A/N: Originally written for the MetamorFicMoon Lovers Moon Jumble at with the prompts: 'Instant Darkness Powder'; George, Hermione; 'Dream' and Drama.
Disclaimer: Everything recognisable belongs to J.K. Rowling.
It wasn't that she was unhappy. Tonks rested her fingertips against her chest, feeling them rise and fall as she tried to control her breathing and fall asleep through sheer will power. All things considered, it would be bloody selfish to be unhappy, wouldn't it? It might still feel like goblins were drilling tunnels through her ribcage, but, after all, she was breathing. She was alive, which was more than could be said for some people. She wasn't buried beneath the briar patches in London's latest cemetery; she wasn't lost forever beyond the Veil or haunting the drainpipes of Hogwarts. And she wasn't jammed into the crowded wards of St. Mungo's, trapped within the confines of her own mind. Her little midnight pity party was, in fact, a load of bollocks.
Things could have been worse. Things were worse for horrifically large numbers of people. And a handful of those people were sleeping just a few walls away. It was a fact that daily circled her gloomy thoughts and made her utterly ashamed of her recent apathy. Turning her head, rubbing her cheek absently against the pillow, Tonks watched Remus's chest move with his own steady breaths. Lifting her hand away from herself, she placed it lightly against his sternum, feeling the comforting warmth of skin and the scratch of body hair.
Merlin, things could have been so much worse.
Even now, she found it almost impossible to believe that she could be lying here with him like this. After the war. Watching him sleep with his mouth open and snore like a congested Horntail. She could still remember, word-for-word, the conversation that he had forced on them after that first battle at Hogwarts. After Dumbledore's death. So long ago now.
No. No, not so long. Not much more than a year. It felt like a lifetime. Yet she could still see his face in her mind, white to the lips and so serious. He'd worn his best Professor Lupin expression that afternoon, the one that she'd always found both impossibly sexy and incredibly irritating. Any of the usual charm of Remus's lectures had worn rather thin by the end of that short talk. In terse sentences, still reeling from the shock of Snape's actions, he had told her that if they were going to forge a proper relationship during the war, they had to do so with their eyes wide open this time. He could die. She could die. In all probability, one or both of them would die before the last wand was lowered. Life wasn't a Cynthia Lightwater novel or a Celestina Warbeck song. It wasn't all strolls in Hogsmeade, or illicit kisses at the Burrow, or laughs and beers in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. Either of their lives, he'd said emphatically, his eyes dark with suppressed grief, could end in a matter of seconds, in a flash of green light, or slowly and painfully in captivity. It was too dangerous to carry on in blind optimism.
Referring, of course, to what he saw as her very young view on the world. The cheerful frivolity that was sometimes ruddy hard to manufacture. He always had underestimated her. Condescending git.
What are you asking me, Remus? Tonks had asked angrily, almost bitterly. Do I understand that you're human? That you could die? That I could die? Of course I bloody well understand that. The most powerful wizard in the world died today. Our friend died today. I know the danger, damn it! I've always known it. And I know that I don't want to waste any more time with petty arguments and all that noble shite. But is that what you're asking me? Or do you mean, am I strong enough? Could poor, overly emotional Tonks really handle the possibility of…of…"
She hadn't been able to finish the sentence, not aloud nor even in her head. With a crack of sound that had much in common with both a sob and a laugh, she had mentally flagellated herself. He was right. She wasn't strong enough. Even silently, in the very depths of her imagination, she couldn't dwell on the possibility of…
Remus had surprised her, then, with his momentary silence and the extent of the emotion in his face. She had known from an early time into their acquaintance that he reluctantly fancied her. And she'd known since the morning she'd woken to the loss of Sirius and an unfurling hatred for the war that he was in love with her. But it had only been in that moment, looking back at him, that Tonks had realized just how much Remus loved her.
His smile had been crooked and entirely lacking in joy or amusement.
How does anyone handle the loss of everything? he'd asked simply, his hands tightening around hers.
The words had been almost shockingly romantic. They were actually quite worthy of a Cynthia Lightwater novel or a Celestina Warbeck tune and had sounded so completely bizarre coming out of Remus Lupin's mouth that Tonks's own jaw had flapped open for a good time. There hadn't been many more words spoken after that declaration, a conversation-killer in the very best way.
Her eyes were intent now as she took in the way he was curled beneath the covers, a good foot of space between them in the tiny bed. Despite the racket he was making, Remus didn't, she thought, look the slightest bit comfortable in bed with her. And she couldn't say that she felt that relaxed about it, either. She supposed the problem was that they were, in a way, both selfish people. They had each grown up fiercely independent, Tonks because she was determined to keep her distance from the Black family and Remus…well, aside from a few happy years as a Marauder, he'd never really had anyone, had he? Not anyone whose life was solely entwined with his, not on a permanent basis. They were two people with the habits and mindsets of singles, struggling daily to function as a couple.
Before Remus had nearly shattered their friendship by marching off on his high horse to protect her and 'do his duty', their burgeoning relationship had consisted of a lot of teasing and practical jokes, a few actual dates, holding hands under the table at Order meetings, getting legless with Sirius, getting even more drunk without Sirius, and, well, shagging. They had never lived together, had rarely even had the time or opportunity to sleep together. And things hadn't changed much after she'd made a total fool of herself in the hospital wing. She had spent most of the previous year on assignment, doing her best to stay alive and keep the kids out of trouble. Remus had taken on the responsibility of the Order, working hard to keep it from sinking under the loss of its sweet-toothed, far-sighted rudder. They had been apart a great deal and almost desperate in their limited time together. Far from carrying on with 'blind optimism', Tonks had existed in daily expectation of total, shattering loss and Remus had never been quite the same after Dumbledore's death. His faith in the great man's judgment and, by extension, his own judgment, had been shaken to the core at the time. For all that he looked upon her as young and naïve, there were times when Tonks felt that she had a hundred years on Remus. He had been held at arms length by the wizarding community his entire life; yet she'd never known anyone who put more bloody faith in people. It had physically hurt to see him lose that trust. Watching Harry hit it out of the park in the final battle had done loads towards bringing back her Marauder, but she suspected there was a long way to go.
No, there had been nothing normal about their relationship during the war. And now the war was over. Which, Tonks realized as she gave up on sleep and sat up, swinging her legs over the edge of the mattress, was the main problem. She'd never really thought about what would happen when Voldemort was gone. Nobody had dared to consider or hope that there might be an aftermath. Now she was living in a house full of people who were either numb with grief or who wanted to move forward, but had absolutely no idea which way to go.
The floorboards were chilly beneath her feet and she quickly hooked her toes around her slippers, dragging them toward her and shoving them on. She glanced down and her mouth quirked in a small smile. Clothes were probably also a good idea. Seeing as how she'd never quite built up the nerve to walk starkers around her own home, she probably shouldn't kick off the habit in someone else's. Scooping Remus's discarded shirt from the floor, she pulled it over her head, further ruffling disheveled blue curls, and slipped her arms into her comfortable, ratty pink robe. Padding over to the tiny window, doing her best to tip-toe around the bed, Tonks gazed out at the star-drenched sky and familiar garden below.
She adored the Burrow, she always had. But she had to admit that she was looking forward to getting back into a place of her own. Her eyes flickered toward Remus again. A place of their own, she supposed, if she hadn't put him right off the idea after being such a moody cow recently. It had been another change, in a blur of disorientating changes, to find herself unemployed a few months back after ignoring Scrimgeour's edict to abandon the Order. He had turned against the organization the year before, blowing its cover wide open, probably, Tonks still thought sourly, because he hadn't ever been asked to join. The decision about where her loyalties lay hadn't been difficult to make. The Ministry had increasingly become a farce of propaganda and corruption; the remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix were her friends. She had thrown herself back into more rewarding and equally dangerous work, mentally flipping Scrimgeour the bird every time they discovered another Death Eater operating within his ranks.
Unfortunately, nobody had ever joined the Order because it offered great wads of galleons in return, and one month of rent had eaten up her savings. Around the same time, a unanimous pass of new anti-werewolf reforms had seen Remus evicted from his flat before the ink was dry on the parchment and Tonks threatening to feed Dolores Umbridge to a boarhound. There was nowhere safe for them to go with Grimmauld Place still under surveillance. Molly had come around to Tonks's flat late one evening, her face set in the look of determination that had kept her men in line for decades, taken one look at the two of them eating one-spell noodles for dinner and marched them back home to the Burrow. They were family, she'd said, and she wanted all of her family under one roof.
Tonks had discovered that she shared Remus's aversion to charity, but the awareness of the huge, whacking target that was centered on the Burrow and the suspicion that Molly also wanted two extra wands under her roof had been enough to keep her lip buttoned. She and Remus had been sleeping in Percy's old bedroom ever since. She had been a bit surprised at the shared room, to be honest, but reckoned it was an entirely practical decision. If any of the other rooms had offered a spare bed, Molly would probably have had them on separate floors until they produced a marriage certificate and two witnesses. Tonks grinned fondly. She wondered how many children the woman privately laid claim to. With at least Remus and herself, Harry, Hermione and Neville firmly under her wing, she doubted that the number stopped at seven.
In ten days, she was due to report back for duty in the Auror Department and she hoped that would be the first step toward getting things back to some semblance of normality. The green glow had barely faded from Scrimgeour's body before Gawain Robards had reinstated Tonks's contract. She was sorry for the Minister's death. He had been a damned good Auror in his day, one of the best. But she wasn't going to pretend she was devastated about the need for new elections. It was hard to say who had been a worse figurehead, Fudge or Scrimgeour. Less brain than a nargle on the one hand and total reckless ruthlessness on the other. Hopefully someone halfway decent would get the big hat and the corner office this time.
She wasn't holding her breath.
Feeling a sudden need for some fresh air, Tonks tentatively rattled the window latch in the hope that it had somehow loosened since last night. It hadn't, still stubbornly refusing to budge. The security wards that Bill had cast over every inch of the property were proving near impossible to relieve now that the extreme danger had passed. Sighing, she leaned her back against the wall and broodingly returned her attention to Remus. He was sleeping on his stomach now, one arm flung across the sheets, looking a great deal more relaxed in her absence. She scowled, considering waking him up to share her insomnia. Except that he'd just want to talk and ask her a lot of questions that she didn't want to answer. She'd have to distract him with sex again and she was really too tired.
As that thought registered, Tonks had to turn a spontaneous laugh into a muffled squeak. Bloody hell. Things really must be off-track.
And she really did need some air. Making up her mind, she crept toward the door, opening and closing it gently behind her. The house was dark as she started forward, already wincing in anticipation of a collision, but not exactly silent. A strange sound halted her progress in the hallway. Folding her arms across her chest, she chewed her lip, frowned and waited. This time, she heard a distinct sniff. Tonks had seen enough misery in the last twelve months, in this home alone, to recognize crying when she heard it.
The brief consideration that whomever was crying themselves to sleep might appreciate some privacy crossed her mind, but she thrust it right out again. One of her new resolutions was to accept people as they were, including herself, which meant acknowledging and embracing her nosi…natural curiosity. And caring. Whatever people said, Tonks maintained stoutly, she pried because she cared.
But which room was it coming from? Noises had a tendency to be thrown in the Burrow, something that she had originally put down to the age of the house, but which turned out to be the fault of the twins. At the age of eleven, too young to pull off a good Silencing Charm, Fred and George had still managed to cast a powerful enough spell to confuse the direction of sounds, to prevent their mother from barging straight into their room at the slightest bang or clatter. Tonks eyed the door to that very room warily. Harry was occupying it alone at the moment, Ron still being in the hospital and Neville ensconced in his attic bedroom. She thought it was extremely unlikely that Harry was in there, sobbing into his sheets. She'd seen the wetness of his eyes after the final battle, but he'd been the very image of stoicism since then, a rock for Ginny and poor Hermione.
Another faint sniff echoed in the stillness of the hall and Tonks pressed her lips together, concerned. It was a very polite, almost dainty sniff. Switching direction, she carefully climbed the stairs to the third floor landing and paused outside the door to Ginny's room. She hesitated for a moment before turning the doorknob and gently pushing the door ajar. Thankfully it didn't squeak. After a second or two, her eyes adjusted to the even dimmer light within and widened. Oops. Instead of two tearful teenage girls, she found instead a very content Ginny and no Hermione at all. The younger girl was fast asleep beneath the covers of her bed, while Harry snored gently beside her, his body sprawled on top of the quilt. Even in slumber, they looked as pale and exhausted as they had at dinner, but their faces were relaxed and free of tension. They were holding hands, their entwined fingers brought up to rest under their touching chins.
Molly would have kittens if she knew that Remus and Tonks weren't the only couple sharing a room, but Tonks's gaze was affectionate on them. Harry was like a nephew to Remus and she was awfully fond of Ginny. They looked peaceful, which they often didn't during the day, when there were hospital visits to be made, and graves to visit, and reporters to avoid. More than any of them, she suspected that Harry was feeling at a loss now. Having fulfilled the expectations of a fickle and terrified populace, and then some, many people seemed to have forgotten that he was still a human wizard. An emotionally exhausted and grieving teenager, who was more than a solution to a very serious pest problem. If he could find some comfort in sneaking snogs with his girlfriend, Tonks could only be glad for them both. She cast a narrowed look over her shoulder before quietly closing the door again. Anyway, the kid was keeping at least one hand to himself.
Slipping back down the stairs, she tapped quietly at the door to the twins' room, where she assumed Hermione was sleeping. Although at this rate, she wouldn't be entirely surprised to find Neville there. It seemed there was a lot of activity in the house once the adults retired to bed. It reminded her of her Hogwarts days, sneaking around the corridors with Charlie Weasley and Billy Corner. When no squawk of protest ensued from within, Tonks poked her head into the room. Unlike the darkness of the rest of the house, a lamp burned on the bedside table, casting the furniture and its sole occupant with a warm, comforting glow. Curled up in one of the narrow beds, Hermione lay on her side, one hand tightly fisted about her thick plait of hair. She was moving a little restlessly, muttering quietly and shifting her legs. She was clearly asleep, but… Tonks moved closer as she recognized the glistening sheen of tears on Hermione's cheeks. She was crying steadily, the neck of her nightgown dark with damp.
But she was also smiling.
Tonks's heart gave a twist as she searched for – and found – a small blue bottle, almost hidden in the tangle of bedclothes. Fred and George's New and Improved Patented Sweet Dreams Potion. The updated version of a daydream potion for schoolgirl fancies, one dose guaranteed a good sleep and happy dreams. It had been one of the twins' last wartime products, aimed at the many grieving families in Britain, and the fact that it was still a bestseller was so sad that she could cry.
Tonks stared grimly down at Hermione. The poor girl had taken hit after hit in the last year, culminating in Ron's current comatose state in St. Mungo's. With her formidable brain and crisp confident speech, she was clearly one of those children who had grown up around adults, but right now, with her reddened nose and strands of brown hair sticking to her lips, she looked like a miserable first year. She looked homesick. Tonks sighed. She probably was homesick, for a house that was no longer there. Gently setting the bottle down beside the lamp, she untangled the quilts from Hermione's feet, pulled them up around her shoulders and left her alone. Until morning, at least, she was happy.
Feeling completely drained and no more capable of sleep than before, Tonks padded quietly downstairs to the kitchen. What she intended to do there, she wasn't quite sure yet. She could fancy a cuppa, but there was no point in attempting to cook something unless she wished to wake up the entire household as saucepans bounced across the floor and liquids spilled over to burn on the stovetop. She did learn from experience. Pulling her wand from her robe pocket in preparation for a lumos, she instead found the kitchen already alight and a kettle whistling merrily on the range.
Molly glanced up wearily from her seat at the table. Tiredness was dragging lines into her face and she looked a little unkempt, her graying hair falling loosely from a bun.
"Tonks, dear," she said, not sounding surprised. "Can't you sleep?"
Tonks tightened the belt on her robe and slipped gingerly into an opposite chair, her ribs shrieking their protest all the way down. For one embarrassing moment, she thought she was going to come to a halt with her rear end still several inches from the seat. Steeling herself, she dropped the rest of the way, wincing.
"I s'pose I can't be tired," she lied, eyeing the photograph that Molly was clutching. It was one that Tonks had seen many times over the past few weeks, usually held fast in her friend's grip. The edges were beginning to look a little worn.
"Tea?" Molly offered, after a moment of distracted silence. Without waiting for an answer, she waved her wand and the kettle began to pour water into waiting cups. A few drops spilt as they floated toward the table and settled in front of both women. Such a minor incident would have been a major achievement for Tonks, who had never been one for the household spells, but was a dead giveaway that Molly was troubled.
"May I?" Tonks asked, gesturing at the photograph, and it was handed over with visible reluctance. She looked at it again, smiling slightly as a young toddler beamed back at her. He had a cute rounded face and a double dimple in his chin. She had never seen eyes quite that shade of brown before, but the spiky mass of red hair was familiar enough. "He really is beautiful, Molly."
Molly's lip trembled and she quickly raised her cup to take a gulp of tea. It was so hot that it must have burned her mouth, but she didn't even flinch.
"Isn't he?" she said proudly, as if they hadn't had this particular exchange at least twice in the past couple of days. "He looks just like…he looks just like Percy."
Tonks smiled at her sadly, before returning her gaze to the portrait of little Edward. He was a gorgeous baby, no doubt, but aside from the flaming hair, he really didn't look anything at all like Percy. Not that she would ever say so aloud.
The death of her most unpopular and eternally stubborn son had almost felled Molly and had shaken the Weasley family to its core. His siblings remained furious with him, but when a short terse notification had arrived by Ministry owl, every single member of the family had been unable to speak for at least half an hour. Tonks had been completely and utterly shocked, herself. She had known that it was war and that people were dying every day, but there had seemed something almost indestructible about the Weasley family. They were her port in the storm. While they had remained whole and standing, it had always held the worst of the horrors at bay. Percy's death had shattered the last remaining illusions of the entire family circle. Later, it also seemed like a catalyst, the beginning of a series of setbacks and hurts.
The biggest of which had been the arrival of a tentative and very gracious letter from Penelope Clearwater, accompanied by a photograph of Edward, her child by Percy. The twins, even in their grief, had been unable to hold back a slight smugness that their upright, by-the-rules brother had got his ex-girlfriend pregnant.
Bloody hell, George had snapped. The git had the nerve to lecture me about wearing safety goggles in Potions. Mister Protection got a bit sloppy, didn't he?
Bill and Charlie had been taken aback by the news of the youngest Weasley, but, Tonks suspected, secretly impressed. Men. Ginny, who had abused Percy the most volubly before his abduction, had taken his murder almost as hard as her mother. She had already confessed her delight in her new-found nephew to Tonks.
In a way, she'd said seriously, it's like he's made amends a bit. Something good came out of all that rubbish. And it seemed so final before. We never got a chance to get him back for what he'd done or make it up with him. Now it feels as if he's not quite gone. Do you reckon that's silly?
No. Tonks didn't think it was silly. She figured that Molly, in particular, felt the same way. Arthur hadn't said much about his new grandson. She had seen the mix of emotions in his eyes, though, when they'd realised the extent to which Percy had cut himself off from his family. The baby was over a year old and his father had known of his existence for at least that long. He hadn't spoken a word, not to anyone, apparently. To give him the benefit of the doubt, she assumed that he could have been protecting his son. Anyone associated with well-known 'blood traitors' had been a significant target. She knew that Molly would rather believe that his motives had been altruistic. Otherwise, he really had become the rotten apple in the barrel. She didn't know what Arthur thought about it. Although he smiled when his wife chattered about Edward and made plans for the little boy that she would never be able to carry out, the depth of his anger and hurt was palpable.
Molly had seized onto both the photograph and the hope that it contained with a vise-like grip. It was obvious that Edward's existence was her life preserver at the moment. The woman was, quite understandably, near the end of her tether. She was cooking and baking like a madwoman, distributing hampers to the neighbours and force-feeding the remaining members of her family. Every morning, she watered the flowers on Percy's grave. He had been brought home finally, too late, and was buried near the Burrow orchard. Then she would go straight back to St. Mungo's, always accompanied by Hermione and usually by Harry and Ginny, where she sat at Ron's bedside until visiting hours ended. Ron was getting better everyday, but was taking his time about waking up. He had a very anxious family and a host of bravery medals waiting for him when he did.
Everyone had been walking on egg-shells around Molly, eating what was put in front of them and listening quietly while she talked about Edward. Rarely mentioning Percy by name, she also refused to discuss Ron's injuries and instead referred to her youngest son as if he was taking an extremely long nap. Which, Tonks supposed, he was, really. The reality of Fred's condition was another taboo subject. Anyone listening to his mother would suppose that he had just gone a bit eccentric.
"It would be nice if Penelope lived close by, don't you think?" Molly asked, deftly removing the photograph from Tonks's hand and smiling fondly at it. "The Millers are moving to be nearer their daughter in Hampshire. Perhaps I should give the house agent Penelope's address. It only has two bedrooms, of course, but a wonderful big backyard. Plenty of room for Edward to play. And, of course, he'd be here quite often, wouldn't he?"
"That sounds nice," Tonks agreed awkwardly, applying herself to swirling the tea in her cup.
Penelope had been quite clear in her letter. She was deeply sorry for the loss of Percy, although they hadn't had much contact for over a year. She wanted Edward to know his paternal family and they were welcome to visit with her and her parents at any time. But she had no intention of returning to England in the near future. From the hairline up, Edward was distinctively a Weasley, but he was growing up a Clearwater in Australia, well away from the messy aftermath of the war.
Molly was determinedly oblivious to the firm tone of the communication, but Tonks vaguely remembered Penelope Clearwater as a student at Hogwarts. Not particularly well, as she had been several years younger, but she did remember her. A good student without being particularly brilliant, pretty without being beautiful, kind-hearted without being interfering. And steadfast in her decisions. A nice, responsible girl, in fact, who would raise her child well and do so in the way she thought best.
Unless they emigrated to the other side of the world, which they wouldn't with two sons in hospital and another buried beneath the wildflowers, or made frequent and too-expensive Floo journeys, Molly and Arthur were going to be absentee grandparents. At least to this grandchild. And possibly the next one, if Molly didn't make amends with Bill and Fleur soon.
Tonks cleared her throat. "Have you heard from Bill?" she asked hesitantly. "Are he and Fleur coming to Ginny's party on Saturday?"
As she'd feared, Molly's face closed over and her hand tightened on Edward's image.
"Bill's coming," she said shortly. "He said he couldn't imagine why I had to ask. He adores Ginny. So he's coming. Fleur is still living in their flat in Paris."
"I see," Tonks said, wishing she'd never opened that particular can of worms. "Well, that's nice," she added lamely, wondering if her hair had flushed pink to match her face.
Neither Bill nor Fleur had spoken to his mother, or, as far as she knew, to each other in over four months. Not since Fleur had discovered that someone was spiking her breakfast lemon water with birth control potion. The subsequent blow-up had resulted in Fleur hot-tailing it back to France, Bill retreating to sulk in London and all communications closing with the Burrow.
Tonks had assumed that Fleur would announce a pregnancy even before her wedding the previous summer. She had seemed keen enough on the idea, once remarking snottily that the women who preferred careers to babies were a bit unnatural, did not Tonks 'theenk' so? Molly, one eye always monitoring the family clock and its constant warnings of Mortal Peril, had lectured constantly on the foolishness of wartime pregnancies. She ought to know, she'd insisted, ignoring the high tilt of Fleur's perfect nose in response. Look what could have happened to Harry, if he'd been an ordinary baby. Children were so vulnerable. Much better to wait until after. Fleur had snorted and rolled her eyes a lot as Molly warmed up to her topic. She had reminded Tonks of a flighty thestral, actually, a spiteful thought that had made her feel guilty until Fleur had asked if she bought her clothes on purpose to blend in at Azkaban. In 'preezon', to be precise.
It was very easy to dislike a Veela.
But Fleur, with her designer outfits and firm opinions, had not become pregnant. She had become spotty, instead.
Tonks had tried to hide her amusement when Fleur had discovered the first pimple of her life. Ginny hadn't even bothered, but had openly giggled into her cereal as her sister-in-law let out a bellow worthy of Mrs. Black. A Veela, she had screeched in response to Molly's exasperation, was not a blemished woman. It was unnatural.
It was the result of too much contraceptive potion. Fleur had daily been guzzling three times the recommended dose. It seemed that she had never had any intention of having children during the war or for quite some time. Her lofty arguments had been aimed at nothing more than pissing off her mother-in-law. Fleur, believing that Bill wanted a large family, had secretly been taking precautions. The two of them needed to spend less time cooing and more time communicating, Tonks reckoned, because it turned out that Bill hadn't wanted a red-haired baby, either. He had also taken steps to ensure that they remained a disturbingly close family of two. Each of them was now furious at the nerve of the other and self-righteously ignoring their own deception. And neither of them wanted anything to do with Molly at the moment. Bill's anger had been almost frightening when he'd discovered that his mother had done a little more than try to dissuade Fleur with words. She, too, had been garnishing her daughter-in-law's breakfast.
Remus had pulled a comical grimace when Tonks had wondered aloud if they could expect another showdown at the party on Saturday. The last outbursts had thoroughly embarrassed all of the houseguests, who had found great interest in the contents of their bowls. Although Tonks, who had also been on the receiving end of Molly's awful sex talk, had immediately thought of a genuine reason to examine her cereal.
If Fleur wasn't coming, it would probably be all right. Ginny still wasn't over the moon about her brother's taste in women, anyway, and Bill would probably ignore Molly rather than create a scene. She was considerably more fragile now than she'd been a few months ago, after all, before three of her children had become casualty stats in the war.
Tonks blew on the surface of her tea and slurped at it again. Tracing patterns on the tabletop with her index finger, she tried desperately to think of something to say. She had spent many comforting hours at the same table over the past few years, pretending to be strong and mature and secretly enjoying Molly's mothering. But now that the situation was reversed and the most nurturing woman she knew was in need of solace herself, she couldn't think of a thing to say. Andromeda had never hesitated to confide in her acquaintances that the main reason her daughter was constantly tripping over her feet was that one lived constantly in her mouth. Granted, her mother could be a bit of a bitch, but it was true. She'd always possessed the talent for saying the exact thing that could make an incredibly depressed person feel that much worse. And she wasn't the touchy-feely type with anyone but Remus, so she just didn't know if she could pull off a good hug.
Molly was repeatedly smoothing the photograph in her hands now, her expression soft. Was it even the kind thing to do, really? To force someone out of denial?
The sound of footsteps lifted her chin toward the door and relief swept down to her toes as Arthur padded into the kitchen, reaching up to steady his slipping nightcap with every other step. He smiled at Tonks, his eyes tired but steady. She blew out a slow breath. Thank Merlin. If Harry was the girls' rock, Arthur was his wife's. He'd proved his worth a hundred times over in the final battle and in the days since. And her presence in the kitchen had just become superfluous.
Silently standing up, Tonks carried her cup to the sink by hand, not wanting to risk the potential disaster of a washing up spell. Intending to return to bed, she was somewhat surprised when her feet automatically headed for the outside door. It was a nice enough night, though. A walk might be good, get her feeling sleepy. She couldn't help glancing over her shoulder before she stepped out into the crisp air and was just in time to see Arthur carefully remove the picture from Molly's hand and lay it on the table. Cupping her shoulder, he bent his head against hers and, after a minute in which her back stiffened, Molly slumped forward in a release of tension. Her entire body curved toward her husband. And Tonks quickly closed the door behind her.
The moon was a bare sliver in the sky and she glanced at it only briefly. It was funny how that particular problem, originally the biggest obstacle between she and Remus, had almost ceased to be important as things got worse. With their names near the top of a nationwide hit list, the danger that arrived once a month and could be scheduled on a bloody calendar had seemed a little easier to handle. Freshly cut grass crunched beneath Tonks's feet as she deviated from the spindly little garden path. It was still a novelty, this, to have the freedom to wander in the dark without fear of ambush. She supposed it would only be another few months before she began to take such things for granted again.
Her attention caught by the movements of her right hand, Tonks couldn't help a quick grin. She'd unconsciously drawn her wand and was playing with it, twirling it around her fingers like a quick-draw gunfighter in a Muggle film. Maybe she wasn't quite off her guard, then.
Definitely not off her guard, she discovered thirty seconds later when she almost hexed George Weasley within an inch of his life.
"Wotcher, George," she said faintly, removing the tip of her wand from the hollow of his throat. "Don't mean to be nosy, mind, but what the hell are you doing?"
George blinked at her from his new position on the ground. "Tonks," he said, nodding at her in a debonair fashion, as if they were passing the time of day at Ascot, for Merlin's sake. "How're you, then?"
"Before or after you scared the shite out of me?" she asked crossly, before taking a deep breath.
Nice one, Tonks. Push the bloke over and then yell at him. That's just what he needs right now.
"I didn't know you were staying with your folks at the moment," she said in a calmer tone.
"I'm not. Er, Tonks? Hate to put you out of your way, of course, but do you think you could lower your knee? Unless you still want to deliver a low blow, so to speak."
"What?" Tonks looked down. "Oh. Sorry." She straightened up, pocketing her wand as she did so.
Relaxing back on his heels, apparently not inclined to resume his previous stance against the trunk of the Weasleys' old oak tree, George began to hunt around the longer tussock grass.
"What were we talking about? Oh, the folks. Thought I'd come round tonight, stake out my seat for the party tomorrow and all that."
"Saturday. Ginny's birthday party is on Saturday."
"Is it?" George wasn't listening to her. With an exclamation of triumph, he retrieved and brandished his cigarette. "There you are, my precious. Couldn't leave one of these around, Mum would throw a fit." Fumbling in his pocket for a mini-wand, he had the thing lit and was puffing away before Tonks had time to reply. "Good stuff, you know. Oh, sorry, did you want one?" he asked apologetically, between draws.
Even after hours spent in filthy pubs doing undercover work or just blowing off steam, Tonks couldn't hold back a cough. Well, that was flipping great, wasn't it? No job, no flat, indulging in hopeless self-pity and now gasping away at second-hand smoke. Talk about losing her touch. At this rate, she'd get back on the job and dissolve into tears the first time a perp called her a nasty name.
"No," she wheezed, waving away gusts of thick black smoke. To give herself some credit, she hadn't seen anything like it since Harry had tried to fire up Sirius's old motorcycle. And she'd never smelt anything like it. "Ta, anyway."
"Instant Darkness Powder," George said briefly and inexplicably, and fell back into silence. He blew a smoke ring and Tonks watched as it hovered before him, twisting in shape, the circle breaking before the breeze dispersed the remnants.
"It's already dark, George" she offered. Even before she'd finished saying the words, she felt it had been a rather stupid thing to say, and his raised eyebrow seemed to confirm it. "What do you mean, Instant…"
She broke off as he deliberately flicked his cigarette and ash drifted to the ground. His teeth glinted white in the starlight.
Tonks stared at him, aghast in spite of herself.
"George," she said firmly. "You are not smoking Instant Darkness Powder."
He eyed the gasper in his hand, turning it about his knuckles much as Tonks had done with her wand.
"Not for the uninitiated palate, I suppose, but it packs a powerful punch when you roll it properly. At least, the Peruvian powder seems effective. I'm not having much luck with the Morrocan brand yet. Trialed it on Lee Jordan last week and it just about blew his dreads off."
Tonks closed her eyes.
"I am not hearing this. We're not having this conversation and you're not turning your already borderline legal products into homemade smokes."
"You're not on duty yet, right? And you're not a nark," he said dismissively. "You wouldn't believe the market for this shite, Tonks. I s'pose everyone needs a bit of an escape sometimes." He dropped backward on the grass, leaving the cigarette propped in his mouth, and switched his contemplation to the night sky.
"Stick to the dream potion, George," Tonks said tightly. "And put that damn smoke out before you kill yourself."
And if she sounded like his mother, too bloody bad. What the hell were they going to do with everyone?
"It won't kill me," George said disinterestedly, his eyes lowering to rest on her face without really appearing to see her. "I won't die. Fred didn't die. None of us actually died, you know. Except Perce. And he was a bit of a twat anyway."
"George," Tonks said, her throat aching.
He laughed suddenly, shockingly.
"What's the matter, Tonks? Shouldn't I speak ill of the dead? Because he is dead. Percy's dead, the little tosser." His mouth twisted. "I remember when he went away to school and now he's dead."
Tonks slowly bent her knees and lowered herself to the ground.
"Yeah," she said quietly. She pulled her dressing down tighter and shivered, although it was summer and not especially cold. It suddenly seemed bizarre, surreal, to be sitting in a starlit garden in Remus Lupin's shirt and her Auntie Elizabeth's old robe. Talking to a man who was smoking his own defense product.
"I saw Fred today," George said abruptly, switching his gaze away from her.
"How is he?" Tonks asked evenly, hurting inside. She would give a great deal to be back at Grimmauld Place right now, listening to Mrs. Black's filthy mouth and sharing the brunt of the twins' practical jokes with Remus and Sirius. She swallowed.
"Oh, he's brilliant," said the man who would always seem incomplete to her without his brother. "He's the riot of the Mental Health ward." His jaw worked. "We did…get things, you know."
Tonks thought again of that blue bottle on Hermione's bedside table.
"I know," she said. "I know you do."
"Fred doesn't," George retorted harshly. "Not anymore. He's just…a joke. He's a joke. Everything's funny, everything's a laugh." He viciously stubbed out his cigarette on the roots of the tree. "It's bloody exhausting."
Why did she never know the right thing to say?
"I'm sorry," she said weakly, completely inadequately.
"The smokes…the other things, too, they make money. More money than collapsing cauldrons and Puking Pastilles." George's face was intense now, almost feverish. "And money buys research. I can do something, I know I can. If frigging Voldemort can leech onto people's skulls and bugger about graveyards rejuvenating himself, I can bring Fred back. I can."
He was speaking more to himself than Tonks, which was probably a good thing as she had nothing to say in response that he would want to hear. The wild words were common to people all over the world, she thought. Magicals and Muggles who couldn't accept that while a physical body sometimes remained, the spirit was lost somewhere within. Maybe it was the most frustrating type of loss – devastating and complete without having the total finality of death.
Cheery sort of night, this was.
Tonks touched a light hand to George's arm, which was as close as she was venturing to a hug.
"Maybe," she said. "Maybe you can help him."
And who knew? Maybe he could. She would pit twin ingenuity up there with medical certainty any day.
George unexpectedly jerked to his feet, pulling the lapels of a surprisingly restrained black coat over his chest. She had grown used to seeing the twins wearing increasingly opulent fabrics and garish colours as their business successes mounted. But a miserable twin was a colourless twin. Apparently she had quite a lot in common with them, which was a slightly frightening thought.
"I have to go," he muttered, already drawing back and beginning to move away.
Tonks didn't try to stop him. She wasn't the person he needed to talk to right then, and she knew it.
"See you at the party next week," he added absently.
"Saturday!" she called back, just as he disappeared with an efficient pop. "The party is on Saturday," she finished with a sigh.
When the faint scuffing of shoes on grass reached her ears a couple of minutes later, she had taken George's place and was lying on her back, gazing intently at the sky. She didn't bother to turn her head. She was so damned tired, to be honest, that she couldn't summon enough energy to worry about lone Death Eaters skulking about the garden. She would almost prefer that to another member of the Weasley family. Horrible as she felt about it, she wasn't sure how much more of other people's misery she could take in one night. She was already fairly sure that her hair had faded down to mouse brown again.
A warm body dropped to the ground at her side and she was hit with a familiar masculine scent and rush of affection. Remus, apparently uncaring about grass stains on his loose jumper and trousers, lay back to follow her gaze. Strands of soft grey hair tickled her cheek and she wrinkled her nose to stop a sneeze.
"You're awake," she offered unnecessarily, letting her head rest lightly against his.
"Hmm." Remus shifted against her and she felt his probing stare. "So are you. You left the bed without telling me again."
"Sorry," said Tonks briefly.
A large hand touched her midsection, long fingers spreading and flexing very gently against her ribcage.
"You have to stop doing that." Remus's voice was quiet and not accusing in any way, but deadly serious nonetheless. "Scares the hell out me, still."
She nodded once, tilting her chin so that it scraped against the stubble on his jaw and sent flickers of sensation southward.
"How are the ribs?" he asked, concern still evident in his tone. "Are you sore?"
A stray hex during the battle had shattered both her shield charm and her ribcage. And her pride, since she was fairly sure it had come from the wand of Peter Pettigrew.
"Not too bad," she said dismissively, reaching down to trap his wandering fingers within her own. Frowning, she lifted their joint hands to point at the sky. "I can't see Sirius."
Remus's grip tightened almost imperceptibly.
"It's the brightest star in the sky," he said. "Helping to chase the Seven Sisters. Fitting, don't you think?"
Tonks flopped over inelegantly to meet his gaze. His eyes were dark and deep, but twinkling mischievously. He looked, she realized with a start, happy. Remus was happy. And she didn't understand why, or how she hadn't seen that before.
His smile faded at her solemn regard.
"Tonks," he said almost helplessly, and then couldn't seem to go on from there.
"Remus, what do we do now?" She heard the plaintive note in her voice and winced. Brilliant way to reassure him of her maturity, this.
Remus reached out and twined a length of her hair about his hand and wrist. Any trace of amusement had vanished from his countenance as he looked upon its colour, or lack thereof.
"I hate that you're not happy, Tonks," he murmured. He glanced up at her through his own falling fringe of hair. "And you're not, are you? Not even a little bit joyful that we've come this far."
Tonks sucked in a steadying rush of air. He was hurting, she could see it in his face. For her. Because of her.
She hated herself sometimes. What was wrong with her, really? She had come through the war relatively unscathed and she still had the man she loved. She wasn't mourning her family, she hadn't lost a son or a brother and she wasn't making daily visits to St. Mungo's.
He was right. She ought to be at least a little joyful. Not just numb and…questioning.
"I'm happy…I'm happy that we're here, together," she said after a moment, her words emphatic. She needed him to believe that. "I can't… I'm so relieved about that, Remus. There just aren't the words."
His kiss was soft on her mouth.
"But?" he said a few moments later, leaning back just far enough that he could watch her expressions change. "I know you're sorry for the losses, for how much everyone is hurting right now. I am, as well, more than I can say..."
Of course he was. He was a good man. A kind, decent man who had suffered enough loss in his own life to be nothing less than empathetic to others in need.
"How are you so happy?" she asked abruptly. "You've lost so much. Your mentor, your friends…your best friend. I…"
"Exactly," Remus said, his smile a little wry. "You. You're not making this easy for me, you know. Blokes aren't supposed to pour their hearts out. I'm sure Sirius and James are up there, taking the mickey as we speak."
She frowned, for once impatient with the returning Marauder in him.
"I miss them," he said simply. "Every day, I miss them. But if the past years have taught me anything, if the mistake I made two years ago has taught me anything, it's that I need to appreciate all the good that I have while I have it. I have friends. I have a wonderful surrogate family in the Weasleys. I'm needed in the Order. And I have a stubborn, irritating, messy, impossibly brave witch in my life." He shrugged, his cheeks reddening a little. "You're my good, Nymphadora."
She stared at him.
"That speech was almost perfect until then, you know," she told him, her mind moving at lightning speed, and he laughed aloud, his hands tightening around her.
"You don't like sharing a bed with me." The words came out in a rush, and she flushed. Bugger. Apparently that had been bothering her even more than she'd realized. Well… Too bad if it sounded petty. Tonks had waited a long time to fall in love with someone, had imagined what it might be like several times. The reality was nothing like her stupid teenage dreams – it was both better and worse – but never once had her lover tried to get away from her in his sleep, for Merlin's sake.
"I…what?" His brows shot up, in a way that would have been comical in different circumstances, and he looked at her with a combination of sheer surprise and growing lechery. "I beg your pardon, Tonks, I beg to differ." He cast a quick look around. "And if you'd like me to express myself further on that subject…"
"I'm not talking about that," Tonks said snippily, scooting backward to avoid his obvious intent and seriously regretting her decision to leave the house without knickers on. She had no desire to be caught in the act by another wandering Weasley. Her own mortification aside, it would probably scar one of the kids for life. Besides, they'd avoided enough of the serious issues with sex recently.
She glared at him, gathering her defenses about her and trying to remember if this conversation actually had a point. Right. The future, and all that jazz.
"Once you go to sleep, you pull a retreat maneuver worthy of Wormtail." Lucky shot little rat. "You look like you'd like to be as far away from me as possible. You have to admit, Remus, it's a bit weird, isn't it? This whole situation. Living together properly and…"
"And trying to have a normal life?" Remus finished for her. She nodded. Exactly. "It's an…adjustment," he conceded, keeping a careful eye on her reactions. "And I admit that it doesn't always come naturally, sharing a space with someone else. Particularly someone who actually buys disposable Muggle dinner plates so that she can avoid doing the washing up."
He leveled a severe look at her. That had been a major bone of contention the first time she'd invited him around for takeaways. To a man who'd been forced by circumstance to practice extreme frugality, several of Tonks's lazier habits had been difficult for him to swallow. Although it went both ways. She still had to bite her tongue at least once a day, herself.
"But it's not a hardship, Tonks. I'm enjoying every moment of it. Even the arguments," he admitted, smiling at her. "I'm just so bloody grateful that we have the opportunity to try and make things work. I never thought we would. I didn't think we'd get this lucky. Not everyone did," he said soberly, and her eyes closed for a second in a flash of guilt. "And if I'm moving away from you in the night, which I'm not sure I believe," he went on quickly, touching her cheek in a soothing gesture, "it's probably a natural reflex. You kick, my dear."
"That what's I mean. I didn't think we would get the chance eith…" Tonks broke off, momentarily distracted as he'd meant her to be. "I do not kick!"
A fleeting grin lightened Remus's features again. "You do, actually. But I'm prepared to overlook that," he said magnanimously, and she poked him hard in the chest.
"Git." She bit her lip. "I didn't allow myself to believe that there would be an after," she said slowly. "And now that we have one and we are so much luckier than most people, I feel like we have this responsibility to make the most of it. To be happy. But…it's over. And I don't know what we're supposed to do now."
Remus looked at her curiously.
"Tonks," he said, taking both of her hands in his. "The war is over, love. This war, this fight, is over. But your life wasn't the war, you know. You had the misfortune to be born into a troubled time, but things will move on from here whether we, or Molly, or George, or anyone else wants them to or not." He seemed to struggle for the right words. "This isn't…it isn't the epilogue to some epic war volume. It's not the end of a story." Tonks flinched involuntarily as that touched a chord somewhere. "It's a time for recovery and rebuilding, before we tackle what comes next. Which," he added grimly, "may well involve taking up your very inventive suggestion involving Dolores Umbridge and Hagrid's boarhound, since recent events don't seem to have discouraged the damn woman any."
A scowl crossed Tonks's face at the mention of That Woman, whom she'd rather shamefully almost forgotten about in recent days.
Remus looked a little wry. "Do you know, all this time I've harked on about the age difference between us," he grinned as she rolled her eyes, "Yes, I know that I have, but for the first time I feel like the young half of this equation. A veritable green lad in comparison to that very somber face. I actually am looking forward to what comes next, you know. The responsibilities won't go away and in the practical sense, our situation hasn't changed, but there's the possibility for happiness there, Tonks. I will make you happy."
It was a vow that he would never have felt able to voice even a year ago and Tonks almost missed the moment completely, her brain having seized and locked on one part of his speech.
It isn't the epilogue to some epic war volume. It's not the end of a story.
For Merlin's sake. When had she begun to regard her life as if it were a novel? A particularly melodramatic novel, she was beginning to think. And she had been thinking that way, as if life was a series of linear events with a clear-cut beginning and nowhere to go after the semi-happy ending. Hell-raising school years, check. Issues with mother, dicey boyfriends, bad hair days, kick-ass career, check. Enter love interest in chapter ten. All leading up to huge climactic battle scene and a neat epilogue to tie up the loose ends. And then what?
And then – anything. Remus was right. As usual. Damn it.
She held his gaze.
"I feel guilty," she said. "I feel guilty for being happy when they aren't."
He nodded. "I know." He stroked his thumb over her bottom lip. "And you'll be there for them when they need you. But you can't fix everything, Tonks. You can't tie up all the loose ends." His words unconsciously echoed her thoughts.
"I love you," Tonks told him firmly, and he smiled.
"I know that, too."
His weight pushed her back onto the grass, his hands sliding beneath the pink robe, fumbling with the buttons of the shirt she'd pinched. His breath was warm against her neck, his mouth was at her breasts, and all thoughts of embarrassing herself or other insomniacs were beginning to scatter like the stars over his shoulder.
"Why is it," Tonks mused, lying there passively, "that to a woman the words "I love you" are a declaration of feelings, but to a man they're an invitation to initiate sex?"
Remus lifted his head, his weight resting on his elbows, and surveyed her.
"I love you," he said sincerely.
She smiled up at him. The hair falling in his eyes was more grey than ever, but the lines at his eyes were beginning to speak of laughter rather than of lonely years. Her gaze dropped to his collar, where his pulse jumped skittishly and a small quantity of hair peeked out. She could smell the scent of his soap and it twisted her stomach in a pang of pure lust.
"All right," she said. "Point taken."
And she reached for the hem of his jumper.
She woke much later, to the first rays of the sun and Remus's grunt as she accidentally kicked him. It occurred to her that some habits were going to be hard to break. She was already mentally storing the moment in her personal history book. Which did, of course, have a tendency to read like a novel and since the outcome of outdoor sex in a novel was inevitable discovery the next morning, the thought was enough to have her reaching hurriedly for her robe. Nobody could tie up all the loose ends, she reminded herself. This wasn't an ending. It was just… Her gaze fell on Remus's sleeping face. Just another chapter. Hopefully with both good bits as well as bad. Grieving parents and unjust laws, overly mature teenagers and bereft siblings. Lovers and friends, babies and sex under the stars. She linked her hand through Remus's fingers and watched the dawn settle. Nothing much had changed overnight, really.
But life did go on.