Author's Notes: I owe a great deal of thanks to MrsTater for her beta-help on this story. Her suggestions have been invaluable. And thank you to everyone who has been encouraging me to continue writing this fic-universe. The story and chapter titles are derived from the song "Stuck in a Moment" by U2, lyrics by Bono. And be aware: this chapter is LOOONG. Make sure you're comfortable and in no hurry to do anything else before you begin.
Chapter 1: These Tears are Going Nowhere
The sun set hours ago, and the pace and tone of Remus's breath fell into the soft and deep pattern of sleep not long after they lay down, but Tonks is still awake beside him. Her hand rests on his bare chest, rising and falling slowly with his regular breaths. She tries to close her eyes and shut out the troubled thoughts that dance in her head, but she finds that she can't silence them.
Remus is leaving again in the morning. Dumbledore is sending him out for another few days collecting information among the other werewolves—the poor unfortunates who have no one to love them as she loves Remus. Neither of them has said it aloud, but both of them know that the prospect of this assignment becoming permanent looms over them with dreadful immediacy. It is now less a matter of "if", then of "when."
The fear rolls in her gut like some foul disease, leaving her nauseous and weak. In the daylight hours she puts on a brave face, and does her job. But in the darkness of night and exhaustion, she can't stop the fears from overwhelming her.
If he does go underground he could be gone for weeks, or even months, at a time. He may not even be able to send her word. And who knows how long the assignment could last? It could be done in three months, but it could also take more than a year.
She knows that she can wait for him. She knows that she can be strong; but his mother's words keep echoing through her mind: "The other werewolves. That's where Albus sent him last time, and it was almost the end of him. He came back feeling less than human. He came back feeling like a pariah—an animal…He's never been completely the same. Never. Albus can't do that to him again."
Tonks promised that it wouldn't happen again. Just like she promised that she loved him enough to carry him through the hard times—to lend him her strength when his own isn't enough. But now, after what happened to Sirius and what she sees happening to Remus, she doesn't know if he will let her keep either promise, no matter how much she wants to. He seems further and further away from her every day.
With a surge of bitterness, she returns to the thought that Dumbledore would never send Arthur on a mission like this. He would never break up a family. Why doesn't he see that sending Remus away is no different?
As she watches Remus stir lightly in his sleep it occurs to her that perhaps she needs to take drastic steps. Dumbledore may not see them as a family now, but what if she convinces Remus to elope? Surely Dumbledore won't take him away from his new bride? Or better yet, what if she stops taking her contraceptive potion? Dumbledore won't send Remus away if he is going to be a father…
She halts that train of thought before it goes any further as a wave of shame and disgust washes over her. She wonders what kind of horrible person she must be to even think such things. What kind of coward must she be to dwell on them for even a second? She's an Auror, and at war, and she has a duty—a responsibility. No matter how terrified she is of the future—no matter how afraid she is of losing her chance to have a family with Remus—she knows that her duties must come first. She knows that she will do nothing to jeopardize her ability to fight for the world she believes in—it was just a passing thought. That's all.
She rubs her eyes, and takes a few deep breaths, trying to banish the final traces of her craven thoughts from her mind. She tells herself that it is just the exhaustion. She would never think such things if she had enough rest. She just needs to sleep. And, eventually, she does.
All too soon, morning comes. She rises from bed with Remus, and forces a smile onto her face. She wishes him luck, and kisses him goodbye. She keeps the dark thoughts from the dead of night to herself.
She chokes down some toast, knowing that she will need her strength today, and shrugs into her Aurors robes. It is time to step back out face-first into the rising storm.
She survives the first two days apart from Remus, but the third is almost too much.
She is trembling and nauseous when she Apparates home to her flat after her shift ends. She has to get her clothes off. She has to get them off now. She tugs and fumbles at her robes and the jeans and shirt underneath, tossing them in a damp pile by her door. Her shaking fingers slip on her shirt buttons, and she gives up being careful—she rips her shirt open, sending buttons flying and scattering around the room.
Once all of her clothes are lying in a forlorn heap, she stumbles away from them, trying to escape the rusty scent of blood. She makes her way to the shower, and turns on the water as hot as she can bear.
As she fiercely scrubs her skin she tries not to think about the fact that it is Emmeline's blood that is being washed down the drain, and she hopes that somehow scrubbing her body might also scrub her mind of the images of Emmeline's staring eyes—her hand stretched out, as if clawing for freedom—the pool of blood congealing around her body.
They made sure she suffered. There was no quick release for Emmeline. And now, every single happy memory that Tonks has of her friend will be tainted by that one, horrible, memory of finding her battered corpse.
Tonks knows that the war really started that night in the Department of Mysteries, and she still mourns Sirius along with the rest of the Order. But the true magnitude of what lies ahead didn't become clear to her until she cradled her friend's head in her lap, getting blood on her robes and on her hands, staring into those blank, terrified, eyes until her back up finally arrived. But, like Tonks, they came too late.
She doesn't turn off the shower until the water runs cold. She wraps herself in a warm, fuzzy dressing gown, and takes a deep breath before stepping back out into her living room to look at the pile of clothes by the front door. She knows she ought to wash them, but she doesn't know if she can bear it. She can see the dark patches of blood drying into a brown crust on her clothes, and she knows that no matter how clean she gets them, she will never forget that these were the clothes that bore the last traces of Emmeline's life.
After staring at them for a long moment, she strides to the table where she flung her wand, and picks it up. With a few flicks of her wrist she vanishes her clothes one piece at a time. Soon, all that is left are her boots, standing in the center of a brownish smudge on her floor.
She is about to vanish the boots, as well, when she stops herself. Those are her best work boots. Though she is ashamed of herself for it, she doesn't want to get rid of them.
She levitates them into the kitchen sink. She'll clean them tomorrow.
Pointedly ignoring the boots, she walks into the kitchen and takes some lettuce and celery out of her fridge. Then she returns to the living room and sits down next to her rabbit, Mr. Fluffy's, cage. She pulls him out onto her lap, and begins feeding him bits of vegetable. His fur is soft and warm under her hands. He's so simple, and innocent. Holding him helps her forget her troubles, at least for a little while.
If only Remus will come home early—she doesn't know how she'll sleep through the night without him.
Her thought of Remus jolts her out of her stupor of grief. Remus will be back tomorrow, and he will need his first dose of Wolfsbane Potion. She is supposed to meet Severus at Hogwarts tonight to brew it. She looks up at the clock, and is relieved to see that she isn't late yet. But she will be if she doesn't get dressed in a hurry. She puts Mr. Fluffy back in his cage, and runs to her room for some clothes.
She Apparates to the front gates of Hogwarts. Hagrid is waiting for her there, playing fetch with his massive dog.
"Hello, Tonks!" he says in his booming voice. "Good ter see yeh."
"Hello, Hagrid," she says, forcing a smile on to her face.
"Professor Snape tol' me ter watch fer yeh. He says he's goin' ter be late, an yeh should start prepping the ingredients, but wait for him ter get here ter start brewin'."
"Thank you Hagrid."
"Yer welcome. It was'n any trouble. Good luck with yer potion."
She follows the familiar path down to Severus's office in the dungeon, and lets herself in. She rubs the sleep from her eyes, and sets about laying out the ingredients and tools that she will need. She chops and prepares all of the non-toxic ingredients, and then sits on a stool to wait for Severus's return before preparing the rest.
The dungeons are eerily silent, and the images of Emmeline keep popping un-bidden into her increasingly exhausted mind. She stands up and starts pacing, trying to drive the thoughts from her head. She keeps checking the clock. She's been there for half-an-hour. Then three-quarters of an hour. When a whole hour has passed she stamps her foot in frustration. She can't wait any longer, or she'll fall asleep on her feet.
She strides over to the counter, and lights the flame under her cauldron. She doesn't care if Severus insists that she still needs his supervision—she brewed the Wolfsbane all by herself last month, with him doing nothing more than looking over her shoulder from time to time. She's knows that she can do it again.
She pulls on her safety gloves, and starts to work.
She makes good progress, and soon the bubbling concoction in her cauldron is well on its way to being another perfect batch of Wolfsbane potion. It's time to prepare the aconite.
Severus has warned her that the poison of the aconite is known to have stronger effects on all shape-shifters—not just werewolves—and that it will likely damage a Metamorphmagus far more than an ordinary witch or wizard. But, under Severus's tutelage, she has learned how to handle it safely.
She begins the slow process of chopping the aconite roots into fine bits with her silver knife. Suddenly a voice cries out, "Tonksy wonksy!"
She jumps, her knife slipping against her finger, and spins to see Peeves hovering in the air behind her. The poltergeist snorts with laughter, and says, "Did I scare you, Tonksy wonksy?"
She scowls and turns back to her work. "Go away, Peeves. I'm busy."
She hears Peeves giggling maniacally, and does her best to ignore it. She needs to start mashing the bits of aconite roots into a paste.
A bottle crashes to the floor. She jumps around again, pointing her knife at the offending poltergeist, which hovers over the broken bottle with a grin on his face.
"Do I need to call in the Bloody Baron to run you off?" she yells. "Get out!"
With another snicker, Peeves soars away.
She once again returns to her work, shaking her hand, which is beginning to feel cold and numb.
As she continues to mash the aconite, the numbness in her hand intensifies, and begins to spread up her arm.
She shakes her hand again, and finds that it is hard to move, and is starting to ache. The numbness is spreading into her shoulder, and her chest. She leans against the counter, and stares down at her numb hand. She gasps in horror as she sees the spot where her knife sliced through her glove. A thin red slit is clearly visible on her finger.
Some of the aconite must have got into the wound.
Her chest is starting to hurt, and her breath is coming in short, sharp gasps. She pushes back from the counter, dropping her knife with a clatter. She has to get help.
She stumbles toward the door, her feet dragging and her head spinning. Just as she opens the door, the world begins to go black, and she feels herself falling to the hard stone floor.
The first thing she notices is the ache. It's not just in a few parts of her body, like she would expect. It's all over—as if every single cell of her body has a bruise on it.
The second thing she notices is that someone is gripping her hand so tightly it's like they're trying to save her from falling off of a cliff.
She slowly forces her eyes open, and licks her dry lips. Her mouth feels sticky, and is full of an unpleasant taste. She turns her head to see who it is that's squeezing her hand. It is Remus. He looks worn and haggard, but has a smile on his face.
"Good morning," he says.
"Hi." Her voice comes out as a raspy croak. "Where are we?"
"St. Mungo's? Why?"
He frowns slightly, his forehead furrowing. "You don't remember? Last night…?"
She takes a deep breath to clear her mind, and the memory comes rushing back. The numbness in her hand…the pain in her chest…and then a hazier memory. Someone was shouting her name—cursing at her for her inability to follow the simplest of instructions. Severus. He must have found her—he must have brought her here. She licks her dry lips, and takes another deep breath. "It was the aconite."
Remus nods. "Yes. The aconite."
"That damn Peeves! Dumbledore should have him thrown out!"
"What does Peeves have to do with anything?"
"He startled me while I was chopping the aconite roots. My knife slipped and I cut my finger…" She glances over at her wounded hand, noticing for the first time that the entire hand is swathed in thick white bandages.
"Don't worry," says Remus. "They managed to save your hand—even the finger you cut. Though it was very touch and go for a while there." His voice sounds strained, and tired. She silently curses her clumsiness. He shouldn't have had to deal with this right after his mission. He should have been able to rest.
"I'm so sorry," she says quietly. "I should have been more careful. I should have been patient and waited for Severus's help. Peeves never would have snuck up on me with Severus there."
Remus shakes his head. "I should be the one apologizing. I should have learned more about the potion myself. If I'd had any inkling of how dangerous aconite is to a Metamorphmagus, I never would have permitted you to make it for me."
His words feel like a slap in the face. "Not permitted? Since when have I needed your permission?" She is not going to let him blame himself for this. He has too much guilt on his conscience already.
"I'm sorry. Permitted was the wrong word. But you understand what I'm saying—I don't want you taking these kinds of risks for me. It's not worth it."
She can't stand it when he starts to talk like this. "Remus—you are worth every risk to me. You know that."
He nods, but his eyes are downcast and weary. "There's something you should know—about what the aconite did to you, and to your abilities."
Her frustration with Remus is instantly replaced with fear. Severus warned her that the aconite might affect her more than it would a normal person. "What about my abilities?"
"Don't worry too much," he says, stroking the back of her undamaged hand. "The Healer said that there will probably be some temporary impairment of your morphing abilities, but that you will most likely be back to normal in two or three weeks."
"What do you mean by impairment?" She needs her powers to do her job.
Remus takes a deep breath. "I'm sure that the Healer will explain this better than I can when she gets here, but it seems that somehow the aconite has seized up your cells. As a Metamorphmagus, your body's cells are normally amorphous and flexible, allowing your natural powers to shape them however you desire. But in some sort of natural defense mechanism to protect themselves from the poison, your cells have become more rigid, and regular, like they would be in any other woman."
"So…I won't be able to morph at all?" It's as if all of her worst imaginings are coming true, all at once.
"For now, no. But I told you, the Healer said that your cells will most likely return to their normal level of flexibility in a few week's time, at which point you should be able to morph as well as you ever have."
She closes her eyes tight, trying to quell the anxiety welling up inside of her. Her morphing has been a part of her for as long as she can remember, and she doesn't know what she'll do without it.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Tonks looks up to see her father standing in the gap of the curtains surrounding her bed, with her mother just behind him.
Remus rises, dropping her hand, leaving her bereft.
"Mr. Tonks…I'm sorry. I was just…"
Her father steps forward, looking angry. "Just acting like you still have the right to come see her, when it's your fault she's here for the second time in less than a month?"
"Daddy," says Tonks, straining to sit up. "It is not Remus's fault—it's mine. I made a stupid bloody mistake, and now I'm paying for it. Remus had nothing to do with it."
"Don't overexert yourself, dear," says her mother, bustling forward.
Her father turns his hard eyes on her. "I've been talking to the Healer. I know perfectly well what kind of potion you were trying to brew. You never would have ended up in this place if it weren't for your damned obsession with this sodding werewolf!"
"Daddy!" Tonks exclaims, but her father ignores her, and turns to glare at Remus. "An obsession which he seems very much inclined to encourage—and who could blame him? Not many of his kind ever get the chance to have a beautiful young witch at their beck and call." He takes another menacing step toward Remus, who just stands there, silently staring. "You must be enjoying this, aren't you?" her father continues. "You must be on top of the world, having a Metamorphmagus to do your bidding." She's never heard this tone in her father's voice before. He never has liked Remus, but she thought he was growing used to him—or at least to the idea of him—over the past several months. But now she can see his doubts and worries boiling out of him with astonishing force. She never imagined him capable of saying such vile things.
She sits bolt upright, her chest heaving with anger, pain, and anguish. "Stop it! Just stop it!"
Her mother's arm slides around her shoulders, squeezing her tightly. "You've said enough, Ted. This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion." This is too much. She thought her mother liked Remus.
"There is no time or place for this discussion, Mum!" Tonks chokes out, fighting back sobs. "I am in love with him! I love Remus, and I haven't done anything for him that the two of you wouldn't have done for each other. I made my choice, just like you did, and I don't care what you think of it."
Her chest heaves, and pain suffuses her whole body, and she bites down on her bottom lip trying to hold back her tears.
All the while Remus just stands there, looking lost and almost afraid. Seeing him like this hurts her more than the physical pain. Remus never looks like this, and a part of her hates her father for doing this to him.
A Healer bursts into the curtained area. "This is quite enough!" she says. "This young woman has just been through a severe trauma, and I will not permit you to agitate her like this. You will all have to leave. Now!"
The tone in her voice leaves no room for argument. Without a word, Tonks's father turns on his heels and stalks out through the gap in the curtains. Her mother gives her another hug, and whispers. "I'm so sorry, dear. I'll talk to him for you. Take care." She follows her husband.
"Remus?" asks Tonks imploringly, reaching out her hand toward him.
"He'll have to leave, too, love," says the Healer, sounding much pleasanter than she did a few moments ago.
Remus, still visibly shaken, takes her hand and gives it a squeeze. He leans forward to plant a quick kiss on her forehead, and says, "I'll see you soon." Then he turns, and follows her parents away from her.
She lies back down, and the Healer begins fussing around her, tucking in her blankets and getting her some medicinal tea. She changes Tonks's bandages, and Tonks is more than a little alarmed by the blue-ish color of her finger, but the Healer assures her that it will be fine in a few days. She begins babbling on about the treatments they've used, explaining what they've done and will continue to do to heal her from her accidental poisoning. "You're very lucky that Professor McGonagall got you to us when she did. A half an hour longer, and you'd have lost the whole hand."
"Minerva brought me in?" Tonks asks, confused.
"Oh, yes. She told us all about how she was letting you use the Potions classroom for your brewing, and how she found you passed out on the floor when she came to check on you. It's amazing that she managed to get you through the Floo all by herself."
The Healer moves on to babbling about the course of treatment she'll need to follow over the next few weeks, but Tonks can't concentrate. She is sure that she remembers Severus finding her—if it wasn't just a dream. So why wasn't he the one to bring her in? But the new puzzle doesn't distract her from her troubles for long, as the Healer soon launches into a more detailed explanation about the aconite's affect on her powers.
"…but once it's worked its way completely out of your system, your body should begin to relax and return to its normal state. You should be able to morph again in two or three weeks—certainly no more than a month."
"You don't...you don't sound very sure."
"It's hard to be sure in a case as rare as yours," replies the Healer with a warm smile. "But I feel very positive about your outlook."
This does not reassure Tonks one bit. She feels dizzy, and anxious. She closes her eyes. "This can't be happening," she mutters. It's too much.
The tears leak uncontrollably from her eyes, and heaving sobs begin to shake her body. She feels like she's losing her friends, she's losing her family, she's losing Remus, and now she's even losing herself. She raises her hands to her face to try to blot away the tears, but the feeling of those bandages against her skin only makes her cry harder. The Healer's thick arms circle around her, and she feels her head being cradled against the woman's soft chest.
For several minutes the woman rocks her in silence, stroking her hair and hissing soft shushes like she would to a child. Finally, Tonks's sobs begin to subside, and the woman says, "It's all right, love. I know that right now it feels like the whole world is ending, but what you really need is a good day to sleep it off, and everything will seem better tomorrow. I promise."
Amazingly, she is right.
When she wakes in the morning, Tonks finds that most of her aches are gone, and her heart feels a great deal lighter. A new Healer comes to check on her, and under his brusque care she finds herself missing the plump motherly woman who comforted her so expertly yesterday. He removes her bandages, and she is delighted to see that her hand looks almost normal. There is only a slight redness and swelling around the spot where she cut her finger. The Healer applies a salve to it, and wraps a new bandage around the finger, leaving the rest of her hand free. He gives her a list of potions and salves to pick up at the Apothecary on her way home, and detailed instructions on her medical regimen for the coming week.
After he finishes, a polite young woman in stiff white robes brings her a hearty breakfast, and she is astonished to find that she is ravenous. She finishes the entire breakfast, and finds herself looking for more.
A few minutes later she looks up to see Molly Weasley walking toward her. "Good morning, dear!" she says cheerily. Tonks's disappointment must be visible, because Molly immediately adds, "I know you were expecting Remus, but Dumbledore called him away at the last minute. I swear Remus works harder than the rest of us combined, poor man."
Tonks tries to be cheerful as Molly leads her out of her ward, down to the Apothecary for her potions, and then home to her flat, but when Molly chides her gently for putting herself at such risk, Tonks can't hold back. "Wouldn't you have done the same for Arthur? If he was sick, wouldn't you do everything you could to help him? I can't understand why people seem to think I did something wrong in trying to help him! The only thing I did wrong was to work alone and exhausted. I should have taken a nap. I should have waited for Severus. But learning to make that potion for Remus was the right thing to do, and no one is going to convince me otherwise!"
Molly looks abashed. "You're right. Of course, you're right. If it was Arthur, I would have done the same, no matter the risk. I'm sorry. I was talking like a mother, not like a friend."
Now it is Tonks who feels ashamed. "I didn't mean to snap at you. I'm sorry. It's been a horrible week. And yesterday morning I got in an awful fight with my Dad, and he said the most horrible things about Remus right to his face. I think I'm just feeling a little sensitive about these things."
Molly shakes her head. "Well, for Merlin's sake, a hospital ward is no place to start bullying your daughter's beau! No wonder you feel so low." She pulls her into a hug, just like the Healer did yesterday. "You poor dear. After all you've been through in the past few days, it's amazing that you're doing as well as you are—I certainly don't think that I'd be doing half so well if I were in your place."
Molly has Tonks sit down on her sofa, and goes to the kitchen to make some tea. "My father never has cared for Arthur, you know," she calls. "But at least he's always had the courtesy to be civil. Would you like me to wash these boots for you?"
It takes Tonks a few seconds to remember the boots in her sink—the boots with Emmeline's blood on them. "No!" she says.
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. Please, just leave them for me." She knows that she has to wash them herself, but she doesn't really know why.
After drinking her tea, and promising Molly that she will take a nap, Molly leaves Tonks to herself.
She tries to take the promised nap, but finds that after nearly twenty-four hours of sleep she simply doesn't have it in her. Instead, she potters around the flat doing long-neglected chores in an attempt to distract herself from memories of Emmeline, and worries about Remus.
She wonders what he must be thinking. What her father said hurt him deeply—she could see it. With the frame of mind that he's been in since Sirius's death, she's afraid that this new hurt could drive him to do something rash. She wishes that she could talk to him, and reassure him that nothing between them has changed—that they still have friends who love and support them.
She paces back and forth through her flat. She can't sit still. Every time she stops moving she notices the stiffness and inflexibility of her body. She's had trouble maintaining morphs for longer than an hour or two during times of high stress or illness in the past, but she's never been completely unable to morph. It's almost like being stuck in clothes that don't quite fit.
The only thing that distracts her is movement. She wants to go back to work. She wants to track down Greyback right now, and toss him into Azkaban herself. And she wants to find Bellatrix and…and what? Kill her?
She continues to pace around her flat, doing little chores along the way and averting her eyes every time she catches a glimpse of those boots. Why didn't she just let Molly wash them?
After a little over an hour of pacing and cleaning, she hears a knock on her door. She picks up her wand and peers out of her peep-hole. It is Severus.
She calls out their security question. "What did I give you for Christmas?"
"Powdered bicorn horn." It is him.
She sets her wand down and lets him in. "How did you know where my flat is?"
"I have my ways. But that isn't important. What is important is that after your gross display of negligence and carelessness two nights ago, I can never permit you to brew the Wolfsbane Potion again." He glares at her fiercely.
She's been longing for a good fight to get rid of all her nervous energy, and she's glad that Severus brought one right to her.
"You can't stop me. I know the recipe by heart. I'll brew it right here in my kitchen if I have to."
His scowl deepens, and she is glad. She doesn't want soft words and comfort right now. She wants action.
"Then I'll break into your flat and destroy all of your ingredients," he says.
"I'll buy more."
"I'll Obliviate the recipe right out of your head!"
"I'll look it up and teach it to myself all over again!"
"Then I'll lock you in a bloody dungeon and throw away the key! You will not brew that potion again until you prove to me that you care about preserving your own life as much as you care about preserving his!" His face is red, and while he shouts little flecks of spittle fly from his mouth.
She's never seen him like this before, and she hates that she's done this to him. The will to fight drains right out of her. "I'm sorry, Severus," she says quietly. "I shouldn't be taunting you like this."
He continues to glare at her, his chest heaving with fury, but when he speaks again his voice is low, and tightly controlled. "You have no idea what it was like for me, finding you lying on the floor like that. When I first saw you I thought you were dead."
This jars her—images of Emmeline's body rising in her mind. Did Severus feel the same way finding her that she had felt finding Emmeline? And she was the one who put him through that. No wonder he's angry.
"I'm sorry. I was stupid. No one should have to find a friend like that. You have my deepest apologies."
After a moment, he nods. "Apology accepted."
They stare at each other in uncomfortable silence. Finally, Tonks says, "Why did Minerva bring me to St. Mungo's? Why not you?"
His anger seems to be dissipating, but she can tell by the tightness of the muscles in his face that he is still upset. "I should think the reason would be obvious," he says.
"You were afraid of breaking your cover?"
He nods. "Yes."
Now she is the one who is upset. Will this be what it's like once Remus has gone underground? Will they have to pretend not to know each other? Will they have to stand back and watch each other suffer, all for the sake of the mission? How can Dumbledore constantly preach about the importance of love, and then force people apart like this? She can feel her anger rising again.
"It shouldn't have to be like this!" she snaps at Severus. "You shouldn't have had to waste precious time calling someone else to help, when you could have got me to the hospital himself twice as fast! It's not fair! None of this is fair!" She knows that she sounds like a petulant child, but she can't help herself.
His face flushes red again. As usual, she's managed to say the wrong thing. With Severus, she never seems to know what the right thing is.
"Life is not fair. It's time you learned that. Waiting for Minerva to get to us while I sat helplessly, watching the life seeping out of you, was one of the hardest things I have ever done," she says through clenched teeth. "But it was the correct decision. If I had been seen taking you to the hospital, all of my credibility with the Death Eaters could have been ruined. My task is too important to sacrifice for a colleague."
"But is it too important for a friend?"
He clenches his jaw again, and steps closer to her. "This is war, Nymphadora. Hard decisions must be made. Nothing can stand in the way of victory—not even friendship."
She doesn't agree with him. Victory would be empty if you have to give up everything and everyone you love in the process. But she knows that she cannot change his mind. He is too devoted to Dumbledore, and to their cause. She lowers her eyes and says, "I'm sorry I forced you to make that decision."
"So am I."
They are silent again. Severus shuffles his feet, glancing around her flat for the first time. She clears her throat. "I've been cleaning all morning. It's not usually this tidy."
He nods. "It certainly isn't as slovenly as I was expecting." His eyes flick over to Mr. Fluffy's cage. "I never would have taken you for a rabbit person."
"Remus has had pet rabbits since he was a boy. We got him together."
"I see." He shuffles his feet again. "So, will I have to lock you in a dungeon, or have you come to your senses?"
She looks down at her hand, and wills her fingers to grow longer and her nails to turn pink. She feels a slight twinge of pain, and nothing happens. She bites her lower lip to hold back a cry of frustration. She takes a deep breath, and replies, "I won't brew the potion. At least…not until I've got a better handle on all the new stresses I'm facing."
He stares down at her. "That's the best I'm going to get out of you, isn't it?"
She glares back up at him. "Yes, it is."
He seems to ponder her reply for a moment before answering. "Very well. When you are ready to resume brewing, I expect you to present me with a list of redoubled safety measures that we can implement to prevent any further mishaps. You will not brew again until I have approved those safety measures, and you are NEVER to brew alone again. Agreed?"
His terms are fair and prudent. She nods. "Agreed."
Another silence falls between them. "Did you get Remus his potion?" she asks.
"I was only doing my duty." He pauses, glancing around her flat again. "I should be going now. It was foolish of me to come here in the first place. I shouldn't be seen socializing with Aurors." He turns and steps back to the door.
"Severus," she says, stepping toward him.
"Yes?" He looks over his shoulder at her.
"Thank you for coming to check on me."
"That's not why I came."
She smiles. "Yes, it is."
He frowns. "You consistently apply the most absurd idealizations to my motives. It's ridiculous."
"Good bye, Severus."
"Good bye." He walks out, closing the door behind him.
An argument with Severus seems to be exactly what she needed to relieve her anxiety and tension. She lies down on her sofa and closes her eyes, and within minutes she falls into a deep, dreamless sleep.
That night, after dinner, she receives an owl from Remus, with a note telling her that he won't be home in the morning, and that she should plan on meeting him at Emmeline's funeral tomorrow afternoon. She is disappointed, and something in the note's tone disturbs her. After re-reading several times she finally realizes what it is: instead of signing the note, "Love, Remus," as is usual, he merely signed his name with no preamble.
She knows she shouldn't let it bother her. But it does. She doesn't sleep well tonight.
She arrives at Emmeline's funeral as late as she can, and sits in the back. She doesn't want to have to look at the body again. But Remus arrives even later, slipping in just as the first speaker steps to the podium. He sits next to her, and gives her hand a warm squeeze. Immediately, she begins to feel better.
After the service, she tells him that she doesn't want to stay to socialize—she just wants to go home. He reluctantly agrees.
He seems tense and nervous when they get home. She is worried—he's had several days to himself to wrestle with his feelings about her poisoning and her parents, and he's had no one to talk to. What if he's allowed his anxieties and fears get the best of him? Their world is too fragile right now. She feels like nothing is certain, and nothing is safe, and she is sure he feels the same way. She asks him what's wrong.
He shakes his head, looking away from her. "Things aren't going well. They aren't going well at all." He pauses to take a deep breath. "Dumbledore agrees with me that it's time for me to go underground, permanently. There needs to be a man in the field who can work to counter Greyback's rhetoric, and I'm the only one who can do it."
A cold knot forms in the pit of her stomach. This is what she's been dreading for weeks, and now, at the worst possible time, it is finally happening. Her legs feel weak, and she sinks into a chair. "When will you leave?"
"Soon. My transformation is tomorrow night, and I'll need a few days afterward to prepare myself."
She closes her eyes and clenches her teeth. She's not ready for this. How could she ever be ready for this? She flounders for the words to express what she's feeling as her anger and frustration and fear wells up inside of her. "Your mother…she told me what happened to you last time you went underground. She told me what it did to you. How can Dumbledore ask you to do this again?"
He hesitates. "Greyback needs to be stopped. Someone has to be out there, reaching the other werewolves…"
"But why does it have to be you?"
"Because there's no one else."
Her anger overtakes her fear, and she leaps back to her feet and starts pacing the room. "And if you find him—if you find Greyback—what will you do?"
He looks at her, puzzled. "I'll try to gather information on his plans…perhaps see if there's anything I can do to undermine his support…"
"Why not call in the Aurors to arrest him?"
"Because Dumbledore wants to be sure that none of the other werewolves are in a position to step up and replace him. It will take time to ascertain that information. And besides, the risk of innocent werewolves being harmed or captured is too great. I don't want to put them in any more danger than they already face."
She clenches her fists. "Then don't call the other Aurors. Call me!"
Remus looks alarmed. "What do you think you can do all by yourself?"
"I can kill him."
"No. No!" He looks aghast.
"Yes. I'm authorized to use deadly force. I'll provoke him, he'll attack me, and I'll finish it. It'll be easy." She never imagined that she would be able to talk so coldly and calmly about killing another human being. It's amazing the things she is learning about herself now that the people she loves are threatened.
Remus's face grows hard. "It's not going to happen. I'm not going to let you become a murderer for my sake."
"It's not just for you, Remus. It's for everyone…"
"You know that's a lie. You'd do it just to save me—to spare me from living underground. I see it in your eyes. But I'm not going to let it happen."
"So you're just going to sacrifice yourself instead? I can't stand thinking about what this is going to do to you. Dumbledore saw what happened to you when you went underground during the last war. How can he do this to you again?"
"He isn't doing it to me."
"Yes, he is!"
"I volunteered." His words are calm and quiet, but they seem to hover in the air with an unseen power. "He told me I didn't have to go, but I insisted."
Tonks stares at him in disbelief, and takes a sharp breath as a horrible thought enters her mind. "This isn't just an assignment, is it? You're leaving me." She whispers the words, hoping with all her heart that she is wrong—that all the stress of the past few weeks has addled her brain. Remus would never leave her, would he?
He shakes his head. "It's not like that." Something in his voice and his face unnerves her.
"Then what is it like?"
He gives her a disconsolate look, and sits down heavily on the sofa.
She raises a hand to her mouth. Her mind is reeling. "Oh, God. You are leaving me."
"Please, come sit down with me."
She shakes her head violently. "No! Not until you tell me the truth. Are you leaving me?"
"Tonks, please?" he says with an anguished expression.
With that one look, she knows that it is true. "Oh, God," she says again, and sinks back into her chair. How could he be leaving her? Especially now, of all times, when she needs him the most? It's like the world somehow turned upside down while she lay asleep in the hospital—or like some dark spirit has inhabited Remus's body. He's always been so afraid that she would leave him. He seemed so happy…He would never really leave her, would he?
Still looking anguished, he looks at the floor and shakes his head. "I didn't mean for it to happen like this…not right after the funeral. This isn't what I had planned."
"You've known about this long enough to plan?!"
He looks back up at her. "I'm sorry," he says in a pained voice.
This is just one of his temporary panics—it has to be. If she tries hard enough, she can talk him out of it. "Don't be sorry. Just don't do it."
"I have to."
"No, you don't."
"Yes! I do." His eyes are flashing. "I'm no good for you. I should have seen it ages ago, when you risked your job and your reputation for me. But I let myself get caught up in the romance, and the excitement. I never once stopped to just think about what this relationship might do to you. I never took the time to think about how horribly, completely wrong I am for you."
This can't be happening. She feels like her mind is in a haze as he continues what is obviously a well-practiced speech. Did he really just say that they've been living in a fantasy—that this isn't a fairy tale?
"This is the real world," he says. "There is no happily ever after for us—we were only fooling ourselves."
She feels sick and dizzy. This can't be real—but in her gut she knows it is, and has to persuade him somehow… "It was real," she says feebly. "It was real for me, and I know it was real for you, too. You're just confused…worried…"
"I'm not confused. I've been thinking of nothing else, and I know this is the right decision."
His words so closely echo Severus's justification for not helping her himself that she can feel her anger rising again. "No, it's not! I know that things won't ever be easy for us, and I know that we won't always be happy, but I don't care!"
He shakes his head. "I want to believe you. I really do. But I can't. Not after seeing the way you're destroying yourself for me."
"Yes! Destroying yourself." He gives her an intense look. "You were willing to face a deadly, crippling poison every single month just to save me a few galleons. And you were so intent on it that you threw caution to the wind just to try to get the potion done a few hours earlier. And now you're willing to alienate your parents, and even commit murder, all for me? It's insane! I'm driving you insane—and one of these days you're going to get yourself killed for me. I'm not worth it! I won't let you ruin your whole future for a man who will likely be dead in less than a decade."
Hot tears burn in her eyes at his accusations. He has thrown every act of loyalty and self-sacrifice back in her face as if they were unforgivable sins. "We don't know that," she says. "You might live for two decades, or more."
"No. It doesn't matter. I won't let you throw away your life for me. You are young, and vibrant, and full of life. You shouldn't waste that on a poor, dying old man who drives you into committing reckless and dangerous acts. You know that logic is on my side."
His reference to their old promise that logic would win over emotion when they argue infuriates her. "I don't care! I don't give a damn about your sodding logic! This is wrong! You are wrong. I don't do these things because I'm insane—I do these things because I love you, and I need you. That's what love is all about. Needing each other. Unless…" her voice catches in her throat as she remembers his short, cold note signed only with his name. "Unless you don't love me anymore?"
His eyes glisten with moisture, and she can see that her words have finally hit home. "It doesn't matter how we feel," he says. "Feeling something doesn't make it right. Loving someone doesn't make it right to be in their life."
"Loving someone is all that matters," she says, moving quickly across the room to sit next to him. "It's the only thing that makes things right." Her mind is a whirlwind of panic and desperation, and she finds herself stumbling over her words as she apologizes for her stupidity, and promises to change—to be better. "We can be better," she says. "We can do it together. We can help each other through this war—I know we can!" She reaches out and lays her hand on his leg.
He looks away from her, once again shaking his head. He looks just as lost and afraid as he did back in the hospital. She knows in her heart that her words are touching him—that he wants to believe her.
She reaches out to take his face in her palm and pulls him toward her for a kiss.
At first he seems hesitant—reluctant. But after just a few seconds he begins to respond to her, sliding his arms around her, deepening their kiss with ardor. As she feels him run his fingers through her hair, she knows that it is over—whatever darkness had invaded him is fleeing, and only her true Remus is left behind.
She slides her hand up his shirt to feel the warmth of his skin, and presses ever closer to him. Suddenly, his whole body stiffens, and he pulls away, rising from the sofa and striding across the room to look out the dirty window at the street below. She feels empty—abandoned. Please, don't do this, Remus.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I can't do this. I can't be here. I know what needs to be done, and I can't do it when I let you touch me like that. It's not right, and it's not fair, to either of us." He turns to look at her with indescribable regret etched in his eyes. "I'm so, so sorry. Good bye, Tonks." With that he walks to the door, opens it, and leaves, closing it softly behind him.
In her stunned shock she makes no move to stop him. And just like that, he is gone.
She sits as if frozen, staring at the door. Perhaps, if she sits long enough, the door will open again, and he will be back, telling her how wrong he was—admitting that he'd made a horrible mistake.
So she sits, and gradually, the room grows darker.
She has no idea how long she has been sitting there when she hears her alarm going off in her bedroom. It was set to remind her that she has to go into work—she's on the night-shift tonight.
Somehow she manages to pull on her uniform and makes it to the Ministry where she meets her partner for the night—an older man named Hooda, with whom she's rarely worked. Much to her relief they have an easy duty: the routine night patrol of Diagon Alley.
She can see by the way Hooda looks at her that he knows she's off her game. But she doesn't care. She doesn't care about anything. A gang of twenty Death Eaters could suddenly Apparate in front of them and she probably still wouldn't care.
She feels like she is sleep-walking through most of her shift, but as morning draws closer she begins to get twitchy, and jumpy. She pulls her wand out at the slightest sound—like a rat scurrying in an alley, or a cat meowing from a rooftop.
When they finally return to the Ministry to file their reports before heading home, Hooda tells her, "Get some sleep, today, Tonks. We can't afford to lose you to sick leave again."
The truth of his words hurts her. He's right. There are too few Aurors as it is. "I will," she says with a nod. "I promise."
Just as she is about to leave for home, Kingsley calls her name. She stops to wait for him to catch up to her. "Sorry to ask this right after a night shift, Tonks," he says, "But I'm almost late for my post, and I need to get this message to Bill today—I've got some information for him that he was looking for. Do you think you could swing by the Burrow before heading home?"
She stares at the roll of parchment that he is holding out toward her, her drowsy mind processing his words. Going home. Home—empty and alone without Remus. No, she doesn't want to go home. She nods. "Sure. I'll take it for you."
"Thanks. I owe you."
When she Apparates in front of the Burrow the morning sun is still low on the horizon, and she is surprised that she made it without splinching herself. She knocks lightly on the kitchen door, and surprised when it is quickly flung wide by Molly, already dressed for the day.
"Oh, you poor dear," says Molly, wrapping her arms around the younger woman. "You must be miserable. I know every time I fought with Arthur during our first year of marriage I felt like the world would end. But where there's real love, the bad feelings will never last."
Tonks stands, staring at Molly in sleepy confusion. Molly lowers her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "Remus came here last night, asking for a place to sleep. He wouldn't talk about it, but it was clear that the two of you had a falling out."
Tonks's eyes widened. "I…I didn't know he was here. I was just bringing a message for Bill…I…Is he inside right now?" She involuntarily steps back from the door.
"Don't worry, dear. He's upstairs lying in. But you should come in and have some breakfast. You can talk to him after you've had something to eat."
Before she even has a chance to say that she's not so sure she really wants to talk to Remus today, Tonks finds herself bustled to the table, where she sits while Molly fetches her a cup of tea and a plate of toast and eggs. She wordlessly eats her food while Molly chatters about the latest goings on of the Weasley clan.
"Good morning, Mum!" says a cheery masculine voice. Tonks looks up to see Bill walking into the kitchen with his arm around his young fiancée. She feels a pang of envy to see them look so happy together.
"Hello, Tonks!" says Bill. "I didn't expect to see you this morning."
"Kingsley caught me as I was coming off of the night shift. He gave me a message to pass on to you." She pulls the roll of parchment out of her robe and hands it to him. He pulls it open, and smiles again.
"Brilliant. I've been waiting for this. Thank you, Tonks."
"You're welcome." She bites her lip, glancing at Molly and wondering if she can get away with excusing herself. But just then Ginny and Hermione walk into the kitchen, and start enthusiastically questioning her about what sorts of progress the Aurors are making after this week full of disasters. Tonks stumbles and fumbles through her answers, and Molly keeps loading her plate with new food. Before she knows it all of the home's inhabitants except for Remus are seated around her, carrying on an animated conversation.
"…but surely Harry won't actually want to live there, will he?" Ginny is saying.
Tonks perks up. "Live where?"
"Sirius's old house," she replies.
The astonishment must have been clear on Tonks's face, because Bill breaks in to explain. "You wouldn't have heard yet, Tonks. A few days ago I found Sirius's will in his vault at Gringotts. He's left everything to Harry."
"Oh. Of course."
Ron begins a long monologue about all the things Harry can do with his growing fortune, but all that Tonks can think about is that Harry must be feeling just as badly as she is right now. He's lost one of the people that he loves the most, and no amount of money will make up for that.
Her mind continues to wander down that path, as she realizes that Sirius's death was the beginning of the end for her relationship with Remus. Things haven't been right since then. It was almost as if losing his best friend all over again had frightened Remus away from holding on to anyone else—including her. Once again, the ominous words of Remus's mother echo in her mind: "He never let himself settle down long enough to get close to anyone new after the war… If you aren't steady, and patient, one of these days the tides of life will tug a little too hard, and he'll let go of you and drift off in some new direction. It would break his heart—but he wouldn't stop it. He doesn't know how." Tonks had promised herself that she would be strong enough to hold onto him—strong enough to lift him up when times were hard. But now she sees clearly as can be that she has failed.
"It's my fault," she says, and the conversation around her ceases.
"What was that, Tonks?" asks Molly.
"It's my fault he's gone. I should have been stronger. I should have found a way to stop him…but I couldn't. I was too weak, and now I've lost him. It's all my fault."
Suddenly everyone else in the room is talking at once, trying to reassure her that she's not to blame—that no one holds her responsible. It takes her a few moments to realize that they thought she was talking about Sirius.
And then, without warning, Remus is there, standing in the kitchen doorway, staring at her in undisguised astonishment.
She shoots to her feet. "I'm sorry," she says. "I shouldn't have stayed so long. You all have busy days ahead of you—I should get out of your way."
"You're never in the way, Tonks," says Molly. "You should stay and have a nice talk with Remus—I'm sure he'll have you feeling better in no time."
Once again, hardly realizing what's happening to her, Tonks finds herself being ushered out to the garden alongside Remus, to sit side by side on a faded wooden bench. Molly pats her reassuringly on the shoulder, and then abandons her to sit in stunned silence with Remus.
She stares resolutely down at her hands, folded in her lap. Remus seems equally uncomfortable. He makes no move to speak. At last, Tonks says, "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were here. If I'd known, I wouldn't have come."
"It's fine. You have as much right to be here as I do." His voice sounds pained, and she doesn't dare look at his face. It would be too much. She's barely hanging on to her composure as it is.
She takes a deep breath, and asks, "Do you have a safe place to transform tonight?"
He nods. "Yes. I was just on the upstairs Floo with Alastor. He has graciously offered me the use of his spare bedroom."
"Good." She bites her bottom lip, and continues to stare down at her hands, silently willing him to speak. She wants him say something—anything—to ease the dull ache in her heart.
He remains silent.
She watches as a robin lands nearby, and begins to run it's beak through the grass in search of tasty insects. Her heart is broken, but life still keeps going. And she'll have to keep going, also.
"I'll be working quite a bit for the next few weeks," she says, "so I don't know when I'll be home. Just let yourself in when you come to get your things. And leave the spare key with Molly when you're done."
"Don't." She stands, still not looking at him. "There's nothing you can say that will make this better right now, so please don't try. I'm going home now. Please tell them all goodbye for me."
"I will." She thinks she hears his voice cracking as he answers, and she finally allows herself to raise her eyes to his face. He looks every bit as broken and lost as she feels, and she wants to grab him and shake some sense into him.
But she doesn't.
"Goodbye, Remus." She turns and walks away. When she reaches the lane, she Disapparates.
As soon as she reaches her flat, the exhaustion takes hold of her, and she can barely stand. She stumbles to the kitchen, gripping her counter for support. She looks down, and right there by her hand sit her boots—the boots with Emmeline's blood still on them.
She leans against the wall, and slowly slides down to the ground, putting her face in her hands. For the first time since Remus walked out of her door yesterday, she weeps.
Author's Note: Thanks so much for reading and reviewing. Another chapter is coming soon, and though there is plenty more angst in store for Tonks and Remus, it will never be quite so intense again.