Author's Notes: Once again, thanks goes to my beta-reader Logical Quirk. And thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing. WARNING: this chapter is quite long, so you should make sure you have at least a half-an-hour to read before sitting down. This is the final installment of "Drifting," but I am hoping to have a HBP era sequel ready by sometime in June, so stay tuned! ETA: I've made a few small additions and changes based on some suggestions from MrsTater, so thanks go out to her.
Chapter 3: The Tides of Life
She throws her cloak at the coat-tree, and it lands in a crumpled heap on the floor. She ignores it and turns her attention to angrily kicking off her boots.
Remus quietly slips off his own cloak, retrieves hers from the floor, and carefully hangs them both. She scowls. Right now his fastidiousness does nothing but bother her.
"For what it's worth," he says gently, "I happen think it's a very good thing that you're on friendly terms with Severus again. Sirius is just letting his old grudges impair his judgment."
She glares at him. "It would have been nice if you'd mentioned that earlier, instead of letting Sirius rail on at me like that—insufferable man. I am NOT going to base my choice of friends on whether or not they get along with my cousin, and if he thinks that he can bully me into it he is severely mistaken!"
"I tried to bring it up, but the two of you wouldn't let me get a word in edgeways." A teasing smile dances on his lips, and Tonks can't help but start to relax.
"I did let my temper get the best of me, there, didn't I?" she says.
He nods. "Just a little."
She sighs. "And now I'm going to have to find some way to make it up to him, aren't I?"
"Probably. But I'll see if I can get him to make it up to you first. He was completely in the wrong, and he owes you an apology."
"So you'll try to talk some sense into him?"
"I'll do my best."
"Thanks." She leans against him, and the feeling of his arms around her lifts her spirits immediately.
"Those two are so absurd about each other," she mutters into his jumper. "They act like I have to be on either Sirius's side, or Severus's side. When really they ought to see that I'm on both of their sides. I'm on the Order's side. We need both of them to make the Order work, and both of them need friends to stand by them. Why can't Sirius see that?"
"Old habits die hard. And hating Severus is one of Sirius's oldest habits. Severus isn't much better about letting go of the past. The few times that I've tried to reach out to him, he's done his best to make it clear that he has no interest in anything I have to say to him beyond Order business."
"He does have a talent for snubbing people."
"How did you ever manage to win him over?"
She looks up and shrugs. "I'm not completely sure."
He takes her hand and leads her over to the sofa to sit down. "However you managed it, I'm glad you did. Severus's duties for the Order are of the utmost importance, and it's wrong of others in the Order to shun him the way they do. At the very least, he's done enough to earn our respect, if not our friendship."
Tonks nods. "That's exactly how I feel. Now if only we could find a way to pound it into Sirius's thick skull."
"Like I said, I'll do my best."
"If anyone can change his mind, it's you."
They lapse into a comfortable silence. Tonks can't help but think that this is how every frustrating day should end—happy and safe in Remus's arms.
As has become her habit the past few months, she works a night shift on the night of the full moon. And, as is usually the case, her shift is fairly uneventful; wizard-kind learned generations ago that staying in on the full moon night is the safest course of action. She comes home in the morning exhausted—not from hard work, but from worrying about Remus. She plans on lying in most of the day.
Her slumber doesn't last long. She awakens to the sound of someone calling her name. She tumbles out of bed and stumbles into her living room to see Sirius's head calling her from the floo.
The look on his face terrifies her. "What is it?" she says in alarm. "Is Remus alright?"
"He's at St. Mungo's. Molly took him in."
"Oh, sweet Merlin."
Sirius looks frightened. It's the first time she's seen him frightened. "He was listless and twitchy and irritable all night," he says, "but I couldn't very well ask him what was wrong when he was transformed. The change back was a lot rougher than usual—and then he started coughing up blood."
"Oh, my God! Why didn't you floo me right away?"
"He told me not to. He said he didn't want you to see him like that. That's why I called Molly in, and she took him to St. Mungo's. She said she would send word once they knew what was wrong, but it's been more than two hours and I still haven't heard anything."
"I'll go right away," she says. "I can be there in five minutes."
She doesn't wait for his reply before leaping to her feet and running to pull on yesterday's clothes. She doesn't even check her appearance before Apparating directly to the hospital and dashing inside. She gets directions at the reception desk and rushes to the ward where he is being treated. She bumps headlong into Molly on the way, and nearly knocks her over.
"Where is he? Is he alright?"
Molly gently grasps her shoulder to steady her. "He's going to be alright," she says. "They're fairly certain that something was wrong with his potion, and they're taking steps to heal the damage it's done. He's sleeping now. I was just going back to Headquarters to see if there was any of the potion left for the Healers to examine."
"I'll go," says Tonks.
"Don't you want to stay here with him?"
Tonks hesitates, looking at the door to the ward, and the rows of beds beyond. She shakes her head. "I can't just sit here, waiting. I have to do something."
Molly nods. "I'll wait with him, then."
"Thank you. Thank you so much."
"It's no trouble at all."
Tonks rushes back to Grimmauld Place, and with Sirius's help she finds the vial that his potion came in. There is only a small residue left in the vial, but she hopes it will be enough to tell the healers what they need to know.
When she gets back to the hospital, she forces herself to finally enter the ward and make her way down the long row of beds to where Remus is lying, with Molly sitting in a chair beside him.
He looks pale, and his skin has a sickly greenish tinge to it. He is sleeping deeply, and doesn't react at all as the Healer standing over him casts some routine diagnostic charms.
"How is he?" she asks.
The Healer looks up from his patient. "He's showing good improvement. His pulse and breathing are strong, and our treatment appears to be working well."
Tonks takes a deep breath in relief. She pulls the vial out of her pocket and holds it out. "I found the vial that his Wolfsbane Potion was in. There's a little left in the bottom. Do you think it might help?"
He takes the vial, and nods. "It looks like there's enough here for our in-house Apothecaries to examine. If they can determine the exact nature of the defect in the potion, it could very likely help us speed up the healing process."
"Do it," she says.
The Healer glances down at Remus, and then back up at her. "You should know—we do have a good handle on his problems, and this analysis might only speed up his release by a half-day or so. This sort of work isn't part of the standard treatment, so it does involve a fee…"
"I'll pay it," says Tonks, gritting her teeth in resentment at the man's implication that Remus can't afford the fee.
The Healer nods. "Alright. I'll get this right down to the Apothecary."
Tonks thanks Molly for her help, and tells her that she can go home now. Molly gives Tonks a motherly hug and asks her to send an owl as soon as there's any news.
Once Molly has left, Tonks sits at Remus's bedside, and takes his hand. He feels so limp, and lifeless—nothing like the strong, witty, cheerful man that she is used to.
When the results from the analysis of the Wolfsbane Potion come back, the Healer decides to alter Remus's course of treatment and tells Tonks that the new treatment might have him ready for discharge by the morning, instead of keeping him one more whole day as they had originally predicted. She is glad that she was able to help, to but she suspects that the Healer is exaggerating her role in things to make her feel better.
A little over an hour later, Remus finally wakes up.
"Hello," she says softly, gripping his hand.
"Hello," he whispers back. "You aren't supposed to be here."
She glares at him. "I know. But fortunately, Sirius has better sense then you do."
He is quiet for a moment, and then looks into her eyes. "I'm glad you're here."
Later that evening, the Healer explains to them that the Wolfsbane potion had been brewed very poorly, and the effects of the poisonous aconite had not been sufficiently neutralized.
After the Healer leaves, Tonks asks Remus if he noticed anything wrong with the potion when he first started taking it four days before the full moon.
He sighs, and nods. "I was feeling a little off-colour all week, but I put it down to a head cold. I never thought it might be the potion."
"This is horrible! I thought you told me that your Apothecary was excellent—one of the best in London, you said."
Remus sighs again. "He is. But he also just raised all of his prices. He was charging significantly more than I was willing to pay, so I had to look elsewhere this month."
Her eyes narrow. "Where did you get it?"
"A little place on Knockturn Alley."
"Not Stonehill's Fine Potions?" she asks in dread.
He nods sheepishly.
"Remus! That place is horrible! The Ministry is constantly getting complaints about Stonehill selling tainted potions. I'm surprised the place hasn't been shut down by now. I know you've heard me complaining about it—I know you have!"
He nods again, his eyes downcast. "I have."
"Then why did you go there?"
He looks back up with a steely glint in his eyes. "It was all I could afford."
She takes a deep breath to control her frustration before answering. "Next month, we'll make sure you can afford better. Alright?"
"Alright," he says quietly.
He is nearly recovered in the morning, and she helps take him back to headquarters before leaving for work.
At her lunch break, she makes her way to a part of the Ministry that she has never been to before: Werewolf Support Services. The woman at the counter politely but firmly informs her that they've had complaints about tainted Wolfsbane potion from Stonehill's in the past and that the matter has been placed in the hands of the Potion Quality Control Committee, and there is nothing more that she can do about the matter.
Tonks forces herself to smile and thank the woman, despite her frustration. On the way out the door, she notices a rack full of pamphlets. Tonks did some reading on werewolves more than a year ago, not long after she and Remus became friends, but much of what she read liberally mixed myth and hearsay with fact. These pamphlets, on the other hand, appear to contain the plain facts about the condition laid out for werewolves and their families. She hesitates in front of the rack for a moment, and then takes one of each pamphlet.
She finds a quiet bench in a nearby park to sit and eat her sandwich, and she slowly flips through each of the pamphlets. When she reaches the pamphlet entitled: "The Effects of Werewolfism on Long-Term Health and Vitality," she loses her appetite.
She knows that the monthly transformations put a great deal of stress and strain on Remus's body—his prematurely gray hair is a testament to that. But she had no idea that his transformations would, as the pamphlet so bluntly states, "gradually but surely weaken a werewolf's heart, kidneys, and liver, drastically shortening the duration of his life." The average life-expectancy listed on the final leaf of the pamphlet nearly makes her own heart stop. It takes only a second's calculation to realize that Remus has already lived several years beyond the average of twenty-nine years after receiving the werewolf's bite.
She is in a daze for the rest of the afternoon, her head spinning with this new, unexpected, information. Why hasn't Remus told her? Does he still doubt her feelings? Does he think that this knowledge would make her rethink her commitment to him? For one brief sickening moment she allows doubt to flood her mind, but then she resolutely shakes it off.
She loves Remus, and in her heart she has committed to spending her life with him. All that this new information means is that the things that she has been thinking of as "someday," like marriage and children, will need to happen sooner rather than later. And getting Remus properly prepared potion is more important than ever. Who knows how many years it could add to his life?
When she sees Remus again later that evening, she says nothing. When he's ready—when he finally let's himself believe in this relationship as much as she does—he'll bring it up. And when he does, she can prove to him just how little it means to her, and just how much he means to her.
Later that week she is pleased to avoid what she assumed was the inevitable argument about how to pay for his next supply of potion when Dumbledore tells Remus that Severus has agreed to begin brewing the Wolfsbane potion again. Tonks is a little surprised that Severus seems to have agreed to the arrangement without hesitation, considering how large a workload he is already carrying. She knows that this solution can't be to the liking of either man. So, she begins to formulate a plan.
Five days later she sits in The Three Broomsticks, wearing a long narrow face and graying brown hair. Several shopping bags sitting next to her make her look like any other of the many tourists visiting Hogsmeade today.
She sits at a back table for more than half an hour, scanning the latest Witch Weekly and sipping on a butterbeer. Finally, Severus walks in. He sits at the bar and orders a Firewhiskey. A few minutes pass before he starts to look around the room. She manages to catch his eye, and raises her glass to him in salute. He nods at her almost imperceptibly. He turns back to his drink. A few more minutes pass before he rises and slowly makes his way back to her table to join her.
"Can I buy you a drink?" he says.
She smiles. "Certainly. Have a seat."
He signals a barmaid and orders two beers. Finally, he turns to her and quietly says, "This is the first time I've seen you wearing a different face. It's somewhat disorienting."
"You asked me to be discreet," she replies in a low voice.
"I know. I suppose I simply didn't know what to expect. I can see now why you received top marks in Concealment and Disguise."
Their beers arrive, and they both take a drink before speaking again. "So," he says, "To what do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected rendezvous?"
She takes a deep breath, and pauses for a moment before answering. "I need to ask you a favor."
He looks immediately suspicious. She knew he would—he's always suspicious. "What is it?" he asks.
Now's the time. She can't back down. "I want you to teach me how to brew Wolfsbane potion."
His face instantly tenses, his eyes narrowing with irritation. "My workload is already ridiculous, especially with that toad of an Inquisitor constantly looking over my shoulder. I don't have time to teach an out-of-practice Auror on top of everything else."
She expected this, and is ready to argue her case. "You don't have time not to teach me."
He grips his glass with both hands. "Explain."
"The closer we get to open war, the busier you're going to get. You need to eliminate as many unnecessary tasks from your schedule as possible, and I'm sure you weren't exactly thrilled when Dumbledore added this potion to your list of assignments. The best way to get out of it is to find someone trustworthy to take your place. I'm volunteering."
"You know I'm capable."
"I know you were capable, when you sat your NEWTs. I also know that Aurors do very little potion-brewing after their second year of training. You're hopelessly out of date."
"I can do this, Severus. I know I can. I won't get in your way. Just give me the recipe, and check me after I complete each step. You can do your own work at the same time."
He's quite for a moment. He is considering it. "I won't use up the school's store of ingredients for this."
"I'll bring my own."
He stares at her for another long, quiet minute. "Once a week. That's all I can manage."
"Once a week is perfect. I'll make my schedule work with yours."
He nods. "And I'll need a favor from you, in return."
"There are…" he pauses, considering his words carefully, "…certain parties that are doubtful about where my true loyalties lie. They believe that I am too well trusted by those I am purportedly betraying, and they are trying to undermine our Master's confidence in me."
Until he used the word "Master," she isn't entirely sure which group he is talking about.
"How can I help?" she asks.
"I need a few public shows of mistrust. On my next two or three trips to London you should follow me—just conspicuously enough to be noticed. Eventually we might want to include some sort of public confrontation."
"No problem. I can even follow you as more than one person, if you like."
"No. That would be a little too much. The appearance of a lone voice of dissent against me would be more effective. "
"I understand. I can do it."
"Good. I'll send you a copy of my schedule, an ingredients list, and a recipe. You need to start studying."
"I'll do it."
He stands, raising the tone of his voice slightly. "I have to get back to my duties now. It was very nice meeting you."
"Likewise," she says loudly. "Perhaps we can do this again sometime?"
"Goodnight," she says in her loud tone, and adds, in a quiet voice, "Thank you."
He nods at her once last time, and walks out into the night.
Her first lesson with Severus goes as well as she could expect, but there is one surprise. While she is preparing the ingredients, Severus insists that she wear protective gloves and a Muggle-style surgical mask.
"The effects of Aconite poisoning are amplified in shape-shifters—that is why it is such a key ingredient in taming werewolves. But, although there are no documented reports of the effects of Aconite on Metamorphmagi, I have cause to believe that it would be considerably more harmful to you than to the average potion-brewer. You must exercise extreme caution when handling it. There can be no contact with your skin, and you should avoid inhaling the fumes directly. When it comes time to add the aconite during brewing, you must use a Bubble-Head Charm for at least ten minutes while it is being incorporated into the potion. If I see you being at all lax with these precautions, our lessons will end immediately. Have I made myself clear?" She is surprised by the fierceness of his warnings, and nods.
"Perfectly clear," she says. "I have no intention of putting myself, or anyone else, in danger. I'll take any precautions that are necessary."
"Good," he says, looking slightly relieved. "Now we can proceed."
A few days after the first lesson, all hell breaks loose. Umbridge discovers Harry's secret training group, and uses it to incriminate Dumbledore. Afterward, Dumbledore is forced to flee, and Umbridge is named Headmistress.
With Dumbledore in hiding, his contact with the Order is infrequent, and most of the daily operations are turned over to Remus. His schedule is so full that he begins to spend most of his time—and most of his nights—at Headquarters.
Tonks understands, but after so many months of sharing her bed with him, it's hard to start sleeping by herself again with no one but Mr. Fluffy for company.
The only advantage to Remus's new workload is that it gives her more time to practice the potion without his knowing. She isn't ready to tell him about it quite yet—she has the distinct feeling that he would disapprove.
She works out a cover for her potions lessons with Kingsley's help. He spreads word through the Auror department that her brewing-skills are sadly deficient, and publicly stages a conversation in which he recommends she seek out extra potions training, and recommends Severus.
When she arrives at Hogwarts for her next lesson, Umbridge intercepts her and Severus in the hall.
"Teachers have traditionally been allowed to entertain friends in their rooms after work-hours," says Severus to Umbridge. "Is this another policy you plan on changing, Headmistress?" His voice drips with disdain.
"Not at all," Umbridge replies in her high, sickly sweet voice. "I merely want to be certain that no unsavory influences are brought into the castle. We have to set a high moral example for our students."
Tonks scowls at the words "unsavory," and "moral." She steps forward. "If Aurors count as unsavory in your book, then who counts as savory?"
"I meant no offense, Miss Tonks," wheedles Umbridge. "I was merely trying to ascertain the nature of your…friendship…with Professor Snape."
Tonks scowls even deeper. "I'm a bit shaky on my potions, and need some brushing up. I'm paying him for lessons."
"Oh!" replies Umbridge, with a wicked glint in her eyes. "That's very admirable of you, Miss Tonks, to admit your failings and so readily seek to redress them. If only all public servants were willing to do the same. Go along then."
Tonks is barely able to restrain herself from spewing insults at the woman. She forces a twisted smile onto her face, and follows Severus to his office, knowing full well that Umbridge will be following up with her Ministry contacts to verify Tonks's cover, and glad that she is two steps ahead of the foul woman.
The lessons, and her first mission following Snape through Diagon and Knockturn Alleys, go well. She is confident that with another five or six weeks of practice she will be able to take over the brewing of the Wolfsbane potion.
Near the end of the month she and Remus are able to find their first quiet evening alone together since Dumbledore was forced into hiding. They are both so worn out by their hectic schedules that after dinner they have no energy for anything but to collapse into bed.
"I've missed this," she says, snuggling into his side.
"So have I. It's hard getting to sleep without you."
"I feel the same way."
"You should come to stay at Headquarters with me."
"I don't want to be in the way."
"You're never in the way."
She smiles. The past few weeks of minimal contact with him have been difficult. There are times when he's still so hard to read, and she can't help but wonder if his feelings for her have changed since the incident with the tainted potion. He's been more withdrawn, more reserved, ever since. But tonight helps reassure her that his feelings are the same that they've always been—it's only their schedules that have changed.
"I'd love to move in to Headquarters with you, but what about Mr. Fluffy? I don't want to agitate Sirius's allergies."
"To hell with Sirius. Bring Mr. Fluffy along. I miss you. I want you to be with me."
"Then I'll come."
"Good." He runs his fingers through her hair. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
Practicing her potion is the last thing on her mind as she stalks through the castle halls after Severus. As soon as they close his office door behind them, she spins to glare at him.
"Why the hell have you stopped your Occlumency lessons with Harry?"
His expression is scornful. "So, Potter's tattled to Black, has he?"
"You know how important these lessons are, Severus. How could you just drop them like this?"
He sneers. "Potter has no interest in learning Occlumency. Why should I waste my time with an unwilling student?"
"Because he needs it."
"What he needs is to get off of his Gryffindor high horse for once, and learn to respect authority. He's an insubordinate, arrogant little slug who cares about nothing and no one but himself and his own little cadre of friends, just like his father."
She takes a deep breath. "It was wrong of him to intrude on your privacy like that. He had no right to look at your memories, but…"
Severus interrupts her, his eyes wide. "Did Black tell you what he did? Did he tell you what he saw?" He looks angry, and humiliated.
She shakes her head. "Not everything. I don't know the details, and I don't want to know the details. Harry was wrong—I know he was wrong. But giving up these lessons is just as wrong."
He frowns fiercely. "Ever since the first day he entered this school, he has acted like everything here is his own personal property. He struts around the castle like he thinks he's a king, and systematically violates every rule in his path. He enters forbidden rooms, runs free in the forest, damages school property, violates curfew, steals ingredients from my personal stores, and commits a whole litany of other infractions. The boy has no respect for anything but himself. He needs to learn that he is not the be all and end all of the Wizarding world. His petty desires do not trump respect for authority and common decency."
She's always listened to stories about Harry from the point of view of his friends, and she has laughed and marveled at the boy's exploits along with them. But hearing Severus's point of view makes her realize that there are two sides to every story—and Severus's opinion is just as valid as Ron's, or Ginny's, or Sirius's. But she's reluctant to give up her view of Harry as a sort of superhero. "He's just a kid, Severus. Go easy on him."
His face contorts into an expression of extreme loathing. "Would you be as inclined to 'Go easy on the kid' if it was your private memories he was violating? If it was your humiliating secrets he was so casually prying into?"
She looks at the floor, feeling ashamed of the way she so readily jumped in to support Sirius and Remus in their criticisms of Severus back at Headquarters. He might be snide and self-centered, but he is also human, and has normal human feelings that can be hurt. She feels horribly disloyal for speaking ill of him.
"No, I wouldn't," she says. "But Dumbledore feels that these lessons are of vital importance. Are you sure you want to give up on them like this?"
"Potter doesn't want to close his mind to the Dark Lord. Instead of fearing their connection, he seems to think that it makes him special, and lets it puff him up with even more pride than he had to begin with. I will start teaching him Occlumency again if, and only if, he comes to me, apologizes for the liberties he's taken with me, and asks for my assistance. Until he has sufficient humility to take those steps of his own free will, then he will not learn anything from me, whether he comes to the lessons or not."
She tightens her lips, and looks down at the ground again. For three days Sirius has been ranting about Severus's actions, and Remus has also been stressing the importance of the Occlumency lessons. But now, hearing Severus's side of the story, she is beginning to understand. Harry spied on one of his private, very personal, memories, and has not made any move to apologize. She can't help but wonder if Severus is right—does Harry really consider anything on school grounds fair game for his personal use?
"If he does apologize—if he does ask for your help—do you promise to give it to him?"
Severus is still frowning, but he nods. "Yes. I will."
He stares down at her for another minute before speaking again. "Start working on your potion. I have essays to grade."
They work in near silence for the next forty minutes.
Finally, she says. "I'm sorry for being so angry with you when I first got here. I should have been more willing to hear your side of the story."
He doesn't look up from his essays. "Apology accepted." They both continue their work in silence.
A week and a half later, their staged confrontation comes off without a hitch. She follows Severus on his next trip to Diagon Alley to purchase potions ingredients. A dumpy little woman whom he has pointed out as being a Death Eater toady is lurking in the doorway of a nearby shop when he makes his move to confront Tonks. They hurl accusations at each other for a few minutes in overly loud mock whispers, and Tonks ends the argument by saying, "You may have Dumbledore fooled, but you won't fool me! I'm keeping an eye on you, whether you like it or not!" and turning to stalk off.
Thirty minutes later they rendezvous in a Muggle pub several miles away. He joins her with a smile, and buys them both beers.
"So, did she buy it?" asks Tonks.
"Completely," he replies, taking a gulp of his beer. "She confronted me ten minutes after you left. She put on a high and mighty act, telling me how disappointed our Master would be to learn that I am losing the confidence of the Order. So I told her that he might be equally disappointed to hear that she's been doing Bellatrix's bidding rather than his, by spying on me. The look on her face was priceless." He chuckles and takes another gulp of his beer. She's never seen him look so exhilarated and happy—though she should have guessed that pulling off a scheme like this would be the best kind of fun for a Slytherin.
"So, do you think this will solve your problem?"
He nods. "I'm certain of it. I doubt it will change your dear Aunt's mind about me, but it will convince everyone else. You put on a masterful show."
"Thank you. Now finish your drink—we have a meeting to get to."
They are chatting amiably when they arrive at Headquarters together for the Order meeting. Sirius glares at them venomously, but she is surprised to see that Remus is also eyeing them askance.
After the meeting, Sirius storms out of the room, refusing to talk to her. She does her best to ignore him, and lets Mr. Fluffy out of his cage to hop around the drawing room while she tries to catch up on paperwork from the office and Remus reviews some reports from the Order's contacts abroad.
After a few minutes, she notices that Remus has stopped working, and is watching her. "What? What is it?" she says.
He already looks sheepish, and she thinks she knows what is coming.
"I was…surprised...when you and Severus came in together. I knew you were friendly, but I didn't realize that you were close enough to socialize outside of meetings."
She sighs. Sirius is having a bad influence on him. "Yes. We do occasionally see each other outside of meetings."
"Does that bother you?"
He shakes his head hastily. "No. No—not at all."
She rolls her eyes. "Clearly, it does. You don't care when I go out with Hestia and Emmeline. Why should you care when I go out with Severus? It's no different."
He looks even more sheepish. "But it is."
She raises her eyebrows, and says, "Because Hestia and Emmeline are women, and your friends, while Severus is neither?"
She stands, and walks over to him. "Do you trust me?"
She lowers herself into his lap, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. "Do you love me?"
"You know I do."
"Then you shouldn't worry."
"I know. I'm sorry. I think I'm still upset over Severus cutting off the Occlumency lessons, and I'm taking it out on you. I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted." She leans in to give him a soft kiss.
After the kiss ends, she looks into his eyes, and says, "There's something I need to tell you, but I need you to promise not to get upset."
He smiles. "How can I promise that without knowing what you're going to say?"
She takes a deep breath. "Severus has been teaching me to brew Wolfsbane potion."
He stares at her wide-eyed. "That…was not at all what I expected to hear. When did this start?"
"In March, after he agreed to start brewing your potion. I convinced him that he would be better off in the long run if he could teach me to brew it, so that he could stop worrying about brewing it himself."
Remus seems at a loss for words. She fills in the silence. "If you're serious about us having a future together, then you are going to have to let me be a part of this aspect of your life. You can't shut me out forever, you know."
"It makes far more sense for one of us to learn how to brew it, then for us to have to keep relying on someone else to do it for us. And since I am by far the better potion maker, I decided to take matters into my own hands."
He nods. They are quiet for a minute, and he seems to be collecting his thoughts.
Finally, quietly, he says, "I don't want you to involve yourself in this part of my life, but I don't have a single rational reason why not."
She smiles gently. "And we decided that when we simply can't agree on something…"
"The person with the most rational argument wins," he finishes for her.
"Logic should always trump emotionalism—you said it yourself."
He nods glumly, and sighs. "I know." He is quiet for another moment, and then takes a deep breath. "So…when will you be ready to start brewing my potion?"
Her smile grows broader. "Well, Severus will still have to supervise me, but he thinks that I'm doing well enough to brew it for your next transformation."
He raises his eyebrows. "Already?"
"I'm a fast learner."
"Apparently. So…how are we going to do this?"
She pauses, looking down at her hand on his chest. "I don't expect to watch your transformation—hell, I don't want to watch your transformation. I just want to be there when you drink your potion, to make sure there aren't any unexpected side-effects. And then I would like to be there again in the morning, after you change back."
He nods again. "Okay. I think I can live with that."
She bites her lip and smiles, looking back up at him. "You think so?"
"I do," he says, gently pushing her hair back from her face. He leans forward, and captures her lips in another deep, lingering kiss.
She begins to feel dizzy, and eager, but he pulls back with a serious look on his face.
"Did I do something wrong?" she blurts, without thinking.
"Of course not! Of course not. There's just…something that I need to tell you. And I ought to tell you now, before you distract me too much." He is smiling again, so she thinks it can't be anything too serious.
"So, what is it?" She waits, holding her breath. Is he finally going to talk to her about his life-expectancy? Does he finally feel secure enough in their relationship to share this with her?
Instead, he says, "Dumbledore was here this morning."
She lets out her breath. "He was? Why didn't you tell everyone?"
"Because not everyone needed to know. He came to give me a new assignment."
His tone is light, but something uncomfortable stirs in the pit of her stomach. "What kind of assignment?"
Now he looks down. "There've been some troubling rumors. They're saying that Fenrir Greyback has thrown his support behind Voldemort."
She takes in a sharp breath, and her hand on his chest reflexively curls into a claw.
"So you've heard of him," says Remus.
"Of course I've heard of him." Greyback has been near the top of the Aurors' Most Wanted Criminals list for more than a decade.
"Then you know how dangerous he could be as a tool for Voldemort. Toward the end of the first war, Greyback and some other werewolves began working for him. I spent the last few months of the war underground, living among the other werewolves, trying to get close to Greyback's gang. I still have a few old contacts from those days, and Dumbledore wants me to talk to them. I need to see if they have any information that we can use."
He's never talked about his duties during the first war. Sirius once mentioned that Remus was gone on an extended mission for several months before the end—and that he had been so out of contact and remote from them that they began to mistrust him. But Sirius had been drunk, and getting drunker, so no more detailed information had been forthcoming. She'd never known that he knew any other werewolves, let alone that he had once lived among them. What must it have been like for him?
He's tense. Waiting for her reply.
"How long will you be gone?" she asks.
"No more than a week. I'll be back in time to start the new course of potion before my transformation."
His confidence sounds forced.
"Are you sure? Is that the end of it?"
"For now," he says, confirming her worst fears.
"Will you have to go back, like in the last war?"
He shakes his head. "I hope not. I hope we can get all the information that we need through my contacts."
"And if we don't? Will Dumbledore ask you to go back underground?" Her curled hand grips at his chest, clinging to him.
"He might. And if he does, I'll go. I'll do whatever I have to do to bring this war to a swift close. If this is the best way for me to serve, then I'll do it."
He must see the shock and fear in her eyes, because he pulls her tight into his arms, cradling her head against his chest, kissing her forehead and threading his fingers through her hair. "Don't worry," he whispers. "I probably won't have to go, so it's not worth your trouble getting worked up over it. Okay?"
"Okay," she whispers back, clinging to him all the tighter.
Tonks and Snape follow their usual pattern tonight. He grades student essays while she works on the potion. All of the steps of the complicated potion are going well. Ten minutes after adding the aconite, she removes the Bubble-Head charm, and breathes deep in relief.
"I hate that," that says.
"Is it really necessary to say so every single time you come here?"
She smiles at him. "I thought it was part of the recipe."
He lets out a short snort of laughter, and shakes his head, without raising his eyes from the pile of essays in front of him. She turns her attention back to the few remaining ingredients.
"Yes?" he replies, still not looking up.
"I've been wondering something for quite a while now. All those months ago, at our first Order meeting together, why you decide to start hanging around with me?"
"Hanging around? I'll have you know that I do not hang around with anyone."
She rolls her eyes. "Fine. Why did you decide to start conversing with me, instead of the others?"
He scratches notes onto the essay in front of him with green ink. "I should have thought the reason was obvious."
"It's not," she says, chopping her dandelion roots finer.
"Have you ever taken a good look around the room at an Order meeting? Gryffindors, the lot of them."
"So you decided to talk to the lonely little Hufflepuff?"
"I was in a talkative mood, and you were preferable to the alternatives."
"Oh." The pace of her chopping falters. "So I was just the lesser of two evils?"
He finally looks up, and raises an eyebrow at her. "You sound disappointed."
She shrugs. "I just thought, maybe you'd approached me because we were both outsiders, and you wanted to help me feel welcome."
"You should know better by now than to ascribe altruistic motives to any of my actions."
Now she raises her eyebrows. "Should I?"
"Yes. I believe that there is no such thing as pure altruism. Behind every act of apparent altruism there will always be some deeper, more selfish, motive."
"You're so cynical."
"I'm not a cynic. I'm a realist."
She shakes her head and turns to add the roots to her cauldron. "I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this point."
He picks up his quill, to return to his grading, and then pauses, and looks back up at her. "For what it's worth, you're the closest that I've found to a true altruist in many, many years."
"Coming from you, I'm not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult."
"Take it as a compliment, if it pleases you."
"Thank you, I will."
After a short pause, she asks, "So what was your deeper, more selfish motive for talking to me?"
He glances up at her with a smirk on his face. "I think I'll let you guess at that on your own."
She rolls her eyes. "You're an impossible man."
He only smiles, and turns back to his work.
Twenty minutes later, she presents him with a steaming goblet of completed Wolfsbane potion. He examines it, stirs it, smells it, and swirls it before finally pronouncing it a job well done. "I'll want to supervise your brewing for at least two more months, but after that you should be more than ready to brew it on your own. Excellent work, for someone so out of practice."
"Thank you, Severus. That's high praise."
"And well deserved. This should be more then adequate for Lupin's needs."
"Thank you," she says again. "Really—thank you. I know this was probably more trouble to you then it was worth, and it means a lot to me that you took the time."
He looks at her for a long moment before answering. "Perhaps I'm not such a bad friend after all."
"No. In fact, I'd say you're quite a good one. You just like to hide it under that snide and gloomy exterior of yours."
He chuckles. "Snide and gloomy?"
"Well, that's how you seemed to me at first. Now I know you're not really gloomy, but snide would still be an apt description."
He smiles and shakes his head. "Let's get this potion bottled up for you." They turn, and get back to work.
A few nights later, she sits with Remus after their dinner and watches as he chokes down his final dose of the potion. He hasn't talked much about the week he spent tracking down his old werewolf contacts, and she hasn't pried. He seems to have an increased air of tension around him, and when he thinks she isn't looking he gets a faraway, anxious expression on his face. She wants to believe that everything will work out, and everything is fine like he tells her, but her instincts tell her to worry.
His smile is half-grimace after he finishes the potion, and she slyly produces a box of chocolates from her bag.
"You're an angel," he says, taking the box, and quickly popping a chocolate into his mouth to mask the aftertaste of the potion. After he swallows and washes it down with some water, he says, "Perhaps you can start brainstorming how to make the potion itself more palatable."
"I'd love to, but Severus has only just barely approved my brewing under his supervision. I wouldn't dare start to tinker with ingredients for the sake of flavor quite yet—I could end up turning you into a toad."
"So you're not fond of toads?"
"They're not horrible, but I certainly wouldn't want to sleep with one."
They snuggle and chat on the sofa for the next hour, and it is almost like old times again, except he keeps glancing at the clock. And before long, she starts glancing at the clock, too. Finally, he says, "I think it's time for me to head upstairs."
She nods, kisses him goodnight, and watches as he walks up the long staircase. She paces the drawing room for twenty minutes before tracking down Sirius in the library, where he's been hiding from them to give them their privacy.
They haven't been on the best of terms since that night she came into the meeting with Severus, but she thinks that Sirius has at least begun to forgive her for choosing to be friends with both of them.
"Do you think it's over yet?" she asks him.
He glances at the clock. "I'd give it another ten minutes, just to be safe."
She nods, and sits down across from him, nervously bouncing her leg. "When you think it's safe, will you go up and check on him for me? I don't think I can leave without knowing that he's alright."
"He'll be fine," says Sirius reassuringly. "If there's one thing Snivellus is good for, it's potions. He never would have let you feed something sub-standard to Remus."
"So, is that an admission that you're starting to trust him?"
"No. But if one of his most prized pupils accidentally poisoned her boyfriend under his supervision, it might sully his precious reputation. It's his pride that I trust—not him."
She smiles slightly, and shakes her head. "Some things never change, do they?"
"No, they don't."
Ten minutes later, Sirius heads upstairs to check that the transformation has gone on without complication.
She resumes her pacing at the foot of the stairs while she waits for him, and stares at him eagerly when she sees him bounding down the stairs, still in his dog-form. When he reaches the bottom he morphs back into his normal self, and smiles at her. "Everything went perfectly. It seems we have a new expert potions-maker in the house."
She grins, and catches him in a big hug. "Thank you so much, Sirius. I've been on pins and needles all evening. This is wonderful!"
He returns her hug, patting her on the back. "Yes. Yes it is," he replies.
She is startled to her a light clicking sound on the stairs above them, and she steps back from Sirius to look up to the first landing.
A large gray wolf stands there, looking down at them. An instinctive chill of fear surges through her, and her whole body tenses up before she can remind herself that it is Remus—she is safe.
The wolf slowly nods its head at her twice, and cautiously wags its tail before turning to gracefully make its way back up the stairs.
She slowly lets out the breath that she was holding, and turns back to look at Sirius, who is still staring in shock at the landing where the wolf was standing seconds earlier. "Wow," he says. "I didn't expect that. He must really love you, to let you see him like that."
She smiles, and lightly bites her lower lip. She is at a complete loss for words. "Wow," she finally says, echoing her cousin.
The next morning, she returns not long after dawn. Sirius is waiting for her in the kitchen.
"Everything went just fine," he says from the stove, where he is frying some eggs. "I got him tucked into bed already. He usually likes to lie in most of the day after a transformation."
"Should I go see him?"
"Absolutely. I've got some tea and toast ready for you to take up to him." He points to a tray sitting on the sideboard. "He won't have an appetite for much else until dinner time."
"No problem. Do you want some eggs?"
"No, thanks. I'll just share Remus's toast."
She levitates the tray up the stairs with her, and knocks softly on Remus's room before entering. He is lying in bed, and looks up at her with a weary smile.
"Good morning," she says. "I have tea and toast for you."
"Good morning," he replies. "Thank you." He blinks his eyes sleepily. He looks pale and slightly haggard, but otherwise appears to be in good health.
She sets the tray down on his nightstand, and pours him his cup of tea. She helps him sit up, and stuffs pillows behind him to prop him comfortably while he drinks. He takes a few sips of his tea, and a half-hearted nibble of his toast. He sets them back down on the tray with a sigh, and looks back up at her.
"You shouldn't have to do this every month," he says quietly.
"It's no bother, really," she replies. "I rather like being able to pamper you once in while."
He looks down, and shakes his head. "You deserve better than this."
"So do you." She gives him a serious look.
"But I don't have a choice in the matter. You do."
She sits next to him on the bed, and lays a hand on his chest. "I've made my choice. I choose to love you. And if this is part of what comes along with loving you, then I'm more than willing to take it on."
He lays his own hand over hers. "If this is really going to last…If we're really going to try to build a life together, then there's something you need to know."
She studies his face intently. "What is it?"
He takes a deep breath, and looks down at their hands. "We won't have very much time. Not nearly as much time as you deserve."
It's finally come. He's finally ready to share this last secret with her. "I know," she says.
"You know? You mean…you know about…"
"Werewolf life expectancies," she finishes for him. "Yes, I know. After you bought that tainted potion I stopped by Werewolf Support Services, to see if there was any legal recourse we could take. And naturally there wasn't. But they did have several pamphlets that caught my eye."
He nods, knowingly. "Ah, yes. The pamphlets."
"I'm sure you've read them all."
"Dozens of times. And now you've read them all."
"Dozens of times," she echoes, with a smile.
He looks down at their hands again, squeezing hers tightly. "So you know that the average life-span for a werewolf is only twenty-nine years beyond the year that they receive their bite."
"And I've now lived three years longer than that average."
"I know," she says. "And I also know that the longest recorded life-span for a werewolf without the aide of Wolfsbane Potion was forty-seven years after his bite. And the potion hasn't been in wide-spread use for long enough to gauge what effect it might have on increasing that expected life-span. We could have two, maybe even three, decades together to look forward to."
"But what if we don't? And even two decades doesn't seem like enough. You'd just be in your forties!"
She shakes her head. "I don't care, Remus. I don't care. I'll take whatever time I can get, and be happy with it. I love you. That's all that matters."
He circles his arms around her and pulls her into a tight embrace. "I love you so much," he whispers.
Five days later, she lies in a bed in St. Mungo's hospital, staring at the ceiling, knowing that Sirius is dead and the whole world has changed. Remus is clinging to her hand like it is the only thing keeping him from drowning. He is not quite so pale now as he was when she first woke up, when he told her in a shaking voice that Sirius was gone. He held her while she cried, and it wasn't until she was beginning to calm down that a few tears leaked out of his own eyes and he said, "For a few minutes, I thought I'd lost both of you. I don't know what I would have done if I'd lost both of you." A few hours later Dumbledore comes to wish her well, and offer his condolences. And then he takes Remus away.
She refuses to take the sleeping draught recommended by her Healer, and she lies awake most of the night. In the morning her parents collect her and take her to their home for another day of recuperation. She wishes it were Remus, instead, but he's been sent back to get more information from his werewolf contacts. Dumbledore has given him no time to grieve.
He's given none of them time—except for her. And time is the last thing she wants. She wants to be working. She wants to be fighting. But instead, she's cut off from the Order, forced into isolation with nothing but her thoughts. She reviews the fight in her mind over and over again. She wonders what she could have done differently. What counter-curse could she have cast—what hex could she have thrown—that would have stopped Bellatrix? That could have saved Sirius?
At last, Remus sends her word that he is back from his assignment, and she rushes to their flat to meet him. They do not talk much that night.
The next afternoon they go with Arthur, Molly, Mad-Eye, and the twins to greet Harry at the train station and give his rotten guardians a piece of their minds. Their presence seems to cheer Harry, and this gives Tonks a degree of comfort. But she knows in her heart that nothing they can do right now will fully ease his pain.
That evening, miraculously, both Tonks and Remus have no obligations. Neither of them feels like staying in, so they go on a long walk in a park, and sit on a hill to watch the sunset.
For the first time since the hospital, Remus talks about Sirius. He starts with the good memories, but it doesn't take long to move on to the regrets. She tries to reassure and support him, and gradually the self-accusations subside, but his guilt and frustration are palpable.
"Please, Remus," she says finally, gently rubbing his back, "let's stop doing this—at least for tonight. You feel guilty—I feel guilty. We all feel guilty. Talking about it endlessly won't make us feel any less guilty. This might be our last quiet night alone together for a long time. Please—let's just let it go for tonight, and try to enjoy this time as much as we can. Please? For my sake?"
He nods. "I'm sorry."
He wraps an arm around her, and she lies her head on his shoulder. As they sit quietly holding each other, her mind flits back to the conversation she had with Cleo Lupin months ago, about drifting. She had been certain at the time that—like Mrs. Lupin thought—she was the anchor giving Remus the stability that he needed. But now, after listening to him, she wonders if perhaps she wasn't the anchor after all. Perhaps it was Sirius all along. And she wonders if now that he is gone, will Remus start to drift away from her?
She closes her eyes tightly, trying to block out the thought. Some things just aren't worth thinking.
As they fear, two days later Dumbledore calls Remus away again. Before he leaves he asks Tonks to check in on his mother. "I told her about the war, and about re-joining the Order. She's not taking it well. I think she could really use the company, if you can spare the time."
"Of course I can!" she replies. "I'll make sure to stop by, as soon as I can."
Remus thanks her, and gives her a long farewell kiss before Apparating away. She stands for a few minutes, staring at the place where he was just standing. Lately, every time they say goodbye it has an increasing air of finality to it—like one of these days, he won't come back at all. She closes her eyes and takes a few deep breathes to clear her head. She can't think of these things. She won't think of these things.
She manages to find a break in her hectic schedule the very next day, and she Apparates to Mrs. Lupin's front step. When she opens the door, the older woman eagerly embraces Tonks and invites her in. The whole house is faintly hazy from cigarette smoke, and Mrs. Lupin seems to go through half a pack in the short hour that they visit.
She shakes her head at Tonks's reassurances, and brings her cigarette to her mouth with a trembling hand. Finally, she breaks in to Tonks's speech about having the enemy on the run, and keeping them on the defensive.
"Is Albus sending him back to those creatures?"
"What?" Tonks blinks in surprise.
"The other werewolves. That's where Albus sent him last time, and it was almost the end of him. He came back feeling less than human. He came back feeling like a pariah—an animal. And after that night when he lost all his friends…He went into his room and wouldn't come out again. I managed to get him to start eating on the third day, but it took a whole week to get him back out of the room. And it took more than a month to get him out of the house. He's never been completely the same. Never. Albus can't do that to him again."
A chill runs down Tonks's spine, but she takes a deep breath and answers. "We won't let that happen. We won't let that happen to him again. I promise." She reaches out to take Mrs. Lupin's hand.
They sit in silence for several minutes, holding hands. Mrs. Lupin's eyes are sparkling with moisture, but tears never escape.
Finally, she sniffs, and says, "What happened to your hair?"
Tonks reflexively raises her free hand to her limp brown locks. "Oh, this? I just…I was injured, a week ago. I can still change it, but it takes more concentration then it used to, to maintain a look. The Healers tell me it's just an after-effect of the trauma, and I should be back to normal in another week or two."
Mrs. Lupin nods slowly, looking away. "He's dragged you into this fight, too? Hasn't he? Just like he did with James, and Lily, and Peter and Sirius."
"He didn't drag me into anything. This fight is my job. It's what I signed up for."
Mrs. Lupin looks her right in the eye. "No one signs up for this. Not really."
Tonks doesn't know how to respond.
Mrs. Lupin looks away, and takes another drag on her cigarette. "God help you. God help us all."
Tonks says nothing. She merely sits, and watches the smoke drift away.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading and reviewing! I really appreciate everyone who keeps coming back for my stories time and time again. You guys are wonderful.