonder you made all those jokes. I don't, dear, I just wanted to help you both... Oh, I should have known never to listen to that Sirius Black about anything, it's positively mortifying!"
Tonks grinned. "It will be when I go on for months and months about you wanting me to have Remus' multicoloured werepups. Or, even, more amazing, you and Sirius in cahoots over us!" She laughed at Molly's face. "Don't take it too hard. I'm so tired it did take me a fair old while to get it."
"It's not much consolation, knowing you were both so tired, and then had to be in that horrible place." Molly raised her head and regarded her somewhat blearily. "I really did do it out of good intentions, dear. You both deserve happiness, and you look so happy when you're together."
"I know you did." Tonks smiled, while thinking that though Molly fully believed that – and so did she – she also knew Molly had to mother everyone -- and that the recent trouble with Percy had only made her channel even more energy into taking care of people. Or was she just trying to control something and someone to make herself feel better?
It was typical of Sirius not to think of possible consequences to his actions, but she was quite surprised at Molly for not doing so…
"I thought you'd like the password." A gleam had come into Molly's eyes that actually reminded Tonks of the twins.
"You saucy little minx?' Yes, thanks for that, really subtle."
Molly coloured. "Men sometimes like to have, um, pet names for the lady they're courting. I just thought that—" She glanced away briefly, then turned back. "So did it?"
"Did it what?"
"Did it work out for you both? Did you spend time together after your duty? Did you take advantage of romantic Thurlestone?" The eyebrows came together again, in a straight line of query. "What is Remus doing downstairs exactly?"
"I really wouldn't know." Tonks looked at her innocently.
"You're not going to tell me, are you?"
"That sounds like someone in the hall." Tonks stood up, just as Arthur gingerly peered round the door, wearing what appeared to be pinstriped trousers and an old bomber jacket.
"I wondered where you'd got to, Molly. Morning, Tonks," he said, smiling, but without his usual cheerfulness. "Harry'll be up soon. Breakfast?"
As they all got up to go downstairs, Molly looked back at Tonks. "You can be as coy and secretive as you like, dear, but as soon as you walk through that kitchen door I'll know instantly. Remus isn't as good at hiding his feelings as he thinks, especially when his eyes are always watching you, and you light up every time you look at him. So you might as well tell me now how it really turned out last night."
"Molly," said Arthur with exasperation, "I thought we'd decided you weren't going to meddle." But then he cast a curious glance back at Tonks. "Hopefully Molly's efforts didn't backfire?"
"There's nothing to tell because nothing happened." Tonks glanced upwards at the floor of rooms they'd just descended from, while trying to contain a distinctly smug feeling at the news that Remus' eyes were always watching her. "I can definitely hear Harry moving about."
"You're really going to drag this out, aren't you?" Molly asked, as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "Keep me on pins and needles."
"Oh, yes." Tonks spoke loudly, so that Remus would know she was on her way in. "After the night I've had, it's exactly what you deserve."
They'd planned that she would enter the room, Remus would give her a disinterested stare, and she'd give him a filthy look in return. It had sounded simple in the alleyway but, with Molly's words still reverberating in her ears, Tonks felt the jolt in the pit of her stomach as soon as his eyes met hers. He looked away towards Arthur, raising his cup to his mouth but, for a split second, those eyes had seemed to glint with mischief at her and, to her horror, she immediately felt the tell-tale prickle behind her own in return. The force of concentration it took to stop them did at least pull her face into an impressive scowl, and she coiled her hair into tighter flaxen curls for good measure while she was at it.
"Wotcher," she mumbled, aiming for sullenness, as Sirius sat up smartly from his slumped position as they came in. She felt a momentary twinge of pity and affection at his avid, hopeful stare, but also got a large degree of satisfaction from returning his look blankly, and watching his expression slowly change into one of uncertainty as he looked her up and down.
Molly's reaction was equally gratifying. Her eyes were fixed on Remus, who was pouring tea from the pot with an expression that was reminiscent of Snape, with the smell of an incorrectly mixed potion offending his nose. She darted a final, disbelieving look in Tonks' direction, as Arthur took her arm and guided her firmly towards the table, pulling out the chair on Remus' left for her, and taking the one between her and Sirius for himself.
This left Tonks debating whether to sit by Sirius – though surely Harry would want to - or to sit next to Remus, which hadn't been in the original plan. Oh why not, she thought, suddenly thinking it would shake them all up a bit more, and it would be fun to improvise. Besides, Harry would be down any minute, and all this frivolity would have to stop. They'd debated about the timing of doing this now, anyway, until Remus had said that at least it would give Sirius, in particular, something else to think about.
She sat down next to him; with her arms folded over her chest, and stared calmly back at three pairs of interested eyes. Remus didn't even look up from buttering some toast.
"They always sit together. One of the first things I noticed," Molly said, rather gleefully, to Sirius.
"They do, don't they?" Sirius grinned. "Bit of a giveaway, that."
"They finish each other's sentences sometimes, too." Molly had those eyebrows raised again, this time in an approving fashion.
"That's right," said Tonks, coldly. "Sometimes I like to tell meddling people to—"
"Lime marmalade?" Remus asked Arthur, offering the pot.
"Thank you, Remus." Arthur gave him an apologetic glance and leant forward in his chair to include Tonks in it as well. "Some of us weren't involved in all this, you know."
"We do." Remus nodded as he shifted slightly in his seat and his leg gently brushed against hers as though by accident. "It's just unfortunate that people have to interfere as it sometimes backfires." He looked at Sirius and Molly with an expression which was like that of a teacher looking sorrowfully at two pupils who had let him down badly with their homework, and said, mildly but firmly: "Tonks and I would appreciate it if the subject could be dropped for a little while, wouldn't we?"
"…Yeah." Tonks was fractionally late with the response as his foot first touched and then rubbed the inside of her ankle in a distinctly friendly manner. She wanted to laugh. She wanted to kiss him as hard as she could. "Yeah. We would."
"But—" Molly started.
"No, Molly." Remus shook his head at her reprovingly. Tonks was surprised he didn't wag a finger as well. It really was amazing how well the man could multi-task.
"When you going to tell us then?" Sirius looked from Tonks to Remus. "Though I already know the answer, you smug sod."
"It does seem somewhat strange that you keep on asking then." Remus smiled pleasantly, and held Sirius' gaze unflinchingly, while Tonks was forced to think fiercely of her top three most embarrassing moments in order to keep from laughing out loud.
Sirius eyes narrowed, and he looked set to burst out with something else, when the bottom stair gave a tell-tale creak to say that someone had trodden on it.
"This isn't finished yet, Moony," Sirius hissed, at the same time as Molly, flushed and looking only at Tonks, said: "I'm good at finding out secrets when I want to, young lady, you ask any of my children," while rather hesitant footsteps sounded outside the door.
Everyone instantly fell silent as Harry appeared in the doorway wearing tidy, freshly laundered jeans and a T-shirt.
"Breakfast," Molly said briskly, pulling her wand out and quickly heading for the fire.
Tonks saw at once how pale Harry was and could cheerfully have hexed Fudge on the spot. Remus seemed to stiffen next to her and she knew he felt the same. She wanted desperately to say something, as everyone was silently staring at the poor boy, and all she could think of was how she'd suffered quite enough of that herself recently, but her opening words were almost drowned out by a massive yawn. "M-m-morning, Harry. Sleep all right?"
She could have kicked herself immediately. Of course, he hadn't. Remus' knee gently nudged hers sympathetically.
"Yeah," Harry replied, not quite looking at any of them.
"I've b-b-been up all night," Tonks said, thinking she ought to explain, while another uncontrollable yawn burst forth as the heat from the fire which Molly had stoked up spread up her back. He'd taken a step towards her, so she added: "Come and sit down…"
She started to pull out a chair for him, just as Remus rubbed the back of her calf with his foot. The involuntary shiver to that gesture immediately shot upwards in all directions, including north-east to the hand on the chair, and left it incapable of doing anything as simple as gripping an item of furniture. The chair collided with the one next to it, which promptly fell over with a loud crash.
His knee gave hers a couple of congratulatory bumps. If knees could laugh, his was clearly cracking up. She really was going to have to wipe the smirk off his face later, and tell him about Molly's apparent fascination with the cut of his trousers.
Molly herself was midway through an extensive menu choice for Harry, and as everyone was still staring transfixed at him, Tonks took the opportunity to glare at Remus. He looked at her in perfect innocence, while his foot returned to rubbing slowly up and down her leg.
"Pack it in, Lupin," she muttered out of the side of her mouth. "Unless you want me to owl Scrimgeour and call in sick so I can teach you the error of your ways."
His eyes darkened in response, but then glanced past her to Harry, who was now looking directly at them.
Remus cleared his throat and asked in a matter-of-fact tone: "What were you saying about Scrimgeour?"
"Oh..." Git! She was in love with an absolute git! "Yeah...well, we need to be a bit more careful, he's been asking Kingsley and me funny questions..."
Harry's momentary interest vanished as Molly dropped a plate of toast on the table in front of him, and decided to tuck in his T-shirt label as he reluctantly picked up a slice. Arthur was talking in a low voice to Sirius, who was watching Harry's every move and scowling silently. Nobody was taking any notice of them whatsoever, and Tonks really didn't want to watch poor Harry being force fed and harassed by adults not knowing what to do for the best, so she leaned towards Remus and lowered her voice to a level only he could hear.
"Yeah, Scrimgeour asked Kingsley if he knew of any saucy little minxes at the Ministry." Her eyes met Remus' blue ones calmly, which glinted at her as her own foot now made its leisurely way down his calf, "and he keeps asking me – and I can't tell you how embarrassing it is - if I can investigate whether older men … do it longer."
"Mmn." Remus' lips curled almost imperceptibly.
"Of course, I've only heard rumours." Tonks sighed lightly and glanced around to check they were still unobserved.
"Mmn." Remus was checking as well. He let his hand touch hers gently, under the table.
"And I am due on another night duty starting after midnight tonight." She forced her tired brain to think logically. "Which is really tomorrow, I suppose. Which would mean that any plans I had to investigate that confidential matter tonight would have to be—"
"Ended at a reasonable hour?"
Tonks nodded. "So I can get some sleep."
Remus frowned slightly while he watched Harry still forcing toast down, and Molly attempting to iron his T-shirt while he was wearing it. "I'm sure a woman of your ingenuity could get out of it if you really wanted to. We'll be late finishing here anyway as we'll hopefully be celebrating with Harry over dinner. It seems such a shame to have to, um, curtail anything after what we've put up with."
Now that was what she'd hoped he'd say…
She sighed loudly enough to be noticeable and raised her voice. "...and I'll have to tell Dumbledore I can't do night duty tomorrow, I'm just t-t-too tired." She polished it off with another wide yawn, and looked pointedly at Molly, who flushed.
It had the desired effect. "I'll cover for you," said Arthur promptly, smiling at her, his eyes twinkling. He began to talk about a report he had to finish at the Ministry, thereby drawing everyone's attention back to himself.
Tonks felt a swell of gratitude towards him as she propped her hand under her chin and gave Remus her best flirtatious glance from under her lashes.
"So we're all set then?" she breathed, wondering suddenly if all this was real as she felt his warm fingers interlaced with hers. She shifted in her chair, gripping his hand for reassurance, and several grains of sand obligingly made their presence felt.
It was real. It had happened. So much to both of them in a few hours. And so much was yet to happen.
Remus was looking at her in a way which made her breath catch in her throat, and forced her to concentrate very hard on not allowing the glow she felt inside to show anywhere else. He leaned very close to her ear and whispered softly; in a low caressing murmur, which she was suddenly fiercely determined no one but her would ever hear from now on.
The words themselves took a moment to register.
"Would I be right in thinking I'm going to be up all night again?"
Many thanks from both of us for your response to this joint endeavour. It was a lot of fun to write, and a lot of fun to share, and we hope you've had a lot of fun staying up all night with Remus and Tonks. Reviewers get to help Remus get rid of all that pesky sand, and a personal and confidential answer to that age-old question: boxers, or briefs?