Chapter 31- Realms of Shadow

-

I listened intently as Kreacher undid five of the locks. I didn't really want him to fling open the door. When he hesitated to release the final bolt, a cold eagerness filled my veins. He had given me what I needed, the excuse to push into the entry and strike him across the face as hard as I could.

Thwack!

"You vile piece of filth! How dare you think of denying me entrance?"

The elf's watery eyes gleamed as he lifted a hand to caress the drooping skin I had slapped. I expected him to cringe and apologise. Instead he dropped to his knees, lifting the hem of my robes to his lips. "Kreacher has a new Mistress!" he cried, pressing his snout-like nose to the fabric as he kissed it.

I had planned to get the details of his betrayal, but looking down at Kreacher's hunched back, I was afraid of what I would do if he told me. The "Black streak" in my nature was flaring. Too easily, righteous anger could become twisted into a desire to hurt Kreacher. I'd enjoy it too—just like my Auntie Bella. I'd stand there and smile as he writhed in pain.

The mental image caused my voice to be rough. "Don't touch me!" I pushed Kreacher away with my foot.

He clutched my shoe tight, to kiss it, most likely. Then the colour seemed to throw him off balance. He dropped my foot, the red veins almost popping out of his eyes as he stared up at me.

Sneering felt like second nature. "Haven't you heard? Pink is the new black."

"You're not Bellatrix," he whispered.

I returned my features to normal. "I never said I was."

One of the knobbly hands resting on a dirty loincloth reached up to stroke his face. "You hurt me." His voice wasn't accusing. It was wondering, and downright creepy.

"You betrayed Sirius! You betrayed your Master!"

The old elf didn't cower when I yelled in his face. He rose to his feet, his expression defiant. "He was not my true Master. He was a blood-traitor, and now he is gone, his things is gone, and Kreacher is glad."

"Where are Sirius' things?"

He didn't answer, tempting me to start hexing to make him talk.

Maybe the look in my eye loosened his tongue. "First the beast, then the old wizard came and took some of the blood-traitor's belongings." While I was belatedly remembering Remus telling me about packing a small trunk for Cami to "store at her flat for Sirius," Kreacher said gloatingly, "I rid the house of the rest."

A chill ran down my spine. "What did you do to Buckbeak?"

"The old wizard took the Hippogriff. I care not where."

I didn't trust the liar. I had to see for myself.

"Where is you going?" Kreacher grabbed the skirt of my robes.

I shoved him away and headed for the stairs.

Buckbeak's suite was empty. A dead ferret lay in a corner, as if dinner had been abandoned dinner in the haste to fly away from Grimmauld. I left it to rot; averting my eyes from the tub I could see from the opened door to the bathroom. As I walked toward Sirius' room, a recent memory surfaced.

-

Remus ran the water while I reached for the flagon of bubble bath. It was empty.

"Damn it, Sirius!" I said, projecting my voice with a Sonorous Charm. "Why didn't you tell me you'd used up the bubbles?"

His reply echoed in the tiled chamber. "Technically, I didn't. There's still a bit left in the bottom."

"What good's a handful of bubbles going to do us?"

Boisterous laughter rang out. "Use your imagination and stop interrupting my nap."

I was still sulking when Remus plucked the flagon out of my hand and put it directly beneath the faucet. He murmured a spell. Bubbles spilled out of the container, falling into the tub and floating around the room.

I smiled. "You can do a lot with a little, can't you?"

Remus shrugged. "I've always had to make things stretch." He set the flagon down and pulled me into his arms. "Of course, when I'm given a lot, I can do even more."

I undid the tie to his robe. "Yeah? Me too."

He grinned.

"Disengage the Charm, minx! You're giving me nightmares!"

I hurriedly performed a Counter Charm to the Sonorous. When my eyes met Remus', our laughter filled the air.

-

I released a shaky breath and opened the door to Sirius' room. It was empty. The bed, wardrobe, desk and chairs were gone. Only peeling wallpaper and threadbare green carpets remained. The sight was like a punch in the stomach. I clutched my middle, fighting back tears. Even if Sirius hadn't been a kind master, he didn't deserve such treatment.

I turned on my heel and headed for the basement. I called Kreacher every foul name I'd ever heard, silently, because I didn't want to give him any warning. Remus wouldn't approve of what I planned to do, but Sirius would.

In the kitchen, I stalked over to the cupboard that housed Kreacher's den and pulled open the door. "Accio photographs!"

Out flew a motley collection of broken and dented frames with Black family members looking startled or disdainful to be treated so cavalierly. With a flick of my wand, I sent them clattering onto the tabletop. The tinkle of breaking glass was music to my ears.

Kreacher Apparated beside the kitchen table, scrabbling to pick up the photographs. "What is you doing?" he cried angrily.

"Getting a rat out of his hole." I sent an Incendio hurtling down to engulf his den in flames. Everything in the cubby-hole was reduced to ash.

"NO!" he wailed, cradling the picture frames to his chest, rocking back and forth. Tears streamed down his face. "Mistress' wedding dress! All the family treasures Kreacher saved is gone!"

"Sirius is gone!" I scrunched up my face, trying desperately not to cry. "You betrayed him, and I'm going to make you pay."

He placed the frames on the table, holding out his arms to show where broken glass had cut his skin. "Is you going to hurt me again? Kreacher does not fear pain."

Of course he didn't. He liked it. I shook my head and pivoted toward the basement stairs.

Kreacher followed. "What is you going to do?"

The sound of his voice reverberating off the stones was so hateful; I wanted to blast him down the steps. I kept climbing.

In the upstairs corridor, my gaze fell on the portrait of Mrs. Black. The velvet curtains were open now. Kreacher must think his dreams had come true. He was alone with his Mistress. I wished with all my heart that I could destroy her painting the way I'd destroyed her possessions.

"The half-blood freak can do nothing," I heard Kreacher mutter. "She is not a true Black."

The eyes of the portrait rolled my way. Eerily silent, the black gaze seemed to challenge mine. Would I find a way to repay a traitor in kind? I thought of my mother, sobbing, of Remus' face, lined with sadness, and Cami clinging to hope like a lifeline. Grimly, I tamped down my softer emotions. I glanced at Kreacher. He looked at Walburga with such adoration; an idea slithered into mind and coiled around me, poisonous and perfect.

I strode toward the door. "Enjoy the togetherness while you can," I threw over my shoulder.

Kreacher appeared at my side, round eyes wary as he watched me undo the locks on the front door. "What is you meaning by that?"

I slid the last bolt open. "Sounding nervous, Kreacher. Why? Are you afraid I might be Black enough to make you suffer?" I jerked open the door. "Count on it."

"What is you going to do?"

I turned in the doorway to face him. "I'm going to do to you what you've done to Cami. I'm going to separate you from the one you love most."

"You have no power. Bellatrix will be my new mistress."

His tone didn't match his words. I ruthlessly played upon his uncertainty. "Not if Sirius left everything to Harry Potter."

Kreacher paled. "He is not family. The magic—"

"Will allow a godson to inherit," I said, making a claim that I could only pray was true. "And when he does, Harry will send you away from here."

He swayed, as if from shock. "Where?"

I said the first place I could think of. "Hogwarts."

"No!"

"Yes, and every House-elf there will know what you have done, and they will despise you for it almost as much as I do."

Kreacher glared, but his voice wavered. "You is saying this, but you will not do it."

I closed the door in his face. Let the bastard worry that his days at Grimmauld were numbered. I would do whatever it took to ensure that they were.

I used a spell to change black robes into the original pink dress and Apparated to the Owl Post Office. After purchasing a quill and parchment, I walked over to a writing table and wrote a letter to Albus Dumbledore. He was the one who could find out who inherited the house and Kreacher along with it. If he suggested that Harry send the elf to Hogwarts to keep Order secrets safe, the boy would listen. For all I knew, Dumbledore already had such a plan in mind, but it wouldn't hurt to add my thoughts on the matter.

When the Great Grey carrying my letter began his flight to Scotland, I made my way to the Central Floo Station. The moment I stepped onto the hearth in my flat—our flat—I saw Remus sitting at his desk. He had placed it against the front wall where a decorative, useless entry table once stood. He set aside his journal to rise and enfold me into his arms.

At once, my world seemed to right itself. Remus and I were together, and that was all that mattered. I burrowed closer, deciding to tell him about Kreacher later.

"How are your parents?"

"Coping the best they can." I gave a watery laugh. "They want us to come over for dinner later and invited Cami. Mum has p—pictures." I closed my eyes to hold back tears. They trickled out the corners of my eyelids anyway.

Remus' arms tightened around me. "I had two visitors while you were gone," he said. "Morty was the first."

"Did you tell him?" I whispered, feeling awful that I hoped he had.

"Yes." I felt his lips brush my hair. "He said he would go see Andie right away."

I had a feeling that tonight's dinner would resemble an Irish wake. Sirius would like that, especially if there was Firewhisky involved. "Who was your second visitor?"

"Jerry Connelly." He gestured to the orange and pink poppies in a vase on the desk. "He left those when I said you were sleeping in the bedroom and couldn't be disturbed." Remus made a huff of wry amusement. "I believe he considers me to be purposefully keeping you isolated from family and friends out of an obsessive desire to have you all to myself."

"You're kidding." I looked up. Serious amber eyes told me that he wasn't. "I'll owl him later," I said, "and tell him the Bug gave me spots and I was too vain to let anybody see me." When Remus' lips curved, I kissed him tenderly. "I'll leave out my desire for you to have me as often as you like."

He shook his head. "You need—"

"I need you," I said baldly. "I need to touch you and love you, to feel your skin on my skin." I kissed him again, this time aggressively, twining my arms around his neck.

"Nymphadora," he said huskily, "Are you sure?"

Because I had only been discharged from the hospital that morning—because I was an emotional wreck? Hell, yes, I was sure. I fumbled to unzip my dress while using my tongue persuasively.

Remus' hands covered mine and then gently took over. My fingers found new work unfastening buttons. I tugged his shirt from his trousers and pushed it off his shoulders, smoothing my hands along the planes of his chest. He felt so good. I needed that solid warmth to fill the empty places inside me. "Did the Marauders ever come up with a spell for instantly removing clothes?"

His mouth firmed against mine, parting my lips with hungry desire. I was thankful that the answer to my question was yes.

-

Later that evening, I was profoundly grateful that everyone shared stories of Sirius' life, but no one talked about his death—for my sake as well as Cami's. I missed him so much. Hearing about Sirius streaking through a Black family gathering at age two, out-cheating Mundungus at poker, pranking Slytherins, and nicking roses as Snuffles was simultaneously wonderful and heart-wrenching. My throat ached from all the tears I held back. Seeing the pictures Mum had found made it impossible to eat more than a few bites. After dinner, when I heard Cami ask Lisa if she could hold the baby, I had to leave the room.

Remus found me in the garden.

He wrapped his arms around me. "It's hard for me, too," he said quietly. "It's painful, knowing what could have been."

"What's going to happen if he doesn't come back?" I leaned my forehead against his shoulder, not wanting my tears to soak his shirt.

"Life will go on."

"I don't want life to go on!" I tried to push away, but Remus held fast. "I want to go back and change things!"

"You can't." His voice was husky with restrained emotion. "None of us can, although I wish we could with all my being."

"I'm sorry." I hugged him as hard as I could. "I'm being selfish again, consumed with how I feel when you're hurting too."

"You're not selfish. You're grieving. We all are." Remus brushed his lips across my brow, my cheeks, and my lips.

The back door opened. "Andie's serving coffee and dessert in the lounge." Morty's voice gained a shadow of his usual Black humour when he added, "If you're done practising mouth-to-mouth resuscitation."

"We were practising Tonsil Quidditch, thank-you-very-much," I said cheekily, pecking Remus on the lips before strolling toward the door. I morphed a few hot pink streaks at the front of my hair, just to reassure myself that I could.

"I don't even want to know what position you play." Morty's grumble lifted my spirits in a weird way.

I gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek. "I'm the Seeker, and he's definitely a Keeper."

"I said I didn't want to know!" he called after me.

I held onto my smile, even after I returned to the lounge and saw that Cami had rocked baby Sirius to sleep in her arms.

-

In the middle of the night, I awoke in a panic, scared that Remus had been taken away by faceless Death Eaters. I knew it wasn't true the moment my hand touched his arm, but I continued to shake. I curled against his side and then draped my arm and leg across him, trying to counter residual fear with the solid proof that he was beside me.

"Nymphadora?"

I loved to hear Remus whisper my name, but not when his tone was filled with concern. He had enough burdens without me adding more. Beneath the sheet, I slid my thigh along his, my fingers playing with the silky hair on his chest. "Mmm?"

"Did you have a bad dream?"

Surely an evasion was better than an outright lie. "Shhh... You'll wake me up before the dream gets good." My hand made lazy sweeps across Remus' skin before trailing down to his abdomen. I circled his bellybutton with a fingertip. "I was just about to..."

"What?"

I smiled to hear the smile in his voice. "I'd rather show you." It only took a moment to wriggle closer in order for my mouth to part his in a kiss.

The darkness heightened the sensuality of our lovemaking. The taste of his lips, the feel of his body, the clean, musky scent of his skin and the sound of his voice whispering my name became elements of a "dream" that was intensely satisfying, because it was shared.

-

The next evening, I was trying to decide between a short black cocktail dress and a long halter gown when I heard the front door chime. Remus came into the bedroom carrying a rectangular box. "It's from Scrimgeour." He placed the vanilla-coloured box on the mattress and handed me an envelope. "A message came with it."

I broke the seal and quickly scanned the note before showing it to Remus.

Wear this tonight.

I made a face. "I should be insulted that he doesn't trust my taste, but I guess the boss wants to make sure his employee dresses the part."

Remus said, "Exactly what role does he expect you to play?"

He didn't have to tell me that he thought Scrimgeour shouldn't have asked me to do anything so soon after traumatising events. I read it in his tone and the set expression on his face.

I didn't have to tell him that I needed the distraction and the money. He knew. I reached down to untie the silk ribbon and remove the top of the box. "Let's see." I lifted out a floor-length, ivory gown with an empire waist and a deep, shirred V-neck. Sequins and beads sparkled in a silvery band around the high waist and on the straps that made a V in the back. "Trophy partner, I s'ppose, to complete his image of a take-charge man of action." I held the dress to my body. "I'll have to morph a light tan to set off the—"

"Cleavage?"

I snorted at his dry tone. "Yeah, and I'd better change out of these black frilly bits, too."

"That dress looks too form-fitting to allow a bra."

I checked the bodice. "It's fully lined."

Remus didn't comment.

I laid the dress on the bed and walked over to slip my arms around his waist. "I'm not thrilled over the thought of having dirty old men stare at my baps either, but it won't be my breasts on display—it'll be Lola's." I gave him a quick smooch. "And if you want, I'll morph inverted nipples so even if the support spell's crap and the room's spelled to be ice cold—"

A bark of laughter cut me off. "That won't be necessary." Remus' lips twitched. "Could you really do it?'

I unfastened my bra, grinning.

-

The smile I gave when Scrimgeour suggested I leave the men to their after-dinner cigars was sweet and agreeable—and entirely faked. I still hadn't shaken off the weird vibe I'd picked up the moment I Apparated into the back garden and saw my boss lounging in a chair, sipping a glass of Firewhisky. He didn't have robes on, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up.

"Am I early?" His intent stare made me nervous, in a gazelle-wanting-to-edge-away-from-a-lion kind of way.

He gestured to the cushioned lounger beside him. "No. I set the time early to give us a chance to talk."

Talk about the job? That made sense. I sat, making sure not to crease my dress. "The gown is lovely," I said. "Is it for decorative purposes, or do you hope to distract someone?"

Scrimgeour lifted his drink. "Decorative, although I'm sure quite a few of our guests will be distracted by your beauty."

I blew on my knuckles and rubbed them against a bodice strap. "My metamorphosing is tops, isn't it?"

He took a sip of whisky. "Yes, it truly is, and may I offer you a drink?"

"With my luck, I'd spill the beer down my front, so no, thank you."

"Beer?" Scrimgeour chuckled.

"Yeah, doesn't the Head of Aurors drink beer? Or is too common for a future Minister's elevated palate?"

He took the ribbing good-naturedly. "You sound like a reporter from the Quibbler, trying to fish for a story with a baiting comment. I drink ale or lager on occasion at Quidditch matches." His expression sobered. "Times the way they are, I'm not sure when I'll be able to attend another match."

"You could always drink a beer while listening to the wireless."

"Yes, I could."

I got the impression that he wouldn't. Since I knew better than to show that I felt sorry for him, I changed the subject. "So, what's on the agenda tonight?"

The agenda had been simple. Scrimgeour chatted with key Wizengamot and community leaders while I stood around looking gorgeous, my opal bracelet verifying that the men were telling the truth. I was the only woman invited, so I felt uneasily on display.

When I left the dining room, I headed to the kitchen. Inside, I found Mr. and Mrs. Stevens seated at the centre work table, having a cup of tea. Mr. Stevens immediately stood.

I told Mrs. Stevens, "Dinner was amazing. I would've eaten more if it wouldn't have ruined my ladylike image."

She smiled. "Thank you. Would you care for a cup of tea?"

"Yes, please."

I enjoyed asking the couple nosy questions about the different kinds of spells it took to keep a house like this clean, and where the ideas for all Q's nifty gadgets came from much more than I had conversing with a hypochondriac Wizengamot member. I was still marvelling that anyone would know hundreds of householdy spells when Scrimgeour joined us. He had removed his dress robes and rolled up his shirtsleeves once more.

Mr. and Mrs. Stevens immediately rose to their feet. "Do any of the guests require assistance departing, sir?" asked the butler.

"No, they were all sober enough to Apparate or Floo home."

The married couple exchanged amused glances.

"If you will bring tea to the library," Scrimgeour said to the housekeeper, gesturing for me to precede him up the basement stairs.

"Yes, sir, at once."

I said, "Thanks for everything."

Upstairs, I declined the offer of another cup when Mrs. Stevens set a silver tea tray on the library desk. I didn't want to have to dash for the loo in the middle of our employer-employee chat.

After the housekeeper withdrew, Scrimgeour said, "It's settled. Fudge will be forced to resign and I will be appointed the next Minister for Magic."

"That's great! You're what they need. Someone who's fought against Death Eaters." He wasn't smiling. I said. "Aren't you happy? Isn't this what you've worked for?"

"Yes."

I was struck again by the vibe that something was wrong. "What is it? Did you have to agree to a concession that you didn't want to make?"

He smiled faintly. "No. I agreed to a concession that I planned from the start—had expected to concede tonight. I merely failed to realise how much I'd regret the necessity."

The gold bracelet on my wrist remained cool to the touch. He was telling the truth. Suddenly, the reason for the dress I was wearing, the wistful note in his voice, and the odd vibe became clear. "You have to dump Lola, right?"

"The public, as well as the more conservative members of the Wizengamot, prefer to have a Minister who is dedicated to the point of sacrificing personal relationships." His lips twisted wryly. "It inspires trust and confidence."

"Which was the real reason you hired me."

"Yes."

"Not to be your bodyguard, but to convince everyone that you're wholly committed to the Ministry." I spoke calmly, but inside I was starting to unravel. I had counted on this job to last long enough to build up the savings I'd depleted. I had also thought Scrimgeour valued my Auror skills. Instead, I was out of a job that I only got by being a Metamorphmagus.

"The official statement will be an amicable parting of the ways." He reached into a drawer and handed me an envelope. "A bonus...and an apology."

Another, higher-minded person might have turned down the Galleons, but I took the paid to bearer certificates, even as I said, "You never promised me a long contract."

"It was implied."

I shoved a tendril that had fallen down behind my ear. "The poison in your drink. Was that real or a set up?"

"Very real."

"Good." When his eyebrows rose, I said, "Nobody wants to be just a pretty face."

Scrimgeour smiled a little. "I have never regarded you that way."

I stood. "Well, I—I guess I'll see you around the Ministry." I laughed self-consciously. "Not as Lola, of course." Awkwardly, I held out my hand.

He took my hand in both of his. "Of course."

I glanced down and noticed the bracelet. I pulled away to slide it off my wrist and put it on the desk. "Tell Q thanks for the loan, and for being so nice."

"Tell him yourself."

"No, I'm a little...emotional...right now. I'd probably start crying and embarrass him to death." I blinked back tears. "Everything is changing so fast when I wanted things to stay the s—same." I brushed away the moisture that escaped and turned toward the fireplace. "Goodnight."

His voice was a low rasp. "Goodbye."

-

Remus was stretched out on the sofa, reading one of his beloved texts, when I stumbled into the room. I shook my head when he asked what was wrong. I couldn't talk. I was afraid that I'd start crying and not be able to stop. In the bedroom, I morphed my body and took off the dress. Carefully, I placed it back into the nest of tissue paper before closing the box and retying the ribbon. Scrimgeour could throw out the dress for all I cared, but I was sending it back tomorrow.

"Talk to me."

I picked up the envelope I'd tossed onto the coverlet and held it out. I found that if I didn't look at Remus, and I took shallow breaths, I had enough control to whisper, "Scrimgeour is going to be appointed Minister. To prove his dedication, he's giving up Lola. That's my severance pay...and an apology."

There was a rustle. "Do you know how many Galleons these notes represent?"

"No."

He named a figure that was staggering—more than I'd hoped to earn in the next six months. "Are you going to keep it?"

I bit my lip, nodding.

The sound of his heavy sigh tore me apart. I fled to the bathroom and engaged the shower charm.

"Nymphadora, I'm not judging you. You did it for me."

I stood beneath the spray, hoping that my crying was muffled by the noise of the water.

"I'm coming in!"

I tried to grab the soap and pretend I'd been taking a shower. The bar slipped from my hand, falling to the tiles and bouncing toward Remus.

He bent to pick it up. "Looks like you need some assistance." He set the soap on the edge of the sink and undressed. "Let me help you, love."

I allowed him to wash me, docilely tipping my head back to allow the shampoo to rinse out of my hair. When he led me out of the shower, I huddled into the bath sheet draped around me, watching Remus dry off. "I'm cold."

He immediately began rubbing my skin with the cotton towelling. "Better?"

I stepped closer. "I want your skin to warm me."

He steered me into the bedroom.

Within moments, he stashed the garment box beneath the bed and turned down the covers. I snuggled as close to him as possible. Eyes closed, listening to his heartbeat, I wanted to stay in Remus' arms forever. Warmth, security, and love kept sorrow at bay. I placed my hand over the fingers stroking my arm and brought his hand to my lips. "I love you."

"I love you." I was beginning to drift off to sleep when he said, "When you're ready to talk, I'm here. If you can't find the words, I'll make an appointment for you with Healer Wells."

Part of me wanted to snap that I didn't need a bloody medishrink. The rest of me was tired, sad, and found the idea of talking with the woman who reminded me of my Gran comforting. "Okay."

The next morning, after a dreamless sleep, I felt able to handle going back to work. "Besides," I told Remus over breakfast, "I forgot to owl Jerry. By now he's probably imagining me on my death bed."

"Or imagining you tied to the bedposts, a prisoner to your lover's desire."

I almost choked on a sip of coffee. "Are you trying to seduce me into staying home? Because if you are, I might go next door and ask to borrow a couple of scarves."

He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. They were shadowed. "It's only been a few days since...everything happened. I'm concerned that you're doing too much too soon."

"If I can't take the stress, I'll come home. All right?"

"All right. I'll be here, waiting on the morning post. I owled Will last night, inquiring about his flatmate." One corner of his mouth turned up. "Dumbledore is eager for me to begin my mission."

I wasn't. That went without saying, however. I pushed to my feet, leaning over to kiss him. "See you later."

-

Everyone I saw once I stepped through the double doors of the Auror Office seemed to be glad that I was back, although a few eyed me speculatively, as if wondering whether the Magical Bug I'd had manifested in places other than the extremities.

Kingsley smiled when I ducked into his cubicle to say hello. "You're looking in the pink of health."

I patted bubblegum-coloured spikes. "Ta, thanks." I noticed that there wasn't a gold hoop in his ear. My stomach twisted. "Don't tell me you've given up the earring. It looked good on you."

A look of surprise crossed his face. "I must have forgotten to put it in." His deep voice was filled with understanding. "Don't worry, everything around here hasn't changed."

I didn't want to talk about what had changed. "Better go earn my lavish salary. Bye."

I had arrived earlier than both Tom and Julia, but Jerry was in his cubicle, reading a file. He grinned when I rapped on the partition wall. "Tonks! You're back!" He rose to his feet, smile dimming. "Where have you been? Why didn't you owl?" His face reddened when I didn't answer. "Did you think no one would notice if you didn't show up to work? Even if your friends didn't rate an explanation, the least you could have done was contact your mother!"

"I'm sorry."

Jerry stepped around the desk. "You're sorry? That's it? You drop off the face of the earth for days and all you can say is sorry?"

I was holding onto composure by my fingernails. "I'm sorry I worried you. I was—"

"You didn't have a Magical Bug," he cut in. "I did some research. No one gets a Bug and recovers over a weekend. What really happened?"

"I can't tell you."

"Why? Is it Lupin? Did he threaten you?"

"No! Remus loves me!"

"Isn't that what abusers always say?"

In other circumstances, I would have laughed. The idea of Remus as an abusive boyfriend was ridiculous. Today, I got misty-eyed. "He takes care of me. He would never hurt me. You don't understand—"

"Make me understand."

"I can't."

He crossed his arms across his chest. "Then maybe you should ask for another partner, one that doesn't give a damn whether you trust him or not."

I could feel my face starting to crumple.

Jerry strode past me. "Fine. I'll go get the paperwork."

I caught his sleeve. "Don't." He tried to pull away, but I wouldn't let go. "Don't do it." My vision was blurry with tears. "Don't leave me." Why was everyone leaving me? It was too much. I broke down, crying so hard that my ribs ached.

I heard the sound of running footsteps. Julia burst into the cubicle. "I could hear you two all the way down the corridor. What the hell's going on?"

"I—we—she's upset," Jerry said, patting my back.

"Brilliant deduction, Sherlock." Julia snapped.

Behind her, Tom asked, "What can we do?"

"Healer Wells," I said. "I need to see Healer Wells."

"I'll send my Patronus," Tom said.

Julia wrapped her arm around my shoulder. "I'll help her to the lift."

Jerry cleared his throat. "I'm not going anywhere, Tonks."

I released my white-knuckled grip on his sleeve. "Promise?"

"I promise."

I walked back down the corridor with Julia, keeping my eyes down, avoiding curious stares. I felt numb after the release of emotion, and didn't care if I was gossiped about, or became the subject of another office cartoon. The numbness lasted even after Julia checked me in at the Healer's and then knelt to hug me before she went back to work. "Anything you need, any way I can help, I'm here for you." Her eyes were shiny when she said, "I'm going to send my Patronus to Remus and let him know what happened."

"Okay."

I felt the stare of another patient as I gazed unseeingly at the carpet. How ironic that last year I had been the one looking at others, wondering what I was doing in this place.

"Miss Tonks, you can go back now."

I sat in the same comfy chair I had before and looked across at the Healer who had the same aura of serenity as my Gran. "You cut your hair."

"Yes, a few months ago."

"It's nice."

"Thank you."

I glanced toward the blue flames flickering in the fireplace. "Everything I say is confidential, right?"

"That's correct." I heard the scratch of quill on parchment. "I see that you're staring into the flames. Is there something you'd like to tell me in a state of dissociation?"

"Yes."

"Very well, you have both feet flat on the floor. Allow your breathing to fall into a natural rhythm, slow and deep. Let your muscles relax and your tension fade."

Transfixed by the blue flames, I became so relaxed that my eyes closed.

"Tonks?"

"Yes?"

"You are the narrator of the story of an Auror named Tonks. Tell me how this woman came to be in my office today."

I faltered during the recital of my story. Several times, the Healer reminded me that I was an objective observer, not a participant, and to pull back when I felt distressed. At the end, she said, "I want you to blink your eyes and become aware of your surroundings."

I blinked and looked from the soothing green paint on the walls to the Healer's light blue blouse.

"How do you feel?"

"Numb—angry—hopeful—depressed..."

She nodded. "Grieving encompasses a wide range of complex emotions. There is no set time to experience them and move on. No tidy list of stages to work through and be finished. You will always remember a loved one." She leaned toward me. "Long after good memories allay the emotional pain, you will still be overwhelmed by loss from time to time."

I took a breath. "What about the fear?"

"What are you afraid of?"

I would have thought my eyes would have run out of tears by now. They hadn't. "I'm afraid that if Sirius doesn't come back, I'll lose everyone else too."

"Let's examine your fears," the Healer said briskly. "Did you lose your romantic partner when your cousin failed to return immediately from the veil?"

"No."

"Did you lose your parents? Your friends? Your extended family?"

"No."

"When you thought you might lose your Auror partner, what did you do?"

I remembered holding onto Jerry's sleeve. "I wouldn't let him go."

Healer Wells made a note. "Would you be less determined in other relationships?"

"No."

"Then when you feel afraid, ask yourself why you feel that way, and challenge any negative perspective."

"I can do that."

"Excellent. If you find in the future that there are unresolved issues causing emotional pain, I'll be here to talk about it."

Meaning she didn't think Sirius was coming back and I was going to need therapy to deal with it. Everyone was entitled to their opinion. "Thanks."

On my way out of the office, I noticed a needlework sampler on the wall, mainly because the silk threads were black. They stood out against white linen. I read the words out of idle curiosity and then froze. "Who made this?"

"My mother was Muggleborn. She stitched the sampler after my father passed on in his sleep. What do you think of it?"

My eyes were drawn to the words.

While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him beyond the veil.

"It might be true," I said, fighting back tears at the thought of Lily and James embracing Sirius, "but it still sucks."

"I agree," said the Healer, closing her pad. "That sampler has hung on my wall for thirty years, and every day I have agreed with your sentiment one hundred per cent."

-

Remus was sitting in the waiting room, reading the Daily Prophet. I picked up a women's magazine and waved it in front of his face. "What? You didn't want to read about boosting your metabolism?"

He arranged the paper into a tidy stack. "I have a natural metabolism booster once a month that beats any potion."

I snapped my fingers. "Hey, we could sell the Werewolf Weight-Loss Plan to the Quibbler and be rich."

"I'm afraid the side effects would cancel out any dubious cosmetic benefits."

Once we were outside, I dropped the cheery act. "Did Jul tell you I had a complete breakdown, or that I just went slightly mental?" I made a face. "If "slightly mental" isn't a contradiction in terms."

Remus cupped my cheek with his palm. "Only slightly."

She must have told him I lost it completely. "You told me I was doing too much too soon."

He kissed my brow. "You got help. That's what matters."

I had to ask, "Did Gulch send an owl to announce that I'm fired?"

"No, Kingsley sent a notice that you're on paid bereavement leave for the rest of the week. You can stay home and rest."

"I want to rest on a beach on the Isle of Lewis," I said, taken by the thought of sleeping in a whitewashed cottage aptly named Haven. "The MacLeans are bound to have a room available during the week. Let's go home and build a communication fire to ask them."

"The rates were very affordable," Remus said, "and you did receive a substantial bonus."

"Then we'll go?"

"If the MacLeans have a room."

-

The room with the slipper bath was available.

I amused Remus by casting privacy spells, just the way I had before. Unlike our first trip to the island off the coast of Scotland, we checked into the bed and breakfast and then made our way to the standing stones of Callanish.

The setting sun bathed my love's face with soft colour, making him look even more handsome. We were simply dressed, but my multicoloured bouquet of summer roses and the warmth of Remus' smile made me feel beautiful.

There wasn't a Celtic harpist, or a celebrant to officiate. We didn't need them. It was enough to hold hands and say aloud the vows we had once recited only in our hearts.

I, Nymphadora,

Do come here freely, seeking partnership.

I come with all love, honour and sincerity,

wishing only to become one with him that I love.

Always will I strive for Remus' happiness and welfare

"Do you want to go down to the loch and toss in a stone for luck?" Remus asked, after a tender kiss.

"No, I want us to go to beach beside the cottage. I arranged with Mrs. MacLean to have a picnic dinner waiting."

"When did you do that?"

I grinned. "When you were in the shower."

On the white sands of Uig, I found that the picnic basket I anticipated was resting on a blanket beside a table and chairs that I had not expected. Softly glowing illumination orbs floated above the table covered in white linen and decorated with a posy of roses and champagne resting in a silver bucket.

Combined with the sunset, only one thing could make the scene more romantic.

Remus seemed to read my mind. "May I have this dance?"

I kicked off my shoes, my pink toenails bright against the powdery sand. My gauzy white sundress swirled around our legs as I moved into his arms. It was almost like my tropical island fantasy, but better. This was real. I lifted my face for a kiss as we swayed together to a rhythm created by the waves lapping onto shore and the beating of our hearts.

-


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A/N: The quote about the veil was from a Muggle named John Taylor, Healer Wells was first visited in ch 15 and 17 of Promise of a Spring Moon, and if anyone hasn't read about Tonks and Remus' first trip to the Isle of Lewis in Butterfly Summer, I heartily invite you to do so. :) . A series of unfortunate events delayed the posting of this chapter, but I hope readers will find it worth the wait and look forward to the next story!

July, 2007. Aside from Remus' journal, I wrote a transition from OotP to HBP one shot that I'd love for everyone to read. It's called Wish Upon a Dog Star.

The HBP story is posting now. Here's the preview/summary!

Waiting for the Moon
Giant spiders, malevolent bats, wizard scouts...werewolves. Tonks finds life in Hogsmeade far from simple, while Remus discovers having a partner in touch with her inner wolf complicates his mission 'underground.'

The readers I love for reading and encouraging so fabulously with their reviews last chapter are... 40/16 alix33 Bardlover bored2pieces2 Calenmarwen ElspethBates FNP Freja Lercke-Falkenborg GraceRichie ishandtwofourths Kates Master Ladyofthebookworms MollyCoddles Moontime n1264 NaginiFay Nethiel Nessime Operamuse rairaichan siriuslycoco Slipknot-3113 Sophia Loren sunny9847 The Allknowing Tonks and UnderworldBabe