Authors' Note: Yes. Two authors. That was not a typo. We are grammar goddesses, thanks very much. Tierfal and Eltea here, bringing you the fruits of our combined efforts.
Anyway, we can't promise that you'll be happy with this fic, but we can promise you three things:
1. Tonks's and Lupin's relationship exists. A lot. No, really. A lot. And they kind of become more important than Harry. Because we like them better.
2. Harry will be mercilessly lampooned. A lot. (see above)
3. There will be NO CAMPING.
If You Like Harry the Character, Stop Reading Now
Once upon a time, there were two girls who were very disappointed with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It all began when Lupin showed up at Grimmauld Place and offered to help the main - shall we say, "favored" - characters.
"Yay!" the two girls cried. "The best character J.K. Rowling ever managed to create will do something interesting!"
But it was not to be.
Instead, Rowling, that cruel mistress of all that is Harry Potter, squandered Lupin and refused to explore the depths of his character and of his life. God. What's wrong with that woman?
Anyway, the two girls, being of the outrage-leading-to-action inclination, decided to chop off the miserable story there and explore what might instead have been.
Which brings us to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Lupin sitting at the kitchen table at 12 Grimmauld Place. (And if at any point you feel like flaming us for flagrantly mocking Harry, we refer you to the title of this chapter.)
"So." Lupin broke the brief silence that had settled over the table, leaning forward slightly and trapping Harry's eyes with his own. "Do you want my help? I promise to trust you implicitly, to trust that your knowledge of the mission will guide you in making the right decisions, and to aid and protect you whenever I can. Shall I join you?"
Harry was about to open his mouth and speak - about to question, to doubt, to probe and poke and search out the vulnerabilities of the man sitting calmly across the table from him, watching him serenely, but Hermione spoke before he could find the words.
"But…" she began. "But - your wife… you can't just leave her. Marrying her was a promise, and, important as the mission is, she deserves your loyalty as much as Harry and Dumbledore do."
Lupin smiled a small, sad smile. "The woman I married," he responded slowly, "is endlessly brave and intelligent. She knows I'm here. She knows why. And she knows that sometimes, the world has to come first, whether we like it or not."
Ron scratched the side of his nose. He muttered something.
After a momentary pause - GEDDIT?? PAWS??? - Lupin prompted, "Sorry?"
Shrugging, Ron's wandering fingers sought his scalp, disappearing beneath his unruly hair. "What I said was, if she's so brave and intelligent, why doncha just bring her along?"
Everyone stared at him for a few long seconds, and Ron's ears reddened. "Whachu staring at, anyway?" he mumbled.
"Ronald Weasley," Hermione said slowly, "you are a complete and utter idi—"
"Genius!" Lupin whispered.
Hermione transferred her disbelieving gaze to his face instead. "You're going to bring a pregnant woman on the most dangerous quest in the history of the wizarding world?" she demanded, her voice squeaking a little.
Lupin was looking past her, at the wall, where tiny green flowers were emblazoned on slightly off-white wallpaper. There was a new smile on his lips now, a dreamy one. It would have been obvious to anyone who had ever actually been in love, ever actually found himself drowning in the swelling tide of his own depth of feeling, that Remus Lupin was thinking about his wife. He didn't answer Hermione's question.
"Well," Ron pointed out nervously, as if afraid both of breaking the silence and of further censure from Hermione, "I mean, she is an Auror… and a whatchamacallit - with the appearance-changing and all. If she's only a few months pregnant and feels up to it, she'd probably be a really useful person to have along…"
Harry looked ready to nail him like you'd nail a brightly-dressed Quidditch player swooping low over a Muggle shooting range, but Lupin spoke first.
"All right, then," he said briskly. "Shall I bring her back here? Is there anything you think we'll need, or any messages you'd like me to deliver to the rest of the Order?"
Harry watched him for a moment - watched the smile on his lips, the little sparks of happiness in his eyes, the new energy and vigor that seemed to have animated him at the prospect of bringing his wife. Then he sighed.
"You can't just—"
But Hermione interrupted.
"Anything you think will be useful on what might be a long journey. I already have most of what we'll need, but I'm sure your judgement will be good. And tell Ron's parents not to worry; we'll be careful."
Harry shot a brief glare in her direction, but Lupin had already jumped to his feet, smiling.
"Of course. I'll go now - I won't be long; see you three soon."
The silence was dull and uncomfortable as the door was drawn quietly closed behind him. Harry stared in disbelief at Ron and Hermione. They had formed opinions of their own. Perhaps that wasn't quite so unusual in and of itself, but they were sticking to them like glue - like bloody tree sap. Like bloody - bloody - bloody blood. And all the while they knew that he distinctly disapproved of the whole idea. How could they possibly contradict him that way? Surely they knew how good his instincts for all manners of peril were! Surely they should have trusted him blindly to know what was best, despite the fact that he'd never read Hermione's books or lived immersed in the wizarding world like Ron!
Then Harry realized that the silence wasn't actually dull or uncomfortable for anyone but him, because Hermione jumped up and started trying to collect things she thought would be useful, and Ron started chewing on his lip and jotting things down on a spare piece of parchment. Harry wanted to know what he was writing, but he didn't have a very good angle, and he kind of didn't want to move. He was a bit occupied with slouching sullenly.
"I don't know why," he began after a few moments, "you two just decided to give him the go-ahead without so much as asking me. I thought we were supposed to be working together, not against each other. I thought you trusted me. I thought—"
"Oh, come on, Harry," Hermione finally snapped. "Ron was right; she's an Auror, and she'll be really helpful to have along. I know you don't like the idea of bringing anybody else on the quest, but you told us about the Horcruxes, right? I'm sure Dumbledore would've trusted the two of them just as much as he trusted the two of us, and frankly, we need all the help we can get." She went silent, returning to her work, and Harry stared at her, dumbfounded, before turning his imploring gaze to Ron, who shrugged helplessly and a little guiltily.
Harry shook his head in wonder, considering the idea of launching into another lecture, but just then, the door opened and closed again, and footsteps rang through the hall.
Tonks's hair was mostly straight and hung just past her shoulders, but it was as bright a shade of pink as ever. She was dressed plainly and practically, her pregnancy was not yet showing, and she looked radiantly happy. Lupin, who had an arm around her waist and a small bag in the other hand, was smiling at her and looking as if years had fallen from his face.
"So what's the bloody death we're leaping into this time?" Tonks inquired cheerfully, tossing herself into a chair at the table and knocking the one next to it to the floor. "Whoops," she said.
Even as she started to lean towards it with an arm outstretched, Lupin got there first, righted the chair, smiled adoringly at the woman who had disturbed it, and sat in the rescued piece of furniture. On top of the table, they clasped hands, twenty fingers tight around each other, looking as if nothing in the world could tear them apart.
"Well," Hermione said. "It's a bit of a long story." She smiled fondly at the knot of digits on the table. And then she told that story, from beginning to middle - to now, to the present, to where they sat at the kitchen table at 12 Grimmauld Place. Occasionally Ron had to interject something, and he would bounce in his seat for a moment before his input would burst out of his mouth, and when it was accepted with everything else, a fleeting, mile-wide grin would leap to his face. Hermione would pat him on the arm distractedly before regaining the thread of the tale, and all the while, Harry sat, watching their faces. Hermione's was calm and pleasant, though it faltered at the parts that were still dubious, still unsure, still cowing and cryptic. Ron's was obliging; he nodded, he muttered his acquiescence frequently. Tonks's was pensive but optimistic; she, too, nodded at all the right times and winced when it was appropriate. As the story went on and dug its grave deeper in the fertile soil, it was the thoughtfulness that dominated her bright, pretty face. She extracted a hand from the coil of them on the table, and her rosy hair obediently lengthened so that she could twist a section of it in her fingers. Lupin's face was solemn and slightly less hopeful, etched with a sculptor's serving of doubts, but when they gouged deepest, he would glance down at Tonks's hand clasped securely between his, and love would smooth the lines from his face again effortlessly.
When Hermione had finally finished, finally told the whole story and described the challenge that faced them, she paused for a deep breath and cast a surreptitious glance at Harry. He was scowling. She swallowed, and a brief, uncomfortable silence ensued.
"Well!" Tonks put in brightly, shattering that silence as easily as she did household objects, "that's not too bad - at least we know what we're looking for!" Hermione cast her a grateful look, Ron a hopeful one, and her husband one filled so deeply with adoration that nobody would have been surprised to see flowers bloom into being in the air around their faces like the end of a cheesy cartoon. Harry, for his part, continued to scowl.
Remus retrieved his pack from the floor and set it among the mess on the table. "How's progress coming?" he inquired.
Hermione brushed some hair behind her ear and folded her hands primly, primed to go into Explanation Mode. "I've been combing the house a little, looking for things that might help us - you know, magical artifacts and the like. Mundungus Fletcher already raided the place once - at least once - though, unfortunately, which is why we sent - Oh!" Her eyes light up, and her hand flew over her mouth.
"What?" Ron demanded, looking as though he'd received a jolt of electricity to his tailbone. "What's wrong?"
Instead of revealing some dire difficulty, however, Hermione laughed. "Kreacher! We sent Kreacher to get Mundungus Fletcher! I'd forgotten entirely!"
"I hadn't," Harry lied.
"Guess he should be getting back one of these days," Ron commented, sounding less than convinced himself.
Remus stood. "If you don't mind," he said, somewhat quietly, "I'd like to take a bit of a look around." He smiled, a little weakly. "It helps a little, you know. The reminders."
Tonks looked like she'd been sentenced to death. She stood as well, accepting the concerned hand he offered.
"Yeah, go ahead," Harry conceded. Likely Kreacher wouldn't respond as well to a werewolf anyway, if the tardy House Elf ever decided to come back.
Anxiety and other, heavier things swirled in Remus Lupin's chest as he mounted the stairs. He'd looked before, of course; he'd been over every inch after Sirius had… gone. He'd memorized 12 Grimmauld Place down to the last handle on the last dresser drawer.
The walls were untouched, courtesy of Sirius's unshakable conviction that his parents should not be able to alter his decorations. Remus had known every piece that he would see there, but he smiled anyway. Or he did until he saw the floor, which was swathed in papers and torn books like a tidal wave of parchment had washed over the carpet. Carefully he picked his way through the rubble of Sirius's life until he found the picture clinging adamantly to the wallpaper.
And then there they were again. He remembered the day that picture had been taken. James and Sirius had been shooting scrambled eggs at each other across the table with their spoons at breakfast that morning, and a dripping glob of their chosen projectile had splashed into Remus's orange juice. If you looked really closely and squinted hard - as Remus Lupin was doing now - you could just see the little orange juice stain on the collar of his white shirt. Oh, how they'd laughed. Peter had fallen out of his chair. Remus Lupin closed his eyes, but the image might as well have been branded into his eyelids. Peter… he thought. Peter, why?
"Remus?" she said then, his angel, his one dream, his fondest and wildest fantasy, here, real, true, the only person he had ever dared to love as much as he had loved the stupid boys in that picture.
"We were so naïve," he whispered, his faint, nostalgic smile tainted with the bitterness of knowing better now.
She put her arms around his shoulders. He felt small, frail, vulnerable - and entirely allowed to be those things. Only in her embrace did he feel that way - feel that it was safe to be breakable. It was after one impossible close shave or another that she had thrown her arms around him the first time, in relief, in giddiness, in desperate happiness, because she had needed someone to hold onto to keep her knees from giving way. And it was then that he had known, as his astonished joy had doubled and tripled and exploded exponentially, as he had caught the scent of her unpredictable, mutable hair, that he had realized that he couldn't deny it to himself anymore.
She was his savior.
No, he'd been unable to deny it to himself - but that didn't mean he hadn't tried. Didn't mean he hadn't denied it to everyone else who'd ever dared to suspect. Didn't mean he hadn't denied it to her - his worst offense. Guilt prickled somewhere deep inside him every time he thought about it, thought about the pain he'd put her though for the sake of keeping up his hopeless denial. Angels shouldn't be made to feel pain.
It was the very night Dumbledore had died - the same night that, earlier, he had pushed her away once more, this time in front of their friends and colleagues. When he'd returned home late that night, beaten, exhausted, and miserable, it had been to find her perched on a flat rock, her legs crossed, watching the stars serenely. Used to tears and frustration and obstinacy, he'd approached cautiously, searching for a source of this newfound calm.
"Hello," she'd greeted him without removing her gaze from whichever of the distant, twinkling infernos had caught her eye. "I've been expecting you."
He wanted to sound stern, but he wasn't quite sure whether to use her first name or her last. In the end, he settled on neither.
"You have to leave," he told her quietly.
"I thought you'd say that," she replied.
Her calm was frightening him, maddening him. Something was wrong.
"Dora." The nickname slipped out; he'd been thinking about her parents, but there was no time for pointless apologies, so he plunged on. "Tonight is the full moon. It rises just after four in the morning, and it's two-thirty now."
"Well - well, then leave!" he stammered, a little thrown by her nonchalance, feeling the frustration that comes from constant worry. "You'll be in great danger if you stay! Do you want to get bitten?"
As soon as she turned her eyes on him - those dark, tormented eyes, shimmering in the dim starlight - he regretted ever having asked it, because he knew it was true.
"If you don't want me as a human," she began calmly, "maybe I'll have a hope of a chance if I'm a—"
"No!" He shook faintly, putting a hand to his head, which was aching now. There had been too much - too much to deal with today; not this, not now. "There's no question of my allowing you to do that. I won't—"
"WHY NOT?" she screamed suddenly. She was on her feet, tears streaming from her eyes, and he was terrified - of her, for her, of his own feelings and doubts. "You're hurting me more this way than you ever could like that! I - God, Remus, I - I love you!"
And she sat down on the rock, buried her face in her hands, and sobbed the same innocent, heartbroken sobs of an infant who has lost her teddy bear.
And before he knew what he'd thought, before he knew that he'd moved, before he knew what he'd done, he was at her side, and his knees had rebelled and set themselves in the damp, dewy grass, and his arms had rebelled and wrapped themselves tightly around her shaking frame, and his face had rebelled and buried itself in the sweet redolence of her wonderful hair.
"What," he whispered hopelessly, "did I ever do to deserve you?"
In leaden arms he had collected her, held her to his heaving chest, and gathered himself carefully to his feet. She had become a lovely child in his arms, her weight dwindling as her physical form tapered and thinned - considerate even now, even after he'd tried to back away and ended up hurting her again. And people said she was clumsy.
A little face with tiny, delicate ears had been buried in his shirt, soaking it. Considerate, yes; endlessly kind to his enervated body - and endlessly brutal to his enervated mind.
So young, he thought, over and over, with every jolting struggle of a step. So young. So young, and so lovely, and so new. So innocent. So perfect. Perfect beyond measure.
So carefully he had set her down on the lumpy couch and collapsed onto it next to her. When he had found the strength to open his eyes, she was herself again, smiling at him tentatively, wiping impatiently at tears with a dark blue handkerchief emblazoned with silver stars.
"Can I make you some tea?" she asked.
He didn't know where his newfound energy had originated, but it was there.
That was a lie. He knew the source, with more certainty than he had ever known anything in his life.
And with the love welling like tears within him and overflowing warm and boundless, he had leaned forward and kissed her.
It was with that same impossible depth of feeling that she kissed him now.
Being close to her was always like being caught in a ray of sunshine - warm, lovely, and safe. He wrapped one arm around her waist and slid the other hand into her hair, her beautiful, soft, original hair, and enfolded the pair of them in sweet forgetfulness. There was no darkness; there was no quest; there were no stupid teenagers to look after. There was only him, and his wife, and the tiny, mysterious little life that would soon make them a family. He wasn't old; he wasn't broken; he wasn't sick and despised and ostracized by the world - he was warm, and safe, and loved, and he was in love with the woman he was kissing.
She was just slipping her arms around his neck and pushing herself up on her toes a little - she was just an inch or two shorter than him, and she'd always shunned heels like a disease - when they heard a throat being cleared impatiently behind them.
Blushing, they broke apart, untangling themselves, pulling themselves back to reality, returning from their dreamworld to a dark, dreary room in a dark, dreary house, where a teenaged boy stood watching them with raised eyebrows.
"While you were busy," he told them, putting a slight reprimanding emphasis on the word, "we got some news."
Remus bit his lip, hard, hating the awkwardness, hating himself - familiar territory, to say the least - and looked at the wreckage of the floor.
Tonks wasn't so cowed. "What news is that?" she asked brightly.
The majority of the weight of the awkwardness landed heavily on Harry's shoulders. He blinked. After a moment's pause, he recovered. "Kreacher's back. He has Mundungus. And Umbridge's got the locket."
"Dolores Umbridge?" Lupin and Tonks repeated in impeccable synchronism. It would have been cause to share a quick, secret smile if Harry Potter hadn't been marching out of the room already with that same all-important, purposeful stride.
"Yeah," he confirmed airily. "We've got to get into the ministry and stuff."
He disappeared down the stairs, and Lupin watched him go a little sadly, almost a little hurt - that is, until his wife threw a friendly arm around his shoulders.
"What's wrong?" she inquired cheerfully. It took someone who knew her as well as he did to hear the note of worry and concern beneath the cheeriness.
"Nothing," he replied, managing to muster up a smile for her. He could have smiled for her with both of his arms cut off. She returned the smile and opened her mouth to say something, but it was replaced by a shriek as she slipped on the last stair before the landing. He managed to catch her, supporting her face-up in his arms like the cover of every cheesy romance novel ever written, and she grinned and leaned up to kiss him.
"My knight in shining armor," she proclaimed happily as she righted herself. "Thanks, hon."
Her husband smiled in return, letting her lace her fingers through his and pull him down the rest of the stairs and into the kitchen. What had he been sad about a moment ago? He was a knight in shining armor, soon to be a father, and he was holding hands with an angel.