Disclaimer: Almost all characters, spells and places belong to J.K. Rowling. Or to the people of Britain. And I've never actually read John Berendt's book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but I'm shamelessly ripping off his title anyway.
A/N: Written after the Stump the Writer meme on Livejournal, for Lady Bracknell, who requested Remus and Tonks's first date, and Gilpin, who wanted Tonks's first attraction to Remus.
MrsTater recently proposed a theory on her LJ about the form of Tonks's Patronus, which sounded very plausible and so is included here. :)
If a tree falls in the middle of the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it still make a sound? And if an illicit gobstone hits the floor during a meeting of the Order of the Phoenix, is the resulting noise twice as loud as if it had been dropped in an otherwise deserted room? Grimacing, Tonks kept her eyes on her lap as she reached down and groped for the two broken halves. A good quantity of rather pungent liquid had spilled from the broken toy onto the floor and she surreptitiously scuffed at the mess with her booted foot, a move which, except to transfer the strange smell to her person, achieved nothing whatsoever. Risking a glance around the table, she half-expected to encounter looks of motherly disapproval from Molly, wicked amusement from Sirius and glaring dislike from Snape, but was relieved to see that her small mishap had apparently passed unnoticed for once. Hestia Jones was still reading her monthly report as if she was being paid by the hour to stand there, her breathy voice stopping and starting in lengthy pauses. Tonks hadn't yet decided if she was aiming for dramatic effect or simply couldn't read her own handwriting. If it was the latter, she thought glumly, eyeing her own untidy notes, scratched onto a stack of multi-coloured cards, then she could sympathise.
Outside the grimy window, the sun was sharing her restlessness and she put up a hand to shield her face as it shifted positions for the umpteenth time that hour and beamed directly into her eyes. Squinting, she cast a look at Molly, who was still sitting upright in her chair, smiling at Hestia and nodding every so often. Precisely every ten seconds, in fact. Tonks followed her gaze, which traveled over Hestia's complicated hair-do and was fixed on the wall clock. Sirius, slumped in his chair, cleaning under his fingernails with an antique dagger, was not even pretending that he was still listening. Beside him, Dumbledore sat with his eyes closed and his fingertips pressed in a steeple before his nose, either absorbed in the rambling report or fast asleep. Snape was impatiently tapping his nails on the table and watching Hestia with a tiny smile. Tonks raised a brow. She'd seen that particular expression many times before and usually on the face of a Weasley twin, right before the subject of their attention found themselves turning lime green, standing on their head and singing the full chorus of Witches and Veela or confessing their most intimate desires to an interested audience. For five guilty seconds, she couldn't help hoping that Snape would have the nerve to carry out whatever dastardly deed was causing him such private amusement.
Kingsley Shacklebolt, as always, looked as if he had places to go and people to see. Despite having a great deal more to say than Hestia, he'd already delivered his own report in five minutes flat and was now the epitome of frustrated action. In stark comparison, both Bill and Charlie Weasley looked lazy, bored and hungry. Bill was leaning back in his chair at a precarious angle that left Tonks in admiring awe. Last month, she'd tumbled to the ground after merely sitting down too quickly. His heavy dragon-skin boots had been propped on the table for the first five minutes of the meeting, in a daring attitude that had made him seem impossibly cool until his mother had entered the room, taken one look and given him a lecture on manners that had turned his ears red. Charlie was hunched forward, leaning his weight on his elbows and occasionally darting admiring glances her way, which would have been flattering if he didn't seem more turned on by the elevenses laid out on the sideboard. Although, Tonks thought, casting a longing peek at the combined baking efforts of Molly and Hestia, that chocolate sponge did look awfully good…
The sound of Mundungus Fletcher clearing his throat drew her attention back to the assembled group and she wrinkled her nose in mild disgust. The man really needed to see a Healer. That much phlegm couldn't be healthy. Emmaline Vance obviously agreed, as she was currently edging her chair away from the sneak and practically crawling into the lap of a startled Arabella Figg.
Dung's other neighbour didn't seem particularly bothered by the gurgling gargle at his left ear. With his usual calm reserve, Remus Lupin was politely dividing his attention between Hestia, who thankfully seemed to be winding down a tad, and a neatly inscribed scroll of notes. He was to speak next and, judging by the small smile that played at his mouth, he obviously had something of more interest to report than the question of whether Death Eaters were running an illegal Dark potions ring at Fortescue's. (After half an hour of Hestia's deductions, it appeared that they were not. A Lucius Malfoy look-alike was just fond of mint chip.) With her mind wandering, Tonks was startled when Remus looked up and met her gaze. His twinkling eyes flickered briefly toward the floor, where she was still attempting to cover a puddle of gobstone goo with her boot, and the curve of his lips deepened. The man rarely seemed to show emotion in his face, but his eyes were the dead giveaway and currently broadcast his amusement with total clarity. Even after his attention returned to his work, she was cross to feel a flush heating her cheeks. The discomforting embarrassment of being caught misbehaving took her right back to her school days and the hours she'd spent seated outside a professor's office. She wriggled in her seat and joined Molly in her subtle watching of the clock.
The remainder of the meeting passed surprisingly quickly, either as a result of their combined will power or because of Remus's report, which had been surprisingly gripping. He had a nice voice, Tonks decided, for such a condescendingly amused git. It was a bit quiet and very steady. It would be a good voice to have around in times of crisis.
Speaking of a crisis…
This was no time for buggering about daydreaming. Even if the last fifteen minutes had been less monotonous and boring than the first two hours, they were still running behind and she was going to be late. She hastily pushed back her chair and stood up, almost tripping over Mrs. Figg, who promptly spilt her glass of brandy and said "Bad girl!" in a tone that would have been more appropriate if Tonks had jumped up to clean her whiskers on the refreshment table. Barely resisting the temptation to morph a tail and meow in response, she apologised instead and made a beeline for the door, purposefully fixing her gaze straight ahead in the hopes of avoiding…
"Where's the fire, coz?" Sirius casually snagged a hold on her sleeve and halted her determined march toward a hopefully prat-free evening. Although given her recent luck with men, that was an admittedly doubtful prospect. Only that morning, her caring mother had confirmed the fact in her weekly written report of Tonks's failings as a woman, witch and human being. If she would select partners with more facial hair than career prospects, Andromeda had sniped, she ought to expect disappointment. The post-script had added, horrifically, that there was "more to life than fleeting physical satiation, Nymphadora". That very elegant reference to casual sex was mortifying on many levels. Mostly because she wasn't bloody well getting any, although she was damned if she was going to admit that to her mother.
Turning around reluctantly, she pulled a face at the man who apparently viewed her as a surrogate baby sister, ripe for torment. Sirius grinned easily back, the dagger in his hand now picking at his large, even teeth. He was unkempt and unshaven, his long hair tangled and his black robes wrinkled, and he didn't appear to have slept or washed for a couple of days. She moved aside as Snape swept out of the room, his robes whipping about his legs, doing his best to ignore the dirty joke that Dung was valiantly attempting to finish. The disheveled, unwashed look was popular with the blokes in the Order, it seemed. It wasn't so much his appearance that made Sirius the centre of any room, Tonks decided with a tinge of envy. He just…had it. There was a quality that had kept members of the Black family in the company, trust and beds of history's most powerful leaders. That, and total ruthlessness and borderline insanity.
Sirius tossed the dagger aside and it slid across the table, where Remus paused in his perusal of the meeting minutes to calmly pick it up and place it on the mantelpiece. Flicking them a brief glance, he cleared his throat and returned to the scroll. Sirius, after watching him with an oddly intent stare for a moment, suddenly returned the full force of his attention to Tonks. He surveyed her casual clothing as he dug around in his pocket, produced a worn cigar and propped it between his lips.
"Have a shift tonight, do you?" he asked nonchalantly, lighting the cheroot from his wand and blowing a mouthful of smoke over her left shoulder. "What's that, the third night shift this week? Thought they were supposed to take it easy on you littlies." He tugged painfully on a pink spike of her hair. "Catch up with Shacklebolt and tell him you're feeling a bit peaky after the Figg's baking. Moony and I are staking out the kitchen table and Molly's secret supply of firewhiskey." He winked cheekily. "We're worth a lot more thrills than a cold night and a few Death Eaters, kid."
Tonks reached out and yanked the cheroot from his teeth, stubbing it out against the sole of her boot.
"Those things will kill you," she said crossly, ignoring both his suggestion and his crack of laughter, "and they smell like cat piss. You've already got Snape's hair, mate, do you want him to think you've stolen his cologne, as well?"
She thought she heard a snort from the other side of the table, but kept her eyes on Sirius, who looked to be torn between irritation and dark amusement.
"Couple of old women, you two," he said impatiently. "Dementor fog, that's something to get worked up about. I reckon a bit of cigar smoke is the least of my worries." He glanced thoughtfully at Remus, who was still reading the bloody minutes. What a swot. "Moony's at least got the grey hair. What's your excuse?" He didn't wait for her to answer, but went on, speaking intently, "What do you say? Flip old Scrimgeour the bird for once and take the night off."
Tonks eyed him a little suspiciously, arching one candy-coloured brow. There was a slightly feverish glint to his beseeching stare and the last time she'd seen him look so keen, he'd been holding a bottle of grappa in one hand and a lad's mag in the other.
"It's always a laugh drinking you under the table, Sirius, but I'm going to have to give it a miss tonight," she said, trying to sound more regretful as she glanced at her watch and cursed aloud. The very attractive new dishwasher at the Hog's Head would be waiting for her outside the pub in half an hour. She'd met him the previous week, after stopping by to deliver a message to Aberforth, and he'd invited her to have a drink on her next night off. She'd wasted no time with her agreement. After all, he'd talked to her for over half an hour during a busy shift, so who knew how long he'd be working there? "Ta, anyway."
"Choosing an evening of paperwork and good deeds over drunken, lewd behaviour," Sirius said, shaking his head in disgust. "What kind of Black are you? Call in sick."
"I'm not working until tomorrow morning," Tonks corrected him absently, glancing down at her ripped jeans. It was probably too late to go home and change. She'd have to transfigure something a bit more decent, which was always risky. The last time she'd worn a transfigured gown had been at her parents' anniversary party. The slightly lopsided dress had turned back into her nightie in the middle of her dance with a delighted Derwent Shimpling, to the horror of her less than amused mother.
"Well, then…" Sirius began triumphantly, and Remus finally shuffled his papers together and came around the table to join the battle of wills at the doorway.
"Sirius, Tonks is a lovely young woman," he said mildly, offering her a quick, impersonal smile as she blinked in surprise. "I'm sure she has plans for her night off that do not include watching a grown man remove his trousers and pass out in a pool of whisky."
Well, certainly not the latter, anyway…
Tonks bit back a grin and focused on Sirius's surprisingly outraged expression.
"Nymphadora," he said tightly, and couldn't have sounded more like their Great-Auntie Cassiopeia if he'd tried. "Do you have a date?" The last was uttered with the same enthusiasm that Sirius usually reserved for Snape.
She lost the inclination to smile.
"Try not to sound quite so gobsmacked," she snapped, scowling at him. "I didn't shag half the school and staff when I was at Hogwarts, which is more than can be said for some people, but I have had the occasional date since then."
Sirius opened to his mouth to reply, looking unaccountably annoyed for someone who was revoltingly proud of his sexual conquests, and Remus stepped forward hastily.
"The meeting was rather long," he said quietly, shooting his friend a quelling glance. A tight smile briefly flickered at the corners of his mouth. "I believe Hestia has a new theory about Dark operations at Ollivander's, so it might be wise to avoid scheduling a date with this chap of yours on the night of the next debrief."
Tonks winced slightly. Remus had always seemed like a decent bloke, but their acquaintance had thus far consisted of a short argument over his use of the dreaded 'Nymphadora', several conversations about Order business and two evenings of shared company with Sirius and the contents of Orion Black's liquor cabinet, neither of which she could remember in great detail. His last comment, uttered with nothing but bland politeness, was proof enough that they didn't know each other well.
The prospects of her having the same boyfriend for two consecutive months had never been brilliant. The other women at work couldn't understand her romantic history, which was spotty at best. Drea, another young Auror, claimed that if she had the ability to inflate her boobs and reduce her waistline at the scrunch of a nose, she'd ditch her boyfriend and take a swan-dive between Heathcote Barbary's sheets in two seconds flat. Which was rubbish, because Drea adored her snub-nosed, freckle-cheeked Andy, a clerk in Fudge's office, but she wasn't alone in her teasing envy. The main problem, however, was not Tonks's breasts, which she hadn't altered since she was fourteen, or her waistline, which was as curvy as chocolate had made it. It was her left foot. Both of them.
If she lost half of her brain cells and all of her self-respect, it was true that she could morph Veela hair, strip-witch legs and a chest worthy of Celestina Warbeck. And perhaps it would offer some consolation to her dates if they were kneed in the groin by a shapelier leg or accidentally scratched in the face by a manicured hand, but Tonks hardly thought so. Adding natural – or perhaps unnatural, given her mother's flawless elegance – clumsiness to the fact that the only men she tended to attract with her favoured bright hair and ripped jeans were musicians, artists and bar staff not known for their commitment, maturity or table manners, it wasn't overly surprising that her longest relationship thus far was with the pile of dishes in her kitchen sink. Which she would really have to pay a visit during the weekend or she'd never want to move back into her flat when the current surveillance roster was over.
"We won't keep you, Tonks. I'm sure you want to freshen up before you leave," Remus was continuing, his voice rising over Sirius's protests. "Not that you don't look...fresh," he added quickly, looking a little awkward for the first time. The arches of his cheekbones pinked as Sirius snorted rudely.
Tonks fidgeted under Remus's regard, suddenly feeling as if her hair was too pink, her jeans too tight and the slogan on her t-shirt much too vulgar. A flash of temper stirred in the pit of her belly, although she wasn't sure if she was angry with him for making her uncomfortable in her chosen skin or with herself. She wasn't usually in the least self-conscious about her appearance. Why should she be, when it was a perfect reflection of personality rather than genetics?
"Right. Well," she said, fisting her hand into the material of her shirt and tugging at it. "I do have to go. If you're still conscious and clothed when I get home," she told Sirius, injecting a mocking note into her voice that did nothing to lighten the mulish look on his face, "I might join you in the kitchen."
"Unless you're home within an hour," Remus said, smiling and fully returned to his usual imperturbable self, "I wouldn't count on it."
Folding her arms across her middle, she looked at the two of them for a moment, staunch friends despite their mutual badgering and obvious differences. Sirius was tall and strikingly handsome, a moody, obsessive, overgrown teenager. The years that had been stolen from him were partly to blame, but Tonks suspected that, Azkaban or no Azkaban, her cousin would always have been the sort of man to keep one foot in his youthful days. On her first day in the Order, he had naturally drawn her attention and wouldn't have allowed it any other way. From what she recalled, Remus had been very proper, a bit of a gentleman. He'd kept his distance and she had been too eager to make a good impression and too embarrassed over her runaway mouth to take much note of anyone but her infamous relative. Later, he had called her 'Nymphadora' and she'd been instinctive in her protest. He'd remarked that it was a delightful name; she'd decided that he was pulling her leg, and they hadn't spoken again for at least a week.
Tonks remembered his silent amusement at her expense during the meeting and her eyes narrowed. For some reason, she was never wholly comfortable around Remus. She suspected that were she to make the effort to befriend him, he could be more provoking than even Sirius in one of his moods. She had always been able to ignore or counter barbed comments and open attack. It was basic survival training for even an estranged and reluctant member of the Black family. It was the coolly sarcastic people, the frustratingly calm people, who really got her back up. Snape often rubbed her the wrong way with his sly little remarks and blank face. Remus wasn't vicious, but he had the same impenetrable quality. He wasn't really good-looking either, she decided, peeking at him now, but he had a nice face. It was quiet, like his voice, and a bit nondescript, which was how she felt about her own features. While she wore her emotions in her hair and on her body, however, his personality was all in his eyes.
Deep, rather compelling eyes, which were beginning to cloud with the hint of a frown.
Because she was staring at him like Trelawney in one of her sherry-induced trances.
With a start, she pulled her gaze away and took a step back, completely flustered.
"Sorry," she said, without thinking and with no idea for what she was apologizing. "Yes, I have to get ready. I might see you both later. Or tomorrow. I'll probably see you tomorrow."
Waving half-heartedly, she turned and almost sprinted for the staircase, ignoring the strange feeling that a night before the fire in one of the creepiest houses in England might be a more attractive prospect than dyed blue hair, stubble and dishwater hands.
It was just past midnight when Tonks let herself back into the house, renewed her acquaintance with the coat stand, picked herself up off the floor and covered a loud yawn with her hand. She'd been battling drooping eyes for the last hour and had almost fallen asleep into her cocktail at the bar, but after the journey home, she'd reached the state of exhaustion where she was too tired to get ready for bed. Eyeing the staircase blearily, she tried to imagine climbing it, yawned again and headed for the library instead. If someone had been sitting in there during the evening, the fire tended to last until the small hours and the room was one of the only ones in the house that actually held onto its heat. She could just curl up on the couch and have a kip before her morning shift.
The library was dimly lit, but the flames in the fireplace and a soft lamp on the coffee table provided a comforting glow. She was so intent on the couch, which was covered with one of Molly's knitting projects and looked very welcoming, that she was halfway across the room before she realised that the wing chair by the hearth was occupied.
"Oh," she said stupidly, coming to a halt and hoping that she didn't sound as dismayed as she felt. Company meant conversation, if she was going to be at all polite, and all she wanted was sleep. A snogging dream about the Weird Sisters might be nice, too, if she were really lucky. "Sorry. I didn't realise there was still someone in here. I'll leave you to it."
"Don't be silly, Tonks," Remus said, carefully folding his newspaper and setting it aside. He pressed his hands against the arms of the chair and made a move to stand. "Please, stay. I was just about to go to bed."
His face was cast into shadow and Tonks couldn't read his expression, but his voice sounded alert and there was a half-full glass of red liquid on the table beside his chair, absorbing the firelight. She peered at him doubtfully as she made her way to the couch and plopped down on it with a relieved sigh, working off her boots and quickly tucking her feet beneath her in case they smelled less than fresh. The alluring scent of cigarette smoke and bar grime that clung to her clothing was charming enough.
"No, don't go," she said quickly, not wanting to force him out. It was more his home than it was hers, anyway. "You haven't finished your drink." She frowned. "Tomato juice?"
Remus hesitated for a moment, glancing toward the door, before he settled slowly back into his chair.
"Amongst other things," he replied, a note of humour touching the words. "A Weasley family recipe, I'm given to understand. It works a treat after a slight over-indulgence."
"I hope you didn't receive that information courtesy of Fred and George." Tonks raised her eyebrows at him. "Should I prepare a portkey to St. Mungo's?"
"I learnt that particular lesson after tasting my first Canary Cream," he said, shifting in his seat and stretching his legs out toward the fireplace. "I believe the twins were twelve years old at the time. I'd met Arthur at the Ministry and he invited me to the Burrow for a very memorable dinner. He's also responsible for this rather revolting, but very potent concoction."
"I take it that Sirius managed to stay upright for longer than an hour, then?" Tonks asked, resting her chin on her hand and smiling at him. She suddenly felt a bit more awake. "If such desperate measures were called for?"
"I think fifty minutes passed between his discovery that Molly also has a stock of brandy, for her cooking, I'm sure," Remus added smoothly, "and the moment that his head descended onto a plate of cheese sandwiches." He grinned at her, looking a little sheepish. "I'm afraid I slowly finished off the bottle while I meditated on how appalled I was."
"Where is Sirius now?" Tonks asked, amused. "Still in the kitchen?"
"Certainly not," Remus said, turning an affronted face towards the light and making her giggle. "What kind of friend do you suppose I am? I levitated him upstairs, of course."
"I'm afraid my wand hand was starting to feel a little tired," he said apologetically, his eyes twinkling at her. "I didn't want to drop him, so I set him down gently outside Molly's bedroom door. She's helping Dumbledore with an assignment tomorrow, so is staying here tonight and will no doubt discover him in the morning. If I recall correctly from Arthur's birthday party, she does quite an impressive lecture on the evils of intoxication. A few motherly words will do Sirius the world of good."
Tonks was snorting with laughter.
"With friends like you, Remus Lupin…"
"Sirius will still manage to charm his way out of every sticky situation," Remus finished for her, shaking his head. He took a swallow of the hangover potion without a wince. Tonks knew from experience that most of them tasted like cauldron scrapings, but she supposed that a man who could remain staunch through a regular supply of Wolfsbane was not likely to scrunch up his nose at a home remedy. "It never ceases to amaze me," he went on, putting down the drained glass and looking a little brighter for it, "the miracles he can work with a smile and a stream of absolute drivel. I once saw Madam Pince transformed from an upright stick of disapproval into a puddle of simpering confusion at his feet."
Tonks wrapped her arms around her knees and leaned forward, watching him with fascinated eyes. Her cousin had regaled her with many stories of his exploits at Hogwarts over the previous weeks and Remus had occasionally listened, smiling and inserting the odd word, but she'd never heard his own tales of their Marauder days. She somehow suspected they would be a little closer to the truth.
"What happened?" she asked, trying to imagine Madam Pince falling prey to the Black charm and failing miserably. The school librarian had always given her the willies. She had a nasty habit of creeping about in those tightly pinching shoes and appearing without warning. She had once caught Tonks in the restricted section and had chased her clear to the Great Hall, waving her wand in frenetic circles and screeching about the punishments handed down to naughty girls in the days of the Founders. The sight of pince-nez still chilled Tonks's spine.
"The four of us, Sirius, James, Peter and I, had ventured into the library after dark," Remus was remembering. "James had devised a plan to 'borrow' the Potions textbooks of the sixth year Slytherins, remove the covers and replace them over books from the Transylvanian Collection in the restricted section."
"Those are the ones that bite, yeah?" Tonks interrupted, laughing. She could just imagine teenaged versions of Remus and Sirius, sneaking about the castle and huddling stolen books under their dressing gowns. She wished she'd thought of it when she'd been at school.
"Indeed," he said, grinning at the memory. "The older the edition, the larger the fangs, I recollect. Not the wisest idea that James ever had, but he was quite determined. Several of the Slytherins had been particularly nasty to Lily Evans – Lily Potter – that day and he was furious. Of course, he and Lily hadn't been overly pleasant to each other all week, either, so Peter couldn't understand what he was upset about."
"Oh, but it's totally different if someone else is picking on the person you fancy," Tonks said immediately, nodding. "Either they're messing with someone you care about and nobody with any guts would stand for that, or they're being obnoxious for the same reason that you are and that's just pissing all over your territory." She paused, frowning uncertainly under his gleaming stare. "What?"
"That's exactly what James said," Remus remarked, smiling. "He would have thoroughly approved of you, Nymphadora."
Suffused with a ridiculous blush, she took refuge in a "Don't call me Nymphadora, Remus," that lacked any real bite and continued, hurriedly, "You got caught, obviously?"
After a moment, his eyes still examining her face, Remus shrugged ruefully.
"Yes, we did, thanks to Filch and his mangy companion, who took great pleasure in summoning Madam Pince. I'm afraid we were a little cocky," he admitted, with a hint of arrogance that had Tonks ducking her head to hide a giggle. "We weren't often caught," he finished matter-of-factly.
"And Sirius sweet-talked Madam Pince?" She still found it hard to believe.
"I'm surprised that she didn't offer to complete the prank for him," Remus confirmed dryly. "The woman was damn well giggling. I think Filch was the only person more nauseated by the spectacle than I was."
"But you all got away with it?" Tonks asked, impressed, and spluttered with laughter at the ferocity of his frown.
"Peter scampered at the first hiss from Mrs. Norris, James made very quick use of his Invisibility Cloak and Sirius started cooing and flattering like a secondhand broom salesman."
"And you?" Tonks asked, leaning her head back against the couch, thoroughly entertained.
"I ended up spending eight Saturday mornings in a row dusting between the pages of the Transylvanian Collection."
Her helpless fit of giggling ended in a delighted snort and Remus's eyes were warm on her face. He had turned his chair around in order to see her better and looked comfortable and a bit more disheveled than usual, with his tie hanging loosely around his neck and his hair ruffled across his forehead.
"It must have been fantastic, having a group of friends like that," she said, rubbing underneath her eyes. She knew she'd been popular at school – most kids were easily impressed by morphing – but she'd never had a really close group of friends to count on and lead into trouble.
She was suddenly aware of his silence and her hand froze. Shite. What a stupid thing to say about four boys who had been torn apart by distrust, betrayal and death. For all their shared history, Remus had not, in the end, been able to count on that close group. He and Sirius had suspected each other capable of treachery and had lived entirely separate lives for over a decade, James Potter was long dead, and Peter Pettigrew… Bloody hell.
She was shifting awkwardly in her seat and wondering if she was even capable of getting through the next minutes without jamming her foot further down her throat, when Remus breathed out deeply.
"It was," he said simply, his expression only a little cloudy. "It was fantastic. I wouldn't have traded the good days at school for anything. When I first arrived at Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore was the only friend that I had." He flushed and transferred his gaze to his hands. "I was just a lad, of course, and he'd been very kind. We have always been friends, I believe, although perhaps not always the close confidantes I imagined at that age. He went above and beyond his duty in getting me to school. I haven't ever forgotten that. But it was when I met the others, first James and then Sirius and Peter, that I felt at home." He shrugged again, smiling. "They were my family. James and Sirius were so bloody cheeky, right off the bat, even when they knew what I was…what I am, that I felt like one of the lads. I would…transform," he paused, clearing his throat and still avoiding her gaze, "and be running wild in the Forbidden Forest, but as long as I had a dog, a stag and a rat running with me, I felt more like a human wizard than I had in years."
Tonks pulled her legs up while he was speaking and stretched herself out on the couch. Turning her head against the padded arm, she gazed at the ceiling and watched as flickering shadows etched patterns and formed shapes against the plaster carvings. Light twinkled on the dusty crystals of the chandelier and the threads of cobweb which hung loose from the light fixture. She couldn't look at him while he said things like that about himself.
"You are a human wizard," she said quietly, and didn't need to be watching him in order to sense his instinctive disagreement.
"Tonks," he said after a moment, clearing his throat. "I… Perhaps we ought to change the subject. I'm afraid I get a bit maudlin when I've had too much to drink." His smile was painfully forced, doing nothing to hide his embarrassment, and Tonks's whole stomach clenched in irritation.
She fixed her gaze on his.
"Do you know, Remus, the first day that I came here, I saw Hestia Jones drop the cup of tea that you handed to her, because she was trying not to touch your fingers." She ignored his slight flinch. "I'd read your dossier and I knew that you were a werewolf. We'd never spoken a word, but I knew that you were my cousin's best mate. I knew that when I was sent to a cottage in Lancashire three times a week last summer, because a dotty old woman reckoned that she had Death Eaters living in her apple orchard, her grandson couldn't stop talking about the best teacher he'd had. I heard all about those Defense classes and what you did for those kids. And when there's so much evil in the world right now, it makes me so angry that there are people who are afraid of you. You're a werewolf, not a monster. You didn't ask to be bitten. You don't use what happened to you as an excuse to punish everybody who you think has it a bit easier."
Remus was regarding her silently, his face utterly blank, and she tried to ignore her growing misgivings. He wasn't her cousin or even a close mate. What did she reckon? That she could ramble off a self-righteous speech that sounded like an excerpt from a soap opera on the Wireless and he would forget about a lifetime of turned backs and dropped tea cups? Even if she did mean every word.
A log dropped in the fireplace, sending up a shower of sparks, and she jumped.
Bugger it. In for a knut, in for a galleon.
"You're more human than I am," she told him flatly, hoping that her current monologue was not going to evolve into a ridiculous argument over which of them was the greater social misfit. It was a thought that almost made her smile.
"I beg your pardon?" She'd expected anger, but Remus sounded genuinely taken aback. "Tonks, I appreciate the kind sentiment, but…"
Tonks bristled, not appreciating that distinct turn toward condescension.
"Were you born a werewolf?" she asked bluntly, and continued before he had a chance to close his gaping mouth and think of an appropriate response, "No, you bloody well were not. You were born an ordinary little kid. A mouthy little prat, I'm sure, but completely human in spite of that. You're a wizard with a…a condition, but still human, Remus. The lycanthropy doesn't change that fact. It's different in my case. I was born a Metamorphmagus. I've never been a 'normal' witch. I am different, it's a genetic fact."
Colour rose in his cheeks, but she shook her head at his immediate denial. If she had ever considered herself to be 'special' rather than a bit on the odd side, it was a self-confidence that had not survived childhood. At the age of eight, she'd been hiding in her mother's wardrobe, in the hopes of avoiding another dinner party and yet another scratchy lace dress, when she'd found an old Pensieve belonging to her father. She had never forgotten his memory of her birth and the look on her mum's face when she had arrived in the world, pink-faced, screaming blue murder and promptly morphing a head of crimson red hair in her rage. The Healer had actually dropped her in his astonishment, obviously the beginning of a lifetime of spills and mishaps. Her dad had recovered from his surprise in an admirably quick time and had immediately picked her up, gazing down at her with adoring eyes and gently telling her to shut her trap and stop being so dramatic. It was love at first sight, Ted later claimed. Andromeda, the Black sister who possessed all of the social poise of her lineage and very little of its bigotry, had rallied at his matter-of-fact tones, but her initial dismay was forever etched into Tonks's own memory. The beautiful, intelligent, graceful, pure-blood Andromeda had defied enormous odds to produce a Metamorphmagus for a daughter and she wasn't happy about it. Half-bloods and Muggle-borns, even Squibs, were one thing. Popping out a rare magical being, one described at length in the 1648 edition of Changelings, Pixies and Spirits with words that included "freak", "aberration" and "dangerous", was something else entirely.
To be fair to her mother, however, Tonks did believe that her brief moment of aristocratic horror had since passed into oblivion. They had an exasperated, but genuine love for one another and their strained adult relationship owed nothing to her morphing and everything to the total clash in their personalities. A gum-chewing, wisecracking, clumsy Auror was a far cry from the sleek, reserved debutante that Andromeda routinely denied she had secretly wanted and that Tonks could never be if she tried. Well, she reckoned her mum had only herself to blame. If she'd wanted a perfect little paragon of manners, she shouldn't have fallen in love with Ted Tonks. Anyone who'd seen her dad try to balance his wand, a bottle of beer and a packet of crisps while he listened to a Magpies match on the Wireless ought to have realised that they weren't married to a finicky prat like Gilderoy Lockhart. One of her mother's ex-boyfriends, incidentally, not that she'd admit it now the bloke was mooning around St. Mungo's.
"This isn't about me feeling for myself," Tonks went on, not entirely truthfully, overriding Remus's argument that she was talking rubbish, that of course she was 'normal', that she ought to share others' pride in her abilities and that morphing was in no way comparable to lycanthropy. She saw him frown at her statement, his head jerking back slightly, and uttered an impatient exclamation. "I'm not saying that you do feel sorry for yourself… Although no one would blame you if you did…" She paused in an attempt to grasp the fleeing remnants of her point. "I know that your transformations are much more painful than mine, that they must be bloody scary and that it's more dangerous. But what happened to you wasn't an accident of birth. It could happen to anyone at any time and people should understand that. Stomping around like that cow, Umbridge, and shouting for stronger persecution laws is just asking for your prejudice to come back and bite you in the arse, isn't it? Literally."
Having apparently missed the excellent logic of her outburst, Remus stubbornly repeated, "Werewolves are classified as Dark Creatures for a very good reason. They attack and they kill indiscriminately. Metamorphmagi are not a danger to those around them, regardless of their genetic composition."
'Genetic composition'? Tonks rolled her eyes. The man was so…so…scholarly. And he was starting to get on her nerves. She played with the tassel on the arm of the couch while she glared at him. Exhaustion was beginning to drag the edges of her speech into a slur, but she barely noticed.
"Until fifty years ago, Metamorphmagi were also considered Dark Creatures by the Ministry, did you know that?" she asked, with more than a hint of bite to the question. She barely resisted an extremely childish urge to poke out her tongue and say "So there!" And tonight was the last time she accepted a third round of firewhisky cocktails. "They were a huge problem to defense forces during Grindelwald's reign and caused a panic epidemic among the populace. Nobody could trust the identity of their family and friends. Dark Metamorphmagi were the reason the Minister first instituted daft security questions, as if asking everyone about their favourite sweets or first memories of Hogwarts does more than sod-all. Any half-wit Death Eater would blast you with the Cruciatus Curse before you'd finished speaking."
Remus was smiling faintly now, she realised with annoyance. Closing her lips over her stream of babble – because, really, what was she trying to argue? That she was, in fact, more evil than he, thanks very much? – she hunched further back into her cushions and straightened Molly's knitted quilt over her legs.
"People should take precautions around werewolves at the full moon," she said finally, not looking at him. "But you shouldn't act like it's natural for them to be afraid of you every other day of the month. If you believe that people have the right to treat you like that, then of course they will. I'm not saying that I know exactly what it's like, but there are still people out there, you know, who wouldn't sit down at a dinner table with a Metamorphmagus. I've had people turn their backs and I know how that felt. Most blokes don't exactly find it a turn-off, when they find out what I am and what I can do." She grimaced. Just the opposite. "But I did once have a boyfriend who broke things off when I changed my hair colour over dessert and then tried to have me taken into protective custody. He made a right scene, prattling on about unnatural creatures and "taking someone out in good faith". Poor bloke, I thought he was going to cry."
It was a bad date experience that, to be honest, had been so ridiculous that she'd found it a bit of a laugh, but she wasn't going to tell Remus that.
Particularly when he looked absolutely bloody furious.
"I hope you're joking," he said tightly, jerking forward in his chair. She shrugged awkwardly and his mouth compressed to a thin line, before he asked, in tones of disbelief, "He tried to have you taken into protective custody?"
Tonks shifted, feeling more than a little embarrassed and wishing she'd never mentioned it. As an attempt to empathize with him over the serious prejudice that he faced and that had obviously affected his entire way of life, given that he'd lost a job he loved and had to live in the House of Horrors with a man who must be driving him barking mad on a daily basis, the anecdote had fallen rather flat. All it emphasized, in fact, was her totally shite taste in men.
"It wasn't as bad as I made it sound," she said uncomfortably, her eyes skittering away from the angry concern in his. She tried to laugh. "I told him I was going home, ta very much, and offered a few suggestions as to where he could take himself. Then I made a dignified exit." Right up until the moment that she'd tripped over the waiter, who had responded by dropping an ice cream sundae on her lap. That part actually rankled more than her date's less than flattering response to her change of mood and hairstyle. "I should have realised it was a bad idea, anyway. He was a Smith," she explained, correctly interpreting Remus's furrowed brow. "A Yorkshire Smith." Her companion still looked confused. "The Yorkshire Smith family has been campaigning for anti-changeling legislation ever since a Metamorphmagus conned one of their forefathers out of his inheritance in the sixteenth century. They're a load of close-minded, small-brained bigots and I can't imagine what I was thinking of, dating Zeke in the first place." She'd been thinking of his square jaw and dark grey eyes, but was sufficiently ashamed of that shallow attraction that she didn't feel the need to discuss it with anyone else. "I think he has a younger brother at Hogwarts who you might have come across."
She hoped that Remus's brief tenure at the school wasn't an overly sensitive topic. Sirius had teased him about it more than once in her hearing and he had responded lightly enough, but that perpetual cool front could be concealing any number of emotions.
"Zachariah," Remus confirmed grimly. "An arrogant little twit who couldn't throw up a decent shield charm if the Dark Lord himself appeared at his shoulder to offer an incentive. As I recall, rather than practice his own skills, he preferred to spend his time ridiculing the efforts of the other children."
"Not that teachers play favourites or make personal judgments about their students," Tonks teased, in an attempt to lighten the mood.
It worked to some extent or possibly Remus was feeling as uncomfortable as she was with the sudden seriousness, because he relaxed enough to offer her a reluctant smile. He did have a good smile, she noted absently. He was one of those people who would wear happiness well and light up with a proper grin. It was a shame that, when she thought about it, she didn't think she'd ever seen Remus smile properly, just because he was happy. Not even at her first meeting with the Order, when Dung had fallen asleep at the table, his head drifting onto Snape's shoulder and his hands slipping a little lower. Just the thought of the expression on the Potion Master's face and Dung's subsequent squawk as he was hit by a stunning spell made Tonks want to giggle, even now. Sirius had roared with laughter and brought it into conversation for weeks. Remus, she'd realised later, had been so preoccupied with Dumbledore's report of Death Eater activity in the north that he'd barely noticed the commotion. It had made her feel like a silly schoolgirl, tittering over the antics of the popular mischief-maker in the class while the more mature kids learned their spells, passed their exams and knew what to do when the future required action.
"I'm assuming that the Eldogas Smith who wrote The Changing Lives of Metamorphmagi in 1956 does not belong to the merry Smiths of York, then?" Remus asked in dry tones, reaching out to pick up the fire poker.
Tonks was absorbed, watching him shift the burning logs and send up another comforting crackle of sparks. When his question finally registered, she began to reply, before pausing and frowning in surprise.
"The Changing Lives? Where did you hear of that book? They only ever published about ten copies, mostly because it's a load of bollocks. I'd say old Eldogas was from Yorkshire, all right, because he wasn't doing us any favours with that little volume. I think my favourite passage was when he discussed our eating habits. What was it, a preferred diet of nargles and other nesting insects?" She snorted, staring at him curiously. "I didn't reckon anyone else but my dad would bother to read that rubbish. According to my mother, he was more interested in the kitchens than the library at school, but he still reads anything about morphing that he can get his hands on." She grinned fondly. "Reckons that daughters already have the upper hand over their fathers and he needs all the help he can get with me, but he didn't think much of Smith's suggestions. I believe the words "sodding" and "tosser" were used more than once. I hope you didn't waste your time reading it."
Remus carefully added another log to the fire and sat back, dusting off his hands. He cleared his throat, briefly meeting her gaze.
"I came across a copy…some time ago, in a used bookstore. I did some research into changeling theory after I left Hogwarts, but my knowledge of Metamorphmagi was very limited. I happened to notice Smith's title on the shelves and was rather…intrigued."
Blimey. "Scholarly" was the word for it. Tonks tried to keep her amusement out of her expression, but was obviously unsuccessful as Remus gave her a slightly sheepish look in return.
"Okay, Professor," she said, following her laugh with a loud yawn. She rested her cheek against the couch cushions and knuckled at one eye. His efforts with the fireplace had prompted the flames into a more enthusiastic blaze and the heat was beginning to lull her into sleep. "And what were your thoughts?"
"My first thought was that Metamorphmagi must be admirably limber if they can really groom themselves with their feet." Remus ran an idle finger around the rim of his empty glass. He was still watching her, but she was too tired to feel awkward under his gaze. "My second was that Eldogas Smith's 'definitive monograph' was destined for a less lofty residence than my humble book collection."
"The fire?" Tonks suggested.
"I'm certainly not in favour of the Ministry's book burning policy, but in this case, I'd make an exception," he agreed, leaning back and closing his eyes.
The library was very quiet, only the occasional gentle crack from the hearth and a faint gnawing sound from the bookcase breaking the silence. Tonks sleepily supposed that the latter was a bookworm and wondered if chomping down on The Changing Lives would make the poor little bugger sick to its stomach.
"How was your date?" Remus asked suddenly, his voice also quiet, as if he didn't want to rouse her.
It had seemed to last forever, Tonks told him. The music had been awful, the drinks were watered down and the fit dishwasher had a laugh like a hippogriff with a bronchial condition. Then she realised that her eyes were closed and she hadn't managed one word of that debrief aloud.
"It was fine," she mumbled, and mentally grimaced.
Did people ever say "fine" and really mean fine? In her experience, it was the polite way of saying everything from "It was bloody awful, thanks," to "Does it look like I want to discuss it, you insensitive git?" In this case, "It was fine," could equally be substituted with, "It was so boring that I considered hitting myself over the head with a stale breadstick".
It hadn't been the dishwasher's fault, not entirely. He was obviously used to female attention and Tonks could only suppose that his other girlfriends had been so smitten with an admittedly impressive physique that they were prepared to overlook the total lack of any sense of humour. It turned out that they had sod all in common, which was surprising because on the surface they looked a perfect pair. He did share her love of unconventional hair colours and to his credit had displayed neither dismay nor perverted pleasure at her revelation that she was a Metamorphmagus. Most men were unable to hide a gleam of anticipation and some of them came right out and asked for a demonstration, helpfully suggesting her breasts as an example. Tonight's date, however, had commented that it must be "dead useful" not to have to buy hair potions, before continuing with the very long and not particularly interesting story of why he had fixed upon blue for his own locks. She had done her best to give a damn, but had honestly been more fascinated by the discovery of a hole in her tights. He had finally remembered to ask her a question about herself and had seemed impressed by her stories of Auror training, but the job that he obviously considered dangerous and sexy was currently both frightening and totally exhausting and the little energy that she'd retained after his hair colour monologue had not survived the subsequent description of his afternoon band practice. What kind of name was 'The Hard Knuts' for a group, anyway?
As any coherent thoughts began to drift away and she snuggled further back into the couch, Tonks sighed irritably. In just that morning's letter, her mum had made reference to her lack of tolerance – pot and kettle, anyone? – and it was irritating that she could be right. She didn't help her dismal love life by writing off every bloke after one date, even if they had literally almost put her to sleep. In the unlikely event that he followed up with an owl, she probably ought to give it another chance.
"You're going out again, then?" Remus asked casually, unconsciously mirroring her thoughts but sounding even less interested in the prospect of a second date than she was.
"Dunno," Tonks replied, her voice thick with impending sleep. "Might not ask, might he? Didn't seem too impressed when I practically snored over the cocktails."
She heard him chuckle softly. Just before she fell into a disappointing dream about eating rock-cakes with Hagrid, rather than snogging her way through the Weird Sisters, she also thought she heard him say "Good", and went to sleep with a puzzled crease between her brows.
She woke the next morning the way she usually did: comfortable, crabby and running late. The library was still dimly lit, but bright enough to reveal the deteriorated fittings and disturbing artworks that the dark of night cloaked so comfortingly. As she waved her wand at the closed drapes, cast a cursory look out the window as they flopped unenthusiastically open and cursed at the sight of the sun, already high in the sky, she noticed a plate of toast and a mug of tea under a warming charm on the coffee table. A pink mug of tea. She smiled.
When she stumbled out into the hall, cramming a last soldier of toast into her mouth and wondering if she had time to change or if she'd have to shower at work, she almost bumped into Sirius, who had just treaded heavily down the stairs and appeared to be in a filthy temper. He scowled at her through bleary eyes and stubble, looking as if he'd walked straight off the 'Wanted' posters that were still plastered on every street corner from Azkaban to Aberdeen.
"Wotcher, coz," Tonks said loudly, grinning through the residual nausea of her own lack of sleep and alcohol-fuelled evening. "Must have been a hard fifty minutes on the tiles last night."
Sirius, his expression blacker than ever, opened his mouth to reply.
"Morning, dear!" The cheerful tones were momentarily startling, until she realised that they hadn't come from the unappealing spectacle before her. Molly was standing at the top of the stairs, tying a neat bow in the belt of her dressing gown and alternating fond maternal smiles at Tonks with disapproving puckered lips at Sirius.
"G'morning, Molly," Tonks called up to her, starting to laugh.
Remus had been right. Judging by the truculent look on her cousin's face, Molly did a truly inspiring lecture on the evils of drink.
Waving, the older woman trundled off in the direction of the bathroom, as a sneering Sirius watched her go.
"Just because Arthur's bloody henpecked doesn't mean she needs to stick her beak into everyone else's business," he muttered, although Tonks was amused to notice that he kept his voice well down.
For his smirks and complaints, big bad Sirius Black was well scared of Molly Weasley and her mothering ways. Tonks agreed that the coddling could get a bit much at times, but reckoned that he ought to be especially grateful for it. Her relationship with her own mother was strained enough that she could appreciate handmade jumpers at Christmas and baked goods when Molly felt that she was looking overworked and peaky. Walburga Black had been such a total bitch that Sirius ought to have no end of respect for Molly. She poked him sharply in the chest with her wand.
"Oy. You're talking about a woman who can simultaneously cook a roast, knit nine woolly jumpers, tell off Severus Snape and make Bill Weasley stammer like a schoolboy. A role model to us all, I reckon."
Sirius snorted, pushing her hand away, but maintaining a hold on her wrist. As it sometimes did, his attention had shifted with disconcerting speed to focus on her, his previous complaint forgotten. His bloodshot eyes bored into her own, as if he were attempting Legilimency.
He wasn't, was he?
Shifting irritably, Tonks glared back at him.
"What?" she asked frostily. "I'm going to be late for work."
"Have you seen Remus since you got up this morning?" Sirius asked her, his voice dripping with suspicion. One winged black brow quirked upward. "Spoken to him? Smiled at him? That would probably do it, the moony git."
"What are you on about?" Tonks snapped. She had enough of a hangover to have no patience with the after-effects of Sirius's cooking sherry binge. And she wasn't sure whose breath smelled like the bottom of Buckbeak's feeding trough, but they could both do with a string-mint or five. "I'm late. Move it, mate."
"Ah. You're being cagey," her cousin said triumphantly, and she rolled her eyes.
"And you've apparently gone nutters, but I don't have time to do anything about it right now."
"So you have seen Remus today?" he persisted, his grip still a manacle about her wrist.
"No, I have not seen or spoken to Remus since I woke up," Tonks countered truthfully, frowning when his face fell into comical lines of consternation. "Why? Is he all right?" she asked with sudden concern. "He's not sick or something?"
"No," said Sirius bluntly. "He is not sick. He's bloody well whistling."