Half Sick of Shadows
And not just any mud, but really thick, chunky, and amazingly nasty sludge.
Tonks was up to her ankles in it before she even noticed its existence. That was just the nature of this particularly malicious mud, that it looked a lot more solid than it was. Back on solid ground, she attempted to get some of it off of her boots by scuffing them in the slightly pathetic grass that managed to scrape out an existence by scavenging the few stray beams of sunlight that the thick canopy of the forest did not gobble up greedily.
It didn't really help, Tonks noted, squinting at the already battered footwear critically.
Even under said canopy, it was a bright night. The wind had picked up, and clouds were passing swiftly in front of the brilliant silver moon, casting fleeting shadows over the world below. It was a full moon, low on the horizon and close to setting, which was much of the reason she happened to find herself in the middle of nowhere with a thermos of Wolfsbane potion in the pocket of her robe.
Just in case, Molly had said nervously, as she decanted it from her cauldron. No doubt Molly Weasley had dozens of other bits of advice, just in case, but Tonks had only stopped by the Burrow briefly to check in before she was off. Tonks smiled a little at the memory of Molly's anxious fluttering. She knew that Molly had every confidence in her ability to look after herself, but she was going to worry none the less. It was just because it was the first time, and because Molly seemed to look on most people within a certain age range as a surrogate child. Tonks couldn't pretend that she minded that. It was nice to have people like you as much as you liked them.
It had been the Order's habit to have someone with Remus Lupin near dawn on the nights of the full moon, when he was going to transform back. Now that Dumbledore had him living in the company of other werewolves,
and now that there was no Sirius to do it…
…it was a little more difficult.
As a highly qualified witch, Tonks was in little real danger from Remus, even if he hadn't managed to drink his potion the previous night – which Molly assured her that he had. She could Disapparate long before even the swiftest werewolf could attack…
…Provided that she kept her wits about her.
Perhaps she was concentrating too hard on keeping a hold of her wits in the moonlit forest, or perhaps she was simply unprepared for what to expect, but the wolf appeared between the trees far more suddenly than she thought possible. She gripped her wand, but gave a tight smile.
"Morning, Remus." It was undoubtedly him, as any werewolf without the benefit of Wolfsbane potion would've gone for her throat by now. And it might have been her imagination, but there seemed to be something of his quiet wisdom about the golden gaze of the wolf.
The wolf's silver tail waved slightly, but he approached only cautiously.
It was a moment before Tonks realized that his silent approach had been made only on three legs. He was favoring his front leg on the left (at least it wasn't his wand arm, she reflected) and there was a splash of dark crimson against his silver fur.
"You've looked better," she told him, biting her lip in concern.
He snorted and whined a little, but continued to limp forward quietly. She raised her wand and took a breath to speak a healing spell, but let it out when he whined at her insistently.
"Ah. Right. Silly of me," she replied. The wound, naturally, had been inflicted by another werewolf, and would therefore be impervious to her spell. "Will it be okay to wait until you've transformed to take care of it?" she asked.
He very distinctly nodded.
She glanced at the sky, where the moon had already sunk below the level of the trees, and the woods had gotten considerably darker. "That's soon, huh?"
"I've got your stuff here," she went on, producing a pile of neatly folded and painstakingly mended clothing from a satchel on her shoulder. "I'll find someplace away from all this muck to put it," she told him, glancing around for such a place. She found it at the base of a large oak, which would also provide a place for him to transform with a reasonable degree of privacy. On an impulse, Tonks conjured a black lacquered folding screen with painted cherry blossoms trailing across the panels in an oriental manner. It was only an illusion, but it would do. She turned back to grin at him, and he wagged his tail in return.
"See you in a minute, then," she told him, and ducked behind a few more trees.
Back turned, and leaning against the trunk of a younger oak, Tonks thoughtfully raised her wand, and gave it a little flick. A bottle of rubbing alcohol appeared with a little pop of displaced air, hung midair for an instant, and then dropped. She hurriedly stuck out her left hand to catch it. She fumbled it once, but managed to get a hold of it before it fell into the mud. Awkwardly shoving it into her satchel, she started spinning gauzy bandages out of the end of her wand, and rolling them up untidily with her left hand.
It was good to have something to focus on while he was transforming. The muffled whining and pained yelps gradually became the quiet groans of a man suffering excruciating pain. She vaguely wondered if it was more painful than usual because of the injury. She gave him a few minutes, after the woods fell silent, and then leaned around her tree.
The answering groan was eloquent.
"How's it going?"
There was a rustle of cloth, a sigh, and then, "I've been better."
Tonks smiled. "I'm coming over," she warned.
Taking the lack of reply to mean that he'd made himself decent, she made her way between a few trees, and waved her folding screen illusion into smoke.
Remus was standing with his back braced against the tree, his shirt unbuttoned and his robe partly open to keep his wound untouched, straining to get a good look at his bleeding shoulder. He looked pale, and tired. And she could swear that a few strands of brown hair decided to stay wolf-colored every time he transformed.
"Here," she said, ripping off a handful of gauze, and then pulling the alcohol out of her bag. "This'll do for first aid, anyway." She unscrewed the lid of the bottle of alcohol, and wet the gauze with it. It always surprised her how cold it felt on her fingers, she reflected, as she gingerly dabbed at the ragged gash and puncture wounds, still bleeding profusely. Remus didn't even wince – and she knew for a fact how much that stuff stung.
"What is it?" he asked, peering at the bottle curiously.
"Rubbing alcohol, it's a disinfectant. Pays to have a Dad who was raised by Muggles sometimes."
Tonks grinned. "Yeah, nicked it from his medicine cabinet. I'll return it later."
Dropping one bloody clump of gauze, she ripped off another portion, folded it into a pad that would cover the whole area of broken skin, wet it with more alcohol, pressed it in place, and then started wrapping the rest of the gauze tightly around it. She took it under his arm a few times, and then across his chest. He was still too thin, she observed, but at least being a regular dinner guest of the Weasleys seemed to be helping, as even the sight of his bare chest conjured the adjective "lean" to mind, rather than "ill-nourished". The blood had already soaked through the pad, and was appearing in spots on the outermost layer of gauze. Still, it looked pretty secure. Tonks tied off the end of the bandage, stepped back, and smiled at him again. "All set, then."
"Thanks," he replied, smiling wanly in return, and looking even paler than before.
Tonks looked down at the wad of bloody gaze on the ground, and made a face. She hadn't really thought about what she was planning to do with it after she dropped it. With a little flick of her wand, she set it on fire, and hot blue flames tore through it eagerly. She waited until it was just a twist of ash – it only took a few seconds, thanks to the alcohol – and then stomped it out with a mud-caked boot.
"Now we're all set," she amended, looking up to meet his eyes again.
But Remus was no longer smiling at her.
His face had gone even paler than loss of blood would account for, and he was feeling desperately through his half open robe to find his wand.
Tonks turned, and felt Remus's left hand go to her shoulder. Weakly, but… protectively? Calmingly?
How had she not felt the chill before? We're in the forest at dawn, that's how, brilliant, she scolded herself. But it was more than the usual pre-dawn chill. Unnatural. Deadlier. And the dark shapes slinking between the trees were not shadows cast by the boughs overhead rustling in the intermittent wind.
When the first dementor glided into plain sight, Tonks felt a flutter of panic at how close it was. It would have been nearly impossible to see them coming in the darkness, through the trees. But she'd been so preoccupied worrying about Remus's injury anyway, and they…they had descended upon the injured wizard and inattentive witch swiftly. She was raising her wand, fighting back the waves of despair lapping at her soul, and gathering her strength for a Patronus when she felt Remus's hand press on her shoulder again.
Rather than reassure her, this served only to remind her that there was someone else whose safety she was responsible for … Someone whose safety meant a great deal to her... Someone she'd do anything to protect… Someone…
In a few of her quickening heartbeats, there were more dementors… more than she could count without thinking about it. And she couldn't afford to think about it.
A powerfully happy thought, Dumbledore had told her when he taught her this spell, gazing at her intently over the top of his glasses.
She'd laughed at that. Am I learning how to fly? There was another one of those advantages to having a Muggle-born Dad – he read her Barrie. She'd explained this to Dumbledore in response to his quizzical expression, and took the sweet, warm memory it brought to mind as her happy thought: Dad sitting next to her on the couch with his arm around her, reading to her about the adventures of Peter Pan while she examined the bright illustration in the golden glow of the lamp, and pondered whether or not she bought Peter's explanation about why there were no Lost Girls.
Somehow the cozy safety of her childhood and her dad's familiar voice, mimicking a pirate brogue as best he could, seemed very distant in this cold, dark forest. Her memory had been strong enough to save her many times before, but she felt desperately afraid it wouldn't be strong enough to save Remus too.
Still, she "Expecto Patronum!" –ed with all the conviction she could muster. Apparently it was insufficient, because all that poured from the end of her wand was a light silvery mist. The dementors hesitated, but didn't retreat.
Bloody hell. She'd done better during her first lesson with Dumbledore. It was that fear gnawing at her, whispering that she couldn't save Remus…. That it would be her fault if…
One of the dementors stepped boldly through her pathetic patronus mist, mere steps from where they stood against the tree, Remus so weak he could barely stand… It reached one vile hand up to grasp its hood.
Tonks panicked, and did the only thing she could think of to keep the dementor from inflicting its terrible Kiss on Remus.
She kissed him first.
Had she been able to see, Tonks would have noticed all the dementors shudder at this sudden influx of emotions. This wasn't simple happiness that they drank like water, but the wretchedest of poisons. It addled them for a moment, though they would recover soon.
But for a few heartbeats, Tonks wasn't thinking about the dementors at all. After the initial moment of surprise – honestly, it surprised her too – Remus returned her kiss, with the eagerness of one who'd spent too long starving for contact, affection, and love. His hand moved from her shoulder to run gently through her short hair, but he pulled away reluctantly to look at her very gravely.
Tonks turned, her left hand still flat against his chest and the soft gauze under her fingertips, to level her wand at the nearest dementor.
Her Patronus sprang into being – blindingly brilliant silver white, and breathtakingly graceful. It leapt at the first dementor, and then turned its attention to the others, who were already fleeing, their tattered black robes streaming behind them like a trail of smoke.
Tonks turned back to Remus with her eyes bright, and a laugh of sheer wonder sounding through the cold stillness of the forest.
Her Patronus had never been a wolf before.
The reckless necessity of the moment gone, Tonk noted that it was a little awkward to be standing pressed against a mostly shirtless Remus with her face just inches from his, while she stared into his beautiful eyes. Part of her would have liked nothing better than to throw caution to the winds and kiss him again (and again). But this was rather profoundly neither the time nor the place. So Tonks stepped back, fighting a blush that her skills as a Metamorphmagus were doing nothing to conceal.
"Exit stage left?" she suggested brightly.
Remus shook his head. "I'm going to need a minute before I'll be up to Apparating. You wouldn't happen to have any chocolate with you?" he inquired, none too hopefully, buttoning his shirt.
"Sorry," Tonks replied, reaching into her pocket, and drawing out the bottle of potion. "I came prepared for werewolves, not dementors," she told him, making the contents of the bottle slosh merrily.
"Definitely not going to help," he confirmed with a shudder.
"Is it really that bad?" she wanted to know, eyeing it curiously.
"You have no idea. Now put it away. Bad enough I have to drink it tonight without you waving it around at me now."
Tonks shoved the bottle back into her pocket and glanced a little anxiously around the forest. "I'd rather not stick around here," she commented.
Remus gave an apologetic half smile. "Then you're going to have to carry me, I'm afraid."
"Fine by me. St. Mungo's, then?" she asked, extending her hand to him.
Remus shook his head. "Only for severe injuries, remember?"
Tonks eyed his shoulder worriedly. There were a few spots of crimson soaking through his shirt now. "Maybe that qualifies as severe, Remus."
"Hogsmeade," he said firmly, covering the blood-stained shirt with his robe. For the sake of Order secrecy, Dumbledore had suggested that any non-life-threatening injuries obtained on Order business be treated at Hogwarts during the summer months, while the castle was empty of students.
"You win," she told him sourly, taking his hand. "What's open at this hour?"
Remus considered. "The post office…" he began.
"At least we can send a message to Dumbledore," Tonks muttered.
"Breakfast special," he explained.
"Good, I'm starving," she informed him, and promptly Apparated to a quiet street in Hogsmeade.
Remus stumbled on the cobblestones, and leaned on her heavily.
"Post office first, or do you need to sit down?" she asked.
"The latter, unfortunately," he answered, trying to smile.
"All right," Tonks said briskly, setting out towards the Three Broomsticks. "You order breakfast, then."
Remus straightened, and managed to make it into the largely deserted pub with little assistance. The pretty woman behind the counter looked startled, then pleased.
"Remus Lupin!" Madam Rosmerta said brightly. "Why I haven't seen you in here since… you're not coming back to teach at Hogwarts, are you?"
Remus shook his head. "No, just paying a call to Professor Dumbledore."
"And who's your lady friend?" she inquired, looking at Tonks curiously.
"Tonks," she introduced herself quickly, before Remus could volunteer her first name. "You might not remember me from my young and foolish Hogwarts days. I spent a lot of Hogsmeade visits in detention," she recalled, with a grin.
"Madam Rosmerta, I'm… actually feeling rather ill. Do you happen have any rooms available? I'd only need it for a few hours at most," Remus asked, gripping the nearest table for support. Tonks tried not to look worried.
"Yes but… I'm afraid I'd have to charge you for the full night," she said apologetically.
"That's fine," Tonks said immediately, resolving to pay for it, one way or another.
Madam Rosmerta looked from Tonks back to Remus, raised her eyebrows, then busied herself with finding the appropriate key.
Tonks fought back another blush. "I'm going to run to the post office," she told Remus quietly. "Back in a jiffy."
She did, in fact, run. Standing at the counter in the post office full of sleepy owls, she scribbled, Professor Dumbledore – Remus and I are in town, at the 3 Broomsticks. Do you have time for a chat? - N. Tonks, and tied it to the leg of a barn owl, who gave her a rather disgruntled look that he had to fly to castle instead of her walking there.
That done, she hurried back to the Three Broomsticks, where Madam Rosmerta was placing plates and silverware on a breakfast tray.
"Room 3, just at the top of the stairs," she told Tonks.
"Thanks," Tonks replied, making for the stairs in the back of the room.
"He's a little old for you, isn't he, dear?" she ventured, putting down a teacup, and walking around the counter to approach Tonks.
"… Pardon me?" Tonks managed, stopping in her tracks.
"Don't misunderstand, I like Remus very much, but… dear, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I thought you didn't know," she continued, dropping her voice to a whisper and leaning in close.
"Erm…" Tonks began awkwardly.
"He's a werewolf," she concluded, mouthing the last word inaudibly.
Tonks paused. "Yes."
Madam Rosmerta blinked. "Oh. Right then."
Tonks took that as an oppurtunity to flee, climbed the stairs, and knocked softly on the door of Room 3.
She heard Remus's voice call "come in" and did so. He was sprawled on the bed, exhausted, and looked rather upset at the sight of her.
"Tonks, I'm so sorry… I didn't think of what it would sound like if…"
She shrugged, and pulled up a chair. "It's fine, Remus. I don't care, really."
"About your reputation? Madam Rosmerta is a nice enough person, but she's also a champion gossip," he warned.
"It's not as if I mind being seen in public with you," Tonks told him, a little offended.
"It's not that. Tonks, you… you know what people are going to say…" he went on delicately, clearly embarrassed.
"That I'm in love with you?" she suggested, reckless once again. "I don't mind that either."
"I don't think that's exactly how they'd phrase it…" He paused, her words sinking in, and looked up at her, his heart in his eyes. He looked away, out the window, quickly, and Tonks would have bet a fistful of Galleons that he was trying to decide whether to use an "I don't feel that way about you" line. Finally, he sighed and turned his head to meet her eyes again. "I'm sorry," he told her expressively.
Tonks blinked, and waited for the excuse. "You are?" she prompted, when none was forthcoming.
"Yes, I am. I never meant for you to feel that way about me," Remus went on, gently.
"Yes, well, that's the way it usually works, isn't it? It just sort of happens." Tonks paused for a moment. "So, how did you mean for me to feel about you?" she finally asked, perplexed.
"It was not my intention to lead you to think I had…romantic… intentions towards you," he told her, sounding a little flustered.
"Remus, I'm not saying anything about what you led me to think," she argued, a little hurt. "I managed to fall in love with you without any undue encouragement. Now, with me blurting my feelings all over the place like an idiot, the least you can do is be frank with me. If you don't care for me in that way, I'd rather you just say it. Can you have the courtesy to look me in the eye and tell me that you don't love me?"
"I could try," he told her, with half a mirthless smile.
"Well, come on. Have a go," she bade him, crossing her arms and waiting expectantly.
"I'm sorry, but I don't return your feelings," he told her gravely.
"Lousy," she remarked. "Want to try again?"
"Really Tonks, it wouldn't be fair for me to lead you on, letting you think I feel something when I don't…"
"At least try to be convincing."
"Well you're a beautiful girl, and I can't say that I'm not interested, but I just don't have any feelings –"
Tonks made a face and interrupted. "All right, stop that one. Too out of character."
Remus wrenched his eyes away from hers, and stared out the window. "I'm not in love with you," he told her, his voice hard, and cold.
She reached out a hand, and gently turned his face back towards her. "That's cheating."
"I'm sorry," he repeated, tone very different this time, "but I'm not in love with you."
"For some reason," she told him dryly, leaning in a little closer, "I don't believe you. Why is that?"
"Because I'm not much of a liar," he told her, sounding defeated.
"Can't say you didn't try," she offered consolingly, leaning forward to kiss him again.
He pulled back. "Tonks, please, stop."
She sat up straight. "Will you stop being so difficult if I say please?"
"No, I won't," he told her firmly.
"Please?" It was worth a try anyway.
"Tonks," Remus protested, rubbing his forehead. "This isn't easy."
"I should hope not," she retorted.
"I want very much to tell you how I feel… and to show you how I feel," he admitted slowly.
"But you won't, because…" She left it for him to fill in.
"Because I care too much about you to be that selfish."
"Selfish? Remus, that doesn't even…"
Tonks broke off mid-sentence at the knock on the door, and stood to open it.
Madam Rosmerta entered with the laden breakfast tray, and Tonks vaguely wondered if any eaves had been dropped.
"You really aren't looking well, Remus," she remarked with concern, setting the tray on the table by the window. "You take good care of him, dear," she instructed Tonks. "Let me know if you need anything else."
After taking her turn to express her thanks, and listening for the footsteps in the hallway to fade away, Tonks resumed where she left off.
"That doesn't make sense," she told him.
"Tonks, you don't want to get involved with me," he assured her, eyes sad.
"That's funny. Because I thought that I wanted very badly to get involved with you." She shrugged. "Shows what I know about what I want."
"I didn't… I didn't mean to imply that you don't know your own mind," he replied, sounding frustrated.
"Just that I'm not qualified to make my own decisions?" she retorted.
"That isn't fair," he protested.
"That's what you're telling me," she told him stubbornly.
"I just mean that you… that I…" Lupin paused, as though to collect his thoughts.
"Yes?" Tonks prompted.
"Would you pour me some hot chocolate please?" he requested politely.
Tonks gave a frustrated little sigh, but complied. Even just the scent drifting along on the wisp of steam trailing from the spout out of the tall white teapot filled her with a kind of quiet warmth. She filled a teacup, and carried it carefully (sloshing only a little of the hot liquid over the brim and onto her fingers) over to Remus, who accepted it gratefully.
"You should drink some as well," he instructed firmly, blowing on it and taking a cautious sip.
She rolled her eyes and returned to the breakfast tray to fix him a plate.
"I mean it, Tonks." She could tell that the hot chocolate was putting a little life back into him already, because he sounded downright annoyed with her. She filled another teacup and took a large gulp, burning her tongue, but immediately shedding the residual chill that she hadn't really even noticed settle into her.
"Happy?" she inquired.
"Ecstatic," Remus assured her dryly.
She walked back over to the bed to hand him his plate, and briefly considering dumping it in his lap and claiming (believably, anyway) it was an accident.
…but only briefly.
Remus rather dispiritedly picked up a piece of toast, and Tonks perched herself on the windowsill, just holding her teacup for the present, until the hot chocolate cooled down a little more.
"I thought you were starving," Remus reminded her.
She shrugged, and sat on in silence for a moment, staring into her teacup.
"You can't just…. end an argument like that," she finally snapped at him.
"Being that I did, evidently I can," he replied, determinedly spearing his eggs with his fork. "You should have some of this, it's good."
Seething with suppressed exasperation, Tonks abandoned the windowsill to take out her anger on some unsuspecting breakfast food. She was starving, damn it.
"You shouldn't try to make decisions for me because you've decided you know what's best. That's just arrogant, Remus," she told him, staring savagely at the tray she was making a bit of a mess of.
"May I have a napkin, please?"
She threw one in his general direction without turning around.
"Aim this time?" he suggested mildly.
"I asked for that one," Remus conceded, after being hit in the face with the requested table linen.
There was not much else to do aside from eat in silence for the moment. Tonks glanced over when she heard Remus place his empty plate on the stand beside the bed.
"More hot chocolate?" she asked. He wasn't the only one would could pretend to be unflappably serene. Maybe.
"No thank you."
Maybe he didn't trust her not to pour it on him. Maybe he shouldn't. She filled up her own cup again, more for something to do than for any real desire to drink any more.
"Tonks, would you come here please?"
"Have you decided that it's acceptable for the discussion to resume, now?" she demanded acidly.
Tonks approached warily, but accepted when Remus extended his hand to her, and gently tugged her down so that she was seated beside him on the bed.
"I don't mean to be condescending," he told her, voice earnest, though he avoided her eyes, "but… well, you're young."
Tonks opened her mouth to reply indignantly, but stopped short when Remus looked up into her eyes at last, and raised a hand as though to stroke her cheek. He didn't, quite, but for a moment his hand lingered longingly near her face.
"I can't actually argue with that particular fact," she admitted.
"You don't know how cruel people can be. I don't want you to know."
"Remus… I hunt dark wizards for a living," she reminded him.
He smiled at her mirthlessly. "That's not what I mean."
"Not everyone is cruel," she pointed out softly.
"No, they're not," he agreed. "Tonks, don't you…" he began hesitantly, "don't you want what's best for the people that you care about?"
"Yes," she told him expressively.
"I am definitely not what's best for you," he promised her, with another sad, humorless smile.
"Maybe I'm not so bad for you though," she suggested, reaching for his hand.
He pulled it out of her grasp. "I think we should agree to care about each other from a certain distance."
"I think- "
"I'm fairly clear on what you think," he interrupted wryly.
Tonks took a deep breath. "Remus, you may succeed in making me fairly angry at you, but you can't make me stop loving you," she told him defiantly. "Maybe you can ignore it, but you can't stop it."
He turned his face away from her.
Anymore than you can stop yourself from loving me.
She had that much anyway. It was a start.
Tonks sighed. "How's your shoulder?" she inquired briskly.
"How should I know?" he answered warily, moving his right hand over it protectively.
"Well it's your shoulder."
"Beyond a certain level of pain, which I doubt very much is indicative of anything other than the fact that it is ripped open, I'm afraid I have no information."
"I'm just going to check if it's stopped bleeding," she coaxed.
"What is that going to entail, exactly?"
"Just a peek. I won't even touch the bandages."
Remus let out a defeated sigh, and unfastened the collar of his robe and the first few buttons of his shirt. Tonks carefully tried to move his shirt aside, but it was stuck fast to the bandages.
"Ow," he informed her indignantly.
"Sorry," she replied sincerely. "Well, the bad news is that your shirt is ruined."
"No good news?" he asked with a little smile.
"The good news… is that your shirt is ruined."
He laughed at that, and Tonks grinned at him. She used to excel at making Remus laugh, or at least smile. She had to admit that she'd been rubbish at it lately.
He let out a slow, careful sigh that made her think he was regretting the laugh, however, and laid his head back against the pillows.
"You okay?" she asked, concerned.
"Splendid," he groaned, closing his eyes.
Tonks leaned down on her elbow, and reached out to brush a few stray tendrils of graying hair off of his forehead.
Remus gave a soft contented sigh, and then remembered himself. "Stop that," he chided unconvincingly, squinting at her.
"Make me," she murmured, stubbornly letting her fingers fall gently from his forehead to his cheek.
"You're impossible," he told her, weakly raising his hand to brush hers away, and then closing his eyes again.
"Sticks and stones, Remus," she told him, sitting up.
"I think I'd like to try to sleep until Dumbledore gets here."
"Are you saying that to make me leave you alone?" she asked, grinning at him.
"Possibly," he admitted, smiling back.
"It won't work," she informed him, leaning down to kiss his forehead quickly. "Sleep tight."
"Well if it isn't Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf," a voice drawled sourly from the doorway.
Tonks permitted herself a fleeting expression of supreme distaste before turning towards the door.
"Severus," Remus greeted blandly.
"Lupin," Snape replied coldly.
"It's customary to knock, Snape," Tonks told him curtly.
"If you don't wish to be … disturbed, then I suggest you lock the door, Nymphadora," Snape told her with a sneer.
"What disturbs me is your tone, Snape," she retorted.
"Not to be rude, but I would like to remind you that I'm bleeding rather heavily," Remus interjected mildly, patting her hand calmingly.
"Hence Nymphadora's tender ministrations," Snape observed scornfully.
"I'm sorry Remus," Tonks told him as she got to her feet and offered him her hand, ignoring Snape with all the self-control she could muster.
"Dumbledore sent you?" Remus asked Snape politely as he slowly got his feet.
"He's not at the castle currently, and I was instructed to handle all… business that arose in his absence. If you've gotten yourself injured, I need to summon Madam Pomfrey back to the castle."
"I would be very grateful."
The curl of Snape's lip indicated fully how much he thought of Remus' gratitude. "I don't suppose you can hobble up to the castle on your own."
"It would take a while," Remus admitted.
"I'll send a carriage."
"Thank you very much," Remus replied kindly.
Snape stalked out of the room without acknowledging his thanks.
"Bastard," Tonks muttered, after the door swung shut behind him.
"Tonks," Remus admonished, trying to hide a smile.
"I don't know how you manage to be so polite to him."
"Well, perhaps if you tried it, you'd find that it isn't as difficult as you might imagine," Remus recommended easily as he sat back down on the bed.
"No, no, I've been hating that man for thirteen years solid. Why quit now?"
Remus' smiling face took on a pained expression.
"What?" Tonks asked curiously.
"Can we not discuss the fact that Snape was your teacher?"
"Snape and I are the same age, Tonks. I might have been your teacher."
"You weren't, though," she pointed out helpfully.
"I could have been."
"Well, if you had been," she said meditatively, "I would have just developed the biggest crush imaginable on you."
"When you were eleven?" he asked, sounding scandalized.
"Oh, Remus," Tonks said with a grin. "How little you know the ways of an eleven year old girl's heart."
"Evidently I have enough trouble with… how old are you again?" he asked.
Tonks honestly had to think for an instant before she answered. The past few years of Auror training, and now the time with the Order, had gone by so quickly. "Twenty-five," she responded.
"Tonks," Remus scolded.
"What? I was rounding. And what's the point in asking a question if you already know the answer?" she inquired testily.
"I didn't. I just know that you're younger than that," he told her.
"Not by much," Tonks argued. "Besides, a century ago I'd have been a sad little spinster with a house full of kneazle kittens at my age."
Remus grinned at that. "No you wouldn't."
She ignored him. "Because I'd be hideously improper and no one would want to marry me. Which… is basically what my mum says about me now," she concluded with a smile.
"And we know that you take everything that your mother says so deeply to heart," Remus replied dryly.
"Well she must be on to something this time. You don't want to marry me, do you?" she teased lightly.
"For reasons entirely separate from your hideous impropriety," he assured her.
"Hell," she continued, tone going serious, "you don't even want to kiss me."
"I never said that," he said quietly.
Tonks gazed at him intensely for a moment.
Remus groaned, and flopped back onto the pillows, covering his face with his right hand. "I think the blood loss is affecting my judgment. No kissing. No more kissing," he amended sternly.
"Do you want to sleep until the carriage gets here?" she asked, relenting.
"I think that would be prudent," he told her, moving his hand and smiling tiredly.
"I'll wait for it downstairs then," she told him, gathering dishes onto the breakfast tray, picking it up, and moving towards the door.
"Tonks," he called, making her pause in the doorway. "Thank you. For looking out for me," he explained.
She smiled at him. "No bother," she said lightly.
Tonks managed to maneuver the tray downstairs with relatively few casualties – only a handful of errant pieces of silverware managed to topple off the tray and had to be collected subsequently. Once she'd picked up all the stragglers and left them on the bar with the tray, she took a seat by a window facing the street, the quiet conversation of a few other sets of early diners fading into a comforting background hum.
She almost would have preferred outright rejection. Almost. At least then she could get over her feelings and try to learn to deal with Remus on a level of comfortable friendship again. If only he could have made her feel like a stupid school kid with a crush on her professor, she could have just died of embarrassment and been done with it. But he'd never treated her as less than an equal, despite her relative youth. No doubt that was part of the reason she'd hoped there was some chance of him returning her feelings. He'd proclaimed himself a rotten liar, but his current occupation of spy certainly indicated otherwise. On some level, maybe not a conscious one, he must have wanted her to know how he felt…
The click of high heels on the polished wooden floorboards made Tonks look up through a curtain of magenta bangs to see Madam Rosmerta standing by her table, holding a steaming mug.
"Coffee, dear? You look like you could use it."
Tonks accepted the mug gratefully. Her thanks died on her lips, however, when the older woman took the seat across from her at the little table. She glanced down at the dark surface of the coffee, watching the little tendrils of white steam curl up from it. She pondered trying to convince Madam Rosmerta of the sad truth that she and Remus were just friends and coworkers. But, that wouldn't do – she technically worked for the Ministry, thanks to which Remus couldn't even get a job. And after all, Order secrecy was far more important than her reputation. She spent a brief moment hoping that there was no way that such gossip could leak back to her parents, and then changed her mind. Maybe it would be better for them to get used to the idea, in case she ever managed to wear Remus down with her persistence.
"How's he doing?" Madam Rosmerta asked kindly.
"He's all right," Tonks replied. "They're sending a carriage from Hogwarts."
"Is it… you know…?" the older woman asked delicately and inarticulately. "Is it his condition?" she whispered, to clarify.
"Oh. Yeah," Tonks answered lamely, blinking at her coffee. "Can I take care of the bill before the carriage gets here?" she said awkwardly, changing the subject.
"Of course," Madam Rosmerta said brightly. "Be right back with it."
Tonks felt her jeans pocket through her robe. She had a few galleons, but not enough for a room. One thing that Muggles did right was financial matters – one little swipe of a plastic card and whatever money you needed came right out of your account.
Madam Rosmerta presented her with a few parchment forms, a quill, and an envelope. Tonks scanned the items listed. The room was less than she expected, but she was hardly going to complain about that.
"What about breakfast?" she asked, noting its absence.
"Comes with the room, dear," she was informed, in such a way that made her wonder if it really did.
Tonks filled in her Gringotts vault number, signed the form, folded it into the envelope, and sealed it with a spell.
Left alone with her coffee, she sipped it slowly. She needed to be at work in London in a few hours, and she already felt like she'd put in a full day. No doubt fighting dementors in the wee hours of the morning, followed by long emotional conversations with stubborn but disgustingly lovable men would have that effect. She made a concentrated effort to drink her way to the bottom of the cup, and was just swirling around the last few gulps when she saw the carriage clatter up the cobblestoned street and come to a halt in front of the Three Broomsticks. She hurriedly stood and made her way up the stairs to Room 3 again. She knocked softly first, rather hoping that Remus would be asleep, and she'd have an excuse to wake him with a soft kiss on his forehead…
"Yes, come in," he answered, sounding quite disappointingly alert.
"Carriage is here," she told him, poking her head into the room. Remus had gotten to his feet, but looked a little unsteady. She took his arm, and he leaned against her gratefully. "You all right?"
"Considering," he answered with a nod. He looked back at the slightly rumpled bed. "Did I bleed on anything?"
Tonks peered at the bed critically, and tried very very hard not think about what bloodstains on the coverlet would look like to an outside observer in this particular situation. "It looks fine. Just in case…" She pulled out her wand to give it a good scourgify. The covers obligingly shuddered back into a smooth, pristine arrangement, and she vaguely wondered if they were bespelled to do so. "Come on, we'd better hurry, in case Snape told the carriage not to wait," she said grimly.
The carriage, in fact, was still there, and Tonks helped Remus pull himself up into it. He sat down heavily on the cushioned bench inside and looked evenly at her as she took a seat across from him.
"You don't have to come along, I'll be fine," he told her quickly, just as the carriage started to move. "Don't you have to get to work?"
Tonks checked her watch, but the hand was still resting firmly on Go Back To Bed! "I've got time," she assured him.
"I'm glad," he told her.
She smiled at that, but it faded as his expression remained steadily serious.
"Tonks, we need to come to an understanding."
"Agree to care about each other from a certain distance?" she echoed hollowly.
Remus nodded firmly. His eyes looked sad, but unapologetic.
"I don't understand you, Remus," she told him exasperatedly. "If you didn't love me, it would be different, but…"
"Supposing we did start a relationship," he interrupted her calmly, "where do you see it going?"
"I…" Tonks broke off, and blushed. "Well, what do people do when they're in love? I suppose we'd get married sooner or later," she said boldly.
For a moment, he looked a little wistful. "You say that like it's so simple."
"Isn't it?" she asked softly.
"Tonks, we do not live in a world were you could marry me with no repercussions. Do you think Umbridge and her lot would let you keep your job in the Ministry?"
"To hell with my job. I'll get another," she replied quickly.
"I've spent most of my life finding out that it's not that easy," he told her seriously.
"Then I'd get a Muggle job if I had to. Remus, we could make it work," she told him fervently, feeling a stirring of hope, and reaching across the coach for his hand.
He held her hand lightly, and stared down at it hard. "And what about kids?" he asked quietly. "Care to have any of those?"
It was bizarre and surreal and awful, to have this beautiful, gentle man that she adored asking her so brusquely if she was interested in having his children.
"Yeah," she managed faintly. "yeah, I'd like that."
He looked up at her sharply. "Well it probably wouldn't be wise, would it?" he asked bitterly.
"The potion…" she began, touching the thermos bottle still tucked in her robe pocket.
"Is a risk," he finished bluntly. "Like any potion, there's a factor of human error involved. Something could go wrong, and I…" He grimaced, and didn't finish that thought. "I cannot take care of a family," he told her instead. "Neither their needs nor their safety. It's as simple as that."
"You wouldn't be doing it alone," she argued.
"No, I would be dragging you right down along with me, into prejudice and poverty."
"It's my life," she told him passionately, "my choice. I love you."
"It's my choice too," he replied, turning his head to stare hard out the carriage window. "I won't let it happen."
Tonks sat silently for a minute, listening to the sound of the carriage wheels on the cobblestone road, trying to think of some cleverly brilliant argument to make all his objections seem as useless to him as they did to her.
"I think it would be easier for us to see less of each other than usual," he proposed quietly.
She gave him a troubled look. "I'm hardly going to start throwing myself at you now just because you know how I feel," she assured him a little coldly.
"I certainly didn't suppose you would," he told her with that infuriatingly mild tone of his. "I… well, I don't quite trust myself around you now, Tonks," he admitted softly.
She blinked back a few tears. "I trust you," she replied simply.
Remus, however, never had the opportunity to respond, as the carriage came to a halt in front of the main entrance to Hogwarts, where a disdainful Snape and a yawning Madam Pomfrey waited for them. Tonks pushed the door open and hopped down to the ground before turning to help Remus out of the carriage.
"Thank you, again, for everything," he said quietly, overwhelmingly close as he leaned on her.
She looked up into his eyes for a moment, vividly remembering how she'd felt with his lips against hers, his hands in her hair. He gazed back at her with a small, sad smile, and she felt a little thrill through the knot in her stomach. He loved her.
"I'm not giving up, you know," she warned him in a matter of fact undertone. If it was to be a battle of wills, she would win. She didn't have to fight against her own feelings and desires every step of the way, after all.
"I don't believe Nymphadora's… attentions are required any longer," Snape observed with a subtle sneer as Madam Pomfrey hurried over to inspect Remus's shoulder.
Tonks squeezed Remus's hand slightly before she released it.
"I'll see you," he told her, voice carefully neutral.
"See you," she agreed resolutely.
[Apologies to Ms. Rowling for stealing her creations for my own purposes. I am ashamed.
I actually started writing this shortly after The Half-Blood Prince came out. I finished it just last month. I think I wanted to get it out of my system before book 7.
Lupin has been my favorite character in the Harry Potter books since I first read The Prisoner of Azkaban at Christmas of 1999. I was madly in love with him at the tender age of 16, and admittedly my crush hasn't abated much in the ensuing years. Tonks was easily my favorite part of book 5. I was harboring suspicions about them before the big revelation at the end of book 6, but I think that might have been more my wishfully putting characters that I liked together rather than any actual insight.
The title is a line from Tennyson's Lady of Shalott, from the last stanza of Part ii :
"…Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers, lately wed;
'I am half sick of shadows,' said
The Lady of Shalott."
This really has nothing to do with the story, but it's one of my favorite poems, and has a general tone of frustrated love that I thought was somewhat appropriate, at least. All in all I'm severely rotten at coming up with titles, so when I get something halfway decent I tend to go with it.