They emerged, stumbling, on the cobbled pavement on the edge of Hogsmeade, and Tonks' eyes darted up and down the street, assessing whether they'd been seen, or followed. Remus met her eye in question, and she shook her head. His knees nearly buckled with relief, and he took a large gulp of night air, coughing as he did, and allowed himself a moment to double over, leaning on his thighs.
He seemed to be able to feel the world spinning beneath his feet, and though he had no desire to say it out loud, that had been a lot closer than he was comfortable with.
Tonks drew a breath in through her teeth, and as he looked up she ran a hand through her hair. "That was close," she said, and grinned.
"You shouldn't have followed me," he said, shaking his head in disbelief that she would put her life on the line for him.
"I did all right, didn't I?"
"That's not the point," he said, fixing her with a far steelier gaze than he felt he had the energy to muster, "and you know it."
He collapsed against the dry stone wall behind him, trying to catch his breath and slow his heart, waiting for the adrenalin to subside. He raised a hand to run it over his face, and noticed blood on it, dry and missing in patches where he'd rubbed it off. He supposed it was from one of the two cuts Severus had deftly delivered, and now the adrenalin was wearing off he could certainly feel them. The muscles in his legs ached from working against the bracken, the cut across his chest throbbed and he could feel the early prickling of a bruise on his jaw.
But none of his physical pains could hold a candle to the discomfort Tonks' gaze was causing him. "So what is the point, then?" she said tersely.
"It was a dangerous situation – too dangerous – "
"Too dangerous?" she said, eyes flashing. "You didn't seem to think it was too dangerous for you."
Remus took a deep breath, and the stones in the wall behind him dug into his back. "That's different," he said quietly.
He didn't even really know why they were arguing about this – it was obvious, wasn't it, what he meant? He didn't want her putting herself in danger for the likes of him – or at least not any more than she already had getting involved with the Order in the first place.
But the look on Tonks' face – hurt, mingled with fury – said that she couldn't have agreed less if she'd tried. "What, it was too dangerous for me, but not for you?" she said, voice pinched and angry.
Remus sighed, opening his mouth to speak, even though he didn't really have anything to say.
A moment passed, taking an ice age, as they always did when she was angry with him. The year they'd spent apart had felt like at least two decades, and he still wasn't sure he'd ever recover or feel like he hadn't aged twenty years.
Tonks turned away from him for a moment, wrapping her arms across her stomach. He heard her sigh, watched a little blue cloud form from her lips and float away, and closed his eyes in a wince. He could at least be grateful – grateful for her efforts, grateful that they'd survived when they may well not have. Whether he liked it or not, she had risked her life to help him, and he could at least be gracious about it, try to explain, perhaps, why he didn't want her doing that.
He pushed himself off the wall and stood, taking a step towards her and putting his hand lightly on her arm. At the squeeze of his fingers, she turned.
"If it had been me," she said, not letting him get out his half-formed half apology and explanation. "If I'd just Apparated myself into a situation where I'd be outnumbered – "
"Tonks – "
"Outnumbered – five to one," she said, overriding him entirely, her eyes unflinching – sympathetic to what he was saying, but defiant of it all the same. "What would you have done? Left me to my own devices, or come after me?"
"Come after you, of course – "
"Well, because I love you – "
"Exactly, Remus," she said. "Because you love me."
He sighed. He knew exactly where she was going with this. "It's different," he said.
"No it isn't," she said. "I'd die for you – "
He baulked at the thought. "Don't say that."
"Why not?" she said. "It's the truth. I would die to protect you. I'd do anything."
"I wouldn't want you to," he said.
"Well don't worry," she said, letting out a huff of amusement, "it's not exactly on my list on things I want to do before I'm thirty."
"I mean it."
Her gaze turned serious again, but she smiled all the same. "And so do I," she said. "You'd do it for me, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," he said, "of course I would, but – "
"But what, Remus?" she said, voice just tinged with exasperation. "Your life's intrinsically worth less than mine?"
He blinked at her for a moment, uncomprehendingly. "Well, yes," he said.
"Not to me," she said.
She stepped closer, ran her fingers through the hair at his temple. "When are you going to realise that how you feel about me," she said, eyes roving his face, her expression kind, "how strong it is, how you think you'd do anything, absolutely anything to keep me safe – is exactly how I feel about you? When are you going to realise that whether you think you deserve it or not, I love you just as much as you love me?"
"But – "
"No buts, Remus," she said. "My heart beats for you, and I know yours beats for me, so don't you dare tell me that your life's worth less than mine. Because it isn't. Not to me."
He swallowed. He wasn't certain what he should say, if there was anything he could say – and theorising that this was very much a situation where deeds rather than words were required, he drew her closer and covered her lips with his.
She gasped a little, and so did he, as the intensity of it took them both a little by surprise, and he couldn't resist winding his fingers into her hair and puling her closer, dallying a little longer to deepen the kiss, and pouring everything he had, everything he felt – love, gratitude, relief, everything, into it.
When he pulled away her eyes were sparkling, her lips parted in a coy smile, and he scuffed her cheek with his thumb. "I just couldn't bear to lose you," he said. "Not after everything."
"And I've no intention of being lost," she said. "But I couldn't bear to lose you, either – don't you know it's one's solemn duty to Apparate into a battle when one's loved one is in danger?"
He let out a small chuckle, amazed, as ever, that a woman like Tonks – so full of wonderful promise, and inventive intellect, and kindness, and bravery he couldn't help but admire – would ever want anything to do with him.
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, not caring that it did nothing for the wound on his chest to have her pressed against him, and as her arms fastened around his waist, he wondered how he'd ever thought he could live without this.
He'd have gladly stayed like that forever, her in his arms under the stars, but he knew they couldn't.
The world would continue to spin out of control unless they did something to stop it, and when they had moments of calm, of still, together, he wanted them to be forever, not fleeting.
He reluctantly let her go, and she smiled up at him.
"I suppose we should get back to work," she said, rather reluctantly, but resigned to it all the same. "Where'd you send Harry?"
"Somewhere safe," Remus said. "Although I shouldn't dawdle…."
He stepped back a little, thinking that he'd very much like to dawdle with her in his arms, but that possibly the kind of thing he had in mind wasn't best suited to a dry stone wall in Hogsmeade. She smiled at him faintly. "I've got to ask," she said. "What about Snape? Why'd you let him go?"
"Severus is still on our side, I believe. As much as he ever was, anyway."
"He killed Dumbledore."
"I know," he said, and Tonks huffed. "He's not looking for forgiveness, or understanding – "
"Well I should hope not."
"But he did give me information tonight – "
"Yes, while he was captured," Tonks said. "You can't believe a word he said."
He hadn't been unprepared for this, for people not to believe what he believed – and he hardly wanted to tell people – especially Tonks – how he knew of Snape's true motives.
"Do you really think Hestia and Doge capable of capturing Snape?" Remus said gently. "You've been out on missions with both of them – and they don't lack talent in their fields – but really, is either of them likely to have beaten Snape in a battle of wits or magic? He allowed himself to be caught because he had information to pass on. The only reason we saw him tonight after months of fruitless searching was because he wanted to be seen."
Tonks pursed her lips in thought. "Well if that's the case, it was pretty risky," she said, and he could tell that behind those dark eyes, there was some serious thought processing going on – he imagined, along the same lines as he'd thought earlier. "I mean how did he know they wouldn't have had orders to kill him on sight?"
"Well to do that, he'd either have to be mad, or – "
Tonks stalled, brow furrowed, as if she was trying to find the flaw in her own argument. Remus raised an eyebrow at her, and smiled, quite relieved she'd come to the same conclusion he had. "Or have something vitally important to share that he thought was worth the risk?" Remus offered.
"Oh," Tonks said. "Shit."
The furrow on Tonks' brow deepened for a moment, and then she met his eye inquiringly. "What is it?" she said. "What did he tell you?"
Remus responded without thought, because he didn't need soul-sweeping spells to tell him that Tonks could be trusted without question. "Peter's after Harry."
Tonks' eyes widened. "Peter?" she whispered, casting her eyes up and down the deserted street and leaning towards him conspiratorially anyway. "As in – Pettigrew? As in, scourge of the universe?"
"The one and same."
Her eyebrows leapt up on her forehead. "Double shit."
"You know," she said, regarding him with curious amusement, "that's really important. You really should have told someone that before you went off and nearly got yourself killed – I mean what would have happened if I hadn't been there and you had – you know – bought it?"
Remus raised an eyebrow. "How nice to know you've got such faith in me," he said, and Tonks rolled her eyes and shoved him lightly, causing him to wince and her to glance apologetically as she caught his elbow and wrenched his injured shoulder. "But point taken."
She smiled briefly, her eyes wandering down to his chest as if she was assessing his injuries. "What are you going to tell Harry?" she said, glancing up and then continuing her survey of his shoulder, the swelling he could feel on his face, on his ribs.
"The truth of what Snape told me," Remus said, "but I'll have to lie about where the information came from."
"You're going to lie to Harry?"
Her eyes flickered up, although the look in them was surprised, rather than judgemental.
"His animosity to Snape means, I fear, that he'll disbelieve anything Snape says on principle, and this is too important," Remus said.
Tonks nodded. "Come on, then," she said. "Where are we going?"
"What? Not we, Tonks."
Tonks let out a long sigh, and dropped one hand onto her hip, peering up at him with a rather stern expression. "I thought we just talked about this?" she said.
"No, Tonks – I mean it – this is something I should do on my own."
She considered him for a moment, and then let her hand fall from her hip and hang at her side.
But he knew better than to think that meant that he'd won, and he was immediately suspicious of the smile pricking at her features, too.
He raised an eyebrow at her in question, and she couldn't quite meet his gaze. "Well you can try," she said. "But I already cast the spell to track where you Apparate to – like I did before – so even if you say no, I'll just need a minute before I can follow you."
At the defiantly cheeky look in her eyes, Remus was unable to fully battle a smile. He rubbed his jaw slowly, trying to hide his burgeoning grin behind his fingers. "You know what you are?" he said, and she grinned.
"Brilliant?" she offered.
"Pesky," he said.
"But you love me anyway?"
He stepped closer and pulled her to him, tilting her chin up to kiss her. "You know I do."
He Apparated them both to within walking distance of the cave on the hillside, looking up at the entrance, trying to see how well hidden the three of them were inside.
To their – or he suspected, Hermione's – credit, if he hadn't known they were there, it would have ranked amongst the last places he'd have thought to look.
They set off at as much of a clip as he could manage, scrambling up the hill until they were both breathless from exertion and pink in the face, even though the inky darkness made it impossible to see on either of their faces. One of the things that made this such a good hiding spot, Sirius had said, was that it was such a bloody nightmare to get to.
Once they were outside the entrance, Remus peered in, to find himself almost eye to eye with Harry Potter, who had his wand pointed firmly at his chest. "Hello, Harry," Remus said, and the wand lowered a little, but not entirely.
"Hello," Harry returned, watching Remus' eyes dart to the wand. "Sorry. I reckon some of Moody's talk about constant vigilance has sunk in."
"A security question, perhaps?" Remus said, smiling slightly at the thought.
"All right," Harry said, brightening a little at the thought, although his features looked less boyish than Remus could ever recall seeing on someone his age. Harry glanced at the ground in thought for a second. "What did you tell me last Christmas about my dad?" he said, meeting Remus' eye with a hopeful smile.
"That he never asked us to call him 'prince'," Remus said. "Or did you mean what he referred to as my furry little problem?"
"Either'll do," Harry said, and grinned.
Harry stepped aside, and Remus shuffled further into the cave, Tonks behind him.
"What's going on, Professor?" Hermione said, and Remus looked up to find her and Ron standing in the shadows behind Harry, covering the light from an already low-light fire with some kind of black powder.
Remus took in the rest of the cave. They'd already made themselves at home, with their sleeping bags – two in Gryffindor red and one in purple – nestled together in one corner, and a range of saucepans that looked recently used in the other.
Remus gestured to the floor. "I think we'd better sit down," he said, and at Ron's worried, questioning gaze, he added, "I don't believe we're in any immediate danger."
Harry nodded and sank to the ground, folding his legs underneath himself, resting his wand between his palms. Hermione and Ron followed suit, shifting closer and turning their backs on the fire, while Tonks sank against the wall at the entrance, her eyes furtively darting out into the shadows beyond the cave, keeping an eye out.
Remus sat down too, and, as he did so and the shallow light from the fire fell on him, Hermione gasped. "Professor – "
"Bloody hell," Ron said. "What happened to you?"
Hermione elbowed him in the ribs and rolled her eyes. "It's all right," Remus said. "Looks a lot worse than it is. I just got into a bit of a fight."
"Death Eaters," Remus said, as nonchalantly as he could when he knew there was blood caked on his shirt in an impressive streak. "I assure you I gave as good as I got."
"Better," Tonks said, meeting his eye fleetingly. "There's life in that old Marauder yet."
"Less of the old, please," Remus said, raising an eyebrow at her. Her eyes sparkled in amusement for a moment at his flirting, and he smiled, because that was exactly the look he'd hoped to see in them this evening, although this was wildly different circumstances than anything he'd imagined.
"Anyway," he said, turning back to Harry's attentive gaze, "that's why I'm here. We've come upon some information, Harry, which I felt you should be made aware of."
Remus took a deep breath, wincing a little as that stretched and threatened to open the wound on his chest. "It's Peter, Harry," he said. "Voldemort has suspicions – has sensed that you are up to something which could be dangerous for him, and we believe Peter is going to try and stop you to curry favour. And, obviously, with the form he can take, it presents a raft of rather unique problems."
Harry's eyes widened, but before he had a chance to respond, Ron, unexpectedly, spoke.
"Oh well we can take care of that no trouble," he said.
Hermione looked at him askance and raised an eyebrow. "A bit cocky, aren't you," she said, "for someone who incinerated our dinner twenty minutes ago."
Ron blushed. "I was – distracted," he said.
"Anyway," Hermione said, "I don't think we should underestimate Pettigrew. Have you forgotten what he's capable of?"
Ron glowered, and then dug in his pockets, a look of fierce concentration on his face as he ferreted. "I know what he's capable of," Ron said, "but I've got these." He held out a handful of sweets, wrappers glinting red, gold and silver in the low firelight.
"Sweets?" Hermione said, frowning thoughtfully. "And you'd…throw them at him? Admittedly you'd have the element of surprise…."
Ron ignored her. "They're not just sweets," he said. "They're toffees."
"I think Pettigrew's mastered non-verbal spells, Ron," Hermione said, frowning as if she was pointing out the flaws in his plan with greater reluctance than ever before. "No good sticking his teeth together and hoping he won't be able to get a word out."
"But that's it," Ron said. "Don't you get it? Scabbers loved toffee – couldn't resist them. He was always ferreting them out of the sweet jar – mum used to go mad at me. And these aren't ordinary toffees."
Remus raised his eyebrows questioningly at Ron, indicating he should go on. Ron swallowed, clearly as nervous as he ever had been when Remus had asked him a question pertaining to the homework he was supposed to have done on hinkypunks. "Well, they're Ton-Tongue Toffees," he said. "I nicked – borrowed," he said, shooting a nervous glance at Tonks, who sniggered, "them – and some other stuff – from Fred and George when we left, just in case – and, well, I'd guess that if we scattered these about, Scabbers – " He frowned at the name. "I mean Peter – well, Wormtail – " He frowned deeper still, as if he really couldn't settle on a moniker and Peter was in desperate danger of becoming He Who Can Not Be Named. " – wouldn't be able to resist them – so he'd eat one, but then his tongue would grow, and he'd be incapacitated, wouldn't he, so we could deal with him. And if he's a rat, well, he wouldn't have to eat very much for it to take effect, would he?"
Hermione stared at Ron with fresh admiration that Remus couldn't help but echo, while Harry gaped a little. "You think it's stupid," Ron muttered, glancing in Harry's direction.
"Actually, Ron," Harry said, "I think that's bloody brilliant."
Ron grinned, and got to his feet, moving to the edge of the cave and scattering a handful of toffees just outside the entrance.
"Peter always had a sweet tooth," Remus said, watching as Ron came back into the fire's glow, and sat down, reaching behind him to place a row of toffees in front of the purple sleeping bag, and then a couple in front of each of the red ones.
"I've a few tricks up my sleeve that might prove useful," Remus said. "Perhaps I can show the three of you how to make your own Marauder's Maps, and then you'd always be able to see who was around, whatever form they took?"
It was Harry's turn to grin. "That would be great," he said.
"For now, though," Remus said, "it's late, and you all look like you could do with a good night's sleep. Tonks and I will keep watch if you'd like to get some rest – Molly would never forgive me if she thought I'd kept you up half the night on top of everything else."
Harry nodded. "We'll talk more in the morning," Remus said.
After a hazy good night, Harry, Hermione and Ron slipped into their sleeping bags – Hermione's revealed to be the purple one – and Remus shuffled closer to Tonks, so he could keep watch, too.
He waited until the sound of Ron's tiny muffled snores reached him, trying not to feel a pang of regret in his stomach that all three of the teenagers in front of him now slept with their wands firmly gripped in their hands, and then whispered to Tonks. "I need to send a Patronus to Moody," he said, "let him know we're all right."
"I'll do it," she whispered. "You rest there a minute, and then we'll do something about cleaning you up."
He was about to protest that he was fine, but he raised his eyes to hers to find her raising an eyebrow at him in challenge. He smiled, and relented. "What do you want me to say?" she said.
"That we're safe, Harry's safe, all went according to plan."
She nodded, pointed her wand, and immediately, on the craggy rocks in front of them, appeared a shimmering grey-blue wolf.
It still took him a little aback to actually see it, to be confronted with the evidence of what he was to her –
He closed his eyes as realisation struck.
When confronted with Snape, he'd needed evidence, hard, magical evidence of intent – but Tonks had shown him evidence of hers all along, if only he hadn't been so dense as to not know what it meant.
He'd thought it was a symptom of what he'd put her through – a vestige from a broken heart – but that wasn't it at all. It was evidence – proof – of how she saw him, as someone who'd always be there, someone in whom she could have faith to protect her.
He wanted to laugh, but instead he reached down, and brushed her fingers with his as they lay on the cold, stone floor of the cave. When she looked up in question, he leant forward, unable not to say anything when he wanted to shout his realisation from the rooftops for all of Hogsmeade to hear. "I've been an idiot," he whispered.
"No," she murmured, shaking her head more vociferously than the sleeping forms in the cave would allow her to voice. "That thing about the maps – that's a great idea. I always wondered how you made them, too – "
"Not about that. About you."
"Me?" she said, eyes wide.
"I was so concerned about keeping you safe by keeping us apart – all last year and now tonight." A crease appeared between her eyebrows, indicating that she only had half a clue what he was talking about. "I should have trusted your faith in me – because that's it, isn't it? You don't need me to keep us apart to keep you safe, you trust me to look out for you when we're together."
Tonks cocked her head and squinted at him through the darkness. "Are you only just figuring that out?" she said, and he nodded, laughed a little, quietly, at the amused disdain and disbelief on her face.
"Hmm," he murmured.
She looked away, but he could tell from the twitch in her cheek and the set of her jaw that she was battling a smile. "You know," she said, "that probably doesn't make you very bright. I'm not sure you should be leader any more – maybe we should give Mad-Eye a go."
He nudged her admonishingly with his elbow, and she turned back to him and grinned, shoving him back for his trouble. "Better late than never, though?" he offered, hopefully.
"Better late than never."
She clasped his fingers briefly in hers, and smiled at him, and then shifted and moved in front of him, murmuring that they should get him cleaned up. Peeling his shirt back from the wound on his chest, she winced in sympathy as she looked at it. "You could have faked this," she said, "there are lots of spells – "
"We're not gifted actors, Tonks," he said. "The pain on moving needed to be consistent and – real. There really wasn't anything else for it."
She tutted, but met his eye and smiled, and then he felt the familiar warm prickle of a healing spell on his skin, and looked down to see the already closed wound heal completely, bathed in a faint orange glow. She moved wordlessly between his injuries, taking the swelling out of his bruises, healing his cuts, and he loved to watch her – the way her nose wrinkled up in concentration, her eyes fixed and focused on the task in hand.
He'd always thought she was sexy when she was concentrating. He felt it had rather been his downfall to be paired with her so often when concentration was required.
He let his eyes drift back across the cave, to where Harry and his friends slept, wondering if this would be the first night in months they'd snatched more than a few hours.
"I wish it wasn't like this," he whispered, and Tonks sank to her knees in front of him, and followed his gaze.
"They're all right," she said. "They've got each other, and they're doing ok, aren't they?"
"Is that enough?" he said. "Being together and barely keeping each other's heads above water?"
She took his face in her hands and brought it back to hers. "Sometimes," she said, offering him a half-smile that very much told him they weren't just talking about Harry any more, "it's very much more than enough. It's everything."
As she leant in to kiss him, her fingers working over the place where formerly there had been a bruise, he thought about all the things that were necessary in a time of war: personal sacrifice for the greater good; the pushing aside of feelings that had been deeply entrenched; the forming of unlikely and untrusted alliances.
But most of all, he thought, this was necessary: love, and perhaps a little faith in people.
He smiled at the thought that Dumbledore had been right all along.
A/N: Thank you so much for all your reviews for this story. Reviewers of this final instalment get a fire lit cave and a couple of sleeping bags to share with a HP character of their choice. Zipping them together to make one big one and snuggling up is optional ;).