Format and Word Count: Fic, 7770 words
Ratings & Warnings: T (minor language)
Summary: Remus hates looking foolish. But is that what it will take for him to win Tonks?
Author's Notes: Originally written for the LiveJournal MetamorFicMoon Lovers' Moon Fic Jumble around Remus' birthday. My prompts were Twitchy Ears Hex; Bill; Retreat; Action/Adventure.
"All I'm saying is this," Sirius intoned, throwing both palms out dramatically as he sauntered after Remus into the library. "You need to get out, mate. Don't sit around here just because I'm – "
"I know, I know," Remus replied for the fourth time as he stirred his tea, turning to face Sirius and leaning against the desk. His spoon clinked inside the chipped mug and he found himself wishing he could drown Sirius, and his non-stop nagging, in it.
Sirius folded his arms and stared Remus up and down. "I never thought I'd see the day, but you're becoming a wallflower again."
Remus shrugged gloomily. "Walls are nice. Underrated, in fact. They hold things up."
"I'll pretend you did not just say that." Sirius began to stroll the perimeter of the room, running his fingers along the spines of the books and stirring up a tiny trail of dust as he went. "Granted, your wardrobe blends in nicely with the mold here, but a man in the prime of his life ought to be – "
"Define prime," demanded Remus, blowing across his tea to cool it.
"Well – "
"Because the last time you used that argument on me, we were eighteen and in a very scary pub with a couple of older women. Also scary, themselves."
"But didn't we – "
"Divorcees, in fact."
"Right, and wasn't it – "
"With grudges against not only their exes, but apparently against all men in general."
"Except for you," Sirius reminded him. "We could have scored if you hadn't listened so damned well to their bloody sob stories." He sighed and threw up his hands, flopping down onto the settee, releasing another cloud of dust around him. "Fine, I was wrong. You were just a baby then. But I'm right now. And now you're in your sodding prime, all right?"
Remus glowered at Sirius, wondering vaguely when he, Remus, had become so grouchy. "What am I going to do on a day off? Tell me that. I've told you a thousand times, I've got – "
"No money, I know, and you're so much of a wanker that you can't even see if someone wants to go out and, horror of horrors, just spend some time with you."
"Aha!" Remus stabbed a righteous finger into the air, spilling some tea on his jumper in the process. "Crap." He dabbed at it with the only thing handy on the desk: a piece of parchment.
"That's what this is about, then," Remus grumbled.
"It's back to Tonks now, isn't it?"
Sirius' eyes rounded innocently as he rested both arms on the back of the seat. "I never said her name."
"No, didn't have to, with all the beating about the bush, right?"
"One hears what one wants to hear."
"Thank you, Freud." Remus set his tea down on the desk and turned his back on his friend, hoping that perhaps he'd leave if he began to ignore him. He drew his wand and performed a drying charm on his jumper and the parchment.
"Listen, it's completely obvious with you mooning about the place – "
Remus straightened his shoulders indignantly, facing him again. "My mooning is subtle, thank you very much."
Sirius tried to suppress a smile. "To the average passerby, perhaps, but to someone who's spent the better part of your angst-ridden teenage years with you – "
"Oh, joy," muttered Remus. "Please do bring up that which I've tried so hard to repress." There was a tapping against the window. "Thank Merlin, a diversion."
"Oh, lookee. An owl. Probably for me." Sirius opened the window to let the bird in.
"Who'd write you?" remarked Remus crossly. He really was becoming a curmudgeon, and he found it strangely satisfying.
Sirius looked mortally wounded. "Harry, for one." He smirked. "Or any number of sexy Russian pen pals I've got. You know, there's even a mail-order company that you can – "
"Merlin's bones, tell me you're joking."
Sirius ignored him as he untied the note from the owl's leg and sent him on his way with a treat. He then muttered under his breath something that sounded suspiciously like, "Fuddy duddy wallflower."
Remus sighed. "Besides, who says she's mooning over me, anyhow?"
"She who?" mocked Sirius, shutting the window.
"Never mind," Remus sighed. He snatched the message from Sirius' hand and his eyebrows darted upward. "It's for me."
"Who'd write you?"
"Ha ha." Remus read the letter twice, scanned the attached photograph carefully, then folded it and placed it in the pocket of his trousers.
"What's that about?"
"Order business in Hogsmeade." Remus sipped his tea, scalding his tongue and nearly poking himself in the eye with the teaspoon, which was still inside the mug. He stalked into the hallway. "Apparently I'm going out on my day off anyhow."
"Hmm," said Sirius, trailing after him. "Fancy that."
Remus' second cup of tea today was, so far, less eventful than his first. He now lounged in Madam Puddifoot's tea room, pretending to read a book while keeping an eye out for the target specified by Mundungus Fletcher, a witch by the name of Razieh Raphael. Dung was connected to an odd assortment of people, most of whom preferred to do business in the Hog's Head or Knockturn Alley. And yet here Remus sat, in the gaudiest tea shop known to the wizarding world, sipping his Earl Grey and trying, as the only single person in a room full of couples, to be as inconspicuous as possible.
According to Dung, it was Razieh who had reputedly developed a particular zombie for companionship, and she had recently started frequenting the tea shop to try to sell her newfangled abominations to lonely witches and wizards. There was a question that she may have obtained the corpses from Death Eaters. No one had actually verified if the dreadful escorts, in fact, existed; but rumors were running rampant the past few weeks before and after Valentine's Day. Remus smirked as he considered what Tonks would say if she could see him here, ready to purchase a love zombie from an eccentric old witch. She'd never stop laughing, and that would sink any chance he might have had to impress her. No, on second thought, she'd be mortified and disgusted. Remus shuddered and sipped his tea, thankful that she wasn't here now. He buried his nose in his book for a few minutes, glancing at the door every now and then as new patrons strolled in.
Remus started and spilled his tea on his jumper again.
"Oops!" Tonks said, her brow knitting in empathy. She nearly upset her own tea as she pulled the other chair away from the table. "Didn't mean to sneak up."
"Not at all," he blurted, standing and dabbing at the wet spot with a napkin. Damn her Auror stealth; he hadn't even heard the door open. She could be eerily silent when she wanted to be. "'Lo," he smiled.
"Hi," she grinned, blushing.
Remus' heart began its typical Tonks-induced gallop. He drew his wand and performed his second drying charm of the day; but his eyes, for some reason, were transfixed by the delicate inner curve of her wrist as she placed her teacup on the table. Every day it was a new unspoken obsession; today it might as well be her wrists.
"I can't stand this place," Tonks said through her teeth as she smiled and wiggled her fingers in Madam Puddifoot's direction. The owner waved a teaspoon at her and went back to setting a tray for a couple sitting at the counter.
"Neither can I," Remus admitted gratefully.
"Too many sodding lovebirds," grumbled Tonks.
"Indeed," agreed Remus.
"All smoochy smoochy." She rolled her eyes. "Ugh."
"I've thought of starting my own branch of the Lonely Hearts Club, right here, just to defy convention. Care to join?"
"Absolutely," she smiled.
"We'll need a mission statement."
Tonks hummed and eyed Remus' book. "How's this? 'Dates are for those who have nothing to read at home.'"
He couldn't help grinning, even while he deliberately pushed his book aside. "I like it."
"First order of business out of the way," she declared, sipping her tea.
"Well done, co-chairperson." He toasted her with his half-empty teacup.
"Wait a minute." Tonks' brow furrowed. "If I join, we won't be lonely anymore, will we?"
"Erm, no," said Remus thoughtfully. "I guess we'll have to disband the organization immediately."
There was a full minute of silence as the two of them sat there, looking awkwardly around the room, sipping tea, and darting glances at each other. That had been happening more and more often lately. Remus wasn't surprised: he was becoming such a complete oaf around her that he was probably making her uncomfortable. It had been so long since he'd tried – really tried – to impress a woman that he was fairly certain he had no idea how to do it anymore. Tonks must regret having sat down with him now. Except …
"What are you doing here?" he asked abruptly.
"Order stuff," Tonks replied.
Remus lowered his voice. "Not the zombies?"
"Hmm." They gazed at each other for a few heartbeats. Then Tonks laughed. "I guess Dung isn't as smart as he looks."
"How so?" asked Remus.
"If we're supposed to pretend to need a zombie, then oughtn't we be alone?"
Remus paused. "Yeah."
Tonks was silent. "What are we both doing here?"
Remus swallowed. "No idea."
They both took a long sip of tea and stared at the table between them.
"What now?" Tonks asked.
"Well," said Remus reluctantly, "I suppose one of us should …"
"Yeah," Tonks agreed.
"I could – "
"No, you were here first. I'll go."
"No, she'd be more likely to approach a young woman – "
"Actually, no, the male customer would be more likely to purchase one of the – erm, no offense – "
Neither of them moved. Tonks fingered the handle on her teacup and Remus watched in fascination. Her fingers were so slender …
"Actually," Tonks said brightly, jarring him out of his reverie, "this is my day off and I've got nothing better to do. Why don't I keep you company?"
He tried not to let his delight at her suggestion creep into his face. "But if she comes in – "
"I'll pretend to dump you," Tonks offered. "Then you can buy a zombie out of revenge and desperation."
"Diabolical," grinned Remus, very happy that she had come up with a reasonable solution that would allow her to stay. Although, if he were totally honest with himself, he probably would have accepted an unreasonable solution, as well.
They agreed on a trail-and-arrest plan, then chatted amiably about the Order, swapping stories about the most harrowing scrapes they'd escaped. They both had to admit that this particular assignment was one of the most disconcerting they had been given.
"I just can't imagine anyone being so … so desperate and lonely that they'd want to keep company with a – well, a dead thing, rather than be alone." Tonks shuddered convulsively.
Remus grimaced in agreement. Just then the door opened and an elderly woman breezed in. "Our lady has just arrived," Remus whispered. Tonks kept still, resisting the impulse to turn around. Her eyes remained locked on Remus' as he took in the woman's profile while she crossed the room.
Razieh Raphael looked every bit as dead as the zombies she was purportedly grooming for sale. She was far too thin, with skin drawn tightly over her cheekbones and wild, flyaway white hair that floated around her face like smoke as she walked. Her jaw was set tightly as she approached Madam Puddifoot and ordered a strong tea.
"Time to break up," Remus murmured, returning his gaze to Tonks.
A glint of mischief crossed her features just before she pursed her lips severely. "If you'd given us half a chance I wouldn't be breaking up with you now."
Remus played along, leaning in toward her and assuming a look of concern. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, you selfish twit, that you're so thick you can't see that you're the world to me. All you can think about is your own petty little problems." Tonks waved a hand dismissively and slouched back in her chair. That was good; the physical activity would draw Razieh's attention their way. Remus couldn't resist a smirk.
"Believable?" she whispered with a wink. His heart did a backflip.
"You'll pass," he managed to murmur, barely keeping a grin from his lips. "My problems are not petty," he asserted more loudly. "Or little." He clenched his jaw for dramatic effect.
"Really, they are," replied Tonks stridently, her voice piercing the air. "But they're all you've got to hold onto now."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
She glared hard at him, convincingly, and paused. When she went on her voice was steely. "I mean it's easier to wallow than to take a chance on love, isn't it? Risk looking a little stupid in the process, eh?"
Remus was speechless for a moment as her comment – and her gaze – sunk in for real. Did she actually feel that way? But he had to play the hand he was dealt, so he responded to her comment, letting a biting tone enter his voice to escalate the argument. "You sound like some sappy romance novelist. That's not how it works in the real world, love. Trust me, you don't want to take on my 'petty little problems.'"
Perhaps his tone was too harsh, for Tonks looked almost as if she had been struck. She blinked. "Your problems are my problems," she said quietly. "Don't you see? You're not alone."
Now their pretending seemed to blur into reality, and it took a moment for Remus, with a thudding heart, to reply. All he could come up with was, "Hogwash."
Tonks' eyes were glistening as they stared at each other for several heartbeats. Suddenly Remus felt as though this phony argument had truly gone too far.
"Well, I hope you're satisfied, now that you've thrown away a woman who could have made you very, very happy."
For some reason Remus' throat was tightening. "I'm not throwing you away," he said softly.
"No, you're right. You're not," she muttered. "You never let yourself have me in the first place." She stood quickly, making her chair scrape the floor noisily, and stormed out of the shop, again resisting the impulse to look at the skinny witch sitting at the counter. Tonks would be waiting in disguise around the corner to trail them to the next location, if it came to that.
Remus' throat worked as he watched her leave. He felt strangely shaken by their role-playing, and it took a few seconds for him to recover. Finally he approached the counter and paid Madam Puddifoot for their tea. Razieh turned her watery gaze toward him as she stirred her strong brew. Remus nodded a hello to her.
"Love hurts, don't it?" she said pointedly.
Razieh wasn't from around here; in fact, she had only recently come to Europe. By remaining silent and merely saying "hmm" every once in a while, Remus had practically gotten the woman's life's story as they walked to a small house on the outskirts of town. She was from New Orleans and, in her younger days, had been in three unsuccessful relationships; and after the third man had called off yet another of her planned weddings, she had given up on romance entirely, proclaiming, "Third time's the charm." She had discreetly referred to the creatures she was selling only as "companions" and stated she hadn't been able to get rid of any so far. In fact, she even went so far as to call them a nuisance.
As they approached the ramshackle house, the first thing Remus noticed was the smell. His heart began to palpitate and he fingered the wand in his pocket. He was grateful that Tonks was only a short distance away, hidden and in disguise, ready to move in for the arrest when he called her.
"But even though they're kind of overrunning the place, these fellas really are quite intelligent," Razieh insisted as she broke the charms protecting the house. "You want male or female?"
Remus' brow knitted. "Female, of course."
"I always like to ask. You know what happens when you assume," Razieh said with a wink. "Besides, it don't make much difference with these little buggers."
"Really." Remus' stomach roiled as she opened the door and a waft of horrid stench assaulted his nostrils. Razieh stepped inside and Remus followed slowly, darting a glance before he went in at Tonks, who had now assumed her natural appearance again and was silently dashing, wand drawn, toward the side of the house. His eyes had to adjust to the darkness as he entered the quiet and dank little home.
Razieh's house was full of antique furniture, knick-knacks, and frilly lace antimacassars lying limply over stuffed chair backs; and all of it was covered with a good half-inch of dust. The heavy velvet curtains were drawn, and the only sunlight in the place crept in quite by accident through tiny gaps in the rotting fabric. Taking in the decay of what once must have been beauty here, Remus felt rather Dickensian indeed. As he padded silently after the witch across the woven rug, he began to notice movement all around him. Heart lurching, he quickly drew his wand and whispered, "Lumos!"
His eyes widened.
There were probably fifty cats in here.
Razieh approached him with a skinny grey cat in her arms, cooing at it and stroking its flat little head. "Elsie would be a good companion for the gentleman. Wouldn't you, Elsie?"
Remus sneezed, suddenly and violently.
At once there was a blur of movement beside him. "Don't move," Tonks ordered, training her wand on a startled Razieh. Tonks produced her identification and stated matter-of-factly, "Ministry of Magic, Department of Magical Law Enforcement." She wrinkled her nose. "What died in here?"
There was a moment of silence as Razieh found her way to a chair and more or less fell into it, still gripping the yellow-eyed cat. At the same moment, Tonks took in the room and her jaw dropped. Remus sneezed again, four times in a row, managing to withdraw his handkerchief in time for the final explosion.
In the silence following, Tonks muttered, "What's this then?"
"Erm …" said Remus.
They stared at each other helplessly for several seconds. Tonks' eyes narrowed and she muttered, "Dung."
"I can explain," Razieh offered in a small voice. Remus sneezed twice into his handkerchief and wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve.
"This is more the jurisdiction of the Department of Ethical Treatment of Magical and Non-Magical Creatures," sighed Tonks. "There are far too many cats here, and they're clearly not being cared for properly."
"I know, I know," said Razieh. "It's gotten out of hand, I realize that. I was trying to get rid of some of them and make a little money at the same time. Please don't arrest me."
Tonks and Remus kept their wands pointed at Razieh, though it was hardly necessary: the little woman was shaking like a leaf. Tonks spoke softly as she stepped toward the fireplace and reached for a handful of Floo powder in her pocket. "Put the cat down and come this way."
As if for emphasis, Remus sneezed again and Razieh jumped.
"You first, Remus," said Tonks, the merest of smirks twitching on her lips.
With watery eyes, he nodded and stepped into the fireplace.
"I'm going to kill Dung," gritted Remus back at Grimmauld Place.
"Why?" Sirius asked from his slouched position in a chair.
"I looked like a complete and utter idiot," he moaned, pacing the length of the kitchen.
"And that's a bad thing?"
Remus stopped and glared at him. "I couldn't expect you to understand. You of the Seduce-At-All-Costs-Including-Your-Dignity mentality."
"Well, it works."
"My dignity happens to matter to me."
"Oh, come on. You're allergic to cats, so what?"
"It's hard to seem composed when your eyes and nose are running like a faucet."
"And for the first time in your life you forgot to bring one of your collection of a hundred handkerchiefs with you?"
Remus sighed and picked some cat hair off his jumper. "I happened to have my favorite one on hand," he muttered sarcastically. "What's your point?"
"And you neglected to perform an anti-allergy charm as soon as you reached the Ministry?"
"Again I ask you – "
"And you didn't tackle the criminal in a heroic fashion when she tried to make a run for it?"
Remus closed his eyes. "Don't remind me."
"And Tonks didn't trip over her own robes trying to help you? Who looked foolish then?"
Remus pointed a finger at Sirius. "That's different."
"How?" Sirius shrugged.
"Well, she's – she's – " Remus cleared his throat and leaned against the counter. He picked up a mug and began tracing the rim absently. "If I trip it's frightening and pathetic. It's cute when she does it."
"She doesn't think so."
With a furrowed brow Remus regarded Sirius, wondering to which of his last two statements his friend was referring.
"Look," Sirius continued, "you can't be a smooth operator all the time."
Remus laughed, a burst of exhaled air. "I'm not a – "
"Listen to me," said Sirius, sitting forward with his elbows on his knees. "You're older and more experienced than Tonks. It won't kill you to let her see that you're not perfect."
"I'm not perfect."
"Yeah, well, you and I know that. She doesn't. Yet."
Remus glared at Sirius.
"You should go talk to her. Let her know you're human, not Uber Professor."
Remus had to admit it: this new argument was clever. But he wasn't falling for it. "Sirius, she's got better things to do than – "
"Or are you chicken?" A glint appeared in Sirius' eyes, and that could only mean one thing.
Remus rolled his eyes and appealed to the heavens with both hands.
"Chicken," Sirius pronounced. "Brrrrrrrock bock bock bock buKAAA!" He crossed his arms and leaned back on the rear legs of the chair, apparently thoroughly pleased with his assessment of the situation.
"Sirius, I – "
"I don't even think she – "
"Besides, what do you – "
"WILL YOU PLEASE STOP CLUCKING AND TALK TO ME?"
Sirius smirked. "All I'm saying is that she might have the hots for you and you might not even know it because you're so wrapped up in your private little pity party. And she might interpret your pity party as aloofness."
Remus shot him as withering a stare as he could manage. But what if Sirius were right? "I truly doubt she 'has the hots for me,' as you so vividly suggest."
"Well, you'll never know, will you?" Sirius stood and made to exit the kitchen just as Bill Weasley entered and greeted them with a grin. He was early for tonight's Order meeting. Sirius leaned against the door frame with his arms folded across his chest. "Besides, you've apparently got nothing better to do on your day off than argue with me. Might as well bore Bill for a little while. Good luck, mate." Sirius shook his head at Bill as he sauntered out of the kitchen.
"Hello, Bill," Remus smiled. He turned his back on the copper-haired young man and began gathering the supplies for making tea.
"Evening, Remus," Bill replied, plopping down in the chair Sirius had just vacated. "What was that all about?"
"Oh, nothing." Remus rubbed an eyebrow. "Sirius just thinks he knows all about women."
Bill chuckled. "From what I hear, he's rather an expert."
Remus exhaled a little puff of laughter from his nose. "It depends on what sort of expertise one seeks, I suppose. Care for some tea?"
"Please," answered Bill.
Bill flushed. "Fine," he replied.
Remus worked quietly for a few moments, filling the tea kettle and smiling curiously at Bill's silence. He supposed Sirius was upstairs feeding Buckbeak; he could faintly hear the Hippogriff's talons scratching happily across the wooden floor.
"Is the world of banking as exciting as you'd hoped?" prodded Remus.
"Eh," said Bill, waving a hand dismissively.
"That exciting?" chuckled Remus.
"More exciting than I'd bargained for, really," Bill muttered, blushing again and trying to stifle a smile. It was odd to see Bill, normally so gregarious and poised, acting embarrassed and twitchy. Remus turned away to hide a grin and reached into a cabinet for the tin of tea leaves.
"Actually, I was hoping to pick your brain about a girl." He cleared his throat. "About Fleur."
Aha. "Really?" Remus hoped his feigned surprise was convincing.
"Things are … moving along with her, if you catch my meaning. And she's … wonderful. But she's younger than I am."
"Age doesn't matter," said Remus as he shook some leaves out of the tin.
"And better looking."
"Well, the woman should always be prettier than the man. Call me old fashioned."
"And I think her family might have hoped for someone with, ah, more means than I've got."
"You've steady work. That's enough."
"And then there's the little matter of our mothers. Neither of them is really what you'd call thrilled about the match. Yet."
Remus turned to face him. "Does she love you?"
Bill straightened in his chair. "Yes. Yes, she does."
"And you love her, of course."
"Of course," he said firmly.
"Then there's your answer." He went back to making the tea.
"I didn't even ask you a question."
"Didn't have to."
Bill stared at the table for several long moments, tracing designs in the wood with a long index finger. Neither man spoke again until the kettle whistled. As Remus slid Bill's cup towards him and settled in the chair opposite, he reflected that Bill, with his tall form and long hair, could have been Remus ten years ago, although Bill was more muscular. Suddenly Remus felt like a hypocrite. Several concerns he'd dismissed in Bill's list were some of the very things that kept him tongue-tied and twitchy around Tonks. Things that kept him from approaching her as anything but a friend. He sighed. A few seconds later Bill sighed, although certainly his sigh must have been for a very different reason. They made a fine pair, sipping their tea like a couple of old maids; but at present Bill's prospects appeared a great deal more hopeful than Remus'.
Oh, what would it hurt?
"Bill, if you don't mind my asking, how did you finally ask Fleur to go out with you?"
Bill brightened. "Well, I think it helped that she already liked me. No account for taste, but there you go."
Remus felt his eyebrows rise and he sipped his tea.
The young man went on, clearly happy to talk about his good fortune. "But I finally realized that I had to stop looking cool and start making a fool of myself. I had to flirt with her, which is something I've never really had to do. But she expected it. And I had to do, you know, girly things for her. Flowers, candy, erm, poetry."
"It was dreadful stuff, but it worked," Bill winked.
Somehow Remus had a hard time imagining that Tonks would ever want to hear poetry.
"But you know, the funny thing is that now … " Bill paused and chuckled.
"What?" pressed Remus.
"Now I can't imagine not doing those things." He sighed again. "Now I think I enjoy them almost as much as she does."
"Almost," grinned Bill.
After several minutes of small talk, Remus heard someone enter the house and clomp down to the kitchen.
"Hello, Remus," Tonks grinned, breathless from the cold. "Wotcher, Bill." Bill grinned and raised his teacup at her.
She stood in the doorway of the kitchen and shrugged out of her jacket, tossing it onto the back of a chair. Remus poured another mug of tea and brought it to her as she breathed her thanks. Her fingers brushed his as she took the mug, and suddenly he found himself lingering at the doorway instead of making his usual escape back to the stove.
Tonks leaned against the doorjamb and tucked a hand under the arm that held her teacup, looking almost as if she were waiting for him to say something. If she only knew … She took a sip. Five seconds passed. The next pleasantries were spoken at the same time.
"How did you leave things at the – "
"Well, we got the cats out of – "
Remus smiled. Tonks laughed.
"You first," he offered.
Tonks blushed. "No, you."
"It wasn't important."
"Neither was mine."
They stood in silence for a moment. Tonks swallowed.
"I meant to ask you earlier. Your birthday's tomorrow, isn't it?"
"Erm, yes. Yes, it is." He bit a thumbnail and let his eyes rove toward the chairs, thinking escape might actually be a good thing. Bill was watching the exchange curiously.
"How old will you be?" she asked.
"Old enough not to need a birthday party," he replied, trying not to wince.
"Sorry," she breathed. "Nosy."
"It's all right. Birthdays do happen."
But then Dumbledore appeared in the doorway, smiling benignly as they all exchanged greetings. Remus handed Dumbledore a mug of tea and took a seat opposite Tonks.
As he settled in, Remus caught her eye and murmured, "Thirty-five."
"Really?" said Tonks.
"Should I order a casket?" he quipped. The smirk on Bill's face made him drop that line of joking, lest he appear to be what he was – a total hypocrite.
Tonks' eyes twinkled and she opened her mouth to respond, but then Kingsley and Hestia entered, both complaining loudly about a statement Fudge had made in the Daily Prophet, and the moment, whatever it might have been, was lost.
Over the course of two hours they suffered through Alastor Moody's paranoid, tangential ramblings; endured Severus Snape's daggered looks and veiled insults disguised as helpful contributions; breathed through their mouths because of some unidentifiable stench Mundungus Fletcher had wafted in with him; ignored Sirius' escalating drunkenness and his barely concealed anger at his inability to participate in the Order in a more meaningful way; and tolerated the differing opinions and rising voices of the rest of the Order's members, all of whom thought their ideas were the most reasonable ones.
To help Dumbledore keep the meeting on track, Remus spoke quietly, handling his words as carefully and deliberately as a seamstress places stitches in a quilt, or a knife-thrower propels missiles into a target.
Why couldn't he seem to speak as eloquently with Tonks?
Perhaps Sirius was right; perhaps Tonks thought he didn't care for her. The thought made him squirm in his seat.
As the evening drew to a close and the Order members slowly made their way home, Bill caught Remus' eye. "Thanks," he said simply.
Remus nodded as he cleared the glasses of firewhiskey and mugs of tea from the table.
And then Bill glanced at Tonks, who had just put on her jacket and exited the kitchen. "You're right. I don't think age matters at all." He grinned and followed the last people from the kitchen, leaving Remus and Sirius alone.
Remus nursed a glass of firewhiskey with his friend and listened to him harangue about the psychological injuries caused by prolonged powerlessness in the face of a pressing need. Remus, having months ago exhausted all the counter-arguments he could think of, all the reasons why Sirius needed to stay hidden, merely nodded and agreed. It was what Sirius seemed to want, anyhow.
Powerless. Would Remus eventually start to feel that way about letting Tonks slip through his fingers? How many opportunities would have to slide past him before he began drinking nightly with Sirius? He pondered the question as he poured himself another.
Before Remus finished his second glass, Bill Weasley blustered back into the kitchen, bringing the cold air from outside in with him.
"We need some help," he heaved. His red hair was disheveled in the front, making him look a bit like a flaming torch.
"What is it?" asked Remus, pushing his half-finished glass away.
"It's the car. Dad's car," Bill sputtered quickly. Remus knew he meant the flying Ford Anglia. "It's gotten a bit, er, more wild. It's left the Forbidden Forest and it's been speeding through Hogsmeade."
"Oh no," said Remus. He reached for his coat. Sirius stood as well, but Remus shook his head at him. He saw his friend's jaw working but, thankfully, he was silent.
"If we don't catch it soon … at best Dad'll be arrested by the Ministry. It's only a matter of time before someone reports it. Soon the Ministry will overtake it and trace the spellwork to him. It's all the excuse they'd need to give him the boot. And at worst … well, it could hit someone." He looked panicked.
"I'll come with you," said Remus as the two of them headed out the door. The door slammed behind them and the protections took effect once more.
Once in Hogsmeade, Bill quickly cast a locator spell and led Remus to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, where they met Dung, Kingsley, Tonks, and Arthur Weasley. The four had managed to corner the car against a thick copse of trees, but it was backing into the trees repeatedly and would soon crash through if they didn't work fast to capture it. Apparently, no stunning or disabling spell had worked on this piece of charmed machinery. The car's engine revved as it crashed again and again against the trees, leaving traces of turquoise paint on the trunks behind it.
Remus and Bill drew their wands and joined the others in sending out magical ropes. The ropes held the car more or less in a confined space, but it was doubtful they would hold for long.
Kingsley shouted to Arthur, "You're certain there's no immobilizing spell …?"
"No, none," Arthur replied, straining with his wand to keep his rope taut.
"Isn't there a key?" yelled Tonks. "An ignition switch?"
"It won't work," Arthur replied.
"Foolish old piece o' junk here, if y' ask me," muttered Dung as sweat dripped off the end of his nose despite the cold.
Arthur shot him a look.
"There must be some way of disabling the thing," Remus reasoned.
"Well, there is, actually," said Arthur, "but two people would have to get into the car, and I can't say I'd recommend that."
"Into the car?" gaped Dung.
"It was a safety precaution, to keep the flying spell going no matter what. See, it wouldn't do for the car to break down and crash into some Muggle town, now would it?"
Kingsley rolled his eyes.
"We'd have to be quick, but what you do is fairly simple: you punch the cigarette lighter in and roll down the front windows."
Remus stared at Arthur. "All right, we can do – "
"And then each person casts an Engorgement Charm on one ear, as well as a Twitchy Ears Hex on that ear."
"What?" Tonks' mouth hung open.
"Well, I wanted it to be difficult!" Arthur shouted as he struggled with his wand.
"I'd say you succeeded," she agreed.
Bill stumbled as the car growled and pulled against his rope. "Dad let Fred and George come up with the combination of spells." He grunted and pulled harder. "It was right after our parents took us all to Disney World and we rode on that Dumbo ride. You know, the cartoon elephant with big ears?"
"So what are the twitchy ears for?" interrupted Tonks.
"To create a slow descent, if the car is still in the air," replied Arthur, blushing. "One person sits on one side with an ear flapping out that window, and the other person puts an ear out the other window. I know, I know, not the most elegant of spells. But it may slow down and distract the car enough that we can gain control over it. The rest of you keep your ropes tight. If someone will go with me, I'll leap in from this side, and – "
"You'll do no such thing," growled Kingsley. "What if you get hurt? You've got a family who needs you. I'll go."
"You're too big," Tonks argued. "I'll go. Who else is small enough and quick enough?"
Dung's knees were shaking with the strain of keeping his rope secured tightly around the bucking car. "Er, I'm not certain I'd be the best o' choices …"
Bill glanced at Remus, then at Tonks, then back at Remus. "You're thinner than I am. You could do it."
"Of course," Remus agreed quickly.
"Couldn't I just morph my ear?" asked Tonks.
"No! It has to be the spells," insisted Arthur.
Remus and Tonks positioned themselves on either side and prepared to throw unlocking spells on the doors, in case they were locked. The other Order members were about to lose control of their ropes, so Arthur urged them to act quickly.
"On three?" called Remus.
Tonks nodded, her jaw set.
"One … two … three! Alohomora!"
And they both leapt at the doors and hurled themselves inside, their shoulders slamming against each other. At once the Anglia, apparently enraged at having intruders, broke free of the ropes' tenuous hold. Remus slammed the cigarette lighter in and rolled his window down, and he heard Tonks doing the same. She struggled to hang onto the steering wheel so that she wouldn't hit her head on the roof now that the car was galloping at top speed through the forest. Remus clutched the dashboard to keep himself from flying through the windshield.
"Is there a seat belt?" shouted Remus.
"I can't reach it – ow!"
"The spells!" ordered Remus, and he quickly uttered the incantations for both spells, pointing his wand at his left ear. He leaned his head out the window and felt it enlarge to nearly the size of the car door. It began to twitch uncontrollably.
Glancing beside him, Remus saw Tonks pressing with one hand on the roof of the car to keep from hitting her head and casting the spells on her right ear with the wand in her other hand. Soon her ear was outside and flapping, as well. It looked as though the car had two giant wings protruding from its hulking form.
Wings that appeared to be ineffectual.
The car raced through the forest, hitting trees every few feet, bounding and jolting nonstop. Remus pressed his hands against the roof, but the car hit the ground hard and he felt his elbows protest. He saw Tonks gripping the steering wheel, but she couldn't control the car's direction. Branches and limbs scraped their ears painfully, and Remus couldn't help but think that these spells must only have applied to the car while it was in the air. He heard Tonks cry out as a particularly large branch smacked her pinna.
This went on for several minutes as the car dragged their ears against skinny twigs, long branches, and solid tree trunks. Why wasn't the car attempting to fly? Perhaps it knew its passengers could feel the injuries and was hoping they would leap from the car. Or maybe it would spit them out when it reached a clearing.
"Oh, no … " Tonks muttered. Ahead of them loomed two large boulders, and the Anglia was aiming for the middle. "Retreat!" she shouted, trying to tug her huge ear back inside the window. It was as if she were trying to haul in a huge piece of carpeting.
"Reverse the enlargement spell," yelled Remus, "or we'll both lost an ear!"
They quickly uttered the engorgement reversal spells. His ear shrunk and he felt it to assess the damage. He was bleeding but intact. The car squealed and screeched as it squeezed through the two boulders, both sides scraping against the rocks and leaving blue paint behind.
Then it hit a large bump and tossed Remus and Tonks toward the roof and into the back seat.
"Sorry," Remus managed. He'd landed right on top of her.
"S'all right," Tonks gritted, trying to brace herself between the two seats.
Quickly Remus cast a cushioning spell, a bubble of air around their two bodies, which lessened the jostling somewhat and kept them from hitting anything hard inside the car. He wrapped one arm tightly around Tonks' waist and cradled her head into the crook of his neck with the other hand. He felt her right ear twitching against his jaw as they bounced around inside the car. Tonks wrapped her legs around his and encircled his shoulders with both arms. In that way they clung to one another while the car plowed and vaulted through the forest.
It went on for quite some time.
Finally, over the revving and the lunging, Remus managed to speak into Tonks' still-twitching ear. "The cigarette lighter and window rolling thing didn't work."
"No, it didn't," agreed Tonks, her voice muffled by the flesh of Remus' neck. "Nor did the ear thing."
"Hmm," observed Remus.
"Did we do something wrong?"
But perhaps Arthur's instructions had worked after all, because at that precise moment, at the top of a hill, the car skidded to a halt, the magically-powered engine stopped running, and Remus' body landed heavily on hers.
In the sudden quiet, their quick breathing sounded loud and harsh. Crickets chirped innocently outside, and a cold breeze wafted through the open windows. Remus loosened his hold on Tonks and pulled away from her. With widened eyes, they regarded each other for a moment. But then she grinned. Remus smiled, too, and instantly, of one accord, they began laughing, the kind of laughter that causes a body to seize up and forget how to breathe. Remus collapsed onto Tonks again, snickering into her neck. With each of her giggles, he felt the spasms of her diaphragm tickling his, which made him laugh all the more. Hers was such a beautiful laugh, and he found himself oddly aroused just hearing it. She clutched him desperately as she tried to catch her breath, until finally only a high-pitched shriek of laughter could make her breathe again. This set Remus off again, and his body shook against hers with the force of his sniggering, his face nestled against her cheek.
"Tonks?" said Remus through a snicker.
"Could you lend me an ear?"
They howled with laughter again, crying and pointing at each other's ears, which were still spasming and twitching in a ridiculous manner. Remus realized that he must look an utter fool, with his ear having a seizure like that on the side of his head. But now that the dreaded thing had happened – he must look utterly silly, mustn't he? – it didn't seem to bother him as much as he thought it would. And her willingness to look a fool with him only endeared her more to him. Her ear, smaller than his, seemed to be flapping even more frenetically than his own, like a little butterfly trying to take off from the side of her head.
Then several things happened at once. Tonks' fingers were in his hair. They both stopped laughing. And his lips found her mouth and began kissing it fervently.
He heard her gasp of pleasure. His body had somehow nestled in between her legs while they were laughing, and he became acutely aware of their position as he let his lips rove over her neck, her collarbone, the smooth, white skin just behind her twitching ear. He let his laughter tickle the skin there and felt her giggle in response. He took her face in his hands and covered her mouth with kisses, and was rewarded with such a reception as he could only have imagined. She clung to him tightly, pulling his body closer, urging him with her hands to press into her, and he happily obliged. He raked his fingers through her hair, letting one hand find her hipbone and clutch it firmly as she writhed into him. Her mouth seemed to want to devour his, and he gave it to her willingly, gratefully, joyfully.
After several long minutes of kissing, they began to feel chilled; so they climbed into the front seat to see where they were. The rolled up the windows and cast a warming charm around their two bodies. Finally they cast the spells to reverse the Twitching Ear Hexes, and they prodded their ears gingerly, inspecting the little cuts and scrapes.
After they spent a few minutes healing each other's scratches, Remus wrapped an arm around Tonks' shoulders and she snuggled into him. Together they gazed at the stars, little pinpricks of white light in a velvety black sky. And the steam rising from the ground outside told him exactly where they'd landed.
"I know where we are," said Tonks unexpectedly.
Remus looked down into her face and smiled. "You know this place?"
"Yeah, the dragon's burial mound," she replied, snaking an arm around his waist. "I haven't been here in a long time."
"Neither have I," confessed Remus with a wry smile. He was impressed that she knew about it, and wondered how she did. He'd have to ask her.
They relaxed back into the seat and considered the trees, and the stars, and the dragon beneath them that still warmed the earth here, hundreds of years after its death.
"It must be after midnight now."
He looked quizzically at her.
"Happy birthday," she said, giving him a squeeze.
Remus smiled. "How did you know it was my birthday, anyway?"
"I asked Sirius months ago." Then she snickered, enlarged both ears by morphing, and flapped them at him. "And an elephant never forgets."
Remus cast the Twitchy Ears Hex on himself again and Tonks grinned. "I'm sorry I've been so – twitchy – around you for so long." He snickered.
"I seem to have that effect on people," she said, wrapping her humongous ears around him and pulling him close.
His ears, pathetically small compared to hers, nonetheless twitched enthusiastically as he returned her kiss.
A/N: Any reviewer gets to go parking with the werewolf of their choice. Giant ears are optional. ;)