AN: Merry Christmas everyone! (If you ask me, it's been a wonderful Christmas since the 21 when Jo--very kindly, might I add-- revealed the title for book 7! YAY) So, I know this is weird for all my usual readers (if I really have usual readers...I have a few, I suppose). This could generally be classified as a romance fic...you didn't see that coming from me, did you? Anyway, if I ship anything, it would be TonksLupin, and I've had this idea floating around in my head for ages, so I thought it would be a nice little Christmas (or, for the politically correct among you, "Holiday") gift for you. I'm sure those of you who are following LWR right now are thinking that an update for that would be better, but I'm sorry. The characters (really everyone but Lily and Athena) refuse to cooperate with me, and its very frustrating. The next chapter is coming though, so don't lose faith on me now.
Anyway, as I said before, I've had the idea for this two-shot fic for ages. Originally, it was just the second chapter and just a simple one-shot, but about a month ago I stumbled upon two different works of fanart that inspired this first chapter. As soon as I can figure out how, I'll put the links up in my bio, so you can all see the pretty pictures.
But, without further ado...the story:
Remus quickly shoved what little belongings he had with him in the canvas bag he had brought from headquarters. If he was lucky . . . well, if he was lucky, then it was still early enough that no one would be awake and he could escape from the caves unnoticed. Of course, Remus knew he not lucky. He just hoped that maybe the Fates would smile upon him just this once, and allow his to slip out unnoticed. It wasn't that he wasn't allowed to leave; Greyback allowed the pack to come and go as they pleased. It was just that for weeks now, Greyback had been anxious to know where Remus often slipped off to.
Ever since the beginning of July, Remus had been living with Greyback's pack permanently. In the year beforehand, he had been spending time with Greyback's pack and several other packs in England. A couple of days here, or a week there; he was never there for long, but Dumbledore needed someone to be in constant connection with the packs. He needed to be informed of what Voldemort was asking the werewolves to do. Remus willingly obliged. After all, no one else was really suited for the job. After a few days with one of the packs, he would return to Grimmuald Place and would take care of whatever odd jobs needed to be done there. He never minded his time spent at Grimmuald Place. When he was younger, perhaps, he would have scoffed at being asked to do the menial tasks he was asked to do. But he had realized that staying at Grimmuald Place with Sirius was as important as anything else Dumbledore could have asked him to do.
Remus was aware of Sirius's growing recklessness long before anyone else was. It seemed that from the minute Dumbledore had issued Sirius the order to remain at Grimmuald Place, Sirius just wanted to get out. Not that Remus blamed him. Sirius had endured some of the worst times of his life in that house, and to be forced to stay locked in that miserable house . . . Remus knew from the beginning that eventually Sirius would crack. When they had gotten word in June about Harry rushing off to the Ministry, Remus knew there was no chance that Sirius was just going to sit patiently inside the house and wait for them to return. Not when every single person Sirius cared about was going to go risk their own neck. Remus had argued with him as they hurriedly contacted other members of the Order. He had begged him to stay put so that when the fight was over, Harry would still have his godfather. Sirius scoffed at his warnings. He had spent far too long being a prisoner inside his own house. He was sick of being unable to fight. Of course, Remus had known this too.
So Sirius had gone to the Department of Mysteries, and Sirius had fought much like he always had. He threw caution to the wind when he should have held reservations, taunted his opponents when he should have kept his mouth shut, and immersed himself in the battle when he should have been aware of surroundings. When everyone else had stopped fighting when Dumbledore appeared, Sirius and Bellatrix had not. And Sirius had paid for that mistake with his life.
The weeks succeeding Sirius's demise were . . . difficult, to say the least. Remus couldn't claim that he was unused to losing his friends. Since he had been bitten when he was four, it seemed that all he did was lose his friends. The week between the fight at the Ministry and the full moon had mainly consisted of Remus burying everything inside himself, as he often did. There were more important things that had to be taken care of then his painful emotions. They had to completely evacuate Grimmuald Place, in case Sirius's will had been bypassed by ancient magic and the house fell into Bellatrix's possession. They had to help the wizarding community cope with the sudden knowledge that Voldemort was back. There were missions that needed to be completed and preparations to make for the up-coming war. There was simply no time for grieving.
Of course, after the full moon, no one in the Order had any misconceptions about how Remus was handling his loss. The fact that, even though he had been given Wolfsbane Potion, he had nearly torn himself apart while he was locked in a fortified room at their temporary headquarters had been enough proof for everyone that he was not well. If Remus were to rate the worst full moons he had endured, that one had to be in the top five. It was shortly after that full moon that Remus agreed to live with Greyback's pack permanantly. Dumbeldore had made the suggestion for that plan of action months ago, but at the time, he had been unwilling to agree. Timing was perfect now, though. His new mission allowed himself to occupy himself. It gave him other things to think about. He quicky severed ties with the few friends he had left and threw himself into his work. The few times he had returned to Grimmuald Place for meetings had been painful and awkward.
But now he was preparing himself to return again. Dumbledore had insisted that he take Christmas off, that he return to headquarters, at the very least, and allow himself to relax. "Even you need a reprieve from your work, Remus," Dumbledore had assured him. Remus had argued, of course. He always did. Dumbledore ignored his protests, told him to stop being so self-deprecating, and ordered him to take time off. And the matter was settled. One normally didn't go far when they argued with Dumbledore, and Remus was no exception.
Remus sighed and quickly glanced around. He didn't hear anyone and, in the dim light, he didn't see anyone either. He picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder and started to make his way out of the caves. Greyback had found a labyrinth of caves in the countryside that was perfect for a large pack of feral werewolves to hide. The chances of any unwanted visitors finding them was slim to none, and even if they were found, the caves were impossible to navigate unless one already knew where to go. Even some of werewolves had trouble getting around. Remus had always felt blessed that he never fell under that category. He had a keen sense of direction and an even keener memory. He hadn't been living in the caves for more than a week before he had the entire layout of the caves mapped out in his head.
When he was just over a hundred meters from the main entrance into the cave, he heard someone behind him. He froze where he was.
"Going somewhere, Lupin?" Greyback's grizzly voice echoed throughout the cavern.
Slowly, Remus turned to face the cause of his childhood nightmares. Greyback was not an attractive man by any stretch of the imagination. He had a mass of matted grey hair; his teeth were filed to points, and his fingernails held a greater resemblance to claws. His presence was always foretold by an unappealing scent of sweat, dirt, blood, and alcohol. He was a symbol of everything Remus reviled, and a warning of what Remus could become if he let the wolf overcome him. "It certainly looks like it," he replied evenly.
"Don't be smart with me, boy," Greyback growled. "Where are you going?"
Remus looked the older and larger werewolf in the eyes. "I'm taking an indeterminable leave of absence." He turned his back to Greyback, fully prepared to leave, but Greyback reached out and grabbed his left wrist, forcing him to turn around as he did so.
"Stop dancing around the question, Lupin," he ordered, his claw-like nails digging into Remus's skin. "Where are you going? Are you running back to Dumbledore with your tail between your legs?"
"Where I'm going is none of your business, Greyback," Remus replied, resisting the urge to flinch as Greyback's nails sank deeper into his skin.
"It's my business if I think you're endangering the pack," Greyback drawled. "You've consorted with wizards before, what's to say you won't sell us out now?"
"I'm not endangering the pack."
"I don't have to prove anything to you."
"I demand that you tell me," Greyback ordered, his tone not leaving any room for agrument. Remus, however, was not one to yield to the man who had ruined his life, and was in no mood to play the part of the obedient and submissive werewolf.
"I left Dumbledore because I was sick of being told what to do," Remus growled, well aware that he was lying through his teeth. " I was fed-up with being controlled and manipulated by the old man. I came here to be treated like an equal, instead of being someone's pet-werewolf. I didn't leave one tyrant to join another. You don't own me and you don't control me." He wrenched his arm out of Greyback's grip. "Now I'm leaving, and I'll be back in a few days."
"Then we'll finish our talk then," Greyback hissed as Remus stalked off.
He hurried out of Greyback's presence, knowing that at any moment the older werewolf could change his mind about letting Remus go and knowing that he did not want to be in the vicinity when Greyback did. When he left the cave, he carefully treaded through the woods outside until he was at a safe distance to disapparate. Casting one quick glance to make sure no one was following him, he disappeared and almost instantly reappeared on the lonely street of Grimmuald Place.
Remus stared up at the lonely house that was faintly illuminated in the light of the morning sun. Sirius had always hated this house. It was easy to see why, of course. The house was terribly foreboding and an oppressive atmosphere encased it. Sirius once commented that it would have been the perfect breeding grounds for a dementor. Remus sighed, a small part of him feeling glad that Sirius no longer had to stay cooped up in the house, and hurried up the front walk. After stepping inside, he pulled the door closed quietly behind him. The portrait of Sirius's mother was irate as ever, and Remus had no desire to engage in an argument with it. He set his bag down by the front door and looked around. The house was empty, which was just as well. He was tired and his arm was beginning to sting. He didn't much feel like conversing with anyone at the moment.
He pulled up his left sleeve (which was now stained dark red with his blood) to inspect the wound. Expectedly, each of the five small punctures on his arm were beginning to look red around the edges. Merlin only knew what Greyback had under his nails. It would have been foolish not to expect some sort of infection. He trudged up the stairs to the bathroom. When the Weasley's had been living at Grimmuald Place, Molly had been sure to stock the upstairs medicine cabinet with a plethora of potions. It was almost as if she expected her children to get hurt. Although, when Remus thought of Fred and George, he reasoned that it was probably a wise assumption on Molly's part. He pulled open the medicine cabinet and stared at the assortment of potions bottles. He smiled at the sight of an old fire-whiskey bottle and wondered whether Sirius or the Weasley twins had left it there. Moving aside the alcohol and a bottle of Pepper-Up Potion, he found the small green bottle he was looking for. It held a very powerful disinfectant that also sped up the natural healing process. Gingerly, he drew the bottle from the cupboard. Remembering as he unscrewed the cap that he also needed a clean rag, he left the bottle on the counter and turned around to grab a washcloth off the rack behind him.
The sound of breaking glass caused him to turn around At his feet were the shards of the broken potion bottle; the potion was already seeping into the rug. "Dammit!" He hollered, letting his frustration overtake him. Normally he didn't swear (even minor swearwords like 'damn' or 'hell')-- something that James and Sirius had always teased him about at school. He didn't really see the point in using vulgar words when h could express himself just as easily without them. Many of his fellow werewolves, however, did not feel the same. And after so many months spent exclusively with them, he found he was beginning to adopt their vocabulary.
"Remus?" a voice called from down the hall. "Is that you?"
Remus hastily pulled the sleeve of his robe down as he heard Molly Weasley bustle down the hall. She stopped in the threshold of the bathroom. "Molly," he said politely, summoning a small smile. "What are you doing here?"
"I left some Christmas shopping here," she explained. "Presents for Arthur and the children that I didn't want them finding. What are you doing here?"
"I'm staying here for the holidays," he answered.
"You're not going home?" she asked. "Ton– I mean, I thought for sure you'd be with your family."
He shook his head. "Not this year," he replied steadily.
"Why don't you come to the Burrow, then?" Molly said, sounding quite earnest.
"Oh, no, Molly. I'd hate to intrude on the family," he said, ignoring a painful twinge from his arm.
"Oh, it's not just the family," she said. "Harry is already there, and Fleur," Molly made a face, "is coming with Bill."
"You've got enough people coming," Remus excused himself again. "You shouldn't have to be burdened with an old, destitute werewolf like me."
"Oh, Remus, you are not old, and you are certainly not a burden. Not to mention, you look like you could use a few good meals," she insisted as she looked him over. Remus watched as her eyes narrowed in on the dark stain on the sleeve of his robes. "Remus, you're hurt."
"It's nothing," he answered. "It's just a scratch."
Molly stepped closer and gently took his arm in her hands. Before he could protest, she rolled up with sleeve. "Just a scratch, hmm?" she queried as she inspected the punctures on his arm. "Who did this to you?"
"Greyback," Remus replied. "He and I had a . . . run-in as I was leaving."
Molly looked affronted. "Is this type of thing normal after a run-in with him?"
Remus shrugged evasively. "Depends on who you are," he said. "For one with a certain lack of status in the pack like I have, then I'd say it's fairly common."
She shook her head. "Dreadful," she muttered. "Absolutely dreadful. Well, sit down, then, and I'll take a look at this," she said briskly, indicating the Remus should have a seat on the toilet.
Remus sat down obediently as Molly made herself busy sorting through the potions in the cabinet. She had accurately deduced what had transpired with the potion, and readily assured that she had stored a spare bottle of that very same potion somewhere else in the cabinet. When she had realized how easy it would be for Tonks, who was very clumsy, to accidently break one of the bottles, she explained, she figured it would be wise to have spares.
It felt odd to Remus to have Molly look after him like one of her children. He was far too old to be her child. He felt that he should be able to look after himself, and he had for years. He was unused to the feeling of being taken care of. And as he sat on the toilet seat, Molly sitting across from him on the edge of the bathtub, gently pressing the potion-soaked rag to his arm, he felt very foolish. Molly removed the cloth and looked up at him with a smile. "There you go, Remus," she said. "Now, I expect you at the Burrow before five tonight, all right?" Remus opened his mouth to argue, more out of habit than anything else, but Molly cut him off. "No, don't argue. You need several good meals, a good night's rest, and some time to relax. Enjoy yourself, Remus."
"I'll be there," Remus conceded with a slight smile.
"Good. Well, I've got to be going," she said. "I left Ron and Harry to cut some vegetables, and Merlin knows that one of them will probably cut off a finger." Molly quickly excused herself and within moments, the house was deserted again, save Remus.
Remus stood up, brushing off his shabby and patched robes and meandered his way up another set of stairs to the bedroom he claimed as his own when he was staying with Sirius. The room was the same as it was when he had left it. It was sparsely decorated; only a few pictures of his childhood friends on the walls and a few of his favorite books on a shelf. Sitting on his neatly made bed was his mutilated copy of Dante's The Inferno. It was one of his favorite books, but it had been misfortunate enough to be in the same room as Remus during the full moon after Sirius's death. The book never stood a chance, and Remus was unable to repair it But the broken book aside, he needed to pack for his few days at the Burrow. And a shower wouldn't be half bad, either, he thought wryly to himself.
He crossed the room and pulled open his wardrobe. Instead of a mirror hanging on the inside of the door, he simply had a picture. Tonks, he hair spectacular shade of pink, stood next to him. They were both smiling and waving at his and her face expressed such joy, such peace. She looked beautiful.
He tore his gaze from the picture.
At one point in time, he and Tonks probably would have been very happy togther, but such happiness was not to be. Remus had been attracted to Tonks the first time they met when the Order reconvened. She was so bright, so colorful, so alive. She was a breath of fresh air in his weary world. He soon found himself looking forward to every time they worked together for the Order, every time he got to talk to her. Of course, he thought it was wishful thinking . Why would a young woman like Nymphadora Tonks want an old werewolf like him? It wasn't until Sirius started making comments about the way she looked at him, or how she suddenly got clumsier than usual whenever he was around that he began to realize that his feelings were not one-sided. Remus was still a little reluctant, though. She didn't know what she was getting herself into by trying to become romantically involved with him. Sirius repeatedly told him he was being a twit, and did everything in his power to push the two together. Remus figured he would never forget the telling-off he gave Sirius after he hung mistletoe all over Grimmuald Place last Christmas. But slowly, he and Tonks grew closer, becoming one of the Order's worst kept secrets. There was no doubt in Remus's mind that then they would have been happy together.
But things were different now, and whenever he thought of Tonks now, he could only felt a longing pain in his heart. He told her, just before he left for Greyback's pack, that he could no longer hold claim to her affections. She deserved so much more than he, a destitute society outcast, could ever provide. More than that, he was afraid of hurting her. Not physically, although, as a werewolf, that was a high possibility, but emotionally. He knew life with the pack was dangerous, and he knew what most of the pack would do to him if they found out he was still in almost constant contact with Dumbledore. He knew what it was like to lose loved ones to death, and he would not subject her to that anguish. He would protect her by keeping his distance, even though it killed him inside to do so.
So, when at all possible, he tried not to think about her. Thinking about her hurt as much as thinking about Sirius, but at the same time, thinking about her when he was ready to give up was just about the only thing that kept him going. Her smiling face and her pink hair and her infectious laugh were an escape from the horrors of living with Greyback's pack. Without her, he probably would have given up all hope multiple times. She was so much for him; she was always there for him. When he finally broke down after Sirius's death, when he finally collapsed while packing together Sirius's old things as they prepared to evacuate headquarters, when he finally let himself cry for the first time in fourteen years, she had been the one to find him and hold him and tell him it would 'be okay' as his entire world crashed around him. And for that simple action, he owed her so much. He loved her, but he knew that it was unfair for him to do so.
Remus quietly finished throwing some clothes to take with him to the Burrow that evening, before stepping back into the shower for a very long and a very hot shower. Afterwards, he dressed and returned to his room. He wanted to finish packing then find something to eat and take a nap before he left, knowing full well that Molly would dither over him if he didn't look his best. In his room, he pulled open his desk drawer, hoping to find the book he had last been reading. He didn't have much time for reading with the pack, and he wanted to finish it over the holidays. When he picked up the book, though, he saw something he did not expect to find. Underneath was a small gift he had bought for Tonks ages ago. It wasn't much, but it was something he could afford. He meant to give it to her for her birthday in September, but he had never gotten around to it. He picked it up and flipped it over in his hands. He smiled. Better late than never. Tomorrow was Chirstmas and he was sure Molly and Arthur would let him borrow their owl if he asked. Of course, he would have to make sure Molly didn't know who it was for, or she would look into it too much, and he would have to add the finishing touches before he sent it, but it was doable. And he and Tonks were still friends, he reasoned, so why shouldn't he send her a gift for Christmas? Without giving himself time to think better of the idea, he threw it into his bag with his clothes.
When he showed up at the Burrow later that evening, Molly reacted just as he had expected. She dithered over him again, making sure he got third helpings of supper and telling him he could leave his belonging in Bill's room, which he would have to himself. He protested this last development. He had no intention of robbing the eldest Weasley child of his room, knowing that he would be forced to sleep with Fred and George otherwise, and he could just as easily sleep on the couch But Molly insisted, and Bill said he didn't mind at all. In fact, he said didn't think he would mind sharing a room with his brothers too much. At the very least, he told Remus, the night would be eventful. In the end, Remus found himself forced to give in. The evening was enjoyable, once he managed to ignore the obvious tension between Molly and Fleur, and by the end of it, he even found himself laughing with Harry when the sixteen year old referred to his lycanthropy as a 'problem' much like James used to do at school. He found that he was able to get the best night sleep he had had in months.
The next morning was just as enjoyable as the night had been. Molly had overdone herself with gifts for him. Not only did she knit him a sweater (as she did for everyone at the house, save Fleur), but she had also knitted him a scarf, a pair of thick gloves, and a hat, and she had also gone out of her way to make sure his favorite foods were on the table for Christmas lunch. Other than that, he didn't receive many gifts. His father had sent him something (his mother died some five years ago), and got a few cards from his friends from the Order, but that was all. Although, at the same time, it was more than enough. At the end of Christmas lunch, though, after a thoroughly embarrassing encounter with Scrimegeour and Percy, only one comment made by Molly really stuck with him.
"I got the impression she was planning to spend Christmas alone, actually."
Tonks was spending Christmas alone, while he was here, surrounded by friends and good company. It wasn't right, he reflected later in Bill's room as he added the last touches to Tonks's gift. He couldn't shake the feeling that her solitude was somehow his fault too. Well, he thought to himself as he listened to the distant noise of the crowd downstairs, there's one way to remedy that.