A Woman's Touch

By Menolly Mark

Remus Lupin and Sirius Black were already sitting at the dining room table in number 12 Grimmauld Place, when the entire crew of Weasleys trooped in. "Good morning Remus, good morning Sirius," exclaimed Molly, beaming down at them as she ushered each of her children in, and hurriedly closed the door behind them. "I'm so grateful that you're letting us all stay here for the moment. I know it must be a hassle, what with the meetings going on, and the Order popping in and out all of the time. It makes me feel safer, though, knowing that we can all be here together."

"It's not a problem, Molly," said Sirius. Glancing over at him, Lupin decided that he definitely meant it. Sirius looked lonely, and Lupin felt a twinge of frustration as he wondered why his company wasn't sufficient. Just as quickly, he stifled that thought. It was, of course, always nice to have Molly and her children around. They lightened things up, and there was no doubt that he could use the help neatening up the place.

Molly seemed to have noticed the same thing. Her critical eye was roving around the dusty curtains, house-elf heads, and awful paintings, and she curled her lip at them, tutting disdainfully before turning back to Sirius with an air of resolution. "Well," she said, "I think…you could use a woman's touch around here."

"No doubt," agreed Sirius. He stood up and waved his wand at all of the suitcases, which promptly flew out of the hands of each of the Weasley children, and zipped up the stairs in a row. Holding out his hand to relieve Molly of her own luggage, he started up to the bedrooms, gesturing for the Weasleys to follow him.

They did so, and Lupin, getting a look at each of them in turn, was surprised, and a bit chagrinned to see how much all of them had grown up since he'd been their Professor at Hogwarts, more than a year ago. Ginny had sprouted up, and was no longer a little, timid thing, but a very pretty fourteen year old girl. Fred and George had more facial hair than seemed appropriate for boys with their juvenile dispositions. He grinned at them, and Fred saluted him jauntily, before making his way upstairs after his mother.

He already knew Bill and Charlie form excursions he'd made with the Order, over the summer. Bill came over and clapped him on the back affectionately, although Charlie contended himself with a polite nod. After the two of them came Ron Weasley, Harry's best friend. The presence of the girl just to Ron's left, however, threw Lupin completely off guard.

Hermione Granger, her ginger cat, Crookshanks, curled up in her arms was chattering animatedly with Ron Weasley, seemingly not very pleased about something. She, too, was hardly a little girl anymore, and the mass of bushy brown hair that had once obscured her face was now neater, much better-tamed brown ringlets, framing a face that was tinged with a worry and a sadness beyond her years. Lupin knew that she and Ron both must have had a very difficult time, being the closest friends and compatriots of the wizard most sought-after by Lord Voldemort. Yet, it still disturbed him to see the chance that had come over her. When he'd last seen her, she'd been a frightened little girl. Now she was a chastened, anxious woman.

"Hey, Professor!" Ron grinned as they passed by the table. "How've you been? Where've you been? Or can't you tell us that? Mum says I shouldn't ask anyone in the order what they've been up to." He shrugged.

"I'm well, thank you, Ron," he replied, reaching out to shake the tall red-head's hand. "And mostly, I've been here, with Sirius."

"Yeah," muttered Ron, but without malice. "I bet you're supposed to tell me that, aren't you. Well, I'll see you in a bit. Gotta go help Mum, before she starts yelling for me." With a quick wave, he crossed the distance to the stairs, and went to join his mother, brothers, and sister.

Hermione, however, didn't follow him immediately. "You were right, Professor," she said, smiling. "You said we'd see you again, and now we have."

Lupin sighed. "I can't say the circumstances are exactly the ones I would have picked, but…yes, here I am. How was your summer?"

"Oh, fine, fine. Uneventful. I mean. I'm glad, that it was uneventful," she added quickly, biting her lip.

"I know what you mean," he assured her. "Honestly it's been relatively uneventful here, as well. The calm before the storm, I suppose."

Lupin knew perfectly well that he shouldn't be saying such ominous things to a girl of fifteen. Was she really only fifteen? He gave her a long look, thinking to himself that she carried herself like an older girl, and that it was very easy to forget that she was, in fact, still very much a child. He shouldn't tell her things that would frighten her.

"So I imagine," she replied, with a slight smile. "But let's be optimistic. Maybe it'll be a nice, long, relaxing calm. It's good to see you, Professor." With that, she turned around and followed Ron up to the bedrooms, where Sirius and Molly were helping everyone unload their trunks.

Lupin realized belatedly that he should be up there with them, helping everyone out. Starting up from his chair, he put down the glass of water he'd been drinking, and was just about to go looking for Sirius, when the doorbell rang. Distracted, he went to answer it. "Hello?" he called out. "Who is it?"

"Wotcher, Remus!" came a perky voice from just outside the door. When he opened it, Tonks came bustling in, followed by Mad Eye Moody, and Kingsley Shacklebolt.

"Did Molly get here alright?" growled Moody, his magical eye turning upwards in his head so that he could see the Weasleys on the upstairs landing. "No problems with the trip, I hope?"

"Everyone's fine," Lupin assured him. "They're just unpacking their things. How are things at the Ministry?"

Tonks made a derisive noise in her throat, and Kingsley, though smiling, rolled his eyes expressively. "I don't know how that man ever got elected," Tonks was saying unhappily. "He's the most useless old coot I've ever had the misfortune to meet. Denying Dumbledore's promises that the Dark Lord's returned. I mean, how can you possibly not trust Dumbledore?"

Lupin had to agree with her, but he didn't think that it needed to be said. "How long are you staying?" he asked instead. "I'm sure we can clear out an extra few rooms up there, although I can't make any promises about the smell. I imagine it'll get a bit better once Molly's had her way."

"I would like that," murmured Tonks, looking at Lupin with a curious intensity. Lupin looked down at his shoes, clearing his throat and suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. Apparently noticing his discomfort, Tonks shot a swift look at Kingsley and Moody, and then brushed past Lupin, saying, "I suppose I'll go help Molly out, shall I? Back in a bit!"

"Not sure what you did that for," muttered Moody. Lupin stared at him.

"What I did what for?" he asked.

Moody snorted. "Not sure why you asked her to stay like that. Made her think you want her here. You can't have it both ways, Remus."

Lupin was genuinely surprised, and somewhat resentful at receiving personal advice from Mad Eye Moody. He couldn't imagine that the man had ever entertained a romance of his own. Then again, Moody had been young once too, and he hadn't always been the hardened, cold-minded man that they all knew so well nowadays. "I don't want it both ways," he insisted. "I don't have any desire to make her think anything untoward. I also don't think it's unreasonable to offer hospitality to a friend and member of the Order." He put an emphasis on the word friend, and Moody shrugged.

"Maybe I know that," he said, "But she doesn't."

Lupin stood, somewhat disgruntled, as Moody walked past him and ascended the stairs. Kingsley shot him a very sympathetic look before following the older man, and Lupin was left standing alone, somewhat nettled. He knew perfectly well how Nymphadora Tonks felt about him, and she didn't seem to be capable of hiding it. He'd put it down to a girlish crush, and yet it had persisted, despite his best attempts to squelch it, for quite some months now. He was of two minds about the whole thing, and neither of those minds was the one that Tonks wanted from him.

At first, he had genuinely wanted to be able to return her affection. He had even tried to harbor some sort of romantic feeling for the woman, thinking that maybe he was just too hardened himself to know when he was experiencing love. Ultimately, he'd been forced to admit to himself that it wasn't love, and that, though he genuinely liked and admired Tonks, he didn't share that passion that she so evidently felt for him. When he'd thought about it further, he'd realized what a positive thing that was. He wasn't the kind of man with whom one entered casually into a relationship. He was dangerous, he as old, and was tired, so tired that he knew it showed on his face, in his clothes, in the way that he carried himself. He could never possibly have been a good choice or a good match for a woman like Tonks, who had so much vivacity in her, she couldn't control herself at times. No, he'd decided, that was something that was never meant to be.

And yet, even as he felt some relief over having a very valid reason for not returning Tonks' affections, those thoughts made Lupin feel sick. Sometimes, when he least expected it, he'd find himself thinking that a man like him wasn't incapable of affection, just unworthy of them. Even if he did care very deeply about someone, wanted to spend time with them, spend the rest of his life with them, he would still be a werewolf.

"Professsor?" Hermione was at his elbow, and he started, wondering how long she'd been there watching him. "Sorry, there's a dead flobberworm under the bedspread in Mrs. Weasley's room, and she won't go anywhere near it. I'm not allowed to do magic, so…" she trailed off, shrugging. "I was wondering if you could give us a hand."

"Of course." Forcing himself out of his unpleasant thoughts, Lupin turned and marched up the stairs, with Hermione right behind him. "Which room are Molly and Arthur staying in?"

"The one on the very far right." Hermione pointed as she spoke. Ginny stuck her head out of the room in question, and made a disgusted face.

"Ew, Hermione, there are more of them," she said, wrinkling her nose. "How would flobberworms get into a bedroom? I don't want to think about it…"

When Lupin overturned the bedspread, he did indeed find not one, but several dead, oozing flobberworms lying on top of the sheets. It was a pretty unpleasant sight. It occurred to Lupin that Kreacher might have put them there as a welcome present for their recent guests, and he made a note to mention that to Sirius. Something would have to be done about that house elf, if there were going to be decent people staying in Grimmauld place. He and Sirius could handle him well enough, but Molly wouldn't stand for this sort of thing.

"Lavendium," murmured Lupin, and the flobberworm corpses vanished, as did the mucus on the sheets where they'd been lying. He added, "Derigo," and watched the sheets and blankets smooth themselves out again, leaving very little trace of ever having been disturbed.

"Thanks," grinned Ginny. "Mum'll be thrilled. She hates flobberworms, she says. They give her the creeps. I think it's silly, they don't bother me."

Ginny went off to find Mrs. Weasley, and Hermione smiled at Lupin. "Well," she said, "I don't like them very much, and I spent most of my third year taking care of them, with Hagrid. I don't blame her. They're disgusting."

She reached over and gave Lupin's hand a grateful squeeze, and Lupin was somewhat shocked by the lurch that his heart gave as their hands made contact. Their eyes met, and some of his emotion must have shown in his face, because Hermione gave him a curious look. "Everything all right, Professor?"

Lupin nodded quickly, afraid to speak lest his voice give him away. He waited a few moments, allowing himself to master the rapid beating in his chest, before he responded. "I'm fine," he said, pleased to hear that his voice didn't quaver. "I just have a little bit of a headache. Sirius and I were up very late last night working, and I guess it's starting to catch up with me."

"You do have very dark circles under your eyes," Hermione agreed. Was that a note of disappointment in her voice? Lupin hoped it was, and just as quickly forced himself not to think about that. "Are you going to have a chance to sleep tonight? Now that we're all here, I'm sure that someone else can take care of…well, of whatever it was that you were waiting up for." She shrugged her lack of knowledge on the subject. "Sorry," she added, a little more quietly. "I don't know anything about the Order, of course. I wouldn't presume…"

Lupin waved that away. "Not a problem," he said. "You're right, after all. I'm no use to anyone if I can't even keep my eyes open." He couldn't seem to close them, now. He wasn't honestly sure if he'd blinked once in the last minute, his eyes fixed on Hermione's concerned ones.

"Remus?" Sirius strode into the room. "Oh, good, there you are. We're just about to have lunch. Molly says she thinks you should come downstairs. She also tells me that apparently I haven't been feeding you enough, that you look like you're about to wither away." He grinned, rolling his eyes indulgently, and then stopped, raising an eyebrow at Lupin. Lupin realized his hand was still in Hermione's, and snatched it away a little bit too quickly.

"I'll go help with lunch," murmured Hermione. She flashed Lupin and Sirius both a smile, and then turned on her heel and left the room. Lupin watched go, aware of Sirius' eyes on him. He tried to look businesslike, wiping his hands off unnecessarily on his trouser legs.

"Well, shall we?" he asked. Sirius didn't say anything, but continued to gaze curiously at Lupin, with a sympathetic, understanding expression on his face that Lupin wasn't entirely sure he appreciated.

"So that's it," said Sirius, after what seemed like an eternity of moments. "That's why you won't let Tonks in, is it? I'm surprised at you, Remus. She's a little girl."

"Don't tease me," muttered Lupin. "You're being ridiculous, and I don't think that's funny."

"No," agreed Sirius, "No, I don't think it's funny either, to tell you the truth. You've been very good about hiding it, too, and I wish you'd told me. I wouldn't ever have invited them to the house for the summer."

Maybe, thought Lupin, that's why I didn't tell you. "Come on," he said instead. "It's lunch time."