Burden
By: oneandonlysusan

After the conversation about the weapon in Order of the Phoenix that pins Sirius and Molly against one another, Remus and Tonks find themselves alone at the dinner table with a lot to talk about.

Disclaimer: Sadly, I don't own Harry Potter.

Written for metamorFicmoon's Last Chance Full Moon Showdown on LJ. My prompts were: sunset; "'Course Dumbledore trusts you. He's a trusting man, isn't he? Believes in second chances. But me -- I say there are spots that don't come off, Snape. Spots that never come off, know what I mean?"


Remus looked around the kitchen of Twelve Grimmauld Place; he had just, for the umpteenth time in his life, witnessed a situation escalate from bad to worse.

It wasn't as if he hadn't expected Sirius to bring up the topic of Voldemort immediately after Harry stepped foot into headquarters. It was rather that no matter how long Remus had known Sirius and no matter how predictable he was, Remus was always surprised at just how blunt Sirius Black could be.

With the kitchen and house as nearly as dark as Sirius' blackened moods, Remus had of course expected a sudden surge in Sirius' disposition upon Harry's arrival to headquarters. Severus' scathing remarks about Sirius' uselessness had begun to build up over the past few months and push heavily on the door to Sirius' emotions. Remus knew that the jeers had found their target; he had seen Sirius' flashing eyes and stirring anger. He had expected Sirius to give Harry the answers he'd been craving all summer in order to feel as if he had some worth. And though Remus agreed that Harry had to be filled in now that he was at Headquarters, Sirius had overstepped the line of paternal instinct. In just the past few hours, his dark eyes had changed as quickly as his emotions; from anger and surliness to an almost frightening playfulness, and Remus predicted that they would quickly change again.

Remus had also expected the conversation would approach the subject Albus had warned them not to speak to Harry or the other children about. Warned was rather an understatement; strictly forbidden was perhaps the most accurate assessment of Dumbledore's words.

The weapon.

Remus had licked his lips in anticipation to jump in when Harry asked about it. Of course Harry had a right to know some things; after all, the prophecy they were guarding was about him. Albus had strictly forbidden them to talk about it, and he must have had good reason. But when Remus' saw the heads of the children swinging back and forth as if they were watching a table tennis match rather than a blazing row between Sirius and Molly, he knew that there was another reason to heed Albus' warning.

Remus needed to put a stop to the dangerous meanderings of Sirius' emotions. Harry had been here only a few hours and already the change in Sirius was substantial, and he was to blame. He hadn't delved deeply enough into Sirius' intoxicated mutterings over firewhisky; Remus thought it was just Sirius reminiscing over their time at school, every once in awhile booming over some especially noteworthy prank that he and James had landed weeks of detention for. Remus had overlooked the fact that with a few more bottles of Ogden's, Sirius ended (between tears of delight, unrestrainable laughter and while talking to a cabinet with a gargoyle's face for a handle) with stories that Remus couldn't quite remember; stories of flying hippogriffs and silver stags. In these stories, the names Harry and James were near interchangeable, and Remus was never sure where the reality Remus knew ended and the reality Sirius knew began.

Truth be told, he hadn't exactly overlooked it, because it had troubled him, but he allowed Sirius to enjoy his firewhisky and storytelling anyway. Lately, Remus felt that he was no longer the person most trapped in a past they couldn't control, and sadly, it was his best friend that had succeeded him.

He'd had so much to deal with lately. Between sipping tea while Sirius blathered into firewhisky bottles, Remus had made the plans for the Advance Guard to ensure that obtaining Harry from his Muggle relatives went as smoothly as possible. And, his position of authority in those plans gave him even less time to think about, let alone deal with, another matter that was troubling him: his most un-platonic feelings for Tonks.

Remus shook the thought from his mind and allowed his own head to be pulled into the table tennis match. Molly Weasley was glowing with a frightening anger. Sirius' eyes were reflecting a similar glow, but one backed with an altogether different emotion. Sirius was acting as if he were still fifteen, egging Harry on, as if Harry had different colored eyes and a forehead covered only by unruly hair. Sirius's transformation from godfather to teenager had become startlingly more real upon Harry's arrival and now was the time to intervene.

But Molly Weasley had beaten him to it; once again he had shown his most unprefect-like ability of being unable to exercise authority over his best friend. He saw Molly's mouth twitch dangerously as she ordered the children to bed and saw her tremble as she faced Sirius. It was time, now.

"Why not?" Harry asked. "I'll join, I want to fight—"

"No," Remus interrupted. He glanced towards Harry, whose green eyes had widened. Remus' own eyes scanned the teenagers; he could see Harry's look of surprise mirrored in the faces of Fred, George, Ron and Hermione. "The Order is comprised only of overage wizards," Remus said. He saw the indignant faces of Fred and George light up against him. "Wizards who have left school," he amended, as they shut their mouths, looking mutinous. Their relationship to Molly was obvious in their similar displays of anger. "There are dangers involved of which you have no idea, any of you…" He glanced over at Sirius. He was hunched in his chair, avoiding eye contact. Remus sighed. "I think Molly's right, Sirius. We've said enough."

Sirius' unenthusiastic shrug was enough to get Molly bustling powerfully towards the staircase, followed closely by the equally unenthusiastic but now-compliant teenagers. Remus sighed again. Divisions forming between people who needed to work together were not what the Order needed right now, especially not over something as stupid as who loved Harry the most. Remus glanced over at Harry, who walking up the staircase. Harry turned and craned his neck to look at his godfather, but Sirius' eyes were focused in his own lap. His green eyes roamed slowly over those who were left at the table before he turned back towards the staircase and continued walking.

The kitchen quivered with silence as the tense moments without Molly passed. No one seemed willing to fill the void with their voice. Remus met Arthur's eyes. Arthur looked at Sirius, who was still not looking at anyone. His dark mane of hair had crept over his shoulders and left his eyes in a shadow.

Molly reentered the kitchen. She was quiet and shaking slightly as she surveyed the length of the table. Tonks was sitting next to Sirius and staring at her hands. Arthur rose from Remus' right and put a comforting hand on his wife's back.

"Why don't we go to bed, Molly?" Arthur asked her quietly. Remus saw her look at Arthur and nod, looking defeated despite having gotten her way.

"I'll clear up for you," he reassured her. He looked down at the end of the table and Tonks nodded in agreement.

Molly looked down at the plates scattered around the table and shook her head uncomprehendingly. If anything, Molly's half-hearted agreement and lost disposition were more frightening than when her eyes flashed when she was angry. She was certainly upset if she was agreeing to let Tonks clear the breakables from the table.

One of Arthur's freckled hands move to squeeze Molly's shoulder.

"Oh, all right," she said, her voice low and wavering slightly. Arthur took her hand and led her up the stairs. Remus heard the echo of a low crack from above; the twins were apparating again. Molly's steps on the staircase suddenly became more brisk. He felt a sudden surge of pride at the ease with which she switched back into her normal, motherly mode of operation.

"I'd best be out of here too, Remus," Bill said. He flicked his wand and levitated his dish and the dishes of his parents to the sink. They landed with an uncomfortable clang of silver, much too loudly, reminding Remus that he was not the only one who was responsible for keeping the emotions of others in order. He shook Remus' hand and put a comforting arm on Tonks' shoulder. Her fingers lingered on his hand for a moment, not nearly long enough to mean much more than a thank you for noticing that she was still sitting silently there, but Remus still felt a sudden surge of jealous frustration. He felt oddly satisfied when he heard the front door close much too loudly, but felt suddenly ashamed of the feeling when the angry screams of Sirius' mum lit up in the sitting room.

Remus scanned the table and tried to ignore the screams, but in his thoughts the words "filthy half-breeds" were echoing more loudly and violently than they had occurred when Sirius' mum had screamed them. Mundungus' head was facedown in his plate and he was snoring lightly. Sirius was still stationary at the other end of the table. Tonks, beside him, still hadn't said a word. He breathed in; a comforting and steadying rush of air flooded his mouth and lungs and he decided to speak.

"Are you all right, Sirius?" Remus asked quietly.

"I don't— I—" Sirius's features softened, and he looked up, his face moving for the first time since Mrs. Weasley had exited with the children. Sirius' voice trailed off, and Remus waited for him to start speaking again. Remus was surprised when he did not. He paused, thinking that his best friend's silence meant he knew full well what Remus was about to say.

"You needn't argue with Molly, Sirius. Harry is like a son to both of you." Remus kept his voice level as he spoke, trying to toe the line between giving friendly advice and constructive criticism. Remus thought the two were rather the same, but for Sirius, the thin line between them was akin to a barrier between acceptance and anger. Remus hated that understanding Sirius meant having to tiptoe between two extremes.

"I'm just preparing him," Sirius broke in, meeting Remus' eyes. "I'm his godfather." Remus smiled.

"And Molly is protecting him. She's a mother."

"He's got to know what's out there," Sirius argued. His volume and tone suddenly increased dangerously. He paused, his voice becoming quiet and subdued once more, "He's got to fight back." He said it pleadingly, and Remus wanted to break their eye contact so he didn't have to see the unsettling emotions swirling in his best friend's pupils.

"He does, and he will. But he also needs to be protected until that time comes. You know that, Sirius." He paused, trying to keep his words from sounding stern and professor-like because they weren't the sort of words that Sirius responded to. He could see that he hadn't succeeded; Sirius was standing now, biting his lip, his jaw set.

"I'm going to bed," he said curtly.

"Sirius—" Remus started, his own voice now pleading. Sirius didn't meet his eyes, and instead pointed his wand at Remus' silver goblet of untouched wine. Remus looked at it warily as it flew towards Sirius. The purple liquid was splashing out of the cup, leaving droplets on the white tablecloth stretched across the table beneath them. It landed shakily in Sirius' outstretched hand. Sirius didn't bother to blot the beads that landed on his skin.

"Goodnight, Sirius," Remus said quietly. Their eyes finally locked on each other, as they had when Harry had asked about the weapon. Remus could see the pain and frustration in Sirius' dark eyes. He lifted the wine to his lips, the silver of it making his skin look pallid. Remus could just make out his own distorted reflection in the silver from across the length of the table. Their eyes remained locked on each other as he downed the glass, his throat bobbing unsteadily. Sirius' eyes were almost hidden between the shadows of his hair and the crescents of darkness beneath them. As he stared into his best friend's eyes, Remus wasn't quite sure if he was seeing Sirius' emotions or his own reflected back at him.

"'Night, Moony," Sirius said quietly, placing the glass back on the table. "'Night, Tonks." Remus looked to Sirius' left. He had almost forgotten Tonks was there, something he had never done before.

"Goodnight, Sirius," Tonks responded quietly.

Sirius retreated to his room, his footsteps echoing quietly throughout the kitchen. The echo faded, and the kitchen was silent once again. Remus stared down at his hands, physically and emotionally exhausted from the responsibility of leveling his own emotions and Sirius' much more turbulent ones.

Remus wanted nothing more than to put his face in his hands and close his eyes. Instead, he felt his eyes travel toward the other end of the table. Mundungus' snores had gotten louder, and he could see the leftover stew bubbling in his plate as his lips vibrated from each snore. Tonks gave Remus a weak smile and he felt suddenly grateful that she hadn't said a word during the argument.

The table had seemed so small when everyone had been crowded around it, Remus thought. With himself and Tonks at either end and Mundungus snoring in between, the table suddenly seemed enormous, a true manifestation of the increasing distance the silence was putting between them.

"Sirius wants Harry to fight for him because James would have done it," Remus said finally. He felt his voice was taking almost too long to travel across the length of the table. Too long to help excuse Sirius' behavior. She hadn't known him before Azkaban, he didn't want her to think that this emotional muddle was Sirius. "…And because he's stuck in here, especially here," Remus eyed the dreary decorations and dark stone ceiling, dark pieces of a home and a childhood Sirius detested. "Well, at any rate, he's never quite grown up."

He could see Tonks searching for words to answer him with; her short pink hair was drooping and she was staring at the blue fingernail polish on her hands.

"Azkaban must be terrible," Tonks said after a moment, finally looking up at him, a diagonal crossing the length of the table and forming between their eyes as they locked on each other. Her discernment was laudable.

Remus nodded. "It left a terrible mark on a good man," he said quietly. He looked down at his hands.

"This is the first time I've really seen it," Tonks whispered. "He's always been so happy around me."

"Your mother was the only member of his family that was ever family to him," Remus responded. He looked over at her, suddenly aware of how old he seemed. Her eyes were wide as they roamed over him. He opened his mouth to speak again, the words coming out in that hoarse voice he used when he was upset. "He misses James. He sees a little too much of him in Harry. More than what's there, really."

Tonks' face looked pained. He looked away. He felt another incomprehensible surge of anger flare in his chest. Was it wrong of him to be frustrated with Sirius's tumultuous emotions for a reason other than protecting Harry?

Remus shook the thought away. He knew he would never be so frustrated as to ignore Sirius' emotions; after all, Sirius was his best friend and had trusted him when few others would. He had readily admitted his loyalty to his friends and his willingness to sacrifice his own life for the good of them. He would face the burden of those fourteen years in Azkaban for the rest of his life, marked forever by his unrelenting loyalty to his best friends and a situation out of his control. Remus would never, as long as he lived, allow his best friend to face that burden alone.

The thought crept surreptitiously back towards him, finding the part of his mind that he couldn't always control which got angry when Bill touched Tonks' shoulder and was frustrated with having to hold Sirius together. He'd carried the burden of lycanthropy all his life and now, when he looked at his feelings for Tonks, it felt more cumbersome than ever. Carrying double the emotional load was just too much. He couldn't control that part of him that sometimes wished that Sirius' half wasn't there, that he could level his own emotions. Without all this, he could attempt to court Tonks with whatever dignity an old and poor werewolf could, instead of allowing their friendship to build upon holding Sirius together.

"You're a good friend, you know," Tonks said, interrupting his thoughts, her sad expression slowly changing into a warm smile. "Loyalty worthy of a Hufflepuff, I'd say."

Remus nodded. She had found the mark. Sirius was the last friend he had, and he would never abandon him to face his life on his own. But the thought of it when he was stuck in a quicksand of emotions such as this one could sometimes be comforting. "I expect that you've learned firsthand a thing or two about Hufflepuff loyalty," Remus said, his own lips turning upwards in a smile that mirrored her own.

"Quite right."

"But unfortunately," Remus said, pausing and pursing his lips, "I sometimes, especially as of late, feel burdened by the loyalty of friendship. And with loyalty being the most prominent characteristic of a Hufflepuff, I expect that they don't often feel that way." Tonks' smile reversed, turning over until it became a tight line across her face. She didn't respond, just shook her head, and Remus looked down at his hands, wishing he hadn't spoken. Wishing he hadn't been honest? He sighed. A few extraordinarily long seconds passed.

"Bloody buggering hell," Tonks hissed, and Remus looked up. She was perched like a feline on all fours, but she was clamoring over the empty seats that lined the length of the table between them in a way that was far from the polished manner of a cat. Mundungus gave a heavy snore and she started, slamming an elbow on the next chair she crossed.

She landed with little grace directly across from Remus, and he felt her eyes fluttering across his face with the grace her body lacked.

"Remus, whatever you might think, having unconditional loyalty to anyone is a burden. It certainly doesn't matter if loyalty is your best or worst quality." His eyes met her own, and they lingered on each other, pausing in their gaze only when they closed and eyelashes flurried.

"Thank you, Tonks," Remus said quietly. He glanced down at her hands, which were in the middle of the table, separated from each other by a few centimeters and a napkin. He considered the implication of placing his hand on hers and decided it was a gesture that she could determine came out of his gratefulness for her friendship. Which it did, of course, but he also was interested in touching her hand for less platonic reasons. He put his hand on top of her left hand and met her eyes once again. She covered his hand with her other hand, her fingers resting nonchalantly upon his hand, the tip of her thumb idly pushing his wristwatch up his arm and stroking the skin underneath it on his wrist.

"Remus, we're all trying to deal with someone else's emotions lately." He nodded, keeping his eyes focused on hers. She swept her hands upward so she was holding his hand between her own and their elbows were leaning on the table. "I know how hard it is for you. And Sirius knows it too, and he's grateful, he really is. I hardly knew him before, and I can see it."

Remus nodded. "I know, Tonks." He gave a light sigh that functioned as more of a pause in thought than a symptom of exasperation with his unconditional loyalty. "At times it can be very hard. But I always remember how happy I was as a child and a teenager, and I remind myself that Sirius and I, and James, when he was alive, have always been there for each other and always will be. In theory, it's rather easy to be loyal when you consider our history." He paused. "Of course, it's all much more difficult in practice."

Tonks smiled and intertwined the fingers of both her hands around his. "I wish I had a friend like you, Remus."

"You do," he told her, putting his free hand on top of the pile their hands made. He stroked her knuckles with his thumb.

A smile spread slowly across Tonks' heart-shaped face, pushing her cheeks upward and causing her eyes to glow. "I meant as a teenager," she said. "Not that I'm not grateful for your friendship now, of course," she said quickly. "Because I am. Very much so." She sighed. "But it would be nice to have a friend who'd still be there after spending over a decade in Azkaban. Or at least a friend who would have lasted through Auror training."

Remus felt his face slide into a grin that matched her own. "Could you possibly be saying that Azkaban is second to Auror training in its potential to destroy friendships?" he asked.

"Have you met Rufus Scrimgeor?" Tonks asked with a laugh. "I haven't had a social life in over three years."

"I'm sure joining the Order hasn't helped alleviate that problem," Remus said quietly, looking at their intertwined fingers.

Tonks shrugged. "It brought me to you," she whispered. "I reckon that's a step in the right direction." She lowered their hands back to the table below them, which gave Remus nowhere to look but directly into her eyes. Not that he minded looking at her like that, of course. A pink tinge was ascending in her cheeks as her smile widened.

He opened his mouth but closed it again, unsure of exactly what to say. Mundungus let out an enormous snore, and Tonks and Remus pulled apart quickly and turned their heads rapidly toward the center of the table. When they saw the familiar and disgusting bubble of Mundungus' stew protruding from his nose, each turned back towards each other, but neither moved to take the other's hands again.

Remus thought carefully about the situation before speaking again. He had already missed his chance to intervene earlier because Molly had interrupted him. He would never be able to fix the mark that Azkaban had left on Sirius. It didn't matter that Sirius was no longer there, that awful place would have its way with Sirius Black every day until the day he died. And Remus would be there, beside him until that very day. He didn't have to stop being there for Sirius in order to be there for Tonks. There was a balance to both relationships that he would be able to find if his feelings for Tonks were requited.

"I suppose," Remus said quietly, running his hands slowly across the tablecloth, his reason engaged in a furious battle with his emotions, "If you're really looking for a social life, the next step might be to go out for a few drinks with a friend." Remus felt his throat lock up as his reason stepped in to prevent him from saying anything more. He shrugged his shoulders in a sheepish gesture at himself.

Tonks smiled and once again put her hands on his. "I'd like that a lot, Remus."

Remus was unable to stop the smile that tugged his lips upward, or the screams that went off in his head as his emotions clobbered his reason and reduced it to a pile of dust. "I warn you, I can't promise much," Remus said with half a grin, "I believe my social life may have peaked about fifteen years ago."

Tonks giggled. "Well then, you need to get out as badly as I do. Say Friday?"

Remus nodded, deciding that it was now his turn to run his thumb along her wrist and touch the soft skin between her fingers. "That sounds lovely," he murmured. Her grip on his hands suddenly tightened and he glanced quickly down at her hands and back to up to her face. She began to tilt towards him across the table, and his mind began to blur and spin until he forgot how to think and how to act. He felt his body suddenly dive out of his control in a gravity-disregarding lean towards her. He was suddenly magnetized; his ability to think about the situation was clouded by the chaos his senses were experiencing. The last thing he saw were her dark eyelashes fluttering as they descended over her eyes, her lips opening ever so slightly as they met his own. Then his own eyes closed, leaving his other senses to form a picture of this kiss that was clearer than even his sight could. He felt her breath warm his lips and her fingers grasp his own; he took in her lovely scent and reminded himself to breathe; he longed for her mouth to never leave his.

Their mouths separated, slowly and uncertainly, and Remus felt his eyes open. The world came back into focus and his senses began to realign and observe objects around him that weren't Nymphadora Tonks. He inhaled deeply, as if he had just run seven miles or climbed a mountain in thin air. Neither said anything.

A loud, fitful cough interrupted their reverie, and they turned quickly towards the center of the table to look at the source of the noise. Mundungus raised his head up from the table.

"Wha'd I miss?" he asked, lifting a grubby hand to wipe a bit of wet potato off his nose.

Tonks let go of Remus' hands.

"Nothing at all, Mundungus," Remus lied pleasantly. In reality, he'd missed everything. Everything that Remus had ever wanted, every emotion that he had ever wanted to feel. She had kissed him back.

"S'good," Mundungus said. "Didn' wan' Molly to think I was unreliable 'gain."

Remus could see Tonks' mouth crinkle in a desperate stifling of a laugh.

"I'm sure she doesn't think that," Remus said, trying hard not to look at Tonks, who looked, from the corner of his eye, as if she were shaking. "But perhaps you should go home and rest so that you can make a better impression tomorrow."

"S'good idea," Mundungus said. He stood up and walked out of the kitchen. It was a few seconds before Remus heard the clicking of the locks of the front door, and then there was silence.

Tonks broke the silence with a snort of laughter, and Remus met her eyes again.

"Should we clear up?" he asked.

"'Course," Tonks said, pulling her wand from her pocket and levitating the remaining silver to the sink. She looked at the pile rather guiltily. "I'm afraid you'll have to Scourgify them, I'm a bit weak when it comes to the householdy spells."

Remus stood up and walked to the sink, his mind unable to be still. He felt Tonks' hand on his back a moment later, and he turned, the dirty silver momentarily forgotten, as her hand smoothed his rumpled jumper.

"I can't wait until Friday," she whispered, "Thank you, Remus."

"For?" he asked quietly, putting his hand on top of hers.

"For being the first steady point in my life in a long while. You're facing more than I could ever handle and you're more stable than I am."

"Is it ironic then," Remus asked quietly, "that I think of myself as quite the opposite?"

"Nobody thinks of themselves as how others view them. Besides, you're much too humble to think of yourself as someone holding more than just Sirius together."

Remus smiled at her, and turned his wand back towards the sink to clean the plates. Tonks' hand fit comfortably on his back, and he was glad that she hadn't moved it.

"So that means you don't see yourself as a lovely woman with a lovely name whose enjoyable company has gotten me through the past few months?" Remus asked, after finishing with the spell and turning back to Tonks. He put his wand in the back pocket of his trousers and placed his arms around her waist.

Tonks blushed. "If you subtract lovely name from the statement, I suppose I could guess you meant me."

Remus grinned. "I mean it, though. All of it."

He could see Tonks smile for approximately a second before his eyes closed and their lips merged together in a second kiss. They pulled quickly away as the terrible noise of shattering glass entered the kitchen. Remus' eyes made contact with the floor closest to the steps, where a collection of splintered glass lay. The label had remained mostly intact, and Remus could make out the misshapen logo of Ogden's.

"Reparo," Remus whispered, removing his wand from his pocket and pointing it at the shards, which rose into the air and merged to form a now empty bottle.

Neither said anything for a moment, and just watched the sunset-colored bottle float almost lazily down to the empty table. Remus sighed.

"I should go talk to him," Remus said quietly. Tonks nodded. "I'm sorry," he told her.

Tonks waved her hand. "I understand," she whispered. "It's why I like you."

Remus gave her a weak smile. "Can I see you to the door?"

"I'd like that." He took her hand and walked quietly beside her, his mind still fixated on the shattered bottle. He could sense she knew what he was thinking, because when they arrived at the door, she said nothing, just kissed him softly.

"I'll probably see you tomorrow," she said when they pulled away from each other. "Goodnight, Remus."

Remus nodded. "Goodnight," he said, opening the door for her. She stopped to kiss him again, and he felt a sudden urge not to let go, to keep from dealing with the shattered bottle in the kitchen and the shattered man upstairs. He watched as she left, her robes trailing behind her, and he still stood watching as she apparated and disappeared. He couldn't prevent a faint smile from coming to his lips as he stared at the spot. He turned away when he saw the silver of a crescent moon peeking between the treetops, shut the door behind him and began walking towards the staircase, moving steadily, as he always did, from one burden to another.