-1Understanding by InFabula

Disclaimer: these wonderful characters belong to JK: I just borrowed them for a bit.

Love and grief: two of the most intense and powerful emotions you can feel. Either can overwhelm your heart to the point where it refuses to listen to reason.

In the immediate wake of Sirius's death, I found myself cast astray from the moorings of my usual ordered soul. I fought valiantly to retain the pattern of familiar routine. I functioned. Every now and then, I'd feel the surge of rawness welling up and battled to keep it dammed: occasionally, I found I had to give in to it.

The morning after the battle found me back at St Mungo's.

"I'm here to see Nymphadora Tonks," I said and was directed to the Ward for Spell Damage on the fourth floor.

I passed an unfortunate witch who looked like she had been peppered with blue ink pellets and another whose right arm was locked in an upright position as if she knew the answer to the teacher's question and was determined to show it.

Tonks was sitting up and grinning at me, waving wildly from her bed halfway up the ward.

"I hoped you'd come," she beamed. "Mum and Dad said you might."

"How are you feeling?" I asked as I sat down beside her.

"Like I'm thawing from the outside in. The Healers say I should be OK to leave tomorrow."

"Well, that's good news."

"Hey!" she exclaimed. "Where are my grapes? You can't come visiting without fruit, you know. I'm sure that's written down somewhere."

I stammered an apology.

"I'm only joking, Remus," she laughed. Then the laughter died away and she reached over and laid a reassuring hand on my arm. "I am going to be OK, you know. No lasting damage."

Some of the tension must have ebbed out of my face because her next words were:

"That's better. I don't know. You old-timers can't handle a little near-death experience. I bet Sirius isn't half as wound up as you."

"Sirius…?" I almost choked on the name.

"Saw them off, didn't we?" she chattered excitedly. "It's all over the ward. Battle at the Ministry. You-Know-Who returns. Dumbledore defeats him. Death Eaters rounded up. And we were there, Remus." Her eyes shone with pride. "We made a difference."

She stopped and looked searchingly at me.

"What is wrong?" she demanded and then in a suddenly smaller voice: "What's wrong?"

No-one had told her: but then who would have told her.

I felt the chaos bubble up inside me and swallowed.

"Sirius is dead."

The three-word sentence hung in the air between us.

"H-how?" she stammered.

"Bellatrix," I said heavily. "They were duelling and she caught him off-guard. He fell through the veil. He's gone."

Tonks stared at me, unblinking.

"Aunt Bella?"

I nodded.

Very slowly, she exhaled and lay back on her pillow. As I watched, her hair rippled white in an unconscious response to the news.

"Tonks - " I began but she patted my arm distractedly.

"Please just leave me, Remus," she whispered. "I'm very tired."

Standing up, I walked uncertainly to the entrance of the ward. Looking back, I could see she was still gazing upwards, trying to make sense of it all.

I turned and stumbled blindly along the corridor till I found an empty toilet. I locked myself in it and let the tears come.

Life goes on: it has to. And however many times you might fantasise about using a Time-Turner and somehow changing things, in the end loss has to be accepted. I learnt this lesson long ago. It didn't make losing Sirius easier but it moved me more speedily along the path of grieving.

This time round, however, there were others to think about. I wanted to see Harry - raging with grief and denial - and I needed to see Tonks.

The meeting of the Order had been hastily convened. Commiserations were offered and solemn words had been spoken: I listened with half an ear. My attention was focused on Tonks.

She had slipped in at the back of the room just as the meeting had started and somewhat uncharacteristically was trying to blend in. Her face seemed paler than usual while her hair had settled on a light shade of pink.

Dumbledore rose to address us.

"We have lost one of our colleagues," he said. "One of our friends. He fell in battle protecting the things he held dear. Let us take a moment to remember what he meant to us."

Emmeline looked like she was on the verge of tears; Dedalus was swallowing hard and blinking fiercely; Tonks just looked numb.

"My friends," Dumbledore continued," the secret of Voldemort's return is no longer a secret. The Ministry must and will act. Whilst it is necessary for the wizarding world at large to take the threat seriously and to respond, we are now moving to a new level of engagement. Day-to-day life will change. Those of you who have lived through this before know what I am talking about."

I thought of the sea change which happened when Voldemort came to prominence in the First War: the fear on faces, the hysteria…knowledge could be just as dangerous as ignorance.

"Our efforts will now necessarily increase," he went on. "You will be asked for things you may not feel ready to give; to do things you may not feel ready to do. Remember that you will always find the love, support and strength you need right here."

He cleared his throat.

"On another matter, tomorrow Hogwarts breaks up for the summer. Arthur and Molly plan to meet Harry Potter at King's Cross to make sure no attempts are made to sabotage his reunion with the Dursleys. I would like two more people to join them."

My hand was up in an instant along with several others.

"Remus and Alastor, I think. Muggle clothes, remember, Alastor."

"I should like to go too, sir," a quiet voice said. It was Tonks.

Dumbledore studied her for a moment then said:

"Very well, Nymphadora. I think that's it, everyone. I'll be in touch."

As people stood up to leave, Tonks immediately rose and slipped out of the door as quietly as she had come in.

I sighed in frustration and made to go after her. I needed to see her, to talk to her and make sure she was all right.

"Remus, a word, please."

I turned back reluctantly and went over to Dumbledore.

"Remus, never forget that I am here at all times not only as your colleague but as your friend," he said, giving me a particularly penetrating look.

"Of course, sir." I kept my face neutral.

"You'll need this before tomorrow."

I unfolded the parchment he had given me. It was an address.

"Nymphadora's abode," he explained. "Seek her out, Remus. She needs to talk. At the moment, she may not be ready to do so, but she can at least listen. Help her."

The address led me to a leafy suburb. Tonks's family house was impressive. It backed on to one of the city's major parks and would not have looked out of place in "Witches' Homes and Gardens".

Before I could knock at the door, it opened and Andromeda smiled up at me.

"Sorry," she apologised. "Bad manners, I know, but I saw you coming."

She held up a little See-all Scope.

"Do come in."

I thanked her and stepped inside the hall, conscious as never before of my threadbare robes.

Andromeda must have sensed some of my ill-ease for as she led me through to the lounge, she said, "I'm so glad you came. Nymphadora has just closed up completely. She won't let me or her father in. I hope you're able to reach her."

"Where is she?"

"In the garden." She indicated the French windows which led out on to a small orchard. "Please go through."

It was utterly peaceful in the garden. It was hard to believe we were at war when you could smell honeysuckle and hear crickets chirping: a balmy summer's day.

Tonks was sitting hugging her knees under an apple tree, her face turned away from the house. Andromeda smiled encouragingly at me and disappeared inside.

"Tonks," I said gently as I sat down on the grass beside her. "I came to see how you're feeling."

Her eyes flickered over to me and then returned to the faraway object on which they were focused.

I remembered Dumbledore's words: if she wasn't ready to talk, she could at least listen.

"Whatever you're feeling about that night, don't keep it locked away. I know all about keeping things secret and some things need to be expressed."

Silence.

"Whatever emotions you're feeling over losing Sirius," she flinched at his name, "you need to work through them, Tonks. Whether it's grief, anger-"

I broke off suddenly as a thought occurred to me. Had she loved him? As in "loved" him? It was not implausible. She liked Sirius and cared for him, that much was obvious. Why not love? I ignored the fact that my heart was uncomfortable with the idea.

"When we lose someone we care about, someone we love," - was it my imagination or was there a sharp intake of breath at the word? - "it will never be the same again but it will be all right. You can talk to me at any time, Tonks."

And I left her there.

She arrived at King's Cross just before the Hogwarts Express was due. She was still very pale but her hair was back to bright pink even though it seemed a little forced as if she had had to really concentrate to make it that colour. I guessed the attempt at normality was for Harry's benefit.

The sight of Harry pushed Tonks to the back of my thoughts for the moment. He looked as if he had hardly been sleeping. He suddenly looked older, so much older than his years yet I had never seen him look so vulnerable and in need of comfort. I could see that he was startled but pleased to see us.

At the meeting with the Dursleys, Tonks spoke only once; to underline that we would not tolerate Harry being bullied in any way.

As Harry disappeared out of sight, I turned round to speak to her but she was gone.

Later that afternoon she arrived without warning on my doorstep. I let her in; surprise, pleasure and concern battling for control.

She stood awkwardly just inside the front door. Before I could usher her to a seat, she did the unexpected and threw herself into my arms sobbing.

I stood and held her, gently stroking her hair and marvelling that something that should be so uncomfortable could feel so right.

Eventually the tears stopped and she broke away, flushed. She flopped down into an armchair and drew her knees up to her chin.

"Sorry," she said so quietly I almost missed it.

I took a seat opposite her.

"It's all right," I reassured her. "It's perfectly all right."

"I didn't mean to- I just…" she bit her lip then said in a rush, "it's just there's no one I can talk to and I know you'll understand, I mean you do understand, I know you do."

"Tonks," I began but she interrupted:

"I can't speak to the others. Molly means well but she's so clumsy. Arthur doesn't know what to say to me. I keep bumping in to him at the Ministry and he just clears his throat as if he's about to speak and then pats my arm and walks away. Moody muttered something at me about casualties of war…" she tailed off and then shot me a fierce look.

"I don't want sympathy and I don't want pity and I don't want to hear about dying for a good cause!"

"I know," I nodded.

"You asked me what I was feeling," she said. "Three things, I suppose. First of all, I feel wretched that we've lost Sirius. I really liked him. He was brilliant and now he's gone."

Liked him. She had said she liked him.

"And secondly, it's all my fault."

"How do you come to that conclusion?" I asked, startled.

She looked at me, hollow-eyed.

"He was fighting Aunt Bella," she said flatly. "If I'd finished her off first, he would still be alive. His death is down to me."

I looked at her in stunned silence.

"I bet Harry will hate me when he works it out," she said, her voice full of self-loathing. "I guess you probably do too."

"Tonks, you're so very wrong. I don't hate you at all."

She looked a little comforted but I could tell she would need more convincing on this point.

"What was the third thing?" I asked and she flushed and buried her head even further into her knees. When she eventually started to speak it seemed to be with great reluctance.

"With Sirius gone, I started thinking about what might happen to people I care about. Of all the people I don't want to lose, you're the one I don't want to lose most."

I battled my way through that sentence and all of a sudden, my blood started to race.

"Tonks, I - I -" I reached over and took one of her hands in mine.

She straightened up and made a little noise and then I pulled her to me and somehow we ended up kneeling on my sitting room floor, kissing clumsily, our arms wrapped round each other, clutching at one another so tightly that it seemed we must surely run out of breath.

We broke away, dizzily panting and then got to our feet, helping each other up.

What had we just done? The sane part of me demanded. What had I just done? How could we ever take it back?

"Tonks," I began again but she reached over and put a finger on my lips.

"Remus, it'll never be the same," she said slowly then reached up and kissed me with sweet earnestness. "It'll be better."

And for the first time in a long time, we both smiled.

A/N: This is the first major piece that I've attempted since the birth of my son, RR and I want to say a big thank you to my wonderful former beta, ivy, who was kind enough to look over my first version and make me work at this story. ivy, you are a big, shiny, twinkly thing hanging in the sky.