Remus stood in the kitchen, staring at Tonks. Well, not staring so much as exchanging a series of nervous half-glances with her to prove that he wasn't afraid to look at her, even though he was.
They hadn't actually seen each other for two weeks, not since before the note-writing started, and now, face to face with her, he found himself stuck for words. And facial expressions.
He'd gone down to the kitchen early, thinking that he'd have a few minutes to collect himself, to think of some warm, witty, greeting to set things off on the right note, and so when he'd come upon her waiting for him at the table it had shaken him a little. His eyebrows had leapt up in surprise and stayed there, despite his best efforts, and Tonks' face had lit up in an expression of hopeful expectation that, now minutes had passed without him coming up with anything to say, seemed a little forced.
He swallowed, desperately trying to think of something witty and warm to say.
Or anything at all. He thought at this point he'd settle for neutral – or even cold and distant – anything to quash the oppressively silent atmosphere in the grim kitchen.
Remus couldn't help thinking that, despite his lack of suitability as a catalogue boyfriend, he was a lot better at this kind of thing on paper.
"Wotcher," Tonks said. He wondered if he'd imagined the slight tentative inflection to her 'Wotcher', or if he was just hearing what he wanted to hear, if it was wishful thinking that she was as nervous about this as he was.
"Hello," he said, unable to hide the slight, tentative inflection of his own voice.
Tonks smiled, although he couldn't tell if it was at the tentative inflection, or something else entirely. Whatever the cause, his heart sang. She was so beautiful when she smiled.
"How've you been?" she said. "Seems like it's been ages…."
She trailed off and shrugged uncertainly, biting her lip, and as her eyes trailed over him and smiled appreciatively, it did strange things to his insides. He made a mental note to thank Sirius for his sartorial advice. "Good," he said quickly, hoping to save her the embarrassment of an uneasy silence. "You? How's work?"
"Good," she echoed. "And – busy. Hence the – er – no seeing thing."
He offered her a cautious smile, which she returned, and for a moment, they sank into the uneasy silence he'd been so keen to avoid and just looked at each other, brows weighed down by the weight of all the unsaid things in the air, lips pressed together in an effort to battle nerves.
Remus' mind was a frenzy of nothing in particular as he groped about its dusty corners for something to say that wasn't asinine or didn't completely give away how much he liked her, how much he'd looked forward to spending the day with her.
He cleared his throat, and Tonks looked up at him expectantly.
Oh now you've done it, he thought. Now you've got to say something.
He opened his mouth and let out the first thing that occurred. "I suppose we'd better get going," he said. "I wouldn't want to make you late."
Tonks smiled faintly, her eyes losing some of their brightness in disappointment, and he mentally kicked himself. Of course what he should have said was that he liked her T shirt, and that the shade of blue she'd picked for her hair was very fetching. "I thought we could Apparate," she said, dropping her hands into her pockets and looking up at him through her dark blue fringe. "Bit more dignified than arriving covered in soot."
Remus nodded his agreement, and lead the way up the steps and out of the kitchen. They shuffled along the hall in silence. After a brief 'after you,' 'no, after you,' 'no, I insist,' fiasco at the front door where they both stepped forward at the same moment and bumped into each other, they found themselves blinking in the daylight outside Grimmauld Place, with the building and the usual parameters of their relationship shrinking away behind them.
Remus offered Tonks a rather feeble-feeling smile of encouragement, and they set off towards the cluster of trees in the middle of the square and the Apparation point. He was determined to say something – anything – but his usual eloquence and conversational ease seemed to have deserted him. At this rate, even if she had been interested, he was being so weird and dull she was probably glad he hadn't made a move.
He racked his brain. "So is it a special occasion?" he asked, realising that he'd had at least half of the conversation that needed to precede his question in his own head. "I mean, for your parents."
"Twenty-fifth wedding anniversary," Tonks said, her eyes a little brighter now he'd actually said something.
"Oh," Remus said. "I didn't realise they'd been married that long."
"Neither did dad," Tonks said. "Mum went mental when she realised he'd forgotten."
"He forgot?" Remus said, aghast, some of his unease abating.
"Hmm," Tonks replied, meeting his eye askance, hers twinkling ever so slightly. "He came home from work and asked what all the owls were for, apparently, and when mum started turning his work robes into mashed potato, he got the idea that maybe he'd missed something."
"Ah," Remus said, grinning at the thought. "And so the party's to smooth things over?"
"I don't know," Tonks said, rolling her eyes and letting out an exasperated sigh. "I think he's claiming it was a surprise he had planned all along, and the whole forgetting the actual date thing was just a ruse."
"Did your mum believe him?"
"He's still breathing, isn't he?" Tonks said, and he chuckled softly. "It'll probably be hell on legs," she added, frowning at him apologetically. He offered her a tentative smile.
"Then I'm glad I decided to accept your invite," he said, and Tonks smiled back and nudged his arm with her elbow.
"Me too," she said softly, and he wondered if he imagined the faint blush on her cheek.
They Apparated to a spot behind a clump of trees that was well hidden from the road, and stepped out onto a quiet street, packed with exactly identical houses. "Welcome to suburbia," Tonks said, waving at their surroundings lazily.
Remus took in the perfectly manicured lawns that looked as if they'd been trimmed to millimetre perfection, the curtains that hung at perfect angles that framed every window, and the impeccable nets, behind which he imagined a gaggle of identical house-wives were lurking. If anything, the place reminded him uncomfortably of Privet Drive, and all of a sudden he knew why Tonks had been so quick to suggest the Best Kept Lawn competition, and why it had seemed such a perfect fit for the Dursleys.
Remus felt his brow dip into a frown. He'd never given much thought to where Tonks grew up, but now they were here, he couldn't help thinking that there was something completely incongruous about Tonks coming from somewhere so, well, ordinary. The very last thing in the world she was was ordinary.
They walked to a house with a tastefully varnished oak door, and Tonks met his gaze, raising an eyebrow at him slightly. "Ready?" she said.
"As I'll ever be," he said. "If there aren't any sausage rolls I'm going to be mightily disappointed."
Tonks affected an offended bristle at his words, her eyes dancing with mischief. "Chopped pork aperitifs in chough pastry, if you please," she said, her tone playfully posh and clipped. "How many times do I have to tell you?"
He sniggered quietly to himself, and Tonks knocked on the door. It was opened almost immediately by a tall, stately-looking witch with a pale, oval face and long brown hair that hung, impeccably, on her shoulders, every inch as trimmed to perfection as the lawns outside.
Unmistakably, it was Andromeda. He remembered her vaguely from school, although he'd been far too lowly a first year for her to bother to speak to. "Nymphadora! You're on time! And you brought a – " Andromeda's grey eyes turned to Remus, and swept appraisingly over him.
Remus thought he actually felt himself shrink a couple of inches under the weight of her stare as she took in his shabby shirt, tatty grey jumper, and trousers that had seen distinctly better days. Her nostrils flared in what he supposed might well be disapproval, and then she fixed him with a blatantly false smile that radiated all the genuine warmth of a beauty queen. " – guest."
Remus smiled as best he could when he evidently didn't even warrant use of the word 'friend'. "Don't call me Nymphadora, mum," Tonks said, rolling her eyes and then shooting Remus a quick, furtively apologetic, glance. Andromeda stepped aside, and Tonks shooed Remus into the hall, squashing him against the wall as she closed the door behind them. "Mum, this is Remus, Remus, this is my mum, Andromeda," she said.
Remus extended his hand, and Andromeda gripped it limply and offered it a cursory shake. "Lovely to meet you," she said, although her tone was as cold as snow.
"You too," Remus said. "It's a pleasure."
Andromeda turned to her daughter, her eyebrows dipping in puzzlement as they raked over Tonks' hair. "Nympha – "
"Mum, please. It's Tonks."
"I'm not about to call my own daughter by her surname," Andromeda said testily. "Besides, Nymphadora is a perfectly lovely name. Wouldn't you agree, Remus?"
Both sets of eyes turned to him. He shied away towards a gilt-framed Constable print on the wall.
Remus swallowed, realising that he was trapped between two formidable women, both of whom expected him to agree with them, and both of whom he suspected knew some pretty inventive hexes for men who failed to do so. He glanced quickly between Tonks, who was raising her eyebrows expectantly at him with the threat of a glower hovering just beneath the surface, and Andromeda, whose nostrils flared in warning. "Erm – "
He was saved from his conversational minefield by the appearance of a dark-haired, middle aged wizard, who was wearing a navy and white striped polo shirt that was stretched tightly across his slightly podgy stomach. "Who's this then?" he said, glancing between Tonks and Remus with a curiousness that seemed oddly familiar.
"Hello, dad," Tonks said, stepping forward and giving her father a peck on the cheek. "This is Remus."
"Ted," the man said, reaching for Remus' extended hand.
"Pleased to meet you," Remus said as Ted pumped his hand enthusiastically.
"Drink?" Ted said, his dark eyes sparkling.
Remus smiled at Ted in reply. He thought a drink was probably exactly what he needed.
A drink certainly took the edge of Remus' nerves, and he'd started to enjoy the tingle of anticipation in his stomach.
The party was in full swing, or about as full a swing as Remus thought it was ever likely to get. A small collection of witches and wizards in tastefully understated dress robes were gathered in the lounge, perching neatly on the edge of the green and cream-striped sofa and armchairs, while he and Tonks hovered at the heavily party-food laden dining table in the adjoining room. It was a strange kind of a place – from the outside it was entirely suburban, but inside wizarding portraits mingled with Muggle prints, magical artefacts with Muggle sporting memorabilia. The nod to the air of supposed celebration was a banner above the fireplace sporting the legend 'Happy Wedding Anniversary', and a couple of balloons charmed to sing 'You Are The Sunshine of My Life', which hovered above the buffet and launched into song whenever someone approached for a vol au vont.
A low murmur of conversation that sounded oddly tinged with disapproval permeated the room, and Andromeda fluttered about making sure everyone had drinks, and making polite inquiries about relatives' health, work, and the weather in their neck of the woods. Ted, on the other hand, was happily ensconced in a scruffy-looking mustard yellow armchair in the corner, telling jokes about three nuns and a hippogriff to two of what Remus thought probably constituted his dodgy mates.
Caught between the two extremes – Andromeda's formality and Ted's…less stuffy approach – Tonks and Remus had stuck together, making polite conversation about how dreadful the weather in Cornwall had been this summer with a grey-haired and very upright wizard named Nicholas, chatting about how great the cake looked with a plump witch named Greta, and perusing the buffet table at leisure.
And peruse they did – they started at opposite ends of the spread and met in the middle to compare notes – Tonks said the crab sticks were a contribution from one of Ted's dodgy mates and possibly best avoided, while he heartily recommenced the cucumber sandwiches and offered her a bite-sized piece of toast, impeccably spread with a neat triangle of pate and topped with a tomato.
All in all, Remus thought things were going well.
Until, that was, he made Tonks laugh with a lame joke about Kingsley and his earring, and she dropped Branston Pickle on her top, causing Andromeda to tut words like 'unlady-like' and 'menace to condiments'. Tonks looked so utterly dejected and embarrassed that he couldn't stand it. He couldn't think of anything particularly heroic, but he managed to distract Andromeda with a compliment about her chopped pork in chough pastry aperitifs, and when Andromeda stopped tutting and blinked in incomprehension, telling him that they were, in fact, just sausage rolls, Tonks laughed so hard she had to cling to the edge of the table to stay upright and nearly upset the whole lot. Nonetheless, his compliment earned Remus a smile from Andromeda that had a scintilla of genuine feeling behind it, which seemed like progress, and an all out grin from Tonks, which allowed him to enjoy the cucumber sandwiches even more than he would have ordinarily.
There was a slightly dodgy moment when Ted came over and asked how long they'd been courting, and in his haste not to give Ted the wrong impression, Remus came across as sounding horrified at the very suggestion, but apart from that, things hadn't gone too badly. And he'd cleared the whole thing up with Tonks via a series of intricate eyebrow raises that he hoped conveyed that he just meant that they weren't, that he wouldn't have any objections to the idea. He thought she'd got the message. She hadn't turned his robes to mashed potato, anyway.
He tried not to read things into how close Tonks was standing to him, how she laughed at his jokes and beamed as he laughed at hers, but he couldn't help it. He thought she was wonderful. She'd even thrown in a spectacular diversion when Andromeda had cornered him and asked what he did for a living – suggesting, quite loudly, that Mrs Barnstaple next door's roses were looking championship quality and were bound to take all the rosettes at the next fete, which had caused a flurry of activity – neck craning and pointing out aphid patches – and a frenzy of debate, for most of the rest of the afternoon. He couldn't stop grinning at the thought of how quickly she'd leapt in to save him a tricky, potentially embarrassing, situation.
Stevie Wonder bursting into song behind him jolted Remus out of his thoughts, and he looked down to find Tonks reaching for the plate of sausage rolls. She wiggled them in front of him for a moment. "So when you said you'd do anything for a sausage roll," she said, "where exactly would you draw the line?"
Remus glanced between her and the plate of sausage rolls, and as he met her eye she smiled and raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm not sure," he said. "I've never had much cause to test the boundaries."
Tonks pursed her lips in thought, and then leant in close. "Would you run naked round the garden?" she said, her eyes glittering with mischief as she watched his reaction. Remus shot a furtive glance at Tonks' parents, convinced that neither of them would be particularly enamoured of the conversation they were having within hearing range of the Axminster, but finding them both busy with their respective friends, he leant in.
"Yes," he whispered. "Although I'd have to be careful, what with all those rose bushes. I could do myself a terrible mischief on the thorns."
Tonks tittered quietly, gripping the plate firmly in an attempt not to drop them. "Would you snog Doris?"
"Which one's Doris?"
"The one with the lazy eye who smells of bruise-healing salve and damp dog."
"Ah," Remus said, taking in the witch in question. He met Tonks' eye again and raised an eyebrow. "For the whole plate?" She nodded. "And when you say snog – "
Remus sniggered, even though he thought sniggering in a man of his age over the words 'snog' and 'tongues' was a bit unseemly. "Yes," he said, and Tonks gaped at him.
"Hmm. Support stockings aside, she's quite a looker."
Tonks closed her mouth and the corners twitched in the briefest hint of a smile that he thought indicated she was slightly impressed. "Would you – " She paused, pressing her lips together in thought, glancing up at the Artexed ceiling for inspiration. " – I know. Would you eat a slice of pate on toast that'd been dropped pate-side down on the carpet?"
"Oh now really Tonks," he said, affecting his best stern Professor voice. He waited for her eyebrows to dip as if she couldn't quite tell whether or not he was being serious – and then continued. " – of course I would."
She raised her eyebrows at him questioningly, and he leant in closer – so close that her light, grassy perfume surrounded him, and very nearly made him forget what he was going to say. "I'm a werewolf whose best friend turns into a dog. I can assure you that I've had much worse things in my mouth than carpet fluff."
Tonks laughed, covering her mouth with her hand in an attempt to keep quiet. "Well," she said, casting her eyes over him appraisingly. "I'm impressed by the depths to which you'd sink for a sausage roll."
"So which'll it be?" he said. Tonks offered him the plate.
"I'm letting you off the hook for now," she said. "I'm just keeping it in mind in case I ever need you to do anything."
Remus smiled and reached for a sausage roll, wondering if he should tell her that if she ever wanted him to do anything, she was unlikely to need a bribe.
As the sun set, the cake – a rather impressive white slab with glittering silver icing and impeccable sugar flowers – was cut, Ted made a speech about the secret of a good marriage being admitting when you're wrong and shutting up when you're right, and everyone laughed and toasted with whatever was at hand.
Soon after, they were bidding a rather fonder farewell than they had a greeting to a slightly tipsy Andromeda and a Ted that was distinctly two sheets to the wind. Remus thought Ted probably would have hugged him if he'd have been able to get out of his arm chair.
They stood on the quiet suburban pavement, with the early evening stars twinkling above them, and Remus revelled in the quiet after the chatter, in being alone with Tonks after being surrounded. "Well," Tonks said, meeting his eye with something that looked a bit like encouragement, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, "thanks for coming."
"It's all right," he said. "All I had planned this afternoon was attacking the shelves in the library with a dusting charm."
"Oh," Tonks said, her face falling just a little. Remus winced.
"Not that – " He sighed, wondering why he was so useless at this, and then met her eye. "I didn't come just because I had nothing better to do," he said quietly, touching her elbow lightly in reassurance.
Tonks' second 'oh' had been rather more hopeful than the first, and he bit back a smile at the thought. They were both quiet for a moment, and somewhere in the distance a dog let out a well-timed and rather elegant bark, as if it were on a timer, and some birds took flight above them, twittering as they went.
"Why did you come, then?" Tonks said softly, and the rest of the world – Ted and Andromeda's house behind them, the quiet street, the manicured lawns – dissolved into a suburban blur.
The only thing that existed for him were her questioning eyes on his. He swallowed. He really didn't want to blow it now, not when – what with the sausage rolls and the laughing over spilt pickle – things had been going so well. "We hadn't seen each other in ages," he said, gazing at her as sincerely as he dared. "I thought – well, I thought it'd be nice to spend the day with you."
Tonks pressed her lips together, her eyes roving his face as she thought. "You know," she said slowly, "you can spend the day with me any time you want. You just have to ask."
Remus felt his lips twitch in nervous amusement. "Oh," he said. He knew she'd just given him license to ask her out, and the twinkle of expectation in her eyes made his heart dance, and yet he couldn't quite find the words. He grimaced at his own ineptitude. "I'm really much better at this kind of thing on paper."
"Well that's easily fixed," Tonks said brightly, and she took out her wand and conjured a small sheet of parchment and a ready-inked flamboyant peacock-feather quill. She raised an eyebrow at him, her eyes dancing cheekily, and then bent slightly, unfurling the parchment against her thigh and scribbling on it furiously. She folded the note neatly in half, and then handed it to him.
He took it from her with a smile, and slowly opened it. It read:
I'm so sorry I dragged you to this.
He reached to take the quill, Vanishing her words with his wand so he could replace them with his own:
I did say I'd do anything for a sausage roll.
He folded the parchment neatly and handed it to her, chancing a glance at her as she read, and watching, fascinated, as she let out a soft, breathy snigger. She composed a quick reply, handing it to him and coyly biting her lip.
Surely this was above and beyond, even for cheese and pineapple on a stick.
He laughed, taking the quill from her fingers, brushing hers gently with his as he did so and feeling a shiver-like thrill pass right through him.
Not at all. I had a lovely time.
She smiled at the words he'd written and then took back the quill, her fingertips lingering just slightly too long on his hand.
I don't believe that for a second, but you're sweet for saying it.
Remus toyed with plenty of ideas for what he might write next – he could tell her that earlier, he'd meant to say that he thought she looked lovely, that spending the day with her, sausage rolls or not, would always be a pleasure and never a chore, but the more he thought about it, the more only one thing seemed to fit the bill.
He scribbled the note, handed it to her, and waited for her to read what he'd written. His heart pounded against the inside of his chest so forcefully he wondered if the neighbours could hear it.
She did, and in the same instant, he caught her face in his hand and drew her closer, not hesitating or over-thinking before touching his lips to hers. The parchment crinkled against his chest as she pressed against it and responded, and Remus felt as if he was dissolving. Her kiss was sweet and yet insistent, and he felt his own longing echoed in the movement of her lips over his, and as her hand clutched his shoulder he thought he'd collapse. His fingers worked their way into her blue hair all of their own accord as he wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss, and he smiled a little against her mouth at how she tasted faintly of the Butterbeer they'd drunk earlier. He idly wondered if this was the most shocking thing this street had seen in a very long time. If it was, he didn't care.
Eventually, he pulled away, and Tonks smiled at him, eyes twinkling and making his insides shake and his heart soar. "Wotcher," she said softly.
"Hi," he replied, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She grinned, and let out a soft breath of laughter.
They gazed at each other for a moment – but it wasn't uncomfortable or awkward or any of the things he'd feared it might be – they were simply savouring it, he thought. "What now?" Tonks said quietly.
Remus nodded off towards the horizon, where the sun had disappeared, leaving the sky a crisp, yellowy-blue. "We appear to have missed the sunset we could have walked off into," he said.
"Well that's your fault," she said. "If you hadn't eaten all those sausage – "
He cut her off with another kiss, holding her tightly against him and savouring every single second, and when they finally broke apart, Remus swore he saw the nets behind them in Ted and Andromeda's lounge window twitch back into place. He wondered if, inside, nostrils were flaring with disapproval, or if they'd simply replaced Mrs Barnstaple's roses as the hot topic of conversation.
They agreed to go back to Grimmauld together for a drink, and as they walked away into the twilight, Remus couldn't help thinking how ridiculous he'd been to be so nervous. His worries – the serious ones about how unsuitable he was and the not so serious about what to wear – now seemed miles away, and somehow he'd always known that she'd be the one to make him forget.
It was certainly still true that on paper he didn't have a lot going for him, but he was slowly coming to realise that all he needed going for him was a witch with multi-coloured hair who liked him in person – and she was holding his hand.
A/N: Many thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter. Anyone who reviews this one gets a metaphorical sunset, and a fanfic Remus of their choice to walk off into it with ;).