Disclaimer: I own none of this. J. K. Rowling and assorted companies including but not limited to Bloomsbury, Scholastic, and Warner Brothers own everything. They also make all the money. I am just having fun and in no way seek financial profit from their property.
Note: Special thanks to Author by Night for helping me decide when in canon to place this thing and to MrsTater for tons of help with the ending and the beta job of the fic when it finally reached fruition.
The first three sentences or so are very directly riffing on the scene Harry sees when he first appears in the fire of Grimmauld Place in chapter 29 (pg. 669 American hb) of Order of the Phoenix. The rest of the story is slightly less directly riffing on the rest of that canon scene, though I hope that would be obvious from the story itself without this note.
By Any Other Name
Remus sat at the long, wooden table in the kitchen of number twelve, Grimmauld Place. The parchment he had been poring over earlier was long forgotten, as was the once-warm mug resting in his hands. He had turned his chair sideways and was gazing at the fire where the head of Harry Potter had surprisingly appeared a few hours before. The brief conversation with Harry had led to precious time spent with Sirius in treasured memories, before less happy aspects of their shared past had predictably intruded into their conversation. Sirius had now disappeared, probably to sulk and drink with Buckbeak, leaving Remus alone with his melancholic thoughts.
Or perhaps not so alone, Remus decided, glancing up as the kitchen door squeaked open to reveal a delicate face capped by neon blue hair.
"Wotcher, Remus," Tonks said with a grin as she strolled into the kitchen, moving noticeably slower than her normal pace.
"Hello, Tonks," Remus replied, feeling the barest trace of a smile playing around the corner of his mouth despite his mood.
Before he could decide whether to allow the smile to fully develop, it was effectively squashed by Tonks kneeling beside his chair and pressing her lips to his. The kiss lasted for only a brief moment, yet still managed to leave him with no option but to unleash the grin. "What brings you here this evening?" he murmured against her lips.
"Long day and I'm knackered."
As she leaned further back and he was able to gaze into her eyes, he was surprised at their lack of vibrancy. She glanced expectantly towards the cupboards behind him and struggled to continue speaking around a yawn. "Swiping from the leftovers from Molly's last mercy package to you two bachelors sounded better than attempting to cook something myself, and probably blowing up my kitchen at the same time."
"Do you want me to fix you something?" he asked. "I don't believe Sirius has managed to eat all the chicken."
"I can cast a Warming Charm without blowing anything up."
Tonks winked, letting him know that, despite her words, she knew his offer had not originated from a disregard for her abilities. She pulled herself up, using the back of his chair for leverage, and disappeared behind him.
Remus was vaguely aware of dishes clinking, but the flickering flames and the inner recesses of his mind increasingly drew his attention. He didn't realize just how unaware of his surroundings he had become until a soft poke on his thigh caused him to look up in surprise. Tonks was sitting on the table, the toes of her boots resting on the bit of wood of his chair visible beside his leg and a plate of chicken and mashed potatoes hovering just above her knees.
"What are you thinking about so hard?" she asked around a mouthful of food as she pulled back the foot with which she had prodded him.
"Nothing of interest," he said, shaking his head slightly and trying to sound light and casual.
"Come on, Remus," she said, obviously not convinced and trying to prod him with words as effectively as she had with her boot. "What's wrong?"
In a vain attempt to buy time, Remus leaned around Tonks, careful not to unbalance her or her plate of food, to deposit his mug of lukewarm cocoa on the table beside her. When he sat back again, she was staring intently at him, a forgotten forkful of potatoes hovering in her hand. "You had better eat those before they fall." He nodded toward the fork.
Tonks' fork moved, but not toward her mouth as expected. Instead, she titled the fork and moved her hand so the food hung threateningly over his lap. "You had better tell me what's on your mind before they fall on your trousers." Her lips curved up in a wicked smile that did much to dispel the look of exhaustion lingering about her face.
Remus gave a soft, low chuckle. "Manipulative little witch."
"Whatever it takes," she replied coolly, refusing to shy from the accusation. "Now," she waved the fork," are you going to tell me what's wrong?"
"You win," he said, raising one hand in surrender.
She triumphantly shoveled her weapon into her mouth, clearing it of all ammunition. Laughing and shaking his head, he turned to once again gaze into the fire. His temporary mirth slowly abandoned him as he contemplated how best to explain his thoughts. Tonks left him alone, content to let him take his time now that he had promised that she would get an answer.
"What's wrong?" he heard his own voice ask, uncertain if he was asking himself, her, the dancing flames, or the world at large. "I suppose," he slowly continued, "the short answer would be Harry, Sirius, me… not necessarily in that order."
A decidedly confused sounding, "Hmm?" muttered around a mouthful of food was the only reply Tonks could manage.
"Harry Floo Called earlier," Remus explained, still not looking away from the flames. "He wanted to talk about James. With Sirius. It just got me thinking."
Tonks, this time not caught mid-bite, asked, "Thinking about what?"
Remus pulled his gaze from the flames long enough to glance at her and snort. "About the fate of Quidditch in the United States," he said with a roll of his eyes before resuming his careful inspection of the fire.
"It'll never completely catch on," she said without missing a beat. "But that doesn't explain your fascination with the fireplace."
She was, of course, right. And she was apparently unwilling to let the matter drop. Typical.
When he next began to speak, he found he could not stop himself; the rambling words just kept tumbling forth, slowly but incessantly.
"Harry's first word was 'fly.' He had made all the usual 'mama' and 'dada' and 'baba' noises, but his first real word, where it was obvious that he knew what he was saying, was 'fly.' All four of us would hold him under his arms and swing him around through the air. If Lily wasn't looking, James or Sirius would pull out a wand and levitate him. Harry loved it. No one was too surprised when he started demanding to fly. Or, well, demanding to 'fwy' but we all knew what he wanted. Lily had been hoping that she would get a real 'mama' first, but James was tickled with 'fly.' No matter how Harry chose to say it." Remus' voice trailed off as he became lost in his memories.
"Well, you did say he's an excellent flyer," Tonks said at last, confusion lacing her voice.
"He was practically born to it," he said with a faint smile, acknowledging her presence but not fully seeing or hearing her. "He was just over a year old when they died. He wasn't really talking yet, but he had a few words he could say and even more he could recognize. Of course, you had to listen very carefully to understand what he meant. He had everyone confused when he started babbling 'Us.' It took a couple of days for James and Lily to decide he meant either 'Sirius' or 'Remus' and another week or two to figure out which one."
"I'd guess Sirius."
This time, her interruption actually penetrated the reminiscent smoke swirling in his mind and pulled Remus from the flames. "Why?" he asked curiously, looking at her instead of the fireplace. He was surprised to find that she had finished her dinner and the empty plate had joined his mug on the table. Energy from the food had taken the edge off her tiredness and restored a bright twinkle to her eyes.
"You'd be 'Re' or 'Rem,'" she said matter-of-factly. "That's much easier for a baby to get his mouth around than 'Siri.'"
"You're right about Sirius being 'Us,' but for me he latched onto 'Moony,' though all he could manage was 'Oon.'"
Tonks tilted her head, studying him carefully. "I could see you as 'Oon,'" she said with a slight giggle. "You must have made a very good Uncle Moony."
Remus tried not to wince as his chest gave a painful jolt. Tonks, in her own inimitable way, had inadvertently blundered into the crux of his problem. He smiled tightly at her. "And now, I'm Professor Lupin."
"What's wrong with being Professor Lupin?"
"Nothing is wrong with it. I'm proud of how much all of the kids, especially Harry, learned the year I was at Hogwarts. But Harry should not be able to call me that with a straight face. He should have grown up calling me Uncle Moony, or Remus, or whatever we decided upon as he grew up. If I had taught at Hogwarts, he should have called me Professor Lupin during class, but always with a hint of a smirk, and called me something else when he dropped by my office after classes or on weekends."
Remus glanced quickly away, again staring into the fire, before continuing. "I can't help but think about everything we all lost. I'm not sure who lost the most, but I know it wasn't me. I lost my four best friends, all in one moment. Even if it didn't happen quite the way I always thought and I'm getting a second chance with one of them. But Harry lost his parents and any chance at a real life. And just when things were looking up for him, Voldemort returned and wants him dead. Sirius, on the other hand, lost the same friends I did, plus any chance at a real life, and things have yet to look up for him. And if Fudge has his say, they never will. Despite everything they've been through, I'm a little jealous of them both."
He looked back at Tonks. He couldn't identify all of the myriad emotions playing across her features. He searched carefully for any sign of reproach or condemnation among the easily spotted confusion, sorrow, and slight traces of tiredness, but thankfully found none. He did not need her rebukes to add to the immense guilt he already felt. Taking temporary relief in her current lack of judgment, he turned again to the fire. In his minds eye, he could still see Harry's face in the flames and it was somehow easier to address his words to the flickering light than to her.
"Harry Flooed to ask Sirius about James," he continued. "I don't think it ever occurred to him to ask me. Sirius is his godfather and Harry should be closer to Sirius than to me, but I'm still jealous of how close they've become. Harry confides in Sirius and turns to him for advice, while I remain Professor Lupin, good for research and answers to defense questions, but little else. Harry has to ask the godfather he barely knows, a man who spent twelve years in Azkaban for a crime he never committed, to tell him about the father and mother he never knew, and all I can think about is what I've lost. I've had more time with Harry than Sirius has had, more even than James and Lily did, and all I can think about are the opportunities that I lost with him. With all of them, really."
The crackling flames filled the room with a merry warmth that did nothing to dispel his gloom. Remus watched in silence as a log in the back collapsed in a sudden shower of sparks.
Just as suddenly, and more explosively, Tonks' voice filled the kitchen. "Bollocks!"
Remus turned to her, one eyebrow arching upward in surprise. "What?"
A faint blush crept up the sides of Tonks' neck to her cheeks. The pink was so light he knew most people would never have noticed it and would be completely fooled by her nonchalant shrug. "Oh, well, I thought I should be saying something right about now, but I've no idea what." She looked toward her boots, muttering so quietly he had to strain to hear her words over the cackling fire. "I should have listened to my mum a bit more often. The woman wouldn't recognize a decent name if it flew into her parlor on a trained dragon and asked to stay for tea, but she usually gives great advice."
Time seemed to stop for a moment as Remus processed her words. When they finally penetrated his unusually abysmal mood, he burst out laughing. It was a loud and long, hoarse laugh that he could not stop. After a few moments, he managed to gasp out, "In all fairness to Andromeda, she would rightly be too worried about the possibility of the dragon destroying her house to notice the name riding on it."
Tonks tried to pout at him, but a hint of a grin twitching at the corners of her mouth and dancing in her eyes ruined the effect. "Alright. That was a crap analogy. But it got you to laugh and turn away from that blasted fire for the longest you've managed tonight."
Remus nodded in acknowledgement. "So it did." He gave her a soft, almost shy, smile and rested his hand on her knee. "Thank you," he said sincerely.
"You're welcome," Tonks said easily, but then frowned slightly. "Just out of curiosity, thanks for what? I haven't done anything overly helpful."
Remus turned his hand over so it now rested on her leg, palm up, silently inviting her to place her hand in his. She readily accepted and he watched their fingers automatically intertwine and curl comfortingly around each other as he began to speak with a faint smile. "You listened and you made me laugh. That is much more than anyone else would do."
"But I haven't given you any advice," Tonks pulled her hand back, slightly loosening their grasp, creating space between their palms while leaving their fingers linked. Taking advantage of the gap she had created, she slid her thumb between their hands and used the nail to trace faint patterns across the sensitive flesh of his palm. The responding shivers rippling up his arm and through his body made it difficult to focus on her words.
"I don't know what to suggest you do," she said. "Other than tell you that you have every right to feel bad and should stop feeling guilty about it. That much I know."
Remus shrugged his shoulders non-committally. "I'll just have to learn to be content with what I have," he said.
Tonks snatched her hand away and placed two angrily balled fists on the edge of the table beside her legs. "Now that is complete bollocks, Remus!"
"So you've said," he interrupted her before she could commence a full tirade. He flipped his now empty hand so his palm was again resting on her leg and gave a light squeeze, hoping to communicate an acknowledgement of her words, even if he couldn't quite accept them enough to voice agreement.
He was not certain he communicated exactly that message, but she seemed satisfied with whatever it was she was able to read from his actions. She set her hand on the back of his and gave an answering squeeze before smiling brightly.
"So bollocks really was the right thing to say, then? Now that, we have to tell my mother. I'll let you be the one to do it. But make sure I have a camera handy so I can capture her face when she finds out that swearing is a useful form of sympathy and advice in polite company."
Remus smiled slightly, the grin stopping well before it reached his eyes, robbing it of all warmth. "I hardly pass for polite company in Wizarding society," he said dryly. Tonks glared at him and he quickly covered their hands with his free one before she could snatch hers away. "Still," he continued as if nothing had happened, "if you insist I share with your mother your skills as a therapist, will you be able to hold the camera and cast a Shield Charm to block the hexes she's likely to throw at us, or should I be ready to protect us both?"
Tonks maintained her glare for another moment before silently agreeing to let his comment pass. "Unless you want me to break the camera, and probably my foot since it doesn't like having heavy things dropped on it, you'd better handle the defense," she said with a laugh.
Remus smiled. Only the faintest traces of pain and bitterness lingered and he did his best to hide those from her. "It would be my pleasure," he said, allowing a more natural teasing lilt to color his words, letting her know he would be alright. "After all, I am Professor Lupin and Defense Against the Dark Arts is my specialty. I'm sure I can manage to protect my girlfriend from the wrath of her mother."